PASSING AWAY

20170307_151720_001What a few months this has been. I’m a pensioner turned sixty-nine and my Mother has died just recently. She was two months short of her ninety-fifth birthday. A great age. She passed away in hospital, peacefully, in no pain and with her family around her. I thought it was a serene passing that could only have been improved, if that’s the word, if her passing had been at her home.

Before my mother’s passing, I lost a friend who I would have known for over 40 years. He was a person I wouldn’t have seen regularly but we would meet up from time to time over the years. Then only about a month ago another of my friends passed away. Once again, a chap that I would have known for a long time; in his case I would have seen him often. He and I were members of our local sailing club. Then just recently a neighbour I would have been on nodding terms with died. All three chaps were around 70 years old. Heart, cancer and stroke.

Like my mother’s passing, all were a shock.

The urgency of my mother’s illness came as quite a surprise. Although I suppose, that unless she died in her sleep, I would get a phone call to stop what I was doing and come quickly to her bedside. I knew she was in hospital but we all thought it was nothing to be too concerned about.

My mother seemed to have no fear of dying and I believe she was aware that she was approaching the end of her life.

My mother’s latest visit to the hospital started with a fall in her home. She appeared initially to be in good form and was like her normal self. Then the doctors informed us that she had suffered a heart attack. That was when I got the dreaded call. The doctor who was treating my mother thought it would be best to get to the hospital as soon as we could.

My mother seemed to have no fear of dying and I believe she was aware that she was approaching the end of her life.had welcomed everyone to say her last good-byes. The sun rose on that bright spring morning and sadly it would be her last.

As I sat with her it was easy to think back over the years to my childhood and reflect on how lucky we were to have a mother who came from a small fishing village in Devon which enabled us to have some great summer holidays that often lasted the whole of the school holidays.

This sometimes meant catching a steam train from Waterloo station to Bideford, the nearest big town and then taking a black taxi to our grandparent’s house in Appledore. Other times we would drive down and that could be quite an adventure too. There was six of us in the car and the journey might take eight hours or more .The traffic jams were long. My father’s cars in those days were quite small and therefore it was always a squeeze for us kids in the back seat. It was not uncommon to be told to get out and walk if a hill was too steep. One car I remember was a Ford 8. It was really quite uncomfortable. Still, it was worth it.

My mother was born in 1922. She had two sisters and a brother and they all predeceased her. My mother’s life was spread over five generations. She had five children, eleven grandchildren, twenty-seven great grandchildren and thirteen great, great grandchildren. A marvellous achievement and one that will be hard to surpass, I would think, by any of us.

I had always thought that I would know when my mother died. Perhaps a sort of telepathic connection. Sadly, that didn’t happen. My mother passed out of this life and mine without a sign. She just slipped away when I was out of the room. When I returned to see her, it was very obvious to me, that she was no longer with us; in the sense that I was looking at her remains. My mother was long gone.

Neither of my brothers or sister are at all religious; this is due, I suppose, to not having a religious upbringing. We were all baptized though. We were quite an esoteric mix. My sister was baptized as a member of the Church of England, myself as a member of the Methodist community, one of my brothers, I understand was Bethel and the youngest brother christened in the Baptist church. My mother must have had at the least the protection our eternal souls in mind when we were babies.

Interestingly, my baptism came in handy when I married into a catholic family. The priest made it quite clear that he was unhappy that one of his flock was to marry a pagan; his words. When he was shown a copy of my baptism certificate he begrudgingly agreed to the marriage. A mixed marriage he called it.

Anyway, my mother’s passing was a very English one. A simple affair. A short service by a lay person at the local crematorium. The service included three hymns of my mother’s choosing, together with a fine poem by one of her great grandchildren and a short eulogy, written by us, her children, about her life.

I think we all found it hard to believe, that it would take 18 days from her dying to her funeral. In the past, I understood this was due to the long delay in getting the paperwork sorted. Not so. We had the paperwork complete within a couple of days. What appears to cause the delay is the number of cremations being carried out. Imagine; you just have to wait until there is a slot. I wonder if this situation applies to burials. Could be an even longer wait.

In Ireland, where I live, things seem to move more freely. Any delays are normally due to waiting for family members to arrive who live away and have to travel from a far. The three chaps I referred to earlier would have all been buried within three to four days of dying.

The attendance at funerals in Ireland are typically large, sometimes very large indeed; and the whole proceedings may take an hour or more. My Mother’s was a fairly typical English funeral. Small and over in about forty minutes.

The handling of people’s ashes after cremation I found intriguing. According to our funeral director, they had in their “stores,” ashes of people that had been cremated years earlier and were waiting patiently to be re united with a loved one, when it was their turn to be cremated. I don’t find that very romantic.

With regard to my mother’s ashes, she made it quite clear how she wanted them to be disposed of.

Her parents are buried in the grounds of the local church in Appledore called St. Mary’s and she wanted her ashes to be buried with them, if this was possible. Otherwise, she would like them to be taken out into the estuary, just before the bar, and poured into the sea.

We intend to carry out her wishes later in the year and I suppose, that will be that.

Sierra Leone (SL) Part Two

 

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When I think back to my short stay in SL, it was very much influenced by the fact that my daughter and her hubby made sure that my time there was as good as they could make it.

My Bradt guide on SL says that

” it is not always an easy country or a happy one; plenty of things don’t work and won’t work for a good while yet. Energy, water roads, education and healthcare-these basics are erratic, if present at all. Travelling across the capital is tough, let alone going a few miles down the coast or trekking upcountry”.

 I experienced so much of what the guide referred to and there is no doubt I was on the side lines most of the time and I only witnessed all the coping that went on not only by the local people but also by my family, in their own way.

So, this blog is about a trip that I went on with my son-in-law to a National Park, situated near the Liberian border and called Tiwai Island, a wild life sanctuary. We have a similar interest in birding. He often refers to me as the drinking man’s Bill Oddie. Can’t understand why, but anyway………

The day before we left we had to make a visit to the local Western Union to get a shed load of cash for spending on the trip. It was going to be cash all the way it seems.

 

With the family, we headed off to a real laid back beach complex for an overnight stay.

The beach was called Bureh Beach and we had hired a couple of really basic huts for the night. Such a contradiction to the hardship of Freetown. Tropical sandy beaches, nice food and plenty of cold beer. Not too expensive for us but well beyond the means of most local people except rich Lebanese.

The next morning, my son-in-law and I did some birding with a real knowledgeable birder that my daughter knew and was also staying at the camp. We came back later, had breakfast, said our good byes and headed off to Tiwai Island. My daughter and granddaughter were getting a lift back with friends.

My son-in-law had planned that we could reach Tawai Island that night. He had some info that said it was possible. Not a chance.

For me, it was the first of my” David Attenborough” experiences. The road to the SL’s second city, Bo, was mostly fine but after that it was track. Deeply furrowed at times, less so at other times.

This was indeed Africa with jungle, exotic birds and small communities that lived in mud huts with thatched roofs. Women, mostly, walking bolt upright with pots and all manner of things balanced on their heads. Kids running alongside our car shouting a welcome, I hope, and adults, men mostly, sitting around and watching us drive by.

this was indeed Africa with jungle, exotic birds and small communities that lived in mud huts with thatched roofs.

It was a wonderful experience and I was totally captivated. Even when we came across a situation where part of the track had been washed away and planks of timber had been laid across the damaged road for access. It was exciting for me but to travel like this though, needed continuous concentration by my son-in-law. Either side of the track was jungle and the surface of the track were what seemed like deep chasms that had to be navigated. A tremendous effort; I was grateful I wasn’t driving.

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Needless to say, we didn’t make it to Tiawa Island that day, it was just too slow going. We stayed overnight in a town called Kenama. This place to me was like a smaller version of Freetown. Busy, lots of people milling around. The hotel we stayed in, was a little run down but it had wifi and was quite comfortable and friendly. My shower though was back to the bucket experience I’ve spoken about before.

We were up early the next morning and off to Tiawa Island. The road or track continued much as before. It was an amazing ride. Miles of jungle and lots of small communities surviving as subsistent farmers it seems. So much walking is done. To get water, to get stuff from the fields and then balancing whatever they collected on their heads.

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We were forever stopping and starting to watch bird life. So much to see. My son- in- law’s driving was still a marvel to me. Boyzoboys!! How the car and driver kept going over such terrain I can only wonder at.

Finally, we arrived at a commune where we would leave the car and then get a canoe to the island.

Not sure what I expected but it has to be said it was rather basic.

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 Not sure what I expected but it has to be said it was rather basic.

We were expected, which was good. We were taken to our accommodation for the next two nights, which was a small open building where two tents were set up complete with mosquito nets. It was really quite comfortable. There was a little bathroom area where we could have a shower etc. It was dinner time and we were given a really nice meal with plenty of coffee. On our arrival, we were hoping for a nice cold beer but that was a step too far it seems. We ate and hung out in quite a large covered area.

They must have big groups from time to time but for the moment we were the only visitors on the island. No worries, it was all very exciting. We were on an island in Africa, camping in a jungle with jungle noises all around us, drinking warm beer and itching insect bites. Could it get any better?

That evening we had a jungle walk with a local guide complete with machete. We followed him as he hacked his way through the jungle. A bit chilling to think this “tool” was the common weapon that was used to do such terrible injuries to people during their war. As our guide battled his way through the foliage we eventually came to an area where he knew monkeys would be.

The trees were enormous and the jungle was really dense. I was hoping to see chimpanzees but high in the trees were other species; Diana monkey, colobus monkey and some black and white monkeys. So high up you had to keep your neck craned to see them. We had a great time trying to find hornbills that were settling down for the night. The sounds they made with their wing beats were amazing. They sound like helicopters taking off.

IMG_2455The next morning, we had another walk in the forest but it was quite disappointing really. The foliage is so dense it’s hard to see much. Birds dart around and you hear lots of sounds but I suppose I expected to see more. However, it was still a great experience. We spent the rest of the morning relaxing and doing some bird watching on our own. Got the numbers up.

It was quite overwhelming and I felt very privileged to be where I was, in a canoe on an African river with lots of amazing sights and sounds around me.

In the late afternoon, we took a canoe trip on the River Moa. It’s wide, fairly slow moving but have to say it was pretty cool. It was an experience that I might have imagined as a young chap watching  adventure programes on the telly. The birding was pretty good too. We saw vultures, hornbills and a myriad of smaller birds. We were also able to hear what could only be chimps in the jungle somewhere. It was quite overwhelming and I felt very privileged to be where I was, in a canoe on an African river with lots of amazing sights and sounds around me.Mind you I suspect the poor guide puffing and panting with the paddles wasn’t quite so appreciative as me. He was a good guide though.

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The next morning, we left the island and found ourselves back in the small community where we left the car. This was quite an emotional experience meeting with the local people and their children. I had a lot of fun with the kids, taking photos of them with my mobile and then showing the pictures too them. They were really delighted with themselves. What a different life they lead compared to ours. Some of the locals had issues with their eyes and asked if we had anything that might help.   All we had was some sterilized pads that might offer some relief but no cure for their problems. That was very disappointing.

20161215_083222Back on the road/track again and we were going well until we hit one groove too many and the exhaust was clearly damaged. We managed to get to Bo, and luckily locate a fitter who found and fixed the problem.

On leaving Bo we had a bit of a run in with the authorities. As usual there was a road block and we were pulled over. My son-in-law was asked get out of the vehicle and explain some “anomaly” with his passport. There was none of course and it was a ruse, it seems, to get some cash off him. My first experience with bribes perhaps?

A JOURNEY TO SIERRA LEONE (SL)

My thoughts about travelling to Sierra Leone started when my No3 daughter startled us all just over a year ago, when she informed us that she was planning to spend a couple of years in that poor stricken country. Hadn’t it just got over dealing with a very serious out- break of Ebola? Isn’t that still a worry? Apparently not. But hold on a minute; isn’t malaria endemic to the region and what about rabies and made dogs and all that huh? And what about hubby and our young granddaughter who is hardly two years old; how will they cope? It’s going to be fine she says; done all the research.

Freetown, capital of SL, has great medical facilities. True, that this is mainly due to the Ebola out-break but it’ll be grand, just have to make sure everyone chews daily on the malaria tablets, gets all the necessary jabs and stays away from mad dogs, monkeys that bite and of course bats. Right, of course, stay away from bats, defo. And anyway, it’s a great opportunity she says. Look, even the hubby’s employer has agreed to a two-year sabbatical. Hubby will have time to complete that book he’s been writing and of course he can spend quality time with his daughter. It’s going to be fine. Well, I suppose, that’s alright then.

Before they left we had a general chat about a possible visit from me and her mum; we thought we had plenty of time to think about it over the next couple of years. That was until about eight months into her stay she told us she was coming home in the next couple of months, and coming home for good! She had applied for and got another job, in Liverpool this time. We were all delighted of course but what about our visit. If we were still planning to going out there, we had better get our act together.

As it turned out, mum couldn’t get the time off work, so if I was going, I was going on my own. Son- in- law had written a series of blogs about their stay and there was no doubt, it could be quite a demanding trip. It’s is one of the poorest counties in the world and it is either very hot and seriously wet or very hot, dry and extremely humid. It is also a country that has suffered the cruelest of civil wars, which ended just 10 years ago; it has very little infrastructure; and I read, that it is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. A country perhaps you wouldn’t choose for a holiday.   

One gets a sense of adventure pretty much immediately when a very experienced company in Dublin, who organised my travel arrangements, had never booked a trip to Freetown before and had to get back to me.

Well, with mio caro amore not able to make the trip it made it all a bit more daunting for me. She’s great. I’d follow her anywhere. She strides into the unknown rarely phased; with confidence built on the knowledge that the best deal had been done and the research was complete. All that’s needed is to search out the local tourist office when we arrive to firm up on a few things and perhaps get some local maps. Well good luck with that. I think a tourist office in Freetown is very unlikely. However, even without her, I decided I still wanted to go; so, man up.

He just stared at me, checking me out, weighing me up; was I mad or just plain taking the mick. Even when I was walking away I felt his eyes boring in to me. Very disconcerting.

One gets a sense of adventure pretty much immediately when a very experienced company in Dublin, who organised my travel arrangements, had never booked a trip to Freetown before and had to get back to me. This was grand but their lack of knowledge of SL was a cause for concern. Airline tickets were straight forward enough I suppose but their advice about visas, if followed, would have been a disaster.

They said for me to just take a couple of passport photos and get a visa when I arrived. That wouldn’t have worked and it would have led to my first brush with authority and possible demands for money. Doesn’t bear thinking about. And me with no mio caro amore to iron things out. Luckily my daughter advised me to get all that done before I left. She was very insistent about it and was horrified at the thought of me arriving without a visa. As it turned out she was dead right. Not only did I need to hand over my visa at immigration but also, they required the receipt of payment for the visa ( I was pre-warned about that too).

I was asked where I was going to stay, who was I staying with, what address etc. When I informed the immigration chap I was a tourist, I was expecting a great smile of welcome for coming to his country. Not a chance. He just stared at me, checking me out, weighing me up; was I mad or just plain taking the mick. Even when I was walking away I felt his eyes boring in to me. Very disconcerting.

Anyway, as I have admitted, without mio cara amore with me leading the way, I was anxious enough about the trip. And so, I didn’t feel quite the intrepid traveler when I arrived alone at Lunghi Airport, the main arrival point for travelers to SL. It was a a pretty rough looking place. It was 4.30 in the morning and it was hot and very humid and it was dark.

There seemed to be a lot of young men milling around trying to help with my luggage and wouldn’t take no for an answer. It was all a bit daunting. However, my daughter had arranged for a chap to meet me and thankfully he was there and he guided me through the melee with my luggage and led me to where shuttle coaches were; these coaches were to carry us and our luggage to the motor launch. There was a cost of $40 for the boat trip. Yes, that’s how you get to the capital, on a boat from a rickety old pontoon.

The approach road from the airport to the point of embarkation was  like a very rutted farm track. It was quite a trip. The small vehicle was fully loaded with passengers, the luggage went in a different vehicle, and I did my best to appear as dignified as I could as I was tossed and bumped around, grabbing anything I could to ensure I stayed on my seat. Thankfully it wasn’t too far. When we arrived at the embarkation point, I was lucky, I started chatting to the skipper and he asked me if I would like to leave first and go with the luggage. I found out later that this had been pre- arranged by the chap who helped me and by my daughter.

The engine conked out once, which I found a bit worrying. I could imagine us floating away into the darkness, to who knows where but there was no real concern on the boat and the engine started again.

It was pitch black and across the water you could see a few twinkling lights of what I guessed was Freetown. As it turned out, I was the only passenger going on the boat with the luggage. Thankfully, I was encouraged to stand by an opening which enabled me to receive a really refreshing breeze as we motored over the water. It was quite a relief from the humidity. The engine conked out once, which I found a bit worrying. I could imagine us floating away into the darkness, to who knows where but there was no real concern on the boat and the engine started again. Hopefully my son in law would be waiting for me on the Freetown side.

I was feeling pretty good and I thought it had been quite an acceptable adventure so far. However, my arrival at the ferry dock in Freetown was a bit of an eye opener too. The lighting was dim and the buildings again were in a poor state of repair. I collected my luggage and happily met up with my son- in- law. The parking area and the road surface out of the port was another example of what to expect while driving in SL. It was appalling. If you didn’t have a decent vehicle with a high wheel base you would be severely limited as to where you could go and what you can do. Generally, there seemed no problem on the main road but side roads were dreadful. The approach to where my daughter lived was another testament to the driver’s skills and the ability of the car to deal with such difficult conditions. Quite amazing really.

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Like most ex pats, my daughter’s home was protected by watchmen. These are young men, whose job it is to keep an eye on the house. There was one chap around during the day and another chap who covered the night shift. Pleasant chaps and mad about the English Premier League. It seems if you witness a lot of shouting between these chaps, it’s normally about football. I started a bit of an argument one time, when I told them I had heard a rumour that Messi was about to join my team, West Brom. Anyhow, when I arrived it was just getting light. There was no water or power. My daughter had warned me this could happen. It seems part of the watchmen’s job is to head off and get jerry cans of water when needed;  thankfully there was a generator for power. Later, I had my first experience of a bucket shower and it wouldn’t be my last.

So, there we are, my day had started at 6.30am the previous morning; I had flown from Dublin to London; caught a flight to Africa stopping off at Casablanca on the way; (memories of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and all that). I had then clambered aboard a boat and traveled 40 mins in pitch black to a port in Freetown, Sierra Leone; I then traveled a short distance by car to my daughter’s home. About 24hrs travelling altogether. All pretty exhilarating. Yeah…!! Not bad for an old geezer and him without his mio caro amore!

  PENSIONERS ALL AT SEA

 

Well, it’s late November, and I’m I sitting here in my comfortable armchair, in front of our lit stove, warming this ancient body (ahem!) and it’s great to be able to look back and to think about my first year of retirement. One of the more pleasant things I have co me to realize, is that being a pensioner can be eventful and fun. Of course, it has to be accepted that this is based on good health, some spending money and an understanding spouse. The good health bit is really a matter of luck I suppose; leaving aside late nights, which are fairly rare; perhaps overdoing it with eating and the imbibing of alcohol can be an issue. Simple pleasures come with a warning seemingly. But us pensioners do seem to have an endless amount of time. In my case, though recently retired, I’ve yet to decide any kind of formal “arrangement “of how to use my time. I’m getting by though. It’s been a year now since the office door closed behind me and my mobile stopped ringing. I don’t miss it. I really don’t. Naturally I miss the social interactions but now I can concentrate on other things which don’t require clients and keeping them happy.

Back last Christmas when me and my old pals were considering the merits of another Round the Island (RTI) race we also wondered about sailing to France say; maybe even after the RTI. As it turned out that wouldn’t have been such a good idea. That race was tiring and a week at sea is probably enough to make even us hardy chaps miss the creature comforts of home. As it happened we decided that a better idea would be to come back and do it all again later in the year; maybe not France though. A sail down the coast towards Devon and Cornwall might be as enjoyable. I say towards because in a boat it’s amazing how long it takes to cover long distances. Take it from me, fifty miles is a long way. An hour and a bit in car perhaps but in a yacht, it’s at least ten hours with a fair wind or the motor on. Three hours of which, in our case, was in total darkness. To be fair the skipper did try to explain to us, his crew, to be aware of long spells staring out to sea and seeing nothing. Actually, that wasn’t quite true. Although we did experience a lot of open sea. Amazing how empty Lime Bay can seem, not another boat in sight most of the time. However, we did have company for a while in the form of four dolphins, two adults and two young ones. They swam at great speed in front, along the side and under the boat. It really was our David Attenborough moment. They weren’t around for long but it was thrilling while it lasted.

I remember, the night before we left Weymouth, we were sitting in a real sailor’s pub (the kind where there are pictures on the walls showing boats dealing with fierce storms, going aground, sinking, etc) and with a glass of grog (beer) in our hands our skipper began to enlighten us of the dangers of dealing with PORTLAND BILL. This apparently is not a local sailor but the second most treacherous stretch of water around the British coast! The second? Blimey skip, I thought, are we up to this? No bother it seems, although he did say that we should be aware, that it was true, a good number of boats have come a cropper trying to make their way around PORTLAND BILL. However, after a hearty meal and a couple of pints, sure it’ll be grand; just have to get the tides right that’s all. Yeah right, that’s all. Thankfully we did.

We had just congratulated ourselves, including a few selfies, getting around PORTLAND BILL, when we had a bit of an oh! oh ! moment. An alarm sounded that gave us all something to think about. The engine seemed to have a problem and there we were, suddenly, three not so hardy chaps out of sight of land and with no wind. All the tests carried out by the skipper, gave the impression all was well, but it was still a tad un- nerving. One of the tests was to check whether the engine was being cooled sufficiently. To check this out, one member of our sexagenarian (really?) team had to clamber over the back of the LOLA and test if water being pumped out was hot(bad) or cool(good). Our hero, not me or the skipper, hung out the back, quite precariously I thought and fairly close to the briny too. He was clipped onto LOLA’s rear somewhere and then holding on with one hand whilst the other hand was on or close to Lola’s exhaust. Well she was cool, so that was alright then. We  had to haul our hero back over the rails and into the safety of Lola’s cockpit. Whooo hoo! Three elderly chaps managed a possible emergency very efficiently. A cup of coffee and a Danish pastry was needed after that experience. However, the alarm problem didn’t really go away, became a bit intermittent. Nevertheless, the skipper decided to make our way to Brixham and get the problem looked at there.

We sailed around to Dartmouth and hung around there for a couple of days and then back to Brixham. The forecast looked like the weather might deteriorate for the next few days and we therefore decided it might be a good idea to make our way back to Weymouth. The wind was blowing really nicely  for the sail and the sea was high and it all lead to a cracking sail. We decided it was probably wise to skirt around the disturbed waters of Portland Bill but even so we still felt its effects.

So, it has been a good year for sailing and my pals and I have had some fun time  together. We plan to meet up early in the New Year to discuss the possibilities of some more sailing, particularly another bash at the RTI race. Another get together will be needed to discuss the matter; and I suppose time, money and health will all be high on the agenda.

I’m not quite done with the year yet though. Thought I might amble down to Sierra Leone before Christmas and visit my daughter and family in Freetown for a few days. Now that certainly has to be another adventure. Tell you about it soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Family Fun

 

Being a Grandfather can be quite demanding sometimes. This is especially so when old sporting injuries, and age, can put a damper on some types of family fun. We have seven grandchildren. Their ages vary from nearly 12 years down to 16 months. Their demands can be many and varied. My eldest granddaughter can ask for stuff using her ever growing feminine whiles, which are hard to ignore but often successful. My youngest granddaughter has another way to get attention by just suddenly, without warning, simply screech.

For such a small child the noise is such that, the whole room stops to wonder what has happened.It’s usually about nothing but it has its effect. She won’t stop until she has been looked after. My middle granddaughter is a right case too. Boundless energy and full of mischief. One of the young lads can be a little clingy for his mum or dad but he is a real hoot. The eldest chaps are more easy to deal with as can be expected.

Mi amado and I have quite an eclectic family and extended family too. Some of the team live in Toronto (this is due to one son in law being Canadian but living and earning a crust in Henley on Thames with No2 daughter and family of four). We also have other members of the team who are now living and working in Sierra Leone. This is No3 daughter and husband who is English (who is a writer) and have their young daughter with them. My No1 daughter lives in Ireland with her husband (Irish) and two children and is always close at hand. We were very proud of No1 daughter this year (not that we aren’t always proud her but were particularly so this year) because she completed a four-year, full time, honours degree and achieved a First. Wonderful. No1 son has just returned with his girlfriend (long term) after spending eight months in South America and is now living and working in Dublin. His girlfriend is from Dublin, centre city, and is another stimulating addition to the team.

And guess what? We all have opinions and generally are quite prepared to air them. This can lead to some very noisy, some might say loud, diverse discussions around the dinner table, or we maybe out walking or perhaps even in a pub! Marvellous!! However, what I really like is that nobody falls out; quite often the subjects being discussed can turn without warning to another, just as “important” topic; this can be a bit disorientating particularly if one was in earnest and in the middle of explaining a “good” point and people have moved on to something else just as interesting. I suppose to be fair, with so many around a table and maybe three topics on going, can lead to some confusion. What adds to the mix, is the grandchildren. Their demands can be insistent and make for the discussions getting somewhat disjointed.

Bearing all this in mind we hosted the whole team for a few days in July/August. It was really busy. Our house became what it must be like for communal living. We had a playroom/entertainment room, a kitchen dining area complete with a “relaxing area “but at times all the areas seem to meld into one. The twins still crawling, were like greased lightning the way they could move around the floors. It was like access all areas. Luckily everyone  seems to be so delighted to see each other that nothing seems to phase them. The noise level at times was quite extraordinary and yet we somehow all communicated. Much food and drink was consumed, sensibly of course, and much was discussed.

One discussion we had with No3 daughter was the possibilities of our visiting her in Sierra. Leone next year. Sounds like an adventure that this pensioner and his beloved will find hard to resist.

And then it was time for the planned trip to Kenmare and the Ring of Kerry. Our Canadian family had expressed an interest to visit and we all agreed it was such a good idea, sure, we might well as all tag along. Sadly, No3 daughter and family couldn’t make the trip, Africa and work called.

It was a great trip. The scenery was as good as it gets. Part of the Ring of Kerry is a road trip that is referred to as the Skelligs Expierence. It was stunning. For this trip we had chosen the right day; the weather was brilliant and the road wasn’t too busy. We visited Inch beach and what a beach it is. Even this old pensioner got his togs on and was able to mess with some of the grand kids in the sea. The waves were quite big too. It reminded me of times I spent on similar beaches in Devon with my children when they were young.

We included a visit to Dingle and on another day to the Muckross Estate and we also visited Killarney. I was hoping that our trip to Kerry would enable me to see a fairly rare bird called a chough. Wasn’t to be though, too many other things going on. Never mind perhaps another time.

Then the holiday was over and in no time at all myself and my beloved were left alone with an empty house. Everyone had packed their belongings and left. Just like that. It was so quiet. No loud chats, no little voices screeching for attention. No more discussions as to where or what we were going to do today. No more arguments about what we were going to watch on telly. Just quiet. Peaceful some might say but I don’t think so. It does seem overwhelming at times but I thrive on family events and this one was extended over a period of nearly six weeks. Me and my beloved are blessed with a big and healthy family. Me? Well, I’m already looking forward to the next time we can all meet up.  The trick, I suppose, is keeping fit and healthy and keeping your wits about you.

 

 

AHOY THERE! PENSIONERS ABOARD!

RTI 2016 1

Last Christmas I met up with a couple of pals of mine and over a pint or two we discussed the possibility of once again taking part in a boat race around the Isle of Wight (RTI). This is really a yacht race and one that we have competed in twice before and although it’s a long day, it’s good fun. So, bathed in the warmth and cosy atmosphere, together with the general bonhomie only a pub can generate, we decided to be competitors again.

The usual crew is the pal who owns the yacht, LOLA, his two sons, myself and another pal. This pal’s sailing experience had been limited to the RTI and generally in fair weather. However, he has quickly come to terms with the sails and ropes and how they work and he is also coping with the vagaries of wind, direction and strength. So that’s alright then.

We all met up in Cowes on Friday June 22nd and the mood was good. The weather conditions that were expected did have a hint of a challenge about them but that was tomorrow and anyway, the pal who owned LOLA, reckoned the predictions were always a little exaggerated for safety reasons. Yeah, of course, dead right, well said; no worries there then; so we settled down to watch Wales demolish Belgium in the Euros.

The waves began to lift LOLA and then at the crest of the wave she seemed to hurtle down the breaking wave and was literally surfing.”

On the day of the race the wind was blowing ominously rather strongly, whistling through the rigging in fact; however, we slipped our ropes and headed out for the start line. It looked like a lively time was ahead of us. As usual there were many yachts flying around the place trying to get in position and achieve a good start and there we were, in there, amongst them. In thecock pit was my pal who owned the boat, his No1 son, who was to be our tactician and at the start of the race No2 son was on helm. During the race they would share the helming duties. All the sail controls are in and around the cockpit area.

The first part of the race is a beat down to the Needles; myself and my other pal had the important job of ballast. Yep, we both were instructed to sit high on the gunnels to add weight to try and help flatten (that’s a laugh!) the boat for faster sailing. Then over the noise of the wind and sea, from the cockpit, a voice would bellow out “TACKING” and me and my fellow ballast had to leap, well perhaps carefully make our way, to the opposite gunnels. By tacking the boat would power around to a different direction, going from one steep angle to another and from a ballaster’s (my word) point of view it meant scurrying, climbing over LOLA and grabbing almost anything to hand, then quickly (yes, quickly and no smirking there) get into position. Once there, we sat and waited for our next order to tack. The view at the start and down to the Needles was amazing. So many yachts; and the atmosphere although serious, seemed fairly good-natured too.

We found out after the race that the wind down to the Needles was blowing at 35knots (that’s really windy) and south of the island the wind was blowing at 45knots (that’s really, really, OMG windy). We were told later one boat had sunk, a number had been de-masted and over three hundred had retired. WHAT!!

LOLA ploughed onwards towards the Needles with the weather, it seemed to me, deteriorating all the time. The wind was picking up and the waves were regularly breaking over LOLA’s bow and in the process soaking the poor hapless ballasters. Also, it rained quite hard for a while.

As we approached Hurst Point, the sea became very disturbed indeed, the size of the waves increased and it got extremely choppy and it all looked a bit daunting. I can understand now why a good number of yachts saw what was ahead and the skippers must have said “sod this” and decided to return to port, any port. LOLA though, with her hardy pensioners on board stuck with it and regardless of the weather conditions (perhaps not quite regardless, fingers crossed more like) sailed on. It had been a very wet and windy couple of hours but also very exhilarating. Our young crew had looked after us well.

Turning left at the Needles, the wind was now pretty much behind us and it’s quite usual to get a sense of quietness and a sort of calm prevails. For me the good news was no more soaking for us ballasters, our weight was now needed in the cockpit; it was important to have the bow (front) of the boat pointing high. The next hairy part of our race was starting.

RTI 2016

We thought it would be nice for hot drinks (out of the question, LOLA was rolling too much). Courageously, I think so anyway, I took the brave decision to go down below to find some coke (cans) and our usual pastries. No easy task for a chap of mature years, I can tell you. Anyway, we now had the tide with us and the sea, it seemed, pursuing us. The waves began to lift LOLA and then at the crest of the wave she seemed to hurtle down the breaking wave and was literally surfing. The helm had a right battle to try and keep LOLA from skewing around. Not always successful; the force of the waves and the wind would pull LOLA violently around so we were parallel to the waves. Not very comfortable for all on board and perilously too, there were always other yachts in the vicinity having similar difficulties. Powerful stuff and in football parlance, it was squeaky bum time.

But at last we rounded St. Catherine’s Point, which was about half way, and headed for Bembridge (to turn left again) and then for home. Sailing was a bit calmer now and I took over the helm for a while. It was still very windy but we were sort of in the lee of the island and it was more of a reach (this is where the wind blows over the side of a boat). Our last leg was long because the wind died somewhat and there was a strong tide against us. We finally arrived at the finish around 20.53, which was 10 hours 43 minutes on the water.

We were all very tired but we did it. We got half drowned at times, we were definitely wind swept and roughed up by the weather but it was great, really great. Very enjoyable and I’m sure LOLA loved it as much as three chaps of a certain age.

MUSINGS ON BIRDING

Birding is a fine interest for those who have retired. Lots of time to stand around and hopefully have patience for that special moment to arrive when a rare bird appears. However, sitting or standing around is quite tiring. I find my knees are not quite up to it and on occasions my back can give me a bit of grief. However, a chap just has to accept the old skeleton isn’t what it used to be.

Now, it has to be said I’m not a twitcher.

That’s to say, that I won’t travel from one end of the country to the other to tick off a bird I haven’t seen before. However, I am prepared to get up early and travel a little way to check out the possibility of seeing a rarity. Really though, it has to be a rarity; a chance perhaps, you won’t see another for a while to be worth the effort. Recently three birds have “appeared” that I thought I’d better check out.img005 (2)

There is a website that notes rare or interesting birds that have been seen in different parts of the country and if they have arrived locally it might be worth a look. However, there are a couple of problems to be aware of. One of course is, is it still around (the bird could have moved on or maybe it’s only passing through); and then there is the more important issue, would I recognise it if I saw it. Quite a lot of these rarities are lbj’s (little brown jobs) and really hard to identify. There is the bird’s song of course, which can be clear and obvious and if you have done your research, it can be a great help. Although frowned upon by birding experts, my back- up is to google the bird song in the field and see how it compares. Very useful. However, apparently, this action can disturb the birds; especially the males who are trying to protect and guard their area. Can be a bit disconcerting, I gather, for the birds. An interesting point here though is the maxim,” if you hear it, you’ve seen it” and if the bird can be correctly identified, it can be added to your tick off list. So it’s an important little tool. A note of warning though, there is a real need to keep the volume down on the mobile. It can be a little unnerving for the birds and birders I suppose, when in the studied silence of bird watching a quite loud ring tone of “smoke on the water” echoes around the group. Have to admit it was a tad awkward the other evening. A senior moment perhaps. But anyway, back to the three birds I was after……….

The first didn’t represent too much difficulty; it was a fairly big dark looking bird with a long curved beak and is called a Glossy Ibis.

A quick check in the ‘ole reference book for identification and the next morning, at 6.30, I was on site where it had last been seen and clocked it; piece of cake. This particular bird in-fact hung around for a number of days, so there was no real urgency. Nevertheless, you can never tell.

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Glossy ibis

The chase for the other two birds kind of came together. Someone had identified a bird called a Savi’s Warbler and the other a Bearded Readling (in old money to me, that would have been referred to as a Bearded Tit).

Both the birds would be considered rare enough but the Savi’s Warbler definitely edging it as being the rarer but both definately worth a bit of effort to try and see. It meant a drive down the coast and then a long trudge to the place they were last seen or heard. I had been told that an evening trip could be best, around about 7 o’clock or so.

The chase for the other two birds kind of came together. Someone had identified a bird called a Savi’s Warbler and the other a Bearded Readling (in old money to me, that would have been referred to as a Bearded Tit). Both the birds would be considered rare enough but the Savi’s Warbler definitely edging it as being the rarer but both definately worth a bit of effort to try and see. It meant a drive down the coast and then a long trudge to the place they were last seen or heard. I had been told that an evening trip could be best, around about 7 o’clock or so.

I decided not to take my scope, just the bins, after all both birds flit around a lot and a scope wouldn’t be much use and anyhow it can seem quite heavy after a while. I figured that it was likely I would only hear them anyway.

I had to walk alongside a railway track for quite a while and when I reached the spot, there were fourteen other birders there, all eagerly awaiting to see or more likely hear the birds. I was quite convinced we were going to be successful, after all I was with the experts. A couple more birds to add to my list. After about an hour and a half…. nothing. Not a dickie bird, as one smart alec remarked. Disappointingly after the trudge to the spot, I was beginning to feel a little weary. The knees and back were starting to play up but I really didn’t want to be the first to say sod this and go home, particularly after the ring tone incident earlier.

Bearded Tit
Bearded Tit

 

There were four or five chaps balancing precariously on a small corrugated roof of a small hut on the other side of the railway tracks; whilst the others were just mooching around, heads cocked to one side or other to hear better; all complete with telescopes, binoculars and I think recording equipment. When suddenly the evening express roared by blaring its horn. Gave me an awful start and put the wind up those hardy birders on the now quite shaky roof. There was a fair appoint of wobbling on the flimsy roof and clutching of each other. Quite funny really. Anyway, after all that racket I followed a couple birders heading back; they were muttering something about un-necessary noise, scaring the birds away, didn’t need to blast the horn etc. Mind you there was a pretty clear sign saying “DON’T CROSS THE TRACKS”. I did try again though, on my own the next day, in the afternoon. Met a lone birder there and my birding was over as soon as it began because he began to regale me with his past glories and sure, he said, there’s nothing here anyway (or words to that effect).

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Savi’s w

Right, one more time.

Up at dawn the next morning, took my scope with me and off I trudged again. Got to the spot. Put the scope standing and waited, and waited and waited and then the sky opened up; it began to rain rather hard and there was no cover; I got drenched. With my wet shoes squeaking and water dripping off the scope, water running down my neck, I thought there’s no doubt about it, sometimes birding is not for the faint hearted or perhaps the elderly. Go home, get a nice hot shower, cup of tea, perhaps a slice of toast and oh yeah don’t forget it’s Friday; wha hooo!!! pension day. Collect that later and then down the pub for a pint and a catch up.

MUSINGS ON MORE PENSIONER TRAVEL AND FAMILY GATHERINGS

Well that was fun. Still have it in me to party a bit. Mi amado and i had quite a busy couple of months of travel. Over the years of living in Ireland travel has been very much part of our life. The travelling life was further ramped up by the purchase of an apartment in Spain some years ago. there was also a great period of travelling when my eldest daughter was working as cabin crew with Virgin. I was dead chuffed being given the opportunity to travel first class to far flung places as a guest of the airline. Now retirement has given me quite a bit of freedom to continue and expand this way of life. However, we have to accept though, that at the moment mi amado is still hampered by the responsibility of the working life but it’s also true to say she manages very well I think.

So the months of March and April were very busy for us, travelling. As already referred to in an earlier blog, mi amado  spent a few weeks in Peru; we also have just celebrated our Ruby wedding anniversary with an extended week-end break in Bruxelles. this was a gift from our children. We have also just completed another trip to England, this time to party with friends we have known for many, many years. There were 15 of us at the bash. Mi amado and I drove over; this was so that we could continue on to London to visit daughter No 2 and her family. I stayed on an extra few days so that I might celebrate my Mum’s birthday with her. She was 94 and in great form.

I haven’t found all this travelling too demanding but I am looking forward to a slightly less busy time by being at home. It is true there are one or two issues that are a tad stressful at the moment, but I’m hopeful this year might see an end to them.

I also had an enjoyable couple of days wandering around bird sanctuaries. The first one I visited was called Stockers Lake in Rickmansworth and is run and looked after by volunteers and the other is in Otmoor, Oxfordshire and is run by the RSPB. Both trips entailed a fair bit of walking and lugging around of a not too light telescope and tripod. I really enjoyed it though and it’s great that these areas exist for the public to enjoy.

One of my friends is a volunteer at Stockers. He retired a couple of years before me and when he was asked to lend a hand, he was very happy to do so. Now it has to be said he is a great DIY man. I think he always was. He showed me some of the work he had done at Stockers and it was pretty impressive. Although impressed, I knew that it was something I had no interest in and wouldn’t volunteer for.

 

I don’t enjoy DIY. I can paint and wallpaper alright but he gets involved with stuff that needs expertise and patience. At his home he is in the throes of building a summer house in the middle of his garden. It’s a steep garden too! It is a longish project but all the same it has taken some effort. It has got me thinking though about what I might be able to achieve in my garden. No sniggering at the back there. All I need is a plan. I’m thinking more on the lines of a “natural garden”. More of that anon.

Talking about plans, mi amado and I are starting to get our preparations in hand for our visitors in the summer; July/ August. We are going to have all our family here, grandchildren included, plus in-laws from Canada. hopefully, all going well, we will have 12-14 people staying over and possibly 20 of us partying over a couple of days; should be great fun and I am really looking forward to that. I love having my family around me. That experience will be for over a week or so and then we are all off to Kerry for a week. My no 2 daughter has booked two houses for us all to fit in. Our Canadian in-laws have been to Ireland before and enjoyed the east coast and Dublin. Now it’s to be Kerry but particularly The Ring of Kerry. Looking forward to it. I know Kerry quite well. I have done a bit of hill walking in the area and mi amado and I have spent a few days in Killarney. The worry about this part of Ireland is the weather. It is on the Atlantic sea board and it can be brutal but it can also be absolutely stunning. So fingers crossed. Sometimes I feel just the luckiest chap. So now what’s next.

Well it’s not next but before. One of my friends lives near Weymouth and has a really nice boat and for the last couple of years we have sailed in the Round the Island Race (Isle of Wight). The race takes place at the beginning of July. It’s the biggest race in the world of sailing. Sometimes over a thousand boats take part. There will be three of us with my pals two sons, who are very competent sailors. We have two days sail to Cowes and then a few days sailing in the Solent after the race. No complaints there then. As an aside this area of the South Coast of England is great for birding and has the potential for some rarities; so the bird numbers may increase.

My plan then is to visit my brother, who lives in the area, and afterwards travel up to Henley to stay with No2 daughter who has just moved into quite a big house. It seems she will need it. Hopefully, my No3 daughter and family will back from Sierra Leone and staying with No2 daughter. Mi amado should also be there with No1 daughter and her family. My, talk about happy families. Although my son should just be back from his travels around that time, I wouldn’t think it would be likely for him to be in Henley too; we’ll see him when we get back to Ireland.

So let’s see… I’ve not spent too much time on a bike. I suppose that fall I had earlier in my retirement hasn’t helped but I might go for a cycle today. I was sailing yesterday and I’m a little stiff. I’m also disappointed that I have not kept up the piano but it’s been a busy time and now the weather is improving……….!

At the moment we are trying to wade our way through years of collecting (not throwing away) children and family mementos and disposing of them. Can be quite an emotional Journey as the years roll back and the two of us sitting here together, on our own, deciding what to dump. But that was the past and now we are looking forward to the future and hope it will be as memorable.

Time is Money!

I was talking to a friend the other evening regarding a mutual friend who it seems is starting to show their age a bit. Now this is quite understandable as this person is well into their 70’s; but the discussion ended with the remark that, well after all, 76 years is old. Now, frankly, I find that a tad disappointing. It would appear that this particular person has started getting forgetful, repeating questions and not going out so much. On a personnel level, as far as being forgetful or repeating questions etc is concerned, just talk to mia amado , I have had those issues for years. Most of us chaps, perhaps sitting around having a pint, will often repeat stories or adventures we’ve had or heard about. These tales will often commence by the storyteller saying “stop me if you’ve heard this one before” and continuing no matter what the response maybe from the listeners. We all do it I suppose and I fear as we get older it’s gets worse. This is particularly the case if a new member joins the crowd. Always an excuse to dredge up old stories; but no harm really I think in hearing stories again. It can be quite entertaining because stories always appear to be somewhat embellished the more they are recalled. However, this reminded me about another conversation I had recently, this time with regard to pensions. As can be imagined, this is a subject close to the heart of most people of a certain age. The question was, how much money do you need to see you through your retirement years. Well, I wondered, how much do you need? But how can you know what you need? I know this depends on how long you would like to live but how do you know how long that will be? It also seems to me, it depends on what you intend to do in the time you have left and more importantly, what health you hope to have in the future. Do you spend your retirement funds cautiously with perhaps a measured amount of abandon in the early years of retirement and hope for the best or batten down the hatches straight away and spend as little as possible, because you believe you are going to have along life and you’ll need money for any care you might need? I don’t think extreme caution appeals to me. It’s not possible really to come to a sensible conclusion and probably depends on how you have lived your life to date. The key I suppose is to be careful but perhaps not look too far ahead. Having been self-employed most of my working life, usually working off various overdrafts, it’s not difficult for me to be a little unconventional when handling money issues. When you are always waiting for payment of outstanding fees and believing that everything will be ok in the end, it does become a way of life and for me one that I still tend to follow. Generally, this approach to all things pecuniary has worked for me. Ahem!!

So anyway, as I have mentioned before, we do have a number of plans in the offing and I am coming to realize more and more that time is a real issue. This means, I reckon in our case, more funds need to be allocated now rather than later. This is a view I am sure applies to a lot of pensioners but then not everybody has family and friends that live in far flung places, slightly exaggerated, and whose lives have been blessed with grandchildren, who we love to visit. While our health is good and we can manage the travelling aspect this is a good thing. It does offer perhaps, for me anyway, the possibility of a fuller and more interesting life. There is no doubt about it, mia amado and I love to travel. For us, airports have always had a sense of adventure about them. After all, if you weren’t there to collect someone, ipso facto, you must be going somewhere. Right!

So to conclude this little epistle, mia amado and I are preparing to head off on our next adventure. We are going to Peru and we are going for three weeks. By the by, some years ago I went travelling with No3 daughter and husband trekking, perhaps too strong a word, through Patagonia and to Terra del Fuego. I loved the experience. We used hostels then and I have managed to convince mia amado to go hostelling for this trip. We are going to meet our son there. It seems he has varied his accommodation experiences quite a lot. He tells us that he has used Airbnb, hostels, something called couch surfing and he has even taken up invitations to stay with people met on his travels, who have kindly offered him a room in their homes for a couple of days. Hmmm, well, I think we will settle with hostels and the odd hotel. Yes, I think that’s best. We have not done too much pre- planning but we have some issues to sort out. We are wondering what bags to use. Well I’m happy to use a back pack but mia amado is troubled by such a load on her back, She’s wondering whether a trolley bag might be preferable. She’s probably right. However, my experience in Argentina showed me that a back pack was better. It was that sometimes, the surfaces you dragged the bag over wasn’t great for a trolley.

Anyway, generally, I have tried to keep up the swimming; twice a week, 14 lengths a visit. Not got on a bike since my little accident. More due to the poor weather conditions rather than being a concerned pensioner; honest. I have done a fair amount of walking, which is good. My bird numbers continue to rise. I have now identified 101. Peru should up the numbers. I have my field guide” Birds of Peru” in my bag; and quite a heavy tome it is too.