Friday, 31 December 2010

Scotland and Spain

We made it to Scotland for Christmas. Three trains and a bus - we were only an hour late in arriving in Keith despite the heavy snow. I enjoyed Christmas, even if looking after my father was challenging. We had a good Christmas lunch in the Royal Hotel in Keith, and on Boxing Day we dug out the car and drove to Spey Bay and then back via Buckie and Cullen.

Then on Monday we took the train to Dunkeld to see Andrew´s uncle and aunt before heading onwards to Glasgow for an overnight stay prior to our flight to Malaga. And now we have been in Malaga for three days. Yesterday we drove to La Herradura for lunch at a beach bar. Today we went to my favourite part of this area - the lakes at El Chorro. We had a fantastic lunch at the Oasis restaurant. It was also good to be able to visit Reg and Gloria in Fuengirola on our way back.

And now it is New Year´s Eve. We have our Cava and our 12 grapes and will proobably head for the Plaza de Constitution in Malaga for midnight.

Happy New Year to all. Retrospective of 2010 and thoughts for 2011 to follow in a day or two.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Heading for Scotland (maybe)


On Thursday, Andrew and I are booked to go from Hitchin to Keith by train. But with all of the snow and travel disruption, that now needs to be seen as speculative rather than certain.

This morning, I could not even get from Hertford East to Liverpool Street. The 0739 train did not depart until about 0800. So I was cold before it started. The heating was not functioning. I got colder. Then after a slow journey to Brimsdown, we stopped there for 30 minutes. I got colder. The driver then announced that there was a defective door and the train was being taken out of service. (Why can they not just empty that carriage and then continue the journey?). 500 people pitched out onto Brimsdown station. I got colder. The next announcement was that no trains were currently going in towards Liverpool Street. I stood for 30 minutes on Brimsdown Station. I got colder. Then I saw a bus going to Broxbourne. I took it. And at Broxburne there was a train going back to Hertford East. I took that. I was still cold.So I got home to my flat just over 4 hours after I left having been unable to get to work.

I was in Hitchin on Saturday and went for a walk in Herford on Sunday. Which is where I took these photos. I like snow as long as I do not have to rely on the UK transport system to get around. So I am looking forward to getting to N. Scotland on Thursday. But am not exactly confident that I will.

Monday, 20 December 2010

South Africa - Cape Town


After our time at Londolozi, we took a small plane to Mpumalanga and then on to Cape Town where we spent 6 days. Some of the time was organised (superbly) by Rhino Africa and some of the time was free time.

On the organised days, we did a wine tour of Stellenbosh and Franchhoek and also a trip to Cape Point - both really interesting days (thanks, Graham). On our free days, we took a train to visit a friend in Simon'sTown. visited the District 6 museum, spend some time on Clifton No 3 beach and went by cablecar to the top of Table Mountain.

We also were invited to a couple of parties and visited a number of hotels to check them out for AMRO Worldwide. Memorably we had dinner at the 12 Apostles watching the sun set over the sea.

I would love to write a travelogue detailing our trip at some length, but I simply do not have time. Suffice to say that we were hosted by Rhino Africa who were fantastic. Thanks to Billy, David and all of the Rhino Africa team. I hope we can bring business your way. I enjoyed this visit to South Africa much more than my first visit a few years ago. Maybe that was because the weather was better, the accommodation was out of this world, the people we met were so friendly and the scenery is breathtaking. Yes of course one cannot go to South Africa without realising the difficulties ahead for that country and the huge task still facing the government in balancing the needs and aspirations of all its people. But certainly we will be back. And I would urge others to visit as well. These are just a few of the photos I took during our visit.






Sunday, 19 December 2010

South Africa - Londolozi









At the start of our trip to South Africa, we spent three nights at the Tree Camp, Lonzolozi in the Sabi Sands - on the edge of the Kruger. It was amazing.






Firstly Londolozi was luxurious - our accommodation was larger than my flat in London. I loved the outdoor shower and outdoor plunge pool. It was weird but exciting to be soaking naked in the plunge pool overlooking the African bush with, in one case, a herd of elephants only 100 yards away. The food was also amazing and the wines were on the top order.

But of course we were there for the game drives. We did 5 drives and they were exciting, humbling and just wonderful. We saw lions, leopards, elephants, rhino, buffalo, giraffe, zebra etc etc etc. Byron, our guide, and Judas, our tracker, were tremendous. Their spotting was unbelievable and Byron was so helpful in his commentary.. All in all it was a great experience.
These are just a few of the photos I took.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Rhino Africa

We have now returned from an amazing visit to South Africa. I will get round to posting a blog about this. In the meantime, our hosts at Rhino Africa have got in first. Here is their blog. Thanks guys.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

In South Africa

We have been to Londolozi game park are are now in Cape Town. We are having a wonderful time. Sadly I don't have time to report in detail- rushing off to dinner now. Back in London on Monday and I hope to report then.

We have sent back some photos for Amro Bear's facebook page.

More soon.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Heading for South Africa

In the summer, Andrew and I went to the IGLTA annual convention in Antwerp.

Whist there we met the guys who run 'out2africa' a luxury travel company in South Africa aimed at the gay and lesbian market. They mentioned that they might be able to put together a travel-professionals educational package for later in the year. Well it has happened and both Andrew and I are going.

I am slightly apprehensive because I feel that having two people from the same travel business does not really add value for the out2africa guys, but I guess that since we stay in the same rooms having two of us will not add too much to their costs. We will certainly do our best to sell their holidays upon our return and will put together information for the Amro Worldwide website.

We leave on Thursday 2 Dec and spend 3 nights at Londolozi game lodge in the Kruger Game Reserve followed by 6 days in Cape Town at the MannaBay boutique hotel. It all looks wonderful and I am looking forward to it immensely. Further reports here in due course.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Autumn (2)

Here are a three more photos taken within a few hundred yards of my new flat in Hertford.


This first one is a view from my balcony looking towards the weir and the leisure centre beyond.


















The second one is the River Lee just along from the flat heading towards Ware.
















And the final one is looking back towards my flat from the Meadows.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Autumn



On Sunday, I went for a short stroll in the area close to my new flat. Which is a good excuse for posting a couple of photos I took, both taken within a few hundred yards for my flat. I loved being able to do this walk stright from the flat without having to either take the car or walk along any pavements. I was back in the flat 30 minutes after I started.




Monday, 1 November 2010

The first day ....

...of the rest of my life.

Yes I know this can be said of every day. And I have already had over 20,000 of these in my life. But then, as someone once said - have you lived 10,000 days or lived one day 10,000 times? Sadly, I think it has often been the latter.

But today feels a bit different. I have been in my new flat for nearly 6 weeks now. But during that time I have been unpacking, have helped run a conference in Stratford-upon-Avon, have been in Spain for 10 days, been up to Scotland and generally been a bit distracted.

Now, though, I have a whole month ahead of me in the new place without any trips away and I want to start to feel that this is a turning point in my life. I will investigate the local area, go for walks, join the local gym and pool, manage my time better and generally look forward to many years living in Hertford and hopefully a new focus on the enjoyment of life. I will not, though, stop watching 'Coach Trip'!

I will also drink less alcohol, especially midweek, and eat more healthily.

I guess it is a bit like having a New Year's resolution but two months early.

So here I go. The first day of the rest of my life.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Political shift

I have become the person I hoped I would never be.

At university, I was very left-wing in my views and was outside the mainstream of all major political parties.

Then I because a member of the Labour Party and was generally happy with their political stance on most things.

At the last election, however, I could not bring myself to vote Labour. I cancelled my membership, gritted my teeth, and voted Lib Dem.

I now find myself, not disappointed in their coalition with the Tories, but admiring of their political courage in not being afraid of grasping power and taking tough decisions. Nick Clegg continues to impress me.

So whilst I know that many Lib Dem supporters are horrified, I maintain my support for the Coalition and the Lib Dem role in this. They have helped temper the excesses of the Tories. Of course they have had to compromise but, hey, they hold less than 10% of seats at Westminster. They are punching above their weight, doing it in the national interest and doing it sensibly.

Have I simply become a realist or is self-interest starting to drive my political views? I hope it is not the latter. But I have certainly shifted my political position. And, strangely, I am entirely comfortable with that.

I hope for some form of proportional representation, for gay marriage, for support for a multi-cultural Britain, for assisted suicide, for rehabilitation of prisoners, and for resistance to faith schools. I remain socially progressive. But I am becoming economically prudent.

Maybe it's an age thing.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Spanish therapy


We have just returned from 10 days in Malaga. It was a very relaxing break after months of stress both at work and with the move. I don't think I had realised how stressed and tired I was until I slept for about 12 hours on each on my first couple of nights in Malaga, got up, went to the beach and promptly fell asleep again!

Andrew had suggested that I go into the local travel agent just down from our flat in Malaga and see if we could go somewhere for a few days while we were there. Delphin, the agent, speaks no English, so I was quite proud of myself in explaining what we wanted and understanding what she was proposing. I booked a 5 days cruise out of Malaga stopping at Portimao, Lisbon and Tangier on an all-Spanish vessel with ibero Cruceros.

It was a really good cruise and amazing value. We paid £240 each and this included the cruise, all port taxes, all food and, amazingly, all drink. We certainly took advantage of this latter offer with our champagne cocktails and copious quantities of quality wine with dinner. I had booked the cheapest lower deck inside cabin; we were upgraded to a higher deck superior outside cabin - I know not why! And I loved Lisbon.

We finished with four sunny days in Malaga, mainly relaxing on the beach, though we did go into Torremolinos for a huge gay exhibition of holidays, clothes, furnishings etc etc. I cooked my usual Zarzuela one evening and we had a couple of meals in the superb Vino Mio restaurant. I read some books, watched some DVDs and generally chilled out. Just what I needed.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

A stranger in my bedroom

I had asked for a fitted wardrobe to be put into bedroom 2 before I moved. But Weston Homes said that because of the short timescale between exchange and completion, they would have to do this after I had moved in. So I gave them a key and they did it on the first Wednesday after I moved in. A painter was then due to come to cover up the work.

On the Friday at 6 a.m. I was lying in bed when I heard someone come into my flat using a key. He walked down the corridor and came straight into my bedroom. ¨Hello´, I said (sadly I could think of nothing more original to say. ). He immediately jumped back, very startled. I turned out that this was the painter, who had been told the flat was empty and had decided to do the work early.

I have to say it is not often that a complete stranger walks into my bedroom at 6 a.m. uninvited.

Honest.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Tired but content

I am exhausted.

After moving home I had to prepare for our annual conference and then go up to Stratford-upon-Avon to help run it. I was responsible for the quiz at the pre-conference icebreaker event and for the AGM. I also was room monitor for a number of sessions and of course available at all times to answer questions.

But it all went very well and was a successful three days in terms of organisation, content and finances.

I got home last Thursday and was up at 4 am on Friday to get to Luton for the flight to Aberdeen. I am now in Keith to try to look after my Dad and sort out his future. I return to London tomorrow.

We then have a big Executive meeting on Wednesday which needs a lot of preparation.

Then we head for Spain and hopefully some relaxation. Much needed.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Busy busy busy

Last week I wanted to enjoy my new home. Indeed I just wanted to unpack. But I had to go in to work every day. And now I am gearing up for our annual conference this week in Stratford-upon-Avon. And getting stressed about it. Immediately after the conference, I have to go to Scotland to see my Dad whose health is declining. So I have no time to relax. I am finding this very difficult. I'll be glad when we get to next Sunday, though even then I have a work deadline of 6 Oct to meet and no real time to do the work involved. Pressure & stress. It is not much fun.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Moved in

Yep. I am now in my new home.

Yesterday was not without last minute hassles. My solicitor had not received the signed copy of the lease that I sent on Friday same-day recorded delivery. Then they found it. My buyers solicitor sent £100 less than expected; transpired that they want indemnity insurance on garage repairs carried out 10 years ago and expect me to pay for that. Which I have had to do. My solicitors wanted a closure document from my bank. That took time. My removal men took away my vacuum cleaner so that I could not give the old flat a final clean - probably not important as the buyers are ripping up the carpet anyway.

But finally at about 2.30 p.m. we had completion. And the removal guys started to put my furniture into the new place.

So here I am. Now living in Hertford. Surrounded by boxes.

I enjoyed a half-hour in the evening sitting on the balcony, glass of wine in hand, watching the ducks on the river below and the sun setting in the distance. It was wonderful.

Sadly I am at work today - and the first train I tried to catch from Hertford East, the 7.39, was cancelled! And I am really busy. So it will be the weekend before I can get rid of most of the boxes and start to feel really relaxed.

But hey - I have moved. And it feels great.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

D-day minus 1

I am surprisingly nervous and apprehensive. I keep thinking of all the things that could go wrong. I am especially concerned that my buyer may not have the money ready with his solicitor for tomorrow morning and hence delay the move. I feel that perhaps my stuff will be in the removal van but not get clearance to start unloading at the other end.

However I need to try to just focus on the last-minute things today. The final clearing and cleaning. Making sure all my stuff for moving is in boxes. And making sure that I am calm.

Okay, time to get on with it.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

D-day minus 2

It's all coming together. The money is with my solicitor awaiting completion on Monday. I have done another trip to the Council tip. I have given three wardrobes and two chests of drawers to Ann, the Irish girl who came for my cooker - a random act of kindness which at least means that someone will make use of them. So my bedroom is looking bare. I have cleared most of the stuff from the garage and now most of the stuff from my kitchen. I have done my final washing.

A few more things to do today, then tomorrow I clear up the final few things and give the flat a good clean. Then, I hope, I move on Monday. Please.

Friday, 17 September 2010

D-day minus 3


I have packed most of my stuff in boxes. My money is with the solicitor. I have signed all the documents. And so I am close to moving home. Still some final clearing to be done, but I am ready for the move. Bring it on.


Yes sometimes it has seemed like one step forwards two steps back. I feel I am reinventing the wheel and meeting obstacles that so many others have faced but I am getting there.


I am excited and apprehensive in equal measure.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Getting closer


Today I exchanged contracts on my purchase. So suddenly it is all legal. I have sold and bought a property.

The last few days have been frustrating. At the last minute I found that under the Chancel Repairs Act of 1932, I might be liable for the cost of repairs to the Chancel of the local parish church. Not something I had envisaged when I decided to but a new-build flat. I have taken out indemnity insurance against that possibility.

I would love to go to sleep for a few days and simply wake up in the new flay. But instead, I have a lot of work to do in clearing the old flat, getting rid of furniture, and preparing for the move.

And then the start of a new life.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Moving on

Monday was such an emotional roller-coaster. My sale was off. Then it was on. Then the buyer's solicitor had a major problem. Then he didn't.

Suddenly at 5.30 we exchanged contracts. So now I have sold my flat. Huge relief. Completion date is 20th September.

Mind you I have not exchanged contracts on my purchase. The local authority searches have not been received. So either I exchange without these or I could be homeless on 20th September.

Nothing is easy in property sales/purchases in England.

So I just keep my fingers crossed.

And this weekend I will be busy clearing out the old flat. Charity shop and Council dump, here I come.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Hitting a snag

I am feeling a lot of stress. Partly this is because September is a busy month at work culminating in the annual conference in Stratford-upon-Avon at the end of the month. Partly because AOL is playing up and I am not always able to get an internet connection. Partly because I am having problems topping-up the money on my pay-as-you-go phone. But mainly there are two causes of the stress.

I have just come back from Scotland. My Dad's health is deteriorating and I really do not know whether I should start the process to put him into a care home. His eyesight is failing, his walking is more difficult, his prostate problems are interrupting his sleep and he is generally very lonely. And I live 600 miles away.

The biggest problem, though, is that my flat sale has fallen through. I think. My prospective buyers wanted to knock down a couple of walls and build an en-suite. The lease states that this requires the approval of the other residents. They have witheld that approval. I will find out tomorrow for sure if the buyers are pulling out. If they do, then I will likely lose my purchase. And we will be back where we were over a month ago apart from the fact that I will have incurred around £1,500 in lawyers fees.

And my b/f is currently away in Gran Canaria so I do not have a shoulder to cry on.

So I am stressed.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Moving Home (fingers crossed)

So far so good, but I don't want to tempt fate.
I have told my solicitors, my buyers solicitors and the estate agent that I want to get to exchange of contracts by 31 August. Only then can I really start to look forward to my new home, throw out old furniture, plan the removal etc.

I have answered all of the solicitors queries, signed all the forms, and agreed to make all the payments. My buyer has had my flat surveyed and been round with a builder to ascertain the work he wants to do. And there have been no negative comments from that.

I guess the local authority searches are on-going and a slow local authority (is there any other type?) could slow things down. And, worryingly, I understand that my buyers mortgage is not quite finalised. So things could still go wrong.

And of course I occasionally have second thoughts. I have been twice to the Council tip with stuff I have thrown out. I have twice been to a charity shop to give them staff that is still worth something. I have put some stuff up for sale on Gumtree. However I still have a lot of items that I won't have room for but which I do not want to throw out. Some are old photographs. Some are old papers. Some are pictures and ornaments that I have collected on my travels over the years - plates from Iran, paintings from Siberia, carvings from India etc. I worry about not having a garage.

But generally I am really looking forward to the new home, to swimming in the local pool in the morning before work, having a shorter walk to the station, joining the local tennis club, maybe joining a drama club, cycling along the banks of the River Lea, taking walks to new places, sipping a Pinot Grigio while sitting on the balcony etc.

Scary and stressful. But also exciting.

This photo shows Hertford with my flat shown in the middle of the photo near the top, just past Tesco and Hertford East station. My balcony, facing away from the camera, overlooks the river and the Meadows beyond. Maybe, just maybe, I could be living there by this time next month.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Moving home (2)

So far so good. My prospective purchaser has had a survey done on my current flat and has come round with his builder to ascertain what work he wants to do before moving in. Apparently he wants to put in an en-suite. He remains keen to buy.

The solicitor has sent me a wadge of documents to complete, which I have done.

Weston Homes, the builder of the flat I am hopefully moving to, have agreed to put in a fitted wardrobe into bedroom 2 as well as fit vertical blinds to all windows, all within the purchase price, which is good.

And I have started to try to tidy up. I have made one visit to the municipal waste disposal area with a load of junk, and have also taken some stuff to the local charity shop.

And I have alternated between huge excitement and sheer panic. Which, I guess, is to be expected.

As I said, so far so good.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Moving home (maybe)

A week ago I had not even had my flat valued.

Since then the estate agent has given it a suggested value, I agreed to put it on the market, I received (and accepted) an offer within 24 hours, and finally I agreed to buy another property. Wow. A busy and eventful week.

I don't have to move. I quite like living in New Barnet - it is handy for the station and for my tennis and golf clubs. My flat needs some work doing to it, but I could have arranged for that to have been done.

But I have never really liked my flat or the block I am living in. And I would like to be further out into the country. I also want to live in a property that I could see myself living in for the rest of my life (which I hope will still be a long time).

Initially I had thought I would like to move to Welwyn Garden City. But then I discovered Hertford. Over the past few days, I have viewed a number of properties. Some were bigger than others. Some were older than others. Most were flats; one was a house. A decision had to be made. It came down to two properties - a terraced house in Welwyn Garden City with a garden and loads of storage space or a new-build flat in Hertford in an ideal location with views to die for but almost no storage space. Head or heart?

In the end, Heart won. With a late goal in extra time!

I have plumped for Hertford. I like the idea of new build. This flat has a balcony with views over the River Lea to meadow land beyond. It is a dual aspect flat which would get the morning sum in the lounge and the evening sun in the bedrooms. I will see the sunset from the balcony. It is very close to Hertford East station from where the train goes to Liverpool Street station, which is close to where I work. There is a Tesco beside the station. Hertford is a quaint historical town with unique shops, a theatre, a Saturday market, many places to eat and a good selection of pubs. The River Lea is right outside the flat; there a bicycle and walking trails which go for miles beside the river to Ware and beyond; there is a canoeing base opposite the flat, tennis courts a hundred yards away and a gym and swimming pool also a hundred yards away. And if we end up living in Spain, I can let out the flat for at least £1,000 per month which would be useful ancillary income.

Yes I am going to be challenged in the fact that I will have to seriously cut down on things I currently have because space is limited. I will need to throw out old ornaments, old golf clubs, clothes I haven't worn for ages, etc. etc. But I want an uncluttered life and I think that physical uncluttering can help mental uncluttering. And I love the thought of sipping a crisp Chardonnay sitting on the balcony watching the summer sun set over the fields beyond. Or being able to go for a short walk into the meadows along the riverbank. And if I am fortunate to still have years ahead of me, this flat will still work even if my walking abilities are curtailed.

This is what the block looks like -






I realise that the property moving process is still fraught with uncertainties. I now rely on my buyer to stick with the process. So, with fingers crossed, I am excited and feeling really positive about the next phase of my life.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Funeral

Yesterday I attended Brian's funeral. A very sad occasion. It also gave me the opportunity to give thanks for Brian's friendship and to celebrate his integrity, his goodness and his gentleness.

And of course such sad occasions make me realise that many of the things that I think are problems for me are in reality fairly trivial things. It made me realise my good fortune in having reasonable health, and has given me the impetus to ensure that I use that good fortune to be a kind and supportive person to others.

The service itself was very high church; a full Catholic Mass in the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Farm Street, London. Since that church meant a lot to Brian, it was entirely fitting that it should be there. However for me the service was too far removed from its central purpose. It was about a general affirmation of faith from the congregation and little about the person whose passing we were marking.

I just know that Brian was taken from us too soon and I hope that he Rests in Peace.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Immobile

A couple of weeks ago I played 4 competitive games of tennis in 4 days. As a result of which, I hurt my foot.

Bit sore, but no big deal.

Then on Tuesday, the eve of my 5 day golfing visit to Wales, I was just walking to work when 'Owwww'. A pain shot up my leg. Now I have a severely sprained foot and can hardly walk.

The trip to Wales had to be cancelled and I have spend 5 days immobile in the flat doing little but watching the British Open on TV. And still my foot is sore.

I managed to go to work today, but that was a mistake as the foot is more painful than ever this evening.

It is all deeply frustrating.

Monday, 12 July 2010

The Lottery of Life (2)

A few months ago, I blogged about the random nature of life and luck. I thought about this again this week. At the start of the week, an elderly relative died. In the middle of the week, a good friend, roughly my age, was found dead in his flat. And at the end of the week, another relative was killed by a car.

The first death was of someone who was 89 and had been ill. So was not really a surprise nor could really be said to be a tragedy.

But the second person was my age, was someone I had worked with and had not been ill. He had been made redundant from the SouthBank Centre 5 years ago, as had I. Whereas I was lucky to get another job immediately, and had viewed my redundancy as an opportunity to get out of a job I was increasingly hating, he had difficulties getting suitable work and had grown increasingly bitter about the forced redundancy. I do not yet know the circumstances of his death, but it reminds me that, whenever I get a bit down, I am still very fortunate.

To compound the feeling that life is a lottery, the person who told me of that death, also someone of my age, revealed that he has recently been diagnosed with cancer.

And the third death was very ironic in its circumstances. A relative, living in the USA, who had recently retired after 50 years working in the Salvation Army. Someone who was deeply religious. He died when he was hit by a car - in the church car park! Just when he was looking forward to retirement.

On the other side of the coin, over the weekend I was in Ipswich with a group of friends, again most of around my age, and some of whom have been able to retire early with no real worries about money. Someone I played tennis with last week, has a new expensive car and a huge house.

So what is the lesson of all of this? I suppose it is one of acceptance of the cards which life has dealt, keeping envy at bay when others seem to have been dealt a better hand, but awareness that still others were dealt much worse hands.

Ths breeds a determination to make the best of the hand one has. I want to live the rest of my life as best I can, and as energetically as I can, being friendly and supportive to others, always wanting to learn and experience more of life, being able to give and receive love, planning for the future but not being constrained by the planning process. And trying to help those who need my help, whilst still forging out a unique path for myself.

Wow. That all sounds a bit serious, a bit restrictive, a bit analytical. Let's just get on with life and remember that life is for living and not for just existing; for being open to new experiences; for living 30,000 days and not living one day 30,000 times. Starting today.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Antwerp

I love Antwerp. It is a city of contrasts and variety. A city of art and culture. A city of diamonds and fashion. A city of bars and clubs. Hustle and bustle and lots to do - yet a quiet serenity on the shores of the river Schelde. And all takes place within a very walkable, manageable heart.

Last week, for the third time in three years, we were in Antwerp, this time for the annual convention of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA). Andrew, through his company, AMRO Worldwide, has been a member of IGLTA for 8 years. He is committed to working with IGLTA and to hopefully contributing to its success. I enjoyed the convention, though I do find the networking difficult. I not naturally gregarious and as both a Brit and someone who does not run a travel business, I felt that I was a bit of an outsider.





It was good to see IGLTA having a convention in Europe. They do passionately believe that they should be an international organisation and not perceived as purely an American one. We hope we can help them in this aim. However they do make some unfortunate errors in this regard. They instituted a new series of awards at this convention, the IGLTA Honors. I do think they could have chosen a word that did not have a different spelling on each side of the pond. Using the American spelling will reinforce the perception that they are fundamentally an American organisation.

Nonetheless, I wish them well. AMRO remains a huge supported of IGLTA and will continue to work with them and will encourage travel businesses in Europe to join IGLTA..

Another strange aspect of the weekend was that AMRO has a mascot, Amro Bear, with its own facebook page. So we had to take the bear to Antwerp to take some photos of it. And here they are. I did get some strange looks as I walked round Antwerp with a teddy bear taking photos of it!

























Monday, 14 June 2010

The body in the garden (2)

This morning's Press and Journal carried the story of the body found at the bottom of my Dad's garden. But without adding much. Yes the body was found by the paper boy at 7.15 a.m. - about an hour before I arrived. The body has still not been identified. And the cause of death is being described as uncertain. Not suspicious, but equally not, so far, as natural causes.

Later in the day, I found out rather more. The deceased is Davy Leighton, a resident of the same sheltered housing complex in which my Dad lives. Indeed I have passed Davy Leighton's room each evening on my way to the guest room. As a further irony, I knew Davy Leighton from the time he was Secretary at Keith Golf Club. And had spoken to him when I was up in Keith at Easter.

The word in Keith is that he had been knocked down by a car on Friday morning but refused medical treatment. On Friday evening he went to the pub. And that is the last that is known until his body was found on Saturday morning. Presumably he collapsed on his way home on Friday evening. I left my Dad's house at about 10.45 pm on Friday. If I had been any later, I might have seen Davy Leighton returning home and might have been able to help.

It is all very sad. And a real example of how tenuous life can be.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

The body in the garden

I am up in Scotland visiting my Dad who lives in sheltered accommodation in Keith, here in the North East. I am staying in the guest room in the main block.

This morning, as usual, I left the main block to go to my Dad's cottage for breakfast. When I got there, it was cordoned off with tape and the place was swarming with police. Immediate concern.

But I was eventually allowed to go through the police cordon. My Dad is okay.

But there is a body (I assume) at the end of his garden covered with a sheet. Difficult to just have breakfast.

Hey, this is Keith - these things do not happen here.

As the morning went on, we found out that the paper boy, having delivered the morning paper to my Dad, stumbled, almost literally, upon a body at the bottom of the garden. The police were called. And now there is huge activity, a tarpaulin sheet blocking the path at the bottom of the garden and a group of police officers all stating that they are unable to tell us what has happened. But apparently we will be told in due course. All very strange.

Now late afternoon, the body has been removed and the police have gone. We were not interviewed. Still no word about what has happened.

This afternoon I took my Dad to a concert in the main block for the residents. Part of the Keith Traditional Music Festival which is taking place this weekend. Strange to have this going on when someone has died just outside the window.

Still I guess we will find out what happened in the local press. Whatever it was, there was certainly a fatality and the deceased was presumably someone's friend, someone's relative. And someone is grieving.

The World Cup is going on, but I can't help thinking about the person who a few hours ago found themselves at the bottom of my Dad's garden and then died there. Of natural causes, I hope.

Whoever you are, Rest in Peace.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Woburn Safari Park

I have been in London for 30 years. Woburn Safari Park has been in existence for 40 years. So I have no idea why I suddenly suggested last week, that we head there for a day.

Anyway it was a fun day, though being bank holiday weekend it was all a bit too busy.

Here are a few photos I took.



Sunday, 23 May 2010

Visit to Malaga

I have returned from our short visit to Malaga, which was very enjoyable. The weather was great - sunny but not too hot. We went to the beach on four occasions. We also went to the Vino Mio a couple of times, one of them on my birthday. Food was great as always. On Friday we took the train through to Fuengirola to see 'Putting on the Glitz' at the Salon Varietes. It was fabulous. Hugely talented performers and crew. The choreography was not easy but they mastered it perfectly. Very impressive for an all-amateur theatre group.

I also tested out the new camera which Andrew gave me for my birthday. I had managed to drop my previous camera once too often. The new camera, A Sony DSC-TX5 is dustproof, shockproof, freezeproof and waterproof to a depth of 10 feet. The sea at the Malagueta beach is not clear enough for underwater shots, but this is one I took from in the sea looking towards the shore.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Riding the Mawddach Trail

The week before last, we had a few days in mid-Wales, near Machynnleth. Andrew decided we should take our bicycles, even though neither of us has cycled for many years. I am glad we did. We decided to cycle the Mawddach Trail down an old railway line to Barmouth.

The good thing about old railway lines is that there is no real uphill. It was a sunny day if a bit chilly and windy. Anyway here is what I captured on my flip video.



Saturday, 15 May 2010

General Election (6)

It was Harold Wilson who said 'A week is a long time in politics'. The events of the past 7 days have shown the truth of this.

There was I, a week ago, disappointed with the election result and blogging that Nick Clegg had an impossible choice. Ideologically I would have preferred a deal with the Labour party, but I realised that the political arithmetic simply did not add up. So a deal with the Tories became almost inevitable.

I have never voted Tory in my life. So a LibDem / Tory alliance was a difficult concept for me to accept. But I have been impressed with David Cameron over the past week. And of course impressed with Nick Clegg. The deal is a good one. Importantly, I think it is a deal that could last a full parliament.

And interestingly it is not so much the Labour party that is marginalised, but in fact the Tory right wing. We get the best of the Tories (and there is some of that) and the best of the LibDems.

I applaud the courage of both Nick Clegg and David Cameron. And I look forward to a fascinating political situation, not least in the House of Commons.

Bring it on.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

General Election (5)

Well the voting is over and the result is in. Or perhaps not quite in.

My feeling? My over-riding feeling is one of great disappointment. What happened to all the voters who, according to the polls, were going to vote Lib Dem? I suspect that the younger voters, who were more likely to vote Lib Dem, simply did not bother to vote.

I feel a bit like I do being a supporter of the Scotland football team. Lots of hope and expectation - always dashed at the last minute.

But of course the election is not over. We do not know who will be Prime Minister. And despite the disappointing result, Nick Clegg has a vital, yet hugely difficult decision to make. Coalition with the Tories? Which would prop up a party with which the Lib Dems have huge policy disagreements. A informal agreement with the Tories? Which is a bit wishy-washy. A coalition with Labour. Which would prop up a defeated party. Frankly, all of those have huge risks.

In my view, the opportunity given to Nick Clegg to press for voting reform is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And he must make this a precondition of any pact. The whole country would gain if voting reform comes about. But promises on this must be cast-iron ones. If Clegg can deliver voting reform, he will make the political process meaningful again.

If he has the courage to walk away from any Tory offer that does not contain voting reform - real reform not just a Constitutional Commission on the issue - he will face concerted approbation from the right-wing media. He needs to recognise that and ignore it.

So I wish Nick Clegg strength and courage over the next few days. The stakes are high. A Tory government with the power to decide the date of the next election, would almost certainly win a full majority on the first-past-the-post system. Let us do our best now to ensure that will not happen.

I want to continue to be able to wear the T-shirt saying 'I agree with Nick'

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

General Election (4)

I had a postal vote. And I voted for the Lib Dems in both the national and local election. Nothing has happened since I voted to make me doubtful about that vote. It was a positive vote made for positive reasons. The Lib Dems have a realistic plan for economic recovery, a strong team, a good leader and, above all, a vision for social justice which is stronger than that of the other two parties.

But I am worried. The latest polls are suggesting that the Tories might get an overall majority. And the Lib Dem vote is slipping. marginally but perceptively. I say to the British people, please do not be fooled by Cameron's false rhetoric. Please do not allow Chris Grayling, Liam Fox, Theresa May et al to taste government again. Please keep the momentum going for a fairer society.

A country should be judged by its treatment of its minorities. If the Tories win, then Britain will be a less comfortable country to live in for single parents, migrant workers, gays and lesbians and the very poor. Don't let that happen.

I have always liked watching election night on the television. I shall be glued to the television on Thursday night and into the early hours on Friday. But I am apprehensive about whether I shall enjoy the result.

Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

General Election (3)

Well, not long to go and still it is all a bit interesting. I am confirmed in my decision to vote Lib Dem. But I still worry that the Tories could gain an overall majority. Which they absolutely do not deserve.

Various factors recently have made me even more appalled by the thought of a Tory government. Cameron's failure to discipline Christopher Grayling was the first factor. Then there was the Tory press' co-ordinated attack on Nick Clegg, organised by George Osborne, and pathetically dragging up articles and items from years ago, none of them of any substance anyway. Now a Tory candidate has argued for the re-introduction of section 28. And above all the Tories have waged a dishonest and inconsistent campaign.

As for Nick Clegg, I remain impressed. I would have preferred however that he had had the courage to insist that he was aiming to form a majority government, instead of getting embroiled in debate about who he would support in the event of a hung parliament. But the policies are sound, the campaign is impressive and the Lib Dems deserve to play a leading role in government post-election.

I cannot help keeping my fingers crossed, though. Please don't let the British people be egged on by the Murdoch press and taken in by Tory mock-reasonableness. The Tories are still nasty.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

General Election (2)

No sooner do I post a blog suggesting that I might vote Lib Dem, and suddenly they make a massive jump in the polls. I didn't know I had so much influence! Okay I agree there was the small matter of a debate on Thursday, which may also have played a part.

It's all got a bit interesting, hasn't it. I didn't think Nick Clegg was all that impressive on Thursday. It's just that Cameron and Brown were so dire, that he ended up being head and shoulders above them in both style and substance. And now we appear to be truly into three-party politics. And I welcome that.

But I do think that the bounce in the polls says something about the electorate. Something not very complimentary. It comes from the fact that many people had not heard of Nick Clegg. Now I know he has struggled to get air time. But not heard of him? Doesn't that suggest that many of the electorate were simply ignorant. And that elections are won and lost by people who really do not know the issues or the people involved. A good reason for never moving to compulsory voting.

For now, I wait to see what happens in the next two debates. I hope that the Tory foreign policy comes under fire in the next debate. Their linkage to East European far-right parties in the European Parliament is a disgrace.

At Christmas my football team, Inverness Caledonian Thistle were 14 points behind the leaders. Now they are 9 points ahead. And something similar is happening with the Lib Dems. Let's hope both can build upon their recent results and not let things slip.

I agree with Nick.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

General Election (1)

Well, it's all a bit of a bore isn't it? David Hare got it right when he said this week that there is no longer any poetry in politics. Where is the oratory? Where are the big ideas?

And where am I in my voting intentions? I have voted Labour at every election since 1987. But I fear I cannot do so this time. Gordon Brown is not the person to lead the country. 'We will do whatever it takes'. What the F*** does that mean exactly?

There was a time when I though I could vote Tory. But I simply could not vote for a party that might give us George Osborne as Chancellor and certainly not for a party that gave us that ridiculous homophobe Christopher Grayling as Home Secretary. In any case, their manifesto is a silly document and the shadow cabinet are all rather unimpressive people. Please save me from Liam Fox.

So it is likely that I will vote Lib Dem. So far they have just about done enough to make that a positive vote rather than a 'lesser of all evils' vote. Nick Clegg is the most impressive party leader. Vince Cable has proved to be right on the economy and the banks. And their social policies give me a vision of a Britain that would be a better place to live than either of the two other main parties are suggesting.

But there are three weeks to go and three leaders' debates. Let's hope things get more interesting after such a dull start.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

6 days in a car

Certainly that's what it felt like. We had decided to drive to the North of Scotland over Easter to see my Dad in Banffshire and some of Andrew's relatives in Perthshire.

We took 2 days for the journey north, stopping in Morecambe en route in order to see, and stay at, the refurbished art-deco Midland Hotel. All very nice.

We then drove my Dad around to Findhorn and Lossiemouth on Saturday and over to Deeside on Sunday. Again, very pleasant.

And we took 2 days for the journey south, having lunch with Andrew's relatives in Dunkeld and staying overnight near Carlisle.

It was all fine and of course it was good to see the various relatives who, sadly, are getting older and are less able to keep control over their lives. And paying my respects to my Mum, my grandparents and other family members in the graveyard at Crathie was, as always, a spiritual expecience. But it was a long time to spend in a car when I have so many things I could be doing in my flat in London.

Mind you, whilst driving along the M6 is absolutely no fun, the road over to Crathie and Deeside is beautiful. Here is a picture I took as we descended into Deeside. The mountain in the background is Lochnagar which, of course, we had climbed last July.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Heading for Scotland

At Christmas, we drove up to visit my Dad in Keith in the North of Scotland from here in the London area. The temperature was well below freezing and there was a lot of snow. Some of the driving was difficult. Very difficult.

In February, I flew to Aberdeen again for a weekend with my Dad. The return flight was cancelled because of snow at Luton and I had to take a long overnight train journey instead.

Tomorrow we again head up to Scotland by car. It is Easter. Summer time has arrived. Tomorrow is the first of April. What can go wrong? Well, once again the weather! Last night over 12 inches of snow fell in Keith. Even more in the Central Highlands. We are due to drive up on the A68, A9, A95 & A96. This morning, all four roads are blocked.

Time to cross our fingers.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Melancholy in Malaga

We are spending 6 days in our small flat in the centre of Malaga. We were here for a couple of days at New Year, but otherwise have not been here since October.

It is great to have a base over here. Although our flat is tiny, it is located right in the centre of town, an area I love. We also have a supply of clothes over here as well as toiletries and a reasonable supply of food in the kitchen. So we can travel very light and just take up here where we left off a few months ago.

I always intend to do more than I do. But somehow I just relax into life in Malaga - beers in the bars at lunchtime, trips to the beach, shopping in the Calle Larios and just generally strolling around. I have grown to love the city of Malaga. On Saturday evening we went to a concert in the Teatro Cervantes which is a couple of hundred yards from our flat. This time it was the Malaga Philharmonic Orchestra who are seriously good. The programme included Saint Saens, Vaughan Williams and Tchaikovsky. On Sunday we had a meal at the Vino Mio, our favourite restaurant. Sunday was flamenco night.

The weather has been dry but rather cloudy and cool. Which is a pity. I could do with some sun. But I have been to the beach each day and have caught up with some reading.

Yes there are a thousand and one things I should be doing back in the UK. But I do enjoy being over here. And I shall be sorry to have to head back to the UK on Wednesday.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The Lottery of Life

I don't really believe in fate. And I do believe that you get back from life what you put into it. As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

But the randomness of life is the factor which I find increasingly difficult to ignore.

My father is 93 and is finding it difficult to motivate himself each day to what is now, because of his frailty, a mere existence. Today I am bemoaning the fact that I have a cough and a cold and don't have the energy to do the things that need doing. Are we being selfish?

There are people in Chile or in Haiti whose whole world was destroyed in a few seconds. One of my tennis partners died suddenly last December. My Cousin lost his wife to cancer just last week. The carer who looks after my Dad's sheltered housing complex buried her mother last week; and had had to return to working with people who are 30-40 years older than her mother was when she died. Stephen Gately died last year. A few weeks ago, Alexander McQueen took his own life, aged 40. Today I read that Kristian Digby was found dead aged 32.

Yet I worry about work, about my pension about my future. I worry about whether my relationship will still be in place many years down the line rather than whether we are going to have a good time together this evening. I worry about tomorrow rather than today. Even though I do not know if there will be a tomorrow. It isn't logical. Guilt and worry - the useless emotions.

Let's return to Buddha. 'As you walk, and eat and travel - be where you are. Otherwise you may miss most of your life'. I am at home with a bad cold, a sore throat and a cough. Not pleasant, but not something I can change. So I must just be here, accept that I am here, and take life from here. And live it.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Family responsibilities

I am up in Scotland for the weekend to visit my Dad who is 93 and in sheltered housing. The fact that he lives 600 miles away means that I do not visit as often as he would like. Possibly not as often as I should, though I don't do too badly. My sister lives in Devon, and she also visits when she can. But he is on his own, at least as far as family is concerned, for most of the time.

His eyesight, hearing and mobility are, inevitably, declining. So his world is shrinking. And he is not dealing with that very well. And, to put it mildly, he makes his disquiet very clear.

For some time, he has been going to Aberdeen on a monthly basis for an injection of Lucentis which stabilises the wet macular degeneration which is affecting his eyes. These involve a journey of 60 miles each way. And after 14 of these injections, there is still leakage. So the eye clinic gave him a dose of cold laser treatment last week. Unfortunately this has led to an immediate and severe deterioration in his eyesight. I read on the internet that this can happen in 5% of cases. Nonetheless it is disappointing and for him it is even more worrying. So it has been a difficult weekend.

Nonetheless, the weather has been amazing. There is about 4 inches of snow, there was not a cloud in the sky and not a breath of wind. Quite magical. Yesterday we went to Craigellachie and Dufftown, stopping off at Telford's bridge over the Spey in Craigellachie. Somewhere I used to walk to with my grandparents who lived in Craigellachie in the 1960s.

Today we went to Portsoy, Cullen and Spey Bay on the North East coast. We had lunch at the Cullen Bay Hotel, where I did a summer job in 1969. I took the flip video, and here is the result.


Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Courage

I have not been present in person at many inspirational speeches. At conferences I attend, the introduction is factual at best and tedious at worst. I guess the one speech I do remember was when I was in the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney on 2 November 2002 along with about 15,000 other participants for the opening ceremony of the 2002 Gay Games (I played in the golf competition and sadly came 4th, missing a medal on countback).

One of the speakers was Judge Michael Kirby. I had never heard of him, but found out later that he was an Australian High Court Judge who had risen to that position despite his sexuality and had never hidden that sexuality. He had had to overcome many obstacles en route including attempted blackmail.

On that evening in Sydney, he gave an inspirational speech. I can no longer remember the details, but I still remember the emotional impact it had.

Today I was browsing the internet, and I cam across that speech. It remains inspirational. As such, it is worth repeating below.



GAY GAMES VI

OPENING CEREMONY SYDNEY

SATURDAY 2 NOVEMBER 2002


COURAGE

The Hon Justice Michael Kirby AC CMG


Under different stars, at the beginning of a new millennium, in an old land and a young nation, we join together in the hope and conviction that the future will be kinder and more just than the past.

At a time when there is so much fear and danger, anger and destruction, this event represents an alternative vision struggling for the soul of humanity. Acceptance. Diversity. Inclusiveness. Participation. Tolerance and joy. Ours is the world of love, questing to find the common links that bind all people. We are here because, whatever our sexuality, we believe that the days of exclusion are numbered. In our world, everyone can find their place, where their human rights and human dignity will be upheld.

This is a great night for Australia because we are a nation in the process of reinventing ourselves. We began our modern history by denying the existence of our indigenous peoples and their rights. We embraced White Australia. Women could play little part in public life: their place was in the kitchen. And as for gays, lesbians and other sexual minorities, they were an abomination. Lock them up. Throw away the key.

We have not corrected all these wrongs. But we are surely on the road to enlightenment. There will be no U-turns.

Little did my partner Johan and I think, thirty years ago, as we danced the night away at the Purple Onion, less than a mile from this place, that we would be at the opening of a Gay Games with the Queen's Representative and all of you to bear witness to such a social revolution. Never did we think we would be dancing together in a football stadium. And with the Governor. And that the Governor would be a woman! True, we rubbed shoulders on the dance floor with Knights of the Realm, such as Sir Robert Helpmann and with a future Premier, such as Don Dunstan. But if an angel had tapped us on our youthful shoulders and told us of tonight we would have said "Impossible". Well, nothing is impossible to the human spirit. Scientific truth always ultimately prevails. So here we are tonight, men and women, indigenous and newcomers, black and white, Australians and visitors, religious and atheist, young and not so young, straight and gay - together.

It is put best by Corey Czok, an Australian basketballer in these Games:

"It's good to be able to throw out the stereotypes - we're not all sissies, we don't all look the same and we're not all pretty!"

His last comment may be disputed. Real beauty lies in the fact that we are united not in the negatives of hate and exclusion, so common today, but in the positives of love and inclusion.

The changes over thirty years would not have happened if it had not been for people of courage who rejected the common ignorance about sexuality. Who taught that variations are a normal and universal aspect of the human species. That they are not going away. That they are no big deal. And that, between consenting adults, we all just have to get used to it and get on with life.

The people of courage certainly include Oscar Wilde. His suffering, his interpretation of it and the ordeal of many others have bought the changes for us. I would include Alfred Kinsey. In the midst of the McCarthyist era in the United States he, and those who followed him, dared to investigate the real facts about human sexual diversity. In Australia, I would also include, as heroes, politicians of every major party, most of them heterosexual. Over thirty years, they have dismantled many of the unequal laws. But the first of them was Don Dunstan. He proved, once again, the astonishing fact that good things sometimes occur when the dancing stops.

I would also add Rodney Croome and Nick Toonen. They took Australia to the United Nations to get rid of the last criminal laws against gay men in Tasmania. Now the decision in their case stands for the whole world. I would include Neal Blewett who led Australia's first battles against AIDS. Robyn Archer, Kerryn Phelps, Ian Roberts and many, many others.

But this is not just an Australian story. In every land a previously frightened and oppressed minority is awakening from a long sleep to assert its human dignity. We should honour those who looked into themselves and spoke the truth. Now they are legion. It is the truth that makes us free.

§ I think of Tom Waddell, the inspired founder of the Gay Games. His last words in this life were: "This should be interesting". Look around. What an under-statement.

§ I think of Greg Louganis, twice Olympic gold medallist, who came out as gay and HIV positive and said that it was the Gay Games that emboldened him to tell it as it was.

§ I think of Mark Bingham, a rowdy Rugby player. He would have been with us tonight. But he lost his life in one of the planes downed on 11 September 2001, struggling to save the lives of others. He was a real hero.

§ Je pense à Bertrand Delanoé, le maire ouvertement gay de Paris, poignardé à l'Hôtel de Ville au course de la Nuit Blanche. Il a fait preuve d'un très grand courage - et il est un homme exceptionnel. When the gay Mayor of Paris was stabbed by a homophobe he commanded the party, at which it happened, to "Dance Till Dawn". Do that in his honour tonight. And in honour of the Cairo 52; the Sister movement in Namibia; Al Fatiha - the organisation for Gay Moslems and many others struggling for their human rights.

§ And I think of all of you who come together on this magical night to affirm the fundamental unity of all human beings. To reject ignorance, hatred and error. And to embrace love, which is the ultimate foundation of all human rights.

Let the word go out from Sydney and the Gay Games of 2002 that the movement for equality is unstoppable. Its message will eventually reach the four corners of the world. These Games will be another catalyst to help make that happen. Be sure that, in the end, inclusion will replace exclusion. For the sake of the planet and of humanity it must be so.

Amusez-vous bien. Et par l'exemple de nos vies défendons les droits de l'humanité pour tous. Non seulement pour les gays. Pour tout le monde.

Enjoy yourselves. And by our lives let us be an example of respect for human rights. Not just for gays. For everyone.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Gran Canaria

The weather remained dull and cloudy at best with some torrential rain at times as well. Which was disappointing. But it was sunny for much of our final day, so I did get some time by the pool.


And Andrew made some very good contacts, and renewed old ones, on behalf of Amro Worldwide. He also did very well on behalf of IGLTA at a talk that he gave, along with Carlos from IGLTA and Dario from Gran Canaria Tourism.


I also enjoyed our meeting with Tim from Gay Travellers Network. Interesting guy and interesting website. I hope it thrives.

So it was an enjoyable few days. Gran Canaria did grow on me. It has a lot to offer the tourist, especially if they explore the island and don't just stay in resort. I am sure we'll be back before the year is out. As ever, here are a couple of photographs that I took.






















Monday, 1 February 2010

Gran Canaria

I am over here for 5 days partly on holiday and partly helping Andrew in dealing with apartment and hotel owners to ensure that Amro Worldwide´s product is the best it can be.

The weather is dreadful. Wet and windy. And suddenly I realise that Gran Canaria has its limitations. There is little to do when the weather is not good. It´s been a long day without much of interest. And tomorrow promises more of the same. Now I know why I prefer mainland Spain. At least there they have trains.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Great Theatre

My previous post, when in effect familiarity bred, well not exactly contempt but certainly a touch of boredom, got me thinking about the best theatrical productions I had ever experienced. In almost all cases they arose from the fact that my expectations were not particularly high and then I was just overwhelmed by how good the production or performances were. And again almost all of them had a high emotional content. So what were they? Well here are a few of them.

Tomorrow Was War. This was entirely in Russian, performed at the National Theatre by the Mayakovsky Theatre Company of St Petersburg. We were given headphones and Vanessa Redgrave gave a simultaneous translation in English. After a while I did not need the translation. I was just deeply drawn into the story. Basically the play was about the last year at school in 1938 of a class in St Petersburg. Their carefree final year at school. And for many of them, their final year of life. As soon as they left school they were conscripted into the Russian army. Many died. And the overwhelming emotion was of the hideous waste of lived unfulfilled.

This Island's Mine. This was performed by Gay Sweatshop at the Drill Hall. I remember standing outside the theatre wondering if I would have the courage to even go in. I am not sure what I was expecting. What I got was a wonderful play, honestly performed and which had a huge resonance on my closeted life at that time. Many years later I got the chance to perform scenes from that play at a theatre workshop. And I still have a copy of the play.

La Cage Aux Folles. This was performed at the Wimbledon Theatre by the LT players, an amateur group made up from employees of London Transport. I had invited a large group of friends and was nervous that they might not enjoy it. It was just such fun. Not without important and serious themes, but done with such style and such enthusiasm. I laughed, occasionally cried, and have loved the show ever since.

The Grapes of Wrath. Again at the National Theatre, performed by the Steppenwolf Company from Chicago. Not exactly an enjoyable evening, but certainly a raw and emotional one. A depressing tale brought to life by an great cast and an innovating staging.

Follies. I saw this at the matinee performance on the final day of its run in London's west end. I don't remember much about the production but I remember one performance. Eartha Kitt had been brought in late in the run. She has a minor part, but she had a great song - I'm Still Here. Her performance of that song was electrifying, and she got a standing ovation of at least 10 minutes right in the middle of the production. Julie McKenzie was on stage ready to deliver the next line and had to hang around on stage, not looking very happy, until the ovation for Eartha Kitt died down. And now sadly Eartha is no longer with us.

I have been forunate to have seem many other great productions - Bent, Beautiful Thing, Tectonic Plates, CarMan come to mind. We have bought tickets for the Cheek By Jowl performance of Macbeth in March. Let's hope I might be able to add that to the list of great theatre.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Dying Swan


Well perhaps not dying, but for me Swan Lake has lost its vitality.

I am talking about the Matthew Bourne production - the so-called all-male Swan Lake. We went to yesterday's Sunday matinee performance. This is, I think, the fifth time I have seen this production, so I am a fan. Of course nothing can compare to the first performance I saw. In those days, Adventures in Motion Pictures were a small unsung group of dancers. I had seen them perform in front of about 100 people at the Baylis Thetre doing La Sylphide set in a Glasgow tenement. But of course Swan Lake was a revelation. I remember, on that first occasion, standing up to applaud as soon as the final curtain fell, possibly the first time I had ever given a show a standing ovation without waiting to see if others were doing the same. Yesterday I stayed in my seat.

I suspect that in fact it was not the production that was at fault. It was the audience. For that first performance, the bulk of the audience were gay men looking for a bit of a frisson and then being blown away by the quality of the performance. Yesterday's matinee audience were mainly elderly women in groups, probably also looking for a frisson but then giggling like schoolgirls each time a male swan appeared. That, and familiarity, meant that I was never going to be able to repeat the sheer excitement I felt the first time I saw this production.

That said, the dancing was impeccable, the music is of course fantastic and there was a real power at the end when the prince and the swan meet their end. I am glad we went. And I am sure that anyone seeing this for the first time, would absolutely love it.

Afterwards we used our Toptable points to claim a free meal at Thai Thai in Old Street. The meal was excellent. Despite my comments above, it had been a good day.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Hibernation

I often think that I was meant to hibernate for a couple of months in the winter. Certainly over the past couple of weeks I have been busy at work but done very little in the evenings or at weekends. But now the snow has gone, perhaps I can get back to golf or tennis and start to get out a bit more.

Tomorrow we head to Sadlers Wells to see the Matthew Bourne Swan Lake. This will, I think, be the fifth time I have seen it. And afterwards we are taking advantage of my Toptable points to get a free meal at Thai Thai in Old Street.

This morning, though, it is raining, so I have not yet left the flat. Perhaps I need a couple of photos from our recent trip to Malaga to cheer me up. As you can see, I experimented over New Year by not shaving.




Monday, 11 January 2010

Dozy

I didn't sleep well last night. And I've had a busy day. So I am now feeling very tired. I don't want to write the blog. I just want to go to sl........

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Be Where You Are

It was all going to be so different this year. There I was with a day off on Thursday and a list of things to do. Did I do them? Well, not exactly. I got up later than usual, spent too long on the internet, read some magazines, spent more time on the internet, went to Sainsburys, spent more time on the internet, watched TV, went to bed. In other words I frittered the time away. Fritter, fritter, fritter.

And in between times, I checked and responded to work emails. So much for dirfferentiating work, rest and play.

And it is a double whammy. Not only did I waste time, but now I am wasting time getting upset that I wasted time. But none of that alters the fact that I am where I am. Or as Buddha put it 'As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you may lose most of your life.'

So I will put Thursday behind me. Well I have no choice, I can hardly put it in front of me! Now I will head out and get on with today. The first day of the rest of my life.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Benview

My mother was very ill in the first 6 months immediately after I was born. She had to spend most of that time in hospital in Inverness and I was looked after primarily by my grandparents who lived in a house called 'Benview' in Craigellachie 60 miles away (there was a lovely view of Ben Rinnes from the house).


They lived in that house throughout my childhood, and although I do not really remember my first 6 months of life there, I do remember with affection the numerous weekends we spent at Benview with my grandparents throughout my early childhood.


On our drive south on Boxing Day we went through Craigellachie. We discovered that Benview is for sale. If only I could afford it. It would be great to be able to own my grandparents house and to use it as a holiday cottage for visits to the highlands of Scotland. I cannot do that, but it is a nice dream. Here is a picture of Benview.


More photos in the snow



A couple more pictures which I took on our drive through Scotland on Boxing Day.




Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Driving in the snow




Our drive back from Scotland at Christmas was not too bad. Some snow through Grantown and down A9 from Aviemore. This allowed me to take some interesting photos which I can now upload -






Friday, 1 January 2010

Hello 2010

At the stroke of midnight, we ate 12 grapes, as is custom in Spain, one for each stroke of the clock. We were in a restaurant in the Chueca area of Madrid. We´d had a good evening - a good meal and interesting conversation, as interesting as my Spanish allowed, with those on neighbouring tables.

And now we have arrived by train in Malaga for a couple of days. The flat is fine, the weather is okay and my thoughts turn to 2010 and my hopes for the year ahead.

I won´t exactly be making a list of resolutions. In any case these would be much the same as those in previous years. I simply want to kick-start my life and, particularly, to get things into a correct balance. Work, rest and play. Last year these rather morphed into each other. I want to manage my time better and keep work, rest and play separate.

When I am at my paid work, I need to concentrate better on that. Other domestic work at home needs time dedicated to it. I must ensure that a spend sufficient time on play, whether it be golf, tennis or just getting out and about in the fresh air. And I need to realise that it is okay to rest. I can watch television, though sparingly. I can surf the internet, but with self-control. I can sometimes simply listen to music and let my mind wander. I don´t need to feel guilty about doing nothing, provided that I have been doing things when I was supposed to do those things.

I will devote time to others, but also time to myself. I won´t let others get to me and won´t be too hard on myself. Wherever I am, I need to just be where I am, accept where I am and not wish I was somewhere else.

In 2010 I will buy a new car and maybe move home. I must sort out my finances so that I can plan for the years ahead. I will do some travelling. I will do my best to be a good person and to accept the inevitable slings and arrows when they arrive. And I´ll have some fun.

Tomorrow the sun is due to shine and I hope to go down to the beach and spend a few hours just reading over a beer or two at a chirrunguito somewhere along the Malagueta. Planning the year ahead can start on Sunday. Doing it can start on Monday.