Life is definitely better through sunglasses

Sun 14 – 20 June 2015


The main feature of last week was being on retreat in Calpe which happens every two years. It is actually the fourth or fifth time I have attended I think. Certainly comforting in that I know the place, routine and many people on it. But there are always differences (such as the new person facilitating it and fresh people attending). I find its regularity a good way to reflect on where I am in my life compared to where I was two years ago and where I am headed. Also nice to be in touch with the world such as current affairs, work and family through the internet, emails and phone calls but to have distance from day to day events so to be able to make more sense of them. And it has been solid sun in Spain so sunglasses on and everything really does look better.

Domestic Sunday 

Going back to the period before I started the retreat (Wednesday onwards); the previous Sunday it was up and out for my warm up coffee. Just walking around a bit allows my tight calf muscles to become more flexible. That led onto a good jog-run then a day of domestic stuff (dealing with laundry, sorting meds, having a shave, etc) whilst Dave went off for lunch with his godson. A decent day topped off with Countryfile, Antiques Roadshow, and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. I phoned mum who was having her last day at my brother’s dog-sitting and she was looking forward to getting back to her own home.

Network Rail stop killing off independent businesses under your arches

Off early on Monday for a quick croissant and coffee at a ‘pop-up’ coffee shop by Finsbury Park station before I saw my personal trainer Sara. A nice guy runs it but Network Rail are taking back the arch he operates from in Autumn. Same is happening with the railway arches in Vauxhall where my office is – sad because independent businesses (including gyms and nightclubs) are being replaced by big retailers particularly aiming to sell sandwiches to office people during their lunch-hour. A good session with Sara. After that I had thought about going to Brighton to have lunch with Brian because I had to skip meeting him last time due to my ‘mega-urgent’ work meeting that wasn’t. However I am going back down at the end of June so I will catch up with him then.

The crazy Notting Hill book exchange and time with mum

books-768426__180I had an unexpected day to myself so I went straight home but mum was already there with my brother who looked brown from his Egyptian holiday. Up to the Notting Hill book exchange to change some of my recently read books for new ones. Green living in action and I love the chaos of the exchange itself with the complete unpredictability of what one finds. I picked up about ten 50p books (some of which it turned out I already had – doh!) as well as some new novels to read (if I ever get the time) and a couple of Dr Who audio-CDs to burn onto my ipod. Back to spend the evening with mum over a shared take-away curry and watching the soaps plus Vicious.

Carbohydrate Tuesday

breads-387544__180A very busy work day with the normal corollary that my diet went to pot. All day just comfort carbohydrates grabbed on the run – pastries, biscuits, cakes. My only nutritional positive was a bag of walnuts. Sorted out stuff for and then presented to grants committee. Approval went through on all my grants so they are off to Trustees for final OK. Afternoon spent dashing around both physically and digitally to get things sorted before my leave started the next day. Arrived at work at 8 and left at 5.30 with no lunch break. I did get a good opportunity to meet with my boss and explain my lack of positivity about the consultation event the previous week; I genuinely think in many ways she is one of the best bosses I have worked for particularly when she is so willing to hear criticism. After work to WordPress User Group London WPUGL for the final session before our summer break (details below).

Calpe retreat gets underway

And so off to the Calpe retreat on Wednesday; great to see old friends with contemplation, introspection and sunshine thrown in as well as a pile of books to read. Farewell breakfast with Dave (though he seemed more concerned with the work meeting he had missed) then onto Gatwick which felt very dated on this visit being crowded with unfriendly security staff and poor wifi plus a general feeling of a cross between a building site and a shop warehouse – lots of people pushing cages of goods about. Very good BA flight and I met some of the other retreat guys on the plane. Met by retreat organiser David and he did the half hour drive from Alicante airport to the retreat house in Calpe including going past totally surreal and wonderfully out of place Benidorm.

Our first meal together

Just time for a shower before meeting everyone (about 25 in total) including several new faces. Onto the slightly upmarket restaurant for dinner rather than the cheap port one we always used to go to till there was a revolt; still with a very good value set meal for 10 Euros. Nice food and good chatting especially after people had a couple of glasses of wine. Back to the retreat house and the inevitable singing along to some brilliant guitar-playing. I was tired and wanted to pace myself so crashed out by 11.30pm.

The wound of beauty

CH3_O_sWwAANMv1A good night’s kip (the sleep of the righteous?) and a walk plus a coffee before we all met for breakfast around 8.30. I do like time on my own just to be me. Then our facilitator Michael led us in a session about ‘the wound of beauty’ which was basically about appreciating and loving our faults. I decided after that to go to the beach whilst the others did coffee, an optional discussion, and lunch. It was surprisingly busy but I found a good spot and smothered myself in sun tan lotion. Three and a half hours later… Quick bit of kaffee und kuche (coffee and cake) at the German cafe I always go to (Cafe Playa) – Germanic races do such nice cakes. Back for a shower to get rid of the sand and then we watched a film about the Celtic theologian John O’Donohue who clearly adored the west coast of Ireland where he lived. Too much countryside for me but a good message about the importance of loving your environment. Dinner at the more down-market restaurant in the port area but still OK then bed again relatively early around 11.30 with many of the other guys still up for conversation and singing.

The wound of loneliness

Not such a good night’s sleep, don’t know why. Up at 7.30 for walk, coffee and a bit of reading. Then session on ‘the wound of loneliness’ concentrating on the life of Henri Nouwen who had a brain the size of a small planet but suffered loneliness and depression very much linked to the fact he was probably gay and couldn’t deal with it – he really had the misfortune to be born at a crap time. Back to the beach for another 3 hour stint and smothered again in suntan lotion but I still got slightly burnt. Back for a film on the life of Henri Nouwen. I did the evening mass (as I did the night before) – very powerful with 25 people in a small chapel and some beautiful singing. We returned to the upmarket restaurant where I had to rescue my meal being eaten by another participant who thought it was his. Little nightcap but decent time to bed.

The wound of self-doubt

download (7)Michael continued his daily portraits with Frankie Howerd. Closeted and only semi-religious but racked by doubt in his own brilliant entertainment abilities. Doubting my own abilities has been one of my big failings and letting far stupider but much more cunning people get the better of me. Skipped the beach as it was very busy and had a good long almost meditative walk instead though including falling over and hurting my wrist, oh well. The ever wonderful Cafe Playa for coffee as well as the little bar in front of the retreat house before shower, mass and dinner back at the upmarket place. Back to the retreat and I had a proper chill-out sat on the balcony socialising with the other guys until the early hours.

Health and efficiency

A good jog-run on the previous Sunday morning increasing the distance to 5.75km and still clocking up a decent time under 34 mins. And then the session with Sara on Monday went well concentrating like before on core and legs but getting stuff done quicker (and so allowing additional exercises to be done) as I got more in tune with the new routine. One of the big risks of the Calpe retreat is to over-eat and under-exercise. So I had several walks, tried to skip lunch even though the food was really good, and tried to eat more healthily such as salads at dinner-time.

Learning Spanish

No Duolingo last week instead relying on the immersion in Spain to help my Spanish which definitely had some truth making me more aware of words I already knew and getting new phrases into my head such as ‘Cuanto te debo?’ (How much do I owe you?). .

Digital progress

Main digital thing was the WPUGL meeting on Tuesday night. Lesser turnout than usual but two good presentations – one about how to improve UX (User eXperience) on the web generally plus to one’s own site, and the other about tibdits – a new way of leaving micro-donations Latter is still in its development phase but could be so useful if it takes off because it would allow sites not to be reliant on advertising and paywalls. I did really appreciate having technology on the retreat to keep in touch but still stay remote as well as using it to find out more about the people and issues being considered.


download (8)Two main books dominated last week. ‘Rabbit, Run’ by John Updike  is a famous novel that I have always meant to read and the coincidence of finding it for 50p at a charity shop made this happen. It is a very good book – one of the great post-war American novels; written in 1960 it is about male (and country?) identity crisis. Hard hitting and clever in the way the author surreptitiously portrays the story from the angles of several different characters. Highly recommended and the first part of a quartet about the life of the main character that John Updike went on to write. I will definitely be tracking down the next volume.

I then moved back to one of my favourite contemporary British authors, Christopher Fowler, and the third book in his Bryant and May mystery series ‘Seventy-Seven Clocks’. A decent ‘fantasy’ thriller set in 1973 London that twists and turns as it heads towards an ending that keeps you wondering.

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