Wednesday, 9 November 2016

London Calling

I seem to have been up and down to London a fair bit of late, reminding myself what a very different world it is.

Busy people marching purposefully about their business in sombre city suits, barely acknowledging their intrusion into each shared space. Even thronged with Christmas shoppers, Winchester cannot compete with London in terms of paired feet per square foot, and whilst I haven't endured its public transport I suspect it never hits the peak of buttock-to-ball endurance that is the tube anywhere near rush-hour.
And yet.

I still relish walking across any one of the Thames bridges, especially come evening when the visible world is twinkling. Even after an all-standing commute from Basingstoke it doesn't take long for the slow, sleek motion of the London Eye to soothe the spirits, or the grandeur of the Houses of Parliament amidst red buses and gilt and black ironwork to awaken capital pride.

I took a day off work to visit a marketing exhibition at ExCel, right over past Canary Wharf, to see what it had to offer (and hoping to meet Jenny there but she inexplicably chose Milan over me). It was, I would say, moderately interesting: I would not have wanted to pay any entrance fee, but did pick up some useful tips and ideas.

Anyway by late afternoon I had had my fill, and tubed it back to central London, where it had begun to rain. You are never short of opportunities to spend money in a city, and I was easily seduced by some cosy armchairs and coffee so wasted an enjoyable hour sipping and exploiting free wi-fi.

Then on to the Christmas-lit South Bank where I met up with Rosie and Vicki for a chatty meal in Wagamama. They are both so grown up and lovely that I would happily have sat just admiring them: in fact we caught up on lots, including Rosie's latest tales from BP and Vicki's recent flying work visit to Amsterdam. A treat indeed.
I was back in London again this week for a day training from idpe at The Caledonian Club in Belgravia,  "a little bit of Scotland in the heart of London". Genteel, calm and muted, it was a great place to spend the day, albeit being taught rather slowly some obvious notions about 'friendraising', as my end of development responsibility is known.
I met up with some familiar faces from previous idpe events, including one girl who it turns out also studied law and had a link with Durham, but had little time to enjoy the venue after training finished, running to do some Christmas shopping in Harvey Nicks (just around the corner) and catch a train home just in time to get to choir rehearsal. Completely missed a key alumni committee meeting at the school looking at how my first event Old Girls' Day went, and progress with the new alumni website) so I now have some catching up to do. But it was a good day, if only because it proved my boss is willing to spend time and money on my development!

Choir is going well, we are hoping to rehearse with our harpist this week, which will be fun, and I am planning a launch party for our Gala Concert next year since I had the brainwave of showing Amadeus in the barn. Scarily, I have just checked and it was released in 1984, over 30 years ago. Where did that time go, and will the film still grab and shake as it did all those years ago? I had better watch it before I extend that invitation.
Speaking of time and parties, we were at Victoria's last night for a surprise 60th birthday party for our friend Georgiana. Nobody could believe she is 60, it seems such an 'old lady' age and she is anything but. I baked a cake, we had lots to drink, Max provided a taxi service and it was a super evening.

But it did shake we young mothers out of our dreams, somewhat, to realise our children are all now grown and flown. One amongst us is expecting her tagged son back this week after a spell in prison for dealing in drugs, another has recently taken up with another man after a dreadful time with her husband, not to mention the two widows in our small circle. Clearly I am older than I feel.

A cold blast

After a sunny and mild end to October it has turned decidedly chilly, and as we awoke to news of Donald Trump's election to the most high-profile office in the world this morning, that world seemed bleaker and colder than ever.
Trump as most unlikely President, The Simpsons
So back to the warmer hearts of family. We saw Ben and Fran on their way to and from Heathrow as they enjoyed their break in Split, Croatia. They have both been working super-hard, with Ben juggling content-writing jobs alongside his teaching and band commitments, and Fran being given a heavy load too. They had a great time seeing everything from Roman palaces to the frog museum and even swam in the sea. In October!

I decided to drop them back in Bristol by car as it was a good opportunity also to visit Mum and Dad: arriving in Cross at lunchtime I  sat and chatted with them over lunch and enjoyed their company and newly-landscaped garden until late afternoon.

Vicki has been in London for a couple of weeks now, and is getting used to her job exploring and writing articles for an online magazine (and getting more used to her boss). Having stayed at a friend's house, she is now looking for accommodation and finding that the market is still horribly hot, so that even the worst-looking rooms go within split seconds of being advertised, and at phenomenal prices.

Max went off to Sheffield for a big get-together with friends over Halloween, then succumbed immediately upon his return to Martin's cold, contributing to the cacophony. So he was glad that we have finally managed to replace the children's car and he need not cycle to work. After repairs to the Peugeot were too expensive and it was scrapped, the family are now driving a 'Granny car', a grey Honda Jazz.

I was tricked into going sailing this weekend in spite of the chill, as Martin was visiting Cork on Monday and proposed a weekend in Ireland. Sadly the timings did not work, and having made myself available I could hardly conjure up sudden commitments. But as it turned out we had a super weekend.
 
Sporting the cosy hat Max gave me
The weather was indeed cold: with layers of thermals, fleeces and oilies I was still far from warm, but the weather was beautiful, especially on Sunday. We sailed just a few hours on Saturday morning, stopping at Lymington's expensive Berthon marina to enjoy the location and excellent showers.

Martin had researched firework displays and found us one not far inland, so we took a brisk walk up the hill on Saturday evening (Bonfire night) and saw a lovely display set against clear, starry skies.

Walking back we made the perfect choice for dinner, stopping at Stanwell House Hotel to enjoy designer burgers and chips (no, really, just what we wanted) and THE most relaxing and comforting log fire and sofas. We lingered for ages finishing our bottle of wine and then over delicious hot chocolates,and the staff could not have been more helpful. Bliss.
Next morning dawned so bright and clear that it was a treat to be out.
Good sailing, good sunshine and good winds brought us safely home in time to pop on a quick roast and catch up with the papers at our own fireside. A pretty good way to wind up my sailing for the season.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Mixed Fortunes

Normandie welcomed us once more with open arms, blessing us with lovely weather and friendly faces this week, though things could have gone better as far as our own lovely home is concerned.

After an uneventful crossing we arrived to find that cluster flies had besieged the house.
Finding their way into nooks and crannies, these little black buzzers wake up when they think Spring has arrived, and whilst striving to return outside they appear on this occasion to have felt that inside our home was the better option. 

So we arrived to find two floors with black bodies all over the carpet around any window, and trying to vacuum them up discovered seething hordes around every window crevice, surtout les Velux. Which is a problem largely because you open a Velux window above your head, instantly letting them fly directly into your hair. 

Good old Henry Hoover did a valiant job: by G&T time we had thousands in the bag, to be joined by delayed troops every day as the warmth continued to summon them forth. Local friends sympathised, confirming that it had been a spectacular year for these germ-free, short-lived pests, and that we should not feel singled-out by their attentions.

Unfortunately the boiler also played up during our stay, rapidly overheating on a couple  of occasions and then cutting out.
We managed to find two plumbers prepared to come out and try to fix the problem, though both came to the conclusion that due to old age (16 years, albeit barely a couple of years' constant use) the tank had calcified and numerous other issues mean that we need a new boiler. Needless to say neither could fix this within the few days we were there, so a rather large bill and a bit of organising await us.

However, these will pale into insignificance beside the potentially enormous bill awaiting us for a new roof. Having been up in the loft vacuuming the VMC tubes to halt the creepy, continuous stream of cluster flies creeping from the ventilation tube in the bathroom:
Martin was well aware of the daylight shining through the tiles and the need for rapid action. But everyone we had asked told us they were busy until Spring. Nevertheless we managed to tempt a couple out to look at the problem, and both advised us that a complete re-roof is necessary (I guess we have been lucky to avoid this to date) and laughed when we asked how soon it could be done.

All of which means that I am sitting back in Hampshire rather afraid to open emails which will in all probability bear tidings of great cost. At least Martin had the foresight to transfer a chunk of sterling into our euro account just before everything (politically speaking) went pear-shaped.

Back in France we thought nothing more could go wrong, so decided to pop some washing on and take a flask and patisseries to the beach. Ha-de-ha-de-ha. The laundry was soon flooded and a lot of bailing and mopping later we found out that a wonderfully-shaped clogged filter was the problem.
(ignore the socks)
But heck, we had a therapeutic walk on the beach, including a welly-paddle in the sea, and even found a chimney-sweep on our way home (again, not available, but we have details now so can book).
Plus we achieved a lot in between bouts of failure/repair/research/appointments. Our exterior paintwork needs doing once again, so over the five days I managed to sand and paint both one salon window and the study door, leaving them much better prepared to face the winter.
Martin also went wild with the hedge-trimmer, reducing the height of the back hedge to lower than it has ever been, and creating an enormous quantity of waste which we enjoyed burning before dinner one evening.
Clearing the lawn made us realise just how many apples had fallen from the trees, so before we left we gathered what we could, and picked a huge boxful of crunchy eaters from the trees at the back. The spares meant we had something to offer Chauffe-eau and Limonade whenever they took  the time to gallop across the paddock to say hello: this is them waiting expectantly whilst we sipped pre-dinner drinks on our last evening.
Their owner Pascale had asked to be given hunting rights over our land via the 'Chasse Gardee' system, which we were happy to grant as it means he will be able to keep an eye on our land whilst we can ask trespassers to leave. We therefore received a visit from the local representative of the chasse police and Martin duly signed the relevant papers. By way of thanks Pascal brought us a litre of homemade Quarante Quatre liquor before we left: it smells fearsomely strong.

We also managed some winter tidying up including bringing in the solar fairy lights which look as though they must have been on every evening in the BBQ shack since we put them up 6 months ago, and are still working well. Martin fixed the wooden supports, which looked as though they had been pushed in by a hoofed creature, and we took a walk down to the river, where we watched an otter or water-rat swimming up and down in peace.
So all in all a lovely holiday, but with rather more negotiating-in-French than we would have wished, and with the prospect of some rather large quotes and bills to follow.

But we can hardly complain. A good friend from choir lost her husband recently, and we invited Mark and his wife to dinner whilst we were in France so heard all about her huge operation, nasty cancer growths and continuing chemotherapy. Thank heavens our problems relate to the flight of funds rather than health.

Plus, just look at these joyous colours (no post-editing) high up by the stable roof:
...and the morning and evening sunshine
 and our delicious lunch on the way home

Life is good, and we are going to be spending lots of time in France over the next year.

Toiture Torture

We have had scaffolding up at home for a couple of weeks whilst an expensive repair is done.
When the paintwork was refreshed last year it became apparent that the fascias at this end of the barn were rotten, so they were left un-painted. It has taken us ages to find a company that could replace this length of wood, but this has now been done. Next we need to get the tiling repaired and scaffolding taken down. And pay the rather large bills. Oh, and get some more scaffolding to fix a problem on the house roof...

Which I mention because we have just returned from France, where we were obliged to spend time with two roofing contractors with a view to a complete replacement of the rather large slate-tiled roof. There are clear holes letting the sunlight (not to mention the rain) stream through, and it seems generally agreed that the whole lot needs to come off and be replaced. So more, much more scaffolding. And bigger, much bigger, bills.

Toiture torture indeed.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Graduation

We enjoyed another 'proud parent' moment on Friday 30 September as Victoria graduated from Oxford University.
The graduands started with a lunch in college, so having dropped Vicki off at Magdalen, Martin and I savoured the buildings for a while, failing to resist a corny selfie in the quad.
We wandered into town for lunch, then queued outside the Sheldonian Theatre (designed by Christopher Wren and purpose-built for Oxford degree ceremonies, with “Truth descending on the Arts and Sciences to expel Ignorance from the University”in 32 oil-on-canvas panels on the ceiling)
Our seats were headily high up in the gods with feet and bottoms jostling for space.The ceremony was conducted in Latin, with groups of graduating students going up to have their degree conferred, then leaving to don their robes and return to be welcomed to their new status.
We caught up with Vicki and her friend Mariota in the sunshine outside before walking back to Magdalen for drinks and tea on the lawn.
Back where we took the first photo of Vicki in Magdalen
Collecting the BA (Hons) Degree Certificate
Magdalen had laid on a lovely spread, with plenty of time to take photographs and enjoy the gardens.
Eventually it was time to disrobe and wander through the deer park to return the mortar board...but not before I snatched an opportunity (never having had one at Durham)
Then we took a lazy wander round Addison's walk, picking up conkers and enjoying the peace.
Congratulations, Victoria, and good luck with the next stage of your life!

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Catching Up

....also!

Ben and Fran came over for a couple of days sometime in September, and kindly collected all the apples from our trees. Including some pretty big'uns.

Needless to say the apples have virtually all now gone, having provided some delicious apple and blackberry crumbles.
 
We took a walk in the sunshine over to Longparish, played pooh sticks over the river and stopped at the pub on the way back for a drink and game of Jenga, by which time Max had finished playing rugby so was able to join us and drive us home.

Grace Wood

We flitted up to Market Harborough last Bank Holiday weekend and I have only just spotted some pictures on my phone (so not great).

Martin was keen to catch up with his parents about our holiday and to offer our services in Grace Wood, so we left in time to take Ron and his Grace out for lunch in a local pub. Then on to the field, where the trees we helped to plant some 30 years ago are maturing beautifully, and providing a rich harvest of apples, pears and plums.
 
We moved some wood around for chopping but were pretty soon in the middle of a stupendous thunderstorm crashing and flashing right overhead, which curtailed our progress somewhat. Nevertheless the men managed to chop a good quantity of what we had collected, and it didn't take us too long to dry out.