The Day in the life of Tony Cliffe

The blog that's full of discussion, advice, travel and ramblings!

Tag: aviation

Hard work gets you your dream… eventually

A dream a long time coming.

Well what can I say other than the past three days have been the most pressured and hectic few days for a long time. Imagine doing your GCSE’s then your A levels and then your Undergraduate degree in the space of two days…in an exam hall which is on fire…and you’re covered in petrol. Pretty much sums up three days of intensive examinations!

A long time ago and for as long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to be a pilot. That’s all I ever talked about as a kid. I had a love of aviation ever since my first flight when I was a few months old, in a Shoebox aircraft with a gap in the door (ah the joys of 1990’s health and safety). As I grew older I understood the physics of it all, I was amazed and inspired by these giant feats of engineering lurching up into the sky on nothing but fast flowing air moving from high to low pressure over a wing creating lift. Whenever I’m on a plane it can be quite the feeling of knowing just a few fast flowing air particles are all that’s keeping you up suspended in the sky. Okay, it’s not that simple…we have Bernoulli’s principle and the formula of lift coefficient, thrust and angles of attack to consider (a formula I now know like my own mobile number after these past few days!) but in concept it’s pretty straight forward. Civil aviation amazed me due to the size, military aviation was full of power, noise and agility. I think you’d have to be pretty soulless to not see a Eurofighter Typhoon on full reheat and not be impressed by the agility, speed and bone shaking noise. Above all of that though it always came down to a simple desire to fly. As much as the physics and the engineering amazed me, it was what aviation provides. Freedom. I was jealous that some people get paid to always have a sunny office above the clouds, they can go wherever they want to, no roads, no traffic lights. You’re soaring away in an azure blue sky leaving all the crap below you (not chemtrails either! 😉 ). That sense of adventure and freedom to explore is what captivated me the most about flying. Whenever I saw a plane I wondered where they were going, what are they thinking as they fly over with a splendid view, everything in perspective of how small we are down below. The freedom of the skies was always something that captivated me.

I have a desire to travel and aviation was always a way for me to do that. There was that adventure and exploration I always wanted as a kid. I think that came from flicking through this really old musty smelling Atlas in the loft as a child. So many different exotic places to explore. That Atlas actually got me into Geography! So anyway, as long as I could remember I wanted to be a pilot but like most childhood dreams they very rarely become a reality. For me when I started year 7 in high school I got glasses and that was pretty much the dream dead in the water in terms of commercial flying. Pretty gutting but realistically the chances of a childhood dream career coming true where pretty slim so I took that on the chin. The joys of being a rational realist! Yet that never stopped me wanting to fly. My love of aviation grew but there was always the well-known fact that to fly was always going to be a bridge too far. Always just out of reach. I have a few personal goals in life of things I want to do and things I want to achieve. Holding a pilot’s licence was always one of them. Commercial aviation was a no go, military the same so that only left a private pilot’s licence. An avenue for my dream but one that was behind a giant gate called finance. To get a private pilot’s licence costs a stupid amount of money. Certainly one I could never afford!

I was fortunate to join the Royal Air Force cadets when I was 13 as I saw that as my one of only chance to physically fly an aircraft and fly one for free. I still remember my first flight as if it were yesterday. Standing on parade on Friday night in those horrible itchy wool jumpers and berets waiting to be dismissed, crimping your toes together to keep the blood flowing so you didn’t collapse under the heat. I was only in the service for a few months and this was the first time that the squadron had some flying spots for some time. I impressed the officers with my aircraft knowledge in all the lectures and I put my name down on the list. A slim chance, especially as a new cadet.

“Cliffe!”  The OC voice boomed.

“Yes…Sir” my voice a squeaky nervous 13 year old lacked any quiver of authority.

“Well done, you’re going flying on Sunday. Be here at 08.00hrs”

“Thank you Sir!” a smile as wide as an aircraft wing appeared across my face.

When I got to RAF Woodvale it was windy and raining. Not the best for flying but I didn’t care. This was exciting. I had waited a long time to fly a plane and for many years it was out of reach. I was under no illusion that this one flight might be the only time I ever get to fly a plane. I sat in the briefing room with the other lucky cadets, jealous of the older ones who’d been on flights before, others the chosen few to be on flying scholarships. I watched as each one departed, each time the rain came down harder and with each flight my chance of flying seemed to be so agonisingly close but so far away at the same time.

“Cliffe, you’re up” a warm smile from the guys in the fitting room. Slipping into that famous green flying suit was an amazing feeling. Pulling on your white gloves, the weight of that big heavy helmet, life jacket and knowing you had a parachute strapped to your back made everything suddenly very, very real! If you’ve never worn a parachute before, that D-ring that you have to pull to activate the chute is like a giant red button. You’re not meant to press it but it looks so enticing to do!

I remember walking waddling to the crew room under all the weight of the safety gear. Top Gun made that walk look so easy! I was suddenly terrified. These aircraft are tiny but they can do loops, rolls…and I’m going to be in the cockpit! It was weird waiting for that moment. The helmet insinuates your breathing. It’s all you can hear, the voices outside are just muffles so everyone else relies on hand signals. “Fwirst… ime?” ….”What!?…Oh. First time? Yeah 1st flight” I say with a raised finger. The marshaller had a big smile on his face and a thumbs up, let’s go! The smell of aviation fuel is one of the greatest smells ever, I remember stepping onto the wing, being guided by the ground crews about where to put my feet and helped me lower myself into the cramped cockpit. All the dials in front of me, that joystick between my legs, my shinny polished boots reflecting the grey sky above the cockpit. Before I knew it my breathing I couldn’t hear any more, it was replaced by an electrical whine as my helmet was plugged into the aircraft and the radio coms so that I could talk to the flight instructor next to me to my right. The ground crew pulled on the straps and I was locked into that plane tighter than a bear hug. The pilot to my right was flicking switches and going through checklists and I just took a deep breath, drinking it all in, the smells, the noise, the view. I get a tap on my helmet from the ground crew with two thumbs up. I reciprocate the gesture and the canopy is closed shut above my head.

“Can you hear me?” the typical British RAF pilot’s voice booms in my helmet.

“Yes Sir!”

“I’m Squadron Leader Kings, nice to meet you. How many flights have you done in the tutor?”

“Hi Sir, I’m Cadet Cliffe…errm. First flight sir”

“Excellent! You’re going to love it!”

After briefing from him which was basically do not touch anything at all, we taxied to the runway, the radio chatter between us and air traffic filled my ears along with the noise of the engines. If you’ve never flown in an aircraft that isn’t a big airliner, it’s a completely different world. It’s hard to explain and while sitting in this tiny plane you’re looking forward. No longer consigned to looking outwards to the side from a cramped window seat. “Here we go”. Throttles advanced forward and before I knew it we were climbing into the rain and wind. It was bumpy as hell but I didn’t mind at all as I watched the rain stream passed the cockpit dome. We headed to my town and we flew in circles over my house, my mum and dad even came out in the rain to watch as he completed a few passes over them. What a moment to see your childhood street from the air like that…and then he said it. “You have control”

“I…I have control sir”

I placed my hands on the joystick with an almighty grip, I bank the stick the left slightly and the aircraft moved to the left, I moved it to the right and it moved to the right. Holy fuck. I’m flying a plane!

“Patch of blue sky over there, head that way. You’re doing really well.”

I was flying a plane…an actual real aircraft! Something that seemed so unattainable was actually happening. When we got to the blue patch I hear the words “I have control” and I relinquished my grip on the controls and my short time flying a plane was over. I was a little sad but still so on a high from the experience that I wasn’t expecting what came next. In one sharp movement of the stick the horizon lurched, my stomach churched and the G force made my heart rate work harder. I look up through the glass and I don’t see sky…it’s the ground below. We’re flying upside down! We did some aerobatics in a tiny patch of blue sky, loops, rolls, experiencing 0 G as he took off his flying glove and I watched it float in the air. What an experience. Before too long I was back on the ground, exhilarated. He shook my hand before I left the cockpit and he said “Cadet Cliffe, congratulations! You’ve just flown a plane, you’re an aviator now”.

I went onto have a really good flying career in cadets. I was very fortunate to get triple the hours any one normal cadet would get. I spent a few hours flying myself with just the pilot next to me enjoying the views and manoeuvres. When it was time to leave cadets despite many hours of flying I never made it onto any flying scholarships, I guess I used all my luck getting those flights in. So I left with many happy memories of flying but still no pilot’s licence. RAF flying was free and sadly private pilot’s licences are not so the only flying I carried on doing was on the computer which isn’t the same. I had a taste of the dream and it was good while it lasted. I was fortunate enough to fly a plane once, let alone many times.

I continued to love aviation and took many more flights, I must have over 500 commercial flights by now as we’d go on holiday often but always as a passenger, never a pilot.

Fast forward many years later and I find myself in a field, at the controls of an aircraft being assessed for my flight exam for a pilots licence. Granted it’s not the pilot’s licence I thought I would be getting but it was a pilot’s licence never the less. It’s weird how dreams and goals work out. Many of you know how for many years once I knew I could never be a pilot as a job that I wanted to be an air traffic controller. A dream job for an avgeek like me and especially one who loved order and problem solving. Every decision post year 9 in school was geared up towards making the selection process for Air Traffic Control. What subjects I picked, the hours getting my head around formulas knowing I needed good math skills, even down to the university course I took was all geared towards that goal. I believed I could do it, my family did too. It was their dream now to. I passed all the tests and like all those years ago it seemed like the dream was about to happen…and then once again my eyes let me down. Regulations changed and a dream I had worked years for was taken away by having eye sight -0.5 out of their limit. Medical failed. I was heartbroken when I found that out in final year, especially at the end of the week when my long term uni girlfriend at the time had just broken up with me. That was quite the week! So me and aviation and the dream of a pilot’s licence seemed as far away as possible now. Again as a realist, you know what? Shit happens. Move on. So I did. I fell into the world of research, did my masters and loved it and moved into sustainability and energy. Any chance I could I’d tailor my personal research back to aviation. That world that was once so close but had been a massive part of my life for years. To be fair my research on aviation was so good it got me presenting it to British Parliament, so it seemed that maybe this new path of research was where I was meant to be all along. Maybe I can’t fly but I can do good from the ground. Further things happened and I ended up doing the PhD around unmanned aerial vehicles. “This PhD is written for you! It’s not flying like you wanted but it’s still flying!” many would say.

True, it was a tenuous link and hey why not. Then came the opportunity to do my RPAS (remotely piloted operating systems) pilots course. A full approved Civil Aviation pilot’s course. The very bottom licence but still, I could call myself an official pilot! Three months of hard work studying the books because to become a fully qualified aircraft even for a UAV is a massive amount of work. You could kill someone with these things very easily and you’re operating in airspace alongside other commercial jets. These are not toys and that’s why the exams and processes are so rigorous and why there are not that many commercial RPAS pilots in the UK yet…because it’s bloody hard to pass!

Two days of 10 hours exams each day, from Air Law to systems, we were tested on everything from practical skills to knowledge recall. It was so so hard. The pressure was huge to as was the expectation from others that I would perform. I had that horrible feeling of being here before, working my arse off with the right attitude for something to screw it up. Luckily my eye sight was no longer an issue for this pilots licence. The only thing between me and it, was how well I’d do these exams.

With all that pressure and studying for months I came out of the written ground school exam phases with 94%. Never in doubt people said to me afterwards. If only I shared their confidence in myself it would have been easy! The flying exam was the hardest thing I have ever done. Pressure, wind 2 mph below maximum, it took every ounce of self-calming and focus to get through the flying exam. Four had failed before me on that day alone. Again I had a huge slice of luck with the examiner giving me one more go on a manoeuvre I had failed already. If you fail once you can repeat but if you fail that, that’s it. For whatever reason be that how well he knew I did on the exams or if he was somehow grateful for how I helped my fellow classmates through the course with hints and tips I don’t know. Either way whatever it was he gave me that extra chance. Now think of the pressure. 1 manoeuvre and everything hangs on it, your PhD, your dream of finally getting a pilot’s licence, all of those long hours of hard work and sacrifice that I’d done again. All hanging on this one manoeuvre. After completing it he didn’t say a word, we carried on with the test, he threw two emergencies at me to deal with during the flight and then he scrutinised my checklists and post flight inspection, asking questions as he went. It was like the most terrifying interview ever. They have to be this way. If they pass I’ll legally be allowed to fly an RPAS aircraft, they have to be thorough.

“Okay Anthony. Assessment is now over. How do you think it went?”

“Errs…Could have been better. I know I messed that bit up but I think I handled the aircraft and emergencies well. I feel I followed the checklists and procedures calmly and professionally…I don’t know. It can go either way”.

Augh I hate examiners, nothing in his face gave anything away as he spoke. “Yeah, okay. You can improve on that manoeuvre and you got this bit wrong here but you corrected yourself. Overall you handled the aircraft well, your briefing was excellent, you professionally followed the checklists and your emergency reactions were spot on. Congratulations Mr Cliffe, you’ve passed. You’re now a fully qualified RPAS pilot”

I shook his hand, thanked him and walked towards the city. It felt like 15 years of expectation, effort, hard work, sacrifice, failure and heartbreak had suddenly flown out of me. I took a deep breath as the sun came out. I put my bag on the floor and closed my eyes. I took a moment to congratulate myself. I never gave up and eventually that hard work paid off. Dreams change and they mould. For sure it’s not the pilot’s licence I set out to get all those years ago but life had different plans for me. That dream is never attainable but I am so glad that I’ve finally made it to that dream in some way. I’m proud that I’m now a fully licenced and approved pilot. I ticked off one of my life goals and eventually made the dream a reality.

Dreams do come true if you work hard enough. They may not ever happen the way you imagined because life is cruel and it gets in the way. Yet, once in a while it’ll give you something back for your determination and hard work. I’ve always had the attitude that I can do anything I put my mind to. It may have taken me years but I did it.


Canada Travels: Blog 2 – Airport escort and Toronto Islands

In this blog I visit an A380, the CN tower and explore the Toronto islands following on from my first blog about my travels to Canada Canada Trip Blog 1: The long trip west.

What a way to start a holiday…

Taxying to the gate, I feel pretty refreshed and the flight went surprisingly quick. I felt a surge of relief that I’m finally on Canadian soil and after starting my journey here over a day ago, I’m glad to have arrived. A quick catch up on texts and before I know it we’re pulling onto the stand and the engines are whining down. I always love the multiple sounds of the seatbelts clicking and the chatter starting. Before I left, Barb and Betsey two of my cousins in Toronto had been in touch about arranging to meet up when I was in Toronto and to go to places like Niagara Falls. Barb even offered me a place to stay which was incredibly kind of her but I’d already booked my hotel for the few days! I’ve only ever really met them once and that was as a very young kid. My memories are sketchy at best, I remember a huge house, pool and a basement. Basements are alien to us British folk and having a pool in your back garden is too. I mean, we’d get like what? Two days of summer to use it and even then it would feel like an ice bath! I remember playing star wars with my cousins in there but I think I was about 6? I do remember how welcoming they were and how kind they were and upon evidence of our Facebook chats before arriving that kindness and welcoming certainly hadn’t disappeared. Before I left England, Barb’s Husband, Dave, works as a police officer in Pearson International. He’s known colloquially as the Mayor of the airport because he’s been there so long! There isn’t an inch of the airport he doesn’t know, not a staff member who doesn’t know him. There was a possibility that if he was free he would meet me off the plane. That would be cool I thought.

I was one of the first off the plane and I walked up the air bridge and into the terminal, I had a big smile to see he had indeed greeted me off the plane, in full uniform. I can only imagine what the passengers must have thought! Maybe I was British royalty with an escort or maybe I was being extradited, I do vaguely look like Edward Snowdon after all ! From the first handshake, it was like I had known Dave for ages. What a guy! So incredibly funny, friendly and welcoming. We walked towards immigration, catching up with how the family was doing on both sides of the pond and before I knew it I was through immigration and customs quicker than I am in my own country! While waiting for my bags, he tells me stories about the celebs he’s met and wow, if only he was into blogging because some of them are best sellers!

I placed my bags into his police cruiser outside and he says…

“Fancy a look around the A380? Private tour I have a pass for you? “

Jesus Christ! What an opportunity! As an avgeek this is right up there with one of the best things to do. Especially as it’s a working aircraft, in a working airport. The A380 is the world’s biggest passenger jet and now I’m going to go on-board and sit in the cockpit. What a way to start a holiday! After going through security again but this time the one the aircrew use and walking through back passages I didn’t even know existed and having the pleasure to walk on the ‘world’s fastest travellator’, I was waiting at the gate to board the A380. It had just arrived from Dubai and we were met by the dispatcher who would take us on board. While waiting outside of the door, we had to wait until all of the crew members were off. It was almost like those comedy sketches where people just keep coming out of a car. There are so many crew members! I also wonder what they thought, seeing an English man in a tweed jacket, standing with an armed police officer waiting to go on-board for a private tour! The wait was just ramping up the excitement for me. After a few minutes I was let on board and given a tour by Dave and the engineer who let me sit in the co-pilot and pilot seat! Dream come true.

A380, Aircraft, Emirates

A380’s Newest Captain


A380 cockpit after arrival onto stand.


I was amazed at how small the cockpit actually was for such a massive aircraft. I’ve read countless magazines and followed the A380’s development and I knew the cockpit is the same as the smallest Airbus, the A318, bar two extra handles on the throttle column and some screens but wow. The dream of being a commercial pilot never took off but damn I am so jealous of pilots and the job they have. Plus I’m very much an Airbus guy over Boeing so win, win! After that and hanging out of the window, I was given a further tour of the aircraft. Absolutely amazing and I’ll outline a little more in my aviation blogs of this trip.


Who else starts their holiday’s hanging outside the captains window of the A380?

Now on a complete high and after many thank you’s I was back inside the terminal. Can I just say a massive thank you to Dave and to Emirates airlines for giving me such access to your aircraft when on ops. Truly wonderful experience! Dave took me to the Union Express station. Basically a high speed train that takes 20 minutes to get into downtown Toronto from the airport. We exchanged numbers, had a few more laughs and said we’d meet up for a meal tomorrow evening. I couldn’t thank Dave enough for this experience, what a great way to start an adventure!

The train was busy on the way into Toronto but with free Wi-Fi and aircon I couldn’t complain. A mixture of dehydration and excitement I was really thirsty by this point and warm. Really warm! It didn’t help lugging around a giant suitcase much, despite it only being 15c outside. The hotel was in downtown Toronto about a 15 minute walk from the station. I never like getting cabs in cities if I can avoid it, I prefer to walk and explore that way, even with a heavy suitcase! I didn’t have a window on the train so when I finally exited the train station and out onto the street, I had to stop and take it all in for a few minutes.

When you’re from England, our cities are like 5 stories max high, usually three at best. Looking up at this giant concrete canyon above you is quite amazing when you’re in North America! You feel so incredibly small, the concrete, the glass, and the logos. So cool.  Then the noise of the city hits you, the traffic, the horns, the smells, the chatter, it’s a real slap in the face to the senses. Especially as it was rush hour, there were just streams of people walking towards me to get on their trains and I had to fight my way upstream like a salmon to my hotel! I’m not a city person at all, I much prefer the countryside due to its peace and quiet and relaxed way of life. I can understand those on the go loving the rushed vibe of the city and I do like that for a few days until it grates on me. As this was me just arriving, I got a real buzz from the walk to the hotel.


Hotel room, 5/5


I was finally glad to check in to the Double Tree Hilton and lie on my king sized deluxe bed on the 20th floor. What a great room! For £200 for three nights I got a top class hotel room, with breakfast and a welcome cookie. In the UK for the Geography formal I spent £60 for one night in a Travelodge, no breakfast and the bed didn’t even have a duvet on it! Just goes to show you how ripped off we are in the UK.

I jumped straight into the shower to wash away the travelling, got myself some food, watched some god awful TV and before I knew it I was fighting a losing battle. 8pm Canadian time and I was out like a light.


Welcome to the concrete canyon




Rolling over in the huge king size bed, I rustle my head into the pillow. I don’t want to open my eyes yet but I can feel my body waking up, yearning to jump out of bed and explore. With a stretch I take off my eye mask fully expecting it to be daylight of sorts. It was a real struggle to stay awake until 8pm last night, I’ve slept like a log after being up for nearly a day straight with the travel yesterday, not to mention the time difference. However nothing but the dim glow from under the bathroom door across the other side of the room provided any light. It was still pitch black outside, 4 a.m. to precise. Of course my body clock thought it was 9 a.m. As far as my body was concerned I went to bed at 2a.m now I’m awake at 9, perfect amount of sleep. It is probably the only time and the last, that I’ll ever feel that awake at 4 a.m. as this morning. As it was a Saturday here in Canada breakfast in the hotel isn’t served until 7 am. I thought about going back to sleep for a bit but I knew that was a futile task and I doubted TV would be any good either in the wee small hours of the morning. After catching up with text messages and Facebook and watching all the videos I’ve taken from the flights over here, the first signs of my first morning in Canada appeared.


Ready to explore


Opening the curtains looking down from the 20th floor into the heart of the concrete canyon, the deep black of the night had turned into a shade a deep blue, getting lighter by the second. I’ve always loved civil twilight. In the morning it feels like the world is waking up but isn’t quite there yet. As a photographer too, I love the way everything looks, silhouetted against a brightening sky. I like early morning’s in cities too. It’s quiet and peaceful before the storm of the people arrive for rush hour and the city comes to life.


8 a.m Welcome to Toronto


After another very long shower and a check of the weather I headed down for breakfast. Canadians have a lot of things right in their country. Breakfast is certainly one of them! A quick scoot back to the room and to collect my camera and coat and by 7.25 a.m. I was out walking in the city.

CN Tower

I still was taken aback by the size of the skyscrapers as I walked towards the harbour front. My plan today was to explore the Islands. Despite being to Toronto a few times, I’ve never got a chance to explore it with family. Now I’m on my own it was a perfect chance to explore them for the first time before meeting up with my Canadian cousins in the evening. On my way to the harbour it’s hard not to miss the CN Tower. I’ve been up the CN tower at different times of day and in all seasons but as soon as I saw it I knew I had to go up it again. The view never really changes but I just absolutely love it. Weird for someone who doesn’t do heights particularly well!


CN tower to the top of the world


I was the first in the queue as I waited for them to open up. Spring hadn’t really taken full hold in Toronto yet, so at 10 degrees it felt cool and crisp and a lovely blue sky above I knew I’d see some great views. After a quick stop through the airport style security, I was racing up the lift to the observation deck. I spent a good hour and a bit walking outside, inside, on the glass floor, just enjoying the views and taking way too many selfies. I took one that looked like I was about to skydive and couldn’t resist posting it to Facebook to scare friends and family!






Standing on the glass floor


After coming down I finally felt like all the stresses of the past few weeks had gone. I was really enjoying myself and the sense of adventure was rippling through me. I was so made up to finally be away and exploring on my own!


Ready for my base jump!




Toronto Islands

I carried on after the CN tower towards the harbour, stopping every five minutes to take pictures. Toronto is such a picturesque city and the fact it sits on Lake Ontario makes it a great place to explore.


Railroads passing through the city


For $7 dollars you get a return ticket to any one of the three Islands. Ward, Central and Hanlan. They’re all linked by bridges and walk ways, central being the main one. I decided to take a trip to Ward island first and planned to walk the 13 miles from there right the way around to the final Island of Hanlan point. I’m glad I did! Ward Island was a lovely quiet idea. People live on the Island and Ward is where they live. As a countryside person I could think of no better way to live than on the beach on this tiny island! It was so incredibly quiet and peaceful. Walking along the boardwalks with nothing but the chirps of the birds and the gentle lap of the waves. So beautiful.


On the ferry to Ward island



Ward Island Boardwalk


I walked and walked for miles, going down different paths, exploring things, the beauty of single travel. I knew the city was on my right somewhere and I noticed a small trail through the woods over a bridge over a small inlet called Snake Island. Why not? So I bush whack through the woods, after three minutes of pushing bushes out of my face and contemplating turning back, the woods gave way to the best bench I have ever seen. What a view! I sat on that bench for a good 30 minutes, taking photographs and just relaxing, watching the world go by. I was disturbed by a German couple who stumbled upon this little piece of paradise too. I took some pictures for them and then left them to enjoy the serenity of it all. It was weird to have such a beautiful spot of nature and then across the water was sprawling metropolis of Toronto city.


What a bench



Stayed here for ages



Thanks to the German couple for this photo!


I carried on walking for miles, more and more people appeared as I got closer to Central Island. I decided my feet needed a rest, grateful for bringing my hiking gear, so I decided to stop in a small restaurant. Chicken fingers and Plum sauce are the best combination ever created and plum sauce in Canada is, well I can’t describe it. Me and my family adore it. I ordered 15 chicken fingers with plum sauce and fries and I don’t even think they touched the sides at all!

After a rest, I continued walking down trails, stumbling upon untouched beaches, wildlife and scenery. It felt weird to be so far from home, at times completely alone on an island but a good weird! It’s a Saturday. Back home I might watch the match and go on my bike other than that, not a great deal. Here I am this Saturday, exploring a wonderful island.



Hanlan Point


Central Island


Gibraltar point



I ended up doing some plane spotting at the local airport on the island and waiting for the next ferry to take me back into the city. I had been on the island since 10.30pm and it was not 3.30pm and I’d walked 15 miles so far today. Even though it was cool I could feel that my face was sunburnt already!


Walking back into the vibe of the city to my hotel felt a world away from where I had been. I finally got back to my hotel room and put my feet up, got a shower and got ready to meet my Canadian cousins for the first time in over a decade!

Next blog will be all about family and Niagara Falls.

Canada Trip Blog 1: The long trip west

Well what a trip, that’s all I can say. In fact no, what an adventure more like! The trip to Canada was one of the best trips I have ever been on and through a series of blogs I’ll try to outline why. I’ll be interlacing my thoughts with snippets of my diary as I went along. I’ll have a few blogs such as the travelling aspect (upgrade on the way back!), two for Toronto and two for Edmonton and probably a concluding one. Expect plenty of ramblings and pictures. I really hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed living it!

Pre-trip thoughts

This trip had come just at the right time for me. I needed this holiday, not just for a break but to regain some form of sanity. Working in academia is amazing and rewarding but blimey, it is mentally and emotionally draining. Add to the fact I haven’t been on a proper holiday since the Valencian grand prix in 2012 (research trips aside as they’re very much not holidays!) I was so looking forward to going away. Especially with the uncertainty around my contract and then with a PhD interview the week after the holiday looming which I really wanted to get, it was nice to go away, forget about everything and recharge. I have no doubt in my mind that I nailed the PhD interview only because I was in a nice calm and relaxed head space post trip.

Before I left I wouldn’t say I was nervous about what lay in stall but I was a little apprehensive by a few things. Those of you who know me well and follow my life through these blogs or social media, know random crap is never far away. I firmly believe I’m on some sort of TV show in a parallel universe although I can’t quite put my finger on if its a comedy show, a drama or a soap opera… So I was apprehensive in the sense that this trip would either be absolutely amazing and a classic episode in my life, or could turn into one where everything could go wrong. I mean I have form in that department, getting a puncture on the bike and having to walk 12 miles back into Valencia in 42 degree heatwave is just one of many moments abroad where shit happens. Above all of that though I was excited, not least for the eight flights ahead of me, two of which were on the 787 (avgeek squeal!). I was very excited and couldn’t wait to see family and keep the anglo-canadian/Irish links as strong as ever and above all it was Canada. A country I’ve loved since I first went as a child.

I leave with one question in my mind that I haven’t told anyone about, due to the uncertainties around my job and that was “Could I live there? Could I actually move here and start a life here” by the end of this holiday, that question would be firmly answered. I’ll know in my heart and my head if its meant to be. I’m at that age now where these decisions will be clear. So it’s now the night before I leave to travel thousands of miles across the ocean and what an adventure I hope I have in stall for me. The plans for the next few weeks are to fly to Ireland, then to Heathrow, then to Toronto, then to Edmonton, then to Calgary, then to Heathrow, then to Dublin and then finally back home. With a bag that was full to the brim, it’s time I get some sleep and its a time to leave.

The long trip west

I’ve grown quite fond of travelling on my own, there is a simple serenity in doing things the way you want to do them. There is a relaxed pace about it all which suits me down to the ground and above all I get the freedom to explore without having to please other people. Travelling around the UK or Ireland on your own is one thing. Travelling halfway across the world is a bigger kettle of fish. As much as I am an avgeek, travelling by plane is still stressful, at least the parts before you get on the aircraft. The hustle and bustle of the airport is exciting but can be a little daunting, especially when you have connecting flights in different countries to catch. I never really relax until I’m through security, there is just something that makes you think you have something on you even though you know you don’t, as you’ve patted yourself down so many times its boarding on weird. Yet never as weird as the guy who gives you the eye going through the detectors, you just know if that alarm goes off he’s going to love putting his hands everywhere. Seriously, I hope some of these people are vetted. I’ve been through airports before where it hasn’t even gone off but still got a free grope.

I have a long trip ahead of me that’s for sure and sitting in the living room of my house just before I’m about to leave and I know it’s going to be a long one and time is dragging. The first leg of my journey to Canada was to fly to Dublin first. Seems a roundabout way of doing things right? But starting and ending my Canada flight in Dublin saved me a massive £1000 believe it or not than flying out of the UK. I never know why Ireland is much cheaper, especially when you have to fly back to the UK to fly out to Canada but hey £1000 is a £1000. So with a return fare of £60 on Aer Lingus from Liverpool to Dublin I saved what was essentially my holiday spends.

I’ve checked my bags so many times that I probably could name every item and in what order it was in my suitcase! If this was supermarket sweep i’d make Dale Winton proud. The drive to the airport was fairly quiet and I was getting a twinge of excitement. I’d planned this trip for months and all of a sudden it was finally here. I hadn’t quite believed it yet and I wasn’t out of work mode yet either. The clouds around signalled some rain but of course its UK spring, whatever else!

Typical Liverpool airport fashion the airport was dead, it was a carbon copy of my flight out in November (outlined here: Day one of my Ireland Trip). As mentioned in that blog, I don’t get excited anymore flying to Ireland, it’s like getting on a train for me. After my parents said goodbye to me for a few weeks I trundled through the delights of security and then sat in Burger king with no-one but the cleaner looking out at a near empty and a now very wet apron. I don’t mind waiting for flights, I’m happy to get there super early, especially if I can do a bit of spotting but the only spotting I was doing was the raindrops on the windows. Liverpool is a great regional airport but when it’s quiet, it’s quiet.

Lunch Aviation

Lunch with a view

With a distinct lack of aircraft arriving or departing I decided to head downstairs to a little café’ I found last time I flew out of Liverpool, tucked away in the departure lounge. The peppermint tea was still as good as ever, as were the hot blonde chicks behind the counter. Easy job they have too, over the course of the hour I sat playing on my phone checking my flight had departed from Dublin and texting, they served a grand total of six people! Six people an hour. What a job. When you’re waiting for a flight, especially one which leads onto an adventure I was about to have, time stands still. With every gulp of warm tea it felt like minutes. When the gate finally appeared and we made our way to the queue I could hear the rain hammering down on the roof. Not great for flying in that’s for sure. I opened my aviation apps, looked at the METAR’s (Airport weather system) and it was red across the board. Strong wings, turbulent clouds and very heavy rain. There was no chance I’d be seeing anything flying today and I was glad I opted for a small lunch. At Liverpool you have to walk to the plane, no air bridges here. You could barely see the aircraft due to the weather. I haven’t seen rain that bad for a long time, people were running to the plane steps like I run for the last cake in a shop. What’s the point I asked myself? You’re going to be drenched either way, you would have been drier in a shower.


Flight over to Dublin


Once on board and dripping wet, I noticed that once again this Thursday afternoon flight was completely dead. I head almost the entire rear of the plane to myself! Something I should have appreciated more, especially as every flight from then on, on that trip was always a full flight.

I’ve seen Eurofighter typhoons have a longer take off run that we had coming out of Liverpool. After a few bumps, a quick nap, 30 minutes later we were wheels down in my second home of Dublin. The original plan had been to pop into Ashbourne to stay with my grandparents and see them before I went off to Canada the next day. However with a change of flight time it would have meant getting a bus at 4 a.m. to get to the airport. With a long ass day ahead of travelling I opted to go to an airport hotel instead, the Radisson Blu. Great hotel, with great views of the approach into Dublin airport which I enjoyed while tucking in a really delicious burger which surprisingly was well priced for room service. After a bath and a few phone calls, I settled down for the night.

DAY TWO: Toronto via Dublin and Heathrow

Maybe it was the excitement of the trip ahead but at 4 a.m. I was wide awake and raring to go. After a quick shower I was in the lobby of the hotel waiting for the complementary shuttle service. I was amazed at how busy the lobby was at this unholy hour of the morning but then again, early morning is one of the busiest times of day for any airport so I should have realised that. However, everyone was very friendly, Italians, American’s, Spanish, it was a real mix of passengers in our little minibus to the airport. Early morning in airports have a really exciting atmosphere about them and its something I love. Outside is still dark, the world hasn’t really woken up yet but inside the terminal is a hive of activity. I love the excited chatter, the noise of the cases being hauled along and the smell of freshly brewed coffee filling the air. It really gets you in the mood for travelling. Especially as the way Terminal 2 in Dublin is designed is so bright and spacious that it’s a very smooth and stress free experience.

Queuing up to check in only took me five minutes and once at the counter the check-in clerk informs me…

“ I’m moving you onto the early flight of 6.20 am to Heathrow as they’re expecting severe delays in both Ireland and  London later due to weather and capacity issues. I’d rather you had longer to wait in Heathrow, than sit here worrying that you might miss your flight”.

He was very helpful and a great gesture as if I didn’t get moved I would have missed my flight! Lucky break number one on this trip already, good job that I was checking in so early. This now meant I didn’t have a great deal of time to get through a very busy security screening and by great deal I mean squeaky bum time deal. The stress o’meter was beginning to climb. The good thing about Dublin T2 is they’re very efficient and within a quarter of an hour I was through security but didn’t have any time to grab any breakfast. I only just had enough time to ping a text to my dad that I was on an earlier flight if he was up to track it. Of course I had enough time to take a picture of the plane though.

Airbus, Aer Lingus, Airport, Flying

Morning departure to London Heathrow with Aer Lingus A320.

After that it was straight to the gate to board Aer Lingus to LHR. The flight was a stark contrast to the one the previous day. There wasn’t a spare seat available and sadly I was put in the middle seat at check-in. Never fun, especially as the dick with the window seat was asleep the whole time, such a waste! Announcements were made for people to check in their carry-on luggage because the flight was so full but as I was connecting I didn’t have to worry about that.

I settled into my seat and claimed my elbow rests and got ready for the second flight of the trip, the first one of today.

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen this is your captain speaking….We’ve got a delay with our slot time. There are delays in Heathrow and that means we have to wait for a new slot here at Dublin. We’ll be pushing back in around half an hour”.

Knowing I now had a three hour lay-over to play with I wasn’t in the least bit annoyed by that delay. The only thing that annoyed me was the fact I left my headphones in the overhead locker with my bag. There is only so many times you can read the safety card. After half an hour we finally pushed back and I counted 9 aircraft ahead of us waiting to take off. So it took another 15 minutes to eventually get off the ground at Dublin. Solid cloud all the way until on the approach to Heathrow. I so wish I was right next to the window as London and all of the landmarks were perfectly in view! Yes, he was still asleep until we pulled into the gate.


Plane spotting at Heathrow


Luckily I was transferring in the same Terminal, terminal 2. This meant that from plane to departure gates including security was less than 15 minutes! Very handy and stress free. Terminal 2 has recently been renovated to the similar specs of Terminal 5 which I’ve flown out of a few times and love how much natural light comes in with great views of the runways. Duty free was bought, new sunglasses, whiskey and finally some breakfast!


Terminal two at Heathrow, waiting for my flight.


Finally got to do some spotting which is great at Heathrow and before long I was waiting at the gate for the 7 hour flight to Toronto. I was flying premium economy so got to board first which really is a god send. Not to mention the huge seats and excellent food (I’ll do a full review blog of my flights soon, so I won’t bore you with the details!). The Boeing 787 is a fantastic aircraft, bigger windows, very quiet and all round great experience. After listening to music, stopping for meals and watching a film and taking pictures before I knew it I arrived in Toronto. The holiday finally was about to start and oh boy did it start!


Waiting to take off into the storm at LHR



Over Northern Canada



Great food on the plane.. Vegetable Lasagne was delicious.


Most scenic wee ever!


Toronto, Canada, Boeing, Air Canada

Lunch with a view

(Blog two to come soon, including a police escort through the airport, a private tour of an Emirates A380 and my first full day in Toronto. Exciting day!)