Tuesday, 13 October 2015


Martin and I skipped off for a long weekend in Normandy after his trip to the US was cancelled. We took the overnight ferry on Thursday and arrived after an easy trip but very little sleep into a gorgeously sunny morning.
An enormous crab carcass welcomed us:
Martin had to work during Friday so I sorted out the house then went shopping, followed by a stroll with Martin around the fields and to say hello again to Chauffeau and Limonade, who were very keen for us to give them fallen apples from our trees.
We ended up taking a ladder round the back to harvest the remaining eating apples, which from the state of the surrounding grass looked as though they had been well scrumped. However we found plenty more than we could possibly need, all very tasty!
There were just a few blackberries ripe for picking, and we surprised a group of deer as we tramped through the overgrown path by the lake, the first time I have seen deer on our land. Otherwise very few sheep and no cows, the fields looking decidedly shabby and overgrown.
We kept the fires lit and were snug as bugs in the evenings, managing even to get out on the bikes to  cycle over to Mark's, finding some basking lizards on the common on the way home.
Apart from that we fixed a few things, weeded out the mint in the back bed, cut back an enormous bunch of lavender and did some putting away for the winter. But mainly we ate delicious food, drank rather a lot of wine and chatted by the fireside.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Indian Summer

Ten days or so of clear blue skies and hot sun, what more could we ask? And it included two whole weekends.

Unfortunately I wasn't able properly to bask in sunny delight as both weekends were busy with indoor events, albeit mostly pleasurable.

Last Saturday I was up bright and early to drive up with a group of local singers to Curdworth, near Birmingham, to rehearse with our peripatetic choir. We had hired a church hall for the day and enjoyed high quality singing, a good lunch and plenty of tea and coffee breaks, improving as the day went on and priming ourselves well for our next concert in Aberystwyth in a month's time.

Sunday was Jenny's birthday and Ally had generously booked us both into the Langham Hotel's Spa for the day. We each travelled by train and arriving at opposite ends of London agreed by text simply to walk our way to our brunch meeting, it being a glorious, still morning. Waterloo is a great place to start any trip to London as you have to cross the Thames. This time I chose the Jubilee Bridge, then wandered my way past Trafalgar Square and up across Oxford Street to The Riding House Cafe where I was able to book us a table before Jenny arrived.
We had a delicious salmon Eggs Benedict with coffees and juices then ambled around in the sunshine to work it off a little, cruising Regent Street, popping into Liberty's (where I did the first of my Christmas shopping) and enjoying a bit of girly shopping.

Walking to the Langham we found ourselves outside BBC HQ so walked in to see who we might recognise. There was no--one around but we caught sight of cameras popping through a window and dashed out to find Ellie Goulding leaving Radio 1.
The Langham has a posh front entrance and a small but full Spa where we luxuriated in hot water, bubbles, steam, slate-lined swimming pool, relaxing loungers with champagne and nuts... a really super way to spend hours in good company!
All too soon it was time to catch trains, we grabbed our goody bags and I was home within two hours of swimming my last length, though Jenny was caught out by a cancelled train. Thank you SO much Jenny and Ally for a really lovely day.

The week remained sunny and Max has been able to continue cycling to work, whilst Martin has bought a new saddle for his (new) bike to alleviate his chafing problems (and consequent household hilarity). I mowed the lawn, picked more apples and even found enough blackberries to make another batch of fruit topping for our cereals. Martin took a morning off to help rig the new OYT boat Prolific and do some shopping with his John Lewis gift vouchers (a pat on the back from his boss) and we even took lunch in the garden.

Then this weekend was my termly intensive tuition weekend for the next stage of my CIM marketing course, all about marketing communications. It was a foggy drive to Croydon early Saturday morning, and the M3 remains blighted by the endless 'SmartMotorways' upgrade (which means everything is down to 50 mph with restricted lanes for what looks like an eternity, with few signs of any work being done).

But once there it was a useful course, mostly because we were able to explore the requirements of the project work with our tutor. So now it is just down to me to do lots of reading and research and then get writing.

Meanwhile Martin had persuaded Rosie to come down on Friday evening with Jess and spend the day aboard Drifter. It sounds as though they had fun, catching some fish for tea and finding some wind. Rosie has finished at the Palace so has taken a well-earned break this week, and Martin had been itching to get out sailing again, so it worked well.

Max played rugby both weekends for the 2nds (the 1sts now have four players for his position so it's a bit tougher to get on the team, but the 2nds are much less organised and he found both games frustrating). Hopefully he will find his niche again soon, but at least he is getting some exercise and kinship outside his working day.

Thursday, 24 September 2015


My plans to walk regularly are suffering somewhat this month, as the hedges have been full of black beauties begging to be picked. We now have bags of blackberries in the freezer, blackberry ice cream too, and a continuous supply of stewed blackberry and apple to top our cereals of a morning.

My cooking apple tree is sagging under the weight of a bumper crop, which I can't use fast enough. Friends have been plied with fruit, and every day I am trying to find something new to make (today was apple turnovers, very yummy).

Besides fruit picking and preparation, I have been doing some more marketing research, including a very helpful morning spent with Lisa at Roots and Wings enjoying her kitchen table workshop. It was refreshing to see small-business marketing in action, in the company of like-minded people, and I am already working on my website to try to make it more empathetic as a result.

Martin has been away for a long weekend on the John Laing to see whether he fancies qualifying as crew on future Ocean Youth Trust sailings, during which time I popped down to see Mum and Dad (and Kerry too) in Somerset and enjoyed some lovely home cooking and company.

In between I have been in touch with a local small business about possibly doing some marketing or other work with them, and am signed up for a short course tomorrow morning about using video for marketing (at a local small business hub, which is the main draw). I have also been having fun at my singing lessons trying out a variety of soprano songs, some of which I manage better than others!

So the month is flying past fast one way and another. I have just yielded to temptation and switched the heating on for an hour or so morning and evening (to dry the towels, if nothing else) and the hot water bottles are back in use. The harvest seems to be in everywhere: I sang at a church fundraiser in Chute village recently and since the car park was a field my shoes looked a little the worse for wear when I returned to the car:

But in between there have been some wonderfully sunny days: last Friday for example was so glorious that Martin and I took ourselves out to lunch in The Plough's garden, a great treat. Plus the Boston Ivy on the house is beginning to turn its rich autumn shades so looks fabulous in the sunshine.

Time to get the camera out again before it autumn loses her glory to October chills.

The End of an Era

Max celebrated his 20th birthday last week, which feels like a real landmark both for him and us.

However much the law might seek to make one's 18th birthday feel like a coming of age, the fact is one remains a "teenager", with all the social clobber that represents. Teenagers are still growing into their adult selves, are men-in-the-making, not quite fully baked.

But once the answer to "how old are you?" starts with a "twenty..." you are talking to a Man with a capital M. Not a trainee or a work-in-progress but a real person with his own personality, work ethic and moral compass.

Max enjoyed his birthday, being taken out to lunch at work and treated to his choice of supper along with plenty of gifts and phone calls from his siblings.

For us, his parents, it was quite an awakening, for suddenly we have not four but NO teenagers under our wing. Max may be temporarily living with us but all aged between 20 and 24 our children are now properly responsible for themselves and how their lives will pan out from here.

I feel proud of them all. Proud that they are each beginning to find their way in the world, with the confidence to make the right decisions and take considered risks. Delighted, too, that they have all turned out to be such lovely people, whom I would want as friends even were they not relatives.

But I might need to think of a new name for this Blog.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

A Cost-Benefit Analysis

Is it just me, or do household white goods last a ridiculously short time?

We have had two fridge-freezers since we bought this house 17 years ago (at which time we bought all new white goods, having just arrived from America). The most recent has been dying very slowly for several years: broken shelves, broken door baskets, broken-off handle, none of which were replaced due to the huge cost of spare parts. So we have made do with industrial quantities of duct tape (and without a door handle) for many months.

But lately the fridge has kept nothing cold, whilst the freezer overworks to the point that everything is covered in a layer of snow within minutes of arrival, frozen robustly solid. I have cleared everything out and defrosted my 'frost free' fridge-freezer three times but nothing has worked. We have resorted to bringing over the little fridge from the barn to keep milk and necessities cold, and yes I know we are lucky to have that but traipsing into the garden room every time you want a cup of tea has its drawbacks.

Anyway, we decided some time ago we needed to invest in a new fridge. But every time I looked in stores or online my problems remained:
  1. I prefer something in white but the couleur du jour is grey stainless steel, which I find ugly (and prone to fingerprints and scratches);
  2. We have a bespoke slot into which it must fit: too narrow for the large American-style versions but enough to accommodate more than the standard little 50cm (especially as 'family' versions at this width tower above sensible levels);
  3. Even 'family' fridge-freezers ignore the fact that most people now buy their milk in plastic cartons from the supermarket, so fail to leave adequate space in door-baskets to store even two basic four-pint-ers; and
  4. What I really need is mostly fridge, but with a little freezer space for items like bread, ice cubes and odds and ends that we use most frequently. Manufacturers, on the other hand, presume that I'd rather sacrifice some cold space for some frozen. It's a hard balance to find: I even considered having a big larder fridge, but these only come in the narrow, tall shape that I dislike... and if you add a matching freezer the pair are again too wide for our space.
You don't, of course, need to know any of this, but I record it as I am intrigued to see how long the new model will last and to remember why I chose it. For here it is:
Stainless steel. Ugly. Sporting a large freezer (bottom). And narrower than the one it replaces.

But... it was cheap.

Our credit card shopping gives us supermarket-chain points, which have accumulated recently so that thanks to a 'double value' redemption promotion I could buy this model from them (and have the old one removed) for all said points and just over £100 from my pocket.

It turns out I can overlook significant disadvantages if the price is right. But as the savings drift into the past, will the failings continue to frustrate? I have to look at this grey 'white good' every day, use its cumbersome doors, hear its rumblings. I haven't even dared check how much milk it will easily hold.

Ask me in a year what I think. If nothing else, it will be a good lesson in marketing.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Family Birthdays

Ruth turned 50 earlier this year, but was away on holiday at the time so we didn't see her. And Grace is 80 in a couple of months, so Ruth had the perfect idea of finding a date between the two when all the family could get together, something that has not happened for about ten years.

So we all drove up to Market Harborough yesterday to meet the oldies for lunch. It was a lovely sunny day and everyone managed to get there on time, so we were able to relax and catch up easily.
Time for some family pictures by the narrowboats!
Then it was back to Logan Crescent for bubbly and cake in the garden, and time to hear about Rob and Maxine's wedding in November!
So it may not be strictly their birthdays but I think both Ruth and Grace enjoyed the celebration. Huge thanks to Ruth for organising and finally getting everyone together!

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Sunny Seas

We made it! Drifter folded us in her cosy embrace and took us all the way to Devon and back in a happy and sickness-free holiday fortnight.

Martin was off work on the Friday, so as soon as I had had my ears irrigated (they nearly refused, until I told them I would be away at sea for two weeks) and could finally hear the skipper, he ordered us aboard and we left Hythe for Keyhaven near Hurst Castle, where we anchored for our first night at sea.
Next morning we sailed off merrily westwards in gorgeous sunshine past the Needles, all the way around Swanage and past chalk cliffs to Mupe Bay, an idyllic spot near Lulworth Cove but without vehicular access so populated only by walkers and boaters.
We ate lunch and blew up the dinghy so that we could row ashore, climbing up the steep hillside to enjoy Mediterranean views over the sea as Drifter bobbed peacefully on the waves. By the time we were back aboard we were so hot that even I managed a swim in the blue waters.
Lulled into a sense of security we agreed to take the bull by the horns and make a long passage overnight to put us in a sensible place for the rest of the holiday. So we set off late in the afternoon around Portland Bill and due East into the orange sunset, heading straight across a huge bay to reach Brixham by about 5am.
We were already catching mackerel over the back of the boat, so once we were feeling hungry Martin went below and came back with perfectly-cooked mackerel on toast with a cuppa. Divine! The freshest possible way to eat them, though somewhat un-nerving to see the beheaded, gutted tail slapping away testily on the plate as it awaited its fate.

Martin kindly did the entire night shift, though I managed to stay awake with him for all but a couple of hours through very calm seas and little wind. The skies were beautifully clear until the early hours, and we saw shooting stars aplenty in the darkness, though we were never out of sight of reassuring shore lights. A nice man guided us onto our berth and urged us to get our heads down, leaving payment to be arranged in the morning, along with refreshing, powerful showers.

Brixham is a small fishing port, formerly the home of the Brixham Trawlers with their distinctive red sails protected with local ochre. We walked around the harbour in light drizzle, with holidaying families at every step casting lines for crabs. The RNLI were holding a fundraising day, popping kids into inflated balls in the water, and giving advice. We picked up some books at their secondhand  stall and were impressed by the  number of clever garden arrangements filling un-used spaces around the village.

By lunchtime you could hardly move for chattering Brits munching on takeaway fish n' chips. Having topped up on supplies, we took ourselves back to the boat for coffee and a lazy read of the Sunday papers. That evening we found a restaurant and enjoyed a (fish) meal accompanied by a delicious local white wine, then set off for coffee in a cafe overlooking the sea wall, where the RNLI put on an amazing firework display just for us.
We left Brixham next morning in drizzle but the skies soon cleared and we had a sunny sail, seeing pods of porpoises jumping as we rounded Start Point, and hooking another couple of mackerel and a herring. As the skies cleared we enjoyed plenty of wind and sailed merrily to Dartmouth, a huge, beautiful river mouth built up on one side with attractive shops and buildings, and more rural and green on the other. A visitors' berth provided the perfect place to park in the sunshine and dress Drifter in her bunting to celebrate Martin's birthday.
I had brought more bunting for the saloon and he opened his presents happily, particularly the action camera with which he then maintained a video diary.
Next morning we had motored in the dinghy across to civilisation and were surprised to find we were there before anyone was up! However we enjoyed meandering round the pretty streets, visited the local museum and picked up fresh supplies in M&S before finding a lovely coffee shop with wi-fi to catch up on life ashore. Martin bought a cheap set of solar-powered fairy lights which were the perfect touch for our evening dinners aboard, the local market supplied fresh tomatoes and sweet yellow courgettes, and a pot of fresh basil which then accompanied us in his custom-built swinger for the rest of the trip.
We motored in the sunshine upriver to pretty Dittisham, picking up a midstream buoy and reaching land just in time for a pub lunch (the riverside pubs were full but a steep walk found us rewarded).
Then it was off across the river (zigzagging as I perfected my driving) to moor up in a prohibited corner, buy ice creams and walk uphill to Agatha Christie's summer home Greenway occupying a beautiful and serene hill from where we caught glimpses of Drifter through the woods.
By the time we returned to the boat we were ready for our daily G&Ts, but were disturbed as a largish private fishing boat apologetically came alongside to share the buoy. Martin got chatting with them with the result that they gave us a large side of cod, freshly fished and prepared so all we had to do was lightly cook it for supper. SO delicious, and a glorious sunset crowned a perfect day.
 10 August Birthday Treat
Martin had been keeping a good eye on the weather and suggested that since it was likely to rain shortly we ought to press on to Plymouth where we could stay at a proper marina with showers and facilities. So it was off and away and we were soon tucked up in Queen Anne's Battery, an MDL marina (so we could use our free nights) with super showers and a bar where we toasted our arrival with beer and nibbles in more sunshine.
 The timing was perfect in fact as we were able to make use of the launderette to get our clothes and towels etc washed and dried, and Plymouth had plenty to offer in the way of touristy places and shops. We treated ourselves to breakfast in a seaside cafe, bought gin glasses to take home, and enjoyed an alcoholic tour of the Plymouth Gin distillery (a very mellow and fruity gin, since you ask). Our walk back to the boat took us past some gorgeously swollen blackberries adding further to our healthy fresh-food diet.
Martin had no sailing trousers so we also wandered the mall shops and found some perfect trousers in an outdoors-shop sale, a replacement memory card for the action camera, stocked up with food and bought a new ipad for me. Stopping at the marina chandlers Martin also found some good sunglasses so one way and another we had a very indulgent day, topped off with a delicious meal on board.

Incidentally, I should perhaps mention that although I spent most of my time wrapped up in windproof and neck gaiters, the weather was largely lovely: I am just an eternally cold person. And on the odd occasion when I did get cold we found some exercise did the trick:

Once the rain had cleared through next morning we headed off homewards, sailing East for the first time to Salcombe, another pretty estuary but this one choc--a-block with RIBs: the harbourmaster explained that the holidaying families worked out it was cheaper to buy (and then pass on) their own boats to get to the beach than to take the water taxi all week. The town itself was pretty, lots of small lanes and sea-related shops as well as pubs by the jetty where we took ourselves for a drink when we arrived.

Martin bought a crab pot for use on Drifter and dropped this overboard whilst we were in Salcombe, though when he pulled it up the mackerel-trimmings-bait had been stripped clean and just one crab was left aboard.
He also had fun at various times trying to use his Dad's old sextant, though we never appeared to be at the right place at the right time to use it fruitfully. Oh, and he tried a variety of headwear...
From Salcombe we went to Teignmouth where we took a small visitors' pontoon just off a boring-looking seafront. It was great having the dinghy on davits making it easy to use, simply lowering it from the stern rather than having to store and manoeuvre it from the coach roof. We popped ashore to take rubbish and were delighted to find that there was far more to Teignmouth than met the eye.
A cheap shop in the town centre yielded a rubber mat to darken the fore-cabin hatch and serve double-duty as a protective mat elsewhere, black tin plates with a rim (perfect at sea) and a post office so we could finally post our cards. We treated ourselves to Sunday papers and coffee then set off to walk up the coast path a little way, eventually coming upon an area with apple trees and blackberries.

Finding ourselves with nothing useful to collect berries in, we figured the best we could do was to use pages from the Sunday papers. A quick Google search revealed instructions on making paper boxes so we folded and re-folded and  before long had a lidded box into which we could place our harvest. Job done... and the blackberry pancakes made a delicious breakfast next morning.
Next we were off to Exmouth where we negotiated a fast-running tide in shallow water to pick up another visitors' buoy. It was too far to row ashore so next morning we hailed the water-taxi and took off to explore the town.
Perhaps we explored in the wrong direction, but though we found what appeared to be the main square (and enjoyed coffee and croissants but failing wifi)we were unimpressed. However we did spot a lovely bicycle shop selling large, warm-sounding cycle bells and leather-strap wine carriers (£150). It turned out the shop did rentals and we ended up borrowing a red lady-shopper with wicker basket and flowers for me, and a huge black model for Martin with broad handlebars which he had to ride like a Harley Davidson. Most entertaining!
The rentals turned out to be an inspired choice as the council have built a cycle path along the Exe estuary, making it a beautiful way to spend a couple of hours and visit Topsham without worrying about the available depth of water.
The sun shone and we enjoyed fresh fish n' chips by the waterside in Topsham before cycling back and eventually finding the huge seaside waterfront in Exmouth, complete with cycle paths right along the front and sand and ice creams galore. We barely returned the bikes in time to hop on the taxi back to Drifter, and set off within minutes to catch the tide  back out East.

Sunny sailing brought us soon to the steep-sided cove at Beer, where Martin was keen to have a swim for anecdotal purposes.
Keen to capture some decent crabs, he pootled off in the dinghy to explore the sheer white cliffs and drop his crab pot overnight.
Beer is a beautiful little place. The sea so blue, the beach a mass of well-rounded large pebbles, and a rapid ascent up the footpath brought us idyllic views.
Back in the pretty village we fielded phone calls from Vicki, who had been invaded at home by un-scheduled painters wanting window-locks opened, and walked uphill to find Jimmy Green Marine, where we invested in a brand new woven ensign for Drifter as a birthday present (having found out she was 'born' on our first wedding anniversary). By that time we were ready for more ice creams, wrote postcards, and bought a freshly-caught and cooked crab from the beach-side fisherman's hut.

We lunched under way, Martin preparing the crab with our newly-purchased lemon, salad and bread to make a delicious plateful washed down with beer chilled at Beer (though the milk and other items we had dangled in the water to chill managed to escape as we lifted the anchor, so we spent some time dancing around on the spot trying to retrieve them).
A long sail with the spinnaker up took us all the way across Lyme Bay and around Portland Bill (somewhat choppy!) to arrive early evening somewhat chilly and ready for rest. We plumped for the nearest marina, which was basically full but turned out to have the teensiest space for us.

Actually Martin managed to park in three berths consecutively: it was not clear where the first was so we took a punt and found ourselves alongside another boat whose owner told us people made the same mistake all the time, and showed us an unmarked berth at the head of the narrow pontoons. Between them the men shook heads and tutted over how difficult it would be to dock smoothly, then Martin made it all look ridiculously easy. We were just tidying up when the owners of a boat we had now boxed in returned, informing us they were leaving at 5am next morning, so we ended up swapping places with them in pouring rain. Suffice to say the hot showers went down well that evening!
I think we went from there to Poole the next day, with the aim of staying a day or so as wind and rain passed. The marina at Poole was enormous by comparison, with vast walkways, though the facilities were mainly across the road, next door to Tesco, making breakfast simple. It rained all day so we decided to treat ourselves to dinner ashore, finding a branch of Hotel du Vin where we toasted our wedding anniversary in champagne before a relaxed and filling meal.

It was raining lightly in the morning and we decided a trip to Brownsea Island was in order, Martin having passed it often but never been ashore. So we motored closer and dropped anchor where we could easily row ashore, then spent the morning roaming the woods where Baden-Powell set up his first experimental Scout Camp.
Back at the dinghy we saw one of the huge jellyfish washed up: these Barrel Jellyfish were in abundance as we sailed off Devon, huge bin-bag-sized still creatures drifting past a metre or so below the waves.
So now we were ready to re-enter our home waters. We sailed quietly off our anchorage early next morning, just about missed the chain ferry at the entrance to Poole Harbour, and headed all the way up past the Needles and into the Solent as the sun shone. We made such good time that we would be back Friday afternoon, and Martin was twitchy to go around the Isle of Wight instead.

Luckily we knew Rosie would be home for a break, so we called her once we had coverage and she was keen to join us for a day's sailing, which turned out to be a great idea! She got the train and taxi to Ocean Village Marina on the River Hamble (another MDL marina more-or-less opposite Hythe)where we stopped for a quick shower and picked her up before turning back out for a beautiful sail in warm sunshine.
Sailing downwind Martin decided to pole out the genoa in addition to the cruising chute, and to our great amusement pulled out a yellow plastic bar labelled 'Professional Pole' from the locker. With a bit of rope and a fair amount of tugging and swearing, it did eventually rise to the occasion: here's a picture to prove that it indeed now qualifies as professional.
We had caught loads of fish during our holiday, and eaten them more ways than I could have imagined: on toast, grilled, butterflied, pickled and even as sushi!
Martin caught plenty once we had figured out the right combination of line and hook, and got to the point where he had them gutted within barely ten minutes of capture.
By the time we picked Rosie up we had a good bucket of fish waiting to be eaten
Well, we desisted from fishing for a while, all the way up to Beaulieu where we anchored in our usual spot for the night. Rosie had spotted something in the water as we stopped, so took the dinghy out and armed with a pair of goggles managed to peer over the side and detect a drowned fisherman's buoy. So when the Harbourmaster came for his £5.80 fee we told him about the hazard and he spent an entertaining quarter hour pulling it up onto his brand new boat.
Rosie also dropped the crab net, but next morning there was nothing in it but what appeared to be weed, though on closer inspection these were inch-high green crabs that looked for all the world like bunched seaweed.

Anyway, we enjoyed our G&Ts, ate fish, and spent a peaceful night.
Our last morning was glorious, sunny and windy, so we headed towards the Western tip of the Isle of Wight (though both Rosie and I had to insist on not rising before 7.30am in order to avoid the prospect of Martin whisking us off around the island). We headed through Hurst Narrows and anchored for lunch at Totland Bay, still in hot sunshine.
On our way back Rosie couldn't resist fishing, and caught another five mackerel in quick succession. Just as she was about to stop she wound in a long, spikey-looking fish which leapt from her grasp in the nick of time...so she was determined to catch another. And, astonishingly, she did!
We were able to cook fresh (frozen) mackerel for Ron and Grace when they visited the next day, and the rest (including Rosie's pointy one) have gone up with her to the friend where she is temporarily staying so that she can cook them a personally-caught meal.

So our long holiday ended with so much sunshine that Rosie had a swollen red forehead the next day. Within moments of us tidying and leaving the boat it started to rain, and didn't stop for five days. We could hardly believe we had been so lucky with the weather.
As for Martin, he didn't stop smiling for the whole fortnight.