Greetings to all my readers and friends! Another year nearly over! It’s been interesting. How so, you ask?
May saw me off to Bosnia and Serbia for a week, mainly to see the last working industrial steam locomotives in Europe. There are still half a dozen operating, the newest left behind by retreating German forces at the end of the Second World War. What a sight they made, history still rumbling across the grubby coalfields of central Bosnia. A day in Sarajevo gave me the opportunity to see the very spot where the First World War started – a nondescript side-street where (for a fee) tourists can pose in an old car whilst a student theatrically glares and points. In Visegrad I saw the famous and tragic medieval Bridge over the Drina. In Serbia I rode a short stretch of restored narrow-gauge East Bosnian railway, a remarkable figure-of-eight winding uphill through steep mountains. A non-railway highlight was a private film show (of Underground – a sort of Serbian ‘Apocalypse Now’) in Emir Kusturica’s personal cinema.
July brought a beach holiday to Sardinia, in the midst of a heatwave. Well, it was delightfully hot, encouraging boat trips and swimming. For the first time I got to jump from a small boat into the sea and swim in clear water. I am developing quite a liking for Sardinia. Friendly people, pretty scenery, good food (and wine), space, light and warmth. I could retire to a place like that!
In October I travelled back to Sardinia to ride on the extensive narrow gauge railways which tenuously remain, mostly for occasional tourist trains. It’s quite impossible to travel all of them on a regular holiday, which called for a special trip. For days I travelled on trains winding amazingly across lovely hill and mountain terrain. The final journey followed a route taken by D H Lawrence almost a century ago.
So I am crossing off bucket list items. There’s always that tension between being a stone forever rolling, and gathering moss. To keep travelling, or to hole up in some tranquil spot? For now, there is a plethora of new places to see, and too few places to rest.
At work I am leading an expanding team which is developing the proposals which will allow Brunel’s Great Western Railway to carry ever more passengers in the years ahead. It’s a difficult but fascinating role, and the sort of opportunity that falls into one’s lap once in a lifetime if one is lucky. I’m glad to be able to do a job that will make lives better and help people to live more sustainably.
There has been plenty of horse riding. Brena, my Slovenian mare, is in the prime of life. We’ve enjoyed some splendid rides across the hills of Berkshire and Wiltshire, and through the New Forest too. The Western saddle acquired last year has proven a great success as it fits she and I very well indeed. Riding in open spaces still gives me thinking space and connection with the real world.
Music has proven rewarding too. Guitar and singing has improved to the point where I perform regularly at open mic events locally. It’s not especially easy as I have no particular talent, but it’s a lot of fun, and a great expressive outlet. I’ve also been fortunate to hear a variety of artists perform in London and elsewhere, including: Bellowhead, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Bella Hardy, Diana Jones, Neko Case, Alela Diane, Joan Baez and Judy Collins.
D has been quilting, and has produced some pretty and imaginative (and well executed) quilts that are now hung on various walls. I am very impressed by her workmanship and creativity. Next year D and I will have known one-another for a decade. How time flies.
The cats and dogs are well, though the two oldest cats have a few medical issues to contend with – but nothing that stops them from being lively and content companions.
I wish you a Happy Christmas and a rewarding 2016,