One foot on the ground
SETTING THE COURSE
On the August bank holiday weekend, Miranda, Bill, Charlie, Amanda, Polly (the ship's mascot) and I set out to sail across the English Channel in an Oceanis 423.
On the Friday night, after listening to Mayday distress calls on route, we moored outside Yarmouth harbour. It looked as though the forecast F7/8 storm was going to make a crossing impossible. We decided to get up at 5am, set sail to the west and use the morning forecasts to decide whether it would be possible. As we rounded the Needles on the Isle of Wight we agreed to turn left and set sail across the busiest shipping lane in the world.
We'd worked out that the tide would first take us to the East, then back to the West and we plotted a course that would take us in a reverse S-shape across the water. With Charlie as our skipper, demonstrating enviable seamanship skills, the crew showed remarkable resolve throughout. There is nothing like spending 72 hours in a space half the size of our kitchen to get to know each other and we worked fabulously well during our individual peaks and troughs. We arrived safely on the Alderney (the most northern Channel Island) as the sun was setting and we let our hair down for a very funny night ashore. After discussions with local fishermen and the harbour master we worked out the best window to get back. Our alarms woke us at 4.15am on Monday morning and we slipped our mooring under torch light. The westerly wind and tides worked in our favour and after a gruelling trip we got back to the Hambles before sunset. The trip was nearly 200 miles and took 28 hours under sail.
Not to be recommended for the faint of heart looking for a relaxing bank holiday!
I had some business in Rome. Miranda and I decided to fly there the Friday before and explore the city together. Two of the many things I love about my wife are her sense of adventure and her bravery. Reflecting on our trips together there’s been an unconscious pattern. Wherever we go we rent some sort of machine for moving around the terrain, whether land, air or sea. This time we choose to rent a QUADRO 3, a 350cc three wheel scooter with a low centre of gravity and hydraulic tilt system, making it the perfect vehicle for Rome’s humps, potholes and tramlines.
Armed with a selection of pre-booked ‘Jump the Queue’ entry tickets, Miranda sat behind me with Google Maps in her left hand and her right on my shoulder, trusting me to manoeuvre the beast. Travelling in this way we were able to cover over a hundred miles around the city in the weekend.
After breakfast on a sunny terrace at our hotel, our first landmark was the Galleria Borghese in a park of the same name to the north of the city. It houses a substantial collection of paintings, sculpture and antiquities, begun by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the nephew of Pope Paul V. Sixteenth and seventeenth century masterpieces by Bernini, Caravaggio, Raphael and Rubens tell stories of Roman Gods and Jesus Christ. Numerous creative techniques and materials including mosaics and marble bring the powerful forces of religious doctrine to life. How was it possible to carve such delicate beauty from stone and to make flesh and silk look so real?
Next stop was the Vatican Museum in the boundaries of the Vatican City, the wealthiest city per capita in the world. Fortunately, we narrowly missed getting ‘upgraded’ to a group tour. The museum is home to artefacts going back to the earliest days of the Egyptian empire. In two hours we explored the last seven thousand years of our history. We wandered past statues recognising great leaders, magnificent maps of Italy and tapestries telling stories of cardinal sins, brutal sackings and the expansion of the great Roman Empire. The meandering ended in the Sistine Chapel where our necks ached from marvelling at Michelangelo’s paintings. If you take the exit at the back right of the Chapel, technically restricted to group tours, you can get straight into the Basilica, take the left and you have to queue again. We took the right and then, inside the Church, were stopped until I said we were going to confess and then we were ushered into the inner sanctum. At the confession box I considered confessing that my sin was to lie that I was going to confess .. but we skipped the box and joined a small service.
After cocktails, we dined overlooking the Pantheon with its pillars pillaged from Egypt, to the sound of a band playing Pink Floyd.
Rome was built around seven hills. We decided to see it from the top of each and planned a route on Sunday around the city. Each summit has its own unique character, several fill you with total awe - a truly uplifting feeling. A keyhole in a door that gives a view of something I will not give away the secret - but it’s a very special sight. A statue of the revolutionary Garibaldi on his horse who helped lead the unification of Italy. The Presidential Palace. In the valley between the Capitol Hill (Campidoglio) and the Palatine Hill (Palentino) lie the remains of the Forum (Foro Romano). Walking through the Forum, the heart of the ancient Empire, you can almost hear the hooves of ghost horses of military processions. You can’t help but feel inspired.
The weekend was a total sensory overload. At the end we were both completely frazzled. Seven deadly sins, seven thousand years and seven hills is just too much to process. But the tonic is powerful and the timing of a strong dose of marvel, awe and inspiration is a great cleanse as I prepare for the next chapter of my career leading KPMG’s cutting edge technology thinking.
Miranda and I arrived back from Australia in July. The same day we started to pull down our home and begin extensive rebuilding works. We lived on site throughout the project. For several months, as we headed to winter, we had no windows or doors and just one room with a gas fire and small electric hob to cook, work, plan & relax (not). Our electricity, water and heating were often off. We ran a wifi network off a mobile phone. When the wind blew, the plastic sheeting covering the windows would flap all night, the noise was intolerable and would play cruel tricks with our minds. We had strangers threatening our builders and the police were on alert.
Miranda managed the project every day of the build, making sure our crew were well looked after and their spirits were kept high. Each night we'd walk the site together plan the coming week and month, reworking drawings, reviewing builders issues and making sure all the supplies and suppliers were lined up ahead of our team. We had hundreds of brochures and samples. Our walls were covered in clippings. Every weekend we visited suppliers across the county. We blew our initial budget, but somehow managed the cashflow throughout and paid everyone promptly. We had hoped to be back in for Christmas. We decorated a tree, but it came and went. Our children visited regularly and shared the experience in good spirits, even when the heating, water and wifi was off.
Miranda somehow made sure I had a clean, ironed shirt everyday for work. She dropped me at the station and I would show up as if nothing was happening, with a crazy schedule criss crossing the world, grateful for a hot shower and a comfortable seat on a plane.
This short video makes it look quick and easy, but it hides the reality of the dust, noise, cold, damp, sickness & stress. It was extreme. Our life has literally been on hold for 9 months.
Last week we finished and we got to celebrate Easter with some of our clan. We're both looking forward to emerging from the dust and enjoying the next chapter of life ... do come and visit us soon!