My Holidays (By John M aged 62 ¾) Part 3 Waterfalls and Cable Cars

Day 5 The Pinzgauer Lokalbahn Railway and Krimml Falls

Today would have been Grace’s birthday. We often went away for her birthday, especially during the years that she was teaching, because it usually coincided with half term. So I was feeling a bit more contemplative than usual.

Anyhow the Pinzgauer Lokalbahn has connected the small communities of the Upper Salzach valley to Zell am See for over a hundred years. It is a narrow gauge railway and during the summer often runs steam trains pulling the original carriages from Zell to Krimml. Unfortunately during the time I was there the steam trains were out of service because of maintenance and track repair issues. So we had to make do with the modern diesel train instead. The views were just as attractive, the seats were probably more comfortable, and it was quicker. It’s not the same though. The smell is different. To an old marine engineer, there is nothing quite like the perfume that is created when oil and steam come together. Modern diesel locomotives do not make as good photographs either. Hence the fact that there are none.

The train took us up the valley to the Krimml Falls which the website describes as the fifth highest waterfall in the world. Spoiler alert – they are not even the fifth highest in Europe, and depending on how you measure the height of a waterfall, they may not even be the fifth highest in Austria. The websites exaggeration about their height does not detract from the fact that they are very spectacular.

It is about a three kilometres from the railway terminus to the foot of the falls so GRJ arranged for a coach to take us there. On the way there it took us up to a view-point on the opposite side of the valley where we could see the falls from top to bottom.

Having seen the full extent of the falls the next question was did I want to climb up them? What would Grace have done? Well, one of Grace’s favourite tricks was to walk for miles in one direction,  until she was exhausted and then wonder how she was going to get back. So obviously she would have aimed for the top. Our guide told us that the most spectacular parts of the falls were the lower two sections, so unless we were feeling particularly masochistic, in his opinion there wasn’t a lot of point in going right to the top. The path follows the falls up the mountain, so is obviously steep. I took his advice. Besides there was a restaurant half way up which did a pretty decent lunch. You can make it out in the photo below.P1000479.JPG

The walk up to the restaurant was about 2.5 km, with a 250m height gain, and it took me just over an hour, but that included stops to take photographs (and catch my breath). Lunch was a bowl of potato soup flavoured with caraway seeds and a hunk of rye-bread. It was good and worth the effort to get up the hill. Coming back down was quicker, but because the path was so steep, not all that much easier. A different kind of effort was needed.

At the bottom of the falls there is a sort of museum/exhibition called WasserWunderWelt  which apparently gives a bit of history of the falls but also explores how water is used. It is also apparently quite good. I say apparently, because I didn’t get to see it. Entry to the falls and the museum are on the same ticket, and somewhere between the entry gate to the falls and coming back down the mountain I lost mine. So I had a coffee and apfelstrudel instead.

We didn’t take the train back, the coach which took us from the station to the falls took us back to Zell am See to dry off. A combination of the spray from the waterfall and the only rain I encountered all holiday meant that I ended up decidedly damp.

Day 6 Schmittenhöhebahn cable car and a walk down the mountain.

Today was another free day when we didn’t have any excursions arranged for us.  I thought about getting the train to Vienna until I discovered that getting there and back would have taken almost all day. I would have had about an hour maximum for sightseeing, so decided that it probably wasn’t worth it.

When Grace and I were last in Zell am See we spent quite a lot of time walking around the mountains above the town. We would catch the cable car up to the top and spend most of the day wandering around the paths at the top of the mountain (with Grace occasionally bursting into a chorus of “The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music”)finding a mountain restaurant for lunch, then either walking all the way back down (not recommended, it does nasty things to your knees) or getting another cable car down.

That is what I decided to do. There was only one problem. In the intervening 25 years I have developed an aversion to dangling from a length of wire anything up to 500 metres above the ground.

The way it used to be

I decided that I was going to do it anyhow. The Schmittenhöhe-Bahn follows the contours of the mountain and so is not too high above the ground, generally only 10 to 20 metres. Unlike some, especially in Switzerland, which can be a few hundred metres. I am also better going up rather than down, because it doesn’t feel as if you are quite as high above the earth when you are going up. I also feel more comfortable enclosed in the cabin of a cable car than exposed to the elements on a chair lift. Having weighed all these factors, I gritted my teeth, paid my € 28.50 and got into the, rather sleek, Porsche designed cabin, planning to keep my eyes closed ’till we got to the top if necessary.

The way it is now

It wasn’t too bad.  It took about ten minutes, maybe a bit less to get from the base station in Zell am See to the top of the Schmittenhöhe. It was about eleven, so time for a coffee and a cake, 2000m up. The view from the terrace was quite spectacular, looking back down to the town, the lake and the mountains beyond.


Suitably refreshed, it was time for a walk. There is another cable car terminus called the Sonnkogel about three or four km away along the ridge. It is quite a gentle walk, mainly down hill, but without any really steep up or down hill sections. The plan was to get there about one o’clock and have some lunch.

I could see the hotel so I decided to try out the zoom on my camera to see how well it worked.

I had a pleasant stroll along the ridge passing a couple of art works/installations on the way.

Lunch was fine, if not particularly memorable (I can’t remember what I had, but it was edible). After lunch I found that I had a problem. The first stage of the journey back down to the lake wasn’t in a nice enclosed cable car cabin. It was an open chairlift down a very steep slope to the intermediate station where there was an enclosed cabin cable car.
I looked at it a couple of times and thought about it for the best part of quarter of an hour before deciding that I probably wasn’t going to handle it. So I made the decision to walk down the path to the intermediate station. I was just over three kilometres with an elevation drop of 420m, an average gradient of 12% on the zig-zag path. So I guess that the chair lift, which takes the straight line might have been twice that. Walking down hill when it is very steep, is in my opinion, as hard or even harder than walking uphill. I puts a strain on your knees and calf muscles, in addition your toes tend to get crammed into the toe space of your boot, which can be painful. In addition, because I was now off the ridge and walking down through the wooded part of the mountain, the views while still attractive, were not as spectacular as the views from the top. I was glad when I arrived at the bottom.

The cable car down was fine, I kept looking back up the mountain so that it didn’t feel as far above the ground. In retrospect I would probably have been better doing the trip in reverse. Going up on the chair lift I would probably have been fine. I’ll remember that for when I go back in twenty-five years time.

After I got back down the mountain I had an important task to perform. One of my boister_bauernobstlerfriends and I have a competition. The idea is to bring back the most undrinkable local hooch that we can find as a “present” for each other. He is currently well in the lead after a holiday to Latvia when he brought me back a bottle of Riga Black Balsam.

I have brought him back this. I’m don’t think that it will beat the Black Balsam, but it might get me back into the competition.

Again, because it was a free day, we were not booked into the hotel restaurant for dinner. Today’s search for dinner was more successful than the last time. I went out a bit earlier, which helped. Opposite the hotel, across the railway tracks is a restaurant/café/bar called Villa Crazy Daisy. I decided to go there for a pre-dinner drink, while I was drinking my beer I had a look at their menu and thought that it looked fine. So I decided that I would eat there. I had not had a Wienerschnitzel so far and thought that I couldn’t leave Austria without having one. I went full Austrian and had a green salad starter and apfelstrudel for pudding accompanied by a glass of Grüner Veltliner (also currently very trendy in London).  All good and reasonably priced. The bill, including drinks, came to about €45.

Note: click on any of the photos if you want to see them full size.



My Holidays (By John M aged 62 ¾): Part 2 Lakes and Mountains

Day 3 Zell am See

My third day started with a bit of a lie in. I had an early start (up by six) on both the previous days, so I set my alarm for eight. As it turned out the trains, which ran just below my window, which had to be open because the room was not air-conditioned, did the job instead, waking me about six thirty. I did doze off in between trains though. Breakfast was the normal Euro-buffet, although if you wanted there were cooked to order omelets. It was fine but nothing really to blog about.

After breakfast I had all day to myself. GRJ did not have any excursions organised. I decided to reacquaint my self with Zell and the See (lake). In many ways not that much had changed, the streets were still the same. There seemed to be more tourist shops and restaurants, and rather fewer “proper” shops than I remembered but it all looked quite similar to twenty-five or so years ago.

That last time that I was here Grace and I walked round the lake, so I decided to do that again. The idea was to get about half way round and find a café for lunch.

It is about 15km (9 miles) according to my GPS watch, but that included a few detours, so it is probably nearer to 13km if you stick to the official Zell am See tourist board route. Very peaceful and serene. There did seem to be a bit more development on the far side of the lake than I remembered, but it didn’t detract from the beauty of the place. It took me about three hours (four if you include my lunch stop) to walk round.

I had a wander round the town after I had finished my walk around the lake, stopped at a konditorei for a coffee and cake, I was in Austria, you have to, it’s the law. 20180522_133612I also found a shop to buy some tooth paste, because the tiny complimentary tube from the Maritim wasn’t going to last me the week. Then wandered back to the hotel for a shower and a change before dinner.

Dinner was a bit of a disappointment. We were not booked into the dining room that evening, so I wandered up into town to find something to eat. I forgot that Austrians are not Spanish (even though they share a common imperial past) and the only place I could find still serving food at nine thirty in the evening was a pizza restaurant. It served the worst pizza that I can remember eating. L’Oro di Napoli sets a pretty high bar I know, but this was worse than Pizza Hut.

However on my way back to the hotel I had a pleasant surprise. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday the town puts on the Zeller Seezauber (Magic Lake Show) which blends water, light, lasers and music into a spectacular twenty-minute show.

Day 4 Berchtesgaden National Park and the Eagles Nest

This was the one day of the holiday that I had slight misgivings about before the start. I wasn’t all that sure that I wanted to visit somewhere that had been built as a present for Adolph Hitler’s fiftieth birthday. On the coach journey there our guide gave us a brief history of the place, and how it came to be built. Originally there appears to have been a mountain hut there known as “die Kehlsteinhaus” (which is what the building is known as officially) because it sits on top of the Kehlstein mountain. Where the name “Eagles Nest” came from no one is quite sure. I was never called that in German. Anyway I was pleased to find that one of the conditions that the Americans insisted on when they were persuaded not to demolish it, was that there should be no references or obvious reminders as to it’s past. If you are interested in reading more about the place and its history, click here .

The road up the mountain is a feat of civil engineering. It is cut into the side of the mountain and goes up that steeply your ears pop. A specially designed fleet of buses takes you up to some very spectacular views and a slightly underwhelming building, though the entrance lift is quite impressive.

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We were transported back down the mountain and discovered that it is not only the National Trust that has an “exit through the gift shop” policy. A whole range of keenly priced Bavarian themed souvenirs were available for purchase. I never buy souvenirs that can’t be eaten or drunk. It saves having to recycle them in six months time.

We stopped for lunch in a pretty village called Schönau, where again we were presented20180523_125501 with the opportunity to purchase even more Bavarian tat. In keeping with my souvenir buying policy I bought a Bavarian themed lunch consisting of Wurstsalat washed down with a Weißbier.

After lunch it was a boat trip on the Königssee, literally translated as the King’s lake, no one knows why it has that name, because there do not seem to be any kings associated with it. It is a spectacular looking lake, in some ways almost like a Norwegian fjord, with very steep mountains and cliffs running directly down into the lake. In order to help preserve the lake all the boats are now electrically powered.

We went about half way down the lake where we stopped off at St Bartholomew’s church. In the past it used to be a place of pilgrimage. I would imagine that prior to the twentieth century it would not have been all that easy a place to get to.

On the way down one of the crew members demonstrated the remarkable echo in one part of the lake. There is a sheer rock face on both sides which can lead to multiple echoes. In the past they fired a small cannon, which produced up to seven echoes, but now he plays a trumpet and harmonises with the echo. It is more tuneful, but a bit less spectacular.

I was caught in a typical late afternoon Alpine downpour whilst waiting for the boat back to Schönau, but like a good Boy Scout I was prepared and had my umbrella with me, so I was merely soaked rather than drowned.

The coach trip back to Austria was uneventful, but very pretty.

My Holidays (By John M aged 62 ¾): Part 1 Getting There

I hadn’t been on a proper holiday since Grace died just over two years ago. I’m sure my sister won’t mind me saying that going up to Scotland to stay with her and my brother-in-law is a break rather than a holiday. So I decided to organise one for myself. Something that I hadn’t done for, well I suppose, ever. Grace used to organise our holidays. I would be told, “We are going to (say) Switzerland for the last two weeks in June. Make sure that you have booked your holidays”. Before we were married I didn’t organise holidays so much as head off in my car or on my bike and see where I ended up.
I decided to go with Great Rail Journeys (GRJ) to Zell am See. Three reasons (in the main) why I made that choice;

    1. Grace and I had gone with Great Rail Journeys in the past so I knew what to expect. I knew that if I wanted to find someone to talk to or have a drink with I could and that if I wanted to be on my own then I could do that as well.
    2. They did not want a ridiculous supplement for being a solo traveller. Some companies want 100%.
    3. Grace and I had a wonderful holiday in Zell am See about twenty-five years ago and I thought it would be a good place for my first solo trip.

Day 1 Wallington to Cologne

This should really start at day -2 when I had to go shopping for some new clothes. I hadn’t actually bought any clothes (apart from underwear and socks) for about four years. My smart but casual wardrobe was looking a bit more casual than smart. That was accomplished reasonably painlessly, although it did take two trips. I’m happy with what I bought although Grace would probably have said “booooring”.
Packing was also carried out without much drama, and I didn’t forget anything vital.

A combination of the 157 bus, the tram and an unusually on-time Thameslink train got me up to St Pancras just before twelve. I checked in with GRJ, decided to go straight through security and passport control and have a coffee at Café Nero, because that is what Grace and I used to do when we were waiting for the Eurostar. But Café Nero isn’t there anymore. They must have lost the franchise. So I made do with a beer instead, Leffe, because we were initially heading for Belgium.

I sat there sipping my beer, looking forward to my holiday, but also feeling a bit lost, a bit nervous and slightly tearful. I was going on holiday without Grace for the first time in thirty odd years.

The rest of the day was Eurostar to Brussels followed by the Thalys to Cologne. Apart from a short walk around the inspiring (not) area around Station Brussel-Zuid and the Thalys taking longer than normal, I assumed because of engineering works, there was not ready that much else to remark on. The journey across northern France and Belgium isn’t particularly attractive. So here are photos of the trains I travelled on.

We stayed over night at The Hotel Maritim in Cologne, a very pleasant hotel with a state of the art shower, complete with adjustable mood lighting.

Day 2 Cologne to Zell am See

It was an early start to catch the ICE ( I do like Germany’s ICE trains) to Munich. But not before breakfast including a croissant with Nutella, because Grace used to say that you couldn’t be sure that you were in continental Europe unless you had a croissant with Nutella for breakfast. Then we had a long day on the train(s) to Zell am See. The scenery on the first part of the journey is either flat industrial farm land or flat industrial, but as the train ventures further south, somewhere in the Stuttgart region, it changes to rolling hills. Approaching Munich, the Alps appear on the horizon. 20180521_131809
I arrived in Munich about 12:30 so it was time for lunch. As far as I am concerned there is only one thing to have for lunch between trains in Germany, Bratwurst and Beer.

The next part of the journey slowed things down a bit. Instead of flying along at 280 km/hr, I changed to an EC train from Munich to a place called Schwarzach St Veit. It pootled its way through the really rather pretty alpine foothills at what felt like 25 km/hr.

At Schwarzach I caught a local train to Zell am See. It was a bit crowded and reservations did not seem to apply, the south London commuter instincts kicked in, there is a seat, no one else seems to want it ok, it’s mine.

The scenery gradually became more spectacular as I approached Zell am See. I arrived about 17:00 and from the station it was a five-minute walk to the hotel.

Die Zeller See
Grand Hotel Zell am See

The Grand Hotel looked quite grand but in some ways was less grand than I hoped it would be. I won’t dwell on its short comings, because that’s not the point of this post. If you want a definitive hotel review try Trip Advisor. It had been a long day on the trains, so after dinner and a couple of beers I went to bed.

A Season With the Wombles Part 1.

It all started promisingly with our pre-season friendly against Watford. Our new goalkeeper George Long (on a season long loan from Sheffield United) looked like he was an excellent shot stopper and also had a prodigious boot on him. Cody McDonald our new striker scored two cracking goals and there were signs that some of our home grown players, notably Anthony Hartigan, Alfie Egan, Toby Sibbick and Egli Kaja could be pushing for first team places. Some of my predictions/hopes worked out – mainly concerning George Long, the rest well ……

As I have mentioned in other posts I started following AFC Wimbledon again last year following a four year break while Grace was being treated for Ovarian Cancer. I found that I was going to almost every match. The only ones I didn’t go to we’re the ones that I couldn’t get tickets for. So I decided to get a season ticket for this year. £340 well spent .. Possibly.

During the close season we had lost a couple of players who were fairly integral to the team. Tom Elliot (last years Player of the Year) was out of contract and although we offered him a new one, Millwall, who had just been promoted, offered him a better one. So our big lump with No. 9 on his back was gone. So to was our Duracell Bunny midfielder Jake Reeves. He wasn’t out of contract, but it turned out that there was a release clause in his contract and Bradford triggered it. Neither of them was properly replaced.

My first match proper of the season was our League Cup round 1 game against Brentford. No one expected too much from it. We have never got beyond the first round since we became a League club in 2011 (and thus eligible to enter). We did better than expected, holding then to a 1-1 draw at full time. Extra time proved our undoing with Brentford running out 3-1 winners. 

We had started our league campaign the weekend before with a creditable 1-1 draw away to Scunthorpe. The following Saturday saw us back in League action again, against Shrewsbury, the other team in League One who play in Blue and Yellow. We lost 0-1 which at the time felt extremely disappointing. In retrospect I don’t think it was quite as bad a result as I thought at the time. Shrewsbury turned out to be this year’s overachievers and have made it all the way to the playoff final. I would describe them as an efficient team. Very sound defensively, and able to nick a goal when the opportunity presents. However it was an indication of where we were going to be for much of the season. Difficult to break down, but finding it almost impossible to score. If we went behind there was the feeling that that was it, game over.

Fleetwood from the away end
Our next game against Fleetwood was my first ever away match. John and Stevie, friends I had made on one of our volunteers work weekends, go to most away games and told me that I should at least do one or two. So I decided that Fleetwood would be my introduction. The game was memorable for a couple of things. Not the football, we weren’t completely abject, but we were not very good. Fleetwood were not much better, but managed to bag a couple of goals thanks to mistakes (unfortunately becoming increasingly common) on the right side of our defence. No the two things that made it memorable were meeting a Canadian football studies researcher – I had no idea that such people existed – on Preston station while we changed trains. The other thing that made it memorable was the fish and chip shop outside the away end. They served some of the best fish and chips I have ever eaten.

That seemed to establish the pattern for the early part of the season, basically a series of disappointing losses and draws, interspersed with the occasional win to give us a bit of hope. But as every footy fan knows it is the hope that kills you.

Probably the most disappointing loss was the game I missed because of a family funeral back in Scotland. We played “The Team Who Shall Not be Named” on the evening of Friday (it probably should have been the 13th) 22nd of September. I tried to watch it on a very dodgy pirate feed whilst traveling back to London. The only two points that the feed stopped freezing were when Kwesi Appiah pulled up in their penalty area with the hamstring injury that would keep him out for most of the season, and when Lyle Taylor missed the penalty that might have gotten us back into the game. The train was stopped in Stevenage as the game ended, my thoughts were that we may well be back here next season.

Relegation was staring us in the face. I was having difficulty seeing where the next goal was coming from, let alone the next win. Our strikers were either out of form or injured, the midfield were reasonably enough defensively but we’re adding nothing going forward. On top of that I was becoming obvious that Paul Robinson, our right centre-back was playing one season to many.

To be continued…….. 

Songs I Love: We are Wimbledon

This is not the worlds finest song (musically at least).
Thirty years ago today on the 14th of May 1988, Wimbledon FC beat Liverpool 1-0 to win the F.A. Cup, or to quote John Motson “The Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club”. I wasn’t there. I was on the other side of the world (in the Solomon Islands to be precise) listening to the game on the BBC World Service very early on Sunday Morning.
This was our Cup Final song “We are Wimbledon”. We still play it, and sing it, at Kingsmeadow.

Away Day No.3 (The League Leaders)

This was my last Away Day for the season. I have been to more than three away games (ten in fact) but I only started writing about them a month ago. We (AFC Wimbledon)still have one more away match on Tuesday the first of May against Doncaster (the match that should have been played on Easter Monday) but I can’t make it due to work.

It was an early start, Wigan is a long way up the M6. We met up at Fat Boy’s for our normal pre-coach trip breakfast. Breakfast was fine but there was definitely a sense of foreboding in the air. Even Stevie our eternal glass overflowing optimist was saying things like ” If we can come away with a draw I’ll be happy.” the rest of us were more along the lines of “If we can avoid another 4-0 defeat we’ll be happy.” (They beat us 4-0 in the game at Kingsmeadow before Christmas). Wigan, who knocked Manchester City out of the cup, and are top of the league and already promoted could have tied up the title if they beat us and other results went their way. We on the other hand still needed at least two points from our last three games to be mathematically safe from relegation.

On to the coach for the five-hour trek up north. In retrospect I think we should have taken the train, and will do next time, but that won’t be for at least a couple of seasons.
We had a stop at a service station on the M6. As well as ourselves there were fans from quite a few other clubs grabbing a coffee. Brighton were traveling up to play Burnley, Portsmouth were off to Bury, and going in the opposite direction Rochdale were off to Oxford No hassle, but a bit of banter because Portsmouth and Rochdale are in the same league as ourselves. Brighton being a Premier League club just ignored us.

We arrived at the ground about one o’clock and got off the bus about one thirty because a jobsworth steward insisted that we couldn’t park in the place marked “Coaches” in big white letters. So we had another tour of the suburbs of Wigan to get to the place where we were allowed to park. Fred and Barry, who had come up by train saw the coach on its mystery tour and called us to say they were in a pub about five minutes walk from the ground so we wandered along to join them for a pre-match pint.


The ground, The DW Stadium, was the smartest (photo above) we’ve been to this season (apart from Wembley), but then it’s not all that long ago that Wigan were a Premier League side. The ground feels a bit big for them. It was their last home game of the season and they had the chance of clinching the title, but it was still only half full. They do share the ground with the local Rugby League team the Wigan Warriors who I think tend to draw bigger crowds.

Our team selection seemed to be dictated by the players we had fit. No Wardrobes*. Three attacking midfielders and our right-footed left back to provide a bit of muscle. As Stevie said “When Harry Forrester and Dean Parratt seem to be the defensive midfield we could have problems” I’m not sure either of them can spell the word “defend”. We lined up 4-4-2 or possibly 4-1-3-2. With Callum Kennedy (who is left footed) slotting in at left back.

The game started pretty evenly. They were trying to pressure us at every opportunity, but we seemed to contain their attack reasonably comfortably and we always looked dangerous on the break. Twenty four minutes in LTB** latched on to a slight mistake by their centre back, fed The Pig*** and The Pig did score. 1-0 to the Wombles.  To be honest I had not expected that. A few minutes later we could have gone two up, but their keeper produced a brilliant finger tip save to push Dean Parratt’s shot over the bar.  They came back at us, but we were fairly comfortable in defence, and George Long was having a magnificent game in goal. The first half ended with us 1-0 up.

At the start of the second half Wigan threw everything they had at us but our defence was holding, even if there were a few heart in the mouth moments. We could have gone 2-0 up at about the 60 minute mark. Harry Forrester made a good interception just inside our half, and had a clear run to the edge of the penalty box. He had Lyle Taylor unmarked to his right and Joe Piggot unmarked to his left, but chose to try a shot instead and put it over the bar.

They equalised shortly afterwards. I thought at the time our centre back Deji Oshilaja was fouled in the build up, and having seen the video replay a few times I am even more convinced that he was, but neither the referee nor his assistants seemed to see it. I’ll embed the video, see if you agree with me.  From my point of view (admittedly biased) the referee seemed to ignore a lot of Wigan’s fouls, but gave everything against us.

There was another twenty minutes of almost constant Wigan pressure to endure, but we held out for a hard-earned draw. Possibly we could have won, but given the pressure that Wigan put us under for almost all the second half a draw was a fair result. As Stevie said at Fat Boys we came a way with a draw and we were happy. Even happier when we discovered that The Franchise (AKA Milton Keynes)**** had been relegated.

It all made for a contented trip back to South West London

*Our three defensive midfield players Tom Soares, Liam Trotter and Jimmy Abdou are collectively known as The Wardrobes, due to the perception of a certain lack of mobility among a section of our fans.
**Lyle Taylor (Baby) from the song we sing for him:
Lyle Taylor Baby, Lyle Taylor Woa oh o ( to the tune of “Don’t You Love Me Baby”).
*** Joe Piggot is (affectionately) referred to as The Pig.
**** The history of Wimbledon FC being uprooted and moved to Milton Keynes and the subsequent formation of AFC Wimbledon is well told in this Wikipedia article

Remembering Gracie -Two Years on

It was two years ago today that Gracie passed away. It is slightly strange but sometimes it feels like it happened five minutes ago and sometimes it feels as if I have been on my own for a lot longer than two years. The passage of time is relative to the observer according to Einstein. (I may be misinterpreting what he said.) What doesn’t change is my love for her and the amount that I miss her.

Two years on my life has settled down to a fairly steady rhythm. I’m no longer tempted to spend all day in my pyjamas drinking whisky (not that I ever did but for a while it felt like an appealing option). The fact that I have carried on working part time was the biggest barrier to that. Carrying on working, which was something that Grace told me I should do, has probably been the thing that has, perhaps, not quite kept me going, but given my life the structure that I need. The extra money that it brings in is useful but not essential. Most of it gets either saved or given away, though it does help to pay for the away days. Football and AFC Wimbledon have assumed an importance in my life that is larger than it really should be. But against that it has given me something to belong to, family if you like.

If it had been the other way round and I had gone and Grace had been left behind, she would have found her family in Church. I have a problem with Church, partly theological, in that I don’t believe much of what is taught any more, partly personal, in that as a widower I just don’t feel comfortable there. It is easier finding my fellowship on the terraces at a football match. That is probably more of a reflection of me and where I am at than it is of where Church is at. Actually there is one Church thing that I do enjoy. Our local Anglican Church runs this thing called Café Connect on a Monday morning. It consists of a group of people who don’t have anything much else to do on a Monday morning getting together at the Library Café for a coffee and a chat.

Another thing that I have found really helpful is a group called Way Up. It is a self help group for people who have lost their partners. There is a (closed) forum where you can ask for advice, rage against the unfairness of it all, post lousy jokes, or whatever. The great thing about it is that everybody gets it. We also have on informal local group, and about once a month we get together at a bar in Wimbledon for a drink and a bite to eat. Again I find it really helpful to be with people who are going through the same stuff that I am. Where I can be as open and as vulnerable as I want, and know that no one is judging me.

This has turned out to be a lot more about me and where I am at than it has about Grace. It is probably inevitable. Memories don’t fade away, but there are no new ones to be made. It is easier to write about the present.

The memories are always there. Our last summer, when we got Grace her e-bike so she could get out cycling again (and leave me behind on the hills). Our two and a half years in the Solomon Islands, or the time when she came to sea with me. Going across the Tasman Sea, it was a wee bit rough, but Grace decided that she would like a bath. She was in the bath when the ship dug her nose in and all the water went forward, and according to Grace, leapt out of the bath leaving her high and dry. I was on watch at the time so I missed it. Memories like that and lots more will always be with me. It is just that there won’t be any more to add to the list.

So where am I after two years? I think I am in a reasonably good place. My life is quite different to what it was when Grace was still with me, that goes almost without saying, but I do enjoy the life I have now. I think that while I will always love and miss Grace, I have made my peace with the fact that she has gone.

Life must move on. In fact, last night at the Way Up social it occurred to me, that while I am not actively looking for one, if the right girl, sorry I’m pretty sure she would be a woman, came along I wouldn’t be averse to a new relationship.

Away Day No.2 (Volunteers’ Day)

 This time we actually got to see some football. Quite a lot of football as it turned out.

Once a year the club  (AFC Wimbledon) and one of our sponsors Cherry Red Records treat the club’s volunteers to a day out. I qualify because I go along to the Work Weekends. During the summer we give the ground a good clean up and a fresh coat of paint ready for the new season. Because we are a fan owned club, and not particularly rich, we rely on people doing stuff for free that other, larger, clubs would pay contractors to do. The volunteers’ away day is a way of thanking all the people who give their time and effort to help the club out.

The day consists of coach travel to the game, a pre-match meal, and a ticket for the game. This year’s day out was to see Wimbledon take on Walsall in what could be described as a relegation six pointer. So normal away day protocols were observed, that is breakfast at Fat Boy’s before catching the coach. Then onto the coach for a zap up the M40 to Birmingham. Lunch had been arranged at Caulderfields Golf and Country Club.   who put on a very good lunch for a hundred or so of us, Having been very well fed and watered our sponsor announced that while he was still keen to support the day out it had in fact  been nine years since we had last won on Volunteers Day. So on to the match.

Walsall’s stadium is a tidy smallish place, probably about 12000 capacity but was only about one third full today.

Pre-match predictions were fairly positive. Walsall had not been in particularly good form of late and we came into the game buoyed up by a cracking win against Charlton on Tuesday night. Six minutes in the positivity started to slip. We gave away a free kick about twenty five meters out on the right. Normally we deal with those fairly easily, but in Erhun Oztumer Walsall have probably the best dead ball player in the League. His floated free kick found the head of his player and we were 1-0 down.

We tried to get back into the game, but to be honest we looked lethargic and disjointed. Then on the stroke of half-time we gave away another goal. Our centre backs, who are normally our most reliable players, seemed to get mixed up and both left the Walsall striker for the other one to deal with. The result was he slipped through between them for an easy goal.

We were all a bit down at half time, apart from Stevie, who was predicting that we would win 3-2. However the precedents were not good. The last time  we had come from behind to win was over a year ago, and the last time we had done it away was even longer. So far this season the rule has been, if we score first we don’t lose and if the opposition score first we don’t win.

I’m not sure what was said in the dressing room, but it was effective. Within three minutes of the restart we had a goal back. Andy Barcham was tripped inside the box. Their keeper half saved the resultant penalty but Joe Piggot (Feed the Pig and he will score) was on hand to put the rebound into the net.

From then on it was all Wimbledon. Lyle Taylor hit the post, several chances scrambled away and seven hundred Wimbledon fans make far more noise than 3500 Walsall fans. Our second goal was classic old school Wimbledon. A long accurate punt upfield from our keeper George Long found Lyle Taylor who hit it first time into the back of the net. Cue minor delirium in the away end.

It was still more or less one way traffic but the decisive goal would not come. Joe Piggot was hauled down a couple of times in the penalty area for what looked like clear cut penalties, at least from where I was standing. Finally in the sixth minute of stoppage time, George Long played a ball to Lyle Taylor similar to the one that had brought about the second goal, this time though Lyle was hauled down by their defender – penalty.

Dean Parrett took the ball for the penalty, a good decision, because Lyle had hurt himself scoring his goal, and I’m not sure that he would have converted it. He placed the ball on the spot, Fred and Barry in front of me couldn’t look, took his run up and slammed it into the top left hand corner of the net.
Cue serious delirium in the away end.
Two very happy bus loads of volunteers headed back down the M40 South West London.
“It only took nine years”

Edit 25/05
I have added this video, by one of the teams sponsors, John Green, because it relates to the game, but also because there are life lessons in there as well.

A more neutral report on the match is available on the BBC Sport website

Away Day

I haven’t written very much on the blog for the past year. Possibly a good sign, in that I am beginning to get my life into some sort of order after losing Grace almost two years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I still miss her intensely and if I could I would do almost anything to have her back with me. But my life is moving on and I am learning to find my own way of living it. With that in mind I had decided to try a slightly new slant to the blog.

Football and AFC Wimbledon in particular have taken on an importance in my life that is probably greater than it really should be. However with that in mind I thought that I would start writing about the games that I attend. Starting with today’s (April 2nd) game away to Doncaster.

The day started out well. Stevie suggested that we get a train up to Doncaster about 10:30 so that we would have time to get lunch before the game. I thought that was a reasonable idea and agreed. We met as we usually do before away games at a café for breakfast this time at Rosy Lee’s in Morden, because we were getting the train. Usually we get the Club Coach and we meet at Fat Boy’s just outside Kingsmeadow. With a pretty good (but not up to Fat Boy’s standard) full English inside us we got the Tube up to Kings Cross.

We met John at the station, decided that the Leeds train looked less crowded than the Edinburgh train, so we hopped on that instead. We had decided to pay the extra £10 to get open tickets so it didn’t matter what train we caught. This turned out to be a very good decision.

There were a fair few fellow Wombles on the train, so the conversation was mainly about our prospects for today. I thought that we could come away with a point. Stevie, who is an eternal optimist, was predicting a 5-0 win for us. The others weren’t quite so confident. To be fair we haven’t had a great season and we are seriously flirting with relegation to League 2 so I fully understood where they were coming from.

It all turned out to be academic though. John got a text message from a mate saying that the game was off. He sent one back saying that he was a day late for April Fool’s day. Unfortunately after a bit of searching the BBC, Doncaster and Wimbledon web sites, we found out that it was true. The game was off due to a waterlogged pitch. After Friday’s game which resembled water polo rather than football, we wondered how bad it really was. All the other games in the area had been called off as well, so it probably was the correct decision. It left us with a decision to make as well,  what to do with the rest of the day.

Our first thought was Plan “B”.  Peterborough were playing at home so we could get off the train at Peterborough and we would at least get to see some football. This was squashed by the man in the seat in front of us who pointed out that this train did not stop in Peterborough. OK plan “C” then. We couldn’t think of a plan “C” at least  not one that suited us all. We eventually settled on plan “Z”  and caught the next train back to London.

Blessing When the World is Ending; by Jan Richardson

This was taken from my friends Paul and Sally Nash’s blog It spoke to me on a day last December when I had been remembering Grace at St Raphael’s Light Up a Life celebration.

Look, the world
is always ending
the sun has come
crashing down.
it has gone
completely dark.
it has ended
with the gun
the knife
the fist.
it has ended
with the slammed door
the shattered hope.
it has ended
with the utter quiet
that follows the news
from the phone
the television
the hospital room.
it has ended
with a tenderness
that will break
your heart.
But, listen,
this blessing means
to be anything
but morose.
It has not come
to cause despair.
It is simply here
because there is nothing
a blessing
is better suited for
than an ending,
nothing that cries out more
for a blessing
than when a world
is falling apart.
This blessing
will not fix you
will not mend you
will not give you
false comfort;
it will not talk to you
about one door opening
when another one closes.
It will simply
sit itself beside you
among the shards
and gently turn your face
toward the direction
from which the light
will come,
gathering itself
about you
as the world begins

The original post by Jan Richardson with this poem in can be found here.

Random thoughts, ramblings and rants

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