Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Our Orange Wednesday With Marilyn

We're back into Orange Wednesday. We've been using the Orange phone more since we've had the caravan (it's all about signals - they aren't very strong in St Andrews on any networks) so, once again, Orange are texting us our free ticket every week. This afternoon it was the excellent My Week With Marilyn. It's a gentle story about a young cinema runner's week long association with mega star Marilyn Monroe when she visits England to film at Pinewood with Sir Larry Olivier. Kenneth Branagh steals the show as the actorly actorrr Olivier with his wonderfully theatrical enunciation feebly attempting to win over the young, talented and extremely vulnerable Munroe (another fine performance from Michelle Williams, so impressive in Blue Valentine and a safe bet for another Academy Award Nomination in this role). Olivier's attempt at movie success depends upon Monroe but her erratic and unmanageable behaviour threatens to wreck the production. Bullying Sir Laurence can't handle her and she is frightened of him. Step in twenty three year old Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) the 3rd assistant director or "gopher" as he calls himself . Marilyn seems to like him and the film chronicles his increasingly love struck efforts to keep Olivier's movie afloat. It's a very enjoyable film based on a real life story. Now we will have to see The Prince And The Showgirl - the real 1957 film in the story.

I'm not going to get political again and go on about today's strike but the local Vue must have been over the moon as the place was packed with families with kids and teenagers going to see Arthur Christmas, Tin Tin, Immortals and that Twilight film. It was as busy as a typical weekend. The local shops were pretty busy too. Maybe Vue and the retailers will be asking for another strike next week.

A few weeks ago I mentioned on the blog that I'd downloaded a selection of books for the Kindle in an attempt to find a good comic novel. To date the covers misled as neither The Rotters' Club nor Skippy Dies were exactly a barrel of laughs and I don't know where on earth I got the impression that Rabbit Run was humorous. However, unlike the other books I mentioned which, though entertaining enough, were not particularly thought provoking, Rabbit Run really is a classic deserving of its place in the stratosphere of American fiction. It's hard going. Not an easy read and, I worry, somewhat misogonist but what a piece of writing! Updike's prose is both lyrical and poetical and gives this aspiring writer one hell of an inferiority complex. There are another three Rabbit books written at around ten year intervals. I won't be waiting ten years to read the next.

We've got friends coming on Saturday to celebrate Josephine's success in developing Sorority Girls and Holding Out For A Hero. We've got an episode of each to watch as well as fitting in drinks and a three course meal. So our guests are arriving at 5.30. It promises to be a good night.


Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Eat Drink And Be Merry

For tomorrow you pay your care home fees.

I don't want to sound like a cynical, grasping relative watching an inheritance go down the plug hole but if we've learnt one lesson about growing old and needing care in the last few months it's that the state doesn't reward the thrifty. If you are into old age and you have saved a few quid instead of spending it on booze, cigarettes and holidays in the sun, you aren't going to get any help with your care home fees. The only benefit Flo has from squirreling away her pension week after week is that she at least has the opportunity to choose where she stays rather than take what the local authority gives her and I suppose that we should be grateful for that small mercy as she is in a place with a nice atmosphere.

But it won't take long to erode away her small nest egg. You are allowed to have £23,000 left when the state steps in. Anybody who owns a house or flat is likely to have more than that but you've got to sell that to get the cash to pay the fees and it's not exactly a sellers' market at the moment is it? So you sell at a knock down price with the attitude that it doesn't really matter as it's all going to go until that £23k figure is reached. And it won't take that long. Care home fees around here start at about £400 per week and go up so that a bill of £25,000 a year is not unusual. If Flo went back to her roots in Richmond (which she would like) that would escalate to almost £50,000 so it would not be very long before she called on the state for help and (after watching some TV news items recently) God knows what sort of place they might find for her down there.

So if you are getting on in years it makes sense to start getting rid of your savings now if you have any. Treat yourself to that car or holiday you always promised yourself but didn't get around to. Splash out on the family Christmas presents and support your favourite charity. Give money to your grandchildren or put it in trust for them to have when they go to university. All those bequests in your will? Give them now. It's just not worth keeping it. 

OK so that may be a jaundiced view and you may well think that everyone should pay for their own care if they need it. And I would agree with you to a point but it just seems that if two pensioners start at exactly the same financial position and one blows the lot and the other is very careful it seems unfair that the profligate is rewarded whilst the careful pays the price.

And yes I will be putting my money where my mouth is. The give away will start next year.

Monday, 28 November 2011

One Year Down How Many More To Come?

If retirees like us knew the answer to that question we might well solve the current economic crisis at a stroke. We could live like there's no tomorrow and spend,spend, spend if we knew that there wasn't one or at least knew how many there were. For now we'll have to keep an eye on the cash and live within a budget that should give us a comfortable lifestyle without being overly extravagant. 

We'll have been retired for a whole year on Wednesday. We've had a great year in very many ways with the wonderful arrival of our first granddaughter Rose, our new caravan in St Andrews and the new found freedom that retirement has brought. But sadly our happiness in the past few months has been overshadowed by Marion's mum's relentless fall into Alzheimer's which has turned her into a Jeckyll and Hyde character who one day hasn't got a clue where she is and another will correctly tell you that there's eighteen minutes to go in the football and seem quite her old self before bursting into tears and asking what is happening to her brain.

So, apart from that struggle, and it is a struggle that occupies us on some level almost every waking minute now, what has retirement been like? It got off to a fantastic start with a brilliant Madness concert in Manchester just a few hours after leaving the office. Then, within a week of clearing my desk, I was in hospital having a new hip. That wrote off December although Marion looked after me brilliantly and I quite enjoyed being nursed and loved passing the time watching the new 3D telly and reading a big pile of novels.

I was up and about by the end of December when we had a memorable new year at The Old Course Hotel in St Andrews where we watched the most amazing firework display courtesy of the wedding celebrations of Di Stewart and Nick Dougherty. Since then we've got into a routine that revolves around the gym, cinema, reading, cycling, blogging, metal detecting and writing and rewriting my novel. I'm on the second rewrite now and maybe one day I'll be happy enough with it to try and publish. We've also managed to take a few holidays after going through 2009 and 2010 with none and enjoyed breaks in Cockermouth, Kirkby Lonsdale, Feizor, Isle De Re and Italy. Next year we'll probably spend all our holidays in St Andrews.

It's been a good year for cinema for us. We've seen about 37 films at either FACT in Liverpool or Vue in Southport with just one visit to the St Andrews Picture House. There's nothing wrong with the local Vue which is fine for a multiplex but we love going to FACT in Liverpool which has a much more interesting film selection and a great little cafe. I wouldn't say that there have been any classic movies this year but there have been plenty of very good ones. My favourites include A Separation, Midnight in Paris, Of Gods And Men and We Need To Talk About Kevin. Our worst experience was The Tree Of Life. Some that were undeservedly panned by the critics in my opinion were The Eagle and The Lincoln Lawyer.

We've only managed five theatre trips but two of those, One Man Two Guvnors and The Ladykillers were comedy classics.  Concerts have been fewer still with Dolly Parton, Glen Campbell and Madness all that we saw. 

All in all a good year. I hope that there will be many more to come. I read an article in the weekend papers about longevity. The writer reckoned that, although I can hope to live for up to another twenty years, the rot sets in at around 63 and most men will encounter some sort of functional deterioration or illness that will restrict them from then onwards. So we had better make the most of the next four or five years. Get the cruise brochures out Marion.

Friday, 25 November 2011

On Winter, Strikers And Indian Talent

I'd like to start today with a thank you to the three kind souls who have "flattrd' the blog to date (giant oaks from little acorns and all that). Your support is appreciated.

As I write, it looks like winter has finally started to head our way and in the past hour the house has been buffeted by gale force winds and hailstones and there's a distinct chill in the air. We're off to Ribchester shortly to visit some friends. It's quite hilly up there but I don't think we need to pack the snow gear yet although it's around this time last year that we awoke on our first morning of retirement to a heavy blizzard in Manchester. We're looking forward to visiting Mark and Nita who run the excellent Workhouse Marketing the best creative marketing agency in the North West.

Last time we got together Mark had a try metal detecting with me and I gave him my old machine. I don't think he's had much success to date. Pretty much like me I suppose. Yesterday I headed up to Cumbria with my detecting pal Ed. We put in about five hours on the fields where I found my Roman gold bracelet link in the summer but all I had to show for it was this small Roman bronze coin. Ed had a similar one. At least we didn't go home completely empty handed but we will have to try and come up with some new places to go when we get out again in 2012. I think I will hang up the detector, spade and wellies for a few months now unless we get a very mild spell.

I don't tend to get political at all on here usually but the impending public sector workers' strike is really getting my back up. It's not because our son and daughter in law are flying back into Heathrow on Wednesday night/Thursday morning having been delayed on their outward flight to a wedding in the USA because of fog and now face more misery on their return. No, it's because I just can't see the point. I know that it's hard to discover that you are going to have to work longer before you get your pension and you may have to contribute more to it but it's something that has been coming for years and successive governments have failed to do anything about it. When most pensions were set up the average life expectancy was much lower. It is now heading towards eighty years which is eight years longer than it was even as recently as the 1970's. It doesn't take a mathematician to work out that a scheme set up to fund a pension for say fifteen years on average will run out of money if it has to pay the pensioners for twenty three. And, as these are public sector pensions, it is the UK tax payers that will have to foot the enormous shortfall. So it is common sense to make pensions kick in at a later age. Marion is one of those unlucky women in their fifties who expected a state pension at sixty and now has to wait another five years but, however much she dislikes it, she understands why it is essential to the economy and someone, somewhere, who is organising this strike should know that public sector workers will have to accept change too (unless they want us to end up like Greece that is).

Sorry about that but I can't see the point of damaging our fragile economy to further personal aims. If they've got a proposal of how it's going to be paid for, I would love to hear it. Rant over. Normal blogging resumes.

It's the X Factor quarter final tomorrow night. We've still got our bets on the two favourites Marcus and Little Mix although Marcus's odds went up the other day and Little Mix are now favourites by some way. Which is strange considering that they have not performed since last weekend. Have I missed something in the press? If both survive this week without being in the final two it should be a certainty that one of them will win (unless Janet, the only other act to escape the sing offs so far is a dark horse). It hasn't been a classic series this one, although it's still pulling in huge audiences - like that other Simon Cowell franchise "....'s Got Talent". I said on here that Britain clearly didn't have talent but has India? Judge for yourself.


Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Buddy Can You Spare A Dime

Regular visitors to this blog will spot a slight change today with the addition of a Flattr Me button. In case you don't know about Flattr, it's a new site which aims to create a way of rewarding bloggers, tweeters and other providers of internet material for their efforts. I've always steered clear of Google Ads and similar on this blog as it's basically here for my own writing practice, I enjoy it and I'm not looking to earn anything from it. However, the beauty of Flattr is that you can donate miniscule amounts and, in due course, those miniscule sums could eventually grow into something worthwhile. 

To participate you need to go to and sign up. You then fund your account with a sum that you can afford and, if you like, agree to a monthly commitment. Say you put a fiver in on the first of the month. You are then free to click on as many "Flattr Me" buttons as you like for a month. At the end of the month your fiver is shared equally between those sites that you have "Flattr'd" so a hundred clicks would give them all 5p, ten clicks 50p and  five clicks a pound. It's a way of flattering tweeters and bloggers you enjoy reading and it costs as much or as little as you want.

So there it is. Click on it if you are enrolled and donate a penny to this poor blogger. I will leave it up there for a while and monitor the progress. It's a new site and I don't expect that number of Flattrs (currently zero) to move much initially but please don't leave me with zero - it's bad enough having no friends on Facebook.

Finally back to the cinema today. And where better than the fabulous FACT in Liverpool where we enjoyed a tasty snack in the cafe before settling down to The Ides Of March. With an amazingly strong cast including Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti the omens were good. And we were not disappointed. It's a very believable story of spin doctoring and political scheming on the American Presidential campaign trail perhaps a little in the manner of the old BBC House Of Cards series. Gosling plays the Alastair Campbell style guru behind Clooney's whiter than white Democrat Governor  Mike Morris but Gosling's character Stephen Mayer's idealistic views are shattered when he discovers a skeleton in his boss's cupboard. We both enjoyed the film immensely and  can strongly recommend this tight and finely plotted piece of intrigue and study of political morals. A great title too.

After Clooney's thought provoking piece we had time for a quick drink before heading into the super little Box screen at FACT for Snowtown. I've read three or four glowing reviews of the film and all mentioned that it was dark. But the quality papers' reviewers must be made of sterner stuff than me as dark is way too light a word to use for this horrific true story of Australia's worst ever serial killer John Bunting. Bunting was responsible for eleven murders in total but fortunately the director spared us much of the grisly detail and we only witness one of the killings and the prelude to and aftermath of others. But the one murder shown in graphic detail was enough to prompt two of the audience to leave early. The film tells the story of how Bunting weaseled himself into the friendship and hospitality of a single mother and her sons after a neighbour she trusted to babysit turned out to be a paedophile who abused her children. Bunting's initial blood lust is cloaked in the guise of revenge but as he befriends the teenage Jamie and grooms him as a partner in crime we see him for the sinister and horrifically violent sadist that he is. The film is unquestionably hard hitting, extremely well filmed and has incredible performances from Daniel Henshall as Bunting and Lucas Pittaway as Jamie but it's grim, grim, grim. In addition, we both struggled with the sound and felt that some of the thick Ozzie accents could have benefited from subtitles and consequently we were not always sure exactly what was going on. See it only if you have a very strong stomach and even then make sure it's empty.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Have You Checked Out The E-Petitions Yet?

With the Governments e-petitions initiative in the news I thought it was time to have a closer look at the site and see what it's all about. I've signed a couple of them in the past after receiving tweets and emails asking for support but I haven't really paid much attention to any of the content apart from the petitions in the links forwarded to me. You can check the site out for yourself by clicking here. At the moment there are some 468 pages of live petitions that you can sign. They are sorted in order of popularity and at about twenty per page that's almost ten thousand of them. I reckon there are over 1400 that have so far achieved just one signature and 6,400 (about 64%) have ten or less. You would have thought that anyone media savvy enough to set up a petition might also have a couple of Facebook friends or Twitter followers. Blimey, even I reckon I could drum up twenty or thirty signatures. 

When you think of all the millions using the internet (over thirty million are logged onto Skype as I write this) it's a sad indictment that for example only ten have taken the trouble to support a petition to prevent employers discriminating against diabetes sufferers whilst the same number support "No Dubstep To Be Played On The Radio Between 5am and 11 am". Spend ten minutes on the site and it appears to be pretty much an abject failure. Most of the popular petitions seem to be from Daily Mail territory (stop immigration, brig back capital punishment, tax travellers, and the like). I signed one to stop legal loan sharking and another to ban scrap metal merchants from making cash payments.


Don't forget to watch episode 3 of Josephine's Sorority Girls tonight at 9 on E4. If you haven't seen it yet it's a fun and light hearted show that highlights the differences between university culture for girls here and in the USA.

I see that Martin Kelner devoted almost his entire column in yesterday's Guardian to slagging off Paul's A League Of Their Own. He did pretty much the same hatchet job on the show when it launched two years ago but it is now in its fourth series and the ratings are strong. I sympathise with a lot of what Kelner says - Freddie Flintoff's recent response to another panelist "f*** off " is hardly Oscar Wilde - but it appeals to its target 10pm Friday night audience and that is paramount.It's an original format and long may it succeed.  Criticising the show in The Guardian is a bit like The Sun sending a reviewer to Covent Garden to report back on La Boheme. 

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Attempting A Return To Normality

With Marion's mum Flo now living in a care home we have a little peace of mind. We know that we won't be getting panic calls from her neighbours saying that she has been wandering around the corridors of her flats in her nightclothes at five in the morning or attempting to catch a bus to town when the shops have closed. But that doesn't make things easier. Her well-being is a constant worry and it's not a case of out of sight out of mind as we need to know that she is happy in her new place. We went to see her yesterday and helped her to write her Christmas cards but she struggled to remember who some of the people in her address book were. Today she is going to come and watch Liverpool play Chelsea on TV. This is something that she would have loved a couple of months ago but I suspect that she won't show any interest and, as for the 3D specs, we won't even think about going there. I worry that within a couple of months she may not know who we are and the care home will have to be changed for an EMI establishment. She won't know much about it but it won't be a pleasant experience.

On Friday we found time to meet up with Peter Eglin an old friend from our working days. Peter used to run one of our dealerships in Blackburn and then went on to be a successful sales executive with one of the country's leading catering equipment manufacturers. Like us, he took early retirement, although, unlike us, he was tragically unable to share it with his wife Christine who passed away far too young. Having read my blog about my childhood experiences with dogs, Peter kindly left his German Shepherd Ben at home. I don't dislike our canine friends but I am a bit scared of them (especially big ones). We met at The Mulberry Tree at Wrightington which both of us had somehow confused for the nearby Wiggin Tree. However, it was a good mistake to make as the food, from a ridiculously extensive menu was quite spectacularly fine. And with two courses on offer for £12.95 it was tremendous value for money. Decor and atmosphere don't quite match the exceptional standard of the food but we were in good company and had a very enjoyable couple of hours. We hope to catch up with Peter again next year.

For us to go a week without a trip to the cinema is unusual. For three weeks to pass has been unheard of for some time. So we plan to remedy this with a trip to FACT in Liverpool on Wednesday to see George Clooney's political oeuvre The Ides Of March and the critically acclaimed Australian Serial Killer movie Snowtown. We had hoped to cram in Wuthering Heights as well but we just couldn't get that in without hanging around for over four hours and hope we will catch it another time. 

Before then we've got more appointments with Flo. Tomorrow we're taking her to Ormskirk to see an eye specialist. She's not seeing too well at the moment and she thinks that the specialist will be able to put things right but I have a horrible feeling that it's all linked to her memory problems and there won't be a great deal that they can do. After that we've got to help the care home to draw up a care plan for her. It really is a very caring place and they will do their best to meet her needs.

I haven't been doing much gambling at all this year but I can never resist having a bet on X Factor. Last year I got it wrong and lost nearly £900 on Cher (although she has been the most successful of the contestants) but this year is looking a bit better with a potential win of £252 if either Marcus or Little Mix win against a loss of about £55 if they don't. Marion and I picked these two out a few weeks ago (I think Marcus will win, Marion likes the girls) and we managed to back them at over 10. I think they both stand a good chance so we won't trade the bets and hope one of them will pay for a couple of Christmas presents. 

Great to see another two minutes of prime time devoted to our daughter in law Josephine's creation Sorority Girls on Harry Hill last night. Keep it up Harry and it will become cult viewing.


Wednesday, 16 November 2011

On Liverpool's Ladykillers

Since we got back from Scotland at the weekend we have spent a great deal of time with Marion's mum. But we took a few hours off last night to go and see The Ladykillers at Liverpool Playhouse. We booked the tickets ages ago before Flo's memory started to deteriorate badly and it was perhaps ironic that the plot of the play we had chosen to see revolves around an old lady with a bad memory.

The show, which is moving to The Gielgud in London shortly, is a good old fashioned farce scripted by Graham Linehan of Father Ted and the IT Crowd fame. It is a resurrection of the famous 1950's Ealing comedy with Alec Guinness' lead role of Professor Marcus played here by Peter Capaldi who heads a strong cast. Being preoccupied with Flo's troubles we hadn't much time to read up on the cast before the play and, as we also didn't buy a programme, we failed to spot Ben Miller as the bearded Romanian gangster in the "string quartet". Miller has been a great favourite of ours since his wonderful BBC comedy The Worst Week Of My Life but even when we spotted his comedy parter Alexander Armstrong in the audience we failed to twig. 

For me the star of the show was the set. This was a spectacular piece of workmanship which could surely never have been afforded if this was just to be a two week run at the Liverpool Playhouse. Revolving from terraced street to 50's interior to smoky rooftops and then to railway tunnel, it was worth the ticket price on its own - quite spectacular and beautiful. That's not to say that the cast were not stars too. Capaldi was a brilliant manic criminal mastermind and was matched with fine performances from Miller, James Fleet as the cross dressing major, Clive Rowe as the lovable dope One Round and Steven Wight as a cockney petty thief with a penchant for drugs. Marcia Warren plays the forgetful old lady very convincingly and Graham Linehan's script has plenty of laughs.

Sadly, for me, the audience had an average age of well over fifty and there was a distinct lack of young people amongst us. It was not as bad as the Gilbert and Sullivan opera we saw at the Lowry last year when we were probably the youngest there but it does not bode well for the future of live theatre. Perhaps with Linehan, Capaldi and Miller's popularity it may attract a younger crowd when it hits the West End. I hope it does as it's an enjoyable night out. 

Having seen this and James Corden's One Man Two Masters in the past couple of months I think it is worth a comparison. Each is old fashioned in style, each has an excellent cast including famous TV names, each relies upon a degree of slapstick and farce but, much as we enjoyed both, Corden's One Man Two Masters is more in tune with the 21st century and, consequently, a lot funnier. I would recommend both but if you could only see one, my recommendation would not be The Ladykillers. It's funny (not hilarious), brilliantly acted, beautifully designed but, like Blithe Spirit which we also saw this year, it is very much a piece from the past.

We were back to reality today when we took our own forgetful old lady to start a new life in a care home. It felt a little like a bereavement as we left her flat for the last time and it was difficult for all of us leaving her, after settling her into he room, looking like a child on the first day of school. We won't be abandoning her and will be making plenty of visits but that doesn't assuage an underlying feeling of guilt that probably won't go away until we are sure that she is happy in her new environment.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Got An Aged Parent? Get A Power Of Attorney

And get one now before it's too late. 

If you have read this blog in the last few months you will know that Marion's mum Flo has recently suffered a very rapid decline in her memory. We've been to see plenty of doctors and specialists and they have all suggested that she considers granting a power of attorney to make sure that her finances can be controlled in the event of her being incapable of controlling them on her own. We nodded sagely at each appointment and said that we'd put it on the list of things to do. But we didn't get around to it. 

When we got back from Scotland on Saturday it was clear that Flo's memory loss has continued its downward spiral in the two weeks that we were away and we decided that the time for that power of attorney has now arrived. We downloaded the forms from and, although they are fairly complex documents, the website and the forms themselves provide very clear instructions on their completion. If you don't feel confident there are plenty of solicitors who can assist. 

Duly armed with our forms we went to see Flo this morning and she was happy to appoint me as her attorney and she signed the documents with her friend acting as witness. 

Step one completed, we headed for an appointment with the doctor as we needed two more people to confirm that she knew what she was doing and we weren't trying to fiddle her out of her life savings. We made it in the nick of time as this was what happened. I explained the reason for our visit to the doctor and he confirmed that it was a very sensible move. 

"So OK, I need to know that you understand what this form that you have signed means" says the doctor pointing to the form.

"What form?'

"This one that you have signed. You know what it is don't you?"


"Do you remember me saying that you need to get someone else to look after your affairs?'

"Yes. I want John to look after my affairs. I can't do it anymore."

"So that's why you've signed this form"

"What form?"

The doctor continued to explain what was going on and then went back to the form.

"So I need to be sure that you know what you have signed before I sign"

"I don't know what I have signed"

Fortunately the doctor managed to stir a few memories in Flo for a couple of minutes and was eventually happy to sign the form. But it was touch and go.

So, if you have a parent or parents who is/are getting old, don't fall into complacency like we (or really I should say "I" as Marion wanted us to do this a long time ago) did. It doesn't need to be instigated by your children. If you are getting on a bit yourself and your kids haven't even thought about it, think about it now. It's never too soon to get the documents signed. Marion and I won't even be sixty for a few years but we have already signed all the necessary paperwork and if our memories start to fade, our children can step in straight away.

If we had waited another week, such is the speed of Flo's memory loss I doubt that the doctor would have felt her capable of knowing what she was signing and we would be facing all sorts of legal obstacles in trying to help her to manage for the rest of her life and that is a hurdle that we could do without. 

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Things We Learnt Last Week

We spent the last week in our lovely caravan at Craigtoun Meadows in St Andrews and, whilst it is great that Caravan Connect have extended their WIFI coverage to reach our section of the site,we've realised that  it's hardly high speed internet and I gave up on blogging out of exasperation. I had enough time to make a meal - and eat it - waiting for a single page to download. All credit to Caravan Connect, at least I can send and receive emails, but I am afraid that I won't be doing much blogging from St Andrews (is that a sigh of relief I hear from my loyal band of followers?).

With the nights drawing in we watched a bit more TV than we did on our last Scottish visit. When we were kids in the late 1960's Marion and I used to think that Simon and Garfunkel were brilliant musicians. And do you know what? The excellent documentary The Harmony Game on BBC showed that we were dead right. Whilst a lot of 60's music now sounds dated and amateurish, the duo's lilting harmonies sound just as good today as they did then.

Another discovery for us was Tom Hollander's Rev on BBC2. How on earth did we miss the first series? Well I know exactly how we missed it - we watched episode one of the series and didn't think much of it. We should have stuck with it and listened to the crescendo of critical appraisal as the series continued as, if the first episode of series 2 is anything to go by, the BBC has got another timeless classic on its hands. Tom Hollander as the mild and self deprecating vicar of the title is a master of understatement and his performance is both gently comic and brilliantly observed. With a very strong supporting cast including another two fine actors in Olivia Colman and Steve Evets this is top notch whimsy with a tougher edge than the comparable Jam & Jerusalem.

Here's our TV highlight of the week. Our super daughter in law Josephine got two credits for her fabulous new show Sorority Girls. But which is better? Producer or Developer? There's only one way to find out

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Leaving's A Wrench

We're getting to that stage of our break in St Andrews when it's difficult not  to start getting maudlin and sad as, in a couple of days, we are heading back to Southport and won't be seeing the Scottish branch of our family again until after Christmas. You may well say that that's only a couple of months but a lot can happen in a couple of months and the older you get the more you notice it.

Rose has just started to sit up and pay attention to what's going on in the world and by Christmas she will, no doubt, be using her own spoon and her own fork to enjoy some festive food. We've seen big changes in her rapid development in the ten or so days that we have been here and the next few months will see her blossom. It's not just our grandchild that we will miss. We'll also miss our daughter Sarah and her parter Duncan.

Buying the caravan has been a boon on this score. We are lucky that we could afford it but I wonder so much about the mobility of populations that has split families apart throughout the world. Our son and his wife live two hundred miles south of us and our daughter almost three hundred miles north. Were we not retired, our opportunities to see them would be limited to high days and holidays. Even now our chances to see Paul and Josephine are hindered by their hectic work schedules. This is all a result of progress - the progress that causes populations to migrate in search of a better life. And who could blame them as, invariably, the grass is actually greener in their new locations. We don't want to live in our childrens' pockets, in fact we always worry about overstaying our welcomes whenever we head north or south, but in some ways I hanker for a balance. If we are lucky we've got a fair few retirement years in us and I hope that we can strike one.

We loved Josephine's Sorority Girls on E4 on Tuesday night. If you didn't catch it you can watch it by clicking this link.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Misty Monday

I'm writing this from our mist shrouded caravan from which we can now see some of our neighbours' pitches although earlier in the day we were pretty well engulfed. Which was actually quite nice in a sort of spooky, wintry, bonfire night  sort of feeling. Especially as we are amongst the only ones foolhardy enough to be on a caravan break in Scotland in the last few weeks of the year and have the site to ourselves. Having said that it has actually been a pretty good little vacation and shows how St Andrews is very much a year round holiday destination.

This was the sunrise that met us on our first morning at The Old Course Hotel where we spent a pleasant three nights last week having committed to a bargain break before we bought the caravan. It's a fabulous hotel and should always be the first choice for anyone thinking of staying here. It's not that the rooms are any nicer than any of the hundreds of hotel rooms available in St Andrews (although they are very good) it's just that the staff go out of their way to make sure that the guests enjoy themselves and there are always plenty of personal touches that make you feel an individual despite being one of many, many residents.

And, apart from today's fog, we've enjoyed some pretty fine late autumn Scottish weather which allowed us to try The Old Course's rooftop spa. Not bad for November on the North Sea Coast.

I've managed to find myself hundreds of acres of land to use my metal detector on but, when confronted with fields this size and only an hour or two to spare it's a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack and, so far, I haven't found any fields of gold. I've got more fields than I could ever search properly in a month of detecting so I am going to have to narrow down my search criteria to those that have some sort of historic connection next time we come here.

Today we had a marathon cycle ride. Well more than a marathon as I reckon that we managed to cycle approximately thirty miles. We rode down from the caravan site into St Andrews and then along the coastal path to Leuchars and into the Tentsmuir forest  (above) which was beautiful in the autumn colours which we saw in the occasional gap in the fog. From Tentsmuir we headed into Tayport for a quick lunch before heading back to St Andrews and a quick visit to see Sarah, Duncan and Rose. We've got four or five days left here before we have to close the caravan down for the winter. We're really going to miss it.

And we are really going to miss our granddaughter Rose who will be six months old before we see her again. This retirement lark seems to be flying by.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Countdown To Sorority Girls

Regular readers of this blog (yes they do exist - hello Mum), will be aware that our son and daughter in law both work in developing TV shows. Every time a new one hits our screens we get nervous for them hoping that the show will be a smash hit and nobody will write anything nasty about it on the internet ( fat chance - see yesterday's blog about Trip Advisor). Anyway this time it's Josephine in the limelight. Fresh from her success with the lovely Holding Out For A Hero, her new baby Sorority Girls launches next Tuesday on E4 at 9pm. As an ex sorority girl herself, Josephine came up with the idea of introducing the concept to British students, went on to develop the format and then spent the last few months working flat out on bringing it to our screens. She deserves a massive success having put 100% into the project and, as you can see from the trailer at the end of today's blog, it looks like being great entertainment. We'll be having our usual little party at home to celebrate and a joint Holding Out For A Hero and Sorority Girls do is arranged for early December, the first date that our friends can make it. Can't wait. In the meantime we've got it set on series link on the Sky and Freeview boxes at home and in the caravan.

We're up in St Andrews at the moment and spending some time with our daughter Sarah and our granddaughter Rose who is now almost four months old. On Halloween she was wearing this fabulous outfit that Paul and Josephine bought her and today we took her to Edinburgh on the train. She was absolutely perfect.

When we got back to the super Old Course Hotel we were tired and had a soak in the enormous bath with a couple of glasses and, to add to the romance, Sunday's Archers Omnibus on podcast - the joys of growing old.

I'll leave you with that trailer.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

I've Got A Confession

After watching that documentary "Attack of the trip advisers" on Channel 4 last night I'm a little embarrassed to admit this but (ahemm assumes sotto voce) I have been known to post the odd review on the site. Ok so I have only posted three in the past five years during which time we have eaten at many scores of restaurants and stayed at plenty of hotels. So why have I not written 200 reviews like the site members showcased last night? Well basically I've only written one when I have been so impressed by a hotel or restaurant that I wanted to give them just a little bit more than my custom and sing their praises to the heavens (or the internet at least). So I've only written three five star reviews - all in my own name without hiding behind the anonymity of a user name. That's not to say that I haven't eaten at plenty more restaurants and stayed at plenty of hotels that were also worthy of five stars (I am writing this now from the lovely Old Course Hotel in St Andrews which is definitely a five star location) but those three were just a little bit special and worth me going to the trouble of saying so on line.   

After watching the reviewers in the documentary I question their sanity. I suspect that the film makers wanted to play this one for laughs as, although the programme was predicated on a serious issue (the damage being done to some businesses in the hospitality trade), the examples used were Fawltyesque caterers and nit picking customers including one who went on holiday with his grandma and put hidden dots on the sheets to check if they were being changed daily (do you change your sheets daily at home?) - even his nan who claimed to love her grandson dearly did not think that being served gin and tonic instead of gin and lemonade was worthy of being broadcast to the whole of cyberspace. I have to admit that I often use Trip Advisor before deciding upon a hotel but both Marion and I tend to ignore the reviews that are so obviously out of kilter with the general tone of other reviewers and I would advise you to do the same.

In the meantime if you want a few recommendations from us try Locanda Cipriani in Torcello, Villa Cipriani in Asolo, Chapel Cottage and the Sun Inn in Kirkby Lonsdale, Northcote Manor near Whalley, The Peat Inn near St Andrews, Mint Hotel in Manchester, The Old Course in St Andrews, The Freemasons Wiswell, Cicchetti Manchester, Ile De Re Holiday Homes, Bistrot Marin St Martin Ile De Re, La Route Du Sel in Loix, Le Lodge Kerisper in Trinite-Sur-Mer and The Lazy Fish near Cockermouth. We can recommend all of these from recent experience. 

We once had an experience at an inn in Derbyshire (which has since changed hands so it will remain nameless) that would have merited zero stars on Trip Advisor. When we complained that there was no hot water to bathe our very young children, the manager came up to the room with a bucket of it. Another one that would have made a good TA review was a farmhouse hotel in Eire that my brother and I once booked for a fishing trip. The  proprietor welcomed us with the unforgettable words "Welcome lads. I've been to the butchers and bought a wonderful piece of beef for yers...................and I've minced it."