Sunday, 23 December 2012

Amazing Place - Ust' Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan

Trees at Kirov Park
A few years ago,  my future plans for jobs were fairly clear cut.  An over-riding priority was to work in a warm country.  Then China happened. Well, more specifically, the rapid development of chinese industry and the demand for raw metals in particular has led to the sudden wealth of several countries which supply those materials.  That wealth has allowed the governments of previously less economocially developed states to invest in their education systems.
I ended up in one such programme for 3 months earlier this year in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.  There the government has bought into the Cambridge International Examination board's IGCSE and AS/A-Level system so that all their students across the country will have access to a portable qualification accepted by universities world-wide.  Arriving in early March the temperatures started for me at -30C at night.  The last snowfall was on the 1st of June.
Returning home in mid- June I then was accepted into another nationwide educational project in Kazakhstan, namely the Nazarbayev Intellectual schools.  Cambridge are involved with this reform project too. Getting ready to go I visited the LD Mountain Centre in Newcastle (UK) where they were having a summer sale.  They had equiped folks before for Altai mountain expeditions so, being aware that my location for the next year was close (Ust' Kamenogorsk) I took advantage of the sale and bought a North Face "Vostok" 700g/litre goose down jacket and some Sorrel Caribou snow boots (rated to -40C).  I thought that that would be it for temperatures.  In August in Astana it was in the +30s C and then in Oskemen (a.k.a Ust' Kamenogorsk) it was similarly warm and then very wet.
Winter Sunset 
I was beginning to think that perhaps I had overdone the cold weather gear.  After all, the latitude was similar to Cherbourg in Normandy and the city altitude was only 300m above sea-level.  Stories of the weather over the previous winter from teacher who had been here a year suggested little snow and not too cold.
I was convinced by my research.  It would get cold and there would be snow.  The last year had to have been an anomaly.
I consulted with locals.  What bad weather had their parents and grandparents seen in the past?  The stories came back of cold and snow.  What was the average start of the first snow?  First week in November cmae the reply.
This year the first snow fell in October.  The 24th to be exact and hasn't melted since then.  The temperatures have dropped and the lowest was on the night of the 19/20th December at -44C.  We have taken delivery of a marvellous new set of atlases on Kazakhstan at school and Oskemen comes top of the lowest winter temperatures for a city for the whole of the country at -49C.  We're not that low yet, but, it is only December and the area has been cooled already.
The river water in the Irtysh is relatively hot and steam is contantly rising and blanketing the surroundings in fog which then freezes as a frosty coating on street signs, trees and the bridges. The latter have the appearance of a ship that has spent a trip in the high Arctic where the rigging is layered with ice.
So here I am, enjoying the chill air, the snowfall and the frozen landscape.  The opportunity for photos is huge.  Icicles on old buildings, log cabins, fir trees, misty rivers and silver birch.  For a place that will give the perfect Christmas card image, this could take some beating, even when you get the mosque in the shot!
Frosted Trees

Just out of curiosity,  I took a picture of snow building up on the balcony roof on 9th December and took the second one on 26th December and the third on the 7th January for comparison. The whole thing came off on 9th January as the wind picked up and temperatures rose.

The balcony cornice
Most of the extra snow accumulated on the 25th December.  

And then it was gone on January 8th.  Snow did return with temperatures also going back into the minus teens and twenties but by the 24th January the thermometers were reading over zero and up to +5C on 25th at lunchtime with some rain.  The compacted snow and ice now have a wet, slippery, smooth and very dangerous surface.  The sooner it melts completely, the better and safer it will be.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Amazon Author Pages

National holiday time for independence day here in Kazakhstan. It is cold outside at the moment with fog forming over the river and coating everything in a thick layer of frost. Last night was down to -42C which is a new record for me as a temperature.  It is a bit different to the highs and humidity of Doha and Abu Dhabi in the summers between 2004 and 2011!  Impenetrable fog is still opaque and that's the view I see from my window.  The tree frosted over and beyond that, bright grey nothingness.
Walking by the River Irtysh
 Notwithstanding the chill, I'm not venturing outside today, as frostbite is not high on my list of things to have suffered from, so I have settle at the computer to add to my presence on Amazon at their US, UK, French and German locales.
The misty River Irtysh
 The Author Pages were interesting to complete and add to, in that on the French and German sites only Any means to an End was listed under my name, and only as a paperback.  Only the UK site carries the reviews of Any Means to an End, the US .com site not linking with them.  I would have thought that a review on one part of Amazon would be carried on all parts.
View into the mistiness

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Early December 2012

The snow has continued to fall and stay mostly in place since 24th October.  Temperatures have plunged further and touched -31C at 6am on some mornings.  So, we have established that winter in Oskemen in Eastern Kazakhstan is cold. It is going to get colder too.  The forecast has most nights this coming week dipping to below -30C.
Empty streets early in the morning

There is the possibility of students staying at home (though teachers still have to attend the school and sort out the web based learning that will occur via a Google system).
Wrapped up well
However, I am looking forward to scenes of frosted trees and "winter wonderland" images appearing.  Christmas trees are being placed and decorated around the city, in addition to the lights that were already about.

Some of the trees just need snow for decoration, though my breath did freeze in front of the lens while taking the picture at  -30C!
Fir trees dressed in white
Back in town the snow is piling up as fast as it is being cleared by the municipal authorities. They are, in fact, keeping completely on top of the job with (to my knowledge anyway) no roads being blocked by snow or ice.  The roads in the mountains were closed by the authorities on Thursday (13th December) night as a precautionary measure, and orange rescue helicopters have flown out from Oskemen eastwards over the school on Thursday morning and Friday morning on patrol for people in trouble.
Winter street, Oskemen
Taking a walk down by the river to see the mist and the ice produced some interesting pictures on the 15th.  The water temperature is about +3C and the air is below -30C.  Overnight prior to taking these pictures below, the temperature (without wind chill taken into account) was -41C.
Whitened silver birch.
A rather snowy pathway.
Sun trying to break through the mist.
The riverside promenade.

Friday, 9 November 2012

First Snows in Oskemen

Eventually it arrived on Monday 5th November.  After torrential rain all the previous day the temperature dropped and finally the precipitation went from liquid to solid.  Unfortunately, all the rain created large puddles and damp ground so most of the snow in the city was slushy.
Out in the suburb of кшт (Kuh-Shuh-Tuh), the snow was far more crunchy and the roads were still only visible as tyre tracks by the end of the working day.  The snow continued pretty much throughout the daylight hours.  It was almost a relief to have had the white covering appear.
I have discovered we are located in the South Siberia weather map area, which should give a clue as the kind of weather to come for the rest of the winter - more snow, ice and rapidly disappearing temperatures. 
As I left the Nazarbayev Intellectual School on Monday evening, the slush was hardening up and pavement and steps becoming treacherous.  The icy base layer to found the winter on had been laid.
And the temperatures plummeted further as the skies cleared.  On Friday morning (9th) it was -25C at 6am.  The wind picked up, and snow that was on the roof was been blowing off as a fine powdery glitter, finding its way into drifts.

On Sunday 11th November I had a walk along the River Irtysh.  A cold wind was still blowing from the east.
I took these images of the river port and the Kazakhstan Flag monument on the hill behind it.

The river docks along the upper reaches of the Irtysh must be in the running for ports furthest from, but connected to, the salty oceans by navigable rivers (in this case the Irtysh and the Ob connecting to the Arctic Ocean).
I also managed to catch the mosque on the road to кшт in a good light; such that the minarets were all reflecting off the main blue dome.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Autumn thoughts

I am pleased with the success of White Sands, Green Trees  ebook,  with the pictures being the big attraction for those purchasing it perhaps.  Interest has been generated in this and the two historical adventure books from the Pinterest site with people seeing the "ancient charts" and other images from the books.  

I think that possibly the same can be said for the the steady sales of Teaching Overseas - A Short Guide. Clearly it is filling a gap in the market for teachers needing advice before taking up, during or in preparation to leave their posts internationally.  Images from the travels around the world posted on Pinterest by me and used in Twitter tweets must be grabbing some attention.

I'm looking forward to receiving the final trout illustrations for the Fishing Trip and putting that together in time for Christmas.  The species included are mainly from Europe and North America, and have been chosen for their colours as well as to enable identification of the more common types by young anglers.

The current location is Usk'-Kamenogorsk (Oskemen) in Kazakhstan and information from this post will be feeding into a future update of the teaching guide.

My latest camera to combat the predicted cold, rain and dust is a Fuji XP10, with which I intend to get some winter pictures to offset the large number of hot desert jungle and tropical island images I already have.  I have taken some test shots as it were to get used to its functions and its ability to cope with cold conditions.  Over the course of 24 hours the temperature here plummeted from +10C to -6C and what had been muddy wet conditions have been freeze-dried.  Check the weather at the bottom of the page for current conditions.  I can see why log cabins are the common form of accommodation outside of the city.  Fur hats and coats are the favourite item for winter amongst the populace here in Central Asia. The wind certainly does blow cold.

So far (and one can only ever say that) things have gone well here.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Guest Author

At last, a chance to meet some fans.
At a time yet to be confirmed, I have been approached and accepted to meet the aspiring writers and young readers at the Nazarbayev Intellectual School in Oskemen (Ust'-Kamenogorsk) in East Kazakhstan.  The meeting has been arranged by Mr. Zenon Kozyra (a Canadian librarian at the school).
If any of the students would like to bring copies of my books: the prize-winning "Any Means to an End - The Lost Diaries of Richard Buchanan" and  the follow-up "Protective Craft - The Lost Diaries of Richard Buchanan" in for signing I shall oblige.
For the local weather, please check the gadget at the base of this blog, things are starting to get chilly here in Oskemen.

Monday, 17 September 2012

My Kindle Books

Kindle eBooks   UK
 Any Means to an End at
Any Means to an End -The Lost Diaries of Richard Buchanan ISBN: 9781781760048
5-Star Review of Any Means to an End
Diaries are uncovered detailing the life and times of Richard Buchanan. He is an English Navy officer leading a gang of sailors through the blue water Caribbean to the grey of the Baltic. They wreak havoc on enemy shipping, pirates and those who act outside the law. Donating their prizes to the Crown they are welcomed back to the fold and entrusted with more missions. Finding intrigue, murder and romance along the way, will Richard ever settle down in his beloved South Shields?

Protective Craft at Amazon Kindle
Protective Craft - The Lost Diaries of Richard Buchanan (Volume 2)
The Commodore's adventure continues, in this, the follow-up to "Any Means to an End".  He must return to the New World, where surprises abound, and loyalties are stretched to breaking, while an abandoned love resurfaces to change everything ....
White Sands, Green Trees is only available at - It is a humorous description of my travels and adventures around the Philippines and Malaysia during 1996-98.

 This has to be an essential for anyone thinking about or currently teaching overseas.  Written by a teacher and educational consultant with 17 years experience overseas in Europe, Africa and across Asia, there's not much that isn't covered.  This book could save you heartache and money."

Literary Contest Prize references 

FrontRowLit Magazine article for Any Means to an End
FrontRowLit Magazine article for White Sands, Green Trees
FrontRowLit Magazine article for Teaching Overseas - A Short Guide

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Progress Around the World so far

 Teaching Overseas - A Short Guide
I thought I'd just track where I've been .....
These are the flags...

and this is the map of the last country I was in,
with main places visited (except Taraz, the place I was supposed to be working in).  Now I am in Kuwait.
Kazakhstan appeared to be well ordered, clean and generally litter free, or someone would want to know the reason why.
Wherever I stayed in Kazakhstan was quiet, except when fireworks are set off for weddings, celebrations and New Year.
The flights with Air Astana were generally worry and hassle-free - apart from not having baggage checked through to destination when connecting with other airlines.
I thought I'd been to a few countries, but I was working there working with some who have visited over 70. 
I have a long way to go to match their score, although in number of places where I had "worked" rather than "visited" I scored higher.  That is probably more worthwhile in the long run.  The only way to truly know a country is to work alongside the locals and build up trust to find out how life really goes on there and share information about your home culture.
There are some countries where the doors are closed to the local culture and population, and for most visiting workers they will never get the opportunity to truly find out what life is like for the locals first hand.  Sometimes an intermediary is required who is not a local, but comes from the same culture as the locals, to bridge the gap to meeting a national.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Front Row Lit Magazine

The lovely folks at FrontRowLit have done some advertising/marketing for me for free.  For each book they have taken a cover picture, synopsis, excerpt and to that have added a Bio and links for the book.
The seem to have several visitors judging by the likes and tweets recorded on the pages.  Two of the books have appeared so far and are linked below:

Still in process for the FrontRowLit treatment is  Protective Craft - The Lost Diaries of Richard Buchanan that will also find its' way into the FrontRowLit pages in due course.
Protective Craft - The Lost Diaries of Richard Buchanan now has  ISBN 9781781766576 and is available for sale as paperback from FeedARead with the same worldwide distribution package as Any Mean to an End - The Lost Diaries of Richard Buchanan.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Getting a feel for the late 17th Century....

The new novel "Protective Craft" is now finished and out on Kindle and in Paperback.  The title refers to the actions of the naval craft as well as rites practised by one of the characters.
Also discussed are the rights of man and the systems of government set up in the colonies by an absolutist king and his followers that would have led eventually to uprisings.     It is the follow-up to the prize-winning "Any Means to an End" available in paperback and ebook

Thanks to winning the prize in the Rosetta Press Literary Contest,  I was able to let them do some proof-reading and editing to go along with my own.  They also did some adjustments to the original cover illustration by Vivien Welsh adapting it to reflect the new direction of the story towards romance and witchcraft. 

The issues covered in both novels are, I feel, taken further in the second book.  These are romantic and family values, loyalty to crew and captain, what is "freedom" and how government systems can justify their right to govern plus treatment of the governed.  (Analysis of the systems set up in the original charters of the American colonies by absolutist kings in the 17th century can clearly been seen to lay the seeds of the system's destruction in the revolution 100 years later.  They couldn't take the hints from a Civil War in England could they!)  However, double standards continue, with a "Do as I say, not as I do" attitude from the Commodore.  Researching the history of the time has been fun and enlightening.  My hopes are that you could read the novels and at least get a feel for the times.

I hope you can find time to read the books, wherever you are in the world.
One reader left this positive comment on the Amazon site after reading the  Kindle ebook version.  Another left this 5 star review after reading the paperback.

Keep buying and reading,
Andrew R Welsh 

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Keep Calm

The new novel "Protective Craft - The Lost Diaries of Richard Buchanan" ISBN 9781781766576 will be finished with the editing and book cover on 15th July 2012.  The paper back book will come out in paperback mid September 2012.
To celebrate the fact I produced this poster.

Friday, 29 June 2012

The Flight Home...

I am now safely ensconced back in England.  Apart from the day after arrival I have been working back in schools here.  The weather has been much wetter than in Mongolia, though luckily my home village avoided the deluge that clobbered the rest of the "Geordie Land" last night.  I have re-instated my Facebook pages and added all the links there.  Some likes are required before Facebook admin does something with the author page so that would be appreciated.

Exiting Ulaanbaatar's Chinggis Khan Airport, via its' single gate, the checking in and boarding and exit visa all went smoothly.  The flight to Incheon with Korean Airways was a bit bumpy with some quite severe turbulence.  This didn't bode well for the return over Asia the next day to London.  3 hours after leaving UB we touched down in Incheon and found our way to the transfer hotel desk, collected the vouchers for the Airport Hyatt Hotel and hopped on the bus to find the roads smooth, the drivers courteous and 15 minutes later the doors of the hotel.  Check in was easy and the rooms such a change from the Khabu Hotel in UB.  I managed to sleep from 5am to 830am before being awoken by the automatic wake up phone call.  Again such a change to be in a place where things worked as they were supposed to.  Breakfast was beyond compare with the hotel in UB, which didn't even have a star rating as far as I'm aware.  The food choice was phenomenal and of exceptional the Incheon Hyatt.  After breakfast it was back to the airport to check in for the flight to London (Heathrow).  The flight was delayed in its take off due to air traffic control over China airspace issues.  Taking off It was pleasant to see in the glorious sunshine the islands and long suspension bridge to the airport from the mainland before the Boeing 777 inched up into the clouds and turbulence for 11 and a half hours of flying across China, Mongolia, Russia and Northern Europe.
The time on the watch had edged into Monday morning (Seoul time) by the time we landed at Terminal 4 and I had to rush over to Terminal 5 for the half-filled British Airways connecting flight to Newcastle.  This was on time time and I was back in my home at 1130pm local time to a rapturous welcome from family and dog!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Things Japanese 日本のもの






Both novels are available at Junkudo and Maruzen now
It just struck me how my world has been entangled with things Japanese since I was a child.
My grandfather (the merchant  master mariner who inspired my novels and my working overseas) used to bring toys, watches and electronic goods back from Japan for me and my brother when he had been visiting various ports in the islands when on his round the Pacific voyages.  At university I took up Wado-Ryu karate and did some Bo-jitsu and Kendo too.  We had several Japanese students on exchange programs join the riding club at St John's College in York.  In the the course of my teaching I have taught several Japanese students in both England and the Philippines.  The parent of the student in the latter introduced me to the Japanese Ambassador there at her art exhibition, which was where I was shown how to eat sushi with chopsticks.  The student's grandmother gave me a fabulous coffee table book on Japan (that I still have) while I tried to organise a school trip from Kyoto to Tokyo on the railways via the hot springs and old inns, with a return planned on the Bullet (Red) Train to Osaka and then back to the school.  Unfortunately the costs were just too high and the time to short to organise it fully.
I was influenced by Japanese Manga cartoons that were briefly shown on UK television in the late sixties and early seventies.  Marine Boy was a favorite of mine I recall.  Even the cars I've owned have included Suzuki and Subaru.  There are similarities in the development and attitudes of the inhabitants Japan and the British Isles, given their island character, dependence on marine trade and fishing.  Polite society exists in both countries, though I would suspect that it is less widespread in both nations than it once was.
It seems that this trip I shall be coming the closest ever to, but not quite getting there, as I fly from Ulaanbaatar via Seoul to London after coming here via Amsterdam, Moscow and Beijing.
One day......

Sunday, 27 May 2012

The Camera "Pulls a Sickie"

A surprise at breakfast.  I found out that the trip I had presumed cancelled was, in fact on, due to leave in 15 minutes and I was expected.
Quickly I grabbed a digital camera and got on the school bus after rushing to the school.  First port of call was Suhkbaatar Square in Ulaanbaatar and, not having explored that far across town, got  out the camera.  Unfortunately the camera appeared to have a glitch, the screen on the back showing a fuzzy "solarised" image reminding me of a poorly adjusted TV.  Tapping it did nothing to improve the situation so I put it away and started to just look around, taking in the views and atmosphere.
The bus then headed out to the east up over a pass at 1545m before heading down past an ethnic Kazak town where eagles, buzzards and vultures were aplenty, circling around in the sky.  I was able to see these and appreciate them without trying (as others were), to get the perfect photo.  The same applied as we stopped at the site where dromedary camels were sited near the road, and then again at the polished Chinggis Khan stainless steel statue and museum further along the road.
Cameras are fine, but what do they show?  An image of an object.  Why do people feel the need to take their own images?  What happens to the images once taken?  I will get images of the trip from others and select the ones I feel represent the things seen - raptors, two-humped camels, rolling plains and mountains, yak, horses, pleasant river with willow groves and an impressive statue.  With hands freed, I was able to collect a discarded eagle feather and from the river a lump of patterned crimson rock.   The pictures will not convey the horror of the school bus leaning over  by a ravine as the driver attempted to go down a steep rough track to the river and get the rear tyres next to the drop stuck in the soft sand.  Nor will the pictures record the jolts of the rough roads, the chill down the spine of the cries of the kites overhead not the joy of watching one grab a piece of chicken mid-air that had been thrown upwards.  The camera fails when it come to recording feelings first hand.  Others who see images are always going to be detached from the original situation ever if the picture is powerful.  The people taking the pictures are also putting a filter between themselves and the world they are trying to show. By focussing on a small view perhaps are missing the whole experience.
By the way, on returning to the hotel, my camera started working again.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Durham Teaching Consultants

I do presentations on improving Teaching and Learning, plus other aspects of modern education.  Its all at Durham Teaching Consutants web page or leave a message here.
 I am based in the ancient City of Durham, in the North-East of England, with the proud heritage of scholarly activities stemming back to the monasteries of Lindisfarne and Monkwearmouth.  Currently I am in Oskemen, Kazakhstan, assisting the local teachers and students with the introduction of a new Biology course to the local Nazarbayev Intellectual School in the suburb of КШТ.

I am a specialist in Science education, having taught it from Primary through to University Entrance level and run several Science Departments, with a great deal of experience in KS3  Maths and ICT.   I have taught the separate sciences (Physics, Chemistry and Biology) at iGCSE, AS, A and IB Diploma levels.
I have been teaching with senior roles in schools in the UK and overseas  for many years before moving into advisory roles.  I offer the advice, the presentations and the knowledge gathered to date, to you, on important aspects of teaching and learning.
  I have recorded and saved our presentations over time, adapted and refined them.  In some cases they have been translated by native speakers into Arabic.  I can also give the advice you need on working overseas.

I appreciate that you are busy professionals and require information pre-packaged to high standards at an affordable price.  

"Teaching Overseas - A Short Guide" is my short  ebook available on Kindle.  Just about everything you need to work through if you're considering applying for an overseas post.  This is not a pamplet from an agency trying to sell you a dream with nice images, but tells you of what can go wrong and how to get out of a situation.  It should enable someone to decide whether the overseas life is for them.  It is available on and at $1.50 and £1.01 respectively.

It has to be an essential for anyone thinking about or currently teaching overseas.  I have had 17 years experience overseas in Europe, Africa and across Asia, and there's not much that isn't covered.  This book could save you heartache and money.