Category Archives: Holidays

Catching up

Having arrived back from holiday there’s a lot of catching up to do…

We’ve had a lovely couple of weeks of relaxation, chilling in the sun in a variety of locations around the northern Mediterranean. For me it’s back down to earth with a bump as I prepare for the red-eye flight to London tomorrow morning.

It’s easier to catch up with some things than others; snail mail and email were dealt with in the small burst of energy that I experienced when I arrived home.

I guess the pile of mail could have been worse

To be honest, the burst of energy almost wasn’t enough. Having dug our way through the mail at the front door we discovered that the house was experiencing an ominous lack of power… while we were away the main fuse had tripped.

On the up side, the freezer needed to be de-frosted anyway. We had been saved the pain of conjuring up innovative meal ideas from the assorted remnants and left-overs in the freezer. However, we did have to decant the contents, in various states of “fruity” degradation, into bin bags. So although the timing was far from perfect we did more than catch up, if anything we got ahead!

I’m sure we’re not the first to discover the “auto-defrost” setting on our freezer

One thing I don’t have energy for today is exercise, but it’s definitely another area in which I have some catching up to do. I would describe my athletic pursuits over the past few weeks as “staying active” this is on the scale of:

  1. Sedentary
  2. Staying active (Often reserved for the older generation who wish to remain “sprightly”)
  3. Regular exercise
  4. In training

With only 6 weeks to go until Ride the North I need to redouble my efforts to prepare for it. I have managed some exercise over the past few weeks, but the level of intensity is far from what is required. I’m confident I’ve got a good foundation, but the training I do over the next few weeks will make the difference between it being a tough slog and a fun outing.

The girls have catching up of their own to do, although it appears to consist mostly of TV programs that were recorded while we were away. I’m sure it’ll take some time for them to work their way through this too, but until they do we’ll only be able to guess at the full extent of the carnage caused by the power outage!

 

 

Cruising

It’s not often that you get a chance to see into the future.  The long term impact of exercise and healthy living can be hard to quantify.  Conversely, it can be hard to understand the potential negative effects of poor life choices.

I have friends whose lifestyles have been heavily influenced by their parents prematurely suffering with poor health.  I am lucky in that my parents and in-laws are all fit and healthy, able to make the most of the opportunities the “Third Age” offers them.  They are reaping the benefits of an active lifestyle in which treats are still considered a treat and excess reserved for special occasions and grand-children.

You could argue that having a Heart Attack should have been enough to open my eyes; after all it could have killed me. To a degree this is correct.  However, death wasn’t necessarily the worst-case scenario, not for me at least.  Long term incapacitation would have been worse, my quality of life could have been compromised, and with it those around me that I care about most.  I was lucky.

Island Escape

The Island Escape… it’s not much but we like to call it home.

I am now four days into my first all-inclusive cruise, and it’s really helped bring things into focus.  A little close personal observation (nosiness!) has provided a unique opportunity to see both the negative impacts and some of the underlying choices that have may have contributed to them.

The passengers on the cruise are a different demographic than on our holidays to date; they are primarily couples and slightly older.  One of the overwhelming features is a lack of mobility; knee bandages and walking sticks are essential travel companions for many.  The general level of fitness appears to be extremely low with some of the physiques having been “carefully nurtured” over an extended period of time.

Even Cardiac Rehabilitation didn’t give me such a powerful insight; I was aware that only a small fraction of people take up the opportunity to participate in rehab.  That means that the majority are either unwilling or unable to attend, presumably choosing instead to rely on medication and / or luck for their recovery and future wellbeing.  I suspect some of the non-participants might also be on-board!

It’s scary… scary for the individuals who seem to be struggling to perform basic everyday activities.*  It’s also scary that until recently I was also on that course.

Fortunately everyone seems to be mobile enough to take full advantage of the “all-inclusive” part of the cruise… if you are unable to carry your plate or glass there always a helpful member of staff to assist.  Ironically, the only constraint I’ve discovered is on the Cardiac Setting in the gym… limited to 5 minutes… for health reasons presumably!

Cardiac Workout (Max)

***

* I appreciate not everyone has a completely free choice, but most of us are fortunate enough to have at least some level of influence over our physical well-being even though it may frustratingly diminish over time.  I also appreciate that I am very lucky to have more choice than most having received my “wake up call” so early!

Back to nature

Monday marked the beginning of a short family break; few days of exercise and fresh air in the middle of forest in Northern England. The boys (our cats) had been captured and checked in to the Cat Hotel, happy to spend a week in the lap of luxury; heated beds, over-eating, wild parties and the kind of attention that only money can buy. We, on the other hand, were heading back to nature; five days of living off our wits, pitting ourselves against the best that the forest could throw at us. Center Parcs.

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The illusive Red Squirrel

Having fought through torrential rain and heavy traffic, we eventually arrived at our destination. To celebrate, we passed it several times as we desperately searched for the nearest supermarket, in urgent need of “essentials” to sustain us for the days ahead. The first few hours followed a familiar pattern, excited children running amok and stressed adults trying to get over the journey, slowly coming to terms with the speed things are done around here. This was particularly evident in the bicycle hire queue where frustration builds and the tension is palpable. As the third “Expert” is called to help the Cycle Hire Attendant fix the uncooperative till, the same thought is written across the face of all in attendance…

When can I start having fun?

Freshly equipped with their personal weapons of mass destruction, the newly crowned cyclists wobble their way away from the Cycle Hire Centre. To spice things up, they quickly come into mortal combat with cars (for one day only), desperate to end their tiring journeys and start having fun too.

***

For the first time ever, I don’t feel quite so much of a fitness fraud. Our bags are bulging with sports kit, but it’s all in regular use. We’ve even brought our own bikes. For us, any wobbling will be due to ineptitude rather than lack of familiarity. We are ready! Within minutes, we start to experience nature; a mother duck leading her new-born ducklings, pheasant, wood pigeon, the promise of red squirrels (at least signs warning of the promise of red squirrels) and a baby rabbit. And then the tranquil forest was disturbed by a dreadful shock… a blood curdling scream followed by the sound of two feet landing after having jumped high into the air. Then silence. Louise’s eyes were full of terror with her discovery… the boys had left a little present inside her shoe, a small keepsake, a tiny wee mouse. Perhaps nature can be fun after all! Mouse 1

Wasting time together

We headed “down South” this week to spend the New Year with my family.  It was a relatively rare gathering of my immediate family; Mum & Dad, Sister, Brother, Nephews and Nieces.  It was even more rare for us to spend so much time together; typically visits are restricted to a weekend arranged around a family event or celebration.

As well as featuring my first dry (and sober) New Year’s Eve since the 1990’s, the extended visit and miserable weather presented the opportunity to waste time together, catching up on events and developments in each others lives.

Our New Year celebrations were a little more subdued!

It was great to see everyone!  We seem to have had more than our fair share of challenges over the past year; emotional, physical and psychological.  However, we are fortunate… and I am particularly fortunate to have such a strong, supportive and generous family.

As you would anticipate, food and drink were a major feature of the visit.  Despite significant temptation, I managed to stay on the straight and narrow, even when presented with a variety of delightful desserts, cheeky cheeses and some of the most extravagant Burgers I’ve ever seen (the “Surf, Turf and Cluck” Burger in particular looked mighty fine!).  How my Sister and Mum managed to keep producing meals I have no idea, but we’re all very grateful!  Thanks!

***

Inevitably, in time, the competitive embers were stoked by younger members of the family and a “Girls vs. Boys” challenge was thrown down.  The games tested our knowledge, skill and nerves, culminating in a win for the Boys… of course!  To be fair, we benefited from the fact that the game was produced in 1995 and some of the questions were rather dated, particularly for those born in the 00’s!

Pirate ShipA late Christmas gift allowed me to demonstrate my creative prowess as I built and painted a Pirate Ship.  The present included an Eye Patch and Treasure Map, but I resisted the temptation to become a fully fledged Pirate… perhaps next year!

Personally, I’m relieved to be heading into 2014 “on the up”.  I’m able to reflect on the trials of the past and look forward with optimism.  While others are in a similar position to myself, I feel for people that have experienced a loss, or are still on their challenging journeys and fearful of what the future might hold.

I wish everyone a Happy, Healthy and Successful 2014!

That time of year…

“Put another layer on!”

The weather has turned again over the past couple of days.  Although we’re far from the depths of winter I’ve been feeling the cold in ways that I’ve never experienced before.  In the past, I’ve always prided myself on being warm blooded, not any more.  My default response to people complaining of the cold has always been to suggest they put another layer on.  Unfortunately the layers aren’t working for me.

This morning I woke up with cold hands and cold feet.  Despite my best efforts they stayed that way for most of the day and the cold gnawed away at my energy and enthusiasm.  It was the kind of cold that can only be fixed by going back to bed… I have to admit I tried that too, without much success.

images (17)Fortunately I had the pleasure of attending my daughters’ School Christmas Concert this evening.  It literally and metaphorically warmed me up… the Music Hall was toasty and the atmosphere was light and festive.  The event traditionally marks the end of the winter term for the girls, so spirits were also high.  Christmas excitement was mixed with relief that everyone will have a couple of weeks of relative rest.

I am really looking forward to some time off over Christmas too.  For one reason or another I have had more time away from work this year than I have ever had, to be honest I don’t feel like I’ve properly carried my weight.  Despite all my time off I’m still ready for a break.

Our place is all set for Christmas!

I’m looking forward to some down time and some family time.  I’m also looking forward to exercise being more of a focus of my days rather than something I fit in around work,  I’m not planning on changing the routine or the diet dramatically over the next few weeks, but I will allow myself an “eat what I want” Christmas dinner (not as much as I want however!).

Only two more days to go before I can put my feet up too!

The unwelcome patron

The Barman’s Nemesis…

Over the course of the past two weeks I have realised that a tee-total, Virgin Mary drinker may well be the least welcome customer in many a Tavern around the world.  It’s fiddly drink that needs to be made to suit personal tastes and yet, as it’s predominantly tomato juice, there is little scope for price inflation.  There’s lots of value add from the Bar Staff, but little value creation from their perspective.  The simple addition of a shot of vodka would increase the cost by approximately 400%.

I like to think this explains the unwelcoming glances I receive from the Bar Staff as I approach for my early evening aperitif.  Perhaps I’m being paranoid, but I believe there is a certain reluctance as the (healthy) nibbles were handed over to accompany my drink.  The addition of an occasional Gin & Tonic goes some way to re-dressing the balance, but in itself it doesn’t appear to fully make up for my deficiencies.

Healthy nibbles… very civilised!

This holiday has been a little different from past experiences as far as the Nightlife is concerned.  Rather than being Party Animals, racking up huge Bar bills and being a safe bet to be there when Last orders are called, we have been very subdued.  Our evening entertainment has largely revolved around a nice meal and a family games of cards.

For me, a late night in the Bar loses it’s appeal somewhat without the allure of a cold beverage to help liven things up.

We have even had to resort to deceit to maintain some level of social acceptability.  Each evening we have ordered a bottle of wine with dinner… “two glasses please”.  This may seem like a strange move given I’m not drinking, but having explored the options it seemed like the path of least resistance.  My role has been to sit with a glass of wine in front of me throughout the meal, subtly switching with Louise from time to time to create the illusion of gradual consumption… the two of us sharing a nice bottle of wine, as civilised people do.

We’re pretty sure that most of the Waiters / Waitresses have cottoned on to our little deceit.  Not that it makes a huge amount of difference to them, but to “us” it feels more acceptable.  The next best option would be to order a small bottle of wine with one glass.

We’ll have a bottle of the red please.

The question is, when does it become more socially acceptable to order a large bottle than to order multiple small bottles?

I’m inclined to think that at least ordering a large bottle shows you’re realistic about how much you’re likely to drink.  You don’t have to drink it all (for the record, we have taken half a bottle to our room each evening to provide sustenance during the family card game), but it’s there of you fancy another little glass.

The flip side is that you order a little bottle, and then another, and perhaps another.  Without an attentive Waitress you may end up with a collection of bottles lined up across your table… and no guarantee of anything to take back to your room for later.

We’re new to all this.  Beverage etiquette has never really been a concern in the past.  We used to work on the basis that you ordered a drink… you drank (and repeat as required).  Another “new life” experience for us all!

Born Survivor (Part II)

The hotel we’re in organises a number of bike rides of varying difficulties during the week.  Having bravely ventured out on my own yesterday, I decided to join todays “challenging” ride.  I had done it before… it was billed as being approximately 15 km, to “Epta Piges”.

Amusingly, there is another ride that I also did last week to the “Seven Springs”.  I’ve only just realised that they both mean the same thing!  Doh!

Our destination, although we had no intention of seeing any springs on this ride!

The ride took us up into the mountains, a route that I’ve now covered many times, before heading off up a very steep off-road climb.

This week’s participants appeared to all be fit males and were apparently keen cyclist – I’m not sure how much of a barometer it is, but I was the only person not to be wearing cycling gloves!

I had done the climb before an knew it was tough, so I mentally prepared myself to be satisfied with being “tail-end Charlie” as everyone else headed into the hills.  There was no way I could keep up and maintain a reasonable Heart Rate.

More cost effective than getting fit?

All was good.  We re-grouped twice as we completed the main ascent.  I had started to ride alongside another Paul, a Doctor from “Up North” (England), who had recently started doing triathlons.  He believed that when people turn 40 they either get a Sports Car, have an affair or get fit.  Originally he figured that getting fit was the cheapest option… hence the triathlons.  (He has subsequently started to re-assess as the cost of kit continues to escalate.  If you’re approaching this milestone and money is the only consideration, you might want to think seriously about a Sports Car!)

Having hit the top of the climb the terrain flattened off however the number of paths and potential routes increased dramatically.  I had done the ride once before, but I was following someone’s wheel.  This time there was no wheel to follow…

In fact, in almost no time, there weren’t any wheels, frames or any other parts of bicycles or cyclists in sight!  We were alone.

It was incumbent on me to remember the route.

We got lost.

To start with, I would describe us as “just off track”, as we followed a couple of tracks to dead ends before circling back on ourselves.

After some time we’d got ourselves lost good and proper!

We had decided to follow a maintenance access track for some electrical pylons… it seemed to be heading down, and generally in the right direction.  We followed it downwards, gaining speed and optimism as we descended.  Unfortunately it came to an abrupt end as the electrical cables spanned a ravine, connecting to a pylon on an adjacent hill some way away.

We weren’t quite as comfortable going off-road as this chap!

There was no obvious route down the steep, rugged hillside.  We could see the destination, but there was no obvious way of reaching it.

We were despondent.  We had been out for over 2 hours. The midday sun was beating down on us.  We were more off track than ever.  Water was running low.  It was almost lunchtime, and Paul had a Sailing lesson at two-thirty!!!

We did not have high hopes of being rescued by our cycling guide.  He’s not the most attentive at the best of times, and he loves a descent, so he probably wouldn’t have missed us until he’d been at the bottom of the hill, and waited for some time.  I’m sure he would have assumed (1) that I had been on the ride before and therefore was familiar with the route (2) that we’d intentionally decided to take a different route and (3) that our ride would include a trip to a bar for a drink.  As a result, I didn’t expect the alarm to be raised until darkness fell, perhaps a little sooner if our other halves noticed we were missing!

***

Bear Grylls the last time he got lost in the Rhodes wilderness

From time to time, I watch some random TV.  Just before I came away, I watched a programme featuring a number of different groups that had got lost in unfamiliar terrain:

  • While travelling on business, one guy had decided to go for a walk from his hotel in Thailand.  Targeting the top of an adjacent hill, he ended up being lost in the jungle for several days before being found (following a telephone call home, to the UK, from his mobile which fortunately worked from high ground to raise the alarm).
  • Another couple of intrepid explorers got themselves lost in a Rain Forrest in South America.  The plan had been to spend five days in the jungle before rendezvousing at a prescribed pick-up spot.  They over-shot and ended up living off their wits for many days before one of them got seriously ill and the other had to head off alone in a desperate attempt to find help.  (He succeeded).

Our prospective dinner… catch me if you can!

I also have the tips and tricks gained from many episodes of “Born Survivor” to fall back on if necessary.  We had already spotted wild sage and thyme that might go well with one of the not so wild goats that we had seen further up the hillside.  We weren’t quite there yet, but it was reassuring to have this in-depth survival knowledge to rely on if things became that desperate.

Most of the “almost disaster” TV shows I’ve seen feature a couple of bad decisions.  Faced with the final Electricity Pylon, Paul made a good one.  We decided to turn around and head back the way we’d come.  It felt like the track back up would be long and tiring (and I was already getting weary), but it was a sensible call.  We’d avoid more dead-ends, reduce the chances of hurting ourselves, and, with a bit of luck, we might get back to being “just off track” again.

We dug deep.

Having made it back up the track, we made our next good decision… we asked someone for directions.  To be fair to us, the “someone” (a goat herd who appeared to have made the ascent in a Fiat Punto) wasn’t there when we’d passed the same spot earlier (at least not obviously anyway), so it wasn’t like we’d ignored the earlier opportunity… but if he had have been we probably would have done!

All lonely European goat herds are not made the same!

It turned out that we had missed the start of our descent by about 30 metres.  It was hidden from view by an unassuming olive tree in the middle of a clearing.  We had cycled straight past and onto the maintenance track.  I vaguely remembered the clearing, but not the olive tree!

Our relief was palpable.

We descended and headed home, tired and grateful (and having covered over 25 km).

To be fair to the guide, he passed us in a car as we approached the resort.  Apparently they had waited for us for some time, shouting and whistling (Plan A).  He had headed back up to the top of the hill to try and find us (Plan B).  I’m not sure what his Plan C was, but I’m glad it wasn’t put into action… it could have been highly embarrassing all round.  At least this way no-one will hear about it!