It’s been a good year for me. Not only have I got a new and exciting job with lots of travel, but I also moved in with my girlfriend and we’ve had the good fortune to have a couple of great holidays (to Vietnam and South Africa) and a couple more mini-break trips to boot.
It’s been an eventful year for me travel-wise. According to my profile on Tripit.com, in 2011 I have had 14 trips abroad totalling 100 days, racking up 147,596km of travel to 32 cities in 12 countries. Phew.
Apologies for the length of this post – I am having a hard time whittling down my favourite photos of the year!
In early January I was still getting to grips with my latest acquisition, a Canon 7D. I took it out on an crisp winter’s day and put it through its paces around West London:
I also made a brief business trip to Saudi Arabia. One of the stopovers was a coastal town called Yanbu, which like many Saudi cities has an “Al Balad”, an old town, which has often been left to rot, due to lack of a tourist trade and lack of interest in anything that isn’t shiny and new…
We capped off our travel this year with a personal trip over to New York for some family time around the Thanksgiving weekend. Lucky enough to have some relatives and friends who live in NYC, I make it over about once a year and always manage to find time to go out and shoot this mega-metropolis. Though I daresay I probably have enough Central Park shots in my library by now…
This will probably be my penultimate post for 2011, if not my last – my next one will be a retrospective of the year with some of my favourite photos. It’s been a very fulfilling year.
Forgive me for a temporary diversion into non-photographic territory.
For those of you aren’t one of the nearly 400,000 UK-based frequent travellers who use the IRIS system, it is a rare case of something that takes a good deal of pain out of travelling internationally. It is an automated system installed at several UK airports which allows registered users to gain entry to the UK merely by looking into an iris scanner. If you are like me and are A) a frequent business traveller or B) a non-EU citizen, this is a life saver. IRIS lets me breeze past hour-long queues and I am often at the baggage carousel before the bags have started coming out.
However, for one reason or another, the system has never quite taken off. I have an inkling that it’s down to the fact that the need for pre-registration has put a lot of would-be users off, especially when the registration offices within Heathrow and Gatwick have been keeping increasingly erratic opening hours, and unfortunately with the austerity measures it now means that these offices have largely been closed. Word has been seeping out that the programme’s days are over, and that the machines will only be run until such time as they malfunction or start to need maintenance, at which point the system will be shut down.
I was upset enough about hearing this that I have written to the appropriate address within the Home Office. If you are upset about this as well, I would urge you to do the same.
To whom it may concern:
I write to express my displeasure at the imminent closure or retirement of the IRIS e-gate system.
I am an expat US citizen who has lived in London for many years. I will not be eligible for a UK passport until late 2012, but I have an Indefinite Leave to Remain visa and a US passport. I am a frequent business traveller, and because of the IRIS system, I have saved countless hours I would have otherwise stood in a queue.
With the staff reductions underway at UKBA, and the resulting pressures on the remaining border agents, surely this is not the time to be adding to the numbers of people having to queue for inefficient manual checks?
However, if the retirement of IRIS is a fait accompli, and it is only a matter of time until the system is decommissioned, then may I enquire what are the planned alternatives for frequent non-EU national travellers such as me?
I am thinking along the lines of one of the following suggestions:
- Addition of non-EU expats to the e-passport system – This would seem to make sense considering the sizeable investment in the e-passport infrastructure throughout the UK airports
- Alternative automated biometric e-gate system – I have heard rumours of a facial recognition technology, and again I would suggest that this be extended to cover non-EU nationals
- Separate queue for longterm visa holders / resident expats – In past times when the IRIS machines have been malfunctioning, I have occasionally seen an “IRIS queue” spring up at an adjacent border desk, for people who would normally use the IRIS machine. Surely this could be a low-cost alternative solution in which you have a dedicated queue for long-term residents (people on ILR or work permits) who simply needed identity verification rather than the lengthy entry interrogation posed to tourists and other temporary non-EU visitors?
Lacking any of the solutions above being put into practice, the prospect of once again joining the non-EU passport queues fill me with dread, and make me re-think my need to travel at all.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
Now, if I am totally honest, I wasn’t on the hunt for landscapes in the Kruger. For one thing, we spent every waking moment looking for wildlife. For another, you’re only allowed to get out of your car at certain points, and there’s no clambering through the bush trying to get that perfect framing of mountain, tree and sky. Taking landscapes out of the side of a car window is not ideal. And, regrettably, while Kruger is often beautiful, with wide expanses of veldt broken by a solitary tree, it is also quite often either A) flat or B) barren, and from about a half hour after sunrise to a half hour before sunset, the sun is a blazing presence, obliterating all shadow detail and washing out colours left, right and centre.
All this is a roundabout way of apologising that quite a lot of the pictures below feature, well, trees.
Well, that’s it for the South African photos (finally, a month after arriving home). Next up are shots from New York from a short trip there last month. Then, I think, a roundup of 2011.
Following on from my last two photo reports from our Kruger safari (see “The Big Five” and “The Birds”) I will close off the animal-based photos with, well, everything that isn’t a “Big Five” or a bird. This menagerie includes a wide variety of wildlife, from the ever-present (Impalas) to the tiny and rare (dung beetle).
Well, that’s it on the wildlife photography front from our Kruger trip. Next up will be a few landscapes from the Kruger Park, and then a selection of shots from our trip to New York last weekend. See you soon.