Malaysia – one

The coach from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur was straightforward. Five hours, lots of room and a wee stop (£12 each). Travelling by bus allows you to see the sights and we did: palms for palm oil and the odd billboard selling tools, office equipment and sanitary stuff. It’s very green and very bumpy and very full of palm trees. Apparently they mine a lot of tin. And there’s oil, the crude stuff. But there’s also a lot of palms for palm oil.

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Our hosts in KL (parents of ex-students of ours) run a palm oil plantation or two. And he tells me that soya creates five times as much deforestation as palms, and you can’t use soya to replace diesel. What with the orangutans and everything it’s getting a bad press, but soya is worse, apparently. Anyhow, there’s miles and miles of it here.

We were booked into a v swanky colonial hotel, with pithe-helmeted doorsmen and more staff than I had tips for. Our first night was a drive-by tour of KL kindly provided by another ex-student who now works as a property developer in the city. And, wow. There’s been a lot of property developed in KL.

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The most iconic is the Petronas Towers, once the tallest building(s) in the world, but now dwarfed by that mad thing in Dubai. It only became clear in daylight, but KL is a busy, skyscraper city that’s doubling as a building site. It has more cranes than a paddy field. There are gihuge buildings everywhere – as far as the eye can see. And bigger ones are being built. None, however, will eclipse the extraordinary spectacle that is/are the Petronas Towers. After a local supper we took a fast lift to the 33rd floor of another tower, hoped to get a drink only to realise that it was ladies’ night (Teng and I were going to be lucky numbers wise, less so C). So whilst we didn’t stop we did manage to get a full-frontal of the towers. Mad, absolutely mad. We finally got our drink in a bar in another hotel high-rise. Again, fabulous views.

 

 

The next day was the full KL tour with driver and guide (thanks Mrs Gan). It was only then that we began to realise that KL isn’t Singapore. There are metaphorical and actual cracks in the pavement. The concrete looks more West African than West Byfleet. It’s a bit dirty. The workers don’t have that ordered efficiency of Singapore. A lot of it is half- finished. And everyone told us to watch out for petty, but determined crime.

Apparently much of the race for the skies is underpinned by backhanders – certainly the previous PM is being done for some serious corruption including a £41 million super yacht. And the new builds are not supported by appropriate infrastructure. It’s about being big and bold, but not so much integrated. As a result the traffic is like rush hour Naples … in 90% humidity. It’s trying very hard to be a first world country, but at only 70 years old, its ambition isn’t supported by a first world government. Yet. And there are gently simmering racial issues. The indigenous, Muslim Malays who hold the power, don’t quite see eye to eye with the centuries old Chinese Malaysians, who have the money. There’s the jealousy of the uber-rich Singapore who were, not so long ago, Malaysian. And the Thais who let the Japanese in during the second world war, are looked down on.

And I loved it (the place, not the racism).

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We did the palace where my day was made by a minibus-load of Chinese tourists who wanted their photograph taken with me. I think they mistook me for Harrison Ford, which happens a lot. We did the main Taoist temple, which is in an old bat cave (nunner, nunner, nunner, nunner, nunner, nunner, nunner, nunner … Batman!), up an unnecessarilyl  multicoloured flight of steps protected by a huge, gold God-type figure. We did a Chinese temple, and all of the old, central colonial buildings, finishing off at the old cricket square next to a Tudoresque private club which we weren’t allowed to go into. It was all very 1900s, but delightfully so, especially compared to the glass, steel and concrete superstructures that surrounded us.

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Exhausted but not out, we ran in the hotel’s gym, swum in the hotel’s terrace pool and, undaunted by the threat of being mugged, we walked and found a McDonald’s for fear of ending up looking like a grain of rice.

We also booked the next stage of our trip (so excited … I’m penning this on my phone in a coach heading north).

Our second full day was a trip to Malacca, down the coast from KL. Again a driver and guide were provided. We chose Malacca because my mum and dad were based there in the early 60s. It was fun and v provincial. We looked around the old colonial sites, visited a Malay/Chinese merchant’s house museum and then drove onto dad’s old barracks … which was strangely moving.

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And last night the Gans took us out for supper, finishing with coffee and pud in our hotel. It was a v chilled way to end our stay in KL.

Would we come again? We loved Singapore and could certainly see us stopping over for a day or so, if the bank balance allowed. KL? Other than to see the Gans, possibly not. It’s an inexpensive city with a gawpable skyline. There’s plenty of nightlife to make you feel special and shopping malls galore. The colonial history is fascinating, but that only needs to be told once.

So, maybe not.

And Malaysia? Mmmm. As we snake our way north through huge limestone gorges where the rainforest hasn’t been decimated for palm trees, to a ferry to an island off the northwest coast … possibly. And more of all that later. ‘Cos Malaysia also includes the northern half of Borneo where Bex has just come back from. We’ll see what she says.

(BTW, luxury coach – Cosmic Express! – from KL, 500 km north to Kuala Perlis is £12 each. Clean and efficient and leaves from a modern, 3-storey bus terminus the size of Watford.)

More of Malaysia next time.

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!
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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.

Heart and Seoul

We’ve made it. Seoul via Hong Kong. We were remarkably well looked after by Cathay Pacific. The flight to HK was 11 hours and even in cattle class I had lots of leg room. The food was good and the in-flight entertainment was fab … I can recommend The Widows  and Beirut. Oh, and Free Solo, a 90-minute documentary about a mad American who climbs the highest vertical face in Yosemite National park … at 1000 metres. He climbs it without ropes and on his own. It’s heart in the mouth stuff and every child should be made to watch it – just to let them know what you can do if you put your mind to it.

Anyhow. It’s fab to see Rebecca and Steven (they’re both teachers at Dulwich College international) and great that they had today off with the Koreans celebrating their memorial day. We’re staying with them until Monday, when we fly to Singapore … we meet them again in Bangkok a week and a bit later at which point we pool resources and hoof it around SE Asia for almost 4 weeks. (Hurrah!) Between now and then Bex is heading to Brunei with the school (in their first year Steven has been to China and Phuket, Bex to Hong Kong and Japan – all looking after kids from the school). They have landed on their feet here, but they do both work really hard. We are v proud of them.

Today, struggling against the jet lag monkey on my shoulder (C was in much better fettle), we walked all over Seoul, a city built on a series of steep hills that would have defeated the Romans. The photos tell the story, so I shall recount a couple of observations instead.

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Inside the palace … hundreds dressed in their Sunday’s, all taking photos of each other

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all that’s left of old Seoul

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we didn’t climb this hill, but it felt like it

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climbed this, though

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drawn for us, the Ladley family motto: diligence will make you succeed

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Bex can confirm that when you go to this cafe you are joined by loads of cats

First, South Korea is hardly a tourist location. Any history and associated buildings were literally obliterated by Japanese occupation (no love lost there) in the first half of the 20th Century, and later by the Korean War (50 -53), so any architecture is very new. It has developed into a huge industrial nation (Samsung, LG, Kia, Hyundai etc) with the infrastructure struggling to keep up. It feels like a West African nation which has been given a shot of speed. There are plenty of classy new build skyscrapers, but you don’t have to look too hard to find a lot of quick-build concrete, smelly drains and badly erected electricity wires. There is no crime and the people are all lovely, if slightly reserved. The youngsters are into fashion and k-pop; they are delicate (boys and girls), but, again, lovely.

Seoul has things to offer. We did the main hill with its huge tower, the sprawling palace (we watched the non-military changing of the guard) and the very small and very twee ‘old Seoul’; a couple of delightful streets of immaculate wooden houses with tiled roofs.

On the way there I was accosted by an elderly lady who was part of a demonstration outside the American Embassy – they demonstrate a lot in Seoul, all peacefully. Bex reckons it’s a national past time. She wanted to tell me that they were protesting against Kim Jong-un, and that I was to tell Donald Trump that he was to assassinate the North Korean leader. I didn’t have the the heart to tell her that I knew some people and they had been given very clear instructions to do the same to His Dondaldness.

We’re off to the DMZ tomorrow, which should be fun! Until Sunday …

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!