Life changes

If you think back over the last thirty years, you’d have to agree things have changed. In 1986, plans were announced to build the Channel Tunnel, which wouldn’t be completed for another 8 years. There was still a big concrete wall and minefield separating East and West Germany. People were being killed trying to cross from East to West. The Simpsons were created in 1986. Commercially available digital cameras were unknown. Although the initial theoretical work that led to the MP3 audio format was done in the 1890s, a standard wasn’t agreed on until 100 years later.

30 years ago this year, I started my adventures in the world of work. I had left college wanting to be a musician but knowing that I’d need proper work to see me through and pay the bills (at least until we hit the big time). So off I went into the job market to see what was about. I was fortunate, I walked into my first job mainly because (on paper) I was more highly qualified for the role than the hiring manager. I became the technician in the photography department of the local college and held the job for 7 months until they gained their BTEC accreditation (for which they needed a dedicated technician) and no longer needed me.

I spent some time between careers, doing voluntary work and attending a number of job interviews. I learnt a lot about the interview process and, most importantly, that not all the interviewers were capable of carrying out a proper selection. I also learnt not to point that out to them! One occasion ended up with a discussion on the reliability of various cars as the hiring manager had run out of things to ask. I was in no position to refuse any job offer but ironically, the next job I had came about when I gave the band’s bass player a lift to a job interview. As I was there, they interviewed me too. The word interview makes it sound structured – it wasn’t and the reason I got the job and the bassist didn’t was simply because I could drive and he couldn’t, and they needed someone there and then. I spent two years driving security vans for a well known company (not the ones that got the Olympics wrong), rising to the position of crew commander. Unfortunately, that was where it would end as the next level of promotion was into the admin office, and those jobs were reserved for the boss’s favourites (of which I was not one).

Next came the move into what I thought might be a career and once again, I got the job because I accompanied someone. We went to get the application forms for her, and I picked up a set at the same time. I got an interview at which was able to tell the interviewers things about the organisation that they didn’t know. By now I’d learnt to do that tactfully and in a way that was informative rather than challenging. As a result, I not only got a job offer, but a choice of jobs in the same place. I think I chose wisely.

27 years and ten different roles later, there has been no sign of a career but it’s mostly been a good experience. But now I am about to take another big step in the adventure of work. Tomorrow is my first official day of partial retirement. It was a relatively easy decision to make but as the actual date has been getting closer, it’s been hard to really prepare for it as so much remains unknown at the moment. It’s a big step and some of the decisions I’ve had to make will continue to impact me for many years. But none were taken lightly and I have no regrets. My only real concern is that I make the most of the new time I have as a result of reducing my hours.

In the last couple of years I have seen friends and peers suffer life changing illnesses and in some cases, die. I read somewhere that in a study done in America, a number of people interviewed at the end of their lives only ever expressed regret at things they didn’t do. They never regretted mistakes made as a result of trying new things. That’s how I want to be looking back over my life when that time comes.

 

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Why not?

Why do I blog?

I was listening to a radio programme this morning while out with Rufus. He was off in the distance and ignoring me so I didn’t feel guilty. The programme was about diarists and three people were talking about why they or others keep diaries. The general opinion was that it was a selfish activity. One point of view was that although people who keep diaries claim it’s for their children to read when they are gone, in fact they would not want their offspring to read the things they actually note n their journals. The conclusion was that it was done for their grandchildren, as there was sufficient distance in the relationship to make the events recorded more acceptable.

It set me thinking, why do I blog? At first glance blogging can appear egocentric, big headed or can suggest delusions of grandeur. I hope I have none of these traits but if not then why do I blog?

I like reading military history and most of the books I’ve read in that genre talk about big campaigns, momentous battles and significant moments in the progress of wars. But the books I like best are the ones in which individuals talk about their experiences. There is a great series from the Imperial War Museum ‘Forgotten Voices’, in which the history of the battle or campaign is told through the recollections and anecdotes of individuals who were involved. These personal accounts add a realism and flavour to the story which cannot be found elsewhere. Each kind of account – the big picture and the individual – have their place and I prefer to start with the overview and then go in for the detail.

Anyway, the reason I blog is to provide the little person’s account of things. I’m not involved in any monumental moment in history but in years to come something I’ve written may provide a new insight into how things were for the ordinary person, or some background information about how the average person lived.

At the very least, I provide bedtime reading guaranteed to send you off to sleep.

Night night.

 

A week of wanderings and weather

A week off! Not just any week off, but one that I booked at short notice. My original plan was to catch up with a mate visiting from New Zealand, but the arrangements fell through and I was left with a whole week with no plans. I like that.

In actual fact, there were several planned activities but plenty of time to fit in leisure time too. On Monday, the side window of my car was fixed swiftly by Autoglass. The rain cleared just in time for the chap to get the work done while leaving us time for a visit to Cefn Bryn. Keen eyed readers will remember that this was where the young gentleman broke in to my car. Part of dealing with the break in was to get over leaving it for the first time since Thursday. I watched my car like a hawk as we walked away from it before suddenly realising that I couldn’t let it dictate the things I would do. It disappeared as we dropped down the other side of the hill and I only allowed myself the occasional worry as we walked.

On Tuesday, Rufus went for his regular hair cut. He gets very hot in any warm weather as he’s always running around, and I try to keep his fur short. I’d noticed that he was scratching and restless and that’s normally a sign he’s too hot. Following his trim and when the day had cooled, we headed off to the hills and had a leisurely stroll around the base of Moel Feity, once again surrounded by sheep. Rufus charged around with his new found coolness while I snapped away in the gorgeous evening light.

Wednesday dawned clear and sunny and we were off at the crack of dawn to climb Moel Feity and enjoy the fantastic views from the summit. It warmed up quickly and there was a haze in the air as the approaching humid weather announced itself, but the clouds didn’t start to build until we were heading back down, when it became very warm. I spent a little time tidying up the memorial to the crashed Liberator bomber and then, as a treat for Rufus, we stopped off at the river where he paddled and swam and caught stones while cooling down.

Later, I sat outside in the night air watching the Perseid meteors light up the sky. The forecast thick cloud held off for longer than I’d expected and the weather was warm for that time of night. Rufus kept coming out to have a look, but for the most part stayed inside. He’s not keen on astronomy. I saw some bright and spectacular meteors as well as the International Space Station, several satellites and one airliner. I didn’t manage to get many good photos, though, and the following morning I regretted not staying up longer.

After a wander over the common in the morning, we watched the rain come in and I decided Thursday was Great British Bake-off day. I made apple and blackberry pies. More apple than blackberry as the crop of berries wasn’t as bountiful as I’d hoped. I ended up making 11 small pies as I didn’t quite have enough pastry for the 12th. They are rather nice, though.

That night, it was clear that Rufus was still scratching and I decided that in the morning a visit to the vets was in order to find out what was causing this and to get it sorted. The waiting room was packed out with hounds of various makes and models, most of which were quite bouncy and vocal. Rufus is always well behaved in these circumstances and I was proud of his lack of reaction when other dogs barked at him or lunged at him.

The vet had a good look over and decided that he had an ‘environmental allergy’. I asked what that could be and he described the same allergies as I have – dust and pollen. Apparently, these allergens can cause animals to have skin rashes and this is what Rufus has got. In short, Rufus has hayfever! I left the vet with several potions and the biggest tablets I have ever seen. I did wonder whether I’d have to cut them up but Rufus downed one (wrapped in chicken) with no concern. He has some eye drops, which are always a test of my patience and his escapologist skills. Every time I try to apply them, Rufus imitates a snake and wriggles out of my grasp. I went on the Internet last night and found a suggested technique which involved kneeling behind him and bringing the dropper down from above so he doesn’t see it. I managed to get one drop in his eye but he learns quickly so he won’t be so easy to fool again.

Today we went back to Whiteford, a familiar beach to those having read my blogs before. It wasn’t too warm as we set out and it always amazes me how few people go there – there were three cars in the car park, and several horses, foals and some sheep. Walking on the beach was lovely and we went out more than half a mile to the receding tide. Rufus had a paddle and chased after the Oystercatchers while I tried out a new lens I’d received that morning. By the time we got back to the car, the cool of the morning had given way to the heat of midday and we were both glad to get the air conditioner working.

Sunday is always a non-day for me and it will be tomorrow as I have to leave the freedom of a week off behind and try and get myself back into the work frame of mind. It will probably consist of cleaning, ironing and other household chores although I understand from Rufus that he is expecting another walk on the hills if the weather is ok.

<sigh> I suppose I’ll have to do what he says!

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The Seaside

Yesterday, Rufus and I went down to the seaside. We haven’t been to Whiteford for a while and the morning was nice and warm without being too hot, so it seemed like an ideal time to reacquaint ourselves. I used Whiteford a lot during the early days of my trek preparation, and I know Rufus loves the area, so it seemed like a good idea.

We walked through Cwm Ivy wood to get to the dune system. Walking through the wood reminded me of the walk through the rain forest at the start of the Kilimanjaro trek. In fact, I remember thinking the same thing during the trek and mentioned it in my journal. The 20 minutes or so we spent in the woods brought back lots of memories; the only thing missing was the sound of  Turacos calling in the tree tops.

Then, suddenly, we were through two gates and out onto the sea wall that marks the boundary between the salt marches of the Loughor Estuary and the pasture of Cwm Ivy. This had been damaged in the storms earlier this year and the path had only just been reopened. A large section of sea wall had been washed away where a stream passes beneath it; a wooden bridge had been built over the breach.

It didn’t take long to get to the dunes and I found that great parts of it had been fenced off (or in, depending on which side of the fence you were on). I think it was to control the sheep as there were fewer around that on our last visit. In the distance, I could hear the sea which meant the tide was coming in. We headed across the dunes to the beach and sure enough, there was the sea.

There followed a long session of throwing sticks and fetching sticks as we slowly made our way along the water’s edge towards Whiteford Point. The beach was ours; there wasn’t a soul around. In the far distance, on a sandbank, a flock of Oystercatchers flapped and fluttered. We got closer to them until Rufus managed to spook them and they took off in one mass, flying low over the sea to another sandbank.

Walking back through the dunes, I heard the sound of aircraft and spotted a group of five planes performing aerobatics over the Loughor Estuary. It looked as if they were practising and as I watched, they looped and spun and dived with a large cumulus cloud as a backdrop. It reminded me of a painting of a Spitfire against billowing clouds.

It was getting hot as we headed back to the car, so the shade of the wood was welcome for both Rufus and me. We got back to the car having walked 5 miles and spent 3 hours in the sunshine. There was much snoring in the house in the afternoon.

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Fun week

Rufus has come to stay for a week while his owner moves house. This poses a few problems. The main ones being, who owns the sausages in the fridge and who owns the sofa? Actually, there is no problem on the latter, as Rufus owns the sofa and I merely have use of it when he isn’t here. I may be allowed to sit on the floor, leaning against the sofa, as a concession.

My garden has never been completely secure from intruders – I’ve talked about the fox here before. In anticipation of Rufus’ arrival, and to avoid a re-enactment of ‘The Great Escape’, I spent the last week or so putting up new fencing around the garden. I wanted to make sure that while Rufus is here he has free reign over the garden without being tempted by the wider world. Most of the fencing is done but there are a few areas which are difficult to get to and the dim light of dusk made seeing what I was doing hard. I managed to spear myself in the ear with a small branch and several times I knocked my glasses off. So this morning I tackled the awkward bits in full daylight.

I was watched by the boss the whole time, except when he had to go and lie down. He checked out every link and made sure there was no slacking of effort. Then he claimed the sofa for himself once again.

I expect there will be some negotiation over the time and frequency of walks. It may go something like:

“I want to go out now.”

“But it’s 5am.”

“Yes, time to go out.”

“But I need my sleep so I’m can be an effective work unit.”

“Yes, but it’s time to go out now.”

Then there is the little matter of the sausages. I expect it will be similar to the sofa in that it will turn out that I don’t own any of the contents of my fridge. Toast for tea, then!

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Feeling on top of the world

After 9 days of trekking (and what feels like a further 9 days of travelling, for once you get into the airport system, time behaves differently), I am back in the UK. And the best bit is, I got to the top of Kilimanjaro! After 6 hours of endless, relentless trudging uphill in pitch darkness, lit only by a head torch, feet slipping in the scree and brain demanding another rest stop, I reached Gillman’s point at 5.40am. Around 30 minutes later we got to Stella Point. At 7.15am local time (4.15am GMT) I reached Uhuru Peak, at 5895m above sea level.

It’s hard to describe the feeling of getting there. It was the culmination of months of preparation, training, support and encouragement from friends and colleagues. It was the culmination of 7 days of trekking through the Kilimanjaro National Park. It was the culmination of 7 days of teamwork from my fellow trekkers (Eirlys, Katherine, Michael, Raymond and Ian) and of our fantastic African Walking Company crew (our guides Passian, King James and Khalid, Mexan, our ‘stomach engineer’ and all our porters).

The summit climb was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I thought I knew what to expect after climbing Kala Patthar but I didn’t. We found out afterwards that someone had died of altitude sickness at Gillman’s Point the day before we got to the top. I’m glad we didn’t know that in advance.

I’m now suffering from some sort of culture shock. On Friday I was on top of Kilimanjaro. On Monday afternoon I was in my living room, sorting out the washing. That’s a huge change to deal with and I’m struggling. So for the time being, there is no detailed account of the trek but I have posted some photos below.

Thanks you to everyone who supported me in whatever way. It made a difference.

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Smooth as a baby’s

The things I do for fun. Two days to go before I fly off to climb Kilimanjaro. This evening was shaving evening! I’ve had a beard for just over two years, mainly because I hate the inevitable shaving rash I used to get when wet shaving (an electric razor never did it for me). But I have to look like my passport photo so I decided to shave the beard off.

Me with full beard

Beard

I’ve grown (grown, ha ha! Groan,) used to my beard now and I even let it grow over Christmas until I found coffee and bread crumbs from breakfast still there when I got to work. I trimmed it back again to what you see above. I set to work with shaving cream, two razors and hot water.

10 minutes later, I was at the goatee stage.

Me with goatee

Weird

I was alternately soaking one razor and using the other. It still took ages to get the long bristles off. I kept scraping but the razor was being deflected over the longer hairs. Still, eventually after another 15 minutes, I managed to get the Mexican Bandit look.

Me with moustache

Village people

If you’ve ever seen the episode of Top Gear where they make an intro for a 70’s action hero show (with a Reliant Scimitar as the main car) you’ll recognise this style of moustache. By now, all the scraping was taking a toll on my skin and my upper lip always suffers the worst. But the temptation to leave the mo’ was countered by the inevitable comparison to Village People. So the scraping continued.

After another 15 minutes, it had almost all gone and I’d had enough.

Clean shaven

16 again

 

As I’m writing this, I can feel a gentle waft of air on my upper lip. It’s stinging too. The double chin that the beard hid is still there but I was looking up slightly at the camera (there are some benefits to being a photographer – I know the tricks to hid the undesirable bits).

It’s as smooth as a baby’s bum,. apart from the bits where the blade was obviously blunt, which is as smooth as a piece of sandpaper.  

www.justgiving.com/DaveFarmer0304. It’s got to be worth it just to see the mo’!