Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Project Update

I was going to call today's blog Almost There but decided that that would be tempting fate. It was anticipated that we'd be finished this week but gardener Tony tells me that it will be next week now. What will he tell me next week?

Our ever reliable and always excellent decorator Gerald Clements kept to his word and arrived bang on time to paint the outside of the house. Aided by fine weather, he (and his colleague James) finished in just over a week and the nasty shade of orange is now banished to our memory. The new colour Dulux Linnet White goes well with the greys of the windows and bi-folding doors and I'll post a photo when I can get round the front which is now a bomb site similar to how the back was for three months.

Speaking of the back, when we got back from a visit to Paul in Rochester last week the plants had all been unloaded and placed in position ready for planting.

And by Thursday most were planted.

By the weekend we had a finished path.

And were finally able to put our furniture out. We still don't feel able to use the garden properly with Tony in and out with his masonry cutter and cement mixer getting stuff prepared for the front but if it's sunny on Sunday we may be able to sit out here.

At least we can see an improvement on what we lived with for months.

Friday, 26 April 2013

What's That Noise?

I arrive home and there's a parcel from Nespresso. It's the latest delivery of their delicious capsules and I tear open the wrapping. What on earth have they made the packaging of? It looks like plastic but if feels as if I am crinkling tin foil. I take the boxes of capsules from the packet, open one and tip the contents into the container on the breakfast bar. They land in the plastic box like a cascade of tin cans. As I close the box, the decorator walks past the window. I'm sure he's practicing for a new production of River Dance. I look down at his shoes expecting to see some shiny tap models but he's wearing trainers. I'm conscious of the hall clock ticking like Big Ben and wonder why am I shouting? 

I'm not really wondering, as I know exactly why everything suddenly feels so different. I've just got back from Ipswich for the fitting of a 30 day trial of the Lyric hearing aid. This is a tiny device that fits deep down in my ear canal and has transformed my life within a matter of hours. It's not cheap and will involve three or four visits a year to Ipswich for replacements but, if the first twenty four hours is anything to go by, it's going to be money well spent. 

I wrote a few weeks ago that vanity was something that had stopped me from getting a hearing aid. So this is the perfect solution - if I hadn't told the whole world about it on the internet, nobody would know at all that I am wearing this.

Brave New Burma

Last night I was able to put the device to the test. We went to a talk at FramSoc the local society run by Framlingham College. The talk (about his book Brave New Burma) was given by journalist and photographer Nic Dunlop and it was a fascinating insight  into that country, its people and its politics accompanied by some wonderful photos in atmospheric black and white. What's more, Nic did not speak very loudly but I heard every word and, when we had  a glass of wine with others after the talk, I was able to hold a conversation in noisy circumstances that would, in the past, have meant me switching off completely and merely nodding as if I was hearing what was being said.  

I haven't got any discomfort yet and the fitting of the device was painless. I hope that the transformation that I've experienced today is something that will continue to benefit me for years to come.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

I'm Front Page News

Okay so it isn't The Times or The Guardian but it was nice to be featured on the front page of this week's Cumberland & Westomorland Herald. They were reporting farmer John Slack and my donation of the Roman gold I found to the Penrith And Eden Museum. 

Here's a close up of the article

The story even featured on the BBC's website - so fame indeed and a bit of positive publicity for an often misunderstood hobby.

Meanwhile back in Framlingham the glorious weather has meant that the decorator and the landscape gardener have managed to keep things moving and today we got home to find that we now have a pergola and that two thirds of the decorating of the outside of the house is complete.

We've been so concerned about the effect that the constant work going on at the house for nine months has had on the neighbours that we ordered some apology cards from MoonPig. I delivered them this evening with a nice box of chocolates from the excellent Leo's Deli to twenty four of the houses that have had to put up with passing the mess and listening to the constant banging, drilling and grinding since August. I've had three or four thank you's already so, hopefully, the gesture has been well received.

Despite the weather being fabulous today we couldn't enjoy the garden due to the work so we walked down to the Castle Inn and had a drink in the sunshine and read our Kindles. We would rather have been at home but at least we had somewhere pleasant to sit within five minutes walk.

I was watching BBC1's misery Sunday night drama The Village earlier and couldn't help thinking that the actor playing the detective Bairstow was the son of another, older, actor as he looked so much like that actor as I remembered him about thirty years ago. Sure enough a quick Google turns up that he is Joe Armstrong and his dad is, of course Alun Armstrong.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Getting There

Heres' how the garden was when we bought the house last March. There was a big, steeply sloping, lawn, an enormous Leyland Cypress and not a great deal more. As Marion loves gardening we wanted to create something pretty quickly as we haven't got the twenty years we had when we bought our last house to create a garden at leisure.

Our gardener Tony started work in January and this is how it looked a few weeks after he began. Although the photo is from a different view point the Leyland Cypress had gone along with all of the lawn.

We had hoped that the work would be finished on 28th February but the weather put paid to that and only now (six weeks after it was due to be completed) we can finally see the fruits of Tony's labour starting to take effect.

When we got home yesterday afternoon we had a partial lawn. 

And when Tony went home the lawn was finished. Whilst you can see the difference from the photo at the top of today's blog it may not look like four month's work. That's a bit unfair as there is an enormous deck to take into account as well. 

Tony asked if his son could come and work on the deck today. We've always said that there should be no Sunday work out of respect for the neighbours but Tony assured us that there would be no noisy work at all and, as we're desperate for the work to be over, we said okay. HIs son came first thing this morning and told us that he only had 1,000 screws to fit. It turns out that these needed to be fitted with a power drill - so much for a noiseless day. Marion and I spent the day cringing and worrying about the neighbours as each screw drove another potential hole in our neighbours' goodwill.

I say "we' cringed but in reality it was Marion who had the worst time as I managed to get out for a couple of hours with the detector. I found another two elusive hammered coins. After finding only a few of these in twenty years detecting I have now managed to find ten in the last few months. I think it shows how good the latest detector (XP Deus) is.

The sun has shone brightly on Framlingham this weekend. We had a great Saturday with a visit to the market (and other local shops) followed by a walk in the countryside which ended at a beer festival at The Castle Inn where I enjoyed a great selection of beer and we watched an excellent live band.

In the evening we walked down to the packed church for a concert by local soprano Claire Weston. Accompanied by another local, the excellent John Hutchings on the piano, ex English National Opera's Claire sang a wide selection of short classical songs by Wagner, Britten, Walton and others. It was a very enjoyable couple of hours and it was really good to have enjoyed live popular music and live classical music within a few hundred yards of home just a few hours apart.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

I Missed The Erotica

Since we moved to Framlingham I've been keen to attend some of the local events. None more so than the series of art lectures given by local art historian and expert John Sheeran which I have seen widely advertised throughout the town.

Today I finally had the opportunity to go to a lecture but needed to leave fifteen minutes before it was scheduled to end due to my long awaited hearing test. The talk opened with John explaining the lectures for the benefit of the newcomers. He mentioned that they run to exactly ninety minutes which drew a big laugh from his regular audience and gave me a warning of what was to come. 

The lecture on the French artist Pierre Bonnard was fascinating and it was clear that John is passionate about and extremely knowledgeable on the artist and fine art in general. We listened intently to his explanations of Bonnard's style, his composition and his use of colour and it soon became clear why the audience had laughed at the outset. Seventy five minutes into the scheduled ninety minutes of the talk and we weren't at the bottom of the first page of two lists of works that he was going to show us. Unfortunately I had to leave before Bonnard's famous erotic works and paintings of his wife Marthe in the bath were discussed but, never mind, I learnt a great deal in my half lecture which was £8 very well spent and for a full lecture would have been an absolute bargain - if you buy a "season ticket" it's even better value for money. I'll certainly be going to another lecture and perhaps next time I'll be there to the end.

And the hearing test? It told me what I expected - I'm a bit deaf. Not a lot, but enough to try out something to improve it. So I'm off to Ipswich next Thursday for a further consultation and to see if my ears are the right shape for certain aids. Vanity is pointing me towards the hidden aids. What is there to be vain about at my age you might ask but, I don't know, I suppose it's just that deafness is often associated with old age and there's an innate reluctance to being thought of as an old codger. 

When we got home we found more progress on the never ending improvement project. On the positive side, the plasterers (who should have been here in March) have been and put on the scratch coat to the walls. On the negative, the planting that was scheduled for last week, has been put off to next week -  aaaaaagggghhhh. 

But on another positive note, our excellent decorator, Gerald Clements, arrived exactly when he said he would on Tuesday and has already painted the gable end and removed all of the moss from the roof. In fact he was so speedy doing this that I missed out on snapping a photo of his scaffolding tower. If the weather holds up the outside decoration could be finished next week.

Meanwhile the front now looks as if a bomb has dropped as Tony got his digger out and dug up all the lawn and half of the path. Half of the lawn belongs to our neighbours but we thought that turfing it for them is the least we can do for their having to put up with months of mayhem. 

I think that when this project is over we are going to have to supply the neighbourhood with generous peace offerings of flowers, wine and chocolates - they'll soon have had eight months of noise and dust and that's not ideal.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

600 Mile Trip Almost Ends In Disaster

If you are a regular visitor to this blog you'll know that one of my hobbies is searching for lost artefacts with my metal detector. I've blogged about some reasonable successes with the machine over the last few years including finding this piece of Roman gold jewellery in September 2011. After going through the British Museum's lengthy procedure the item was recently declared as Treasure and valued at £500. The farmer and I agreed to donate the find to the museum in Penrith, the town nearest to the find spot.

The museum officials wanted a proper presentation of the find and invited me to attend. At over three hundred miles from our new home it was a bit of a trek but I'm keen to promote the hobby whenever I can and, sharing the driving, we set out yesterday morning and arrived  at the museum in plenty of time. 

I was very pleased to see the way that the find had been displayed in a case and enjoyed a quick tour of the museum with the curator Dr Sydney Chapman who told me a fascinating tale of how a coin he was once displaying slipped from his fingers, rolled across the floor and slipped down a crack in the floorboards. 

The photographer duly arrived and asked Dr Chapman to remove my find from its case as he needed it in more light.

Sydney reluctantly agreed to the photographer's request and I gingerly carried the find on its plastic display plinth to the required spot. I don't need to tell you what happened next. The photographer asked me to hold the plinth higher and tilt it towards the camera. As I tilted the find, it slid from the plinth and fell to the floor to gasps from the watching crowd of local museum supporters. To my great relief I didn't tread on it and it didn't slip beneath a floorboard but if you ever see the official photo you will no doubt notice my beetroot complexion. With three hundred miles to drive back I couldn't even steady my nerves with some of the wine on offer after handing the gold back to a mightily relieved curator.

We were back on the road at six thirty and made it back home before midnight. I reckon that we drove about 320 miles each over the day.

While on the subject of detecting displays, I ordered a couple of cases for the new garden office and managed to put some of my nicer finds into them today.


I think they look pretty good.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Local Show Was A Real Winner

With the weather turning fine at the weekend we were finally able to do something outdoors. I went for a walk on Friday evening while Marion was at her Zumba class and snapped this photo of the Framlingham Country Show ground.

I thought I could see a face in the sky blowing the clouds away from the fair and perhaps signifying fine days ahead. Can you see it or is it just me?

We waited until Sunday to visit the show and were hugely impressed. There was a great variety of live singers and bands, a tremendous food festival, top quality stalls selling a wide selection of country related products as well as clothing and jewellery; on top of all this there were helicopter rides, a climbing wall and a number of fairground rides as well as a gun dog demonstration and a bloke being chased by a bunch of sheep - not forgetting an exhibition of local art works - some of them extremely good.

It's a good job we went to the cash machine on the way to the show  as there was so much good stuff on offer. We came away with this local produce plus cards from Africa and a case of wine. We were particularly impressed by some of the young entrepreneurs at the show - Scarlett & Mustards' excellent dressings, The Gamekeeper's Daughter's exceptional pies and Hedgerow Cordials' delicious drinks to name but a few - all made and marketed to a very high standard by young people. 

With the castle in the background there can't be another country show anywhere with such a striking backdrop.

Sheep racing

When we got home it was fine enough for us to open the bi-folding doors for the very first time and get a feeling for how things will be in the long summer days to come.

And as the day grew to a close we had one of those skies that was the reason behind buying this particular house. 

I'll leave you with a trailer photo for BBC1's  The Village - starring Maxine Peake as the Gorgon.  

And Now For Something Completely Different

One of my favourite author's just published a new book. You really should try it. Here's what I said on Amazon.

The most original writer around at the moment has done it again. When you thought that Caroline Smailes had gone as far as she could in developing new ideas with "99 Reasons Why", we now have a unique novel that is partly gritty drama, partly screenplay and wholly compelling.

In a run down seaside resort on the North Wales coast a couple of decades ago 14 year old Laurel gets an after school job in the decaying local Victorian swimming baths recently reopened as "The Oracle" by an odd trio of spiritual healers. She's a bright kid and the job is a welcome distraction from looking after her mum's ever expanding brood of kids from an ever expanding number of feckless fathers. 

In the present, sixteen year old Arthur Braxton, finds himself drawn to the same,now derelict, building as he escapes Facebook humiliation by his peers.

I don't want to spoil things for you by saying too much about what happens at The Oracle but there's a clue in the name and the novel develops into a magical mixture of myth and tragedy which I am sure is based on Greek mythology (but I have to hold my hands up to not being well read enough to know the source). In these passages the author takes us away from the grimness of the Welsh coast into a fantasy world fuelled by teen angst and filled with ghosts, spectres, ethereal music and ghastly experiences. And water - so much water.

I thought  of Meg Rosoff's surreal teenage deity in "There Is No Dog" when trying to think of a parallel to this book but Caroline Smailes' young characters inhabit a far darker, bleaker world and the novel is a powerful and chilling view of the difficulties of growing up and seeking love in deprived circumstances. 

Our local book club is reading "Gone Girl" this month. I can't think of much to say about that. Had we chosen "The Drowning Of Arthur Braxton", the discussions would go on into the small hours. It's that sort of book. Love it or hate it you won't have read anything like it.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Greetings From The Garden

It's many months behind schedule but I'm finally using the garden office as I write. I should be looking out onto the beautifully planted new garden which was scheduled to be completed this week. 

But you didn't expect things to run to schedule did you? No, the landscape designer is currently in quarantine in case he is carrying the Norovirus so we won't see him or the huge quantity of plants we've ordered until next week and I have to look out onto the mud that we've lived with since January. I know that the snow has set things back by weeks but it's really becoming a drag now.

Tony completed the steps to the office today but his plasterer didn't turn up to look at the plastering needed before the landscaping is finished.

And without the plasterer the steps can't be finished. I've experienced nothing like this before on any of the home improvement projects we've done. It almost feels as if we're in the manana culture of Spain instead of the go ahead county of Suffolk.

At least Marion and I have been able to get our bit of the job done (on time please note).

Marion did all the months of filing yesterday and then we added the finishing touches to the office by hanging a few paintings, getting all the books onto the shelves and taking all the boxes to the recycling centre.


I think it's looking pretty good. And it's quite warm in here too, the heating has not been on and it's 6.30pm as I write.

I'll close today with the excellent news that Sky's A League Of Their Own,  the format created by our son Paul, has been nominated for a BAFTA in the entertainment category. I'm sure that it's just the first of many nominations that he will get in a glittering career. Hope we get to see him on the telly wearing a dinner jacket.