2008
 
 

 JANUARY (Wo)man cannot live by bread alone 

Sue began her visit to us as she meant to go on with a shopping trip to Coconut Point with Ken and Phil.  I needed to food shop and get myself mentally in residence so I gave it a miss.  This meant that they could come back to a roast beef dinner replete with Yorkshire Puddings you could cobble a street with.  Phil hasn’t let me live it down yet.  Why is it that something you are a genius at making and never give a second thought to on a day-to-day basis craps out when being produced for guests?  I blamed the unfamiliar flour – more on this later will prove me right.

 

[I need a global search on this diary to check what I have and haven’t told you before.  I don’t remember if I told you about Coconut Point – pretty sure I did ‘cos Ken and I went and scouted it before Phil and Sue’s stay with us]

 

The following day I was excused the kitchen as we all trailed off to the brand new Catholic Town (Ave Maria) which is being built 17 miles to the North and East of us, near Immokalee.  I’m not sure if I’ve prattled on about this phenomenon or not, so forgive me if I have and just skip the next bit. [global search where are you?]

 

Tom Monaghan (Founder of Domino’s Pizza) initiated the founding of Ave Maria University in 2003 after donating $250 million for the first phase. [Yes, you read it right]  It is described (incorrectly) as the first Catholic University in 40 years in the US.  The Barron Collier family (pioneer family of this area – hence Collier County) donated the land for the campus. Around the campus right now they are building four or five different styled communities.  The intention being that it will continue to grow into a fair sized town.  Perhaps it’s simpler to hear Tom Monaghan’s ‘dream’

 

(Ave Maria) won’t be just a university, he continues. It will also be a new town, built from scratch, in which the wickedness of the world will be kept at bay. "We’ve already had about 3500 people inquire on our Web site about buying a home there — you know, they’re all Catholic," Monaghan says excitedly. "We’re going to control all the commercial real estate, so there’s not going to be any pornography sold in this town. We’re controlling the cable system. The pharmacies are not going to be able to sell condoms or dispense contraceptives." A private chapel will be located within walking distance of each home. At the stunning church in the center of town, Mass will be said hourly, seven days a week, from 6 a.m. on. "So," Monaghan concludes, with just a hint of understatement, "it’ll be a unique town." As he exits the stage, the applause is thunderous.

 

Mostly the idea of it raises the hairs on the back of my neck. Fundamentalists of any sort are an anathema to me as their non-questioning intellect leaves much to be desired.  There are many, many historical examples of how this type of thinking is often, not just misled but actually ‘dangerous’.  If it were benign and not incredibly naiive I would find the idea appealing.  I suspect many of us would rather like the idea of creating a new ‘clean’ town filled with good people doing good things but how unrealistic is that?

 

There is much more serious controversy surrounding Ave Maria than just the ethical and moral arguments toing and froing.  It is actually being debated as to how legal this is in the States and if not legal what can be done about it.

 

Even the Catholic church itself seems to be 'against it'.  Firstly it should be noted that the University cannot be described as a Catholic University, it is a 'private University in the Catholic tradition'. 

 

The $24 million dollar building able to seat 1900 people is not a Church and most certainly not a Cathedral; it is an oratory.  This was confirmed by Bishop Dewane's no-show at the planned consecration on the 13th.  Without Dewane’s consecration, no one can celebrate Mass inside the oratory. For sure there are 'personal wars' raging around this but it is soundly underpinned by canonical law.  As it is very complex I won't even begin to pretend to understand it but one element is that Ave Maria’s founders are laymen, not members of Catholic religious orders like Jesuits or Franciscans and many of the problems seem to stem from this.

 

The ‘town’ is certainly physically appealing.  The University and the Oratory are very much the centre and physical heart of the place.  The Piazza-type square surrounds the Oratory on three sides; the fourth side facing the University.  Sadly right now it is something of a Marie Celeste.  Not only is it in its early stages of building but also has (like every other builder) hit the slump in the market.

 

The Oratory is a lovely building and most certainly a one off.  It is considerably more sober than its original concept of a glass and steel building.  [Do you think Monaghan has read 'Oscar and Lucinda'?]The plans were 'binned' somewhere along the line, possibly because everyone would have fried inside it.  Even so, it still remains an impressive piece of work. 

 

We discovered the only place to eat and drink was a coffee bar called The Bean.  As with everything Ave Maria this particular coffee shop has been carefully selected as the one for all kinds of pious criteria.  Even the manager and his family have been rigorously chosen from several applicants.  Nothing enters this town without scrutiny.  That said, they served a good lunch.  It was the oddest place to eat because of its incongruous décor and clientele. The walls are hung with pictures of saints and Popes, the reading material includes the Vatican’s official newspaper and C. S. Lewis.  Our companions there were a couple of nuns, three or four priests, some students and a monk.  Indeed the usual tourists and shoppers were a definite minority.

 

After filling our souls and stomachs we drifted home slowly via dinner at Carrabas.  Even this Southern one was fairly busy now the ‘season’ has truly kicked in.  January is the height of the snowbird invasion.

 

The following day Sue and I hit the shops and the chaps hit the bikes.

 

Friday (4th) we drove up to Sanibel and Captiva Islands.  Lovely ‘no news, no shoes’ places full of bikes and pedestrians, not really built for cars.  We had lunch at Ruby Tuesday on the way up, drinks in a Sanibel bar and dinner at home.  As TV here is truly dreadful we decided on a DVD movie.

 

All change for the shops next day (Sat 5th) – this time Phil and Sue went to the Coastland Center and Ken and I grocery shopped.  Dinner at home and off to the movies.  Incredibly both shows were sold out.

 

Sunday (6th) we managed to get in three eating outs today – we are bordering on experts at this now.  Lunch at Cracker Barrel, Dinner at Ci Ci’s and tea at Panera Bread in Coconut Point.  Threaded around all this was a really interesting trip to the Koreshan State Park and the movies. I confess to having forgotten the movie we saw and have not made a note of it anywhere.  I hate having these holes in my existence.  If its not documented it didn’t happen! [My proof reader reminder me it was 'Charlie Wilson's War']

 

I found the Koreshan visit really fascinating.  I’ll try to condense its story….  Dr Cyrus R. Teed founded the Koreshan Unity Settlement in Estero in 1880.  Cyrus took the name Koresh as it was the Hebrew translation of his name meaning shepherd; hence Koreshans.  It was a religious Utopian society of about 200 followers who believed (amongst other things) that the entire universe existed within a giant hollow sphere.  I’m doing my very best to resist delivering the two page essay I’d like to write on them and just cut to the end.  Koresh believed he was immortal and that when he died he would rise again.  He did die and was kept indoors for a week and then, when really stinky, was put in a bath outside for a time (remember the heat in Florida).  Eventually his followers were compelled by the local authorities to bury him.  From that point on the ‘heart’ went out of the community and many drifted away. They were on a hiding to nothing anyway as they were celibate so numbers were pretty much guaranteed to dwindle when the immortality promise turned out to be a tad wrong.  In 1961 the last four members deeded the 305 acres of land to the State as a park and memorial.  If you get near this neck of the woods I’d recommend a tour just for the rare opportunity of visiting another mindset.

 

It lingers on in The College of Life Foundation (mmm!  Spooky)

 

Monday, and it was Phil and Sue’s last day with us.  Some shops for Sue and I and the chaps went to the Conservancy for an electric boat trip in the ‘Glades for Phil to do some photography.  Sue and I stopped for a civilized lunch in Applebee’s.  I presume the guys hunted, shot and fished their lunch?  (apparantly they did this in the food court of the Coastland Center)  Later we all scrubbed up nice and Phil and Sue treated us to a lovely dinner at Riverwalk – Bless ‘em.

 

[My shopping bargains for this month were two silk window toppers (pelmet type things for English folk) 60”w 15”d with bead trim for $2.50 each and two sets of cotton (green and white check) tab top cafe curtain sets.  Each set contains a 60” x 15” and a 60” x 30” curtain for my kitchen windows in the UK for the princely sum of $5 each set]

 

Tuesday and our chums left for Fort Myers for their flights home.  It is always sad to see folks go as we lead a very solitary existence here.  It suits us to some extent but it's nice to have a giggle with someone else now and again.

 

Having said that, our other ‘visitors’ kept returning.  We have a huge flock of American Ibis here this month that seem to stop by for lunch on a pretty regular basis. They wander around pecking at the lawn with their phenomenally long pink beaks and, for all the world, look like chickens from another planet.

 

The rest of the month drifted by in my usual making of lists of chores to do and then ignoring them.  My excuse this month was I was too busy cooking.

 

I began cooking up a storm as soon as our guests left.  You’ll have gathered that when we have folk here we seem to eat out more than in. Often its because we are already out and about and it is so cheap.  I normally get withdrawal symptoms, or a guilt trip and go into overdrive - fortunately it only last a few days and we return to can't be faffed - let's go out.  This time it seemed to stick.

 

It all began in earnest with a loaf of bread which took 18 hours - honestly!!!.  It was a method where you start the night before with a 'ferment' then you are trapped in all day next day 'cos of the rising, bashing and proving which is required - by 4 pm of day two we had a very superior loaf of bread but I was prepared to worship it, not eat it, by then.  In the two or three days surrounding this I made a roast chicken dinner (roast potatoes and stuffing and sprouts), then a chicken pot pie from scratch with prize-winning home made pastry and, of course, cream in the sauce/gravy, then asparagus soup made with stock from the chicken frame and cream again - we get asparagus for pennies over here.  Notice the frugality here – three meals from one chicken; then on to meat loaf, English trifle and a coconut pie - phew all this (and more) in three days.  I have no idea how I get fat! 

 

As always I am typing this three months later (March 13th) and I have only bought one shop loaf so far in 2008 – the bread making has stuck – it is so easy and so good.  Only one warning, the flour quality makes ahuge difference.  I’m using King Arthur Bread Flour with terrific results. On one occasion Publix didn’t have any so I bought another brand (don’t recall the name) but I ended up with a very nasty dry texture result.  In fact when you ate the bread it was like having chalk in your mouth – most unpleasant.  So anyone out there who’s tried this bread-making malarkey with duff results try another flour before you give up on it.  I absolutely recommend it.  With rapid rise yeast its foolproof and fast – only one proofing. (How do I avoid using foolproof and proofing in the same sentence?)  You end up with a terrific (artisan) loaf for about a dollar rather than the $3 - $5 you pay at the Supermarket.  You know exactly what’s in it and it is actually better for you.  By day three it goes on to make lovely old-fashioned crunchy toast and the best bread and butter pudding.  We particularly like an oatmeal loaf recipe I have and we had a foccacia to die for.  I smothered it in olives and salt and olive oil. (The spellchecker would like moccasin rather than focccacia – isn't there something odd about a moccasin covered in olives and salt and olive oil?)

 

Chris and Gayle moved into their new home on the 18th and, as always with me, this led to a complicated gift.  I wanted to send them a traditional housewarming gift, which I would have just popped round with had we lived within spitting distance of each other. It is good luck to give someone a gift of Salt, Bread and Wine when they move into a new home.

 

"Bread -- that this house may never know hunger.

"Salt -- that life here may always have flavour.

"And wine -- that there will always be joy."

 

 

There are variations on this theme depending on whether you are Irish, English, American, Jewish etc etc etc.  Thank heaven’s I don’t subscribe to the version that includes a broom.  You’ll understand why shortly.

 

As I had to mail this ‘Good Luck’ charm I knew it was going to prove difficult.  The bread was going to be a bit stale when it got there so I bought a loaf tin and bread mix.  For some reason I also had an inkling that I couldn’t become a Bootlegger and ship wine over the border so I checked that out.  Quite right – I could buy (an expensive) bottle or better still a case of wine through a registered vintner who would be able to ship if for me to another wine shop from whence it could be delivered. Heavens to Betsy!  OK, I’m nothing if not ingenious.  Necessity being the mother of invention here’s my solution.  I photographed the Wolf Blass I would have sent and printed a life-size picture on cardboard and cut it out and attached a $20 bill to buy the same.  Now for the salt.  An aside here – have you any idea the ridiculous prices you can pay for various kinds of salt? - $50 for a tiny jar for example.  I can’t remember where it was from but probably it had taken sixteen roughty-toughty men and a yak to garner it from a steep hillside in Outer Mongolia or such like.  I settled for less esoteric sodium chloride like Lithuanian or something.  I then shopped for pretty shredded paper (no, Ken the stuff from our wastebaskets wouldn’t do!) and one of those lovely crunkly cellophane bags that gift baskets come wrapped in plus the appropriate paper-matching bow.  This isn’t easy if you’re me.  Couldn’t send pink – far too Barbie, red is ‘in your face’ and January is too close to Christmas, hate (bright) Orange it's so common, Blue just isn’t a food colour – hey, guess what, it’ll have to be white; bit bridal, but there ya go.  Any (non-quiche) man reading this has now slashed his wrists and my female friends all understand perfectly (otherwise they wouldn’t be my female friends). 

 

By now the amusing non-gift had cost a total of $60 plus UPS shipping.  $60 is crucial to the plot.  The story does not end here!  A couple of days later Chris called to ask if I’d sent him a gift – "Yes – is there a problem?"  Well yes actually there was, it was being held by customs and he was told he had to get a customs broker to clear the parcel at a cost of $25.  I complained to our local UPS Store who'd done the shipping and they were terrific - a couple of phone calls later and we had an explanation and a promise of a straight forward delivery and no broker's fee. 

 

We had fallen foul of two of the three reasons for needing a broker.  We had already neatly avoided the third.  As I said the gift cost $60 but when we shipped it, the value was entered  as $43 thanks to our astute Lynne, the shipper, who thought it best not to 'worry them by hitting the limit'.  BUT as I had mailed it to Bayliss/St Croix, this had been interpreted as a Company name and it was therefore a commercial shipment and needed a broker! Additionally it contained 'food' (a bread mix) which also needs brokering.  Lynne explained to the powers that be that if they add Chris and Gayle to the label it becomes 'personal' and not therefore commercial and the bread mix was part of a housewarming gift of wine (but only pretend), bread (but do-it-yourself) and salt in a baking tin and although this seemed bizarre and, at first sight, could perhaps destroy Canada it was actually a traditional housewarming gift in some cultures!

 

Ultimately it arrived safely, but late; by which time I guess the Good Luck in Your New Home surprise had fallen a little flat.  This isn’t the first time I’ve had such problems with Canadian customs and mail but I won’t wander off into that tale.  Suffice it to say I’m avoiding mailing anything to C & G from now on.

 

January continued with the usual outings to movies ('The Bucket List' and 'Memoirs of a Geisha'**), stuff at the Library and concerts.  In the main Ken and I agree on things to do without a problem.  This is surprising really, as we are chalk and cheese.  Just occasionally there is something which one wants to do and the other doesn’t and this month it was a talk at the library.  I was curious about it because I thought I’d read about it somewhere and it sounded interesting – oh foolish woman why don’t you check you facts?  [I also need a global search engine for my brain] So off we tootled to an inspirational talk with the totallyuninspiring title of ‘Five Keys to Your Happiest and Most Abundant Life’. Yes, I know, I can hear you laughing from here.  Oh my word; we were pinned in our seats for ninety minutes of obvious and repetitive drivel.  I am going to give you the five keys because I think when I suffer everyone else should suffer a little too. 

 

  • Key # 1:  Know your purpose and passion
  • Key # 2:  Set an intension (sic – clearly spelling wasn’t her purpose and passion)
  • Key # 3:  Empower yourself every day
  • Key # 4:  Embrace obstacles and adversity
  • Key # 5:  Be persistent

 

Umm, yes – now why hadn’t I thought about that?  Basically decide what you want to do which will make you happy and go for it – there that didn’t take ninety minutes did it? (but, as Ken reminded me, no-one would pay me for a three second lecture)

I wonder if this is primarily an American phenomenon this ‘inspirational’ pep talk stuff or am I just more tuned to it here?  I have a feeling it is growing in the UK too.  Bursting with inspiration as I now am, I think I will concoct an inspirational speech and market it and me around the planet for a small fortune.  So ‘purpose’ is sorted then; the downside is I lack the ‘passion’ as I can’t be faffed.  In all seriousness she was a dreadful speaker and I could knock spots off her.

 

The seminar I really need to attend is the one where they ‘empower you’ (arrrggghh!) to be able to leave a well-lit, lightly attended seminar without feeling guilty or embarrassed.  Some people at this one had obviously done that one.

 

And so, we gently fizzled our way to the end of the month with me still baking bread and hiding from the world, as I’d hit one of my slumps again.  One of the joys of being my age is that now I know that the blues, like all things, will pass and its simpler to stop fighting them and just wait.

 

We did make it to the beach on the 28th.  It may have been the above-mentioned ‘mood’ I was in but I don’t like the beaches so much in January.  Generally they are too crowded by Naples standards, as this is one of the busiest months. We chose one of the cool days to avoid the 'tourists' which was successful but after fifteen minutes of doing battle with the hefty breeze off the Gulf we quit.  As we have all the time in the world here I’d rather be a bit pickier as to when we go for our ozone.

 

For most of you folk not in any kind of sun in January I am sure you'd trade places in a heartbeat.  Even your envy must be my fault.  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Where's a consecrated Oratory when you need one?

 

[Before posting this on the site I took a lunch break which I want to share with you - partly to boast but mostly to prove a point.  We just had a great lunch which cost pennies because it was all home-made and from the cheapest of ingredients.  Garlic and potato soup made with a great chicken stock base, with still warm from the oven wholemeal bread.  The bread had a wonderful taste and texture and the crunchiest of crusts.  So far the total cost was less than a dollar for both of us.  As the bread was so good we decided to have another 'doorstep' with butter (not home-made!) and home-made strawberry jam.  The strawberries were 3 lbs for $5.  I can't even calculate the cost of a tablespoon of the stuff.  So - basically a yummy lunch for about 50 cents each.  I rest my case]

 

**'Memoirs of a Geisha' got 'remembered' in my December offering.  Apologies for the error.  There doesn't seem much point in moving the appropriate paragraph across at this stage as those of you who read this journal have already digested it.


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FEBRUARY

Circumbendibus waffle


I’ve found another new word to love and am trying hard to pin it into my slippery memory bank – circumbendibus.  It means ‘in a roundabout or indirect way’.  I love the ‘bend(y) bus’ bit – it says it all.

 

Hello to Ken’s readership list I see he has progressed to simply sending out my missive to you.  He seems to have gone rapidly from a stage of writing his own memories to writing his own by cribbing from mine and now just mails mine – I don’t mind at all but the idea was that his chums and family might want to hear about his life and this is all ME ME ME.  So my apologies, if that is the case.  All I can do is suggest you stone Ken.

 

On the subject of me, from now on February will be declared Marilyn month as we had three Marilyn’s in residence in our block of eight apartments at the same time this month.  How many Marilyns do you know?  

 

I like to try to keep noting the differences between our life in the UK and our life here; another came to light recently.  There was a ‘roll over ‘type accident here, which killed a teenage girl and badly injured her (also young) driver. Ken and I remarked on how frequently this seemed to happen compared to at home.  Shortly afterwards I happened to read an article on line which said that car crashes are the leading cause of death for tweens and teens (8 - 17 year olds) in the USA.  (I wonder if that is also true for the UK?)  The major issues being that they don’t use seat belts and the vehicles are driven by new drivers at a high speed. 

 

With this so glaringly obvious it is pretty incredible that despite recommendations by State Farm (a large Insurance Group), the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Philadelphia hospital nothing is done about it.  They suggest that the minimum age for a learner’s permit should be 16. But nine States grant them to 14-year-olds and at least 30 others give them to 15-year-olds. Also, the groups say drivers younger than 18 should not be allowed to have more than one teen passenger without adult supervision, but only 34 states have that restriction.

 

What they seem to miss is the major reason these kids are killed rather than injured is simply not buckling up but this actually didn’t get a direct mention!  There is a seat belt law in Florida but it seems generally flouted and not enforced.  It is such a simple remedy for not being flung out of the vehicle, which is what often happens. 

 

In contrast we were told about a group of about 15 spring breakers who were fined (on the spot) on the beach for drinking from glass bottles (not alcohol).  The beach patrol bloke was kind and only gave them a single fine of $65 bucks rather than fining each of them.  Don’t get me wrong I think that’s great but when you think no one can manage a similar effort to save lives it does make you think it’s a world gone mad.

 

So to what did we actually do in February?

 

On the first we went to a new shop opening with drinks and nibbles.  The shop is called ‘The Good Life’ Ken probably came along with pictures of Felicity Kendall’s bottom dancing in his head.  In actuality it wasn’t about organic grow your own; it was a dream of a kitchen gadget-type place.  I got to see a zillion things I didn’t know I needed but now I simply must have.  Not from there, of course, as I couldn’t afford it but there’s stuff on my cheap shop hit lists now that I have to fulfill.

 

[I fulfilled the cheap mandolin dream three times (three take-backs) as (i) they take forever to set up, dismantle, clean and store -all to slice a veggie and (ii) they are bl**dy lethal]

 

It was Ground Hog Day on the 2nd.  If you’re curious I’ll just redirect you to last year’s account.

 

Sunday (3rd) brought our usual Concert in the Park and tea at Panera Bread.  This was the date of the Superbowl so everywhere was delightfully quiet.  One thing we noted when driving down Gulf Shore Boulevard for a reccy was someone who had the caterers in for their Superbowl nibbles - how about that for grand! 

 

Another observation on the same day was a chap sitting in the garage watching TV.  Not that unusual you’d think except we are talking large screen TV and Laz-e-boy chair. No, I’m not making it up.  Everything else spoke garage not den, but there he was.

 

Monday 4th and this was a mini red-letter day because we picked up my trike.  Sadly I wasn’t able to test-drive it, as it needed grease to lubricate some joint or other.  So, instead, we had a bit of a paint fest.  Ted and Carole had repainted their kitchen and gave us some paint to touch up our nicks and smudges - needles to say it got so I didn’t know where to stop after a while but it does look so much better.  This led on to spray painting the lanai table from its yucky cream colour which just looks like nicotine stains to a brilliant white like the chairs - so at last we have a matching set.

 

Tuesday, and we did a doubler at the library taking in ‘A short History of Early Jazz’ part one.  As someone who is a little interested in this and has a smidgen of knowledge about it, I know just how fascinating a story it must be and was looking forward to someone weaving it together for me with wonderful characters thrown in.  It was an unbelievably dreadful - a dry, muddled rehash of what he’d taught in University for years - god help his pupils.  I assume they all abandoned music and now cut lawns for a living.  Obviously we won’t be doing part 2.  We then fitted in Randy’s Fish market Restaurant for our dinner before going to what should have been the incredibly boring talk - ‘Famous Fractures Fairy Tales’. 

 

The Restaurant is a real oddity and a bit famous in Naples as it is long established.  It is genuinely a fish market and one end acts a restaurant.  We had fish and chips, which weren’t quite Harry Ramsden's but a good effort.  I had gator bites as a starter and they were yummy.  Very tender bits of gator in batter and deep-fried.

 

The second lecture was one for Ken - a bloke talking about how bridges and large structures fail.  I went with a book to while away the hour but never opened it.  His material was absolutely fascinating and wonderfully delivered.  Well-done Naples library.

 

On Wednesday it was a red trike day as I did my first one-mile circuit.  Such fun - I just love it and everyone we passed stopped me to ask where I got it from and could they have a go?  I was surprised to discover there are many women like me who never learned to ride a bike.  Even the local kids said it was ‘Cool’ and ‘Love your bike’

 

Friday we were visited by ‘Dr Lint’ who comes and cleans your dryer vent so you don’t burn the apartments down - all for the princely sum of $20.  America v. UK?

 

One Saturday we had lunch with our good neighbours at The Village Pub (in the Village).  The pub being nothing like a pub but then The Village is nothing like a village. Just names.  That said it was wonderful to sit outside in the sun by the pass watching the boats sail by whilst scoffing a delicious lunch.  The big joy for us being the date - 9th February!  We sure as heck wouldn’t be doing anything like that at home.  We then went back to Carole and Ted’s for nibbles and cake and a fun game of scrabble.  It was a really nice day only slightly marred by my pudding basin haircut that I had been given that morning.

 

Sunday brought the Park Concert and the Gulf Coast Big Band.  They are one of our favourites. 

 

I always enjoy listening to the people around me and part of one conversation in particular amused me - trust me this was deadpan serious - “Here, do you want to borrow my binoculars so you can see the notes they are playing?” 

 

It is easy to fall into conversation with people at these events and this week we got talking to a fascinating couple - Hella and Heinz who were telling us about their war experiences; Hella being an Auschwitz survivor and Heinz having hidden out in Italy with his family.  From the camp Hella was sent

to a textile factory where there was a handful of English pilot POWs who maintained the machinery.  As the Germans treated POWs and Jewish prisoners very differently they were not allowed to speak to each other.  The Germans honoured the Geneva Convention for military prisoners and the POWs got Red Cross parcels.  The boys used to leave little notes and bits of stuff for the girls in their wastebaskets.  She touchingly told how a tiny bit of toothpaste or a note to lift their spirits meant so much to them.  She has tried to find them or their relatives to thank them. I wonder if I can track down anything?

 

We love our park concerts even though we are in the depths of the Florida winter.  Yes, you can actually tell when you’ve been here a while.  The shade trees have quite a lot of their leaves missing and a few of the remaining leaves even have some tinges of autumn colours here and there. The grass under our feet has pretty much disappeared as the winters are so dry and, in the main it is replaced with leaves and sandy dust.  What astounds me is how quickly the green comes back from this with the slightest rainfall.

 

Before the concert the tone is set with everyone standing and singing.  Every time I hear the words ‘Land of the free and home of the brave’ and I get goosebunps.  It works in the same way as our own ‘Land of hope and glory’, it is all very jingoistic I know but it must touch a deeply rooted primitive nerve in me as I find it potent stuff.  Strangely our National Anthem doesn’t seem to work in the same way.

 

A perfect day ended with a perfect meal at the Chinese Buffet where besides the other 199 dishes I can have all-I-can-eat crab legs.  Days like this have to be a little slice of heaven on earth.

 

Tuesday 12th and off to the movies for a terrific, gritty Daniel Day Lewis film - ‘There Will be Blood’ (uninspiring title don’t you think?)  Costumes and sets were the best I’ve ever seen in a movie for their accuracy and credibility.  The casting was spot on and the writing and acting hard to beat.  I’ve been a DDL fan ever since the ‘Unbearable Lightness of Being’ (twenty years ago!) when I totally fell in love with him.  He’s known more for ‘My Left Foot’ I suspect.

 

From the movies we went to the Library to see if we could get in for ‘A Voice for the Everglades’.  These things are bookable and we’d been unable to get a place as it was booked up but we know that people queue on the day in case folk don’t turn up.  We were happy to say a bunch didn’t and in we went for an intriguing monologue from Janina Birtolo.  She writes and performs monologues of various people.  This time she was Marjory Stoneman (often spelled Stoneham!) Douglas.  Her whole life is pretty astonishing and culminated in her work for The Everglades.  Even her involvement typifies her attitude to life.  I hope I remember this correctly - when she was 57 she had written a seminal book on The Everglades called ‘River of Grass’ and because of this was feted and invited to all things Everglades.  At one such event when she was about 80 and frustrated by the lack of change she asked a young man there what exactly were people doing to help the problems and he simply answered “What are YOU doing?” and she decided that was the nub of the problem - no-one asked themselves what they could do.  So her remarkable work for Everglades began. She lived to be a ‘fit’ 108 years old so made a significant different in those twenty-odd years.  Incredible.   Birtolo did an excellent job of entertaining and informing.  I learned a lot about an inspiring woman and about the huge importance of The Everglades for the whole planet, not just ‘locally’

 

I found a Marjory SD quote along the way when reading more about all this and I think it sums up her attitude to life and perhaps it’s one we should adopt:

 

"Life should be lived so vividly and so intensely that thoughts of another life, 

or of a longer life, are not necessary."

Leaving there about 7.30pm we dithered about whether to go out for a meal or go home.  Home won as we’d been out all day.  Fortunately as it turned out because we returned to a note on our door and news on the TV that we were under a Tornado Warning.  I’ve no idea why I found this more unnerving than a Hurricane but I did.  I positively enjoyed staying put through Wilma and thought it was not much more worrying than very severe English gales which wreak such havoc. Somehow a Tornado is ‘foreign’ and dramatic and it got my attention.  Clearly we survived.  One touched down nearby I think but didn’t do too much damage.

 

By the 13th I had been out on my trike every day for five days.  On day one there was bit of a knocking sound - it'll be OK when its oiled and the grease settles in.  On day two there was still a knocking sound, only more so.  More WD40 and grease was added.  Day three, four and five…worse and worse and worse as by now it was accompanied by a definite judder from the back axle - bummer!!!   The trike went back to Wal-Mart!

 

I was daft enough to order another one in hopes it was just a fluke and the next would be fine.  An additional bonus being it had gone down $40.  As I said I loved it.  It is terrific being on a bike with no worries about falling off. Trikes don't like lumps and bumps and slopes and things but there's not many of them round here.  It meant I got fresh air, a bit of exercise and a great opportunity to be nosey.  You see very little in cars and walking is too slow. The new one was in Bloomingdale, California and soon to be en route to our nearest Wal-Mart for collection by us.  It is a good system - Site to Store takes 7 - 10 days normally but of course we had to pick Presidents’ Day weekend, which slows everything down. 

 

With one hobby less and impending nudity I was compelled to do my ironing.  For anyone who doesn’t know me well enough let me state categorically I DO NOT iron anything it is possible to avoid; such as household goods, Ken’s clothes and any of mine with less than 90% wrinkles.  By my calculation I have three weeks supply of clothes here (not counting going out outfits) before I have to iron anything.

 

The upside is that everything does get worn; you don't just live in the same four things ‘cos you like them best.  The reason for sharing this with you is that even this gross chore is better on this side of the pond.  There is a TV channel called TCM (Turner’s Classic Movies) on it goes and I iron to the strains of Fred and Ginger, Cary Grant, the Hepburns - Katharine and Audrey and their ilk.  This occasion only gave me Doris day and Rock Hudson - but, Oh! those lovely sixties outfits.  My chores were actually two movies long but I can’t remember the other one now.  This is the only American TV channel I really, really miss in the UK.

 

Our (next) Tuesday (19th) movie was to be ‘No Country for Old Men’ but as they’d sold out we saw ‘Jumper’ instead - such utter rubbish that I’m thrilled to say that as I’m typing this I can’t remember a single thing about it.  All I know is that it was so bad we decided to return the next day for ‘No Country … ‘ in an attempt to obliterate it.  Clearly it worked.  ‘No Country…’ slides into my top ten-movie slot.

 

As I was fettling around a little after nine that morning there were two huge bangs like a couple of elephants (think Dumbo) landing on the roof.  My NASA expert informed me they were the two sonic booms of the Shuttle passing over us on its way to land at Cape Kennedy.  Very impressive.

 

21st and we picked up our sixth bike from Wal-Mart.  In case you’ve lost track we only own three.

 

The next week, following a trip to the beach and Ken swimming in a winter sea of 77F, we went to catch our regular Tuesday movie.  Just being able to say that seems quite exotic to someone like me who was born in the centre of the British Isles.  How excellent to be able to ‘do’ the beach and a movie.

 

This has turned out to be a terrific month for movies as this time we caught ‘Juno’.  This was another unexpectedly excellent film, probably due to some fine acting all round.  Going to the movies here is pretty good as, not only do we get reduced price for seniors at all times, but on Tuesdays we get free popcorn.  We also have a card, which is swiped each visit, and we get other stuff as we go along such as drinks and eventually, as was the case this time, a free movie.  The popcorn bucket is huge and we never want two so we try to give one of our tickets to someone else for them to use.  You wouldn’t believe how difficult this is.

 

Talking of bargains, T. J. Maxx sent me an email to say they were offering 40% at some of their stores on some of their kitchen stuff so off we went.  The first store listed had never heard of the offer and didn’t have any such discount.  Second store listed didn’t exist - in fact there was another store at that address.  The next day I sent an email basically saying what a rubbish advert.  Eh Voila along comes a letter of apology and a 10% discount.  Off to the shops!  When I gave the letter to the girl at the till she called the manager who came to apologise and ask what their store had done wrong!  I assured her it wasn’t their fault.  Talk about proactive marketing.  Well done again for the right attitude.  Something the UK could learn from?

 

Just to balance my never-ending eulogy of Naples I did discover something I hadn’t seen in umpteen years back home. Fortunately I always wash rice before I cook it, partly because it has had some dirty handling from plant to packet and partly because it washes off the excess starch, making it less sticky.  When I do this I often find some duff rice grains and even bits of grit!   So there I was picking off bits and bobs of black bits I could see in the sieve when I realized there seemed to be an unusual amount.  On closer inspection the bits had legs!  Would you believe rice weevils!  Arrrrggghh!  The day turned into sterilising hell in number 202.  I have a memory of seeing flour weevils many, many years ago back home but didn’t know there was a rice variety.  Presumably nice warm Florida storage somewhere helps them hatch and breed.  Did my mom call them soakies?  Is that a brummie expression or am I misremembering?  Handy tip here don’t look them up on the web it’ll put you off rice, flour…. all food for life.  (Maybe not chocolate)

 

Another little kitchen gem this month was the discovery of bits in my tea.  After much investigating I discovered that the little filter that is sometimes put across the inside of a kettle spout  - a sort of white mesh thing - had broken up and had been happily breaking down into tiny bits of goodness knows what in the kettle for heaven knows how long.  Would you not think it wasn’t beyond the wit of kettle manufacturers to put in some gizmo that isn’t going to disintegrate into tiny particles and swim around in their products and kill their consumers?  Oh happy day, I’ve been drinking kettle filter plastic.  Watch this space.

 

I seem to have given up talking about books probably because I am reading all the usual suspects such as Kellerman, Koontz, Cornwell and their ilk but this month I am trying to eke out a real gem ‘Cake or Death’ by Heather Mallick.  You can find her stuff on line as she writes for newspapers.  Chris and Gayle bought it me for Christmas and I hate the thought of finishing it.  Does anyone else have this problem with a book you love?  You gollop it up because it is such a pleasure and then you regret it because its finished with.  I’m not a returnee to very many books - when they’re done they’re done I’m afraid.  There are far too many more waiting to be read to waste time covering old ground.  Any way the title is odd but the book is a terrific collection of her essays.  There is a particular one about order helping depression.  If like me anyone reading this suffers bouts of inexplicable depression and is also exceedingly overorganised, this is the one for you.  Explains and forgives much at the same time as being achingly funny.

 

I’ll finish as I began with more of ‘only in America’.

 

A man in Tehama County had a painful corn on his toe….. He decided to shoot it with his 22-caliber rifle

And guess what?  It worked out FINE, except that he injured his foot…. And he may face legal charges.  There seems to be two issues here – the obvious one of what kind of lunatic would shoot his corn but there is the much more worrying one of why is he facing legal charges?  Bad enough he shot his own foot and you would think the medical bills would be sufficient punishment, if being an idiot needs punishing?

 

Thanks to Dave Barry for this one.  He is another one to seek out.  He actually makes me laugh (or at least make funny noises) out loud when I read his pieces and I can’t think of anyone else who does that.  I’m wracking my brains for a really quintessential Dave Barry quote and all I can come up with is:

 

‘Camping is nature’s way of promoting the motel business’

 

Sorry Dave!

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MARCH

Spring is sprunging

 

 

Here comes my March megillah.  How I love words!

 

(Megillah (meh-GIL-uh) noun - A long, tedious account.)  As you’ve probably spotted this is a Yiddish word. I find something so ‘accurate’ about the Yiddish words that migrate to our language - a perfect example being ‘schlepping’ it simply perfectly describes the effort of hauling yourself from one place to another.

 

Here's what Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer had to say about the language in his 1978 Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

            
"Yiddish language - a language of exile, without a land, without
            frontiers, not supported by any government, a language which possesses
            no words for weapons, ammunition, military exercises, war tactics ...
            There is a quiet humor in Yiddish and a gratitude for every day of life,
            every crumb of success, each encounter of love. The Yiddish mentality is
            not haughty. It does not take victory for granted. It does not demand
            and command but it muddles through, sneaks by, smuggles itself amidst
            the powers of destruction, knowing somewhere that God's plan for
            Creation is still at the very beginning ...
            In a figurative way, Yiddish is the wise and humble language of us all,
            the idiom of frightened and hopeful Humanity."

 

In my February ramblings I mentioned we had met a holocaust survivor (now aged 78) who would very much like to contact some RAF boys (or their families) to thank them for their kindness and generosity which meant so much to her.  

 

She and her two sisters and parents and other family members had been taken to Auschwitz from Hungary in May 1944.  She and her sisters were parted from the rest of the family.  They never saw them again.  She was 14 years old (her sisters being 15 and 19). In August 1944 she was sent in a group of fifty women (with her two sisters) to work in a weaving factory in Freudenthal (now Bruntal, Czechoslovakia).  As Jewish prisoners they were not allowed to speak to the English POWs who looked after the machinery, but the 'boys' used to leave little bits of their British Red Cross packages in the girls waste bins.  She touchingly tells of how much a tiny bit of toothpaste meant to them and how she has always 'worried' that the RAF 'boys' never knew just how very important their kindness was in helping her will to survive.

 

I said I would do my best to see if there was some way of contacting them or their families.  This has turned into another one of my obsessive projects.

 

The surprising thing is how I thought I knew about and understood the ‘holocaust’. Yet with this research I have come to realise how slight my understanding was. Like me, I’m sure many regard the holocaust as a shocking and exceptional part of our history.  In fact, of course, genocide has been and is a non-stop process throughout our time on this planet. [Think ‘ethnic cleansing’]  Holocaust history should be taught in all schools along with the reminder it is only one example of man’s inhumanity to man and we can look at places in the world at any time and see it still happening.  Hopefully, if the facts are heard long enough and often enough, when such horror presents itself on our doorstep again we might do our part to fight against it. ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’ **

 

Wish me luck with my search.

 

On with the daily accounting….

 

Sunday (2nd) we went to our usual concert in the park (Gulf Coast Big Band this week) and I had a sixties flash back to my days on the base. (RAF Lakenheath - American base in Suffolk for those of you new (ish) to my history) and a memory of the ‘chow wagon’ that used to come round mid-morning.  The urge for a hot dog overcame me and I scoffed a hot dog complete with relish, mustard and ketchup.  I skipped the offer of a chilidog in the Florida sunshine.  The reason this is worth noting is that I’ve grown into a person who absolutely hates sausages because of what’s actually in those bags of mystery - I suspect it’s noses and toeses.  Huge shudder!  Yet, here I was scoffing the worst kind of leftover animal and loving every bite.

 

Thanks to some folks at the concert we have discovered a couple of places we don’t want to visit (so good to cross ones off the list).  The whole of Pennsylvania is in doubt as we had a very close shave as someone with Penn plates cut us up.  On arriving at the park this was followed by an incredibly rude man whose chest was swathed in a T-Shirt reading Ogunquit, Maine.  Reminder here - the seating is in a park!  You arrive and set up your chairs where you like.  People are pretty orderly and form nice neat rows and, on good days, even remember to leave some walkways through them.  On this occasion lout and wife arrived and put down their chairs.  The folk sitting nearby very nicely asked if he could perhaps move over a little as they wanted to save a place for their friends who hadn’t arrived yet.  With all the acres to go at he stubbornly stuck his ground and loudly proclaimed that this was free seating and he could sit where he liked and they couldn’t hold a space for anyone.  Is that really necessary, I ask you?  Stuff Ogunquit, even if he only visited it and doesn’t actually live there.  Mind you I suspect with that level of intellect it probably was his home and all his clothes contain his address in case he gets lost.   I was soooo tempted to ask.

 

Ken is keeping up his community meetings (Sherwood AGM on the 5th) but I’ve well and truly opted out.  It is so frustrating to sit in a forum of personal gripes and sometimes backbiting that actually achieves very little.  Our community somehow (and for once I don’t have the answer) needs turning around into something positive.  Where did it all go?

 

This is the time of year that Honeybells are back in season.  Technically they are at heir height in January but sometimes linger on.  By now it is a desperate Ken who searches for the last of them.  It is so nice to have a real seasonal treat - get them now or miss them.  They are an odd (bell) shaped orange created by crossing a grapefruit with a tangerine which doesn’t sound promising but I assure you, as a non-orange, fan these are incredibly sweet and juicy.  Off to Green Thumb for a reccy.  [Did my English readers notice it is a thumb and not a finger?] 

 

We got our second tornado warning on the 7th.  I really am nervy about these.  We did OK but two people were killed in Tallahassee.

 

A new Supermarket opened in Naples called Sweetbay (8th) and amongst other things they offered a free cholesterol check and glucose test.  Off we went to join the huge queue - but, hey, it’s free!  We were rewarded for queuing with two free goody bags.  This was a bizarre pharmacy collection of cough mixture, Tylenol, aspirin, 2 pillboxes and packet of razors.    The test results were interesting as they split up the results in a different way.  Basically in the UK I am off the chart whilst in the States I will survive.  I’m staying here.  My ‘bad’ cholesterol is high but my ‘good’ cholesterol is even higher and pretty much compensates for the baddy.  I get a risk factor of 3.4 (at home its over 6).  My triglycerides are high and might cause hardening of the arteries.  The pharmacist confirmed what I already know that this is a hotly debated subject and there are as many equally sound studies proving the complete opposite.  So you do your reading and make your own decision.  He certainly didn’t recommend medication (unlike the statins the doctor would have me on in the UK if I agreed) but suggested I could substantially change my triglyceride levels simply by taking half a teaspoon of cinnamon (you can get capsules) each day.  Ken thought getting the advice to eat half a Cinnabon each day for breakfast was excellent!  Hearing tests next maybe?

 

After the medical assessment we were off to shop the new store.  It looks much nicer than Publix but it didn’t have the range they have and I thought the quality was lower.  That said they handed out lots more freebies – ‘green’ shopping bags normally $1.50 – pineapples, tomatoes and so on.  As for Publix, our old faithful and only a few hundred yards away, it was offering its loyal customers free hot dogs and hamburgers for shopping there that day!  Of course the most mendacious among us split the shopping two ways. 

 

I do feel a little guilty as a couple of days before they had done the usual wonderful American service thing.  I got to the checkout with a box of (southern fried) chicken strips (usually around $6 but will vary as sold by weight).  They didn’t have a price. The checkout girl offered to call someone but I said I’d be quicker, so I went to where they were to find a priced box.  No joy, none of the boxes were priced.  A booted and suited guy (manager) approached me and asked if I had a problem.  I explained and he immediately bagged the box and said they were free to me and apologised for all the trouble I’d had and was there anything else he could do for me.  Think Asda/Tesco!

 

Ken celebrated the 14th anniversary of our meeting (9th) - yes, I am a woman, and we note these things (!) by attending a Neighborhood (American spelling!) Watch meeting.  Really worthwhile as it told you everything we already knew.  Why do we always expect to be surprised?  

 

Something that did make sense though was the idea that even urban communities can act like small villages.  It is a fact that we feel safer and are actually safer in a community that is small enough for most people to know each other.  This is still pretty easy to replicate even in an urban setting simply by the obvious stuff of getting to know your neighbours and mentally registering who lives where.  One suggestion was that you always acknowledge people coming and going round where you live.  The idea being that a ‘Good Morning’ and some eye contact develops recognition of a large group of people who are legitimately there and for those who shouldn’t be there they are disconcerted by being ‘seen’ and registered especially if it is a couple or more times and they will usually go elsewhere where no-one cares about their presence.  So, basically, do the un-British thing and acknowledge strangers.  Shock, horror!

 

Lovely movie on the 11th - Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day - not on the top ten but a little sweetie and it drew me out to the shops and a meal out so even better.  As it is St. Pat’s week (!) here we had boiled beef and cabbage - it was supremely good.  They do celebrate St. Patrick’s Day (17th March) like everyone (yes, even in Japan!) else but because it is the American version - it is bigger, better and lasts longer.  It usually prompts me into mailing our Easter cards.  This is also a pretty big deal here.  No sooner have you removed your St Patrick’s Day oven gloves, hand towels and dishcloths than you have to whip out your Easter pastel coloured house adornments - it’s hard work being American I can tell you.

 

On the subject of hard work the FCAT testing in schools was 11 –13 March.  One of the ‘inspirational’ messages outside a high school (!) was ‘Sleep well, eat well, be here’.  Most of the schools (all of them?) have roadside boards by the entrance to the school driveway – like cinemas and large stores have.  As an ex-teacher they make interesting reading. 

 

Definition of FCATS follows:

 

The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) is part of Florida’s overall plan to increase student achievement by implementing higher standards. The FCAT, administered to students in Grades 3-11, contains two basic components: criterion-referenced tests (CRT), measuring selected benchmarks in Mathematics, Reading, Science, and Writing from the Sunshine State Standards (SSS); and norm-referenced tests (NRT) in Reading and Mathematics, measuring individual student performance against national norms.

 

Ever wondered where our SATs came from – look no further.  They even look alike.

 

We went to see someone about condo insurance (14th) who turned out to be Mary Beth Rogers (my maiden name).  I got into conversation with her and thought there might be a connection.  I searched the family tree when I got back and, hey presto, we may well be connected through a lady called Alice Kay.  Small world!

 

Our twelfth wedding anniversary (16th) was spent pretty much like any other Sunday.  Concert in the park (Naples Daily News Jazz Band) where we chatted to Hella and Heinz, but instead of our usual ‘economy’ Cracker Barrel meal we went to Red Lobster.  This was really more for me as I love the stuff.  Butter down the chin and up to the elbows.  Lobster heaven.  More importantly, how can we possibly have been together for fourteen years and married for twelve of them?

 

I mentioned Janina Birtolo last moth who performs one-woman monologues as someone she has researched.  This month’s (18th) offering was ‘The Black Queen’ - Katherine de Medici (1519 – 1589) When we had the house in France we visited Chenonceau a couple of times and I got interested in the ‘Maggot from Italy’s Tomb’ and ‘Madame la Serpente’ as she was also known.  In effect she ruled France for thirty years when husband Henry II died in a jousting accident in 1559. Catherine was left to protect the throne for a succession of sickly sons who died one after the other. 

 

Birtolo gave a balanced picture of a ruler who was neither good nor bad, but simply a pragmatic woman placed in a difficult situation. This is the more fashionable view of the lady now, though I would argue it’s not necessarily any more accurate than her previous five hundred years of vilification.  Her letters don’t exactly support simple pragmatism.  Why are we always so tempted to draw one-dimensional conclusions?  Something which always rankles with me is how often ‘history’ is assessed with a 21st century perspective, which is patently ridiculous.  You only have to live sixty-two years to know how impossible it is for people one or two generations away from your history to comprehend how you thought and behaved because they inhabit such a different physical world and mind set.  What chance then that we can understand sixteenth century humanity - almost none?

 

This was a woman who was married at fourteen to Henry and was trained for her public role over and above anything else.  By the time Henry was nineteen he was totally infatuated with Diane de Poitiers (aged 38!)  Diane was given the power of the court and maintained the central position throughout his life.  I would argue it is impossibe to step outside our twenty-first century concepts of marriage, relationships and sexual jealousy to really understand what this meant to Katherine. I suspect Katherine’s angst was much more about her lack of influence, her own safety and her struggle to produce heirs than it was about personal jealousy.  Diane was given the chateau at Chenonceau, which Katherine had wanted; again for its importance, not because it was given to Diane.  On Henry’s death, she banished Diane to a smaller chateau and set up her own court there.  This is always touted as the wronged wife getting even, whereas Chenonceau was the right place to be and I imagine it marked the shift in power in a tangible way.

 

Any way, enough of this - if you are interested you can whet your appetite on the web after which there are many excellent books about her.

 

Next day was movie day (19th) at the library and in the true spirit of St. Pat we went to see Darby O’Gill and the Little people.  Delicious - I love such ancient tosh.

 

Being a member of the retired community the Easter weekend for us was like any other - a Perkins lunch, Holocaust Museum, shopping and, yes, even dodging the rain!  Not so for my little boy and his partner - I’ll quote Gayle’s email:

 

Easter was great - don't know if he mentioned it to you but Chris and I managed to spend Easter Sunday saving our community from destruction. I'm not joking. On an afternoon stroll through a park area we hadn’t visited before, we stumbled upon a small grass fire that had JUST begun. It was only a few feet from the row of houses and along an edge of vast, dry grassland. 

 

Within 3 minutes, this little smoldering patch went from the size of a footstep to the size of a mid-sized car. It was fast and the wind was picking up. We jumped into action; I tried to find anybody who would answer their door (most were away for Easter) and Chris finally got a neighbour to assist with a few buckets of water. I managed to find a cell phone to call the local fire dept. If we hadn’t come by when we did, our community of Taradale would have definitely made the papers on Easter Sunday. Providence? Who knows, but what a way to spend an Easter Sunday afternoon?

 

Thought I would share as am very proud of your boy who jumped into the fray with buckets and buckets of water. You shoulda seem him:)

 

Part of my reply follows

 

- well done you guys - that's always assuming Chris didn't set the fire to start with.  Typical boy-child he loved fires as a kid - no he didn't actually burn anything down!  Seriously though well done - so many people just pass by thinking it'll be OK or someone else will sort it - just shows how easily bad things start and equally how relatively easily they can be avoided with a bit of good neighbourliness and common sense - a moral there somewhere I think. Well done again.

 

Our next movie (25th) was The Other Boleyn Girl.  Dreadful Tudor bodice ripper complete with 21st century hair, furnishing and fabrics not to mention patterns of speech, walking eating etc etc etc etc.  The book was marginally OK as you felt you could trawl tiny nuggets from between the dross but this was an absolute rubbish version of even that.

 

Thank heavens for the library offering the next day - Cracker Crazy.  The invisible history of Florida.  Florida’s history has a string of pretty shameful events (as, I suppose, does everywhere else) and this was a clever film, which used jolly ‘movie’ archive for the surface which we are perpetually sold counterpoised with the underlying ‘truths’.  Even Disney and his corporate thugishness come out of it astonishingly badly.

 

In the last week of our stay we are always at the ‘eat up everything’ stage.  In a matter of just two days I’d baked bread, a couple of cherry pies, pineapple upside down pudding and rice pudding to name but a few!

 

Even then we managed to squeeze in meals out such as our farewell lunch at Riverwalk with Carole and Ted (29th) followed by Key Lime Pie and Scrabble at ours.

 

We attended our last concert for a while (Naples Concert Band) and my last crab legs at Grand Buffet.  This particular Sunday also had Art on 5th.  I wandered round it for an hour before the concert.  It is always good to look.  Some dross, some very American art and therefore rather alien to my eyes but one this occasion there was one painter whose work I would have liked to buy - ah well in another life maybe.  We settled for a couple of shirts for Ken from Bealls Outlets on the way home instead.

 

Our last day is always a flurry of cleaning and washing and general domesticity, putting the condo into hibernation for the summer. 

 

We fly out of here on 1st April and get home in the early hours of the next day.  I find now which ever side of the pond I'm on I don't want to leave it for the other but when I get there I dissolve into not wanting to leave there six months later.  

 

I really didn't want to come here this trip and now I hate the thought of going 'home'.  We have stuff on each side that we love and people in both places we miss so it’s all very confusing for the soul.  Hey ho, give me a week in Bury and this will be like it’s never been.

 

Spring is certainly beginning in Naples and there are wonderful trees coming into blossom.  I will try to remember to post a picture of an especially terrific yellow one. [Name escapes me right now]  It is decidedly tropical and thrives on neglect.  The bougainvillea at the moment is also stunning.  It flowers all year but the spring rush is astounding - they positively sing - they hit a note in the colour spectrum that fluoresces in the sun - wonderful stuff.  All the magnolias are in bud and I've seen one or two of the early plate sized blooms - they will be wonderful next month!!!!  We do have a proper spring here you just have to live here long enough to recognise it.  All our pines and larches are full of new green growth and the shade trees (live oak) are a mass of pale green leaves that darken through the summer to almost brown by the autumn - they lose quite a lot of their leaves in the winter but not all, so still offer shade.  So spring does show up it is just a bit subtler.

 

I am missing my English garden and all the bulbs I won't see and am fretting dreadfully about the slugs rampaging through the perennials’ new shoots.  They will massively reduce my summer border by effectively ‘pruning’ the plants before they get into good growth.  I hope I’m back in time to save some of my plants lives by massacring the slugs.  (Where’s my high flying principles on genocide now?)  For any gardeners among you the date to start killing them is easy to remember it is 14th February. It seems wryly appropriate somehow.   Give your slugs a pellet for Valentine’s Day.

 

My love of plants is definitely from my mom.  I have to say over and over again - "there isn't any room for it" - a kind of a mantra to keep me from parting with money for some wonderful botanical creature I’ve seen but don't need.  Meanwhile my other head whispers (to quote my mom)”You can always squeeze in another plant”.  In desperation I am now trying to find stuff I can bury under other stuff - three layers for each season.  I think that's the way round the problem - spring bulbs, summer bulb/plants, and late summer/autumn bulbs/plants.  That’s the theory anyway - I can't go sideways any more so I'll have to go down.  

 

I was just reading Martha Stewart's Magazine - Living - the April issue - can we get it in the UK? She is planting something like 20,000 daffodil bulbs a year for four years alongside her stone wall which surrounds her property.  These are twelve-foot wide beds - can you imagine?  You should see the pictures`- absolutely gob-smacking and when you recover from the money and (almost vulgar crassness) they are very, very beautiful.  The woman is crazy in all kinds of ways but you have to admire her stamina.

 

I seem to think of my mom more and more as I get older.  She certainly visited me the other day when I was contemplating whether to go to the pool for my last swim or not.  I was scrabbling for excuses as it is a ritual that seems to need to be done but I just couldn’t be bothered.  In desperation I clutched at the following - the legs!  How many times have I remonstrated with my mom for wearing tights on our holidays in Spain and on Med. cruises and ultimately even in Florida?  She said she had no choice as she had ‘horrible purple and orange legs’.  I tried not to fall about laughing and said she had a few blotchy areas and that perhaps at eighty plus no one would even notice or be bothered.  What the heck.  The end of this tale is that she did finally get to a ‘heck’ stage and gave up the leg covers.  I have now reached the same point where I have complex river maps forming on the legs.  Indeed I have a very detailed plan of the source of the Zambezi nestled in behind my right knee and several other scattered Google earth shots of deltas around the ankles and shins.  I have bettered my mother as I am contemplating tights for swimming.

 

Apropos of nothing in particular I recently fell across a bit of Dave Barry I’d like to share with my ladies…. They’ll know what I mean….

 

“Guys are simple... women are not simple and they always assume that men must be just as complicated as they are, only way more mysterious. The whole point is guys are not thinking much. They are just what they appear to be. Tragically.” 

 

Why I am ending with this I’ve no idea.

 

There should be some photos on the photo site if you want to have a look.  Don’t go there too fast as I tend to struggle with them the day after I’ve done this.  Yes, I know, I could organize it better; but I don’t!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

**This quote is a well known one credited to Edmund Burke but is in fact a pseudo-quote and never written by Burke (see  ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’ (or words to that effect) A study of a Web quotation by Martin Porter, January 2002 if interested)

 

 


----------------------------------------------------------

APRIL

Sounds better than it was

 

 

 

 

April is one of my favourite months; at least by name.  It conjures visions of cherry blossom and new green leaves and pale Spring sunshine.  How different the reality is.

 

You might have noticed I’ve (temporarily?) run out of new words to describe and welcome you to my ramblings but I hit on one this month to do with something completely different that I already know and like.  

 

The word is piker.  This is one I grew up with in Birmingham.  My Aunty Jean still uses it and so I thought it was probably just a brummie expression but I just found it in an American article I was reading.  It means:

 

            A stingy person, a cautious gambler, or one who does things in a small way.

 

[Of uncertain origin, possibly from Middle English pike (to leave).]

 

Here is how I saw it used.  It made me smile…

 

            The guy who put a lit firecracker between his buttocks is a piker

              compared to the Russian soldiers who took a smoke break in an

ammunition warehouse -- the explosions went on for a week.

Colette Bancroft; Smarty Pants; St. Petersburg Times (Florida);

            Dec 9, 2007.

 

It took us two days to get back from Naples. Our plane out of Tampa was delayed because of high winds in Chicago and a backup of 'traffic' as they close one of the three runways there when windy.  At least this was what we were told in Tampa only to be told on arriving in Chicago too late to connect to the Manchester flight that there hadn't been any bad weather or any delayed traffic.  What can I say?  

 

As our next flight to Manchester was twenty-four hours away we were given an overnight in the airport Hilton.  In these circumstances you are usually crammed in a cupboard size room overlooking the car park - yes, even the Hilton has them.  Not this time great size room with all the bells and whistles and even better no struggling with shuttle buses.  We were able to walk to it indoors from the airport in a few minutes.  

 

Our meal allowances were less spectacular - seven dollars each for dinner, five dollars for lunch and three for breakfast.  Astonishingly this can be done!  In our case we ate at the Hilton and the dinner voucher bought Ken his beer. 

 

The next day we had a full day before our flight so after a huge Hilton buffet breakfast we caught the Blue Train (the ‘L’ as in elevated) for the princely sum of two dollars and went into Chicago.  We then took one of our famous trolley bus tours -  to see the sights with absolutely no walking and to hear all about the Windy City.  Apparently it’s no windier than any other city, but there ya go.  That said we actually found it very windy and cold - the wind did seem to use the gaps between the skyscrapers as wind tunnels.

 

The lake skyline is certainly one to remember.  Part of this skyline is The Hilton in the centre of the city.  It has a ten thousand dollar a night room on its roof complete with helipad.  Our smugness about our accommodation rather paled into insignificance.

 

I absolutely loved Chicago and would love to stay there some time (in warmer weather!).  It had all kinds of theatres, galleries, restaurants and shops in wonderful buildings that they’ve had the good sense to keep.  It is a lovely looking and culturally rich place to be.  Strangely enough parts of it were really like parts of the centre of Manchester.

 

It obviously grew up on the back of its gangster reputation (all true it seems!).  One reminder of this is a statue of Mussolini because he was Al Capone’s cousin it seems.  Mayor Daly still seems to run it by the seat of his pants.  They had an old disused airport in the city and he got it bulldozed and replaced it with a spectacular park and concert centre, then he got permission to do it.

 

They also have an ironic sense of humour it would appear.  There was a fairly massive refurb. going on across the front of several buildings and the tarp hanging from the scaffolding read:  

 

Look, a sandwich joint disguised as a construction site.

 

 

I’m having to tell you all this because I’m ashamed to say I toured a new (to me) city without a camera.  What an eejit!

 

We had a hasty lunch so we could cram some more sights in, eventually getting back to our hotel around 4 pm (for our 6.30 pm flight). We had left our two flight bags with the concierge in the Hilton after checking out - how nice is that - so we picked them up and went off to buy a packed meal for our 6.30 pm flight home.  I always try to take something I know I want to eat on planes as their food is usually awful.  So a day later than planned we winged our way home.

 

There was a slight problem trying to time our phone call to our cab company in the UK to change the pick up.  Our cab driver is also a neighbour so we wanted to catch the poor bloke before he got up in the early hours to come and collect us but with the time difference it was something of a nightmare.  We didn’t want to ring him in the middle of his night nor did we want to stay up half the night ourselves to ring him.  We left a message and crossed our fingers.   No problem and here we are back in Blighty

 

As I said last month I hate leaving each home and never want to be in the other one.  In the first few days of returning I was missing:  

 

  1. Stove Top corn stuffing mix (I have since discovered Waitrose sell one of the varieties but not the corn one).
  2. The wonderful balmy weather
  3. The equally warm people - even strangers
  4. Excellent service in the shops and restaurants.  I know this one will astound my American readers but they need to sample the UK variety and they’d soon know what I mean
  5. Luxurious living for less money such as better homes, cars and how I miss the huge fridge, washer, dryer, air conditioning/heating
  6. Free parking
  7. Big parking slots usually angled for easy entrance/exit
  8. Wide straight roads
  9. Pretty much living pound for dollar and certainly real bargains if you look for them
  10. Not to mention beach 
  11. Pool
  12. Concerts in the park
  13. Library movie series
  14. The super library

 

I tried hard to talk myself up so here’s the pro-English list:

 

  1. Friends and family
  2. TV.
  3. My garden and its very English flowers
  4. Stately homes and gardens
  5. Garden programmes on radio and TV, magazines about gardening, in short,  all things gardening
  6. My washing machine washes cleaner
  7. Drying laundry outdoors (when it doesn’t rain!)
  8. English food and groceries
  9. Online grocery delivery services
  10. Our very particular kind of humour
  11. NHS
  12. Drinking Water
  13. All restaurants and cafes know how to make tea.
  14. Huge differences between parts of the country even though we are so tiny

 There you go I managed to balance it.

 

[I have no idea what happened to my nice plain numbers when this came across from my Word document journal to here - hence these ridiculous Roman numerals]

 

So… on to the day-to-day account…

 

As I said we arrived home a day late on the 3rd April.  By the 5th we were well enough established to get our Waitrose (Ocado) delivery - such joy not having to flog round a supermarket and such lovely real food.  On the same track we were out for ‘The Seven’ meal at the Duke of Wellington, which was really nice - firmly touching base so to speak.

 

I checked back in with my doctors (8th) with three minor requests none of which was granted and I was frustrated as ever by seeing a doctor for whom English was his second language.  This is nothing to do with ethnicity - I could care less - but when discussing the sometime subtleties of medical problems it feels much better to do it with someone who has a complex understanding of my native language and all its nuances.  All in all I hate this new practice I’ve signed up to and miss the joined up care of having the same doctor for the past thirty years.  Those days will never come again I know but the lack of continuity of care is frustrating and is an ‘unsafe’ approach. Even if I am wrong in that assessment that is how it leaves me feeling.  

 

Ken is continuing his ‘good works’ by remaining a member of our local Community Group committee and is going to meetings and doing his stuff.  Again, being me, I’ve ‘resigned’.  Dylan’s ‘Beware enthusiasm.  It’s all temporary’ certainly describes me.

 

Our first movie here was ‘Son of Rambow’ (sic) .  It was an excellent little movie with two equally excellent child leads (10th)

 

The month drifted by with the usual meals out and movies and other pleasant but routine stuff.

 

On the 25th we went to Ripley Caravan Site near Harrogate with the ‘van.  Our friends Phil and Sue joined us, but as we can’t accommodate them they were staying with some other friends in their caravan on another site.

 

They all bobbed in for a visit in the late afternoon and then left us to get ready to go out for dinner.  We ate at The Sawley Arms where I thought the 18th century building and garden were more interesting than the food.

 

This trip was booked initially for us to go to the RHS Harrogate Show but as Phil and Sue were with us it was an opportunity for Ken to miss that joy, so they dropped me at the show grounds (26th) and took off for Fountains Abbey.  Bad, bad decision on my part. 

 

We had the usual queue in traffic to get to the showground and then I had to wait for the third bus (the previous two filling up before they got to me) to get from the car park to the showground. Already cold and fed up.

 

The weather was decidedly cool and showery and the show rather small  I was pretty much done in a couple of hours.  I treated myself to a paltry and unexciting posh lunch just so I could actually sit down.  I stretched it out as long as I could then did the whole show again.  By 3.30pm I was absolutely desperate to leave so I thought I’d at least check when my comrades might reach me.  Absolute disaster their mobiles don’t work in the wilds of Fountains Abbey!  I had no option other than to sit and wait and freeze in the appointed place until they arrived which was about half four.

 

I was decidedly too weary to cook so we did the proper caravan thing and had fish and chips from the mobile chippy.  (I bet this needs explaining to Naples’ friends).  After looking at our photos on the laptop we all settled for an early night.  Phil and Sue were now staying in Stuart and Sue’s van on their own as they’d been called back to a family problem in Manchester.

 

The next day was pouring with rain so we arranged to meet Phil and Sue for lunch in The Boars Head in Ripley and a stroll round the village if the weather bucked up.  Duly done and we even managed to tour a visiting antiques sale in the only Hotel de Ville in England.  I must have prattled on about Ripley when we went last year so I won’t do it again here.

 

We returned to the van for a cuppa and for the other three to watch the Grand Prix that Ken had recorded on his laptop (we use it like a TV). P & S left fairly early so they wouldn’t be in a rush when they got home.

 

We returned to Manchester the next day through the dismal rain and so April and its showers came to an end.

 

I have managed to find some photos of the RHS show but nothing else I’m afraid.  Maybe there’s still some old Ripley ones on the site.

 

 

 

 

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

MAY

 

Here we go gathering.....

 

Today is 16th September 2008!  For the last couple of weeks I have been trying to catch up on the six months I’ve missed since February!  Generally, when I’ve been (a bit less) sloppy about keeping up to date here, it doesn’t really overtax my memory as I keep a personal journal and an appointments type diary, so between the two of those I am reminded of things that have long since passed.

 

Sadly this isn’t so for May through September.  I’ve no idea why, but I haven’t been scribbling anything during that time.  This is probably much less to do with a writers’ block than to do with being bone idle.  I’m sure this will result in this month’s and the next few months’ drivel being very thin in substance.  I apologise to those of you who actually like reading this stuff.

 

The month was certainly overshadowed by the ‘Summerhouse’.  Before going any further let me say this is not a case of delusions of grandeur.  We have the usual titchy new estate garden and I wanted a shed to store the furniture and stuff over the winter BUT it would look pig ugly.  The solution was to buy a Summerhouse, i.e. a corner shed with two glazed doors.  We thought it might also get some additional use during the summer for sheltering from the odd shower when gardening, a place for me to hide with a cuppa and a book and for Ken and his laptop.  (He does a lot of complaining about the sun shining on the screen!)  Brilliant idea, methinks!

 

What I hadn’t taken into account was the total idiocy of many, many people today who simply can’t or won’t do the job for which they are paid.  I’ve copied the letter to tell the tale if you really are interested - though sticking pins in your eyes instead might be better.

 

This saga was set against a background of the usual zillion day-to-day annoyances such as trying to replace a bolt out of a garden chair.  It had only been used for three months last summer and when we got it out this year a bolt had rusted and broken.  The furniture style has, of course,  been replaced this year by a new model, which has totally different fastenings.  The request for a replacement took four months, endless phone calls, visits to B & Q and, finally, a snotty letter to them.  Eventually one intelligent employee (almost) solved the problem by producing a hundred and one (almost) right bolts from all around the store.  It is now cobbled together with one and will have to do.  Ken's stock of assorted bolts has increased five hundred fold..

 

We have also been trying to get a gas meter moved and a gutter fixed on this house since February 2007.  You would not believe the correspondence, phone calls and visits from all and sundry that this has entailed and so far neither issue is resolved.

 

Any way back to the Summerhouse and my letter to Shire………..  Incidentally I never even had the courtesy of a reply from them.  I copied it to B & Q as we bought the thing from them and they have been splendid from start to finish.

 

 

 

Dear Sir,

 

I purchased a Hampton Corner Summerhouse from your company through B & Q on 16th April 2008.  Unfortunately when it was delivered it had two right sides rather than a right and a left.  We, of course didn’t discover this until we had painted all the pieces and had started to erect the building on 1st May.  

 

I rang your customer service number to discuss this with them.  I explained that we had the base and three sides in place before we realized the left side was wrong and so we needed the correct wall immediately as we now had a ‘building’ open to the elements. Also we had arranged for someone to help with the construction on that particular day and he would need to come back to finish the job.  We were told by Sharon that it was impossible to send  a replacement part overnight or the next day and the best you would do was make a piece and put it on your normal delivery service - this would take three to five days.  You can imagine I wasn’t very happy with this but resigned myself to it.  

 

By my calculation after removing weekend days and the Bank Holiday Monday this meant we could expect it to be delivered before 9th May.  On 9th may I rang your customer services again and spoke to your Customer Services Manager, Emma, who, besides being unfriendly, unhelpful and obdurate informed me that, had we spoken to her on the 1st and had she known the full circumstances at the time, she would have arranged an overnight delivery.  In short it seems the customer is supposed to know who they should speak to depending on their particular problem.  She went on to assure me it would be delivered “early next week” (12th, 13th) and that this date was still within the 3 to 5 days as promised!  It was already with the carrier and there was nothing she could do.  I rang on the 12th to be told it would be delivered the next day.  

 

On the 14th I was told the carrier had attempted delivery on the 13th but couldn’t find the house.  This was despite the fact you had delivered the original order successfully.  Our phone number was passed to the carrier.  We were told we couldn’t contact them but they would ring us straight back.  This was 4.15 pm.  At 4.45 pm I rang your company and had the usual long wait to speak to someone on your help desk.  At 5pm I was still holding on and your offices closed.

 

At 10.20 am on the 15th my husband spoke to Kathryn who confirmed the wall had been sent to the delivery company on the 7th and she promised to contact the company and call us back.

 

At 11 am Emma rang us and (in short) assured us that the delivery company would contact us and would probably deliver that day or the next.

 

At 11.30 am the mobile rang and the caller rang off before it was answered.  We traced the number and rang it back and it was the carrier who promised delivery for Friday 16th May.

 

In an attempt to keep this as short as possible I have not included the myriad of details that would describe the generally unconcerned attitude, misinformation and inflexibility of your systems.

 

As to the Summerhouse itself, I am aware it is a ‘budget’ buy and didn’t expect craftsman quality but there several problems which I feel shouldn’t be there even allowing for its price.

 

We were short of a long glazing strip so had to patch one together.

 

One pane of glass was cracked.

 

The clout nails for the roof were too long (or the roof timber too thin) they have all come through the ceiling.  I am particularly unhappy about this as it really spoils its appearance and doesn’t bode well for remaining watertight.  Even worse there is nothing we can do to correct it.

 

The turnbuckles for the doors are too small to be fitted across the rounded rebated edges of the doors.

 

The construction instructions weren’t always very clear and the pictures generally don’t help - they are either too close to show where the item is located or don’t show sufficient detail.  For example the main truss is offset by 20 mm but there is no indication of which way to fit it.

 

Some of the panel construction is of poor quality - there are a couple of split areas and one of the sides had cladding and the window support completely detached.

 

One totally idiotic instruction (or lack of) concerns the cover strips for the panel joints. This is a corner summerhouse and was therefore built into a corner so it is impossible to attach the strips to the joints after the walls are erected.  

 

As you will have gathered I am extremely disappointed with your product and your service and would certainly advise anyone considering buying a Shire product to think again.  I have also forwarded a copy of this letter to B & Q Plc.

 

On with what remained of the rest of the month…. Flicking through my (engagement) diary there is the usual collection of meals out with friends, cinema, theatre, medical stuff, committee meetings and so on but nothing jumps to mind when seeing them.

 

Best of all on the 22nd we went up to Drum Mohr (Edinburgh) to see Sally.

 

One of the joys of living near a football ground as she does is that the police close all the surrounding roads when there is a match.  I kid you not; even if you live there and park your car on the road outside where you live as you would normally do, it will be towed.  If you happen to be out in your car and want to return home with it even if you take an oath to put it in your garage - no can do - the roads are actually barriered.  (I bet folk in Naples are rolling around with laughter at this point) For us, visiting,  this meant we couldn’t actually park anywhere near Sally’s flat.  Ken dropped me off before the barriers got closed and took off to park miles away.  As the ’miles away’ is to be taken literally the arrangement was he’d wait for me to ring him when I’d had a bit of a visit with Sally and picked up a key as arranged and he’d drive back as close a he could get to pick me up.  Guess what, his phone was Kaput.  We now have a fretting (fuming?) Ken sat in a car waiting to hear from me and my not knowing where he was so I couldn’t even walk to meet him.  Eventually he gave up on waiting to hear from me and tried to ring me.  He realised his ‘phone was on the blink and fiddled around with it and manage to reset it eventually.  He eventually managed a more than three word phone call and we did the commando-style pickup as arranged.

 

Next day and the match restrictions were lifted but we then discovered there was a Marathon over the two days of the weekend with more road closures.  By now we saw the hysterical side … it could only happen to us - didn’t we just pick just the right weekend to visit?  The rest of our weekend was really nice though.  We (really this is Ken mostly) helped Sally with some bits and bobs for her place and on the Monday we went out for the day to a wonderful place called Culross. 

 

We’d gone to see Culross Palace (large house as opposed to palace in the literal sense) as it had a walled garden.  I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned but I have a passion for walled gardens.  Say the words ‘walled’ and I’m off.  As it turned out the weather was glorious and Culross was a small town of terrific beauty and bursting with fascinating seventeenth century buildings and history.  Put this one on your hit list for Scottish visits but don't spread the word as it is something of an undiscovered gem.

 

Even the pub where we had lunch was intriguing.  We ate beneath a ceiling painted with illustrations and texts from ‘Kidnapped’.  This teeny town also has an inspiring Community Garden made on the site of an old school playground when the school was moved to new premises.  Charlie Dimmock must have done a programme about it as she was credited with some of the early work there.

 

Sadly our six days flew by.  It is nowhere near long enough for a visit when I see Sally so little.

 

Chris, being in Canada, of course, will be visited even less.

 

I suppose the modern world is a two sided-coin in this respect.  Sadly so many families have people spread all over the word because it is so easy to ‘migrate’ elsewhere.  The upside is that we have the technology to keep in touch with each other frequently and in an immediate way and we are never more than a day’s travel away.

 

Imagine how dreadful it must have been a couple of generations ago to say goodbye to your children.  In many cases they would have been leaving you forever and, at best, all you could expect was the occasional letter each way.  So sad.  I’ll try to remember this and count my blessings and keep my children close despite the miles.

 

 

 

 

 

.

 

 -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

JUNE


  

As I said in last month's prattle I don’t have any memory joggers for this so it may be a tad short.  I did find a scrap of paper in my drawer (I jot thoughts down sometimes on whatever comes to hand).  The scrap was headed June and contained the following:

 

Roofer mended wrong house

 

Glasses 400 plus in own frames - lenses only

 

Gundygut

 

   

 

 

All will become clear….

 

A chunk of May was taken up with moaning about the impossibility these days of getting anyone to do a simple job.  I mentioned the problem with the gutter and yes, you have guessed it…. we had several more visits from all and sundry who promised to return to do the job when a) they had ladders (they were coming to fix a gutter for heaven’s sake!) or b) when they had consulted someone else or c) either or both of the aforementioned and other gibberish too inane to recall….  A brilliant example of this was when we arrived home from the shops one day to find a man, a van and two booted and suited compadres staring up at number 8’s roofline.  [They do this exceedingly well - comes from a lot of practice probably].  Ken waylaid them and asked if they were going to have a look at ours.  Get ready for this - “We thought it was fixed - someone came out this week and did it” - number 8 that is (who had nothing wrong with their roof!) not ours.  Good stuff.  After convincing them we were the owners of the duff roof we all traipsed over to our garden and much sucking of teeth and debating as to the best cure took place - but….   no-one had ladders with them to actually look at it.  The van was labelled K2 Roofing!  I assume this is a company who work on underground houses or perhaps, on a good day, they have a very tall employee who does bungalows.  As we didn’t fall into either of those categories they went on to say “We think the best option probably is……..”  followed by all the options previously mentioned by everyone and his brother over the last fifteen months.  To be fair they have actually had employees move on to other employment and new people take their place in that time scale, so sometimes the visiting group is composed of at least one new person.  You would think the ongoing two would ensure some kind of continuity however tenuous, but no, everything is tackled afresh.  It also means that Jack who has replaced Joe will suck teeth, shake head and totally contradict him.  As there is very little actual getting up a ladder and trying to fix the problem it hasn’t lead to too much doing and undoing of each other’s work.

 

As to the spectacles - I discovered that to put new lenses into the frames I already have and would like to keep, would cost around £400 but I could have TWO pairs for the same price if I choose new frames.  If there is an economist amongst you - please explain.  I’ve decided to wait until we get back to Naples and see if the opticians over there make more sense; it's also generally cheaper any way.  For the time being then, it is nearly time for Braille.  I am already not wearing the last pair of glasses that I had made over here a couple of years ago so my eyesight and lenses are now five years adrift.

 

As for ‘gundygut’ - well that’s nothing more than another new to me word.  I love it.   Yet another word which perfectly describes its own meaning - if you see what I mean:

Gundygut (GUHN-di-guht) noun 

A voracious eater; a greedy person. 

[From gundy, of unexplained origin + gut (belly).] 

So now I’ve expanded on the scrap of paper - let’s see what the appointments diary prompts.

June was a bit of a medical month really as I am still trying to catch up stuff before we return to Naples.  One thing I have an issue with is that I was diagnosed with Crohns Disease some thirty years ago when I was carted off to hospital in a pretty bad state.  Since then I have not had any real problems and some years ago I stopped wasting time going to the clinic and eventually by my own volition stopped taking the pills.  One snag with this has been our having to pay small additional premiums on travel insurance and such like because it is a condition I have to declare. Renewing our insurance this time prompted me to think that I really do want to know whether or not I actually have the disease.  Thirty years is a pretty long remission?  

So back to the doctor who then eventually sent me back to the hospital outpatients’ clinic.  There I spent a jolly afternoon form filling, queuing and being stabbed.  Eventually, after more queuing, I got to see a totally disinterested Registrar for a less than a five minute consult (seriously!).  He didn’t listen to anything I wanted to discuss and summarily dismissed me with the announcement that they ‘like’ to do a colonoscopy every ten to fifteen years ‘to see what’s going on’ and as I was a tad overdue he’d arrange for that to happen. This wasn’t quite the result I’d been looking for. My memory of my previous colonoscopy was that it wasn’t something to put your hand up for.  That said, the last time I had it done it was without any anaesthetic; nowadays you do at least get some level of sedation.  

The next week we spotted another freebie and pootled off to get our ears tested.  I admit to a slight hearing loss but no more than I’ve had since I was about twelve and had an extremely badly infected ear.  In those days my mother wouldn’t haul you off to the doctors for such a thing - you were told to stop moaning and got a teaspoon of warmed olive oil and cotton wool bunged in your ear, if you were lucky.  I know I have problems hearing in a situation full of background noise but it has hardly restricted my life and demanded an ear trumpet.  Off we toddle.  Ken, of course, turns out to be A1 and could become an RAF pilot whenever he wants to whereas yours truly is officially ‘deaf’.  The problem with being deaf (besides actually being deaf) it turns out is that it is very expensive.  The only pretty hearing aids cost from one to five thousand pounds!  I couldn’t believe it.  The decision was easy - YOU WILL ALL HAVE TO SPEAK MORE CLEARLY.

I was amused by one bit of information.  When answering the ‘tester’s’ questions I said I had particular trouble with American TV programmes.  He said that was because their accent fell into the area of my deafness.  No wonder I think Naples is so peaceful.

Over the middle of the month we took off for the sunny climes of Winchcombe and the beautiful Cotswolds.  I was going to the NEC Gardeners' World Show on the 14th so we thought we’d pack a couple of days round it and visit Pam and Ken.  Phil and Sue decided they’d join us for three days so they stayed in a bed and breakfast across the road from our site.

Winchcombe caravan site was probably our favourite one from last summer.  It was open and sunny and well laid out with plenty of room.  It was also lovely and quiet and offered pleasant sunset strolls around a couple of fishing lakes.  Idyllic.  As it was such a good site and therefore I assume popular, I presume the powers that be decided they might be able to make some more money out of it if they closed off the best of the quiet pretty part, bulldoze it and build some hugely expensive lodge- type thingies for sale.  If memory serves me right they were something like £125,000?  As lodge-type thingies go they were excellent.  But at that price - I don’t think so.  I do wonder how these things get done as they had set several of them around one of the lakes replete with huge gravel drives and parking spaces.  Bad enough, but then they also put them in a straight line so, as you enter the site, it looks like a prisoner of war camp.  Visualise all those old B & W movies you’ve seen of great escapes and chaps being gritty and keeping their chins up and this was it with knobs on.  Very, very strange.  

Also because of this ‘luxury’ development we poor caravanners are now shoved into the less nice areas and reduced to one shower block.  They demolished the other one. The upside being they hadn’t managed to sell any luxury lodges!  Strike Winchcombe from the list, methinks.

The other issue we had here was putting up the porch awning.  Last time we stayed we were on a grass pitch (near the lake!).  As that had been filched for the lodges we ended up on a gravelled pitch with a concrete base.  The shop was doing a roaring trade in rock pegs.  I succumbed after a frustrating half hour and many a bent peg and forked out the requisite £20 for a bundle of pegs that you could hammer into Ben Nevis without a hitch.

We just about managed to get pitched with enough time to get ourselves together to meet Pam and Ken at our ‘local’ - Ye Olde Hob Nail for dinner.  They came back to us for coffee and we had a lovely evening catching up.

Phil and Sue arrived the next day and we lunched at Ye Olde Hob Nail again and then went on to Snowshill.  http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/w-snowshillmanor/w-snowshillmanor-history.htm  This is one of my all time favourite gardens.  The house there is quite literally unique.  It is crammed full of a myriad of things.  Its owner was a collector of all sorts of things - collecting being the obsession rather than the items themselves I think.  He actually chose to not live in the house itself but inhabit some very poor quarters- the priests house - across the courtyard so he could fill the place with stuff.  I don’t actually like the house, so I just wandered off on my own around the wonderful gardens.  I envy Pam and Ken living so near so many of my favourite gardens.  It would be lovely to be able to see them many times throughout the year.  Each time I visit they look very different because of the season and, being greedy, I’m always sad not to be able to see them in all their other finery.

When I'd finished the garden I went back to the house to meet the others.  The NT guide very kindly let me sit in the last room so I wouldn't miss them and so I could rest.  I got talking to one of the volunteers who manned that room and explained that I hadn't toured the house as I had done so once and found it very creepy.  This is the only place I've been to where I would ever claim this.  It is an absolute one-off for me.  I understand people who do claim to be sensitive to the 'atmosphere' of a place but I'm not one of them.  The guide then proceeded to regale me with numerous stories of many visitors over the years seeing various ghosts.  One story was good as it was a young child who'd seen and spoken to somone without any idea that it was a ghost.  I'm not spooked when I'm there but I do have a real sense of dread and anxiety as if the place was steeped in some sort of evil.

After touring the house the other three joined me on a tour of the garden in the beautiful sunshine followed by or usual reward for all that exercise; we had our National Trust tea and cake.  Afterwards we meandered outside the manor gates and had a bit of a wander around the village itself.  

One the way home we stopped in Winchcombe to pick up something for tea and went back to the caravan for that. By 10.30 pm Phil and Sue returned to their digs and, unusually, for Ken and I we went to bed.  Our  ‘normal’ bedtime is sometime after 1 am.

On Friday (13th) we collected Phil and Sue for a day in Bourton-on-the-Water.  As this is known as the Venice of the Cotswolds it pretty much describes the prettiness of a small town with water running through it.  We did Kit William’s maze, walked around the town and had our tea and cake break.  Sue and I did a couple of shops while Ken and Phil did the Motor Museum.  After lunch in a café on the main street the chaps were off again to the Model Village.  Sue and I decided to do the perfumery tour.  I was quite disappointed to learn we’d missed it for that day and discovered that you pretty much have to book days ahead of time for it. That probably explains why after years of going to B on the W I haven’t yet managed to do that particular tour.

the ancient village of Stanton - one of the most beautiful villages in the CotswoldsOn the way back we stopped off at a lovely quintessential 16th and 17th century Cotswold village called Stanton where the other three walked around and took photos.  I was whacked out and decide to half-doze in the car and watch the world go by.  

We broke the journey home for tea at The Broadway Hotel in (surprisingly!) Broadway which is another pretty place to walk round.  Finally we made it back to dinner at The Gardeners Arms in Alderton - our other ‘local’.  

The next day we split up and Phil, Sue and Ken caught the GWR* steam train to Cheltenham and had a day there that they all said they thoroughly enjoyed.  Before that my sister and her other half collected me at 8.30 am for Gardeners’ World at the NEC.  

Pam brought a wonderful picnic lunch for us that we munched while we lolloped on a grass bank (Picnic Hill) in the sun surrounded by all things gardening what more could any green-fingers want?

I was home by about 4.30pm and just enjoying a nap in the afternoon rays when the others returned around 6.00pm.  We were off around 7.30pm to join Pam and Ken for a terrific meal at Gupshill.  This is one I’m going to list, as it warrants posterity. My choices were:

Pigeon breast on lyonnaise potatoes with green beans (a totally miniature meal as a starter - brilliant for me as I always want to try everything)

Lamb (perfect lamb!) on bubble and squeak cake with a black olive jus and carrots and courgettes as ‘side’ vegetables. 

Peanut butter cheesecake with homemade peanut brittle.  The brittle itself  was to die for.

Gupshill Manor PhotoI love Gupshill; not only do you get a wonderful choice of dishes but they are cooked to perfection with the very best ingredients.  The building itself it pretty wonderful inside and out.  Outside she is a thirteenth century Inn full of historical stories with a £100,000 recent refurbishment inside.

 

The next day (Sunday) we hauled Phil and Sue round another garden - Hidcote.  http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/w-hidcotemanorgarden/w-hidcotemanorgarden-history.htm  I've put a link in here because Naples folk might like to have a look as it was a garden created by an American.  Yet again this is another of my all time favourite gardens.  I don't honestly remember how many times I have been over the years and I never tire of it.  It was especially nice to introduce our friends to it and I hope we four reurn there together some day. We did the tour round and had a nice long lunch there; finally saying goodbye to our chums who headed off home and to the prospect of work on Monday. 

Our plan was that after parting with our chums Ken and I would cross the road from Hidcote to Kiftsgate (especially as this was the right time of year to see the famous Kiftsgate rose) but our day had extended and we didn’t have enough time to do it justice as we were meeting Pam and Ken at the movies at 5 pm. 

We had a bit of a panic moment getting there.  It was the classic situation in the centre of a town you’re not that familiar with - we could see the cinema but couldn’t actually get to it (one way streets etc) then we found the car park and couldn’t find the entrance to that either!  We made it in time though and had a ‘jolly jape’ watching Indiana Jones - Crystal Skull or the whatever-the-sequel’s name is?  We had supper at Pam and Ken’s and got home about midnight.  Tired but happy.

There’s a bit of a footnote to this particular day.  On the occasions when we’d picked up and dropped off Phil and Sue at Corner Cottage I’d spotted and fallen in love with a delicate white iris with the daintiest pale lemon throat which was rampaging its way through various parts of the owners’ garden. It was trying to escape into the drive in one place and I knew someone would have to be pulling them up at the end of the season and probably dumping them - such a shame.  Sue brightly volunteered to ask if I could have a couple.  The owners kindly said I could come and help myself to as many as I liked.  Phil and Sue then bought me a trowel in Hidcote gift shop so that Ken and I could stop by on our way back to the van.  

Anyone who knows me should know how alien all this is to me. I would do a five-mile circuit to just avoid speaking to a stranger, never mind digging up half their garden.  This is perhaps is a fine demonstration of how lust overcomes propriety.  A knock on the door, a quick hello and there I was with my lovely pale lavender National Trust, oh so pretty, trowel trying to remove a couple of irises that actually needed a hammer and chisel to get out.  They were set in sun baked, rock hard clay.  We did our best, thanked the owner and fled with a half dozen assorted tubers and stems.  I have since planted a surviving couple of them in my garden but I won’t know until next year if they’ve made it.  I did promise the owner I would try to identify the variety and would email them if successful.  I think I’ve probably named it.

We returned to Bury and normal life on Monday (16th).

All this medical catch-up I’ve been doing makes me decidedly ill.  I have been more under par whilst being stabbed prodded and measured that I ever am when left alone.  One day this resulted in Ken going across to his sister’s for lunch without me.

I did manage to see my little friend Denise a couple of times, one was a trip to Housing Units and the other was an expedition to Altrincham to meet Martin for lunch. As I hate driving and Altrincham is the other side of the planet, I decided the best way for me to get there was by tram (the Met).  I can hop on one in Bury and be carted all the way there in about forty minutes; not to mention it is free to us aged folk.  Denise thought this was a whiz-bang idea and decided she would board my tram at a station near her place and we would arrive together to meet Martin for lunch.  I made all the arrangements with Martin regarding the time of arrival and how to recognise me after all this time - red carnation in my buttonhole, rolled up umbrella and meeting under the clock.  Obviously I was joking about all this including the clock but Martin said OK. (?)  Blow me down when you get to Altrincham there is a whopping clock outside the station!

Martin gathered us up (from beneath the clock!) and off we went to lunch at his golf club.  After lunch we drove to Lymm and went round the strangest ‘garden centre’ I have ever been too.  Right now its name and even its location is ‘missing’ in the memory bank. [My ‘bank’ is more piggy than vault]  Watch this space if you need to know, as I’ll replace this paragraph with another after I’ve spoken to Denise and then it will look as though I’ve remembered everything.  The utter joy of computers.  Seek, destroy, replace and not a trace.  It beats ripping out pages and covering your scrawled ink with Tippex.  

Any way this place is full of the weirdest ‘scrap’ items.  It is a garden centre with an odd shop selling OTT ‘antique’ furniture and craft type stuff and then outside there is this Steptoe’s yard of oddities.  You could spend a month there rootling through things and probably, like me, never actually buying a thing.  I whooped with joy at the sight of a huge ornate cherub holding a base for a lamp or giant candle.  Being about half my size it was of the stately home proportions and, try as I might, I couldn’t figure out where I could use it.  Downstairs toilet maybe?  We rounded a corner and found several more and then more and more.  Who? Why? What? Where? Would anyone want fifty giant cherub torchbearers on their walls?

Martin did say TV and moviemakers looking for stuff often invade this place.  Understandably as much of it would be excellent in a Hammer horror.

My friend just rang it is called The Willow Pool Garden Centre & Baron Antiques.  This is part of their description of what they do.  There is six acres of this stuff.

Willow Pool Garden centre is not only a working business but acts as Lymm's unofficial open-air horticultural museum. Your first impression will be rows of chimney pots, racks of gates and railing, ranks of urns, plinths, statues, obelisks and fountains. Inside the buildings is a large and attractive selection of furniture, both antique and reproduction, lamps, mirrors, fireplaces and surrounds, rooms of panelling, period bath fittings, lighting as well as humbler essentials such as stair spindles, sash weights, cast iron radiators, skirting and architrave's. Most of our antique furniture is in good condition but some items will be left in an original state that may require some remedial work by the customer to their own taste.

I particularly like ‘some remedial work’.

[You'll notice I haven't overwritten the 'temporary' paragraph]

We had a lovely afternoon and I returned to my home safely on the tram, sans cherub.

I caught up with another old friend this month who I hadn’t seen in years who I still call ‘Irish’ Anne to distinguish her from another friend of thirty years ago who was simply Ann and has long since dropped off the radar.  There is a real pleasure in seeing someone after years of just the occasional contact and realising you can just slip straight back into where you left off.

More meals out with chums and trips to garden centres and the like and here comes July….

 

 *Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway

 

I have posted four photo albums this month:-

Snowshill - apologies for the large number of pictures I can't edit it down any smaller as there's so much I want to show you

Gardeners' World Show at the NEC - you got lucky with this one I didn't take many photos

Hidcote Manor - ditto

An update of my garden - I try to do one a month through the season to record the changes - not natural ones in my case as I've already moved the four trees once each, so you can imagine how many plant get shifted around.  In fact I've swapped two entire borders over!

 

You can get to the pictures from here:   http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/mormson

or from the opening page of my journal:  http://mormson.googlepages.com/