Saturday, 29 September 2012

My Granddaughter The Photographer

Well they say it's never too young to start and, at fourteen months, Rose is showing a keen interest in photography - well, let's say that she likes things with buttons. I was babysitting for her the other day and we got around to experimenting with my phone. Here are her first efforts.

I think you'll agree that she's starting to show an artistic streak. And talking of artistic streaks, Marion treated me for lunch at the wonderful Seafood Restaurant here in St Andrews for my birthday today. There was a bit of a mix up with our reservation - I messed up by using Twitter and not getting a confirmation, but all was not lost and, despite a full reservations book, they managed to find us a table by a window (not difficult really in a building that is constructed of glass) and proceeded to serve the most delightful of meals. Each course not only tasted fantastic but was a work of art on the plate (no wonder they were turning people away). Here are just a few of the amazing courses we enjoyed.

A delicious crab starter. Now I can't remember how the dish was described on the menu but I can only say that the pale yellow ball which was like a cold sweet corn puree was fabulous.

Our mains were equally grand and I enjoyed a decadent half lobster while Marion had the monkfish wrapped in parma ham special which was amazingly good (I know because Marion left some). There was no let up with the chef's imagination with desserts and we shared our panna cotta and dark chocolate puddings.

You would be hard pressed to find a better lunch and the beauty of celebrating at lunch time means we won't miss the X Factor! (Although from what I read, nobody is bothering to watch it this year) . It won't be long before the live stages begin and I can place my annual bet which has been successful every year except the one when I lost by backing Cher Lloyd. I quite like the personality of a girl in a duo with a rapper and think that's where my money will go this time.

We headed to Edinburgh yesterday to take my Bronze Age gold metal detecting find to the museum. The good news is that it's still Bronze Age gold and the curators agree with my identification but all will be revealed when the results of tests on the metal are carried out. They liked everything else I found too and I've left it all with them - I wonder when I will see it again. Whilst in that lovely city we seized the opportunity to go and see "Untouchable". "You do know it's in French?" the young woman at the ticket office intoned as we bought our tickets a bit like the way that they said "You do know it's silent" when we went to "The Artist". I suppose you can't blame VUE for making sure when they screen something that is a bit out of the ordinary - they don't want unhappy customers who were expecting to see Elliot Ness (you need to be fifty plus to get that reference). It's as good as it says on the poster. An unemployed no hoper somehow manages to land the job as carer for an incredibly wealthy Parisian quadriplegic and starts a life changing experience for them both. It's funny, touching, gentle and totally watchable with a wonderful performance from Omar Sy as the carer Driss who just oozes cool and personality. Based on a true story I worried that it was going to be too sad but it avoids that pitfall and is a total joy.

I'll leave you with photo's from today's lunch. Another year on, retirement still seems to be suiting us both.


Wednesday, 26 September 2012

There's Gold In Them Hills

I managed my first day out detecting today since returning from our two weeks in Kent. Despite last night in the caravan making us appreciate how Noah must have felt shortly after settling into his ark, the weather was kind today and the sun even shone upon me towards the middle of the afternoon.

And it shone in more ways than one as I uncovered this small fragment.  Now I appreciate that to the non-detectorist reading this that it looks pretty insignificant but I think (and I must stress the word "think") that it could be an important find as I believe that it is possibly a piece of Bronze Age gold. I've checked out the Portable Antiquities Scheme database and the size looks right to fit in with other Bronze Age gold rings although most of those on the database are almost a full circle. They are often classed as ring money and are not big enough to be finger rings.

Here's another view with a silver threepence that turned up nearby.

I really enjoyed the day. I dug up plenty of bits and pieces as well as the threepence and the gold; there were a couple of fragments that I think are partial medieval buckles, a few Russian lead bag seals, and my first ever medieval heraldic harness pendant. There's a small bronze ring too but these are so difficult to date that I'll ask the museum to give an opinion when I take the gold in on Friday.

These medieval pendants are often found with colourful enameled coats of arms but there are no traces of enamel or gilding on this one although there is a pattern of squares faintly visible. I'm off to see the farmer and his family tomorrow night to show them the finds including the three hammered coins I found a few weeks ago and I'm hoping to find which other fields I can try my luck in although, despite spending four sessions on this field, I still feel that I've barely scratched the surface as it is enormous and it could be well worth another few visits before he plants it again.

While I was out Marion had the chance to see Sarah and Rose. It's hard to believe how quickly Rose is growing up. I'm looking after her tomorrow while Sarah takes Marion to a beauty treatment she's booked for her and then on Friday we're off to Edinburgh to take the finds to the museum and hopefully go to the pictures.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Under Pressure

We're back in St Andrews and, after a beautiful Sunday when I was able to get on my bike and complete a long ride in sunshine, today has heralded what feels like the onset of winter; it's as if we've missed autumn out; we've had to put the central heating on in the caravan and Marion is sipping hot chocolate as I write. 

We're not heading back down to Framlingham for another ten days but we got a long email from our architect in Suffolk today pushing us for a lot of decisions to pass on to the builder and we feel under a lot of pressure to get answers to him. But we're using an interior designer and some of the answers depend on her and we don't want to put her under similar pressure and rush our design - after all we're spending a fair sum on these alterations and we don't want to spoil things. Carrying out a project at over four hundred miles distance is not exactly easy although it has run fairly smoothly to date. 

That "to date" is eleven weeks now. That's not far short of three months that we've been of no fixed abode. We've done over ten thousand miles in the car, stayed eleven nights in Premier Inns and five nights in other hotels and B&B's, spent a couple of weeks in Rochester and the rest of the time in the caravan here in St Andrews. Although we love being in St Andrews, life in a caravan and on the road is not exactly a perfect existence and we were talking about our experience the other night and going through what we miss. Here's our top twenty five.

 1 Friends and family - obviously
 2 Going upstairs to bed
 3 Coming downstairs for breakfast
 4 The garden
 5 Sky Plus
 6 FACT and Vue cinemas
 7 Decent broadband speed
 8 Cooking 
 9 Being able to pass each other indoors without breathing in
10 Our clothes
11 The gym - seriously
12 A phone signal
13 Space
14 Washing machine
15 Bath
16 Comfortable sofas
17 A second car
18 The postman - not like that 
19 Routine
20 Holidays
21 Photographs
22 Coal fire
23 Home
24 Shopping (that one's Marion's)
25 Sense of belonging

It's not all negative mind. In a future blog I'll list all the positives.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Goodbye Kent

We love Kent and we've enjoyed our two weeks here in Rochester (albeit interspersed with forays into Suffolk and Wales) but tonight we're packing our bags in preparation for the long trek back to St Andrews. At 540 miles it's a bit longer drive than usual as we're traveling via Richmond in Surrey to drop something off at Marion's auntie's. We had hoped to visit some old friends while in Kent but the man fitting the new boiler for Paul took longer than expected so our only time out was a quick visit to Tunbridge Wells on Tuesday and some time at Bluewater yesterday.

If you aren't familiar with Bluewater it's like a southern Trafford Centre; I hate visiting the Trafford Centre but somehow Bluewater didn't have the same effect on me. I'm not sure why as it has the same Disney styling. Perhaps it is not quite as big as its Manchester counterpart, perhaps it was the uncrowded atmosphere or maybe the shops and restaurants seemed a bit more refined but I have to admit that I quite enjoyed the experience with a good look around John Lewis including coffee and cakes in the basement food hall, a few tapas at Tapas Revolution and a visit to their enormous multiplex cinema.

We went to see Anna Karenina. It's an amazingly original production using the setting of an old theatre instead of going on location for the majority of scenes (although there were some sweeping shots of peasants on the vast grasslands) and it works very well indeed. Marion thought that I wouldn't like the film but I did enjoy it very much although Anna and her lover's relationship seemed to be founded entirely upon them falling in lust with each other's incredible good looks. Keira Knightly is a very beautiful actress and Aaron Johnson is dashingly handsome so their love at first sight was credible but the relationship somehow lacked the depth that I understand was portrayed in the book. Jude Law (once a heartthrob himself but now made up as a curmudgeonly old man) portrays the cuckolded husband with a measured performance and Matthew Macfadyen adds charm in his role as Anna's brother.  

In the few days we have in St Andrews we're celebrating my birthday at the wonderful Seafood Restaurant with a long lunch, making a trip to Edinburgh to do some shopping (and to take some of my detecting finds into the museum) and then I'm afraid it's back in the Prius for another journey to Suffolk on 2nd October for a meeting at the kitchen designers and to have a look at progress on the house in Framlingham. You can say what you like about retirement, but ,in our case at least, it's anything but boring.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Gas Man Cometh

We're spending a few days in Rochester house sitting while British Gas fit a new boiler for our son and our daughter-in-law. Despite their less than perfect reputation, BG has been pretty good so far; the boiler arrived promptly, the fitter arrived promptly and he got to work pretty sharpish so that within a few hours of being in the property it started to look like our renovation in Framlingham.

I'm glad that our new baby granddaughter isn't around for the few days that this work is going on as there's going to be no hot water until Friday. At least they should all return to a nice warm house; when the gas men finish we aim to give the place a good clean to get rid of any workmen's dust and replace all the  furniture that we had to move so that they could fit the new pipes. One of the best things about retirement is the ability to be on hand to help with this sort of thing.We'll be off back to Scotland when it's all done but it won't be long before another night at Ipswich Premier Inn as we've an appointment with the kitchen designers on 4th October.

We haven't been out into the Kent countryside as much as we planned as yet but we did manage a quick visit to Tunbridge Wells yesterday to check out some furniture for our house in Suffolk. We passed this place in Aylesford once before and this time I was able to take a snap. Ours is a very uncommon surname and I wonder if there's a family connection.

I don't want to sound like Victor Meldrew but I spotted this scene yesterday. Someone has enjoyed their four cans of lager or whatever but couldn't be bothered to walk the two steps to the litter bin to dispose of the empties  - I just don't get it.

One of the luxuries of being here at Paul's is the availability of a broadband connection. After two months in the caravan with wireless for snails I have got out of the habit of Twitter and Facebook but was able to have a chuckle on Monday night when these two cryptic messages appeared in close succession. Both friends are Evertonians and I guessed from the first (the lower one) that they had scored a goal but two minutes later the message was not quite as clear. I checked the scores and sure enough Newcastle had equalised. 

Tomorrow we're going to head to Bluewater (the Trafford Centre of the south) to check out more furniture while gas man Matt does his stuff. We may even get the chance to watch Anna Karenina at the multiplex there. It would be good to get to the pictures as we've only seen three or four films since we moved and were getting used to at least one a week in Southport.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Our Nomadic Existence Continues

After a week in Rochester we headed to Framlingham on Thursday, spent the night on the outskirts of Ipswich, visited the kitchen showroom on Friday morning to choose our appliances and then headed West to Wellington where we stayed the night at the Old Orleton Inn just off the M54.

This is a very high quality inn that does B&B. The place has been very tastefully decorated and beautifully fitted with a great deal of thought going into the interior design. Our room was equipped to a very high standard with a good (and free) broadband connection, iPod docking station, large flat screen TV, DVD player comfortable bed and a good selection of toiletries, hot drinks, biscuits and even chocolates. The restaurant is part of the "slow food" movement in which everything is cooked fresh and they obviously have a very good chef. The service was good but we felt a bit let down by the decor of the dining room. There were three interlinked dining rooms, two were buzzing, brightly lit and attractive; the third was dark and uninviting but sadly had the only table available ( we assume- as that was were we ended up). It's a pity as this spoiled the stay for us and left us feeling as if we had our noses pressed up against the window of somewhere better but we couldn't come in. I would certainly recommend a stay if you are visiting the Wellington area but if you do, try and get a seat in the nicer dining rooms as, although we made a reservation earlier in the week, we felt as if we were in the overspill room.

From there it was on to Llangollen to visit our oldest friends Dave and Janet. Janet made a huge effort to join us having undergone some surgery recently that would have kept a lesser person bed bound. We enjoyed a light lunch at the lively Gales Wine Bar, had a walk with their four dogs in the beautiful Welsh countryside and then topped the day off with dinner at a pop-up restaurant in a nearby village pub that was holding its last night of dining. 

The young chef was leaving for a top job in a Snowdonian country house hotel and it wasn't difficult to see why he landed the job as the standard of food was very high. An added bonus for us was that we were allowed to bring our own wine and Dave very kindly furnished us with a fine champagne and equally fine bottles of red and white wine. It was great to see old friends and enjoy their weekend cottage; we even had the luxury of a bath for the first time since leaving Southport (our Premier Inn rooms have all had showers). 

Our visit to Llangollen was all too short and now we find ourselves back in Rochester where we are staying for a few days to oversee some work at Paul's house. We're going to make use of the house as a base for a few days out around the fabulous Kent countryside and may even get the chance to visit some old friends from the days when we lived in Edenbridge back in the late eighties. The weather forecast is fine so things are looking good.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Progress In Framlingham

We've been back to Suffolk today. We had a meeting with our interior designer Jemima this morning at her studio in Woodbridge. Everything went very well and we agreed upon some great choices for the tiling of the bathrooms and styling of the bedroom and dressing room. 

We then headed up to Framlingham to see how things are actually progressing with the house and had a meeting with builder Roger and architect Keith. Things are moving very quickly and Roger was pushing us hard for the interior designs; we felt a bit pressurised but can't rush Jemima as we can only see her when we travel down south and can't expect miracles from her.

Here's some of the progress we saw today.

This was the original kitchen and dining room space.

This is how it looks now with the walls between the kitchen and utility room and kitchen and dining room removed. It's a very big room.

This was how the site for my garden writing office looked originally.

And here's how it is today with hedges removed and the building of the base in progress.

Here's how things are progressing with the en suite bathroom.

So, as you can see, things have certainly not stood still in the four weeks since we last visited the house. Now that we have chosen a kitchen, ordered all of the bathroom fixtures and fittings and settled upon tiling designs and colour schemes we can hope that things will now progress without too much need for our visits. Obviously we'll be keeping an eye on progress but maybe things will be a bit easier for us. 

We've got a relaxing weekend to look forward to now although nothing seems to run smoothly at the moment as friends we were planning to visit in Wales may not be able to make it for reasons beyond their control and we may have a wasted journey and return down south.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Where To Start

I don’t think that I’ve gone this long without blogging for a few years but life has been somewhat hectic recently and it was 28th August when I left you with news of my success with the metal detector. A few days later I compounded that success with another of those superb little cut silver half pennies. This one is from the realm of Henry III and in lovely condition. It’s the law in Scotland that we have to report all our finds to a museum so I’ve notified Stuart Campbell in Edinburgh Museum and he’s asked to see the coins for recording in the Scottish Coins Register and wants to see everything else I’ve found in the same field, just in case I’ve not recognised what I’ve got (I hope he enjoys looking at scraps of lead and shotgun cartridge cases).

After that it was time to head down south again to visit our Rochester family. It’s six weeks since baby Catherine arrived and we couldn’t wait to see her. She’s grown so much and is a beautiful bonny little thing. We’re so proud of our two grandchildren. On Friday we took Catherine and her mommy to Ightham Mote – a National Trust property a short drive from their home in Rochester. We visited Ightham about twenty-four years ago when we lived in the area and it has been restored beyond recognition. It’s a beautiful place as you can see from these photos.

On Sunday I went to collect Sarah and Rose from City Airport. Sarah was so keen to meet her new niece; Rose was fascinated with her new cousin but she was not too sure what to think of her. We booked into a country cottage in a small complex above the Thames Estuary with stunning views across the Thames estuary.

On Sunday I also discovered that we were sharing the cottage with the biggest spider I’ve ever seen here in the UK. I Googled it thinking I’d discovered some new monster species only to find that it is a common house spider. I’ve seen plenty of house spiders but I’ve seen nothing like this one before.

On Monday we got together as a family (sadly minus Duncan who couldn’t get time off work). It was wonderful for us to be with our kids, Josephine and two grandchildren for the very first time and we celebrated with lunch at a great little Italian Restaurant Don Vincenzo in Rochester High St which is within an easy walk of Paul and Josephine’s house. They are starting to settle into the house and it’s looking really good now that they have got nearly everything in place.

After a pleasant Monday we had a hectic Tuesday with baby Catherine and Rose’s first visits to The Natural History Museum. We had a wonderful day although I had not realised how difficult it is to negotiate London Underground with prams and pushchairs – planning was a major exercise in logistics and we had to walk a fair few miles to get to stations with lift access to the platforms. It made me appreciate how difficult a time the disabled have in getting around the capital.

Today we said goodbye to the Rochester branch of the family, took Sarah and Rose back to City Airport and packed again. Tomorrow we’ve a meeting with the interior designer in Woodbridge and the builder in Framlingham and yet another night at Premier Inn Ipswich. On Friday we’ve got a meeting with a kitchen company in Ipswich and then we originally planned to stop over in Llangollen to visit friends en route back to Scotland but the friends may not be able to make it so we’re staying near Telford and then deciding whether to head up to Llangollen on Saturday or back down to Rochester as we’ve promised Paul that we’ll help out with some workmen at his house for a few days. We won’t be back in Scotland for another ten days. It’s a very hectic life.