Tag Archives: Real Life

Underground, Overground

About 13 years ago I got a job as a team leader for a team of techies at a university.

About one year into this one of the guys was troubleshooting a problem with a user’s calendar and asked me to help out, by giving me full access to his own calendar in Microsoft Outlook.

A week or two later I realised he had forgotten to remove my privileges, and had gone on holiday. I immediately created a recurring event on the second Monday of every second month which simply said:

“Remember you’re a Womble.”

I then removed my access but also sent out an invite from my own account to the rest of my technicians for the same date every two months, to tell him that he is a Womble – all of them accepted without questioning what on Earth planet I was on (I loved that team).

Because of the way Outlook works, after I removed my privileges, he wasn’t able to delete the reminder. Oops!

It is now about twelve years later, he left my team about six months after this incident and we kind of lost touch a bit (you know, work, etc.) even though we were still in the same department. Since then I have moved jobs, and emigrated to Australia.

When I checked my phone after getting on the train to work this morning the self-same techie had tagged me in a post on Facebook. I wondered what it could be. The post had four words in it. Can you guess what they were?

It turns out he still gets bi-monthly reminders that he is a Womble. I suspect he will do until he leaves the university, although it is one of those kind of places where you can have a job for life!

I’m hoping he stays for many years yet, moving up the echelons, eventually reaching some kind of senior management role…and keeps getting reminded that he is, indeed, a small, litter-collecting, sentient mammal who lives on Wimbledon Common!!!


Read ‘Em And Weep

Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook, follows me on Twitter or, unlikely as it seems, occasionally looks at my Google+ account, will know that for the past two years or so I have been undertaking a reading marathon of Pratchett proportions.

I started with The Colour of Magic and continued with all 41 Discworld novels, as well as the maps, cookbooks, tourist guides, kids books and short story collections. After this I started on the non-Discworld books – Strata, The Dark Side of the Sun, the Bromeliad trilogy, the Johnny Maxwell books, etc.

The reason for this single-minded readathon are numerous, I tend to reread my Pratchett collection every few years anyway, but after his untimely death in 2015 I couldn’t bring myself to pick up a book by any other author.

I assumed this feeling would pass but several months later I was still in the same mood, a year later I felt the same, two years later and I was still in my reading rut.

Seemingly unrelated, about two months ago we got notice that our landlord wanted their house back, which was a bit inconvenient because we were just in the middle of trying to find somewhere of our own to buy. Scroll on to about a week ago and the house is full of boxes as we get ready to move to a new rental. I was packing up my Pratchett collection (shudder) and amongst them I found my Kindle, untouched since I picked up The Colour of Magic.

I wasn’t sure what to do with it so I left it on top of my drawers in our bedroom. Then, last Sunday night I was getting my stuff ready for work the next day and thought “why the hell not” and slipped the e-reader into my bag.

When I arrived at the train station on Monday morning I got it out and started reading (American Gods by Neil Gaiman, if you must know!), and have been doing so on every journey to work and back since. It seems my reading mojo has returned and, with it, my brain has also fallen off a deep precepice into the icy waters of “I Have To Write” again.

Ideas are sloshing around inside my head like a particularly spectacular Formula One pile up and my fingers are itching to type. But what to do first?

I’ve been working on a few things, slowly, for the past few months, a Discworld fan-fiction piece about Rincewind; a comedy fantasy novel about a vampire; a biography about my life as a type one diabetic; a kids book I’ve been working on for a couple of years now.

All these conflicting stories are arguing for precedence, so what I’m going to do is…go to sleep! Life is complicated enough at the moment without worrying about what and when to write, so I just need to put digits to keyboard whenever I get the chance.

Wish me luck!


Politics

I’m not generally one to weigh in on political matters but I thought that today’s vote for independence, or otherwise, was too important not to talk about. I wrote this on my Facebook page so all my friends could see it, although to be fair I think I know how most of them are voting already, that’s what makes them friends!

 


 

Good morning Britain from Australia,

Before you head out to the polls today please take the time to watch this video of Professor Michael Dougan, a Law professor whose speciality is European Constitutional Law at the University of Liverpool, talking about the implications of leaving or staying in the EU.

Having moved to Western Australia two and a half years ago (for purely personal reasons, nothing to do with the economy, jobs or immigration), I am seeing your current situation from the outside but from the point of view of an insider.

Now while I love living in Western Australia (WA) I think there are some things that could be learnt from looking at us. WA, and Perth specifically, is a very remote place, both geographically and socially. One of the outcomes of this is that everything – yes really, EVERYTHING – costs a lot of money because Australian trade agreements were set up by a single, sparsely populated country (Australia) with other countries who were either more populous or else more powerful.

I don’t want to show any lack of respect to my newfound home, it’s a great place to live, however I do miss the ease that I could get hold of, say, an egg whisk for a ridiculously low price simply by hopping onto Google and searching for egg beaters. I often ended up purchasing from e.g. Amazon. Now Amazon is an American company, America has trade agreements with the EU…BUT NOT THE UK!!! This means that England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales would then have to pay the same (very steep) tariffs as China, Brazil, India, etc.

I also used to enjoy, to a greater or lesser degree, my occasional trips overseas. Which were a lot easier because most of the places I used to visit were within the EU. No problems with getting visas, and the queues at immigration were always relatively short.

There is a lot of stuff I miss about the UK, but if a greater part of the British population vote “leave” today then it will probably be some while longer, than it would otherwise have been, before I can bring my family back for a holiday, because the prices are likely to mean that we will have to save up twice as much before planning such a trip.

However you’re going to vote today, have a great day. And think carefully before you pick a box to tick.

Cheers

Dan

 

 


 


Hard Copy

This morning I dropped my young ‘un off at school then headed to a small warehouse near my house, to collect a parcel which no one was in to receive yesterday morning.

I had a vague suspicion I knew what it was, but wanted to wait until I had it in my hands before getting too excited. After a bit of faffing about the company found the box and I signed for it, chucked it in the car then came home and ripped it open.

This is what I found inside…

Jump by Dan Ladle

Jump by Dan Ladle

Yep, that’s a paperback copy of the book that I wrote! Sadly it’s not a “published by a publisher” copy, I found a special offer to upload for free on a site called Feed-A-Read some time back and this is the result.

It’s actually not that expensive to get a couple of copies printed out, although the postage to anywhere in Australia is a bit steep. However, having a hard copy of all the words I wrote is, as the advert goes, priceless.


An Exercise in Self-Awareness

Due to the seemingly everlasting task of applying for jobs I have decided to take some steps to try and refresh my outlook as, to be honest, it can become a little tiring constantly being ignored and turned down for roles I could do with my eyes closed, welded together, then encased in concrete and sunk to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

I had a sudden brainwave the other night and decided it wasn’t my worst idea, so I did a bit of research, found a tool, then started putting together a mind map of everything I can think of to do with me!

Now, I’ve never tried any mind mapping software before but as usual finance is paramount, which is why I decided upon FreeMind which, after trying and becoming frustrated with a couple of tablet based apps, seemed to be the most simple and effective one you can get for a PC.

So I’ve started writing down everything that I can think of about me! I haven’t finished yet but am well on the way to having a pretty, but messy, synopsis of everything to do with Dan Ladle! It’s a funny problem to try and break everything about yourself into small manageable chunks, then decide which of them is worth expanding. Obviously writing is the first thing I transcribed, I’ve put down all my ideas, whether fully formed and written or just initial scribblings. I also wrote all about my music, although I haven’t gone as far as putting song titles. Then on the other side I’ve covered work and education which, at the moment at least, isn’t as fully stocked as my personal side, but I have a plan to trawl through my CV and chuck anything relevant onto it.

My reasoning for carrying out this task is that, if I have enough information in the map then when I try applying for a job I can look over the image and cherry pick the relevant experience. Whether this will actually work and be practical I have no clue, but at least it’s a bit different to just hammering out the same old words, phrases and other CV related rubbish again and again!

This is where it’s at right now, click on it if you want to see a full sized version.


 

 

Mind Map of Me

Mind Map of Me

 


 


I’m A Strong, Confident Woman!!!

I’m not a woman, that’s a quote.

Not really about writing tonight, more of a rant!

We moved to Australia in January of this year, my wife, our son and I. She acquired a job soon afterwards and I started getting us settled in, but kept my eye on the jobs scene while I was doing so.

It is now July and I am still seeking jobs, not with an incredible amount of success to be honest. Why this should be I cannot imagine. I am a middle aged man who has been working in various technical jobs since leaving university in my twenties, I have worked in computing for the past ten or eleven years and have had experience in many aspects of IT.

I have installed networking kit on people’s roofs in small villages, I have taken phones and computers to pieces and put them back together in better working order, I have led teams of technicians fixing computers, I have implemented IT change management for a university, I have worked in IT security. Frankly I have also removed gut contents from fish and designed circuit boards.

I am smart, I am extremely adaptable and I used to be pretty confident, but searching for jobs and being knocked back for a few over the past few months has really taken its toll on my psyche. I now feel like I’m not really cut out for any jobs that come up, on the myriad job sites I trawl daily for anything worth applying for.

What’s worse is that the misery is starting to encroach on my life and my leisure activities now. And though I don’t like to compare, one of my friends had a bout of depression some time back and I appear to be displaying some of the signs he was presenting at the time. Like losing my creativity and being unreasonably grouchy with my son when he isn’t really misbehaving.

It’s also affecting my usually unbreakable drive to write, which is ironic as I am now writing this post about not being able to write! Frankly it’s all a bit rubbish.

Of course what I would really like to be doing is writing. For a newspaper, a magazine, a newsletter, a book, a ‘blog, a TV show, anything that would publish me really. But of course life isn’t easy and never works out quite the way it ought to. I am happy with my life and my wife and my son and our cat and the house we are living in. I am happy that we moved to Australia. I am just sad that no one can seem to see how good I am at whatever task I am given to do and has snapped me up, before whatever competitor they have that should be fighting over employing me.

Hopefully something will come up eventually, but the days and weeks seem to pass with frightening haste and I never seem to make any progress.

I do apologise if this post is a little different to normal, and somewhere heading towards depressing, but I just need to get some of this off my chest and this is the only place I can put it as it doesn’t really fit in with any of my other sites or ‘blogs.

I hope that it hasn’t put you off me too much and if you are in the same boat then at least you know you’re not alone.

I’m great, someone give me a job please!


Writers’ Group

Since moving to Perth I have, more or less, acted as a stay at home Dad. This is partly because my wife got a job first and so I took up the task of settling our family in to life in our new country. A couple of months ago she suggested that it was about time I got out of the house a bit and found something to do, other than applying for jobs and tidying the house. So I started searching for the kind of things that I thought I might like to do, now I had a completely fresh slate to start from.

One of the first websites I found was one called “Meetup”, it is a place where people can set up groups and invite others to come along and attend meetings. I checked out musical meetups, atheist and skeptic societies, readers clubs and writers groups. A lot of the meetings were either not quite my thing or else in the wrong place for me to attend, but then I discovered one which wasn’t too far away and was for writers who just wanted to discuss writing. It seemed perfect!

I went to my first one last month and met up with an interesting bunch of people. It was a little like stepping into Bernard Black’s shop from Black Books, as they were all drinking red wine and making slightly cryptic but amusing jokes, or making derogatory comments about each other. However once the meeting had started properly and a few more people had arrived it seemed a bit less surreal and I felt a little less out of place.

The meeting went well and I felt very welcome, even getting to tell them a bit about my book, Jump. Anyway I left feeling quite pleased that I had found some interesting new people to chat to, ones with a shared interest in putting finger to keyboard, or in some cases even pen to paper!

A month passed and it was time for the next meeting. I was quite looking forward to it and gathered my thoughts, if not actual evidence of having done any further prose in the time since the previous gathering. Once again a good time was had by all, we were discussing endings, which are surprisingly tricky things to master when you get down to thinking hard about them.

The night was just wrapping up when one of the more senior, or at least longer serving, members of the group caught my attention and told me that one of the things he does is work as an editor for a small publishing house in London, who are currently aggressively seeking new writers. He continued saying that he thought that the plot of my story sounded like something that they (the publishers) would be interested in, and would I be interested in sending him my manuscript so he could send it on to them to check out?

Unsurprisingly my answer was “yes”! However this is, of course, no guarantee of publication, or even that they will get back to me. But that doesn’t really matter. I am a new(ish) writer and so I know I can improve my technical and lyrical skills, the really important thing for me was to be told that the basic idea behind my novel is a good one, as ideas are the really difficult things to come up with.

So what does this actually mean? Well, to me it means that I can be fairly comfortable that I’m not just wasting my time throwing words at a page and that if I continue to work at it I might eventually come up with something which people may want to read.

Hooray!


How To Write A Leaving Letter

My final day in my old job was the last working day of 2014, it was quite a big thing for me as I had worked there for eight years. One of the things I became synonymous with was sending out long and wordy emails (there’s a surprise) and so I figured, what better way to say goodbye than to put together a long and wordy email!

A couple of things I probably need to explain before you read it. I worked in the Information Systems, or IS, department which did everything to do with computers and computer networks. The IS Xmas party had been organised for a week before I left so I used that as my leaving party. When most people left the University they went out to one of the local drinking establishments after their last day, I did not!


 

 

From: Ladle, Dan

Sent: 10 December 2013 14:35
To: ITS Information Systems: Everyone
Subject: Strewth!

 

Dear All,

 

It appears that the IS grapevine has had some breaks in service recently, as some people are still unaware of my impending departure. So I thought I’d try and come up with a workaround, which is this email, until the grapevine messaging system is back to 100% uptime.

 

So, I’m leaving the University, off to pastures new, and when I say that I really mean it! My family is emigrating to Perth, not the one near Dundee but the one that sits on the eastern edge of the Indian Ocean in Australia.

 

To answer your questions in a rough approximation of the order they are normally voiced when people learn of the move:

 

  1. No, I don’t have a job yet but my wife (who is originally Australian) does, at Perth Zoo, so I’ll get to hang out with the relatives. I’ll be spending the first couple of months settling the young ‘un (who’s 4 in April) in to life in foreign climes. After that I’ll look for something interesting to do, maybe IT, maybe writing, maybe something completely different.
  2. It will take about eight weeks for our things to ship over. During this time we will be staying at my Mother-in-Law’s house, then finding somewhere to rent where we can unpack our stuff before we’re fully Australianified and find ourselves a house to buy.
  3. Yes, eight weeks is a long time to spend in someone else’s house!
  4. No, I am not keen on large arachnids/deadly snakes/birds that are taller than a person and have lethal claws and a nasty kick/sharks/crocodiles/poisonous jellyfish/etc. but these things are slightly offset by the temperatures/lifestyle/price of a good wine/non-poisonous wildlife and plants/beaches/volleyball. Also helped by the fact that the country doesn’t contain David Cameron, Cliff Richard, Paul Daniels, Asda or Peterborough, and football (soccer) doesn’t override chances of any intelligent conversations taking place for nine months of the year.
  5. Yes, Perth is the most remote city on the planet. That is furthest from any other city, even the other ones in Australia. This can be a good thing because it gives it that nice small town feeling, but it can also be bad because it also gives it that nice small town feeling! However in the grand scheme of things, and to quote directly from a very clever man: “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.” So really I won’t be all that far away.
  6. No, I don’t mind being called a whingeing pom. In fact my Father-in-Law (who is originally from Scotland!!!) already calls me a pommy *insert offensive expletive here*. It’s a term of endearment!
  7. My last day at work will be the 20th of December, however I am on A/L after that and actually finish employment with the University on the 10th of January, so if you really need me drop me an email.
  8. No, you can’t come and stay with us for a cheap holiday.
  9. Yes, I’m excited, terrified, confused and extremely busy.

 

As I am not the sort of person who partakes of the pub lifestyle I am not going to the Orange Tree/Horn In Hand/Slug And Lettuce/etc./etc./etc. However you will be pleased to learn that I am having a leaving party which I1 have organised for this Friday, the 13th of December at the Red Hot World Buffet Bar, located in the Corner House. It will start at 12:00 and I believe that food is being paid for by the department, in my honour. Okay so this may not be altogether true but as it was booked anyway it seemed like a good idea to merge my event with an existing one! (1 – For “I” please read “IS Admin Team”)

 

I started working for the University on the 19th of December 2005, so my last working day will be one day after my eight year anniversary of starting here. I will miss it and all the people I have worked with. Although I may have undertaken some fairly difficult and annoying tasks while I’ve been here I hope that I haven’t upset anyone too much and that you may remember me with some level of amusement/fondness/apathy, rather than horror/disgust/hatred.

 

If you are really interested in how I get on I have accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and probably some other social network-type-things I’ve forgotten about. You can try and connect with me and I’ll do my best to post lots of pictures of myself holding bottles of beer and sitting by the Mother-in-Law’s swimming pool.

 

Have a nice life, and let me know if you’re ever visiting Perth. We can meet up for a drink and a chat about the “good old days” at NTU.

 

I’ll leave you with one more quote, from my favourite author:

 

It is often said that before you die your life passes before your eyes. It is in fact true. It’s called living.

 

Au revoir

 

Dan

 


 


I Hate Writing…

…Job applications. Which is, sadly, what I’m working on at the moment. So no post tonight, I’m too angry!


True Story – How I Met Your Mother

An idea was bandied about within the Diabetes group I was part of a year or two back, about writing a book of short stories based around travelling with Type 1 Diabetes. I offered to have a go first as I liked writing and had an idea for what to write.

No one else ever got round to writing their own stories but I quite like this one and will save it for when the little ‘un can appreciate it. I won’t tell you anything else as it might spoil it for you.


 

 

Before I start, let me just state that all characters and situations in this story are absolutely real and true, apart from the bits I couldn’t remember properly, plus the fact it was eleven years ago. To complicate matters further I had another trip to the same place about two or three years afterwards with some of the same people. All in all, you’re probably best to take the whole thing with a pinch of salt, as things and people may not appear in exact chronological order or even in the correct holiday! Anyway this is pretty much what happened…

 

It was somewhere around my birthday, that is to say the 22nd of September 2001. I was young (mid-twenties), and due to an unfortunate turn of events free (or at least gainfully employed but without any actual responsibilities outside keeping the job) and single (speaks for itself). One evening my parents had been talking to one of my three brothers on the telephone, not massively unusual as Rich lived in Edinburgh at the time, working as an environmental lecturer for Napier University. Our Dad was a biologist before he retired and so they chatted a lot.

After The Old Girl had finished and passed the phone on to Dad she came through and told me that Richard was running a field trip for his students early the next year and wondered if I’d be interested in going. Naturally I asked “Where will it be?” and she replied “Tobago!”

I have a suspicion that I fell quiet for a time, contemplating the idea of accompanying a bunch of students clad in flip-flops and inappropriate beach wear, however I eventually managed to answer in the affirmative and that was that. I was going to Tobago.

Christmas came and went and it drew closer and closer to February when we were due to leave. I was kind of excited not really knowing what to expect, having only travelled to places which measured somewhat more than three hundred square kilometres and where the main income didn’t stem from tourism, in the case of my brother’s field trip ecotourism to be specific.  In fact  he was taking two ‘courses worth’ of students, or at least the ones who were willing to forego alcohol and other vices for long enough to save up for the trip. The other group consisted of wildlife biologists but frankly all I knew was that overall there was a mixture of blokes and women with a heavy weighting towards the female element. This was also the main reason I had started to get excited about the trip.

Eventually the day arrived, I jumped into the passenger seat of my parent’s car and we headed off to Gatwick where we would be meeting the students. Sorry, I mean my brother and his co-lecturer who were supervising the students. Did I mention they would have students with them?

Getting to the airport was a bit of an anti-climax as the February of 2002 was a particularly cold and snowy one and after parking the car and dragging our luggage to the terminal we met the “party”. They were all, without exception, swathed from head to toe in scarves, gloves, woolly hats, big coats and whatever other heavy wintery attire they’d managed to root out from the bottom of their cupboards. Boarding time arrived and we trooped off to the check-in desk. I stood in the queue in front of a couple of the mummified students who, realising that I was something to do with the trip, introduced themselves. One was called Mel and the other Deanne; “That’s an interesting name!” I thought, and “an interesting accent!” I tried the safest gambit when meeting an Antipodean which is “Are you from New Zealand?” This is generally the best course of action if meeting someone from down under, because a New Zealander will be really upset if you call them an Australian, but an Aussie doesn’t usually give two hoots if you suggest they come from the other place.

“No, Australia!” was the unsurprising answer, which left me feeling slightly silly – like I was too stupid to recognise an obviously mainland accent. Anyway the flight got underway and I happily partook of whatever free food and drink I could persuade the air hostesses to provide me with.

If you’ve never flown to Tobago I would suggest that you try it. It’s a lovely place, however , be warned, the airport is right on the edge of the south coast and just before the plane lands it banks heavily making it look as though the wing tip is about ten feet above the water. It’s exhilarating, as long as you’re not terrified of travelling at about three hundred miles an hour a mere matter of feet above the sea! Anyway we duly arrived on the tarmac and immediately felt like we were overdressed. The temperature was a pretty constant thirty degrees and felt like a kind of slow oven, cooking us from the inside out. Most of us were still clad in our cold weather gear so there was a sudden rush of coats, jumpers and other wintery clothing being shed while waiting for our bags to be dragged in from the plane by, what you could only imagine was a man with a horse and cart, from the look of the “international” airport that we’d landed at. I watched with interest as the attire was retired, mainly because it was the first chance I actually had to figure out how many of the people in my brother’s party were male or female and how that might affect the rest of my holiday, (sorry, I mean student supervision). I had to admit that it looked like it might be quite a positive outcome!

Sadly because I was part of the “grown up” contingent of the field trip it meant I would be staying in a house belonging to a wonderful Tobagonian lady called Yvonne who spent half of her life near Bristol in the UK being a nurse and the remainder in Tobago as a landlady enjoying the atmosphere. The students were, at this point, packed into a selection of badly air-conditioned cars and whisked off to a kind of large farmhouse near to where we were staying. We collected our own hire cars and headed for what would be our home for the next couple of weeks. This turned out to be a large square shaped concrete building with our apartment on the upper of the two floors. This is the point where it all started to go a bit wrong for me. Also, you may be pleased to know after reading through this far already, where I actually bring up the small matter of my Diabetes.

I stepped into the room I would be sharing with my brother for the first week. To be honest I don’t think either of us were particularly happy about this, the last time we had slept in the same room I was about eight and Rich was thirteen or so.  Sure we were both orbiting the age of thirty now, and he was a fully qualified lecturer with all the letters after his name that brings with it but, when we were younger he didn’t snore and have stinky feet and I wasn’t quite so hairy or antisocial, however we made the best of a bad situation after fighting for who got to sleep in which bed and then squabbling about who was most likely to keep the other awake through which unpleasant habits.

I plonked my suitcase on the bed furthest from the window and the fan (in my defence he is five years older than me and used to be a professional athlete).  Then I opened up my hand luggage to retrieve my insulin and other Diabetes related accoutrements and put them in the fridge, in the kitchenette of the apartment, to keep them from denaturing. There was, sadly, a rather notable lack of insulin in the bag! No matter how many times I repacked everything then took it out again the insulin seemed incredibly resistant to suddenly materialising from the small dark depths of my carry-on bag.

I didn’t panic exactly, I attempted to remain calm and almost carried it off, only starting to get really worried after a couple of phone calls to my brother, Marc, who lived close to my parents’ house in the UK. Marc kindly drove to their place and called to let me know that my insulin was safe and sound and laying neatly lined up on my bed where I had left it not twenty four hours before. This is when I started to feel a little more hot and bothered than even the rather excitingly balmy weather should have accounted for.

Luckily, because my parents and my brother had visited before, they knew Yvonne was a trained nurse and also that she knew Tobago well. So my mother’s next move was to go downstairs to Yvonne’s apartment for advice. She returned, not ten minutes later, with a suggestion that we should get ourselves down to the hospital in the capital, Scarborough. After a hasty drive through the rather patchy light traffic that is the norm in Tobago, we waited ten minutes to see someone. Although I am mostly unaware of the exact details of what happened I know that they had to look in their version of the British National Formulary because I was on the relatively new analogue insulin – Humalog.  Thankfully I had somehow managed to pack a couple of vials of my long acting, basal, Lantus insulin in a separate pocket of the bag to where the Humalog should have been. The medical staff spent some time discussing amongst themselves and decided that the one they called Humulin would probably be the nearest analogue…so to speak!

Eventually I left with a couple of boxes of the magic juice, which was of course in the old fashioned glass bottles, so that that each time I ran out of insulin for my pen I had to use one of the ‘old school’, plastic syringes I had packed “in case of an emergency”, (which this appeared to be) to siphon some of the insulin out of the bottle and then inject it back in to a used cartridge, which I could then put back in to the pen. It worked like magic. In fact my control was better than it had ever been at home, but I’m guessing that was due to the holiday conditions, the greater amounts of alcohol I was imbibing and, possibly, ‘cause it was so darned hot that my body wasn’t sure what it was meant to be doing so it just gave up and doled out the insulin when I needed it’.

The other consequence of forgetting bits and pieces of my kit meant that I also had to use about five or six needles on my pens repeatedly for the entire two weeks. By the end of the holiday the needles were battering their way in to my stomach and legs which taught me an important lesson about being forgetful.

Another thing I discovered on this holiday was that I am, apparently, some kind of beacon to stinging fauna and flora. In terms of increasing severity and from least to most painful. I was bitten by mosquitoes, stung by some kind of plant which I didn’t even see to identify when it happened, gnawed by sand flies, stung by a jellyfish and, most excitingly, attacked by a nest full of rampaging ants!

Unfortunately the jellyfish sting happened on the second day when snorkelling at the far side of Pigeon Point, like the plant which struck later I didn’t notice it at the time but when I got back to the beach and was about to check my blood sugar my Mum said “what’s happened to your back?” I attempted to peer over my own shoulder which isn’t strictly possible, so had to wait until we returned to the house to look in a mirror. I saw a large red line running from the top of my right shoulder to the centre of my back at the waist. Apparently I had swum under a jellyfish while out in the sea and the resulting welt looked like something you’d see on a medical show on Channel 4. Added to that, was the self-inflicted failure to cover the very same back with sun tan lotion, resulting in a kind of oblong patch of red, the flashing likes of which would normally stop you from crossing a road. Of course you spend a lot of time without a top when you’re on beaches in the tropics so the rest of the holiday I was wandering around with what looked like a whip lash across my rosy coloured back.

Another day, later in the week, my Dad and I were heading for the north of the island to help out with some field work the students were doing. The roads in Tobago are at best exciting and at worst downright dangerous so you tend to drive quite slowly on them. Due to the rate we were travelling we happened upon a fruiting tree, ‘The Old Guy’ thought the seeds might be of interest to the students, so we stopped the car and popped in to the undergrowth. Now I don’t know if I’ve mentioned, but it’s pretty warm in Tobago so I was in the obligatory shorts, t-shirt and sandals, as is the holiday uniform of the average Englishman.

We walked up to the tree, according to Father it was a Cacao tree, the source of lovely tasty chocolate, amongst other things, and it had a very ripe fruit hanging low enough for him to pick straight off. We were about to turn around and head back to the car when I noticed there was another pod just out of reach, so I cunningly told him to hang on a sec’ while I grabbed it. I looked at the bottom of the tree and there was a handy little natural step in the trunk of the tree where a branch had broken away, so I lifted my foot up and placed it on the bare, damaged wood, then hefted myself up high enough to grab the other fruit. I swiftly dismounted and stamped my feet about in the undergrowth because a plague had descended upon me as if I was excreting insect attracting pheromones.

I had unknowingly disturbed a large nest of what turned out to be fire ants. That’s incredible you might think, a race of ants ‘who’ have discovered how to initiate and harness a flame, but no! It turns out that the reason they are called fire ants is because they clamp their large mandibles in to you and spray a rather noxious concoction of chemicals which makes your skin feel like it’s got a bit part in the ‘Towering Inferno’. This was the second time the local wildlife had seen fit to try and discourage me from stepping foot or flipper in to the great outdoors of the island. The outcome was that, turning up to meet the students, I had a conspicuous limp and a rather disagreeably glowing lower left leg to match my pre-cooked back.

My brother and the other lecturer accompanying the party, headed home after seven days and left the students, my parents and me to make our own entertainment for the second week of the trip. It was a kind of added bonus for those that had saved up the quite considerable sum (for someone in full time education) to go on the field trip, and also meant there was a week of relaxing in the sun before they had to get back and do some real work again.

The students decamped to Castara, a little village on the Caribbean shore, which was apparently the “cool” place to stay according to one of the girls, who had a relative living on the island, so we didn’t bump in to them much in the second week of the tropical getaway. I spent most of the time pottering around with my parents, looking at ancient things with my Mother who’s an Archaeologist and likes that sort of thing, standing in rainforests, drinking cocktails and ‘Carib’ beer which in my opinion tastes better than Stag (“a man’s beer!” according to the adverts) and swimming in clear blue seawater, which was frankly a pleasant way to kill time.

It was on the Wednesday that we decided to take a trip to the Arnos Vale hotel; the area is covered with beautiful managed tropical forest and there’s a large cove you can snorkel around for hours to meet the local sea-life. After a morning spent on the beach and in the water (which was remarkably free of any kind of biting or stinging), we headed up to the bar. Now when I call it a bar it doesn’t really do it justice! It was a kind of decked platform standing amongst tropical flowers and exotic trees where you could relax in comfy chairs while being served piña coladas by the staff, dressed in traditional Creole clothing, and watch hummingbirds flitting around the well-stocked bird feeders hanging from the balustrades.

No sooner had I sat down with my first drink than we were greeted by a small contingent of the students, they ordered themselves drinks with the exception of Deanne who had introduced herself to me in the queue at the airport. She explained that somehow the others had persuaded her that she would act as designated driver for the week and therefore would not be partaking in as many of the local beverages as she might have liked to. I attempted to gain more knowledge as to how this appalling situation had come about but another of the girls was, what you might call talkative and derailed our chat, as well as everyone else’s, and carried everyone along in a whirlwind of whatever it was she was currently and noisily small-talking about.

We spent a pleasant couple of hours watching the tiny, intricately patterned, birds imbibing sugar water, but then it was time to leave. I was feeling a little bit upset that my only real chance to hang out with people my own age had been so short and hadn’t really given me the opportunity to get to know them, when the conversation hijacker suggested that on the last full day of the trip, my parents and I should come and join them for lunch in Castara. This brightened up the prospect of the impending end of the break, as well as improving  my day, somewhat!

As mentioned, the second week had been surprisingly free of things attacking me but there was a return to form on the last few days as I was set upon by mosquitoes, not particularly bad but annoying. We also visited a place called Black Rock for ‘The Old Guy’ to do some more fishing (he’s a fishing-a-holic of some renown) however, no one had warned us that at about five in the afternoon a swarm of sand-flies appears and starts chewing on any ankles which happen to be displayed in the vicinity. Finally, and probably most distressingly, I was minding my own business walking along in some undergrowth and, without knowing exactly what it was, I was stung by some kind of plant which left a hot pulsating rash on my left leg. This may partly explain my subsequent lifestyle choice of becoming a vegetarian and attempting to get my own back on the flora that attacked me in such an unprovoked and unseemly manner.

The ultimate day rolled up and I did my best to dress up for the occasion, although with a wardrobe consisting entirely of shorts, t-shirts and a rather unfashionable wide brimmed hat this wasn’t easy, but I chose carefully and possibly looked slightly less scruffy than I had for the rest of the holiday. We arrived in Castara at about midday and were taken on a walk down a path which snaked steeply downwards until it ended quite surprisingly at a restaurant, with one large table, open on all four sides but covered by a raffia-like thatch.

Everyone took their seats and we proceeded to partake of some local delicacies like callaloo and fried bake. A good time appeared to be had by all and the Carib ran freely as the meal was rounded off with, pawpaw balls and sugar cakes. Unusual food but, as with the rest of this trip, my blood sugar was stable, as if I’d borrowed a fully functional pancreas! As everyone sat back to digest their food, one of the girls suggested that they would be rounding their afternoon and evening off with a barbecue on the beach which we were welcome to stay for. My parents, ever the polite English folk, declined with grace and made their excuses to leave but I jumped at the chance to spend a little more time with these people, met so recently and so briefly and whom I might not see again after the flight home the next day.

In case you have been wondering, this is where the story gets interesting!

The girls had got in to the habit of going for an afternoon nap after lunch, this practice was, I think, picked up from the locals who have turned it in to an art form. Anyway this left me without anything in particular to do with myself until one of the two male students, Bob, a forty-something bloke from Ireland, suggested a way to pass some time until the girls got up again! Before revealing the details of what came next I would like to make a disclaimer that it wasn’t at all clever and, in my defence, the couple of years preceding this trip had not been particularly good ones for me and so I was willing to give anything which might improve my outlook a try. Suffice to say I don’t remember a lot about the next hour or two, but I believe that the girls were awoken from their mid-afternoon slumber by immature-sounding merriment. Upon investigation they discovered myself, and my literal partner in crime, sitting on the settee in the entrance hall, laughing at our own hands.

Thankfully, the effects of this slight misadventure wore off quite quickly and I managed to spend some quality time with the students (here comes the interesting bit). Sitting outside the house on a small area of decking, it turned out only one of them had enough forethought to have brought a case full of CDs with them and it was, much to my own delight, Deanne. I spent some time sitting next to her looking through the discs seeing a lot of music I didn’t recognise, or at least hadn’t listened to much, like The Dave Matthew’s Band and Crowded House, but then (this is it, here!) I happened upon the second album by the Ben Folds Five (bet you’re disappointed now aren’t you? But bear with me), this was a band I originally discovered at a festival deep in the mists of time and up to that point I don’t think I’d ever met another person who had even heard of them, let alone owned an album. I had finally discovered some shared common ground and had a lever with which I could prise out further details.

It turned out, she was close to my age, was into music, travelling, nature, food and drink, reading, movies, lots of the same things I liked! I was quickly realising that I had wasted my holiday enjoying the sun, being bitten and stung by various organisms and relaxing in this tropical paradise when, what I should in fact have been doing, was making up excuses allowing me to travel across the island and spend time in the company of someone who wasn’t more interested in fish than people. And people who are still alive for that matter of fact!

As the evening wore on there were a number of memorable events, such as me purloining a local’s guitar with a missing string and serenading the students (one in particular), with a badly selected set of a few depressingly worded rock music covers, along with some less than appropriate songs of my own devising, including one about a sheep! I was also invited to revisit my earlier state of consciousness with the more “mature” member of the party, which I stupidly agreed to once again, having ended in much embarrassment earlier in the day. This time there was a surprise bonus which was that, after a small discussion, these good-natured people I was with, decided that I probably needed feeding, to make sure my blood sugar didn’t drop too low.

This is one of the other memories I have retained, from the hazy period, in some detail because the method that was chosen was that of my head being rested on Deanne’s knee and her delicately stuffing barbecued food in to my mouth. The rest of my memories of the night are, at best, vague!

The next morning I decided to make like the locals, and hitchhike my way back across the island. This act consists of sticking your hand out until someone picks you up and hoping, sometimes in vain, that the motor vehicle which stops for you is heading in roughly the right direction. What made this journey particularly exciting was the fact that, the aeroplane which we were catching to take us home that afternoon would not be waiting for stragglers, and therefore I needed to be back and packed before it was time to depart.

Thankfully, a slightly beaten up old car pulled over before too long. The state of it was not unusual as most of the cars in Tobago sport the more mature, weathered look. However I almost regretted climbing in immediately as there was a large sports bag on the back seat which may have just contained the driver and passenger’s lacrosse team’s kit, but by the look of said driver and passenger, was quite possibly packed with any number and type of dubious substances. Once you have climbed in to a car it would, I surmised, be somewhat rude to hop out again, so I crossed my fingers and hoped they were headed towards my destination. I did, just about, recognise a number of the roads we drove along, and after about half an hour we pulled up at a small undistinguished village in the middle of nowhere. I was thankful to be clear of any kind of international narcotics incident and decided I would walk, swiftly, in the direction I believed to be towards the apartment.

After a short interlude traversing perilous looking roads, which looked like they rarely saw motor vehicles, I was lucky enough to thumb another lift. Thankfully this car headed towards what I knew to be the Windward Road, the main thoroughfare along the south side of the island, then turned right, which was the direction I needed to head in. As it drew up to the junction I recognised as being nearest the house, I gesticulated wildly and tried to make it clear that I wanted them to drop me off. They did! I thanked whoever it is that looks after atheists at these times and power-walked the mile or so back to find my parents enjoying breakfast on the veranda and seemingly, not worrying the slightest bit about my whereabouts (please note, upon reading this my Mother’s exact words were “I nearly went out of my mind worrying about you getting back from Castara!”) over the past sixteen or so hours. I mentally shrugged and made myself some toast, joining them for the final mornings’ jaunt to the beach and then off to the airport.

As you may be aware, seating on an aeroplane seems to be randomly allocated. Rather surprisingly I was placed next my Mum, looking out from the centre along the aisle. From this vantage point I noticed that Deanne had been placed in the middle of two of the other students, in the window seats. The outermost of the three was Bob, who had helped me stray from the path of righteousness the previous day. “Great,” I thought, “I can persuade good old Bob to swap seats with me,” because I knew that he had a soft spot for my Mum and would probably enjoy the chance to chat with her and my Dad on the way back to the UK.

The plane took off and at the instant as the seatbelt lights dimmed I proceeded towards the lucky fellow, to offer him the opportunity he didn’t realise he was missing out on. Sadly, this is when he decided that if I really wanted to sit next to this girl I appeared to have something of a crush on, he would make me work for it. I believe we were about an hour in to the journey before he relented, possibly because I was starting to look like a sad pug dog, he shifted and I sat down, just in time to be served a tray of whatever passed for food, on the budget flight we were taking. It was about tea time and that was when I usually performed my basal injection. I did so, then tried to work out what would be a sensible bolus dose for the soggy limp vegetables, and overcooked meat, they were trying to pass off as a meal.

The flight passed all too quickly and, before I knew it, the plane had landed and we were all saying our goodbyes. Deanne and I hugged and pecked each other on the cheek. Having put my unfashionable hat on, as a handy way to carry it through the airport, I inadvertently poked her in the eye with the brim. I apologised and she was kind enough not to hold it against me. We swapped e-mail addresses before she went to get on a bus to Edinburgh, and I to the car heading back to Dorset.

It was only twenty four hours or so later that I realised that in my over-anxiousness to continue my conversation with her as I left the plane, I had left my long-acting insulin pen, in its case,  in the seat pocket in front of me and was therefore rather lacking in the injecting department again. This actually concludes my catalogue of disasters for the trip, almost a full twenty four hours after returning home. However, I wouldn’t change any of it (apart maybe from the sunburn…and some of the bites and stings!).

Now, eleven years later Deanne and I have been married for almost ten years, we had a lovely wedding in Australia, which my parents attended, and we have a three year old son who supplies us with endless questions and answers to life’s riddles.

So to finish, I would just like to dedicate this to Bob, whose ill-judged counsel and sub-legal dealings offered me the chance to rest my head on Deanne’s knee on that night so long ago, also to Joshua who may one day read this and think that his Dad was once, in fact, a bit of an idiot. Finally and most importantly to Deanne, without whom none of this would have been possible.