31 March 2013

See ya later, London

After 13 years, 9 of which in the same flat - the flat I leave today - I am saying see ya later to London.

London.  A place which has been home since 2000, when I moved here straight after university, within a few days of my final exam, to start working at Cisco as a part of their graduate scheme. 13 years and countless (and not enough) adventures later I am saying see ya later to London.

Today I move home and (temporarily) leave London - as I type this the car is loaded and read-to-go; there is just time for another cup of tea and chocolate Hobnob, which is what I've been living on for the last couple of days. I then get to spend the next 5-6 hours having a slow and steady drive down to Cornwall; slow if for no other reason than my car is very very full - for all the dejunking, it turns out I just have too much stuff for a car this size.

I'm as certain as I can be that post walkabout London will be my UK home again; my life is very much here. The good (the people, my people; the places; the memories), the bad (the sodding tourists walking slowing in front of me and who can't understand 'stand on the right, walk on the left'), and the uniquely London (night bus adventure and the shared moments of laughter on the tube when the drunk nutter who has been entertaining us all for the last dozen stops leaves) make it a place I want to return to.  As much as I like going to other places, London is very much home.

See ya later, London.

25 March 2013

The last week of London

By this time next week I shall no longer live in London. Add that to the fact that I no longer have a job and all this stuff is starting to get real - although it probably won't be properly real until I'm the backpackers somewhere in Istanbul drinking a Turkish coffee.

24 March 2013

See ya later, niece

As "see ya laters" go, having to tell your nearly 5 year old niece* that you won't see her until she is nearly 6 sucks and sucks more than I thought it could.  I'm thankful for the Harry Potter game that she was more interested in for distracted her - it made what was really really shitty for me easy for her.

The bright spark that she is suggests "we can Skype" (yes, a 4 year old told me this) and we can and will.  It doesn't quite make up for the whole year of her life I won't be around for though.  This is a very high price to pay for the trip - although one I knew I'd have to pay. And I know higher costs are coming.

See ya later, Amelia.

* For the benefits of the family... AJ has not had kids.  Uncle Robert is an honorary title, although one I'm as attached to as if it were AJ's kids.

22 March 2013

The first of the visa wobbles

Call from Travcour today - the Chinese embassy rejected my application as I asked for a double-entry visa but they didn't think I needed one.  I'd already provided the evidence saying that I do (two sets of travel in and out of China), but this had been missed; hopefully this will all get fixed quickly on Monday when my application is resubmitted.

A combination of Travcour and Dragoman are trying to speed-up the process for Uzbekistan, the one major unknown in all the visas.  If this happens it'll all be good.  If not... it'll get interesting.

A bit of a "argh" moment, but not enough to take away from an otherwise really good day.

See ya later, work

Of all the things about leaving work that I've enjoyed the surprising winner was listening (and occasionally feeding) the rumours about where I was working next. Worldpay was a strong contender (with no small thanks to me on that), several big name banks had been mentioned, another insurer or at least someone on the industry, the MoD (bit of an outsider, although given some of my recent training...) and a very late entry of Qualys. By a very clear margin my absolute favourite was that I was going to move to Australia, a move my old boss has just made.

As the the people at work now know - it is none of the above. As a friend of mine described it, "it's not that they are barking up the wrong tree, they're in the wrong forest".

The folks at the company I've just left now know as I've just sent my "see ya later" email, an email which contained one line - a link to the So I've Just Quit My Job post. As departure emails go I'm hoping that it's up there with the best - if nothing else I'm sure it will be remembered.

To those who've remain at the company I've just left...
I thank you all for the amusement over the last 3 months, it has kept me entertained through some otherwise quite dull days. I wish you all nothing but the best for the future and all it brings - I've got no idea what yours will involve, but lots of change and interesting times are ahead of all of us. Enjoy it.

As for Australia... This trip doesn't currently have that as a part of the plan, but plans can change. ;-)

19 March 2013

Visas (Part 2b)

The Turkmenistan Letter of Invitation has just arrived.  A relief.

18 March 2013

Visas (part 2a)

That nagging feeling in the back of your head that says you've forgotten something very important visa related and/or you've made a huge mistake with the paperwork which is going to cause no end of hassles. That.

As I said only a few hours ago, the visa stress will only be over once I've got my passport in my hands again and can see that I've got all the visas needed and that the dates are correct.

Visas (part 2)

It brings me no end of relief that as of about 30 minutes ago the visa paperwork is heading towards Travcour, removing the "I've got to get this done" stress.

Until the Turkmenistan Letter of Invitation arrives I'll have that hanging over me, but there is nothing I can do about that; I just have to wait for the embassy to issue it and then hope they issue the visa in time.

The visa stress will only be really relieved once I've got my passport back in my hands and I can see them and check they are all OK, but it is a huge relief to get everything sent and the process started.

Useful visa tip

When you need to apply for a whole bunch of visas, especially those which may not be as easy to get, consider the benefits of reading through all the application forms (online and offline) and all the supplementary information well before you actually need to apply and then again in the run-up to applying (just in case things have changed).

Just when I thought I'd got everything done I've hit one small question I need to check with Dragoman as a part of getting the Uzbekistan visa.  A small thing, but checking all of this 2 months ago and then 2 weeks ago would have saved me a whole load of stress and means I wouldn't be up at 1am dealing with visa paperwork.  As is all the paperwork I've got will be posted tomorrow morning and I've paid the extra for express/urgent/justdoitnow processing of everything - yes that is money which could be spent elsewhere, but without the visas there is nowhere else to spend that money.

Making the visas work for this trip is something which caused a chunk of headaches back in October (see this, this, this and this), so it's pretty bloody stupid of me to have these issues now.  You live and learn.

17 March 2013

Moving (end of part 1)

We came, we saw, we drove 560 miles through rain, sunshine, more rain, snow (yes, snow) and even more rain, but we made it.  One very quick trip to Cornwall later and my flat now has about as little in it as I can sensibly get away with for the next two weeks, where I'll be leaving London at some point over the Easter weekend (exact date subject to much randomness) with one last car-load of stuff and that's it.

It feels really good to have all this done, both in terms of getting it out of the house and getting me another step closer to going, and in that the dejunking of my life is mostly done - something, as I've said many times now, I wish I'd done years ago.

Little brothers - they have their uses.  Thank you, AJ.

16 March 2013

Sleeping bag

I bought most of the big-ticket items a couple of weeks ago, leaving "just" the sleeping bag to find. Given how much of a difference a good night's sleep can make to your day a good bag and a good mat can make a big difference to the trip.
Having heard good things about Alpkit from various sources (no, Gil, not just you :)) and being very happy with the down jacket I bought from them last year I took a look at their SkyeHigh bags, where doing so was helped by their current sale.

I had to put some serious thought into the temperature limits I'd need from the bag, as I need it to take me from the plains of central Asia to the middle of the desert and to the mountains of South America, all whilst being small and reasonably light. (It doesn't need to do SE Asia.)
I picked the coolest of the three options (t-limit of -5 degC) - the warmest is too warm for most of what I need at the moment, at which point take the cooler bag as it works better in warmer environments and add layers when colder.

It arrived very quickly, but I'd expect nothing else from Alpkit - the few orders I've placed with them have been shipped very quickly.

I've not had chance to test it for real yet, but the actual fit is great - just enough space around the body to have a bit of a wriggle and not feel trapped, but close enough that there isn't a lot of dead space.
Having slept in it for a few nights (indoors) I'm very happy with the comfort of it.

I'm tempted by one of their warmest bags as a something for the adventure I've got planned for 2015 (no, really) as I doubt you can get anything as good for anything like the price, but that needs a little thought.

15 March 2013


This weekend me and my brother shall mostly be driving from London to Cornwall and back, moving the majority of what I own down to my parents house for storage. By Sunday evening I'll be back in London with very little in the way of possessions - I should be down to some clothes, a few books, the inevitable random CDs and a few bits in the kitchen. Or at least that's the theory. :-)

Doing this now makes the final move a lot easier and a lot less stressful. Thanks, AJ.

14 March 2013

Depressingly useful link

Sadly this is something which has to be taken in to account - one day it won't have to be, or at least I hope humanity finally gets to the point when it realises that the gender of those you love just doesn't matter.  Until then...


13 March 2013

One last flight booking

One last(?) flight booking - in this case it is the flight from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing, which I knew was on my todo list, but has gone from "do it when I've got time, no hurry" to "do it NOW".  The reason - I need to have the booking information in order to get the visa for China.

I say last... I don't actually have a ticket to bring me back to the UK yet.

Leaving work in T-minus...

I'm at the point where I'm counting the amount of time left at work in hours, not working days.

As of posting this I'm at T-minus 75 working hours and counting.


It has reached that point where visas need to happen, which in theory shouldn't be that hard. All I need to sort at the moment are the Central Asian visas, as most (all?) South American countries will just let you in (technically, visa on entry) and it is way too early to try and sort the few (the one?) I need to get in advance for SE Asia. That and, realistically, plans change.

Dragoman provide the Letters of Invitation and I'll be using an agency (Travcour) to do the actual leg work - the fees they charge are a bargain as compared to the amount of effort needed, let alone the use of holiday time. Simply fill in a big pile of forms, send off an even bigger pile of paperwork (Letters of Invitation, proof of residency, etc.), more passport sized photos than you'd have thought needed and the passport itself. In theory a simple and stress-free process. And yet the source of much stress - no visas, no trip.

8 March 2013

Doing the best you can with what you've got

"You do the best you can with what you've got" - doc, on discussing first aid in remote areas.

Last week I was on a first aid training course, specifically the Exmed Challenging Environment Emergency Response course, which could be subtitled "first aid for when 999 isn't an option". It could, should, also be subtitled "first aid for ex-forces types who work in Hostile Environments, a precursor to the Medicine In Remote Areas course".

It was a very interesting week where I learned a lot, and thank to Gil - remembered stuff I'd been taught before, which has left me with a feeling that in the event of a Bad Day I know enough to do something useful, although with an acceptance that it may not be enough.
It has also left me with a feeling that I need to learn more basics, as the course covered a lot of things like shooting wounds and IED injuries, but not a lot in terms of bandaging a sprained ankle. It also assumes (to a point) that you've got some basic kit with you (OP and NP airways, for example), which given their target customer is fair.

If I had the time I'd like to do the Exmed Travel and Expedition Medicine course before I go walkabout, but the timing doesn't work. I suspect it is the type of thing I'll do once I return, in part in preparation for my next adventure and in part because I find first response / medicine interesting, although it's not type of thing I could do for a living. Well, not directly.

4 March 2013

The hip bone is connected to the...

This week I shall be in the depths of Herefordshire learning first aid for when 999 isn't an option.  For those that are interested see here.

If I had more time (and money) they do a two other courses which look very interesting, if (massively?) overkill for what I'm doing - the inner (medical) geek needs feeding at some point.  Although I must point out, I'm not a real doctor. ;-)

2 March 2013


I found more CDs today, obviously - including the live album from 3 Daft Monkeys, which has a recording of Faces on it.  Worth a listen to the lyrics.

They are well worth seeing them live if you get the chance - just make sure you take your dancing shoes.

Bag & Boots

I have a fairly small shopping list, as I'm not planning on taking that much with me - the whole "I wish I'd taken half as much stuff as twice as much money" is very true.  I'm not sure I can do much about the money, but I can take less stuff.

Of what is on the list there are a few bigger-ticket items; a good bag and a decent pair of boots are high on the list, along with a good sleeping bag and mat  (a good night's sleep makes a lot more things bearable / a lack of quality sleep can make the little things seem a lot bigger).  Not so expensive but just as important - a good pillow.  Really - a good pillow when camping makes up for a lot.

The last couple of evenings has been some serious looking at just about everything that the glut of outdoors shops in Covent Garden has to offer, where I came home last night with the bag & boots.

The bag.  Given my criteria there are very few choices - I wanted:
  • Proper backpack - something I can wear comfortably over distance and take of a bit of a hike
  • Not a top-loader - they are a PITA to live out of
  • Minimum of 65L, ideally 70+  - yes, I know I just said "I'm not planing on taking much with me"
  • No wheels - there is a time and a place for wheeled luggage and this isn't it
  • (Ideally) with an easy way of carrying a day-sack too
It really came down to a choice of two, the Osprey Waypoint 85 or the Lowe Alpine Travel Trekker II 70.  Both are very good bags and either would have been a good choice, but I've got for the Osprey - the fit is slightly better, although the Lowe is probably better for trekking, and it is lighter and has more space - not to fill, but to allow for less tight packing and/or to allow me to buy things on the road and not worry about how to then carry it.

I get home last night with the bag and my flatmate's teenage daughter looks at the bag, looks at the size and asks what it's for.  I explain that this is what I'll be living out of for the next year - cue look of disbelief. :-)

Boots.  I think I've tried on every pair of wide-fitting walking & trekking boots in London, or at least it feels like it.  Far too may to list, but it came down to two pairs of Meindle - the Kansas GTX or the Burma Pro MFS.  Again, neither is bad, but the wearing one of each and the choice is clear - the Kansas.  It doesn't have quite as much ankle support as the Burma (but it has plenty), but is is easier under-foot and is more suited to more of what I'm doing.  Crucially - it just felt better and that is something you've got to go with.

If I were doing more serious hiking as the main activity I'd have gone for the Burma - as is there is some hiking, but they also need to take me through the streets of countless places and do some comfortably.