The Mara

We have returned from our holiday in Kenya. We went to see The Great Migration where 2 million (or thereabouts) wildebeest, 300,000 zebra, 400,000 Thomson gazelle and 12,000 eland cross from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. It all takes place in the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem which covers some 40,000 square kilometres. In reality, the migration is a never ending movement of herbivores in search of fresh pastures and fresh grass caused by the rains.

PIL and I have been to Kenya before. In fact, we got married there in 1992. Fort Jesus in Mombasa. Prior to the wedding though, we went on our honeymoon which was a safari in the Tsavo National Parks further to the East of Kenya. We did have a tendency to do things back to front! We always said we would go back and after much planning and saving of pennies, we did! The kids came too. We flew Emirates to Dubai on an Airbus A380. After a short stopover, we flew on an Emirates Boeing 777 to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. We stayed the night in an hotel next to the Nairobi national park. The following morning we went to Wilson Airfield on the outskirts of Nairobi and took an even smaller plane to an airstrip in the Maasai Mara.

Our luggage allowance was 15 kilos and hand luggage was 7 kilos. With the exception of one bag of 15 kilos which went in the hold, all of us carried hand luggage. Oh, plus PILs hand bag which weighed 19 tons. Fortunately, all of the places we stayed at offered a laundry service so it was possible to live with limited amounts of clothes. We couldn’t take hair dryers, hair straighteners or similar items as some of the places we stayed at were quite literally in the middle of nowhere and the generators couldn’t cope with the extra loads imposed by such items. Didn’t bother me because I’m bald and I don’t think anyone else was particularly concerned.

We arrived at Keekorok Airstrip.

We were met by Moses and Robert who were to be our driver/guide and spotter and taken to our safari base – Sala’s Camp on the banks of the Sand River and a few hundred metres from the Tanzanian border and just a few metres from one of the crossings used by the migrating wildebeest.

 

What a camp! It was just so staggeringly beautiful. We were staying in tents but what tents. Solid wood floors, windows, doors, bathrooms, a deck, a small pool and a view to die for.

There was a total of 7 tents and we had two of them. The girls stayed in one as us chaps needed our sleep and didn’t really wanted to be disturbed by the girls snoring, farting and belching in their sleep. There was also a “Mess tent” where we had our meals. The service and meals we had were first class and our thanks go out to Elliott and JayD, the managers, who ensured that everything was just spot on. George, Richard and Isaac took great care of us and quickly established what we preferred to drink when the sun went down (and sometimes, before).

 

 

During the night Askari guards patrolled around with their spears to keep the wildlife from coming into the tents. This was genuine bush country and during the night we heard hippos in the river which was 10 metres away from our tents. Lions, hyenas and elephants prowled the footpaths around the camp, again just a few metres from where we were sleeping.

Then, before the sun came up, we went on safari.

I am not going to go into detail here, I’ll let the photographs tell that particular story but Moses, our driver/guide (who is one of the nicest blokes I’ve met – mad as a box of frogs but by God he knew his business) and Robert, our spotter (who was a complete contrast to Moses but got on really well with Ed and Greg and called out different animals constantly) took us to some brilliant places and we saw masses of animals.

Moses took us within a couple of FEET of lions, cheetahs and leopard. Within a couple of metres of elephant, zebra and wildebeest. We kept well away from hippos and buffalo – they are bloody dangerous! We saw them all with the exception of Rhino and we witnessed (due in part to Moses’ skill) the horror, confusion and rapidity of 2 lionesses taking down and killing 2 wildebeest simultaneously about 30 metres apart.

We, with the exception of PIL who is not terribly fond of heights, went on a balloon safari which meant getting up at 0430 in the morning and travelling across the Mara in the pitch black so that advantage could be taken of the thermals at dawn.

We had breakfast in the middle of the Mara and it was sublime.

We visited a Maasai village and the boys joined in with the Maasai men for a dance and were taught how to start a fire while the girls joined in with the singing and dancing with the women.

Eventually and far to soon, it was time to go.

We hadn’t seen the massed herds crossing the Sand river nor had we seen the millions of grazing animals. Unfortunately, natural events don’t work to a strict timetable and the herds stayed in the Serengeti in Tanzania. There were a number of reasons given for this. The Tanzanians said that late rains had provided grazing for the herds who therefore didn’t need to move in search of fresh grass. However, the Kenyans had the hump with the Tanzanians who they claimed had deliberately set grass fires between the herds and the border.

Take your pick as to the reason. I do think that we possibly invaded Tanzania on a couple of occasions though! I guess we all felt slightly disappointed but we had all had an absolutely fantastic time. We had seen a gradual increase in the number of wildebeest, zebra, “Tommies” and topi but not the millions we had hoped for. We had seen numerous elephants, giraffe, warthogs (pumbas), lions, cheetahs and a leopard. We would have preferred to stay but no doubt we will return. Kenya has that effect.

Please be aware that some of the photographs that follow are pretty gruesome but demonstrate (I think) both the beauty and the brutality of the Mara. The first group tell a story all of their own. The previous day while PIL and Moses were driving to meet us at the balloon pick up, they came across a lion feasting on a wildebeest. It was probably 500 metres from Sala’s Camp. The following evening, we were returning from the afternoon safari when Moses decided to check out the kill site. We found 2 lionesses with 3 cubs. They were chilled and relaxed. We stayed awhile and then went to check on a small herd of wildebeest just up the road. Not much occurring there either so we returned to the lions. They were still sprawled out on the track when suddenly the 2 adults became very alert. The cubs moved to a place of safety while the lionesses went off and disappeared into the grass. We knew where they were but they were incredibly difficult to see. Then we saw the reason. A long line of wildebeest, probably a hundred or so, was approaching. When the lionesses attacked, it was devastatingly quick and totally confusing for the wildebeest and us. Cries of “Whoa! Over to the left” and “Whoa! Over to the right” left us swinging from side to side in the truck trying to see, watch and photograph. Very quickly the 2 wildebeest were overcome and we saw two male lions coming down the hillside to claim their part of the kill. We returned the following morning to find all the lions still there and still eating.

 

The big male lion has a huge hole in the top of his skull, showing that they may be the top predator in the Mara but they don’t always have it their own way. We suspect that he may have tangled with a buffalo.

We returned to Nairobi where we stayed in the very luxurious Giraffe Manor. Within the Manors grounds is a herd of endangered Rothschilds giraffes. Rothchilds have no markings from the knees down and are very distinctive because of this. They also like to join you for breakfast!

While there, we also visited an elephant orphanage. Baby elephants who are orphaned or become separated from their herd are brought here and after being cared for are then taken to another place on the Tsavo parks where they are assimilated with wild herds in the area. So far over 300 young elephants have been successfully returned to the wild. A brilliant achievement in my eyes.

Back at the manor we were joined for high tea by the giraffes.

 

Giraffes have incredibly long tongues and drool a lot!

 

After a couple of days enjoying wonderful food and being kept occupied by the giraffes we went back to the Wilson airfield and left on a small plane to go to the beach and do what we do best on holiday – slob.

We stayed in a beach house on Diani beach. Once again, the accommodation was first class. We even had a butler! The owner, Fabrizio, came each morning and discussed the days menu. Hand made ravioli, gnocchi, lobster, yellow fin tuna, prawns, soups, pizza. All fresh and prepared to perfection. The G&Ts were superb. The wines splendid. We walked along the beach and collected shells, saw pregnant starfish, crabs and fish in the rock pools. Wonderful. We messed about in the pool and we indulged in our favourite holiday pastime of not doing much at all.

All good things come to an end apparently and we flew back to Nairobi, We flew to Dubai for a few hours before continuing our journey home.

Once again we had the time of our life and that is primarily down to PILs planning and organisation ably supported by the staffs of all the places we stayed at and visited.

We were advised to take plenty of photographs and that we did. The main camera used was a Canon EOS 5D MkIV using a Canon EF 28-300mm lens. We took over 1500 photographs with this camera. None of them have been enhanced in any way.

We also took over 500 photographs using the iPhones that PIL, Ed, Greg and CJ had with them. My phone stayed at home.

Would we go again? Absolutely. It will take a few years of saving the pennies again but Kenya and the Mara in particular is a fantastic place. Safari is hard work. If you want to see the animals, you need to be up and out quite literally at the crack of dawn. Get back to camp for lunch and out again mid afternoon until the sun goes down. Then it’s meal time, a few sundowners and early to bed for another early start the next day. The tracks in the Mara are not maintained to any great extent so a game drive involves a great deal of bouncing around. It can be quite cold first thing in the morning despite being almost on the Equator. It’s rainy season now although we didn’t see much rain at all. By midday the temperature has risen to the 30s centigrade from 12 -15 in the early morning.

Now we’re home and the normality returns. I have to mow the lawn and get ready for work tomorrow. Bummer. Time to take up wildlife photography and learn the language of stops, aperture and speed settings. Looking forward to next years holiday already. I wonder where we’ll go.

Have a brilliant day.

More Dick soon.

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My Brain Has A Mind Of Its Own.

I’ve written about this before in a roundabout way here.

Sometimes it’s like that when I remember something and my brain decides all on its own that I need some extra information as well as some associated facts like all those collective nouns. Most of which I have no use for.

Other times, a part of brain will just spout out some random fact like Donald Ducks middle name. Fauntleroy since you ask. Or that Battersea Power Station is the largest brick-built structure in Europe and took approximately 61,000,000 bricks to build. It might also mention that some of the rooms in the building were used as the set for the inside of the Tardis in early episodes of Dr Who. Having been in there and seen all the buttons, levers and analogue dials, I can believe it. Another time a voice in my head will just pipe up with the fact that most American car horns honk in the key of F. These are entirely random and pop up at any time and for no reason. Usually, the voices in my brain shut up after a few seconds and go back to doing important stuff like keeping me alive by ensuring I continue to breathe, my heart beats and that I stay upright when walking along and don’t bump into stuff.

However, there are times when different parts of my brain want to make a contribution and I end up having full-blown conversations or arguments with them. Unfortunately, these can become quite insulting and sarcasm features a lot.

A little while ago I was clearing my room and came across a music CD. It was Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette.

She has beautiful eyes

I hadn’t heard it in years. I opened the case to find it was empty. We don’t have CD players in the house any more so not really a problem. My Temporal lobe informed me that it was one of my favourite albums and that You Oughta Know was probably in my Top 5 favourite songs of all time.

You really like the bass and guitar on that track mate. Matt Laug played the drums and Flea and Dave Navarro  who were in RHCP at the time played bass and guitar.

How do I know this? I thought.

You’re one of those sad anoraks that always read the sleeve notes so of course you know it. I could probably tell you the name of the printers. I’ll go take a look-see.

Then Occipital suggested I watch the video for You Oughta Know. So I wandered downstairs, fired up my laptop, logged into Youtubbie and for the first ever, I watched the video. (The song and video came out in 1995 and that was at time of either no internet or at the very least, dial-up. I know this because my brain told me so).

I settled down and watched the video with Occipital chatting away in my head:

Y’know, you looked like the guitarist back in the day. He’s undoubtedly better looking than you, but the hair’s the same, same build, same long black hair, wrist band on right wrist, the shades, even the hat! (Read about my hat here). Shame you’re such a chubby boy now.

Do you mind mate? I thought. I’m trying to watch this.

Stop pandering to his ego! said Temporal butting in and disturbing my train of thought.

Look! We know that the recording band were Dave Navarro, Flea and Matt Laug and sure as hell the band in the video isn’t any of them. In fact, the drummer looks incredibly like Taylor Hawkins……

Nah! said Frontal, who had decided to join in.

This was shot in 1995 and Taylor Hawkins would have been like 10 years old then.

So, of course, brain had to find out who the band was in the video. Turns out Temporal was right. The drummer in the video was indeed Taylor Hawkins. The bass player was Chris Chaney and guitarists were Jesse Tobias who may have been the bastard who stole my hat and Nick Lashley. They were Alanis Morissettes touring band.

Well, said Temporal. That’s sorted. By the way, You do know who printed the sleeve notes. I found ’em.

Took your time on that didn’t you? I thought.

Who’s fault is that then?

Mine I suppose but why is it always my fault?

Remember Suzy?

Of course, my girlfriend some years ago. Bit of a hippy. Always wore cheese clothe blouses, no bra and those long skirts. Drop dead gorgeous although seemed to be a bit spaced out.

Yep. That’s her and what did you do one day when you got back from a hard training session?

Oh crap! I knew where this was going. Brains seem to be like women. Always dredging up stupid shit you did decades ago!

You had the meal she prepared for herself didn’t you and she told you not to eat it cos it had magic mushrooms in it didn’t she? And you scoffed the lot didn’t you.

Well I didn’t know they were going to do what they did did I?

What did you think magic mushrooms would do you twerp? Card tricks?

Hey! Come on. Thought Frontal. Give the bloke a break. Back then he was incredibly naive. All he was into was canoeing and sex. This is the guy who when people he knew said they’d smoked some good shit the night before sat and thought ” Why would anyone smoke excrement? Do they smoke their own shit? Someone else’s shit? Dog shit? Horse shit? Why would any one smoke shit? It must smell terribly and who thought it would be a good idea in the first place?” He just thought shrooms gave you a bit of a boost.

Yeah well, he was stupid cos after returning from Kensington Gardens to play with the  unicorns and watch the sun go down while saying “OOOOH sparkly” for 30 minutes and nearly getting arrested, what did he do? He had a couple of Suzys home-made ‘chocolate chip’ cookies but it wasn’t chocolate was it? And then you gobbled up the rest of them didn’t you? Got the bloody munchies!

Suddenly, Hypothalamus asked;

Is it me or is it hot in here?

What? I thought. Followed a split second later by the other parts of my brain thinking;

What? 

Which worried me slightly as if I had an echo, there couldn’t be much in my head.

Oh for Gods sake, it’s Pituitary getting all menopausal again. Don’t say anything cos it might stab the human in the eye. From inside! It will passSo the upshot of the human accidentally getting stoned out of his mind and cruising around the Universe on a dragon is that we lost a whole week of his life and Hippocampus where we store memories was traumatized for years and memories are a mess. Everything for a decade or more was filed under “S” for “Stuff”! So yeah, sometimes it takes a while to find memories and it’s not my fault mate.

And so it continued for a while longer with different parts of my brain slagging me off and generally having a good time at my expense. Not that I mind. They keep me company when I’m feeling lonely in a crowded room.

I’m very fond of the voices in my head. They keep me sane.

For info, I’ve just been informed that Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, was allergic to carrots. Not many people know that.

Have a lovely day.

More Dick soon.

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In The dog House. Again!

Ed, Greg and I are in the dog house with PIL. She’s not happy.

On Easter Sunday the two ‘boys’ went off to Stamford Bridge to watch Chelsea play Tottenham Hotspur. I couldn’t go as I was working and staying in London. They kind of wish they hadn’t now and not just because Chelsea lost. They met up with some guys that Ed had met when he went to Barcelona to watch Chelseas Champions League match (We lost that game too!) They all had a few beers before the game, a few more at half time and then went to a local pub with Eds new best friends for a few more beers. Then it was time to leave and get the train home. Late. On Easter Sunday. Essential maintenance on the whole rail network. They contacted PIL to arrange a pick up from the local station. PIL not amused.

“Get a cab home from the station” she told them.

PIL went to bed!

They contacted her again. Trains stopping at Ashford and going no further. A 20 minute drive away. Can she please pick them up from there? Even I heard the sigh as she agreed to pick them up from Ashford International Station.

“What time does it get in?”

“ERRRR. 23.50”

PIL duly arrived. Tired and ticked off. Train was late arriving.

They drove home in silence but quite quickly.

Moving onto Tuesday.

Ed going to be late home from work which has been manic for the last couple of weeks. I went to pick him up from the local station. PIL went to bed as she had an early start in the morning.

Ed hadn’t eaten so I said I’d knock something up quickly while he watched the highlights of Real Madrid vs Juventus, another Champions League match.

I chucked a couple of bangers and some oven chips in the oven. Joined Ed with a couple of beers for us to enjoy while the game was on. Forgot about his dinner. Rushed out to the kitchen when I remembered hoping it wasn’t burnt. Opened the oven door and 2.73 seconds later the smoke alarm went off!!! Our smoke alarm is VERY LOUD and there’s a repeater upstairs. I, somewhat ineffectually, waved a tea towel at the alarm while Ed came out with a cushion and waved that about for a while. The alarm also set the dog off! Bloody mayhem. Ed grinned at me and said,

“Now you’re in trouble with Mum!”

And I was. I apologised the next day and PIL said;

“For what? There’s a list.”

It’s now Thursday and that couple of sentences along with a huge number of sighs has been the extent of our conversation. I’m enjoying the peace and quiet!

Oh. Plus a comment about leaving the toilet seat up.

Have a brilliant day.

 

More Dick soon.

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Evolution Can Be a Bitch.

The average human being is a pretty incredible creature. Apparently, we consist of some 100 trillion cells (what anorak sat and counted?), we can distinguish tens of thousands of scents, a million colours and store 1000 terabytes of memories. Apart from teeth, we repair and regenerate the cells in our bodies so that every ten years we are physically a new person. Not bad for a species that is 70% water and shares 50% of its DNA with bananas, 60% with chickens, 84% with dogs and 96% with chimps. It is those minuscule differences that make us what we are. I read somewhere that if the human genome was written down, it would fill nearly 300,000 pages and only the last couple of hundred would contain the parts that make us the individuals we are. Unless you come from Kentucky where everyone has the same DNA.

We have evolved as bipeds and for humans to be able to walk upright, we do not have opposable big toes. This in turn means that our feet are arched and this enables us to walk the way we do. We continue to evolve and toes are as good a place to talk about as any. As a rule, each human has 5 toes on each foot. The big toe and the next 3 along do whatever they do, but the human little toe is evolving faster than they are. It is becoming increasingly sensitive to the extent that it has now developed into a sensor of hard objects in low light environments. It finds these hard objects by hitting them and then informs you that it has found the armchair/bed leg/door frame by sending a wave of excruciating pain to your brain. Forget child birth. Forget kidney stones. Forget a kick in the ‘nads. This fuckin’ hurts! So much so that it is impossible for the human who has recently rediscovered the whereabouts of the door frame that’s been in the same place for centuries, to swear. Instead, all that can be managed is;

Ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah (all very quietly because it’s 3 o’clock in the bloody morning and you don’t want to wake everyone up) ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah (until eventually) ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah Ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffuck it! You manage to swear.

How do I know this? I know this because last night, at 3 o’clock in the bloody morning, I discovered where the door frame to the toilet is courtesy of that wonderful appendage, my little toe.

Have a wonderful day.

More Dick soon.

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With apologies to the inhabitants of Kentucky who, I am sure, are very nice people all with their own unique DNA but I couldn’t find a picture for Louisiana.

Sailing and the NHS

Quite a few months ago when I wrote my last post, I included this photograph:

I added the comment that some people when looking at it would think,

“Wet”

“Cold”

“Horrid”

To which Claudette over at ceenoa added,

“Sea Sick”!

Something I hadn’t considered as I don’t suffer from it but Claudette does. (Take a wander over to her blog. She does stuff with stuff and makes wonderful stuff and her photographs are a joy. You will find it here)

Whereas when I look at that photograph I think,

“Excitement”

“Fun”

“Women in wet tee shirts”

I must now add,

“Hernia”!

Yep, the day after we had gone sailing on ‘Jabberwocky’ while on holiday, I noticed a fairly large lump on the right side of my groin. I was fairly sure what it was but being a male of a certain age, I thought I’d get it checked out when we got home. I was going to go and see the Doc anyway as my right knee was giving me grief and was very painful.

So, on our return, I made an appointment for the following day and saw my GP. I explained, she asked me to straighten my leg and had a poke about and told me I had arthritis. She then looked at my groin, had another poke about and informed me I did indeed have a hernia. She printed off a form and told me to go to the walk-in x-ray clinic at the local hospital where they would x-ray my knee to confirm her diagnosis and in the meantime expect a letter for an appointment to have my hernia checked out. So, off I went, had my x-ray (how good is that? I was back home within 30 minutes of leaving the Docs). A week later, two letters arrived. One informed me that I did indeed have arthritis in my knee and to contact the hospital for an appointment for physio. The other letter was from the very Harry Potterish sounding ‘Department of Hernias, Lumps and Bumps asking me to attend for an examination.

I duly rocked up at the hospital for my examination. Now for some reason, I had got it into my head that my knee was going to be examined so I was somewhat surprised when I was asked to drop my shorts! That’s why I was wearing shorts, so I wouldn’t have to drop them, not that I’m shy.

I carried out a quick mental check:

Freshly showered? Yep

Clean underwear? Yep

Neat and tidy gentleman’s garden? Yep

Good to go.

My Mum would have been proud.

I dropped my shorts, lay down and was examined. It was an ultrasound examination as used on pregnant women. It would establish that I had a hernia for certain, exactly where it was and how big. The woman carrying out the examination explained what I had to do. I had to make like a puffer fish and inflate my cheeks and push down towards my groin.

While I did this she would use the ultra sound thingy to examine the area.

The examination commenced. The result of all this cheek inflation and pushing down and prodding with probes was that I farted.

It was not discreet!

“Oh”, I squeaked, feeling dreadfully embarrassed, “I am so sorry.”

“That’s ok Dick” said the woman. ” It happens all the time. Curry last night was it?”

“As it happens, yes it was” I replied blushing, while out of the corner of my eye I saw the other woman in the room switch on her desk fan!

“Thought so” said the first woman as she wander over to the window and opened it!

“I am still here y’know” I said feeling even more embarrassed and somewhat flustered.

“Yes Dick, we know” she said “and so is something else.”

I gave up then. There was no point arguing. Two women in a room with a man who had just dropped his guts! No contest really.

As I left and walked down the corridor after the examination was completed, all I could hear was gales of laughter coming from the room I had just left. Buggers!

The up shot of this was that at the beginning of January, I went to the K&C Hospital as a day patient, had key hole surgery on my hernia and was back home later that day feeling just fine but under strict instructions not to lift anything and not to drive for a week or two. I did as I was told and returned to work two weeks later. The NHS and the staff in particular is just bloody wonderful.

I am currently rethinking my plans to become a sailor. I really don’t want to go through that again and it is likely to happen if I start hoisting sails and stuff. Something gentler I think. Learning French is still on the cards but now perhaps I should take up photography again and maybe start a vlog. I will keep you informed.

Have a great day.

More Dick soon.

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A New Language or Two

 

I know people who would look at this photograph and think:

“Wet.”

“Cold.”

“Horrid”

Whereas I look at it and think:

“Excitement.”

“Fun.”

“Women in wet tee shirts!”

So what has this to do with a new language?

Well, I am going to learn to sail but before I do, I have to learn the language that sailors use. I will call this language “Nautical”. It’s English Jim but not as we know it.

For instance, the pointy bit at the front is called the “Bow” (as in what a gentleman does when he meets Her Queenliness)

 

The rear end of a boat is “the stern”.

Left is “port” and right is “starboard”. The floor is “the deck” while a wall is called “a bulkhead”. The driver is called “the helmsman”. “Abreast” is not what you see when a woman is wearing a wet tee shirt unfortunately, it means side by side or by the side of. The “beam” is the widest part of a ship or boat. Downstairs is “below” and upstairs is “atop”. A  room is called a “cabin”, the kitchen is “the galley” and the speed of the boat is given in “knots”! Why this should be is beyond me.

Then there’s “athwartship”! (Really? You have got to be kidding me). It means at right angles to the centre line of the boat/ship.

Then you have words where all the vowels have deliberately been removed:

F’r’c’stl’. What’s that then? How do you pronounce it?

M”ns”l. Not a clue.

See? It’s not as easy as you first think. I’m getting there though and once I’ve got it sorted and can speak like an old sea dog, I’ll get on with learning a new foreign language. Probably French.

We have all been to France several times and we murder the French language whenever we can. Recently, on a fairly regular basis, magazines dedicated to French property have started making an appearance.

Then, the other day, PIL asked if we still had the Peter Mayle books, A Year in Provence and Toujours Provence. I said I’d look in amongst the million or so books we have banging about but to no avail. So I went to Waterstones in Canterbury and bought A Year in Provence and, because they didn’t have Toujours, I also bought My Good Life in France by Janine Marsh. I’ll get Toujours some other time. I wrapped the books up, I wrote “Happy Wednesday” on a sticker and presented it to PIL when she got home. They remain unread! Except by me.

I am in no particular rush. By the time CJ finishes school and Uni’ I’ll be getting on a bit so there’s plenty of time.

Then, one day, I will be fluent in Nautical and in French and PIL will suddenly decided it’s time to up sticks, grab our zimmer frames and move to bloody Spain!

Have a brilliant day.

More Dick soon.

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Sailing

A little while ago I wrote some fiction regarding a conversation I had with Mr. Death. You can read it here.

It is a work of fiction but, as with many things, it had elements of true life in it – some of my real life experiences. One of the true items in that story is my desire to learn a new language – French (probably) and to learn how to sail.

Recently, we went on holiday. We went to Antigua. It was bloody brilliant. We flew out via Virgin Atlantic Upper Class (the posh class!) That was an eye opener. I’m not sure how PIL managed it. I think she got the geeks at work to hack into Virgin Atlantic and get us an up grade. Or it might have been her using the gazillion air miles we had accumulated over the years. We arrived at Gatwick, checked in and went to the Virgin lounge. We were offered champagne! It was 6am! Of course we accepted – it was free! We had all kinds of nibbles offered. More champagne was consumed. Our flight was announced and, slightly the worse for wear we staggered off and got on the plane. The leg room! Unfuckingbelievable!

We arrived in Antigua after a wonderful flight, being waited on hand and foot, totally refreshed and ready to go.

It was lovely. Smashing sandy beaches. Plentiful bars and restaurants. Pools dotted around. Absolute bliss. I noted a number of small sailing boats. Catamarans. I thought to myself, I can get started here. A problem arose though. We are a family that goes on holiday and we SLOB! We lie in the sun. We eat. We drink and that was the problem. Greg and I crept off to the gym at 6.30 each morning. We got back, we all showered and went for breakfast. By 9am we were sprawled out by the pool. At 10, when the bars opened we were getting a bit hot so we’d go get a drink. The intention was always to get a soft drink, 10am being a bit too early to hit the hard stuff but the bar man would point out;

“It’s midday somewhere man.”

So we had rum as well. And with no concept of portion control, they were heavy on the alcohol. After a hearty lunch I was probably too pissed to go sailing, let alone learn anything so I didn’t go.

As a great believer in not doing things by half, I decided my first experience of learning to sail would not be on board an eight foot dinghy but on a proper 50 foot sailing yacht! And that’s what we did. We chartered a yacht for the day. It was called Jabberwocky and it was owned by Nick and Kaye, who are two of the nicest people you could wish to meet.

We got a cab from the resort to where Jabberwocky was parked at a place called Jolly Harbour. Antigua is full of places with lovely names like that. We set sail. We had a choice. Snorkelling or beach. We’re slobs so we chose beach and we headed off to a place called Deep Bay. It was on our way here that I carried out my first ever sailing task:

I set the genoa!

I have no idea what that is or what I was doing except it involved some hard physical labour and I think I set the sail in front of the mast. I felt inordinately pleased with myself.

We arrived. The anchor was dropped and we took the little RIB to shore. It was just as you would imagine a desert island to be. Warm seas lapping on a soft sandy beach. There were a couple of other people there but it was heavenly. There was a small fort, Fort Barrington, on the hillside. Greg, CJ and I went off for a wander while PIL and Ed sat on the beach and swam in the sea.

The beach at Deep Bay with Jabberwocky in the background

Time for lunch back on Jabberwocky. PIL, Greg and CJ took the RIB back. Ed and I swam back. I decided on back stroke but because I’m useless, without noticing, I started to swim back to shore. The others found this immensely funny. I just got tired!

Jabberwocky at anchor in Deep Bay

Lunch was lovely. Afterwards, we set sail again heading back to Jolly Harbour.

Jabberwocky setting sail back to Jolly Harbour

Once we got out of Deep Bay, I set the genoa again and joy of joy, I took the helm and steered the yacht on it’s way back to its home port.

Me at the helm of Jabberwocky

I was in heaven. It’s a lot harder that it seems and I’m sure my course was more than a bit ziggy zaggy but I was having a great time. The rest of the family were up at the pointy bit at the front and then they started to sing!

Having an absolutely brilliant time.

 

Over the sound of the waves and the wind in the sails I couldn’t make out the words but the tune was just about audible. One of them them was singing “Sailing”, the Rod Stewart song. Despite my surprise at one of my children actually knowing this song, I felt a huge sense of well being and happiness well up inside me. We were having a great time. My family up at the front burst in to laughter and they all started singing. As they did, the wind carried the words to my position at the helm. This is what they sang:

All together now.

We are sinking

We are sinking

To the bottom

Of the sea

Dad was steering

Hit an island

Didn’t see it

Blind old git

 

Hit the island

Of Antigua

How did Daddy

Manage that?

We have sunk now

And we’re swimming

All because our

Dad’s a prat!

Charming!

Despite this, I will learn to sail and soon I will be visiting a local sailing club and begin lessons. I may just stick to smaller dinghies or catamarans but, who knows, I may go onto larger boats. We shall see and I will keep you informed about my progress.

Of course, let’s not forget that I also want to learn a new language but since trying my hand at sailing, that will now be TWO new languages to learn. The reasons why will follow soon.

Have a lovely day.

More Dick soon.

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Dexter on the Loose

As you are probably aware, our dog Dexter underwent an operation on his leg a while ago.

For the last 7 or 8 months he has only been for short walks and always with his lead on. Understandably for an active dog who just loves to run and run and run this has been driving him mad. We have been under strict instructions from the vet not to let him tear arse about. Last week that changed. He had recovered fully from his operation.

I took him out on his lead. This is sufficient to get him excited. This time though we took a different route and headed off to the fields and woods. Dexter just knew there was something afoot. He kept looking at me as if to say “Are we going to the woods? Am I going to be off this pesky lead?” We arrived at the path leading down through a small copse onto the fields and to the woods a bit further down. We stopped. Dexter started to quiver in anticipation. He made little snorting noises. He looked at me. He woofed. He quivered some more. He stared down the path. I let him off the lead. The next thing I saw was his arse end disappearing down the path in a cloud of dust. I grinned to myself. A couple of minutes later he returned. His tail was wagging so hard the whole of his rear end was swaying from side to side. The look of pure, unadulterated bliss on his face was a wonderful thing to see. He jumped up at me, gave me a big lick and tore off into the fields again. We weren’t out for long. Maybe 35 minutes but Dexter had a great time dashing about, sniffing stuff and dashing about again. We got home again and he had a drink, scoffed some food, sat down at my feet, wagged his tail some more, gave me a lick and went off and fell asleep on his bed. I think he had some good dreams that day.

I should add that the flattened crops in the background were not due to us. I follow the tractor trails and Dexter causes practically no damage when he runs through the crops.

Have a smashing day. Dexter did!

More Dick soon.

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Surprises.

The not so surprising thing about surprises is that by their very nature they take you by surprise. Some are bad like the letter I got recently informing me I had been caught on camera in Watford on the 30th April at 0657 travelling at 41mph in a 30 zone. A few days later I had another nasty surprise when the Essex Constabulary informed me that on the 12th May at 1243 I had been caught on camera travelling at 58mph on the QE2 bridge which has a 50mph limit. WTF! Are speeding tickets buses now? Nothing for ages then two come along together! I have no recollection of speeding on either occasion.

I have completed my speed awareness course where we covered the laws of physics, watched videos, had discussions on a variety of speed and driving related subjects. All jolly interesting stuff. I think I only nodded off once. For the offence on the QE2 bridge I have paid the fine and had 3 points put on my driving licence. I have informed my insurers who will happily use the excuse to increase my premiums for the next few years. Bummer!

At times like this I like to take refuge in my garden and have a good old poke around, dig some holes, plant some plants, do a bit of pruning and mow the lawn. Even this can have nasty surprises usually in the form of half buried cat shit where you least expect it and, more often than not, precisely where you are using your hands to make a planting hole slightly bigger! Nothing quite like a handful of cat poo to brighten your day or to discover new ways to curse the blasted creatures! Then there are the surprises where things you planned to happen in the garden don’t materialise. A couple of years ago I wrote about how the foxgloves in my garden were doing particularly well and were giving a good show. I said how easy they are to grow and that I just let them seed where they want. I was a bit smug about it. Imagine my surprise when to my surprise (and disappointment) my smugness bit me on the arse last year and hardly any grew at all, just a few straggly specimens managed to make an appearance.

In an effort to escape from the terrible thoughts I was having about the things I would like to do to the inventor of the speed camera and the fecal land mines laid in my front garden by an assortment of neighbourhood felines, I decided to cut the grass in the back garden. Mowing the lawn isn’t my favourite pastime but it’s the kind of mindless exercise I can live with and the end result always looks nice. So I grabbed my iPod, inserted the earpieces and started to mow. The music, the hum of the lawn mower engine, the sound of the mower blades cutting through the grass, clover and daisies allied with the buzz of a stray stone being picked up and spat out at great speed and smashing the kitchen window soon relaxed me and I started having more pleasant thoughts such as what PIL looks like naked. Probably not a good thing for a bloke to be thinking if he has a pair of secateurs in his hand but it’s fine when mowing the lawn. Then, out of the corner of my eye  I saw something that gave me a very pleasant surprise. Along the fence at the side of the garden there is a line of 25 or 30 beech trees. They may be hornbeam but I can’t tell the difference. I cut them back at the beginning of last year so that they are only about 8 feet high and they are turning into quite a pleasant-looking hedge. Birds nest in amongst the branches and lots of creepy crawlies live there and call it home. Well, in amongst the branches, arching beautifully with the weight of flowers was a lovely fox glove.

All on its own.

It looked just simply beautiful. It had white flowers flushed pink.

It reminded me that no matter how hard we try, Nature will always go two or three better and produce something in the most surprising and unusual places. I was chuffed to bits to see that.

There are three things that most people find surprising about our garden although two of those will be changing. First, there aren’t any roses in the garden. None at all. There was one by the front door when we first moved in but that went a few years ago. I understand why people like roses. They often have beautiful flowers, they come in a huge array of colours and some have a wonderful scent. To me though they are just a mega pain in the bum. They are “gross feeders” so they take all the nutrients and minerals out of the soil meaning copious quantities of compost has to be added once or twice a year or you end up with dust. They attract pests, especially aphids and diseases that spread to other plants in the garden and to top it all they rip you to shreds if you so much as touch them. Not for me. I prefer to be able to sit back and admire my garden.

I also get why people like bedding plants or annuals. Instant colour that lasts for months if you dead head regularly. I just think “aching back” and “sore knees” from planting them in the Spring and digging the blighters up again in the Autumn. Not to mention the increase in getting a handful of cat poo while digging them in. That’s changing though. PIL (aka She Who Must Be Obeyed) wants hanging baskets and that means annuals although mixed up with things like strawberries and stuff. She tends to take care of the pots too and does a fine job with them. They’ll be annuals in the pots as well. I don’t mind. It’s our garden and my only objection to bedding plants is the effort involved. I look forward to seeing how that works out.

The other surprising thing about our garden is the absence of the colour orange. Or so I thought. I’m talking the fruit colour here. Goes with bugger all. Clashes with everything. In a gloomy corner of the front garden there is a big clump of what I think are Welsh Poppies. For work reasons, I tend to be away when they flower in May. They’re yellow. Or so I thought. This year they flowered a bit later and I saw them. They looked absolutely superb in that slightly gloomy corner and contrasted really well with the white flowers in the front. (I have no idea what the white flowers are. Planted ’em years ago and I can never remember plant names. Unlike my memory for the collective noun for wombats!!) Anyhow, they looked really good but they were orange! See. Nature did it again. Nothing to do with me. They are staying. Look at the photo and you’ll see what I mean. Smashing!

On that note I must go as it’s getting late. Have a nice day wherever you may be and whatever time it may be where you are.

More Dick soon.

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Memory.

I was at work the other day. It was quite early, probably about 7 am. I heard a bird start to sing. Without looking I thought to myself, “That’s a goldfinch.” I was right. I had remembered its song. My brain then went into overdrive as it scanned its memory banks and told me some associated information. The collective noun for Goldfinches is “a charm”. My brain then informed me that the collective noun for hedgehogs is “an array” and that if you remove all the fleas from a hedgehog it suffers from withdrawal symptoms. From there my brain informed me that the the collective noun for a group of wombats is “a wisdom”. Wombats!!
Then my brain thought:
“How do I know this stuff and yet some mornings I wake up and can’t remember who or where I am!”

More Dick soon

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