Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Extreme Retirement Continues

I know I've said it before but I'll say it again - this retirement lark can be pretty exhausting. At least we can console ourselves that we aren't sitting around and turning into couch potatoes. Although I might be excused if I do turn into a couch potato over the next few days as I've ordered one of those Samsung curved UHD TVs. Which said it was one of the best tellies they had ever tested last year and gave it 89% on their Best Buys chart so, now that it has been superseded by the 2015 version (which costs a fortune) I thought I would take advantage of the dropping price to get one before stocks run out. It's about £400 cheaper at John Lewis than it was at Christmas and, on top of that, I found it at PC World for another £200 less so John Lewis have made a further reduction.

This means that I have to sell the Panasonic Viera (above). It's a very good TV and was also a Which recommended model when we bought it about five years ago. It's on eBay at the moment and, with twenty-four hours to go, bidding has reached about a quarter of what the 3D glasses alone cost. I am sure that the bidding will go up quite a bit higher at the end of the auction as there are about forty people watching the auction. If you are interested and can collect from Framlingham here is the link.

Selling and buying a television is not exactly exhausting so why am I claiming to be whacked?  Exercise classes are one reason. I've got no less than nine classes booked this week and have done four in the last twenty-four hours. Marion has a similar number booked as we are both trying to lose a bit of weight before we buy our summer clothes.  

When not exercising in the classes I've tried to get out on the bike. The fields around here are full of oilseed rape in blossom and it's been very pleasant riding in, to pinch a phrase from Sting, "fields of gold". It hasn't been very pleasant on the puncture front though. I have had two punctures now after none in the last two years. After repairing the last one with the kit that Paul and Josephine gave me for Christmas I bought a couple of new inner tubes to carry with me. My first repair held but the second puncture was in a different spot in the same tyre. I hope this isn't going to become a regular feature of our rides as, even with a new inner tube, it holds things up for quite a while.

I've been out with the metal detector a couple of times too. Now that the weather is warming up it's good to detect in the sunshine. The only problem is that, as most of the fields are full of rape, I'm stuck with going over the same field with diminishing returns. I always find something though. I'll post a couple of photos on here when I've cleaned the mud off the latest finds.

Another thing that's been keeping us busy has been my hearing. I've been wearing a Phonak Lyric hearing aid for about two years now and it helped my slight deafness immensely. The beauty of it was that it was invisible and I never took it out. That's a big plus as nobody likes to show the world their frailties and with this hearing aid nobody would ever know that you were wearing it. The problem with the Lyric was that it has to be fitted by the audiologist and has a battery life of around three months. This means that I had to travel to Ipswich four times a year to have it replaced. That was not such a chore but several of them failed in under three months and sometimes when I was on holiday. This resulted in me being without a hearing aid for more than two months in the two years I was using it. And, as my hearing is slowly worsening, two months out of twenty-four is too long. The last failure coincided with a special offer from Boots arriving in my email. My audiologist couldn't give me an appointment  to fit a new Lyric that fitted our timetable for about ten days so I took up Boots offer and went for a hearing test.

The hearing test confirmed what I already knew and my hearing has worsened slightly over the last two years. The upshot of all this was my agreeing to buy two aids on a 60 day trial. 

The aids are very small and sit on top of the ear. They almost look like part of my glasses.

But they are not invisible in the way that the Lyric was as there is also a tiny clear wire in each ear. So far the positives are that my hearing is already much better (the audiologist hasn't turned them up to full volume yet as my brain has to adjust to wearing them) and, if I keep them, I will actually own the aids rather than effectively renting them at £150 a month (and that was just for one Lyric). The negatives so far are that they have to be removed before bathing or showering (and at bedtime) and that they are not invisible. I suppose that at 61, I shouldn't be worrying about vanity but even my Mum at 89 wasn't keen on wearing her hearing aids for cosmetic reasons.

Another thing that's kept us busy - but a really pleasurable one this time, has been our lovely two and a half year old granddaughter. We headed down to Rochester very early on Wednesday morning to babysit for a couple of days as Paul had to do some extra days at work. We had a lovely time with her and, even better, we got to bring her and her daddy back to Framlingham with us on Friday for a weekend here while her mummy caught up with some work at home. We enjoyed their visit so much. We ate well and cooked delicious steaks on Friday night and a fabulous leg of lamb on Saturday - all provided by Hall Farm Butchers in Framlingham. On Saturday we visited Orford Castle and the Riverside Tea Room. 

Then on Sunday we took them both to Walberswick to try their hands at crabbing (no luck) before an excellent fish and chip lunch at The Anchor. All too soon, it was time to drive back to Rochester to drop them off and then head straight back to Framlingham. Although we see our Rochester family often, they are usually working and we hardly get a chance to talk so it was good to spend a whole weekend with Paul, catch up with what's going on and argue about politics.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

A Theatrical Week

Well, that was a pretty theatrical week for us! On Sunday it was The National Theatre for Behind The Beautiful Forevers and a few days later we were back in London for Beautiful, The Carole King Musical. Before the play we had an appointment with our financial advisors in their new offices hear Holborn Circus so we walked from there to theatre land via the beautiful legal district near Lincoln's Inn. We aren't familiar with this part of London and it was a fascinating walk in warm sunshine.

Before the show we needed to eat. So we had a look around the streets near The Aldwych. There was plenty of choice but we settled on The Delauney which is less than twenty feet away from the theatre. We hadn't heard of it before but it's run by Corbin and King who own the famous Wolseley in Piccadilly and, like the Wolseley it's run in the grand European cafe style with starched white tablecloths, smartly dressed staff and an interesting Austrian themed menu. The restaurant looks like it has been long established but only opened a few years ago. It has clearly been successful as it was buzzing when we visited and, with many of the clientele clearly regulars on first name terms with the staff, it has attracted a loyal following. It was a wonderful place to "people watch" and we spotted a couple of familiar faces including a well known ITN newsreader. The food was great, the service friendly and fast and the prices were reasonable. It was a perfect prequel to the matinee performance.

As for the show, I am not a musicals lover but this was very different. Instead of being just a vehicle for cramming in a load of hit songs from the sixties loosely connected by a flimsy storyline it was, instead, a play about songwriters which, naturally, included the songs that they wrote. So, all of the music was relevant, all was sung in context and none left me wondering why a character was suddenly bursting into song. 

The songs were not simply those composed by King and her husband Gerry Coffin but also included those by their friends Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil which added variety and range to the music. So, as well as King's fairly samey It Might As Well Rain Until September and Will You Love Me Tomorrow, there were Mann and Weil's We Gotta Get Out Of This Place and Walking In The Rain. I don't mean to imply that all of Carole King and Gerry Coffin's music sounds similar but the extra couple of songwriters gave even more depth to the production.

It's a marvellous production. Katie Brayben thoroughly deserved the award as "best actress in a musical" that she collected the previous week and the rest of the cast all gave strong performances. The lighting, set, singing and the music were stunning and the audience  gave the show a rapturous reception with a standing ovation for Brayben at the curtain call. I still don't like musicals but, plays with music in them? -  now that's another matter.

Arriving back at Liverpool St I checked the train times on the phone to find our, off-peak, train cancelled. Bad news when the trains are infrequent and the journey a long one. But fate smiled on us. We were early at the station and were allowed to travel on a peak hour journey that got us back to Ipswich half an hour ahead of our plan.

After Beautiful on Thursday it was a hard act for FADS, our local am-dram group to follow on Friday night. They did their very best. The set was, as always, brilliantly done and there were one or two notable performances in House Guest which was classed as a thriller. Leading man Glenn Hurlock as Robert Drury, a dashing film star and director, and Kathy Churchill as his wife were word perfect as was newcomer Ruth Noble who made a brilliant debut for FADS as Robert's cousin. For the rest of the cast I am afraid that it was a case of third night nerves with the prompt working on overdrive as numerous cues were missed. Which is a pity as, behind the fluffed lines, were several excellent characterisations such as Ian Baird's Inspector Burford and Glyn Mackay as thuggish Sergeant Clayton

I wouldn't blame the cast. I feel that it wasn't a great choice of play - the plot was complex, not totally credible and lacked the humour that usually lifts FADS' performances. We'll be back for the next one but hope that they give playwright Francis Durbridge a miss. 

As for the meeting with the financial advisors. All went well and we should be able to live in the manner to which we've become accustomed for the foreseeable future. And to make things even better, the following invitation was in the post when we got home. An invitation to a private view of the Alexander McQueen exhibition at the V&A. That's another trip to London on the cards. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Back Home With A Bang

We got home from Scotland on Friday evening and in no time we were back into the hectic schedule that is our retirement. On Saturday we had an excellent cooked breakfast at The Lemon Tree and, for once, managed to finish The Times Jumbo crossword (the non-cryptic version) while we were there. The rest of the day was a catch up of washing and cleaning before heading off on Sunday to London.

We went to London to see Behind The Beautiful Forevers at the National. It stars Meera Syal as a matriarch in a Mumbai slum where her family's meagre living is funded by collecting and sorting through rubbish. After enjoying a hearty lunch at House, The National's excellent new restaurant, a couple of hours of Indian poverty was quite difficult to experience. As always, The National's designers had excelled themselves with the set which brilliantly captured the hustle and hubbub of busy Mumbai streets, a rubbish strewn shanty town and the perimeter of one of Asia's busiest airports. I can't say that I enjoyed the play - it was a bit too downbeat for me but I did appreciate the fine cast and the moving story, lightened occasionally by humour. I am afraid that I am a sucker for a happy ending and, although there was a glimmer of hope in this, the overriding stench of corruption left me a little depressed.

But it was a glorious day in London and we enjoyed a vigorous stroll along The South Bank both to the theatre and back to Liverpool St Station.

Monday was time for a haircut with the lovely Tori at Carley Hill hair and a trip to Leiston to collect more recycled compost from the recycling centre. We've been trying to improve the soil in the garden which is heavy clay. So far we've dug in about a hundred bags of this compost but there's still a fair way to go. We then had a whistle stop tour of four local garden centres looking for some plants that Marion has chosen for the borders. We managed to source some of them. Each of the centres was good for one type of plant but we didn't find one that was good for all. Following this with a two hour exercise session at Fram Leisure made for a very busy Monday.

On Tuesday it was Marion's turn to visit Carley Hill. I went out to try a bit of metal detecting for a couple of hours but had no success. I've searched the field seven or more times and, as the undergrowth is getting thicker it's quite hard to detect there now. My other fields are full of crops so I will have to wait a while before doing some more "treasure hunting". I did have twenty or more signals and ,although these were mostly scraps of lead, any one of them could have turned up a decent find.

Summer has arrived in Framlingham this week and it was glorious again today from the moment we pulled back the curtains - perfect weather for going for my first bike ride of the year.

Never has a Christmas stocking filler been more welcome. Just half an hour into my ride and in the middle of nowhere I had a puncture. This kit, bought for me by son Paul and his wife Josephine did the trick. It's been many years since I last repaired a puncture and I don't think I've ever had to do one by the roadside before so I was not exactly expert. As the inner tube turned out to have two tiny holes, and each repair required a wait of five minutes for the adhesive to go off, the job took me the best part of half an hour to complete. I'm pleased that the repair held out so I decided to carry on with the ride.

And a cappuccino at Pump Street Bakery in Orford accompanied by one of their Oscar mentioned doughnuts was a well earned treat. I got home to find Marion, who spent the morning at yoga, busy in the garden. She has been putting hours into working on it. Although we had the garden landscaped and planted in 2013, it was planted for instant colour and was not a long term planting scheme. Marion is now putting that right and taking out many of the perennials and replacing them with shrubs. She's done a brilliant job and it's really starting to take shape - watch this space for photos when the new additions start to grow.

When I got back from Orford the weather was still glorious so an ice cream was called for. The castle was open so, as we are English Heritage members, it was the perfect spot to go and buy a couple of tubs from their kiosk and enjoy the sunshine in the shelter of the castle grounds.

After that we strolled down to The Dancing Goat and enjoyed a couple of their home made lemonades. The hot weather (23.5 degrees here today) is not going to last but it is forecast to be sunny for the next six or seven days. Tomorrow it's back to London to see the people who look after our investments and retirement savings and then we're off to The Aldwych theatre for Beautiful the musical about Marion's favourite singer Carole King.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

A Royal Visit

We’re still in St Andrews and it’s been a pretty internet free week as the caravan site has been full to near overflowing and that means that the WIFI which is slow at the best of times has been almost non-existent. As ours is almost the furthest caravan from the transmitter every caravan owner and his dog is logging on before us. If desperate I can take the laptop down to the site office and hitch my computer up to the site’s own BT WIFI but I’ve realised  that checking out Twitter, eBay, Facebook and blogging isn’t really that important.

And what’s more we’ve had a V.I.P visitor this week. My mum, like the queen, is in her ninetieth year but I think that Mum looks much younger despite not having scores of flunkeys at her beck and call to attend to her every whim.

We’ve kept her busy. We haven’t exactly spoiled her and, apart from a trip to the National Trust For Scotland’s Hill Of Tarvit (where we had the slowest served coffee ever – one hour wait as they had forgotten to switch the machine on) and some lovely coffee and shortbread (above) overlooking the famous golf course at The Old Course Hotel, she’s been living the caravan life. Hopefully she’s enjoyed it (she says she has) and, all being well she can join us down in Suffolk for a few days later in the year.

We’ve helped Sarah a little. She gave up her Easter weekend to help the Friends Of Craigtoun Park by giving free baby, toddler and yoga classes. It was a glorious two days and the park was absolutely packed although yoga was not as popular as we had hoped.

Which, given that there were bouncy castles and other playground attractions, is perhaps understandable.

Both Melody and Rose have been as good as gold for the time we’ve been here. Melody is getting to know us better which is great. Today Marion joined Sarah with the girls for a trip to Edinburgh where they went to a singalong showing of Frozen.

Meanwhile I took Mum to the Scottish Antique Centre near Dundee. I’m still dabbling in antiques a little on eBay although the lovely French antique that I wrote about on here recently sold for only £16 which is about £100 less that I think that it was worth. Fortunately this was not a loss and I managed a £40 profit on a vase, which means that the four items I’ve now sold have all made a profit.

Today I bought just one item. It was sold as a “Georgian Cupid print” but I think that it is actually a very early Regency Valentine. It’s not in great condition but has been folded which I think adds to its authenticity. Let’s hope that I got this one right or my flirtation with eBay may be a very short one.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Birthday Celebrations Continue

After a few days in Suffolk we're now in St Andrews visiting the Scottish branch of the family.  We had our regular big Suffolk breakfast at The Lemon Tree in Framlingham on Saturday before buying a couple of delicious sausage rolls and Bakewell tarts from Leo's Deli for sustenance on the journey and some of In Da Cottage's luxury chocolate for a treat when we reached the caravan and then set off on the 507 mile journey north. We're used to the trip now and this time it went very smoothly and, with very little traffic, we managed it in under eight hours including our half way rest break and driver changeover. 

Sarah had lined up a treat for us on Sunday and she and Duncan took us to Rufflets Country House hotel just outside St Andrews for a lovely champagne afternoon tea.

It was great for us both to catch up with granddaughters Rose and Melody.

I am not sure that, with pastel sofas, chocolate rice krispie cakes were the hotel's wisest choice for the children's afternoon tea menu but ,after a precarious few minutes, the upholstery escaped unscathed.

The weather cleared up enough for the girls to spend a few minutes in the hotel's lovely gardens.

It was good to see how little Melody is growing up. When we were between houses we spent six months living in the caravan in St Andrews so got to know Rose very well, we've spent a lot of time babysitting our second granddaughter Catherine in Rochester but we haven't seen as much of Melody. Hopefully this couple of weeks will start to redress that balance and she and we will get to know each other much better. She's a very happy little girl with a great sense of fun.

It's been very cold and windy at the caravan. My mum is going to join us here for Easter and it will be nice if the weather picks up and she can enjoy St Andrews in some sunshine.