Friday, 31 May 2013

A Welcome Visitor

When we bought the caravan here at Craigtoun Meadows in St Andrews we did so with visions of being overrun with grandchildren and making regular visits to the excellent playground and woodland walk which make the site such a pleasant one. In reality we've not had as many opportunities as we would like to entertain the grandkids yet but we managed to bring Rose here yesterday and had a great time with her.

Last time we brought her to the playground Rose barely fit in the swings but now she's really at home and loves swinging as high as she can go.

Sitting on a bouncy butterfly takes an enormous amount of concentration. 

Marion and Rose had the whole playground to themselves and Rose had a great hour and managed to try everything. 

We look forward to entertaining her and our other grandchildren many many times in the future .

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Tour De Fife

I am indebted to my neighbour Wilfrid for coining the heading to today's blog. He came up with the title when I told him of the marathon bike ride that I completed on Saturday. Marion was still in Kent so, with no fields available to detect and Sarah and Duncan with no babysitting needs, I was at a bit of a loose end. The weather was glorious so I headed out from the caravan at about 9.30 and followed my nose.

After struggling up the hills of Denhead and Strathkiness I headed to the beautiful Tentsmuir Forest where the cycling is flat and easy and before I knew it I was in Tayport. This is the farthest that Marion and I had ventured on our bikes so far so anywhere West of here was unchartered territory for me as far as cycling was concerned.

Ten minutes past Tayport I came in sight of the Tay Bridge. I was pretty tired by this point but the bridge spurred me on as a goal and I carried on pedalling. As I approached the bridge the cycle track (National Route 1) offered two options - to cross the bridge or carry on to Newport On Tay.

As I hadn't been to Newport before I took the second option and rode into and around this small riverside town stopping off for a quick coffee and cake to give me a bit of energy before turning back towards the bridge.

Which I obviously had to cross simply because it was there and also because there is a super safe elevated cycle lane in the middle.

I turned round when I got to the end of the bridge, pausing only to take this photo to prove that I had done it. After that it was the same route back to St Andrews (missing out the diversion to Tentsmuir). I got back at about three thirty after about five solid hours of cycling. I don't want to exaggerate how long the ride was but it certainly exceeded forty miles and was probably not far short of fifty. I enjoyed it and am certainly managing to climb some of the hills with less effort now so it must have had some benefit.

Marion arrived on Sunday evening and we've enjoyed being back together again after our long spell apart. We're helping Sarah with a bit of babysitting this week and then it's back to Framlingham for a day on Sunday before helping out with some more babysitting duties next week in Kent. 

It's quite hectic this retirement lark but we wouldn't change it for anything.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

I Ain't Afraid Of No Cows

It’s Friday evening here at the caravan site which means just one thing – if you want to use the internet you’re basically ****** (insert your own expletive of choice here). You see, whilst the internet is not exactly on a par with that geeky guy in the BT ad’s, during the week it does work (after a fashion). As soon as more than two people with an iPad or with kids who are into the latest worldwide blockbuster game turn up it grinds to a halt. So, if you are reading this in August, apologies, it was written on Friday 24th May.

I’ve had a day on my own. Although I offered my services to Sarah I didn’t get called up for babysitting duty so I decided to go metal detecting. As I drove around my favourite spots my heart sank as I found all the fields freshly sown with crops and out of bounds. So I headed for some pasture and asked the farmer if it would be okay for me to try my luck. “Fine” he says “The cows willna bother you”. The phrase “The cows willna bother you” rang alarm bells in my head and conjured up visions of me and my dad, weighed down by an assortment of fishing tackle, being chased by a herd of bullocks across an Irish field sometime in the 1970’s. I was also aware of a recent news story in which a man was trampled to death by a herd of cows.

With nowhere else to go it was a case of braving the cows or no detecting. I wasn’t expecting to find much. Past sorties on this field had produced scores of pre-decimal coins and that was all I expected with the faintest hopes that a silver (or even gold) one might turn up.

And the coins duly turned up along with a heart shaped horse harness fitting, which was a welcome novelty. The cows were lying down in the distance ignoring me. But I wasn’t ignoring them and had an eye on them for the slightest movement. Sure enough, about an hour after I arrived, one stood up. I know it was only a cow but she had some pretty big horns. She pawed the ground like a bull facing a toreador and let out a moo, which I think translated as “there’s that bloke who ran like the clappers when confronted with a few little Irish bullocks. Let’s show him what Scottish cows are made of”. Instantly the rest of the herd was on its feet and within seconds were galloping (if cows gallop) towards me.

This time, carrying just my lightweight XP Deus detector, I was not hindered by fishing rod, basket, keep net, landing net, groundbait and a ton of maggots and headed for the gate. Fortunately the cows ran towards where I had been rather than where I was heading and I made it to the gate with enough time to have given them the finger (had I been so inclined). And then I realised that that was the day’s metal detecting finished.

So I went off on my bike. It was a glorious spring afternoon and, after a pretty difficult ride I drove down to St Andrews and walked around its most beautiful spots before buying some food to make my evening meal.

Tonight it was chicken Caesar salad. And very nice it was too. Only two days before Marion arrives. I can’t wait to see her.


Thursday, 23 May 2013

Perfect Weather...................For Reading

With the weather here at the caravan in St Andrews no different to how it was when we were here in January there was no chance of getting on the bike today. I'm not a fair weather cyclist (honestly) but when the wind is strong enough to keep Sir Bradley Wiggins at a standstill and it's so cold that the central heating is on at full blast, it's time to leave the bicycle in its locker.

I had a good day - lunch at Zizzis in town with Sarah, Duncan and Rose followed by a trip to the supermarket and an hour or so babysitting. But after dropping Rose back home and with the hurricane force winds eliminating any thoughts of getting out with the metal detector I decided to head back to the caravan and read.

We loaded the Kindles up a week or so ago so I had a good look through what we had downloaded. I found one called Crooked Letter Crooked Letter which I think Marion must have bought after it got good reviews in The Guardian.

Although I suppose that you could describe it as a thriller (which is not my usual cup of tea), the blood and gore were left to the reader's imagination leaving us with an intriguing story of two Mississippi boys one black, one white, one cool, one not, whose lives are inextricably linked. The novel jumps between their 80's childhood and the present where one is now a cop seeking a missing girl, the other a vilified loner who everybody thinks is linked to her abduction. Tom Franklin creates a vivid and atmospheric evocation of life in the backwoods and swamplands around the small town of Chabot with well drawn characters you can see and dialogue you can hear. I read the book in no time and felt like I had just watched a very good film. Great stuff.

I'm glad that I managed to finish it quickly as Scott Pack (blogger meandmybigmouth who is linked over there on the right on my blog list) is doing another of his periodic online book clubs next week. This time it's The Amazing Adventures Of  Kavalier And Clay and I'm really looking forward to reading this as it looks very different and entertaining. I hope it is as I am regularly disappointed in trying to find entertaining books. I'm doubly pleased that this was chosen as Scott had put it to a vote and it was neck and neck with current bestseller Gone Girl which both Marion and I read recently. We both wondered what all the fuss was about. Marion hated it and I thought it was so-so although we both agreed that it is a page turner albeit one with a big disappointment at the end. 

In an attempt to read something entertaining, I read Oh Dear Sylvia by Dawn French a few weeks ago and, although it is readable, I was expecting something funny from such a great comedienne. It didn't raise as much as a smile I'm afraid. If anyone can recommend something to make me laugh I would love to hear from them.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Say Cheese For Nanny

I spent a lot of today with granddaughter Rose. I took her to her dance class in Cupar this morning and , amongst other things in the fun filled hour, enjoyed singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (as well as doing all the actions) and doing a toddler caterpillar conga where I, as both the only man there and the only person over thirty five, must have looked slightly incongruous. Fortunately nobody asked me if I'd missed my way to the bowling green and Rose had a lovely time.

She's grown up in the two months since we were last here in St Andrews. She's not that much taller but she's got more teeth (as demonstrated in her photo for Nanny above) and her talking has come on in leaps and bounds. I haven't experienced a child so small holding a proper conversation and speaking in sentences of half a dozen words or more before (and she's grammatically correct too). It must be in the genes. Or there again it could be because Sarah and Duncan have been such attentive parents. She's going to be a wonderful big sister when her new sibling arrives in the autumn.

After we got back from Cupar I did a further short stint of babysitting. Rose enjoys being read to whilst sitting on a huge beanbag that Sarah and Duncan have in their lounge. Sitting in the beanbag and reading the story is fine but getting out of the beanbag is another matter and, enveloped in it's folds, I felt like I was drowning in a giant blancmange and had visions of having to call for assistance to get out of the damn thing. Fortunately a puzzled Rose, who is used to her parents springing out of the bag in a trice, offered me a hand and I somehow extricated myself from its clutches. I think we'll read tomorrow's story on the sofa.

After that it was another three hour bike ride before returning to the caravan for tea. I was going to watch TV but there's nothing on that I fancy. Last night I started to watch The Fall on BBC2. I only lasted five minutes. The sadistic sexual assault and murder of a young woman and her subsequent immersion in a bath for some sort of ritual cleansing made me wonder why everyone is surprised when people like Stuart Hazell and Mark Bridger do the sort of things they do. I am certainly no prude but to go into such detail was simply uncalled for at best and voyeuristic at worst. 

Monday, 20 May 2013

Missing My Pal

For complex reasons that I won't go into here, I find myself alone in the caravan in St Andrews while Marion is five hundred miles away in the south east. I know that for some blokes  this would be their idea of heaven - an opportunity to drink beer, play golf, browse the least salubrious sites on the internet and eat fish and chips in their y fronts. Not me I'm afraid. SInce our big retirement adventure began in 2010 we've seldom been apart for more than a day and now there's the prospect of being separated until Sunday at the earliest. 

If you know me you'll know that I'm a pretty upbeat sort of person but I really find it hard to enjoy this solitary sojourn. Which may sound strange for someone with the solitary hobbies, of reading, writing, metal detecting and cycling. And yes I do enjoy all of those insular activities but it's not the same when your return to an empty home with nobody to share the joys of a muddy hammered penny or news on the state of the roadside verges in Strathkiness. 

To keep myself occupied today, I went on a very long cycle ride. I have about four routes around St Andrews each covering about an hour of riding but, with no need to return, I combined all four of them and rode for about four hours. It was a good way to relax and think and it had a beneficial effect on my blood pressure which was as low as it's been for ages when I got back. I rode along the valley of the river Eden on a route that I've not taken since last year's floods and saw for myself the damage done near Dairsie when the floodwaters took the road and half of this house away. The road is still closed to cars and, looking at the damage and the lack of remedial work going on, I imagine that it's going to be that way for a long long time to come. 

I've been looking out for the wildlife around the caravan. There are still scores of rabbits but there is no sign of the red squirrel I spotted in January and the owls have been notable by their absence but on a positive note I've seen a great spotted woodpecker two or three times now and hope he's still around when Marion gets here.

Tomorrow I've got a busy schedule taking granddaughter Rose to her dancing class in Cupar and baby sitting later in the day. There are similar plans for Wednesday and Thursday so hopefully the time will pass a little faster and I can look forward to the drive to Leuchars Station to pick Marion up from her long and no doubt exhausting train journey. I can't wait.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

We Got Knocked Down - But We'll Get Up Again

It's strange how life can change and turn on its head in just seconds. That's what happened on Saturday morning. We were happily awaiting the arrival of Mark and Nita, some good friends from up north. I'd spent the previous day preparing Gordon Ramsay's Beef Wellington (the middle class equivalent of killing the fatted calf) and we popped into Framlingham briefly to stock up on some last minute goodies.

We picked up some fine cheeses from Leo's Deli, some great looking crab from Darren the market fishmonger and some flowers from Callender's Florists and were heading back home when the phone rang. It was not good news and we had to cancel all our plans. Mark and Nita arrived but didn't get time to unpack;  within half an hour they were in their car and heading back on the long journey up the A14.

I can't go into details here out of respect for the privacy of others but in months to come I hope to be able to tell you more about what happened, how it will affect us in the years ahead and how we may be able to help others faced with the same situation.

It was a rotten end to what we anticipated would be a brilliant weekend but we're a resilient couple and we will get over what happened. Life will go on and things will definitely get better.

And we did have some good news later this afternoon when Bonhams in New Bond St held their sale of fine Japanese Art. I had a lovely collection of Japanese Satsuma wares that I built up over the last ten years but it wasn't right for the new house in Framlingham. We didn't have room for it all so I consigned it to Bonhams. It was described in their catalogue as "Property Of A Gentleman" - which I am sure some people would dispute. The catalogue was a spectacular affair and my collection, which took up over ten pages, looked stunning in it . I was busy this afternoon as the sale went ahead and when I started to look through the results my heart sank. Some items which had estimates of £1,000 - £1,500 had only sold for a few hundred pounds and some had failed to reach their (very low) reserves. But all was compensated for as we reached some of the the best pieces. They sold for spectacular prices with the vase on the right in the photo above reaching a hammer price of  £15,999 against an estimate of £4,000- £5,000 and a box by the same artist producing a near identical result. Ten of the lots sold and, although five  of those sold at a small loss, the five that sold at a profit did so well that we ended up with double what we hoped to achieve from the sale and will have five or six of the items back to save for another day. 


Wednesday, 8 May 2013

It's Not All About The House

If you've dipped into this blog any time over the last six months you will probably be of the impression that our life has revolved around little more than an endless stream of home improvements and the world's longest ever landscape gardening project. And you would be forgiven if that is the impression you've gained as, in all honesty, it has been something of a preoccupation. But there has been life away from the project and we've been taking in a fair bit of what's on offer locally during the past week.

We've seen two very different films at two very different venues. It was Cineworld Ipswich first. The Place Beyond The Pines is an excellent film about family values and morality. Ryan Gosling is a bit of a drifter -a stunt motorcyle rider whose life changes when he discovers that he has a son. Bradley Cooper is a young ambitious cop whose life changes when his path crosses with Gosling's. It's finely acted by all the cast and is very much a film of two halves - half action movie and half moral drama. The two halves make a very fine whole.

Last night we went to the totally different Ipswich Film Theatre Trust - a small community based independent cinema. It's an extremely friendly place and it shows a great choice of films many of which are unlikely to ever turn up at the multiplex. We saw Love Is All You Need which stars Pierce Brosnan as a sort of Man From Del Monte who owns a lemon grove in Italy. His son is marrying Trine Dyrholm's character's daughter and the action takes place over the long weekend of the wedding celebrations. In a mix of both English and Danish, the film is subtitled in part and has a mostly Scandinavian cast. It's a very warm and gentle movie and mixes comedy, romance and a little drama together to make a thoroughly entertaining couple of hours.

We've also been to have a look at Sutton Hoo - very interesting and well worth a visit even if just to get a sense of what it was like to haul that ship all the way up from the river way down in the distance. We've been to the local book club and had an interesting discussion on Gone Girl and on Friday we had a great meal and very enjoyable time at the jazz night hosted by The Lemon Tree Bistro here in Framlingham

We've been reading plenty. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson was fascinating and I enjoyed Dave Eggers' A Hologram For The King. At the moment I'm reading Karen Campbell's This Is Where I Am the story of a Somali refugee in Glasgow who is mentored by a recently bereaved volunteer - powerful stuff.

And today we went to the Alde Valley Festival. This is a celebration of art and nature held just down the road from Framlingham at Great Glemham. It runs over a few weeks in April and May. There is an exhibition of painting, sculpture and ceramics by some outstanding artists (including Maggie Hambling) together with a varied programme of events. We took in a walk led by artist and farmer Jason Gathorne-Hardy. Jason showed us a huge variety of local trees and explained how to interpret their placing in the landscape. Some magnificent oaks were up to 800 years old. A fascinating couple of hours in a lovely setting ended with some great tea and cake in the old farmhouse. At the weekend there's a big picnic at an enormous 100 yard long picnic table. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Another Step Forward

When we moved in on January 17th we had nowhere to put all these boxes as the office hadn't arrived and, as the garden was unfinished, we couldn't put any of the outdoor furniture out so the garage was unusable. However, Tony told us on Friday that the back garden is finally finished ( a point slightly undermined by the fact that, as I write, he and his son are still drilling and screwing out there) and we were able to get cracking over the Bank Holiday weekend and clear the garage out.

Here's the result of our labours. For the first time we can walk around in there without risking life and limb. We managed to find a fair bit of stuff that we had forgotten about.

The furniture looks much better outside than in the garage.

We also found time to tidy out Marion's beach hut potting shed. It was finished inside in chipboard that looked really scruffy so decorator Gerald arranged for one of his subcontractors Mark to come and panel it with grooved MDF panels and we got local shop Bill Bustrode to fit some lino so it's starting to look quite comfortable for her. All she needs now is electricity and that will hopefully be in place this week.

When we got to the bottom of everything in the garage we found the stuff in the following photos. It all came with us from Southport but we've nowhere for it now. I asked the local antique dealer if he was interested (it's all Victorian). He was, but not at my (very reasonable and a lot less than what we paid) prices. So I think I'll have to put an ad in the local Co-Op. If anyone reading this is interested do get in touch.

Small Victorian Cast Iron Fire Surround

Victorian Wire Plant Stands

Old Oil Burner Converted To Lamp

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Out And About In Suffolk

Although we would like nothing better than to stay at the house and use the garden that has been in the course of development for four months, we're still overrun with workers (electrician doing the lighting now) so we've no alternative but to get out from under their feet and do something else. Fortunately the weather has been glorious for a few days so it has been perfect for walking and, while Marion was having her hair done at Carley Hill the other day, I put on my boots and explored some of the local paths and bridleways. I particularly liked this view as our house is the white one bottom right and we're sharing the skyline with the magnificent castle top left. 

Yesterday the good weather continued and we drove out to Walberswick and did a walk recommended in one of the Suffolk magazines. Walberswick is a picturesque little place full of interesting buildings like this half timbered house.

And the fascinating church which is not a partial  ruin because of some tragedy or Henry VIII's dissolution but simply because the church became too big for the parish so they knocked some of it down and used the stone and windows to build a smaller church inside.

The result is very romantic and the (now tiny) church is a real treasure. (This is not my photo by the way but came from free image website Zippix).

The walk took us out of the village and along the banks of the river Blyth. It was a peaceful and easy stroll interrupted by only the calls of birds that flocked in their hundreds in the surrounding marshland and floated in the many lagoons, creeks and inlets - a birdwatcher's paradise. 

 The walk took us past this derelict place. It reminded us the house in The Blair Witch Project so we didn't hang around. I don't think even Sarah Beeny could do anything with this one.

The walk ended at the always excellent Anchor where we kept things local and enjoyed a crab salad. A great end to a lovely walk. 

Although as I said at the start we would have preferred to be able to be at home, this was a pretty perfect alternative.