2001

Home thoughts from abroad  .........

January 200

 

(from December 1999...      mom, Ken and I returned for a long hot Christmas break.  We stayed 27 days....

 

March 2001

 

Up until now, since we discovered Naples, we have done all the usual touristy things: - trolley bus tour, sunset and dolphin boat rides, shelling trip.  Indeed The Everglades and Epcot grand tours were my introduction to Florida.

 

But now I am on another break on my own. (28 Feb – 14 March) I’ve had a busy stay, playing house.  I’ve been making curtains and pelmets etc and haven’t done a single tourist thing such as go to the beach or eat out or visit places like Tin City.  I’ve been very happy to have been at home with the sun and the pool.

 

The new heat pump has worked brilliantly but the removal of the solar panels has left us with roof problems which I/we are trying to solve in my last three days here.

 

May 2001

 

Ken retired (early) on 27th April.  Between buying Kent Drive and my chinese water torture he was persuaded that 'life really is too short' and you need to grab what you can.  This includes spending as much time here as we can.

 

We sold our UK house with the intention of finding a new and smaller home when we return to the UK. So, we arrived safely to our only home on the 30th April to start this new chapter in our lives.  For once everything was EARLY! Flights, cab etc were great - a real pleasure travelling - no honestly!

 

Ken bought a computer on day one - he'd been without one for about four days and was in a severe state of withdrawal and was beginning to twitch and have nightmares! Our next day here I spent 'cleaning up the lanai and pool etc. to make everywhere usable - it only takes two months away from a place and it looks like a cross between the house of Usher and the Bates Motel. The spiders had taken over big time! It only happens outside I'm glad to say - the inside was great - just as I left it - ready for us to settle in. Whilst I was doing this Ken had taken to his bed - he's managed to have one day's illness in all the time I've know him and he chooses to have a second go at this when I've decided to hose a huge lanai. Actually he really was poorly - severe headache and throwing up - I think it was probably dehydration from the previous day's flying - anyway 24 hours later and the lanai was spotless and he was OK.

 

The next week we spent dashing around places like Home Depot - EXACTLY the same as B&Q although a guy I spoke to assures me Home Depot is a 20 year old stateside company with absolutely no connections in the UK - someone ought to sue someone on over this one.

 

We've turned a bedroom into an office complete with desk, computer, bed settee etc. Looks a little odd at the moment as it was already decorated and I've chosen things for when it will be repainted in neutral colours - but I'm being very brave and learning to live with it for now. The rest of the daily shopping trips were to complete diddly little jobs - pictures mirrors, bedding etc.

 

We've been up to our necks in people delivering, collecting stuff and someone inspecting and quoting for a re-roof job - we are now looking forward to someone coming to service (clean) the air conditioning unit. It is at a silly cheap price $25 (rather than about $70) so we expect a 'scam' or sales pitch of some sort. We are having the usual problems with the gardeners who haven't been as yet and the pool man who has rarely been over the past year but is wanting his contract renewed so has managed to turn up each week as he's supposed to do - odd co-incidence. They are so laid back here - there's a real 'sometime' feel about chores - great if it’s yourself but a pain when you want something done - can't have it both ways though and it's a small price to pay not to be stressed out by manic people.

 

We had our first visitor (this trip) J R from CIS - used to work for Ken - nice bloke. He was in Florida for a week's flying - his passion back home. His wife couldn't come with him, as her sister is very ill. He and Ken spent the next two days buzzing around Miami area and then the Keys. Ken had a great time as he did all the flying. J did all the takeoffs and landings. I didn't go with them - not 'cos I'm especially nervous of small planes but it would be a bit wasted on me as I'm not thrilled by them either.

 

Anyway it gave the chaps a chance to play Biggles without a 'girl' bothering them! I used the time  (my version)- reading, lolloping on the settee, sunbathing outside and generally doing nothing.

 

 We took J to the Riverwalk restaurant (open air at the Marina) for dinner - good meal. I had a brilliant red snapper with a sundried tomato 'topping' - J had oysters followed by ribs and said they were great - he took half the ribs back with him in a doggy bag - well doggy box actually.

 

We soon picked up our shopping and chores habit again when he left and continued to tweak the house - small rugs etc. Yesterday Ken refitted our walk-in wardrobe to suit us - I'm really pleased with that.

 

You may have gathered that so far (until today) we haven't done ANY sunbathing. We do try to use the pool once a day but don't actually sit in the sun - too busy. Anyway today (Monday) we finally managed it for a couple of glorious hot hours from 3 - 5 p.m. I'd done a bit of gardening earlier so the combination of the two have left me a 'tad' pink.

 

We have only been to the beach once for a sunset with J although Ken took him there on the way from the airport to the house when he picked him up and apparently they saw a dolphin under the pier when they were on it!!

The 'wildlife’ here is remarkable at this time of year - abundant is something of an understatement. The butterflies are the size of small birds. As for the genuine feathered friends there are masses of different kinds - some of which are like ours - wood pigeons for example and herons and egrets and ducks - all these and more are seen each day at the back of the house near the lake and culvert. We've also seen a bright red bird (presumably a cardinal) and a fairly drab bird but with an iridescent blue tail - remarkable! -  then - to top it all - today we saw a HUGE turtle wandering up the canal bank and basking in the sun for a while - utterly unconcerned about us - Ken may have him on video. (Oh yes, he's bought a digital video camera - so when he gets it all figured out we can send 'snaps' via the net). The only worry I have about wildlife is the strange set of HUGE footprints that run along the mud strip that should be the canal - I only hope they belong to a very large TAME dog.

 

I've only done a bit of clothes shopping and unsuccessfully at that - I bought a great top and skirt - last season's Liz Claiborne for 13 and 20 dollars but I'm too fat to live never mind wear Liz C. so I'm taking them back. Have bought a terrific pair of shoes though - actually made for your feet - no really! - they are sooooooo comfortable.

 

Ken's son R has been a brick being our postal service - we have redirected our UK post to him and he has the unenviable chore of reading/sorting/notifying us about them - sometimes also emailing copies of things - nice to have a secretary back home. He got his own back today - he told us there was a parcel coming for him (I took a couple back to the UK on my last trip here) - actually it's a computer 'bit' for (his sister) S - and would we mail it on to her when it arrived - we could take out one of the bits to make it lighter. Big parcel arrives lunchtime - - Ken takes out the not-needed bit, which of course is minute, leaving us with a rather chunky parcel to mail onwards - least we can do in return for his hard work.

 

Retirement for me is perfectly real and I do it very well even if I do say so myself. Ken, however, is still struggling with the concept.  He has had some bounced CIS e-mail from his office - but basically it was his own message saying he was out of the office until 31.12.2999! I'm sure it's going to take a while to settle in. Unlike many couples we aren't exactly sitting around in our family home of 30 years following our usual routines. We are dashing about in a strange place in a house we've 'lived in' for only a matter of a few weeks and we know that as things stand right now it's very much a temporary home. I think even if we still had a place back in Tottington it would still seem strange to be 'at home' somewhere where you know you're going to have to move on - this will take some getting used to. Not bad, just different.

 

All for now - keep in touch and I'll speak to you by e-mail, if not on the 'phone, and we'll see you in July.

 

June 2001

 

Half way through our stay here – can’t believe a month has gone.  We had incredible (stupid) plans before we came to travel all over Florida to see what the state was really like.  We wanted to see Jacksonville, Lake Okichobee (sp?), the citrus farms and all the ‘real’ stuff that isn’t Disney or too-much-snowbird-money land.  We also had a completely daft notion that we might be able to spend some time further afield in Canada or a cheap flight to New York or Boston.  As it tuns out we haven’t left Naples and have managed to get to the beach once!  We live here as we would at home.  Day by day we fill the hours with minor chores and a bit of lazing and eating and then its time for bed and another day.  There’s a small part of me that feels guilty about missing all those great opportunities for travel but only a small part, in reality it’s so pleasant just to do what we’re doing I don’t much care.

We are so settled (boring?) we’ve just joined the library today.  Again another pleasant experience – lovely people and super place.  You can borrow an unlimited amount of books and are able to order, renew and research their catalogue etc. on the net – excellent service.  Saw the sweetest thing while we were there – reminded me of my S.  Curled up on the settee (yes they do have settees and easy chairs for sitting and reading all over the place in there) was a young lad/backpacker, brown as a berry, spud in his sock, large boots parked by the seat, absolutely sound asleep.  Ahhh, bless ……

 

Right to jump in with the update on the O’s abroad.  Our next door neighbours who are ‘simple folk’ are moving house on the 8th of June – we expect our new neighbours on the 6th – a golf pro. His wife and CHILD!!  Any way it seems that Lee and Julie (the folks next door) went for a little ride a bit further north of Naples to a place called Port Charlotte and saw a house they liked and bought it on the spot.  Meanwhile they already have three other houses and two plots of land that we know of.  They came back and sold this house on their first Open House within an hour or so.

 

[Great American idea – when you’re selling your house you clear off for the day or weekend and the agent comes round – advertises “Open House’ all over the neighbourhood and elsewhere – presumably mails out stuff to potential customers and stays at your house and gives conducted tours and appropriate sales pitch.  In fact - quite funny – I got shanghaied by one recently and was made to tour the house because I’d stopped off for a leaflet.]

 

Following the house sale they also sold two plots.  Actually they’d already sold one of them, which is directly across the lake from us, and it has had a house being built on it for months now.  Lee bought the plots when he bought the house for ‘privacy’ – there is a real obsession with privacy over here.  As he has also just bought a motorbike and intends to buy a boat in Port Charlotte he decided to sell one of his five vehicles!  I was the teeniest bit tempted to buy it as I felt a bit shamefaced having to admit to only having one nehicle between us. The boat is the reason for the move. Apparently 20’ of waterfront in Naples fetches $100K .  I’ve told you all this so that you can get an impression of the kind of lifestyle of these people – these are the relatively poor/ordinary folk of Naples.

 

In fact we had a giggle recently reading the local press because they were writing about real hidden poverty in Naples saying people who have an income of less that $30K p.a. (about 21,500 GBP) are in dire straits and are forced to eat at home rather than go out (!) and must got to the beach for their amusement (!).  Yep – we are definitely suffering.

 

Rather than accept any food parcels or Red Cross aid just yet we are still struggling at Publix for our food shopping.  Boy do I miss Tesco and M & S seems like a dream.  Initially the supermarkets here looked wonderful – so full of stuff that was new to us – but after a very brief affair with them we are bemoaning the flaws.  Everything is packed in huge quantities – slabs of meat – giant bags of vegetables – cakes and cookies in multi-packs.  To be fair they will split them for you but it’s not realistic to get everything split all the time, it would take forever to shop.  Also, they don’t do loads of chilled meals – ready to cook/reheat as Tesco and M & S do – I do miss those.  You have two clear choices it seems to me – you can cook a proper meal from scratch each time – preferably for about six or more people – or you live on absolute ‘junk’ food.  Frozen and tinned food all overloaded with fat/sugar/salt – not to mention spices/dyes etc. – all too gross to imagine for an English palate.  Come back Tesco – especially ‘on line’ – all is forgiven.  Oh yes and the bread is pretty yucky too – again often too sweet and always insubstantial.  The ‘foreign’ breads (Cuban, Italian, and French) seems to be the best but at a premium price.

 

I mentioned huge footsteps in the garden in my last epistle – guess what – they may have been alligator prints.  No, seriously, Lee says there’s ‘a big old boy’ who comes to the lake at the back to fish and does walk along the culvert.  A big one he says – but not a problem!  Being bitten by midges, no-see-ums and ants when I’m in the garden is enough.  ‘Gators I don’t need.  [Our turtle’s still visiting us]

 

 My garden is getting better and better – I’m adding plants, food, water and lots of TLC and it’s beginning to show.  We will just get this place right and we’ll have to leave – it’s such a shame.  I put in an hour or two most days – it’s truly hard work here – firstly, even though its between 5 and 7 p.m. it’s still in the high 80’s and secondly, it’s an incredibly difficult type of gardening - not a bit gentle.  Even the grass is tall and spiky – so kneeling down to do a bit of weeding, even with a mat, means you end up with legs like a spotty colander. (bites and spikes)

 

Ken’s refitted the walk-in closet and other two wardrobes so that they do the jobs we want.  As every job gets done the house becomes more and more ours.  Nice feeling.  He’s also ‘playing’ with a digital movie camera and has managed to put some pictures on the computer today – so real progress is being made – We think we’ve sent them to everyone – not exciting for you but dead thrilling for us – ‘cos its another system up and running.  Now he’s debugged everything, he can teach me how to do it and then I can send photos too.  You lucky people.

 

Apparently May and June are the two hottest months of the year.  We are having days in the nineties and nights of 75 so its really lovely to relax in the shade and to swim when we’re hot.  I love it and I don’t think Ken seems to be suffering – he says he’s OK. 

 

You can tell we’re not really local ‘cos we’re real wimps and have bought one of those sunscreen jobbies to go in the front window of the car when we park – it seems like a great idea to us as we’ve both experienced fried hands on the steering wheel and melted hips from the seat belt buckle – such fun after a couple of hours round the shops.  We don’t mind being pathetic at least we’re not being treated for third degree burns.

 

I’ve just been to one of their ‘walk-in’ clinics – nothing major – but what a difference in treatment to back home – they are SO NICE.  Talk to you instead of at you – they even talk to you as though you’re moderately intelligent, unlike most of our medics who assume that if you haven’t completed five years medical training, by definition, you must be as thick as two short planks.  Ken (being cynical) says its ‘cos you pay ‘em but as I said we pay ours too (indirectly)!

 

We are having zillions of little power-outs.  They last a matter of a few seconds and return – we can only assume they are caused by storms somewhere.  We’ve only heard thunder a couple of times and haven’t really seen any rain.  Our favourite weather man - Chip (as opposed to French fry) - keeps promising us rain but it doesn’t happen.  We have started to collect our hurricane supplies in case we get stuck with a couple of days no water/no power if we do get one of the seven promised hurricanes this season.  We are supposed to be due for 11 tropical storms and seven hurricanes – how they can possibly predict that, when they can’t even get the weather predictions for the next day correct, heaven only knows. Officially the hurricane season starts tomorrow, but Adolph (number one of the season) has already blown its way around the West Coast off somewhere in the gulf.

 

Meanwhile there are lots of forest fires – these are a real problem here when there is a long drought like this one – even if we get rain it doesn’t do much good as the top is so full of dry debris that the water tends to run off rather than soak the area thoroughly.  We have smelled a few of the fires and seen the helicopters flying over with a giant water bucket that scoops water from the sea.

 

With the rain comes the mosquitoes – my real enemy. I react badly to most insect bites but mossies (and horse flies) are my real favourites.  This is the first time in my life I’ve killed almost any crawly thing I see, almost without compunction.  Not doing much for my Bhuddist tendencies.  Honestly though it seems almost everything bites and when it does it’s me they’re biting.  We have to go on a search for appropriate sprays, oil lamps, candles, plug-ins etc. soon.  As the doctor said today – “you’re so fair skinned what ya gonna do?"  I've been telling everyone for  

years I was a real princess – now will you believe me. Basically I’m too sensitive to live.  In truth I’m going to end up like Howard Hughes living in air-conditioned, pollen-filtered, and sterile conditions; stepping on Kleenex tissues when I have to cross the room.  Actually that sounded OK to me when I just typed it – why did people think he was batty?

 

For those of you who know about my chicken giblets in mouth story and my tale of maggots in cheese and lion bars (fond memories from my childhood) let me add to them…..

 

I was rinsing my shoes after gardening one evening this week and said to Ken that Oscar (our name for the waste disposal unit – I know, I know, we should get out more) – seemed to be blocked up.  So Ken, always the helpful sort, turned it on to see what I meant and out came the three-day-old remnants of a Chinese meal, complete with assorted noodles, which smelled like a sewer.  Guess who was wearing it…. You’re right it wasn’t Ken.  UUUGHHH!  Believe me not an experience to repeat.  Ken, being male, thought it was greatly amusing and said, “I don’t know what you’re making such a fuss about” as I headed for the shower faster than the speed of light shrieking “Oh God, Oh God, Oh God” and similar expressions.  So once more Marilyn has been attacked by food while others more deserving escape.  Why me?

 

As I said at the beginning we are half way through this stay and are presently trying to book our next air tickets.  The plan at the moment (for those of you it affects) is - we arrive back in the UK on 30th June and return to Naples, with mom, on The 5th July until about 24th September.  We can get the flights we want but they are 598 GPB so, as there is good availability at the moment, we’re hanging on for another week in case the price drops.  During our Jul/Aug/Sept stay we are hoping to see a lot of friends and family.  Friends S and P are coming in August – I hope (my daughter) S might be able to come and (son) C maybe? – there’s a possibility D might visit.  At the beginning of September (mys sister her husband and daughter are going to Disney and then on to us – my niece for a few days – my sister and her husband for a couple of weeks – maybe more – so it will be a great few weeks catching up with everyone and generally having a giggle.

 

Meanwhile, I’ve just read this through and decided it sounds as though ‘there’s trouble in Paradise’ and the grumbles are setting in – it’s not at all like that we both love it here and can’t imagine doing anything better. 

 

To be continued in a couple of weeks…..

 

Almost Home

 

I’m doing this a couple of days early ‘cos we’ll be winging our way home on the 30th.

 

We finally got our roof repaired.  Again in a very unEnglish style.  SIX (!) men turn up for this ‘small’ job and unannounced (they don’t like to bother you) they set to work.  A nice touch – before driving their truck onto your drive they cover the drive with a sheet; presumably so they don’t dirty the drive with tyres or oil drips etc.  After three hours they rang the bell only to say they weren’t sure which other bit needed doing so they’d check back with the boss.  Meanwhile days go by and the boss doesn’t contact us for payment.  Then a couple of days ago they returned – again no contact with us – the first we know they’re there is the banging of the hammers on the roof – job done and off they go.  To date no one has asked us to pay the bill.  Strange country.

 

In Naples many people have two or three jobs to survive and they work into old age.  We don’t think there is a common retirement age – it seems you work as long as you want.  On a visit to Wal-Mart we had a tiny, hunched old lady – must have been in her eighties, seriously! – sticking little pink tickets on the items in the returns queue.  The security man at the garden checkout was using a zimmerframe – again, believe me I’m not making this up.  I only hope people like that are working through choice and not absolute necessity – if it’s the latter it makes me realise again just how lucky we are.

 

Our cleaner – yes, we can’t seem to find time to clean the house (any excuse) – is a lady called Laura.  She brings her two children with her.  Spencer is four and about to start Kindergarten in August.  The baby is eight months – they are both as bright as buttons and Caitlin is a delight – all smiles and mischief even at this early stage.  The parents we see around the place seem to have a different relationship with their children than the English – they are very aware of them and talk and listen to them with no sign of impatience – they seem much more child orientated than we are.  Maybe that’s just that I’m so used to Langworthy parents.  Nevertheless it is nice to see so much attention paid to small children – it must be better for them. Laura is a good example – she is besotted with her kids but she exercises very strong boundaries.  She refuses to fuss them – she doesn’t respond to every whimper from Caitlin – “As long as I’m sure she’s OK then she can fuss” and she is very quiet and calm and firm with any boundaries she sets Spencer and doesn’t for a moment let him wheedle his way round her.  When she says he has only a few minutes left in the pool she sticks to it and he comes out without complaint after he’s had his last few minutes.  Spencer is at the ‘Why? What? How?” everything stage and prefaces almost all his statements with “you know what?” and waits for your “What?” before he starts to tell you about all the birds, butterflies and animals (including skunks and scorpions) that live around his house (They live in the woods somewhere).  He is a mine of information.  His recent questions, Laura said, were on the lines of what happens when you die.  “Where’s heaven?  Does all your blood run out when you die?  Will you die before me?” etc.  Some of us still haven’t got answers to some of these.

 

Our wildlife in the garden is very novel to us, of course.  The cardinal birds and redheaded woodpeckers seem very exotic.  I expect they’re an every day commodity to real residents.  We have a pair of bluejays that I like to watch when we are eating in the kitchen.  I watched a battle royal the other day.  A crowd of assorted small birds had all got together to try and drive a huge crow away – presumably it was robbing nests of baby birds (?).  Initially the crow, of course, wasn’t at all impressed by numbers and proceeded to sit comfortably where it was and reacted to their squawking and flying at it as we would to midges.  It flew off eventually presumably to get ‘lunch’ somewhere where it wouldn’t be pestered by irritating small birds.  So, in the end, it was a victory to persistence and the little people. 

 

Our new next door neighbour is clearing next door’s garden.  As he’s a golf pro it seems he’s turning most things into lawn.  He described the garden as a jungle and proceeded to hack everything in sight.  During one of these expeditions I heard him call out to his wife to come and look at a snake.  Lovely – now I have to avoid snakes whilst gardening – not just ‘gators, mossies, red ants and vicious grass.

 

I mentioned in the last update that I’d seen a doctor at the local walk-in clinic.  Again spot the difference between home and here.  After about three days we got a phone call from the doctor’s nurse to check that I was OK and that the medication was working and to remind me if there were any problems to ‘get in touch’.  Now that’s what I call service.

 

We are about to get a tax-free week – Statewide – happens each year.  I think it’s probably to help people get kids school clothes for the next school year (?)  Any way from 25 July to 3 August any clothes under $50 are tax-free.  It was clothes under $100 each last year but the government in its wisdom decided that was too generous.  So guess who’s got a week’s shopping coming up?  I think most of everything I wear is under fifty bucks -–being a sale and outlet shopper.  Recently I bought a Liz Claiborne cardigan for $20 in the outlet store instead of $60.  Why pay the proper price!

 

Ken has turned into a chemist come weatherman since arriving here.  (I’m worried, Doctor, he seems to be developing a measuring fetish.) We can tell you the temperature inside and outside the house, temperature inside and outside the car, rainfall and, best of all, the chemical state of the pool.  He is testing the pool partly so that he can look after it himself and partly because he’s trying to keep some sort of check on the man we pay to look after it now – the elusive John Bungartz. It began with the test sample producing readings so far off the scale – we didn’t know if the chemicals were too high or too low!  Anyway with some cautious adjustments Ken has now righted it and the pool looks and feels good.  The rain knocks it out of balance at regular intervals, of course, but it is always much better than if we just left it to Bungartz’s gentle ministrations.

 

We have found a problem, which we hope to solve on our trip home.  We both have all sorts of internet/phone banking.  They are great from the UK – free or local phone charges BUT all the 08, 05 and similar numbers can’t be called from here.  Even more frustrating this took a little while to realise because when using them you get a busy tone.  OK, no problem you say – just go on line and find their international number – guess what - most of them don’t have one.  Pathetic.  We are supposed to be in such a technological age – everything made easy with phone and computer banking and it turns out to be ‘local’.  With Nat West, for example, I had to phone a head office number somewhere and they reluctantly put me through to someone who could do what I wanted on that occasion but wasn’t the contact I really could use at any other time and had no suggestions as to how I could operate the account if I couldn’t dial their usual contact number.  Similar experience with booking our flights – the site I use the most uses ‘free numbers’.  I found a really helpful girl at their head office to book our flights etc but she proceeded to suggest I rang their free number next time!  Ken has listed all the ‘culprits’ and we intend to have a bit of a moan when we get back.

 

We have actually been out a couple of times this last fortnight.  We drove up the coast to the very North end of Naples to check out various beaches to see what (if anything) they had to offer.  They are very proud of the fact that their beaches are ‘natural’ and don’t offer any water sports, ski jets, ice creams, soda, etc.  This is terrific mostly, but as we have visitors during our next three months here we were keen to find something they might want to do.  Any way we are pretty sure that if we go to Vanderbilt Beach – the Ritz backs onto this beach we will be able to hire stuff from the hotel concession for anyone who doesn’t want to just lie in the sun on an almost empty beach.

 

On this scout round we ended up at Delnor Wiggins – a state park and a beach. There are protected turtle nests there (they are on other beaches too) and there is a virtual 'jungle’ with a boardwalk through it here you can see ‘wildlife’ if you’re lucky – we only spotted butterflies and lizards – but we weren’t being particularly quiet and there was a another family around the area.  We climbed the lookout tower and we did see an Osprey on top of a bare limbed tree.  When we left the ‘park’ we also saw a racoon crossing our path.  Mangy looking creatures they are – I have seen a couple of dead ones on the roads.  Talking of people running over things  – there was a news item of someone hitting a mother bear near Corkscrew swamp – it seems its pretty common – the car always wins. This time though the ‘trackers’ they sent out to check on it say that it is hurt but they can’t properly assess to what extent – she has a cub but apparently it’s old enough to survive without her.  It seems it’s pretty commonplace hereabouts.  Apparently 15 last year just around that area.

 

Last Saturday we went to see a free ski show.  It’s on every week and is performed by the Gulf Coast Skimmers.  They turned out to be a group of all-ages children (about 7 to 19).  It is a local outreach (Christian) programme to attract kids who might otherwise be getting into bother.  They were brilliant.  The show was really good – it ended with a three high pyramid – so you can tell the skill level was pretty impressive.  Bare foot skiing forwards, backwards every which way – an enjoyable hour and a half.  Of course they pass the hat or rather the bucket as donation and volunteers fund the whole enterprise.  We left feeling good about the world, at least for a while.  It knocks a little of your cynicism when you se a bunch of kids who give up most of their Saturdays every week to show their skills at something they clearly enjoy.  Apparently you can get a Water skiing College Scholarship if you reach a certain standard.  It is a strange country in some ways – sports scholarships for college always seems so odd – something like a contradiction in terms.  Most academics aren’t usually the best footballer players.

 

As ever I’m not going brown – I’ve long since given up on that idea – but I have become the colour of the average live human being (rather than a dead one).  Whilst doing this I have also become green and white – yes folks, the multicoloured Ormson will soon be amongst you.  My throat has decided to stay whiter than white – looks a bit like a badger I suppose.  Cute eh?  Best of all the ends of one side of my hair have become a definite green.  It’s from swimming in chlorine every day and my hair was permed.  The two things react – eh, voila, green hair.  Hopefully it will prove to be removable – either by cutting or by an antigreen shampoo.  We’ll see.

 

We continue to use the library.  Again the service is exceptional you can browse and order on line.  I did this on Monday ordering three books from the central library – saying I would pick them up in East Naples library sometime.  We went to East Naples library the next day and I’d selected my usual six books and when I got to the desk and she swiped my card she said – “Oh, we have three other books for you”.  Overnight service it would seem – fantastic – our interlibrary loans at home don’t work at anything like that speed.  The downside is I have nine fairly hefty books to get through in three weeks (or renew on line).  I’m very impressed.  Also the three I ordered are very recent publications.  The earliest one was April.  So they also keep up on the latest novels.

 

We went to the cinema a couple of Tuesday’s ago (Tuesday is cheap day – about three quid) to see Moulin Rouge.  I thought it was such a self-indulgent piece of rubbish.  I suspect someone dreamed up the idea when they heard that Nicole Kidman thought she could sing.  Boy was she wrong.  It’s a pastiche of every musical you’ve ever seen – its littered with some lovely old standards, which are, then decidedly killed by the two leads (who is the bloke?) Neither of who can sing either tunefully or even with reasonable timing.  They drop the emphasis in entirely the  wrong places etc – it is just painful.  The ‘plot’  is a traditional love story – yes, I know its supposed to be, but when there’s nothing else in the movie what does it leave you with?  We don’t even get to see a real example of what I think was probably some wonderful dancing by the company – probably the director thought it would so outshine Ms Kidman it was really too risky.  Anyone casting skin and bones miss sweetie pie as a femme fatale Monroe clone (one of her numbers is Diamonds are a girls best friend in the style of Marilyn) need their noodles examining.

 

I’m gathering quotes from painters at the moment to have the whole house repainted – to freshen it up.  My car sold in the UK and I thought I’d like to use the money on the house.  We had three people quote. One came and returned the next day to actually give me the quote.  The other two I’ve had to chase over a week – still no response from one and the other (off the top of his head ‘cos he “didn’t have the paperwork with him”) quoted double the price of the first.  I hope to get someone started when we return from the UK and the house should be sparkling soon.  Ever the optimist.

 

This Tuesday we went to Sarasota to meet someone who can help with Visas – we want to be able to come and go as we please.  His office is on a long thin Key called Longboat Key and his boardroom where we met is on the third floor overlooking the gulf (He’d been watching the dolphins the day before).  It had a large patio area with pots and seats and steps leading down to a perfect beach – talk about the good life – even when working.  On our way back we stopped at St Armand’s circle for a really exceptional meal – Café Europe – twee name but its 27 years old which explains it.  Such a shame its such a distance away.  Even the Caesar salad’s worth travelling for. They bake their own bread - spicy sort of loaf which you can dip in any or all of their own infused olive oils (or eat with butter if your prefer) and this is only to keep you busy whilst looking at the menu.  The veal was unsurpassed, vegetables excellent and my pudding – a warm chocolate pudding with a soft pure bittersweet Italian chocolate inside was incredible.  Simply described as warm chocolate cake – it is truly understated.  More than satisfied with lunch we trotted off to see where Ken’s ex-sister-in-law Wendy (and Gary) live.  Very similar to our house and development but not as nice – area and house all seemed a bit neglected.  We then stopped to have a look at Venice – a thriving resort now but was a ‘boomer’ a few years back.  Seemed quite nice – again rather Naples (it also has a fifth avenue) but not as neat or fresh or sharp looking as it is here – a bit jaded again.  Maybe I’m prejudiced.  We drove around Port Charlotte a little to try to get the feel of it – I think all this area seems the same – something not quite new enough about it.  Tons of waterfront properties though as Lee and Julie said and clearly not the sort of prices you’d be paying down here – so brilliant for a boater/fisher.  We then meandered down to Sannibel. (shell island)  Got there about five in time to catch the last of the sun for a while.  We decamped at Bowmans Beach and Ken got his sea swim and I lollopped on the beach soaking up the sun.  Really lovely – full of shells and the usual white powdery sand.  We drove through the Fort Myers Beach area – this is the ‘commercial’ seaside.  Plenty of houses, motels, restaurants, shops, things to do etc.  Fairly busy for June – presume this is a holiday package place and would keep going pretty much all the year. It looked as though it was full of British tourists.  Like a Spanish Resort – so it would be a good place to be if you want to be busy.  On this journey you get to cross several bridges because in effect you are hopping from island to island.  On the long bridge over the causeway between Sanibel and the mainland we drove parallel to three Dolphins doing their synchronised water ballet.  They never cease to thrill me.  Poor Ken’s doing all the driving and barely gets to see anything.

 

The thought to end this with is how much I really appreciate how lucky I am.  None of this is taken for granted or as being my ‘right’.  I am so lucky to be able to have this sort of life and I do feel incredibly guilty sometimes that all the people I care about are still working.  I wish I could share this with you – it would make it even better.  All this and more occurred to me a couple of days ago.  I was ‘hanging about’ treading water in the deep end of the pool – cooling off and enjoying the feel of the warm water and I found myself watching a huge butterfly fluttering around the flowers I’ve planted in the back garden and above it, in a truly azure sky, there was a bird just idly riding the warm air in large circles. It was a pure moment of absolute happiness and gratitude.

 

July 2001

 

Oh to be in Naples now the rain is there

 

Big gap since my last ‘diary’ piece.

 

We went home on the 30th June with plans to return on the 5th July – a mad turnaround four day visit to catch up on some UK ‘business’ and friends and pick up mom for our flight back for a three month stay. What’s the phrase about well-laid plans of mice and men oft’ gang awry?  We arrived back on the 30th after a good trip only to discover mom wasn’t well.  She ended up in Bury General on Tuesday (3rd).  The hospital was unbelievably dreadful.  It was already overdue for closing and had only three weeks left to its ultimate demise.  It was therefore hugely understaffed – doctors as well as nurses - and bordering on filthy.  Other than putting her on a drip for liquids they did nothing else of any consequence.  It took five days to get a ten-minute x-ray from which they concluded she had diverticulitis (as does anyone of 84!) and promptly let her go.  (11th July).  I was hugely relieved, as I knew she would be better taken care of at home than in there.

 

We then decided we needed to give her a couple of weeks to recover properly and began to try to change our flights. The best we were able to get were for the 5th of August so our five-day turnaround had turned into a five-week stay.  We were both disappointed, as we really wanted to get ‘home’.  Partly because it’s great here but mostly because we didn’t have a base in the UK and were living like gypsies – roaming from one motel/hotel to another depending where we could get rooms.  As it turned out all sorts of (accidental) good things came out of the extended stay.

 

We saw P and K a few times which we wouldn’t have been able to do on our original plan and it’s always nice to catch up and have a giggle.  We are used to seeing them every six weeks or so.  With being here half of the year that will obviously get extended now and again.  They were coming out to us in September but it’s no longer possible (J has work commitments which prevent it) so it would have been about six months rather than weeks between seeing each other had we not got delayed.

 

On a practical level I caught up with my own GP and got some stuff checked out which I was leaving until later in the year.  All’s well, I’m still functioning it would seem.

 

With enough time to pause for thought we began to think about future homes.  Our original plan was to do this on our winter return at the end of September.  We gathered details on a couple of local properties – a stone cottage down the road (Crostons for those that know the area) and a very small semidetached bungalow on the Riverbank Estate.  We viewed both to give us an idea of what we could get for around seventy thousand.  The cottage was great – huge bedroom and quite spacious inside – a bit of a tardis really – the drawback being it needed completely repainting, carpeting etc.  It was totally neglected but could be really nice.  I was keen that we should give it serious thought rather than just look at it as a price sample.  We then went on to view the bungalow.  It was immaculate.  We decided to buy it and the deal was done and dusted before we left the UK.  Hopefully if all the ‘legal stuff’ goes through OK it will be ours before we return home – the latest will be three days after we get back.  Talk about things working out in a strange way!  As I said it is a tiny two-bed semi-det. Bungalow – I do mean tiny – how we will adjust to living in that space (or lack of it) time will tell.  The decision was made on the basis of cost and the fact that at the moment we tend to see the UK base as our second home rather than our main home.  Anyway it’s a lovely little place – turn-key condition as they say over here – doesn’t need anything doing – in fact we’ve ordered a pair of sofas to match the wallpaper that’s already in it!

 

On the 14th July we managed to get to a wedding that I thought we’d miss because we’d be back in the States.  It was the marriage of my neighbour’s daughter from Grantham Drive.  Our kids quite literally grew up together – indeed her father described S as his third daughter at the wedding – so it was a real joy to be there to see C get married.  Sadly her mother was seriously ill in hospital and wasn’t there.  It was, therefore, very poignant but also very joyful.  C looked lovely and the wedding was fantastically done – I would expect nothing less from P (her mom).  It was also nice to be able to share it with S.  Another bonus from our extended stay was that we were able to see S a couple of times.  She came down for C hen party and then a couple of weeks later she came down again for the wedding. 

 

On a practical level I was also able to give mom some proper time for a change instead of my usual dashing in and dashing out visits that I do.  It gave me an opportunity to arrange for her to have her bathroom, kitchen and hall floors recovered and to sort and tidy some cupboards and drawers for her.  She is naturally reluctant to let me loose on her stuff cos I’m terrific at throwing things out and she is the complete opposite and hoards ever little thing.  She thinks I’m ruthless and I know I am but I actually think that’s an admirable trait, as life then doesn’t gather clutter.

 

Back to purchases – we also bought a car on (almost) impulse.  It was such an expense and nuisance hiring a car – especially on this occasion as Ken had got one the afternoon that mom went into hospital.  It was an immediate arrangement from a local dealer but this meant that we were chopping and changing it all the time because the guy had various cars booked out at different times to long-standing customers.  Any way all this was the excuse and we didn’t want a repeat performance when we come home in September.  So we bought a Toyota on 19th July on the basis that they have it back from us on the 5th August and store it until the 25th September.  Ken also negotiated a good discount and some additions to the car – so all in all a deal well done.

 

The luxury part of the trip was having time to get my hair cut and a manicure and pedicure – sheer joy not to be rushing somewhere or other.

 

We also had the chance to meet up with a friend of Ken’s (A) who was back here for a brief visit from Hong Kong.  He only gets back to Bury about every couple of years so it was another fortunate bit of timing.  We went out for our ‘usual’ group meal (22nd July) with A and his (lovely) wife I and the core of BSAC – Ken, P, S, H, E, S, L (and the girls S and C). Unfortunately a bit of the core (the pips?)– C and G – couldn’t make it.

 

On 27 July we took off to see Ken’s kids.  We spent Friday night in Reading with R – basically delivering various packages, which had come to us in the Sates for him, and catching up.  It was also a chance for us to see his new house. It’s an absolute bargain.  A really nice house.  It has a superb (new) kitchen and bathroom – very luxurious – so the major expenses are taken care of.  Light fittings etc are great and it was freshly painted – any minor improvements R might make could well turn it into a truly fantastic home.  The garden has wonderful ‘bones’.  It was originally laid out and planted by a real expert – super design – espalier apple trees on a wall – small pond etc it would be a real a real joy to uncover it and return it to its former glory.  Richard, of course, is talking Agent Orange.  I hope someone steps in and persuades him that he has a treasure there.

 

The next day we went on to Wales to see S – again some more parcel delivering.  She is in an ideal environment for her – countryside, horses and dogs – so seems happy with her lot.  We stayed at the most fantastic house -–highly recommended if you are ever in the area of Abergevenny or more specifically Cwmdu.  It is a wonderful stone built house – which was there in 1600 (and possibly some time before.  It has been lovingly restored – right down to them laying a cobbled courtyard stone by stone. The owners are a ‘retired’ (very young) couple from London – an ex West End antique dealer.  Tony has a real love (respect) for wood and is still restoring and remodeling great pieces of furniture.  Again anyone going that way let me know and I’ll give you details of how to find them – they are very tucked away in the side of a hill (Trish and Tony Longcraine).  Indeed we were their first B & B.  The accommodation is excellent – huge ensuite room – perfect place for walkers and country types.  Equally it is just as good for do-nothings like me as there are beautiful places to sit -in the orchard in summer – by your own log fire (in your room) in the winter – can’t recommend it enough.

 

On the way back we meandered round the bits I knew well some 15 years or so ago.  Peter’s parents had a caravan in Tregynon near Tredegar.  We visited Tredegar House – a bit of a spectacular garden there - then wandered over to the caravan site.  Massively changed of course – all updated – very swish – but still in a lovely spot.  Brought back a bunch of memories – not least of which is that we spent part of our honeymoon there.

 

August 2001

 

August started well as I went to have lunch with my little chum D and mutual friend A.  You know it will be nice to see your friends again but I think you don’t really recall how good it is ‘til you’re there.  It’s such fun to see D – it seems we never stop laughing and being silly.  It’s a real opportunity to be totally daft.  She  (as ever) gave us a great lunch and I was reluctant to leave some hours later.  Even as I type this I remember why coming home to the UK is such a joy.

 

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to fit in another friend – Irene – I had a date booked with her at the beginning of our stay but had to cancel when mom was ill.  She was in the middle of chemotherapy when we were home so wasn’t too well any way.  We’ll catch up on all our (nice) gossip when I get back next time.

 

I’m glad we always seem too busy here to miss people too much otherwise it would be dreadful.  I have such genuinely nice friends and family around me in the UK.  I assume the only way I manage without them is because I know very soon we’ll be back together again.

 

Finally the 5th of August arrived and we set off back to Naples with mom.  Great trip as ever.  This Delta set of planes hasn’t let me down once in four (five?) trips.  Indeed this one proved excellent as we were an hour late getting out of Manchester and as we only have one and a half-hours between flights in Atlanta (and we have to clear American customs who are notoriously slow) we thought we’d probably got a problem.  The plane made up the time on the flight and we got in on time – excellent!

 

Thanks to our excellent housekeeper (American for cleaner!) Laura who’d brought in post and parcels and arranged for our stuff from the UK (Pickfords) to be delivered we came back to a house and pool just ready for use.  Such a joy. 

 

Actually the Pickfords delivery from Miami got delayed by rain – yes, it is that bad here – brief but horrendous – and Miami had been hit especially hard.  So our stuff came a couple of days later.  It was exciting to unpack as I’d completely forgotten what I’d tossed in at the last minute when I found out we could ship 1,000 cu ft and we’d only got about 400 worth – that being Ken’s skiing and diving gear which he wanted stateside and we had decided was too much to take with us on one trip.

 

We had mountains of paperwork and e-mails to get through (I’m only just beginning now – two weeks later).  We spent a couple or so days dealing with the absolutes like bills, cheques etc and had to put the rest aside ‘til now cos we had some friends coming to stay.

 

Needless to say I was doing stuff like making two bedside table cloths (for our room!) the night before they were due because I wanted everything to look its best – not to impress but so I can share with them why I like it so much here.  Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time for the repaint job which I want done.  It had been planned, had we not been stuck in the UK we would have had a month to get the place repainted right through – to freshen it up - and they would have seen it at its very best.

 

On the 12th we drove to Miami to meet the gang – P, S, C, G, H.  Lovely to see them all.  We ‘guided’ P and S back on the 41 – a bit more to see than on the Interstate – probably slower – but safer, easier to follow and no chance of getting lost.  Got back in time for a quick meal at Perkins and home to bed – they must have been dead on their feet.  They had travelled about five hours from Orlando to Miami earlier in the day and then on to Naples – two or more hours driving.

 

We did a grand tour of the area with them the next day – to give them a feel for the place and the next few days we women shopped and the guys did guy-shopping or whatever.  Poor P had a stinking cough/cold so wasn’t really up to much as it happens.  He remained enough of his ‘daft’ self to keep us laughing most of the time though.  He nearly killed himself and mom ‘cos each time they laughed they ended up doing synchronized coughing.  P and S had a busy first week so I expect it was OK to do more or less nothing while they were with us.  On Friday we hired a boat in the morning and went down to Keywardin Island via a bit of Port Royal.  We managed to see an adult and baby dolphin feeding on the way out and on the way back we found some more right in the dock as we were coming in.

 

On Saturday (18th) morning S took off for a last mad shop, she said, but returned with wine for Ken – wonderful flowers for mom and I – the first real ones my house has had – a real joy for me and a sweet gift and chocolate – what a smashing lady.  By lunchtime I’d made the traditional butties and off they went to Miami for their flight home.  Sad to see them go – it was lovely sharing this place with someone else.  I wish everyone could stop work and come and live here in the sun.  I hate the thought of the group having to return to work on Monday it doesn’t seem fair somehow. 

 

Thought for the day – visiting friends make you fat.  I put on three pounds this week – must be P and S's fault!

 

Since then we’ve slid back into our usual routine of sunbathing and pool in the morning followed by lunch and then the shops – return home for a 6.30 – 7.00 dinner – some awful American TV and bed.  Sounds excruciatingly boring – I can’t defend it – I’ve no idea why it isn’t – I just love it.  (A note here for S – I bought a $149 dollar pure silk navy (lined etc) jacket for $22 and yesterday at Bealls was a real bargain – Most stuff I bought was 80% off and then I joined the over 50 club and got another 15% off the total bill – so $20 items, already reduced, came in at about $3.50 something)

 

We’ve just returned from the afternoon cinema.  We went to see Captain Correlli’s Mandolin.  I wasn’t overly impressed but it is really sweet (aaahhhh!!!) story.  Now I have to read the book.  I confess to reading about ten pages when it first came out and abandoned it – it deserves a second chance.

 

That seems to bring us travellers up to date again.

 

As for my kids -

 

C keeps in touch by e-mail and a phone call every Sunday so I know he’s well and happy.  He seems to do very well for time off.  He was going to St John’s for a week (21 July but decided against it).  Yesterday he took off for a three-week tour of the West Coast of America by train.  He flies to Seattle and starts there but gets down as far a Vegas before going back to Goose Bay – fabulous.  It seems like a great job to me this RAF life.  Steady job, good money and training and the opportunity to travel. His present lady (G) works for CBC as a presenter/reporter on radio.  She looks nice from her picture.

 

S seems well and happy at present – she (like her mom) seems to flourish in the summer and wilt in the winter.  She is thinking of going back to college and has applied (and got) a government grant to help pay for the fees.  I hope she does it, as it will be another string to her bow.  As someone who truly values any kind of ‘education’ I don’t think you can get too much of it.  She’ll be wending her way to Turkey for a couple of week’s holiday soon.  Back to where she and P worked when they were on their ‘European saga’ – I think, as well as a holiday it’s also to see old friends again.

 

Can’t imagine where my kids inherited their ‘no-roots’, ‘travel-light’, ‘hippie-dippy’ streak from.

 

As I said I seem to be caught up again…. Until next time…..

 

September 2001

 

Message from a wounded America…..

 

A bit of a dilemma to begin these ramblings.  This writing is primarily my ‘journal’ which I then share with you.  Since I was about fifteen I have kept journals until this last five years or so.  This is the first record I’ve kept using technology on which to write it.  So comes the problem of editing and correcting.  In the past I simply wrote as I thought.  There wasn’t any real opportunity for a ‘rewrite’.  I have been doing exactly the same this time – sitting at the machine and just thumping out thoughts as they occur.  Other than use the spell-check for typos and spelling errors (not that there are any of those of course) I don’t amend the finished document in any way. 

 

Reading through the last update I realised there were at lease two errors (of fact) – S went shopping on her own on the Friday not Saturday morning (I think?) and Sally went to Istanbul not where she worked/stayed before and for a week not for two weeks.  Me no listen properly.  Now the burning question is - do I go back and correct the ‘journal’ pages and replace or do I stick faithfully to the notion of write it as you think and add to it later?  I think I’m sticking with the streams of consciousness route.  The worst sort of writing!  Easy for the writer, murder for the reader.

 

I’m sure I wouldn’t be turning these thoughts around so much had I not just finished David Lodge’s book ‘Thinks’ much of which is concerned with what thought actually is – very interesting.  There are some especially interesting arguments from scientists who are working on developing artificial intelligence versus the ‘arts’ faculty (and a visiting author) who have an entirely different concept of human thought.  Part of what he is trying to do is to record his own thoughts as they happen – which he discovers is impossible because between the thinking and the speaking we already alter and edit – thinking itself, of course, isn’t actually words.  Oops, apologies, gone off at a tangent here… must get on. 

 

For those of you still with me, here comes the next step of the saga. First an update on flora and fauna – this seems to be the butterfly season (summer!).  There are 160 varieties of Florida butterflies.  We seem to get most of them passing by us. The really exciting one is the Giant Monarch – biggest in the state and we get to see it in our garden. As I said we get zillions of others but this is pretty spectacular as it’s the size of a small bird – think wren here not sparrow.  All the plants I’ve put in the back are butterfly plants.  The milk weed plants naturally attract the milkweed butterfly which we were thrilled with initially but now regard as common as a cabbage white back home.  Familiarity breeds contempt.

 

Another trip to the library afforded the usual pleasures and included being ‘let off’ a $15 fine for overdues.  We had rung them from the UK when we got stuck and they had agreed not to charge us – nice.

 

I decided my hair needed cutting and finally accosted a perfect stranger in a car park and asked her who cut her hair – a really neat bob.  (I can hear S as I type this, “Oh, mom!!!)  Any way needless to say she was charming and flattered and we had a brief chat and she gave me the name of her hairdresser.  He was so sweet –Paul.  I was ten minutes early for my appointment so I got to see him use the full ten minutes backcombing and spraying his own hair and deciding whether to wear his shirt tucked in or out but ‘bloused’ – he went with ‘in’ – definitely the best choice I thought. Finally he set to and had me shampooed (the stylists actually do it themselves!) cut, blown dry and out in 30 minutes – no swapping back and forth between clients – just does yours!  Great.  We had a pleasant 30 minute’s chat beginning with him saying “What a pretty skirt – is it Tommy Bahamas?”  I hadn’t the heart to tell him it was probably Marshall’s (Outlet store and probably cost $5 ish).  If anyone ever makes another hairdresser movie – bags I get the job of casting it.

 

We’ve joined a wholesale thingy like Macro called Costco.  Pay $45 a year (!) and buy at wholesale prices.  As usual these prices don’t beat a bit of canny shopping round the dollar shops and outlets but we saved our $45 on the first trip and got a mobile phone where they ended up paying us $40 - pretty good deal all round.  The membership card also gives you access to gas at (at least) 5 or 6 cents lower than elsewhere so it will go on being useful.  We have been back a couple of times since, when we knew they were the best place for something, and filled up while we were there.  This is a warehouse that also does Swarowski and diamonds.

 

Our next home (in the UK) became ours on the 14th September thanks to a great solicitor recommended by the same two friends (P and S) who have also picked up keys for us, read meters and all sorts.  The all sorts being a series of overwhelming favours which we’ve discovered today.  I won’t embarrass them here with the details but I am going to find it difficult to thank them sufficiently for their kindness.  I’m quietly excited at the prospect of setting up another home. I’d like to do it for a living – any takers?  You buy the house and I’ll sort it out.  The big challenge here of course is how to get a quart into a pint pot.  We’ve kept ‘stuff’ from a large four bed detached and now have to get it into something resembling a double garage.  It can be done.  I’ll also have another garden to do from scratch.  In the past five or six years I’ve shaped and planted three new gardens and haven’t stayed to see any of them come to fruition.  Perhaps this time?

 

Whilst thinking about gardens it’s just reminded me that over here we often pass tree farms – quite literally called that. There are rows and rows of trees – all varieties.  All their public spaces and new housing developments plant mature trees – no waiting for a finished garden over here – the land of instant gardening.  Seemed odd at first to see fully-grown huge palm trees being planted alongside roads and outside our new local Home Depot.  I am talking thirty or forty feet high.  They use a massive tripod support for a while until they settle in and bingo a finished street.  A domestic example of this is John, next door, who has just dug up a mature sago palm (worth about $600) and is swapping it for two palm trees from the golf club where he works.

Whilst singing the praises of the great outdoors – thought you might like to see what fire ants can do to you when you’re pottering about in your garden.  They are everywhere and virtually indestructible.  At best if you get rid of a couple of nests they simply move somewhere else nearby.  These are ants you look out for all the time and are not to be taken lightly.

 

We went looking for some spurs for my mother’s sister’s husband (I’ve never thought of her as an aunt or him as an uncle – strange isn’t it) while we were over here – he wanted the real thing - Mexican/American ones with rowels.  We discovered this really amazing tack shop.  It is owned by Germans, run by Americans and pretty well hidden in a Cuban/Mexican area.  Any way it’s full of wonderful riding stuff – not tourist – for serious riders.  The American saddles have to be seen to be believed. One was tooled and silver trimmed dark leather and was incredibly beautiful.  We had a wide selection of spurs.  I hope the ones we chose are OK, we thought they were great.

 

The house here has been completely redecorated inside.  The guys worked 8 – 5 or 6 or 7 whatever was needed. 3 men for two days, 2 men for a day and the fourth and last day (Saturday) finished off buy one man.  They took two short breaks about 10.30 and 2.00 – sometimes they didn’t seem to bother with that.  The last guy must have worked a straight 12 hours.  They were extremely neat, clean, quiet – I’m so impressed.  The down side of this is that only the owner/boss spoke English so trying to say – “No I wanted that wall in Antique Cream eggshell, not white flat latex”, was a tad difficult.  That aside it was a pretty awful experience in that they tried to work right through at once which meant we had a complete tip and no man’s land.  At one point in all this the three of us were reduced to eating lunch sitting on our bed.  When the boss came he told them we had to have places to be comfortable and that they must finish one area at a time.  This improved the situation a little but still a pain having a whole house painted while you’re in it.  I should have been more trusting and gone with his suggestion of doing it when we weren’t here.  I wanted to be sure things were done right.  We had a couple of close calls so in the end it was probably better that we were here.

 

The next major job is repainting the lanai.  It would seem worth the investment.  Our new neighbour John is putting a huge amount of work and money into the house – removing trees, cutting hedges, resodding the lawn etc.  He says it’s well worth it – he bought at 175 and reckons with the work he’s done already it’s worth 200 – reckons ours with pool must be worth 220.  Hope so.

 

We took a trip this week to see Lake Okichobe  (really must determine how it’s spelled).  It’s a huge inland ‘sea’ and I had visions of beaches and boats and pretty surroundings – bit ‘Great Lakes meets Lake District I suppose.  On the maps we have of Florida there aren’t any roads, towns etc marked for East of where we live – we assumed they were pretty useless maps and the scale used didn’t cover ‘minor’ stuff.  Not so.  There isn’t anything East of where we live.  It’s incredible – miles and miles and acres and acres of swamp eventually blending gently into countryside of sorts – but in the main not inhabited.  Finally we drifted into the occasional ranch territory which in turn became some scattered farms and cows and horses and finally the real growing spaces for Florida citrus fruits.  There was no man from DelMonte but it was certainly like the adverts – perfectly straight rows (and rows) of oranges.  It would be breathtaking in spring – we must do it.  The perfume alone from thousands of orange blossoms must be incredible. 

 

We were heading for a town called Clewiston – ‘the sweetest town in America’ – being its self-proclamation.  (Naples calls itself Paradise – brief but to the point I think).  Anyway there was I stuck on the idea of ‘the sweetest town’ being cutesy, little and all gingham checks and Doris Day – what do we get – a play on words – the town is in the Sugar Cane area!  It was not the sweetest town in America though it was the only town for miles around, so not much competition for the title.  The sugar cane fields were also like the TV car adds – rows of cane either side of the road – I thought they were ‘corn’ (as in cob) and couldn’t decide whether to burst out into ‘the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye” a.k.a. whatshisname (come on S/C where’s my other brain cell? think Oklahoma) or dash through the fields at the first sight of a small plane as in North by Northwest.  Anyway when I discovered it was only the potentially inflammable sugar cane fields of the car advert I was greatly relieved as it meant I didn’t actually have to do anything.  It simply required Ken to drive fast.

 

We decided to eat at one of the usual roadside plastic American Food stops (The Clock) rather than find some quaint bistro in Clewiston (!) and plod on to the lake itself – after all that’s what we brought chairs and swimming cossies for.  Full of lunch – off we went.  Followed the signs for the lake and ended up at the designated place – neat and wonderfully laid out – picnic benches, shade trees to park your car under – all designed for people with boats.  The nearest we could get to the lake was a vague glimpse of it somewhere in the distance.  Between it and us was a canal for access to it and a few hundred yards of swamp.  We drove up and down for a while.  Further down it was exactly like some parts of the fens in Norfolk/Suffolk a road running alongside a huge earth dam.  I’m never entirely comfortable with the feeling that there’s only dirt between you and millions of tons of water which is already above your head.  It was always an odd sensation when I lived in Suffolk to be driving below as a yacht sailed past.

 

On our way home we decided to call into the huge Outlet centre – Miromar Outlets – primarily as a reccy for S, of course.  [Yes, S, they do have a Reebok outlet].  There are hundreds of “label’ shops – Osh Kosh, Dockers, Nike etc etc – not my sort of stuff and I called it quits quite early – mom and I were hot and tired – end of the day – in the nineties.  The place itself is very pretty – full of fountains including a musical/lit one.  When I got home and began to read the list of stores – naturally I found several I wouldn’t mind visiting not least of which is Off  5th which is the Saks of Fifth Avenue Outlet shop – it is a proper full size store!… and I managed to miss it.  Ah well, next trip.

 

 

So, all in all, this Okechobee trip was not a great success in terms of actually finding a decent restaurant, shop or lake!  But our intrepid heroes agreed that, like General McArthur said when leaving the Pacific, “We shall return.”

 

That quote I suppose must lead me to the major news event of this trip against which all of this pales into insignificance.  The terrorist attacks against New York and the Pentagon and the plane down in Pennsylvania on September 11th. 

 

The responses from ‘the American people’ were astonishing.  Instead of the hysterical reactions we expected their grief was genuinely profound and was expressed quietly and with dignity.  Local houses and businesses are flying the flag - half-mast or dipped.  (K-Mart sold 16,000 flags on the day of the tragedy).  It really does engender a feeling of solidarity.  It isn’t empty jingoistic national pride.  It seems to be a real sense of family and I found it very touching.

 

On the practical side the TV stations closed all their normal programmes and ran 24-hour news programmes covering the events.  Again these were restrained and occasionally offered valuable insights and background information allowing viewers to (almost) understand what had led to this and how best to go on to some sort of reasonable resolution. 

 

I hope this has been reflected in the news at home.  It is an appalling tragedy and being here has led to a slight understanding of what it is to be American.  We (me!) are usually so patronising and at best gently tolerant of Americaness and I wonder if it is our sophisticated European cynicism or whether it is how our nation feeds us the view of another.  Whatever, I suspect, had I been at home I would have thought it all a bit over the top and rather tasteless, whereas I’ve felt the complete opposite to be true.  In Florida we couldn’t be further away from New York historically, geographically, ethnically and culturally yet our experience of their grief is that it is deeply, quietly and genuinely felt.  They do seem to belong to a Nation when push comes to shove.  All the other petty stuff has been set aside and everyone has come together to see how they can help.  They are also a generous people – privately and corporately – and are doing a huge amount in giving – time – people – money, whatever they can.  When you read the phrase ‘I’m proud to be American’ it seems to mean something very real right now.

 

A couple of footnotes to catch up on my kids.

 

C has just finished his Amtrak trip on the Pacific Surfliner down the West Coast – Seattle, San Fran, San Diego, not necessarily in that order.  He went across the border to Tijuana – which he said was great.  Didn’t like San Francisco and cut short his time there – dirty, busy, and ‘dangerous’.  He seems to have had a great time.  What an experience –  youth is truly wasted on the young – can we do it all again?

 

S has started College full time and is doing a journalist course.  She is working one step at a time at the moment and not trying to get over ambitious or set her sights too far ahead.  Very sensible as that way she won’t feel overawed by the challenge and may hang in there.  I really hope she does.  It would be wonderful (for her) to make it to University.  As a much more mature student it was one of the best experiences of my life and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.  She is so like me I’m convinced it would be great for her too.  Once she gains enough confidence in her own abilities (and uses her charm and ability to blag her way through what she can’t/won’t do) she’ll love it all.  I would have sold my soul to go on to do the research I was offered and to have lived in the world of books forever.  But then, I wouldn’t have had this life and I’m happy now.  Who knows how our lives will pan out and what will be  ‘best’ for us in the end.

 

I seem to have a touch of the philosophers this month I’d better close before it gets worse.

 

We have been packing and getting ready to leave all day today – how can it take so much time to sort these things out.  We expect to leave here at 2pm tomorrow – we’ve been asked to check in 3 hours before our flight (Ken reckons two’s plenty) because of the extra security checks – it’s usually only half an hour or so.  We have a little more than an hour  between flights, which is  just nice but not a lot of slack – especially with mom – so we hope that will go smoothly.  All being well, we will be in B about 9.30 am on Tuesday and returning to our other life for a while.

 

Just when you thought it was safe……..

 

Prompted by Ken ‘catching up on his notes’ I realised I must get up to date with my journal before I forget everything.  This is something of a joke as I’m now at the point of not being able to remember anything for more than seven seconds (the goldfish syndrome).  What was I saying?  Oh yes, the journal! 

 

The last time I wrote was 23rd September the day before we returned to the UK.  A whole other life seems to have intervened since then.

 

We had a smooth journey home as usual – love this Delta route.  It’s never the cheapest way to get here – Orlando is the cheapest but then you’ve got the three to four hour drive at the end of a long trip – uggh!  I also think schedule flights seem slicker and more comfortable than charter (illusion?).  Any way as I said great trip home on the 24th to stay round the corner from my mom at Joyce and Jim McKeons.  The bungalow was already ours but we were a bit short of essentials such as a bed.  By Friday all that was sorted and we officially moved in to our next (wee) home.

 

Saturday (29th) was Mom’s 85th birthday.  It passed quietly with the three of us out for a meal – she simply didn’t want to bother with ‘any fuss’ – so after a little persuasion we did what she wanted.  She’s fantastic for 85 – doesn’t look it – certainly doesn’t act it – but, I suspect, she probably finds some things a bit exhausting now.

 

October 2001

 

By my second week in the ‘new’ home I organised Ken into digging up the giant hydrangea which almost filled the tiny front garden.  It was a particularly impressive specimen – huge flowers and leaves and all perfect.  I hate chucking plants away so this one went to a good home – Joyce M.  She’s a keen gardener – does all the shows – knowledgeable and has a huge garden – so I know it’s going to a good home.  I replaced it with a Robinia Frisia pseudoacacia (apologies for misspells on any of this)– a very favourite tree of mine and sort of in memory of Darlington Close where we had a wonderful one in the back garden.

 

We began by catching up with our BSAC chums with a meal at the Garsdale.  A couple of weeks later I was able to meet up with D and M (the deputy at L) at a great restaurant in Swinton of all places – Italian – can’t remember its name at the moment.  I wouldn’t mind but it’s one of our regular hangouts!  I had to cancel a later shopping trip with D at the new Lowry shopping centre in Salford.  She went anyway but said she wasn’t impressed.  I got to see it a few days later when we went to see Billy Bradshaw at the Lowry.  He is so funny with nostalgia and sadness mixed in.  For such obvious humour he often manages to touch a nerve.  I suppose it’s literally pathos – thin on the ground these days. 

 

Ken, mom and I also quickly returned to our regular meals and visits to the Bolton Octagon.  We seem to have drifted out of the Bridgewater and Royal Exchange visits.  I’ve rather gone off the Exchange.  I think their choice of productions seemed to swing between the usual ‘A-Level’ Shakespeare and ‘experimental’ stuff – which is often a large pretentious yawn.  Perhaps I really am getting old.  One Saturday (27th) we actually did a double at the Octagon.  At 2.30 p.m.  we saw Flat Spin and at 7.30 p.m. Game Plan. We discovered there had been a third at 10.30 am but we hadn’t been aware of it when we booked.  They were both good plays and used a neat idea of setting them in the same flat. The characters and stories were totally different but played by the same actors.  It was very interesting to see the transformation of a good actor from one character to another – unlike the usual TV and movie casting of the same star in the same/similar roles. The idea has grown out of Alan Ayckbourn’s wish to set up a traditional small touring company – minimum actors/sets etc to make it viable.  I hope it flourishes and we get to see more.  The evening production was slightly marred for me as I spent most of it watching Mrs. Ken Ormson-the-first across the auditorium rather than the play!

 

The next few weeks were filled with house changes – cooker, sink, hob, door, wardrobes painting etc.  Do you remember my saying in the previous epistle that it didn’t need a thing doing to it?  W…e…l…l… 

 

My greatest joy was having the back garden ‘remodelled’.  It is very small – I think about thirty feet square from memory.  I spent my usual many fretful hours with coloured pencils and paper until I arrived at a happy ‘solution’.  Like most things in life if money were no object it would be so simple.  As it was I needed to reuse what was already there as much as possible – not add too much construction into it – such as changing levels, building walls etc.  I’m really pleased with the result.  I left it almost denuded of plants – three shrubs moved into better places and I planted some summer bulbs such as aliums and corms and rhizomes – irises, anemones etc and three dozen pink tulips which I hope to see in April/May on our return.  I just hope our resident tree-rat (squirrel) hasn’t feasted on too many of them before I get back.

 

One of my less brilliant ideas was to persuade Ken that we ought to have the same doctor – his died recently so he’d just been added to someone else’ s list.  I’d been very impressed with mom’s doctor and decided we could both change to her – she’s also in a practice very near the house – no driving to B centre and parking etc – great idea.  Now, having sampled her work, I’m not all that impressed with her.  She is wonderful with mom and obviously totally charmed by her – much less so with me.  Can’t imagine why! – I get the feeling she’s one who doesn’t like an ‘informed’ patient.  Mom is of an age and generation that simply accepts (and indeed often misinterprets) anything a doctor says.  I tend to read up as much as I can before I arrive.  I respect the fact that they have had years of extremely difficult study and their job is hellish but I don’t think that means I should be uninformed about my own health.  Unlike them I have the time to research a specific problem as much as I want whereas the very nature of a GP’s work means they can’t keep up to date or have an interest in every single thing they are going to treat.  Anyway I’m hoping we’ll settle in over time.

 

S came to see us (26 October) bringing Buster (her dog) who is an absolute delight.  Other than he chose to pee on our neighbour’s ‘very tasteful’ wishing well he is superbly behaved and a credit to her.

 

H finally sorted out her house problems and now owns a house in B – just up the road, in fact, between us and P and S’s.  She hasn’t actually moved in as yet and is living between her two homes until she can get time to sort out repairs and sell the other one.

 

Part of our housemoving required a change of address on our driving licence so we had to apply for the ‘new-fangled’ plastic sort – great, like the one in the US we thought.  Well, not quite. In Naples we went to a local office, took a driving test and they filled out the forms and digitally photographed us (giving you approval of the mugshot and an offer to retake if you are too ugly), printed and laminated the card and sent you on your merry way.  Here we fill in the forms return our old licence, get our own photos taken which, in my case, took two goes (six quid) ‘cos the first lot were incredibly bad. Mail them, wait weeks and then receive not only the plastic card licence (which is great) but also a paper license, which you are also supposed to carry – what a stupid system!

 

November 2001

 

November 1st and I began the next diet of my life.  This is a variation of the Atkins diet – low carbohydrate.  I will try to resist blathering on about this as it could take the next 20 pages.  Suffice it to say, true to it’s name, you try to remove all carbohydrates from your meals – no spuds, breads, puds –anything which make my life worth living really. Great if you enjoy meat/fish and veg (no fruit – all that fructose!) you really can eat as much as you want.  Needless to say pretty darn miserable for me – so I’m spending hours on the net and in local shops here in Naples finding low-carb chocs, cookies, puddings, bread etc.  The shops are good here they offer loads of low-carb stuff but as with all this diet stuff, it comes at a premium.  Bread for example is $3.50 - $5.00.  Actually normal US bread is pricey anyway so it’s probably not that much worse.  Any way getting into the spirit of the thing I bought a breadmaker ($29.77!!) and am now on recipe five trying to find a reasonably edible bread for under $2.  Honestly it’s not the money it’s the challenge.  Reasonable success last night.  More to the point we have both lost over a stone.  It has slowed down to a trickle but we are still losing and for me just not gaining anything is a big bonus.  I’d got to the stage where I was adding 2 lbs. a month inexorably and it was pretty scary. Note here for ‘the girls’ – all the chocolate tested so far has been truly awful – when I tell you its bad enough to poke down Oscar (the waste disposal) you know it’s got to be pretty bad.  I have now run out of the English variety so life is tough – Ken, of course, is saving his….. What for?  Even as I type I have just made some low-carb brownies which smell and look great – 3 g each.  Watch this space……..

 

We’ve also just bought a ‘fat scale’ which measures your body fat as well as your weight and I’m dropping 3% (plus) each month on that so that’s good news too.  All this without ever being hungry and feeling so much better.  I can now stay awake all day – major achievement.

 

By the 10th C was home for a visit with his new lady, G.  They came for five days.  She’s very nice and he seems happy.  It is odd as a parent to see your kids being adults – somehow you still see the child in them and it’s like they’re pretending to be grown-up and you keep waiting for them to return to their old habits and ways.  I wonder if this ever changes over time or whether my mom still waits for me to throw a teenage tantrum at 56.  It was lovely to have him back for a while and even better to get the chance to all be together when we took him up to stay with S.  Went to see Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone – loved it.  S liked it but is probably both too young and too old to really appreciate it – now me – coming into my dotage was ripe for it.  C – did the chap thing and positively refused to watch it.  He joined us after for a meal at Zinc (new Conran restaurant in the also new …?????…… building in Leith).  Very good food.  A friend of S’s, Diana, – restless/travelling Aussie – joined us for drinks.  C stayed on with S and finally returned to London for his flights back to Goose Bay on the 22nd. 

 

Back home S and I had some retail therapy at Boundary Mill – I did my usual buying and later returning trick – but it was a nice day other than having tea and no scone in the café.  At least S is on the same eating plan.  She’s doing brilliantly on it and she’s only a dot to begin with.  Envy is such a wicked sin.

 

December 2001

 

By the beginning of December we were starting our Christmas meals out.  Having completed our catch up with friends meals’, mom’s birthday/my birthday meals, Sunday lunches and pre-theatre meals we were beginning to run out of excuses.  We had a meal at the Old Mill, which kinda grew into twelve for dinner.  Our usual nice evening with good company.  Mom joined the group for this one but was unfazed (as ever) by the increase from three to twelve.  I suspect when you’ve taken a war or two in your stride there’s not a lot which would bother you. 

 

I had a good meal at the Garsdale with D.  Certainly haven’t seen enough of her this trip but we seem to fill our days to overflowing and she’s struggling with work.  I must make a real effort to overcome both of these next time otherwise she’ll become one of those best friends you just drift away from with time and distance between you and that would be really sad.

 

By mid December seven of us were at the Hilton for one of their brunches.  I hope the rest of the group enjoyed it – especially as it was at a premium price for Christmas.  Mom, Ken and I always enjoy the food and atmosphere at the Hilton for a Sunday brunch.  They produced the usual splendid birthday cake for G’s birthday the previous week, which I hope was a pleasant surprise for him and not too embarrassing.  We left that lunch to drive to Wales for S’s graduation ceremony the next day.  We stayed at the Loncraine’s lovely house so that was very pleasant.  The graduation went well and I thought Susan was really good to go through with it when she really didn’t want to for herself.  Well done that girl.

 

A couple of days later we were off on a flying visit to S in Edinburgh to take presents and to see her before we cross the pond again.  We had a great visit marred only by Lord of the Rings – yes I/we hated it – who says three million people can’t be wrong – sooooo boring.  Three minutes dialogue, fifteen minutes thrashing about with some critter or another, repeat for what seemed like eternity.  Perhaps it’s great for fans of Tolkein (?).  Possibly it makes concrete what they’ve already imagined.  I’ve always thought they were ‘boy’ books anyway.  Yes I am gender biased when it comes to books and films and yes I know there are always masses of exceptions.  I have been an avid reader all my life but find Tolkein impossible to read.

 

Dinner at Zinc afterwards improved the evening and P was able to join us this time.  My trip was made perfect by lunch at the Sportsman on the way up and the same on the way back.  I honestly think it is my favourite restaurant anywhere.  The food is lovely and the place feels like home.  I never think these judgements are in any way rational or objective.  I feel some of us just have an affinity to places, which is inexplicable, and this is one of those occasions.  I’m sure any one else eating there would see it as pretty good food (freshly caught/shot/cooked fish/game/etc) and the house could be seen as probably a little seedy but as I said it holds some magic for me which I can’t begin to rationalise.

 

Our proper Christmas meal with ‘the divers’ was on the 23rd at the Fisherman’s.  Nine of us this time – good to see the Wilsons again.  (shame H couldn’t make it)  The famous five (S, P, C, G and H) were taking off for a Winterpark Christmas and New Year the next day. 

 

Our next day (Christmas Eve) P and K came to stay. We had a truly relaxing Christmas ‘at home’ topped off by a lunch at the Hilton on Boxing Day.  We had a mixed teams lunch on the 27th at the Fisherman’s with Ken fielding seven members of his family (S, R, C, S, M, C, D) while I could only muster four (Mom, P, Ken and J).  Good time again – hope everyone else enjoyed it.  Thirteen people meeting at our tiny house before going on to the Fisherman’s had to be seen to be believed – I don’t think anyone had to actually stand outside – though we may have taken turns standing.

 

I just managed to squeeze in a visit from Irene on the Friday (28th) before we left.  Good to see her as always and catch up a little on our gossip.  Hope her treatment goes well and she is fighting fit next time we meet.