Let there be light

You’ll be delighted to know that today I’m not going to go on and on about politics. Not that there are many of you left reading this for me to apologise to. Certainly any Brexiteers have long gone … and, indeed, any Trumpsters have left with them. Sorry about that. But, hey, you can’t win them all.

The ‘just as bad news’ is that today I’m going to be a bit techy. Doris-style techy, if you like. So, if that doesn’t interest you then the three of you should look at the photographs and come back on Sunday.

We’re off to Scotland next week for four weeks (hurrah!). And whilst Doris has had all her filters and oil changed, we have a problem with her rear lights. They’re intermittent, with, every so often, the indicators flashing unnecessarily quickly and the rear right light not working at all. For those of you with some experience of cars, you’ll be thinking that there might be an earthing problem … with a wiring loom about the size of a tennis court.

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Anyhow, I dismantled the rear light clusters, cleaned the points and replaced the rear light bulb, which didn’t look like it was broken. Ehh … nothing. So I looked for obvious earthing points, and those I did find looked absolutely fine.

Ahh, what about the tow bar which was so expertly fitted by #LNBTowbars a couple of months ago? That seems likely. So I phone them up (they’re just across the road in Aztec West) and they tell me to bring her round. Which I do. They unplug the electrics – which is a much more complicated system than just splicing the towbar onto the rear light cluster as they used to in the old days – but still no joy. Oh well.

Now, you know what the next move is? Take it to either Hymer and/or Fiat and spend a mortgage’s worth of cash on getting them to find a needle in a haystack … because that’s what intermittent electrical problems are. They flummox everyone, even garages with machines that go ping.

But first. Let me check on the internet. Surely someone has had the same problem. Well, of course, they have in a similar way. And, wait, hang on. Why is the front side light not working now? Oh, bother. Maybe the front right light is blown and that’s affecting the rear?

Can I get the front right out? Nope. These sharp-fronted Hymers with tight engine bays. I could reach the bulb’s casing, but, for the life of me, I couldn’t get traction. Bother (or similar) again. Ahh, but maybe there’s a fuse for just the right hand set of side lights, and it’s blown? (Unlikely I know, but I’m clutching at any straws I can get my hands on.)

Where is the fuse for the side lights? According to the Fiat owners book, there’s meant to be a third, ‘special box’ in a Fiat Ducato … but it doesn’t exist in a Hymer. Double-bother. More internet research. I find the other two, but not the third.

And then. Hey presto. A motorhome thread somewhere deep in the ether.

There is no fuse (and no fuse box) for the side lights. The Ducato’s side lights run on a CANBUS and the ECU controls them – which might not be good news, if the ECU is broken it’s a big bill. And, importantly, the CANBUS is very sensitive and if you put a non-standard bulb in the system, it throws a track and won’t work (interestingly the rear light was flashing briefly, before it goes out). So, I take out the Halfords rubbish bulb, replace it with the old – but seemingly unbroken – bulb and, tee-dah, we have lights. I clean up (again) all the lights, put it back together and we have a full suite. Phew.

I’m wondering if any garage would have had the patience to sort this out before they phoned up Fiat and ordered an ECU? We’ll never know.

Now you’re bored witless, just an update on what else we’ve been doing. Well, nothing much really. We popped up and saw Jen. And today, in the rain, I started working on rewriting Unsuspecting Hero and preparing a short management course for a school in Farnham.

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and so it begins

And … as a couple who don’t work, or who work when we want to, can we pass on our sympathies to anyone who chose this week as one of their summer holiday weeks to go and head off somewhere in the UK. After some lovely weather, it’s rubbish now. So, sorry.

I might have changed my mind …

We had supper with our pals Peter and Karen on Friday night (thank you!). Inevitably we got round to politics and I made the bold declaration that popularism was a flash in the pan and would soon be dead. How’s that, Roland?

Other than humiliate the US as the former world’s policeman and liberal lead, His Orangeness has actually achieved very little. You might argue that the US’s economy is doing well under his watch, but I’ve read that (and see graphs that show that) this is a bounce that was started by Obama as the global economy picked up pace after the 2008 crash. But, for sake of fairness, let’s give him that; the US economy is doing OK.

Except … unless I only read anti-Trump articles (which is possible), the view is that his tariff war with almost anyone and everyone is now beginning to hack away at the US economy. And with no trade deal in sight with China, soon any good news will turn bad.

Ok, so maybe, maybe not the economy.

Korea? Are you kidding me? Another ‘nice’ letter received from Kim Jong-un yesterday … just as the murderous dictator launched more short-range missiles into the sea. Answering a reporter, Trump pulled down joint South Korean/US exercises, siding with a dictator against his own military. I don’t see this going anywhere – at best. At worse His Twitterness is being played. Really well.

Iran? Climate change? Syria – where, apparently, IS has started to re-emerge? Far right-supremacy? Abortion? Gun control?

Please. Name one major policy, domestic or overseas, where the current US administration has actually taken the world forward a step. Just one. Come on. Help me out.

He has so polarised the US that any future elections will be completely based on ideology rather than policy. It’s fair to say that his base will always support him … as Trump said, ‘I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters’. How true, especially now, almost three years into his tenure.

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some flowers to cheer you up …

And, to the same extent, ideology is now very much driving Brexit. It doesn’t matter that the economy is heading for recession. That the benefits of Brexit have turned from sunlit uplands to dystopian wastelands. That people have and will lose jobs. Medicines will run out and people are very likely to die. Businesses have and will close. Our future prosperity is in danger at a time when we were emerging as one of the strongest economies in the world. That we have fallen so far since the opening ceremony of the Olympics in 2012 – from a joyous, inclusive and state-of-the-art country to one of xenophobia, anger and a little bit of fear. None of that matters, because there are a group of people who see this as a battle of wills. It’s no longer about benefits and disbenefits; there are no arguments to win. It’s about entrenched my side and your side. It’s about ideology. And, unless there’s a huge shock, ideological people rarely change their spots.

But … my reading is that suburban US, particularly after the last round of mass-shootings, is beginning to get tired of it all. Tired of the hateful rhetoric. Tired of the misdirected and misplaced tweets. Tired of the lies. Wary of where this leaves the US in the eyes of the world. And with the economy faltering …

… and, over here, I read of so many more people changing from ‘leave’ to ‘remain’. Indeed, other than an exasperated ‘for goodness sake get on with it’, I have yet to see a single commentary where remainers have switched sides to leave, now seeing Brexit as a good thing. Have you?

So, my ‘bold declaration’ at supper the other night was that the tide was turning. Boris Johnson has had no honeymoon period. He’s lost a by-election, the economy has dipped and there have been no huge crowds welcoming him as he toured the country last week. Indeed, has anyone actually seen him recently? Has he made a TV appearance, other than the odd Facebook ad? Not sure.

And doesn’t he look unwell? He’s a man who, by his own admission, likes to be liked. He’s the 4th Form joker … getting by by making people laugh, whilst not necessarily encouraging their respect. Without a group of onlookers I reckon he’s finding it tough. And, I say again, he looks blotchy and pallid. Maybe he always looked like that? Dunno.

His Tweetiness is not well, for sure. He clearly has a long list of ‘isms’ that have made him the man he is, but his forgetfulness, his impetuousness and his temper would make me worry about his health in someone his age.

So … on the face of it popularism seemed like a good idea. Draining the swamp, losing the quangos and lobbyists and all that. But knowing that a week is a long time in politics, these coming months are going to show the middle ground that it’s better to vote in reasonably ordinary people than place your future in the hands of (mostly) men who crave attention and can hold a crowd. I reckon. The tide is turning.

That was my line on Friday night.

But.

(Takes a deep breath.)

Conspiracy of conspiracies, Epstein is dead. Whilst in the securest of secure detention facilities in the US.

Over here, it’s been reported that Dominic Cummings’s (the unelected Brexit enforcer) farm has received £235,000 of EU subsidies – it’s actually Euros, but I couldn’t find the Euro key on my keypad, but as Sterling is now on parity with the Euro it makes no difference.

Facebook ads. Data hacking. Self interest.

Wheels within wheels. Money and power. Greed and disregard for the outcome. A man dead in the cells of the highest security prison.  I couldn’t write it.

So, all of a sudden I’m not so sure. Maybe we can’t put this right? Maybe it’s bigger than all of us in the middle ground? I know it’s an Orwellian statement, but surely it’s difficult to make a stand when the world is being run by a bunch of gangsters.

Let’s hope I’m wrong. We’ll see.

Plans afoot

I so want to write about politics. About how it’s driving me just a little bit demented. How Brexit has gone from ‘sunlit uplands’ to, ‘don’t worry we’re not going to starve’. And I could write a couple of pages on His Orangeness’s visit to El Paso yesterday. You may not have seen the clip (it’s on Twitter), but his team have made a campaign video about him walking around the hospital where they are holding those injured in one of the gun attacks. And there are selfies with hospital staff and one, with some poor injured girl. It’s horrible.

This is where we are. Oh well.

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we popped along to Gloucester to see Jen and James

Instead I’m going to pitch my own plan: I am going to become a successful writer. That is, and for those of you who have followed me through thick and thin you’ll be familiar, for me that means consistently selling 10 books a day. And I am going to do that by this time next year. Promise.

How?

Good question. First let’s start with what we have. I have a proper series – five books. We have a beginning and, whilst I’ve no intention of making it so, an end (don’t worry, it’s more of a pause … Sam is alive, although …). The reviews are very encouraging and often eloquently so. I know I do get a good number from friends and family, and they will always over-egg their enthusiasm, but I also have over 100 reviews from the US from people I could never have met. And they are consistently above 4.0 stars and, whilst there are a small number who could leave the series alone, many are v positive about those they read. 

And, do you know what? I like them. Really like them. I enjoy rereading them and I do think the writing gets better each time.

But, I am in no doubt that Unsuspecting Hero is a slightly naive book, written in a bit of a rush and not in my true voice. There are a number of reasons for that which I haven’t got the energy to go into, but it is so. Importantly, as the first book in the series, it really needs to be a springboard – a hook – to capture the reader and propel them into my fantasy world. I’m not completely convinced that that is the case.

And I think I have some stats to show that – now that I’ve paid attention to them. I get an hourly update on books sold, via the internet … including which country. Last month I had a 1 to 3 success rate between Unsuspecting Hero and the second in the series, Fuelling the Fire. I don’t think that’s bad, but it needs to be better. I need to up that to at least 1 to 2, if not better. To make that happen I have to rewrite UH and republish it. That is Job Two. Timeline: by Christmas …

Job One is to reread Fuelling the Fire so that I don’t base Sam and her pals’ characters on where I finished in book 5 which is fresh in my mind. Instead I rewrite her based on where she sets off at the start of book 2. Characters grow over a series, and I have to get that transition just so.

Then it’s marketing time (Job 3). And I have no idea what that means. It will certainly include some Amazon/Facebook ads, and there are plenty of on-line tutorials on how to get those right. It could well mean approaching an independent book store(s) in Bristol and seeing if they could take the series. That would likely mean I would need to print some of my own copies, which I could do cheaply (certainly for less than £5 a copy … currently Amazon charge over £10 for a print on demand copy). I fancy a trip to a bookfair with my own stand? And there’s our local library and book clubs. And, and …

The ambition is 300 books a month from September 2020, onward. And, key, I must not be spending (on marketing) more than I am earning. 

This means continuing to grow my on-line presence. Currently I am just shy of 500 followers on Instagram. I get between 100-150 discrete hits on this blog every week. And my Twitter following is 370. None of those are big numbers, and they do need to increase. Of course the way to get the numbers bigger is to write and post decent stuff. ‘Well, do that!’, I hear you shout. Ok, then.

Finally, on the marketing vein linked to book sales, I have made some progress. And that’s on Twitter. Sales of the original four books have stagnated at about 20 a month over the past year. However, I have seen a small upturn in the past 6 weeks and it’s been with Unsuspecting Hero. Normally I sell 5/7 copies a month of UH. Since I have become more active on Twitter that increased to 16 copies last month – outselling the other books 3-fold. This month, unsurprisingly, I have sold a splurge of On The Back Foot To Hell to my ‘known’ readers, but that will (and should) calm down. However … and this is key … in the first 7 days of this month I have sold 7 copies of Unsuspecting Hero. And the only thing I have done differently is to be active on Twitter. I am sure there is a correlation.

Anyhow … that’s where we are. And where I’m going.

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For the record, Bex came down to stay – it was so lovely to have her with us – and we took her to the airport yesterday where she met up with Steven (who’d been saying cheerio to his family). We are unlikely to see her again before Easter next year, which is sad, but they have a fab life and we wouldn’t want to put a brake on that in any way. 

And Doris has just had her oil changed, which means in the last two months I’ve changed her oil, her fuel filter, her brake discs and her air filter. Fab. Next stop (with her), Scotland for four weeks in a couple of weeks time. Hurrah!

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my first review for On The Back Foot To Hell – someone in the US, I know not whom

Must go. I have a plan to get on with. 

A perfect respite

I think we needed that. What a wonderful couple of days. Thanks to Kenn, Steven and Hilary and Annie and Alasdair.

There’s been a theme.

Kenn, an old Army pal of mine, is finishing his time with the services and setting up a consultancy firm. He has done really well, joining the British army from Australia and then making his way from private soldier/trooper to Lieutenant Colonel. No small feat. Now that he’s finishing he’s decided that, other than the fact that he has to make some money, his main focus is going to be on travel … no, getting the most out of life. He plans to set himself up in a two-up, two-down house: big enough to hold his stuff, provide him with lodgings and an office. It will be a ‘lock-up-and-leave’, and he tells me he will do a lot of that. For example this week he’s taking his bike to Baku … and back. Well done him. Once I have the Twitter account of his trip I’ll share it with you.

 

Then a day and night with H&S on their beautiful narrowboat. They live on it full time, but also own a cottage in Hampshire where they let a room, provide outbuildings that allow their quite brilliant sculptor daughter to produce the most amazing horses and deer and dogs (here: Holly Hickmore), and give them a place to come back to as and when. They’ve just spent 3 months ‘work-away‘ in New Zealand and are looking to take their car and caravan down to Spain after Christmas – and then come back to do some house sitting before getting back on the boat.

We had a lovely day on the boat. And when we moored up for the night C and I ran back to the car, drove back up to meet them and had supper with the sounds of ducks, ducking around just off the starboard bow. It was great to reaffirm what we knew: life is about experience, not things. Yes, we’re lucky enough to be able to afford what we do, but we go out of our way not to spend money on ‘things’ – and this really does help. We slept v peacefully before we headed off to see out v old pals, Alasdair and Annie, for lunch.

Al is working in Saudi and doing v well indeed, but even he’s thinking about the meaning of it all … and maybe heading home. They have a great life but, and he sometimes reads this (and I said it to him today), I’d love him to be back in the UK where we could see more of him … and that we would know he would be taking things slightly easier. We’ll see. Thanks for lunch!

BTW we went to Frome Farmer’s market, which they hold on the first Sunday of every month. Frome is/was an old market town that has always lived under the shadow of the more riotously attractive towns like Bath and Bradford-on-Avon. Well, let me tell you. on the first Sunday of every month (April to October) it transforms itself into the most upmarket town in the northern hemisphere. The stands are posh and plentiful; the clientele, v hip. And it was packed, like I’ve never seen. You couldn’t move for floral dresses, chinos and weak chins. Brilliant!

And so this week? Rebecca arrives tomorrow as part of a last hurrah before she and Steven head back to Korea. We’ve got some admin to do and I have to continue to mildly market my book(s). It’s interesting (and good news) but I’m selling more of Unsuspecting Hero, the first of the Sam Green books, than I am selling anything else. Which means, almost organically, I am reaching new readers. And this means only one thing: I must rewrite Unsuspecting Hero so that it is the perfect read from which readers will want to launch into the series,

That’s about to start soon.

 

Red letter day

 

On The Back Foot To Hell

This is a book about greed. And fear. It’s a book about tenacity. And mental health. In the end it’s a book that sees Sam Green, the unwitting star of four previous encounters with global antagonists, taken to the point from where she might never recover. It is more than a spy-thriller. It’s a story of PTSD. Of OCD and autism. It’s the story of a woman who has nothing left to live for, who finds herself where even that is taken from  her.

As promised On The Back Foot To Hell is published today. You can buy your copies here: ebook copy: £3.49 and paperback copy: £11.99. Please note that I do not make any money on the paperbacks – the cost is in the ‘print to order’ and delivery from Poland. In the next couple of days Amazon will bring the two formats together. In the meantime there are two different addresses.

Phew. It’s not been without effort and I didn’t finish my last edit/proof until yesterday, but I made my target publication date. Hopefully, for those of you who follow the series, you’ll have something to get your teeth into on the beach. I really hope you enjoy it … and please, please pen a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads if you get the chance. It makes such a difference.

I’m spent with words … I hope you understand. For the record we have been pottering around the house. Jen and James came for supper last night and today, by way of a day off, I met up with an old army pal (on my bike) and we had a lovely day pottering around the Cotswolds.

More detail on Sunday. Enjoy Sam Green!

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We live in two separate worlds

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Good news! I eventually sorted the book cover for On The Backfoot To Hell. It wasn’t without tears, and the outcome may not be perfect, but it is done. I have ordered a proof copy which should be with me early next week. My aim is then to sit down and read it in a oner, make any final adjustments and then print and be damned. I hope that is before the 1 August deadline I have imposed upon myself. We’ll see. The sooner I become a bestselling author and have a team of people doing that for me the better. It’s only a matter of time. Surely?

In between all that we have moved to Mary’s via one of C’s girls from school (now married with a child … we are getting old) to help out with her summer party. [I am penning this post the party and all has been well; even Mrs Sun came round and showed off her knickers.]

At the party I was advised by someone who reads my blog that I really ought to steer clear of politics. And I can see that. But it’s tricky when there is so much of it about – all of it awful. For example. There’s the Trump plastic straws. Have you heard about that? Apparently you can order 10 Trump-monogrammed, red plastic straws for $15. This is because, according to the blurb, ‘Liberal paper straws don’t work’. All of the profits go to his re-election campaign.

Shall we just let that sink in, shall we?

C and I loved SE Asia, but one of the abiding memories was the waste. There is so much plastic … shops stick everything in bags and then stick the bags in a bag. Allegedly 75% of the plastic in the oceans of the world drains out of three rivers from Indo-China. I’m not surprised. There is no working rubbish collection (there’s a little in Vietnam) that we could see. And people drop their litter without a second thought. It was, let me tell you, a relief to get off the plane at Heathrow and know that the kerbs would mostly be free from plastic. Mostly.

Here in the UK we have, pretty much, embraced waste disposal and recycling. Plastic straws have yet to be resigned to the pages of a history book, but the sentiment to do so is there. Actually, good on them, there were many bars in SE Asia that served bamboo straws … some, the lovely metal ones. So the sentiment is wider than just the West. That’s because nearly all plastic straws are one-use only, they cannot be recycled and they end up in rivers, in seas, in oceans and eventually inside a marine animal which may then die. Straws are an unnecessary luxury … plastic straws are a scourge. Let’s get rid of them. Drink out of a cup – preferably something which is multi-use or easily recycled – and be done with the straws.

Come on, people. It’s not difficult.

(And then do away with plastic bags, recycle all your food waster, switch off unnecessary lights, turn off the taps whilst cleaning your teeth and having a shower, throw your sink water onto the garden rather than use a hose, recycle everything … I could go on).

But mostly, just for me, don’t buy plastic straws – and ask that your McDonald’s coke cup come without a plastic lid. You really don’t need one.

Don’t use straws. Please.

Back to His Orangeness. The leader of the free world.

He’s the bloke who’s meant to set an example for the rest of us to follow. He knows there’s too much plastic in the sea. He can see that from his golf course at Mar-a-Lago. And he knows that plastic straws are part of the problem.

But he doesn’t like snowflake liberals. Especially those in California who have past a law which bans plastic straws (to stop them from getting into the water streams and killing marine life – good choice). So, rather than lead us to a better place – ‘cos, as we all know there is no Planet B – he resorts to childish, spiteful rhetoric promoting something so anti-today that you have to ask yourself whether or not he and his supporters actually give a damn.

Red plastic straws with ‘Trump’ on them.

I really despise the man …

I’m not frustrated at all …

Between you and me I’m really frustrated. Really. Frustrated. Since we’ve got back, other than tidying up the garden, which included re-laying the patio and this time putting in some sand and cement in the cracks to stop the rampant bird seed from taking hold and looking like a field of scattered corn, I have been working on On The Backfoot To Hell – ready for publication on … as promised … 1 August. 

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Rosemary’s notes plus some of my handwritten scrawls. Good, eh?

Rosemary, my proofreader, has done a fab job and incorporating her comments actually didn’t take that long. And preparing a Kindle e-book is relatively straightforward, especially as I had already made up the front cover. The paperback, via CreateSpace (another Amazon company), on the other hand, is much more of a beast. First the inside has to be set to a new page size (paperback size – not needed for Kindle), and the margins (thicker towards the spine that the outside) reset. The size of font is changed (if you own a kindle you’ll know that you can change your own font size if you are old and blind), and the subtitles reworked so that they don’t start at the bottom of a page – which would look silly. And page numbering. Well, that’s a so-and-so. Page 1 is the first page of the Prologue, but the previous introductory pages are in Roman numbers … which is tricky in a single document. 

But, I managed that. That was relatively easy.

The problem is the wrap-round cover. Kindle requires just a front cover and I use Canva to design that. To get the wrap-round cover right you either have to use one of the Amazon templates … which doesn’t work if you want your book to look half professional, or you design your own using measurements provided by Amazon, including spine-width etc, and then upload a single image. I have done it before, so I was ready for the test. Well, 24-hours later and I am no closer to uploading a workable cover. And I have no idea why. It’s a mystery which is … frustrating the hell out of me.

Never mind. At least the politics is going well. At least His Orangeness is not looking like a child-molester, nor does he think the way to win the war in Afghanistan is to kill 10 million Afghanis. Nor is he childishly telling some black and brown congresswomen to go back to their own countries. And things are equally good here. Boris, who is a very steady and inspirational pair of hands is not looking to crash out of Europe by proroguing Parliament and then putting all of our livelihoods at risk. And he’s not doing that to save the Conservative Party, because that would be a huge dereliction of duty for a Prime Minister who is meant to represent the whole country including you and me, not just his dangerously tilting to the right political party. And at least he’s not saying and doing silly things like holding up a kipper and blaming the EU for making us courier them in ice, thus putting some fishermen out of business, when it’s not actually EU policy, but a rule we seem to have introduced ourselves for smoked fish. And thankfully he’s still married to least one of his wives and knows how many children he has …  and even if he wasn’t/didn’t, at least we’re not thinking he might be a rubbish PM because he was, by all accounts, a ‘by-the-seat-of-his-pants’ and ‘don’t worry about the detail’ Foreign Secretary. Phew

So it’s all good. I might be frustrated with my publishing malarkey, but I‘m not in any way frustrated by the state of global politics. Not at all.     

Not without a fuss.

We’re back. Hurrah! I have to say I was worried about the journey home (from Hanoi, via Seoul to London, via Hong Kong).

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travelling with a good friend

The cheapest way to fly long distance is ‘return’ so, to and from east Asia we booked London to Seoul, and back again. We did that with Cathay Pacific because they were the best value, provided we flew via their hub in Hong Kong (about £700 each if I remember rightly … BA was £850 direct). That was fine on the way out as we had just under a week in Seoul before we flew one-way to Singapore. But, getting back was complicated in that we had pre-positioned ourselves in Hanoi. We had to get from Hanoi to Seoul …

… in time to catch the flight to London (via Hong Kong). You’re confused now, right? I looked at all the flights and eventually chose the late evening flight from Hanoi with Viet Jet (Vietnam budget airline) which would get us into Seoul three hours before our Cathay Pacific connection. Three hours. Come on, that a lot of hours? What I hadn’t told C was that Viet Jet have a reputation for delays … and a series of other issues (none of which, thankfully, involved the aircraft getting lost, or an engine falling off). But there were plenty of ‘I’m never flying with this carrier again. In the end we left exactly on time in a reliable Airbus 320 which arrived with all its engines, and in which I was given extra leg room because I’m taller than your average Vietnamese.

C was not allowed in the emergency exit aisle because, when asked, she told the girl that she was over 60. And that was not allowed. No sirree. She was to be at the back where she could be trampled on by much younger people dashing for the exit. But, when we sat down there was a spare seat next to me and the guy had no problems allowing her to take the seat. Although he did ask me my age – clearly I had gained a decade in the four hours from booking in to getting on the aircraft. Cheeky so and so.

Anyhow, we landed on time and made the mad-dash scramble through Hong Kong airport to meet our next connection – another Cathay Pacific flight which left an hour later than our arrival. Phew, that worked as well. As you have learnt, we don’t travel without a fuss.

We were aircraft-seat shaped by the time we got out at Heathrow, with my eyes as dry as a camel’s flip flop. But we had survived. And now, two days later after a night at Mary’s, a trip to see my mum (who is in remarkably good form, thanks for asking) and then a military, 25th anniversary black tie dinner at Staff College – which was fab – we are home. And, wow, it’s a good feeling. It’s a good feeling to be able to go outside without leaking. It’s a good feeling to walk across the road without fear of being run down by a tsunami of scooters. It’s a good feeling to know that tonight I’m not eating chicken and rice, and having the left overs reheated for breakfast. It’s a good feeling.

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mum’s in good form, thanks for asking

More of the post-trip review later. It was fab. And now we’re back. Good.

And I am already halfway through the final ‘Rosemary the proofreader’s’ edit of On The Backfoot To Hell. Without a hurricane or flash flood I should make the 1 August deadline for publication. Am I excited? Yes. Is it going to change anything? No, probably not. Not without some marketing. That’s definitely going to happen this year. I’ll believe it when I see it, I hear you scoff.

Anyhow, it’s nice to be home … and I’m so glad you could join me. I hope you enjoyed the trip.

Batpoop crazy

Our last stop: Hanoi. For C and I, three nights at a very swanky boutique hotel with a fab breakfast. How much? £29 a night. Perfect.

And what, you may ask, do we think of Hanoi? Well, it’s a proper city with boulevards, important houses, a couple of lakes, parks, a big river (imaginatively named ‘Red’), some skyscrapers, at least one, new, two-tone Rolls Royce and a couple of Lambos, Starbucks, high-end shops and a bus service. Pretty much like any normal city?

Eh, no.

It’s batpoop crazy. Nine million people and five million scooters. I think we’ve seen all of them, most of the riders on their mobiles. Strolling, loud karaoke men, pushing a speaker on a trolly. Pavements, but not pavements … instead they’re scooter parks, street vendors and street food, shops that have barfed their wares onto them, old women with stereotypical paddy field hats selling cabbage … and strange doughnuts. Every type of restaurant and many you’ve never thought of. Shops selling a single item. Want a padlock? How big? What colour? How about a safe?

Tourists and touts. Visitors and Vietnamese. Life like you’ve never experienced it. A lava flow – it’s blooming hot here – of people and bikes and cars (and small dogs?). It’s super mad … and I love it. Easily my fave city we’ve visited so far.

 

We arrived on the final day of the Vietnamese holiday and they’d taken over the centre. It was one helluva party with stages and karaoke, street games and lots of tiny children in electric toys cars driving wantonly at people’s ankles. We did Ho Chi Minh’s tomb (he was absent, apparently getting a makeover in China), a bit of shopping, the train street (there are many – and maybe the best experience of the trip?), a walking tour, the Hanoi Hilton (the prison where Senator John McCain was held during the war) and lots of air-conditioning rest stops.

We ate out an an Indian and a French-themed but v Vietnamese restaurant, and got used to #HighlandsCoffee, the Vietnamese version of #Starbucks, but so much better. I ran around one of the lakes in a new, not-Nike baseball cap and we generally slowed our pace to the weather.

 

And then it ended. Bex and Steven caught an early flight home and, as I write this, we are waiting for a chain of flights from Hanoi to Seoul to Hong Kong to London. I shall put together a summary in the next couple if days. But, in short, we are definitely Vietnam vets!

 

Halong Bay

Another rattly sleeper, a very early arrival in Hanoi (4.30 am) and a three-hour wait for a coach-ferry-coach to Cat Ba, the northern Vietnamese island which is one of the launch points for a boat tour of Halong Bay … which might just be the highlight of our tour.

The travelling was seamless and our latest digs a functional hotel in Cat Ba town. Now we’ve only seen 10% of the island so we’re not ones to comment. It could be super-lovely, but the buildings are all a bit shabbily constructed (especially as it’s a major tourist destination), there’s still plenty of poverty and lots of rubbish. But, we had a bite of lunch (all of our stomachs were crying out for meat and two veg) and then, with swimwear in hand C and I walked to the next bay (as you can’t swim in Cat Ba town as it’s a fishing port).

Mad dogs and Englishmen. It was hot but the shortish walk lovely, and the ensuing bay a bit of a building site with the infrastructure doing its best to keep up with demand. But there’s no getting away from the backdrop: those James Bond limestone islands, all pointy and sheer, topped with green, shrubby bristles. Fabulous. Leaving the builders to their sand and cement we found a well made path around the headland (with commensurately fab vistas) and stumbled across a small resort and beach which suited us.

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We swam and people watched and then walked back to the hotel, at which point C was shattered and I was up for a run, so I retraced our steps … and got very hot. We had a lovely evening out, discussing holiday plans (Bex reckons we ought to take a repatriation cruise from Miami down to Tierra del Fueggo and then drive north through South America). With Scotland, Paris and Tunisia planned between now and Christmas, we have nothing to complain about. Oh, and to finish the night we found the Vietnamese version of Britain’s got talent on the harbour ftont. Some of the singers were excellent.

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And then onto the highlight of the trip: two days cruising around Halong Bay. To get to the boat inevitably (for us) it was bus, small boat and then big boat – we don’t travel without a fuss – but we were piped aboard by 11 am onto a two-storey, 18-guest boat that at one point in its life was probably swish and splendid. Now, the wood panelling was a little worn, the paintwork needed, well, painting and the fixtures and fittings were not quite fixed or fitting. But squint your eyes and you could have been on a luxury cruise.

But it was fab. Our room(s) were big family affairs with two double beds and two large aspect windows onto scenery which photos cannot do justice. A lot of that was the fact that whilst it was stifling, Mrs Sun was veiled by thin cloud. It didn’t matter to us though – it was all pretty perfect.

We jumped off the side of the boat (16 feet?), with both Bex and C managing it before we finished the trip – both were v hesitant, but encouragement from the lovely, mixed-nationality crowd provided the impetus. We paddled (twice) for a couple of hours, between shear rock faces, into bat caves and through small tunnels into hidden lagoons. We ate well – the food was simple and local and v plentiful. And the company excellent. In the end, for £110 each, it was well worth every penny.

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To top it all we met a lovely Danish family. He’s an electrician; his wife a kindergarten teacher, their son had just finished school. We all hit it off immediately. They have our humour and our values. We spoke about everything. And, no surprise, we had so much in common. It was never the Vikings v the Saxons, unless we were laughing about it … or messing about in the canoes.

So tell me. No, come on. Why are we leaving the EU? Denmark is in the union, but not in the Euro. That makes them even more like us? The dad couldn’t understand what we were playing at … but was still very keen that we stay. There was no anger; just sadness. That’s how friends treat you.

We are living in a mad time. Who knows how it will end. Let’s hope well for us and all of our European friends. Oh, and the US. Them too.