Milestones

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I hit a milestone this morning. My little blog hit 500 Followers. That’s incredible, and a bit mind blowing to be honest.

I am so grateful to all you lovely people for reading my flash fiction and looking at my photos.

I read every comment and appreciate every like and both your comments and your critiques are always motivating.

A special shout out to all my weekly flash fiction challenges. Friday Fictioneers, Sunday Photo Fiction, What Pegman Saw, Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers, Flash Fiction for the Purposeful Practitioner. I really enjoyed The Literary Lion which weighed in at 500 words but alas it is no longer on the agenda.

I really enjoyed The Literary Lion which weighed in at 500 words but alas it is no longer on the agenda.

My thanks also to the two Photo Challenges I regularly participate in, The Daily Post Photo Challenge and of course the  One Word Photo Challenge.

I must also mention the wonderful 500 word for 30 days challenge where I wrote a lot more than 500 words a day and over 15K words that month. It was a blast and made me realise what I was really capable of.

I have two short stories in preparation and a book in the making. I’m transitioning from being a writer to becoming an author which is an exciting prospect indeed.

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This is also a double milestone because this post is also my 500th post on the blog. One post then for each follower.

Thanks again guys!

 

Remembering Robert

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For a precious time, we were inseparable.

Our hair grew as the months went by, full of dreams and hope.

Pale moonlight would filter through those dusty velvet curtains, as we listened reverentially to Dark Star, while outside, Edinburgh awaited it’s damp nocturnal embrace.

Sometimes I’d squeeze some notes from the upright piano, deliciously out of tune, while you strummed magic chords from that battered guitar.

And if John or Jim were there, they’d bang on something, anything, to round out the melodies that wandered, as they wished, between raga and blues.

Then somewhere between three and four in the morning, hunger would overtake us, and we’d pay a visit to the bakery down the road and cajole them to part with a few warm rolls, fresh from the oven.

Those were the best of times.

Rest in Peace.

I left home in the late sixties to seek adventure in Scotland where I met some amazing people. We had extraordinary experiences together that shaped a lot more than our tastes in music.

The Bench

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Meg and John took a walk along the beach most Sundays.

Sometimes they would sit for a while on a rickety bench and watch the waves being battered by the wind and the gulls swooping and swerving.

They’d had problems with their weight for decades. It wasn’t very romantic, but it brought them together in many ways.

Regular exercise was one way they’d found of maintaining the fragile victory over the kilos they’d lost through dieting over the past year or so.

It was easier some Sundays than others depending on the weather. On a bright sunny day they were drawn by the spotless blue sky and the birdsong, whereas when the wind howled, and rain fell almost horizontally, it was a lot harder to leave the comfort of their home and set across town to walk along the beach.

Those Sundays they stayed at home, keeping warm and dry.

They agreed that something must be done. Walking once a week was  the bare minimum required to maintain the kilos at bay.

John wanted to buy an exercise bike and put it in the spare room, whereas Meg thought it would be better to walk a little every day around the neighbourhood, rain or shine.

Finally, after weeks of discussion, they agreed on a compromise.

John bought the bike for use on bad weather days and they decided to walk for a few kilometres a day, five days a week, when the weather permitted.

John was fond of his routines, and it became just one more to adhere to. Meg had always been easy going, so it wasn’t a problem.

In the end, and quite by surprise, they each looked forward to their daily walks. Not for the scenery, or for the intake of fresh air, but rather the muscle tingling, slightly out of breath headiness that came from pushing themselves to walk faster and go further than the time before.

It worked well for them, and they were no longer afraid to eat the occasional cream doughnut, an extra helping of french fries, or drink a few glasses of fine wine from time to time.

I was glad that my parents were happy, and it was good to see them moving and active.

In the end, it was neither too much exercise nor too many cream doughnuts that killed them, but a car coming out of nowhere, speeding in a residential area. It came around the corner too fast and ran them down. Then it sped off without stopping.

The driver of the car is still unknown.

I’m still grieving.

Without some closure, it’s hard to overcome.

I need somewhere to shed a tear. A place to reflect and to remember, far from the cemetery and the cold grey tombstones.

A place to celebrate their lives. Somewhere to be closer to them.

So I come out here to the beach and place two bouquets, one on either side of the bench, and sit awhile.

Sometimes, when the sun shines at just the right angle, the sky seems to open a passage, bringing me nearer to them wherever they might be.

 

I’ll Love You to the End of the World

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It’s a cheeky play on words I know, but I’m sure you noticed that I substituted ‘to’ for ‘till’.

But the end of the world does exist, and you can find it in Ushuaia, South America.

Ushuaia is the capital of Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, and is commonly regarded as the southernmost city in the world. It is bounded on the north by the Martial mountain range, and on the south by the Beagle Channel.

The End of the World is at the southern end of the Pan American Highway which is a network of roads that originates in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and runs 19,000 miles to just south of Ushuaia — with only a 60 mile interruption in Panama.

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Ushuaia

When we booked our South American holiday one excursion stood out more than most. A visit to the End of the World. We booked our places on the tour and early one morning boarded the coach for the drive to our destination.

It was a wonderful sunny day, and there was an almost cloudless sky. It might have something to do with being so far south but cloudless sunny days like those have a slight dream like quality far from the mists and haze of the big cities to the North. The mountains just seem to grab you from afar, the colours are a lot brighter and the air tingles with expectation.

It was a pleasant day, neither warm nor cold. It was also a public holiday and as we drove along the winding roads through the Patagonian Forest there were picnickers and families gathered around their barbecues, probably preparing their Asadas while their children skipped and played on the grass.

Our guide was in good spirits because of the weather. It rains a lot around Ushuaia, on average there are over 146 days of precipitation a year, with many cloudy and foggy days, averaging 206 cloudy days a year. So he reminded us of our good fortune, while informing us of the ravages caused by wildlife introduced only decades ago that were destroying the forests. From just a few pairs, for example, beavers had bred and multiplied with disastrous damage to the trees in Patagonia.

We stopped at a Visitor’s Centre on the shores of a lake and it was a golden opportunity for me to leave our party behind and head off along the trail to take some photos so I left the others and made my way along the shore until I was alone. The conditions were ideal for taking some great shots. They would have been even better in early morning or late afternoon but at least the sun didn’t flatten the panorama, and as I mentioned earlier, the air was exceptionally clean and crisp. I could almost imagine a smile on my camera as I tried to find the most appealing points of view.

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I could have stayed for hours watching the sparkles on the water and listening to the sound of the waves on the shore but it was time to pursue our trip — to the end of the world.

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We got back into the coach for another few miles and finally arrived at our destination. Many of our fellow passengers headed to the last Post Office but my wife and I headed along a winding footpath a short distance from the shores of a lake.

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We left everybody behind and just walked. I wanted to get back to the shore further along the lake, but the footpath just winded toward the woods and after a few hundred yards or so I decided to leave the path and head across to the lake.

We held hands as we crossed the grass, making sure that we were safe under foot. You can never be too careful of what the grass might be hiding. Eventually we came to a clearing on the shores of the lake. Our own private heaven on earth, far from the crowds, just the two of us. Although it started off as just another adventure it became a special romantic moment that I will always treasure and I am certain that she feels exactly the same way.

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There we were, the two of us, alone but not alone, at the End of the World.

I took you in my arms,  and kissed you, sealing those precious moments of togetherness in my heart.

That is why, my darling wife, that I’ll love you to the end of the world and for the rest of my days.

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This is the tenth in a series of travel tales

  1. How I went to Brazil

2. Flight over Table Mountain

3. The Tracey Arm Surprise

4. The Lone Piper

5. My Vanuatu Swim

6. Breakdown in Peru

7. It Takes Two to Tango

8. The Bali Run

9. Almost the Northern Lights

10. I’ll Love You To the End of the World

 

Almost the Northern Lights

Almost the Northern Lights

I’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights, but when my wife and I went on a transatlantic cruise last year, although we were due to visit three ports in Iceland, it was early September and far too early in the year for the right conditions.

We put those thoughts to the back of our minds for a future holiday.

There was something a little surreal in crossing the North Atlantic in a boat called the Caribbean Princess.

On leaving Southampton we sailed to Bergen in Norway and then on to Lerwick in the Shetland Islands. Finally, we arrived at our first port of call in Iceland, Akureyri. We had booked an excursion to see the puffins on a private island just an hour away from the port by boat.

When we got to the pretty island we discovered, however, that puffins can only be sighted in the mating season and that was several months ago. We were disappointed. The island is also has a reputation for providing down from the eider ducks and we visited the installation and saw how the islanders gathered the feathers from the Eider ducks and produced the down for bedding and clothing. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a duck in sight, just wisps of plumage, stuck to rocks here and there.  The only high point of the day were some delicious home-made cakes and pastries and a welcoming coffee. We were frustrated and disappointed.

On returning to the boat we complained and obtained a partial refund and a sympathetic ear.

Our ship then sailed North-West, crossing the Arctic Circle and heading for Akureyri. There’s something magic about being so far north. It transformed the holiday into an adventure. We all received a certificate to attest to our achievement and we can hang it with other certificates we have received in the past, like going through the Panama Canal and crossing the International Date Line.

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After an excellent dinner, we strolled along the deck to the theatre and watched another show before heading up to the buffet for a snack before retiring for the night. It’s a hard life cruising.

The Captain made an announcement over the ship’s speakers and said he had received a Northern Lights alert and that therefore there was a slight chance of seeing this magical phenomenon.

Excited, we headed to our cabin and, luckily, I had packed a tripod. I mounted my camera on the tripod and opened the sliding doors to our balcony. In my excitement, I’d forgotten that we were North of the Arctic Circle and I was met with a blast of icy air. It was blustery and very cold. I shut the sliding doors and wrapped up as warm as I could then headed back out with my camera and tripod. I wanted to photograph the sky, so I fumbled in the dark, using the light of my mobile phone to illuminate the dials and buttons of my camera to pick the best settings to catch the lights.

Once everything was as ready as I could make it I looked upwards to the arctic sky and waited. It was partially cloudy which was not a good sign but I persisted, shaking more from the cold than from the excitement of the moment.

I spent more than an hour in the freezing cold. Although my camera was secure on the tripod, the wind made the tripod tremble and we were, after all, on a moving ship. They weren’t the best of conditions to take good pictures of the Aura Borealis.

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I managed to take many blurry shots of stars and vague glimmers of green and blue in the arctic night, north of Iceland.

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It wasn’t a total disaster, taking into account the time of the year, and the conditions of the ship.

I call it an Aurora Borealis taster, and I look forward to future visits.

This time on dry land, and in the right season.

So that’s how I almost saw the Northern Lights.

This is the ninth in a series of travel tales :

  1. How I went to Brazil

2. Flight over Table Mountain

3. The Tracey Arm Surprise

4. The Lone Piper

5. My Vanuatu Swim

6. Breakdown in Peru

7. It Takes Two to Tango

8. The Bali Run

9. Almost the Northern Lights

10. I’ll Love You To the End of the World