The 2012 Typhoon Display

I’m going to miss the RAF when I leave St Andrews, or when the RAF itself leaves Leuchars. Yesterday was a perfect example of why.

For the 2012 airshow display season, the RAF’s Typhoon Display Team was based at Leuchars, and was operated by members of 6 Squadron. I loved the Tornado F3 in many ways and I still miss it, but I can’t deny that the Typhoon (which replaced the F3 at Leuchars last year) is an incredible aeroplane.

Tornado F3

A Tornado F3 of 111 Squadron circling to land at Leuchars.

2 Typhoons taking off at RAF Leuchars

2 Typhoons taking off at RAF Leuchars

The Display Team website is full of information, and I recommend that you give it a browse. This was the most impressive statistic that I could find:

When fully loaded the aircraft can climb to 35,000 ft from releasing the brakes in 90 seconds.

Almost 7 miles directly upwards, from a standing start, whilst being heavily laden down. Wow.

During the run-up to this summer’s airshow circuit, the pilot Scott Loughran was practising his routine in the skies over RAF Leuchars in up to 3 timeslots per day. There was sometimes a practice at 8am, at 12:30pm, and again at about 4pm, with the frequency of practices peaking in late April or early May.

Sometimes I missed the displays because I was in the shower or in bed or in a lecture, but quite often I did get to watch them – or at least see some of them. Due my lecture schedule, I rarely got the chance to walk somewhere to see the display close up (only once was I actually at the end of West Sands, directly under part of the display) but, when I heard the distinctive noise, I would often be able to step out of my house and find a vantage point, or settle down on a bench to eat my lunch. I would mostly admire the routine from the comfort of St Andrews.

Performance takeoff

Typhoon doing a ‘performance takeoff’, using afterburners to climb at an incredible rate and angle.

Yesterday was such an occasion. The airshow season has finished – the Typhoon performed its last public display at the Leuchars airshow on 15th September (which I watched). Yet last Thursday, RAF Leuchars posted an exciting message to their Facebook page, which read in part:

Over the next 24 hours, it is planned that Squadron Leader Scott Loughran will fly up to 3 routines over RAF Leuchars in order that he can complete his responsibilities for 2012 and successfully handover the role to Flight Lieutenant Jamie Norris who will be the Royal Air Force Typhoon Display pilot for the 2013 airshow season.

Yes! What a treat.

And so it was that I heard a takeoff at 8:30am on Friday. That was suspiciously early, I thought… until I remembered the Facebook message which I’d read the previous day! I put on my coat, grabbed my bag, and headed for a door, and took an earlier-than-intended, but amazing, walk to Maths.

It was a couple of days before BST ended, so the mornings were still very dark last week. When I stepped onto the coastal path, the sun had only just started to clear the cliffs to the east, presenting me with an amazing sunrise.

Sunrise over Cliffs

The Sun had just risen over the cliffs by East Sands.

The Typhoon hadn’t started practising yet – but I set eyes on it the moment I left my house. It was a couple of miles out to sea, at a reasonable altitude, doing dives and twists and loops and other strange manoeuvres. I took a few photos of the morning light, and as I started my walk to class, the Typhoon headed toward Leuchars, and started its display.

Being his first display in a while, Scott performed the display at a higher altitude than normal for safety. This would be disappointing if you were close up, but for me, it was perfect. I would have only been able to hear a low-down display, but higher up, I could see him, even from down near the beach at East Sands.

Typhoon behind St Andrews Cathedral

In the large version (click the image), you might just be able to make out the Typhoon, orange in the morning light.

The warm morning light lit up the aircraft beautifully, and when the glint of the sun was matched with the glow of the afterburners, the sight was incredible. The roar of the plane and engines cut through the cold morning air, to produce a deafening sound. The display included many high speed passes, inversions, stalls and an impressive near-vertical dive, finishing with a vertical climb. At one point, due to my slightly raised perspective in St Andrews, the Typhoon dived below the roof-line of a faraway building, giving the illusion of being about to slam into the ground and explode. Thankfully it didn’t, and a few seconds later I heard a boom of reheat as the Typhoon forced itself upwards.

10 minutes after starting, the display finished, and I continued my walk to class in peace.

St Andrews Castle at Sunrise

This is where I watched the end of the display.

Scott performed another display at 11:45am, but frustratingly I had a lecture until 11:55am, at which point he’d finished. I headed to the end of West Sands, hoping that he’d perform a third and final display in the afternoon slot – around about 4pm – but he didn’t, and walked to my tutorial slightly disappointed.

Typhoon During Practice Display

Typhoon banking and using reheat during an earlier practice display.

Until yesterday. It was around 12:40, and I was sitting in the library, trying to ‘qualitatively’ solve some systems of differential equations, when I heard a suspiciously loud Typhoon takeoff. I listened for a few moments to see if the sound would trail off – characteristic of a departing plane – but the sound remained, and it was clear that something was afoot. Something loud.

I stood up from my desk, and walked out of the building and sat on my nearby favourite bench, where I often eat lunch. The sky to the north was dark and full of rain, but over Leuchars it was calm, except for Scott Loughran throwing his Typhoon around. It was just like all of his other displays – only better. Maybe because it was his last. The contrast of the copious reheat with the dark clouds behind the jet was breathtaking, as were the speed and tight cornering. He was having fun out there, and I was having fun watching him.

If you ever get the chance to watch a fast jet display: do it. It is absolutely thrilling. It has been a privilege and a joy to be able to be follow the development of a display, and watch its iterations throughout the year. I’m sad that 29 Squadron at RAF Coningsby is taking over the role next year, but I definitely made the most of the opportunity this year. Make hay while the Sun shines.

It certainly brightened up my days. Thanks Scott, and thanks RAF.

Typhoon High Speed Pass (Reheat)

A Typhoon using afterburners during a high-speed low pass.

Typhoon Landing at Leuchars Airshow 2012

A Typhoon landing after the Leuchars airshow in 2012.

Blogging, Me & My Life, Pictures

A Little Bike Ride

I’ve hardly written anything recently. I’ve not written on my blog for about 4 months, during which time…

  • I had exams
  • I moved house
  • I visited London
  • I went to an airshow
  • I worked in the School of Maths at St Andrews

All perfect topics to write about, yet not once did I bother. If I’m ever going to get back into the rhythm of this (which I probably won’t), I’ll have to start small. How small? This small:

Yesterday I went on a bike ride.

I brought my bike back from St Andrews a week or two ago. I keep it in the shed at Albany Park during term time, and as I was staying in St Andrews for a large part of the summer, I left it there when I moved out. The weather has been so wet this summer that I didn’t use my bike at all in St Andrews, and I brought it home in the hope that the weather would finally improve and I’d be able to go on at least some rides.

The weather hasn’t improved, but my courage has. Anticipating this, I spent an afternoon a few days ago cleaning and maintaining my bike in the garden. I still need new brake blocks and (probably professional) repairs to my front gear mechanism, but otherwise I’ve got it running nicely. I’ve even got a new helmet, which Jonathan left me when he moved out of Albany Park. It’s good, much better than my old one, and it fits snugly and comfortably. AND SAFELY.

The weather seemed fairly bright and dry after breakfast yesterday. I put on some suitably scruffy cyclewear (including waterproof jacket and cycling gloves) and then made a prawn mayonnaise sandwich for my lunch, which I threw into my backpack along with a water bottle, a can of Orangina, my Kindle, and – yup – an umbrella.

I haven’t cycled much around Perth, but I’ve done enough to have a couple of favourite routes. I enjoy cycling into the Earn valley, which is where I went yesterday. The Earn valley lies just to the south of Perth, and stretches to the west in the direction of Auchterarder. To get there, you follow the old Edinburgh Road out of Perth and into Bridge of Earn, and from there you go wherever you fancy. I usually head west about as far as Forteviot before crossing to the other side of the valley and heading back to Perth, and that’s pretty much what I did.

Here’s the route that I took (click to see a better version):

Bike Ride Route

And here is a link to that route on Google Maps:

I’m just going to mention: on this bike ride I was naughty, and I was listening to an audiobook almost the whole way. I’ve been meaning to re-listen to the audiobook of “Consider the Lobster” by David Foster Wallace for ages. I’ve listened to it before, but it’s abridged, and I recently got a copy of the unabridged text. I read the essays which are missing from the audiobook (very skilfully read by the author himself) which made me really want to listen to it again to complete the experience. Yes, I know it’s dangerous to listen to stuff whilst cycling, especially on roads. I don’t normally do it – though that’s probably because I don’t normally cycle alone. But yesterday it was quiet on the roads and my earphones let in enough background noise, so that I was always aware of any approaching traffic with plenty of time.

It’s a really good book by the way, I recommend it.

Shortly after Forgandenny, it started spitting, and soon it turned into a downpour. I sheltered at the entrance to a farmer’s field, where I stood around and ate my lunch. My Mum had bought some sort of oatmal loaf, and it was pathetic, it had the structural integrity of candy floss. The sandwich fell apart in my hands. Never mind. I was listening to the essay from the book called “The View from Mrs Thompson’s” at this point, by the way. It rained for about half an hour, after which I carried on to Forteviot, where I stopped on a bridge over the railway line to Stirling to drink my Orangina and watch some trains.

Turbostar near Forteviot

I continued in the direction of Auchterarder for a couple of miles (the red line on the map above), before deciding to turn back and go home.

Which I did… for a little while. And then I crossed the Earn and, to my left, saw one of the steepest and tallest roads I’ve seen in a long, long time. It’s the yellow road on the map above. It isn’t on the route to Perth, but if there’s one thing I love about cycling, it’s going fast. Especially down hills, and especially going very fast. This seemed like a Very Fast Hill. There was no question: I was going to do it. I tried to cycle up, but it was too steep to bother, and walked. I was too impatient to get all the way to the top (the A9 is at the top anyway, I didn’t want to go there) and I stopped, briefly considered sending a text to my Mum letting her know where I was in case I crashed (I didn’t) (send the text, that is), turned my bike around, took out my headphones, got on, and started to pedal.

I pedalled really hard. To get to 10mph, it’s easy. 20mph requires a considerable effort, but going downhill, you can easily reach that speed just by drifting. But at somewhere between 20 and 25mph, I stopped pedalling for a moment, and my speed remained constant: the friction of my tyres on the road and the air resistance of my body almost balanced gravity. From this point onwards, only serious legwork was going to get me to go any faster.

My goal was 40mph. If I was already going 25mph, that’s only an extra 15mph – that’s easy isn’t it, that’s just like the equivalent of increasing your speed from 0mph to 15mph? Right? Wrong.

If you studied physics at school, you will know that kinetic energy increases linearly with mass, but with the square of the speed. That is: Ek = ½mv2. This means it takes twice as much energy to cycle at 10mph if you double your mass, but to carry the original mass at twice the speed, 20mph, it takes four times as much energy.

40mph is 1.6 times as fast as 25mph. 1.62 is about 2.6, which meant I needed to give my bike 1.6 (= 2.6 – 1) times as much energy as it had, in addition to what it already had. I would have to do this using only my legs. What speed has 1.6 times as much energy as 25mph? sqrt(252 * 1.6) = 32mph. This means that to go from 25mph to 40mph, I would have to do the equivalent work of cycling (on level ground) from 0 all the way to 32mph which, FYI, is a really hard thing to do. (By the way, these calculations all ignore air resistance which would horribly complicate things).

But as I trundled down the steep hill gaining speed, there were a few further complications. There road was bumpy. There was a bend in the road – it’s not wise to be pedalling at full power when you turn, so I would have to ease off slightly at the bend to avoid losing control. Oncoming cars could appear in my way at any moment. And: I didn’t have much time. The road was fairly long, but at 30, 35mph, you are travelling so quickly that your bike eats up the road and it quickly runs out. I might not have enough space, and still be accelerating when I’m forced to break for the junction at the bottom (with my break blocks which definitely need replacing).

As I turned the bend half way up the hill, I was already doing 32mph – I was covering about 14 metres every second, which is quite a lot if you think about it for a human being. To my delight, the road ahead was completely clear, and I pedalled my legs as fast as I’d ever done before. It felt amazing, and I let out a whoop of joy and excitement – quite like Bear Grylls does when he jumps out of helicopters. My eyes were watering so much that I couldn’t look down at my speedometer, but after my legs burned from the lactic acid generated by my pedalling, I rested and slammed on the brakes. Too early in retrospect – I stopped far short of the bottom, but I had reached my maximum. I had no extra effort left to increase my speed, but I would have enjoyed drifting at speed for an extra second or so.

The fasted I have ever cycled was 40.0mph, down Glenlochay Road in Perth, an incredibly steep road near where I live. I’m not sure how I got to that speed, but I did, and I really wanted to beat it. Crazy.

When I was stopped at the bottom of the hill, I clicked through my speedometer until I reached the maximum speed section. This is what I saw:

My Maximum Speed

39.1mph! Argh!

The rain clouds were gathering, it was already raining on the other side of the valley, but I knew I could do better. I knew it. If only I’d hit the brakes later, if only I’d pedalled just a bit harder and longer. So, I turned round and scurried up the hill again to the same spot.

When I got to the top again, the rain was almost upon me:

Stormy Earn Valley

More Earn Valley

I had to be quick, because a wet road is seriously dangerous at high speeds on a bike. I got on my bike again, but things didn’t go as well: I was still worn out from walking quickly up the hill, the were a lot of cars on the road, and I think I was just a bit tireder. I only managed about 38mph.

I truly had just made it in time, because seconds after I reached the bottom, it started to rain. It kept raining, and got heavier. So heavy, that I could not see through my glasses. They were full of water droplets. I need wipers for my glasses, like a car.

I got off and stood by the road, parked my bike on its kick stand, put up my umbrella (good job), and got out my iPhone. It was time to see how long this rain would last:

The rain

Fuck. There was a lot of rain in the Perth area for the whole evening, it might not stop at all.

The heavy rain persisted for half an hour, during which time I continued to listen to the audiobook, until it slowed and eventually stopped, and I could cycle the 6 or so miles home.

I stopped by some brambles to pick some tasty ripe blackberries, and then got back on my bike, refreshed.

I passed the entrance to a country estate:

Dunning Estate

And at Milltown of Aberdalgie, as I was was dismounting – to climb another hill on foot – I got a phone call, from Emily. It was a lovely surprise and exactly what I needed to revive me after hanging around in a downpour, exhausted, for half an hour. We talked as I climbed the hill (which was the back of Craigie Hill), and when it ended, I was just about 3 miles to my house, mostly downhill.

It took me about 10-12 minutes to get home and end my ride, safely. I had fun.

My total, modest, trip distance:

The trip distance

If the weather’s nice, I’m going on a ride tomorrow, too.

InterRail, Travelling

13th May: Stormy Travel

It’s Thursday 13th May 2010. I’m in Marseille, hanging out by a huge ‘basilica’ called Notre-Dame de la Garde.

Me and Marseille

Notre-Dame de la Coeur

Yesterday I got to Marseille, but it wasn’t easy. It was a bit of a shambles actually – I hope all travelling days aren’t going to be this bad.

I got up early, breakfasted and left for the station. I was really feeling the weight of my bags, so I waited 20 minutes for a bus which was full to the brim. Being you’re laden down is the perfect reason for catching a bus, but it makes you feel uncomfortable getting on a bus with 2 large bags, as a foreigner, squeezing in amongst everyone else and getting in their way. You just have to avoid eye contact, I guess.

La Bastille, Grenoble

I couldn’t wait to get off the bus, which I did at a stop in town and went to hang out on the Place de Victor Hugo – the French really like that guy, don’t they? I used some open Wi-Fi for a bit – mostly to check my emails – and then I went in search of postcards to send home. But for some reason, despite being a really nice place that would look great on a postcard, I couldn’t find any. It was only then that I noticed the time, and I rushed to the railway station with a couple of minutes to spare before my train left. Good job I didn’t find any postcards.

The train to Valence Ville was pleasant. The weather cloudy most of the way and unfortunately I wasn’t next to a window. I was sitting at a table, but there was a boy in the window seat opposite me who crutches, and I wanted to respect his leg room. That said, there was no one next to me so I still had a clear view out of the window.

View from train to Valence

View from train to Valence

What did annoy me, though, was that my ticket was not looked at once on the journey to Valence. An InterRail ticket like mine is provided with 8 little boxes, and you have to fill in the dates that you’re going to be travelling. You’re supposed to validate it before you get on the train, else face a fine. My ticket is valid for travel on 8 separate days, and as required I diligently wrote “12/5” in my next clear box. I’ve used two of them now. But on this journey no one came to check that I had a valid ticket, and I feel like they should have done. Otherwise – it feels like I’ve just ‘wasted’ one day’s travel, if you see what I mean. Yes, I know I was being honest. But fuck that. It makes me feel like an idiot.

I arrived at Valence, left the station and then followed signs to the tourist office – but when I got there it seemed totally commercialised. I want to go to a tourist to find stuff out, not to be sold a load of shit. So I just went to the nearby park to hang out. The air temperature was fairly cool, but the Sun felt hot when it shone. Valence was a nice town, and the park was nice too but I really needed a piss – but the toilets were out of order! Typical. I ate some dried apricots and some brownies whilst I held in my piss and listened to the audiobook version of Starship Troopers. I texted Mum.

Valence Park

Park in Valence

Park in Valence

Park in Valence

Park in Valence

A lizard!

I eventually found some toilets in the park and I relieved myself – much to my relief. Afterwards I found a different part of the park and went and laid down on the grass. There were some guys out cutting the grass, but I chose a patch which was uncut so that I could make a daisy chain. Which I did.

Daisy chain

I had looked up timetables earlier, and knew that there was a train from Valence Ville to Marseille at 12h30. That wouldn’t have given me very long at all in Valence, so I had decided to wait until the train at about 2h30. It turns out: that was a bad idea. Well, it was a good idea, but a decision that unfortunately led to a lot of stress, and through no fault of my own.

I got to the station with plenty of time to spare for the half past two train. Except it didn’t show up… but instead there was a different (unscheduled) train which the boards said was going to Mirimas only, will a little extra bit of information saying something like “correspondance Marseille en car”. That was confusing. It now know that is means “connection to Marseille by coach”, but why would I want to go to Marseille by bus? I have a train ticket, which I spent a lot of money on, and I’ve already validated it for today so I’m going to use it, but hook or by crook.

Why was the regularly scheduled train nowhere to be seen, and why instead was there a train only going to Mirimas which would require a bus to get to Marseille? I went to the information booth at the station and he told me that if I wanted to go to Marseille today, I needed to get to the TGV station. The TGVs use different lines from the slower, normal trains. He said there weren’t any trains to Marseille. That’s not what the timetable said, but okay. Maybe something had changed. I didn’t get round to asking him what the “correspondance Marseille en car” meant, as he didn’t speak English and by this point my French was really being stretched thin. Next I went to the booking office, and asked to reserve a seat on a TGV from Valence TGV to Marseille. Nope! They’re all full! Okay then, fine. Which regional (slower, non-TGV trains, “TER”) could I get? There was one getting in at 7 and one at 11! Much later than I had hoped to arrive at Marseille, but that’ll have to do. I received a printout of these times, and walked back to the park. I bought some postcards on the way and wrote them when I was sitting in the park – one to Grandma, and one to Mike – and then I posted them.

Soon it was time for the first scheduled TER, and a storm was rolling in as I headed for the station. Real big clouds.

Storm clouds growing

The rain held until I reached the station. But the train wasn’t going to Marseille. By this point I wasn’t going to be surprised by anything, but I’d still get annoyed – and worried, because I had nowhere to stay in Valence. I needed to get to Marseille by the end of the day. Instead, the train was only going as far as Avignon! I went to the booking office again, and asked a man why the train scheduled to go to Marseille was terminating at Avignon. He had no idea and was really confused, but eventually found me some connections from Avignon to Marseille. (I also tried to reserve my Bordeaux – La Rochelle leg for later in the month, but it turns out that it wasn’t possible – reservations are not necessary on that route).

At that very point, the lights inside the station went off for a second – the storm had arrived! Lightning! I went to the platform to wait for Avignon train (which the monitors now said was 15 minutes late). A bit later, after hearing the rain pounding the roof and watching the flashes of lightning, there was an announcement on the public address system. I knew it was about Marseille, but what with the business of the station and the raging storm, I didn’t catch most of the message. No one could help me – and train announcements are hard enough to hear, even in English and on a clear day!

Photo of Valence Ville station by Eric lecaroubier:

Gare SNCF Valence Ville by Eric lecaroubier

I somehow found an official SNCF woman and she told me the news: we had to go to Valence TGV then get the TGV to Marseille. I asked if I needed a reservation – usually travelling on a TGV without a reservation gets you a penalty, and I had already found out that there was no reservations available. No, she said. Special circumstances. Screw the reservations (she didn’t say that). She pointed me across the platforms to the right train. I headed over and looked for another member of staff to tell me the deal before boarding the train – you can never be too skeptical, especially in a foreign country like France. You definitely don’t want to end up on the wrong train. That’s worse than not being on any train. I found a man and asked him what was going on. Same story – giving the reason that the Avignon train was too late to make its connection to Marseille.

I got on the train with maybe 30 seconds to spare, and saw 3 French guys who I’d seen earlier in the booking office. They asked what I’d managed to find out, and I told them that the booking office hadn’t been very helpful. We still didn’t know the root problem, but being French, I guess they had understood the announcement. It was fortunate that I made these friends, and that they spoke English, as several times over the next couple of hours I needed to ask for their help with language and knowing what to do.

The rain was ridiculous. At Valence TGV it was absolutely pouring down… and the station was really busy. The noticeboards said that the TGV to was 10 minutes late, but having waited this long already to get back to Marseille, I didn’t care. I like hanging around train station, anyway. As the arrival time drew nearer, we were permitted to walk down to the platforms. At Valence TGV, the station concourse is raised, and there are lifts and escalators down to the platforms below. Have a look at some of these photos that I found online: the whole station, and a double train boarding.

Photo of Valence TGV station by franxk:

Photo by franxk

Photo of train arriving at Valence TGV station by reallyboring:

Photo by reallyboring

In about 30 minutes of waiting on the platform, several TGVs passed through the station on the central lines at huge speeds. (When in the station, the passing trains are separated from the platform lines by a fence, probably to reduce noise and terror, so you can only ever see those them when they were just entering or leaving the station, not right up close). Honestly, if you’ve been scared or surprised by a fast train passing you by, close up, you’d be absolutely terrified in France. The trains are loud, and fucking fast. Maximum speeds are almost 200mph, compared to a very maximum of 125mph on normal British lines. And what’s even more impressive is that the trains had very short headways. After one train passed, another one might pass in the same direction in what seem likes barely a minute.

The French guys that I’d met starting smoking something which smelled like weed. It was unusual to me, as people aren’t allowed to smoke on British platforms any longer. Our train arrived as predicted (wow), and it was comprised of two TGV Sud-Est trains. That meant that there were 16 (=2*8) coachess. The French sure like their train travel. And yet… the train was packed to fuck! There were loads of SNCF staff onboard, but thankfully they seemed to know the situation with all of us non-reserved people heading to Marseille. I didn’t have any hassle from them, at least, and so I went a whole day without showing my ticket. What a waste.

A town from the TGV line

A river bed

Avignon TGV Station

I had to stand with my bags until Avignon, at which point we had escaped the storm and it was sunny. There were beautiful views, with the railway line taking on impressively steep gradients, and the sky was filled huge clouds. Unfortunately, with the stress of everything, I didn’t take any photos. I briefly got a seat at Avignon when someone left the train, but I was quickly turfed out as someone go on to claim their reserved seat. Never mind. I feel sorry for all of the long-booked passengers who had their journey spoiled by a flood of scumbags joining the train without a reservation, cramping the whole train and taking your seat. It’s happened to me before. Thankfully, I didn’t have to stand for long. Marseille was a surprisingly short trip away from Avignon, and after going through lots of tunnels, I was delighted to arrive in Marseille.

My TGVs at Marseille

Marseille Saint-Charles Station

Notre-Dame de la Coeur

Marseille is weird. That’s how I feel about it at the moment.

Vertigo Centre (which is the hostel I’m staying at whilst I’m in Marseille) was very close to the station – handy – and I found it easily. It’s a nice place, but I can’t be bothered writing much about it. It’s quaint – obviously adapted from several old houses to become this hostel. My bedroom is in a sort of outhouse, which sleeps 6 or 8 and has its own bathroom. Whilst sorting through my stuff in my room, I met an Aussie called Jimmy. We chatted for a bit and he gave me a book that he’s finished with, called This Bleeding City by Alex Preston. I only just now realise that maybe he was expecting me to give him one of my finished books in return. Well, I didn’t. I had a shower (not bad) and went to checked out the hostel and use the Wi-Fi – which didn’t work.

Hostel bunk beds

Once I was satisfied with the place, I just my stuff on my bed (I had to be trusting, there was no place else for it) and I went for a little walk around Marseille. I am sick and tired of beggers. Fuck. Off. Most of the people around the hostel were not white French, instead there were a lot of people dressed in Muslim garb and a lot of African-looking people. I bought a 6-pack of Kronenbourgh 1664 and some water from a local shop.

Marseille is a total melting-pot of cultures, but I was disappointed by what was available locally – I couldn’t find authentic food, no food stalls, no quaint or cool restaurants serving local food. Instead it was all just the typical greasy spoon type place, serving kebabs and burgers. There were also about a million “Internet + Taxiphone” shops. The French sure must like surfing the web and riding in taxis.

Marseille Saint-Charles Station

Sunset sky

Notre-Dame de la Coeur

Twilight sky

I headed back to the hostel for the night, where I used the internet, drank some beer whilst reading some articles in Instapaper, and then I went to bed.

Hostel beds

Today, which is Thursday, I woke up at 7:30am. From some reason I’d been dreaming of a girl I used to know at primary school. Why? Weird. At one point I had dreamt that I was going to going to be going to Inverness Uni (really) to study biology. Laughable. I also dreamt that my St Andrews accommodation application (for standard self-catered housing) was granted. LOL.

Did I note that there were loads of beautiful girls on the TGV yesterday? Well, there were a lot.

I spent quite a while playing with my iPod in bed – the internet is now working on it.

Notre-Dame de la Coeur

I got up, checked how much tickets to Nîmes would cost (€19, about what I was expecting) and then I headed to Notre-Dame de la Garde, via Vieux Port (the old port). Finally it was really sunny, but the air was still cold – maybe 16ºC. After listening to an episode of PadPundit with Scott Bourne, I carried on listening to Starship Troopers.

I was amazed by fish market at the old port – there were so many types: big and small, red, pink and white, lobsters and even octopus.

Lobster and fish

The old port


I passed a Lidl store but it wasn’t open – I’m not sure why not, there’s probably some sort of public holiday going on. Instead I went to a different place and stocked up on groceries. I bought some Babybell, plums, chorizo, orange juice, mackerel fillets, yoghurts, and possibly something else. It came to under €10.

I ate some of it in a park where I texted Mum (I texted Dad when I was on the TGV yesterday, moaning of my troubles) and then I carried on to Notre-Dame de la Garde, which has amazing views over the whole city and the sea.

Big cruise ship

View of Marseille from Notre-Dame de la Coeur

View of Marseille from Notre-Dame de la Coeur

View of Marseille from Notre-Dame de la Coeur

View of Marseille from Notre-Dame de la Coeur

View of Marseille from Notre-Dame de la Coeur

View of Marseille from Notre-Dame de la Coeur

View of Marseille from Notre-Dame de la Coeur


I bought and wrote some postcards (to Poppy, Dad, and Mum), then I got to work writing this entry which has taken a while. I’m slightly worried that my arms have become quite sunburnt, despite the copious amounts of sum cream that I’m wearing.

I’m going to continue walking around the city now, I’ll maybe head to the coast before walking back to the hostel in evening. Maybe I’ll eat out tonight – I really want to try authentic local bouillabaisse. And I need to send these postcards, too. I’m hungry.

Bye for now.

View of Marseille from Notre-Dame de la Coeur

Asides, Blogging, Me & My Life

My Writing Place

All warm, in bed:

Me & My Life, Personal, Photography

The Last Week of May

On 25th May last year, I woke, ate, dressed, and walked to West Sands to watch the sunrise. At 3:30am. It was during one of the strangest weeks I’ve ever had.

My final exam of first year (Great Ideas 2) was on Monday, the 23rd. It didn’t go very well, but I was so relieved to be finished. That was in the afternoon, and I spent the evening in the common room with Mike, watching films and drinking gin and tonic. I got drunk.

I don’t remember what I did on Tuesday, but by the evening I realised that I wasn’t interested in whatever events were on that night. I got the seed of an idea for an early Wednesday start, and fell asleep at around 10 with my alarm set for 3:30am. I’ve never set my alarm that early before, and I don’t think I’ll ever do it again.

The view as I left my house in Albany Park at 3:50am:

Sunrise for Wednesday was at 4:40am. By waking up so early, I gave myself plenty of time to walk and see the best of the sunrise. Some of the most vivid colours and lights in a sunrise occur a while before the Sun actually breaks the horizon, which is roughly the quoted sunrise time ((Precisely, sunrise is given as the time when the centre of the Sun moves above the horizon. The fact that the Sun is not a point source of light causes many odd phenomena in our daily lives.)). By midsummer, the sun was rising as early as 04:21am.

It’s really weird walking around that early – before 4am – and being able to see properly, in full colour. I often get to walk around a deserted place at night when it’s dark, but when it’s light – even just twilight – the quietness feels different. Really serene. I love feeling serene.

Why did I want to go to West Sands to watch the sunrise? Because it is one of my favourite places during the world – especially at low tide. And the tide was low. Then, it’s an amazing expanse of almost-level sand by the (usually) gentle sea. Perfect to compliment and reflect the colours of the rising Sun.

And, it’s quiet out there. I get a wonderful feeling of isolation, but not the kind of isolation that makes you feel lonely. It’s the kind of isolation which makes you ultra-thoughtful, and which connects you to the vastness of nature and the Cosmos. Yeah I just said that. I like that feeling too.

I want to talk a little bit about the music I was listening to that morning. Yes, I was listening to ambient. Yes, it was Brian Eno. Yes, it was on repeat. I know, but I love it: and it was this week which cast that love in stone.

Are you familiar with Eno’s Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks album? I am. Throughout the morning I was listening to it, and it was the perfect accompaniment. 3 of my favourite tracks from it are An Ending (Ascent), Drift and Weightless.

Here are YouTube links to the tracks: An Ending, Drift, Weightless. Play one (or all) of them whilst you read the rest of this post, if you want; you’ll probably recognise them from films or TV, as they have been reused extensively.

With my headphones on, music playing, I stood part-way down West Sands for half and hour, relaxed, and enjoyed the show (don’t worry there’s more story after the photos):

Once I’d had enough and got too cold standing around, I headed back to East Sands where I put the rest of my crazy plan into action. In my bag I had packed a towel, and underneath my clothes I was wearing swimshorts. I got in position, and looked around to see if I was alone. It was 5am, but surprisingly there were other people up and about. On the bench by the coastguard station 3 people were sitting, looking out to sea. Being sober and self conscious, I decided that I would not skinny dip. I stripped down to my shorts, flopped into the water, and swam for about 20 seconds until all feeling had left my extremities. It was the coldest thing I have ever done, and as quickly as I could I threw a towel round me and headed the 2 minute walk back to my house.

On my way back to warmth and safety, I bumped into the people who had been on the bench: they were my friends Nigel, Bella, and a mystery guy who seemed very much into Bella. Bastards, ruining my chance at a skinny dip! I’ll try again sometime, probably with alcohol for courage.

I showered to get rid of the salt and sand and to warm me up, and knowing me I probably ate again. But despite my best efforts, and even though it was still very early in the morning and I was tired, I couldn’t fall back to sleep. This fucked me up badly for the rest of the week.

I can’t remember how I spent the rest of Wednesday. Despite there being a beautiful sunrise, the Sun quickly headed into cloud where it remained all day. I probably spent it in my room, reading and packing up my belongings for the summer.

On Thursday, after lunch, I remembered that the BBC would be in St Andrews filming an episode of the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow. Contrary to the belief of many, it’s not always an awful programme. With the vague hope of seeing something interesting, and the more realistic hope of appearing on television, my future housemate (Adam) and I set off to the main University quad, where the show was being filmed.

We arrived at about 4:30pm, and Fiona Bruce was just leaving. She had filmed all of her spots, and most of the visitors had already had their artifacts valued. But the day wasn’t over: after looking at everything, the experts then decide which pieces to film properly, to make it into the final show.

Adam and I stuck around for the filming of the first few of these, hoping to see something interesting and to appear on TV. But as the evening progressed and the weather became duller and colder, most of the visitors left, leaving a very small audience to provide a convincing background. And so, we were roped by the producers into staying until the very end, watching about 8 pieces being filmed until 6 or 7pm.

Let me just say that basically everything you see on Antiques Roadshow is staged – the original valuations most likely weren’t filmed, and even if they were, they are run through several times more before a good enough take has been recorded. TELEVISION IS LIES. Remember that.

The episode at St Andrews finally aired at the end of February, 9 months later. There is another part to it (which will most likely feature me, too) and it will air during the next series. That’ll probably be next year. Here of some of the screenshots.

In this one you can see me at the back, grinning:

A little smirk on my face this time:

And again, a smile:

Afterwards, we headed straight back to Albany Park. The Albany end of year party was being held that evening in the Vic. The theme was the 80s. Lacking sleep and having just spent ages standing in the cold for television, I was not up for it. At all. However, I visited the common room where the Warden and her assistants had put on a ‘drinks and nibbles’ event, and after 30 minutes of wine, chatting with Martyna, I left with the rest of the wine bottle I’d been drinking (and which I promptly finished) and I was definitely in a partying mood.

In my stupidest mistake ever, I decided that there was no time for food. To this day, that was the only occasion on which lunch was ever my final food of the day. Yet even forgoing food, I still managed to arrive at the party late, missing much of the fun. But at least I was drunk, and ready to party.

And it was a really fun party… until about 10pm. Now, looking back, I think about all the ways that could have happened differently, all of the choices that I might have made differently, to stop me from going to that party. But I went, and I met – for the first proper time, at least – a girl called Emily.

We started talking, and from then on neither of us cared about the party. We spent the next couple of hours chatting, drunkenly getting to know each other right there in the middle of the party.

Now she’s my girlfriend, and we’ve been together for nearly 9 months. Once again, I’ve had a year which was completely unlike any of my previous years. I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

May has long been my favourite month. I think it’s going to stay that way.

UPDATE: After 2 years together, Emily and I split up towards the end of 2013.