The ubiquitous bucket list.

After having read about Helen Fawkes’s bucket list I had a period of reflection myself about what there is that I’d still like to achieve. I don’t have the same terrible health concerns as Helen had, it was just a flight of fancy.

I decided I’d give myself 100 things I’d like to achieve before shuffling off this mortal coil, and set to work writing them down and then trying to arrange them in an orderly fashion.

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It was incredibly easy to think of 100 things, my passions have always been travel and sport and learning, but once the list was first done I realised that everything I had written down was expensive.

So I wrote another list, trying to think a little of my dwindling fiscal resources, and saw it was still going to be very expensive.

The bucket list is a fairly modern phenomena I’m sure, I’m convinced that I remember my parents and their friends talking about the one thing they would do if they could, which in a generation has moved to an entire list of “things” to be consumed.

Although I’ve been lucky and have travelled widely and seen loads of incredible things, not all good, the world is a huge place, although certainly smaller than when my parents were talking with their friends all those years ago. There are still so many things I want to see and do. I want to see evolution in action in the Galapagos Islands, i want to watch a Lions rugby match somewhere in the Southern hemisphere, I want I want I want.

I’ll have another go at writing the list I’m sure, there are things I want to do still, many of them in fact, and some of them WILL be done, there is no doubt at all, I’m just not sure if I would suddenly become a slave to one should I ever actually publish it.

For now I’ll just sit and dream as I look at miles and miles of sand out of my office window.

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8 minutes 39 seconds.

To a man tied to a chair looking down the barrel of a gun, a lifetime, to an elderly Galapagos tortoise, an insignificant period.

For me, probably the most frustrating amount of time that currently exists. I am obsessed by it, to the point where I have written it on top of my mirror so that I see it daily as a reminder.

A couple of years ago, after several months of training, I rode up the Beast of Provence, Le Mont Ventoux, a full hour faster than the first time I’d tried it. An hour is a huge amount of time to take off such a short distance so all logic says I should have been delighted and the reality is that when I looked at my stopwatch at the top I was euphoric.

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I might not look euphoric, but I really was. That feeling though didnt even last until I’d reached the bottom. I called the friend who’d ridden it with me the first time to tell him the  good news, but very soon the feeling of that time being not quite good enough started to nag away at me.

2 hours, 8 minutes, 39 seconds.

I rode it again last month, for the sixth time, with absolutely no training at all in 2.45 or so. Rubbish, but I got up without stopping and I am aware  that no training doesnt make that climb easy.

But I know that I have to lose those eight minutes and thirty nine seconds. They gnaw away at me like a demented beaver trying to stop the Aswan.

The problems though are myriad. I work away from home for four weeks at a time. There is no possibility of riding a bike during my four weeks away. Once home I could ride most days, but dont as I’m aware that all fitness gains would be lost once I get back to work. I am not getting any younger. People of all ages climb Le Ventoux, and “Chapeau” to each and every one of them. It’s a beast of a climb and reaching the top is an achievement in itself, but its a physiological fact that with each passing day I am losing a tiny amount of my physical capability. I’ve lost my mojo. When I rode my fastest time I was loving my cycling. I was riding every day, regularly over 300 miles in a week, which helps hugely. There are no proper hills where I live, but there are a couple of short steep climbs that I used to repeat until I couldn’t at least once a week. I doubt I rode 300 miles last year, and I know I haven’t this year with the inevitable weight gain that comes with it.

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The only way I will lose those minutes is to spend several months riding my bike every day. Ideally I would rent my friends gite at the bottom of the hill for six months and ride the hill every week, with plenty of miles ridden on less demanding roads for the other days. This however is impossible for myriad reasons.

I read something recently though that applies. If it’s important you’ll find a way. If it’s not you’ll find an excuse.

Watch this space.

 

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Disaster has struck. Perhaps.

So, that book I had finished and was going to leave alone for a while before editing.

Weeeellll, I knew there were a couple of scenes that were missing and that needed to be added for continuity. I didn’t need to blow any dust off, it hadn’t had time to gather any, so I just grabbed it and started to write the two scenes that I knew were missing.

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As anyone who writes fiction knows (or maybe its just me) I write a scene that I know needs to be there, which gives me an idea for something that I didnt know when I started, which leads me down a whole new road that I hadn’t even envisaged 10 minutes previously.

I am now wondering if this single stand alone novel could be the first in a series based around a city.

Curiouser and curiouser said Alice.

And me too.

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El Mezquita de Cordoba

After the scandal caused by my celery post (no, dont worry, it wasn’t visible to most) I have decided today to return to safer ground. A visit to a new city is always fascinating for me and so a trip to Cordoba, all in Spanish if you please, was a good way to spend a day. The mosque or cathedral of Cordoba is an incredible building, steeped in history and a real melange of building styles with no less than five different additions to the original building.

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There has been a religious building of some sort on this site since ancient times, there is still, as far as I can work out, no definitive date for the first use, and has been at times Christian,

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Islamic, shared between the two and a tourist attraction whilst still functioning today as a place of worship. Bits have been destroyed over the years, either by accident or design, other bits rebuilt, with some of the old materials being used in the newer rebuild.

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The columns all over the inside give it a strange feel, almost claustrophobic in places and yet when you are aligned with them it seems as though you’re in a never ending tunnel.

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I visited during the day, but I saw that there is also the opportunity to have nocturnal visits, which must be very special.

I really enjoyed Cordoba but I must offer a word of warning. It is noted as being the hottest city in Spain, and the time I spent there certainly gave credence to this theory. Sun cream and head cover wouldn’t go amiss if you visit during the long summer.

 

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Its true, it does grow again.

I read one of those things about  how to save money, one of them said cut the base of your celery, place it in water and it will grow again.

Dubious, but tighter than a Breton, I thought I’d give it a try.

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Only I misread it at first so put it straight into soil. I reread it again a few days later and it definitely said water, so into water it went and after a few days…

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It got bigger in the kitchen and eventually it went out into the garden where its currently like….

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Living in Bretagne it rains a lot, which is lucky as it likes a lot of watering, but its growing really well. The stalks are currently very thin but will grow thicker and I’ll do the same again with it at the end of this year.

It works. Celery is a cut and come again plant. Me likey.

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You’re different to me, I don’t like you.

Last night, this man:

16th IAAF World Athletics Championships London 2017 - Day One

made his country proud, by winning the 10,000m in the World Athletics Championships. He is British, he has a British passport, although it’s true he wasn’t born in Britain. By birth he is Somali, but came to Britain aged 8, through no fault of his own. He learned English, integrated into the British system and way of life and starting running. Very fast. For his services to athletics as well as his charitable foundations and his work with young people, he has been awarded a CBE and a Knighthood by the Queen.

And yet this morning, after an hours rummaging round the World Wide Winifred, I note that a lot of Brits, his fellow countryman, watched his win with eyes akin to Hitler in 1936 watching Jesse Owens. Why?

In a country with a long history of both immigration and emigration (why is it that people coming to the UK are immigrants and yet Brits abroad are expats) Mohamed Farah isn’t a white English Christian, and in today’s society a lot of people have problems accepting it. He’s different, I don’t like him.

It’s a mentality I simply cannot understand. I’ve never been able to understand it, but I would very much appreciate somebody who is of this mindset to explain to me why. I am an intolerant person by nature, I don’t suffer those who I consider to be fools, but I don’t dislike them because I don’t like the colour of their skin, the country of their birth or their religion. No, it’s because as a person I find them insufferable.

In some aspects of life I have been very lucky. I have been married to a Jamaican and a Scot, both wonderful people deserving of far better than I, the most wonderful person I have ever met is Spanish and the woman currently sharing my house is French. One of my two best friends is half Jamaican and I count myself priveleged to have known all of those mentioned and many more besides. If my mindset was the same as some of those I’ve read this morning, I would never have entertained the idea of even talking to any of them and yet my life has been enriched immeasurably by having them in it. I don’t get it.

I, for one, salute this man:

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as a shining example of what hard work and dedication can give you, there were tens of thousands last night in the Olympic Stadium who feel the same and many hundreds of thousands more around the country who would have also cheered him on. To the worringly vocal minority who couldn’t bear to watch him being successful wearing that vest, please feel free to tell me why. I would be very interested in hearing your views.

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A hidden corner of home.

A recent trip to see friends meant that I drove, without knowing beforehand, through a most wonderful valley, Les Gorges de la Meouge. To be fair, where my friends live is also pretty spectacular.

After a fairly heavy first night at their house I woke early, as always, and went and sat in the garden on my own with a coffee. Looking at this:

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and this:

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which eased the head slightly. After a weekend with them in Gap, I headed across to Bedoin to see my favourite hill in the whole world. Along the way, blindly following the female automaton talking to me from inside my car, I came across this:

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And this

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And this

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Beautiful. Just stunningly beautiful. I’ve said it many times before, no doubts I’ll say it again and I already know it to be true, but although there is so much beauty around us its often easy to forget it as I strive to visit the far flung corners of the globe as yet unconquered.

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Bi-lingual, to be, o no ser.

After having lived for nearly 15 years in France, the majority of them in a totally “French” lifestyle, I consider myself to be comfortable in the language. My social life is almost exclusively French, there are no non Frenchies that come to my house apart from my family and occasional friends from the UK.

The telly and radio are only ever on French channels, even my car has the steering wheel on the wrong side.

I suppose the definition of being bi-lingual comes from within first of all. I can remember being in Niger, several years ago, and meeting my team mate, the person who would replace me for my four weeks at home. We were both speaking French with a few people from the company we were working for and I saw that our French was around the same level. We also had one of our bosses with us, who happily announced she was very pleased to have two bi-lingual team members. My team mate announced that yes he was, whereas I told her, unequivocally, that I wasn’t. She was surprised and told me that my French was very good, I thanked her, said I was comfortable but not bi-lingual, nor would I ever be. My friends at home all know I’m English but make no allowances for it, if anything, once the Pastis is flowing they speak even faster than usual, although to be fair alcohol is known for its linguistic assistance.

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For me, being bi-lingual isn’t just about a command of the language. There are so many cultural references within a language that unless you know all of those too you cant (in my very humble opinion) be truly bi-lingual. The foreigner (to me) who speaks the best English I’ve ever heard didn’t know who the Clangers were. The soup dragon was a pair of words that made no sense.

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It was made perfectly clear to me yesterday that not only am I not bi-lingual, I´m not even lingual. As my Spanish advances (painfully slowly) I wanted to say the simple phrase (I hope my Spanish is good enough, happy birthday). I thought I had it, asked one of my Spanish colleagues to confirm and they gave me a word I’d never heard of that had to be used or the sentence wouldn’t be correct. “Sea” prononounced Sayya, had to be in there.

I made enquiries into this rogue word and found out, from a Spaniard, in very good English, that it’s to be used in the subjunctive.

Ahh yes, the good old subjunctive. I word that I had possibly heard of but have no idea what it means. I did a quick rummage around on the interweb and found a grammar page that explains what the subjunctive is. I read it. I still dont know what the subjunctive is.

Over the last couple of months I’ve also had a Spanish friend explain to me what a “fellow” is, in medical terms and also what a “learned society” is.

These cultural and linguistic gaps in my English knowledge prove to me that not only will I never be bi-lingual, I’ll never even be lingual.

 

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The beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning, I’m not sure.

Nine years ago, I think, I decided that I would write a book.  I don’t remember the day exactly, but I suspect I would have been in England and that I had walked around a couple of bookshops, seens thousands of them for sale and decided that clearly it couldn’t be that hard, so I’d give it a go.

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There were a few hurdles to overcome, I don’t read fiction or watch films so writing fiction was going to be difficult, I don’t know anything factual well enough to write a book about it, I had quite a demanding job at that time which didn’t leave me time to do a lot else, but notwithstanding, I’m nothing if not stupid enough to think I can do things like this, so I sat down in front of my laptop and started to write.

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Surprisingly I had an idea almost straight away, something that was topical. I wrote. A lot. Within a short time, probably around three weeks I had 40,000 words of a basic story.

Disaster struck. My laptop broke, hard drive not recoverable, nothing backed up. Whilst I was gutted about my story I was absolutely devastated about losing some photos of me with my first granddaughter. The writing then, as happens so often in my life with a new passion, fell by the wayside.

Over the next few years I started to write it again. I had bursts of enthusiasm, I’d write for a week or two, sometimes the lost story, sometimes new projects. Finally, about a year ago I had six different books in various stages of composition, none of them more than 40,000 words in.

Then, an epiphany (ties nicely into yesterday’s post I thought) in work. Bored, fed up, I wrote a plaintive post on here basically whinging about how rubbish everything is and I received an electronic boot up the backside. I dusted off the most advanced manuscript, not the original one and wrote with a vengance. I’d reached an impasse before but as I started to write I found that ideas just flowed. I had no idea where I was going with certain things but they seemed to resolve themselves as my fingers sped along the keyboard.

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Last night, around midnight north African time, I wrote the last words of my first completed novel. I know there are plot holes, in fact there is precious little plot there are so many holes, I know there are terrible timeline issues, I also know there are some scenes written twice, factual inaccuracies and some scenes that I will need to add for continuity, but last night I finished a novel.

Only, as all writers know, I haven’t finished at all. All I’ve done is put enough words into a document for me to allow myself to call it “my novel.” The great Stephen King now recommends a period of a few weeks, six I think he said, where I dont even look at it. I read something by another author, much less well known (cant remember his name even) saying that for a first novel it’s guaranteed to be rubbish so leave it for six months without so much as a peek, write a second novel then go back to the first one and rewrite it. Then it needs an edit. Then perhaps another edit. Then maybe a rewrite. Then Beta readers need to pore over it, then it needs another edit. Then a polish.

I may never get any further than where I am now, I may rewrite, I may self publish, I may send it for rejection by some agents, but at least I can now always say to myself I´ve written a novel. (Nobody ever said it had to be a published one).

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I don’t do religion, but ….

As a child I was christened, I dont remember it but I have been assured it happened. From that moment on I only stepped foot in a church for weddings until, inexplicably, my mother “got God” when I was aged around 13 and I was frogmarched every Sunday, and myriad other days too, to the Catholic church where they worshipped.

I didn’t worship, as for me, even at a tender age, I couldn’t see any proof of some superior being exisiting. I stood and sat at the appropriate moments, to avoid being beaten by my mother, but I certainly didn’t worship, as I couldn’t understand who it was I was supposed to be worshipping. Then, as now, I had never seen a million pounds, but I had seen a pound, I even remember having seen five pounds, so I could extrapolate and understand that a million pounds must exist. But I could see nothing that proved to me, or even hinted (as the pound hinted that there were further riches in the world) that there was some omnipotent being that I should prostrate myself before.

I will be blunt, the older I’ve become, the more the two following beliefs have become entrenched in my mind.

  1. There are thousands of Gods that have been and are currently worshipped, and yet only yours is the correct one?
  2.  Religion is the ultimate bloodletting game of “who has the best imaginary friend.”

And yet….

I have recently watched, repeatedly, a fascinating documentary about the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park. They had been absent for over 70 years and the ecosystem had changed totally in that time, for the worse. Within a very short space of time after they reappeared, as part of a government programme, the entire ecosystem changed again, this time for the better. It was as if a piece of some gigantic jigsaw puzzle had been taken away and then replaced.  A Christian (other religions are available) could watch this documentary and tell me that here is proof that a superior being had fashioned the whole ecosystem and it had worked, man had messed around with it (the wolves were hunted to extinction in the area) and look what had happened. Watching this documentary it really was as if some “thing” had made the entire thing, had carefully thought about every facet of the system and had provided balances and counter balances to ensure nature worked. I, as a devout atheist, will accept that over countless millenia, the planet has evolved naturally, with nature itself providing the appropriate balances to ensure it worked, only we have arrived and ruined it.

The real point of this post though, wasn’t wolves, fascinating though I find them.  I dont do religion but I do like to be aware of my surroundings. Recently I was walking through Guildford, in the south of England and happened upon this sign outside a church.

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Stood eating my Cornish Pasty I read this a few times and realised that although I don’t do religion and am never likely to do religion, should I ever choose to investigate further, this would be the place I would start.

 

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