Singapore. What’s that all about?

It’s all happening. First let me finish with Seoul. We spent Sunday morning with Bex having breakfast off her hill. And then, once she’d left for Borneo (I know, I know), we walked to the military memorial. Which was fab. Outside was a lovely commemoration to all of those who had died in the Korean War, plus a large display of tanks, planes and the odd warship (yes, that’s correct). They had a B52, which you may recall from watching the odd US war film as they bombed the begeezers out of everyone from Korea to Vietnam – and are now deployed to the Straits of Hormuz. Inside was a tasteful display of Korean military might … For me the floor that showed the details of the Korean War was the most informative and moving.
By the end we were shattered, having walked a distance again. We did some minor admin, woke at unearthly o’clock and tottered along to catch the bus to the airport.
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Singapore Airlines were efficient, if not as comfortable as Cathay Pacific, and we made it to Singapore mid-pm, took the metro to where Ollie and his fiancée, Faz, live (C’s nephew – he’s another teacher and she’s big in financial consultancy), and then we went out for the night.
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Singapore. Well, what’s that about? Think the Isle of White proclaiming independence from the UK (Singapore from Malaysia). Think Canary Wharf on steroids. Think Swiss efficiency (the transport minister resigned last year because the metro messed about for a day), with German cleanliness. Think Crazy Rich Asians. Think the best bits of Manhattan combined with the best bits of Monaco. Think big, yet tasteful; tall, but slender. Think no chewing gum – it’s banned. And you have it.
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Singapore used to be just a trading port. The southern apex of the trade route between India and China: the Gibraltar of south east Asia. Having snatched independence from Malaya (in the 60s?) it soon became a financial hub as well. And now it has decided that it wants to be a tourist destination to top the things it does well. The Marina Bay Hotel – you’ve got to see it to believe it – and the attached fabricated neon forest, is a draw of its own. The skyline, the old colonial buildings, the marina built on reclaimed land, the zoo, the high-end (and v expensive) shopping, the theme parks etc, etc, are all making it an attractive destination.
For the well off.
It is expensive. Alcohol is Norwayesque prohibitive. Eating out is not cheap. And I can’t tell you about the hotels as we were lucky and stayed with Ollie, but with limited real estate (there is no spare ground on the Isle of White/Singapore), I reckon they’re pricey.
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But you won’t beat the skyline anywhere. So it might be worth the mortgage.
On Tuesday we walked and walked, met up with one of C’s girls for lunch, and then walked some more. We had a delightful Greek supper out with Ollie and Faz (thank you both so much for your generosity!) and then picked up a coach on Wednesday – for one-fifth the price of a CO2 busting airplane – and headed off to Kuala Lumpur.
More of KL next time. We’ve been here for two nights, are staying for a third and leave on Saturday for an adventure and a half. Again, more next time.
All I will say is that, again, we have been v fortunate in that the mum and dad of the girl we caught up with in Singapore are KL-based. And, (in their words), by way of paying C and I back for looking after their two girls for six years we have been royally looked after, hotel included. More later.
The weather? Low to mid-30s. Some rain. Hot and humid, but workable if you shade-hop and drink plenty of water. And backpacking? Well I carry mine and pull C’s – her pelvic floor isn’t what it used to be. So far we’ve managed well enough.
Hurrah!
Click to buy Fuelling the Fire: https://goo.gl/LBa3Vh
See the trailer for Fuelling the Fire here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uzpw9WLn7qE
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and Facebook page: rolandtheauthor

Never forget

 

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We visited the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) on Friday. It is the c.10 km strip of land that separates north and south and has, as the title suggests, no soldiers in it. Although that hardly seems important when there are hundreds of thousands facing each other off a few centimetres just beyond the lines in the sand.

The Koreans, both sides, are still at war. Although you would have to look very hard to notice it here. And as they’ve done no proper fighting since 1953 you can begin to understand why they’re much more into K-pop than Kalashnikovs.

But … and this is my point, for people of my generation 1953 is not that long ago. My dad didn’t fight in the Korean War, but he could have. Out of a  British force of 15,000 soldiers we lost 1,109 dead with two and half thousand wounded. That’s no small excursion (the US lost close to 40,000 soldiers), and heartbreaking when you consider that many of those were only five years on from keeping their lives after the horrors of World War Two.

And it could have been so much worse. This little known war brought the world as close to World War Three as any time during the Cold War. Under the banner of the UN, at one point us lot (mostly, but not exclusively, the US, the UK – and the Commonwealth, Turkey (?) and 600,000 South Koreans – oh and 900 Belgians) were fighting almost one and a half million Chinese soldiers. Yes, we were fighting the Chinese.

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the unhingely-named Democratic Republic of North Korea in the far distance

In a nutshell it started because after World War Two a minor official in the US State Department drew an imaginary line on the 38th Parallel, carving up the Korean peninsular between Russia and the US, much like Germany was split into four zones: Russian, Brit, American and French. Neither Russia nor the US paid much attention to their assignments and in 1948 both north and south founded their own states and automatically started hating each other. The north’s army, funded by the Russians but supported with Chinese weaponry, turned south in 1953 on a route march, crossed the border and Seoul was taken 3 days later. In the following weeks the South Korean forces, with limited, but now v agitated US support, were almost pushed off the bottom of the country into the sea. It was that easy.

The US, now badged UN and led by commie-hating General MacArthur, landed a huge force well up on the left hand side of the peninsular (the Inchon Landings), and the war swung in the south’s favour. They pushed on north and were close to defeating the Chinese/North Koreans when Mao said enough was enough and applied the principle that quantity has a quality all of its own, throwing a million men at the problem.

And here was when common sense thankfully took hold. The Chinese halted their advance back on the 38th parallel and decided to stop the pendulum from swinging. World War Three was averted. Three years bitter (literally) entrenched warfare followed whilst an armistice (not a peace treaty) was signed. And since then both sides have been staring down the barrels of each other’s guns, whilst the US maintains its largest overseas deployment in the South and the North are close to having ‘the bomb’. You’ll be up to date with the latest between His Trumpkiness and Rocket Man … so I need not elaborate further.

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names of the lost civilians

My point, and it’s unsurprisingly political, is that we must do all we can to keep the peace before we find ourselves launched into another war which kills thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of our own soldiers. 1953 is pretty much within my lifetime. I’ll inevitably give you an overview of the Vietnam War in due course, which is definitely in my lifetime. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not a pacifist. Indeed, I would not be on speaking terms with Kim Jong-un and certainly would not give him the satisfaction of allowing him on the same world stage as me. And owning a highly competent and well equipped army is a massive deterrence, and we should definitely have one of those. What we shouldn’t be doing is breaking apart the international institutions which have kept the uneasy peace in this fractious world. The West’s strength has been its solidarity. The Soviet Bloc broke apart because it was held together for all the wrong reasons: fear and loathing. The EU and NATO are bonded together by the strength of cooperation and friendship. Our togetherness is what stops our adversaries from thinking they can snipe at any one of us. Disassemble that and who knows which lunatics are going to think they can pick a fight with an outlier.

Trump – and the rise of nationalism – ignores these lessons. Lessons of my lifetime. And, I guess, yours.  We live in a dangerous time.

Anyway, phew, enough of that. Other than the DMZ, what have we been up to?

We have walked (miles) and ran up some big hills. We have eaten well. And we have played indoor baseball and sung our hearts out in a v Korean karaoke booth. Today we are walking to the main war memorial in Seoul, Rebecca heads off to Borneo with the school and we must repack for Singapore.

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What a life.

Can’t get out of here quick enough

So, we’re off on Tuesday, a day after His Orangeness lands with, seemingly, his whole family. Why not, if someone else is paying and you get to use the gold loos in Buck House? It’ll be something to dine out on for the rest of your life. Of course Comrade Corbyn won’t be attending the state banquet, nor will Meghan. She’s apparently on maternity leave, but we all know that she can’t stand His Trumpkiness and would have feigned death (‘I’d leave the country if he got into power’, she was heard to say) if she were instructed to sit at the same table as the man.

And should we be getting excited about this? Should we be thinking of this as the office of the president visiting, not one from a misogynistic, pussy-grabbing, racist, thicko who is currently the so-called leader of the free world? That we should be showing due dignity and reverence … building on our special relationship with the world’s number one power. Afterall, if we go ahead and crash out of Europe we’re going to need all of the friendly trading powers we can get our hands on. Trump is transitory. The presidency isn’t.

Well you won’t be surprised that I’m with Jeremy and her royal Americaness. Actually, I’m much more with Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon. Think Love Actually, when Hugh G playing the PM tells the wandering-handed (on McCutcheon’s backside) president, ‘A relationship based on the President taking exactly what he wants, and casually ignoring all those things that really matter to Britain. We may be a small country, but we’re a great one too. Country of Shakespeare, Churchill, The Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter, David Beckham’s right foot, David Beckham’s left foot. A friend who bullies us is no longer a friend. And since bullies only respond to strength, from now onward I will be prepared to be much stronger. And the President should be prepared for that.

Trump is a bully and not a very good one. We should stand up to him and his administration, an administration which has gone out of its way to undermine allies, befriend adversaries, cut women’s rights, dismantle international agreements (Iran, Paris and nuclear weapons), deny climate change – promoting the melting of the northwest passage’s ice fields as positive thing for exploitation, build walls, provide tax cuts to the rich, undermine the judiciary … I could go on. And on.

No, I don’t think we should be laying down the red carpet. Trump would, I promise you, be more impressed if we’d stood up to him. He needs the UK. Loves Scotland. Is in awe of our history. If Queenie had said, ‘We’re sorry, but we’re not going to meet with the man who uses the only umbrella whilst allowing his 10-year old son to walk in the rain.’, he would have been mortified. As would the whole of the GOP.

That’s it. I’ve said my piece.

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new wills, mmmmm

And us? Well a few things. First we have rewritten our wills. We did this via the Co-op who, over the phone and for less than  £250, produced mirror wills for the pair of us in under 2 weeks. They also keep the original in a central vault for nothing. And I have started to sort out my state pension. Alert for military old people. You may think you’ve contributed 35 years’ worth of national insurance, but due to some arcane rule our military service doesn’t fully count towards our state pension. So, even though I served for 25 years and then 8 years as a school teacher, I’m still 7 years short of full pension (£168.60 per week is the most you can get – I’m on £155), and so I’m going to have to buy them back. It’s quite complicated but I understand it, so if anyone wants to start up a conversation about it, then let me know.

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packing … will it all fit?

And that brings me onto Mum, who we’re with at the moment. I’ve taken responsibility for her accounts, bills and pensions and whilst I’d had telephone exchanges with people who in power who gave me reassurance that mum would be OK, I Wasn’t going to be happy until we’d had the paperwork. Which arrived last week. Which I read when I arrived … and, according to the letter, showed that mum’s pension would actually drop.

There was a frantic 10 minutes as I looked over the stuff they’d sent again and again, at the same time trying to imagine how mum was going to stay in the house on not a great deal of money … until I realised that the figure of £250-odd was per week, not per month. Phew. That’s sorted, then.

Which it is. She seems v happy. And now I’m pretty confident that she can stay in the house for as long as she can manage. That was a relief.

Off tomorrow to Mary’s, where we will overnight before getting an early taxi to Gatwick on Tuesday. Bags are packed and we’re ready to go. The taxi’s waiting, it’s blowing its horn. Already I’m so lonely I could cry … stop. A can’t get John Denver out of my head.

Next blog should be from Korea. Hurrah!

Book stuff

I’m heading for a bit of a glorious conclusion with the book. I’ve literally just finished reading it to C, a process I really enjoyed … and which she seemed to persevere without too many moans. The good news is she liked it, and I managed to find a number of edits which I had previously missed. I know I may have said this before, but it’s a helluva thing, you know. Writing a book. More so, five of them. I follow a number of authors on Twitter and Instagram and so many of then are wrapped in self-doubt; many unable to finish their work. I see many five-star reviews posted by authors who are beside themselves with getting a decent review here and there. I know that the odd 5-star review does not translate into selling many books, so I have no idea how they manage to pay the bills if writing is the only thing they do. I suspect many hold down a second and a third job.

In that respect I am very lucky. We have set ourselves up so that I can just write – although, as you know, I do some work in schools. And I do get a lot of five-star reviews. I don’t mean to be boastful, but I have nearly 400 reviews on Amazon and Goodreads with an average rating of 4.2. I think that is good. But, like my fellow authors I don’t make anywhere near enough money selling books to live off. And whilst I’ve every intention of marketing hard in the autumn, I suspect I will never sell more than about 500 books a year. We shall see.

On The Back Foot To Hell

the latest incarnation of the front page of On The Back Foot To Hell

Anyhow, as well as reading the script out loud I have been working on the worst of all jobs: the synopsis. This is a three-page resume of what happens and is never meant to be a pitch. Ignoring that, I started the synopsis of On The Back Foot To Hell like this:

+++++

On The Back Foot To Hell – Synopsis

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 unwilling 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 at the point where even that is taken from her.

+++++

Doubtless, should I send it to an agent or publisher they won’t make it past the first paragraph, but as I’ve had no luck so far with anything other than self-publishing (OK, Fuelling The Fire was published by Kindle), what have I got to lose?

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Doris has been to the doctors to have new pads, a fuel filter and a new rear tyre. This is my attempt to change her oil and filter … but I couldn’t get the sump plug undone. Oh dear.

Moving on.

We’re a couple of days off from seeing Mum and Mary before we get on a plane to Korea. We should be excited … and we are. But since London it’s all been a bit of a blur. Doris has been in the doctors to get things sorted and we’ve been pottering about in ever decreasing circles seemingly achieving a lot, but on reflection, maybe not. Tomorrow is our last day at home and we’re not not completely sorted. I’m sure everything will be ok.

I’m sure it will …

 

 

Counting the pennies

Don’t worry (be happy). I’m not going to go on and on about the EU elections and how you should all be voting Green or, at worst, the Lib Dems. That the planet comes first and living in a stable Europe second. That the Tories and Labour are history … and that we need a fresh start. I know the Greens have some fairly unconventional manifesto promises, like getting rid of the nuclear deterrent but, do you know what, is that such a bad thing? At around £200 billion for a replacement that’s an awful lot of conventional defence we could buy … and I still think we’d keep our spot on the Security Council.

It’s a thought.

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thinking of my grandchildren

Let’s talk about more mundane matters. Doris has a slow puncture and I need to get it fixed. It comes at a time when I do need to give her a thorough service. So, next Wednesday she’s going into the doctors for 4 new sets of brake pads, a tightening of her handbrake cable, a new diesel filter and a sorted tyre. All she needs then is a new air filter and an oil and filter change. So, I’ve decided to do that. The air filter is simples. The oil and filter I’ve done before on a car, but not 10 litres and 4-tonnes’ worth of monster truck. I have ordered everything I need (around £70 for all that including some top-quality oil) and I hope to have a go before next weekend. I reckon that around £500 later she’ll be as serviced as she can be. And I don’t think that’s a bad price.

The trike went in for her annual service today, including oil and filter = £100, which I didn’t think was a bad. Once the warranty runs out I’ll do that myself as well.

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Bristol, OMG

I went for my own service on Tuesday (cardiac doctory). They have no idea what’s going on and they’re going to stick a 3-day ECG on me when we get back from SE Asia … and I’m also going to have an ultrasound. I’m still getting the odd skipping heartbeat, but nothing like it was a couple of months ago. Nothing to worry about, apparently.

OK then …

As a new edit innovation I’ve printed out On The Back Foot To Hell ready for proofreading and am reading it out loud to C. It really helps me spot repeat errors (2 ‘rights’ in 2 sentences etc) and C also has an ear for things. And, do you know what? I think she’s enjoying it. Personally I think it’s the best writing I’ve ever done (this blog clearly isn’t) … and, probably, among my best story lines. We’ll see.

I was reminded by the BBC today that Lee Child (Jack Reacher) didn’t start writing until he was in his 40s and, other than journalistic articles, hadn’t written anything of substance before then. Nice to be reminded, although such nudges provide both hope and despair for wannabes like me.

We had a lovely supper with Peter and Karen on Tuesday night … we caught up having not seen each other for a while. And this weekend we’re off to the big smoke to see C’s cousin. We’re taking the coach (not the ones with horses, although that would be fun, if a tadge slow). For both of us to get too and from London the cost is £48 … by train, the cheapest is around £120. I’ll let you know ho it goes.

And I’ve just reread this. It seems to be money-focused, for which I apologise. If I had a proper job I might not be so penny-pinching. (But … as my friends know only too well, that’s unlikely to be a favourable outcome.) To be clear, I’m not after a job. At all. So count the pennies I must!

Car boot … mmm

I got an advert on Instagram this morning. It was from the European Parliament. It showed a small boy sat at the back of the parliament holding an EU flag. The post was clearly marked; paid for by the European Parliament. The post had had a couple of thousand likes and there were 250 comments. I did some research.

Nearly all of the comments were pro-Brexit and, most of them, were sharp … nasty. I did some further research and clicked on the profiles of a few of the pro-Brexit commentators. Where their profiles were open, those I chose showed older men. Their timeline was at best ‘blokey’; at worst misogynist and borderline fascist. One had one of those cartoon written jokes: ‘I went into the pub with a gun looking for my wife who was having an affair. A friend at the back said I hadn’t brought enough ammunition.’ #hilarious.

Among others.

Now I know that most folk who voted for Brexit would be horrified by such people. But, for those of you Brexiteers that still read my drivel, you do have to admit that the pro-Brexit movement does attract that sort. And whilst I am a European, I can also see why some people would vote to leave the EU, although I firmly believe the benefits of staying far outweigh those of leaving. But I am prepared to have that discussion. Without resorting to violence.

Along the same lines. I know that I’ve told you before that we live in a multi-cultural cul-de-sac: I reckon 65/35 Brit to non-Brit inhabitants. And we love it here. This morning I walked the 400 metres to our local car boot sale. It was full of Eastern Europeans and a number of other non-Brits. They were all going about their business. No angst. No tension. Yesterday C and I were in Gloucester seeing Jen. As I backed out of a parking space a very English, Englishman swore and gesticulated at me from his car … apparently I hadn’t made room for him to manoeuvre.

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nobody punched anybody

Anger v Peace.

Last night I watched a programme about Dover on C4 during the war. It wasn’t great telly, but it kept my interest. The programme spent a bit of time looking at Dunkirk … and we were shown lots of piccies of gritty Brit soldiers (and Poles and French who were fighting alongside us) with smiles amongst the grimaces. I know I can’t say, but I sense that in 1940 our boys were not the sort to get enraged over a frivolous incident in a carpark. Or dis their women. Or have a go at a fellow Pole who was fighting alongside them (or indeed the 87,000 Indians who died for our freedom).

What has changed? Dunno.

I should stop. All I will say is that I cannot see myself staying in the UK if a right-wing, anti-immigration, anti-European party gets into government (I’m ignoring the current Tories … although should Boris get into power). I’m having enough trouble coping with my fellow Brit on the roads …

Good news! I have finished the final edit of On The Back Foot To Hell, have started printing it out for proofreading and have had an initial stab at the front cover. It all looks like this:

On The Back Foot To Hell (1)
Blurb:

A new, undefined terror is spreading across the globe. Indiscriminate, low-level acts of violence have hit all five continents – and it’s getting worse. The world’s security services are at a loss. Who is behind the upsurge in violence? Where will the next attack take place? Will it ever stop?

Sam Green, now a supermarket till girl in a small town in England, is oblivious to world events. She has her own inner demons to fight and they’re consuming every spare moment. All too soon though, these demons will take on human form. And then she will be faced with two choices: run or fight.

In Naples, Italy, a young Welsh student is innocently researching a link between The Mafia and the history of art. And two thousand miles away in Moscow, Russian intelligence services are struggling to contain a new terror cell that threatens nuclear catastrophe.

Are all these things connected? If so, can someone force order from chaos? Sam has managed before. But now there are too many obstacles, the biggest of which are those plaguing her own mind.

This time the world might just have to rely on someone else.

In praise of the Sam Green series:

This really is an addictive series of stories; Sam Green a believable and somewhat vulnerable hero who finds herself drawn in to some enthralling adventures with each subsequent book linking cleverly to the previous, yet still being ‘stand alone’. Roland seems to have the ability to guide the reader around a spider’s web of plots culminating in an extraordinarily exciting finale. Can’t wait for book 5.

++++++++++++  

We’re at home this week, with some adminy things to sort. And then a weekend in London visiting a cousin of C’s. It’s all good here …

Betwixt and between

There’s no doubt that five days away in Doris has done wonders for our wellbeing. The last three were sat at John’s doing not a great deal other than walking and running (and editing … I’m 3 chapters short of finishing my final edit). C certainly feels better and I am getting there. Today, before we left for Mary’s I had a hard run. The time wasn’t particularly quick, but I did bust a gut. And, between times, we’ve resorted the house (we’ve only been in it for a day before we’ve headed off again) and bought a hoe. You know, the garden thing with the metal, triangular end that gets rid of old plants from concrete and the like. This morning I had a go at the area around the back of our place, a car park for a few houses on a cul-de-sac off from our cul-de-sac. If you see what I mean.

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I could get used to this

And now we’re at Mary’s until Friday. I have work at the Farnham school tomorrow (a day’s clinic and a BBQ with the prefects where I’m down to talk to them about leadership. I’m really looking forward to that.). And then we’re just 2 weeks and a number of commitments away from getting on the plane and heading east until the land runs out. We were discussing our plans on the way here. Mostly we’re looking at having nothing more than a general plan, and only booking accommodation the day before. Travel will be by bus and the rest will be ‘make it up as we go along’. C was looking at city hotel prices and they’re a third of what they are in Europe. We have budgeted for £80 a day, less airfares which we’ve already paid for. I think that’s going to be more than enough … but we’ll see. C found a guest house in KL (with a window … a special note) for £14 a night for both of us. Another, with an infinity pool, for £45. I can’t imagine it costs too much to eat out there either.

What an adventure?

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new hat and sunglasses for a new continent

In the meantime I’m working my way through On The Back Foot To Hell. And I’m almost done. I have my proof reader stood by for the end of the month. I know I said this last time, but I do like it. And, with sales v slow this month, I am going to have a real go at marketing once the book is out there.

What else is new? Mum seems fine. We’re going to pop and see her before we get on the plane. We talk a couple of times a day and she does sound well.

Having Mrs Sun showing off her calves is a pleasant diversion. When it is like this I can’t stop myself picturing the pair of us in Doris somewhere south and hot … by a beach. Long walks along the strand, a coffee here, a glass of wine there. Slow mornings and just as slow days. Running in the sand, and up the cliffs. Cycling into distant towns. Spending little, whilst living a lot. I know we’re both still relatively young and this will all come again, but having lived that life for a bit it it is difficult to get that sense out of your head. I remember whittling bamboo into walking sticks and making jewellery from stuff I’d found on the beach (do you remember me doing that?). That was four years ago and a fading, but not lost memory. I think of it and my shoulders relax and I breath out heavily. Ahh.

Pals of ours who we met whilst we were away (@baxterbus on Instagram) are currently in Scotland heading for the northern isles in their van. They have fab weather and look like they’re really having a ball. Well done them. We must catch up with them soon.

And other pals, Hilary and Steven, are back from New Zealand and on their narrowboat. We hope to see them before we fly, as they stopped off in Thailand en route to the Antipodes. They’re v good at finding the right places to go … for the right amount of money. Yes, we must mine that mine.

Anyhow, I must have a look over my notes for tomorrow.

Till Sunday!