Unpredictability - Good for your health

Our modern life is based on organising an environment free from the unexpected. The house needs to be as stable and reliable as possible. The job as safe as possible. Nothing should break down. Nothing but what we predict, should occur.
This is the life of the zoo animal. Let's explore the life of the Nomad. Let's live the life of the Nomad.

Friday, 20 December 2013

The Perfect Hotel

Does such a project as this have an end?  What becomes of the nomad once his wheels no longer roll down gypsy lane?  Like a storm that has lost its wind this nomad walked into a room to behold a lady with black hair and eyes bright like stars flaring in the night.

Thus began the love affair with the lady in the city who appeared to love my quirky nature.  Turbulent, calm, volatile and dazzling – the affair was there and to this day continues. M took my hand as we walked down a wet road on a Friday night and if the hands were physically parted – in a spiritual sense they never were, like two orbiting planets locked in an eternal revolution.

It was M’s idea to spend some time together – to escape to a hotel in the Ashdown forest. I drove the carriage, the vehicle whose purchase was long overdue.  No trailers would be towed with this little car.  But the mileage dictated the model and so the little Suzuki Splash would take us briskly to the Ashdown Park Hotel.

The concierge took our cases and lead us to the room with the soft bed and the marbled floor, and the view over a lake, and a forest and buildings aged with the grace of generations of wealth and power.  We relaxed and explored the room.  We walked the grounds of the castle and marveled at the trees of oak, alder and birch.  We explored the local village of Forest Row before returning to the room, and preparing for dinner.

And in a hall with mannered waiters, chandeliers and bucolic oil paintings we feasted on the partridge while classical music emanated from the electric piano – soft and caressing the notes gave ambiance to the room like mist floating across a luminescent pond.  Whoever thought dining could be such an art form in its own right?

And in the morning we packed the bags and paid the bill and left this grand hotel.  So much to exchange in this transaction – a life of mud and wheels and ice, switched for this weekend to elegance and style and wealth and charm.

Ben Nevis

It was the end of a working week in Glasgow midway through September.  I had my suitcase and my hiking equipment and all I needed was the hire car.  The company that hired the cars had provided a great service.  Every Friday after landing in Southampton I would disembark the plane and collect my hire car for the weekend - returning it on a Sunday afternoon before flying back to Glasgow.

This weekend I had planned on remaining in Scotland and so I would collect the hire car, from the same company, but from a depot in Glasgow.  On entering the reception the lady behind the counter looked rather perplexed - as if perhaps, they had run out of hire cars.  With the vehicle I would commence the 100 mile journey to Fort William.  Unusually the lady receptionist had to do a security check because a car had been stolen the previous week.  So the details of my identity were entered via keyboard to computer and it was a great inconvenience when the lady said the security check had failed.  So I had booked the car and paid the fee and now the company had reneged on their side of the deal.  I didn't believe what the lady was saying and I was annoyed - stranded with suitcase in a car depot in the middle of an industrial estate.

All this was a setback to the weekend's objective.  To climb Ben Nevis - which is, at 4,408 feet, the highest mountain in the British Isles.  I had to find another way to get to Fort William, the nearest town to the start of the ascending trail up Ben Nevis.  Before dropping me off at the hire car depot, the taxi driver had offered to drive me to Fort William himself for 120 pounds, and while this is a lot of money I almost wished I had taken him up on the offer.  The other options were the coach or the train.  I decided on the latter and called a cab to take me back into Glasgow central train station.  Having a few hours to kill I got myself some gloves, a hat and a hiking map covering the Ben.

The train journey from Glasgow Queen street station to Fort William is a spectacular three and a half hour journey.  To have laid track through such a mountainous land indeed must have seemed almost impossible - but the track is there and such a trip is highly recommended.  Beautiful views made even more pleasurable by a train full of merry Scots excited with a weekend free from toil and with heads buzzing joyfully on whisky and beer.

I had booked the Ben Nevis Hotel and I was impressed with the hotel's spacious layout and relaxed atmosphere.  The room was warm and the bed was comfortable and the foyer provided wifi.  I do like to research a climb and such preparation is vital when attempting a mountain as dangerous as Ben Nevis.  Every year the mountain has its casualties and so I would not be stepping on the mountain without compass, sat-nav, map and warm and rugged clothing.

The next morning a taxi driver dropped me off at the Glen Nevis Tourist centre. It was here I would meet up with Gary, my hiking mate who I had befriended while working in Glasgow.  We would take the tourist route up to the summit of Ben Nevis.  The term tourist route is misleading.  The hike is a serious endeavour and really does require some preparation along with a decent level of fitness and a knowledge of navigation.  To be lost in the mists on Ben Nevis is to be one step away from a deadly lesson in gravity.

The air was warm and the clouds were high and so there was the possibility of a view at the top.  I had climbed the mountain five years previously only to have a view that was within a cloud.  The tourist route is also known as the Pony trail and it was laid down in 1883.  The path begins with a steep climb to the saddle of the Halfway Lake at 570 meters and then will ascend zig-zag fashion 700 metres up the west side of the mountain.

Gary and I began the hike mid morning.  A fresh breeze kept the body from boiling over and we stopped every hour for the hydration.  Most can relate to the exhaustion of climbing several flights of stairs – and to keep such an exertion going for several hours requires a certain frame of mind.  One foot in front of the other – with thought neither of distance passed or distance to go.  This is the way.  To climb and to ascend with a mind giving nothing to pain nor to exhaustion – in this fashion can a mountain’s demands be obliged.

And it was with great pride, after several hours, to have made it to the top.  The air was bitingly cold and the summit very busy and we were quite exhausted.  Once again the cloud prevented the view but none of this mattered.  We had made it and what a joy that was.  I could never demand from life the indulgences of a fine car or a palace, an Italian suit or a marbled floor – but to experience, occasionally, such marvels of nature is all I will require.  And so I leave the readers with some photos taken on this great hike up and to the very top of the United Kingdom.

Peace to All

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Pen y Fan

It was late August and I had a hire car and I had some free time.  And it came into my mind to explore an area known as the Brecon Beacons in South Wales.  This is a range of mountains comprising of six peaks with Pen y Fan being the highest at 886 meters.  So I would book a hotel and I would drive the five hours to this scenic part of Wales and hike to the top of Pen Y Fan and back.

I had booked a hotel called the Castle Coaching Inn located in Trescastle - whose name means "town of the Castle", and indeed the ruins of this castle still remain in the east end of the village.  I had arrived in Trescastle at midday and this was four hours short off the hotel's check-in time and so I decided to drive into Brecon itself.  This market town has a population of nearly 8000 making it the third largest town in Powys and it is also a military town - hosting the Infantry Battle School of Dering Lines and The Barracks which is home to the 160th Welsh Brigade.

I found a parking space on the edge of the town for the hired Citreon DS4 and proceeded to stroll around the historic town.

Passing the South Wales Borderers and Monmouthshire Regiment Museum it occurred to me that paying the entrance fee would not be too bad an idea.  We can learn from our books and we can learn from these exhibits of the past, and so a good hour or so was given to a military world I have read much about - but experienced little of.

Cpl T Shannon 3rd Volunteer Battalion - The Welsh Regiment 1900.
Vickers Machine Gun

To visit a museum without coming away with some interesting facts is to go for a swim without getting wet.  And so here are a few facts concerning WW1
  • 51 kg was the minimum weight for a man enlisting in the Army during WW1.
  • 484,173 horses and mules were lost by the British during WW1.
  • 621,972 British servicemen received disability pensions at the end of WW1.
  • 633 Victoria Crosses were awarded during WW1.
  • The British Infantryman carried 4.72 stone of equipment in the initial Somme attack.
After the stroll through the town and after the visit to the museum it was time to return to the hotel in Trescastle.  The hotel had resident parking in the rear of the building.  I parked the car and retrieved my luggage and approached the entrance to the hotel, which also doubled up as the entrance to the pub. Alone and in my thoughts, approaching the reception of the hotel an event occurred in my mind that was unique and unusual.  My consciousness was flushed with the certainty of a future that was unavoidable - as if it was the formulation of a geometric equation that was absolutely correct.  A premonition of a future romance.  That is what it was and the belief as rugged as the fortress to which this village owned its name.  So that was a premonition and if it was unusual it was also a shifting tonic to the loneliness of this nomad's existence.  I was convinced I was about to meet a special lady and the belief so strong I was surprised she was not there waiting to check me in at the reception desk.

The next morning, after a hearty full Welsh breakfast, I drove the eight miles to the base of Pen Y Fan.  The clouds hung low and the peaks could not be seen.  The hike would be circular starting from the Storey Arms outdoor education centre on the A470, heading east and ascending first the peak of Corn Du before the final ascent to Pen Y Fan.  Then heading back west on a parallel path to the car park.

 Start of the path
 Approaching Corn Du

 Peak of Corn Du
 Clouds clearing on the approach to Pen Y Fan
 Pen y Fan Summit

Brave mountain dweller

The hike only took two hours.  It was a pleasant surprise when the clouds dispersed when approaching the mountain peaks.

Driving back to the hotel a sign pointing direction to a reservoir called the Usk piqued my curiosity.  This impressive basin of water was fenced with a path whose entrance began at the start of a bridge and I was surprised to see a machine that allowed you to insert the coinage required to buy a fishing permit.  I walked a third of the reservoir's circumference before heading back to the car. This reservoir - deep, dark, beautiful, dangerous and alluring.   I promised a return in the new year for further exploration.

This was my hiking trip to the Brecon Beacons and it was a fine thing to be away from the cities and the offices and the airports - even if it was for just a couple of days.

Peace to All

Monday, 19 August 2013

Devon Cliffs - Sandy Bay

I had picked my Nephew up from the Uncle in the New Forest.  Five of us were packed into a little Citroen DS4.  My two girls, my eldest's best friend and my Nephew.  Yes that is right.  One middle aged man responsible for two teenagers and two youngsters for five days in the Devon Cliffs Sandy bay holiday resort in Exmouth.  Driving down the A35 that day with darkening sky and rain sweeping horizontally against the windscreen - I did wonder if I had made the right decision.  Last year's holiday was abroad.  This year I fancied something local - without the stress of airports, foreign currencies, inflated prices and the unavoidable early am shake-up for the shuttle bus to the airport on the return leg.  My anxiety about the weather was miss-placed - from the Tuesday onwards we had fine weather hovering between 22 and 25 degrees Celsius.  I was never an extreme heat person, with thin white skin that would blister rather than tan brown after session in the sun.

It was a five hour journey and we were eager to see what our Delux standard caravan was like.  In these Haven holiday resorts you can book a static caravan to a grade suitable to your needs.  Initially I had booked the Standard Plus grade which seemed to have everything required for a gang of five - that is, beds and cooking facilities.  On reading through the brochure it was clear that this standard risked an odour of the canine.  Nothing against dogs but I really don't like their smell so upgraded to the Delux version and this grade guaranteed a shelter free from eud de canine. The van was a model Rio made by Willerby Holiday homes.  It was smaller than expected but very nice and comfortable with everything needed to keep the gang fed and accommodated for the week.

A Haven Holiday Resort

Nephew - interrupted Kindle episode

In the evening and after a healthy dinner from McDonalds it was time to let the kids loose in the entertainment complex.  You can level both praise and criticism at the management of these Haven resorts - but even the most scrupulous would have to rejoice in the way they keep kids entertained and happy.  You will have swimming pools with slides both indoors and outdoors.  There will be pantomime and concerts and karaoke. There will be a full schedule of sporting activities and there will be a full arcade worthy of a pitch on any Las Vegas strip.  The Haven arcade of-course, caters for those under and over eighteen.  This evening, and every evening I sat myself down in the Barrel and Mash with my book and a drink and let the kids loose to enjoy the complex.  They would return to see me every half hour or so - to assure me they were fine and also to get more money out of my wallet.

Now I want to interrupt the flow of the post at this point and discuss the issue of feeding.  Other male nomads out there may be considering taking a group of kids away on a nomadic adventure but with much anxiety on how to feed them properly.  Us nomads can easily put a meal together for ourselves from whatever is in the cupboard - whether that be a can of soup a few years out of date or a fray bentos pie.  Food is energy and we don't tend to be fussy eaters.  Feeding kids is a different story.  Firstly you should make it clear to them they will get three meals a day - but if they are hungry in-between meals they will have to help themselves to whatever is in the pantry.  So take them, like I did, to a Liddles and get them to fill the trolley.  These kids selected all sorts of edible things from biscuits to crisps to fruit and cakes.  And Liddles is very good value.  A full trolley of food came to 40 pounds - and the equivalent in Tescos would be at least double that.  Now: for breakfast determine what cereals they all like and get in plenty of boxes and also don't forget to get fresh milk in on a daily basis.  Break it up with something different at least once during the holiday - on the Thursday I toasted some waffles which they all enjoyed.  Lunch is just as easy.  Find out what sandwiches they like and make them two each for the day and throw in a packet of crisps and a piece of fruit.  They wont eat the fruit but it is there just in case.  Make sure to bring a can of soda each - they will get thirsty.  Dinner is a bit trickier.  Remember it is your holiday as well so you don't want to be slaving over an oven all evening.  If you can afford it get take-aways.  On the Monday I got them McDonalds and on the Tuesday I got them a fish and chip type dinner take-away.  For a cheaper dinner option go to Tescos and get some pizzas in or some ready-meals that you can stick in the microwave.  Dinner for Wednesday and Thursday was achieved perfectly well this way.  There is really no need to worry about the feeding issue - just work out what they like and get it in for them.

Ensuring that the children receive the nomadic experience may be a little more difficult.  Us nomads are action orientated.  It is not in our nature to sit still and you may very well be perplexed by the behaviour of the modern day youngster.  Each of those kids will have more silicon technology in their kit bag than NASA could have dreamed of when sending man to the moon.   You will be itching to get behind the wheel and explore something new - but the youngsters will happily sit down with kindle or with laptop - with TV or with DVD.  When their necks are bent and their heads hanging over some screen or other - you will need to display some leadership and make it clear that this will be a week of exploration and movement.  Go to the reception in the resort and grab a handful of those activity brochures and let each child choose an activity for a day.  This is the buy-in technique and works very well.

Nephew Liam chose Tuesday's activity and this was to be Crealy Adventure Park.

This park had pretty much everything to keep everyone busy - rides and slides and even some meerkats. There was also a great indoor play area and most of the time was spent in this less busy part of the complex.  These adventure parks are great value - but beware they will be very busy anytime on a school holiday and the rides will all have lengthy queues to negotiate.

There was much debate concerning Wednesday's activity, and since no consensus was forthcoming I suggested a place called Bicton Gardens.  The kids needed some convincing.  I filled them in on the selling points - a sixty three acre 18th century garden with supurb play areas and an incredible maze where they could get themselves lost for a while.  They all agreed it would be awesome and so it turned out to be.

The two teenagers decided they wanted to do their own thing on the Thursday - go to the beach, flirt with some boys or whatever it is teenage girls like to do when they are not under direct adult supervision.  So the the younger daughter and the nephew could choose the day's activity.  They were not really sure what to do so I put my foot down and decided on a ship cruise around the coast of exmouth.  To my surprise they were dead against the idea so I compromised and took them to a country park adjacent to the holiday resort itself.
This was a great little park with a museum section of old vehicles for the adults and the usual slides and play zones for the children.

After paying the entrance fee we entered a hall area with some remarkable exhibits.  I just loved this old caravan.

And indeed it is amazing what can be made from matchsticks.

And a superb Gypsy caravan.

The children insisted on posing for the camera.

It was then time to let the little ones loose in the play areas.  Those children have spring-coiled energy in their bodies and can play all day.  I sat down with a coffee and read through an interesting book written by Judith Tebbutt - A Long Walk Home.  Judith was kidnapped while on holiday in Kenya by Somali pirates and her husband was killed in the struggle.  These pirates were highly religious in the Islamic sense and made their money by kidnapping westerners and demanding a ransom.  It is an interesting book to read - but may put you off your next holiday if it is anywhere near the same region.

At three pm I rounded the kids up for the highlight of the day - the falcon display.  I just love sitting in on these displays and marvel at the beauty of these wonderful birds of prey.  

And that was the tail end of the holiday.  Early on Friday morning the kids were cajoled to get everything packed into the Citroen and we made our way East and back home.  I was happy that the holiday went well and sure that the children had a great time in Devon.  It is not the sort of holiday I would do every year but provided you are willing to gamble on the British weather - there really is much to be said for spending your precious holiday weeks in the UK.

Peace To All

Sunday, 18 August 2013

The Barras

This weekend I stayed over in Glasgow to release my mind and body from the usual journey from the top end to the bottom end of the United Kingdom - and back again.  I have taken to using the public swimming pool that is only a five minute walk from the hotel.  So the weekend's activity had the pattern of a morning swim followed by this nomad's favourite pastime - walking.  I am never bored on a long walk and love exploring new territories.

On the Sunday I set myself the challenge to swim a little more than the set thirty minutes and achieved the goal of swimming for one hour straight.  I was tired but pleased with this effort.  I walked around the corner to an Italian cafe and ordered a cup of coffee.  This particular cafe does a fine coffee - far superior to the fast coffee served in the well known high street hangouts.

How rare it is to have a day ahead without an itinerary to structure the hours.  I thought back to a comment left by the author of one of my favourite blogs - "Our Life In a Caravan".  "Have I visited the Barras yet", asked Jools.  I really had no idea what the Barras was so punched it into my new Samsung Galaxy Ace phone - and with interest I learnt this was some sort of trading market in the East of Glasgow.  At the turn of the last century, when the children of the poor had to work - a twelve year old girl, Margaret Russell, discovered a talent for trading when she minded the fruit barrow of her mother's friend.  The girl that had to work had a vision beyond the shackles of her impoverished surroundings.  The vision became a huge trading court and static stalls would be rented out to the hawkers, the collectors and those whose place in life was to duck and to dive as way to survive.  Her vision became "the Barras".

Now this new gadget of mine has a GPS function and so I decided to see how it worked.  I selected the Navigate application and entered the location of the Barras.  The phone calculated a route and to get there would only be a 20 minute walk.  And so I paid the nice lady in the cafe and set off on foot to see what the modern Barras was really like.  I was impressed by the huge gated entrance.

Walking through the gates is to enter a trading world on a complete tangent to the high street with its fancy air conditioned plazas and branded shops.  Here is where the less fortunate and the thrifty gather to sell and to buy the material goods passed from hand to hand and from generation to generation.  Here is the car boot sale to beat all car boot sales.