Thursday, 29 September 2011

Safe and sound

So, yes, here we are safe and sound.

Yesterday began with my saying goodbye to the garden and the house with a mini-snivel; seriously, I swear I'm getting dafter as I get older.  It was really hard for me to leave.  Good job they aren't thoughts I share (too much) with Ken or he'd have me locked in the attic and banned from lighting candles.

Trip to the airport was a bit of a drag as it took the best part of an hour, so we lost some of our planned time.  That said, I'm always secretly happy with that as we really didn't seem to spend any waiting time in the airport.  The security check was an absolute doddle - through the fast lane - and it certainly was - just a straight walk through.  My iPad had to go through twice for some reason.  It is just part of the world-wide conspiracy at all customs points to look out for me..... it is always me.  Any way, up, up and away and two films and some games on my iPad (8hrs 18mns) later there we were in the U S of A.

Make mental note for future trips - I requested low fat food and it was sooo much better than the usual stuff, especially as I didn't get the horrid snack thing they do - I think it was a yuck pizza slice.  Actually Ken was even better off - he did low sodium which meant he could have an ice cream whereas I couldn't.

We de-planed and joined the immigration queue and proceeded to shuffle at the giddy speed of one inch and hour to the man in the box.  Every single time (this is not an exaggeration) I have a problem with the finger scan.  It always gets repeated endlessly.  The machine gets wiped, my hands get wiped, the computer is fiddled with and finally I have to do all the digits on my left and right hand which still seems to leave the officer with furrowed brows.  Yesterday I managed to do even better - I broke his computer!  I put my four fingers on the screen as requested and he said everything froze.  Several phone calls, lots of faffing with the computer and some actual throwing of bits of stuff around in a temper, including the phone (seriously scary!) and some minutes later we tried again.  As always it wasn't a good result and I did the usual both hands and thumbs and was allowed to go even though he still looked perplexed. I also often get my baggage opened and checked and I have been through the iris scan a couple of times a year for four years and it has never worked for me a single time.  Me .... paranoid??  I think not though I am concerned there is some racism going on here.  They mark me out for this treatment just because I am from the planet Krypton.

Off to recheck baggage and get the next plane out of Atlanta to Fort Myers.  We had just enough time to do it comfortably  without any sitting around.  I did have time to register the high number of eateries there are and the all-pervading smell of Cinnabons and burgers and Pizza - the smell of America? or just Atlanta airport?  No wonder these places proliferate - you can eat a couple of burgers for a dollar each or buy a Wolfgang Puck healthier sandwich (from a kiosk) for $8.97 each.  It is a bit of a no-brainer as to why America runs on high fat, high sugar, high salt.

On board our next flight out of Atlanta we had an announcement from the pilot which I've never encountered on board before - "we are looking for three people to volunteer to get the 10 pm flight (we were on the 4.10 pm) for $600 each and flying first class".  Four (!) people were there before the sentence was finished.  Darn it - sounded like a bargain to Ken and I.  I think old people at the back of the plane should be given a head start before these youngsters.

Something else we encountered as a first for me was being asked by the pilot to lower the window shades and turn the cool air vents on when we landed in Fort Myers as it helped keep the plane cool while it was on the ground.  We understood why when we exited the airport at 6.30pm into an outside temperature of 88 degrees F.  Smells again came to the fore...  I always love the wonderful spicy, damp smell of Florida when we arrive.  I try to savour it before we get used to it.

Today we've been out and about shopping and returning the hire car in a temperature of 91, so it is still their summer weather here. We'll have to try to get to the beach as often as we can so we can "use" the sea while it is still warm.

I'm also grateful for the excessive good manners and customer service, as always, and the lovely empty roads before the season kicks in.  Even I managed to drive on them today without the colly-wobbles. 

A bit more scrubbing and sorting tomorrow and we will be ready to just get on with living here until next Spring.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

New Career?

I think I've missed my calling and I should have been an American tour guide.  Clearly I can construct an itinerary to die for.

What a weekend we've just had.

We left Bury on Saturday about 9 am after tidying the house, cleaning ourselves and packing an overnight bag.  This, in itself, is an achievement for people who don't usually get up until nine.  

Off we go to Wolverhampton where we collect a dolls house table.  After a bit of a kerfuffle and a couple of panic moments we manage to fit it in the boot of our (now tiny) car.  Off we go to Bracknell, stopping en route, around 1 pm, to eat our packed lunch.  Oh yes, I forgot to mention I packed that before we left at the crack our dawn - well, the crack of our dawn.  

Somewhere around 3 pm in leafy Berkshire we collected the new (to me) dolls house.  Another wiggle and jiggle and in it goes into the boot.  Now we are off, back up (almost) the way we came, to Cheltenham for our overnight stay.  Before even going to the Motel we had to do a little divert to a garden centre to buy a strawberry pot to match the one I bought there last summer.  Not only is it a great price - huge and only £16.99 - but it is a very particular shape and colour and I can't get one to match anywhere at home.  The Motel experience was a bit odd really in that we'd booked a room in Briarfields which is the caravan site where we've stayed a few times when we've visited Pam and Ken.  We were a bit peeved that someone was actually on our pitch which we felt should simply be left in memory of us with perhaps a little plaque or something.  So yes, a bit strange coming and going to a bedroom.  We have a standing joke Ken and I, that wherever we stay our room is always upstairs and as far down a corridor as it is possible to go.  No change there then.  Lugging cases to these rooms is bad enough; this trip I also wanted Ken to lug my dolls house to the room as I wanted to measure it for the show the next day.  Now, which is the more crackpot - me for thinking that was a good idea, or Ken for doing it?  So we had a bit of a breather for an hour or so and then went to see Pam and Ken and had the usual lovely dinner (and visit) at their house.  We said we'd meet for breakfast at 8 am the next day.

8 am on Sunday and we arrive at The Harvester to find P & K already there, which was, in truth, a lovely surprise as we can't imagine getting up at that time on a Sunday - apparently people do!  We had a great breakfast with them and by nine o'clock we are off again.

This time we went to Stafford for a Dolls House Fair.  (If you want to see the stuff I bought etc you'll need to look at the photo album - link in the column on the right)  I had a terrific time culling over 90 stalls and Ken killed some time in the car park and then went on to meet Richard for lunch in Eccleshall (more driving).  He got back to pick me up at around 2.30 pm but I had just sat down to lunch.  That is a very rough description of what I'd sat down to eat - chicken pie and chips - the pie was full of a sort of salty wallpaper paste and I can only assume they boil their chips!  Any way, I promised Ken I would be very quick but I needed to go back in and check out something before we left so we got away about 3.45 pm.

Even then our day wasn't over as we needed to get petrol, shop for food and check out our friends' house (they are away for a month).  Eventually we were home.  After emptying the, by now, packed to the gunnels car and having put all the stuff away we could finally collapse at home with a cuppa.  Deep joy.  A lot achieved and all pleasurable.  Can't speak for the driver - 470 miles round trip!  (Yes I know, my American readers won't be impressed by this number - you need to drive in the UK to understand what it means!)

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Links to photos

 I recently decided in all my blogs to add links to individual photo albums in the left hand column.  In a short space of time I've come to realise that's going to be a bit unwieldy as there will be a ridiculously long list very soon; so I've put individual links back into the text of the post.  Don't forget to click on the highlighted text to look at the pictures.  As soon as I can I will remove the links I have on the left and attach them to the appropriate places in the blogs.  I'll just put a link to my main site (containing the individual albums) there instead.  Apologies in advance if that doesn't happen immediately - too many things to do and too little time right now.

Gone but not forgotten

The title refers to me I hope ....  I haven't written a thing here since I got home in April.  I have been writing now and then in my other three(!!!!) blogs.  Not that I am offering that as a reason for writing nothing here  I swear there never seems to be the (right) time for it.  I am mentally 'writing' all the time and come up with wonderful passages and thoughts and arguments which I really must try to get down on paper but they drift away and the days move on.

The purpose of this tiny piece is to direct you to some new albums and a new blog and to promise (yet again) to make a real effort to come and talk to you soon.

A week ago we got home from a week in Alston, Cumbria.  Its claim to fame is that it is the highest market town in the UK and that it is 20 miles from any decent size town in any direction.  We discovered that it lives up to both these claims.  The driving was stupendous - mile after mile of views across half the county whilst climbing up moors along twisty and often narrow roads. The only other risks to life and limb were the bikers - motor and pedal - who obviously have this area marked as their ultimate challenge ride.  One of the roads (A686) lays claim to being the most scenic in the UK (!).

While staying at Love Lady Shield Hotel we visited a couple of NGS gardens (photo links for those are in my garden blog), a couple of NT places - Aira Force and Gibside and a great two-for-one Gardeners World offer - Hutton in the Forest.  So there's a bunch of photos for you to have a go at here if you are interested.

The apartment we rented we got through a Living Social offer (like Groupon if you've heard of that), so for a couple of hundred pounds we (and sometimes four of us) had a week in something which normally costs six hundred (can't be bad).  It was really, really nice -  a new, very spacious two bedroomed place, lacking nothing - for the normal person that is.  You are listening to a woman here who takes her own Dutch oven and chef's knife with her.  I won't list the other three thousand items we also took so I 'could manage' to cook.  I was not made for camping.

We went to Aira Force on Monday (two days into the stay) and guess who fell down the steps to the fall (well named) - yup!  I had scrambled up half a mountain on vertical uneven scrabbly paths, arrived at the summit with a glimpse of the falls.  At this point the National Trust have kindly constructed some sturdy, nice and even steps down to the bottom so you can get terrific views.  Three steps down and down she goes.  One hurt back, two arms and a leg.  I now have a head, trunk and one leg that function without pain.  This combination does not lend itself to much.  The rest of the week was spent doing short hobbles round places like Gibside and Hutton in the forest whilst others gambolled off to have fun. I didn't do too badly at Hutton as it was at the end of the week but I pretty much missed the 18th century splendour of the remains of Gibside so I can't extol the virtues of that place.  It was nice for a picnic in the sun though.  The temple is also incredibly beautiful and there is the (sad) fantastic story of Lady Mary Eleanor Bowes.- one of the Queen Mother's ancestors.

We also visited quite a few ice cream shops as my daughter and my other half make it their duty to find anything vaguely ice cream and home made wherever we are.  No photo albums for those though.  All in all we had a good week and the weather was kind to us.

I'll leave you to the photos and hope to come back soon for a natter.