An “Ab Fab” Gurkha Christmas

We left Llanfoist tonight around 4pm and drove in increasing darkness along the winding road to Brecon where we were going to see Joanna Lumley switch on the Christmas lights at 6pm.

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We parked just away from the town centre at the Brecon Theatre which proved a smart move as the town was awash with families out to celebrate with a large sound stage erected in the town square where a local youth theatre group was singing Christmas carols.

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All round there were street stalls offering Christmas cookies, cakes, decorations alongside the less traditional burger van although I did see that mulled wine was on offer alongside keg lager and wine!  It was raining as we arrived and quite cold so we shelter in the local Costa for a hot panini with coffee but luckily the weather turned dry and warmer for the main event so we didn’t stay there too long.

First up were a traditional quartet of Nepalese dancers introduced by the local community group representative who I believe had been a Gurkha himself.  The brigade has a company (Mandalay) based at the Infantry Battle School on the outskirts of Brecon.  This was followed by a tiny seven year old girl dancer called Simran who danced alone a more modern interpretation of the art to great applause.

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Simran

Joanna was chosen because of her close link to the Nepalese people as her father had served with the Gurkhas and she has campaigned tirelessly on their behalf to make sure that their loyal service to the UK is properly rewarded when they come to retire.  Even in Abergavenny itself there is a Nepalese restaurant just of the town square.

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Apart from the lovely Joanna who at the end of a 30 second countdown towards 6pm turned on the lights, followed by her amusing speech in English and Welsh, he’d also managed to get his excellency the Nepalese ambassador Dr. Durga Bahadur Subedi from London to close the event with a very good speech without notes that was very well received by the crowds of people in attendance.

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His Excellency!

A really ab fab night (pun intended), quite a coup for Brecon town and we all agreed it was great fun.

An “Ab Fab” Gurkha Christmas

I Used To Be A Punk Rocker!

It’s been quite a mixed day here in our Llanfoist escape.  It’s actually been raining quite a bit so we took a break from the canal walk and swimming and decided to get in the holiday spirit by visiting Wyevale garden centre in Raglan to look at the Christmas decorations.

Before we headed out though the postman knocked on our front door with the Real Life vinyl album from the punk group Magazine thanks to Discogs that I haven’t listened to in over forty years…

The vast majority of my original music collection was originally purchased in vinyl LP format in the late 1970’s and early ’80’s, but sadly over the years most got “lost” thanks to several house (and boat) moves.  Despite this one of the first things Debbie and I did on moving to Wales was to buy a high end stereo system for the den and slowly rebuild our record collections.

How time passes so quickly!  It made me pause for thought to realise that despite being still only 57 (for just over a week) I’ve actually been alive for seven decades being born in 1959!

Now a lots happened in this time and I remember asking my father once what invention had impacted his life the most when he was probably the same age as I am now and also retired.  I remember his careful answer after a period of reflection was television.

So I thought it would be interesting to look over these decades of my life to date and reflect on what my main memories are from each – I wonder if others will have the same recollections!

1950’s

Doesn’t really count as I was born in November 1959!

1960’s

Toys: Action Man, Thunderbirds, Stingray, Spirograph, Play-Doh,
Music: The Beatles, Cliff Richard, Val Doonican
Games: Newmarket card game at Xmas with my maternal grandparents
TV: Blue Peter, Crackerjack, Magic Roundabout, White Horses, Doctor Who (Yeti), Star Trek

1970’s

Toys: Flying Scotsman train set, Microscope, Clackers
Music: ABBA, Stranglers, Bee Gees, Magazine, Sex Pistols, The Clash, Queen
Games: Escape from Colditz, Pong, Chess
TV: Six Million Dollar Man, Top of the Pops, Swap Shop, Dads Army, A Team, Survivors, UFO

1980’s

Toys: None that I can remember!
Music: Madonna, Duran Duran
Games: Sinclair Spectrum, ZX81, Dungeons & Dragons, Trivial Pursuit
TV: Howard’s Way, Just Good Friends

1990’s

Toys: Scalextric, Titanic, Ghostbusters, Tracey Island, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Furbies
Music: Mainly on cassette Go Nuts, Spice Girls, Tom Jones
Games: Charades, Titanic, Sega Mega Drive (Sonic, Aladin)
TV: Beavis and Butt-head, X-Files, Red Dwarf,Robot Wars
Film: Toy Story

2000’s

Toys: Cluedo, Scrabble, Monopoly
Music: Mainly on CD
Games: PlayStation 3 (Call of Duty)
TV: Castaway 2000, TV Burp, Doctor Who

2010’s

Toys: Webley air pistol, telescope
Music: Back mainly to vinyl and streaming on Amazon Music
Games: PlayStation 4 (Uncharted, The Last of Us)
TV: Games of Thrones, Harry Potter, Stella, Gavin and Stacy, Doc Martin

Well as we head rapidly towards the end of 2017 I decided to take another plunge back into memory lane thanks to a quick visit to the Borough market where I picked up these two old friends for the princely sum of £23 before settling into watching Saturday night’s TV fayre of Strictly Come Dancing and the X Factor – oh and write this blog – goodnight!

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I Used To Be A Punk Rocker!

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Call me old fashioned but I love the anticipation of Christmas and as I get older it seems even more special.  Now of course we don’t go mad and put up our Christmas decorations before the 1st of December…  Well the only exception was the first Christmas after Debbie & I got married, when I put them up on mine and James’ joint birthday on the 20th November 1990 in our little end of terrace home in Southcote Avenue Feltham!

I currently writing this blog listening to Bing Crosby singing various Christmas songs on the Echo Dot next to my keyboard in the den.  I wonder what he’d have thought of all this new technology?  I maybe called the “Old Complainer” by SWMBO but Bing’s nickname to his friends was the “Old Groaner” which makes me smile.

I love the Bing Crosby “White Christmas” film and when I sit down and watch it each year it reminds me of my own old army buddies and it brings a tear to my eye without fail every time he sings “What can you do with a general?  Somehow general has a better ring to it than “regional vice president” or indeed “corporal”…

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Anyway the title of this blog is a festive song made famous first by Perry Como back in 1951 and here in Abergavenny it really is starting to feel a lot like Christmas!  It helps having two-thirds of the children still living with us, with the eldest Alex and his wife Emily keeping in touch via FaceTime until they come to stay with us on Christmas Day.  With Emma’s boyfriend Josh also making his way to Wales from Suffolk again it looks like we’ll have a full-house!

Of course children now equates to young adults, although I can’t believe James will be thirty in less than two weeks time, counterbalanced nicely by Emma who has already bought at least three advent calendars (including one for her hamster Hugo) and possibly more for the two hounds!

The weather here is rather bright and cold, interspersed with some fantastic Welsh rainstorms, but apart from the regular canal dog walks, swims and sauna, I still get up most week days at 8am to spy on the builder’s progress in the courtyard playground area in front of our house and the estate roads that are finally having tarmac laid around the numerous raised iron works this week.


For me completion of all this will make an excellent early Christmas present and put an end to a rather worrying snooping habit!

Bah humbug indeed! 🙂

 

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

It’s All About Time

One of the things I’m beginning to appreciate most of all about retirement is the amount of time I now have to do other things rather than work.  Don’t get me wrong I loved my work, well mostly!  I met some terrific people along the way, but it deprived me of quality time with my family and stopped me doing other things I love, like learning about the universe and losing myself in a good book.

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So thanks to an increased amount of free time I now find myself once per week attending aqua-fit with my wife and daughter which translates to a 45 minute intensive workout half submerged with around 20 other ladies of various ages all in swimsuit attire at our local leisure centre.

To be totally transparent there is usually at least one other male, sometimes two, accompanying me in our mutual journey to fitness and health.  I can’t tell you what fun it is to perform rocking horse, frog leaps, ski cross country, running on the spot, races to the side of the pool and other manoeuvres in such company and the benefits accruing in terms of waistlines and general wellbeing.

In terms of learning about the universe I love attending the local astronomy club here in Abergavenny each month although it seems largely about astrophysics rather than amateur observing but that hasn’t stopped me getting a Celestron travel telescope and binoculars to observe the solar system and watching lectures like Stephen Hawking on quantum black holes via youtube!

I still like dabbling with technology and the house is now “flood-wired” with 5 echo dots, an Echo and Echo Plus, numerous smart plugs and wifi enabled LED bulbs controlled by Alexa, my iMac in the den where I write this blog is framed behind with bias lighting on LED strips too!

All this freedom has resulted in me reading again, not just endless repeat reads of John RR Tolkien‘s “Lord of the Rings”, but new adventures with George RR Martin‘s “Game of Thrones” series (strange how they both have middle initials of R. R.) as well as non-fiction astrophysics reading like Carlo Rovelli‘s “Reality Is Not What It Seems” on quantum gravity.  It really is full circle for me now for sure…

A great man once told me “the definition of madness is continuing to do exactly the same things and expecting a different outcome”.  Made me think for sure!  🙂

 

It’s All About Time

Charity Begins At Abergavenny 

Surely you mean “charity begins at home” I can hear you think?  Maybe, but given Abergavenny is now “home” it’s perhaps not surprising that the town hosts a plethora of charity shops for locals and visitors alike to mooch in!

At the last count there are ten charity shops in town nine of which are pictured below.  The odd man out is the Salvation Army store towards the back of town and despite my Fitbit encouragement I declined to walk any further yesterday in pursuit of my latest blog.  Before you ask yes I managed over 10,000 steps…

Cats Protection

This is where we do most of our donations on the basis we don’t go in that often, although I bought some excellent Dire Straits & ABBA vinyl there recently!

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Mostly clothes so I’m not sure we’ve ever bought anything from this particular shop but the Merthyr branch yielded a full set of Inspector Morse paperbacks…

Oxfam

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Excellent for books especially the kind Emma buys but I managed to get some sheet music for “I’ve Got Sixpence” one of my late father’s favourite songs 🙂

Blue Cross

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Probably our most visited shop as our son James works there and they welcome Molly & Hamish even if they are slightly damp from the Usk…  Great source for CD’s and clothes like my outside walking trousers!

Cancer Research UK

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I think we bought a board game from here and some Christmas cards

Marie Curie

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Our kitchen bookcase has a lot of cookbooks sourced from this particular shop!

Wales Air Ambulance

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A great cause which must be so expensive to keep flying I helped via an ABBA picture disc single displayed in the window when passing…

Sue Ryder

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Next to the Post Office and seems full of clothes and recycled furniture.  Some old friends of ours in Feltham visited on holiday and bought some garden gnomes I believe 🙂

St David’s Hospice Care

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Interesting shop situated past the Borough Theatre on the left & the King’s Arms.  Mostly bric-a-brac  but a source of some great Dan Brown novels for me!

Apologies to any charities inadvertently missed out but as you can see a great collection of shops to look out for those essential replacements for your memory cupboards…

UPDATE:  Just bought for £3 a Wilson “Roger Federer” titanium tennis racket in excellent condition from Sue Ryder!  Normal price new £23…

Charity Begins At Abergavenny 

The Dynamic Universe

After the recent car crash I’m pleased to report that I’ve finally got used to driving again, albeit with a heightened degree of caution, which is no bad thing.

When you come within inches of having a very serious accident it puts a different perspective on life.  Different from that “seismic” change when I retired, in some ways more immediate in the here and now, as opposed to the medium/long term impact of stopping work.

As a result yesterday Debbie and I were very busy buying ourselves badminton rackets, shuttlecocks and associated sportswear including possibly the lighter trainers for playing in that I’ve ever owned.  This stemmed from Emma’s boyfriend Josh who visited her last weekend and who took her to the local leisure centre we belong to that is normally reserved for swims and sauna, with a weekly aquafit thrown in, to play badminton.

Josh I believe plays for a local league in Suffolk and offered to teach a rather nervous Emma to play with his spare racket.  Now Debbie used to play when she was 21 years old with colleagues in Companies House but hasn’t played since and I could detect a spark of interest in playing again.  Funnily enough I used to play myself, although I played more squash with Dino of Squad 29 fame in my late twenties.

Interest piqued we bit the bullet and splashed out just under £200 for the kit for both of us, it would have been more if it hadn’t been for the 10% Defence Discount Service!  Next MondayDebbie will be the first to play Emma at 5pm with my role limited to that of chauffeur and scorekeeper, judging by her mood over breakfast this morning I think she is both nervous and excited at the prospect!

Later yesterday I decided to go on my own to the Abergavenny Astronomy Society which I became a member of for the princely sum of £10 about a month ago.  Member pay £1 at each meeting in addition but can bring guests for £2 on an ad hoc basis and Debbie accompanied me once to hear a talk about quasars while Emma has been a couple of times to listen to a talk about general astronomy and trans-Neptunian objects (TNO)!

Where I partook of a very rare pint of Guinness…

Last night’s meeting held upstairs in a private room in the King’s Head hotel/pub started at 7.30pm but I went alone to listen to Professor Andy Newsam talk about “The Dynamic Universe”.  Andy was quite a character having blonde hair tied back in a long ponytail but his credentials as Prof of Astronomy Education & Engagement at the Astrophysics Research Institute in Liverpool reinforced my impression that he was a brilliant speaker.

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The main thrust of his 90 minute presentation, peppered with numerous audience questions which he answered brilliantly, was that the universe is not static but constantly evolving at differing speeds and that astronomers today are focussed on the most extreme changeable events which requires a different technology and approach.

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The Liverpool John Moores university has built the Liverpool Telescope (LT) in La Palma in the Canary Islands at the top ridge of the volcano far above most of the surrounding clouds.  It runs as a lights out facility with robotic remote operation, is highly fault tolerant and rapid to reposition in only 20 seconds.

Apart from academics, schools and amateur astronomers can “bid” for viewing access and it is designed to capture changes in the visible cosmos quickly a so many changes are transient in nature such as near-earth objects (NEO), gravitational waves, exoplanets, supermassive black holes and colliding neutron stars!

His enthusiasm and knowledge for his subject was undoubted and it turned out to be a very busy tonight with over 20 people crammed into all available seats in the small room.   Sadly most appeared older than me at nearly 58, which was a shame as in his role as space ambassador he gives lots of talks to schoolchildren and students but his audience was very knowledgeable about astrophysics, more so than myself despite having a Master’s degree, albeit from 34 years ago!

This is what i find so fascinating about living here in Abergavenny, it never fails to amaze me about the thirst for knowledge of the locals and their interest in such esoteric subjects.  I find it really uplifting to be reconnecting with the topic to be honest and makes me feel right at home living here.  🙂

 

The Dynamic Universe

LV Stands For Luncheon Vouchers Or…

If I’ve been a bit quiet on this blog recently it’s because Debbie and I were involved in a car accident last week and although we got through it mostly physically unscathed it’s taken time to get over the shock.

One thing that’s made the experience easier was that our insurance company LV= (London Victoria) has been excellent with the Freelander’s total loss figure of £3,600 offered being fair considering I paid £4,000 for it about 2 years ago and so yet another worry taken care of.

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In fact although I have a reputation of being a “complainer” lately, when firms get it right then it’s only fair they should be praised too.  After we got back home, thanks to a very friendly ambulance driver & paramedic that happened to be passing the scene of the accident, I called LV explaining what had happened and put in a claim.

They quickly got the facts of the case and offered us an automatic saloon hire car, not just a small hatch back, although truthfully I never drove it after Enterprise delivered it (again normally they just do pick up and drop off of the driver) as I was too shell shocked to drive an unfamiliar car and just wanted to get our Ford Galaxy (stored in our garage) back on the road after a MOT and service.

It reminded me that 2017 has been quite a year for insurance claims following the earlier cancellation of our trip to Pefkos, fully refunded less the excess by the free Nationwide European travel insurance thanks to our FlexAccount.

I had worried that “free” might mean “poor” but this wasn’t the case again.  On both occasions all forms were filled out via the internet and used email which certainly eased the burden, my only gripe was that the travel insurance settled using a cheque as opposed to the car insurance’s bank credit to our current account but a small matter.

So just over a week later I’m back driving again and yesterday we had our first swim and sauna in over a week, plus a visit to Aldi rather than the daily walk across to Waitrose which it has to be said drove up my Fitbit steps nicely.

The accident’s made me much more aware of the road traffic, but I’m thinking of investing in a dash cam as this was almost the first question asked by LV as there were no independent witnesses to the accident…

 

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Just installed by Halford’s Brynmawr!

Ironically having two cars was a bit of a waste (three if you include James’ Fiesta) and my original intention had been to run the Freelander into the ground while storing for probably at least a couple of years the Galaxy on SORN which probably wouldn’t have done it much good.

So in the end I’ve avoided the hassle of maintaining both and selling/scrapping the Land Rover once it became too expensive to keep going although I’ve had to splash out on yet another dog guard and floor mat for the Galaxy.  Now I’m driving a much newer more comfortable vehicle that’s a lot cheaper to run than the 4×4 so as they say, “all’s well that ends well”.

P.S. overnight we won £25 on the National Lottery! 🙂

LV Stands For Luncheon Vouchers Or…