Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Back Home. And Preparing To Sell It

We're back home from our Suffolk house hunt. The biggest worry while were away last week was how Marion 's mum Flo was managing without us. Fortunately she had a couple of visitors and she seemed pretty good when we visited her on Saturday and Sunday. We arranged for three of her old friends to come round to our house yesterday for some sausage rolls, cakes, a cup of tea and a glass of sherry. And things went extremely well until Flo needed to use the bathroom. Instead of asking any of us for help she opened the door, slipped and fell with a mighty thud and a nerve shattering scream. To say that we panicked is an understatement; Marion rushed for the phone whilst I, along with Flo's friends and a man who was working on some jobs around the house ran to her aid. Although her dignity and her pride were badly damaged, her head didn't hit any of the bathroom ceramics and, luckily, it simply brushed a wooden floor. Her knees took a nasty knock. Marion didn't call an ambulance as one of Flo's friends was a nurse for donkeys' years and was happy that the injuries didn't warrant a hospital visit. After an hour she was well enough to return to her care home in good enough spirits to be able to share a joke about her tumble. We smiled with her but our stomachs were in knots. Frailty, Alzheimer's and old age are a deadly combination. We visited her again this morning and the nurse from the Memory Clinic joined us. The nurse is pleased with her progress - she has started to settle well in the home.

I mentioned that we had a man at the house to finish off the small jobs that we want tidying up before we put it on the market. Yesterday he repaired the front door, fitted new brassware to it, re-grouted the bathroom and cleaned the conservatory gutters. He's already put new taps in the kitchen and cloakroom and fitted new lights by the front door so, when the decorator has finished repainting a couple of rooms  and we've done our last few jobs of blacking the grate and cleaning the driveway, we'll be ready to put it up for sale. I'm not sure that the £122 to fit a new seal to the washing machine door because it looked a bit manky was taking it a step too far (would you open the washing machine on a house viewing?). I've been taking a few photos in case we decide to try and sell without an agent. I'm tempted by Sarah Beaney's super site Tepilo ( CLICK HERE ) but, having gone through the Zoopla sales figures for Southport for the last twelve months it doesn't look like much is moving so I'm not anticipating a fast sale. Our three previous houses all sold on the day they went on the market (honest truth) but I'm not sure that we're in the same conditions today. We aren't desperate - if we get the house we are interested in it will take a good six months to renovate and we're in the fortunate position of our purchase not being dependent on the sale. 

It's very tempting to try Tepilo - nothing ventured nothing gained. But where does absolutely everyone look before looking anywhere else? That's right, RIGHT MOVE and, so as to avoid upsetting their estate agent customers, they won't accept private sellers (can't blame them really). According to Right Move we have to concentrate on the 3ps Price, Presentation and Promotion. We've got the presentation right so now we need to fix the price and sort the promotion. I reckon that, without an agent, we could ask a price that is a fraction below a very important price break but, with an agent. we would need to go over that important price band in the maximum price menus. Oh well, let's see what happens. Tepilo is happy to allow you to promote through an agent as well. 

They do say that moving is one of the most stressful times of your life and "they" are definitely right.

We're going to get a big water bill. While I've been writing this I left the hose topping up the pond (no we aren't on a ban here) and I forgot about it. If we had any viewings today we'd have to explain that the back is an experimental Japanese water garden or, being green, that we've decided on our own paddy field. Apologies for lack of photo due to slight exaggeration. 

Friday, 24 February 2012

Decisions Decisions

As our relocation week in Suffolk draws to a close I want to start today's blog with a word of thanks to David and Lyn, owners of the lovely little Barn Cottage in Framlingham where we've been based. It's a great little self-catering cottage that has been designed with every attention to detail and is equipped to a very high standard. It's perfectly located for Framlingham and nearby attractions and we would strongly recommend it to anyone looking for a break in the area. You can find details of the cottage on their website BY CLICKING HERE

After five days of research we had a well earned day off yesterday and went for a walk in the surrounding countryside. The local council provides a pack of cards printed with ten different walks each of about five miles and, with the sun cracking the flags, it felt like an early summer's day rather than mid February. It was a relaxing stroll after what had been, both physically and mentally, a strenuous six days. 

Our walk ended in the lovely market square where we've enjoyed regular coffee and cakes throughout the week at the Dancing Goat Cafe which has a really nice buzz to it. 

It hasn't been a wasted week. We've decided that Framlingham is a perfect place to relocate to and it's little surprise that it has scored highly on a number of lifestyle surveys being friendly, attractive, well located for both coast and country and close enough to London for us to be able to visit Paul and Josephine more often  (sorry kids).  

The negatives are that old properties within easy walking distance of the town centre have no parking (if any were for sale) whereas the rooms in brand new properties seemed extremely small. We found a house about thirty years old that is in a perfect location with extensive views across fields. It completely lacks the character of our house in Southport and needs a new kitchen, bathroom, en suite, downstairs toilet and windows but the garden is south facing and, with Marion's brilliant eye for home improvements, we shouldn't rule it out completely. Even with massive (and I mean massive) improvements we could possibly have change from the sale of our house. 

We've certainly got plenty to talk about on the long drive home.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Today We Rolled Into Southwold

The retirement property search continued unabated today as we headed north from the holiday cottage we are staying in and explored the lovely coastal town of Southwold. It's great to visit places that neither of us has ever been to before and we were both extremely impressed with this fabulous little seaside town. Mind you, it's clear that plenty of others are similarly keen on the place as our budget wouldn't find us much - we were told that these beach huts have fetched up to £70,000.

This little cottage caught our eye as it's called St Andrews Cottage - quite a coincidence as we spend such a lot of time in St Andrews but, whilst I am sure that the locals won't bat an eyelid, I bet any fellow Sandgrounders reading this blog will choke when they read that it's on the market for £370k (no garage, no parking, two bedrooms). Hello! It's Suffolk not Chelsea. Fortunately, although we loved Southwold, and think it would be a brilliant place to take the grandchildren in years to come, we didn't think it was the place for us. So off we went again.

We trundled into Beccles. We were drawn to this wonderful old art deco cinema and I thought that might be an omen as our favourite place so far has no picture house. However, when we reached it we found the cinema transformed into a chain restaurant. Beccles is a pleasant little town but, on our Goldilocks scale, this one was too big so we set off for Laxfied (which an estate agent insisted was the place that dreams were made of - she lives there). It is, without question, a very attractive village with two super pubs but we found ourselves shaking our heads and leaving with the words "this one's too small".

All this traversing the country put me in mind of Ben Hatch whose Are We Nearly There Yet is one of the books I've read this week. Ben travelled 8,000 miles researching a travel guide and wrote about his family's adventures. Here's the review I put on Amazon.

If you want information on child friendly attractions buy the Frommer's Guide that came out of Ben and Dinah Hatch's 8,000 mile drive around Britain with their two toddlers. If you want a book that is a genuinely "nice" read, buy this. I'm sorry if "nice" is a word that grates with some people but for me it's the most appropriate word to describe it as, as he records his family's adventures, Ben creates a warm, generous and affectionate glow in the reader .

Like everyone else who is likely to buy it, I read with interest the few curmudgeonly one star reviews on Amazon before splashing out my £1 and I can only say that those reviewers are truly on a different planet as, for example, there is no sign of Ben and Dinah's children being anything other than normal toddlers and Dinah's bad driving is clearly exaggerated for comic effect. Okay there are one or two factual inaccuracies but this is pleasant entertainment and not sold as a traveller's bible.

The journey was a massive achievement although one that was tinged with great sadness as Ben describes his emotions at the loss of his father during the family's time on the road. His writing on his father's death is genuine and conveys true love between father and son in an extremely touching way - if my own children have feelings like this for me and my wife I will consider our parenting a job well done.

It's not hilarious - and I don't think it was ever intended to be. It's pleasant, well written and thoroughly enjoyable. And, unlike a lot of Kindle books, it's not riddled with typos and editing errors.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

House Hunting Failure But At Least We've Discovered Ed Who

We’ve been traversing Suffolk for the last four days of our Goldilocks house-hunting week as if on some demented treasure hunt. Yesterday saw us in the beautiful village of Lavenham. I had great hopes for this place as, not only is it crammed full of fabulous old half timbered buildings it also has a big market place that we imagined would be a hub of activity. In reality, apart from having a few decent pubs, the village could be described as over touristified (if there were such a word). Where we would have liked to see a decent coffee shop or perhaps even a wine bar there was yet another tea shoppe. In addition, the local supermarket was not so super and offered less than the local Tesco garage in Southport so Lavenham doesn’t seem to offer everything we want.

Marco Pierre White owns The Angel a pub/restaurant in the village. We stopped by for a pleasant lunch of cottage pie. But this wasn’t any old cottage pie it was a Marco Pierre White cottage pie so it set us back over double what we paid for the fantastic fish and chips we had in Aldeburgh on Sunday. It was lovely food and the waitresses were friendly but price wise I think the celebrity chef’s name inflated the cost by maybe 30%.

Before we decided the village was not for us we arranged to view a house there; on the market at £450,000 it was in a fantastic location tucked away behind the chocolate box cottages but it turned out to be a wreck. It was only built about thirty years ago but every double glazed window was misted, kitchen and bathrooms needed gutting and replacing and the outside had more cracks than a crazy paved patio. Marion has recently been busy getting our house ship shape for selling. We’ve fitted new kitchen and bathroom taps, had the front door repaired, fixed a few loose roof tiles and arranged for a decorator to repaint three rooms and re-grout the bathroom; this seller hadn’t even bothered to empty his bathroom waste paper bin which was piled high with grubby cotton wool balls and eye make up remover pads. Nor had he cleaned his oven (or cleaned anywhere for that matter). If that’s what you can get in Lavenham for almost half a million quid you can keep it.

We also had a look at Long Melford. We got a good feel for this little town/big village but traffic was heavy through the centre and, as most of the property is along the main road, we felt it wasn’t for us.

So back we came to Framlingham. We’re increasingly getting drawn here. We joined the local older citizens on a country walk this morning – very friendly. And we’ve been sampling the pubs. We aren’t really into pubs and have never been in our own locals in Southport but it gave us a chance to get a feel for the character of the town and the four we visited were all welcoming. Today we went into The Station. It offered great food and was buzzing with talk of local boy Ed Sheerman’s bid for success in the Brit Awards tonight. A local TV reporter was interviewing the landlady as Ed used to perform in this pub before rocketing to success – such massive success that, until we came to Framlingham on Friday, we had honestly never heard of him.It seems that he signed his first record contract in the snug of the pub.  I just Googled him for this video and found it’s Ed Sheeran not Sheerman – never heard of him either.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

The Hunt Is On

We're in Suffolk in search of our retirement Shangri La. At the moment we're trying to narrow down our hunt by finding the town/village of our dreams before taking the plunge and going into the nitty gritty of finding an actual property. I feel a bit like Goldilocks at the moment as we drive to a village, park the car, buy something from a local shop and walk along the high street - Debenham 'This one's too small' we both say - Woodbridge 'and this one's too big' before we get to Framlingham (pictured) - ' but this one's just right.'

We did some very thorough research before we set off and we booked a cottage in Framlingham as , to say in that cringe inducing phrase beloved of every house hunter on Location Location, it seemed to "tick all the boxes". There's a small but very pleasant market square, a fabulous castle, three or four nice pubs, good local shops and a few decent cafes. What's more, everyone seems to be extremely friendly (Marion just pointed out that so were the locals in The Wicker Man). Just outside the village we saw a road sign that read "SUPERSTORE". When we were in the small (well maybe medium) CO-OP I asked the cashier where the superstore was. "This is it" she said and added 'Well you are in Suffolk"

Framlingham Castle

Framlingham Castle

Having crossed Debenham, Woodbridge and Wickham Market off our list yesterday, today we travelled down the road to Aldeburgh. It's a beautiful little seaside village and, in today's strong winter sunshine, it dazzled like a gem against a gentle sea`. Despite being mid February, the village was heaving and most car park spaces were full by noon. And it was easy to appreciate the attraction; a glorious shingle beach, plenty of shops and even more places to eat and drink; it reminded us a bit of our other favourite place - St Andrews.

Like much of Suffolk, the place is littered with historic buildings like this fabulous old moot hall which is still in use today as a civil building.

Opposite the moot hall is a fabulous old pub called The Mill. Whereas many of the other watering holes were done up very trendily to attract the weekending London set, this pub, popular with the local fishermen and lifeboat crew is very much a traditional local. We indulged ourselves and threw our customary dieting caution to the wind with an order of fish and chips. The landlord said that if the fish was any fresher it would be swimming and I can honestly say it was the best fish and chips I can ever remember eating. The village is very big on fish and all along the sea front were kiosks selling the weekend's catch. We could easily see ourselves settling in Aldeburgh but there is a huge housing premium to pay for living in a coastal spot that's popular with Londoners and we reckon that's as much as 30%. Is it worth it? We aren't convinced.

Tomorrow the hunt moves about twenty-five miles inland to Lavenham. This vilage is another box ticker. I'll let you know how we get on.

Friday, 17 February 2012

A Busy Week

Did you miss me hey
When I was away

Okay,  I know that quoting Gary Glitter may not be politically correct but I notice that the BBC didn't airbrush him out of the TOTP repeats running on BBC4 at the moment so I'll leave it in.

Yes, too busy for blogging this week - that's retirement for you - an action packed adventure for the orthopedically challenged.

On Tuesday - Valentine's Day - we did something romantic for once and went to a soppy film. We went to FACT in Liverpool which has to be the best cinema in the north of England if not the whole of the country to see Romantics Anonymous - a wonderful French film that was just so ...... French. Parfait. A truly lovely film with two leads that were far from the glamorous norm but still charmingly sexy in a very French way. The fact that it was shown at 12 noon and there were free biscuits for pensioners could not detract from the fact that it was an absolutely lovely Valentines Day treat. If you get the chance to see it - take it. You wont be disappointed as our fellow viewers replete with free biscuit and a free Hotel Chocolate  praline obviously enjoyed it enthusiastically.

Having studiously declined the free biscuits due to our pride at not qualifying for the pensioners' offer, we dined in style at The Monro, a gastro pub down the road from FACT. They were doing a special Valentines Day meal and we got a free red rose without the hassle of someone trying to flog us one We made the mistake of ordering cocktails on arrival only to find that cocktails were included in the set meal resulting in a somewhat wobbly walk back to the station for the journey home. It was a great meal and more proof (if any was needed) that Liverpool is a wonderful place for a day out.

On Wednesday I gave a talk to the Austwick Local History Society on the thrills of my hobby of metal detecting. I know that most people reading this will think that detector users are like the bloke portrayed  by Paul Whitehouse in the Aviva ad but the talk seemed to go down well and I gave prizes to those who best managed to correctly identify this random selection of finds made by me and my brother Peter over the last few years. The winner scored just twelve out of a possible forty (which may be down to my photography). I was amazed to be given £30 as a thank you by the society as that covered the cost of the prizes and even left me a bit towards the petrol.

I made the most of the ninety minute drive to Austwick by spending the day out on the fields with my detector. I almost had a heart attack when this turned up. Shining a sparkly silver I thought that I had hit the jackpot with an old silver jewel but, as the filigree balls are stamped PATENT 6116, it's clear that it's nothing ancient. It's a brooch but it's not silver. However the patent number seems very low so maybe it has a little bit of age to it. No doubt one of the experts on the metal detecting forums will let me know.

Here's Marion opening a lovely bottle of champagne. I'm not allowed to tell you why she's opening a lovely bottle of champagne but it's a very very very very good reason. Maybe one day in  few months I'll be able to tell you.

Saw this wonderful photo tweeted by the fabulous Old Course Hotel in St Andrews today. Sorry for nicking the photo Old Course but it's perfect isn't it? Fabulous hotel, fabulous town. Can't wait to go back to St Andrews.

We're in Suffolk now. We're staying in a holiday cottage which is lovely. Not only was it very reasonably priced but the owners left us a super little hamper of stuff that was totally unexpected. Will blog more and give you the details later in the week. We've only been here four or five hours but we're already convinced that Suffolk is our Panama( © Janosch). We've dined on my speciality home made pizza accompanied by Suffolk wine and Suffolk cheese and everything is very rosy. I came with dreams of a Grade II listed cottage but have already seen a brand new house that has turned that pipe dream on its head.

We've seen this trailer about five times now. It looks better with every viewing. Looks like the Wallace And Gromit team have another winner on their hands. Only problem, since seeing the trailer I can't get this out of my head.

Monday, 13 February 2012

A Drive With Compo

When the taxi drew up outside on Friday evening to take us with friends Mark and Nita to the Vincent Hotel for a meal, I did a double take; our driver, complete with silvery stubble and wooly hat was the spitting image of The Last Of The Summer Wine's Compo. Fortunately he wasn't wearing wellies and driving a bathtub but he gave the impression that he shared Compo's reputation as a bit of a ladies' man.

'Where to?' he asked.

'The Vincent Hotel'

'I know it. I took my girlfriend there - cost me £100. Well £50 as she paid half. She lives down XXXX Road. I used to drop her off in my taxi. Never thought I'd have a chance.'

We didn't dwell on his Nora Batty for too long as he went on to tell us about all the beautiful young women he drove in his taxi. There's the local beauty queen - "lovely she is" - and the stunning young Lithuanian -  "absolutely gorgeous" ; she gave him a kiss on New Year's Eve but unfortunately she's only a teenager and he's sixty-three.

It may have all been bravado and he's probably totally harmless but it was an unusual conversation and I would feel very uncomfortable about Marion taking a taxi alone with a driver like him. Our friend Nita felt the same and I can imagine a fair few women having uneasy late night journeys home from a night out in town. 

We had a very enjoyable meal. The food at the Vincent is not special but it's good, there's a very wide choice, the service is friendly and there's a real buzz about the place. Our friends couldn't understand how a meal there cost Wayne Rooney £250k as I wrote on this blog - so, for the sake of clarity, I should point out that he was fined this sum by Sir Alex for breaking club rules and going out on a night when he was supposed to stay in.

I see that Sir Alex was back in the news again this weekend with his comments on Luis Suarez's refusal to shake hands with Patrice Evra. He's really enjoying piling on the agony for Kenny Dalglish at the moment. After the totally inept handling of the whole affair by Liverpool FC during the last couple of weeks, the statements from Kenny and Suarez over the weekend bore the stamp of influence from on high. Both sounded like naughty schoolboys told by the headmaster to apologise;  I imagined headmaster JW Henry saying 'Now Kenny and Luis What have you got to say to the class?' and them staring down at their feet while giving their responses  'Sorry sir'. An abject end to a dismal affair.

 I read a tiny book yesterday; in fact The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman is so tiny that I read it all during a session on the exercise bike at the gym. And it was so enigmatic that I read it a second time when I was pedaling again today. Although the book opens with a real situation - an armed man (in a purple hat) walks into a bank, fires into the ceiling and tells everyone to lie on the floor - before long it's apparent that if Kaufman was an artist he would be Salvador Dali rather than Rembrandt;  the book becomes a series of fables after each hostage hands the robber the most precious item they have with them and subsequently weird and sometimes wonderful things happen to them. The fate of Stacey, the wife of the title who starts to shrink, is the central theme of the book but half a dozen or more small parables are cleverly interwoven into it - the author has crammed a great deal into eighteen short chapters. The book could be open to several interpretations and I'm sure that this was the author's intention but I was left (quite appropriately on the eve of Valentine's day) with an overriding message of the importance of love. This is a book that you'll either love or hate and you may take some time to decide which but, after the second reading, I'm in the love camp.

And on the subject of love and Feb 14th, we're off to FACT in Liverpool tomorrow to see Romantics Anonymous. I know that going to the Silver Screening (free tea and biscuits for pensioners) at 12 noon is hardly the stuff that dreams are made of but it's the only screening of this quirky French love story and it should set the tone before we head to The Monro later for a Vaelntine's dinner. 

Friday, 10 February 2012

Dr Jekyll & Mrs Hyde

I have pangs of conscience writing about my Alzheimer's suffering mother-in-law on this blog but it's supposed to be a retirement blog and it's something that looms very large in our retirement at the moment and I'm sure that it will loom large in other retiree's lives.  I'm not going to damage her dignity with a photo this time as she isn't looking her best having been (as I wrote earlier in the week) rushed into hospital in the early hours of Sunday . I can't praise Ward 11b in Southport hospital enough for the way that they looked after Flo for the four nights of her stay. She was given constant attention and kept comfortable throughout.

She's back at her care home now and on medication to help with a chest infection (possibly pneumonia) that resulted in an irregular heartbeat and breathlessness. Her colour has returned and her breathing is back to normal; the problem lies in her mental state. Whenever we visited the hospital we could hear Flo (she has a loud and distinctive London accent) long before we reached the ward entrance. Invariably she was laughing and in good spirits. The second that Marion and I were in view this changed and she would slump onto the bed crying and claiming a myriad of aches and pains - perhaps we just have this effect on some people. So our visits would pass with Flo in abject misery for the full hour and us lost for anything positive to say. The ward staff expressed surprise at the changes that came over her and they told us that she had been walking around freely for hours on end. When we came to collect her at four p.m yesterday she insisted that she couldn't walk and we had to get a wheelchair. In the past she has always been good on her feet.

This Jekyll and Hyde behavior continued as we left the ward - big smiles and huge hugs and kisses for the nursing staff together with 'You take care' at the top of her voice - followed by a constant litany of complaints en route to the car, during the drive and again when we walked her back to her room. On arrival in the room a carer welcomed her and the mask was switched again to huge hugs, laughter and smiles only to disappear the second that the carer left and the miserable mask returned.

I know that Alzheimer's is a terrible disease and it must be horrendous for Flo and every one else who suffers from it but there is certainly still something there in her brain that allows these huge changes in mood between the one that we get and the one that's on show to others. Perhaps the bad mood is the real Flo and she feels comfortable enough with us to show her true colours or perhaps we are being punished and seen as responsible for confining her to a home after other family members told her she would never be put in one. Whichever it is, it's extremely dispiriting as our frequent visits are tinged with a foreboding gloom that is difficult to feel positive about.

We do feel positive however about this evening when our friends Mark and Nita Jones from Workhouse Marketing in Ribchester are visiting and we're off to The Vincent in Southport for a bite to eat. That's the place where Wayne Rooney's meal at Christmas ended up costing him £250k. I hope it's a bit cheaper for us. Mark and Nita have cause to celebrate as their son Tom's The Whalley Wine Shop won the prestigious Independent Drinks Retailer Of The Year at the Off Licence News awards in London earlier this week - and well deserved it was too. It's a super little shop with a wonderful selection of fine wines, beers and spirits coupled with excellent advice and great service.

I'm busy preparing a talk on metal detecting for a local history society in the Yorkshire Dales on Wednesday. I hope that the snow holds off. One of the themes of my talk is how the public sees detector users and I think this advert just about sums it up.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

On Carnage And Martha Marcy May Marlene

Take four outstanding actors and put them on stage for a little over an hour and you've got a good chance of making a Broadway hit. Transfer them to the big screen and you end up with a Broadway hit masquerading as a movie. All four of the leads in Carnage play their roles to perfection but, set entirely in the confines of Michael and Penelope Longstreet's New York apartment, I felt claustrophobic and anxious for the action to move outside. The story revolves around an altercation between the couples' eleven-year-old sons which ended with the Longstreet's child with a swollen face and damaged teeth. Nancy and Alan Cowan (played by Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) a high flying couple - a lawyer and financier - arrive to try and make amends for their wayward son. A conversation that starts amicably enough, descends into chaos  (or the carnage of the title) when Alan Cowan (constantly distracted by the development of an important case on his Blackberry)  appears uninterested in the incident. Penelope's heckles rise until she approaches breaking point. It's extremely well acted and very funny in parts but for me it just wasn't a big screen drama.

Martha Marcy May Marlene starts brilliantly with the beautiful Martha ( Elizabeth Olsen) escaping a sinister cult commune and running away to stay with her sister. Cut between flashbacks of life in the commune and rehabilitation at the sister's magnificent lakeside home we see the horrors endured by the female cult members (especially the singing) under the spell of svengali-like leader Patrick (played with great menace by John Hawkes). Martha is constantly haunted by her past experiences and becomes paranoid over the possibility of being found. We enjoyed this but found that as the flashbacks became more extreme and parallels between the cult and Manson's "family" developed, the story lost its way and ended disappointingly.

I just glanced out of the window and saw this flipping great heron standing by the pond. It's got to live I suppose but I'd rather it chose some wild fish instead of our goldfish which have dwindled from over thirty in 2010 to just one or two today - now we know why.

I received this novel I "won" from Me And My Big Mouth (Scott Pack) yesterday. I'm really looking forward to what promises to be a highly original read. I also got a very nice hand written note from Scott as part of his 2012 hand written project.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

A Double Bill Of Cinema And The First Authonomy Ebook

Unless we get a phone call to say that Marion's mum is being discharged from hospital (she's making very good progress) we're off to Liverpool today for one of our regular double bill sessions. When I was a kid there were always two films in every screening but that's a thing of the past now and we have to plan our viewing around screening times (note to cinema managers - think about resurrecting double billing). The first, at 1.30 is Martha Marcy May Marlene which has been getting very positive reviews and, later, after we've had time for a cup of tea and slice of cake in our favourite FACT, it's Jodie Foster's latest - Carnage. I've read mixed reviews of this one but the trailer looked interesting even though it looks pretty obvious that it's an adaptation of a stage play.

I've read a couple more books on the Kindle this week. I've just finished The Qualities Of Wood by Mary Vensel White. I was keen to read this as it's the first e-book published under the new authonomy label. Authonomy is a website run by Harper Collins for aspiring writers. It offers unpublished authors like me the opportunity to put chapters of their books out in the public domain for others to read and comment upon. There's a chance that their writing will be noticed and that could lead to the first step on the road to a literary career. Competition is stiff as there's some very high quality writing amongst the several thousand books uploaded or partially uploaded. I'm going to put my book on there in a couple of months when I might have more time to be active on the site. You can check authonomy out HERE

Anyway, back to Mary Vensel White's book. I deliberately read this blind without reading any of the blurb so I didn't know if I was going to be reading romance, a thriller, a whodunnit or horror and, as the pages turned, there were elements of each. The author creates a very atmospheric setting in the woods behind the empty old house that a young couple, Vivian and Nowell, have come to tidy up. Occasional flickers of light play amongst the leaves at night - a teenage girl's body has been found - it was just an accident - or was it?  Was the mysterious Abe Stokes, who lives in a house in the woods, involved?

The book explores the couple's relationship with each other and with Nowell's angry younger brother Lonnie. Although I felt that a few things seemed superfluous (for example Vivian's interest in and thoughts on art sometimes interrupt the flow of the narrative), this is a very strong debut. A compelling back story tantalisingly woven into the novel in small snippets leaves the reader guessing right through to the end. We can feel the atmosphere as the heat of the summer builds up and family tensions fray.We smell the musty old well in the back yard and we fear what's outside in the dark of the woods. At 99p this is amazing value and I'm sure that we'll see more of Mary Vensel White in the future.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Suffolk Here We Come

We've finally started to get things moving with our planned move and have started to put our house in order. It's not in bad nick but there are a few flaws that need tidying up and we've arranged for a couple of tradesmen to come in and touch up the decorating, replace a few taps that have seen better days, fit a new seal to the washing machine and all those little cosmetic things that might put prospective buyers off.

With no ties we've got pretty much the whole country to go at but our extensive research keeps pointing us towards East Anglia and particularly the county of Suffolk which seems to score highly in a fair number of lifestyle surveys. So we've booked a cottage and we're off to do some research in a week or two. We hope to settle on a small town or village first before we start to look at property so the first couple of days will be spent driving around trying to get a feel for places and, if we find one or two places that we like and feel at home in, the last few days should give us time to visit some properties.

We've had an initial look at places and the north south divide is a bit of a pain. Our initial searches indicate that the sale proceeds of our detached house (above) with a super loft conversion, two conservatories and a big and well fitted kitchen will buy us something like this in one of the villages we're going to investigate. Granted this is in a popular holiday area but it's a significant reduction in space and privacy from what we've been used to for the past twenty years so we aren't going to rush into anything.

It's a bit of a catch 22. We can get something spacious if we want to live in the country but if we want to live close to facilities (which is essential as we want this to be where we spend our retirement and don't want to grow old in a remote location) we can't get much. I suppose we don't need much as there's only two of us but we do want the family to be able to come and stay. It's certainly an interesting project for us. I'll blog how we get on.

Monday, 6 February 2012

A Night In A & E

When the phone rings at one in the morning it's never good news. So, when we were roused from a deep sleep at just after one on Sunday, it was a nervous Marion who answered the phone to be told that her mum Flo had been taken to Southport Hospital. Flo's carers were worried about her breathing, called an ambulance and the crew thought things sufficiently bad to justify taking her in. 

The road and the car were both thick with ice so we called a taxi and, still a bit groggy from the rude awakening, by one thirty we were sitting in A & E. It was a busy night in the hospital and most of the cubicles were taken. Curtains separated late night revellers with broken bones from the frail, elderly and demented. The staff were, without exception, compassionate, efficient and hard working - a night observing them should be compulsory for everybody who moans about their job. 

Most of the party people were patched up and sent home but Flo was kept in overnight for observation. We stayed with her until seven when she was allocated a bed in an emergency admissions ward. Later in the day she was moved and today she has undergone a series of tests with more scheduled for tomorrow. It's likely that she will be in hospital for at least a few more days as there are several possible causes of her breathlessness and there are concerns about her heart. But, on a positive note, the medication appears to be doing her good and she was far more settled at both visiting sessions today. She hasn't had the happiest of times recently - let's hope that she gets a bit of a break and makes a speedy recovery.


Friday, 3 February 2012

Five Star Amazon Reviews

I've been reading a lot lately and most of my reading has been done on the Kindle which, being so easy to use, encourages me to read more quickly and, consequently, more full stop. My Kindle purchases have been downloaded from Amazon and several times recently I have been asked if I would mind adding a review to the site. As I love both reading and writing, this presents no problem and I am currently gathering my thoughts together on what to say and I think I've pretty much got that sorted. The problem lies in the star rating. So many books on Amazon have five star ratings (especially in the self-published category) that I feel churlish in suggesting that those I review are anything less; but to class an enjoyable romance or crime novel in the same category as, say, John Updike's  Rabbit Run, Kazuo Isiguro's  Never Let Me Go or Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger implies that if I ever find such wonderful books, they will have no better rating than the perfectly good novels I've been asked to review.

If you hold the cursor over the Amazon stars when writing a review, the following legends appear :-

***** I love it
****   I like it
***     It's OK
**       I don't like it
*         I hate it

But these descriptions don't appear alongside a book's star rating on it's home page which I feel leads potential buyers to use their own perception of five stars and for me (a big movie fan who reads the film reviews every week) that means exceptional. I will always want to see a film with four stars which I think of as very good and will be very happy to form my own opinion of three star films (a score which tallies in my mind with Amazon's "it's OK") although I would rarely bother with one that scored lower (on average across a number of critics).  

So when I write my reviews I will try and be as fair and honest as I possibly can but if I start throwing five stars around, what happens when something exceptional turns up?

Such as anything by Carolin Smailes who we went to hear speaking at Birkdale library yesterday. A full house heard Caroline talk about her Damascene moment whilst watching "Richard And Judy" (I wonder if it was one of the three or four episodes that our long suffering son appeared in); this inspired her to enroll for a writing course. She then went on to get her work noticed via the blogosphere (there's hope for me yet), suffered the pain of a publisher's liquidation but saw that pain relieved by success when her work was picked up by Harper Collins. It was good to hear somebody who clearly loves books, and language, and we were fascinated to see how her novel Like Bees To Honey (definitely five stars) and it's original cover, developed. Her books are one instance where the Kindle is not the best medium to read as she plays with fonts, layout and other innovative features which can't be reproduced on en e-reader. I'm looking forward to her next novel.

I love the iPhone. I spend far too much time on it but it's such a wonderful piece of equipment that it's hard to put it down. I hope that I'll get one of the new ones with the personal assistant Siri. I see that it's going down a storm in Scotland.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Win Win

I'm on a bit of a roll today. Firstly, I got an email this afternoon from Scott Pack (he's "Me And My Big Mouth" on my blog list recommendation over there on the right). My name came out of his hat after I left a comment on his blog to receive a copy of a book he has just published - The Evolution Of Inanimate Objects. I'm really looking to reading it. Scott's also running a project to send handwritten notes to anyone who asks for one so I've asked him to put one in with the book. It seems that there's an upsurge in reviving the art of handwriting letters at the moment and the Guardian highlighted this in an article today. Scott's project gets a mention there too so I imagine his pen will soon be smoking. I'd offer to write a personal note to any blog readers who want one if I thought anybody would be able to read it. 

My second bit of good news came to light when I checked the UKDetectornet Forum to find that my Roman gold clasp did top their Artifact of the year poll when it closed last week so I'm in line to receive a subscription to a detecting magazine. I'm giving a talk to a village society near one of my favourite detecting spots on 15th February so that will give me something to mention. I've done a power point presentation - never done one of those before so I hope I don't fall flat on my face. Okay so it's not exactly winning the lottery but maybe it's an omen for me to get my entry to that novel competition I mentioned the other day posted.

We're looking forward to hearing Caroline Smailes talk at Birkdale Library tomorrow. I read Black Boxes last week. After the excellent In Search Of Adam and Like Bees To Honey, I wondered what surprises Caroline had in store this time and was not disappointed. She has to be one of the most original authors writing today. Black Boxes is possibly even grimmer than In Search Of Adam but it's extremely hard to put it down. There's fascinating use of words as almost an art form on the page together with the only example of sign language in a novel that I've ever come across. It's highly recommended reading as long as you aren't feeling depressed and, as someone who once helped on a suicide helpline, I found the tone very authentic. She will be talking about Like Bees To Honey tomorrow; although it has death as a central theme, it is a walk in the park compared to Caroline's other novels.

This week's Orange Wednesday trip was The Descendants. As you might guess from the title it's all about family and the film entwines several relationship threads around the story of George Clooney's wealthy Hawaiian  lawyer Matt King whose wife is in a coma and about to be disconnected from life support. Clooney's tearaway seventeen year old daughter Alex (brilliantly played by Shailene Woodley), difficult ten year old Scottie (Amara Miller) and Alex's friend Sid (Nick Krause) make up the heart of the cast and I loved the way that the characters evolved in response to the situation the family finds itself in. The extended family is involved in a multi million dollar real estate deal involving inherited land and King as the last surviving trustee has the final say on what goes on. Throw in an affair, an alpha male father-in-law and Alzheimer's suffering mother-in-law and you've almost got a full house of relationship issues. Director Alexander Payne handles these well and Clooney gives a beautifully understated performance which I found touching. I'm surprised that the film didn't rate higher with the critics (only averaging three stars in most of the broadsheets) but perhaps it was just a bit too nice. It is classed as a "comedy drama" and, although it did have some of the audience laughing, I felt that the laughter was out of place.

And the subject of family leads me seamlessly to an opportunity to leave you today with this wonderful little family video.