Sunday, 16 July 2017

Birmingham again – July 2017

Sooty checks her emails over breakfast
We returned to Hall Green and Sooty cat for another month of housesitting, via Mark and Fiona’s house, as we were invited to their BBQ. They had invited a lot of former members of Solihull Mountaineering Club, many of whom I had been climbing and mountaineering with over the past 25 years, so it was really nice to catch up with so many familiar faces.

Many of them Jackie only knew from previous summer BBQ’s at Mark and Fiona’s, but she was able to catch up with Tim and Jill, friends we will be house and cat sitting for in August in Derby while they are on holiday in Australia, as well as chat to their, and Mark and Fiona’s daughters about their plans and preparations for the universities they are planning to go to which, for Grace will be Loughborough if she gets the required grades in her A levels.

A very tired Sooty
Staying at Abi’s house looking after Sooty is always a pleasure for us, the house is a small terrace, very well planned and decorated by Abi, but there are always jobs to be done, which we enjoy. She vacates the house when we’re available so she can get out in her caravan, see friends and her mum and we can repay her kindness through a bit of hard work. It’s also centrally located for us, allowing us to visit friends and family nearby and it now feels almost like a second home. At the end of this stay we will have been housesitting Sooty on eight separate occasions and have enjoyed every one of them.

Sister Denise with birthday cake
We had a really nice day at my sister Denise’s, with husband Paul, we took a shop bought birthday cake and candles, sat in the garden with a cup of tea, sang happy birthday and shielded the candles from the wind so she could blow them out rather than the wind. Wind 3, Denise 1, I think was the score.  

Our ‘Sunday Tea Club’ group got together at Manu and Crystals this time for a BBQ. As usual, I was driving so had just one drink, but Manu cracked open some of their wedding prosecco and I’m afraid Jackie and Manu saw off several bottles before I took a giggling Jackie home and Manu nursed a bad head the following morning.

Friday night was a BBC Balti night out at a buffet Indian restaurant somewhere near Saltley in Birmingham. I say 'somewhere' as we had no idea where it was, we just followed our sat-nav through many narrow city streets until we arrived there, repeating the procedure to get home. 'BBC Balti' is actually a loose term, of the eight people who were there, only three of them still work at the BBC. I, one of the eight, was the only person never to have worked there, the other seven were all previous employees, Jackie being one of them. Only Sarah and Arif are still at the BBC in Birmingham, with Andy, their previous boss in Birmingham, making a special effort to drive down from Manchester for the evening where he still works for the BBC. It was an excellent buffet with great food and, as everyone regularly went up to get more food, people swapped places when they came back to chat to other people who they hadn't seen for a while. As I've now been to quite a few of these reunions I now know them quite well and feel quite comfortable with them, even though I don't know anything about their work. I even got a man-hug from Arif!

Mike and Ella's BBQ
Last night was Mike and Ella’s summer BBQ, this year a Caribbean theme, so I bought a child’s T shirt in Primark (I’m only small, it fitted but was a bit tight) and Jackie got some colourful trousers from a charity shop. Ian and Helen and Phil and Sue, who we went with, all of us dressed up in suitable colourful clothing as well as were probably half the people there. Live music was from a guy on a steel drum, plenty of food and a chance to catch up with another set of old friends.

Phil mixes cocktails watched by Sue and Helen
A lot of our time here so far has been spent studying for a TEFL qualification (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) which we enrolled for in March while we were still in Guatemala. At first the studying was fairly slow as we were still travelling, but has now accelerated to the point where we have now completed all ten modules, leaving only the final test to do, followed by two assignments. We’re not sure quite what they will entail, but we have a strong impression at least one will be on lesson planning, so I have bought a copy of ‘TEFL Lesson Plans for Dummies’, sounds right up my street! Hopefully in a few weeks we will have finally finished the course and have a TEFL qualification that we may or may not use. We certainly don’t want to commit to long term jobs, but occasional teaching in foreign parts to disadvantaged people might be both fun and rewarding and, at least we’ll know roughly how to teach English.  

Dressed up and ready to go. Phil, Ian, Sue, Helen and Jackie
Two of the modules were on English grammar, which have been both quite difficult and very enlightening for both of us and has made us look at the English Language from an entirely different perspective. We now realise what a difficult language it must be for speakers of other languages to learn, with words that are pronounced differently to how they are spelt and other words that sound the same but have different meanings. Consider a couple of examples sent by our friend John in New Zealand: ‘Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.’ And, ‘The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.’

All of us in our costumes at the party
Of interest for me was learning the twelve tenses we use in the English Language and above, in this text I have used all twelve of them, some a number of times, plus one conditional sentence, can you spot them?

One thing I’ve never been quite sure about and wasn’t covered in the grammar modules was the correct use of the apostrophe. I’ve tried to get them right in this text, but I’m sure my father-in-law, Richard, who lives in Spain will spot an error and will be all too keen to point it/them out to me. Well Richard, can you find any?
The man on the steel drum at the party

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Redmarley d’Abitot, Gloucestershire – June 2017

Jackie with Oscar, Max and Muffin with Flora behind
Apparently it's my turn again, as this is an animal based one. Not sure how that works as I've done the last two but......

We left poor Sooty, who had just got used to coming into our bedroom promising we wouldn't be gone long, and arrived back at Richard and Judith's, our second home from home to a rapturous welcome from all four dogs and Charlie cat keen to show off her huge scar, apparently a liver herniated through the diaphragm doesn't make you feel very well! So a huge operation and some gentle recuperation later, is she the most expensive cat in Gloucestershire? Judith thought so, but was challenged at the vets by a man whose cat had been in a car accident! Though I guess when you take into account, her car accident, getting lost in the woods for four days after trying to go on the dogs walk, and the poisoning incident earlier this year (which we haven't actually had the story of) she may well be, not to mention running short on lives!

Oscar making himself comfortable
Muffin gets covered in earth that Flora has kicked up
After a bit of catching up we left Judith to it while we went with Richard to walk the dogs, he's always found a new path and it's always good to practice our recall skills, though this is something we've found a bit tricky when going out with any dogs and their owners as it's not till proper 'Top Dog' has gone that we have any chance of establishing ourselves as 'Top Dog'. We are keen to let the dogs off their leads as they enjoy their walk so much more, but are aware that the woods are used by lots of people not all of whom are pleased to have four big dogs barrelling up to them and their dog. Our technique is twofold, we never go the same way twice as this keeps the dogs on their toes so they don't know which way we will be going at a junction so they have to wait for us. We also try to put them on their leads before we burst out of the woods onto the main paths as visibility can be limited at these points. This encourages them to come back when called and because we do it regularly and then let them off again they don't mind. Dog walking has taken a large part of this week, but at least an average of 8km a day has stopped B moaning about going walking for a short while!

Jackie gets a bit of love from Fred
After preparing the dogs BARF, bones and raw food, dinner. Chicken and mince, amongst other things everyday means the dogs eat pretty well, we were finally at liberty to sit and talk with Judith and Richard, always a joy, there just is never enough time. J&R left bright and early the following morning after B went for another walk and I did another dog meal. 

To this point cats had not been much in evidence, only really Charlie who had to be kept a close eye on to make sure she didn't wander too far, and Molly who doesn't go out. It was great to see little Lottie who lives on the car roof in the garage, and Fred shouting, as he came out of the undergrowth, for lots of fuss. Ginger also appeared at some point so we had a full house, hurrah.

We were hoping not to have the ridiculously high temperatures we had last week and have had for the past two years when we have been here, as it makes dog walking very difficult, though I guess it does slow them down! We were not disappointed, just a bit too much rain, but that's not the end of the world, though wet pants while walking through chest high bracken is not necessarily what you want.

I'm sitting here watching the swallows swoop in to the balcony to feed their three young, though it is worrying how often they crash into the window. There is also a shop bought woven nest hanging up that seems to be inhabited by a wren, who I have just seen fly in with a grub in its beak, so hopefully we'll get updated on all the progress.

Charlie cat helps with the jig saw
One thing we have to be careful of when going out with the dogs is that Charlie doesn't come too, as her little legs just can't keep up, so the catflap has to be locked and she has to be located. Yesterday afternoon we struggled until I saw two back paws under our car, though not for long as she went up into the engine, to be seen behind the radiator grill! We'll have to thoroughly check the car as we leave!

So a very relaxing week comes to a close, we've done a jigsaw, with Charlie's help and made good progress on the TEFL course. We loved and fussed and been loved and fussed by nine animals and we are just waiting a text to say R&J are boarding their plane so we can head off to Birmingham to a BBQ.

Charlie snuggling up to Max
Now this guy knows how to relax!

The squirrel they chased up the tree has their full attention

Ginger cat (Fred's sister) gets a bit of fuss

Little Charlie cat fast asleep and showing off her huge scar

Charlie cat attends to Floras every need

Oscar doesn't mind who he goes to sleep on

Friday, 23 June 2017

Birmingham – June 2017

Jackie put the lemon bag on Brians head while he had his hands in pastry
I know Brian wrote an entry solely on his visit to the Morgan factory, but that's not all that's happened in the last 10 days.

Thoroughly enjoyable curry with the Monday Club boys before a trip to Bury St Edmunds on Tuesday to catch up with Aunty Margaret and Ron, actually Mother's cousin, but always known as Aunty Margaret. We probably haven seen them since we started travelling so it was well past time. The trip over wasn't too bad, though the return was longer, particularly with no AC but we had a really enjoyable time. Good to catch up, reminisce at their wedding photos with me as one of the bridesmaids, some 40+ years ago, and eat a great lunch.

Aunty Margaret, Jackie, Ron and Pauline (Jackie's mum)
Steph with Ivy, Brians great-niece
On Thursday we finally met new greatniece Ivy, sister to Rory, offspring of Steph and Sam, Brian's niece. She wasn't on best form having not slept as required, but we did get some smiles and cuddles from her. Rory however was on top form, wanting to water the garden, which seemed to involve tipping quite a lot of water over himself, before taking me into the house to play with the toys in Grandma's toy chest.

Jackie attending to Rorys every need
Typical British worker scene, Rory watering, three people watching!
The weekend was spent mostly with Helen and Ian and a very hot Monty dog, so hot that when we went out for a walk (pub crawl) round Kings Heath he was left at home. Three pints later we returned to gin fizzes and a BBQ, to be followed by the G&T and Lemon tart with a G&T syrup that B had whipped up after our arrival. Sadly either the dog has learnt how to open doors or it wasn't shut properly, but either way, the only one to enjoy the tart, and then only the filling, was Monty! Ho hum, we probably didn't need it anyway, but the syrup did spruce up a hastily bought Co-op lemon sponge!

Ivy with Grandad Paul (Brian's brother-in-law)
Sunday we had a good catch up with Jo in the afternoon seeing wedding pics and all sorts, before meeting back with H&I, along with Manu and Crystal, also newly married and Pete and Hils, for a Sunday tea club with a difference. The difference being it wasn't Chinese! Instead it was a Dosai and Idly restaurant, dosai are Indian crepes then stuffed with a dry ish meat and potato curry, absolutely delicious. Idly are little dumplings, about which I can't comment. I really enjoyed the meal but did miss the Chinese!

BBQ at Ian and Helens
Apart from all that we've done loads more DIY, I've caught up with Alex, always a pleasure, we've had a regular Monday club meeting, been back to the garage and now have working AC in the car, Hurrah, fixed in the middle of the heatwave. We've been to the gym a couple of times and spent the day in Alvechurch doing all sorts of jobs as well as seeing Sarah and Mum.

Hunting for veg in Helen's greenhouse
Tomorrow we head down to Redmarley for a week with the four dogs and five cats (hopefully, though little Charlie cat has been very poorly so may still be in the vets). Amazingly the heatwave was the week just gone rather than the week we are with the dogs as it has been for the last couple of years, so all should be much better.

The G&T lemon tart after Monty had licked it clean, except for the pastry
She forgot to mention the new passport I applied for. Nowdays you can do it all online, including submitting your own digital photo. Unfortunately in Abi's house there are few blank walls to use as background. The only one is in the bathroom, but it's half tiled, so here I am standing on a stool to get above the tiles...

And here is Jackie standing on another stool to take the photo. Several attempts were made to stifle giggles in order to get the obligiatory straight faced photo

And while we're on standing photos, here is Jackie standing on a chair in the conservatory trying to swat a fly

Poor little Sooty's been on a diet and here Jackie is trying to put her in a mixing bowl balanced on top of the kitchen scales to see if she has lost any weight. It didn't go well!

Outside afterwards trying to get over the trauma

A squirrel came to see us and here it is chomping on a bit of pineapple...

 Apart from the squirrel we have had other animal events, we managed to scoop up a wagtail while driving, it looked most confused hopping over the windscreen wipers onto the bonnet! We then had the trauma of the maggoty rat that after I scooped it onto the compost heap, reappeared on the lawn. Hmm, just missed the binmen so bury it I guess, just about to go out to do so when two seagulls appeared, squabbled over it, and flew off with it! Problem solved!
Watched by Sooty

The lights Abi bought for the conservatory after Brian had installed them. They look pretty cool we think