Thursday, 10 July 2014

Solihull actually!

Ice creams in Denise and Paul's garden

An interesting title, coined by our friend Andy Vine, who summed up the general feeling of Solihull residents who are usually classed as ‘that suburb of Birmingham’. In fact Solihull is not part of Birmingham and is its own County Borough and part of the West Midlands county council, so Solihull people are aggrieved to be asked ‘are you from Birmingham?’ and assertively reply ‘no, Solihull actually!’ 

We’re coming to the end of our stay at Denise’s now, having been here two weeks on Sunday and it’s the end of another chapter in our book of life and the start of the next one. We have Ian and Helen’s wedding this Saturday and a Friday night pre-wedding Balti at Diwans tomorrow with all the gang, followed by our next cat sitting assignment at Abigail’s in Hall Green for two weeks starting on Sunday, looking after Sooty the cat (guess what colour she is!), so we (I) wanted to get up-to-date in readiness to write about Ian and Helen's wedding. ‘Be brief’ Jackie said, ‘you haven’t got much to write about’ Well, I’ll try!

The 'before' photo. Terry removing the stairwell box
I’ve actually been working for a living for a change. My daughter Fiona has, for the last couple of years, been the manager of Tannery Court, a sheltered home for the elderly in Kenilworth, responsible for 40 elderly, vulnerable people and it has been the ideal job for her. Her personality and enthusiasm, coupled with her three energetic children, Abbie, Becky and Jenny and her partner James have been the perfect tonic for the people there and they all seem to love them all to bits. For the second year running she has organised a carnival float  to take part in Kenilworth carnival and has got quite a few of the residents dressed up and on the float (a 94 year old this year among others!), along with her girls and their friends and, for the second year running they have won the ‘best float’ award. 

The 'after' photo. Yes, I know it's only a wardrobe, but I'm fairly pleased with it!
Jackie, Ian & Helen wait for the carnival procession
Their life has been Tannery Court, as she lives in a flat on the premises, so is always there for them.
Sadly, Warwickshire County Council are short of money, following Government austerity measures post the global financial crisis, and their cost cutting measures have fallen on Fiona. All residential managers in Warwickshire (there are 16 of them) are to be made redundant and, in their place 5 new floating managers appointed who will look after the 16 homes between them. It means poorer care for the residents, as they won’t have someone there all the time and the managers just won’t be able to provide the care they did before as they will be flitting about between homes. It is therefore the last year Fiona will be able to organise a carnival float for Tannery Court, so she was doubly pleased to have come first again!

Here it comes....
That's Fiona in the Christmas outfit
Fiona applied for one of the 5 jobs and was successful, so she must be good (that’s my daughter!), but it is only on the same pay grade and she has to move out of the subsidised flat and into a Council house, paying her own heating and electricity bills and using her own car for work, so she will be worse off, working harder and not able to provide the same care. Probably a familiar story!

Fiona being Fiona and knowing her way around the council, she has managed to get a council house in Kenilworth, which is another very nice town, affluent and on a par with Solihull, meaning the kids can stay on at the same very good schools, so it’s working out not too bad for them all. 
Back at Tannery Court, lowering the residents down on the tail lift
My daughter Fiona
The house is in a good location and was previously the home of a 94 year old who moved into a home (not Tannery Court!), so it’s relatively ‘old’ inside and in need of a refurbishment. James, being an electrician by trade and a very good project manager has ‘taken it apart’. Rewiring to include the latest data communication is being done, as well as re-plumbing, a new kitchen and bathroom to include walls being knocked down and rooms changed around (nothing by halves where my daughter is concerned!) are in progress, so it’s a case of picking your way over exposed beams where floor boards have been taken up and other bits of pipe and wiring at the moment. They are supposed to be moving in before the end of July (guess who’s going to help them move in!), but it looks a distant hope at the moment!

Little Jenny with her friends
My jobs were originally going to be to remove walls and fit the kitchen and bathroom, but I guess she read the ‘vibes’ and, instead got some builders in to bash out walls, asking me to build a bespoke wardrobe in the small bedroom (Abbie’s room), over the ‘box’ enclosing the stairwell, a dressing table for Becky and Jenny in the big bedroom and lay some slabs in the back garden for a shed. Think I got away lightly, but it was still a fair amount of work. It all started last Wednesday when Jackie and I went into Andantex, borrowed the van and went out buying the bits for my hastily sketched plans. That took all day, but I managed to talk Terry, my old business colleague, who lives in Kenilworth to come round and give me a hand on Thursday. He’s pretty good at woodwork (far better than me) so came round armed with a circular saw, ‘G’ clamps a square and other ‘sensible’ woodworking gear that I didn’t have.

Jackie, Brian, Ian and Helen ready for the 70's party
It turned out not to be just the two of us, as the builders were there as well. Two nice guys, but the hammering of the walls they were taking down, the noise of the stone cutter and, of course the radio on full blast, put me into ‘sensory overload’ and I was exhausted by the time I got home. At 4:30pm James arrived after a full day at work and carried on his rewiring, 3 or 4 plumbers turned up and took the bathroom apart, Wayne, Fiona’s old school friend, now a painter and decorator turned up to carry on stripping wallpaper (“I’m not doing this again if she moves house once more, particularly if it’s woodchip I’ve got to strip off” he said, “yeah, we all said that last time Wayne” I said, “but here we are again!”) and another of James’ friends was up a ladder doing some work on the roof. It’s just all go round there!

Jackie and Ella
Anyway, the wardrobe’s done, the dressing table’s built and the slabs are laid so, officially my work is done, but I think I’ll be round there again to help them as they really need all the help they can get! Watch this space…

During all this they had a day off on Saturday to organise the float for the carnival and we went along with Ian and Helen to wave as they all went past (just disappointed I didn’t get a photo of James in his animal outfit – was it a bear? You went by so fast! Abbie was also there and gone in some sort of a princess outfit and I didn’t get a photo) (Trying not to be sarcastic here, but as the theme for their float was ‘Christmas’ perhaps James was a reindeer and Abbie was an angel?). It was a good, sunny day, the perfect event for the weather, so an ice cream was called for, followed by an unexpected encounter with Louise, who I employed during my days with Andantex and who was there to see her kids on another float.

Me and Jackie
We left them to get back to Ian and Helens’, where we stayed for the weekend, to get ready for Mike and Ella’s fancy dress party at their house in Kings Heath. The theme was ‘70’s’, a time I remember well, as I was in my late teens and ‘out on the town’ in my velvet suit with wide lapels, bell bottom trousers, stacked shoes, long hair, moustache and big sideburns (did I look cool!). Denise and Paul had been to a 70’s party themselves and had the gear, so I borrowed Paul’s white ‘John Travolta’ suit, Helen wore Denise’s Abba suit, Jackie borrowed another white Abba suit from Sarah and Ian bought, what looked like a Noddy Holder from Slade suit. A visit to the 99p shop to buy false moustaches, sideburns, 70’s sunglasses and a hat for Jackie completed the outfits, and we dressed up and went round to I&H neighbours to show them and have photos, before setting off to the party.

Ian and Jackie
Jackie, Ian, Helen and Mike
Mike and Ella are members of Birmingham IVC (Intervarsity club), that I and later Jackie were briefly members of, so we recognised quite a few people there, had a few drinks, danced to some good old seventies music and enjoyed the surroundings of Mike and Ella’s party atmosphere (they really know how to throw a party!) and walked home about 1:00am with just fleeces over our costumes. Sunday, relax! Sunday papers, Sunday breakfast, sit outside in the morning sun and relax, before volunteering (again) for conservation work over at Cannon Hill Park, which is at the bottom of I&H garden. Plenty of spade work clearing paths – good for the six pack (what six pack?)

Mike (who is actually bald!), Ian and me
Time for some dancing!
It’s now Thursday night, Jackie’s been to Ian and Helen’s cleaning, ready for their big day on Saturday, we’ve been for rabies and tetanus jabs at the doctors ready for our forthcoming trips and I’ve spent lots of money booking flights on the internet: Birmingham to Boston USA on 4th August, Boston to Denver on 7th August, Car hire 7th August to 28th October, Denver to San Francisco on 28th October, San Francisco to Hanoi (Vietnam) on 31st October, Vietnam 3 month visa. The rest yet to be decided, but it’s getting exciting!

Ian and Brian 'fix' the awning

Denise and Paul’s garden is still looking good, I’ve watered every night, cut the grass and been to their allotment once to check everything is OK. So glad nothing’s died!

Helen gets the tools ready for an afternoons conservation work in Cannon Hill Park

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