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.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Winter Blues

I don't like November. Never have. The days get colder, the nights get darker. I agree with Thomas Hood -
No sun - no moon!
No morn - no noon -
No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member -
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds -
November!

This year somehow November was worse than usual. I hurt my back and also have a bruised foot. I had to travel for work during the month; three times to Scotland and once to Northern Ireland. Journeys which impinged on my free time. Work was busy and increasingly fraught. Two friends died, one very unexpectedly. My Dad was increasingly unwell. I didn't sleep very well. My energy levels were low. My enthusiasm for life was low. I wasn't where I wanted to be.

But anyway we are now into December and I am doing my best to get a grip on life and look forward. Christmas will be in Scotland which won't be a bundle of laughs. I just hope the weather is reasonable. Then we head for Alicante for 3 days in Benidorm before heading to the flat in Malaga for New Year.

Then I need to look forward. And try to do so with positive thoughts.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Cruise - final word



Of course a cruise can only give a superficial impression of the ports of call. There is no time to get to know local people, to eat in local restaurants or fully experience local culture.


But it does score on the ease with which one can travel to a wide range of destinations, the ability to simply chill-out and recover from the stress of working life, new friends met and quality time with my partner and on value for money .

I was determined to enjoy the cruise and I did so.


Will I do another cruise? Yes, probably. Indeed there is a Celebrity cruise next June out of Southampton to the Baltic capitals and St Petersburg that is already pencilled into the diary. So watch this space.

The Cruise - Naples




After another day at sea, our final port of call was Naples. We decided to take the tour to the rim of Vesuvius and I am glad we did. It was an amazing place and a monument to the strange power of nature. The rim is huge, smoke and steam was coming out of a number of fissures and the view around is magnificent. The evidence of previous eruptions is all around.


And of course we then went to Pompeii to see the aftermath of the most famous of Vesuvius's eruptions in 78AD. It is amazing just how well preserved the buildings and mosaics are in Pompeii.









The Cruise - Mykonos




I had always thought of Mykonos as being 'not quite Greece'. I don't know why. In fact is is a lovely town and is absolutely the typical Greek island port -white buildings, clear blue sea.


After some time browsing the shops, we took a taxi to Super Paradise Beach. Being out of season, it was almost deserted but the day was warm and sunny and the sea was beautiful so I enjoyed out time there. I swam in the sea amongst a number of fish - mostly elusive on camera but I did get a picture of this one.













Back in port we bought a couple of carpets for the flat in Spain before heading back on board the ship.

The Cruise - Tel Aviv and Jerusalem

The ship moved overnight down the coast to Asdod. Not much of a place to be honest, but a place from which we did a day in Tel Aviv and a day in Jerusalem.

Tel Aviv is an interesting city. Because we were on a gay tour, we were able to have lunch in the lesbian and gay centre and end up on the gay beach. We also visited the studio of Raphael Perez, a gay artist whom Andrew and I had met in London a few weeks previously. An interesting day though not one that will remain burned in the memory.












Jerusalem is something different of course. A place that I had heard so much about, from biblical times, from history and of course from recent news. It did not disappoint. I may not quite believe in the biblical story, but it was still amazing to be in the very place where Jesus is reputed to have been crucified. Walking through the very streets where the biblical story took place, and then entering the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and seeing the tomb of Joesph of Arimathea was quite something.





Then we went to the wailing wall which was built by Herod the Great as the surrounding wall to the Jewish courtyard and is now a drawing point for thousands of pilgrims each day.

And finally we headed for the Dead Sea, 400 metres below sea level, to cover ourselves in mud and just float in the salty water - a weird experience.

It was fascinating to be in Israel. It is a place of so much history yet one with an uncertain future. Now is not the time to give my political views. I am simply glad that I have seen this part of the world for myself.

The Cruise - Haifa

I enjoyed just chilling out on our two sea days. Got a bit sunburned - didn't realise how strong the sun was.



Then we arrived in Haifa for 2 days. Andrew had used his contacts in Israel to put together four special tours just for our gay group. Max 15 people and with a gay guide. I had decided not to go on the first one, so I strolled into Haifa on my own. I walked further than I had intended - rather exhausting in the heat. But anyway I arrived at the top of the Bah'ai Gardens just in time for the English language tour. The gardens are fantastic - quite beautiful. And the tour taught me a lot about the Bah'ai faith which has a very positive and simple core belief - that we are all equal; male/female, straight/gay, black/white and that the world belongs to us all. I was glad I went to the gardens. I walked back via the German quarter. This had been a run down area. When the mayor of Haifa offered to contribute funds to the building of the Bah'ai gardens, the leaders of the Bah'ai community said that they did not accept contributions from outside the faith but that the mayor could contribute indirectly by sprucing up the German quarter just below the gardens. This he did. So the gardens flow down to the shops and restaurants which have now emerged in the German Quarter. All very lovely.













On day two, I did go on the tour which was to Nazareth and Galilee. Nazareth was busy and had severe traffic problems but the sea of Galilee was beautiful. We ended up at Ben She'An, a fantastic place. It is a city founded in the fifth millennium BC, a seat of Egyptian rule around 1000BC and then conquered by the Romans in 63BC. Excavations only began in 1986 and the building which have been uncovered are amazingly-well preserved. A truly stunning place.

The Cruise - Sicily



On the first evening, as we sailed southwards, we had a reception for the Pied Piper group followed by dinner together. This helped us to get to know each other - nearly all were American but generally a good bunch who helped my enjoyment of the cruise.


Next morning we arrived in Palermo. Andrew and I had booked a tour of Palermo. It wasn't great. Too much time in the coach and too many people, including fat Americans who could not manage the walking and who were always late back.


But in the afternoon we went to Mondello which is effectively Palermo's beach resort and it was lovely. We had arranged to meet Mimmo there which we did. He is spending some time in Sicily. That was cool.


A bit of a rush back to the boat before departure and two sea days.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

The Cruise - Rome










It all started in Rome. The cruise I mean. Though come to think of it, much of our way of life today also started in Rome - some 2000 years ago.


And it was fascinating to walk in the footsteps of the citizens of ancient Rome, visiting the Coliseum, the Forum and, one of my favourite buildings, the Pantheon.


The last time I was in Rome, I dutifully threw three coins into the Trevi Fountain which is supposed to guarantee a return. That was 34 years ago on my way to Iran. Perhaps if I had thrown more than 30 lire into the fountain, I would have returned sooner!











We flew into Rome on the Saturday evening, stayed 2 nights at the WRH rooms near the Termini station, (just about acceptable) and spent most of the Sunday just walking around. Part of that time was on an organised walking tour and part was on just exploring on our own. We did the usual sights which were hugely impressive but the emotional pull was rather spoilt by the huge crowds. I particulalry enjoyed our night-time walk firstly to the British Embassy, the building of which Andrew knew, then to the Coliseum, an excellent meal at 'Coming Out' Cafe, and a gentle stroll back to the hotel via the forum and the Piazza Esedra.











It was good to be able to relax before the cruise without worrying about flights. Monday morning saw us taking the train to Civitiveccia where we boarded the boat. And at 5pm we moved off and headed south to Palermo.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Cruise - overview








Firstly I guess I need to admit that I was unsure. About going on a cruise I mean. There were five reasons why I agreed to go -




  • We went with Pied Piper Travel which books a group of gay men onto selected cruises. So I knew that we would have a ready-made group and not have to make conversation over dinner with people with whom we had little in common. In fact there were 32 in our group and we met each evening for drinks before dinner and then had dinner together.

  • I had not been to most of our ports of call.

  • It was heavily discounted - so the price for a balcony cabin was excellent.

  • Andrew wanted to go - and he likes cruises.

  • I needed a holiday and some time to just chill out after a busy year.
Once I had decided to go, I also decided that I would do my best to enjoy the experience. And I did. I downloaded loads of books onto my Kindle, I took time to laze around the pool on board, I wanted enjoyed the shore trips, I interacted with the gay group, I tried to engage other cruise passengers in conversation, I enjoyed an early-evening swim and sauna most days, I loved the food, I enjoyed the wine and above all I was able to spend quality time with Andrew, something that is not always possible when we are working as we juggle our busy commitments.

I have not been converted to cruising as a regular holiday habit. Inevitably the port visits were somewhat superficial and I missed the ability to experience a foreign place in the morning as it wakes up or in the evening as it winds down.

But I can see the attractions of taking a cruise. From the practical ones such as not having to regularly pack and unpack and of being able to visit a range of destinations to the spiritual ones, if you like, of just relaxing without any pressure to do things or be places.

I came back relaxed and refreshed. I visited Rome, Sicily, Israel, Mykonos and Naples. And I felt closer to Andrew as a result of the holiday. That made it all worthwhile.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Cruising

We arrived in Rome last night and have spend today exploring the city, 34 years after my last visit.

Tomorrow we head for Civitiveccia port to board the Celebrity Silhouette for a 12 day cruise taking in the ports of Palermo, Haifa, Ashdod, Mykonos and Naples. We are with a Pied Piper group, i.e. a group of about 30 gay and lesbian travellers, within the full number of over 2000 passengers. It will be fun, I hope, meeting the others in the group, almost exclusively from the USA.

And, despite some reservations about the concept of being stuck on a boat and only scratching the surface of places visited, I am going to do my best to have a wonderful time. The Kindle is loaded up with new reading material. The weather should be reasonable. And I can completely relax in our balcony cabin.

Internet access is expensive so I probably cannot send a blog during the journey. So I will report back afterwards.

Meanwhile we are chilling out here in Rome.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Porque Me Gusta Malaga



It all started 14 years ago, my love affair with Spain; and, indeed, another, even more important, love affair. The two are linked. I met my partner, Andrew, in a nunnery in Bury St Edmunds in May 1997. As you do. The story of that meeting is a story for another day. Suffice to say I was late for dinner that night and when I arrived there was only one space space - opposite Andrew. Fate, I guess.

At that time, I was not necessarily looking for a life partner but I was hoping to meet someone who lived near me in Finchley. 'Where do you live?' I asked on that evening keeping my fingers crossed under the table. 'Fuengirola' came the reply. It wasn't exactly close to Finchley!

So Andrew went back to Spain. I went over to visit a couple of months later. And have done regularly ever since. And that's how my love affair for Spain started.

Shortly after our meeting, Andrew returned to the UK to work but we continued to visit Spain on a regular basis staying firstly in Andrew's rented flat in Fuengirola and then, when he gave that up, in hotels or guest houses in Torremolinos, Alora or Malaga.

Then about seven years ago, we took the momentous decision to buy a flat in Spain. It ended up being a very small basement flat - in the centre of the Centro Historico in Malaga. And we still have the flat. Our neighbours are Spanish, the local shops are Spanish-owned, the local restaurants are for the locals not for tourists and there is a wonderful food market close to the flat. And that's how I like it. I don't want to live on an English enclave.

Yes it is a basement flat and yes it is small. But is was affordable - not much more than £50,000 given the exchange rate at the time. It is, for me , in the ideal location. Very close to the local theatre, also close to the local gay bars on the Plaza Merced, right in the heart of the city of Malaga, yet only 20 minutes walk from the Malagueta town beach; not too far from the airport; near the old cathedral; and a short walk from the main shopping centre. We've been to many concerts in the Teatro Cervantes (The Malaga Philharmonic Orchestra are excellent) and also spent many hours on the beach - and of course quite a few in the terraces outside the bars.

And I have come to love Malaga. It is vibrant, very Spanish city. Full of life, but also very cultured. And the beach, and the beach bars, are great. And, dare I say it, the Brits fly into Malaga airport but don't go into the city - heading off instead for the all-inclusive hotels in Torremolinos or Benalmadena. Leaving Malaga almost untouched by the influx of British tourists.




I also love the surrounding area, the villages of Ardales and Alora, the town of Antequera, the mountain of El Torcal and particulalry the lakes of El Chorro.


We have just come back from six days in the flat in Malaga. These pictures were taken there using my new water-resistant camera. It was feria time so the city was full of street parties, music and dance. A great atmosphere. Each day we spent some time on the beach - the weather was hot and the sea was warm. And each evening we had a glass or two of wine on the terrace of one of the local bars. Some evenings I did some cooking; sometimes we went out. As always we had a wonderful meal at our favourite restaurant, the Vino Mio.

Yes I slept too much. I guess I ate too much and undoubtedly drank too much. But it all added up to a wonderfully relaxing six days.

Today we flew back. It was like travelling in time - from mid-summer to late autumn; like travelling from colour to black and white - from bright blue to dark grey. And from a different sartorial society - from t-shirts/shorts to dark waterproof jackets.

I always wish I could stay longer. But it great to know that I have clothes over there in the flat and that I can return at short notice any time. There is a buzz and a life about Malaga that I love. And sharing it with Andrew is just so great. That day in the nunnery changed my life for the better. It gave me the love of a partner and the love of a country. I am so lucky. Now I just need to learn to improve my ability to speak Spanish. Hablo Espanol solomente un poco.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Summer slipping away

On Saturday it was still dark when I got up. Sure it was quite early, around 6am - I was heading off to play golf. And there was a drizzle outside. But nonetheless, it was dark. Yet we are still in August.

And I wondered where summer had gone. And why I have not done all the things I had planned to do this summer. I was planning to visit my sister in Devon - I haven't. I was planning to go to the Open Air Theatre - I haven't. I was planning to visit friends that I had not seen for ages - I haven't. I was planning to sort out some of the boxes that remain from my flat move - I haven't. I was planning to get the bicycles out for a number of cycle rides - I haven't.

And why is that? Well I could blame the weather. Summer seemed to stop at the end of April this year. I could blame work. I just don't seem to have the energy when I get home after work. I could blame increasing old age. Certainly I seem to have a degree of lethargy that was not part of my make-up a few years ago.

And shortly we will move into September, the mornings and evenings will become increasingly dark and, if I don't watch, I shall retreat increasingly into a pattern of work, television, eating and sleeping with nothing adventurous to break that pattern.

Anyway we had for Malaga on Wednesday for a few days in the sun. I hope that helps recharge my batteries and kick-starts me into doing some of the things I had planned for this summer. Hopefully summer is not quite over.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Well done Darren



I know, in a small way, what it is like to be disappointed for years at missing out in a big golf tournament. In 2002 I went to Sydney to play golf in the Gay Games. At the final hole, a par 3, I needed a 3 to win the silver medal. I took a 5. Not only did I not win silver, but I also missed the bronze medal on countback. I was gutted.


It was only years later, when I won a medal at Eurogames in Antwerp, that I was able to put the disappointment behind me.


Dareen Clarke has played professional golf at a high level for 20 years. During that time he has watched as lesser golfers won major championships. He came close on many occasions, but he never did. Now, at 42, it was surely too late.


Last week I was at Castle Stuart near Inverness to see Darren Clarke and others compete in the Scottish Open. I took this photo of Darren.


This week the Open Championship took place at Royal St Georges near Sandwich. And amazingly, as the top golfers in the world failed to stay at the top of the leaderboard, Darren took the lead with one round to play. And even more amazingly, despite huge pressure, he held on through 18 holes of the final round to win the tournament and become a Major winner at long last. So occasionally nice guys do come first. Well done Darren. Fantastic.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Birthday weekend (2)

The weekend after our Spanish sojourn, Andrew knew that we were meeting some relatives and a few friends for lunch on Sunday. There were people who could not come to Spain, some for health reasons. We had initially expected that there would be half a dozen of us - in fact there were 32 in total.

As far as Andrew was concerned, that was all that was happening over the weekend.

Not so.

As a surprise, I had booked front row tickets for Les Miserables on the Saturday evening, an appearance at a friends 30th birthday party at the Shadow Lounge, an overnight stay at the refurbished St Pancras Renaissance Hotel and a Sunday morning visit to Tate Modern for the Loan Miro exhibition.

I think he liked his surprise.

Neither of us has been to Les Miserables. It was magnificent. Powerful and moving. And Alfie Boe was fantastic. We enjoyed the stay at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. The architecture is amazing. Not everything was good about the hotel though, which is disappointing in an expensive five star hotel. The next morning we found the Joan Miro exhibition to be really interesting and well curated.

And finally we all had a good meal at Palm Court Brasserie in Covent Garden. So that was the birthday celebrations over. It had taken a lot of organising for the two weekends in Malaga and London. But it all worked really well.

But that is it for now - no more organising for another decade.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Birthday weekend (1)











Not mine. But I was doing the organising. Andrew's big birthday. We took 20 friends to Malaga for the weekend. It went really well. On the actual birthday we met up in the morning, and went up to the top of the Gibralfaro where there is a magnificent view of the city. Had lunch at a beach chirunguitto, and did some swimming. Then toured the historic part of Malaga. Chilled out for a couple of hours. And finally had dinner at the Vino Mio.

For a present we bought a paining by a local artist Carmen Sanchis and asked her to come along to preewnt this to Andrew. I think she was pleased and honoured to be asked.







Dinner was fantastic. Helene and her crew did us proud. And after dinner Simon did an amazing cake which we ate at Mi Terraza.











We were really grateful to friends for coming all the way over to Malaga. They seemed to enjoy the weekend and they were all impressed with Malaga.












It was a great weekend and a good way to celebrate Andrew's birthday.