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.

Steps towards Spain

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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

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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.

Access for people with disabilities. What is ‘reasonable’?

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For the disabled, particularly anyone in a wheelchair, gaining access to buildings and all their facilities can still be more than a little difficult in the UK. The situation in other countries may be similar but, from what I have seen, Britain seems to be lagging behind other westernised countries.

True, we have the Equality Act 2010 that followed the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and this legislation is supposed to make discrimination against the disabled illegal. But the trouble is that the law contains the word ‘reasonable’ and that term is subjective – what is reasonable to me might be unreasonable to someone else. Just who determines what is reasonable?

So, as far as access to a building and its facilities such as toilets, the owner of any commercial business otherwise known as the ‘service provider’ is required by law ‘to take reasonable steps to remove, alter or provide a reasonable means of avoiding a physical feature which made it impossible or reasonably difficult for disabled people to use a service.’

Hm, one sentence with reasonable twice and reasonably once; room enough, in my view, for said ‘service providers’ to avoid doing anything.

Of course, most shops, restaurants, offices open to the public and so on do have level entrances or have alternative means of access, such as ramps or lifts but some still need improvement.

Over the last year, Lisa and I have eaten out at several restaurants in Colwyn Bay, the town in which we live. All the meals have been enjoyable but the facilities for customer with disabilities have been a bit hit and miss.

Pen-y-Bryn bar and restaurant is in its own grounds with a large car park but, disappointingly, has just one bay bearing the wheelchair symbol. Access to the building and the necessary facilities is trouble free.

Dolce Vita Italian restaurant has an on-street location with a level entrance. It has its main seating area and facilities upstairs but when I telephoned to make a booking and mentioned my wheelchair, I was guaranteed a table in the small ground floor dining area and was assured that I would be welcome to use their staff restroom on the same level. The owner also told me that he had plans to put in new customer facilities downstairs.

Vergilio’s Pizzeria and Portuguese Grill also has an on-street location and when I phoned to book I was told that my wheelchair would not be a problem. Well, true the staff were attentive and most willing to help me overcome the step into and out of the building as the entrance is not level. However, the bigger problem is that the restrooms are upstairs and so beyond the reach of people like me.

The Venue @ The Clockhouse Indian restaurant is another on-street location with a step to go in. Once again, the owner and manager together made short work of helping me both in and out of the building. Inside, everything is one level but facilities for the disabled do need improving. I discussed the issues with the owner and was pleased to hear that he already had plans to address both of them.

In the past year, my wife and I have also dined at more than 10 restaurants in Honolulu, New York City and Spain. All had level entrances or gentle ramps, the ones with dining rooms not on the ground floor had elevators. All washroom facilities were perfect. A lesson worth learning.

Back in Colwyn Bay, The Toad restaurant is in a prime location with sea views from its first floor restaurant. But there lies the problem, access is by external stone stairs while inside there is a staircase going down to the toilets on the ground floor. When I asked about facilities for customers with disabilities, I was told nothing could be done as it is a Grade 2 Listed building. That’s a building of special interest.

However, to say nothing can be done to such a property is not true. Any alteration would need listed building consent but even if such consent was denied a service provider would still need to take whatever other steps that are reasonable to provide the service.

And to underline that, Planning Policy Guidance Note (PPG 15) issued by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions makes it clear that “it is important in principle that disabled people should have dignified easy access to and within historic buildings” and that with a proper approach “it should normally be possible to plan suitable access for disabled people without compromising a building’s special interest”.

So, alterations should still be possible – even to listed buildings.

Access laws in America seem more strict than in the UK. Lisa told me about a Florida restaurant that had an upstairs bar and entertainment venue with no access for people with disabilities. The owners were told to make such access available or to close their business. No messing.

It’s summer? Really? Where is the sun?

cloudy sky

Do you get fed up with news reports claiming that this, or next, month is set to become the hottest July, or whatever, since records began? If so, you are just like me.

You see, it is not only the weather that irritates me with so-called summers having too much rain, overcast skies even when dry and biting winds. It is the seeming inability of the weather forecasters to get any prediction of sunny weather correct. They have no problem with rain; if that is forecast then it’s pretty definite it will rain. But say that we are set for sunny day, or even a collection of them, is doomed to failure.

Saturday news on the internet was quoting meteorologists as saying yesterday would see temperatures to rival Spain with them reaching 26 Celsius (79 Fahrenheit) in England, 24 (75) in Wales and 22 (72) in Scotland. Guess what, nope didn’t happen at least not here in Wales. Here it was only 19 Celsius (66 Fahrenheit) just after midday.

Looking out of the window, yesterday I saw a completely overcast sky with no blue showing at all. Also, although it soon died down, the wind was whistling around where we live.

So much for yesterday being the start of a heatwave.

And, for all the media hype about hottest months in the UK, there has not been one in 2015 so far. In fact, the hottest June, August, September and October since records began all happened in 2014.

This, in comparison, July got off to a great start with the hottest July day ever on the 1st but that was it. In fact, July was so cold on some days that we turned our heating on and, from talking to people, I know that they did the same thing. Needing heating in July is plainly ridiculous.

August is supposed to have a heatwave and with three weeks left that is still possible. But realistically it really is only possible, not probable at all. I would not put money on it and I am most certainly not going to be holding my breath in anticipation.

It may be memories that have improved with time but I can remember sunny summers in my childhood. Not every day, of course, but days and days when I could enjoy being out in the garden enjoying the sunshine. And I can clearly recall my mother and then teenage sister sunbathing on our lawn much more frequently in the early 1960s than would be possible now.

As for yesterday equalling the temperatures in Spain, what a laugh. Even if they had reached the predicted levels, they would not have been anywhere close to those in Spain. Checking yesterday’s weather where we will be moving to in November, I found it to be 31 Celsius (87 Fahrenheit), a bit different from the UK.

It just makes our plans all the more attractive and confirms that we are most definitely doing the right thing. All that lovely sunshine and natural vitamin D too. Lisa and I really cannot wait to be there.

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.

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!

Charity event in August, seaside resort in UK = clouds and rain

Just got back home from taking part in our last sponsored fundraising event before we move to Spain. Not the last event, just the last sponsored one.

This morning MS Synergy held its ‘wheel and walk’ on Llandudno promenade and the good news is that there was a pretty good turnout of walkers as well as those of us unable to walk very far and being pushed in wheelchairs. The number taking part this year was more than four times greater than last year.

Apart from raising money through sponsorship, we also took the opportunity to accept donations from people we met on the prom. I will let you know how much we raised as soon as I know.

Talking of a walk on the prom in a seaside resort town in August, it would be reasonable for you to think that we would have been blessed with sunshine and blue skies – but, sadly, this was not the case.

As is usual in the UK, the morning was heavily overcast but at least it was not windy. However, it did start to rain just as we were finishing.

The British weather was, in fact, the major factor in Lisa’s and my decision to move to Spain.

We are so fed up with rain, rain and more rain with only a rare appearance of any sunshine that we are moving to a place that has sunshine for at least 300 days a year. As for rain, where we are going, December is one of the wettest months of the year when rainfall averages just over 35 mm. And that works out at just over one mm a day. Colwyn Bay, on the other hand, has nearly 131mm in December while even its driest month, June, has almost 53mm. (All figures taken from World Weather Online statistics publicly available on the internet).

I think that the differences speak for themselves.

Although we are heading for the sun, rest assured that we are not doing so without regard to our health. We are both conscious of the damage UV can do to our skin and are fully prepared to take every precaution. Lisa, whose blood is half Sicilian, has a Mediterranean skin and she is used to the sun as, before coming to the UK, she had lived in Florida for 18 years.

By contrast, I am fair-skinned and burn more easily than I tan so sunblock will need to play a major part in my life. That goes for insect repellent as well because I was bitten a few times when Lisa and I visited the area in May but then I was not wearing any repellent.

You live and learn.

12 weeks until we leave, the countdown has begun

Our flat (or apartment) is well into its “We’re moving” feel. Many drawers are already empty, wardrobes are no longer bulging at the seams but hold only the clothes we will be wearing now and during our cruise across the Atlantic and our holiday in the USA. It most definitely is wonderfully exciting and the beginning of an exhilarating adventure.

Almost everything going direct to Spain is already packed. It certainly needs to be as, for various reasons, our limited number of crates etc are being picked up from North Wales during the middle of this month and are being delivered to our new home in September – a full two months before we will be arriving.

Where we live now has an integral garage that we have used to store any items that left no room for a car but that is already changing. All the large items have been sold off, most through North Wales Auctions, and a few via Ebay. So far sales have brought in more than £900 with more due to come. Apart from an old Indian sword being offered in an antique sale, when we leave in October the flat will be cleared by the auction house and the furniture will be sold in its next general sale.

Lisa is already saying “There is so much to do” but, really, what needs to be done is all well in hand and a vast amount has been accomplished.

De-cluttering is very much a word of the times and it is very good to do from time to time. We did ‘de-clutter’ before we moved to our current home back in 2012 but there is a vast difference this time.  Three years ago, we hired a van and got friends to help us to move two miles to somewhere with a garage to hold all those things y0u really should get rid of but don’t. This time we are moving not just two miles but more than 1,600, we need to pay for whatever we want to take with us to be delivered – and limitations about how much we can take with us certainly focuses the mind on the need to de-clutter.

Fortunately, furniture itself is less of an issue. We are taking no furniture with us as we have bought our new home more or less fully furnished. Of course, there are a few items we do need to buy and others we want to buy but there are many more that we neither need nor want as we are happy with what is already there.

Lisa and I are both finding it hard to wait until our October holiday and our November move to Spain.