Thursday, 27 June 2013

Rochester, Pompeii And A Bit Of Luxury In New Bond St

Tuesday saw us back in Kent to help out with a bit of babysitting. Rochester is a lovely little place. It's steeped in history and as well as playing with her at home, we had a pleasant hour in the castle grounds with our gorgeous little granddaughter Catherine who is nearly one now and almost (but not quite) toddling. Marion spent ages walking with her while Catherine clung on to her fingers not yet having the confidence to go it alone. 

The light over Framlingham a few nights ago had a fabulous luminosity about it and I had to take a photo. It's funny how as a child I loved the mystery of castles but rarely had the chance to visit one and now we've got one a few hundred yards from the house, our son has one within a mile of his place and our daughter Sarah has a castle and all the other historic buildings of St Andrews just down the road - I feel very lucky being able to spread my time between the three.

Continuing on the historic theme, we went to London yesterday to see the Pompeii exhibition at the British Museum. So much has been written about it in the Sunday supplements that I felt I had already seen it but reading about it is no substitute for the real thing and it is a fascinating insight into the lives of the Romans who lived in Pompeii and Herculaneum. I was struck by their sense of humour (which is abundantly evident in their frescoes and graffiti), the modernity in their design and their somewhat obsessive use of phalluses for decoration and as good luck charms. The shorter section of the exhibition covering the natural disaster that killed everyone who stood in its path is a sobering display. It captures some of the citizens frozen at the moment of their annihilation and is extremely touching, poignant and very very sad. I am glad that the curators placed the emphasis of the exhibition on the celebration of the lives of the people rather than making a macabre freak show of their deaths.

While we were in London Marion took the opportunity to indulge herself in a bit of shopping. She's been looking for some new make up by Chanel for ages and wherever we have been - Bluewater, Gatwick, Selfridges and Malaga - it has been sold out and unilkely to be back in stock until August. However, the shop assistant in Selfridges told Marion that the brand new Chanel boutique in Bond St had been allocated stock. So off we went to this amazing new store where we were welcomed by a concierge and led to the beauty department. It's a jaw droppingly beautiful shop and we looked a bit out of place amongst the clientele who were mostly arriving by way of chauffeur driven limos that made our lovely new car look positively ordinary. However,all credit to the lovely salesperson Irma who found Marion's holy grail (Les Beiges powder Number 30) and then took us into a plush private office to pay (no "cashier number five please" here). She then gave Marion samples and ushered us out of the office like royalty. As we paid exactly the same price ( a princely £38) that we would have paid in Boots (if they had had it) this was a bit of luxury at no extra cost - well done Chanel.

We've just  had our first assignment from the Framlingham Hour Community. We're going to take an elderly chap out in his wheelchair for an hour or two. Unfortunately we aren't going to be able to start this until the middle of next month but we hope that we can bring a little bit of happiness to someone less fortunate. You never know when me might be needing help ourselves.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

On Populaire, A Hijacking And A New Car

Before we moved we used to try and see a film at the cinema every week. Sometimes we would travel to FACT in Liverpool and see two on the same day. But, due to the hectic times we've had recently, our cinema going has been curtailed of late. So we decided to try and put that right. After all, the weather we've had this spring hasn't exactly been perfect for our cycling or gardening. So, having enjoyed the thundering Man Of Steel at IMAX on Wednesday, we thought we'd have something a little more sedate on Saturday and headed back to Ipswich to the super IFTT and a showing of Summer in February starring Downton's Dan Stevens alongside Emily Browning.

Unfortunately IFTT had a glitch with their digital projector. It seems that when they get a film to show they get a number of codes with it to prevent piracy and allow them to show it only the number of times that they have paid for. The code somehow didn't work and the projectionist had to come and explain to a pretty full house of old codgers like us that he could show us a vampire movie or the French rom-com Populaire. Most of the audience filed out and went for a refund. No-one was keen on the vampires but others asked what Populaire was about. The usher didn't have her glasses so Marion read the synopsis to the few of us remaining and we stayed for the event worrying that the overrun would lead to a parking fine but not wanting a wasted journey to Ipswich.

Set in 1958, Populaire turned out to be a sugary sweet comedy with two charismatic leads in the beautiful Deborah Francois and the handsome Romain Duris. Duris needs a new secretary and Francois gets the job. She turns out to be amazingly fast on the keyboard and her boss trains her to enter speed typing competitions - and yes they do exist (although whether crowds were ever glued to their radios in excitement listening to commentaries on them is questionable). It's a very nice little film. It will never win any awards for subtlety or unpredictability but if you like a bit of happy romance (I do), this is one for you.

There wasn't much happiness or romance in Danish offering Kapringen or A Hijacking. As Denmark seems to have a very small pool of actors it was (like in Borgen) another case of trying to spot characters from Forbrydelsen ( The Killing - do keep up). Soren Malling stars as the boss of a shipping company whose cargo vessel is hijacked by pirates somewhere en route to Mumbai. Pilou Asbaek plays the ship's cook who, due to the captain's sickness, becomes the main go-between in the negotiations between the captors and the business. It's extremely tense, brilliantly acted by the two leads and keeps you on the edge of your seat.  The director used a real negotiator rather than an actor to play the company's negotiations advisor and filmed on a ship that was once actually hijacked. In addition the director kept the actors locked in the shipping company office never knowing when a call from the ship was going to come in and on the ship kept some of the cast locked up in dire conditions.This gave the film a tremendous sense of reality and, though it's unlikely to be playing in the multiplexes it's well worth seeking it out. We went to The Riverside at Woodbridge and took advantage of their excellent fish and flicks offer of £15 each for the film and some great food in their super restaurant.

Yesterday we picked up the new car. It extremely comfortable and I love its style. Today we're doing a spot of babysitting in Rochester but we left the new car at home as the Prius was damaged while parked here the last time we came and I don't want to risk it just now as we've got a long journey to Scotland planned for the weekend.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Hectic Days In Framlingham

Boy it's been a hectic week this week here in Framlingham. Heaven knows how we would have coped if we were still working. But it's given us a good feel for what a great choice of town we've made for our retirement.

We got back from our niece's Spanish wedding in the early hours of Monday and a few hours later we had a visit from Angelika who is involved in the Framlingham "Hour Community". This is a scheme whereby local residents volunteer to help others and we had put our names down. Angelika explained that some of the voluntary work involves DIY and I explained that it would not be wise to include me on that list as my toolkit came from a Christmas cracker (this is true). We will however be happy to help run people to appointments, do a bit of shopping or simply keep them company.

On Tuesday we had a call out of the blue from our old Sales Director Nick who was going to be in the area for the day. We were very pleased to see him and put him up for the night. In return he treated us to a great dinner at The Crown. I had duck, Marion had pasta and Nick had pizza. All were really good. When we moved here some people were critical of The Crown but we have always found the staff extremely helpful and friendly and the food has always been good and recently it has been very very good.

Wednesday was taken up by a visit from a journalist and photographer from a national magazine who had somehow come across our home improvement project and wanted to photograph the en suite bathroom for an article. We tried to explain that it is a very small bathroom but nonetheless the photographer, journalist and assistant were here for over six hours. I'll be writing about it again when the article is published.

On Thursday we went to Ipswich for Man of Steel but I've already written about that. We went to the college on Thursday night for the FramSoc book club. This month's book was The Testament Of Jessie Lamb - a dystopian novel about a young girl's choice to sacrifice herself for the future of the human race. Coincidentally it was Woman's Hour's book of the week so we were able to both read it and listen to it. Marion reckons that the recorded version was better. None of us thought much of the novel.

On Friday afternoon I managed a couple of hours out with the detector after going to Bury St Edmunds in the morning to visit the business person I am mentoring, pay for the new car and introduce myself to Andrew, the local county archaeologist. I was delighted to find this amazing medieval artefact. I think it depicts the descent of Christ from the cross although Christ's head is , sadly, missing. I'll have to make another visit to Andrew now so that he can record it.

Here are a couple of close ups.

Last night there was a Jazz night at Lemon Tree Bistro. We had another excellent meal (I chose duck again) and were entertained by an outstanding saxophonist who played for over two hours. It's the second Jazz night at The Lemon Tree we've been to and, although we're not really jazz fans, we've had two fabulous evenings and some very good food.

Having drunk more than was probably sensible at the jazz night I didn't feel like cooking breakfast so we went to The Common Room and had a super fry up. It's Framlingham's newest cafe and it has a very pleasant informal and relaxed atmosphere.

After that it was a quick trip to the market, Leo's Delis and the local Co-Op for the week's food and then we had enough time for Marion to look for some clothes.

We've got some fine clothes shops in the town (not men's unfortunately) and Marion found two super maxi skirts in Darcy B and another in Impulse. There were some nice things in Boo Tiki too but the budget was getting a bit stretched by then.

It wasn't too stretched to get a great little glass plant holder for the bathroom from Kittys for a bargain price.

This afternoon we went to the excellent Ipswich Film Theatre to see Summer In February but due to technical difficulties we ended up watching Populaire but that's enough for today I'll write about that next time.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Man Of Steel? Man Of Noise More Like

We managed a trip to the excellent IMAX screen at Cineworld in Ipswich yesterday. We've missed out on the cinema lately as we've had so much going on but things have calmed down a little now and we've planned a cinema binge with another three outings planned over the next five days.

Like Superman, I'm a bit bionic now with my built in hearing aid. Having been to IMAX before I suppose I should have known to switch it off but I simply set it to minimum and ended up with my head pulsating in a way unexperienced since standing next to the amplifiers at a Strawbs concert in the late sixties. 

We both enjoyed Man Of Steel but that's as far as it  goes. It's all comic book action from start to finish and seeing it on an IMAX screen gave us the very best of the CGI special effects. There's not a lot going on apart from crash bang wallop. But it is superior crash bang wallop. There is a story of sorts - evil baddies from Krypton want to take over the world - and Russell Crowe is Superman's good dad spouting morality and benevolence - but its all just a good excuse to show spectacular spacecraft and a million explosions. Good fun but take your earplugs or leave your hearing aid at home. To sum it up in a word - BANG

Today I'm off to see something a little more sedate - John Sheeran's talk on Chagall at St Michael's rooms here in Framlingham. I've been to four of this series of talks now and I have learnt a lot about Bonnard, Kandisnky, Klee and Matisse. I think that today's is the last of this season's lectures and another starts in the autumn. If you are in Framingham they are well worth attending.

Tomorrow it's a trip to Bury St Edmunds to see a business person who I am mentoring under the Suffolk Chamber Of Commerce's scheme. I've volunteered to help businesses with management accounting and financial advice as it seems a pity to let my forty years of training and experience go to waste. I hope that they find it useful. 

After that it's a trip to Shire Hall to meet the county archaeologist and discuss recording metal detecting finds with him and then to the garage to pay for the new car. I'm looking forward to picking the car up on Monday and hoping to have a bit of comfort when we head up to Scotland next weekend.


Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Sixteen, Sixty-One An Incredible Story Brilliantly Told

I read a remarkable book while we were in Spain at the weekend and posted the following review on Amazon.

"I've read plenty of memoirs and life stories before but this one is unique. "Fact is stranger than fiction" may be a hackneyed cliche but it sums up this book precisely. Had it been a novel I have little doubt that some would question its plausibility but I'm equally sure that it would fly to the top of the fiction charts and stay there for a long time as its harrowing tale of grooming is so relevant in today's climate.

Yet it was well over ten years ago that silver fox and family friend Matthew befriended fifteen year old Natalie at his sixtieth birthday party and started a chain of events that began with the innocent discussion of literature and philosophy but went on to damage the author's teenage years and early adulthood to the extent that it is a miracle that she has been able to confront what happened to her and come through the other side with her sanity intact and the ability to write her compelling story (I started reading and did not put it down until I finished). As a grey haired male who enjoys reading and the odd flutter and is very fast approaching sixty I have a few things in common with Matthew but, whilst the ability to appreciate an attractive female never fades, I hope that people like him who prey on innocent and vulnerable children are always going to be in a very tiny minority and are far from typical of my generation.

I don't want to spoil the book by telling you exactly what happened to Natalie as she tells the story so graphically herself, so all I will say is this is a book that will shock and intrigue you. Were it a novel it would certainly entertain you but the knowledge that you are reading about real events and the beautiful final chapter are more likely to make you cry."

I made a point of not reading other reviews of the book before I wrote that and was fascinated later when I read an earlier reader's comments. Although she also gave a five star rating and used the word beautiful to describe the book she didn't find it harrowing and saw it as the author's coming of age and sexual awakening which just goes to show how two people can interpret things so differently. Which of us is right? Currently at a bargain 99p on Kindle I suggest that you download this and decide for yourself  click here.. It's worth so much more.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Una Boda En España

When we heard that my brother's daughter Lisa was getting married we were delighted; her boyfriend Brad is a charming young man and they make a lovely couple. When we discovered that the wedding was being held in Spain, I can't deny that I went into Victor Meldrew mode. Spain is far from my favourite country, after all the travelling we've done in the past twelve months, a 2,500 mile round trip to the Costa Del Sol was the last thing we needed and it was going to blow a considerable hole in the holiday budget. But I've only got one brother and he's only got one daughter so I realised that my cries of "I don't believe it" were a bit curmudgeonly and got down to planning the journey.

We headed to Gatwick on Thursday and stayed at a guest house that throws in parking for a small fee and drops you off at departures at no extra charge. 

On Friday we were in Spain staying in an apartment that my sister Julie found for us on the internet.

It was a well appointed self catering unit although the decor might not be to everybody's taste.

We arrived in Spain in time to meet up with my mum and my sister and niece Vicky and have a quick visit to Estepona in the afternoon.

And Puerto De La Duquesa in the evening.

We haven't seen Mum for a few months but she's doing extremely well for 87 and having great fun with her new iPad.

It was the big day on Saturday and we all headed to a hacienda in the hills for the outdoor ceremony beneath a cloudless sky with the Mediterranean shimmering in the background. It was a simple service followed by an excellent dinner al fresco accompanied by champagne and fine wines.

My brother Pete gave a touching father of the bride speech that had the audience reaching for their tissues and the guests were entertained by a live band and a disco that went on into the early hours.

We met Pete's granddaughter Emmy for the first time.

And Pete's wife Val had a wonderful day as Mother Of The Bride.

Marion looked stunning in her dress for the wedding and I was glad to have the opportunity to buy myself some new trousers and a shirt for the occasion.

An early evening flight on Sunday gave us the chance to have lunch at the old town of Casares in the hills overlooking the Costa Del Sol before heading to the airport and arriving home in Framlingham an hour after midnight.

It was a great weekend. It was good to catch up with Julie, Vicky and Mum and to see Pete and his family. I think it was the first time that we've all been together since Mum turned eighty.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

I Told You That Someone Would Get A Bargain

I just got the cheque from local auctioneers Abbotts of Campsea Ashe - £247.74. I'm not complaining as I knew that putting some of the stuff that was cluttering the garage into a general sale was taking a risk and they were extremely efficient in getting a cheque to me just a few days after the sale. The Victorian wire planters sold for £100 which was about what I expected despite buying them years ago from an antique dealer for £250 - we know that the dealers have to make a profit and we enjoyed having them in the conservatory for many years.

But the £40 that we got for this Victorian fireplace was a bit of a shock. This was a hell of a bargain for someone as it is a genuine antique complete with patent design registration mark for the 1870s and cost us over £300. When you take into account the charges, the £30 we got was probably not much more than its scrap value. As I said, I'm not complaining, we needed to clear things out, we gambled and we lost. Mind you with prices like this I'm tempted to visit the auction as a buyer and restart the eBay selling that I enjoyed so much from 1999 for seven or eight years. I've still got all the reference books and think I'm still enough of an expert on antique pottery and porcelain to spot a bargain.

It's a good job that Bonhams in London came good with the sale of the Japanese stuff last month. Their cheque took a bit longer to come but it's now cleared and will pay for the new car.

We're heading off for Gatwick tonight as we've a flight to Spain to catch early in the morning. Our niece is getting married on the Costa Del Sol on Saturday so it's two days in the sun and a chance to see the family briefly before heading back to Framlingham on Sunday. How times have changed from our own wedding in the glamorous Chatham Registry Office and the reception in Rainham Scout Hut - the cheese sandwiches and sausage rolls were delicious and it was genuinely one of the happiest days of my life.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

A Huge Thank You To Tony Of DNA Landscapes

Yesterday we saw an event that we thought was never going to happen - we signed off the garden with landscaper Tony of DNA Landscapes. 

It was Christmas Eve when we gave Tony the go ahead to start to landscape the garden and it was hoped that work would start in early January and be completed by early March. Tony started on time but a combination of terrible weather and our adding more jobs to the schedule (fencing, a path to the side and landscaping the front) saw us waving him off just yesterday; although, in fairness, the work was completed a couple of weeks back.

I suppose it was a bit ambitious of us to imagine that a job like this could be done in eight weeks in the middle of winter but the finished project was well worth the wait and Tony (sometimes assisted by son Carl) has been exceptionally thorough in carrying out the work. He is a true professional and a perfectionist who insists that every single aspect of the job is completely spot on. If any materials did not reach his standard he rejected them and I think that his attitude to quality rather than speed reflects well on the finished job.

Although many of the following photos have appeared on this blog before they haven't been on the same day and the sequence shows how the work progressed.

Not forgetting the front too.

So it's an enormous thank you to Tony who I think convinced several of our neighbours that he was moving in after five months. I've no idea how many trips he did to and from his home in Felixstowe but he probably found himself heading to Framlingham on autopilot by the end of the project. Although he underpriced some items in his original estimate as some prices went up, he didn't ask us to make up any of the difference (although we certainly didn't let him be out of pocket). Unlike some landscapers we have used in the past, he never asked for a penny in cash; he provided VAT receipts for everything.  We can't recommend him highly enough.