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 -

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


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.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

A group in Spain

We are heading to Malaga later today to celebrate Andrew's 60th birthday on Monday. There are going to be 20 of us. It took quite a bit of organising. Now I just hope everyone will enjoy the weekend. At least the weather forecast is good - hot and sunny.

On the Monday we are doing a tour of Malaga - Gibralfaro, Malagueta, Catedral, Alcazaba, Calle Marques de Larios etc. - followed by dinner at our favourite restaurant, the Vino Mio. I think it will be a good day.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

My head exploded

Well that's the nearest I can come to describing the feeling.

I had only been a member of Hertford Tennis Club for about a week. I was playing on Sunday last week and turned round at the back of the court to pick up a ball. And my head exploded.

What actually happened is that a player on the court on one side of us was returning a ball to the court on the other side of us. And for some reason decided to do this at full pace. The ball hit me full in the left eye.

I had to go to A&E at Hertford then to the Eye Clinic at Welwyn GC and subsequently back to the Eye Clinic a week later. My eye certainly looked scary - full of blood.

Thankfully I have now been told that there has been no permanent damage. But it was frightening at the time. And led to a worrying week.

I don't blame the guy that caused the accident - and it was an accident. Though he was rather stupid. I was a member at Totteridge Tennis Club for 20 years without any serious accident. And a member at Hertford LTC for just a week before this happened. I will return, but will be wary in future of what is happening on other courts.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Lost Causes

I guess, throughout my life, I have always tended to support the underdog, minority causes and the unpopular viewpoint. I don't know why. And often that is a good place to be. I am not one for jumping on bandwagons or bending to opposing viewpoints just for the sake of popularity.

Politically I was once one of only 10 people who voted for the communist candidate in a local government election in Aberdeen. Recently I have consolidated my support for the Liberal Democrats just as their support is ebbing away from most of the rest of the population. I was a strong supporter of the Alternative Vote - again not a majority view in the country.

I have never supported a top football team. I remain a passionate supporter of Inverness Caledonian Thistle who are never likely to win a major trophy. But I got more satisfaction from their steady climb from non-league football to the Scottish Premier League than, I believe, a Chelsea or Man City fan can get from knowing that their success was bought.

If I ever watch reality talent shows, I rarely agree with the judges. Yesterday I watched the first semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest and recorded a vote for Malta. They failed to make the top ten.

As far as people are concerned, I never quite take to the extrovert who craves popularity and seems to get it. I prefer the quiet and thoughtful person who sees through the hype.

But there is a fine line between being proud of my support for minorities and feeling that perhaps I am a patron of lost causes. It might be nice to feel part of the mainstream more often. To be less of a maverick.

But then again, when the road diverges, it is more exciting to take the road less travelled.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A week in Scotland

For many years Andrew has had a timeshare week in N. Wales. This year he was able to swap it for a week at Dalfaber in Aviemore. We went up there 9-17 April.

The Trip Advisor reviews were dire. We were apprehensive.

In the event, the accommodation was fine, the resort had good facilities and the location was superb. We had an excellent week.
We did family things for 3 days. We visited Andrew's uncle and aunt and we brought my Dad to Aviemore for one night. He didn't want to come but in fact he enjoyed it. It was a stimulating break from the boredom of his life in his sheltered home.
We visited the Ospreys at Loch Garten. They had just arrived back from West Africa and were mating before the female laid her eggs. The whole RSPB centre at Loch Garten is fascinating and the volunteers are full of enthusiasm for the birds and other wildlife in the area.

I played three rounds of golf at Dafaber 9-hole course and went swimming three times in the indoor pool. One day we went up in the train and then to the top of Cairngorm. The weather that day was amazing and the views were breathtaking. And on another day we went snowboarding - the first time for either of us. An interesting experience. But we had aches in places we had never ached before!
And we went for walks and drives in the area notable round Loch an Eilan and to Loch Insch.

It was a wonderfully relaxing week. I loved it.

Friday, 1 April 2011

It's not the critic who counts ....

I often find that if I really work hard and conscientiously at something difficult, particularly if I put my head above the parapet and have the temerity to express an opinion, then at best I get silence and usually I get some degree of criticism. This applies to all aspects of life. In these circumstances, I get comfort from the words of Theodore Roosevelt which I reproduce below without further comment. “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Spanish Therapy

We had a short break in Malaga at the start of this week. I was looking forward to a bit of warmth and sunshine but sadly that was not to be. It had been sunny the week before we arrived, and was sunny on the day we left, but it was rather wet and windy during our stay. No es justo!

But we did the only thing to do when the weather is not on board - some retail therapy followed by food and wine. We had a great meal at the Vino Mio on Sunday and an excellent Menu Del Dia at the Laboratorio on Tuesday. Both involved rather more wine than was probably appropriate but, hey, we were on holiday.

We had to go to the DHL warehouse on Tuesday (before the food and wine) to collect the Chris Bushe painting that we'd had shipped from the UK. That all went well and thankfully we still really like the painting. It is one of those paintings that has an emotional pull but gives a different emotion depending on how it is lit.

And talking of paintings, Andrew had said that, for his birthday in June which we are spending in Malaga, he would like a permanent reminder of the occasion. On our last visit, we bought a painting of the Plaza Merced by a local artist, Marie-Carmen Sanchis. I wondered if she might have another painting of a place that means something to us - the lighthouse at the end of the beach perhaps as we spend some time at the Chirunguitto there. So I managed to track down Marie-Carmen Sanchis and she said that she did indeed have such a painting. Next thing I knew, I was being taken in a battered old car to her home in El Palo to see the said painting - and to meet her husband and son. The painting is really good so I found myself buying it. And I have asked Marie-Carmen (we are on first name terms now!) to come to the birthday celebrations on 20 June at the Vino Mio to present the painting to Andrew. A good result, I feel.

As always, i enjoyed wandering round Malaga when the rain subsided and we did have a few hours on Sunday lunchtime at the Chirunguitto by the lighthouse having a few beers which was very pleasant.

The photos here are ones I took during our few days in Malaga.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Diet part 2

The January diet, postponed to February, now starts today - March 1st.

It didn't exactly work in January. Or in February. Or rather, I did not work on the diet. So here I am at the start of March exactly the same weight that I was at the start of January. Not good.

But now I have joined the local Hartham Leisure Centre, the weather is more conducive to outdoor activities and, above all, I am determined to eat less food and drink less alcohol. So here goes.

I hope to lose some weight, but that is not the only requirement. I particularly need to get fitter and into better shape. I weighed myself this morning - 13st 5 lbs. What target do I set myself? Nothing too difficult, I think. I need to be realistic. So let's say that I need to get below 13 st by the time I go to Torquay in mid-May and then to 12st 9lbs by the time we go to Malaga in mid-June.

The fact that I still have a sore ankle, some 7 months after I strained it, does not help. But this evening I will go to the gym and perhaps tomorrow evening I will go to the pool. I need to get started and into a regular pattern. And I need to do it now.

I am reluctant to share these thoughts, in case I do not succeed. But I know I am more likely to succeed if I do share these thoughts. So watch this space.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Bit of a balls-up really

I am in agreement with Mary Dejevsky in today's Independent. I also appear to have found myself in a minority in that I supported the coalition, respected Cameron and Clegg for their bravery in going for a coalition, agree that tuition fees were inevitable, generally support the need for huge public sector cuts, am in favour of the change to the voting system, like the positive effect the Lib Dems are having on social policies and will still vote Lib Dem in the May local elections.

But this week both Cameron and Clegg seem to have got things horribly wrong. Clegg's comment that he had forgotten that he was in charge in Cameron's absence was a crassly stupid comment. And Cameron's absence, particular helping to promote arms sales in the Middle East, which a crisis was developing in that very region, was a huge misjudgement. And William Hague once more seems out of his depth.

For me all of this is reminiscent of my evacuation from Iran in 1979 when again the British Embassy and British Government reacted very slowly to the developing crisis hence putting me in some danger. I remember the day we were supposed to be evacuated when we were told to get to the British Embassy at 6am and 'keep a low profile'. When we got to the embassy compound, the gates were shut because the Embassy staff had not finished breakfast. So 200 expats were stuck in the streets of revolutionary Teheran trying to 'keep a low profile'!

So let's hope Cameron and Clegg get their act together real soon and sort out the Brits still stuck in Libya.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Off to see the Wizard

Andrew and I were given tickets by Visit London to see one of the preview showings of The Wizard of Oz at the London Palladium. Of course this is the Andrew Lloyd Weber production starring Michael Crawford and Danielle Hope, who won the BBC 'Dorothy' series of programmes.

We went last night and we had a good evening.

Firstly we had a meal at Silk, a restaurant just along from the Palladium located in the actual courtroom where Oscar Wilde was tried. Not a bad meal but not a great one either.

The show was enjoyable, the performances were fine, the staging was amazing. But in the end there was a lack of emotion. Somehow, the expensive (£6m) staging overwhelmed the story and the performances. So whilst there was nothing wrong with the whole production, somehow it didn't quite grab me in any deep way. It remained rather superficial. Worth seeing, but not likely to remain embedded in my memory.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Nothing much to report

So why say anything?

I guess I just feel that if I have a blog, I ought not to leave too much time between blogs. But the past weeks have gone past without major incident and with no great highs and no deep lows.

Partly this is because I have been really busy at work. January is always my busy month because we have a December year-end and, being the finance guy among other things, I have to get the year-end figures out. Also this week I had a lot of other issues to deal with as well as chair a UKGEOforum meeting and then introduce the annual UKGEOforum lecture as part of the RICS geomatics series. Not something I enjoy doing. But it went okay and we had a good dinner afterwards.

On Sunday I played 3 sets of tennis and on Friday I played 18 holes of golf. Both were great for clearing my head and giving me some much-needed exercise - albeit in freezing temperatures.

And on Tuesday evening we were invited to the Oakham Gallery in Mayfair to attend the opening night of their 11th annual exhibition of Scottish Art. I enjoyed the evening. Loads of free champagne and some interesting paintings to see, so what's not to like? My b/f liked it so much that he bought a painting. An oil paining of Coul Bay in Islay painted by Chris Bushe, a well-respected contemporary painter who studied at Gray's School of Art in Aberdeen. We will have the picture shipped out to Spain and hang it in our flat in Malaga. There is a blank wall there, waiting for something to give it a focal point.

And now I have to do my tax return. I have left it until the last minute as ever. I put some money into my pension fund this year, so I need to so a tax return in order to get the tax benefit from that. So that is most of the rest of Saturday taken care of.

As I said - nothing much to report. But it fills a blog post.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

New Year in Malaga

And here, again belatedly, are some photos taken during our New Year break in Malaga.

Christmas in Scotland

Beleatedly, here are a few pictures I took over Christmas in Keith in the north of Scotland.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

It started so well

During last week I had porridge for breakfast, veggie soup for lunch and steamed fish for dinner on most days. By Friday I had already lost 3 lbs.

Then came the weekend. A glass of wine, then another, then another. Chocolate biscuits mid-morning. A large dinner. And the weight has gone back on again. It's just that I tend to feel hungry at weekends and also I want to relax after the stresses of the week.

Back to square one. More willpower needed.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Resolutionary Fervour

My sedentary lifestyle plus an excess of food and drink have taken their toll. This was exacerbated in June last year when I sprained my foot. I had to stop playing tennis and golf for many months. I did less exercise that usual. But I continued to eat and drink at my usual rather excessive rate. Recent visits to South Africa, Scotland and Spain have not helped.

I think I eat relatively healthily. But I recognise that I eat too much. I don't often get really drunk. But I recognise that I drink too regularly. Most days I have a glass or two (or more) of wine when I got home from work. I often eat a chunk of cheese, possibly washed down by a final glass of red wine, just before I go to bed.

Enough is enough. Indeed too much is too much. Time to change.

So on Tuesday morning I weighed myself. 13 stone 5 lbs. Ouch. Some of that weight has to go. Not through a crash diet, but through more sensible eating and drinking coupled with more exercise.

My goal? Difficult to decide. OK, here goes. To get down to 12 st 0lbs by my birthday 20 May. By my reckoning, that is approximately 1lb each week.

It won't be easy. I need to put on some muscle, and muscle weighs more than fat. The main weight loss area needs to be around my tum. At my age, getting rid of weight in that area will be tough. I don't ever expect to see a six pack. I just want to look and feel better. And hopefully have more energy.

So yesterday and today I have had some bran flakes, tea and brown bread for breakfast, an apple mid-morning, vegetable soup for lunch and fish for dinner. And no alcohol. My weight is now 13st 3 lbs.

But I suspect that losing the first few pounds will be relatively easy. Then weight loss will become progressively harder. I have got to start some sort of exercise, even if it is just walking. My foot is still too sore to start running.

Will I succeed? I honestly do not know. Watch this space.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

2011 - looking forward

In many years past, I have drawn up a long list of New Year´s resolutions. It is arguable whether they were kept or not. Just one aim for the start of this year - to improve my appearance. Not necessarily in a narcissistic way. I just need to lose weight and gain a better shape. So more exercise, less food, less alcohol and a better diet. It will be a gradual process. And maybe some clothes shopping!

2011 is the first year of the rest of my life. Yes I know that I could have said that about any year. But this one feels a bit more like a watershed. I need to make better use of my time, find time for friends, sort out my finances etc etc. And use the fact that I now live in a new flat to explore the area, join the local tennis club, go to the local swimming pool, get out the bicycle etc. Not exactly New Year´s resolutions. Just a desire to have more energy and more quality time, for myself and for others. I want to live each day in a unique way, not live one day 10,000 times.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

2010 - looking back

Whenever I do a retrospective of a year just gone, the tone of the retrospective tends to be influenced not by the qualities of the year in question, but rather by my mood at the time of writing.

So here I am looking back at 2010 from an internet cafe in Malga having had a relaxing Christmas and New Year. It is consequently easy to forget the trials and tribulations of the year just gone. It was not a great year, to be honest. I made many trips to Scotland to visit my ailing father, I went to funerals of friends who were my age, work was often a real hassle, I injured my foot and had to stop playing golf and tennis, I put on weight (not unrelated to the previous comment) and generally the year passed quickly and without many positive triumphs.

I did move home though. That was achieved, not without stress, but without undue delay. And that gives me a new base from which to approach the new year. Andrew was supportive as ever. We did some memorable travel, especially to South Africa. And I hope I was nice to people and helpful when needed.

So goodbye 2010. Another year of experience on the hopeful path of life.