Thursday, 31 October 2013

Time For A Laugh

You know how people who are retired tell you that they don't know how they found time to do everything when they were working as they're run off their feet now? We're finding that it's actually true and there's rarely a spare minute at the moment. The Tesco diet isn't helping as the shopping for and preparation of the meals is taking up a fair chunk of time but it is bringing results and on our first scheduled weigh in (five days into the diet) we've lost six pounds between us. If we carry on at that rate we can pack it in in a few weeks.

Yesterday I went to Stowmarket to continue the business mentoring that I am doing with a small business. We've been working together for six months now and have reached the end of the business's first financial year. I was really pleased to see that the turnover and profit both exceeded targets and we're now working on the budget and targets for the new year. It's good to be able to share some of my experience and I'm looking forward to getting a second business to mentor soon.

Last night was opening night for the latest production from FADS (Framlingham Amateur Dramatic Society) and we headed to the college theatre not quite knowing what to expect. The play Third Week In August was about a week on a caravan site and, having lived on such a site for over six months last year, it was of particular interest to us. The huge crowd was perhaps swollen by the Wednesday night pensioners' concessions as Marion and I were two of the youngest in the stalls. What a night the audience had; I don't know which was funnier - the play or the audience; the woman behind me was in hysterics which I found infectious especially when, every five minutes, she forecast (usually correctly) what was going to happen. If I had a pound for every time she told her neighbour that she'd never seen the theatre so full I could have bought everyone a glass of wine in the interval.

Boring Neville  (Peter Turner) and his strident wife Mary (Claire Harries) have been visiting the same site every August for twenty odd years. Their lives are dull but this year they have company in the shape of Mary's twice divorced sister Liz (Kathy Churchill who jointly runs the excellent Aboutfram weekly e-newsletter). Sue (Alison Podd) has booked a peaceful week in a caravan and plans to spend it writing a play. Her neighbours on the pitch alongside are Tony (Glenn Hurlock) and Jenny (Jane Manning). 

It's an evening of comedy as Neville and Mary (who really don't want to interfere) and the other caravaners find themselves embroiled in the very glamorous Jenny and her not so glamorous partner Tony's relationship problems. Mary tries to offer poor and put upon Liz some sisterly advice. Onlooker Sue gets dragged into the situation as it develops into pure, caravan hopping, farce. There were a few first night nerves but the cast got over them well and provided us with some memorable scenes that brought the house down. It runs until Saturday so, if you're in Framlingham, get down to the Headmaster Porter Theatre. I'm sure that you will laugh.

Today we've been to the gym and then went to a local resident's house and did a bit of pruning for her in her garden. We volunteered for the Framlingham Hour Community whereby you offer your skills (or lack of in my case) for an hour or two to help someone who is unable to do a job themselves. A shoulder injury made pruning difficult so we were happy to help. We're now looking forward to our next assignment.

Monday, 28 October 2013

A Drive On The Wild Side

I'll start by putting the record straight and pointing out that this is not my photo. It wasn't even taken this year but it is the closest I could find to what we came across as we headed towards Marion's early morning fitness class at Ufford Park today. The memory on my phone was full and when you are stuck in a queue of traffic attempting to reverse and turn around, deleting unwanted photos on the iPhone and stopping to take snaps is not a top priority and unlikely to win you much love from fellow road users. Of course we'd heard all about the storm but we'd both slept well and it wasn't really very windy when we left Framlingham at 8 o'clock so we thought that our area had escaped the worst. After all, we were living near Sevenoaks in Kent in 1987 when virtually every tree within a mile of our house came down; this felt nowhere near as severe.

Following our noses we found our way away from Hacheston where the blockage lay and eventually reached the A12 after a hairy drive through floodwater and around other fallen trees on partially blocked roads. By this time the winds were so strong that the car was shaking and drivers were proceeding very gingerly.  But we made it to the gym with time to spare. Sad to say, although Marion's instructor was there, the hotel and spa had been hit by a power cut so the gym was closed and we had to look for an alternative route home. I decided to give very minor roads a miss but still had to turn back on the Glenham road and had some very tight squeezes on the Saxmundham road but got back home safely before ten. On reflection the journey was a bit foolhardy and reckless (we can't say that we weren't warned) but the conditions seemed benign when we left. The intense winds lasted for only a few minutes but they brought down so many trees that their speed must have been immense.

Shortly after we got home a delivery van arrived with this beautiful bouquet of scented roses, stocks and other flowers in an attractive pot. It was a thank you from Dave and Jane who stayed with us last week - what a kind gesture.

Determined not to be thwarted by the wind we logged onto Fitness TV on the Smart TV and did a workout (not before drawing all the blinds to ensure that nobody could see me prancing around the dining room in my shorts). I found it quite hard work (having two left feet doesn't help with the dance like steps) but Marion went on to do a Pilates workout too.

That should help with the diet. We're sicking to TescoDiets meal plan religiously and hope that we get results soon. Since we started on Saturday we've had chicken salad, chicken stir fry, chicken ciabatta rolls and there's more chicken tomorrow. I love a glass or two of prosecco or white wine while relaxing in the bath on a Saturday evening but this week I had to do with slimline tonic - not quite the same. Mind you I didn't fall asleep in front of the telly and that might tell me something. 

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Fond Farewells

We said goodbye to David and Jane Haworth today. We've had a great few days in their company and were so pleased that they were able to join us and enjoy a taste of Suffolk. The weather was kind to us today and we travelled to the coast under a cloudless sky. 

We started off at Aldeburgh where we enjoyed a stroll along the beach, had a look at the shops and checked out the coffee at The Brudenell Hotel where it was so fine that we were able to sit outside and enjoy the drinks in the open air to the accompaniment of the gentle sound of a calm sea.  

From Aldeburgh we drove down to Orford. The castle looked magnificent in the late autumn sunshine and we were able to explore the village in the autumn warmth before having a snack lunch at the fabulous and award winning Pump St Bakery where we were again able to dine al fresco. 

We've packed plenty into the three and a half days that our friends spent with us but there's so much to do around here that we'll still have plenty more to enjoy with them if they are able to make it back again. We hope that they can find time for a return visit in the not too distant future.

All the eating and drinking we've been doing in enjoying our new location has resulted in us piling on a few more pounds than we would like. Three years ago I wrote on my Instanta blog that I had reached my target weight of 12st 3lbs after spending several months and losing 35lbs on the Tesco Diet. I'm pleased to say that I haven't put all that back on but I have drifted up by about a stone in the last twelve months and it's time to rein the weight back in so I've signed up again with Tesco. I feel a bit of a failure to be signing up again after I thought I had cracked my weight problem but at least I'm only aiming to lose about 10lbs this time and not two and a half stone.

I mentioned problems I'd been having with House Of Fraser online the other day and said that I wasn't hopeful of getting my problem resolved. I was hoping to buy this new overcoat. It's a really nice coat by Paul Smith but it was sold out on the Paul Smith site and House Of Fraser was the only place with one left (they had three in my size). Unfortunately some security issue came up and I was unable to order. Thanks to Ian in the HOF security department I was finally able to resolve the issue after three days and luckily the coat was still available. House Of Fraser (understandably) couldn't discuss their online security with me but it seems that by buying three things from the company in different transactions within twenty four hours I had raised alarm bells with my bank and my bank had refused the third transaction. To make matters worse the bank had my old mobile number so couldn't query it with me when they tried to phone. The coat arrived safely last night so it was a happy ending. I understand that banks and internet sellers have our security as well as theirs to consider but the House Of Fraser system was so secure that I couldn't even use another bank's card on their site without a twenty four hour delay and even Marion couldn't use her card on the site as our address was effectively blacklisted for twenty four hours. Whilst I was happy with Ian's assistance I do feel that a bit of common sense could have been applied by others in customer services a few days earlier and saved me hours of phone calls.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Welcome Visitors

We're delighted to have friends staying with us in Framlingham this week. We've known Dave and Jane Haworth since before our children were born and have missed seeing them after moving away. We're cramming in as much as we can in the short time that they are here and today we headed to the coast and had a walk around both Walberswick and Southwold where we had a great lunch on the pier.

Despite rough seas the weather was kind enough for us to walk down the pier and have a look at the famous water clock before strolling along the beach to the town centre.

Although we aren't far off November a few foolhardy people were braving the water including a couple of surfers who were riding the waves quite expertly.

Yesterday we took Jane and Dave for a quick look around Framlingham. We showed them the castle, the church and the market but with heavy rain forecast decided on an indoor activity for the afternoon and headed to Cineworld in Ipswich.

We saw Tom Hanks' latest movie Captain Phillips on the amazing IMAX screen. It's a very powerful film that draws you in completely and leaves you emotionally drained. Hanks is brilliant as the level headed captain and the actors who play the Somali pirates are totally convincing to the extent that it feels like we're watching reality. It's an excellent and unmissable film.

Last night we ate at our local The Crown. We eat at The Crown quite often and it is going from strength to strength. It's wonderful to be able to walk to somewhere serving good, interesting food and not having to worry about drinking and driving. Last night we tried the new menu and were impressed with all the food. The celeriac, duck terrine and boneless quail starters and the loin of pork main course were favourites.

We've done the rest of the cooking. On Monday it was lasagne and tonight it's chicken pie. I might not be up to Crown Head Chef Matt Ransome's standard but I'm trying.


Monday, 21 October 2013

Twisting The Night Away

When you live in a sleepy rural community you might expect the highlight of the social calendar to be a sewing talk at the WI. But how wrong you would be. On Saturday night we joined a couple of Marion's Zumba friends and their partners at Kettleburgh Village Hall. According to Google, the village's population is a little over 200 but it seemed that most of them turned out for a performance by Suffolk musicians The Fat Band.

There were ten musicians in the group and they played for almost three hours. With a repertoire ranging from blues to rock, they went down a storm with the locals who twisted the night away with performances that would have put Chubby Checker to shame. Five or six of the band were approaching (or maybe even past) seventy but they played with as much youthful vigour and exuberance as JLS and One Direction. Great fun. Catch them if you can.

We had a day out shopping in Norwich yesterday. I was spoiled for choice in Jarrolds and liked every pair of shoes that I tried on, so I bought them all and shouldn't be short of footwear again for a while. After that I bought some shirts and a cardigan in House of Fraser. I also attempted to buy a coat from them but fell foul of some strange security block that stopped me from buying it. I'll be writing more about this and hope it will be in praise of House Of Fraser customer services but over twenty four hours later and still no joy I have a horrible feeling that it won't.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Love And Marriage In Framlingham And Paris

It's been a busy week with little time to blog. I went to see my local farmer and his wife on Tuesday and we went through all the finds I had made in their fields. It was good to get to know them and they were fascinated to see the bits and pieces from the past that had turned up on their land. They told me that they had had some problems with people turning up with detectors without permission, digging up crops and leaving a mess so I feel lucky that they are still happy for me to detect. I took the finds to the county archaeologist in Bury St Edmunds on Friday so everything is being fully recorded. But that's nothing to do with the heading on today's blog.


Love and marriage has been a recurring theme this week. On Wednesday evening we went to Framlingham College for  Love And Marriage In The Renaissance, a talk by art scholar Nicholas Ross. Nick discussed a number of classic paintings from the 15th and 16th centuries with an emphasis on the works of Botticelli. He showed us the amazing allegories in the paintings and explained hidden codes and meanings influenced by both catholicism and Greek mythology. It was a totally fascinating talk and it inspired us to look more closely at what is in a painting rather than simply view it as a whole. The talk was presented with charm and a good deal of impish humour that had the audience asking for more. These events run by FramSoc never fail to impress. They are open to non members for a small admission fee but inexpensive annual membership is open to Framlingham residents and is highly recommended.

Continuing on the marriage theme, we went to Cineworld in Ipswich to see Le Week-End on Wednesday afternoon . Starring Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan who are both five or six years older than us, it's the story of a thirtieth wedding anniversary in Paris. It's brilliantly acted. Broadbent is world weary; unhappy in his career and his sex life and leeched upon by his druggy son. Duncan is a modern, independent woman who is weary of her marriage and life in general. Will the romantic weekend return to their honeymoon hotel rekindle the sparks or will it drive a final nail into the coffin of their romance? I thought that, in view of the proximity to our own ages, I might see some parallels in our own relationship but, although it's very real and played with humour and charm I'm pleased to say that I didn't (don't know about Marion mind). With a great supporting role from Jeff Goldblum, it's well worth going to see.

It was fabulous to see Sarah, Rose and Melody visiting us on Skype yesterday. Rose is very happy with her new little sister although, as you can see from this photo, Melody is not that little any longer! We really miss our family in Scotland but it won't be long before we head back up north for a couple more weeks in St Andrews.

Sarah sent me some photos from my 60th birthday party. I will save everyone else's embarrassment by not naming my friends and sparing them from Google but why a fire extinguisher, a teddy bear and a standard lamp are involved is anybody's guess. One of those allegories perhaps.

On a final note today, we were very sad to see a neighbour taken to hospital this week. She's in her tenth decade but the hospital tell me that she's doing very well. We miss seeing her and look forward to welcoming her home very soon.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

This Santander 1-2-3 Account Is A No Brainer

I'm not in the habit of using my blog to push a bank account but the Santander 1-2-3 account seems too good to be true. And despite the old adage that if something looks too good to be true it probably is, I've been through all the fine print and it still looks a pretty amazing deal to me compared to what I've had with my Barclays account for the last forty years. You would have to have been a castaway on a desert island for six months to be unaware of the account as the advertising using that young Irish golfer Rory, the racing driver who isn't Hamilton and a woman I assume to be an athlete has been everywhere. 

During 2012 we had quite large sums in our Barclays savings account for much of the year due to selling our house and holding funds for the renovation of the new house. We earned almost nothing on it due to an interest rate well below 1%. Yet the Santander account will pay us no less than 3% on sums between £3,000 and £20,000 and between 1% and 2% on lower balances. In addition they will pay us cashback of between 1% and 3% on a wide variety of expenses including payments to rates and water rates, gas and electric and phones and TV. Against these positives there is the negative of a small monthly fee.

So, after forty years with Barclays we're off. We're not closing the Barclays account in case there's something we've missed but for the time being I reckon we'll be the best part of £20 A WEEK better off with this account. And that's certainly incentive enough to get me to switch.

Meanwhile, in other news, we went to The Riverside in Woodbridge yesterday to see Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine. Cate Blanchett is outstanding in her portrayal of a woman whose life goes downhill when her and her husband's millionaire lifestyle proves to have been built on deception. She is left with just her working class sister to fall back on. Blanchett is totally convincing in the role as she spirals downward from shopping in Park Avenue to talking to herself on a park bench. Although it is at times funny it is a serious study of a breakdown within a disfunctional  marriage and is much darker than Allen's 2011 offering Midnight In Paris.

If we go to the cinema next week we'll aim for something a bit lighter. We're gearing up for the visit of our Ormskirk friends Dave and Jane Haworth who are coming to stay for three nights. I spent today cooking so that we've got a freezer full when they arrive and we can entertain them without too much fuss (don't worry Jane there's no rabbit). We've also been planning days and evenings out. I suggested Scaresville Haunted Village but Marion felt that our guests wouldn't be too keen on being scared out of their skin - they'll have enough of that when they meet the locals - (just kidding Framlingham). We've plenty of ideas so it promises to be a great week.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Alas Poor Rabbit We Cooked Him Well

If someone had suggested last year that we'd be spending an autumn Saturday sampling sausages at twelve different venues in a small Suffolk town whilst being transported between those venues in a pink stretch limo and that one of those tastings would be at In Da Cottage, a shop selling the unlikely combination of "Antiques And Sourdough Bread",  I'd have said they were having a laugh. But that's what came to pass yesterday as we encountered our first annual sausage festival in our new home town.

The event's fame had spread to Wapping and was listed in The Times' "great days out this weekend" which must have boosted numbers. The £4 fee bought a book of perforated voting slips entitling the holder to sample and vote on sausages at each venue and, in addition, along with the ballot slips were a couple of stretch limo vouchers to reach the sites at the extremities of the town. 

After a very fine coffee at the Lemon Tree, where we managed to finish The Times Jumbo2 crossword without using the iPhone to cheat for the first time in a while, we bought our weekend's provisions at Leo's Deli, Hall Farm Butchers and the greengrocers before heading off on the trail. And what a delicious trail it was too! Fortunately the sausage samples were not too large and artery threatening and we assessed the samples seriously and marked them honestly on three categories. The big problem for me was the question "How likely are you to buy regularly?". However delicious a sausage might be I am hardly likely to drive to Norfolk to buy a packet so our own Co-op and Hall Farm butchers had to score highest here.

After the event I tweeted this and was delighted to hear later that our local butcher had used their home advantage and won. I don't know how my other selections finished.

Although we've lived here for almost nine months now we've not actually been at home for more than a few weeks at a time so it's taking some time to get into a routine but there's certainly plenty going on. In addition to the Sausage Fest yesterday the excellent Crown was holding a small sale of jewellery and accessories in one of their function rooms. Marion bought this lovely and inexpensive pair of gloves (the photo colour is wrong - they're grey) and another present which I won't mention here as the recipient may well read this. We also saw the excellent Roadii outdoor fire cooking system outside The Crown and we will be getting one for next spring.

We ended the day with a rabbit dish. I finally persuaded Marion to give it a try so the butcher jointed one for me and I used The Hairy Bikers' recipe off the BBC website. Slow cooked with prunes, brandy, wine, shallots and finished with double cream it may not have been the healthiest of Saturday night meals but it was very tasty and once Marion had got over the association with Benjamin Bunny and Peter Rabbit I think she enjoyed it.

A very pleasant day ended with watching The X Factor and my annual ritual of betting on it on Betfair whilst reading everyone's comments on Twitter. Someone tweeted "It's S**t" but I can't disagree more. Manipulative perhaps but always entertaining and, at the moment my bets are going in the right direction (all winnings being offset however by Marion's phone bill as she votes for Rough Copy)

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

On Customer Service And A Marathon Matinee At Cineworld

Having been involved in finance all of my working life I am afraid that I am a bit of a pain when it comes to home bookkeeping and, thanks to the wonders of Microsoft Money, I can tell you how much we spent on clothes, food, holidays, football (you name it ) in any month or year for about the past fifteen years. However I have one credit card account that I don't check regularly as I got an unbeatable interest free and no initial fee offer on it about eighteen months ago and I've simply been paying the minimum back each month. But this month it's due to be repaid and the interest free offer runs out so I went online to reconcile the statement. 

To my surprise it didn't balance. I was £72.75 better off than I expected. So I trawled through the online statements and found that in November last year we were refunded £72.75 by ACHICA for some pictures that we bought for the room we we're doing out for the grandchildren. At one stage we had an apology from ACHICA notifying us that the pictures were not going to be delivered as they had run out of stock but we thought nothing of it as they arrived a day or so later.

So I wrote to ACHICA and told them that we owed them £72.75 from last November.I was interested to see how they would respond to this slightly unusual contact with customer service. They immediately sent an email invoice with payment instructions and we duly paid by return but that was it. "What else did you expect?" I hear you ask, "you owed them money and you paid it. What did you want? A flipping medal?" Whilst I know that is correct I just thought that someone in customer service somewhere might have written a note of thanks and maybe offered us a fiver off our next order - after all if I had kept quiet they would be £73 worse off. 

On the subject of customer service, hats off to John Lewis Ipswich. We bought Melody a lovely, and quite expensive, little babygro from them online in July (before she was born). When Melody wore it for the first time a hole appeared. We took it back today almost three months later and were refunded immediately with no quibbles. I was very impressed as the shop could easily have argued that we had damaged it ourselves but no, I left the store five minutes later with the card refunded.

We were in Ipswich as the Prius was due its 70,000 mile service. We had a good day and did a bit of shopping in the town centre before heading to Cineworld (where I discovered that I now qualify for senior prices). 

We saw Sunshine On Leith at 1 o'clock. It's one of those musicals with a story made up to fit the songs. After Mamma Mia and others in this genre, this time it's The Proclaimers turn to get the treatment. I love The Proclaimers so I knew that I would like the film. And I did, despite Peter Mullan's inability to hit the right notes the few times that he sang. The storyline about a couple of squaddies returning to Edinburgh after a tour of duty in Afghanistan is a double romance and it's great fun with some superb moments - Lets Get Married set in an Edinburgh pub was pure joy and the flash mob finale of 500 Miles was a truly happy, memorable and feel good movie moment. With the Edinburgh skyline playing a big part in the film I'd recommend it for anyone who loves that city and the Proclaimers or is a bit of a softie. If you want a strong story I'd give it a miss.

Straight out of Sunshine On Leath we were into the adjoining screen to continue our marathon matinee. I'm a fan of author Meg Rosoff. I've read three of her novels which are aimed at a juvenile audience but can still be appreciated by adults. I haven't read How I Live Now but it does contain Meg's trademarks of a degree of surreality accompanied by a fair deal of teenage sex and a healthy serving of angst. Saoirse Ronan plays American, Daisy, who is sent to spend the summer with her cousins in a glorious British countryside. The cousins are two teenage boys and a younger girl. Romance blossoms between Daisy and her cousin Edmond. The cousins' mum has to leave so they are on their own and having an idyllic bucolic time when suddenly World War 3 (which has been simmering in the background)  breaks out and the story develops into a dystopian apocalypse. It's a powerful film with great performances from Ronan and her co-star George McKay. It's clearly been filmed on a budget so the apocalyptic scenes are on a fairly small and slightly unconvincing scale but this is compensated for by great cinematography and a very touching story.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Back Home

Phew. The longest stay away from home that we can remember is over and on Saturday afternoon we finally drove back into Framlingham after five wonderful weeks in Scotland.

I struggled to open the door due to the huge mound of post behind it but it gave way with a push and we were back. Everything was pretty much as we left it. The double glazing must work extremely well as there was no dust at all. It felt a bit strange as we haven't lived here for very long and we found it quite difficult getting back into the flow of things and even found ourselves forgetting things like which drawers we kept stuff in (I know, I'm 60 now, this sort of thing is to be expected).

We had a great last few days at the big house and we'll miss Rose and her mummy and daddy terribly after being near to them for such a long time. Rose loved playing in the upstairs playroom of the house with Marion. 

The big shop that I wrote about didn't go to waste and on our final evening at the house we put everything that was left into a fabulous chicken and chorizo bake leaving only a few bits and pieces to take back to the caravan with us.

The sun has shone down on us since we've been back and we've had some beautiful sunrises and sunsets over the last few days. Peter Sugar of Cutting Hedge did a good job in keeping on top of things in the garden so we didn't return to a mess although there were more weeds than his time allowed him to remove so we've had a pretty back breaking couple of days getting on top of them - I'm glad to say that we've got rid of them all now and everything is returning to order.

The gardener kept on top of the watering during the dry spells and the robot mower did its job too so the lawn looks very lush and green. Although you don't get the stripes associated with traditional lawnmowers I do feel that the grass looks healthier than our old lawn ever did with a rotary mower.

And here's the reason for our five weeks in Scotland - little Melody born on 14th September. She's a lovely baby - not so little either as she has been feeding very well and putting on weight by the day. We'll miss seeing her but the beauty of owning the caravan means that it won't be too long before we're back in St Andrews and seeing how she is progressing - can't wait.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

And Then There Were Four (And two wee ones)

The party is now just a memory. Our friends left on Sunday afternoon and Monday morning and I drove Paul, Josephine and Catherine to Edinburgh for the long train journey back to Rochester late on Monday morning. We had had a great weekend and I loved having everyone together.

That left us with just Sarah and Duncan and kids to rattle around in Craigengar , the big house in the country, that we had hired for the event. It's an interesting building. It could sleep fourteen or fifteen quite comfortably.

The centrepiece and hub of the house is the large open plan lounge and kitchen which is very comfortably fitted out and has a great sense of space and light.

Another major benefit of the house is its location. It is only forty minutes drive from the centre of Edinburgh but is very much in the country with views of wide open space in all directions.

It's way down a track behind that clump of trees.

Perfect for taking little ones for a ride in their push chair.

We've had a fairly lazy few days. Sarah and family went to a nearby farm heritage centre on Tuesday while Marion and I went and had a look at a local outlet village and bought a few clothes. Yesterday we drove into Edinburgh and had a look around the fabulous museum. Today we're having a quiet day at the house before we pack up and head back to St Andrews and then back to Framlingham on Saturday.

We've eaten well. Rose made a pizza all on her own.

And so did I.

It's been five weeks since we left Suffolk and headed up to Scotland. It's been an eventful five weeks - September 2013 was certainly a month that we'll never forget.