2007
 

January 2007

 As I get older one year seems to blend seamlessly into another, as do my birthdays.  I have no idea what this means.  As a child I remember marking out my life in very small chunks – a new week, new month, new term etc.  Birthdays and New Years then seemed to be hugely significant markers.  Now they disappear into a very large undefined circle.  I seem to have lost the sense of linear time.

 

So January 1st 2007 arrived as expected after 31 December 2006 and the holiday with Phil and Sue and Sally continued.  More beach and pool and shopping and trips out. 

 

Phil and Sue left us on the 9th and Sally stayed on for a couple more days. 

 

< xml="true" ns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:vml" prefix="v" namespace=""><Sally was very keen on seeing Miami, as she was so close to it here.  I have never had any pleasant encounter with the place and even tried to dissuade her from the jaunt.  In the end we decided we’d go over and look at a couple of places a friend of hers had recommended and a gander at South Beach and the Art Deco Buildings. 

 

We crossed the Alley uneventfully and joined to the usual Miami crawl once we got into the city.  A few minutes from our destination we were in a stationery queue of traffic when an idiot on the other side of the road rear-ended the car in front.  He then tried to get away from the accident at speed and ended up re-arranging a concrete and metal barrier.  Meanwhile there was a lovely pinball effect of black car hitting cream car, cream hitting blue, and blue hitting us!  Fortunately everyone got out uninjured except the guy who caused it.  He was seemingly unconscious and was dragged from his car by some very brave bystanders who thought they saw smoke coming from the car (it was from the air bags) and ultimately he was carted off to hospital.  The emergency services were terrific.  In a couple of minutes we had the police and ambulance on the scene.  In no time the police had closed the road, redirected traffic and were dealing with ‘paperwork’.  Clearly they do this often.  The police and all the folks around couldn’t have been nicer.  Three cars were totalled and had to be lifted by trucks.  Our car was drivable with front wing, driver’s door and lights damaged.  Downside being the door wouldn’t open.  Ken cured this when we got home by wrenching it ‘til it did!  A fifth car was hit by a spare tyre coming off one of the SUVs.

 

So, lots of statements to police, exchanging of documents, and a cup of tea later and we were on our way to South Beach and the thirties architecture.  I can honestly say we saw it and that was about all.  It was utterly impossible to park anywhere and I think we’d really lost the heart for the jaunt by that time.

 

Miami remains on my list of places really I don’t want to visit.  I was sorry mostly for Sally who’d so looked forward to it.

 

It probably goes without saying that the guy who caused the problem, a.k.a ‘the violator’ (police speak) was uninsured.  Now didn’t we just know that?  So as it stands we have claimed against our insurance and have forked out our excess of $250, which we live in hopes of getting back some day.

 

The next day we drove Sally to the airport – Fort Myers, thank heaven, not Miami - for her trip home.

 

It was lovely having everyone to visit and wish they could be here loads more.

 

The rest of the month was taken up with car claims, car repairs, and attempts to get Ken’s laptop repaired.  The latter made us $200 poorer and no success – this is a long and boring story!  Best avoided.

 

Threaded among all this was to the to-ing and fro-ing of the house sale/purchase.  We were promised several completion dates each one thwarted by some pedantic detail with absolutely no real purpose.  Eventually we booked a flight home and insisted it had to happen between the 29th January and the 5th of February or it would then have to be the second week in March – which no one wanted, least of all us, as we were on our way to the UK for nothing in that case.

 

We managed to swap a theatre booking and squeezed in ‘Pal Joey’ the night before we left.  Again not the best of musicals though it does have the wonderful ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’ in it.  The lyrics in the stage version are really quite rude – check it out some time.  Obviously cleaned up for the movie.

 

By the end of the month we were in Bury packing the last of our boxes and waiting to see if the move was going to happen.  As always with these things the lack of communication is appalling and everyone had a different version of what was happening – we seemed to be the only folk trying to keep everyone up to scratch.

 

On the 31st at 3.10 pm we had confirmation that the completion and move would be the following day.  Removal Company was booked for 8.30 am!

 

February 2007

 

I’ve begun this month a week ahead of time and intend to ‘finish up’ the day before we leave for the UK. (Next Wednesday (28th).

Punxsutawney Phil has done his thing so I suppose it’s time to come home.  [I told you about P. P. last February – or some February or other  – so you could scout around my journal pages if you want to know more – Google will probably be quicker!]  This year’s verdict was:

 

Phil Says Spring is Right Around the Corner!

Phil's official forecast as read 2/2/07 at 7:28 a.m. at Gobbler's Knob:

El Nino has caused high winds, heavy snow, ice and freezing temperatures in the west.
Here in the East with much mild winter weather we have been blessed.

Global warming has caused a great debate.
This mild winter makes it seem just great.

On this Groundhog Day we think of one thing.
Will we have winter or will we have spring?

On Gobbler's Knob I see no shadow today.
 I predict that early spring is on the way.

 

Before you criticize his weather forecasting and his poetry – do remember he’s a ground hog.  I think statistically he’s not much worse than meteorologists/weather forecasters.  So for people like Ken, who avidly watch the weather forecast every night rather than look out of the window the next morning, this critter is the one to listen to.  We’ve had some variable weather this month but it has generally been terrific.  The huge upside being we very, very rarely see rain in the winter here.

 

I’ve just been checking my scraps of paper that I write reminders on sometimes for this journal and have uncovered a gem, which sounds really exciting so it’s worth recording here ‘Ken, ‘gator, Ft Myers’.  The only problem being I haven’t a clue what it means – so construct your own story using those four words no more than once.

 

Instead I’ll pick up where I left off last month – February 1st began in earnest with the arrival of the movers at 8.30 am as promised.    It was a good job we sold all the furniture with the house as we still managed to fill a van without it.  I pride myself on not having ‘stuff’ like most normal folk and yet when you start to empty the loft and garage and various ‘corners’ it is remarkable how much a teeny three bed semi can hold and still be ‘minimalist’.  The movers were surprised!  Three chaps spent the morning virtually running to and fro with boxes. My experience of any and all moves is that they rush round like loonies only to drive to the next house and sit outside for an hour – as they did this time.  As I always like to do, I stayed behind to do the last of the cleaning of 9 Orwell and say goodbye to the house on my own.  Unfortunately that got short shrift as the new owners arrived before I finished.  It was probably for the best as I admit to being ‘reluctant’ to leave this one.  I am always ready for the next ‘adventure’ but this time I was definitely dragging my feet.  I always hate to leave the gardens I create from scratch each time and this one was particularly successful so that was a wrench in itself and I loved our little house.  Oh well, onwards and upwards as they say.

 

We moved into Hayling Close after lunch only for me to have to start cleaning all over again.  Ken had seen the ‘lady of the house’ earlier who assured him she was in the throes of cleaning, having already done the ‘fridge and freezer.  Talk about porky pies.  I inherited twelve months of ice and dead food particles in the freezer and fridge; the equivalent remains enameled to the cooker and stuck to the floors.  The carpets all stank of dog, guinea pigs and worst of all Tomcat!  They may have to go.  (The carpets that is, fortunately the critters have gone).  We intend doing a couple of thorough cleans first to see how it goes.  Maybe with our three-week break and having left it clean and sprayed it might be OK when we get back.  You can but hope.  It would be a shame to ditch the carpets they are only a few months old – they had the builders back to change them in the summer some time as they’d been laid without underlay the first time round – they didn’t relay them they fitted all new carpet throughout.  [Sorry about the terrible picture – it is from the estate agent’s brochure]

 

We are actually camping in the house – the only furniture that came with us was the office desk and shelves and two beds.  For now our seven-foot settee is made up of three beach (not beech) chairs with a pair of contrasting director’s chairs for occasional seating.  The console table is a stack of boxes and the TV is standing on an ancient chest of drawers, which contains cleaning stuff and has seen life in umpteen homes, including my mother’s bathroom in its last but one incarnation.  We dine on trays on laps.  Worst of all we don’t have a washing machine, dryer or dishwasher.  Even worse we can’t just run out and buy them, as we need to make some changes to the kitchen first and have them built-in.  I haven’t any idea how we’ll get round that nightmare.  One week’s washing and drying at the local ‘grotterette’ complete with moaning owner, cost us £13.50.

 

I’ve just bought new bedding for my proposed duck egg blue and cream ‘French country’ bedroom.  This will go really well with our cardboard box bedside tables and clothes-rail wardrobes and the two stacks of boxes which serve as our his and her chests of drawers.  Not to mention the brown curtains.  Yummy.

 

I’ve already made an appointment with someone to come and look at the garden and discuss ideas and maybe do a plan for me.  We get home on the 2nd March and she arrives on the 6th.  I don’t let the grass grow under my feet!  I am a bit overawed by this garden, as it seems to have several levels and the challenge of various inspection covers at different heights.  I’m sure by this time next year it will all be done and dusted and I’ll be back to the bored with it all stage.

 

Part of the decision-making on this house was that it was a good buy.  This is supported at the moment by the identical house across the road, in a much worse plot, having gone on the market for £189,950.  Though, as Ken says, we’ll see if they get it.

 

To answer someone’s question recently I counted up all the houses I’ve lived in.  It seems I’ve had sixteen homes in my life.  As I managed to spend 11 years in one of them, 8 in another, 7 in another and 14 in the one I think of as ‘home you can see there’s been a pretty fast turnaround in the others.  That said we have been running two homes in parallel almost since I met Ken.  He and I have done ten together in three countries in the thirteen years since we met.  I’d like to think this is the one that sees us out.  If it is, unlike the others, it does have the potential to add on and change it in all kinds of ways when we ‘leave’ America and settle down at home.  We’ll see – knowing me we’ll end up in Canada or somewhere near the kids.

 

I seem to have infected both my kids with itchy feet and it has now come back to bite me with Chris moving to Calgary this month (25th).  I surprised myself by not being at all pragmatic about it and feeling absolutely wretched at the thoughts of his going.  It defeats all logic.  He’s been ‘away from home’ pretty much all his adult life.  Oddly I didn’t worry one iota when he was in The Falklands and then Canada with the RAF.  I suppose there’s a feeling with the Forces that they are somehow in a protected community and would be looked after.  The other lack of logic is that I choose to live 4,000 miles away from him for six months of the year now so how is it any different that he will be moving the same distance from me?  I don’t think this stuff depends on logic at all.  I just know he’s going to live on the other side of the world and I don’t want him to.

 

Ken spent three days after our move frantically boarding the loft and the ‘loft’ in the garage to store stuff so we could put the car away and tidy the house a little.  We’ve managed to do just that between the two of us and it’s as hunky dory as it can be right now – we even have the spare bed/room made up ready for Sally to visit when we get back.

 

By Monday 5th our trusty chauffeur, Sue, was delivering us back to the airport for our return to Naples.  We had a lovely girl on the Delta desk who changed our seating to row 16 – it has more legroom and across a triple so we had a spare seat between us and then on the second leg she gave us the exit door seats – so we had the most comfortable trip across the pond and into our lovely Fort Myers airport where we picked up the car and pootled on home.  Wonderful.

 

My only complaint was the pair of movies I suffered to help kill some of my 22 hours from bed to bed.  ‘Marie Antoinette’ – what a load of utter tosh.  There are some movies I see that I just can’t figure out how it was possible to get more than two people to agree to make them and this was one of those.  Incredible rubbish but visually very pretty – bit like watching an extended chocolate advert.  The other one was Robin Williams in ‘Man of the Year’ – again rubbish but saved marginally by the fact it was entirely a vehicle for Robin Williams’ stand-up routines, which made it OK for me as I find him incredibly funny.  I know, I know, not to everyone’s taste – I just think you can see an real intellect shining through here and there.

 

Our second day home was earmarked for one of our housing association meetings for Sherwood 1.  I’ve stopped going to them now, as I hate the sheer waste of time and the endless bickering and infighting.  It is appalling to see supposed adults performing like a room full of Kevins.  Enough already.  It brings out the teacher in me and I want to shut them up and keep them in at playtime.

 

I decided I’d use my three weeks back here methodically doing the rounds of every one of my favourite shops before they are taken away from me for five months.  How sad is that?  Don’t care; I am having a great time doing just that.  There's very little spending going on.  I’m just doing a final check that I’m not missing anything terrific before I go.

 

We meant to go to the Collier County Fair as we’ve not done one yet but unfortunately it slipped away from us.  This is yet another year when we won’t see ‘a man fighting a shark’ or giant fishing tanks to demonstrate fishing reels.  I wish I could remember the figures for this – believe me they are GIANT!  There’s ‘real good stuff’ such as the demolition derby, the gospel day 9(!), the swine show not to mention The Pageant – and we missed it all – again!  Watch this space next year.

 

We did our usual trips to the library for their free movies though, on one occasion, we actually got turned away as it was full – ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ drew the crowds.  The movie is chock full of people I really like – Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Woody Harrelson to name but three.  Garrison Keillor himself is in it.  Anyone who knows Lake Woebegon where ‘all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average’ has sampled a teeny bit of A Prairie Home Companion.  I’ll leave you to discover the rest for yourselves but even unseen I heartily recommend it.  Have a look at the official movie site to whet the appetite.  [Must get the DVD from the library]**

 

Next week we did get in for ‘The Defiant Ones’ – Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis – quite a duo and one worth catching.  Made in 1958 (?) and meant to scratch the American conscience on Black issues – sadly it’s probably still word perfect for the South today.

 

Another movie we got to see at the real movies at the huge cost of $6.50 was the utterly wonderful Judi Dench in the equally wonderful ‘Notes on a Scandal’.  This was such a texturally rich and intelligent movie it was hard to soak up all its layers in one go.  It is another one I want to see again after a while.  I thought it was the best film I’ve seen since I can’t remember when.  Dench is up for a best actress Oscar but I’m sure if it goes to any Brit it will go to Mirren, as she’s so much more starry.  She’s up for ‘The Queen’ which I thought was a pretty feeble made-for-TV type of thing – not madly impressed.

 

We did battle with the Post Office a couple of times this trip to send gifts to people here and there.  I did note how quickly they got through the huge queue we joined, unlike the Post office at home, and wondered why.  I suspect it’s because they only deal with mail!  Now there’s an original concept, a Post office which deals only with mail – no licences, benefits, pensions etc etc etc.  The other astounding touch is that they provide free cartons and packaging for mailing stuff.  Wrap, box and tape your stuff and then mail it.  Wonderful.

 

Because we are on our run down to the five-month gap we have to eat all the food in the place.  This leads to some interesting meals.  We seem to have had a plethora of ham in various guises.  I like to buy a large ham to bake and then I split it up into several meals spread out over a long time.  A $14 ham does about eight meals.  We eat it as is with parsley sauce, mash and peas, cold for sandwiches and salads, in a quiche, a chicken and ham pie, fried with eggs for breakfast and so on.  This is OK spread over a few weeks but not so great in a couple of weeks.  We’re getting there, only two more to go.

 

On the up side this ‘eating up’ also means I do a lot of baking – chocolate cookies to get rid of cocoa, sugar and butter for example.  Today I made a terrific raisin cake to finish off the ‘bakery items’ and the two eggs.  One of the days I’d baked some buns for breakfast and gave a couple to next door.  True to form Carole returned my plate covered with chocolate hearts.  There is an American ‘tradition’ that it’s ‘rude’ to return an empty plate if someone sends you some food.  How nice is that.  The downside of baking is that it just isn’t practical to bake for two people so without friends or relatives nearby to give the excess to we do struggle (seriously) to get through the load – no wonder we’ve a weight issue.  How can you bake four cookies?  It’s not worth putting the oven on.

 

The gypsy life has drawbacks.  Our usual (sic) pattern is a year split into five, three, one and three month stays.  Within those we often dodge about on short holidays here and there.  This does lead to an unsettled existence where we permanently seem to be moving in or out of something.  It’s no wonder that moving on the grand scale isn’t especially daunting.

 

Just getting our hair cut becomes a nightmare.  We’ve been for our $13 chop at Great Clips in preparation for our return to the much more expensive UK.  For a year now I have been doing battle with the gap between what I want from a hairdresser and what they actually do.  Why is it you can spend ages describing and waving hands around and getting loads of agreeing nods of the head and yes ma’am and then they do something entirely different?  The most recent scenarios have gone something like this (the short version – no pun intended)…

Me:  “Please don’t cut the sides at all, the fringe just needs a good trim as I can no longer see and take as much off the back as is humanly possible without doing a Britney Spears.  I am aiming for a classic A-shaped bob.”

Hairdresser (English/American/Spanish/Chinese/whatever):  “Yes, yes, no problem” at this point they will then repeat back to me pretty much what I said.

 

They now proceed to (a) not touch the fringe, so I still can’t see (probably a clever ploy), (b) hack the sides until I look like a bald controller of a torture camp and (c) leave the back rippling down to my shoulders.  I give up.  The latest tonsorial expert managed to do all this and thoughtfully included the ‘it has been cut with a knife and fork look’ – very now and not very me.  I quit.  From now on I shall go in and say, “Do what you like.”

 

Talking of local wild life our lake seems to be acquiring more things to watch.  I spent a jolly half hour one day watching a turtle and an ibis sparring with each other.  As far as I know neither is capable of eating the other but they are obviously of equal intelligence and have the same memory span and don’t know this.  The problem being the Ibis was wandering round the edges of the water fishing and the turtle was doing the same but it was swimming around.  So, every so often the turtle’s head must have looked like a potential fish, which the Ibis took a lunge at and the bobbing Ibis head must have looked like a fish in the shadows so the turtle had a crack at that.  They are each then surprised by the discovery of the rest of the other and swiftly retreated.  This was repeated over and over; as I said they don’t seem to score very highly on the intelligence scale.

 

My favourites here are the woodpeckers though they seem to have disappeared from sight this year, though not from hearing.  They can make an incredible noise when there’s a family of them.  It’s like living in a carpenters shop.

 

Here is also the tiniest of birds (like our wren).  Sometimes we get a bunch of them in the lawn.  Florida Bahia is much coarser and longer than our grass, even when trimmed regularly, so these tiny birds disappear between the leaves. Every so often they pretty much all move in unison and the area is alive with brown ‘movement’ like a mass of frogs mooching around, which is what I first thought it was.  A strange phenomenon.

 

All this is set among green on green on green.  The flowers that stand out at the moment are the Oleanders and the Orchid trees – superb right now.  There are some magnolias struggling to flower out of season, which is always a pleasant surprise, and the Hibiscus and Bougainvillea and Plumbago are always at it.  But, yes, the Orchid trees are a sight to behold.

 

Gardening here is a hazardous exercise for all kinds of reasons starting with heatstroke and working your way through to fire ants although I never realized that even shopping for your garden should come with danger signs.  A couple of days ago a local chap picked up an azalea in a pot whilst shopping at Home Depot (their B & Q) and was bitten by an eighteen-inch rattler.  He is now sporting a paralyzed finger that may have to be amputated.  Worse news is that this is the seventh such incident in Home Depot Stores.  One of the seven actually died.  I don’t know how as most venom takes forever to take effect – as someone said, “You could take in a movie on the way to the hospital and still have time to spare.”  So there’s some comfort in that.

 

Poor old Sally managed to swim with a baby snake in our pool while she was here.  I don’t know who won the lap but it was fished out and she decided to quit for the day.  I should have taught her the little rhyme that kids learn here:

 ‘Red on black, friend to Jack.  Red on yellow, kill a fellow.’

 

The downside being, having looked at numerous pictures of both, I don’t reckon I could calmly figure out which it was when cornered by one.  I won’t put you off with more snake stories but believe me there are a zillion.

 

(Sunday 25th) I’ve just been reminded of life’s little happenstances that we run into now and again.  We set off for a Sunday brunch at our regular eating hole (Cracker Barrel) and, being in season, it was packed with a thirty-minute wait time.  So we toddled off to second and third choices Perkins and I-Hop only to find the same.  I decided to call it quits and go and food shop instead.  En route Ken had the inspired thought to check out Taste Buds, a lunch place we kept meaning to try and haven’t.  It was a peaceful haven where we had the most terrific breakfast.  The place was immaculate, the staff were all absolutely charming and the food was quite literally perfect.  Each of our plates came with a beautiful Orchid bloom that I now have floating in a small dish at home.  So there you go – from a disappointing beginning we walked into something so much better.  I am hoping this is some sort of message to me today as I think about Chris’ starting his new venture in Calgary.  I hope his future is filled with many small and large happenstances.

(Monday 26th)  Now here’s the strangest thing….  I just typed the above and went out for a while.  I returned and picked up mail which included my first message from Chris in Canada, which began with:

Became a permanent resident of Canada two hours ago, just drank my first beer in Calgary. Immigration was easy, had to see three sets of people, very straightforward with a 'welcome to Canada' as I left :-) Sat watching the snow trying not to fall asleep after a long day. I got bumped up to 1st class on the way out! And we had double the baggage allowance than allowed and didn’t get charged; now that’s a good trip.

 

Monday was also the day of or our usual ‘farewell’ outing before we leave Naples, a trip to the Dinner Theatre, where we thoroughly enjoyed a Patsy Cline Tribute.  This was an even sadder farewell than usual as the Dinner Theatre is closing when it ends its season this year.  The place is rented and the owners are selling up.  I’m sure we will miss it, as it’s something we’ve done since we started here in Naples in 2000.

 

**[We did manage to get ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ from the library.  Strike ‘I heartily recommend it’.  It was OK and probably only managed that because it meant something to me and it was full of great actors.]

 

March 2007

 

March 1st and we’re off to the UK.  Like a well-rehearsed ballet Ken and I flit around the condo - storing outside furniture indoors to avoid the hurricanes later in the year, emptying food cupboards, fridges and freezers and all the other little chores associated with upping sticks for six months at a time. Pack the hire car and off to Fort Myers airport in plenty of time for our flight.

Come fly with me……. (a.k.a. My postillion has been struck by lightening…)

 

Typed at 2.15 pm in Fort Myers airport: Apparently our 2.08 pm flight has been struck by lightening and has been cancelled due to mechanical problems.  We are now rooted to the seats in Gate H9 on standby for the next flight at 3.55 pm.  Ironically this is our usual and much preferred flight that we were unable to book this time, as it was full. 

 

A Delta staffer just announced on the tannoy that the flight, which will turn into our 3.55pm, left Atlanta 20 minutes late due to the storms and will therefore arrive and depart later.  This is probably of no concern to us as it is very unlikely that, even with our ‘priority’ standby, we’ll get on this flight as the whole of the cancelled flight is on standby for this one, which was full to begin with.  I guess first class et al will get first pickings at any no-show spare seats there might be.

 

We do have confirmed seats on the 5.28 pm which will get us into Atlanta, weather permitting, at 7.29 pm.  Our Manchester flight leaves at 8.10pm - mmmmmm…. 

 

 

 

Typed at 10.30 pm in Atlanta airport:  What a kafuffle.  “We have finished boarding” was finally called for the 3.55 pm flight at 5.30 pm.  Ken dutifully joined the newly forming queue to ‘sign on’ for the 5.28.  If this is delayed we’ll miss our connection completely and will be stuck in Atlanta.  I don’t relish that, as Delta is not obliged to get you a hotel when it’s down to bad weather. 

 

At this point four names were called - ours being two of them.  Meanwhile, as I was settled in for the duration, I had all sorts spread out around me - laptop open - book, sweets, drink etc.  I scrabbled all this together in a heap in my arms and was ushered at speed through the gate and down the air bridge - no one checking boarding passes or anything else.  The couple that went with us boarded the plane and we waited while staff checked for empty seats  - they had one - did one of us want to go?  Before I could raise a hand to volunteer and the other to wave goodbye to Ken someone appeared and said, “We’ve found another”.  Yippee, having made this flight by the skin of our teeth we were off!

We arrived in Atlanta with 45 minutes before our flight out to Fort Myers at 8 pm.  All our smugness was swiftly removed as we then discovered the 8 pm was delayed until 10.45!

 

An ‘amusing’ aside here to save you slashing you wrists…

 

Whilst waiting to deplane in Atlanta, the chap in front of me or rather dancing on my toes and leaning backwards into me proceeded to put his jacket on (as they do!).  He narrowly avoided including my arms down his sleeves along with his, but his greatest difficulty was the neck pillow that he was still wearing!  Finally he settled down into an almost stationary nuisance because, of course, everyone was now moving.  Finally he decided to launch himself into wobble down the aisle with his oversize case, oversize wife and two overstuffed bags.  When we reached the exit door the cabin steward, who seemed to recall him, said “ Don’t you need a wheelchair?”  “Absolutely!” replied the wife indignantly. “Well I’m afraid you will have to sit here and wait”.  So blithely ignoring this they proceeded to disembark and hail one of the chairs heading for the plane.  “What’s your name?” said the chair pusher “Pratt, P R A T T” says the wife.  I rest my case.

 

March 2nd

 

We finally got into Manchester about 11.30 am.  The storms around Atlanta, which caused all this discombobulation, turned out to be full-blown tornadoes covering about four States.  Eight people were killed because of them so being delayed on a journey is very small beer in comparison.

 

Our trusty friends were at the airport to meet us and I did my usual R & R for day one; even more needed this time to be ready for the onslaught of never-ending chores of a ‘new’ house.

 

I’m not sure I have any memories worth committing to paper for this month.  It was swallowed up in four hundred visits to Ikea (a slight exaggeration maybe), endless shopping, cleaning, hammering, making etc that goes along with a move.  This move has needed a lot more than most as we’d sold every stick of furniture with our previous home and so has to completely furnish a three-bed house.  In my case this all has to be done instantly. I hate finding the sofa you want and being told it will take sixteen weeks or something daft - hence Ikea, M& S, Next and their ilk.

 

We managed to accomplish most of this by the tenth, which allowed Ken to take off guilt-free on a week’s skiing holiday with Phil and Sue in France.  As they were about to immure themselves in a weeny ski village half way up a mountain, I declined and decided to spend my ‘holiday’ funds on having a professional garden design from a lady called Janet Copeland.  For anyone living in my neck of the woods that wants one I would recommend her highly.  She listened to the brief without dong the arty-farty-snotty ‘couldn’t possibly do that’ attitude (which I’ve met a couple of times before) and came up with a cracking design.

 

Fortunately Ken won the US lottery, so money no object - his $5 will come in very handy.

 

By the third week Sally came on an extended visit.  When we lived in Grantham Drive we had the best of neighbours next door and the kids pretty much grew up together - one of the girls was turning 30 and Sally had come to help celebrate with her.  This, as usual, led to aged adults’ maudlin meanderings on how your children remain your children whatever their age - you never escape this - or at least not yet.  As the whole of raising children sees to be a series of passing a baton in a relay race maybe there does come a point where they assume a full adult role and you can relinquish the worry about them?  I sincerely hope so.

 

My son’s 31st birthday was his first to be celebrated as a Canadian resident - that was also rather strange for me and seemed to be a sort of definitive marker of his leaving.  Sad for me but happy for him.

 

 

April 2007

 

I am absolutely stymied for April.  I don’t have a collection of scribbled notes on bits of paper collected about my person as I normally do and my diary shows up nothing more interesting than - change addresses, ring Gregory’s, update computer and so on.

 

Just a couple of thoughts in passing.  Anyone out there know a lot about statins?  I have taken Simvastatin for about five or six years now and they really don’t agree with me - I won’t dwell on the unpleasant aspects of this but suffice it to say they have some dismal side effects - most of which I seem to have.  I read up hither and yon as much as I could and came to the conclusion that while there’s no doubt they do reduce your cholesterol count there is actually no real evidence that high cholesterol  ‘causes’ heart attacks and strokes.  The formation of plaque in arteries, which can be a problem, seems to be a good deal more complex than that.  It seems that a drug company 20 or so years ago tried to find some commonalities betweeen folk who died of a heart attack - one of them was raised cholesterol levels.  They set about finding a cheap to make (expensive to buy) drug - i.e. statins that became the standard pill for anyone over 50, overweight, under fit and raised cholesterol.  As I said the correlation between raised cholesterol and heart attacks wasn’t really defined.  I suspect there was a high level of bunions in the same group but no-one claims they led to heart attacks.

 

So after much study I decided stuff it I’ll take my chances - keep the BP down and try to eat better - exercise I’m afraid is not on my radar.  Anyone wanting to share thoughts on this would be welcome.

 

Whilst on the subject of medical thingies I also decided it was the right time to change doctors.  I have had my doctors for thirty plus years but Mrs Dr. Pat Fletcher has decided to retire which make me think Mr. Derek wont be far behind.  Also the traffic and parking in Bury is becoming a nightmare as, like everywhere, it keeps growin’ ‘n growin’.  Now this doctor changing malarkey is not a process I recommend - I am a month on from my initial attempt and still have to “make an appointment (another one!) with the new doctor”.  I suppose I have fallen foul of a particularly inept practice but suspect most of them are like that and I was just very lucky with my previous one.  Another of life’s little burdens I will have to bear.

 

Following the rant about ineptitude my next Meldrew moan is about a gas meter.  Our builders have chosen to park it on its back instead of its much narrower side and exactly on the floor on corner at the back of the house where it is obviously a real danger to anyone coming down the side path and turning round the corner into it.  Just locating the people responsible was a nightmare.  We apparently buy gas from one company who actually buys it from other company and neither of them owns the meters.  Eventually we are ‘inspected’ - and yes we are right the meter shouldn’t be on its back and it is a definite hazard where it is - the man in the safety vest will report it immediately - no this doesn’t mean it will be moved ‘cos the builders are responsible and any way it was ‘signed off’ as OK.  We could move it ourselves for around a thousand pounds!

 

We used up the glorious weather in April with more hammering and sewing.  Silly really as we should have taken advantage of the caravan and gone away somewhere nice.  The chores would still be here when we get back.  Fortunately we are alike in that we want to cross everything off a list before abandoning or delaying it.  We even declined an invitation to go with our chums to Spain, which I think we both instantly regretted at the moment of taking them to the airport for their flight.  Hey ho.

 

We did have a flurry of excitement and an evening off when we attended a Residents Association Meeting.  I confess my motivation was the offer of a cream egg to anyone who came.  We somehow got ourselves on to the committee despite our protests that we aren’t here for half a year-.  It won’t kill us to attend meetings and give a hand when needed, I guess.  It was amusing to note how folks are the same the world over.  I’m sure I mentioned somewhere recently that I don’t go to the res. ass. meetings in Naples any more.  They are bursting with hot air, self-importance, stupidity and nothing much actually gets done. Guess what…we do just as well over here.

 

We did actually manage to get to the theatre this month.  A strange little affair.  We saw an Agatha Christie - ‘The Unexpected Guest’.  It was done by a company which is ‘reviving’ Christie’s plays and are doing it true to their time so it’s a bit odd watching a slice of 1967 some forty years later - yes for those among us for whom the 60s was our youth - we are forty years on from there and times certainly have been a’ changin’.  Clothes, habits, manners and even drama itself is a completely different experience now to then.  For me it was interesting on several different levels and worth the trip but anyone in the audience under sixty would be struggling I think.

 

So we lurch onwards into May.

 

 

May 2007

 

 

The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses. ~Hanna Rion

 

I would argue six senses - the sixth being aches and pains all over.  We’ve spent a good deal of this month scratting the garden into shape and I’ve the hands, nails and backache to prove it. 

 

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned the crackpot idea (entirely mine) to employ a garden designer and proper landscaper for the first time instead of the usual (last four houses) arrangement of having my brainwaves sorted out by the local odd-jobber for a fiver. (I wish!)  Any way I had a terrific plan drawn up for the ‘reasonable’ fee of £350 and then starting to get in the quotes.  All kinds of teeth sucking and tongue clicking ensued as various folk ‘wondered why she had done this or that’.  The two ‘proper’ landscapers came in with £17,000 and £12,000 (“which could be more because I really haven’t had time to sort out the details”).

 

I then drew up my version of the bog-standard patio, lawn and mixed border all round three sides scenario and sought out three less accredited companies who quoted £2,000 to £3,000.  Guess which I’m going for?

 

Well, actually, none of the above really as our good mate’s company is doing it for us, which gives me a bit more confidence I will get what I want.

 

I would have loved the designer’s plan, but this house doesn’t warrant that sort of money spent on the garden and if we do our usual two-year flit we’ll never recoup it.  The other part of the decision making process was even easier - I don’t have £17,000!  I’ve (mentally) wailed over the £350 I threw away- let alone that sort of money - think how many plants I could have got for that.

 

Me, being me, couldn’t wait for all this to be done in the proper order and I ushered Ken into the field at the back to cut out my three thirty-odd foot by three foot borders and I have begun to poke in various beloved plants.  Ken’s a star throughout all this because he has absolutely no interest whatsoever in the garden - it is entirely my domain.  As far as he’s concerned if it’s a grassed area that you can get a chair, dustbin and washing line in that’s fine; anything else is surplus to requirements.

 

The story of the garden will run and run.

 

As does the changing doctor’s saga, which has lurched on into this month.  Even I am bored with the details of that so we’ll move on.  It got a mention just to prove how inept they are.

 

As I’ve now finished with the stuff I can do on the house the fidgeting has started about it’s ‘condition’.  We do need to re-do the floors, for example, and as for the décor…  Enter our ‘pet’ decorator.  He came in for three days to repaint all the walls in the house.  I spent sleepless nights frothing about what colours to have.  I was firm about not living with the mushroomy pink sitting room, bright blue kitchen and pea (not pee!) green downstairs loo, which we inherited from the previous incumbents.  That decided I was then utterly incapable of choosing anything else. I came to the conclusion that I was being ‘thrown’ by the ghastly colours and the fact that we are so new in the place that I haven’t a feel for it yet.  This is my excuse for builders' beige throughout.  So Rob and son did the magnolia thing and we are spanking clean and smelling great.  The house (not us) that is.

 

In fact we abandoned the painters mid-paint and took off on our first caravan trip this year.  The 10th, 11th and 12th we spent at Teversal near Sutton in Ashfield (Nottinghamshire).  The trip didn’t start particularly well as we decided that bringing the van to this house to load up is not as easy as before so we’d cart all the stuff to the van instead and load it on it’s storage site.  Off we go - all done in super fast time.  We were just leaving - van in tow - when Rob rang to say there was a handbag on the settee had I forgotten it.  Well, yes actually I had.  So off the four of us went - Ken, the car, the van, and me to the house after all.  Mmmm I was very popular with my other half for the first half hour of the journey.

 

We arrived at Teversal, which we knew was a brand new site, but didn’t know it was about to have a grand opening and hog roast.  The Chairman of the Camping and Caravanning Club and other big cheeses were on site.  They are easy to spot as they have these dib dib dib type constructions outside their ‘van flying pennants of all the places they’ve been.  Now its stuff like that that can really put you off being a caravan person.  (I intend to post some photos including one of this, so check it out if you want to).

 

Next day we did the grand tour of Chatsworth.  I’m coming to the conclusion that the grand houses are not really for me - terribly impressive and all that but less interesting that the lovely little gems such as Snowshill, Wollerton Old Hall and the fantastic one we found in Richmond. These are my real favourites.  They are people’s homes in the true sense with very personal and real gardens.

 

The other thing about places like Chatsworth is the huge amount of money they prise from you.  Expensive entrance fee, charges for car parking and buggy lifts around the huge estate, hire fee for audio kits and charges for any additional tours etc.  When trying to make some notes for myself the next day I couldn’t even really remember it.  Clearly, I found one of the nine Treasure Houses of Britain totally forgettable.

 

Next day was Saturday and our day started with a tour of the gardens at Teversal Manor - now this is my kind of place.  They are really interesting, imperfect gardens brimming with ideas and some bits and bobs of wonderful planting here and there.  There’s a vegetable maze and the waterfall and pond garden is delightful.  The house itself isn’t one you can tour.  It is actually used for the shop and such like; so we had the pleasure of taking tea looking out on to the terrace garden in a tearoom replete with chandeliers.

 

In the afternoon we were off to Hardwick Hall - the home of the wonderful Bess of Hardwick.  Look her up on the web if you’ve got time - super story of rags to riches.  Again I found the interior of the Hall fairly uninteresting.  If I have a closet tapestry fetishist among my friends this is the place to go otherwise I’d say it was pretty much to be avoided.  The gardens however were a joy and the spectacular herb garden, which has just been re-done, has to be seen to be believed.  It really does define the word ‘unique’.

 

We had planned to pootle home on Saturday but having spoken to my sister we discovered the Malvern Show was on so we decided to move on to the Blackmore site at Hanley Swan for the Three Counties Showground.  We were there last year.  Unfortunately on Sunday it bucketed down non-stop but as we’d moved site and committed to the idea we decided to give it our best shot and endured a very expensive soaking.  I was quite literally soaked to the skin with water squishing between my toes and utterly frozen.  We quit after a couple of miserable hours.

 

Meanwhile Pam and Ken were in touch trying to arrange to meet for dinner.  I hadn’t packed any ‘human’ clothing and was absolutely wretched by midday and cried off.  They very kindly invited us to theirs instead for a really lovely meal.  Good to catch up too. 

 

We missed our 11 pm curfew on return to the site and had to park the car ‘outside’ and walk to the van fortunately it had run out of rain by then.

 

Just to round off a not too successful first outing with the van Ken sideswiped the exit at Teversal and dinted poor old Doris.  The battery box cover and the mudguard over the wheel, which I’ve since found out is called a spat, were broken and the side scraped.

 

Back to our freshly painted home on Monday which, on this occasion, was a real joy on all levels.

 

Sunday 20th and we were up at the crack of dawn to start the day at 7.30 a.m. at a Car Boot Sale at the local school (Woodbank - remember that Chris and Sally?).  We made £70.65 net profit after standing in the sun for the morning, nattering to a few familiar faces and supping tea, which is all very pleasant and certainly beats chucking stuff away.

 

I called into Langworthy Road, my old school (teacher not pupil) on the 23rd to see my little mate and deliver her birthday gifts.  It is astounding how life charges on without you. I hardly recognised the place.  Security doors, buzzers etc.  That said it all looked really good inside.  You really can tell a good school immediately you walk in.  This is still one which hasn’t given up…. Yet!  This summer the long-serving deputy and another lifer plus a more recent addition who does a lot for sport are leaving, which will leave a bigger hole than they realise I think.  The strength of the school has been watered down bit by bit over the past few years and this is another sad loss.  Not for any of the leavers though - I’m sure they are relishing the thoughts of moving on.

 

Meanwhile I planted four trees in my garden and life goes on…

 

The last day of the month arrived and we were off to Drum Mohr.

 

 

June 2007

 

The wettest June since 1914..

 

We arrived in Drum Mohr (near Edinburgh) just as the heavens opened and were ‘trapped’ in the car for about ten minutes before we could venture out and get the stays down on the van so we could at least get inside.  The rest of the ‘setting up camp’ took several hours between various downpours.

 

This opening paragraph will set the scene for the rest of the record for this month.  We have had the most incredible amount of rain imaginable.  Literally the worst in our lifetime.

 

Luckily our trip to Edinburgh wasn’t to be a jolly holiday by the seaside and a tour of the city; we were there to help Sally move into her first home.  She has bought a sweet little flat in the centre of the city and is so happy to have made it to the owners club.

 

We spent our first day dashing around shops picking up bits and bobs, looking at furniture, cleaning and packing etc.  Exhausted we stopped at a regular watering spot for a meal.  By the time Ken and I were driving back to the site I was feeling supremely ill and throwing up at regular intervals.  So much for helping Sally move.  The next day was the actual moving day and she hired a man and van combo to shift her stuff from flat to flat.  Ultimately two blokes, plus Ken and Sally did the move and I inspected the ceiling of the caravan for 24 hours (flat on my back between trips to the loo).  Trust me a caravan is not the best place to have food poisoning.

 

I crawled out of my pit the next day and bravely slogged round Ikea et al.  When we left her three days later she was reasonably comfortably ensconced with much of the basics and the rest on order.  We seemed to build a lot of flat pack.  In reality I think it was only two pieces but frail health seems to magnify work.

 

We got back in time for a theatre trip the next day.  Patricia Routledge in ‘Office Suite’.  They are a couple of pieces that Alan Bennett wrote specifically for her.  Besides being, therefore, pretty predictable by now, they did seem very thin and tired as did Miss R - well not thin in her case but decidedly tired.  Neither she nor the plays ‘sparkled’ as I hoped they would.

 

The following day I caught up with my good chum Denise for a girly tour of a garden centre and lunch.  The next day Ken and I were further entertained with a spiffing BBQ meal at some other chums. How they managed to pick a dry Saturday I don’t know.  The Gods truly love them.

 

By now I am in a rosy glow of how terrific June is going to be - lots of good things still ahead of us.  By my time of life I should know this is a guaranteed precursor to disaster.  Probably a big word for all the minor irritations that were to follow.

 

Our next theatre outing was dreadful (for me at least).  As Ken had just suffered a pair of plays with ‘too many words and not enough action’, in return, I said I’d accompany him to a folkie evening.  Apparently for those of us who didn’t know it Waterson and Carthy were super famous among the dog-hair sweater set forty years ago and are still going strong.  So off we trot for a couple of hours of four discordant, shambolic, ear holding, nasal warbling performers.  I’m afraid most English folk music has never done it for me.  I used to find some Irish stuff (usually the political songs) interesting and worth listening to and I always loved the amazing songs that came out of the slavery and poverty of early America.  Most traditional English music seems to have the common theme of curly girly/love/dead bloke and maybe toss in a bit of fog. (Sorry foggyo - so that it rhymes).  I’m sure there’s more to it than that but as I also can’t understand what they are saying half the time I just give up.  This from a woman who adores Bob Dylan’s nasal rants.  I have never claimed to be consistent.

 

The sorting out of the signing on with the new doctor continued.  I think what annoys me most about others perpetual inefficiency is how people make mountains of work for themselves and quadruple the time that anything takes to get sorted.  I really find it hard to credit that a simple straightforward thing such as adding a new patient, which must happen every week in a fair size practice, can be so haphazardly managed.  AAARRRGGGHHH!  If only I ruled the world how different things would be.

 

After yet another trip to the GP himself I then have to make a further appointment to get my repeat prescription set up with their Pharmacist.  “Can’t you do it?” I asked.  “It’s totally straight forward - stuff I’ve been taking for years”.  “Better you talk to Leslie - she’ll have time to discuss any concerns you might have”.  “I don’t have any and don’t need to talk to anyone!!!!!”  (“Must make a note to look at the stress levels, lack of anger management skills and whether I am dealing with a drug-taking neurotic megalomaniac”, thinks Dr Khanna)    AAAAAARRRRRGGHHH!!!

 

Leslie and I meet and discuss my ‘needs’.  She appears to be as thick as two short planks and hadn’t even heard of one of my ‘problems’.  So after delivering a short lecture on the pros and cons of a fairly common complaint I told her what to write down and left.  I could pick up my scrip a couple of days later (!!), as long as it was after 2 pm on certain days of the week when there are two cows in a field in Milton Keynes and the Venus is in the ascendant.  I actually collected it four weeks later because I couldn’t bear the prospect of going back into that place.

 

The next day we fled to Somers Wood Caravan Site ready for the Gardeners World Live Show at the NEC.  As mentioned at the beginning of this record we were experiencing the wettest June in our lifetime so it was a pretty soggy long weekend.  We grabbed the chance of a fairly dry Friday and did all the outside.  The show gardens were inspirational - or finger wagging as usual and we both enjoy toting round the nicky-nacky-noo stands.  Pam and Ken pitched up (a pun!) at our site the following day and off we all tootled again.  Handy tip here if any of my readers go to this.  You can buy a ticket for another day for £10 when you are on the inside of the show.  Indeed in our case we bought four tickets for £10 so Pam and Ken got in for less than half price.

 

Ken and I did the indoor stuff whilst Pam and Ken braved the incessant elements and did the grand tour.  A good day was had by all with Pam providing a superb lunch and tea.  My best buys were a very pale pink noisette climbing rose, star jasmine and mecanopsis (the Himalayan blue poppy).

 

Back to Bury and real life on Sunday.

 

By Tuesday we were at a Resident Association Committee meeting and I was given the vital task of providing refreshments for the meetings.  They know my worth.  I spent much of the remainder of the meetings planning Martha Stewart type high teas.  Do I have any dimity strawberry-printed napkins?  Panic sets in.

 

I was back in my old school again this month for the Deputy Head’s leaving ‘do’.  It was terrific seeing lots of people I’d lost touch with over the years.  It is such a shame most of us are so ‘careless’ with people who have mattered so much to us at some time.  It is also very comforting to see some there, who had retired, looking younger, happier and fitter than when they were at work.  No great surprise there I guess.

 

I don’t really like the word ‘retirement’.  It carries all sorts of connotations, which simply don’t apply to many of us.  Having left work early we aren’t official pensioners either by age or by picking up a full pension.  Most of us don’t have the slightest intention of sitting around dong nothing in our ‘sunset years’.  As for the idea of turning into grumpy old men and women - what a bonus that is.  I now find I have the time to complain and get things sorted and attempt to right the occasional wrong.  So, come on, what’s a better word than ‘retirement’ for us lot?

 

By the last week in the month the work started on our patio and the area for parking the caravan.  After a couple of days we decided to desert the workers and take off for another caravan trip.

 

The month ended as it began with us arriving at a campsite - this time in Anglesey - in stair rod style rain.  We had been promised what has now become the usual wet weather for the whole of our stay but in fact the next day was pretty good and we grabbed the chance to see Penrhyn Castle. 

 

The weekend was really about Ken going to watch Richard race his Caterham but I was happy to go along as I have a soft spot for Plas Newydd a lovely house and garden overlooking the Menai Straits.  As is often the case with National trust properties when we arrive they are closed.  Is it something we did? 

 

The only place we could find open and of any significance was Penrhyn Castle.  I never been to Penrhyn and was still reluctant as its nothing more than a giant Victorian folly.  In fact it was a good deal better than that and really quite interesting.  Built on money from sugar and slate - what an odd combination.  The house is packed with stuff and gives a very real sense of how the privileged Victorian family lived.

 

There’s also a very pleasant walled garden and a huge intriguing bog garden.  I should have made notes for my submerging plot while I was there.

 

There was a mass of American teenagers abseiling one of the towers, which gave us some free entertainment.  Is ‘mass’ the collective noun for American teenagers?  They all seem so nice in their own surrounding but so loud, large and ‘in your face’ in an ancient Welsh setting.  I hastily add they weren’t misbehaving in any way just very hard to miss. 

 

Any visit which can be rounded off with an excellent scone, and tea at a table with sweet peas in a small vase and then being able to exit the site without going through the gift shop is always worth noting.

 

On Saturday Ken went to watch Richard race and I stayed in the caravan.  I would have done that even if it had been fine but as it was raining the decision was even easier.  Toasty warm as there was no Ken to complain about the heater being on, a tense thriller, half a pound of cherries and a slab of dark chocolate left me contemplating the advantages of the solitary life.  Not that I’d have been in that position without a Ken to tow me there.

 

The previous evening Ken and I had scouted a restaurant for the evening meal. This wasn’t as easy as you might think.

 

We drove many miles through diddy towns and villages where there was a smattering of pubs doing bar snack type stuff.  Eventually we found a sign pointing to a Restaurant, which we assumed would be a few hundred yards off the road we were on.  About five miles later when we were somewhere in the centre of the island (near Trefdraeth) and we came across Glantraeth Restaurant.  It was a fair size with a huge bar, which was totally empty when we were there at around 6 pm. Indeed so was the car park and the surrounding countryside for as far as you could see. I was convinced this was a decidedly spooky discovery and, as it was probably owned by descendents of Sweeny Todd, the three of us would become their famous pate the next day.

 

Fortunately I was wrong and the evening was pretty interesting and the meal was good.  We arrived at 6.30 pm and the car park was nearly full.  Streams of cars continued to pull in and disgorge their passengers.  I thought we’d arrived with a huge private booking - birthday, anniversary, whatever.  Into the almost empty bar for a quick drink and ultimately to the, by now, crowded dining room.  The tables were fairly basic and virtually in rows - just a notch up on a school refectory.  No menus.  Our waitress appeared and gave us a choice of three ‘dinners’ and arrived with them plated and ready to attack.  On to puddings and then we did the unthinkable and ordered coffee, which she announced in a concerned voice, “Was a pound extra”.  The restaurant had now pretty much turned into a bar with tables littered with drinks rather than coffee. We hadn’t a clue as to the cost of the meal so decided to push the boat out.  The meal turned out to be twelve pounds each.

 

By now there was a bit of shuffling around going on and, as if by osmosis, a male voice choir formed in the corner of the room.  I forgot to mention the whole of the evening so far had been conducted in Welsh with not an English word in the place other than ours.

 

The guy introduced the singers and told a long rambling and obviously funny story all in Welsh and they began to sing.  Lovely sound but, for us, not a clue what it was about.  By song and long ramble three we had beaten a retreat to the bar where the most incongruous bit of the evening took place.  We heard a tune we recognised as Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land’ being sung in Welsh.  That said I suppose it isn’t that odd as the lines  -‘ From California to the New York Island, From the Redwood forest to the Gulf Stream Waters’ get changed in Canada, Scotland, Ireland and even India to make it fit.  I wonder what the Welsh version is?

 

What a way to close out June.

July 2007

 

Neighbours, Everybody needs good neighbours
With a little understanding
You can find the perfect blend
Neighbours...should be there for one another
That's when good neighbours become good friends
 

Come on - don’t tell me anyone in my (UK) group of a similar age can’t sing the above!  After living in our new abode for all of five months I thought it would be reasonable to sit back and assess the neighbours.

 

Those amongst you who have Ken and more especially me on your ‘strange’ people list might think we have found our niche.  Indeed I am paranoid enough to wonder if we are experiencing some kind of ‘The Prisoner’ experience and have been transported to a small estate of bizarre people where we belong.  At least in the Prisoner he got to be locked up in Port Merion - we get incarcerated here.

 

Anyway, as to ‘the neighbours’......  I’ll begin with the most normal - the really nice gay couple who are a walking cliché.  One partner is a hairdresser; I don’t know what his other half does but looks like he’d be good in a Scotland v. Wales Rugby game.  The hairdresser is so camp he could be Kenneth Williams’ son - would that were possible.  No - seriously - he is really nice; he must be because he’s learning to garden and loving it.  His mom helps him a lot.  I did say cliché.

 

A local builder and his van and tribe have followed us here.  They lived quite near us at the last house but not in sight - or sound!  We moved thinking that one of the plus points would be that ‘we’ll never see that van again’ and hey presto it is now pretty much opposite our house and parked permanently in the road.  He and she have something like eleven kids between them - adult (so they don’t all live there at the same time!) down to four (ish?) year-old twin boys who have stepped straight out of a Beano comic.  They are far enough away to be ‘amusing’ but they must be the neighbours from hell for their next doors.

 

Indeed when chatting to one of their next-door neighbours she did say something of the sort.  Now her story is an interesting one.  Late thirties maybe?  Came home from work one day to find husband number one had hung himself.  Within a year she goes on to marry his good friend on the understanding that they both have well paid jobs and wouldn’t have children but would “have a bloody good time” spending their money - nice home, holidays in exotic places, clothes, clubs, restaurants whatever.  In a very short space of time she discovered she was pregnant with twins.  Their marriage is now a little shaky and they are selling the house they’ve been in for six months and she is talking about going to Australia to live with her mother.

 

There seems to be a nice lady who only has one minor complication (or at least it's all I’ve discovered so far) in that she and her partner don’t actually live together.  How anyone copes with never having the right knickers or toothbrush at the right house when it’s wanted I don’t know but there you go.

 

Our next-door neighbour on one side is an elderly gentleman who seems to live part-time in his house with and without his ‘girlfriend’.  We assume they probably live between their two houses.  She did say to Ken that she doesn’t think he’s settling in very well.

 

The neighbour at the end of our garden is the only one who can really see our comings and goings and more importantly whether we are in or just hiding.  Why this is important will become clear as you read on.  She is struggling with an advanced stage of alcoholism; serious liver damage and binges resulting in hallucinations and worse.  I am being good for once and resisting turning her story into a joke as she is in a desperate way but suffice it to say we’ve already been embroiled in one situation over a period of days and I suspect there’s a good deal more to come.

 

Peyton Place eat your heart out.

 

… and Noah built an Ark

 

There’s a bit of a false start this month as my original openings led to pondering on what should and shouldn’t go in here especially now it is on-line and theoretically available to all and sundry.  I did what I thought was quite an amusing first page reflecting on our several of our new neighbours and then thought it was the sort of thing which is done better in conversation where the nuances and irony is obvious or can be pointed out if I doubt my listener.  Once glued to the page my observations can twist and turn in all directions and I decided that it was something I wouldn’t want any of the aforesaid to read.  On that basis perhaps they shouldn’t be committed to the public part of my diary?  Comments please.

 

So, I suppose I’d better return to the simple record of how our time has passed in July.

 

We trolled back from our caravan stay on Anglesey in the pouring rain and the next day proceeded to wash the ‘van, wash doors and other stuff outside the house, built and positioned a large table and four chairs and finished the trellis - all in the rain.  I did say our neighbours would mark us as the loonies from number 28 but, hey, if you can’t beat ‘em you may as well join ‘em.

 

Last month I briefly mentioned the hardscaping was being done when we abandoned the workers and fled to a Welsh outpost.  We returned to a finished job.  It was immaculate and such a joy to come home to.  We have our huge double patio area for sitting, eating, and cooking and a gravelled area for the caravan - superb.

 

Phil and Ken constructed some Grade one, hand whittled, perfecto chocks for getting the contraption up the darn curbs.  This is more of a challenge than normal, as our road is not yet made up so we have curbs, which possibly rate as the highest mountain range in Lancashire.  Even with the glorious chocks they did a good deal of heaving and shoving.  I am not looking forward to our next outing when I have to replace Phil as Ken’s sidekick.  Any way - great success - the caravan is now tucked neatly away at the side of the house.

 

A week or so later they broke out of their apprentice joinery roles and went for the full challenge of making a pair of caravan covering size gates and a titchy one (but awkward) for the side entrance.  I must say their finished work is a real treat.  Well done lads

 

Over the next couple of weeks I continued with the planting and the garden has just about all it can take now.  I am quietly pleased with it but it looks very sterile and prissy until it all grows up and performs as it should.  Give it a couple of summers and we’ll see what it is supposed to do.

 

We did a flit to Oswaldtwistle Mill with our chums one day.  I’ve only recorded this because I love the sound of the word ‘Oswaldtwistle’ and it struck me how it might amuse my American/Canadian/Southern UK readers.  Yes, we do have names like that ‘Up North’ where ‘grim’ has pretty much turned into Outlet stores, which invite you to an evening of Bucks Fizz, hors d'oeuvres, reduced price shopping and then tea and scones with strawberries and cream.  (Eee by gum, it’s grim up North!)

 

Ken’s daughter has been staying with her mom for a few weeks as she’d come ‘home’ to have an operation on her knee so she came round to see our latest house and have tea and a catch up with her dad.  Typing this reminded me that I forgot to mention in the last episode of ‘Life with the Ormson’s’ the mad flit to Wales to retrieve Susan’s dog.

 

Whilst loading her car to set off for Bury last month one of her dogs did a runner.  Very soon someone appeared at Susan’s house to say she thought Bob (the dog - try to hold on here ‘cos it only gets more complicated) had been in a car accident.  Sure enough Bob and a car had collided.   Susan thought he was OK but he didn’t seem too great after a while so she lobbed him off to the vets.  Big decision time did she carry on up to Manchester or cancel the operation?  You know the answer to this if you’ve been reading properly.  Ultimately she hears that Bob is OK and she needs to pick him up from the vets.  By this time she has a couple of holes drilled in her leg and is totally incapable of walking let alone driving anywhere, least of all Manchester/Brecon.

 

This is where Fred Karno’s begins.

 

Plan A.  Ken doesn’t like dogs and feels totally unable to handle them - literally and otherwise - no way is he going to Wales, collecting a dog and then doing a five hour trek back with it in his car - stopping en route for walkies, food and drink.  Not much point in me going as Bob is a pretty huge dog and if there was a problem I wasn’t confident I could sort it.  Also how could he travel in Ken’s car?  Neither of us fancied fancy the lose canon approach.  If a toddler becomes the equivalent of a large Rugby player in a 30 mph accident this dog would easily become an elephant. 

 

Plan B.  Susan’s mom and Ken could go.  Bob knows her and, therefore, might behave - car still a problem. June was happy to use hers but didn’t want to drive both ways and wasn’t insured for Ken to split the driving.

 

Plan C. Ken and his sister could go.  She has the perfect car and several dogs.  But then she’d have to arrange dog sitters, wouldn’t be insured to split the driving and may not be well enough to do a ten-hour stint.  We didn’t actually run this one by Margaret!

 

Scuppering above Plans.  By now, whoever went, Susan wanted to go she as she’d left stuff she needed to collect. She needed to use all the back seat.  She had to sit strapped sort of sideways so her leg could be raised.  This rather limited the potential for large dog and any other passenger.

 

Solution.  Insure Sue’s car for Ken, and proceed to test the obedience of Bob on his refreshment stop as neither she nor Ken would be chasing him anywhere.  Fortunately all went to plan and the round trip was completed by about 11 pm and everyone was safely back here.

 

She has made excellent progress since her operation, recovering very quickly and, by now, is already beginning to drive again. 

 

One Saturday she and Richard turned up out of the blue.  Richard was on his way back to Woking but Susan was able to stay for dinner - sausages! - and she became the recipient of our trial run with the new BBQ.  Actually I discovered on using it (though it was pretty obvious from the start with a little thought) that it’s not really a BBQ at all just a sort of outdoor gas grill which takes about four times as long as an indoor grill to cook anything - so, if it ever stops raining it should be great for an all day meal.

 

We were exceedingly lucky to get a whole afternoon of no rain in which to test run it. July went on as June had done with endless rain of the stair rod variety and many parts of the country had the worst floods since records began.  My poor sister and other half have been stuck amongst it all - fortunately they weren’t flooded but as I am typing this (2 August) they have been without water for a couple of weeks now.  A few days are bad enough as we can testify from weathering Hurricane Wilma but a couple of weeks must be a nightmare.

 

 

It even meant that we all gave the RHS show at Tatton a wide berth this year.

 

As I mentioned last month I have been charged with the vital task of providing refreshments for the Residents Committee meetings.  Me being me couldn’t just bang ‘em a cup of tea and a biscuit.  There I was the day before baking a whisky fruitcake.  Why do I have this urge to turn everything into a performance?  I duly rewarded my self by pinching the Vicar’s rubber gloves.  Not deliberately I might add.  We oldies know how to live on the edge.  [Yes, along with drink provider comes Cinderella’s chores.]

 

To compensate we’ve had our usual meals out hither and yon in all the usual places so no stories from that then.  An ‘unusual’ one was a birthday meal for Susan at a Chinese Restaurant.  They very kindly produced a birthday cake, candles and song much to Susan’s embarrassment. It would have been better had I got her age right when asked!  At least I erred on the one year younger side.

 

Our last meal of the month with four others was at a Restaurant I used to go to at lunchtime in 1975/76 near where I worked.  I remembered what I thought was my last visit there when Chris was six months old - I took him to ‘meet’ a bunch of folk I used to work with.  [I was later reminded I had actually been there just a few years ago.]  The point of this reminiscence is the obvious one of how incredibly fast our lives are.  It really did seem like only yesterday that I was thirty, Chris was a ‘new’ baby and Sally wasn’t even imagined.  Very, very scary.

 

By the last day of the month we’d had a couple of fine days and my good pal Denise came over to the house for natter and to soak up the sun in our spanking new garden.  We did a swift tour of a local garden centre that she decided she loved and will return to and back to ours for a very pleasant al fresco dinner.  What a supremely nice way to say goodbye to July 2007.

August 2007

 

I began this online ‘journal’ for my far-flung friends so they could keep up with where we were and what we were doing.  Splitting our year between the UK and USA meant I kept losing track of who knew what.  Inevitably some people got left out of the loop and others got told the same thing ten times.  I thought that keeping a diary each month for anyone who was interested enough to read it would let me of the hook.  In short – I did it because I was lazy.  It worked for a good long while but for the last few months I have always been running further and further behind.  For example this time I am writing this on November 27th for August onwards.

 

This preamble does have a point – I am trying to work out whether to quit this electrical notebook, as it doesn’t really keep anyone up to date any more.  In truth, and to my great surprise, I seem to have lost the ‘need’ to keep any journal, not just this one.  Having pretty much recorded my life on paper since I was about eight it seems a strange thing to have happened after fifty-four years of words coming through fingers.  But, there it is!

 

I suppose there are many reasons for journal keeping, not least of which for me is that I can think more clearly in print than in the muddle that is my head.  It was always a useful way to do battle with problems – a way to step back and make myself clarify the mess because it had to be strung together in coherent (!) sentences.  Perhaps now my life is less messy the need to sort it out is less?

 

There is also a pleasure in trawling through old diaries and hearing my voice at different stages of its experiences – that can be very surprising sometimes. My thoughts were never written for sharing at any point; past, present or future.  Someone (perhaps many someones) wrote that anyone writing a diary writes it with a reader other than oneself in mind.  In my case I would honestly dispute that.  It is obvious that once words have been ordered on a page they are demanding to be read but that reader can be just oneself. 

 

Since my mom died I have often wished she’d kept diaries or that there was a stash of letters somewhere.  There’s no way you can ever know your parent.  Your perpetual generational age difference and histories and relationships simply get in the way.  I do think that if I could read things my mother wrote over a long period of time maybe I could have heard her voice and not ‘mom’s’?  On a more mundane level I would have liked to know about her life and times.  Also I just plain miss her and would like to be able to hear her now and again.  So maybe it is reasonable that someone might want to read my musings one day and that I wouldn’t mind after all.  Perhaps that’s a reason to keep doing it – but not necessarily here. 

 

As I’ve said many times this is to some extent just a record of ‘I got up, I ate dinner, I went to bed’ any thoughts or feelings especially about others are ‘edited’ for public consumption so in effect they are more like long, chatty letters rather than ‘journals’.  This does the right job if all it is trying to do is keep you up to date with my life but probably aren’t any good as a record of me.  So, if I do decide to persist in writing but cut down the amount I guess this is the place to do it.

 

Ah well – I’ll do battle with this four month backlog and then see how I feel.

 

(Any thoughts from you on all this would be welcome)

 

 

 

 

The Big Itch…  whatever tales follow please try to remember they are all overlaid with what I am about to share….

 

As far back as I can remember I have always had very minor attacks of teeny-weeny very itchy water blisters which would suddenly appear here and there on my hands – mostly between my fingers.  My mom always called them water blisters and said it must have been something I’d touched.  To some extent dusty objects often did it to me. They could last a couple of hours or a few days but were no big deal.  As it turns out they are very common and are indeed called dyshidrotic eczema (almost water blisters).

 

So here’s a warning to any of you who have them now and again because…

 

Calamity! One day I woke up completely covered in them!  Now I know I’m prone to exaggerating but I assure you other than the sole of my right foot (!) had the potentiality to feel as if it were crawling with a zillion microscopic ants.  It is a pretty much invisible (subdermal) rash and the blisters are not all out at the same time.  What happens is bits of your body take it in turn to develop zillions of teeny madly itchy blisters.  If you scratch them the area becomes dry and flaky but that doesn’t stop them coming back again and again.  By randomly selecting bits and pieces of my anatomy to plague it was surprising how quickly it completed the map of Marilyn.

 

I did a trawl of the Internet to discover that entire bodies covered in Pompholyx (it’s other name) are very rare.  Lucky me – something rare.  There’s no known cause or cure.  Even luckier me then! And it can take 2 – 4 weeks to disappear and in some cases it just simply doesn’t!!! (Insert loud screams here please)

 

On the basis no one could do anything I just resigned myself to putting up with it.  After two weeks it was bottoms to that idea and off to the drop-in clinic.  As usual the nurse knew nothing about it so I spent a jolly ten minutes updating her knowledge bank.  To be fair she suggested anti-histamine but no she couldn’t prescribe it (as a crinkly that would have made it free to me) So I duly parted with some cash for the drowsy sort (sleep would be good) and Bingo a little relief. A couple of days later I decided a trip to the GP might not go amiss.  Ditto everything I’ve just told you.  It took a good five weeks to settle and even then I had to taper off the ant-histamine, as it seemed to come back each time I stopped them.  Fingers crossed that was my one and only full-body attack.

 

So to August proper….

 

 

Sally’s birthday always begins August for me.  Having been born in one of our hottest Summers I expect her to keep up the style.  No so this year.  August was a pretty cool month, although this didn’t stop us having a BBQ.  Within five minutes half of us were in fleeces and the other (sensible) half had retreated to indoors.  It was fun though

 

To begin at the very beginning.  Two days before ‘her day’ Ken and I duly trotted off to M & S to get their gluten free chocolate cake to underpin her candles – needless to say this was the day Bury didn’t have one.  We made a quick phone call to Manchester from the store and yes they did have gluten free chocolate cake and an orange one and, and, and, and – terrific – then not so terrific – they sell all these wonderful things but they hadn’t got any at the moment.  Oh Poop!  Lady in store duly rings Bolton – yes they have one, yes they would put it to one side for us, could we get there before they closed?  Ken at the wheel – no problem – Cake under our belt so to speak.

 

[Itch, Itch, itch]

 

Friday and Sally arrived about elevenish, and so to bed.  Saturday and Pam and Ken arrived for the actual Birthday lunch with us.  We decided to eat at home as Sally’s choices are always pretty limited when eating out and she said she’d be happier at home.  An aside here – There were dreadful floods in and around Cheltenham and Pam and Ken’s water had been off for a couple of weeks so they were happy to visit us for a shower!

 

On Sunday Sally went to her dad’s following my Nut Roast lunch for her and on Tuesday we had the BBQ for her and the other Smith family – Charlotte, Lee, their children – Jack and Josh and of course Geoff.  All very nice reminiscing about the ‘olden days’ at Grantham Drive.  These are the occasions when the ‘blended’ family is a bit difficult – I’m sure Ken must have felt very left out.  Now, being female, I wouldn’t see it that way I’d be chuffed to little maggots to be learning more about him and his pre-Marilyn life.  We are decidedly different creatures.  That said he, as always, was perfectly fine with it all. 

 

Sally went home on Wednesday with us in the car with caravan in tow.  We stayed at a new site for us because our usual Drum Mohr was booked – the joy of high season.  We were not at all impressed with this one.  Parking near the toilet block and dancing around the flying ants didn’t improve my view of Lothianbridge.  That said it is pretty good to always be able to stay right on the edge of a city – useful for schlepping sally and shopping etc back and forth.  Sally and I had a fun time dancing with the ants and carting water and stuff to set up.  It was quite funny; as she had only visited us when all the chores were done and thought life in a caravan was heavenly – now she’s not so sure.

 

We tootled off to the Royal Botanical Garden the next day; something I’ve been meaning to do for simply ages.  As a bit of an economy we took a packed lunch with us and split the day into two parts as it took us more than four hours just to see what the gardens had to offer.  It should be impressive I suppose at it began with a physic garden in 1670 and received its Royal Charter in 1699.  The tallest Palm House in Britain is in their Victorian glass houses built in 1858 and it is still impressive now. The Rock Garden lays claim to 5,000 plants – we tried to check but lost count somewhere around 3,769.  It’s not all ancient and the Queen Mother Memorial Garden, which opened in 2006, is a delight of roses with a truly wonderful 18th century-style grotto and labyrinth.  All that outdoorsy stuff and culture and learning was followed by spaghetti back at the caravan.  A good day was had by all.

 

On Saturday we took Sally to St Abbs, from where we walked to Coldingham Sands; then drove on to Eyemouth and Berwick.  It was a bit of a whirlwind tour but we got in some good sightseeing, food and walking and a loo in a car park which cost 20 pence! – I am appalled!

 

Saturday night is movie night.  Well it would have been had we not gone in the afternoon instead.  As I said the weather wasn’t at its best so hiding in the movies seemed like a good idea.  We went to see ‘Hairspray’ – what fun.  Back to the ‘van for tea and on to Sally’s to tend to a couple of manly chores (i.e. Ken doing them and S and I supervising).  A major, major task was to have a look in the loft – yes – that’s correct – ‘a look’.  I wanted to be reassured no-one could get across the roof space into her apartment and she wanted to know if there was anything grotty up there.  No to both apparently.  Of course on this we have to trust Ken because neither of us is ever going up there to find out if he’s just telling us what we want to hear. So probably there’s shared access to all the whole top floor and the loft is littered with headless corpses of previous victims – so that’s OK then.

 

Ken and I moved on to Northumberland on Sunday.  I hated leaving her in Edinburgh – it’s like I’m abandoning her each time.  Mothers are completely crackers – she abandoned me!

 

Lovely site this time – Brown Rigg, Bellingham. Even the weather was behaving itself - not hot but at least it was dry – Ken took his usual exploratory stroll to the village and I read my book in the peace and quiet of the countryside.  We were so much the middle of nowhere even our mobiles wouldn’t work.  Places like this might lack Tesco but in exchange you get views and open skies which somehow allow you to breath properly and a comfortable quiet that regenerates your soul.  Actually the whole truth is we might not have had a phone connection but we did have Wi-Fi!

 

We had an interesting restaurant experience the next day.  We went to see a NT property – Wallington – and decided to eat in their proper restaurant.  Firstly there was a board outside with some sort of hazy menu that offered no hint as to whether they actually served meals rather than just snacks.  Up the million steps we duly went and into a very nice looking Restaurant.  We arrived at 1.15 and yes they had been serving delicious meals of lamb and cottage pie and quiches and such like but no they finished these lunches at 1 pm.  Only in England!  I don’t remember what we had now but do remember it was the only two leftover, baked to the pan offerings of something or other. – Oh, it’s just come to me – it was an extremely greasy sad looking cheese and ham bread and butter pudding.  They decided to serve this with gravy!  (Pleeeze) Fortunately (or not as it transpired) it arrived in a separate jug

 

Our waitress brought my tea before the meal arrived (!) and duly knocked over the jug of milk quite literally covering Ken’s jacket that was on the chair beside him.  Not a word of apology or offer to sort it out – she made a couple of ineffectual dabs at it with some napkins and fled.  Being British we just grumbled and did the best we could to clean it up.  Please remember it was summer and the jug contained milk and this was his only jacket while we were away.  I leave you to draw your own conclusions about the rest of our stay.  She reappeared with our meal and – you are not going to believe this – proceeds to knock over the jug of gravy.  We comforted ourselves with the prospect of a good NT scone – it arrived plastered in that revolting spray cream – all air and no substance.  Rule Britannia.

 

As to Northumberland itself – I thought it was incredibly beautiful – I much preferred it to the Lake District, if for no other reason than it is empty!  We took a less used road back to Bellingham from Wallington and drove along eight miles of single-track road with cattle grids and gates.  We never saw a soul and beautiful scenery as far as the eye could see.  Bellingham itself is a very pretty little village and worth the visit even if you aren’t ‘doing’ Wallington et al.

 

Thursday we had a split day – Hadrian’s Wall in the rain for Ken and Chesters Walled Garden for me.  The difference being Ken did Hadrian’s on his own while I stayed in the café and car reading and eating and supping tea but he accompanied me around the walled garden.  What a little star he is.  To be fair I had done Hadrian’s Wall many years ago and suspected it wouldn’t have changed much!  Also when we arrived at the car park it was raining – so the prospect of cold and wet and a heap of stones somehow didn’t do it for me and Ken nobly offered to do it alone.  He probably liked it much better without my inane chatter and having to halve his walking pace for me.

 

[Itch, scratch, itch]

 

Chesters Walled Garden is a little gem – well not so little actually as it is two acres.  It is in the Yellow Book as one of the NGS gardens if you want to find it.  It is in Chollerford.  I can’t remember now what pictures I have of it – I must have some?  I’ll try to remember to post some on the photo site when I’ve done this.  Shame on us struggling with our handkerchief gardens – the lady who nurtures Chesters does it on her own with occasional help.

 

Incidentally, this particular day was Ken’s birthday so we ended our pleasant day with a ‘posh’ dinner at a very large hotel in Bellingham called ‘The Riverdale Hall Hotel – Country House with Swimming Pool, Cricket Field and Salmon River’.  (I haven’t quite figured where the name begins and ends!) It must have been very grand in its time, but again its one of those classics you seem find in the UK quite a lot – it is a slightly seedy, frayed-at-the-edges, old glory, living off its past, sort of place.  I actually enjoy them for all those very British reasons – we kind of don’t know when to give up – do we?  Food promised much (Le Routiers Gold Plate winner) but in reality it merely delivered a heavy hand with a stock cube!  It was still a really nice evening studying the other motley diners and a good way to mark the day.

 

Wednesday took us to Cragside in Rothbury near Morpeth.  Scientifically it is a very interesting place let alone a grand Victorian house and garden.  The estate had a six-mile drive right round it and 40 miles of footpaths and walks.  It belonged to Lord Armstrong who was a fascinating individual.  One of its claims to fame was that it was the first house in the world to be lit by electricity and has the largest man-made rock garden in Europe.

 

[Rub, scratch, itch]

 

By now we were at the centre of the month and it was time to return home.  We had to leave the caravan at Bowmans as the remote mover had stopped working.  We were able to pick it up the next day.  Fortunately all it needed was a new remote – I say ‘fortunately’ but at  £270 it certainly added to our August expenses.  Better than replacing the whole kit though for about a thousand.  Must say neither of us would be as keen caravanning if we didn’t have the remote mover.

 

My laundry Olympics from the grand tour was interrupted with a visit from our chum Sue with a box of fresh figs from Spain – how yummy is that?  Just when Widow Twankyness is getting you down something nice turns up – moral for all life I think here!  When overwhelmed by dirty clothes think of fruit. (err?)

 

Bits and bobs of usual stuff filled the remainder of the month, local committee meeting, shopping and various mini-outings with chums, three more birthdays and a couple of special meals with folks.

 

The first one was on the 23rd to catch up with D before she went back to the fray.  We went for lunch and a walk around the Brown Cow, which I was astonished to realize we hadn’t done before in all the years I’d known her.  For once it was a lovely warm day and perfect for a meal outside and a wander around the Burrs.

 

[Itch, itch,  scratch]

As for meals outside we tried to eat most of our meals at home on the patio – the theory being as we’d paid for it we were jolly well gong to use it.  Mostly they were amusing mini-versions of Dallas.  Do you remember the hair blowing breakfasts outdoors with JR? We had all the hair-blowing and pretending to have a good time out there, without having to suffer the added indignities of the shoulder pads, Lucy No-neck and the rest of the tribe. 

 

Another good meal was a ‘reunion’ of ‘The Seven’ – Hilary, Chris, Geoff, Sue, Phil, Ken and I.  It only took about three months for us all to find one date we could all meet for a meal – no, seriously!  Any way we finally made it to La Tama for good food and an even better good natter.  I’m determined to get them together again during our few days at home at Christmas.  Glad I reminded me about that – must get on to it.

 

By the end of the month we were already starting to talk about going back to Naples and trying to get various jobs settled before we left such as a leaky gutter and writing our Christmas cards!!

 

[Itch]

[Scratch]

[Moan]

[Yawn]

[Itch, itch]

September

 

A Tran-Canada Travelogue…

 

I pretty much left you in August with meals out and the prospect of writing Christmas cards and so we pick up from there…

 

We got our cards written in the first week and gave them to our good chums Sue and Phil who will mail them for us at a more Christmassy time.  Bless ‘em and yo ho ho.

 

As for meals out I went to what I hope is the first of many Langworthian dinners to catch up with all us ex-Langworthy folk – very ‘retired’, still working, on their way out and more recently retired. The idea is that we meet three times a year – bit like school terms really.  So this was our pre new school year meet.  It is always really nice to catch up with people who made going to work worthwhile.  I know nothing really made it bearable at the end but they are still the folk who softened the grot.  We met at Smiths in Eccles as per usual.  This is a really great restaurant; I’d recommend it to anyone.

 

The only downside for me is my latest phobia.  I am getting worse and worse about driving.  Now I don’t do it very much – shared car and not going to work each day and Ken happy to drive – I am in an absolute funk when I have to get out there.  To be fair I have NEVER liked driving and, after all I am old enough have driven in the days when the only Motorway was the M1 and the only people on it were me, my Uncle Jim and a couple of friends and neighbours now and again.  Things have changed a little and the drive over to Salford via ‘Death Valley’ gives me the heebie jeebies.  By the time I get to Denise’s I’m a wreck.  This must give you some indication of how nice these people are as I don’t cry off with the usual “I can’t come I am having my only pair of shoes repaired”. (That one always works – no one likes to argue with anyone that poor)

 

In a way September was a kinder month weather-wise than August.  Our expectations are less I guess so ‘nice’ days are appreciated and used.  I spent a lot of time in my new garden tweaking and moving a couple of things around.  Bet you’re not surprised that even the plants in my garden don’t get to stand still.  Ken is worried that I am nurturing Triffid genes and we’ll all be massacred in our beds.

 

Knowing we were off on our grand tour on the 22nd made the first three weeks ring with my usual complaint of “I can’t get settled into anything because we’ll be going soon”.  At least returning to our six month split year makes it a good deal better than when we tried two months about – that was a nightmare.  We spent all out life eating up/running down/emptying fridge, freezer and cupboards.  Never settling in anywhere.

 

Even with my fidgeting and having already mentally moved to the States we managed to fit in a couple of trips out with friends.  We had a lovely day at Lytham with Phil and Sue in some really toasty sunshine and discovered where all the wrinklies end up for lunch.  Nice hotel called the Chadwick if you’re ever around that way.  As I said we stopped in for lunch as it looked pleasant enough and killed half an hour in the (sun) lounge area.  ‘Killed’ takes on a whole new meaning, as every other customer must have been over eighty; and there were a lot of them.  We four are dreadful at remembering just how old we are and so spent a giggly twenty minutes being naughty about all the old folks in there.  Eventually the penny dropped that they felt perfectly comfortable with us and we actually fitted in very nicely with the rest of the retired Tuesday at the Seaside folk.  Oh dear, it has arrived!

 

The same friends gave us a great indoors/outdoor meal one evening with another six people (ten for dinner) – as I said the September weather was kind to us and it was a really happy evening under the stars in easy company.  More of these I say.

 

My shopping has been mixed and strange this month ranging from some English chocolate for a Naples neighbour who’d read about it in the Naples newspaper to a fridge/freezer for my Aunt who is housebound.  I will let you elaborate on these for yourselves.  Suffice it to say I don’t know which was more difficult choosing chocolate for someone who was new to the (English) variety or a fridge/freezer for someone else’s life and kitchen.

 

Our movie this month was ‘3.10 to Yuma’.  I am now desperate to get the 1957 version from the library when we get to Naples – I’m sure it was better.  Rose-tinted specs here?

 

Had my hair cut – you know how I moan about this every time – well, no exceptions here.  I suppose it isn’t really a complaint because she did so little you couldn’t tell anything had been done!  One of these days it’s going to be just right.

 

A couple of days before we set off Ken’s sister and her friend came over to pick up a DVD we’d got for her on our last trip six months ago!  We also had some ‘sweets’ for another friend of hers, which have stunk the house out for even longer.  They do Wintergreens here – look like Polo Mints but smell and I presume taste like that stuff you rub on a footballer’s leg.  No, No, not melted chocolate for licking off I mean that warming stuff for when they have an injury.  It’s probably called Wintergreen.  Don’t you wish you were as smart as me?  We had lunch out as the cupboards by then looked like Mother Hubbard’s. 

 

[Insert wry smile here - I use my diary – my appointment/reminder type diary – alongside me to jog my memory when chattering my way through this typing.  I am now on 19 September and one of my chores to do is ‘August Journal’.  This will, of course, appear again and again for the next three months!]

 

[I’ve quite taken to these stage directions, which I invented last month – maybe they’ll take over from the whole piece eventually]

 

So 22nd and we’re off to Calgary to see Chris and Gayle.  We booked a taxi with our neighbour from Number 4 just round the corner – as he said nice to get up for an ‘early’ fifteen minutes before he has to leave the house.  Even nicer for us as we don’t have the suspense of waiting to see if a cab is going to show up.

 

We got into

 

Vancouver

(Yes, I know I said Calgary, hang on in there) about 3.15 pm and by 4 pm we were in a cab to Gas Town to do a two hour plus trolley bus tour of the city.  Terrific way to get the flavour of anywhere and to give you a clue as to what you might want to go back to – have always been a great believer in them.  Everyone is right Vancouver is a very lovely city.  It has its problem areas as do all cities but in the main it is very attractive.  We fell for Stanley Park and its environs.  Our first meal in this part of Canada was in Gas Town at The Old Spaghetti Factory and was a terrific $30 CAD for three courses, tea, coffee and beer.  Welcome to British Columbia. Unfortunately we missed my niece and her partner by a day – they had taken a long overdue break from work and renovating their home and gone off on vacation just before we arrived. No, it was just a co-incidence, honestly.

 

On Sunday 23rd and we started our Trans-Canada Highway trip to Calgary.  As we were passing my niece’s house (a three minute diversion from our road out East) we stopped by and took photos just to prove to us we’d been there.  We are very odd people.  I suspect their Sunday morning neighbours thought so too.  I only hope Justine and her partner didn’t mind.  Incidentally it is the cutest of houses – all clapboard and stoop and wrap around porch – it is exactly what I’d expect and want from a Canadian house.

 

So off to our first stop

 

Merritt

We arrived about 11.30am and checked into our Motel.  Merritt is a town filled with Motels and very little else.  Actually its claim to fame is that it is the ‘Country Music Capitol of Canada’.  For one week of the year it is the centre of the Canadian universe for all the Hank Williams and Dolly Partons out there – can you tell my age and knowledge from this reference?  Ten thousand visitors descend and fill the rooms and restaurants.  How the heckety-heck these here motels s’vive the rest o’ the yahr I haven’t a clue.  It sure is Hicksville for the other fifty-one!  It has a ‘Walk of Stars’, which consists of mounted handprints in clay/resin (?)  ‘Fraid didn’t get close ‘nough to figga it out [sorry it just gets to ya] Nearly every wall ‘downtown’ has giant murals of the same – the stars that is, not the handprints.  It is all veeery strange to my English rose and tea sensibilities.  The next morning we had a wonderful breakfast on the edge of town at a brand new absolutely giant restaurant called The Elephant Farm (I have no idea!) and left for…

 

Penticton

Again we arrived about 11.30am in a beautiful part of the even more beautiful Okanagan Valley.  The area has a strangely warm microclimate that is ideal for fruit and especially grapes.  They have more sunshine hours than Honolulu! We left Merritt after scraping a thin film of ice from the car windows and arrived in Penticton in 20°C.  So here we were with the Rockies in view surrounded by wine-country.  There are more than 150 vineyards. Ninety plus of them boutique wineries but I bet the imbibers among you know of bigger ones like Mission Hill and their Pinot Gris.  If not give it a go.   There are terrific town names like Summerland and Peachland that are occasionally beaten by some of the wineries’ names such as Dirty Laundry.  It was once a Chinese Laundry and brothel. (Inspired by this combination I am thinking of opening a cheesecake tea shop and podiatrist)   Then there’s NK’Mip Cellars (pronounced ink-a-meep in Osoyoos).  It is the first aboriginal owned winery in North America.  Then you can try Blasted Church, Burrowing Owl and other intriguing names and flavours. We actually bought our four bottles in Silver Sage standing next to an American who was arranging the shipping of his many hundred dollars worth of vino.  We really could have spent a happy week here mooching around and have every intention of putting it high on our ‘to go back to’ list.  We need to go back in the spring for the blossom.  There are 60 miles of pear, plum, cherry and peach orchards – just imagine that. Okanagan Lake is possibly the largest lake I’ve ever seen.  (I’m not counting the Great Lakes and stuff like that ‘cos they are like landlocked seas).  This is a lake you can drive around and alongside and see across but it seems to go on forever.  There was one gorgeous view after another.  Penticton itself is on the southern end and is on the edge of the only desert in Canada.  The harvest here is three weeks earlier than at the northern end.  I’ll try to rein myself in here as there’s loads more to tell you about this area – put it on your travel list! 

 

Our next day here began with breakfast in the 2006/7 South Okanagan Breakfast award winning breakfast thingy-place.  We know how to find them.  We then set off for Vernon via Naramata and an elusive lavender farm.  Seriously, we never found it.  We kept seeing ‘escaped’ lavender plants all over the place but not the farm itself.  We actually had loads of laughs though trying to find it.  Naramata dead-ends on that side of the lake and we had to come back to Penticton to set out again for Summerland, Peachland and over the floating bridge through Kelowna passing two other lakes and on into

 

Vernon

We took a trip to Planet Bee – all that you wanted to know about bees but were afraid to ask – it was closed – weekends only.  Undaunted we opted for their second exciting offering which was a nearby town called Armstrong and The Village Cheese Company.  Please note exciting things are divided out equally among the towns – one each!  The shop was open but they’d finished work for the day and were cleaning the vats so we didn’t get to see them make cheese, but we could buy the video.  We forwent that pleasure and mooched the shop. Ken of course ate pie. The real gem was the town itself.  It is totally preserved in aspic – a one street ‘Western’ town.  The centre of Main Street has a railway line running slap down the centre dividing the road into a dual carriageway.  This, of course was how the town came to exist in the first place.  With the railway preceding cars by a good many years it was a real artery for Canada and a handful of towns grew up along its route.  The buildings and stores are clapboard with wooden boardwalks in front of them and the very centre of the town has a huge ex-hotel – now pretty much a run-down restaurant and a bar.  We sat at oilcloth-covered tables and had a coffee and tea after a couple of guys from ‘Deliverance’ went and found a girl in the ‘pub’ downstairs to serve us.  None of this is artifice it is simply ‘left-over’ from its earlier glory days.  I suspect they have enough gumption now to realize it has tourist potential.  We were lucky enough to witness a train passing through – lonesome whistle ‘n all. It traveled at not much more than walking pace and had five engines pulling forty-five or more wagons of wood chips. (There was a bit of sloppy counting on our part) The best part of this utterly terrific day was the serendipity of finding a tiny museum of the town’s history shepherded by an utterly charming young woman. It houses over thirty historical displays, replicas of the railways, a schoolhouse, a grocery store, a blacksmith shop, and a comprehensive archive of photographs, newspapers and maps  – many with wonderful little stories attached.  They also had some great ways of making children interested in what was there and making them look closer using quizzes and games and such like.  If any of you ever get there – seek it out.

Our next breakfast was on the road to

 

Golden

Now this is truly a non-existent town set in the most astonishing scenery of Kicking Horse River and the wonderful Mountains.  On the way we went through Rogers Pass, stopping for lunch at Best Western on the summit.  We decided to have a look round the museum and discovered that their entrance fee gave us a 24-hour pass for the surrounding National Parks which was useful for us as we intended to go to Lake Louise and Banff the next day. For those who don’t know, my maiden name was Rogers.  In this area of Canada it seemed to be everywhere.  Rogers Pass and other stuff attributed to the explorer and Rogers wireless and phone company hoardings hither and yon.  Doesn’t it always seem odd to see your name ‘up in lights’.  How do famous folk cope?  I digress.  (mm!)  Indeed this turned out to be an odd day all round where I seemed to be ticking off a list of firsts.  The first time I’ve ever seen a vertical cloud – I have pictures to prove it.  Then there was the amazing effect of a rainbow looking as though it was on the ground instead of in the sky.  It was a perfect arc and was set against a pine-covered mountainside so it seemed to be lying on the mountain itself.  Then I crossed a time zone in a car.  I don’t remember doing this before but Ken says we must have.  I wanted to go back and forth across the line but that got vetoed as pretty pointless.  I just wanted to see if I got giddy, confused or more wrinkled.  So Golden itself was totally forgettable but the day was one to remember.

 

When we’d signed in at our motel the previous day the clerk had said that the Restaurant had just been taken over by new people and the food was excellent.  As Golden didn’t seemed to offer anything much better in dineries we thought may as well sample the new, improved eatery for lunch.  It turned out to be a Chinese Restaurant.  You’d have to see this place to get the full incongruity of it.  The Motel was the traditional 2-story building surrounding the parking area like you see in the movies with a wooden Restaurant Building and a Wooden Swimming Pool Building etc.  So it was reasonable to go through the door of this place expecting to see a scene from ‘The Accused’ or a zillion other movies and there’s this wonderful Chinese Family, children to grandparents all running back and forth with our meal.  The wooden very American booth-lined diner interior was dotted about with golden dragons and jade pieces and red and gold.  It was really, really strange.  The food wasn’t brilliant but OK.  The next morning we felt challenged to try breakfast.  The same family appeared and served us a perfectly normal Canadian/American breakfast.

 

So to Calgary.  I bet you’d forgotten all about that by now.

 

Calgary

By now we had dropped off the Trans-Canadian for our last leg and were traveling the older parallel road – the 1A.  This gave us a chance to stop off to see the utterly remarkable, wonderfully engineered Spiral Tunnels.  I’m not sure the photos really explain it to you.  Again we were super lucky in that within ten minutes of arriving a very long train came through.  Very, very lucky as by now we were packing on the layers and watching the occasional flutters of snow so waiting for a train might not have been a good idea.  I tried to find a good short explanation of these little miracles this is the best I could do:

 

The famous Spiral Tunnels on the CP Rail Line were opened on September 1st, 1909. The route called for two tunnels driven in three-quarter circles into the valley walls. The construction and extra track effectively doubled the length of the climb and reduced the gradient to 2.2%. The labor force to build these tunnels through sheer rock amounted to about a thousand, and the cost was about 1.5 million Canadian dollars. This is one of the steepest, most scenic railway lines in North America, crossing the kicking horse river, and running under Mount Ogden and Cathedral Mountain, towards the town of Field, BC. 

In no way does this do it or the stories of its construction any justice whatsoever.  You could Google if really interested. 

 

We made a brief stop in Lake Louise.  We had intended to have tea at The Fairmont but we got there at lunchtime and I was grubby and tired and a ‘posh’ lunch would have been wasted on me.  We will be back in December.  I didn’t even walk to the Lake – Ken brought me some photos back!  Next stop in Banff for lunch.  We had a quick stroll around the centre, which is pretty much under re-construction presumably in time for the season.  Then we were back on the Bow Valley Trail to Calgary via Cochrane.  This was a suburb I was curious about when skimming around the web looking for houses.  Our quick view of it left me very underwhelmed.  We finally arrived at Chris and Gayle’s around 6.15 pm.  Gayle was just back from work and Chris arrived a little later.  We all went for a Japanese meal and then to an Ice Cream Parlor; I reckon this was a pretty good way to start our visit.

 

The next day Chris was working from 2 pm – 10 pm so we set out for lunch before he went to work.  Some of us never made it.  I managed to walk into the edge of a balcony in the car park and ended up sampling the Canadian Health system.  Following some dramatic bleeding and an egg-sized lump I acquired six stitches.  Being a mom I spent all the time worrying about Chris being late for work.  He reckoned a visiting mother with a cracked head was a pretty good excuse.  The stitches were the least problem – the site of the tetanus injection ached like billyo for a few days and I had a small section of hair cut away as the cut went into my hairline, so that looked cute; not to mention the blood-soaked hair which wasn’t too easy to wash as it pretty much surrounded a hole in the head.  Ken and I were some hundred dollars lighter and I didn’t feel much like going out.  The ‘kids’ were great – dinner at home and popcorn and a movie.  How nice is that.

 

We took my head (by now it had acquired its own identity) to The Farmers’ Market the next day (Saturday).  It was huge and indoor and had just about everything you could wish for.  Gayle bought some small decorative squash and we had a jolly time arranging and re-arranging them; firstly as our Autumn Centre piece a la Martha Stewart then it became a larger Thanksgiving table centre and then it took on all the appearances of a cross between the school nature table and a stall at the Farmers Market.  We cut back a lot and got it to something really rather nice.  Chris was off to work again in the afternoon (probably to avoid all the Autumn creativity which was going on) so Gayle, Ken and I went to their local park – which is a spectacular slit in the ground.  No, really, it is a dramatically deep winding cleft of trees and paths and water.  They take their bikes there.  Great autumn colours of course and the nostalgic smell that always reminds me of a convalescent home when I was about seven – that’s another story.  The three of us set out for dinner at a place, which Gayle said was excellent.  Everyone had the same idea.  It was packed and there was something like a forty-minute wait.  We tried a couple of other places with the same result and ended up eating at an unpromising looking Italian called Bona Roma.  As is often the way with these things, it turned out great. Back home for some more popcorn and the series we’d started watching the night before. Chris came home an hour earlier than expected so that was nice as we got to spend some time with him in the evening too.

 

September finished with our last proper day in Calgary.  We went into the city for a look round.  The heart of the city is lovely.  They have a super efficient tram system which is totally free within the city boundary and very cheap even from the ‘burbs.  We bobbed around between car and feet and tram and took in all the sights; one of which was a huge proper garden on the (I think) fifth floor of a store.  Mind-boggling.  We also walked around a lovely park.  I wish I’d made a note of the names of these things; I must try to fill in my mind gaps in December.  Our lunch was in a really elegant restaurant – earls (with a lower case ‘e’) - whose food matched its décor and wasn’t hellish expensive.  We finally returned home and collapsed in comfortable heaps for the rest of the day.  Poor Chris had to work again – he actually thought he had this day off only to get a phone call asking why he wasn’t at work – so off he went.

 

I am so happy to have seen where he is and his apartment and some of his life (and know the hospital is only five minutes away – there’s a joke here for Chris).  It is very hard having a ’child’ miles away in a foreign land and you’ve no idea what he sees, and does and experiences.  Their apartment is excellent; he’s settled into his job for the time being, he’s bought his first new car and is living in a young exciting, thriving, growing city.  Cheers to the future and my kids.

October 2007

 

Taradiddle

 

Taradiddle - pretentious or silly talk or writing

Baloney, bilge water, bosh, drool, humbug, tommyrot, tosh, twaddle, hokum, meaninglessness, nonsense, nonsensicality, bunk - a message that seems to convey no meaning

 

I always wondered why I loved that word – you are now about to find out – happy reading…

 

On the first of October we should have been flying on to Naples from Calgary.

 

After we’d nipped over to the Mall to get a bag for me and a Thank-you card for Chris and Gayle, we spent the rest of our last morning with Chris before he went off to work. We had a very nice lunch at the ubiquitous Tim Horton’s with my little son.  [This was our first visit to TH; little did we know how many more of them we’d see in the next couple of days]  Chris left for work from the restaurant and we decided to go on to the airport.  This got us there around 1.30 for a 6 pm plane.  It seemed much easier to kill time there rather than faff around with a car filled with luggage just to killing a couple of hours around Calgary. 

 

We whizzed through check-in and all that rubbish and so we tried to settle into a couple of hours reading our books and the occasional shop/food mooching for me.  Our smooth beginnings were soon scuppered.  The plane arrived and was stoked with food and luggage and staff but never a sign of us boarding.  After about half an hour past take-off we got a message saying our flight had been cancelled due to some ‘technical difficulty’.  Happy days – off we trot to re-arrange our journey.  I’ll try to save you some of the pain here and skip to us standing in a very long queue (i.e. 300 plus passengers and two people ‘serving’) and it is now 9.30 pm!  We had spent three hours in a queue.  Eventually we collected our new tickets, picked up our luggage, cleared customs – yes we had technically re-entered Canada! And then got shipped to a local hotel.  Nearly twelve hours and 2 Tim Horton meals in an airport is only marginally better than chewing off your right hand.

 

On the second of October we had a 4.30 am start and breakfast at - guess where - and so we started our journey to Naples.

 

Calgary/Minneapolis/Atlanta/Fort Myers.  Sounds nightmarish enough you’d think.  Throw in some heavy rain in Minneapolis and another delayed flight and therefore a missed connection in Atlanta and by now we were just a little fraught.  Fortunately we got on a flight leaving three and a half hours later than the original but only by the skin of our teeth.  I was confirmed booked, Ken was on standby.  Just a little word with staff and hey presto we were both confirm booked.

 

Even then, it wasn't the end of the trip from hell.  We got into Fort Myers and picked up a wrecked suitcase.  Completely squished.

 

On the third of October we arrived in Naples with a gashed head, a crushed case and two fairly crumpled bodies, having endured a journey that began at 1 pm on the 1st and ended at 1a.m. on the 3rd.

 

All this was also followed a few days later by a screw-up on Ken’s plastic with a hotel billing.

 

Ultimately all came right in the end.  Expedia have given us $25 and a further $100 credit for another trip as a sorry re the billing fiasco and we are presently awaiting a replacement suitcase from the airline.  Even better than this we were transported first class for one of the segments and even got air miles on the tickets which is better than good, as our original flights were in fact freebies which we’d booked using air miles.  This wasn’t kindness on their part; it was because we had a total idiot of a bloke trying to sort out the flights and hotels at the desk in Calgary.  So, all in all, by now the blow has been well and truly softened.

 

Our resident Blue Jays and Woodpecker greeted us at our very first breakfast and we felt properly ‘at home’.

 

We were off to the Post Office on the first Sunday to mail a birthday card.  How good is that – Post Office on a Sunday around 6 pm?  The lobby of the Post Office is open 24/7.  They have stamp machines and even better a posting machine – works better than the average postal worker I might add.  Lob your whatever on the scale and press various bits of touch screen in response to the questions asked and, hey presto, the appropriate postage is printed on a sticky label – affix same to the aforesaid whatever and mail it!  Cracking good stuff.  Not only were we reminded we were back in our other home by this gem of a service but the notice on entering the Post Office is a bit of a reminder as well…   ‘No guns allowed’

 

 

As I’m typing this in February (!!!!) and Christmas is well and truly over I can now reveal that by this time in October I had been working for a couple of months collecting information for a Family Tree gift for my kids for Christmas.  What had begun as a ‘cool’ idea had by now turned into an obsession.  [Play spooky music]

 

Besides my being in touch with all and sundry in two countries to pluck from their brains all their remembered stuff and researching for hours – nay days – on the web, I’d also spent a small fortune on gathering information from birth, marriage, death and census records. 

 

By October I’d found a couple of interesting stories and three hundred ‘immediate’ relatives.  The project now seemed to demand a larger idea than just a hand drawn three-generation tree, which was my original intention.  By now I was into making ‘books’ and six feet long charts for each branch.  I also decided to include my sister and her children in the strange Christmas gift idea.  I had already sent out smaller versions to people who’d helped with stuff.  October became little more than a veritable whirlwind of clacking keyboard, cursing and publishing.  I also got a couple of charts printed for each of my kids and my sister. I intend to get a couple for myself further down the line when I have completed some more gaps. 

 

I now intend to send them all an updated disc at least every Christmas.  I can’t see that it is something I’ll want to stop now the ball is rolling.  There isn’t a natural stopping point as there’s always something else to discover. The real issue with this is making myself leave stuff out.  You have to be very disciplined and determine the lines you really want to follow otherwise you can wander off into thousands of people all of whom are in some way related.  I have spoken to several people who are working in the thousands.  I understand how they got there but then it becomes another game – that of collecting rather than simply trying to plot your family history.

 

I’d heartily recommend it to anyone with the time, money and brain cells to kill.  It is intriguing; also you get to talk to members of the family you haven’t spoken to in years and to ones you’ve never even met before and most of them have got a story or two to tell.  People really are fascinating, even though everyone one of them, without exception said, “There’s nothing interesting to tell really”.

 

Watch this space.  I’m sure this isn’t a finite story.

 

Around the middle of the month my more immediate relative, Sally, the wunderkind, ran her first half marathon in Amsterdam.  What a star!  I am still proud of her.  Thanks again to my friends who donated money to the bowel cancer cause.

 

Our entertainments this month were the usual concerts, meals and movies.  As sometimes happens with these things, one of the movies we went to was one I wasn’t bothered about seeing but I ended up being pleasantly surprised.  ‘Michael Clayton’ turned out to be a fairly complex and certainly interesting bit of plotting.  Worth a looksee. 

 

October has been a bit of a non-month to write about, especially after all the gadding about last month - hence the ‘taradiddle’ title.  It seemed to drift along primarily in a haze of Family Tree investigating and running back and forth to the Post Office for the same.  Indeed it got so bad the neighbours were considering dialing 911 as I hadn’t been seen for weeks and Ken’s feeble squeaks of, “She’s on the computer” were beginning to sound a bit thin.

 

The month did go out on a bit of a bang though with a hair cut and perm.  As it was a rare success in the hair department I wanted to show it to Sally in Bonny Scotland so I thought I’d take a photo.  This led to a series of hysterical contortions.  Those who know me know how much I hate having my photo taken.  An early memory of this particular phobia goes all the way back to hiding in the school toilets as a pupil age six and on through many, many similar occasions such as hiding in the school toilets as a teacher age 48.  It continues unabated. 

 

The solution was simple; using my long rubbery arms, I took several shots and ended up with a presentable one, presumably because no one else was looking at me and I was recovering from falling about laughing and actually look quite cheerful for once.  Clearly this is the answer for all you camera-shy folk out there.  Simply grow your arms, lock yourself in a room on your own – maybe the school toilets – and snap away.

 

Hopefully if I figure the whys and wherefores of how to do it the resulting shot can be seen as my new fisog on the homepage of this taradiddle.

 

November 2007

 

Kvetching and Thanksgiving………..

 

Much of my focus in November was on December if you see what I mean.  I am useless when I have a ‘change’ looming I seem to spend all my time planning for that.  Knowing we were going back to the UK for a ten-day stint in December, many of my conversations and plans were prefaced with; “We must take/do/have/remember that in December when we go home”.

 

As part of this prep and in honor of (Ken’s son) Richard’s flying visit we hired a cleaner.  Some of you might remember that when we both inherited each other we came with our own houses and cleaners.  Eventually (as with the house!) I ‘binned’ mine and we had many years in the UK with Irene who I grew to think of as ‘family’.  In the States we had Laura – equally a gem.  These poor ladies followed us from home to home and were (I hope) bemused/amused by my house swapping shenanigans.   Sadly Irene died from breast cancer.  She seemed irreplaceable in all kinds of ways so we decided to do without.

Around the same time we also moved in the States – maybe out of the States to France?  So we ‘lost’ Laura. 

 

I, for one, have always hated cleaning.  No sooner than its done someone messes it up – it’s a thankless task.  We have soldiered on for a couple of years now.  This really translates into, we keep things OK as we go along and have the occasional blitz.  We’ve also come to see that a cleaner is a pretty expensive commodity and (we are told!) a luxury when you are no longer working and have all that time.  We can, I suppose, realistically exist without.  So what possessed me to suggest we hired a cleaner I don’t know.  Over here it is commonplace for cleaners or, as they are more usually called, housekeepers, to be Spanish speaking.  [As a good Naples housewife you can attend classes which will teach you enough Spanish to manage your staff!] She arrived with husband in tow, as he spoke a little English, and they went through the place like demons for $80.  Deep joy.  How I miss having a slave. 

 

Richard came for a flying visit 8th through 11th.  Ken and I drove over to our (not) favourite place – Miami – to collect him from the airport on Thursday.  Friday Ken took him on a tour of the place including walking the Boardwalk up at Vanderbilt and then back home for lunch.  In the afternoon Richard wanted to do some shopping which led to a meal at Grand Buffet where I consumed enough crabs legs (giant size spider crabs) to turn me into a crab cake.  Saturday and the ‘boys’ went kayaking followed by home made pizza lunch, more shopping, a wander down 5th Avenue South and the Naples sunset from the beach.  We intended to eat at Riverwalk but had called in earlier for a drink and it was heaving so we binned that and had a meal at our good old standby – Cracker Barrel.  By Sunday we were haring across to Miami again to return Richard to the airport for his trip home.

 

As we’d dropped him there early I thought we could check out the new Ikea on our way home.  It’s located about half way between Miami and Naples at Sunshine.  I confess to loving a good mooch around Ikea but my excuse for this trip was to see what an American one was like; and indeed there are some cultural concessions.  The kitchens are a bit different in their layouts and have the obligatory large freestanding fridge and huge freestanding cooker with the microwave above the hob or at the very least it is built in at the same height somewhere else.  The ‘laundry’ is always elsewhere.  There were a couple of fully fitted kitchens, as we know them that are considered very chic and European.  I reckon the prices are often a pound to the dollar so its also very good value.

 

We arrived at 10.30am and joined the queue to get in.  They open the doors and restaurant at 10.30am and the registers at 11 am.  They let us in around 10.45 am.  To placate an already fretting husband I decided we’d have breakfast then he could linger over his coffee and book and I’d shop.  Ken, me and the other thousand people headed for breakfast.  I thought it was a hoot when we actually found ourselves standing in a queue to qualify us to go and stand in the food queue.  Ken loves queues and this was a total of three before coffee!  Breakfast was served until 11 am!  We arrived at the bacon about ten past with still a bunch of folk behind us.  I wish we could have stayed until the riots broke out when they changed over to lunch service.

 

The restaurant food is decidedly geared to American taste.  Breakfast is crispy bacon, scrambled eggs, French toast and maple syrup ($1.99).  One of the 'cakes' was a PB & Jelly sandwich!  The downstairs snack bar sold hot dogs for 55 cents and pizza.

 

Following brekkies we set off just for a look - not actually shopping – quote – there’s nothing we need – unquote.  Oh, the times we’ve said that.  My major purchase was Moses.  Where do they get the names? This is a computer chair - super-padded, and with all the usual bells and whistles for all of $49.  My other one (the second I’ve had in this condo) just isn’t comfy for long stays!  Eventually your bum bones protrude.  I also wasn’t able to leave without buying the frozen meatballs and ‘gravy’ mix and little Dimes as a souvenir of our visit.  It is probably a bit of a trek to just go for the unplanned mooch. I’m saying this until Ken forgets the pain and I can haul him back again (as I did once in the UK) for a packet of paper napkins!

 

While I’m in shopping mode I thought I’d mention Black Friday, which follows Thanksgiving (always a Thursday).  It is a crazy day of Sales with people queuing for two or more days for the handful of real bargains – the 40” wide flat screen TV for a couple of hundred bucks and the like.  They give out tickets to the folk at the front of the queue that have put in the time for the items they want and then they let in the first hundred or whatever before the rest of the crowds.  Win, win – folk get what they’ve ‘earned’ without a punch-up and the stores get excellent cheap advertising.  They are always splashed all over the news for a couple of days because of the folk camping outside.  Especially in the snow and ice up North!  I also added a whole new word to my vocabulary from Black Friday, that of people ‘glomming’ onto bargains.

 

Before Thanksgiving here comes the kvetching.

 

Richard went back on the 11th November and my birthday was on the 12th.  Way back before then, because (a) there was nothing I needed or wanted for my birthday (b) like all men Ken struggles with the concept (to be fair he usually comes up trumps) (c) I wanted to go to Ikea and knew he’d hate the idea, I suggested that he didn’t bother about a birthday gift, but he could take me to Ikea instead on the way back from Miami.  Now the real issue here is that (d) he wasn’t supposed to take this literally.  He was still supposed to buy me a gift even if he agreed to ‘taking me to Ikea for my Birthday’.  This is so simple I can never understand why men don’t understand it.

 

So the 12th arrives and I awake to zip, zilch, nada, nothing – from EVERYONE!

 

Sally had bought me a present but hadn’t got round to mailing it.  Well yahh!  Ken had intercepted her card and then took forever to give it to me with his card.  NB Cards are delivered to the bed…. Open eyes… receive cards.  Not shave, clean teeth et al get cards!  Both my best mates cards and gifts arrived a couple of days late, maybe due to it being Veterans Day Weekend (yes I know a day isn’t a weekend) My son completely forgot ‘cos he was in the throes of buying a house – talk about priorities!  My sister forgot.  My aunt never bothered probably because we were in the States.  I always miss my mom’s card.  I was so fed up I can’t begin to tell you.  Eventually Ken tells me he did actually get me tickets for the Nutcracker but the nearest date to the 12th was the 24th.  I celebrated 62 by doing the laundry and moaning a lot. These are the days when not being gregarious comes back to bite you on the bum. 

 

Retrospectively I’ve just realized it might also be that the last two years I had terrific birthdays.  For my 60th the kids and my sister and her Ken came and we stayed at a local hotel and had a meal and a great weekend.  The next year we went to the same place for dinner for my 61st again with both my kids who visited us for my birthday. No wonder this one felt like a non-event.

 

We did a couple of movies in my birthday week.   One was a freebie at the library.  They have brilliant movie series with a theme and excellent introduction to what you are about to see.  The other we went to see in Coconut Point, a huge shopping complex – considerably more than a mall – which has opened a little North of Naples.

 

Coconut Point is the center of focus for a 500-acre, master planned community that

is more than a shopping center.  The property includes 90,000 square feet of office condominiums, residential units, up to 1.2 million square feet of retail space, and a

variety of great restaurants - all surrounding several acres of lakes with a boardwalk. 

Coconut Point is the place for people to gather, shop, dine, work, play, and see a new

film –you name it;  in an open, Main Street-style shopping destination with Mediterranean

Revival-style architecture that is designed to fit gracefully with the architectural flavor of Southwest Florida.

 

So there. 

 

I only ‘did’ a couple of shops, as we’d come for the cinema.  The building itself is bizarre.  It is obviously brand new and so I expected grandiose, sizzling state of the art movie house.  The developers seem to have committed themselves to the idea of Spanish architecture so much that they have reproduced all the ‘down-at-heel’ glory that the Spanish themselves often manage.  Evocative little touches like unfinished lighting and someone had wound plastic plants through bits of wrought iron – not as part of what was intended but like something your grandma had left over and you thought, “I could make that little grill above the doorway look really nice if I just threaded this ivy and daffs through”.  As I said, bizarre.

 

Finally Thanksgiving…

 

22nd November this year.  Neither of us recall having been here at Thanksgiving before.  As we were, faithfull to our maxim wherever we go, we decided we should try to ‘adopt their ways’.

 

This seems to mean cooking for at least twelve people.  Indeed at a concert in the park we were privy to hearing our (loud) travel agent (more of her at a later date) meet and greet several acquaintances on the Sunday before and suggest they came to her on Thursday for Thanksgiving as she ‘could easily seat 14’ and only had six coming.  She swiftly made up the numbers.  I just marvel at the idea of anyone doing TWO feast days such as Thanksgiving and Christmas so close together without having a nervous breakdown.  We were speaking to someone working at the cash desk in Cracker Barrel on the same Sunday who’d said she was expecting 32 people for Thanksgiving Dinner.  I asked how she seated them all.  She said her dining room seated twenty so "it'll be fine"  Pheeewwww

 

As we couldn’t possibly round up or seat even the fourteen guests we did the next best thing on Thursday and returned to Cracker Barrel for our Thanksgiving Dinner.  We thought it was incredible value for money.  Unlike in the UK where Christmas meals often quadruple in price (and, equally often, decline in quality) this one was even more a bargain than their usual ‘bundled’ offers.

 

No Booking – a ten-minute wait on one of their busiest days of the year and ‘good eats’ as they would say.  As always, it was certainly too much and the pumpkin pie got to come home with us. 

 

 

 

After saving money on a celebratory meal we thought we’d splash out on tyres.  No, there really isn’t a connection I just didn’t know how to segue from writing about food to tyres.  Apparently tyres only last five years plus and then the rubber deteriorates.  Ours had reached that point.  The treads were just fine but there were a zillion little fissures appearing in the walls.  Off for a new set.  Having not long done this in the UK we were thrilled at the prospect of repeating it for car two.  We got four medium quality tyres for a full-size sedan (a Lincoln Continental) for $380 including fitting and balancing.  Bargain compared to home. Our pension certainly goes further over here.  I suspect what we save overall in the six months we are here, especially on food, probably covers our flights here.

 

The 24th became the highlight of this month.  It also certainly ranks pretty high in the entertainment of a lifetime stakes.  We went to the Philharmonic Concert Hall to see The Nutcracker Ballet with the Miami City Ballet. 

 

 Like a Broadway spectacular, Miami City Ballet's production of the famed

George Balanchine's The Nutcracker™ has it all -- a cast of more than 100,

glorious sets and costumes, magical special effects, beautiful music, and

exceptional dancing by international stars.

 

I have seen Nutcracker so many times over the years and it is always one to be enjoyed.  It is fun and often with spectacular sets and costumes and ‘devices’.  More usually seen in December, it also marks the beginning all things Christmas for me.  The last one I saw was the Moscow Ballet and they were athletically stunning though a little soulless which was unexpected as I have a romantic notion of Russian artists being dramatically passionate.  The one we saw this November was the best I have ever seen.  Anyone who shares a passion for anything similar will understand when I literally claim to have had shivers up my spine watching some parts of it.  The dancing was extraordinarily perfect and the interpretation felt and demonstrated.  It poured off the stage – a really magical experience where you lose the theatre and are soaked up in the performance.  I could count on one hand the times I’ve been moved to stand at the end of any performance even counting the times I’ve been ‘good-mannered’ into it.  This time like everyone else I could hardly wait to do so.  They were simply wonderful and I am so happy to have been there.

 

Of course the actual event was preceded by my mithering about what to wear.  I was sure that being the Naples Philharmonic everyone would be gusseted up in his or her size 8 finery and I would be the white trash blob from the trailer park.  I did the black suit and white blouse routine in hopes I wouldn’t be noticed.  Indeed I was only noticed a couple of times by patrons who thought I was staff!  Handy tip don’t wear staff uniforms if you are audience.  (Useful also in McDonalds – leave the big hands and stripy socks at home). That said you could have gone in anything.  It ranged from a handful of folk in ‘beachwear’ – shorts and T-shirt all the way through to full-length evening dress and diamonds.  Most people just looked like a more colourful equivalent of me.  The children in the audience were like something from a Disney movie – all velvet frocks and Alice Bands, even the boys!  All in all a truly memorable evening and a good place to stop.

December 2007

 

 

Holidays Schmolidays

 

[I keep harping on about spelling here and there, so that title’s a good start!]

 

The first of December opened the Christmas/Winter season for real in Naples.  There are lots of events if you keep your eyes open for them.  One that always amuses us is the snow they import into a local park for the kids to play in.  This is serious tons of snow – they even build a slope for toboggans!  From 10 am until 5 pm you can find your mittens (not an easy task) and go snowballing in Naples.

 

We had a normal couple of weeks at the beginning of the month, before madness kicked, in to do our usual stuff like going to the movies and the Sunday concerts.

 

A remembered movie trip was to see ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’.  [‘remembered/Memoirs’ – get it? - I get subtler – you’ll have to concentrate]  It was on its second trip round - so I was glad to catch it, having enjoyed the book.  It was pretty much panned because of its lack of substance and some bits and bobs of the narrative that were changed.  I didn’t particularly think that was fair as it would have been impossible to reproduce the saga of that novel faithfully.  It was very much an internal landscape and that makes it hugely difficult to translate to screen.  It is also a long book and covers many years and many stories – far too much for a movie.  They did well with producing a fair synopsis of the novel and it was visually delightful.  The only caveat I might have is why did someone think it would make a good film?  Most movies like this and (the rather clever bookish) Atonement always work best for someone who has come mentally pre-loaded with the text, as long as the movies remain as faithfull as they can (even if a bit thin) and sometimes they are a pleasure when they create the right visual landscape.

 

As for our concert before we left on our journeys….   Last month I hinted at the awful travel agent person we hear at the concerts.  To explain…  people tend to sit pretty much in the same place each week, so we often see several familiar faces and, as in this case, hear the same voices.  This one is incredible.  She, almost literally, never seems to draw breath and you never have to guess what she’s saying or feel guilty about eavesdropping.  Her chatter, one or two rows behind us, is so loud she actually prevents me from concentrating on what I’m reading.  I find it difficult to ignore someone speaking to me and this she (unintentionally) does.  Any way this month it seemed to be our turn to ‘meet’ Dick and Sheila. [He’s OK – never says a word]  Within two minutes of “Hello” and “Are you English?” she was trying to sell us a riverboat cruise down the Danube (taking in Budapest) with only seven other couples so it was a select group of people she knew and chose (like us!) and they were going to wonderful places.  All of this was probably (partly) correct but there were two major downsides – I doubt we could afford lunch on the boat never mind the cost of the cruise and the awful Sheila would be ‘leading’ the trip.  I would have been nailing a plank to the deck for walking thereon by day two.

 

Sheila aside, the Naples Concert Band’s Christmas concert was a delightful experience and something of an assault on the senses.  Hearing – a winter wonderland of songs.  Touch – a wonderful soothing warm breeze on the skin.  Smell – summer smells of popcorn and someone’s oranges.  Taste - a wonderful quality butter pecan ice cream.  Sight - an azure sky through the branches of the shade tree.  It was truly a perfect way to spend a post-lunch/pre-dinner Sunday except for you-know-who.  Isn’t there always a serpent in Paradise?

 

The ice cream reminds me of another food experience.  Off and on since being here we’ve tried to get into Carrabba’s for a meal.  There is always a queue and the wait extends into an hour plus and you can’t book.  I am NEVER prepared to wait those sorts of times and I think not being able to book is supremely money grabbing and uncivilized.  A wait of that time is sooo boring.  Ken doesn’t drink when he’s driving and I just don’t drink so what do you do for an hour and a half packed like a sardine waiting for a table?  Luckily, during a trip to something else, we discovered another Carrabba’s further south and hey Bingo we were in.  I understand why it’s popular, the food was very good.  The ambience is that of a fairly naff chain restaurant.  We decided to try their ‘taster’ dishes.  Ken had the meat group of Steak Masarla, Chicken Bryan (chicken and goats cheese) and some sort of meat pasta.  I had the fish; made up of scallops (with a hugely long Italian name that I can’t remember), seared salmon with a rub of some sort and the most wonderful Lobster Ravioli that they claim to make on the day on the premises.  They are loaded with recognizable lobster and with a terrific creamy (vodka?) sauce.  I tasted all the other five ‘samples too and they were all excellent.

 

Continuing with my favourite theme, that of food; on our last couple of weeks before swapping homes we have to endure our regular ‘eat up’ of whatever’s left in the fridge or freezer before we leave.  I sometimes think I’m running a competition with myself for the most bizarre but still acceptable ‘eat-up’ menu or dish.  We managed a lunch where we had half a sandwich each where one half was made up from a sliced bacon chop and the other half was made from some leftover home style chicken from Perkins with the last squashy tomato.

 

To balance this I did make an excellent meat and potato pie for dinner.  This was conjured from a huge slab of slow-cooked pot roast in its gravy, which contained wine, carrots, onions, and mushrooms (this was found in the freezer).  To this was added our last potato (found in the fridge) and my excellent homemade pastry to get rid of the flour and shortening (found in the cupboard).  Even as ‘poor folk’ – we eat well.

 

That said there is an outright winner for this trip – the ‘Eat-up-I-can’t-believe-this-isn’t-trifle Trifle’.  My resident trifle expert would probably say this is the most apt name, as it resembled trifle as much as that other stuff resembles butter.  Brace yourself for the ingredients – lemon pound cake – bit like our Madeira cake but with a lemon accent rather than the Madeira! - This was cut into cubes and soaked in Sherry (we have it for Chinese dishes!) topped with a Cranberry Jelly made up with cream soda (it was cold in the fridge and was open so hey why not?), then a custard layer and finally topped with cream.  This turned out to be a keeper of a recipe even when the stuff isn’t leftover as it was really nice.

 

Even stranger than strange food is my sporting event.  Those who know me know that the words ‘my’ and ‘sporting’ combined together are indeed really strange.  This was no exception. On the 5th December – a date to note – I learned to ride a bike!  I never had one as a kid and have never learned to ride.  We saw bikes in our local Wal-Mart for $40 (£20) so I suggested we bought a couple and I could have a go – successful or not the bikes would be there for any of our visitors to use.

 

Ken assembled mine and then while he assembled his I sneaked outside the garage and had a go.  Eh, Voila, I just did it.  There’s no one more surprised than me.  I was absolutely full of myself and rode up and down happily for about half an hour.  Notice I said up and down, this is because I couldn’t actually negotiate a corner or go over a speed bump – but for day one that would do me.

 

Day two and I’d fallen out with the lumpy tyres, zillions of gears and handlebars that you seemed to lean all your weight on until the muscles in your arms burn and, most of all, the torture kit called saddle.  I am not at liberty to tell you exactly where it hurt but it wasn’t just my bottom.  As these were mountain bikes and there isn’t even a bump in Collier County they were definitely not fit for the purpose.

 

Day three and Wal-Mart smilingly took the bikes back and we came away with two ‘cruisers’.  Bigger seats with more springs and padding so slightly more comfortable, sit up handlebars and – get this – a back pedal brake.  Now I was in serious trouble.  I couldn’t figure out how to stop without the left pedal whamming into the back of my calf nine out of ten times.  As I stopped about every three minutes to change direction – remember my inability to corner or go over speed bumps – this meant a very black and blue calf and battered shins.

 

Fortunately, at the point when I was ready to abandon all ideas of cycling round North America (mainly because I was trapped within a hundred yard straight run of tarmac which had no bends or bumps) I was rescued from that ignominy by being compelled to leave the contraption and take off for Calgary. 

 

 

 

Friday 14th December.  Calgary

The seventeen-hour trip was slightly lightened by having been given first class tickets by mistake (remember the saga of our return from Calgary?)  After an excellent lunch and super seating I decided I really did want to be rich after all.  I remain socialist enough to want everyone else to be rich too, but if that’s not possible and it’s only me, well OK. 

 

We arrived at Chris and Gayle’s about 11.30pm to a warm welcome and a Guinness Pie.  Thanks, still-a-chef son.

 

15th  Early next morning we were up and off to Banff.  We did a little detour en route to look at Chris and Gayle’s new house to be.  I’ll try to remember to post a photo on the site.  It is all that I would want a Canadian house to be.  Clapboard sides, muted colours and a porch and deck.  They did really well.

 

Gayle suggested I travel to Banff in Chris’s car that way we could have some time together.  What a nice idea – a tad flawed in that the two best navigators were in the other car.  Chris and I missed the turn for Banff and about 45 minutes further into the mountains we decided that’s what we must have done.  We then had to do another 12 km before we could turn round.  All this in the Rockies on December 15th – trust me it does snow up there.  I claim it was destined to be because I got to see some truly beautiful landscapes.  We had them all pretty much to ourselves too as every other driver had stopped at the last outpost of civilization.  I suppose I also should confess that we had GPS in the car.

 

We met the other two at the hotel for a later lunch than planned (!) and spent the remainder of the afternoon hiring gear and buying passes for the next day.  We had a lazy unwind in the hotel for a couple of hours and Chris and Gayle treated us to a wonderful meal at The Keg next door to our hotel.

 

16th The skiers left before 9 am and I drifted around until lunchtime.  Leisurely shower and hair faffing and then I spent the required hour needed for dressing for going outdoors in the Rockies – first the underwear – normal stuff – then the thermal long johns and long-sleeved ‘vest’ – this is the stage where you do not look in the mirror.  Unlike Lot’s wife you don’t turn into a pillar of salt but one of two other things will happen….  (1) you will fall around laughing so much you’ll (a) ruin your make-up and hair or (b) have some sort of nasty accident or (2) you will slash your wrists because you look like a) the Michelin Man or b) an advert for safe sex – either way you will not be going out and therefore struggling into (and out of) the stuff so far was a waste of time.  Back to the robing ceremony… you then add a light layer e.g. long-sleeved cotton T-shirt.  [From now on I think we should take long-sleeved as read]  Depending on the temperature for that day the lower half will be shrouded in normal winter trousers (as in this case) or something puffy/downy/padded.  I don’t own such gear so if I lived there I wouldn’t always be allowed out. I have to draw the line somewhere in all this super-padded palaver.  Back to my dressing…. add a warmer top garment, sweater, chunky cardy, anything in fact which will make you look at least five stone fatter and then the outdoor coat.  Actually this is wrong but you only discover it is wrong afterwards when you try to put on your boots and lace them up.  The boots need to go on somewhat earlier when you are still able to bend down to your feet whilst seated.  Ultimately the outdoor coat can only go on after deciding whether you need its one, two or three layers – no kidding!  Mine has the water and wind proof outer (but no warmth) and the detachable fleece type jacket which you can spend a jolly hour zipping in and out of the top layer when there’s nothing on the telly.  Finally this is topped off and trimmed with scarf and gloves and hat and incongruous handbag.  Eh, Voila you can now walk from one centrally heated room in your hotel to a similar venue where you will spend almost as much time disrobing the top layers according to the temperature there.  Trying to find somewhere to hang them because all the other patrons got there first with the contents of their wardrobes follows this.  Do you gather I am more suited to the ‘slip/slap/slop’, ‘no shoes, no news’ type of existence?  I bet by now, like me, you’ll have forgotten where I was going.

 

My plan was to walk to the centre of Banff and mooch the shops for a while and have lunch, maybe followed by further (chocolate) shop mooching and return to the hotel in time for tea and the skiers return.  I went out of our hotel, turned right, crossed the road and turned back.  The pavements and roads were simply an ice rink.  My wonderful (Quebec purchased) boots grip super well on snow and medium well on slush but only partially on slick shiny three-inch ice sheets.  I scuttled back over a seemingly endless potential of double axels and triple salchows to The Keg next door to us on the left where ashen-faced I peeled off the layers and settled in front of the log fire with the Sunday newspapers and a drink.  The ultimate reward for my bravery was another excellent Keg meal and impeccable service.  Back to the hotel for old movies.  The athletes turned up around 4 pm.  Gayle had done ski-school and the chaps had done the greens and blues and an accidental black.  Our dinner was at the Old Spaghetti House and we were home and ready for bed by about 9.30 pm!

 

17th The cold I was trying to ignore kicked in and I spent a miserable day nursing a sore throat, stiff neck and runny nose – all courtesy of our germ-filled recycled air on our flights no doubt.  My lunch was yesterday’s leftovers from The Keg – Chicken Caesar Salad and half a Cherry Cheesecake.  Thank heaven for the “Would you like a box to go?” system of service, which is standard on this Continent.

 

The skiers returned exhausted after another good day on the slopes and the kids left us at about five so they’d have time to sort themselves out ready for work tomorrow.  Ken and I dined at Earls.  It was just as good as the one in Calgary.  They have lovely dining rooms – a bit Conran but very calming - and the food is unusual but not pretentious and excellently cooked and presented.  The only teeny blight was our cliché Australian server, Caitlin, and her bust.  Need I say more?  It had obviously got her half way round the world and some good tips but eventually you do tire of talking to it.  I speak for me, not necessarily for Ken.

 

18th We left the hotel at 11 a.m. and had brunch at Phil’s and drove back to Calgary through the spectacular scenery.  (Not as good as ours though, Chris) We arrived with time to kill as we always do and decided a movie at The Chinook Centre might be an idea. [Centre or Center?  Do Canadians spell like Americans or like us?]  It was bitterly cold as there was a sharp wind adding to the snowy scenery.  I was especially chuffed as the computer told us they were showing ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ (yes I have spelled that correctly in this case, Spellchecker).  We duly arrived shiny-faced and expectant only to be told that whatever our computer said that movie was shown last year and the best of today’s offerings at around the same time was ‘I am Legend’.  I draw a veil over even trying to offer a crit on a plot you could drive a coach and horses through from beginning to end.  You are not required to suspend disbelief to enjoy this movie you are required to have a lobotomy.  Across the road to Chris and Gayle’s for 6 pm and a lovely evening of exchanging gifts for Christmas, dinner, TV and a comfy bed.

 

19th  We woke at 6 am in time to say goodbye to Chris and Gayle before they left for work, had our breakfast after they’d left, cleared up and let ourselves out of the apartment.  It seemed odd that we won’t see the head cracking building again.  Next time we visit they will be in their new home.  Thank heavens that our flight from Calgary this time was better than excellent.  It started badly and our ‘now we can panic’ button got pushed when the plane came in 30 minutes late but they turned it around at high speed and it left on time.  The absolute joy was that there were 43 passengers on a 767 with eight cabin crew.  We had whole rows to choose from, never mind the occasional spare seat.  The only slight downside was that we’d paid extra for extra legroom but hey who cares?  Even an all-nighter, as it is for me, with a Robin Williams’ movie and ‘Porridge’ looked good set against this backdrop.  The crew was positively giddy.

 

We arrived in Manchester at 4.45 am on the 20th and left it again at 7.30 am on the 31st.  In between our feet never touched the ground.

 

20th  The first day is always taken up with putting the house back to rights, unpacking, shopping and washing – goodbye Thursday.

 

21st  Make a zillion catch up phone calls and visit the doctors for regular bloods and ‘chat’ – always a complete waste of time but I like to humour them as they write my scrips and, of course, it is all free in the UK.  Having had a long break somewhere else and a £250 head cracking bill serves as a reminder to be thankful for the NHS.

 

22nd  My lovely daughter arrived for her stay with us.

 

24th  My delightful chum D came to visit so we could exchange gifts and touch base.  Our chatter always cheers me up however I feel.

 

25th  So to Christmas Day.  This was the day we had all agreed to totally ignore as we were planning to celebrate our Christmas on the 26th in Cheltenham.  A couple of days before I’d asked my Aunty Jean to come to lunch, emphasizing – nothing special.  We four sat down to a lovely Salmon lunch, crackers and Bucks Fizz – all very pleasant.  A zillion phone calls later and Christmas Day had passed.

 

26th  Off to Cheltenham to see my sis.  This lunch had been something of a saga for a couple of months.  We had ranged through renting somewhere where we could all be together comfortably via all camping at Pam’s, or all camping at ours, probably literally using the caravan through to just a lunch out for seven.  ‘All’ at that stage included my nephew Nicky and his son Ben who would be spending Christmas with Pam and Ken; this was the main driving force for hurtling down to Cheltenham.  Sally rarely sees her cousin and was keen to spend time with him and meet Ben and see Pam and Ken again.  We gave up on the renting a cottage idea (fortunately as it turned out) because of the cost and our limited time here and even more limited Sally visit.  It seemed a more sensible idea for Pam and family to have their Christmas Day at home and we’d tootle down for lunch out with them on Boxing Day.  Lunch for seven was duly booked at Gupshill Manor.  A couple of days before the event Nicky had to cancel his visit, as he was too ill to travel.  Lunch for five at Gupshill then?  It was super nice, good food and great company and it now felt really like Christmas, especially when we were at Pam’s eating a feast for fifty.  She always produces fantastic comestibles and an endless supply.  Her huge gift to Sally of Gluten-free food had to be seen to be believed.  So kind.

 

27th  We met Ken’s two kids for lunch at The Garsdale at noon and then went home to pick up Sally for her trip home.  We had a bit of a drama getting her to her train.  We set off in enough time to get her to Picadilly* although the traffic was incredible and delayed us more than we’d planned.  We were approaching the city in a bit of an anxious state when at the last minute someone who was meeting her to travel back with her sent her a text to say – did she know the train was now leaving from Oxford Street?  Yoiks, now lower case ‘anxiety’ had become upper case ‘PANIC’.  We got to Oxford Street five minutes before the train was due to leave – Ken ran with Sally and her huge case to the platform – I stayed and prayed in the car for her to catch the train and for my imminent arrest as we weren’t strictly legally parked (that’s sooo not us).  We travelled home accompanied by various texts and conversations with Sally as the train arrived on time and then sat in the station for an hour!

 

* Another spelling note here – I was convinced Picadilly, Manchester was spelled that way and Piccadilly, London was spelled that way.  Out of idle curiosity (alas the worst of motives) I looked it up and, strewth, they both seem to be totally interchangeable – spelled both ways all over the place.

 

28th  We were out for a meal with our Secret Seven group – nothing sinister here for those not familiar with Enid Blyton – its just a particular seven who try to rub shoulders now and again.  Ken reminded me it was actually the Famous Five as Phil and Sue were in Florida.  We travelled over to a Chinese Buffet in Swinton.  [The double ‘l’ in travelled has just jangled again for me as I am very conscious of the differences in spelling between the UK and US.  I keep ducking and diving with what I want to say trying to avoid things which will scream illiterate for some of you – for the benefit of my American chums – this is written in English English as that’s what I (usually) speak so you’ll just have to trust me as to the strange spellings – like the double ‘l’ in words and ‘s’ instead of ‘z’ etc.  For English readers who spot wrong spellings – well – who’s a smarty-pants then?]

 

29th  Ken was ill with ‘food poisoning’.  This should be in capital letters surrounded by a choir of trumpeting (musical instruments!) Angels.  Ken doesn’t do ‘ill’ but this was one not to be ignored as it included vomiting and diarrhea.  Even he couldn’t stick a band aide on it and say “Stop wittering.  It’ll be fine”.  As I said the Chinese we went to was a Buffet – the all you can eat until you fall over type – like in Naples and I suspect they are always a tad ‘dangerous’ as you can’t sheep-dip everyone who comes through the door.  Having followed a woman from the Ladies who proceeded to exit a toilet cubicle and return to the feast with hands unwashed I had actually considered the possibilities the previous night.  Not that any of this ever stops me troughing at a Fall-over Buffet.  Life’s full of adventure and risks even when you don’t know it, so I think its always best ignore the sort of threats which punch you in the eye.

 

30th  Twenty-four hours later and Ken was sufficiently recovered for another lunch out, this time at The Bull with Margaret (his sister), Cheryl (her friend) and Susan (his daughter).  Margaret and Cheryl left us after lunch as they have a zillion dogs between them that need walkies.  Susan came back to ours for a while and then Hilary stopped by later in the evening.  In the small gaps in between we did our packing and put the house to bed where we could.

 

31st  and 7.30a.m. saw us on the way back to Naples.  The plane was a BMI Airbus 330-200 which has masses of legroom and huge toilets downstairs.  We had a fifty-minute delay.  Unfortunately this was after we’d boarded – I so hate that.  Apparently they had too much fuel on board!  I can only assume some chaps arrived with straws to suck it out or they got into a fistfight over the bill.  Whatever – we winged our way into Chicago (wing as in flew not winge as in whinge – now you see what I mean about language – it would have been easier to just choose another word)).  We actually arrived smiling from a (sort of) joyous trans-Atlantic experience to further positives in Chicago.  The Windy City was being dusted with Icing Sugar snow and looked appropriately festive and we entered the airport proper to the strains of Auld Lang Syne being busked on a sax. We never stopped moving from deplaning to our Departure Gate.  Not a queue anywhere. We sailed through Immigration, baggage pickup and baggage recheck,  changed terminals via a shuttle, through security and to our Gate in the blink of an eye.  On into Tampa, or we would have been had we not had to sit on the plane for more than an hour and half while they endlessly de-iced the wings.

 

Tampa was a new airport for us.  One day I intend to list all the airports we’ve done and ergo all the cities we should have made time to see.  Our really good chums Phil and Sue collected us from the airport.  They were holidaying in Florida and were now coming to stay with us.  It was a long haul from Tampa to Naples (about 4 hours?) so we were especially grateful.  This was something of an odd New Years Eve for them and us as it was almost ‘celebrated’ in a greasy spoon en route to the apartment.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne ?

CHORUS:

For auld lang syne, my dear,

for auld lang syne,

we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stoup !
And surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou’d the gowans fine ;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin’ auld lang syne.

CHORUS

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
And gives a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right guid-willie-waught,
for auld lang syne.

CHORUS

 

 

It was too hard to resist some really strange ‘spelling’!

 

 

 

A Healthy, Wealthy, (but most importantly) Happy 2008 to you all!