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Friday, 16 November 2018

421: Life's a beach and then you die

     Sorry not to write so many blogs these days. They really must take 4th place behind trying to maintain a minimum level of fitness, trying to improve my Spanish by progressing from Basic to Intermediate, and preparing for English lessons. The trying to keep a level of fitness moves up and down the to-do list depending on what the scales report in the morning. They reported bad news this morning so I'm just back in from a run/walk along the beach. Salou is a bit like a ghost town now most of the tourists have gone home and it's lovely running along the sand listening to the waves of the Mediterranean gently lapping onto the beach. This is the life.
     I try not to have too many chocolate 'goodies' in the flat so as not to be tempted, but returning from a run, with the endorphins whizzing around, there is almost always a craving for some food. This morning was no exception. All I could find, that wasn't a 'proper' meal, was a foosty old carrot. Better than nothing at all, but only just. 
     It's been a busy old week. Last Saturday I went to Tarragona, 25 minutes on the bus, and met my Russian friends Sasha and Natalia who had travelled South from Barcelona to meet me. We had a very nice lunch in El Corte Ingles and then went off to view the old Roman ruins and amphitheatre.

      On Sunday, after church, I took the train to Cambrils and walked back to Salou. A beautiful walk along the coast. And with it being Sunday, there were no immigrants hawking their wares on the no-man's land between Cambrils and Salou forcing pedestrians onto the cycle path by filling the available pavement with trainers, sunglasses, football shirts, hats etc.
   Two encounters with Spanish bureaucracy this week. On Monday I visited a police station in Tarragona to register my presence in Salou. In the 'unlikely' event of Brexit going '****-up' I wanted to increase my chances of not being evicted from Spain. I took every piece of paperwork I had ever owned, just in case they might ask for it. In the event the 'interview' went quite well. Apart from the 'tasa'. They almost finish the paperwork and then send you off to find a bank to pay 12 Euros 'tax'. Why you can't pay it on the spot eludes me. You return, post-haste, waving a receipted piece of paper, and they hand you your registration card. The next brush with bureaucracy was at the offices of the INSS (Spanish Social Security) in Reus. Of course, I had taken the wrong form but they gave me the right one and kindly allowed me to fill it in at the desk rather than sending me away to book another appointment for another day. I left there with a stamped piece of paper in my sweaty little mitt and a promise that they would send me something through the post. Whether that will be a Social Security number or a medical entitlement card remains to be seen.
     And now it's time to make some soup for lunch - with the rest of the foosty carrots.
      And finally, talking about carrots....

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

420: A pictorial autobiography - 60 years of Des!

Prompted, in part, by several military friends and acquaintances who have recently posted Facebook statuses of themselves at the beginning of their career, I thought I would try something similar but over a longer period - i.e. the whole of my life thus far. Here we go then: a caterpillar metamorphosing into a beautiful butterfly, or, perhaps, a scabby old moth.
Part 1: The early years

Above: My first, and only, foray into acting. Erith Grammar School 1965.
Left: looking very smug having presumably just mastered 1950s Lego. No glasses, must be a very very old picture.

A very young Apprentice Radio Technician at the Army Apprentices College. Harrogate. 1967.

Having transferred to the Royal Army Pay Corps in late 1969, here I am in Cyprus in Summer 1971. The last pic without a moustache!
Part II: Soldier on.......
24 years service in the Royal Army Pay Corps. Postings/attachments to The Gordon Highlanders, The Life Guards, The Cheshire Regiment, 39 Engineer Regiment, The British Embassy Moscow 1978-1980,The Royal Military Police, The RAPC Computer Centre and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. It wasn't all work and no play though, as you can see here: 

Entertaining HM Ambassador and staff Xmas 79

Burns night at the Embassy dacha 
Jan 1980

One of many formal dinner nights
A formal dinner almost at the end of our Russian language course. Somebody, perhaps unwisely, decided to play Boney M's Rasputin. Cue drunken dancing on the table!

Part III - The Royal Auxiliary Air Force

10 very interesting years as a Russian Interpreter in the RAuxAF. Here are just a few of the highlights:

Above: meeting HM The Queen on the occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the RAuxAF. 2005

Left: Helping out the Royal Navy during a ship visit to St Petersburg. 2004
Squadron Training in Cyprus 2006

2005. At a dedication ceremony to the Russian ship Varyag, scuttled off the West coast of Scotland.
Part IV - Teaching English - in Moscow, Warsaw and Salou

Moscow, of course, couldn't be anywhere else!

Lodz (pronounced Woodz) in Poland

Part V - Sports (Marathons, hill walking, fishing, sailing, horse riding

Ben Nevis with my son Gareth. 2007

Above: Rutland Water with Dave Grundy 2016

Left: Russian (Zavidovo) 1979 with a much younger daughter

Above and right: fishing off Ascension Island

Part VI - and the fun just goes on and on....
With daughter, Mo, at the RAF Club


Tuesday, 16 October 2018

419: The rain in Spain falls mainly on the train

Image result for Madrid Atocha railway station
Haven't written a blog for 6 weeks. A little bit remiss, but really I haven't been travelling very much lately. I remedied that at the weekend by taking the train to Madrid (via Valencia) on Friday and back to Salou (via camp de Tarragona) on Sunday. On the AVE train on Friday the speed was being displayed on a screen in each carriage and I marvelled as we hurtled through the countryside at speeds of up to 300 km/h. I remember daydreaming and wondering what prompted people to vote for Brexit. I can't imagine trains in UK ever reaching anything like that speed. Especially once we become socially and politically isolated when the drawbridge has been pulled up and the portcullis lowered. But this is not the platform for political diatribe against Brexiters. Talking about platforms, Madrid's Atocha railway station is, I think, the largest I have ever seen anywhere. It services suburban, regional, and high-speed AVE trains and part of it is given over to a large display of greenery - perhaps a lot of it taken from the nearby botanical gardens. On Friday evening it was a simple matter of changing from AVE to a suburban train to allow onward travel to my hotel, but on Sunday it took forever to find an exit to the street. I put my little wheelie suitcase in to left luggage and went for a wander around the city. When I came back a couple of hours later I was amazed by the length of the queue to put items into left luggage. Almost as long as that at the Prado. Not quite, of course. That queue wound round and round and reminded me of the old Soviet times when people queued for hours to visit Lenin's mausoleum on Red Square.

I spent much of Saturday on one of those open-topped tourist buses that now operate in many of the world's capital cities. I don't often use them as I think they are quite expensive. But perhaps one of the few benefits of being 'slightly' old is that pensioners rates are often applicable. Such was the case here. A 22 Euro ticket became 10 Euros for senior citizens. The hop-on, hop-off nature of these buses means that as anything 'takes your fancy' on the way round you can get off and explore in greater detail and then get back on to continue the tour. There are two separate routes around Madrid, the 'historical' tour and the 'city centre' tour. I managed them both.Here are a few of the pictures I took.

A quick video to finish off, to remind me of the rain pounding on the roof of the train as it whizzed through the countryside from Madrid to camp de Tarragona. I also quite liked Rex Harrison's quote "the majesty and grandeur of the English language is the greatest possession we have". (Notwithstanding that grandeur is originally from French).

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,