Monday, 25 May 2015

Back to A Bright New Hall And Some Dark TV

We're back in Framlingham and finally have access to a WIFI signal after two weeks relying upon visits to Sarah and various St Andrews cafes to catch up on emails and social media. 

We had a great time in Scotland but wished that the weather had been a little kinder. The conditions were nice enough for me to get out on the bike just twice (I'm a very fair weather cyclist) and the new garden furniture which we bought for the caravan deck was barely used.

But we weren't there for sunbathing and it was lovely to see how granddaughters Rose and Melody have changed in the couple of months since we were last there. Melody is changing every day and is a real chatterbox who, after having very little to say just a few weeks ago, is now stringing some fairly long sentences together.

There's no questioning who is the girls' favourite - Marion makes their trips to the caravan an exciting adventure transforming the furniture into all sorts of secret hideaways and Frozen ice palaces.

While we were away, we left the keys to the house with the excellent decorator Gerald Clements who was giving the inside decor a general tidy up and wallpapering the hall landing and stairs.

He's done a great job as usual. If you ever need any decorating done in the Framlingham area, look no further than Gerald.

Being home gave us the chance to watch the new TV. There isn't much UHD content available yet so I subscribed to Neflix which has the best selection at the moment. We tried Bloodline before we went to Scotland and managed to watch six of the thirteen episodes a few weeks ago. We watched the final seven over the weekend. 

It's a sort of Florida Keys Dallas about a hotel owning family. When black sheep prodigal son Danny (played brilliantly by Ben Mendelssoh) returns to the hotel for a family reunion it's the catalyst for a family meltdown of stratospheric proportions. There's a dark reason behind Danny's Machiavellian character and through flashback and flash forward the plot unravels like a dark almost Shakespearian ( Marion's words) tragedy. This is television at its best. The UHD made it exceptional but this dark masterpiece would keep you enthralled even if you watched it on your iPad in low resolution.

On the lighter end of the TV spectrum we also caught up with Peter Kay's car share on BBC iPlayer. This series was an absolute delight. The relationship between Kay's supermarket manager John and Sian Gibson's lonely shop assistant Kayleigh who are thrust together due to a company car share scheme, is one of the best pairings since Del Boy and Rodney. Much of the action is shot through the windscreen of the car as the gloriously naive Kayleigh and her patient driver chat about the mundane world they inhabit against a background of banal local radio and drive time traffic jams. The conversation (so genuine and affectionate) is interspersed with the occasional fantasy music video making this both original and extremely funny. I loved it and hope that Peter Kay comes up with a second series very soon.

I'll end now as we're heading out to Framlingham Gala. Let's hope the sun shines on this family orientated event.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Back In Fife

We’re back in Scotland again and that means that, yet again, there’s no WIFI. This is becoming increasingly frustrating as, whilst I usually moan but am at least able to check the emails, this time there is no signal here at Craigtoun Meadows at all so I am writing this offline on the assumption that normal substandard service will be resumed at some time in the near future.

On Thursday I got up at 5 and drove to Rochester. This was the view of the cathedral at 7.15. I was too early to go to the family’s house for my babysitting stint so I headed to a local coffee shop for a bit of breakfast. It was full of UKIP supporters enthusiastic about their chances of victory – Ha! I had a lovely day looking after our granddaughter. We played with lots of games, read plenty of books (I love those Julia Donaldson ones) and had a hearty lunch before Paul came home and I drove back to Suffolk.

It was a late night watching the election results before the drive up to Scotland and, whilst this may lose me some readers, I was very happy with the outcome. I think that David Cameron is a decent man and Osborne has been an extremely sensible and prudent chancellor. I feel sorry for Nick Clegg though and would not have been upset if the coalition had continued. As for Ed – it’s ludicrous that the poor bloke’s future should have been influenced by a flipping bacon sandwich – the internet has a lot to answer for.

We’re so obsessed by image aren’t we? When I heard about that website that would estimate your age I (like many others I guess) immediately and vainly logged on and posted a recent photo expecting some flattering result.


We’ve come back to Scotland now because we’re having a lot of decorating done at home in Framlingham. I know it’s only two years since the whole house was done but we’ve decided that the hall, landing and stairs, which were painted, would look better wallpapered. So the excellent Gerald Clements and his blokes will be doing that for us as well as touching up a few scrapes and knocks and repainting the downstairs ceiling which has developed some cracks in the new plaster.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that I had done a few hours of detecting in the last few weeks. This is what turned up. There seems to be an awful lot of lead scrap in the field. Although the other finds don’t look much, there is a medieval buckle, a medieval rivet and a medieval strap end amongst the finds as well as a post medieval spur fragment, five musket balls, a thimble, three Victorian pennies and a gold coloured bottle top that for five seconds had me thinking I had struck lucky. I’m looking forward to harvest time when there will be much more land available to search.

We also went to a great evening at Framlingham College where we were given a talk by Esther Freud who has recently published her novel Mr Mac And Me which is set in Walberswick at the start of the first world war. The Mr Mac of the title is Charles Rennie Mackintosh who did indeed stay in the village at the time and the novel is narrated by the son of the landlord of The Blue Anchor which was on the site of The Anchor where we went for lunch with Paul a few weeks ago. It’s an interesting story and it’s good to learn some history of our new home county.

My own novel, which is also narrated (partly) by a boy, is still selling but I haven’t had any reviews on Amazon for a few months now. I’m doing a price promotion for a week in May and hope that it might result in a couple of fresh reviews appearing on Amazon. I’ve got plenty of ideas going on for a second novel but haven’t found time to sit down and push on with it yet.

One final word, whilst on the subject of books – young Dominic Weatherby, a student at Fram College and, like me and Marion, an avid film fan, has been selected to attend the global youth leaders’ conference in Washington DC. He has to fund the journey himself and, as part of his fundraising drive, has produced this recipe book which is filled with great movies and cuisine to accompany them from all over the world. It’s packed with great recipes and you can help Dominic achieve his dream by buying a (very inexpensive) copy here.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Gyms And Gadgets

It's been a week of exercise and toys for me. 

We joined Fram Leisure on a fitness class membership a few months ago and we were really enjoying regular spinning and circuit training - it was doing us good. Unfortunately our three instructors all left within a few days of each other and the available classes dried up. We both felt our fitness levels dropping within a week of stopping the exercise and were desperate to get back into our schedule. 

There was an alternative - Mint Fitness set up by one of our old instructors Becky - but it was an extra ten minutes drive and we were already paying Fram Leisure.

But fortunately, after several weeks of being unfit, our saviour arrived in the shape of new instructor Camille who has moved to Suffolk from France. 

Suddenly we have not just one or two but well over a dozen classes to choose from and we've certainly taken advantage of the new schedule. I managed to fit seven classes in between Monday and Thursday alone and Marion did a fair few too (as well as yoga elsewhere). Camille is a very professional trainer and we both really felt the benefits of the sessions that we had.

With no classes on a Friday at Fram Leisure we decided to try Mint Fitness out. Becky has set up a super little studio which is extremely well equipped with top of the range spinning bikes along with plenty of other high quality fitness paraphernalia. We had a thorough and challenging circuit class with Sophia followed by a very enjoyable and invigorating spinning session with Becky. We'll certainly be back and hope that Fridays at Mint will become an additional and regular feature of our exercise regime.

In the time when we haven't been exercising it's been a week of gadgets. I don't know if I mentioned in an earlier blog but when we took robot lawnmower "Mo" out of hibernation in February to renew the blades and check everything was functioning, the electronic display kept showing an error message. It was under guarantee so I drove it back to Mow Direct near Norwich and expected a speedy repair. Sadly the repair bamboozled their technicians (I don't think they have had many robots to repair) so they sent it back to the suppliers. The suppliers were equally flummoxed so they had to consult at length with the Italian manufacturers who, over the following two months, sent almost every component imaginable over to the UK before the UK suppliers gave in and sent Mow Direct a new one. "Mo 2"  arrived on Friday and is now ready to perform its daily trim. Although Mow Direct had the machine for over two months the service was good and they kept me fully in the picture on progress (or lack of it).

There was another minor problem (I was going to say disaster but there are so many real disasters around at the moment that that was an inappropriate choice of words) on Tuesday when the Nespresso milk frother packed up and started flashing red. A quick check on the internet told me it was an unfixable problem so, as it too was under guarantee, I telephoned Nespresso who sorted it out immediately taking the original unit back the following day and getting the replacement to us by the weekend. I'm so pleased that they did this efficiently as Marion loves her daily cappuccino.

And on Thursday the new UHD curved TV arrived. The old telly sold on eBay and just an hour or two after the high bidder (at a reasonable £160) collected it, the new one was in place. Getting a new TV nowadays isn't quite what it once was and, whilst it was ready to watch quite quickly, it's taken me a couple of days to get it connected properly to the sound system and internet and to calibrate the smart remote controller. I found a website suggesting the perfect picture settings and, once they were input, the picture is quite staggeringly good. Just one setback though, it appears that "something" is interfering with the WIFI on my laptop. The phones and iPad and ethernet connections are all working perfectly but this laptop (plugged into ethernet at the moment) drops the WIFi constantly. I'm sure I'll sort it out soon.

I did manage to sort out the Skype straight away and up popped my mum from her iPad. 

Another busy week beckons. The audiologist is tweaking the hearing aids tomorrow, there are more exercise classes on Wednesday, on Thursday I'm heading down to Rochester to babysit for a day and then on Friday we're driving to St Andrews for a couple of weeks in the caravan and seeing the Scottish branch of the family.  

Before I finish I must mention The Station. It's one of Framlingham's pubs and (according to the newspaper I borrowed this photo from) Ed's local. We joined a couple of friends for a meal there on Friday evening. The food, wine, service and beer were all extremely good and I'm sure we'll be back there very soon.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Extreme Retirement Continues

I know I've said it before but I'll say it again - this retirement lark can be pretty exhausting. At least we can console ourselves that we aren't sitting around and turning into couch potatoes. Although I might be excused if I do turn into a couch potato over the next few days as I've ordered one of those Samsung curved UHD TVs. Which said it was one of the best tellies they had ever tested last year and gave it 89% on their Best Buys chart so, now that it has been superseded by the 2015 version (which costs a fortune) I thought I would take advantage of the dropping price to get one before stocks run out. It's about £400 cheaper at John Lewis than it was at Christmas and, on top of that, I found it at PC World for another £200 less so John Lewis have made a further reduction.

This means that I have to sell the Panasonic Viera (above). It's a very good TV and was also a Which recommended model when we bought it about five years ago. It's on eBay at the moment and, with twenty-four hours to go, bidding has reached about a quarter of what the 3D glasses alone cost. I am sure that the bidding will go up quite a bit higher at the end of the auction as there are about forty people watching the auction. If you are interested and can collect from Framlingham here is the link.

Selling and buying a television is not exactly exhausting so why am I claiming to be whacked?  Exercise classes are one reason. I've got no less than nine classes booked this week and have done four in the last twenty-four hours. Marion has a similar number booked as we are both trying to lose a bit of weight before we buy our summer clothes.  

When not exercising in the classes I've tried to get out on the bike. The fields around here are full of oilseed rape in blossom and it's been very pleasant riding in, to pinch a phrase from Sting, "fields of gold". It hasn't been very pleasant on the puncture front though. I have had two punctures now after none in the last two years. After repairing the last one with the kit that Paul and Josephine gave me for Christmas I bought a couple of new inner tubes to carry with me. My first repair held but the second puncture was in a different spot in the same tyre. I hope this isn't going to become a regular feature of our rides as, even with a new inner tube, it holds things up for quite a while.

I've been out with the metal detector a couple of times too. Now that the weather is warming up it's good to detect in the sunshine. The only problem is that, as most of the fields are full of rape, I'm stuck with going over the same field with diminishing returns. I always find something though. I'll post a couple of photos on here when I've cleaned the mud off the latest finds.

Another thing that's been keeping us busy has been my hearing. I've been wearing a Phonak Lyric hearing aid for about two years now and it helped my slight deafness immensely. The beauty of it was that it was invisible and I never took it out. That's a big plus as nobody likes to show the world their frailties and with this hearing aid nobody would ever know that you were wearing it. The problem with the Lyric was that it has to be fitted by the audiologist and has a battery life of around three months. This means that I had to travel to Ipswich four times a year to have it replaced. That was not such a chore but several of them failed in under three months and sometimes when I was on holiday. This resulted in me being without a hearing aid for more than two months in the two years I was using it. And, as my hearing is slowly worsening, two months out of twenty-four is too long. The last failure coincided with a special offer from Boots arriving in my email. My audiologist couldn't give me an appointment  to fit a new Lyric that fitted our timetable for about ten days so I took up Boots offer and went for a hearing test.

The hearing test confirmed what I already knew and my hearing has worsened slightly over the last two years. The upshot of all this was my agreeing to buy two aids on a 60 day trial. 

The aids are very small and sit on top of the ear. They almost look like part of my glasses.

But they are not invisible in the way that the Lyric was as there is also a tiny clear wire in each ear. So far the positives are that my hearing is already much better (the audiologist hasn't turned them up to full volume yet as my brain has to adjust to wearing them) and, if I keep them, I will actually own the aids rather than effectively renting them at £150 a month (and that was just for one Lyric). The negatives so far are that they have to be removed before bathing or showering (and at bedtime) and that they are not invisible. I suppose that at 61, I shouldn't be worrying about vanity but even my Mum at 89 wasn't keen on wearing her hearing aids for cosmetic reasons.

Another thing that's kept us busy - but a really pleasurable one this time, has been our lovely two and a half year old granddaughter. We headed down to Rochester very early on Wednesday morning to babysit for a couple of days as Paul had to do some extra days at work. We had a lovely time with her and, even better, we got to bring her and her daddy back to Framlingham with us on Friday for a weekend here while her mummy caught up with some work at home. We enjoyed their visit so much. We ate well and cooked delicious steaks on Friday night and a fabulous leg of lamb on Saturday - all provided by Hall Farm Butchers in Framlingham. On Saturday we visited Orford Castle and the Riverside Tea Room. 

Then on Sunday we took them both to Walberswick to try their hands at crabbing (no luck) before an excellent fish and chip lunch at The Anchor. All too soon, it was time to drive back to Rochester to drop them off and then head straight back to Framlingham. Although we see our Rochester family often, they are usually working and we hardly get a chance to talk so it was good to spend a whole weekend with Paul, catch up with what's going on and argue about politics.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

A Theatrical Week

Well, that was a pretty theatrical week for us! On Sunday it was The National Theatre for Behind The Beautiful Forevers and a few days later we were back in London for Beautiful, The Carole King Musical. Before the play we had an appointment with our financial advisors in their new offices hear Holborn Circus so we walked from there to theatre land via the beautiful legal district near Lincoln's Inn. We aren't familiar with this part of London and it was a fascinating walk in warm sunshine.

Before the show we needed to eat. So we had a look around the streets near The Aldwych. There was plenty of choice but we settled on The Delauney which is less than twenty feet away from the theatre. We hadn't heard of it before but it's run by Corbin and King who own the famous Wolseley in Piccadilly and, like the Wolseley it's run in the grand European cafe style with starched white tablecloths, smartly dressed staff and an interesting Austrian themed menu. The restaurant looks like it has been long established but only opened a few years ago. It has clearly been successful as it was buzzing when we visited and, with many of the clientele clearly regulars on first name terms with the staff, it has attracted a loyal following. It was a wonderful place to "people watch" and we spotted a couple of familiar faces including a well known ITN newsreader. The food was great, the service friendly and fast and the prices were reasonable. It was a perfect prequel to the matinee performance.

As for the show, I am not a musicals lover but this was very different. Instead of being just a vehicle for cramming in a load of hit songs from the sixties loosely connected by a flimsy storyline it was, instead, a play about songwriters which, naturally, included the songs that they wrote. So, all of the music was relevant, all was sung in context and none left me wondering why a character was suddenly bursting into song. 

The songs were not simply those composed by King and her husband Gerry Coffin but also included those by their friends Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil which added variety and range to the music. So, as well as King's fairly samey It Might As Well Rain Until September and Will You Love Me Tomorrow, there were Mann and Weil's We Gotta Get Out Of This Place and Walking In The Rain. I don't mean to imply that all of Carole King and Gerry Coffin's music sounds similar but the extra couple of songwriters gave even more depth to the production.

It's a marvellous production. Katie Brayben thoroughly deserved the award as "best actress in a musical" that she collected the previous week and the rest of the cast all gave strong performances. The lighting, set, singing and the music were stunning and the audience  gave the show a rapturous reception with a standing ovation for Brayben at the curtain call. I still don't like musicals but, plays with music in them? -  now that's another matter.

Arriving back at Liverpool St I checked the train times on the phone to find our, off-peak, train cancelled. Bad news when the trains are infrequent and the journey a long one. But fate smiled on us. We were early at the station and were allowed to travel on a peak hour journey that got us back to Ipswich half an hour ahead of our plan.

After Beautiful on Thursday it was a hard act for FADS, our local am-dram group to follow on Friday night. They did their very best. The set was, as always, brilliantly done and there were one or two notable performances in House Guest which was classed as a thriller. Leading man Glenn Hurlock as Robert Drury, a dashing film star and director, and Kathy Churchill as his wife were word perfect as was newcomer Ruth Noble who made a brilliant debut for FADS as Robert's cousin. For the rest of the cast I am afraid that it was a case of third night nerves with the prompt working on overdrive as numerous cues were missed. Which is a pity as, behind the fluffed lines, were several excellent characterisations such as Ian Baird's Inspector Burford and Glyn Mackay as thuggish Sergeant Clayton

I wouldn't blame the cast. I feel that it wasn't a great choice of play - the plot was complex, not totally credible and lacked the humour that usually lifts FADS' performances. We'll be back for the next one but hope that they give playwright Francis Durbridge a miss. 

As for the meeting with the financial advisors. All went well and we should be able to live in the manner to which we've become accustomed for the foreseeable future. And to make things even better, the following invitation was in the post when we got home. An invitation to a private view of the Alexander McQueen exhibition at the V&A. That's another trip to London on the cards. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Back Home With A Bang

We got home from Scotland on Friday evening and in no time we were back into the hectic schedule that is our retirement. On Saturday we had an excellent cooked breakfast at The Lemon Tree and, for once, managed to finish The Times Jumbo crossword (the non-cryptic version) while we were there. The rest of the day was a catch up of washing and cleaning before heading off on Sunday to London.

We went to London to see Behind The Beautiful Forevers at the National. It stars Meera Syal as a matriarch in a Mumbai slum where her family's meagre living is funded by collecting and sorting through rubbish. After enjoying a hearty lunch at House, The National's excellent new restaurant, a couple of hours of Indian poverty was quite difficult to experience. As always, The National's designers had excelled themselves with the set which brilliantly captured the hustle and hubbub of busy Mumbai streets, a rubbish strewn shanty town and the perimeter of one of Asia's busiest airports. I can't say that I enjoyed the play - it was a bit too downbeat for me but I did appreciate the fine cast and the moving story, lightened occasionally by humour. I am afraid that I am a sucker for a happy ending and, although there was a glimmer of hope in this, the overriding stench of corruption left me a little depressed.

But it was a glorious day in London and we enjoyed a vigorous stroll along The South Bank both to the theatre and back to Liverpool St Station.

Monday was time for a haircut with the lovely Tori at Carley Hill hair and a trip to Leiston to collect more recycled compost from the recycling centre. We've been trying to improve the soil in the garden which is heavy clay. So far we've dug in about a hundred bags of this compost but there's still a fair way to go. We then had a whistle stop tour of four local garden centres looking for some plants that Marion has chosen for the borders. We managed to source some of them. Each of the centres was good for one type of plant but we didn't find one that was good for all. Following this with a two hour exercise session at Fram Leisure made for a very busy Monday.

On Tuesday it was Marion's turn to visit Carley Hill. I went out to try a bit of metal detecting for a couple of hours but had no success. I've searched the field seven or more times and, as the undergrowth is getting thicker it's quite hard to detect there now. My other fields are full of crops so I will have to wait a while before doing some more "treasure hunting". I did have twenty or more signals and ,although these were mostly scraps of lead, any one of them could have turned up a decent find.

Summer has arrived in Framlingham this week and it was glorious again today from the moment we pulled back the curtains - perfect weather for going for my first bike ride of the year.

Never has a Christmas stocking filler been more welcome. Just half an hour into my ride and in the middle of nowhere I had a puncture. This kit, bought for me by son Paul and his wife Josephine did the trick. It's been many years since I last repaired a puncture and I don't think I've ever had to do one by the roadside before so I was not exactly expert. As the inner tube turned out to have two tiny holes, and each repair required a wait of five minutes for the adhesive to go off, the job took me the best part of half an hour to complete. I'm pleased that the repair held out so I decided to carry on with the ride.

And a cappuccino at Pump Street Bakery in Orford accompanied by one of their Oscar mentioned doughnuts was a well earned treat. I got home to find Marion, who spent the morning at yoga, busy in the garden. She has been putting hours into working on it. Although we had the garden landscaped and planted in 2013, it was planted for instant colour and was not a long term planting scheme. Marion is now putting that right and taking out many of the perennials and replacing them with shrubs. She's done a brilliant job and it's really starting to take shape - watch this space for photos when the new additions start to grow.

When I got back from Orford the weather was still glorious so an ice cream was called for. The castle was open so, as we are English Heritage members, it was the perfect spot to go and buy a couple of tubs from their kiosk and enjoy the sunshine in the shelter of the castle grounds.

After that we strolled down to The Dancing Goat and enjoyed a couple of their home made lemonades. The hot weather (23.5 degrees here today) is not going to last but it is forecast to be sunny for the next six or seven days. Tomorrow it's back to London to see the people who look after our investments and retirement savings and then we're off to The Aldwych theatre for Beautiful the musical about Marion's favourite singer Carole King.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

A Royal Visit

We’re still in St Andrews and it’s been a pretty internet free week as the caravan site has been full to near overflowing and that means that the WIFI which is slow at the best of times has been almost non-existent. As ours is almost the furthest caravan from the transmitter every caravan owner and his dog is logging on before us. If desperate I can take the laptop down to the site office and hitch my computer up to the site’s own BT WIFI but I’ve realised  that checking out Twitter, eBay, Facebook and blogging isn’t really that important.

And what’s more we’ve had a V.I.P visitor this week. My mum, like the queen, is in her ninetieth year but I think that Mum looks much younger despite not having scores of flunkeys at her beck and call to attend to her every whim.

We’ve kept her busy. We haven’t exactly spoiled her and, apart from a trip to the National Trust For Scotland’s Hill Of Tarvit (where we had the slowest served coffee ever – one hour wait as they had forgotten to switch the machine on) and some lovely coffee and shortbread (above) overlooking the famous golf course at The Old Course Hotel, she’s been living the caravan life. Hopefully she’s enjoyed it (she says she has) and, all being well she can join us down in Suffolk for a few days later in the year.

We’ve helped Sarah a little. She gave up her Easter weekend to help the Friends Of Craigtoun Park by giving free baby, toddler and yoga classes. It was a glorious two days and the park was absolutely packed although yoga was not as popular as we had hoped.

Which, given that there were bouncy castles and other playground attractions, is perhaps understandable.

Both Melody and Rose have been as good as gold for the time we’ve been here. Melody is getting to know us better which is great. Today Marion joined Sarah with the girls for a trip to Edinburgh where they went to a singalong showing of Frozen.

Meanwhile I took Mum to the Scottish Antique Centre near Dundee. I’m still dabbling in antiques a little on eBay although the lovely French antique that I wrote about on here recently sold for only £16 which is about £100 less that I think that it was worth. Fortunately this was not a loss and I managed a £40 profit on a vase, which means that the four items I’ve now sold have all made a profit.

Today I bought just one item. It was sold as a “Georgian Cupid print” but I think that it is actually a very early Regency Valentine. It’s not in great condition but has been folded which I think adds to its authenticity. Let’s hope that I got this one right or my flirtation with eBay may be a very short one.