A bit tired, a bit down – winter is coming…

No apologies for the length of time it’s taken to update the website; I’m not even sure anyone reads it anymore! Been a busy time including several weeks of a downer, which I’m happy to say I’m coming out of quite nicely now. So happenins has been the last thing on my mind, frankly. But there have been happenins! Read on…

Last post, I spoke of my Three Peaks adventure, which my sister Kathy joined me on. It was a laugh, but quite tiring as usual – and I had to cry off the Scafell Pike climb due to a recurrence of the old familiar knee problem. But it wasn’t as bad as last year’s, which proves that my gym sessions have had some effect. Must go back to the gym one of these days…

Our hire car for the Peaks wasn’t available on the day, so they upgraded us to a Nissan X-Trail. Much to my horror, but it actually turned out to be a brilliant car! My take on 4x4s has forever been subtly altered. So the driving was pretty good, apart from the twisty bits around the Lake District which threw it slightly out of shape – but again, not as much as anticipated. All good.

Driving up to Ben Nevis, we encountered the prelude to the Scottish weather when we hit downpours the far side of Glasgow and discovered the joys of aquaplaning on a dual carriageway while the windscreen was obscured by a tidal wave thrown up by the wheels. Only for a couple of seconds, but quite scary. Arriving at Fort William, we were a little nonplussed to see that cloud cover was at about 2-300 metres, and all we could do was hope for a better day on the morrow.

Fat chance. The day dawned cloudy and grey, but dry. We set off up the path, and within an hour were engulfed in cloud. Meanwhile, the wind gusted up to 40mph and rain trickled. On the latter part of the climb, what this meant was climbing up the path in one direction with the wind at our backs, then turning for the next section with wind in our faces. Driving stinging rain into them. Nice. We got there in the end, though, and could barely see a thing. So back down, escorting one of our Three Peakers who ended up injuring her knee and limping to the finish in a melancholy state – I firmly advised her not to trek the following day. But Kathy bounced up and down the mountain, and wasn’t at all deterred by the complete and utter lack of scenery – something that bitterly disappointed me. To be honest, I can’t see the point of climbing it if you can’t see what you’re climbing above – unless of course it’s your first time, and that’s where the challenge lies. So fair play to the crew who all made it up and down; you’ve done Nevis!

I sat out Scafell Pike, as I say, and spent the morning in the hostel with a couple of the ladies who were suffering with injuries from Nevis. The crew made it up and down in better conditions than the previous day, although the winds were quite stiff at the top. On we went to Snowdon, and finally – a clear day! This time I went for it and got into my stride, barging to the top before almost everyone else. A quick cuppa at the visitors’ centre at the top, then back down. The skies cleared, and I got some decent photos on the way down – and this time, I didn’t need to resort to the mountain railway. Another victory. So overall, it was a good trip – Kathy did all three mountains and loved it, and I managed two of them. I swore I wouldn’t do the Three Peaks again, but as time goes by and the memories fade, I think maybe, just maybe….

So on to September, and my birthday present from Fiona: a business-class trip to New York, and my first ever trip to the US! I have to say, NY is a cracking city, and I wouldn’t mind going there again – but I think I’ve been spoiled by the business-class side of it. Now I’m not sure if I’ll be able to fly economy for seven hours, having experienced the luxury of the lie-flat seat. We stayed in Manhattan and did the full-on tourist trail, starting with a trip to the top of the Rockefeller Centre to take snaps of the skyline by sunset. Very cool. The following day was the downtown bus tour, narrated by a sardonic tour guide who kept us all entertained as well as educating us on the history and architecture of the city. The uptown tour was the next day after that. We got some shopping in; I bought jeans and trainers (what else!), while Fi stocked up on all her high-fashion items. We dined at Gordon Ramsay’s place, Maze at the London NYC, which was pretty cool. The hotel we stayed in had an executive lounge, which pretty much meant breakfast and lunch were catered for as well as evening drinks before going out – excellent stuff! We were ferried from the airport to the hotel and back again by an excellent chauffeur service, and the whole experience was superb. Needless to say, I took a multitude of photographs, and at some point I’ll upload them to the gallery – promise!

Back to the UK, and the depression that had been gathering over the previous couple of weeks dropped onto me. Added to which I acquired a dose of some kind of cold/virus/man-flu that laid me low for a couple of weeks. So I wasn’t a happy bunny throughout September; meeting up with my good pal Julien, he diagnosed me as clinically depressed. Which didn’t exactly cheer me up, but somehow put a focus onto it and pointed me in the direction of the exit. So I’m in much better shape now, and can only attribute the downer to a modicum of pre-natal stress. Which guys get too, you know – honest!

Meanwhile, I’ve been introduced to the trauma that is the weekly NCT class. This is where men are dragged in various states of unwillingness by their partners, to learn in excruciating detail what childbirth and the final stages of pregnancy are all about. In fairness, I’m reasonably well-educated in all of this, but occasionally I’ll learn something interesting that keeps me awake. So it must be worth it. Only three weeks of it to go now – I’m counting the minutes.

Last weekend we went to our friends Vikki and Jon’s post-wedding party in Norwich – they got married in Las Vegas, so they decided to have a ‘wedding lite’ in the UK. And a good night was had, with a hog roast laid on and casino tables around the room to recreate the Vegas vibe. I actually managed not to get totally plastered (I must be growing up!), so a good night as well as a good morning after were had. I see my future, and it’s largely sober…

So we’re into the last 8-9 weeks of expecting, after which it’ll be actual and ongoing. I’m looking forward to meeting the little mite that’s been kicking seven shades of sh** out of her mother’s insides for the past month or so, and no doubt I’ll be getting my fair share then. Our neighbour across the street, Louise, popped in last week with her baby boy Callum, and I had a chance to practice delicately holding him (only 5 weeks, at this stage!). As with all these things, initially scary – but then he fell asleep on my shoulder, so that’s all good then. If the same trick works with our version, I can see that shoulder being much in demand!

So enough chatting; there’s work to be done and I’ve got to do it. Chat to y’all soon, no doubt.

We apologise for the delay…

Bit of a long lay-off there – last post was after the Samos holiday! Phew… Well, there have been happenins since then, so don’t worry – I’m still alive!

So what’s been happenin’ with me? Well, July was a quietish month, with highlights at both ends. The beginning of the month marked my first ever visit to Wimbledon for the quarter finals, to watch Andy Murray and Roger Federer do their stuff. Given that I lived in Wimbledon years ago, it seems a tad bizarre that I never visited the tennis, but then I wasn’t especially interested. Not that I’m an avid fan now, but the attraction of Centre Court debenture tickets (courtesy of Fi’s boss, who has a batch of them every year) was too much to resist. And I learned a bit about tennis, and enjoyed myself immensely. Although the sun was shining directly onto our side of the court and the heat was intense – we had to extricate ourselves and go back to the bar to dry out in between matches!

The rest of the month was a mass of baby-related stuff, which I guess is practice for the experience of parenthood proper – i.e. no personal time or space whatsoever. That said, I’m very much looking forward to the wee mite’s arrival – and I guess (s)he is too, given the amount of break-dancing going on in Fi’s tummy over the past couple of weeks! When I heard about the phenomenon before, I thought it was the occasional ‘kick’ – but this one is getting on down, spinning around and generally boogying the night away. Very excitable – no doubt we’ll have plenty of sleepless nights from December onwards… πŸ™‚

All this prospective parental stuff is sometimes a little overwhelming, to be honest. I suspect I’m finding myself in the same boat as any expectant father – certainly in the current day and age, where it’s no longer just the mother’s job to raise and look after the kids. Now, Dad has to be just as involved. And that raises questions: am I responsible enough? There are many more, but that one looms large. I guess this is the only way to find out; once the ball is set rolling, les jeux sont fait, as the roulette croupiers would say in the movies. And then I’ll find out what I’m made of. I hope I’m up to it!

End of July was our visit to France; what has become an annual ‘road trip’ event. This one was a little more stressful than last year’s, partly because it didn’t have the novelty value. And also partly because I opted to follow our Garmin sat-nav blindly via Paris. I realised the error of my ways as we were sitting in traffic on the north bank of the Seine, heading for La DΓ©fense – ‘something’s gone wrong here’, I thought. So some extra time got knocked on to our trip as a result. Still, we arrived in Plaisance to a warm welcome, sunny weather and a fine meal. All worthwhile. The following day we stocked up on wine and goodies to bring home with us, then settled in to a routine of lazing by (and dipping into) the pool. I love visiting there; the welcome is always wonderful, the neighbours friendly, the wine fine and the weather (mostly) excellent. Saturday night saw something like a month’s rainfall, which diluted the fun slightly, but such is life. Returning to the Eurotunnel, we went the far less taxing route through Dreux, Evreux and Rouen – and arrived an hour and a half before our train was scheduled. So we caught an early train, and got home in time to catch Waitrose for some essentials – winners all round…

But the exhaustion of a trip like that had me sleeping like a stone on Monday night. I don’t think we’ll be doing that trip for another year, he he. But this weekend sees another visit happening – this time to Westport in the west of Ireland, to visit my brother, his girlfriend and whatever members of my family will be able to make the trip. Then next weekend I’ve got the Three Peaks event again – up at the crack of dawn Friday to drive to Fort William, only returning Monday evening after doing Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon – knackered again! I’ll be travelling sans femme, unhappily – Fi’s chilling and enjoying her space here. But my sis Kathy is coming over from Ireland to join me for it, which should be a lot of fun. We’re looking at a posse of 25 or more this year, so should be a good crowd. Here’s hoping my knees hold up this time!

My mate Ben and his lovely wife Brooke are over from Australia visiting just now; hopefully I’ll get to meet them before they go back. They fly out on the Friday I head for Fort William, so time is limited. Fingers crossed we get something sorted; it’s a little rough only catching up with him for a few hours each year, but worse again not to catch up at all! We’ll get something sorted. Tentative plans are afoot to head to Australia with youngster in tow, probably in 2011 – we’ll see how that pans out.

Right now, Synthetix-wise, I’m working hard on our new product offering: an intelligent FAQ system which should find the answer you’re looking for on a website WITHOUT having to trawl through a never-ending list of them. Hopefully we’ll have something to roll out in the coming months; watch this space.

And for now, I’ll sign off. Happenins out.

Tanned and relaxed – then back to work

Well, Samos was a delightful time. Great people, great weather, great food, great pace of life – always a pleasure. We didn’t actually get up to much, eschewing the usual ‘hire a car and see the sights’ model in favour of a ‘lie by the pool and take the occasional dip’ philosophy. And it seemed to work quite nicely – I’m not sure I’ll be able to do an active holiday again! Nah, just kidding… πŸ™‚

Back home, we’re plunged into home repair chaos. Tiling the kitchen didn’t work out, as the floor underneath just won’t support tiles – so a new timber floor is in order. And at the time of writing, the entire downstairs of the house is being refloored – hope it’s worth it. And I hope it doesn’t take too long; I’ve been displaced from my office and right now I’m working on a laptop in the spare bedroom. Not the most comfy working environment….

Last post, I mentioned “other happenins” – well, I think I can put you out of your misery and reveal what’s been going on here. I’m going to be a dad! Yes, me. Despite my pal Julien’s protestations that I’m banned by law from procreating, somehow this little one slipped through the net. Fi is almost at 17 weeks, and in excellent health. And in a few weeks’ time we’ll find out if it’s a boy or a girl. So we’ll have lots of fun adjusting the spare room for baby habitation – not to mention the oodles of space children seem to require! But we’re very much looking forward to it – it’ll be a whole new experience. And I’m getting used to the dire predictions of some people who are already parents, regarding loss of any kind of spare time and personal space… πŸ™‚

Meanwhile, the first impact is that I won’t be having a big old 40th birthday celebration as planned; with it being less than a fortnight before baby’s projected arrival, I’ll have to postpone it – maybe have a big ol’ 41st. Or something. If I come up with any ideas, I’ll be sure to let you all know.

Well, not a lot else to report; hoping to break out the barbecque once the dust has settled here, and looking forward to a long hot summer. And especially when we do our road trip to France in July. Mmmmmm, sun & wine…

No offence, but…

It occurred to me some time ago, that offence is far more often taken than given. It’s a strange phenomenon, where normally rational people will react to an innocuous remark with “what are you trying to say?”. Probably just what was said, but never mind. And in recent times, a new phenomenon has grown up in the politically-correct arena, where people will take offence on behalf of other people or groups of people, even if it’s not relevant to them personally. Quite bizarre…

But that has nothing to do with anything happening to me – it’s just a thought. Right now, there’s a huge row going on about parliamentary expense accounts, and since it shows no sign of abating, no doubt a few sacrificial heads will roll. And all because “the people” are offended. I suspect that whatever measures are taken as the MPs retreat to their well-appointed bunkers, everyone’s still going to be very angry. And this will all be shown in a nationwide protest vote at the local and EU elections next month. I suspect a revival in fortunes for the Monster Raving Loony Party, if they have any candidates left. Otherwise, ‘None of the Above’ has my vote.

And on that topic, my postal vote form has just arrived! In the local elections, candidates for Liberal Democrats, Labour, Conservatives, BNP (yuk!) and English Democrats (“Putting England first”) – oh joy. And no ‘None of the Above’ option – hmmmmm, a spoiled vote? Not sure that’s a good way to go. The cast for the European elections is far greater, and I’m sure this is due in part to the handsome expenses and perks MEPs enjoy. Cynical? Moi? The Jury Team looks interesting, though – a political ‘party’ made up by grouping together independent candidates with the same ideas. Kinda makes sense. The full list goes BNP, Christian Party “Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship”, Conservative, English Democrats, Jury Team, Liberal Democrats, No2EU, Libertas, Socialist Labour Party (!), Green Party, Labour, Peace Party, Roman Party (but what have they ever done for us?!), UK First, UKIP. Frankly, it’s not a promising menu, is it?

For my money, The UK Libertarian Party might be worth a punt – they’ve got some interesting ideas. Except they’re not fielding any candidates just now, preferring to wait for the big one (currently hotly tipped for October 2009 – we’ll see).

Meanwhile, far from the madding politicians life continues apace. I’m alternately looking forward to a chillin’ week dangling my toes in the Aegean – and shuddering in anticipation of Thomson’s inevitable cock-up with the arrangements. Fingers crossed it’ll be OK; at least it won’t be as bad as the shambolic return flight from Cape Verde, where the plane was too small to store the supplies required to cater for a 5-hour flight, and had too few toilets for the number of passengers. Complaints got us nowhere, mind you. Gits.

Since last post (11th of March – shocking!) we’ve been home to visit my family, which was cool. We bucked the prevailing trend by all being in the same spot at once – that’s twice in the space of 12 months (counting the wedding, of course)! We really should see each other more often… πŸ™‚

And now it’s on with the work. Various happenings here and there, but I’ll talk about those next time. Maybe.

You’ll just have to pop back and see. If you’re still there, that is.


High-revving fun

Had me a fun weekend, driving up to Kenilworth in Warwickshire to jump into an Aston Martin V8 and thrash it around a race track. And what fun it was…

The ‘Aston Martin Thrill’ was courtesy of my lovely wife Fiona; she bought it for me as a surprise birthday present last year, and I finally got around to booking a date for it. They had various venues on offer, most of them way up north. I didn’t really fancy driving 250 miles to then do some more driving, so I tried the Oxfordshire track. Couldn’t get the dates I wanted, so I plumped for the slightly-more-distant Warwickshire one. And early on Saturday morning we jumped in the car and headed north.

Arriving at the circuit, we found that it was a bit more basic than expected: the ‘hospitality suite’ was a portakabin, with portaloos outside. But the main point of the event was ranged outside on the pit lane: three Lamborghinis, a Ferrari, two Aston Martins, an Audi R8 and an Ariel Atom. While waiting for the drive itself, I got to have an introductory lap in a Subaru; the driver pointed out the apex cones at each corner, and advised on the lines to take. Then it was back to the centre to wait for the actual drive.

My turn came, and I got the Aston Martin V8 convertible – with the top down. It was a pretty grey and chilly day, so I wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy it, but it turned out fine. The instructor took me through a few basic points including using the paddle gearshifts, and off we went. The first lap was OK; more of an acclimatisation lap, really – then on the second lap I floored it and started really enjoying myself. I nudged over 100mph on the straight, then the corners took all my attention. Slightly dodgy on my apexes to begin with, I was getting smoother by the time I finished (3 laps and it was over!) – I could have done another 20 laps and been quicker on each one. All the while, that beautiful exhaust note was howling in my ears – but even at 100mph there was little air disturbance in the driver’s cabin to ruffle the experience.

And what an experience it was. Howling down the straights, tucking into the corners and feeling the tyres and suspension digging in and doing their work perfectly – I didn’t have very much time to appreciate the finer points of the interior. Fast, furious and fun – I would LOVE to own one of these cars, but I think parking it outside my terraced house in Dartford might be an invitation to all kinds of misery!

In the end, I got a certificate (as y’do); the instructor gave my driving a 90% score, which was quite gratifying. I eschewed the professional photograph, opting instead to go for Fi’s trackside shots – besides, at Β£25 it was a bit of a rip-off. To finish the day, I had a fast lap in a BMW M3 with a guy who could have given the Stig a run for his money – he hit 115mph on the straight, which put my efforts into perspective! πŸ™‚

All in all, terrific fun at a price. Would I do it again? Yes, I think so – driving an Aston was too good a chance to pass up, and I’d love to give it another go. I’m saving up….

Fun on the slopes; a long lurgy

Not long back from my latest trip to the slopes for snowboarding fun: Andorra once again, and it was a blast, my horribly persistent lurgy notwithstanding. The trip was characterised mostly by being my nephew Caelum’s first outing on the slopes, and all indications are that he’s hooked – already talking about next year’s trip (maybe…?). Another snowboarder on the slopes – I fear skiers everywhere are groaning in disgust!

But back to my lurgy, briefly. About a week before the ski trip, I developed a tickly cough, which was troublesome as it kept me awake that night. By the following day it had developed into a sore throat. Uh-oh, I thought, I think I know where this is going – having suffered enormously from chest infections in the past, this progression was horribly familiar. Sure enough, the following day it had shifted down to my upper chest, and I feared the worst. So a trip to the doctor it was, in anticipation of an antibiotic prescription and a moratorium on any alcoholic enjoyment for the holiday.

However, the GP checked my temperature, listened to my lungs and pronounced all normal and airways clear. His prescription? A combination of high-strength paracetamol and ibuprofen, for as long as it took to fix me. Fair enough – I don’t like taking antibiotics anyway. He told me it was probably some kind of virus: “there’s a lot of it about” he said, without a hint of irony…

A great holiday in Andorra ensued, with Caelum having a shaky start and finishing the week going lickety-spit down the slopes – certainly better developed than I was on my first week. But he has the advantage of youth, I console myself. Not that I’m a rickety OAP myself, just a little less flexible and a lot less fearless than my 13 year-old nephew. Such is life.

My brother Paul, for his part was a quick study on the skis – another relatively fearless individual. By the end of the week, he was improvising parallel turns and almost nailing it – respect! So best beginning skier award went to Paul. I think I was still a contender for the “best wipeout” award, despite my nephews’ attempts to fashion some good tumbles. At one point, I had to limp to the bottom and get a coffee, just for an excuse not to go out and have those horrible slopes attack me again… πŸ™‚

As to the virus, I managed to get horrendous earache on the descent into Toulouse, and on the transfer up into the mountains went half deaf from sinus issues. And so it was for the week, with streaming nose, frequent sneezes and coughs – and the usual bruises (but a lot fewer of those this year!). Of course, I was feeling a little better halfway into the week, so was less diligent about taking my medicine – and paid for it by the end of the holiday. On returning home, I was almost as bad as when I’d left. And now, 10 days after returning, I’m feeling that the virus has run its course. More fresh fruit for me, I think!

So back to work, and it’s a refreshing mix of mainly good news – we’ll be in business for the foreseeable, by the looks of things. The economy limps on, with the list of casualties mounting daily. And the government busies itself trying to distract the electorate with stories such as Fred Goodwin’s pension (the issue du jour) – now they’re talking about acts of parliament to claw the pension back from him. For my part, I think it’s a slippery slope and I hope they don’t pull it off. Things are bad enough without such a precedent.

Anyway, enough political whingeing; go check out the ski pics in the gallery, if you’re interested. And if not, pop back in a few more months, when I might have posted something new!


To run a mile (or three)

I was feeling quite chuffed with myself on Sunday. I’d just run 5 Km to raise a couple of quid for charity, despite my prior certainty that I’d be walking most of it…

It all began a few weeks ago – well, it began earlier this year, but more of that later. My mate and business colleague Pete phoned up and asked me if I fancied a 5K run for charity; he’d been roped in and was looking for a little moral support. So I said I’d think about it, and think about it I did. Until about 10 days before the run itself, when I went and signed up for it. No turning back now.

So I supplemented my gym visits with half-hour sessions on the treadmill in the evenings, running and walking in intervals, and getting my fitness up to some sort of decent level. And I came away with the impression that I could do the 5K in about 45 minutes, give or take – my 30-minute sessions were yielding about 3.3-3.5K, so I figured that was a good calculation.

I say ‘supplemented’ because I’d been working with a personal trainer since about March this year, with noticeable improvements in terms of ‘spare tyre’ size. Fiona certainly noticed the improvements, even if they weren’t immediately obvious to me. And I suppose I recognised improvements in general fitness too – although I still wasn’t convinced that a 5K run was going to be particularly easy. My trainer, Mark, had been working to a deliberately random strategy, mixing up the workouts so that my body never got used to what was being asked of it. And I suppose I’d been avoiding testing myself on the basis that I wasn’t confident that the results would be all that good. Still, I was managing a bit on the treadmill, so I was pretty sure I’d finish the event, at the very least.

It might be tempting to suppose that I’m being weedy about such an event (after all, it’s *only* 5 kilometres!), but looking at where I’ve come from might make it easier to understand. Three years ago, I was pretty overweight, unfit, unhealthy, suffering with various MS symptoms and not particularly motivated. And no way would I have contemplated running anywhere – apart from my philosophy of never running for buses or trains because there will always be another one, I wasn’t able to run more than about 50 yards! And I think I lost sight of that when it came to it, estimating my progress by looking at the super-fit guys at the gym. But I think I’ve come a long way, and here’s how I came to that conclusion.

Turning up at the event on the day, I was tired and a teeny bit hungover from a couple of glasses of wine the night before. Self-inflicted injury, so no sympathy deserved. But I wasn’t feeling fit, and I wasn’t feeling like running at all. Anyway, I signed in, got my Santa outfit, and clambered into what was to be my 100% polyester shell-suit for the 5K run. The pictures were hilarious, but I was sweating before I took a single step. There was a good-sized crowd there, including Pete, his friend Leighsa and a few of the guys from the 3 Peaks event we did at the end of August: Dave, Dan, Cathy and Shaun – the latter being a serious fitness freak. Dave, on the other hand, broke his back in an accident a while ago, so double respect for him. Not only climbing the three peaks (where I failed because of my knees), but now running in a 5K event. Wow…

So off we went, our group towards the back of the pack, and I found the going a little slow for me. Don’t get me wrong; I just can’t jog slowly – it wears me out! So I pulled out into the road and ran ahead a bit, fully expecting Pete et al to overtake me laughing any minute. But it didn’t happen. Needless to say, Shaun and Cathy were out in front, and I didn’t expect to see them at all. I ran as long as I could (overtaking Cathy!), then slowed to a walk – when Cathy ran by me again. And so it was to be, she a little way ahead of me as I ran, then walked, ran and walked. Coming around the second-to-last corner, I ran again – this time deciding that I was not going to stop until I hit the finish line. I overtook Cathy just before the last corner, and ran all the way. And ran past Fiona, who was waiting just before the finish line and NOT expecting to see me so soon!

And I finished ahead of Cathy, Pete, Leighsa, et al. Which is bizarre! Shaun, on the other hand, finished way ahead of me, in a 20-minute blast. Phew!

In the end, I did the run in a little over 28 minutes. Which surprised the hell out of me, not to mention Fiona, Pete and Leighsa (who’s a bit of a fitness bunny herself). I think that Cathy was quite surprised too, given that I hadn’t completed the three peaks and she and Shaun had! None more surprised than I, however. Former lardy git runs 5 kilometres and doesn’t die – now there’s a headline for you. Fi was inordinately proud of me – and when you think that when we first ran together I was only able to manage hundred-yard stints before lapsing to a gasping walk. And I have to give credit where it’s due: she’s the one that got me working with a personal trainer, which made the world of difference.

Oh, but I ached. A bath on Sunday evening helped only slightly, to the extent that I was still aching on Tuesday when I went back to Mark and thanked him for the good work. “10 kilometres next”, was all he said (smug git!) – and then put me through a workout of rowing (1000m – a new record of 3:57.4), deadlifts, kettle bell swings, barbell squats, dumbbell presses and sprints before I finally collapsed. You see what I have to contend with?? πŸ™‚

And today I ache even more. But I suppose it’s a good ache; it means I’m improving. And that, I suppose is the point. I like improving, and I like the feeling of achievement. So I’ll be working with Mark for a while yet.

If you feel like sponsoring me, go to www.justgiving.com/alancunnane – apparently they’ll take donations until March!

Finally, I think that Mark’s website deserves a mention. Maybe he’ll go a bit easier on me in our next session… πŸ™‚

Normal service is resumed

Just had a relaxing few days in Palma de Mallorca, which was cool. Weather was gorgeous when the sun was out, but a little on the cold side when it wasn’t – and on my birthday it lashed down. Lovely. Meanwhile, Fi had managed to contract a fairly nasty cold, so we that inhibited us slightly – but we got around and saw the sights, drank the coffee (and wine!), ate loads of tapas and admired the huge yachts moored in the harbour. And the sun came out to send us off. All good…

For now, I’ll leave it with you. I’ll post more when I’m moved to do so. Thanks to all who wished me a happy birthday; no party this year, but I’ll make up for it next year, I promise! Take it easy in the meantime.

3 Peaks up, 3 Peaks down

Yep – I made it! I trudged up Ben Nevis and knackered my knees on the way down. I managed about half a mile of Scafell Pike before having to turn back, and expected the same result with Snowdon – but got quite close to the top of that final peak. And then got the Snowdon Mountain Railway down, as my knees couldn’t take the descent. Have to have these knees seen to, really!

My hire car was a Chrysler Sebring 2.0 diesel, and to be honest I wasn’t particularly enamoured of it on first acquaintance. But over the 1300(ish) miles that followed, I grew to quite like the big ol’ bus. Slow to pick up, as most diesels are, but once it realised I had my foot to the floor it would lunge forward with vigour – surprisingly quick, as it goes. And not too bad on diesel, although I didn’t work out the actual mileage. It had gadgets and gizmos galore, but I couldn’t be bothered playing with them – once I’d sorted the climate control, the cruise control and the MP3/CD player, I was happy. And it was time to go.

The weekend began on Friday morning early, when I picked up my first passenger Jase at Dartford station at 7:10 AM. I’d risen at 6, to hear traffic reports of an M25 closure – right where I was going. Bugger. But by 7 it had cleared, so we were off. Up to Sheffield to pick up my second passenger Anju, and we soon had a great conversation going in the car. To be honest, the journey would have been a whole lot longer without them – cheers, guys! Arriving shortly before 6pm at the hostel, there was just time for a quick drink then off to the Alexandra Hotel for our group’s briefing.

Given that we were expecting a reasonably hefty attrition rate on the number of people who booked (26!), we ended up with a healthy 23. Everyone was briefed on what to expect, t-shirts were handed out and everyone headed to their respective accommodation for a nightcap. Exhausted, I tumbled into my bunk and slept quite well until 6am – then it was time to get up and go fetch Jase and Anju who were staying in separate establishments. That made me a tad slow on the start of the trek, and in the confusion I lost my Siemens M65 mobile phone – a pain, considering I’d bought it just for this trek! Not to mention the accessories I’m now going to be selling…

Anyway, off up the trail, following a couple of photos. Pete was taking the lead, and I was bringing up the rear – this seemed to be a sensible option, having the two first aiders at each end of the pack. However, the pack stretched out immensely, and I ended up getting to the top after about four and a half hours – meeting people coming back down after they’d spent a half hour at the top was mildly disconcerting! At the top, I and my erstwhile companion Rosie had a 10-minute break then turned around and headed down again, just as the rain started. At this point, I was doing fine and fairly bounding down the path – but about a third of the way down my right knee began to twinge, then to ache, then to give me serious pain. I ended up limping down the path and getting back to the hostel about 4pm – almost as long a trek down as up! Not cool…

We took time to grab a bite at the Ben Nevis Inn, then hit the road – traffic on the A82 saw me testing the skills of my SatNav and making up a fair bit of time. Arriving in Nether Wasdale in Cumbria, we had to crawl along a twisty narrow country lane littered with sheep to find Jase’s accommodation (he was in a different place again!), then back to the hostel – a magnificent old country house that has been converted for the purpose. We arrived shortly after midnight, utterly exhausted. I piled into bed again and passed out.

Up in the morning, I headed for the start of the trek with tubey grips on my knees, with the intention of only going as far as I could – and Pete told everyone I was going to warm them up with a Riverdance performance. Instead I gave them a version of the “Where the Hell is Matt?” dance from the YouTube video – which cheered them up immensely. Video footage is threatened… The distance I managed to go turned out not to be very far at all, and soon I was limping back down the trail, this time with Rosie in tow. That made for a fairly boring morning, waiting for the rest of them to come back, but looking out the window at the deluge made me at least happy I wasn’t out there soaking. Back in the car, and off to Llanberis for the final peak. I was beginning to think I was going to achieve a One Peak Challenge, instead of three….

Llanberis: arrived just before the hostel closed at 10pm. Jase, as ever, was in a different spot to the rest of us so we had to find that first – but at least his hotel was next to the start of the trek. The following morning, a quick breakfast at the hostel then on to the start. A quick clown dance for the cameras, then I started out, with the aim of doing better than the previous day – and ended up marching out ahead of my back-marker cohorts. So Pete took over the back end, and said I could take the front – hah! Not a chance, especially with some of the fit buggers racing to the top. But I did OK, and got close to the top. I’d faffed a bit at the mountain railway, then decided to carry on – Pete and the back-markers caught up with me, and eventually I decided to call it a day. This was after seeing Dave (who’d broken his back in a motorbike accident!) limping past me on the trail – R_E_S_P_E_C_T! But I was all in, and went back to grab the train. Crawling back down the hillside in the carriage, I was slightly demoralised – but being realistic, I would have taken hours to get back down. Going up mountains is one thing, but going down is murder on the knees.

So we all met up for a final lunch in Pete’s Eats in Llanberis, and everyone was totally chuffed at making the whole event. The Facebook group is very active, and it looks like there are going to be hundreds of photos to check out. Very cool.

For the future, I’m going to have to get these knees looked at – I don’t want to give up hillwalking. It might mean being out of action for a bit, but I’m a lazy sod – I can cope! πŸ™‚

Our road trip to France went quite well, with the SatNav steering us around some gnarly traffic situations – money well spent, I think! A couple of days spent loafing by the pool, and a haul of wine to bring back with us – who could ask for more from a bank holiday? And I’m sure that it’s a whole lot better to drive the journey than to fly – even if it takes longer, it’s a lot more relaxed. We’ll have to see if that enthusiasm stays with us for the next visit to France…

And this weekend, I’m off to Amsterdam with Pete to meet our mate Shiva from Nepal. That ought to be good – although Fiona is beginning to forget what I look like… πŸ˜‰


Summer is here (is it???)

Maybe I’m being a little harsh on the old weather conditions – it has been warm, for sure. Well, most of the time, anyway… Last weekend we went to a BBQ at pals Mookie & Dan’s house, and it was bucketing down. They were prepared, with gazebos sheltering the gathered guests, but it’s not what we expect of an August weekend, is it? Bah…

Mind you, the following day Fi & I went for a (surprisingly dry!) yomp along the North Downs Way, from Reigate to Box Hill and back. I’m still breaking in my new boots, so ended up with blisters to beat the band – effing painful, if you must know. And because I was favouring the blistered extremities, I ended up with all kinds of aches and pains throughout my legs and hips. New boots: overrated! I’m certain that my old Rockports were a hell of a lot more comfortable than these things. Still, 15 miles of practice for the three peaks in a couple of weeks – that ought to be fun, if I can keep the blisters at bay!

July was a fun month, with a trip to Spain for Nuria’s wedding to Matt – it was a great production, in a restored castle in the middle of nowhere, and great fun. The usual Spanish style of lots of meat and utterly fantastic local wine (Ribera del Duero – if you haven’t had the pleasure, I can strongly recommend it), late nights and long siestas. The venue was lovely, and the service was excellent – recommended. Our hire car had a satnav to help us get there, but unfortunately we’d also brought reams of directions from Google Maps and other resources – cue arguments over which helper was working for us, and which was getting us hopelessly lost! So the journey was interesting, to say the least.

On the topic of weddings, I’m sure nobody is the least bit interested that we’ve now got our entire collection of digital pics together, but I’m telling you anyway. Close to 2,000 digital images and a few videos as well, so we’ll be able to torment our visitors with endless picture shows complete with commentary. In all seriousness, we’ve got a mammoth task ahead of us to whittle it down to a reasonably-sized collection to print and have as a memoir of the day. Don’t watch this space; we may be some time…

Another enjoyable weekend was spent with learning to sail, on a small boating lake in Danson Park just up the road from us. Another bug has bitten, and I’ll be going back for stage 2, probably in October. That’s where we learn to rescue capsized boats, among other things – think I may need to get a wetsuit!

Oh, and back to the topic of barbecues: we finally got to break in our new gas barbie a couple of weekends ago, and it worked very well indeed. Considering the weather forecasts, it’s amazing we got to have it at all, but in the end the forecasts were complete and utter rubbish. No change there, then. Much laughter and merriment were had, culminating in me taking a plunge off a loose tile on next-door’s patio and gashing my hand. Well, it wouldn’t be a weekend if I didn’t come out with an injury of some description, now would it?

Lots of plans afoot, including a road trip to the South of France to visit our pals there, followed by the aforementioned Three Peaks yomp, then a trip to Amsterdam to catch up with an old friend from Nepal who’s in Europe for a couple of months. And I remember my weekends used to be so chilled… Don’t worry, I’m not complaining!

Take care, y’all…