29 December, 2015

A Pygmy Hedgehog, Eagle Owl and Meerkats, It's Zoo2U

Tor with Jelani
A surprise present from my wife by Zoo2U, a family run business which aims at educating children and adults about wildlife. The animals were presented by Tor in a warm, knowledgeable and friendly manner. She was a great at answering all of our questions.

It seems my that my wife booked this visit some time ago and at the time of the booking she was allowed a selection of three animals to be brought to our home.

Pygmy Hedgehog - Thistle
First to put in an appearance was "Thistle" the pygmy hedgehog and it can't be denied that for a hedgehog she's pretty cute. Tor explained that Thistle was actually a cross between  a four toed hedgehog and an African hedgehog. A calm creature that we all took it in turns to hold.

African Eagle Owl - Jelani
"Jelani", an Eagle Owl from central Africa was next, Somewhat smaller than the Eurasian Eagle Owl it is none the less quite big, weighing at just over 1.5Lbs. We were surprised that Tor said he would fly in our living room and wondered if Jelani would be distracted by our Christmas tree, however he behaved impeccably apart from being rather besotted with his own reflection in our window. His wing span was impressive as he silently flew across the room then flared for landing. It's quite noticeable that as with other Eagle Owls he has a brightly coloured yellowish/orange iris, indicating that he mostly diurnal (daytime hunter) and that much of his time is spent perching and waiting for something tasty to come along. By the way owls with dark irises, such as our barn owl are mostly nocturnal and their preferred hunting method is completely different as the fly low over rough grassland searching out their prey.

Meerkat - Kato or is it Leo?
Finally it was time for a pair of meerkats, "Kato" and "Leo", to make a lively showing. Meerkats belong to the mongoose family and also come from Africa (not Russia!).They did have an attraction to one of pot plants and the Christmas tree but could could be quickly brought to order with the rattle of a container of dried meal worms. That was something we learned - meerkats have huge appetites. They had already had two meals that day but soon very quickly gobbled up more meal worms from our hands.

All too soon the visit was over; it was quite an experince having the animals so close and being able talk to their keeper in such a pleasant and informal way. Tor obviously loves to be with the animals and show them off at their best. There's a few more photos in a Zoo2U Facebook Posting and to round things off there's some video below.

22 December, 2015

SS Great Britain Re-Visited

Back in December 2014 we visited SS Great Britain which is now a museum ship in the harbour at Bristol. It was fascinating, full of detail, even atmospheric smells and we ran out of time to explore it fully. Fortunately the ticket has a one year lifespan so we were able to re-visit just before it expired.

Although it appears to be floating, it is not and on the previous visit we had not really appreciated that this meant we could go underneath it and have a look at the hull.

Standing next to the huge propeller at the back gave an idea of the great thrust it must have provided. SS Great Britain was one of the first to have a screw propeller as opposed to to  paddles which she was originally intended to have.

SS Great Britain was a huge ship by the standards of the day and as well as it's revelutionary propeller it was made of iron.

Inside, the ship is a travel back in time, it seems like it must have just docked and as everyone had disemabrked then vistors were allowed on board. The dockside hasn't been neglected either with packing cases, barrels & building all lending to add to the realism and atmosphere. The entry fee isn't cheap but it's comparable to many attractions these days and worth every penny.

Prior to our visit we visited the nearby Orchard Inn to try out some local cider which was very good, somehow a very tasty pie found it's way to our table too.

It was dark afterward we finally left so that the staff could go home and we enjoyed a stroll along the harbour, the dockyard cranes which were prepared for Christmas making an interesting landmarks amongst the other lights surrounding the area.

13 December, 2015

Home Fires Series 2 Completed

Last year it was reported that Hilary and Ian had done some “extra” work in the first series of “Home Fires”. This came about as a result of responding to a leaflet drop in Bunbury which was transformed into Great Paxford in the series. The concept was loosely based on the book Jambusters by Julie Summers. Hilary and Ian only intended to take part for the novelty of it as a one-off, however by the time filming finished there was already talk of a 2nd series and also "Boss" the agency they had signed up to was offering extra, extra work.

So Hilary and Ian have been “Support Artists” in a number of productions starting off early in the year with “Close to the Enemy” which will be screened on BBC sometime soon. In May Ian was involved in two night shoots at Chester Cathedral for “Midwinter of the Spirit”, though you would need to have a very keen eye to spot him. That has already been shown on ITV but is about to be repeated on ITVbe.

Since early Autumn the 2nd series of Home Fires has been in production. With Hilary being busy in so may other ways she was only available for one day as a member of Great Paxford Women’s Institute. At 7 days, one more than last year, Ian managed take on several roles as a villager and a wedding guest. Filming has now been completed but since it’s not been shown yet no more can be reported. Rumours of a third series and the possibility of being called for other extra work means it looks like there will be more of the same in 2016.

27 November, 2015

Back On A Slope At Last

My good friend Martyn Kinder wanted to design and build an aerobatic slope soarer which has the appearance of a modern moulded plastic missile but is actually constructed using traditional balsa/spruce and perhaps some glass cloth. 

Recent interest generated in Slope Soaring at our local club (South Cheshire RCS) helped fuel desire. And though not on our doorstep we are nicely located between the Peak District and the mountains of Snowdonia and of course the Great Orme. Our nearest slope is Bosley Cloud on the edge of the Peak District so that is where the Maiden flight took place. There's blog for the build of this model at http://www.modelflying.co.uk/forums/postings.asp?th=106263

Not having been on the slopes for some months and knowing there's afew rocks up on the top of Bosley Cloud I decided to play safe and take a coupkle of tough models, my SAS Fusion and HK Wicked Wing. I was particularly keen to fly the Wicked Wing because I have had a lot of trouble with the servos coming loose, which made for some pretty "interesting" flying. I have now glued the servos in with UHU Por contact adhesive and that seems to have done the job. So here's a video briefly covering our day:

25 October, 2015

New Web Sites Launched

As the needs of various organisations vary so do the reasons for having a website and the purposes of those websites.  Although IPJnet Web Developments is my business I sometimes find that organisations that have small budgets need a website creating but cannot afford to pay a commercial fee for one. Of course I don't just knock out free websites as soon as someone asks but where friends and associates are in need I do have a look at what can done.

Seven years ago I created a website for the Middlewich Clean Team and it has served well but the technology behind it was ageing and it could only be updated by me. Reviewing the type of update that were being made to their website it became apparent that most were either news items or photo gallery items - the sort of material commonly associated with with blogs. So the new website would amount to setting up a blog with some extra features. The choice of blog application to use was straight forward as it had to one that could easily be handed over to less experienced users to maintain and Google's "Blogger" fitted the bill nicely. I set up the blogger earlier this year and launched it in March, initially just with links to the old site for content then gradually the content from the old site has been moved into the blog. The same web address www.middlewichcleanteam.co.uk continues to be used so there is no disruption to existing links.

Soon after the completion of the Middlewich Clean Team website a friend asked for help to create a website for the Middlewich Handbell Ringers and it soon became apparent that once again a blog would do the job nicely. Once the details needed for the more or less static pages had been worked out the rest of the setup was straight foward so in June this year www.middlewichhandbells.co.uk was launched.

Finally, this Autumn an idea a friend had about making a publicly available database for researching problems with Radio Control aircraft was launched. This database is still in it's early days so far as content is concerned and we are keen to build up an editorial base of experienced Radio Control modellers. The JOOMLA powered site is growing nicely; it hasn't been cost free as I have had to add some extensions and I'm paying for the hosting so I will probably have to add a "Please Donate" button at some point just to make sure it pays for itself. Since it's about radio control, aircraft and it's a database the website name combines those features and is called RC Aerobase, the address being http://rcaerobase.ipjdev.co.uk/   

An update to my own website is long overdue, wonder when I'll get around to that!

10 September, 2015

Airbus Visit

On 5th September my model flying club (South Cheshire Radio Control Society) was invited to make a static display of models at the Airbus factory employees open day at Broughton, Nr Chester.

As a reward we were allowed access to the factory and follow the process of how the wings are manufactured. This is where all of the Airbus wings are made including those for the massive A380 series of aeroplane. The wings skins are held on a series of jigs as they are drilled and riveted by machines and huge cranes move them from one part of the factory to another.


Most wings are flown out on a Beluga aeroplane but the A380 wings are too big and are floated down the River Dee on a barge to Mostyn where they are transferred to a ship for France. Incidently a friend of mine is involved in the manufacture of some of the jigs and cranes, my brother was an apprentice here in the 1960s and my Grandfather was a toolmaker, so I have quite an interest in the site.

We were provided with a good sized fenced of display area and the eight of us set up our models just around the inside of the fence so that they could be easily viewed. We were pleasantly surprised by the interest shown and of course we were only too glad to talk about our favaourite subject. Although the day started off quite cold, once the sun came out it was quite barable and there was good humoured banter thoughout. A break for something to eat provided the opportunity for a quick photo of the team and I think I can speak for all of us when I thank Airbus for the opportunity to attend. I hope they'll have us back another time.

We were also fortunate that some full size aeroplanes present for static display too. Most had already irrived but we were thrilled to see the arrival and departure of the Spitfire PR9 and the Hurricane IIB.

Pictures below from top to bottom are: deHavilland Venom, Hawker Hurricane IIB, Supermarine Spitfire PR9.

23 August, 2015

Update from 1056 feet high

On holiday in Scotland on top of Maxwellston Hill. It's pretty windy up here.

The view is good though!

01 August, 2015

No Wind But Still Saw A Kite

Just out riding our bikes in Lily Lane, Byley, Cheshire when a bird flew from a roadside tree, recognised it straight away as a red kite, haven't seen one in Cheshire before. Great what you get to see on a bike.

05 July, 2015

Hello Hawks

I've previously mentioned that I was planning on getting an electrically assisted bike and after much searching, mostly in my wallet, I found somewhere I thought worth a visit where I could view and ride some bikes (eBikeShed). My wife and I went there and finding that the bike that best suited me cost more than I had hoped to spend, we left without making a decision. Then the next day I ordered two!

It looks like they are going to do the job. 30 years ago 36 miles on a bike would not have been anything to get excited about but times have changed and yesterday's ride was hugely significant. It was a big test of endurance for the the bikes and for me. It particularly answered the question as to whether the bike could look after me if I "ran out legs" which I did soon after turning back from the halfway point at Spurstow where we plugged in the chargers for an hour. 

The journey home was brilliant, we set off home with around 75% of charge in the batteries, that is just enough to light up the last of the four charge lights. When we re-passed Bunbury locks and used full power to get up the steep hill the power level went down to just 2 lights. Then on the on the level again and under less load all 4 lights came on again, so power conservation seemed highly necessary. We were carefull for a good while but after about half way we decided to run for home and selected the middle level of pedal assist (options being low, med & high) and that made an immense difference to the overall speed and of course the amount of effort we had to put in. So as a consequence of the better surface (tarmac V grass), the wind behind us and making good use of the pedal assist we were home in a rather unexpected 2 hrs! Still very, very tired though! There's no doubt that without the help of the motor I wouldn't have been able to do the 4.75 hours outward journey on often bumpy grassy canal tow-paths in the first place and I wouldn't have been able to get home on the relatively smooth back roads either.

This all bodes well for the bikes fulfilling the purposes we wanted them for. Years ago my wife didn't have a chance of staying with me on a bike, I just wasn't comfortable going so slow, then it changed the other way around and my fatigue meant I could hardly keep up with her let alone go any distance but now we can ride together. Another gain of course is the benefit of getting some exercise.

Our ebikes are "FreeGo Hawks", one a crossbar version and one a step through. They have 36v 10Ah batteries giving a range of around 30 miles. The 7 gears cover a good range with 1st gear being extra low to help with hill climbs and it removes the need for a twin chain wheel gear. I think it's worth mentioning here that one of the other bikes I considered ("Roodog Explorer") seemed very nice and it was a difficult decision to decide which to go for. In the end the deal that I was offered meant the "FreeGo Hawks" were a little dearer but were more suitable for us. The "Roodog Explorers" are mountain bike types whilst the "FreeGo Hawks" are more akin to the Dutch sit up straight style which as I have a stiff neck most of the time would be better. In addition we liked the full mudguards, battery powered lights (including a brake light), chain guard, rear pannier and less of a kick when the torque controlled motor engages.

We have completed about 60 miles on the bikes now and so far we have found the low power setting good enough for general use with a twist of the throttle for extra power when needed. Medium power gives a good boost and contributes to a much faster journey over smoother surfaces. We haven't had the need to use full power except briefly on steep hills. Often we have allowed the assist to help get the bike up to speed and then pedalled beyond the range of the assistance given at that power level, then if there's a need to slow down it's an easy job to get going again as the power assist smoothly comes in. Another alternative is to use pedal power, just using the throttle to get moving and an occasional boost when needed. When tired I found using the throttle alone for some distance is beneficial in that I can take a rest whilst still moving then resume with power assisted pedalling after while; alternating this pattern seems to be a good way of getting a tired body home.

26 June, 2015

Bye Bye Banana

My Raleigh Team Banana road racing bike has been unused for years, not just because I don't have the energy anymore but also because the roads seem so treacherous these days. One solution of course would be to avoid the narrow main roads with goods vehicles passing in opposite diorections leaving far too little room for a vulnerable cyclist; that pretty much confines me to going no where as all the roads leading out of town are of that nature. So what about off road cycle ways? Well that's my thinking but the wheels on my banana would never cope.

Time to for us to go our seperate ways and even though I haven't ridden it much in recent years it still feels like losing an old friend. So what about making a new friend that can cope with off road use. Yes that's the way I'm going but there's still the problem of quickly exhausting the available energy I have. Well I've been keeping an eye on the progress of electrically assisted pedal cycles for a long time and though the are still expensive they have developed to the point where in use they are entrirely practical. With a pedal assist range of 25-30 miles on average there's genuine benefit and a strong likelihood of being able to make it home again. I was amazed when I first tried one, they really do give pedal power a big boost.

There's a wide range of eBikes and reseach at the moment points towards a mountain bike style so now I have to find somewhere that stocks a good range and that I can try out.

16 June, 2015

Home Fires 2nd Series Announced

We had a great time as support artistes (that means extras!) in the filming of the first series of Home Fires and now a second series has been announced were hoping to get the call for that too. There's a short video clip on the Boss Casting Facebook site in which my wife and I both appear here.There was a fantastic friendly atmosphere in and around Bunbury where most of the filming was carried out and it was marvellous to actually see the series broadcast on ITV recently.

Since Home fires I've also worked in Close To The Enemy (BBC) in Liverpool and Midwinter Of The Spirit (ITVEncore) in Chester. I've been asked for availability for further television films so it looks like there's more work to come!

26 April, 2015

Cruising Coventry Canal

Spring is here and time to be getting about a bit and we've decided to try the Coventry Canal for a change. Back to our usual starting point at Mercia Marina with a hire boat from Avante our route took us along the now familiar Trent and Mersey canal to Fradley Junction. From there we turned into the Coventry canal.

We intended to go as far as Fazely Junction but made good progress, probably due to the absence of locks,  and ended up heading further south along the Birmingham and Fazely Canal for a few miles. Our daughter couldn't get enough time of work so she joined and left us at Branston which gave us the opportunity to visit the the Bridge Inn twice for some lovely Italian food.

We met some friends at Whittington for an afternoon and evening which also resulted in a pub visit when we reached Hopwas' this time the Tame Otter. Once again the food was excellent. The next day we visited a nature reserve near Drayton Bassett then started out return journey.

Just to make it seem like we spent all our time in pubs we also visited the the Burton Bridge Inn & Brewery. The brewery wasn't open but the pub was! Here we sampled all six of their beers, three each and no we weren't overdoing it at lunchtime because the "sample paddle" consisted of three 1/3 pints, so actually we only had a pint each. Once again food gets a mention. Hilary had faggots and I had a 6 oz burger made with beef from a local butcher, both very satisfying.

27 March, 2015

9 Trouble Free Flights

I had the Harmon Rocket out today for 3 flights, what a great flyer it is with a nice throaty four stroke engine. Also had 3 flights with the Mini Pred helicopter without crashing it and 3 flights with the little Tiger Moth in the calm late afternoon. I was at the field for 3 hours and I didn't check but I think the wind was probably 3 miles per hour!

All good things must come in threes then!

21 March, 2015

GWS Tiger Moth Maiden Day

Last year my daughter bought a GWS Tiger Moth for my birthday. It was quite a surprise especially since really it's the indoor model and I don't care for indoor flying. So it lanquished on a shelf for the rest of the year but recently I decided to assemble it, fitting a lighter lithium polymer battery pack than the heavier NiCad pack it was designed for. I also used the now commonplace 2.4Ghz radio system which also meant that I could fit a lightweight receiver. All these hopefully giving it chance to fly outdoors on calm days.

A couple of weeks ago such a calm day arrived so I decided to give it a try. The wheels are pretty flimsy so it would struggle to take off from grass (so I thought but I have done so since). There was no one on about that had hand launched a model before so I decided to try it off a tarpaulin sheet, that worked a treat. I wish I had remembered to ask someone to video the maiden flight which revealed a huge amount of yaw to the right, too much to correct with rudder trim so I had to hold the correction in on the transmitter throughout the flight. Amazingly it flew quite well, so well that I was able to land it back on the tarpaulin which annoyingly I couldn't repeat for the second flight in the video below.

By the time of the next visit to the field I had remounted the motor with more left sidethrust and it flew a straight without any yaw on another clam day. I flew it again yesterday when there was a light breeze and it coped though I would say it was on it's limit. All the same calm summer and autumn evenings may well see this dainty little aeroplane floating around.

02 February, 2015

An Unexpected Walk

It's not unusual for me to go for a short walk along the canal near to my home in Middlewich, on this occasion though my wife came with me and we decided to follow a path that we had not really noticed before.

It was 25th January, another cold breeze gently blowing but on the whole not too bad and the start was pretty normal, following the Shropshire Union branch to the shortest canal in the country, the Wardle Canal at just 47 metres long. The Wardle canal joins to Shopshire Union canal to the Trent and Mersey Canal and is famous for it's picturesque lock & lock keepers cottage.

Trent and Mersey canal near the Wardle canal junction
Having reached the Trent and Mersey canal we turned north towards Northwich for a short distance. The sun was behind us and a pair of swans were meandering along the calm water and beyond the bridge were some narrowboats belonging to Middlewich Narrowboats. A typical Middlewich view that requires the passerby to reach for a camera. I only had my phone camera with me but it didn't do too bad a job. Soon after this the canal runs parallel to Brooks Lane and on the opposite side of Brooks Lane is a public footpath though the industrial estate and into the countryside; we decided to explore it. The footpath was mostly well marked but in places became less clear. Mobile phone to the rescue again this time with GPS and maps and so we were able to follow the path as it headed in the general direction of Holmes Chapel then north again towards the A54. 
My Mini Pred Helicopter with training aids - in 2008!
By a happy co-incidence a small diversion had us walking past the South Cheshire Model Flying Club field where some other members were flying a helicopter. I've had a helicopter for years but haven't flown it for a good while but just lately these same chaps have been trying to encourage me to give it another go and on this occasion went so far as to let me have a fly with a buddy box connected (a training system) and I did alright. Hmm, we'll see!

By this time most of the afternoon had gone and it was time to head straight back towards Middlewich and home. All in this walk was very nearly 5 miles, far more than I usually walk and I was all in too!

Some Extra Work

Jambusters, a book by Julie Summers, has been the inspiration for an ITV drama to be screened around spring this year and will be called Homefires. A friend of my wife's passed on a recruiting leaflet from Boss Casting  which mentioned that location filming was going to be based around the Bunbury area of Cheshire; an area we know quite well, in fact I used to live at nearby Spurstow. Well we decided to apply and we were both accepted!

It was a very interesting experience and gave quite an insight into how the sets were made up and managed. Some days were an early start and though long, seemed to whizz by as we were kept fairly busy.
This particular production's rate of pay wasn't brilliant but I more did it more out of curiosity really and enjoyed it very much, so much so that I just might do something similar again.

More information about Jambusters is available on Facebook and more about ITV's Homefires is here  

21 January, 2015

Middlewich and The Great War

I haven't posted much about my working life for some time, as much as anything because I've been busy... working. The bulk of time at the moment is taken up with Middlewich Heritage and building up the Great War project part of their website. It's no small task as the project involved many parts of the Middlewich community and all very thoroughly recorded. This wide involvement produced a massive amount of historical data as spoken words, documents, photographs and video, all of which needs to be added to the website in some kind of order.

Middlewich Town Council and Middlewich Heritage have accumulated a great deal of experience in putting on festivals and the such like, so when the Great War project culminated in the Great War weekend it was no surprise that it was a brilliant success. The weekend generated more material and in addition to involving the community in remembering those that gave so much it invoked a modern day feeling of community too. That must be a good thing.

It's been a bit tricky getting on with all this due to having tendon release surgery on my left hand but I've managed; it's held up my model flying a lot though. So the the plan is to get this work done and then take it a bit easier so that there's some leisure time available.

04 January, 2015

Winter Forest Walk

The New Year came in not too cold, bright and cheerful so an extra day off on 2nd January to enjoy it was hard to deny. A family trip to Delamere Forest for a round trip walk starting from Barnes Bridge Gate on Ashton Road was the order of the day. The trees gave plenty of protection against the light but cold breeze and the sunshine brought out colours not often associated with winter.

It was good to have both of children with us as they have busy lives too and we don't spend as time together as I would like. Our route took us to Blakemere Moss, a small mere in a direct line from Ashton Road to Station Road. A closed path caused us to divert along the side of Blakemere Moss which turned out to be a good thing as it was very picturesque. From there we headed back to and across Aston Road along the back of Hatchmere Wood. A turn west joined us up with the Sandstone Trail and back to Barnes Bridge Gate. A pleasant 3.75 miles, just about the maximum I can manage at the moment. 

The timing was good too, pushing 4pm when we finished with sun just setting and the breeze dropped we'd had the best of the day but I wasn't ready for home so we headed of to the Hollies (a large farm shop & cafe cum bistro) on the A49 at Little Budworth for coffee and toasted tea cake, very nice.

Needles to say I took a photograph or too, it would have been terrible not to record such a lovely day.