Friday, 17 July 2015

39 Years And Still Going Strong

It was 39 years ago when this photo was taken in the grounds of Chatham Registry Office after our short but sweet wedding ceremony and, I'm delighted that we are still together today. So much has happened in those thirty-nine years and it all seems to have passed in a flash. I suppose that's a consequence of living such a busy life - with little time to draw breath.


This week was no exception and on Tuesday, after the long drive back from Wales on Monday, we had some stuff to do in Ipswich so took advantage of an overcast day to go to the tiny Screen 2 at the wonderful IFFT to see Les Combatants. It's a little know film about two young people, Arnaud and Madeleine at the beginning of their working lives. Arnaud has recently lost his father and is helping his brother working in the family carpentry business but thinking about joining the army. Tough Madeleine is also planning a career in the army and the couple meet during a wrestling contest on the local beach where Arnaud has to resort to dirty tricks to save being humiliatingly beaten in front of his friends by a girl. It's a very simple and charming film about two young characters trying to find their way. Is there a softer edge to Madeleine (who blends whole raw mackerel to make herself an energy drink and has a powerful head butt waiting for those who upset her)? And is Arnaud cut out for an army career or simply destined for a life in his home town and family firm? We both loved this film and the IFFT's screening, with no adverts or trailers, made the experience a real pleasure.

Yesterday we went down to London in the afternoon. Our friend Amanda recently broke an ankle and was unable to use her tickets to see Neil Diamond at the O2. Marion has always been a big Diamond fan so Amanda's misfortune was a lucky break for us and we were delighted to buy the tickets from her.

After a look around the Greenwich Peninsular site (which I believe is still being developed and not due for completion until 2040) we headed to Craft which is just opposite the O2. It was opened earlier this year and is a little different to the scores of chain restaurants in the area. (Picture from Daily Telegraph website)

We sat outside for a drink before going downstairs to the restaurant. The restaurant specialises in crafting its food (hence the name) and has vegetable gardens, bee hives and a smoke house on site where they prepare as much of the food as possible. I had smoked eel with a bbq style topping, a fabulous lamb dish and a barley and strawberry dessert. Marion had a pea salad, chicken in broth and a lovely chocolate pud. It's probably about double what you would pay in the Nandos, Pizza Express or Harvester on the site but it's money well spent to be able to relax in comfortable surroundings and enjoy delicious food and excellent service.

There's certainly plenty of fascinating architecture on view on the site such as this building which has a Costa Coffee beneath it.

As for the concert. This was the view from my seat as the woman in front insisted in standing up all the way through. 

When I stood I had a very good view. I was happy to stand for the lively numbers but why some (not many) had to stand throughout beats me. Neil Diamond has an amazing back catalogue of songs and sang all the old favourites and a few new ones. The audience was, in the main, ancient (I half expected a zimmer frame parking area) and if anyone had set up a concession selling cocoa and Horlicks they would have done a roaring trade. It was an entertaining evening although I think many there would have been happy to have heard him sing Sweet Caroline all night. We left just as he started his final encore and managed to get out of the car park and back to Framlingham by 12.30. Had we waited until the very end we could have added an hour to the return journey.

At least when confronted by the woman in front of me's backside, I had a good view of the big screen.

I'll finish now to head into Celebrity Central (i.e. Framlingham - Ed Sheeran, Nicole Scherzinger and Mackenzie Crook have all been here this week) to get some provisions for a 39th wedding anniversary celebration dinner. 

Monday, 13 July 2015

Red Red Wine Makes You Feel So Fine

It's been another busy few days. On Saturday we headed to Kent where, in the shadow of Rochester castle, Paul and family were busy setting up a Mad Hatter's Tea Party in celebration of our granddaughter's third birthday. She won't be three for a couple of weeks but it's not going to be possible to hold a birthday party then so it was brought forward.

It was the perfect location for the tea party and we were blessed with ideal conditions - no rain and the shade of the huge old beech tree took the edge off the heat of the day so the children could play without any risk of sunstroke.

Here's the fabulous Alice In Wonderland cake baked by our talented daughter-in-law.

As soon as the party was over and tidied up it was time for us to drive up the motorway towards Wales. We were visiting old friends David and Janet Wareing in Llangollen where they were holding an afternoon lunch party before the finale of the Eisteddfod- a gig by UB40. We drove half way and stayed at a Premier Inn en route.

It was (for us) a short drive of only a few hours in the morning to Llangollen. Again the weather was kind and the family was able to enjoy an informal game of cricket on the lawn overlooking the town. We've been to many of these Eisteddfod events organised by David and Janet over the years and can remember when many of these cricketers were toddlers.

Good friend and Martin Scorcese lookalike Mark Jones from Ribchester joined us in the festivities.

As did his wife Nita and some of Janet's ex work colleagues and family.

Marion was delighted when Janet gave her the gift of a magnificent book of the Alexander McQueen exhibition that we went to at the V & A a few weeks ago. 

The party over we all went down the hill to the show ground and the UB40 concert.

We've been big fans of UB40 for years and seen them three times before last night. The last time we saw them Ali Campbell was not in the line up. Now Ali, along with Astro and Mickey Virtue have set up their own band called "UB40 Featuring Ali, Astro And Mickey" which is a bit of a mouthful due, I assume, to contractual obligations and to avoid being confused with the original UB40 who still tour without them. As Ali's fantastic voice and Astro's brilliant rapping have always been the most distinguishing things about the band, this new line up is as close to the original sound as possible and we were back to the glory days as they brought the entire audience to their feet with a set that included new material and, of course most of the favourites, including a final encore of Red Red Wine that bought the house down.  

It was a fantastic climax to a wonderful weekend. Now we're back in Framlingham. We've got a trip to the cinema in Ipswich tomorrow for Les Combattants at Ipswich Film Theatre and a Neil Diamond concert at the O2 on Thursday to look forward to before our 39th wedding anniversary at the weekend and, hopefully, another major event to report next week.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Four Happy Years Of Caravanning

It's been almost two weeks since my last blog. That's probably the longest gap since I went into hospital for the hip replacement four years ago. Regular readers won't need to guess the reason for the long break. That's right, we've been in Scotland again. We've been back at the caravan in Craigtoun Meadows where we pay Caravan Connect about £75 per year for the privilege of sitting in front of a computer screen staring at a page that reads 'you are not connected to the internet' for ninety percent of the time that you are trying to do so. This is interspersed with brief periods when the internet miraculously springs into life and you have to choose between checking your bank statement, downloading your emails, seeing what's going on on Twitter and Facebook or writing a blog. These false dawns invariably result in making a choice of one of the aforementioned, getting as far as the sign on screen and then the dreaded 'you are not connected the internet' returns. I've given up complaining. Every time I do so, Caravan Connect give me an extra month free. At this rate I won't have to pay anything for another five years but that will still mean that every Facebook 'like' will probably have cost a couple of quid.

Anyway, we're back in Framlingham for a few days now and we didn't go to St Andrews to waste time on the internet. No we were there to see the family and, more importantly for granddaughter Rose's fourth (yes FOURTH!) birthday. It's hard to believe that it is four years since me flew up the motorway to Dundee in record time to reach Ninewells Hospital before visiting time ended. We went out and bought the caravan the following morning. Rose is growing up into a very sensitive and very friendly little girl. Last year she was shy and quite reserved but now she's very happy mixing with other children. At a playground last week she asked a much older girl to push her on the swings and then invited her round to her house to play.

We spent a lot of our time in St Andrews helping Sarah and Duncan get things ready for Rose's birthday party. 

This is what took up most of the time. Rose's birthday present was a Wendy House for her to share with Melody. It came in kit form and Duncan heroically built it while I gave a helping hand by holding things in place while he did all the screwing and drilling. We all painted it and, despite some inclement weather, just managed to get it ready in time for the big day.

It was great to spend time with Rose and Melody, who, though two years younger, may soon catch Rose up sizewise.

Rose had a great time at her birthday party. 

She managed to win the 'Mermaid' (sack) race although I suspect there was a bit of running going on in that sack instead of jumping.

Sarah made a lovely Treasure Island themed birthday cake.

Although it involves a thousand mile and (this time) an eighteen hour round trip, we're still pleased that we bought the caravan. It has given us a chance to see two our of our granddaughters grow up. We would not have had that opportunity without it.

By the way. You read all the headlines about the hottest July day ever. This was that day in Scotland.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Savage Beauty In London

It has been another packed retirement week this week. On Wednesday we travelled to London. We were invited by our financial advisors to their summer party at the V & A.

The weather was kind and we enjoyed some wine and canapés in the museum's courtyard with old friends from up north David and Janet Wareing.

The highlight of the evening was a private viewing of the spectacular Alexander McQueen exhibition Savage Beauty.

The show's title is extremely appropriate as the clothes on display are both savage and beautiful. McQueen's work is brutal and, at times sadistic (the material alongside the displays regularly referred to both sadomasochism and fetishes) but it is presented in such a jaw dropping manner that, however uncomfortable the visitor feels about the themes, they cannot be anything other than overawed by the spectacle. It is a quite brilliant show and, if you get the opportunity to see it, one that you should try not to miss. As Marion, Dave Janet and I entered at the latest available time slot we felt very privileged to have what was virtually our own private viewing.

A Night At The Museum Beckons

After dinner at Cafe Murano in St James, we bid farewell to our friends and it was well past midnight when we walked back to the Premier Inn at County Hall. We've stayed at that Premier Inn before and it has always been good but this time it was even better as the staff (without exception) all seemed to be making a huge effort to make the visitors welcome and were going out of their way to be helpful. It's three times what we pay when we stay in the Premier Inn in Rochester (which also has nice staff) so the staff's efforts were appreciated. 

On Thursday we had a lovely breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien near the Festival Hall before meeting up with our son who brought our granddaughter to see us for a day in London. She had a great time on the South Bank playing in the huge sandpit before going to the Science Museum where she enjoyed a good lunch before spending the afternoon enjoying the exhibits. I promised to take a photograph of her kaleidoscopic art (so here it is). She loves painting and this computer program which uses mirror images and symmetry to aid the children's designs kept her busy for almost an hour. 

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

A Welcome Visitor, A Lovely Visit And Infinity Is Finally Here

I am seven chapters into my new novel so blogging has taken a back seat recently. Although Give Me Your Tomorrow has not brought fame and riches (yet), I've been encouraged by the feedback and I am still getting regular sales. The new book is a million miles from the beautiful Greek island of my first one. It's set in the present and is also far removed from 1969, the Apollo moon landings and the music of the Monkees and Tamla Motown that I wrote about last time. I'll update blog readers on my progress in future blogs but my target is to have it finished and ready to publish before Christmas (which means I will have to motor).

We had a very welcome guest last week. Jane, who has been Marion's dearest friend for well over thirty years, braved the vagaries of the East Anglian rail network and travelled from Liverpool to Norwich where we picked her up on Monday. She stayed with us until Friday and we were sad to see her leave. We all missed her husband Dave who was enjoying a golfing holiday in Portugal. 

Although the sun still hasn't really shown itself here this summer, the weather was fairly kind for Jane's visit and she and Marion visited a number of local attractions including the lovely gardens of Helmingham Hall. I know that Marion will miss the opportunity for their chats as she only has me to talk to for much of the time. 

I did my bit for Jane's visit and cooked one of my paellas using some great fish, prawns and lobster from Darren at Framlingham Market. On Wednesday I did some babysitting in Kent and took our granddaughter for a horse riding session. She loved it and was very confident on the horse. While I was away Marion and Jane went to The Station which served up yet another very good meal.

It would have struggled to match the meal we had on Sunday when we were invited by friends for lunch. We had some fabulous goats' cheese starters followed by a pulled pork main and strawberry tart dessert all accompanied by very generous helpings of very fine wine. Huge thanks to our hosts and their daughter for their great hospitality and a fun afternoon.

 While on the subject of food, I bought this very smart pair of chinos from Ted Baker's in London a few weeks ago. On the very first time that I wore them I dropped a tiny piece of lettuce onto my thigh. The lettuce was, regrettably, coated in olive oil and balsamic dressing and left two small marks. We tried to get the mark out the next day but it wouldn't shift so I looked up cleaning methods on the Internet. The good news is that the mark has now gone but the bad news is that there are now two huge faded circles that are a hundred times worse than the original stains. After one wearing they have been relegated to the metal detecting outfit drawer and I've ordered a replacement pair -a very expensive tiny lettuce leaf. 

With the weather overcast we went to Ipswich this afternoon to see Jurassic World on the IMAX screen. It's very much as expected with lots of great computer generated dinosaurs, a story line with all the blockbuster cliches and characters you could ask for and all the fun you would expect from a Spielberg movie. It has a 12 certificate so it is not as scary as it could have been. For me the best aspect was the IMAX amazing surround sound. It brings the film to life and totally immerses the viewer in the scenes.

I always like to be an early adopter of new technology so, when super fast broadband arrived in Framlingham a few weeks ago, we signed up straight away. A few days later and  it was up and running. I checked the speed and it was about 12mgps which is virtually the same as what it was before. During numerous calls to India I was told to be patient and give it time to get established. Two weeks later the speed did not improve. An engineer visited. He fitted a special filter onto the line and ten minutes later, hey presto, the high speed was here and the speed increased to almost the 30mgps expected. Compliments to the engineer. He was a great ambassador for BT.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Food, More Food, Music ,More Music And More Food And Music

As you may gather from today's blog heading we've been eating heartily this week. 

On Thursday we were invited by friends to join them for a meal at The Station. We took them there a few weeks ago and were very impressed and we were impressed again as we enjoyed another excellent dinner. The food is of a really high standard and reasonably priced. I enjoyed a fabulous asparagus starter and calves' liver main course and Marion said that her hummus starter and asparagus tart main were both delicious. Our friends were equally happy with their food. We finished early so headed back to our house where we (not Marion mind) enjoyed rather more wine than is sensible for a Thursday night with an exercise class booked for 8 the next morning. A good night though.

On Friday we walked down to The Lemon Tree as they were advertising a Tapas and Blues night. We were entertained by The Blue Notes, a trio of very young men playing keyboards, trumpet and drums who, once they got into their stride and overcame their nerves played a very competent medley of blues/jazz. We enjoyed the music and the simple and tasty English tapas.

On Saturday afternoon it was time to put on our glad rags and make the short journey to Crows Hall near Debenham for the annual charity opera put on by the hall's owner Caroline Spurrier in her fabulous old barn. We rarely go to functions where formal dress is worn now that we are retired. I used to loathe them when we were working as they were always work related but when you are there by choice it's nice to get dressed up once in a while. For Marion it was a case of 'will it won't it?' all morning (rain that is). Optimist me suggested it wouldn't so Marion dressed for summer. 

I was wrong.

So instead of enjoying our champagne in the sunshine in the moated hall's glorious gardens it was a case of finding as much shelter as we could before heading into the barn to hear the London Festival Opera's first half performance of an abridged Tosca.

The singing was wonderful and after, more fizz and canapés during the interval,  we sat down to a second half of popular arias and songs from some twentieth century musicals. We thoroughly enjoyed the event despite the inclement weather. Perhaps next year the sun might shine on us and we can take advantage of Caroline's offer for the opera goers to enjoy a picnic in her lovely gardens after the event.

There was more food and music on offer today as we went to a community tea party in the college grounds. The party was arranged by the school to celebrate the 150th anniversary of its establishment. 

This time the weather was kinder and although the sun didn't shine, the rain held off and we enjoyed tea, sandwiches, cakes and strawberries whilst listening to some great singing and music from college students.

Over five hundred people from the local community turned up to enjoy the event and to see Headmaster Paul Taylor cut  a celebratory memorial cake.

It was a very enjoyable afternoon against the backdrop of our fabulous castle and the sounds of St Michael's bells which tolled non-stop in celebration of the day from two o'clock until the end of the event at five.

We are now looking forward to our good friend Jane's visit. We will be picking her up in Norwich tomorrow and hope that she enjoys her stay.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Clothes And Investments In London And Clearing The Cupboards On eBay

We're still waiting for the summer to get going properly here in Framlingham. We've had a few false starts with some absolutely glorious days when we've been able to get out in the garden and get on top of the work that needs doing and then suddenly it's back to jumpers and jackets with temperatures not reaching 12 degrees. As I write this the sky is blue but the air is very chilly. We've got our friend Jane coming to visit next week and really hope that we can throw on some sunny days for her.

We're still keeping busy with our exercise classes. Our new instructor Camille has decided to go back to France so in three weeks we'll have yet another new trainer at Fram Leisure. In the meantime we'll make the most of Camille's classes. I've been doing up to ten classes a week and am starting to get my fitness back.

The best thing about exercising is that it means we can eat well. I made this paella last weekend with lobster and prawns from Framlingham market and chorizo and rice from Leo's Deli. We are really spoilt for choice for good food here.

Last week we had a trip to London. We go clothes shopping there three or four times a year and it was my turn last week. I managed to get a pair of jeans, three pairs of trousers and some shoes from Selfridges and a lovely jacket, two polo shirts and two jumpers from Massimo Dutti. I haven't shopped at Massimo Dutti before but Marion saw it recommended for men of my age in one of her magazines and I must admit that it had a great selection at very reasonable prices. I am a huge advocate of shopping local but we don't have a menswear shop here in Framlingham so my conscience is clear. We then headed to the offices of J P Morgan where we had been invited to an investment seminar by Cumberland Place, the people who look after our money.

The seminar was a presentation by Stephanie Flanders who was the BBC's financial editor amongst many many other things in a glittering career to date. She talked to us about the risks of investing in bonds and the comparative safety of equities. It was an entertaining talk but, however clever the forecasters are, there's always a Greek crisis or Ukrainian war to throw a spanner into all their predictions. That's why we use Cumberland Place and don't attempt to guess what lies ahead. At least they have an excellent track record of making solid decisions.

After London it was time to drive to Rochester again and have a day with Paul and Catherine. We had a lovely day. This photo is for Catherine. We promised to hang her balloon in the garden and take a picture.

Finding a couple of hours free for once, I decided to go through the cupboards and have a bit of a clear out. I used to have a large collection of antique tea and coffee pots and Japanese pottery but I have sold them gradually over the years. Having downsized there's no longer room to display these pieces (which aren't really in keeping with the modern look of the new house) so I found the last few stuffed away in a cupboard and decided to put them for sale on eBay. These were mostly bought at top end antiques fairs for top end prices so I imagine that someone will be getting a bargain when the sales end on Sunday this week and again on Sunday next week. I also listed a few bits of electronic equipment that we no longer need .Check out my sales on eBay here

This is one of my favourites - a coffee pot made in Liverpool in about 1780. That's going for sale later in the week.

This one is for sale now. It cost £500 as it's a rare New Hall pattern and shape, includes its original stand and is in near perfect condition. Bidding is up to £127 as I write.

This is a great Amazon Fire device which I bought to watch Amazon Prime. Now that the new TV has the Amazon Prime app it is surplus to requirements.
So if you want a fabulous antique teapot, coffee pot or piece of Japanese antique ceramics get over to eBay now. Auctions end on Sunday evenings.