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! 🙂

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… 😉


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…

The aftermath

Well, now the dust has settled, and happenins has been woefully neglected – sorry if anyone was waiting with bated breath for an update, but I’ve been staggeringly busy. And if your breath’s been bated this long, I suspect you’re past caring….

Well, the wedding was a lot of fun, although I feel as I’m sure most people do on their wedding day: it would have been great to be a guest there! Unfortunately, there just wasn’t time for in-depth chats with all the people who came along, which was a real bummer – and the party looked like a good ‘un!

The ceremony was short and sweet, which was just the way we wanted it. Wedding photos were fairly painless, on the basis that we’d eschewed the tedium of a professional photographer for a veritable army of very talented amateurs. My dad was there for the ‘official’ wedding photos, and mates Ian, Howard and Matt brought their own flavour to the proceedings. And late paparazzi addition Jon was snapping away like a true photojournalist, so there should be quite a selection of pics to trawl through when compiling our book of memories!

We had managed to grab a carriage on the steam railway that runs past the venue, so there was family entertainment in between ceremony & meal; it also meant there was less of a crowd in the gardens at that point. Back in for the meal, which was excellent, then some brief speeches, a cake cutting (it took a while to find the knife, so we were miming to start with!), then we vacated the room while the band set up. After a while drinking and chatting in the garden (great weather!), it was back in for drinkin’ and dancin’ the night away. I did a turn with the band, singing “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” to introduce the first dance, then John & I performed a duet on “Well, Did You Evah?” in the band’s first interval – all great fun, and I know I had a good night. As did my beautiful bride – and she was beautiful, have no doubt (still is)!

So it was on to the honeymoon in Cape Verde, on the island of Sal, in an all-inclusive resort – it was an interesting experience for me, having never been on an all-inclusive package before, but it was exactly the kind of no-brainer holiday we needed after all the fuss & stress of organising a wedding. So we swam, tanned and sipped cocktails by the pool for a week, which was most excellently relaxing. The people of Sal are wonderfully friendly, the staff at the Riu Funana hotel were unfailingly polite and helpful, and the weather was excellent – with the possible exception of the strong breeze, but that kept things cooler, so that’s OK. Would we go back? Maybe, but I’d prefer a different island with a bit more local flavour. We’ll see…

The flights were a marked contrast to the holiday – abysmal. They put on a tatty old 757, a relic of First Choice Airways, that was inadequate for the journey and ran out of things like drinks and duty-free items on the flight. So I’d be cautious of going with Thomson again if they used First Choice flights. All in all, though, a minor blip – and they got us there and back safely, so I can’t complain too much!

So, back to planet Dartford, and back to work and normal life. We’re beavering away with the usual catalogue of home improvements, while plotting our next break to the sun. Won’t be for a while, methinks. But I am planning with my mate Pete, to climb the famed Three Peaks at the end of August. We’re recruiting people to come with us, and the response has been excellent – I think there will be a veritable mob of us tackling the slopes this summer! There’s a dedicated website if you’d like to take a look; there’s also a Facebook page all about it – check it out. Pete & I have both taken First Aid courses to make sure that we’re slightly less incapable in case of disaster…

OK – that’s all for now. Keep an eye on the gallery for wedding pics; hopefully I’ll get some on there soon. In the meantime, take care!

Guess what?

Just Married!

Thanks to everyone who came along and celebrated with us, and many thanks for all the wonderful gifts! We’ll be seeing you real soon!

Al & Fi

No, not nervous. No, not nervous. No……..

Thought I’d just put that one to rest for now. My legions of fans, friends and family are all very caringly asking if I’m nervous yet. Actually, I think the term is “gleefully” – but never mind. To which I have to respond that Fi & I are employing a very useful device: not thinking about it at all! Result: no nerves. Yeah, right…

But seriously, everything is pretty much in place, and whatever goes wrong will go wrong however much we worry about it. And I, for one, am quietly confident that it will be largely as planned – maybe the odd hiccup, but nothing to get depressed about. Famous last words, you say? Heh, maybe – but I’m not thinking about it – remember?

I’ve had a few enquiries about the UK stag night, and I’m forced to concede that it’s not going to happen at this stage. However, a post-mortem (or should that be post-matrimoniam?)drink should be in order, sometime in June – details will be announced whenever. And again, it may not happen. Watch, or not, this space…

Well, better get my drinking pants on, and get me best wellies polished for the day. I suppose next time I post on here, we’ll be man and wife.


Soon, soon, all too soon

Time’s fairly flying by – and I know it flies by constantly, but as soon as you start fussing around with wedding plans everything starts to accelerate remorselessly. I’m sure that it’ll be only the blink of an eye before we’re on a beach in Cape Verde, wondering where the year went. Mind you, I’m wondering where the year went already…

The stag night went OK; the bit that I remember of it at least. The last thing I remember was having a pint after our Nepalese curry, then I woke up the following morning. To be fair, nobody else had anything (too) lively to report, but they could just have been sparing my feelings. To which I say: keep up the good work, lads! 🙂

Back to the wedding, and I feel the need to (a) point out the link below the left-hand menu, which is the website for our wedding: Fi& – there you’ll find stuff like directions, venue information, gift list stuff and so forth. Any hotels we’ve listed have hit capacity by now, but if you’re really stuck we might be able to find you something. And no, you’re not crashing on our floor that night!

Not a huge amount to report at the moment, but I’m sure stuff will crop up. If it does, I’ll pop it below this. If not, you’ve lost nothing…

More of the same, really

Quote of the day: Imagine telling somebody twenty years ago that by 2007, it would be illegal to smoke in a pub or bus shelter or your own vehicle or that there would be £80 fines for dropping cigarette butts, or that the words “tequila slammer” would be illegal or the government would mandate what angle a drinker’s head in an advertisement may be tipped at, or that it would be illegal to criticise religions or homosexuality, or rewire your own house, or that having sex after a few drinks would be classed as rape or that the State would be confiscating children for being overweight. Imagine telling them the government would be contemplating ration cards for fuel and even foods, that every citizen would be required to carry an ID card filled with private information which could be withdrawn at the state’s whim. They’d have thought you a paranoid loon.

Phew! Worth reading an article dealing with all of this on – it’s all soooo true!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…. All hectic at work, which is a good complaint, and all hectic at home with all the planning we’re doing. At least we’ve got the building work complete on the outside, which was driving us to distraction – the builders took wayyy longer than they should, and made quite a mess! But it was worth it, I think, and the house looks better for it.

In the midst of our wedding plans, we had to go to France to bring a dress for flower girl Amber (that’s our story, and we’re sticking to it – we had to go!), and despite grim weather had a most enjoyable, relaxing day and a half (unfortunately, time is at too much of a premium for long stays just at the moment). Then back to chaos at Stansted – oh well…

So last time I wrote, I spoke of the Cunnane menfolk coming over for a suit fitting, which they did, and all went well. Everyone seems to be impressed with their clobber, which is rather gratifying. And along for the ride came my sister’s fiancé Enda, to pick up his lovely new Suzuki Hayabusa and ride it back to Ireland. I had the pleasure of riding it for about a mile or so before he came and picked it up, and it was quite a machine. Someday, maybe. But for now, I’ve got to get back on the road with my own environmentally-sound SV650 and have some fun. 🙂

Snowboarding was a laugh, of course, and I managed to hike my skills up a notch (but no further) – I’m definitely hooked. And that’s in spite of the pain I was in by the end of it; first day out I managed to land on my front, on my ribs, and that’s still painful now. Then I hurt my wrists from falling on them, so out came the wristguards again. And then there were the belated knee pads. What’s that you say? Should have worn them in the first place? Yeah, yeah… But all in all, I had some good runs and started to get a bit more edge control, meaning I was able to turn when I needed to. One of the essential skills, I would say. But next year is going to see me clad in body armour and trying to get some air. Cue broken bones this time next year!

Back to the subject of weddings, I learned recently that good pal Kiz has not only got herself engaged to top bloke Aaron, but they’ve also set a date – in October this year! Warmest congratulations and best wishes, guys – not sure we’ll be able to make it to the ceremony, but hopefully catch up with you soon.

And speaking of Australian weddings: by now, my mate Ben will be well and truly married to the lovely Brooke in Sydney – congratulations, chaps!

Back to UK weddings: don’t forget to check out our website to catch up with our event in May. Details abound on our preparations, as well as info on how to get there and so forth. And this might well be updated more regularly than happenins, but I’m promising nothing!

Time flies; I`m grounded

All good here, if a trifle hectic. The not-so-distant nuptials are beginning to occupy more and more time, until there’s very little elbow room in my tiny universe. Between invites and suits and dresses and drinks and entertainment and honeymoons and rings and…. All the little things do add up!

Been on a booze cruise to Calais, and stocked up on aperitifs and toasting fuel, as well as something nice to wash down the dinner. The poor Alfa was loaded to the gunwhales, but she did well, and got us home in one piece. More importantly, the wine was in one piece too. I can confidently say that the white wine is quite delish; I’ll let you know about the red…

All change in our Dartford mansion; the nice chap who laid the foundation for our garden shed last summer turned up out of the blue and told us he was available for repairing the plaster on our extension and repainting the whole lot. And why not? Of course, no sooner had he started than the weather turned a bit grim, and now we’re left with the job half-finished and a garden full of muck and cement and sand and tools…. Never mind, it’ll all be over soon. And then we’re replacing the front door – although at this rate it’ll be after our honeymoon! Next up – replacing the windows. ETA: 2015…

My littlest sis Claire has taken herself off to the Big Apple for a bit of work experience – apparently her university course demands it. Well for some, I say! As far as I know, she’s settling in well, making friends (no surprise there) and having a whale of a time. Good luck to her.

Just got back from a whirlwind trip by Eurostar to Paris, setting out from the recently-opened Ebbsfleet International station on the high-speed rail link. What a trip – 2 hours to Paris, then settled in at our hotel, wandered around a bit, then went out for dinner. Our restaurant was a gem: Chez Françoise, just off the left bank of the Seine. Excellent, unhurried service, with a full house of locals to recommend it, and great food to boot. Might go back there, if we can get the cheap Eurostar tickets again…

And now we’re plunging headlong into February; it seems like only last week I posted my Christmas messages, but time is definitely sprinting on. I had thought of being a bit political in my postings, but I think I’ll just carry on with my rambles for the moment. And no doubt you’ll be hearing from me again in late Feb, when I’m back from my adventures in Andorra. Yes, I’m going boarding again – and this time, I’m hoping to spend less time on my butt. We shall see.

(….What’s that? Time for my medication? Oh, alright then…)

Another year (almost) over

And it seems my posts become more sporadic as time goes on. But I’m fairly sure my readership is in the single figures, so I’m not letting too many people down, am I? (Cue flame war…) I’m toying with the idea of a New Year’s resolution to update the site more regularly, but that would just go the way of all resolutions, I suspect!

But then this year has been pretty fun (without any resolutions being made or adhered to) and when I think about it it doesn’t really matter if you start a year with the best of intentions, so long as you pursue it with a plan to enjoy yourself as much as possible. Sure, there are ups and downs in the process, but I think you’ll win overall.

Enough cod philosophy. Having been all over the place for the past year, I’m going to be having a quiet Christmas in and around the homestead. I had hoped to go abroad somewhere for it, but it was all just too complicated with dwindling holiday allowance from work, work commitments and so forth. And to be honest, I’m looking forward to having a bit of feet-up time. We’ll see how that works out.

Been quite a year, as I said, with a lot of firsts: started out with a trip to the Cayman Islands, where I took my first scuba dive, my first jetski ride and enjoyed my first ever visit to the Caribbean – now that was cool. Then I fulfilled a long-standing promise to myself and learned to snowboard, which was both fun and painful – but I’m going back, and planning to fall a little less and board a little better. Later in the year I had my first trip to Egypt, which was awesome – definitely going back there at some point. I also had my big road trip through France, bringing my new bike back from there. What a mission – but of such things are memories made… 🙂

And of course, I asked Fiona to marry me, and we’ll be tying the knot at the end of May. And this is what looks likely to be taking up much of the first half of 2008: sorting out the myriad infinitesimal details that go into making the day what it’s supposed to be. I think I’ll be mildly relieved when it’s all done and we can get back to a degree of normality!

Meanwhile, Synthetix has been going from strength to strength, and we’re entering 2008 in the unusual position of having projected cashflow keeping us afloat for the next year. Now that’s a turnaround, and I’m glad we all stuck at it to get to this point. And hopefully 2008 will bring bigger and better developments – onward and upward. Nice to have a bright outlook for the New Year!

Well, that’s enough from me. I’d like to wish any and all of you that keep up with happenins a very happy Christmas, whether you celebrate it or not (it’s the thought that counts, innit?). And have a happy, prosperous and fulfilling 2008.