Friday, 29 March 2013

He Called Us Scum

Don't worry I haven't had another run in with the neighbours over the work going on (although that wouldn't be a surprise as the hammering and banging continues and we'll be into month nine next week). No, it's a reference to a line spoken by an actor in ITV's ghostly drama Lightfields the other day.

"He called us scum???" I said to Marion puzzled by this out of character line from a 1940's farmer's wife. "His call up's come!!!!" Marion explained. And that's when the extent of my hearing loss hammered home.

It's been going on for some years now. I had a problem with a jet of hot water into one ear in the shower about fifteen years ago which left my ears ringing ever since and I've struggled to hold conversations in noisy venues for a few years and simply blamed the sound levels in the pub or restaurant rather than myself. I've found myself asking shop assistants to repeat themselves and merrily driven up the motorway oblivious to the clicking of the indicator until I've noticed the light flashing (I still can't believe that it clicks but passengers assure me that it does).

When friends Dave and Jane visited us in Scotland a couple of weeks ago Jane asked me to turn the TV down - I could barely hear it. I put that down to Jane's perfect hearing but I have to face the truth now. I'm a bit deaf (or maybe even a lot deaf) and I've put off seeing anyone about it for way too long. I suppose that, along with haemorrhoids and failing eyesight  it comes with the territory of retirement and is a reminder of one's mortality.

There's a much acclaimed private hearing centre in the area so I'm booked in for an appointment soon. I suppose there's an element of pride and vanity that's prevented me going before. One tends to associate deafness with doddery old age and wearing a hearing aid to be equivalent to wearing a pair of comfortable slacks and a tweed jacket and taking up crown green bowling. But I've checked out the website and there are some hearing aids today that are all but invisible. Fingers crossed they'll sort me out with one of those.

Have a Happy Easter. 

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

By George She's Good!

When we started doing up a house five hundred miles away from where we were living, sorting out the interiors was always going to be something of a challenge. It's difficult enough when you know the area where you are living and have experience of local curtain makers, kitchen designers, flooring experts and decorators but when you are a stranger there's a huge risk of getting things wrong. In addition, whilst we like to think that we're pretty good at interior design ideas, we are not professionals and a good interior designer keeps abreast of all the latest developments and has experience of what will and won't work in a wide array of situations. Coordinating everything by ourselves from five hundred miles away would have been a nightmare.

So where to start looking? Our architect and builder are both great blokes but don't tend to work with interiors and I get the impression that they think interior design unnecessary so we had to turn to the old fallback of Google. "Interior Design Framlingham" was not going to turn up a wide choice so we searched "Interior Design Woodbridge". Woodbridge is an upmarket little town and a number of designers came up in the results. We checked them all but one stood out head and shoulders above all the rest - "By George Interiors And Lighting Design". The website ( click here) was easy to navigate, the photos of design projects were stunning and we got a good feel for the business.

So we made an appointment to meet the proprietor Jemima Withey. When we turned up at her studio in our filthy Prius piled high to the roof with all our worldly goods and looking like a couple of tramps we felt like turning around and driving away; her property looked to have come straight from a Sunday Supplement  (and indeed featured in a two page spread in one a few weeks later) and our little house was going to be too small a project. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jemima was charming and passed no comment on our heap of a car sullying her driveway. She ran through her services and we told her what we were planning. She sent us a quote and I made a feeble attempt at negotiating a discount which was declined in a very professional and confident manner that cemented our decision to use her business.

The project snowballed. From an initial agreement to design the interior colour scheme downstairs, we added our bedroom and dressing room, the kitchen and dining area and both bathrooms plus the lighting for most of those areas. And what a great choice it turned out to be. 

Jemima is a highly professional interior designer who listens carefully to what you like and steers you in the direction of what will work. She comes up with enough alternatives to make you feel that you have been involved in the design without overburdening you with too many to make a decision. She thinks about costs and works to your budget. She knows all the people you might need to carry out the work and liaises with them to do it. She keeps you in the picture all the time and does things when she says she will and her contractors turn up on time and work to the highest standard and clean up after themselves. And what's more, she has a great sense of humour and a very upbeat personality (the perfect foil for Marion's pessimism). Her ideas for us were simple but classic styles and we think that the results speak for themselves. We could not be more pleased with the job that she did for us and can't recommend her highly enough. 

Here are the mood boards that Jemima came up with as we developed the project.

And here are some of the finished results. The photos were only taken on my phone and don't really do justice to Jemima's work.

Fabulous curtain ideas.

A Kitchen That Both Looks Great And Is Perfectly Lit

Neutral Colours And Perfect Lighting For The Dining Area 
A Lounge That Is Stylish But Homely

More Curtain Ideas 

A Perfect En Suite Shower Room

Making The Very Most Of A Small Master Bedroom
Luxurious Handmade Cushions

If you are planning interior design or lighting design in London or East Anglia you really don't need to look anywhere else.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Progress Of Sorts

Our mammoth home improvement project is still dragging on. It's more than two months since we moved into the new house (two months behind the original schedule) and we still feel like we are living on a building site. When we got the original quotes for the landscaping, replacement garden office and Marion's beach hut style potting shed we were expecting a completed job (bar planting) by early March. Things were running fairly smoothly and I posted photos of both the garden buildings nearing completion on this blog on 7th March.

In fairness to all involved, the quotes were based on the work being done in Suffolk not flipping Siberia and nobody could have forecast these conditions in late March. The completion of the buildings inevitably suffered a setback.

However, Paul from Anson Timberworks came today and added the final finishing touches to my garden office and Marion's shed. Anson have done a very good job and the new office is built to a far higher standard than the original (built by another company) which was finished in September and removed a month or so later after leaking badly. The new version seems to be more solid and, in addition, has a decent floor, LED lighting and some exterior weatherproof electrical sockets which were missing on the original. The only problem now is that we can't get to the office to put in the furniture and all our books that are intended to go inside and are still clogging our spare bedroom and the garage. 

As for the landscaping? We have finally got some decking installed (all seven runs of it). Unfortunately there still looks to be an awful long way to go and I wouldn't bet on it finishing before May despite Tony from DNA Landscaping's assurance that "there's not much left to do now".

Friday, 22 March 2013

Heading Back

Weather permitting we're off back to Suffolk tomorrow. I say weather permitting as I'm hearing horrible things about what's in store between Fife and Cumbria tomorrow and as I write there's a near hurricane blowing outside the caravan and the trees alongside us are swaying to a precarious degree. 

When we set off northwards two weeks ago I envisaged a fortnight of walks, perhaps a cycle ride to Tentsmuir Forest and maybe a few hours out with the metal detector in balmy spring sunshine but none of those was forthcoming.

I did manage a few hours detecting yesterday and found these three nice old buckles and a Charles I Scottish twopence but with hands in danger of frostbite and my lightweight XP Deus detector becoming increasingly heavyweight from the coating of mud it was collecting from the bumpy ploughed surface it was more like an arctic trek than a springtime saunter.

That's not to say we have had a bad holiday. We've spent lots of time with the family and it has been wonderful seeing Rose who is a real character with bags of personality and a wicked sense of humour - we'll miss her and her mum and dad but we're sure to be back fairly soon.

Bad weather has given us plenty of time for reading and I've read these two. Gone Girl has been a sensation with rave reviews and I can understand why it has been so popular as it is a whodunnit with a difference and written in two very distinct voices. Sadly, although I appreciated the clever style of writing I found the story totally implausible and improbable and if I can't believe a story or believe in its characters it doesn't matter how well written it is, I can't recommend it.

On the other hand Ben Elton's Dead Famous, which was lent to me by a friend, is totally implausible and improbable but, being a satire, that's what it's meant to be. It's another whodunnit but it's so much more than that being a send up of the television industry and today's thirst for fame above all else. It's a damning exposure of the world or reality TV and, although it takes a while to get into the book, stick with it and you'll enjoy it.

We also managed to get to Dundee to see Jude Law's latest Side Effects. This is a very good if somewhat old fashioned thriller which reminded me of some of the old Hitchcock psychological movies. It's a clever plot which I won't go into to avoid spoiling it and it manages to keep the viewer guessing for most of the film. Gone Girl  (which is also being made into a film) attempts to do the same but falls down by making too many outrageous plot turns whereas Side Effects remains credible and feasible throughout. I don't think that the big screen is essential for this one and you may well want to enjoy it when it comes out on Sky or on DVD.

When we get back to Framingham tomorrow we'll find out what progress the landscape gardener has made. I've got a horrible feeling that, if he's had anything like the weather we've had, we're going to be disappointed.

Monday, 18 March 2013

That's What Friends Are For

It's Marion's birthday this week and I wanted to do something special for her as she's had a rough year after losing her dear mum and then selling the house she loved, living in a caravan for six months and moving to a new place where she knows almost nobody. Presents are all well and good but I wanted something different so I secretly contacted Marion's best friend Jane and asked if she and husband Dave could come and join us at the caravan. It was a lot to ask for them to give up a precious weekend and drive hundreds of miles to stay in a cramped caravan but they did me proud.

I managed to slip a few extras into the shopping trolley while Marion wasn't looking and prepared a friday night meal for four without her noticing the unusually large portions and Jane and Dave turned up right on cue just before it was ready to serve. I can't thank them enough for giving Marion such a fantastic surprise. She was genuinely shocked to see them and we had a great weekend with a great couple.

On Saturday they joined us at the always excellent Seafood Restaurant for lunch. We hoped to be able to show Dave and Jane around St Andrews which is now our second home town but sadly the weather defeated us and we were restricted to a tour of the town and surroundings by car before heading back to the caravan to watch the rugby and spend a night in front of the telly.

On Sunday we went to see Sarah, Duncan and Rose and enjoyed some of Sarah's delicious home baking before a quick cup of tea at Mitchells after which Dave and Jane had to get back on the road south. They managed to get back safely despite heavy snowfalls in the Dumfries area.

As I write it is snowing yet again. I don't think I can remember a winter with more days of snow than this one. Weather permitting we're going to join Sarah and Rose. Later this week we hope we can get to Dundee to see at least one of the films on our wish list although my hopes of a day out with the detector are looking increasingly doubtful.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Back In The World Of Low Speed Internet

I've not done much blogging over the last week as we're back in the caravan in beautiful St Andrews and that means an internet connection that is erratic at best and non-existent at worst. I suppose that reliable WIFI on a remote corner of a Scottish caravan park is a lot to ask but it's frustrating when you're using the web at reasonable speeds for five minutes and a few minutes later you haven't even enough bandwidth to download an episode of the Archers. Oh well, better not drone on about it as I've somehow got a signal (maybe the other users are having their tea).

This was the scene when we drew back the curtains on Monday morning. Panic set in. Not because we we're worried about getting about here in Scotland but because if it was like this in Framlingham too it was going to set the work on the garden back again and at the rate we're going it'll be June before it's finished by which time the whole neighbourhood will be fed up with us. Let's just hope that Framlingham conditions are at least workable on some level.

Despite the central heating in the caravan it was as cold as we've ever experienced here and when we woke up on Tuesday we awoke to no running water. The pipes had frozen somewhere and to make things worse I broke the frozen stopcock trying to make things safe. Hats off to the staff at Craigtoun Meadows who had us up and running and with a new tap in no time at all leaving me to head off to Edinburgh to join Marion who went ahead to meet Duncan and Rose.

We had a great day out in Edinburgh while Sarah was busy on a course. We joined Sarah for lunch at the famous and wonderful Valvona and Crolla wine merchants and delicatessen and then visited the fabulous National Museum Of Scotland where we only had time to take in a handful of the fantastic exhibitions including the super imagination room or Imaginarium for children (above) before a quick meal at The Scotsman and the train back to Leuchars.  

Phew I've managed to type that and upload the photos and I've still got a signal. Things are looking up.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Steady Progress

We've seen steady progress with the work going on at the house this week.

The new shelving in the lounge is ready to start using and the lads from Anson Timberworks have made good progress with my new garden office and Tony's landscaping of the garden continues apace. 

The timber for the office arrived last Friday.

By Tuesday the frame and windows were in place and the base for the paths was complete.

And by today the office was completely clad. It's watertight but still needs the roof completing and the internal electrics doing. We had hoped to move the furniture into it this week but that's no longer a possibility and it will have to wait as we are heading to St Andrews to visit the family on Saturday.The coping on top of the dwarf walls is also in place.

Marion's beach hut style potting shed is nearly finished too. 

It won't be a minute too soon when the work is finally done as the constant stream of lorries, vans and workers and the resultant noise and dust is testing the patience of some of the neighbours. We feel very guilty about this but once it is finished in about five weeks time there will be no more work and peace will finally return to this corner of suburbia after nine months of renovations. We hope that it hasn't strained things too far as the aim was to enjoy a peaceful retirement in friendly surroundings.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Fresh Air At Last

We finally managed to get out of the house and head into the adjacent fields for a walk today. You can call us fine weather walkers I suppose but there's not a great deal of fun in tramping across muddy tracks whilst chilled to the bone or soaked to the skin.

But there was no chance of that here in Framlingham today as the sun shone from dawn to dusk. We picked up a leaflet with a couple of circular walks in town the other day and thought that we'd give them a try. We somehow managed to stray away from the correct path and added an extra mile or two to the five miles planned. 

March hares were out in force. We counted as many as six in one field but they remained camera shy. There is one flying across the field in this photo but you'll need eagle eyes to spot it.

The route took us around the grounds of our fabulous local castle. We've read all about it but are saving a visit until we get around to joining English Heritage.

It was time for us to be very proud parents again yesterday as Paul's latest creation Beat The Pack aired on BBC1 at 3 p.m. Hosted by the very likeable Jake Humphreys, the show's contestants battle it out to try and win a prize fund of £12,000. It's a great format and we hope that it's another success for the BBC.

I had my very own moment of fame today when Scott Pack (check out meandmybigmouth over there on my blog recommendations) sent me this photo of a page from the paperback edition of Jim Bob's Driving Jarvis Ham. I reviewed this hilarious novel on Amazon when it was published last year and I'm dead chuffed to see my comment alongside those from Time Out, Dave Gorman and The Independent on Sunday. 

I've not written any Amazon book reviews recently. That's not to say that I haven't been reading but  recent reads, Wolf Hall, Bring Up The Bodies, The Fountainhead and The Testament Of Jessie Lamb  already have more than enough reviews to let buyers make their own minds up.

Monday, 4 March 2013

My First Local Detecting Trip

I am indebted to Chris, the postman in the Yorkshire Dales village of Clapham, for introducing me to a Suffolk detecting enthusiast who I was finally able to meet up with yesterday and share a few hours on one of the fields near his home. The weather was kind to us and we had a very pleasant four hours in near perfect detecting conditions - dry flat soil.

This was the fruit of those four hours. Along with a dozen tiny buttons, a thimble and three small musket balls I managed to find no less than three hammered silver coins. 

I suppose that it's a bit of poetic license to describe these as three hammered coins as, as you can see, none is complete. The top one has probably been hit by a plough which took a chunk away but it remains identifiable as being minted in London and with its ROSA SINE SPINA legend is possibly a penny of Elizabeth I. The second is a cut quarter penny. I need help in identifying it but it dates to the medieval period. The final piece is the clipped edge of a larger coin. Before coins had milled edges it was fairly common practice to clip slivers of silver from the edge of coins. Whoever clipped this one's efforts were wasted. A coin expert could probably hazard a guess at which coin it came from. I think it's likely to be an Elizabethan shilling.

Two other interesting bits that turned up were this lead cloth seal with a crowned lion and this small spectacle buckle. Both of these are likely to date to around the late 16th or early 17th centuries.

I'm very pleased with my first finds and enjoyed the company of detecting with another enthusiast after months of detecting alone. I'm looking forward to meeting up again and also to finding some of my own fields that he will be able to join me on as soon as we get back from a trip to the caravan in Scotland that's planned shortly.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

A Busy Few Days

After the relative calm of the first days of last week, things got busier on Thursday when I headed to London to act as a contestant in a run through of one of the many new quiz shows being developed by son Paul in his job as a TV producer. I really enjoyed the opportunity to help out even if I wasn't exactly great at answering the questions. 

Paul has devised and developed a fair number of shows in his career so far including Magic Numbers, The Colour Of Money and Sky's smash hit and number one rated show on SKY1 HD  A League Of Their Own which is now in its seventh series. 

And tomorrow sees the first airing of his new creation Beat The Pack on BBC at 3p.m. Unfortunately we have to be out at 3p.m but it will give us an excuse to open a bottle of champagne tomorrow evening when we watch it on catch up. We can't wait to see it.

On Friday it was back to London again as I took my collection of Japanese Satsuma to Bonhams. I've been collecting this for the last ten years and it used to look great displayed on an oriental stand that we had in our old house. However, downsizing has meant that there's no room for the stand here in Framlingham so it is all going into Bonham's Bond St sale of Japanese Art in May. I left about fifteen pieces and hope that we get some good prices. It should go a fair way towards repaying us for the garden landscaping which will be an added bonus. Funnily enough, Bonhams' Japanese art expert didn't think very much of the piece that Lars Tharp raved about (and valued at £2,000) when my collection was shown on The Antiques Roadshow and only put it in the sale to make up a lot with another piece.  

Earlier in the week we went to Fram Soc's book club. About ten of us attended and discussed Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. Marion and I enjoyed it very much but I was the only bloke at the meeting. I was made very welcome but I wonder if the members would have enjoyed it more if it had been an exclusively female gathering.

Yesterday saw our regular visit to the local shops and market to stock up for the week. We're enjoying getting all our shopping locally and hope that our small input into the local economy will help keep shops open. I'm pleased to say that all the shops (and The Crown where we had coffee and some great cake) were busy yesterday. 

Today I went out with the metal detector for the first time since we moved. I'll write about the finds tomorrow.