A Load Of Balls

A Load Of Balls

I had had a nice night on Friday, it was date night and Titchy and I had a lovely evening chatting and being daft over a lovely meal in our local pub.  All of the kids  were away for the evening and so we were able to enjoy a lazy Saturday morning in bed and I volunteered to make the tea and butter the bagels.

As we sat, like a proper middle aged couple, drinking tea and reading our books and enjoy the peace and quiet.  I needed that rest.  I had been under the weather for a week or two.  Nothing bad enough to keep me off work like flu, but just me being at about 80%.  I had a pain across my lower back, I had lost my appetite and I was feeling a little sickly.

As I lay there, I wasn’t really reading my book, I was just looking through it as my mind wandered. I was as happy as I had been in ages.  I was lying comfortably in my new house, our relationship was going well, I was enjoying my job and my kids were happy and healthy.  We were thinking about holidays for the year and the world, as they say, was my lobster.

As my mind drifted and I started to think about where in the world we might like to go two questions hit me at almost the exact same second.  The first was “Why is it that when I am comfortable and I start to think about things do I always end up with my hand on my balls?”

The second question was, and this one felt a little more important,  “What the hell is that pain in my bollocks?”.  I hadn’t played football or been running as I had been under the weather and so it wasn’t a sports injury, so I continued to have a little root about.

I found a lump, about the size of a smartie, and it was as painful as having a child’s confectionary sized lump on the most sensitive part of your body.  I think Titchy must have seen the look on my face, she is used to me cupping my gentleman parts when I’m relaxing so I knew it wasn’t that, but I was in a bit of a panic.

“I’ve found a lump Titchy” I said. Well, I didn’t, I used her proper name, but you know what I mean.  “It won’t be anything to worry about, relax.  Most of the time these things are nothing serious” she said in her usual calm and comforting way.

It was too late for that, I was already waaaaay beyond panic and getting close to a full on meltdown.  I still have a load of things that I want to do, places I want to go and I want to see my kids grow up and I want to get old with Titchy.  I was too young to die of testicular cancer, this wasn’t fair.  I didn’t want to wait for a professional to diagnose me, I already knew. I was working out how I would look with no hair and wondering what songs to request at my funeral.  I wasn’t going to fight it off, I had already decided that I was done and dusted.

I can’t actually describe how I felt for the rest of the weekend. I was empty of feeling but full of anger and worry and bitterness that this was happening to me.  I felt, at the same moment, everything and nothing.  Titchy spent the rest of the weekend calming me down and telling me that I was going to be fine.  I tried my very best to believe her.

This morning I called the doctors and I made an appointment for 11 o’clock.  In my usual style I was there for 10.40 and as I sat in the waiting room I regretted being so early.  I would guess that there were about 20 people in there and 19 of them appeared to have a cough that wouldn’t stop.  I was going to get flu and this was exactly the sort of thing that was going to delay my chemotherapy session, I could tell.

Titchy sent me a message to ask how I was feeling; was I nervous about showing my bits to the doctor.  I didn’t care, I wanted to know how long I had left and I would happily run naked up the high street if it would get me the answers I wanted and needed.

I eventually got in to see the doctor and explained the confectionary growing on my  knackers situation.  He asked me to jump on the bed and take my pants off.  I was tempted to ask him to buy me a drink first but there is nothing like the sound of rubber gloves being snapped into position to kill any humorous vibes.

After a brief inspection (brief but not as tender as the way one would inspect oneself),  he wheeled away and the gloves were off now. Literally.  “Well, first thing to say is that there is nothing to worry about, it’s nothing to worry about…..”  I could see that his mouth was still moving but I couldn’t hear what he was saying.  I was in tears, floods of them.  I was going to be around for a bit longer and do and see all of the things that I was thinking about just 48 hours before.

The doctor’s mouth had stopped moving now and he looked at me in the same way that Titchy had looked at me when I first spotted the issue.  I snapped out of it and started listening again.  “I can see that you had assumed the worst, but it’s all fine.  It is more common for a man of your age to have a cyst down there than to not have one.”

I let the little jibe about my age go, I had other things to worry about.  I had a cyst on my testicle and that was normal.  That was a good thing and my life was going to be normal again.  I was given a prescription for antibiotics if I needed them, and I was out of there.

I texted Titchy right away to tell her I was fine and walked the 5 minutes back to my car.  I managed to hold myself together all the way through the reception area but as soon as I was outside I was back to crying.  I sat in my car and just sobbed my relief for a few minutes.  Everything was going to be fine.

So why, in this travel and photography blog, am I telling you all of this? Well, on the drive to the Metro station there was a section on the news about women avoiding smear tests due to the embarrassment of the procedure and, even worse, as they were ashamed of their bodies.  That’s crazy.

The last thing that was going through my mind while the doc had my crown jewels in his hand was “I hope my garden has been well trimmed”.  This was as close to life and death as I had ever been.

To all women readers – go for your tests and take care of yourself.  Unless you have two fannies or one that dispenses cappuccino, then its nothing that the professionals haven’t seen before. They care about your health, they don’t care what you look like down there.

To all of the male readers, I urge you to take a good look at your balls and give them a good old feel.  Even if you don’t feel anything wrong with you or them, then have a feel right now so that you know what normal feels like.  If you don’t feel anything, you had a play with your balls and that’s always good, if you do, then get it looked at as soon as possible.  It won’t get any better but it might get worse.

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Happy New Year

I am never sure what the cut off is for wishing people a happy new year.  I guess it must be some point after January 11th as I just did it, so apologies if your cut off is before this and I have offended.

Titchy and I had such a relaxing and happy Christmas and New Year break that I simply didn’t get around to writing when I intended, so apologies if anyone was eagerly awaiting an update (a total of zero people I suspect are covered by that apology).

At the start of 2017 I set myself a target or running 200km in the year.  That’s an average of 3.8km per week and so not a huge target, but I set it low so that I had no excuses for failure.

My first run of the year wasn’t until 22nd January and that was just 2.8k in the roasting afternoon heat of Costa Rica. The idea that the challenge would keep me running through the year wasn’t working as I only managed one other run in January and just one 5k in February.  March was totally static but I panicked into life in April as I had the North Tyneside 10k run to get through.

I ran 35k in total with two park runs and two 10k runs getting me back into it.  The odd 5k run per month for the rest of the year didn’t really help me get anywhere close to where I needed to be.  I was focusing on playing football and coaching kids football and moving house.  I just ran out of time or, to be more accurate, I ran out of motivation to get off my backside.

September to mid-November were pretty much write off’s as I had a foot injury that stopped me from walking never mind running.  That left me with 60km to do it 6 weeks, double my target weekly rate, or interest on my laziness for the rest of the year.

Now, the point of this blog post is the impact of setting that target at the beginning of the year.  Without that target I would have possibly done one, maybe two runs over the course of the winter months, as my previous history had proved.

But I had set a challenge. I was being measured and I had made it known to a load of different people, quite deliberately, that I had set the target.  This was to create my own pressure, the fear of looking like I had failed.  With that target in place, I got out of the house and worked out a plan.

You might not be a runner, it might bore you stupid or you might not be able to run.  But for the new year I wold urge everyone to set themselves a target.  Something do-able and something achievable. Make it know and put yourself under pressure to do something amazing, even if it just amazing to you.  It will help you to focus and work towards a target and, should you achieve it, you will feel like a million dollars.

So, with that in mind, what are my targets for 2018?

I have set myself a target of running 350 KM in 2018.  This is 6.7k per week but I intend to run longer on each run as I prepare for half marathons.  I have committed to running a half marathon in Vegas in November and the North Tyneside 10k run at Easter.  I have also entered the ballot for the great north run.  I need to train and, this year, I have double the motivation

From a travel point of view, I have a family wedding in Australia in 2019 and so that will be my big trip to plan and save for.  I have a trip to Vegas for the half marathon that I have mentioned and so have two trips I need to nail down;

  1. A trip to Shap to look at rocks. I used to love Geology at school and always said I would stay at the Shap Wells Hotel when I was there on a field trip.
  2. A family holiday with Titchy and the kids…..that will take some organising but I fancy Greece or maybe Italy!

Have a great 2018 and let me know your targets!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Running Away

Running Away

I remember the morning very well.  The previous night my Dad had passed away and I had woken up to a different world and, quite frankly, I didn’t know where to begin.  His death had come out of nowhere and so there was no getting ready for it and I still couldn’t take it all in.

I sat at the bottom of the stairs in shock and looked up to see my running shoes, that I had bought a few weeks before, and thought to myself, ‘why not do a Forrest Gump and go for a run?’ I had maybe been for two or three runs previously and had never managed to get more than a kilometre.

I ran from my home towards St Mary’s lighthouse in Whitley bay.  It was maybe 2km away, a little further if the tide was out enabling you to run across the causeway and get across to the lighthouse base.

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St Mary’s Lighthouse and a man pointing at the stone that I was sitting on. (Image from Google) 

I ran without thinking, and forgot that I was tired and that my lungs hurt, and ran further than I had ever run in one go.  I couldn’t tell if my eyes were running due to the wind that was blowing sand into my face or tears, it didn’t matter.

I got across the causeway and found a place to sit.  It perched on a rock and just caught my breath and watched the waves for a while.  I will remember what happened next for the rest of my days.  An elderly lady, easily in her eighties, was walking her little dog along and  stopped right next to me.  She put her little frail hand on my head and looked down at me and just said, ‘It’s ok son, everything will be ok’.  I guess I was crying.

She smiled at me, walked off, and has probably never thought of that moment again.  I have.  Kindness, caring for others and taking a moment to make other peoples lives a little easier for no self reward.  It meant everything to me.

Why am I sharing this with you today?

Today would have been my fathers birthday and today was the first day in around two months that I have been able to run without pain in my foot.  I ran to the lighthouse and although the tide was in and I couldn’t get to the same spot, just for a second I looked over and saw the stone that I had sat on and I thought about that moment and all the way back home I thought about my Dad.

Life does go on, but it will always be a little different, a little harder with a little piece of me missing.  I miss you Dad, thank you for being such a huge part in the person that I am today.

 

 

To SLR or not SLR, that is the question.

To SLR or not SLR, that is the question.

First of all, many thanks to those people who have been kind enough to get in touch and thank me for posting on this blog, it really has been quite an eye-opener that anyone is actually reading this, never mind thinking that it is any good!

I started writing this blog mainly for myself, so that I could look back in years to come and remember how I felt at the time about the trips that I take.  I just wish that I had started it years ago as I have only very distant memories of a lot of my holidays and feel like I missed huge opportunities to capture my time in Shanghai, Sydney and New York, as well as countless other less exotic trips.

I was asked by one person what camera I used to take the pictures on the blog.  The honest answer is that I can’t always remember!  I use both an SLR camera and an iPhone 6 and the mobile phone camera is so good it is often very hard to recall which I captured a particular image on.

I think that the speed at which you can whip out your phone and get a picture makes it so much more convenient and the new features such as slow motion, time lapse and Pano mean that a lot of the features that used to be SLR unique are now tucked in your pocket.

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One of my favourite pictures from my European road trip

Having said that, if you have the time to set up the SLR on a tripod and spend some time getting the settings right and taking time to frame a show, then the results can be stunning.  Let me be clear here, results that others get can be stunning, my pictures very rarely get anywhere close to being stunning and I am happy with amateur or average!

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Another of my favourite pictures, this time of the Alps.

I have added two pictures, one from each source, and wonder if you can tell the difference?

The camera that I use is a Canon EOS 500D which is the entry level camera or at least it was when I bought it probably ten years ago or more and, I am pretty sure, it cost me around £500.  I have quickly checked the interweb and it looks as if the prices have dropped a fair bit.  You can pick up the newer, fancier and more compact version for only £299 now.

When you compare that to about a grand for the new iPhone handset, then it doesn’t feel quite to expensive to buy an SLR.

One of the other questions that I was asked about the European road trip that I recently completed was “What would you do differently?” If you recall, one of the main reasons that I went on the trip was to drive over mountain passes and take in the stunning views while zigzagging up a mountain road.

I just wish that I had some decent footage of that as recording it on my phone while it was clipped to a phone holder on the windscreen gave some pretty poor pictures!  I hadn’t realised how cheap it was to get your hands on these fancy dash cams.  For £35.99 I would have snapped your hand off for this before I left!

https://www.ashappyas.com/spend/7726-top-spec-car-dvr-dash-cam-35-99-full-hd-recording-60fps-165-degree-wide

That’s enough from me now, thanks for reading and thanks so much for your comments and questions.

PS – Just in case you were wondering, the picture of the Alps is SLR, the picture of the church at Bourg-en-Bresse is taken on a iPhone 6

 

 

What’s next?

Now that the nights are dark and cold and temperatures have dropped to the point where hats and scarves are required, the mind starts to wander towards holidays and getting away.

I have to admit, seeing Christmas decorations and TV adverts in mid November is also adding to my desire to get away too!

I have a number of trips planned:

  1. A trip to Preston coming up to see Jon Richardson, that should be fun.
  2. A trip to York to catch up with Titchy Feet’s family from Australia.  That will get me thinking about warmer climes too!
  3. I have committed to running a half marathon in Las Vegas next November, a place I have never been to and somewhere that I never really had any desire to go to but, now that I am pencilled in, I am quite looking forward to the idea.

For the family holiday next year my thoughts are jumping between:

  1. I promised Titchy Feet that I would take her to New York one day.  The pressure is on on this one as my daughter’s friend was taken to New York by her family and absolutely loved it.  She bumped into the filming for one or my daughters favourite TV shows, Impractical Jokers, and so the pressure really is on to beat that!
  2. I have always fancied going to Italy for a holiday.  I know that I didn’t really enjoy my time there when I did my grand tour, but I think I just picked the wrong ,industrial areas to drive through.
  3. As I work with a lot of people from Costa Rica, I have a load of options to stay there and the diving  would be great for my daughter who recently passed her PADI tests.
  4. A Greek island trip as it may be great value and it I bloody love gyros.

What do you think?  Any recommendations?

Day 11 – Done and Dusted

Up with the larks I was at the ferry terminal before most of the employees of DFDS and so I was first in the queue to get boarded.  I picked a seat right in the nose of the ferry and watched like a dog waiting at the front window of its house awaiting its owner to return, except I was desperate to see the famous white cliffs again.

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Back to the white/grey cliffs off Dover.

I won’t bore you with my drive home, I have probably bored you enough already. But let me summarise the trip the best I can.

– I loved the freedom of going where I wanted, when I wanted.

– I loved visiting history spots and feeling like I was surrounded by the echos of the past; Mierlo, Bastogne, Normandy.

– The drive from Italy back into France was amazing.

– I met some really nice people and saw some amazing characters.

– I did too much driving and not enough viewing. I should have stopped at villages and wandered around rather than seeing places at 30 mph in my car.

– I wish I had spent more money on toll roads and given myself more time to get out into wherever I landed each night and bought meals. I like food, but ended up eating tins of meat from the UK or supermarket cheese and bread. I only had two bought meals in restaurants.

– I wish I had planned more and worked out what I wanted to see and the route ahead of the trip so I could spend more time taking in the sights and people around me and less time looking at maps and Googling routes!

Would I do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat.

Would I do it differently? Yes, I think I would.

 

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Over three thousand miles and 75 hours of driving…….DONE!

 

Day 11 – Heading Home

I packed up the tent and said my au revoirs to my little French friend in the campsite reception.  I am not 100% sure that he understood a single word I said, but I was happy that I had tried my best.

I was heading home the next day and so needed to be near Dunkirk for an early ferry.  I hate being under pressure for time so for once I knew where I had to be that night in order to be able to sleep comfortably.

I had plenty of time and so decided to swing by the famous Pegasus Bridge in Ranville.  It is the on the easternmost section of the D-Day invasion area on the River Orne.  Three gliders landed 100 meters away from the bridge and captured it intact; taking the German garrison totally by surprise.  By capturing and holding the bridge, it prevented the German forces from reinforcing the landing areas with armour during and after the invasion.

The landing of the gliders so close to the bridge, giving the vital element of surprise, was described as the greatest flying achievement of the Second World War.  Just next to the bridge was a small café that was, and still is, owned by the Gondree family.  It was said to be the first building liberated on D-Day.

IMG_9430Arlette Gondree (the daughter of the owner on D-Day and who was there as a child herself on D-Day) owns the café today and her daughters run the show.  It is a hot bed of memorabilia and a meeting place for veterans.  I had to visit this place and take a look but was cautious as the reviews on TripAdvisor were not the best.  Apparently the owners were sick of people taking photographs of the family and the memorabilia and were not scared to remind you of the photography ban they have put in place.  It’s their café; they can do that if they like, no problem.

I went in with my camera respectfully packed away and my phone in my pocket and politely smiled when I got to the front of the queue ready to place my order.  “NO PHOTOS” was barked at me by the most charming lady behind the counter, ‘Urm, yes, I wasn’t going to take any photos, sorry’.  Being English, I felt like I had to apologise for doing nothing wrong.

I asked for a coffee and a croissant and was told that it was 3 Euro 75.  I handed over a five Euro note as I had left my change in the car and was barked at ‘Do you not have anything smaller?’  Once again, I apologised for turning up in a café having not revised the price list before hand and turning up with the correct change.  What was I thinking?  She just shrugged her shoulders and began to serve the next person.  It turned out that they don’t give change.

I laughed and drank my piss poor coffee and several day old pastry with a smile on my face.  I was feeling sniffly and miserable after my run in the rain followed by a day in the rain.  I had had enough of France and enough of the War memorabilia.  I had been to the museum at the end of the bridge on a previous visit, so I had no interest in going again.  As I stood up to leave I left my tray and empty cups on the table and, somehow a spoon from my coffee must have fallen into my bag.  In my mind there was no way I was going to leave a €1.25 tip but I was happy to buy a €1.25 commemorative spoon!

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Cafe Gondree – The Happiest of all Cafes.  Honest.

I walked back across the bridge and stood at the markers on the grass next to the bridge that were placed where the gliders came to rest.  The feeling of being surrounded by history was still there, and I took a while to take it all in before heading back to the car to get away from Normandy.   Next to the bridge a mic and PA system had been set up and an event was clearly just about to begin. As I crossed the road I could see that a marching military band was heading over the bridge.  I had seen enough. I didn’t hang around and headed home.

Nothing much happened on the rest of the drive.  I probably spent around £30 extra on fuel while trying to avoid toll roads that probably would have cost £10.  I followed the coast along and drove through some lovely villages but, I must say, I was sick of driving and missing home.  Titchy Feet had recommended Honfleurs where she had visited as a child and said it was very pretty.  I drove through and it was indeed a lovely looking town.  I couldn’t find a parking space near to the shops and so I drove on after three laps of the town’s one way system.  I wanted her to be there with me. I was missing her and my kids a lot.

I paid off half the French national debt to get over the Normandy Bridge, which connects Honfleurs to Le Havre.  It was 2,143 metres long and felt like it was based on one of my Scalextric tracks in my front room when I used to try and make jumps by putting cassette tapes under the track to cause a lump.  As you entered the bridge you couldn’t see the other side, just the peak half way across.  It had the feel of a roller coaster where you spend a long while getting to peak but without the thrill of the free wheeling drop at the other side.

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Canal and Blue Skies

I actually made it back up to Dunkirk by early evening and chanced my arm at the ferry terminal.  I asked if I could bring my ferry time forward so that I could get to England that night and head home through the night.  I was turned away, which was probably best as I was in no mood for driving an all nighter.  I found a pitch at a place called Cappelle-Brouck which was about 15 minutes away from the ferry terminal.

I got my tent up and had a wander along the canal with my camera before having a couple of medicinal beers in the campsite bar.   The manager of the site was a traveller and a very intelligent and interesting guy.  He suggested that I should come back with my family and stay in the site owners’ house that slept 10 people.  It sounded amazing and it is in the notebook for future adventures!

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Tent Time

Yet again, with no food on offer in the bar, I had to rely on a tin of chicken curry to get me through the night.  It was time for bed.