DIARY 2005


January 2005


Sally and Tariq joined us for New Year on Wednesday.  They flew to Paris and caught the TGV with us picking them up in Tours.  No problems with their journey and after a meal at L’Auberge in Chatillon we finally settled in for the New Year.  We did the obligatory Belle Bouche and La Brenne and a meal in Argenton-sur-Creuse.  Our New Year’s Eve meal at L’Auberge was superb as always.  It is called the feast of St. Sylvestre and took four hours.


The rest of their time with us was filled with walks, a trip to Loches market, which turned out to be pretty sparse, compared to our last time there.  Everything pretty much shuts shop in the winter in this area at least.  Ken asked what time the boat sailed, for example, and the reply was “April”.  The chateau at Chenonceau can’t be bothered to open either of its restaurants or its creperie even though they are happy to let you tour the chateau.  This turned out to be a bonus as we had a much better (and cheaper!) meal at a restaurant in the town, complete with log fire and ancient building.  We also visited Langeais Chateau, which I found pretty underwhelming and the day was further marred with a particularly miserable chocalatier who treated us like the English/tourist peasants she clearly thought we were and managed to overcharge us to the tune of seven euros.  My first encounter with the cliché snotty-French person, which the English so love to hate.   Sally and Tariq left us on Saturday (8th) and we left Les Roches on Tuesday 11th.


So, all in all our feet never touched the ground for a month.  The rest of January was pretty much used up in finishing the Bury house at last.  Our bedroom furniture got fitted and the decorating completed. Finally our optimistic six-week (“well, at the worst it could take twelve”) project of last summer came to a close.  We now have a brand new house other than the original structure.  New windows, doors, bathroom, kitchen, flooring, decorating, drapes etc.  I am generally very pleased with it.  As always with me I can nit-pick here and there and there’s stuff I would do differently next time but on the whole a ‘happy home’. 


February 2005


By mid-February we were off again this time to Florida.  We had an interesting time in Manchester airport undergoing a bag search and body check – clearly we are not people to be trusted.  We left with the intention of having a proper restful three-week holiday in Naples, Orlando and Naples.  Needless to say it turned into a house-hunting trip as soon as our feet touched the ground. 


When we arrived at our hotel in Naples – late and tired from driving from Miami we were told they hadn’t got our booking and (as we already had discovered when trying to book) the rest of Naples was full!  After much searching they found us a room.  We were luckier than another couple who couldn’t find a bed in any hotel (at a sensible price) and ended up spending their first night in the car.  Strangely enough you can always get a room at the Ritz or Registry for about $1,000 a night. 


The first person I spoke to in our hotel at breakfast the next morning used to do supply teaching in Langworthy – small world as always.  We drove around our old haunts and checked out some RV sites but decided it probably wasn’t for us after all – hells expensive and really you only get the best from it if you are the outdoors type.  One delightful incongruity was seeing a Rolls Royce parked outside manufactured home.  (A sort of cross between a prefab and mobile home).


We tended to have dinner at our usual Perkins where on one occasion our next-door customer was an armed guard with a neck like a tree trunk and muscles that overfilled his shirt.  Good to be back in the land of the conspicuously wealthy.  Another restaurant memory was at Red Lobster.  They do particularly great biscuits (bready things with the meal) which, being English, we can’t find a corner for alongside trying to stuff our faces full of lobster, baked potato, house salad, never-ending drinks et al.  I was a bit bashful about asking for a doggy bag for biscuits as it seemed a bit cheap – not like taking away your leftover lobster or steak.  Not only do they provide a ‘to-go’ bag but also they have a particular one that is labelled for biscuits!


On the subject of bags and being ‘organised’  - Clam Pass beach has ‘butt’ bags.  There is a stand and notice as you arrive on the beach which explains that one of the worst types of litter is cigarette butts as they don’t degrade and are becoming a real menace so they offer bags for them!  Can’t remember the statistics but it was astounding.


As soon as we arrived in Naples it was like dying and going to heaven - we both still love it.  We tried to spend most mornings sunbathing on a beach and decided to go to a different one each day but I admit to favouring Lowdermilk Park.  We saw several dolphins just feet away on two occasions.  Another time we walked the boardwalk to Clam Pass which is by the Registry - a very huge and expensive resort - they do stuff on the beach - there's only two Naples beaches where you can hire chairs and brollies - this is one of them so we forked out $32 for 2 beds and a brolly plus a $5 tip to guy who sets it up for you.  Next day we bought the same from K-Mart for 27 dollars!  Some people never learn.


We also managed to get to the dinner theatre and shops and hunt property.  Our realtor (Don) showed us three properties.  Unfortunately we have missed the boat as far as Naples goes - our first house was back on the market second time since we sold it - a couple of years ago we sold for under $200K it sold after that for $285K and is now up for $330K and sold in a couple of weeks.  You’ll gather from this the prices have way outstripped the French house and we don’t think we can afford to get back into the Naples market.  The properties he showed us in our price range were condos rather than houses and were too old (10 years and more) we both want new or as close as possible.


The next week we spent in Orlando.  Our journey up from Naples was hair-raising driving along an Interstate (75) in sheeting rain that makes the vision zilch.  It transpired we had actually driven through a tornado – I’ll leave it to your imagination. 


March 2005


The apartment we stayed in Orlando was superb.  I had all the usual American whistles and bells - bedroom at least 15 by 15 and the ensuite about 12 by 12.  The bedroom had the usual 6-foot bed and armchair and footstool and giant TV and still masses of room.  The ensuite had giant tub with spa and giant shower and two washbasins, which were set in the equivalent of a small English kitchen range of cupboards, work tops etc.  There was a second bedroom and bathroom and sitting room, dining room, kitchen, breakfast bar and lanai with tables and chairs - terrific.  I found the whole Orlando experience rather strange here we were in the heart of Disney and neither of us wanted to go to any of it - talk about miserable saddos - we felt really guilty but there you go - each to their own. Orlando is exactly my vision of what Florida (and even the States) would be like before I ever visited it and I got it pretty much right.  It is large, loud, frenetic and most definitely not for me. There are some really nice areas (Metro West for example) and you can imagine yourself living there happily but there's no way you can avoid the larger Orlando experience as soon as you move a mile outside your home base.  The traffic/roads/people/aesthetics are hellish for me.  I stress 'for me' when you think of the millions of people who love this place then clearly it is me who has the missing piece.  Whatever - even after trailing round countless possibilities to buy and let I couldn’t get into the idea of us spending any time here so it seems a no go.  This is no doubt a bad decision as the property market here is hugely hot.  Resales sell in a matter of days – new stuff is sold phases in advance and they even run waiting lists and lotteries! - e.g. 1100 people waiting to be told if they have a chance at the next release of 227 properties.  (Naples is doing the same thing) There’s no doubt we are missing a terrific investment opportunity. 


We decided to work our way down likely places along the west coast where it might be cheaper than back in Naples but still on the Gulf.  Fort Myers was probably the ultimate destination. I think Fort Myers is the American equivalent of Blackpool and don't particularly like it but the prices are a little better and we hoped to find an area we could settle for.  We started North of there and inland at Palm Harbor which is promoted as still being a real small town community.  If it was we couldn’t find its heart.  We stayed at The Westin Innisbrook resort.  If there are any golfers amongst you this needs to be seen to be believed.  It is modelled on Scotland and their golf courses and seemed to be the size of Scotland!  We did a cursory flit of the local real estate.  Again there were some nice communities but I didn’t like the area.  Clearly it wasn’t Hicksville (as we’d hoped) as this was the place we saw our first (yes, there were others) stretch hummer!  This was to be topped later in Naples with a stretch VW.


The next day we were in Apollo Beach.  We stayed at an unbelievable hotel on the bay.  The Restaurant and our server was a complete copy of the Victoria Wood sketch – ‘can you see it on the trolley?’  No kidding, the waiter copied our order letter by letter from the menu (English was his first language).  Hours later a dead Caesar salad arrived.  This was followed by several apologies for the delay in serving our main course.  The last apology was accompanied by the explanation that chef had burned one of our dishes and was starting again.  When the food arrived it was almost what we’d asked for but not as described.  Ken’s chicken arrived without its sauce and mine was very good but unknown.  I was so embarrassed for them I talked ken into ‘just eat it’ and then had to suppress laughter (and Ken) when asked if everything was OK.  Two of the others diners (we were part of a total of seven) who sat nearby were about ninety and the man continually coughed and choked and spluttered his way through lunch – alarming his wife and I who kept thinking he was about to snuff it.  We gave up on ever seeing a pudding and had our tea and coffee ‘to go’.


Apollo Beach was a close call as our next ‘home’.  The price of property was more reasonable but again the pressure’s on for the stock available.  There is a tiny bit of local beach that is fine as long as you face one direction.  This area is well and truly blighted by a huge Gypsum processing plant.  We were told it is being flattened in 2010 and property values will decidedly soar, as it is a growing ‘base’ for Tampa. A superb realtor we contacted turned around on her journey home and came to meet us at 4.30 and whizzed us round four locations.  She was excellent – had listened to our brief and didn’t waste our time with useless stuff.  Everything she showed us was a possibility and the next day we revisited the ‘favoured’ site and left $1,000 earnest money (a refundable deposit that keeps it off the market for three days) on a property on South Shore Park.  A great 3-bed/2-bath quadplex.  The community was beautifully constructed and landscaped with the usual luxurious clubhouse, pool, gym etc.  The unit had all kinds of upgrades – corian surfaces and sink, ceramic cooker with the usual built-in microwave above, upgraded cabinets, tile, bathrooms, lights – really nice with a lake view. We left for Naples pretty much convinced that was it but we just wanted to be sure there wasn’t anything we could afford in Naples before we signed a contract.


We stayed at a Chalet apartment on Wiggins Pass Road.  Met Don on day one and he showed us three properties that had come on the market that day and we signed up for property number two.  It is a 2-bed, 2-bath condo in Sherwood.  Looks spanking new – very sharp and clean and not much used I guess.  It is owned by a retired New York cop who was described as ‘volatile’.  We got into a mini- bidding war with someone else but secured it at the asking price thanks to Don.  Property number three also sold on the first day and property one a couple of days later.  The next few days were spent off and on with Don and Teresa, the mortgage and insurance broker.  We managed to squeeze in a $10 haircut (£6!!) and a Lowdermilk beach laze and then it was time to come home. We had an interesting drive across the Tamiami Trail (US41) with its abundance of intriguing wildlife and vegetation.  Miami was its usual frenetic self – hate that airport.


So here I am a couple of weeks later – settled back into Bury routines and happily picking away at my garden and house and catching up with folk ……..


April 2005


Our Tuesday departure to France turned into Thursday as we were waiting for a letter to arrive to send to the States. 


Part of our mortgage application in the States requires a letter from our bank – with very specific wording needed -confirming that we’ve been with them for some time, are of good character and the money we were about to use for the deposit had been with them for a while.  As we use online banking and they don’t know us from Adam and Ken moves money around like the Mafia none of it was really possible.  After some email flurries the bank agreed to a fairly bland letter which they promised was in the mail ‘first class postage’ on the Thursday before Easter – what timing!  OK, no expectation of receiving it on Good Friday, but a good chance for Ordinary Saturday?  No joy.  So clearly Easter Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday were out but clearly the letter would arrive Even More Ordinary Tuesday.  Meanwhile the Bank assures us they had sent another one as well.


We made our plans to escape, which entailed doing all the jobs I’d put off for another day, cancelling luncheon dates, booking ferries and arranging with UPS to collect the letter after 2pm but before 4.30 pm which allowed for the post to be delivered but still gave us a chance of catching our late boat.  We’re nothing if not slick.  Postman came and went – no letter.


Only option now is to cancel everything and start again.  We decided Wednesday might be taking a chance so delayed crossing until Thursday by which time we must receive at least one of two ‘first class’ letters posted a week before?  All the overnight crossings up to the 1st April were fully booked – the prices go up in April.


Success with Her Majesty’s and we got our 3.15 pm boat on Thursday.  As it turned out I decided I much prefer this sailing.  We have always gone on the overnight employing the logic that you can leave late in the day so no mad rush at home prior to departure, get to the boat in time to sleep (11 pm) and wake up in France ready for the drive to the house.  This eliminates a boring, lengthy crossing and you arrive (or Ken arrives) fresh as a daisy for the next tour de France.  As it turned out the 3.15 pm was great. 


First thing in its favour is it’s cheaper as we get a free (daytime) cabin in which Ken can still sleep and be ready for the next (French) drive.  He is able to sleep at any time, anywhere simply by chanting the phrase “I’m going to sleep now” and he does.  I have tried this but even as a mantra doesn’t work for me so can’t actually recommend it to insomniacs.  So, he slept and I read and pootled around the ship and I must say the journey wasn’t all that tedious – as a long-haul flyer it seemed quite luxurious and entertaining in comparison. 


Best of all this for me was that on arrival in Caen the journey to the house was an actual pleasure.  I hate long car journeys, as I am so ‘tense’ that I arrive like a wrung out dishcloth.  As most of you have experienced Ken is a fast driver and takes no prisoners.  To be fair (not just out of a sense of loyalty) he is also a good driver but this doesn’t take into account the very many other drivers who aren’t.  He assumes they will all make high speed and correct decisions thereby avoiding a crash.  I assume they will all panic (as I would) in having Ken in close proximity and death is but a jot away.  The journey from Caen usually hits the 7 – 9 am rush hour around the port and the busy late morning/pre-lunch traffic around Tours later.  Compared to the test of nerve on the English M60/M6 side there is still no comparison, but even so driving through the night (10 pm – 2am) was simply a joy.  There was nothing but us on the roads for miles and our journey is delineated by a series of beautifully lit churches. 


So, All Fools arrived and in our French bed by 2.30 am on Friday the first.  We got up late expecting to have this first day to ourselves.  Following a huge British ‘fry-up’ brunch I settled down to making curtains.  It is strange that as soon as we are on ‘foreign’ soil I become gastronomically more British.  Never, but never do we have a sausage, egg, beans etc fry-up for breakfast or lunch never mind combining the two meals.  Though I did realise it saves on preparation and washing up!  Yet give me five minutes in the States or here and I need English bacon, cheddar cheese and Cadbury’s cream eggs.  Not together I might add.  I brought in bacon, sausage, cheese and a leg of English lamb.  I have since realised that you’re probably not supposed to.  I m must look it up sometime or my next epistle may be from a French ‘don jon’.**


My foray into the world of ‘rideaux’ was rudely interrupted at 5.30 pm by our Clion agent stopping by to ask if it was OK to bring a client at 6.30 pm.  We duly rushed round putting stuff away, finishing unpacking and generally cleaning and making the place look habitable.  I did explain that the one and a half pairs of curtains, instead of the more normal full three pairs, in the sitting room was being addressed and not to worry.


The French couple that came (along with their six-week old baby boy, Morgan) were delightful and turned out to be a very serious prospect.  They are very keen to buy the house as their home, which I would love.  Les Roches deserves to be cherished by someone not flipped for a profit by an English investor.  I just realised how hypocritical that sounds and I don’t care.  We didn’t buy with that intention and I do truly love the house (and trees!).


Saturday was spent continuing the curtains and escaping to Loches disguised as our supermarket trip with detours to enjoy the sunshine, which led to my buying a giant pelargonium (€18).  It really isn’t my fault that Le Clerc has a florist attached.  The downside of this is that being English I really haven’t the confidence to trust the lovely spring sunshine we are toasting in here and leave it out at night this early in the year.  So every day I have to struggle it into the ‘laundry’ after dinner and back out again after breakfast.  It weighs a ton, is high up and is wider than every door in the house.  English loony.


Sunday was utilised in finishing four of the five sets of curtains I intended making.  I confess to reneging on the fifth pair as this also entailed Ken putting up a pole and my sewing some very heavyweight fabric – I have left both for future residents. 


Our lovely French couple returned at 2pm for four hours (!)  They came with a set of parents.  The father was described as ‘a professional’.  Whether this meant builder, architect or just a fusspot we’ve no idea but between him and the son (in-law?) they measured every inch of the place, crawled into every nook and cranny and did much tooth sucking as do ‘professionals’ in these circumstances.  They have promised to come back to us with an offer, via the agent, later in the week after doing some estimates for the work.  I hope it will be one we can accept not just to be able to sell the house but, as I said, I really would like them to have it.


Unfortunately as the days are very bright and sunny we are experiencing cool nights and are using the central heating.  We knew the oil was running low and had hoped to be really mean and not have to replace it, as it certainly isn’t cheap.  We weakened and decided to top it up.  It is a super service; Ken ordered it on Saturday and the office rang at 8.15 am Monday morning to ask if it would be OK to deliver at 10 am.  The oilman came on time, as promised, and delivered 500 litres of oil at a cost of €290.63.  Very un-French. 


Monday’s viewing was with VEF – my least favourite agent for all sorts of reasons.  They are our English market contact and so brought the typical English ‘shopping-around’ couple to whom I took an instant indifference and left them to the gentle ways of VEF chap in suit and Ken.


Sometime during the day Ken called into Chatillon to see our agent there and the Notaire as we thought twenty months was perhaps long enough for him to have sent us the Deeds to the house.  We also wanted a copy of the agreement Ken signed with our farmer neighbour who is cutting our grass in exchange for our hay, which we think only lasted a year.  In contrast to the oil delivery both of these visits were all very French in outcome.


Our Chatillon estate agent told him that we have had an offer for the house of €150K (we are asking €200K) but obviously didn’t want to bother us with an offer she thought we wouldn’t accept – talk about being kept informed.  Ken agreed that we wouldn’t sell for that but for future use we would consider €190K.  At this news she immediately said she would go back to the clients and see what they say!


The Notaire gave Ken the Deeds and copy of the Agreement and duly charged him €10.21, as this was apparently still owed from the first bill of December 2003.  I’d hate to do their accounts.  As we thought the agreement to cut the grass ended after a year but their use of the field and the hay is until one of the parties chooses to give six months notice or drops dead.  No one is ever quite sure how English/French arrangements seem to weigh in favour of the French but it seems pretty universal.  I assured Ken that Bruno and brothers would continue with the arrangement without discussion (and not to raise the issue with them) as they have enough gumption to realise that cutting the grass around the house three or four times a year (when we turn up at the house and ask them to) is small price to pay in exchange for using an acre of land for crops and being able to harvest 22 bales of hay (twice?) a year.  We also think they have cleared some of the coppice and their spanking new log stack is probably our trees.


True to my prediction Ken rang Bruno and someone is cutting the grass as I type this (Tuesday).  Unfortunately we had the usual language screw-up.  We thought we had been understood with some words and much mime that I did not want them to cut around a small group of tress where I have planted a couple of hundred Spanish Bluebells which are successfully poking their way through the grass.  I have just looked out the window to see that they have carefully avoided a ring around one tree but mowed the rest.  I try to comfort myself with the thought I probably wont be here in May to miss them.


The day began with a post breakfast viewing with our Clion agent.  This was a chap with a camera taking photos for the wife.  Obviously a scout.  Pre-lunch our Chatillon agent arrived with clients.  She was as astonished to see us, as we were to see her.  Ken said he’d been into her office yesterday so obviously he was back here.  She ‘hadn’t been in’ so didn’t know.  Good communication all round it seems in the Chatillon office.  This was an English couple with four children, a land rover, fluent French and clogs.  After lunch she rang to ask if she could bring another set of clients.  Nice, but shopping I guess.  She retuned at 3.40pm with another couple.  By now I was all charmed-out and it was definitely down to Ken.  I have a very low boredom threshold as you know and had enough of waving at views, ancient fireplaces and the oak trees.  Ken told me the chap was an architect but he wouldn’t venture an opinion as to whether there was a flicker of interest.  What use are men on the intuition stakes?


A post-scrip to the curtain manufacturing is that we now have to light a candle or use night-lights in the bedroom at night.  On night one we draw the curtains and eventually retired to bed.  I then did one of my wake-ups in the night and thought I’d died or gone blind.  Whichever of those sensations was accurate I was not thrilled with it.  You quite literally cannot see a hand in front of your face in the early hours once the moon and stars have been excluded from your window.  Obviously there is no distant town or city glow or even local street lights so it is actually black as pitch.  Ken wonders why this should be disconcerting.


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------** Bit of academic interest here – I just discovered we get our word dungeon from the French don jon.  A don jon is actually a defensive tower and so was a pretty stupid choice on our part for a word for an underground prison.  The French word for an underground prison – or dungeon – is actually oublié which is much more sensible as it means forgotten.  Are we fick or wot?



During book week at school some years ago we were asked to read a passage from our favourite children’s book in assembly for the children.  It proved much easier than I thought to choose a favourite book.  I have always been an avid reader and my memory goes back to Noddy and beyond in terms of childhood reading but I instantly remembered the effect that ‘The Secret Garden’ had on me as a child.  I’d always enjoyed books but had understood them to be something that entertained you a bit like listening to the radio.  They were external – simply a story being told by some other voice outside yourself to amuse you.  Then I read ‘The Secret Garden’ and my understanding of a great book changed forever.


It wasn’t at the exciting section where Mary finds the secret garden that is where you would think a revelation should happen but it was when I got to the part where she began to turn the neglected and forgotten garden back to its former glory.  I felt, heard, smelled and saw everything she did as if it were first hand.  It was my first experience of being able to actually be inside a book and live it word by word. 


This epiphany came back to me today as clearly and as sharply as then.  I decided to work on the remains of the old lady’s garden at Les Roches and tidy it up.  Whilst deadheading and pruning the roses and trimming and tying in the wisteria and honeysuckle and finally completely renovating the passionflower.  I was drawn back into the connection with land and time that I had experienced in that book.  There is something really magical about seeing the promise of new and exuberant life coming out of dead, entangled, forgotten treasures.  Since mom died I have been, not surprisingly, fixated on death and dying.  My thoughts and, more upsettingly, even my dreams have been swamped with the pointlessness of life and the inevitability of death.  For the first time today I could see a bigger picture and a continuity more important than a single life.  I feel so much lighter and clearer as if someone has wiped my mud away and swept up.


It was so peaceful out there wrapped in birdsong and doing something which someone had done decade after decade with love and a desire to create something beautiful for future generations not just herself.  The de la Celles de Chateauclos family had this house for hundreds of years along with as much land as you can see (and more) around here and it was, hopefully, cherished and passed from one family member to another.  The ninety-two year old aunt left the house to her nieces, as they supposedly loved their summers here.  She was under the illusion it would remain in Josephine’s family, as she was the only one of the three to have married and had a child.  Unfortunately, as with all these things these days, they didn’t wait a month before it was emptied and on the market.


We could keep Les Roches, live here and spend the rest of our lives returning it to a home surrounded by gardens, set in a lovely landscape.  I feel that this would be really worthwhile if we were just its next set of guardians and were then able to pass it on to our family who would continue to look after it.  This is where the dream falls down.  We don’t even have a shared family to pass it on to.  It would simply go to the four children, with some sort of division in value and be sold again.  It has become a property investment.  How very sad. 


It is really lovely here at this time of the year.  The oak tree is full of pale green promise with the last of my daffodils at its feet.  The pears and cherry are in snowy blossom.  The walnuts are hanging with catkins and there are masses of wildflowers huddled in the grass.  Around the barns and house are beds of tiny violets among the greenery.  I wonder if it’s a cultivated one gone wild. 


The birds are singing up a storm as they dash about building nests with all the stuff I am clearing.  Even the lizards are darting about on the sunnier days.  Unlike Florida lizards they are wonderfully green.  We have a solitary bird, which sings its heart out every evening from about seven until nine.  Perhaps it is a nightingale.  My dad would be ashamed of me not knowing even basic bird song.


The edges of the roads, hedgerows and fallow fields are full of flowers.  There is an incredibly pretty flower growing in any roadside ditch with water in it.  Its particular cleverness is to be able to range from pure white through pale pinks and blues to lavender all in the space of about six feet.  With such a range of sugar almond shades cheek by jowl they look so pretty.  There are all the usual buttercups, daisies and dandelions that I would normally disregard but they do look spectacular when there are zillions of them.  There’s also a tiny white flower, which is like a perfect star so the grassy banks look like the night skies we get here, sort of upside down.  I think this might be wild garlic – I’m marginally better on flower naming than ‘spot that bird’.  Best of all there are masses and masses of cowslips.  They really do make a cowslip bed to lie in.  I wonder what it would be like?


This bucolic reverie came to an abrupt end at four-thirty when I was returned to the reality of coming back indoors and cooking a meal.  This is the moment when you discover you are covered in tiny burs which stick to just about everything; even your fingers when you try to pick them off the parts of your clothing where you’d like to sit down.  You have two broken fingernails inside the gardening gloves – one on each hand of course - ruining that perfect set of ten, which you’d been nurturing so carefully.  Every joint in your body feels as if you’d climbed Anapurna without the Sherpa and, of course, you are filthy.


As I’m now truly grounded I’ll continue with the house sale saga.


On Tuesday the chap that came with a camera asked if he could return to take samples of the soil, as he wants Les Roches for ‘horticulture’.  The agent thinks this means polytunnels of flowers – ugghh.  He duly arrived and for a couple of hours used a boring (both sense of the word) tool to extract soil.  He met and talked at length to our neighbour Jean-Marc and departed with twelve carrier bags of samples – so we’ll see what comes of that.


On Wednesday Madame Aubrey (our local Chatillon agent) came over at six-o-clock with an offer from our young French couple of €160K, which was upped, to €170 when Ken said he wouldn’t consider less than €190K.  She said she would pass it on to her clients.  By Friday we had decided we would really like the house to go to them and to be truthful would also like the matter settled sooner rather than later so we would let them have the house for €180K but without the furniture and other stuff.  We hope that Cornelius would know how best to sell the things and we could make up a bit of the difference by doing that.  She rang us later to ask if Ken could meet the chap on Monday at 6 pm to discuss the offer.  The young man, having ‘spent some time there’, speaks excellent English (which Madame Aubrey doesn’t). 


So that’s more or less where we are up to.  We have a horticulturist interested.  Someone has offered €150K.  Someone else’s clients have seen it, want it, but can’t afford it and have returned to England to see if they can figure out a way to buy it.  We have a promise of another couple that have a bottomless budget who are ‘very interested’ as it would be ideal for gites.  They should have been here this weekend but we’ve heard nothing more. 


Most importantly we are in an actual negotiation with a young French couple (and baby) who want this as their home.  Whatever the outcome of all this, from this visit we have had the chance to see that there does seem to be a level of interest in the property.  Hopefully it does just mean that we have to bide our time and the right person will turn up.


I hope this might amuse you in an attempt to balance yesterday’s ramblings.


You’ll have gathered that I am so bored here that I keep bothering you with missives and, worse than this, I seek out domestic chores as a joy.  The fire-lighting ceremony at night is an event to look forward to as you can kill at least half an hour getting it just right.  Pity that the weather doesn’t really warrant a roaring log fire.


Today’s task was to wash and hang out clothes on our Siegfried washing line.  It is the complete width of a field and made up of five 4” x 4” poles threaded through with rigid plastic covered wire.  No props needed here.  The real challenge comes with footwear and pegs.  I unlocked the back door – no easy task and a visual assessment was made of the grass as to its length and moisture content.  A field above ankles and following recent rain calls for proper wellies.  This also means that Ken must be available for a ‘gog-check’.  I’m not putting them on until someone tells me there’s nothing living inside them.  Ken was at the shops.  Below ankle height and not too wet calls for ankle-high wellies which are a tad easier to check and, any way, are less likely to conceal a complete family of beetles, spiders or a small mouse as too much daylight can get in them.  Fortunately the grass was short and damp requiring the half-height footwear and I was able to get to the line.  Next issue is the peg bag.  This hadn’t been used in a long while and was attached to the wire shelf with webs that look like they’re from some vampire film set.  Just removing it takes courage and even more steely will is needed to actually put my hand inside for a peg.  Undaunted I hung out the first load of washing.


Inordinately pleased with myself I returned to the house to attempt to make my third loaf of bread.  I have figured out why the French make (wonderful) bread which turns into concrete in three hours.  It’s said that a good French housewife goes out for bread three times a day to ensure it’s fresh for every meal.  The bakers are clearly supplemented by the social and health services.  If you didn’t go out three times a day for bread you would go stir crazy in the heart of France thereby filling mental institutions and leaving families bereft of good French housewives.  I have foiled their sneaky plan and make my own entertainment by making bread in a bread machine.


The machine is English, my recipes and methods of measuring ingredients are all American and I am attempting to cook with French ingredients.  I told you it keeps me occupied.


My first mistake was buying yeast.  The French word for yeast is ‘levure’ and can be bought at any decent bakers and supermarket bread counters.  For a bread machine, however, you need to use dried yeast.  Voila, I discover little sachets of ‘levure chimique’.  Assuming this means synthetic/chemical/dried whatever yeast I make the first loaf.  Et Voila, I have produced a perfectly formed round doorstop.  Perhaps now is the time to look in the dictionary.  Levure chimique is baking powder.  Rats!  Try again.  This time I used dried ‘levure de boulanger’ which I cleverly sent Ken out to find.  Using the recipe on the side of the seven-cereal bread flour I produced a loaf of epic proportions, which, like The Blob, tried to escape the bread pan and envelope the kitchen.  It looked very strange after hacking off various bits to release it from the tin but tasted fine and made us some good sandwiches.


Today I am going to get it just right by scaling it down by one fifth to equal my American recipe quantities and make further minor tweaks to make it fit my English machine.  This decision rapidly turned into lots of head scratching, much biro and paper work and an hour on the web – I got distracted with a recipe for tartiflette.


Firstly you need to appreciate the cultural differences in cooking.  The English measure large quantities of dry material by weight.  Only small quantities which would be impractical to weigh are measured by volume i.e. teaspoon, dessertspoon etc.  Liquid measures are all, very sensibly, put in various containers and measured by volume.  The Americans have improved greatly on this system and generally measure everything by volume using a cup (and spoons).  This offers much less brain-ache, less washing up and far less expensive gear in the form of scales.  Almost always I now use the American method. 


Now we come to France.  OK you’d expect metric – fair enough – so we have gram weights for flour.  Like everyone else they use spoons for smaller weights but, as they don’t drink tea and never had a Boston party, they measure with a ‘coffee spoon’.  First snag then - is a French coffee spoon the same size as an English/American teaspoon?  I plod on assuming it is.  Then, talk about completely stupid, they measure water by weight!  Why would anyone attempt to weigh a liquid?  Any way I don’t have any scales here and I now need to know what 275 gms of water is by volume.  I’m pretty sure that for water it’s a gram to a ml but as anyone knows who has made bread, unlike most cooking, it’s pretty critical to get the quantities of ingredients right as they shift and change according to the type and quality of the flour used.  I studiously converted, adapted, measured and finally by guess and by god there appears to be another small round brick baking in my machine.


Oh well, with a break for lunch, that’s another day used up.


The rest of Monday turned out to be much more dramatic…


We had an appointment with the young couple (Léauté) to discuss their offer.  Ken was struggling to rein me in with various comments such as “If they were going to meet our price they would have done so and not arranged a meeting”.  I was more of the opinion they just wanted to try to bargain us down but would really pay anything to live there.  We were both right.


They didn’t want to budge from their €170K offer and indeed had whittled it down further by insisting the agent had been confused and they were in fact offering €170K including her fee of €10K.  In other words this gave us a net figure of €160K.  Not even I am that sentimental.  We scrabbled around for a while and somehow the €170 solidified into real money for us but we had chivvied each other up on the way over into being determined not to take less than €180K and we would have to let them go if necessary.  It is early days this season and there has been a lot of serious interest.  There was a lot of backing and forthing which was not helped by the fact that the wife and the agent spoke no English and Ken and I speak very little French so the poor chap is doing everyone’s talking as well as his own.  Finally we arrived at a sale of €180K including furniture, white goods etc. and the estate agent halved her fee to close the gap – taking €5K instead of the €10K, which was due to her. 


This took an hour in the office at Clion from where we all adjourned to Les Roches and some fortuitously chilled champagne.  The agent needed copies of all sorts of stuff from us to allow her to fill in the usual copious French forms by hand.  This is the Compris de Vente (sp?) stage of the process.  In effect the buyer promises to buy and the seller to sell usually if certain conditions can be met such as the buyer being able to get a mortgage (within 45 days).  The buyer also has a cooling off period of seven days in which to simply change their mind.  They pay a small deposit to the agent to prove they’re serious and it’s done and dusted for the time being.


If all goes well the couple hope to be in by mid-June.  This doesn’t seem a realistic date to us as it took every inch of four months to get our purchase through.  The completion date on the contract is the end of July to ensure we could, at worst, make it by then – although even that date is a flexible.  As it means reams of new paperwork if it isn’t met people are generally keen to make that date.   He is using his ‘Paris lawyer who is aggressive and will push for all speed’ so we’ll see.  Meanwhile for us it’s not the best date – end of June or even better July would be easier as it would give us more time in Florida.


We all met at 6 pm and they left at 9 pm – the only person having been fed was the baby.  I had got our food down to almost nothing as the next day was our last and we were due to go out for lunch.


I am sure part of the high level of serious interest in the house was because we were there.  No agent can sell a house as well as I can.  No, seriously, I think they are generally fairly useless and I’ve probably missed my calling but I do seem to whip up enthusiasm in a halfway serious contender.  Perhaps a larger factor is that a house that’s being lived in is about a hundred per cent better than a closed up version.  Les Roches in particular is so sad when you have to come in and open shutters and it isn’t toasty warm and sunny.  It is old, grimy and a dilapidated so it needs all the help it can get to let buyers see what it could be.  People being comfortable there with a fire and books and coffee and flowers really does make a different impact.  Some pundit has claimed that the decision to buy or not is made in the first seven seconds of entering a property.  I know for me that is absolutely true so I wouldn’t be surprised if it is true for most people even if they like to think they are more discerning than that.  My spiel probably just firms up their decision.


So, barring the slips that happen twixt cup and lip we are sold.


Tuesday could have been a real anti-climax but, as it happens, it was the very opposite and became the fun part of our trip.  We had a lovely afternoon with Barry and Shelley.  They came over to the house and we went for lunch at our local Auberge (de la Tour) in Chatillon and then back to the house for coffee.  The post lunchtime got nicely extended until Barry collapsed with exhaustion and I’d nattered everyone’s ears off.  It was so lovely to see them again – they are such fun.


We saw them off half-sixish and I’d just wandered to the kitchen for the what-shall-we-eat-tonight-game and the doorbell rang.  Thinking it was B & S back for a forgotten something or simply unable to tear themselves away from my charms I galumphed to the door to find the gorgeous Cornelius (the handyman – I love that phrase it’s so seedy and so apt).  In he came for coffee and all kinds of French philosophy and tales of the old lady – great fun.  I was so cross that B & S (especially S) had missed him.  I need another woman’s opinion on what I consider to be a wink on legs (be careful there).  He and I agree that Les Roches has a special warmth and harmony – his theory being that when a house is very old it has reached a sort of equilibrium of good and bad and is simply rich.  He claims that his house has the presence of the old man who lived there before him and who insists on waking Cornelius at around 6 am.  As he doesn’t need to get up until 7 am this does not thrill him.  Various ladies who come to the house have confirmed there is a presence (several exclamation marks are needed here).  Determined to change the early rising arrangement he asked his ex father-in-law, who does something with magnets (!), to help him.  He came to the house and having agreed there was a presence he declared it to be in no way malevolent and refused to bother it by banishing it.  His best advice was that Cornelius had a word with the old man and explained that he didn’t want to get up so early and not to wake him.  This seemingly worked for months but as Cornelius said the man was very old when he died and probably didn’t have a great memory so he has to remind him every so often.


Eventually Cornelius departed and our evening returned to normal.  We scoffed soup with home-baked bread and cheese.  I had to slip that in to let you know that I finally produced an excellent loaf.  Then on to packing for Florida.  We had to selectively pack anything that was needed urgently for the condo there.  We intend to take our full baggage allowance of 2 x 70 lb pieces of luggage each when we next go so that we can take some of the original stuff back.  We costed shipping everything versus buying it all again and it seemed daft to ship so we are taking basics such as bed linen, towels, cutlery and so on a bit at a time.   Any one using the place or visiting us in the next six months will also be arriving with two 70 lb pieces of luggage.  Just think ladies that means you may as well shop to refill the second case as it would be daft bringing it home empty. 


We gave Les Roches back to the lizards and spiders at about 8.30 am on Wednesday and headed for the boat.  This was a bit of a false dawn as we thought the ship sailed at 3.15 pm when in fact it left at 5 pm and we only need five hours to get there.  Do the numbers. 


Our journey was pretty easy and fairly traffic free though we did manage to pass a dreadful accident in a quiet sleepy village – a bitter reminder that my road theories aren’t too crazy.


Our lunch stop at our usual services en route to Caen was odd.  We normally make this lunch stop on our way to the house so now we were on the opposite side of the motorway and the services offered were different.  Here there is a ‘stand-up and snack’ type eatery.  As ever the staff outnumbered the customers but no one was actually being served.  Eventually a large French man bellowed at a member of staff who was happily engaged in a chat with three other staff members all of whom are wearing uniforms emblazoned with ‘how may we help you?’  So we got our vertical lunch.  Sally would have loved it as they sold her favourite Madeleines from a vending machine.  Six for one euro – how civilised a breakfast vending machine.  It perhaps wouldn’t convert to English breakfasts very well.  It is hard to design a machine that dispenses freshly grilled bacon or sausage with egg, beans, fried bread and mushrooms.  Even more difficult in America with the thirty thousand ways you can have a breakfast egg.


Much less civilised and a rather indelicate matter which no one seems to mention is the subject of French men and lavatories.  Unfortunately these two things seem to find it hard to actually meet each other.  It appears that if you are (1) male  (2) French and (3) want a wee whilst driving you simply pull over to the side of the road and do so.  Discretion is not a requirement.  I mention this observation of urinary mores because Ken informs me that in the gents, in this our favourite watering hole (!), there is a clear porthole-shaped window at thigh height amongst the urinals.  He presumes it is to admit light to the task in hand (!).  I disavowed him of this theory and assured him it is to make the average Frenchman think he is outdoors and therefore enables him ‘to go’.


On a much more esoteric note we did a little detour and went through a place called something like Le Pin au Haras. I must look up its real name so we can find it again.  It’s not far from Argentan.  It is the heart of cider country and is exquisite.  It was not only supremely pretty but also littered with wealth.  For some miles as you approach the village the road is lined with grand houses and estates all of which are engaged in something to do with horses.  There are massive stud farms and racing stables.  It is very like some parts around Newmarket but with an added French cachet.  It really is incredibly beautiful and we haven’t seen anything similar elsewhere.


The tiny cottages dotted about the place in the village and along the road as you leave are quintessential French exposed stone houses but they have a wonderful addition to their usual prettiness.  Irrespective of any attached orchard or gardens they each have a single espalier-trained fully-grown apple tree against their house wall.  They are wired into wonderfully regimented parallel branches, which always seem to miss the windows and doors and still be equally spaced and symmetrical.  They glare at you like a protective blossom-covered giant with its back pressed against the stone of the house to protect it from all-comers.  Just wonderful – house after house almost competing to look prettier than the one before.  How I wish I’d had enough gumption to stop oohing and aahing and had taken some pictures.


As I’ve already mentioned we arrived in Ouistreham three hours too soon.  The weather had got steadily worse the further North we got until by the time we were on the edge of France it was grey, cold and thoroughly raining so we decided to go to the beach.  Sometimes I think we are just plain perverse.  We got to a very nice plage – got out of the car – climbed into our coats – climbed out of our coats – got back into the car.  Now what?  Ouistreham isn’t anything like Plymouth this is not a place you can spend three hours in.  We settled for the terminal building.  Ken wisely took his book; I declined, saying I could do with mooching the shop (shops?) and I would buy something to read.  The terminal doesn’t have a shop.  I was convinced it did and made several attempts to extend the size of the terminal by trying to walk through various mirrored walls.  I also got rather cross with Ken who is by now treating me as someone with dementia.  How can it possibly be my fault when the very aim of the mirrors is to deceive you into thinking there’s more to the place than there is?  I did actually twig one of the swinish things when I noticed two Kens.  There was one at the bar in front of me and one at the bar at the other end of the room.  Part of my incredulity was that I remembered buying a book there on another occasion.  Ken reminded me that I have a lousy sense of direction and that was in fact in the terminal on the other side of the channel.  It was a long three hours.


To the boat.  Magazines for me and a snooze for Ken.  ‘Best’, ‘Womans Weekly’ and ‘Bella’ just last a long crossing if you do every puzzle and even read the adverts.  Escape finally hove into view and we headed for the car.  We got into the car at 9.40 pm poised to go at 9.45 pm.  However this ferry proved to a Ro and not a Ro-Ro.  We rolled onto dry land at 11.30 pm.  There was a problem with the pressure in whatever holds the ramp up and no-one was able to fix it.  Eventually we swapped berths.  I found this a bit unnerving as it was done with the bay doors open.  I’m sure Ken was perfectly correct in that it wasn’t any kind of problem as we were in port and only moving a short way.  I, needless to say, re-ran the horror of the ferry which capsized in port because it had left with its bay doors ajar and the wash from turning the ship entered.  This was enough to unbalance it and allow the sea in.  It capsized and killed hundreds of people all in about 30 feet of water. 


Not that I have an overactive imagination or anything but I was struggling with the concept of opening the car windows to equalize the pressure so you can open the door to swim to the surface like they do in the movies.  Many small problems – the opening mechanism is electric – no manual handles when the electricity fails.  I am a very nervous swimmer and never swim under water or out of my depth.  I have a lousy sense of direction and would be lucky if I knew which way was up and I would find it very difficult to talk, scream and hold my breath all at the same time.  All of this assumes that our car was not underneath the lorries which surrounded us.


Ken probably envies my exciting life.  I had thrills all round on my journey home whereas he just drove from Les Roches, caught a ferry to Portsmouth and drove to Bury.  It’s astonishing that we manage to do this in tandem.


So, here I am at my machine in the early hours of Friday morning.  With a bit of luck you may get a break from this as I have finally caught up.  I expect to return to what for us is a normal life of buying a condo on one continent, selling a farm on another, shipping a Honda from one to another, selling a Saab locally and all that this entails.  Hopefully I may be too busy to type and peace will reign.


(would you believe still a bit more of April …..   written in July)


After being back in the UK for just a few days Naples has already slipped away. It is hard to imagine actually living there.  As always in a very short time it becomes a sequence of half-memories rather than a truly felt experience. That’s why usually I try to write at the end of each month so I still have the taste of it.  After a two month gap in writing and squeezing in a trip to France and Edinburgh in the week since we got back Naples has already become very diluted.  I hope the following soup of recollections isn’t too thin.


By the end of April we had decided to return the Honda to Naples.  It seemed really silly keeping a left-hand drive car over here and at some time having to try to sell it.  We assumed it would be nigh on impossible and even if we did manage it we would take such a loss it would probably be cheaper to return it to its birthplace to use or sell there.  Ken drove it down to Southampton for shipping on 27th April.


May 2005


By May 4th we were off to Naples ourselves to complete on Robin Hood Circle.  We arrived late Wednesday and by Thursday lunchtime we were with Don (our realtor) doing our final walk-through.  This is done to ensure nothing’s changed since you signed the first contract and that everything that should be there is there and that the condition of the place is good – including clean – now isn’t that a good idea.  Saves some of the nasty shocks some buyers in England experience when they arrive at their ‘new’ home and the endless legal wrangling which often follows.  We then had lunch with our realtor – his treat – and on to the (lots and lots of) signing.  All very straight forward as usual, keys handed over and we were home!


Don also gave us an expensive house-warming gift on completion.  This is our third gift from him as he has bought us lunch and given us a gift each time we have completed on a sale.  We don’t know if this is general practice or just him being nice.  We had a clock on 3652’s completion, a ‘statue’ for 7777 and this time a really nice large Waterford cut glass bowl.  Even the packaging is superb with the usual store gift-wrapping – this was from Macy’s and they’d excelled themselves.


On our first day our next-door snowbird neighbours called to meet and welcome us – they are very nice.  Being me I had an immediate problem with their names as they are Carole and Ted – I am now searching for Bob and Alice.  They had delayed their return ‘up north’ (in part) to meet us.  Later that day they also introduced us to another neighbour who is the mover and shaker (chairperson) on our resident’s committee – so a very useful neighbour to have in your block.  She also proved very nice.  Not too much problem with her name – Rosemarie – as even I am a bit young for the Nelson Eddie (sp?) connection. 


Within a day or two we had also met our neighbour below – Harold.  Astonishingly he left for France (Department 37 – we’re 36!) on the same day that we returned to the UK and was still with his friends near Vienne when we went over.  He actually rang us when were there but we only had one day and were up to our ginnels in packing. It is truly a small world.  He may return through Manchester and ‘stop by’.


After a couple of days in residence and closer to home, we discovered a sitting tenant.  Ken went to fit a light sensor in our landing lamp and when he removed the top he discovered one of Florida’s very large pale green toads squatting there.  This explained another mystery.  Under the light was a collection of half cheroots, which seemed to increase each day.  I first thought they were some sort of seed or catkin blowing in from the nearby trees.  I then began to wonder if they were some owl-type pellet but still hadn’t bothered to investigate them closely.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is toad waste and believe me on a closer relationship with it and a dustpan and brush I can vouch for its incredibly offensive smell.  I duly carted said toad a good distance away in a damp cloth and released it only to discover it back in situ about an hour and a half later. I am now resigned to removing toad ordure.  Any creature that has simplified its life to squatting in one place doing nothing else other than waiting for the light to come on and food to fly in deserves respect in my book.  It’s a bit like taking up residence near the fridge and waiting for it to be opened to get at your chocolate.  Who needs any other form of entertainment?


At the table in the nook (kitchen) we are able to sit and watch the wildlife and have a pretty good view of the comings-and-goings of the occasional resident.  We see squirrels, birds, Rosemarie, Harold and the Alvarez’s from this window.  We have a woody-woodpecker – red tuft included – who entertains me over the cornflakes.  The sitting room window overlooks more trees and the lake.


Over the next couple of weeks we set off each day to pick up a couple of things we’d decided we needed and came back each day with a carload, so the condo is pretty much ready to go.  When we get the French bits and pieces over there to froufrou it up it’ll be great.


My first two weeks were also spent with the grimmest of colds – courtesy of Delta Airlines I guess - though it didn’t actually get in the way of anything due to my extreme bravery and sheer grit.


There were a couple of delightful Catch 22 glitches whilst setting up the happy home.  Firstly when applying for a phone, a required field on the application form is your phone number.  I can only assume they are handed out at birth and from then on you merely apply to change them.  Presumably the concept of a fully paid-up adult not having a phone number beggars belief.


We were then pleased to discover we could apply for Internet access in advance of the phone being connected so it would be up and running when the phone connection was made.  To do this, of course, you need the (potential) phone number.  The snag is that the phone company doesn’t give out numbers because they are only ‘a maybe’.


Also since 9/11 we have the ridiculous task of applying for a new driving licence each time we return to the states.  They can only issue a licence up to the end of our stay.  The $25 (x 2) a time is peeving but worse than this is the hour or two we have to queue at the licensing centre.  It is really demented and so unlike anything else we have to do over there – even walk-in clinics don’t have waiting times in Naples.  Any way we duly set off for the chore and settled in for a long wait.  There are a lot of fractious people, as they really aren’t used to this long wait for something.  On this occasion some chap shouted at the receptionist who immediately called security and we had the large armed man versus irate obnoxious customer stand-off – needless to say the bully with the large mouth who’d bawled, “Drop dead, bitch!” at this poor women immediately turned into Mr Humble and slunk into the back room with the guard.  It surprised me how uneasy I felt being close to this situation and how aware I was that we are in a state whose people tote weapons and occasionally use them with little or no provocation.  Hence her quick reaction to call for help I guess.


A couple of examples of the prevalence of guns in the State happened while we were there.  Someone was arrested for threatening behaviour as he’d taken a gun from his car and loaded it and waved it at a couple in another car who cut him up in traffic.  Another shooting case was a kid of twenty losing $200 playing dice on the corner of a road (in the Hispanic area up North) with a 70-year old man.  The kid thought the dice were loaded (probably a rotten loser!) went home to get a gun and then returned and shot and killed the man.  It astounds me.  How can you sustain that level of rage for the length of time that allows you to do something like that? Naples folk are beginning to worry that Miami is coming to them.  We have seen huge changes in the few years that we’ve been ‘connected’ to the city so really understand and share their anxieties.  Naples is the second fastest growing municipality in the USA.  This does give investors joy as there was a 34% increase on house prices last year, but it brings another price.


An example of the phenomenal growth is a complete town that is being built in North Naples called Ave Maria.  You may have sussed it will be a town with a Catholic University – the first Catholic University in the USA for forty years.  The first 5,000 acres are under construction.  It will have everything – shops, schools, churches, police, library and, of course, the University. It has also agreed to preserving 17,000 acres of natural habitat.


To balance all this frenetic and pretty negative activity perhaps I should mention another news story, which caught my attention.  A man retired and decided he didn’t want time on his hands. He came from Maine and always had a love of boats so he decided to build one to sail home. He had a large amount of lumber from a mahogany tree, which he’d felled some years before.  The boat he’d fallen for was in a picture he had of a 47-foot San Juan Schooner from the 1800’s.  He tracked the plans through the Smithsonian and over a few years with the help of some friends and some additional lumber, most of which was donated, he built the boat entirely by hand.  Shortly before we left we learned he and a friend had managed to sail her to Maine (through some freaky weather) and, to his wife’s relief, had arrived safely.


Another news story, which interested me, was a teacher who was sacked for refusing to regrade a piece of work from a student.  The story was that the school hero football player and his mate went into a class and decided to put their heads down and doze rather than work.  They refused to complete an assignment and were graded accordingly with an F.  His parents, school board and head of the school were demented, as the star of the school had been downgraded which threatened his already not brilliant grade average and therefore his chance of entering college.  The principal instructed the teacher to regrade the paper.  He refused.  Hence the teacher’s dismissal for refusing to follow an order from the principal.  The principal claims this is not the same thing as refusing to regrade a piece of work (?) and that the order had nothing to do with the fact that the boy in question was the school jock.  The teacher is, of course, fighting the decision.  An interesting side note was that he was not asked to regrade the other kid’s work.  School football is hugely important as it raises masses of money and prestige for the school and can quite literally make or break it.


To counterbalance this one we were also here during Teacher Appreciation Week, which is self-explanatory.  There are many ‘bit-of-a-do’s’ to celebrate and honour various teachers culminating in the State Golden Apple Awards.  Teachers are nominated for this at a local level.  The nice thing about this is that they haven’t had to do anything spectacular they are simply acknowledged as fine and inspirational teachers and it is done in the hope that education and educators gain some kudos in the community.


There really is still a keen sense of local community even though Naples is growing at a rate of knots.  I hope it doesn’t get lost.  Supermarkets collect food donations for all the major holidays for local people.  There are many consignment shops and thrift shops that work for local charities.  There is even an auction which sells donated cars and boats – I think that’s for the boy scouts.


On a National Scale they also celebrate Flag Day.  The American Flag is such a potent symbol here and flying it comes with masses of rules and regulations as to how and when it should be flown.  Flag Day began with a schoolteacher celebrating the flag’s birthday and became and National Flag Day in 1949.  There is a US Flag Code that sets out many rules about flying the flag not least of which is that you are not allowed to fly a ‘tatty’ flag.  Old flags must be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.  On Flag Day along with celebrating and flying the flag there are collection points, which will arrange to dispose of your old flags correctly. How easily we could offend.


On that note you may need to be made aware of some obscure Florida Laws such as

-          Sex with a porcupine is illegal

-          Men in Miami are not allowed to wear off-the-shoulder dresses

-          Unmarried women are not allowed to parachute on a Sunday


I don’t think there’s much I can add to that.


Worried about having to research stuff like this we hurried to rejoin the library and anxious to be law-abiding we got our beach permit and to ensure that we could be mistaken for locals went to the cheap old-folk movies.  Now we know we’re home. 


The main library incidentally is pretty new and very beautiful.  It is a huge building built around a central courtyard where there are lovely gardens and lots of benches and tables and chairs in the shade so you can sit and read outside.  As usual for Naples libraries, the inside is furnished like someone’s grand home with leather settees and comfy chairs and table lamps, positively inviting you to sit and read.  The service is superb you can pick up and drop at any library, order and renew on line and we haven’t yet discovered if there is a limit on the number of books you can take.  I usually have about ten at a time.  Their DVD’s - music, movies and TV are very up to date with a wide selection and free to members.


Our Residents’ Association Meeting was held a couple of weeks after we arrived.  We duly showed up with the other dozen (ish) interested folk and sat through the usual stuff of approving monies for maintenance jobs.  I sort of enjoy them as you get a real feel for the people and the place and certainly an understanding of our neighbour and chairperson Rosemarie.  Not a lady to mess with but very pleasant if not having to try to suffer fools gladly.  I, of course, volunteered Ken to help with anything they needed when we were there.  I can always be relied on to be community spirited.


Our landing ceiling and entrance door were painted while we were there.  Ken cleaned the light by the garage door and discovered it was brittle and breaking up when he tried to wash it.  He rang the management company and we discovered two days later it had been replaced.  Pretty impressive.


On May 20th Ken flew to Brunswick in Georgia to collect our Honda, which had arrived about a week before but needed to clear customs etc.  As I was trapped without a car I took the opportunity to clean the house in anticipation of Denise’s arrival on the 22nd.  Ken flew out at 6 am, picked up the car, had lunch and was back with it by teatime, having driven about 450 miles.  Interstate driving is a doddle – no wonder many Americans think that if you stay in London you can see the rest of Britain on day trips from your hotel.


We picked up Denise from Fort Myers on Sunday (22nd).  Fortunately the scheduled opening of the new terminal, which was due that day got postponed.  On Monday the ‘holiday’ began.  It was really lovely for us to go on holiday in Naples because we never bother.  Like all ‘second homes’ you just live there unless you have a visitor to ‘entertain’ so it’s a real pleasure to have someone to shake us out of our routines.  The first day set the pattern for all the others.  A quick refresher tour for Denise – though she’s just brilliant and remembered everywhere – she knew many places much better than me.  After lunch we spent some time at the pool and then scraped our bodies into beautifulness to celebrate Denise’s’ birthday.  We went for a brief wander around Tin City and then on the Double Sunshine for a Sunset Cruise out into the Gulf to see the dolphins who duly showed up for us.  Unfortunately the sunset was pretty average – so she’s on a promise for next time.  We then had dinner on the bay (outside) at Riverwalk, which Denise particularly likes, and followed this with birthday cake at home. 


As I said we seemed to fill all our days pretty much to overflowing – either at the beach or pool and then shops or an outing and of course any excuse to eat out.  A couple of the highlights were an airboat ride and a trip around Everglades City and their wonderful little museum.  The two ladies ‘docenting’ it were wonderful and we were photographed for their local paper.  She promised New York Times but I think she was fibbing. 


Another trip let us see some super critters at the local ‘zoo’ – not too much like an English zoo as it did include a seventeen-foot python and some ‘gator feeding.  Our close-up of the handler with Ice and Fire, two spectacular Bengal Tigers, was pretty impressive. Typical of me the things I love best there are the spectacular water lilies.  The zoo actually was someone’s dream of establishing a huge garden in Naples – hence its name Caribbean Gardens – the zoo was added later to attract people and money to support it.  They are fighting to remain even as I type.  Land is at such a silly price in centre of Naples that the owners are considering selling presumably to become even richer than they undoubtedly already are.


Our trips to the beach were a delight and Denise collected enough shells to start her own resort when she got home. 


Unfortunately her last few days were blighted with appalling rain.  In those three days it put down more than the normal month’s total.  After a week of pretty showery stuff we’d garnered over 13 inches of rain.   Neapolitans, of course, celebrate but the timing was pretty poor for us as it dampened the end of her stay.  Having said that I don’t think it stopped us doing anything we wanted to do other than we weren’t able to do the boardwalk at the Ah Ta Thi Ki (Indian) Museum as it was deemed too dangerous (slippy).  Next time, Denise, if we could only remember its name! Ti Kha Hatti, Hah Ta Kitti, boy did we struggle.


We closed her trip with a super meal at the ‘posh’ Maxwell’s’ in Venetian Bay courtesy of Denise.  Choosing a restaurant is always difficult as there are zillions of them and I can honestly say we’ve never had a bad meal. There is just about every kind of cuisine imaginable.  One, which amused me, is called The Italian Café and Sushi Bar – now there’s someone who can’t make up their mind. Fusion food?


None of this listing of some of the things we did gives you an inkling of the fun we had – I’m not sure we stopped giggling for the whole time she was there.  The (temporary) hair dying and toenail painting had to be seen to be believed.


The 3rd of June came too quickly and we returned to our quieter pattern of living.


June 2005


By now, thanks to all the practice I got with Denise, I was overjoyed to be back in the land of conspicuous wealth and consumerism – not as a participant you understand, merely as an observer.  Do I hear a tinkle of laughter from my shopping friends and many sarcastic comments from a husband who barely remembers what I look like as my shopping expeditions tend to equal Livingston’s “I’m just popping out to the jungle for a bit”.


I seemed to have acquired a mountain of stuff for very little money – deep joy.  An example of this sort of shopping is somewhere like Bealls.  It reduces all it’s (already low priced) stock – 40, 50 and 70% and then every so often they advertise a day when over 50’s can get another 15% off.  Then, if that’s still too much to pay, they have outlet stores that are really silly.  These take a lot of rummaging through but you can literally walk away with clothes under $5.


I also enjoy shopping in an environment where they are happy to help you and you are actually treated as if their business depended on you – which many of our shops seem to have forgotten.  Staff who haven’t managed to sell you anything still part with phrases such as “nice talking to you”, “thanks for the conversation” and “good to meet you”.  In fact I nearly answered the advert in the local paper for the position of ‘How May I Help You Associate’ with Bealls.  I did not make this up.


In the realm of you-could-only-get-this here I spent a few minutes trying to figure out an item in a shop only to discover it was a light that can be fixed in your ‘sock’ drawer so you don’t wake your partner when searching for socks in the morning.  This delightful morsel cost $1.


Another gem I sighted was a tent with an attached dog kennel including ground sheet – I kid you not.


In the Willy Wonka world of real estate it just gets dafter and dafter.  One house advertised a ‘libation station’ in the games room and for anyone who always knew bidets were for washing the feet we now have a slightly smaller version with loads of jets and a comfy seat built in which is described as a foot spa.


Ken’s not above a spree now and again though he’d be loath to admit it. For example we spent some days after Denise left looking for a (pre-owned!)  diamond-white Cadillac.  It was either this or buy new tyres for the Honda.  We saw several that were almost right and were seriously talking numbers in a showroom after test-driving one when I spotted a maroon and much-chromed Lincoln Continental and so…..  we now drive a Lincoln.


I love American cars.  Stuff such as being automatic with air conditioning and cup holders front and back are simply standard.  Electric adjustments on the seats up/down/forward/back/tip/tilt/lumbar adjustment/memory for two people with the controls on the doors so you don’t have to reach too much are also pretty usual.  This car will also slide the driver’s seat back automatically when you stop to make it easier to get out.  Of course, it slides it forward automatically to the remembered position for you when you get back in.  It locks the doors for you at 3 mph and removes the handbrake automatically when you select ‘Drive’.  There is a numerical combination lock on the door as well as the remote key controls. Its lights and wipers come on automatically and the lights turn around corners when you turn the wheel.  It has double visors on each side so you can shade the front and side vision.  There are three buttons on the driver’s visor that you can use to put on your house lights or open a garage door.  The wing mirrors even dip automatically when you put the car in reverse to help you see better, returning to their correct position when you put the car into ‘drive’.  The rear view mirror dims automatically at night if there are headlights behind you.  The sweetest thing for me is the little embedded compass in the rear view mirror so you know which direction you’re driving in – indispensable on the grid road system around town.  I just love it.


Sadly our time ground to a halt.  We brought in the furniture from the lanai in case of hurricanes and said our farewells to Naples on Wed 22nd June arriving home midmorning on Thursday 23rd.  By the 25th we were on our way to France.


The drive down and back in England was hellish.  They were both very hot days and its many-a-year since we’d endured a none-air-conditioned vehicle.  The transit was truly a pain.  As a passenger you can either sit with one leg in front of you (normal!) and one leg dangling down a well to where the step is (not normal!) or sling it up on the door windowsill.  Now you know why all those denim oiks have their leg up the window!  I had them all beaten for looking good.  Windows closed; it was a 225-degree oven.  Windows open, it was the equivalent of a slow cooker.  We settled for braising.  This meant I had a towel draped over my shoulder and arm to stop sunburn, a perfectly constructed Babel fish made from kitchen roll in my left ear to prevent me going deaf via an earache.  My hair was worn at 360 degrees around a centre point thanks to the refreshing gale force wind.  My skirt was hitched to shoulder height as my legs were parked mainly on the dashboard.  I grant this was not a pretty sight but possibly I could claim unique.


We sailed in the afternoon and drove through France overnight. The nights are velvet black and they settle in with a light mist over the fields.  It’s an evocative mixture of sight, sounds and smell, which always reminds me of a childhood holiday in Wales.  They were novel assault on the senses for a city child as we walked back to the caravan site after a fish and chip supper.


The night drive is quite magical in other ways too.  There is very little traffic and you get to enjoy the dramatic lighting of various sights such as the wedding cake cathedral at Sees. When we drove through those very French long straight avenues of trees our headlights formed a perfect tunnel; a road for the floor and the arched trees as the encompassing walls. The colours and density of the picture looked like a Disney cartoon - all very unreal.


There are some traffic islands around Falaises, which have red iron knights on them that looked pretty spectacular.  Also there are traffic islands as you get near the motorway, which have a single giant chess piece on them.  These are all remarkable in the daylight but positively dramatic when cleverly lit at night. 


All of this was overseen by a particularly large and red moon, which squatted low in the sky and refused to give off any real light.


We arrived in Les Roches about 4 am on Sunday. After a few hours sleep we got up and spent the day packing our belongings.  There was a good deal more than I thought there would be when it was all gathered together and pretty much filled the van.


Les Roches was kind to me and managed to have lots of roses, honeysuckle, passionflower and some Wisteria still in flower to reward my efforts.  We were also lucky to see the beginning of the sunflower crops just starting to flower.


We signed over the house on Monday in the presence of our Notaire Mr Devillers who has that very elegant French insouciance which always works for me even when they are only two foot eight and equally wide.  We left for home after the signing and got back to Bury mid-afternoon on Tuesday (28th).


I felt sad to say goodbye to the idea of Les Roches and what could be a beautiful home but realistically I was also glad to go.  The dream of a French idyll is still potent but the reality is something else.  I would have found it cripplingly boring and lonely and I have to come to terms with the fact I love city life.  I don’t want to do battle with bugs and critters and travel miles to the nearest loaf in exchange for peace and a spectacular view.  For me it’s not a fair swap.


I will miss the gentleness of the French village life and have vowed to at least wish ken a “Bon Dimanche” every week.


July 2005


On Thursday (30th) we drove to Edinburgh to see Chris before he left for a two-month stint with Siemens in Wroclaw, Poland.  It is astounding to think we hadn’t managed to get to Edinburgh since before Xmas and had we not gone this time it meant he’d be away 2 months, we’d be away two months and it would be November before we could meet.  Ridiculous – on the same land mass and we still can’t make it.  Any way we managed to get there and had a lovely dinner at The Outsider.  Chris left for the airport at the crack of dawn and while he was making his way to Wroclaw we made our way back to Bury.


We were lucky to just avoid a huge traffic jam caused by a lorry load of toothpaste.  I just love stuff like that it conjures up a super picture. The reality was less funny as it managed to fall over across all the carriageways and everything ground to a halt.


All this gadding around would be terrific if we could do it like Queeny and someone else was sorting the logistics of fresh milk, edible bread and clean laundry in each place as and when required.


It is now Sunday and we’ve just returned from a very nice Sunday lunch at The Sleigh (Holden Vale) with Sue and Phil and are beginning to feel we may be settling back into something resembling normality – if you ignore a garage full of boxes, a loft full of boxes and several in the sitting room.


I’ve come to realise that I don’t bother very much, if at all, keeping you up to date when we’re ‘home’ in the UK.  This isn’t very surprising, as at the jaded age of 59, I don’t experience our English life as unusual or worth noting.  The same might be said of everything else I write about.  I’ve decided, therefore, to rack my brains and see if I can continue my journal in this sceptered (septic?) isle.


So … where are we up to?  We’ve caught up, over several great meals, with various friends and my children.  Ken’s Susan called in unexpectedly one day but our plans for visiting Richard are temporarily scuppered for various uninteresting reasons.


My good chum Denise and I went to The Lowry Centre (Salford Quays) which is a super place.  There's a consistently good theatre and restaurant and the building houses various exhibitions.  The theatre, surrounding buildings and the setting are pretty spectacular.  We went for a spot of shopping and lunch and to see an exhibit of work from Langworthy's children.  The search for the work was pretty hysterical as we did, what we thought, was the whole complex.  I seem to remember my knees and I complaining a lot as we trotted (that is a joke) up and down the stairs.  Finally we asked a couple of employees who, pleasant as they were, hadn't a clue what we were talking about.  On the way out we asked at the reception desk and lo and behold a lady found the work for us and as a surprise for her.  This perhaps gives you an accurate impression of the scale of the building.  The wicker boat, which was part of the work they'd done, had been made with the artist who made the wicker stuff for the commonwealth games and was pretty impressive.  It would make a great centrepiece for a garden in the school but Denise said she didn't think the work would be coming back into Langworthy.  What a swizz!  I'd have been happy to oversee that installation and planting.


Post lunch we walked across the bridge only to witness a very large, expensively clothed and impressively equipped photo shoot for some fashion spread or other.  Bloated from a baked potato and tuna I managed to waddle past girls who were invisible sideways.  They are incredibly thin!  Quite scary actually.


Sally came for a long weekend to go to a friend's wedding.  As usual we seemed pretty much to check in and out with each other in passing.  On the Friday she arrived Ken and I had a date with friends to see War of the Worlds.  It was quite amusing to arrive home at 1 am. to be asked (in jest) "And what time do you call this?"  by my child.


Her return to Edinburgh was the usual – and yes I do mean usual – fiasco of public transport.  That particular Monday was the one following the bombings on the 7th so that would have excused it if it we didn't have the same sort of problem almost every time she or Chris visits.  She got the Bury tram in plenty of time to catch her train in Manchester.  As we got back into the house she rang to say that a tram was stalled at Radcliffe and her tram was trying to shunt it.  This proved unsuccessful so the passengers were told to walk to Whitefield – no bus would be put on for them and they wouldn't pay for taxis.  We collected Sally and started the gruelling task of interviewing all and sundry for 'information' for train times to Edinburgh.  One train was stuck in Buxton and they didn't know why or what would happen to it – another was delayed maybe one hour or two or maybe it wouldn't run at all because of a security alert and another simply wasn't running – heaven knows why.  They could only suggest if she really needed to get to Edinburgh that day she should show up at Piccadilly and take her chances.  As she had a 4 a.m. start for work the next day it would be pretty useful if she could get home.  We duly arrived at Piccadilly to be told there was a train leaving in ten minutes with a change at York and he'd no idea what any of the other problems were!  I swear the world is going mad!

As she works for the Scottish Executive in the Press Office she's been pretty faffed about with security thanks to the G8 and now these bombs.


Chris is also having a miserable time right now.  He's in Poland working for Siemens for two months and emails to say that Wroclaw where he's working and Warsaw that he went to visit are 'missable'.  He describes them as drab and oppressive.  The people drink heavily which leads to problems of not being safe and petty theft is rife.  So maybe this is one to cross off our tourist list.  How lucky we are.


Pam and Ken came last weekend to go to the Tatton Show which I foreswore this year.  Having done two out of three in the rain and the third in baking heat I thought I'd give it a miss this time.  Their visit co-incided with one of our normal Friday meals out with the BSAC bunch.  Our seating varies between the famous five and the secret seven in numbers.  We managed to strike up a group of twelve this time.  We duly swamped Bents Garden Centre and enjoyed their table d'hôtes menu until they threw us out at closing.  They are a jolly bunch – BSAC and Bents!   The next day Pam and I took Jean (mom's sister) to lunch at Newbank Garden Centre and for a tour of the shop and plants.


On a sadder note, during the previous week I found myself at Newbank one of the days wandering around like a lost soul and wondering what I was doing there.  I realised it was simply the time of year when I'd be there with mom to mooch the plants and hanging baskets and twiddle around with her borders and pots.  I've come to terms with not being able to see or talk to mom any more but I haven't shed the rhythm of our routines – Sunday lunch, gardening, sitting in the sun, the ‘oldies’ gossip, planning holidays, looking forward to Pam and Ken’s six-week visits.  As I said a part of my life-structure has been lost along with her.


Our too many restaurant meals have only added to my ever-increasing girth so I’m doing battle with Yoga, Aquarobics and Weight watchers.  All of whom are populated with Little Britain characters.


A very nice lady who is exactly in tune with what she does leads the Yoga class.  She emits soothing waves of gentleness, quietness, and calm whilst carefully and exquisitely physically torturing us.


Aquarobics is Victoria Wood on speed – if you've ever seen Wood's aerobic teacher sketch I don't need to elaborate and if you haven't it's worth tracking down. "Kick your own bottom, not someone else's"


Weight Watchers is the real gem.  I've done it once before ten years ago and it's still the same 'leader' in the same place – ground hog day envelops me on entry.  She is wonderful.  The face smiles and the jokes are cracked but with a little nouse you can just discern the oh so carefully (just) concealed hatred of all these revolting fat people sitting in front of her.  As a people watcher I just love it.  An audience oozing admiration for all her knowledge (pah!) and grateful for her humour and anyway "Isn't she nice" – well no, actually.  I've just reread that – perhaps I'm reading her as me?


As for the results – 4 lbs. lost on week one (yesterday) from Weight watchers, aching joints from yoga and absolutely jiggered knees from Aquarobics.


Something I always have to do on our English sojourn is catch up on all the body maintenance stuff – doctors, dentists, and hairdressers.  It’s astonishing how difficult it can be trying to compress twelve months of such things into a broken-up six.  So I have been bled, compressed and permed and am now spanking new, freshly oiled and raring to go.


Ken and I keep promising each other we will sort through all our boxes (English, French and American) now we've stopped moving ready for a car boot sale at the end of August.  I am the queen of use it or chuck it out so I'll love it when we've done it.  In all seriousness we don't seem to get a minute to settle down to do it.  This retired lark is busy, busy, busy.


As I am fast approaching the official 'I am old' birthday, i.e. my pensionable 60th, I have been successively plagued with missives from the Pensions folk.  The particular section dealing with this now calls themselves Retirement pension Teleclaims.  I just love it – where do they get this stuff?  What in heaven's name is 'Teleclaims'?  Do we all get to go on Oprah?  Should we make our claim by Telegram or telephone? Is it all done by telepathy or telekinesis?  As 'tele' to me always meant 'distance' I can only assume it means they actually want nothing to do with us.  Just to make me feel really confident in their ability to calculate my rather complex life into an accurate pensionable amount they sent me the instructions for applying for a pension in Welsh!  Don't ya just love 'em?


Thank goodness I have my own live-in pension calculator in the form of Ken and we have been doing battle with them now for the last couple of years during which time we have managed to get the percentage up from 78% to 90%.  For any of my 'readers' (especially the ladies) getting within a couple of years of this process may I suggest you get a pension forecast and scrutinise it.


Our month will end as it began (and continued!) with a meal out tomorrow.  Famous Five go Chinese Lounge.  We don't have any visitors this weekend (as yet) and have arranged to take Sue and Phil to the airport on Sunday which probably means Ken and I will stop off somewhere for a Sunday lunch.  Have you detected a theme here yet?


August 2005


It’s five o’clock on Sunday (4th September) and we are packed, boxed and poised ready to leave tomorrow morning.


We had a couple of quotes for shipping the rest of the Florida stuff.  For anyone finding it difficult to hang on to the plot this is the stuff from our Florida homes, which was shipped to the French house and has been carted back to the UK by us.  The cost was silly versus the actual value of the stuff.  As always with these things there are bits and pieces I’m really reluctant to get rid of; not only because I like them but because they were bought over three years or so for the Naples homes and are right for the job.  It seems such a shame to ‘bin it’ and start hunting and gathering again.  The decision was made to take them in serial form over the next few trips.  To this end we are now flying with our second lot of ‘exported goods’.  It consists of a 70 lb. (packed weight) carton – cut and remodelled by the resourceful Ken into exactly the right permitted dimensions.  This is tucked neatly between two 70 lb. loaded very large suitcases – one of which is very slightly over the size limit but has done several trips back and forth without comment… so, here it goes again.  In addition to this we have one ordinary paltry medium size (normal large for most people) 60 lb caseload. We will be repeating this performance at least a couple more times.


Sue has very kindly volunteered to ferry this load and us to the airport on Monday – and she has actually seen it!  What a star!


We have actually got rid of a large amount of Florida stuff and other ancient history during this last couple of months and have got the smug satisfaction of having cleared out our gubbings (yet again).  This time last year we had 65 boxes in store (plus a lot of unboxed stuff) in addition to our things in the French house and English loft. Since then we have managed to reduce it all to 13 boxes of  ‘we-must-keep-these’ in the loft. 


To this end and as a final flourish we decided to do a car boot sale – after having given away much better stuff to charity shops over the last few months.  We wanted to do a local sale and had discovered a notice in The Bury Times, which announced a sale in Radcliffe on Bank Holiday Monday 30th August to support a Junior Football team.  First problem was that Bank Holiday Monday was actually the 29th August!  The adjacent problems were - no starting time or cost, or whether a space had to be pre-booked.  I then had an hour’s amusement ringing everyone and his brother in Lancashire football including someone who said she wouldn’t know anything about it because she was only the club secretary!  Finally I got the details, which included the fact that ‘they start coming about 7am’. 


So Monday saw us (and Phil and Sue) up at an ungodly hour and at the field by 7.30 am.  Too right they start at 7 – there was heaps of cars already in place.  My plan of we’ll hang around and see if the rain stops before we commit was quickly trashed as panic set in and we scrabbled for a spot.  Did I mention the rain?  Never mind, the forecast promised a hot day and it would surely change.  It changed… it got worse.  By 10 am we fled the field.  If I tell you I went home and even had to change wet underclothes it might give you a clue as to how much it rained.  Having said that, Ken and I still made £81.30.  Greed set in and we beat our chests over the volume of stuff we had chucked away and given to charity shops over the past ten years of being together.  We began by clearing two houses into one and have never stopped since.


I’ve discovered another ‘money-maker’…  After giving more than a hundred books to the local library I swore never to buy any more – what I couldn’t get from the library I would do without.  Needless to say that lasted all of five minutes and I found excuses to buy – ‘well I was at the airport/was waiting for something or someone/ I need to keep it for a long time/someone else bought it me’.  The book collection began to grow.  This time I decided to have a go at selling them through Amazon.  It is such fun!  Dead easy and makes a bit of a return on the vast sums you pay out for the pleasure of reading.  I still pass on ‘bestest’ books to chums and family and flog the ‘lulus’. 


If anyone has any ideas of what to do with a load of Lps I’d be glad of the info.  I know I have some in My Dylan collection, which are worth bits, and bobs (te-he – Bobs!) because I can sometimes find them on Dylan sites and could flog them through various Dylan outlets but it still leaves me with everything else… and then there’s Ken’s heap of records.


One of the snags with our present lifestyle is the garden.  We have a gardener who cuts the lawns for us so we don’t offend the neighbours and return to two small fields but as with most self-proclaimed jobbing gardeners he doesn’t know his ivy from his dandelion.  His idea of weeding is to go at anything green and tiny with a hoe.  As he does this totally unselectively and at the speed of light – time’s money – he can pretty much keep your garden cleared of anything trying to grow.  This means that if you let him ‘weed’ in the two spring months we are away (May & June) he can demolish all your future summer borders – peonies, lilies et al get lobbed off along with the creeping buttercup and mares tail.  Ken loves this style of gardening because it means you are left with a handful of isolated plants surrounded by neat piles of weed free black dirt which to quote Ken is a ‘proper garden’.  As I am of the arty farty let it all hang out self-seed English cottage border type gardener you may spot the conflict.  He is therefore forbidden to weed and we return to plants struggling bravely through roughty toughty weeds, which have been given their head.


The other aspect is the huge amount of things you simply miss.  I thought I’d chosen only things which would bloom in July/August, (November/December – not really), March/April.  We then get into reality and things come into flower as they choose depending on our northern climes and our garden’s own microclimate.  So I missed some spectacular varieties of alliums that I saw in bud and then in seed and at the moment we are leaving just as my favourite white Japanese anemones are about to flower.  Their lavender cousins have been in bloom all August but of course the white ones decide to hold their buds until now.


From deadheading and cutting back during the summer we always get an autumn flush of roses and cranesbills and some of the other perennials struggle into a second showing if the weather stays warm enough – all that will be going on unseen.  This is where we drift into the philosophical questions of a tree falling in the forest unobserved – does it make a noise?  It is wonderful to think I’ve created Bishop Berkeley’s garden.


I’ve just flicked through my diary to see if there are any major events I’ve missed – seemingly not.


My aunt had a knee replacement operation so Pam came up to look after her.  It was nice to see Pam and Ken on the arrival and departure weekends but we didn’t, in fact, get to see much Pam during the week as she was busy with Jean.  I am selfish enough to have wished we could have done some shopping and mooching trips together – maybe another time.  We did manage to celebrate Ken’s 60th birthday on the first Sunday they were with us with a lunch at The Sleigh and a cake from Slattery’s.  All very low-key as Ken insists there’s nothing remarkable about a chap’s 60th especially when he’s been retired for five years.  He suggested we might like to mark his official Pensioner birthday when he’s 65 so we’ll see what we can think up between now and then.


Chris’ work experience in Wroclaw (Poland) was not to be recommended.  He returned early and is now safely ensconced in his Edinburgh routines and soon to return to his final year at University.  Sally has just started a new job – so fingers crossed she settles in happily.


Pam and ken will be visiting us in Naples this trip so I am looking forward to that.  I hope they really like it and can see why we do.


Films and books this month have been totally forgettable; so much so, I’ve forgotten what they were!


All in all that seems to be it.


September 2005


[A note from Ken: During our brief stay in the UK this time, interrupted by a quick trip to France to sign the final sale document and pick up the 'personal items' from the house, we saw my children only briefly.  Susan called in whilst in Bury for a job interview and I went to Aintree to watch Richard compete in a sprint event in his Caterham. That gave me an opportunity to deliver his birthday present - only about four months late!  It was good to see them again.


Marilyn did not mention that the Internet came in useful in researching the car boot sale 'organisers'.  Before she could call anyone, I had to track down the football club and try to obtain contact numbers for one of its officials.  Not easy for an amateur club which seemed not to want to publicise itself!


I was pleased that the car (Lincoln Continental) started first time on our arrival over here.  Not bad after leaving it stuck in a hot garage for two months.


I cannot remember whether Marilyn has mentioned in her previous notes that we swapped our UK car.  I think that she did cover the fate of the Honda CR-V (which originally came from Florida).  I drove it down to Portsmouth for shipping to Georgia, and then I flew up to Brunswick to collect it and drove it back to Naples. Almost immediately, we swapped it for the Lincoln.  That left us with a Saab 9-3 convertible as the only UK car.  We decided that it was not practical as an only car, so we now have another Toyota Avensis.  This time it is an automatic.  It also came with a built-in GPS guidance system.  Having played with it, Marilyn decided that it was ideal for her - particularly the automatic redirection when she takes a wrong turn or cannot take the correct one for some reason.  The point of this story is that I have been researching how to get one for the US.


I finally decided that I would get a PDA, so that I could use it for a number of other purposes, and add a GPS receiver and navigation software.  To cut a long story short, I now have a Palm Tungsten T5 PDA and Tomtom Navigator 5 software.  The T5 has Bluetooth wireless connectivity (and an 11.b Wi-Fi card), so I got a Bluetooth capable GPS receiver.  It took me a couple of days - on and off - to get all the bits charged up and the software and maps loaded correctly, so I have only tried it for one day around Naples.  It seems fine but, like most software, it will take some time to get used to all the features/quirks.  That applies to both the Palm OS (a bit different to Windows, but still crashes occasionally) and the Navigator 5.  I need to program it with all the shops that Marilyn likes to visit, so that she can find them easily by herself!


We are going to Virginia next week, so I will take it there and try it in the hire car.  Another advantage of not getting a dedicated unit built into the car.


Perhaps I will remember to report progress next time? – Ken]


Back to me….


Unusually we had a pretty miserable journey to Naples.  We had booked with BMI using Icelandair to Washington and United Airlines! to Miami as we got a good price on this rather than our usual and preferred route of Delta to Atlanta and on to Fort Myers.  The plane from Iceland looked as you would expect – dilapidated and overhead screens which you cricked your neck to see and had to squint to focus.  I didn’t bother.  The transatlantic time seemed considerably longer than usual.  Our flight had been an hour late leaving Manchester and on arrival in Washington (Dulles) we queued for an hour in Immigration.  Our connection time was now reduced to minutes and the hike to the gate considerable.  We were pretty philosophical about it on the basis of not especially minding an overnight in Washington (at the airline’s expense).  This is one of the bonuses of going somewhere for a long stay – you’re not pressed for time.  As it was we were the last to check in and hurtled our way to Miami.  This is our least favourite airport – crowded, Spanish and rude.  We also have had problems getting out of the wretched place a couple of times but thanks to Ken’s new Sat Nav we got out and on our way OK.


We began day one in the way we went on with hitting every shop we could in a five-mile radius and breaking our ‘diet’ at Beef O’Bradys – absolutely no point in eating there if you don’t have their Italian Wedding Soup and a Burger.  Actually we did OK overall during our two months and both lost a little more weight but the loss certainly slowed down in the States.  Now why is this I wonder?


Naples weight Watchers is a real experience.  Before we left we decided we’d keep going to WW each week in hopes of staying on track so we duly appeared at our local meeting.  Being the US of course it has a dedicated place – a shop in a mall – none of this lurking in freezing church halls between the scouts and the belly dancers.  Wanda, the leader, needs to be experienced.  On the ball is an understatement.  She starts on the button and finishes on the same – no time wasting here chaps.  Flip charts, diagrams and a lot of inspirational/motivational rah-rah.  Not at all British!  I suppose I ought to apologise for liking it – but no.  I like the way Americans seriously commit to stuff we are only too happy to sneer at.  What is the point in the latter?  If you are paying your sub each week for something to help you it may as well have a bloody good go at doing just that.  My well- honed cynicism gets in the way of working on me but I watch in admiration as it works on others.


My diary shows the usual domestic routines of Naples living but does included a trip to the movies for one of my top ten movies for this year – ‘The Constant Gardener’.  I was an excellent, unusual and absorbing story supported by some very fine acting.  As you can see I really enjoyed it.  So nice to see an ‘intelligent’ film – they are thin on the ground.


We spent the 17th to the 24th September in Williamsburg, Virginia.  We stayed in one of Sue and Phil’s time-share swaps, Powhatan Plantation.  As its name implies it was an old tobacco plantation.  The original 18th century house was there and the grounds had lakes and gardens, the apartments of course, a couple of restaurants, tennis courts, swimming pools etc.  All in all a place to be recommended.


Williamsburg itself is a sort of ‘Disney’ town.  Having said that it works very well for me.  I positively hate traipsing round ruins and remains of stuff and trying to imagine what it would be like.  Someone having done the hard work for me is just fine in my book. 



Historical Williamsburg came about because sometime in the fifties one of the Rockefellers realised its historical importance and that it was fast disappearing.  At that time it had become a small tatty leftover of a place.  He bought up huge tracts of the town and restored and rebuilt what was left of old Williamsburg.  This hobby cost him $65 million dollars.  Today it is a pretty much faithful reconstruction of what it was as the beginning of America’s birth and is large varied and very interesting.  We only gave it a day I’m afraid, as we wanted to do many other things in the area but in that time scale it was still fascinating and evocative.  It gets the thumbs up from me.


You can hire costumes and even stay in some of the houses.  One of the original families – the Amisteads - refused to sell and their direct descendants are still living in a beautiful 18th century home in this perfectly preserved chunk of the 17th and 18th centuries.  It must very odd to live in an area which is overrun with tourists all day and closes like a museum at 10.30 pm.


We also went to the Jamestown Settlement where we got into conversation with some really nice folk who had offered us a free ticket (one of their group hadn’t been able to make it).  We spent the next 24 hours continually bumping into them.


The settlement is made up of a museum, an Indian Village, the Fort and life-size replicas of three of the original ships. 


The fantastic museum is an incredibly huge and beautiful building and crammed with interesting stuff set out in ways that really inform.  Not easy to get excited over a museum but this one did it for me.  I did spot one tiny ‘error’.  They had a huge chart headed Elizabethan social hierarchy, which was headed by James 1.  Surely this makes it Jacobean?  When being quizzed by a member of staff as to what we’d liked and disliked about the museum I mentioned this.  She was absolutely insistent I wrote it down and put it in a ‘mail’ box there and thanked me profusely.  How unlike the often snotty types you get in English museums and galleries.


The Indian Village and Fort are populated and ‘worked’ as they would have been which is fascinating.  The people are all totally ‘in character’ and seem able to answer anything you ask them.  We were there on a really scorching day and the poor devils were all in full costume.  The costumes were extremely authentic right down to the fabrics and methods of sewing etc.


Being able to walk around the Susan Constant we were constantly reminded how small and overcrowded these frail little ships were that people trusted their lives to across the Atlantic.  How brave they were.  Again I really enjoyed being able to experience some of their sights and feelings, however briefly and sanitised mine were in comparison.


We returned to the Historic Old Town that evening for a delicious candlelit harpsichord and organ concert in Bruton old church.  God decided to deliver an almighty thunderstorm.  Even storm have to be bigger and better in the States.  As the organist said at least we weren’t dependent on electricity.  Amazingly he played his first notes and the storm stopped.  It was a bit of a strange experience.  Our museum friends were in the gallery and a good time was had by all.


The next day I let Ken have a breather from all this history and we drove down to Norfolk for a tour of the Naval docks.  We’d planned on booking a sailing ship for the cruise but discovered it was fully booked.  We’d also meant to arrive early to be sure of a place but there was (something I have a horror of being involved in) a crash in the Chesapeake tunnel which meant a pretty big detour for us to the other (?) tunnel.  Ah the plans of mice and men…  The tunnel is really weird – It begins as a huge bridge, which then goes under the middle of the river, reappears and becomes a bridge again.  We’d seen it from the air on our flight in from Charlotte to Newport News – it looked like a broken bridge from the air.  Our trip was actually on the Carrie B an old paddle steamer, which we reckoned was a better bet in the end, as it was considerably more comfortable than a plastic chair on the deck of the American Rover.


It was claimed that Norfolk could moor all the ships of the world and still have room.  During our three-hour cruise it was certainly impressive.  I found the warships and subs absolutely obscene.  To imagine that each one on average was a billion dollars and their running costs made your eyes glaze over with the size of the numbers.  It raises the usual response of the direct good that could be done for people with all the money being spent on being able to threaten to kill them more efficiently.  They could probably buy a world peace with it.


The next day’s trips to a couple of the old plantation houses were also interesting.  If you ever make it there I’d recommend Berkley.  It was the best restored and furnished and had a great deal more history attached to it than the others.  It augured well as we were welcomed with the sight of a bald eagle dipping and sailing over the gardens – “He usually stops by around this time.”   The guides are again in costume and are very knowledgeable.  One snippet serves to illuminate the whole experience for me:  there is an underground passage from the (outside because of the danger of fire) kitchen to the house that is called the ‘whistling path’.  The reason being that the slaves/servants were required to whistle as they carried the food; the idea was that they couldn’t whistle and eat at the same time.  This one little anecdote seems so gentle and humorous as does the life in a grand Southern tobacco plantation house yet at the same time it demonstrates the power and social order of the times, even the implied hunger of a slave or servant.  I’m sure it was only told us to amuse but how sharp it is. 


The guilt on behalf of my ancestors didn’t prevent us from eating out at a different buffet each evening.  In the US this always means ‘as much as you can eat ‘til you fall over’.  I mention them because of what they offer.  The first was a Seafood Buffet – self-explanatory.  The astonishing thing being the food available. How can you offer things like monster prawns, lobster tails and whole crabs on a take-as-much-as-you-like basis to a population, some of whom are built like Desperate Dan, and still make a profit?  Another illustration of good service here was a waitress patiently demonstrating to a customer how to get into her crab.  Our second feast was a Chinese/Japanese/Mongolian Buffet.  Yes folks they really did have three distinct areas of different food.  much of which is cooked to order and absolutely delicious.  What a great place to try stuff you’re not sure about instead of having to commit to a whole meal somewhere and discover you don’t like it. 

We spent our last day at the shops!


Our flights to and from Williamsburg were excellent and for once the actual travelling was a real joy.  The crab cakes in Charlotte were perfection.  We used our new Fort Myers airport for the first time and were exceedingly into the free (!) car park and were unloading our bags to go to the nearest bus stop (a spit away) and the little shuttle bus pulled up behind us.  The driver then gets out and picks up our luggage and puts it on the bus.  Much jolly conversation and a few minutes later we are at out departure gate.  We didn’t expect the same on our return – but yes, they don’t drop you at the little bus stops they drop you at your car and put the luggage in the boot.  Splendid or what?


October 2005


The next four days were spent in a flurry of cleaning, food shopping and preparing for Pam and Ken’s visit on the 29th.  We picked them up from Miami – my nightmare airport.  Even with the GPS system we had trouble getting in and out of it.  The roadworks are a nightmare and we seem unable to avoid the (almost) centre of a large city.


Their first day was a swift tour of shops and city broken by a lunch at the new Cheesecake Factory.  This was Pam’s introduction to the American version of a sandwich.  She struggled through half a club sandwich and clam chowder while Ken and I guiltily filled our faces with soup and half sandwich order.  We then had to do battle with cheesecake.  Yummy.


A couple of days our visits to the beach were scuppered by an attack of ‘red tide’.  It does hit further up and down the coastline now and again when there’s been severe storms.  It is a growth of freshwater algae that gets washed in from the land drains and because the balance of freshwater versus sweater gets shifted it manages to flourish for a while.  The sad thing is it kills thousands of fish and other sea creatures.  We hadn’t seen it close up before and cursed the fact it had to wait until we had someone visiting.  It isn’t an attractive feature though it is claimed to be fairly harmless to people unless you have any severe respiratory problem.  None of us, however, had the urge to sunbathe on a beach littered with dead fish and heaving with tiny crabs all trying to get out of the water.  Fortunately it pretty much cleared up and we did get some good time at the beach.  Meanwhile we had to make do with the pool.  We squeezed in the Art Gallery, Botanical Gardens, Palm Cottage, Double Sunshine Cruise, Dinner Theater and an Airboat trip.  How we also managed to get in trips to the movies, countless restaurants and shops I don’t know but we did.  I hope it was a good break for them even if not a very restful one.

We only had a couple of weeks left after Pam and Ken’s visit.  Ironically we had managed to duck a couple of threatened hurricanes, which came to nothing until our last three days!  Wilma struck on the 24th September about 2 am.  Ken as ever tried his best to sleep through it.  The storm didn’t keep him awake but I did.  How could anyone not be interested in a phenomenon like a hurricane?  What an experience.  It hit as a category 4 about fifteen miles south in Marco but we still got a good deal of it.  It is astonishing to see sixty-foot trees bend like straws in the winds and the eeriness of the eye is exactly as described.  There is hardly a tailing off period between the edge passing over, the eye hitting – warm, calm, still, bright and then the leading edge, or the ‘backside’ as the commentators called it, coming back in again.  I suppose the oddest thing about not having power was the lack of TV – not as entertainment but for information.  We had battery radio and that did the job but we are so used to being able to follow our lives on TV it was a very odd experience.  We were lucky enough to keep the water supply so no doing without showers – though of course after a day or so they were no longer hot!  Luckily the weather had cooled off prior to it hitting and stayed reasonably cool so we were fine without the air-conditioning.  All in all we did really well considering, which was more than could be said for the wonderful landscaping around the city.  I especially love Naples for its care with making sure everything is green and beautiful.  They also have treasured ancient trees some of which were blown down.  It is an excellent demonstration of the power of a storm to see a two hundred year-old banyan on its side with its fifteen-foot wide root system.


We had been threatened with a huge sea surge, which didn’t materialise and so the beaches escaped incredibly well.  Ken and I had the joy of them almost to ourselves for the last couple days in Naples. The power came on the day before we left so we were able to settle the condo into its normal state of hibernation for our trip back to the UK.


Perhaps an email I sent the day before we left gives a better flavour of the event…… 


Hello at last,

As you can see we have power again - yippee.  Went out for lunch and last minute shopping (for Xmas!) and returned to an electric house what joy.  Am washing clothes and about to run a bath.


Meanwhile thought I’d send you these photos taken after Wilma breezed through.


The first 20 are on Monday afternoon following the storm - it was still quite windy.  They are only taken outside our apartment – from the entrance to Sherwood up to our block.   We didn't venture any further because the weather still seemed unpredictable at that stage. Also it feels a bit ghoulish prowling round looking at other folk’s disasters.  The trim under the roof damage is at both ends of our block, our garage block has lost some roofing tiles, the edge of the roof of the block has lost bits of trim - otherwise we are in good shape.


The next 9 were taken on Tuesday as we went to the shops.  The two storey with the flattened lanai was on our old estate of Queens Park - our house on Kent drive had lost a good part of its roof and had a damaged lanai.  I took this particular photo because it was a landmark (which Denise and I used) for finding our way around the estate - known as the 'turn left at the big cage on the corner' - no more!  The wet ceiling is in Bealls (Towne Center) - they were lucky ...  you could take a boat to K-Mart and a shovel to Books-a-Million.


The next four pictures are the beach later that day.  It was wonderful - clean as a whistle and deserted we soaked up the last of the sun and reluctantly returned to our candlelit apartment. No swimming as the gulf temperature had dropped to 77.


The last five were taken today - it is the army handing out ice and water.  Incredibly people were clammering, complaining and queuing back miles for it on day one - talk about not being prepared.  A few gallons of water, a tub full of same for 'rough' stuff and a few tins of food how difficult can that be with a week's warning? Understandable for a handful of migrant workers perhaps but not the average Joe - and some of the people queuing in their new SUV’s could buy us ten times over - what is it with some folk?


Any way that's it for a few days, as we will be wending our way back to the UK tomorrow morning - see most of you soon.


Marilyn and Ken

The end of October found us back in Bury, shopping at Tesco, reporting to Weight Watchers, struggling to the gym and pool in grim weather and the nice bit of catching up with friends and family over meals and movies and visits.


November 2005


My weight loss is creeping along at an average of a pound a week.  Often this means one week I stay the same and the next week I lose 2 lbs – soooo frustrating.  I know all the stuff about it ‘being better to lose it slowly’ but even at four times faster than I put it on it is incredibly slow.  My element of pride is that I have never actually ‘gone up’ in weight since starting this regime.  At this rate though my goal weight is due on the 5th May 2006.  Dear God that’s the Spring of next year.  Plod on…


My extended sixtieth birthday celebration began with the arrival of Sally on Thursday 10th and a meal and a movie with Denise on the 11th.  Sue, Phil and Ken joined us for the movies.  We ladies went to see Nanny McPhee and the chaps went to see Into the Blue.  Ours was a little gem.


My actual birthday day of Saturday saw the arrival of Pam and Ken and Chris and Gayle.  As I’d given myself the weekend off all chores we trotted over to the Sleigh Hotel for the unwrapping of presents and dinner.  I had a family gift of pearls from Ken and Chris and Sally and matching earrings from Pam and Ken.  In addition I had lovely presents from everyone else mostly consisting of beautifying stuff.  Either sixty was seen as needing significant pampering or I’m in desperate need of an overhaul.  I also had a lovely Slattery’s Birthday cake courtesy of my sneaky husband.  The next day was Remembrance Sunday so after a full English at the Hotel (we all stayed over) Pam and Ken went off to find a service in Bury.  Chris, Gayle, Sally, Ken and I trotted off to Ramsbottom and their Farmer’s Market.  It transpired there was a service there too so Pam and Ken could have come with us.  We had a lovely hour or two browsing the stalls and antique shop indoors and out.  Mostly in I might add, as it was a wickedly cold day.


We all regrouped for lunch at Irwells after which Pam and Ken returned to Cheltenham.  The kids stayed with us overnight left in the wee small hours (5.30 am-ish) of Monday.  Chris had driven down from Edinburgh, which I thought very brave.  He learned to drive when he was stationed in Canada and has done little or no driving since.  The experience of tackling diddy Scottish roads/manic Motorways and the sheer length of the trip must have been nerve-racking.  Well done that chap.


On the Thursday Ken and I took off on another of our little jaunts (thanks again to Phil and Sue).  This time to Spain and Calahonda in particular.  We’d decided we wanted to go to Gibraltar, Granada and Ronda. 


It also became the perfect opportunity to check out a couple of our ‘nearly bought’ Spanish homes of a couple of years ago.  Our first trip was around the Coin, Cartama, Estacion de Catarma area and the mustard-coloured  finca we tried to buy.  It has been redone beautifully.  The landscaping around the house was excellent and the house itself was now a spick and span white house. 


From there we went on to Alhuran El Grande and the Santa Rosaria house.  This was the one I really fell in love with – it’s the place where we met the family, were sung to by the ancient patriarch and mom was cajoled into picking an orange from one of their trees as she said it was something she’d never done.  I have a lovely photo of it. (Pre-digital).  This house had also been bought but didn’t seem very changed other than a good tidy up.  Strangely, as seems to happen with these things the renovated house next door was for Sale.  Yes…. There was a moment there…


We did the touristy thing of Marbella and Puerta Banus and walked the pretty and expensive marina – none of which is for me.  It was still extremely crowded even in mid-November.  On the edge of Marbella we did find a lovely spot, which I think, was called Playa Fontinellas – I keep meaning to check out its name on a map.  We wandered a pretty deserted beach front, watched a man modelling sand on the beach and sat and had tea at a Restaurant on the esplanade whilst watching the sea and the turning of the afternoon – all very pleasant.


On Sunday we drove to Ronda.  I had forgotten just what a hair-raising mountain drive it is.  This is a place where they have to cover the mountainsides in hairnets to prevent the rocks removing the tourists.  It is very spectacular and has a uniquely Spanish beauty.  In some places the sides of the mountains have been sliced away to build the roads and we saw it in a particular autumn sun which made them look like huge sides of slightly undercooked sirloin.  Perhaps not the most poetic description but it was how it seemed to me.  Driving up from the coast we noticed the shift in temperature as we climbed into the mountains and ventured further inland.  Ronda was much colder and extremely windy.

About half an hour before Ronda we arrived at El Burgo where the house that we spent about six months trying to buy was located.  Astoundingly after two years it is only just being worked on.  As it was a shell with little or no interior construction when we saw it this implies it has only recently been sold.  Whoever is developing it is doing a superb job and much better and more imaginatively than we would have done so seeing that again was something of a two-edged sword.


We finally had a rest day on Monday – grounded in part by some rain ‘though this didn’t stop Ken swimming in the heated outdoor pool.  There was an indoor pool too but darn it man we were in Spain. 


Tuesday and Granada.  Our trusty little GPS system got us straight to the Alhambra without a quiver.  Clever stuff.  As it turned out it was a good job we had rested the day before and that we arrived earlier than planned.  This place needs at least a week to do it justice and we’d given it just six hours.  We had bought our tickets in advance the previous day from a local bank in Calahonda.  What a fiasco that was – 30 minutes queuing with only four people ahead of us, and still not the tickets we wanted.  We tried to buy a guided tour having been told by the tour rep on our site that the Alhambra doesn’t have audio guides.  We ended up buying just entrance tickets.  As it turned out we could have bought these easily on site (probably not, as they claim, in high season but November 22nd wasn’t a problem).  They wouldn’t have incurred the bank’s premium or the half hour wait.  The Alhambra does have an excellent Audio guide.  We were also given the impression by all and sundry that the ticket admitted you at a fixed time which is rubbish.  It admits you to one area at a set time (2.30 in our case) but you are free to tour everything else at will.  So with two hours in hand we began.


There is no way I am even going to attempt to describe any of it.  Suffice it to say it is the most incredible place and must be seen if you have any opportunity to.  I had been 35 years or so ago and my memory of it was as a red dust covered, very beautiful ruin.  Whether a lot of it has changed over the years I’ve no idea but this was breathtaking.  We had also chanced upon a lovely quality of light delivered by a November Spanish sun, which was magical.  I suppose if I have to find a ‘snag’ (and don’t I always have to?) because we’d chosen to condense it into such a small time frame it was too rich.  It was the aesthetic equivalent of eating a jar of honey.  There is a point early on where you should definitely stop before it becomes far too cloying.  That said it was magical.  I was quite seriously struggling to hold back tears in the gardens of the Generalife.  Because it was relatively quiet we could get moments to ourselves where you could sit in the immense peace and really look at something beautiful and timeless.  It is a strange dichotomy with all gardens that they are the same over long stretches of time in style and content yet are quite literally vibrant with growing and changing every second you watch them.  How we connect into this place and time and I haven’t quite figured but I know we do.


Our tour of Gibraltar was an organised coach outing.  We’d been told that driving in Gib was a nightmare and best avoided.  This was very true.  The large coach deposited us across the border and we had an opportunity to spend a couple of hours in the town before meeting the tour bus, so we grabbed some lunch and did a bit of window shopping.  We then met a mini-bus for the actual tour as the road up the rock was exceedingly narrow.  There were no protective barriers and the driver managed to drive quite literally on the very edge in some places.  Partly because of this we were so glad we’d opted for this way of seeing the Rock.  Driving would have been a pain and this way we managed to see such a lot of stuff.  We visited all areas of the town, St. Michaels Caves, the Apes Den and Europoint Lighthouse (and Mosque).


Our driver/guide was the guy who trains the other guides so was excellent and gave us loads of information about the places we were seeing.  He was passionate about being a Gibraltarian and about remaining attached to the ‘the mother country’.  These abstract issues are so easy to argue academically but they become very concrete when you listen to someone who is passionately concerned with a ‘political’ decision, which will affect their life. I have no idea if handing over the colony would have any serious impact in practical matters but he left us in no doubt it would have a crucial effect on who they perceive themselves to be.


The next evening we arrived back in an ice-covered Manchester looking very much like the deeply frost-covered early morning we’d left the week before.


Almost equally adventurous and cold we went to the ballet the following evening on the tram.  The theory behind this was that parking is often difficult and always expensive and now we are official pensioners for travel purposes we’d test run our privilege.  What a mistake that was.  Again it was a freezing cold night so high heels and legs in tights and short jacket (me not Ken) were not exactly conducive to comfort.  We ran for a tram only for the driver to totally ignore us and leave – par for the course – no real surprise there.  We then read the overhead board that said there was a 24-minute delay on some routes.  We managed to get a tram to Piccadilly without too long a wait and then changed to one to take us down to St Peters Square – a quick trot round the corner and we were ensconced in the Palace for Sleeping Beauty.  This was a bit of a coup or do I mean ‘do’ for English National.  They’ve had some problems of late and it is said they wanted to come back with all guns firing.  I have to say I wasn’t overly impressed.  The sets and costumes were breathtaking and the athleticism of the dancers unflawed but it was a totally unemotional piece of work and I felt like watching beautifully clad gymnasts at work.  This is also a ballet that has some of the best music (Tchaikovsky) and even this seemed ‘deadened’ by the performance.  This was a prince and princess who never even managed to make eye contact.  Judging from the applause it seemed to be well received by the audience so perhaps it was just me. The journey home was even worse – the 24 minute delays were apparently still in place, though how this could be after all those hours I can’t imagine.   This time we had the joy of waiting on a freezing platform in Piccadilly for the required 24 minutes plus some until a Bury tram arrived.  This then filled at Victoria with a sea of teenage booze-filled oiks presumably from a concert.  Talk about feeling like a velvet –clad dinosaur!  What should have been a terrific additional present from my lovely husband turned out to be a bit of a disappointment all round but he still gets ten points in my book.


Sunday found us at a great buffet lunch at the Rose and Bowl with our chums and I was still the recipient of yet more (belated) gifts.  As I said my birthday has threaded its way nicely through this month and will continue to do so.  Sue, Denise and Jean all gave me ‘beauty treatment’ vouchers so I still have more to come.  More birthdays like this I say.  Is a 61st birthday a significant one?


We had our first snow on the 28th, which lasted three days or so, and took us seasonally into December.


December 2005


As always December seems to be totally overshadowed by Christmas – the preamble and rising hysteria, the event itself and the post holiday trauma.  I’m sure three days can’t take a month but there it is.


Our first couple of weeks have nothing more interesting to relate than a couple of movies and a couple of meals – all of which were pretty forgettable.  We did have a little dalliance with looking at the bungalow at 18 Orwell and getting our house priced but decided the cost was too big a gap between ours and theirs, plus renovation.  I don’t see a lot of point in skinning ourselves for something we don’t even want yet.  It has come up at the wrong time for us.  We would love it in about five years or so when we’re ready (maybe) to give up Naples and put all our money back into the UK and get the house we want to finish our days in – but there ya go – who knows, with luck that may be even further down the line.


We scuttled up to Edinburgh on the 17th to do the overnight pre-Christmas flit to my kids to deliver pressies and stockings and say hello.


We had a couple of interesting stops when we reached The Borders.  The first being at a dinky little teashop in someone’s converted front room.  They served a lovely tea and homemade scone with homemade jam (and clotted cream).  Their menu was a delight.  We have painted a big red cross on the cottage wall so we don’t miss it when we go up next time.  We then stopped at a village produce sale in a church hall or scouts hut or something like that – wonderful ‘posh’ nosh.  There wasn’t a Scottish accent to be heard – all pure county English.  You could buy all sorts of stuff but the table I haunted had hand-raised pies with wonderfully imaginative fillings.  I bought Sally a salmon and dill and cream pie, which she told me was excellent.  They also sold their own venison and smoked salmon.  Another purchase of mine was some olives in oil and sun dried tomato for us and some walnut oil for Chris.  Again these were ‘made’ by the sellers.  Good stuff.  A couple of gingerbread men for the ‘kids’ finished off our spree and we were on our way again. 


Chris and Gayle gave us a super lunch on arrival as always.  Gayle had a prior appointment and Chris had to go to work so we picked up Sally, met her ‘new’ cat Molly and tootled off to the Dean Gallery to see a Charles Rennie Macintosh exhibition.  Not the usual CRM stuff but his paintings in France.  As it was the same era that Les Roches was hosting famous painters from Paris it took on another layer of interest for me. I loved the fact they were also displaying his letters to his wife during the time he was there.  There may be raging philosophical debates about whether you should ‘know’ the artist well or just take the work in its own pure form but for me there’s no doubt my interest and understanding comes from really knowing what made the person tick; as much as we can ever do that, of course.


After dropping off Sally I managed to fall down a step in her car park and really hurt my ankle.  We ate at the hotel, as I wasn’t fit enough for anything else.  As it happens the receptionist assured us that we probably wouldn’t get in anywhere, as it was the Saturday before Christmas and most places, including them, had been booked out for weeks.  They squeezed us in the corner next to the bar and we suffered a desultory Christmas dinner in cigarette smoke.  Ken as usual was fine with the meal and especially the double helping of Christmas Pudding (mine and his) so I didn’t feel too guilty about a disastrous evening.


The next morning was spent at The Royal Infirmary – nice new hospital and good service.  No, I hadn’t broken anything (six X-rays!) but had pulled the ligament that crosses over the top of the foot – “which can be extremely painful”.  I was glad the radiographer told me that as that was pretty much the description I would have used had I been able to speak through gritted teeth.  The fun part of all this was trying to get a shoe on and off when we travelled around the building from place to place as my left foot was considerably bigger than my right.


The injury didn’t prevent me from collecting the kids and hobbling around a splendid Chinese buffet lunch.  Ken and I then left for the long drive home.


The next week passed quickly with a movie and a couple of ‘Christmas meals’ with friends and, voila, it was the big weekend.


Pam and Ken arrived Christmas Eve afternoon and we spent the evening vegged out with the TV.  Ken got a phone call from Richard to say Susan had been in a car accident – rolled her car avoiding another.  June and Ian were going down to pick her up on Christmas Day so they didn’t know when they’d get to us.  Ken invited Richard to lunch at La Tama with us.  Fortunately we had booked an early lunch at noon so they were able to take another person.  Christmas lunch was not quite as planned but still very pleasant.  The food was very good and everyone seemed to enjoy it. For me it is always such a relief not to be responsible for the meal. 


On the 26th we had a lunch at home, which was also very good – a stuffed pheasant from good old M & S.  This was followed by a visit to a pantomime at The Opera House – Peter Pan.  Such fun for three of us at least.  Ken had started to come down with some bug on Christmas Eve and was getting progressively worse by Boxing Day.  He might have ‘suffered’ a pantomime slightly better had he not been feeling really rotten as well.  By Tuesday (27th) Santa’s little viruses had also blighted me.  We were now both very sore-throated and coughing and running a temperature; all very unpleasant.  Poor Pam and Ken escaped the sanatorium and returned to the good air of Cheltenham.


So we limped and coughed our way into 2006.