February 2018 will stick forever in my memory as the month during which I experienced my first EARTHQUAKE! I obviously have no photograph to accompany this astonishing fact (though you can have this mighty cumulonimbus cloud as an alternative natural phenomenon, snapped from my desk this month); just an anecdote that I’ll be telling people for, I suspect, years to come. I was sitting at my desk on a dull working Saturday when suddenly the whole house shook with quite some force, and there was a deep rumbling sound. The best way to describe it is that it was a bit like I’d imagine it would feel if a lorry were to drive into the house at speed. Even though I was on my own, it made me exclaim “what the hell?!” out loud to myself and I went round the house trying to ascertain the source of the disturbance. It was only when I went on Twitter about 20 minutes later that I realised there had been an earthquake! I’ve always managed to miss the UK ones, so it was my first tremor. Very exciting, though I can’t imagine how scary it would be to be in a bigger one. This one was magnitude 4.4 and that made my heart beat fast!
Tectonic movements aside, February got underway with a trip to Coventry Airport for a session in a Boeing 747 simulator – a Christmas present from Lee. The cockpit is an exact replica, and the excellent graphics make it a pretty realistic experience of flying the 747 even though the sim itself doesn’t move. I was allowed to choose which airports to fly from, so we started with some general handling around Salzburg.
Here’s a video of what it was like. It really did feel like it was moving!
After that we did some circuits at St Martin in the Caribbean.
It was nice to pretend to be back in the Caribbean for a bit, though a shock to the system to exit the cockpit into a freezing hangar rather than a balmy tropical island!
As far as real flying is concerned, this month has been full of helicopter lessons as I make a concerted effort to finish off my licence. The weather has hindered my progress at times, but nevertheless it’s been a packed month of training, including two hour-long solo navigation flights – the first time I’d been allowed out of the circuit on my own in a helicopter. All that now stands between me and taking the final big skills test is about five more solo hours and a bit of revision. Eek! I have about 50 hours now, and the national average is apparently 74 hours for taking the skills test, so I’m not doing too badly (for which my increasingly depleted savings account is grateful).
I’ve completed all the dual training requirements of the course now, including instrument flying. Flying on instruments means wearing these seriously uncool goggles (amusingly known as ‘foggles’), which simulate you not being able to see out of the window because you’ve inadvertently gone into cloud. All you can see is the control panel, so you have to fly the helicopter using the artificial horizon and other instruments to keep you level, and to guide you when turning and so on. It’s very disorientating when you can’t see the horizon, which is the whole reason why you’re trained to cope if you do accidentally end up in cloud.
Don’t worry, Matthew was flying while I took the pic!
After various lessons covering more practice emergency landings, limited power take-offs and landings etc, the moment the training had been leading up to: my first off-airfield landing! Being able to land at hotels and such like is really the whole point of flying helicopters (if you’re only going to other airfields you might as well just fly a plane for half the price!!), so it was thrilling to finally be able to have a go. We did a couple of approaches and landings at Charingworth Manor, a country house hotel a stone’s throw away from my favourite Cotswold pub, the Ebrington Arms. I can’t wait to be able to fly my friends to places like this when I get my licence.
Back on the ground, on one of our very rare days off this month Lee and I had a nice potter in the Cotswolds, where we discovered, by chance, Hailes Abbey and Church. I have lots more photos of this atmospheric place, which I’ll share in a post of their own soon. The church was especially wonderful, full of original medieval wall paintings – a real rarity.
We also had a nice drive around the lovely Temple Guiting area, with lunch in a freezing cold pub called the Hollow Bottom in Guiting Power. This was a pretty little place I photographed along the way.
I loved the backdrop of the Malvern Hills beyond this field of sheep.
I was so thrilled earlier this month when I went up to Broadway Tower to work on my laptop in the cafe there and found the whole place transformed into a winter wonderland. Lots more pics of snowy Broadway Tower here. It’ll be looking like that again very soon!
Another day I went over to Charlbury to pick up a picture I’d had framed there, and to drop another one off for framing. I came home via the Rollright Stones, which were virtually deserted in the almost spring-like weather.
A sad occasion called me to Bath this month: the funeral of a dear family friend. I’m not going to write about it here, but I did take some nice photos of Bath while I was there and I’ll share them in another post soon. Here’s one of my favourites.
Another thing I did this month was an evening outing to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to see Twelfth Night with my friend Marie. I studied this play for GCSE English, but hadn’t seen it performed on stage before. It was very funny, with Adrian Edmondson particularly entertaining as Malvolio. Sir Andrew Aguecheek – who has long been one of my favourite Shakespearean characters – was played by the chap who plays Oliver in The Archers. I thought his voice sounded familiar!
Another evening out this month was with Lee in Birmingham, as I bought him tickets to see one of our favourite comedians, Katherine Ryan, for his birthday. We arrived at Symphony Hall to discover that she was to be supported by Joe Lycett, who is another of our favourites, so that was an unexpected bonus. We actually already have tickets to his tour for later this year.
To go off at a tangent, Oxford has always been a bit rubbish for shopping, so I was interested to see the new incarnation of the Westgate Centre on an evening with my sister this month. It’s unrecognisable from the depressing place it was before, and there are loads of great new places to eat there too. We chose KuPP, a Nordic-inspired restaurant that had some tempting-looking smörgåsbords on the menu.
These did not disappoint. On the left is the fish one and on the right is the meat one. There was so much more food than I was expecting, so one between two makes a substantial meal. I love this kind of food – little bits of lots of things to try. The potted rabbit was a particular highlight for me.
On another subject entirely, I had some exciting post this month in the form of these First and Second World War medals, which belonged to my great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather. This makes me want to do some research into the family tree, and to collate family stories into one place; though when I will find time to do this is anybody’s guess.
I’ve been back at Guide Dogs this month after a few weeks when it was really quiet in Puppy Block and we weren’t needed. Just as last year ended with the most gorgeous litter of Golden Retriever pups, so did this year start with the same. These little bundles of fluff were the sweetest, kindest-natured pups you could ever wish to meet.
I’ll leave you with a few of this month’s lovely sunsets; the first over Charlecote Park.
This one was en route to Chipping Norton.
And these last two are as seen from my desk at home.
The snow is starting to fall here as the so-called “Beast from the East” arrives, which has written off a whole week of helicopter lessons, annoyingly! I have a scarily busy March coming up, with several overseas trips (two for work, two for fun) meaning that I’m not going to be at home very much. I feel exhausted just thinking about it, but I’ll have lots to tell you about when I get a minute – watch this space.