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Stuart Lennon

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The Camino

start-n-finish

Been a bit quiet here.

Mostly because I have been blogging here.

I’m off on a walk. In memory of the man in the collage above, Terry Anderson.

I’m not alone, I will be walking with friends. Laurent Gauduchau, Jean-Christophe Poussou and Stuart Smith. We all knew Terry through the Prague Barbarians Rugby Club. Last year, after a punch-up with cancer, Terry passed away at Our Lady’s Hospice in Blackrock, Dublin. If you have a pound or two spare, then I know those people would put it to incredibly good use. You can donate here.

Keen to show their support (or possibly to laugh at us) two more Prague Barbarians are coming to walk the first day with us. Franck Neel and Germain Gouranton.

The Camino, particularly the route that we are walking, the ‘Frances’, is a well-trodden route. We will be far from alone. The route is 500 miles give or take, and I intend to walk it all, but in stages.

This year, the four are starting in Saint Jean Pied de Port in France and walking hard for six days, staying in hostels along the way. With luck, we may get as far as Logrono; a hundred miles. We may not. We shall see what we shall see.

I set off on Saturday, less than 48 hours from now. I’m flying to Bilbao, where I’ll meet Stuart, who is coming in from Dublin. We will then transfer to SJPDP where the French contingent await us.

As the day draws nearer, I’m nervous. I have the gear, I have done some training, but I have never tried to walk 100 miles before. Will the knees hold up? Will I hold up the others? Will we grate on each other’s nerves in hours?

Truth is, I don’t know.

Along with the nerves, comes anticipation. It is something that I have never done before. It is challenging. It is different.

That’s kind of cool.

Maybe I’ll write about it.

On camino, I’ll be updating www.sensibleshoescamino.com and @frontrowcamino

 

Distraction

Don’t get me wrong. I am extremely lucky to have so many distractions.

I write this post from a beautiful spot in Cyprus, where I have been swimming every day and playing golf, watching my wife get better and better at the game. It’s only a matter of time until she beats me.

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This photo was taken on a rare dry moment in a practice walk around Howth, near Dublin.

At sensibleshoescamino.comI have been posting about another distraction. I’m looking forward to a week walking in some gorgeous countryside with friends old and new. We are hoping to raise some money for a hospice. If you can spare a couple of euro, then please donatePlaces like Our Lady’s Hospice are very special. As my friend and co-walker, Stuart Smith (in the featured photo) wrote “he passed away in a loving, caring, pain-free environment.” Read the rest of his post here.

In order to bring some sort of order to my days, I am experimenting with both the Best Self Journal and Bullet Journal, two systems that I will write posts on soon.

Writing is getting done around all these brilliant distractions. It’s all about editing at the moment, getting feedback from my writing buddy and tightening the prose. Methodical, detailed work…all the things that do not come naturally to me. So, short concentrated bursts work well.

My long-suffering Writing Buddy is doing her level-best to keep me on task, but frankly, it’s a bit like herding cats.

Nevertheless – I’m confident that a book will get published.

 

A plan for a pilgrimage

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My last post, I talked about the Camino Francés. The more I thought about it, the more exciting it became. Should we start in Arles? Or Perpignan? Perhaps even Paris? Six weeks walking in France and Spain. What fun!

“Ah Stu”, said Stu “There is not a hope in hell that I am getting a leave pass for six weeks.”

Come to think of it, there was no chance that I would get a leave pass for six weeks either. There is a limit to the patience of the long-suffering Mrs L and abandoning her for six weeks “to go for a walk” would overreach that limit.

What was needed here was a plan.

Starting in St Jean Pied de Port (Basque country) would make for a 500 mile walk to Santiago, that is estimated to take 5 weeks or so. Might we manage a week a year – and finish up the route in 2020? Perhaps, even aim to finish around my 50th birthday in April?

Now, that’s a plan.

A friend told me of a movie, ‘The Way’. Directed by Emilio Estevez. Emilio was struggling for a lead, so he cast his Dad, Martin Sheen. Surely a bit of Hollywood would convince Mrs L that I had not taken leave of my senses? Certainly, I could alleviate any concerns about safety.

Within five minutes of the movie starting, Emilio’s character had wandered off the path and died. Oops.

Gliding over that slight hiccup, provisional approval was sought and obtained on both sides of the Irish Sea.

We have a plan.

We will fly into Bilbao, transfer to SJPDP and then walk ‘The Way’ for six days. On the seventh day, we will head back to Bilbao and return to the real world.

A wee walk

CaminoFrances

On October the 8th, I’m catching a plane to Bilbao in Northern Spain.

I love to travel, particularly to places where I can find good food and wine. This trip is a little different. I’m going for a walk. No. Really. I am.

I am walking with one of my oldest friends, conveniently named Stuart. There is a school of thought that Stuart and I are both results of some kind of botched cloning experiment. Close your eyes and it can be difficult to tell which of us is speaking.

As we both embark upon our mid-life crises, Stuart ventured “Shall we walk the camino?”.

“Absolutely. I’ll have one, if your having one.”

I fully expected to embark on an eccentric ritual method of drinking wine.

“No. Seriously. El Camino de Santiago. Have a think about it.”

I got googling.

The Camino is a pilgrimage. One that has been around for centuries. It is believed that the bodily remains of St James (an apostle) are interred at Santiago de Compostela, in north-western Spain. Pilgrims walk to Santiago by many different routes, but perhaps the most well-trodden is the Camino Francés – the French Way. The walk starts from St Jean Pied de Port in the Pays Basque region of France, crosses the Pyrenees and then meanders across Northern Spain to Santiago.

A tidy little walk of 500 miles or so.

Yes. 500 miles.

To date, my mid-life crisis had been evidenced by buying a two-seater sports car. Now I was agreeing to walk 500 miles (cue Scottish folk band).

I have thought about setting up a separate blog for the walk, but decided against it. I will post about it here. (Categorised as Camino)

What on earth have I got myself into?

 

BREXIT. Yes Please.

Brexit

I love Europe. I have lived in several countries on the continent and visited pretty much all of the rest. I speak a few of the languages. My wife has an Italian ID card.

Whether it be for business or pleasure, I am forever travelling around Europe.

Then why do I want Britain out of the European Union? (BREXIT)

I live in a village in England. I vote for my parish council, my borough council, my independent Police Commissioner and my Member of Parliament. Lest I be worried about under-representation, there is also the House of the Lords; for whom I don’t vote. To support all of these folk, the UK has constructed enormous bureaucracies, that support the democratic structures of the UK and implement the policies agreed.

As a member of the EU, the UK also has to elect members to the European Parliament, as does every member state. To ensure that these people are able to effectively discharge their duty, the EU has also built an enormous bureaucracy to support it, in many languages across a wide area.

Who are these structures paid by?

Well, by the tax-payer, of course.

As I am sure every European has experienced – each element of these mammoth structures is desperate to constantly prove its importance; by fixing something. Should there be an absence of things needing to be fixed, there is no let up – they simply fix things that aren’t broken, or even break things, so that they can fix them.

In my business life, I have spent some time inside the ‘Brussels Bubble’. The term is surprisingly accurate. There is a bubble. Life within the bubble involves quite a lot of lunch, long and voluminous meetings about not very much at all and the occasional migration, when the whole bubble packs up and becomes the Strasbourg bubble for a while. (On a positive note, I should point out that the lunches were excellent, and always involved good wine.)

Everyone in the bubble is very well paid.

By the tax-payer, of course. 

For me, BREXIT is about paying for less idle and needless government.

Politicians and the bureaucrats are in the business of shaping our perceptions. (Bullshitting in other words.) I will give one more recent example.

Mr Obama, President of the United States has recently popped over to the UK to share his wisdom. He seems like a friendly enough sort of guy and he is President of the United States of America – so I, for one, was interested to hear what he had to say.

Mr O thinks that the UK should stay in Europe – apparently to save the US the bother of having to negotiate individually with the UK. It’s just so much easier to do everyone in one go.

Not the most persuasive argument.

There was even a mild tone of threat – as he explained that it might take ten years for a UK outside of the EU, to negotiate a trade deal with the USA. The sub-text (sorry, bullshit) for this line of argument is that trade deals are BIG. Difficult. Tough. Require LOTS of highly skilled (and paid) negotiating teams.

Here is my effort to help the world move forward.

Mr O. Take the trade agreement that you have with the EU and save it in a word document. Do a ‘search and replace’ or two. Replace EU with UK for example. Proof-read it, make a couple of manual changes where necessary and sign it. I think we could start on Monday morning, and be on the first tee by lunch-time.

You’re very welcome.

I am led to understand that the Brussels bubble is very similar to the Westminster bubble. It may well be. I will tell you one key difference:

On June 23rd, I have a chance to vote myself out of the Brussels bubble and the enormous cost of it.

 

Guns

Gun-Control-Debate-Poster2

Gun control, a debate. There’s a subject that elicits sensible reasoned commentary from around the world.

As I have finished the first draft of my book, I am in the ‘cooling off’ period, where I leave the manuscript in a drawer until I can view it with some perspective.

So, from writing every day, whether I wanted to or not, I have gone to not writing at all.

I found this quite difficult, so I have started a journal and made a promise to myself to update the blog a little more.

It is with some trepidation that I enter into the arena of debating gun control. My first sentence is intended to be ironic. Rarely have I seen so much vitriol thrown about as I regularly see when there has been a mass shooting in the USA. Each side is passionately, irrevocably convinced that the moral high ground is theirs and that anyone holding the opposite view should be…well, shot.

Let me first nail my colours to the mast.

To my own very great surprise, I love the United States of America. Before visiting it, I adopted a peculiarly British position of regarding the USA as a bit of an errant child. A little too full of vim and vigour, but essentially too crass and stupid to do any real harm. Then I went there. Not everywhere, but Minnesota, Denver, Dallas, and California. I went mostly for business, but did manage to squeeze in a little golf too.

What a revelation! I found the people to be kind, generous and welcoming. I was intoxicated by the positive energy that seemed to course through the cities and towns. I loved it.

I own a gun. A shotgun. A Beretta Sportster, if you must know. I use it to shoot game birds and clay pigeons.

There. I love the USA and I have a gun. You are in the picture.

I am going to quote precisely zero statistics here. It is a curious thing, but both sides in the gun control debate have conclusively proved their case using statistics. Therefore, I can only conclude that statistics do not really move us forward.

Nor will I examine intensely the words and intentions of the Second amendment, as again, both sides conclusively prove their case using legal analysis.

In my opinion, it should be harder for people to get hold of guns. Whatever rationale is being used, I cannot reconcile in myself that any citizen has a legitimate need for a weapon that can bring down a passing aircraft or helicopter. Nor do I see that an assault rifle has a legitimate place under the Christmas tree.

I do not argue whether on has a right to these things, I simply believe that there is no need for them in the hands of an ordinary citizen.

“Ban all guns” is, I believe unnecessary, unrealistic and bound to fail. Many people are too attached to them. Regardless of any statistics, some people believe that they are safer armed than they are unarmed. People do hunt. People do shoot recreationally. I am an advocate of a system that licenses gun ownership. I acknowledge that criminals or deranged people are unlikely to apply for a licence, but at least some of them might not have such easy access to weapons – perhaps one life might be saved. Who knows? Maybe lots of lives will be saved.

Securing all guns is another area where I think that there is room for agreement. I believe that responsible gun owners do not leave their weapon loaded next to their child’s toy box. Tragically, there are incidents where a child has picked up a gun and blown its sibling’s head off. Some rules around this probably wouldn’t hurt.

The aim of gun control should not be to infringe on anyone’s rights, nor should it intended to make people feel less safe and secure – precisely the opposite in fact. It should be a national initiative, the idea of different rules in different states is quite obviously utter nonsense.

The United States of America is full of some very smart people, I am confident that those people will work it out.

cyprus-map-political

I spend a fair amount of time in Cyprus.

My parents retired here and I lived here for a while.

I have a holiday home not far from Limassol.

It’s beautiful. It’s hot and sunny.

Cyprus, island of Aphrodite, sits in the eastern Mediterranean, not far from the coast of Lebanon. As islands go, it has seen more than its fair share of turbulence and invasion.

For many years it was a part of the Ottoman empire and laterly was a Crown colony of the United Kingdom. In 1960 it became an independent republic.

Recent history is complicated – Greek Cypriots in the 1950s were fighting for ‘Enosis’ –  union with Greece.

Instead, they got an independent republic, where ethnic Turkish Cypriots had protected rights.

The Republic never really worked and in 1974, the Greek Cypriots staged a military coup (egged on by the Junta in control of Greece) with an eye to achieving Enosis.

Turkey resisted this with an old fashioned, but effective counter.

Paratroopers.

The island was partitioned and remains so to this day.

The above is a gross over-simplification, I am no historian.

There is a fascinating book called the Cyprus Conspiracy by Brendan O’Malley that does a good job of shedding some light on a dark corner of geo-politics. Well worth a read.

The United Kingdom, throughout all of this upheaval, has largely managed to maintain a strong relationship with the part of the island that was not occupied by Turkey.

The Royal Air Force has an airfield here and there are several other UK military installations on the island.

Cyprus is reliant on tourism and the lion’s share of visitors have always been British.

Certainly, one would never struggle to find an English Breakfast on the coast.

While I would not necessarily see the ubiquitous availability of an English breakfast as a positive, there can be no denying that the universal use of English and affinity with the British does make Cyprus ‘easy’ to work for the Brits.

This affinity, together with the tourist industry and turnover of military personnel means that thousands of UK citizens make Cyprus their home in retirement.

Greek is a tough language, and the British are notoriously bad at learning languages anyway.

In Cyprus, this never mattered. Cypriots speak excellent English and many have attended university in the UK or the USA.

Over the last couple of years though, I have noticed a trend.

A sort of militant “Greek only” trend.

In equipping the holiday home, I have visited that famous Swedish furniture giant – Ikea. As Cyprus is a small island, rather than invest directly, multinational firms tend to grant franchises. Ikea is no exception.

Everything in Ikea – from the labels on the goods, to the leaflets, to the signs on the door is in Greek and only Greek.

I have never seen that in Cyprus before.

Adjoining the Ikea store is a shopping mall. The mall has a food court where can be found the usual fast food suspects.

There is also a fast food version of more traditional Cypriot food.

Again – all of the signage was in Greek only.

A reasonable percentage of consumers in Cyprus will speak little or no Greek. Tourists generally don’t, and many expats don’t either.

Therefore this policy has a cost to the business.

Perhaps I am reading too much into it – but there seems a sort of militance to it – an intentional statement.

I am not sure why it should be happening and whether it might have a broader connotation.

 

 

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Last week, I spent a couple of days in the magnificent city of Edinburgh.

The picture above of Edinburgh castle was taken from the breakfast room of the hotel that we stayed in.

I may be a little biased in that my Dad comes from that neck of the woods, but Edinburgh is a fantastic place to visit.

Every August the city and its environs host the Edinburgh International Festival and its unruly, less high brow, younger brother, the Fringe.

The Fringe has comedy, pop art, kids shows – pretty much anything goes.

Every theatre, gallery, library, book shop, pub, cafe and broom cupboard becomes a venue.

The Fringe is now the biggest festival of its kind in the world.

Also during August, Edinburgh is host to the Military Tattoo, which is what I go to see.

I will post about the tattoo separately, but it is an event that should be on every bucket list, in my opinion. Simply awesome.

The city itself positively throbs with visitors from near and far.

Bars, restaurants and cafes are full to overflowing from mid morning until long after dark.

For my trip, the sun was out, the winds were down and Edinburgh could have been a southern European city.  The party spilled out from the hostelries onto outdoor terraces and decks. It was gorgeous.

With one exception, the businesses of Edinburgh welcomed us with open arms.

August is, I’m sure a bonanza for the hospitality industry.

Everybody is excited, having fun and looking to have a good time. We ate, we drank and most of all we laughed.

Stuart LennonI was travelling with my wife, her cousin and her husband. (We are in the picture right) We met up with my cousin and her man. (That’s them below on their trusty steed)

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We laughed until our sides ached.

Where is your favourite city?

Chamberlain-Peace-in-our-Time-1938

The picture above is of Neville Chamberlain, a very nice chap, who is perhaps unfairly remembered almost entirely for his utterance “Peace in our time”.

He had met up with a little chap called Hitler and they had agreed that young Adolf was not going to do anything that might upset the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

So that’s all right then.

Chamberlain was far from alone in recommending that we avoid war at all costs. The vast majority of the USA was of the same mind, for example. Frankly, the young Nazi chap was clearing Europe up a bit. A little close to the line perhaps, particularly if you were Czech for example – but ultimately, better to let him get on with it, than risk war.

Appeasement they called it.

As a policy, it didn’t go terribly well.

Recently, a key issue in the parliamentary election in the UK has been Immigration.

Even more recently, we have been gripped in the new soap opera called ‘Grexit’.

There has been an enormous amount of focus on the harrowing and difficult conflict in Iraq and Syria.

Meanwhile, there have been some other bits and pieces of news. It is these bits and pieces that I wish to bring to your attention.

The UK military has been known to refer to the island of Cyprus as ‘our permanent aircraft carrier in the Eastern Mediterranean’.

More recently, the European Union made an example of Cyprus – forcing it to impose a levy on all bank accounts or drop out of the euro. In plain talk, savers in some Cyprus banks made an involuntary donation to the public purse. That showed them.

Completely coincidentally, Russian investment in Cyprus increased. While the rest of the world was running for cover, Russia was investing in Cyprus. In March of 2014, they even sent an aircraft carrier to pop in.

The Cypriot government has granted Russia access to a deepwater port and airfield you see. How very neighbourly.

Then there was a little fracas in the Crimea. All a bit difficult to follow for us Western folk – but it’s okay, that nice chap in Moscow sorted it out.

Something about a deep water port down there too. Still you have to admire the consistency.

I know that it is difficult to believe, but this Vladimir chap has also found the time to help out in Ukraine. Apparently there are a whole load of people in the Ukraine who really want to be best friends with Russia.

In fact, rather than move to Russia, these people have decided that they must take up arms to defend themselves from their own government. Thankfully Vlad has it all under control.

Meanwhile – The European Union is taking no prisoners in Greece. Time to make an example of them. Quietly, Vlad has offered to help out his comrades in Athens if they can’t make up with their European buddies. How nice of him.

What is amazing, is that this caring, community chap used to be a cold war warrior. He spent his life in learning subversion techniques – Hearts and Minds, I think that we call it.

After Mr Chamberlain waved his bit of paper and declared “Peace in Our Time”, well..

There wasn’t.

The_wombles_season_3_4_and_5

 

The Wombles. If you are British and of a certain vintage, then you will surely remember the ‘Wombles of Wimbledon Common’.

The Wombles had a glittering career in TV and Pop Music in the 1970s.

“Making good use of the things that we find
Things that the everyday folks leave behind”

Read more: http://artists.letssingit.com/the-wombles-lyrics-the-wombling-song-theme-from-the-wombles-tv-sho-3rql29f#ixzz3cxwTCvBH

LetsSingIt – Your favorite Music Community

Halcyon Days.

This week, I am lucky enough to be back on Aphrodite’s Isle, Cyprus.

In common with many other British people, my parents chose to retire in the sun. Somewhere to relax, escape the British weather and enjoy their twilight years. The perfect retirement.

My Dad had a few short years and is indeed buried here.

My Mum gamely carried on alone for fourteen more years, but has now decided to return to the UK.

My wife and I have been very busy clearing out things that tend to accumulate over twenty five years.

I have been assured by my Mum that all I need do is pile things up at the bottom of the drive next to the bins.

I will admit to being somewhat sceptical of this advice. Surely the local authorities would seek some payment for hauling away old bedding, broken electricals, redundant filing?

We left a good car-load of things next to the bins and set off to a neighbouring village for dinner.

Upon our return a few hours later, everything had gone.

I was blown away by these excellent levels of service.

Yesterday was an intense clear out day.

Load after load was deposited at the bottom of the drive.

I also had to drive to the recycling centre to dispose of packaging in which new furniture had arrived.

As I passed through the gates, I caught sight of a deeply tanned young man carefully sifting through the loads.

He smiled and waved. So, I smiled and waved back.

I have always thought that the Wombles had been victims of budget cuts back in the seventies.

It turns out that they simply moved to Cyprus. Probably for the weather.

Brilliant.