Technically it’s five weeks, but I can’t be arsed to quibble when it comes to an eye-catching headline.
No doubt my legions of readers have noticed that this blog has been quiet for a little while and those that are friends with me on social media might have noticed a few dips in the usual quantity of posts that I put up.
The reasons for this are two-fold. I’ve been on three weeks of leave, in India for work, and a week of work where I was busy catching up before I went for last week’s annual leave all the way up in Dunfermline.
Week one of the holidays was spent attempting to celebrate my wife’s 40th birthday. I say attempt because we thought it would be an amazing idea to go camping on the edges of Exmoor in a truly beautiful part of Devon. People would be able to come and go as work and commitments allowed with a BBQ to crown things off at the weekend. Everything started well. The campsite was in a gorgeous location with views that could only be described as stunning. The sunset was amazing as we toasted marshmallows over the fire and the feeling of utter chilledness started to set in.
Then the heavens opened. And the wind came. After that it was – with no exaggeration – 72 hours of non-stop rain and wind. Other campers (no-one we knew ‘fortunately’) lost their tent. And by lost I mean that it collapsed and they were forced into the emergency caravan accommodation. When they went back the next morning it was literally gone. They never got it back. God knows where it went!
Conditions got gradually worse and worse until we got to the point where we looked at the weather report for Exeter, saw that it was in the mid-20s and sunny, held an emergency meeting with those friends that had braved the conditions, took a vote and promptly packed up and headed for our house. With a bit of jiggling we managed to fit 4 children, six adults and two labs into the house. The feeling of dry socks and clothes was utterly glorious.
The weather was also amazing and so the BBQ carried on. Naturally, we needed to get a special BBQ and so a friend and I (you can just about see his beardy face) nipped down to B&Q and bought a gas BBQ.
There is a debate that gas BBQs aren’t really BBQs but after years of throwing petrol onto charcoal in order to get the damn stuff burning quickly so that the hordes of children (and wife) screaming that they’re hungry can be fed, I decided that I would play the ‘I don’t fucking care’ card and get a gas BBQ. We wondered at the time why the guy serving us smirked when he said ‘and who’s going to build it’, but pushed it to the backs of our minds. It was only once we started building it and looked at what were laughingly called ‘Instructions’ that we understood. Fuck. Me. It took well over an hour and numerous helpful comments from guests arriving to get the fucker built. But what a fucker! It was truly glorious and I felt a bit like Jesus must have at Galilee (had he had a BBQ back then).
Everyone had a cracking time and a good friend had recently bought an SLR that he wanted to practice on us with (camera that is, not rifle) so we were able to sit back and enjoy the ambience as he took some fabulous photos. As you can see, my wife got well and truly into the spirit of things (after getting into the spirits) and helped him with his extreme close up shots.
Following that it was back to work. And what a work it was. At 5:35 am on the Monday morning my alarm went off. Gathering my things and checking that my passport was in my pocket for the umpteenth time, I kissed my girls goodbye and left the house to start a journey that would finish some 26 hours later. I was off to Kolkata, India to visit the NHS Helpdesk and assist with knowledge transfer, quality assurance and a whole host of other things.
Those of you that read this blog, or look at my social media channels might be surprised to know that I actually have some adult-life experience as well and in a past-life I was a manager in a contact centre. Although I moved on from there to other roles, it was felt that my experience would be particularly useful when it came to seeing how things were being done and asking the sort of questions that others might not know to ask.
Landing in Kolkata, we found a taxi, my manager did some haggling, and we headed to the hotel. To say that it was hot and humid was an understatement. We had arrived in the middle of the monsoon season and India is always hot. Always. Even when it’s dark. Two hours kip later we were up and getting dressed to head in to the office. What followed would be too boring to describe here, but needless to say I ended up working over 80 hours in one week, shuttling back and forth from the hotel to the office. It was only on the Friday morning that we got a bit of time to ourselves. I headed up to the infinity pool to just soak and enjoy the view.
The one thing that truly struck me when in India was the poverty and the fact that the poor rubbed shoulders with the rich in a way that you wouldn’t really see in the U.K. As it was you could see a shack right next to a glorious house, homeless sleeping in bus shelters with marble benches, children selling balloons to drivers of Mercedes.
People are also incredibly polite over there. They understand how to give good service without mixing it up with being servile, something that I feel people over here are unable to do. They literally cannot do enough for you, sometimes to the point that you can feel a bit smothered.
And the Biryani. Oh. My. God. Cooked to perfection. The fat on the lamb was so soft that it melted like butter. Even now as I write this the memories come back and I wish I could have just one more mouthful.
This trip was also helpful for another reason. My writing. Fans will know that I have an alternative-history series, called Blaise Maximillian. In this series, King George and those that could follow him has fled to India after the defeat of Great Britain and the allies in the First World War. Being able to see what India looked like. To be able to experience it visually, aurally and even orally was a once-in-a-lifetime chance.
I have also started writing another series, Shadow Company, based around a top-secret unit of the British Army, in which all the men and women serving in it are officially dead. What better place than to set the first novella than Kolkata and the hotel I was staying in as they fight to save a government boffin from agents of a hostile government that want to keep their secrets?
On the way back we had a layover at Dubai. Unfortunately we weren’t able to actually leave the airport and sample the 40c+ temperature (I was a bit disappointed at that), but it did mean that I got to capture a couple of objectives in Ingress, a mobile-based game which Pokemon Go has been based upon. I was quite chuffed with that as there can’t be that many people who have points over 5000km away from their hometown!
We also took the opportunity to eat some food that wasn’t spiced. Although it was a good opportunity to get as much curry as we wanted, we found that even when we weren’t eating curry the food was spiced. You literally cannot get away from spiced food. The meal was fabulous, some kind of fish called Kingklip with a lovely light sauce, chips and saffron rice. Having just Googled what a Kingklip actually was, I’ve found out that I’ve actually eaten a form of eel for the first time. It was bloody lovely and a really filling meal. I didn’t even mind that it wasn’t served on a plate (I usually fucking hate that type of pretentiousness).
Then it was back home for another week of annual leave. This was actually the week I should have had off when I was in India, but dates meant that I had to split it up. This was a very chilled week indeed as I tried to get used to English time, catch up on sleep and do a load of cool things with girls.
If you live in Exeter you might know about the Bear Trail. It’s where the old ‘X’ pub (once the pub with the world’s shortest name) is now called the ‘Merry Harriers’ in Westcott. You’ll need to take the Cullompton road through Broadclyst etc. in order to get there. As you can see, it’s a somewhat muddy ‘trail’. The best way I can describe it is as a glorious way to get absolutely filthy whilst going over an army assault course for slightly smaller people. Adults and children can all take part in the fun and it’s great value for something like £7 you can spend all day from 10am to 4pm running around it. It’s bloody knackering and would make a great way alternative way of getting fit. Certainly had me puffing!
I then had another week back at work, where I sat in an air-conditioned office on my own and tried to catch up with everything that had happened whilst I was off. Needless to say, since I’m part of a team working on the migration of over 1.2million email accounts from one supplier to another, whilst implementing new functionality, a new portal and a host of other things, there was a lot to get my head around. Also there is the realisation that I’m unofficially part of a world record-breaking team as this is the largest email transition in the world, ever. I can’t wait for that part to be made official!
Come Friday, at 4pm I shut my laptop and started to load up the car for what was going to turn out to be a truly amazing week as we headed up to Edinburgh to visit two of our best friends. It was everything I could ever had dreamed of. Utterly amazing. As luck would have it, we actually arrived on the last weekend of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Jumping onto a train at Rosyth (we were staying in Dunfermline) we went over the Firth of Forth. The kids loved it and were glued to the window as they looked out at the view over the Firth.
The Fringe was everything I expected it to be. Loads of talented street performers (as well as a load of really, really crap street performers) every ten yards or so. Massive crowds from all over the world were leafletted by performers determined to get as many people to their shows as possible. My favourite attempt of the day was ‘If you like Jews, you’ll love this!’, needless to say it was a Jewish musical comedy of some sort.
We were on a mission however. Our friends had been giggling to each other about this ever since we arrived and knowing them as I do, I knew we were in for an amazing experience. Little did I know how amazing! Following them through the glorious streets of Edinburgh (it’s just as beautiful as Bath) we ended up at Grassmarket. And there I spied a man in a tight pink lycra costume. Guru Dudu was about to make a lasting impression upon our lives.
The man is a genius. Silent Disco tours of cities. For those of you who don’t know what a silent disco is, look at the photo. We are all wearing headphones that are linked to his microphone and mobile phone. As we danced our way through the city, we had music playing all the way. No-one with the headphones would have a clue as to what we were listening to unless one of us tried to sing
And sing we did. ‘Momma, just killed a man’ rang out as he lined us up against a railing some thirty feet above a street full of people who were about to be subjected to some of the worst singing they would ever have to bear. Splitting our ‘choir’ into two groups, he fed us the words as we belted them out. The people below stopped walking, and started filming. Another first. Not only was I at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the first time in my life, I was now actually performing in my first ever flashmob and becoming part of the experience for God knows how many other people. Wherever we went, people were laughing, joining in without even knowing what we were doing, filming, taking photos. It was fucking fantastic. I danced practically non-stop for an hour up and down (it felt mostly like UP) the streets whilst Guru Dudu pumped 80s classics into our ears.
The week that followed was just as amazing. We went to the Whiski Rooms, I drank a lot of Compass Box whiskies and settled on Peat Monster. We saw one of the most amazing gymnastic/circus shows outside of Cirque Du Soleil, ‘Attrape Moi’ by ‘Flip Fabrique‘. I highly recommend that if you get the chance to see them you seize it with both hands. We strolled along Loch Lomond, I had my first pint of Deuchars (amazing beer) and then went and explored Duncarron. I saw the birthplace of King Charles 1, ate Haggis BonBons, cooked Venison on Lava Rock. My girls went on the Falkirk Wheel whilst I supped coffee and enjoyed watching human inventiveness at work. During that time I also rediscovered my love of martial arts as I did a bit of training with my friend and talked shit. We all threw ourselves about at Ryze, an Airhop equivalent but without hordes of children as Scottish schools had already returned from the summer holidays. We went on trams, explored side streets, laughed, loved and relaxed.
I can honestly say that it feels like we packed an entire six weeks’ of holiday into one. It was an experience I shall never forget and I can’t wait to get back to Scotland.