M minus 4 days

This week has been the hottest of the year so far. In some places, even hotter than the long, hot Summer of 1976. That was the year they had to appoint a Minister for the Drought.

So hot, in fact, that all we want to do is sit still, enjoy some cold drinks and relax. Instead, we’ve both been working really hard to finish off the packing.

I spent about 5 hours this morning dismantling the tandem and packing it up into its two Samsonite cases. This should only take about 20 minutes, according to the DVD. The first thing that happened when I walked into the garage brought back happy memories of when I worked. I got a faceful of newly spun spiders’ web. Yuck. I can’t say I miss that feeling, nor the taste and I didn’t need to see the size of the tarantula that escaped. It was huge. And no, it didn’t offer to help with the tandem.

Meanwhile, Liesel was upstairs cleaning every available surface, and there are a lot of surfaces available when the things that used to live there have been packed. And there are a lot of things that sit around for years causing little to no trouble, until you want to take them to a new place. One day, I’ll let you know how many boxes we have, but there are literally too many to count accurately now. Dozens. Scores, even.

Sadly, we’ve packed the tools so a couple of last minute fixes won’t get done. The middle hook on the back of the bathroom door broke years ago and it’s still there. Not the useful part, the hook, just the backing plate.

There are lots of challenges that you don’t think about until it comes to the crunch. What should be take with us in the car so that we have it straightaway? Valuables? My PC? Important paperwork? Decisions, decisions!

What can we leave until the last minute? Bedding? TV, DVD player, Freeview box and all the associated cables? Breakfast stuff?

Yes, apart from all the physically hard work of moving stuff around, putting it into boxes, then moving the boxes around, it’s been quite a challenge knowing what to do next. So many lists have been compiled:

  • Things to do
  • What to take with us in the car
  • Businesses that need to know our new address
  • Things to do in the new place before we go travelling!

Liesel has been a trouper, despite her aches and pains. We’ve both used muscles we forgot we had. Here’s a tip: buy shares in Ibuprofen.

It was strange on Summer Solstice day: we brought everything down from the loft and Liesel was re-packing all the Christmas decorations. One day, well, one Christmas, we’ll get a nice big tree and show them off. Not this year though: we’ll be somewhere exotic. The travel plans keep changing. But we can’t concentrate on that until we have settled in our new place.

It’s been too busy for me to be too emotionally distracted. I’ve lived here for 33 years, lots of happy memories and some sad ones. It is definitely Liesel’s house now though, rather than Sarah’s. I think it’s fair to say that because we’ve been thinking about moving on from here for so long, I’ve been ‘grieving’ for this old house for a while, so it won’t be such a shock on the day we close the door for the last time. 33 years in one place: more than half of that time without Sarah, which just doesn’t seem right.

Facebook Marketplace should be a great place to give things away. But I’ve had responses from Bulgaria, USA and Switzerland. They’re not seriously going to come to Chessington just to pick up a free item of furniture. The way it usually worls is:

I put an item up on Facebook Marketplace with a price of £0, ie Free.

Within a minute someone asks: Is it available?

Within another minute, I respond: Yes, can you collect from Chessington today or tomorrow.

Then I sit back and watch the tumbleweed drift by. Never hear from them again.

But now and then, maybe one time in ten, someone follows through and does turn up to take the item away. And as I sit here in front of a fan (that somehow escaped being packed in a box) in the living, surrounded by nn boxes, three people have expressed interest in my old office desk but none of them have committed to coming over to take it away. The good news is, this is the last item of furniture that we need to dispose of. John, the rubbish man, is coming over tomorrow to take away the old washing machine and some other bits and pieces and if he ends up taking away the desk too, that would be a shame, but we can’t take it with us.

Yes, the old washing machine. The one that Sarah bought soon after she started work again once Helen started school. It’s done well, 26 years hard labour, but it leaks a bit and the on/off switch is broken. The kickboard hiding the thing that you unscrew when there’s a blockage has been kicked off. And it’s very slow by modern standards. We can’t responsibly pass it on to someone else, but everyone has their price…

I had a dream last night in which a nice looking iced bun the size of a loaf of bread had packing paper screwed up inside. In fact, apart from the icing, it was all paper. Such a disappointment. But I haven’t had a work-related dream for a while. The one in which, along with everyone else, I am being asked to perform a task so ridiculous, so time-wasting, so pointless, that we just know we won’t have time to complete the day’s delivery. But then, within the dream, I suddenly remember I’ve retired, I don’t even have to be here any more… and I wake up with a great sense of relief and a big smile on my face.

Liesel designed a beautiful card that we will send out once we’ve moved and we know with 100% certainty that nothing will go wrong with this whole project!

While I’ve been blogging, Liesel’s been writing the envelopes for the cards. It’s preferable to her other option: CPD. Continued Professional Development would entail sitting down with a hot laptop on her lap, and today’s weather is not conducive to such an enterprise. The smell of macaroni cheese is drifting through the door: a hot meal for a hot day, Liesel is to be praised for slaving over a hot stove. No wonder she doesn’t want to get up close and personal with a laptop as well!

Lofty Ambitions

The bottom line is, we still don’t know if we’re moving into a flat or into storage.

We are proceeding at a pace with the packing. So much stuff. There are at least five boxes of photos. Actual printed photos. It’s been on the to-do list for years, and I think it’s on everyone’s list: sort out the old photos.  We really feel that progress is being made, though. There is a nice pile of stuff to pass on to the children as soon as is convenient. (Don’t tell them.)

A removal man came along this afternoon to give us a quote.

It’s official: estate agents lie. This week, again, we tried to find out when our flat would be vacant. The agent said that because they’re moving into a newly built house that isn’t finished yet, they would never give a date.

But they gave us a date right at the start. They said May. Later revised to mid-June due to a spell of bad weather. But now they can’t give us a date because anything could go wrong. The agent couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see that they’d given us dates before so there can’t be hard and fast rules about getting dates from builders. Also, being told May, at the time, fitted in perfectly with our plans. If they’d said then that they had no idea when they’d be able to move out, I doubt that we would have put in an offer, regardless of how good the property is.

Our seller is under stress now, said the agent, as she tries to confirm with her solicitor that they can exchange this week and complete on 2nd July. I didn’t take the bait and tell that actually, we’re quite stressed out too. Yesterday, she regurgitated a conversation I’d had with her on 2nd March. I explained that the situation is totally different now.

Anyway, that’s where we are.

Freegle is a great resource: you can get total strangers to come to your house and take stuff away. I’ll miss the old 1990s stereo system that hasn’t worked properly for years. The record player was disposed of years ago. Buttons on the cassette player broke many moons ago. If you play a CD, it usually skips the first time, but is OK if you restart. Plus, one of the speakers only works intermittently. The FM aerial is meh. The AM aerial is meher. Other than that, it’s in perfect working order. I recorded may radio programmes on it in the olden days.stereo

It’s a lovely sunny day, we should be outside enjoying the weather, not inside packing and emptying the loft. Maybe we’ll go for an early evening stroll, after the man’s picked up his stereo system!

On this day in 2014, we went to the British Museum to see The Vikings Exhibition. We went with Myra, Sarah’s Mum and found it a very interesting display. They certainly got around, those Vikings. We ate at a Turkish restaurant afterwards. I must have been suffering from my earlier fast though, as there are, unusually, no photos.

Yes, I fasted for 12 hours overnight prior to my free old farts’ health check with the GP. This is when the rot set in. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure but as I was training for a long bike ride, I chose not to start taking medication until after that event. So, in the following November, I started taking anti-hypertension medication. Wow: shortness of breath, no stamina, I felt horrible. Even after a change of drugs, I still felt ridiculously weak and feeble.

Once I stopped working for Royal Mail, the BP dropped to fairly normal and I stopped taking the medication. But here I am, two years on, still with nowhere near the stamina I once had. I don’t have dizzy spells as often as I did back then, but every now and then, if I stand up too quick, I feel all wobbly. I know there are risks with high blood pressure, but really, I was much better off before I knew I ever had high blood pressure!

But that’s all in the past. The really exciting news is that Liesel had been talking to a Travel agent about our travels. All very exciting but the bad news is, I forgot we had to pay for it. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, but the schedule so far looks quite breathtaking, although subject to change: Vancouver, Anchorage, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, Botswana. This will be much more fun to write about when the time comes than all this house-moving mallarkey.

 

Ireland PS

Liesel’s Ireland post-script:

It has been two months now since I stopped working.  I am amazed at how different I feel. I am:  sleeping through the night, awake on the weekends, eating less (not anxiety eating), losing weight, more energy, concentrating and reading ‘new’ books, and, my hair is growing back.  Bottom line, work really was harming me mentally and physically.   I feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to figure out how to have a better work-life balance, spending time and seeing the world with my best friend, Mick.

So, if you’ve been reading our blog, you’ll know that Mick and I have completed our trip to Ireland.  What a spectacular country.  Highlights were: stunning scenery, walking empty beaches, great weather, and catching up with my friend Catherine and her family.

I’ve been rehashing our trip to Ireland for the last couple of days and thinking about what worked and what could have made our trip better.  Our intention had been to slow down really enjoy our surroundings, no to do list of places we had to see and things we had to do.  We did this but there were a couple of days when we didn’t get back until late and we’re really tired.  I think we can do better!

If I intend to keep up with Mick and my Alaska friends, I must remember to pack a tennis ball and stretch at the end of every day in order keep my piriformis muscle happy.  I had a really painful 8 mile hike up the Gap of Dunloe and paid for my pain the next day as well.

We now know that we can get by on a week’s worth of clothes (or less, in Mick’s case) and can successfully carry our packs for a comfortable 5 miles.

As you may have guessed, I cannot part with my hairdryer but wearing no makeup is working for me. Solid shampoo can work for us but we need to find a solution to getting it out of the tin.

We enjoyed a road trip holiday but need to scale back the miles of travel given the amount of time we have.  2000 km in 2 weeks was too much.

We must exercise every day we can.  We both feel better, sleep better and can eat without guilt.

We don’t have to do everything together, I need the occasional quiet day to read, cook and relax. Likewise, Mick enjoys a the occasional faster-paced, extra-long walk.

I now appreciate that big towns and cities are less interesting when you cannot shop due to space limitations in my luggage and our restrictive budget.   I have to prioritise what museum(s) I want to see the most and I won’t be able to afford all of them.

Can we stick to £100 a day including accommodation?  We can but there are compromises.  We ate big breakfasts (included with our accommodation price) and had a main meal at 4 or 5 p.m. and nothing else.  Now, I love my food, but not every meal has to be gourmet.  Mick needs at least one latte a day.   If we have to compromise on accommodation, we’d rather be in the countryside and have a bathroom to ourselves.

Dublin again

Two days in Dublin’s fair city and yes, the girls are pretty. The city itself though will look a lot prettier once the referendum is over and the big ‘No’ and ‘Yes’ posters are taken down. At Heuston Station, we apologised for not being able to vote as we were just visiting, but we assured the ‘Yes’ campaigners that we were on their side, for what it’s worth.

When we first went to buy tickets for Kilmainham Gaol Museum, the only timeslot available was for 5pm, so we decided to buy tickets for the next day instead. Managing the queues to get inside to join the queue to buy tickets was a tough job. Dave coped quite well, though, even turning a group of six away who would not get in this day.

It would be easier to get into this gaol by committing a criminal offence, I thought.

No? Dave the queue handler wasn’t too impressed by this throwaway line either.

Today we retuned and after a quick coffee (but no cake) in the café, we joined a group of about 40 in the holding cells. Pat was the guide’s name. He showed us around the old gaol, telling us about its history and indeed the struggle for Irish independence. There was a lot of history here that I certainly didn’t learn at school. Sometime it’s hard to be English when you learn how we treated peoples from pretty much everywhere else on the planet. Plenty of tragic stories to be told, here.

20180521_1328144882631355931057768.jpg

The museum, as is often the case, had too much to digest in one visit. Lots of documents and photos.

Just down the road and through the park is the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Its design is based on Les Invalides in Paris. I noticed a sundial and the following dialogue took place:

Mick: Looking at the sundial, I reckon it’s about ten past twelve.

Liesel: But the Sun’s not even out.

Mick: So? Not bad, though, my Fitbit says is 12:02.

Sundial at IMMA

Temple Bar is a famous name and we spent some time in this pub two days running. On the first occasion, there was a small band playing Irish folk songs and other songs. Today, there was a solo performer, also singing Irish folk songs as well as songs by Cat Stevens, Johnny Cash and George Harrison. On both occasions, we heard about Molly Malone and about The Belle of Belfast City.

Cornucopia was a good find, a veggie restaurant on Wicklow Street. So good, we went there twice, too. The weather was OK both days, not a lot of sunshine, not much of the predicted rain either, but today was very close, very humid, and we were flagging by mid-afternoon.

Our main mode of transport has been the Luas Tram network. The signs and announcements are all in two languages, and after a while, you get a feel for the Irish words. Some are similar to English, some are similar to French and other langauges, but nearly always, by English standards, there are far too many letters in Irish Gaelic words! It’s easy to love the Luas Tram Rad Line with colourful station/stop names such as Blackhorse, Goldenbridge, Bluebell and Red Cow.

It’s usually taken us to and from our b&b in Tallaght, to the south of Dublin, but I don’t know if we would have chosen to stay here if we’d known its etymology: plague pit.

But today, after our meal at Cornucopia, we caught a 49 bus, knowing it would cross a tram line at some point, where we could change. But, fortuitously, it took us all the way to Tallaght, and a ten-minute walk later found us back in our room, preparing for our early departure tomorrow, listening to the radio and looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

Emerald from the bus
Emerald from the bus

Dublin

In Dublin’s fair city
Where the girls are so pretty
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone
As she wheeled her wheelbarrow
Through the streets broad and narrow
Crying “cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh”
Molly Malone Statue
Molly Malone Statue – we did not stroke her boobs, although it seems many people have done so

Well, Molly Malone wasn’t the first person we saw in Dublin. Not the tenth, not the hundredth. There are thousands of people in Dublin, more than we’ve seen in the last 10 days or so. We’ll get used to the crowds soon enough, but it’s a bit of a shock to the system after having the Irish countryside and the roads pretty much to ourselves for so long.

Sadly we missed the great event of the day, but as we drove through Foxford on our way to Dublin, we noticed that they were setting up the world-famous Goat Fair. By the side of the road, we saw goats, chickens, rabbits and other food waiting to entertain the people.

The drive to Dublin was far easier than we’d expected: we dropped our bags off at the new b&b, returned the hire car, and spent the afternoon walking around the capital city. It was a beautiful day, we’ve been so lucky with the weather, on the whole.

We found St Stephen’s Green and had a lie down under an oak tree for a while, watching people, trying not to rest our eyes too much.

We read about the royal wedding, Harry and Megham, the American preacher, the dress, the choir, the crowds, but we were very happy where we were, thank you. Mrs Beckham (see previous post) was there, not really enjoying the ceremony, apparently.

Thanks again to Catherine and her beautiful family for putting up with us over there in Ballina for the last few days. That’s Bally-nah, not Balleener, like something you’d get out of whales. She and her husband, Fionn, whom we first met last night, ran a half-marathon this morning and it’s a shame we couldn’t stay to cheer them on. Or join in.

We’re now in Tallacht, south-west of the city, and it’s quiet here (apart from the motor bike) and the view to the south is pretty good considering we are so close to the city.

The good news is, we found the missing binoculars, in exactly the same place that we’d found a wallet that went missing for a couple of days. There is some kind of gravitational anomaly under that driver’s seat: someone else’s problem, now!

Downpatrick Head

Maybe it was too much fresh air yesterday, maybe it was the beer I drank in the evening (not Guinness), but whatever it was, I am very grateful. For I won a radio competition to help Pink Floyd finish off their latest album, Dark Side of the Moon.

I went to the studio and was told to go into the recording booth with Roger Waters and Roger Dean. The three of us were to sing “That was the news”, one after the other, and this would become the refrain for one of the songs, Our Beauty. In fact, so that I knew what to do, Roger Waters played me the track from the CD.

Meanwhile, in the corner, sat a young girl reading the news. In the opposite corner sat (Jimmy S)a vile man blowing vile cigar smoke into the room.

As the news finished, I heard my own voice singing “That was the news”. Then everyone started laughing! The joke was on me: the radio station just wanted a post-news jingle and I’d unwittingly provided it.

Even within the drean, I then realised that (1) CDs weren’t around when Dark Side of the Moon was recorded (2) There is no such track as Our Beauty on it (3) Roger Dean wasn’t a member of Pink Floyd and (4) The Roger Waters I’d met was an imposter.

Dreams are strange phenomena: you make them up in your own mind and yet you can still be surprised by the things that happen or by what people say. They might come up with a perfectly reasonable answer to a question that you hadn’t thought about.

For example, there was the time I met Victoria Beckham.

“Oh, hello, Vicky”, I said.

“I hate being called Vicky”.

“Oh, sorry. What about Victoria?”

“Oh no, you don’t know me and I don’t know you.”

“Well, what should I call you, then?”

“What’s wrong with Mrs Beckham?”

That was me put in my place.

Today was our last full day in the west of Ireland and I think it’s fair to say: we’ll be back. We’ve enjoyed it immensely, but there is so much more to see. Even apart from that, we just enjoy being here, appreciate all that nature offers and love the friendliness of the people.

We went with Catherine to her favourite place, Downpatrick Head, on the north coast. In fact, this was the furthest north we’d visit on this trip.

It’s a cliff-top, windy place for a walk, and on a stormy day, the sea has been known to wash over the cliffs. Lots of birds, such as guillemots, are nesting on the cliffs and if I were a rock-climber, I’m sure I would want to climb the sea-stack.

Downpatrick Head Sea-stack
Downpatrick Head Sea-stack

The geology of the place is fascinating, some of the rock has cracked into squares, different from the hexagons at Giant’s Causeway. Who knows, maybe one day I will go back and do the Open University Geology course, which I once considered, but I chose another Maths course instead.

There are a couple of blowholes too which I’m sure are exciting to see on a good day, but for now, we were just happy to admire the views.

Liesel and Catherine
Liesel and Catherine adding to the natural beauty of Downpatrick Head

Back in Ballycastle, we enjoyed coffee and scones at Mary’s Kitchen, a really cute little place. According to the menu, Mary has turned grey over the ten years since she arrived, but her husband hasn’t, yet!

We had a quick look in the local gallery, Ballinglen, which had a display downstairs and a library upstairs where I could have spent a long time browsing through the books.

Catherine had to return to work, so Liesel and I set off towards Sligo but in the end, Easky was as far as we went. Knowing we have a long drive, back to Dublin, tomorrow, I think we were both happy to stop here, coffee, millionaire shortbread for me and a sandwich for Liesel, and a walk to the beach where we explored a 811-year old castle and watched a surfer fail to really get going.

Easky Castle
Easky Castle, built in 1207, now incomplete

Belleek Forest Park

Melinda was mine ’til the time
That I found her
Holding Jim
And loving him

So begins Neil Diamond’s song, Solitary Man, which shuffled into play in the car a few days ago. This song went through my mind today when I was in the depths of the forest. Not that I’m a solitary man, and I don’t think I’ve ever known a Melinda, but I was making the most of my solitude.

Today is the seventeenth anniversary of Sarah’s departure from us. Another Thursday 17th May. In some ways, it’s a lifetime ago but in other ways, it’s such a recent event.

I took advantage of the opportunity to go for a long walk my myself, while Liesel went shopping, did some cooking and otherwise had a relaxing day.

Within walking disance of Catherine’s house in Ballina is Belleek Forest Park. It was quiet, peaceful and I saw very few other people. The paths are well maintained, well sign-posted and there is a lot to look at.

I followed the river Moy for a while too, thinking I might get as far as where it enters the Atlantic, but looking at a map afterwards, that was far too ambitious.

The Crete Boom is a ship made of concrete that was used by the Royal Navy but now sits gathering moss and seaweed in the Moy.

Crete Boom
Crete Boom

I was surprised to see warning signs of Japanese knotweed in a couple of places: not the vegetation I would have sought out. The forest was of course full of trees, some of which I could identify and some of which I identified from the flyer I’d picked up. Sycamore, lime, beech, oak, willow, elm, hornbeam and Monterey pine trees are all there, standing tall and proud. And putting all the world’s problems into perspective: I didn’t want to think about Brexit, Trump, Iran, North Korea, Israel, Palestine, plastics in the oceans. I wanted to spend time with Sarah, who has missed out on all our adventures over the last seventeen years, missed out on meeting her grandchildren, and I tried not to go through the cycle of thinking how unfair it all was, and what if, and if only.

Instead, I recalled the happy times we’d had together, with regret that those times didn’t last longer, but equally pleased that we’ve all moved on. I am so proud of Helen and Jenny and I’m sure their Mum would be very proud too.

There are red squirrels in the forest, but I didn’t see any. I didn’t see any rabbits either, nor any other animals bigger than birds. But it was a beautiful day to commune with nature while my thoughts meandered backwards and forwards through time.

Hmm, yes, I was enjoying communing with nature. Meanwhile, some other folks had been closely communing in nature.

Ring Fort with a used condom packet, some folks have all the fun
Ring Fort

When I left the forest, I walked along the road for a while, having seen a sign for Moyne Abbey. I thought that would be a good place to stop, but after every brow of a hill, I could see no sign of an abbey. So as a last resort, I looked at the map on my phone and realised I was still an hour’s walk away. I went back to the forest, again saying hello to the cows and the bulls and the donkey and standing well to the side of the road when a tractor appeared.

In the forest, I followed different paths until I found Belleek Castle. Yesterday, Catherine had said there was a coffee shop here, so that became an urgent destination. Coffee and a scone. I recalled the holidays Sarah and I had had BC, before children, often in the Cotswolds, often in the rain. Tea shops rather than coffee shops usually supplied the scones for afternoon tea, but it’s funny to note how things have changed over the years, but not much, really.

Belleek Castle
Belleek Castle

Yes, I’m sure we will always miss Sarah, she and Liesel would have a lot of laughs at my expense, I’m sure, if they’d ever met.

Back at home, we enjoyed the pasta salad and the banoffee pie that Liesel had made, along with a bottle of beer from Catherine that Lochlainn has chosen for me!

Solitary Man? Not me, I’m a very lucky bloke, I’ve met and fallen in love with two wonderful women, I have two beautiful daughters and two fantastic grandchildren. This is what’s important, not the stupid stuff that I tend to whinge about a bit too often.

So, a million thanks and lots of love to all of you who have made and who continue to make my life as fantastic as it is.