Rioja – T minus 2

It’s Sunday night. God and BA-willing, in 48 hours I’ll be in Bilbao, dragging the tight-head out of a bar and looking for the bus to Logrono.

The plan is that we hook up with the ? in Logrono for tapas and perhaps a medicinal glass of Rioja. On Wednesday morning, we’ll jump on the early bus to Los Arcos, the village where we finished our walk last year. From there, we will walk back to Logrono, quite possibly for more tapas and Rioja. This first day will have the advantage of being pack-free as we are pre-booked into the same hotel for Wednesday night.

Thence we will meander through the entire province of Rioja, finishing our six days at Burgos in Castilla y Leon. The plan this year is 150.7 km (93 miles), so a shade over 25km a day (15.5 miles).

Backpack

Charity. I don’t know about you, but I have some charity fatigue. Everyday, somebody is doing something for a worthy cause. This year, we are not tapping you up for anything. Personally, I think that a reunion is the time to raise some cash. For example, where young and stupid men fined each other with alcohol, wise (and infinitely better looking) middle-aged men might be better putting some cash in a pot. Just sayin’ (I am now known as “The voice of reason”).

I’m looking forward to our second trip immensely. I have a few more miles in the legs this year, largely because I have been walking to and from the office. I’m not taking tech with me – just a compact camera. I will feel isolated for a while, but then the lack of ‘notifications’ will become a real pleasure.

Most of all – I’m looking forward to seeing my walking-buddies again.

Buen Camino

Camino 2: Rioja

What Ho!

It’s on. Later this year, the Front Row will pick up where it left off and walk another week of the camino.

Dates have been agreed, flights have been purchased. The Belligerent Basque is primed and ready to go. (Isn’t he always?)

Both Props were delighted to hear that the first camino marked an upturn in the Duck’s health; so much of an upturn that he is now permitted adult beverages. “Oh good!” We cried in unison.

Last year, we managed to get to 2,700 Euros for the hospice on the Just Giving page, and we would like to push that beyond 5,000 this year.

Last year, and more recently, various Barbarians have mused how much fun it would be to join us on our pilgrimage. After discussion, we would make the following observations.

  1. What? You must have forgotten how truly unpleasant we are, individually and as a group.
  2. With much love and respect, we suggest you all fornicate elsewhere. Each of us would heartily recommend that you undertake the camino. All of it or part of it. But do it alone, or in a small group, three maximum. At the risk of sounding trite, the passages of solitude are an important part of the experience – and those would disappear, if the walk became a tour.
  3. The tighthead is putting together a reunion in Bayonne next year. That’s the time to meet up.

This year, we start at Los Arcos, a wee town on the river Odron. At the end of Day 1, we will pass from Navarra into Rioja until we reach Castilla and Leon a few days later. The tighthead will, undoubtedly, in between moaning about how cold he is, give us full background on each vineyard as we pass through it. Probably very interesting the first couple of times. Assuming he lives through a full day, then I imagine he might not bother on Day 2. Poor love will be hungry though, I’m sure.

Los Arcos is at 450m above sea-level, and we finish in Burgos at 850m. In between, there are a few bumps (ees not a mountain, ees an ‘ill), the highest at 1,150m. The camino wanders from medieval village to medieval village, and in those days, you built your village where you could best defend it. Almost invariably, on a hill. Therefore, most camino days end with a steep climb.

Fortunately, we always have the benefit of a jaunty stream of expletives in a panoply of languages from the Duck to help us along.

The loosehead will, of course be i/c logistics and sore feet. I am particularly looking forward to the end of day 5, where the recommended overnight stop is in a “classic pilgrim village (pop 20)

Having crested the highest peak on this trip, we will coast into this village, where there must a reasonable chance that one of the twenty inhabitants will say the equivalent of “Sorry chaps, no room at the inn.” I will smile, step aside and ask that the individual repeat this news to the Duck.

The tighthead and I will probably enjoy a cool glass of something while the hooker beats some sense into, and finalises arrangements with, the poor fellow.

What, as they say, could possibly go wrong?

 

 

Ageing

Why did nobody tell me about ageing?

I walked the dog this morning, and on my way back, paused to admire the lawn. Not only to admire it, but to take a photograph of it.

Why? I have absolutely no idea. Out of nowhere, the state of my lawn has somehow become an issue about which I care. It must be part of the ageing process.

Another one. This weekend, we had a wonderful blast of weather. You know the type, a gorgeous, sunny couple of days which promises a long glorious summer, only to be followed by a ten degree drop in temperature and sideways rain. Anyway – in an unexpected, and unusual moment of good sense, I liberally applied sun cream before heading off to play golf on Saturday morning. I toyed with the idea of putting on a hat – but look, it’s April.

I returned home bronzed and revitalised. The vitamin D had not seen off the man-flu, but I certainly felt a bit better.

“You look a bit crispy.”

Not quite the adjective I was looking for, but I decided it was a compliment. Sunday brought another day of golf. This time with a hat.

On Monday, I awoke feeling a little flat. The day was frankly a struggle. Shortly before eight pm, I was being barked at for snoring loudly on the sofa. I muttered something about a shower before creeping up the stairs and under the covers. Where I stayed, unmoving, until gone six this morning.

Where did that come from? In bed by eight? I am claiming a touch of sun-stroke, but I suspect that actually, I’m just ageing.

One last one. As you know, I love a bit of golf. This weekend, the Masters was on. Going into the last day, Justin Rose (from a club just up the M3) and Sergio Garcia from Spain were joint leaders. Sergio arrived on the golfing scene in the 90’s. An eager puppy with a winning smile and twinkly eyes. The next big thing. The new ‘Seve’. Talent tumbling out of his ears. For the best part of twenty years he charged about, winning some tournaments, making buckets of money, and gradually earning the tag ‘best-player-not-to-win-a-major”.

This Masters was his 74th Major. The last day, Sunday, would have been the 60th birthday of the great Seve Ballesteros, Sergio’s golfing hero, hell, the golfing hero of an entire generation of European golfers.

Could he do it this time? Could he win? Of course he couldn’t. The Masters requires a whole load of things, but it definitely requires nerveless putting. Years of struggles have made Sergio a nervy, fidgety man with the flat-stick. Watching him putt can be painful.

As the last day unfolded, the challengers fell away. It became simply Justin against Sergio. The Spaniard eased ahead over the front nine. The metronomic Rose kept in touch though, reeling him back in. As they walked off twelve, the momentum was with Englishman. It was clear to me, that the pressure on Sergio would increase shot by shot, until he cracked under the relentless competence of Rose’s game.

Sergio took on the riskiest line for his tee-shot on 13. He didn’t quite catch it right and the ball settled at the bottom of a bush. Rose was in great shape in the middle of the fairway. Sergio needed to take a penalty drop for an unplayable lie. Wherever he dropped it, he would have an iffy lie, with trees and water between him and the green.

Time for bed, I thought. Nice work Rosie.

In fairness to Sergio, he salvaged a par 5, but Rosie was 2 ahead walking onto 14.

Hang on, look at Sergio. Bouncing along, a smile on his face. Not dropping a shot has given him a little shot of something.

One more hole, I thought. on 14, Sergio made his putt, Rose’s grazed the hole. Only one in it.

On 15, under enormous pressure, Sergio hit an 8 iron that will be on highlight reels for years to come. A gem. He eagles the hole. Rose birdies. All square, three to play.

Lest this become the longest post in history, I’ll spare you the blow by blow account of the remaining three holes. They could not be separated. They moved onto a sudden-death playoff.

Sergio was left with two putts down a slope to win. He did it in one.

The partisan American crowd around the 18th green leaped into the air as one. Pretty much every golfer in the world cheered. The Americans began chanting ‘Ser-gi-o’. Me? Inexplicably, I had got dust in both eyes and tears were tumbling onto my cheeks.

Must be part of the ageing process.

AUGUSTA, GA – APRIL 09: Sergio Garcia of Spain celebrates after defeating Justin Rose (not pictured) of England on the first playoff hole during the final round of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 9, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 692254095 ORIG FILE ID: 666619486

Spring is here!

A whole month has passed. My second month at the helm of Pocket Notebooks

Writing has taken a backseat as I revel in the ups and downs of a new business. Nip over to the blog page on that site for news.

The business has meant the Lennon household rediscovering old rhythms, as I head off to the office each morning. Nero the schnauzer is loving being my 2ic. As an employee, he is wonderfully low maintenance, requiring only the odd walk and constant company.

I am learning photography. Partly because I have always wanted to, and partly because it is really handy for the business. I am suddenly more conscious of light and its importance. The photo above was taken in the sunlight that streamed into the dining room yesterday morning.

The changing of the clocks and the longer days lift my spirits. We are so lucky to live in such a beautiful, vibrant spot.

This morning, Nero and I took our morning stroll in the company of joyous songbirds chirping away. Within five minutes, we had seen a pair of cows, several pheasants, rabbits and a deer. Woodpeckers tapped away, invisible in the tops of the trees. Perhaps I’m getting old, but I truly feel privileged to enjoy such a morning walk.

My day looked set for perfection as I chipped in for a birdie on the first hole of the monthly medal, but as it often does, the game of golf soon reminded me that the only time I’m consistent is when I’m crap. I came off the course with three birdies, but enough big numbers to ensure no chance of winning anything.

Now, my gorgeous wife is cooking me supper, while I contemplate a glass of wine…

Spring is here and all is right in my world. I hope it is in yours too.

A word from King Barry

Stuart is away this week.

I, King Barry, Snow White’s father, will provide you with an update.

Stuart is, thus far, doing OK on all goals for 2017:

  1. Talks continue with a few potential business acquisitions.
  2. The fitbit indicates that he is keeping his nose ahead of his friends group. (Just. That Ger woman is pushing hard.)
  3. A whole kilogram has been lost, no seriously, a whole kilo.
  4. Every day has been a writing day.

Naturally, the highlight of the winter for Stuart has been the opportunity to play me, King Barry, in the Abbotts Ann village pantomime. The production was a roaring success, playing four sold-out performances in early-December. The show was put on by the Abbotts Ann players, a group with sufficient talent to produce a good show, even when hampered by novices like the big boy.

A friend attended the opening night, and did not go to the pub until AFTER the show had ended. His comment was telling;

“I think that it’s great you live in a village that still does things like this. It’s brilliant.”

It’s unusual for any acquaintance of Stuart to utter anything halfway sensible, but I suppose the exception proves the rule.  People are quick to rue the loss of their local pub, or corner shop, and they moan about how the street, estate, neighbourhood, ‘never does anything’ any more. Yet, it is this very same people that drove past their village shop to get to the supermarket. The same people who don’t attend the fireworks night, because they are busy. The same people who don’t use the pub, don’t attend community meetings etc…

I, King Barry of the Kingdom of Elate (on the nice side of the A38), leave you with this, my regal thought. YOU are your community. YOU can make it thrive. Stuart tells me that it’s also, really good fun.

And remember…

“You are my first, my last, my everything…”  Barry White, the Walrus of Love. 1974.

Dry January Goal

“Goal: Dry January,” you say?

Let me stop you there.

No.

That is that nonsense out of the way.

January the first is my Mum’s birthday. Happy Birthday Mum!

Soon she will join us here for lunch. As I type, my fantastic wife is cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Beef Wellington, accompanied by this sumptuous, velvety Rioja from Muga. This is a beautiful wine. Buy some and enjoy it. In February, if you must.

Last year I wrote about my goals and how I was filling notebooks with them. I had goals, objectives, sub-goals, milestones, action plans, all sorts of things intended to keep me focused and ‘on mission’.

How did I do?

Well, regrettably, I am not 4 stone lighter. For a while, I was a stone lighter at one point but now I’m probably a pound lighter. Not a dazzling success. Must do better.

Single-figure handicap golfer? Nope. Not yet. Playing off 12, which is an improvement. Good progress.

Publishing third novel? Nope. Not published the debut yet. Unacceptable.

I could go on for pages. Overall, I did reach several of my goals, but I did so at the expense of the core ones, the ones that I really wanted to achieve.

There is danger in over-complicating things, or being too ambitious. The older I get, the more I learn that multi-tasking is a word that means “doing lots of things poorly”.

This year – I’m not filling notebooks with goals, milestones, measures etc. This year I’m keeping it simple and I’m going public.

  1. Publish a novel.
  2. Lose 2 stone.
  3. Buy a company.

What are your goals for 2017?

Christmas Time

Merry Christmas!

I’m looking forward to some tasty food, some classy grape based beverages and the company of friends and family – including the little fellow above, Nero the dog.

The world’s media and thousands of talented bloggers will produce long, detailed and weighty reviews of 2016. I daresay there will be much talk of war, terrorism, politics and death. It really has been quite some year.

Nero’s year has been altogether simpler.

Food has been plentiful. Walks too. He has been particularly pleased with the variety of armchairs, couches and beds provided for his comfort. Most satisfactory.

Every time Margaret and I return, Nero jumps up and down at the back door, waiting to hear the key in the lock. When he does, he speeds across the room to his toys, selecting one as a welcome home present. Whether we have been gone five minutes or a few hours, his enthusiasm is entire and unlimited.

He loves curling up on a couch in front of the fire, even more if he can share the couch with us.

Each morning, I awake to Nero tip-tapping across the wooden floor in the bedroom. In between long yoga-like stretches, he has taken to ‘huffing’, ensuring that I’m awake.

Together we head out in the early light for a walk around the village. We take the same route each morning, yet every day is a brand new adventure, full of exciting scents, animals to chase and people to deafen with barks.

We make the world very complicated.

Be more Nero.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Review

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Ducks on the Pill Brook at the end of my street.

This morning, I was watching a very brave journalist broadcasting from Aleppo in Syria.

I do not claim to have any real handle on the rights and wrongs of that terrible conflict. I watched in horror and shame. Will we ever stop being a cruel and murderous, species I wonder?

I am fairly certain that the involvement of this joker hasn’t helped.

It is difficult to maintain any sort of perspective in relation to the events that I mention above, but I thought I might provide a review on a variety of things.

IT. I posted here about moving away from Apple, and here about moving to Google. My Pixel XL phone is great. Reliable, efficient and fast-charging. I can say the same for the Chromebook. The biggest change though works regardless of hardware. Turn notifications off. All except phone. This one simple step puts you in charge of your apps, rather than they in charge of you.

Politics. A lot of nonsense continues to be talked about Brexit. A favourite is the clamour for the government to publish a plan. A plan for a negotiation. A chocolate teapot. Eventually, the PM realised that all she had to do was agree. She will soon publish a plan saying – “We want free trade, and control of our borders.” Remainers will cry foul and demand to know what is going to happen. The government will respond – “Don’t know. It’s a negotiation.” Still. It keeps them busy.

US Politics. From a field of two, one candidate won. He is certainly a departure from the usual. There is a lot of noise about the inherent unfairness of the electoral system, and at the moment, outrage that a foreign power is alleged to have attempted to influence the outcome of the election. Apparently such claims made with no trace of irony. How will ‘The Donald’ work out? I really don’t know. I suspect he will continue to delight in upsetting any apple-cart that he can find.

The CaminoThe word alone brings a smile to my face. Somehow we managed to ensure that the pilgrim with the photos is the one least able to share them, so I have not written or posted as much about that week as I had planned. Walking twenty miles or more each day certainly simplifies life and I can’t wait for the second instalment next year.

Journals, organisers and stationery. I have chopped and changed through a myriad of schemes to organise myself. Both digital and analogue. My preference is analogue, yet digital is far better for sharing. Thus, I use a hybrid. My calendar, shared with Mrs L, is kept on Google; accessible from multiple electronic devices. Many events, I also transfer to my Economist desk diary. Here, I get some perspective on how my week looks. I find this more attractive than an electronic output and better for my weekly review. On the move though, the diary has too much heft. I now carry a simple paper A6 notebook with a Fischer space pen. I would rather use a fountain pen, but I often dress casual – and ink and jeans can be uncomfortable companions. Here, I employ parts of the #BuJo system to run my daily tasks. Of late, I have even developed a double page system to prioritise. I also have a reflective journal – which I would like to keep daily, but often is neglected. Joyfully, the journal has no notifications function, and therefore does not berate me for missing a day.

Corporate. I have a couple of clients for whom I provide support in anti-money laundering systems. I have also been reviewing a multitude of potential acquisitions. Both of those things are, by their very nature, confidential, but hopefully the work done this year will lead to good outcomes.

Writing. The last few months I have done no work at all on Sean. I have been perpetually busy on everything above. Now, given that I am largely (when Mrs L lets me) master of my own time, I have to ask myself why it is that I can find time for anything, anything at all, except writing.

That’s probably another post all on its own.

 

 

A great read.

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What Ho everybody!

Gratuitous photo of the Christmas tree and Nero the Schnauzer at his devastating cutest.

Mrs L has decided that the tree should be in a new spot this year. Mostly, I think that she enjoys watching me move furniture about. In fairness, the tree does look great next to the fireplace and the move has created a little nook, ideal for my armchair.

This morning I sat in that chair and read. A book. A real one. You know, with pages and everything.

I spent three hours finishing off an excellent novel with the dog at my feet. I suspect it is only a matter of time before Radio 4 becomes the soundtrack to my life.

The novel was ‘Rather be the Devil’ by Ian Rankin. It is the latest in the immensely successful Rebus series. I should disclose that I am a massive Rankin fan. I’m not quite stalking the man, but I did attend a book signing in Guildford recently and whenever in Edinburgh I accidentally fall into a pub from one of the stories.

In this latest instalment, Rebus and his old adversary Cafferty prove useless at being retired and skirmish again across Edinburgh.

For hardcore fans like me, this novel is bittersweet. Rebus is showing signs of mortality, reminding me that he is getting a bit long in the tooth and has not exactly lived ‘clean’. Still, he’s off the cigarettes and has cut down the booze and takeaways, so perhaps he is going to get a second wind. Gloriously, he remains maverick with a determined, pathological distaste for authority.

A great read.

I know that I have read a great novel when I feel sad that I must leave the world of the book. In my head, the last few days I have been hanging out in Edinburgh pubs, trying to piece together clues to the mystery. Now, the mystery is solved and I must return to the real world with sulky regret.