• 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.

  • In a time warp

     

    What Ho!

    It has been almost a full month since I last wrote.

    An exciting and exhausting month in the new business @ pocketnotebooks 

    Even Nero is feeling the pace.

    Mags has had carpal tunnel surgery on her right hand. In true Margaret style, she has twice had to return to A&E, but we think all is well now. It will still be several weeks until she has use of the hand.

    Anyone who has been involved in a new business (new to me at least) will have experienced time-warp. All of my focus has been on getting the webshop stocked and reassuring the very loyal customer-base that it’s business as usual. Days have been long, and to-do lists longer. I have found myself chasing people up:

    “Have you completed that task yet? I asked you ages ago.”

    “Umm…you sent me an email at 2120 last night. I’m just reading it with my first coffee.”

    “Ah. Right. Sorry.”

    As the month draws to an end, I have become marginally less unreasonable, although the to-do list shows no signs of getting any shorter and I still never have enough time.

    Talking of which…

    Keep smiling!

  • Pocket Notebooks

     

    Sorry I’m late.

    I promised to update you yesterday.

    I am now the proud owner of Pocket Notebooks

    I completed the transaction yesterday and spent the day doing all of the things that you have to do on day one of a new business. I believe that I managed to get through the entire day without breaking anything.

    The website was setup by two cracking guys from the North East. They have another business, and as it took off, by their own admission, Pocket Notebooks suffered a little.

    The site sells Notebooks. No, not powerful, miniaturised computers, but paper notebooks. I never go anywhere without a notebook, and I don’t always have a briefcase with me. So, I’m a big user of pocket-sized ones.

    There is a renaissance of pen and paper. It is not a rejection of technology, but rather a recognition that for some things, technology is brilliant, but that for others, the analogue way still works best.

    So, my new company, Loggedoff Ltd, will be offering a place to come and buy some old fashioned technology; Pocket Notebooks. You can even subscribe for a regular delivery of a curated collection of notebooks.

    It will take me a few weeks to get everything stocked up and firing, but as I write I have two new lines in transit and some old favourites on their way down from the North East.

    P.S. Forget the App, there’s a Pocket Notebook for that…

  • Progress Report

     

    Glass of Sherry

    Much underestimated; sherry.

    I have been quiet recently. Progress has been slow. Unusually for me, I have been working.

    I wrote before about setting simple goals this year. As January draws to a close, this is a progress report.

    Progress

    I haven’t lost two stone, or published a novel. I have bought a company though. Look at that. January not yet finished, and I have one of the year’s three goals in the bag. How’s that for progress?

    I have signed the contract for the deal, but I can’t reveal what it is for a couple of days yet, not until I have paid for it. They can be funny like that; vendors.

    My last venture was in partnership with a great friend, and this one is no different. However, this time, I am the senior partner. Allow me to introduce my Chief Operations Officer, Tamodan Midnight Sun, or Nero as he is more commonly known.

    Nero, COO of pocketnotebooks

    Nero Assessing Progress

    CV

    This is his first real management position, but he is off to a flying start. We have had several management meetings, and he is never short of an apposite bark or dismissive sniff.

    We have secured ourselves a very desirable office on the Castledown Business Park, and tomorrow we collect the keys.

    Exciting times.

  • 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?

  • English Humour. Drier than gin.

    Many will be delighted to see the back of 2016.

    We might be better to look forward to what exciting things are coming in 2017.

    Watching “The Dambusters” on television today, I was reminded how dry the English sense of humour can be.

    It’s a brilliant movie; if you haven’t seen it, look it out.

    Throughout the film, humour is used by the airmen as a coping strategy for the very real peril that they faced. (Of the 133 that took off, 53 were killed that night.)

    Early in the piece there is a wonderful example of dry english wit at its withering best, as designer Barnes Wallis attempts to get resources to develop his bouncing bomb.

    Official, Ministry of Aircraft Production: You say you need a Wellington Bomber for test drops. They’re worth their weight in gold. Do you really think the authorities will lend you one? What possible argument could I put forward to get you a Wellington?

    Doctor B. N. Wallis, C.B.E., F.R.S.: Well, if you told them I designed it, do you think that might help?”

    (From “The Dambusters”, a movie based on Chastise, a real operation carried out by the RAF in 1943.)

    I don’t know whether the line was genuine, or a bit of artistic licence. Either way it’s genius.

     

     

     

  • 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!