He who climbs Mt.Fuji is a wise man, he who climbs twice is a crazy man.”

The title is a famous saying about the Sacred Mountain. My blog is about climbing it it on a third occasion. What does that say about me?

Climbing Mount Fuji (3776 meters), Japan’s highest and most prominent mountain, can make for lifelong memories. The mountain itself may look more attractive from afar than from close up, but the views on clear days and the experience of climbing through the early morning hours among hundreds of equally minded hikers from across the world.

In the 1950s I was lucky enough to circumnavigate the world twice on my first trip, when I was an apprentice deck officer on a cargo boat.  Both times were at different ports on the Japanese island of Honshu.  The first visit we were in the port of Yokkaichi and I’ve written before about experiencing a Tsunami.

At this time after WWII the nation was under the control of Australia.  Australian soldiers were patrolling the streets.  As we sort of spoke a similar language, we quickly made friends and I was lucky enough to accompany them on several social coach trips.  I’ve written before about my trip to Hiroshima and man’s inhumanity to man.

However I jumped at the chance to go on an organised trip with the “Diggers”, to climb Mount Fuji and then to see the famous bathing monkeys in the hot springs nearby.  N.B. It was at this time I learned my wrong interpretation of Digger being Aussies who carried a shovel to dig for gold or opals.  I have first hand information that they carry a shovel in the outback to “dig ourselves a dunny” ( a hole to poop in).  

This was an unforgettable four day trip and the start of my lifetime addiction to mountain climbing. The second time round we were unloading in Yokohama and again sought out the company of my Australian Army friends. This time I’d swotted up about the Sacred Mountain and had bee in my bonnet about doing a nighttime climb that would get us to the summit in time to experience the famous sunrise. ( “first time wise man, second time crazy man.”).  This time the organised coach trip was much smaller and like a drug addict I had hooked five equally crazies.

The famous five joined a locally organised group of around 25 night climbers of mainly Japanese men, three females and us. All crazy, with the sunrise in our sights.

On my circumnavigations I must have had this trip at the back of my mind because I had purchased a pair of very expensive walking boots and had worn them regularly so they were now very comfortable. Perfect for hiking up Mount Fuji.

I should note that ‘bullet’ climbing (hiking up and down without sufficient rest) is not advised, and visitors are strongly encouraged to rest at one of the mountain stations to reduce the risk of altitude sickness.  Despite Mt Fuji being easily accessible for beginners, the hike should not be taken lightly and without adequate preparation. My first step was to research hiking guides on the official Mount Fuji Climbing website (in English). The summit can be reached by several trails, but, as a novice hiker, I opted for the Yoshida trail which is the best-served by mountain huts. This is the route that our group had chosen.

Apart from my posh hiking boots I bought a head torch, boot covers and packed clothing for both warm and cool weather.  My famous five had done the same and without doubt were far better prepared than the rest of the group.

We arrived at the Fuji Subaru 5th station by bus, roughly the halfway point of the Yoshida Trail, at the height of the hiking season. A large number of people surrounded us, including other hikers or those who had arrived by organized coaches to get a better view of Mt Fuji.

Shops and restaurants at the base of the trail allow you to buy last-minute provisions. In my opinion, the ultimate souvenir is a walking stick you can purchase at the shop. Not only is the stick an invaluable aid to get over the rocky parts, but it’s a great memory of the hike.

While there’s no cost to hike Mount Fuji, climbers were asked to contribute100 yen per person at stations along the ascent. At that time it was 10 yen to the pound and dock workers were paid just 10 yen a day. ( well they had lost the war).

We set off on our ascent at around 18:00, when the afternoon light began to soften.

Driven by a mixture of excited energy and apprehension, we reached the 6th station in good time. The other hikers we met en route were a friendly group of people, from novice to seasoned hikers alike, all with an apparent excitement to reach our shared goal:

As the sun set, the stunning landscape that stretched out below us slowly evaporated out of view. The temperature sharply dropped as the warmth of the sun disappeared.

While resting at the 7th station, I looked down at the lights of the cities far below.  This was probably when my fascination with mountains began.

As I looked into the distance, a thunderstorm was happening below us. Being at eye level with the magnificent storm on the horizon gave me a unique sense of connection and intimacy with nature.

After we reached the 8th station, the temperature dropped further. Chilled, I put on every piece of clothing that I had packed to stay warm. The mountain rest huts (which we were avoiding due to its fee) looked more alluring as the night wore on.

However after an hour’s rest, the five of us set off again towards the summit. As I looked back down the trail, I was taken aback by the sight of hundreds of hiker’s lights snaking up behind us. It was clear we had set off unintentionally early and had missed the crowds who slowly followed behind

As we started the final ascent to the summit, the trail narrowed, and everyone was forced into a slow, single file. I was surprised to see workers dressed in high visibility clothing directing the pace and flow of the hikers. They looked grossly out of place, waving their illuminated rods and would have looked more at home directing the street traffic thousands of feet below us.

In Darkness at the Summit of Mt Fuji

The summit of Mount Fuji can be crowded with hikers awaiting the sunrise.  Finally, we reached the summit, and I entered a world of darkness and weary faces, which made me wonder if it had all been worth it. Finding a suitable spot to rest, we set down our padded foil blanket to await the sunrise. A sea of darkness surrounded us, lit only by moonlight and the occasional torch. Looking up, I got lost in a galaxy of thousands of clear, glittering stars. 

In the daylight, an alien-like atmosphere was created by the volcanic landscape. The thinness of the air affected the way sounds travelled, and I felt like I was no longer on earth. As my adrenaline waned, fatigue began to fill my body. The mountain huts sold food, and there was even a post office to post a letter from the summit. After a rest and some rehydration, we began our hike down.

The way down was very long and arduous. It felt like a never-ending descent, zig-zagging on uneven, slippery rocks. The 4 hours it took to reach the 5th station felt like a lifetime. Thankfully, the boot covers I had purchased prevented the majority of the small volcanic stones from getting into my boots. As we descended, the cold fresh air of the summit was replaced by the thick muggy climate of summer in Japan.

I had drunk all my water early in the descent and had grossly underestimated the hike down. We reached the 5th station around 9 am, tired and thirsty, but with a swell of pride and a great sense of achievement. I had just accomplished the highest point in Japan, and I knew I would never look at the mountain in the same way again.

my first two ascents were before my 17th birthday. Later in life I had become a travel journalist. Mostly being contacted by a magazine or newspaper and being dispatched to a destination of their choice that would highlight one of their advertisers. Sometimes meaning my spending hours on an airplane, a couple of days getting a feel for a place and taking photos and lots of notes, followed by another day sitting on a plane making for home. Sometimes I would get lucky with a short flight and a more leisurely stay.

During  very slow time I had this brilliant idea. I had been this crazy man who climbed Fuji twice but had been so smitten that forty years later I needed to return to Japan and climb a third time.  This was around the time of the Tokyo Summer Olympics and Japan had shown the world that they had rebuilt and were now a peaceful partner in the world.  I managed to sell the idea to a popular magazine and gained the interest of a broadsheet and a couple of red tops.  Success, expenses covered and a leisurely visit on the books.

what a different country Japan is!  At least a quarter of the population speak better English than me. Three-quarters of the population wear spectacles, even the Geisha girls, OK I was getting a feel of the country so a visit to a bathhouse was a must!

Usually when I go climbing my kit is stuffed into my backpack.  This time apart from plenty of warm clothes all I had was my favourite Gucci hiking boots that I’d bought in Tokyo in the fifties. The fact that they’re still in great condition having accompanied me up eleven Munro’s in Scotland, Mount Kenya, Mount Kilimanjaro, every hill in Snowdon, the Black Mountains and Brecon and still in great condition after thirty years, proves their provenance.

by this time a much travelled journalist on expenses I was tempted to go on an organised private tour by chartered vehicle when my driver would collect me from my hotel and deliver me to Mount Fuji’s 5th station and arrange to collect me when I had completed my hike to the summit and back, delivering me back to my hotel.

You mustn’t forget that I’m one of Mount Fuji’s Crazy Men.  I did want to add to my experiences to relay to my readers.  So I decided to travel, not by the usual train but by the Bullet Train. This doesn’t go all the way but I just had to experience the famous train one-way at least. A ticket cost about 25,00 yen that’s about £20. However I discovered the a 7 days Japan Rail Pass, costs 35,00 yen (£25). No contest. I can now travel for free on any train within a 100 km radius of Tokyo.

I may have mentioned that I once travelled by train from Portsmouth, looked out of the train window and got a piece of clinker in my eye. I have avoided travelling by train in Britain ever since.

I took a taxi from my hotel to the station on an early start and was totally gobsmacked by the Bullet train. Even in 2021 we have nothing to compare with the Japanese Bullet Train in the 1970s.

Not only was the Bullet Train fabulous but it passes some of the best views of the mountain.   I left train at Tokaido, waved my JR Pass together with my passport and boarded the recommended train to Odawara Station and began my climb, accompanied by a small group of five or six fellow climbers all Japanese and we began our climb. As we progressed we noticed that we were being followed by a group led by a guide. They followed some 100 metres behind up.  That was when the icing fell off our cake and we found our way forward being interfered with by dozens of orange overalled people highlighted by hi-viz yellow waistcoats. The clothes were an offence to the eye. It was …… “Go there, Stand there, Wait there, Take photo there. These people lined the path as far as we could go. The actual summit is now fenced off with PRIVATE LAND NO ENTRY signs. It is now under private ownership.

This Crazy Man was now a very passed off man.  Our whole seven man group had stayed together and were all disappointed. I was the only one who had climbed before and I couldn’t resist relating how brilliant my two previous climbs had been.

We began our descent through the same Hi-viz  pipeline, still issuing orders, which I ignored when I could. The grass path was very slippery and the only highlight was when three of our party slipped over on to their backsides, slid downhill and took out two of the Orange Hi-viz men with them.  Being me I had to have a little rant about Health and Safety and they would be better employed gritting the dangerous path, rather than issuing orders like “Stand there, stop there, and where to take photos. I was quite chuffed that someone, possibly the Hi-viz foreman began bowing and actually saying “velly solly “!

I left my group at the5th Station and returned on the regular Fujihyu line using my JR Pass. I left the train at Shinjuku Station and took a taxi to my hotel.

I was left disappointed by my third Fuji climb, it’s suddenly become automated.  Mind you I’m led to believe that Mount Everest had become even worse  I suppose it had to happen as it’s become more and more popular.

I’m now far too old to return to Japan but if I should discover than 80 is the new 50, I would spend my time with a JR Pass touring by train  I bet none of my family will believe what I just written knowing my aversion to trains!

Now what subject shall I write about for my next blog?  See you again soon!

 

 

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Kill all the Lawyers

In two months it will be the second anniversary of my lockdown sentence.  On March 2nd 2019, the much revered National Health Service, wrote to me personally, advising me that I was “special” inasmuch as I am very old and diabetic, therefore I was considered vulnerable in the scheme of the worldwide pandemic called COVID-19!

Well I’ve always known that I was special but I also felt far fitter than most 83 years old veteran.  I’d taken my type 2 diabetes by the throat by both diet and exercise and after 3 long term average blood tests had been around 4.2%.  Normal non-diabetics are anything under 5.7%.  Hence my wonderful Diabetes Specialist Nurse told me that I am no longer diabetic and I no longer need medication.

However for someone who considers himself reasonably smart, I can also be very dumb.  I made the mistake of showing the letter to my darling wife of 60 plus years.  This is the wife who is also my medication supervisor and who had congratulated me for beating diabetes.  She had no longer perused the letter than I was “Confined to Barrack” on her orders, for 15 months.  By the time my sentence was over I had also had my first two Pfizer Vaccinations, I’d done a lot of writing of mostly blogs and newspaper articles, plus many letters of complaint to anyone who upset me, especially politicians and local councillors (they only think they are politicians), anyway by the time that I had been released from confinement I should have been a happy bunny but I’m not!

I’m grumpy and getting grumpier by the day mostly spurred on by my short term memory, things like forgetting where I’ve put things when I’m certain that I put them in a safe place and then can’t find them!  My wife insists that she hasn’t moved them!  I’m beginning to wonder if she’s not trying to send me loopy so she can get “power of attorney” whatever that is, but bless her she’s as forgetful as I am!  A month ago I decided that it would be a great idea to buy a number of reading glasses to leave in appropriate places around the house so I am always able to put my hand on a pair when needed.  A month later, gone, they have all disappeared into thin air.

So I clicked on “Buy Again” on Amazon Prime and next day, five identical pairs of reading specs were delivered.  I felt like Shylock when I coveted them in their original packaging and popped them under my favourite recliner, where I seem to spend rather a lot of time these days.  Two days later I can’t find them!  I didn’t mention the disappearance to my wife, that would only confirm hers suspicions.  Over a week after they went missing, I discovered them still wrapped in their original packing, in a desk drawer in my upstairs office. . . . . . . Poltergeist??

Even outside of Lockdown I’m an avid reader and will virtually read anything, so much so that my aforementioned, lovable wife, insists that our breakfast cereals are kept in various Tupperware boxes to stop me being distracted at the breakfast table, Hmmph!   I have two Kindle Paperwhite Readers so that I have two different books on the go at the same time and switch when the mood takes me.  My Kindle library has 860 in it.  I found myself reading Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 2 – To quote “The first thing we do, is kill all the lawyers”.   My strange sense of humour told me “What a perfect title for my next blog”.  So this one is pro bono but to upset the lawyers rather than killing them.

I don’t know about you but after 2021, I need cheering up, so today, New Year’s Day there will be no whistleblowing, unless it’s to welcome in 2022 in the hope that it will be better than 2021.  No fish fights between Salmond and Sturgeon, in fact no politics, no horsemeat, no windfarms, no global warming.  No E.U., no Boris, no Starmer, no Blair and that’s very difficult considering today’s news.  No B.B.C., no Guardian, no Owen Jones, no N.H.S. nor even Jimmy Saville, who by the way is still dead!

Today, there will just be a smile as we look forward to a year that just cannot be as bad as the last two.  You will have gathered that I have a strange sense of humour, so let’s upset the Lawyers as I promised

. . . . . . . . A Solicitor parked his brand new Porsche 911 in front of his office in order to show it to his colleagues

As he was getting out of his car still looking at the beautiful silver paintwork, a lorry came speeding around the corner, too close to the kerb and took off the door of the Porsche, before failing to stop and speeding off.

Distraught the Solicitor grabbed his mobile and called Police. . . . . . . . Five minutes later the Police arrived. . . . . . . .  I did say this is only a story!

Before the Policeman could say anything the Solicitor start screaming hysterically, ” My Porsche, my beautiful brand new, silver Porsche.  It’d ruined.  No matter how long it’s at the repairers, it will nver be the same again.

He stopped to take a breath having finished bleating but close to tears!  The Policeman shook his head in disgust saying, “I can’t believe how materialistic you bloody Solicitors are” he said ” You lot are so focussed on your possessions that you don’t notice anything else in your lives”

How can you say such a thing at a time like this? sobbed the Porsche owner.  The Policeman said “Didn’t you realise that your arm was torn off when the truck hit you?”

The Solicitor looked down in horror, “F**ing Hell” he screamed “Where’s my Rolex?” ????

Did you know that SOLICITOR is an anagram of CLITORIS? Well nearly and it should be!

Anyway, forward and onward into a New Year, my 86th year and can I tell you some stories?  Providing they aren’t where did I put things or what day it is!  Happy New Year!  God Bless! Stay Safe!

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My Mother was a Black Marketeer!

Do Wokes have an alternative word for a black marketeer?

To set the record straight, my mother wasn’t the most lovable person I’ve ever met, in fact, when the chance came at the age of 13, I couldn’t wait leave home for Naval College.  In fact I never really returned home. I have a bitter memory of returning from my first voyage after 15 months at sea and her first words were “When are you going back?”

Ma was a fearsome, strong minded, independent woman and the daughter of a coal miner, brought up in Edwardian times in a Durham pit village.  My Pa was a career airman in the RAF, having joined the Royal Flying Corps as a boy cook and a Warrant Officer when WWII broke out.  We had left a life in married quarters and settled in a delightful Home Counties village called Woburn Sands which is on the borders of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

As a service wife Ma was quite used to her husband being away for long periods, so she didn’t suffer the sudden trauma of being abandoned when their spouses were called up to serve King and Country and having to cope alone with their children and keep house and home together.

It may have been less traumatic for Ma but having to feed and clothe my elder sister and me when everything that could be, was rationed and if it wasn’t, it was either unobtainable or in short supply.  Just to stop us from getting too soft in our idyllic surrounding the government decided to pressurise us into taking in a Jewish family from the bombing in London consisting of a mother and her two daughters.  Their house had been reduced to rubble while they were in the shelter of an underground station.  Thank goodness they were an absolutely lovely family but I’m sure you can imagine the total upheaval it brought to our existence.

When I hear the likes of Bob Geldof and the bleeding heart brigade of politicians and actors pontificating about welcoming Muslim Refugees into their homes I cannot wait for a single one of them to fulfil their Libtard ‘promise much and perform little’, fantasy world.

Anyway I digress again.  I look back on that time and how my mother decided that no matter how Adolph Hitler, aided and abetted by our own politicians and their red tape interfered, we would survive and my goodness we survived.  I can only speak for my mother and she is long dead and anyway the statute of limitations must have long expired for mother and all her friends who saw it their duty to get round the restrictions placed on their welfare.

We had a large garden so mother became a bricklayer; don’t ask where the bricks appeared from but Marston Valley Brick Company made them some 7 miles away.  She built a fine Pig Sty and two female piglets appeared to become our breeding sows as a way to supplement our meat ration.  Our evacuees’ mother turned to and built a chicken run and six pullets and a cockerel appeared.  Egg production was the plan, mainly to feed us as eggs were a rationed commodity.  Again mother had a cunning plan.  We were able to exchange one’s egg ration for an allowance of chicken feed.  Chickens were killed for food as soon as they stopped laying eggs and I soon became quite adept at wringing their necks and plucking out the feathers.

Somewhere in my mother’s plan and the reason we added a cockerel to our menagerie right from the start was that she intended to breed her own replacement flock of chickens.  Hence the need for a cockerel to fertilise the eggs and thus all of our eggs were fertile.  She had read a book somewhere about a family who made their own incubator, I think it was a novel rather than a DIY book but we subsequently had a tea chest cut down and fitted with a couple of electric light bulbs and we eventually supplied ourselves and friends and neighbours with a constant supply of little yellow day old chicks.

It was probably after the war that I discovered that the maker of rules and regulations to put a spoke in mothers’ plans wasn’t called “The Bloody Ministry of Food”, anyway we had started with two prospective breeding sows and mother could only have a licence to keep one.  So a second Pig Sty was built on our Allotment plot and whenever an inspector called or someone from the local Pig Club paid a visit their inspections were rotated between the one in the back garden and the other in the Allotment.  The licensing was all to do with the supplies of pig food and how much meat ration had been surrendered.  For centuries, gardeners and smallholders had kept poultry and the odd pig or two for their own house use.  The powers that be recognised that come what may that such practice would continue, so they encouraged groups of people to form Pig Clubs that were allowed legally to buy, feed and look after pigs.

Pigs were normally fed on scraps from homes, cafes, bakeries and anything edible that came to hand.  Clubs were allowed to purchase legally small amounts of corn or feed to supplement this meagre diet.  You will not believe the number of sacks of meal that ‘fell off the wagon’.  Of course this was years before Combine Harvesters became common use and the corn was cut very inefficiently with rotary cutters and stacked in sheaths to dry out before carting them to the threshing drum.  Literally hundredweights of ripe corn seeds spilled and were left on the fields to waste.  Much to the delight of the wild bird population and the local livestock owners who were given permission to ‘glean’.  My fearsome mother recruited gangs of holidaying schoolchildren as ‘gleaners’ and in about two weeks at the end of harvest our two barns and the allotment shed were filled with sacks of free grain.

Pigs and piglets are greedy animals and feeding has to be constant and never stops. Bins were placed at certain spots around the village for the reception of kitchen waste which was collected by the council’s lorry driver.  The stuff was sorted and sold to poultry and pig keepers.  We sometimes beat the council lorry and sorted out the good stuff.  If you like, cutting out the middle man!

We acquired a two wheeled barrow and as we were surrounded by the Duke of Bedford’s forests and had carte blanche permission to collect firewood most of our fuel was logs long before wood burning stoves became fashionable. I can remember on a couple of occasions collecting literally hundredweights of acorns and sometime sweet chestnuts in that barrow to feed the pigs on.  They loved them, shells and all, so we not only had well fed pigs we had happy pigs.  As the war progressed we used to get pig swill delivered that was collected from sources in London.  This food waste was called “Tottenham Pudding” which we assumed was its source, although something at the back of my mind has me remembering that it was sourced in Edmonton, wherever that is.  No matter it was dreadful smelly stuff but the pigs loved it.

Our pigs, both the legal ones and the supplementary ones thrived on the diet provided by my mother.  Each sow produced around ten piglets which were fattened for slaughter in around 12 to 16 weeks.  There was a big day when Ma’s legal pigs were slaughters through the pig club.  Half of the carcasses were sold (for a pittance as Ma said) to the Government, to help with rationing and the remainder was divided between Club members, as either pork or bacon.  When the other members slaughtered their animal we also received our share.

Perhaps a month later, perhaps ten or so of our illegal porkers that had also been fattened for slaughter, this time for a real red letter day when a certain local butcher with the help of a long retired slaughter man and perhaps a couple of Italian prisoners of war, collected our harvest in a large lorry.  I have no real recollection of the black-market distribution but on those occasions we had whole smoked hams hanging in our barn, legs of pork, sides of bacon, shoulders of pork, pork tenderloin, rib chops, loin chops and of course sausages and black pudding.  We of course had no refrigerators in those days but our tame butcher and a back-up from our tame fishmonger did and they were very well rewarded to house our household meat supply.

Not just friends and neighbours received benefits from mother’s allotment, the butcher and fishmonger could only look after so much of our prime cuts and anything that we couldn’t smoke in the form of ham or bacon was distributed that day.  I remember our local Bobby always had a roasting leg joint together with some kidneys and liver.  Possibly to salve mother’s conscience our Vicar, the Roman Catholic Priest and the Methodist Minister were all beneficiaries and no-one knew of the other recipient; but that was the way of the black market trade.  It wasn’t called that then, it was just being neighbourly.

Well thats the tale of our pigs and poultry, as the war progressed mother acquired two nanny goats and a billy goat.  But that’s another story and I’m keeping it in my locker for another day.

I think the funniest memory was of our evacuees, they were orthodox Jews (I used to get pocket money for chopping sticks and lighting their fire on Shabbat which is observed from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday, oy vey!) but needs must when the devil drives and Momma Levitt decided that rules could be bent for the duration.  They enjoyed pork every bit as we did, she told a white lie to her girls namely that it was chicken in case they let it slip to their father when he visited.  But they discovered a real fondness for lovely roast crackling.

In this digital age I am sure that my Mother would have been a leading campaigner against rationing and the Ministry of Food in particular. There is no doubt that it was for  propaganda purposes, making certain that the British public felt that they were doing their bit every much as the boys on the front.  

The Ministry of Food employed thousands of civilians, jobsworths every one.  As it was, it was sheer luck that Mother wasn’t arrested for doing her bit for the war effort.  Every single part of the pig can be eaten except for the squeal and as Mother often said “ There’s no waste where there’s Pigs!

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The Knicker Saga

I had a free £20 Amazon Gift Card, so being a nice person, I asked my darling wife, ‘Pollyanna’; if she would needed anything?  She opted for some new knickers.  What else can you buy a lady who has everything?

l opened the Amazon page and she chose a pack of five pairs of white cotton pants. They duly arrived on next day Prime delivery.  Lo and behold it was my fault even though she had chosen them, they were ‘Hipsters’ lower than most teenagers would have chosen.  “Not worry my love, I’ll send them back and get a refund. Have you ever tried to return an item to Amazon for a refund?  Bear in mind we are declared vulnerable persons and have been on lockdown for 15 months, hence the reason we are Prime Amazon Members.

The simplest way that suit’s Amazon rather than taking it down to Morrison’s to be collected from the Amazon locker, was for Hermès to collect it from our home!  – Another stay at home day to await collection  8am to 10pm bless them they called at 11am.

Because I was looking for Brownie Points I took it upon myself, not to wait for a refund and ordered the most expensive, high waisted, cotton with 5% Spandex knickers in Black, to be delivered tomorrow.  At 6.35 am I received notification that Pollyanna’s pants were to be delivered by 10pm, it was accompanied by a photo of the knickers but the photo was of beige knickers   – right make – right style – wrong colour!  What should I do?  Well what I did was throw my toys out of the pram with the unfortunate lady at Amazon, who had the temerity to ask me “How can I help you?

I must admit that a couple of hours after venting my spleen I did feel slightly embarrassed (only slightly) at some of my rather aggressive language but that’s what she gets paid for.  She couldn’t explain why my order of black knickers which she agreed was for black became changed to beige.  – wrong order cancelled and a new order placed for the expensive, high waisted, ladies pants in Black.  They were of course going to be a day late.

The following morning the confirmation arrived notifying me at 8am that the black pants were on their way and would be delivered before 10pm.  Another wasted day for one of us!

10pm arrives, no Amazon delivery! – at 10.15 pm an email arrives apologising, Amazon had failed to include your item in today’s delivery.  We will email you when the item becomes available.  At 6.35 the following morning, lucky me, we have located your item, it will be delivered before 10pm today.  Pollyanna decided that I was not a suitable person to be answering the door to Amazon delivery – fortunately the delivery appeared at 6.10 pm, the bell rang, she opened the door and the parcel sat on the path in front of the door.  No sign of Amazon man  he had even avoided our video door bell which is triggered when anyone comes through the front gate.  When I said, there is no proof of delivery, I think I’ll deny it was delivered.  It was enough to set Pollyanna off on another tirade.  – I don’t deserve this, all did was tell her that I had a free Amazon Voucher for £20 and she could buy anything she wanted with it.  I am going to relate this sorry tale to Amazon but I’ve decided to spare the unfortunate lady who answers the phone with “Customer Services, how can I help?

Instead this is being published on my blog, then posted on Facebook, I shall then forward it as an attachment when I email my complaint to Customer Services  I shall be ultra polite just asking for their response.

By the way Pollyanna loves her black, high waist knickers, but if anyone thinks of sending me an Amazon Gift Voucher, please think of an alternative present.  I suppose it did give me a something to write about and that keeps my brain ticking over.  I shall return!

 

 

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There is no good war and no bad peace. . . .

Today’s Telegraph quoted  – Boris Johnson ‘unhappy’ about Afghanistan and says ‘blood and treasure’ must not be wasted

British lives lost and money spent in protecting the Afghan people must not be in vain, says PM, as Taliban fighters storm regional capital.

All my life I have revelled in dangerous pursuits and peculiarly got a perverse kick out of asking myself, “What the hell am I doing here?” whether hanging from an overhang on a rock climb aptly named Cemetery Gates, or clawing off Les Casquets at the helm of an ocean racer.

I realise after digging into my memory bank, that nothing has changed but at least Boris has pulled our troops out. I still can’t answer what the hell were we doing there in the first place. Oh of course it was to do with our “Special Relationship”. No Jake don’t go there!

I wrote in my musings in a blog from 2009

This week I did not take the same headstrong pleasure when I uttered nearly the same words while watching the residents of Wootton Basset on TV as they honoured our dead troops returning from Afghanistan. Seven troops killed in seven days. Can someone tell me what the hell we are doing there?

I should declare an interest as I have a number of good friends serving in the Royal Marine Commandos and no-one has told them what they are doing there. I have a relative who was a GP who felt strongly enough to take a sabbatical and volunteered as a medic to the anti-communist Muslim Afghan guerrillas (the mujahidin) who were then fighting against the Afghan government and the Soviet forces.

In those days the West considered that the mujahidin who call themselves ‘soldiers of God’ or ‘the Taliban’ were the good guys and they received funding from the American CIA. The Taliban is not a terrorist movement as is now claimed and demonised by western propaganda, but was founded as an Islamic religious movement dedicated to fighting Communism and the Drug Trade.

The current war in Afghanistan is not really about Al-Qaida and terrorism, but about opening a secure corridor through Pashtun tribal territory to export the oil and gas riches of the Caspian Basin of Central Asia to the West. The US and NATO forces in Afghanistan are essentially pipeline protection troops fighting off hostile natives. So we have had a deadly, bloody, conflict that has already outlasted the Second World War by nearly three years. WHY?

Our losses of UK troops now stand at 175 with hundreds more horrifically injured, and this is the war that former Defence Secretary John Reid assured us that would be over before now without a shot being fired, bloody politicians. Our troops are dying to prop up a floundering and corrupt regime under the US-installed Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. Doesn’t that remind you of the Carry On film ‘Carry on up the Khyber’ and a Sultan named Kharzi? If I remember rightly he turned out to be a bit of a S**t too.

Western war propaganda has so demonised Taliban that few politicians have the courage to propose the obvious and inevitable: a negotiated settlement to this pointless seven-year war. The Karzai government cannot extend its authority beyond Kabul because that would mean overthrowing the Uzbek and Tajik drug-dealing warlords and Communists chiefs that are the base of its power.

Barack Obama is wrong about Afghanistan and as usual, Gordon hasn’t a clue; it is not a ‘good’ fight against terrorism but a classic, 19th century colonial war to advance western geopolitical power into resource rich Central Asia. The Pashtun Afghans who live there are ready to fight for another 100 years, please God somebody tell Obama and Brown before we get yet another kick up the Khyber.

I am old enough to remember our politicians telling us that Jomo Kenyatta ate babies, Nelson Mandela was a murdering scumbag, Archbishop Makarios was an evil criminal, David Ben-Gurion massacred hundreds of innocents, and even that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness were solely responsible for all of the troubles in Northern Ireland. I now know that it is not just when politician’s lips are moving that they are lying; it is when they are breathing they are lying.

So don’t just tell us what the hell we are doing there, for God’s sake get us out of there.

P.S. I had to add the contents of a letter from today’s paper that I just wish I had written – Mr Bernie Adamson from Northampton wrote – We have soldiers arriving back in the UK in body bags almost daily with no sign of a Labour MP or their wives to receive them back from the war – but today at a Gay Pride march, there’s Sarah Brown complete with whistle and Pink Union Jack. . . . . . That says it all.

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I’m on the road again!


Back on the road again, most of my friends are aware that I’m a complete car nut. I have a petrol driven, V8 Lexus Sport capable of 160 mph. (Innocent face – who me officer?) I also claim that I am saving the environment by trying to use up as much fossil fuel as I can so the my great grandchildren will not have to suffer the lack of ozone layer like my generation.

I went into lockdown at the end of February 2020 because of my great age and having been diabetic since 1989, when the diabetes came to light when I was climbing on Snowdon. You could say that things went downhill from there, and I finished up in hospital.  My test strips hadn’t turned green, they were black.

I am considered vulnerable. But I am enough of a rebel to have argued the point that high doses of insulin caused a huge increase in my weight, which had exacerbated the problem.

However in the passing years I had taken my diabetes by the throat, lost a vast amount of fat, joined a gym and worked out for around three hours each weekday. Replaced insulin with pills and gradually reduced pill intake to one pill a day.

However my management in the form of my lovely wife instructed me that the NHS have declared that you should go into lockdown because you are vulnerable so you must go into lockdown.  So into lockdown I went.  She excused herself by saying that she didn’t want to lose me before my time. Aaah! Not aagh!

In mid lockdown a telephone consultation with my diabetic nurse informed me that I’d cracked it and I was no longer considered a diabetic. Even this made no difference to my jailer. Did I mention that she’s only a year younger than me?

My car was collected by my garage and taken away for its yearly service and M.O.T. in March 2021. For the last 12 months my  car had covered just 820 miles.  The odd trip to the GPs surgery and a short run by the wife either  to charge the battery or an occasional trip to the Supermarket.

There sits my car, fully serviced and legal, panting at the bit and I get a letter from the NHS telling me that I am no longer considered to be vulnerable.  Don’t ask me why because I have no idea.

However the country is still in lockdown.  I sneaked out and took the car for a little warm up, just 20 odd miles.  The management made a remark that she was about to phone me in case I had broken down and did I wear a mask?

Then Boris offers his reprieve from  April 12th. Gyms open, but I have an alternative appointment which means 100 miles round trip. To Corby old town in the North of the county.

Gosh I was so looking forward to the trip. However by the time I arrived home I must say I was a little disillusioned. Main A Class roads with potholes at least 4 inches deep.  Then as I neared my destination there were queues of gigantic articulated forty or fifty ton lorries, some semi eighteen wheelers. The majority of them appeared to be left-hand drive leviathans with foreign plates, all seeming to heading towards my destination.

There is a Corby Transport Euro Hub in that direction.  I don’t like anything to do with the Euro anyway. Fortunately my SatNav came to my rescue and diverted me to the East to the old  part of Corby town, more like a village with a one way system and no parking.

Ten minutes to complete my business and I told my SatNav to take me home. Unfortunately the route home was ten miles further than the outbound and very busy traffic albeit coming towards me.

On the opposite side of the road was a broken down van who had one of those French traffic triangles in the road behind him while the poor driver was changing his punctured back wheel.

One of those horrendous 40 ton articulated monsters hurtled towards me.  I was about to describe it as a Pantechnicon but when I typed the word, my  predictive text altered the word to pandemic.  Probably a better description of those awful things being driven by crazy drivers on the clock.

Fortunately my recently fettled car had its ABS braking system checked and tested and when I slammed on my brake pedal, everything worked and I managed to stop in time for the lunatic driver to hurtle through the gap. He missed both the driver of the broken down van and my car with inches to spare.

It crossed my mind that had I been taken out by the oncoming lorry it would have been assumed that as I am old and had hardly driven for a year it was probably my fault.

Anyway I managed to complete my journey without too many incidents or the need to change my underwear.  I did divert to a favoured woodland walk for a breath of fresh air and a commune with nature to get my head in a more favourable place.

I decided that no way is it time to give up driving. It wasn’t that my driving skills had got rusty, I’d just forgotten that it’s normal to have to treat others in the road as potential killers. I also decided that if I need anything from Corby I’ll do it online.   

I remembered once I arrived home that the easing of lockdown had also meant that hand car washes had reopened.

I had used my pressure washer a few times during lockdown when the car was either covered in bird poo donated as a thank you by birds visiting your wife’s bird feeders and lately covered with half the Sahara desert sand diverted by the horrible weather.

I digress, I took my car to treat it to a full valet at my favourite car wash, which had also been shut down by Boris. We, that’s me and Lexie were greeted like long lost friends by some really, happy to be back at work, East Europeans who were working frantically like, well, East European car washers.

Lexie is happy,  parked looking shiny and unblemished with wheels gleaming like new and I have promised her an outing next Monday when I’m back in the gym after being AWOL for over a year.  What will it be first?  Treadmill, cross trainer, spin bike, rowing machine, exercise machines, free weights, followed by a visit to the spa.

Will it be a swim and then a laze in the hot tub and meet all my long lost buddies.  Am I really looking forward to getting out of bed for a 6am start and a three hour workout?  You bet I am.

As Captain Tom Moore said “Tomorrow will be a better day”!

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Further Travails of a Travel Writer

What a year the last six months has been!  Coronavirus has changed our world, we hope that once we return to normal it will have changed into a kinder, much nicer place with love thy neighbour being nearer to the norm.  Meanwhile unless we are one of the essential services which includes food shops and rubbish clearance along with the more obvious ones, the rest of us are staying at home, or working from home.

I perhaps am one of the odd ones, not only am I 84 years old and a type 2 diabetic, I am a fairly fit oldie who continues to work out regularly at my local gym and also swims in the spa, sort of retired but I have worked from home as a writer, author and journalist, for many years.  I still work when I feel like it and sell the stuff that I produce.

I did take the advice and my wife, and I placed ourselves into self-isolation some three weeks ago when the warning bells began ringing.  We are lucky enough to have brilliant and caring neighbours on all fronts who see to all our needs.  They make me feel very humble and I just cannot seem to thank them enough.

During my first couple of weeks internment I decided to take up a friend’s challenge and put all my sailor’s yarns that I had regaled them with over the years, into a book.  I finished “Red Ensign – Blue Ensign (The Young Man of the Sea)” several weeks ago.  So, casting around in my head for ideas, here begineth the next lesson.  It doesn’t have a title yet but it’s my life as a travel journalist.

I’ve been a writer for many, many years and wrote for many different outlets.  I wrote Staff Handbooks for an events management company who ran motor racing events at Donnington and Silverstone.  Horse racing events at Ascot, Windsor, Newbury and Cheltenham.  County shows as far apart as Cowes on the Isle of Wight, and Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire.  Stellar Artois Concerts in Oxford Jail, Sunderland Docks et al.  During this time, I volunteered my services to our local hospital NHS Federation and have spent years writing, amending and rewriting patient’s handbooks.  You get the picture, I write, right?

I became a travel writer by accident I suppose you could say.  One of my closest friends who worked for me in the motor trade, decided, virtually at the same time that I sold my garage.  He made up his mind that his future was to be in Canada and was to move to British Columbia.  We threw him a leaving party and it was there I met the guy who sold the family their tickets.  This chap ran a ticket bucket shop, sourcing the cheapest flight tickets and the customers found him.  He did this very much as a part time pocket money alongside his full-time job as an animal feed salesman.

I had the cash from selling my business, was looking for ideas, he declined my offer of a partnership but kindly provided me with hundreds on sources and contacts and allowed me to pick his brains.  We lived over twenty miles apart so were not in any way competition and I set up my “Bucket Shop” which I named Assured Travel, based in the hallway of my house and it took off.  I quickly rented some serviced offices in Bedford and then had an idea that I could franchise the business.

This was before the internet got off the ground but I sourced a specialised programme whose name I can no longer remember that allowed each of my franchised outlets to send in their travel bookings direct to our central office where we took over the booking, dealt with the client direct and paid 80% of the profit to the franchisee.  My son and I were recruiting new franchisees and monthly virtually took over a large hotel in Northampton where we spent time and money both entertaining and teaching them all the tricks of the trade.  No-one paid for their franchise until the end of the three days and thankfully we had nobody drop out.

Within two years we had 109 Franchises covering the UK and everybody was making a good living.  Two or three Franchisees managed to get on board with their local MEP’s who seemed to always be flying on a plane to somewhere on EU business.  I got the impression that inflated receipts may have been involved but my side of the transaction would always stand up to scrutiny.  Another Franchisee was making a fortune providing Muslims passengers with British Airways tickets to the Hajj in Mecca. Plus, other flights concerned with the seven steps, like travelling to Mina and Mount Arafat.  I really have no understanding of Islam and its intricacies, but I know that they all favoured British Airways and it was good business.  It seemed each of our franchisees joined our operation as an individual entrepreneur with a plan of their own.  The success rather took me by surprise.

After some two years working very long hours at a nonstop pace.  Up to 18 hours a day can begin to take its toll.  In addition, I was finding that employing 14 members of staff was not a pleasant task.  Each member had their individual problem whether it was coming into work completely hung-over, or with a drug problem.  Another turned out to be a dirty old man and began stalking one of the prettier girls on the staff.  I had to sack him, but the stalking continued, and stronger measures needed to be taken.  Counselling of the girl did little good and I lost a good member of our team.  I now think that I would have been far better and had less problems if I had used agency staff.  However, I didn’t, and my problems continued.

I suppose I was vulnerable when one of my franchisees, incidentally an old Etonian, son on a knight of the realm, approached me with a proposition.  He then introduced me to his friend a former Merchant Banker (that means something appropriate in rhyming slang) His name was Smith, but he spelled it with a Y that should have told me something.  This first name was Jonathan, but he spelled it Jonathon, pretentious, moi?  Their initial proposal was that they would like to buy shares in my company.  I told them that I would think about it and take advice.  I put them off for a month or so.  Their next approach was to tell me that the Merchant banker was involved in a Travel Agency owned by a heavy metal rock band.  They had bought a small travel agency situated on the bank of the Thames near Putney Bridge and used it to buy the travel needs of the band and it had expanded so that they had a lucrative business providing travel for dozens maybe hundreds of other rock bands.  All this under the financial advice of our friend the “Merchant Banker”.

He told us that he had bought this travel company as they were too busy to run it, however he was still going to provide favourable travel prices for all the rock bands.  It turns out that he had purchased the business on a promissory note.  He then approached me with offer of merging the two businesses and using our operation as a model for franchising.  His idea was to concentrate on London for members.  My son and I would solely be responsible for advertising and recruiting and training and would be paid a couple of thousand a month each, as consultants.  On top of that they would purchase the Company paying ten thousand a month over two years.

Have you heard the saying that if an offer looks too good to be true, it probably isn’t?  You may also have heard the cockney rhyming slang “Merchant Banker”, well it’s spot on!

Things appeared to run like clockwork for about three months, and then they decided that the company didn’t need two bases and as the property in Putney was owned outright it didn’t make sense to be paying a high rent in Bedford.  All the Bedford team were offered jobs in London, none took up the offer, thus negating any severance pay.  The complete office in Bedford, computers, desks, chairs plus, plus even the coffee machine and the microwave oven.  I had no idea this had happened until a week later.  Mea Culpa! Bells were ringing but my son and I were still being paid and the merchant banker appeared to be keeping to his forecast.  Until that is got a telephone call from the lady who had run the Putney operation saying that the two villains appeared to have disappeared with over £800,000 of client’s money and provided no tickets.  My phone didn’t stop ringing from disgruntled franchisees who were having to cope with angry clients.  Some of them had covered the debts personally.  I reported what had happened to the police, (no comment) probably a civil matter sir but we’ll look into it.  That week we learned that the evil pair had instructed a firm of auditors to wind up the insolvent Limited Company.  I contacted the auditors to inform them that all of the computers, desks, chairs, plus, plus microwave and coffee machine were my personal property.  I was politely informed, too late they’ve been auctioned off already, you will have to take your place in the queue behind the tax man and the banks.

When all the laundry was done all that happened was that those two naughty boys were barred from being directors of any company for ten years.  Neither any franchisee nor my son and I came out with a penny.  Now anyone who knows my history as a member of a Special Forces group will know that I have friends in funny places.  I went with my family on a holiday to America and for some unknown reason I kept every receipt for every hire car, fuel, restaurant, even cups of coffee.  I don’t know why I did that, funny habit I suppose.

Oddly enough the merchant banker had obviously made a lots of enemies and three unknown men visited him at his Kent Oast House that was surrounded by paddocks, loose boxes and general equestrian show jumping and others for lunging.  All of course belonging to the tosser’s wife.  Anyway, the visitors taught him not do it again.  I do remember my lovely wife saying, before our holiday when my hot head began issuing threats, something to the effect that it wasn’t worth doing jail time for revenge and if I did, she would leave me.  Obviously. I wouldn’t do anything so stupid, as I value my marriage.  End of!  I now had to pick myself off the ground.

I had spent so much time and effort into the travel business that my head steered me in that direction.  I had all of my notes that I used during our training and recruitment sessions, I was a writer, so I wrote a book on how to become your own travel agent from home.  I paid a vast sum to a vanity publishing company and had twenty books published that I could test the water with.  I spent a further thousand pounds on advertising the book and after a month had sold three copies at £25 each.

My head was in a turmoil, where do I go next?  It was then that I had a telephone call, via the publisher.  It was from another publisher, he asked me to come to his hometown, Brighton where he would treat me to lunch and put a proposition to me that would make us both very wealthy.  He wouldn’t disclose his proposal further, he just asked what had I to lose, just the fuel to get to Brighton?  Now I had just suffered at the hands of a con man and suffered quite a kicking.  I considered it carefully for an hour, called him back and arranged to meet him for lunch.

Brighton, in the miserable, pouring rain, found me in a very nice restaurant chatting to a very fired up individual.  All of my international maritime signal flags were flying in my head, such as U for uniform – You are standing into DANGER, and B for bravo – I am taking on a dangerous item.  B is a red burgee flag known for obvious reasons as BANG.  My goodness you would be amazed at what goes on in my head. 

In spite of my wariness I accompanied him back to his offices and I came away having, both signed legal agreements protecting both of us from evil.  In short, he was the owner and publisher of a monthly magazine for entrepreneurs called ‘Business Opportunity World’, my book was to be printed by them and would be advertised in the magazine in a full page advert every month at a staggering price of £70 a shot.  All of this at no cost to me and all the customers would be handled in-house.  All I had to do was sit back and collect the royalties from the sales.  My agreed share was £50 a book.  No, I took it with a pinch of salt too, but in the first month of the advert appearing my bank was credited with nearly £2,000 and each month, give or take a few sales this appeared to be the normal amount.  As time went by, I agreed to look into my experiences for new subjects to write other books.  For instance, I had spent nearly twenty years in the motor trade, so my book on being a motor dealer working from home appeared and also had a full-page advert in the magazine.  This was nowhere as lucrative as the travel book, but it swelled my coffers a bit more.  I knew that this pleasant state of affairs wasn’t going to last forever, and my brain was turning to other ideas.

I had the office manager as a regular contact at Business Opportunity World and the end came more suddenly than expected.  He called me with the bad news that seemed rather familiar.  The boss had disappeared, and the company had the receivers in.  We met up and I was saddened to discover that my publisher friend with the great ideas, had been ripping me off with the royalties.  In fact, around half of what I was due, was paid directly into a Spanish bank account each month.  In fact, he had possibly gone to Spain in order to disappear.  I can’t say that I felt a great sense of betrayal this time, I certainly felt no need to send ‘the boys’ in.  I was just saddened.

Anyway, lesson learned.  I was going to continue to be self-employed on the grounds that I am unemployable with my smart mouth (I’m told) and the inability to take orders.  I am not going to enter into any partnership with anyone.  I am not going to employ any staff, period!  During the three years of living in the land of milk and honey at Opportunity World I had been planning for the exodus. I had friendly relationships set up and nourished contacts at some twenty national newspapers.  My first assignment sold my tale of my two rip offs at £200 per 1,000 words.  The story sold and was published nationwide.  I had an idea and outlets.

Softly, softly catchee monkey, or as they preach in Special Forces the adage of seven P’s, namely Proper Planning and Preparation, Prevents Piss Poor Performance.  The shock of the mild expletive help makes the adage memorial.  Useful, when training for life-or-death situations! I was going to train myself as a Travel Writer/journalist., with a camera!

Oh yes, c’est moi

Step one, I bought a new camera, my old SLR 35mm camera was just too cumbersome to carry all day so I decided to treat myself to one of the latest digital single lens reflex camera. I suppose I spent a month holding, fondling and falling in love with my new acquisition.  Buying a couple of very expensive lenses and taking lots of photos but always using it on fully automatic.  The results were brilliant, if I say so myself.  I then went off on an assignment to Snowdonia taking the DSLR on a trial run and I’m totally infatuated.

I first got into photography in the 1960s when I had a dark room and developed my own results.  I had a sailing colleague who owned a chemist/camera shop that also dealt with second-hand cameras.  I changed cameras with his help, moving up from a simple Ilford Sportsman 35mm through many different makes and formats via a Rolleicord, a Rolleiflex twin lens reflex and even a Hasselblad 500C.  Most of them would be worth a small fortune today.

In those days you will have gathered I had become quite a camera buff and knew of such things as depth of field, focal lengths and f stops.  I’m not sure if it is laziness, old age or just that I had become so used to using point and shoot cameras that such things have become a foreign language to me.

Amazon sent me an email offering a special deal on a Masterclass for the DSLR camera and I resisted the temptation, but not quite long enough to delete the email into spam and I took up the offer of a full day Masterclass.  I’m such an easy target for anything that takes my interest, and off course I was going to be a travel journalist.  I have no idea how Amazon knew that I could be in the market for such an offer, but it is slightly frightening, could my purchase of an SD card reader have put my name on a target list?

Come the day, cometh the man as they say, and today I found myself in the village of Maddingly, just outside Cambridge attending the promised Masterclass.  There were about a dozen very mixed bunch of students of various ages and sizes.  One young lady had flown in that morning from Dublin just to take part and was flying home the same evening. Probably the only thing that we had in common apart from a keenness to learn was the fact that each was clasping a digital single lens reflex camera.

James (that’s a nice name and a good start), our tutor had been a professional photographer for many years with an impressive portfolio and a CV that included working with the famous Peruvian photographer Mario Testino OBE who is now a firm favourite of our Royal Family as well as Vogue and Vanity Fair.  Needless to say, that was this wimp intimidated before we started.

Repeat after me; I must never switch my camera on to automatic, ever again!  I now know all there is to know about Depth of Field, Focal Length, f Stops, Shutter Speeds and how to and when to use them.  Seriously, a really good Masterclass that we spent both in the classroom and outside, putting our newfound knowledge into practice.  I learned everything that I went for, and a lot more.

I won’t promise never to switch my camera on to fully auto, but I will use the other priorities whenever I can improve my photos.  I have promised my wife that three lenses are sufficient for my needs (at the moment) but I haven’t told her that when I got home from school I went online to Adobe and ordered a computer programme called Photoshop Lightroom because well . . . . . . . . I needed it.

Right, now I’m armed and dangerous!  I picked a destination that at least I could write about, Snowdonia, North Wales.  It was a bit of a cheat really because I’ve been a climber for most of my life.  I fact I’d cut my teeth climbing with the likes of Chris Bonington, Don Whillans and Joe Brown on some of the most difficult grades especially on the Llanberis Pass.  I have memories of climbing some firsts (new routes) with Don Whillans on Cemetery Gates and Cenotaph Corner when we both got gripped up (freezing up with our knees shaking).  Anyway, I digress, all I am saying is that I’m starting my new career in a place that I know like the back of my hand.  I know all the right pubs, I know all the climber’s hangouts and hostels, I even have my favourite barmaids.

I can remember one of my chums teasing our barmaid who was the spitting image of Dylan Thomas’s Gossamer Beynon (“O beautiful,  beautiful Gossamer B”), by telling her in a pseudo Welsh accent “I really love Wales” and when she agreed with a big smile he went on “Yes, honestly, I’ve watched Moby Dick at least ten times”. It gave us all a laugh, probably helped by the local bitter.

I could have written a 5,000-word article without leaving the confines of my own home.

That would have been useful during the Coronavirus lockdown.  What I am really saying is that wherever you decide to roam, if you adopt the Special Forces adage of the seven P’s and do as extensive research as possible before you leave home, you will be able to produce an acceptable article that Editors will love to publish, even if God forbid you were to be in lockdown on the deserts of Oman.  With modern technology you can submit your article from literally anywhere in the world!

That’s how I began my new career, I certainly didn’t make a fortune, but I made a steady income from both my articles and my photography.  I sometimes travelled to places, at the suggestion of a magazine or newspaper editor.  In which case I would find my ticket waiting at the airport and my destination hotel booked and paid for.  Usually on those assignments I seldom wasted any time acquiring all the information and photos I needed and then usually typing my article on my trusty laptop on the flight home, all ready for the next publication.  If I were to decide that I was going to choose my own destination it was done at a far more leisurely pace these took much longer but were far more profitable.  I could sell my stuff to as many as 20 or thirty eager editors.  They are always looking for their next space filler that in turn would keep their advertisers happy.  That’s enough of my reminisces.  Now let me pass on a little of what I’ve learned.

So, you want to become a Travel Writer?

First of all, have fun, but if you are travelling hallway around the world just to make money, stay home!  You can get paid for writing about things in your own backyard!

On the other hand , if you have a burning desire to experience the exotic, the foreign and the faraway, and make money, then pack your camera and your laptop.  Remember to add an extra bag with your luggage to pack every receipt for every penny that you spend.  Your accountant will love you.

You can travel wherever you want, write about it, photograph it, and get paid.  Deduct the costs from your taxes and have fun all at once. Just make sure that you have the fun bit.  The work that you do in the three weeks after your trip is critical.  You have to get your promised articles and the photographs to the editors in that time.  This has to be your priority.

Next in your priority are post-trip queries, newspaper articles and re-sales.  In fact, any extra sales you can squeeze out of those golden days on the road.

Your final manuscript has to go three stages of development before they are ready.

Blocking

This is not the actual writing – you simply take a sheet of blank paper and list. Set out your article’s components in the order you are going to use – this will create a road map for you that will make your writing faster and more purposeful.

Break up your article into segments under sub-headings.  If a quote would make a good lead, note it first – follow that with a short transitional paragraph, then a fact, then an anecdote etc…  Keep this up , sketching out the article or outlining it in detail.

Start a new page for each article you block and file each page in a separate folder.

Roughing

You are then ready to rough out – this is getting your first drafts – this is where I begin plugging away on my word processor.  Get out you ‘blocking sheets’, spread out their facts, interviews and other elements from your trip – convert your rough draft data and words into organised text that you outlined in your blocking, without much regard for spelling, punctuation or grammar.

As you finish one article move on to the next – keep plugging away and adding notes to yourself for when you are editing, keep going, get it down on paper and move on. Don’t worry too much about layout and paragraphs.

Editing

This is the most time-consuming task as you turn your crude stone into a polished gem, using all of the tools that are built into your word processor.  Spell checker, grammar checker, thesaurus.  Lay out your paragraphs and pages until your manuscript takes shape.  Here endeth the first draft!  Your manuscript after the hours of work that you have put into it, is beginning to take shape and it may look nearly finished – it isn’t , it is in draft form.  Now the work is about to begin.

You now have to carefully proofread – It must be read out loud.  The first proofread, I do myself.  However, whether or not you get someone else to do it for you or not, you certainly need the second proofread done by a third party.   You will see the necessity of this when you see just how many mistakes your third-party proof-reader has found just when you felt in your own mind it was ready to go.

At this point you take another look at your target magazine.  Does your roughed article meet the parameters of its readers ? Does it make sense as composed?  Is it interesting?  Do the sections flow well?  Is there a proper blend of facts, quotes and anecdotes?  What is missing?  What would make the text better?  Is the tone consistent?  Is everything clear, concise and the topic focused?  Does it give the reader a full since of the place, can they feel it, taste it, smell it, could you make it better?

When you are satisfied, set the piece aside and let it sit for a couple of days before going back to read it again.  Read it right through, aloud, again and when you feel that it’s going to be as good as it is going to be – prepare it for the final draft by manipulating your word processor.  Make every effort to make certain that the manuscript when presented to the editor is as perfect as possible.  Any less would be an insult and just asking to be rejected.

At your word processor set it out in manuscript form – A4 sheet double spaced on one side only.  Print it out in high quality.  Even if you are going to present it to your editor on a disc, you need to present him with a high-quality hard copy, together with prints of your photographs that you have chosen for your article.

Working from home

Forgetting about the necessity of self-isolation during the Coronavirus pandemic, your office as you travel the world, is wherever you and your laptop are at.  However, on your return home, if you are going to present your editors with acceptable copy.  It just will not work if you try to work in your living room in your armchair with your laptop perched on your lap.  I might feel pleasant after maybe being away from your loved ones to be able to stay in their company.  Even the distraction of a constant stream of snacks, being able to half watch a television programme as you work.  Let me tell you now – it just is impossible; it isn’t going to work.  You need to set up a designated space.

One of the great essentials for a writer is a comfortable and compatible place to work from, and ideally one that is a dedicated workspace.  When I began my new career, my wife and I were rattling around in a five bedroomed house.  Our son and daughter had moved out to grow their own families and I had the luxury of taking over a bedroom and converting it to a dedicated office.  When I wasn’t travelling, I was able to go to work each day by walking into my office and closing the door!  This gave me a certain discipline that took me away from the distractions and general hubbub of the home.

I needed that discipline and I tried to work set hours – I tried to avoid taking my wife to the shops or just popping out to visit a friend, when the temptation took me.  I also made sure that I avoided sitting around in my pyjamas all day.  I may have been dressed in shorts and a tee shirt or even a tracksuit , but always dressed so that I could at least answer the door without frightening the horses.  We have now downsized homes and I now no longer have the luxury on a whole room set aside as my office.  What I now have, which is more than adequate, is a dedicated home office, laid out in the corner of a bedroom and this is my workspace.  It is comfortable with room for my computer, printer and a telephone.  I am surrounded by my books and files – I have to be tidier than when I had a whole room as an office, but I can still step across the room and into my workspace – I am there to work and not be distracted by anything.  I try to set up a daily schedule that allows me to focus on work when my mind is set to it.

One of the greatest things about being a freelance travel writer, quite apart from the obvious delights of travelling and being paid for it is the complete freedom of being completely out of the daily rat race with no commuting to work each day – No boss, managers or foreman who would rule my life.  If I wish to, I can spend the day in tee-shirt and shorts, or even stay in my pyjamas IF-I-WANT-TO!  No-one looks at their watch if I spend overlong visiting the bathroom.  If I smoked and fancied a cigarette, I could smoke at my desk.  I can even pick up my telephone and phone my friend for a chat.

My self-discipline is such that I don’t do these things but that feeling that I could if I wanted to, is great.  Yet another incentive that makes me glad that I took that leap to freedom.  Some days just to heighten my awareness of this freedom from shackles, I make a conscious decision not to shave for two or three days on the trot if that’s not giving the finger to convention at least it makes me feel as free at my work as when I am researching by snorkelling off a tropical beach – would you believe I work all the harder because I work for me and my family not as a wage slave to keep a boss in luxury.

To lead on from my declaration of independence and freedom it would seem a natural progression to mention . . . .

Taxes

Once you start earning money as a freelance travel writer there are certain administrative and legal steps you should take, such as filing taxes – keeping careful records and taking out insurance.  Whether you are writing, full time or part-time or even just weekends and evenings after your proper job, you will need to register with the Inland Revenue as being self-employed.  You must register within three months of receiving your first cheque, regardless of how small it may be.  Otherwise you will incur a fine of £100 and you card will be marked forever.  You will also have to pay your own National Insurance once your travel writing income reaches £4,215 a year.  Once you register with the Inland Revenue you should make an appointment and visit them and talk over all of your options as a newly self-employed writer.  They will explain the self-assessment Tax returns you are now liable for. (Go to www.inlandrevenue.gov.uk/starting up.  That is the nasty bit there is a sweeter part.

I spoke of setting up your own dedicated office and the need to keep all of your bills and receipts.  You need a powerful computer, printer, scanner and software – set the total cost against tax!  You need Broadband connection and monthly account – set the cost against tax! – and so on, et al.  The real sugar coating as far as I am concerned is that my airline tickets, Taxi, car hire and hotel bills are all necessary expenses to the travel writer and I bet that sticks in the craw of some of the clerks still slogging away in the rat race at the tax office.

I always imagine the conversation at the Inland Revenue;  Look at what this guy is claiming as expenses, two weeks in the Seychelles, Flight ticket, Taxi fare, Car hire, Hotel.  He is even claiming for eating out in an expensive restaurant and a bottle of wine n the name of research!  I keep every single receipt that I can possibly or even remotely put down as expenses for research.  Another necessary evil that you need to splash out on but is also claimable as a legitimate expense is Travel Insurance.  It is extremely important that you are fully covered

.  I have always taken out an Annual Multi-trip Worldwide Policy so that I am always covered even if I get a last-minute assignment, I don’t have to worry about that aspect.- I make sure that the policy covers me for world wanderer, trip disruptions and cancellations as well as the loss of equipment and baggage on top of medical emergencies.

Another expense that you may feel unnecessary but I’m not clever enough to forego is that of an accountant.  I use a big enough name that the Tax Man accepts his word on most things and every three months or so I empty my bag of receipts on to his desk, before taking him out for lunch, in a few days he lets me know if any receipt will be disallowed as expenses.  Guess what, the Tax Man not only covers the total cost of my accountant, he also allows the cost of both our lunches.  I may not have been very good at Mathematics at school but over the years you could say that I have become streetwise and I can count my profits.  Whatever you do, don’t forget to write, as of today I reckon to charge £200 per 1000 words and that is multiplied by each article published. 

I’ll never be a millionaire but I’m comfortable and happy.  I also have something to do with my time during Covid-19 outbreak and like to think that I will have a list of likely Editors in this short piece.  Hmmm! That’s 6,000 words at £200 per 1000, equals £1,200, times say 20 newspapers and magazines that could be £24,000 and at the time when people are becoming weary of the only articles being about the virus and death totals it could be an attractive item .  I did mention that I am streetwise, didn’t I?  Now what am I going to write next while I’m incarcerated?  I think it may be on how Covid-19 boredom has given me a bad spending habit and my toybox is overflowing!

Here endeth my survival lesson during COVID19 but that’s just me.  Sorry it’s been so long but the lockdown has been going on and on and on!

 

 

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Frozen by Iceland!

I must begin with a warning to any of my readers with a weak stomach. This tale is not for them.

On about the 5th or 6th of January, I took a delivery from Iceland. I decided to treat myself to a luxury fish pie. Following the instructions I put it in the fridge to defrost overnight. The next day, other than a cup of tea and a handful of biscuits I had nothing to eat. At about 7pm my wife cooked the pie, I ate the pie on its own and it was delicious. My wife is a vegetarian thank God, so I didn’t share.

Bed at 11pm, since we began shielding my sleep pattern is erratic and we sleep in different rooms. I was awoken at around 1am with violent stomach pains and  I vomited and my stomach exploded I managed to get my diarrhoea into bathroom toilet while spewing into a bucket. It took me over an hour before I could shower and then strip all the bedding including the king size duvet which all had to be destroyed and replaced.

Thank goodness Dunelm was open for click and collect. That was all the bedding sorted. Personally I was not so lucky because I was totally hors de combat, bedridden until Saturday when I managed to creep downstairs for a few hours in my pyjamas, I managed a bowl of chicken soup with Gill ministering and mopping my brow. By the 14th I’m up and dressed feeling slightly delicate but back to normal, whatever that is, but I think I’m gonna live!  I really like my new 13.5Tog duvet.

By the time I was feeling up to it and my conscience told me that I should contact Wellingborough Iceland store to suggest that any of their remaining luxury fish pies should be withdrawn and tested purely to safeguard their customers. I spent more than two hours attempting to phone the shop but the telephone was continuously engaged. As a result of what further happened I strongly suspect that this is further “company policy “ it certainly avoids customer complaints. I then attempted to find another way of contact. I could find no way to message the company so went online to their website. Oh dear!

I am I.T efficient and have been for years. I have written websites and regularly weblog. I Certainly am more competent  than their average customer, most of whom would have given up long ago. I eventually found a mention of contact by email, hidden at the bottom of the page. This required the completion of a form explaining why one should have the temerity to want to email them.

Could I suggest, dear reader that you amuse yourself by attempting the exercise by starting at www.iceland.co.uk/contact support

This is their response via email :

Dear Mr Clark,

 Thank you for contacting Iceland. We are very concerned to hear about your recent illness and that you reported feeling unwell after consuming a luxury fish pie.

 Pinpointing the source of food poisoning can be very difficult and sometimes this type of reaction to food or drink can happen up to 72 hours after consuming a product.

 May we respectfully suggest that you seek medical advice. Your Doctor may be able to provide you with an indication of exactly what has caused your illness.

 However, in order for us to investigate fully, we will need to gather the relevant information:

  • Product name
  • Date code and batch code on pack
  • What did you eat and when?
  • Was any other food eaten at the same time?
  • What were your symptoms and when did they start?
  • Did anyone else have the same food?Did anyone else experience similar symptoms?
  • Have you seen a doctor for diagnosis?
  • What food or drink have you consumed in the previous 72 hours from when you started to feel unwell?

We are taking your complaint very seriously and once we have received the above information; we will be in a position to investigate further and contact you again.

 Kind regards

Siobhan and the Iceland Team

For the 12th year running we are a Top 30 Best Big Company to work for.

For more information, go to www.Iceland.co.uk

(Source: Sunday Times Best Big Company to Work For survey 2018)

THIS E-MAIL MAY CONTAIN CONFIDENTIAL AND/OR PRIVILEGED INFORMATION.

It is only intended for the use of the addressee. If you are not the addressee, the disclosure, copying or delivering of this to anyone else is strictly prohibited and may be unlawful. If you receive this e-mail by mistake, please notify us immediately by e-mail or by telephone on +44 (0)1244 830100.

Iceland Foods Limited

Second Avenue, Deeside Industrial Park

Deeside, Flintshire, CH5 2NW

Reg. No. 01107406: Registered in England & Wales

And my responding email:

Thank you for your rather delayed response. I can tell from your prevarication exactly how concerned you are in treating my report. 

My wife and I have been shielding since March 2020. Hence having food delivered. My reaction to eating your Luxury Fish Pie ruined some £100 worth of damaged bedding for which I made no claim. I was bedridden for nearly three days and only reported that you had a suspected food item out of concern for your customers safety. Your sense of urgency makes it clear that all you are concerned about is covering your backs. 

I hope no member of the public died because of your dishonesty. Thank you for your concern for my health. I made it clear that I had recovered. Do you realise how ridiculous it would be to ask a GP to call to visit a healthy patient who recovered from food poisoning a week ago, especially when the surgery is closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. What idiot came up with that?  

Initially I tried to phone your Wellingborough shop who I dealt with but the phone had a busy signal for some two hours. I now suspect this is another “company policy” just like your email. Well due to your reaction I am very angry. You have done nothing to safeguard your customers. You could easily have contacted the Wellingborough shop (perhaps they don’t answer their phone), traced my delivery and withdrawn the suspect item from sale. 

You can see from my website that I am a Member of the Institute of Investigative Journalists and unless I get a clear and quick response I shall be selling my story including your email to my 30 years of contacts in the media 

Best

James Clark

Sent from my iPhone. 

Why not check out my website at www.jakethewriter.com 

 

That is the last of my correspondence with Iceland, not even an acknowledgement of my email

 Quite regularly all of the responsible supermarket food stores publish recall of foodstuffs that have a mere suspicion of a danger to the public.  There is guidance to food retailers from the Food Standards Agency and nowhere in my research does it mention how to avoid customer complaints.  This, I would suggest is more of Iceland’s “Company Policy” to avoid or delay any complaint. Has anyone in the company read the governments guidance review by Lyn Faulds Wood? What about the advice from the Food Standards Agency viz 

Reporting a food incident

If you believe food or feed you have supplied is either harmful to health, unfit for people to eat or does not meet legal requirements, you should:

  • immediately withdraw or recall the food from the market
  • tell your competent authority  (local authority or port health authority), which will advise you of any further action you might need to take

If you believe unsafe food has reached consumers, tell the FSA incidents team (Opens in a new window). A recall notice may need to be issued by us.

To help with this, you need to be able to identify your suppliers and food business customers.

Nothing there about avoiding taking any action by delaying reports of customer complaints.  I note that you proudly note in your ‘smoke and mirrors that For the 12th year running we are a Top 30 Best Big Company to work for.  Nothing there about looking after customer safety

I am first to admit that the delay in you being aware that there was a problem was due to circumstances beyond your control but since you have been aware you have done nothing, absolutely nothing, not even to check whether the particular batch of luxury fish pies are being offered for sale.

You may be sure Mr Iceland that I am about to do a lot of research into the various Consumer Acts that you should have been obeying but the first of my actions will be to contact my local Trading Standards Office which will cover my legal costs when I reek attribution on your wretched soul!

 

 

 

 

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Virgin swallowed my computer!

According to the bills that I pay, Sir Richard Branson appears to have a grip on my household.  My telephone, cable TV package, computer broadband cable modem, WiFi Modem all now come under his banner. I signed up years ago with NTLworld which was devoured  by Virgin Media some time in the past.

I noticed on the monthly invoice from Virgin Broadband that we are paying for their special support package, so when a bug hit my desktop, I gave them a call.

To shorten a long boring Saga, their support office in Glasgow linked up with my computer and remotely linked up with my computer and controlled it.  It was rather eerie watching some remote hand moving my cursor and running checks and installing and uninstalling programmes – After at least four hours the Technician told me that it was my Firewall in the Anti-Virus Programme was causing the problems. – he had removed and replaced the offending programme with another and all was now well!

My desktop seemed faster and appeared to work well and I was pleased for two whole days. Then I tried to open iTunes, my iPod and my iPhone, they no longer worked.

The Virgin man had removed some vital part of the brain in his pursuit of excellence.  Back on the phone to Glasgow, the next technician remotely controlled my computer for another 3 hours uninstalling and installing programmes before giving up. Meanwhile I had given up the will to live and possibly may have been rude to him.

I then contacted iTunes to relate the sad tale, they told me to perform all of the things that I and 2 technicians had already done.

The following day I was back calling Virgin  Tech Support again. I was told that their system was down and there would be a long wait. Next day a third technician spent another three hours remotely controlling my computer, I watched as he attacked my registry, my computer then crashed and I was left with a blue screen and Windows 7 had disappeared, connection was lost and this angry man phoned back. I was told the experts were stumped. I should reinstall Windows which would normally mean losing my data, photos, etc. Would be lost.

Fortunately I have an external hard drive and my books, photos were all backed up.

The following day eating humble pie I accepted a deserved telling off from my grandson for not calling him first. He installed the latest Windows 10 and restored my backed up data. iTunes worked, my iPhone works and so did my iPod. My precious wife Pollyanna, the serene, beautiful one said, never mind it’s given you something to keep you busy!

The icing on the cake is that less than a month later, one of my closest friends told me that he had closed one of his companies and generously offered me a hardly used desktop computer with windows 10. It has a solid state hard drive with a 2 Terabyte hdd by Ivybridge plus an unmarked BenQ. 24” monitor. Talk about all singing and dancing 🕺💃and I won’t say much about Virgin (spit), all the gear and no idea!  Meanwhile I donated my restored Dell computer to a local schoolgirl via Facebook so I am left with a warm feeling. 

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At least I’m making a start! Recovery begins here!

You can’t do anything about getting older!  You just have to know how to handle it!  “But it’s lockdown and I’m  shielding.”

Keep your body as fit and as strong as possible, with exercise to stave off pain and stiffness. Exercise corrects your posture but do you ever catch a glimpse of yourself and think “Who is that round shouldered, grumpy old guy?”  But it’s lockdown and I’m shielding!

The first stage is an almost imperceptible slump of the shoulders, mainly when you are bored and tired. This soon becomes your normal stance and soon causes your head to poke forward.

Imagine someone has taken hold of your hair and is gently tugging your head upwards towards the ceiling. Grow tall, lengthen your neck and pull your shoulders back and down a little.  Look at yourself in the mirror and the new you will appear slimmer by standing tall.  I did say appear but the waistband of your trousers don’t lie. Even the fact that you’ve taken to slobbing about in joggers while on lockdown. After all you aren’t going anywhere, are you.

I took my next step really by accident when one of my former Gym Buddies who was also on lockdown and feeling the need to do something about his lack of fitness, telephoned me and asked me if I would my expertise in bargain hunting on eBay and Facebook to find him a Cross-trainer to put in his garage. He intended begin regularly working out.

I searched as requested and found six suitable machines that were available, to be collected by buyer within 10 to 15 miles from his home. I shared the details with him.

Meanwhile I’m lazing about and bored, and out of interest had another search and found an all singing all dancing exercise machine.  It’s a combination exercise bike and cross-trainer at a low starting price with a buy-it-now price which more than I would want to pay.  After watching the machine for a few days, with nobody bidding on it, I liked the idea of owning it more and more.

I even discussed paying the buy-it-now price with my  wife, the lovely Pollyanna, and got a somewhat noncommittal response like “if you’re sure!”  Two days to go I decided to bid the starting price and was immediately outbid by another bidder.

I had an ideal price that I would like to pay in my head.  I was quite affronted by some upstart bidding on my machine. I immediately put three new bids up to my target and discovered that my starting price had been outbid by just £1 and I was the highest bidder by just £2 above the starting price.

I was certain that my bidding opponent was going to sit back and try to outbid me at the last minute.  eBay rules would not allow anyone to know what my maximum bid was.     

I spent too much time on line checking the eBay post before discovering that my tactics had put the other bidder off and I had won the auction.  I actually felt quite guilty and when I contacted the seller I actually apologised for stealing his machine. He generously said “That’s eBay “!

I had already been determined enough that I was going to buy the machine that I had arranged with with my son who lives near to the seller and would collect it when I won.  He did so and will be delivering it this weekend and now am going to have to start working on my waistband.

Until last February and for the past ten years or so, I’ve been at the gym by 06.30, going through my own exercise routine from spin bike to cardiovascular machines and treadmill. On to free weights ending up in the Spa with a few lengths in the pool followed by the steam room , jacuzzi and long soak in the hot tub. After a builders brew tea or a coffee in the cafe I’m usually home at around 10.00.  Even though I’ve worked from home as a writer for many years, that regular routine to start my weekdays isn’t going to be replaced by my bargain cardiovascular machine in my bedroom but it’s a start. Continue reading

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