2002
 

 

January 2002

 

This stay began (29th Dec) with a reminder of why we prefer American service.  Our UK cab driver picked us up in a car with no smoking signs which reeked of cigarettes which he then proceeded to drive with the window down (he was wearing hat, scarf, big coat) through a snowy landscape.  His spoken English seemed non-existent and understanding it was impossible without sign language – all of this might have been OK had he been, at least, half way pleasant – I think surly is something of an understatement.  Farewell UK.

 

The flights were routine as ever other than this time we had to book for the later connection to Fort Myers (from Atlanta) as our usual earlier one was full.  We got on the standby list and our luggage made it to the earlier plane but we missed it by three seats. Actually we would have made it had the first check-in girl noted I was flying silver medallion – it gives you some priority on the standby – when I queried our position with the next check-in girl she said it was a mistake and promptly upped us about six places.  I’m really going to have to learn some American assertiveness and not be wimpy and British about these things. 

 

On the transatlantic flight we were seated in the second row back from the bulkhead dividing off first class.  At some point I happened to look up from my book to see a bloke I knew really well but couldn’t place.  Obviously he knew me cos he gave a broad smile and came over to shake hands and a brief chat – by which time I had recognised him as Johnny Briggs (Mike Baldwin/Coronation Street).  Ken did the predictable “Why you?” bit.  I’m just hoping it wasn’t because I reminded him of Alma, Deirdre or Linda. He was actually very charming and quite cute – nice eyes. So now you know someone who ‘knows’ someone famous!  Yes, I have washed that hand since.  I’m not that much of a fan.  After this he proceeded to wander down the plane and meet and greet his great British public – I wonder what the US passengers thought.

 

We got a bit of a finger-wagging at Immigration when we came in.  We were warned that we were a bit close to our limit for the year.  “Let you in this time…… but be careful” I did a bit of calculating when we arrived and I’m about two days under the limit.  Ken’s still OK.  I’ve been three times without him.

 

The house was lovely and welcoming when we arrived all spick and span and bed made – what a joy.  The garden afforded a couple of mysteries the next day.  I have a row of about twenty shrubs along the canalside all flourishing except one, which was as dead as a dodo.  It is particularly strange because there is an identical one next but one to it – planted at the same time which is flourishing and has grown massively since I put them in.  Having said this John (next door) was telling Ken today that he bought $300 worth of flowers and left them out overnight only to find them all eaten by caterpillars the next day!  This is an astonishing place to garden.  I intend to attend some of the twelve lectures on Florida gardening at our local library over the next few weeks ($5 for all of them).  I didn’t make a great start last week as I managed to get up too late to get to it!  Back to the second mystery in the garden.  Something has burrowed through our mulch and black membrane after making several thwarted attempts in different places it (or they) has succeeded in making a perfectly circular hole and tunnel – hole about the size of a saucer and totally exposed – weird.  I hope it’s nothing more threatening than a gopher.

 

I’m trying to resist gardening this trip as we’re going to be away for five months and it can go back to jungle in that time.  I will set to when we come back in September.  All I’ve invested in so far is three pelargoniums for the pots on the lanai – they are pretty good in this climate – obvious really as they’re Mexican (?) and we’re only across the gulf from there.

We’ve had some rain the first couple of weeks though it’s now back in the mid-seventies.  Eighties are promised for the weekend.  We are now able to swim and sunbathe more comfortably.  The pool was at 87F today so was a delight for me as I don’t believe in suffering and being Spartan if I don’t have to.

 

Tony, a friend of Ken’s from schooldays, came to see us for a day on Wednesday (2nd).  He was holidaying with his wife Irene, her cousin Hazel and husband David.  Poor things their feet never touched the floor.  I get desperate to show everyone everything in two seconds flat.  We managed to squeeze in lunch at Riverwalk, Dinner at Maxwells and flit round Fifth Avenue and Venetian Bay and a boat trip to see the dolphins.  The dolphins were very obliging and performed very close o the boat – even ducking and diving under it at one point.  Such lovely creatures. It is difficult not to imagine they really are just trying to amuse us.  How vain. Even after this whirlwind tour I still kept saying to Ken after they’d gone –“ we forgot to take them to….,” or “we forgot to show them.. “ etc.  Ah well next time perhaps.

 

My first week here ended in some glorious bargain shopping.  A Josephine Chaus black silk suit for $100 instead of $195.  At home it is around the three hundred-pound mark.  It’s not that it is a ‘label’ bargain it is the fact that it feels glorious on – it’s like not wearing anything!  I know how the emperor was fooled – the best silk clothes are ‘invisible’.  I also treated myself to some Anne Klein shoes for $39.99 (from $69 and again more in the UK).  All this is unusually lavish for me.  I spend those sorts of numbers on house things without a backward glance but feel hugely guilty if I spend it on myself.  For once I managed to convince myself to ignore the price and just enjoy the clothes.  I’m sure it was meant to be because a couple of days later I went on to find another Josephine Chaus fully lined tailored red silk shell top, buttoned down the back for only $20 which goes perfectly with the suit.

 

On a more day to day level I’ve done my usual Beall’s Outlet shopping.  For an example of how this works try and follow this – a blue slub silk shirt usual price $16.99 reduced to $9.99 – the price ticket has a grey sticker which means I get another 20% off (these stickers are colour coded up to 90% off!) which brings it down to $8.  I then get another 15% off for having a wrinkly-shopper card (over 55) as long as it’s Monday (!) which makes it $6.80 plus 6% tax $7.21(about a fiver).  I’ve bought a couple of eighty percenters since then and ended up with trousers and a skirt, which cost about three pounds sixty each.  I love Naples shops

 

There’s another gem started here in K-Mart.  You now serve yourself – seriously they have machines at the checkout where you swipe your goods enter your payment – card or cash – wrap it and go.  You can even get cash back if using a debit card.  No one is checking on you – it seems to depend on honesty – I assume they’re camera monitored but I’m sure it must be difficult to detect theft.  Whatever, for us honest Joe’s it’s just great.

 

I found a great job for Ken so we can stay here but, being difficult like he is, he’s decided he quite likes retirement instead.  Spot the difference again in the way we do stuff.  This was an advert in the post office for postal workers.  Postal workers needed for Rural Route deliveries $13.51 p.h. Monday-Saturday.  Can offer 40+ hours a week. Must have own car without stick shift but with electric windows to ensure security of the post.  Will pay car allowance.  Can choose your own area.  Hours 7am – 4 p.m.

 

I read this whilst in line to post a letter to Sally.  I really do love ‘standing in line’.  This was my second one that day and I’d gathered three different people’s life stories.  My best conversation to date was with a lady queuing for the ladies in the theatre.  We’d been to see Cats at the Barbara B Mann theatre (yes built and supported by Mrs. Mann!) in Fort Myers.  I knew it wouldn’t be a show for me.  I’m convinced Sir Andrew has only really written one ‘tune’ and you either get it slower or faster with different words, which don’t necessarily have to fit. Sorry to his fans out there.  My taste in musicals probably stops somewhere around South Pacific or West Side Story (taking in almost anything before those.  I like the sort of musicals that had more than one memorable song in them and ones you can (almost) actually sing and words you can remember.  How quaint.  Any way Ken, who knows more about music than me, likes this sort of thing so off we went.  Back to the interval and the queue.  The lady next to me had to be at least 70 (and I’m not allowing for nips and tucks) wearing a 22” lilac skirt – that’s length not width, Barbie heels, longish blonde hair (big) with makeup and jewelry to match – fantastic!  A sort of elegant Kenny Everett.  She begins the conversation with did I like the show – I try to be tactful saying it’s not the sort of thing I enjoy but I’m sure it’s very good.  She says she thinks its rubbish- all the male dancers are gay (this seems to matter) – the ‘routines’ are repetitive the music abysmal.  She was a dancer – has done Guys and Dolls on Broadway and knows about this stuff.  Turns out she was suffering it for her date who had ‘driven all the way down here for this’.  He’s useless, can’t organise anything, they had rubbish seats so she complained and has got moved to equally rubbish seats.  At least the ‘boys’ are slim unlike her date who has a potbelly ………. And so she continued – see what I mean about standing in line it’s like being in at a stand-up comic routine.

 

We’ve just had our washing machine repaired – a new inlet valve.  I’ve complained since we got here that I can’t get a hot (or warm wash) out of the machine cos the hot takes forever to run in – therefore our clothes aren’t getting clean enough for me.  I put this down to rubbish American designed machines and have badmouthed them ever since.  Whoops it was just that ours was duff.  He did $119 worth of work, which took about 5 minutes – so some things are the same as at home!  While he was here I decided to book him to cure the cooker.  The self-clean didn’t work.  “I’ll just make sure you’re doing it right first” – patronising b….r!  “You turn this” – yeah yeah. “Then turn this” – good grief how thick does he think I am.  “Then set this for three hours” – “Oh, really, oh great, thanks a lot” – so, OK I didn’t know that.  I know other stuff.  We now have a cooker which does the most wonderful job of self-cleaning.  Immaculate.

 

Something entirely not connected to anything else but observed recently on a car.  His Michigan plate read TRNSPLT (‘Transplant’ - for those of you who (like me) didn’t get it immediately) Under this ‘An organ donor saved my life.’  The bumper sticker read ‘Don’t take your organs to heaven.  Heaven knows we need them here’.  Just about covers it I think.

 

On the local flora and fauna front I have seen a humming bird.  I couldn’t really believe it – to start with I thought they were fantastically coloured (I presume I must have mixed it up with a kingfisher). I spotted what I thought was an odd butterfly or more likely a giant, hovering bug drinking from one of my mandevilla flowers (big yellow cup).  When I went for a closer inspection I realised it was a tiny brownish bird.  What a thrill.

 

On a different note we’ve had our first house spider ever.  It was lurking in the shower as these things do – rather large and made of black velvet – show-off.  I immediately contacted my spider catcher (as in yelled “Ken”) who came (after what seemed to me an unnecessarily leisurely stroll across the sitting room).  Armed only with a tissue he removed this creature.  I was a touch worried in case it was one of the killer variety they have here and maybe a Kleenex wasn’t ample protection against the bite but, then again, I am British and not one to make a fuss.

 

Well I’m at the end of page seven and have got up to date on my public/events journal for now.  I seem to have spent most of today tapping away at this between baking brownies and trying to stencil walls. Isn’t that a truly Doris Day picture of my life.

 

Thoughts from a cross Neapolitan..

 

I’ve just had one of those stinky days (30 January) where everything you touch goes wrong so I decided to cheer myself up by catching up with my journal and remembering all the nice stuff that goes on here.  But first my bad day…

 

I get up too late to go for a walk, which isn’t good when you know you really should.  Later I manage to slice a good portion off my middle finger (right hand of course) putting away a pair of garden ‘snips’.  It hurts like hell and needs a bandaide to stop it flapping in the breeze.  I then do some washing (in the machine which cost $119 a couple of weeks ago to repair) – transfer same to the dryer which decided it was now its turn not to work – wet towels going round and round beautifully but no heat.  I don’t discover this, of course, until it’s too late to put the stuff outside to dry.   I then decide to bake some bread to cheer myself up – I like cooking! (and eating!!).  I proceed to pour the warm water in the bread machine without the bread pan in it.  I discover this by realising I was soaked.  There’s an advantage to having a large stomach; it acts as an early warning system for water pouring off the kitchen work surface.  I now have a very wet kitchen floor and counter and bread machine – wet shorts, T-shirt and underwear!  Mop up kitchen and machine and change clothes.  Continue making the bread.  Close lid, switch on, SWITCH ON!  The machine no longer works.  After some cursing and feeling sorry for myself I heave out the mixture and decide to continue by hand.  This is a particularly wet and sticky dough.  Machine bread recipes are wetter than hand-made and this is a heavy wheat loaf.  Think of a self-feeding toddler and weetabix and you have about the right consistency and similarity to superglue and mess.  Not too much of a problem as one could always add in some extra flour – if only one had some extra flour – flour all gone.  I heave the dough around for a while with nine good fingers, making a larger mess and this action not even vaguely resembling kneading and plop it into a bread tin, cover with damp cloth and leave to rise.  Meanwhile the machine starts up - –I'd left it on and it would seem the motor had dried out and was quite happy now to make all the bread I wanted.  I mimed a small tantrum and replopped the dough back from the tin to the breadmaker and began the clearing up.  After scraping dough from all available surfaces and washing three million kitchen implements I just happened to notice I was pretty much covered in ‘weetabix’ debris.  I changed my second lot of clothes.  Meanwhile outside it has sprayed two seconds worth of nigh on invisible fine rain on the washed bathmats, which I’d put out to dry.  Where do you put two large we bathmats?  And so the day continued…

 

See bad days do happen in Paradise.  Actually it doesn’t take more than two seconds to dispel the frown and grumps.  All I have to do is imagine the choice between a day like today and being back at work.  Visualizing one of my little sweeties telling me to f*** off and being curious as to what I might like to do about it (ah the inquiring mind of a child) instantly returns me to smiles and counting my blessings.

 

I only wrote my last piece a couple of weeks ago so there’s little to add to the ‘memoir’.  The major event probably being Eric’s visit.  He arrived in Miami on the 19th with his sister Carol and nephew Matthew and joined us for a couple of nights.  They were due to arrive about 6pm on the Monday (21st) after a day in the Everglades counting ‘gators.  At about nine we got a phone call to say they’d crossed over to the I-75 as there’d been a large accident on the US41 which had a possible two or three hour delay and they were now at Junction 15 and a little lost.  They were about twenty minutes away so we set off to get them back to ours.  So really the ‘visit’ began the next day.  Unfortunately we had an engineer coming to replace our cooling system (yes that went Kaput on this trip too!) so we were confined to barracks.  After some swimming and sunbathing and lunch Eric and party went off to Coral Cay (crazy golf) and the shops. They also managed to catch a sunset before returning to us.  We did the compulsory tour of 5th, 3rd, Venetian Bay and went for a meal at the Grand Buffet.  On Wednesday they lounged around the pool and lanai catching some sun and left us about 4-ish for Marathon and the Keys.  Nice as ever to have visitors.  Something of a change for Eric and Ken from their usual cakes and ale evenings on Thursdays in the UK.

 

I managed to miss my next garden lecture at the library (Native Plants in Bloom) as it was on Tuesday and we had visitors – they seem fated these lectures.

We went to the Coastland on Saturday to get Ken’s usual FT.  They were having an Antiques show in a couple of places in the Mall – several firms had set up their stuff as samplers I suppose for the things they sell.  It’s astonishing for us – full of pretty ugly turn of the century and 30’s 40’s furniture at exorbitant prices. My mother’s wonderful 40’s dining suite would astound them never mind anything pre 1900.  It looked, for all the world, like a rather classy secondhand furniture shop in the UK.

 

Our ‘housekeeper’, Laura, has been today and was telling us she is going ‘home’ to New Hampshire tomorrow.  Other than visiting family and taking a holiday she is always keen to take her children to the snow and ice of home.  What strange creatures we humans are – everyone trying to get to some other life it seems.  Laura, of course, skidoos, skates, skis, ice fishes, etc. Her sister has a cabin at the lake from which they do all this (and more).

 

Talking of holidays has just reminded me of another observation in a foreign land.  Over here they sell ‘stuff’ to totally change your house for the slightest occasion.  For example right now the stores are full of Easter decorations, cards, linens, cushions, rugs, dishes anything you can think of.  This may not be too surprising as Easter is a large Christian festival after all but would you believe it is alongside all the same items for St Patrick’s Day and – wait for it – Valentines Day.  So if anyone gets the urge to transform their abode right down to the dishcloth please let me know and I’ll dispatch the necessary items.

 

We were at the mall yesterday too.  I’ve bought a great looking white gold ring from Imposters which I needed to have made smaller ($6-$10) and the guy is there on Tuesdays.  So yesterday instead of browsing antiques we had our spines assessed by a chiropractor (eight years in post-grad. med. school and he was only fourteen or so) – a freebie in passing.  Needless to say we have all sorts of spinal problems – I don’t know how either of us actually manage to get about as we do!.  Again, how strange to have a doctor accosting people in a shopping mall for business.  It’s just not British is it?

 

From shops to the great outdoors.  I spent about half an hour in the garden in hat, trainers, trousers tucked into socks etc.  (A truly pretty picture of batty Englishwoman working) Remembering that mossies aren’t around in winter and only come out at dusk and dawn I’d still donned the protective garb to give me a fighting chance against anything else that’s out there (there’s always fire ants).  Deep joy I returned with eight mosquito bites!  That is it!  I rang a local landscaper who is coming tomorrow to give me a free quote for redoing the garden(s) with Florida friendly plants that the gardener can keep in check and that I won’t need to touch.  This is not a country I want to play gardens in.  I relish the thought of 16 Orwell’s plot to keep my interest going.  There is an upside to my previous efforts in that the humming-bird and butterfly plants are really working now.  I have seen two more humming birds – obviously not rare and numerous butterflies. Various sulphur ones seem to be prevalent at this time of year – all sizes and marks but all sharing the bright yellow base colour.

 

Another nice story of Naples life – I went to the garden centre in Home Depot and found a gardening book I wanted – it was $24.95 being sold for $14.95.  There were only two copies and had been slightly waterdamaged as they were outside with the plants.  I asked an associate if I could have a discount as it was damaged and he said “I’ll just make a note of its number and it’s yours”…….as in free!  How nice  It’s not just the dollars I saved it’s their lovely attitude to customers.

 

As we feel right at home here, like all good Americans, we settled down to the President’s State of the Nation Speech last night.  I have never seen such a shambolic event.  We watched on NBC and were listening to what I assumed was some political commentator who waffled around meaninglessly.  He described the President’s peck on the cheek greeting of a senator as a ‘bit of a smooch’ !  He didn’t know the name of the Secretary of Agriculture and was ‘prompted off’ by some desperate disembodied voice.  At this point he realised he couldn’t name the rest of the committee entering the House so suggested that perhaps we could remain silent for a while and listen in as we might overhear something important.  Astonishing.  All this was set against a background of the President being (inexplicably) twenty minutes late.  He is famous for his punctuality and his insistence on other people’s.  Mrs. Bush and the President of Afghanistan entered the chamber in the middle of the Speaker reading the names of the senators who would accompany the president – he was compelled to stop while these two were applauded in.  Eventually the President arrived and began to speak.  I gave up after ten minutes or so of listening to pretty meaningless ‘soundbites’ and having to glue it together either side of the House applauding and rising to its feet every two sentences or so.  It was certainly more entertaining than the Queen’s Speech but it seriously lacked any pomp or circumstance.

 

We are about to be here for Superbowl Sunday too so that should be interesting.  We are almost obliged to cook heaps of ‘snacks’ and drink gallons of beer/soda and gather at least twenty other people to watch it with – we’ve got our work cut out there I think.

 

Wow, it seems I’ve managed to talk for three pages and I’m only covering a couple of weeks.  Sorry people this lark is as bad as my nattering in the flesh (!) Ah well, you may not feel any better but I sure do.

 

A footnote to keep updated on my kids.  Sally’s just discovered that the second year of her (Journalism) course is not being run next year as the college says there’s not enough students left on the course to warrant it.  Pretty appalling for the ones that are though!  She’s trying to stay calm about it and has begun looking around for how best to use the year she’s done and what the alternatives might be.  I’m crossing all my fingers and toes for her.  She’s had to work really hard going to college and supporting herself entirely to do it and deserves some luck now.  No particular news from Chris other than he’s worked to death at the moment as he’s the only leccy on site right now.  We’ll talk more when things get back to normal I guess.

 

We’re presently looking forward to our next visitor on Friday and Saturday – John Richardson’s flying in – literally – so he and Ken can see Naples from the air.  I’ve buffed the goggles and am ironing Ken’s white scarf and helmet as I type.  Anyone who believes I’m ironing anything doesn’t know me very well.

 

February 2002

 

Where did February go?….

 

The month began with John Richardson flying in from Titusville (1st-3rd).  He and Ken played with the ‘plane as before.  This time they made it to Venice (still on the Gulf not in Italy!) and Okechobee.  We also managed to fit in a little shopping.  Being with two chaps, this consisted of making straight beelines to the two required objects i.e. pearls and trousers for John.  He insists the pearls were not for him!  Success with the trousers not so with the pearls.  The snag there being that I have since found myself looking for the darn things for no conceivable reason other than as a professional shopper I hate to be beaten by such a request.  Poor John actually managed to get fogged in on the Sunday and couldn’t leave in the morning as planned but was stuck until about 4 o’ clock.  This was the only day we had any mist stick after the very early hours.  Obviously it had to pick that day.

 

We made our first venture to the movies this trip to see Gosford Park. (5th) This is truly England as the Americans like to see us.  I suppose it’s the equivalent of us growing up thinking America was like all the Hollywood movies we ever saw.  In an odd kind of way they do sort of capture the essence of each Nation without really touching the reality.  We had the added delight of seeing it with a ‘provincial’ American audience.  One lady hoped she would be able to understand ‘the British’ (meaning the language spoken) as we would say the same for understanding the French or the German etc.  She didn’t do too badly.  Another, after witnessing the ladies maid waiting outside the car in the pouring rain for her ladyship to get in, remarked “You think she’d’ve had ‘nough sense to get in the car outta the rain”.  These colonists!  Maggie Smith was a delight, Stephen Fry an utter idiotic caricature from a short comedy sketch – most irritating and Helen Mirren acting her socks off in a movie which didn’t really require it.  I thought Michael Gambon was a delight as someone you really should hate. The whole thing was a cross between Upstairs, Downstairs and Poirot. Nevertheless all good fun.

 

The next day we tasted a whole new experience. (6th) We went to The Naples Dinner Theatre which is precisely what it says it is.  They serve a buffet meal from 5.30 until 7.30 pm-ish which, incidentally, was worth the ticket price on its own.  At 8pm the ‘floating’ stage extends and we get to watch Carousel.  It was excellent.  They had innovative and truly imaginative staging.  Props and scene shifting barely halted the ‘show’ and the huge cast were all equally talented and were a true ensemble. Good dancing, great singing, flawless acting.   Applause, applause!  I was really impressed and am looking forward to seeing what they make of Fiddler on the Roof on the 22nd of this month. 

 

The following day (7th) we left on a three day/two night cruise to Nassau in the Bahamas.  This was our taster to see if we liked the idea of cruising.  It was all much as I imagined.  It is perfect for very social, gambling, dancing, partying, overeating fifty-plusses.  As I only qualify on a couple of these counts I’ve no idea why I enjoyed it.  Actually having the overweight, over-fifties in the ascendant was rather comforting – it’s always nice to be amongst your own kind.  I suppose that the ‘Butlins’ atmosphere can be ignored if you want and you can find the things that suit you best.  We ate sensibly – rather than the opportunity to have’ twelve meals a day if you use the stairs and elevators well’ (to quote the Cruise Director).  Went to the show and the movies, listened to an excellent pianist in the piano bar (he was between stints at Caeser’s Palace; due back in July) and wandered around the ship. I got up for the sunrise but managed to be an hour early so crept back to bed!  We went to the Blue Lagoon in Nassau for the morning and lay in the hammocks under the palm trees.  We had lunch on the island and took a boat back to the mainland and a limousine trip round Nassau in the afternoon.  The trip was pretty much a waste of time and we quickly learned that next time we’d make our own arrangements. It was a little incongruous to see red pillar-boxes and Dixon of Dock Green blue police lamps over the stations in a tropical setting.  Victoria’s statue outside the parliament buildings seemed ok – I suppose we’re raised on the idea of a pink world map.  It’s the everyday stuff which seems ‘out of place’.  All in all a good experience and we both are looking forward to doing something like it again.  This was also a special offer booked the day before we went $149!!  I even managed to get some money back.  Ken had gone to get our passports back from the purser and had loaned me a dollar to play a slot machine to keep me occupied – I might add here I hate gambling, can’t bear to lose, therefore don’t do it – but what the hell, it was Ken’s dollar.  I put in the dollar and won $40!   No, I never put another cent back in.

 

We did our penance at home over the next few days.  Ken spent hours repairing and replacing sprinklers and I trimmed plants, moved shrubs, planted grass plugs and generally tried to simplify the garden.  I’d decided last month to get someone to get it to a stage which wouldn’t need my attentions.  The two quotes I got were in the realm of $1500 and I really don’t want to invest that sort of money in the garden here.  I decided I could get some of the problems sorted a little at a time.  Anyone who gardens knows what a silly idea this is.  One small idea always seems to require half a dozen major tasks just to bring it about.  I’m not sure we do ‘grass plugs’ at home.  They are as they sound small ‘plugs’ of turf (sod) which you plant six inches apart and they quickly grow into each other.  They do sell sod but you then have the task of levelling and raking and a real performance to lay it successfully.  The plugs cope with uneven surfaces etc much better.  We are still at this work three weeks later.

 

On my last scrabble in the dirt I found my first scorpion.  Not a bit dramatic I’m afraid not at all like the- Land-that-Time-Forgot sort of movie scorpion.  It was about an inch and a half long.  I’d flipped it over whilst digging with my trowel and it righted itself, tail over its head and danced around a little trying to look scary, but was really rather cute.  It finally estimated I was a good deal larger than it and decided the best tactic was probably to scuttle underground again.

 

I mentioned previously that we have mystery holes in the back garden.  My gardener says an armadillo dug them.  I think we’re going to have to stay up one night to observe all the nighttime critters.  There’s a bit of a scare in Lee County at the moment because they have some rabid raccoons, which can attach people or pets.  Something else we don’t contend with in the gentle climes of England. (Yet!)

 

My nature ‘thrill’ for this month was sitting reading on the lanai. Unaware that there were birds roosting in the bushes at the back.  Someone started up a strimmer and about a dozen huge white herons rose out of the shrubs near me on the other side of the culvert and took to the air - –quite spectacular.

 

The fecundity of nature here is astonishing.  The rate of growth after rain has to be seen.  I swear you can actually see the grass grow!  I’ve often seen people’s palm trees with ferns growing in the ‘pockets’ on the trunk and hadn’t yet concluded whether I ‘approved’ of this planting or not.  As my palm is now pregnant with several small ferns beginning to grow I don’t think it’s a decision I need to make – clearly the arrangement here is – anything you plant dies, anything nature throws around carelessly will grow.

 

We seem to have adopted the Tuesday night is movie night attitude as the next two Tuesdays (12th and 19th) found us in our local movies again.  This is probably because it’s only $4 on a Tuesday and it’s just round the corner from us.  I almost forgot to mention it also has an Ice cream parlour next to it on the left and an Italian Restaurant next to it on the right.  Life is tough here. Firstly to see A Beautiful Mind.  We set out to see In the Bedroom and had forgotten when we got there (about a ten-minute journey!) what we’d gone for and ended up in the wrong movie.  Even having missed the first fifteen minutes (it began 15 minutes earlier than the one we came to see) it was an interesting film and has set me off on a track to read the book of the same title (and perhaps a little additional research) about John Forbes Nash, Jr.  I recommend this one.  The next week we did get to see In the Bedroom.  I am something of a Sissy Spacek fan so I was half way committed before watching.  I can’t for the moment think of a bad movie she’s made.  It was an excellent little movie –acting, story, great.  I thought the direction was a little ploddy but it didn’t really spoil it in any way.  It was quite shocking and I must admit unexpected in a way – well worth a visit or a rental.  I suspect it probably has most power for mothers of ‘grown-up’ children.

 

One of my books for this month has been Big Chief Elizabeth by Giles Milton.  Really interesting read especially as I’m in Florida.  It tells of the attempts of the English to settle North America (mostly 15/16/17th centuries).  It has left me with a wish to see Virginia and Chesapeake Bay.  I’ve just finished Joyce Maynard’s At Home in the World.  It purports to be her memoir of the time that she lived with J. D. Salinger.  There’s a basic dishonesty about her writing that left me unable to accept all that she says.  I read and liked Catcher in the Rye at 19 but suspect I would find it very pretentious now and have always thought of Salinger that way.  Much of what she says supports that but there is a much darker side to the man it would seem.  If I had enough interest in him it would make me want to search further but as it stands I have so many other things to read and so little time it’s definitely one for the back burner.  This book is a must though for any Salinger fan.  My real joy this month has been another Katzenbach book.  I still love Shadowman best but he’s always worth a read for a little suspense, mystery and a touch of horror.  Again his books are set in Florida – he lives here and used to be the crime writer for the Miami Herald so knows his stuff and his territory – this shows.  I think his books are such ‘fun’.  They really are in the category of “I’ll just finish this before I come to bed” and “I can’t go to the shops I’m reading” – yes really, even shopping is a poor second to finding out where the story’s going.

 

Our next garden project was cleaning and painting the wall (15th/16th).  We haven’t seen any paint sold in colours.  You choose a colour from a colour card and it’s mixed for you in the quantity and type of paint you want.  I know we have the same service for ‘odd’ shades when you can’t find what you want from stock, but here you can choose a stock colour as we did and this is how they produce it.  Seems a good idea to me, as the paint stores don’t get left with masses of useless stock as fashions change.  Along with your can of paint you also get a stirrer and a paint tin opener.  One end for the paint can and the other end opens your beer! – they think of everything.  I usually wreck a screwdriver or knife and endless wooden spoons.  The paint is also guaranteed for twenty-five years!  Maybe we don’t quite need that.

 

There are a lot of houses for sale on Kent Drive at the moment (and elsewhere I s’pose).  Partly it’s because there are a large number of German ‘snowbirds” and tourists and they’ve been having a tough time with the mark v. the dollar.  Then there’s the nervousness of flying after 911 also I suppose there’s a lot for sale because this is the high season and we haven’t been here at this time before.  As an example of a lack of Germans our golf pro neighbour John tells us they have 5,000 a season through the club and this year so far they’ve had 150!  It must be hell on the economy here.  Having said that the place seems very busy and crowded to us – it’s really much nicer when it returns to belonging to the locals in the summer.

 

Just a couple of notes on house sales.  Someone was selling a $25,000,000 property.  It was described as only four bedrooms and thirteen garages.  Apparently not suitable as a family home but could be remodelled.  It was built for entertaining.  Five years old and only used once for six months.  The owner’s garage was for four cars and was air-conditioned with a lift to the master suite.  Sounds OK to me.

 

Another much less grand house had an addition to the garage for the golf buggy – very practical!  One of our neighbour’s homes ($287,500) had an open day, which offered refreshments and a drawing for dinner at a local restaurant.  I fancy trying that when we sell 16 Orwell. Joke!.

 

On Thursday (28th) we went to a Residents’ Association meeting.  There were about a hundred people there!  It was the AGM and time to elect the directors.  We had eight nominations and only seven places.  To save hours of voting, counting etc the president stepped down.  He said he’d given five years and that was enough.  We have a resident who is running a hate campaign against this particular board. He was there videoing the proceedings.  So far he and the board are in the courts with six cases.  Our attorney was at the meeting!  To be fair to the board Furmen French (!) is quite obviously not a full picnic.  Body language alone says it all.  Eyes that don’t make eye contact, continually rocking back and forth and visibly enraged – a real scary type.  If you saw American Beauty you know what I mean.  He’d written to all the residents to say if we got rid of the board and let him run the show he’d spend our annual fee on new mailboxes for everyone (free! of charge). Anyway with all that in the arena it led to quite an interesting meeting.  To be continued.

 

My kids are fine.  Chris has just done a great trip to Montreal, courtesy of the airforce.  Really enjoyed it and seemed to have covered just about everything you could do and still get some sleep.

 

Good news on Sally.  She has just received a conditional offer from Edinburgh University for a Journalism course.  She can enter the second year of the degree course if she passes her exam this summer.  So fingers crossed for her.  I’m sure she’ll be OK.

 

The end of this month has been very dulled for me by the death of Irene. (22nd) I’ve no idea why this loss has hit me so much harder than others.  Perhaps it’s that it is the fifth person we’ve lost in just over a year ‘though I don’t feel that it is just a sense (fear) of my own mortality.  I don’t remember a time in my life when I haven’t been conscious of the brevity of our stay.  Her death, simply in its own right, overwhelmed me.  She was an unassuming lady who’d worked hard for her family and friends and did the right things without complaint or grudgingly.  She was brave throughout her illness and treatment and worried more about how it affected others rather than her.  Indeed most of the time she was so ‘ordinary’ that I hoped she was getting better and we’d have many more years to gossip and visit garden centres and laugh together.  All of this made me realise (yet again) how unfair life and death are.  I feel so selfish and spoiled and undeserving in the light of this that each moment I forget and am happy I am overwhelmed with guilt.  I have so much and so undeserved.  Irene had many other problems before her illness that she fought her way through when many others would have given up.  Then to find she had cancer again for the second time in her life, after a twenty-five year gap.  Then even after battling with it for two years she wasn’t allowed to survive.  Where is there any sense or justice in this?  I know I’m old enough to realise there is no sense, justice or explanations to our lives but when you’re happy you lose sight of that I suppose and it takes something like this to pull you back again.  Selfishly I hope this ‘despair’ passes soon.  I am at a point where it doesn’t seem worth the effort to do anything – even the basic things such as food shopping, let alone actually going out somewherefan so I was half way committed before watching.  I can’t for the moment think of

 

March 2002

 

Life is a Cabaret

 

I want to pick up where I left off last time…. Speaking to Sally recently I was trying to explain why I felt this sense of loss with Irene.  I think I’ve become excrutiatingly more aware of how we exist through other people.  ‘Exist’ in quite a literal sense.  My father died some years ago now but that was the first person who left with part of my history.  My husband left after my being with him for over twenty-seven years.  That was an enormous loss.  Your life-partner is exactly that – you live alongside each other storing each other’s histories.  It is the one person who knows everything which happens to you from day to day.  When they ‘leave’ a huge part of who you were and, therefore, who you are goes with them.  You depend on all your other friends and relations to have fragments of your life as a poor substitute but at least a patchwork with holes is better than nothing.  The problem now is that progressively I have lost more and more of these friends and relatives and there seems to be more holes than patchwork.  That’s probably not the best analogy…. I feel as though I am personally losing layer after layer of myself and am becoming almost transparent – less real somehow.  This is massively difficult to put into words.  My new relationship of eight years has created a ‘new’ me.  You take on different friends and each other’s stories and begin to start another tale but all those previous times are shed; they can’t be incorporated into this new life.  Who remembers me working/living in Lakenheath, who remembers me young and thin (!), who remembers me having my children and remembers them as babies, who remembers me being at university at thirty-eight, my first days teaching and more and more?  So now I seem to be fragmented into different people from different times and when I’m with a friend or family member from before this time (like my children!) they reflect the person I was for them then.  I can’t have all the pieces together anymore and that’s what I miss more and more. Each time one of those links disappear there’s even less of me.

 

Enough, I guess, this is s’posed to be a record of my time in Naples; but this ‘mood’ has been a substantial part of this visit for me.

 

The opening Saturday of the month began with an ‘aviation day’ (airshow to us) at Naples airport.  Quite a few planes to wander round along with their owner/pilots so a chance discuss as well as look.  A few fly-pasts of various aircraft though we understood from the newspaper the next day that the strong wind prevented some of them.  It is the only really windy day I can recall since we’ve been here and it waited for an airshow day.  Typical!  Having said that it’s worth noting that we absolutely fried on the tarmac – wind or no wind.  Sunday’s newspaper carried a large front-page picture and guess who was in it?  Yep a little teeny weenie Ken and Marilyn.  Fame at last.

 

By the Monday we were out clearing the lanai for the painter to come and re-do the surface.  The temperature dropped to 62.8 and they rang to say it was too cold for working outside.  ‘The men might get a chill’ – truly!  I bet Phil would love this!  When they did turn up one of the men said the boss was right – he’d have called in sick if he’d been told to work in that temperature.  Bill, the boss, turned out to be a committed Christian and his worker, Gary, was subjected to severe warnings about his cursing and the fact that he had ‘too much ego’ and a threat of a $25 dollar fine if he asked for a beer from a customer.  Though this might have more to do with insurance/litigation than moral standing.  Meanwhile Gary-the-useless-painter, to give him his full title, was regaling Ken with tales of his 64 year old girlfriend (he was 42) and rechristening my lovely flamingo lilies the pecker plant; and did we know if our next door neighbor (Mary-Jane) was single or not?   A real charmer and utterly useless at painting.  He’s managed to paint where he shouldn’t and miss where he should, whilst telling me he knew what colour I wanted when he didn’t!  The lanai is now a sort of creamy pink instead of a peachy cream – there is a difference.  At one stage he actually turned up with the right paint (after sending us out to find a name and brand so it would be correct) which he then proceeded to mix to his own liking. The aftermath was no better.  He’d deliberately washed the dirt and, even worse, the loose paint into the pool using a pressure hose.  This saved him from having to clear up the debris.  Ken then spent the best part of a week cleaning, repairing, and replacing lumps of pool equipment.  The impeller in the main pump clogged up several times.  This was, in part, to do with the fact that it should have had a leaf basket in there – which we didn’t know about – that took several shopping trips and attempts to locate. The main filter, which costs an astonishing $53 (!) to replace, was utterly clogged and filthy.  He also had to buy a water-powered vacuum (like treasure hunters use for shipwrecks) so he could get the debris out of the pool itself.  All in all it was a bit of a nightmare.  One bit of good came out of all this – Ken fixed the pump to the spa and we now have additional (very strong) water jets which we didn’t know we’d got.  So the spa’s even better now.

 

Our movie on Tuesday (5th) was Black Hawk Down – I’m sure the title says it all.  We watched the Oct ’93 (Hollywood version) of the battle of Mogadishu.  That was the entire film – one 24-hour battle.  Ken reassured me we weren’t there the full 24 hours but I’m not convinced.  One for the boys.

 

I got brave and had my hair permed and cut by a complete unknown (to me).  [Mr Joseph Hair Surgeon, really!]  Ken dropped me off and I said I’d ring him – no sooner than an hour and a half and probably a couple of hours.  I was washed, permed, cut and styled and out in under an hour!  The result is not too shabby but the speed was astonishing.  Like all my hairdresser experiences here the stylist only works on you so you get their full attention.  Same sort of price as at home – so nothing saved there: I had to get a cab home because Ken was still out doing his ‘chores’.

 

Sunday (10th) we were back at the Barbara Mann theatre in Fort Myers for Cabaret.  The dress code is a little vague.  We went to a matinee so we saw a few people in obvious tourist shorts sandals and T-shirt outfits and the other extreme was a full-length black number plus gold jewellery and a short white fur jacket –being worn, not carried, in 85 degrees.  Someone was determined to do it right even if she died of heat exhaustion. A tad too much for a matinee!  The show was excellent.  Such talented people.  The band in the Kit-Kat club supported all the musical numbers for the show.  Most of the members of the band also danced and sang.  It was a real joy and being the stage version rather raunchy.  We think a few crinklies left during the show probably offended.

 

Hardly surprising as SW Florida TV entertainment is so sanitised it’s incredible.  I think we’ll die of shock when we get back to the UK’s f***ing TV and movies.  TV shows are totally inoffensive and the chosen movies are fairly innocuous to begin with and any swearing is dubbed over – the lips say one thing the voice says another.  The news presentation is appalling.  The presenters can’t read the autocues properly. They seem to roll too slowly for them to predict the next line. I think they haven’t got that technology – I’m convinced someone is writing it up in chalk on a blackboard as they read.  Talk about not prepared.  The ‘news’ is totally, pathetically local and each item seems to have the same amount of airtime irrespective of its importance.  There’s no particular order.  They use masses of library film for the items which isn’t always exactly appropriate and if it doesn’t run long enough they take a short pause and then rerun the same bit of film!  Start your career here Sally they need you.  Public broadcasting is very thin on the ground but a relief when it appears.  The only snag being that they spend an inordinately large amount of time (almost equivalent to advert time) begging for money which being BBC raised seems ‘tacky’ and threadbare.  I’m sure it’s not seen that way by them.

 

Our next Tuesday’s movie (12th) turned out to be a double.  We arrived at the theater in time for Hart’s War according to our local paper only to discover it had been relegated to the last show in the small screen where all the movies go to die.  Big choice here – go home (30 minutes – this one wasn’t on at our local) and come back again or not bother.  Better idea we’ll go to a 7-o clock show and then go to Hart’s War.  So off we go to We Were Soldiers.  Dear God, here I am at another let’s watch a lengthy battle movie.  It was OK, certainly better than Black Hawk… but not for me.  So… nine-o clock rolls round – great I’m actually going to see a movie of a Katzenbach novel – gripping who/how/why dunnit.  It was so not the novel I couldn’t believe it.  Very little of the book is there – it had been built round Bruce Willis’ character who was decidedly a subordinate character in Hart’s War, the book – strangely enough the central character in the book is Tom Hart!  Whatever, it was a truly poor effort.  It may have been a reasonable movie in its own right but there are a few readers out there who went home spitting feathers.  How does it happen?  Someone in the industry reads the book – thinks it would make a great movie, gets the process rolling and then they make something else.  Why?  Katzenbach’s books would all make excellent movies the writing is very filmic – comes from being a journalist I guess.

 

The next day we decided to go and find what, on the map, looked like our local beach.  Just across the main road – Bayview Park.  It turned out to be a park on the Bay (the name nearly gave it away) where you could launch boats.  The ones in the car park paid $3 for 24 hours – we reckon you get two half days out of that (we are such smart people). The ones parked on the road had no stickers – even more of a bargain. The launching site is excellent, as it is a long way down the Bay.  We seem to be looking across at Port Royal from there.  The park itself is also really pleasant - well-planted, good pathways and places to sit.  The trees alongside the water were filled with roosting pelicans.  They make an odd picture.  They are so large and ungainly perching on frail swaying branches.  It doesn’t seem like one of nature’s more sensible arrangements.

 

Thursday (14th) we went to Naples Museum of Art.  They had three exhibitions – Photorealism, Masters of Miniature with five new rooms and books and Alice Neels’s double portraits – Duos.  We went for the docent tour at 11 am ($6 admission for the gallery, the tour is free).  We were also shown the permanent collection which, of course, we have seen before.  It’s an indication of the sort of gallery you are touring when things such as the beautiful main staircase was ‘gifted’ to them and dedicated to the donor’s wife.  Two major patrons (Robert and Kay Gow) had rooms built and gave the gallery a large permanent collection of Chinese art, which is changed from time to time.  In addition to this they loan collections which they have on display at their (presumably huge) home.  At the moment the gallery is showing Arts of the Chinese Scholar in one of the Gow rooms.  The whole Philharmonic Centre area (which includes the gallery) was built from private donations and paid for by the time it opened (Nov 2000).  It is now in its second season and is decidedly one of the best galleries I’ve been in.  Very eclectic, interesting and there’s always something to fall in love with there.  This time for me it was one picture in the photorealism collection for its sheer perfection.  The Miniatures are an ongoing passion for me and have saved me a fortune.  I have always wanted a dollshouse (the grown-up kind).  It would cost thousands of pounds to fill (over long time of course) and is a truly silly extravagance I can ill afford.  Every time I see the miniatures here in Naples I realise what a poor copy mine would be alongside these wonderful things and perhaps it’s better to just look and not covet.  The Duos of Alice Neel were interesting – I thought her work was rather more caricatures than true paintings.  She has a knack of capturing a moment rather like a camera does sometimes.  Some of her studies have worlds of stories in their faces.   All in all a delicious trip, as ever, followed by a delightful lunch in the courtyard with the ‘amusing’ nuns.

 

The next day we were off to the Fleamasters Flea Market near Fort Myers.  Really not for me.  Like a massive (900) stalls overbusy Bury Market.  I suspect if you had the time, patience and inclination to search you might just find a few little gems of stalls but I thought it was touristy and tacky and completely overwhelming.  I’d had enough after an hour.

 

A hellish busy week ended on Saturday (16th) at the Barbara Mann again, this time for a concert.  We have finally managed to get to our first concert here.  What fun.  We had the SW Symphony Orchestra and The Empire Brass.  They are described as the finest brass ensemble in North America and that I can believe.  They managed to play us a range of music from a 14th century jig to Copland’s Simple Gifts.  On the way they went through some Beethoven, Mozart, Bernstein, Gershwin, Ellington and others.  It also included a piece for piano transcribed by them for brass!

 

The concert opened with the audience standing and singing the National Anthem and God Bless America – it was throat-lumping.  Aren’t we easily got?  We then romped our way through light classics including the Harry Potter Suite.  Meanwhile the conductor (Carl Topilow) introduced and elaborated a little on each piece amusingly, even managing to introduce his mother (in the audience) to us en route.  When we got to Les Toreadors (Bizet) we were told that someone had won a blind auction for the privilege of conducting it.  The poor soul galloped through the piece with the orchestra and took his bow.  He was prevented from escaping stage left and was told he had to stay and ‘play’ in the orchestra.  He protested, saying he hadn’t paid for that but the conductor made him play the ‘bell’ in Souza’s Liberty Bell March.  He proved a little timid on the chimes so the percussionist helped him out eventually by playing another note alongside his.  We were witnesses to the first duet on the chimes!  The orchestra wound up their section with A Touch of Jazz during which the conductor played clarinet, saxophone and flute.  What a concert – all the etiquette and none of the stuffiness of concerts at home.  Our summer proms are lightweight but no where near as engaging for the audience as this one – there wasn’t any ‘them’ and ‘us’ just a room full of people having fun and enjoying the music. It passed much too quickly.

 

Prior to the concert we had eaten at The University Grill. That isn’t at all what it sounds like – not a student in sight.  It has something of a reputation for good food and the amount of people trying to get a table there at 5.30 p.m. proved this.  We were told 30 minutes for a table which became forty-five – not unusual at home but pretty much unheard of here.  The food and service were fine but nothing to shout about.

 

Our movie Tuesday took us back to our local to see The Time Machine.  Talk about plagiarism! Take the original Time Machine Movie add in Planet of the Apes, a little Lord of the Rings, a touch of Sherlock Holmes and what are we left with? Utter rubbish!  I don’t expect The Time Machine to be very profound or interesting – just a jolly romp through a particular genre, but this garbage really shows the mental calibre of some movie makers/accountants.

 

Friday (22nd) and off to the Naples Dinner Theater to see Fiddler on the Roof. We were promised an even better show than Carousel by our ‘greeter’ which I thought would be difficult but she was probably right.  The show was in its second night and was polished and as sharp as a pin.  What astounds me is the lack of any weak links in the huge cast for these shows. We are at a relatively small local thater and such an assortment of players – in addition to the usual theatre credits we also had someone who had just ‘retired’ from twenty years in the New York theater and another who had retired from his naval career as someone who serviced F-14 fighter jets and this was his first show!  You really couldn’t see the join.  They are all so polished and flexible.  Indeed one of the ‘stars’ of Carousel was waiting tables this time round!

 

Our housekeeper, Laura, brought the kids to see us earlier that day.  I find my relationship with her difficult in that I’m aware I don’t want to make a friend of her as I did with Irene but neither she nor I are nowty enough to do the upstairs/downstairs routine.  Her offer to bring the children came out of the blue and not even following any earlier conversation connected to it.  Strange really.  Any way Spence and Caitlyn (yes that’s the correct spelling) came over and we swam and played (I bought them a couple of little toys) and they’re exceedingly cute.  Caitlyn though is already a real handful.  She is very wilful – not naughty, just determined and is hard to protect from herself.  The bumped head she went home with bears tribute to that.  She has no fear of the pool, so needs to be watched all the time.  Spencer’s reading is way ahead of his English peer group (Laura says he’s ahead of his class) He only learned to read when he started school last September and is reading at a good age seven or eight.  Typically his reading scheme from school consists of four page books at this stage which he often refuses to read to his mom (as he’s supposed to do).  He says, “I’ll tell you what it says” instead.  They’re so minimal he simply remembers them word for word.  The book he read to me was a factual book about snakes, which he read perfectly, and covered words such as poison, venom, people and the names of snakes etc without any difficulty.  I hope school doesn’t set him back.  I have seriously given thought to going into elementary schools to help on an ad hoc basis – it would be interesting.  Also I actually like teaching one-to-one and if I didn’t like it – simple solution – don’t go any more.  We’ll see.

 

To catch up on the garden.  I have moved stuff and replanted stuff and plugged the lawn hopefully for the last time.  The front is mostly turf now.  The window bed outside the guestroom is in its fourth incarnation and now has flamingo lilies and ferns.  The flamingo lilies (anthurium) are like peace lilies only pink – very glossy and pretty.  The bougainvillaea that were there are now in the ‘wild’ garden at the back.  This is spring and we have bougainvillaea, abutilon, mandevilla, plumbago, hibiscus, azalea, cape honeysuckle, milk weed, impatiens all flowering away at the same time.  They will look wonderful in a couple of years when they have some growth on them.  The angels’ wings are appearing in the lanai corners and are beginning to look lovely against the red sisters.  I’m not sure we’ll see them in September and certainly their best will be over by then.  That’s one of the curses of splitting your home.

 

We’ve just had our best value meal out.  We shopped too long and it got too late to go back and cook so we decided to have a quick cheap dinner before we went home.  We had a two-for-one offer on a leaflet in the car and hadn’t tried Denny’s (a sort of Little Chef type place) so off we tootle.  Ordered our two-for-one meal and a coke and, eventually, two desserts.  When the waitress arrived with those she apologised for keeping us waiting and said she wouldn’t charge us.  This was something of a surprise to us, as we actually hadn’t noticed that we’d had a particularly long wait!  So we ended up paying something like $8 for two dinners, two sweets and a drink and to top it all the girl didn’t take the coupon from us so we can go back!  English Restaurant’s are going to be tough after this place.

 

Some snippets.  Quorn has arrived in the States – well it’s made it to Washington any way.  They really are very far behind European food in all sorts of ways here.  The other novelty being written about was the introduction of prepared fresh vegetables in bags that you can cook in the microwave which they hope will reach the stores soon.  Me too! 

 

We saw a cute car plate recently – it was on a delicious top-down BMW – NEW2ME.  Another read TARSIS which has been driving me potty ‘cos it looks as though it should mean something – I wondered if it was a toe doctor – they do specialise over here! But it seems there’s no way you can convert tarsus to tarsis try as I might.  Spelling in this document and probably even the language itself is becoming a little fuzzy.  It’s hard to decide whether to ‘correct’ things like theater or use it as it is because that’s what they are.  I’m beginning to slide into American for nouns where appropriate.  It seems only fair somehow.

 

We’ve had our true signal to leave today.  I was out shopping (quelle surprise) and we got our first summer storm.  Thunder and a downpour which lasted about ten minutes and was followed by a blue sky and all at around 4 pm which is when it usually clocks in.  Spring has only just begun so this was clearly an omen to remind us we shouldn’t be here in the summer.  Not that I think I’m the centre of the universe or anything.

 

Our Tuesday movie for tomorrow is Iris which I’ve been dying to see and it’s managed to arrive at our local movie theater just in time.

 

The kids seem fine – battling on with their various ‘pressures’ but keeping their heads up.  Mom’s OK though she seems to be beginning to struggle a bit now.  I t has taken her nearly 86 years to have to give into some things.  Much as I’m always really sad to leave Naples, the house, the pool, the sun; I shall be happy to see family and friends again soon.  Three more days (28th March) and we’ll be winging home.  We’re trying for an upgrade on the first leg (Ft Myers/Atlanta) using our frequent flyer status but it seems we can’t do the same on the transatlantic crossing, which is where we could really do with it.

 

August 2002

 

Summer in the City

 

Here we are back in the City of Naples for our visit from 7th August to 7th November..

 

I had sort of decided not to bother with this journal any more.  We have had a couple of years of losing several of our peers (friends and family) and within a couple of weeks of being here we had news from home that a neighbour and friend of mine had died.  I knew Pam and her family for 22 years.  Our girls grew up together.  She had been battling with several cancers for the past year and, even though it was inevitable, I had been pushing the thought away and as always was taken by surprise when it came.  On the same day that Pam died Ken’s cousin also died.  This time totally unexpectedly – he was racing a go-kart and had a massive heart attack.  All the other losses came rolling back in along with these and much of my life seemed ridiculous and utterly futile – a small part of this seemed to be my pathetic recording of our hours spent here.

 

A few weeks have rolled by since then and now I think I want to do this and all the other small stuff to help to re-instate my every-day perspective on our life.  I thought of an analogy the other day when I was looking closely at a large oil painting and noticing how all the individual strokes meant absolutely nothing, but had been done with such purpose to make up the wonderful experience of the whole work. Perhaps it is right that we culture a happy acceptance of all the meaningless, petty marks on the days in the hopes that it will eventually make up our life’s picture.

 

And so ….

 

The structure of our year should be (roughly) September through November in Naples, Christmas in the UK and January through March back here again thereby missing most of the English winter and the overheated and bug-filled Naples summer.  Real life, as ever, intervened and I was here with my friend Denise on the 7th August and Ken joined us on the 26th.

 

As Denise is still teaching she is only able to come over in August.  We had a lovely silly-girly three weeks – I was weak from giggling by the time she left. I suspect we would have driven Ken completely batty or he would have had to weld himself to the computer and would now be undergoing treatment for irradiated eyeballs. 

 

We enjoyed a flying (long lunch) visit from Mike, his wife Angela and son Naill.  Mike was the EWO at Langworthy when I was there.  It was a really nice day and galvanised Denise and I into action.  We scrubbed outside furniture, cleaned the pool (that had to be seen to be believed – talk about Fred Carno’s) and I ran round until I was a flattering shade of puce, uprooting weeds and tidying the garden.  Thanks Mike. We always meant to do it; just never seemed to find the time!

 

Any way during Denise’s time here we did the usual rotting in and by the pool, stuffing faces and learning to drink beer and wine (well improving on our amateur skills).  We went to the beach and the shops a few times – rather a lot actually - and that’s about it.  I always say to everyone it sounds incredibly boring and old-fogeyish but all I can say is – don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.  It is a truly hedonistic life being a lotus-eater.

 

We had a modicum of excitement on one of our shopping trips.  We were at the till when someone came up to tell the cashier that she had seen two girls at the back of the shop stuffing a large suitcase with goods.  When she challenged them she was told to back off and was threatened with a knife.  The cashier totally without comment or surprise listened to all this while continuing to enter items in the register.  The ‘victim’ had enough presence of mind to watch them go to the car and offered the best description that she could.  They’d had enough sense to remove the plate.  We of course were dead cool – the only difference being the Americans were totally indifferent to what is probably a commonplace theft whereas we were secretly full of oohs and aahs.  There were three police cars outside as we left.  Talk about overkill.  I confess we were in one of the less salubrious areas of Naples, as we love bargain shopping.  It certainly gave me a view of how the other other-half live.  (How many halves are there?)

 

On a happier note – D and I went out on the obligatory Dolphin cruise for a glimpse of the cuties – sure enough they appeared on cue.  It turned out that we could have skipped the ride as a couple or so days later we also saw them close in to the beach when we were just flopping on it.  Frustratingly on one occasion D and I were watching dolphins swimming not all that far away from where Ken was swimming.  I hope someone filmed us doing our various mimes and calls to seemingly deaf and blind swimmer trying to get him to look.

 

On most of our trips to the beach D and I saw zillions of small fish that always come in and go out with the waves – don’t think of waves crashing or rolling they only manage slip-sliding onto Naples beaches.  It’s probably a local ordinance or something.   Along with these we also managed to see some long thin (think of fat one foot long pencils) sort of greeny grey almost see through fish with long snouts.  As they had proper fins and tails they were definitely fish, not eels, but very strange.  We also saw several rays pootling round the very shallow edges of the sea.  They stayed around as long as we were very still but swam around our shadows.  Smart critters. Now why is it that I hate swimming in the sea? Ummm!.

 

The best sighting by far was the osprey that was quite literally flying low right over us on the beach.  It was flying from some shrubbery to the sea.  Finally it flew back across us with a large silver fish in its claws. Truly nature in the raw.  Sunbathing will never be the same again.

 

Back home I saw a leg and head of our bank turtle – D only caught the movement of the weeds as it ducked out of sight.  She did manage to see a cardinal or two, ‘moorhens’ with their cute red beaks and lime green legs, ducks and other birds and the usual selection of butterflies.  So I hope she didn’t feel too deprived.

 

Amazing co-incidence whilst typing this I was overhearing the news on TV saying that the turtle population is down to half of last year and last year’s was an all time low.  How strange.  Typical US news – no explanation given.

 

I absolutely love this part of Naples.   We are only just holding back ‘the wild things’ here.  It feels that if you just look away a little too long they’d all be back and little insignificant us would soon disappear.  It is so chic and citified and yet just behind the bushes there’s a whole other world.  Mike saw ‘gators on the road on his drive to the airport!

 

As a tiny example of this, we had a few days when the mail we picked up from our mail-box had a neat hole about the size of shirt button straight through the envelope and contents – the hole, surrounded by a ring of moisture – drool (?), had obviously been eaten by some critter.  We assumed it must be a snail but couldn’t figure how it got in the box and out again without opening the front flap!  Ken sprayed the box with bug spray (we have to do that anyway otherwise spiders set up camp) and the (snail) mail was safe from then on – even more mysterious ‘cos the spray is not for slugs.

 

In the garage we had a reasonable sized nest – looked like it was made out of an ochre coloured clay.  A tube about the size and rough shape of a semi-flattened loo roll tube.  It was attached to the wall above the garage door.  Denise and I investigated it warily and decided it had probably been abandoned so we’d leave it to show Ken.  Ken duly arrives and whacks it down and clears it up.  Our neighbour, John, said it was a hornet’s nest.  As they are especially nasty I’m glad we missed them.

 

I have added a bird feeder on this trip and get a lot of free entertainment watching the birds eat there twice a day.  We always get cardinals, nuthatches and what looks like small wood pigeons to me.  They are the most plentiful (like at home) and we are the proud possessor of the Great Naples Yob Pigeon.  It is an absolute thug.  It spends all its time chasing off everything in sight.  It            debated whether to take on a duck the other day but thought better of it at the last minute.  The result of all this aggro, of course, is that no-one gets to eat anything including the pain in the neck himself.  He expends masses of energy seeing off every bird in the district and hardly gets to eat enough to replace it.  Darwin needs to revise his theory of the survival of the fittest – this one will be lucky if he makes it.  As I’m considering taking up archery again and I’m almost tempted to make him a target.

 

When I can’t sleep I get up and come and work on the computer or read or whatever and the sounds in the night are incredible.  All sorts of animal voice noises. The overriding one being the sound of the tree frogs ‘singing’ but amongst that there’s the occasional sound of something else.  A couple of days ago I heard something snuffling around outside and a sort of throaty growl.  Then there’s noises on the roof – I imagine they’re just bits and larger bits (!) off the pine trees but I’ve no idea.

 

 I watched the day start the other day and it was truly lovely.  The lake, which is really high at the moment, was an absolutely perfect mirror – not the tiniest movement on the surface so everything I watched was doubled – in the sky and in the water.  All the birds were flocking back in – the large white herons looking especially lovely as they glided in.  The sky colours were gentle and I could actually see the day warming up –the moisture disappearing and everything turning into crystal clarity.  It was so quiet at that time – the tree frogs had stopped, the night animals had clocked off from their shift and the day ones hadn’t quite begun.

 

Back to civilisation.  Luckily we were able to get to the Naples dinner theatre before D left.  We saw a super show – ‘I Love you You’re Perfect, Now Change” – four performers working their socks off and a great buffet. Such japes, Pip.

 

We took D to Fort Myers for her trip home on the 29th.  This was her first journey by air on her own.  Happily all went perfectly to plan and she arrived home safely and seemed pleasantly surprised that it was so easy.  I’ll make a jet setter out of her yet.  I was particularly relieved because our trip out wasn’t entirely uneventful.  Our plane from Manchester had to be swapped or repaired or something so we were delayed a couple of hours and therefore missed our connecting flight.  No problem, we were booked on the next flight from Atlanta to Fort Myers but had another extended wait.  When we got into Fort Myers they had managed to ‘lose’ my case.  It was on the next flight – would I like it delivered at about 5 am!!  Doh!  I don’t think so.  They delivered it at noon.  How can they possibly manage to get one of our cases on another flight when we booked them in two hours before our flight (not exactly last minute or last in the queue) and they were both together?  It always astounds me.  Any way I’ve no real complaint with Delta.  It’s the first time we’ve even had so much as a delay and they sorted it all and even wrote an apology letter after!  I don’t have the same confidence in British Airways.

 

 

September 2002

 

After Denise left I had run out of excuses for not doing my on-line computer course.  This is completely free from Learndirect.  I signed up for two – they send them to you via the net and the theory is that you work on them at your own pace.  You have a tutor and can do the whole thing completely on-line or can go into Learndirect centres.  Guess which I’m doing.  The only proviso being that you log on at least once a month.  I used D’s visit as my reason for not logging on for a month and that was OK but as I said I was out of excuses and had to continue working on the course.  It is soo booooring.  I’ve no idea why I was stupid enough to imagine anything to do with computers would be anything else!  I’m flogging through it.  Again I’m ready for my next break and have just emailed my tutor to tell her I'm going on holiday for two weeks (its ten days really) but it is easy to tell your teacher fibs when your mom doesn’t have to sign the letter.

 

Since Ken arrived he and I have slid back into our ‘living here’ routines of looking after the house and garden.  It is all looking spick and span again and life rolls on.  It isn’t that there aren’t masses of things to do and ‘groups’ to join we simply can’t be bothered.  We pootle along happily, enjoying the sun and the place itself.

 

Having said that, at the beginning of the month we had a week or so of fairly rainy weather – five to ten inches a day for three days.  We were catching the tail end of various storms including one called Eduard.  I love the fact they’re named.  Even as I type we are being warned about a hurricane (over Cuba) called Isidore (yes I can spell – they can’t – apparently it’s a boy), which will have repercussions for us about Saturday (this is Thursday).  At best, if it continues its predicted course, we’re in for wind and rain and storm surge – at worst – who knows?  We are a little concerned in that we hope to fly out of here early on Sunday morning.  So fingers crossed.

 

We have our hurricane supplies in.  Seriously.  I confess to only having enough for three or four days – not the two weeks that is sometimes recommended.  I work on the principal that if we’re in line for a ‘hit’ we’ll be out of here before then and if we get stuck with an aftermath situation where electricity and water get affected it will be righted within three days or so – or again we’ll be on our way – they get roads open immediately, obviously.  Floods permitting.

 

We are experiencing our usual excellent Naples service in shops, theatres, restaurants etc – such a pleasure.  A neat example of this happened today.  Ken had a letter saying there was a recall on the Buick.  He took it in and had some ‘annoyances’ attached to the visit.  Nothing as bad as we accept at home.  The company had just moved premises the day before and really it was to be expected.  He received a follow-up letter thanking him for his business and saying they’d send a questionnaire would be grateful if he would be kind enough to complete it.  If he couldn’t tick the ‘completely satisfied’ check box they’d like to know.  Ken took them at their word and rang the manager – pleasantly pointing out the problems he’d encountered – not complaining simply responding to the letter.  The manager apologised, thanked Ken for taking the trouble to call him and explained they’d just moved into the premises that weekend and invited Ken to take the car in for a free service.  Ken duly did so this morning!  Sounds like your average English service station - not!

 

Our cinema visits have been to see ‘Tadpole’ and ‘Signs’.  Both sweet little films.  Recommend them if (like here) there’s nothing on the box, the cinema’s a mile up the road, it costs $3.25 (about two quid) and if you go at 4 pm you get to sit in the theatre completely on your own (spooky!).  We may try to squeeze in ‘One Hour Photo’ tomorrow or Saturday before we leave.

 

My reading has been all over the place – nothing particularly worth noting here.  I’m re-re-reading ‘Persuasion’  (Jane Austen) and battling with ‘Complete Prose’, Woody Allen  (borrowed from Chris).  The Woody Allen is exhausting –  a bit like me when I’m on a roll – every third word is a play on words – very funny but you can have too much of a good thing – it begins to grate.  It is a super book for dipping in and out of when sunbathing – or to keep beside the bed. We’ve ordered half a dozen ‘how to start a business’ books from the library to take away with us.  More about this later .….

 

On Friday 13th (!) we went to a great little teashop called Brambles for lunch.  I always have ‘tea’ there even for lunch but Ken had a very nice Salad Nicoise.  Any way as we arrived a local chapter of  ‘The Red Hat’ society were leaving.  I’ve known about these groups for a while – I don’t remember how.  They are groups of women who ‘register’ with the Red Hat Society.  There are no rules – it is simply a bunch of women who are inspired by the Jenny Joseph poem (‘when I am an old woman, I shall wear purple, with a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me….’) They dress in purple with a red hat and meet and ‘do things’.  An English group – over sixties I think – hang glide and all sorts.  This particular Naples ‘chapter’ are over fifties and meet for lunches, teas, theatre etc – more my sort of group I think.  I’m sorely tempted except perhaps they don’t see the irony of the fact that they are exactly going against the spirit of the poem, which is all about non-conformity and individuality at last!  I may form the only single-member chapter of the Red Hat Society!  I will wear purple and a red hat and go out on trips with me.

 

My membership probably started that day.  We had gone to Fifth Ave (the posh area) to go to our Bank, which, thank God, is next to Brambles.  So we trot off to the Bank in our best bib and tucker – well we were freshly washed and ironed.  Had our usual little conversation in the Bank with a couple of the tellers and left for Brambles.  Had our delightful lunch and spent a lot of the time nattering to the owner, Doug  (again more of this later  …..)During one of these chats he and Ken had got embroiled in something or other to do with business and I made my excuses and trotted off to the ‘Restroom’.  Quick mirror check on leaving the same and straightened my skirt.  This was when I discovered that the back seam (over the huge Ormson posterior) had split.  Not a little split but one about twelve inches long – big enough to expose even my rump.  Wonderful – here was I swanning about like Lady Bedford (she invented ‘tea-time’ incidentally) and meanwhile every time I exited a conversation I presented a whole other face to the world.  [At this point of the narrative those of you who know me really well remember to ask me the rest of this story when I see you!]

 

Thinking back to this story I’m wondering if it was the same day that we went to the archery shop.  I hope not.  One of our neighbours in the UK asked Ken to look out for some archery shops and get some prices on arrows, as they are apparently so much cheaper in the States.  As luck would have it we have an excellent one very near us.  The surprise here is that it’s not one of your Camelot, knight of the round table sort of Englishy archery shop it is a redneck killing machine store.  Guns, crossbows, camouflage, boots etc etc.  A truly scary place.  I saw one bow I recognised as a bow all the rest were strung to kill.  We picked up some catalogues, made our excuses and left.  What it did do is set me off thinking about having a go again – I really liked doing it some years ago but lack of money and time (I was on my own with the kids then) put paid to it.  Money’s still a problem but I’ve time a-plenty – I may seek it out again when we get back.

 

I am having my haircut tomorrow (for the trip), as I can no longer see through the fringe.  This is a snag with extended stays.  You can’t take your hairdresser with you.  I have tried five places so far and have hated them all.  Naples hair is in the fifties.  We are talking hair rollers and dryers here – no kidding.  They do a cut and blow but it still looks as though they’ve ‘set it’ on rollers! It’s a knack.  As for the cut, they have that ability that ours had in the 1950’s that whatever style you describe doesn’t matter, you’ll get the one they can do and have been doing for the past twenty years.  When short hair at the front is still described as ‘bangs’ you know you’re on a hide into nothing.  Wish me luck with salon number six tomorrow.

 

It’s now the Friday 20th (1.05 am) and I think I’ve caught up with the news from America again.  We leave for Cape Cod on Sunday I am really looking forward to that trip and will, no doubt, tell you about it in minute detail in my next epistle.

 

 

Girl from the North Country

 

Cape Cod, Massachusetts and New Hampshire

Sunday 22nd September - Wednesday 2nd October 2002

 

This is written on a day-to-day basis, as it’s my record of our trip to Cape Cod, which, incidentally, I insisted, on calling the Cod rather than the Cape.  I am decidedly food fixated.

 

Sunday 22nd

 

Out to Fort Myers and the economy parking car park.  This was our first experience of using our own car rather than taking a cab.  Great organisation as ever over here.  Parked in the car park using the normal barrier entrance – no form-filling or prior booking or any of that rubbish.  The mini bus (which was parked at the barrier) followed us to the parking space – loaded up our luggage and pootled us to our Terminal.  This was followed by an equally smooth check-in.  We now do our own automated check in.  If you have electronic tickets you just enter or card swipe your frequent flyer number into a machine and take your bags to a desk where they tag ‘em and you’re off – no waiting in line – most excellent. 

 

So on to the gate……..  now we hit the snags.  As ever I set off the alarm – I always forget to take off my shoes and send them through the x-ray – they have metal re-inforcements across the arch – as do most women’s shoes and if you go through wearing them the alarm goes – so there I am doing my usual legs akimbo, arms out, shoes off search and check.  OK, that’s done – took ages because the woman in front of me rang like a campanology group.  So back to pick up the ‘onboard bag’. Oops – it was set aside for a search.  My remarkable resemblance to a middle-eastern terrorist was the obvious explanation.  The blonde hair and blue eyes are a dead give-away.  Any way bag search proceeds – snippets of overheard conversation such as “Have you found it yet?” led me to believe they were actually looking for something!  They found it – my lovely little swiss army (credit-card size and shape) kit which I take everywhere with me.  To be fair I have said repeatedly that it’s no problem flying with it as no one has ever queried it.  Well serves me right!  The new, and obviously more thorough Federal security staff, did. 

 

So now it’s off to buy a padded envelope and stamps and mail it back to myself.  Naturally the store, which must make a fortune at this, is just inside the gate – so I am carefully watched to insure that I don’t purchase and swallow an equally offending item and allowed back out again where my lethal weapon was returned to me for mailing.  That done, I smile at the two staff who have watched me the whole time and proceed to walk back through past them – ooohhhh dear no – I must rejoin the queue and start again!  Ken, by now, is not terribly thrilled with me.  Luckily being us we’d allowed far too much time for traffic and parking problems for it to matter.  Please note the time allowance wasn’t for security checks!  Extra time plus a late plane due to 7º at Boston that morning (!) still meant we were able to have lunch at the airport before leaving.  This internal flight doesn’t feed you.  We are getting used to being ‘American’ and see these flights as just a bus or train ride to the next place.  It’s not like a ‘real’ flight at all.  There is no business or first class or movies or flogging stuff or anything.  Get on plane, read a book, gawp out of the windows and when they serve the one and only drink, eat your butty which you brought with you.

 

And so we get to Boston…….. aka Road Works City.

 

Several people had warned us that someone is digging up Boston and it’s probably better avoided.  Well, folks, I can tell you this is true.  The holes, machines, men and cones begin in the airport and pretty much continue until you reach the edges of the city.  Nightmare.  If you knew where you were going yesterday you wouldn’t have a chance today.  Strangers with maps should just ritually burn them, as they bear very little resemblance to the roads you are on.  When they do match (and that’s exciting) they’re still no use ‘cos you can’t go where you want to go ‘cos we have a diversion.  You will have gathered we escaped Boston as soon as possible and enjoyed our leisurely drive to the Cape (or, for me, the Cod).

 

We passed some dairy country – which is pretty rare for us coastal Floridians.  The cows looked delightful munching away with little white egrets parked on their backs – each totally unconcerned by the other.

 

A stunning sight along the way was the morning glories (blue convolvulus).  One very tall tree was smothered in it top to toe.  A thirty-foot flower spectacular.

 

Something, which we’d read before arriving at the Cape, was an article warning the reader about ‘Rotaries’ – known to us as traffic islands.  This was not a jokey piece.  They seem fairly unique to New England and apparently terrifying to American drivers… ‘the rotary can be an anxiety ridden harrowing experience’ to quote Mr Rabideau.  Having a ‘multi-laned, un-lined circular road’ is a creature of nightmare proportions to visiting motorists.  It goes on to discuss ‘attempting to dodge passing cars as they swarm from behind and dart in front of your vehicle just barely making their own intended exit’ and the ‘centrifugal forces… urging you to leave the driver’s seat’ and ‘finally you yourself are forced to become the aggressor and dodge and weave between the opposing vehicles..  as you prepare for your final exit’.  I wish I could copy the whole item but it would make this even longer. It is rib achingly funny to us –though clearly deadly serious in intent to drivers new to the area.

 

Do I need to say that we negotiated the rotaries without too much difficulty although the writer was correct in that the same couldn’t be said for many of the other drivers?  Talk about all over the place!

 

Monday 23rd

 

The Cove, West Yarmouth

 

Our accommodation was American excellent; comprising a complete sitting room, TV etc and dining area and small kitchenette.  The bathroom included a spa bath – naturally.  The bedroom and second bathroom was upstairs (!) in a gallery room.  All the furnishings, paint, pictures etc looked brand new.  The local byelaws forbade them to allow cooking in the apartment which we didn’t mind because we could sample all the local food.  There was dishes, cutlery, a fridge, sink etc so you were able to breakfast and snack, make drinks and so on. In the complex there were two swimming pools – indoor/outdoor, tennis courts, restaurant/bar, washing machines, dryers, microwaves for reheating food, ice and the usual vending machines – all in all we lacked nothing.

 

We got up late – we were on holiday you know – and had a brilliant brunch at The Pancake Man down the road a-ways.  Did our ‘food’ shopping at a new (to us) Supermarket.  Something-something Stop ‘n Shop.  (can’t remember its full name). It was decidedly cheaper than Publix.  Naples residents always bemoan the fact that it is such an expensive place to live whereas we always feel it’s pretty much the same as in the UK (groceries, perhaps marginally less).  Big eye-opener here – meat and seafood alone was roughly half the price we pay in Naples!  It started us thinking again about living somewhere else equally warm but less expensive – problem is whenever we go somewhere else we simply don’t like it as much.  Tough.

 

They had lots of different ‘stuff’ in the store.  There was a whole counter full of different olives – a Greek/Martini drinker’s Paradise.  Their bread was exceptional.  We chose a potato and scallion loaf which proved to be as good as it looked.

 

Shopping there was fun as we completely served ourselves including checking out.  You can take your stuff to a checkout and swipe the items, bag ‘em, pay for ‘em and leave.  Great – no queue.  Such trust.

 

We discovered a language shift there too.  An example, which comes to mind, is we use a grocery trolley back home, Naples uses carts and here they use carriages.  As for the accent – think Cliff Claven in Cheers.

 

We had to drive to Falmouth (the far end of the Cape) to take the car to Budget as it had a warning light on and no way of finding out what it was for only to be told to ignore it Hyundai Elantra’s do that if the petrol cap isn’t on quite right!  We took advantage of the trek and the warm weather and mooched along a beach for a while.  The houses were so ‘in the movies’ – all on the beach on legs.  In fact they weren’t really houses more like very grand beach huts.  No-one was actually staying in any of them.

 

We met a couple of fishermen – dressed in smart trousers and long-sleeved formal shirts!  They had just landed a blue fish.  After some conversation they kindly offered to let us kill it and remove the hook.  I politely declined.

 

 

The Cape so far is proving just as I imagined it to be – full of clapboard and shingled houses, pale New England colours and a leafy setting very like England only cleaner and brighter.  Having said that, the areas alongside the main road through the spine of the Cape (SR28) are looking just a little dog-eared.  It is one of those places (like Key West) where I can see just how wonderful it was ten, twenty, thirty years ago but is now inundated with ‘cheap’ tourism and all the businesses which limpet onto it and it is beginning to show.  Having said this, off the beaten track there are some truly wonderful places.

 

 

Tuesday 24th

 

Up at 7.30 and down to Woods Hole to take the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard.  It was absolutely bucketing with rain (thanks to Isidore which had followed us up from Naples) and the forecast offered no let up so we abandoned the Vineyard and wandered up and down the 28 looking for various museums etc.  They were usually incredibly hard to find.  Everything here is on a small scale so generally speaking you are looking for a house, which looks like any other.  We found the Woods Hole Oceanic Institute (think mini-sub which found the titanic) easily as it covers most of this area with various fairly large impressive institute type buildings.  Only problem was that wasn’t where visitors go.  The visitors’ centre was a tiny shop amongst other shops on the main street in Woods Hole itself.  We found it and read a few bits and pieces.  Eventually a lady materialised from a back office and told us that the exhibition centre was down the street a little in the old school house.  We duly trotted off there and spent the next hour looking at the various exhibitions, twiddling knobs and reading ‘stuff’.  As ever I gravitated to the educational sections for teachers and pupils and kids books etc.  They had some truly brilliant stuff and for one brief moment (even expressed verbally!) I wished I were still teaching.  Astonishing.  The WHOI was mostly for Ken my turn came next.

 

We went to find The Cahoon Gallery in Cotuit.  This was the 1775 Georgian Colonial house, which was once an overnight stagecoach stop on the line between Hyannis and Sandwich (!) and had once been home to the artists Martha and Ralph Cahoon.  I knew him because of his wonderful mermaid paintings.  These are flirty, fun mermaids doing every day stuff such as washing and cooking.  The house was a delight; full of stencilled walls and floorboards, including a pretend rug.  It contained a lot of the Cahoon’s work and other similar 19th and early 20th century American artists.

 

Full of culture and scientific erudition it was time for a spot of retail therapy so we pushed on to the massive shopping centre at Mashpee Ponds. (No, I don’t make up the names as I go along).  Time for tea. We had lunch in a lovely English tea-shop (remember the Brambles saga).  Here, amazingly, we got talking to the brand new English owner.  So new she hadn’t exchanged contracts and was working there for a couple of weeks alongside the previous owner to get the hang of it.  She already had American citizenship as she’d met and married an American (US airbase in UK). He is now commuting to and from Detroit (!) so they can live on the Cape.

 

Now we were refined, educated and fed all we needed was clothes. A swift stop at our local Factory Outlet and two great rucksacks from Bass for both of us, a pair of Van Heusen trousers for $13.50 for me and a $13.50 shirt for Ken.  These prices included the pleasant surprise of an additional 10% discount for oldies (over 55) on Tuesdays.  Good stuff.

 

A little gem we noted whilst driving round this part was traffic lights on sticks.  The traffic lights here are usually strung across the road on cables unlike ours, which are invariably on poles beside the road.  Well this part of New England has a toy town version of ours.  They are much smaller lights on much shorter yellow posts.  Very Noddy and Big Ears and I love ‘em.

 

Wednesday 25th

 

Today we headed for Provincetown and the big thing (in all senses) that I’d come to see – whales.  We arrived early and booked our trip for 3.30 pm to give us time to do other things. 

 

Our first port of call was the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary Virtual Reality Marine Museum.  Try asking for that when you’re lost. Yes, it took forever to find as usual.  Finally we arrived at a tiny house tucked back behind others only to find it was closed.  We encountered this problem several times – indeed I nearly called this holiday ’We missed it’.  Some stuff closed because it was the end of season, some stuff closed Tues or Thursdays or whatever; or closed between certain hours or if there’s an ‘R in the month etc.  We never did get the hang of remembering to ring before we set out.

Off to the Pilgrims’ Monument and Provincetown Museum.  Aptly their address is High Pole Hill – aptly as its main attraction is a 252 feet 7.5 inch tower from which you can see a heck of a lot of the Cape.  Ken climbed the Pilgrims’ monument  (I’ll see the video later) while I sat in the sun outside.  Perhaps its worth mentioning here that from now on our weather was in the glorious 80’s – freaky for the time of year and greatly disturbing the locals – lovely for us except it made fall about three weeks late – yep! We missed it.  Back to the tower…. Due to a misunderstanding entirely on Ken’s part (!) I found him some time later, when I began to wonder if he’d left without me, in the museum.  As he’d seen it all I had a far too quick scuttle round and we departed as we were trying to fit in a winery before the whales.

 

 

To Truro and the Vineyards.  Truro is probably the most exclusive Cape Cod address and you can see why.  It’s on a very narrow spit of land (1 mile wide at the most) so you have the Bay on one side and the Atlantic on the other as you drive down Route 6A.  Very pretty and Cape Coddish.  We arrived at the winery to discover, now that it’s the end of season, the tours only take place at the weekend – yep, we missed it.  We stayed on for the wine tasting and did our own little tour.  Mostly I spent my time drooling over the exquisite house in which it is all set.

 

 

 

 

We pootled back to Provincetown and the best fish and chip lunch I have ever eaten, bar none, at The Lobster Pot.  To quote the waiter “If we can’t do Cod and chips, who could?”  It was very fresh, creamy cod, lightly egged and floured and deep fried with not a grease smudge or taste of oil on it.  All this and a view of the ocean.

 

And so to bigger fish (aka mammals)… the trip out to see the whales.  This was truly wonderful.  The Portuguese Princess took an hour to get out to Stellwagen Bank.  We stayed an hour during which time – the whole time – we watched the whales.  We saw Humpback and Fin Back whales feeding.  They didn’t leap about for us, which was a tad inconsiderate, but we got many very close looks at them.  They lift their tails out of the water to assist their dives – apparently they are so buoyant that it requires a real effort to dive and stay submerged – hence all the cavorting.  I thought it was an incredible experience to see such large creatures so close up that you could spot their individual ‘markers’, see the slits on the throats of the humpbacks and hear and see them spouting – just wonderful.  The hour’s watching was worth every second of the freezing two-hour journey.  It was OK below but on deck because the ship had such speed it was extremely cold and this was a hot autumn day.

 

We were told a lot about the whales on the way out and I’d read a good deal about them and whaling before I went so I could really appreciate the trip. 

 

We travelled home in the dark with our headlights on!  The US6 Motorway asks you to use headlights day and night ‘for safety’.  This is predominately a very long, very straight, very wide-laned road.  It actually had services like the UK Motorways, which again is unlike Florida, which simply directs you off the Motorway to McDonalds et al.   Actually I quite fancied Gutsy Benders – All you can eat pasta!  I know you think I make these up……..  Best of all at one point it had a warning notice that there would be a Rotary in 6 miles time.  We assume it was posted early enough to give you a chance to avoid it if your terror of them prevented you from driving around them.

 

Beside one of the roads we drove along today there were the largest fungi I had ever seen.  These were big enough to make a couple of cars pull over to take photographs – please remember most Americans are not generally impressed by size! 

 

Also on that trip back I realised/remembered how much I don’t like trees ‘en masse’.  This doesn’t auger well for our trip to New Hampshire to see the foliage!  I always think trees are like people they are truly lovely in ones but very oppressive and rather threatening in crowds.

 

 

Thursday 26th

 

The weather was a bit overcast but warm and no rain so we decided we’d do a trip round Hyannisport.

 

Drove to Hyannis slowly and had lunch at the BBC (British Beer Company) where, I’m glad to say, they managed to break another best ever record with their chicken pot pie – simply terrific.  Ken was thrilled as he was able to have a Beamish.  I must pass on a couple of quotes from there:  ‘You’re not drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on’. (Dean Martin) and ‘What contemptible scoundrel stole the cork from my lunch?’ (W. C. Fields)

 

Hyannis is still quite pleasant although it has clearly grown from the pretty place it was a few years ago to a fair sized town.  Nevertheless it still retained its sweet little library and the JFK museum was, again, in an old house – both of these were on the main street among the spanking new shops and restaurants.  A little strange and rather sad.  The JFK museum was really rather disappointing.  It is simply a relatively small collection of photographs – mostly of him and the family at The Cape, naturally.  It was a little odd in a way because I’d taken as my holiday read Mrs Kennedy…. (I’ve forgotten the title for now but Barbara Leaming wrote it).  It is the history of Jackie Kennedy’s influence on the politics of that era and contained several of the photographs which were in the museum.  I felt as though I’d been taken on a trip of the large print version of the book.

 

Our trip around the Bay was also only in the realm of OK.  It was interesting to see the wonderful craft that are anchored out there but our view of the Kennedy compound was very distant and limited.  I suppose it gave us a better idea of their huddled existence among their ‘own’.  A terrible life in many ways - to be so under threat that your life becomes a very glamorous prison.  I think it is hellish for the children who truly don’t agree to be part of it. 

 

We wove our way home stopping off at The Cape Cod Mall for tea/coffee and brownies.  We quickly discovered that every Thursday they hold a ‘Tea Dance’ in the Food Court in the centre of the Mall.  It was great fun. They had ‘competitive’ dancing between the social stuff and many had turned out in their best bib and tucker – diamante, frills and fluffy hair.  Some of the women had made an effort too!  They danced their little tootsies off – don’t you just love the Latin American section.  Best of all it seemed no one was interested in collecting their prizes.  They tried announcing and calling the winners and then decided to give them to the runners up instead.  As far as we could determine they didn’t step forward either and the ‘stuff’ seemed to return to the box.  We had a feeling we were in another ‘back to the future’ fifties movie – it gets scary sometimes.

 

Friday 27th

 

We made our second attempt at visiting Martha’s Vineyard.  We drove down to Falmouth where we parked the car and took the courtesy bus to the ferry at Woods Hole.  Everyone has to do this even the usual commuters as Woods Hole is simply too small to cope with the traffic and parking.  Again this gives you a sense of how the place is rapidly outgrowing itself. 

 

The crossing takes about forty-five minutes.  The ferry was full, out and back.  Most of the passengers seemed to be ‘regular’ commuters many of whom knew each other.  The MV community reeks of money and the chattering classes – such insouciance – oh for just an ounce of it.

 

We took the easy way of seeing the island; we did a bus ‘tour’ to get the flavour of the place ready for a (probable) return visit. It proved to be the closest to the Cape Cod of my imagination.  It is wilder than the Cape mainland and has large areas of undeveloped land.  It seemed so open and full of sky. 

 

Our driver and guide (Andrew) drove us in a circle passing through Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, Chilmark, Gay Head Cliffs (this is now known by its old name of Aqinnah), West Tisbury and back to port.  We stopped for a short break at the cliffs.  As usual Ken hiked off for the view and I hung around in the sun with my Clam Chowder.  Not a great conversationalist but tasted damn good.

 

We saw some nesting poles – quite literally just that – a pole with a nest on.  These were Osprey nests.  Andrew said that because of the farmers use of DDT affecting the food chain a few years ago the osprey population fell to just three males.  A couple of females were imported, DDT legislation put in place, and they now have seventy out of the hundred poles being used this year.  Overheard behind us at this point – female to her companion “ It’s like a bird, huh?”  I think someone should have saved the dollars on her ticket.

 

The houses are truly the origin of gingerbread houses – there is actually a style called just that.  Gingerbreading incidentally is that lovely ‘cutwork’ wooden trim that’s used along rooflines and porches and in corners and so on.  (The edible gingerbread houses have nothing to do with ginger flavoured cake or biscuit – it’s all to do with the sugar candy decorations).  This bit of architecture I already knew although, naturally I hadn’t seen proper gingerbread houses ‘til now.  I also found out on this trip what a’ full cape’, ‘half cape’ and ‘three-quarter cape’ house was.  A full has the door in the centre of the front wall with two windows on either side.  A three-quarter has door in the centre, two windows on one side and one window on the other; a half cape has the door to the side and two windows to the right or left of it.  It was a simple way to build a house.  You’d start with a half Cape and as your family/wealth increased you simply added other ‘rooms’.  Darn clever these pioneers.

 

We saw some very Englishy gardens – roses and ‘proper’ grass lawns.  A joy to my eyes after the Florida tropical gardening.  In the wild there were masses of flowers – clearly their environmental controls are bearing fruit.  It was full of magnificent honeysuckle (woodbine) and marguerites (white daisies) and asters (mauve daisies) and buckets of golden rod glowing in the sun.  Of course the island is covered in wild grape vines.  “Wild grapes, I’ll be darned”, from the lady who’d discovered birds.  The story of its name is that the whaling captain who discovered the island named it after his daughter Martha.  His other daughter Nan was peeved that he hadn’t named it after her so she took the other island he found – Nan-took-it!  (Nantucket).  The islands were regarded as pretty useless and the vineyard part of its name served to warn others that they weren’t worth the trouble as they were exceedingly difficult to traverse because they were covered in vines.  If he only knew.

 

Edgartown is famous because ‘Jaws’ was made there.  The guide claimed that a friend of his who was an extra in the film still gets a regular $200 p.a. as his royalty fee.  The town was originally a whaling town.  Andrew regaled us with stories of the extreme hardships of the whaler’s lives.  These men risked so much because the gains, if they succeeded, made them for life.  Of eighty-nine whalers which left one year (and were out for six years) only twenty-four made it back.

 

The Vineyard now, of course, is home to many celebrities and wealthy people.  We got to see bits and pieces of ‘famous folks’ places – Ted Danson’s (my hero) looked very unpretentious (as did they all).  He lives there all year round.  They like the island because it is fairly private and extremely safe.  They have a police force of one which doubles in the season.  The prisoners in the jail have the keys and go out to work in the day and lock themselves up again at night.  They recently had a ‘jailbreak’ – one didn’t show up – so they drove out to his girlfriend’s house and picked him up.

 

I thought Chilmark was extremely pretty.  This is one of the island’s ‘dry’ towns – no booze.  They had a librarian called Lucy Vincent who took it upon herself to go through all the books and ‘edit’ them with a pair of scissors if she found anything which offended her sensibilities.  The bhurgers of Chilmark have a sense of humour – when she died they named the nudist beach after her.

 

We really enjoyed the tour of the island and left The Vineyard hoping we’d have enough time to come back.

 

We drove home via the Bourne outlet Mall.  We only have a brief look round, as I was tired from the day’s excursions.  Another place worth going back to.

 

Saturday 28th

 

…..and my favourite day on The Cape.  We got up to even more glorious weather – high eighties.  We headed out to Sandwich and a Cranberry Festival.  Sandwich is the oldest Cape town.  It was established 1637 by some of the Plymouth Pilgrims and has proudly clung to its history and has resisted a lot of changes.  The Cranberry Festival was being held at The Green Briar Nature Centre and Jam Kitchen this is also the Thornton W. Burgess Museum.  This was such a small place in such a small town and yet I really don’t know where to begin on the riches that today held.

 

Some background perhaps - Thornton Burgess was the author and naturalist who wrote Peter Cottontail and the Peter Rabbit books (amongst others).  The house is located on the edges of Smiling Pool and adjacent to the famous ‘Briar Patch’ of his stories.  It is a perfect house in a wonderful setting.  From this modest house a Nature Centre offers natural history classes, nature walks through the 57acre Briar Patch Conservation Area and a spectacular wildflower garden.

 

A room in the house is used as the Robert. S. Swain Natural History Library with 1600 volumes available for study and research. 

 

The kitchen of the house is now a jam kitchen where jams and jellies are still made as they were at the turn of the century.  This where we ate a fine lunch of homemade chilli (Ken) and Chowder (me) followed by slices of the cranberry bake competition entries.  (see photo) I don’t know if our choice was a winner but it should have been.  They have a shop that sells their jams which come in every flavour you can think of and then double it. 

 

As ever we’d just missed the tour of the cranberry bog but another was being organised for later.  Meanwhile we could look around or relax in the garden and listen to the music.  There was a truly wonderful group of (mostly) oldies working their way through a great repertoire of songs.  They were such fun as well as such great entertainment.  We lounged in Adirondack chairs in the shade of some trees in the garden and spent a terrific hour listening and singing along to songs we didn’t even know we knew.  We all stood for the last song, America the Beautiful.  It couldn’t have been more appropriate.  Katherine Lee Bates who was born and raised in Falmouth on the Cape wrote it and I’m sure it is truly inspired by her America.  Its lyrics reeked of the day surrounding us as we sang.  At the end of the concert I thanked one of the singers and was immediately hugged and introduced and thanked in return – I like these folk. 

 

If you are visualising a huge crowd of sweaty tourists and cameras please don’t.  This was a very local ‘day out’.  Again many people there knew each other and it was a lovely relaxed happy group of old and young wandering around the house and gardens.  There was a magical lady with one of her beehives explaining how equally magical they were.  The cranberry growers hire her bees for pollinating the flowers in the spring.  There were a couple of ladies selling raffle tickets for two marvellous patchwork quilts that they’d made.  This was to raise money for the Centre.

 

Eventually the ‘bog’ group gathered by osmosis and we wandered off with our ‘grower’.  Trust me the ‘story’ of cranberries was fascinating – I’ll try just to note some outlines and skip the details.  Native Americans used cranberries as a medicine and a dye and mixed the berries with venison, dried it in the sun, forming Pemmican.  It was eaten on long journeys .The settlers used cranberries in their own diets to ward off scurvy, as they’re high in vitamin C.  Their name came from the Dutch settlers who thought the vine blossom looked like a crane – hence craneberry.

 

Our grower was part of the Ocean Spray Company which is a co-operative formed by his father and others.  Seven out of ten cranberries are Ocean Spray cranberries.  85% are wet harvested which would be super sight to see.  We missed it! They were harvesting later that week and asked if anyone in the group would like to ‘sign on’ as they always need extra hands.  I could have signed Ken up and taken photos.  Darn it.

 

The bog owner had brought his fourteen-year old daughter with him who was a sixth generation grower and had her own fields that she ran herself.  They were truly interesting and seemingly ‘devoted’ to their life.  He was adamant about preserving what we can in the environment for the next generations to experience.  He couldn’t imagine a world where kids weren’t able to roam fields and ponds and beaches freely, scratting around in their own world after school and ‘chores’.

 

From this tour we took leave of the wonderful house and surroundings and meandered back to the car stopping to look at the swans and other birds on the pool.  Already this had been one of those rare and memorable perfect days and we still had some time left.

 

We intended to take in the Indian Museum in Mashpee and the Indian Meeting House – guess what – we missed it.  It was end-of-season closed.  I was interested in that because I’d read quite a lot about the Wampanoag a while ago in ‘Big Chief Elizabeth’ – great book about the first English settlers in America.  The Meeting House is actually used because the Wampanoag still govern Mashpee. 

 

We returned to another part of Sandwich and the Heritage Plantation of Sandwich.  This was an unexpectedly large (76 acres) and very modern ‘park’.  There are hundreds of Dexter rhododendrons and hybrid daylilies. – yep, they’re spring and summer flowering plants so.. we missed ‘em.  There is also a terrific museum.  The building itself is perhaps the most wonderful thing.  It is a copy of a Shaker round barn in Hancock, Mass.    It is built of pale round smooth grey stones and white wood and being Shaker constructed it is of such simple, clean lines that it couldn’t be anything other than truly beautiful. 

 

It houses a wonderful collection of antique cars – one of which you can climb in and explore.  How nice to let you maul an exhibit.

 

I fell deeply in love with a pale green and yellow 1930 Duesenberg Model J Tourister (see photos), which they would not let me leap on and kiss.  I am convinced we were meant for each other – it was mine in a previous life. Actually it was Gary Cooper’s car  which is probably just as good.  Something else I would be happy to leap on and kiss.

 

While we were touring this gallery there was a Shaker couple also looking round.  They wore the traditional style clothes – only a shorter more modern version, but still with bonnet and black hat for the man.  The woman was in apple green and looked nice rather than odd.  I was sorely tempted to photograph them.  I’m pleased to say I didn’t.  Nevertheless, I was pleased to be able to see them and in an ideal setting.

 

The Shaker exhibition was comprehensive and interesting – it told the story of the original Shakers.  Their founder was a working class woman from Manchester (!) – Ann Lee.  She persuaded a group of her followers to immigrate to the states in 1774.  They ‘grew’ into nineteen communities in North America – a handful of these still remain.  The museum had examples of their furniture, tools, writings, photographs, clothes and other articles alongside their history.  It was well done and beautiful to look at.

 

It also contained exhibitions of guns, military stuff and, outside, a 200-year-old windmill (yawn, yawn).  Best of all was a wonderful, wonderful Carousel.  This was housed in its own rotunda.  It is a 1912 carousel with thirty-two Looff horses and, better still, it is free to ride it.  I’d only heard (and seen pictures) of Looff horses and copies of Looff horses as collectors pieces I’d no idea I’d be able to ride one on a magnificent original carousel.  It was a terrific experience.  They are extremely beautiful. 

 

Sunday 29th

 

We left The Cove around 10 am and set off for North Conway in New Hampshire.  Our first ‘odd’ sighting was the I-95 littered with bikers – huge groups of them every so often as we travelled north.  Less of a chapter more like a novel.  Never did come up with any conclusions as to why hundreds (literally) of bikers were all heading north.  Migration perhaps?

 

The beginning of our journey pretty much avoided Boston.  The skyline was impressive I must admit but that’s as close as I got to a city I’ve always ‘fancied’ visiting.  Odd how these desires become so small and very unimportant when reality bites.  Oh well, perhaps in another life.

 

Our lunch was at an odd place – trust us.  We stopped at a turkey farm for a turkey dinner – sick or what?  There was a big spiel about how the ‘wife’ did a handful of dinners for occasional patrons which has now grown into the whole house being taken over by ‘the business’, which is now run by her sons.  Farming turkeys has ceased and the restaurant and its little gift shop are making their fortune.  It was obviously an attraction in the area because as we pulled into the parking lot at the rear we noticed a coach and a couple of mini-buses parked there.  Rightly so, the meal was very ‘home cooked’ good.

 

A bit of a detour across the northern end of Lake Winnepesaukee gave us an inkling of the immense size of this stretch of water.  Very like an inland sea, it had lovely beaches and resorts around it.  The main town is called Laconia – not much imagination there then – and not particularly wonderful, but some of the smaller towns and villages along our way were very pretty.  This area of New Hampshire is the equivalent of our Lake District but, as ever in the States, on a much grander scale.

We arrived in North Conway and began the search for accommodation.  We take it in turns to go into hotels/motels and ask prices and ‘do deals’ – we were coming up with $130 - $150 per room which we are too mean to pay but still want to be comfortable.  Ken struck gold and was directed by a very expensive hotel to another very expensive hotel that had an offer on.  So we ended up in a large newly refurbished, marble bathroomed room in North Conway Grand Hotel.  This is an excellent hotel in an even more brilliant place – O.V.P. (Outlet Village Plus - a large new outlet mall!).  All this and a great deal more for $79 Room and Continental Breakfast – good stuff.  We settled in there with a swim in their good size pool - just us and a chap in the spa. 

 

Monday 30th

 

Our ‘continental’ breakfast turned out to be a full buffet, which included things such as French toast, Eggs Benedict, pancakes, waffles as well as all the usual stuff.  All of which was constantly being refilled and refreshed and was simply wonderful.

 

We (or more truthfully, I) staggered to the car.  We had decided to combine several of the recommended scenic drives into a larger circular drive of 102 miles known as the White Mountain Trail.  It surrounds most of the White Mountain National Forest.  A good place for anyone, like us, who was hunting trees.  Travelling clockwise it begins with a spectacular 34-mile stretch along the Kancamagus Highway.  This is pronounced cang/aw/maw/gus – keep practicing.  Trouble with ‘Indian’ words is that your eyes deceive your mouth into saying other things.  I suspect they’re related to the Welsh.  This road goes from Conway to Lincoln.

 

Almost the first things you notice are signs along the roadside warning you that there are hundreds (yes!) of collisions with Moose each year and to be aware of this.  How you are supposed to be aware of unexpected mooses (pl.mice?)  I simply don’t know.  Glad I wasn’t driving.  It was bad enough being an ‘alert for moose’ passenger without having to negotiate the road as well.  The road climbed 3,000 feet amongst some astoundingly beautiful scenery.

 

Within a spit of leaving Conway you get stopped in your tracks by the sight of a covered bridge – straight out of ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ and all those calendars you’ve flicked through.  It was a pretty big job, was wearing well and still in use.  They were built a wagon of hay wide and covered to protect the wooden bridge from bad weather – smart eh?  Like most things with a simple function it was equally simply beautiful.  Covered bridges were also useful for ‘courting’ – private and weatherproof!

 

En route we spotted a pick-up with a handful of hunters standing around it.  Besides holding their very scary guns (how British!) one of them was wandering around the road with what looked like a TV aerial – I assume it was for locating large animals?  Their background and ours was a kind of pre-Raphaelite tapestry of greens, orange, burnt umbers and wine reds.  Photographs do not do it justice – or at least mine don’t.  We were too early for the best of the fall colours and this was pretty wonderful so heaven knows what it must look like at its prime. 

 

Weekends in New Hampshire are being advertised in our local papers right now (a month later) to see the fall colours.  Clearly it is a trip people must do in their thousands each year.  In a way, therefore, I’m glad we missed prime time.  We’ve come to expect to have most places to ourselves.

 

At Lincoln we joined the 3 and stopped to look at Loon Mountain and the ski areas.  Franconia notch is an eight-mile drive between the Franconia and Kingsman mountain ranges.  This gave us some more spectacular scenery especially The Old Man of the Mountain - an outcrop of rock, which resembles the profile of a man’s face.  Even after trekking to see it, it came as a surprise as we rounded a bend.  We also scouted Bretton Woods ski resort.

 

At Twin Mountain (the centre of the ski area) we swapped to the 302 to take us back to the 16 and North Conway.  Even the route home was a drive full of experiences.  We saw Mount Washington to our left.  Hard to miss at 6,288 feet.  There is a road, which will take you to the summit – pretty hairy apparently.  What a shame we were pressed for time.  Nestled on the side of the mountain is the fantastic Mount Washington Hotel.  It is celebrating its 100-year birthday all this year.  It would be a marvellous place for a ski holiday though I suspect it probably costs an arm and a leg.  The road wends its way through Crawford Notch famous for its many falls.  On to Bartlett – think New Hampshire President of ‘West Wing’ – it’s a New Hampshire name.  Along wonderful Echo Lake and ‘home’. 

 

We drove and stopped and read and photographed all along the route.  As usual Ken and I pretty much compliment each other.  He likes video and large scale – huge vistas and the feel of places.  I love taking the details like the light on a specific tree or the strata in a rock, bark on trees, berries on rowans, flowers which I’ve never seen before and such single sharp memory stuff.

 

All in all it was another experience to file in the ‘worth keeping’ memory folder.

 

A small side note – we used a drive-up ATM to get some cash.  What a good idea.  Not only because I’m incredibly lazy but its such a safe way to get cash.  When I’m on my own I hate going to machines at night – home or here – and doing that walk back to the car.  Especially as I would be mugged for tuppence.  Also – dead practical you don’t get wet in the rain, baked in the sun or frozen to death.

 

Tuesday 1st October

 

Even our second wonderful breakfast didn’t do much to compensate for the thought of leaving this beautiful area.  We had been told about the famous Fryeburg Fair, which was on that week so we decided it was just too good to miss.  As a fair which dated back to 1851 and was going to give us, not only over 200 of Maine’s most talented musicians (spread out through the week we hope) but also steers, oxen, rabbits and llamas to name a few, it really needed to be seen.  To give you a sense of scale it is sited on 180 acres and they average about 3000,000 visitors each year.  Remember that’s in a week.  I like 300,000 as an ‘average’ and an ‘about’ number.  Ken was even more pleased because by driving about six miles to this fair we would also be going into Maine.  He liked the idea of having been in three States.  (Don’t tell me, tell him)  Off we go.  About a mile and a half later we joined the traffic queue to get into Fryeberg Fair.  About two hundred yards later we have abandoned the idea and are reverting to our original plan of only ‘doing’ one full day in NH because we wanted to return south along the coast, checking out places like ‘The Hamptons’.  If I didn’t see so many movies and read so many books I wouldn’t be inundated with all these names that I want to see for myself.  So off we trot to another watering hole of the rich and famous.

 

We arrived at Hampton Beach for lunch in their equivalent of The Grand Hotel.  I’m sorry I’ve forgotten its name.  It was so much the grand English seaside hotel of the early 1900’s and very pleasurable.  We had a real specimen of “Can you see it on the trolley?” waitress.  Not easy to get her when needed and then overpowered you when she arrived.  Less a Basil Faulty experience more a Victoria Wood. 

 

I am thrilled to claim that Eileen Atkins and companion were at the next table.  Now here I am utterly serious.  I keep meaning to look her up on the web to confirm face, dates etc.  Other than those minor details I am claiming we had lunch alongside Eileen Atkins. 

 

Just done it and shown Ken – yep she was there.  My claim to fame for this year.  For those of you who are not an Eileen Atkins fan – think Gosford Park and Cold Comfort Farm.  I think she also came up with the idea of Upstairs, Downstairs with Jean Marsh (who I don’t like).

Back to the plot.  Last year at the same time of year it was around 30°F here.  Today it was 84°F so the wonderfully wide/long beach was being used by the usual out of season crowd of ten.  We debated cossying up and going for a paddle but too lazy to pick the sand out of our toes post-lunch.  The Hamptons had some lovely beaches and houses.  I suspect where the secluded grand houses are it would be very beautiful but, again, it’s a place which has had its time as far as I’m concerned – all a little dog-eared and must be hell in the summer as it started small and is now trying to ‘pack ‘em in’.  I hope to God Naples continues to take care of itself and restrict when and where it can.  So far, so good.  It’s a pity if places can’t learn from other areas and see what happens when its more-or-less a free for all.

 

Back to the air-conditioned car and off to Boston (ish).  We paused briefly in Salem which looks to be a place worth investigating if you ever get that way – old houses and districts – well-kept and ‘on show’.

 

We wound our way down a very narrow peninsular just off the end of Boston to a town called Nahut.  It was extremely pretty but I suspect a very expensive area.  So close to the city, so few houses and so well preserved.  We then spent the next hour or so finding a bed.  Eventually we settled for the Courtyard (Marriott) in Revere, a couple of miles from the airport, at a ‘bargain’ price of $149 Room, breakfast extra!  Not happy with that compared to the Grand Hotel in North Conway.  We had a mediocre Marriott dinner which was followed by a (returned by me) raw apple pie –I’m talking pastry here not apples!  Then an evening packing, sorting and watching TV.  The usual end to a road trip I guess.

 

Wednesday 2nd

 

A normal trip home.  Left the hotel around noon and drove to the airport.  Did our, by now usual, self-service check-in and went off for lunch.  Straightforward ‘bus’ flight to Fort Myers to collect our own car and less than an hour later we are at our neighbourhood Perkins having dinner and then home.  All so easy now.

 

All in all a great new piece of the globe found, inspected and filed.  Would like to go back for more another time.  A first visit always gives you the feel of the place and insight into how to do it next time to get more out of it.  Having said that our days were full and interesting and we saw lots of ‘new’ and interesting things.  Thanks News Hampshire and Massachusetts.  (and very nearly Maine!).

 

October 2002

 

On the Move again

 

Back in the UK and it’s 5.40 a.m.  I sometimes have trouble sleeping and either stay up or get up and find something to do to pass the time.  It seemed to be a golden opportunity to ‘complete’ my thoughts on our last visit to Naples.  Unfortunately I haven’t brought my scraps of paper with me that I sometimes jot down thoughts and observations as prompts for my diary.  This episode, therefore, maybe brief and, for once, to the point.  Here goes…

 

Our life quickly returned to normal after our trip ‘up North‘ to see the leaves.  We were back to our usual swimming, sunbathing, shopping, and house chores.  One observation from a food-shopping trip to Winn-Dixie was a notice you don’t often see on Tesco’s window.  ‘No shirt, no shoes, no service’.  Bit of a clue as to where you are maybe?  A service which they d offer is a machine in which you can tip all your loose change (or saved coins) and it sorts and converts it to dollars and pays you out in paper money. Great stuff.  I keep a pig for small change, which is an annoyance in my small purse and handbag so for me it will be dead useful.  Also their three for the price of one items are an American bargain.  Having said all that I still miss Tesco and its wonderful eclectic range of food and all the great prepared/chilled stiff they sell.

 

A good shopping story is the usual ‘good service ethos’ of the States.  Ken bought a mat for under his office chair – makes it move easily and protects the carpet.  It had cracked slightly so he took it back –having had it well over a year.  He was told it’s guaranteed for life, ‘no we don’t want the receipt’ (which he had, natch!). “Just go get yourself another one”. 

 

We don’t seem to do anything much in Naples so I thought I ought to list a few things we could have done within a matter of a couple of weeks if we’d wanted to make the effort – these are only the things I’d noted in my diary as possibilities – no where near the range of stuff you can do.  A Community Yard and Bake Sale (local); An Evening on Fifth Street – entertainers, art etc; Free Dance Lessons at the Community Park;  Oktoberfest Art Show;  Viva Naples – International Cuisine and Art at our local park;  Craft Show outside our local shops; a swamp buggy parade and then the races,  and many, many more.  This is a really great place to be especially if you’re not totally lazy like us.

 

Back to the plot.  The Sunday after we got back (6th) Ken injured his back – really badly.  He was pulling up a bush from the garden, which had died – the bush won!  He really was in great pain but, of course, being Ken refused to go to check it checked out.  As it turned out it took about a couple of weeks to get right but he is OK now thank heavens.

 

We’ve set up Instant Messaging on the computer along with a camera and a mike so it has been great fun talking to and seeing some of you.  When we’re all equipped we can have giant group chats.

 

On the Movie front we’ve been to see ‘One Hour Photo’/Robin Williams (8th).  Other than his usual ‘unsubtle’ acting the movie was really quite good.  It was the sort of movie that you felt would have made an OK TV drama.  Somehow I expect something ‘writ large’ when I go to the cinema.

 

Our next trip was for ‘The Banger Sisters’/Goldie Hawn.  Someone else I find ‘too much’ but it was lifted by the presence of Susan Sarenden who I do like.  A sweetie of a film – probably more of a chick-flick but OK.

 

We’ve been to the delicious Dinner Theatre a couple of times.  On the 17th we went to see  ‘Dracula’.  For once (indeed the first time for us) it was a play not a musical.  Because of this it was very poorly attended.  The girl in the ticket office told Ken that their audiences like a ‘show’.  I felt so sorry for the company as they are remarkably good and really give it their all.  It was an in-house production – written by one of the co-owners and, as always, really good.

 

Our trips to the library continue but I seem to have abandoned novels for the time being in favour of ‘Reference’ books such as House Maintenance, Cookery Books, Legal Information, Planning Your Own Funeral!  The library is always a real pleasure and it has the additional attraction of the French bakery - genuine French husband/wife bakers – up at 3 am to bake and then open until 7 pm to drive you to madness with their wonderful stuff.

 

The library really came up trumps for us this trip with its Book Sale.  We were told to go as soon as they open at 8 am because it would be a fight to the death for books.  New books/hardback $3, used 50 cents and paperbacks 25 cents – mmmm delicious.  So we decided not to join the rugby scrum and trotted round lunchtime.  It was still pretty busy but had been decimated.  The children’s section especially was pretty much bought out.  We were told teachers dive in and fill their cars (SUVs!) – hardly surprising.  I still managed to find twenty-three books for others and myself.  This cost me the staggering sum of $8.75. (Less than £6).  Two of these were brand new autobiographies for mom at like $30 each!

 

About the middle of the month we began to play with the idea of scaling down our home here.  It is expensive for Ken to maintain for the six months when we’re not using it and needs taking care of by us when we are.  At the moment we could do with repainting the outside really but don’t want to do it until we have to.  We looked and several really nice condos (Falling Waters and a Bermuda development at Bonita Springs) but are hesitant to swap our lovely house for what is essentially a flat. We are pretty sure we would feel a bit caged.  So, after a couple of days looking around we pretty much abandoned the idea.

 

They do Halloween in a big way over here, of course.  There is a mass of stuff to buy for decorating your house and garden and masses of people buying it.  I subscribed to one card for Denise which read ‘Trick or Treat, Smell my feet, Give me something good to eat’ Excellent sentiments I thought.

 

About the 24th we booked a cruise for the 28th.  We saw it advertised and at under £300 it was too good to miss.  Also it fitted very nicely between a couple of other things we had booked.  The ship only gets $160 of those dollars.  The rest is the cost of port charges and booking fees and tax etc.

 

On the Sunday (27th) before leaving on the cruise on Monday, we went to a concert at the Philharmonic.  As we’d never been to the Phil I decided I’d treat Ken to a concert as a belated birthday present.  I rang and booked a Mozartfest.  We then discovered it was Chamber Music and as such is held in the Daniel’s Hall rather than the main concert room, so we’ve still not made it to the real thing.  Nevertheless it was a very pleasant experience and good to be back to ‘live’ music.  It’s been a while.  We had the usual ‘odd’ person.  A Nina (of Nina and Frederick fame) turned up in full length black and white lame evening dress and clear Cinderella high heels and white stole.  This was 3pm on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  There’s always one.

 

Indeed our cruise started with my sighting another potential passenger in full evening dress in the queue for boarding!  So perhaps there’s more than one!

 

 

Monarch of the Seas, Cruise to Key West, Cozumel, Costa Maya

Monday 28th October – Saturday 2nd November

 

On the high seas

 

We drove across to Fort Lauderdale like last time.  A pretty uneventful journey.  We endured some fairly long waits for various parts of the Booking in and Boarding procedures – some a little different to our previous cruise from here.  Basically the mistake we made was to arrive for boarding at 11.30 – the soonest you could board.  Last time we arrived late which enabled us to board without any queues but meant we missed lunch and a couple of other things.  So we had decided this time to get there early.  We soon decided next time we wouldn’t bother.

 

The ship was very good.  It has just undergone refurbishment so is pretty spanking at the moment.  The Centrum (an atrium in the centre of the ship) was pretty impressive.  There are two pools on the pool deck and of a reasonable size.  The theatre is a two-floor job – the usual two restaurants and two-floor self-service 24-hour café.  There are numerous lounges and bars, a casino, a proper cinema – reasonable size with raked seating, sports deck and gym, beauty parlour, teen disco, nightclub and leather arm chaired library of a good size with a lot of books. All in all not lacking anything.

 

We set sail in the evening and overnight for Key West.  We did the usual lifeboat drill– which was pretty pathetic on this ship and then changed for dinner. 

 

 We shared a table with six other people who turned out to be absolutely great and really made our break fun.  Sylvia and Jack – a Bronx/Jewish (not married) couple – he was eighty.  Sylvia had a birthday on board but never disclosed her age.  She was the sort of person who could be any age between sixty and eighty.  Fit and fun.  Shelagh (pron. Sheila) and David from South Africa.  The story with Shelagh’s name was that her dad registered her when he was tipsy – so instead of the Sheelagh she should have been she ended up with her odd name.  To add insult to injury she had married David whose surname was Lord.  They experienced wonderful service at lunch one day when he was referred to as Sir and she as My Lady!  The other couple were very young looking – in fact quite seriously the girl could have passed for about twelve. 

 

It transpired she was twenty-eight and he was twenty-seven.  They were a lovely pair – Jennifer and Michael from Las Vegas.  We expected them to abandon our table after the first meal but they kept coming back for more and we all had a hugging, tearful, swap address departure on the last day.  Ships that pass in the night maybe but very pleasant ones.

 

We got into Key West the next morning (Tues 29th) and Ken and I decided to wander round for an hour or so ourselves rather than any sort of trip.  We have caught on to not spending aboard – stick to free food and drink and eliminate most trips.  We went to revisit The Galleon where we had stayed previously and where Ken stayed with Phil, Due and Stuart (Wilson) some years ago.  It’s still there and looking just as good.  We sat outside on its patio for a while watching the bay and the birds and having some ice cold water.  We then wandered off around the streets for a short while and to a dive shop for a new mask for Ken.

 

We tended to slide into a routine of: eat breakfast and lunch in the self-service – although we did have one very slow breakfast one day in the Restaurant and an excellent lunch another day there, tour, lunch, dinner, shops/photos, show, cinema, pizza! and bed.  We sometimes managed to squeeze in some sunbathing, other ‘snacks’ and odds and ends.

 

 

 

Day two (30th) found us in Cozumel, Mexico.  Ken opted for some diving, which he said was excellent.  Had a really good dive buddy (a nice guy from Eastbourne) and the two dives were very good.  I did it the easy way in a semi-submersible.  It was a bit disconcerting being six feet below water in the bowels of a boat crammed like a sardine side by side with everyone else.  We would be in serious trouble if we sprang a leak as we were very crowded and battened down – there’d be no way we’d all get up the steps in time.  That slight problem aside it was really terrific.  I saw masses of fish and terrific coral – brain, black, fan, and all sorts.  The various huge parrotfish were in a range of wonderful colours.

 

 

 

Thursday was spent in Costa Maya, Mexico.  This was a bit of an odd stop if you hadn’t opted for any of the various trips – mostly to Mayan sites.  We decided it was too hot and in all truth we weren’t greatly interested so we just jumped ship and wandered round the port.  It is brand new and has been very specifically to entertain cruise ship passengers and it did that very well.  You pass through an archway into a mock Mayan village setting.  Having been greeted by costumed dancers you then get to wander around market stalls and shops and bars.  The setting is excellent as it is on a beach.  There are hammocks, beds, chairs and shade all provided free and within the shops there is a huge swimming pool with a man-made beach, sunloungers and pool with floating beds – all of which is completely free and not crowded.  They also put on various shows roughly every hour or so.  We stayed for some wonderful traditional Mexican dancing by a ballet company.  Fantastic quality – not touristy trash.  So all in all a pleasant visit and absolutely free.

 

Friday was a day at sea. There are masses of things organised to do.  As usual Ken and I don’t really bother.  This is where I have to admit to being a really sad sack and confess I went to a napkin folding class!   This was only because I’d got up late and missed the towel folding class earlier in the day!  Basically we decided not even to sunbathe much and watched an afternoon movie in the cabin and read our books.  Believe me even this was a really nice day – it’s so good to be totally relaxed.  Someone else feeds and entertains you.

 

November 2002

 

Saturday we returned to our other life in Naples.  By Monday we had done a complete about turn from our pre-cruise decision and put the house on the market.  The realtor is also acting as our buyer’s agent.  This means he will negotiate for us when we purchase a place and find properties for us to view.  There is no charge for this service from us – he takes his cut from the seller.  Realtors operate very differently from our estate agents.  Firstly they charge six per cent!!!!  But they only handle a few customers at a time, which means they are almost at your beck and call – they take you to view properties they bring people to view your property (no unaccompanied viewing) they have Open House – an all day stint at your house without you.  Generally perform an overwhelming service.  Their six per cent also operates on another level.  All realtors pool details of their properties in a common web site and will take their clients to see property being sold by another realtor.  If they make the sale they realtor acting for the seller gives them two per cent of his six.

 

We had found some carriage homes we like – a bit like our maisonette idea but classier.  They look like very large houses but are usually divided into four units.  We prefer these to condos because the garage is built in rather than separate, which gives you direct access to your home and they look so much nicer.  We still had the problem of either being upstairs (and kind of trapped) or being downstairs and not fancying someone living over us.  But generally speaking we thought they were a good possibility and had found two in particular we liked which we got Don (Olen) to make a bid for.

 

Next we found a whole community we liked called The Shores.  Here the carriage homes we a really smart design.  Try imagining two small two-storey townhouses joined up like a semi then add on a bungalow at each end.  Sounds weird but works.  That means you don’t have to live either below or above someone and you both get a ground floor.  Excellent.  We found three for sale and even as I type are in the process of Don trying to make something happen.  There are so many ifs and buts it isn’t necessarily likely to come off as we would want it to but as it stands at the moment we hope to sell our house pretty quickly and be able to purchase one of these homes at the Shores.  The community itself is gated and all the outside of the buildings and the landscaping is done for you so we can just lock and leave the property with no additional expense or worry which is the reason for all this.  Cross your fingers for us.

 

We were looking at property an hour before we left for the airport and a couple were due to view our house just after we’d gone.  Our last day began with an 8 am trip to the hairdresser.  As I’ve now discovered a talented New Yorker who can cut and blow and understand what you want all within thirty minutes I decided I’d get a cut in to last me while I’m home.

 

We got into Manchester at the usual 9.30 am Friday (8th) after a good trip back.  Me for bed for a few hours Ken, who sleeps on the plane and has to be woken for breakfast (don’t you just hate him), gets on with unpacking and whatever. 

 

On Saturday we caught up with mom on a brief visit after shopping and then picked her up for tea.  We’ve persuaded her to come back with us and Ken has booked the flights for New Year’s Eve returning 27th March.  I think this is right.  As it’s now 8 am on Sunday morning I don’t think he’d appreciate my waking him to check the dates.

 

I hope we’ll get to speak to you all and see most of you soon – and certainly before going back to Naples for the next three-month stint.

 

Do I come here often?

 

I am writing this back at Kent Drive so it seems a bit strange catching up on the UK which I don‘t usually record in this journal, but as much of our time back home was used in looking for a Spanish home it is pertinent to Naples.  All will become clear (or not!).

 

My last piece was written in the early hours following a good meal at The Fisherman’s with Phil and Sue – always good to see them and catch up.

 

I seemed to spend the second and third weeks of November chasing around catching up on hospital check-ups, doctors appointments and dentists – for myself and for mom.  A small downside of living ‘half-n-half’ is cramming the English medical stuff into half a year.  Small price to pay for paradise.

 

Our realtor rang to say he’d painted out an odd ceiling patch in the lanai and cleaned the carpet near the entrance!  Yep, they do that sort of thing.  They DO charge 6% (!!) for the sale but you get their full attention.

 

I managed to catch up with Denise the day after my birthday for my birthday treat.  We had a meal at Francs and went on to the Lowry to see The Dance Theatre of Harlem.  Their first time back in the UK for 28 years (I think).  They were absolutely wonderful.  The best ‘dance’ experience in a very long time.  Make an effort to catch them next time round.  We could celebrate my 85th.

 

Denise and I managed another meal a couple of weeks later (does this say something about us?).  This time with Mike and Angela and Martin.  As ever it was very nice to catch up with people and with the addition of Angela it helped us avoid a Langworthy Road meeting – I think.

 

A couple of days later (30 Nov) along with Sue, Phil, Chris, Geoff, Hilary, Stuart, Leslie and the girls we were to be found in Grassington.  Unfortunately it was being very English and was cold and rainy.  Nevertheless we had a good time wandering round the Christmas stalls and listening to carols, eating chestnuts and watching the nativity enactment – very yo-ho-ho.  This, of course, was followed by a meal.  This time we managed to end up at a very strange pub that struggled bravely to feed ‘the mob’.  The cook basically tossed the turkey and veg on the table and left us to help ourselves.  Us being us we had a good meal and daft time.  When ‘cook’ told us she couldn’t do puddings – she was too busy doing two banquets - we decided to go on to somewhere else for coffee and pud!  A strange twist on a meal out.

 

December 2002

 

December began and continued in a whirl of visits to Spain to look at property.  Ken and I flew to Alicante (3rd to 6th) and explored the Costa Calida region (Mazzaron and surrounding districts).  Crossed it off our list.  We were astonished to find the prices so high.  The equivalent house in Naples is something like twice the floor area and in

the 21st century.  Buying something as a holiday home there is not too difficult and we saw some really nice properties but we couldn’t find anything suitable as a second home where we could live an ‘ordinary’ life and spend at least six months of the year.

 

Got home Friday and pootled off to Botany Bay with Sue on Saturday.  I didn’t actually buy anything other than a card but it was a great place for a mooch around.  Thanks to my shopping friend again.

 

The next week (12th to 19th) found us in Spain again.  The idea this time was to take mom for some sun and check out some property we’d set up the viewings for before we left.

 

We booked what looked like a terrific villa at Estacion Cartama where mom could sit by the pool and we could dash about looking at houses.  Good plan eh?

 

A few things went astray.  We landed in Malaga in some unusually cold and wet weather, which barely let up the whole week we were there.  The villa had no water.  It had been cut off in the surrounding area for four days.  It had outside water and someone had left us a gallon container for drinking.  The house was freezing and we couldn’t light the (real log) fire, as we didn’t have a match between us.  We decided to creep into our very cold (damp?) beds and tackle the problems the next day.

 

After no breakfast, cold washes and discovering the cockroaches we thought we’d better bail out.  As ever we managed to stagger around being very silly and the laughter was bordering on hysteria as we left.  We booked into a very nice, heated hotel and settled down for the rest of our stay.

 

We lumbered around all sorts of places including a derelict enlarged chicken coop, including the chickens, for 120,000 euros.  Early on in our house shopping we came to realise the thing, which eliminated almost all the properties, was the availability of a landline.  They are like gold dust!  Outside the villages you can virtually forget it – they rely on radiophones or mobiles.  Sometimes in a village you can find a property with one – or worse still the very Spanish promise of getting one.

 

At one stage we found a country property with a landline and a couple of thousand square metres of land with the ubiquitous orchard and space for a pool.  We made an offer, which was accepted, and the paperwork was whizzed off to our Spanish lawyer.  He then proceeded to tell us not to touch it.  The land was a parcela – a larger plot had been divided into three and two neighbours and we co-owned all the land and property.  There is much more to this tale but I’ll save you the pain of the details.  Suffice it to say that property went by the board.

 

The one I was really in love with was a (400 year old!) house – well two joined up actually.  Needless to say it needed work but it had its original ironwork, tiles, ceiling mouldings and a wonderful Andalucian patio.  We made an offer but no go – full asking price – yes ok we’ll go for that.  Next thing we know the agent (American lady) was rushing us off to open a Spanish bank account.  At this point we both got cold feet and panic set in and we bailed out.  I actually think we made a mistake there in that house could have been very spectacular when restored properly and worth four times its cost on completion.  Not to mention I’d have loved the job.  I have since heard from Amy that it has sold.  No big surprise there as it had sixteen areas (rooms and terraces) plus grounds and views and was going for 144,000 euros.

 

A day before we left Spain Ken checked the phone in the UK for messages and we had seventeen (!) messages from our American realtor getting increasingly worried about what had happened to us as we obviously couldn’t have just gone somewhere without telling him (woops!).  Basically he needed to speak to Ken urgently as he had a buyer for Kent Drive.  We’d missed his first call by about half an hour on the day we left.

 

Back home and the next day we began our rounds of more meals – firstly with Phil, Sue and Hilary to swap Christmas presents at the Garsdale and wish them Bon Voyage on their skiing trip over Christmas and New Year.

 

The next day (21st) we were off to Edinburgh for a couple of days to catch up with my kids.  Wonderful to see them both after so long – we all live too far away these days.  Ken and I (and mom) had picked up a really bad cold in Spain – head, nose, throat and unremitting cough.  I decided to make these two days the sickest in the week and ran a high temperature and generally felt really rotten.  I’m sure I wasn’t the best of company but I did the best I could.  Chris made us a delicious lunch – that kid can really cook a great roast potato!  The next day he led us to a local Bistro for another great meal.  There’s an advantage to having an ex-chef as a son.

 

They are both struggling on balancing their work and studies at uni and so far enjoying it.  I really admire their tenacity.

 

The next few days were a final whirl of pre-Christmas stuff, which settled into a quiet Christmas Day with just my mom for lunch and Ken’s kids for tea.

 

Boxing Day and the 27th were spent in Cheltenham with Pam and Ken.  We’d all kept the secret that Justine and Nicky were going to be there (from Vancouver and Belfast) so that mom would have a lovely surprise when we arrived.  We had a superlative time – just like the old days – a bunch of family together doing nothing but giggle for two days – such fun.  Pam kept the food flowing – pretty much like being on a cruise really we finished one meal and started the next.  She’s a Trojan.  Many thanks to all who made it a great two days.

 

So by now our visit home is all over and we were looking forward to returning to the US in four days.

 

Oh Yeah!

 

We left for Malaga on the 29th to view one house (at lunchtime that day) that we’d been sent over the net – it seemed ideal.  Town house with ‘phone, already refurbished, no problems with title etc.  Too good to miss.  It was in a wonderful ‘white village’ called Ardales in the Spanish Lake District.  Beautiful countryside, traditional village and the tourists are just walkers, climbers and not too many of them.

 

Yep the house was fine and we made the obligatory offer and started the ball rolling returning to the UK the next day and off to the US the day after.

 

We were on the flight to Naples (upgraded on both planes!) bemoaning the downsides of Spain for ‘living’.  The obvious one being having to learn the language and never doing it sufficiently well to ‘integrate’ properly.  Houses with no air‑conditioning or heating, not enough bathrooms, not enough space outside or in, dark (to keep them cool of course).  Impossible village roads, busy city roads, no garage for the car or space for visitors cars.  I miss English supermarkets in the states, heaven help me in Spain.  No shops to mooch like the US, no theatre, cinema etc.  All in all by the time we’d returned to Paradise the decision was made.  Scrub the idea of Spain we’ll stay put.