Recycling on a Grand Scale!

It was a stunning winter’s morning as I meandered down the motorways towards the Cotswold’s in Gloucestershire. I was here to film a report on a large-scale green revolution that has been going for several years at the local airport.

I was always under the impression that planes that were past their sell-by-date were rotting away in some vast American desert in 100-degree heat. So I was quite surprised that these beasts of the skies are now-a-days nearly 100 per cent recycled.

I had arranged to meet Mark Gregory, who is the big cheese behind Air Salvage International. His business is thriving and the company is now the biggest in Europe processing over 50 planes a year through its Cotswold facility.

He was telling me that the economics of plane production have reduced the price of new jets to such a level that aircrafts are now retired much younger as the core value of spare parts can fetch more than the aircraft, as an airborne asset.

The programmed age for retirement was normally around 25 years but it is now common for perfectly good working jets to be retired at 15 years.

For new generation aircraft up to 95% can be recycled with the removal of 1000 – 2000 parts. To preserve the value of the parts, each item needs its documentation, to prove that it has been taken from the aircraft, a little like its own passport, without this provenance the part is worthless. Every part must be carefully dismantled and labelled, a skilled yet somewhat arduous task.

A 737 can take up to 6 weeks to dismantle. Whilst the engine is the most valuable asset, surprisingly it is the airframe itself that is least valuable, but even that is recycled as scrap metal often finding a new form such as a beer or coke can.

 

Now have I forgotten anything?

Luckily I was a boy scout when I was much younger and that taught me to be prepared for anything. But, figuring out what to pack before an overseas assignment that visits all 7 continents in 7 days can be somewhat daunting.

I have been very fortunate; next week it will be the 4th time that I have covered the World Marathon Challenge. This year, the event takes 55 athletes from around the World to run seven marathons on seven continents in seven days.

The runners will complete 183 miles, travelling approximately 28,000 miles whilst experiencing nearly a 50 °degree temperature change. If that wasn’t enough, they will sleep, eat and recover in the air and also cross 16 time zones in less than 168 hours.

The challenge starts in Novo (Antarctica) then heads to Cape Town (Africa), Perth (Australia), Dubai (Asia), Lisbon (Europe), Cartagena (South America) and ends in Miami (North America). It is, without doubt, one of the toughest endurance races on earth.

It tires me out just writing about it , but it is also a physical challenge just covering  it for news media/PR purposes rather than a participant.

So, what have I learnt to take on these trips? Well I pack sparingly; I have lost count how many times I have taken too many cloths, jackets and shoes. I take clothes that you can layer, Merino wool or synthetics work really well, also two thin waterproof tops with pockets, always useful for batteries, SD cards and  the like. Lightweight trousers, buffs, ziplock bags to keep my passport, credit cards and cash dry and safe, sun cream, hat and sunglasses.

I minimize toiletries with sample sizes and store everything in re-sealable plastic bags. I roll my cloths up (perhaps that’s why I also look scruffy) and also I take a smaller backpack than normal as otherwise I just fill it up with superfluous stuff.

Since we will be visiting Antarctica, I am taking a down jacket, a climate motorbike base layer one piece (I have used this many times and it works a treat.) thermal gloves, Brynje beanie hat and balaclava (thanks to Rhodri at www.nordiclife.co.uk) and insulated trousers.

I am discarding  my polar boots, they are just too heavy – so I am hoping that trainers with thermal socks will do the trick for such a short stay. According to the schedule we will be landing in Nova and the marathon will start pretty much straight away, if there are weather delays I might live to regret this one!

That’s pretty much it – aside from all the gear I need to do my job, camera, microphone, tripod, laptop etc.

 

The coolest motorsport on earth – well nearly!

The 9:30am  flight from Gatwick to Helsinki was running 30 minutes late – I didn’t really care as I was totally cream crackered. I had just arrived back from Sydney a day and half earlier, having gone around the World in a week (covering the World Marathon Challenge). I closed my eyes and fell into a deep, much needed sleep.

And so to Finland. I do love Finland and the Finnish people. I admire them for their sense of enjoying themselves in the winter months.

I was there to cover the rather grandly titled ‘The Leikkurile LeMans or to put it into plain English, ‘The Ice Grand Prix’.  As you can imagine, racing on a frozen lake is about as far removed from cutting the grass as you can get.

Watching them sliding all over the place looked a little ridiculous, but I am told it does require skill, concentration and is a real challenge, plus it was heaps of fun. 

It wasn’t just the Brits who thought this might be a hoot – drivers and their backup crews from across Europe entered the race.

The rules are simple; complete as many laps of the 850 metre circuit within a 12-hour time frame.

 

The World famous Cresta Run

Hurtling headfirst on a tea tray down ice at 80mph is not the most sensible thing to do – I may be dumb but I am not that stupid.

Every sports has its own blue ribbon event, in football it’s the FA Cup, cricket has the Ashes, Tennis, well Wimbledon. For the sport of Tobogganing, apart from the Winter Olympics, it’s ‘The Grand National’ – No, I hadn’t heard of it either.

The World famous Cresta Run is held every year in Switzerland’s glitziest town. The St Moritz Tobogganing Club is well over 125 years old, and for those with suitable dosh, dash and clean underpants – it’s the ultimate downhill ride.

It all started in the 1890s, tobogganing was a form of entertainment in the newly established winter resorts. It was mainly Brits who raced one another down busy, winding streets St Moritz, Davos, Aros and Chamonix.

They took they sport seriously, clubs were formed and races were organised on the icy downhill roads. At one time, there were more than 40 “village” pistes across the French, Swiss and Italian Alps.

Nowadays it’s not quite as chaotic. The club opens just before Christmas and ends around late February.  The run is still hand-built from scratch every year with costs met by the club and its 1,300 members and St Moritz town council.  

The Run is an extreme sport that provides a thrill according to members unlike any other. Riders  reach speeds of 128kph – which is bonkers when you think that all they are laying on is a tea tray, with leather knee and elbow pads, gloves with metal plates, helmet, chin guard and spiked boots.

There are two starting points: Top and Junction. The primary thought in the minds of most racers is to avoid being hurled from the track at Shuttlecock corner. Any slight loss of control prior to the infamous bend is likely to see them ejected, and more often than not sent to hospital. Fallers at Shuttlecock, automatically become members of the Shuttlecock Club and are entitled to wear the much sought after Shuttlecock tie.

It sounded a great event to cover, so I headed over to Switerzland and the 2006 Grand National where 21 riders made three runs down the course.

In the end the winner was Lord Clifton Wrottesley, a peer from Galway on Ireland’s west coast. It was his fourth Grand National win, and he is the only competitor to win the club’s grand slam (the Morgan, Curzon and Grand National events) three times. Wrottesley has had Olympic success, coming fourth in the skeleton race at Salt Lake City in 2002.

I am pleased to report that the  ‘Health and Safety scallywags don’t come knocking in St Moritz and the “Cresta” tradition still carries on. For the record, I was offered several times a ‘press ride’ to experience the run but I rather fancied having a beer in a posh restaurant than lying in a hospital bed. Yes – you can call me a great big wuss – but I am happy to accept that.

 

 

Coolest game of golf in the World – Antarctic Clock Golf

Union Glacier in Antarctica is one of the most tranquil places on the planet. I was lucky enough to be down there to cover the annual Antarctic Ice Marathon, now in its 13th year.  Having been several times before and played football, volleyball and cricket with the runners as they relax and wait for the main event, I thought perhaps this year it was time for a spot of golf.

So after some research, I came across the rather forgotten game, that of clock golf. It is unknown who exactly built the first clock face course but the game is believed to have originated in the mid 19th century, supposedly by the English upper class who wanted to practice their golf putting in a more intimate way. Whatever the origins – the game became quite a success in Victorian Britain.

So after purchasing a hole and flag for the princely sum of 10 pounds and borrowing my son’s putter (it’s the only one that would fit into my luggage), I packed all my goodies along with my thermals and headed off.

The Antarctic version of the game revolves around 4 tees marking starting points to reflect the clock face. The object was to take the least amount of shots from the 4 starting points to sink a putt with strokes combined to complete their round. In this context, like in Speedgolf, the flagstick was left in during play. In the extreme conditions of the Antarctic, with temperatures of minus 25°C, players had just one round to establish their superiority as in those conditions the game has to be quick.

Aside from the icy conditions and rutted Heath Robinson course, the Inaugural Antarctic Clock Golf championship took place with a competitive field of players. Each player used the same putter and highly visible golf ball (thanks to visiongolfball.com) for their round. In the end, it was Pal Skyrud from Norway who took the men’s title and Sally Orange from Britain who took the women’s crown.

So despite coming up with the championships and practicing more than the others, I came in 3rd – close but no cigar. Still, at least, when I missed the target I didn’t miss the beauty of the landscape.

 

 

 

 

A haunting reminder of the Irish border posts

Five long days in Ireland and Northern Ireland working on various “Brexit” stories for a news broadcast client. One of the stories that we covered was exploring the possible rebuilding of customs posts between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

 As we drove to the outskirts of the Irish border town of Newry, there is a reminder of what life was like before peace came to Northern Ireland – the weed-covered, fenced-off hulk of an old customs and border post.

 During the Troubles, it was an intimidating presence in the heart of nationalist country. Now it is sinking into the rain-sodden countryside, unused for two decades as the Irish border became a fading memory.

 This morning (8th December 2017) the European Commission has announced it is recommending to the European Council that “sufficient progress” has been made in the first phase of Brexit talks, so it looks like the border question has been resolved. No hard border is likely to return!

 

The mystery of the Ashes Urn?

The Test Match series between England and Australia begins later this week in Melbourne.

But what are the origins of the famous urn and what might it contain. It has been a source of intense speculation down the years. It is reputed to be the ashes of an item of cricket equipment, a bail, perhaps a stump or is it maybe some fire ash embers?

The urn lived on his mantelpiece at a family home in Kent called Cobham Hall (which is now a private girls school), for 43 years later before being bequeathed to MCC where it lives today.

The MCC closely guards the original urn and has resisted repeated requests for it to be taken back to Australia, even on a temporary basis.

This is part of a report I filmed and produced for a sports client of ours in the run up to the Ashes series. 

 

Catalonia crisis

It’s been an interesting few days; I have been working in Barcelona for CGTN on the story that has dominated the headlines since Catalonia attempted to vote on independence. On Sunday, when we arrived there was a rally of over 300,000 people marching around waving flags – the people had spoken – they weren’t that happy with the idea of independence.

           

So, what would happen on Monday? Would many of Catalonia’s  200,000 Civil servants refuse to follow direct rule from Madrid or would  they return to work?

Most did and the main protagonist Catalonia ousted President Mr Puigdemont and several members of his deposed Cabinet fled to Belgium, apparently only hours before Spain’s Attorney General asked for charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds to be brought against them.

The crime of rebellion carries a maximum sentence of 30 years imprisonment, while sedition carries a 15-year penalty. Misuse of public funds is punishable with a six-year jail term. So, perhaps you can see why he did a runner. It was another real twist in the story that no one foresaw.  

We did about a dozen lives into various programmes and cut a couple of packages. Interesting times for Spain!

The Human Polar Bear – Lewis Gordon Pugh

I first came across Lewis on a bitterly cold morning in Oulu, central Finland. I was there to cover the World Winter swimming Championships for a couple of clients.

I was walking about lost trying to find the press centre (the local library) and saw another chap who was also looked lost – it was Lewis.  We got talking and a friendship was born. From that chat I ended up working and filming Lewis on many of his swimming adventures over a two year period– His full-length swim of the River Thames, swimming across the Maldives, the longest cold-water swim in the World (in some Fjord in Norway) and his preparation for his biggest adventure – the North Pole swim.

He is the only person to have completed a long distance swim in every ocean of the world, including across a glacial lake under Mt Everest and off Antarctica. Besides being an advocate for the world’s oceans, Lewis is also a maritime lawyer, a former reservist in the British SAS, and the author of the international bestseller Achieving the Impossible.

His so called speedo diplomacy has evolved views in high places. He was credited by the UN for helping to secure the protection of the Ross Sea in Antarctica, a huge area the size of the  UK, Italy, Germany and France combined. Lewis has been ‘making waves’ for more than 10 years now, braving the coldest places on earth to bring attention to a warming planet. He’s the first human to have completed a long-distance swim in every ocean of the world. Read more about his expeditions at http://lewispugh.com/expeditions-page/

 

Elephant Polo and becoming an ‘Olympic Champion’

 

Firstly, let me explain a brief history of this sport – it‘s believed to have been played for many years on the subcontinent, but it wasn’t formalized as a “sport,” until 1982.  In a bar in St. Moritz where Jim Edwards, owner of Tiger Tops in Nepal, was having cocktails with James Manclark, a Scottish  landowner and former Olympic tobogganer. Manclark loved polo. Edwards owned elephants and a conversation developed.  Back in Nepal, sometime later, Edwards received a telegram from Manclark that read: “Have long sticks. Get elephants ready!” The rest as they say is history.

Play is similar to that of horse polo, with four riders per side, but there are some major differences. The field is far shorter, 100 meters long, compared with a 300-yard horse polo pitch also the games are brief, just two ten-minute chukkers. The elephants are organized into four groups and during the 15-minute break between chukkers, teams switch ends and elephants.

There are some rules: No more than three elephants per team can be in a particular half of the field at one time, and only one elephant per team may enter the 20-meter-deep semicircle zone around each goal. It is also illegal for an elephant to lie down in front of the goal. The elephants are “driven” by local mahouts, the player tries to communicate where he wishes to go – which is easier said than done, and considering that most of the mahouts and the elephants only understand Nepalese. 

The World Elephant Polo Championships takes place over five mornings. No elephant may play consecutive games, and matches must be completed by noon, when the heat begins to set in. To keep the animals fuelled, sugar cane or rice balls packed with vitamins (molasses and rock salt) are given to the elephants at the end of each match.

                                     

To the outsider it seems absurd, if not cruel to force elephants to play polo, but having witnessed five World championships in Nepal, my experience is that at least there, these beautiful creatures are extremely well treated by their mahouts, who care for their elephant for life. The event raises significant funds for elephant welfare in Nepal and for less fortunate people living within the local areas and Tiger Tops, the host has played a pioneering role in conservation and anti poaching projects in Nepal.

I became an ‘Olympic Champion’ quite by accident – It was back in November 2009 and it was the last of 4 tournaments that I covered, as the sponsorship from Chivas was pulled the following year.

I had an assignment to film and produce World-wide News coverage for my client Chivas Regal and the Championships. That year the location in Nepal had changed and we were heading to Karnali Jungle Lodge instead of the usual Tiger Tops jungle camp. Flights and transportation were a little trickier – unfortunately one of the players for the Chivas team had missed his flight and wouldn’t be able get there for a few days. Cutting a long story short – I was asked to make up the team. I duly accepted.

I had a taste of Elephant Polo in previous tournaments in the fun guest match, but not actually for a team. So I was ill prepared but the World Elephant Polo Olympic Quaich Title was in sight.

My team had the world’s best elephant polo players with prolific goal scorer Peter “Powerhouse” Prentice as well as  Raj “the Silver Fox” Kalaan, a former star of the Indian national polo team and a colonel in the world’s last mounted regiment plus British expat and business man Geoffrey Dobbs, who was also an accomplished player.

Heralded as one of the finest matches of the tournament, Chivas representing Scotland, started well with Peter Prentice scoring 4 goals in the 1st chukka for the Scots to lead 5-3 at half time. The UAE’s Fosroc Sepoys then came back hard in the final chukka, cutting the deficit to a single goal with 4 minutes left to play. The UAE team did all they could to get level, but Chivas Scotland hung on in gallant fashion to celebrate their first ever WEPA Olympic Gold Medal victory by 5-4.

 

This certainly ranks as one of my treasured experiences, but I have to say it’s the gentle giants of the Jungle who always prove to be the stars of the show, deservedly so!

Elephant Polo is registered as an Olympic sport with the Nepal Olympic Committee; however it is unlikely to be included in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics or indeed anytime soon.

 

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