Fencing the backyard

With a year of working a at Intel in Ireland fast approaching, it has a proved a period of transition and adaptation. Whilst providing engineering and R&D expertise to third-party companies is nothing new for HCL Technologies, as employees of the UK branch, we have been part of a pilot team breaking new ground and forging new alliances. Notwithstanding the shock transition from Xerox to HCL about a year ago and the resultant period of deep uncertainty, we have nevertheless managed to grow our working relationship with our partners in Ireland and hopefully earned some measure of trust. This has not been without personal sacrifice and commitment.

Wells-next-the-Sea

Travelling to and fro on a weekly basis between London and Shannon, coupled with the long hours, is a draining experience, to say the least, not conducive to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, whilst also not doing my carbon footprint much good. Settled into an apartment in Shannon towards the end of April, weekends back in the UK allow little time for socializing, instead spent recuperating, preparing for the week ahead or tackling a list of todo’s. The much-needed replacement of a fence in my back garden, undertaken in conjunction with my new neighbours, achieved in a relatively short space of time, proved a rewarding and satisfying experience.

Having picked up a cartilage injury (in the vicinity of the medial meniscus) in the Lake District mid-August whilst out with the hiking club, I  consulted a really good physiotherapist in Shannon known as Gerry McIntyre. After committing a rather embarrassing Freundian slip by referring to him as Gerry McGuire, after a film of the same name, I was hoping that the treatment would produce the desired results. Sadly, after four sessions it became clear that the problem with my knee would take longer to resolve. Having yet to receive the results of an MRI scan conducted some three weeks ago, with a trip to sunnier climes just ahead of me, I am none the wiser.

Well-next-the-Sea coastline.

Looking back towards Wells.

Wells-next-the-Sea harbour

Well-next-the-Sea Harbour

The path follows Norfolk’s sea defences.

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The weekend of 16th – 18th November saw me join the hiking club at the Youth Hostel in Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, for my first walk since having contracted my knee injury. Zoltan, my Zurich-based Hungarian friend, had flown over Thursday night. A slow start late morning Friday saw us make our way to the coast in a 2-litre car I had recently acquired from a colleague at next to nothing, allowing us enough in the way of daylight hours to enjoy a cup of tea and a cake at Holkham Hall and a stroll around the sprawling estate. In the evening we enjoyed a rather good meal at the Bowling Green Inn across the road that belies the somewhat shabby appearance of the pub itself. Zoltan and I had the 4-bunk room to ourselves after Tim took fright – I know not why.

Blakeney

Blakeney estuary

Blakeney High Street

The weather on Saturday started out gloomily amidst relatively mild temperatures, as we headed east. Despite some brief light rain en route, the weather cleared and the afternoon burst into glorious sunshine. My knee lasted fairly well as the path meandered along the sea defences through the Norfolk wetlands. At Morston, just after Zoltan pulled out of the walk thanks to his shoes starting coming apart at the seams, I thought of calling it a day myself but changed my mind and continued on to Blakeney, before taking the bus back with Peter Mathews and his doting, soppy Labrador hound named Abby (sighs all round). Back at the hostel in the early afternoon, I had arrived back just in time to watch the South African rugby team take on Ireland. Dave and Rob set up the guitars and gear and entertained us in the evening after some of us ordered a fish and chips takeaway.

The cemetery at St Mary’s

St Mary’s Church

St Mary’s, Little Walsingham

The next day dawned to clear, blue skies. We headed off after breakfast. With further walks out of the question for me, we travelled the short distance to Walsingham. Historical records of the village go back to Saxon times when the village was first established on the banks of the River Stiffkey — it is listed in the Domesday Book under the name of Walsingham Parva. The town is referred to as England’s Nazareth and holds a unique place in history as the premier place for pilgrimage in England. At its height in medieval times, Walsingham rivalled Canterbury and the great shrines of Europe. Most kings and queens of England made pilgrimages here, from Henry III to Henry VIII. Apart from this, Walsingham is famed for its religious shrines in honour of the Virgin Mary. It also contains the ruins of two medieval monastic houses. It struck me that this is the only place in the UK where I have ever seen religious shrines dominating corner shop windows, such as one is likely to witness all over Bavaria, for example.

Little Walsingham, England’s Nazareth.

Old Walsingham boys and girls school

Town centre, Little Walsingham.

Tudor-style in Little Walsingham.

Little Walsingham houses

Further south in Castle Acre lies the twin ruins of Castle Acre Castle, a motte-and-bailey castle founded soon after the Norman Conquest of 1066, as well as Castle Acre Priory, thought to have been founded in 1089. Both were dissolved in 1537 by Henry VIII, when all the monasteries and abbeys were shut down.  Late afternoon we reached Bury St Edmunds, a market town in Suffolk, where I showed Zoltan the ruined abbey and cathedral of St Edmundsbury, where I saw Rick Wakeman render a magnificent solo piano concert. This brought a rather wonderful weekend to a close, before the trek back to Ireland early the next morning.

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Castle Acre Castle ruins.

Just shy of 183 working days in Ireland for two of the HCL Ireland Project team, the company suddenly came to the realisation that a speedy transition to the Irish tax system was  required. A trip to the social security office in Ennis, just north of Shannon, saw our PPS cards arrive in the mail a few days later. Opening an Irish bank account proved another kettle of fish entirely, the complexity compounded by not having the apartment nor any utility bill to speak of, registered in my name. Informed that a company letter would suffice, I traipsed up to the branch of AIB the next day, only to have it rejected on the grounds of indirection by virtue of the header “to whom it may concern”.

Having been e-mailed a fresh version from HCL-Europe addressed directly to the bank the next day, I returned, only to be informed that the document would not be permissible on the grounds of it…….not being an original. Why I had not been told this the previous day beggars belief! With the ball back in my court having to have the document posted to my Shannon address, time was ticking away, with an ever-emerging likelihood of not being paid at the end of the month. At the end of the day, the old adage of it  not being down to what you now but whom you know, paid dividends. As luck would have it, the presence of a representative of Bank of Ireland on site at Intel  the very next day meant that the matter was resolved speedily.

Castle Acre – history of the motte-and-bailey castle established after 1066.

View from Castle Acre’s walls.

View from Castle Acre towards where the castle bailey once stood.

The ruins of Castle Acre Castle.

I can say with some certainty that I have had my fair share of flying experience with Ryan Air and the Stansted-Shannon air crew. Budget airline it may be, but you break the rules at your peril. Arrive at the airport without a pre-printed boarding pass and you are rushed the princely sum of £50 – not so in the case of Aer Lingus. Each flight involves a rather stupid little game where one is initially prohibited from occupying the emergency exit seats which have been “reserved”.   On one particular flight, I was reprimanded for daring to open a can of “beer” by the air hostess, after she had failed to spot the word “ginger” preceding it. In-flight marketing is exercised to the hilt. Smokeless cigarettes, “Hello” magazine, charity scratch cards, over-priced food and drink, followed by duty-free, last but not least the irritating little ditty after landing announcing Ryan Air to be the best thing since sliced bread.

In this period of career transition in a world of financial uncertainty, who knows what lies ahead in Ireland in the months to come. It is my wish that I may yet get to see a bit more of this, the Emerald Isle, coupled with experiencing good health and a resolution to my injury.

Links:

Wells-next-the-Sea YHA

Wells-next-the-Sea

The Bowling Green Inn

Holkham Hall Estate

Blickling Hall Estate

Walsingham

Castle Acre – wiki

Bury St Edmunds – wiki

Castle Acre, a Norfolk town.

Castle Acre town gate

A street in Castle Acre…..

… viewed through the town gate.