Zen and The Act of Kindness

IMG_0772“Seriously?  You have a bath and a kettle in your room?” I said to new Club Med friend Els. “It must be a deluxe one: I was told they’d done away with most of them in the refurb – part of an economy drive around water. I agree with that – but I do love a soak in the bath after a hard day’s table tennis and lounging by the pool.”

It was the first of many changes I spotted during my week at Da Balaia. It seemed that like some of its guests and the world at large, Club Med is also partial to an identity crisis: Rooms are refreshed; a newly decorated bar upstairs is all blonde wood; the nightclub area bright and airy, however in the communal areas the same old comforting carpet greeted me – a little tired around the edges now.

I followed crowds of beards from a tech company visiting for a conference to the dining room for lunch.

Ines, a Gentil Organisateur (G.O.) tore me away from frowning at chipped plates and cups, and the large round table next to me of eight French bloggers superglued to their ‘phones.
“So, how was your morning?” she asked, smiling. I told her what I’d done and hadn’t done and we found shared experiences to bond over.

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New Term

img_3540Just in the door, my Skype rang. It was Fifi from Ibiza.  “Everyone’s gone home” she said, “The whole family. The temperature’s dropped and the campsite’s finally calming down.”

I relayed how I’d just been sitting on a bench in the park with a hot cup of tea for company as the smoky smell of autumn drifted towards me, leaves on the ground around my stillness; serving as a carpet to crunch through on the way home.

“I crave nature these days” I said.
“You’re not the only one.  Practically every guest I’ve had a conversation with this season has told me of their yearning for countryside, greenness and simplicity in life” Fifi replied.

Later that evening I bounded up the steps of my choir’s rehearsal venue, literally grinning with glee in anticipation.

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A Hot Day For Cycling

P1070915I picked up my means of transport.  It was hot, a damned hot Ibiza day, but I was on a mission to discover all there was to discover on the Orbea Optima electric bicycle.

Oscar, at Kandani showed me its features one by one and handed me a helmet.  I asked him about the charging element. “I’m a bit worried, Oscar, what if I’m half way to Santa Inés and I run out of juice?”
He paused, midway through adjusting the seat, raised his head and looked at me incredulously: “Nobody empty the battery in one day. Nobody.”

Feeling chastised but comforted at the same time, I smiled, sat on the comfy padded seat and waved goodbye. “Are you sure I don’t need the off-road model?” I called out to him.
“No, this is enough for you. Make sure you start off on ‘Tour’ and then move up to Turbo as you go.  Don’t start on Turbo or you will take off very quickly and that could be dangerous!”

Heading towards San Carles I felt the joy of minimal peddling and maximum speed.  Despite the heat, the teeniest breeze generated by the motion felt cool on my face.  I smiled from sheer joy.  Past heat-baked fields of ripening tomatoes, sprinklers freshened them and me as I motored by. Further on the scent of pines cut through dusty air, and the faint aroma of fig as I passed a tree laden with this sumptuous fruit waiting for its moment to drop.

How far would I go?  How far did I want to go? Would I climb the Sierra De La Malacosta or would I simply go to the beach?

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Serendipity Wins The Epsom Derby

P1070769“I had a dream” Clare Balding told me as I started to explain my win in the Epsom Derby.  Poor Clare.  I wanted to know, I really did but unfortunately with the overexcitement of the main race, I’d been reduced to a babbling mess.  I needed to tell her the story of my day, which in racing terms had a magical twist of fate.

It had all started gently enough.  Whilst waiting for my comrade in arms for Epsom at the train station a coffee truck pulled up and before you could say ‘Mine’s a cappucino’ I was chatting to the cab drivers, one of whom treated me to a latte: Things were looking good so far.

An hour later found us still struggling to find our carpark, but once inside the media tent all that was forgotten and the race was on.

A day at the track is like no other. Time flies but in the most surreal way.  No sooner have you watched one race than horses parade in the paddock for the next. Bets are placed, champagne or beer is ordered, a roar comes up from the grandstand as you realise you’ve missed the 2.35 and need to get your act together for the 3.10.

Then, there’s the arrival of the Queen, just a week before her official 90th birthday, and you have to guess what she might be wearing, in French, with a party of that country’s finest gentlemen as you all endeavour to get a photo of her.

What seemed like moments later, I leaned across the railings next to a handsome man in a top hat chatting to his friend. “Where are you from in Ireland?” I asked.
“The Curragh” came his response.
“I’m from Meath – just next door – near Trim.”
“Oh yes, I know it. I used to have to drive through Trim all the time to get to Navan.”
“To the races?”

I asked him what he was doing here today.  “We’ve got a horse in the Derby – Harzand” he told me. “My Father’s the trainer.”
“Aidan O’Brien?”
“No!  You don’t study the form do you?!” came the retort with a grin.

In fairness I hadn’t had time, but this was all I needed.  “We must get to the Tote!” I said to Chloe. I’d heard first hand Frankie Dettori’s tips for the Derby (‘The main challenge for Wings of Desire is US Army Ranger’), and John McCririck had also weighed in with his comments before he waved me off and told me to ‘Keep blogging’.  But this.  This was pure gold.

Cakes and coffee by the winning post preceded an inspiring victory by Harzand with one of my each way bets coming in second.

On the train home I conversed with yet another fellow Irishman.  We high fived our Derby success.  “I won big” he told me.
“I broke even, and a bit more” I replied.
A bit of magic more in fact.

Very many thanks to Epsom Derby, JSC Communications and Chloe Haywood for a magnificent day.

Boy Blue


Brushing past pink tinged magnolia blossom, I stepped through my front gate.

I noticed the hair first: Blond, slicked back from his forehead like freshly-washed with a comb running through it. I’ve seen quite a few of these chaps recently – how do they do it?  How does the hair stay so rigorously in place?  Is it back-in-the-day brylcreem? I needed to investigate but perhaps now wasn’t the time. A navy blue rain mac,  umbrella swinging from his left hand, and a briefcase in the other completed the picture.

He kept up a steady pace one step behind me.  I’ll let him pass I thought – save an awkward situation.  He drew level. “Do you know the way to Warwick Avenue?” he said.
“Yes, second right.”
“Are you going there – you look like a local?  I’ve just moved in.”
“Um, yes, I am.”
“I’ll stick with you then ’til we get to the tube.”

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I’ve started so I’ll finish

P1060850.jpg“I’ll totally understand if you want to bail” came the text from choir friend Kate.  “No” I wrote back, “I said I’ll come and I will – no matter about the three hours sleep, I’m up now!”

P1060863.jpgP1060864.jpgThe event for which I could not resist supporting my singing chum was the Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest at Wembley – apparently the world’s ‘biggest urban obstacle course race’.  Three wicking outfitted gals and me headed to a venue where if memory serves I last visited for a Madonna gig.

This was somewhat different. A biting wind greeted us as we left the station and tried to find the start line.  Pumping music led us to it.

P1060872.jpgKeith – a feisty sounding scotsman – yelled on the mike to a male participant: “WHAT WORD IS GOING TO GET YOU THROUGH THE DARK TIMES AHEAD TODAY MATE?  AND, TRUST ME THERE WILL BE LOTS OF THEM!!”
“WOMEN!” his interviewee yelled back with equal force.

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From one Garros to another


“How did you get a name like that?” I asked the main man at the tennis hut, reaching to pour myself a cool drink of water on a morning when the temperature was already 30 degrees.

“Well, ‘Garros’ wasn’t my decision – something to do with my parents” he smiled – a gorgeously tanned face surrounding the kind of dazzling white teeth my dentist would be impressed by.

“Let’s have a photo” I said, commandeering this fine garçon and a fellow pupil prior to our morning lesson.

“Ah, yes, it always start with a photograph” he said, eyes twinkling.

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Whatever the weather

2014-08-10 14.21.00Walking out of Wimbledon station I contemplated August – the new February.  A month when change is afoot and the weather is troublesome enough to unsettle one; not yet Autumn but not quite Summer.  A month that is defined primarily by family holidays and cities so quiet you can hear a pin drop.

I took cover hoping for a break in the torrential rain.  My phone beeped.  It was Foxy: ‘Not coming South the bike ride has closed a lot of roads going to stay local.’

My subdued mood headed out into a brief respite from the downpours and towards the bottom of Wimbledon hill to catch a bus up to the village.

As I rounded the corner I noticed cones everywhere and barricades and, could that be in the distance……yes, yes it was, hundreds of bikes and their riders (www.prudentialridelondon.co.uk) cycling hard through this leafy suburb towards the finish line at The Mall in central London.

My mood lifted by the sight of movement; I watched them whirr past.  Brightly coloured ‘uniforms’, one water bottle – sometimes two – perched between legs beneath cross bars.  And, wheels.  Wheels that looked like they were flat – not round – fancy wheels: Expensive bikes.

I started to climb.  Rather them than me I thought, watching as they hurled themselves upwards.  The rain dampened no-one’s spirits here.  The spectators kept cheering, and the cyclists – in the face of such optimism and support – gritted their collective teeth and pushed on.

“You can do it!  It’s the last hill!” someone shouted.

I got to the top and stood with Becky outside a shop to watch the race go past.

Beards were everywhere together with the drive and ambition of a slightly older ‘crew’ keen to capitalise on the youth and associated energy they still have. My pal E, who’s in the know tells me they’re referred to as ‘Mamils’ (middle-aged men in lycra) in cycling circles.

“Gosh, if you were single, Becky, this would be a great place to meet some nice fit men.”

“What would you do though?” she replied, “They’re moving so fast!  Would you drop a handkerchief and hope one of them might dismount to retrieve it for you?”

We chuckled away as the riders sped by – some grinned, others were sombre, oblivious to everything but the goal. The occasional one chewed hurriedly on an energy bar.  But, all were in a hurry, riding over the crescendo of summer, preparing themselves for a sprint to the finish.

You cannot be serious

P1020908Our texts were gobbledegook, such was the state of excitement between us. ‘Just put of that match think you need Gate 1 I’m wondering so txt when you near I will come’ beeped my phone.

Wimbledon!  For the first time in years for me and as many for Foxy.

I hurried down the time honoured route from Southfields Underground Station passing a lengthy queue and the greenery of the height of summer: Horse chestnut trees hanging, deep green in a sultry fashion verging on languorous; Buddleia, full purple with that sweet scent that reminds you of honey…and Red Admiral butterflies.

A few obligatory snaps and an outside court game later, we were in watching the match of the day. ‘It doesn’t look that busy in here, that’s for sure” I said to Foxy, already talking like McEnroe and looking towards the commentary box in Centre Court.

A warm breeze drifted through carrying the odd conversation with it – magnified within this oval shaped ‘vessel’ that, despite its size, creates intimacy and strangeness at the same time. From some rows back came: “Come on Radek! Have a banana! That’s what Tim used to do.”

I looked up to see a summer scudding sky encircled by the architectural roof – so surreal that I wondered if I was really there.

Eventually the light started to fade and it was time to leave this most unique place.

I walked past lush hedges and hanging baskets of purple and white blooms – on a final mission now to get a photo of the star commentator.  Memories of watching him and his counterparts play back in the day always flood back at this time of year; meeting him was the only thing I could think of that would be the icing on today’s cake.

Terry at the Press Centre gave me a cola and a tip: “He’s into the football – comes out here after the broadcast and checks the scores on the screen.  Keep looking up at the balcony – if he decides to come down, I’ll take the photo.”

My hopes were high but it was not to be. No sooner was his stint with Ms Austin finished on TV than I discovered he’d left through another exit.  “You may not have recognised him anyway – he usually wears a hat and dark glasses” I was told.

Never mind.  I sent him a tweet, contenting myself with the thought that just maybe somewhere, he was sitting with a glass of lemonade, checking his phone, and reading it.  It’s a possibility – let’s be honest.