Friday, 27 April 2012

A Waiting Game

Well, we got back from Scotland on Tuesday and were greeted by the FOR SALE sign attached to the front gatepost. So now we've got to sit back and wait for the potential buyers to beat a path to the door and make us an offer we can't refuse. However, I've decided not to discuss viewings or negotiations on here until we've exchanged contracts as I don't want to do anything that could jeopardise a sale - you never know who's looking with the internet. So that's all about the house for now although I will regularly post the link to the estate agent's details to keep interest as high as possible.

We treated ourselves to one of our days out in Liverpool yesterday and things could not have got off to a better start when we popped into Waterstone's for a cup of coffee to find that we were just in time for a short lecture on the life of Edgar Allan Poe followed by a reading of his short story The Tell-Tale Heart. It was a great innovation by Waterstone's and the young man who did the excellent reading said that he has got a series of such events planned right into summer. We'll certainly try another.

Such a gothic tale put us nicely in the mood for our first film choice of the day at FACT. The Cabin In  The Woods has mixed reviews but The Times gave it four stars so we thought that we'd give it a go. It opens with a couple of middle aged blokes in lab coats discussing some sort of event that they're overseeing in some large institutional building and then cuts to the five stereotypical characters you'll find in any teenage scary movie or slasher pic - the jock, the studious type, the stoner, the nympho and her respectable friend and off they go in the camper van a la Texas Chainsaw Massacre meeting the bog standard Deliverance style hillbilly before arriving on the set of The Evil Dead. So far so much going through the motions but we mustn't forget the two blokes in lab coats who provide a twist to the usual goings on in the cabin. Sad to say, in our opinion, the twist wasn't worth the effort as the film degenerated into farce long before the final credits rolled. For the Times' critic to give this four stars I can only imagine that he or she watched the film whilst smoking one of the stoner character's giant spliffs.

We went on to have a meal at Salt House Tapas but this was sadly spoilt by an incident that put a dampener on the day (nothing to do with the restaurant) and we headed back to FACT without finishing. As we walked back to the cinema "dampener" was certainly appropriate as the heavens opened with a deluge of biblical proportions leaving us to watch the documentary Marley looking like a pair of drowned rats.

We weren't really in the best frame of mind to watch Marley but it told his life story in a thorough manner although I didn't learn a great deal that I didn't already know. I love his music and would have liked to hear more of it and to have seen more footage of him performing rather than listen to talk over a collection of (very good) photographs. The film showed us what a beautiful country Jamaica is and broke the shock news that Bob smoked a lot of weed. It taught me a lot about his politicisation and his success with the ladies but I don't feel that, despite in depth interviews with those closest to him, I really know him as a man any better after watching it. I think that, unlike Senna (which could be enjoyed by anyone with no interest whatsoever in F1) this documentary is one for serious Marley fans only.

I would have preferred to see more of this.


Saturday, 21 April 2012

A Charming Story Beautifully Told

With the bad weather this week restricting bike rides and metal detecting I've managed to find time to read two novels. If you're over fifty I think you'll enjoy this one, The Ulikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, very much. It's five stars on Amazon for me.

Although, as the title suggests, the story is an unlikely one, it certainly provided a great deal for this reader to think about. In my late fifties and almost "one foot in the grave" so to speak, I understood exactly how Harold felt as his trip to the postbox morphed into a trek from one end of England to the other. Spurred on by a girl in a garage who talks about an aunt's miraculous recovery from cancer, Harold decides to walk to Berwick Upon Tweed to save an old work colleague who has written to him from her hospice bed.

Rachel Joyce tells Harold's story masterfully; she leaves us guessing at the events in Harold's life that have led to his sterile marriage and the miserable existence that lead him to start his epic journey and she reveals the answers only late on in the book. He meets interesting men and women along the way and is eventually joined on his pilgrimage by a motley crew of characters but ultimately the story is about Harold and about love, death, mortality and marriage.

It may not appeal to those who want something edgy but if you like a "nice" read you will love this. I found myself laughing out loud once or twice but also ended several chapters wiping tears from my eyes as it touched several very raw nerves.

I think it will appeal more to readers over fifty than to the young who still have most of their lives ahead of them.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

A Flying Visit To Glasgow

We're clocking up more miles on the Prius tomorrow when we take Sarah to Glasgow to apply for a passport for Rose. When I bought the car I optimistically told the lease company that I expected to drive ten thousand miles a year but somehow after just twenty eight months I've managed to clock up almost forty thousand. At least when we move to Suffolk it might calm down a bit (hang on Framlingham's about three hundred kilometers further from St Andrews than Southport is). Anyway, our emergency trip came about because Sarah and Duncan were planning a last minute holiday when the penny dropped that a certain little person didn't have a passport. So Sarah managed to get a fast track appointment at the Glasgow Passport Office and hopefully the holiday can go ahead.

We treated ourselves to a trip to the cinema in Dundee today. We went to see Pirates In An Adventure With Scientists and for the very first time we had the whole screen completely to ourselves. The Odeon in Dundee is an enormous multiplex so it was a bit strange having a private screening. We both loved the film; it's full of all the little observations we've grown to expect from Ardman and, with a nostalgic 80's soundtrack, it's got something to please children of all ages (even late fifties).

Our home from home at Craigtoun Meadows in St Andrews is looking a lot more crowded now.

Here's how the site looked from our caravan a few months ago. If you compare with the previous photo you can see that the empty plots opposite ours are now full but we can't grumble as we always knew that was going to happen. On a positive note, the other owners are mostly weekenders who start to arrive in small numbers on Thursday evenings, in larger numbers on Fridays and then depart on Sundays so we get the best part of four days with things completely to ourselves and only have neighbours for the weekend.  It's been a pretty wet week so far but it's been a very relaxing wet week.

Meanwhile our proper home went on the market today. If you are looking for a wonderful family home in Southport look no further. We've been there for almost twenty three years and love our house so it was hardly surprising that Marion shed a few tears as she clicked on the estate agent's details click here.  It will be a huge wrench leaving the house (if we sell it that is) but what's the point of two old codgers rattling around in a five bedroomed house? There comes to a point in life when it's time to move on. Let's hope that we've got that timing right.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

An Historic Find

Many years ago my brother Peter and I found a very interesting bronze key on one of our regular metal detecting trips to the Yorkshire Dales. It was in the years before the Portable Antiquities Scheme but we reported it to medieval specialist Kevin Leahy who then worked at the Scunthorpe Museum. Last year when I retired and found the time to go detecting again I reported all my decent finds to Dot Boughton at Lancaster Museum and she recorded them under the PAS. I was a little surprised to get a phone call from The Westmorland Gazette a few weeks ago asking me all about the key. It seems that despite it being recorded last summer they had just picked it up as a local find and wanted to write an article about it. I explained that it was found many years ago and wasn't recent news but I happily provided answers to their reporter. 

Today my Twitter feed suddenly started to go mad - well I got three tweets in quick succession, that's mad for me. All were congratulating me and linking to this article

The reporter has covered my answers fairly well (although I did say that I found two links from a Roman bracelet and not a whole bracelet). However, the photo of the key accompanying the article was not a photo of the key that we found. Here's how Dot reported my key.

The photo of a spectacular key found in Suffolk below my somewhat inferior artifact clearly states that it is a similar item but the newspaper managed to get it wrong. So it wasn't much of a news story really; a report of a key found twenty years ago with a photo of a completely different one. Oh well five minutes of fame I suppose but I do wish that they had got it right.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Getting Back To Normal

Although Flo's death caused huge upheaval over the last few weeks and a tremendous sense of loss, life must go on after bereavement so we've come to Scotland for a few days to see Sarah, Duncan and Rose. I know that everyone thinks that their own grandchildren are the best in the world but Rose gives us good reason to feel like that - she's such a happy child; she raises everybody's sprits whenever she is around. It won't be long before she's walking and talking now and I'm so pleased that we've been able to see so much of her development despite our living almost three hundred miles away.

And speaking of raising the spirits, I read The Beginner's Goodbye  by Anne Tyler yesterday. What a lovely book. Strangely enough it is about bereavement although I didn't know that when I started reading - I just went to the first of the books that Marion has downloaded recently on the Kindle and started on page one without checking any of the blurb. It's the story of socially inept thirty something Aaron who loses his wife and how he copes with the aftermath of her death. It's beautifully written - a perfect lesson on the "showing not telling" that writers are encouraged to develop and I loved the way that the book dripped tiny snippets of information and finally gathered them all together into a very satisfying end. A very charming book that was just my cup of tea.

 I am afraid to say that Meg Rosoff's There Is No Dog was exactly the opposite. I started reading it just before Flo died and instead of finishing in my usual day or two it took over two weeks which may not have helped with the flow. However, having loved Just In Case by the same author so much, I was expecting another excellent read but I'm afraid that, despite the glowing reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, I just couldn't take to this story about God as a teenage boy with his weird, muppet-like, pet Eck. I don't know if I was in the wrong frame of mind but, despite a fascinating concept, it did nothing for me so it's not recommended, if I were to review it on Amazon I'd be giving it one star but I don't do nasty reviews on Amazon as I know that I wouldn't like them if my book ever got out there.

We went to see The Hunger Games at FACT last Wednesday. I know that it has been a smash hit but it didn't live up to our expectations. There's another great performance from the eminently watchable Jennifer Lawrence and plenty of twists in the plot but we both felt that it dragged a bit and, at almost two and a half hours long, could have done with being trimmed. 

We loved The Kid With A Bike though. The story of an elven year old boy abandoned by his dad but fostered by  the lovely and saintly local hairdresser played by Cecile de France it is a charming study of a child growing up and trying to accept that his blood relations don't want him, the effect that it has on his behaviour and the repairs that can be made by being wanted. It's a much edgier film than I had been led to believe by the headlines but beneath the delinquency of young Cyril there is a yearning for acceptance and charm in the way that he ultimately achieves it. 

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Blogging Again

Readers may have noticed that it's been very quiet here on my blog lately. The death of a loved one certainly knocks the stuffing out of you and I'm glad that most of us only have to experience it just a handful of times in a lifetime. It only seems five minutes ago that we were at Flo's bedside but well over two weeks have passed and yesterday was a culmination of those seventeen days as we went to Mortlake Crematorium and scattered her ashes in the rose garden where we scattered those of her husband Doug and where the same was done with other family members. Seeing a remaining pile of dust certainly drove home the significance of 'dust to dust' - it was an extremely moving moment.

We cobbled together this montage of photo's from her lifetime and used it on the printed order of service. If you click on it and look at the images I think that it captures the essence of Flo's love of life and overall genial disposition. We held a reception in her memory for her London family at the Richmond Hill hotel. It was similar to the one we held at the Ramada here in Southport and, although one can never forget the reason for being at a wake, it was a happy experience rather than a gloomy one. Once again we made use of the hotel's facilities and, after converting them to digital, we projected old cine films and photos of Flo's life onto a plasma screen. These caused so many happy memories to flood back to the family in the room and the conversation flowed.

I picked up a few more stories about Flo's life. Although her straightening of the Eiffel Tower will always remain the abiding memory for me, her sister-in-law Maureeen told me that when Flo and Doug lived with the family in Richmond, Maureen and Doug's mother had just one heirloom - a hand painted antique glass rolling pin brought home from the Boer war by an ancestor. This was dearly treasured. It hung on a wall and young Flo was under strict instructions not to touch it. However, Flo couldn't put up with a bit of dust or a cobweb that she spotted on the pin and ignored the family's wishes. No prizes for guessing what happened next and the ensuing crash brought family rushing from all corners of the house to find Flo standing amongst the shattered remains. "Didn't it make a noise!" she said.

As a diversion from the sorrow, I've been enjoying playing Words With Friends on the phone with some old work colleagues. I've been playing random opponents for a fair few months now and have to say that I've done pretty well with just three defeats until this week. But I seem to have met my match with Craig and Jenny from Instanta. It's worse than playing my computer at Scrabble. Every time I think I've come up with a killer word, they'll come back with something I've never heard of and worth at least fifty points - brainy pair! It's good to play a real person though. Whilst all the random games have been against "real" people, they could be anybody and I much prefer playing against someone I know, although if I keep losing like this I may change that opinion.

We've done it. The house is up for sale. We chose Karen Potter to sell it for us. We asked three estate agents to come and value it for us. They came up with prices with a spread of £25,000 which means that they were all within 5% of each other and, more importantly, within a few thousand pounds of what we thought the house was worth. We decided to choose Karen because we liked her website, had recommendations from a friend and she created the best impression. We sold our previous three houses on day one - watch this space.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

In Defence Of Osborne And Cameron

Writing about religion or politics is normally guaranteed to offend. But, as my readership is not that huge, I’m going to take a risk and, as a change from retirement, books, cinema and metal detecting, today I’m going to be a bit political.

The last few days have been a blur of grief and funeral arrangements. But somewhere in the background there has been an unremitting sense of the Government undergoing some sort of calamity. Is this proof that the Coalition is a bunch of idiots or is it perhaps further evidence (if any were needed) that our country’s media will print or say anything to sell papers or attract an audience?

As a lifelong Guardian reader you would expect me to glory in the ridicule heaped upon Cameron and his Government but I’ve always read that newspaper because I respect the quality of the writing rather than sympathise with all of its views.

Let’s look at some of the topics that have caused the media to mock Number 10 with banner headlines and satirical lampooning cartoons.

Pastygate. When I was working, the lads in our factory often popped down to the local chippy for some fish and chips at dinner time and they paid VAT on them. On the odd occasion they’d enjoy a Chinese and pay VAT on it. Now and then they’d go to the bakers and buy a hot pasty….. and pay no VAT. Seems a bit daft doesn’t it? Three types of hot dinner – two taxable, one not. If you consider that the biggest seller of hot pasties in the country is probably the multi billion pound operation that is Greggs The Bakers it seems an anomaly that they should have a price advantage over Chips Ahoy, Mr Cod  and Chung Wah. The Chancellor is trying to make sense of the tax system and put everything on a level playing field but, instead of reporting the facts, the media creates Pastygate and depicts George Osborne and David Cameron as out of touch with the working man. Unfair.

Dinnergate. Name a political party or politician that wouldn’t offer some time to anyone who donated a quarter of a million quid. It makes sense and don’t think for a minute that Ed Milliband would have done differently.

Grannytaxgate. This is the one that is most likely to affect me. As I see it, being old should not be seen as a reason to contribute less to the country’s coffers. A low paid young couple starting out together on say £20,000 per year has far more to find than an elderly couple with the same income. The pensioners are already likely to have their furniture and most of life’s necessities whereas the young have to save for those things. Why should the old have bigger allowances? They are only going to pay tax if their income exceeds them. They already have winter fuel payments, help with TV licences and free bus travel; so, if we are all in it together, we should all accept the fairness of one allowance for all. But how did the media cover the change in allowances? They branded Osborne as uncaring and depicted old people as shivering, freezing cold paupers eating bread and dripping. Totally unfair.

50ptaxgate. 50% tax! That’s a hell of  a lot. Add on 10% National Insurance  and that’s sixty pence in every pound going to support the nation. In the next tax year, somebody on £20,000 would pay about £4,050 in tax and NHI. However, someone earning £200,000 will pay about £85,500. A tenfold increase in pay produces a twenty-one fold hike in contributions to the exchequer. I’m all in favour of the rich paying a fair share but is this fair? Remember that many high earners will not only have spent years studying and bringing in no income and they may well be working eighty hours a week or more but they will also be less likely to use the NHS. About 18% of contributions go towards the NHS. That means that £200,000 earners are paying £15,000 plus towards a service they may not even use. I’m not crying for the wealthy; I’m just saying that the 50% rate was excessive.

Finally there’s Jerrycangate. I’m not so sure about this one. Yes it caused some stupidity at the pumps and yes there was a burns tragedy. It was probably wrong for the Government to create panic buying but it did bring the situation to everyone’s attention and if I didn’t have enough fuel to help mourners get to Flo’s funeral on Thursday because an unexpected strike broke out I would be very upset.

Oh well that’s the end of my political blog. If anybody’s still there, it will be back to cinema and the like next time.