Living the Dream – 69. Winter is coming

Our second winter is coming. As a special treat, our first winter in Cyprus was the wettest since records began over a hundred years previously.

Winter Chores

Like many expats before us, we discovered that it doesn’t need to get too wet or too cold to feel unpleasant in Cyprus. House-building here focuses on keeping properties cool, not on keeping them warm. There is no damp course on our house, and one side gets wet. Last year, it got so wet, that our main guest bedroom developed a very mouldy damp smell and some crumbling plaster.

Upon returning from our UK trip, we will address this with the help of a neighbour who is far more competent than I in this type of thing. My strength is probably in fetching and carrying and making coffee.

When not raining, (winter is coming) I plan to get some work done in the garden. The first stage of fence-painting, some burying of cables, and taking some electricity to the back garden, allowing us to add some lights and appliances to the pool area.

Back in Blighty

I wrote last week, that I was intrigued to see how Margaret found going back to the UK for a week. Overall, she had a great time, but within that, there was a lot to unpack.

We took a cab to the hotel (pen show) on landing, and once checked-in, we crossed the street to a busy pub. Bloomsbury is not Leicester Square, but it is central London on a Saturday night. The pub was packed – but we found a table. Mags was a rabbit in the headlights. There’s no noise like a busy London pub. You feel it as much as hear it. A cacophony of conversation in multiple languages, on top of music.

I marvelled at payments. I bought a few rounds and at no point, not once, did I see anyone use cash. Contactless via card or phone or even watch was de rigeur.

On the way to bed – Margaret stopped for a cigarette at the hotel entrance and watched a group of girls stumble out of a nearby mall, and one threw up colourfully on the street. Charming.

Mags and I met up again on the last night before returning here to Cyprus. We strolled through central London, stopped for a drink in the Crusting Pipe at Covent Garden, ate amazing food at Barrafina and watched the splendid “School of Rock” on Drury Lane. All the best of London. Wonderful architecture, a busy cafe with superb street entertainers, international food of the highest order and a West End show that left us excited and buzzing.

We spoke. Margaret loved London. She was delighted to be returning to Cyprus. When she was in Hampshire, from whence we came to Cyprus, she did not feel anything. Food for thought.

Living the Dream – 68. Back on the Road

I’m back on the road, this time with Margaret. In between guests, we are back in the UK for a week.

Spice is off to Camp Bow-wow, and we’re off to good old Blighty. It may be the last time that we pass through an EU passport holder’s queue. Or it may not.

Itinerary

I have a complicated trip, going from one profession to another and traversing the country East to West and back again. Margaret too is doing a fair amount of internal travel catching up with friends, family and bits and pieces. She is helping out with the pen show, and then we will probably meet up again at the airport in London.

This journey was booked a while back, before I switched across to EasyJet, so this will be the last British Airways flight for a while. We can enjoy free food and a glass of wine. We will be getting a tube to our hotel, which is the venue for the pen show on the following day.

Luggage

I will be on the road with my Away Carry-on and some form of laptop bag. For a 7 day trip, that’s quite a stretch. However, all the internal travel means that I’m going to be on and off trains, in and out of hotels and the idea of fighting with multiple suitcases is too much to bear. The weather forecast suggests that I’m going to need warm clothes that are not averse to getting wet, placing more strain on the packing. My week is business – so I’ll be living in a suit and dress shoes for the week.

Impact

I’m fascinated to see how Mags enjoys the trip. This will be the first time that she has been back to the UK since we move here to Cyprus. Will she board the flight back to Cyprus full of joy and anticipation? Or will she be sad to be leaving the UK behind again? I’m sure that we will have much to discuss on the flight home

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Living the Dream -62. Connectivity

Broadband

I quickly took connectivity for granted. I was frustrated how long it took to get fibre internet in our village, seventy five miles from London. However, once it arrived; bliss.

Airports

Southampton, Bournemouth, Heathrow and Gatwick are all less than ninety minutes drive from that same village. Four more airports could easily be reached in an additional half an hour. Traffic was a pain, but hey, that’s life.

Internet connectivity at the mountain hideaway is not too bad. We have two lines fused together (apparently), and usually, things work. Now and again the TV buffers or the connection drops, but hey, that’s life. Right?

Camino

8 days from now, I’m off to Spain to walk a section of theCamino de Santiago, the same as I have for the last three years. This year, we’re starting from Léon, which is a bit awkwardly placed for flights.

My friend, conveniently also named Stu, is coming from Dublin.

He is getting a flight at 0615 BST which will arrive at Madrid 0850 BST. It’s then a 3.5 hour bus ride to Léon. Poor chap.

Journey

Now. My little journey.

I’m getting a flight at 0310 BST, which means leaving the house at 0010. The flight is to Athens. At 0710 BST, I’m getting another flight, arriving at Madrid at 1100 BST. Then the joys of a 3.5 hour bus.

As it’s a Saturday, the bus leaves at 14:45, so we’ll be arriving in Léon at 18:15. That’s an 18 hour trip.

All being well, we will walk about 19 miles a day for 6 days and end up in Sarria. I’m willing to wager that supper will be long, and liquid.

On Saturday, we will catch a train to Santiago. (2 and a half hours.) Stu’s flight is at 1700. He’ll be at home in time for dinner with his family.

My flight is at 1705. To Frankfurt. I’m due to land in Cyprus at 0215 on Sunday morning. I’ll creep into the kitchen about 0430.

Suddenly, I miss connectivity.

Aluminium tubes apart, the camino is a fantastic experience and one that I recommend to everybody. I’ll happily pay a small fortune to hang about in airports to get there. 🙂

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Living the Dream -61. Aluminium Tubes

I came home in an aluminium tube emblazoned with the bright orange logos of EasyJet. It is a no-frills airline. In my recent experience, flag carrier airlines are now no frills airlines, but with much higher prices. I stubbornly carried on using British Airways, until even I could no longer claim that the flight experience was appreciably better and worth the money.

Change

Overall, no-frills aluminium tubes have had a massive impact on the world. More travel is accessible to more people, which is good, until you start thinking about carbon emissions and the like. However, for me, the biggest impact has been on expectations. As a younger man, airline travel was exotic and exciting. Liveried personnel served me “free” drinks and called me “Sir”. Now, air travel is on an aluminium tube with wings. A very full bus. In terms of service, I expect nothing and usually get less than that. I eat and drink before I fly, board, sit and put on headphones.

Expectations

In the past, pre-flight, I fervently hoped for an empty seat next to me. I wondered what new release would be on the in-flight entertainment system. Previously, I planned for a G&T and a glass of wine. I made judgments on the airline based upon the service that I received. Now? I expect not to eat or drink anything, although I might buy a cup of tea. I’m certain that there will be sharp-elbowed individual in the middle seat, next to me. There will be one bathroom for the entire passenger load and the whole experience will inspire novels written from the point of view of a farm animal going to slaughter.

No crash gets 9 out of 10, no crash and being on time-ish gets 10.

Stress

All this has made the experience of flying much worse, but the stress much less. As my expectation has changed, there is less unexpected. I used to be annoyed when the airport and airline attempted to herd me from wait to wait. Now, I shrug. I was mystified how airlines could bring me food at 12, but not offer me wine to accompany it until 12:30. Now, I expect no food and no drink.

Follow up on last week.

1. Car Hire. I paid £99 for the manual, and asked about upgrading to an automatic. An additional £140. I demurred, and by the time the trip finished, I was mostly remembering to change gears.
2. Weather. Mostly moist.
3. People. Exhausting, as expected.

Overall, it was a good trip both professionally and personally.

I really could do without the cold that I picked up, presumably on one of the aluminium tubes.

At the end of the day, there’s a lot to be said for staying home.

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Living the Dream -60. A glimpse of England

As this post publishes, I’ll have had a glimpse of England for five days. I’ll be spending the day in Southern England, before flying home on Saturday.

As I write this, in Cyprus, it’s 30+ degrees, with the sun cracking the flags. On Sunday night, there will be rain on my hotel window, which will be firmly closed against the chilly night air. I’m curious how I’ll feel.

Itinerary

The trip is part business, part pleasure. I’m starting in the north of England, doing anti-money laundering work, before heading down to Nero’s Notes HQ and visiting my Mum. Nero’s is in a new office, that I have never seen, so I’m looking forward to that. As ever, I hope to squeeze in a round of golf back at my previous club with old friends.

Packing

What to pack? I’m challenged. Business wear? Layers? Problems that I do not face here. Trying to account for the vagaries of English weather, for a week, with only a carry-on is a forgotten art for me.

Worries

Assuming that I manage to pack and board the flight, what am I worried about?

1. Driving. I’ve hired a manual car, despite having driven an automatic for years. I must have been being thrifty when I booked it. Transmissions apart, I’m nervous of driving in the rain, in the traffic. I haven’t forgotten the nightmare of UK travel. After a five hour flight, I have a four hour drive to a place I have never been. Joy.
2. People. On trips, I find myself in constant demand. From first thing in the morning, until I head for bed, I’m with other people. That’s great, but its exhausting. I miss “quiet time”. When did I get so old?
3. Home. While I’m swanning about England, Margaret will be juggling working and looking after Spice, on her own. Doubtless me being around will mean the place stays much cleaner, but where I enjoy solitude, Mags thrives in company.

Difference

I daresay that all will be well, and I may even find cooler temperatures and a bit of rain refreshing.

I’m looking forward to seeing everybody, and to, “difference”. They say that a change is as good as a rest, so I’m looking forward to a glimpse of England.

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Living the Dream – 33. Settled

My trip to the UK presented an unexpected challenge. Snow had settled. The aircraft landed on time, I switched on my phone and it burst into song. Multiple message notifications flooded in.

Settled
Localised settled snow

Snowmageddon

Landing late at night rules out public transport as a realistic option, although I usually permit myself a private transfer at any time of day. However, my driver couldn’t get to me. Paul has never let me down and is a straightforward man. If he said he couldn’t get through, then I was happy that it was impossible. Heading to passport control, I called a hotel or two. No room at the inn.

Eventually, I found a room and headed to the shuttle bus-stop. Cold though it was, there was a distinct lack of snow. Not a flake of it had settled, in fact. The snowfall was unusually localised. The real problem, for me, at least, was around Basingstoke, with the M3, A303 and A34 all being closed. Lorries had jack-knifed.

Fortunately, I had no commitments for Saturday morning and was able to get down to Mum early the next morning, before hooking up with some friends to catch up, drink beer and watch rugby.

Work

The business elements of the trip went well, (you can read about the pen show [here](https://www.nerosnotes.co.uk/blogs/news/south-west-pen-show)) and I was soon back in to the swing of being on the road. Tuesday night, I slept in my own bed back in Cyprus and prepared for Thursday, where I was scheduled to attend a Symposium on Financial Crime.

After a couple of months working remotely, I was suddenly back into face to face mode, from a pen show, through client meetings, to full-blown conference mode, all in the space of a few days.

It strikes me how easy it is to switch mode. The trick, I suspect, is going to be maintaining a balance between my various incarnations. After a few days talking financial services and compliance, I see plenty of opportunities for both business and travel. However – I didn’t come to live here so that I would never be here.

Work on the house has dragged on. Errors and wet weather each playing their part. The garden is completely fenced now, with an electric gate at the bottom. My office is hardwired through to the modem upstairs, and we have a range of electronic security measures in place. Next week, we will be hooked up to TV services.

Settled

I finally feel settled to get on with my writing, my consulting and my ‘notebooking’ from my new home. This feeling will, of course, be immediately tested by warming weather, and inviting golf courses…

Working Tools 8 – Messenger

“A Messenger bag. That’s what I need.”

The ink had barely dried on “Briefcase” and I was already second-guessing the decision. Neuroses apart, an element of my decision was use-case. I explained that a backpack and or a messenger, although my favourite bag style, didn’t work for me when I’m suited and booted. True enough, but actually, this trip, I’m not going to be in a suit. I’m corporate on Monday, but the two scheduled meetings are informal, and it’s winter. I’m likely to be wearing lots of layers and a warm coat.

This changes the calculation. Without the need to look formal, I’m looking for a bag that’s comfortable to carry both in conjunction with a wheelie bag and when manoeuvring through public transport. In both London and Bristol, I’m likely to be walking a fair bit.

So now, my key concerns are carrying the bag around town and in-flight performance. My eye dropped to the Pac-Safe Carryology collaboration. It’s out of stock now, but there are alternatives on the site, and some great images too.

This will be packed light, with the majority of my kit going into the wheelie. Therefore, the messenger will sit easy across the body and have space for any shopping that I might pick up at any point. Somewhere to stow scarf, gloves and hat will be useful too, England in February can be many things, but colder than here seems a safe bet.

The PacSafe’s security features are useful. Living away from the big city has eroded my street-wisdom very quickly. Being able to anchor the bag to the table/counter is a comfort.

The Pacsafe is more capacious than the Tumi and less rigid. It’s therefore more flexible. The bright orange lining is a real feature too. Finding things in the bag is a breeze.

I carry my iPad in the pocket designed for it, and my notebooks sit where the laptop would live, if I carried one. There are a host of useful internal pockets and the large external, protected by a security zip, is a great spot to drop my passport and mobile phone when navigating the airport. This feels a good solution for my travel bag – and currently serves as my daily commute here in Cyprus.

Commute? Allow me to explain, while Spice is still in training, I take the early-morning shift – so I work upstairs from 0530 until around 8, and at various times during the day while Margaret makes our home-life work. Even though the commute is literally a flight of stairs, the Pac-Safe is flexible enough to act as my remote desk.

I’m happy with this change of direction – although that may well have moved on before this even gets posted. To borrow a catchphrase from the PenAddict – “There are worse addictions to have, right?”

Living the Dream 32. Travel

As this post publishes, I’ll be setting out on a trip back to the UK. Travel was always going to figure in Living the Dream. I have two businesses based in the UK and though much can be done remotely, sometimes, boots on the ground are required.

The attack on Margaret and Nero led to a reschedule of plans, but as February begins, it’s time to get on the road. Or at least on the plane. I’m visiting my Mum, then off to a pen show to sell notebooks, before coming over all-corporate cobra and meeting some clients for my consultancy business. The trip is as short as I can make it; Margaret remains nervous and even though her sister is here, she will feel better when I’m back home.

Throughout the nineties and the noughties, I travelled extensively for work and developed a love/hate relationship with it. Mostly, I love a little travel, am comfortable with more travel and hate lots of travel. As with so many things, it’s about balance. It has been four months since I boarded a plane, so I am looking forward to this trip.

Cyprus to London is a five hour flight or thereabouts. Add on check-in times, transfers then the whole exercise takes nine hours. I’m flying in the evening and will either catch up with some work or some reading. I’m hand luggage only, so that cuts out some of the inevitable hassle of checking in, waiting for bags etc. Living from a small case, is, I discovered, liberating. I have made the decisions ahead of time, when packing. I’ll know what I’m wearing each day, weather and changes of plan be damned.

My last meeting is on Monday afternoon in London and I’m not flying until Tuesday morning. It may be that I catch up with some people, or perhaps not. A quiet evening in London might be just the ticket. If the weather is fine, I’ll walk around town, enjoying the shops, the wine bars and some food. If it’s wet, I’ll nest in the corner of a warm restaurant with a bottle of wine and a good book. As a young man, I loathed eating alone in a restaurant. Now, firmly middle-aged, I rather enjoy it.

Short trips focus the mind too. Having invested time and money to be somewhere, there is a natural inclination to want to make the most of the opportunity. I find myself more determined, persistent and absolute when travelling. There is a certainty about need to make a deal there and then. One thing that I have learned and integrated into my approach, is that I endeavour to complete all trip follow-up before I disembark the return flight. I compose E-mails, formulate offers, ready to send once I have had a chance to review them the next day. This contributes to maximising value from the trip.

Once off the plane, I’ll soon be back at home, playing with Spice and relishing the warmer temperatures.

Working Tools – 7. Briefcase

I co-host a podcast, 1857. On episode 51, we inadvertently touched on one my neuroses. Bags. Backpacks, messengers, briefcases, holdalls and everything in between. I am constantly on the hunt for the perfect bag (or bags). Interest was huge! People coming back with questions, advice and suggestions. Many wanted to know what I plumped for – so here we are. For everyone’s sanity, I’ll limit this post to my work bag, nobody is interested in how I pack my shirts. Mostly, I work from my home office, which is directly below my living room. From time to time, I attend meetings, either here in Cyprus, or elsewhere. This might be in my guise as a compliance consultant, the notebook guy or possibly even both. So I need a bag that will sit comfortably with both of those personae. One that can come to a pen show or to a boardroom.

I love Messenger bags and backpacks. However – I don’t like either with a suit. I know that many suits use these types of bag daily, but I find that the bags do not sit right with the jacket. I don’t see the point of making an effort to look smart, then destroying that look with the bag. A specific and personal opinion, I know. Therefore, I am left with briefcases / shoulder bags (some of which can be worn across the body too). The specific trip that I am packing for is, 4 nights, 3 days. 1 day leisure, 1 day being the notebook guy at a pen show and 1 day as a compliance professional. I fly out on Friday evening and return home Tuesday.

Contents

This is what I’m taking:

Digital

Digital Tools
For a short trip

iPad Pro 10.5 (2017). Bose Comfort 35 Noise reducing headphones. Anker charger (4 x USB), Kodak battery pack, AirPods, Punkt M01 feature phone, some lightning cables, and an Apple Watch charging cable.

Analogue

Briefcase analogue contents
Paper, pens and pencils

My LT1917 Metallic A5 and pen. 2 Bellroy wallets. One for pocket carry and 1 for additional cards. Smythson business card holder and LT1917 business card holder. Pocket Notebook and Nock Tallulah mini pen case for a few writing instruments.

All of that will slot into my Tumi briefcase that I bought several years ago, in Helsinki, I think.

Briefcase in Black
Corporate Cobra!

Conclusion

The briefcase is made for a laptop around the 13 inch mark. I can squeeze my 15 inch MBP in, if pushed. The dimensions in cm are 42 by 30 by 10 or so. The bag will fit comfortably under an airline seat, which is my preference. I like to be able to get to anything that I might need without doing the whole seat dance thing.

However, the briefcase is quite rigid and as such requires a ‘everything in its place’ approach. Rummaging around in this bag is uncomfortable. It hurts. It does unzip all the way open, making it TSA friendly. Of course, the rest of the world cares not a jot about the TSA, so don’t think you can leave your laptop in it for scanning at Heathrow.

Briefcase opened out
Only useful in the US

The shoulder strap is detachable and adjustable. It can be worn over the shoulder or across the body. It’s very high quality, and I suspect will last forever. The slim profile means that duty free shopping etc is not going to slot in this bag, but will either need to live in its own bag or be slipped into the wheelie with my clothes.

If I was slipping down to a coffee shop to prominently place my notebook and iPad and look the ‘hipster writer’, I’d want a softer, less corporate briefcase, but that is,
a: Because I’m a poseur
b: For another post

Overall, this is a high quality briefcase, well-designed and built. It sits between the minimalist “cool” size and the corporate road warrior “all bases covered” size. Yet still, I find myself drifting to bag websites…

Edinburgh

 

photo3

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)

photo1

We laughed until our sides ached.

Where is your favourite city?