Friday, 12 October 2018

The Last Commute

Sometimes, often during the middle of the night, a sequence of rhyme comes into my head. The below poem came from nowhere, but I think encapsulates the daily grind of the London underground.


I'm not sure how I'd be in space,
Where air is thin, no human race,
D'you think that I would miss this place,
Where people turn away? 

A mountain lodge with snow outside
The sort of place where I could hide,
From seas of faces far and wide,
Where people turn away 

Shadows flicker from the sun,
A leafy path where I would run,
That leads away from this old town,
Where people turn away 

But here I sit or stand and squeeze 
When all I want is to feel breeze,
Not huddled up with folks like these,
Where people turn away 

And so it's time to make a stand,
A cottage row or foreign land,
A blowy beach with golden sand,
Where I can turn away

It sounds so easy, just to say,
That I'd be welcomed far away,
But I believe there'll be the day,
When people smile my way.

Andy Frazier - October 2018

Driverless drivers

OK, that's it, summer's over. Or is it? It certainly has been a season of extremes: wettest winter, longest summer, warmest autumn. My guess is that all of these will add up to a record of some description, and that the French wine of 2018 will be extraordinary - either good or bad. Of course the local producers will tell us the former but then, they are not going to say 'monsieur, this year's wine is merde!' are they?
Currently we are back in France after our 3-week Spanish trip, and the grass still hasn’t started growing. Thankfully, as indicated a few months ago, we have sold our entire flock of ewes, who all went off on a lorry to pastures new a few weeks ago, to start a new breeding life in the South West.  This was with the exception of Daisy Death-wish who is now nearly 7 years old, and having a few months holiday staying with a friend. That just leaves us with 5 ewe lambs and a fat pet 6 year-old, Skippy, who will also be off to spend the wet months somewhere else. Then, for the first time in a couple of decades, the whole farm will be ploughed up in the next few weeks and planted with wheat for the winter. No, we are not going into arable farming, just that the land needs a rest for a year. Next autumn it will get replanted with new grass and we should be back in the sheep business the year after, with all the renewed headaches that it brings.
Meanwhile it will soon be time for our winter exodus back to the East of Scotland. With one project completed and another nearly done we are sitting back a little and relying on a house sale or two this year. My plan is to play a bit more golf, watch some international rugby or even put my feet up now and again on the rainy days. Of course, there is still a bathroom and kitchen to tile, electricity mains to install, a holiday flat to decorate, a house to furnish, extension to build, that sort of thing, but I won't be rushing quite so fast this term, as I try and get a bit more balance in my hectic lifestyle. There's something I don’t write very often!
  Of course, before we get to that, there's the 2000-mile journey by road, something that starts out nice and easy on French motorways and gradually decays in the tarmac chaos that is Britain's road network. Around the world there is currently a debate raging about the introduction of driverless cars. Many of you will have seen that Google, Uber, Tesla and a few other conglomerates are piling the money into researching these things and every week we hear of their breakthroughs, rather than breakdowns.  So how far are we really from me being able to sit in the back of my vehicle, with my family, and let it drive me from Bordeaux to Edinburgh whilst I have a nap? On looking closer at this development I come across a bloke called Stan, from Manchester who, with only a handful of employees believes he is leading the race toward the empty driver's seat finish line. 'British brains are better than American and Chinese cash,' he quotes on BBC news, continuing with: 'yes, it's a gamble and a number of bets have to come off for it to work..!'   With his project called Five AI, whilst the others are still testing their machines on salt flats or minor roads, his prototypes are already careering around the streets of London masquerading as taxis, and that is something, on the face of it, I find quite disturbing.  I mean, Mr Boland may be an entrepreneur and all that, but does he really have authority to do this? And if he does, who else is out there having a go? Will we see Alan Sugar, for instance, sending his numpty apprentices down Clapham high street with remote control double-deckers? Is James Dyson working on a cordless motorbike whilst I speak? Or perhaps I could have a go, getting my dog to drive me home from the pub. Let's face it, she is probably a tad more intelligent than half of the idiots that I have encountered on the M6. You see, all she has to do is drive at the same speed as everyone else, stay in one lane, keep her distance, and motorways become a very simple thing to negotiate. So why is it that every f++king imbecile in an Audi insists on overtaking every other imbecile and then standing on the breaks so we all have coronaries! Well, here is my solution. If you want to make the roads safer, forget making cars more intelligent and start with the drivers?
A consistent problem I seem to meet with this time of year is that of prolonged sneezing fits, some of which can last 30 minutes or more. Normally I put it down to a common cold or change of weather but, realistically something must be attributed to the fact that we decant indoors, spend evenings on the sofa in front of the TV instead of out on the terrace with the sunset, and sleep under a duvet rather than just a cotton sheet. So, this year, prompted by advice from others, I have succumbed to the fact that I may just be allergic to something. Reluctantly I turn to the internet for guidance. Thank you the good old NHS for the following nugget: "The best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid the substance that you're allergic to...!" Is it any wonder the whole system is more bankrupt than a Greek builder?
After some sleuthing of my own, my deduction is that it may be feathers. So as well as burning the sofa, I might have to keep away from the birds for a while!

Friday, 7 September 2018

Libby's Spanish Odysey - week 1

Day 1 of Libby's Spanish road trip. 
Still in France, near St  Cyrien, With the med and Pyrenees as a back drop. A bit cloudy though. Good day for kite surfing....if only I was 30kgs lighter!

Day 2, Libby's Spanish Odyssey
I suppose I should explain that Libby (Sunday name: LMC Libery) is our 18 year old campervan. We bought her to see if it was a holiday lifestyle we would enjoy and, two years later, believe it is. We had even considered trading her in for a newer model but find that the solid German build of this machine is mostly superior to the newer lighter models on sale today, so she stays, for another year or so at least. 
So, we have embarked on a 3 week tour around the coast of Spain, my wife, 2 dogs and I, and this is now day 2.
Last night we stayed in Argeles, on the Mediterranean coast just north of the Spanish border in France. Although our mission is to mainly park in remote areas, known to many as 'wild camping' for the 1st couple of nights it was easier to settle into a campsite, park up and hook up, and relax a while. The spot we chose was right near the beach, so we could walk the dogs, Pooper and Louis on the sand, and then fire up the bbq. Before dinner we ventured to the bar to find it was just about to launch one of its dreadful 'entertainment evenings', something which campers, especially the French, seem to enjoy. Well not I. I am not good in company at best of times, and definitely not amongst French pop music.
Anyway, after a previous evenings party till the small hours before we left our parish in Lot et Garonne, it had been a tiring drive of nearly 4 hours so, after a deliciousl meal of bbq pork, an early night was called for, complete with earplugs to drown out the offensive.
This morning I dusted off my bike, a rusty affair which is even older than the camper, and took to the path alongside the beach for  few miles, avoiding the numerous athletes running the same course. What is it with folks that, even when they are on hols, feel the need to go running everyday? Beats me. I mention the age of the bike and suppose I have to come clean here and admit it is one I stole from an Indian, be it many moons ago. To explain further would only dig a deeper hole in the sand but suffice to say it was left lying around in an office I had been working in, so one day I rode it home without sufficient permission from the owner, one Shrikant Kanteti, a guy I knew and liked. I do keep in touch with him on social media, so SK, if you get to read this... I have your bike, sorry pal. It is alive and well and, for sure, nobody will steal it from me as it cant be worth more than 50p!
From Argeles it is a short trip across the border to Barcelona, which brings me back to the present, another campsite, this time in Casteldefels, about 10kms from the city. I have to admit that, so far, it isnt great but we will make the most of another night amongst socalled civilisation before we drop anchor somewhere more rural. Tomorrow a trip into the city is planned, by bus, as my wife wishes to show me the sights of a place she has frequented, but one that is new to me. I am not great with cities, either, but will view with an open mid and open lens. The remainder of today will be spent in a bar, on the beach, as is the remit of holidays the world over. See you tomorrow campers.
PS, my new laptop does not have any software on it, so writing this in notepad. Pls excuse the spelling, I will tidy it up, one day.

Day 3 - Libby goes au naturale..
I have never been in Barcelona airport, yet today I feel like I have lived there for a month! On the runway, in a tent!  Nowhere in the brochure for this hellhole of a campsite did it mention that it was positioned right under the main flightpath, with planes arriving every 30 seconds, delivering more hoards of tourists to pollute the area further. Couple that with enough feral children to keep the Fagin in business for a few years, except these ones all ride on brand new bikes, probably all stolen, while their trailer bound parents sit around smoking Camel and ignoring them - til one oclock in the morning. Add in a decibellia of yapping dogs and you have a situation even the industrial strength ear plugs I packed for the journey fail to negate. To top it all, stifling heat, still air, and then cacophonous thunderstorms add to the hopefully forgetable experience of this place. At least we didnt need an alarm clock to wake us at first light, so we could rapidly vacate. Asta la vista, Castelldefels, we wont be back!
Just a few kms down the road, we dropped into the massive harbour at Port Ginesta, where our friends Mike and Jane have just bought a boat. Well, to call it a boat is like calling a stretched limmo a family car; so huge is this vessel. They hadnt got the keys to it yet, so we couldnt take it for a spin, not that I would know what to do with a 57 foot yatch, although the gangplank was down and I was temped to step aboard and and at least try out the furniture.
After our poor experience in Barcelona's suburbs, with its gypsy ghettos and overhead traffic, we decided to leave the place behind us, and visit it another day in a more civilised manor, possibly by air or sea, and certainly stay more centrally in a 5 star lux.
So now, 5 hours later, we have our 1st thousand clicks behind us and are stationed up in a forest somewhere near Valencia. It took a bit of navigating to, this gravel patch in the Sierra Caldrona, part of a Parc National, but apart from a distant hum of a motorway, the only other sound is that of the crickets and the occasional cork popping. Tonights dinner is a pork tenderloin marinated in mango salsa on the bbq, with some fresh veg and cool water melon. Sadly the stream we are parked next to has long dried up through the summer months, so no outdoor bathing tonight, but have all other equipment onboard. And, of course, the doors will be firmly locked, such is the isolation of the venue. If this blog ends here, you will know we have been either eaten by bears or wolves, or kidnapped by yiks and condemned to dance and squeal to the tune of a banjo for the remainder of our days!

Day 4. Nothing to declare
What it says above. Arrived here in the midst of nowhere yesterday afternoon after 1000 kms journey. Intentions of going into Valencia market this morning evaporated after a poor nights sleep blighted by intense heat and mozzies, all of which were far more concentrated inside a campervan. A naked sortie outside at 3am did cool things a wee bit but I think the additional heat may have contributed to my wife's nasal issues, which transpired into a snuffling sound that even mother nature would have been scared to tackle around here. It May have kept me awake but certainly kept the coyotes away! Anyway, after a late breakfast, and a long walk in the mountains with 2 tired dogs, we decided that an oeuf was an oeuf  (French joke) and stayed put, spending the afternoon playing scrabble, connect 4, and a few other games that I narrowly managed to win. So a day without my bum behind the wheel has been well received.
Tonight I am gourmeting (Good scrabble word) sweetcorn with chicken in a whisky sauce, with intentions of drinking the latter later! Well, it is a bottle of Scapa, DB Clem

Day 5 - life's a beach
I have often scoffed at folks who go on holiday then sit on the beach for 2 weeks, next to thousands doing the same. Well, today we join them. Except there aren't that many around here. It is obvious we are travelling further south as we are starting to hear more british voices, but our spot here in Oliva, just north of Denia  is very quiet and, dare I say it, has a touch more class.
We never did get the market in Valencia, not for the want if trying.  For nearly an hour we manourvered Libby through its charming but clogged up streets looking for a place to park for an hour, but no cigar. Note to self...come back again, by air; Valencia looks beautiful.  
I have and never will own a caravan but, for insurance purposes only, we joined their club and am thus a card carrying member, much to my embarrassment. However it has its uses as we not only discovered this place through their website but it affords us a discount. Compared to a few other gypsy ghettos we have looked at, the campsite here at Kikoport is clean, upmarket and secure. It is so close the beach that by the time Wendy has unpacked her underwear I was already in the med, cooling my bits. A lunch of garlic prawns and various fried fish, and its a bottle of chilled blanco in a beach bar wondering but not caring what day it is.
They even let dogs on the beach, although possibly not ones who bark for hours and want to fight with the locals! Tonight I might even hoy the gas barbie down to the beach and rustle up a fishy treat, if I can be arsed.  Or even sleep there myself. 
What day was it again? Or yes, it's couldnt-give-a-f*ck day!

Basking in the sun

OK, at last a month of being in one place, the first for quite a while. Our trip to Scotland last month was a good one and it was nice to be there in mid-summer and even get a dip in the Firth of Forth on a couple of occasions. The weather was superb and our trip to the golf Open an exceedingly memorable one. Since then I have been cooling my heels in the pool in France, in insufferable temperatures which make it nigh on impossible to do any work at all. Even mowing the lawn becomes a marathon as the sweat pours. Well it did. Only now the grass has been replaced with a brown desert that has become a considerable fire risk and with this comes the problem of keeping the sheep in fodder. Thankfully we have reduced our numbers as some have been sent to that big freezer in the sky and a few more sold for breeding but we still have upwards of 20 hungry mouths to keep full. After over a month without it, the rain did eventually arrive in a spectacular fashion last Tuesday, spurring the mother of all thunderstorms and a deluge of a couple of inches of water, all of which was swiftly swallowed up by the 3-inch cracks in the ground. But at least it has cooled down enough that we can actually venture outside without the risk of sunstroke and char-burns. Currently we have family here, some of whom are muttering about not bringing their jumpers, but for once we are not having to treat 3rd degree burns each evening!
So, with the weather this week not quite perfect for sun-bathing for these youngsters, out have come the board games and boy do we have lots of them in the attic. As well as Trivial Pursuits, Monopoly and Rummikub, we have gone through Buccaneer, Mousetrap and a host of others I had not played since my childhood. With most of these exhausted in 24 hours, and many of the obscure ones far too complicated, eventually we bring out the good old playing cards. Except I find that the likes of Whist and Strip Jack Naked have now been superseded with all sorts baffling new games with names like Uno, Spoons, War and the aptly titled Bullsh*t, none of which I can understand, let alone win! So, eventually, I decided to come up with my own game. The concept is simple. You all live on an island together where you spend the first half of the game trying to annoy the hell out of all your neighbouring countries. Then you take a vote, with no idea what you are voting for, which is followed by hours of internal squabbling. Finally you now have to convince the same neighbouring countries to buy your produce. Oh, wait a minute….that’s for real!
Later this week sees the annual Oyster festival in the local town of Eymet, something we have religiously attended over the past 10 years. Except now it is now longer a few producteurs selling their freshly delivered catch of crustaceans but instead has evolved into a full-blown food fest with stalls purveying everything from horse’s entrails to raging hot Moroccan dishes full of unrecognisable ingredients. Eymet being in the heart of Dodogneshire, many of the revellers are of the ‘shuffling brit’ origin so now there are also pop-up fish’n’chip stalls on every corner to fulfil their insular requirements. Hence their snaking queues clutter up the otherwise pretty town, with their Brexit-berating chatter and ridiculous headgear, and we are forced to hide our embarrassing Britishness behind in a large plate of escargot in a secluded corner! 
By the end of the month it will be goodbye Brits in France and hello Brits in Spain as we take to the road again, this time working our way down the Med coast to see a friend near Malaga. I have to say we have both quite taken to life in a campervan so we have extended the trip to circumnavigate the whole country, working our way back up the Atlantic coast, taking in a wee sortie into Portugal en-route. This, of course, does flag up a few linguistical challenges as neither of us has more than a smattering of Spanish and zero Portuguese. Until recently I believe we could have happily got by in our native tongue but, apparently, we have done no deals with them yet over the legal use of our language, post-brexit, so English has been instantly removed from their curriculum! Oops, that’s 3 times I’ve mentioned the ‘B’ word this month. Reign it in Fraz, lets change the record!
I mentioned earlier that I recently took a dip in the North sea but I am not sure if I would have been quite so hasty to do so had I read a recent news article that suggested those very waters may well be shark infested. I was aware we had seals, dolphins and even the odd whale. But sharks, really? Yes, you read it here first, whole colonies of sharks have been spotted swimming, or more specifically basking off the coast of Scotland earlier this year. Although mainly confined to the West coast, seemingly basking sharks have migrated north for a spot of mating and, according to the article, have taken up parallel swimming, nose to tailing and going round in circles as part of their courtship rituals. Rumours that they learnt all these moves after a night out in a Fife nightclub are unfounded but one local swears he spotted a couple of them heading to the kebab shop at midnight asking for deep fried plankton!  

Open bee season

Tennis, golf, football – these are just a few things which I have replaced my busy working day with for a month or two. Obviously there is still gardening, cooking, shepherding etc keeping me on my feet but it is nice to find some time to watch a bit more sport on TV. However, one cannot help noticing the surprising lack of youngsters reaching the top of their sport, as we see Nadal, Federer and Djokavich still sharing the limelight, after 70 year olds Higgins and Williams dominating the snooker earlier in the year. At least the England football team fielded a few enthusiastic new kids on the block and, I believe, conducted themselves rather well in a sport generally polluted by money and prima donnas.
Speaking of which, the morning after England's exit from the World Cup, I popped down to the village bakery for a loaf. Now Wendy has a sporty wee drop-head car so I thought I would take it for a spin, tops-off. Well anyone who has seen me lately wouldn’t help but notice it has been quite some time since I last sat in front of a barber and thus my curly locks flow across my eyes in an open-top ride. I am not usually one for baseball caps, which I believe should be confined to the under twenties and Americans but, in this instance this headgear does come in handy. Remembering there was one in my golf bag, I grabbed it and put it to good use. It wasn’t until I saw myself in the mirror in the shop that I realised it was none other than the cap I had bought in Croatia 6 weeks ago whilst on a speedboat trip. And here I was, an Englishman, now supporting the very team that France was to face in the final! No wonder the chap behind the counter spat on my croissants!
Anyway, here in France the summer has certainly turned up at last, although the vista is as green as I have ever seen it for the time of year and the lake still nearly full. Of course, with it come all the usual accompaniments: flies, sunburnt guests, hay fever, bloody wasps. I mention the latter as, over the last few years, those stripy creatures seem have taken a personal liking to me. I swear, in a crowded area it will always be me getting stung and shrieking out, being offered like some sort of human shield to protect everyone else. I only wish I was so attractive to women! Biggest problem is that I am completely allergic to them - wasps that is, not women - and come out in itchy black blotches that last for weeks, despite my veins swishing with cocktails of antihistamine.
On the subject of Women, I seem to have a house full just now, as a number of Wendy's Edinburgh friends are staying this week and piling on the sun-tan lotion. As she is still working during the day it is my designated job to sit by the pool and entertain these ladies, as well as feeding and watering them by night. I have to admit, there are worse jobs in life. Amongst this highly intelligent throng, conversations have waged from the usual Trump and Brexit, through to Love Island and Bee rescue. The latter subject did cause a slight stir after one admitted that she regularly picked up exhausted bees, took them home and fed them sugar from a spoon, as advised by Sir David Blue Planet himself. On questioning this method, Google soon found it out to be a hoax posted on social media by pranksters, for reasons better known to themselves. Seemingly, although bees are essential to the survival of our species, they are not quite suffering from hypoglycaemia yet.  
The downside of this crowded house, does mean that all the bedrooms are occupied, nobly confining me to sleep a couple of nights in the camper in the garden. I have no objection to this; in fact I quite enjoy it. That is until 6am when the damn pigeons start up with their stupid inane calling to each other from the treetops. Do these critters still have a function in society? I mean, since we replaced their messenger skills with mobile phones, what other purpose could they possibly serve, apart from spoiling crops and making the odd pie? For the last 2 days there has been an irresistible temptation to get out the 4-10 at dawn and fell them all from the branches. However, I am not sure this would have met the approval of our international bee rescuer in the household, especially if she looked out of the window to see a strange angry man wondering around in his undies with a loaded gun!
Anyway, today we are heading north once again, back to sunny Scotland for a spot of renovation work, as my new kitchen has arrived at last. The centrepiece of our week will be two days at the British Open Golf tournament at Carnoustie, which is not a million miles from our Fife home. Watch out for this hairy guy on TV, he'll be the one in the Croatia hat!

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Boozy travels

Sunshine, at last. Everywhere, it seems. I know that, as I seem to have been ‘everywhere’ this month. When I last wrote, we were heading from Scotland to Croatia for some down-time, which was very relaxing, apart from my taking to the high seas in a speedboat. Well, I wasn’t to know how an anchor worked, was I? As we dropped it down in a secluded cove of impossibly blue water and dived in for a swim, one really assumed that the vessel would still be there when I returned, not half way round the coast. Maybe I should have read the manual? Well, we caught up with it eventually, after some frantic doggy-paddling, as it drifted merrily along on the current, dragging its somewhat ineffective piece of metal and rope along the sea bed.

Anyway, back home in France, the sheep are thriving, vegetables in the ground and surviving, lawns and hedges under control and pool almost warm enough for a morning dip. So after a couple of weeks, we took to the road in the camper, on a ‘dry run’ as it had been in mothballs all winter. In the main this was successful as we spent a night by a lake, our dogs disturbing the fishermen, near the town of (giggles) Condom. With a sirloin on the barbie, camp-fire to ward off the mozzies, yet more peace was had. Then, on the way home, we spent the night in the well-known wine region of Buzet (pronounced Boozy). And it was!
With the wheels barely stilled, a trip to the Midlands was next, to attend to urgent family matters. After a for-once on-time Flybe hop, we found ourselves in the lovely village of Henley-in-Arden, staying in a quaint pub for a couple of nights and what delight it was. Compared to the stark bars in Europe, and the lager culture in Scotland, a pint and a pie was very much a novelty I almost forgot existed. And one thing I had forgotten had ever been, was suddenly back and calling my thirst. Yes, of course, I am talking about Brew XI. Many of you won’t even remember this weak golden ale, and those that do may wrinkle up a top-lip, but it was the stuff I was weaned on, many years ago. Marketed as a beer for ‘The Men of the Midlands’, back then to a spotty 15 year-old, after a few pints I really believed I was one of them. Maybe I still am, in spirit anyway. Anyway, it’s back! Get some in yer!
I also encountered something else new – well new to me -  in this village: an ORGANIC hairdressers. What in hells name is one of those, you may ask? Unfortunately it was closed so I couldn’t go and get a reasonable explanation. Having considered a few theories, including one from the Italian barber across the road who suggested that maybe they just set fire to your dead hair instead of sending it to be re-cycled, I drew an absolute blank on this one. ‘Has the world gone mad?’ is a phrase I frequently use in this column. I fear this time I am surely right? 
And then it’s off to Spain for a weekend of rugby. It is a long time since I was in Bilbao but I am sure, back then, I never realised what a wonderful city it is. The narrow streets of the old town oozed with bars and the craic, as the Irish were in town to take on the French on neutral territory in the European finals. A few jars were had, as well as pickings of tapas, at prices that would embarrass even the poorest nation, let alone the extortions of the UK. After the Dublin team prevailed, securing their umpteenth title in the event, we revelled into the small hours on what felt like small change. Unlike France, who have lights-out at 10pm, the city stayed so vibrant it felt almost rude to go to bed before 2am. Needless to say, a shabby morning followed but eventually we wended our way back north, taking in a night in Biarritz, parking the camper by the Bay of Biscay during one of its frequent storms. As they say, ‘the caravan was a-rockin’ that night!
Sadly the weather back home had taken a downturn, just as the lawn had taken an upturn, but a mere 15 hours there saw me rush around doing my best to contain nature, including blight control, worm control (for the sheep), pruning, tying-up and sweeping down before the now familiar mobile home was once again loaded up with flagons, as we continued north back towards the channel and my mother beyond. With passports stamped, the dogs in the rather lush cabin (not allowed to stay in the vehicle on this boat), I can just about hear Louis barking as I end this story from the bar on a fairly meagre Brittany ferry.  I say all our passports stamped, but actually we are also harbouring a few stowaways who hitched a ride from somewhere in Spain, headed for the spoils of England. No, these are not of the human trafficking kind but a colony of 6-legged creatures who have built a nest somewhere in the overhead bed of our camper. One could possibly refer to them as illegal immigr-ANTS!
After requesting an extended deadline from the editor to add to this piece, I have to regretfully announce that my mother passed away, just hours before our arrival back in the midlands. Her end was peaceful and she appeared ready to go. Val brought a lot of fun to the village of Rock and far beyond during her 88 years, and I am sure she will be missed by many.

101 Dalmations

At last, my steel toe-caps have been hidden out of sight and mind, physically and metaphorically under the stairs, as we down tools and I take a well deserved holiday. It has been another tough month at the Fife coalface but I firmly believe we are winning the fight. Plans are passed, project number one done and dusted, hangover from housewarming party been and gone. Project number 2 is now in the hands of a few talented professionals - people capable of independent decision making, while I cool my hardened heels in the Dalmatian sea, obliviously out of contact with the real-world.  Actually, as I desperately try to make the editors deadline, I am once again writing in the skies, something that seems to have become a habit of late. Only this time it is with the comfort of British Airways, with my darling wife dozing by my side, happily reunited after 4 weeks apart. Although I have been there many years ago, I refresh my geography from the in-flight magazine to see exactly where our destination, the walled city of Dubrovnik, is, particularly in relation to Syria, a place that may or may not still exist by time this goes to print! Hopefully there is enough land and sea between us and it and, since Mr Macaroon has jumped on the anti-warfare jet-fighter, it may even be safer than being in France? Talking of which, Wendy reports that torrential rain has continued back home during my absence, bogging down the sheep, much the same as it has been in Scotland. I am not sure who the professionals blame for this diabolical spring but surely it will let up soon, and resume the status quo.
Last time I was there, Croatia had only just settled from its own conflicts and the break-up of Yugoslavia, when corruption was rife and your pound went a very long way. I would like to hope it has moved on somewhat since then, albeit more expensive. Dubrovnik certainly boasts seems to boast some fine places to dine these days. Once I can clear my mind of business, I am quite looking forward to studying the history of this place, which has suffered under invasion by everyone from the Romans, French, British, German and more recently Russian influences. Not being exactly a city-centre person, we are staying out on a peninsula to the south of the town - hopefully the peaceful end - with just a cool beer, an octopus and the setting sun for company.
One could be forgiven in thinking that the neck tie, or cravat, was invented by the French? But, in fact, it comes from the word ‘hrvat’, meaning Croat, which was adopted by the Napoleonic army who just happened to be in the market for more stylish neck-wear to go with their boring uniforms at the time of their occupation. Apart from former Wimbledon winner, Goran Inyourfaceabit, a few footballers, and Cruella Deville, the Dalmatians haven't really made it to the realms of fame. Although Marco Polo, discoverer of all things including the mint with a hole in it, claims to have been born here. Aside from exports of virgin olive oil, seafood and the odd spotted dog, tourism is the main breadwinner of the Croatian economy.
However, there is another lesser known output from this wee corner of Europe: wine. For those of you not in the know, the quality of Croatian wine is a well kept secret, particularly Traminac, which is set to be served at the up-coming wedding of Prince Harold the younger and Angela Merkel. Is Harry really marrying the German Prime Minister, or did I get slightly mixed up there? Current affairs never was my interest.
Anyway, guess what? Our visit just happens to coincide with the Dubrovnik wine festival. Trust my wife to seek out the perfect holiday. 
See you on the other side. Hic.