Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Australia - Week One

Wednesday 11th November 2015:
And so the adventure begins - with a slightly fraught journey by taxi to Heathrow at rush hour.  Traffic was stationary for much of the time - never a good sign when trying to catch a plane.    But we got to Heathrow on time to board our BA flight to Sydney via Singapore.  And in time to buy some duty free.
The first leg to Singapore was fine.   We had 90 minutes at Changi airport during which time we had to leave the plane taking our hand luggage with us so that they could clean the plane.   On reboarding, Singapore Security confiscated all the duty free which was in bottles or jars of over 100ml - which was most of it.   Deeply frustrating.    The duty free shop at Heathrow, despite looking at our boarding card, had not told us that this would happen.
Anyway we tried to put this frustration behind us and managed to sleep pretty well on the final leg to Sydney.

Friday 13th November 2015:
The plane touched down at Sydney Airport at around 6.30 am.   Security was okay.  We bought an Opal card for our transport needs and caught the train to central Sydney.   Timing was good.   We had to collect the key to our apartment from Copydex store just as it was opening.  So by 8.30 am we were in the apartment which would be out home in Sydney for the next four weeks.
We had, with a degree of trepidation, decided to use Airbnb to find an apartment is Sydney rather than stay in a hotel.   We'd had a number of positive conversations in advance of our arrival, with Neil, the apartment owner.    And the apartment was exactly as described;  a modern two bedroom apartment on the edge of the Sydney Central Business District.   It was more cluttered with Neil's stuff than we had expected.   I had thought that Neil lived somewhere else and that this apartment was always rented out, but it is obviously his only residence and therefore contains all of his staff.    Neil will be in  Cape Town during our stay.    But the apartment is clean, has all of the facilities we need and I am sure will be a good base for the next four weeks.

Saturday 14th November 2015:
Time to explore.   We took a stroll around Sydney, through the main part of the City up to Circular Quay and the Opera House.   I lived in Sydney for a year in 1979, so I could not help but reflect on my time there 36 years ago.  of course it has changed, but not in a major way.  The view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from the Opera House is a stunning as ever.

Sunday 15th November 2015:
It was a bit cool and cloudy, but we decided anyway to head for Sunday lunch at Watson's Bay.  The view out to sea was amazing, the vista in the other direction towards the city was vast and beautiful.   We just obtained a table at the famous Doyle's fish restaurant.  Yes the meal was price, but surely one of the best fish and chips  have ever eaten.   Moist fresh Barrimundi.  Wonderful.

Monday 16th November 2015:
It had been 36 years since I had a swim at Redleaf Pool.  In fact it has been renamed the Murray Rose pool since then, but otherwise it has not changed at all.   It is an inner city bay with a fence surrounding it to keep out sea creatures and also large waves.   I loved it today as much as I loved it all those years ago.  For someone whose swimming ability is not great, it is the perfect place to swim.
This evening we headed for a classical music concert in the Opera House.  The final piece, Moussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition is one of my favourites.  We are still not quite over jet lag, so it was difficult to keep awake at the end, but it was a good concert and of course great to experience a concert in the iconic Opera House.

Tuesday 17th November:
We went to City Gym this morning and I had an afternoon walk to Mrs MacQarrie's chair, which is  lovely spot on the edge of the botanical gardens.  In the evening, we had an excellent Thai meal in Stanley Street.

Wednesday 18th November:
I have been considering whether or not to do the bridge climb.   Of course it is listed as one of the things to do in Sydney, but I don't have a good head for heights and it does cost upwards of $300.  So today we had a stroll to the Rocks and then walked over the bridge.   Great views, and all for free.  Not sure that the bridge climb would add a lot.

Thursday 19th November:
Back to the Opera House for a performance of Hamlet.  Mind you our performance in getting there was a bit of a drama.   We failed to get off the bus at the last stop before it headed over the Harbour Bridge.  So we had to sit on the bus in heavy traffic as we went over the bridge and into the wrong half of Sydney.  Then we had to come all the way back again on another bus.  We still made it, just, to the theatre but a relaxing journey was rather more stressful than it should have been.   The performance of Hamlet was a bit disappointing.   Heavily overacted and not very original.

Friday 20th November:
Today was Sydney's hottest November day since 1982.   42C.   And certainly it was hot.   So we went to the Andrew (Boy) Charlton pool during the afternoon.   We sat on the shady side and had frequent dips in the pool.  Very relaxing.

Saturday 21st November:
Weird weather.   42C Thursday.   20C today.  We went to Bondi and did the walk around the headland to Tamarama.   Locally known as glamarama - but not on a cold day like today.

Sunday 22nd November:
We took advantage of the Sunday travel discounts.   Bus to Parammatta and boat back.   Excellent Pizza lunch in Paramatta.   Not a scenic journey outwards, but Paramatta was nice, especially down by the river.   Sauntered over to the Opera House afterwards for an indigenous music and dance performance.   Had a Prosecco overlooking the harbour and the sunset.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015


After the wedding comes the honeymoon.  Though in this case we booked the holiday long before we decided to get married.   Nonetheless, the holiday started just a few days after the wedding and we are happy to call it our honeymoon.
We were married on 6th November 2015 and on 11the November we boarded a cab in Hertford and headed off to Heathrow.
Some 24 hours later, we landed in Sydney, Australia.   We are tired and somewhat jet-lagged, but also very excited.   We will be away from the UK for 11 weeks in total.
I have been neglecting this blog in recent years, but will try to update it over the next 11 weeks, mainly so that in future years I can look back and remember the adventure more vividly as the memory fades.

Sunday, 8 November 2015


On 6th November 2015, my boyfriend, Andrew, and I were married in Hertford Registry Office.   We are now officially husband and husband.
We have been together for over 18 years, but of course marriage has only recently become available to a same-sex couple in the UK.
The day was amazing.   We had a small ceremony at the Registry Office in front of three witnesses.   Then we had a wedding luncheon at the Sun Hotel in Hitchin with 52 friends.  We are grateful to those friends for coming along to help us celebrate our big day.  The whole day went very well.  We really enjoyed the day and out guests have told us that they did as well.
This has been a major milestone in my life.   I am looking forward to the future.

Friday, 24 April 2015


Now that I have resurrected my blog, I ought to start posting again.     Not sure why, but I was reflecting today on sin.   And particularly to the way the Anglican Church deals with sin.  

I know a number of regular churchgoers who are capable of some unfriendly acts.   On a Sunday, they go to church, confess their sins (silently) and obtain full forgiveness.   From Monday to Saturday they can be selfish, unkind and dishonest, but the following Sunday they again confess their sins and obtain forgiveness.  And so the cycle goes on.

I do my best every day to be humanitarian, kind and helpful.   Sometimes, it is true, I fall short.    I have nowhere to go to get forgiveness.

Who is the better person?

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Singapore to Southampton Feb-Apr 2015


To be honest, I am, and have always been, somewhat ambivalent about cruising.

There are a host of reasons; fellow passengers with whom I have little in common; the propensity to eat and drink far too much; the knowledge that I will, at best, scratch the surface of any port of call; constant selling of excursions, jewellery or spa treatments; mediocre food; seasickness - the list goes on.

Yet here I am about to embark on a cruise.  And not just a taster cruise, either.  This is a full-blown 49 night cruise.   49 nights in a small space with over 1000 other people.  It is a bit like someone who suffers from claustrophobia agreeing to spend 7 weeks in a cupboard. But I am being too negative here.   The itinerary is great and I am looking forward to seeing so many places for the first time.   I am excited about this particular adventure.

We have flown to Singapore and are now facing our home for the next seven weeks, the MS Rotterdam.  Operated by the Holland America line, this ship has been sailing for 20 years and is termed a mid-size ship.  There is no climbing wall or surf simulator, but there are a number of lounges, bars, shops and deck areas.  I am reliably informed that there will be a number of activities every day giving something for everyone, even me.  We will see. Here is a day by day account of `The Cruise`.

Day1 - Tuesday 17th February, Singapore:
The boarding process was not bad - a little waiting around both at airport and dock - but we were on board by noon. Then we went straight off again for a ride on the cable car to Sentosa Island just to experience being in Singapore.  The ship sailed at 6.30 p.m.
We had been given a good financial deal to upgrade to a Neptune Suite, and it is fabulous;  large lounge in the cabin, table and chairs plus sun loungers on the balcony. Tonight`s dinner was good.  We enjoyed the company of our dining companions as well as the English couple we had met at the airport. We met John Henry at the otherwise sparsely attended LGBT get-together and met some of the senior crew at a special reception for those in Neptune Suites.  We met the beverages manager who was sadly destined to be killed in a surfing accident in Bali in just a few days from today

Day2, Wednesday 18 February, at sea.
A sea day gave time to explore the ship and take stock.  One day down, 48 to go. Still no real problems with the ship, although the Holland America administration is not good.    All of our documents are being delivered to stateroom 7053, the one from which we were upgraded and not to our actual stateroom.  So we are missing excursion tickets, visa form and passport photocopy.  We attended the first social bridge game. The standard, inevitably, was higher than our level of play, but allowances were made.  Dinner was again excellent as was the company and the evening show was energetic. Physically I am suffering a bit; I am somewhat sunburnt having not made allowances for the strength of the equatorial sun and am awaiting the arrival of my first bowel movement of the cruise. Otherwise, I am okay and gently chilling.

Day3, Thursday February 19th, Tanjung Priok.
I never expected Jakarta to be particularly impressive, so I guess my expectations were met.  It wasn`t. But even on an organised excursion, we got a flavour of the city.  Overcrowded, bustling and frenetic.  There were some atrocious living conditions in corrugated iron shacks beside stagnant filthy canals.  Piles of rubbish abounded.  Rarely have I come across such depressing unsanitary hovels.  I have no idea how the government can go about bringing its population out of such poverty.  Especially as that population is increasing at an alarming rate.

Day 4, Friday February 20, Semarang.
Borobudur is a huge Buddhist temple, built over 1000 years ago. Yet for 800 of those years it went missing; hidden by the undergrowth.  Seeing it today, the missing years are hard to understand.  It is a huge, dominating building on the top of a hill.  It is massive and very, very impressive.  The largest Buddhist temple in SE Asia.  It may not have the public recognition of places such as Angkor Wat or Chichen Itza, but it is at least on par with these in its powerful beauty.  It was a privilege to be there.

Day 5, Saturday February 21 at sea
A sea day should be a day for doing the projects I have set myself.  But a couple of hours of Bridge, a couple of interesting talks in the theatre, an IT workshop, the evening show and meals in-between have taken up the whole day.
Day 6 Sunday, February 22, Bali.
Rather than taking the ship`s excursion, we had booked one with a company called  We looked for our coach with some trepidation.  Would it be there?  Well it was, albeit a bit smaller than expected.  There were only four of us on this tour, Keith and Tony from Canada plus us, the guide and a driver.  It was a great tour.  So much better than going round with 50 people in a large coach.  We visited Tanoh Lot seashore temple, a monkey sanctuary plus the former King`s palace.  And we were able to decide upon a couple of beer stops. Calm and unhurried.
Six p.m. found us at Ku De Ta bar watching the sun set on a red glow beyond the beach and sea.  A final beer at Mixwell gay bar completed a good day.

Day 7, Monday, February 23, Bali
Time, we decided, for a beach day.  Having ascertained that Sanur was a good place to go, we hired a taxi and off we went.  On arrival, after a coffee, we saw a hut hiring bicycles. So we spent a few hours cycling along the promenade behind the beach, stopping for a swim and a Nasi Goreng lunch.  Then back to the ship.  It was a quiet but very pleasant day..

Day 8, Tuesday, February 24, Lombok
Another beach day.  This time, and again using a local taxi, to Kuta Beach, an hour`s drive from our location at Lembar.  A beautiful, quiet beach, in front of the Novotel. We had enough time for swimming in both the sea and hotel pool, some relaxing on comfortable beach loungers, a couple of beers, and a return journey to Lambar which took as through interesting villages, rice fields, and scenery. Then a tender boat took us back to our ship in time for sailaway.
The idyll was broken, somewhat, by the announcement that the Catering Director on board, Marthinus, a South African whom we had met on our opening evening, had been killed in a surfing accident on Bali.  He was doing what he loved doing, but the death at an age of probably mid-thirties of a senior crew member on a ship where most passengers are in their seventies or eighties, is a cruel irony.  The cruise must go on, but it must be hard for his colleagues, especially Michael and Linda who were with him when he died.

Day 9, Wednesday, February 25, Komodo
There be dragons.  It was like walking back to prehistoric times.  Along our trail in Komodo, we came to a watering hole.  And surrounding the watering hole were half a dozen Komodo dragons.  Huge lizards, as if they had emerged from Jurassic Park.  Amazing.

Day 10, Thursday, February 26th, Ujung Praong.
A busy bustling, hot and somewhat dirty city.  But fascinating to just walk around, absorbing the atmosphere.

Day 11, Friday, February 27th,  At Sea
Another quiet, restful day. I was able to play tennis and also to enter some photos into the photo competition. Dr Stuart Sutherland`s talk on tectonic plates and earthquakes was excellent. 

Day 12, Saturday, February 28, Surabaya
The day was somewhat spoiled by an error on the Holland America map which wrongly tagged the bridge between the Dutch and Arab parts of town.  We gave the name to the taxi driver and he, through no fault of his, took us to the wrong part of town before getting us to the bridge.  Our fare back from the bridge was 45,000 Rupiah.  The fare to the bridge was 1,300,000 Rupiah! This is around 120 US dollars.  To be fair to Holland America, they have admitted the error in their map and refunded us with the 120 dollars. It was somewhat surreal when the meter clocked past 900,000 to 1,000,000 Rupiah. I`ve certainly never seen a taxi meter go into 7 figures.

 Day 13, Sunday, March 1, At Sea
Our time in Indonesia is over.  I guess my reflection is that it is a heavily populated country which, in its cities, reflects the problems of that high population.  But it has quiet islands full of pristine beaches, much greenery, endless rise fields, interesting wildlife and friendly people.  I`d happily return to Bali or Lombok but I` d give the cities a miss.
As for the cruise, it has been a fascinating experience.  The ship is very comfortable and well appointed.  Our Neptune Suite cabin is fantastic.  The crew have been efficient and are always smiling.  Generally fellow passengers have been interesting and willing to talk.  Most are Dutch or Canadian with a few Americans and a few Brits.  And there has been so much to do on board - bridge, lectures, tennis, quizzes, etc. etc. Plus eating and drinking of course.  This part of the cruise may be over, but we still have 5 weeks to go.  We are looking forward to that. 

Day 14, Monday, March 2, Singapore
We arrived late afternoon.  Along with new friends, Stuart, Linda and John-Henry, we plunged into the Singapore metro system, an experience in itself.  First stop was Harry`s Bar for a beer overlooking Clark Quay. Then we met old friends, Ivor and Karen, who live in Singapore, for dinner at Fatty`s, their suggested restaurant. Great food.  A final drink at Boat Quay as dusk fell, rounded off an excellent evening.

Day 15, Tuesday, March 3, Singapore
Back to Clarke Quay for a relaxing boat trip which gave a fascinating insight into Singapore, it`s history and architecture.  A walk took us to St. Andrew`s cathedral and on to Raffles Hotel, where we enjoyed a beer rather than the ubiquitous Singapore Sling.  Singapore is a fascinating place, so clean and modern.  I`d be happy to return.

Day 16, Wednesday, March 4, Kuala Lumpur
Another modern city, albeit one with major traffic problems.  I particularly enjoyed our stroll round Central Market and Chinatown.  I bought a `genuine` Nike cap for about two pounds and a `genuine` Rolex watch for around eight pounds!

Day 17, Thursday, March 5, Langkawi Island
A beautiful, quiet group of volcanic islands, full of steep cliffs and small sandy coves.  We went on a small boat along the mangrove creeks before a swim at one of the beaches on the Andaman Sea.

Day 18,  Friday,  March 6, At Sea
Time to relax, though with lots to do.  A stretch class to start the day, a morning bridge class, a meet and greet meeting, a talk on evolution, some bridge play then formal night at dinner.    There are many passengers travelling on their own.  I am not sure I could do that - I hope I never have to.   I am so lucky to have Andrew as my partner.  Sharing the cruise with him has immeasurably increased my enjoyment of each day.

Day 19, Saturday, March 7, At sea
Time passes quickly on a sea day. I have taken a book to improve my Spanish but it is hardly getting opened.

Day 20, Sunday, March 8, At sea
Three weeks since we left Hertford heading for Heathrow.  Most of the time I am relaxed and enjoying the cruise, but there are moments when I miss some aspects of being at home.   The internet on the ship, for example, is slow and expensive so we hardly use it.

Day 21, Monday, March 9, Colombo
Our 8 hour excursion lasted 13 hours; entirely due to the chaotic traffic.  Although the elephants at Pirawallah were amazing, and I was pleased to be able to visit Kandy, it was a long long day.

Day 22, Tuesday, March 10, Colombo
A leisurely day by the beach plus interesting train journeys to and from Mount Lavinia. I would like to return to Sri Lanka for a beach holiday.

Day 23, Wednesday, March 11, At sea
A quiet recovery day; back to Bridge classes. Dinner with Stuart and Linda.  Stuart Sutherland has been one of the lecturers on board; a great lecturer and great company.

Day 24, Thursday, March 12, At sea
The quality of the lectures and shows on board has been excellent. Stuart's talks on volcanos, earthquakes, tectonic plates, dinosaurs etc. have been particularly interesting.   I am having no trouble in filling my time on sea days.

Day 25, Friday, March 13, Mumbai
This is a fascinating but also frustrating city.  We had a really interesting city tour, though like all of the cities on this cruise, the chaotic traffic meant that most of our 8 hour tour was spend in the bus trying to get from one part of the city to another.  Nonetheless, our visits to the Krishna temple, the slum area, the Dhobi Ghat, Ghandi`s house and the Gateway to India, gave us a good insight into the contradictions of this city.

Day 26, Saturday, March 14, Mumbai
Today we walked round parts of Mumbai, which was the best and most intimate way to see the city.  We walked from the ship past the cricket pitches to Marine Drive, then around the Gateway area before escaping the heat by having a beer at the Taj Mahal Hotel.  Then there was a final walk back via some of the Saturday markets.  We expected, and got, noise and bustle, but were surprised I think by the fact that we were not unduly hassled and by the fact that there is a degree of modernism to the city. We` d happily return.

Day 27, Sunday, March 15, At sea
After Mumbai, a sea day was welcome.  But after tennis, bridge, sunbathing, gym and sauna, there was little spare time before dinner and the show.

Day 28, Monday, March 16, At sea
Most of our fellow passengers are interesting and pleasant.  And we have met many of them either at some of the activities or at dinner. They are nearly all from UK, USA, Canada, Australia or Holland.   Nobody seems to have any problems with us as a same sex couple.  We are on open dining, which allows us to meet many of our fellow-guests but does of course mean that we are constantly having similar conversations each evening.

Day 29, Tuesday, March 17,  At sea
Time passes very quickly on sea days.  I am particularly enjoying the tennis and playing Bridge.  And of course I am also enjoying happy hour in the Crow's Nest Bar where we can relax with new friends over a couple of glasses of Chardonnay.

Day 30, Wednesday, March 18, Suribaya, Oman
We did the Holland America excursion, Essential Salalah.  There was nothing wrong with the excursion; but there were five coaches doing the same excursion.  Over 200 people getting off together at each stop somewhat spoiled the experience.  Especially when all 200 stopped at the same time to see a frankincense tree.

Day 31, Thursday, March 19, At sea
We are in seas where pirate activity is rife, whether from Yemen or Somalia.  The ship has lookouts posted and we have no lights on deck at night.  This is somewhat disconcerting, especially as news comes through of cruise passengers being shot in the Bardo museum in Tunis and huge loss of life in suicide bombings in Yemen just a few miles from where the ship is currently sailing.  But it does give a great view of the night sky.

Day 32, Friday, March 20, At sea
We upgraded before sailing to a Neptune Suite, the best class of cabin aboard.  Of course it is fantastic; huge in size, loads of storage space, a dressing room, a lounge and a large balcony with both sunbeds and a table and chairs.  But I must not get accustomed to this luxury.  We got a good deal: that may not happen again.

Day 33, Saturday, March 21, At sea
When reflecting on the Holland America experience, I remain somewhat ambivalent.  Today we went for a special meal in the Pinnacle Grill and disappointingly service was very slow and the food was average at best.  Many of our fellow passengers have sailed many times with Holland America.  I would do so again if the itinerary was fantastic, but am not totally sold on the Holland America product.

Day 34, Sunday, March 22, At sea
Today we have a typical sea day; Tennis at 9.30, Bridge at 10.30, Team Trivia at 1.30, a destination talk at 2.30, a talk at 3.30 on the global economy, a body conditioning class at 5.00 and the show at 8.00.  And of course meals and general reading between there times.  Little time, then, for boredom.

Day 35, Monday, March 23, Al Aquabah, Jordan
Wow.  Petra was amazing.  The sheer scale of the tombs and rock carvings is awesome.  Firstly one feels so small during the walk through the narrow channel to get to the main sight; we were totally dwarfed by the high rocks on either side of the narrow channel.  Then suddenly we arrive at the Treasury.  Crafted from the rock, top-down well over 3000 years ago, it takes the breath away.  Further down, there are hosts of further carved buildings and tombs all surrounded by amazing rock formations.  It is difficult to comprehend the inventiveness and ability of the people who created this marvel.

Day 36,  Tuesday, March 24,  At sea
I always enjoyed being able, from my travels, to either send a postcard or an email to my parents so that they could follow my journey.  There are still times when I think that I must tell them about one aspect of this trip, Petra being a good example, before I remember that they are no longer around to receive my missives.  And I feel a sudden sense of loss.
But on we go, this time towards the Suez Canal.  Our scheduled stop in Sharm was cancelled because of the political situation in Egypt, though I suspect that was just an excuse to allow more time to get through the canal.

Day 37, Wednesday, March 25, At sea
Our transit of the Suez Canal was, sadly, a night-time one.  We were, though, able, by getting up at 5.30 am, to see the final couple of hours to Port Said in daylight. Now we are proceeding into the Mediterranean Sea en route to Naples.  Our early run through the canal has given us an earlier arrival in Naples, so we will now have an overnight stay in that city on Friday evening.

Day 38, Thursday, March 26, At sea
Each day the temperature is gradually reducing.  In fact not so gradually, now.  We have gone from the humid heat of Indonesia to a cool, wet day in the eastern Mediterranean.  And to a very rough sea.  The movement of the ship made this morning`s tennis quite interesting. I don` t normally play on a court which is swaying from side to side.

Day 39, Friday, March 27, Naples
After many sea days we are heading once more to a sequence of shore days. The early passage through the Suez Canal has allowed the ship to dock this evening in Naples, rather than the scheduled docking time of tomorrow morning. We had a pleasant stroll around the university area of Naples, including a couple of glasses of wine and a piece of pizza.  And we had a good Wi-Fi connection, the first for a long time.

DAY 40, Saturday, March 28, Naples
Andrew`s grandmother once gave him a first edition of Axel Munthe`s book `The Story of San Michel` a story about his life at San Michel in Capri.  45 years ago he visited San Michel.  Today we did do again.  Capri was beautiful, the villa San Michel was a calm, impressive house in Ana Capri with a truly amazing view down to the harbour and beyond to Vesuvius and Naples.  I was privileged to be here on such a sunny day as this.

Day 41, Sunday, March 29, Rome
We had a purpose today, which was fulfilled.  We took the train from Civitavecchia to Rome, then headed for the Vatican.  The queue for the Vatican Museum was long, but moved quickly; we were lucky to be there on the last Sunday of the month when entrance is free. And what a museum.  Every room is magnificent.  I was entranced by the map gallery and of course by the Sistine Chapel. 
After the museum, we filtered out to St. Peters Square. We missed the Pope giving his Palm Sunday address (he didn't wait for us) , but no matter. It has been a good day.

Day 42, Monday, March 30, Ajaccio
No big adventures.  Just a calm few hours walking round the shoreline and old town of Ajaccio. It was good to be in France and to try speaking some French.  I have not done that for a while.  I liked Ajaccio.

Day 43, Tuesday, March 31, Barcelona
We sailed into the teeth of a gale shortly after leaving Corsica.  The ship was significantly buffeted and many passengers were ill.  I managed, partly thanks to a couple of glasses of Chardonnay, to remain okay - my holistic approach to the problem!  Seasickness pills were being given out free, but sadly I had to pay for the Chardonnay.
We revised Sitges, some 15 years after we last stayed there.  We also went to the Joan Miro Foundation in Barcelona as well as strolling down the Ramblas.  Sitges is a resort for young visitors and Barcelona was full of young guys taking part in a big sporting event.  I suddenly felt old.  That was cured upon return to the ship!

Day 44, Wednesday, April 1 At sea
Another busy day.  Tennis, Bridge, Captain`s lunch, Team Trivia, Sunbathing, Gym and Sauna, Dinner, Show, Classical Concert. I am simply not finding time to get on with learning Spanish.

Day 45, Thursday, April 2, Gibraltar
This morning we went past Malaga and therefore our home in Spain.  But it was hazy and we were too far from shore to make out any details. We simply do not have sufficient time in Gibraltar to be able to head off for Alhaurin
Gibraltar was an interesting place.  It is some 30 years since I last visited.  I guess it has changed - as of course have I.  It certainly appears to be prosperous.  It is very British.  

Day 46, Friday, April 3, Cadiz
This was our last port of call - and a charming city.  Narrow streets, old buildings, clean beaches and some impressive churches.  We had a pleasant few hours just wandering around on this Good Friday.  I`d like to come back for a couple of days to further explore this city.

Day 47, Saturday, April 4, At sea
And so our shore days are over.  We have a couple of sea days before the cruise ends. The temperature is reducing and the wind and cloud are both increasing.  We are nearing England.
Now we have time for reflection on the cruise. I was asked today if I would cruise with Holland America again.  The answer is yes, but not an unqualified yes.  The food was okay, but not fantastic.  The Neptune Suite was excellent.  The public rooms are elegant.  The shows were generally fine.   The fact that we do not have to repack at all is a huge bonus.  The programme of activities was full though rather repetitive. I guess my main complaint was the fact that there is no innovation.  Lots of little things did not quite go right, but senior staff did not see this as a problem. Many things could be a bit better.  The information about each post of call is barely adequate, and often incorrect.  The maps are atrocious.  Much of the activities and information is produced in Seattle, and that is not a positive factor. 
Aside from the ports of call, the best part about the cruise is undoubtedly the staff, who are mainly Indonesian. They worked incredibly long hours, nothing was too much trouble and they are always smiling.  

Day 48, Sunday, April 5, At sea
I am now reflecting on cruising in general.  We have seen an amazing variety of fascinating destinations.  No other type of holiday would have allowed us to do this in similar comfort and particularly in such a hassle-free way.  And this is a generally inexpensive way of seeing a large number of ports of call.  The corollary, of course, is that we have done so somewhat superficially.  We deposit ourselves for a few hours in a remote destination, charge around seeing a few sights, rush back to the boat and tick that destination off our list of places visited.  We have seen it but we haven`t really experienced it. But the alternative would have been to never have visited some of those destinations. Also we now know of some to where we would like to return. I`d like to see India again and would also be happy to spend a few days in Jordan. Singapore is also on the return list. I have, in general, really enjoyed our time on this cruise.  Sure, I have not been turned into a permanent cruise passenger.  But in certain parts of the world, I would absolutely do this again.
And what of our fellow passengers?  Well they are probably not as old as I had feared.  Most are very friendly and pleasant.  Being part of a same-sex couple hasn`t felt to be much of a problem. In the main, they are regular cruisers. Most have been on a large number of cruises and many are heading for another cruise shortly after this one.  They have the money and the time and they like to be pampered.  So why not, I guess?  We have enjoyed the company of many of them, and my even keep in touch with one or two of them.
Many passengers are travelling on their own.  I could not do that.  To be on my own surrounded by so many people would be tough.  I couldn`t have done this cruise, and would not have enjoyed it, without Andrew`s company, his enthusiasm and his love - for which I am eternally grateful. The fact that we have enjoyed, 49 days together in such an enclosed environment, says a lot about our lasting relationship.

Day 49, Monday, April 6, Southampton - journey`s end.
We docked this morning at Southampton and were home within a couple of hours.  Reality will hit soon.  We have spent 49 days in a somewhat artificial environment.  We have been looked after superbly, and seem some amazing places.  My good fortune in being born into a safe, secure, solvent lifestyle has been reinforced when compared to the conditions in which some of the people we saw have to live. The cruise has reinforced my need to remember and respect that good fortune.   It has been a fascinating seven weeks.  I am glad I went.  Will I repeat the experience? That will of course depend on circumstances.  I would certainly not rule that out. Watch this space.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Back in the UK

We returned to the UK on Monday.  Only here for a week then we head off to Spain.   I will post my thoughts on the cruise in a couple of days.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Yes I am still alive.   Heading off now for a 7 week cruise - may manage to post some ramblings on here during the cruise.

Friday, 3 January 2014

New Year

So we welcome 2014.  

My first thought is to look backwards - 100 years in fact.    Did those who welcomed in 1914 have any idea what was about to be unleashed upon the world?   Did they thing that something that happened in Sarajevo would embroil the world in a four-year war?   I doubt it.

Yes at the start of 2014, we have escalating conflict in so many part of the world.  Whether it be Africa, Asia or Indo-china, there are tensions that could easily and quickly spill over into full out war.  In the meantime, a small proportion of the world is getting richer and a large proportion is getting poorer.   Millions are obese - yet millions go hungry.  We are killing our wildlife and warming our planet.   It is not a good scenario.

Anything I decide about my life sounds somehow trivial after that.   I do not have a raft of resolutions.  The main one is to be more productive with my life and be much more disciplined with my time.   Less of letting time slip by and more filing time with useful and enjoyable things.   No major change, just minor tweaks.  Live every day rather than live one day many times.

And remember - 'As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are;  otherwise you may miss most of your life'.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013


I have not posted much on this blog during the past year.   That is not because nothing happened.   In some ways it has been a pivotal year - retirement, the house in Spain, my Dad passing away and consequently the end of the generation above me.
I have some what neglected this blog but hopefully I will return to it in 2014.
We are currently over in Spain and heading out to celebrate New Year in Alhaurin El Grande with friends and neighbours.
I need to make some resolutions for 2014, of which more later.    In the meantime, I wish all friends and family a very Happy New Year.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Back in Spain

Yes here we are back in our house in Andalucia for 3 weeks just relaxing after my retirement which kicked in at the end of May.   Time now to rebalance my life.

In the meantime we are enjoying the sunshine, conversation with our new friends and exploring new towns and new restaurants.  Last week we spent a few days near Tarifa and had an enjoyable day at Cape Trafalgar, where the famous battle took place.

Back now in the House near Alhaurin El Grande.
We return to the UK next week.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Goodbye, Dad

It has been such a busy few months, that I have not had time to properly reflect on my Dad's passing.

In February, just after I had taken the decision to retire but when I was still snowed under with work, I got a call from Dr Gray's Hospital in Elgin to say that my Dad had been admitted and was in a serious condition.   He was in a 'do not resuscitate' regime.

I flew straight up to Aberdeen and was at his bedside late that day.   He was perfectly lucid and pleased to see me.  But he was also very frail.   I stayed with him for the next 48 hours as he slowly slipped away and on Monday February 18th he died.  He was 96 years old and had had a good life.  The last few months were challenging for him, and he was ready to go.

My Dad was born in Plymouth on 1 July 1916 - the first day of the battle of the Somme.  He came up to Scotland in 1947 and stayed there ever since.  We had the funeral service in Keith and I was pleased by how many people came along, even though most of his friends had died over recent years.

His passing marks the end of an era - the end of a generation in my family.

This week I have been going through old photographs trying to put them in some sort of order and into albums.  But of course this has not been easy; each photo captures a moment in his life and each photo cased me to reflect on that life.

Rest in Peace, Dad.    I am grateful to you for so much.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Looking back / Looking forward

So at the end of my first week of retirement, how do I feel?   Truth to tell, it is a strange mixture of excitement and apprehension.

On the first day of retirement, I played 6 sets of tennis for Hertford and, after hurting my leg early on, can now hardly walk.   Not a great start.

I have then had a few days of administration stuff - clearing rubbish out of the flat, getting paperwork in order, filing old photos (of which more later) etc.

And lots of time to reflect.   Trying not to be guilty about lost opportunities in the past or worried about uncertainty in the future.   I think this reflection has been necessary before moving on.  Which I am ready to do.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Moving On

Well five month have passed and I have not added to this blog.    I guess I have been busy.   They have been a life-changing five months.   At the end of January, I decided to retire from work.   So many reasons - some work-related, some personal.

It is probably not appropriate to list the work-related ones here.  Suffice to say that I was under great stress, feeling under-supported and came to the conclusion that resigning was the only option.   I was asked to stay on until the end of May, which I have done.

The personal reasons are also many and varied.   A couple of close friends have recently died;  that concentrated the mind.   On the positive side, we bought a house in Spain and I want to be able to spend more time in it.  I am also keen to start to do more creative things with my life but didn't have the time.

Yes I have retired earlier than I had intended.  Yes that means that finances will be tight.   But I hope I still have the energy and the mental ability to move on to new experiences.  I'd like to take a few months to chill out then make positive decisions about the future.   I hope that future includes travel, new friends, new accomplishments, time in Spain and generally a new control over my life.  And I hope I can share some of them here.

Monday, 31 December 2012

Old Year / New Year

It is that time again.  A time for looking back and a time for looking forward.

2012 was a mixed year.    Work was constantly stressful;  I had a number of minor but frustrating physical injuries;  there was a feeling of not being entirely in charge of my destiny.    However there were good times.   I loved the Olympics.  We went to Iceland, Spain (many times), Italy,  Greece, Turkey, Ukraine and Bulgaria. And of course we bought a house in Spain.   I enjoyed games of golf and tennis.  We had some good theatre and concert visits.   And Andrew kept me sane.

2013 has the potential to be a difficult year.   And also the potential to be a life-changing year in a positive way.  I guess that all depends on whether I can take big decisions or whether I delay those decisions.   Do I take the risks inherent in making those decisions, or take the safer way forward?    I probably need to decide that within the first month of the year.

As for resolutions, most of those need to be ones I can reasonably achieve.   And they are all based round my health and fitness.    Less eating, less alcohol and more exercise.   It sounds simple to say but it harder to actually do.

But I think if I can improve my health and well-being, I can then have the energy and drive to make the necessary decisions and to do so for my own sake rather than for the sake of others.  I am not suggesting that I need to be selfish or self-centred but I do need to be self-reliant and more instinctive.

So lets confront issues and solve them.   Onwards and upwards.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

The lakes

My favourite place in this part of Andalucia is the area around the lakes, north of El Chorro and just east of Ardales.  We went up there on Christmas Eve and the scenery was spectacular - especially since the lakes were full and the surface was like a mirror with hardly a ripple.   I took these photos.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Spain again

We are spending Christmas and New Year in our new house at Lauro Golf near Alhaurin El Grande.  It is one of the houses in the middle distance on this photo.   The weather has been great and we have enjoyed settling into the new house.  We've made a couple of trips to IKEA and it is finally becoming our place.  The neighbours have been really friendly.  I have played a couple of rounds of golf.  In fact I love it here.   I only wish I could spend more time here.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

My Dad

I have just returned from Scotland in order to settle my 96 year-old father into a care home.   He had another fall, was in hospital for a couple of weeks and now cannot return to his cottage.  He needs 24 hour care.   But his mind is as active as ever, so life in a care home with its lack of mental stimulation will be difficult for him.   I will do my best to help, but from 600 miles away I cannot really alleviate his boredom.

Friday, 9 November 2012

The Cruise

The Cruise was good.   Not great, not fabulous, not life-changing.   But good. I am still not entirely sold on cruising.   Everything is superficial; shore visits are hurried and just scratch the surface of a place;  I hates the endless dressing up for dinner.  But I was determined to enjoy it and I did.   We saw places I wouldn't have normally seem;  the Queen Elizabeth was elegant and classy; I met a good crowd of fellow passengers;  I was able to relax totally;  it was good.

We boarded the Queen Elizabeth in Venice after a fascinating couple of days in the city. We then visited Mykonos, Olympia,  Istanbul, Odessa, Yalta, Nessabur, Izmir and Santorini.    Some I had been to before, some were new to me.   Andrew and I were quite adventurous and took local transport rather than organised shore excursions.  That worked well and got us away from the endless series of coaches and away from the crowds.   We had coffees and beers in local cafes, and spoke to locals.   Odessa and Yalta were much nicer than I had expected.   The weather throughout was great.  And we had a good couple of days in Athens before flying back to to the UK.

Going with a gay group from Pied Piper Travel gave us a ready-made crown of like-minded friends.   Not having to pack and unpack was wonderful.  Our cabin was spacious and had a balcony.   So yes I would go on a cruise again.   I certainly came back feeling refreshed and invigorated.

Flooding in Spanish apartment

We were actually in the Ukraine (of which more later) when the email came in. From the administrator of the block in Malaga in which we own our ground floor apartment. The one we are proposing to sell. Water has apparently been pouring out of our front door as a result of recent rain. Well there was little we could do until we got back to the UK. Then I did an emergency visit to Spain. By the time I arrived, the floor was dry - but caked in dirt and mud. There certainly had been a flood. So I cleaned it up as best I could and returned to the UK. A week later we received another email. More dirty water was pouring out of the flat. This time Andrew went over. This time there was indeed dirty water all over the floor. It obviously had not been the rain but in fact was a leak from a pipe hidden behind our bedroom wall. We suspect that it is a pipe from the kitchen above and that the flooding occurs when they use their washing machine. Andrew has returned after leaving a key with the administrator. She has confirmed that their insurance policy will cover this and that she will get in a plumber to fix the leak. But the flat will at best need redecorating. The bed and carpets are ruined. It will be some time before it is sorted and some time before we can sell the flat. Frustrating.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Summer is slipping by

It has been a long time since I delivered a post.   During that time summer briefly arrived and then went.   And I have been busy.  Somehow the time has slipped by.

Work is getting busier and more stressful.   I try to use my time off properly but find myself increasingly tired and just needing to relax quietly. 

However things have moved on in Spain.   In June we were there for 10 days and looked at a few houses.   One was a bank reposession and we decided to put in a low offer.  It was accepted.

So last week we went back to Malaga to sign the legal deeds.    We now own a house near Alhaurin De La Torre.  Scary - but exciting.

It needs a full clean and some cosmetic work before we can move in.   We will still be working in the UK for the next couple of years but hopefully we can spend gradually-increasing time in Spain, espcially in the winter.   I am so looking forward to that.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Birthday resolutions

And so that's it.   I have turned 60.   Time to look back;   time to look forward.   And what are my immediate thoughts?   Well here are five.

In future I will try to do everything with a good grace.  If I have to do something I don't want to do or something I am annoyed at being asked to do, that is no reason not to do it as well as I can with as much enthusiasm as I can.  Others do not need to see my annoyance.   Grumpiness is not helpful.  A smile is.

I must make a new will.   I want to try to protect my future and have enough to live on for many years.    But if I have any assets remaining when I shuffle off this mortal coil, they should go to the person(s) or organisation(s) of my choosing.

Wasting time, when there is so little of it, is not clever.

I should never take the love of others for granted.   I must ensure that I tell people when I love them and tell them when I am grateful for something they have done for me.

Age gives me an opportunity to be the person I am and not the person others want me to be.   I need to take that opportunity.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012


We spent last week at Plas Talgarth near Machynlleth in mid- Wales.  It was a quiet, relaxing week. The weather was atrocious - cold and wet, which rather restricted our ability to get outside into the open air.  Still we got to the top of Snowdon (the easy way), visited Caernarfon Castle, went to Aberdyfi, Aberaeron, Llanberis and Corris. We had good food, some self-cooked, some in restaurants, chilled out and had a reasonable week.  Here are a couple of photos from the week.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Regrets of the Dying

This is the final month before I hit another decade.    So I have started to muse, reminisce, ponder and worry.   Today my thoughts were about regrets and an attempt not to have any.      I dug out an article, written by a palliative nurse, about the biggest regrets people had as they approached death.    I hope I am not at that stage, but I do want to ensure that I don't have these regrets when that moment arrives.   The list is as follows:

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
"This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it."

2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
"This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence."

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
"Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result."

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
"Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying."

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
"This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again."

That gives me something to work on during the next decade.  I think I have already made a start to some of these.  I hope I have.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Icelandic Weekend

It was a great weekend. Relaxing and enjoyable. No we didn't see the Northern Lights but it hardly mattered.

On the Saturday we went to Gulfoss Waterfall and the Geysirs, on Sunday we walked round Reykjavik before going to the Blue Lagoon and on Monday we did a trip to Snaefellsness. The scenery was amazing, the hot water pools were weird and wonderful and the weather was an interesting mixture of extreme cold, sunshine, snow and some rain.

Here are some of my photos.

The highlight? Not sure. The Blue Lagoon was relaxing and fun - swimming in driving rain was an interesting feeling. Stopping in Sneafulness and walking through a snow-covered lava field to a warm pool in which we soaked, despite the snow, was memorable. And the ethereal light over snow-covered mountains in the early evening was magical. I'd like to return.

Friday, 17 February 2012


This afternoon we are heading to Iceland for the weekend. No I don't mean the shop - the checkout queues are not that long! We fly to Reykjavik this evening for a weekend in the Icelandic capital.

We are on a 'Northern Lights' weekend. And the chances of seeing the northern lights appear to be quite good. That tour takes us outside Reykjavik tomorrow night. The weather forecast is for mainly clear skies and the aurora forecast states the following -
Auroral activity will be active. Weather permitting, active auroral displays will be visible overhead from Tromsø, Norway to as far south as Umea, Sweden and Trondheim, Norway, and visible low on the horizon in Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki.
So, fingers crossed.

Even if we don't see the northern lights, I am looking forward to the weekend. It will be a busy one. On Saturday during the day, we take a Golden Circle tour. Then we are meeting a friend of ours, Gudrun, before the Northern Lights tour.

On Sunday we are heading for a swim in the Blue Lagoon.

And on Monday, we take a GoEcco tour of Snaefellsness.

And during the weekend there is a LGBT festival in Reykjavik so we hope to find time to visit the gay bars, particularly Truno.

It should be fun and I am looking forward to it.
Then we return early Tuesday.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Thirteen five and five nine

There have been a number of articles in the press recently about the rise in diabetes type 2 in the UK and the fact that thousands of people have this but don't know it.

I have never had a diabetes test. However recently I have been experiencing some issues which are symptoms of diabetes, notably tiredness, bruising which is slow to heal, skin itches etc. Time, I reckoned, for a test.

On Thursday, a week ago, I firstly weighed myself. 13 stone 5 lbs. Not good.

Then I went off to Lloyds pharmacy for a diabetes test. Apparently a normal reading is between 4.2 and 4.5. A reading of 6.0 of above results in an immediate referral to a diabetes specialist. My reading was 5.9. Borderline. Defined as pre-diabetes. Scary.

I was asked to go back in a month and in the meantime improve my diet and increase my exercise levels. Not easy as in fact my diet is reasonably good. And I have a very sore left knee, so I cannot play tennis or go for a run at present.

But I will need to make some changes. Less wine. More vegetables. And, particularly, more fruit. I also had porridge for breakfast each day last week. And salads at lunchtime instead of sandwiches.

This morning my weight was down to 13 stone exactly. Which I guess is a good start. Now I need to work on reducing that still further. I will be really stressed if my diabetes reading has not gone down when I am tested again. Which I will have done towards the end of this month.