Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Kitchens, Bathrooms and France

Hi all!  Well, I have been busy and lazy all at once in the last couple of weeks.  As I write I am expecting the builder to knock the door and together my new kitchen, bathroom and lounge modernisation will be confirmed.  My house is a farm workers cottage that was formally owned by the local manor to house their landworkers.  It has been maintained to "council house standards" and whilst sound it ain't pretty!

As I have decided that, for the next several years at least I will be living in my little house in England.  So I think it is worth the time and money to get it comfy.  I'm having a wall removed and fireplace opened out in the kitchen and I'm also having the bath removed from the bathroom in favour of a 2 person shower (ooer!).

I have also just booked the Gite in Normandy for several days in September.  A mate and I are going to take the motorbikes over and do the WW2 battle sites.  This will be my 4th time in France in a year so it is becoming a very familiar and I can't wait to return.

My training is going well and my shoulder injury is still there but easier.  Indeed it has eased up enough to allow me to spend some time on the bike.  that has grown new Bridgestone BT 023 tyres, rack with topbox and Helibars that raise the handlebar height slightly to ease the weight off my back and shoulders.  It's all ready to go for the summer when and if the rain finally decides to stop!

So all moving on but, to be honest, life is dull compared to travelling...

More to follow..

Monday, 20 June 2011

Starting Again...20 June 2011

For those of you who have not read my blog before here is a quick summary.  Due to multiple and degenerative injuries I had to retire from work.  At the time I was madly in love with a woman who turned out not to be what I (and indeed she) thought she was.  Plans were made and then broken.  I travelled for a couple of months across Europe, going wherever the satnav took me.  This gave me the space to make sense of my new situation and allowed me to heal from 5 years of total turmoil.

I have been back from my trip for a couple of weeks now and I need to push on and settle my life.  I'm 45 years old and the where and tear on my body and to a lesser degree mentally reflect a life twice as long as that.  I also came back from Europe with a terrible injury.  I gritted my teeth abroad and managed it with pain killers but they weren't really strong enough.

Now I'm back and I have set balls rolling to set my new life.  This starts with my health.  My shoulder injury has healed as well as it can without active intervention by myself.  I have rested it and now I need to work it.  So today I get back in the gym and pool.  Effectively I have to start again.  I am so weak compared to where I was 5 weeks ago it is scary.  So it is a swim today at 1430 with the over 50's in my local pool.  I recon it will take me 2 months of hard, painful work to regain what I have lost.

I have a well developed plan that I used in the last several months before I left and I am going to use that as a base for the routine I start today.  Basically I will be working "splits".  Namely I have divided up my bodies major muscle groups found exercises that avoid damaging my body too much and overlay cardiovascular and abdom routines over the top of the upper body and arm weight/strength training.  In effect I will only be working my major muscle groups twice a week.  That should allow them to heal, reconfigure and grow in flexibility and power.  As I get into this the routine will change and I am hoping to return to the standard I had reached before I left.  I was fit enough to work professionally in a gym and/or pool environment and to prove it that is what I did for a few months.  Below is my starting routine:

Swim - 20 slow lengths to loosen and stretch my arms and back muscles.
Chest - Inclined Pressups, Flys - Light weights - 5-7 kgs, only 2 sets.
Tricep - Overhead Tricep Extensions, Tricep dips - only 2 sets.
Abs - 45 lower ab sit ups, 30 mid ab sit ups, 10 minutes of horse dancing,  5 minutes of the Plank and Stick (if shoulder injury allows) together with some Yoga moves.

Shoulders - Mil Press, Lateral Raises, Front Raises - Very, very light and only 2x sets

Back - Dumbell Rows, Dumbell Pullovers, Dumbell Shrugs
Bicep - Curls




Day off

That routine delivers and it can be expanded very easily.  As it is written it is about half as intense as I was doing before I left for my trip.  The exercise is only half the story though.  I have my weight (I am prone to being a fat bastard) under control at the moment.  When you train you must also eat correctly.  After all why go to all the pain and effort of training hard if you waste it due to poor diet that does not help your body to change?  To start I will drop the well known carbs.  No bread or pasta for me.  Fruit, salad, fish, chicken and once a week, red meat.  I want my gut to be virtually empty so I draw my energy from my fat reserves.  I will slightly raise my meat portions to provide a good supply of protein.  At first I will lose weight (especially when I get on the crosstrainer again) then as my strength improves I will start to put on weight but loose fat.  I have been here before and this weight gain phase is to be feared.  You burn so many calories and feel so strong that it is easy to loose control over your food and become massive but fit.  I need to avoid this.  I need to be light and strong and very strong in my core.

Today is day 1 and I can't wait to hit the pool.  The sooner I start the sooner I will feel stronger and better mentally.  Working out is it is good for you.  In a world where we make choices often based on taking the lesser of two evils.  When you exercise there is only good outcomes.  It enriches your day and your life.  I have a little motto that some of you may not get but here it is:  "Wherever you are and whatever you are doing you still need to do the washing up."  An interesting, sustainable and varied existence starts with good basics and a realisation that life is for real and not a collection of unfulfilled fantasies.  If you want it, go get it - it won't come to you.  It is time to light the afterburners once again.

Queue Micheal:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSK9kkM7GL4

Friends - It's late and I'm bored so I thought I would show the bike off...

Can't wait for the rain to stop so I can take this 175 mph missile out for some serious abuse.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Adjusting - Mid June 2011

Well, I have been back a week or so now and things are moving on nicely.  I have a date for the house to be renovated - 11th July, and Fart and I are going to France in September.  I have put together an aims and attributes paper for my business partners to agree or adjust.  Looks like a return to Rute will be late September early October.

I have decided that I do not have enough money to support the life I want.  I want my home in England.  I want to travel for several months a year.  I want to have enough money so that I do not need to worry about my current account.  So I must work.  The issue is I can't work all the time so that means to earn above the minimum wage I must own my own business.  I have 2 good partners who are also genuine friends that are going in with me.  As a group we also have other advantages.  We are not greedy and we will not need the support of a bank as we have the purchase and start up cash.  With these men I think we have a very good chance of success if we find the right business.  Anyway that project has now started and it would be good if we could start trading in the late autumn.

My little house in Wiltshire will be my home for the foreseeable future.  With this decision made I guess I'm building myself a home and that is something I have not done for years and it's surprisingly exciting!  I'm having some minor structural work done (Kitchen: opening up a fireplace to fit a cooking range and removing a wall to expand the room) and a new kitchen and bathroom.  I having a 2 person shower rather than a bath and all new white goods including a dish washer.  The living room is being re-plastered and a new floor fitted.  New heating and a covered and open terrace in the rear garden will complete the modernising.  The place will be very dry and warm with good facilities and an easy and spacious place to live.  Yup, up for that!  The house market is dead here anyway...it is not a good time to sell so I'm going to hold on for 5 years.  My house needs to make me £10k over my investment for it to be worth selling.

For all that I'm bored.  I still can't train due to my shoulder and that is a real bastard.  I'm getting so soft...at least I'm not putting on weight.  I had a very light session yesterday and the day before to test it and so far so good but it is still painful.  After 4 weeks it is still painful and it makes me wonder what I have done.  The injury happened after I had performed a massive shoulder workout following a long drive.  Shame, I was looking so good and felt so strong.  Oh well, I will get it back, it won't take long.

My thoughts are also turning to the opposite sex.  There are always options but non that really stand out as simple or suitable.  It's been 3 months since I last had sex or even kissed a woman - it is like being married!!!!!   My problem is I don't want to repeat mistakes I have made in my distant past and just fuck for the sake of it but trying to find a middle aged woman (preferably) that is not a nutter and "baggage free" is difficult.  If I can't have those things I will simply remain single.  Sad but I have had enough of being fucked around.

Monday, 13 June 2011

The End...The Journey north to Ingleterra – Rute-Cordoba-Madrid-Borges-San Sebastian-Bordeaux-Nante-Rennes-St Malo. Early June 2011

Before I start I just want to plug my pictures pages!  To the right of this web page is a list of other pages in this blog.  There are some poems (mostly sad ones) and there is also a list of all of my photographs from my trip.  The ones of Cordoba are probably my favourite.  Please have a look.
I couldn’t sleep so I packed up the Mazy and left Rute at 1030pm.  The route was a simple one.  Due north for 1064 miles!  At first all went well but this turned into the most challenging drive of the trip.  Not only was it a long drive but the weather was not sympathetic.  It hammered down for about 150 miles south of Madrid.  I was up high and everyone had to slow to 40mph. I was tired and in pain so I rested for a couple of hours before continuing.  The weather changed and the final 150 miles run into Madrid was a high speed fun run!  It is a dead straight road and high speed was requested from and delivered by the ever reliable Mazy.  Madrid came and went as did the night and I rested for another couple of hours at the Spain/France boarder.
After trying to get a bed for the night 60 miles short of the French channel coast I pressed on to St Malo.  Here I found a little gem and had my best meal of the trip.  The distance from Rute to St Malo is 1064 miles.  I had completed that journey in 22 hours including rest periods.  I was tired and hungry and I felt that my wonderful adventure had come to an end.  By this time all I wanted was a cheap Ibis or Travel Lodge type hotel.  As I approach St Malo I went for the first hotel advertised.  La Grassinais Hotel and Restaurant (Tel: 02 99 81 33 00). After a quick shower I sat down to eat in the Restaurant part of my hotel at 845pm.  This was a simple, classy dining room that offered 4 starters 4 fish and 4 meat dishes.  With the exception of a pastry and cheese board that was it.  I knew I was going to get a good meal here so I gritted my teeth for a significant bill.
I ordered a brochette of langoustines to start followed by filet of beef.  A complementary melon soup came to me first and it was to die for.  I also ordered a Grand Cru claret (£40).  The reduction on the beef was plum like and worked magnificently with the wine and I savoured the whole meal.  The wine lasted long enough to be enjoyed with the cheese.  The service was first rate and I went to bed at 11pm.  This old French farm house is bizarrely set in a modern industrial site on the outskirts of St Malo (about 10 minutes from the ferry port).  My meal cost me £105 and all up my last night was 175euros and it was a fitting end to 2 months on the continent.
Refreshed and with a slight headache I packed up the Mazy for the final time and went down to the ferry terminal to change my ticket.  I was 3 days early and wanted to get home – the magic and impression of freedom had now disappeared.  Brittany Ferries swapped my ticket at no expense so I took the 1030am crossing and that was that.
So there ends the road movie.  So what?  What have I achieved and was it worth it?  I was a little messed up when I left.  I also really wanted to do something meaningful whilst I still could.  I also wanted to improve my understanding of my continent and its other countries.  I think I have succeeded spectacularly.  Note the following:
Major Mountain Ranges Crossed:                            Alps x2, Pyrenees x2, Sierra Nevada
Self Governing Territories Visited:                            Spain, Andorra, Gibraltar, Monaco, Italy, France
Miles Covered:                                                                 5926 (door to door)
Cost of Fuel:                                                                       £1250
Road Tolls:                                                                          £350
Total Spend:                                                                       £5000
My problem in conceiving this trip was to do something worthy of retirement and achievable with some effort.  The most important requirement however was for my trip to be epic and worthy of remembering.
I have dined with interesting people.  I have also formed fun and interesting relationships with normal French, Spanish and, to a lesser extent, Italian people.  I have begun to believe that it is possible for me to learn a foreign language.  I have proved to myself that I can still do big things when I want to.
I have taken many pictures when I was touring and I have included most of these in the pages of this blog.  I am going away again this summer to France with a friend on the motorcycles.  This will be very much a 3-4 day affair but I will “blog it”.  Later in the year I also hope to return to Rute – once I learn a little more Spanish!!!
But for now it’s the rebuild of my house.  I will keep you informed of that project as well.  I don’t think it will be as interesting a story as the trip I have just completed however.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The Last Post From Rute – Jesus and Encarni, Spanish Friends – 1st June to 8th June 2011

For the last several days I have been spending some of my time with a great married Spanish couple who live here in Rute.  We met by chance at the Disco-Bar de Meido.  I was fumbling my way through some Spanish with Angelis when Jesus and Incarni just happened to hear us as they passed the bar.  Incarni is studying English formally and Jesus has picked up English on his travels and through self study.  They can both hold a conversation with confidence and appear to enjoy life.  Their family owns a local olive oil factory and that is big business here.  Incarni wanted to practise her English with me as she has an exam on the 13th of June.  I agreed and we met up the following night for a mini pub crawl.
Incarni rolled up on her 883 Harley-Davidson and we began to chat.  We had a great time talking about life, the world and the universe.  She appeared to know just about everyone in Rute and we were joined by her husband about 1130 pm.  It is clear they are well known and respected in Rute and the tapas this attracts was excellent!  Baby Squid and salted battered fish were all consumed with relish.  Jesus asked if I fancied spending the following afternoon with him watching the Andy Murray Rafa Nadal singles semi-final tennis match from Roland Garros.
Unfortunately my aches and pains were really becoming a problem and the pain was such that my time with these wonderful people was very limited due to the fact I needed to go home and rest after only a few active hours.  It reminded me of my last days at work.  When it is this bad the pain killers don’t really help – I’ve run out now anyway.
They invited me to a concert on the Saturday night but I just couldn’t do it but we also made arrangements to meet up Sunday lunch time for a classic car and bike rally in the square the Plaza that my house overlooks.  Incarni’s father owns several classic cars from the pre-war era and it sounded like a nice few hours and so it was.  We met up in the square then, with Jesus in my car and Incarni with the bikes on her Harley, we followed the group to a couple of bars for dinks and lunch.  Some of the bikers I recognised from town and this was another way to introduce myself to the locals and, as I have written before, these could be the first steps in integration if I so desire.
Tonight I hope to go, if I can, to the de Meido bar and say my goodbyes there.  Tomorrow I pack and go out for dinner with Lez and Terri.  This English couple have supported me very well and I am looking forward to seeing them again later in the year.  Lez is an incredibly talented man and one of those people that the more you look the more depth and talent there is to see.  I hope he has enjoyed our chats as much as I have.
In trying to explain how to speak good English to Encarni and Jesus I have also distilled my thoughts on my own country and countrymen.  You can’t help but draw comparisons.  France and the French are more like England and the English than either country would admit to!  This is especially true of southern England and northern France.  In Italy I was on holiday really so I can’t really comment.  I have been living in Spain for the last month and whilst I have only scratched the surface of this country there are some obvious differences between the English and Spanish as well as some surprising similarities.  The sense of humour for example is very similar.  Given that I think the English sense of humour; our ability to take the piss out of ourselves is something the English take for granted,  but it is rare in Europe.  The French are not like this at all – it’s a serious business being French!  The Italians are very pre-occupied with being beautiful and any slight against this position is seen as an insult.  The Spanish and English appear to share the same sense of humour and this is probably why there are so many English living in Spain.
So to the differences.  Driving in Europe is an interesting experience.  To date I have driven 4800 miles across these 3 great European countries.  Lane discipline (sticking to a lane without crossing the lines) is not good in Spain, Italy or France.  In England it simply would not be tolerated and either road rage by outraged English drivers or attention from the Police would eradicate it.  The Italians, especially the southern Italians are simply dangerous.  The French drive fast but their lane discipline stops them from being good drivers.  The Spanish are probably the best of the three.  They keep to the speed limits and rarely make unexpected moves except for the occasional departure across the centre lane for no apparent reason.  The English and the Germans are the beat drivers in Europe that I have seen.  Given how busy the roads are in England I guess we have to be.  Most cars in Italy have dents.  About 40% of cars in Spain have sideswipe scratches.  In England most newish cars are intact.  That I think says it all.
There is no doubt that British infrastructure is better than any of the great European countries I have visited in the last two months.  Broadband and super fast broadband is cheap and in the vast majority of British houses.  In Europe I have not seen this.  The quality of British plumbing, electrical supply and housing is also higher.  The truth is due to the comparatively poor weather in Britain it has to be.  The British do not spend as much time outdoors as any of the other countries I have visited on this trip so our houses must work better.  The English education system, whilst not the best or, increasingly the fairest, in the United Kingdom is very good indeed.  Law enforcement in the UK is also in a different league.  It appears to me that if it is not against the law in England then it is compulsory!  These things, the British staying at home, the obsessive enforcement of rules and regulations and the pre-packaged youth groomed to work all the hours they can to pay off their University debts comes with a terrible price for England.  Compared to France, Italy and Spain our culture and it high ideals is badly flawed.  Our young and not so young watch our soap operas and believe their fantastic plots are real and seek to copy them or at least accept them as being real.  Our old people are frightened to walk the streets and socialise with the young.  The old are also becoming increasingly isolated within English communities.  The wealthy English old people live in retirement flats rather than real homes.  We let them wither in old age and give them drugs.  Our teenagers tend to look like hookers as do the divorced 40somethings looking for their second (or third, or forth, or fifth etc) live in relationship.  Drunks or other menacing groups possess our streets after midnight in the middle of our towns and cities.  The English are not expected to police themselves therefore we don’t.  The English obsession with money and hard work leaves precious little time to spend with our families.  The English rejection of religion (I’m an atheist as well) removes yet another forum where families can exist together.  In England we have a very advanced welfare state where from the “cradle to the grave” you are looked after in a nanny state.  In Europe you rely on your family to help in the hard times.  You do not see people without work drinking heavily in bars in Europe.  They simply cannot afford to do so.  Instead they are required to maintain the trees, public spaces and other civic assets.  No wonder the Rute is clean and the local taxes are very low when compared to England.
As an Englishman I have all of these flaws as well.  One thing this trip has shown me however is there is another way but I think I am swimming against the tide.  A common message has been expressed to me during my 5000 miles trek across western Europe.  That is mainland Europe is following the Anglo-Saxon social model albeit 50 years behind.  To the Spanish I say look and learn from the English.  Money is not everything.
From my writing above it may appear that I am rejecting my country and its culture but nothing could be further from the truth.  I am proud to be British.  I am proud to be English.  Our laws (the millions that there are of them) apply to all and are free from sexist, religious and any other forms of discrimination.  These laws are also applied by an independent judiciary who often rule against the state.  Our welfare state protects the weakest from true poverty.  Our health care is mostly free at the point of delivery and our national infrastructure is world class.  We take our democracy for granted and our type of democracy delivers strong enduring governments.  This allows my country to regularly take on big projects that may take decades because Britain is so stable and has been so for centuries.  This self assuredness however can make the English (especially) people arrogant and disrespectful when we go abroad.  The Spanish for example love to tell me of the drunks that populate the Costa Brava and other tourist haunts here.  They also like to tell me how much money they make from the English in inflated prices.  He who laughs last, laughs longest..  We like to remind ourselves that in the past we have defeated most of neighbours and other countries further afield in terrible and sometimes avoidable wars.  We DON’T like to remind ourselves of the terrible cost to our world standing in doing so.
In my lifetime, generally speaking, I remember when The United Kingdom was a country that was respected for its technological achievements, its sense of fair play, its tolerance and its democracy.  Now we are known for our poor behaviour when on holiday abroad and our warmongering.  I would like that to change and I hope I have done as much as I could on this trip to help this cause.  You are what you do.
It is my last night in Spain tomorrow.  I would like to thank all of the Spanish I have met for their generosity of spirit and their friendship.  I would also like to thank the British ex-pats here for the same.  Funny how they are here, in their tens of thousands, and not in Britain.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Cordoba – 31st May 2011

When I said to ex-girlfriend that I wanted to Travel in Spain and a close friend had a house near Cordoba she said, word the effect of, “have you seen the soap opera “Benidorm”? – it will be like that.”  It sounded naive at the time and today what I saw in Cordoba proved it.
It was good to get into the car and travel through Spain again.  I have been living here for the last few weeks rather than touring.  This allowed by back and increasingly my badly injured left shoulder to settle as well as they could but I needed a leg stretch and so did the Mazy.  Cordoba is only 50 miles or so from here and the motorway is straight and clear.  The drive passes miles and miles of olive groves laid out in such regularity that the trees could be ranks of soldiers doing drill.  The weather has not been good in Spain for some weeks now and although the temperature was over 30c it did not feel warm and I don’t sweat at such temperatures anymore.  I gave the Mazy her head in places and the motorway disappeared under her wheels.
I found a place to park about 2 miles away from the historic centre and walked the rest of the way.  It occurred to me that it would be easy to lose my car in this city..  The modern gave way to the narrow streets of the old street pattern and several very old buildings appeared and then disappeared as I got closer to the centre.
I never use a map when exploring places/cities.  I know what there is to see in these historic places and I just continue on until I find them.  I have all the time in the world.  Therefore, almost by accident I came across a very large building that was clearly built in the time of the Moors.  The Arabic designs, arches and rich colours mimicked those I had seen in the bar in Rute on the night of my birthday.  I found the entrance to this place by simply following the tourists.  One thing about travelling this time of year is not only is it “cooler” but the crowds don’t feel imposing on you and I like my personal space in such places.  This was the Cathedral.  La Catedral de Cordoba, Santa Iglesia Cathedral.  This building not only has national importance but world importance and immediately you can see why.  I have a thing for churches and cathedrals (weird considering I’m an atheist).  I have visited the cream of Irish, English, French-Norman cathedrals and churches and they all have their charm.  This place is different from all of those.  This place was formally a mosque when the liberal Moors ruled this part of Spain and when the Christians defeated them nearly a thousand years ago they took over this building and made it a Christian place of worship.  I have read that this is the biggest cathedral in the world and I can believe it.  Its footprint is huge!
Before I became a Change Manager and sat behind a desk writing e-mails and reading very long, very boring project descriptions all day I was a telecommunications engineer.  Before I retired I had worked on many large and expensive projects that often took years to complete.  When I look at churches and cathedrals I always try to imagine myself as the man who has been asked to create these magnificent structures.  I imagine the thousands of people and the skills required to build the fabric of the building.  I imagine the funding discussions.  I imagine the stone masons hard at work designing the building so it will last a thousand years or more.  My practical nature limits me however.  My skills are all about understanding the relationship between time, cost and quality.  I don’t have an educated eye for art.  I also have never been motivated by God.  The Cathedral at Cordoba is a piece of art motivated by the adoration of God from two radically different perspectives and that is why it is spectacular and probably unique.

The interior is Moorish.  The arches, the colour and the space of this building is overwhelming when you first see it.  This size of this cathedral is every bit as amazing as the scale of Pompeii.  The contrast between the Moorish influence and the Catholic opulence is stark.  The photo’s I hope to post do not do it justice despite the fact I have an excellent, high quality camera. 
(Some of you have asked what camera I’m using and I have a Sony NEX 5 with an 18 to 80mil Sony telephoto lens   As well as still it also takes 1080i HD video and is the smallest and best quality hybrid compact on the market. It uses a full size DSLR sensor not the smaller compact 3 3rds (or whatever).  It’s rugged and the battery gives long life and it is a doddle to download the pics/video.  I don’t use the Sony software. I just let windows do it – nice and simple and quick.  I use the auto setting and the pics shot inside the very dimly lit interior of the Cathedral were shot without a flash.  The low light capability of this camera is probably its standout future.  Well recommended.  I would take a photo of it but..er.. Even this camera can’t do that!)
After the Cathedral I went on to see the Roman bridge, arch and fort.  The later has several high quality mosaics and the photos do not do justice to their completeness or beauty.
After several hours without a drink (mid afternoon it hit 34c) I decided to walk back to the car.  After an hour I’m lost in a residential part of Cordoba!  So I stop, go back to the historical centre and start again.  This is mid afternoon when even the locals are taking the shade or sleeping in their cool houses!  I now have Sciatica in both legs and I hadn’t eaten all day and only drank a cup of tea and can of diet coke.  To cut a “blistered feet story” short I found it in the end!  After cranking up Pearl Jam’s “I’m Still Alive” I drove home.  I have listened to that song many, many times on this trip.
Now the bad stuff.  This trip was always going to be a challenge and I have been away for two months now.  It was either now or never.  Cordoba has taken a lot out of me.  I still have Granada to do before my trip is complete but I am starting to wonder if I will make it.  Sleeping has been difficult for several days and even drinking no longer helps.  I think I need to spend a few days in bed to let things settle.  It’s very frustrating with so much to see and do but I have to stop behaving normally now before I hurt myself – I know the signs.  I just want to shout with the frustration of it.
More to follow.