Motorhoming – don’t you love it?

We’re not natural nature people. Not really. Not ‘climb every mountain’. Nor long walks whenever the chance arises. It’s not that we’re sloths. Townies. It’s just that our days get full of stuff and to keep ourselves fit we run. Every second day, religiously.

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we would never have done this if we weren’t in Doris

But something changes when we’re away in Doris. Hills shout at us. Valleys beckon us. Peaks wolf whistle – loudly. And so we become converts. We walk. And walk. And, when we’re not walking, we cycle (power assisted, of course).

And it’s fab. We’ve been in Scotland for just 4 days and we’ve already walked three times and cycled once. Today, in what looks likely to be the only pure Spring day in the near future, we walked up to a small lake – two hours up, and an hour back – having parked Doris in the car park of Creag Meagaidh park. It was a fabulous walk and the view at the end of the valley was among the top 50 things we’ve ever seen. We were accompanied by people with ice axes and crampons as they left the lake and attacked the sides. It was a perfect spot. So much so that we’ve decided to stay here another night and head off to Fort William tomorrow.

The night before last we parked outside of an old army friend of C’s, south of Dundee looking over the Tay (thanks Cat). And yesterday we popped into the new V&A in Dundee, which, if it’s your bag, is next to Cook’s Discovery. The V&A is brand-spanking and was apparently designed to look like a rock face. It’s not quite Guggenheim, and inside there is more coffee shop than gallery, but it is really worth a visit. Alongside the Discovery I think it looks more like a concrete ship, but what do I know?

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they’re both boats?

Heading further west tomorrow where we are due to be met by wind, rain and, maybe, some sleet. Hurrah?

And me? Well I feel much better. The old ticker has settled down a bit. It’s still throwing the odd-wobbly, but for v short periods of time – minutes rather than hours. I’ve tried to think of all the environmental things that may have played their part, but can’t think of much. C reckons I’m stressed, what with Dad’s hospitalisation, Mum on her own, me and work at Jen’s and at the school in Farnham – plus all of the early mornings, but I can’t see it myself. Anyhow, the good news is that as I type this my heart is beating away with rhythm that you could write a song to. For that there’s another hurrah!   

I’m still here

Scotland. The land of potholes, thin roads and fast-moving logging trucks. Don’t worry, we haven’t written Doris off, although she has taken a helluva stone chip on her front bumper which will need filling. But I’d forgotten how badly potted most of their roads are … and with Doris’s suspension akin to that of a 4-tonner (the army will understand) we do get rattled about a bit.

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Night one

Leaving aside my heart (more of which in a bit) it’s great to be away. We stopped at a Caravan Club CL off the M5 parallel with Manchester the day before yesterday (£8, no EHU). It was by a canal and so we both managed a joggette in the morning before our assault on L’Ecosse. We stopped at the middle-class ‘Teebay Services’ for lunch (Lake District and v posh) before turning right off the M74 and parking up on the hills on the way to Edinburgh. The freedom to pick and chose where you kip still takes my breath away. It was between two Scottish hills and whilst C was sorting out tea, I pushed myself up the hill just to check that my heart was still working when asked. As you can tell, it has been on my mind a bit.

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Up the hill … Where’s Doris?

Today we’ve made our way to the Edinburgh Caravan Club site (technically it’s now the Caravan and Motorhome Club, but that wears out my fingers) which is right on the Forth, a short bus ride from the city centre. At £18, including all facilities, it’s a bargain. We’ve come here because we’re due to meet up (for tea) with an ex-army chap (and his wife) who I’ve met on Instagram. I know, it all sounds a little dubious, but he’s a fellow motorhomer and last year they did North Cap to Spain, including, if I remember rightly, much of Eastern Europe. It’ll be fun to hear the story.

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And me? Well it comes and goes. It’s been two weeks since my first heart episode. I saw the GP on Monday (as instructed by the hospital) and they have referred me to the cardiology unit where, in a couple of weeks, I should be fitted with a 24-hour ECG machine. However, the old heart has not settled down. In between extended periods of something close to normalness I get these ‘fits’ (mostly when static and mostly in the evening) where each of the heart’s chambers wrestle with who’s in charge. Interestingly (from my perspective – you’re bored now, I can tell) whereas my one attack of AF was like three hours with my fingers in a socket where the kettle should be, this is different. It’s as though the heart, which is normally lethargic (52 bpm) slows to a stop and then wakes up in a fit – like a tired student trying to stay awake at a lecture; his head rubber-necking. For a couple of hours. Last night, after sustained period of flip-flopping, I almost woke C up and to say, ‘let’s go home’. But I went back to sleep and things are much more normal this morning.

We shall see.

Off to Dundee tomorrow to meet up with an old pal of C’s and a trip to the new V&A, which should be fun.

Oh … and it was my birthday yesterday. Loving the nose hair clippers …

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The NHS

I’m becoming a bit of an expert when it comes to the NHS (National Health Service for my overseas readers; you’re very welcome here, by the way – don’t listen to the Brexenophobes). I’ve been in its clutches in one way or another for the last 24 hours. First with dad in Colchester General, and then I decided to pay Bristol Southmead a visit last night.

The NHS is a behemoth. It employs 1.5 million workers. And with doctors, surgeons, nurses, cleaners, caretakers, drivers … (I could go on), it pretty much represents every strata of the UK. I can tell you now that it employs people from all over the world: I know two Spaniards and an Indian quite well now; and a couple from Essex, which might as well be a foreign land to the rest of us.

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Southmead has its own resident cat – how cool is that?

It is big. And, I’m guessing as a result, a bit slow. C and I popped into Southmead just after two yesterday morning and, whilst we did see three different nurses and I had my blood pressure taken more times than was necessary and had wires stuck to every spare piece of flesh and then strapped to a machine that goes ‘ping’, we didn’t see a doctor until gone nine. And we were out 15 minutes later.

And the staff with dad (who is very poorly, but today mum says he is looking a bit brighter – we’re made of strong stuff, us Ladleys) were less enthusiastic than those at A&E last night. And I felt that they had too much to do, and on that list wasn’t giving my pop the nursing care you sort of expect. But, with staff shortages and maybe without the stern oversight of Hattie Jacques bursting out of her matron’s uniform, they’re just all a bit floppy. C, an ex-Army nurse, was spotting all sorts of nursing ‘don’ts’, but dad was comfortable. And safe.

Of course, the biggest thing which we all take for granted is that the NHS if free. From my 111 phone call last night, to the two bits of toast and two cuppas this morning, and a wonderful post-Brexit chat to a lovely Spanish nurse [issue: if we leave the EU, Spanish nurses stop earning ‘equivalent experience’ points which they can trade for a job back home – jobs which are in short supply; hence they are all thinking about moving away from the NHS to somewhere where there are jobs that the Spanish health service will recognise. Nice one Brexit.] the cost to me was zilch. Yes, it would have been nice to see a doctor before the sun had risen, but we were sat in our own cubicle and I was checked on regularly. I was never in danger. And it was all free. We should not take that for granted.

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Special chair for the weak kid on the touchline with oranges

So, what’s wrong with me?

I have an ectopic heartbeat (an extra beat that surprises me every so often) which developed into full-blown atrial fibrillation (AF) ten years ago … that’s where the heart dances to its own tune, indignantly ignoring the instructions that are designed to allow you to climb the stairs without passing out. I was admitted … and a half-an-hour drip later my heart was back under command. A round of tests later and I was told to expect this to happen more and more, and at some point I’d be fitted with a pacemaker with a rheostat that I could turn up just before I went out for a Saturday Park Run.

But nothing happened. Sure, my ectopic heartbeat continued to ambush me, but no more AF.

Until last week. When, instead of a full blown AF episode, my heart picked a fight with itself as to who was in charge of the beating. Then, the good old sinus nerve (the one who should be in charge) asserted itself and all was well. I weathered this for a bit, but then by about 1.30 last night I’d had enough and, via 111, admitted myself … with a sleepy C following me dutifully.

The prognosis is unclear. I have to get a 24 hour ECG and then they’ll look at the results. Hopefully it’ll be another passing episode and I can forget about it for a while longer. Who knows.

For the record? I had two really good days down at the school in Farnham and I might have picked up another job at a school slightly closer to home. And, notwithstanding wandering around with a bunch of wires stuck to my skin for 24 hours sometime soon, we’re hoping to get up to Scotland before Friday and have a couple of weeks wandering around in Doris.

In the meantime the government has a chance to redeem itself this week. But, somehow, I feel we’re in for a series of events designed to try to get May’s deal through the Commons. I live in hope that this is not the case.

Mmm, towbar

There is so much to write about, but if I did I might lose my final three readers. But, come on, unless I misunderstand May’s letter and Tusk’s reply we now find ourselves having to either accept the PM’s plan (which, BTW, gives away the crown jewels and only then opens trade talks with the EU … they have all the cards) or leave without a deal. Both of which I thought had been written off. The first by Speaker Bercow; the second by Parliament last week. Where on earth does this leave us? Has sanity lost the will to live and deserted London for the Shires? Does any of this make sense?

Ho-hum.

On a more positive note (realising you’ve just eaten ham that’s two weeks out of date is more positive than Brexit) after a couple of days work at Jen’s, and in preparation for picking up the trike trailer on the way back from Scotland, we had our towbar fitted today. The photos tell the story. A fab job by LNB Leisure. They’re based in Aztec West, just half a mile from here. I took Doris in this morning, ran home, did some stuff – including taking Jen for a consultation – and then picked her up this afternoon. The cost = £950, including grounding wheels, which I love. That’s £400 cheaper than an equivalent quote I got last year.

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Other than the service, which was great, what was fab was that they fitted a special bracket for our external alarm socket and put a little sticker reminding us that this was not where you stick your trailer electrics. And for £20 they soldered the extra plate back onto the silencer which had fallen off on the way to the MoT. So, all-in-all, a proper job, even if we’re now a good deal poorer.

I’m off to the school for two days work, and then I’m up seeing Mum on Friday night/Saturday. My bum is beginning to look like the Focus’s seat base. We then have just a couple of days before we head off to Scotland.

CAN’T WAIT! (Hurrah …).

 

 

What to write?

I’ve just deleted a paragraph talking about His Donaldness and right-wing supremacists … he doesn’t think it’s a problem –  just a few people. Grrrr. And then I paused and was about to pen something on Theresa May’s insistence that she’s allowed to ask government to vote again for the third time on an unchanged EU Breixt deal next week, whilst there’s always a sharp intake of breath anytime anyone suggests that we go back to the people and ask them what they think about where Brexit is heading.

But I didn’t.

So I thought I write something on the Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, who started the whole Friday school-strike malarkey on climate change, which has spread to 1600 cities in 105 countries. Apparently she might get the Nobel Peace prize. If she were a British student she would only be allowed to collect the prize once she’d finished 1,000 lines – I will not play truant, even if the water levels are above my knees – to be completed on Monday afternoon detention.

But I gave up on that.

Instead I thought I’d come closer to home. First, Dad is in hospital with a UTI. Apparently if you have dementia and get a urinary infection it can send your mind into all sorts of places it shouldn’t be. We’ve seen him this afternoon and he is very weak. Both C and I would be surprised if they let him home anytime soon … which might mean that he finishes his time there. That would be very sad, but when your Dad is as tired and confused and as unhappy and frustrated as he is, and at 88 and having had a full life, that may not be so awful. I think. We spent a couple of hours with him today. We got him out of bed, gave him a wash and a shave and, having fed him, left him to his sleep.

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I forgot to mention that we spent Friday and Saturday night with R&C (many, many thanks) … and Burgundy, who is clearly v comfortable.

Mum is fragile and a little confused, but coping really well. Their carers have been brilliant – immensely flexible and very helpful. We are all lucky there. Whether she can cope full time remains to be seen. A day at a time.

On a more upbeat note, we’ve booked our flights too and from East Asia. Over a six week period we fly (via HK) to Seoul, then to Singapore and finally from Hanoi to Seoul, and then fly home. I’m not a fan of flying. It’s nothing to do with being in the air (or, indeed, plummeting out of it), it’s the environmental impact. There are other choices, of course. Like don’t go. Or buy a camel and take a bit longer. Neither of which are great options. Anyhow, we shopped around and, in total, the cost of all of the flights is £900 each. Which I don’t think is a bad price, although we’re probably got seats in the hold.

Notwithstanding catastrophe here we have a week of work at Jen’s and then I have two days at the school at the end of the week … and then a weekend free. And then, mid the next week, we’re off to Scotland for a couple of weeks in Doris. Hurrah … blooming … hurrah.

Can’t wait.

Confused?

Every time I hear (or read) a Brexiteer  talking about our negotiating position – how removing ‘no deal’ from the table weakens our position, or how the original referendum was the will of the people that must be met, in my head I shout, ‘remind me, what are the benefits of Brexit again?’

What are they?

Is it about stopping the Romanians from coming over here and stealing our jobs? Is it about all those millions of pounds we send to Brussels which then gets spent unwisely on frivolous projects in Greece and Southern Italy? Is it about stopping the European Court from making half-arsed decisions that overturn those made by our own courts? Or perhaps is the mad edicts, invented by overpaid bureaucrats in Brussels, that straighten our bananas and inflict ridiculous health and safety laws on us. Or that, outside of the largest economic bloc in the world, we will be free to make our own trade deals which will ensure that Britain prospers more than it is at the moment?

Are those the benefits? Are they? That’s what you told us. Remember?

Then why, or why, aren’t the Brexiteers banging those drums now? Why aren’t they reminding us every day of the ‘no lose’ decision (their words, not mine) of leaving the EU? All of the brilliant things that are going to come our way. All the many positives.

Instead, why are they holding up a fading piece of paper which shows that, almost three years ago (a very long time in politics), less than a third of those eligible to vote in this country decided we should leave the EU … based on a hugely misleading campaign underpinned by illegal canvassing methods.

No, it’s no longer about the positives. No. We’re leaving now because we, apparently, voted for it. And not because it has proven to be a really a good idea … because it hasn’t. In the three years since the vote it has been shown that the positives have been overplayed and are now outweighed by the negatives. Reality has blown away the smoke and we can now see the mirrors. The small print is no longer quite so small.

Tell me again, Bexiteers, what are the benefits of leaving EU? I know, I know. We voted for it. I hear you. But, come again. Now that we are at the door, what are the real benefits of leaving? ‘Cos sure as hell, I can list a dozen reasons why we shouldn’t.

Humbug.

Let’s see what calamities befall us in Parliament tomorrow. Hopefully sense will prevail, we extend Article 50 by a year, a new proposal is put together and the people get to vote on it. A meaningful vote. No smoke. And no mirrors. An informed choice.

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Anyhow, for the record, a couple of days of good sewing at Jen’s. We are making some pretty fine stuff. Dad’s in hospital having had a fall. Kevin has been on the spot, which has been really helpful as I thought I was going to have to get in the car and head off the Colchester. Mum’s in a tizz, but there may be some good that comes out of this.

And today I made some more covers for Doris’s seats. Am a seamstress. Well, sort of.

That’s all from me …

Scoff away …

Today Jeremy Hunt said, in so many ways, that if MPs don’t vote for May’s plan on Tuesday then a second referendum might well be an outcome – which would overturn Brexit. You might want to read that sentence again. And once more. The government is running shy of exposing the will of the people … now that the people are better informed.

It doesn’t bear thinking about.

I am unlikely to vote Conservative again in my lifetime. However, with Comrade Corbyn forcing a 70s agenda down our throats, I can’t see me voting Labour either. Advice please.

Now, away from politics. We’ve between campervanning since the 80s. We’ve owned six different vans from v small to pretty blooming big (aka Doris). Until recently we used to scoff at old people (like me …) turning up with a van as big as Tescos. And double scoff at old people turning up with a van as big as Tescos pulling a car, or similar. They weren’t proper vanners … they had too much comfort (ehh?) and, what was with pulling a car? Why not just have a decent car and tug a caravan?

Well … he starts quietly … mid-last week we went the final step and bought a trailer on eBay for Doris to lug about our Piaggio mp3. And, on the same day, I booked Doris in to get a towbar fitted. This pulling a trike about, which is probably as much about mid-life crisis as it is anything else, is not a cheap option. All together we’re getting on for £6,500: nearly-new bike, towbar and nearly-new trailer. And don’t forget the extra 1.5 metre length to the van and the multitude of behind-the-hands scoffs that will follow us from site-to-site and aire-to-aire. And we certainly won’t get any help from anyone if we struggle to park Doris with her new appendage. Nobody will come to our rescue, Everyone will blame our choices.

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Our trailer – not our bike … which is red.

Will it last? I hope so. We could have really done with the trike in 2017 in Croatia (+ a trip into Bosnia) and would have loved to have had it for our 8 months away on our original Italy/Greece tour in 2014. And, now we’ve definitely got Morocco in our sights for a 6-weeker sometime soon, the idea of having a motorbike to head off into the Sahara seems like a really good plan.

We’re having the towbar fitted (including rearwheels to prevent grounding – soooo excited) in a couple of weeks. And we are picking up the trailer – an unused Armitage side-entry motorcycle trailer fitted especially for an mp3 – on the way back from Scotland in the second week in April.

V excited.

We’ve had Mary here for the weekend and I’m working Monday and Tuesday at Jen’s. We’ve a funeral to attend (nobody you’d know) on Friday and then Richard and Caroline’s for the weekend. Hurrah!

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I hope you’re surviving the storms …

Call me Jonathan Ross

OK, Jonathan Ross no longer does the BBC film show, nor do I think the BBC even has a film show other than Front Row on Radio 4. So, you definitely need someone like me, every so often, to remind you of what’s good and what’s not so good.

Let’s face it, anything to take our minds off the train wreck that is Brexit. And have our attentions diverted from His Orangeness – who’s not having a great couple of weeks now that it’s been shown that North Korea have started working on their missile sites again, and the US trade deficit (something his tariffs were meant to be sorting) is the largest for a decade. That’s what happens when you put a talent show host in charge of the largest economy in the world. And, back in the UK, when we employ people like ‘failing Grayling’ to oversee the unnecessary (that is, if the government would rule out a no deal Brexit) additional ferry contracts. Why, oh why are the lunatics in the asylum spending my hard-earned tax paying off Eurotunnel which was, for whatever reason, not made aware of the ferry contracts – bearing in mind they ran a ferry company just a few years ago? And, as a result, they’ve sued the government and won £33 million in damages.

It’s a mad world with the unhinged in charge.

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Anyhow, back onto films and TV. Actually, mostly TV.

If you have Netflix and haven’t watched Black Mirror and Stranger Things, then what have you spending your money on? Both are fabulous. Get over episode 1, season 1 of Black Mirror (where the PM has sex with a pig – that’s put you off already) and you’re onto a real find. Stranger Things is ET, but slightly darker, and we all know how successful ET was. Also on Netflix watch Orphan Black (40-odd episodes) which is about present-day human clones. The main actress – Tatiana Maslany – plays 7 different parts/clones, including a bloke, and she is magnificent. We’ve also watched the series Designated Survivor (a less-intelligent, but watchable version of the West Wing), Travelers (set today, people come back from the future to save the world) and the brilliant The Expanse, which is about a pending war between Mars and Earth. The special effects of The Expanse are out of this world (see what I did there?).

And, staying on Netflix, if you haven’t watched The Good Life, then you’ve missed an ongoing, light-hearted hilarious comedy series about life after death.

I suppose the real reason I’ve turned film critic just now is last night we watched three things in succession which were just fab. First, and you can imagine this being right up our street, we watched episode one of BBC 2’s Race Across The World, which pits 5 couples against each other to get from London to Singapore without using an aircraft, and with only the cost of the flight ticket in their pockets … and no phones, just a map of the world. The relationship side was great, but the travelling was fascinating as they made their way to Delphi (Greece – been there!) for phase one. Next they’re off to one of the ‘Stans … so that should be good.

Next we watched the sitcom Derry Girls which is into its second series. You have to have an ear for it, and as we lived in Londonderry for a bit (it’s set in the height of the troubles) so much of it rings true. Thanks to James and Sheron for putting us onto that. Then we watched Home, another C4 sitcom, about a family returning from holiday to find a Syrian refugee in the boot of their car. You will laugh and cry at the same time … it is fabulously written.

Finally, of course, we’re into Endeavour, which always beats us. We have no idea what’s happening or who did what, but Morse was always like that. Love it.

That’s me. For the record: a couple of days work at Jen’s. Today, I lifted and refitted the kitchen laminate flooring, which I had laid about a year ago, as a case of red wine had leaked overnight and lifted a couple of boards. Shame about the wine …

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Tomorrow I’m off to Mum and Dad’s and then, on Friday, a meeting at the school I work at, all to do with the 360 review I completed last week. It’s a bit of a journey, but I feel I ought to.

And back home … Mary’s down for the weekend. Hurrah!

Busy, busy …

I was asked to attend my old school’s ‘Event on the Lawn’: a rock concert led by student bands. There’s an outdoor and an indoor stage. And music from 6 till 10 pm. It is an extraordinary musical event and, whilst February is hardly a festival month, the atmosphere was excellent. And the rain held off.

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The Event on the Lawn – fab

I was asked back because I ran the original event 10 years ago, which was part of a multi-faceted fundraising effort for Sierra Leone. 10 years. Has it really been that long? Probably. Actually, after today’s run I feel more than 10 years older. Anyhow, after the original event in 2009 C and I took a group of students to Freetown for 2 weeks. And we brought all of them back. It was a fabulous trip on so many levels. I ran the charity for three years and handed it over to another teacher … and it’s so good to know that’s it’s still going strong and kids are still travelling to Freetown. Fab.

It’s been a busy week. On Thursday I was at the school where I mentor conducting a 360 review (I have just sent off the 8-page report). That was a long day. On Friday we popped to Al and Annie’s for supper (thank you!) and yesterday I was at Wells for the Event on the Lawn. In between we been pottering around. With my new seamstress skills I’m making covers for Doris’s chairs … which is not as easy as it looks.

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Oh, and the noise from the front-left wheel of the car? One of the pads is completely shot. As a result we are making a noise like the wheel is about to fall off. She’s booked into ATS first thing tomorrow. At £260 for disc and pads, that’s an expense we weren’t expecting, but we’ll be fine. And, hopefully, noiseless. I’ll let you know.

Finally, we are off to Scotland for a couple of weeks (in Doris) at the end of March. It can’t come quick enough. We’re seeing a couple of C’s old nursing friends as well as visiting the new V&A in Dundee. It’ll be our first trip to Dundee. Then we’re going to make our way to the west coast (our favourite) and, hopefully, walk, drink and sleep, whilst enjoying the fabulous beaches and countryside.

Keep safe and dry until I scribe some more drivel!