Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Jury's Out

Well, that was short but sweet wasn't it? After planning this week and next week around daily trips to the Crown Court in Liverpool, I (along with around thirty others) found myself discharged back into the real world at about 4.30 today;  we were told that our services were not required next week so our ten day commitment turned out in fact to be just four. 

I'm not complaining. Jury service was not an unpleasant experience and we were certainly very well looked after. Observing the groups of jurors gathered in the waiting area every day at lunch time and during breaks in the trials it appeared that a number of friendships were being formed. There was a general air of camaraderie about the place which allowed us to relax and concentrate upon the job in hand. Had we not had such a lot of stuff to do at home I would have been quite happy to do the full stint.

As things are, the early reprieve is a bit of a Godsend as we've some family visiting next week and then we have to carry on with going through everything in the house and deciding whether or not we'll be taking it to Suffolk. As for Suffolk, the architect hopes to present the plans to prospective builders next week but then expects them to want four more weeks in which to come up with their quotes. This would mean that it could be into August before the builders get cracking; which in turn means that it could be almost Christmas before the house is ready for us to move in. And that means - if we sell our house in Southport - we might have to live in the caravan in Scotland for some time. Which is not, in itself, such a bad thing as long as the savings in no longer running the house in Southport offset the cost of keeping everything in storage.  

So it's hectic times ahead and, with Rose's first birthday in July,  a family baby on the way in August, Paul moving soon and us two managing a building project over a distance of 475 miles (9.25 hours according to AA Route Planner) this could be quite a bumpy few months. It's a very good job we're retired (that's a slightly stupid statement as, if we weren't retired we wouldn't be moving to Suffolk). Wish us luck.

I had a letter from the coroner today.  If Marion fancies a trip to the Lake District on our wedding anniversary, he's holding an inquest into the piece Roman gold jewellery on that day. He hasn't summoned me to attend so I think that we had better give that one a miss if I want any more wedding anniversaries. Not expecting to go detecting again any time soon.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Thanks For The Memory

We got back from our stay at the caravan on Sunday in time for me to start on Jury Service on Monday. I can't mention anything about that of course other than that I'm scheduled to be there for a couple of weeks.

Last night we decided that it was time for us to start dealing with all the paperwork in preparation for the sale of the house. We're using an online conveyancer (very pleased with the purchase will elaborate on which ones we used and recommend them on here if we're still happy after the sale); one of the benefits of doing everything online is that you can scan and upload all the answers to questions and copies of guarantees , planning certificates and all the documents needed for a smooth transaction. You can't say that we aren't thorough and we came up with twenty-nine pieces of paper in total which I diligently started to scan into a single multiple page document at around 10.30 p.m.

At just after midnight Marion asked me if I was still planning on coming to bed; 'Almost finished now' I was relieved to say as the screen asked me if I wanted to scan another page. I fed in the final sheet and pressed the scan button. The scanner whirred and started to copy. Thirty seconds later a warning flashed on screen to the effect that my memory was almost full. I sighed with relief that the final document was being processed but then watched in horror as a further message flashed up something to the effect that  "the application has quit unexpectedly"and the scanning application disappeared from the screen. It was now about 12.15 a.m. and almost two hours worth of scanning was lost. I vainly reopened the application but it was gone. So thanks for the memory (or lack of it) Mac. I can't really blame the Mac as I suppose I should have made the document a more sensible size and split it into several smaller ones. There's no feeling quite like the euphoria of finishing a pile of hard work being vapourised by an onscreen error message.

Oh well. It's all done now after getting up at 6.30 and working flat out before heading off to the court. At least it's a job out of the way.

I got home yesterday to find this lovely bouquet of flowers had been delivered with a box of chocolates and a bottle of fizz. They were sent by Sarah and Duncan as a thank you for the help with stuff in St Andrews last week. They really didn't need to send them but it was a very kind and generous gesture. We're pleased to hear that Sarah did very well with her Boden party so perhaps we'll be helping her with another when the autumn collection comes out.


Friday, 25 May 2012

Relaxing On The Costa Del Fife

After the hard work of the Boden party at the beginning of the week we had the chance to do a bit of relaxing yesterday and today. I had a couple of hours out with the metal detector and we've both managed to read a fair deal on the Kindles. Although I only found one very nice buckle with the detector, the lack of finds was more than compensated for by the glorious scenery and incredible weather which turned the Fife landscape into a scene of shimmering light reminiscent of holidays in Tuscany. I still found myself taking calls from estate agents, solicitors and the architect whilst in the middle of a field but at least these were positive calls - we completed the purchase of our new property in Suffolk.    

St Andrews really is spectacular in the sunshine. It's a lovely place at any time but when the sun shines it's pretty well unbeatable. 

The caravan site has been quiet all week so we've been able to sit on the decking reading in peace. I also found time for a bike ride of about fifteen miles this afternoon and I'm looking forward to cycling a lot more next time we are here. We've sent the architect a full breakdown of our plans for the property in Suffolk and we've found a gardener to keep on top of the garden in Framlingham before we move - now we just need to complete the sale of our house in Southport, appoint a builder and get cracking with the work. 

Exciting times.

It's a pity that I've been called up for jury service next week. That's something we could have done without.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Johnnie Boden, You Owe Us A Drink

The big event this week here in St Andrews has been Sarah's Boden party. We've all heard of Tupperware parties, Avon parties and Ann Summers parties where a group of friends gather together, share a few glasses of wine and some crisps and order a bit of make up, some kitchenware or something for the bedroom. Well a Boden party is on the same lines; except that, instead of a few boxes of cosmetics, sandwich boxes or vibrators arriving at the organiser's house, this is what turns up.

I should have said this is some of what turns up. There were also five clothes rails and a lot of boxes of promotional material and paperwork. Four of us worked flat out all Monday to get things ready and when we had finished Sarah's dining room had turned into a pop-up shop with samples of most of Boden's summer range.

Her bedroom was a changing room and her lounge had turned into an office. Once Sarah had baked a hundred cakes we were ready for the big day on Tuesday.

We were blessed with beautiful weather and I was given the job of minding the kids. Rose (left) was sporting her lovely Boden one piece suit and looked lovely in it. I have to say that the Boden clothes were very stylish and the women who came to the party all looked good in their choices. Marion bought a couple of new outfits and everyone who came gave Sarah an order which left her not too far short of the ambitious target that she'd been set.

Today it was back to Sarah's to dismantle everything and turn her shop back into a house. That kept us all busy until lunchtime so the party took up the best part of three days. So Johnnie Boden, if we ever meet, mine's a glass of red wine. Lets hope that Sarah's commission (when it arrives) makes it all worthwhile. 

Someone once told me that a bird crapping on your head is good luck. So that someone might say that I was unlucky when I heard something whistle past my ear yesterday and land with a splat an inch from my leg. Me? I prefer to think that the luck was on my side.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

A Few Hours Detecting At Last

After a sad two months of funerals, executorship, putting the house up for sale and buying a new house I finally had the chance to spend a couple of hours out doing some metal detecting - a favourite hobby alongside reading, writing and cinema. Now please don't stop reading there. We aren't all like Paul Whitehouse in the Aviva ads; some of us are quite sane and I've had a pretty successful twelve months with my Roman gold bracelet link being voted the UK Detector Net's find of the year and The Searcher magazine nominating my medieval key as the Nation's Most Significant find. 

So I approached the field in the (somewhat blurred - sorry) photo above with an air of excitement. Not only was the field less than five minutes' drive from our caravan here in St Andrews but the weather was beautiful and the enormous site was close to two ancient routes into the medieval city. I was five minutes into searching it when I got a call from the estate agent asking if they could arrange a viewing - a good omen perhaps.

Maybe not as, after almost two hours criss-crossing the field in search of antiquities, this button was the sum total of my finds. It was not as if I had a pocket full of junk to go with it. No; this was it. Two hours of stumbling across unevenly ploughed land putting my replacement hip at grave risk resulted in zilch. So I did what any sensible detectorist would do and headed back to the car to lick my wounds and decide what to do with the other two free hours I had available.

I drove away from the lovely little city and,after a few miles, spotted a remote church with a farm nestling a few hundred yards beneath it. Hallelujah, the farmer was at home and, as I am finding almost every time here in Scotland, happy for me to look around his fields at my leisure. There was plenty of choice but I chose to search a large piece of meadow with an old doocot  (dovecot for those readers who don't speak Scottish) in the corner. I didn't have a lot of time but within minutes of entering the field I had already found an old spoon handle and an old spoon - a small improvement on the previous giant field.

An hour later I had this lot in my pouch. I know it's not exactly treasure but thirteen coins in reasonable condition are always fun finding. They started with Victoria and ended with George VI and comprised a sixpence, a threepenny bit, two halfpennies and nine old pennies. As you can see, there was a fair bit of rubbish too but it was refreshing to search a field that had clearly not been searched before even if the finds were no more than 120 years old. It reminded me of my early days detecting when signals were prolific unlike today when most fields have had at least one enthusiast giving them the once over. The farmer was amazed to see how many coins turned up and pointed out a ploughed field that locals used to walk through to get to the church - I'm going to give that one a go later in the week.

In the meantime we've got Sarah's Boden party to help with tomorrow and Tuesday. If you like Boden clothes and live in Fife, do come and have a look. Sarah will have five rails of clothes on display for you to try and there's 20% off orders placed on Tuesday plus free delivery and returns. I'll be there. Hope you can make it. You will be very welcome. 

Friday, 18 May 2012

I Missed My Vocation

We exchanged contracts today and will officially own the house in Framlingham next Thursday. We've got to get all our ideas together for the architect so I downloaded a brilliant free program to help us to get our project designed. It's called Sweet Home 3D and it allows you to draw the layout of the house and then add all the features you want. Once you've done that you can add furniture and fixtures and then view it from every angle in 3D. You can even create a video run through of the property. I've only created walls and played around with a few bits of furniture so far but it's starting to take shape. It's not only fun to do it's also extremely useful as we've already changed the size and position of openings in walls, moved a wall 700mm back and moved radiators around. Without the program we would definitely have an inferior set of instructions for the builders. If I was starting out on a career again I would love to be working on something like this.

After a flying visit to Suffolk on Monday we're now on a flying visit to St Andrews. I know I'm getting on a bit now and I do have the odd accident with food but I'm not sure that Sarah was justified in putting this table mat in my place at the table when we popped round for lunch today.

And on the subject of food, here's a bit of haute cuisine from our wonderful motorway system. I won't name the service station as the woman who served us this dog's breakfast did so with charm but £5.99? If she'd had the benefit of Sweet Home 3D I'm sure that it would have been obvious that that hash brown should have been presented just below the sausage and the bacon shifted up a little - not that any of that would have resurrected the fried egg that must have been fried some time last week.  

Sarah is so busy getting ready for her Boden home shopping party on Tuesday that I was allowed to take Rose out on my own. We had a trip to the supermarket - what a joy! Who needs round the world cruises when you can spend an hour with a grandchild?

She's fast approaching her first birthday and is starting to find her feet. She's not walking yet but it surely won't be very long.

And here's an invitation to that Boden party. There's 20% off, free home delivery (and return) and, of course, a chance to try the clothes - something that you don't get buying online. If you are in St Andrews on Tuesday and want a super new outfit come along, check out the wide range on show and share a few refreshments. 

Thursday, 17 May 2012

A Holiday From Hell

It's very true that when people gather at funerals they often say to long lost relatives that they must never leave it so long before meeting up again. It's usually just words and those relatives remain distant until an obscure uncle or aunt passes away. In "The Red House", Mark Haddon's latest novel, early middle aged brother and sister Richard and Angela, buck that trend after their mother's funeral and get back together when Richard arranges a holiday cottage near Hay on Wye on the Welsh Borders and invites Angela and her family for a week's break.

Richard is a successful physician with a new wife and a teenage step-daughter. Angela is married to Dominic who has been significantly less successful than Richard in his career. They have three kids, eight year old Benjy and his teenager brother and sister Alex and Daisy.

The book explores the relationships between the eight characters over the week's break. All have problems - some problems are greater than others but, suffice to say, nobody is in the perfect mood to spend time with a bunch of near strangers and the holiday is predictably a time of tension rather than relaxation.

The bucolic setting reminded me a little of Posy Simmonds' Tamara Drewe comic strip and film but, although there is an opportunity for humour in the situation, it is instead a story of angst. And there is so much angst! Apart from young Benjy, no character has much to smile about and even poor Benjy has his parents to fret over. I feel that this is an aspect of the novel that lets it down. Nobody is upbeat and, because Mark Haddon chooses to write in an unusual (though granted extremely clever) style of hopping from viewpoint to viewpoint to the extent that I frequently found myself turning back a page to see which character was the subject of a particular passage it can at times be a very difficult read. Although the necessity to do this eased as I gradually got into the book and understood the characters I found another technique used by the author ( jumping from the past to the present tense) caused the novel to be somewhat disjointed and I found it a fairly stilted read.

There are some beautiful similes and the story is written in an extremely evocative and atmospheric way that makes the reader almost feel wet from the interminable Borders' rain but I didn't like the characters enough to empathise with them and, whilst I would give an arm and a leg to be able to write so well, I would rate this as four rather than five stars.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012


We're just back from Suffolk after a flying visit to Framlingham to meet the architect who is helping us to renovate the house we've bought and to discuss the plans with a potential builder. It's a major overhaul that we've got planned but the owners have emptied the house completely now and we were able to get a feel for the work in hand.

It's not an unattractive property from the front although all of the windows and the door need replacing. We hope that the new ones will be white and that the rendering will also be a different colour to the current yellowish hue although we haven't chosen what it is to be yet.

These windows in the lounge are going and are being replaced by two sliding folding doors that will take up the whole corner. The gas fire is going and we're having a chimney breast built and a stylish wood burner put in place.

All the ceilings in the house are going to come down and be replaced. We're having spots fitted to replace the current shades in the lounge and the radiator is going to be replaced with a good upright one.

This small dining room is being opened up into the kitchen and again the radiator will be changed for an upright.

And this window in the kitchen is being replaced by French doors and the wall into the utility room is being removed.

We were going to replace that wall at the far end and link back into the lounge but, having downloaded a CAD home design program we're not too sure if that will work and we may be left with too little wall space in the lounge for paintings and in the kitchen for units - so we're back to the drawing board on that.

This spare bedroom is being changed to have an alcove with wardrobes.

This bathroom is being stripped and redisgned.

As is this bedroom.

This bedroom is going to be a dressing room.

The garden needs to be developed.

We're planning to have a garden office at the end of the garden so we can use it to write in and to relax in in the summer and, hopefully it will be somewhere for the grandchildren to play when they visit.

This will be the view from the garden office.

And these are the views from the kitchen, lounge, garden and back bedrooms and the reason behind our buying this house. They say "location, location, location" and this location could not be better. The shops and all the attractions of Framlingham are within a five minute walk but in two minutes we can be walking into deep Suffolk countryside. The house is a challenge but if we get it right it's going to be worth it. It's a lot to ask but I'm confident that it can be done.

We stayed in the Brudenell Hotel in Aldeburgh on Monday night. This was our room. It was very classily furnished and styled and this too was a room with a view.

Some hotels tell you that they are a stone's throw from the sea but don't mention that it's a stone's throw for Hercules. The Brudenell is a stone's throw for the puniest of throwers. We enjoyed a fabulous dinner, an excellent breakfast and a very relaxing overnight stay before our visit to Framligham.

So that's where we're hoping to spend our retirement. Its a big adventure and a lot to take on (especially with 250 miles between properties) but we've plenty of time to get things right and I'll update our progress on here. You never know I might even get enough material for a novel out of it. 

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Oh Happy Days. Some Funny Books At Last.

A fellow blogger and metal detecting enthusiast John Winter (you can find his excellent blog down there on the right) asked me the other day if I read mostly female authors. I can understand him thinking this as I've recently reviewed books by Caroline Smailes, Ann Weisberger, Nicola May,Talli Roland, Meg Rosoff and Rachel Joyce on this blog. But in the last twelve months my favourite books have also included Pigeon English, The White Tiger, We The Drowned, Florence And Giles and Homer And Langley all of which were written by men. And by pure coincidence, both the novels I read this week have male authors.

I've grumbled so often about the lack of funny books that I started to wonder if I had lost my sense of humour. All the "I nearly wet myself ", "tears were streaming down my face" and "I almost died laughing" quotes on the fronts and backs of novels might muster a glimmer of a smile at best. There's one author on Twitter who, almost every day, quotes that a famous comic found his book hilarious - it's a pleasant enough read but he got me to buy it under false pretences. 

Well, finally, here's one that does exactly what it says on the tin (that would get the narrator's back up).

Driving Jarvis Ham by Jim Bob opens with "Would you drink a pint of your own piss?", a brilliant line but one that might deter the more sensitive reader. But, sensitive reader - any reader,  I urge you to proceed beyond this and the increasingly gross challenges that Jarvis and our narrator are discussing in one of their "in car" games and enjoy an extremely funny tale of a childhood friendship that came about one day at school and continued for the next thirty years. Jarvis is a Princess Diana obsessive, wannabe actor, wannabe pop star, wannabe anything famous. He's got none of the attributes that might give him even a smidgeon of a chance to realise those dreams - his classmates called him "balloon head", he can't sing and he can't act but somehow, our narrator, his only friend, sticks with him and indulges him with lifts to his no hope auditions and am-dram flops. 

Something more sinister lurks beneath Jarvis' loser existence as the novel develops through a clever combination of diaries and other mementos some discovered by his friend, some written by him. I love the friendly narrative conversational style. There are also some brilliant illustrations that alone would justify a "laugh out loud" quote on the back (although there are more than enough laughs even without them). Our narrator earns a living writing funny one-liners for Christmas crackers, fortune cookies and church posters (ruining my long held belief that the vicar at our local Methodist church must be Southport's funniest man)  and he relates the story with wonderful humour and style. Do read it - if you buy the electronic edition you even get four free songs by Jim Bob to download and enjoy. 

Having finally found one very funny book it would be too much to ask to read another in the same week wouldn't it but Michael Frayn's Skios is just that - a very funny book. Nikki is busily organising a big event for a charitable foundation on a beautiful Greek island. Fifty something Dr Norman Wilfred is flying there to make the keynote speech whilst handsome young chancer Oliver Fox is also on his way to the island to take advantage of a sexy woman in a villa he's managed to cadge for a week from friends of his wealthy not quite ex-girlfriend. All the classic characters are in place for a farce.

And what a farce develops! When Oliver discovers that his conquest has missed her plane and spots Nikki at the airport waiting for Dr Wilfred it's an opportunity he can't resist and what follows is a delightful concoction of mixed up luggage, mistaken identity and wrong bedrooms against a backdrop of sunshine, shady politicians and some other dark goings on on the hillside. It's a credit to Michael Frayn that he has managed to put together what is effectively a theatrical farce into a novel and he has pulled it off quite perfectly right down to the minor characters that no farce would be complete without - in this case brothers Spiros and Stavros from Skios Taxis and their catchphrase "thirty two euros".

So that's two very different and very funny books in a week. Whilst a lot of Driving Jarvis Ham 's humour is in the writing and Skios' laughs come from the absurd situation both are hugely enjoyable reads.

I've got The Red House by Mark Haddon (another male author please note) to read now before starting on Middlesex for Scott Pack's book club experiment later in the week (see the link to the meandmybigmouth blog over on the right) 

Friday, 11 May 2012

Someone Tried To Kill Us Last Night

Okay so maybe my headline is a touch exaggerated but what exactly did the person who pushed a shopping trolley onto the main London West Coast Line just outside Stafford intend? We'd been to London to visit the Grand Designs exhibition where we found plenty of great ideas for our not so grand house in Framlingham and, after a pleasant twenty four hours in which we met Paul and Josephine, we were heading back on the Virgin Pendolino. I'd even treated us to First Class (it's quite cheap on the 20.30).

The omens were not great when the First Class steward announced in a most apologetic voice as we pulled out of Euston that he'd got no food for us. His tone was pleading for us not to blame him although he didn't utter those exact words - he came up with the food equivalent of leaves on the line "they haven't left us any". To his credit, in an attempt to replicate Jesus' trick with the loaves and fishes he did conjure up a cream cracker with a sliver of cheese on it plus five grapes for those who were interested;  at least they hadn't run out of wine although as our car was parked at Preston I had to decline.

The journey was uneventful. I managed to finish another novel (reading that is, not writing one) before there was a metallic grating noise and the train juddered to a stop. We were at a standstill for some time before the train manager announced that, as we might have guessed, the train had hit something and the driver was now out on the track inspecting the train. To cut a long story short, we were delayed for forty minutes. The train had hit said shopping trolley left on the line.

Now, when the trolley dumper was doing his dumping I wonder if the thought crossed his mind that, however well engineered the trains are, there was a possibility that the trolley could have derailed an express train. And if that train had derailed into the path of an oncoming train at a hundred miles per hour, did he think of the possible consequences? I very much doubt it. In the end the consequences were that half a dozen or more people on the train missed connections to far flung outposts of England or Scotland (to their credit Virgin fixed up alternative transport) and the rest of us were very late home. That's a very late night for an awful lot of people.

I've been called for jury service in the near future and look forward to seeing British justice in action. I'll be interested to learn if something like this would earn a slap on the wrist and a petty fine or a charge of attempted murder as, in reality, if consequences had all run against the train, anything could have happened.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

This Week's Reads

A combination of bad weather and not much going on has given me the chance to read a couple more books this weeks. And what a contrasting pair they were!

The first, The Personal History Of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber is an American novel set in the South Dakota Badlands around the time of the first world war. Rachel DuPree is the wife of a rancher who is struggling against impossible conditions to be successful. The novel opens brilliantly with the couple's desperate attempts to recover water from the bottom of their dried up well. This sets the tone of the challenges they face throughout the book. But Rachel, with a houseful of children in tow and another on the way has far more to cope with than the drought that is scorching the earth and killing their crops and livestock. She and husband Isaac are black and with that comes the additional hardship of prejudice from both  the sparse population of whites and also from the local native Americans. 

It is a compelling read and beautifully written. The relationship between Rachel and Isaac is in no way a classic love story but has more in common with the relationships we see in eighteenth and nineteenth century literature where marriage is more often a matter of convenience rather than the result of true affection and this is the strength of the novel. Instead of simply watching two people fighting the elements together we see the inner turmoil of Rachel as she balances her feelings for her husband with her love for her children. 

The book is a fascinating study both of a rare subject (black American landowners) and of racial prejudice and it is the latter that makes it stand out as far more than a fictional misery memoir and more of a memorable novel. It's five stars from me.

The second read this week is Star Fish by Nicola May. As a granddad in my late fifties I am not exactly the target audience for this but Nicola is one of the authors I follow on Twitter and, when she tweeted special offers on her books last week I supported her and downloaded them. As you can guess from the cover, it's a romance like Build A Man by Talli Roland another on my Twitter list that I reviewed on here a month or two back. 

Amy is a woman in her early thirties looking for love. Keen on astrology; she joins a dating agency that specialises in finding partners who are astrologically compatible and then goes through the Zodiac in her quest to find Mr Right or a "sole" mate to her Piscean ways. It's a well written book aimed at fun loving (i.e booze and sex loving) females and I think that if you fall into that category you will find it a good laugh. For an old bloke who in his teens thought a peck on the cheek on the first date might be pushing it a bit it's a lesson in how times have changed as Amy has plenty of sex with a string of Mr Wrongs before she finds her Mr Right. She's crude, she's rude, she's quite outrageous but at the same time vulnerable and I can see the book being a big success for the audience it's aiming for. As someone who liked most of the characters that Amy considered rubbish dates I'm glad that I did my courting in the sixties and early seventies as I wouldn't have stood a chance in her world. I hope that it's a big hit for Nicola. She even made an old curmudgeon laugh a few times.

I'll leave you today with the song by Clare Teal that moved Marion to tears on Sunday evening.


Monday, 7 May 2012

A Smashing Time In The Ribble Valley

We went over to Ribchester yesterday to visit friends Mark and Nita Jones. We spent the afternoon watching Manchester City get within touching distance of the Premier League trophy and then went for a very late lunch at The Assheton Arms in nearby Downham. The sun was shining and, being Bank Holiday Sunday, it was no surprise that the pub was packed. Fortunately Mark had the foresight to reserve a table and we enjoyed an excellent meal and wine before heading off to Clitheroe.

Mark and Nita had booked to see Clare Teal who was closing the Clitheroe Jazz Festival at the Grand Theatre. I went with some trepidation as jazz is not my usual cup of tea and I had not heard of Clare Teal before Mark told us about the event. But I needn't have worried; she is a fabulous artiste. Accompanied by a fantastic trio on grand piano, double bass and percussion, Clare performed for two hours mixing a little traditional jazz with a helping of ballads and covers of classics by favourites like Annie Lennox and Snow Patrol. She has the winning combination of a tremendous voice and a sparkling personality and she certainly deserved her rapturous applause from a full house. Her final song Chasing Cars was sung with such feeling that Marion was moved to tears. We enjoyed the concert so much that we bought two CDs in the interval and we very much look forward to seeing Ms Teal perform again. 

I haven't blogged since our Orange Wednesday visit to VUE in Southport when we saw Avengers Assemble 3D. It's probably the best comic book hero movie that we've seen. I know that these films are daft but there's good daft and there's bad daft and this one is very firmly in the good camp. The film is well scripted with plenty of laughs from good one liners and the action is visually stunning; even if it's all done with computers, it's convincing enough for you to sit back and escape into a world of incredible invading aliens from another galaxy. The actors take their roles seriously; Robert Downey Jnr as Iron Man has the same charismatic twinkle in his performance that made him such a likeable Sherlock Holmes and Tom Hiddleston almost steals the show with his wicked Loki. At 142 minutes it's long but it didn't feel like it and that's a credit to Joss Whedon who has made an immensely entertaining film.

With all our plans for renovating the house in Framlingham we're going to make a visit to Excel in London's Docklands one day this week. It's not only an opportunity to get some ideas for the house but it's also our first chance to see Paul and Josephine together since Christmas. Lets hope that when we're in Suffolk we never have to go that long between visits.

Although I've been sounding like Victor Meldrew with my views on football on the blog recently, now and then something good crops up in the sport and even Victor would be hard pressed not to smile at this photo that swept around Twitter like wildfire at the weekend. Seems that Hartlepool fans descended on London en masse for their game with Charlton, dressed as Smurfs. What, with electing a monkey as mayor, it looks like there's no shortage of humour in Hartlepool.