Housekeeping

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a motorbike, two e-bikes and a clean garage – hurrah!

If any of you are still with me from the beginning you may remember that when C and I headed off to Europe in a cloud of unburnt diesel we had a budget. It was £50 a day: £40 for living and £10 for fuel. What this didn’t include was van insurance, life insurance etc, which I guess we spent about another £2500 a year on. In short we were aiming to live off £20,000 a year – the two of us. All in.

And we did. In fact, when we were on the continent C was so frugal we were able to save and use that money to take us to the US to see friends, a trip to Istanbul and supported us whilst we skied. So the lesson for anyone trying this life, you need a van and income of £20k a year, you will need to think through how you spend your money, but it is absolutely possible to achieve. Indeed, we know of plenty of people who try it out with considerably less cash.

We did that for four and a half years and then moved into our (lovely) two-up, two-down in Brissol. Things changed then. For a start we lost rental income from the house; but I started to work a little more – not much, but enough to cover the loss of rental income. But we have kept the premise the same: C pays for our living and she gets £40 a day (out of that she pays for electricity, water, some charity stuff  and wifi; I pay for council tax). And she still manages. And we still holiday … and we still manage to save. My work has increased over the past 6 months (for the record, I earn almost nothing from book sales) but I’m not doing more than a couple of days work a month. But ends are being met (our other rental income is paying off the mortgages … it’s a zero-sum gain for day-to-day living).

So what? Inspired by all sorts of stuff I’m going for a ‘buy-nothing’ year. C has nodded consent, but I’m not asking her to join me.

We/I don’t need anything. I have all the clothes I need, there are no gadgets that we are missing. We have a lovely van, a v competent car, a motorbike and two e-bikes. We have coats and boots and skis and snow shoes and … well, you name it and we have it. Our garage is full (massive tidy up this morning, so looking better still) and our attic is bursting (but, again, v tidy and well organised). We have a decent TV, two laptops, we both have (old) phones that do everything we need. We have all we need.

Now, something may break. Indeed the car is one major fault away from having to be replaced, and we have saved enough money to buy a similar replacement. And we will deal with breakages when they come. But, where possible, we will source second hand. That’s my plan.

So, charity shops … you have always been our friend, but now you will become bosom buddies.

And, for the record. I was with the MoD on Wednesday and at a school on Thursday, where, as well as six one-to-ones, I also facilitated a meeting on staff well-being and finished a management course I’ve been running. The final session was ‘how to plan a task’. That’s done now.

I’m a week into exchanges with my audiobook narrator. She’s an ex-student from Wells and we’re four clips into coming to a conclusion as to how best to proceed. I think it will work well and we are both v excited by the prospect. Here’s a link: Sam on a Train – tester mp4Sam on a Train – tester mp4

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the face of a man who found 30 seconds

Friday and today have been admin days. I did run yesterday and found an extra 30 seconds (now at 20.35). I’m out tomorrow morning before we head up to Jen’s to take her to the hospital. I’m hoping to find a few more seconds then. I will get back to sub-20 minutes. I will.

Anyhow, that’s it. We’re still binge watching The Walking Dead. Think Lost but replace the black mist with some zombies. It’s keeping us amused.

Age before beauty

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looking and feeling old

Put your hand up if you’re nearing, or are over 60? What is it with getting old? In the last two years my 5 km run time has dropped by 2 minutes. That’s a 10% chunk, like it’s fallen off a cliff. I have a 4.6km run as a benchmark round the houses here. My best time (early last year) was 18.40, with 19 minutes as the target time. Then I had my a couple of little heart thingamajigs and let a minute slip: target 20 minutes. Before Christmas I broke 20 minutes (19.50ish) and felt that if I pushed myself I might take 20 seconds off that time, into old territory.

Now, back from skiing, 4 lb heavier and with only 3 runs under my belt in 3 weeks I’ve been out twice: 21.40 on Tuesday. 21.00 today – both times felt like an effort, and seemed

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colder than it looks

quick enough. But look at the times! In short I have lost another minute in 3 weeks. I don’t get it. I shall try again on Friday and see if I can find the minute under a bush somewhere. If I don’t make it round someone can have my trainers.

Anyhow, it has been back to business so to speak. We stayed at Mary’s on Sunday night and made it to Brissol on Monday. I have to say both the journey to Chatel and back again were made easier because of audiobooks. We picked up a Jack Reacher for the way out (7/10 – formulaic, but still OK) and The Rain Gods by James Lee Burke for the journey home. Wow. It’s actually quite Reacher-like, but beautifully written and very very miserable (9.5/10). They’re good for me as I start to venture into the audiobook business. Both are almost 12 hours long and both are fabulous for car journeys. Just great.

We popped up to Jen’s yesterday. She’s getting ready for the big op (planned for next Monday). And today I was with the MoD, post the team 360 I conducted for them before Christmas. I was expecting a few 1-2-1 customers. In the end I was there for most of the day. And I have a full complement next Thursday, which is good. I am down with the school tomorrow. C and I then have the weekend off before we decamp to Birmingham to be with Jen.

All-in-all things are OK. We had, like most of you, Mrs Sun with us until today. I think that’s it for a month or so. Mind you, if we were in Spain (sorry Hilary and Stephen) we might well have been washed out to sea. Of course if you listen His Orangeness at Davos you’d think that the whole climate thing remains a hoax and what we should all be concentrating on is profit. It makes me so angry. He should be impeached for that alone. Idiot.

Until the weekend!

Fab

I have written some political stuff at the end. I’d ignore it, if I were you.

We’ve made it as far as Dijon. We woke to a fabulous scene: freshly fallen snow and sunshine. But it was due to get much, much colder later and I didn’t fancy heading off down the hill at 5 am on Sunday morning with the outside temperature at minus 10. So we packed, popped down town for a cup of coffee, and then drove five hours to Dijon. We are staying in a ‘Fast Hotel’ (47 euros including breakfast); like Travelodge but not as swanky. Don’t say I don’t know how to show a girl a good time.

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We skied on Thursday – my boot popped out of my ski again and I ate some snow. On inspection it seems my 15 year old bindings have two screws missing on the front. That can’t be good. So we skied gently for the rest of the day. On Friday I took my skis into the shop where I bought my boots earlier in the week, hoping for some support. I was served by a young Frenchman with a hangover who couldn’t have been any more unhelpful. So I took them to a bespoke ski shop … on the off chance. It was run by a French Canadian couple who had moved to Chatel 35 years earlier. An hour’s work and 10 Euros lighter (plus a 10 Euro tip), everything had been bored out, reset and rescrewed. Fabulous.

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For the record, as C started the packing I ran up the hill … and we binge-watched the start of season two of The Walking Dead (there are eight seasons – yikes). Think Lost, but with zombies rather than the dark mist. In the end it’s all about the relationships. Is it any good? It’ll do.

And here we are. McDonalds for supper and now tucked up in a comfortable bed half way up France. We catch the Ferry at 4.30 tomorrow.

Now something a bit more meaty … ignore it if you like.

Two things need comment, I feel. First is the whole Big Ben bonging thing. Now, to be absolutely clear, I lost. Twice. First in the EU referendum, and second in the general election. OK, so there are some minor niggles, like the first-past-the-post system, the general feel that much of the message was malignant, maybe illegal, and maybe the Russians were used to subvert much of the message [and, of course, you’ve heard that Johnson is apparently redacting much more of the original Russian report which was ready for publication before the GE, so we won’t see the whole story]. But I lost. We all did. Fair enough.

However … I’m not convinced that under a banner of ‘bringing the country together’ we should be rubbing the losers’ noses in it by ringing out the national bell at the point we formally leave the EU. Leaving aside the fact that there are so many other worthwhile and needy projects that could use half a million quid – rather than delaying the updating of BB whilst you move floors, pay off the current contractors not to work whilst you get other workers in to change the plan … (sorry, I don’t know the complete story, but there’s half a million quid’s worth of work and, as I understand it, none of that is beneficial to the work currently being undertaken) – any sensible leader of the whole country would be suggesting a quiet transition. After all, there is a lot of work to be done to get the EU and US trade deals sorted, and I’m not sure I’d want to advertise what may turn out to be a calamity.

Of course, when the bell doesn’t ‘bong’ it’ll be my fault. In the same way that it will be my fault if we don’t secure an all-singing-all-dancing trade deal by Christmas, or if we have to tow the US line on many things we disagree with (ie, our thoughts on the Iranian issue; chlorinated chicken etc) in order to secure a deal with them. It will be my fault because I have dragged my heels on Brexit (actually it was the ERG who prevented May from securing the original deal, not me, but let’s not split hairs) and talked the country down. It’s not Brexit’s fault that UK’s manufacturing is in a bit of a nose dive, that many companies are leaving us and we’ve now have a border running down the Irish Sea: it’s mine.

Sorry.

The second thing is the Megan/Harry thing. To be honest I’m neither a Royalist nor a Republican. I think they are part of what we are, should probably be a leaner institution and should always look to modernise where they can. But that’s not my point. My issue is with the racist argument. Now, as I’m not a Royal follower I can’t tell you why Megan and Harry have decided to leave the Royal Family (rather than the Windsor family), although it goes some way to meeting my thoughts that the institution should be leaner. Clearly the UK press have been awful, as they always do when they see an opportunity to pull down something that is tottering – it’s what they do.

But racist? Well – and here’s my point – it is absolutely not for me to say.

I am a privileged white male. I am. I can’t and won’t argue with that. Nor will I argue that that is a racist statement. And that’s something I can dispute. Because, unlike remarks made to other colours and ethnicities, that remark is made against me. I can, therefore, comment. So, in this case, I will. I am white, male and privileged. In the same way a not so well off black man from, say, central Bristol might be considered an under-privileged black male. It is a statement of fact. So, I, personally, do not see it as a slur (others may, but I think probably not).

However, I am not in a minority in this country. I am not black. Nor am I brown. Nor am I a Muslim (or a Christian, for the record). It is a truism that, as a result, I cannot say what is or isn’t racist against those people. It’s like bullying. It’s always in the eye of the bullied. It is. And that is certainly enshrined in employment law. I may not think my statements are racist, or are designed to bully, but they may well be construed as such. As a result we do have to be careful the way we treat other people. It has always been the case. And always will be.

So, has the press been racist? I don’t know. Does Piers Morgan know? No, he can’t. Does Priti Patel? No. It is a spurious argument – until Megan tell us. And I suspect she won’t; it’s not what she’s about. Have the press made their lives uncomfortable? Yes. Certainly. Do they seem to favour Kate more than Megan? Seems so. Are they inclined to amplify their comment to make the matter worse? Yes, that’s what they do.

Racist?

I. Don’t. Know. It’s. Not. For. Me. To. Say.

Rant over. And, sorry for everything Brexit related. It’s all my fault.

 

I’m better … it’s the law

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skiing today. Just fab

So, we’re now arguing as to who is the better skier. C thinks she’s more refined and in control. Me, I’m just better. You know. It’s a man thing. C is definitely a better knitter than me, and I can run faster than her. And for longer. Ergo I am a better skier. It’s the natural order of things.

We had a fab day today. Neither of us felt completely well when we took the chair up the mountain but, by the end of the day we were taking on little short cut routes we had not found before and zooming down long reds to the bottom of the mountain. For me, for the first time since we got here. I do feel as though I have improved. So much so, and still with the outstanding question ‘who is the better skier’, we are going back up the mountain tomorrow. The answer, of course, is immutable …

Mrs Sun continues to shine. There was an edgy wind today, but the conditions were pretty perfect. We stayed high so we weren’t bothered by ice, but they are going to need some new snow soon. There is some predicted for the end of the week. Good news for the new arrivals.

Yesterday we walked high into the hills. It was a route we’d done before, from a gorgeous lake up into a very high pasture with a series of chalets and barns for summer use. We did ask that question: what do we prefer, skiing or walking?, and it was a close run thing. Clearly walking is cheaper – and quieter. A real mind-opening exercise. Skiing, on the other hand, is more cluttering; more furious. Both are knackering, what with the cold and the hills. I’d say it was fifty-fifty. Skiing wins for tomorrow. Especially as I intend to get C to eat my snow … so to speak.

And, soon it will all be over. We travel on Sunday. What with the snow forecast, I think tomorrow will be our last day on our planks. We’ll have a couple of days of admin and coffee drinking (I’d hope to go for a run) before the big push home. Then it’s Jen’s op and I now have quite a slice of work planned. Over the past couple of days I’ve agreed to conduct 12 (yes, 12) 360 reports for a school. That’s going to take some doing, but I will get it done. In addition I’m due with the MoD once a week between now and the end of February. I’m not sure whether there’s going to be enough work for me whilst I’m there, so I will cut cloth etc. All-in-all, it looks like a busy time.

That’s all for now. If you have Netflix, do watch The Messiah. We’ve binged-watched it over the past five days. I can’t put it in a genre other than to say that the CIA are in it, and some terrorists. But it’s not like that at all. Maybe the best TV I’ve seen for a while. Anyhow, dig it out and let us know how it goes.

Still sunny here …

I had a fall today. My ski fell off as I was going down a red at a bit of speed and I hit the floor with my shoulder. Nothing broken, just a bang with associated pain. But it knocked me sideways for a bit. And that, of course, is the issue with getting older. You just don’t bounce as well as you used to. I fell yesterday as well; caught an edge on a blue run and smacked my bum. Ho-hum. You would have thought I might be getting better at this?

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looking a bit sheepish having our picnic (having had a bit of a fall)

And both of us are still not feeling 100%. The weather has been outstanding and although the slopes are now more ice and fake snow than the original stuff we have skied well. C has come on leaps and bounds and is easily as competent a skier as I am now. I am quicker, but that’s more about lack of control rather than anything else, and it’s great to ski behind her and watch her control. Without sounding patronising, I am v proud of her.

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C heading up a drag …

Interestingly here at Chatel you can get a weekend pass – all day for Saturday and Sunday – for just 61 Euros. That’s 30.5 per day against 38 for a five hour pass (44 for a full day), which is what we have been using. That makes a full day’s skiing cost under £27, which makes it much more affordable. They don’t advertise it and I guess it’s for locals to come at the weekend. And this was so. After a Monday to Friday of empty pistes, both yesterday and today the crowds have been bigger … although we have still not had to wait for a lift unlike over the New Year period. I also think this week is University ski week as we’ve seen a lot of young men zooming down the slope, some without a good deal of control. I know, I know, I was a bit like that once.

Other than that there’s some book stuff going on that I won’t yet bore you with and we have made it through BBC’s Dracula, which was really good. We’re now on Netflix’s The Messiah, which is looking like a lot of good telly. Other than that it’s been sleep, activity/skiing, binge watch and eat/sleep.  Pretty perfect. I guess we’d both like to feel on top form, but maybe again that’s an age thing.

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running when not skiing

This time next week we’ll be back in the UK. I’ve got some work that week and the week after Jen’s having her operation, so we’ll be tied into that. And then more work and start to think about taking Doris to Spain. (eh, yippee?!) What a life.

A funny thing happened

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yesterday. Clouds cleared ten minutes later. Perfect

A funny thing happened on Monday. Well, actually, two funny things happened. We went skiing. The conditions were fab and there was no one on the slopes. Mrs Sun was with us – as she has since we arrived and looks set to stay with us until we leave – and was waving away. And all was well.

Until. I was on a long drag (for non-skiers, you put a large button seat between your legs and a wire drags you up a mountain) when I noticed that I was light on my feet. As though the drag was working harder than normal. And then the gradient flattened and I was in the air. Like a foot off the ground. Facing backwards. At that point I knew it wasn’t going to end well. I fell off the button, lost a ski, managed to scramble off the drag and into the non-pisted snow. Clearly the drag wire, which works on a spring and has an eventual full extension, had become stuck. A flying Roland was the result. Mmmm.

So, still in perfect weather and perfect conditions, we gathered ourselves together and skied away.

Then, half way down an easy blue on the way for a cup of coffee, my ski came off on a turn. This is unusual, and not what skis are designed for. They’re designed to come off if you fall so your legs don’t contort and snap. Not when you’re on your feet skiing. I ploughed in. Thankfully it was a simple slope, not a tricky red, and I wasn’t motoring, so no harm done. I dusted myself off (again) and put my ski on. Skied five metres and it came off again. I fell over – now on the tired side of eating snow. Bugger. I tightened the bindings, just in case over the many years I’ve owned the equipment (boots = 25; skis = 10) they had loosened. Put my boot back on … and it popped out. Tried again. The same.

My boot had broken. The plastic lip that sticks out the front of the boot that clips under the binding had snapped off. There was no way I was skiing in that boot ever again.

But we were a good walk from a lift that could take us down the hill. Bugger. Again. Anyhow, coffee called. I walked and skidded, carrying skis and poles, down to the cafe and we sat down and discussed what to do next. A waiter came over and took our order. ‘Anything else?’ he asked. ‘Do you have a size 46 ski boot. This one’s broken.’ ‘I’ll ask.’ In a small isolated cafe in the back end of the ski area, closer to Switzerland than France. There were seven people in the cafe.

A new guy came out with a pair of Scarpa mountaineering boots. Bless him. I took a boot, squeezed my foot it (just), he showed me how the boot bindings worked, and asked for

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mmmm. New fashion …

nothing other than I return the boot. Bingo. We skied for the rest of the day and I bought some new boots in the resort when we got off the mountain.

Key lessons? Europeans are not all bad people. Many are hugely generous. I have to say it, but it’s true. You know we have never thought so … but just in case you needed an example. Second, don’t buy boots in the UK. Under any circumstances. I was for hiring a pair and buying from Decathlon when we got home. But I paid £200 for a sensible pair of Atomics – which are fab. If you remember C paid £240 for her Rossignol at Atwools and that was with a Black Friday reduction. I paid £200 in Chatel. Down in the valley I could have a got a pair for much less than that. And the range was fab.

So … we skied yesterday, all day. Took the boot back with a bottle of wine. And we’re resting today. We’re both still a little bit snotty and, after non-stop skiing yesterday, a break probably isn’t a bad idea.

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don’t, whatever you do, buy your boots in the UK. Top-resort price: Atomics for £200

Almost finished the overview of On The Back Foot To Hell and should get a clip of Unsuspecting Hero from my narrator by the weekend to check over. It’s all happening here …

Sniff, sniff …

I’m writing this sneezing away and with every hole on the front of my face leaking moisture and my nose feels as though it has a feather duster stuck up both nostrils. It was like it all day yesterday, although better when I’m out in the fresh air. Honestly – I’m struggling to write this through a wall of tears. Bizarre. I don’t feel too bad, but my head is like an allergy-ridden monster. If I were a superhero I’d be called Headcold Man. Thankfully my chest, which often welcomes infections, has remained shtum. Long that may continue.

It does mean we’ve not been on the slopes – yesterday and we won’t go out today. But we walked on Wednesday, skied a full day on Thursday, I ran up into the hills on Friday and yesterday we decided to drive out in the mountains and see what’s what. Well we found a beautiful high col, with it own little ski area and then down into a valley and, by chance, discovered a damned lake and a major attraction: Gorge Dupont du Diable, a deep limestone gorge with a walkway stapled to the side of the mountain. Ordinarily it costs to go in, but we were the only ones there and whilst the main entrance was firmly shut, the return route was open. So we managed to do the trip the wrong way round. It was fabulous. We finished off with a picnic at the head of the dam. A great day.

That’s the thing about Chatel. The scenery encourages you outside. We have done something everyday, and will do something (not yet known) today, even though the apartment is perfectly placed to sit and gaze at the view. And my head is shouting ‘stay indoors and get some rest’.

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Lidl’s carpark, Evian, overlooking Lake Geneva

Oh, and we popped out for some shopping to the new Super U in Vinzier and into Evian to the best Lidl’s car park in Europe.

Other stuff? Well we’re binge watching Sense8 on Netflix, which is a bit like Orphan Black – in some ways better acted and more cinematic. I’m loving it. And I’ve finished the reread of Unsuspecting Hero and I am now halfway through On The Back Foot To Hell. I have also started up a conversation with an ex-pupil from Wells (where we used to work). She’s an actress and we’re having a discussion about her being the narrator for Unsuspecting Hero so I can stick it on Amazon’s Audible, which appears to be the future. We’ll see how that goes.

So, we’ve been busy. Now all I need to do is get rid of this cold and get my planks on. Let’s hope that happens soon.