Last week I went with the boys to visit my father (that’s him in the photo) who lives in Sutton Coldfield which is just North of Birmingham in the West Midlands. We try to go and visit as many times as possible during the year but it is difficult due to the distance. Taking a plane is by far the quickest and easiest option but when you are four it gets a bit expensive and you either need to borrow a car or hire one, which just adds to the cost. So we drive! I finished the Sunday service at the church in Ransart, had my coffee and headed off with the boys to Calais. We needed to be there for three as our ferry was at about 4 and in any case there is always a long wait now at the British customs as they have to check meticulously everybody’s passports, ID cards etc. It can take up to 30 minutes to clear the British customs when going to Britain at Calais!
Just to say we don’t often take the tunnel, it’s not that it’s too expensive but you just sit inside a train, in your car, it does not save all that much time and you are more tired at the end of the journey. The ferry allows you to have a slightly longer break (coming back the ferry did the crossing in just 1h 10), you can walk around, have something to drink, eat etc. It helps also to prepare me for the gruelling four to five hour drive from Dover to my father’s house. Believe me, it’s not that pleasant! Once you reach the M25 around London it’s just start and stop all the way and can add a good hour or even two to the journey. The traffic just does not let up either and a Sunday is just as bad as any other day in England. You can expect big delays of up to an hour at the Thames crossing so we often go the other way round which is just as clogged. It’s very strange how little traffic we have over here in Belgium in comparison (considering we have a higher population density than Britain) and that the Sunday is still a day that is fairly quiet on the roads. Still, the boys look forward to their KFC Bargain bucket at the services on the way up as there are no KFC’s in Belgium!
Unfortunately, my wife has to work full time during the holiday season and where as I have the luxury of clearing my agenda for a week, well at least from Sunday to Sunday, she does not. On that particular Sunday she was not working and so went off in the morning to see her dad in Germany. I had a wedding on the Friday, Saturday service in Farciennes and the service in Ransart on the Sunday so I was quite happy to drive off for a few days. Plus I had promissed my son David he could drive a little in England as he wanted to see what’s it’s like to drive on the left. He did OK just one or two little hiccups on the roundabouts but otherwise very well. When we came back he drove down through Kent to Dover, into the port and onto the ferry with no difficulties so that’s good. Ok I might have told him, as he had to go up a tight ramp into the ferry that if he scratched the car he’d pay!
As usual I took with me my SOTA pack, two radios, batteries, antenna etc. When you are away to visit family you can’t really do much radio as you are expected to spend time with the family, so I brought it with the idea of joining in on the Wednesday morning WACRAL NET as G/ON5REV/P and of course I would be QRP which just adds to the fun.
On the Monday I was just busy visiting people and myself and David went to a pub quiz night with friends which was fun. Tuesday we visited the Midland Air Museum and I got the surprise of my life when I could actually sit up inside a Vulcan and twiddle all the buttons, great fun! The museum was really well set out too with staff there to talk etc. Nice home made fruit cake too!
Wednesday I set up the antenna, just a long wire with a 7m fishing pole to support it, in the garden and it was a nice sunny day. I used the FT 817 as the NET is on 40m SSB and waited. I soon could hear clearly Derek (G3XNX) in Brixham and also GI4FUM and GI4CBG. I managed the contact with Derek and David in Ireland plus also G0JFM in Woodbridge, Suffolk. So I think that was quite good for my little 4-5 watts into a long wire. After that I decided to head to the CW section of the 20m band and call CQ. I’d already been on the radio for a while and so couldn’t spend much more time on, neglecting the family, so I called CQ on 14.058 which seemed free to just see what the propagation was like. I was surprised when US3EW, Vlad from the Ukraine answered, that’s a contact of somewhere between 2500 and 2700 km. Where I had been somewhat struggling on 40m in SSB this was a good solid contact in CW. It was a shame that another station who could not hear us started calling CQ on our frequency and so we closed the contact. That really made my day and just goes to show that it really is worthwhile learning CW!
In the afternoon I visited my aunt whose birthday it was which unfortunately she had to celebrate in hospital being treated for cancer. She is very optimistic about things and happy so it was nice to visit as I had not seen her for a while. I also found out what her real name is, now that was worth it, after all these years. I visited friends in the evening who live in Lichfield and I had not seen for about three to four years while my sons went with their cousins wake boarding on Chase Water. After I had sometime to kill while waiting for my sister to return so I decided to walk into Lichfield town centre and found a really nice pub with a very jolly landlady.
Our last day was spent at the Black Country Museum. Well, my dad, me and David went as the other two decided they would go into Birmingham for the day by themselves. I did warn them that I would not be coming to get them from any police station! We had a really great day and I
would recommend it to anyone. We saw vintage cars, motorbikes manufactured in the Black Country. Went down a mine, visited reconstructed houses, shops and pub from the area. Even a union building! We saw a smithy at work making chain, narrow boats etc etc. The staff there were all dressed in costume and were really helpful, it was a great day out. Our last evening was pizza at my sister’s which was very nice.