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.

The roof of the world

What Ho!

It’s been a bit quiet here. The front row has been recovering from the camino experience.

The tighthead is currently recovering hard with The Sheep and the Decorator. Were I a betting man, I might suggest that some rugby will be watched and some beers consumed, even as I type. Stu will also complain about the cold one hundred and thirty two times and how hungry he is, eighty four times. (Today).

The loosehead, concerned by slight camino-induced weight loss, resolved to bulk up. After a month’s solid, non-stop eating, the concern has lessened, particularly as he can no longer see his feet.

The hooker. Last we heard, the Duck was in remarkable form, having greatly enjoyed the camino. Naturally, his reaction to walking one hundred and twenty miles in six days was…to go for a walk.

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Delighted though we are that the Duck has been ‘en vacances’ with his charming son Leon, Laurent is in sole possession of the vast majority of the photographs – some of which, we rather hoped to share here. Carrier pigeons and bounty hunters have been despatched.

This picture is from day one, our passage along the route Napoleon through the Pyrenees. At this point, it is fair to say there were some gritted teeth. The enormity of what we were taking on was hitting home. Stu, obviously, stayed behind me at points like this, well away from any drop-offs.

At the summit, it was cold and wet. We had passed through the clouds, and the wind was icy. It really felt like the roof of the world.

The descent into Roncesvalles is steep and many of the surfaces are loose. Rain doesn’t help. I was thankful that none of us was carrying any injuries.

“Ah boys. I forgot.”

“Did you hear that Stu? He didn’t swear.” (I really am that annoying.)

“If I fall, and there is any bruising or bleeding – you must take me immediately to the hospital.”

Stu and I looked at each other, and then surveyed the stark emptiness all around.

“Why?” We chorused.

“Ah…I don’t know. Something to do with the f*****g drugs they give me?”

“Anti coagulant?” I ventured.

“Yes. That’s it.”

I counted to ten in my head.

“Right. So, as we tackle these vertiginous scree drops, we should keep in mind that should the Duck go arse over tit and cut himself, he will bleed to death all over us.”

The props shared a look and put their heads together.

We tacked down the hill, looking to all the world like skiers with no skis and no snow.


Later, as we waited for dinner, the Duck asked,

“What did you two say at the top of the hill?”

“Ah, nothing Laurent. We tried to imagine what Terry would have advised us to do.”

“Mais Non! Put***. What did you decide?”

“If he dies, he dies.” We answered in unison, raising our glasses to him.

“Bunch of c****” he replied with a laugh.

Hold the front page! Candidate wins election.

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Oh, I’m sorry. But really. Can we not just get over ourselves?

What has actually happened?

The USA has chosen its 45th President (The 20th Republican).

There is some debate over the exact allegiance of some of the Presidents, but one reasonably popular set of numbers is 15 Democrats, 20 Republicans (including the Donald), 4 Whigs, 4 Democratic-Republicans (really), 1 Federalist and 1 George Washington.

I am far from a fan of the winning candidate. I find many of his utterances utterly repulsive. In their intention, their content and frequently their grammar. I am not alone in those feelings.

Yet 60 million (give or take) Americans voted for him in the election.

Depending on whom you listen to, this is because those voters are stupid or sexist. Racist or angry. Scared or scary. Some will tell you that he only won because the opposition was so poor.

As I write, disappointed citizens are demonstrating against the President-elect. Social media contains images of people likening Mr Trump to Adolf Hitler. The pollsters, the same ones that got the election completely wrong, are telling us that the redneck, misogynist, racist dumb-asses have won the day.

A detached observer might note that hip, liberal, political elite are throwing around unfounded hyperbole and nonsense about all those who voted for hyperbole and nonsense.

Many in the media are drawing parallels with Brexit. Not least the Donald himself. Once can see why. In both campaigns there was a degree of complacency. The British public wouldn’t vote Leave, surely. The Americans wouldn’t elect Donald Trump, obviously.

In both cases, there is a rush to explain how the redneck/mysogynist/racist/sexist/scared/scary dumb-asses have thrown the world to the dogs with scant consideration for themselves or their children. My God, think of the children!

Look, I am prepared to accept that I might be wrong. The UK may be about to plunge into depression and need to beg the Greeks for a bailout. Donald may be the front-man for the four horses of the apocalypse.

Is it too much of a stretch to believe that people voted for what they believed was best, quite probably for a whole range of reasons?

The British people have voted to leave the European Union.

The American people have voted for a Republican candidate in the election.

Those that disagree with those choices have every right to continue to make their case, voice their opinions and even demonstrate. These are rights in a democracy. However, I’m not sure that patronising and insulting those who disagree is a very effective way of winning them over.

This xenophobic cockwomble, for example, would still vote for Brexit.

 

 

Sunshine

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The lights had snapped on without warning in the dormitory. I had been awake for an hour or two, serenaded by an orchestra of snoring, grunting and farting.

The Duck had not been awake.

“Pu**** de m****.” He greeted the artificial dawn. “You do this in France…you die.”

We walked the first half an hour guided by Stu’s head torch. We may have passed through the Garden of Eden – I don’t know. It was dark.

An hour down the road, after a fortifying breakfast of omelette sandwiches and milky coffee, our mood improved. Sunshine appeared. We walked together, even made conversation.

The Duck provided a running commentary on the flora and fauna that we passed on the farm-path. Seriously. Who knew? The Duck is a short, foul-mouthed, Basque version of David Attenborough. Together with Stuart ‘Bill Oddie’ Smith, it was a twitcher’s segment on Autumn Watch.

After the steep gradients of day one in the Pyrenees, this was much more the ticket. There may even have been a jaunty whistle or two.

His artistic side awakened by the sunshine and wildlife, the Duck produced a massive digital SLR and started taking stunning photos.

“Is there no end to your talents?” I asked.

“F*** off.”

Keep Calm!

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Every time I think things are calming down…

Sterling is down, the FTSE is up, consumer confidence is up, no down, no it’s…

“HARD BREXIT!”

“Boo! Soft Brexit!”

“Wait! No Brexit.”

I do wish that everybody would take a moment and calm down.

The UK voted to leave the European Union. To do so, it must trigger a process. It must say, “We are leaving.” There then follows a period of negotiation, on how the UK and the EU will interact.

That’s it folks. No Armageddon. No plagues of locusts; essentially, a lot of chat.

As the Prime Minister has indicated that she is going to trigger the process, the negotiations have, in effect, started. The ones that we get to hear about are the pointless ones – where politicians posture and spout nonsense, all the time checking polling indicators after each comment.

Again, the nonsense is not from one side or the other – everyone is talking rubbish.

Negotiations can be daunting things. Actually though – they are straightforward.

Right now – there are no tariffs between the UK and the EU. Post exit, they could be left as they are, revert to World Trade Organisation defaults or be somewhere in between.

On the UK side – pretty much everyone is happy for there to be no tariffs. Where there is difference is on what other things might need to be accepted. Free movement of labour being the current hot topic.

The EU side is a little more interesting. There is an open secret that many EU leaders fear that should the UK prosper outside of the EU, then the Union itself is under threat. They want the UK to struggle. “There must be a price.” This is a political imperative.

For the majority of member states, free trade with the UK is profitable and contributes to economic prosperity. There is a clear economic argument for free trade to continue, unfettered.

Were I a cynic, I might believe that some EU leaders will only offer access to the single market at a price that they know the UK won’t pay. I might believe that they are prepared to put their own political agendas before the interests of their citizens welfare and prosperity.

The negotiations around Brexit may become about the reshaping of the EU, they may not. The UK may have unfettered access to the internal market, it may not.

The British civil service rates itself as the best of the best. With some justification, it considers itself as the body that gets “the real work done.” The diplomats and technocrats are doubtless already working away. We should keep calm and let them get on with it.

Let me leave you with a quote from Sir Humphrey Appleby, in “Yes Minister” 1980.

“Diplomacy is about surviving until the next century – politics is about surviving until Friday afternoon.”

Back in the real world

Weary, both from the walk, and a long wait at Bilbao, I was ready for a lie-down.

As I emerged into the arrivals hall at Heathrow, I was met by the four ladies in the picture and their banner. The grown ups are Kate and my wife Margaret. The wee ones are Kate’s daughter Jessica and her friend Ivy.

For Barbarians – Kate was known to us all as Bob (merci, Rowan Atkinson), and is part of the Dexter-Smith clan. The banner, it must be said, is a work of art, entirely completed by Jessica and Ivy and now a prized-possession.

What a fantastic surprise! A huge thank you.

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The camino.

What can I say?

It will come as no great shock to you that I can, in fact, say quite a lot.

Add in the reflections on the Tight Head and the Talonneur, and it might run to a book…

That’s the plan. I am going to put together a short e-book, which will go on sale through Amazon. All royalties from the sales will go to Our Lady’s Hospice.

The book will not be expensive, nor will it be War and Peace. It will however be funny. Believe me when I say, that in a month of Sundays, I could not have dreamed up some of the stuff that happened. I am hoping to bully my extremely talented and busy writing-buddy Amanda Fleet into editing it for us, which will increase the quality ten-fold.

This is where you come in.

Can you persuade/cajole/bully/beat your friends into buying a copy?

We really appreciate that many of you have already donated and we are grateful for your generosity.

Naturally – I will publish some posts here. The Duck took some stunning pictures for a start, but as he says,

“Buy the book. It’s the real stuff.”