We opened July with some Gilbert and Sullivan - the D'Oyle Carte variety, not the two chaps and a piano. In all truth, I didn't think it was my cup of tea, but Ken (truly!) tootles around the place whistling selections from G & S and has a soft spot for them. So, as a dutiful wife, along I went. By now you've guessed where this is going. I am now an avid fan... well..... I enjoyed the evening. The choir we saw is called The Square Street Singers. Before the interval they did a selection of songs from various G & S comic operas. Our proper treat for the evening was Trial By Jury but as it only lasts a little over half an hour, it was a two-parter. All of it was excellent. It always astounds me how much excellent amateur talent there is around. We were talking to the grandmother of the two principal singers and she was telling us how they were students at the Royal Northern College of Music and have been performing since they were small children. They were astoundingly good - who knows maybe we heard a future super star.
On a trip to an NGS garden (Trevinia) and lunch with friends a couple of days later I waylaid them and hauled them off to a local allotment. For any gardening nuts amongst you your local allotment is the place to buy your potions and powders. Bonemeal eighty pence a pound for example. Also you get to have a bit of a nosey at what others are doing. Not so on that particular Sunday as we arrived as they were closing! The NGS garden was a treat as usual and this one has gone on to feed us on Mondays. The owner does lunch for charity every Monday.
Five days after G & S we were buffing up our cultural credentials by a trip to the professional theatre, courtesy of P & S. We helped them 'spend' a wedding anniversary gift. We are good like that. Very kindly they took us to see Charley's Aunt. I have seen it a zillion times along with The Importance of Being Earnest and have now managed to meld both plays together.... I spent a long time waiting for the 'A handbag!' speech. I claim old age and decrepitude. It was good to be back in The Royal Exchange again - almost my alma mater from when I was at University and saw everything for twopence on my student card. I used to get some funny looks when I presented it as I was 39 years old at the time.
Sally arrived on the same day as this for a few days visit, which was lovely as always. We even managed to squeeze in an NGS garden in Stretford - Southlands. As usual it was a surprisingly large and interesting garden at the back of a very ordinary house. We did our usual loads of catching up and in a blink she decamped again. I suffer from repeated empty nest syndrome. Happily it only sets in briefly and I lose myself in the garden.
On the 13th July I became a great-aunt to the most beautiful of baby boys - Sebastian. Like me, my sister's offspring have also fled far and wide, so I am sad to say it won't be a hands-on experience. In case you can find time (!) to read this J and K - very many congratulations again on producing such a lovely great-nephew.
The following day was a farewell rather than a hello. The school I taught at for twelve years closed. I had a bundle of mixed emotions going back there for the last time. The upside being seeing the handful of really lovely people who made working there possible in all kinds of ways. Like zillions of teachers the end of my working life there was horrendous and it is hard not to let it cloud the rest but I'm glad to say I did remember the good times too and realised I was grateful for having had the opportunity to teach late in my working life as I always would have wondered if it was what I was 'cut out to do'. The downside being I would have probably loved it and been good at it had I done it age 21 (aka 1966). I think I missed the hay-day-of-education boat. Hey ho! The meal with mates afterwards at a favourite eatery (Smiths in Eccles) made up for any down bits in the day. I do think it is brutally sad that Salford has chosen to demolish an imposing Victorian building with a huge amount of history attached to it - military hospital in the 14/18 war for instance.
More meals out with more chums followed. I am beginning to think I really I ought to just leave that as an understood for all my updates as we do it one or more times a week.
On the 19th we hitched up the wagon and took a leisurely drive to Southampton for a caravan short break on the Isle of Wight. Ken had spotted a good deal with Red Funnel and off we jolly well went. I have never seen myself as a caravanner. I like to think I have avoided the matching Ken and Mal bobble hats and ubiquitous khaki shorts/waterproof trousers whatever the weather outfits and haven't cooked on a primus since I was nineteen. I was brought firmly down to earth however when we were passed en route by a state of the art caravan towed by an open-topped Jaguar containing a couple dressed for a weekend with Jack and Jackie in Hyannis Port. I am now knitting the bobble hats with names.
Arriving in Southampton was a bit deja vu; we were in the same place as when we used to cross to France. We were booked on a 5 pm boat but arrived about 3.40 pm - no, they couldn't get us on the 4 pm as it was full - so park in Lane 2 (or whatever) .... next thing I know Ken is leaping on me in the shop saying ''Come on, we're on the four-o'-clock"... and so we were bundled on by the person loading the ferry - no booking-in, no ticket, no nothing. So much for manifest, insurance et al. This was OK, except we had pre-paid for a couple of places we wanted to visit and would have picked up the entrance tickets when we booked in for the 5 pm boat. After an hour's crossing and few minutes drive we were pitched up in a great camp-site. We were plugged into mains water and drains and the site had indoor and outdoor swimming pools and showers and bathrooms to die for. Not that we use them. No, we don't smell, we use our own bathroom.
Our mini-break started the next morning with a trip to the Red Funnel office in East Cowes to pick up our entrance tickets. I refuse to type the thousand words needed to describe how that went! Finally our holiday began and we went to Osborne House. 'House' is perhaps a bit misleading as it is HUGE! and built to impress. Typically me, I actually enjoyed the Swiss cottage which was built for the children and all the information attached to that much more. The gardens surrounding the house were also designed to impress. Fifty-one formal garden beds planted twice a year. Being my usual awkward self I much preferred the totally magical walled garden. It was dripping with figs and gages and fruit and veg and flowers - all poly-culture and excess and very, very pretty. The initials of V and A were everywhere - in the structure of the arches, on the sides of the pots. Masses of plants named after her; not least of which were the monstrous mounds of Victoria rhubarb interspersed with the puny Prince Albert variety. Must admit Marvel's poem kept running through my head it was such a libidinous garden.
The next day we snatched at the ongoing good weather and dashed off to Carisbrooke Castle. I particularly wanted to see the Princess Beatrice garden which was revamped in 2009 by Chris Beardshaw. Even allowing for its lack of maturity it was still worth the visit. An incredibly restful garden with some magical combination of plants, like this bronze fennel and grass. The castle itself was very castley! All ups and downs and rocks and a remaining chunk which was lived in during the summer by Princess Beatrice (Victoria's daughter). I think she was Governor of the Isle of Wight 1896-1944. I walked a lot of the battlements but chickened out at the worst part and retreated to a bench in the sunshine in the garden while Mr Intrepid completed the circuit.
After our picnic lunch off we went to The Needles. It takes a lot to impress me and a couple of lumps of rock and some coloured sand doesn't do it. Philistine, I know. That said the bus ride to the Battery is worth making the trip for. Hair raising. Ken had a boy's happy hour looking around the Old Battery and the New Battery - both now defunct. What was fascinating was that it was a top secret area between 1956 and 1971 for testing the Black Knight and Black Arrow space rockets prior to their going to Woomera for launching. Britain's only satellite Prospero was developed there. After which we quit because 'there wasn't really a useful future in it'. How the people who worked there didn't just get blown of the rock I don't know. I had to tie my ears to my shoulders and huddle close to the walls and it was a very hot day in Summer. We ended the day with a coastal drive to Ventnor. Some good beaches along the way and pretty uncrowded when we were there.
Thursday came and we were off to (sixteenth century) Mottistone Manor. Besides being a glorious NT house and garden it is still tenanted and consequently doesn't have that frozen in time feel about it. It is full of surprises. We began with a very 20th century garden near the entrance. The NT has chosen Mottistone to experiment with Mediterranean style planting so this part of the garden is full of exotics like bananas and cannas and callas. Part of the experiment is not to water any of the gardens other than the vegetables. As they are gardening on a sandy soil from ironstone rocks I would think it a challenge. This new area is fascinatingly full of quirky plants but not my cup of tea. The gardens proper are more to my taste and are very pretty traditional English style planting, long borders and rose garden with a small vegetable garden nestled alongside. The steps garden is just wonderful and quite original because of its structure. There is the sweetest shack which was used by architects John Seely (2nd Lord Mottistone) and Paul Paget. Kind of beats my B & Q summerhouse into the ground.
On the way home we checked out the west coast and Brighstone Village - now this is a place in aspic. Very pretty though. What they have done which I thought was great was create a small museum attached to the NT shop (!) detailing the history of the village with all kinds of every day artefacts from folk.
Friday was given over to Ventnor Botanical Gardens and its environs. It was one of those places which kind of disappointed and shouldn't have. Free entrance was a joy but then we discovered you paid for parking. Doubly annoying was having to decide how long you might want to stay. Happily we picked two hours on the basis we'd (Ken!) have to come back and top up if the place was huge and fascinating. It is pretty big but not all that fascinating and we thought it looked a bit sad. To be fair we were seeing it in drought conditions. I did get the impression that if all the various gardening staff actually did some gardening rather than standing around in small groups nattering it might look a good deal better. With about five minutes to spare on our parking time, and our tour over, it decided to rain so we made a quick dash to the car (and then it bucketed down) to eat our picnic. There are days when somebody up there loves you. Back to the camp site via a tour of the East Coast. I think Shanklin and Bembridge get my vote for places worth going back to for a closer look. Bembridge had wonderful boats marooned on a mud-bank, all converted into beautiful houses.
Saturday and we were back on the ferry retreating to the mainland and on to a visit to Ken's son and his wife in Winnersh. Sunday and we upped sticks for Cheltenham and a trip to Chedworth Roman Villa with Pam, Ken and Ben (my only other great-nephew). It was baking hot, as it had been for our whole holiday (not so back up North where it is grim!). We had the usual wonderful meal at my sisters and back to our bed in the 'van and the next day back to Bury (after a quick spend at her brilliant local nursery nearby). The rain started when we reached Birmingham and hasn't really stopped since. (A week later!)
There was one more of those meals with friends to mark the last day of the month - such things as the 31st July always needs celebrating/noting/marking in such a way don't you think?
Don't forget to go to my photos to look at all the places I've nattered on about. Talk to you again at the end of August.