Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Time for a change I think....

When I initially set out on my Afritrex expedition at the end of December 2007 I'd decided that setting up a blog would be a fantastic way for my friends and family to keep up-to-date with my experiences and to follow my progress around the African continent.

Since then blogs and blogging applications, widgets, add-ons etc have moved on in leaps and bounds and it's now possible to add posts by text, video or speech, through your desktop machine, laptop or iPhone.

With the help of my web-guru Ben Patterson, I've decided to design and build a new blog which will become my record of exactly what the job of Island Caretaker involves, some behind the scenes snippets and a blog of what the next six months of my life will be all about.

There will be future updates to this page every so often but for now I'll be concentrating on my new web-blog which can be found at:



With only three days to go until I fly back out to Australia every second is busy with planning, building content for this new site and preparing for the adventure ahead. If you've been following my exploits over the past few days, months or years then please continue to do so by altering your bookmarks right now!


Ben


Sunday, 14 June 2009

Down to Cornwall and into the water again...

Before I disappear for the next six months to start my job as Island Caretaker on the Great Barrier Reef there are a few important people in my life I had to see before leaving the UK's shores. Over the past few years a number of friends have left Hampshire and headed west to relocate in Devon and Cornwall and when you get down there you can understand why!

Still loaded and prepared from last weekend's exploits up in Scotland at the LAMM; Jon, Paul and I left in the Colonel (my trusty Land Rover and home for all of 2008) on Thursday and headed down the A303 towards the west country ready for a weekend of ocean based activities.

There's something great about going away on a mini adventure even if its just for a few days; the long drive, the camping, the little country lanes, the sounds and smells of the ocean and the countryside are all a welcome reminder that you're somewhere different that needs exploring!

Six hours after we'd left we dropped down the final descent from St Keverne into the sleepy hollow of Porthkerris where Dave and Turkey live to find their perfect little world exactly as I remembered it....but this time with Turkey running the catering wagon, flippin' burgers, blending cheese and generally amusing the locals with his own brand of questionable humour!


Being able to take time out from a hectic lifestyle is essential and something I really don't do enough of; its only when I get the chance to breakaway and head to one of the more remote parts of the country that I actually realise its good for the human soul to rest up, relax and let the sound of the ocean massage the brain into a trance like state - a one of the first real
opportunities to think about the job as the Island Caretaker.

Inside the head of me.....

Since May 6th back on Hamilton Island when Anna Bligh made the announcement that I'd won the job with Tourism Queensland life has been even more hectic than normal. I thought I used my days up pretty productively, planning a festival, plotting the next expedition and in between all of it trying to keep as fit as possible...but this has turned even my energetic lifestyle on its head.

Every day I talk to someone new, every day there's a different person contacting me from a another country and its truly amazing to have the chance to speak to everyone of them. We have a chuckle at each others accents, we struggle to understand each other sometimes and very often the time zones of the world just aren't taken into account as my phone rings deep into the night waking me as I dreamily ponder what the next few months will bring; adventure, the ocean and a vast amount of discovery.

As I count down the final days to my departure from these shores the last week has provided me with an interesting insight into just how the press can work, I have the deepest sympathies for some of the 'real' celebrities out there and can now understand how they have to watch everything they say just in case its taken the wrong way, let me explain....

Situation is this - I meet up with a good friend Ben Patterson on the way back from Scotland who's organised a meeting with a lady from the Press Association. We take a few, photos on the beach where I used to go as a child on holiday as a bit of promotion for the tourist industry in the north east (Bamburgh, Northumbria), she asks me a question....

"What will you miss about the U.K.?"

I answer as honestly as I can.....Mum's Sunday roasts, long summer's days, music festivals - genuine answers to a genuine question.

However the way the Sun newspaper in the UK and several in papers in Australia decided to take the answer in a slightly different way and labelled me the 'Whingeing Pom' - brilliant and totally taken out of context. Oh you gotta love the media. Have a look here and here for my response a day or so later....yet more laughs!

Those good bods at Tourism Queensland are right behind me though and came back at the papers with their total support for me in a few articles which followed up on the story, a taste of things to come I think.

As I sit here in my hotel room, having just come from Talk Sport Radio where I was a guest presenter for an hour on Ian Collins show, I'm thinking about the amazing opportunity ahead and the incredibly exciting six months of adventure and experiences which lie ahead.

The clock is ticking and the final week here in the UK is going to fly by, I have two full-on days of promoting the BBC documentary (which is out on July 2nd, 9pm BBC1) to come next week, an evening meeting the Governor of Queensland and then two days to pack everything I need into my bags before hopping on a plane to the other side of the world again where I'll meet my girlfriend Bre and move into the Blue Pearl residence under the watchful eye of the assembled world media once more! I cannot wait.

The limited details I've been given so far of the first six weeks of the job look jaw-droppingly exciting...diving at Cod Hole on Lizard Island being one of the obvious highlights as I try and dive as often as possible in an effort to get my Advanced PADI certification, I really want to dive on some wrecks and to do that I'll have to pass another course but they're all things which I look forward to ...maybe with the exception of sitting another exam!

This week has been particularly busy with three full days of interviews and appointments, I've tried really hard to give something back to the younger people in my area by organising some presentations at local schools, visiting my old primary school where I went for a year at the age of 10. It was so amusing going back to Ropley School and seeing quite how its changed, the secretary, Mrs Price, is still there and very kindly showed me my excerpt from the year book of 1986 along with a very embarrassing picture which the children all laughed at as only they can!

My 20 minute presentation told them all about last year's project Afritrex along with a little glimpse of what the Island Caretaker role will involve over the coming six months. Its amazing how different and almost nerve-racking it is presenting to 100 children....but they listened like mice and ooo'ed and ahh'ed in the right places as I showed them pictures of the African wildlife. A very rewarding experience all round.

On a bit of a roll I repeated the presentation to Liss Junior School this week, but this time there was the added pressure of addressing 250 children whilst being filmed by a French TV crew from the TV1 channel. It doesn't get much tougher than this.

Nicholas and Arnaud are filming a short feature for a current affairs program which goes out late in July and for their take on the story had me swimming in the Solent, chatting with friends Paul and Rachel over dinner and even came with me as I recorded the voice-overs for a BBC program called Inside Out, which I guest presented and goes out in September. Its been a busy week.

I have to mention another local adventurer from the Petersfield area where I live, Tom Heal who together with his good friend Will Smith who leave the UK at the end of the year in an attempt to become the youngest team ever to row an ocean. Find out more and support them at http://www.atlanticrowyt.co.uk/

We spent an amusing hour together having some photos taken for Life in Petersfield magazine around the lake in our fantastic home town! Best of luck to them both with their fundraising and training. Arghhh hours on the rowing machine - my least favourite item in the gym.

Being my final weekend in the UK I've organised another farewell party at the Mill Tavern, which people are welcome along to if your in the area, and then the countdown really is on....

In a week's time I'll be flying out to Brisbane to start a new job

AND I CANNOT WAIT WAHOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon

Finally today the legs work again....

I thought I'd try another discipline of marathon running and jumped at the chance, back in February, to enter the L.A.M.M. my first real adventure race which involved two days of orienteering through the wilds of Scotland with my old friend Bryan Smith.

This sort of racing is totally different from a conventional marathon and a whole lot harder on the mind and body than I expected, but also incredibly good fun to be involved with.

It's known as the Connoisseurs Marathon for a number of reasons; you enter as a team of two and carry all of your camping kit, food, water and clothing which is needed to take on the Highlands of Scotland in the summer (read as 'wet and windy), don't know anything about the location of the event until 36hrs before it starts apart from "3 to 4 hours north of Glasgow", don't know anything about the course until you're handed a map and some co-ordinates and have to run it up, down and over some of the highest mountains in the area.

This is really tough event. Full stop, Period.


Here's the GPS route of our drive up to Scotland and back.....click the image
Wednesday 3rd June

I collected Bryan from a pub in Rugby after a three hour drive to get there and then drove all through the night to reach our destination, Glencoe, three hours after sunrise just as my head was starting to get to that nodding stage. Afritrex all over again with mammoth drives, this one being 567 miles/912 kms!

Thursday 4th June

We camped in Glencoe, setup the Colonel ready for a night/days sleep and were rudely awaken by RAF jets screaming overhead three hours later....there goes the sleep, so we cut our losses, packed up and headed to the pub for some well earned lunch.


Now Scotland at anytime of year can provide 'interesting' summer weather - I know after having numerous family holidays there when I was younger; rain, sleet, sunshine and the ever present midges but today was to be a pleasant surprise - 20 degrees C and sunshine all round. Perfect.

We headed out for a drive to soak up some air before we'd have to do it for real the next day on the marathon and found a stunning little valley road running alongside a river and got out for a wander.
Now I know I'm renowned for jumping into cold water anyway but this was a fantastic place to find - a cool flowing stream and waterfall with a deep pool and a huge jump off, far too tempting not to have a go so I stripped off and entered the surprisingly clear waters without freezing myself too much, amazing.

Finally after waiting for what seemed like ages my iPhone signalled the arrival of the email we'd been waiting for...the location of where this years LAMM would take place, Kintail, around 80 miles away to the north of where we were staying. Tonight we'd rest up and get a full sleep and then head to the location ready to pitch camp sometime in the afternoon.

Friday 5th June
We headed out of Glencoe towards Kintail via Fort William, situated at the base of Ben Nevis - the UK's highest mountain, and bought the last few things on the kit list we were missing and in near perfect weather conditions had a fantastic drive across the Highlands of Scotland and had a rush of nostalgia about quite how great this island we live on actually is!

Arrived at the campsite in good time and set up the tent just as in the distance a rainbow signalled the end to the fine weather and the approach of what we'd feared the most....rain. damn it, surely this would be here all weekend meaning a wet and uncomfortable two days pacing the hills. We went to bed with fingers crossed.

Saturday 6th June
Now I love the bagpipes; the sound conjures up scenes from Braveheart and Dead Poet's Society, determination through adversity and total Scottishness - but when you hear them at 5.30am as a wake up call to signal the start of a two day physical adventure they somehow loose their romanticism.

Stuffing the last of our kit into our 30L backpacks we left the Colonel behind and made for the coaches which would whisk us to the start point, following our every move on the laminated maps we'd be given so we had a good idea where we'd be heading from the off.

Fifteen minutes later we were there, I felt a little nervous to be taking on a new form of adventure racing but totally excited at the same time and hopped out of the coach to collect the series of co-ordinates which marked the checkpoints we'd need to complete the course for the first day.

Bryan spent a number of years in the military and knows far more than me about map reading and orienteering so showed me how to plot the control point positions and from their location, how to navigate between them using the contour lines and features on the map to give the best route around the course - and from looking at how close the contours are together there would be some serious slopes to go up and down!

We headed out into the grey morning with the first easy checkpoint on the horizon with a few other teams already on the way giving us an easy decision on how to get to it...follow the other teams! Once we'd both pushed our dibbers (electronic bracelets which need to be clicked at each checkpoint) into the boxes the next decision was a little more difficult - a huge mountain stood between us and the next checkpoint, so which way do we go around it!?!?

As we neared the decision point we decided to track east of the obstacle whereas others teams appeared to to west, oh well we'd stick to our plan and head along the contours keeping our height as best we could until the the edge of the cliffs and the eventual checkpoint...hopefully! We found the next checkpoint at the stream junction and made off into the distance for the remaining goals with the clouds gathering overhead all of the time.

By the early afternoon we'd found all but the last of the checkpoints and made our way down the final descent and wearily into camp to find the majority of the field already there, tiny tents already erected with people soaking their battered feet in the babbling stream to relieve them of the days exertions. 1400m ascended in total, 23kms as the crow flies or around 30kms on the ground.



After a light dinner of pasta, cous cous and energy bars we both hit the hay in 'the' smallest of all tents on show there - Bryan all the time happily claiming his £25 Ebay bargain was the way ahead, and I had no complaints sleeping right through until the dreaded bagpipes kicked off again at 5.30am once more!

Sunday 7th June
Tired legs, tired minds, tired feet - not the perfect recipe for a fast time and after consulting the leader board found we'd not done as well as expected being placed 109th out of 116 teams in the 'C' Class - oh well we'd just be glad to finish today really, this is another game altogether compared to conventional marathon running!

We trundled out of camp around 7.30am, the leaders and chasing pack having departed well before us all still competing for the lead, leaving us mere mortals to run at our own pace for the remainder of the day as we tracked back to base camp some 14kms away (as the crow flies which actually made it about 20kms on the ground!).

What a lovely way to start the day a sheer 600m climb to the first checkpoint followed by another 250m to the summit of the nearest mountain for the second - it certainly got the blood pumping and the knees working again. After some great navigating by Bryan we decided on our route for the next couple of checkpoints and actually made up some time on the other teams by racing (or as fast as our painful legs go carry us) down a pretty steep slope almost falling on our faces as we went to arrive at the machine in advance of our fellow competitors.

One of the checkpoints was placed on the far side of the river so through the chilly water we went which added to the weight of our already heavy feet, as dibbed in but the joy of reaching another goal was short-lived as we both looked at the map and the monster mountain which lay directly in front of us...as out eyes focused on the challenge ahead we could start to see other teams already on the ascent slowly inching their way hand over hand up the slope. This really was a testing point of the weekend - already fatigued, here was another huge personal challenge to take on.

We broke the back of the climb around an hour later and finally had only one more checkpoint to find before we could start to taste to start of the descent back down to the awaiting finish line, clean clothes, food and the Colonel!

Pressing on, and after a slight navigation error (!!) we finally hit the tarmac road and the last of the checkpoints, well we almost got to the checkpoint having to backtrack to it after getting caught up in the joy of nearly finishing and walking straight past it! As we crossed the line a few muted claps welcomed us and we staggered into the finish area to claim our prize for the weekends exertions - a free bowl of chilli and a cup of tea!!

We had a quick glance at the leader board and discovered today had been altogether more successful as we'd posted a final position of 127th out of 152 teams in the 'C' catergory. At least we'd got around and with minimal training too, if we do this again we'll be fitter thats for sure!

This event really has to be entered to be understood, its around a marathon and a half for our class, the elite runners cover another 20kms on top of that and finish around 5hrs in front of us. It's great fun, once you've finished, and a true test of grit and determination - I will be back for more at some stage in the future.

Thank you so much to Bryan for being the brains behind the brawn - we made a damn good team and even though he's just told me he picked eight sheep ticks out of his legs in the bath last night (I couldn't find any in mine - must have been too quick for them!) I'd love to do another at some point.

We headed out of the campsite after a quick dry shower and straight onto the road south passing the beauty of the Cairngorms before pitching the tent just outside Perth. Monday was spent trawling down the A/M1 south towards home with a slight diversion to meet a good friend Ben Patterson who's been responsible for creating and managing my website over the last year and is currently masterminding the next one. Great to see you BP and thank also for the very fun photoshoot on the beach at Bamburgh dressed in wetsuits for the Press Association - very memorable!

Off to Cornwall this weekend for more diving and water based antics.....next blog out just as soon as I can.


Ben

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Frolicking in the sunshine on the Isle of Wight

In the run up to leaving the UK at the end of June I've kept myself as busy as possible and finally after a few months of trying have made it to FARM-Africa and IDE-UK to present them with the remainder of the funds which Afritrex raised last year, the total for all three is now just over £20,000.


BBC INSIDE OUT FILMING - THE ISLE OF WIGHT


Time to take on a new challenge Ben and this time not a physical one but a mental one - how about appearing as a guest presenter for the BBC......eeek, not an opportunity to be passed up. So my girlfriend Bre, Jane the producer, Joe the cameraman and Ian the soundman all headed to the Isle of Wight (just off the south coast of England) to film a program all about this gorgeous little gem of an island and what is has to offer as a tourist destination.

I remember when I was about 5 years old (yes a stupidly long time ago I know) my Grandma and Grandpa sent me a postcard from the island and it looked something like this.....

...describing the Wonders of the Isle of Wight, I still remembered four of them and they are:
  • "Lake" where there is no water.
  • The "Needles" you cannot thread.
  • "Ryde" where you walk.
  • "Cowes" you cannot milk.
  • "Freshwater" you cannot drink.
  • "Newport" you cannot bottle.
  • "Winkle street" where there are no Winkles
  • "Newtown" which is very old
Coasteering

First stop of the day was to be Freshwater Bay to try something I've always wanted to have a go at, Coasteering - the process of jumping over rock archways, swimming through wave filled gaps, climbing up cliffs and ducking under water into invisible caves.

Arriving at Isle of Wight Sea Kayaking we met Owen our instructor for the day as I tried to persuade Bre to take to chance to dip into some freezing cold English water....for what I guaranteed her would be some fun!

We kitted up in our wetsuits, buoyancy aid, booties and helmets and all trundled off along the promenade towards the waves which were crashing onto the chalk cliffs making the heart rate raise just a little as we dipped our toes into the ocean full of expectation for the experience which lay ahead.

The waves continued to build as we swam out into the swell keeping close to the cliffs but just far enough away not to be pummelled into them and as we turned the corner the first of the caves came into sight. Owen leading us very expertly all the way offering guidance on the best way to take on this new form of adventure with a BBC underwater camera strapped to the side of his helmet.

We continued for another half an hour along the coast, clambering up the sharply hewn rocks, jumping off the higher ledges and swimming through some amazing caves and tunnels until I turned to look at Owen....and the camera was missing, oh crap there goes the best of the footage then!

Back on dry land we made our apologies for loosing the camera, dried off and headed back to the Colonel before leaving for the other side of the island after a wicked experience attacking the coastline with a very different and exciting approach to water sport.

Steephill Cove

Steephill Cove is a little piece of treasured history which really hasn't changed for the past 500 years and when you arrive down the steep footpath you can understand why - its the only means of access, apart from by boat, to the collection of fishing cottages. The Wheeler family have owned the vast majority of these amazing little houses since the 1400's along with the cafe and restaurant, Dave being the oldest member of the family. His official name is Dave Wheeler MBE, or the Island Caretaker! He was presented with his MBE a few years ago for services to deckchairs of all things, and when given the opportunity to go to Buckingham Palace to receive it he refused saying he didn't want to leave the island. In the end the Royal Family sent a Lieutenant to present it to him!

Dave's extensive family live here and every day his two sons Jimmy and Mark head out in their boat to check the crab and lobster pots, the catch from which supplies their wives with the supplies to run the cafe (famous for its Crab Pasties) and the restaurant. Real cottage industries which thrive here during the warmer months of the year.

Simon from the Ventor Blog stopped off to meet me and as we wolfed down a pastie he explained to me the tools of the trade I need to be employing to make my blog writing more interesting and interactive to all of my followers. He and his wife have been publishing their works on the internet for a number of years and were great to chat to. Thank you to them for their information.

Sea Kayaking

We raced back across the island to meet Owen and Tim who'd kindly offered to take Bre and I out Sea Kayaking for the last activity of the day, we launched just past Yarmouth and as we paddled along the coast trawled some lures for anything we may be lucky enough to catch in time for dinner.....wishfully thinking, we caught nothing and instead headed to the Fish n Chip shop for a guaranteed catch!

Bre and I retired for the evening to a fantastic cliff top campsite called Grange Farm where the owner had very kindly reserved the sea-view site for us and for the first time since January we erected the tent atop the Colonel. A little warmer than last time from -5c up to 15c, excellent.


Red Squirrels

Our last day on the island had more adventure and new experiences tied into it, starting with a visit to Alverstone Mead Nature Reserve to feed the resident red squirrels.

video

Red squirrels are the only squirrel native to the British Isles. They are disappearing from the mainland fast and are being replaced by the introduced American grey squirrel.

The Isle of Wight is an important stronghold as the Solent provides a barrier to grey squirrels. However a grey does find it’s way to the Island sometimes, so we need to be vigilant. There are contingency plans for dealing with greys that arrive on the Isle of Wight. Not only do grey squirrels outcompete reds, they carry the deadly squirrelpox virus, which is fatal to the reds.

It is illegal to bring a grey squirrel into red squirrel territory. The penalty is 2 years imprisonment or £5,000 fine. It is also illegal to release a grey anywhere, once it is caught.

Talk about cute, these little red-haired creatures rock and truly do feed right out of your hand, as soon as you crack a nut they come scampering across the roof of the hide and peer at you through their little black eyes. If you give them a whole nut the effort of breaking into it is all too much and they disappear off to bury it in preparation for the winter...in somewhere they no doubt forget about!

John and his group of volunteers had done an amazing job at preparing the woodland which surrounds the hide and provides a multitude of different environments for the local wildlife to thrive in.

Airstream Caravans


Another little hidden gem on the island, Helen and her husband have been running Vintage Vacations for a number of years in a quiet little field in the centre of the island offering a little taster of yester'year and the opportunity to stay in one of their immaculate Airstream aluminium caravans, or Land Yachts.

Talk about bright on a day like today, the sun glared off the perfectly polished body but as I walked inside a 1960's decor made me feel much more welcome...as did the swiss roll which we all munched by the plateful!


Triptracker GPS recording of our route around the Isle of Wight


Click on the link below to see exactly where we went on our little adventure.....




Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Some strange and wacky things from the past few weeks....

There's been a few little gems surfacing since the announcement was made, here are some of my favourites.



Have a look at this link from The Daily Mash - pure gold!

Have a listen to this...if you speak french or just like a good song! "Sur Ton Ile"

video

Off to the Isle of Wight today for a little adventure in the Colonel, should make for an interesting blog post in a few days time....

Ben

Friday, 22 May 2009

Warsaw and more.....

Yesterday was the end to an era, I finally left Turf Centre where I'd been working on and off ever since coming back from Afritrex at the beginning of the year. Thank you so much to George, Roy and Beverley for giving me the chance to earn a few pounds while I decided what to do with the rest of my life!

Exploring new places, that's what its all about, right!?? So when Anita from Dzien Dobry TV in Poland called at the start of the week to ask if I'd like to visit their studios in Warsaw I jumped at the chance.

Early starts every morning are the norm for me, I usually wake just before my alarm goes off at 05:30hrs and head to the swimming pool shortly after, but a flight out of Luton Airport at 08:10hrs meant a 4 o'clock start which was ridiculously early even for me.

Simple enough through the usual airport procedures, I just wish that the UK's airport officials would smile a little more - I know they're at work and I know its a serious job they're doing but come on people!

After limited sleep the night before I fell asleep as we cleared the coastline of the east of England and awoke with popping ears as our plane dropped the final few hundred metres towards the runway with another new country appearing to me through the clouds below and initial impressions were good; an organised, green landscape with small villages everywhere and as we approached the city confines light industrial units gave way to the more expected cityscape. I was about to land in Warsaw.

Swiftly through customs and passport control and into the arrivals area where Anita was waiting for me and whisked me away to the studio's car which whisked us, at the speed of light, into the city centre passing ugly high rise apartments overshadowing some of the more traditional older buildings which had survived WWII. Something like 90% of the city was flattened during the bitter struggle which shaped this part of the world 60 years ago resulting in a very new city but one which looks like it was rushed together, understandably to house the masses of course, but slowly new more attractive development seems to be replacing the architecture of the 60's and 70's....never a bad thing!

I checked into the Mercure Hotel, a very modern designer pad right in the centre of town and importantly only 5 minutes walk from where I have to be in the morning for the program! Free internet in the room too, excellent!


Time to explore....with map in hand, backpack on and a sense of adventure returning I hit the main street heading for the famous Palace of Culture and Science, a 30 storey feat of architecture built by the Russians between 1952 and 1955. Its the eighth tallest building in the EU and the tallest in Poland so I had to get to the top and after paying the Z30 shot to the top in one of the high speed lifts for an awesome view of the surrounding city and sights beyond. It offers incredible views of the surrounding city and allows you to see well past the River Wisla to the countryside beyond.

On the way into the tower I spotted three Land Rover's parked up in formation outside the building, all customised ready for an expedition, one even had a rooftent on top - I had to find out more! The guys were from a group called Podroze 4x4 and organise expeditions within Europe and are currently gathering recruits for an expedition to Yugoslavia in September, shame I won't even be in Europe by then otherwise I'd have joined them. We chatted for nearly an hour about my Afritrex expedition, the highs and lows, how are different vehicles were kitted out and exchanged business cards and the commitment that we'd keep in touch in case there could be a possible future expedition together somewhere down the line.


Plenty more to see in this city I thought with a few hours to go until sunset it was off again, following my nose feeling happy to have met some like-minded people and with a spring in my step I trundled through the main park filled with people on their way home from work on sunny Friday afternoon...for now.

On a couple of occasions I thought to myself 'time to head back to the hotel now Ben' but kept stomping, my inquisitive nature getting the better of me as I wound my way past statues, monuments and fountains eventually popping out in the old town - a how pleased I was to have kept going!

The rather drab prefab buildings had now given way to older, more architecturally inspiring delights all rising four floors from the street below and adding a new element to the city for me...history at last, I watched as tour groups filed past me; up to 50 people following the pointing purple hand the tour guide thrust towards the heavens in a vain attempt to grasp every one's attention and focus. I even thought about tagging on the end but decided against it in favour of a particularly quaint little restaurant nestled in the corner of the main square...just in time as the heavens were about to open too.


After a seriously good portion of pork ribs, sweet cabbage and roast potatoes I considered the route home...at least an hour's walk and the rain was really dropping out of the sky at quite a rate of knots which meant only one thing, getting seriously wet. I pitied the band who were assembling en masse in the square even more though...the start of what would probably end up a total wash-out!

Back at the hotel I stripped off, showered and pondered the thoughts of the day and the great city I'd just had such fun exploring, hit the sack just after midnight ready for the day ahead.

Usual story - body clock wakes me up before the electronic version and 20 minutes later breakfast arrives; a very Polish breakfast but good all the same, with rye bread, cornflakes and yoghurt - certainly enough to keep me going until lunch anyway.

The studio where TVN film the Saturday morning show was a simple five minute walk away and as I made my way into the room I was greeted by a bunch of yet more friendly English speakers making me feel very welcome with morning coffee, cereal and make-up, yuk.


Why do they have to make you appear quite so ghost like!?! It baffles me and even made me giggle silently as the lady applied a liberal coating of hair spray to my usual messy hair, the first time I'd had this on since dressing up for a school play I think. In the ad break the two hosts made their way over to me and introduced themselves, sat me down in the standard green-room sofa and then we were live, me chatting away to them understanding everything of their perfect English!

09:37hrs - my slot on national Polish TV. It drew ever closer and as it did I felt more confident about the new environment I'd been thrown into over the last few weeks, I strode up to the table I'd be filmed at and took my place in between the fake fruit and designer bowls ready for the stream of questions they'd be firing at me, 3...2....1 and we're off again.

Five minutes of good conversation and only one slip up from the host, I'm not living in Coventry, I was born there!! Excellent job all round and off set ten minutes later before being escorted downstairs to another interview with the internet side of TVP, this time a little longer and more in depth and I will stick a link up here once I get it from them I promise.

Its amazing to me that you can fly to the other side of Europe and back in 48hrs all for 20 minutes of interview, still that's the crazy world we live in.

Just about got to the airport in time to get my flight home after an extended lunch with Anita, the excellent host who'd been looking after me since I arrived, and once the thunderstorm which delayed our take-off by 30mins had passed I was off back to the UK.

Well done Poland, a really damn fine experience all round.



Thursday, 21 May 2009

Been away from my laptop for what seems like ages...

This really is the first time I've managed to put my fingers onto a keyboard to try and update you on whats been happening in the world of Ben every since I left the delights of Brisbane on May 12th! My heartfelt apologies and I'll try very briefly to summarise my movements ever since but firstly I do have to show you some of the amazing images Dave Biddulph, my dive buddy in the picture below I have my arm around, took whilst diving off Straddie Island.







On arrival back in the UK the BBC, who had been filming a documentary for the last 10 weeks all about the Best Job process, had an amazing suprise for me as they'd arranged for my girl Bre to be flown over from Canada to meet me at Heathrow and I was truly gobsmacked having not seen her for nearly 6 weeks. I was so good to hold her and excitedly tell her all about the last two weeks and what our future 6 months together potentially hold. We giggled like school children at the opportunities on offer....

The emails haven't stopped, friends from yesteryear are appearing out of the woodwork like there's an outbreak of some 'ihavetocommunicatewithyou' disease and generally I'm trying as hard as I can to fulfil all interview requests for the multitude of people around the planet who all want to know a little bit about how it all happened. Its been full on and I've tried really hard to keep all of the local requests as happy as possible, the radio and newspaper's who covered my Afritrex adventure so extensively whilst I was away during 2008.

Requests and sponsorship opportunities continue to come in and TQ are doing there best to sift through them to find the best and most brand-effective ones which I can utilise over the next few months....all very exciting really.

Will post some more after the weekend as I'm off to Poland tomorrow early to appear on Saturday morning TV.....

Have a great weekend :)

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Sunday 10th May 09

If you'd asked me a fortnight ago what exactly I'd like to be taking away from this whole experience I'd have told you having to opportunity to dive in the warm clear waters of Queensland to give me some sort of perspective after dropping below the surface in Cornwall, South West England a few weeks ago.

My great mate Dave Brown is a Dive Instructor at Porthkerris Divers and as a little refresher I experienced my first ever dip into the rather cold ten degree waters of the Atlantic Ocean but loved every second of it...12m of visibility, kelp beds, a plethora of life and my first chance to dive with a friend since Bre back in November.

Manta Lodge and Scuba Centre are based at Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island, Dave collected me from the reception of my hotel at the ungodly hour of 06:15hrs - but the sunrise was incredible, the swell slight and the anticipation extremely high which got me out of bed as soon as the alarm went off!

On arrival at the centre we went through the safety procedures, collected my equipment and got to know my fellow divers who were mainly there to complete their PADI Open Water certification and were as excited as I was to be getting in the water. The tractor towed our RIB down to the beach and we after a simple surf launch we were out on the ocean finally!

Dave Bidduplh was to be my dive buddy, a funny little man who helped me get all of my kit on and eased me back into the routine of the correct procedures I needed to complete before heading into the stunning underwater world below the ever increasing swell. Then with a gentle splash I dropped in and was finally beneath the waterline, in went my regulator, out went my BCD air and down I dropped into the colourful world below...awesome!

Once I'd slowed my breathing, checked my buoyancy and left the group of other divers, Dave and I headed out around Flat Rock to investigate its surroundings and I wasn't disappointed. A Hawksbill Turtle launched itself off the ocean floor in front of me gracefully powering itself off into the clear warm water, thousands of bait fish swirled around my head and the multitude of corals and weird little creatures were everywhere, fantastic!

As we started to near the end of the dive a big shoal of Barracuda cruised towards us from a distance and only 5m away split down the centre and swam at speed past our heads - totally incredible and another first.

Once back on the boat with all my kit off I thought to myself how lucky I am just to have experienced this part of the day with still another dive to come.....and six months of huge adventure still ahead. WOW.

The ever increasing ocean swell resulted on four of my fellow divers turning a little green and they generously contributed to the fishes breakfast over the side of the RIB, so Tim our skipper turned the boat and powered it to Shag Rock; a more protected dive site inland of our current position. That should sort it out and after a superb 10 minute skim across the surface we arrived.

Keeping in accordance with our dive tables meant we'd have to wait on the surface before descending again, we fed on soup and snake sweets and joked together about the usual Pom v Aussie rivalry...this is going to be fun again after my South African ten years of getting used to it!

Shag Rock is a much shallower dive with depths up to 12m and the increased chance of seeing some rays and yet more turtles in the clearer visibility which was somewhere around the 15m mark. Safety checks completed Dave and I again headed into the watery world which was sploshing around us.

This was the best dive I've ever done for a number of reasons; its dive number ten for me and I felt totally comfortable with everything - equipment, buddy, breathing, the environment etc and enjoyed every second of it!! Dave took his professional underwater camera down this time and snapped away throughout the dive and I hope to have the images up on this blog and also www.afritrex.com as soon as I receive them!

Yet more turtles, wobbegong's (a beautifully ugly carpet shark which rests on the seabed), thousands of bait fish and stunning coloured worms and corals all littering the rocks and surroundings making it truly the most enjoyable dive yet. No sharks still for me, no rays or whales but they will come - this for now was good enough, I can't have too many emotions at once or I'll pop!


Back on dry land I said my thanks yous exchanged email addresses and met Sharon who was there to whip me away back to the hotel in time for a filling lunch at Look Cafe Bar just down the road.

The generosity of people here is almost overwhelming, John Henson the owner had been kind enough to give me a bottle of complimentary bubbly on the table and we enjoyed a yummy portion of Barramundi for lunch - good to be eating fish now and not looking at them. Everything in moderation of course.

Then before I knew it we had to go, the Big Red Cat wouldn't wait for us and we filled the car with our belongings and drove the short distance across the island to the slipway and sat in line with the other weekend fun-seekers. What a total blast I've had.

I can leave Australia this time around happy and content that I've done what I intended to do - get another dive in!!