Saturday, 29 December 2018

Surprises, love and laughter

Mama Mia, here I go again*. I'm writing in the sun. On an island, in a cafe by the sea. The locals are talking more than usually incomprehensibly, and I have had a couple of beers, which means I probably will be writing in dialect shortly. All that is missing is the other contrary one writing opposite me.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Going backwards; or up the creek without a paddle

There is something magical about canoeing; the gentle plap-plap over the waves, the swirl of the water under the paddles, and the light fizzing around like pop on a hot day. Leaning over to look in to the deep blue-turquoise water is as close to heaven as I can get. So this is why on Thursday after an obligatory trip to Pomena for some cash, I popped in to our local Little Heaven and asked for paddles. The sensible one had gone to get water and put her money in the apartment; mine would have just got saltily damp in the event of an emergency landing. My water would have just got wet.

More of that later.

So we had a vessel each (I don't do sharing), appropriate clothing, everything stowed in the wrong place (me), and were ready for launch. We shoved the first one into the water, then the other...luckily one had a leading rein so we could stop it making a bid for freedom. Being chivalrous, I assisted the careful one to clamber elegantly aboard, and off she went proudly displaying walking boots as figurehead. Astonishingly I got myself settled without mishap.

Although having my rucksack - containing phone and bottle of water - utterly out of reach was annoying.

Off we went, boldly striking out into the blue. There was no longer a gale blowing but the stiff breeze was still making paddling a challenge. My shoulders were pre-emptively groaning in anticipation of the next morning's physical effort. The athletic one was already miles away and heading for open sea; I was happy to let the wind guide me and I gently drifted to the other side of the lake. The goal was to get to Veliki Most and possibly to moor up for a swim.

The Big lake for the most part is more like canoeing on the open sea, though we had already noted that there was unlikely to be a contretemps between us and a high-speed catamaran. My 40-something birthday canoeing trip to Lopud for tea and a bun had obviously stayed in our memories... But this was a far more peaceful experience; paddle, stop, paddle, drift, stop, paddle, ooo swat wasp. I was getting a little thirsty but the bridge was coming into view.

I have wanted to paddle under the perfectly elegant bridge for a while. It marks the change from Big Lake into Solinski Kanal and the direction of water flowing underneath changes depending on the tide. In this case, we shot through without need for a paddle. You emerge into the calmest aquamarine pool of perfection - it is this colour simply because it's sandy underneath and not too deep. The long nosed fish which I have just failed to identify were happy to mill around beneath me.

The highlight of the trip was the flash of copper and deep iridescent blue...a busy kingfisher was taking advantage of the stillness and was catching his lunch. He flitted between the foliage and disappeared into the undergrowth. Stunning and a moment to cherish forever.

The moment of calm turned into something else as suddenly the wasps decided that they wanted to come canoeing too. Whether it was the warmth, lack of wind, or moisture on my skin, there was an increasing annoyance of them. And it got worse. I was following the speedy one to the channel's barrier and there looked to be a sensible spot to pull up and retrieve my water - which as you recall was inaccessible, stowed in the back of my vessel.

Never before have I had such a tussle of wasp v dehydration. I was in a swarm. I grabbed my water bottle, not caring if anything was re-waterproofed and leapt back in to the canoe in a complete cloud of the evil ones. Inevitably I was stung. Shaking, I paddled away as fast as possible, eager to escape back on to the water. It wasn't the most pleasant of experiences but it could have been worse.

We headed back through the channel and under the bridge. We waved to the people above us as they were the lovely couple who would be sharing a taxi to Sobra the following morning. As quickly as they appeared, the wasps ceased to trouble us - they must dislike the wide open deep water. We paddled back towards home, and hysterically disembarked. There was much slipping on the rocks, and a paddle splooshed into the sea. Oh. There was no quick way to retrieve it and it just floated there, taunting us. Out of reach.

We stood there, doubled up laughing, unable to move . Finally I yanked on one of the dry canoes as it was in the way, having forgotten that it was tied to one of ours, safely bobbing about. Dithering, some wise-spark yelled to get my shoes back on. In this way I could negotiate the rocks to retrieve the still-in-the-sea one's figurehead boots. Ah yes. She was getting impatient with my continuing hysterical giggles. We hauled one of the canoes ashore, and fished out the errant paddle. Finally everything was out, and bags were safe and dry.

Unlike my bum. I think at this point it resembled a prune. A salted one, with an extra sprinkling of salt.

We retired to our favourite bar, hot, sweaty, wet and the older man laughed at my mokra guzica... With this hilarity in mind, I had to attend my company's annual meeting. So it was a very swift beer before heading back to make myself respectable and serious. Work over, I rejoined the sunny one, and was more than ready for the goat pekar. Kakve dan je bio!!

Up the creek with a paddle.

The plan.

Go to town. Get cash. Hire a pair of kayaks. Try not to drown. Eat goat.

So, confession time. It's really difficult writing about things that have happened a few days ago, especially when the most reliable dataz is in the Mali Raj. Where there iz booze. The confession is I got my days wrong, we didn't have goat last night, it was something that would happen tonight. How could I forget that? Easy... Airhead.

Anyhoo. Kayaks.

The last time I was in a kayak was for Missy's birthday two years ago. Now that was a fab day. Getting up at how early and then borrowing some of Marija's kayaks to head to Lopud for tea and doughnuts. All before returning before the fee paying tourists turned up. Amazingly I didn't write about the night before at the time. Maybe one best kept for my posthumous memoirs. All I'll say is that rumours of me dancing in Teo's bar in my nightie are entirely true...

The walking was definitely getting easier, though I still arrived in Pomena looking a little like somebody had thrown a bucket of water over me. It's never good being a fat lass. Funds secured we headed back to Babine Kuće. Our intention was to hire from our local favourite bar. The fact that it was our only bar was quite academic. As we approached I decided to nip back to base to collect my water bottle because I'm an idiot and I'd forgotten it earlier.

By the time I returned the nautical one was standing with two paddles and her best confused face. She wasn't sure where the kayaks were. Fortunately, in a rare moment of being observant, I'd noticed them earlier so off we trotted to chose our rides.

Yet again I was reminded that I really ought to get some of those whizzy shoes you can wear in water as frankly my Gore-Tex hiking boots weren't exactly the ideal thing for plodging. Which was why they were redeployed as a figure head on the newly named "VJS Old Boot". A fine vessel. Shame I hadn't noticed that I was sitting on a buckle. More on this later.

Missy paddled off like a duck to water as I faffed putting things in to a sealed bag. By the time I finally started moving I realised she was a duck to water that likes going backwards. I don't think she'd read the manual.

It really was a horrible way to spend the day.

What was also really horrible was that we kept having to share it with wasps. Quite why so many would be wandering around in the middle of a lake was utterly beyond me! Stupid creatures.

We vaguely paddled off in the general direction of Soline so that we could go under the lovely bridge and through the Solinski kanal - not a euphemism. Normally we would be taking many photographs but the constant swatting of the wasps made this a precarious thing to do. Every now and then we'd get a fabulous breeze which would make things difficult for wasps so there would be a little relief. Trouble was, it was also difficult for the dainty one, she'd given up fighting the breeze and was now a couple of hundred yards away. Oh. Bye!

We regrouped as the bridge loomed passing through in perfect formation, well, perfectish. With swatting. But it seemed to impress people on the banks. The good thing is we could now actually see the bottom. The Veliko Jezera is incredibly clear but also incredibly deep so it was quite a novelty. Unlike the wasps. Which weren't.

In the distance I could see something across the water which looked vaguely like an obstruction, as I approached I could see that it was actually navigable, you just had to do a couple of turns, a bit like the sort of thing you see on paths to stop cycles, only bigger. I at first presumed it was to stop vessels from entering the lakes, which to be honest seemed unlikely as the water was, well, rather shallow. Later I read that it's a mechanism to let rubbish leave the lakes but prevent stuff from getting back in.

Frightfully clever these Croatians.

As I turned I saw that the adventurous one had beached her kayak and was busy pull it higher on to land. It wasn't as I thought so we could go for refreshments at the bar we'd been to a few days earlier, but rather because she'd put her bag with water and phone out of reach in the stern of the boat. Daft mare.

But before I realised this I thought I'd also best beach the kayak only to find she'd discovered every wasp that we'd missed whilst out on the water. And they liked her so much. It was all a bit scary. He pushed me back so I could at least make a get away whilst she desperately tried to get going as quickly as possible. It was not going well.

Amazingly she was only stung the once.

We headed back. Passing under the bridge once more we saw the couple that she'd accosted the other night to share a ride to Sorba. I think they might have by now realised we were a bit mad. Better than being dull.

Somewhere on the Veliko Jezera we found a spot to just sit. Little breeze. No wasps. We nattered. I went to take a picture and saw the boss had messaged me on Skype so I replied and said I wouldn't be able to look at the problem just then as I was not in the best of places. Needless to say I then sent a picture of us on the lake.

I think he now hates me just that little bit more!

Paddling back was a mixture of wasps and no wasps, but still a lovely way to spend time, however we decided enough was enough, navigated back to shore and once we were out and the boats carefuly stowed we scampered off to Mali Raj for much needed refreshment.

Eventually my guilt kicked in so I scampered back to base to collect the iBastard and do a little work. The busy one was going to be working later anyway as she had a company meeting to attend - virtually - so it seemed like good timing.

She had a little time to play though, but one thing puzzled me, she kept wittering on about making herself look presentable. I really couldn't see what the problem was.

Well, okay, maybe her glasses were a little salty.

And her skin. And clothes. Actually, come to think of it, I could probably do with a rinse too.

Of course I didn't at all troll said boss with pictures of Hildebrand's Croatian office. That would have been mean...

As it turned out there wasn't a problem as such but it did highlight something else I need to do to prevent user generated issues. Now this is the point where most people express amazement that I'm working on what is most definitely a holiday. But this is normal, when things happen they have to be dealt with and if I don't I'd only worry about it all.

As the afternoon wore one I did two things, one was practice saying još jedan molim, probably the wrong thing to say, but I didn't have a handy polyglot to check with. And it's important to practice. The other was to write. I'm slowly getting back in to the swing of writing again though I'm still struggling to find my mojo.

As day drifted in to evening and the sun began to set Goaty McDinnerface made its appearance. Of course you will know this if you read yesterday's thrilling instalment, but this time it actually happened. And there were pictures. Brief ones as we positively stuffed our faces.

A meal so good it had to be blogged about twice.

I could have happily had it again, but, y'know, diet...
Now normally this would end with tales of late night cackling as just had one more. And then one on the house. But tonight we had to head to bed early. The ferry would be leaving at jeeeeeez o'clock from Sorba which meant our taxi would be arriving at 5am.

If the doesn't like getting up early one complains even once...

Saturday, 29 September 2018

My kingdom for a loaf

This blog isn't going to make much sense. We are once more back in Mali Raj and it's Antonio's birthday. Antonio is the barman/waiter/goodness knows what else. He's lovely. As are all the staff here. They've just brought us cake, it must be true.

Back to the blogging. You might recall that yesterday missy had been out and found she couldn't get bread because, well, too late. Today though, she went with lashings of time. Trouble was, even though she asked in her best Croatian and was extremely polite, she received a very firm no. Oh dear.

Not to worry. There was a pekara in Polače. And that was only 2.4km away. OVER A BLOODY HIGH HILL. AND ROCKS. Did I mention the rocks? It must be said, there is nothing like a gentle 3 mile round trip over a BLOODY HIGH HILL to make you really appreciate your breakfast.


So I pulled my boots on and even though I was still aching from the walk back the night before, we headed off in search of bread. Now normally we'd make this ourselves, trouble was we had a distinct lack of oven and frankly that's a problem.

Bread and manic grin.
Again, obviously, I didn't complain about the walk over said hill, don't believe anything she says to the contrary. The good news is the pekara did a) open and b) have bread and c) would sell it to us.

It really doesn't get better than this.

Low aspirations? Maybe. Anyway, we headed back over the hill for breakfast. If you happen to be on Mljet I can thoroughly recommend the experience. Best done first thing before breakfast, or in the dark. Great fun.

We decided that as breakfast was done we needed to walk round the little lake and, for added excitement, we'd pop in to Pomena to hit the cash machine as, well, cash is a good idea here. Rather inevitably we scampered round the really difficult parts rather than use the easier paths. It's a matter of pride.

It was also rather civilised as it means you can mostly avoid people making things feel just that little bit more isolated. And it feels just a little more adventurous. The bonus was that I stumbled on some discarded sunglasses. Or lost. Well, stupid people, leave them in the woods and they will be recycled. And the glamorous one did need some new glasses.

In Pomena missy decided it would be a really good idea for us to to a place at the end of the front. She'd been there a couple of years before. When it was summer. You can imagine how that went...

...still the extra exercise is always appreciated. And we ended up back in the place we'd been in a couple of days before.

This time with extra wasps.

Questioning life's decisions.
Seriously, what is it with these stupid little feckers, do they actually like beer? Do they end up in it and think "ah, perfect, just what I wanted" or is it more a case of them questioning their life decisions and wondering whether the queen wasp will remember them as their life slips away. Or worse, after I extract them and demonstrate just how cross I am.

It wasn't pleasant. Not a single patron found it pleasant. We're just more belligerent.

Heading back the short way, though no less rocky and after the usual stop in Studenac for supplies, we even had to scamper past about a million kids that looked to be heading out way.

On the far side of the hill we saw a couple of ladies with bikes who seemed determined to carry them up the steps. The nice one warned them that said million kids were heading this way. I somehow forgot to mention that they'd passed the sign for the actual cycle path 200 yards before. To be fair I heard them say something about it probably being about the same.

Readers, they were about to be very disappointed.

Sure it's longer, but oh my goodness, it goes round the hill not over it! The moment passed and meandered back with the intention of going for a swim. As you do.

Of course having changed and set off I got to the first big drop in the path before realising that I needed Sticky Mc Stickface or I'd be in trouble. Irritating. By the time I caught up with the advanced party she was already splooshing around like she always does. This was apparently much to the disgust of a german couple. One that was even less impressed that she had a friend. Whatevs.

We'd decided the night before that Goaty McDinnerFace would be perfect for 7pm, so as it was nowhere near that we headed down to Mali Raj nice and early to do a little writing and watch the sun set. Which it did. I also checked in on "Swarm" and saw a comment about there being "nothing good here". What utter bollocks. This place is brilliant. And the baby goat when it was served up? Brilliant. Honestly, if you're ever on Mljet head to Babine Kuće and the joys of Mali Raj. If you are lovely to them they will be lovely to you. Simple really.

It was at some point during the evening that we heard a couple talking about going to Šipan and asking the waiter (Antonio) how best to get to the ferry at you-are-kidding-me o'clock. He picked up his phone, called his mate and arranged a ride. The luggy one heard this and we quickly agreed that the theoretical trip there should be a reality so she danced over, introduced herself and the deal was struck, we'd go halves on the fee. Once Antonio sorted it with his mate.

Perfect. And just the sort of thing you'd expect in a decent place. So there.

All in all a thoroughly acceptable day. And tomorrow? Kayaks...

No more tears - just the science of coming home

There's a thing. Mljet is a relatively easy place to get to and long as you start or end in Dubrovnik, Split... or Šipan. There was a vague purpose for spending time on Mljet in the first place because all hearts must mend eventually. And it has been amazing to be here finally feeling happy and whole. In a reversal, I wondered whether it would be wise to pay a visit to my old home in Suđurađ.

When I left there in April 2017 it felt slightly bittersweet with an air of finality. Home was still home, but was no longer; I'd sadly moved on. The moment we landed in Šipanska Luka at a ridiculously early time, I had an air of melancholy unreality. Happily I must have made quite an impression during my time here, because familiar faces turned from polite disinterest to genuine recognition - in moments. This made me feel quite tearful, in a way I rarely feel.

This two faced place never fails to amaze me; despite the near end of the summer season the many pleasure boats continue to pour in, and the opportunity for people spotting is endless. On the other hand, the icy walk through the polje this morning demonstrated the beating agricultural heart of the island. Cows were being tended to; grape pomace lies in heady heaps; fattened cabbages await winter pulling; and the olives are well on the way to being ready.

Enjoying the coffee and soaking up the early morning sunshine in Teo's bar was very pleasant - watching the village come awake is a simple pleasure. Eventually hunger drove us to picnic snacks on my nearest favourite beach. There are so few people there; people from the pleasure boats either don't have the time, or the inclination to stray out of the village. Which means they miss the actual life going on but as the companioning one knows, I have very little to say about idiot tourists.*

<insert your own melancholic shit here>

Having made myself all melancholy (shit happens), my amazing friend Marija invited us to see her family and have a taste of the rakija and wine making process. Now as you all know, science and history thereof is my life and the very best outcome of science is the stuff you can eat and drink. What is cake making, if it in't science? Anyway, much of what I have enjoyed exploring is alchemy... So to see an actual still in action is pretty much renaissance science in motion.

Fascinated, I watched as the deep purple 'waste' grape material was put into a large lidded metal container and sealed with water around the top. The dried garden herbs had been carefully chopped and layered; mint and fennel were the secret ingredients here. The stove underneath was stoked to cook the mix, and we sat back to fuss the cat who was thoroughly enjoying the warmth. The smoke unfurled into the olives above and we sipped our wine and munched on home smoked bacon.

Next door's sheep popped by unexpectedly and there were shouts of ide, brzo, 'cha... and mint sauce, lamb chop! I'll leave you to sort out who said what.

The fumes from the fruit and herbs headed upwards in to a metal tube; then went through a coil to be
cooled and condensed. The tiny precious drops fell like tears into a hanky... to be collected in to a saucepan. As it filled, it was occasionally emptied into a large round flask and the odd finger managed to sneak in and test the strength. Each batch would start strong, and then mellow and dilute. The art is to mix them to ensure consistency...and presumably avoid blindness or brain damage.

Also it's getting dark and what the heck is happening in here?

It was like magic if you can imagine a life surrounded by grape fumes, goats, and pine wood smoke. It reminded me of all I had left on the island. And I have never felt so sad about returning to tech, East London and the world outside. 

And on that melancholic note, let me remind you we are currently being serenaded by Antonio and his friends. Karaoke Mljet style.That is to say all is well in the world, and there has been birthday cake.

*the water in the lakes is NOT brackish ffs.

Best foot forward

We were going to get up really early. We really didn't.

We'd been told on arrival that we could buy bread from a van in the village and that it would arrive around 9:30. The hungry one scampered off to fetch bread, eventually returning with a sad face, it turned out the van had arrived much earlier it being out of season and clearly the memo hadn't been read by our lovely hosts. But fear not, she twinkled at the people in the restaurant which meant we managed to get bread and our delicious continental breakfast was on!

We'd need it to power us through the day ahead. Or something like that. The vague plan was a walk round the lake then a simple afternoon writing.

You know how much we like sticking to plans.

Today I would break out the walking boots I'd brought with me, given I'd already test walked the paths in ballet pumps this seemed like a sensible idea. I also elected to go with jeggings as I really didn't want to be scratched to death. That was a rare sensible face.

It was almost 10am by the time we rolled out, me looking looking like Lara Crofts older fatter sister, the dainty one looking, well, dainty. We were ready for a serious stomp.

Which lasted all of 20 yards. We both had a bad case of newplaceitis, a fatal condition that leads to inevitable wows, squeals and gazing upon new sights. Hopeless. I was particularly taken with the way that locals used ingenuity and a keen eye to make use of whatever materials were to be found laying about, I'd seen this the day before with small tree trunks, or very straight branches, being used to provide tying points for boats. Today though it was resting places for boats made with just a few trunks to minimise resistance whilst making sure they didn't sit in water, but my favourite was the fencing made with carefully chosen branches. Perfect.

What was less perfect was my knees, I realised quite quickly that as I was falling apart I needed a walking stick to allow me to control ascent and descent. Simple, we were surrounded by sticks, how hard can this be? After a number of regular stops to find something good enough the helpful one asked what I was looking for. A stick I said, but nothing so far that's suitable. Oh, like this one?

I can really go off people.

I was also pleased, yes it was just the right length, had a wee fork at the end and wouldn't take too much effort to remove small branches. Ace. Needless to say we didn't ask Twitter to name it and instead saved time by declaring it Sticky McStickface.

Now able to move with more ease we marched on. The seemingly endless green and blue
accompanied by the sun twinkling at us with the water was so lovely. But progress really wasn't great, not that this mattered, it wasn't a race. If we'd wanted to go quickly go could have made our way up the bank a little to a narrow road and scampered along. But where's the fun in that?

Every now and then I would see red markings on rocks that seemed to indicate we were on the Central Line. It just didn't smell quite like it. This belief was reinforced as we reached an interchange with the Circle Line. We might have been hooting with laughter at the thought.

As we approached the perfect little bridge that crossed the channel at the end of the lake we made a decision, we'd go for coffee in Soline. And when I say coffee I meant pivo. Obvs.  Soline is a bit of an interesting place. Sure it's tiny and has a bar which is in itself usually enough to make anywhere interesting. Actually, large and bar is interesting too. Maybe I just like bars.

I digress.

Monk studying the bible. Maybe
Apparently the Benedictines first waltzed in to the place around 1151 in search of somewhere to build a monastery, more on this later. They also filled the natural (read rocky as everything here is rocky) pools which of course would evaporate leaving salt, perfect for y'actual chips guvvnor. Mind you, I don't think they had chips then. Dark ages, dark, dark, dark. Probably better for the diet.

I digress again.

Hence the name. Running past the place in to Veliko Jezero (remember, Big Lake) is the Solinski Kanal, again more on this later. One of the most obvious things is that there is one hell of a water flow as the tides turn because it's really not very wide at all and the Big Lake is, well, big. Engineering 101, wide area in to small equals high pressure. Just the thing for driving mills and oddly enough there was a mill there at one point.

I was slightly disappointed to observe that a tidal generator hadn't been put in as this is the perfect location for placing one, but, to be fair, it would look a bit poo on the tourists brochures. The last thing of note, other than the fact that the Pivo was suitably cold and the wasps were unsuitably bastardly, was that until 1825 the place was uninhabited. Seems unlikely, it was now 12:08 and we were definitely in residence.

After a natter and swatting a few wasps we headed off once more we were off again. We ambled down the road a little heading towards the bridge and stopped for a moment to ponder just why there was a basketball hoop on the side of the road. Or maybe it was netball. Either way, they key thing here is: Side. Of. The. Road. Admittedly we hadn't seen many cars so I imagine it was a little like playing in the streets in the 70's.

It has to be said, this was nothing like the street of my youth. Pretty didn't cover it and the colours were endlessly fabulous.

As we crossed the perfectly arched bridge I managed to resist a game of Pooh Sticks. It just didn't seem right to drop a twig in the clear glinting waters below. We continued marching on.

To our right the Monastery of St Mary become increasingly obvious. As did the seemingly endless chug of boats chugging across the lake towards it laden down with tourists. I'm sure that Crkva Sv. Marije is worth seeing but my inner aversion to people complaining about *old things being so old was kicking in.

The place was certainly within easy swimming distance so one could sneak over, but I'm not sure whether my dripping swimsuit would be considered suitable attire.

Actually, for that matter, I wasn't sure whether this was a working monastery or if it had merely become a tourist trap. More research needed.

Take a fleg.
A little further round and we came across something that made me change my mind. I saw a small boat and two people were climbing in. As we got closer we could see that it was a thing, if you take a fleg and wave it then you get a boat. What's not to like? Fleg. Boat. Food. Not sure we would be able to fit it in but it sounds like a giggle.

On the subject of linguistic awkwardness. I did learn from the polyglot one that when pizza first arrived in Croatia it made people blush. Because it sounds like pićka... Let's just say my former flatmate would be shocked that I used such language in a blog post.

As we marched on it became increasingly difficult to remain furkling in the undergrowth so we largely stuck with the road, which is a little less interesting, but an awful lot faster. We were now strolling along at almost full London speed of somewhere over 4mph.

This might have been helped by the idea of the culinary one taking the leftovers from the previous night's meal, adding a few croutons made with olive oil and the remains of the hard-to-get bread from breakfast.

Sounded like a plan.

And then... We would swim! Obviously after we'd sat around for an hour or so. We'd found a couple of fairly perfect looking spots on our earlier walk, both of which within maybe ten minutes of our apartment. The water was glorious. The breeze light with occasional gusts of brrrrrrr. The delicate one was the first to break, I was fine, I just had to keep an eye out for any passing whaling ships.

For normal people the return to base after a long walk and cold swim would be a cheeky nap. We had a cup of tea and as we needed supplies we decided to head over the hill to Studenac in Polače. Now the dainty one kept laughing at me as I passed occasional comment on how much my body was now objecting. Yes I appreciate the "old way" wasn't over a mountain, but it was still very steep, we went from sea level to about 216' and back again in 2.4km. Not horrendous, but it is if you're seriously out of shape because you weren't allowed to exercise on medical grounds. And it was rocky. To be fair, everywhere is rocky. Even the **water is rocky. This apparently is what gives it the distinct whitish colour.

Bura clearly still meant it. My hair was telling me this so I didn't see much. But were were both aware of the smell of smoke presumably emanating from Pelješac. There was a Bura driven wild fire there and judging by the thickness of the smoke in the air it was quite devasting.

Still, the remains of the Roman villa were suitably impressive and as we meandered down the middle of the island main road (the 120, there aren't any others with numbers) we pondered about the difference between Pomena, Babine Kuće and Polače. All quite different. This felt more touristy. More out of season even. Great Yarmouth but with fewer amusements, more bike higher and a glorious sunset. Not Great Yarmouth then. You get the idea though.

The good news was not only did we find the Studenac, we also found a pekara! Huzzah. We didn't realised how important this would be at this point. Anyhoo, along we wandered, and then we wandered back. The highlight was passing a slightly dilapidated Ford Taunus TC, quite the thing in it's day and just that little more glamorous than a Cortina.

Not that this takes much.

We decided we should have a quick drink before heading back over the mountain so it after careful consideration (read: the first place that looked open) we sat outside the Calypso. A fine establishment. With beer supplied we proceeded to natter, look at videos of the fires and generally enjoy the craziness of a bar next to the main road. At one point there where TWO CARS going in opposite directions. It was quite mad. At some point the ***sensible one scampered off to check when the Studenac closed.

Of course as we are of a certain age we eventually moved inside to continue cackling. Inevitably as we went to pay up and leave we confused the hell out of everyone. But that's okay. It has to be said, the Studenac in Polače isn't great. Or at least not as good as the one in Pomena. But the ***sensible one managed to find good things to eat whilst I avoided looking at everything that was more than just vaguely dirty. Which is a win.

Walking back was interesting. Not only had my 51 year old hips decided that they'd rather be sat in a bar not moving, but my 51 year old muscles were definitely not singing the popular song by The Proclaimers. And we still had to go over the hill. In the dark. On rocky paths

I almost never complained.

On the plus side there was dirty sausage and cheesy snacks. Oh and winez. So all in all it wasn't a bad deal. And whilst it really is quite a steep hill it did mean I'd burned off my food before I had it. Maybe.

The evening ended, rather inevitably, in Mali Raj. Which to honest is about the best place to end and evening. Especially as we ordered dinner for the following evening... Poor baby goat!

* I was writing this in our usual drinking hole in Babine Kuće, the wandering one turned up and proceeded to tell me about a group of English tourists that she overheard saying "it's not as charming as in the brochures". I rest my case.
** Apparently, according the same group, the water was brackish. It so was not. The water evaporates which means it's decidedly more saline than the sea. It's a thing. You should see the state of my swimming costume after coming out of the water and it drying, Monica Lewinski would have been shocked.
*** Terms and conditions apply

Friday, 28 September 2018

Running away...

I'm a bit rubbish, I've still not written about my amazing recovery road trip, but hey, I'm contrary so I like doing things out of order. Besides, I'm here now.

I'm on Šipan, specifically I'm in Suđurađ, sitting outside Teo's place, in my favourite spot, looking at the house I still want to live in. But I won't write about here, I'm first going to go scurrying back to Monday... And a ferry ride to Mljet.

It was an early start. Off course I didn't complain at all about this. Much. But early starts aren't without compensations and as the sun gently rose over Split I warmed to the idea. Actually, maybe I was a bit too warm. Wait a minute, this was decidedly clammy. Oh.

At least the tired looking one had made tea.

Packing and repacking was a frenzied affair. Not particularly helped by remembering that I wanted something or other out of the bag after I'd zipped it up again. And repeat.

Fortunately, I'd neglected to bring any suitable clothes for warm weather owing to the fact that I'm a complete airhead. Fortunately the philanthropic one came to my rescue in the form of a wrap round skirt, perfect for going over a swimsuit, and a pair of shorts so ripped that they almost qualified as a skirt.

I'd fix that later.

I had at least remembered by swimsuit owing to the fact that I'd actually put that on my list. Indeed it was the only piece of clothing on my list. You'd think I was better at this travelling thing by now.

Air. Head.

After a mildly sweaty scamper tickets were bought and we boarded the catamaran with loads of time to spare. The upside of us both being slightly anxious about missing things is there is never any argument about arriving early to anything. I was impressed, the boat was lovely and roomy, the seats comfy. And of course there was the promise of coffee and pastries once we set sail. Or whatever it is that catamarans without sails do.

I could have happily dozed, instead we nattered, continued catching up and, rather inevitably, the excited one kept scampering up on to deck.

And look out of windows. Some things just don't change.

It was a fab journey, a few hours, several stops and an awareness that the sea was becoming decidedly bouncy. It turned out that Bura was chasing us down the Adriatic. It had already hit Split with a passion and the balminess of the day before was replaced with torrential rain. I thought happily of the various tourists who had arrived with nothing but clothing for warm weather when I was definitely ready for changeable... I'm such a bitch.

Whilst the sea was choppy it transpired that it was still warm as we made land in Mljet. Bugger. Oh well, I like sweating, I really do. We had plenty of time so a reviving beer was in order before we trekked over to Babine Kuće.

Much appreciated.

The correct way to dress.
Unlike the wasps. Pesky little buggers, they were determined to get in your drink at any cost. Why they didn't just get their own I don't know. It did mean that the relaxed drink had the side benefit of a callisthenics workout.

Swat wasp, lift drink, swat wasp, lift drink, swat wasp, lift drink.

Time to move on. We picked up some milk in the Studenac before heading in to the forest and the path to the village. It wasn't far. She said. There is a path. She said.

What she didn't say is that the path rises to a height of around 40m having started at sea level. It was rocky, gravelly and it's fair to say I wasn't really dressed for the conditions. And my wheely bag? Well it was distinctly unhappy.

The plus side!
Have you ever seen Death in Paradise? Fix the image in your head of the inappropriately dressed Inspector struggling along the beach with a wheely bag and you'll be there. That was me.

Hello, I'm English.


On the plus side...

Maybe she would be forgiven. Eventually.

We reached the guard post where we were informed that even if we were staying in the national park for a week, we would still need tickets to get in. That might not have been mentioned in the AirBnB notes. It did though provide an opportunity for me to cool a little as the local lingo speaking one acquired the necessary permits.

And check we were on the right path to Babine Kuće.

It's an funny little place. But oh my it's lovely. Sitting by the *Veliko Jezero it has a restaurant/bar, Mali Raj - you'll hear much more about this later - and, err, it's by the lake.

But the view... Horrible. I wouldn't recommend this place at all.

Unless of course you like big lakes, craggy hills and endless shades of green in the surrounding forests. As national parks go this is a pretty one.

We walked through the village and found where we would be staying. Almost the last house. And up steps. Many steps. Many, many steps. Did I mention there were steps?

And cake.

Oh, *interested face*. The lady of the house had prepared us tea and cake to welcome us, all was forgiven. And so very civilised.

It was becoming apparent that bura had caught up with us, so we did what any sensible ladies of a certain age should do when faced with an oncoming storm, we walked back to Pomena in search of something to eat.

It was fab.

When I say fab, it was windy, very windy. The temperature was dropping rapidly and by the time we reached Pomena the sea was in full unhappy mode. Big waves, lots of spray, strong winds.

But no rain.

Any sensible person would have headed for cover. We walked along the front to witness the full impact. It was impressive! Now this is going to be a first... Video!

Why have I never thought of posting video before?

Happy Monty
Anyhoo. The day was drawing on and we had a rare moment of being sensible, instead of eating in Pomena we'd head back to base after picking up a few more supplies in Studenac. I really wasn't keen on us walking back after dark, after a few drinks. Through a forest. In a storm. Really not wise.

So, wine, mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic, something for breakfast and nibbles acquired it was home for tea.

The food was lovely. The chef one contrived a pasta, the wine was lovely, the starter nibbles nibbley. As we ate it became obvious that bura was abating so we thought we'd have one last walk before an early night.

Which would have been that if it hadn't been for me deciding we should visit the bar for a nightcap. Which turned in to another. And then another, though this one was on the house so I don't think it counts. It was clear the staff there were lovely and as we were by now the only customers it was quiet and you could hear nothing but quiet conversation. And cackling. Obvs.

Finally, it was time for bed. A long day of walking and exploration was planned and we really needed a good night sleep!

But more of that later.

*big lake, got to love Croatian naming conventions

Focus on the goat...

So even as the temperature dropped, our spirits rose. With our food supplies stashed in my trusty backpack, we scuttled back to the apartment which was gloriously warm and welcoming. After a simple supper of tuna tomato pasta with a bottle of red, we braved the delicious višnja in the bar down the road. We sat there and cackled until we froze. We moved inside and carried on we discussed a special burek and beer diet plan with the waiter.

Seemed like a reasonable idea at the time. As did the goat pekar on the menu.

As we tottered up the stairs home, the northern wind was whistling through the trees, and howling round the rocks - I love that autumn really showed summer the door, and tried to boot it through. Still, as I currently write, summer is triumphant in its determination to hang around. The upside of bura is the clarity of air... everyone should see the stars and full moon at 4am.

We woke to a chilly morning; nothing as screamingly awful as the UK in September but it was brisk. Our hosts had mentioned a bread man van at 9am so I braved the golden morning light to await his arrival. It appeared that he had been and gone so I begged the obliging people at Mali Raj for some bread. We enjoyed a continental breakfast of bread, cheesy triangles, mortadella, tomatoes, and discussed what we were going to do.

The wind continued to blow happily. We had no plans.

The girly one put on her walking boots (with nothing more than a toothpick and a banana for support - so she said) and I put on my filthy old trainers and we headed off around the lake. If you go and read the blogs of the other contrary one you will see that we are once again on a bit of a healthy eating and exercise kick - hence the afore mentioned burek conversation. Mljet is renowned for its nature walks and was partly why I had chosen this place for a break.


So much for a brisk stroll; the first 100m took 30 mins. We expended energy only on ooos and ahhhs as the astonishing scenery took our breaths away, and in return we took photos. We enjoyed every inch of the large lake as we stayed on the path closest to the water. We giggled as we followed the central and circle line symbols - this was obviously just like being on the London underground.

OK, it was nothing like. It was actual paradise. Hidden beaches, vertiginous green, fluttering butterflies, and total silence as we commenced our circuit.

We headed to the hamlet of Soline for a responsible coffee (me) and a cheeky pivo (her). The road down there was so quiet that a basket ball court had been set up, should you choose to shoot some rings. Or whatever you do with the goal thingy. Anyway it was a fabulous use of flat tarmacked space. Soline is an ancient spot at the mouth of the lake, where salt has been produced for many years. We returned to the beautifully engineered Veliki Most, which vibrated tunefully in the wind. We crossed and continued around the lake. Shockingly we had only done a few kilometres...

By the time we had walked around the big lake, our feet were ready for one thing. A dip in the lake! We had found a handy little pontoon from which to swim just around the corner. It was - as promised - a few degrees warmer than the sea which was very pleasant. This didn't prevent any extremities being frozen; the air temperature was still pretty chilly. Brrrr! Needed a quick shower and a hot cuppa to thaw out. At this point of the day we had walked a long way so any normal people would have decided to have a nice nap.

We went for a stroll over to Polače for milk.

The booted one complained about the mountain* we had to climb. I admired the plunging ravines and the glorious gothic qualities of the cemetery on the way up. We descended into the village and the light was just catching the buildings on the far side. The Roman villa loomed over the extremely choppy sea; bura was still in full force. Sadly its effect on Pelješac was a devastating fire, a reminder to us all about the fragility of this landscape.

No ride home here...
After checking the shop's closing times, we hit the Calypso bar for a beer. We had to fortify ourselves for the ferociously steep and dark walk back over the mountain** via the Stari Put. We decided to pay up, confuse the waiter and pop into the shop to pick up milk and dirty sausage and beanz. And wine and cheesy snacks. No Babine Kuće evening is complete without heading out to the bar for a nightcap so off we went again. We also ordered our baby goat (kozlin) pekar for the following evening and tried not to think about anyone's pet.

*small hill
**the dramatic one was determined that it was a mountain

Thursday, 27 September 2018

An unexpected trip...

Picture the scene.

Deep in the middle of nowhere, two harridans have returned from a night in the pub. This is mostly because the nearest shop is three miles away along roads that have no pavement or light.

Not ideal really.

The travelling one had been talking about her forthcoming trip to Mljet for a break. She thought I should come. I looked at my bank account.

The computer said no.

Fortunately, the wine from the Travellers Rest - that or the rhubarb gin - helped remind me that I had a credit card. And whilst it’s been a while I really do know how to use it.

Tickets. Were. Booked.

The downside of booking tickets when drunk is one doesn’t always consider the practical issues. For instance, how the hell do I get to the airport? I mean I only had to get to Stansted. On a Sunday, so I checked Google.

The computer said no.

Essentially it was saying however bad transport in Epping Upland is, it’s a metric fuckton worse on a Sunday. Why did I pick a Sunday? Oh yes, it was cheap. If you ignore the ridiculous price of getting there. The best choice looked like I would walk three and a bit miles to Epping Station, get on the Central Line, travel to Liverpool Street and take a train.

Which would be great if it wasn’t for the fact that:

  1. The station is three and a bit miles away over hills, fields and no pavement
  2. I had a wheely bag. Not great on fields to be honest.
  3. It would take two and a half hours.
  4. The Central Line was going to be closed for servicing. Or engineering. Or whatever. So a bus then.

We do have buses in Epping Upland. Sometimes. They just don’t run that often. Or on Sundays.

On the plus side. I have a lovely friend that volunteered to take me. As it turns out, this was a singularly good thing.

You see… It’s autumn. And I’m surrounded by fields. Ploughed fields. And on the day of the journey it was raining as if god hadn’t read my travel plan. In a nutshell it was payback time. Even the path from the back door of Contrary Cottage to the parking place was sodden and riddled with singularly deep puddles.

Noah is in the inside lane.
Now this shows the first problem. I’m heading to a lovely place where it may or may not be good weather. I was leaving a place which would have had Noah Googling vessel construction techniques with one eye on the barometer. Not that they had barometers then. Pinecones though. And old bones. I have both as it turns out. But I digress. It was wet. And cold. So for heading to Croatia I was dressed for Epping Upland weather and a flight, this will become important later. This meant… Underwear (I know!), stockings, a petticoat, long skirt, top, cardigan, throw, coat, hat, gloves. And I was still cold.

At Stansted I looked out of place, most had arrived in dress appropriate for the destination and ignoring the local chilly and wet conditions. But I didn’t care. To be be honest it was nice to be warm and I’d planned things so I could de-layer once I arrived in Split.

Of course things didn’t go entirely well. For a start I was wearing the wrong bra. This matters because it was the one that always sets off the alarm. On the upside, search!

And another upside, it delayed my passage through security so the wait for my also embargoed bag was less awful. Yup, my bag was in the naughty channel. I’m not sure what it was but they were looking for a) my Chilly’s water bottle (empty), b) my scissors (under six inches) c) goodness knows what else. As it was the big problem was my Yorkshire Tea smuggling operation was uncovered but, apparently, this is not yet an actual offence.

I imagine this will change with brexit.

Anyway, I smiled, I told the lovely security lady where to find the things she was looking for and all was well. So off I toddled. To. The. Bar.

Well, via Boots for the things I wanted but couldn’t pack, like factor 30 and deodorant.

Then gin.

Which would have been great of a) the staff weren’t bloody useless and b) Monty. The. Bear.

Honestly, he’s a pain. He’s been whinging for days about whether I would take him, but all he really wanted was gin. My gin. Fine, I had a timescale to work to. The upside of the delays was I had about 20 minutes before the gate would be declared. I wasn’t going to be caught out so we finished up just before, sauntered past a screen, saw it said  “info at 11:35”, wandered to the gates and saw on the second… Gate 14. YES! An easy one. A stroll to the train, a short walk and I was there. I even got a seat on the train.

At the gate I sat and waited patiently as many people rushed up hoping to board only to be batted back. After chilling for a while I sauntered down past the straggling line and headed back to join the other handful of people that had speedy boarding.

Honestly guys, it’s worth it. Not only do I get on first, I get to dictate whether I have my bag, I get to take an extra handbag and I annoy everybody in the waiting straggly line. What’s not to like?

As it turned out whilst the plane was reasonably full there was only me in 3F and another lady in 3A. I settled down, put in my headphones and watched the entertainment of the great unwashed being, well, difficult.

Of course, the flight was late leaving, but I really didn’t care, it was near enough and, as it turned out, we arrived on time. On board Monty and I had the usual struggle over who would get the Champagne and the flight passed in an easy blur. I even found time to re-engineer the cork cage as a handy device stand so I could watch Suits as I flew. Perfect.

And then there was the actual rub.

On arrival I had to approach immigration in the EU channel and I had a moment where I thought I would burst in to tears. I can’t begin to tell brexiteers how angry I am with them, especially given so many have realised what utter fools they’ve been for believing the lies. But I’m still angry. I don’t want to leave the EU, I like being able to flit from place to place. And frankly I don’t wish to spend my dotage stuck with a load of arses who think that the past is a good place to live. Especially when they have probably not got even the slightest understanding of how things were.


A swift “dobar dan” and “hvala” later and they had once again let me in the country. Daft fools. I scampered past the great unwashed, out in to an oh-so-familiar airport and squeaked with excitement at the sight of my best friend. As you do.

Oh feck it was hot. And humid. There was roughly a 20 degree (celsius, none of your Fahrenheit muck) difference between when I left and when I arrived. I waited until I was on the shuttle bus before I removed the earlier mentioned stockings. The cardigan was long gone. The hat in hand. The scarf wrapped around my bag.

I of course still looked frightfully English.

We might have talked a lot. Let’s face it, it had been over a week since we last saw each other. So much could change. And it had. There was a new chap, I would be meeting him later. They talk about a week being a long time in politics. They have no idea.

Anyhoo, a wander up the Riva looking like an extra from some 1980’s sitcom was enough to remind me that Split could be quite warm. As in I might need wringing out. Of course the sensible long skirt that is so good far travelling was approximately 3 foot longer than it needed to be to cope with the warmth. I never said the jet set was easy.

As it turned out, I was knackered, so by time we’d wandered, bumped in to Marilyn and Maria (M&M), and gassed some more, I was quite ready for my cup of tea. It was lovely to finally see the Varoš eyrie that was home to the travelling one when she’s not making Contrary Cottage feel lived in.

But not for long.

After we’d discussed the necessity to rise at are-you-kidding-me o’clock, we headed in to town to collect the new gentleman en route to meet M&M at a fancy new Split place that I last saw being built. Has it really been so long since I was last there?

Fortunately it all seemed so familiar, though it was also weird to be in town in the summer as usually I’m here way off season when it’s chilly. Chilly being defined as I might wear a cardigan. A night. In the shade. If it’s windy.

You get the idea.

Trouble was I was a teensy bit tired, even the espresso martini didn’t wake me up. It wasn’t helped by the fact that after six months of living in seclusion I’ve managed to hone my shy skills to the point where I just don’t know where to start. I’m a bit rubbish.

In time we moved on to yet another place to taste something or other that was rather lovely. Something to do with plums. Not those ones.

The reality though was it was time to retire, the looming early start had to be dealt with and if the truth by told I could have slept on a spike. It turns out that less than four hours sleep isn’t ideal. Who knew?

Still, mustn’t grumble.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Writing. Beer. Perfection

It is a truth universally acknowledged that being in possession of a regular income is a 'good thing'. Since February I have enjoyed a full time job with all the benefits that brings. Like being able to afford cocktails, cars, dinner out, or even the odd vacation. Contrary to popular belief when you spend two-thirds of your time working from your place abroad, it doesn't always mean that you are on the beach.

Oh. Well not all the time. Sometimes you have to do your chores like a normal person.

Anyway after a relentless few months of 40 hours per week, I was exhausted. Taking a few days off was probably best for all concerned. My 4 weeks in the UK were pretty bloody awful and I needed space. But where to go in late September? I live part of my time in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, so it is tempting just to stay put. However island life remains in my blood, so I booked a week in a green and blue paradise. I have been to Mljet before; it had been late Summer and comically bad weather meant I got stranded.

What could go wrong, I thought, as the Split summer seemed to drag on endlessly?

A drunken evening meant that the Quiet One finally caved, and booked return flights to Split. She'd never actually seen my Varoš eyrie and hasn't had a holiday in about a million years (she never mentions that). Although I don't mind spending time alone, where I had booked for my week of quiet was truly special and it needed sharing. She would appreciate it, and I really want her to rediscover the writing mojo.

So a few weeks later and here we are sat by the stunning lakes of Mljet's National Park. Writing. Beer. Perfection.

Writing. Beer. Perfection.
My holiday had already started with a perfect weekend; sun, sea, strolls in the forest park. Saturday lunch time had been an exquisite meal of light salads in my local restaurant. The semifreddo which arrived gratis was clearly calorie-free. It was inevitable given my general levels of tiredness that some timings would go to pot. I thought the Essex one would arrive midnight on Sunday. Turns out she was leaving at midday Sunday, arriving at 4pm.

Ooops. The Melting One arrived off the aeroplane dressed for autumn. Split was 20 degrees warmer than in the UK.

Some other friends from the UK were here and given the balmy evening we dressed up and hit the bars. Espresso martinis, plum liqueurs, laughter, and a very cute gentleman made the Sunday evening fly by. The early wake up was interesting, as was the holiday packing and repacking. Did anyone remind me that I had left watermelon in the fridge? The forecast was showing promises of inclemency, but Monday morning continued with the sweltering theme. We dashed sweatily to the 7.40am catamaran, and enjoyed the aircon. Ok, to be fair I enjoyed the heat and vroominess of its rather large engines as we scooted across the perfect blue.

Tiny golden Korcula made me nostalgic, and the ominously cloud-topped majestic mountains of Peljesac left me speechless.

We arrived on Mljet and had no idea where we were going. Crying with laughter, she resembled the newly appointed, overtly English detective from Death in Paradise; complete with posh little wheeled suitcase and a lost, sweaty look. We did the only thing possible, we stopped at the first bar, had a beer and checked the map. I contacted the AirBnB people to confirm where they were in the park. We continued to marvel at the astonishing high definition colour, and noted the big white clouds coming from the north.


We set up off the road and turned off to enter the national park. There were steep steps, a crazy paving path, and the first major incline caused minor consternation. The wheelie case got an entire quarriful of pebbles in its wheels and protested as much as the Visiting one. Once on tarmac, we proceeded a-pace and found the Mali Raj konobar in Babina Kuce. Our little place was obviously up more stairs, and our hosts were happy to see us. We abandoned our stuff - including the sulking dusty wheelie case - in favour of a slab of plum-cake and some refreshing mountain tea.

We both changed into something more summery and set off for a gentle walk into Pomena, ostensibly for something to eat. By the time we got into the village, we realised that the clouds had really meant business. We scuttled into the Studenac for supplies and Bura blew us back home.

Looks like the Mljet weather has struck again!

A numbers game

When you declare you need to lose weight you are presented with a number of conflicting opinions. For instance: “You don’t need to lose weight”. I so do. In fact last year I had to, I’d been told in no uncertain terms I had to achieve a BMI of 28 by the time the surgeon got to play slice the lady whilst I was dozing under the influence of not-Champagne-at-all. So yes, I had to lose weight. And let’s face it, things were getting a little difficult on my poor aged knees.

No comment required.

Do you remember the Hot Perm? He said this to me once, so one day I decided to give him a practical lesson. He had volunteered to come with me to the Tesco on Goodge Street as I was going to buy water, as ever he offered to carry them back to the office for me. This time I accepted. And I’d bought two five litre bottles.

The science, a litre of water weighs about a kilogram. Two bottles is ten kilograms. You can see where this is going. Yes?

By the time we got back to the office, him manfully carrying one in each hand, he was visibly struggling, it’s a decent walk and they are reasonably heavy. I took pity on him and took one so we could climb the stairs and as I did I casually said: “so, ten litres of water, ten kilograms, which coincidentally is how much weight I’ve lost since I began my weight loss programme…”. Oh. The penny finally dropped and he never said anything about not losing weight again.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m never going to be Sticky Mc Stick face, it’s simply not in my nature, mentally or physically, but I would like clothes to fit and not feel too exhausted as I move from A to B.

The other opinion given is always on which method one should adopt to lose weight. And many were. As time went on when I explained my philosophy, I would be pooh poohed and told it wouldn’t work. Spoiler alert: it did.

You see the trouble is I have a weakness. Well, many. In this case it’s a weakness for food of all kinds, hedonism and generally not being told what to do. Or what’s best for me. So, for instance, being told that I had to stand in front of a load of people and be humiliated at, say, Weight Watchers, would never work. It’s not me. And I wanted to eat what I wanted. Rules schmules.

The approach I took was simply, it was the good old fashioned numbers game. Here’s the science bit, a word of warning though, it’s a bit complicated…

If you burn more than you consume you will lose weight.

See, told you it was complicated.

The question is how to achieve this particular alchemy…

So the next bit of science. A pound of fat is about 3500 kcal. Have you ever wondered how weight loss programs aim to make you lose say a pound a week? Simple, they ensure that for a given level of activity you will have a 500 kcal deficit a day. Try it. Go to an app, set a target weight loss rate, make a note of the daily calorie allowance. Change it to pound, or roughly half a kilogram more and you’ll find it changes to about 500 calories kcal less.

Or you could just burn 500 more a day.

Here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter a jot whether you are 50kg weight, or 100kg, the amount of energy remains the same, ditto the effect of the deficit. The difficulty is that as you get lighter, much to the disgust of the dainty one, the harder it is to burn more. Why? Well it takes less energy to power a smaller body. Science again.

Beer. Writing. Lake.
BMR. Basal Metabolic Rate. A magical number that combines your age, sex, height and weight to say how many calories you need to consume to maintain your current weight. Simples. You’ve probably seen such things on the NHS website and other places. It’s pretty accurate and can be within 201 kcal a day for women. This is a baseline. What you’ll use sitting on your arse watching Netflix. Or, as I’m doing, sitting next to Veliki Jezero with a beer. To make it work, as the NHS do, you add an indication of your exercise regime, be it beer and Netflix or climbing the Matterhorn with a goat on each arm before lighting a fire made from wood you gleaned by cutting down a tree with you teeth. As you do.

According to the Mifflin and St Jeor 1990 revision the formula for a lady is…

(10 x weight in kg) + (6.25 x height in cm) - (5 x age in years) - 161

A bit of an arse then. But also the sort of things that spreadsheets do really well. Oh, for men, change 161 to 5, you can read more here.

I like modelling in spreadsheets.

You see with a spreadsheet you can take each weight loss and revise the BMR as you go along. It makes things harder, but it also reduces the risk of lulling yourself in to a false sense of security.

The danger of the numbers game is that you need a number of things:
  • You must be honest with yourself
  • You must be able to measure how much you’re consuming
  • You must be able to measure how much you’re burning
  • You must be able to recognise things aren’t was linear as you might like

As time moves on I found there would be several days when I would plateau and then fall suddenly. Plateaus are demoralising, but they happen. The key is seeing that when you do suddenly drop, which always happens ion you stick with things, you can see that you are back on track. This again I did with said spreadsheet. I had graphs, I would predict and, importantly, I would feed back new ideas and thoughts in to the system.

And I would exercise.

My regime last year was brutal. Once I had my surgery date I had the difficult task of pushing myself harder than I’ve ever done. I couldn’t just depend on less food, I would have been at starvation levels, instead I needed to build fitness and eat sensibly, always with an eye on the magic number, how many pie points were between what I ate and what I burned. If I had a blow out, which I did, then I would either be having an exercise push before or after. Or both. It was hard, but I had utter focus.

Not that I have that any more. Obvs.

But did it work?

Between the 8th of June and 29th of October I lost 17.4kg. 37.92lbs. It wasn’t consistent. As my fitness increased my regime became increasingly aggressive, so, for example, on the 10th of October I consumed 1252 kcal, but burned 3500. I wasn’t hungry, my diet was very balanced. Yes the consumption was low as my then BMR was then 1579. The exercise for that day was half an hour on the exercise bike on the morning (watching Netflix), some floor exercises suitable for a lady of my age to work on general fitness, a walk to work at London speeds, a walk home, and a further 45 minutes on the bike. I watched a lot of Netflix. Okay so the walk to my office was just shy of six miles, but honestly, I’d rather walk and take 90 minutes than be at the mercy of TFL and take 45.

Since last year things slipped. It didn’t help that I was unable to do any exercise for three months at the behest of my surgeon. It really didn’t help that I had a further medical problem for three months. Nor did it help that I moved house to a place so remote that walking to the office would be impossible. I didn’t think that one through.

So I’m back on the wagon. I’m back to long walks to offset the lovely food, I’m back to making sure that the numbers deficit helps pull things back down.

And, as if you hadn’t guessed, I’m back to trying to write.

I’ve missed this.