Monday, 30 September 2013

What A Swell Party That Was

So, after months of planning, the big day has been and gone and now that I qualify for a Senior Rail Card I am officially OLD.

I can't thank Marion enough for all the hard work she put into the party. Arranging accommodation suitable for 12 adult guests plus two toddlers and a baby, sorting out a chef, cakes, wine and everything else was a mammoth task and she did things so well that everything ran like clockwork. I don't have any photos of the actual party as I was too busy sorting out (and drinking) wine and enjoying the event but I know that others took plenty of pictures so I am sure that I will have some to put on the blog in the weeks ahead.

On Friday I made a giant bowl of bolognese sauce and ten of us sat down for a very enjoyable evening which was sort of spread out over three sittings due to the needs of getting toddlers to sleep and guests having long distances to travel to get here. There was just enough for everyone to have enough to eat without overfilling themselves for Saturday.

Saturday morning was a blur of preparations, laying the table and making sure everything was ready for the planned four o'clock start.

The sun shone on us and we were able to venture onto the outside decking to have canapes and prosecco before the meal proper began. Here are Dave and Jane Haworth who have been our very good friends for over thirty years.

Chris Alder is the private chef who Marion arranged to come to the house and cook for us. We had some of my very favourite dishes and started with poached salmon and asparagus with bernaise sauce, followed by rare roast rib of beef with roast potatoes and green vegetables and a final course of panettone bread and butter pudding. Chris did magnificently. He kept exactly to the timetable we planned, cooked everything just as we asked, left the kitchen spotlessly clean and tidy and even helped out serving drinks (which wasn't in the remit). We aren't into bargain hunting but Chris' prices were very extremely fair. If you ever need a good chef you can find Chris on - you won't be disappointed.

I asked for no presents but that didn't stop guests from presenting me with some wonderful champagnes,wines, chocolates and flowers. I hope that I thanked everyone fully for their unexpected generosity and if I didn't I can only apologise ( I was slightly worse for wear by the time I opened the gifts).

Another huge thank you goes out to Whalley Wine Shop. Owned and run by our guests Mark and Nita's son Tom, I've enthused about the shop on here many times but Tom excelled himself in providing an incredible array of prosecco, champagne, deep reds,dry whites plus some delicious dessert wines and fine port. All the wines matched the food beautifully. Thank you Tom - perfect choices. 

More thanks go to the wonderful, kind and generous Jan Harbon who created this highly original and quite spectacular birthday cake themed around my metal detecting hobby. She replicated some of my finds perfectly. If you ever need a special celebration cake I can't recommend Jan highly enough. Just search for The Cake Shed Southport and you will find her.

It seemed like a good idea when the party was in full swing, to invite everyone round to a late breakfast at eleven the following morning. It went extremely well but a breakfast on that scale  wasn't the easiest thing to put together so thanks go to Jane and Dave Haworth in particular for helping with the massive fry up of sausage, bacon, beans, black pudding, haggis and egg.

After the breakfast, we walked up the hill behind the house to clear the cobwebs. Here are Dave and Janet Wareing (left) together with Mark and Nita. Dave gave a very kind speech in toasting my birthday leaving me flattered and quite humbled. 

Most of all, the weekend was about family. Although six of the guests are friends, as I said in my response to Dave, I consider them all family and I was extremely pleased that they made the effort to travel a very long way to join me for the event.

Duncan is Libra too and Rose presented him with another lovely cake made by Jan. It was so nice to be able to share my celebrations with him and we're looking forward to staying four more days in the house with Duncan Sarah, Rose and Melody. Sadly, Paul, Josephine and Catherine had to travel back to Rochester today but having my two children, their partners and my grandchildren at my party meant everything to me. 

They presented me with this absolutely beautiful Swiss watch engraved with all their initials. I will treasure it until the day I die.

I started today's blog by praising the most wonderful woman in the world and I'll finish with the same. Marion is my life and, although she worked too hard over the weekend, I know that having our family and friends around her made this a very special event for her too.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

The Big Shop

When the kids lived at home the “big shop” was a weekly ritual. We’d head for Tesco after work and fill up for the seven days ahead. It’s been a very long time since we last did a shop like that – in Framlingham we usually buy no more than what we need for the next couple of days and it’s very rare that we fill more than a couple of carrier bags.

We’re here at the holiday let near West Calder preparing for my birthday party tomorrow. We thought that we would stock up on the way to the house yesterday but the car was packed to the gunnels and we decided to unpack and head back to the superstore with an empty vehicle. It’s a good job that we did. We soon discovered that a big shop for a family of four and a big shop for twelve adults, two toddlers and a baby are completely different animals.

We arrived at the store at 5.30 p.m. We were pretty well organised even though we weren’t familiar with the shop’s layout but Marion’s shopping list ran to four pages and, despite her military precision, it was 7.45 before we finally reached the tills. The young woman on the check out asked us to perch her “till closing” sign at the end of the conveyor as her shift was finishing at eight. We suggested that she might like us to go to another till but she was happy to serve us – even though she didn’t ring up the last item until almost 8.10.

And if you think that looks like a long till roll take note that it is printed on BOTH sides. There were a total of 247 items in the trolleys when we finally staggered away from the checkouts. We were delighted when the till printed out a savings voucher. We’ll get 50p off some biscuits if we go back – Sainsburys certainly know how to reward their shoppers. On the plus side, if we had had a Nectar card the till roll told us that we would have earned 1146 points. On the minus side, we don’t have one.

So that was the big shop. It wasn’t just a big shop it was a Titanic of shops. In fact it was the biggest shop of our lives. It was so big that we had to put the seats down in the very big car. “Oh well,” you might say, “you were shopping for a party”. But the fact is, we weren’t. The chef is coming tomorrow with the food and Mark and Nita are bringing the wine. This lot is just for the breakfasts, lunches and suppers for the rest of the time. Oh and one hell of a lot of nappies. I think Marion thinks our grandchildren pooh for Scotland.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

More Greetings From Scotland

We’re staying in Scotland for another couple of weeks. We love it here and with new granddaughter Melody only arriving last Saturday there’s plenty to keep us busy helping Sarah and Duncan. Next weekend it’s my 60th birthday and we’ve booked a big house just outside Edinburgh so that it’s not too far for the new baby to travel (although the rest of the guests will have a bit of a trek).

Rose came to stay with us at the caravan yesterday. The arrival of a new sister is not the easiest time for a two-year-old so we tried to give her lots of fun. She played on the playground before helping us with the tea. Although we have had terrible WIFI all week (hence the paucity of blogs) we managed to go to the site’s Games Room where we found enough signal for her to Skype her cousin Catherine. It was nice to see the two and one year old communicating (after a fashion) with waves and bye byes. Afterwards the signal was still strong enough for us to visit YouTube and download the Muppets with Harry Belafonte singing The Banana Boat Song. I am sure that this will become a firm family favourite.

This morning we took her to Forgan’s in St Andrews where they hold a Saturday Kiddies’ Ceilidh. Rose was a little reticent to try but by the last few dances she was reeling with the best of them.

Sarah, Duncan and Melody joined us and we had a bite to eat before Rose left us after what was, for us, a very enjoyable twenty-four hours.

In between family times I’ve managed another four or five hours out with the detector and found this great silver coin of Robert II c 1395 (another of those medieval cartoon portraits - this one looks like Apu in The Simpsons ) I went to see the farmers on Thursday evening and showed them everything I’ve found. Both husband and wife are really interested in what turns up and I will be sharing the finds with them (if they are not claimed by the Treasure Trove unit who decide on all finds made in Scotland).

We also had a trip to Cineworld in Dundee to see The Way Way Back a film from the team that brought us the fabulous Juno and Little Miss Sunshine. This is a “coming of age” movie about fourteen year old Duncan who goes to spend his summer at his mum’s boyfriend’s beach house with his mum, said boyfriend and the boyfriend’s older teenage daughter. Duncan is an awkward boy but his life blossoms when he befriends Owen the charismatic Peter Pan owner of a water park who becomes the father figure that Duncan lacks. The usually “good guy” Steve Carell plays the wicked stepfather Trent brilliantly and we feel for poor Duncan as he struggles to come to terms with his mum’s terrible choice. Allison Janney is excellent in her role as a boozy loudmouth neighbour and the film mixes humour and pathos perfectly to create a tremendous summery feel-good movie.

I’ve also been reading a lot during our stay and will be recommending a few novels to you in another blog

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Introducing Melody

Three days after "Bob" arrived, I called in on Sarah and family this morning and asked if any decision had been made on a name for granddaughter number three. "Julia" piped in Rose. "Very nice" I said but seeing the puzzled look on her daddy's face I asked if she was sure. "Samantha" she said to the equal bemusement of Duncan who asked her to tell me the real name. "Melody" said Rose. This name wasn't denied by the family although they aren't yet decided if it's going to be just Melody or, like Rose, there will be a middle name too. Whatever it ends up I'm sure that you will agree that she's a very bonny little girl. Sarah tells me that she's a very hungry little person and is feeding and sleeping well.

Let's hope that her sleeping well continues as Rose has never been been a heavy sleeper and the last thing that the family will want is two early risers. Marion is very disappointed that, after waiting here in the caravan for over two weeks for the baby to arrive, she has now gone down with some sort of nasty bug that means that she is losing her voice. The last thing Melody needs is a contagious Nanny so Marion is confined to barracks here at Craigtoun where I am keeping her company. I hope that she gets well soon as she is looking forward so much to a planned overnight stay for Rose at the caravan at the weekend. 

Fortunately I feel okay so I have been able to visit. I know that all new babies are tiny and now that I have three grandchildren I should not be surprised by this fact but it's still an amazing feeling picking up a new baby for the first time. It's something I will never tire of. I wonder if I will still be around to have this feeling again with a great grandchild. Or maybe there will be yet more grandchildren in the future.

Speaking of other grandchildren, I got a brilliant video from Paul at the weekend. Catherine celebrated Melody's arrival by walking for the first time - magic.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

The Wait Is Over

A very relaxing week reached an exciting climax yesterday when "Bob" decided it was time to make an entry into the world.

We had a big Scottish breakfast in Mitchells where we spent some time on the iPad checking out ideas for next year's holiday (we've decided to book a week's cycling tour in Provence in June followed by a week in a villa). We then cycled down to the harbour where they were holding a fete. 

It was a glorious day and Rose, Sarah and Duncan joined us before we headed back to the caravan site to sort out some laundry. There was no sign of "Bob" and Sarah had walked the two or more miles to the harbour without problem.

It was therefore a bit of a surprise when Duncan phoned us at around five to ask if Rose could join us at the caravan for the night. His timing was perfect. The tumble dryers had just stopped turning so we hurriedly emptied them out, and headed to their house. 

Just after six Duncan and Sarah set out on the half hour trip to the hospital in Dundee and "Bob" arrived in the world at 6.45, just ten minutes after they got to the hospital - a very close call. As for "Bob" who weighed just under 8 lbs, "Bob"'s a girl. She hasn't got a name yet so she'll have to be Bob for another couple of days. 

We decided that a toast was appropriate so Rose had some with butter while Marion toasted the baby with a glass of champagne. Just as I was raising my own glass, Duncan phoned and asked if I could meet him with the baby's car seat as they were heading home. So off I headed towards Dundee and met him at the Tay Bridge before heading back to the caravan. I believe that the family were home before midnight.

The caravan site is a very tranquil place. At times I think you can hear the spiders spinning their webs but for one night only the university had taken over the adjoining park and were holding some sort of rock night that went on until - not exactly the best conditions for a toddler to sleep on such an important night. But Rose coped well and managed a good sleep.

So the wait is over. Someone in the family described her as a McDonalds Drive Thru baby which I thought was very funny. We're looking forward to getting to know our little Mac. If she's anything like our other two granddaughters she's going to be absolutely lovely. 

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Still Waiting

There's still no sign of "Bob" so Marion and I remain at the caravan waiting to be scrambled when he or she finally decides to make a push for the outside world. It's been quite relaxing. We don't want to stray more than a few minutes drive away, so a cinema trip and bike rides of any distance have been out of the question. We have busied ourselves with visits to Sarah, taking Rose to her library book session and, of course, I've filled in time by doing some detecting just down the road.

I haven't found anything quite as nice as the medieval pendant I found a last week but I did find this great little medieval thimble on Sunday. The hole in the top signifies an early date and it's very rare to find a thimble like this in such good condition - they are usually crushed or broken by ploughs or combine harvesters. My contact at the Treasure Unit in Edinburgh is on holiday but I've emailed her with details of the finds (as per the law here in Scotland) and will post them to her when she is back. I imagine that they will return the few copper coins and the silver penny I found but will want to keep the pendant and the thimble along with other old pieces that I found in the same field last year. Although I would love to have them back I would rather they were on display for a wider audience.

I am having to write this from the caravan site laundrette as the WIFI in the caravan is so intermittent. It's sometimes excellent but often disappears completely. Laundrettes eh. I'm really living it up aren't I? 

Nothing else to write about apart from the wonders of converting Tesco points into Pizza Express vouchers (four times face value) which has resulted in us enjoying a surfeit of pizza over the last ten days (low calorie Legera mind). We've still got another sixty pounds worth of codes but you can have too much of a good thing and we may well save them for the future.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Another Great Find

With no sign of “Bob’s” arrival anytime in the near future I decided to head off out with the metal detector. The fields around St Andrews are all either harvested or just about to be harvested so there was plenty of choice. I went along to my favourite farm where the farmer and his family always make me welcome and it was no exception today as I was invited to help myself to broccoli in a field that had been cut but still had plenty of fresh and edible stalks remaining that were uneconomical to cut professionally. I stocked up with plenty for Sarah and Duncan.

I wondered about trying a new field. My last outing had produced this selection of Scottish copper coins, musket balls and a nice medieval belt hook but it had been hard work in thick stubble – I can only admire the men who used to harvest wheat with scythes - they must have developed body builder physiques. The farmer suggested a field that was not too far from a church so I gave it a try. Two hours on and I had found virtually nothing other than bottle tops, ring pulls and drinks cans – the farmworkers must have been a thirsty bunch or maybe the rubbish was hurled from passing traffic. Although I had found nothing of note I had been entertained by low flying aircraft overhead probably practising for the Leuchars Air Show at the weekend.

So I decided to go back to braving the stubble. 

And within five minutes I had struck lucky with a hammered silver coin.

I think this one is John c1200. It has been struck way off centre but the king’s head and the voided cross on the reverse are both clear to see. I love the portraits on these medieval coins. I often wonder how the mint approached the kings with the new coinage. “Tis a good likeness of your Majesty methinks?’ as they present him with something that a three year old might have produced. It’s a good job they weren’t full-length portraits or the king might well have had matchstick arms and legs.

Sufficiently encouraged by the silver penny, I carried on through the thick stubble and found these bits and pieces which include several more coins (these were more modern being three Victorian pennies, a threepenny bit and £1.20 in modern coinage). Signals were sparse but I always feel that something good might turn up in this field and keep on swinging the detector here long after others might have given up. Just as I was about to pack in and head back to the caravan a very strong signal stopped me in my tracks.

I saw the glint of gold and signs of a pattern and knew straight away that I had found something nice.

It’s a very fine and large gilded medieval harness pendant. Sadly it is missing one of its four lobes but it’s otherwise in very good condition and I am sure that when I report it to the museum in Edinburgh under the Scottish Treasure rules they will be very interested in it and it will probably go to a local museum. It’s compulsory to report finds in Scotland and that is a good thing as long as everybody follows the rules.

This is one of the nicest finds that I have made. If new grandchild “Bob” doesn’t arrive soon I may get the chance to make more finds like it before we head back to Suffolk.  

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Waiting For Bob

We're up in St Andrews again after almost two months away. We're here waiting for the arrival of "Bob" - granddaughter Rose's name for her soon to arrive little brother or sister. We thought that we'd left the glorious weather behind us in Framlingham but, as you can see from this photo, summer is still lingering on here in Fife too and this afternoon we spent a pleasant afternoon at nearby Allan Hill farm shop and children's play area which overlooks the town.

Rose is really growing up. It may only be seven or eight weeks since we were here but in those few weeks she has grown taller and her talking has developed in leaps and bounds  - we thought she was doing well stringing eight or nine words together in July but she can now converse fully.

I am pleased with this iPhone photo of her at play.

When we got back from the trip out Rose demonstrated the new double buggy to us. This is where she'll be sitting with "Bob" next to her. As for "Bob" - there's no sign of him or her just yet but we're ready. We're like a couple of firemen waiting for a call or two RAF pilots waiting to scramble. It means no drinking when we get back to the caravan in case we have to drive to look after Rose so perhaps we'll lose a bit of weight if Bob doesn't arrive on time at the weekend.