On writing

Nothing to do with the wonderous work by Stephen King about the craft he has earned his living with, but about my inadequacies in the same.

After almost two years I went back to books that were hidden away in a sub folder in a folder. I hadn’t looked at them, hadn’t even thought about them in all that time.

I pulled one out at random, opened it, quickly updated the Scrivener thingy and started to read it.


22000 words already completed, I had a vague idea in my head of the plot so I put the document in “manuscript mode” and read the lot.

What? Why?

Why is he going to France?

It makes sense in my head that there would be a scene or two in France, I know it well and can write easily about it. But I cant see at all what I had in my head almost two years ago to cause my main character to go to France.

As much as I searched in the dimmest recesses of my mind, there didnt seem to be a logical plot link to send him abroad. Hmmm, looks like there’s a few thousand words that I’ve written for nothing.

Onwards and upwards.

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Barrio de Las Letras

I was never a huge fan of Spain, I had visited a few times, my eldest daughter actually began her nine month journey from nothing to human there, but there wasn’t anything really that attracted me to it.

Four years ago I started working for a Spanish company and started to visit more often, Madrid mainly but also several smaller cities mainly in Andalucia, and I have grown quite fond of it. I really enjoy the easy way of life in the south, warm weather, cheap beer and great tapas but the major cities, Barcelona and Madrid are quite different.

I have got to know my way around Madrid pretty well, but whenever I´m there, I always head for my favourite area of the city, or “Barrio” as its called. Las Letras is a hip and trendy part of the city (those who know me clearly appreciate that isn’t why I like it) with myriad bars and restaurants, but just with a great feel to the place.


Back in the day of “El Siglo Oro” (The Golden Century, or The Golden Age) of Spanish literature, almost all of the writers, poets and playwrights lived here. Today as you walk through the streets, there are signs on walls telling you who lived in the building and


paragraphs of their works written on the floor. I dont confess to be an expert of the Spanish writers of the latter half of the 16th and 17th century but its true that every time I go I learn a little more.


As washbasins go, I dont think I’ve ever seen a better one in a bar. Quite brilliant.


There are big open squares for outdoor drinking, something us Brits dont really have. But the ambience of the place is fantastic. Plaza St Ana houses at its far end one of the most exclusive hotels in the city, but opposite it is the Theatre of Spain.


As befits its history, there are also bookshops. Places I can lose myself for ever, even if my Spanish is only marginally better than my Urdu currently. And I speak no Urdu.


There are random people dressed up in strange clothes who sing and dance around the streets.


Theatres (those legs really are enormous)


And strange pets.

Las Letras is home to an eclectic mix of buildings, people, styles, bars and restaurants. From the oldest tavern in Madrid, where I inadvertantly knocked over a container full of toothpicks, to the uber modern throbbing music bars where you cant hear the person shouting in your ear.

I love it. I truly love it. Or perhaps I should say “me encanto esta barrio.”

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And so last night …..

After an electronic boot up the arse I dusted off my laptop, downloaded Scrivener after having loooong since used up the free 30 day trial and wrote a few words on one of the dozen or so unfinished books hidden away in the dark recesses of my hard drive.


I read many articles on “how to be a writer” and “writing for a living” and other such things. Every single one pretty much said the same thing, so it appears to be fairly elementary.

Write every day. Read every day. Become an overnight success after 25 years.

Job done, I´m on my way.

Apologies for my doleful musings yesterday, onwards and upwards.

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Life huh?

My first post in many a while. Nothing travel or bike related. A pondering on life and where I find myself in it.

Here I am, sat in an office at 53 years old, doing a job I hate, wondering what on earth I’m going to be when I grow up.

Some people I know have always wanted to be what they are now. When I was a soldier, many of my friends had wanted to be soldiers since they could remember.  Others have grown into careers they love. My own sister worked in retail before changing everything and becoming a nurse. It’s now a vocation for her, something she can’t ever see herself not doing.

Me…. I truly don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

I’ve never wanted to be anything. Never, in all of my life have I ever thought “That is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

I hate my job. Truly, I hate my job. It has its good sides, I am very well remunerated for what I do, I get to see parts of the world that many people have never even heard of, but after 35 years of living out of a suitcase I hate it.

So what can I do? Really? What could I do for the rest of my days to earn gainful employment?

I dont like people very much, I like to write but I dont like to speak. I love to travel, I love to ride my bike, I like being warm, I like to drink beer and I like to read. That is about it.

I have a history degree, although I have never used it. It was done as a bet, to prove a point that anyone can get a degree if the interest and application is there. And I am living proof that that is the case.

I’ve been around the block, seen and done things that I have thoroughly enjoyed, have been scared for my life, have literally had to push my lower jaw back up to my mouth after seeing wonderous things and have achieved long standing dreams.

But I’m not satisfied with it. I want something else. But I dont know what.

My job gives me hours and hours to think. This can be a good thing, it allows me to dream of things. Of stuff. Of plans. Of the future. Of what I have yet to achieve. Of friends. Of shoes and ships and sealing wax. But it can also be a bad thing. It allows me to see where I’ve failed. Things I’ve done wrong. Things I should have done differently. Things I’ve said that I shouldn’t have. Things I’ve done that I shouldn’t have.

Materially I have achieved. I have a big house, paid for. I have a nice car, a nice watch, all paid for. I owe nothing to anybody.

I look at my kids and grandkids, all healthy happy individuals, I know I’ve achieved. I know that at least in that department, thanks to my partners and my grandchildrens parents, things have turned out well.

Spiritually (probably not the correct word, but I can’t think what the correct word would be) though, my life is lacking. I have never had a “cause” to fight for, never had a burning ambition, a real forceful driving “thing.”

If anybody could tell me what it is I need, answers on a postcard would be gratefully accepted.

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I hate heights.

When I say I hate heights, I mean I truly have a pathological fear of being more than a couple of feet from the ground.

This may sound strange for someone who used to go to work by leaping out of functioning aeroplanes, or one who travels extensively by plane (although these days I land in them too) but it’s true, I truly hate heights.

What possessed me then to go on a hideous cable car ride to the highest point of Tirana I’m not quite sure.

DSC_0137The Dajti express is apparently the longest ride in the Balkans at just over 3 miles long, and it goes veeeeeery high, up to the Dajti national park. I hated it. I hated every second of the more than 15 minutes of the ride up. And of the ride down now I come to think of it.

DSC_0139From the city centre we took a taxi, (asked for the Dajti cable car in English, it worked) which cost no more than a few euros, but if you take the bus on the Porcelani line right to the end, there is a free minibus to take you to the start of the torture.

After looking for ages for someone to sell us a ticket we hopped on board. It started calmly enough, no real understanding of the horrors that awaited me. I hate heights. I honestly saw very little of the journey, I just couldnt’ bring myself to lift my eyes from the floor. I’m sure I missed some wonderful views of the countryside just outside of Tirana but I just couldn’t.  The one time I did look up, I saw this coming towards me and immediately looked down again, just in case. In case of what … I’m not sure.

DSC_0147To be fair, once we’d arrived to the top, it had been time well spent, a beautiful area with a bar and a restauarant, as well as a couple of hotels that clearly haven’t worked financially but with the opening of Albania’s doors there is no reason in my mind why they couldnt work again in the future.

DSC_0150It was the getting there that was the problem.

There actually isn’t a huge amount to do in Tirana, so this is well worth the trip, although if you’re as scared of heights as I am, I would suggest taking a bus right to the top, which I only found out existed after I’d been petrified for over half an hour of my life on the round trip.

DSC_0159I’m just glad it wasn’t a windy day, I would probably have cried.

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The most beautiful place on earth.

Not even a question. Its a statement!!

Of course, its subjective, of course it’s much more than the beauty of the place that makes it so, but for me, Plymbridge, on the outskirts of Plymouth in Devon holds the title.

14030613_953801108100089_1626799589_nThe gate to my personal paradise.

Without getting maudlin I think “a less than idyllic childhood” will suffice. As soon as I was old enough to get a paper round though and buy a bike, I used to ride the six or so miles from home to here and walk for hours.

14080971_953800501433483_197952116_nI cant remember the last time I came here, many years ago, but I dont remember this tree being here. And yet it seems to have been here forever and it just ‘goes’ with the rest of the place.

14010039_953800568100143_2077414742_nI dont know how big the area is, how long you can walk for but I know that every time I come here, I fall in love with the place all over again.

14030995_953800174766849_1299009786_nAn old slate quarry has left its trace, the no longer existing railway is a good place to see the nesting Peregrine Falcon when they appear

14010079_953800958100104_332580071_nbut more than anything, its just the most stunningly beautiful place to come and walk.

14055530_953800911433442_1997897164_nI have been very lucky in my life, travelled to well over 100 c0untries and seen some incredibly beautiful things, but here, the place where I sought refuge as a child for hours and hours on end, is simply the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.

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To the land that pays homage to Norman Wisdom

To my shame I have to admit to knowing very little about Albania, and what I did know didn’t paint a glowing picture. So as I was just next door in Greece I thought I would pay a visit.

What did I know? I knew that Enva Hoxha had kept the country very tightly closed until his death in the mid 80’s,  there are a lot of Mafia type problems both in the country and amongst their diaspora and the country had a strange affinity to long since past British comedian.

Having visited many ex communist countries I was expecting many high rise buildings, grim facades and a general downbeat feeling.

DSC_0072First impressions, it must be said, were slightly different.

DSC_0075The casino opposite our AirBnB flat and the best fish restaurant in Tirana reinforced what I’d seen on leaving the less than austere airport, Tirana wasn’t as poor as I had been led to believe. A fixed tarif of €18 from airport to the centre of the city, with yet another taxi driver who thought he’d been reincarnated as Ayrton Senna, he raced us through fields and fields of wheat and corn before suddenly, the first building appeared on the right, a Porsche garage. As soon as the buildings arrived, so did the traffic, the scourge of all modern cities.

DSC_0077The great big park opposite our flat held this curiosity, a memorial to someone but I wasn’t able to work out who. It was also, in the evenings, THE place for the dog walkers of Tirana to congregate.

DSC_0084There are some sights to see in downtown Tirana, the minaret, DSC_0094The history museum,

DSC_0088The old clock, and:

DSC_0111The pyramid.

A strange thing, now used by the Albanian TV company but originally used as a museum and in the war in Kosovo in 1999 it was used by NATO forces as a base, there has been talk of it being knocked down and the land used for something else but it just doesn’t seem right.

DSC_0159The city as viewed from a cable car, of which more later. That isnt a layer of pollution, its just filthy windows, scratched and graffitied beyond recognition.

What I did see in Tirana changed my opinion of the place, a young, thriving, fairly cosmopolitan place with a huge interest in having a much more open, freer market and trading system, leaving the communist shackles well behind them.

What I didn’t see was a single memorial to Norman Wisdom. More investigation required.

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Worse timing?

Last week I received a little note from WordPress telling me my subscription was due. I hummed and hawwed over whether to renew or just to let the blog fade away, as I’d not written in it for a while and i never seemed to find the time, inclination or both to write another post.

Finally I decided to keep it (as the more astute amongst you will have noticed) and thought about what I could write about.

Cue the lightbulb moment. Living in France as I do, although once again resident on the African continent, I thought I would write a post explaining how the French National day, the 14 July, doesn’t actually commemorate the storming of the Bastille, as most people (the French included) think it does.

I wrestled with it for a while before finally having it ready.

Only, on that same day, tragedy befell Nice, in a horrific and inimaginable way.

My adopted country has been beaten, badly, over the last 18 months or so, no one event is worse than another, they are all horrific, but there is something very very wrong seeing little babies with their lives extinguished, no matter where in the world they are from.

I then disappeared from almost all internet access for a few days so only now can I put my words down.

I have prepared the post, I will probably save it for next year.

In the mean time, in a few days I will again start to post on the blog.

I’m Nice, I’m Charlie, I’m Bataclan, I’m Istanbul, I’m Brussels, but most of all, I’m tired of this shit.

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The oldest zoo in the world?

A grandiose claim I’m sure you’ll agree, but in the grounds of the Schonbrunn palace in Vienna, an establishment makes this very boast. A quick bit of research tells me that in fact its the oldest “existing” zoo in the world. Slightly less impressive, but still, a fact not without kudos. Further research tells me its a very well reputed zoo, well thought of amongst conservationists.

I dont like zoos, my last trip to a zoo was absolutely vile (see Beijing zoo) but as I was in the grounds of said Royal building it would have been remiss of me to at least not pay a passing visit.

The day was a cold one, with a pretty chilly wind but we braved the long rope ladder that takes you the short way from the bottom to the top of the zoo. It gave you great views over the zoo,

DSC_0041and great views over the palace just visited

DSC_0039but I didnt see so much as a gnat whilst climbing, let alone species of exotic beasts unseen previously. A reminder as I entered the place as to how ideas vary amongst countries. The first creature I saw was a ragondin, and large crowds of Austrians oohed and aaahed as it popped its head out of the water. At home in rural France the farmers shoot them as soon as they see them, as they’re considered as vermin.

12499001_862236693923198_1982355306_nThe aquarium, it must be said, was excellent. Its an aquatic archway that you walk through, with the fish swimming around on both sides of you, as well as over your head. I’m not sure what type this one was, but I know thats a lot of fillets.

12722133_862236727256528_675697017_nThe reptile house was well appointed, with all creatures appearing to have good food and water supplies, as well as space to move and things to do.

12884456_862237233923144_2097921295_nThe big beasts were also there, again with space to move and things of interest, although you can never give an elephant enough space to roam outside of its native habitat.

12884483_862238847256316_401375522_nPrior to seeing these bats the size of foxes, you walk through an area that is totally dark. You stop to allow your eyes to adjust, and very quickly see hundreds of smaller bats flying around. They fly so close you can feel the air leaving their wings, I spent ages in there, fascinated by them.

12910130_862236763923191_239716898_nThere is even a panda, although s/he refused to cooperate with my pleas to turn round. You have to be a fairly well run zoo to be given a panda, and as with all the animals here, whilst they dont have the space they would have in their natural environs, el panda certainly seemed to be happier than the miserable looking specimens I saw in Beijing.

I repeat, I dont like zoos, I accept that we have to have them to protect the species and conservation and breeding programmes can be done more easily when the threat of poaching is minimal, but I still dont like them. I am though cynical enough to accept that my great grandchildren will probably only ever get to see these and other beasts in situations such as this, poaching and over population will mean the world’s fauna will be reduced to being placed in cages and gawped at by humans.

An apocolyptic view perhaps, and one I truly hope is wrong, but one I truly fear.

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Schönbrunn Palace

One of the largest buildings in Vienna, with a fantastic history, what’s not to love?

Schönbrunn Palace is a World Cultural Heritage site and Austria’s most-visited attraction. The baroque total work of art consisting of palace and gardens:

DSC_0029was for centuries the property of the Habsburgs and is today largely in its original condition.

A staggering building, the tour took a couple of hours, and visitors can only visit one floor!!

Photo’s aren’t allowed inside, as always there were plenty of people taking them but I’m just not a naughty boy so I didnt do it, outside though there is obviously no problem.

DSC_0031It was a pretty chilly day when we left the centre of Vienna for the tube journey to the palace. That, combined with slightly fat heads after the prior evenings festivities, meant a relatively quiet trip, notwithstanding my shame of leading the laydee of the house down into a carpark right outside the Opera House that I mistook for a tube station, but we finally got there.

A 20 minute trip on a very efficient and cheap train and we arrived to a well signposted tourist attraction.

DSC_0024You wouldn’t think you could miss this, but honestly if the signs weren’t there you could easily walk past the gates and not see it, but we went in, negotiated the fairly simple ticket buying machine and headed for entrance A.

We didn’t see all of the 1,441 rooms of the former imperial summer palace, but what we did see was worth the trip. More than 300 years of Hapsburg history is downloaded gently into the ears from the vocal guide book, with each room being described as you follow the tour.

Franz Joseph the longest-reigning emperor of Austria, was born at Schönbrunn and spent a great deal of his life there. He died there, at the age of 86, on 21 November 1916. He rose at 0500 every day, seven days a week, and spent the majority of his time at his desk, writing letters and papers as well as reading voraciously on the current affairs of the world. Following the downfall of the Habsburg monarchy in November 1918, the palace became the property of newly founded Austrian Republic and was preserved as a museum.

There has been a recent overhaul of the palace, and with the addition of the audio guides it made for a very interesting and enjoyable couple of hours.

Within the grounds there is also a childrens museum, which I didnt visit and the worlds oldest surviving zoo. More on the bats the size of foxes to follow.

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