As anyone who has read ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ will know, the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is, of course

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

As of yesterday, it’s also my answer to the question: ‘How old are you?’ (Hence the cake.)

I’m sorry to report, however, that I received no revelatory insights on the occasion of my 42nd birthday. Or at least if I did I must have promptly and absolutely forgotten them. (It’s a possibility, there was some celebratory gin consumed.)

I did have a very lovely day though. Which has got to be almost as good as unraveling the mysteries of the universe, right? An afternoon spent with good friends, eating good food, sharing good conversation and with a gang of children running about entertaining themselves. Flung together at the last minute, it really was one of the most relaxed and enjoyable birthday celebrations I think I’ve ever had.

Maybe this getting old thing isn’t too bad after all.





Our sleek black greyhound makes a fine contrast against the snowy backdrop of San Isidro ski station. His energetic charging about belies the few white hairs that are already sprouting in his fur.

Last weekend we nipped across the mountains of the Cordillera Cantábrica to León. At the top of the mountain pass, just over the border from Asturias, we stopped at San Isidro ski station to have a little play in the snow. (And to give the poor old motor-home’s engine a chance to cool down after the long slog up the windy pass.)

The ski station had long since closed for the season and the contrast between the hot, sunny Saturday in May and the deep blanket of snow that still enveloped the mountain tops provided the perfect physical illustration of the bipolar weather patterns of the last couple of months, as we have flipped back and forwards between spring and winter. Even this high in the mountains, at over 1500 metres above sea level, it is very unusual to see so much snow so late in the year.


As we mucked about and laughed in the sunshine and snow I also couldn’t help but contrast the day with the last time I had been here. 20th December 2008, I ended the day in the first aid centre, with the ski-station’s doctor attempting, unsuccessfully, to re-place my dislocated elbow and putting a provisional cast on to protect my shattered ulna before sending me on my way to hospital. I eventually made it home on Christmas Eve, with a titanium plate and 7 screws in my forearm and a LOT of very strong painkillers in my bloodstream. It’s really no surprise that I hadn’t been back to San Isidro since.

Despite the involuntary shudder that passed through me when I saw the dreaded torture chamber first aid station and as I spied the exact point on the slope where I had been taken out by a snowboarder, it felt good to be back at the scene of the accident, whole and healthy and happy.

Indeed here I am, some 4 and a half years later, in an entirely different phase of my life but a phase that I may never have reached if it hadn’t been for that disastrous day on the slopes. With an enforced stop to all plans and activities for several months (no surfing, no climbing, no diy, no gardening, no writing, no trips) came an enforced pause for reflection and, with that, some life-changing decisions.

And that’s the thing. Even in our bleakest moments there always exists the seed of as yet unknown joys.


Jack, born October 2009

The American Resident

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

The Early Bird


The morning light snapped on the way back from the bus stop. Totally unenhanced. The whole, enormous sky really was this colour.

With Jack starting school last September one of the biggest adjustments we have had to make has been getting up at 7.30 every morning, Monday to Friday. (And, of course, weekends too as Jack’s highly trainable body clock doesn’t switch off just because it’s a Saturday. Dammit.)

It might not sound that harsh’ I know lots of people have much earlier starts, but before this I had carefully structured my life so that I never had to be consistently up before the sun was. I have been self-employed virtually all of my working life and thus had the luxury of managing my own diary. Never taking appointments before 10am and living within walking distance of my work place made for a nicely relaxed start to the working day when I lived in the UK.

A big part of the motivation for moving to Spain for both of us was to leap even further out of the ‘rat race’ and off the hamster wheel of racing to maintain our modern life. We came here to work less, earn less and live a little more. So naturally getting up before the sun didn’t really feature heavily in our plans.

The last few years have thus seen us taking our morning tea anywhere south of 8 a.m. A perfectly civilized time, I’m sure you’ll agree. The sun is also more consistently civilized in its own waking times here in northern Spain – we have none of that summertime 4.30am sunrise nonsense. The earliest sun up, even in the height of summer, is around 7a.m.

Having a baby did of course muck about somewhat with our sleep patterns. Or completely destroy them for a while, if I’m honest. But at least having the luxury of not having to get up and out the door first thing meant that a certain amount of morning time lounging compensated a lot for the night-time tortures.

Truth be told our favourite time of the day since Jack arrived has been the first hour or two, when we would have the luxury of a family lie-in. Cuddles and stories and cups of tea. A delicious, cozy, gentle sliding start into the day.

Alas, the family lie-in is no more. With school came enslavement to the beep of the alarm. Up and at it, there is not a moment to spare in wrestling a small child into readiness for his walk to the bus stop.

There are some compensations for our newly manic mornings however. (Apart from the obvious one of having subsequent child-free hours to get on with stuff.) For example the light can often be outstandingly beautiful at this time of the morning. There’s something special about being outside in it, fully immersed in its glory. It’s definitely good for the soul.

And then last Friday morning, as we slipped out the door into almost total darkness, a very special thing happened. The barn owl that I have long suspected to be lodging in our loft chose that very moment to swoop across our patio (and heads) and demonstrate his clever trick of folding his giant wings in and squeezing through the small hole in our eaves.

After several months of trying to catch him in the act or to discover his bolthole in the attic I finally had my proof that those nightly ‘toowhit-toowoos’ weren’t just in my head, they really were coming from just above it.

The hole in question. Our pussy cat stands guard.

The hole in question. Our pussy cat stands guard, back in the autumn.

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