Vox Clamantis in Deserto - The Journal of Paul Courtnage
Courtney's Journal - This chapter sees Carol and Courtney in Malta.

  Links to chapters:



 
Highs and Lows


Man's Flight Through Life is Sustained by the Power of his Learning


On this page: NZ Earthquake Plate Tectonics The Magnitude Scale
Tsunami Japan Earthquake Fukushima
RAF Museum Laurence's Commissioning Osama bin Laden
Expedition Ocean Vision 5 to Malta Prague Finn Henley Geraghty
29 Squadron Falklands Reunion Expedition Ocean Vision 6  

New Year 2011 was special for loads of reasons: it ushered in a year packed with happy plans and the fireworks that marked its beginning were truly spectacular. London's display was awesome and lasted, probably 15 minutes. But there were a lot of big events: The Arab Spring (which I have deleted from this account because it will run for years), the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton and some nasty goings on in the Earth's crust.


Paul Courtnage and Carol Courtnage
Paul Courtnage and Carol Courtnage try out one of Raymond Blanc's brasseries.
Courtney and Carol dine out. Click for larger image.




 

New Zealand Earthquake 2011

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At lunchtime (12:51 pm local time) on 21st February 2011, Christchurch, New Zealand's second city, was hit by an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the magnitude scale. The earthquake was centred 10km southeast of the centre of Christchurch. It was the region's second major earthquake in five months, having suffered a 7.1 magnitude quake on 8th September 2010. Although weaker than the quake in September, this event's epicentre was closer to the city and much shallower, making it far more destructive. Initial reports were of 65 killed and over 200 missing, but the final death toll was expected to be nearly 200. Analysts estimated that the earthquake could cost insurers NZ$16 billion. This was not to be that last of the aftershocks - there was another on 13th June the same year.

So why does this happen in New Zealand? Time for a short, scientific diversion - this is about Plate Tectonics, stuff we all should know. If you want to skip this explanation click here.



NOTE 2: Plate Tectonics
Plate Tectonics is the theory that describes the movements of the plates that make up the Earth's crust or lithosphere. It takes forward the older theory of continental drift, developed by Alfred Wegener; this early concept was not immediately accepted by the scientific community because Alfred Wegener was a meteorologist, not a professional geologist.

 

Plate Tectonics

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I'm going to keep this brief and simple, so if you're an expert geologist, planetologist or the like, I enjoin you not to get too annoyed if I take a few short cuts. This is, after all, for interest, not a Geography degree. So, plate tectonics [← NOTE 2]. Remember you can read explanations by hovering over purple text.

The Earth's lithosphere, is a mosaic of many irregular shaped plates called tectonic plates - about 9 large and 20 or so smaller. The tectonic plates are composed of rock 6 to 60 kilometres thick; oceanic crust is thinner, but more dense than continental crust. Most tectonic plates comprise both continental and oceanic crust, although the enormous Pacific Plate is almost entirely oceanic, and the tiny Turkish-Aegean Plate is entirely land. Of the nine major plates, six are named after the continents embedded in them: the North American, South American, Eurasian, African, Indo-Australian, and Antarctic. The other three are oceanic plates: the Pacific, Nazca, and Cocos. The relative size of the smaller tectonic plates reflects neither their significance nor their influence on the surface activity of the planet.

Tectonic Plates
The Earth's Main Tectonic Plates

The tectonic plates effectively float on a layer of much hotter, softer, rock known as the asthenosphere. Convection currents are created in this viscous layer by radioactive hot spots deep within the planet. Where these currents reach the surface of the asthenosphere, they tend to move the tectonic plates relative to each other. They move at about the speed that your fingernails grow and this is known as continental drift.


   

The join where two tectonic plates meet is called a fault or, more correctly, a plate boundary and it is here that the effects of plate movement are most apparent. Scientists describe three types of plate boundaries: Transform, Convergent and Divergent boundaries and these are distinguished by the relative movement of the two tectonic plates involved.





Plate Tectonics: San Andreas - Transform Boundary
Transform Boundary: two tectonic
plates moving past each other.



 

Plate Tectonics: Transform Plate Boundaries

So, a transform boundary is where the two plates move in opposite directions, parallel to the boundary. The best known example of this is the San Andreas Fault and I include an illustration on the left to show the relative plate movement of the Pacific Plate (to the left) and the North American Plate (to the right). Plates do not slide smoothly past each other, instead they tend to stick together. The forces trying to propel the plates build up stresses in the plate that accumulate until they become so massive that they overcome the friction and the plates suddenly move relative to each other in a huge, juddering motion. This is an earthquake. Typically, a quake does not occur along the whole plate boundary, but tends to be relatively localized and the part of the boundary that does this is known as the epicentre - this can be at any depth or location along the boundary.

Most transform faults occur on the ocean floor; in fact, as you can see from the map above, most plate boundaries are oceanic.







Plate Tectonics: Mid-Ocean Ridge - Divergent Plate Boundary
Divergent plate boundary and mid-ocean
ridge: two tectonic plates being pushed apart
 

Plate Tectonics: Divergent Plate Boundaries

At divergent boundaries, also called 'constructive boundaries', new crust is created as two plates move apart and fresh mantle emerges from below to fill the growing gap. Oceans are created and grow wider where plates diverge. When a divergent boundary occurs on land a rift will be created and over time the land will separate into distinct land masses and water will fill the space between them - the Red Sea is a good example of this type of boundary and the Atlantic illustrates this process in a much more advanced form. This process is also called sea floor spreading.

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is where new oceanic crust is created as the Eurasian Plate moves eastwards away from the North American plate, moving west. The east and west halves of the North Atlantic are two giant conveyor belts moving new crust from the centre of the ocean towards Europe and America.

In reality, divergent plate boundaries don't tend to form straight, clearly defined fault lines; rather they are jagged, 'offset' features characterized by a mixture of divergent and transform boundaries, fissures and ridges. But, essentially, my simple model describes what is happening at these boundaries.








Convergent plate boundaries:
two tectonic plates moving together.


Plate Tectonics: Oceanic-Continental Convergence
Oceanic-Continental Convergence:


Plate Tectonics: Oceanic=-Oceanic Convergence
Oceanic-Oceanic Convergence


Plate Tectonics: Continental-Continental Convergence
Continental-Continental Convergence

 

Plate Tectonics: Convergent Plate Boundaries

Convergent plate boundaries are where two tectonic plates moving towards each other collide. At these boundaries crust is often recycled back into the interior of the Earth if one of the tectonic plates is forced under the other; these are known as Subduction Zones and are the creators of mountains and volcanoes. Convergent plate boundaries are also called destructive boundaries and there are 3 possible combinations: Oceanic-Continental Convergence; Oceanic-Oceanic Convergence; and Continental-Continental Convergence, depending on which types of plate are colliding.

When an oceanic plate is forced against a less dense continental plate, the oceanic plate 'subducts' beneath the lighter continental plate, which is lifted up to build mountains. Even though the oceanic tectonic plate as a whole sinks smoothly and continuously into the subduction trench that is formed, the deepest part of the subducting plate breaks into smaller pieces. These smaller pieces become locked in place for long periods of time and stresses build up as in the transform boundaries. Eventually the stress overcomes the blockage and the subducting plate moves suddenly, generating a massive earthquake. Such earthquakes are often accompanied by uplift of the land by as much as a few meters.

When two oceanic tectonic plates converge, one is usually subducted under the other and in the process a deep oceanic trench is formed. The Marianas Trench, for example, is a deep trench created as the result of the Philippine Plate subducting under the Pacific Plate.

Oceanic-oceanic plate convergence also results in the formation of undersea volcanoes, which, over millions build up until the volcano rises above sea level to form an island volcano, typically strung out in chains called island arcs.

When two continents collide, it is possible that neither is subducted because the continental rocks are relatively buoyant on the asthenosphere, being much less dense than the underlying material. Instead, the crust tends to buckle and be pushed upward in massive mountain-building movements.

The collision of the Australian-Indian Plate with the Eurasian Plate to the north of India caused the Eurasian Plate to buckle and override the Australian-Indian Plate pushing up enormous folds of rock, forming the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau. Most of this mountain-building activity has occurred during the last 10 million years.







Plate tectonics - Key Points:

The Earth's surface is made up of a number of large tectonic plates.

These tectonic plates are in constant motion travelling at a few centimetres per year.

Convection currents within the Earth drive the movement of the tectonic plates.

The source of heat driving the convection currents is radioactive decay which is happening deep within the Earth.

Most of the Earth's seismic activity occurs at the plate boundaries caused by relative movement of the tectonic plates.

 

So, we can see that mountain building, volcanoes and earthquakes are associated with tectonic plate movement and in particular with the plate boundaries. This is borne out by the map below, which shows seismic activity (earthquakes and volcanoes) around the World.

Plate Tectonics: Earthquake Locations
Map showing the locations of the world's seismic activity, principally associated with tectonic plate boundaries.
Note the locations of New Zealand and Japan

We can clearly see that these events are concentrated at the boundaries of the tectonic plates. It happens that the boundaries around the edge of the Pacific Plate are particularly active, as we can see above, and this has become known as 'The Ring of Fire'. New Zealand sits right on it - in fact New Zealand is being created by it. Click here for NASA's Tectonic Map, which shows all this and more.

Seismic activity is not just destructive. If it were not for the continuous uplift of land, mountain building, caused by the movement of tectonic plates, the earth would have been eroded into a smooth ball covered by shallow seas millions of years ago.


 

The Magnitude Scale

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Just briefly, before we move on, this is a good point to mention the magnitude scale. Actually there are a number of related scales, but we don't need to concern ourselves with that here. For our purposes let's decide that it is a means of describing how much energy is released in an earthquake. It is a (base 10) logarithmic scale so an increase of 1 on the magnitude scale equates to a ten-fold increase in the shaking amplitude (how far the ground is moving) and 32 times increase in the amount of energy the earthquake releases. Thus a magnitude 6 earthquake is 1,000 times more powerful than one measured at magnitude 4 (32 x 32) and causes 100 times the ground movement. Here's a rough guide to what each magnitude means (this table shows just how active our planet is):

Magnitude Description Earthquake effects Frequency
< 2.0 Micro Micro earthquakes, not felt. 8,000 per day
2.0–2.9 Minor Generally not felt, but recorded. 1,000 per day
3.0–3.9 Often felt, but rarely causes damage. 49,000 per year
4.0–4.9 Light Noticeable shaking of indoor items, rattling noises. Significant damage unlikely. 6,200 per year
5.0–5.9 Moderate Major damage to poorly constructed buildings. At most, slight damage to well-designed buildings. 800 per year
6.0–6.9 Strong Can be destructive in areas up to about 160 km across in populated areas. 120 per year
7.0–7.9 Major Serious damage over larger areas. 18 per year
8.0–8.9 Great Serious damage over several hundred kilometres. 1 per year
9.0–9.9 Devastating in areas several thousand kilometres across.
1 per 20 years
10.0+ Massive Never recorded, widespread devastation across very large areas.
Extremely rare (Unknown)

The magnitude scale was developed by Charles Richter and Beno Gutenberg. It is often referred to as the Richter Scale, but Richter never used this term as he was far too modest; indeed he was concerned that the name gave no credit to his colleague, Gutenberg.

 

 

Tsunami

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One last thing to mention, tsunami. A tsunami is a massive wave triggered by major underwater seismic activity: earthquake, volcanic eruption or a landslide. A large movement of the seabed is the most common trigger. The wave in open water may be hundreds of km long, but only a few metres high (small amplitude, very long wavelength) and can travel at hundreds of km per hour. There is a lot of water and energy in this wave, but in this state it may pass under a ship unnoticed. It is only as a tsunami approaches shallow water, most commonly close to land, that the drag of the sea floor slows the leading edge, causing the wave to pile up into the huge wall of water with massive destructive power - this is called wave shoaling.

The word tsunami means 'harbour wave' in Japanese. These phenomena are often, incorrectly, referred to as tidal waves - they have nothing whatever to do with tides.

So, armed with all this new knowledge, let's move on to the next event.




 

Japanese Earhquake 2011

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After the New Zealand earthquake, worse was to come. Much worse. At 14:46 (Tokyo time: GMT+9) on 11th March 2011 there was a massive, magnitude 9, earthquake off the north east coast of Japan approximately 400km from Tokyo. As we have seen, Japan sits on or near the boundary between the Eurasian and the Philippine tectonic plate boundaries, on the 'Ring of Fire'. The quake caused a huge tsunami that swept inland near the city of Sendai in northeastern Japan. Harrowing footage of the devastation in the coastal city of Sendai was shown around the world on television news showing the astonishing scale of the devastation, and the destructive power of water in urbanized areas. In places the tsunami reached 10 km inland and entire towns were destroyed. Tsunami warnings were issued for much of the Pacific coast, but its worst effects were in Japan where the tsunami was up to 10 metres high, sweeping away homes, crops, vehicles and triggering fires. Power was cut to four million homes in and around Tokyo and tens of thousands of people in the north of the country were killed or missing. An estimated half a million people were made homeless.

Japanese Tsunami

If you're interested, this is a good time to watch the Japanese earthquake animated map. Well worth watching - give it a minute to get to the start of the big events of 11th March and then see just how much activity there was. Each shock generates a circle on the map - its colour indicates the depth of the shock, the diameter shows its power on the Magnitude Scale. This is impressive and slightly scary.


 

The Fukushima Nuclear Plant

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The earthquake caused the automatic shut-down of 15 of Japan's nuclear power stations; seismic sensors detected the earthquake and control rods were automatically inserted into the reactors. It appeared that none of the reactors was damaged by the quake, despite its magnitude. However, the effect of the tsunami was a different matter.

Scramming the reactors caused a sudden loss of power across Japan's national power grid, cutting the electricity supply to the 40 year old Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, were three reactors (1, 2 and 3) were operating. Reactors 4, 5 and 6 were shut down and defueled for routine maintenance; the fuel rods were stored in spent fuel ponds on site.


The Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant showing the layout of reactors
The Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant showing the layout of reactors


   

The reactors at Fukushima are called Boiling Water Reactors (BWR). A BWR uses heat from the nuclear reaction in its core to boil water, creating steam to turn a turbine that drives a generator. The steam is then cooled and condensed back to water and returned to the core - a continuous cycle that generates electricity and keeps the reactor core cool. The reactor is designed to operate at about 285°C and the nuclear fuel is uranium oxide, ceramic pellets (cylinders about 1 cm tall, 1 cm in diameter) with a very high melting point of about 2,800°C. The fuel pellets are contained in zircaloy fuel rods - zircaloy is an alloy of zirconium with a failure temperature of 1,200°C; above this temperature it will melt and cause the (auto-catalytic) oxidation of water, which converts water into vast quantities of hydrogen and oxygen. The fuel rods are grouped into bundles, of which several hundred compose the reactor core.

The uranium fuel generates heat by neutron-induced nuclear fission - a nuclear chain reaction. In very simple terms, uranium atoms split into lighter atoms, producing heat and releasing neutrons. When one of these neutrons hits the nucleus of another uranium atom, that nucleus will split, generating more heat and more neutrons and so on. During normal, full-power operation, the number of neutrons in the core remains constant or 'stable' and the reactor is said to be in a critical state. The rate of reaction (and, therefore, the amount of heat generated) is controlled by inserting boron control rods into the core; these absorb neutrons and slow the reaction. The reaction rate can be controlled between about 7% and 100% - even with the control rods fully retracted the nuclear fuel in a reactor can only reach 100% of the reactor's maximum design thermal output and cannot cause a nuclear explosion (as in an atom bomb). It can, however overheat if not continuously cooled, as we shall see shortly.

Radioactive material in a nuclear reactor is contained (prevented from escaping) by a number of barriers. The solid fuel pellet is the first barrier that contains many of the radioactive fission products of the reaction. The zircaloy fuel rod casing is the second barrier and this isolates the radioactive fuel from the rest of the reactor. The core is contained in a pressure vessel, constructed of thick steel that can operate at a pressure of up to 7 MPa, designed to withstand the high pressures that may occur during an accident. The pressure vessel is the third barrier to the release of radioactive material.

The pressure vessel, pipes, and pumps that contain the coolant water are housed in a hermetically sealed, reinforced concrete containment structure - the primary containment - the fourth barrier to the release of radioactive material. The primary containment is designed to contain, indefinitely, a complete core meltdown. A further, thick concrete structure surrounds the primary containment and is referred to as the secondary containment. The main and secondary containment structures are housed in the reactor building, which is not designed to be a barrier.


   

External power is needed to run the cooling water pumps even when the reactor is shut down because radioactive decay of the nuclear fuel continues and this creates large amounts of heat - about 7% of that produced when the reactor is running at full output, as I mentioned. If temperatures inside the reactor rise above 1,200°C the zirconium in the fuel rod casings create hydrogen from water and the fuel rods themselves start to melt, releasing the radioactive material inside and allowing the fuel to heat up uncontrollably. So, without the circulation of cooling water, the fuel rods overheat and the reactor core can melt down. In the event of a power failure, diesel generators automatically kick in to power the pumps; these generators at Fukushima operated normally after the earthquake on 11th March. However, around an hour after the earthquake a massive tsunami struck the Fukushima plant. This destroyed the diesel fuel tanks, positioned above ground on the seaward side of the site. The diesel generators (which may also have been damaged by the wave) stopped running.

At this point, backup batteries automatically took up the load and kept the pumps running. However, these were only designed to provide power until the permanent supply could be restored, which in this case it was not. After about eight hours, the batteries ran out and the cooling water circulation pumps stopped running and the cores of reactors 1, 2 and 3 started to heat up. As temperatures rose, the water in the reactor containment vessels boiled to steam, increasing the pressure inside. In reactors 1 and 3, the zirconium casing of the fuel rods, catalysed the breakdown of water in the reactor to produce hydrogen gas. To relieve the pressure inside the primary containments, workers at the site released some of the steam and gas, but this became trapped inside the secondary containment where the hydrogen ignited and exploded. All three of the running reactors suffered meltdown and explosions and were critically damaged.


   

Fukushima
The Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, March 2011. Top safety tip: If you see
smoke like this coming from a nuclear plant, run away bravely!!!





NOTE 3: Radioactive Iodine
Radioactive Iodine - Iodine-131 - is a major radioactive hazard from nuclear fission. It was a significant contributor to the health effects from atmospheric atomic bomb testing in the 1950s and the Chernobyl disaster and a threat in the Fukushima nuclear crisis. I-131 is a major uranium, plutonium and indirectly thorium fission product, comprising nearly 3% of the total products of fission (by weight). It has a half-life of about 8 days.

 

Although shutdown before the earthquake, the spent fuel rods from reactor four were stored in a containment pool – a 15 metre deep tank of water that shields workers from radiation and helps to keep the rods cool. The cooling systems for this pool were also out of action, so water in this pool heated up and started to boil dry, releasing intense radiation. Two fires, one thought to have been caused by a hydrogen explosion, also broke out.

Seawater and boric acid (which slows the radioactive decay of the uranium fuel) were pumped into reactors 1, 2 and 3 using fire hoses. Military helicopters poured tonnes of seawater onto reactor three to try to control rising temperatures in the spent fuel pool, which could no longer be fully filled due to damage. If the spent fuel rods were allowed to overheat they could explode, releasing the highly radioactive plutonium that they contain. Therefore, controlling the spent fuel became the most critical part of the operation. Water cannon and fire hoses were also used to try to top up water in the spent fuel pond at reactor four.

Engineers at the plant eventually (after several days) managed to connect a power cable to the plant and, following checks, further leaks and a number of delays, the normal cooling systems were able to be restarted, but not before reports of tap water in Tokyo and leaf vegetables further north being contaminated with radioactive iodine [← NOTE 3].

By late March, the authorities were still battling to control the reactors and massive radiation leaks were being detected. Japan's Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, stated that he was ready for a long battle to bring Fukushima nuclear plant under control. On 1st April he admitted that he couldn't say that the plant had been sufficiently stabilized or when that might be achieved.

Perhaps the saddest aspects of the Fukushima nuclear incident were, first, that it totally overshadowed the dreadful plight of the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives were lost or devastated directly by the earthquake and tsunami (I have been guilty of this in writing this article) and, second, the damage done to the reputation of the nuclear industry because of yet another set of questionable design issues of a nuclear plant - including in this case its location right on a highly active plate boundary. I think nuclear power was undergoing something of a renaissance and governments around the world, the UK amongst them, were quietly pushing forward their plans for the next generation of plant. Public opinion is fickle and easily swayed by incidents such as this. Perhaps the silver lining might be even more stringent safety requirements for future build. We shall see.




The RAF Museum at Hendon  

The RAF Museum, Hendon

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All this military hardware busy around the world, brought to mind the excellent RAF Museum at Hendon. So we broke out one of the cameras and took ourselves off there. We were delighted to find some great new exhibits: a Eurofighter Typhoon F2, an F4 Phantom FGR2 (XV424) that I last flew in 1983 and a Tornado F3 (ZE887) that I last flew on 18th October 1994 with Harry Kemsley - more on Harry to come.


    Typhoon F2
Typhoon F2 (Development Aircraft 2, built 14th August 1993) ZH588.
RAF Museum, Hendon .Click the picture to see DA2 in flight.

Avro Lancaster
467 Sqn Avro Lancaster Mk 1 'PO-S' (R5868) flew 137 operational sorties.
Historic Hangars, RAF Museum, Hendon.


Tornado F3
Tornado F3 ZE887, built in 1988 and last flew on 4th March 2010.
Historic Hangars, RAF Museum, Hendon.

The RAF Museum
The RAF Museum was opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 1972, situated on the historic site of Hendon's London Aerodrome. The Hendon Museum houses over 100 aircraft, some very early designs through to the latest modern day jets and military aircraft. There is another site at Cosford and admission to both museums is free.

Grahame Park Way,
London, NW9 5LL

XV424

F4-Phantom XV424
F4 Phantom FGR2 XV424 (Historic Hangars, RAF Museum, Hendon) in 56 Sqn Air Defence colours:
Four AIM7E Sparrow and four AIM9G Sidewinder drill rounds (fitted in Oct 97), 20mm Vulcan Canon.


XV424 was built at the McDonnell Douglas aircraft factory at St Louis, Missouri, and delivered to 23 Maintenance Unit at RAF Aldergrove, Northern Ireland, on 12 Feb 69. XV424 is a F-4M-35-MC variant, designated FGR2 by the RAF. Her construction number was 3084/0056 - Phantom production ran from 1958 to 1981 and a total of 5,195 were built. On 24 Apr 69, XV424 entered RAF service at RAF Coningsby with 6 Sqn, the RAF's first Phantom FGR2 unit, which was declared operational on 6 May 69 with 10 Phantoms.

During early 1972, XV424 was loaned to 54 Sqn, suffered a bird strike in Mar 73 (repaired and upgraded by Hawker Siddeley Aircraft) and then loaned to 228 OCU in early 1974. 6 Sqn disbanded on 3 Sep 74 and XV424 was transferred to 29 Sqn at RAF Wattisham. On 10 Sep 76, XV424 went to 111 Sqn, RAF Leuchars, and then to 56 Sqn on 15 Dec 78 at RAF Wattisham. On 21 Jun 79, XV424 flew across the Atlantic from Goose Bay, Newfoundland, to the UK in 5 hours and 40 minutes to celebrate the Trans-Atlantic Flight of Alcock and Brown in 1919 - click here to see her in her trans-Atlantic colours. XV424 was then sent to 228 OCU at RAF Coningsby on 23 Jul 79 (where I flew her) and for a while was used as the RAF’s solo display Phantom. During Jun 85, XV424 was allocated to 92 Sqn at RAF Wildenrath, West Germany, before returning to 228 OCU, RAF Leuchars, on 22 Apr 87.

After receiving new outer wing sections built by British Aerospace (75 FGR2s received this modification), XV424 was transferred to 56 Sqn, RAF Wattisham, during Mar 88. The last operational sortie of XV424 was on 13 Jul 92 and 56 Sqn disbanded the following September. XV424 was delivered by road to the RAF Museum at Hendon on 12 Nov 92.


RAF Museum website



 

Boating in Dorset

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Every few weeks we travelled to Dorset to visit my Mum and took the opportunity to visit Terence Arden and Brian Ash, our great friends down there. On this occasion we enjoyed a rather grand voyage on their steam launch, Silkie.

Click here for some fun pictures and video of our trips to Dorset in April and September 2011 - including a visit to the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yoevilton. (You will note the use of nautical flags on the page; if you can't read them, hover over each flag to see which letter it represents.)

Terence Arden and Silkie











RMA Sandhurst
 

2nd Lt Laurence Grant

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The next high of the year - a truly excellent one - was Laurence's graduation from The Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, when he received his commission from Her Majesty the Queen as a Second Lieutenant. Carol and I went down to Sandhurst early on the morning of 15th April for the Commissioning Service in the Sandhurst Chapel and this was followed by the Sovereign's Parade.

The Sovereign's Representative was The Sultan of Brunei and the parade was so impressive - over 200 men and women on parade and an hour and a half of precise ceremonial excellence. Of the 90 cadets passing out that day, Laurence had come 3rd overall - what an achievement!

Sandhurst is clearly a tough school. But it wasn't always that way. The Royal Military Academy was established in 1741, although until around 1870, cavalry and infantry officers bought their commissions and promotions, with no requirement for a formal military education. The course has evolved over the decades and in September 1992 a single the Commissioning Course replaced the three, separate officer training courses; men and women, graduates and non-graduates, British and overseas cadets are all now taught on the same course. It is now a much more intensive and demanding course that certainly meets the needs of a modern Army much better than when commissions were bought.


Queens Royal Lancers
Queen's Royal Lancers,
Laurence's new regiment.
Death or Glory.
 

Laurence Grant, Carol Courtnage and Paul Courtnage, Sovereign's Parade, Sandhurst
Laurence Grant, Carol Courtnage and Paul Courtnage, Sovereign's Parade, Sandhurst

Carol Courtnage and Laurence Grant, Sandhurst
Carol Courtnage and Laurence Grant, Sandhurst Passing-out


After Sandhurst, 2nd Lieutenant Laurence Grant joined his new regiment, The Queen's Royal Lancers, based at Catterick in Yorkshire. Interestingly, Catterick is the largest British Army garrison in the world. Laurence was detached to Bovington for his tank course in May.

Laurence Grant






 

Usama bin Laden

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On 1st May 2011 U.S. President Barack Obama announced that Usama bin Laden had been killed and his body buried at sea in a U.S. military operation. Washington reported that a team of 24 U.S. Navy SEALs working with the CIA had stormed bin Laden's compound in two helicopters. Bin Laden, three other men, and a woman were killed in Operation Neptune Spear near Abbottabad, Pakistan. The United States had been looking for him for nearly ten years (since 9/11), but previously had believed that he was hiding in Afghanistan or on the border, such as it is, between Afghanistan and Pakistan. A lot of people were very pleased, to say the least, and who could deny that bin Laden was an evil man, leading an evil organization. It was very likely that the success of this operation had more than a little to do with information obtained from the interrogation of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

One has to give at least to some thought to the rights and wrongs of what was, after all, a state-sponsored killing. This was clearly not an assassination because they were prohibited by Executive Order 12333, signed by President Regan in 1981 - 'No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination'. So it obviously wasn't that.

So what of the legitimacy of the killing? On the one hand the Americans got rid of a much hated mass murderer and few believed he deserved better. On the other sits the uncomfortable question about the due process of law. In our laws, everyone, no matter what they have done, is supposed to be punished only after the legal process has been deployed. It could, of course be argued that America was at war with Al Qa'ida and that bin Laden was killed as an enemy combatant in that war. It was stated that they would have taken him prisoner had there been any sign of surrender and if there was no perceived danger in so doing. I would never argue with the decision of the troops - too many people spend too much time second-guessing the (necessarily) split-second decisions of brave military personnel. We must accept that the SEALs carried out their orders and took the right decisions in the circumstances. So well done on a brave and successful mission.









Maltese Cross




Sandro Vella, Il Mithna, Mellieha




HarbourAir, Malta




Malta




Malta Bus




Valletta




Courtney




Mdina

 

Expedition Ocean Vision 5

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Expedition Ocean Vision 5 took us to Malta for more diving and filming. We flew with Air Malta and dived with a local company, Paradise Dive Club, located at the northern most tip of Malta. We rented an appartment, Sunflower Flats in Mellieha, owned by Joe Borg , who was also able to rent us a car for a few days to explore the islands.

Il-Mithna: as usual, we soon found a great dining spot, Il-Mithna, a delightful restaurant housed in a 16th century windmill, built by the Knights of St John. We met Sandro Vella, patron and head chef, who is charming, professional and attentive. In fact all of their staff were quite excellent.

We saw the last day of the old, traditional, yellow Maltese busses and the first, somewhat shambolic day of the new Ariva busses.

We dived, amongst other sites, The Arch (near Comino), the wreck of the Rozi, Ras il-Hobz (a 40 metre rock pinnacle), Patrol Boat P29 and the Comino Caves.

We explored Mdina, Rabat, Valletta and Marsascala. We made a day trip to Gozo and took a sea plane around the islands.

Carol Courtnage
Carol Courtnage

Malta is unique in the region, distinct from any of its neighbours, but embracing many of their cultures. It is a small nation, steeped in history and the locals are generally friendly and welcoming, if not a little reserved at times. We warmed greatly to the islands and their people and this, combined with its easy access from Europe, makes it a very worthwhile holiday destination for those that are not necessarily looking for the more traditional beach and nightlife holiday. There is plenty of great food and the local wine ranges from good to excellent.

Our Expedition Ocean Vision 5 Diary is available here and our video diary is below.


EXPEDITION OCEAN VISION 5 - EOV5 VIDEO DIARY

Carol Courtnage at Il Mithna







Czech Republic
 

Prague

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Before the rush of the Christmas season, Carol and I decided to visit Prague, famous capital of the Czech Republic. And so, on 9th December, we set of for London Heathrow's less famous Quality Airport Parking, abandoned our car and were soon ensconced in a small bar in Terminal Three enjoying our traditional travelling breakfast of a large glass of wine. We had already been terribly pleased with the ease and convenience of checking-in on line and even a trouble free (well, relatively) passage through airport security. Duty free and the Mac shop supplied our needs and American Express Services sold us a large number of Czech crowns. So we were all set to go, hence relaxing comfortably with our Pinot Grigio.

It did occur to me just to check which gate we might have to go to, so nipped out of said bar to check the departures board. Next to BA856 in large, unfriendly, red letters were the words 'FLIGHT CLOSING'. I advised Carol to consider finishing her glass without undue delay and then we sprinted to the gate.

No waiting around for us today, but rather straight onto a very smart A320, stow our bag and settle in for the usual pre-flight entertainment or 'safety briefing' as airlines prefer. We were off to Praha - flight time 1½ hours.


Prague, Czech Republic


   

We were met at Praha Ruzyne Terminal 1 by our personal driver and taken straight to the city centre and our our lovely hotel, Club Betlem on Betlemska just southeast of the Charles Bridge (Karlov Most). Central Prague (Praha 1) is very compact and it's easy to walk around it. I've stuck in a map below:


Prague
   

Becherocka  

We had booked one of their very quaint attic rooms because we didn't want an ordinary hotel room - as you may have realized by now, we like things a little quirky. And it was a really good plan; our room with its sloping ceiling, stout oak beams and tiny dormer window, was enchanting and wonderfully cozy.

It was already cocktail hour by the time we arrived so we did some minimal sorting of your kit and set forth find a suitable Czech hostelry. We didn't have to look far. Next door to Club Betlem we found a small art gallery, which we ignored on the grounds that it sold neither wine nor food, and next to that we fell into U Plebana. This met all of our requirements perfectly and the lovely, friendly people there were happy to supply us with Czech wine, wonderful, sizzling food and a spicy local liquor called Becherovka, a herbal bitters flavoured with anise seed, cinnamon, and herbs. It seems that becoming over-enthusiastic about Becherovka can make your head hurt.

After three of them, which later experimentation revealed to be one too many, we retired to our big, very comfortable bed after a very easy and stress-free journey. We were very happy and slept very well for a long time. Until it was time for breakfast in fact. Refreshed, we set out to find our bearings and begin our exploration of the wonderful city of Praha. The weather was fine and although the temperature was only just above freezing it was very comfortable; nothing like the nasty, damp, windy winter's days we have to suffer in the UK.

We make our way up to the Old Town Square, which seemed to us to be the centre of town. We needed a spot to sit and watch the world go by and carefully selected a restaurant called Staroceska. It has tables and chairs (as one would expect) on the pavement, covered from the elements and with (not very eco-friendly) patio heaters and rugs. This place became our base in town and one of our regular haunts.

We took an immediate liking to Prague. It is beautiful and friendly, has a peaceful, comfortable atmosphere and every corner reveals something different. The buildings are grand and beautifully decorated and no two are alike. Well, not here, at least.

 

Prague, Czech Republic
Central Prague



Prague Orloj
Prague Orloj

Prague, Czech Republic
Carol Courtnage in Prague




































Prague, Czech Republic
Wooden Sigmund Freud - You need to look up in Prague
 

The Old Town Square is dominated by the Town Hall with its famous astronomical clock (Prague Orloj) and its magnificent tower. The clock is the oldest working astronomical clock in the world, installed in 1410. It's hard to see what it does in real time, so here is a rather natty computer model of it showing it speeded up many times. Click here for the Prague Orloj computer model. In Prague you have to keep looking up because there is so much to see above your natural eye line: spires, copper or gilded roofs, statues, murals, decorations, leaded windows and so much more. It's easy to miss the things going on over your head. We found a wonderful wooden Sigmund Freud, hanging by one hand (the other in his trouser pocket) from an old oak beam high above a narrow street. People walk past it every day without knowing it's there.

So, with that in mind, we decided to ascend the Old Town Hall tower (Staroměstská radnice, completed in 1364) next, to gain a stunning view of Prague from above. It is a long climb, nearly 70 meters high, but worth every step. A viewing balcony surrounds the tower rewarding every climber a magnificent view of the architecture of the whole city, but especially gives the best view of the beautiful Gothic Church of Our Lady before Tyn just to the East. I thought the balcony rather needs a one-way system as it's very crowded up there, especially at weekends.

In the hour, the clocks chime and a troop of apostles appear above the clock. Then a medieval trumpeter plays from the top of the tower, once in each direction. The crowds love it.

Central Prague (Praha 1), as I said, is compact. A five minute walk East from the Old Town Square brings one to the Gothic Powder Tower, known as the Mountain Tower when it was built in 1475, it gained its new name after the 17th Century when it was used to store gunpowder. All these landmarks, by the way, are clearly marked on the free city maps available all over town.

South of the Powder Tower by another few minutes is Wenceslas Square (Vaclavske namesti, actually a boulevard), the Bond Street of Prague and site of Vaclav Havel's freedom address to some half a million people in the Velvet Revolution that marked the end of the communist era in Czechoslovakia.


Prague, Czech Republic


Here's a thing. An irrelevant series of events required us to try to find a means of charging Carol's Kindle - electronic book thing. So we found a shop called DATART, resembling to the untrained eye a kind of Dixons store. Now you go into Dixons in any UK high street and ask for something that doesn't immediately leap out you like a large television set, a particular compact camera or an HP laptop. See what happens. Now wonder what would happen if you asked for a charger for a device not even sold in the Czech Republic and that the guy in the shop had never seen. Any hope? If you're the bloke in Dixons, you shrug your shoulders helpfully and give me a blank, clueless stare. If you're the Czech bloke in DATART you ask a few intelligent questions and announce that 'this should be easy'. You would then suggest that the very best idea would be to bring the Kindle in so that you can check to make sure it will be OK.

Happy and a little surprised, we returned to the store 15 minutes later with Carol's precious Kindle, which was lovingly connected up and shown to be charging correctly by a £10 unit and adaptor. So it was just like Dixons really. Oh and this bloke was friendly and cheerful too!

Where Prague really comes to life is after dark in the Christmas markets and they have the best Christmas tree, lights and decorations ever. The best place for this is back in the Old Town Square and some people come to Prague just for this sight. Magical! Christmas carols, mulled wine, roasted chestnuts, massive roasting hams, works of art, sweets, nuts, wonderful sweet bread.


Prague, Czech Republic
Courtney in Prague


Prague, Czech Republic
Wonderful Prague Art
 

During our five days in Prague, we wanted to get a flavour of as many aspects of the place as possible and, obviously, the amazing culture and architecture was to be a major part of that. Everyone has to go across the Vltava (or Moldau) on the Charles Bridge (Karlův most). It crosses the river on 16 massive piers, each protected by a wooden ice guard. The bridge is guarded by three magnificent towers and lined with 30 statues, numerous musicians, actors and craft stalls. Approaching the western end, watch for a well worn statue where everyone touches him and makes a wish.

One reason for crossing the Charles Bridge, apart from just enjoying it, is to reach Prague Castle (Pražský hrad), the biggest castle in the world. It used to be home to the Bohemian Kings and the Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. Today it is the seat of the President of the Czech Republic and it offers the most amazing views across the city.

Charles Bridge and Prague Castle
Charles Bridge and Prague Castle

The time to visit this diverse masterpiece of architecture is Sunday at noon. Arrive early to get a place to watch the changing of the guard. Allow plenty of time here to look at the four churches, especially St Vitus Cathedral (he that brought us the famous dance), which is the building that stands in Gothic splendour above the castle in the picture above; all spires upon spires and flying buttresses.

If you find yourself hungry while you're at the castle, you could do worse than visit the Lion Yard Restaurant just over the footbridge to the North of the Castle. It's name comes from the fact that it is on the site of the Prague Zoo in the 16th Century and the lions and tigers were kept on the site. Today it is one of the best restaurants in town. Their suckling pig comes from a 16th Century recipe and is just fantastic. Highly recommended for unenthusiastic vegetarians.


Prague, Czech Republic
Carol in the Lion's Yard, near Prague Castle


Beyond the cathedral we found old houses and royal residences that can be viewed for a small price. On the way back down the hill is the oldest vineyard in the Czech Republic; not what you'd expect to find in a city, but this is Prague. Back from the Castle to the centre of Prague gave us the excuse to ride the Prague Metro. Their small, but pleasant underground railway comprises just three lines, imaginatively named A, B and C. We bought our ticket at a ticket office from an unenthusiastic official and were surprised that we appeared to be the only people there that did so. As there didn't appear to be any ticket barriers or ticket inspectors it would be easy to imagine that some people might not bother with such formalities.

Another great eating place is called Stolleti in Karoliny Světlé - it gets a good rating on Trip Advisor and we enjoyed it greatly. I would just mention that their food is excellent and that they do everything with a 'twist'. Every dish is something the discerning diner will recognize, but each has that little something extra. So, you might find that sliced bananas have been added to you streak with pepper sauce or you might find strawberries atop your spag bol. Odd, but really good!

A couple of things that feature large in Czech cooking are dumplings that seriously stick to your ribs and fill you up and goulash; goulash is really Hungarian in origin, but the Czechs have made it their own. You might also be prepared to enjoy a lot of garlic with your food. Lovely and it keeps the vampires away.


Prague, Czech Republic
Czech Army Guard at Prague Castle


Prague, Czech Republic



Prague
StB Building, Prague - Secret Police Headquarters
 

As with any great tourist location, there is a great range of tours, museums and other attractions that the visitor can choose to visit. We opted for a rather different museum on this trip as we found one, quite by chance, at Melantrichova 18, just off the Old Town Square. This was, I am not kidding, the Sex Machines Museum. No, really! It occupies an entire three storey house and includes objects from previous centuries all the way up to the present day. Their cinema shows silent, black and white porn movies from the 1920s. It is a display of over 200 mechanical erotic appliances, a gallery of art with erotic themes and a small collection of erotic clothing. Most of it is absolutely fascinating, some of it highly ingenious. Some of the machines have to make you ask 'why?' or even 'how?' and some of the more recent stuff does get a little brutal. Still, as long as you don't take it all too seriously, it's worth a peek, just for curiosity.

There is, as I'm sure many will know, a very dark period in the recent history of the Czech Republic; the communist era and the Soviet occupation. We discovered that we were a bit hazy on this period and decided that we really should know more. So we signed up for a tour called The Communism and Nuclear Bunker Tour. Doesn't sound very jolly, does it? Well, I guess it isn't, but it would be wrong to think that Prague has always been the bright, pretty, peaceful place that it is today.

The tour is divided into two parts. On the Prague Communist Tour we visited key places in the city where some of the most dramatic events of the 20th Century were described to us. The story started back in 1918 with the establishment of the independent state of Czechoslovakia, its dreams and ideals smashed just 21 years later with the arrival of the Nazis. We learnt about the arrival of the communist tanks in 1948 and how the communists violently took hold of the country and nationalized all personal property. The Czechoslovaks, by the way, had voted them in, but would soon regret it. By 1950 huge numbers of political executions were taking place and the communists started to look somewhat less appealing.

When Russia realized that Czechoslovakia was moving away from communism they invaded in 1968. We learnt a little of what life was like during this era, the paranoia, the StB (Státní bezpečnost - plain-clothed, secret police), arrests, torture and murders. This part of the tour ended with the fall of communism in the Velvet Revolution of 1989 and the conversion from Czech Stalinism to capitalism. We found ourselves in Wenceslas Square where Vaclav Havel addressed the nation. He was the last president of Czechoslovakia (1989–1992) and the first President of the Czech Republic (1993–2003). Sadly he died just as we were leaving Prague.

The second part of the tour involved catching one of Prague's magnificent trams out to an eastern residential district. Here, the look and feel of Prague changed greatly as the wonderful mix of baroque architecture and colourful murals was replaced by the uniform grey of Soviet era concrete apartments. Every block the same as the next. Across a road we found a large concrete area, clearly a favourite haunt of skate-boarders and graffiti artists. In one corner a massive steel door led to a spiral staircase that took us four floors down, deep into the rock below the city. At the bottom, more doors gave us entry to a maze of tunnels and chambers. It was a bleak and forbidding place.

prague nuclear bunker
One of the Prague Nuclear Bunkers

This bunker is one of many built during the Cold War to defend against nuclear attack by the West. This one was designed to take 2,500 people and included decontamination areas, medical facilities, air filtration and a massive collection of Soviet and Eastern bloc respirators, weapons and uniforms. By all accounts, it was not a place for people to come to for months after a nuclear strike. Families could expect to be here for seven days before being transported to safe areas where the radiation levels were safe. As if such a place would exist! But as long as the people believed that the Communist leadership were ensuring their safety, all was fine.


Prague, Czech Republic
Courtney with a Czech VZ-58 in the Nuclear Bunker


































Stalin Staue, Prague


Prague Metronome
The Metronome
 

Another excellent way to see the city is to hire a carriage, drawn by two gorgeous coach-horses. We It's a lovely way to spend half an hour or so and affords wonderful views of the town. The only thing is that a horse-drawn carriage on cobblestones is not the best platform for photographic or video work.


Prague, Czech Republic
Our horses, Lightning and Tornado (which is relevant)


Just across the river on Letna hill to the north of the city stands a massive, 25 metre metronome, created by Czech artist Vratislav Novák in 1991. Even more interesting is that it was built on the spot where, until it's destruction in October 1962 by 800 kilograms of dynamite, there stood a gigantic statue of Stalin (see left), built in 1951 Otakar Švec - the biggest statue of him anywhere in the world. Stalin was not a nice man. Ashamed by his work, Otakar Švec killed himself.

Very briefly, a few facts about the Czech Republic (Česká republika) and Prague. This landlocked country covers 78,866 km2 and is divided into three regions: Bohemia to the west, Moravia (wine country) to the southeast and Czech Silesia to the northeast. The Czech Republic has a population of approximately 10½ million and became a member of the European Union in 2004, signed the Lisbon Treaty in 2007 and ratified it in 2009 as the last EU member.

Prague, capital and largest city, is home to about 1.3 million people. The city was founded more than 1,100 years ago. Prague's Christmas markets are open from 26th November until 1st January and are usually open from 09:00 until 19:00 each day. Prague has a continental climate with four of seasons: Spring brings flowers and mild temperatures, Summer is warm and green with light showers, Autumn can be crisp, cool and sometimes cloudy and foggy and Winter can be very cold with occasional snow.

Crime rates in Prague are relatively low, although the advice is to avoid Wenceslas Square and the Main Station at night and be aware of pickpockets. Come to Prague for beer, excellent local wine, hearty food, architecture, festivals, theatres, museums, galleries, churches and concerts all year round.

So Prague is a wonderful place to visit. It's easy to get to, there are lots of places to stay, eat and drink. It is not expensive, the people are friendly and the place feels right. We love Prague. What a wonderful way to end the year - apart from Christmas with family, obviously.


Prague, Czech Republic





   

FINN HENLEY GERAGHTY

 

Finn Henley Geraghty

On 15th December 2011, my first grandson, Finn Henley Geraghty, arrived in a the world. Mum and Baby are both well, Mum and Dad looking so proud. Welcome, Finn Henley Geraghty.

Finn Henley Geraghty     Finn Henley Geraghty
Finn Henley Geraghty





 

29 Squadron Falklands Reunion

2012 was the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War and to commemorate the occasion, Ian MacFadyen, who was our boss on 29 Squadron at the time, laid on a fabulous reunion for those of us involved. This was held at Windsor Castle on the day of the Garter Day Parade. A great time was had by all and it was a wonderful treat to watch the Garter Day Parade whilst catching up with old colleagues.

Click here for a selection of pictures.

29 Squadron Reunion at Windsor Castle on Garter Day 2012.  Organized by Ian Macfadyen to mark the 30th Anniversary of The Falklands War. Roy Trotter and Courtney      29 Squadron Reunion at Windsor Castle on Garter Day 2012.  Organized by Ian Macfadyen to mark the 30th Anniversary of The Falklands War. Ron Cook, Mick Martin and Carol Courtnage      29 Squadron Reunion at Windsor Castle on Garter Day 2012.  Organized by Ian Macfadyen to mark the 30th Anniversary of The Falklands War.
Roy Trotter and Courtney                           Ron Cook, Mick Martin and Carol                                 Guards on Parade




Project Ocean Vision
Expedition Ocean Vision 6
The Red Sea, September 2012
 

Project Ocean Vision


Expedition Ocean Vision 6

We had planned to come back to the Red Sea in June this year (2012) to finish up some filming around the Sharm el Sheikh area, but what with weddings, parties and such, we decided to delay Expedition Ocean Vision 6 by a couple of months. In truth, that was a better option anyway because the temperature in Egypt this summer soared to around 50°C, which searingly warm by anyone's standards. September is a little cooler although the water is still nicely bath-like.

We started planning a tailor-made trip, booking the flights, accommodation, diving, etc, separately to suit our diving and planning needs and then, sitting in a rather pleasant bar in Buckingham one afternoon, scrapped the whole plan, walked into Thomson and just booked a package. We walked home, job done in 30 minutes or so. The really good advantage of doing it that way is that one gets a company rep to take care of any issues that sometimes seem 'too difficult' when away from home.

Our aims were to see how much the place had changed during the three years since our previous visit, do some filming of a couple of coral reefs we hadn't been able to get to last time and to get a feel for how Egypt was doing after the Arab Spring and with all the trouble going on in Sinai, where the borders of Gaza, Israel and Egypt meet. It was also time for a break.

It was a very intresting visit. We did some great filming and got some first hand experience of the political unrest in the region. Here are just a few pictures; the full diary is available to read here.

MV Wasser, Sharm el Sheikh

Courtney and Carol Courtnage

Sea Turtle

Carol Courtnage, Sharm el Sheikh 2012

I have just one episode from the exped to recount to you here.

Previous experience had taught us not to do too much on the first day or two after arrival. I've seen heat stroke, sickness and other bad effects, especially trying to rush into diving. So we played it smart when we arrived in Egypt this time and confined ourselves by relaxing by the pool for the first day. However, it was still mighty hot and, unbeknownst to us, somewhat more humid than usual for this part of the desert and, so, we got rather badly overheated. To cut a gruesome story acceptably bland, we ended up with Carol in hospital most of the night, surrounded by a lot of very concerned looking doctors. Actually very good, concerned looking doctors. In fact, everyone we had any dealings with of this little medical upset was absolutely terrific.

We were staying at the Tropicana Tivoli Hotel (or it might be the Tivoli Tropicana) and the staff there were very good at getting a doctor out to see Carol. He was terribly concerned about her 'vitals' and rushed us both to the Sinai Clinic - a decent sized, local hospital. Now, just imagine a Friday night in Emergency in a NHS hospital. I shall now compare what would have happened in the UK with what actually happened in the Sinai Clinic.

NHS Hospital:

"The doctor will see you in a few hours (if you're lucky). Meanwhile please relax and enjoy some of last century's caravan magazines and the pleasant company of a bunch of vomiting drunks, who will be happy to abuse you, at no extra cost. Please be aware, that for your safety and convenience, most of our staff do not speak English. Please try not to bleed on the floor."

Sinai Clinic:

"Please may I just take a few details, Sir? Ahmed, please take the lady in the wheelchair straight into the Emergency Room. You don't have your travel insurance details with you? No problem, Sir. We'll take care of your wife and we can sort everything later. Don't worry, everything will alright."

Chief consultant is called and arrives immediately. Carol is carefully wired up to that machine that goes bleep. Consultant is concerned and so calls the cardiologist who makes a further examination and declares that and ECG is required.

NHS hospital:

"If could like to go back to the waiting room, Mrs Cartlidge, we'll see if we can find a partly-trained assistant that can do that. He's on his break at the moment, but should be back in a few hours."

Sinai Clinic:

"Ahmed, get the ECG machine in here straight away. Excuse me, Carol (he had taken the trouble to find out her name) I just need to attach the wires. Here we go. Stay very still. That's all done. Yes, hmmm, OK, good, that's all absolutely fine. I just wanted to make sure. I shall leave you with Dr Hassan who will look after you."

NHS Hospital:

"We need to take some blood, Mrs Corliage, I'll get a nurse, it won't be long."

One hour later, patient's arm is a mess of bruises and failed needle punctures and you're told that the samples will be sent off and should be back on Tuesday morning.

Sinai Clinic:

They put in a canula, took some blood samples and sent them 'off to be analysed'. Twenty minutes later the Doctor is examining the results and declares that the full blood check is normal.

"I shall give her two 'ampules' to stop the symptoms and some tablets to take with you and then we can get you home."

NHS Hospital:

"You seem to be OK, Mrs Cocknidge, but we'll need to wait for the consultant to see you. He'll be in on Monday after his golf. After that, we'll dump you on the streets and you can find your own way home."

Sinai Clinic:

Thirty minutes later we are in reception again, Carol looking better and I get to the tricky bit of settling the bill.

"Don't worry about your insurance details, because it is only two hundred Euros. You should pay cash and I will give you all the paperwork to claim from your insurance." Thank you, Sir, I have ordered a car to take you back to your hotel at no cost. This is our number, please call us if you need anything."

You get the idea. Anyway, back in the wee small hours and finally in bed, watching Carol like a hawk. The doctor even made a special journey to visit us in the morning to make sure everything was OK.




Tax Return - Alan from Evesham


 

A Closing Thought

A gentleman named Alan who lives in Evesham had his Tax Return sent back to him by HMRC because they claimed his answer to the question 'Do you have anyone dependant on you?' was unacceptable. He had written:

'2.1 million illegal immigrants,
1.1 million crackheads,
4.4 million unemployable Jeremy Kyle scroungers,
900,000 criminals in over 85 prisons
plus 600+ idiots in Parliament
and the entire European Commission.'

His response to HMRC was:

'So, who the hell did I miss out?'

 



Paul Courtnage
 


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