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Monday, 3 September 2018

418: Going Dutch (Part II) (Rotterdam)

Note for students: In English to go Dutch means that if you're going out with somebody then you agree to split the costs 50:50. (a penny bun only costs a penny rather than two pence!)
I'm at Rotterdam airport waiting for my flight to Barcelona. It's quite a small airport so no business lounge. This is a shame as it means I have to keep putting my hand in my pocket for coffee and muffins etc. 
As I said earlier, in going Dutch (Part I), Holland is a great place. The Dutch seem to be a peaceable and peace-loving people and almost everyone you meet is bilingual, or at least with a very good command of English. 
Yet again I've missed the chance of visiting a 'special' coffee shop. Maybe next time I'll be able to say High instead of Hi. 
I walked just over 29,000 steps on Saturday so was very surprised to find I still had the energy left in my legs to walk a further 12,000 yesterday while I was exploring Rotterdam. I walked from the hotel to the river and was about to board a 'water bus' to visit the famous windmills at Kinderdijk when I discovered it was only going one way. Perhaps I could have got a bus back but better safe than sorry. 
A word of warning. Be careful if you want to walk from one side of a railway station to the other. In both Rotterdam and Arnhem you needed a ticket to get through the automatic barriers. I have no reason to suppose it is not the same at other (major) stations. There are no friendly assistants standing at the barrier to help out the unwary traveller who may have gone out at the wrong exit. Luckily that didn't happen to me. For a change I had my eyes open and my wits about me.
Another word of warning. Yesterday was the second time I've gone to buy something in Holland to be told they don't accept cash - cards only. Money, in the form of coins and banknotes, is on the way out!  
Took quite a few pictures yesterday and here are a few of them, hopefully to give you a flavour of the place. I've tried to show both the maritime nature of the city and the super-modern high-rise buildings. Note the syntactical difference between super-modern and super,modern,

417: Going Dutch (Part I)

Last Friday I flew from Stansted to Amsterdam and took a couple of trains to get from Schipol airport to Arnhem (via Utrecht). The double-decker Dutch trains are comfortable and run at quite a reasonable speed.
Image result for dutch double decker trains 
I like Holland and I particularly like Arnhem. My 3* hotel (Arnhem Central) was a 2-minute walk from the station. It was perfectly adequate for the 2 nights I was there. Enjoyed a very nice carbonara mirada in an Italian restaurant called Pinocchio, named after he of the ever-lengthening nose. It appears that over the years a lot of people have drunk a lot of wine as the ceiling is full of empty wine bottle containers (aka ?)

On Saturday morning a fleet of buses carried thousands of people from Arnhem bus station to Oosterbeek ready for the Airborne walk. This takes place every year on the 1st Saturday of September and commemorates the part played by airborne forces in Operation Market Garden.  I heard estimates of more than 30,000 people taking part in the walk. They were walking either as individuals or as part of a group, over distances of either 10, 15, 25 or 40 kilometres. Just like last year I chose the 15 km route but I'm sure it was longer this time. It certainly felt like it towards the end. Motivation was improved at the end by tucking in behind one of the many bands. It is always uplifting 'marching' to music.
I walked some of it with my namesake Des Buckley and his wife Hilda. Unfortunately we lost each other during a toilet stop not far from the beginning and never met again until the end. Turns out I walked slowly waiting for them to catch up and they walked faster in a bid to catch up and, somehow, we missed each other in the crowd and they finished before I did. But at least we found each other at the end, where thousands of people were enjoying a well-earned beer, or two. The park was full of people lying (not Pinocchio this time) on the grass enjoying the beer and the sunshine. I knew it would be more difficult standing up than it was getting down, and so it proved. 

One more picture, to prove I was really in Holland! This is the cycle park, under the train station in Arnhem.Bikes, as you would expect, were everywhere.
For today's video I have included the film 'A bridge too far', the 1977 film with Sean Connery and Robert Redford. It tells the story, albeit in Hollywood style, of Operation Market Garden. For copyright reasons the you tube police may not allow me to include this film. My apologies if it has been removed.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

416:Get some in

Get some in. A term often used in the military to somebody who hasn't been serving long. The British military now has only volunteers, no conscripts. National Service ended on 31 Dec 1960. For other countries, that still have conscription, there are various ways of making the service seem to pass quicker. In Russia, for example, I heard that the young soldiers get themselves a one-metre rule and for the last 100 days cut off 1 cm each day. 
How did I get onto the topic of 'get some in'? Oh, yes. I have been practising for the Oosterbeek march that I shall be doing on Saturday 1st September along with a namesake of mine - 2 Des Buckleys, can you imagine? The march, near Arnhem in Holland, attracts thousands of entrants every year and they offer a choice of distance. I plan to walk 15km, the same as last year. This morning I walked almost 9 km, from Cambrils to Salou. A beautiful walk alongside the Mediterranean, which I shared with hundreds of other walkers, runners and cyclists. A couple of points of note. Firstly the floral tribute to the victims of the terror attacks last year. If you remember there was an attack in Barcelona and another one in Cambrils. The flowers are looking a bit wilted but so would you if you were out all day in +30 degree heat. Another picture shows a view out to sea. The beach is still fairly empty as it is quite early in the day and it's between the two towns, the majority of sun-seekers beat a direct path from their hotel to beach. 
The only thing I don't like about the walk is the narrow strip between the boundaries of Cambrils and Salou where African immigrants lay out their wares on the path and sell everything from hats to trainers, from handbags to perfumes. They fill the pavement with their merchandise and force pedestrians to move onto the cycle path. I'm sure there must be quite a few crashes as cyclists come hurtling along 'their' designated track. 
The final picture, a space filler if you like, shows the IKEA bookcase I just assembled a couple of days ago and part of my somewhat eclectic choice of books. 

And a video, to finish off? Highlights of last year's Oosterbeek march. If you time the finish right, you get to 'march' in behind one of the many bands that play there.  

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

415: The Southern cousins

On 17th and 18th July, on the way North to Scotland, I visited as many of my Northern cousins as I could. These were all from my Dad's side of the family. Last Saturday, in an attempt to be impartial, I visited my Southern cousins - from my Mum's side of the family. Here is a sanitized picture of 10 of my Southern cousins lined up as though we're about to do the conga dance.
I've blanked their faces because I hadn't asked their permission to publish them on FB. These days, when every company seems to know every last detail about every person, I'm not sure I even had to ask their permission but it's only good manners not to plaster people's pictures all over the internet willy-nilly. N.B. my military background wanted 'tallest on the right, shortest on the left' but I was overruled and we are grouped by seniority!

It was great to spend some time with both the Northern and the Southern cousins. I missed one of the Buckleys because he now lives in New Zealand. Perhaps a little trip out there in the not too-distant future?
I spent Saturday night in the Clarendon hotel in Blackheath and early on Sunday morning got up for a run around Blackheath and into Greenwich park. It was magnificent. Stupidly I didn't take my phone with me so I've nicked these pics off Flickr. Greenwich park - the home of the zero meridian and boasting tremendous views down to the Thames and Canary Wharf on the other side of it. None of those high-rise office commercial buildings were there when I was growing up in this part of London. There's progress!

On Monday, a trip to the passport office at Peterborough to pay an arm and a leg for a 4-hour passport. Actually an arm and a leg and £6 as they wanted me to give them a different set of photos - they couldn't believe the first set! It was a bit nerve-wracking sitting in the booth watching the message "not suitable for a passport" coming up. You can have up to 3 tries before you have to press print but all 3 attempts said "not suitable". What could I do but print them off. Luckily those awfully nice passport office people accepted them and I now have two passports, in case one needs to be away to have a visa added at the same time as I need a passport to travel somewhere else.  
Yesterday I flew to Salou and had 'fun and games' with the train from Barcelona Sants to Salou. On the train, off the train, on the train. Another story for another day. Here is a pic of the information board at Cambridge railway station

Today's video is the old "Yes Minister" sketch about the European Union.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

414: A bridge too far...

Went for a walk around Strath Brora on Monday. (Strath is a Scottish/English word for a broad mountain valley). A fox ran out from the side of the road and then ran along in front of the car for a few hundred metres as we were driving to the start. (Note for Gwen & Clive: this townie knew it was a fox as Alisdair told me it was 😁) 
We weren't going fast as it is single track road out in the hills. Took us longer to get to the start than we had intended as both of us had maps that stopped a few miles short of our FUP (once upon a time it was military jargon to mean 'forming up point' I see it now also means 'Fair Usage Policy'!). We eventually discovered our mistake and turned back. We parked the car, had a quick caffeine fix and set off. The walk was just over 11 miles and took a little over 4 hours. It was over a mix of road, path and track. The scenery was magnificent. The weather was kind to us all the way round. A bonus in the Highlands of Scotland. The legs were pleased when we got to the end.
Off for a pint and a game of pool in the evening, walking/waddling down the high street as if we were practising for a grant from the Ministry of Silly Walks (see video). 

small lakes in the hills are called lochans

the long and winding road...

a cairn in the foreground and unsightly wind turbines in the background. They seem to be everywhere in Great Britain.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

413: Golspie

No blog for over a month. Sorry.
I'm halfway through my annual Summer visit to Golspie. In the last 46 years I have only missed one or two Summer visits. It's not that I always like to holiday in the same place but these are duty visits as much as anything else. Mother-in-law has lived here all her life. (cue to the 2 Ronnies joke. Q:have you lived here all your life? A: not yet.)
I try to get out and about as much as I can while I'm here and this visit is no exception. I drove down to Inverness on the first day - the capital of the Highlands. It used to take almost two hours to drive to Inverness as the A9 trunk road followed the contours of the coast but over the years three bridges have been added and the journey more closely follows the route a crow might take. On a good day it takes an hour but only if you are lucky enough not to be stuck behind slow-moving lorries or caravans.
Dornoch firth bridge
Cromarty firth bridge
Kessock bridge

I've been for two walks (so far), the first one into the hills although time was short so I only got as far as the point where the cycle track crosses the foot path. Still, a nice view down onto the village.

Yesterday I had a pleasant walk along the beach, from Brora to Golspie. A distance of about 6 miles. A lovely view of Dunrobin castle en passant. 
The video clip to finish off today's blog is all about "a wee hoosie in the hielans". Lyrics included to help with understanding! Sassenachs may still struggle, even with the help of the lyrics. It's easier for me, I've done the course!

Thursday, 21 June 2018

412: Defence Discount Service

This particular blog is exclusively aimed at my UK military colleagues (serving or retired). At the risk of 'teaching grandmother to suck eggs' I wanted to draw your attention to the Defence Discount Service. Just in case you weren't aware of it.

The card has been around for a few years but I had always discarded the notion of applying for one because it isn't free! Recently I came to my senses and applied. It costs £4.99 and lasts for 5 years. Come on, what's £4.99. That can be recouped in very short order having nabbed a few discounts. Recently I finally decided to apply. They didn't accept the initial proof of service that I sent so I reinforced it with an Army Identity Card dated 1984 and a picture of me with Her Majesty the Queen. Between them those two pieces of evidence did the trick!
The 'big' stores, Debenhams, M&S etc don't accept the card - surprise, surprise, but there are a few hundred others that do. I was particularly pleased to see Patisserie Valerie on the list - who doesn't like to stop for a coffee and cake whilst out shopping.
Finally, Oxford Street having exhausted me, I went for a liquid lunch with my sister and we ended up sharing another goldfish bowl sized G&T.
Scrolling through Face Book this morning I was amused by a comment from another military veteran about his time in the service "it was all a game, to make you the person you are today".