Monday, 31 December 2012

December's chitchatting

I forgot to mention in November when we were toing and froing to the post office with Ebay stuff to post that, over here, you can get free packing boxes and envelopes from the post offices. You pack in these and the weight doesn't matter. They have a fixed price for mailing so, sometimes, it is much better value than boxing and mailing stuff the usual way.
Sadly for teeny tiny stuff with low value like doll house stuff they aren't much use.

December for us seemed crazy busy as I suspect it does for most other folk.The first of the month and still in Naples we were doing the usual running around finding gifts and ordering on line and loads of trips to join the ever-extending post office queues. We were also squeezing in pick-ups from the library as I had ordered a stack of books for researching the new dolls house project. I have a lot to learn about American history. Fortunately the North v. South fracas is well documented. Domestic life at that time also got recorded almost by default but proved useful to me as there was a lot of primary evidence such as photos and diaries from that era.

Part of our library pick ups was the three versions of the Little Women movies - the 1949 one always being my favourite, I think. I did weaken and bought the 1994 version for the iPad as I thought it looked a bit more accurate in terms of house and clothes etc and actually had some scenes in the kitchen which the others seemed to lack. With an iPad it is easy to watch the movie and take screen shots as it goes along so I collected a lot of visual references for the project.

On the 6th we visited what purported to be a refurbished cinema. This was our old local when we lived in Queens Park and it was always fondly known by us as the flea pit and that was twelve years ago! We have been there off and on many times since so we were excited at the prospect of seeing its new face. The bits we saw hadn't changed an iota. I guess they have added in larger and 3D screens but not in the theatre we were in - same old slightly smelly arena. It was fine though and the movie - White Christmas - was a joy. When I saw it advertised I realised that I have seen this movie for countless Christmases here and in the UK, but I had never seen it in a cinema. So here it was in all its 1954 glory. We ended up nattering to the a very nice couple in front of us in the theatre and came out to discover we were parked next to each other, so more nattering ensued.

I have come to the end of my series for Wentworth for the DH&MS magazine but I submitted another piece on our California trip that Lucie says she will be using. She has also offered me a lot of future work which is very pleasing in all sorts of ways. I love dollhousing and love writing about it and certainly love getting paid for it.

The permanent saga of my hair and how I hate it continues. On the 10th I had it permed, having sworn three years ago (the last perm I had) never again. I do think the result is a cross between my mother and the queen but even when I don't like it, I do like it better than not liking my straight hair! No-one has commented about it, not even my daughter, so either it is too hellish to be able to say anything about it, or it just looks the same to them or, perhaps perish the thought, they just aren't interested in what my hair looks like.

I started our UK packing to go home by completely filling a 50 lb, 28'' suitcase with Christmas decorations. It is unlikely we will ever be in Naples for Christmas as we now have to flit back and forth every 90 days to comply with visa restrictions. All the indoor stuff we have accumulated here duly crossed the Atlantic to join the three trees and all the stuff we already have in the UK. We live in a tiny house and I like subtle, not OTT so when I came to do the decorating it was like going round a store the size of Lewis's and trying to select the few bits and pieces I wanted. Hard to stop yourself....

We have been talking about getting new sofas here in Naples for three years now and we saw an advert for what looked like the right one at the right price. Off we trotted to Rooms to Go and bought two sofas. Our old ones were picked up by our neighbour's nephew which was great - hopefully it was good for them and it saved us scrabbling around trying to get some charity to do it PDQ. The new ones arrived a couple of days later and I don't like them. I have always found buying furniture a nightmare - what you see in the store is never what arrives in your home. The size is perfect; we measured every inch of the old ones and knew what we wanted - that's why it has taken three years to find something to do the job. The colour just isn't right and the fabric surface flattens when you sit on it and doesn't recover. Hopefully RTG will be taking it back - not a lot of hope, but we'll see.

I hope the same two guys pick them up.  It was the best free entertainment we've had in ages.  There was one huge guy and one really skinny guy.  Skinny did nothing but mess with his electronic gizmo.  Big chap hauled each wrapped sofa, complete with cushions, in turn off the back of the truck and up-ended it over his head and carted it from the car park and up the stairs into the apartment.  This photo looks as though two of them are working on it but I assure you this was just a bit of a wriggle to get it round the bend of the stairs.  Big chap is the pale blue blob UNDER the sofa.

Mid-month and the next of our regular Christmas markers fell into place, we were off to the excellent (free) Orchestra and Chorus Christmas concert at the high school. As it says we get an orchestra, a huge chorus and some remarkable hand bells thrown in for good measure. It is always a good evening and lifts the spirits and implants more festive thoughts.

A couple of days later and we were winging our way home. We had a bit of an interesting trip in that there was a medical emergency on the first plane and a peanut allergy warning on the second. We did wonder if it was the same lady. She was just across the aisle from me. It began with her buzzing a cabin steward and saying something about not having her oxygen with her (?!) She did look a tad blue - they gave her an oxygen cylinder, did the movie thing over the tannoy about is there a medical person on board? She seemed fine. We then speeded up and went straight into Atlanta, no flying round in circles waiting to land for us. We were asked to stay in our seats so that paramedics could get on board to assist the lady. Three of the hugest men you ever saw were there as soon as the doors opened, kitted out like something from ghost busters. If it is any comfort to nervy fliers all I can say is I have never seen so many staff move so fast up and down the aisles - not actually doing much, but fussing a lot.

Our second leg of the journey was uneventful, just crucially boring. Believe me on overnighters I crave a medical emergency - preferably mine. We got into Manchester at half eight in the morning as usual. This for me means no sleep for a day and some. I went straight to bed and slept from ten until three but then I got up fighting fit. Besides the chores that cried out for doing, such as opening three month's mail (!), finishing the Tesco food order, unpacking etc. I also managed to put up all the Christmas decorations.

The next morning was an early rise which was lucky as our cleaner and our Tesco grocery order both arrived early ... and together. This was fine for us and we were soon in fine fettle for being home again. I was so happy. I can't tell you how nice it feels to be back with all your proper 'stuff', looking out of your kitchen window at your wintery garden. Delicious.

We did a quick flit round the shops the next day to complete our Christmas prep - four red candles - you would not believe how hard they were to find - could have smelly ones, tea lights, pillar candles up to my armpits - four red candlestick candles....not so much. Well done the ever wonderful and ever cheap, Wilko! Sometimes I get the feeling I am straight out of Dickens.

We met our secret seven plus one for lunch the next day at The Lounge, Ramsbottom. I had made eight crackers with M and M's in them along with a dollar shop gift, plus banger, motto and hat. I took these with me to make the table festive. I needn't have bothered as they were a bit upstaged by the real McCoy already being provided. It was one of our nice busy days with chums; my friend came over pre-lunch, someone Ken helps with his computer dropped by for a session and Phil and Sue came back to ours for a while after the meal.

Next day was a two minute walk across the road to the Community allotment - known to me from now on as the lotty - to choose my plots and pick up my key. That was really pleasing and I can't wait to get stuck in next year. We celebrated with another meal out, this time at Summerseat so I could also spend my one pound voucher. We are pensioners, you know! The truth is that cheese pie was calling Ken - loud and clear.

Yet another meal out the following day at Smiths; one of my favourite eateries. Ken and I had been to see White Christmas at the Lowry that my little friend had arranged for us. She also then gave us a lift to the theatre from her flat to save us the trouble of parking and then collected us after the show to go to Smith's. All this in the pouring rain - she is a trouper and a great mate. Almost forgot to mention the 
for-the-interval bag of choccies tied up with ribbon that she gave us.

We decided in our infinite wisdom to food shop early on the 23rd; my theory being most folk are too idle to get up early on a Sunday and it would be frantic on the 24th. How wrong can anyone be? Tesco was just heaving. I had seriously had enough in under ten minutes and was furiously ringing Ken (no chance of actually finding him in the melee) to say enough is enough. Not picking up??? By the time I found him he had done a chunk of his list, so we were committed to finish the chore. I know I bone on about wanting to be back home but at times like that and then in the ensuing traffic chaos, it makes me understand Ken's point of view. We have NEVER been grocery shopping in Naples in a rugby scrum, not even on Christmas Eve, and a two minute traffic delay there is considered untenable.

Then it was Christmas Eve and all was calm. We popped over to Phil and Sue's for tea and home-made mince pies and picked up some cardboard!

Christmas morning and our first job of the day after breakfast was to take the cardboard to the lotty to lay it on the beds. Merry Christmas lotty. Back home, unwrap gifts and a choice of stuff for lunch. No Christmas dinner in our house - first time ever in my life! We opted for chilli - first time ever in my life! which I promptly burned - first time ever in my life! I always cook for four so there was enough to salvage a meal and we both found it funny and were happy with our lot. We had a delightful totally stress free day - first time in my life! How can you have a better Christmas?

Boxing Day was equally relaxed and, like a return to childhood in my case, it was a play day. I spent all day messing around with doll's house stuff.

The next day made up for the quiet. We met Ken's daughter and his son and wife at noon at The Eagle and Child for a very pleasant lunch. Richard and Charlotte came back to our house for a while and quite literally as soon as they left Phil and Sue stopped by. Then, amazingly we said goodbye to them only to see Stuart and Sally arriving.

Ken and I were up for a second meal (big surprise) and we four had a terrific curry for dinner.

The next day the 'kids' went off to the Trafford Centre leaving us oldies to our peace and quiet. I suppose it is quite a building and worth seeing - truly a cathedral to retail - cherubs and all.

We had a zillion plans for the following day and we all agreed to ditch them all in favour of a wander (drive not walk!) over the moors and see what we could see. We ended up lunching in the newly refurbished Fleece Inn at Ripponden. Absolutely great - nice place, good food.

The next day my daughter's visit was, as always, too soon over - it is even worse when we are about to decamp back here for three months at a time. We had a good brunch at home and off they went. I filled the rest of the day with distractions like putting away Christmas. There is a ritual to this which must be obeyed. A couple of days before putting it all away I swear I will do it carefully and properly so I don't have to untangle lights and garlands next year. The other part of the taking an oath ceremony is that I will make absolutely sure I don't discover the bit I forgot just after all the boxes have gone back in the loft. Do I need to type any more? I shoved everything into any box they would go in any old how but I did very carefully check every room for a sign of a malingering decoration as I do every year. I gave Ken the all-clear and the minute the loft door closed I discovered the very dainty little garland I had hung from a dresser handle. I married a superstar - back he went....

The carpets were hoovered and we looked all spic-and-span for the new year.

The decoration suitcase got filled (literally) with stuff for working on Hillside in Naples - no way am I doubling up on tools and kit I already have even if it means lugging one case full of stuff back and forth each trip. Ah, the joys of our peripatetic lifestyle.

New Year's Eve was as social and party-filled as our Christmas Day which was more than OK with us. We did have lunch with our good chums P and S back at the Eagle and Child. We had set off for our regular stomping ground - Park Farm - but it was closed. Ken and I returned to the last of the packing and getting ready for an early start back to Naples the next day. We saw the New Year in on the telly like old folks do.

Can't believe nineteen something has disappeared let alone manage to have reached the thirteen of the the twenty. Do you remember how odd twenty sounded at the millennium, now nineteen something sounds like 'history'.

I truly hope anyone reading this has a wonderful 2013 and it becomes a year to remember for all the right reasons.

Friday, 30 November 2012

November confabulating

Warning:  pretty much a health warning... this will be a very long post - you may not want to start what you don't want to finish.........

I had such a wretched start to my November ramblings...

When we went to Caifornia for my birthday trip, I kept a diary on my iPad.  I emailed this to myself and wiped the notes from the iPad.  Eventually I transferred the contents of the email to a draft post here ready to type up properly later. Of course, being tidy and (over) efficient I then deleted the email.

Meanwhile I forgot all this and a few minutes ago I started to type a new November Post - I then remembered the saved notes.  In my attempt to sort it out I deleted the wrong November Draft.  Did I say efficient?  This was the moment I discovered there is no bin/trash/recycle in Google Blogger from which you can retrieve your scrumpled up piece of cyber paper.  Those software writers are sooooooo lucky they live in cyber land and not in my kitchen.

Phew!  whilst rambling through all this I remembered there is a Google Mail bin.  Yeah, Saved!! the moral of that story is: There is such a thing as too tidy!

Firstly let's get through anything else that's November related before we set off for California with flowers in our hair.  Incidentally there are loads of California songs and I seem to know them, which Ken discovered much to his chagrin.

On the 1st of the month, we began our first day in Naples in the usual Naples way, i.e. breakfast at First Watch followed by  grocery shopping and returning the hire car.  The latter being a total nightmare.  I reckon I hadn't driven a yard in either country since I last followed Ken to return a hire car in Naples last year.  Add to this the statistic that I probably haven't driven a car more than a dozen times in six years and you can see I was already fretting.  Off we tootle. Three lane roads (not overloaded with traffic though) and I am trying to stick to Ken as I don't have a clue where we are going.  This got worse as I realised he didn't either!  He had set out for the usual Budget or Dollar or whatever at the airport.  In the car park there he remembered he'd got this particular car from somewhere else.  Off we go for my second torture of the day.  This time he overshot his mark and that took us all the way down to a main junction at the bottom of Fifth Ave -  I think it is called Five Corners!!! where he proceeds to do a u-turn.... moments before that I was very close to pulling in to the nearest hotel, parking and ringing him to say get a cab back to me.  Seriously, I am that scared.  I did a bit of loin girding thinking it must soon be over, only to suffer the u-turn performance moments later. The daftest thing of all this is that I am probably a better driver than sixty percent of the total idiots on the road.

Day two and it is off to the Driving Licence office to renew our licences - yes, mine does have to be renewed.  The logic is - we can drive legally on our UK licence but it does make for problems if there is a crump and it costs more on our insurance and basically most companies don't have the mechanism for insuring someone on foreign licenses.  All our visitors are covered if they drive our car on their own foreign licences so you would think that if I HAD to drive I would be covered too..... no ... because I live in the same house, it is assumed I am in the car hurling it up and down the highway daily and so I am not covered.  Add to this the indignity of paying a fine because we let our licences expire! and we have to do this every time we come back into the USA - so for us that's twice a year rather than once every ten years!!

I rewarded myself with a trip to Bealls, where I bought two pairs of shoes and then crabs legs at Grand Buffet.  English shoppers will love the Bealls deal.  We had coupons for $10 off and then we got another 30% off already reduced stock (one day deal) and then they gave us another $10 coupon at the till.  Crabs legs paid for then!

Our first Sunday arrived along with the first concert.  I actually went to this one (none since).  Ken got his first Regina's ice cream, but we had dinner at home, having eaten out three days in a row.

By day six we were packed and long-hauling it to San Francisco.

We got back mid-month and it started with a couple of Merry Maids (no, really) cleaning our apartment.  It cost an arm and a leg but two hours of cleaning by two people (so that's four hours of cleaning) really puts a shine on the place.  Can't say we clean the blinds and the tops of doors and fan blades ourselves all that often!  

The other two things of note are the same as every November - we went out for a Thanksgiving meal and a couple of days later we went to The Nutcracker.

I am not fond of Butterball turkey, ploppy potato and ploppy sweet potato and ploppy stuffing and squeaky beans in mushroom soup.  Followed by very, very sweet pumpkin pie loaded with cinnamon (the only spice I hate).  Ken and millions of Americans love it so I am decidedly the odd one out.  Nothing new there then.  No problem - we decided on Mel's diner and I would have their ribs - which I do like.  Mmmm... Thanksgiving Day so their usual menu is not on offer - I can have the turkey with aforementioned accompaniments or ham with the same or pork loin with the same or fish with fries.   I opted for the fish.  Obviously all the focus that day was on getting the turkey out - they actually managed to give me ploppy fish!

The Nutcracker however was its usual wonderful self.  Because I am feeling fed up with being here (again!) I had said to Ken not to bother booking but he said too late we already have the tickets.  So a very quiet me (I am trying not to appear to be a total a misery) went through the motions of going to the ballet.  Almost as soon as it started I knew why we were there.  I just love it and it is so intrinsically bound up with Christmas and a million memories for me that it is just a joy.  It is the best ballet music for sure and the pas de deux is a singular gem. I have just been watching the Royal Ballet version and I am telling you the Miami City Ballet knocks it into a cocked hat.

On the 30th I bought a new mini project - Hillside House and that's a whole other tale.

So lets do a quick flick back to the 6th and our California trip.  I can't do any better than the notes I wrote when we were there so here they are.  I apologise for the constant shift in tenses but it depended on when it was being written,

Tuesday 6th. November

Journey went without a hitch other than our seemingly endless messing around with time zones. This time we just added in Minneapolis time en route and then on to San Francisco which is three hours earlier than Naples.

We stayed at the Beresford Hotel slap bang centre of SF. I did my usual hotel inspector critique Such a shame - a little more effort and it would be a terrific boutique hotel. Instead of building on its lovely Edwardian bones... They had hidden most of them with things such as our 'award-winning White Horse Tavern, an authentic replica of an Old English Pub'. Well, no actually it wasn't. That said it was a nice hotel and good to get my first eight hours unbroken sleep in a long time.

Wednesday 7th November

San Francisco - I'm going where the weather suits my clothes.......

After a Continental breakfast in the bar we were off to see the city. This proved a tad difficult as Fog city was living up to its name. It was also very cold which was a bit of a bind. The preceding three days they broke heat records for the time of year; the day we arrived they began a three day record breaking cold for this time of year. This is to be taken literally. It was a set of three and three record breaking numbers.

We had chosen this coastal drive as somewhere we could go in winter from Naples where we would have suitable attire. We were frozen, even Ken was in a fleece! Being British we stiffened our upper lips (or rather the wind did) and climbed aboard an open top bus for two hours.

What a fantastic city. Talk about eclectic.  It would be a student architect's dream. Lovely, lovely buildings everywhere you look. We got back to Union Square and (over)stayed on the bus for a repeat stop to China Town for lunch and a mooch around the shops where I got suckered into buying a new camera. I never had any intention of buying one but decided I would have a look at one in a likely looking shop. I did the absolute tourist thing of leaving your brains at home. I have no idea what came over me ... Slick salesman, but I am not usually a sucker for that. He did the three stage knock down price thing, including... Have to ask the boss routine. At one point I began to say I have no idea what I should be paying for this or whether it is what I want - I will go and do some research on-line and come back tomorrow if its what I want. Never quite finished that speech before I had handed over my plastic for a camera and SD card for, as it turns out, twice what it would have cost me on Amazon. Thank heavens it is at least a camera I actually want and like. That didn't stop the occasional beating myself with twigs though. Ken bought himself a new man bag and purse. Talk about gender reversal!

Back to the hotel and I'm in the bed (clothed) to warm up! Ken has put on a sweater!!!!!!!

I was too cold to go out for a meal so Ken braved the elements to cross the road and pick up a good pizza which we ate in the bar.

Thursday 8th November

Up and at it around seven again for a car pick up at nine. We did a slight detour on our route to Golden Gate Bridge as Ken had to drive the crookedest street in the world ... Lombard Street.

Then off over Golden Gate Bridge to CA 1 and the drive to Napa. We stopped for a look at the view at Muir Beach overlook. Apparently you might have to wait around if you want to see the whales.... You'd think they would come to order.

It was one of the best drives ever. We were climbing up and down and winding round and round. No, really, it is a lovely drive. It seemed every time we hit about 400 feet we ran into rain. Even that was lovely as it brought out the glorious smell of the rainbow Eucalyptus that often stood either side of our road like vegetative leviathans.

We are now in Napa having done the Sonoma Valley and visited a vineyard up close and personal. The whole valley is a beautiful area with all the vineyards and impressive houses. It was like driving through an advert for California wines. Viticulture for as far as the eye could see. We also saw a couple of seaside towns en route (Stinson and Olema and others) that I wouldn't mind seeing again. When we give up on Naples I have plans for all sorts of extended holidays such as a whole month, maybe May or September, visiting this coast, doing a few days in each place. This is certainly one of the American coastlines worth doing at a more leisurely pace.

We are in a motel now for our overnight in Napa ... Big room with all the usual stuff ... So it is comfy enough. Trouble with me is that when I get in after a day out I don't want to go out again to eat. We sussed out several eateries in Napa and in a lovely little nearby town called Yountville, BUT they are very chi chi and pricey. We had decided on Celadon in Napa but now have reneged because at best it will be a hundred bucks plus. This town looks like it's where all the 'chattering classes' take their vacations! We did weaken our resolve and have a cake and coffee from a French bakery in Yountville called Bouchon Bakery. So, so nice in all kinds of ways. Later we settled on a sub from Subway and bought our breakfast ready for tomorrow from the supermarket. We know how to live.

Friday 9th November
and a shopping day in and around Sacramento.

Our first stop was Vacaville and a Coldwater Creek Outlet. I managed to get a pair of trousers and a top to get me through another day's holiday in the slightly chilly weather. Oddly the pair of earrings I also bought were the dearest item! It had better get warmer as we go south or I shall be the only woman in white cut-offs and goose pimples. Time for lunch and Ken and I seem to have become the over sixties homing pigeons for suitable old fogey food. He googled eateries nearby and came up with The Black Oak. Built in 1960 (historical by american standards) and barely a refurb since, it was the most amusing cross between Cracker Barrel and Perkins. It was crammed with purchasable nick-knacks inside the foyer to fleece you while you wait - always assuming your house needs soft toys or china ornaments. This was a low-key Cracker Barrel style but rubbish nick knacks. The restaurant (a loose term) was an almost identical Perkins layout and menu.... Ken was for the Liver and Onions plus salad and egg custard and me for chicken pot pie, soup and ice cream ... Three courses for under ten bucks.

Staggering under the weight of a huge mom & pop lunch, we then drove on to Sacramento proper and a doll's house shop called The Elegant Dolls House. It was interesting in its own way. I only managed to spend twelve bucks and some change. [any dolls house stuff is mentioned in my Bentleys Blog] Then on to Livermore and on our way to the beginning of our drive down the coast. Lovely sunny day today but still a nip in the air enough to wear a jacket and long trousers.

Each hotel has got cheaper as we have gone on and they have also got better each time. The Quality Inn we are now in at Livermore is excellent all round.

Saturday 10th

Great start to the day... Breakfast included at QI consisted of a choice of various teas, coffees chocolate, and cereals muffins, bagels, toast, jam, peanut butter, honey, cream cheese, yoghurt, cartons of milk, waffles, syrup, two fruit juices, bacon, eggs, potatoes, apples, bananas........ Almost had it all but I managed to get a grip. We didn't head to the coast drive straight away as Ken had found a dolls house shop in Pacific Grove... Off we tootled and I amused myself, as I often do, with the names of the places we drove through. Initially we were in cherry and garlic growing country. There was no doubt about it as my nose was telling me we were driving through an Italian restaurant.  Then through Castroville ..... who said Americans don't do irony! Apparently this is 'the artichoke capital of the world'... or so it proclaimed on its roadside billboard. It seems artichokes en masse smell like school cabbage. This town is closely followed by a sign to Pruneville.... no comment on its aroma. We then hit the coast and travelled past towns such as Seaside, Marina, Sand City... distinct lack of imagination not to mention confusing. It would be no use saying, "Do you want to go to the seaside?'' as you would only have a choice of one place, as for asking where the marina was, well it is in Marina......

Ultimately we found the really charming Pacific Grove filled with lovely little artisan type shops.... Ours... Number 213 was what seemed like the only closed store on the street!! We are pretty resigned to looking up dolls shops on the web only to discover they don't exist any more so it wasn't a huge surprise. We wandered off down to the sea and there were all sorts of interesting things to see. There was a couple having wedding photos taken, but there was only them and a photographer with not a sign of a guest. I wondered if maybe they are photos after the event not on the day itself, I hope so otherwise these were a well-suited pair of orphans without friends. It seems an odd thing to do? Believe me we weren't watching a modelling photo shoot! Then there was a clutch of cheerleaders. Is clutch the collective noun for cheerleaders? They were balanced on a bunch of rocks on the edge of the sea each one of them having their photo (professionally) taken. Clearly Lovers Point is THE place to be immortalised. Most of all I loved the truly wonderful restaurant ...the Beach House....which was being refurbed.... I got to talk to the painter and he said he'd grown up around there and he and all the kids he knew had swum in the small pool at the back of the restaurant many, many times and it was a meaningful place for Lovers Point inhabitants, so they were doing a beautiful job.

It was also a diving and surfing place. We watched a family of two lads and their parents arrive and unload their car....out came their inflatable dinghy, oars, diving gear, tanks and harpoon guns, knives (!), large coolers (plural) all from the back of an ordinary Honda CRV. That's an advertising opportunity missed.

As we left the town there was the incongruous sight of a deer complete with antlers grazing someone's front garden right on the edge of the sea.

We got to the main event of the day Smallsea Museum but managed to dangle the satisfaction a little longer by having lunch first  at the attached Bahama Grill. This was another tired, but reasonable, restaurant with OK food... the upside was eating something I'd not had before... it was a coconut shrimp but served with a bowl of rice with a mango salad and coleslaw and broccoli. We shared some ribs as a starter that were pretty good but again rather odd as they tasted very herby... sage?? This was followed by some excellent chocolates from a shop making them. Again, in America, that doesn't always bode well as they are (quite rightly) made for an American palate, but they were excellent. Ken returned here after the museum for some ice cream! All this was in a great shopping centre called The Barnyard in Carmel. It was full of nice shops in a pretty layout in groups of different Barn style buildings. Not a generic store in sight. Smallsea itself was just such a joy and more and must surely be the highlight of this trip. I will be astounded if anything tops it.

After the museum, we were off to look at the beach and check out Carmel proper before moving on to our next stop-over. Carmel is a very, very pretty town in a gooey sort of way; think Cornwall meets Disney.... A place to add to my check it out if we are in that area list for sure. Our overnighter was on the outskirts of Carmel ready to head off down the coast road tomorrow.

Sunday 11th

Last night was the poorest of our hotels. The Knights Inn. It did the job but we have been spoiled by the others. Breakfast was a bit makeshift in something resembling a large cupboard, so we took it back to our room. There wasn't a coffee maker in the room. That's a first for us in the States. I even checked with the desk in case it had gone walkabout. The previous evening we had to grab a coffee from the breakfast area before 9 pm after which it was locked up.

We set off on our longest driving day of the trip.. two hours to Hearst Castle at San Simeon and then three hours after that to Ventura.

We couldn't have chosen a more perfect day, high seventies, blue skies and views to the edge of the planet. This is a coast which is famed for its fogs coming in from the sea and many people aren't lucky enough to get the perfect day. As the famous CA 1 drive along the coast and the views from Hearst Castle were the main ingredient in this dish, we would have missed a lot.

Very soon into our trip there was a road sign saying hills and bends for the next 63 miles . Ken was as happy as... Well.... Ken. He truly loves driving and the more challenges the better. I just got out my white knuckles and wore them for the duration. Through the fear I did register that there is mile after mile of beaches and rocks and sparkling sea, exactly like when you see this road in the movies. We only stopped twice en route for a photo op otherwise if we had stopped at everything worth snapping we would still be there. For example, we passed a beach full of elephant seals ... And I mean full.. Tremendous sight. Being seasoned travellers (!) and blasé about such things (!) we drove on by.

As for Hearst castle - it was truly remarkable. I really felt as though we had gone from the sublime to the utterly ridiculous. On one level it is an astonishing feat but beyond that it is undeniably tasteless. An absolute paean to ostentation. I did my very best not to do the snotty English view of it all but failed miserably and by the time the Minstrel Gallery in the dining room was described as a 'music box' I just gave in to all my prejudices and snobbery and thanked God ( who after all we all know is English) for my having been born on the other side of the pond. In all seriousness it is a fantastic place to visit and unique. For once this word is being used accurately. Sadly for us, you would need a very long day or better still three days and very deep pockets to tour the whole castle. Again the viewing method was a bit of an anathema to us, being used to NT and such like.

There are three guided tours. You can't just wander around the place. The tours are - The grand rooms - the cottages and kitchen and the upstairs rooms. Each tour costs twenty five dollars and takes forty minutes. We didn't have a choice as there was only a couple space left that day. They were on the grand rooms tour at 1.20 pm. Clearly if you were coming in season you would have to take up their offer of allowing you to book eight weeks ahead; indeed I suspect you might be lucky even then to get what you want. You are car parked and started off from the visitors centre which is five miles from the house. You are then bussed up to the house with a guide and are very strictly made to stay on the grey carpet (in our case by a very seriously threatening cowboy) and to always to remain with the group.

We were shown four rooms and then allowed outside to walk round the grounds and then get any bus back down the hill. The bus trip is logical as the narrow track clings to the hillside and is almost literally just the width of the bus... There is a road up and a road down... Mr Hearst thought of everything! Most bizarrely of all he collected statues from all over the world and these are assiduously cleaned all the time as you would a kitchen work surface. They get sprayed with some bacteriological cleaner and wiped until good enough to eat off. They look dreadful, pure white, in your face, marble and alabaster. It was hard not to think that they had just been shipped in from Home Depot. You are probably looking at something from the sixteenth century here.

Our tour was followed by a pleasant three hour trip to our hotel in Ventura. La Quinta - again a great hotel for our overnighter ready for my birthday to tomorrow.

Monday 12th November.

Bit of a panic moment this morning when we realised Monday was part of the Veterans Day weekend which is a holiday for a lot of people. We wondered if the two shops Ken had planned for today would actually be open. Always assuming they were still there. Luckily the gods were smiling on me on my birthday.

Our first port of call on a blue sun-shiny day was Larianne's in Ventura. This was such an incredible dolls house shop. (again talked about in Bentleys).

By sheer serendipity the ladies who worked in the shop were discussing an eatery a couple of doors away called Allinsons. This turned out to be a real find. I suppose it is a sort of American diner type food all of which looked fabulous as it whizzed past us to all the diners. Obviously a favourite local eatery as it was pretty full. Nevertheless the service was terrific as was the incredibly good food.

Ken had a bowl of salad before his Monte Cristo which would have fed a family of four and tasted fresh out of the garden.... I helped him a little. The dusting of icing sugar on the Monte Cristo was the step too far for me. My Philly chicken was delicious, fresh and clean tasting and grease free .. A real gem.

Back in the car and on to My Dolls House shop in Torrance. Another fascinatingly different dolls house shop.

Satiated by two dolls houses we set off on our long drive to San Diego. Pretty much from now on it was a motorway trip in the dark, often in City rush hour traffic. Ken, as always, remained totally unfazed by five lane highways and a zillion cars buzzing around. It seemed like Los Angeles has spread north and south for miles and miles. As soon as you leave one small town and its spread, you enter another. We didn't get into San Diego until late and so we never managed to see any of it. This was our last hotel overnighter, at a Super 8, before flying out the next day to Naples.

Tuesday 13th November

We thought we might be able to do a bus tour of San Diego before flying out but I thought it was cutting it a bit fine for the airport, so we decided on a bit of a harbor drive instead. Admittedly that didn't give us much of anything except miles and miles of the naval base. By the time we got to anything scenic it was pretty much time to head on out to the airport. So, sadly, San Diego awaits a future trip. We returned the car to the airport which turned out to be a surprise shuttle bus ride away... See, Ken, you should never cut arrival at the airport time to the bone as you never know what might turn up. Added to this we were then set down at terminal one only to discover we needed terminal two which was a pretty good hike through the two buildings. By the time we had a bit of a fiddle with our computers and grabbed something to eat our plane was pretty much boarding. There are no meals on internal flights for cattle class; you can buy snacks if they have any left! Even the movie and headphones have to be purchased. I think Ryan air got their inspiration from American internal flights. We had an uneventful trip back except for the baby whale who sat in the seat in front of me. She immediately set her seat as far back as it would go and then flailed around in my lap. Luckily there was an empty seat so I moved!

That's certainly a birthday to remember. Thanks Ken.

[there are photos for most of the things mentioned here - just click on the photo album link]

Thursday, 22 November 2012

All change

(Apologies to anyone who reads all my blogs as this appears (with minor changes) in them all)

I have just spent the best part of today re-jigging all my photo albums for my Blogs .  It was prompted by Google telling me I was running out of room.  This led to having a grand sort out.  On the one hand it was great to have all the new (purchased!) room, on the other hand it was a load of work re-assembling various folders to share with you.  Whatever web album storage I look at, it never seems to do what I want it to do, which is simply to replicate my photo collection as it is in my computer.  The major problem is (with Google web albums and others) that I can't nest folders within folders as I would like to and I end up with a bunch of small folders all jostling for position.  I then have to rename them all so that they will clump together in some logical way.  For example all the albums to do with My Clavering need to start with the same word, so they've become  - yup! - Clavering.  This doesn't make files particularly simple to construct and probably not that easy to find.  I promise I have done my best with a duff system.

The re-jig means that any blog prior to this date which has a link to an album will be defunct.  I am sorry for that but it would have always been so at some stage.  I was already having to remove the older albums to make room for the new ones.  Hopefully, with all the extra space I now have, the future links will last a lot longer.  Meanwhile, so you don't feel robbed I have started you off with three albums - our holiday in Masbonneau, France and our weekend in Scotland in White Wisp and one - yet to be written about - a trip to California in November.

On the whole it will be fine.  When I write a post and create a new album or add photos to an existing one I will give you the link.  You won't have to go hunting and searching for it.  Additionally, if at any time you are visiting  the blog and just want to find something not being written about you can click on the link in the right-hand column labelled  All albums  and that's where you will end up.  When you get there if you click on the drop down arrow of the 'Sort By' option where it says Album Date you can select Album Title instead.  That puts them all in alphabetical order (obviously!) and should make it much easier to find what you want.  The first clump of albums is Clavering then a bunch of Garden albums then a mass of Minis.

Happy wanderings.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

October's shooting the breeze

Prologue:  I couldn't think of any photos I may have taken this month to cheer up this chunnering so I went to Picasa and typed October 2012 in the search box.  An amazing (but obvious! ) thing happened it threw up any and everything vaguely reminiscent of that search and I saw ten plus years of things all of which were only linked by the word October....  my new granddaughter, a holiday in Cape Cod, six (!) houses I no longer live in, my mom and my dad (old scanned photos), my sister and her husband visiting us in France and so much more.... such a life.... and we all think it is so ordinary and boring.  I recommend a random trip through your photos, it will surprise you.  
                                                     *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

October is all about getting ready to decamp to the sun.  This 'getting ready' is one of the aspects of my not enjoying our peripatetic life any more.  For four individual months of each year we are either moving in or moving out of a home.  I have no idea why men and women are engineered differently but, if Ken and I are a sample, we certainly are.  Ken sees it all as as couple of days each side - just doing a few jobs - bing, bang , bosh - done.  For me it is like an extended unravelling of my two lives.  

All month before leaving the UK I am mentally wittering about must do this or that, catch up on this or that, not forget this or that.  Then there is the actual practical stuff.  Every day consists of working out how best to use up every scrap of food in the house because I so hate wasting stuff.  There are doctors and dentists and opticians to check in with before decamping as none of that can be done in Naples.  I need a very last minute hair cut to get it how I want it before I get hacked somewhere else.  All this and more, plus the worst part of decamping - the last seeing of various friends and my daughter for another six months.  

Then we arrive in our other life and spend a couple of weeks setting that routine back in action.

So....... I've pretty much covered what we did in October then?

As I said amongst other things we did the obligatory visit to the optician for our eye tests just to have her confirm we are getting older.  Thanks!  A cursory  look around the shop and we decided to buy glasses in Naples.... or not at all in Ken's case. The woman serving us in Boots rudely said - it is a good job we don't depend on you for our living.  Even more offensive as, on the optician's recommendation, I had just bought some eye spray/drops for an extortionate fifteen squid  because I was too wimpy to say no thanks I will get them from the doctors for free!  Humph! not a successful trip.

As for the doctors.... I  promise I'm not going to put you through that total confusion and useless set of outcomes.  Suffice it to say what should have been a single trip to the doctor followed by a single trip to the chemist, which (fortunately) I had arranged for the 3rd in case of a hitch, took four trips to the surgery and half a dozen to the chemist and lasted over three weeks!

The month did begin well though with a lovely trip to Kinross in Scotland.  We had rented a cottage called White Wisp (named after a bit of the local geography) which was really lovely.  (Not the greatest photo I'm afraid but the best ones have folk in them and I don't broadcast those).

The cottage itself was a brand new refurb and was gorgeous and the views even more so.  Nice owners on site, couldn't wish for more.

It was hellish to find as it was truly tucked away in the back of beyond and Esmeralda (our GPS - named for ''the bells, the bells" movie) insisted that we needed to cross a farm and a river (no bridge) to get there.  The funny thing was I had ordered a Tesco delivery - am I efficient or what - and we had been there about half an hour when it arrived.  Ken said, rather sheepishly, did you have a hard time finding us - ''No, not a problem".  Hardy bodies these Scots!

This was our only visit to Scotland this summer to see my daughter and her chap.  They have been great at visiting us each month, so it was the least we could do.  They came to stay for the weekend and we all had a really lovely time mooching around and eating out.  

In the eating out category we did have a bit of a glitch in that we thought we understood the meaning of Sunday carvery.  Off we went to the local lakeside restaurant - The Boathouse Bistro.  The whole experience was  very strange.  We arrived at the Green Hotel in Kinross who  boasted five restaurants including this one, to be told that its bistro and carvery was a couple of miles down the road!  I am sure I had read in its blurb that the romantic bistro by the lake was a gentle stroll from the hotel.  I thought it meant through its grounds, not a full blown two mile cross country hike.  We found Loch Leven  - too big too miss - then drove almost the whole of its perimeter before locating what to us looked like a very tired  park cafe (read caff not café).  The décor was distinctly seventies orange and brown fabrics and cane furniture.  The carvery itself was pretty poor and the system to actually get it was even worse.  No one greeted us or explained what to do.  Eventually we discovered we were supposed to report to someone (?) and then sit down and wait for the chef to call you.  The chef didn't call us, so after a very British long wait I sorted that out.  We then had to ask for cutlery - you don't have it on the table nor are you able to get it yourself!  Why?  The person I asked never appeared.  By the time our meal had congealed a little more I managed to get one of the bar staff to get us some eating irons.  An all round dreadful eating experience and for this you pay £8.99.  Our £3.99 local one in Bury looks pretty good in comparison.  It was obviously an exciting novelty in Kinross and its environs as the place was packed to the gunwales.   I am cross with myself for moaning about anything on this trip as it was all lovely.  To be honest even the stupid carvery was just plain funny at the time   We got a lot of laughs out of it.  I wrote the best Victoria Wood sketch ever in my head.

In comparison the previous day we had a great lunch at The Grouse and Claret. I had the best soufflé ever and that was just the starter.  Then a night at the movies in Perth - 'Looper'.

Too soon the 'children' had to go home - one to work and one to crow about having a day off.  Those who know us will guess which was which!

On Monday we nipped over to my daughter's for Ken to do his step-dad handy man bit and fix a light.  Her chap stopped by at lunchtime so we said our goodbyes to them both and took the slow road home through the borders. We stopped off in Langholm at a sweet little café/bistro/restaurant (not sure of its qualifications)  called Truly Scrumptious and had an excellent meal.

Our 'growed-up' outing for the month was a meal and play at the wonderful Octagon theatre in Bolton.  If we were home all year I would definitely have season tickets.  Pretty much always something worth seeing.  We always eat there too before the performance and the food is good and great value.  This offering was 'Light-hearted Intercourse' - not as shocking as it sounds.  It is part of a funny line in the play - maybe not easy to share without the whole production under your belt - but, basically, a staunch catholic (with all the attendant the guilt) is trying to avoid sex with his wife and offers the explanation that light-hearted intercourse should not be what it is about.  My little Octagon friend accompanied us and we had a lovely evening with D and I supplying more laughs than the play perhaps.  I did say Octagon friend, not octagonal, she is not eight-sided.

On the very same day I decided  I had to have a winter coat - (a) I was freezing and (b) I was going out at night.  There are women reading this who when I say I hadn't got a coat, think I mean I hadn't got one I liked.  No - I actually did not have any warm coat other than one of those three part ski coats jobbies, which is miles too big any way.  Off Ken and I went to Tesco - I shop in all the best places.  No joy!  I then remembered two doors down was a Next - in we go out we come seventy-five quid lighter and it looks like a donkey jacket!  That's what you get for not being a proper woman.  I really couldn't face the prospect of trawling the land for a coat I liked so I settled on one that was serviceable and fits me and wasn't one of the puffa jackets (make me look like Michelin man), double breasted army coats (make me look as though I run a POW camp with an extra wide chest) or duffles (make me look like I still think I am fifteen and listening to Bob Dylan)  which seemed to be on offer.

I may have been jaded by the couple of weeks of casual searching for warm trousers (again - I literally don't have any warm ones).  I could apparently have leggings, jeggings, schmeggings (think I made up the last one!) but nicely cut, warm fabric trousers?... I think not!  

All this came about because we stayed home an extra month and a combination of September, that I generally just put up with, and an even cooler October pressed me to look for warm clothes.  Now there's a novelty and an expensive one.

October 14th was a trip to a Dolls House Fair, even better for being local (Handforth, South Manchester). I seem to be able to do one each month in the UK but I won't be doing any for the next five months in the States.  There just aren't any to do.  I have been to the couple which happen in Florida during the time I am here and neither are really worth travelling for.  I may check out the Sarasota again though as our friends are interested in a short stay up that way (maybe) when they visit us.  I must see what I said about it last year but I pretty much think the game wasn't worth the candle.

Looking through my diary I've just reminded myself about a funny thing at the doctors on one of the many trips back and forth. I saw a little Irish boy of about ten - he purported to be the doctor!  What a sweetie.  At one stage of the proceedings he was sitting on the floor groping my feet.  Now either he had a serious foot fetish which, lets face it, he wasn't old enough to have or he 'knew his place' relative to me.  Any way the funny part was - he couldn't find a pulse thereby confirming what I have long suspected, i.e.  I am dead.  This, of course, led to an extra visit to the surgery for a Dopplers test to disprove this.  Described as a test which entails no discomfort I am able to tell you they lie.  Wrapping a BP cuff around your calf and squeezing you to death is surprisingly and incredibly painful.

By mid-month I was struck down - almost literally - with the stinkiest of colds.  The full monty - fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, the works.  It is still slightly with me in that I have the occasional coughing fit and I am typing this on 3rd November;  so I am a bit cheesed off with it.  Having been so blighted there is a bit of a gap in the month as I missed a couple of planned outings due to been horizontal.

On the 22nd my first dolls house project left home.  A very nice couple picked up the Wentworth.  They seemed very enthusiastic and happy so I felt heaps better about letting it go.  I really hope they have a great time with it as I did.  Life moves on even in mini world.

On the 25th (just about vertical again) I went to the most amazing exhibition at the Art gallery in Manchester - they do have good stuff there and the building itself is a joy - if you ever get the chance ....... etc

It was called The First Cut.  Obviously it would appeal to me for all sorts of reasons but it was so much more than just cute paper cuttings outs.  Some very dramatic pieces and some fun things and many very beautiful and super dooper clever things.  How about that for an erudite critique of an exhibition - missed my calling?

Here's a link to a huge piece of work which I thought was incredible Andreas Kocks.  Take a second and have a look.  If it grabs you here's a link to a TED talk by another artist who's work was in the exhibition, Beatrice Coron.

Incidentally if I haven't mentioned TED before I should have done.  My son directed me to it when he gave me my iPad - yes, it has an App.  I can always find something there to while away a moment or two.

The last six days was a mad whirl of sorting and cleaning and eating with friends.  Indeed at one point on our last Saturday, my friend was visiting to say cheerio, my daughter and chap arrived from Edinburgh and our good friends P & S arrived.  Bit like buses - none at all or they all arrive at the same time.  It was very nice to have a room filled with people you care about.   After the extra bods departed, daughter, chap, Ken and I toddled off for a great lunch at The Shoulder of Mutton and the next day we all had breakfast together at our house and a trip to Currys for them to buy a GPS for Henry (their car!)  followed by a bit of playing with the gizmo and a bit of a natter.  When they left at 1.30pm we left with them.  They to go back home to Edinburgh  and us off to a birthday lunch with P & S at The Sykeside.  An all round great weekend.  Wish we could do it every week.

Monday I was up to my armpits in last minute laundry and making a left-over roast chicken pie and rhubarb crumble - yes, all about finishing off the flour, butter, sugar etc etc etc.  Luckily our two mates stopped by in time to help us out otherwise that would have been another half of everything in the bin.  

Last day of the month and we were off on our trip across the pond.

The day began at 5 am (UK time) and finished at 3 am (UK time) the next morning - so, yes, the trip is always pretty whacking, for some of us!  Ken, the robot, just keeps going until its done.

We always elect for low fat or low salt meals (they are usually the same incidentally) on the flight.  Mainly because I hate the wodgy 'snacks' (hot rolls with meat and American slime cheese for example) and breakfast egg/bun thingies.  We get a really nice fruit selection instead.  This time it didn't pay off that well as the dinner part of the meal was a large blob of very wet slimy spinach accompanied by baked beans, half a tomato and boiled mushrooms.  mmmmmm,  yummy!  I did see the funny side. As a woman who has eaten, goat, lard and donkey I cannot be described as picky; there is very little I don't like - lets think... oh yes, over-boiled spinach, cheap baked beans, boiled mushrooms and dead tomatoes.  Actually it isn't really a problem as I always take a Boots meal deal on board so I have a snack and a drink when I want them and the sandwich or salad (sometimes sushi!) comes in handy to replace the airline 'dinner'.

Our flight was on time and we had a smooth ride.  I was a bit concerned about the latter as we were pretty close behind Hurricane Sandy which had devastated a lot of the east coast - New York and New Jersey took a big hit.  We had a four hour gap between flights.  This gets reduced by the one hour it takes to get through customs, security and recheck the baggage.  As it was a long time we treated ourselves to the Sky Lounge which is a much nicer place to spend the time than in the general area.  Oh to be rich!  First Class travel and the lounges between flights.

Onwards and, in this case literally, upwards. An hour and thirty-five minutes on the flight out of Atlanta into Fort Myers, pick up hire car, forty minutes drive to Naples and we were in home number two.  For me that pretty much meant bed.  Ken did a few bits and bobs as always.

My body clock - as of 3 November is considerably out of whack.  The weekend before we left the UK the clocks went back an hour.  We then get here to a four hour difference backwards.  This will be followed by another turning the clocks one hour back over here this weekend for their 'Fall backwards' (Spring Forward - neat eh?) adjustment.  Confused, moi?  Oh, I almost forgot to mention as of Tuesday we will be in California which is three hours back on Naples.  I may as well kill myself now.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

September's chunnering

I know it is a well-worn phrase but I make no apology for wheeling it in....

I have no idea where my time goes.  I seem to do very little  and when I turn round whole weeks have fled by.  I had every intention of staying on top of my journal (Clavering) and when the calender clicked into October I remember thinking I really must get on with recording September.... then thoughts became, oh well, a couple of days late won't matter and then - good grief it's a week and I still haven't done it and now, finally, here I am - three weeks into the month and still not done.  Actually I have just figured out what happens to my time .. I've  just spent ten minutes blathering and achieved nothing.  Into the breach.....

Any month which begins with a trip to Ikea and making a flat pack cupboard can only get better.  My move back into the house from the shed (only my hobby stuff not a complete banishing) meant I needed another surface area for one of my 'projects'.  The wonderful Expedit filled the spot.  It only took me twenty minutes, sore hands and a ruined screwed up blouse that I wrapped round the Allen key to prevent more raw hands (and yes it was the one I was wearing) to insert two of the six bolts.  Ken arrived to see how I was getting on and tightened the ones I had done and did the other four using the self same Allen key all with his bare hands ( his blouse never came into play).  This took him about five minutes!!  Brain v. brawn... winner is?

Week one's treat was a girlfriend-trip to the movies to see 'Brave' preceded by a pizza with a deliberate hole in its middle - how cute is that?  These treats were amplified by qualifying for 'senior' rates and getting a two for one on both deals, courtesy of Orange Wednesdays.  Don't you just love it when someone pays you to go out.

My daughter arrived at the end of the week with her half of a new car - her first!  Luckily her partner came with her and brought the matching half.  It is lovely to see your kids doing their thrilling 'my firsts'.  She was so pleased with it.  That said it is a lovely, happy looking Henry (its name)  Hey, you are reading a woman who calls her waste disposal Oscar, so I have no issues with the car being Henry.

The following day, we had a meal booked for them, us and my sister and husband who were coming for lunch to say goodbye to the four of us before they emigrated to Canada.  It was something I really hadn't wanted to do and was glad when she came to the same conclusion and cried off.  The remaining four of us had a lovely meal and a great weekend and the snivelling was cut to a minimum.  If I had to have done an actual goodbye to my sister and her husband I would have fallen apart.

None of this is based remotely on logic.  We haven't seen all that much of each other since my mother died in 2004.  Indeed they have only been to our current home once in the years we have lived here and that was five years ago.  We have been to visit them a few times a year but since we sold the caravan last year that has also got less.  We do keep in touch but I suppose our day to day lives trundle along pretty independently of each other.  Nevertheless it felt as though the last rug had been pulled out from under me.  As I am officially an orphan, my elder sister is the only person on the planet who has known all the various forms of 'me' from day one.  She is my bond to family history and stories of my childhood and, being six years my senior was  for a lot of years almost a second mom to me - the indulgent one.  Losing her (and her husband) to the wilds of Vancouver has been, and will continue to be, a wrench.

I wish them and all those I love, the very best of life but why, oh why, can't they all do it round the corner from here.  I was cooking a chicken roast dinner and all the trimmings and a Bramley apple crumble here today and I had the, not unusual, thought....  wouldn't it be nice if I could just ring my sister or son or daughter and say bob round because I've cooked too much as usual....  and we could all catch up on what's happened since we last saw each other just a few days ago.

Any way, on Sunday, a late breakfast/early lunch at Falshaws (the ice cream farm) was followed by another goodbye to my little girl and her bloke for a while as they returned to Edinburgh and their lives.

One of our outings this month was to Gorton Friary.  Part of the Manchester Tours I mentioned in August.  It is an astonishing place and so a huge well done to one ordinary bloke who decided it should be rescued and has spent years and years doing just that.

I must try to remember to catch an event there next year.

We followed it with lunch at the Mark Addy.  Horrendous to think it was forty years since I last ate there!!!...... and I remembered it like it was yesterday.  Now Mark Addy is a character worth reading about.

September is the month for one of the Old Langworthians' meals.  A few of the staff who worked at Langworthy Road get together a few times a year to keep in touch.  I miss a couple of these because of my peripatetic existence, but it is nice to catch the occasional one and see how everyone is faring.  We all look a damn sight better than we did when we were teaching and for some of us that's more than ten years ago.  Well done you chaps... you know who you are...

The 23rd is the big day in my calender.  Miniatura.  As usual it is written about in my Bentleys Blog but needs noting here too as it is a major event for a tiny nutter.  I had a great day... and I do mean day.  I was there a little after they opened at 10.00am and stayed until they closed at 4.30 pm.  Ken trotted off to an NT house for a walk and long lunch and back in time to pick me up.  I was happily shattered by the time he scraped me out of there.  Imagine winkle and pin.

My grand-daughter (also in Canada) had her second birthday on the 27th.  I can only repeat the way I began - where do my days go? and why is my family scattered to the four winds?

Friday, 31 August 2012

August's chattering

July's last post left us in the rain and hey, guess what, hello to August...   in the rain.  This summer must have broken every wet summer record in the book!

Before we went away at the end of last month I had a list of garden chores as long as your arm.  This was already backed up because of the bad weather.  On into August and I still couldn't do do them when we got back to our Northern rain from our mini break in the much drier South.  

The  month started brilliantly with the arrival of my daughter and her partner.  They had stopped at the Lakes on the way down to celebrate her birthday and arrived in time to continue that with us. To use a very well worn phrase , where do the years go?  As a parent it I find it impossible to see through the welter of imprinted memories and take on my children as fully fledged adults.  My logic knows that they are, but every interaction immediately returns to me-mom and them-child.  I do my best to advance but fail miserably and sink into pride and worry and joy in equal measures as if they were six.

The weekend was filled with chatter and food and trips out for good ice cream.  Perfect.

Tuesday 7th and we were out with 'The Secret Seven' doing 'Seven go Town Halling'.  Just in case there is a massive government computer which filters all emails for suspected terrorist groups I should explain the seven are in no way secret.  It is just a group of Ken's 'diving' friends from years back who I glue together now and then as they have now become my chums too.

This time instead of just arranging a meal somewhere I thought we could go and get 'cultured' (a bit like germs?)  and I suggested that we did a tour of Manchester Town Hall.  The added lure was that it would still include a meal afterwards. It is hosted by Manchester Walks and is to be recommended.  The guide was good enough and the building itself well worth the effort.  If you live within hailing distance of Manchester click on the link to see what else they do.  Everything from walking tours to coach trips to canal trips.  Something for everyone?  We are doing Gorton Priory next month.

The meal was at Wings.  My criteria for deciding where to eat was somewhere with a range of choices for everyone and as close as possible to the Town Hall as it would almost certainly be raining.  It was the usual Chinese meal - not outstanding but it did the job.

The following week was given over to removing my raised veggie beds and putting a flower border back in the garden.  As with all things gardening you can go to the garden blog if you want the trials and tribulations of the remake.  

It was also the week which builds up to Ken's birthday and I always spend it thrashing around trying to decided what to buy him and what to do with him on the 'big' day.  Also, pretty much as usual, it ended up being a damp squib.  I had a two for one deal at a restaurant we hadn't tried, so that seemed like one problem solved.  They were closed on Tuesday!  Hey, ho we just had to go and do it on an 'ordinary' day.  Good job we did as it was a bit underwhelming. Pub/Italian food finishing with mom-goes-to-Iceland profiteroles.  Mmmm! as in mildly grumpy not as in yum.

Birthday lunch was moved to The Crimble.  A place that has always had a bit of a bob on itself and was good in its heyday (the last time I went there!).  Sadly time and I have moved on and it hasn't.  Ken was a happy enough birthday boy so I gritted my food critic teeth and he/we had a nice enough time.  His present is the real nightmare.  I am sure most women reading this have the same problem - the blokes they buy for ''don't want anything'', ''don't need anything'', ''don't bother I'm not bothered".....  sound familiar.  The truth is most of them really aren't bothered and I still don't know why I make such a big deal out of it. Why is it I can't get to the same place?

Just as we have done many times before we settled for the fall-back position of his deciding on a piece of electronic gizmo for the computer. Thrilling.  Marginally better than the touch-screen stylus for his phone for £1.99!!! that he really wanted.  Even more exciting we continued what is now turning into a family tradition - a tour of Staples.  

To explain...on my mother's eightieth birthday, we took her to visit my sister in Cheltenham.  We were staying at a hotel for a couple of nights and on the day of her birthday were driving mom to P's and we happened to pass Staples.  Ken wanted to nip in for something, so mom and I went with him and spent a jolly hour trawling what is in effect (for mom and I) a huge stationery store.  Being fans of pens and papers and things of that ilk, we were quite happy bunnies.  As we were leaving she was all smiley and saying how good that was and we laughed about knowing how to show her a good time and celebrate an eightieth in style.

A couple of days after Ken getting older we were off on our August jaunt - this time a nine-day trip to France with a friend.

Talking about it all later with my friend, she and I agreed that in advance of doing it we were wishing we hadn't bothered when we thought about a two day trawl from our homes 'up North' to the gite in the heart of France.  As it turned out it was just fine and the journeys down and back seemed to be entertaining enough in themselves for the hours to just fly by.

We had an early start (7.30 am) to allow us plenty of time for our drive to Portsmouth.  As it happened we only took a short break en route and our packed lunch got eaten on the terrace (well at a table on the terrace) of the Terminal Building in the port.  We had arrived in plenty of time and settled down for a nice relaxed meal in the sun.  Before we got to the cherries we had a moment's panic as we saw the queues of cars being moved from the car park to the going-through-the-customs waiting area.  We dashed off to rejoin our car and began the car ferry shuffle.  Our car was one which got stopped for a cursory customs check with my friend's small bag being taken for an X-Ray.  It was declared free from chest infections and broken limbs and we moved on to the boarding-the-ship waiting area.  It is worth noting here that we left Manchester in pouring rain and arrived in Portsmouth in baking sunshine.  How in heaven's name do you dress for this?  We simmered gently in the car, relieved only by a giant bag of assorted sweets.

We eventually took proper advantage of the sunshine and spent most of our time on the 'Normandie' on the deck.  It was a lovely, calm (nearly six hour) crossing and we had an excellent first French meal in the Cafeteria (!).  What a pleasant surprise.  Offloaded at great speed but then a long wait in a queue of cars to get through passport control.  Ten minutes drive to our functional overnight stay in an Etap  (part of the Ibis group) in Herouville.  I'd heartily recommend this group of Motels/Hotels.  They are very basic but very cheap and very well-maintained and clean!!!  Turned in for the night early(ish) ready for our trek through France the following day.

We had breakfast at the Etap, taking the only available seats in the corner of the conservatory.  They were available because already the sun was up and doing its thing through the two windows.  We were totally fried, having forgotten what sunshine was.  This was an early warning start on the 41 degree day which was to come.  Again, we decided not to break our journey down to Masbonneau by too many stops (which we originally thought we would do) and pretty much bombed down to the Chateauroux area where we used to have our farmhouse.  We stopped at our 'usual' (from those days) motorway services and had a  coffee.  Our lunch was at Auberge des 2 Cedres in Cormery.  To describe it as eclectic is an understatement.  The décor was underpinned by inherited wallpaper and furniture from grandma.  This was then overlaid with African and middle-eastern masks and all kinds of trinkets.  There were butterflies pinned on the lace curtains and all manner of pictures on the walls, culminating in a huge framed (15,000 piece) 'religious' jigsaw.  Just wonderful.  The owners were a joy and, it seems, as always in these places, the service and food were a delight.

On to revisit our (brief) home in France - Les Roches.  It looked terrific all tidied up and I was thrilled to see it had become the proper French family home for the young couple who bought it from us.  Their names were on the mail box (which we bought) and the swing had been retrieved out of the barn and put under the old pear tree.  I sneaked a few photos as a reminder.  Someone there is keeping up my good work.  I hacked back a monster of a wisteria and some neglected climbing roses - they are all lovingly pruned and tied in.  You might spot all the shutters are closed, this was because it was around forty degrees centigrade.

We arrived at our lovely gite some (long) time after 4 pm as arranged.  Ken and I then drove to the nearest Supermarket which might still be open at around 6.30 pm.  This was some twelve miles away so I was soon sharply reminded of the draw-backs to living in Les Roches.

Back to the gite and the first of our cold suppers (and breakfasts) all to be eaten outdoors in the balmy air.  It was accompanied by wine and a cake left for us by our kind hosts.  The huge pineapple upside down cake was to be hauled out on many more occasions.

I promise you our gite did not slope at this angle!  Strange photo.  Yes, all that property was ours.  In addition to the space, we had enough dishes, cutlery pots, pans, glasses et al to feed twenty people right down to eight of them being able to enjoy their lobster using their own set of picks.  Really, really good place and excellent owners.  They struck precisely the right balance between friendly and helpful without being intrusive in any way.  I just felt bad that we didn't do justice to the food processor and its twenty blades, the espresso machine or the six large frying pans.

For our first day (and, in part to enjoy the car's air conditioning!) we decided to get the flavour of where we were by doing a circular tour of the area.  Our major ports of call were St Benoit-sur-Sault, Argenton and St Gaultier; not that this stopped us looking at virtually every village and church and petit château en route. 

We had lunch in Argenton sharing the peace and quiet of even the largest French town during Sunday lunchtime. Somewhere between 12 and 4 and everyone is eating.

This photo is where we ate, the Cafe de la Place.  This is the absolute hub of the city and there is usually traffic in all directions and crowded pavements.  It made me long for our old-fashioned Sundays back in the UK when the world had at least one calm day a week.

The approach to St Gaultier is pretty spectacular.  The church (built in 1050) and its surrounding school and other buildings are huge and immaculate and they cling to the hillside above the river, seeming to defy gravity.

The church is fairly simple but enormously soothing.  It is cool and dark and calm, with that familiar musty smell that always serves to remind me that my tiny point in time is so insignificant in the life of this building and, strangely, I find I am OK with that. Churches weave a magic for me and yet I don't have a religious bone in my body.

Monday was our trip to a glamorous building day and we headed out for  Chenonceau.  If you have the even the faintest interest in French History this is a place to go.  The story of Henry II and his mistress Diane de Poitiers and his wife, Catherine de Medici, is all very much intertwined with this place.  Indeed Catherine,  as Regency, ruled France from here after Henry's death.  It is the most wonderful Soap/saga and knocks Coronation Street into a cocked hat.  The link I have given you here doesn't tell you much of the story but it does have photos of the beautiful Chenonceau.

We also managed to do the trip on the river so we could really appreciate the château straddling the Cher.  You might also notice the blue sky?  Yet again, a baking hot day.  The week we were there did manage to cool a little day on day; by the time we left it had got down to about 34 degrees.

The next day we were ready for a contrasting château and we set off for Sarzay.  Yet another fascinating story of a different kind.  This time it is of someone buying a dilapidated castle and spending his (and his family's) life renovating it.  The article I have linked here is also amusing to read as it points up the incredible machinations and red tape of officialdom in France.

I loved Sarzay for a myriad of reasons, not least of which is the reminder of the tenacity of some humans to pursue their dreams. We were lucky to briefly meet the owner, Richard Hurbain.  EDF meter reader extraordinaire.

We sort of ate and drank our way around this day's tour beginning with an excellent lunch in the restaurant directly opposite the château; photo on the left. Aptly named Bar Restaurant du Château.

Just to give you an example of our culinary experience ... on that day... in that unprepossessing place....  we had an eleven euro table d’hôte lunch which consisted of four courses and a two glass pitcher of wine each.

I had hors d'oeuvres, followed by a good roast pork dinner, then a large cheeseboard selection.  I chose a Rhum baba for dessert.  Ken's choice instead of the cheese board was was fromage blanc (something like Greek style yoghurt but still retaining all the goodness of the milk - made by a different process to yoghurt).  The surprise was it came with four peeled cloves of garlic.

The picture on the right was our view from inside the restaurant.  All included in the price!

On the way home we stopped at the Hotel du Lac for some cool drinks - how resonating is that?  It overlooked the lake formed by the Barrage d'Éguzon.

The next day we decided to give up on châteaux and go and treat ourselves to one of the 'beautiful villages of France'.  Les Plus Beaux Villages de France is an official designation for 157 villages in France in the hope of preserving them without turning them into tourist traps or museums.

Our choice was Gargilesse.

The village was indeed very pretty and had several interesting little shops.  It has always been, and remains, an artists' community - the pivotal one being Georges Sand.  The 11th century Romanesque church was unique to me.  It has wonderful 13th - 16th century frescoes in the crypt.  I have never been anywhere which has so many in one place and in such near perfect condition.  Quite remarkable, and like everything else on this trip, it was all totally accessible to you.  There are no ropes or barriers or people standing guard.  You are treated with respect and trusted to behave appropriately and, seemingly, people do.  What a joy.  I was also totally blown away by some musicians and a singer in the church.  She had the sort of sound which not only came from her but, somehow, the building itself as well; it was a truly incredibly moving moment hearing the melding of singer and stone.

The castle in Gargilesse - yes, it is impossible to avoid châteaux - doesn't have much château remaining but what it has is beautifully preserved; again, by a private owner.  She has renovated it to use as a small art gallery.  A gem of a place with a wonderful space behind it overlooking the river.

This isn't the entire gallery (!) just me in a corner of the garden waiting for the two intrepid explorers to return from whatever intrepid explorers do.  Thanks to my chum for the photo.

Sadly our last day arrived and we trotted off to Argenton for a repeat visit when it was open!  Mostly we were straining at the leash to get our hands on a French market and this was the only one we could find listed for miles around.  Woops... we wandered around forlornly and eventually ended up in the tourist office who told me there hadn't been a market day in Argenton for years - out of date information courtesy of the world wide web.  Nothing new there, then. 

We consoled ourselves with a good lunch in a shaded patio at the back of the creperie. (sorry, can't find the circumflex on my machine)  One of my companions took it literally - guess who - and went for a killer crepe. (that 'e' looks positively naked without it's hat).

The ladies were consoled by a bit of shopping - chocolates and a handbag being my choices.

As it was officially our last evening of our holiday in Masbonneau we thought we ought to scrub up and go out for dinner at night like fully fledged 'growed-ups'.  Huge searching and head scratching ensued as we were in the heart of nowhere land and didn't want to travel miles for a meal.  Finally we settled on Le Petit Roy in the hills of Menoux just outside Argenton.

I had the best quail ever - no, really, I did.  Everyone's meal was lovely and it was a nice enough setting as we were able to sit outside on the patio at the back of the restaurant and gather up the last of our French evenings in the garden.  Good food in a good setting, yet again.

Well stoked from a week of French eating we waddled back to the UK.  The reverse two day trip was pretty uneventful.  This time on our first day up through France we stopped off in Chatillon for a look round the town and a coffee at the back of Le César Brasserie.  Sadly the wonderful Chocolaterie/Patisserie and a few other shops have closed since we lived there but the town is just as nice.

We lunched at a different and poor quality  motorway services and hurried on up to Caen/Ouisterham/Herouville for our Etap overnighter.  We arrived in good time for a walk on a blustery Ouisterham beach where we experienced our first few drops of rain for a week.  

Dinner was in an incredible restaurant.  It was utterly Barbie meets Elton John.  Imagine pink and silvery grey and anywhere it could be done the the silver/grey was velvet and/or sequins, right down to the velvet covered menus.  Add dresses and bows to the chairs  and then throw in some beach themed objects such as bits of driftwood also tied to the chairs and the window blinds.  Please trust me on this, my description is a very calm understatement of the surroundings.  Neverthless it was an odd delight and the food, as ever, was great. 

Nighty, night in our motel, with an early (no breakfast) start in the morning.  I had a full English on board  the Mont St Michel while my two companions did their usual continental minimalist thing.

The crossing was a bit choppy and there were a lot of very poorly travellers - not us.  My bacon and eggs and I remained firm friends.

Our first English food was Marks and Spencer sandwiches (or, in my case a crayfish salad) on the motorway on the way home.  I couldn't face the though of motorway food after a week in France.

Guess what...  we met the rain north of the Midlands.  We were back!

A couple of days later, on the 27th, we had a meal and movies with our mates and it was like we had never been away!.  We saw 'The Bourne Legacy', which a critic described as being an 'over a two hour chase with no plot or characterisation'.  That just about covers it for me.

Tai Chi on Thursday and then Friday the 31st wandered in.  This last day of August was spent moving me back from my garden work room which we created back in April to my office/spare bedroom in the house.  This saga is in the Bentleys blog (or will be soon) if you are curious as to why.

All my Clavering chattering is done.  There is a  Masbonneau  photo album for a flavour of our trip but it is really hard to choose a couple of dozen photos from about 200 so I am not sure it is a very rich view of our time there.  The flowers are separated out into another album for the benefit of my ramblings in my garden blog - in the new few days.  This is the first of a lot of writing catch-ups I want to do.