Wednesday, 20 July 2016

50 Shades of Rose - rekindled!

Barbara and I sat drinking tea in her town house kitchen in the city's fashionable southern quarter.  Barbara is my best friend who I tell every thing to. We drink out of mugs.  You know the sort of ones that have straight sides and handles so that you can drink your Twinnings ($10 dollars please) breakfast tea without burning your hands on the sides.

But how can I tell her! How can I tell her about this new stage of my life that is starting to take over my every living, breathing moment. She would just flip if she even had an inkling of what was going on. Since I met Campervandunken Rose, my life has been turned inside out. I'd never even had an RUV before, so being introduced to the deeper world of VW was a shock to my senses that my inner god was still struggling to come to terms with.

My senses leap as I feel my Blackberry ($10 dollars please) vibrate in the front left pocket of my Levi ($10 dollars please) jeans. Has she dained to reply to my earlier e-mail. The one that I've spent the past 12 hours worrying over, thinking that I'd really blown it. Thinking that she would never want to see me again!

From: Campervandunken Rose
Subject: You are in my power!
Date: July 17 2012 11:55 BST
To: Ian Moon

Dear Mr Moon,
Still drinking Twinnings ($10 dollars please) tea, I see. I do hope that you have eaten today and that you are going to be ready to drive me to distraction when we meet!

Mrs Rose

Crap. Okay. Jeez. What's eating her? How can she possibly know that I am sitting drinking Twinnings ($10 dollars please) english breakfast tea.  Has she got a trace on our kettle.  She is so much of a control freak that she has to know exactly what I'm doing at any hour of the day.  I think about this and start to assemble together the jigsaw that she is handing me piece by piece.

From: Ian Moon
Subject: So you think so...four wheels!
Date: July 17 2012 11:58 BST
To: Campervandunken Rose

Dear Mrs Rose,
I thought that the idea was that you wanted to drive! So now, all of a sudden, I'm in control? I haven't signed the HP agreement yet and need to discuss some of the 'hard' rules. Even so, my wallet is already open to you when ever you ask!

Mr Moon


From: Campervandunken Rose
Subject: Will you ever do as I tell you!
Date: July 17 2012 11:55 BST
To: Ian Moon

Dear Mr Moon
You must know that you drive me to places that I never thought I would go! I need you holding my wheel, with your hand on my gear stick! You are the only person that I have ever been happy to have treading on my pedals! What are you doing to me!!

Anyway, look out of the window!

Mrs Rose

Crap. Okay. Jeez. I walk across the small but nicely laid out dining room of Barbara's town house kitchen in the city's fashionable southern quarter and, drawing back the John Lewis ($10 Dollars please) curtains, look down and across, with my eyes, into the parking lot! Crap. Okay. Jeez. My heart is in my mouth.  Not literally as that would mean that I would probably be dead or something. There she is, looking up at me. Beckoning me to come down to her and satisfy her needs in a way that I still find hard to comprehend. She won't let me stroke her sensuous red and cream bodywork, but she demands that I submit my bank account to her seemingly insatiable desires.

Making a lame, but plausible, excuse to my best friend, Barbara, who I tell everything to, I walk down the stairs - there is no elevator - putting one foot in front of the other as if I were walking! As I step off the last stair, I look up and see Taylor, holding the door open for me. How did he get there, but, I should have guessed, he is in every chapter!
          "Hello Taylor."
          "Mr Moon." His greeting is as formal as it was in the last chapter. Although, as always there is that hint of a knowing smile as if he knows exactly what is coming next!

As I step into the parking lot, Rosie is there watching me with those watching eyes, watching me.  She never lets me call her 'Rosie' even though, by saying that one word, I feel like the biggest surfer dude in the whole world.

          "Why can't I call you 'Rosie'", I whisper. I look up into her glistening windscreen, longing for her to sweep me up and whisk me to so far away place where we can just be together.
          "I wish I could tell you. But, I'm a campervan and can't really speak." 
I run my hands tenderly across her bodywork.  Gently starting at her fenders and working back towards her soft and yealding quarter-lights. I feel that now familiar electric charge pulsing through my hand and can't hold back any longer. With one quick flick of the wrist, I wrench open her sliding door and all of a sudden, I'm inside! I sink into the oblivion of the driving seat and, as the pure unbridled passion of the moment releases, slip my key into the haven that is Rosie's ignition. Fighting the temptation to run and run and never come back, I give the key a sharp turn in that ever familiar clockwise direction and then, then...

Oh! F**k I forgot that we'd blown up the engine!!!

Well! What were you expecting??

P.S. Thanks for the idea Dawn!!

Monday, 9 June 2014

Race For Life - Re-posted

Racing for Life

Two years ago, following Vicky's death from an aggressive and unforgiving form of skin cancer, a group of friends and colleagues formed 'Team Vicky' to take part in the Race For Life in her memory. I was out of the country for the 2013 race, however, I was delighted to be able to attend this years event and witness the truly inspirational actions of so many women who have been affected by this disease. I was going to write another blog, but, having read my entry from two years ago, realised that there was little more to say. So, I decided to re-publish my words from then.  Thank you for reading.


For a variety of reason, this has been one of the hardest Blogs to write so far!

Last Sunday (10th June) was a very significant day for me, not least because it was the day of the Winchester "Race For Life" - an annual women only 5k event, organised by Cancer Research UK, held in many towns and cities around the country throughout the summer. 

The first Race for Life was held in 1994. Vicky had been taking part in these runs since 1997 in memory of and in celebration of the many people that we knew who had either died from, were living with or had survived their cancer.  This year Vicky's friends and colleagues from Winchester and Hampshire County Council ran, or walked, as "Team Vicky" in memory of the person they loved and respected.

Having supported Vicky and spectated at the many "Race For Life"'s that she took part in, I have always been in awe at the whole event. Not only the sight of so many women united in a single cause - age, race, colour, size and shape being no barrier to being a part of this - but the attitude and vibrancy of the occasion.  The feeling of positivity that transfers from the participants to the spectators; the wonderful smiling faces, the looks of trepidation from the newcomers and first timers and the steely determination of the runners wanting to make their mark by coming in first or achieving a personal best in the name of someone they love or in celebration of overcoming their own challenges. For all of this happiness and party atmosphere, there is always a tinge of sadness as every women's back carries their story of loss, suffering, trauma and tribulation.  

Last sunday was no different! I had thought about whether I should attend and whether I would be able to handle the emotions associated with the race. It wasn't a long thought as I so much wanted to be a part of something that had meant and still means so much to me. And, I wanted to show my support and thanks to "Team Vicky", who between them have raised over £2300 for Cancer Research UK by taking part.

When Inca and I arrived, I had intended to take an anonymous stroll through the site to just take in the 'vibe'. However, from the moment I got out of the car, I kept meeting friends or seeing Vicky's face on a t-shirt in front of me. It was bizarre as some of the people wearing the "Team Vicky" shirts were unknown to me, having been work colleagues of Vic's - although, on introduction, I knew surprisingly more about them than might have been thought, as Vicky often talked about her work and the people she worked with.

I had taken my camera and so was able to hide behind the lens for much of the time.  Even so, it was lovely to see so many people turning out, not just to run the Race and raise money for Cancer Research, but to be doing so in Vicky's name. As well as the 'strangers' I was also pleased to meet old friends, some of whom were running, some there as spectators and supporters. As all of the participants went off to join the warm up routine, I took a walk around to take some photos and find myself a good position to see and photograph the start and finish.  I found the perfect spot, facing the start line - which would also be the finishing line.

Over 1600 runners and walkers were corralled into the starting grid, ready for the race to begin and, on the sound of the starting claxon, they were off.  First, the more competitive runners, setting a good pace, followed by other runners and joggers and tailed by the walkers, they filed past. A tsunami of the pink, the fluffy and the lacey! Many of the participants were in running gear and Race For Life t-shirts.  However, there was a notable turnout of fancy dress, tutus, strange and glittery headwear and colourful clothing. Some runners chose to take part in more bizarre ways, there were at least two sets of three legged racers and a five legged team. 

Trying to spot people I knew as they went past the starting line was difficult. Getting pictures was almost impossible! So for the most part, I watched, cheered and applauded as the race got underway. It took about 10 minutes for the last walkers to get past the starting point - at which time it became the finishing line - so now was the wait to see who would be first back. It took just 21 minutes and 4 seconds for the first runner to return. A 12 year old who had also been first at last year's run. One of "Team Vicky"'s runners was the fifth to cross the line about 2 minutes later and then, gradually more and more runners arrived to complete their race.  

Exhausted but happy, they were applauded and cheered as they returned.  Some ran across the line hand in hand with a friend or fellow runner, some sprinted for the finish either to hit a time mark or simply to finish in style, many raised their arms in victory and one team crawled across the finish line on their hands and knees. All had the biggest, happiest smiles on their faces - even the poor woman who was physically sick after crossing the line - however exhausted or out of breath they were.

As, eventually, all of "Team Vicky" made it back across the finishing line, we congregated to congratulate and compare notes. I shared a glass of celebratory champagne and had more hugs from women in lycra than was good for me - but, I'm not complaining! Eventually, as the rain started to cool the ardor, everyone began to disperse. Inca and I made our way off to spend the rest of the day by ourselves, for, as well as being the Race For Life, June 10th would also have been the 32nd anniversary of when Vicky and I began seeing each other and the 23rd since our wedding.

For some, this will have been the first time that they have run or walked a Race For Life.  For others, this may have been one of many and, in both cases, there will be many more to come. Sadly, for too many, they have already run their last Race For Life. 

So, this blog is in tribute and thanks to everyone who took part in, supported, volunteered, contributed and sponsored to the 2012 Winchester Race For Life and every Race For Life that has taken place and will take place. 

Don't whisper! Shout about it and pass it on! Together we WILL beat cancer!

Friday, 6 December 2013

The travails of international travel

And so begins the end. My journey home, concluding my odyssey which has seen me visit or pass through 14 countries, 13 capital cities and 12 time zones. Covering nearly 45000 miles in 183 days, averaging 250 miles each day using boats, planes, cars, trains, buses and motorbikes, and seeing all four seasons in the space of six months.

My return trip began in Auckland, New Zealand. Not much of my itinerary had been pre-booked before I left England on the 19th December last year. However, I had arranged my home-bound flights. My plan was to leave New Zealand on the 13th June and fly to Muscat, Oman, via Abu Dhabi. Originally, I was to meet my brother-in-law and his partner in Muscat where he is due to begin a new job. Unfortunately, after booking the flights, Matt's plans changed slightly, meaning they wouldn't now be there at the same time as me. 

My itinerary set, I decided to stick with the basic travel plan and maybe get some diving in instead. A few days before I was due to leave, I booked the diving and some accommodation, so had somewhere to stay and something to do. However, life never quite goes to plan, as I should well know. Having been travelling for just short of six months, I've been quite fortunate in that, although often random and impulsive, my many transfers had gone as expected and I, along with my dunnage, had usually arrived together and intact at our expected destination. This was now to change.

Arriving at Auckland airport on Thursday 13th, I presented myself at the Air New Zealand check-in desk in preparation of my flight. Having divested myself of much of my belongings on my trip, either by sending home in advance or giving to a worthy cause, I only had two items of luggage. My rucksack, containing clothes and the usual travel paraphernalia one acquires, and a didgeridoo that I picked up in Cairns. As Air New Zealand's baggage allowance will only allow for one piece of checked in luggage, I had used my packaging skills from my previous life in freight forwarding, to combine the two items. This culminated in one piece of baggage within the weight and dimensions restrictions, albeit a rather odd shape. Consequently, it was classed as 'outsized' and 'fragile' so received special handling, but avoided the criminally large excess baggage fee that the airline had been intending to charge me.

Having made my way to the departure lounge and settled down with a drink and my book, I awaited the anticipated boarding time of 17:30. As the time approached, I noticed that the flight schedule board was showing a delay of one hour for my flight. This was a concern as the transfers in both Sydney and Abu Dhabi were quite tight and this would make it more so. As the time passed, the delay advice increased and, eventually, an announcement told us that, due to a technical problem, we were being switched to a different aircraft. Boarding the new plane, we eventually departed Auckland at 20:30 - some three hours later than expected. There was no way that the connections would now be met and the airline offered to accommodate me overnight  and then put me on a flight the following afternoon.

Arriving in Sydney at about 23:00, I went to collect my bag! However, it didn't appear and, following enquiries, it turned out that it had not been transferred when the aircraft was substituted. So, it was still in Auckland and was now playing catch up. I had some hand luggage, but this consisted largely of my camera, things I might want whilst travelling and some items too valuable or fragile to entrust to checked in luggage. Other than what I was wearing, I had no clothes.

Air New Zealand had booked me into the Ridges hotel outside the terminal. So I checked in and got my head down in the sure knowledge that tomorrow would be a long day. 

The onward flight was on Etihad and, boarding on time, I found myself in another delay. As the minutes ticked by, there was no sign that our aircraft was going anywhere. I had been allocated a seat by an emergency exit, which was great as it offered a little extra leg room. When the steward came to explain our additional responsibilities (ie opening the door if we crash) she was closely followed by a technical engineer who, on examining the door, tutted and sucked his teeth. Whatever was causing the delay, we were sat next to it!

We continued to wait, amid the occasional apology from the captain. After about 15 minutes, another technician arrived. He proceeded to open the emergency exit and look at the hinges and latches. Again, there was much head shaking and sharp intakes of breath. He was closely followed by a senior technician and the captain. They looked at the door and spoke to each other in hushed tones before heading back down the aisle. I and my fellow passengers were, by now, giggling hysterically. Our mirth compounded when, a few minutes later, the original technician reappeared with...a roll of duct tape! He proceeded to tear off a few strips of tape and, with great care, cover the illuminated sign that declared 'emergency exit'. When he had finished this task, he stood back to admire his handiwork and, just before leavening, turned to me and my travelling companion and, with the straightest of straight faces said 'don't use that door'! 

With the source of consternation disguised, as effectively as uneaten school dinner under a crossed knife and fork, our flight was soon airborne. We settled back into our seats in the sure knowledge that all must be ok. I always fly with the, maybe naive, certainty that the pilot doesn't want to die either!

The rest of the flight was uneventful and, with a brief stop in Abu Dhabi, I arrived in the searing heat of the Omani capital, Muscat, a few hours later.

I was still without my bags and a conversation with the local baggage handling agent confirmed that they were still in Auckland...or perhaps in Sydney...or they might be on a flight the Abu Dhabi or Muscat as we spoke! In any even, my transfer was waiting to take me to my lodgings, south of the airport.

It transpired that I was billeted in the house of Rob, the guy with whom I had arranged accommodation and diving. He is an British ex-pat who had given up sensible work to set up a business organising and running adventure holidays in Oman. On discovering my lack of clothing, he kindly lent me a couple of t-shirts and took me to a local shopping area to get some underwear. I suspect that the previous 12 hours of travelling was beginning to make its mark!

Rob was a great host and, as I was the only guest, it felt like I was staying in a mate's house rather than being a guest. On the following morning, with Rob's help, I rented a car and driver and took a tour of old Muscat. I have rarely been so thankful for air conditioning. With temperatures in the 40's (new money), within minutes of getting out of the car to have a walk around the old port, I was dripping wet with perspiration. 

On my second day, I went on the dive trip that Rob had arranged for me. As many people will know of me, I love scuba diving and, as a rule, no dive is a bad dive. We had an hours speedboat ride in the general direction of Iraq to get to the first dive site. I have to admit, the dive itself was quite average. Lovely warm and clear water and a fair bit of 'life' to see, but nothing much more than I had already seen in Thailand and on the Great Barrier Reef. The second dive started no better, but, as I said, I always take a dive as an experience. 

Now, for those non-divers reading, the next bit might get a bit technical, but I will try to elucidate. Don't worry too much about what the numbers mean, but, generally speaking one dives with a tank containing 200bar of air (or there abouts). Regulation stipulates that one should surface, at the end of the dive, with no less than 50bar. Towards the end of the dive, in order to avoid decompression sickness (the bends), one should spend the last three minutes of the dive at a depth of five metres. Therefore, it is important to time your dive so that, after your decompression (deco) stop, you hit the surface on 50bar of air, or greater.

On this occasion, as we reached five meters to start our deco stop, into sight came 4.5 metres of juvenile whale shark! These are magnificent creatures and, being plankton eaters, are harmless to humans. Usually, I am told, they are shy and keep clear of divers. But this one was curious and swam, with amazing grace, between us. It was as if it had chosen to join our deco stop and it kept at five metres, allowing us to remain in its company without compromising our safety (too much). 

Just to clarify, at five metres, once one has completed the three minute deco stop, one can hit the surface in a matter of seconds. Looking at my companions and the dive masters, it was clear, not one of us was going to surface while the whale shark was with us and we had air to breath! It was as if our visitor knew the game. He/she/it swam between us for over 15 minutes until, probably bored by our lack of ability to provide food, it disappeared into the deep blue. 

We ascended and regained our boat. Not one of us had more than 10bar in our tank. Did we care? Not in the slightest. This was one of the best dive experiences I had ever had and my only regret was that my shiny new dive camera was in my rucksack somewhere between Oman and Auckland!

The final stage of my journey home was without incident. Although, it was somewhat more luxurious than any other part of my journey. Due to a freak of opportunity created by Airmiles, my last leg, from Muscat to Heathrow, was first class on British Airways. The flight departed at midnight and, due to the time difference, arrived in London nine and a half hours later - at 06:30! The sensible thing to do, as did all of the other first class passengers, was to put the seat into its full bed position and sleep for the entire journey. Thus avoiding jet lag. 

Following a brief 'snooze' after take off, I found myself wide awake. So, finding a film to watch I settled back in my, very comfortable, couchette. As the rest of the cabin slipped into silent slumber and sailed on a silvery mist, the cabin attendant asked if he could get me a drink.

'Hum' I considered 'do you have any champagne?'

'Of course Mr Mooney, I'll bring a glass straight out. '

This set the scene for the rest of the journey and some films and several champagnes later I was decanted from the aircraft in London.

I hadn't quite done 'Full Circle', but, to quote Bilbo Baggins, I had done 'There and Back Again.' With my feet well and truly back in Albion, I have had six months of adventure, new friends, new experiences, new fears and new joys. I have had time for reflection, time for contemplation and time for consideration. I still don't know what the future holds or where it will take me. But then, who does! 

What I do know is that, for all of the miles I have travelled and all of the fascinating people I have met (many of whom I hope to keep in touch with) and all of the sights I have seen and all of the experiences that have shaped my magnificent journey, there really is No Place Like Home and, though I know there is still a great big chunk of this rock to see, and I intend to see it, I know I have the fortune that is my family and friends drawing me back...oh! And English beer.

Thank you for following my blog. I hope to go traveling again and, when I do, will  pick up the threads of this missive. 

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Unfinished Tales.

This is a quick addendum to the last post. I had meant to include it, but forgot.

Like most visitors to New Zealand now days, I made a visit to the 'set' built and used by Peter Jackson for filming the Hobbiton scenes for The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit. It's all a bit of fun and is an interesting way to find out some of the tricks used to create the illusions of scale needed.

The guided tour took us around the set and our enthusiastic guide regaled us with stories and anecdotes about the filming of the movies. As we walked through the diminutive and very fake village, I asked whether they had many visits from TLOTR appreciation societies and similar dedicated fan groups. She said that they did and the, often, they would arrive dressed as their favourite character! One tale she recounted was of a German tourist who arrived dressed as Bilbo Baggins, complete with large hairy feet and a curly wig. He was on one of the first tours of the day and, such was his devotion to role, when the tour finished he refused to bound the bus back to the reception claiming that they had no right to take him away from his spiritual home! As he wasn't causing any harm, it was decided to let him have his day and so he was left to wander the set for the day. Eventually, as the last tour was concluded, they coaxed him back on to the bus and away.

The guide explained that, though his dedication was extreme, it wasn't that unusual. Many devotees claim to be related to or re-incarnations of their fictional characters. What was most bizarre was that this particular erstwhile Hobbit was 6' 4" tall!