Thursday, 29 November 2012

This Week's Finds

I wrote about the plunging temperatures on yesterday's blog and when I set out with the metal detector for this week's outing there was snow on the distant mountaintops. It's difficult to see on this photo but it's certainly there. I worried that the ground would be too hard for me to dig but, as temperatures have only just plunged below freezing at night, I was in luck. 

I started by searching a pasture close to an ancient landmark. I had high hopes for this new field but, being pasture and undisturbed land, finds had sunk out of the detector's range and I was limited to a few bits of scrap.

So I headed back to the stubble field that I detected on last week. It was another beautiful day and, once again, I wasn't short of signals to dig.

Nothing very exciting I am afraid but another extremely enjoyable day. It was really a case of so near but yet so far as nine of the ten coins are very old (some as early as 16th century) and if they had been in good condition and if the ring were silver instead of copper I would have been delighted. There's an old whistle, a couple of pot mends, a pocket watch winder and a Georgian shoe buckle to add to the collection of bits and pieces I've uncovered during our caravan stay.

One thing that's noticeable about living so much further north is the shortness of  the daylight hours. Shadows were extremely long before 3p.m and it was pretty much dark by 3.30 today.

Detecting apart, we're starting to feel the Christmas spirit here in St Andrews. On Sunday we went with Sarah, Duncan and Rose to the Christmas Fair at the Fairmont hotel. Rose was not keen on sitting on Santa's knee but she did like the gingerbread model of the hotel.

Tomorrow it's St Andrew's day and we're going to some of the many events lined up all around the town and culminating in a torchlit procession and fireworks. The weather forecast is good and we're looking forward to a great day.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Baby It's Cold Outside

When we decided to come and live in the caravan while the house in Framlingham was being renovated we expected to be here for about three months. Late summer and early autumn wasn't going to present us with any problems but now that the moving deadline has been extended to mid January we're a little apprehensive about what the weather's going to throw at us. 

This was the windscreen the other day when we woke up. We were warm enough in the caravan but this was a relatively minor frost. As it was a bright and sunny morning I decided to have a ride on the bike but when I started to go downhill while pedaling uphill I realised that the road was an ice rink and walked until I found a spot where the sun had melted it away.

This fox that I passed on the verge looked as if it had gone to sleep and frozen overnight although I assume that, despite no visible signs of injury, a motor vehicle was involved.

Watching The Antiques Road Trip on the telly recently has been a bit of a guilty pleasure. It's a fun little programme and it encouraged us to have a look around the Scottish Antique & Arts Centre at Abertyne between Dundee and Perth. It's a very nice antique centre and we had a good look for bargains and enjoyed a decent lunch in the restaurant. I used to deal in antiques on eBay and know a fair bit about ceramics so, when I saw this Gaudy Welsh jug from around 1830 for a fiver, my old dealing instinct made me buy it.

I've no idea what I'm going to do with it but I've got some books on this pottery (in storage) and seem to remember that this is a very rare pattern. No doubt when I get the books out of store I'll find out that it's not.

Being newcomers to Antiques Road Trip we were shocked tonight when we watched a recorded show and discovered that one of the regular experts, David Barby, had died. He was only 69 and seemed to be such a jovial and happy character. It really brings home to you how short life can be.

On a happier note, we went to see Silver Linings Playbook after leaving the antiques centre.  Following the misery of The Master last week, this was a real breath of fresh air. It may be predictable and cliched but it's a real joy and if you enjoy a love story as much as I do, don't miss this one. With charming performances from Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper as recovering depressives and Robert De Niro on top form as an OCD dad I thought it was a delight.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Framlingham Latest (Now You See It, Now You Don't)

Remember my swish garden office? It looked great and we were very pleased with it. But one Friday evening after a rainy day we got a text message from Keith, our architect,  telling us that the roof was leaking. Being hundreds of miles away there was not much that we could do other than ask Keith to investigate. 

This he did and when we got this photo of how the roof had been finished we were absolutely horrified. We couldn't believe the quality (or lack of) of the workmanship and insisted that the studio should be removed and replaced with one of acceptable quality. To give the suppliers their due, they did appear to be as shocked as we were at the outcome and it seems that they had employed a new sub-contractor who was not as reliable as they had been led to believe. They have instructed a wooden building specialist who is approved by our architect to rebuild the office for us and we hope that it will be replaced before Christmas.  

In the meantime it really is a case of back to square one.

We aren't due back in Framlingham for another two weeks so we asked Keith to let us have some photos of recent progress.

The splash-back in the family bathroom is in place. Keith doesn't like it but he admits that he isn't one for choosing colours and we think that when the accessories are in place it will look great.

The wood burner has been fitted at last. We bought it months ago but had to wait for the chimney breast to be built and painted before it was installed.

The ground floor wooden flooring is complete too.

The skirting boards and kitchen and downstairs WC floor tiling are being finished this week and then we have all the lights and sockets being installed next week with the decorators hopefully completing the kitchen and dining area before the kitchen fitters arrive on 10th December. The plumbers need to install the downstairs WC and the decorators will be finishing the wallpapering and painting of the rest of the house before Christmas. This leaves just the completion of the fitted wardrobes on 4th Janaury and the final touches to the kitchen during week commencing 7 January. After that we should be able to move in although the landscaping and outside decorating won't be complete until March.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

A Case Of Mistaken Identity

We're sitting in Mitchells in Market St enjoying some delicious scones and coffee. I'm reading through the programme of events for the St Andrews festival.

'Oh look', I say 'Frank Muir's talking about his new book at the library on Thursday evening as part of the festival and Book Week. Do you fancy going?'

'That would be good' says Marion 'I haven't seen him on TV for ages'

'No. It's years since he was on Call My Bluff ' I consult the pocket oracle that is the iPhone. 'Yes it last aired in 1988'

'He must be quite ancient by now. He was pretty old then. Remember his books? The kids loved them'

'Yes' I say ' The ones about a dog. An Afghan hound wasn't it?'

'That's right. What-A-Mess'

'Ah What-A-Mess, I remember. Have we still got them.'

'Yes' says Marion. 'Sarah's got them in Rose's room'

'Perhaps we could get him to sign them for Rose'

'Good idea. He must really be knocking on a bit though' I check the phone again. 'Hang on a minute. According to Wikipedia he died in 1998'

'Well you know how unreliable Wikipedia can be'

'No. He's definitely dead. He would have been 92 if he were still alive'

'So who is this impostor who's talking at the library'

'Seems he's a crime writer who sets his novels in St Andrews'

'Shall we ask him to sign What A Mess? ' says Marion

Friday, 23 November 2012

An Acting Masterclass

We went to see The Master yesterday. What incredible performances from the two leads, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix! It’s hardly surprising that the critics have been handing out stars like confetti and film lovers like us have been tempted to go out of their way to see it. But fabulous acting does not necessarily make a fabulous film and half way through it we were both squirming uncomfortably in our (very cramped) seats in the tiny Screen 3 at St Andrews New Picture House. It’s the story of an enigmatic 1950’s Scientlology-like cult leader and his shell shocked acolyte – an interesting scenario. But it’s boring, unstructured, unpleasant, ugly, confusing and I can’t help thinking that the critics have had a collective “king’s new clothes” moment in doling out such lavish praise. If you want to see a couple of actors in their prime then go and see it but, if you want to be entertained, give it a very wide berth.

I managed another day out with the detector on Wednesday. It was yet another lovely day weather wise and I had an extremely relaxing time in sunshine and beautiful countryside. As you can see from the photo, the field was not exactly perfect for detecting with stubble preventing me from detecting as close to the ground as I would like.

However, I was still able to recover another twenty plus artefacts and, although there was nothing terribly exciting, in addition to the usual Victorian coppers and buttons, there were some encouraging finds with three small hammered copper coins or tokens dating from perhaps the sixteenth or seventeenth century. Sadly they were all corroded to an extent that makes identification impossible for me although an expert would no doubt be able to have an educated guess. There was also a very old loom weight and a scrap of pewter with writing on it. Finds of this period make another look at the field worthwhile and, weather permitting, I’ll have another try soon.

This spur was the best find of the day. It’s post medieval and my best guess is seventeenth century. I have to report all finds here in Scotland to the local museum so no doubt they will pin down the date more accurately.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

A Scottish Souvenir

As the clock counts down towards our relocation we thought that it would be nice to take something down to Framlingham with us to remind us of our six month stay in St Andrews. So we had a good look around town at the weekend and went into several of the excellent galleries to see what was on offer. At the excellent Fraser Gallery we both fell in love with this little oil painting Maiden Voyage by award winning Scottish artist Alice McMurrough. We've not seen any of her paintings before but we had the same feeling about her art as we did twenty years ago when we first saw an exhibition by another of our favourite artists, P J Crook. We had to buy it. I appreciate that a local seascape or landscape might be a more fitting memento of our Scottish adventure but we tend to prefer more esoteric pieces. We went through the list of thirty or more pictures that we've got in store and tried to work out where in Framlingham we can hang them. We certainly wont be able to show them all so it looks like eBay or an art dealer beckons when we're settled in.   

This one, The Race by PJ Crook, is one that we won't be getting rid of. It's one of our favourites and hopefully we'll find a good spot to hang it. We've missed our paintings in the caravan although we did manage to find a space for this super watercolour by St Lucian artist Xavier Llewellyn. (no he didn't paint a pair of hands and a camera in it).

It's not long before our super new fitted kitchen installation begins in Framlingham. We're very excited about the prospect of cooking in a big kitchen again. People have asked us how we manage with our meals in the caravan but the little gas oven is okay and we eat pretty well. 

The other day I cooked this pork and aubergine bake and tonight I tried one of the Nigel Slater recipes from his latest series. The home made beef burgers which use ricotta cheese instead of the usual breadcrumbs to bind the mixture were absolutely delicious. With capers, spring onions and rosemary in the mix, the flavour was amazing. We'll certainly be downloading more of Nigel's meals from the BBC website; they're extremely easy too.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

I Feel Very Lucky

After yet another glorious day in St Andrews I can't help but feel that I am a very lucky man. Not only will we soon be living the fabulous Suffolk town of Framlingham but, whenever we feel like a break, we can head back up here to Fife and enjoy another beautiful little place. Today we simply went into the town centre for a coffee in the bustling coffee shop called The North Point and known to us by some strange but logical lateral thinking as where Harry met Sally (there's a sign in the window proclaiming it's where William met Kate). 

After that we had a look around the shops and bought this beautiful t light holder by Joia Glass for the Framlingham bathroom from Artery Gallery.

From then it was a stroll around the edge of the town which was looking its photogenic best today. It's a pity that I only had the phone with me as the light was just perfect for photos. What a super place it is.

Ben Affleck's Thriller Has Us On The Edge Of Our Seats

We managed to find time to get to the cinema earlier in the week when we went to see Argo at Cineworld in Ipswich. I'm afraid that I'm a bit of a sucker for the critics' reviews when it comes to cinema and never bother with anything rated at less than two stars and rarely find time for a three starred film if there's a higher rated one showing. Maybe I should rethink that policy as Ben Affleck's Argo rated just three stars in the newspapers I read but, for me at least, it was possibly the best film of the year to date.

Telling the story of six escapees from the US Embassy in Iran during the hostage crisis of 1980 you would imagine that the director would find it difficult to create suspense and excitement in a story in which the ending is pre-known to the viewer. But suspense and excitement is there by the bucketful and we are kept on the edge of our seats as the escaping diplomats make it to the Canadian embassy where they hole up and await their fate while the CIA in Washington makes outlandish plans to get them out of Iran. 

Affleck not only directs but also stars in the movie as CIA agent Tony Mendez who plans to save the Americans by creating the patently ridiculous cover of a Canadian sci-fi film crew hunting for locations in Teheran. Complete with story boards, script and fake production company he heads to the Middle East. What follows is a remarkable piece of cinema as the tension is cranked up to bursting point in a race against the clock to flee the country in the certain knowledge that discovery will mean execution for all involved. 

There's humour and some relief from the nail biting in the double act of John Freeman and Alan Arkin playing the Hollywood moguls fronting the subterfuge but the overriding feeling whilst watching the movie is fear for the characters' safety. Credit to Affleck for managing to pull this off so brilliantly. How true the story is to the real life incident that it was based upon is irrelevant to me and I am happy that the director chose to create such suspenseful entertainment. He also went to tremendous lengths to recreate, authentic scenes and people - as the credits roll real footage and stills from the hostage crisis accompany similar shots from the film and it's difficult to spot which is which.

An excellent film - do try and catch it.

And speaking of films, we were delighted to see a video of our granddaughter Rose featuring on the Signs and Rhymes website. She's been going to baby signing classes for quite some time and it has been a huge help in developing her communication skills and she was able to sign plenty of words before she was able to say them. If you check out this link and click on the video on the right you can see her using her signing.

It's been a great day for us today. We awoke to this wonderful dawn and things got better as we picked up Paul, Josephine and Catherine from Edinburgh for their flying visit. It was so good to see them.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Back Home

We're back in Scotland now and the fact that we gave a sigh of relief and "home at last" as we arrived at the caravan shows how well we've settled into St Andrews. We missed Sarah, Duncan and Rose very much while we were away and it's going to be very hard to find ourselves living five hundred miles away in a few months' time. But at least we've got the caravan and can spend plenty of time here next year. I loved this photo of Sarah and Rose that Duncan took and I'll be getting a copy to frame.

We couldn't wait to see the family, so, as soon as we'd got ourselves straight after the trip and sorted out a few more bits and pieces for Framlingham we joined Sarah and Rose for a coffee in the excellent Mitchells in the town centre. Rose demonstrated what a tea cosy is really for.

I don't often write reviews on Trip Advisor but I thought that the Crown Hotel in Framlingham merited a mention after popping in for a quick lunch on Monday. It's a wonderful old building at the heart of the town centre. When we first visited back in February it was nothing to write home about. However it came under new ownership in the summer and has improved in leaps and bounds on every visit. We only had a sandwich and a game terrine this time but both were absolutely delicious, the service was prompt, polite and friendly and the atmosphere is getting much livelier. We've high hopes for the success of The Crown - it can really make the difference between a vibrant and a dull community.

It's not all about Sarah and family though. We're very excited about the forthcoming visit of son Paul and daughter in law Josephine together with our granddaughter Catherine. I'm picking them up from Edinburgh airport on Friday for what is literally a flying visit. There's breakfast at the marvellous Old Course Hotel and dinner at the excellent Rufflets on Sunday as well as plenty more arranged by Sarah and Duncan before we get them back to the airport. We can't wait to see them.

Spare a thought for Marion. She's struggling with her new phone and when she tried to write a message the other day and this came up it was almost the final straw. Fortunately it's pretty indestructible.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Seeing The Light At The End Of The Tunnel In Framlingham

We're back in Scotland after another five hundred mile drive from Framlingham and the end of our eleven days on the road. It's been a good break; we've seen friends, we've enjoyed a few days in a good pub and we've caught up with progress on the renovation of the house. As you can see from the above photo, the ugly brown UPVC windows and door have now gone and been replaced with these contemporary light grey timber windows and door by Timber Windows of Fornham. The window colour clashes with the cladding colour but steps are in hand for the exterior to be repainted in March.

The new steel girders above the Solarlux Bifolding doors have been covered with a layer of cladding in readiness for painting and the aluminium finish for the corner pillar is now on order.

The decorators have made a start with painting and even with just undercoat the landing is so much brighter than it was. Those Velux Sun Tunnels give fantastic natural light; we're so glad that we had them fitted.

All of the sanitary ware in the family bathroom is now installed and functioning. We still need the splash back tiling.

The en suite shower room is coming on nicely and is starting to look very classy. We had a setback with this when the shower screen that I ordered proved to be too small but Boundary Bathrooms have agreed to take it back with a 25% restocking charge which is reasonable as we've had it for two months (it is still in its packing though). We bought almost  all our sanitary ware and other bathroom stuff from Boundary Bathrooms and we're extremely pleased with their service (and prices).

Now that the kitchen/diner has been plastered and the floor has had a coat of screed where the walls were removed it's starting to look more like a room.

The chimney breast in the lounge has been completed and the wood burning stove should be in in a few days. The oak mantel looks really good.

The shower over the bath is now in place. 

We've ordered fitted wardrobes, dining furniture and all of the wallpaper. The wooden flooring goes in next week and then we've just got the lighting, other wiring and decorating to complete and we'll be ready for the kitchen fitters to arrive on 10th December.

The landscape gardener presented his plans on Monday and they are really exciting. Chris the designer reckons that the work could begin as early as January so we will be ready to plant in March.

On a negative note, our super duper new garden office turned out to be terribly finished and it started to leak. This is a bit scary considering the amount that we've spent on it but I'm not going to name and shame the suppliers yet as they seem to be bending over backwards to get it right and have authorised a very respectable expert in wooden buildings to remove the structure and build us a new one. As long as it is complete before Christmas we won't make too much fuss. If it isn't ready by Xmas, watch this space.