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.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

A Week Of Catch Up

It's been a catch up week this week after our fortnight away in Scotland. 

The garden is starting to blossom so Marion has spent a fair bit of time working in it. We decided that the old wooden bench and garden furniture (above) were starting to look decidedly tatty so it was time to replace them. They owe us nothing as we've had the bench for over twenty years and the table and chairs for fifteen plus. But Marion had a brainwave and decided that a coat of Cuprinol wood furniture paint (which is available in a wide choice of colours) might extend their lives.

And she was right. It took us a long time but we're pleased with the results.

The weather hasn't been perfect so it was a good week to get to the cinema. We headed down to Ipswich to see Mad Max Fury Road which has received very favourable reviews from the critics. We couldn't get to a 3D or IMAX screening but normal 2D was absolutely fine. Set in a dystopian future the film is little more than an extended chase from start to finish with almost no time for the audience (or the cast) to draw breath. It's like one of those giant American monster truck shows with a touch of Cirque Du Soleil and heavy rock thrown in as Max (Tom Brady) and Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) flee the clutches of the mad despot Immortan Joe and his band of bald white-faced savages driving across miles of bare and barren desert in a weird and wonderful convoy of vehicles that reminded me of some of those in Whacky Races. It's been hailed by some as a pro-feminist movie with a kick ass heroine but Joe's harem of long legged and beautiful wives who accompany Max and Furiosa in their bid to escape are dressed in a definitely non-feminist way. If you enjoy cartoon violence and action, action action, you'll love this. I hope that the screenwriter was paid by the movie's running time rather than by the word as, if it was the latter, his income from this film would barely cover a box of popcorn. 

Although Marion has had a nasty pain in her shoulder since we got back from Scotland we managed to get to a fair number of exercise classes at both Fram Leisure and Mint Fitness Studio this week. This was a good thing as we were able to enjoy the monthly wine tasting at The Framlingham Wine Shop without too guilty a conscience. It was another enjoyable evening with a regular group of local wine lovers and we tasted (and ordered) a good selection of wines.

On Thursday we went to The Castle Inn for the monthly quiz. There wasn't a huge turnout this month as it's a holiday week and we joined in with another couple as none of our regular team was able to make it. The other couple were extremely knowledgeable so we somehow found ourselves in the unusual position of winning! I'm sure that this is a flash in the pan and normal service will be resumed next month.

Suffolk has a reputation for good food and now that spring is arriving (just about), lobsters are available again and Darren at Framlingham Market saved a couple for me. I wanted to cook something simple but a bit special for Saturday night so I made lobster thermidor (with supermarket chips). It's the first time I've tried this but, apart from the fiddly bit of getting the meat out of the claws, it's a very easy dish to prepare and made a perfect dinner before a night in front of the telly.

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.