Saturday, 22 December 2012

Still Standing

As the deluge continues unabated (it's been raining for three days now) the river Eden down the road near Dairsie has broken its banks and what is normally lush green pasture is now a raging torrent and the garden of the house by the bridge has disappeared.

Fortunately for us the caravan has weathered the storm well and we have escaped unscathed although the adjacent trees have sometimes swayed to a perilous angle in the wind. 

We're off to the Seafood Restaurant for lunch. If it were high tide we would have a spectacular view but the tide should have turned by 1 o'clock and we won't be dining in a maelstrom. 

Marion loves Christmas and our house in Southport was always packed with lights, candles, presents, trees and decorations. It's not something she could do in the caravan so our only nod to the festive season is a few glittery twigs amongst the flowers. At least Sarah and Duncan and Paul and Josephine have continued Marion's tradition and their houses are both beautifully decorated for the holidays.

We've been busy assembling one of Rose's Christmas presents this morning. She can't read the blog yet so I'm not spoiling her surprise. I think it's lovely. Hope she likes it.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Shake Rattle And Roll

The weather here in St Andrews hasn't been too bad during our five month stay in the caravan but all that has changed over the last twenty four hours and it feels like we're living in the eye of a hurricane. Rain has been lashing down since last night and the winds have been so strong that the caravan has been rocking and shaking as if we are on a ride at Alton Towers - last night was almost sleep free. I suppose that we couldn't expect to go through winter in a caravan totally unscathed and with just twenty five days to go let's hope that the worst will be behind us tomorrow.

To get away from the tempest outside, we drove to Dundee to see Life Of Pi - a film about surviving a horrendous storm - just what we needed. At least we don't have a Bengal Tiger with us in the caravan. I read the book a few years ago and couldn't see any way that it could be put on screen but, with the help of some of the best CGI ever produced, Ang Lee has made a remarkable adaptation. It's visually stunning, packed with glorious vivid colours and finely acted by Irrfan Khan and Suraj Sharma as the old and young Pi. Much has been made of the religious connotations of the film and the book but, whilst these are always present, a couple of non believers like me and Marion could still enjoy it. It's not the greatest film of the year but it's certainly a spectacle that's well worth watching.

Which lets me segue seamlessly to the case of my super Lindberg indestructible titanium spectacles. I just finished paying for them on interest free credit and then somehow managed to tread on them. The frames were certainly unbreakable but sadly the lenses weren't. At least I had some luck being in Scotland where sight tests are free. I went to Govan Optometrists and they gave me the most thorough eye test of my life and fitted new lenses in just a few days - great service but still a £230 bill that I could have done without. Perhaps I will leave them on the bedside table and not the floor in future.

I'm off to see my favourite farmers here in St Andrews tomorrow to give them a couple of bottles of wine by way of thanks for letting me use my detector on their fields. I haven't got much to show for the days spent walking across their stubble as it's all at the National Museum in Edinburgh who are going to decide if they want to keep it or return it to me - soon I hope. Regular readers might remember this super Roman gold item that I found in 2011. I had a letter from the British Museum this week. They have made a preliminary valuation of £450-£500 which I think is pretty fair. The Penrith Museum want it so I've waived my share of the reward and I imagine that the farmer will do the same. I look forward to seeing it on display in the museum and hope that they give me a mention.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

It Was The Worst Of Times, It Was The Best Of Times

I think that heading sums up our visit to Suffolk. We got back to the caravan last night exhausted after an eight and a half hour drive and are just about getting ourselves straight as I write.

The journey down to England went smoothly although we worried a bit when it started snowing as we approached Annandale which looked like a winter wonderland. Fortunately the snow eased off as we went further south and we had a pleasant evening at my mum's in Southport after sister-in-law Val was not well enough to make it out for the planned meal at The Vincent.

It was supposed to be a happy and relaxing visit to Framlingham. We stayed in the excellent Barn Cottage which we booked twelve months ago when we made our first visit to Suffolk to investigate retiring to the county and we were happy to stay there again. That was a positive aspect of the visit.

We had plans for meetings with the boss of the kitchen company, the builder, the landscape gardener and the interior designer - all potentially interesting and enjoyable. On Thursday, Gill from Orwells, who are fitting the kitchen, ran through the progress with us. All is going well although it is likely that the corian work top won't arrive on target and they would like us to postpone our move for another seven days.

The first couple of units are in place and all the LED light fittings are in. The delay was slightly disappointing but not a major problem as we like it here in St Andrews and another week is not really a big deal. However our meeting with the landscape designer on Friday morning was nothing short of a disaster. He had drawn up a beautiful design bearing in mind the budget that we had given him. The meeting was to see the contractor who he planned to use. The contractor then presented his estimate. If it had been maybe ten or twenty percent over the target we wouldn't have minded but we were given a detailed document on which just two items (the decking and pathway) took up the whole budget and when we turned to the final page and saw a total that was three times the budget the atmosphere turned into one of silent awkwardness. In fairness to the designer he told us that he had not seen the estimate until five minutes before the meeting and he was as shocked as we were. He remains convinced that he was not that far out with his original ideas but it was a real let down and we both felt extremely fed up.

It was pouring with rain as the meeting progressed and as the gardeners left we noticed a damp patch developing on the lounge wall. Initially just a small spot it gradually grew into this. It seems that some of the exterior render was damaged when the bifold doors were fitted and rainwater had found its way to the RSJ and capillary action had done the rest. After the negativity of the morning this was all we wanted to see. The builder and the architect both came to look but were not too worried and were confident that the problem can be put right very quickly. Although we were reassured, it wasn't the best of news. At least it cropped up before the wallpaper went up.

The builder Roger went on to tell us that a light fitting for the downstairs WC that was delivered six weeks ago was smashed to smithereens. The loss of £80 didn't exactly cheer up the already depressed mood of the day and when we saw Jemima the interior designer we weren't really in the right frame of mind for choosing curtains - sorry Jemima. What else could go wrong? Well we had a dining table on order and John Lewis had given us a time slot of 2 p.m to 9 p.m. I had booked us a table at The Lemon Tree in Framlingham and we were looking forward to it having eaten nothing since breakfast but you don't need to guess what time John Lewis turned up. Well it wasn't quite nine but it was eight forty and I had to ring The Lemon Tree to cancel and fly to the Co-Op and buy a microwave meal.

We didn't bother opening the table as we felt that after a day like we'd had it would almost certainly be scratched. So we went back on Saturday morning to open the box and assemble it. Fortunately it turned out to be perfect although the suggested half hour assembly time is for people who know one end of a screwdriver from the other and it was about ninety minutes before we finally turned it upright to find everything in order. As you can see, the dining area has now been painted, the sockets are in place and the fabulous George Nelson light fitting has been installed. The eight dining chairs from M&S have been delivered too.

At the moment they're stored in the lounge with a couple of new armchairs and a nest of tables. The lighting in there is complete too with two smaller Nelson bubble lamps completing the design.

The family bathroom is finished and the en-suite shower room is just waiting for the shower screen.

Things started to look up after the table was found to be okay and we headed to Snape Maltings for a bit of shopping and a bite to eat in their excellent cafe although even then things did not run smoothly as I managed to leave a bag of Xmas presents at the till and not notice my mistake until I was back at the cottage with only forty minutes to get back and collect them before closing time.

But on Sunday it was the very best of times as we travelled Rochester to visit Paul, Josephine and baby Catherine. It was amazing to see how much she has grown and developed in just a few short weeks. We had a wonderful day stocking up with some lovely food at the Rochester Farmers' Market and then enjoying tapas in a back room pop up restaurant on the High St. It was so good to see the family and to realise that in less than a month we will be within two hours drive and available to baby sit whenever needed.

As we got back to Framlingham the village (sorry town - must get it right) centre looked lovely with it's tasteful array of Christmas lights and, having been made very welcome at a neighbour's birthday party on Saturday night, I'm sure that we are going to be very happy there.

Another big trip south is planned for just after Christmas but until then we can have a week of family and relaxation - we need it. 

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

A Trying Time Ahead

With our move to Suffolk planned for around 14 January we’ve plenty going on in the forthcoming weeks so the summons that arrived this morning for Marion to appear as a witness in a Scottish court early in the new year was not exactly welcome. The case dates back to a fraud we experienced almost three years ago. Let’s hope that it doesn’t throw a spanner into the works of the house move.

It’s almost a week now since the WIFI signal at the caravan site disappeared and, although the service provider Caravan Connect tell us that they are working on it and parts are on their way, with the caravan site office closing on Friday we are facing an internet free Christmas – that means almost no Twitter , no metal detecting forums, no eBay, no Facebook – I’ll probably realise how much time I waste on them all. I’m only able to upload this blog as I’m babysitting for Sarah and Duncan. Tonight is the last chance for them to take advantage of our proximity for a week or so as we’re off on another tour tomorrow.

As it’s below freezing here at the moment we need to drain down the caravan completely and then put antifreeze into the u bends and toilet bowls to make sure that we don’t return to the disaster of cracked pipes. After that we’re off to Southport. We were hoping to have a meal with my mum, my brother Pete and his wife Val but Val is ill so that’s not going to happen. At least we should get to see Mum and to exchange family Christmas presents before heading down to Framlingham to catch up on the house – there should be some pretty significant changes as it’s almost a month since our last trip.

After that we’re back here in St Andrews this time next week for a relaxing Christmas before hitting the road again to Rochester after Boxing Day and hopefully dropping in on a few friends between then and the new year prior to heading back to Framlingham to oversee some wardrobes being fitted there on 3rd Jan.    

Yesterday we used a wonderful treat that Sarah and Duncan bought me for my birthday and enjoyed a fabulous champagne afternoon tea at Rufflets – a lovely country house hotel just outside St Andrews. Although we only ate an early morning breakfast and had no lunch we still struggled to finish the magnificent late afternoon feast. There are so many great places to eat and drink in and around St Andrews. Although there are many places worthy of a mention, we like Mitchells best for snacks or coffee and cakes and The Seafood Restaurant for fine dining. We’ve got a lunch booked there on the Saturday before Christmas and are really looking forward to it.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Another Sunny Day In St Andrews

The lack of WIFI at the caravan site continues and on Saturday night I was unable to bet against Christopher when it was obvious that he wasn’t going to win the X Factor – never mind, I said that I was going to let the bet ride and that’s what I had to do.

We had a treat yesterday when Rose joined us in the caravan for breakfast. She’s not the greatest sleeper and we said that we’d give her mum and dad a break and pick her up early on Sunday morning. I arrived at 7.30 a.m. only to find her still fast asleep. She then managed to stay asleep for another hour - so much for her normal 6.30 start. 

It was another glorious St Andrews autumn day so we wrapped Rose up warm and took her down to the Old Course for a run across the famous fairways and a few minutes on one of the most photographed bridges in the world.

After that it was a drive down to the harbour and then to Sunday lunch at Sarah’s.

Marion has done a brilliant job with wrapping the Christmas presents and writing cards and our Christmas preparations are pretty near complete. We’ve just got a few odds and ends to sort out today and we have to prepare everything for our trip to England to make sure we can get it all in the car. This afternoon we’ve got a champagne afternoon tea at Rufflets Hotel to look forward to. Sarah and Duncan bought me this treat for my birthday and we’ve been waiting for wintry weather so that we can enjoy it by the fire in the comfortable lounge. It should be great.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Cut Off

With all the weather scares in the papers and on the television news this week you would be forgiven for thinking that today’s headline precedes a woeful tale of our being stranded in the caravan in sub zero temperatures amidst six foot snow drifts. Nothing as exciting as that I’m afraid; it’s just that the WIFI on the caravan site has packed in due to some closed season maintenance work and we’ve no idea when it might return. As we are the only people daft enough to be living full time in a caravan here at the moment there is not much pressure on them to get it up and running so blogging will be limited to scribbling offline and publishing when we get near a signal.

Speaking of the caravan site, I came across this postcard in an antique centre last week. It was posted in 1979 and shows our current home Craigtoun Meadows in its infancy.

Yesterday saw us head to Edinburgh with Duncan, Sarah and Rose.

Rose was very impressed with the toy selection in John Lewis.

We managed to have a look around the super Edinburgh Christmas market and sample the mulled wine before Sarah and Duncan donned skates for a quick whiz around the temporary ice rink. We ended the day with an excellent fish and chip high tea in the Scottish Café in the nearby art gallery.

We’re heading to Southport on Wednesday to visit my family and then on Thursday it’s down to Framlingham to see how things are progressing with the house. We’re staying in a cottage in Framlingham for five nights. We stayed there last February when we first visited Suffolk on our retirement house hunt. It’s a super, comfortable and modern little barn and owners Dave and Lyn could not have been more helpful.

At the house we hope to see good progress with the decorating and electrics and to see the kitchen finally underway. We’ve got meetings with the landscape gardener, the kitchen project manager and our interior designer Jemima as well as deliveries of furniture and, hopefully a tumble dryer. We’ve also got a party at a neighbours and a trip down to Rochester to see the southern half of the family. It promises to be a very busy but hopefully enjoyable trip.

If you've got a few minutes spare at the weekend, do me a favour and vote for Christopher Maloney to win the X Factor. My betting on the competition has been unsuccessful so far this year after good wins in the past.Bets on MK1 and Kye Sones proved bad choices. My third bet was done slightly tongue in cheek but with him being a scouser who loves his Nan so much I felt that the odds of 100-1 were worth a punt. Now we have Christopher in the final I could lay the bet and recover my losses on the other two but if he were to win I'd have a £1,000 plus windfall to spend this Christmas. As I'll have no WIFI signal on Saturday I'm going to let it ride and hope I get a phone signal so I can vote.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Well Done Old Course Hotel

I've mentioned the super St Andrews festival that's been running across the town several times on the blog this week and today it ended for us with a great afternoon at The Old Course Hotel. Having stayed at The Old Course quite a few times we know that they do things well and it was no surprise to us that their Christmas Emporium was a wonderful afternoon of family entertainment. We started with mulled wine and mince pies, listened to a local choir singing carols, took Rose to see if she wanted to see Father Christmas (she didn't), bought some bits and pieces from the festive market and then sat in the fabulous boardroom for a wine tasting and ordered a case of excellent wine for Christmas dinner. There was plenty more that we didn't see (such as cake decorating and cocktail making demonstrations). And how much did we have to pay for such a pleasant afternoon? Nothing, zilch, nada - it was all put on by The Old Course who deserve a feather in their cap for doing things so well. (Other hotels in the town please note).

A Wine Tasting With A View

We only managed to get to a fraction of the week's events and are sorry that we missed the choral concerts and performing arts but there's always next year. Well done to the festival organisers for providing such a varied programme. 

It was yet another sunny day in the town and the "Chariots Of Fire" beach looked spectacular against a background of snow capped hills.

We passed the old town walls at just the right time to catch this shadow before the sun went down.

 I know I'm starting to sound like a stuck record but St Andrews really is a brilliant place.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Shiny Happy People In St Andrews

30th November has meant nothing to me over the last fifty eight years but living in St Andrews for the past few months has given it a real significance and last night the town celebrated St Andrew's day in true style. We started at 6.30 p.m. with a torchlight procession led by a local pipe band from the town centre to just in front of The Old Course Hotel for a short but very enjoyable fireworks display. As soon as the fireworks finished the band struck up again and the procession returned by the same route to witness the lighting of the town's minimalist Christmas lights.

As the pipers finished playing Scotland The Brave they signalled the Nae 4 Wimps ceilidh to start up and the streets filled with happy people of all ages dancing their hearts out in a joyous celebration. Having two left feet I didn't have the confidence to join in but the music was foot tappingly infectious and the crowd exuded a tremendous spirit of enjoyment (and not a hint of alcohol to fuel the revelry).

It was a huge disappointment that Sarah, Rose and Duncan were not able to make it to the event. I'm sure that they would have had a fabulous time and Sarah, with her dancing expertise, could have shown us the steps.

And Rose wold have been fascinated by some of the groups of students who attended in a variety of outrageous outfits. A hugely successful event.

As the outdoor ceilidh drew to a close we headed down the road to an art exhibition at the super Fraser Gallery. It was opening night for a show by Scottish artist David Mackie Cook and we enjoyed a warming glass of mulled wine before viewing four rooms of wonderful paintings. We loved the art on show and couldn't resist buying this painting The White Hoose for the house in Framlingham.

That means that we've got two paintings from the gallery as souvenirs of our stay in this wonderful little place.

I'll leave you with three early morning St Andrew's day photos.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

This Week's Finds

I wrote about the plunging temperatures on yesterday's blog and when I set out with the metal detector for this week's outing there was snow on the distant mountaintops. It's difficult to see on this photo but it's certainly there. I worried that the ground would be too hard for me to dig but, as temperatures have only just plunged below freezing at night, I was in luck. 

I started by searching a pasture close to an ancient landmark. I had high hopes for this new field but, being pasture and undisturbed land, finds had sunk out of the detector's range and I was limited to a few bits of scrap.

So I headed back to the stubble field that I detected on last week. It was another beautiful day and, once again, I wasn't short of signals to dig.

Nothing very exciting I am afraid but another extremely enjoyable day. It was really a case of so near but yet so far as nine of the ten coins are very old (some as early as 16th century) and if they had been in good condition and if the ring were silver instead of copper I would have been delighted. There's an old whistle, a couple of pot mends, a pocket watch winder and a Georgian shoe buckle to add to the collection of bits and pieces I've uncovered during our caravan stay.

One thing that's noticeable about living so much further north is the shortness of  the daylight hours. Shadows were extremely long before 3p.m and it was pretty much dark by 3.30 today.

Detecting apart, we're starting to feel the Christmas spirit here in St Andrews. On Sunday we went with Sarah, Duncan and Rose to the Christmas Fair at the Fairmont hotel. Rose was not keen on sitting on Santa's knee but she did like the gingerbread model of the hotel.

Tomorrow it's St Andrew's day and we're going to some of the many events lined up all around the town and culminating in a torchlit procession and fireworks. The weather forecast is good and we're looking forward to a great day.