Sunday, 26 July 2015

Normandy Summer

What better way to spend a summer's evening than enjoying a beautiful sunset?
Martin and I whisked ourselves off to Normandy alone for the first time in...well, ever! We needed to get some jobs done, and I was initially going to go on my own or to paint woodwork whilst Martin worked, but in the end we took the whole week and were largely free from office work.

That's not to say of course that we weren't busy. In fact we managed to get three coats of paint on the front and back doors (though we might have cut it a little fine glossing the kitchen doors the morning we left) and the worst couple of windows, making a big difference to those all-too-important first impressions.

Whilst I was painting Martin killed our hedge trimmer by taking a good couple of feet off the hedge in the back garden. It was a gloriously sunny afternoon and we just didn't want to stop. So a trip to buy a more powerful hedger, and some determined lifting on Martin's part made such a difference. We now have more light in the garden, and are able to see the hedge at the far side of the paddock.
 Mid-trim, piles of hedge everywhere
We sorted out a new cleaner, a lovely girl who is relatively local - just in time as our first visitors arrived the day after we left. But we didn't manage to speak to the farmer, who appeared not to have been driving his tractor along the track at all as it is now very overgrown, as are the fields. Still, they remain a relaxing place to wander, with just the cows and the birds for company.
View through the courtyard gate


It was good to see friendly faces in the paddock too, where our old friends Limonade and Chauffeau were happily grazing the overgrown grass and weeds.

The house itself looked a picture when we arrived, as the fuchsia were in abundant flower, along with the buddleia at the back teeming with butterflies. 
The gas BBQ in the shack was covered in fat and grot, so I gave it a good clean one sunny afternoon and it has now replaced our weary home version, replaced by a straightforward charcoal  BBQ  which we hope will be easier to maintain (and at any rate will allow friends to sort out their own fuel).
Summer evenings are so gorgeous in Normandy, the time-difference meaning it stays sunny relatively late, giving ample opportunities for a relaxed happy-hour however late one starts thinking of food.
Martin waiting for the fish to BBQ

Having spotted an article about seaweed in the local paper, Martin signed us up for an introduction to harvesting algues on the beach at Granville, so we took a leisurely drive over there one afternoon (barely encountering other traffic) and enjoyed a fascinating couple of hours with a local marine biologist showing us how to identify the various tasty species. She helped us spot which were healthy and described how best to use each, ending with a chatty wash n' chop at the picnic tables so that we were able to bring home a jar of dressed seaweed to use over the next few days. 
Before leaving we took a walk up the hill and watched a couple of beautiful paragliders soaring over our heads before heading home for a delicious dinner.

St Sauveur was hosting a Harley-Davidson meet involving entertainment at the Chateau, so we dropped in to peek but left pretty quickly due to the overwhelming array of black leatherwear and buckles in the summer heat. The bikes and bikers were quite a sight!

It has been some time since Emma was working, so Martin was smiling broadly when he drove into the courtyard, engine purring, after sorting out her clutch fluid. They set off down to the lake and came back with the best part of a tree, all ready to be logged for the winter.

So that was that, a relaxing week full of BBQ, delicious meals (we kept buying too much for just the two of us) sun and sunset.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Happy Birthday Rosie!

We had the pleasure of seeing Rosie on her birthday this year: she was able to rearrange her hours at Petworth and take the day off, so I drove over on Tuesday to pick her up from the old people's home where she was researching her outreach programme, we had lunch together in Petworth's gardens and I then had a lovely wander around the house whilst she finished her report.

Martin and I have actually now joined the National Trust, as behoves our middle-class-middle-aged status. Petworth was a great excuse, and hopefully we shall make good use of our membership, if only for car parking on walks.

So Rosie was able to breakfast on fresh eggs on her 23rd birthday and Vicki, Rosie and I went for a lazy walk in the sunshine on Stockbridge Common. We were too late for a pub lunch so came back and plucked fresh lettuce from the garden to make huge bowls of salad to eat outdoors. There are definite benefits to having a summer birthday!

We made fresh sushi for dinner once Max and Martin got back from work and then Rosie was finally able to open her presents.
Next morning Martin and I set off for Normandy at 7am so Vicki drove Rosie back to Petworth, and she managed to drag all her presents home with her to London, sending us a cheery picture of herself enjoying our Bloody Mary in the garden there. Mission accomplished!

Monday, 6 July 2015

Family Fun

Well what a fabulous weekend!

Martin was in Nice all week but emailed to suggest a quick sailing trip, and Rosie agreed to come home at short notice on Friday evening so that she could come with us. So we three set off on Saturday morning for a really lovely day sail in good winds and perfect, comfortable weather.
Rosie did the chart plotting and managed to guide us safely to Osborne Bay on the Isle of Wight, where we had a lazy lunch at anchor in hot sunshine and Rosie cooled her toes in the sea.
We grabbed fish and chips on the way home around 9pm, happy and tired after a therapeutic day during which Rosie even managed to practice her piece for the Museums Showoff in a couple of days.

Then it was up and out by 9am next morning to go to the Christening at my little brother's new home in Gerrard's Cross. Ben had gone up with Mum, Dad and Kerry the night before, so we met them at the church for a singy, happy-clappy service (she was nearly christened 'Jemima') then a lovely 'Vintage Afternoon Tea' in the garden.
 
It was great to see Auntie Annelies there, looking absolutely amazing: she was kind enough to take lots of pictures so I am hoping to ask for some high-quality digital copies, meanwhile hope she won't mind me using some of them here along with our own, a great record of a super family event.
The Boys in Blue
It was super to have all our family together, and lovely that they had the opportunity to get to know their cousins better: Ben had been playing the guitar to the 4-year old (gosh a 20-year age-gap between cousins is quite something!) and they all entertained themselves in the garden and got on well.
 Aren't these super:
And of course the Bell family senior were all there too:
So an utterly perfect day out in a genteel English garden.

But there's more! After dropping Rosie at the station we took Max and Vicki back home, then Martin and I went down to Bristol to see RiffRaff perform. Unfortunately we missed his band's heat in the Battle of the Bands this week (they won, luckily, so we should have another opportunity) so it was good to be able to enjoy this music instead.
They sang some difficult pieces but it all sounded amazing, so clear and it looked as though they were having such fun: especially for the 'Greased Lightning' encore which included all the gestures: absolutely perfect when done by such a big crowd (double the number above) and with such commitment. Plus Fran gave a touching introduction to one of the songs, which brought a tear to my eye. An excellent end to a busy weekend!

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Testing Times

I think the last time I took an exam was my Solicitors' Finals in 1986. That's a heck of a long time ago.

But it all came back to me very clearly yesterday as I sat in baking sunshine (the hottest July day for years) at Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford, waiting to sit my CIM exam.

The heat. The tense checking of candidate numbers, appropriate pens and identity cards. Sitting with false nonchalance waiting for the dreaded hour to come.

But I have never taken a multiple choice exam before, nor one with glaring typographical errors, or where the written instructions read by the invigilator match the exam so poorly.

Without wishing to denigrate the worthy Chartered Institute of Marketing, I have to say that a written test in essay/report form would have tested my knowledge with much greater accuracy. Here I was left querying which of two possible answers (of 4) to each question were right, not because I didn't know the subject, but because the situation had not been made sufficiently clear.

Plus I have never sat a 2-hour exam without grasping every last second to pour forth my knowledge. Yesterday people started leaving after just 20 minutes (I left after an hour) and I doubt anyone remained to the end.

I had better jolly well pass, but did leave feeling that it was not an exam worthy of the amount of work I had put into learning. And the format (which produces a sheet which is simple to read and mark digitally) does not even have the merit of speed: we don't get our results until September!

Still, it gave me the chance to meet up with Vicki, after her college ball weekend/recovery. We wandered to a pub for chilled drinks in the shade, had a lazy walk to Port Meadow and dangled our feet in the cooling water, before grabbing ice creams on our way back to the car.
 Such a gorgeous location
Max is suffering from a very hot office (he does not tolerate heat well) and Martin is still suffering from chafing acquired whilst cycling in the sun without appropriate gear. No, really, it's not funny (heehee).

Anyway I have had my come-uppance, having broken off a dental bridge during lunch today. My dentist is on holiday and the fill-in dentist was far away and not great: he re-cemented the bridge but I told him it didn't feel right and it is already loose. So that means going out this weekend with a big, old-lady gaping hole between teeth, and another expensive appointment as soon as my dentist returns, to get it fixed.

Not funny at all.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Round the Island

Drifter made it Round the Island!

Martin entered the race this year with a couple of rugby friends, and they had a fabulous time. The weather was almost perfect, sunshine and wind, and they held their own well against the rest of their class, coming in 23rd of 55 registered in 8A, amongst 1600 total entrants.

The team set of on Friday morning and spent the night in Cowes, with Drifter all dressed up for the event with bunting, and sporting my dodgers, so I felt I was with them in spirit.
Vicks had organised some team shirts featuring a minion in King Alfred garb (representing WRFC) plus a banner, so they must have looked pretty smart too. I bet they couldn't stop smiling all day.
You'll have to ask Martin about the ins and outs of the race. I had fun tracking them on the RTI website, but only spoke to them once they were safely tied up once more after finishing in about 9 1/2 hours: tired but high on excitement and having had a fabulous day!
Crossing the finish line

Back at home Jenny called in with the children on their way to join Ally at Glastonbury, and Vicki was at the Magdalen Ball so hopefully we will have some more pictures to share soon.

Having the house to ourselves for the weekend, Max and I tootled off to enjoy the BBQ at Chilbolton fete (warm sunshine and beautiful gardens), then he had a LAN party in the barn and I took advantage of the peace to get a blog book sorted (for 2014, somewhat belated) and revise for this week's exam.

I was relieved to hear from the consultant this week that the MRI scans they took did not in fact show any evidence that my sore arms and hands are caused by MS (phew), though he did confirm that my operation last year for carpal tunnel had not stopped me still showing nerve delays.

He gave me steroid injections in both wrists  in the hope that this would help, but unfortunately neither these nor the tablets I am taking seem to have had any effect. So it seems they are at a loss to understand why throbbing, hot hands and painful arms continue to interrupt my sleep. Back to square one, but could have been worse. All in all a good week.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Fathers' Day

We are back to being a three-car family at last: being outnumbered by your vehicles is somewhat ridiculous. But we have sold Lil' Red to a friend for a knockdown price, in the hope it will get her daughter through her first year of driving.

So now we have a little more room in the garage and have started clearing out all the junk. Well, Max and I started clearing the junk and Martin is putting it all back. We'll see just how soon we need all those metal bars...

Martin and I took off on Friday afternoon for a lovely evening sail in Drifter, along to the Beaulieu River, where we anchored for G&Ts and dinner. It was warm with gentle winds and no rolling so very enjoyable.

We had a peaceful night, and set off back home around 9am, managing without the motor (save for manouevering) the whole time.

There was just time for me to shower and change before heading into Andover for the Harmonium Singers' rehearsal with Linden Baroque, the orchestra accompanying us for that night's concert. The choir sounded great in the big church and the old instruments sounded rich and gorgeous: we were on a step right behind an amazing long trumpet, double bass and bassoon.

The rehearsal finished bang on time and I rushed home to find Ron and Grace had arrived en route to Normandy. Martin had made some cheese scones so we enjoyed those before changing and heading back to St Mary's Church for the concert. Our choir pieces went well, all accompanied by the orchestra, and Vivaldi's Gloria for the second half was a treat. Happy faces all round. It was great fun to sing with the orchestra and pick out our notes from the various instruments, a really enjoyable evening.

Sadly I don't think I will be able to sing with them again in the autumn as it turns out I will miss nearly every Tuesday rehearsal in July, and then Christmas clashes with my other choir. But it was fun while it lasted and they have said I am welcome back any time, which is kind.

Sunday was Fathers' Day so the children were all on the phone to Martin and sent various gifts, and for once he was actually with his own father, a rare coincidence. I had a nice chat with Daddy and he was happy with the picture we girls had sent him:
Martin and his mum dug over our vegetable bed and have erected some fencing to deter rabbits from eating the few plants. Once they had left we enjoyed a BBQ and Max handed over the computer bearing lots of 'Game of Thrones' episodes, so that was Martin sorted for the evening!

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Just a List

Forgive me for making no attempt to form a coherent narrative from the arbitrary experiences of this week. A list must suffice:
The garden is keeping the kitchen table stocked with beautiful, scented posies.
Martin spent a happy day and night volunteering aboard the John Laing (I dropped him in Portsmouth and he returned to Southampton).
I have made a start on sorting out the broken brickwork in the front flowerbeds, but bought the wrong type of mortar so now have to think it through a little more.
 
We visited Wherwell Fete to catch up with local friends, then Martin fixed my bike and we took part in a charity bike-ride from the Wilsons' house on a glorious Sunday morning, cycling through wafts of elderflower. (Also made a first batch of elderflower cordial, which is going down very nicely in the sunshine).
Dale brought together a scratch choir to practice and then sing Byrd's Mass for Four Voices in church on Sunday evening, giving me a chance to sing soprano (in fact they were in short supply so it worked out well), and giving us all a great experience.

Meanwhile I had an appointment with a dermatologist (sun damage and rosacea) and MRI scans (no idea yet), have been trying to learn some marketing terminology and get some quotes to fell a tree and repair the boundary wall it is pushing over.

Plus Vicki made it home safely last night from her 3 1/2 months in Argentina, looking lovely and fit and healthy despite a lengthy journey, and full of tales. Suffice to say I had a headache this morning from excessive alcohol last night. You'd think by now I would have learned.