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Full circle

January 14, 2011

Happy days xxxxx

Well it’s been a frenetic few weeks. Christmas has come and gone in a blur, complete with a visit from The Boychild. It was great to have him down again, although we’re firmly into the teenage years now with all that this entails (bless him).

Notice was handed in and gracefully received by Ford although they seemed genuinely sorry that I was leaving. Re-assuringly, both my manager and a more senior figure asked me to stay in touch and to let them know if things didn’t work out, both assuring me that a place would almost certainly be found for me within the group somewhere if I ever needed it. Although I sometimes felt like I’d never get to grips with it in the early days, I’m chalking my brief foray into car sales up as a success and walking away with my head held high. Job well done.

The new year finds The Blonde and I planning new adventures for later in the year, possibly with or without the use of aeroplanes (a drive down to and through Italy is potentially large on the radar at the moment).

The magazine writing finally seems to be gathering some momentum. My last review was very well received, I’ve been given a contract for a new monthly piece, we’re organising the next big review (number three!), and The Editor has asked me to put together a schedule of ongoing reviews for this year. If I can get this finally into some kind of regularity after nearly two years of trying I shall be a very happy Charlie indeed. It does finally appear to be pointing the right way though.

But the over-riding theme of the moment is that I’m now fully ensconced in my new job, back in the world I have known and loved (and loathed at times) for over twenty years, rebuilding contacts and trying to build up business. There’s lots to do but it feels great to be back.

And so, my friends, we reach the end of the adventure as far as the blog goes. The sometimes scary, often frustrating, frequently fun, but never dull rollercoaster ride of redundancy, unemployment, job searching, Polite Hatchback piloting, writing career building, motorway trekking, car sales hustling, Blonde dating, flight angst-ing, sportscar driving, rain dancing, occasional posh hotel dwelling, Boychild parenting, head hunting smorgasbord of life over the last nearly two years see’s me finally back where I started, albeit working for a different (and in many ways better) company.

Thank you so much for coming along for the ride.



December 14, 2010

Game on...! xxxxxx

It’s early morning and I’m in the Mazda and heading back to see Phil and Andy. The roof is firmly up against the autumnal chill, heated seats on. The 2.0 litre engine matches my mood as it eagerly punts the little car along. I’m bowled over by their keenness to have me aboard and, putting my typically ultra conservative reservations to one side, I’d decided there’s nothing to be lost in talking some more and keeping an open mind and had emailed them back to say my next day off was a Wednesday, any good? “See you then” had come the reply.

I arrive at their premises late morning and grabbing a slim file of figures of past achievements I’d prepared the previous night I make my way inside. We disappear into a back office and sit down to talk. I begin by thanking them for their continued interest, and they in turn thank me for coming back to see them. I explain my predicament regarding the writing and they ask what I would need to make it worthwhile without this. We talk around the figures we hope to achieve, and what I need out of it, Phil then lays out a proposal and negotiations start.

I leave two hours later having been offered what I have to admit is a very generous proposition. They really do want me! They’ve even left room for the writing should it ever gather pace. Phil promises to have an email to me confirming everything discussed within 24 hours, and I promise I won’t keep them waiting for a decision. I point the Mazda homeward and, in deference to the clear blue skies, drop the top and brave the elements, shrugging into a warm coat, cranking up the heater, and blasting most of the way back with the roof stowed till the onset of a final hour of dual carriageway and motorway finally wimps me out.

That evening I speak at length with The Blonde. She knows how bored I’ve become selling Fords already and, as she points out, I’ve only been there a year. I’m clearly not going to be there for ever so why not take this opportunity? I’m still hesitant about whether I really want to jump out of a well paid and secure job in the middle of a recession. After all job’s a job, right? Eighteen months ago I was considering shelf stacking, and I couldn’t even find a job vacancy for that!

The next day, as promised, an email from Phil lists everything that we’d discussed. I forward it to The Blonde and that evening we discuss it some more. On the one hand it’s a risk, I’d be leaving something I know works and is secure to take a chance on something that I don’t, and therefore isn’t. But, I have to admit, The Blonde is right, offers like this don’t come along every day. It may have the potential to fail, but it also has the potential to be absolutely fantastic! Bottom line, we decide is this. If I try and it fails, well then it fails. But if I don’t try I know I’ll always wonder “what if?”

I put on my brave trousers, pick up my vodka and orange, and retire to my study. Opening my email I hit “reply” and begin to type.

Dear Phil and Andy, I would be delighted to accept the position of…

As the youngsters would have it, OMG!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

December 8, 2010

Hullo! xxxxx

When I was commissioned to write the latest feature for The Editor I’d called upon a couple of old contacts from my previous profession who kindly came up with the goods we needed for the review. “Call in when you’re up here”, said Phil, the boss of one company I’d spoken to, “be good to catch up”. So after we’d finished the review I’d called into his smart cherrywood lined office to shoot the breeze prior to returning home, only to get rather somewhat more than I’d bargained for.

“We’d like you to come and work for us Charlie” came the shock revelation from Phil after five minute of small talk. We’re sat round his expansive desk with his co director Andy, a chap who’d run a separate office in my previous company long ago in the dim and distant past and who I’d always enjoyed working with. “You’ve got a first rate reputation within the industry and we’re looking to develop into your area. You’re the perfect person to head it up for us”. I was absolutely flabbergasted, it really was the last thing I’d expected to hear. I explained that I was really looking to try and promote my writing career. “Perfect, do that too, fit it around what you’re doing for us, we’ll pay you half an income, a good commission rate, you can make the rest out of writing and we’ll all be happy. You’ll never make enough out of just writing anyway”. It was a fair point.

I left an hour later reeling at the prospect. What an opportunity! As ever, however, the “buts” and “what if’s” where flying around my mind, bouncing off the inside of my skull as I piloted my dark blue MX5 home. But I’ve finally got settled and am making money selling cars. What if the continuing recession means there are still no customers for high value entirely discretionary luxury goods? But I’ll lose my company car, just as I’ve finally managed to squeeze a vaguely interesting top of the range Fiesta Titanium loaded with toys out of our fleet manager. What if I’ve forgotten how to do it? But I’ll lose the security of what has fast become an established position at Ford.

The thoughts had continued to bounce off each other over the next day or two, so I’d decided to try and push The Editor for more writing work, if I could get promise of some more writing then I wouldn’t be entirely dependant on this new avenue, which would give me some security. Predictably I’d hit a brick wall there. I’d told my prospective employers that I’d get back to them within a few days and true to my word and with heavy heart I emailed them as promised and told them I was extremely flattered by their offer but was drawing a complete blank on the writing front and as such couldn’t rely on any income from that direction whatsoever. So thanks, but no thanks.

And with that I’d told them I was away for a week and fled to Cyprus.

My phone was completely silent in whilst I was away, no signal meant no calls, no texts and no email. Seems Richard Branson hasn’t ventured that far south east, the Virgin network effectively dead. But once back home my email lit up. The Editor had sprung to life, an email conveying that he liked my article (hooray!) and the next few days passed in a plethora of emails back and forth as we tidied up the details and I wrote sub boxes to go with the main body. There was even talk of re-photographing the subjects for the main front cover feature, now that would be spectacular!

But more than that there was an email from Phil and Andy.

“Forget the writing for now, come and talk to us again, we’re sure we can work something out that would suit you”.


Final day

December 4, 2010

Happy landings xxxxx

Final day in Cyprus and it’s mixed feelings as the joy of such a successful trip in such splendid weather is tinged with the inevitable sadness at the end of our wonderful break in the sun. We pack and vacate our room, leaving our luggage with reception and walking the coast path back into town in a hunt for gifts and souvenirs for those back home. We return to the hotel for a final lunch by the pool and at 1:45pm precisely a white Mercedes waits at reception to whisk us back to the airport. As we rattle back out across now familiar ground I notice the gauge on the dashboard reads 25 degrees. We won’t be seeing that temperature again anytime soon. We check in and begin the interminable wait followed by the obligatory crowded rush for boarding and the best seats.

Bagging ourselves a couple of seats by the window we wait for the aircraft to taxi out before hurtling down the runway and throwing itself at the sky. Out of the window the Mediterranean performs one last spectacular sunset for us throwing a fiery blaze across the ocean as my grip tightens on The Blonde’s hand.

What if.. What if??

Happy happy holiday xxxxx


December 3, 2010

Happy wanderings xxxxx

We spend the middle of the day exploring ancient remains of Roman villas with fascinating well preserved mosaic floors, low yellow stone walls and crumbling pillars. The sun beats down with a wonderful intense dry heat, the sea shimmers as a perfect backdrop and lizards sunbathe on rocks for all the world like miniature dinosaurs, pausing just long enough for an excited Blonde to grab a quick photograph before scampering off between the rocks (The lizards, not The Blonde). We spend a happy hour or two just wandering around the large site soaking up the calm timeless lazy atmosphere.

Hungry now, long late lunch beckons in the shade on the very edge of the harbour watching people wander past on one side, tiny fish swarming past on the other.

Then we stroll round the harbour to where speedboats are hired out. The proprietor gestures toward his fleet bobbing at anchor just off the harbour wall, which would we like? The fastest of course. He dons his waders and wades out to unclip the biggest of the fleet weighed down by the huge 115hp Selva outboard engine hanging off the transom, drags it by the bow back to the steps and motions us aboard. After the quickest guide to driving a speedboat ever (fortunately I’ve owned one) he points out his phone number stuck on the dash in case of emergency, points us out of the harbour, and sets us on our way.

Happy speedboating xxxxx

We pootle gently clear of the harbour and I give it a fist full of throttle. The bow rises with an eager growl (from the outboard, not The Blonde) before flattening as the boat drops onto the plane, skipping across the surface of the water as we streak up the coast, sun dropping to the right of us, white hotels lining the coastline to the left. We blast on up for another five minutes and then swing the boat in a long arc to the left, throttling back and settling back into the water as the speed drops to walking pace before I pull the lever back into neutral, cutting the engine and leaving us bobbing calmly on the surface right in front of our hotel.

The Blonde is keen for her go and we swap places, kick the motor back into life and accelerate gently back out of the bay and speed back down the coast toward Pafos. Back outside the port we swap back but we’ve still got ten minutes of our allotted time left. I look around, in the middle distance a trip boat decked out like a pirate ship meanders along the coast. Just time I reckon, and swing the wheel over and nail the throttle once more, boat leaping eagerly back onto the plane and levelling out nicely. I trim the engine up a couple of notches to increase the bow lift and pull even more of the hull clear of the water and wind it up to maximum revs, tearing back up the coast in pursuit in a cacophony of sound, spray and wind roar. In no time at all we’ve overhauled the pirate ship and spot the reason for it’s trip, a couple on their wedding day stood in the crows nest enjoying a post wedding sunset cruise. We sweep around her bow with a cheery wave to the honeymooners before blasting back the way we came.

Ticking back into harbour with the sun setting spectacularly behind us I reluctantly let the chap have his boat back and we re-acquaint ourselves with terra firma. As we stroll back along the coast path in the gathering dusk the pirate ship passes us once more, heading the other way now, back toward port.

Happy dragons xxxxx

Diver down 2

December 2, 2010

Going down xxxxx

We’re on the bus and rattling into town, shoulder bag packed with swimmers and towel. I’ve another appointment with Cydive, teaming up with today’s beginner course, this time to see it through. I’m feeling strangely apprehensive, almost wishing I’d quit whilst I were ahead. I’ve done a dive, it went ok, should have ticked the box and called it a day.

But I’m committed now, booked to join the course after the film and briefing session that I’ve already done. 10 minutes later The Blonde has strolled off to find a cool orange juice at a waterside café with a view and I’m shaking hands with Chris, a tall long haired laid back surfer type who’s our instructor for the session, and Alex, a park ranger from Hampshire who’s out here on holiday and looking for his first taste of Scuba just like myself. We pull on our wet suits and boots and we’re off down to the waters edge, kitted up and in the water.

First up are the exercises, or “skills” as they’re referred to, that we must complete successfully before we can go into deeper water. Chris clearly and carefully explains each stage one by one as we stand chest deep, then it’s time to drop below the surface for Chris to demonstrate each task before pointing at each of us to complete the same task in turn.

First off is a reasonably simple one, clearing the mask. Chris demonstrates the skill and then it’s my go, allowing a small amount of water to leak in by breaking the seal and then, holding the top of the mask against my face, I tilt my head up and blow out through my nose into the mask whilst pulling the base away, expelling the water and leaving it clear. Clever. Alex goes next and completes it with ease, Chris the cool surfer/diver gives us the “OK” signal and a firm manly underwater handshake in recognition of a pass.

Next up is slightly more challenging, retrieving the regulator (the part you clamp between your teeth and breathe through) should it be accidentally dropped. Chris goes first and makes it look easy, then points to me. I take a deep lungful of air, remove my lifeline and drop it. Breathing slowly out as instructed I lean my body to the right causing the regulator to swing out on its air line, touch my right knee, then the tank on my back, then sweep my arm around and forward in a wide arc. The reason for this is it will put my arm behind the air line and scoop it up as it comes forward. In theory. To my immense relief I find the line on my forearm as promised, grab the regulator and jam it back between my lips. Having done it all very slowly and deliberately I’m almost out of breath but just as I begin to take a greedy lungful of air a sudden saline taste reminds me of the final step, purge the regulator! It’s full of salt water and I jab the button on the front of it delivering a high pressure burst of air that blows the sea water out of it and breathe clear air in. Phew, I think I got away with that! I look at Chris who hasn’t noticed my near asphyxiation on a regulator full of sea water and gives me the “ok” and hand-shake of approval. Alex goes next and completes the task perfectly.

Next skill is switching to our reserve regulator, similar exercise but with the regulator already fitted ready for quick deployment on the front of our equipment it’s much easier. I remember to purge first this time, avoiding a mouthful of sea water. Finally “buddy breathing”, which involves tapping a dive buddy firmly on the shoulder to attract his attention and giving him the “out of air” signal at which point he should turn to you to make his reserve regulator easy to access, taking it from him and gripping each other with a Roman (hand to forearm) handshake. Again Chris goes first, each stage a slow deliberate clear action, and then Alex and I practice on each other before being rewarded with the “ok” and handshake from our tutor. Chris then motions us upward and we break the clear calm surface and inflate our buoyancy devices. Chris congratulates us both, describing our task completion as “textbook”, nope, didn’t notice my near lungful of water then. It’s time to head for deeper water and go for it!

We turn onto our backs and let the flotation devices do their thing as we paddle away with our flippers, motoring quietly backwards toward a deeper section of the small bay near an outcrop of rocks. My nerves are gone now the skills are successfully completed, and confidence up I gaze happily up at the deep blue sky and enjoy the anticipation of what’s to come. My reverie is broken by a call from Chris, I’ve drifted off course somewhat and am about to reverse headbutt the rocks, told you I was hopeless at navigation! Swivelling myself in the water I flipper across to where Alex and Chris bob on the surface, all now well out of our depth and ready to go. Show time!

After another quick briefing from Chris, basically stay within range and signal if there are any issues, it’s time to go. It’s going to be a roughly thirty minute dive so I rotate the bezel of my watch to point at the minute hand which will then indicate how long we’ve been down, position my mask, clamp the regulator between my teeth and at a signal from Chris hit the button to expel the air from my flotation device, drop below the surface, and take my first deep lungful of compressed air.

We’re about ten feet below the surface and I can feel the pressure ramping up sharply in my ears already. I pinch my nose and blow gently against it as instructed, balancing the pressure. Weird, but it works. Chris checks we’re both ok and sets off at a gentle pace, checking on both of us constantly as we flank him either side. I let my arms drop back by my sides letting my flippers do all the work, powering easily through the clear clean sea, feeling great. The sea bottom is thick with a covering of soft green weed at this depth and rises and dips with ridges and valleys. I sweep slowly across the seascape looking around at the occasional small school of fish and down at the bottom, breathing easily now, feeling calm and confident. We push on for another ten minutes gently rising and falling, getting used to positioning and directing our bodies, steering with our fins not just left and right, but also up and down.

Ahead of us what amounts to a shallow underwater valley opens up, green and lush with weed. I point myself downward and flipper toward it, keen to go as deep as I can, feeling the pressure build again as I dive deeper. At the base of the valley I check my depth, I’m at about twenty feet, kindergarten stuff by divers standards, but to me it feels like I’m on the floor of the deepest ravine of the Pacific ocean. I look up at the surface shimmering a long way above me and then around me. Alex and Chris are nearby hanging a little higher up, coasting gently along. The valley slopes up either side of me, rocks bordering the peaks on either side.

Surreally the view reminds me of Dartmoor 2,500 miles away, green covered dips and rises tipped with craggy rocks. I push off the bottom, kicking hard with my flippers, powering up the side of the valley, seaweed floor about thee feet beneath me, and burst over the top, arcing my back and shooting back down the other side before swinging round in a loop and motoring hard back up to re-join my dive buddies. I’m enveloped by sense of freedom and suddenly it hits me, this is it, I’m doing it, I’m flying! Swooping, rising and dropping like an eagle, or at least a fledging sparrow. This is what I dreamed of as a nipper and it feels absolutely fantastic!!

Shortly afterwards I spot a rope leading from seabed to surface and, looking up, spot a boat tethered to it. A lone man snorkels round it high above us, I wonder what he thinks as he looks for fishes and instead spots three men flippering quietly past beneath him!

I’m grinning behind my mask now, I feel totally at ease, warm, comfortable, happy, safe. I feel like I could stay down here all day but the sea bed shoaling gently up towards us tells me it’s getting shallower. I check my watch, sure enough we’ve been down twenty five minutes already, time to head home.

Chris breaks surface as we reach a depth of about chest deep. I stay down, just under the surface, just above the sea floor. To my left I can see Chris kicking along the surface, but on the other side of him Alex is still down, like me he’s not surfacing till he finally runs out of water. The Blonde tells me later that we look like a couple of baby porpoises scrabbling along only half submerged either side of the mother porpoise.

At the steps we struggle ashore and shrug out of our dive kit, Chris showing us how to take it apart and load it on the trolley before all pushing it the short walk back to their premises for a warm shower and a change back into dry clothes. I try to pay for the second course but they refuse to take even half of it, protesting that I was simply finishing the course I embarked on earlier in the week. I pass Chris a generous tip instead and buy a Cydive T shirt as a souvenir of my first big diving adventure. I’ve a feeling it won’t be my last.

Mountain air

December 1, 2010

Happy days xxxxx

We’re up and in the trusty Toyota bright and early after the obligatory fortifying full English by the pool. We’ve got ground to cover today, destination, the Troodos Mountains. The Blonde is on the maps, she’s an ace navigator (if I can’t plug my destination into the GPS I’m doomed). We feel our way out of the suburbs onto open roads heading east before spearing off north at The Blonde’s command, heading inland.

The feisty Aygo points its nose uphill and we begin our assault on the foothills, dirt edged tarmac road snaking through brown farmlands and past the occasional vineyard. Traffic is virtually non existent, the occasional on-comer dealt with via a mutual dip of nearside wheels onto the hard packed earth that borders the narrow road in order to create room to pass, dusty plumes thrown up in our wake. At one point we find our path blocked by a sea of goats swarming across the road observed by a lone shepherd parked way back in a short wheelbase Shogun.

Gradually the road starts to become steeper and we snake ever upwards past lonely homesteads and through small villages that look untouched for centuries, vistas opening out across the valley the higher we go. Eventually the topography and villages become positively Swiss Alpine-esque, high narrow pointed pine trees and chalets marking our promotion from hill to mountain. Onward and upward we climb, zig zagging through sunshine and shade.

After a couple of hours we’re in clear mountain air and spot a heritage museum based in a large mountain lodge so we stop and disembark, paying less than a couple of euros each for an interesting short film show that explains the life and times of the beautiful quiet wilderness we find ourselves in and a tour of the museum. Then, leaving the car where we’d parked it, we walk up the paved trail through the pine forest to Troodos Square, an area originally created to house the British Ambassador and his staff in cool mountain air when they first arrived and found the coast too hot to bear in summer. Now it’s just a few shops and cafes and we choose the one with the best views (and a toilet!) and enjoy lunch with a spectacular view across the next valley to the mountain range in the distance.

Lunch over we meander back through the quiet forest to the car and point the nose skyward once more to try and find the summit of the highest peak, the 6,400ft high Mount Olympos.

Cutting up through the forest we break out at the summit where a huge British radar installation sits like a massive golf ball. Security signs ban us from driving further so we abandon the car and continue on foot up to the bizarre building and follow around its perimeter on a rough narrow dirt track. For the first time since touching down on arrival I feel slightly chilled as a cool wind hisses through the security fencing and regret leaving my jacket in the car. We press on to the far side and are greeted by the unexpected sight of a closed ski lift. Turns out that in winter this is a full on ski resort, a point hammered home just over the next ridge where we find the ski run, a river of brown dirt slicing through the trees into the far distance, silently waiting for winter snow to bring it to life. In the far distance another radar installation squats on another mountain like a giant’s golf ball on a tee. Shivering slightly now, we complete our circuit of the massive white dome and head back to the car, clambering aboard and swinging the nose back down the mountain, following the tarmac slalom back down through the pines.

Back at Troodos Square we cut off onto the old road, an empty single carriageway of full lock hairpin after full lock hairpin carved into the side of the mountain. Eventually it spits us back out onto the new road built recently with EU funding, “money well spent” The Blonde dryly observes.

We run the rest of the way down the new road, re-tracing our route in until we near the coast where we bear left and head for the Rock of Aphrodite. Parking the car we walk down the beach to this stunning rock formation as the sun begins to settle over the horizon turning both sea and sky a vivid bronze.

Divers down

November 28, 2010

Bubbles... xxxxx

As a child I had two ambitions for when I grew up. I’m not sure I ever have actually grown up beyond the purely physical sense, but non the less one of the ambitions was to go gliding or hang gliding (quite..!), the other was scuba diving. The actual motivation for both of these ambitions is as clear to me now as then. Three dimensional freedom. As humans we can travel unaided in any direction, but only horizontally. We generally need stairs, a slope, an elevator or an aircraft to achieve any sort of vertical movement. I wanted to be able to fly, to soar, to swoop and dive.

The adult (I nearly wrote grown up…) Charlie Croker listens to his inner child (far more than he should is, I suspect, The Blonde’s belief). I’d emailed a good friend and keen recreational diver before we came on holiday who’d inspired me recently with underwater photos on his iphone (how he kept it dry I’ve no idea). What did he think of this Cydive company offering trial diving training in Pafos? “Go for it” came the response after he’d checked out their details on their web site, “they look a professional bunch and have all the right credentials”. Which is why the adult Charlie Croker and the ever game Blonde find themselves sat in a darkened air conditioned classroom watching a video about how to die underwater, and how, hopefully, we might avoid it.

Movie over we’re given an hours briefing by Mike, a young enthusiastic Brit who left the UK for warmer climes eight years ago. He explains the hand signals, the emergency procedures, how to share an air supply, how to retrieve a dropped regulator (the bit you breathe through), how to clear a flooded mask, how to relieve water pressure build up as you go deeper and how to check your depth and air supply. After that we get tooled up with wet suits and boots (The Blonde looks absolutely fabulous in a wet suit), help load the trolley with kit and head down to the waters edge.

Once there Mike shows us how everything works and gets us into the gear before getting us used to using it. As if it weren’t heavy enough we’re then given a weight belt each to strap on. Knee’s buckling we gingerly edge down slippery stone steps like Bambi on ice and lower ourselves into the welcoming cool calm sea. We’re fitted with flotation devices that see us bobbing happily on the surface whilst Mike fits our flippers for us. The flotation devices are brilliant, they bleed air from our aqualung at the push of a button, inflating and keeping us on the surface. Another button deflates them so we can sink and begin the dive. But first of all we stand up in four feet of water and try the gear, dropping below the surface and rising again, getting used to the experience.

The Blonde finds she has a split mouthpiece and Mike replaces it but the new one isn’t ideal. Mike changes her to the back up regulator but that doesn’t seem right either, breathing seeming harder than it should, each breath accompanied by the rasp of a valve somewhere. Mike assures her it’ll get easier once it’s wet. It doesn’t. Confidence slightly knocked by this, when it comes to the exercises we must achieve before venturing into deeper water such as releasing, capturing, purging and refitting the regulator, swapping between it and the back up, and “buddy breathing”, The Blonde is understandably uncomfortable. I totally share her concerns, even without her issues the whole thing just feels so unnatural, breathing seems to require conscious effort, the regulator seems to be forcing its way out of my mouth and I’m already wondering if I can really do this.

She’s keen not to hold up proceedings but we’re there for fun, this isn’t a serious sporting endeavour so we urge her not to push it and I feel a quiet sense of relief as Mike suggests we forget the exercises and instead have a gentle potter around in the shallower water where we’re close to the surface if there’s any problems.

At his instruction, I press the deflate button and fight down the panic as the weights drag me below the surface and water floods round and over the outside of my mask before closing over my head. I try to steady my breathing, gently in, gently out, long and slow, breathe, breathe. Bubbles cascade noisily around my head as they break for the surface.

I look around, visibility is excellent and I watch The Blonde descend in a wave of long tousled blonde locks, accompanied by Mike. He gives us the thumb and fore finger “OK?” signal and we both hesitantly reply. I’m not sure that I am really but we’re here now, let’s se how we get on. He motions us to follow and kicks gently off. The Blonde goes next, flippering by, all wide eyes and neoprene clad curves. I lie forward in the water and start to kick my fins, pushing myself along just back and to the right of The Blonde.

Mike keeps strictly to the shallows, we’re definitely properly under water but there’s not much scope for up and down, one way we’d break surface, the other we’d hit the sea bed. But it’s beginning to gel, I’m not thinking about the breathing anymore, my mask no longer feels like it’s going to fall off, I can see, I can move, and it feels fantastic. I can see the surface glinting in the sunlight above us, the sea bed rocky and sandy beneath. The sea disappears opaquely to all sides, it’s just the three of us and an occasional small shoal of inquisitive fish, scooting quietly along, soaking up this wonderful new experience.

Mike is searching for something and after a while he finds it, delicately picking up a starfish and holding it up for us to see. He passes it to The Blonde and she lets it wander across her hand. She’s ecstatic, she loves natural life in all its forms. Mike carefully returns it to the rock under which he’d found it and we paddle on a bit further, spotting fish and enjoying the weightless sensation and the alien environment.

It’s half and hour but seems like no time at all before we’re breaking surface back by the steps and inflating our buoyancy jackets before struggling out of the water and waddling up the steps, going from weightless to weighed down in an instant, bowed down with gear and weight belts. Back on shore we shower and change before a debrief with Mike. I’ve got a taste for this now and want to do the proper dive. A quick conflab with TB and she’s all for me having another go although elects to sit the next one out. We book for Friday, they’ll just hook me up with another course, and Mike runs us back to the hotel in their battered dive bus, a war horse of an old Shogun. Childhood ambition realised, almost…

We take lunch by the pool at the hotel then grab the keys to the Aygo and drive out to Coral Bay for the afternoon. Up on the cliffs we discover a small semi underground museum full of local history. The Blonde studies the glass cased artefacts and informational text and drawings on the wall. It’s just one completely circular room and I stand in the middle jumping loudly up and down and snapping my fingers, the acoustics in the place are truly bizarre, a multitude of echoes bouncing back at me from the curved concrete walls. Eventually The Blonde takes my hand and leads me back out into the sunshine in the manner of an ever patient mother with a “challenging” child.

We walk around the headland in the late afternoon sunshine, pausing to watch a small fishing boat potter by heading for port, before heading back to our own port, the hotel, for a well deserved dinner.

Porsche light. (Very light).

November 27, 2010

Warmer there... xxxxx

Day Two and the same happy routine, clear blue skies, the warmth of the sun, and breakfast by the pool with a view of the shimmering azure sea. Excitement follows in the shape of our hire car delivered to the hotel.

The Blonde, a seasoned traveller, talks knowledgably of hire cars and upgrades and as she does so a VW Touran draws into the carpark and a slightly menacing slim brunette steps out, all wrap around sunglasses, flashing heels and expensive handbag. She stalks into the marble lobby where we wait, she’s the hire car lady and relieves us of the hire fee (very cheap) and the cost of a full tank of petrol (which we’ll never fully use, so that’s how they claw it back). Still, we’ve gone for the most basic grade and she’s rolled up in a Touran, fantastic! Right up until the point where she presses a thin Toyota key into my hand and leads us to the million mile pale blue Aygo with a suspiciously stained interior lurking in the car park, hops back in the Touran, and disappears as fast as she came. Ah well, it was a nice idea…

Holiday hire cars are fun, whatever their guise. Something about their cheap ‘n cheerful honest to goodness demeanour and no excess insurance combined with foreign tarmac on which to drive them makes even the most basic choice a passport to excitement. The Blonde and I bundle aboard with a sense of adventure and I twist the 998cc motor into life, thumb the air con button and point the nose out of the car park and into the gentle throng of Pathos traffic.

The Porsche 911 engine has a “Boxer” configuration whereby two banks of three cylinders horizontally oppose each other turning a central crank, which gives it a very distinctive off beat warble. Our Aygo features a three cylinder engine, often referred to as an “in line triple”, which is in essence a similar configuration to one half of the Porsche engine, and as such, under hard acceleration, a trace of that triple cylinder warble can be detected. There any and all possible connection with the Stuttgart classic ceases, leaving us with a breathless yet curiously eager Japanese buzzbox. But it’s our Japanese buzzbox and we’re determined to make the most of its prosaic charm over the next few days.

Usefully, shreds of the British Empire’s long since defunct reign remain in the fact that Cypriots drive on the left and use very British looking traffic lights. Well, I say use, they’re more for guidance than obedience it seems, all part of the relaxed motoring style that epitomises the Cypriotic lifestyle. Traffic is light and progress easy as The Blonde guides us through Pafos and out to the hills that border the edges of town, affording us fine views across the roofs of white walled and terracotta tiled homes out to the ever more distant coastline.

We follow meandering roads onward and upwards through sparse looking farmland and over the peaks of the hills before picking up sight of the northern coast glinting in the far distance, gently dropping down the winding hill roads to the edge of the sea and follow the line of the land to a small village where we park easily right on the edge of an immaculate beach straight from the pictures of any glossy holiday brochure.

One thing that is becoming apparent is the Cyprus attitude to tourists and money. Whereas in Britain councils and businesses waste no time in fleecing every last dime there was no extra insurance hard sell with the hire car, no parking meter in the car park we’re now parked in, no surcharges or mandatory options anywhere. It’s a refreshing attitude.

We wander round the back of some shops to a small harbour sheltering fishing boats and a marina with motor cruisers and yachts moored in the quiet sunshine. It’s clear we’re well out of season, a sleepy relaxed atmosphere pervades, shops and cafes open but largely empty, the only motion on the ocean a small speedboat with half a dozen people nosing out to sea and heading down the coast. I spot a gently ageing British registered Porsche Boxster, roof down outside a café. “You see”, I chide The Blonde, “we could have driven instead of flying”. She remains unconvinced.

Lunch at another harbourside café, and then a drive to the nearby attraction, “Baths of Aphrodite”. Rather amusingly after a walk up a long and well tended paved path, we’re rewarded with a stagnant pool in a small cave entrance. Given the full car park and coach loads of tourists we’d expected slightly more, but fair play to the locals they’d not tried to turn it into a theme park or gift shoppe experience, and again, no charge for either parking or admission. We stroll back to the car and enjoy an easy run back across the island to Pafos in time to watch the sun set over the harbour and then home to the hotel for dinner.

See sighting

November 26, 2010

Pathos Harbour

Morning dawns clear, bright, and warm, temperatures already in the low twenties, setting the pattern for the week. We stroll down for a late breakfast and find ourselves outside on the terrace looking over the pool and warmed by a gentle whispering breeze. Bliss.

Mid morning we have an appointment with Helga The Stern German Tour Rep. She’s lovely, but very firm about the places we must go “see sighting” and that “ve must not rent bikes, is Very Danger”. She’s a mine of useful info and The Blonde pours over the maps with her and asks lots of useful questions I’d never have thought of.

Released from our grilling we head to our room and the brand new snorkel gear I’d bought the week before we left. Changing into our swimming gear (The Blonde looks absolutely fabulous in a swimming costume) we grab complementary beach towels and head for the rocky shoreline and the pontoon that extends out to sea. Lowering ourselves gingerly into the water it’s initially cold but surprisingly warm once fully immersed and a great time is had flippering up and down and pointing excitedly at fishies.

Later we take a bus into Paphos (it’s a 30 minute walk along the coast but simply too hot in the midday heat) and find our way to the harbour. Just being by the gently lapping turquoise Mediterranean sea is immensely calming and we wander out onto the breakwater admiring the eclectic collection of boats (everything from the most basic local fishing boat to a fifty foot Sunseeker) and watch a sport fisher power out to sea with a fishing party on board.

A late lunch is a relaxed affair that takes up most of our afternoon. We’re sat on the quay outside one of the many bars and restaurants that border the harbourside, under the sun shades watching the world amble by as the sun sinks slowly behind us. It’s what we both came here for, warm sunshine, and total relaxation.

As the midday heat starts to fade we wander back along the coast path, sun setting spectacularly and turning the sea a blaze of gently rippled molten gold. We reach our hotel as darkness falls, yet it’s still shirtsleeves warm well into the night.

A late dinner looked after by smartly dressed and attentive staff and so to bed at the end of our first full day in paradise.