Monday, 14 August 2017

How long? (post by A)

Exactly three years, is the answer.

The question? How long ago did I leave London for  Bulgaria?

Three years have flown by and I can hardly begin to tell you what a great decision it was. There have been rough, smooth, funny, sad and all that comes in between; not to mention, damned hard work. However, if you asked me to do it again I would, in a heartbeat.

We have gone from this:

Old, Old School
To this, in under three years; what a transformation! This does not show any of the internal work and is merely the tip of the iceberg. What a journey.

New, Old School
The only internal photo I will put up today is the one of Christmas in the new living room, which is still a wonderful room and one which we really need to make more use of, now that our living space is growing - I guess that is the problem when you have so many rooms to choose from.

Cosy at Christmas
Life could not be better. This is obviously aided by my lovely Beard - what a great idea he had that day when he asked me to come and join him. I am sure there have been times when he wished he hadn't and I am sure there are times when he is very glad.  The important thing is that we make it through all of those times and it just gets better each day.  Look at us, how can it have been anything but a good move?

New Year's Eve

Enjoying some music

We are a little cold here

Going to the beach!
Amidst the work, the blood, the sweat and the tears we still manage to have a bit of fun, which is exactly what life should be about.  I think we have it nailed.  What a team.

Snow angels, in a vest

This warms my heart

Pepper lady

Enjoying the view

Ming, the climbing chicken
Three years. THREE. I cannot even tell you how much it only feels like yesterday. Packing in my job (one which I loved) and my flat (which I also loved) was a huge step, way back then and it was terrifying. I needn't have wasted any of those sleepless nights at all.  Here is to many, many more with my wonderful Beard and the little animal family.

I will leave you with the obligatory sunset picture; one which is beautiful on screen and breathtaking in real life.

Amazing




Sunday, 13 August 2017

Food, pools and wood

Hopefully this update will be a short one; we've had quite a busy day today and both of us are exhausted - I just took a power nap and A is still asleep as I start typing this. I'll break it up into sections as I sometimes do. I'm praying that the clouds that have rolled in today (though the promised for cooler weather with those clouds hasn't come) drop lots of rain so we don't have to water. There's been barely a dribble so far though.

While I was away

I have a number of pictures taken by A while I was away over last weekend which I did want to share; most of the photographs, to be fair, were of Thelma or Louise, or both Thelma and Louise however who can argue with that.

A's excellent idea to go for a kebab
A's excellent idea to go for a kebab
Puppies tired after their 4am start to get me to the bus
Puppies tired after their 4am start to get me to the bus
Thelma saying hello to me
Thelma saying hello to me
A about to stack lots of wood
A about to stack lots of wood
One of several batches of tomatoes to be processed
One of several batches of tomatoes to be processed
The Little Lady, Usmivka and their daughter and son in law
The Little Lady, Usmivka and their daughter and son in law


The first picture is of me on the day before I went as we went out for a kebab which I had forgotten about. I do love those kebabs there. And so the next day we were both up early and out to get me to my morning bus and while I travelled all day A worked and the puppies rested. They wanted to say hi to me so A sent me some pictures which was very lovely to received. On the Saturday A hit a really super productive streak and was out early stacking the wood which I had sorted for her before I left and then, this completed, she harvested a load of tomatoes and turned them into sauce for the freezer. Unfortunately something that she did that day really hurt her back and so she was in agony for days; it's actually only just got better following advice from one of her friends on some stretches to do. I was very firmly advising her to rest it so thankfully she listened and didn't hurt it worse. She did get invited over to the neighbours as the daughter, who has lived away in Europe for many years, is back over for a visit right now. I've yet to get over to meet them so hopefully that will be this week. Finally a video of Thelma being very vocal over her toy; she does love that tug toy, though it is now falling apart quite badly.

The heat, the drums

And so I got home and was happy to be home and it's been pretty awesome since. Home is definitely where the heart is.

Super happy to be home again
Super happy to be home again
A table full of awesome food, or it was a while before anyway
A table full of awesome food, or it was a while before anyway
Sunset, and not a cloud in sight
Sunset, and not a cloud in sight
Starting to clean the pool out
Starting to clean the pool out
Emptied and ready for washing
Emptied and ready for washing
The wash commences
The wash commences
Getting a swim in the puppies water bowl
Getting a swim in the puppies water bowl
On Wednesday (I having got home late-ish on Tuesday) we went out for our dinner to our favourite restaurant and for the first time for years we sat in the big main hall to eat. It was a lovely meal, I went for my old selection from when I was house-hunting all those years ago and A went for our current and enduring favourite of Lamb in the Oven. The puppies were very pleased with the meat we took back for them. I was sadly back to work immediately though my week was a tough one as I was tired from the travelling so I don't have much to show from during the week however the heat was up and the sunsets were stunning. A's back slowly got better through the week and on Thursday she was able to get into the pool to clean it as it had got quite minging. I helped to empty it after she had scrubbed the grit and bits off the floor then she got the hose and washed it all down. We set the hose to refilling it immediately but our water pressure was low so it took until Friday to fill. One little creature was not prepared to wait; when we went to bed on Thursday night I noticed a frog swimming in the dog bowl in our temporary bedroom!

Back in the pool and loving it
Back in the pool and loving it
What a gorgeous sunset once again
What a gorgeous sunset once again
Final wood is ready for putting away, of this batch at least
Final wood is ready for putting away, of this batch at least
Puppies watching us eating doughnuts
Puppies watching us eating doughnuts
When the pool was finally filled we did not wait around but jumped straight in; it was absolutely lovely, having filled slightly slower so the temperature was perfect even though it hadn't been sat in the sun long. We actually went in the pool three times on Friday and twice more on Saturday to make the absolute most of the heat before the forecast change today. There was another glorious sunset on Friday which I headed onto the roof terrace to photograph and I'm sure last night was the same but I missed it. After that sunset shot I was outside sorting the last of the wood for A to stack into the wood store; we have arranged for our next delivery to occur on Monday so the same again will be arriving. A had been shopping for us in the morning so when we settled down with our books and a cuppa in the evening we had a doughnut each, the puppies were most unimpressed that we ate while they had to watch.

BBQ Sauce arrived safely
BBQ Sauce arrived safely
The scenario I've been waiting to play
The scenario I've been waiting to play
My scenery looking the part
My scenery looking the part
The winner with her prize
The winner with her prize
Another table set up for battle
Another table set up for battle
This is Louise's way of lying when she's too hot
This is Louise's way of lying when she's too hot
Close combat between Elves and Corsairs
Close combat between Elves and Corsairs
Saturday was a really awesome day from start to finish. As already described we were in the pool a couple of times which was perfect but we also got a delivery from the UK of some awesome BBQ sauce from my friends at Islay Ales. After collecting this A and I played a scenario of SBG that I've wanted to have a go at for ages; it was a very quick game as she rolled as well as she could and I didn't have a chance but it was such fun to use my scenery finally. She won some Norwegian chocolate which I'm hoping she'll still share with me. After this I set up another board and we began a points match game which we played until we decided to pause. In the evening we ate burgers with the last of the original BBQ sauce, watched Face/Off (which is just as close to a "favourite film" as I have) and then finally ended the day sat on the balcony watching shooting stars and drinking tea. Wonderful. I do love this place; days like those are so valuable to me right now!

A day trip

We always say we need to get out into the surrounding area more than we do and so this morning we packed ourselves into the car, after our chores were completed, and took a really enjoyable drive through several areas that we have not explored before.

The tortoise sat in the middle of our gate
The tortoise sat in the middle of our gate
He was not pleased to be lifted out of the way
He was not pleased to be lifted out of the way
Some hunter had left a cache in the forest
Some hunter had left a cache in the forest
A beautiful peaceful valley we found
A beautiful peaceful valley we found
Heavy traffic on the roads we were driving along
Heavy traffic on the roads we were driving along
Another view down a valley towards distant mountains
Another view down a valley towards distant mountains
The castle we climbed up to with my parents a few weeks back
The castle we climbed up to with my parents a few weeks back
An artist at work
An artist at work
What a beautiful picture this is!
What a beautiful picture this is!
On the way out of our gate I stopped to move a huge tortoise that was in the way; what a beast! We were driving around for about four or five hours, including several stops for short strolls, and found some beautiful spots, some truly peaceful areas, and drove up a few very interesting logging tracks as we followed the satnav along our rough route planned in ten minutes before we left. It was a really lovely way to spend the morning, and the puppies enjoyed sniffing all the smells every time we got out of the car. We were up in the serious hunting areas and found a cache of some sort (I didn't move the tarpaulins just in case) at one of our stop points. The views in a lot of places were stunning. We live in a beautiful part of the world. We got back much later than expected as we'd been having so much fun while we were out and we were both absolutely exhausted. We had lunch, finished our game off (after terrible luck with the dice on Saturday A managed to cut through my models very quickly today but not quite quick enough and I managed to pull a win out of the bag at the end) and then it was time for a rest. I only power napped and got up to do this update and since I've been writing A has joined me in Room 13 and has done a lovely picture with pastels.

Still no rain....
Still no rain....
It still hasn't rained, though; we'll have to go do the watering anyway soon.

So there you are; another week gone. I'll be back again as soon as I can, but the next update will not be from me as tomorrow is a very important date!

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Ardacon 2017

This is an unusual update in that it is going to be 100% about my trip to Ardacon this weekend (if you are unsure what Ardacon may be then read on) and won't deal with my normal day to day at all other than the first paragraph. Normal service will resume in the next update.

Eating our Chicken and Rice on the balcony
Eating our Chicken and Rice on the balcony
A wonderful harvest of apples
A wonderful harvest of apples
Lots of sawdust for our humanure toilet
Lots of sawdust for our humanure toilet
Blackberries and Marrows from the garden being made into chutney
Blackberries and Marrows from the garden being made into chutney
The finished product
The finished product
Super steak for dinner
Super steak for dinner
Out harvesting more blackberries (and getting scratched to bits)
Out harvesting more blackberries (and getting scratched to bits)
Sunday dinner was the lovely Chicken and Rice dish (click the link to see the recipe) eaten on the balcony underneath the gazebo and was the last time we have been able to use said gazebo as the really gusty winds of the Monday took their toll and pushed it over once again. I still think it is salvageable but it was a bit of a kick in the teeth to see it damaged once more. Monday wasn't all bad as other than working I got to go out and harvest plenty of stuff including a bag full of apples from the blown-over tree which is producing more this year than any previous year. I also collected the marrows which have been left to develop on our courgette plants. Dinner was a really lovely steak that I ate while on a business call; they kept trying to talk to me when I had my mouth full! Tuesday I headed over to collect sawdust for our toilets from the carpenter and came back with Thomas full up, then in the afternoon I was able to make some Marrow and Blackberry chutney with blackberries harvest in the garden which meant that on Wednesday after I finished work I spent an hour or so out collecting more; it's not often that our dry country allows these to grow. I had a rather early night that night after these exertions as I was up early the next morning...

The first cuppa of the day; much needed as you can see
The first cuppa of the day; much needed as you can see
Looking slightly more human at 4.30am with my second brew
Looking slightly more human at 4.30am with my second brew
A magnificent sunrise as we sped through Bulgaria
A magnificent sunrise as we sped through Bulgaria
Made it to Ardacon 2017!
Made it to Ardacon 2017!
The dinner group sat at our table
The dinner group sat at our table
My outstanding steak; it was amazing
My outstanding steak; it was amazing
... and what an early morning it was. The alarm went off at 4am and I had time for two cups of tea before we had to get in the car to go to catch the 5am bus. The puppies came down with us to say goodbye and we weren't waiting long before I was settled and travelling. The sunrise on the way up to Sofia was stunning and I managed to get some pictures with my good camera (about the only use it got the entire time). As usual the journey was easy, I arrived in plenty of time and had a really pleasant flight over to Manchester. The head steward on the flight was a really nice guy and I was lucky enough to fly back with him after the weekend which was awesome. I got to the hotel (after struggling initially to find the entrance) and went up to my room which was a good size. After a short attempt at a doze, largely unsuccessful, and a quick shopping trip to get shower gel and things like that, I headed to the bar and met up with some old colleagues for a beer. I also joined up with some of my fellow gamers for the weekend and was welcomed with a HUGE hug by James, who is organising the whole thing. It was so awesome to be made to feel so welcome straight away by everyone. Dinner was an amazingly good steak at the restaurant below the hotel and we had a group of 12 who went together. It was a fitting way to start a superb weekend.

A classic Manchester start to the day
A classic Manchester start to the day
Another classic Manchester start to the day
Another classic Manchester start to the day
Looking across the room - how cool is that!
Looking across the room - how cool is that!
Steve setting up one of his tables; this is Goblin Town
Steve setting up one of his tables; this is Goblin Town
The Prancing Pony; I've admired this in videos for months
The Prancing Pony; I've admired this in videos for months
A model of "The Barrels out of Bond" scene
A model of "The Barrels out of Bond" scene
Rivendell, a stunning piece with so much detail
Rivendell, a stunning piece with so much detail
With James; the organiser of Ardacon
With James; the organiser of Ardacon
I woke to overcast skies and drizzle, typical of Manchester and making me happy I'd packed up my waterproof. One of the benefits that James had managed to organise for us was a free upgrade to include breakfast included in the room price and I took advantage of this every day; I'd need the fuel. I'd registered the night before so had my pass and swag bag however I was still first in line for when the room opened. (This will be of no surprise to anyone who knows me.) Walking into that room was amazing; it was full of gaming tables and they all looked amazing. Steve (from Top Table Wargaming), who was to be my doubles partner, is someone whose videos I have watched on YouTube for the past year and it was wicked to meet him and see his amazing creations in the flesh. Another very talented pair of individuals I was excited to meet was Middle Earth Models who had three of their amazing display pieces set out; this was inspirational stuff. I was also lucky enough to grab a selfie with James, who was obviously massively busy but still had time for a brief chat, before the first game kicked off.

About to start the first game of the weekend
About to start the first game of the weekend
Our doubles army, set out on my tray
Our doubles army, set out on my tray
Me with my doubles partner, Cool Steve
Me with my doubles partner, Cool Steve
Scott and Harry, who beat us in the first game
Scott and Harry, who beat us in the first game
The Two Robs - quality opponents
The Two Robs - quality opponents
Final game, Ben and Rachel (who had disappeared somewhere)
Final game, Ben and Rachel (who had disappeared somewhere)
A very quick dinner during the final game
A very quick dinner during the final game
The first game was a one off ice breaker called Chaos in Arda. For this four players get around a table and attempt to achieve objectives that are set out in a pack of cards. You hold three cards at any one time and can discard one a turn by default and play as many as you want, to win the points defined on the cards if you have achieved the conditions. It was a huge laugh and I came third, though my force ended up being the hardest to kill and I lost almost no models to wounds. For lunch I had a Spar sandwich and then it was time to begin the doubles. Steve had brought a new model that he had never played with before, the Iron Hills Chariot, while I was playing Dol Amroth Knights and we learned a lot about our respective forces over the three games of the afternoon. The first one, against the father and son team of Scott and Harry, we were beaten quite comprehensively but it was a game which set the tone for the whole weekend - laughter. Much laughter. Second up we were against the two Robs with their Azog's Legion and we also lost this game however if anything we laughed even more. The final match, during which I ate a burger which was brought to the table while Steve did my moves for me, we managed to win though it was a close run thing until finally for the first (and only) time in the day the Chariot did its thing. I'd made it to the end of Day One without making a fool of myself, and without stopping laughing. The day was rounded off by a presentation by Adam and Jay, who are the main players at Games Workshop for Hobbit: SBG, about the future of the game. I went to bed not too late and slept really quite well.

A beautiful sunrise for Saturday morning
A beautiful sunrise for Saturday morning
Up, dressed and raring to go
Up, dressed and raring to go
Setting the day off in the best possible way
Setting the day off in the best possible way
It's another queue and I'm at the front
It's another queue and I'm at the front
Me with my team mates
Me with my team mates
First game, and getting walloped!
First game, and getting walloped!


Saturday morning I was up before my alarm and got out for a quick stroll before breakfast as the sun was shining (this is the ONLY picture I took with my main camera all weekend in Manchester!) and the restaurant was not open until 8am. Breakfast was again superb and then I was queuing for some special release miniatures which Steve wanted; sadly the delivery hadn't arrived so they weren't actually there but I was at the front of that queue as well. It was the first of two days of Singles competition on the Saturday and for this I was an honourary Norwegian, as Andreas and the other wonderful members of Team Norway welcomed me to their clan. My first game of the day was against Adam, the head of the Middle Earth team at Games Workshop, and we were picked to go on the Live Stream going out on YouTube. This was a brilliant game, though I was comprehensibly beaten. It was also interrupted by a fire alarm that had the entire hotel evacuated. About 12 people stayed to watch the Live Stream even though we were outside. Dedication, that is. I warn you that video is just about 2 hours long but I wanted to link it in anyway.

Crispin with his awesome Great Beast
Crispin with his awesome Great Beast
About to get into it with Robbie - a cracking game from beginning to end
About to get into it with Robbie - a cracking game from beginning to end
Robbie's Iron Hills advance through Bree
Robbie's Iron Hills advance through Bree
Back playing Ben; this would be fun!
Back playing Ben; this would be fun!
Corsair of the match - Pedro
Corsair of the match - Pedro
The competition was worked out so the best players would trend to the top tables and I would drift rapidly down to the bottom tables and this was definitely for the best. That being said I played against very good players in every game and Game Two was no different where I met Crispin with his Mordor army, including an awesome looking Great Beast of Gorgoroth. The laughter of the first day carried through into the second and this was a really fun game which was closer than the final scores suggested; a few priorities went against me during the "cavalry-off" and that allowed Crispin to win 7-0. It was definitely a well deserved victory but such fun as well. I went off from that further down the tables and met up with Robbie Williams who had Iron Hills Dwarves. This was the first time I played on the awesome Bree board with the aforementioned Prancing Pony as its centrepiece and it gave us some awesome cinematic moments of game play. It also allowed me to kill Dain Ironfoot* with strength two shooting* combined with Arbalestors* in hand to hand combat which prompted me to jump around in circles cheering. Yes. Actually. The final game of the day, and by this point I was absolutely shattered, was against Ben (who I had met in the doubles with his partner Rachel) and we had what was probably the most fun game of the entire tournament. It was another close game which suddenly swung in my favour in the last two turns handing me my first ever victory in tournament play SBG. One of my models, named Pedro (I had named every model, and painted this name on their base, to improve the fun aspect) was my man of the match as he held out for many turns against massively overwhelming odds. Suffice to say it was a wonderful game and Ben was a wonderful opponent.

* this is VERY unlikely (I rolled a 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 5 to achieve this), please don't worry about the details - that is for my geeky friends :D

I'm far tireder than I look
I'm far tireder than I look
The funny and informative SBG presentation
The funny and informative SBG presentation
Cheers with another of the international community
Cheers with another of the international community
The excellent games were not the only cool thing about Saturday as my mate Matt and his Mrs came into town to see me, watch me play, and drool over the competition; he had wanted to be there as a player but other commitments prevented it. It was a lovely thing to see them and share a little of my excitement with them and hopefully next year he can make it to the full event as a player and not just a spectator. Anyway by the end of the final game I was a sweaty mess so I went up to the room to have a shower and change and this is where I proved to myself just how tired I was; I stood in the shower with my shower gel opening and closing it and getting quite annoyed that nothing was coming out, for a good minute or so, before realising that I had been moving the hook and not opening the bottle. Yeah. That. After the shower I went downstairs and watched a presentation by a couple of the guys who do a fanzine called SBG. This was really interesting to watch but I was too tired after to stay for the quiz. I had a quick Laphroaig with Devin from the states, went upstairs and went to bed. I was feeling a little hungry but obviously not that hungry as when I woke up the next morning the biscuits I had grabbed were still lying on the bed next to me.

Getting ready to kick Sunday off against David
Getting ready to kick Sunday off against David
Tim - he snotted my hand, he did!
Tim - he snotted my hand, he did!
Tim's amazing army - it's wonderful to play against such excellent models
Tim's amazing army - it's wonderful to play against such excellent models
And so it was Sunday and the last day of competition. Once more I opened the day with a substantial fried breakfast and then made my way to the competition hall to see if my opponent would arrive; I knew that a fair number of people had been drinking until late and there were a couple who didn't make it on time. Fortunately for me David turned up and he turned out to be a brilliant opponent who was very happy to help me out by advising on some of the more complicated rules and telling me when to make use of them, even though this made it less likely that he would win. This is the kind of community that it is good to be a part of. Of course he still beat me but it was a very fun game (are you seeing the pattern yet?) with some hilarious moments including my Corsairs outshooting his Elves and then two of his Elves dying trying to climb a cliff. Also my friend John had come over in time to watch all the games I was playing and that was great fun to share with him. so we got to the final game and this was one which rivalled my enjoyment playing Ben the day before. This game was against Tim who had Goblin Town and the Three Trolls (from The Hobbit) and it ended up being a nil-nil draw which doesn't really communicate the fun that we had. I killed all three of the Trolls and then in the last turn we had a "hero off" where if one of us had caused any wounds on the other player's model they would have won the game. It was fitting that it ended how it did, with the Golden King having been flung down and alley way but saving his wound with a good roll of the dice.

Having a beer with friends watching the game
Having a beer with friends watching the game
The final game of the weekend
The final game of the weekend
Wow. What a six games and I was pretty tired by this point and pleased that we wouldn't have any more to play, though the final championship game was yet to be played. They were displaying the game live on the Big Screen so I sat and watched it and recovered from my exhaustion with a few people I'd met over the weekend and then it was time for the presentations and raffle draw. I'd even entered my army in the painting competition but unfortunately didn't win. No matter, I ended up 108th out of 118 players which, with one win, one draw and four losses, was a lot higher than I expected. After the presentation I helped out packing up all of the scenery from the tables, most of which had been provided by Games Workshop (they have really supported this this year) and then it was time to hit the bar. A very enjoyable time was had by all (apart from the moment when I realised I couldn't find my wallet and after running around the hotel I found it on a table in the main room) which was topped off at the end by watching Jay and Damian playing a game on the original Dul Guldor Dungeon Maze board that I have built and A and I have played on.

Having breakfast for the final time at the hotel
Having breakfast for the final time at the hotel
Everyone proud of their shirts
Everyone proud of their shirts
James and Stig and LOTS of scenery
James and Stig and LOTS of scenery
It's a (slightly tall) Gimli!
It's a (slightly tall) Gimli!
A crowd of people having a final beer
A crowd of people having a final beer
Sat on the plane still sporting my t shirt
Sat on the plane still sporting my t shirt
Fluffy clouds as we fly over Europe
Fluffy clouds as we fly over Europe
I've been puppied!
I've been puppied!
We're getting towards the close of this update and I'm getting quite tired (having worked all day today before starting this). Monday morning dawned with clouds gathering and another excellent breakfast, shared with Dan and Evan, then a lovely relaxing morning drinking tea and waiting for James and Steve to arrive so we could help with the final teardown of the hall. They arrived and had a brew with us then we set to and the five or so of us who were there carried all the boards down in the service lift and helped pack them into the hire van. Then, hugs all around as James left with Evan while I headed back and had a beer with the final remaining people while I waited for John to arrive. It was late by then for lunch so we headed to a bar across the road to have a pint and some food and then I went to my hotel near Manchester Airport that I had booked that morning - booking that hotel was an excellent idea even if the food was terrible; when the alarm went off the next morning at 4am I had at least slept. My flight back was really easy, helped by the same Head Steward being there who was a laugh, however I was delayed badly at customs in Sofia by both me standing in the wrong place on the bus and then people with kids pushing in at the front of the queue. This meant that, despite my taxi driving actually leaving rubber on the road as he squealed and sped through Sofia, I missed my bus by one minute and had to wait for the next one. No matter, I got home and was greeted by A and the puppies with much enthusiasm. It was good to be home.

So there you have it; a long update and not really one about The Old School but I wanted to write it down and share it as it was a super experience. Thanks to everyone I met over the weekend who made me feel welcome and enabled me to have such a fun time. It was real. I hope I can repeat the experience, with A next time.