Support – a question of sport

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Nationality and patriotism are areas that can both stir up strong emotional feelings that are mostly for the good but sometimes not.

Of course, the most extreme forms of both are found in times of war or conflict between nations but, on a lesser scale, it flows across into the realms of sport.

When I moved from London to North Wales in 1992, despite being English by birth and parentage, I became loyal to my adopted country and its rugby union and football (soccer) teams – even when playing against England.

I learned to sing Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (the country’s anthem) in Welsh as well as to spell and say the name of its longest village: It is Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (and, yes, I did type all 58 letters without looking it up and without any correction being needed). Additionally, the only two rugby shirts that I have owned have been the red of Wales and the black of the Ospreys team based in South Wales. Although never having a Welsh football shirt, I still followed the progress and fortunes of the team.

So, what does that all mean for my impending move to Spain?

Switching allegiances from one British team to another was no big deal but supporting Spanish teams would entail a much greater transfer. But isn’t that what I will be doing by living there? In a way, yes it is but, conversely, I shall be remaining a UK citizen and I will continue to vote in parliamentary elections in the constituency I which I now live. So, loyalties will be divided.

Spain is not a major rugby-playing nation, so in that sport I shall continue to support Wales. Football is another matter, though. The Spanish seem to treat ‘futbol’ as a way of life, they are fervent. And the national team is good too, having won the World Cup in 2010 and the Euro Championship in both 2008 and 2012. I don’t think Wales will rival that team or play against it very much. It seems likely that I’ll be able to support both.

At club level, Fulham has remained my UK football team since moving to Wales but now I’ll need a Spanish one as well. On purely geographic grounds, that looks set to be Almeria that plays in the La Liga second tier in which it currently lies 16th of the 22 clubs. So it looks like I will have to get used to supporting a team that plays in a red and white striped shirt.

Baseball is another sport that interests me and, as theirs is the only stadium I have visited, Toronto Blue Jays is the team for me. On the other hand, Lisa being American says that my support should be for a USA team not one in Canada. Fair enough, I suppose, but I’d have to see them play first!

As far as my last major team sport is concerned, there is no need to change anything. This is because cricket is not a feature of many nations and so I can rest easy supporting the England team that represents the England and Wales Cricket Board.

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Steps towards Spain

Work 1 

Bathroom fitments removed and stored in bedroom while wet-room is fitted.

Preparations for our great move to Spain continue apace with Tuesday witnessing another step, actually two steps, along the journey. Then, one more step was taken this morning.

First step: Pictures have arrived showing the work in progress to turn the dream home we found into one that is absolutely perfect and one in which I can live comfortably with my disability. Although I don’t need it now, Lisa and I made the important decision to buy a home in which, if needed in the future, I could use a wheelchair indoors.

In truth, if it ever happens, that should be several years away but as we are making a big move, really a lifestyle change, we decided to be ready for whatever Multiple Sclerosis may hold for me in the future. We don’t want to be forced to move again.

One of the key improvements being made as part of the package of conversion works is the provision of a wet-room. The bathroom fitments have been stripped out already and a full wet-room is about to be installed complete with a fully accessible level entry walk-in shower that will also be suitable for a special roll-in shower chair,

Step two we made without actually needing to do anything more ourselves as we had already done our part. It came in the form of an email from Paul, the driver/courier from Anyvan. He let us know that our possessions have arrived safely in Spain and have been delivered into our new home. Nothing more can be done with those until we get there in November.

I have to say that Lisa and I are both so impressed with Anyvan’s method of operation in which any of its couriers who want a particular job bid against each other to win the business. That way the client can get the best possible price. What’s more, the professionalism, courtesy and willingness to be as accommodating as possible – as clearly demonstrated by Paul – show all of the company’s associated drivers in the best possible light. They really do seem to know everything about giving top-rate service and superb customer relations. We would have no hesitation in using their services again and would highly recommend them to others.

Step three took the form of a visit to the vets this morning. Having given both Pooka and Prissy a health check-up, the vet scanned the microchips they had implanted before their trip here from Florida in March 2012 and gave them both their rabies vaccinations.

Tomorrow, we have to go back to the vets – just us, not the cats – to pick up their ‘pet passports’ that will allow both of them to enter Spain without going into quarantine.

Just one more thing to do today, this time because of our holiday before we leave for Spain, and that is to telephone the cattery to book the cats in for their stay while we are in the USA.

If you wonder why we have a holiday just before moving abroad, the holiday was booked before we decided to move; then the money came through from my former matrimonial home. It is all a bit of an almost runaway train but one of our own choosing and in which we are enjoying the ride.

Schoolboy French proves useful – in Spain

school

Cray Valley Technical High School where I was a pupil from 1964 to 1970.

It was back at the end of April and beginning of May that my wife Lisa and I flew to southern Spain to look at properties that we might choose to buy and make our home.

In fact, it was only the second that we saw that, as soon as we went inside, we both agreed ‘this is for us’. I have often heard people say that while house hunting they knew instantly when a property was right for them. I had always dismissed such stories as nonsense – until it happened to the pair of us.

Having found our dream home so quickly, and much faster than we thought was possible, we suddenly found ourselves with much more time on our hands than we expected. Time that was not to be wasted but enjoyed. Nine days of glorious sunshine. Beautiful.

There was one little difficulty, the language. Lisa learned some Spanish at school but, not having used it since, has forgotten most of it. And my knowledge didn’t exist. I have no memory of Spanish being offered as a subject in my school. I spent five years learning French to no real level of success.

But one evening what I could recall of my schoolboy French proved invaluable.

We were sitting in a lovely restaurant with the Mediterranean Sea just a few yards away – and I do mean a few, no more than 15 yards I’d say. On arrival we had been greeted by a young man and shown to our table. I could already say ‘hello’, ‘two’ and ‘thank you’ in Spanish but that was about the extent of my vocabulary at the time.

Well, once we looked through the menu and made our choices, the same young man returned to take our order. Mine was easy, I just pointed to the dish on the menu. Lisa, however, wanted to know how the vegetables, provided as part of her meal, were cooked. She hoped they would be fried.

I tried to ask but the young waiter spoke as little English as I then spoke Spanish. In other words, the communication between us was not very good. Actually, that is an understatement, our level of mutual understanding was non-existent.

At that point, either as a brilliant idea or out of pure desperation and I think it was the latter, he said “Parlez vous Français?” Really, I should have said ‘Non’ but I didn’t and my lessons of 1964 to 1969 came back in bits and pieces.

I replied, in faltering French, that I could speak and understand a little – but slowly. He understood, we had established a level of communication. I managed to ask in as much French as I could muster, the question that Lisa needed to be answered. I recall using the words ‘legumes’ and ‘frite’ but the rest is a blur. The first bit of good news was that he understood and the second was, having checked with the chef, he returned to say that they were indeed fried.

So, being reassured on that point, Lisa ordered the dish she had chosen and we both proceeded to thoroughly enjoy a great meal.

As that was the only way the waiter and I could understand each other, the French language needed to be used several times before the meal was over and, as we made our way back to the car, I thought of the effort my French teacher had put in, 50 or so years ago.

Thanks, Mr Reader, I may have failed the Spoken French part of the GCE (year 10) examination but your work was not wasted after all.

Goods and chattels start journey to new life

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One American, Lisa, and one Brit, Ian, will soon be enjoying their married life in the sun of southern Spain.

Another major step along the road of our move to Spain was taken yesterday. At lunchtime, right on time as promised, Paul arrived to collect what we want to have in our new home. We had found him through the Anyvan business so, although we had not met previously, we knew he would be reliable and provide a quality and professional service.

Paul makes fairly frequent trips to Europe, particularly to France and Spain to transport various people’s possessions to and from the continental mainland. Our goods make up just part of a van that will be fully loaded when he sets off on his journey.

He had driven all the way to North Wales from east London and was going back via Manchester to make a second pick-up that he only got confirmation about last night. We enjoyed a chat with him and agreed we would all meet up next summer as he and his wife have a holiday apartment in a town only a few miles away from our new Spanish home.

Anyway, he made short work of loading into his van our three packing cases, one large suitcase, one overnight bag, one briefcase, a dismantled table plus a bundle of walking sticks and shepherds crooks. Then Lisa paid him the balance of his fee and we waved him goodbye. When we arrive in Spain in mid-November, our possessions will be waiting for us.

Our garage is looking a lot clearer these days. So far it has been emptied of furniture and other items that have been sent to auction, books and clothing that has been recycled, general rubbish and today’s despatch of our property to Spain.

There’s still some items to go to another auction but they will be going with the furniture in our flat when we leave in October.

It is such a culture shock to see our garage so empty. It really is getting to the stage where I can get our car inside – and that would be for the first time since we moved in more than three years ago. Actually, this Thursday I will introduce the car to the garage. That is the day our gardener comes to cut the front lawn and, without the car to cause an obstruction, he will be able to get at the weeds that grow in the middle of our driveway. I had told Lisa that I would park the car out in the road but now I don’t need to do that.

Sending our goods and chattels on their way was a significant step for us. We actually leave our Colwyn Bay flat for the last time in eight weeks, eight weeks today. Time is marching on and our excitement is continuing to build.

It is not only the garage that is beginning to take on an empty look, so is the flat itself. The wardrobes are down to just a few items as most clothing is now either on its way to Spain or is already packed in suitcases for our holiday in America. The drawers in the bedroom are completely empty, the sideboard in the living room, like the kitchen cupboards, now only contain the basics. The hall cupboard is similarly also almost clear.

Lisa is closely monitoring food use and buying only enough to get us through until we leave. Our ideal would be to run out at that point but we know that it will not work out like that.

Outsiders may rock political boats on both sides of the Atlantic

DJT_Headshot_V2_400x400HC labour

Top: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Bottom: Jeremy Corbyn, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall.

Politics might not be everyone’s favourite subject but there is just so much going on at the moment, I cannot ignore it.

In the USA, the race to become the presidential candidate for each of the two parties has a clear front runner at this early stage. Republican Donald Trump, who started as an outsider, and Democrat Hillary Clinton are the favourites at this point but what happens if, and it is a big if, they do become the two candidates for what is the world’s most powerful role?

Clinton is an ex-First Lady, an ex-senator and an ex-Secretary of State. So, on the plus side, she has political and diplomatic experience. On the negative side, there are still questions about the details of any involvement she may have had in the Whitewater controversy of a few years ago and, more recently, her use of her private email server to handle sensitive, and even top secret, information during her time as Secretary of State.

For the  other side, Donal Trump is a businessman and TV personality and has no political experience but maybe that’s a major plus as the voters generally don’t like or trust the Washington DC political elite. He admits he is not politically correct and, again, the voters seem to love it. Trump may run out of steam but not out of money. One thing for sure is that he has enlivened the race for the White House.

I just had to ask Lisa about her views. She is American and says she does not like either candidate but that if she had to choose, she would vote against Clinton. Not really for Trump, just against Clinton.

Moving across the pond to Britain, we find that the Labour Party is embroiled in a campaign to elect a new leader. There are four candidates but one has injected the otherwise dour contest with a sense of interest and purpose, not to say controversy. And that is because left-winger Jeremy Corbyn started as a rank outsider but has risen to be the front runner and that is causing many in the party hierarchy to have major meltdowns, saying his victory would make the party unelectable. We’ll have to wait to see how that develops.

The other candidates are Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall.

Turning now to what will be our new home country in November, there is some good news for British expats living in Spain. The UK government’s Votes for Life Bill, as announced in the Queen’s Speech, is to remove the current limit of 15 years for voting in UK general elections. This is due to come into effect before the next general election but not before the European referendum which is a cause of disappointment for long-term expats.

Speaking as a person who is taking advantage of the current European freedom of movement rules to set up home in Spain, I am sure that you will understand that my vote will be a ‘Yes’, in favour of the UK staying an integral part of Europe.

 

 

¿Puedes hablar español? Not yet but I am learning

abc_frontpageA 2009 front page of ABC newspaper in Spain

Preparing for our move to Spain is much more than packing the belongings we want to take with us, it is also about getting ourselves ready to live there.

In fact, there is such a long list of things that need to be done before we leave that I have created a spreadsheet. Using this, we can keep track of what needs to be done with a planned date for it to be actioned and when each item was actually completed. Organised or what?

One entry that is not there, however, is one that we have already started, will continue right up to the day we leave and carry on even after we arrive at our new home.

I am talking about learning to understand and speak everyday conversational Spanish.

If we had chosen to move to a tourist area, we would have probably been able to get by in English alone but we wanted a different lifestyle, we wanted to live in an area in which, when we go to the nearest village, we would need to speak Spanish.

Now, anyone who knows me well would be aware that, other than English, my language skills are pretty limited. Learning languages is not something I ever found to be easy.

I studied French for five years at school only to have it give me up as a lost cause when I failed the spoken French exam, age 16. I think that the main problem was that I could not learn to think in French so I had to translate the question into English in my head, think of the answer and, hopefully, translate that answer into French. All that took too long, it was hopeless.

It was a similar tale with learning Welsh. Although I understood some of what I heard, I only ever learned to say a few words. Interestingly, though, one day when I was working as a journalist for the Caernarfon Herald two of my colleagues were talking to each other in the newsroom. I heard Eryl ask Neville a question to which he did not know the answer. I did, so I happily told them what it was.

There was silence. I had looked back at what I was doing but quickly looked up again to see two surprised faces. I didn’t know why until one of them said that they had been speaking in Welsh. I had understood the gist of their conversation without even considering the language and had then given the answer they needed but I had spoken in English.

Learning Spanish has, so far, proved easier than either French or Welsh but there is much still to learn and we will have to wait and see how it works in practice. One big advantage when learning Spanish is that its grammar, its sentence construction is very similar to English.

The development of my Spanish language skills may be at a very early stage but I am already feeling encouraged by my progress so far.

  • The Spanish in the heading reads ‘Can you speak Spanish?’

 

 

 

 

MS is the driving force behind our move to Spain

There were a number of factors which lead Lisa and I to want to move, then to decide roughly where to go and finally to choose what we consider to be our perfect home but, without a doubt, multiple sclerosis was – and is – the main incentive.

Let me explain. Taking things in order, we realised that our present rented flat is not suitable to convert to being totally wheelchair friendly if my MS deteriorates enough for me to reach that stage. Currently, I do not use a wheelchair at home, only when I am out and about. But we had to think of what the future could hold, so we needed a place that either was already suitable or could be easily converted if the need does arise.

Secondly, we knew that my former marital home was for sale and a deal would be likely to be finalised by the summer and then I would have just six months to spend it on a new home without my benefits being affected.

So, having decided to move, we then started to look. We scoured websites like Rightmove that are popular ways for estate agents to advertise properties they have for sale but nothing seemed to match our needs.

We were getting fed up with the weather and we both wished for more sunshine. Also, we had noticed that my MS symptoms seemed to get worse as temperatures changed; more consistent weather was called for. Then, one day we were talking about our holiday two years ago when, on my November birthday, we had been sitting outside a Barcelona bar sipping Sangria in the sunshine. And that was when I suggested to Lisa that we should move to the south of Spain.

She was unsure at first as she didn’t want me to later regret leaving the nation of my birth. No such trouble for her though, as Lisa left the USA more than three years ago. Also, for the 18 years before she moved to Wales she lived in Florida so had become used to hotter temperatures. Anyway, once she was reassured about my feelings, she was as enthusiastic as I had become.

Picking an area of Spain was a little more difficult as we did not want to be far from the sea but wanted to live close to Spanish people and did not want to be surrounded by tourists. We settled on Almeria province but not the city itself, the home we found is within easy reach of a little village but only a 15 minute drive from the Mediterranean.

After looking at details of many Spanish properties online, we knew we had to take a trip out there, which we did at the end of April. It was so worth it. We knew as soon as we entered the second property that it was for us. It felt like our home and while I was sitting talking to the owner, Lisa was already working out in her mind what could go where.

Our living room in Spain looking from the back door through the wide arch into the kitchen diner. Beyond the display cabinets on the left is another wide entrance way into the hall that gives access to the wetroom and two bedrooms

Some work needed to be done before we move in but this is already in hand. We agreed the details and accepted a quote and the seller, who lives nearby, agreed to oversee the work for us. When I received my share of the money from my previous matrimonial home, we completed the purchase of our dream home that will be wheelchair accessible right from the start. Actually, we received the money into our bank account on a Friday and we completed the purchase on the Monday.

The work includes stripping out the old bathroom and installation of a wet room complete with a large shower area with a fold-down seat, fitting a new wider back door and fly screen leading from the living room out onto the decking, a ramp from the back garden up to the decking and a levelled and resurfaced walkway from the drive to the back garden. There is other work being done as well but these are the main items to make life easier for me.

It really is ideal and living in the warmth with plenty of natural vitamin D will be perfect.

As an added bonus, we even have a second bedroom so friends and relatives can stay.

Driving will be all right on the night

two way traffic sign

Driving on the right hand side of the road, or the ‘wrong side’ to Brits, is something that I knew would take a little getting used to – having driven on the left for almost 45 years.

Lisa, being American says they drive on the right so we, on the left, are the ones on the wrong side. My counter to that is that Americans drive on the right but Brits drive on the correct side of the road.

I had driven on the right before, some years ago now, when visiting friends in northern France. But then I was driving my own right hand drive car. So, it was with some sense of trepidation that, having hauled myself upright from my wheelchair, I eased myself behind the wheel of a left hand drive car for the very first time.

This was towards the end of April this year, when Lisa and I spent nine days enjoying beautiful weather as we looked for our new home.

Our plane landed just as the sun was setting but by the time we had got through passport controls and customs, and then completed formalities at the car hire desk, it was dark before we were actually able to leave the airport.

So, picture the scene if you will. I am driving a car that is not one with which I am familiar, the driver’s seat is on the left so the controls are on my right instead of the more familiar left but luckily it is an automatic so no need to change gear. I am driving on totally unknown roads, following a list of directions received via email, at night. And I have 160 miles to go.

I felt like an explorer; I certainly needed a sense of adventure to deal with all that.

So, we set off without any incidents and we are making steady progress, if a little slow. It is about 30 minutes into our journey, while driving down an autovia (motorway to us Brits) that it happens.

It? What ‘it’? Did you have an accident? I can almost hear you asking.

No, nothing like that. The ‘it’ in question is that our car is overtaken. Nothing wrong in that, in itself, as I am driving cautiously…….but in this case I am overtaken by a truck! I have a nagging feeling that I need to speed up a bit.

Well, by this time I am feeling more confident and so we do begin to travel faster – although I do keep to all the speed limits, which is pretty unusual for me.

The only problem I am having by this stage is to keep the car in the middle of the lane. You see, I keep positioning it as though I am driving a right hand drive car, so we are going too close the edge of the road. In fact, I touch the rumble strip about a dozen times along our 160 mile journey.

Eventually, at about 1.15 in the morning, we reach our destination. Tired but safe.

My confidence grew over the nine days we spent in Spain and I felt quite relaxed driving on the right, quite comfortable in a left hand drive car.

So, having found the home of our dreams – actually only the second property we looked at – we returned to the UK. We collected our car from Manchester Airport and headed back to Wales. I remember saying that it felt strange to be driving on the left again. Oddly, it felt wrong.

The next morning, we collected our two cats from the cattery. I turned right out of the gate onto the wide country lane and had gone about 20 or 30 yards before Lisa asked “Shouldn’t we be on the left hand side of the road?”

I quickly corrected our position, luckily there was no other traffic about.

It’s official – Cloudy skies are bad for our health

Just had to allow myself a little smile of satisfaction when scientists agreed that Lisa and I were correct in making our decision to move to sunny Spain from cloudy, rainy Britain.

Well, of course, that is not what the actual report said – as no boffin is really going to analyse our decision-making abilities – but what it did say was the main reason behind our forthcoming move to a warmer climate.

The news was revealed in The Guardian, a UK national newspaper, in a report headlined Britain not sunny enough for healthy vitamin D levels, say experts.

According to scientists who jointly advise the UK government, people in Britain suffer from a vitamin D deficiency because of a lack of bright sunshine. They say that British weather prevents much of the population from receiving healthy amounts of the essential vitamin from sunlight, and that natural food sources alone are not enough to boost levels.

Their answer to the problem does not urge following us in a mass emigration but does suggest that people generally should increase their vitamin D intake with supplements.

The advice is contained in draft recommendations from the scientific advisory committee on nutrition (SACN). Although I, for one, had never heard of this worthy group before, apparently it is an independent advisory body to the government and their view could lead to new guidance being issued on the subject.

Even more interesting for me is that the committee made its recommendation after studying the links between vitamin D levels and multiple sclerosis along with a range of other health problems including musculoskeletal health, heart disease, type 1 diabetes and cancer.

Living with MS, I have known for some time of the link between the illness and vitamin D deficiency and had been advised to take daily supplements by my MS Specialist Nurse. The potential health benefit to me of more sunshine, so more vitamin D, was a key factor in our decision to move.

Speaking to another newspaper, the Independent on Sunday, vitamin D specialist Dr Adrian Martineau said the new advice marked a “sea change” in thinking.

He said “Before this, the general assumption was that adults were able to make all the vitamin D they needed from sunshine, and didn’t need to have any dietary or supplementary intake. The action of sunlight on the skin in the UK is highly variable for different populations depending on the time of year and the latitude – you’ll get more UVB in Brighton (south of England) than in John o’Groats (north of Scotland) – and finally, how much skin is exposed and the colour of skin.

“SACN was right to say that we can’t rely on sunshine in the UK to meet the vitamin D requirements. That’s a major and important change. It’s a big step forward that this is now officially recognised.”

Need I say more?

Handling currencies the direct way is so simple

Ups and downs of fluctuating currencies and their ever changing rates of exchange were not anything that I have ever been unduly concerned about. Unless I was travelling abroad, the relative values of the currencies never bothered me.

That all changed in the time leading up to the purchase of our home in Spain – for which we needed to transfer a significant amount of sterling (GBP) into Euros. So, every day, both Lisa’s and my eyes could be found looking at the pound:euro exchange rate.

Throw in the volatility of the money markets owing to the Greek debt crisis plus the Bank of England’s governor indication an interest rate rise is likely by the year end, and we quickly found ourselves with a greater understanding of financial matters.

Note that I refrain from using the term expert for two reasons, the first being that a greater understanding is clearly not an indication of any real command of the subject. The second reason that I never claim to be an expert in anything is because of a training course I completed some years ago. In that we were told that an ‘ex’ is a has-been and that a ‘spurt’ is a drip under pressure. I have never forgotten that.

Anyway, it was obvious that we needed to find the best possible way to transfer our pounds sterling currency into euros – gaining a good rate and incurring the lowest charges possible.

So where do you begin? Well, we started by looking to our bank but their rate of exchange seemed less than favourable plus they charged a fee on top of that. Other places seemed similar, until we discovered companies that exist to buy and sell currencies.

There are quite a few but we chose to go with Currencies Direct (just to be clear, I am NOT being paid to mention or endorse them, this is just our experience). They offered a rate only just below the quoted exchange rate and charged zero fee. It all seemed great, so we opened an account and waited for the money to arrive from my UK property sale. I could organise a transaction via the website but that had an upper limit lower than the amount that we needed so, once the cash had arrived in our UK bank, I telephoned Currencies Direct’s trading desk.

Quoting my account number and answering the security questions, I gave details of the transaction I needed to make. It was so simple. The exchange rate was locked in, guaranteed, and the deal was done. I just had to transfer funds from our UK bank to Currencies Direct. They did the rest, even making a payment of some of the cash, now in Euros, to a third party. Our new home was bought.

Of course, it won’t end there.

Once we move to Spain, my company pension and disability benefits will continue to be paid into our UK bank, so we will regularly need a transfer money out to our Spanish bank account but in much smaller quantities than the initial transaction.

Oh, the world of international high finance!