Travel writing with a difference always excites my curiosity. Norman Lewis’s account of Naples during the year 1944 is not the usual memoir of a personal journey of discovery, but the result of being posted out to Italy as a member of the British Intelligence Service in the immediate aftermath of the invasion of southern Italy.
Lewis came to the posting with a useful command of Italian, learned largely from his Sicilian wife, but the job description that came with the new duties was non-existent. In the early days, they had no idea what they should be doing and, for the next 12 months, much of what they did achieve was the result of following vague orders from on high, with a liberal input of creative imagination. They formed part of an occupation force that was intended to sort out the governance of the south of Italy, long used to the whims and savagery of both the national fascists under Mussolini, and later by the German occupation.
His work was made up randomly of seeking out and dealing with German collaborators, controlling the sale of stolen military goods through the black market, liaising with the local police and people of influence, and dealing with the local Camorra (Mafia). Italy was in a state of crisis and the people were starving. The living conditions were medieval, both because of poverty and the density in which people lived together in squalid circumstance. Typhus, smallpox and malaria were rife. Lewis himself contracted malaria three times during the year.
Although written 30 years later, this memoir vibrates with the immediacy of his experiences, and serves as a perfect snapshot of life that deserves a place in the archives.
Josefina Aldecoa comes from a long line of teaching parentage, especially amongst the women-folk. Both her mother and grandmother were teachers and principals of schools before her. In this short novel Historia de una maestra, Aldecoa seems to be writing in biographical mode, the first-person narrator being her mother, and she featuring as the young daughter. But it isn’t exactly biographical because the dates of the narrative don’t precisely match the dates of her own life.
Set in the 1920s and 1930s in rural Spain, the protagonist, Gabriela, qualifies as a teacher, heads off to Equatorial Guinea in her bid to expand the horizons of her limited world, but contracts malaria and has to return to Spain. She finds work in a village school, meets and marries Ezequiel (also a teacher) and, through their growing involvement in rural affairs, become deeply committed to the new Republican government of the 1930s, which promised to bring major changes that would favour the lives of the poor and landless masses. The narrative takes us up to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, when Ezequiel was summarily shot for his involvement with the workers’ movement.
This novel is the first in a trilogy, the other titles being La fuerza del destino and Mujeres de Negro.
Menorca: route maps
I don’t normally carry the technology for uploading my route maps from my GPS to my blog, so here they are. I stayed mainly in the south of the island because that is where most of the rideable roads are.
When lightning strikes happen to other people, they often make exciting, intriguing, sometimes sad news. When it happens to you, or causes a major delay in your travel plans, it then becomes an ‘adventure’ a bit too close to home. No, I wasn’t struck by lightning, I am very happy to say, but my Monarch flight was struck as it approached Menorca airport with its contingent of British passengers.
Now, lightning strikes on planes are fairly commonplace these days, and it is heartening to know that all commercial aircraft are designed to withstand even the most aggressive strikes, but they can cause a severe jolt to the plane, and can even throw some of the electrics out, but generally speaking, beyond the shock factor, they do little damage. However, what is obligatory after every such strike, is a complete safety check before the aircraft takes off again. And this was the big rub……
Menorca airport is a small place and, in winter time, works on minimal staffing. The 200 passengers waiting to board were sent emails every half hour informing them of the revised departure time. After three hours, the captain felt obliged to address the restless mob, explaining that they had detected some damage to the electrics, and were awaiting instructions from Airbus about the safety of resuming their journey. He also added that he and his crew were rapidly running out of legal shift time, after which they would have to take compulsory rest……..which would mean having a stop-over in Menorca.
Now Monarch, like most budget airlines, do not have the financial capacity for keeping aircraft on stand-by in the case of such events, so no substitute plane was going to be sent out. We simply had to sit it out and hope for the best. After nearly 8 hours, they allowed us to board where we sat for another 40 minutes waiting for the engineers to sign off the safety check, and I am happy to report that the flight home was uneventful. The ‘huge concession’ made by Monarch was to award each of the passenger with a 6 euro snack….
So, instead of arriving in Gatwick at 14.20, we arrived at 22.00, missing my National Express connection by over 6 hours, meaning I had to buy an expensive train ticket to get home, eventually arriving home at 01.30am. I, like probably most of my fellow passengers, began searching for the small print concerning delays and added expense, and discovered a clause in the company’s T&Cs that Monarch airlines will not be liable if the delay is caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’. The big question now is: were the complications caused by a lightning strike ‘extraordinary circumstances’? I began to investigate……..and this is what I found.
In January 2016, a judge at Luton County Court, deliberating on a similar case against Monarch, decided that lightning strikes do not constitute ‘extraordinary circumstances’, presumably because they are so commonplace that airline companies should have in place the resources to respond to them. In other words, the simple solution would have been for Monarch to either send out another plane to pick us up, or contract the loan of another aircraft from a nearby airport (like Mallorca or Barcelona, for instance). But they didn’t do that. They made us wait 8 hours, instead, to avoid this major expense to the company, making it clear to us that company profits are of greater importance than the convenience and wellbeing of 200 passengers. If Monarch have to proceed to pay-outs, they could be liable to 600 euros per passenger.
So, I have filed my claim (principally for the cost of a train ticket), and now await a response. Stay tuned……….
Distance today: 72km
Total distance for the week: 338km
As I set off to explore the few roads left to be discovered on the island, I heard that Alicante had its first snow in 35 years, and Ronda (in Andalucia) had its first snow in 60 years! Records are being broken everywhere, and news bulletins are letting the extraordinary weather events to even upstage Donald Trump’s inauguration tomorrow. As cold as Menorca has been in the last week, at least we haven’t seen any of the white stuff. Whereas over in Mallorca, there have been dramatic pictures of Sky continuing to train despite heavy snowfall. Commitment to earning their salaries, perhaps.
My route took me along one of the few coastal roads, through half a dozen deserted holiday villages, through the town of Sant Lluis
(a town established by the French during the few years they had arrested control of the island from the British), and eventually out along the long peninsula where an 19th century fort had been built to protect the harbour from invasion.
Ah bliss…..the freedom of the open road once again. Cold temperatures were forecast, as were strong winds with gusts of up to 80km per hour, but the potential of a dry day (according to the BBC weather app, anyway), so I set off into the wind with a degree of optimism. But whatever the street thermometers tell you about air temperature, when the winds blow down from Siberia, 6C really feels like 0C, or what the Spaniards refer to as the thermic temperature.
I headed for one of the many coastal holiday villages called Sol Parc, knowing it would be a winter ghost town like all such communities, but I had been assured by a fellow flight passenger that it had a bar open in the winter months. So off I went. When I eventually found this mysterious bar, run by an English lady, and met the only customer (an elderly gentleman who seemed to be living the life of a hermit, his only companion being his dog), I struggled to visualise the attraction of living in such a place year-round. Menorca is desperately trying to make the island a year-round holiday destination (like Mallorca), promoting outdoor activities and culture for the winter months, but they will have to do something to inject a bit of life into these coastal ghost towns if they are to succeed.
One of the coastal villages, Son Bou, had this fascinating 5th century Christian site
with the uncovered remains of an ancient paleolithic basilica, built after the Roman occupation, and before the arrival of the Moors. I tell you, this little island has seen some history.
And as I swung round from viewing the ancient remains, I was only this far from stepping onto a beach and gazing out over the horizon.
Over a late leisurely lunch in a harbour-side restaurant in Mahon, I met a young English family who were preparing to up-sticks in Dubai and move permanently to Menorca. In fact they had only just clinched the deal on their new house, and they were both nervous and excited about the prospects. Having just experienced the coldest week in Menorca for over 10 years, at least they were making their decision when Menorca wasn’t exactly selling itself.
We were spared the heavy snow experienced by neighbouring Mallorca, and even further south in Alicante, but the freezing winds whistling down from Siberia had me skulking under 7 layers of clothing, as I climbed on a smart-looking bus to Ciutadella at the other end of the island. Even though it’s not the capital, it is bigger than Mahon, and had been the capital until the arrival of the British. Today, embedded in their patronal festivities, was a re-enactment of a very important moment in the history of the island…..and this time, I’m not referring to the arrival of the British!
The island had been occupied by the Moors for 5 centuries until, in the 13th century, Alfonso lll of Aragon arrived to claim possession of the island, and it was in Ciutadella that he arrived,
A formal choral mass is led by the Bishop in the Cathedral, followed by a procession through the streets led by mounted dignitaries, until they arrive at the Plaza de Alfonso lll, where the ceremonial knocking at the gate is re-enacted to the cheering and applause of the crowd.
Trussed up like a turkey: this is what you get to look like when the forecast tells you the weather gods are going to throw everything at you…..rain, hail, gale-force winds, with temperatures just hovering above freezing.
The smile for the camera was completely erased an hour later when I had to throw in the towel and turn back to basecamp. I rode back through patches of settled hail stones, and had to peel off the several sodden layers one by one before jumping into a blissfully hot shower. My room now looks like a Chinese laundry.
Because the Siberian weather front is set to intensify tomorrow, with the rarely experienced possibility of snow falling on Menorca, even the patronal fiesta activities have been postponed for two weeks. San Antoni, normally celebrated on the 17th, is just going to have to wait (sorry mate!).
However, things brightened up in the late afternoon, which gave me good reason the explore Mahon, and it really is a charming and fascinating place, particularly it’s natural 5km long harbour, where hundreds of luxury yachts and launches are moored:
Most of the historic centre was built by the British in the 18th century, so the predominant architectural style is Georgian, but British touches were also added to already existing buildings, like the clock on this 17th century masterpiece.
And one other curious reminder of the British presence is the continued use of adopted words: grevi (gravy); winder (window); botil (bottle); mervel (marble); xoc (chalk), to name just a few. And when I say the British occupied Menorca, what I really mean is they captured it and occupied it three times. There was quite a bit of squabbling going on with France, then with Spain, and finally with Austria. Then they all came to a gentleman’s agreement (meaning the British won the fight to leave behind gin-drinking and cricket as their inheritance) and handed it over to Spain…..and everyone lived happily ever after.
Food is seldom far from a cyclist’s thoughts. A day’s ride is predictably punctuated by calorie-loading stops, but here in Menorca, I begin the day with a local breakfast delicacy: the famous ensaimada.
The weather forecast for today was dire. The landlord warned me to take great care (obviously, he didn’t want to lose a tenant so soon after I’ve arrived!). Strong winds were expected, with gusts of up to 60kms per hour, and sea surges up to 4-6 metres high. With the wind coming from the north, it was going to carry the icy chill from central Europe, where temperatures have dropped to -20C. So I headed off very tentatively, going north to Fornells
When conditions out on the open roads are tough, it is nice to know that the Spanish Ministry of Transport has the safety of cyclists at heart…..
and, amazingly, most motorists do observe the 1.5 metre rule, patiently trailing behind me until they can overtake safely, allowing me the stipulated safety margin. I am impressed. And despite the strong winds, cyclists were out across the island doing their weekend miles, especially racing clubs, who frequently left me behind to eat their dust…..
But as I whizzed through (wind behind me, of course) Es Mercadal again this afternoon, I was treated to one of those serendipities that halt you in your tracks. Carried by the wind, I heard the familiar drum rolls of a drumming band, so I followed the sound to the main plaza, and chanced upon two bands practising for the patronal fiesta on Tuesday.
They were surrounded by a growing audience, flashmob-style, and kept us entranced by the complex rhythms of their repertoires. The most impressive display of drumming I’ve ever witnessed was the famous Holy Week gathering of 1000 drummers in Calanda in Aragon. At the stroke of 12 on Good Friday, the surrounding buildings began to vibrate with the sheer decibel level of the outburst. Today’s 20 drummers re-ignited that memory for me.
When I got back to Mahon, I was annoyingly waylaid by a Galician restaurant that beckoned me inside to sample their empanadas and padron peppers. Life can be so difficult to manage at times…….
You’ve heard it all before…..’The best laid schemes o’ mice and men….’. I picked up my hired steed (a very nice carbon fibre Specialized Roubaix)
at a winter discount price, headed out beneath a threatening sky and against a very cold 20kms head wind, and decided to do just 30-40kms locally to get used to the bike, and have a quick route of escape back to base in case the weather turned nasty…… and what happened?
I got into my stride, the bike felt good, I felt good, the weather didn’t turn brutal, and what should have been an amble round bays and through villages turned into a moderately long day ride. One day I will accept that I can’t simply do ‘ambles’, because ambles are rides without purpose. For me, a ride with purpose requires two ingredients: a destination and a distance, and you begin the ride with both as given, because at the end there is a sense of completion and achievement.
I began the ‘amble’ bit of the ride exploring villages in the south, stopping for a much needed hot coffee in Sant Lluis (the wind chill had really got to me), then got the bit between the teeth and motored north to Es Mercadal, to the foot of the infamous climb to El Toro.
When you see an innocent little sign like this, there is nothing innocent about it. 3kms of bends in the road usually mean only one thing: a big climb with severe switchbacks. In this ‘post-truth age’ I won’t make any claims about my performance, because you’ll probably guess the real truth anyway.
But my quest to unearth a few more clues about the British occupation of Menorca in the 18th century was richly rewarded today. Sitting next to me at the bar in Sant Lluis were two venerable old boys enjoying their pre-prandial aperitives, and what were they drinking? Neat gin (an unusual drink for most Spaniards), but in very un-British large measures. Not only did we export one of our drinking habits, but it would seem our game of cricket pops up in the most unexpected places (as it did in Corfu)
And after following this winding country road for 25kms, I discovered that Kane was one of the British Governors of the island in the 18th century. He had had this road built to link the capital, Mahon, with the north of the island.
I tap out this post on my phone accompanied by tv images of critical weather conditions across Spain. Mercifully, Menorca is not going to have the snow and sub-zero temperatures of the mainland, but it is going to be cold and wet for the next 4-5 days….. whoopee!
Unlike the Canary Isles, the Balearics do have a proper winter, but one which is usually mild and sunny…. but not always. In other words, if you come to enjoy out-of-season sport, you take your chances, just as I am this week. And because Menorca has a proper winter, most of the island is in winter-mode, with minimal services, and many bars and restaurants closed. Perfect if you prefer to avoid the crowds, but disastrous if you like nightlife and the buzz of human activity. Menorca in January slumbers like a hibernating bear.
And my UK friends mustn’t imagine that we are the only country suffering from a crisis in our health services. Spain is reeling from a flu epidemic, people are dying, and the hospitals are in crisis. Here too, patients on trolleys are lining the corridors, and some of this has been caused by a somewhat less than enthusiastic autumn campaign to have the most vulnerable vaccinated.
A dramatic and confused start to any venture brings with it a few anecdotal stories. I chose Gatwick as my airport of departure because Monarch Airlines offered a very good deal….and my plan to get there? Easy….a straight through train from Bedford to Gatwick. Ah, but there was the little matter of the ongoing Southern Network strikes…..damn! Plan B? Take a National Express coach from Milton Keynes. Straightforward? Sure, but let’s not mention the gathering snow storm hitting the south east which forced the cancellation of dozens of flights (admittedly mainly from Heathrow).
My coach faltered its way around the M25, while vehicles rapidly became enveloped in the white stuff, and it began to bank up on the hard shoulder. There was an element of touch-and-go about the last 30 miles, but we made it in the end, albeit 90 minutes late, putting the driver beyond his legal time limit.
Any blessings? Oh yes, the fact I had decided to travel down the day before my early morning flight has been, undoubtedly, a huge blessing…… no fretting about the possibility of a missed flight unless, of course, we had got completely stranded on the M25. So, a night sleeping rough in the airport?
The capsule pod. I must be giving in to my feminine side, because I’ve just shelled out £45 to spend the night ‘glamping’ in the South Terminal. I can’t really believe I’m doing this. I was rapidly becoming a world authority on airport sleeping conditions, and the next plan was to write a Lonely Planet guide on airport sleepovers, assigning a starred rating to each one.
So, proving that the spirit may be willing but the wrinkling flesh is weaker still, I booked into a Yotel, a Japanese-style capsule hotel, where the rooms are tiny pods that look like small (and I mean small) ship’s cabins.
These pods are only a one-floor lift ride from check-in, the pods are superbly designed, with full en suite, TV and WiFi, even a little camping stool and fold-away table. A couple of square metres is about the size of a small family tent.
So, instead of curling up across three uncomfortable seats near check-in and having all the disturbances of an airport at night (automated security announcements, cleaners etc), I am now wrapped up in an air-conditioned sound-proofed little pod where hot drinks are provided at any time of the day or night….and I can lie in bed to watch the 10 o’clock news. Is that cool, or what?
My quest to cycle most of the major islands of the Mediterranean continues apace tomorrow, as I set off for the small island of Menorca, lying to the north east of Mallorca. I have already cycled Mallorca a couple of times, always off-season, and Ibiza and Formentera. Further to the east, I have spent a week each on both Sicily and Cyprus, but still in my sights are islands like Sardinia, Corsica, Crete and Rhodes. I have visited Malta as a tourist, and the size of the island and the density of both population and traffic make it a poor destination for a cyclist like me.
Menorca, however, holds a lot of mysteries. It is small and basically has just one road that straddles the entire length of the island, about 50kms long. From this central spine, several local roads and tracks lead down to bays and beaches, all waiting to be explored. Around the entire island there is a bridleway, Cami des Cavalls, established by the British in the 18th century when they occupied the island for over 60 years. This route around the island was used by British coastguards (on horseback) to look out for invading forces.
The last remaining gin distillery is a lasting testament of the British presence, but much remains to be discovered in order to unearth other nuggets of information about the history of the British on the island.
Intrigued? Stay tuned…….
It’s great when the club ride schedules its cake stop in a place of interest. Outside the small village of Old Warden in Bedfordshire, you’ll find the Shuttleworth Collection, a museum housing early vintage aircraft, cars, motorcycles, penny farthings, and a motley selection of farm vehicles.
Next door to it is the Swiss Garden, a Regency garden landscaped in Capability Brown-fashion to resemble the Swiss landscape. Quite remarkable, really.
But to slake the thirst and replenish the carbs for a group of hungry cyclists, between the two there is an extensive café and restaurant, built to cope with large numbers. At this very ‘unbusy’ time of the year for cafés, a couple of groups of wheelers bring along some tidy business.
Having worked as a journalist for the BBC for over 40 years, John Simpson has a long history that provides him with the source material for his memoirs. Not quite world’s end is just one of his memoirs, covering the late 1990s and early 2000s, dovetailing in with his marriage to Dee, and the birth of Rafe (Raphael) their son, when Simpson was 62 years of age.
The whole book is an unruly kaleidoscope of reminiscences, both about his personal experience of world events, as well as the more domestic happenings in his personal life and how they have altered his perspective on the world. From Iraq to Afghanistan, from Russia to South Africa, from Argentina to Bosnia-Herzegovina…… there is hardly a tract of the known world that Simpson hasn’t reported from and, in keeping with the nature of his job, he was nearly always drafted in to report from some of the world’s most dreadful conflicts where, it was not uncommon, he would often put himself and his camera crew in the most compromisingly hazardous situations just to get that key interview or camera shots of the devastation all around him. He talks of such life-threatening situations as if they were just part of the routine of his work…….which, of course, they were.
But the ‘heavy stuff’ is often lightened by personal reflections, the relationships he built up with people, the food and drink he enjoyed, and the fun he had with total strangers. A very good read, and well worth putting it on a short list of books to read if, that is, you enjoy this particular genre of writing.
I am just a ‘hobby-blogger’. I don’t chase reading stats to make a living out of my ramblings. I simply write for fun, and if my scribblings entertain or inform just a handful of people, I am happy. In other words, within the world of blogging, my website is small-time, creating barely a ripple on the surface of the blogosphere.
However, today I wandered into some of my administration pages and encountered a few veritable surprises, especially on the ‘Top Posts’ page that logs the number of hits for each post. Although the predominant theme of the whole website is ‘cycling’ (and I do apologise if you are a non-cyclist), and more specifically, my long expeditions in some faraway country, it is not entirely about cycling. Hence the cover title of ‘Serendipities of Life’, which opens the door to writing just about anything that catches my attention.
The statistics of the most-read posts, since I began blogging in 2010, reveal that amongst the top ten posts, six have nothing (or very little) to do with cycling, even though many of my posts would never have featured as a ‘serendipity’ if I hadn’t been on a journey of discovery on my bike. So, if you have nothing better to do over the next few minutes, take a dip into some of my most read posts.
- Land’s End to John O’Groats on a Moulton bicycle. The most read post of all time was my account of riding the 1000 miles from Land’s End to John O’Groats in the UK, perhaps the most iconic of British routes that many people aspire to. Probably a key factor was the fact I completed it on a small-wheeled Moulton bicycle: https://frankburns.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/lands-end-to-john-ogroats-on-a-moulton-bicycle/
- Joe Tasker 1948-82. Joe and I were not only born in the same small town in County Durham, but we went to boarding school together. He became one of the most daring and successful climbers of his generation, pioneering ascents of the world’s highest peaks without oxygen, and operating with scaled down teams and minimal equipment. Sadly he died on Everest, with his partner Pete Boardman, in 1982. I had met with him just days before that expedition, and he had sent me a postcard from basecamp just before the final (and fatal) assault. I received that postcard 7 days after the confirmation of his death. Part 1: https://frankburns.wordpress.com/2011/07/15/joe-tasker-climber-extraordinaire-1948-82/……………. Part 2: https://frankburns.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/joe-tasker-1948-82-continued/
- A ‘peek’ amongst the peaks, and not just about the bike. A fascinating visit to the Peak District in Derbyshire. https://frankburns.wordpress.com/2011/07/01/a-peek-amongst-the-peaks-and-not-just-about-the-bike/
- Ushaw College 1808-2011. My school was almost one of a kind. A Roman Catholic Seminary, its origins came out of the Reformation, and its construction coincided with that period of growing tolerance and eventual emancipation at the beginning of the 19th century. https://frankburns.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/ushaw-college-1808-2011/
- A “breeze” through the Outer Hebrides. A singular cycle ride through all the Western Isles, the Inner Isles, ending up on the islands of Mull and Iona. https://frankburns.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/a-breeze-through-the-outer-hebrides-2/
- Coba: human sacrifice and scary heights! An encounter with Mayan history on the east coast of Mexico. https://frankburns.wordpress.com/2011/02/05/coba/
- Brixworth Anglo-Saxon church. A rare and fine example of some pre-Norman architecture very close to home. https://frankburns.wordpress.com/2011/04/20/brixworth-anglo-saxon-church/
- Damien Hirst: a genuine artist? A few reflections after visiting a Damien Hirst exhibition in the Tate Modern.https://frankburns.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/damien-hirst-a-genuine-artist/
- Santiago-Muxía-Finisterra. Back to cycling again. The last stage of my cycling expedition from my home in Cambridgeshire to Santiago de Compostela in NW Spain. On this leg, I left Santiago to reach the most westerly point of the Spanish peninsula. https://frankburns.wordpress.com/2011/05/26/santiago-muxia-finisterra-138kms87m/
- Latin as a school’s ‘lingua franca’. I had a very classical education. Four of my ‘O levels’ were classical subjects: Latin, Ancient Greek, Roman History and Greek History. Hence much of the day-to-day language of the school was a derivative of this classical bias. https://frankburns.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/latin-as-a-schools-lingua-franca/
When major airports were cancelling flights because of dense fog, I rode out the year with an unusually frost-free, fog-free, relatively windless 60kms ride…..overtook a fellow-rider on a similar mission (but he was too out of breath to engage in conversation), crossed paths with fellow-club riders with laconic waves, stopped to offer help to another rider who had punctured (but he had all he needed to do the job), picked up some of the last apples hanging on a friend’s tree, and began to ponder what 2017 might have in store.
Already in the calendar is a week’s winter riding on the Mediterranean island of Menorca, heading off in mid-January. But what about a more ambitious ride? An expedition-like ride in a distant land? And then a tandeming venture for Jenny and me to share together? We have already completed the Coast-to-Coast and the length of the River Thames, both challenging and exhilarating in their different ways. There is much to ponder.
But Strava fanatics will begin the year chasing personal ‘gongs’. Hundreds (even thousands) will head off to the hills (wherever they are in the world) on the first day of the year to try and secure a first KOM (King of the Mountains) placing. Each mountain climb will have its own category, and if the first person to climb a particular mountain on January 1st is especially strong, they may hold onto the placing for much of the year. Weaker riders will almost certainly lose their placings within a few days. The use of GPS and training websites like Strava have successfully ‘democratised’ international amateur competition.
If you have been kind enough to follow any of my ramblings over the past year, I wish you a very happy 2017 and, if you ride a bike, ‘may the wind be ever at your back’.
Tom Allen caught my attention a few years ago as an adventure cyclist, the sort of adventure cyclist who understands the essence of travelling unaided, across continents, carrying only what is absolutely essential for survival.
He has now switched his focus to long distance walking, and is in the process of ‘trailblazing’ a new hiking route across the Caucasian Mountains. You may be inspired by this 5 minute video…………..
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/192392143″>The Transcaucasian Expedition</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/tenacityinpursuit”>Dave Katz</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
Stopping for a rest and refreshment in a small village churchyard, my gaze fell on a nearby headstone. Edna Jones, born 10 years before the start of WW1, had died at the ripe old age of 102…….a good innings and a high score, if you forgive the abuse of cricketing terminology. She had outlived her husband by 20 years who, himself, had enjoyed a much better than average innings. As I chewed on an energy bar to replace lost carbs, I began to ‘chew over’ a few thoughts on this lady’s life. If she had been born 4 years earlier and had still lived to be 102, her life would have spanned 3 centuries. By no means a unique accomplishment, because it does happen the world over, especially in countries like Japan……but it is still very rare.
Back at home, I wanted to check out a few facts to put this achievement into context. When Edna was born, at the beginning of the 20th century, life expectancy in the UK was only 50 (worldwide only 30), so Edna had more than doubled the average longevity. The birth of the NHS in 1948 did much to improve health and hygiene, but by that time, Edna was already 44 years old, roughly the equivalent of entering into old age, so she had survived a lot of the terminal possibilities before the advent of free health care.
It is astonishing how rapidly the average age of longevity has risen in the 20th century. In 100 years in the UK, it has risen from 50 to just under 80, the equivalent of an extra 12 months of life every three years (put simply, every three days an extra day). Quite astonishing really.
Back in the early 1980s, as I was invigilating a long tedious A level examination, I remember reading a question on the General Studies paper related to longevity and the payment of pensions to senior citizens. Apparently, the actuarial tables used to determine payments (35 years ago) were based on the average person working to the age of 65, and dying within the next 18 months. Today, conversely, one of our greatest concerns as a society is the imbalance the number of senior citizens is causing the country’s economy, and the added pressure placed on social and healthcare services. On the one hand, medical science continues to stride forward in its endeavour to extend the average life span, but the net result is the huge increase in the need to support the diminishing quality of life amongst people who have far outlived their biblical ‘three score and ten’ years.
So, where do we strike the balance…….?