Friday, 24 April 2015

Sin

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


THE CRUISE


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.
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Day 6 Sunday, February 22, Bali.
Rather than taking the ship`s excursion, we had booked one with a company called cruisingexcursions.com.  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.

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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

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

Wales

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

Iceland

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.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

2012 - I am what I am

In the past at this time of year I have spent considerable time in retrospection and considerable angst in prediction. But as we end another year, I simply want to try to recover my self-confidence and look forward to the future with some degree of hope.

And I guess my single resolution is to try to be comfortable in my own skin; to accept myself; to love myself.I need to be myself even when others want me to be someone else.Someone will always be prettier, someone will always be younger, someone will always be smarter. But no-one else will be me.

I will not change at the request of other people. I am what I am. I like what I am. I need to remain kind, to be gentle, to be strong. I need to be me. I will be me.

'It will be hard I know. And the road will be muddy and rough, but I'll get there. Heaven knows how but I'll get there. I know I will.'

Friday, 16 December 2011

30 things to stop doing to yourself

We are rapidly approaching the time for New Year's resolutions and once again I think about aspirations from last year not met, and plans for next year which will make be a better person, mentally and physically.

I read an interesting post on Facebook from Tom Brooks quoting from a blog by Marc and Angel where they give practical tips for productive living. This listed 30 things which were described as things we should stop doing to ourselves. Normally I find such lists a bit trite, a bit superficial and a bit irrelevant. But this list is very powerful and,in my case, absolutely spot-on. So I hope they won't mind if I repeat it here as much for my benefit rather that for anyone who may read this. But you may find something useful here.

Stop spending time with the wrong people. – Life is too short to spend time with people who suck the happiness out of you. If someone wants you in their life, they’ll make room for you. You shouldn’t have to fight for a spot. Never, ever insist yourself to someone who continuously overlooks your worth. And remember, it’s not the people that stand by your side when you’re at your best, but the ones who stand beside you when you’re at your worst that are your true friends.
Stop running from your problems. – Face them head on. No, it won’t be easy. There is no person in the world capable of flawlessly handling every punch thrown at them. We aren’t supposed to be able to instantly solve problems. That’s not how we’re made. In fact, we’re made to get upset, sad, hurt, stumble and fall. Because that’s the whole purpose of living – to face problems, learn, adapt, and solve them over the course of time. This is what ultimately molds us into the person we become.
Stop lying to yourself. – You can lie to anyone else in the world, but you can’t lie to yourself. Our lives improve only when we take chances, and the first and most difficult chance we can take is to be honest with ourselves. Read
The Road Less Traveled.
Stop putting your own needs on the back burner. – The most painful thing is losing yourself in the process of loving someone too much, and forgetting that you are special too. Yes, help others; but help yourself too. If there was ever a moment to follow your passion and do something that matters to you, that moment is now.
Stop trying to be someone you’re not. – One of the greatest challenges in life is being yourself in a world that’s trying to make you like everyone else. Someone will always be prettier, someone will always be smarter, someone will always be younger, but they will never be you. Don’t change so people will like you. Be yourself and the right people will love the real you.
Stop trying to hold onto the past. – You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading your last one.
Stop being scared to make a mistake. – Doing something and getting it wrong is at least ten times more productive than doing nothing. Every success has a trail of failures behind it, and every failure is leading towards success. You end up regretting the things you did NOT do far more than the things you did.
Stop berating yourself for old mistakes. – We may love the wrong person and cry about the wrong things, but no matter how things go wrong, one thing is for sure, mistakes help us find the person and things that are right for us. We all make mistakes, have struggles, and even regret things in our past. But you are not your mistakes, you are not your struggles, and you are here NOW with the power to shape your day and your future. Every single thing that has ever happened in your life is preparing you for a moment that is yet to come.
Stop trying to buy happiness. – Many of the things we desire are expensive. But the truth is, the things that really satisfy us are totally free – love, laughter and working on our passions.
Stop exclusively looking to others for happiness. – If you’re not happy with who you are on the inside, you won’t be happy in a long-term relationship with anyone else either. You have to create stability in your own life first before you can share it with someone else. Read
Stumbling on Happiness.
Stop being idle. – Don’t think too much or you’ll create a problem that wasn’t even there in the first place. Evaluate situations and take decisive action. You cannot change what you refuse to confront. Making progress involves risk. Period! You can’t make it to second base with your foot on first.
Stop thinking you’re not ready. – Nobody ever feels 100% ready when an opportunity arises. Because most great opportunities in life force us to grow beyond our comfort zones, which means we won’t feel totally comfortable at first.
Stop getting involved in relationships for the wrong reasons. – Relationships must be chosen wisely. It’s better to be alone than to be in bad company. There’s no need to rush. If something is meant to be, it will happen – in the right time, with the right person, and for the best reason. Fall in love when you’re ready, not when you’re lonely.
Stop rejecting new relationships just because old ones didn’t work. – In life you’ll realize that there is a purpose for everyone you meet. Some will test you, some will use you and some will teach you. But most importantly, some will bring out the best in you.
Stop trying to compete against everyone else. – Don’t worry about what others doing better than you. Concentrate on beating your own records every day. Success is a battle between YOU and YOURSELF only.
Stop being jealous of others. – Jealousy is the art of counting someone else’s blessings instead of your own. Ask yourself this: “What’s something I have that everyone wants?”
Stop complaining and feeling sorry for yourself. – Life’s curveballs are thrown for a reason – to shift your path in a direction that is meant for you. You may not see or understand everything the moment it happens, and it may be tough. But reflect back on those negative curveballs thrown at you in the past. You’ll often see that eventually they led you to a better place, person, state of mind, or situation. So smile! Let everyone know that today you are a lot stronger than you were yesterday, and you will be.
Stop holding grudges. – Don’t live your life with hate in your heart. You will end up hurting yourself more than the people you hate. Forgiveness is not saying, “What you did to me is okay.” It is saying, “I’m not going to let what you did to me ruin my happiness forever.” Forgiveness is the answer… let go, find peace, liberate yourself! And remember, forgiveness is not just for other people, it’s for you too. If you must, forgive yourself, move on and try to do better next time.
Stop letting others bring you down to their level. – Refuse to lower your standards to accommodate those who refuse to raise theirs.
Stop wasting time explaining yourself to others. – Your friends don’t need it and your enemies won’t believe it anyway. Just do what you know in your heart is right.
Stop doing the same things over and over without taking a break. – The time to take a deep breath is when you don’t have time for it. If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. Sometimes you need to distance yourself to see things clearly.
Stop overlooking the beauty of small moments. – Enjoy the little things, because one day you may look back and discover they were the big things. The best portion of your life will be the small, nameless moments you spend smiling with someone who matters to you.
Stop trying to make things perfect. – The real world doesn’t reward perfectionists, it rewards people who get things done. Read
Getting Things Done.
Stop following the path of least resistance. – Life is not easy, especially when you plan on achieving something worthwhile. Don’t take the easy way out. Do something extraordinary.
Stop acting like everything is fine if it isn’t. – It’s okay to fall apart for a little while. You don’t always have to pretend to be strong, and there is no need to constantly prove that everything is going well. You shouldn’t be concerned with what other people are thinking either – cry if you need to – it’s healthy to shed your tears. The sooner you do, the sooner you will be able to smile again.
Stop blaming others for your troubles. – The extent to which you can achieve your dreams depends on the extent to which you take responsibility for your life. When you blame others for what you’re going through, you deny responsibility – you give others power over that part of your life.
Stop trying to be everything to everyone. – Doing so is impossible, and trying will only burn you out. But making one person smile CAN change the world. Maybe not the whole world, but their world. So narrow your focus.
Stop worrying so much. – Worry will not strip tomorrow of its burdens, it will strip today of its joy. One way to check if something is worth mulling over is to ask yourself this question: “Will this matter in one year’s time? Three years? Five years?” If not, then it’s not worth worrying about.
Stop focusing on what you don’t want to happen. – Focus on what you do want to happen. Positive thinking is at the forefront of every great success story. If you awake every morning with the thought that something wonderful will happen in your life today, and you pay close attention, you’ll often find that you’re right.
Stop being ungrateful. – No matter how good or bad you have it, wake up each day thankful for your life. Someone somewhere else is desperately fighting for theirs. Instead of thinking about what you’re missing, try thinking about what you have that everyone else is missing.