Volunteering In Malawi

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Although most of my friends and family will confirm that I can be a cynical old sod, hopefully most of them would also recognise that beneath my rough exterior I do actually care a lot about people, and the state of the world we are in.

This wasn’t always the case, and to be honest it wasn’t until I became a dad that I started to pay attention to the world around me. Parenthood has a way of rewiring your brain so you start to see things from the perspective of the safety and happiness of your kids.

To see your kids grow up as caring and well balanced young adults gives an amazing sense of joy – deep, deep joy. To see them take a step into the unknown to help others also gives a sense of pride. Not in the sense that I have done anything, but appreciation for the person they are becoming. (If you’re a parent you’ll undertand this.)
volunteering in malawi school
So, I’m thrilled, moved, and just a little bit nervous (although don’t let on to anyone) that my eldest daughter has decided to go off to Africa for 2 months to help in an orphanage. In Tilinanu in Malawi, to be precise (I had to look that up on Google maps to find out wher it was).

She’ll be helping the girls there, and although I know she has a lot to give, I reckon she will get the most out of this experience. She has been raising funds for her trip for the past four months, as well as studying as much as she can about childhood development, and the culture and history of Malawi. No matter how prepared she is, she knows to expect a culture shock.

Mum and I have been promised regular facebook message updates, and although we know she is in good hands we are still just a wee bit nervous.

She’ll be going with a group of other young people, organised by a charity LSU Malawi Volunteers who have been working in the country for a number of years. They help community based projects get off the ground and involve local people at every step of the way. Here’s a video I poached from their website…

So, if you have youngsters of your own, I’d encourage you to encourage them to see where they can help others (they don’t need to volunteer in Africa, there are plenty of opportunities at home). If you don’t, or you have and they are already settled down with kids of their own then you can help support voluntary organisations.

Over the years in my local pub we’ve seen a fair number of Australian and Kiwi bar staff – mostly young people in their early twenties who have are travelling the world and picking up work to pay for it as they go along. I’ve often admired their culture, as it seems like they expect their young to spread their wings and and explore. That’s something in England we don’t seem to have as the norm, so it’s been a delight to meet some very refreshing and optimistic young people involved in the charity over the past few months.

So, Emma, have a wonderful time (I don’t mean to embarrass you), and your old dad is bursting with pride at what you are about to be doing.

OK, normal cynical service will be resumed some time soon. šŸ˜‰

Cheers from Mick

Time to Prepare for a Thrill of a Lifetime at the Monaco GP 2015

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I know you must be wondering is this man for real? After all who at 50 plus years wants to watch loud and scary speeding machines flying all over the place? Welcome to aging in style because if you want to get a thrill out of life nothing does it like these fast cars.

Oh, and by the way, the guys at FIA have already reduced the noises by introducing the quieter V6 engine so my ears are safe for now. But seriously the exhilaration of Formula One has been one of my later age discoveries and you can bet it makes me feel way younger.

You see there is one thing in life that you cannot deny a man and that is a fast car. Even if you donā€™t get it you will always ogle at that Bugatti when it zooms past you on the highway. Who are we kidding if some of you could get the chance to mortgage the house and get into that Ferrari only for a few days you will do it.

Anyway back to F1 and why I am over the moon over the prospects presented in 2015. Since the great races pitting Senna and Prost or going way back to James Hunt in the 60s this is one sport where you get everything in a package. There is the thrill, glamour, and of course a little bit of partying after the races.

The 2014 season has been a big hit and I have not missed any race yet on TV but with the season winding up and only 6 races to go it is time to look forward. The Monaco GP has always excited me not only because the track provides a tough challenge but because it has provided the greatest moments in racing history.

If you donā€™t believe it you just need to look at the jinxed 1982 race where five drivers were unable to win even after taking the lead due to engine failure or fuel issues. You can also look at the great rivalry of the 80s between Senna and Prost which always made this circuit a highlight.

Now letā€™s be frank what will I be doing come May 21st to 24th 2015? It is not all about racing though this is the crux of my intended holiday in Monte Carlo. I also want to indulge in a bit of:

ā€¢ Fast cars as I am told they are in their thousands and rental rates are fair enough. Now picture me and my wife cruising in a Lamborghini down the Alpine roads as we explore the principality.

ā€¢ A little bit of unwinding: We love the beach and none in the world rivals what Larvotto Plage has to offer. I also intend to indulge in city walking and seeing the magnificent buildings.

ā€¢ Dining in style: Truth be told, I havenā€™t been very good when it comes to taking her out and so I might as well splurge on some glamorous dining in one of the glitzy hotels.

Now guys I have to get down to business lest the tickets for the Grandstands where I want to watch the race from sell out. Buy yours also and letā€™s have some thrill, whoever said life starts at fifty was right. See you at the Monaco GP 2015!

The World Cup Has Officially Begun

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As I write this there are still three days to go before the 2014 World Cup begins in Brazil. But for me it has already started as I have now completed one of the important rituals (apart from buying a new England shirt – and, no, I didn’t go for the fancy one with the air vents!) – I have put my World Cup wall chart up.

wallchart

From being a young boy waiting for the poster from Shoot magazine, I have progressed through The Sun in my younger years to the esteemed gentleman I am today and I now have The Independent Road To The Finals chart on the kitchen wall.

My wife is away for a few days so it may not survive her return, especially as I have placed it in a place that to me makes sense (next to the kettle), but in a place that to her will make no sense (next to the kettle). What was that about men and women being from Mars and Venus?

Anyway, for a few more days I can consult it and work out who I think will make it to the final game in Rio. As much as I’d like Roy and his merry band to make it all the way, the realist in me thinks that the host nation will emerge truimphant.

Either way a feast of football awaits and given that a good number of the games have very late start times I can be assured use of the big screen TV in our lounge given that there is no clash with the mindless soaps that my better half enjoys (I say “enjoys” but it seems to be a non-stop procession of misery and dissapointment – a bit like following England really!).

Come on you lads!

Lifting And Digging – Call This A Holiday Weekend?

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pile of bricksI guess it’s karma. After spending last weekend sitting on the couch watching Bubba Watson win the Masters this weekend I’ll be the one doing the hard work.

You know how it is? You have a list of “we’ll get that sorted one day” tasks, and in the back of your mind you know that it will never probably get done. However at some level you feel good – you’ve acknowledged that it needs taking care of, and you’ve added it to your list.

Well, this item has finally shuffled itself up to the top and this holiday weekend has now been earmarked for the big event.

Our garden area is big and part of it has been tatty since before we moved in. A couple of tree stumps, a pile of bricks, a collection of rotted fenceposts and some fencing wire as well at the usual rubble and debris that gathers year after year. But now is the hour for a transformation.

So, we have a plan. Or should I say, my better half has a plan which involves me and my beloved brother-in-law working ourselves hard over three days. In a task that would a credit to a TV make-over show we will be clearing the rubbish, digging up tree stumps and preparing and laying patio slabbing to make a nice outside dining area.

Our garden is already resembling a DIY area.Ā  I managed to hire a manhole cover lifter (there is no way I’m doing that by hand) and I have some nice new tools from our local Homebase. The good news is I get to keep them (my wife knows that the promise of boys toys will get me to do anything).

It’ll all be worth it in the end, and the plan is that, weather permitting, we will relax with a nice family meal and a bottle or two of wine come Easter Monday evening.

Although I may grump and moan about it I’m actually quite excited by the prospect of doing a bit of hard graft (don’t tell my wife as I’m sure she’ll have some other jobs from the list). I’ll also be able to say, “I did that” when we have visitors and regale them of tales of my building prowess, even if I have to share the glory with my brother-in-law.

OK, let’s get going…

Golf Is Here – The TV Is Now Officially Booked!

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It’s that time of the year again – the time when everything falls back into place and natural order is restored. Yes, it’s the first golf major of the year – the Masters is upon us.

My wife knows by now not to ask me for any help this weekend. The grass can grow, the fridge can get empty, my kids can call me on Monday – this is my time.

For four glorious days the TV belongs to me (and again in the summer when the Open Championship is broadcast) and I will watch the golf, the pre-round analysis and the post-round analysis. I will be immersed.

I may tell myself that I’ll pick up a few tips along the way but I just love it for the theatre. Next week I’ll be out with my mates for 18 holes and the talk will be all about Augusta, who won, who bottled it, who is this year’s hard luck story.

Armed with my Mizuno irons, my Taylor Made drivers, my shiny Titleist balls and my wonderful new golf gps system I’ll take on the fairways, the greens, (a few bunkers, maybe) and my opponents in pursuit of golfing excellence.

But that is for next week, for now I have an appointment with my sofa.

For those of you who haven’t got the golf bug yet I can tell you that Major Championships (of which there are four) are the most intense of human dramas. Sport can be like that, but there is no team to hide in, nobody else to blame – with golf it’s all down to the individual players.

All of the guys who tee off at Augusta have a chance, they are all great golfers. Who the winner is will be determined by a mixture of skill, luck, daring, caution, mental clarity and heart. What a recipe!

So, for the next four days I will cry, laugh and delight along with these golfing superstars as I sit for hours on end in front of my TV. In some small way the dramas, the disappointments and the triumphs will be mine also. That’s the beauty of watching top class golf unfold before your very eyes, you really do feel that you are emotionally engaged.

So, no phone calls please, no interruptions as we get ready for four glorious days in the Georgia sunshine.

Here’s a bit of golfing greatness from the Masters. A good video…

You can also follow live scoring at http://www.masters.com/index.html

Oh Yes! I Am The Table Tennis Champion

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It’s been a while since I posted, but I do have an excuse as I have been busy mastering two very important skills – motorcycle riding and table tennis!

I posted a few months back that I was doing my motorbike rider training and thanks to Nikki and Matt at MTS I passed with flying colours. Happy days, and now all I want is a long dry summer and I will be happy as a pig in you know what!

The other long overdue area I’ve been concentrating on has my racket technique (or “paddles” as our American cousins call them).

I’ve always loved table tennis, or ping pong as I used to call it when I was a kid. It reminds me of cold Saturday afternoons in our local scout hut where we would wait our turn before finally getting a chance to get warm. There were always about a dozen of us sharing one table (which has one leg propped up with a pile of Ladybird books).

Family holidays to Butlin’s always featured time on the green wooden table and, even if I do say so myself, I became a bit of a dab hand with the old dimpled racket. (Nowadays the rackets are softer and un-dimpled.)

The flooding and dreadful weather of the past couple of months was the initial spark to get back involved in the past-time. Getting rid of the second car (to make way for my shiny new Yamaha) freed up some garage space and an article in the Guardian inspired a quick online search for ping pong table reviews and before you could say “whiff whaff” (the original name for the game) my credit card was Ā£300 lighter and I was looking for a pair of shorts that wouldn’t be too unflattering.

A few days later the table arrived by courier and was surprisingly easy to assemble. I called a select few family and friends and invited them over the following Sunday for a “friendly” knockabout with my table. Of course, there’s friendly and there’s friendly and I discovered that one side of my table could lift up so I could play against myself (called “Playback” by we aficionados) and get some practice in before the big event.

Needless to say the Sunday friendly knockabout became something a little more competitive, and I had the delight of beating my brother-in-law (who really hates to lose, especially to yours truly) and the assembled invitados. I did my best to be restrained and dignified in victory, but what’s the point in that?

So, my new plan? Now I have my motorcycle I can travel to table tennis tournaments. We’re not talking a set of golf clubs here, just a racket and change of clothing and I’m off. I can’t wait…

If you want to see some serious levels of table tennis skill then look no further than this video. Don’t say you’reĀ  not inspired…

The BBC Is Great

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Controversial, perhaps, but it’s time that someone raise their voice in support of the BBC.

OK, I’m no heavy-hitter. Maybe nobody will ever read these words, but I feel it important to write them.

The BBC is an amazing British institution. It covers radio, TV, the internet and supports events all over the UK.

It even has a World Service broadcasting to the whole planet in a number of languages.

Like all establishment organs it has its problems and I could spend a age going on about what I dislike about it. Having said that I want to change my focus and look at what is fantastic and what gets me excited.

The BBC costs around Ā£145 per year for a TV license. I find it amazing when I hear people tell me that it is outrageous that they have to pay that for the BBC, espacially when they are often the same people paying Ā£60 per month for a Sky TV package. Hello?

One of the things that really excited me is technology and over the years the BBC has whetted my appetite. In fact you could even say that the BBC was responsible for the very programmes that got me engaged with this subject in the first place.

As a boy I loved watching episodes of “Tomorrow’s World” (remember that?) and even today I have the Technology section of the BBC website on my bookmarks, especially the insightful writing of Rory Cellan Jones, the BBC Technology Correspondent.

This is just one area where the BBC touches part of our lives. Perhaps it’s time to stop asking what the BBC costs and to start realsing the value it has in our lives. After all it works out at less than 50p per day for the license fee.

I imagine if there was a time without the BBC we would gladly pay 50p to have a day where we could watch quality TV (not all, but some), listen to Radio 4 and go to one of the best websites in the world.

Chiropractors Are Actually All Right

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I don’t mean to be a grump, but I just can’t help it sometimes. After a lifetime of seeing things come and go I don’t generally believe the claims of various “quacks” that trumpet the benefits of their particular therapy or wonder-diet.

But, every now and again I get a pleasant surprise and I have to acknowledge that I may have (may have) been a bit too hasty in passing judgement on something.

And so we come to chiropractic.

After poking fun at friends for years during pub conversations when they told me I really should try their miracle worker chiropractor I ended up with a lower back pain that meant that I would try anything to get relief (there are only so many pain killers you can have and still feel like you’re actually living on the same planet as everyone else).

So my adventure began, and, like many others, it started with a bit of secret online investigation.

I searched on Google for “good chiropractic treatment in Rayleigh” and came up with a few choices, one of which was the guy near the golf club who a friend had told me about, at Help To Health Chiropractors.

Without telling anyone I booked a treatment (it had a money-back guarantee which helped), and actually I got pain relief. And even better the chiropractor, Mark Davies, showed me how to sit properly at a desk and the best way to work at my computer. After all of these years, finally I have someone who can tell me where I was going wrong. Not bad for an Arsenal suppporter.

So with my new posture (and my new office chair), and with my chiropractor helping my back pain I am well on the road to recovery.

So, I guess chiropractic can work after all. Just don’t mention too loud that I said it.

Here’s Help To Health’s You Tube video…

OK I’m A Cliched Older Motorcyclist

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Ok, I admit it. I hit fifty and got a bad dose of what my lovely wife sarcastically called, “the manopause”.

There’s something about those ages you get when you have a zero on the end. When I was 20 I didn’t care that much. At 30 I was too busy trying to keep up with our kids and hardly noticed things.

motorcycle trainingAt 40 I felt I was slowing down a bit, but between family and business commitments I felt that life was going well and I didn’t need to change that much.

And 50? Well, that was a little different. With the kids out of the house and my business more or less running on autopilot I had a bit more time to reflect on what I wanted.

For the first time I realised that I was probably already more than half-way through my life. Where did it all go?

So in prefect mid-life crisis form I looked for something that would spice things up a little.

No, I didn’t go for the twenty-something girlfriend (I don’t know any twenty year old girls who have a taste for balding, overweight men. Come to think of it, I don’t know any twenty year old girls).

So, what to do?

Motorcycling, of course!

As a young man I always wanted to experience the freedom of a motorbike. I rented one on a holiday in the Greek Islands, but being back in the rainy UK a car seemed just so much more… well, sensible.

Well, I’ve had enough of sensible, and it’s time to be disgracefully fifty and invest in a shiny new motorbike.

So, I’ve booked a course of motorcycle lessons in West Sussex with a school called MTS (You can see their video below).

The good news is that as an experienced driver I don’t need to go through all of the CBT and other lessons that a youngster would require (the benefits of maturity).

The government in their infinite wisdom have a Direct Access Scheme for experienced drivers.

My instructors Matt and Nikki seem confident that I will be able to pass my test within a few weeks. Now, that is exciting!

I’ll be sure to post my progress so watch this space. In the meantime, any future Christmas and birthday gifts should have a motorcycling flavour – I’m excited about my new passion, and apologise in advance if I bore everyone to death with my motorbike adventure tales (who knew a trip to Sainsbury’s for a pint of milk could be so exciting).