Much like those I know in Melbourne, the Greeks are effortless charm machines. Although I am genuinely having a wonderful time, even if I wasn’t, I feel they could convince me otherwise. Very much a case of these aren’t the droids you’re looking for! I’ve eaten so many olives on this holiday, and I hate olives.
I arrived in the country’s second city of Thessaloniki in the north-east of the country a few days ago then headed down the coast, but spent the first week on Corfu, hiring the tiniest car possible to circumnavigate the Ionian island. The road to reach my accommodation had collapsed, taking with it 60% of the drivable surface. It was a frightening experience tiptoeing around only the semi-broken bit! From hiring the vehicle, I lasted perhaps five minutes before the first ‘Oh God!’ as I narrowly squeezed between two cars parked casually across the road like they owned the place. Driving in Corfu is absolutely hair rising. Locals park almost anywhere apart from outside a fruit and veg stall, as a harassment will ensure. Charming harassment though, as I found out.
The beaches appear more spectacular than they are: the water seems inviting but at this time of year, that crystal clear turquoise sea is bracingly cold. Sure, I still went in, of course I did – there’s a long supressed British part of me that says ‘you’re on holiday, get in that fu**ing water right now! - but the duration of the adventures was pitiful. The shorelines are covered in crisp white pebbles that whilst crunch nicely underfoot, also hurt said underfoot. Yup, water was too chilly and the stones too hurty. And the sand it too coarse. Princess Reed, at your service.
After only a short time, I get the feeling that the Greeks don’t really give a shit about anything apart from food and family. They just live in this permanent state of relaxation and friendliness, building concrete skeletons of houses for foreigners and then just abandoning the project entirely. When I talk to people about Greece, their eyes sparkle, mind dancing of past romances and sundrenched beaches. Everyone seems to have their favourite island, like some kind of elite level travel club. Am not there yet, so will just have to continue travelling until I find one. Such is life. Ohh, an olive, yum!!
‘I didn’t know we had lizards in Wales!’ I reported excitedly to my mum, spotting one unwisely resting in the uneasy solace of the cat bowl. Mum confirmed that we still didn’t. When I was done channelling my inner Attenborough, would I be able to relocate the newt to the pond please. The difference, you ask? Newts are more like salamanders, and as this article explains, ‘while all newts are considered salamanders, not all salamanders are newts’. Doesn’t help, right? Anyway, dearly hoping that the poor thing hadn’t just made a mammoth journey from the pond in the first place – I asked it, not much of a response - Jeff was duly dispatched to the watery depths, albeit somewhat reluctantly. Think he quite liked the bowl.
Next up for me that day came another blood donation for this year, propping up the NHS with some more mighty Reed blood! Honestly, there’s never been a better time to have an accident. I imagine somewhere in the basement of the NHS, they’re distilling the potency, watering it down for mere humans or just donating it all to a single poorly elephant that’ll go from languishing despair to dancing a jig now that he’s been injected with some rocket fuel! Or they might just pack it in with the others, I guess.
Feeling a little jaded in the afternoon, I stumbled across a large bumble bee sharing my listlessness – I was going to write sluggishness but we already have two animals in this story. The Reed Rescue Centre (me) plopped him next to some flowers. Since he didn’t immediately look energised, I fetched a tiny dab of honey from the pantry and put some down right next to him, hoping to god that bumble bees like honey as much as honey bees supposedly like honey . . . I mean, am sure they’re very different, unlike lizards and newts which intelligent people mix up all the time. Yet sure enough, ten anxious minutes later, just when I was picturing the news headlines, ‘Sick bastard poisons innocent bee – public execution arranged’, the little chappie/chappness/non-denomination-please-stop-boxing-me-into-a-gender bumble bee had more pep, and soon buzzed away merrily. He zipped by several minutes later to the lounge window I was gazing out of, undoubtedly to say thank you in a bzzz, bzzz bzzzzzzzz way that they do. A quite wonderful day! No idea what happened to the slug.
Being a professional log-bagger isn’t as glamourous as it sounds, battling spiders in the wood shed for the juiciest chunks. I’m just thankful we don’t have Huntsman or snakes in this country, otherwise I’d be forced to sign-over woodshed ownership. I’m good with cold, thanks! It is glorious being back home, but the hours change on both hemispheres means the rough 8pm-4am slot is now 10-6am. Ouch!
The biphasic or sometimes triphasic sleeping patterns mean I go to bed A LOT! My whole day seems to consist of getting up so I can then go back to bed. Traipsing through the narrow-cobbled streets of Lisbon or staring across the beautiful Lake Como for a few hours a day (or indeed walking the Welsh countryside in spring with all the cute lambies or chatting to my parentals) are pretty magnificent in the down time though.
Accompanying me on any trip is my camera, muddled thoughts and a need to exercise, but many of my standard practices have capitulated. My meditation practices have fallen off a cliff, as too has the sheer amount I read. Lack of sleep wipes out a lot of creativity too; I still have my bounce, just it’s not quite as high. Back in Wales following the last European jaunt, I recently picked up the lovely Phosphorescence: On Awe, Wonder and Things That Sustain You When the World Goes Dark by Australian author Julia Baird, a journalist extolling the benefits of the natural world: walks in the countryside; swimming in the ocean which she cutely refers to as Vitamin Sea; the simple everyday experiences of feeling roughness of a carpet under smooth souls; the delights of apricity – the warmth of the winter sun. It’s an entrancing charming book.
Referred to often is the feeling of awe and wonder, the latter Descartes expostulated was the greatest of all emotions. It perfectly encapsulates my feelings when staring at snowy mountains and countryside stretching for eternity, at architecture or art that sends my soul into rapture, where I lose my footing on the path of time for a few brief seconds. An interlude of dislocation from the world. Time to plan another jaunt, perhaps Greece. Wanna come? You can watch me sleep and mumble about spiders and logs.
Trivia Quiz: Name two countries that have another two countries ensconced in their midst? Answers: South Africa (Lesotho and Eswatini/Swaziland) is obvious, zero points!; the other trickier one is Italy, with the Vatican City and – drum roll – San Marino! Other than being the whipping boys of European football competitions from time immemorial, I knew very little about San Marino. Not even where it was. ‘Europe’ was my best guess, but that’s kind of inherent in the European bit of the competition. Nary a team of Innuits has ever made an appearance.
There’s a lovely straight train line in Italy of about four-hundred kilometres running from Milan to the coast, skirting footballing goliaths and minnows such as Ancona, Ravenna, Bologna, Parma, Sassuolo, Piacenza and, of course, Inter Milan and AC Milan. It’s when roving along that map trying to find Modena that I stumbled upon San Marino. The history goes that in Roman times, stonemason Saint Marinus established an independent monastic community on the awesomely named Mount Titan circa 301 AD. Then . . . everyone seems to have quietly forgotten about it. San Marino was occupied by the son of the Pope once in the 16th century, until dad intervened and removed him like a chaste school bully. And one time, the nephew of another pope attempted to conquer the republic but incredibly got lost on the fog in the way there. How embarrassing!
Given tourist season was yet to kick off in a pretty-bloody-cold February, only half a dozen of us boarded a fifty-seater bus from Rimini on the Italian coast. Four of those got off before we even arrived at the lofty citadel. I parked myself in a fancy hotel with a less fancy view of a wall, and excitedly went straight to bed in preparation for my night’s working. Huzzahh! In between working nights talking to Australian comrades though, I pottered around the old citadel, which you can traverse in about an hour from end to end.
With barely any tourists, it was very easy to strike up conversations with those that had bothered to venture out. I met a few Britishers wandering around, basking in glorious and unexpected sunshine. When they holidayed in the area two years ago, they built igloos in the copious snow. Despite the lack of people, San Marino has its charm. There is an abundance of curiosities such as the torture museum and vampire/werewolf/weird things museum, all of which were open the one day of the week I wasn’t in town. No one I met seemed to know why these oddities existed. The only shops readily doing business were hawking guns thanks to San Marino’s very liberal laws on firearm ownership. However, the views from the citadel into where the peasants lay beyond is extremely pretty (beyond the peasants, obviously), with splendid light shows of orange and purple pastels during never-ending sunsets.
This tiny country also has some claims to fame: it is the oldest constitutional republic and oldest surviving sovereign state in the world. Astonishingly, in 1861 San Marino wrote to Abraham Lincoln congratulating him on his recent presidency, and made him an honorary citizen (another trivia question!). Also, it’s one of the wealthiest countries in the world in GDP per capita, which is even more miraculous considering most shops are shut. They must sell a truckload of guns, or ingest money by osmosis or something. As for their footballing prowess, little can be expected from a country of only 24 square miles and a population of roughly 30,000. As yet, they have never won a competitive game. According to this morale booster from Wikipedia ‘San Marino's national team is sometimes considered the worst national side in the history of the sport.’ Ouch! Come visit, you may make the team!
‘Had a bad day huh? Yeah, I get that . . . when I was in Auschwitz . . .’ And right there, all complaints melt away. I can feel holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku reaching out to me through history with his excellent The Happiest Man on Earth, a book published last year as he turned one hundred years old. Amazingly he spent his last days in Sydney, Australia, an exceptionally large stone’s throw away from me in Melbourne, last October. I feel quite honoured to have been on the same continent, but dearly wish I’d discovered the book sooner and made a trip to meet him. The book is that good. There is nothing more life affirming than stories of the worst, and best, of humanity. I’m listening to a Mads Mikelsen voiced narrator talk me through the tome, and am enjoying every second.
I’ve taken a break for the last month from lots of things. Instead, I treated myself to a little break in Europe, a chance to celebrate some freedoms, culminating in a belated 40th and 41st birthday present in racing a Lamborghini Gallardo around a track in Modena, Italy. It’s a beautiful, beautiful machine. For fun, I’ve been looking at prices in the UK. Amazingly, it’s not THAT bad! About half the price of those in Australia. Can I afford the petrol though, that's the thing! But a few laps laughing my ass off in a sports car in Italy was very enjoyable. Simple pleasures!
I was working nights throughout my European travels, the lovely Australian hours of 8pm to 5am. I’d sleep a great deal during the day, but had about five hours each day to ghost around Portugal, Italy, San Marino (I didn’t even know where it was!), Switzerland, France and Germany, reacquainting myself with friends I hadn’t seen in almost ten years . . . it was truly wonderful. Life affirming. Felt very grateful for seeing smiling faces. Listening to Jaku now is just the icing on a glorious cake. Jaku's message? Be kind and compassionate. Try to be happy. If you can't do that, be kind. Happiness will come.
Things may not always go your way (Arsenal . . . enough said) but it’s the reaction to the setbacks. Enough with this horseshit of believing there’s a masterplan and complaining of constant oppression and how unjust everything is. Vamos! The world is there for the taking. Perhaps stop though when you start thinking of taking over a country, eh?
Lying tennis champs and Prime Ministers make me sleepy. Well, at present, everything makes me sleepy; even waking up makes me yawn. With the adoption of a bi-phasic sleep pattern to retain Australian working hours from the UK (10pm-6am), I’ve also tried mid-morning naps, afternoon siestas, 40 winks before dinner, and quick snoozes afterwards. All in all, a lot of sleep. This from a person that never slept much at all. Patiently laying in my waiting-room of books was the phenomenal Why We Sleep, which has driven home the importance of this life-saver. Too early to call my book of the year in January? This from the very first page:
Routinely sleeping less than 6 or 7 hours (i.e. sleep deprivation) demolishes your immune system . . . doubles your risk of cancer . . . increases chances of Alzheimer’s disease, disrupts blood sugar levels to pre-diabetic proportions, increases likelihood of blocked coronary arteries leading to stroke, congestive heart failure and cardiovascular disease . . . is a contributor to all major psychiatric conditions, including depression, anxiety and suicide . . . and is a proven recipe for a desire to eat, resulting in weight gain and obesity.
To reiterate, all that is in the first page. As the author points out, the maxim “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is at best unfortunate. For years I subsisted on minuscule hours of slumber. I’d evolved, or so I’d thought. Turns out not. And if you think you’re in that camp, you’re not either. “The number of people who can survive on five hours of sleep or less without any impairment, expressed as a percent of the population, and rounded to a whole number, is zero.” Not a lot of wiggle room.
Makes me want to lie down just thinking about it. Whist I’m there, I’ve been chewing through Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning The Color Purple and the 110-year old The Secret Garden by Frances Hodson Burnett, both excellent. I’ve been out walking, taking photos and getting exercise as much as I can to help those nap times, and watching my beloved Arsenal appearance in the FA Cup was a sure-fire snooze fest. Hiding away in Wales, I feel a little removed from the world. And Australia was pretty far removed as it is! The antipodes have slowed down it’s PCR testing dramatically, pushing people to purchase their own Lateral Flow/Rapid Antigen Tests at $15 a pop. Remember the President that claimed his country wouldn’t have such high covid numbers if they tested less? Yup. Welcome to Australia!
Right. It’s bed time somewhere; time to celebrate. Sleep like your life depends upon it. 2022, year of the yawns.
Why is it so bloody dark!?! Ahem. Godzilla blotting out the light perhaps. In swapping my usual Australian Christmas by the pool for a few months back in Wales, I’m rediscovering Britain. They’re a fun people! I like the quirkiness of electing a randy chimp to run the country, it’s so zany! It’s like a war against cogent sentences.
But I am enjoying myself, spending time with family, which considering the world at large, am pretty pleased with (as they bicker in the background, and I reach for my headphones like I’m fifteen again). Since this is the first Christmas I’ve spent in the UK in roughly fifteen years, I’ve tried approaching the place with a fresh perspective. Here are a few notes:
I shall continue to take notes of this peculiar species whist I’m here, although I’ll have to lift my head from books for that. Am just clocking over sixty books for the year, but stuck on Wiser for a while, exploring the scientific roots of wisdom, compassion, and what makes us good. A lovely book to take into 2022, I feel. I also got into some classics like Sense and Sensibility, Jane Eyre, Theresa Raquin, and childhood favourites like Anne of Green Gables and Charlotte’s Web, all pretty wonderful. Although the last few months have been a blur, there has been plenty of good bits. I was pleased to get out on the motorcycle a little before I finally sold it, and my fitness and weight have improved too. I had minor surgery which I’d been putting off, and although I still haven’t finished my uncle’s audiobook (two chapters to go), and I haven’t progressed in writing my third book (on leadership) whatsoever in the last few months, I am very happy and grateful with my lot. I am enjoying being home, spending time with friends and family. You never know how much you miss people until you can’t see them. Oddly here the conversation is less ‘oh my, hope I don’t catch COVID’ and more ‘well, when I first caught it . . .’ A different world to what we’ve been used to in Australia where Western Australia, a state the size of UK, France, Germany, Spain, Poland, Belarus and Italy put together, enters a four-day lockdown because of three cases. Yup, three. It's not all sunshine and cricket :-)
As ever, thanks for your love, friendship and support in 2021, it’s been entirely my pleasure. I hope to see many of you in 2022, all my love, Richard xx
Well, that was weird. Not Jeff Bezos weird, or giant cock in space weird – tautology? - but, you know, up there. Like a particularly racy lamb buna, the last few months need time to settle. In mid-September, I was given three pieces of news simultaneously: a gap opened up for surgery on a bone spur with a 6 week recovery; the bank was repossessing the flat as the landlord stopped paying their mortgage, leaving 8 weeks to vacate; and after my requests to leave Australia had been rejected twice, I was given exemption, and had 10 weeks to fu*k right off. And in the last two weeks, add a new COVID variant, changing rules for different countries, a missed flight, forking out for another flight, paying for a hotel in Doha I never got to stay in . . . it’s been . . . interesting.
There is an element of PTSD. In Melbourne we were graced with 267 days of lockdown since March 2020, the longest period in the world. I spent the majority of that living alone. Being amongst people now is just . . . weird. Don’t get me started on the jitters of being on packed flights, screaming at flight attendants “that guy coughed/went to cough/cleared his throat/looks like he might cough at some point, jettison him NOW!!” Twenty-three hours of flying later, am sure everyone was very appreciative of my vigilance.
Getting people together for a farewell felt odd too, let alone technically hard as everyone was scrambling to leave Melbourne (hmm . . . coincidence?) after finally obtaining their freedom. And if I caught COVID, then I couldn’t travel at all. So, like my 40th and 41st birthday parties, a farewell will have to wait. As for those wonderful people in my life that reached out asking why I was selling everything and whether they could help with storing or moving stuff, I will love you forever.
What now? Meeting friends in London, it’s a different world. The conversation isn’t about avoiding COVID, but what it was like when you had it. Australians would freak! Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy a Welsh winter with my family, working Australian hours (10pm-6am, yeah, I didn’t stop working) and trying to get any exercise I can in between whatever daylight, non-rainy hours there are. There ain’t many!
Plans for next year? Still, plenty of time to run for 2021, I’ll plan 2022 when I reach it. For those school-friends still in Wales, please say hi, would be lovely to catch up xx
It’s been a few weeks . . . but I see the light! With lockdown a sniff away as the country rapidly vaccinates, things are progressing nicely towards normality. I feel like coming out of a chrysalis, with Spring in the air too. But as one door opens, another closes. In August I received legal notice that the owner of my flat had stopped their mortgage, meaning the bank was repossessing. They’ve been very nice about it – as nice as someone kicking you out can be - but over the past five weeks of gleaning as much about the process as I can, the outlook is bleak for not-quite-my-Chez Reed.
At the same time as moving out, I’ll be getting a bone spur on my foot removed too, which will make things tricky. And ruin my Steptember march for Cerebral Palsy – if you want to support a great cause, you can do so my donating here. Thinking I was doing pretty well for the first 19 days sitting at a not-too-shabby about 300kms, some son of a bitch has completed 5.8 million steps, averaging 244km a day. I assume “Tim” is a crack-cocaine addicted border collie on roller-skates.
In addition to walking lots, I’ve been working out every other day and running too. I’ve never worked so hard to look the same! I also had my very first COVID test 17 months into a pandemic in preparation for surgery on Wednesday. Not too bad, Reed! I restarted an audiobook for my uncle, which is taking time but is quite fun – there was too much extraneous noise on the first few goes so ended up having to redo the lot. If anyone wants a first listen, please give me a shout.
I don’t think I’ve picked up my camera in months now, but I have been reading a great deal: Richard Koch’s classic 80/20 Principle, a guide for concentrating on the 20% of activities that give you 80% of the value; Paul Carter’s outrageous stories from working on oil-rigs across the world; and The Road To Wigan Pier by George Orwell. The latter provides a glimpse into life in colliery towns, and kerrrist was it bleak! The galling thing is that in a hundred years, the same underlying problems exist: “even people on the verge of starvation can buy a few days’ hope . . . whole sections of the working class who have been plundered of all they really need are being compensated, in part, by cheap luxuries which mitigate the surface of life . . . it’s quite likely that fish and chips . . . cut-price chocolate and the movies . . . have averted revolution.” Netflix: proudly reducing public lynching since 2020.
The news in Australia remains rather tepid but it’s nice that we’re still making headlines on the world stage. As the PM agreed to buy submarines we don’t need from France, then instead bought them from the US in some kind of trilateral security deal with the UK, Biden gloriously forgot our Prime Minister’s name, as we all tend to. Nothing like signing a billion dollar deal only to be remembered as ‘that fella’. Magical.
Fecking lockdown . . . however! With all this alone time, it provides opportunity for reflection. After topping 203 days in lockdown since March 30th 2020 (510 days ago), and staring down the double-barrels of another thirty more, that reflection has gone into overdrive. I reflect so much that when the sun is out, I blind passers-by. I don’t moisturise, I buff. Women stop to adjust themselves in front of me (that bit isn’t bad, actually).
I remain though immensely grateful. Last week I had my second 40th in lockdown. I’ll celebrate that bastard one day! I was lucky enough to receive well wishes and kindness from friends and family, even seeing some in 3D and everything. And yesterday I joined an online quiz with friends to unexpectedly see my face in an Andy Warhol backdrop too. Again, so much to be grateful for, really made my day!
I’ve picked up two books recently: Essentialism and Daring Greatly, the latter by the wonderful Brené Brown, a brazen, funny, recovering alcoholic that specialises in shame research. As you can imagine, as shame covers the vast topic of vulnerability, she has a lot to cover. It’s refreshing when Brené dispenses advice yet openly reveals how she is still grappling with doing these things herself, that it’s a journey we all take, and we make the best decisions we can. If you’re a female, parent or human being, it’s worth a look.
Essentialism, by Greg McKeown, I picked up this morning, focuses on doing less. This seems counterintuitive in lockdown. We already do less! I mean, no cinema, no seeing friends, no going to cafes, no going to museums, no going . . . full stop! We’ve never had more time! Yet it’s amazing the time we squander. A common idea proposed is that if you reached the end of your days, what would you want your life to look like on reflection? . This book digs a bit deeper: if you’re viewing your world from the outside right now, with all the wonderful abilities you possess, what would you focus on? Equally, what would you not focus on? Do what’s important. We need to make choices. We need to choose to choose.
Regardless of lockdown duration, I don’t want to come out of this horseshit with nothing to show for it but a stench. Despite the difficulty, I want to flourish. I want to be the rose. You mean, prickly and very hard to manage? Not quite . . . ahh, you mean still covered in horseshit and prone to wilting often? In all honesty, am not sure this analogy works . . . prone to giving everyone a fungal disease? Forget it. You’ve become so annoying in lockdown, you realise that? Who me? Yes, you. Always you. Wherever I look, it’s you. You know what you need to do? Spend time reflecting . . .
Writing and writing...