30 September 2014

A Perfect Day

While Alan went out and as we understand it, had a perfect day, we stayed behind!!!

The day started for Alan and George with a real American breakfast with the family, bacon and eggs, toast and coffee etc. No wish was left unfulfilled.

Brec and Sandy cooking breakfast

After breakfast, Brec took Alan and George out to see the area and to his Studio. For the German readers, this is true Katie Ford country with smart wooden houses set in beautiful countryside and close to the sea.

Brec has a studio in which he does his paintings in an old warehouse and Alan and George found it to be a fabulous place.

In one corner of it Brec has arranged a gallery of some of his work and in a loft arrangement above this he has a study or den with lots of lovely books and interesting things that he has collected. Perhaps his most interesting item was a small glass jar of shells collected by Joshua Slocum, the first ever solo circumnavigator.

After stopping at a Deli to get some lunch they set off to the Yacht Club where Brec kept OTTER the yacht on which he sailed round the world.

Before they could have a sail though, the salt water pump on the engine had to removed and  a new impeller fitted as it was not pumping water at all.

Brec being efficient, had everything to hand and so it was only a matter of minutes to fix. Then they were off for a short trip in brilliant sunshine around Long Island Sound.

What upset us most was when we heard that Brec has "Pugsly" his little furry friend who circumnavigated too, aboard and we were left behind!

On the way home they went to a beach where Alan did some beach combing before coming home to a diner party with a couple who had sailed around twice, once in the 70s and again in the 80s. Consequently the evening was spent telling tall tails of storms at sea and other things like that. Swing the lamp we call it. Either way Alan maintained he had had a perfect day, the very best for along time.

28 September 2014

The adventure begins.

We arrived in Newark, New Jersey after a more or less uneventful flight of some 6 hours or so. Now the fun began. There was a more or less two hour wait in a snaking queue of people to get through immigration. The officials were friendly and were efficient enough in doing their job of photographing and finger printing you. Then we were through and in America.

Alan’s friend Brec was there to meet us and he must have had a two hour wait too. It has been some 12 years since they last saw each other. They had parted in Gibraltar, Brec to sail across the Atlantic alone, to complete his circumnavigation and Alan a little later to sail north to complete his. They can be forgiven, therefore, for not initially recognizing each other, Alan now with a beard and wearing glasses. The hearty bear hug welcome they gave each other when they finally did meet was an indication of how close they had become crossing the oceans together in 2000-2002.

Introductions were made and then we were off in perfect sunshine to drive past New York to Milford CT. The talking and catching up that  needed to be done was clearly a distraction for the driver (Brec) as we missed the turnoff for the motorway we should have taken and so ended up driving through part of Manhattan. The scenic route one might say, but the down side was that we ended up in the Friday night rush hour traffic and a journey that took Brec, earlier in the day an hour and twenty minutes, took some two hours or more.

Brec and Alan did not stop talking the whole way. George, Alan’s chum now in the back seat, took the opportunity to catch up on some much needed sleep. Had the roles been reversed Alan would have fallen asleep in the back too. Alan remarked that he now understood why they these motorways were called "Parkways", because the cars spent most of the time bumper to bumper parked up instead of driving!

We arrived at Brec and Sandy's place in the dark, but Sandy was waiting eagerly for us and had prepared a nice evening meal. George had had enough for the day especially with all the stress he had had with his wife falling and being admitted to hospital. Now he was here it fell off him and he just had to go to bed. It was after all 2330hrs according to his body clock.

Alan stayed up talking and eating with his friends until his body clock now told him it was 0400hrs when his eyelids began to droop and he too had to go to bed. So ended a wonderful day where life long friendships were revitalized with being in each others' company after 12 long years.

25 September 2014

Ready for the off.

The picture shows the travel bears, Jamie and Hanna sitting in a rucksack ready to go. 

As you can see we are both ready for the off. Tomorrow morning early Alan will put us in his pack and then we depart for the airport and New York.

This morning early we were rudely awakened to be told that J's wife had fallen in the night and was in hospital with a suspected broken hip!  J asked Alan to see if he could fly up to a week later. Alan leapt out of bed and was at the travel agency before they were open. Sadly they said that the ticket could not be changed and if cancelled one would only get the tax element back!!!

Various options were considered and discussed and we waited the best part of the day to eventually hear that J would travel. His wife would need to spend a week in hospital, but the family had rallied round and would take care of her so that J could fly with us and Alan to America. 

Nothing now stands in the way of a great new adventure. We are thrilled as it has been 4 years since last we were on a really big adventure. We have been to the UK, Hameln and in Holland sailing up and own the canals, but to fly to America is so much more exciting.

Watch this space for updates.

23 September 2014

Now I know!

I've shed a tear or two today! The first time was this afternoon when, after my visit to the dentist to have my teeth cleaned I sat by Hanna's grave. I was chatting and telling her what I had been up to. Today I have started to send out thank you cards to all who sent me condolence letters and also yesterday and today I have finally booked all the accommodation needed for my trip to America. This booking of accommodation was always Hanna's task when planning our holidays together. She had a talent for finding the most romantic places for us to stay. Over the last two days I have finally understood how much effort it costs and how hard she worked to get it right.

At one stage I got it hopelessly wrong and booked a hotel in Albany, Western Australia, instead of Albany, in the State of New York!! It was only when the confirmation email came that I realized my mistake and had to ring up and cancel it, which initially it said I could NOT!!!! So while sitting there and telling her this I shed a tear or two because she would have liked to have helped in the planning and now could not, and I missed her so.

The tubs of flowers on the grave I had arranged from the monies various friends gave me and of course I could not resist putting one there from me either. On Sunday we had the six week mass for Hanna. It is nothing really special, her name gets mentioned during the mass and prayers are said. It was nice though to acknowledge friends and acquaintances who had come especially for it.
My flowers are also a token of my remembering a special anniversary of ours which occurs while I am away.

The second time I could not help weeping was when I found this photo of Hanna and Christopher. I took it sometime in May and it is the look of affection on Christopher's face for his Omi and her looking directly at me that tipped me over. He is such a loving child and the two of them had such a special relationship that gladdened my heart, and was a great comfort to Hanna during the last weeks of her life. We talked about it when we could quite a bit at the time. So it's a very special photo of a unique moment in time.

19 September 2014

Have stone will travel II

Jamie and Hanna bear in my cabin

I spent the weekend in Holland with some of my best comrades. We have been meeting every year for the last 21, though I have missed a few while I was sailing around the world. J our Dutch member had planned it and we hired a 14 meter steel motor cruiser to motor up and down the canals in Freisland. As you can see in the photo I slept up in the fore peak with J and M.

The Nienburg Crew

I must say I do admire the manner in which the Dutch live with and on the water. Generally the water level of the canals we sailed on was higher than the surrounding fields on which the cattle were grazing. The little towns were all very picturesque and many of the houses near or on the water had their own jetty. The Dutch are also real party animals and enjoy a party and their food and drink, so we had a good time out at night. 

Since I have been back I have changed my cycle route to go twice passed Hanna, once on the way out, when I just stop to say "good morning" and once on the way back when I can sit and chat for a bit. This morning I was surprised to pass one of Hanna's daughters out jogging early, I rather think she was surprised to see me too, but as we were both concentrating on getting fit we did not stop to chat. 

During the weekend I discussed with M my intention to walk the Pilgrim's way, as he has done it now three times on three different routes. He gave me some very useful tips and it was in the course of our discussions that I have decided that next year I will walk the Camino from the French border as he did the first time. But I will do this pilgrimage for Hanna's soul and not specifically for mine. I think my soul needs a bit more and so will walk for it's redemption from Vezelay in France in 2016. I will cycle from here to Trier via Cologne, but accommodation in Germany for pilgrims, unlike the Camino is non existent. One has to overnight in expensive Hotels or B&Bs.

You may remember that I picked a stone up off of Hanna's grave to take on the pilgrimage, well today I picked up a second stone from directly opposite the house where Hanna was born. This stone is a little larger and so I can write her name on it. I will carry both on the pilgrimage as it seems fit to do so, one from near her birth place and one from her final resting place.

10 September 2014


The pursuit of happiness is an undeniable right according to the United States Declaration of Independence. I learnt very early in life that happiness only comes with sharing something with another human being. Alone if one is at peace with oneself one can only be content and at peace, but never truly happy.

I am an only child. My mother dictated who I was allowed to play with, as she did not find many children suitable, so very early on I strove to do my own thing. At aged 5 I would run off to play in the woods alone, forgetting to come home even when it got dark. My parents sent out search parties to find me. Then I would get a sound thrashing and be sent to bed without a meal to learn my lesson! But alone again in my room in the dark, it was my bears which comforted my tears and soothed my soul, which is perhaps why I love them so even today. The lesson I learnt was be home before dark to avoid the thrashing. So I have always been a loner, never making firm good friends easily, but content within myself to be alone.

I once told Hanna, I was easy to please and get along with! She smiled inwardly and made no comment, knowing instinctively that I was nothing of the kind. What I had meant though was that you do not have to give me expensive gifts, I am content with something hand made and simple and that if you open your heart to me then I will treat it gently and mine will open too, and you will gain my loyalty and friendship till death us do part. 

An example of this came during our first holiday when we hardly knew each other. We went to Los Christianos in Tenerife and stayed in a 4 star hotel which overlooked the bay and harbour. It was  February 1992. I remember it well because it was exactly 500 years since Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. It could have been a disaster, for I felt most uncomfortable in the hotel atmosphere. I was used to living in an officer's mess where meals were served. To queue for a table and to go and get my food was a bit too much like queuing in the cook-house when I was a trooper in the 10th Royal Hussars. There though, one knew every body, so it was not that bad. In the hotel it was awful and I discovered I was now the youngest. These old OAPs were not backward in coming forward or in using their elbows at the buffet either. I hated it. 

Hanna, as always on such occasions instinctively understood my dilemma. Her solution which worked for us thereafter, was not to go to meals until 10 minutes before closing. The dining room was now virtually empty. We would find a table and go round the buffet at leisure, getting all we wanted to eat, including starters and puddings and take it back to our table. Yes, much of the buffet was gone, and yes often things were only luke warm, but I found it much more to my liking. Naturally we now became the scourge of all waiters as we would still be sitting there when they were clearing away, but we never let it trouble us.

It was when I showed Hanna that I loved beach combing, that I took simple pleasure in a stone or sea shell in the rock pools that she opened her heart to me. The next day she produced to my utter astonishment a child's bucket and spade when we got to the beach! Now I knew I would find "Geborgenheit" with this woman. There is no real English translation for this word, for to be safe and secure does not fully describe what it means to be "geborgen". 

Now I opened my heart to Hanna too, for unselfconsciously at age 44 I took off over the beach with my bucket and spade and came back hours later to show her my treasures, knowing she would not find me foolish. She had as much delight in sharing them with me. Some of these treasures I still have. A truly happy moment in time, never to be forgotten. And yes it was just like being a child again exploring on my own and then going home to "mummy" where you knew you would be safe and she would enjoy hearing of your adventures.

Last weekend I took off to stay with one of my best friends in the UK. He is the brother I never had and his children are my niece and nephew. We go back a long way to when we were subalterns together. Anyway at the airport I was again made aware that I no longer have that "someone" to explore with or come back to. Hanna and I travelled a great deal and I have always loved exploring the airports. I would deposit Hanna somewhere and go off and explore, coming back to tell what I had seen.  Now there was none of that and I felt a bit lost.

My weekend in darkest Sussex was all I hoped it would be and more. We went on long walks over the downs and had nice long talks too. So I came back having shared some happy times doing simple things with people I love. My "niece" even made me a loom band in the twinkling of an eye, which I will wear till it drops off.

I am in fact the most fortunate of men, for I have many such good friends around the world. I am off to see one in the USA at the end of the month. A couple of others in Malta and Gozo there after. In Germany there are many more. I have them in most corners of the world and these are the people of my chosen family, where my secrets are safe and I know that when the storm comes I can find the "Geborgenheit" I need.

4 September 2014

Have stone, will travel!

Progress is being made and the sun shone on it today too. Hanna would be pleased. We just have to get the marble slab with Hanna's details onto the grave now, by the end of next week I hope, and then some flowers can be planted and I will buy some from the money people have given me.

I met today with a friend who is coming to the USA with me, to discuss our plan and what still needs to be done before we depart. He kindly gave me a book by Bettina Selby entitled "Pilgrim's Road. A Journey to Santiago de Compostela". Selby did it by bike from Vézelay  in France, which as luck would have it is the way I want to go. My map of the routes through France also arrived in the post today! If autumn is nice I might try and do the first leg by bike from here to Trier  before Christmas. It's a bit ambitious, but one has to set goals or nothing gets done.

A Spanish friend has recently given me the film of the trip with Martin Sheen as the pilgrim called, "The Way". If I have time I may watch it this evening. My Spanish friend who has done it too, also mentioned that there is one place along the route, where pilgrims place a stone they have carried from home. A nice idea, so yesterday I picked one up from off of Hanna's grave. Good thing I did, as there are none there today.

So have stone, will travel!

3 September 2014

A good day

Yesterday was a good day. I slept well, got up early and went through my fitness training programme, visit to the cemetery etc and generally got on with life. In the afternoon the highlight was taking my grandson to his music school lesson with his mum. On the first Tuesday of the month parents and grandparents are permitted to sit and watch and sometimes take part. It was fun watching the youngsters playing their various games to music. The teacher has them well drilled to the sound and the rhythm of her playing on the piano. The best bit though was stopping at the ice cream parlour on the way home for an ice. 

It being the first Tuesday of the month means also that the Phileas Fogg Club meet in the Irish Pub in Rheydt. For those that don't know this was the name of the English Class I used to teach in Mönchengladbach. The group are a great bunch of people who get on well with each other. I am chuffed (proud) that they are staying together as a group despite my, for the time being, not teaching them any more. Well I went and joined them. Since I had not been there before I took a taxi, thinking that taxi drivers know where all the good pubs are. Well I got a driver who had no idea where it was and had to use his phone to find out!!

There were 10 of the 12 members there when I got there. Now every Tuesday the pub has a quiz night and the Club had been there last month and come third out of four teams in this weekly competition. There were I think 8 rounds of 10 questions each, which the quiz master reads out in English and German and one answers as a team on a sheet of paper which is then handed in for marking. It's a good thing he reads the questions in German as well for his English diction leaves a lot to be desired! 

The questions are general knowledge with popular music as a class on it's own. I'd have been lost on the music questions having to guess the name of the artist as well as the song or album even. As a group though we did very well and came first. It just goes to prove how cosmopolitan, well travelled and educated the group are.

Today I was up early for a medical appointment. There's nothing wrong, I just needed (I felt) to show my face and to stock up my travel first aid kit with some antibiotics and other essentials. I also took the opportunity to have a flu jab. My GP just also happens to be a sailor with his own boat, so he understands my requirements and it is always a pleasure to talk to him about his sailing.

I can also report that the stonemason has begun his work and has reseated the marble cross which now sits upright again. I rather hope we can get the grave all refurbished and planted by the time we have the "fortieth day" service, which we have set for 21 September. Then I can depart for the USA with a certain peace of mind. 

1 September 2014

Not a good start into September!

I blame it on the Jalapeno I put in the salad I had with my steak last night, for I woke up in the early hours with an odd feeling in my tummy, and then the Gremlins came to get me and I couldn't sleep. Fortunately the Gremlin called "self doubt" was not one of them, but the "replay" one did it for me, for most of the night. A replay of all the heartache moments of the first six months of the year kept going through my head. Unless you have provided care for a helpless loved one, you will not truly understand how soul sapping it can be. To watch how the body slowly gives up on a loved one, to wash, change, dress and feed them and to have to turn them over in the night when they are unable to do so themselves. To see the 1000 yard stare in their eyes and have no remedy to ease this suffering of the mind. To see them struggle for breath, night after night. All these images kept going through my head to rob me of sleep. 

I have asked myself often enough, why did she pass on when I was not there? The answer came from a friend who thought that Hanna waited until no one who loved her was present to save us from the suffering. The circumstances certainly prove this theory. My friend explained that her grandfather had passed on like that. We never left Hanna alone during the last five days. Either I or a daughter were with her and then at the last a paid carer, not a member of the family was with her at the end. 

The one image that finally came to console me in the night was the one I have of her seeking my hand when the Priest came. She seemed to understand, though could not speak, and knew that I needed the Priest as much as she did.

I woke drained and listless, but went for my bike ride. Nothing worked this morning. My bike speedometer stopped working, the iPad App for bike rides didn't work either. I stopped by Hanna as usual and found a moment of calm. The gardener confirmed he had the lamp and stones in his custody and when the stonemason has done his stuff will return them. 

Life goes on and I must begin to get my things and my mind together, for my  trip to the UK this Friday.