2006
 

 January

Just to set the scene for you I am sitting typing this (Feb 3) in an apartment with all the windows open and a warm breeze wafting through the screened windows and doors.  In the distance, getting closer all the time is the sort of thunderstorm you get in ‘Nightmare on…  whatever’ movies’.  Meanwhile the local population is smiling and celebrating the fact that we have been promised rain this evening and tomorrow.  It will be the first rain we’ve had since arriving four weeks ago and I suppose it’s been even longer for the locals. As you can imagine my poor English psyche has to struggle with this Southern Belle novella setting as I type so you will have to excuse me if I slip into mint julep language now and again.

 

From the depths of a Florida winter lets see what January brought.

 

The first five days were a total confusion of “we are going/we’re not going” to Naples.  We were both very ill with a weird virus we’d picked up for Christmas and were very undecided as to the best course of action.  To cut a long story short we simply decided to go because the prospect of canceling, claiming insurance, re-arranging and all the rest of it was just too overwhelming – especially when you feel grim any way.  So two rather reluctant travelers set off the long way round to Naples.  We’d booked via Orlando on the basis that it was only a four and a half hour drive from there and the flights were very cheap.  We probably won’t repeat the exercise.

 

I can however recommend Virgin if you spot a bargain.  If our flight was an example the plane was roomy and clean, with good service.  The downside is that it is the Disney express and is full of families.  I ended up with the obligatory child with stumpy legs who used the back of my seat for leverage every time he squirmed, which was pretty, much non-stop.  On arrival we had to do battle with our usual huge amount of luggage – 4 x 70 lb cases. (We are still hauling over things for the condo).  This was followed by 'the picking up of the hire car' ceremony and ultimately the drive down the State.  We’d truly had enough by the time we stopped at the Cracker Barrel outside Bradenton for dinner.  We decided to book into the Holiday Inn and crashed for the night.  Excellent idea as we both felt infinitely better the next morning and ready to continue on to Naples.  By lunchtime Friday 6th we were back in our other home.

 

The next couple of days are always about unpacking, returning the hire car, cleaning, grocery shopping and generally nesting.  One pesky chore is having to apply for our Florida driving license each time we return to Naples.  The rules were changed following 9/11 and the licenses are now only issued for the duration of each visit.  Most of this was even more reluctantly than usual as were both still pretty poorly. 

 

We struggled through and even managed to build in a trip to the library to pick up books and DVDs (English stuff such as Rumpole), so we could settle into an ‘at-home’ week of watching and reading.

 

When we picked up our DVDs Ken noticed they had electronic tagging.  I know you’re wondering why I told you something so obvious but there’s more.  The librarian almost apologized for it.  Since the library opened three years ago they simply had the DVDs (movies, games etc) and CDs in boxes on the shelves.  They are appalled that people began stealing them.  This is a huge building where you could go in, load up a bag and stroll out without the slightest chance of being challenged.  She is so sad that some people can’t be trusted.  Impossible to imagine this level of trust anywhere in the UK.

 

Again ‘small town’ America comes into play when you walk around Sherwood.  We went for a brief stroll on our first Sunday to see how the clear up from Wilma was doing and were greeted by every single person we passed.  This culminated in a long chat with a guy who, after two minutes became Bob from Maine whose dog is called Emma.  We exchanged complete life-stories and then continued our stroll.  If you were in any way gregarious there’s no way you’d be miserable and alone over here.  Shrinking violet (aka social phobic) me, of course, just vows never to go for a walk again in case any one speaks to me.

 

Our first movie here was ‘Broke Back Mountain’.  It deserves to go on record, as it was such an excellent movie.  It isn’t at all salacious or pandering to the prurient viewer.  At its simplest level it is a wonderful classic love story.  The gay protagonists are not allowed to be together because of the time and place – redneck, small town America in the early 60’s (?).  I found it gut-wrenchingly poignant.  It was also well written, well acted and set against a beautiful landscape.  It contains a mass of essays waiting to be written about it’s nod to classic Greek drama, Victorian high romance, simple nature versus human complexities etc etc. Suffice it to say it can be enjoyed on many levels.

 

From gay to camp…..      A couple of days later and we were at the Dinner Theatre for High Society – great musical, great food.  The additional entertainment, as always, was found in conversation with some of our fellow diners.  In particular a guy at the next table virtually joined us when his two companions left (one of them felt ill). He was from Austria, had a cartoon German accent and was called Klaus.  Our lederhosen expectations were sadly crushed as he was dressed all in black - cowboy shirt, pants and boots, replete with spangly stars and various silver trims and tips to his bolo tie and shirt collar.  In addition to all this, our rhinestone cowboy was as camp as Kenneth Williams.  Most of his conversation wasn’t supposed to be amusing but it was so hard to make sympathetic and understanding responses when everything he said was filled with such drama.  This theatre is always a joy, not least for the folks you meet.

 

Every time I arrive in Naples I morph into Doris Day and don a pinny and cook up a storm.  Within the first couple of weeks I’d managed to make raisin and oatmeal cookies, blueberry muffins, various soups (e.g. chicken noodle and crab chowder) and all our at home meals from scratch.  Since then I’ve baked an angel food cake and a pina colada cake and made my own pasta.  The latter is excellent fun and such good value – a bit of flour and one egg, some olive oil and you have enough pasta for four meals for two.  As the eggs here cost 73 cents for six of the best, you can see that it is very economical to make your own.  Better still it is much better than the dried stuff.  It will keep three days in the ‘fridge or you can dry it for about an hour and freeze it for eight (!) months.  Drying it was good.  The book said ‘dry on your pasta rack’.  Ummmm, thinks, where did I put my pasta rack?  Coat hangers covered in foil hung from the kitchen cupboard knobs did a very good job.

 

When I was searching a calorie guide to tot up my day’s food I noticed a couple of interesting entries:  squirrel which apparently is eaten roasted and then I came across bear – this has to be stewed it seems.  This set me off looking and yes it did contain beaver, muskrat and raccoon.  What amused me was the notion of some Davy Crockett type killing this stuff and then, back in his woodsy cabin, consulting his Books-a-Million calorie guide, price $7.95 after using his Millionaire’s Club Discount Card!  If I have any road-kill eater types among you I’d prefer it if you didn’t tell me – I quite like you so far.  Asking me for the calorie count on an aardvark might be a bit of a give-away.

 

Whilst on wildlife I may have mentioned the woodpeckers we get right outside our lanai on the pine trees.  They are still with us but are even more entertaining as they now have two babies which are perfect miniatures of their parents right down to a teeny red comb on top.  Boy, can they make a noise and shred some bark.

 

The landscape damage around Naples is pretty extensive (from Wilma not the woodpeckers) but probably if you’re new to the place you might not notice much as they have been so quick with the clean up.  We have been left with one of the broken trees outside our place so we have a constant reminder.  On the up side the residents’ association has had two new fountains installed.  Our others were a bit puny but these are pretty darn good. 

 

We are (as always) watching the prices on real estate here and are pleased to see our condo has put on 25% since we bought it.  Pretty good return for nine months.  Fingers crossed it continues.

 

I’ve also been sewing like a fiend and have made some splendid proper cushions for a couple of wicker chairs in the bedroom.  They are all successfully piped, welted and buttoned.  I’ve also made a blind for the guest bedroom.  I am actually trying to slow down a little on this condo as we leave everywhere after five minutes and all my hard work (and money) gets left behind.  Moving around eight houses in eleven years is a bit much.  Having said that I am planning the major drapes for the ten-foot by nine-foot sliders in the sitting room.  Hey ho, what can you do?

 

Other than fabrics and house stuff my shopping expeditions have turned up a terrific pair of red (heeled) shoes – leather and about ten quid.  I’ve also bought a three-piece set – trousers, top and jacket for around thirty quid.  The bargains are here as always but I’m, trying to resist buying too many clothes as the weight is still declining little by little.  My other bargain is a multi-speed hand-held mixer for $5.  This is its normal price from Target.  Stuff like that is certainly cheaper here.

 

The ‘not to be removed’ tag on the flex reads as follows: ‘ WARNING: The power cord on this product contains lead, a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. Wash hands after handling’.  Why only California?

 

The world seems to have gone ‘safety’ mad.  This is a plastic coated flex for heaven’s sake, which you are hardly likely to be handling a great deal.  It seems to me to be a particular shame to have taken root in America.  How did this happen to a society, which is only a generation or three away from their pioneer ancestors?  In a couple of hundred years they seem to have transformed from people who ventured all in a totally unknown and alien world, setting out with little more than their courage and desperation to a generation surrounded with the comfort of ‘stuff’ but (if the media is to be believed) afraid of their shadow and unable to accept anything bad happening to them without blaming someone else.  I understand ‘cynical’ Europeans getting this way.

 

We’ve started to support another small theatre group here - The Pelican Players - who use a super little community Theatre at the Norris Center.  The first production we saw was a piece by Nigel Hawthorn – a very English farce called ‘Don’t Misunderstand Me’.  We thought it was a very brave choice for them – it is very wordy, fast moving plot and a load of obscure English allusions for the jokes such as Blackpool and Wolverhampton – there was more to the jokes than that!  It was excellent and well received by the audience.

 

Our eating out has been at all the usual places other than a newbie called K J Tropical Palm.  We booked for a Dinner and a couple of guys doing a Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin set.  The meal took forever, the place was heaving and the ‘entertainment’ was dire.  They were doing an extra night as it was ‘so good’ and had sold out miles in advance.  The duo did even less than strolling it; no one could sort out the disco lighting (!) – a shambles.  We left about half way through.

 

There’s an additional bit to the story of our virus.  When we left the UK Ken was in the middle of antibiotics for an additional infection.  He finished them here and after a couple of days or so realized it hadn’t gone away.  So a trip to the walk-in clinic was required.  $117 to see a doctor, $15.50 for urine test and the 14 antibiotics would have cost $90 (!)  In true American fashion the doctor went on a hunt for some free samples.  As she couldn’t find any she asked if generic would be OK as they’d be only $44.  Suddenly the NHS looks good. (As a footnote to this we received an additional bill of $98 for another lab test when we got back to the UK)

 

Undaunted by paying for medical help we decided to take advantage of a medical bargain on the 23rd and went for a ‘special offer’ heart check-up.  February is Heart Month apparently so someone was offering checkups at a tenth of the usual price.  They did several checks.  The Heart Attack Prevention Package included an Echocardiogram/Ultrasound Test, Electrocardiogram (EKG) Test, Hardening of the Arteries (ASI) Test.  The Stroke and Aneurysm Prevention Package included Stroke/Carotid Artery Ultrasound Test, Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Test (for this we had to starve for fours hours!) and a Blood Circulation (Arteriosclerosis) Test.  All seven cost just $179 and they tossed in an Osteoporosis Test for free.  I also had full cholesterol, which gives a much better picture than the UK single figure result.  The information is then sent to a specialist who will assess it and a written report, ultrasound pictures etc will be sent to us in the next three weeks.  I hope they don’t make interesting reading.

 

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February

 

Days of Wine and roses......

This is a bit of a footnote to last month.  I forgot to mention the Naples Winter Wine Festival.  This is like our ‘Children in Need’ thing in the UK but it only runs for three days (27/28/29th Jan) and is very exclusive!  It is based around 18 vintner dinners held in private homes and some auctions.  When I tell you that amongst the stuff being auctioned were Mercedes and BMWs and cruises on private yachts in the Med it might not surprise you to learn they raised $13.7 million.  There is a hell of a lot of money in the hands of a few people here.  They have actually raised $38.8 million in six years for childcare in Naples.  There’s always a lot of griping about the obscenely wealthy and ‘why don’t they just donate the money’.  The counter argument is most people will part with money happily if they are having a good time as well, so why not.  Also many of these folk already give chunks of money to various causes.  One of them for example – the man who started Dominoes Pizza gives away half his money every year.

 

Last month began and ended with a weather report so I thought I ought to continue it.  The rain duly came as promised in buckets.  It actually sounded like someone running a bath for several hours.  It apparently broke a record for Sarasota – 12.5 inches in three hours – and managed to cave in the roofs of two superstores.  Their roofs are pretty much flat and such a quantity of rain collected that the sheer weight brought it down.  We thought Manchester rain was impressive.  Do they do anything on a normal scale in this State?

 

February 2nd brings another sort of weather item – Ground Hog Day.  Not having seen the movie (I even managed to dodge it on board a plane once).  I didn’t realize there really was such a day.  For anyone else out there as uninformed as me this is how it goes…. At sunrise on February 2nd Punxsutawney Phil (who is a ground hog) is stood out at Gobbler’s Knob and his handler looks to see if there’s a shadow.  I think the ground hog also whispers to the owner but then I could just be making this up as I go along.  Having done this extended piece of scientific research the hog is able to predict the length of the remaining winter.  This year apparently we have six more mild winter weeks to go until the Spring weather arrives.  Punxsutawney Phil is so called as he lives in – yes, you’ve guessed it Punxsutawney, Philadelphia.  This year folks had an added interest because the Pittsburgh Steelers were playing the Seattle Seahawks in the Super bowl game on the 5th. 

 

We also managed to score another weather record for a couple of days on the 10th and 11th.  It was the coldest on record since 2001 at 58°F.  We’d planned to go to an Orchid Show at the Botanical Gardens but decided we’d gave Saturday a miss in the hope it would be warmer on Sunday.  Unfortunately when we ventured out we discovered it wasn’t.  It was certainly the wrong day to visit the butterfly house.  Even with the heat lamps that had been added the butterflies were keeping themselves well and truly huddled.  The birds of paradise seemed to be flourishing cold or not.  Such incredible colours – they look as if they’ve been felt-tipped by a manic child.

 

However, it was worth braving the elements to see the wonderful orchids and equally impressive giant wooden ‘insects’ that they are also staging for a few weeks.  There are several massive pieces of work scattered around the gardens.  The largest is a preying mantis, which is seventeen feet high.  They manage to be amusing, scary and quite beautiful all at once and are incredibly tactile. Super things.  Probably precisely the same can be said about the orchids.  I would really love a collection of orchids.  They fascinate me, but because of the constraint on our time here I’m unable to have ‘permanent’ plants.  I wish you guys would organize yourselves into ‘time-share’ for this place and then I could just let our guests take care of everything until we get back.

 

I have bought pots in plants for the windowsill and a plant box, which is made to hang over the railings of the landing plus a wonderful and huge pot of deep red geraniums for the lanai.  All of which have to be thrown away/planted in the grounds somewhere/given to neighbours when we leave.

 

Once our really cold two days were over the rest of our weather has been simply gorgeous – days in the eighties and nights in the sixties – what a terrific way to get through February.

 

The real worry here at this time of year is that it is the dry season and we get a lot of forest fires that often threaten homes on the edges of Naples.  Fortunately they always seem to be contained by the delicious firefighting crews.  Unlike a fire in Monett, Mo.  Apparently firefighters were instructed to stand and watch a fire burn a garage and a car because the property owners hadn’t paid their membership dues!  The owner offered to pay while he battled with the fire but was declined, as they don’t have a policy for ‘on the spot billing’.  The chief said they couldn’t afford to be ‘nice’ about it, as everyone would expect the service for free.  They do actually respond if someone is in danger, but as for property…  Good one! Try and get away with that in Britain.

 

I mentioned making a blind for the guest room in my last piece; this entailed chopping up one of the flat sheets for the fabric needed.  I then searched around for a replacement.  I’d bought the bedding as ‘bed-in-a-bag’ sets.  As it implies you get a bed skirt, comforter, sheets, pillowcases and shams as a complete set.  Subsequently I discovered this is the only way this particular set can be bought.  I emailed three places that sell it and asked if they would let me buy a single flat sheet.  No joy with two of them. Then Bed, Bath and Beyond emailed me to say they only sold complete sets but would look around their stores to see if there was a sheet I could have.  After a couple of days they emailed again to say they’d found me one and it was on its way – giving me the tracking information so we could see where the delivery was up to.  In effect it traveled a couple of thousand miles to me via FedEx.  All this was done and dusted within ten days and there was absolutely no charge.  How about that for the best service ever.  Especially as the originals weren’t even bought from their store!  What incredibly nice folk.

 

The rest of my making and shopping has been pretty low key though I did buy a sewing machine for $59.99.  It is the same as my Brother machine in the UK and about third of its price.  I tried to resist buying another machine as the last one had to be ‘dumped’ on Sandy’s sales when we gave up on Naples before.  We came back here grimly determined not to acquire as much stuff only to have to abandon it again sometime.  Not doing too well on that front I’m afraid.  The machine issue came about because I clarted a mass of fabric to the UK last time to make stuff and never ‘got round to it’ before retuning here.  It is so much easier and to make in situ and the impetus is stronger when you are actually sitting looking at the chairs that need cushions and the windows that need drapes etc.

 

A great shopping bargain was masses of Christmas stuff at Wal-Mart for ten cents on the dollar.  I scooped up all I thought we’d be able to get home in the way of Martha Stewart rolls of Christmas wrap for 49 cents instead of $4.99 – how satisfying is that.  I missed the Cracker Barrel Porch Sale, the Central Library Book Sale, The Church Mouse Sale and the Giant Yard Sale to mention just four – how I need my little English shopping chums over here.  I did make it to Sandy’s Sale at the airport but bought nothing.

 

On the kitchen front I’m still mastering American basics – meat loaf, chicken potpie, cookies et al which is both fun and fattening.  There is a huge ‘Bake-Off’ organized by Pillsbury and held in Florida each year.  I looked at the finalists’ pretty pathetic recipes using Pillsbury products.  I sneered my way through the article about it and thought if it wasn’t so quaint and pathetic and I could be bothered I’d wipe the board with them.  (You know me well enough to know I’m kidding, I hope – but you get the idea).  Any way, the joke’s on me the final prize besides a whole new kitchen and loads of ‘stuff’ is $1,000,000.

 

We do struggle more with food here – there is just so much of it.  Both our weight losses have slowed right down.  Ken has got from sixteen stone to thirteen and I’ve got from fourteen to twelve but now we are doing battle to get it down further.  Being submerged in a nation, which without doubt stuffs its face at every opportunity, does not help.  Every holiday here is a food celebration, the climate encourages ‘cook-outs’ which can’t possibly be done small scale and the cost of eating out is silly cheap.  Any bought food is loaded with sugar, fat and flour.  They are definitely cake faces and even the cookies are killers.  We had one at Joe Muggs instead of a meal a few days ago and it was still double the calories we should have eaten.  Shopping with a list and sticking to it is the only way to get by.  So eating at home is OK and fairly restrained but we eat out an average of three times a week, which rather blows the calorie budget.  The upside is that if you halve your meal before you start and doggy bag it you do get lunch the next day for ‘free’.

 

Our Dinner Theatre trip this month (on Valentine’s Day) was ‘How to Succeed in Business Without Even trying’.  This was a new one on both of us – heard of it, of course, but never seen it.  As usual it was all good fun on stage, off stage and in the food and champagne department.  We waddled home content as ever.  This particular day had started well as we had our hair cut for $9.95 at our local hairdressers.  It is normally all of $13 but we had a discount voucher!  I also succumbed to a spa pedicure and manicure.  I always think it is a good idea to spend forty dollars when you’ve saved three.  The hand and feet job is terrific value.  You get to sit in a massage chair which pummels you as required while someone messes with your feet and hands for an hour.  Deep joy.

 

I’m waiting for a min-Ken to appear in the world somewhere.  He’s doing spectacularly badly for receiving stuff at the moment.  His driving license didn’t arrive and we had to go back to get a replacement.  At least they are able to issue this instantly after a phone call to Tallahassee.  Mine came without a hitch.  He’s had several goes at getting a $25 cheque, which is due to him and is endlessly chasing up purchase refunds from computer stuff.  We opened a new account and my bankcard and then the PIN arrived promptly and safely.  Neither of Ken’s turned up and he’s had to re-apply for those.  It smacks of a conspiracy somewhere.

 

As Naples turns more and more into a proper city we are noticing some negative changes in people’s behavior and it is feeling crowded. Six years ago, even in season, the beaches were fairly free of folk now they’re really busy, especially at weekends.  Similarly with roads and shops.  Always the same bind if you find somewhere nice – so will everyone else.  One the crime level we had a murder/suicide here this month – the first killing since 2001 when a man killed his wife who was dying of cancer.  The previous killing was ten years ago and again a ‘domestic’ killing.  So we do pretty well considering.  To illustrate the level of the usual violence here a recent story of domestic violence was a man being charged because he pushed his wife and struck her with a macaroni and cheese box.  I know it probably wasn’t funny really but you can get a lot of good jokes out of this one.  Ken just wants to know if he was cooking his own ‘mac ‘n cheese’ or whether he was just sick of her cooking it.

 

Another ‘crime’ also amused me.  Our local paper The Naples News was appealing for the return of a camera.  Some smart journalist had decided it would be a great idea to hand out a single use digital camera to someone on the street and ask them to take one photo and pass it on to someone else along with the same instructions and so on, with the last person returning it to the paper who would then publish the photos.  Sort of visual pop vox.  Guess what it never came home.

 

The plus side of urban growth I suppose is the huge amount of stuff to do.  I quite literally have something listed in my diary that one or both of us are interested in for every single day. We don’t get to do them all but they are there if wanted. 

 

I went to a wonderful Quilters’ Guild exhibition.  There were about three hundred quilts on display and most of them took your breath away.  The originality and skill is astounding – a real art form.  There was a quilt by the exit that was lovely but clearly not new and it was surrounded by photographs.  I stopped to look and the lady who made it told me the story and why it was there.  She makes and enters quilts for exhibitions and competitions but this was the ‘wedding ring’ quilt she’d made her son and daughter in law for their wedding.  It used to sit on a chest at the foot of their bed when it wasn’t being used.  Their home was in New Orleans; hence the pictures showing some of the incredible devastation from Katrina.  The shell of her son’s home was still standing but was filled with filthy muddy, oily slime half way up the ground floor walls and covering everything.  The second floor had caved in and the furniture had fallen through.  They had lost almost everything including his grandparents’ grandfather clock and other stuff that meant such a lot to them.  The chest with the quilt had come through the ceiling and managed to land on top of the mud with the quilt still on top of it.  They rescued it and there were pictures of them at her house hosing it down on the lawn to get the worst of the stuff off and then washing it in the bath.  It is even more precious to them now as it is one of a handful of things they’ve managed to rescue from their former life.  They are back in their house, with their two children, living upstairs while they get it fixed.

 

We’ve been following a film series at our local library (for free) on a Wednesday afternoon.  This series has been focusing on America at War.  There was an Alan Alda called ‘Sweet Liberty’ which was pretty light weight but good to see twenty years or so after it’s debut.  We then saw the strangest one called ‘1776’.  This was a musical about the fight for Independence.  A bit like watching Parliamentary debates set to music.  For me it was just plain silly and very, very long at 166 minutes.  It was apparently a big hit on Broadway in 1972 and 73.

 

Our commercial cinema movies had a slight hiccup this month – we arrived at the complex to be told they were closed as the sprinklers had gone off and it would take a while to sort.  This is the same cinema that had a fire recently and the manager was arrested for molesting a young lad – there’s a long and incredible story attached to that one. That said we managed to see ‘Matchpoint’ and ‘Firewall’ this month.  Pretty forgettable for me.

 

I’ve also dragged Ken off to a Native Florida Plant lecture at our Community Center (which we seem to use a lot).  The guy doing it was excellent, informative and amusing so Ken actually didn’t suffer that much.  I was fascinated.  I sometimes think it is like landing on another planet as I’m surrounded by sub-tropical plants and critters that I can’t name.  I was especially interested in The Master Gardeners’ Series of Lectures because I’d got caught up in the gardening committee for our association – I was actually invited to join but declined.  However, I did say I’d find out stuff for them – hence this lecture.  I now know all about sub-tropical littoral planting.  Smart old Ken knew what the word meant….  I’ll leave you with it.  ,

 

Our other sojourn to the Norris Center was for ‘No Cocoa for Nigel’ – another English farce for the Pelican Players.  I wonder why they choose these.  It would have been excellent had it been reworked for a Naples setting as it was about an estate agent subletting someone’s property before they moved in – not unheard of over here.  Again so much of the humour depends on understanding English nuances.  Much is lost on the audience (though they all seem to enjoy it hugely) and some is even lost on the players themselves.

 

Our other trips to Cambier Park, where the Norris Center is located, have been for the Sunday Concerts in the Park.  These are a real pleasure.  Free concerts, good music, entertaining commentaries and sun and ice cream.  What more is there on a Sunday afternoon.

 

My books this month have been the usual Dean Koontz and Jonathan Kellerman novels but I did read one by Ben Elton which I enjoyed called ‘Past Mortem’.

 

I’m actually typing this on the first day of Spring (20th March) yes I know it’s a bit late but it is very hard to find a big block of time.  As it is Ken is at the pool and I’m indoors tapping away. I don’t hear a lot of sympathy coming my way from you.

 

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March

Spring is sprung.....

 

 

On the one hand I’m feeling pretty smug because I’m writing March’s recollections on the 1st of April – something of a record; on the other hand I’ve just noticed how few notes I made last month so this may be a bit sparse.  Ah well, here goes…..

 

Spring is decidedly sprung here.  We haven’t had a drop of rain in weeks and none is expected until May.  Now we are a bit more used to being here we are able to detect the shift in seasons.  When we arrived I remember thinking how lush and green everywhere was and, in a way, how sad it was that they don’t experience the drama of bare trees.  In actuality there is a distinct difference here between winter and spring landscapes.  Now we are surrounded by a landscape that is truly lush and green.  The trees are thick with fresh pale growth that positively shines in the sunlight.  There are more trees in blossom – some of them very spectacularly.  (I only wish I could name them – more study next visit) The common stuff such as Plumbago, Hibiscus, Oleander, Gardenias and Jasmine are just dripping with flowers.  Such fecundity.

 

I always like to temper ‘waxing lyrical’ with a reality check so….  I recently discovered that there is a critter called a palm rat, i.e. a rat which nests in the top of palm trees.  So next time you look at pictures of paradise and evocative palms just remember the rodent and his domicile.

 

The month began with a trip to our wonderful library for another movie in the America at War series we’ve been following.  We are always given a short but very interesting introduction to the movie, which adds to the understanding and enjoyment of what we’re about to see.  The series ended this month.  We have managed to see all the ones we wanted to see and I have come away from them with a little more understanding of the American psyche.  I think having a shared language and a partially shared history fools me into thinking we are almost the same.  The longer we are here the more I understand that we are in a ‘foreign’ country.  This is in no way a negative observation.  When we go to any other country I expect the differences; here, they often surprise me.

 

A tiny (light weight) illustration of this is the impressive (or not) naming of Attorneys at Law.  Here are a couple of our local ones – Cheffy, Passidomo, Wilson and Johnson then we have the inimitable Goldstein, Buckley, Cechman, Rice & Purtz PA.  I always amuse my self by imagining them picking their partners carefully so they can get the company name to chime.  Whatever do they do when someone wants to leave? This have become more resonant as I’ve just finished ‘King of Torts’ – now there’s a book to illustrate one difference between our countries – though we’re getting there.

 

On the subject of names how do you take a newsreader seriously when he is called Bay Scroggins? His co-anchor is Kristen Fogelsten, which is very little improvement on his moniker.  This is our local news duo.

 

I’ve posted a couple of vehicle pictures on the usual website (http://www.byphotos.com/album/2808631) one is a swamp buggy and the other is an old Caddy – both couldn’t be more American.  The swamp buggy races were this month.  We didn’t go – I took the picture in a restaurant car park where we’d just had lunch.  There are a few more folders on the site from this trip if you want to have a look.

 

We’ve only managed to get to the commercial movies a couple of times this month.  They’ve both been ‘Ken’ films but were OK.  ‘16 Blocks’ with Bruce Willis for whom I usually have little time but I thought he was interesting in this one.  He plays a raddled, paunchy cop – so good to see him without the Hollywood dazzle.  The other one was The Inside Man with a plethora of ‘stars’ including the always interesting (not to mention downright sexy) Clive Owen, Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster.  It would have been difficult for this movie not to have its moments with the cast it had.  So, all in all, not to shabby for the average shoot-em-ups.

 

The theatre trips have been pretty varied.  Some amateur dramatic companies, a one-woman/singer show and ‘La Cage au Folles’ at the Dinner Theatre, which was absolutely perfect for its venue – the audience just loved it.  It was a good night out for us as it was the obligatory meal, champagne and outing for our (tenth) wedding anniversary neatly bundled into one location.  We’ve also been to a couple of concerts in the park, which we thoroughly enjoy.  Again these are free – bucketeers come round in the interval but there is absolutely no pressure to donate – and a few people don’t seem to.  We sit in the shade – I read and listen, Ken listens ‘properly’ and we fill our faces with wonderful Italian Ice Cream.  Is there a better way to kill a couple of hours after lunch on Sunday?

 

Before the concert the band always plays the Star Spangled Banner, followed by the Canadian National Anthem.  I am a real sucker for this – I find it very emotional – absolutely everyone stands, the men all remove their hats and most of them sing either or both of the anthems.  I am sorry this sort of unity is mocked and seen as jingoistic at home.  I am convinced the more you can bind people together with shared rituals of all sorts the more we can live together with a sense of not living among strangers.

 

At our last concert we were introduced to a long-time supporter of the Naples Concert Band who still winters here every year and attends each performance – Leona Tuttle, aged 110!  I am looking forward to my introduction in another fifty years.

 

Another longevity story was quite cute:  A man aged 100 has decided to retire from his job of supervisor of a team of bus cleaners.  He was quoted as saying that he didn’t intend to be idle in retirement and would like to do some volunteer work ‘helping the elderly’.

 

I’ve been totally lazy with my reading over here – I haven’t made any effort to find anything new or challenging I’ve just settled back into the familiar Jonathan Kellerman, Dean Koontz, John Grisham and their ilk.  I had a tome about the Kennedy’s and gave up on that pretty quickly and I had a brief flirtation with ‘The Queen and I’ (Sue Townsend) but found that unreadable after the initial joke wore thin.  Another of my failures has been ‘Mary Chesnut’s Civil War’.  The latter has simply beaten me by my choosing it too late to get through its 863 pages – not to mention the 50-page index.  It is an actual civil war diary and can be enthralling in parts but like all diaries (!) you have to trawl through a heck of a lot of dross for the occasional nugget. 

 

Our fifteen (!) meals out this month have been at our usual venues – only one new one added to the list.  Our neighbours – sorry ‘neighbors’ as they are of the American variety – took us to Ci Ci’s.  This is a buffet Pizza place.  All you can eat salads, pasta, pizza, desserts, and sodas.  All this for $11.98 for the two of us.  I like it because Ken likes pizza and I’m not too keen.  I always think it’s like eating a giant sandwich and I get bored with it pretty quickly.  This way he can have all the pizza he wants and I get to try a bit of everything.  Excellent.

 

You’ll gather from this that our weight losses have gone on hold – I’m only up a pound and holding so am not too distrait.  I will fight the flab again in earnest when we get home.  My low self-esteem was lifted a little, as always at someone else's expense, by an article about a lady who had a tummy tuck.  It was actually more of a box pleating session but here’s the gist of the story.  She had 132 lbs of stomach fat removed by surgery.  That is not a mistype.  They have not disclosed her weight before and after surgery.  Apparently to lie down to sleep she had to put her stomach on a bedside table. I do feel sorry for her but shaudenfreud kicks in here and I have to admit it helps me feel less of a failure.

 

Having lost two stone many of my clothes don’t fit.  I have a handy tip for any of you out there with clothes too large for you – forget the hours of sewing – put them on the dryer when it says ‘line-dry’.  This doesn’t always work, of course – some of my stuff now would fit a small cairn terrier but here and there I’ve regained some clothing.  I’m happy to say a few of my trousers still look like gaucho pants and I can now go to the loo without undoing them. (Too much information?)  I have to be careful not to turn around too quickly in my blouses as they end up buttoned down the back.  I think exaggeration has now crept in.

 

The earlier tale of blood and (tummy) gore reminds me of my futile attempt to give our American chums some blood.  I was refused, as I am a Brit!  We are suspects for mad cow disease.  How doolally is that?  I assume that everyone else has to sign an affidavit that they’ve not been to Europe since whenever and have never eaten British Beef.  Even crazier than this was our poor neighbour who had messed with a tiny spot on her face – she was told it might be a sign of some blood infection.  Again, I can only assume they do strip searches of every potential donor to ascertain whether they have any spots anywhere.  The clincher to this was an article in the paper bemoaning the fact that the snowbirds hadn’t answered their call to the ‘winter’ blood drive.  I give up.

 

John Richardson came for a short visit (7th, 8th, 9th), which was really nice, and meant we managed to have a visitor on this trip too.  I hope our stays here will always include someone from ‘home’ (so far, so good), as they are even more enjoyable when they are shared.  He and Ken went flying for two days.  They managed to get in a trip to Everglades city and an airboat ride, which, Ken said, was better than any we’d done before.  They went out into the bay as well as the ‘glades so besides gators they got to see dolphin and even a manatee – or a bit of a disappearing one. 

 

We had dinner at Cedar Hammock.  Ken and I chose this as a nice quiet local venue as everywhere else is so packed at this time of year.  It was heaving and was like eating in a school cafeteria for the noise level.  The next night we chose a place on Fifth – ‘Mangrove’ – expecting to fight the crowds and be generally ignored in a busy eatery.  You guessed it – half empty and peaceful with attentive service.  Food’s good too!  A fast lunch at Cracker Barrel to see him off on Thursday and our little holiday was over.  That’s why we like visitors so much we get to go on holiday with them.

 

Bikers’ Week has been with us this month.  Strictly speaking it is in Daytona but many places around Florida catch the overspill from it.  There have been 20 bikers killed in one week.  Very few of them wear helmets here and the record number of deaths has fueled the controversy as to whether it should be required by law.  In particular the death of Bruce Thalheimer added fuel to the debate.  This was a guy who owned a diamond store in Naples and is one of the well-known (multi-millionaire) wealthy movers and shakers here who did a huge amount for charity and the city.  He tried to pass a truck and hit another bike head on.  There was a lot of debate as to whether he was wearing his helmet, as he was an avid campaigner for a helmet law.  In the end it was decided he was.  It was something of a lose/lose situation in terms of supporting his cause.  If he wore a helmet and died then the argument goes.. ‘What’s the point in wearing a helmet?’  If he wasn’t wearing one we then have – ‘even Thalheimer never used to bother all the time’.  There’s certainly some irony to be gleaned from this story.  Surely the problem wasn’t ‘helmet or no helmet’ it was that he shouldn’t have been passing the truck!

 

We finally made it to the beach on the 14th (week 10?)!  Now we’ve found it again we’ve scrabbled in as many visits as we’ve been able to manage in a desperate attempt to soak it up to take home – too little, too late I suspect.  I treat a beach on the doorstep in the same (poor) way that I treat friends and family – I always think it’ll be there when I want it and I always mean to go, but never make enough effort to ‘stay in touch’.  I must do better in both respects.  There I go again….

 

We went to the shops for nothing in particular one Saturday and ended up buying bedroom furniture from Rooms-to-Go.  I’ve never particularly liked the set we got with the apartment but was grimly determined not to start doing what I’ve done in every house - i.e. buy loads of stuff and leave it when we sell.  The cost is scary and also there is a bit of a wrench for me each time when I’ve made a home and then abandon it.  So this time was going to be different – I would settle for the condo ‘as is’ and if, unlikely though this is, we stayed a couple of years I would then think about ‘doing stuff’ like furnishing and decorating.  As I said before that didn’t last long and I’ve already bought and made and fiddled about with the place but this was something of a major purchase.  I hope that wherever we head next all this will be shippable. 

 

For my shopperoonies out there, it is a ‘cottage style’ (the American version of such), antiqued/painted white wood bed with headboard and foot rail – sort of reeded wood with a fretted trim on top, a six-foot dresser with huge mirror and two bedside cabinets with two drawers – made to look like three.  All this for $1197.  In addition to this they were offering no charge until 2008 – no catch with this such as accruing interest – straight deal of just don’t pay ‘til 2008.  Unfortunately we came unstuck at the usual point of not having a social security number – this is a real pain and one you can’t get round – legally!

 

They also deliver stock items the next day.  They didn’t have two of our pieces in store – for which they were very sorry – but would deliver in two weeks.  As we won’t be around they will store our stuff for us – no charge until we come back.  Give them a ring when we know when we want it and it will appear.  I love American service – whacks ours into fits.  Not to mention the Swedes – try this with Ikea!  I think Ken says we had to pay a $16 delivery charge as we are a bit of a distance from the store.

 

We hope our neighbour’s children want our old bedroom set – they will have a look at it when they come to visit next week – after we’ve left - and remove it from the place while we’re away.  Failing that Carole says she knows a couple of other people who might want it.  If this falls down we will just consign or donate it to a charity when we get back.  It is at times like this when I wish me and mine lived nearer each other.

 

My only other significant purchase so far is a new watch.  My old one – so old I can’t remember when I got it – has been galloping through batteries at a rate of knots – well one every six months or so.  It ate the last one in less than three months.  Its face pretty much resembles mine as it is covered in fine lines (and some fairly hefty grooves).  I garnered all my willpower and went in search of the elusive watch for Marilyn.  Let me just say it doesn’t exist.  No, I don’t know what I want but I know all the reasons why I don’t want every watch out there.  They are too shiny, not shiny enough, too small, too big, no numbers, no date, no day, coloured faces, funny shapes, ugly bracelets; need I go on?  I have settled on a $100.70 Skaagan (Swedish) job in stainless steel that I hope I’ll grow to love.

 

On the smaller but regular bargain scale our grocery here costs so much less than at home and then you get reductions: a recent bill for $11.66, which was a couple of days of food, showed offers totaling $4.18 making our total to pay $7.48.  I once had a copy of an old book called ‘The Frugale Housewyfe’ which was American – it seems nothing’s changed.

 

Now for the moan.  As I mentioned last month we seem to be having trouble with our post – taking too long and stuff not arriving.  Ken has ‘lost 2 bankcards and their following PINs.  When he rang the post office it seems they’ve had problems with their redirect system and some stuff is being redirected to ‘ some folk’s Northern address’ when it shouldn’t be and ‘no’ they couldn’t say ‘if that included us’.  So, thanks to this, my (English) Mothers’ day arrived without my kids cards and presents.  Fortunately they did turn up a couple of days later.

 

Because Ken’s bank cards have failed to arrive twice we have been regular visitors to our new bank (Wachovia).  We’ve been in and out of the bank like a fiddler’s elbow.  Our last trip to a different branch to get a safety deposit box (free of charge) was interesting.  All the staff looked extremely casual.  I figured it must be ‘dress-down-Friday’ – thinking in my anal British way that it was a daft concept for an institution that’s all about dealing with customers.  They looked especially ‘scruffy’ so I started to study what they were actually wearing and was certainly surprised when the girl serving us appeared from behind her desks wearing kneepads over her jeans!  A more senior person came out from her office at the back in scrubs and with a stethoscope round her neck.  By now our ‘associate’ was explaining that it was a day they thanked their business customers by wearing their uniforms to advertise for them.  What was I saying earlier about a different mind-set?  This bank, like most of them, has coffee, orange juice, doughnuts, cookies on tap for customers and was also selling candy and had sign up sheets for ‘March of the Dimes’ charity.

 

The last two days of the month have definitely finished on a high.  We spent part of Thursday (30th) at the Art Gallery and on Friday (31st) we went to a play at the Norris center. 

 

The exhibition at the Phil of Andrew Wyeth’s (and his father’s and his son’s) paintings was marvellous.  It included the Helga collection, which was being shown for the last time before returning to private owners.  There were also paintings, which hadn’t been shown before.  I suspect the owner probably lives (or winters) in Naples.

 

His work is wonderful even as prints, but to see the detail in the actual painting is just mind blowing.  I apologise for that expression but in this instance it is a very precise choice of words.  I can’t explain to you the sort of wonder I feel when I see such brilliance.  It literally does take your breath away.  Whether you do or don’t like his choice of subject or composition or anything else you could not possibly not be awed by his mastery of a brush.  I love everything about his work so it was a real privilege for me to see it ‘close up’ and in the ‘flesh’.  The gallery also had an exhibition of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work.  I can be a bit pickier about this.  Some is certainly striking – all is very ‘honest’ but it doesn’t make my heart sing like the Wyeth paintings can.  I probably only have two more painters to see on my ‘before I die’ list and they are Caravaggio and Klimt.  I do have an extensive ‘it would be good to see them list’ so a gallery need never go to waste.  I nearly saw Caravaggio on our ‘honeymoon’.  We queued for about three hours at the Uffizi in Florence in unrelenting April rain and cold.  I was quite literally soaked to the skin through summer shoes and a shower proof mac, but I was determined to stick it out as it was possibly the only chance I might have of seeing this work.  When we got into the gallery the Caravaggio area was closed for renovation because of a bombing the previous year.  Better luck next time.

 

The play at The Norris Center was astonishing.  This is our Community Center, which houses all kinds of stuff.  We go as often as we can – in part to support something in the community and also because you do get to see some quirkily different things.  This was a company called Stage 88, which, I assume, is an amateur company.  They were stunningly good.  I kid you not – this is not in the least patronizing or with an undercurrent of …’ good for amateur ‘.  They would stand as excellent against most companies I’ve seen.  The play was extremely interesting on many levels.  It was Called ‘Anton in Show Business’.  The first layer was a comedy about a small company being cast for Three Sisters in a hick town in Texas.  The next level was an interesting debate on whether theatre is answering the needs of the 21st century and does it deserve to survive.  There was even a member of the cast in the audience playing the part of a theatre critic.  There was a narrator to draw it together and the final scene is one of the actors actually being ‘present’ in the Norris Center in Naples and telling us why she wants to act.  (All this is well scripted and well written I might add), just in case you are getting the impression it was just some ‘arty’ diatribe).  It was astoundingly good and, certainly for me, the best this season bar none.

 

The end of the month also saw my son’s 30th birthday.  As a mom my kids’ birthdays seem to mark out my life too.  I now join all the millions of other mothers who have said this:  ‘I can’t believe it is thirty years since I had Chris’ – ‘it seems like only yesterday’ and the classic, ‘he’ll always be my little boy’.  (Hope you cringed nicely at all that, Chris).  I’m not going to struggle to put any of it more profoundly – smart or not – it says it all.

 

At the same time Sally took off on a jaunt around Paris for a few days with some chums seeing the sights.  Now I know I’m old – it sounds wonderful until I actually think about doing it and then I remember French hotels, traffic, noise, and aching feet.  I hope she’s young enough not to notice any of this and has a wonderful time.  I did at fifteen!  Yes folks that was in 1960 and you could still cross a boulevard and no one had heard of McDonalds or Starbucks.  I wonder what Sally will be saying about her present trip in 2051.

 

I’ll leave you with a cute ‘discovery’ whilst searching houses yet again.  This time I was looking in New Orleans – they want people to buy the old property and do it up.  The ones I was reading about are called ‘shotgun houses’.  I finally discovered why.  They were built in the 1800’s for workers.  They are rectangular houses on four feet high legs (for flooding!).  They open from a wide front porch to a living room, which goes through into a dining room, which goes through a bedroom and then a kitchen.  Yes, I have got the order right – I can’t imagine carrying food from the kitchen through a bedroom to the dining room.  Strangely enough I think I remember the description in Sue Monk’s (?) ‘The secret Life of Bees’.  Any way the ‘shotgun’ name stems from the fact that if you open all the doors you can fire a shotgun from front porch through the house and exit the rear door without hitting anything.  A double shotgun is a semi.  Watch this space.

 

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April

 

Familiarity breeds contempt…

 

April began with the opening of the Florida Uplands Preserve at the Botanical Gardens.  We were invited as we are members of the Gardens.  We were lucky enough to walk part of the way with the actual ‘gardener’ – a grizzled Floridian who certainly knew his stuff and managed to be interesting, informative and entertaining – no easy task.  It is amusing to think that the gradient of these uplands rises to as much as seven feet above sea level.  After being teased by a ‘northerner’ someone walking ahead of us did say that it’s worse for a Floridian to go north as there’s no oxygen.  The Preserve is stunning and will be more so in a couple of year’s time when it has come to fruition.

 

In the afternoon we took of for a tent sale in Fleischmann Park.  This is precisely what it says – a bunch of tents set up with vendors – usually arts and crafts – flogging their stuff.  Carole sent us because she’d spotted a quilt she thought I might like.  Dead right it was lovely but I chickened out.  I just wasn’t sure without having seen the new furniture in place.  This is beyond masculine comprehension it seems – Ken 1 and 2 and Phil and Ted being good examples of “Whaaaattt?”  All the ladies got it. 

 

By the 2nd we were truly counting down the hours to our departure and began the packing.  On each trip from the UK we’ve used our 280 lbs (total) baggage allowance to haul stuff over for the condo, which seems pretty reasonable.  What doesn’t seem quite as reasonable is that we seem to return to the UK still using our limit.  As ever this time we managed to nearly fill three (70 lb) suitcases.  When Christmas is ten cents on the dollar and all my fat clothes need to worn out this summer it seems unavoidable. 

 

We always bring in our lanai furniture for the hurricane season but this time we even had to remove things from the walls as the units are being painted in our absence.

 

On the 3rd we still hadn’t quite given up on Naples as we had our last trip to the Dinner Theatre for ‘All Night Strut’ – an excellent show – they certainly work their little socks off.

 

Normally we fly out of Fort Myers which gives us all morning of the last day to do stuff like laundry and emptying fridge and so on but this time as we were flying out of Orlando and had an early start we had to use what would have been our last whole day doing chores. 

 

And so to the trip home.  Orlando was a perfect nightmare.  We queued for an hour to check-in!  Then we queued for a further 30 minutes to go through to the gate.  Fortunately our road trip had been easy and uneventful and we arrived earlier than we planned.  Not an easy thing to do as we had to make two Cracker Barrel stops en route.  We stopped for lunch at the first one where I bought a few bits and bobs.  By the time we’d gone ten minutes I decided I needed another six of something I’d seen for stocking fillers for Christmas – hence the second stop later in the trip.  This could be seen as my last desperate attempt to keep shopping until the final minute.

 

We got into a very cold Manchester at 7.25 am.  Our good friends Phil and Sue collected us so at least we didn’t have to stand around for half an hour and more for the usual ‘delayed’ taxi pick-up. The other advantage being we don’t get to make a lunch arrangement with the taxi driver – not so with Phil and Sue – 1 pm saw us at a local Carvery setting off as we mean to go on.

 

Unpacking three huge cases is fine – finding somewhere to put all the stuff in our tiny house not so clever.  It seems to take several days.

 

Our third day at home began with blue skies and spring sunshine, the breeze built into a fairly ferocious wind which ultimately brought rain and then hail the size of gravel which finally turned into enough snow to settle overnight.  All this is one day. 

 

The end of the week we caught up with the rest of the ‘Secret Seven’ over an exceptionally good lunch at La Tama.  Next Day was dinner at The Bull.  I seem to have lost the knack of food shopping and cooking back here.  Quelle domage!

 

Day six and we were back at the airport to take Sue and Phil for their flights to Spain.  Now that’s really painful; being in Manchester airport and not flying out somewhere.  We stopped by Margaret’s (Ken’s sister) on the way home to deliver a DVD and on our homeward trip got caught in the hellish ‘teatime’ traffic of the UK motorway system.  How soon you forget.

 

I spent a complete day messing around sorting out my computer and updating with the backups from the States and a new load of photos.  This cost me a pan of burnt chicken stock (being made for chicken soup later).  It isn’t something I’d recommend as the smell lingers for days.  As a footnote to this – I rearranged my photo files into a ‘much better system’ that has since proved to be rubbish and now I need to put them all back as was.  Additionally during this shuffling I seem to have lost odds and ends of photos.  Time well spent.

 

After eight days at home I gave in and decided we needed to do a proper food shop at Tesco’s.  What a nightmare.  Soooo crowded, long queues and most of all such ignorant, ill-mannered people – staff and customers.  What ever happened to the Englishness of England?

 

My food shopping was really prompted by the fact that my kids came for the Easter weekend.  They were guinea pigs for a ‘Hallmark’ salad.  To explain…   Hallmark – the card people – are about to launch a magazine and wrote to a few customers to ask if they’d like to ‘test’ recipes for them and give them feedback.  I thought this would be fun (?) interesting (?) whatever…  We had a greatly amusing lunch being professional foodies but in short decided Hallmark might be better sticking to greetings cards.  Not true really it was an OK recipe and with some judicial tweaking has entered my collection of ‘keepers’.

 

We spent Easter Sunday in Blackpool, partly so Gayle (Chris’s partner) could see it.  This is just about all she did.  It was certainly a whistle stop tour of the pleasure beach, the tower, Fleetwood and Cleveleys.  We threw in a fish and chip lunch in a ‘chippy’ – an absolute for an English seaside trip and so home to another fish meal (baked salmon).  We had all agreed prior to the weekend – no Easter eggs etc as we are all far too grown up for this.  Needless to say, in private, we all decided that seemed a bit miserable and so on Sunday we exchanged the usual amount of sugar overload, which we duly ate.  We  then added to this some candy floss (cotton candy) and quarter pounds of ‘old-fashioned’ sweets from the seaside.   This is my idea of a great weekend even if I felt foul for days afterwards.

 

The kids left early the next morning after breakfast – I returned to bed for a couple of hours.  All this having fun is certainly tiring.  I hope they had as good a time as I did.

 

A couple of US and UK comparisons have just sprung to mind.  We have great washing machines over here – I think they do a much better job than my American ones.  The down side being they only take about a quarter of the washing and the average wash cycle takes about four times longer.  The thing I really miss is my super huge dryer in the States.  I spend the whole day washing and drying in the UK and about three hours in Naples.

 

The other thing I was thinking about was the annoying business of cold calling to flog you stuff you don’t want and would never buy over a phone any way.  We were being pestered by calls from Chase Bank in Naples.  Finally I picked up a call and said we were being pestered with these calls and was there some way they could note we simply weren’t interested.  I received many gracious apologies and an assurance we would be removed from their list and an apology in advance as it would take some days and we might still get a call or two from them.  We didn’t and that was that.  We have actually installed a block on such calls over here and still get the occasional one who of course can/will do nothing to remove you from their list.

 

On the car front there are some shocking differences.  In Naples Ken had a couple of things done on the Lincoln – the air-conditioning unit was topped up for $20 – here they want to charge £79.  He also had the brakes skimmed for $50 and here they’d like £400.  Do you ever get the feeling you’re simply being ripped off?

 

I have been flogging round clothes shops trying to replace fat clothes – without success.  I must have reached that ‘funny age’ that you remember your mom reaching when all she kept saying in shops was – ‘aren’t all the clothes ugly now’ – ‘I wore that 40 years ago’ – ‘all the clothes are for kids’.  Even old faithfuls like M & S and Next and Principles have joined the ranks.  Doesn’t anyone even make a pair of narrow (ish) straight leg trousers that actually go from waist to ankle?  There are baggies, bootlegs, and skintight stretch – all starting at somewhere below the belly button and ending in all kinds of places.

 

The frantic clothes hunt was due, in part, to a trip to Ireland at the end of the month for my brother-in-law’s (Ken 1’s) birthday.  This is where reading this becomes even more of a challenge than usual.  We have managed to duplicate several names in the family.  There are three Pam’s – my sister, my nephew’s partner and the girl who shares the flat with my daughter.  There are three Ken’s – my husband, my sister’s husband and my niece’s partner.  There are two Sally’s – my daughter and my sister’s dog.  There were two Ben’s – my great nephew and my sister’s other dog - the dog is no more.  I suspect this would not be a happy solution for all the other duplications.

 

The trip was a surprise for Ken 1!  He came up to us on Thursday night after work supposedly to spend his birthday weekend with us.  At 3.50 am on Friday I was tapping their bedroom door to say it was time to get up.  Pam hauled him from his bed announcing they were leaving for a trip to Ireland to see his son and grandson.  We were supposedly just taking them to the airport.  At the airport he then discovered we were going too; and so the weekend went on.  It was on a decidedly on a ‘need to know’ basis.

 

In Belfast airport the girl at the car hire desk learned it was Ken’s birthday weekend and gave us a free upgrade – we were hysterical when it turned out to be a Skoda!  It had seats like planks of wood but a great boot and seemed to be hidden somewhere near Fermanagh.  Boy, did we have to walk to get to the car park. (in the freezing cold)

 

Our trip really began properly in Ballymoney with a lunch at Pam 2’s parents (Bob and Barbara).  This is a lady who would win a gold at the cooking Olympics.  She presented us with four ‘lunches’ – chicken and ham, lasagna, chili and a pie and cheese salad.  I’m not sure if we were supposed to choose one – I had it all.  This was followed by the best of apple pies and cream and/or ice cream and strawberries.  You may be astonished to learn that by about 8.30 that night we were all sitting down to fish and chips from the local chippy – Flash-In-The-Pan – isn’t that the greatest name?

 

We stayed in a super cottage actually at the Giants Causeway in Bushmills.

 

On Saturday we began the day with breakfast in Bushmills.  The foolhardy or very brave had a full Irish for the princely sum of £3.75.  Pam, Ken’s 1 and 2, Ben and me went for a drive along the coast – Portballintrae, Portrush, Portstewart and back to the White Rocks and Ballintoy.  An exquisitely pretty area and pretty much unspoilt.  I wonder how long this will last now the troubles are so much more settled.

 

We replaced lunch with an Italian ice cream at Morrelli’s in Portstewart.  We were the only people doing so as it was a truly freezing day and every other customer was huddled in there around steaming coffee and hot chocolate.  What can I say – we were on holiday and you just have to do it.  A food discovery – there’s some sort of ‘crunchie’ called ‘yellow man’ in Ireland which Ben says is different from the usual honeycomb stuff.

 

Ken and I spent part of the afternoon doing a tour of Bushmills Distillery, which was pretty interesting, but the freebie was wasted on me being a virtual non-drinker.

 

Dinner in the evening with Nicky and Pam 2 joining us was in Kelly’s in Ballimoney.  Excellent food and then we had the cabaret.  The obligatory Irish drunk wandered in from the bar to burble at us.  We pieced together his rhetoric between us and decided it was something about Marie Curie on a horse wearing ice skates with Mark Curry at an Irish race track – well something like that.

 

Ken’s 65th was on Sunday and we went for a terrific lunch at The Causeway Hotel.  Eleven finally made it to lunch – me, Pam, Pam, Ken, Ken, Nicky, Ben, Bob, Barbara and another daughter Becky and her 16 month old cutie called Luke.  Everyone came back to the cottage. 

 

Ken and I went to the Giants Causeway for a little look – which was certainly turned out to be just that.  As we arrived it began to rain.  In a way I was quite relieved.  I like to claim that I have never been to Ireland without it raining – so the record remains.

 

Pam 1 did a huge buffet tea, which no one could even approach until about 9 pm but we made a good effort.

 

Not a bad ending for our first month back in the UK.

 

By now you may have realized that this has been a month of giving up on the careful eating.  I am now four pounds heavier than my best weight.  I think Ken is somewhere around the same.  We aren’t beating ourselves to death over this but I’m happy to report that we are back on track.

 

I’ve certainly noticed already that we don’t do half the things we do in Florida.  I am sure Manchester and its environs must be rich in theatres, libraries, shops, restaurants, cinemas et al but as the heading says – familiarity breeds contempt.  You don’t seem to bother with the place you live in.  Part of the reason for me is certainly the weather – most things become a bit of a ‘flog’ if you have to go out in cold and wet to do them.  Any theatre in Manchester for example entails a long drive – we’d never repeat our last experience of going on the tram – then a hike from an expensive car park and this is lousy weather.  The play has to be very inviting.  The Lowry where you can at least park nearby is offering Wars of the Roses.  Shakespeare’s Three Kings trilogy – all a bit ‘A’ Level for me – was never fond of the Kings. 

 

Even movies and books have been minimal.  Our only movie for this month has been ‘Ice Age II’ – a no brainer but funny enough.  The couple of reasonable movies on offer we’d already seen in the States.  This confusion on watchable stuff is even worse on TV – we gave up on trying to follow West Wing and similar series as each country was in a different place on more than two channels. 

 

My books have been so forgettable I’ve forgotten them – with the exception of ‘The Painted House’ by John Grisham.  I’m not entirely convinced he wrote it.  Not only is the story so far removed from his usual narratives but also he has an entirely different voice.  It is one I’d recommend.

 

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May

 

May 2006

 

On the first of the month we returned to Manchester (from Ireland) with Pam and Ken. After one of our bargain carvery lunches at Salingers (The Village) Pam and Ken left for home and I did my usual post-holiday flop. 

 

I spent the next day trawling Bury for a decent wool shop.  It’s many years since I knitted anything – probably baby clothes for the kids – Chris is 30!  Thanks to Pam 2 in Ireland I’d discovered a super silky type thread, which produced a wonderful fabric so I returned with the fervor of the newly converted and began the hunt.  I was astonished to find that all the places I once knew had disappeared.  Why this should astound me I don’t know but I do kid myself that I am thoroughly embedded here and know all its little crooks and nannies.  Meanwhile time is secretly robbing me of the familiar.

 

Talking of time and familiar brings me to Bob Dylan.  He has broken the mould yet again and reinvented himself as a fifties-style DJ with a truly terrific radio programme.  (XM Radio – Deep Tracks)  Even if you’re not a dyed in the wool Dylan fan his choice of music and witty links ought to entertain.  Check it out via your computer.

 

Days whiz by in the usual flurry of meals out and visits to and from friends.  In particular we are now going out to play each week with Phil and Sue as they are taking a day off from work every Thursday. 

 

< xml="true" ns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:vml" prefix="v" namespace="">< xml="true" ns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:word" prefix="w" namespace="">Our first sojourn was to Southport.  Sue and I did a little – a very little – of Southport’s terrific shops.  After lunch we thought we’d give the chaps a break so went to see if we could find a (Red) squirrel Reserve that Peter and I used to take our kids to – not that either of them remember it.  Chris vaguely recollected an ice cream van.  So much for instilling the values of conservation and the great outdoors. Somehow I managed to remember my way to a place I hadn’t seen in twenty years.  This is pretty astounding as I am famed for getting lost on my own doorstep.  I am now being attacked by the ‘Do I come here often?’ true old people stuff, i.e. terrific long-term memory and a totally rubbish short-term one.  Scary!

 

Any way we found the beach at Formby Point.  The Reserve used to be just a fenced off area alongside a sandy track to the dunes.  It is now a huge national Trust site with the usual £3.30 charge for parking and marked out walks etc.  Lost some of the magic for me now it belongs to the hoi polloi.

 

Compensation was found in stopping off on the way home at a super Garden Centre (Bents) for a meal. I like this Thursday outing stuff – augers well.

 

Middle of the month found me finally attacking the weeds in my garden.  One of the downsides to flirting off to Naples is the neglected garden I return to.  It took me an hour to clear a patch 6’ x 3’.  I’m glad to say I was then chased indoors by thunder and spent a while gazing through the window at the prospect of roughly another nine hours work.  Thank heavens it is such a tiny garden.

 

I finally managed to catch up with my chum Denise for her Birthday meal (plus Victoria, Morag, Pam (another one!) Lucy and Jenny).  Really nice evening – don’t see enough of her with all this gadding around.

 

The next day (25th) we bought a caravan.  Everyone we’ve told has made a point of saying what a big surprise it was and why hadn’t we said we were thinking about it.  Probably because we were equally surprised and hadn’t been thinking about it.  That particular Thursday was a nice day and Sue and Phil were in Spain so we decided to go out for a pootle around – mooched some caravans out of curiosity – saw one we liked and thought why not? Et voila we bought a caravan. 

 

I am now eating humble pie whilst wearing sack cloth and ashes over my hair shirt.  I’ve spent years mocking and spitting at the caravan brigade.  I subscribned to the vision of a lot of Normans and Ethels wearing matching bobble hats and fair aisle jumpers and endlessly discussing ‘the best route’ to wherever.  There is probably an element of truth in it but I’m firmly enrolled with the Hyacinth Bucket (aka Bouquet) sect of caravaners and have spent many a happy hour finding co-ordinating dishes and dishcloths.  What joy another little home for me to play with.  My parents not buying me a doll’s house have much to answer for. More on this next month – watch this space.

 

Between buying it and picking it up the next week Sally came for the weekend.  Mostly she’d come to spend time with Charlotte and Claire.  It is lovely to recapture some of the hectic buzzing about like when they were all kids together.  I suspect that’s what a lot of ‘empty nesters’ miss – not so much just their own children but all the other lives that surrounded them.

 

We ended Sally’s visit by getting her into Piccadilly station at 1.52 to catch her 1.58 train which, of course, leaves from the most distant platform – through the station up some stairs across a bridge and down some stairs – she made it (sans sandwich) with large suitcase and coat flapping in the breeze – heaven knows how.

 

On this one day we managed to take Sally to the station, meet some friends for dinner and then collect Phil and Sue from the airport at 11 pm.  Retired life certainly isn’t boring.

 

The last day of the month ended with an excellent lunch in our local hospital!  I’ve had hellish problems with my left shoulder since 5th January.  On the way from Orlando airport to Naples I tossed a map book onto the back seat of the car and somehow managed to tear a muscle.  It has been several degrees of agony ever since.  I finally gave up and went to my GP as the mending process seems extremely slow and I’m concerned about the lack of mobility as it mends.  She sent me for an X-ray, which is pretty pointless and offered no solution other than painkillers.  So, failing paying for a ‘private’ opinion it seems it is to be lived with.  It is so annoying to have done something so ordinary, which then incurs such consequences.

 

Whatever I have read this month has been forgotten again.  I must write out twenty times ‘I must read something worth the effort’ and then do so.  What a waste of brain and eyesight to keep reading holiday sop.

 

Movies have been equally dire – Mission Impossible – whatever number – 3, I think – this one was for the chaps! – and the Da Vinci Code.  What can I say that hasn’t already been said?  I was always convinced that the book itself had been written as an outline for a movie and to be fair it would have probably made a reasonable enough (tosh) movie had we not had to suffer all the hype surrounding it and the book.  I’ve attached a super piece my daughter sent me about it.

 

And so we glide on through the halcyon days…  speak to you soon.

 

 

Better use a simple code

The Da Vinci Code is intentionally incredible, so why do we need a health warning?

Mark Lawson
Friday May 19, 2006
The Guardian

Let me begin by making clear that this opinion column contains opinions and that readers should not be misled into thinking that these views are facts. The column might also, however, intermittently contain facts, and it is important that these should not be confused with opinions. In order to guard as far as possible against misunderstanding, this article will classify sentences according to a simple code: O for opinion, F for fact.

The need for such a disclaimer paragraph had never occurred to me until this week. Travelling in America, I watched a discussion on NBC's Today show about whether the producers of the movie The Da Vinci Code should submit to a request from religious lobby groups to begin the film with a caption pointing out that audiences are watching a work of fiction (F).

René Magritte made quite an artistic career from comic mislabelling - by asserting, for example, that a pipe was not a pipe. But American culture seems - without any comic intent or, at least, none that is deliberate (O) - to be threatened with a rather more literal trick of description: this movie is a movie (O).

It's true that cinema is used to stating its qualifications. All films include in their credits a version of the legally protective phrase about resemblance to real people or events being unintentional (F). Strangely, this statement prefaces even works based on real events or people, with the result that additional explanation is now given in the genre of faction; for example, Paul Greengrass's United 93 (about the 9/11 flight that crashed in Pennsylvania) flashes up a caption reporting its sources (F).

Such films, though, employ the language of documentary, and so call for clarification. The Da Vinci Code is a farrago based on legends. As the actor (O) Tom Hanks pointed out during his American television appearance with Sir Ian McKellen and other cast members, it was openly marketed as a novel and so the millions of readers of the book have been given a hefty hint of the work's fictional nature. If Dan Brown had written the book in the style of journalism (a common fictional device), then there might have been confusion among those troubled enough to be confused. But Brown told his tale in a prose so far from reportage (indeed, from any recognisable form of English) that the book telegraphs its own incredibility on every single page.

But the fact is (O) that the calls for a cinematic recantation result not from a fear of confusion but from the current American terror of giving offence. In a nation where it was reported yesterday that the most popular new name for baby girls is "Nevaeh" - the word "heaven" spelled backwards (F) - religious beliefs, which are properly a matter for that variety of opinion called faith, have been redefined as fact (O). American believers seek the disclaimer in case a notional cinemagoing moron were to give Brown's bad book more credence than the Good Book.

Yet their concern is probably already unnecessary. Among the most common complaints of American movie reviewers has been that the film drastically tones down the novel's revision of Christianity, presumably because the studio was already responding to the sensitivity issues that habitually afflict the country's culture. This seems a pity because the only commendable element of Brown's book was his intolerance of dogma (O).

The very fact that America's leading breakfast programme was even discussing the question of whether Americans needed to be warned that movies may not be true revealed one major difference of attitudes between the US and the UK. But the conversation itself revealed another (O). Pressed on whether the disclaimer was really necessary, Sir Ian McKellen suggested that perhaps there should be a warning printed at the beginning of the Bible saying that some of that might be fiction; for example, the walking on the water (F - what McKellen said, I mean. The miracles are a matter of O).

Already remarkable as the only leading movie actor who is gay (F!), Sir Ian here achieved another singularity in Hollywood. It is impossible to imagine any major American actor now daring to suggest on national television that a holy book might not be fact (O).

At the time of Sir Ian's previous biggest movies - the Lord of the Rings trilogy - there were no calls for the films to start with a card pointing out that Middle Earth and hobbits were fictional; although it is regrettably quite possible that there were some Americans who believed Gandalf and Bilbo to have lived.

Putting a health warning on The Da Vinci Code is equally silly. What is remarkable is that a debate over the risk of fiction being mistaken for fact should have arisen over what is possibly one of the most preposterous novels ever written (O).

No, I wish to reclassify that opinion about the ludicrousness of the Da Vinci Code as F. In fact (O), let's end with a simple coded message to the book and the film and to those who insist on taking any of its nonsense seriously: FO.

 

 

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June

 

 

June 2006< xml="true" ns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" prefix="o" namespace="">

 

Strange old month this one.  If you’d told me a couple of weeks ago that by June we’d be ‘happy cramping’ in a caravan… well…..

 

Around 11.30 on the 2nd we’d picked up the ‘van –now named Doris (!) into which we duly shovelled heaps of towels, bedding, dishes, food and stuff and by mid afternoon we were pitched in ‘Dodswell Park’ just outside Stratford.  This site confirmed all my worst fears it was packed with barbequing Normans and Noras – and I mean packed.  We were then ‘entertained’ by the sounds of a nearby racetrack until midnight.  What have we done?

 

This was only a stopover on our way to Richard’s as I’d insisted a straight through trip to Wokingham (Berkshire) was a bit much for our first outing.  Ken was fine about it all because (a) he’d done all this malarkey in his previous life and (b) its not that he has nerves of steel he simply doesn’t have any.  Me?  I hate driving only a tad more than I hate being driven and now I’d thought it was a good idea to add a lump of metal with only two wheels to the back of the car for an added frisson.

 

< xml="true" ns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:vml" prefix="v" namespace="">< xml="true" ns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:word" prefix="w" namespace="">As Ken predicted, the next day we arrived completely without incident at ‘California’ in Wokingham.  Richard came out to meet us at the site and we all pootled off to lunch at the George and Dragon, Swallowfield.  The rest of the day was filled with presentation of birthday gifts (main purpose of our visit) a bit of antiquing, a brief tour of Tesco’s and a meal with Richard at his house.  Good day – I hope – was had by all.

 

We’d chosen the site because it was between Richard’s house in Reading (Berkshire) and RHS Wisley (Surrey).  It always seem a pity to me that when we go to Richard’s we don’t make it to Wisley as it is just a bit too far from his house.  The caravan has kind of solved this for us as now we feel we can stay on another day nearish to Wisley without it being too expensive.  My theory with the ‘van is that you not only save on overnight hotel bills but on the real expense of eating out three times a day.

 

We had a wonderful Sunday at Wisley.  It was in its full summer frock.  This latest patch of glorious weather has brought everything on in a rush especially this bit further south.  Sadly any photographs I take of gardens can never do them justice.  There is very little sense of three dimensions which is vital to appreciating wonderful planting and vistas and the lens always crops off so much of the periphery which your eye uses to frame what its looking at.  This is why I’m reluctant to keep taking photos when I’m really enjoying something as the camera keeps shutting you off from the actual experience.  I always think it’s so sad when I see Ken and others glued to what they’re seeing through a video camera.  I understand the urge to have a reminder of what you experience but the irony is whilst doing that you don’t actually experience it.  Having said this check out the photos for a flavour of the place.

 

Anyway, as always, I loved the huge variety and sheer saturation of planting that Wisley gives me.

 

By now we’d taken to this caravanning lark and decided to extend our tour and go on to Winchcombe Caravanning Club site in Alderton (Cotswolds).  This is a fabulous site.  Tons of room – open and sunny and everything you could possibly need in a lovely setting.  We decided it was time to flex our muscle and erect our porch awning.  This is where we needed someone with a video!  What a load of trouble for such little benefit.  We took a vote and decided never to bother with it again unless we were staying somewhere for a week or two.

 

Pam and Ken came over to have a look at the ‘van and site – both of which seemed to meet with their approval.  This is meaningful as they had and used a caravan for years so we were getting the professional viewpoint. 

 

They took us to dinner at The Round of ‘Gras. Being just about still in season every dish came with it and you could have a complete ‘gras’ meal.  I virtually did and it was wonderful.  This was dinner by default, as first we went to The Fleece – a 13th century restaurant actually owned by the National Trust; so quite a place to see – but better still it does fantastic meat and two veg dinners.  Incredibly they were full.

 

Incidentally, ‘gras’ for those not in the know is asparagus.  Having lived in Suffolk for several years I claim to be something of a ‘gras ‘expert’.  It grew in such abundance round Lakenheath they simply couldn’t give it away.  It was strange to live on every conceivable asparagus dish for two months because you didn’t have much money. 

 

Our next day at Winchcombe was something of a repeat performance.  We were destined to go to The Daffodil.  Ken (1) tried to book to make sure as we needed to eat at noon and discovered they were fully booked.  Pam then arranged for us to have lunch at Le Petit Blanc instead.  Ken and I pitched up to meet the duo at The Royal Hotel to which the Restaurant is neatly glued.  After using the Royal’s lovely Ladies we then discovered le Petit Blanc is nothing to do with them.  Can’t take me anywhere.

 

As its name suggests it is a Raymond Blanc offshoot and it duly presented us with a wonderful gourmet lunch at a fixed price of £10 for 2 courses including wine.  Four of us had three courses, wine, water and coffee for the princely sum of £56.50.  If you ever get to Cheltenham you must give this place a try.  This squats smugly in my top five places to eat.

 

After lunch Ken and I whiled away a lovely sunny afternoon in Stratford-on-Avon.  Having planned to rush round Anne Hathaway’s cottage and other tourist venues we accomplished nothing more than a stroll or two and an cup of tea by the river killing time until we met Pam and Ken again for the theatre (The RSC). 

 

The car park attendant at the theatre admired Ken (1)’s pale pink shirt but hoped we were sitting beyond row twelve to preserve it as the play was destined to be very bloody.  He also ruined the end by telling us that the butler did it! True to his prediction we watched a very bloody and never a laugh a minute Julius Caesar.  It was slick in all senses even if not inspired.  We could have seen Patrick Stewart the next day (in Cleopatra, I think).  This has been a visit of near misses it would seem.

 

The Winchcombe caravan site locks its gates to all cars at 11 pm – even those staying on the site – so you have to park outside the reception area and stroll to your ‘van.  We quite literally drove up at 10.59pm as the chap appeared with the padlock.  Driving home with the curfew in mind was dead, dead exciting – or as close as caravanning gets to exciting.

 

As we were having such a great time and the weather was superb, we elected to stay on another two days and try to do the stuff we hadn’t managed to do.

 

We started with Snowshill Manor.  This is my second favourite garden in the whole world.  (My real passion being Wollerton Old Hall in Shropshire).  I love Snowshill more for its imperfections than its victories.  I love it not because it’s the ‘best, it isn’t, ’ but it seems such a real garden to me.  It is intimate in size unlike many grand gardens (like Sudely).  It is on a myriad of levels and always looks as though it is struggling to make it.  The borders are full of tumbling imperfect plants and planting but just wonderful in their generosity.  It is one of the earliest gardens grown entirely on organic principles.  Even this early in June (7th) a lot of the stuff had gone over – the roses for example – at home mine are just struggling into bud. 

 

The (arts and crafts) house itself offers an equally quirky experience.  It is filled with ‘stuff’.  The owner, architect and craftsman Charles Paget Wade (American I think) collected all kinds of things and filled the house.  This is to be taken quite literally.  There are so many collections that he ended up living in the stable block (used to be a priest house) in the garden.  So for Ken and others who are not that fascinated by gardens they can wallow around among zillions of (sometimes) bizarre things for as long as they like.  There are whole rooms devoted to each collection such as musical instruments, clocks, toys, bicycles, Japanese armour and much, much more.

 

We stopped at Snowshill Lavender afterwards.  We were a bit too early in the summer for the fields to be in bloom but not too soon for wonderful lavender scones and tea.

 

Our last day in the Cotswolds was spent mostly in Bourton-on-the-Water.  This must be the quintessential English touristy village.  Every building is ancient and stone and many are thatched.  The high street has a river running alongside it with the occasional quaint footbridge.  The shops, restaurants, bakers and tearooms are delightful.  We spent some time in the Motor Museum, which is well worth a visit.  Even if cars are not your thing (and they’re not mine!)  there is still plenty to amuse and interest.  This was for Ken as payback for all the gardens he’d suffered.  The quite scary thing was to go round looking at objects that have been collected and are now displayed as ‘history’ and which were once part of my life.  The collections date from the early 1900s to 1978.  As a 1945 baby even a lot of the very early stuff I remembered being around in my childhood – we threw less away in those days!  Certainly our grandparents bought things ‘for life’.

 

I managed to nip into a couple of shops – The Edinburgh Woollen Mill and a super china seconds shop and then we scuttled back to Tesco’s in Evesham and back to Doris as Pam and Ken were coming over for a meal.  I was astonished how easy it was to produce three courses for four in a kitchen the size of an average loo.  My talent knows no bounds.

 

Back to Bury on Saturday and a semblance of reality.  We took the’ van to its ‘store’ on Sunday after cleaning it.  Talk about sentimental slop – I actually felt rotten abandoning Doris to some crumby backwater filled with other ‘vans.  I now understand why people want to park their ‘van by their house.  It has nothing to do with convenience or security it is simply easier than cutting the umbilical. 

 

We decided to comfort ourselves with a meal at The Church Inn, Birtle with Phil and Sue.  What a lovely week and a bit.  I like this caravanning lark.

 

The next week we were back to our normal routines of computers, books, TV for Ken, meals out, shopping cooking – need I go on.  I repeat ‘the next week’ – after seven days of that we decided we ought to get the ‘van out again, so we were off to Birmingham.

 

This time we stayed at Somers Wood near the NEC.  Perhaps you can get the feel of where we’re at with this game when I tell you that I found myself sitting in a tin box in a field eating a sausage (Tesco Finest mind you!) sandwich and saying “This is the life!” – Oh my goodness.

 

Post sausage sarnies we spent the afternoon of our arrival day pootling all around where I used to live – everything was a memory of one thing or another.  Doing this I came to understand why I’ve felt rootless ever since I left Birmingham at 19 –nowhere else ever takes on the mental geography of where you grew up.  Every place since is just somewhere you’ve lived.  Somehow your ‘growing’ place is the one that continues to run in the blood.  As I said almost every place name had a 'story' attached. I wouldn’t return for all the tea in China but nostalgia is magic.

 

Later than afternoon Pam and Ken whizzed over for a flying visit as they’d just been to Gardeners' World at the NEC.  This is why we were there but our tickets were for the next day.  They joined us outside in the wonderful warm evening for a drinking glass of cherries!  There is a limit to what dishes you can pack in a ‘van.  Not being able to tote my little glass fruit dishes probably does mean a decline in standards but what the heck.

 

Much of Sunday (9.20 am – 2.30 pm) was spent at Gardeners’ World’s last day of the show.  Pretty tiring but not too bad as the extreme heat – high eighties – of the previous day had given over to a slightly cloudy and marginally cooler day – so it was excellent.  We toured all the small gardens and the floral marquee which is what I really go there for and managed to do quite a bit more such as watching Monty Don strut his stuff on stage and, best of all, scoffed a delicious hot roast beef sandwich.  That alone is worth a trip to the show.

 

We returned to Doris with me fighting the urge to rip out the garden at home and replace it with any one of the six I’d fallen in love with.  I know it will pass – it always does – just a matter of time and a bit of weeding.

 

I did have a caravanner's moment whilst cooking dinner.  I was gazing out of the window by the sink and after watching a squirrel pick seeds out of a pine cone for his tea I witnessed a daft blackbird re-enacting the Battle of Britain over three rabbits who were happily munching grass totally unconcerned.  Why the bird thought that a ground based critter like a rabbit could be any threat to it and/or its tribe I’ve no idea – unless the baby birds were on the ground somewhere.  It certainly was not a quitter and only shut up and stopped flapping when the rabbits ambled off.

 

This beats scraping jersey royals in the suburbs

 

After our planned two days at the NEC we decided on a trip down to Winchcombe again as we’d liked it so much before.  We decided to pull into a Little Chef en route for lunch.  That was a bit of an experience trying to park up in an English car park but we did it!

 

In the afternoon after pitching camp we went over to Bourton-on-the-Water again.  In part this was to return a cardigan I’d bought last time we were there.  I’m glad to say it was too big – no problem - swift swap and on to the miniature village. 

 

This is sooo cute.  It is a one ninth replica of Bourton but because it is a complete replica of the village it also has a miniature of the miniature village within it – hope you’re following this.  If so, now its time to visualise another miniature in the last miniature mentioned.  Now you’ve lost it. They claim they keep the model/models updated when anything in the village changes.  As nothing seems to have changed since about 1800 that probably isn’t too arduous.

 

We’d parked on the edge of the village near the Kit Willams' maze.  (Google him if you don’t know who – interesting painter/writer – anyone remember the Golden hare?).  There is a rebus puzzle combined with a proper yew hedge maze – proper in that you can’t see through or over it.  This isn’t for any one prone to panic attacks or claustrophobia.  Fortunately it is small enough for me to survive – two hours in one would certainly drive me stir crazy.  We solved the maze and the puzzles on the way round and found the central pavilion.  This is beautifully decorated with tiles and paintings and animated sculptures all by Kit Williams.  For us it was totally unexpected, as we didn’t know anything about the maze.  Now I spoiled it for you!  In the centre is a glass case, which contains a huge ‘Minatoad’, and if you know what to do you can see the beautiful Golden Dragonfly. It was such fun – do it if you ever get the chance.

 

On our way back to Doris we stopped for a bit of food shopping in Tesco in Bishops Cleeve – don’t these places have terrific names. ( Bishops Cleeve I mean, not Tescos) They set me off looking up origins all the time.  The name, of course, came from the nearby Cleeve Hill. Pursuing ‘cleeve’ itself leads you to a wicker basket and even a measure for root vegetables.  It apparently held a hundredweight of potatoes!  You can also find a reference to female hobbits but I think not.

 

I wonder where ‘Tescos’ got its name.

 

The next day we tootled off to a national trust garden - Hidcote.  We had joined the National Trust at Snowshill thereby becoming officially ‘old’.  We are now fully paid up members of the RHS, the National Trust and the Camping and Caravanning Club.  The truth, as ever, is that they are all to save money.  Having said that – to save money you have to use the places – ergo – we are fogies.

 

I don’t care – Hidcote, as ever, was wonderful.  This is a famous (think Hidcote lavender) Arts and Crafts garden made around 1905 by Lawrence Johnston.  I like it especially because it is made up of lots of quite small garden rooms.  They are divided from each other with hedges of yew and holly and beech.  They are very different one from another and yet you can move from garden to garden without any sense of jarring and each one has a glimpse or vista through its hedge, which is so cleverly executed each time.

There was plenty of walking here for Ken to enjoy, as it is a pretty big area to cover.

 

We did the full camping monty and took our own lunch.  I must confess to being a grouch when it comes to these places prices for food.  They are definitely rob-dogs (as my mom would have said).  After wandering round the super-duper gardens we sat in the car (in a very pretty car park) and ate our lunch listening to the birds.

 

 We skipped Kiftsgate, which is directly opposite Hidcote as even I was busting with flora.  This was a mistake – although a fortuitous one - because we’ll have to come back another time. 

 

Craving depravity and civilisation or at least concrete and shops we went into Cheltenham and met Ken (1) for tea and a cake and then back to Doris for dinner.

 

We scuttled back to Bury the next day for the usual Eric night on Wednesday and an outing with Phil and Sue on Thursday.

 

The Bury four met for what’s becoming our regular lunch spot at The Village and I came up with an executive decision that we’d all go to the Lowry Centre.  We’d spent part of the morning dithering about what to do.  Entirely my fault because I told Ken it was his and Phil’s turn to come up with a plan.  Sue and I keep trying to entertain the chaps. They can’t think of anything they want to do but know all the things they don’t want to do, especially going round shops.  Sue and I, of course, could spend much of our lives going round shops.  Anyway I settled on the Lowry.

 

I dragged everyone round the galleries and the building itself – beginning with a coffee, of course.  Then Sue and I did a teeny bit of the zillion shops and Ken and Phil went to the War Museum – so that worked well.  Time whizzed by and it was time for dinner.  We went to Smiths in Eccles.  Thank heavens for Esmeralda (the Sat. Nav.) who manages to find these places.  I knew it was at the railway station in Eccles and probably could have found it from Denise’s flat but from entirely the opposite direction – not a chance.

 

Good day as ever.

 

Friday movies – ‘Lake House’ – bit of a convoluted plot with gaping holes and a tad overlong – would make a great short story probably in French. -  Seemed as though it should have been more obscure than it was and that it had suffered from American simplification. (I discovered after I’d written this how close I was – apparently it was a remake of a Korean film called ‘Il Mare’)

 

We managed the best part of a week at home and I was fidgeting to take off again.  After a little discussion we decided that, in an attempt to save funds, a couple of trips each month should be our limit.  As a way of amusing ourselves and getting out in the super summer we’re having we thought we’d have a cost-free afternoon looking at cars.  We bought a Renault Vel Satis.

 

This is completely bonkers.  It is a car Renault did for a limited time only and is a huge, probably money eating, monster.  Not only that but Ken had just taxed, serviced (plus) and bought car mats for the Toyota and I’d just paid nearly three hundred quid for a tow bar.  What can I say?

 

Ken began ‘thinking’ about cars when towing Doris.  He said he’d like something better suited to towing – diesel and more powerful.  Just out of curiosity we thought we’d see what was around – looked at Rover 75s, Ford Mondeo Ghias and Volvos but this Vel Satis was the only one which ticked all our boxes – the technical stuff for Ken and, automatic, cruise control and storage space for me.  It comes with much more too – bit of a (French) Cadillac.  It is red exterior and cream leather inside with a good deal of chrome and looks very much like our Lincoln in Naples.

 

Deal was done on the 27th and we collect on Monday 3rd.

 

Between then and then we took Phil and Sue to the airport. 

 

As they weren’t around to play with on Thursday we took ourselves to Bents Garden Centre.  Partly to (would you credit it?)  change the same cardigan I’d already changed in Bourton-on-the-Water.  I wore it one evening and noticed the collar was coming unstitched.  Bents has an EWM shop in it – great excuse for a tour of the shop and garden centre and an excellent ‘pork en croute’ lunch.

 

So, there you go for June – bit of a busy month.

 

Just as an after thought – I managed to read a book worth noting this month – thanks to Sally.  She gave me ‘The Secret Purposes’ by David Baddiel.  Good narrative – maybe a bit thin but more than made up for by the things you learn.  It is really quite cleverly (and even politically) hinged on a single sentence of a real war office memo.  It is set in the 40’s and follows the story of a Jewish internee on the Isle of Man.

 

I’ve also acquired a new word this month – sedulous – diligent in application or pursuit.  This is in honour of my sedulous husband.  I’ve always described him as pedantic but that somehow carries an unintended tone of negativity.  Now I have sedulous!

 

Another P.S…  I’ve added some more albums to the photo site.  As I’d taken hundreds of photos this month, I was steely-willed and honed each album down to just ten!  No easy task but I thought you’d lose the will to live if you had to plough through them all.  It isn’t entirely altruistic on my part.  They take so long to download to the site that you can go cook a three-course meal while forty of them drop into place.  As I am fat enough I thought ten per album, would suffice – that way I only get time for a cup of tea (and a slice of cake or two!)

 

 

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 July

 

 

Did you ever have to write one of those ‘What did you do in the holidays’ essays on your first day back after the summer break?  It was certainly a pain to write but believe me reading thirty-two of them was even more mind numbing.  Thirty-one of the thirty-two usually ran on the lines of …  ‘On the first day of my holiday we went to… and then we did and then we went to… and we saw… then we went to….’ And so on.  OK, now you are prepared to read my July update.

 

We seem to have been buzzing around with our chums and in our corned beef can most of the month, which has been terrific.  In the main the wonderful 2006 summer we are sweltering in has held true to form and it’s been ‘jolly hols’ all the way.

 

Our first Thursday in the month was taken up with a trip to Quarry Bank Mill (Styal) with Phil and Sue – yet another reminder of school and day trips with the kids.  The first time I visited Quarry Bank I went with a group from the University Education Department as a ‘reccy’ to teach us how to organise a school trip. (I was never convinced the P.G.C.E. year was of huge value).  My friend Barbara and I decided it was a total waste of time and got ‘lost’ off the tail of the group and spent a very pleasant afternoon in the café with tea, cakes and a good natter.  So I have mixed memories of Quarry Bank.  The Bury Four had a good day and an even better lunch and tea there.

 

When we got back Ken and I had an appointment to view a house that we were interested in – so Phil and Sue joined us for that.  This house on is our estate so, yet again, we could be moving just round the corner.  It is OK but with a couple of provisos, not least of which is that it is in the same road as my ex.  It probably wouldn’t be any sort of problem but it would seem a little odd.

 

The movie gang of six ended up at the second Johnny Depp Pirates Movie the following evening.  As usual it turned out to be another movie which has been marketed to fever pitch – don’t forget the pirate paraphernalia you can now buy - and its nothing more than an OK piece of chewing gum for the brain.  It’s stolen from every book and film you’ve ever seen with any piratical connection – and certainly not an homage to Errol Flynn.  Again this is probably a piece of movie snobbery on my part, as its target audience have just loved it.

 

By the next week our house was being scrutinised by a couple of estate agents for a valuation.  Happily it has increased in value by 10K since last winter.  Well it has if someone is willing to pay it.  We followed up their visits to us by looking at another potential property.  This time I (almost) absolutely loved the house – couple of minor snags such as a small garage and a drive, which leaves your car parked right outside your front door if you don’t put it away each time.  It is only eight months old and on a new estate that is still under construction so is perfectly liveable with for a longish time.  The kitchen has been badly thought out and I’d want to change that eventually.  The big clunker is that it is almost surrounded by a particularly bad council estate – hard to predict what this will mean for these new private houses.  So…

 

We are leaving it in the lap of the gods – if ours sells in time for either of these then we will have to come to a decision then, if not, so be it.  Neither of us will be very bothered.

 

Mid-month and we were in the Lake District.  Our stop on the way up was just outside Kendal.  Instead of good old-fashioned paper directions, which turned out later to be simple and spot on, we used Esmeralda and Brenda.  (Brenda is the Sat. Nav. in the ‘new’ car – she was given a mundane name ‘cos she’s not a silky as Esmeralda – Ken’s Palm pilot system). 

 

Between the two of them they managed to direct us into the very heart of Kendal and into an extremely narrow, bendy road, constructed on a one-in-four slope.  We got as far as we could up this funnel and finally retrieved the written instructions.  While we were fiddling about with all this a chap in a polythene spacesuit (I hope he was only painting and not playing with weapons of mass destruction) came to help us out.  As always in these situations folk begin with the useful observations such as “Oh, I wouldn’t have gone this way” and “You’ll never turn round here” etc.

 

Little did he know we have the magic gadget.  Ken unhooked the van, turned the car and then proceeded to spin Doris on its axis using the remote control.  Excellent stuff.  How does anyone manage without? Et Voila we were on our way.  All this was vastly entertaining to the diners in the restaurant nearby.

 

The following day our Thursday chums Phil and Sue arrived and after a soup, sandwich and cherries lunch en plain air we scooted off to Sizergh Castle to ‘use’ our National Trust subs.  Pretty impressive gardens and lake views in particular.  Afterwards we sped down to the Lakeland Shop in Windermere for Sue to pick up some bits and bobs that she wanted and then a rapid scuttle over to Bowness at the head of the lake.  By this time we had missed the shop Sue wanted by a few minutes but we compensated this with a bit of a stroll and a sit by the lake in the late afternoon sun.  All very beautiful. 

 

There’s a hotel at the head of the lake (The Belsfield), which I’ve always wanted to visit but thought it looked very grand and far too posh for me.  Either I’ve gone up in the world or I was mistaken.  We wandered up there for dinner in the restaurant.  It was very pleasant and the house had clearly been very grand in its hey day but like many of these Victorian Country House type hotels it is now staffed with eastern European staff and looks a little tired and so not quite so intimidating.   The point of this ramble is that if you ever get to Bowness seek out the hotel and go for a meal or a drink because it must have one of the very best (public) views of the lake.  After dinner we had our coffee outside and watched the sun and boats scudding over Windermere.  What an enjoyable way to spend a weekday.

 

The next day we were on our way to Edinburgh to see my kids.  We stayed in Drum Mohr outside Musselborough.

 

After pitching we went for a drive along the coast (The Firth of Forth) stopping at Aberlady Bay.  There was the double attraction of ‘famous’ fish and chips and a fantastic view.  Like true caravanner’s we got out our always-ready fold up chairs and sat gazing out to sea whilst munching our fish and chips.  Excellent.

 

From this car park we could see the most incredible house – absolutely huge.  After degreasing we took a drive round to what turned out to be Gosford House (pronounced Gooseford!)  Who saw Gosford Park?  We made a couple of abortive attempts to ‘get in’ before we gave up and pootled back to the ‘van.  I have since discovered it is open to the public in June and July so we could have actually seen the darned place – one for next time for sure. It is still lived in by the 12th Earl of Wemyss (pronounced weems!) and his wife.

 

The bay is a wicked paradox.  On the one corner you have Gosford House and all its grandeur and opposing it on the other side of the bay is the most hellish power station with two huge chimneys that dominate the landscape for miles around.

 

Saturday we spent with Sally.  We had a lovely day visiting a couple of excellent gardens and doing a few chores such as food shopping and buying a vacuum. 

 

We began after lunch with a visit to Inwood Gardens.  This is a gem.  It is a private garden belonging to a couple that have made it from scratch since 1984.  They have cleared rough woodland to create it and it is immaculate.  I am positively ashamed of my weeds that need removing and all my climbers that need tying up in my tiny handkerchief of a garden when they are managing an acre perfectly.  There’s not a deadhead or fallen petal in sight.  Incredible.

 

Lindsay Morrison was there to meet and greet and happy to talk about the garden.  Her husband, Irvine, who also works full time elsewhere, was ‘doing’ the teashop.  He has done all of the hardscaping and continues to make seats and trellises and elegant supports for various climbers as needed.

 

We discovered Inveresk Lodge and its garden.  The 18th century lodge is now let so we couldn’t see that but I was primarily interested in one of my garden passions – walled gardens.  I love walled gardens.  I put it down to the pernicious influence of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s ‘The Secret Garden’ that I must have read at an impressionable age.  They are so romantic and warm and safe and just plain wonderful.  So off to Inveresk, which has a walled garden dating from at least the 16th century when it was once part of a monastery. 

 

I must admit to being a tad disappointed.  The total place is wonderful and the walled garden could have been stunning but it isn’t being that carefully maintained.  It may have been blighted by our having seen such perfection at Inwood that perhaps anything ‘normal’ would look a little dog-eared after that.  What it did have though was some wonderful seats. They were carved out of trees that had been felled but were still rooted.  Great idea.  There was also a huge suspended rocking bench that was pretty impressive.

 

We then spent a very pleasant warm summer’s evening eating, drinking and nattering al fresco alongside Doris before returning Sally to her flat.

 

Sunday we went round to pick up Chris and Gayle for the day.  I decided it might be nice to take them out of Edinburgh for the day so we took off for Berwick and Eyemouth and St Abbs.  First stop was for breakfast for the ‘kids’ as they’d had a late night and had scraped themselves together at speed to meet us. 

 

We drove into Berwick.  As I’d remembered it as being a pretty little town, I assumed we could find a really nice restaurant and I could treat Chris and Gayle to a swanky lunch to celebrate Chris’s graduation.  (Upper Second in B.Eng (Hons) Communications and Electrical Engineering)  Like me he ducked the ceremony but it seemed wrong not to mark it in some way – hence the whole purpose of this trip.  I’m sad to say it didn’t exactly go to plan.  We drove round Berwick trying to find somewhere really nice to eat – nothing, rien, nada.  If it is there we missed it. We ended up in some pokey high street café/restaurant eating a standard Sunday lunch before it got to late to eat anywhere.  As it happens the food was OK but it wasn’t my idea of a linen and crystal lunch to say well done.  Chris was ‘cool’ about it and totally unfussed.  I guess I’ll have to owe him one.

 

We went on to Eyemouth – where, of course, there were zillions of eateries!  Then to St Abbs.  This is a very pretty place to visit.  Ken and the club used to dive there and I’ve tagged along a couple of times and always liked it.  We had our very dainty (still warm from the oven) scone and cream and jam tea at the cottage and then wound our way back to the caravan.  Ken went over to pick up Sally and we ordered a great Chinese delivery.  Yes delivery – they delivered to the van.  How neat is that.

 

Poor old Sally had a rotten day as she blew up the brand new vacuum and the washing machine wasn’t working.  Fortunately the vac came back to life (overheated) and Ken found the problem with the machine – the wall socket – and moved it to another socket – so all’s well.  I hope she went home happier than she had been earlier.

 

Rather than just rushing back to Manchester the next day we broke the journey again with another stay at the Lakes – this time at Troutbeck near Penrith.  We did a neat trick of stopping off for petrol and grocery shopping at a Tesco’s with the ‘van in tow on the way – getting good at this stuff now.

 

The next day we went to see the purpose of this stopover – Dalemain House and Gardens.  Again a lovely place.  It was one of the hottest days on record, which we enjoyed even more by sitting in their picnic area with our packed lunch.  Great feeling going round all these houses and gardens by way of the National Trust and RHS memberships.  We have more than had our money’s worth from them already.  Even better when we take our own lunch – it all feels like it’s free.  This is something of an illusion but still very pleasant not to be dipping in the pocket all day.

 

We stopped in Bowness for a while and then back to the ‘van for dinner.

 

Our journey to Manchester the next day certainly wasn’t uneventful.  A coach of schoolchildren on a trip had overturned on the M6 at about 11 am – we joined the stationery traffic at about 1.30pm.  Motorists at the beginning of the line were stuck for four hours – we only endured an hour and a half, which was bad enough.  The real issue was that it was the hottest day since records began and most folk needed water and shade.  We were fine – air-conditioning in the car when needed and the caravan behind for lunch and a drink and the all-important loo!  I did give the car behind a bottle of water.  The radio kept telling us how the police were going up and down the line with bottles of water and checking folk were OK – we never saw sight or sound of them.  Perfect example at the lowest possible level of not believing anything you hear on radio/TV or read in the press.

 

We should have returned Doris the next morning to her storage site but never quite managed to get ourselves organised before our regular Thursday ‘playtime’ kicked in.  This time as we were all late starters the four of us went to Turton Tower – after lunch at our regular haunt – Salinger’s/The Village.

 

Turton Tower is a local place but we still managed to stop off for an ice cream in Edgeworth followed by crossing the road to a café for cake and tea and coffee outside.  All this was regarded as dessert for lunch so we didn’t feel a speck of guilt when we had afternoon tea at The Last Drop later and then a full-blown dinner at The Old School House.  We know how to live – us pensioners.

 

By now you must be thinking – this must be coming to an end.  You need to be grateful for all the stuff I’m missing out, like other meals and trips to the movies.  I’m trying only to note stuff I think I might want to recall some time down the line.  I often think these ramblings are probably like all the rubbish record keeping I used to have to do at school.  It all seems very important at the time and then hardly anyone ever reads them and certainly never refers back to them.  Great in theory though?

 

By the end of the month 28th – 1st August we were off again on our meanderings this time to visit Ken’s daughter.  It had been her birthday on the 27th so we were delivering gifts and saying hello.

 

She lives in a wonderful village near Crickhowell (Wales) called Cwmdu.  This is another one that’s pronounced slightly differently than you’d think – ‘Cumdee’. Bet my American readers are counting their blessings that they had the good sense to use phonetic spellings for most stuff – removes a lot of the guesswork.

 

This village is very, very tiny but is home to a remarkable chef in the local pub who has created a fantastic Restaurant that we always look forward to with relish.  Our meal at The Farmers was probably our last cooked by Andrew as he and his wife are moving to a B & B in Caerphilly – what a loss to the eating world.  They have just adopted a much-wanted baby and their world is now centered around him.

 

The village also manages to have a caravan site across the road!  This was my first experience of sites as I imagined them to be.  Lumpy field, sloping pitch and not the most attractive toilet and shower block – also a fairly brusque ancient proprietress, who gave an excellent demonstration of how not to welcome your guests.  That said it was exceptionally beautiful and very peaceful.  As Doris provides everything we need the site doesn’t matter to us as long as we get electricity and water.

 

When I filled the water carrier I was told it that was super fresh straight from the mountain.  As a city girl this held no appeal!  We actually use bottled water for drinking any way so not a problem.  I love my water used and reused and filtered and disinfected and every chemical you can find added – that’s just fine, thanks.  The prospect of water running naked through the hills and ending up in my teacup just doesn’t cut it.  Skewed? Perhaps.

 

The next day Susan was true to form.  After saying she’d meet us at the ‘van at about 11.30 to do a couple of things which she’d suggested she arrived at 2.45 pm.  I’d made and packed a picnic lunch for us all to eat while we were out.  Ken and I gave up around 1.30 and ate ours in the ‘van – Susan arrived and ate hers before we set off.  By now it was too late to do the stuff she’d suggested the day before so I decided we’d go and see Castell Coch in Taffswell where my father’s sister lived for many years and I’d visited a few times.  I’m not entirely sure if it was the birthplace of my dad but for me it is the only place I associate with him.  He certainly came from Cardiff.

 

The castle had changed a good deal since I last saw it – all very refined and scrubbed up now – very National Trust.  None the worse for it though other than other people have now found it, so it had to be shared.  It is a totally romantic creation by William Burges for the 3rd Marquis of Bute, who owned much of Cardiff and its environs.  It was built around the 1870’s very much as a hobby and a passion for the duo who loved all things medieval.  It is a fairytale creation.  Its elaborate paintwork and carving is absolutely incredible.  Oddly the person I most thought of when looking at it was Kit Williams and his work.  If you don’t look at any other photo album look at this one.

 

Whilst all this was going on in Wales our estate agent back home was taking our first viewer round our house.

 

Next day onwards and upwards to Ebury Hill in Haughton near Telford.  Spiffing site!  Not to mention a great journey.  We did so well we found ourselves seven miles away from our destination with an hour in hand so we stopped off at Dobbies Garden Centre.  I’ve wanted to do one of these for a while.  Not madly impressed but then we’re spoiled by having Newbank and Bents – two that are hard to beat.  The upside of Dobbies was a fantastic foody shop where we bought a couple of day’s worth of meals.  The initial attraction was a hand-raised pork pie with cheese and tomatoes – the problem being this is the object we forgot to buy, so dinner was a little strange!

 

We pitched camp and took off to visit my absolutely favourite garden.  Wollerton Hall.  Anyone who has a problem with mawkish sentimentality should avert your eyes at this point.  Anyone who loves gardens read on.

 

When I am surrounded by the garden at Wollerton its loveliness actually makes me want to cry - literally - it fills me with such wonderful sights and smells and emotions that it is almost too much - just a marvelous place for me.  I find a complete sense of outward peace and inward serenity and a strange feeling of going home. It was actually bucketing with rain most of the time and drizzling the rest but even that didn't detract from it for me - I love it so much. Sadly I don’t think it matters where your corporal remains end up but if it did this is where I would like to join eternity.

 

I’ve already sent you all a link to the their site – as ever its loveliness can’t been transmitted in two dimensions.

 

Next day Ken chose two really interesting places to visit.  I wasn’t bothered about either in advance but they turned out to be a curious pair.  The first was Attingham Park.  Initial surprise was that I’ve managed to exist 60 years without a clue that Attingham existed and only a glimmer of the existence of the Lords Berwick.  This wouldn’t be surprising other than it is a huge estate and not easily missed you’d think.  The free costumed tour was very good.

 

The second property was something of a contrast as we went to Sunnycroft.  This is a late Victorian gentleman’s suburban villa, typical of the many thousands of such houses that were built on the fringes of towns and cities. Sunnycroft is perhaps the only one to have survived largely unaltered and complete with its contents. The grounds amount to a ‘mini-estate’, with pigsties, stables, kitchen garden, orchards, conservatory, flower garden and superb Wellingtonia (huge pines) avenue.  Fascinating stuff – how the other half lived and in the daughters cases what they must have endured.

 

This pretty much catches up with all our travels for July, as our return to Bury the next day was the first of August.

 

Page five and I’ve still left out all sorts of stuff – honestly.  It is hard to select out the bits I might want to remember when I’m even more doddery than I am now.

 

At a mundane level the ‘new’ car is doing well though it is going to be an expensive brute to own I suspect.  The new wipers just cost over £50!

 

Weight has become an issue again.  Having dropped two stone I still had another two to go but thought we might take a bit of a rest from it all.  Two months later and the bit of a rest has seen an increase of eight pounds!!!!  I am mortified and have resolved to knuckle down again.  So watch this space.

 

Nothing in the way of books, cinema etc worth recording though I am looking forward to the heap of second-hand books I bought from one of the National Trust properties for about £1.50.  Do you remember those Readers Digest ‘condensed’ books where they bound four books into one hard back ‘collectable’?  I snaffled some of those for the princely sum of 40p each and a couple of others – so tons to go at in August.

 

‘Til then…

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August

 

After a lifetime of keeping a diary I know how annoying it is years later when you revisit your old self and discover whole chunks of time have gone AWOL because you were too lazy, unhappy or, even more annoyingly, having too much of a wonderful time to bother writing it up.  So I am grimly determined when I reach a block (like now) to plod on.

 

There’s no major tragedy here in Orwell Towers I simply don’t want to do it - all this writing and thinking - mostly the thinking - right now it seems like a major chore, rather than a pleasure.  This can only be of benefit to the reader, as it should make this a short episode to read.  Then again you know me once I start nattering...

 

We returned from the end of July trip in time for a couple to view our house and, on Sally’s birthday, 4th August, for us to go and see another detached house on this estate.  This is 4 Freestone Close.  I’ve quite deliberately entered the date and the address because as a well-practiced apopheniac (and psychotic!)  I hope the synchronicity of numbers might augur well.  In short, this is quite definitely the house I want.  Within hours I’d designed the kitchen and garden and begun the extension.

 

Ken, poor soul, keeps trying to apply the brakes and gives me lots of homilies about cups, slips, twixts and lips - all to no avail.  Please, please cross all your fingers and toes for me - I want this house.

 

On the 9th Ken’s Susan stopped by to show us her new bike - Ken’s birthday present to her probably bought the bell as it cost an unseemly amount.  (The whole bike, not the bell)  Susan assured me that what she paid was a paltry sum compared to the real top of the range two-wheelers that run into thousands.  I’m naturally puzzled by this; why would you want to be cold and wet or hot and sweaty and completely knackered getting from A to B when you have a perfectly comfortable car?  As ever I seem to have missed the point.  Seriously, it was really nice to see her so enthused about it all.  Ride on!

 

This was also the week I restarted the eating properly campaign and lost an astonishing four pounds.  Fret not all you strugglers out there I am right back to where I began, yet again.  No more to be said on this subject.

 

Our only movie this month has been another ‘blockbuster’ - ‘Superman Returns’.  I’m really annoyed that I liked it.  Needless to say I’m as awkward as ever because, generally, it got panned. I thought it was a great version of the original comics and, as such, took itself quite seriously.  That’s, at least, an honest and brave choice.  It always seems such a cop out to me when someone knowingly makes a ‘rubbish’ and totally commercially led film and then gets a bit ‘smarty-pants’ about it thinks that a bit of self-mockery will let them off. 

 

Our travels this month took us into the enemy camp of the white rose.  From the 16th to the 23rd we decided to go and have a look at a bit of Yorkshire via Southport. On the 16th and 17th we pitched up in Ainsdale to cover the Southport Flower Show. 

 

It seems we are trying to make our road trips to and from our destinations a little more interesting.  Last time we were stuck in a record heat wave traffic jam for an hour and a half on our return trip. This time we had a flat tyre on the caravan on our way to Southport.  My major concern is that we hadn’t a clue that it had happened and it was pretty much pancaked.  Fortunately a motorist got out of his car and tapped on our window to tell us about it when we were at some traffic lights.  I worry about what might have happened if we’d been doing the long, fast (!) motorway trek up to Scotland!

 

The first issue was to find somewhere to change the darn thing and then be able to turn round and get back easily.  Our lucky caravan god was still with us and we nipped round the corner and Ken got to do battle with the mucky swap.  The slide out cage underneath the van, which carries the spare, is not the most user-friendly system.  Having said that, I’ve since discovered they are now producing ‘vans without spares or a place to carry them!  As we were packing away our stuff it began to rain - talk about good timing.  So onwards to Willow Bank Caravan Park.

 

After setting up we did our regular ‘spot the local Tesco’ competition and pootled off for some shopping.  This became an even more fun challenge than usual.  I decided I wanted an emergency (this means I want it now, not tomorrow) slow cooker.  Number one Tesco didn’t have any but there was a big, big Tesco miles away.  Tesco two (9.30 pm by now) had one on display but none in stock and - ‘no, you can’t have ours!’  This cooker naturally enough was in the slow cooker section in the electrical gizmo section.  Our conversation was with a couple of assistants and then the floor (store?) manager.  None of these staff apparently knew they had zillions of other makes of slow cookers hidden away in a far, far distant aisle that bore no relation to slow or cookers or electrical gizmos.  So well satisfied with our pillaging we returned to our beds.

 

Next day off to the Southport Flower Show, but not until Ken had put his back out.  This is the man who just the day before had heaved giant tyres around with not so much as a broken nail.  Next day he was filling a water bottle at the drinking tap and ‘felt it go’.  I am now escorting a demic to several hours of walking around a showground.

 

We also thought it might be nice to stop off on the way at a tyre place and pay £60 for a new tyre ‘cos they couldn’t fix the other one.  Oh, Happy Day.

 

On the plus side I did get to buy one of the ubiquitous garden show’s trolleys that I’ve been hankering after.  Ken has rightly been claiming I don’t need one as I’d only married him to ‘hold this’ and ‘carry the heavy things’.  Now he was out of action I discovered the joy (yes really) of dragging your worldly goods around the grounds in a ten-pound collapsible trolley - don’t let anyone dissuade you from buying one.

 

I must admit to being a tad disappointed with the Southport Show.  I really think it’s more to do with being spoiled, rather than any fault on their part.  It began with my very own Victor Meldrew having fits at their dreadful lack of organisation just to let us pay and get in.  We were ferried from car park to grounds in a bus (as usual with these things).  Sixty plus people offload and there’s two people selling tickets painfully slowly. They inform each person individually as they arrive at the window that the credit card machine is ‘broken’ and rather than redirecting them to another entrance they tell folk where the cash machine is in town!  We paid cash and they let us in. 

 

Besides the trolley I got another excellent buy within two minutes of being in the grounds.  Being a real trooper a couple of days before we left Bury I realised I hadn’t got any suitable navy shoes for wet grass tromping so I dashed into Bury to snaffle a pair.  By the time I’d got off the park-and-ride bus my feet were killing me!  Clever product placement meant there was a terrific stall selling leather clogs just inside the entrance - ten quid!!  Oh yes, they were like heaven and have continued in the same vein.  Trouble is now I don’t want to wear anything else.  Over the years when I’ve seen these things I’ve claimed I’d never be seen dead in a pair of Danish/Swedish hippy dippy clogs.  I have since discovered that they can be worn quite safely without spotty scarf and braids.

 

Back to the plot.  I think Southport could be a really lovely ‘old-fashioned’ flower show, which I’m sure is how it all began, but they are way overreaching themselves and are trying to compete with the NEC and Tatton and other grand garden shows which have the time, space and funds to really go over the top.  They had a handful of show gardens, which were truly dreadful on every level.  Poor design, even poorer planting and so predictable.

 

That said the floral marquees were a joy if that’s your thing.  I came away with a streptocarpus from Dibleys.  Brilliant idea - clarted around in a trolley all day and then in a caravan for the rest of the week and heaven knows what will happen to the poor thing when we go to Naples, but it was literally irresistible.

 

Floral marquees are only second on my hit list of things to do at a show.  Show gardens are why I’m there, I’m afraid.  This time they slid into third place when I discovered the amateur tent.  It was magnificent.  There was table after table of enthusiasts' wonderful flowers and vegetables - such a joy.  Sweet peas, dahlias, orchids and fuchsias to die for and all presented with such love and perfection.  It seemed so quintessentially English and completely made the visit and all the little hitches en route more than worthwhile.

 

The seating for lunch was pretty hysterical.  As Jake the Peg wasn’t up to the squatting-on the-grass-for-a-picnic level of fitness we needed two chairs.  So that’s just us and two hundred other people doing the same thing.  Hundreds of feverish eyes studied every mouthful of food that people consumed tying to judge if they were ‘about to leave’ then there was the mad rush of the nearest twenty people herding towards anyone who had paused in their chewing.  I was particularly cunning and manage to raid two chairs individually and cleverly combined them into the necessary pair.  I am ashamed to admit that I let down the new thug-for-Britain species and ate guiltily and as quickly as I could so others could have our seats.  Throughout all of this poor old Stefan Buczacki was doing his very best to do a Gardeners’ Question Time in the bandstand.  It would have made a lovely skit for ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ and my heroine, Hyacinth.

 

The permanent borders outside the grounds are the real joy in Southport.  For anyone unfamiliar with the place, if you ever get there in summer go and look at Rotten Row; it is spectacular.

 

We arrived back to our slow-cooked chilli (hence the pot) with about five minutes to spare before being imprisoned by a terrific thunderstorm.  We are a walking rabbit’s foot.

 

Not so lucky the next day as it continued to pour down.  Our mice-and-men outdoor plans were well scuppered, so we resorted to driving to Lytham St Anne’s, which would be pretty near if you didn’t have to drive right round the estuary.  Being a geographical nerd of the first order I hadn’t realised this when I suggested it.  Hasn’t anyone heard of bridges and ferries?  So a very long drive in the rain ended in my suggesting a compensatory cream tea - the sort of thing we British do so well in large posh seaside hotels.  We sought out the not so English Best Western, complete with sea views, and ordered tea.  Well, sort of.  After a long wait in the bar (!) I rootled out an employee hiding in an adjacent cupboard who proceeded to tell us - ‘we can do you tea but we don’t do cakes and stuff, but we’ve got biscuits’.  One tea, one coffee and ‘no charge for the biscuits’ and a long drive back.  Fish and chips in Tesco’s on the way home to warm, dry and a book was (sort of) excellent in comparison.

 

We eschewed a TV when we bought the van.  We didn’t have one in France and it was never missed. I honestly don’t watch very much TV because I do think most of the programmes are rubbish.  I never imagined I would miss it; sometimes though I admit it would be good to sop up the equivalent of high carb entertainment after a ‘hard’ day.

 

Ken is now on the third piece of kit to use with his laptop to enable it to pick up TV programmes.  I don’t think the problem rests with the kit or the idea so much as the fact that most sites are in the boon docks and buried in trees and hills.  Most caravanners tote huge aerials with them.

 

On Saturday we moved on to Ripley near Harrogate.  As Ken was utterly crippled with his back I got to do all the hitching and unhitching tasks.  Again ‘him up there’ must love me, as it seemed everything I did was in sunshine, neatly sandwiched between very wet showers.  Yes to all those unbelievers out there, I even ‘did’ the toilet.  It’s great actually - all sealed and valved and never a thing need be touched or even seen.  Excellent.  Some of the work is pretty physical which I’m not, so I felt very pleased with my little self and not a little smug.

 

Sunday began a superb demonstration of the female art of multi-tasking.  I managed to make breakfast, packed  lunch and prepare dinner all at the same time.  By the time the cereal dishes were washed we were ready to go; lunch in a bag and dinner in the pot.  We were off to Harlow Carr, one of the four RHS gardens.  Of the three I’ve visited so far this one is by far the best.  Rosemoor and Wisley are terrific and have some stunning planting but Harlow Carr was diverse and informative and just downright interesting.

 

The weather was a-lowering and a-glowering but held well for us.  Our picnic lunch was frugal in calories and cost so we made up for it by a visit to the famous Yorkshire Betty’s Tea Shop.  Not quite the one, but a branch of it at Harlow Carr.  It is superb.  The setting is superb almost making the totally unique and actually perfect vanilla slice and tea almost an unnecessary bonus.  On the way out through the shop we thought we should take a little something home with us for pudding.  I discovered a whole new cake experience - a ‘Medici’ - very like a Florentine and totally perfect.  It’s a concoction of immaculate hazelnuts nestled cheek by jowl in a sticky caramel and backed with wonderful dark chocolate.  Terrific.  I slaver as I type.

 

The next day we went to investigate Ripley village and castle.

 

This is an exquisite little village, (re)built in 1620 (?) by Sir William Amcotts Ingilby who styled it on a French village he’d seen.  The town hall is the only one in England to be called Hotel de Ville.  It is well worth a visit and, in our case, a return trip.  

 

The tour of the castle for the first time in a long time left me railing against privilege.  The Ingilby family live in such splendour.  All of it entirely due to centuries of droit de seigneur and its abuses.  On the one hand I become one with the French and Russian revolutionaries and on the other I understand that without Ingilbys and their ilk these wonderful buildings and beautiful artefacts wouldn’t exist and somehow we’d all be poorer for that.  Where lies the answer?

 

I was really saddened by what I thought was such a ‘shoddy’ garden.  It looks like municipal gardening - bright dahlias in circular beds.  The beautiful glasshouses could be spectacular without a great deal of expense - all the bones are there its just not being done with any love or care as far as I can see.

 

There’s some compensation in their wonderful food shop - cheese and wine provender - where we bought pates, sausage and beers and various tracklements - all yummy.

 

From there we went on to Ripon cathedral.  This certainly wasn’t especially beautiful and squats heavily in a square towered Norman-style.  I did find the connection to Lewis Carroll and ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ interesting though.

 

On our last day over the border in Yorkshire we discovered another hidden gem.  We set Esmeralda to take us to Millgate House in Richmond.  She duly directed us to the slap bang centre of the town and plonked us in the market square.  I must divert here for a minute to relate the tale of the parking tickets.

 

When you get to the square there are signs telling you to display a parking disc.  After enquiring we were told we could get one from some of the surrounding shops.  Some shops don’t do them and some have run out of them.  Finally I got a very dilapidated one from a storekeeper who made me swear to return it.  It’s exactly like the cardboard ‘clock’ used with a disabled drivers permit.  You set your arrival time and leave it on display in the car.  By now, of course, some time had elapsed just hunting down a disc so there must be a great deal of flexibility in the system.

 

Any way, duly parked for two hours, we went to seek out the Tourist Information Office for directions to the house.  This too was something of a find-it-if-you-can fiasco.  Once found we asked for directions to Millgate House expecting a long drawn out conversation accompanied by map drawing.  Not so, the house was in the self same Market Place just as Esmeralda had said.  Off we tootled for our third and final hunt the thimble and found a pleasant but unprepossessing Georgian terraced house on the edge of the square.  Open the latch and walk in - down the side of the house and out into the most wonderful, magical experience of a garden.  It is a third of an acre and absolutely crammed with plants and all are allowed their head.  Blousy, full-blown and downright sexy.  You almost have to force your way through little space after space with most opening out into wonderful views.  It is all about concealing and enticing.  Another one of my ‘secret garden’ experiences.  In a nutshell it is described as ‘a lush garden of controlled exuberance’.  This is a truly wonderful place.

 

The photographs on my site for this, as always, don’t begin to do it justice but try and find time to take a look (http: mormson.googlepages.com) I hope they will make you want to go there.  It is a garden of roses, which, of course, were ‘finished’ when we visited so I’ve made a note to go back next summer.  What a find.

 

Richmond itself looks like an interesting town and contains a splendid teashop! William’s - they are even online and deliver how zippy is that.

 

This brought our August mini break to a close and the next day we wended our way back to Bury and a trip to the doctors for Ken for a consultation about his back.  This is worth noting as he’s been about three times in twenty years so should be observed in some way.

 

Next day and back in sunshine again, Sue, Phil, Chrissie, Ken and I did a tour of Tatton and its park.  As always this was paused here and there for lunch and ice cream and followed by dinner at The Red Hall.  Geoff, the worker, joined us for that.  We missed a lot of the gardens and all of the parkland so we need to go back some time and eat less and do more, maybe?  P’raps not.

 

Out last day of the month was spent with Phil and Sue at Oswaldtwistle Mills.  Now this one we really do have to do again.  We missed loads of stuff before we ran out of time.  We galloped round to get through the checkouts by 5.30 pm only to be told by the chaps on the way home they were open ‘til 8 pm on Thursdays.  What a dirty trick.  Only the carvery at The Rose and Bowl distracted me sufficiently to prevent a serious GBH situation taking place.

 

Four pages of typing isn’t too shabby for someone who didn’t want to do this. It is midnight and I do have severe bottom, back and brain ache so I am glad to pause here until next month.

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 September

 

 

We had a fairly negative start to the month.  The Potts withdrew their offer on our house - saying they’d decided to stay where they were and 4 Freestone (the Huxleys) turned down our offer on their place - so back to stasis.  Our nice couple who want the place but have to sell theirs (the Harrisons) came back for a second viewing and are still as enthusiastic - so who knows?

 

The car cost us an absolute fortune - it needed servicing, two new tyres and brakes and discs replacing. 

 

This gloom was alleviated with Sue and I returning to Oswaldtwistle to return stuff and have a better look round without the blokes.  We sent them off for a swim, lunch and the movies and all met later at the Duckworth Arms for a meal.  Good Thursday as ever.  As always, we managed to slice out the best weather of the week too.

 

At the weekend I had a great time planting up eleven large pots with spring bulbs.  They were all double planted with contrasts such as Queen of the Night (ebony) tulips and white anemones; Angelique (pale pink frilly) tulips with purple crocus; Hollandia (red) tulips and white anemones.  Others were a mix of my usual tête-à-têtes and poppies.  Can’t wait to see them all.  Now, at the end of the month, I’m thrilled to see all the poppies are coming up and the anemones are also through.  They will be lovely if they all make it.  Not being here for three worst months of the winter they will have to take their chances I’m afraid.

 

Our second week crept by in a series of mundane chores.  I’m very poor at having nothing ‘different’ happening.  It seems to slow time down to half pace, which might be OK if you were actually enjoying the minutes. Needless to say the good minutes just fly by.

 

In our third week we went to the Octagon to see Terry Johnson’s ‘Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick’.  As you’ve probably guessed it’s pretty much a three-hander built around Sid James, Kenneth Williams and Barbara Windsor.  The setting is Sid's caravan-cum-dressing room backstage at Pinewood Studios, with the action spanning the filming of four of the classic films, from Carry On Cleo in 1964 to the final Carry On Emmanuelle in 1978.

Mostly it observes the relationship between Barbara and Sid.  It does a good deal besides and perhaps that’s its weakness.  It doesn’t seem to have a sharp enough focus.  Williams and Windsor were excellent and had just enough ‘mimicry’ of their characters to carry them through without it being a ‘take-off’.  I thought Sid was the weak link.  After that bit of a grouch I still think its worth going out for.  We saw it on the first night and I think if it oils up slicker as it goes it should be excellent.  The writing is excellent at times and very funny as well as poignant and just downright interesting. 

 

Whilst parking for the theatre we did a good deal of complaining about car parks not giving you enough room and managed to clip a tyre trying to get close enough to the exit barrier to insert the token.  The next day this tyre clip turned out to be a great big dent and scratch along the back wing and door.  Estimated cost of repair £650!  That’s one for the insurance then.

 

The next day we went for our last swim at The Village.  We’d bought a ten-day for ten quid trial, which the chaps and Sue used quite well.  I managed to go twice.  It is very pleasant and a heaven away from the municipal variety of pool but suffice it to say you still get wet and have to mess with hair and stuff - all too much for me on a regular basis.  A heated pool outdoors in the Florida sun and a return to the comfort of your own bathroom - now that I understand.

 

So - post swim - off to lunch, couple of hours at home and then went to pick up Phil and Sue for their Ruby Wedding ‘do’.  We offered to drive them so they could drink and give them a hand setting up and clearing up.  It all went very well and everyone seemed to have a great time.  Well done to P & S for sticking to their vows and making the forty years.  We are looking forward to their Diamond celebration.

 

Saturday - the next day - and we were off to Blackmore Caravan Site in Worcestershire at the foot of the Malverns.  We had a great journey down and parked up on the only available pitch.  It was a tad shady but worse than that was that we were being bombarded with acorns!  The noise on the caravan roof is incredible and managed to make me jump every time. 

 

During the night it managed to produce an incredible thunderstorm - the yellow lightning lit up the interior of the van and the thunder actually made it vibrate.

 

The following morning we took off for the Malvern Show.  We met Pam and Ken who arrived just a few minutes after us and tootled round all day in some nice warm dry weather.  All predictions had been for heavy rain.  As Mr. Dylan says ‘you don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows’.We left about 4.30 pm absolutely shattered.  It is a huge show and we certainly didn’t get round it all - maybe we’ll do it again next year and go for two days.  Masses of interesting stuff there though.

 

On Monday we moved the van to another pitch - in the sun and nowhere near an oak tree.  The plan for this day was a tour of Newent - a Victorian Village.  One problem with Mondays is that most of the National Trust and RHS places are closed so we decided a village was a pretty good idea ‘cos they couldn’t close that.  Yes they could.  We arrived to find that you enter the village through a gift shop, which is closed on Monday!

 

By default I ended up looking in a charity shop and had the strangest experience.  It began with seeing an obscure children’s clothing book, which I’d owned in the 70’s.  Not my actual copy you understand (although who knows?) but an identical one.  From there every which way I turned I kept seeing things I’d owned - some pretty unusual soup coupes (remember those?), a book about British Treasures not so unusual this time as it was an AA publication, a coffee pot and more.  It was the oddest sensation like something from a spooky movie - finding a place where all your past life had intersected.  I bought a couple of things to pacify the spectre of charity shops and fled.

 

Back to the car and a search for an alternative plan came up with the notion of visiting the Three Choirs Vineyard.  This turned out to be very interesting.  It is an excellent little gold mine running a shop, restaurant and hotel besides the vineyard itself.  It’s apparently the second largest vineyard in the UK with a full time staff of six (!).  We did the tour and bought some bits and bobs.  They have found a very particular niche and stayed within it.  Some smart thinking on their part.  They sell locally - no customer is more than 45 minutes from them and they are all small retailers, so they don’t get their prices trimmed back by the big boys.  To be honest the wine isn’t very impressive so it is an even better idea not to get too big for your boots and stay with what you know and do best.  The place is immaculate and obviously sees a lot of re-investment.

 

In the evening we met Pam and Ken at Gupshill Manor for dinner.  This is a terrific place.  Besides the excellent food and service the building and its history is remarkable.  The manor was built in 1438 and stands on the site of the last and decisive battle of the Wars of the Roses; the Battle of Tewkesbury, 4 May 1471. The Lancastrians lost more than three thousand men.  I often forget the scale of these ancient battles.

 

Gupshill has become very yuppified since we last ate there and is announcing that it is about to undergo another black leather and golden oak transformation.  In ‘our time’ the food was excellent ‘plain fare’ at a good price.  It is now a little more gentrified but still wonderful and appropriately priced - we’ll have to check out its next incarnation.  It wins every pub/restaurant prize going, year on year.

 

On Tuesday, our last day, we decided to check out Berkley Castle.  Pam and Ken had recommended the trip.  As we hadn’t bothered to find out where Berkeley actually was we spent the first half hour driving to the wrong Berkley!  Onwards to the next Berkley proved to be quite a trek through Gloucestershire but it was well worth it.  The castle is a great building, the Berkeley’s of Berkeley Square are a fascinating family and the garden is small but perfectly formed.

 

The castle is the oldest building in the country to be inhabited by the same family who built it. It spans nine centuries having been built in 1153 by the Berkeley (Fitzharding) family.  Often it seems to have been at the centre of major historical events such as Edward II being murdered there and the Barons who signed the Magna Carta meeting there and much more.

 

The family itself has certainly had a finger in many pies over the centuries and though they usually backed the wrong side they managed  to come up smelling of roses each time.  Amongst other important Berkeleys they produced the first Governor of Virginia so making even more money in America and Edward Jenner who developed the smallpox vaccination.

 

The Earldom was ‘lost’ in the 1800’s thanks to a wonderful piece of bad judgment.  In middle age, Frederick Augustus, the fifth Earl, became enchanted by Mary Cole, the beautiful seventeen-year-old daughter of a butcher from Gloucester who, believing that she'd been through a valid marriage ceremony, came to live with him at Berkeley.  Mary produced six children before a second and subsequently legally recognised marriage took place after which she had another six children.  On the Earl’s death in 1811 the validity of the first marriage was tested (for two years) by the committee of privileges of the House of Lords, and it was shown that the evidence for it, a parish register entry, was undoubtedly forged at a later date.  This made the first six children illegitimate and the next six legitimate.  Under the will of his father, William, the eldest illegitimate son, inherited the castle and estates but had no claim to the earldom.  His canny father had said that if any of the legitimate children claimed the earldom they would loose their inheritance.  They could have the title but no money.  So the title left the direct line.  The present incumbents are Mr. and Mrs. Berkley. Mary Cole was a fascinating character and her story is well worth following up.  (Mary Cole Countess of Berkeley)

 

The gardens are actually constructed on a sixty-foot drop from the surrounding battlements.  Over the years some small terraces have been added and the gardens are like tiers of a wedding cake.  Gertrude Jekyll was one of the last important designers to work with the gardens.  The borders, even in late September, are excellent.  The surrounding 6,000 acres of land is mostly made up of one of the best examples of a mediaeval deer park in the country.  There are 18 tenant farms, and they even own a stretch of the river Severn.  It also incorporates the Wild Fowl centre at Slimbridge.

 

In the grounds there’s a terrific butterfly house.  As Ken said, mopping his brow, it’s like a trip to Florida.  When I was in there surrounded by a zillion butterflies I heard someone say they would have to catch them and give them away during the next few days because they are closing for the winter.  How in heaven’s name you catch that many butterflies I can’t imagine.  They also have the cutest tiny Chinese quails in there to keep down any bugs.  I wonder what happens to them?

 

Following a great day at Berkley - again in wonderful sunshine - we went to Pam and Ken’s for dinner.  The poor woman must have slaved all day to clear up for us as they are in the middle of a giant sort out and redecoration stint at the moment.  It was a lovely meal, as always, and great to see them and catch up properly.  We all live too far away from each other in this teeny and diminishing family.

As we were staying on a Camping and caravanning Club Site we returned to being locked out of the site.  Even though we were on the receiving end of the policy I still think it’s an excellent one.  They close the gates at 11 pm and any cars after that have to stay outside until 7 am so folk aren’t disturbed.  So we wended our way home by torchlight - true campers.  Upped sticks and headed for home the next day.

 

On the 28th I met Denise for a meal at Smiths.  As ever, it was really good to catch up with her gain.  I must confess my spending the entire day worrying about driving over to Salford could have dampened it.  I have driven this huge car about twice and only very locally.  I drive less and less and get more and more wound up about it.  By the time I arrived at Denise’s, after doing battle with the M66 and M60, I was positively shaking.  I must, I must, I must, (not improve the bust but) drive more - it is getting ridiculous.

 

So here I am at the 30th and all done and dusted.

 

Post Script:  I am in love with Google!  I use it for email, for my website and ‘sorting’ out my photographs (through Picasa).  Picasa has just updated itself and now includes a terrific Web Album facility.  I hope by the time I post this I will have transferred this month’s photos to http://picasaweb.google.com/mormson instead of my usual photobox site.  Photobox was fine but pitifully slow to load and fell down quite a bit.  So far, so good on both counts with the Picasa site. So try clicking here and see what happens.

 

October 2006

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I have been a very bad person and not kept my journal up to date. It is now February 2007 and I am trying to scrat together thoughts, which have long since disappeared. There is no good reason for this slacking and I send apologies to anyone who might have thought I'd dropped off my perch or something. The worst I have been suffering from is idleness or maybe house selling/buying fatigue.

Last month's epistle began with an 'all change' with the Potts withdrawing their offer and us having been turned down by Freestone Close. We were now seriously considering binning the whole thing. Realistically we had to move in November as we had already booked to be back in Naples for a month in October, returning here for a month for the 'planned' move in November. We were then returning to Naples on 6th December for our three-month jaunt.

While we were mulching over what was best to do the Potts returned with an increased offer (on the 4th) and we made another bid on Freestone. So far so good. By the 10th Freestone had come back saying they wanted more money. This was so unrealistic - they are trying to sell a 1980's untouched house that needs a complete refurb for the same price as a bells and whistles spanking new one up the road. The only reason we have shown any enthusiasm for it is that it has exactly the layout we want and is on our estate that we know and like. They are also completely cracked as they have had only two viewings in all the time they've been on the market and we were one of those! These are not serious sellers. Very unlike Ken, he actually told the agent to tell them "to stuff it". [They are still on the market four months later]

The day before we left for Naples we made an offer on the new house we'd seen in Hayling Close.

On the 12th we jetted off to the old US of A smugly thinking all was done and dusted. We would return in November to complete the move and back to Naples for Christmas. Let's face it we are a whiz at organising complex issues and wondering why folk make a fuss about such things. Now you know we are about to fall flat our face don't you?

Back to the rest of our life....

We follow the life and times of our home in Sherwood on the web when we are back in the UK and I was amused to read that a couple of someones had spotted a panther on our estate - bobbing about various 'wild bits'. All developments have to leave 'Preserve' areas when they build. It was described as large and black. Now this perplexed me on two counts - a) Florida panthers are not all that large and brown b) they avoid humans like the plague and are rarely seen even in the wild. As ever Mrs. O proved right and the panther turned out to be a bear! So that's OK then. We had the usual warnings about not feeding wild animals (!) or leaving trash around (as if!) and it seemed to fade away. The story not the bear.

Back home for real we dragged Phil and Sue to The Piece Hall in Halifax for a jolly Thursday outing. Bit of a problem with the plan was that the day decided to be very cold and very wet. In addition The Piece Hall was pretty much closed and/or running down. I'd been a couple of times before, years ago, and had lovely time mooching the little shops. This turned out to be our first not-so-good pensioners' outing.

We compensated ourselves with a meal out and a movie. A Meryl Streep interesting piece - 'The Devil wears Prada'. Not a spectacular vehicle but I always find her eminently watchable and she can make even a weakly written character something worth watching. Don't think the rest of the quartet was very thrilled. All in all our least successful day.

Sue and I spent some of Saturday trying to 'do' the shops at The Quays, Salford. We thought without the chaps we might get to do them thoroughly. Not so, it is too big even for us to tackle in a few hours - so another one on hold for repeat visit. Dinner out again with the chaps in the evening.

As I mentioned before the 12th saw us on our way to home number two - or as I like to think of it - home number one! The flights were a little different to our usual. Normally life is spent hanging around airports for an eternity - I hate this much more than being trapped on a plane for eight hours. Not this time. In Manchester I went to buy my usual meal and drink and something to read and when I got back to the gate ken was the only one there - they had boarded and were leaving early. This, of course, didn't help with our finely tuned connecting flight. We arrived at that Gate again just as they were boarding - so yeehhh! No hanging around - terrific. The down sides being....

Our transatlantic plane was an ancient 757 with overhead monitors that we (especially Ken) couldn't even see. Not that there was much to miss as there was no TV channels or Channel 5 (classical music). Our special order food never arrived and they were out of white wine by the time they got to us. Thank goodness I always take my own meal and drink with me. Ken is coming round to the idea by degrees. Trust me sushi, veg and dip, a nice sandwich, crisps, kit-kat and a smoothie comfort me nicely along the way. I always adjust my watch to American time when I get on board and eat accordingly - that helps too.

Miami was the usual nightmare - how I hate that airport, the drag to the car hire place and the car hire place itself. We much prefer flying into Fort Myers but, as always, with this it is a cost issue and Miami is often cheaper. This time they managed to not put gas in the car. We were then (mis)directed several times to the gas pumps to get fuel. Finally a tiny old tortoise of a man did the job and we were on our way.

I did my usual sleep of the innocent for the two-hour trip across Alligator Alley and we arrived in Sherwood about 11 pm. This translates into about 4 am English time - needless to say I'm a cup of tea and straight to bed person.

Our next day began with a car that wouldn't start. A couple (!) of call-outs got us moving and away to buy a new battery. Mmmmm, augers well. We did so much food shopping that our Visa card (and us) had to be specially checked at 'customer services'. Bit of a misnomer this, I think. The next day Visa called to say they were checking a big spend on a card, which hadn't been used in six months. All this security and yet Ken's card details have been used fraudulently twice

Deep joy - our visit began with the way we intend to go on - a house full of food and we ate out. I've mentioned before we are forced to renew our Florida driving licences every time we come back. We underwent this trial yet again. Oddly enough I had my photo taken three times because she couldn't get rid of the 'red eye'. I have passed this gene on to Sally - whatever you do with a camera if it points straight at us you can see through our eyeballs to the back of our head. There is the obvious explanation of not having anything in there to prevent this. Other than this I'd like to know why - is it something to do with blonde/blue-eyed pigmentation or lack thereof? The lady with the camera said she'd not known it happen before. [Run spooky music]

The rest of our stay was the usual meals, beach, shopping, cinema, and theatre. We went to the Dinner Theatre to see Lucky Stiff - must admit this was the first that wasn't for us. Not a 'farce' fan.

We did catch the movie of the year for me - 'Little Miss Sunshine' - what an absolute gem. A wonderfully observed slice of life. Brilliantly written and even more brilliantly cast. Of course Olive/Abigail Breslin is the one to watch. I have the luck of writing this four months later so I know she's been nominated for best supporting actress (youngest ever if she gets it) in the Oscars. So deserved. That said it was a perfect meld of casting, writing, directing. It never put a foot wrong.

I became the 'Phantom Librarian' as our master Association Chairman dubbed me in his thank-you. I decided the clubhouse library was a ramshackle mess so with some help from Ken I totally organised (note not 're' organised as there was no organise to 're'). I have now lumbered myself with an ongoing chore and the frustration of idiot people who can't even leave stuff in a box for me to sort back onto shelves. What is wrong with everyone else in the world?

Just a couple of notes on an eatery called Mel's Diner. It is, as it says, a 'diner'. Not spectacular food, but good basic stuff. It does have other charms. Firstly it claims to be the home of the Mile High Pie, which as you can imagine 'does what it says on the tin'. It is HUGE! Then it also does the smallest chocolate sundae in the world - how cute is that? When you go in - there is always a wait for a table - instead of taking names and struggling with spelling and pronouncing weird stuff they simply give you a giant tag with a famous person's name on it and they call 'Marilyn Monroe', 'Fatty Arbuckle', 'Lucille Ball' when their table is ready. Another nice touch is in the Restroom. Besides motion sensitive taps and toilet flush they also have motion sensitive paper towel rollers - I love it. As Mrs. Neurotic (no they don't have a board with that on) I hate washing my hands in a public bathroom and then handling taps, towel machines and door handles - this way it’s all avoided. (The door rarely closes with the heavy traffic of women in a busy restaurant). On this occasion with one of our clip and save coupons (how American is that!) we saved 20% on a ten buck meal. I love America.

Another eatery we use a lot is Cracker Barrel (Old Country Store). It is five minutes round the corner and their Sunday fried chicken is a joy. So following our (free) Concert in the Park we tootle over to Cracker Barrel to feed our faces - nice Sundays.

One of my shopping trips netted 47 items of clothing (some of these were even made up of three garments) for $297. The shoppers among you will recognise the good deal here.

Christmas was already filling the stores much like home. There were a couple of 'you could only get it here' items, which struck me though. They were selling colourful patterned Christmas gift bags big enough to put a bike in (!) for $5 and a $3 bag with drawstring top to wrap your six foot Christmas tree in when you throw it away so you don't spread needles everywhere. They think of everything.

That seems to conclude a belated October. Now all I have to do is remember November, December and January - a bit daunting but at least I've begun.

 

November 2006

 

Remember, remember

......takes on a whole new meaning for me this month as I am typing this in February.

The month got off to a cracking start on the 1st with 'South Pacific' at the Dinner Theatre. Four out of five terrific performers. Bloody Mary managed to get it very wrong but was well outweighed by the rest of the cast so you could pretty much ignore her version of a loud, course, jolly Jamaican. She even managed to sing the truly haunting Bali Hi in the same upbeat style - what a pig's ear of not understanding the role.

November 5th was an odd one. It goes without saying it is a non-event in the US. Bonfires, treacle toffee and fireworks not to mention hot chocolate would seem a bit out of place in Naples. Instead we spent part of the day at one of our regular Concerts in the Park. The Naples Show Band, rather than the usual Naples (classical) Orchestra, was playing. One of their singers was a VERY scary sixteen year old. She looked thirty and had the confidence of a well-seasoned trouper. There is an insouciance about the American children we meet, which is astonishing to me. I think it only comes with the well-heeled in the UK. I so much envy that ability to be totally comfortable in your skin and in your spot in the world. To be able to somehow give this to your children for the rest of their lives seems to be an American knack and in my book is a gift worth having. Their music ranged through 'April in Paris' to 'We'll meet Again' via 'Paper Moon' and 'Over the Rainbow'. Totally my sort of stuff not least because I actually know all the words!! As usual we sat in the shade of the live oaks and were pleasantly buzzed by dragonflies and butterflies as we drifted through the post lunch selection. Almost better than a box of chocolates. Almost.

By the 9th, all too soon, we were on a plane home. On the 11th my Sally and Chris and his Gayle came to stay for the weekend, which was lovely although a bit of a mad rush around Tesco's before they arrived. This would be the last time we'd see Chris and Gayle before they emigrate to Canada. We'd put our 'normal' Florida routines on hold last year, as I wanted to be home when they left so I could 'see them off'. Their plans got changed around a couple of times so we gave up eventually and booked various stays in Naples. Now, of course, it seems they will be leaving in February when we are in the US. It will seem very odd not to be around when they go.

We had a lovely meal at The Sleigh for my birthday on the Sunday and everyone stayed in so I got to spend some real time with them. The 'kids' left at 9.15 am the next day and were (in Chris and Gayle's case packed off with a very early Christmas bundle). I confess to shedding a tear or two after they'd gone. I always miss them more after I've seen them.

I saw a terrific play with Denise as my birthday present from her while we were home. It had got rave reviews everywhere it had been including New York, and rightly so. Alan Bennett’s 'The History boys'. It had also just been made into a movie, which I wanted to catch to compare - bad idea probably.

I seem to have grown into 'migraine-type' headaches in old age, which last two, or three days - as I was struck with one of these a few days later Ken also went out without me. He joined our movie crowd for the latest James Bond. Now those of you who know me well might regard my excuse as a political headache - it wasn't- but still nothing missed in my case.

Pam and Ken came for a weekend so we could catch up my birthday and hers and the forthcoming Christmas exchange of gifts. Funny old year this year. Ken's kids stuff was delivered to June and Ian. Other things including the Christmas cards were posted to various folk very early.

On the house front I've just realised I don't have a note of when our purchasers - remember the Potts? - backed out for the second time! But back out they did as they now decided they really wanted to live in Spain. So everything was 'off' again and here we were at home all ready to do the not-happening move. I wanted to just quit on the whole deal. The house we'd seen which germinated the idea (Freestone) was now in the 'get stuffed' category and I was uncomfortable about the location of the one in HaylingClose. Our little gem of a house in Orwell, being a total refurbishment, had been done exactly as we wanted, so I loved every inch of it. Ken suggested a compromise - we leave it on the market for the month we were home and see what happened - maybe the Potts would come back for round three. We could always knock it on the head before we left on the 6th of December if needs be.

On the 15th November John Griffiths came to view and offered 3K more than our previous buyers. The odd thing was he and his wife did a ten-minute walk-through and didn't seem particularly interested. We scurried back to view Hayling again, made an offer and started the whole process again. We were told we could probably move before Christmas, which was no use to us as we had visitors in Naples from Christmas Day until 9th and 12th of January so we were looking for a move mid-January. We'd fly back for a week to do the move. Any later than that wouldn't be much use because we didn't want to cut our Naples trip short or fly back to Naples for just a few days.

Our plans for the move pootled along with surveyors and removal companies visiting us. So far, so good. We also, optimistically, began the packing. To be continued ..

 

Our Thursday outings were getting a bit curtailed by the weather and the fact that most places have the good sense to close by November. On the last Thursday, which was also the last day of the month, the chaps went to the pool; we had lunch out and then had the OAP experience of free public transport - The Met - to Manchester for the Christmas Markets, which was very jolly. I think it was Phil's first time on The Met. I, of course, am a seasoned veteran as I did a daily two bus, one tram ride to Manchester University for four years. Ah me, those happy days in snow and ice and rain.

We had the pleasure of inviting them back for a cup of tea and a slice of toast! We didn't have a crumb of food in the house as we were about to leave for the States and wanted to return to empty cupboards etc ready for the move. I suspect Phil will tease me with his invitation for toast for a while to come.

From bonfires to toast and with it November comes to an end....

 

 

December 2006

 

Merry, merry December.......

So we come to December on this trawl through times past. As you may recall this is being written in February so may not be as 'full' as it should be.

December this year managed to take up a chunk of January too as we had guests from 25th December through to 12th January so that seemed to glue the two months together in a way that it's hard to separate. I'm sure I'll manage.

Our first six days were still in the UK during which time a joint on the water inlet to the toilet decided to spring a leak - overnight of course - and managed to soak portions of four walls downstairs in the kitchen, sitting room and under the stairs. This happened just in time for our buyers second visit (to show his mom the house). They were totally unconcerned and even tried to insist we didn't bother to get it fixed. Our magic decorator (Rob) whizzed round the day before we left for Naples and it was all spanking new again.

On the 3rd (Sunday) we had a very early Christmas 'do' with our seven* group which was really nice and a great farewell and jolly hols starter. We met for a concert by Besses O'th Barn Brass Band and the Affetside Choir in Radcliffe and then over to us for a while and on to a traditional Christmas meal at The Red Hall. We exchanged gifts, farewells and our usual extended conversations in the car park post dinner and wended our way home.

The 7th came round at last and our trusty chauffeurs Phil and Sue delivered us to the airport for the usual trip 'home'. We arrived an hour later than we should have which upset our normal routine of stopping by Circle K on the corner of our road for basic stuff for the next day - it was closed. (I keep meaning to check if it is 24 hours and that was just an 'odd' one) Anyway it did us a favour because we then discovered our local Mall (3 minutes away) has a 24-hour 'shop' for essentials. You could never starve in the States. They have my kind of mentality and go into panic mode if there's a hint that maybe you won't be able to get food when you want it.

A couple of days later we were in our 'good neighbors' (US spelling!) mode and could be found putting up the Christmas decorations at the entrance to our community. Heck of a task I might say, as much time was wasted by doing everything by committee. This in effect means it’s talked about but nothing is actually done - so, in the end, I just cracked on with it and got Ken to help. Job well done. The others went off to other places and pretty soon the clubhouse and entrance were done.

The next couple of weeks were really spent getting ready for Sally and Phil and Sue's arrival. We bought and put up decorations. We had brought most of our UK stuff, as I didn't know what would go where. We couldn't use anything electrical so had to re-buy that. The next task was to do some pre-prep for meals which included cooking some gluten free stuff for Sally. Interesting results! Being a vegetarian and having coeliac disease does not make for easy catering.

December 13th Ken's laptop died. [That turned into a saga, which has only just been resolved - he bought a new one yesterday 14th February]

By Christmas day we were poised. It was the oddest Christmas Day ever - it began with changing beds and doing the laundry and the last of the cleaning ready for our guests. In between I cooked Ken and I a Christmas lunch of sorts. We picked up Sally from Fort Myers airport about 8 pm - her flight was 20 minutes late. Phil and Sue did battle with the trip across the Alley from Miami. They were delayed for two hours!!! at the rental car pick up, so didn't manage to get to us until 1 am. They really did miss Christmas Day altogether.

Boxing day (which the Americans don't have) became everyone's Christmas Day. We spent the day leisurely getting to know the place. As their Christmas presents we had booked the Dinner Theatre to see 'Sugar' - the stage version of 'Some Like It Hot'. Enjoyed the food and show as always.

Being anal me I'd made an itinerary for their stay to try to cram in as much as we could. We did just that - the usual beach, shops, pool, airboat ride, Indian Museum and so on. The Sunset Cruise rewarded us with several Dolphins riding the bow wave, which was some compensation for the lack of an actual sunset. The weather was a bit dull and drizzly. They did well for the weather generally while they were here as it has been unseasonably warm, but we had a couple of 'chillier' days.

I now seem to have drifted on into January as I thought I might so.......rewind...

On New Year's Eve we went to the beach for the firework display at the Pier then on up to The Waterside to show S, P & S their wonderful Christmas decorations. It is a lovely centre normally but even prettier at Christmas. Then home for champagne and watched the ball drop.

Farewell 2006 bring on 2007......