Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Grumbles

I have an old friend whom I would love to meet up with again, but who puts off getting in touch because she thinks I lead a charmed and wonderful life, mainly on the evidence of this blog.

Well, she's right, I am very lucky. Lovely family, happy home, the freedom to indulge in my pleasures and the time to enjoy the broader horizons of extended family, travel and intellectual stimulation.

But she is wrong to assume from all this that my life is one long dream. Do any of us share our grumbles and gripes with the world? Encouraged as we are to open our hearts and share every lived moment on social media, I doubt that would make for interesting reading, either now or in the future.

This blog is a family diary. It is open for others to read should they find it remotely interesting, but it is primarily my way of recording life as it happens, and avoiding having to write long emails keeping everyone in touch. It also means I don't feel the urge to write a newsletter to enclose in Christmas cards, a missive far more likely to stick to the proud highlights of the year.

Still, it is true that life has its ups and downs, and of course we have our fair share. So J, this is for you:

Personally, I have struggled for a long time with unexplained pains which interfere with good sleep. Periodic flurries of medical interest lead up blind alleys, giving me promise of a cause and therefore a potential remedy, but leading only to disappointment. To say I would die for a good night's sleep is clearly overstating the case, but constant media reminders of the damage wrought to mind and body by inadequate sleep reinforce my wish for a solution.

Absurdly, I have now managed to ensure even worse bedtime comfort by falling through a chair directly onto my coccyx at the weekend. Very much an ouch situation. Very instant evidence that this was going to test my pain threshold. Very uncomfortable at night, all night, in spite of drugs and pillows and an already-resigned approach to actual sleep.

Have you had enough yet? Should I tell you that the whole family went down with a variety of cough and flu bugs just after Christmas, so those of us who had taken time off work wasted it recovering, and those of us who didn't had to battle on or call in sick for the first time ever. New Year's Eve? Nope, didn't happen.

And family further afield aren't much better off, getting older and being forced to live with the limitations on driving, travelling and mental wellbeing that that entails.

Goodness, even I am already bored.
Mustn't grumble.



Thursday, 29 December 2016

Christmas 2016

Let's get the fails out of the way before we start: we failed to ice the Christmas Cake!

For the last heaven-knows-how many years this has been a ritual family project, often involving tortured penguins and only a cursory acknowledgement of the religious seasonal message. So though I had made a cake, we held back from icing it before everyone arrived, hoping it would make a good what-shall-we-do-now filler at some point...which somehow never materialised.
 Christmas wreath lasted well
Martin and I were off work from Thursday evening, Max was supposed to be working Friday but was allowed to finish at lunchtime so we made a spur-of-the-moment (OK stop with the dashes) trip to the cinema to watch the latest Star Wars film, Rogue One (the new 'first' Star Wars). Great fun, and followed by a takeaway, it was an ideal start to the holiday.

Vicki arrived early and went off to brunch on Saturday (Christmas Eve) with local friends, having missed out on this tradition for the last few years.
She was back by the time Ben and Fran arrived by train and helped make a Christmassy dip and mulled wine
... and then Christmas started! Rosie back from BP, a house full of family laughter and chatter, food and wine, candles and cosy fires, carols, Christmas hats and crackers. Frances had brought along Dobble, which we ended up playing loads of times to great hilarity (and with no improvement in skill) that evening: I think her brand new cards were somewhat bedraggled by the time they left.

We made good use of the garden room, enjoying a veggie chilli for Christmas eve dinner, followed by a scrummy chocolate log filled with fresh raspberries and cream (thanks Vicki and Max).
Christmas morning saw us breakfasting in style, once we had serenaded Max awake with a chirpy group rendition of 'Ding Dong Merrily' at his bedside.
Grandma and Grampy arrived at midday, in time to join us for a walk across Chilbolton Common including chasing Ben through the woods and perching atop a stump, as one does.
 Feeding the ducks
Then back home to dinner prep. and charades around the kitchen table before we dined in style around 6pm, Vicki and Fran having made a vegetarian main to add to the traditional feast.
And then it was serious Tree Time! I should have taken a photo of the tree before we shared out presents, as it was beautifully nestled amongst gifts that were even colour co-ordinated. Delighted squeals and thanks rang out as the pile of discarded wrap grew ever larger, and we accumulated treasures.
Christmas dinner was then completed, with a delicious Christmas Pudding given to Rosie by her boss, which she generously shared with us.
We had a very lazy breakfast next morning, and G&G left before we went off to play crazy golf for a breath of fresh air. Since it was closed, we ended up with a peculiar assortment of our own clubs, which of course just added to the craziness. Somehow Frances got a hole in one on the first three, so we had to up our game, though that didn't stop balls being chipped wildly off course.
It was colder than it looks, but drinks and a tear-and-share baked Camembert wreath soon did the trick on our return
Rosie sadly had to rush back to work in London, so left for the evening coach (no trains) with a bag of leftovers to help make up for a cold and empty flat. We hoped she would avoid the lurgy, since various members of the family were coming down with the seasonal fluey cold, Ben in particular dosing himself up with all kinds of medication in an effort to stay upright.

We managed to get ourselves to Twickenham the next day for Big Brother's treat Big Game, despite train cancellations and delays, arriving in time to grab some mulled wine and hot soup to go with our sausage rolls and catch up with the cousins. The game was a close 24-28 with Max's training buddy Joe Marchant scoring two tries for Harlequins, so it was extra-fun to see his name up in lights and close-ups on the big screen, and this time we were all seated together in two rows so very friendly.
We did meet up in the carpark again afterwards but by the time we got home were famished, realising we had had very little all day... so it was the freezer to the rescue as we downed pizzas and salad and a Vicki-concoction and drinks around the fire.

So that was Christmas 2016! Everyone has since come down with the lurgy so rather than enjoy the beautifully frosty, clear weather that has suddenly appeared, we are admiring from the warmth of a lazy, cosy home.

If all goes to plan I should have a beautifully-iced formal Christmas Cake gracing the table this evening, replacing all the Christmas decorations that have been gradually sucked back into their boxes over the course of the day. It's the thought that counts.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Backtracking

A quick update on the little things in life that will otherwise fall between the cracks of my online diary:
  • Ben's bicycle got stolen, right before Christmas, the lock somehow apparently smashed with a nearby boulder. Just who thinks this is the way to get on in life? Unfortunately the insurance had just expired...
  • Vicki has found a sub-let to cover her next few months in London so will be able to continue living from her earnings at The Plus magazine until she decides whether to return to academia for a Masters;
  • Martin was chuffed to bits to meet a very small but very important person (and her lively, sharp consort) at a Christmas soiree with Rosie last week in grand surroundings;
  • Max played his final game of the year as flanker for Winchester's First XV, helping them to victory and as his proud father cheered from the sidelines
  • I paid a flying visit to Cross for lunch and a pre-Christmas gift exchange, hearing all about the 'clock test', news of the rest of the family and Dad's continuing wait for medical attention to his tummy, but finding them both looking very well and chatty.
And now, time to plan the Christmas menus, finish wrapping and do a quick clean around before the fun starts in earnest!

Christmas Carols

How does one get into the Christmas spirit once one's children have left home and there is no longer the family imperative to attend every nativity performance, carol service and festive end-of-term party?

Luckily for me my job at a local private school ensures I have plenty of exposure to all things Christmassy. The internal mail was delivered in the last week of term by Father Christmas, we enjoyed both Advent and Carol services in Winchester Cathedral, the school was decorated with plenty of fresh-cut trees, and the drinks and Christmas Dinner were all, as they say, 'top notch'.

Moreover, membership of two choirs gave me ample opportunity to carol my heart out. First came the WS concert, a Christmas feast with harp accompaniment (and harp fees kindly subsidised by Martin's old firelog colleague after my request).
Mum and Dad had been due to stay the weekend with us, but Daddy's tummy had been playing up and eventually they decided not to travel, which meant the rehearsal and weekend plans were much simpler. The concert was lovely, though sadly the flow of the Britten was compromised by the loud breaking of a harp string half way through, requiring a long repair-delay and subsequent repeated tuning. However, a really good evening, followed as usual by the opportunity to unwind with delicious food at the party.

Then last weekend Voc.m performed a paid afternoon's Tudor carols in the beautiful setting of Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, one of the last remaining historic homes in private ownership. Our choir had gathered for a rehearsal day last month, and following a busy drive up on Friday evening were delighted to be welcomed into the gorgeous surroundings of this crenellated but cosy country house, where we performed two 45-minute mini-concerts in the Long Gallery during the course of the afternoon.
Charlie kindly posed on the terrace for me  after lunch, and every room we explored was graced with genteel candles, fresh greenery and clever decorations.
Back to Julie and Andy's for another Christmas party, followed by a nice easy drive home in Martin's car... a super weekend which left me feeling thoroughly festive with just a week to go until Christmas!
David, Jo Pig and Helen with first drinks

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Happy Birthday to me!

A little time-shift required here: I have yet to catch up on the last month of news, primarily because of 'latency issues' with the internet in the snug (i.e. every time I grab a moment to post the wretched wheel of doom turns and turns to no avail so I pop off to do something else). But having just sat down and found I have something of a signal, I intend to seize the day.

And what a very lovely day it has been. I was at work yesterday but instructed to come home on time, so left little after 5pm and arrived home to find Ben already ensconced at the kitchen table. Shortly afterwards Max got back from work, then Jenny pulled up too, and before we knew it we were toasting my birthday with Rosie too, after Ben collected her from the station.
Then it was off in two cars to Winchester, where we miraculously came upon Vicki loitering outside the Hotel du Vin. Marvellous meal en famille ensued, all the better for the excellent surprise company and jollity. Family. The best!
It was lovely to see Max driving all four siblings home afterwards, in fact the whole, surprise evening gave me a warm and fuzzy glow of happiness.

This morning Vicki cooked us all breakfast, then Jenny was off back home (having spent the weekend visiting Mum and Dad in lieu of seeing them at Christmas, popping in to Jon and family en route and also taking in a trip to Wales to see Kerry... and returning to take Katy out for her birthday tomorrow). Max left for work early, then I unwrapped a delight of presents, dropped Ben at the station and took off with Rosie to the spa at Tylney Hall for a day of pampering and relaxation.
We had the pool to ourselves most of the time, enjoyed welcome drinks and a wander amidst the many trees and wood panelling before lunch, and massages and afternoon tea in the library before setting off for home again.
Thank you to my wonderful family for a lovely, two-day birthday (and Vicki is cooking another meal even as I write!).

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.