16 March 2020

We Live in Interesting Times!

I think it rather prophetic that a Chinese Curse says, “May you live in interesting times”, especially as this COVID 19 pandemic originated in China. Most of my life has been in “interesting times” and right now I would wish for something less interesting.
This year I had hoped to finish the old Inner German Border walk that I had to give up on in 2016, but now since it would mean to get to the start I would have to travel by train right across Germany, I fear I will not be doing so in April as intended.
Last weekend I was due to take part in a Royal British Legion Management Seminar in Hannover. In fact I had travelled to Hameln, which is on the way, to visit with good friends, but in the light of School and University closures I decided not to and returned home. The course was not cancelled and I can only hope that those that did attend remain safe.
Many, many years ago and in a time when I was super fit, I had a bout of viral pneumonia! At the time I was well prepared to “give up the spoon” as the Germans would say. It took me over three months to regain the full capacity of my lungs. Now that I am over 70 I am sadly in the risk group and may not survive another such incident.
Consequently my little Patchwork Family are keeping away from me. It has created a huge hole in my life! Recently Petra came and merely placed some Chocolate Brownies in the lift for me. We never met at all! The chocolate brownies were welcome, but the love that flowed out of the lift when I collected them was deeply felt, and I knew I was not alone.
I have no idea when this pandemic will end and we can return to normal, but one think I can say is, that if I survive, as I fully intend to do, there will be some serious hugging of my family and friends that I miss so much at the moment.
Stay safe out there.

5 January 2020

Another Malta Holiday

Just before Christmas, friends of our BBF invited us to come and stay in their Senglea flat one last time before they sell it! There was no discussion, we all agreed and leapt at the chance to visit one more time. 

Alan was so keen to come, he had a momentary senior moment, and booked flights for a three week holiday, before realising that he had to be in Germany for Vincent’s fourth birthday! A moment of sheer panic gripped him, which lasted some 24 hours, until he sorted it all out and rebooked the flights for just two weeks! 

Jürgen kindly collected us the day after Boxing Day and took us to the airport. We were booked on a Lufthansa flight going first to Munich, where we stayed the night. The fun part was that the outward flights were all Business Class! Thus it was that we enjoyed meals at no extra cost in the Lufthansa Lounges in both Düsseldorf and Munich. 

We got to Munich late at night and stayed in an airport hotel and were greeted by a giant of our tribe! 

Early the next morning we set off for the airport again without breakfast!

But one was served in the Business Class lounge. 

It was cold and frosty outside! 

They took the precaution of de-icing the plane before takeoff! A necessary evil which didn’t look very environmentally friendly!

We were served throughout with small eats all served with real metal cutlery! It made us wonder what the peasants back in cattle class were served! Alan thought a ham or cheese roll! 

Vince a very friendly chap collected us from Luqua airport and drove us to the flat in Senglea. 

The first thing Alan did on arrival was open the balcony doors wide and admire the view. Little it seemed had changed. 

Alan’s friends had ensured we had the basics of coffee, tea milk and sugar, as well as the makings of a breakfast. As we arrived on a Saturday the next thing we did was go out shopping to get the bits for evening meals etc. 

It is five years since last we were here and so now we noticed that things had changed a bit. At the end of Dockyard Creek for example the dockyard building had been turned into the American University of Malta! 

We live on a hill so there are many steps to go down and up to get anywhere. Our BBF will be a bit fitter when we get back and hopefully will have walked off his Christmas fat. 

There’s no TV so reading is the pass time of an evening which Alan feels is no real hardship and has read four novels in the first week! 

On our first Sunday we took the ferry into Valletta and were surprised by the number of people on the streets. There was no cruise ship in the harbour so where did all the tourists come from? 

The view from the Upper Barraka Gardens to the Three Cities and Dockyard Creek in the middle. 

Malta has been more Catholic than the Pope ever since St Paul’s visit in the first century AD. 

So one is not surprised to find a life size Crib dominating a small square. 

We made a mental note to return at night to see the lights. 

Alan has a comrade living here so one day we went to visit him. Terry and his partner Jill work on rich folks yachts. 

Terry’s yacht is a floating gin palace, but very well appointed and it is in good condition thanks to Terry’s hard work. Jill on the other hand manages a real sailing vessel, a Camper and Nicholson super yacht!

This too is in super condition thanks to Jill’s hard work. We much enjoyed being shown over these two vessels. 

On New Years Eve a Gregale was blowing so all ferries were cancelled which put paid to our intention of going into Valletta! Instead we watched the fireworks from the balcony!

On Wednesday Terry and Jill invited us to go for a hike along part of the Victoria lines. They met us off the ferry and took us to somewhere just outside Mosta.

Jill pointed out the plaque commemorating the building of this defence work, which largely goes unnoticed by the cars thundering bye on the road beneath it.

There are fine views over the island from here. 

The start of our walk was easy and along the wall. It actually runs from 30 miles coast to coast along an escarpment and is a natural defence position for an enemy that has landed on the only beaches of Malta, which all lay to the North of the island. 

There are Victorian Forts and even WWII pillboxes at various places along the wall. Our mad BBF actually climbed across a sheer cliff to get to this pillbox, while sensibly Terry and Jill followed a goat track into the valley.

The cliffs here are a favourite with rock climbers and a few were out enjoying the fine weather. 

After crossing under the main road into Mosta we continued up the valley into Mosta where we stopped for an isotonic drink!

Here you can see the continuation of the defences on the other side of Mosta!

The sun has shone on all our days so far, but more often than not a very cold and strong wind has been blowing. On one day it was too strong and caused a swell in the harbour so there was no ferry. On the days where it is calmer, needless to say it is also warmer and so Alan throws open the balcony doors and we can breakfast there. 

We went by bus to the Playmobil factory where our BBF complained that the motor provided with the pirate ship he had bought Vincent for Christmas only went backwards! 

The fun park here was full of families enjoying the activities! We had coffee and then with a new motor provided free of charge we got the bus back. We got off at a shopping centre on the way back where there was a Lidl and after a quick shop got on another bus for Valletta again. All allowed for on the one ticket as it was within two hours of purchase! The ticket costs €1,50! 

Generally we walk a lot. Our BBF reads a lot and so we are unwinding from the stress that Christmas brings with it, and meeting old friends that live here. Monday we are having lunch with Lorie and Martin in Qrendi and Tuesday we meet Hanna’s niece Sarah! 

2020 for us at least has got off to a good start! 

10 November 2019

Remembrance Sunday!


I, like many Veterans, prepared myself for the act of remembering the fallen by polishing my shoes and medal and getting the rest of my kit ready on the Saturday before.

I was proud to have been given the privilege of representing the Rheindahlen Branch of the Royal British Legion, at the British Ceremony of Remembrance in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Reichswald! The British Senior National Representative, Group Captain RJ Niven, at the NATO Combined Air Operations Centre had asked for a representative who was also to recite the Kohima Epitaph during the Ceremony! 

As there were many Royal Pioneers buried in this cemetery I also took a Wreath given me by the RPC Association to lay in their honour. 

As I had never been to the Reichswald before I was up early and a good thing too, as the first thing I was called upon to do was scrape the ice off of all my car’s windows! 

My NAVI, as we say here in Germany, took me to the Reichswald via The Netherlands. The address I had was that the cemetery was on the Grünewald Straße and when I got to it I turned the wrong way and drove away from the cemetery. I quickly realised my error and turned round and soon found it. 

There was quite a gathering of Nations at the cemetery as one might expect. In fact all NATO Nations were represented including Poland a relatively new member State. 

I made myself known to Group Captain Niven and the Parade Sergeant Major. I was asked to lay the RPC Wreath in the third wave of wreath layers which included the local German Civil Dignatories and to lay the RBL Wreath last! 

The Wreath Layers were lined up about 20 metres from the Memorial Stone, so it was quite a Walk of honour to lay my two wreaths. 

The sun shone and there was frost on the ground. There were no microphones or means of projecting ones voice other than that learned on Army Parades. It was difficult to hear the voice of the RAF Chaplin who had come out especially from the UK, or the other actors in the ceremony! 

Consequently when it came to my turn to recite the Kohima Epitaph I put on my best parade ground voice and recited it as loud as I could!

“When you go home, tell them of us and say, 
for your tomorrow, we gave our today!”

After the ceremony I visited a number of the graves.

This man is the grandfather of fellow Pioneer Kevin Kittel!

Next year I shall make sure I take a number of the small RBL wooden crosses to mark the graves I visit!

This is how far away I stood during the ceremony and the distance I had to march twice to lay my wreaths!

Guests had been invited to a light lunch in the UK Community Centre following the ceremony and so I now went there. It was in a converted Military Quarter on what had once clearly been the Patch when the RAF had had a large presence in Germany.

Here I was able to have a conversation with the Chaplin Rev Craig Lancaster, who thanked me for my part, so I must presume my voice carried! 

I told the organisers that I would return next year to represent the Royal Pioneer Corps and if possible bring a second person to represent the Rheindahlen Branch of the Royal British Legion! 

My NAVI took me home this time not going via the Netherlands! 

30 June 2019

All over, bar the Counting!

 It seems strange to us not to be getting up early to cycle, eat sleep, repeat anymore! This means of course that it's all over now, bar the counting of the monies donated, which as Branch Treasurer, is Chris's job! He has told us that so far he can account for:

Just Giving                                                         852,13
RBL Branch Bank                                             200,00
Cash Donations                                                 795,00 

Total so far                                                      1847,13 Euros

Chris has said that there is more money promised too, so it is not the final figure, only as of today 30 June 2019!

And while we are talking about cash, we made a mistake in our last Blog. The envelope Steve Owen gave Chris at our great reception party, was not a Branch donation, but a personal one from him and Brigite his wife! Other Branch members who were there made personal donations of cash too, for which we are very grateful.

So all in all the two old codgers cycled over 1100 kilometres in 17 days for the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal. Alan lost two kilos in weight too, which pleases him, but you watch, he'll put it all back on again soon.

The picture above is evidence of cruelty to Bears, for our BBF has put us in a washing machine!!! He says, it's so we will be ready for the next adventure, whatever and whenever that is?

Rest assured though, you will be the first to read about them.

29 June 2019

An easy ride Home!

The intrepid cyclists were up early and rearing to go! Although Chris had said, breakfast at 07:00 hrs, our BBF knocked on his door at 06:45 hrs. 

As we had been treated to a five star hotel on our last night of this epic adventure a full English breakfast was in order.

This with fruit, coffee and orange juice should last them until they get to Monchengladbach!

Before setting off the two humans have always had a discussion about how far they can go on their bike battery. This morning they were both surprised not to see three figure numbers as usual. Alan on the lowest E-motor setting could only go 69 kilometres, Chris could do a bit better at 96! Why was this, they had both charged their batteries overnight?

We set off a little before 08:00 hrs and were soon out of Velbert onto an old railway track which had been converted into a cycle autobahn. It was downhill most of the way. Chris led as our BBF could not rely on his broken iphone to navigate by even though he had programmed the route into it.

After the hot days we had had this morning was refreshingly cool. The sun shone and there was not a cloud in the sky. On this cycle autobahn, Alan used no E-motor as the going was easy.

We were meant to turn off the cycle path, but at the point the Navi indicated, Chris could find no exit path, so we went on aways till a suitable exit was found. Now we had to go up hill quite a bit to get to Rattingen. Here both humans used power on the E-motor to get up the hills. Alan now discovered that far from being able to go a shorter distance than the initial 69 kilometres, now could go as far as 96 kilometres! Strange!!

Chris had the bit between his teeth for he seemed determined to get to Ayrshire Barracks as quickly and as early as possible. He powered on all the way to through Dusseldorf to Neuss, over 30 kilometres without stopping, before he stopped and only then, we felt, because our BBF had said he needed a Loo! They sat in a cafe and Alan explained that Chris had stated the arrival time was to be 14:30 hrs. Alan had asked for his grandsons to be at Ayrshire Barracks too and they would not get there until 14:45 hrs! For him there was no point in arriving before the welcoming committee had set up. It would spoil it all. At the pace they were going they could arrive as early as 12:30 hrs!!

Leaving the Cafe they now walked down Krefelder Strasse in Neuss rather than cycle because there were tram tracks in the road and there was a danger of a wheel getting trapped in one. Our BBF had had the misfortune of coming off his bike twice because of such tracks, once in Bielefeld in the 80's and once in Monchengladbach last year!

Once this stage had been passed we were off again at a cracking rate. There were cycle paths to follow, but there was lots of traffic on the adjacent road which did not make it fun. As we got closer to Monchengladbach Chris led us off the main road and into the country which was much more to our liking.

Chris now found, on the banks of the Niers stream, a bench and picnic table in the shade of a big tree. Here we rested and Chris produced an apple for our BBF to eat while he had a pear. They changed into their RBL shirts and though Alan was keen not to leave that location before 14:10 hrs we were off again at 13:50 hrs. Chris now went at a more leisurely pace and took us to a place where he had worked to chat to a friend who, he said was a mountain bike fan. We were made to wait outside while he went into the office, but sadly his friend was in a meeting!

There seemed to be quite a lot of traffic in the town and since it was a Friday afternoon we should not have been surprised. We finally got onto Aachener Strasse at Holt and once we had passed the Church Chris increased the pace again, which upset us a bit as we knew we would now arrive before Alan's grandsons. And so it was, they arrived after us.

The Rheindahlen Branch RBL Committee were there to greet us with champagne and small eats all which was very welcome. Speeches were made and Steve Owen the President handed over to Chris an envelope with the Branches contribution to our fund for the Poppy Appeal.

All in all we travelled on our BBF's bike 1107.16 kilometres visiting all 15 Branches of the Royal British Legion in Germany. Chris will have travelled at least 30 kilometres more since he had to cycle into Monchengladbach to catch the train at the start and insisted on cycling home again, even though transport had been offered to him. We Bears understand the reason for this. No one wants to have his E-Bike thrown into the back of a  pickup truck. 

So how much money have we raised? We can't say with any certainty yet, as Chris, who is also the treasurer will have to count up all the cash collected along the way, as well as all the donations which come to the Branch via Bank Credit and add this to the amount collected via Just Giving. 

We intend to report again when we know more.

In the meantime we would like to thank all the RBL Branches in Germany that made us feel so welcome and special. We have made new friends on this adventure. Chris gets a special thanks for putting up with us and our BBF which cannot have been easy for him. Whatever anyone says about it we enjoyed every minute of the journey and thank the Gods that it never rained.

27 June 2019

This blog has no titles as the top third of the screen on  Alan’s iPhone is covered in Duct tape!

We were up early having slept fairly well. At breakfast was another cyclist a female about the age of our two old codgers! A discussion over the tables ensued about what we were up to and about how far we cycle every day. Yesterday she had give up after 20 kms as it was too hot and so she took the train! 

The RBL Sauerland Branch had informed us that a delegation would arrive at our hotel to see us off.

At approximately 08:30 hrs three women, all wearing Poppy Appeal sashes arrived and greeted our two old codgers. 

There was Lorraine the Vice Chairwoman, Gabi the Secretary and Christa the treasurer. They kindly handed Chris an envelope with lots of cash for our cause! 

Official photos were taken using the staff of the hotel, but none of them are on our BBF‘s iPhone as it chose to strike at that moment!

Hugs all round and then we were off! It was a nice morning much cooler than yesterday thank goodness. 

We now followed the Ruhrtal Radweg and the path went through woods so was in the shade. 

At times we came out into the sun! There was often enough to see and photograph along the way!

Here the slalom course of the local canoe club!

We stopped here as they had a Café and our two bought cold drinks to take along the way.

It was a good path fairly flat and we took it easy and enjoyed the cool morning and the river views.

We crossed the river a number of times as we did here!

We even crossed on a small ferry! 

Our humans did miss the correct path once and ended up powering up a steep hill, only to find at the top that they had missed the turning which was at the bottom. To be fair it was badly signed and the turning had a dead end road sign on it! 

Following the Ruhr did mean that we would cycle a long distance and so the humans decided to cut across country taking into account that they would have steep hills to climb!

At one stage Chris’s Navi couldn’t get a satellite and Alan’s phone screen was going to shatter completely and fall out! He fixed it with a piece of Duct tape! The screen is split and the crack is lifting. It works after a fashion, which is the main thing!

Having made the decision to leave the Ruhr our humans had to dice with death on the roads where there were no cycle paths. 

As the afternoon wore on it got hotter, but thankfully not as hot as yesterday. 

It was just on such a stretch of road by Burg Balderich that Chris celebrated going over 1000 kilometres since he started! 

These iron men are well hung!

This castle was found as we cycled through one town. The other side it was up a long steep hill and as luck would have it, there was a bench at the top where we rested and ate the excellent energy bars Domenic in Dortmund had made and give us! 

Chris now produced two Oranges which were very welcome as desert.

It was not long now before we reached Velbert which is where our humans stopped for the day after 7 hours and 65 kilometres on the road!

Chris has said breakfast at 07:00 hrs we have som 60 kilometres still to cycle!