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In October 2018 we travelled to Ireland. Later we would go on to England (the south coast and London) before travelling overland (and underwater) by rail to Belgium and then on to Berlin to visit our grandchildren there. 

The island of Ireland is not very big, about a quarter as large again as Tasmania, with a population not much bigger than Sydney (4.75 million in the Republic of Ireland with another 1.85 million in Northern Ireland).  So it's mainly rural and not very densely populated. 

It was unusually warm for October in Europe, including Germany, and Ireland is a very pleasant part of the world, not unlike Tasmania, and in many ways familiar, due to a shared language and culture.

 

Our Travels

 

We had a simple plan.  We would hire a car in Dublin and drive around the island in an anti-clockwise fashion to Belfast, stopping at points of interest, as recommended by friends, the tour brochures and the Internet travel apps. 

To minimise the number of hotels we would spend several nights in some places and use those as a base for day trips to nearby points of interest. With three days in the two largest cities (Dublin and Belfast) at the beginning and the end we decided the two weeks would be sufficient for an introduction.  

We resolved to find middle priced accommodation with parking in the following locations.

City/Town County
Dublin
Waterford
Kinsale (for the Cork area)
Killarney (for the Dingle area)
Galway
Sligo
Derry
Bushmills (for Portrush area)
Belfast
Dublin
Waterford
Cork
Kerry
Galway
Sligo
Londonderry (UK)
Antrim (UK)
Antrim & Down (UK)

 

Wendy had been to Ireland over forty years ago but it's a different country now.

Today Ireland is an easy country to drive in. They have similar road rules to Australia, so there isn't that alarm exiting a driveway one has in Europe or North America:  'Damn! What side of the road am I supposed to be on?'  The roads are generally very good. Highways, that we often avoided, are like those in England or Australia and local roads are mostly two lanes finished in smooth black hot-mix. The speed limit on these is typically 100 Km/h limit, except through towns, and we didn't encounter much slow traffic, for example tractors.  The longest driving time between the towns listed above was two and a half hours. Several were only an hour apart, so we had plenty of time to stop at a view or to find a pub or cafe for lunch; or on one occasion to shop for grandchild requested Lego.

Unfortunately the Seat Toledo* we'd hired in Dublin was unaware of the antiquated system of mensuration in the North (there was no mph marking on the speedo) so we had to rely on Tom Tom (our invaluable worldwide GPS) to stay within the speed limits.  Another issue for the unwary traveller is that Northern Ireland is not in the Euro zone, so it's a good idea to have some Irish or English pounds when crossing the border.  Of course one can simply use a credit card for essential things, like petrol. 

Yet I came to grief attempting to use some very old one pound coins, brought from a stash home, and even a relatively recent five pound note. The Bank of England has finally seen the light, only thirty years after Englishmen first mocked Australia's colourful 'plastic money'.  Britain is at last progressively withdrawing its old fashioned paper money from circulation.  A bank in Derry happily replaced the paper notes with plastic ones but not the coins.

When travelling my principal goal is not to lie on a beach; hang out in a luxury hotel; or get close to nature; but to learn more of the history of the place; its people; and their beliefs. Wendy is even keener to get out among the locals.

 

*The Car - for those interested only

We hired the car, well in advance, from AVIS in Dublin. They were the only company we found there that allowed us to drop it off in Belfast (in a different country).

I'd not driven a Seat before - it's a Spanish VW - described in one review as:  "the automotive equivalent of a Bosch dishwasher: well made, utterly functional and entirely devoid of character.

It lacked 'bells and whistles like self-parking and the Sat-nav was disabled, but it was more roadworthy and comfortable than many other cars we've hired while travelling.

With a 1.2-litre petrol engine and a five-speed manual gearbox it was light on fuel, that's expensive in Ireland.  Yet mountainous winding roads, leafy, slippery lanes and overtaking were not a problem. 

Even on a stretch of boggy unmade farm road, that TomTom had led us onto as a 'shortcut' after missing a turn, the Toledo ploughed on.  It even took a steep climb over a grassy bank out onto the made road, obviating the imminent need to find a farmer to extricate us.  We had a flashback to Sicily

But the best thing was a big boot, that took both the big bags and the small ones too.

 

 

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Travel

The United Kingdom

 

 

 

On the surface London seems quite like Australia.  Walking about the streets; buying meals; travelling on public transport; staying in hotels; watching TV; going to a play; visiting friends; shopping; going to the movies in London seems mundane compared to travel to most other countries.  Signs are in English; most people speak a version of our language, depending on their region of origin. Electricity is the same and we drive on the same side or the street.  

But look as you might, nowhere in Australia is really like London.

Read more ...

Fiction, Recollections & News

The First Man on the Moon

 

 

 

 

At 12.56 pm on 21 July 1969 Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST) Neil Armstrong became the first man to step down onto the Moon.  I was at work that day but it was lunchtime.  Workplaces did not generally run to television sets and I initially saw it in 'real time' in a shop window in the city.  

Later that evening I would watch a full replay at my parents' home.  They had a 'big' 26" TV - black and white of course.  I had a new job in Sydney having just abandoned Canberra to get married later that year.  My future in-laws, being of a more academic bent, did not have TV that was still regarded by many as mindless.

Given the early failures, and a few deaths, the decision to televise the event in 'real time' to the international public was taking a risk.  But the whole space program was controversial in the US and sceptics needed to be persuaded.

In Australia we knew it was really happening because Tidbinbilla was tracking the space craft, as it had previous Apollo launches, and the Parkes radio Telescope had been requisitioned to receive the live television signal, so that an estimated 600 million viewers could watch it too.  Nevertheless for a wide range of reasons, ranging from religious orthodoxy and anti-scientific scepticism to dislike of the Kennedys and big government in general, conspiracy theorists in the US and elsewhere continued to claim that it had been faked for decades later.

 

 

The Houston Apollo Control Room - now a National Monument and the Apollo 11 crew
my photos - see Houston on this website:  Read more...

 

The immediate media reaction to Armstrong's: 'one small step for man one giant leap for mankind', statement was a bit unforgiving.  In the heat of the moment, with his heart rate racing; literally stepping into the unknown; Armstrong had fumbled his lines.  He should have said: 'a man'.

As it was the recording, that will now last, as of a seminal moment in history, into the unforeseeable future, is redundant and makes no sense - an added proof, if one were needed, that it wasn't pre-recorded or faked.

I've talked about Kennedy's motivation for the project elsewhere on this website [Read more...] but the outcomes for the entire world turned out to be totally unpredictable and massive.  Initially engineering in the US had not been up to the task and the space program stumbled from one disaster to the next, with the Russians clearly in advance, but now some centralised discipline needed to be imposed - to herd the cats.  Simply using a single standard of weights and measures was a challenge. 

Yet the incredible challenges involved required new technology and an open cheque had been committed.  Billions of dollars funded tens of thousands of research projects that led to many thousands of innovations.  New materials and methods of manufacture were developed.  Perhaps the most important were semiconductor electronics at companies like Fairchild and Bell Labs and computer science at the previously mechanical card sorting and calculating companies: NCR and IBM that had once been sceptical of this newfangled electronic stuff.  Engineering and science educators expanded to provide the young researchers, engineers and programmers.

Unlike the wartime 'Manhattan Project' much of the research was published. Scientific American was required reading among my friends. In any case the speed of innovation rendered advances redundant in a matter of months. Thus quite a bit of this taxpayer funded technology 'fell off the back of the truck' and computer engineering entrepreneurs like Hewlett Packard, who had got their start making sound equipment for Walt Disney, quickly took advantage, soon to be joined by many others. So that today electronics and communications related industry has become the core of the US economy.

Today the computing and communications technology you are using to read this is several millions of times more powerful than that employed to put Neil Armstrong on the Moon and this is indeed a testament to that 'giant leap' that, in part, enabled 'one small step for (a) man' 50 years ago.

 

 

Opinions and Philosophy

A Carbon Tax for Australia

 12 July 2011

 

 

It's finally announced, Australia will have a carbon tax of $23 per tonne of CO2 emitted.  This is said to be the highest such tax in the world but it will be limited to 'about 500' of the biggest emitters.  The Government says that it can't reveal which  these are to the public because commercial privacy laws prevent it from naming them. 

Some companies have already 'gone public' and it is clear that prominent among them are the major thermal power generators and perhaps airlines.  Some like BlueScope Steel (previously BHP Steel) will be granted a grace period before the tax comes into effect. In this case it is publicly announced that the company has been granted a two year grace period with possible extensions, limited to its core (iron and steelmaking) emissions.

Read more ...

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