Tuesday, 28 August 2012

A Bit Of Metal Detecting Success At Last

Since we've been living in the caravan I've only managed two sessions out with the metal detector before today. Things have been so busy on the housing front (with planning the renovations on the house in Suffolk and the journeys between Scotland and England) that leisure time has been at a premium; but every time I've had the chance to get out on my bike I've been knocking on farmers' doors and asking for permission to detect when the crops are harvested. I've managed to find more acres of land around St Andrews than I could ever walk across never mind detect.  

My experience of detecting in Scotland so far has been one of glorious scenery and very few finds but the Kindgom Of Fife is such an historic area that I felt it would only be a matter of time before my luck changed and today was the day that it did. I found a field near to a stream and some fairly old buildings and was confident that I would find something old. A couple of hours later with just the usual couple of buttons and scrap in my finds bag I was beginning to think that it was going to be the same old story. I made a slight adjustment to the frequency setting of the detector and, coincidence or not, I suddenly started to get more signals and this was the first.

I appreciate that to anyone who knows nothing about detecting it looks quite insignificant but it's a very old hammered halfpenny from the days when to make a halfpenny you simply cut your silver penny in half. This coin has been identified for me by expert Tom Redmayne as being from the reign of King John who was on the throne from 1199-1216 so that's a coin that was lost around eight hundred years ago. It was minted in Norwich.

I was delighted to find this as it's my oldest Scottish find by a good five hundred years and I was even happier when, about fifteen minutes later another hammered coin turned up.

Tom tells me that this one is from the reign of Henry III (1216-1272) so it is possible that the coin was lost at the same time (it was a fair distance from the other so I don't think that it is part of a hoard or purse loss). And that was it - time to go home. I popped in to show the farmer who was very interested in the finds and told me it was fine for me to go back any time. I'm looking forward to giving it another try soon.

I had to smile when I looked out of the caravan window this morning. Neighbours had planted this small planter and there was Peter Rabbit on his hind legs, helping himself.

Monday, 27 August 2012

That's More Like It

After two weeks that revolved around 1,000 mile return trips to Suffolk. we've had the luxury of a drive free couple of weeks to to look forward to since we got back from Framlingham in the early hours of Wednesday. Before we headed back we even enjoyed a few hours of glorious sunshine reading the Kindles on Aldeburgh beach.

Back at the caravan we've enjoyed the wildlife, managed some long walks and bike rides and enjoyed exploring a bit more of our temporary home county of Fife. 

Yesterday we headed out on a boat trip from the pretty coastal town of Anstruther to the glorious Isle Of May.

The weather could not have been more perfect despite a strong swell at sea. Duncan warned us to sit downstairs during the crossing and it was sound advice as some of the passengers on the upper deck were decidedly green at the end of the hour long crossing.

The Isle Of May is about six miles off the coast and has been inhabited for centuries - firstly by monks and then later by lighthouse keepers and now by just one or two wardens as it is an important nature reserve and home to hundreds of thousands of birds and large colonies of grey seals. As the hundred or so passengers spread out across the small island we were able to explore it in peace and take in the fantastic views and watch the seals and birds enjoying the balmy late summer sunshine. The island is very well maintained with footpaths clearly marked and useful information signs dotted around providing an insight into life on the little island and events from its history. We were so pleased to have made the trip and hope to do another one as there are times when thousands of puffins colonise the island, times when the seal population multiplies and days when the huge lighthouse is opened to the public.  If you visit Fife and have a day when the weather is set fair, take the May Princess - it's £22 well spent.

There is a visitor centre for shelter with toilets and a picnic area but there's nowhere to buy food on the island. We won't be going hungry in the next few weeks though. We decided to convert our last batch of Tesco Clubcard points into Pizza Express vouchers as they were converting every £5 into £20 - so now we've got £240 worth of pizza to look forward to - perfect for our non fasting days. We're still doing that fasting diet but I'm not saying how we're doing on here yet as it's too early days. 

The beautiful little church at St Monans is another site that we've been able to visit. It's in a spectacular spot.

We've another ten days here to look forward to before we head back down to Suffolk so we'll try and make the most of it with a couple of trips to the cinema (and Pizza Express of course). We went to see The Bourne Legacy this week. It's okay. Watching on a screen that wasn't a lot bigger than you see in some houses nowadays didn't give it the blockbuster feel that it really needs. I felt that the director had been told to make another Bourne movie and simply took all the scripts from the old Bourne films, cut them up, put them into a hat and pulled enough out to fill a couple of hours. Enjoyable chases, a complicated plot, glorious scenery and cinematography but nothing new. I'd leave it until it's out on Sky  if you haven't seen it yet.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Basking In St Andrews

Now that's a headline I never expected to write. We've had a caravan in St Andrews for over a year now and, although we've known it to be sunny quite a few times, never before have we had weather in which shorts and t-shirts were a necessity. Yet, for a few glorious hours over the weekend, the coast became the Costa Del Fife and we were able to stroll around the cathedral, the harbour and along to the castle and I was able to cycle one of my regular routes and come out of the wooded shade and hit a wall of heat. It was a super weekend and we even had the pleasure of taking Rose out for a couple of hours before the sun came out.

View towards St Andrews Harbour

Another harbour view

St Andrews castle

Ruined water mill in a woodland glade.

That was the weekend; today we've been back on the road yet again. 

As the sun rose we were crossing the Forth bridge en route to Suffolk - our builder wanted to know where we wanted all our electric fittings. We got there for 3.30 p.m and sorted the fittings as best we could - it's surprising how difficult it is. We have made an appointment to see our interior designer again tomorrow to make sure that we didn't make the 1,000 mile return journey just to configure a few plugs and sockets but tomorrow night it's another eight hour drive through the night.

I hope that the builder has enough to keep him busy for a couple of weeks now as I don't fancy doing the trip again next week. We're definitely going down again the week after as we're going to visit Paul and family in Rochester - we're really looking forward to seeing them all. We've booked a cottage and Sarah and Rose are going to join us for a few days as Sarah hasn't seen the new baby yet - it should be great. We can't wait.

Friday, 17 August 2012

A Day At The Fringe

One of the many pleasures of living up here in St Andrews is the proximity of Edinburgh making it easy for us to visit that wonderful city whenever we like and giving us the opportunity to visit the fabulous Fringe. When we were working we always promised ourselves that we would get to the Fringe but years came and went and we didn't make it. Now, we're almost veterans (well we've been twice). Last year was very much a learning experience but we're both fast learners and, with Marion's exceptional organisational skill, this year we were able to take in four shows, two restaurants and have a look around the street entertainment in one day.

We learnt last year that deciding what to see when you arrive in Edinburgh is a bad idea and wasted over an hour in the ticket queue. So this year with help from the weekend papers we chose our shows in advance, booked tickets online and picked them up in five minutes from the fully automated box office collection point which ran like clockwork. We realised we had time for another show so downloaded the official App onto the phone, checked what was on at our available time and picked up the tickets a few minutes later. That's one thing we've found, the Fringe festival is incredibly well organised - shows start and finish on time, the place is well signposted and it all seems to run like clockwork.

We lunched at Bella Italia - okay it's not exactly fine dining but it was handy and we had vouchers which gave us £20 for every £5 of Tesco points. We knew we had to wait as the place was busy and the Fringe was on but forty minutes for a starter was a bit too much to accept so Marion persuaded the waitress that a top up to our wine was called for (and graciously given). Marion's salmon was overcooked - probably because they forgot the starter - but my Tagliatelle Di Campagna was surprisingly good and redeemed the visit from being a disaster (for me at least).

Lunch over, we took in our first show. Sharron Matthews Superstar: Gold was cabaret (in the afternoon). Canadian Sharron welcomed us all individually with a handshake as we entered Pleasance Above and we all warmed to her straight away. She's a big young woman with a great voice and terrific humour. Her act is a mixture of singing, anecdotes  and some sparkling and good humoured interaction with the audience. Her enunciation is so good that in her fresh take on some classic songs the penny finally dropped and I heard the true lyrics for the very first time. I loved her versions of Don't Stand Too Close To Me, a ghostly Hotel California and a cover of Bohemian Rhapsody that would have given Freddie Mercury a run for his money. In fact I loved the whole show; it was not all a barrel of laughs as she told a particularly sad story from her childhood with a great deal of pathos before turning back to the comedy on hand. A great hour and a highly recommended afternoon show.

When you say that you left a comedy show with tears streaming down your face, it's usually a sign that you've been crying with laughter. Not the case with Sean Hughes' fabulous Life Becomes Noises - an hour about his father's death from cancer last year. His final lines touched me deeply. This show mixes tragedy and comedy to perfection. Marion spent half of the performance with her hand inside a puppet elephant (don't ask), and it's not just stand up as Hughes uses a variety of simple props and costumes to make this tribute to a father who was far from perfect but shared a bond with his son that only a father and son can share. It's a wonderful performance, extremely funny, brilliantly written and perfectly performed. Leaving the show I overheard a few of the audience who had been taken aback by the dark theme and I suggest that you check shows out and read all about them before buying tickets.

After Sean's show we headed to David Bann's vegetarian restaurant for a glass of wine and a few tasty vegetarian snacks. We liked this place; it has a busy atmosphere, friendly service, good food and, being just a few hundred yards from the Pleasance Courtyard complex of Fringe venues, it's perfectly located.

Our evening's entertainment concluded with two sell out shows - Sarah Kendall and The Boy With Tape On His Face. Sarah performed in Pleasance 2 which is a less intimate venue than those of the previous two shows and I felt that this place made it difficult for the comic to engage with her audience. We saw a show here last year too and I had the same feeling then. Kendall was an unknown entity to us but she won us over with her feisty, very Australian, feminist take on life, motherhood and sexual harassment with a funny hour that was well written and well performed but somehow lacked that something - possibly that intimacy - that turns a good show into a great one.

On the other hand, Sam Wills - one of the hot tickets of the Fringe, playing to a packed Pleasance Grand, had an instant rapport with his audience. Again ,we knew nothing about this performer other than what we had read in the blurb and reviews and were not quite sure what to expect. New Zealander Wills' entire show is conducted in silence (he has gaffer tape across his mouth) and the humour is created by his mimicry, his facial expressions and ,mostly, his interaction with willing audience participants. Unlike most shows where performers take audience members on stage, the crowd gave the impression of being willing to take part as The Boy With Tape On His Face treats the poor public with good grace, doesn't make a mockery of them and, as the announcer told us all before the show started, if we didn't take part we'd look like a cock. How we laughed! But on reflection I'm not sure why we laughed. If I told you we spent an hour watching people imitate light sabres with retractable tape measures, being Spanish bulls with shower attachments, playing golf with ping pong balls and a dustpan, flamenco dancing with trick false teeth for castanets and bursting balloons with a staple gun, you'd think we were mad. And that's what this show is; daft, mad, silly, even a bit stupid but, due to Will's expressions, it somehow works and a good time is had by all.

So a great day for us. We enjoyed it so much that we're hoping to get back again before it finishes on 27th. All four shows were good. The best all round for me was Sean Hughes but, if you want something funny, happy and uplifting,  watch Sharron Matthews - she really is a superstar.  

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

No Going Back

Well, if we ever had second thoughts about the renovations we planned for our new house in Framlingham, we can forget them now. We popped in to see our builder Roger during our flying visit to Suffolk yesterday and couldn't believe how much work he'd done in the four days that he's been working on the house so far.  

Here's the lounge, minus ceiling, coving and skirting boards. There was a fair sum in the budget for repairing the uneven upstairs bedroom floor but removing the lounge ceiling has revealed that the fault was merely a bowed beam that can be remedied quite easily.

Here's the kitchen minus ceiling and units.

And the en-suite bathroom minus everything.

They've made progress in blocking up our bedroom door and making an opening into the room we're going to convert to a dressing room.

The main bathroom is completely bare too.

So the house is now almost in the same condition as it was in its early stage of being built. It's great to see things moving like this and the builder has almost overtaken us and is wanting to know what we want by way of lighting, plumbing etc. Because of the distance involved we've taken on an interior designer. She's brilliant and has carried out some award wining projects including her own magnificent home which was given a two page spread in the Homes section of this week's Sunday Times. Although our little place may well be considerably smaller than the stuff she's used to working on, you wouldn't know it and she's been hugely attentive and very helpful. We started with a request for her to look at the colour scheme and window dressing for the downstairs but are now using her for advice and input on almost every room in the house. I always felt that good design was the secret to our business' success and I think that the same applies to decor.

Another 1,000 miles on the Prius resulted in the death of another 1,000 insects. I took the car to car wash this morning but even the gold wash option was unable to shift all the fauna embedded in the front of the car.

A day of relaxation today. We've missed seeing our St Andrews family while we've been away and are missing our Rochester family too. Paul posted some lovely photos of our beautiful new granddaughter Catherine on Facebook the other day, I'll see if I can get some copies to share with you on here.

Monday, 13 August 2012

A Flying Visit To Suffolk

As I write, we're back in the Premier Inn in Ipswich on a quick trip to Suffolk to see how the house renovation is progressing. We got up at five thirty and were on the road at six; if it had not been for an accident on the A14 we would have arrived in time for our appointment with the interior designer who is helping us with our decor but the road was closed near St Ives and we had to detour almost seventy miles out of our way and arrived at her studio in Woodbridge via the M25 - but only fifteen minutes late.

Tomorrow we're heading for Framlingham in the morning and back to Ipswich in the afternoon for another meeting with the designer and then we're back on the road for another four hundred mile drive back to St Andrews. Fortunately we've time for a lie in in the morning to make sure that we are fresh enough to complete the journey. We share the driving so, whilst an eight hour drive is daunting, a four hour drive each is not too onerous. 

Before our long drive, our more relaxing week in Scotland continued and on Saturday we had a lovely day out with Sarah and Rose and visited a rare breeds farm with a playground just outside St Andrews and then went on to the superb renaissance style Falkland Palace - a great piece of architecture in a small and picturesque village.

There's so much to see in and around St Andrews that I'm sure we'll find plenty to keep us occupied in between our treks up and down the motorways. Later this week we're heading to the Edinburgh Fringe. We've got tickets for The Boy With Tape On His Face - More Tape, Sean Hughes - Life Becomes Noises and Sarah Kendall - Get Up Stand Up which will take up the late afternoon and evening. Hopefully we will find a few more offbeat acts to try earlier in the day and, as it's not a fasting day, somewhere good to eat.

Speaking of the fasting regime. It's been a fasting day today and we've had three cups of tea without milk, a banana and strawberry smoothie and half a cheese and ham sandwich each - when I finish writing this I plan to study the Premier Inn's breakfast menu in anticipation of an eating day tomorrow.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Heading Downhill And Fast

We felt that our somewhat sedentary lifestyle of the last couple of weeks was starting to take a toll on our weight so we nipped out to Argos yesterday and bought a set of scales for the caravan bathroom; sure enough we’ve each put on about five pounds since we moved. It’s not a huge figure in the grand scheme of things but we wouldn’t want to be putting that on every few weeks so we decided that action was called for. 

On the open road.

We’re missing the gym so last night Marion joined Sarah for a Pilates class and we’ve been blessed with the good fortune of four consecutive sunny days which has meant four bike rides for me. I said in my last blog that I’d ridden over twenty miles on Tuesday but I thought that I might be fooling myself with that guesstimate and drove the course that I cycled in the car and it came out at 18.3 miles. I checked a couple more of my regular routes and they’re all between 11 and 15 miles. I hope that that level of exercise soon starts to take effect. I’m not exactly Bradley Wiggins but I’m certainly putting in an effort. Cycling downhill – even on the fairly gentle local slopes – is exhilarating; God knows what it must be like coming down Mont Ventoux on the Tour De France. 

We’re always ready to try something new so, when the BBC showed a documentary about improving your fitness using a routine that involves regular fasting we decided to give it a try. The documentary didn’t go into too much detail but the presenter Micheal Mosley lost over a stone in five weeks and other blood measurements that affect susceptibility to heart disease and cancer also improved dramatically. We could be mugs for listening to a one-hour documentary on the telly but it was convincing stuff and we liked the idea of not having to watch what we eat on the five days of the week when we aren’t fasting. Yesterday was day one and we fasted although we are allowed six hundred calories on fasting days so had a good breakfast of Weetabix accompanied by banana and strawberry smoothie. We can drink water and green tea so we treated ourselves to a visit to a cafĂ© and found ourselves handing back the chunk of tablet (Scottish fudge) that came with our beverages. So far it hasn’t been much of an ordeal although we found ourselves spending an inordinate amount of time yesterday planning what we were having for breakfast this morning and the bowl of muesli and plate of bacon and egg has never looked so appealing. I'll keep you updated on our progress.

If you’re looking for a brilliant summer read, look no further than Jonas Jonasson’s The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared. As its title suggests it’s a story about a hundred year old man. On his hundredth birthday Allan Karlsson decides to climb out of his care home’s window and head wherever his legs take him. They take him to the bus station where he meets a young man who asks him to guard his large and heavy suitcase for him while he uses the toilet. What follows is a brilliant and hilarious tale of Allan’s adventures as he takes a bus ride into the unknown – with a suitcase. This quirky Swedish novel is beautifully translated into a very simple and easy read that is always entertaining, moving between Allan's outrageous adventure and flashbacks to even more outrageous (if possible) adventures from his past involving encounters with some of the biggest names of the twentieth century. I found myself laughing out loud at the charming, non-political, engaging, unflappable Allan and his hilarious story. An episode involving one character, Sonya, was as funny as anything I’ve read in years.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A Few Days Off the Road

Writing this quickly before the caravan WIFI drops out again. It seems that as soon as more than one happy caravaner logs on the speed drops to something like 1kb per minute.

After the three thousand mile trek that was late July, early August has been a little more relaxing and we’ve had a pleasant few days in Scotland and have a few more to come before we head back down to Suffolk on Monday. The sun even shone on St Andrews yesterday allowing me to get the bike out of store and get pedalling (which is a good job as, apart from walking around Rochester we’ve had very little exercise over the past three weeks).

I got riding with a vengeance and managed about twenty miles with a lot of climbs in glorious sunshine taking just a short breather to look at the wonderful ruined abbey in St Andrews. Obviously I’ve seen it a hundred times but I can never ride past without stopping and taking in the view and imagining what life was like there hundreds of years ago on that lovely headland.

Before I got cycling we had time for a trip to Cineworld in Dundee to see Pixar’s latest “Brave”. One of the benefits of being in Scotland is that we got to see it a week before it’s released in England. It’s yet another triumph from Pixar with all the fabulous LA studio’s hallmarks of humour, pathos and incredible attention to detail. Flame haired Merida is a headstrong young Scottish princess from the days when that abbey was in full swing. She’s not keen on the arranged marriage being proposed by her mum and dad (voiced by Emma Thompson and Billy Connolly) and takes steps to avoid it. What follows is a blend of the supernatural, sorcery, legend and adventure as teenaged Merida battles to get her own way and in doing so brings crisis to her family. Family bonding and love is a constant in Pixar movies and the relationship between mother and daughter is beautifully done without being corny or over-sentimental. Despite that underlying theme there’s still plenty of time for the expected comedy both visual and verbal with plenty of Scottish dialect that was very well received by the Dundee audience. The film comes along with a beautiful little short called “La Luna” that is quit enchanting. Don’t miss it.

On Monday I was given the “job” of looking after Rose while Marion and Sarah did some sorting out of Sarah’s pre-maternity wardrobe. What at treat! We went to play at the caravan park playground until she was shattered.

I couldn’t have had a better day. 

Friday, 3 August 2012

No Time To Blog

I ended my last blog by saying that there was WIFI in the cottage we are renting so I could start blogging again; easier said than done! That was five days ago and since then our feet haven't touched the ground as we've been helping the family to settle into their new home together by doing errands and getting odd jobs done. There's been nothing major on the list but plenty of running around in the car to Limehouse and around Medway to get things together.

The Old Tuck Shop where we are staying was once, as it's name suggests, the tuck shop for the famous King's School which is just opposite the house. It's an ancient building that is reputed to date back to the 14th century and it has been restored by the owners to an excellent standard. It comprises just two small rooms - a living/kitchen/dining area and a bedroom with en suite bathroom but it is absolutely perfect for a couple. The bed is extremely comfortable, the kitchen is well equipped, the lounge is nicely furnished and it is full of character with crooked old windows and fabulous old beams and floorboards. The only negative has been the proximity of the school. Delivery lorries have been making shipments of provisions to the gate opposite the house from 6.30 a.m onwards. Fortunately we've needed to get up early this week but we may have struggled if we had wanted a lie in. Having said that, it's been so nice that we'll certainly come again if we need a place to stay if the house is full when we visit Paul.   

I fell asleep reading the Kindle the other night and it dropped to the stone floor. Here's how it looked the following morning. I phoned Amazon to ask about a repair and they agreed to replace it free of charge even though I had dropped it - how's that for excellent customer service?

Speaking of customer service, we'll see how Chanel do with theirs when they get this back. I bought this eau de toilette for Marion recently but it's gone all funny. Chanel told me to return it so I did and will wait for their response. Although I knew how the Kindle was damaged, I've no idea what happened to this.

It's back on the road again for us tomorrow as we head up to our caravan home in St Andrews where we hope to get a couple of days relaxing. We can't wait to see Sarah, Duncan and granddaughter Rose again. In the meantime, I'll leave you with a photo of Marion with our new granddaughter Catherine.