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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We must eventually get back to normal but what is normal?

IF WE TAKE ANYTHING AWAY FROM THIS EXPERIENCE, HOPEFULLY IT’S KINDNESS
When life begins to have a semblance of normality, will we continue to look out for those who are vulnerable, keep in contact with loved ones, treasure the small things?

What do you think it’s going to be like, once it’s over? Will it ever really be over? We’ve been living in suspended animation during the pandemic. Even if you still went out to work, things weren’t the same. Queuing outside shops, relying more on home delivery, approaching people and places with caution, two metres (or six feet if you want to get imperial) the only measurement we can think of, avoiding public transport, staying largely within the confines of our own neighbourhoods.

While the global crisis played out on the news and in hospitals, for everyone at home, the world got smaller; we became villagers again, downsizing our lives for the greater good.
Lockdown has been about the things we miss. It wasn’t just postponed weddings, lost holidays or, in my case, , but the silly little things. I longed to go to a bar, order a Diet Coke and hear the dreaded “It’s Pepsi. Is that OK?” in return. Oh, to sit in a chain restaurant and have a mediocre meal. Outrageous fantasies were replaced by day trips into the mundane: being stuck in traffic on a bus; wandering round a department store looking at crockery; McDonald’s breakfast.
One thing that’s kept us going, made us feel less alone, is a stronger sense of community. The weekly applause for the NHS and key workers, where neighbours gather at gates, doorways or balconies – or hang out of windows – are not without controversy, but they are also a bonding experience, going much deeper than their origin as a thank you to hardworking staff. I’ve stood and watched every week to make sure the little old lady in the house a bit further down the street makes it to her garden gate on her walking frame – last week she wasn’t out as usual at 8pm on the dot and my heart ricocheted round my mouth until she finally emerged and gave her next-door neighbours a wave.
When we cannot blame misunderstandings on a lousy internet connection, might we continue to give chances, search for wider context, breathe a second before rushing in?
Umpteen corporate slogans might tell us we’re “all in this together”, but actions have always spoken louder than cheap mottos dreamed up in strategy meetings. Look at the various community groups rustling up meals for NHS staff or raising funds for NHS charities and the unifying content that’s sprung up on social media to keep us connected. From Joe Wicks’ daily PE sessions on YouTube or Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s indispensable Friday-evening Kitchen Discos on Instagram to the plethora of telethons, charity performances and free entertainment uploaded online, we’ve found belonging through a screen – surely this means a rethink of the internet’s outdated reputation for killing off conversation and being damaging to society. Acts of kindness have abounded in person too, be they practical stuff, such as people picking up bits of shopping for elderly neighbours or keeping local restaurants afloat by supporting their pivot toward takeaway. Shut inside our homes, away from loved ones in some cases, acts of kindness to strangers became a surrogate for our close ties, a distraction maybe from the worry someone we loved might not make it.
The personal connections we missed became digital ones. Virtual weddings, family arguments given a 2020 zhuzh in the form of weekly Zoom quizzes, making faces at colleagues in the daily FaceTime stand-up – even funerals moved online, allowing us that important step in the grieving process of saying goodbye. Conducting relationships over the internet made us more patient, perhaps, conscious of time lags, connectivity issues or a friend’s inability to cut a long story short, but still grateful for the human contact. “How are you?” became more meaningful, with the coronavirus giving us permission to respond to that question honestly, rather than tossing out, “Oh, fine!” and pressing on. We’re more open about how we’ve struggled and, I hope, more sympathetic to those having a harder time of it.
In isolation, we’ve lost the nuance and atmosphere that comes from being together, yes, but maybe it’s encouraged us to look on one another more kindly, to take calls we’d normally swerve, and to regret the cancelling of plans. While it’s not like being in the same room, and the digital world has its problems, it’s been a lifeline, proof if you needed it that a good internet connection is an essential utility like any other.
It makes you wonder how we’ll adjust post-lockdown. People with existing mental heath conditions, such as anxiety, may have felt they’ve been preparing their whole lives for this scenario. According to award-winning psychologist and executive coach Natasha Tiwari, “Those with anxiety who have found their calm, because the overwhelmingness of daily life has been removed and in a new, slower rhythm, their nervous systems are less overloaded.” Those previously unbothered have struggled more with these exceptional circumstances, perhaps suffering from anxiety without being able to pinpoint it, masking it by being busy. “Now they’re at home, potentially with their families, who can often trigger challenging emotions better than anyone else, it’s harder to avoid the feelings of anxiety that have been buried for so long,” says Tiwari. “For both sets of people, this time offers an opportunity to address mental wellness without the bombardment of daily life stresses.”
As with most things, leading by example and hoping it becomes the norm is probably our only course of action. If a sense of humanity and kindness can’t convince them, perhaps shame will.
So what happens next? Once lockdown is over, will we emerge, Bambi-eyed, into a brave new world where the most valuable currency is the kindness we embraced behind closed doors? Once kindness is no longer forced upon us by circumstance, what form will it take? Will we sink back into routine with a hurried call to the parents as we rush to our next social engagement or will we carry on staging the quizzes, let the Zoom calls continue? Will the increase in physical get-togethers come at the expense of virtual catch-ups; I’d say they’re just as important. Will we still let friends down at the last minute and duck out of plans for no good reason? (Cancelling plans is not a personality, by the way; just don’t say yes to stuff you might not want to do to or give plenty of notice if you’re going to no-show. God!)
When back to our regular schedule, will we still make time for our neighbours? We might feel like we’re back to normal, but this is not the same normal and adjusting to it may be difficult for some. When we cannot blame misunderstandings on a lousy internet connection, might we continue to give chances, search for wider context, breathe a second before rushing in? Embrace the time lag – a moment for pause can do you good. People might still need you. If you’re OK, help somebody who isn’t.
But what does this mean for our interactions with each other? “People have had the opportunity to realise how much interaction with others means to them and how much they miss it when it’s taken away,” says Tiwari. “This new cognisance will make people more aware of how they treat others and a new awareness of how we treat each other. The interconnectedness we have as a society is now impossible to overlook.”
‘The interconnectedness we have as a society is now impossible to overlook’
I hope Tiwari is right, but I’ll confess: the odds don’t look good. Even in the throes of a pandemic, Twitter has remained an arduous scroll, packed with anger, resentment and defensiveness coming from binary extremes. Kindness and caution have been mistaken – or wilfully misinterpreted – as weakness and laziness. The burden remains on the oppressed to go high when detractors go low and it is still exhausting. We can never persuade these people to act differently, perhaps, and we shouldn’t really die trying. As with most things, leading by example and hoping it becomes the norm is probably our only course of action. If a sense of humanity and kindness can’t convince them, perhaps shame will. Thankfully, social media is not the real world.
What the coronavirus has taken from us can never be replaced, but we have lost far too much not to transform our eventual survival, and our strength, into something valuable. Kindness: it’s time to make a comeback.

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We’ll all go to Dublin in the Green, in the Green

The beautiful, gentle one, whom I call Pollyanna, went off with one of her friends for a City break in Dublin. Ever helpful I donned my travel Journalists hat, reached into my well stocked bookshelf and handed her my copy of The Travellers Guide to Dublin and offered her the wealth of my experience of places not to be missed.

On their return she gave me the guide book and suggested that it was probably as old as I am. They found Phoenix Park, The Halfpenny Bridge and the Statue of Molly Malone in spite of my guide handbook. Apparently the place place has changed a little since the coming of the Celtic Tiger. On checking the guidebook I saw that it was dated 1999…. no age at all. I went to my well stocked bookcase and checked a few dates – Rough Guide to Milan (2003) – Vancouver Lonely Planet (1997) – Barcelona (2005) – Andalusia (1995) – Catalonia (1997) – Rough Guide to Sicily (2003) – Mauritius (2004) – then Malta, Morocco, Singapore, Israel, Hong Kong, Sydney, Cairns, and Delhi all even older. Oh! Pollyanna’s suggestion that these yellowing pages of my travel library are about as much use as a chocolate teapot, really hurt. She also suggested that my 1956 guide to Capetown might fetch good money among the old books at Hay in Wye! I have dusted my books and replaced them on their shelves.

They might not be useful but they are my memories. To quote William Butler Yates “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. I shall take my laptop on my travels in future. A lot more use than Biedekers, however there will not be more shelf space, even if I never read them.

By the way William Butler Yeats also wrote “No country for old men.

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What Happens Now?

what do you think it’s going to be like, once it’s over?  Will it ever be over?  We’ve been living in suspended animation during the pandemic. Even if  you’ve been going to work each day as one of the essential employees, things weren’t the same.  Queueing outside shops, approaching people and places with caution, six feet (two metres) becomes the only measurement you can think of.  Avoiding public transport (unless you are the driver), staying largely within the confines of our own neighbourhood.

While the global crisis played out on the news and in hospitals, for everyone at home the world got smaller, we became villagers again, downsizing our lives for the greater good. Lockdown has been about the things we miss. It wasn’t just postponed weddings, lost holidays and the like, but the silly things like in my case, being able to get up at six in the morning, drive to the gym and spend a few hours between working out on a circuit of the weights machines followed by a set round using free weights. Followed by a visit to the Spa and swimming pool interspersed by a timed visit to the steam room, sauna and finally a long relax in the jacuzzi. All of my time in the “Fitness Centre” as the owners call the gym, is spent in the company of close friends that I have made of the ten years of my membership.   I can hear people reading the last paragraph and thinking ‘gym at 0630 in the morning yeah, I’d really miss that’. Well I did say it was a silly thing that I’d miss.

I’d also bet that there are a great many things during lockdown that you have loved missing. Things like an extra two or three hours commuting, added unpaid on to your working day. Spending your working day crowded into a room made up of cubicles because space is a premium. Worse still is hot desking, that’s too horrible to explain.  …….. oh doesn’t working from home and not wasting hours commuting seem attractive and much too good to give up.

If we take anything away from this experience I believe it is going to be kindness. Once this life begins to have some semblance of order and normality, will we continue to look out for those that are vulnerable, keep contact with loved ones and treasure the small things. I was going to finish by saying that I hope so. Not true, life as we knew it will never come back and we are going to be changed for the better, forever!

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Famous Last Words – A Covid-19 Smile

This has to be an ideal time for a sad beggar like me to remind you of others last words. What more can you ask for?

“Goodnight my darlings, I’ll see you in the morning!”  – Noel Coward

”It’s never too late for a glass of champagne “ – Anton Chekhov

”Mother, I’m going to get my things out of this house, Father hates me and I’m never coming back” – Marvin Gaye

”Aw no-one’s going to shoot at me” – Lee Harvey Oswald

”The car seems OK” – Ayrton Senna

”Leave me alone, I’m fine” – Barry White

”Just don’t leave me alone” – John Belushi

”love one another” – George Harrison

”I’m so bored with it all” – Winston Churchill

“Oh wow, oh wow, Oh wow” – Steve Jobs

“I’m going to the bathroom for a rest” – Elvis Presley

”I’m going, but I’m going in the name of the Lord” – Bessie Smith

”Happy!” – Raphael

”I’m losing it!” – Frank Sinatra

”I have offended God, my work did not reach the quality it should have!” – Leonardo da Vinci

” Goodnight my kitten” he told his wife before committing suicide – Ernest Hemmingway

“This is no way to live” – Groucho Marx

”At fifty everyone has the face he deserves “ – George Orwell ( died aged 46)

Not last words, still laughing ? can’t you see?

”Last man standing, I won! – Jakethewriter

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The History of the Lockdown Photographer

Early on, during the lockdown, I noticed my camera bag was gathering dust in my office. I checked the photos that hadn’t been been cleared from the SD card and realised they were more than six months old. My ready-to-go backpack was ready to go, but I wasn’t. 

Then I remembered that while loafing around in the garden I had been watching a pair of Red Kite regularly circling above, two pairs of turtle doves, blue tits, great tits, not forgetting four great big fat wood pigeons and a small flock of last years clutch of starlings that have just got their new adult plumage but were too young to join their adults when they left for pastures new in Africa. Another hobby to help pass the time although I don’t expect to mature into a twitcher once we are let out to play.

Last week I saw the offer of a photography course “How to take perfect Photographs with your Mobile Phone”. A special discounted price of about £40 which was just one tenth of full price during Lockdown.  I wasn’t tempted but I did read the blurb. Apparently the biggest attraction of your mobile phone is that it’s always with you. That at least is absolutely true!

Sometime in the late 1990s when I was a busy travel writer, I published a book called “Travels with my Camera”.  It wasn’t a masterpiece and as is the way of publishing, the times and methods change, and the book is no longer in print.  During all of my travelling I found that my SLR 35mm camera was just too cumbersome to carry all day plus the fact that I had been mugged a couple of times so I tended to use a smaller bridge camera.

If the mobile phone course had been available then I would certainly have splurged forty quid on the learning course. I would just as certainly have never left home without my phone except that at that time phones were the size of a house brick. Plus networks were scrappy in the U.K. and abroad virtually none existent.

Some six years or so back and semi-retired, I decided to treat myself to one of the latest digital single lens reflex camera having sold my two much revered bridge style cameras to help fund the purchase.  That was what I told my long suffering wife anyway, more to the point once I got my hands on my DSLR I knew that I would never use the my old ones.

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 was 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, because I was an expert.  Not quite long enough to delete the email, and Amazon were very persuasive and I took up the offer of a full day Masterclass.  I’m such an easy target for anything that takes my interest.  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 I found myself in the village of Madingly, 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 was a firm favourite of our Royal Family as well as Vogue and Vanity Fair.  Needless to say, this wimp was 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 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.  

 

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