The skye is leaking …

We came to Skye to look over the plans for Jen’s (our younger’s) wedding. She and James have decided that next March they want to get married up here – where the wind blows and the sky leaks. It is very romantic, and the place they have chosen for the (very small) wedding and reception is lovely. But it is a long way from absolutely anywhere and, I would argue, Gretna Green is just as romantic. And closer. We mustn’t grumble. Unlike our elder’s recent affair, at least we won’t have to spend three days in decorating mode – the venue pretty much does it all for us.

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Bob, Cath et al enjoying Skye

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Watching the CalMac ferry from Armadale

We love the northwest stretch of our green and pleasant land. Its greener. And much more pleasant up here. There’s a barrenness, almost bleakness which makes you want to buy a croft, put some logs on the fire, get out the typewriter and post a big sign on your front door: no visitors! That of course would be great for a couple of weeks and then you’d want to pop to the shops, or get fed up with being hypothermic. And then you’d be heading down south for some sunshine and retail therapy. I think. Living up here is, like most avenues C and I discuss, an option.

We’re staying at a lovely cottage that James’ mum and dad have rented (hello Bob and Cath!). They’re here for the week – we leave on Friday. It’s been great to get to know them better, but it has hardly helped me get close to finishing the article I’m writing – I think the title is going to be ‘How I became an unsuccessful novelist’. Or similar …

Finally, some of you might have noticed that I have tried to sharpen my Instagram posts. And I am also throwing some stuff out on Twitter. I am trying my best to build a social media presence. More of which later, when I find out whether or not it’s been worthwhile. Anyhow, I must dash. I think we’re out to supper…

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Back to the drawing board

When I first started penning this nonsense (in 2013) we were heading for a break clean – leavng employment and disappearing off into the sunset in a cloud of unburnt diesel. The day we stuck the original Doris into first gear, I started writing full time – that is every day. I tried to be humorous – Brysonesque if you like. Every so often I would pick

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C looking over the Stour

up a political theme and give you my views on the topic of the day. There was in-depth discussion about the merits of full-timing; and the wonders of waking up with a new horizon every day. A few people liked what I wrote. At one point I was getting 50 unique views a day – over 350 a week.

But posting every day was tough. Finding reliable Wifi wasn’t without stress, especially in far-flung places like Sicily; and when I started writing my first novel, Unsuspecting Hero, I also found that I was running out of time. So I cut production, OPEC-like, to twice a week, Wednesdays and Sundays. And then I wrote for writing’s sake, almost a diary. It became a slog, especially as I was three books down and writing a fourth. The blog was second-place in a two horse race.

Now I’m on Instagram and have been for over a year. I post religiously – every day. IMG_20170827_112735928Which further adds to the social media pressure (I also have a Facebook page which needs updating). Is it any wonder that this drivel became more, well, drivel-like?

And then, on Friday, we visited pals of ours, The Blyths. Seymour is an old Army friend and Debbie, his wife, produces and sells her own jewellery (@debborahblythjewellery). Every time we meet we end up discussing our social media footprint, sales, marketing and the like. And this time she really inspired me to make the most of the blog, Instagram, Twitter (which I am now on), Facebook et al. As well as writing my fourth novel. She cited a couple of instances where perseverance had really made a difference.

So, I’m on that! I’m determined to work harder at all this stuff. I won’t get it right, not just yet, but I am determined to get a better presence and make what I do write and photos I do take, count.

Oh, and for the record, we spent an evening with C’s sister, Annie, in Lambourn. And this weekend we’re with Mum and Dad in Colchester – things continue their slow decline here, but no catastrophes yet. Tomorrow, we’re off to Skye to meet up with Jen, James and his family to look over wedding plans for next year. We’re really looking forward to it – other than the drive up and back.

Look what’s on the telly!

As I lay on the hospital gurney I was having a discussion with the nurse about the state of the weather. We were both lamenting the current rubbish summer – and how lucky we both were that we had/were/are taking our breaks abroad. She was off to Minorca in a couple of weeks. C and I, after a short trip to Skye next week, are off to The Bahamas the week after. Of course, as only we can, we are arriving in The Bahamas at the height of the rainy season. And the climax of the rainy season is normally a hurricane. So that’s something to look forward. Maybe we should be going to Minorca?

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Back from a run with Jen.

Anyhow. What were you doing on the gurney, I hear you ask? Good question. Well put. As part of Somerset’s health programme, as a 55-year-old I am asked if I want to attend a bowel screening session. Yes please. At this point I could spend some time describing the self-administered enema this morning (well C helped), and the ignominy of having a camera stuck up my bum, but you don’t need to know the details. The good news that, without the need of the on-tap gas-and-air (apparently I was very brave), I was given the all clear. Actually I could have told the team that, as my insides were on display on a 32-inch TV screen for everyone, including me, to see. I was amazed at how ‘not dirty’ the left hand side of my bowel looks. C, who’s an ex-nurse, says it’s something to do with the enema.  Good. Well a big tick there.

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Thanks to Nicky C for use of the field

We’re in Wells (thanks to Nicky C for the field) on the way to drop off Doris at Chelstons where they have sort of promised to fix the awning leaks once and for all. We’re leaving her for a week and, via Annie B and my M&D, we’re heading north to Skye. Other than the driving, which is likely to sap my will to live, it should all be good fun. Hurrah!

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Apparently I’m the only one who’s not keen on C’s new shades…

And thanks for all the comments and calls about getting a grip and enjoying what we have. Go that. Am doing my best.

Come on Roland!

I’m struggling a little with motivation just now. We’re back from the honeymoon and the future, in the face of it, looks fabulous. We have a week of admin, followed by a week in Skye (by car – Doris is at Chelstons getting her awning fixed once and for all) and then we’re off to The Bahamas for 4 weeks (staying with Bex and Steven) having stopped off in New York for a couple of days. Even after that things look promising. We have our usual jump down to the south of France to finish book four, Christmas at home with the kids and then, probably, ten days skiing in France. Riley has his own saying – living the life of The Ladleys.

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Back home in the West Country. Phew!

But, still, I’m flat. We have the best life and yet I still need a kick up the backside. I have put together a writing plan for the next 3 months, which includes an article about how, as an author, I got to where I am now. And, of course, building on the first four chapters that I have already penned for book 4 (I must get a working title). So I have something to follow, which always helps. But why am I not jumping up and down with glee. Could it be too much of a good thing? Maybe. Maybe it’s about book sales which are teetering on running dry. I’ve still not yet had a day when I’ve not sold a book (at all), but it always seems to me to be a close run thing. I am still not yet in a position where I want to spend money on advertising, mostly because I don’t know if it does any good. That will, however, be the plan (probably via Facebook) in a couple of weeks if things don’t pick up a bit.

Maybe that’s it? I dunno.

And I’m still running, and running well. I ran for 40 minutes yesterday along the canal and felt good. C is also still doing her best to get out. It’s in my genes; not so much for her. So I take my hat off to her every time she goes out. And it helps. There’s no doubt about that. But the weather here is intermittent – and cold? We’ve had the heating on in Doris over the past couple of days. And that doesn’t help…

Never mind. All I do know is that when I look around me here in Penkridge and I see plenty of people having just come back from their holiday and are now ironing their skirts and shirts to go to work on Monday, we have so much to be thankful for. And, really, that’s all I need to push me along. The alternative, which is a daily grind, is not a pleasant alternative.

So, come on Roland. Get a grip. Chin up and best foot forward. After all, Skye, New York, The Bahamas, South of France and then skiing in the Alps is something to really look forward to. How lucky are we?

 

And so it ends…

And so the honeymoon ends. It’s been fab. Great to share a special time with two young people we love, but, also, it’s just been great. We’ve got by with almost no angst (with 4 in a van, that’s not bad), and loads of laughs and smiles. The weather has been poor but, as is always the case with us Ladleys, even though Mrs Sun hasn’t been with us we still squeezed some fun out of where we were. C and I have eaten and drunk a bit more than we usually do, and Bex and Steve agree with that statement. Steve says he’s looking forward to getting back to the Bahamas for a stricter diet. We, as some of you know, are joining them for a month in September, so doubtless will join the regime.

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Brugges

Bruges was much better than either C or I remembered it. It is a truly beautiful city, with so many pretty bricked buildings, a huge beautiful square and plenty of canals. However, it is uber-busy and very expensive. Parking is easy enough. If you’re just there for the day/night you can park for free on the inner ring road (if you don’t mind the traffic). There were lots of vans doing it. We parked in the main Aire, which is €25 a night with all services. The Aires (there are two either side of the road) are tight. However, if you don’t need electricity then you can park on the adjacent coach park next to the canal using the same barrier entry and exit system. It’s still €25, but with much more room!

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Doris has been fab. I did think she might just be a bit on the tight side, but at no point did I think we were struggling. We have a partition door which separates our bedroom and loo from the main room and the drop down bed. That really made a difference in the evenings. And, first thing when I was up making a cuppa and checking on book sales (about 3/4 a day still), I was able to draw the curtain on their bed and privacy was retained. Only today C and I were discussing longer term plans, especially as I have taken a back step from the school leadership thing. In the midterm we can’t see our life changing. Such is the success of Doris!

Anyhow, that’s enough from me. We’re at a French air just short of Calais. Ferry tomorrow and then, in a couple of weeks, a car trip to Scotland to meet up with James and Jen (and his parents) to look over their wedding location for next March. Thankfully we have little to do with this one – a small congregation and a highland hotel which provides everything. It will be great to spend some time with Jen and James in the favourite location of Skye.

Then off to the Bahamas. Hurrah!

Brrrrrrrr

We’re back at Wankum (no sniggering – still) before we launch an assault on Belgium (to Brugges) for a couple of nights. And then the ferry home.

It’s been fun, considering the weather, which has been more autumnal than mid-summer. We did the Brocken. Steve and Bex ran up (500 metres of climb and 6.5km there, and 6.5km back again) whilst C and I walked up, meeting them for a picnic lunch at the top. The Brocken is the old East German listening post with huge towers on top which used to gather info on the unsuspecting West. The weather held, but rained when we got back to the stellplatz. It was a good day.

the top of the Brocken and a couple of idiots

We then drove via one of the few remaining Inner German Border segments – a mile walk into the forest. By chance it is pretty much the same crossing that opens The Innocence of Trust which was a big hurrah for me. And then we drove onto a small village short of Kassel. With the weather inclement we watched a lot of the World Athletics Champs on German satellite. The next day we did Hercules, a huge statue on a hillside above Kassel, but the driving rain forced us into the local cafe where we ate more apple cake and drank coffee. Fab.

= Prologue of The Innocence of Trust

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Last night we made it as far west as Soest, another old British garrison town. We walked a bit, I went for a run (we’ve kept that up between us) and watched Mo get silver and the brilliant blokes and girls relay teams get gold and silver. Hurrah!

Overnight here (C and I have been for a run) and off to Brugges tomorrow. Bex wants to drink lots of  Belgian beer.

Doris has been fab, considering she’s looked after the four of us – and the weather. There has been plenty of room. Although we did have a catastrophic leak a couple of nights ago. Thankfully, after some more self-help fixing, the awning has stayed the course during some torrential rain. But, as C was washing something the other night, the hot water wouldn’t run. I checked all of the taps and the same thing happened – no water. I checked the pump, and that was fine. It could only be one thing – a leak in the hot water system. Somewhere. Thankfully I know the van well, and, also thankfully, I found the split pipe which was right next to the hot water tank. It was gushing out. It took me about half an hour to fix the pipe and C and I another half an hour to mop up the water (which was all on the lower, hidden floor). The beauty about Hymers is that, even though there’s a lot of water sloshing about, the wood and fittings are so strong that a dousing of water is not an issue. Anyhow, that’s all done now.

That’s it from the four of us. Back in the UK on Thursday. Bex and Steven fly back to The Bahamas on Sunday. Hurrah!

Berlin

So, we now know how to do Berlin in a 7.5 metre motorhome. As we travelled east we looked at all of the possible options. Campsites, stellplatzes ‘n all. The advice was sporadic and, in the end, not helpful. Inspired C said ‘let’s go to this stellplatz in Werder (Havel). It’s not cheap, but we can sit still for a day and decide what to do’.

In the end it was perfect, although at €13 with no water nor loo dump it wasn’t cheap. Right by one of the many lakes that define southwest Berlin and next to a lovely olde-worlde island village, we walked for 20 minutes, caught a train into Berlin (€21 for 5 people all day travel), and, tired, a free bus journey back to the campsite. We stayed three nights at the stellplatz. On the second day Steve and Bex hired bikes and we cycled (30 miles) into Potsdam and back. Potsdam is lovely – we’ve been before – full of palaces and green and gold topped churches. Think Versailles, but with bratwurst.

Berlin was lovely. Great weather and lots of walking. We did the Stasi museum (a Fuelling the Fire throwback for me) and walked along a stretch of the wall which has been turned into a graffiti/art museum. And we met with Lulu, one of C’s old girls – a German who lives in Berlin. It was a great day.

Today we have driven westward back toward the old Inner German Border. We’re parked up in another stellplatz in Wernigerode (think Chitti-Chitti-Bang-Bang child catcher village with imposing hilltop castle and you have it). Tomorrow we are walking (Steven and Bex running) up the Brocken – the highest peak in the Harz Mountains and where the East Germans used to listen to the West. Again, we’ve been before, but it’s always worth a trek up this extraordinary piece of recent history.

Book selling still – 5 yesterday (3 paperbacks?). Another 5 have gone already today. I shall break open a bottle of something when we sell 10 in a day. As a reminder, when Fuelling the Fire was at its height I sold 66 copies in one day and, on the same day, 19 copies of Unsuspecting Hero. So I’m far off the height of last year’s sales. But, nonetheless, confidence is high.