Friday, 24 July 2015

More stuff in Birmingham

It’s nearly two weeks since our last entry and it’s been relatively full, but there’s nothing that noteworthy of writing about. It’s lovely being in amongst friends and relatives and it’s good to feel unrushed and not thinking about where we’re going next, how we’re going to get there and spending lots of time on TripAdvisor checking out destinations and hotels, but change is on our horizon now.

We have a trip to Ramsgate on Sunday for 5 days with Pauline (Jackie’s mum) and Charles and Caroline, then off to Scotland with Ian and Helen for a week working at Tony and Nickie’s massive building project, then a week right up in the very North of Scotland for a week, just over two weeks in Derby, two weeks in Anglesey, about 4 weeks back in Ledbury and then we’re off to France and Spain, not returning to the UK until May 2016. It means that, other than three more days after Ramsgate back at Sooty’s we’ll not be in the Midlands again, so have to start planning as time is getting short.

Apart from mundane things like eyesight tests (I now have prescription reading glasses), doctors visits after spraining my knee cartilage and Jackie her Achilles tendon, possibly as a result of running too much (running is now off the agenda, ski fitness is much more important!) and dentist visits we’ve had some days out. I visited my old company, Andantex, saw the old faces and met a new one and generally got up-to-date with things there, we had a day out with my sister Denise and Brother-in-law Paul, walking about 7 miles from Hall Green to Whitlocks End, then caught the train back (after a pint of ale at the Drawbridge) and yesterday we visited my niece Steph and little Rory, now 3 months old.

Ballroom dancing has featured a little in that we’ve had two Wednesday evenings in Bearwood where I’ve been doing a bit of teaching for the first time in a long time after bumping into an old friend at the recent fancy dress party. The lady who used to teach there is unfortunately terminally ill, so they now have no teacher. Andy puts on music each week and they still gather to practise and really welcomed the opportunity of having some proper teaching, even though we could only give them two nights.

There were about a dozen of them there, I took charge and immediately dropped back into teaching mode, even though I haven’t done any for 5 or 6 years. My long history of teaching since I qualified in 1980 is just so automatic I didn’t have to look at any technique it’s just there in my mind and all comes gushing out. They wanted to do some waltz, quickstep and cha-cha-cha, including some style and technique, not just steps, so that’s what they got. They loved it, were very grateful and I enjoyed it too. Jackie didn’t dance so much, the second week, because of her Achilles heel problem, so I dotted about dancing with the ladies that didn’t have partners, so a 2 hour lesson on each of the two Wednesdays I was tired and hoarse, glad to have done it but also pleased I don’t have to do it every week. Been there and done that for many years, maybe in the future we may again, but at the moment there’s the world to see and too many other things to do!

Jackie went to see our friend Alex on the day before she went off to do the Eiger Challenge. She suffers with MS and has been a superb athlete and great rock climber, mountaineer and alpine skier, but her MS is now restricting what she can do, so the Eiger Challenge is something she felt she had to enter. It’s a challenge for people with disabilities to get to the top the Eiger mountain in Switzerland, accompanied by a television crew. Her fellow mountaineer with disability is John, who is almost blind, so it’s a hell of a challenge and we wish them well and hope they do it. We will report later.

We picked up Abi (Sooty’s owner) and her mum from Birmingham airport on Wednesday after a weeks holiday in Italy, where the temperature was in the mid 30’s°C and it seems to be like that across Europe, very, very hot. Here in the UK it’s very different. The ‘jet stream’, which is the dividing line between cold northerly weather and hot southerly weather has been right over us in the Midlands since May. Sometimes it hovers north slightly allowing hot weather to come up from the continent, other times it hovers south bringing cold northerly weather down, but the jet stream itself acts like a conveyor belt bringing lots of ‘weather’ which can be lots of rain, high winds or just cloud, so we’re having typical British weather of four seasons in a day, but no snow fortunately! All a bit disappointing, but, we really wouldn’t want the very hot humid continental weather! Scotland however has been in the cold zone almost perpetually, so they’ve had very wet, windy and cool weather.

Had a lovely evening last night at Ian and Helens with Pam, Ian’s mum. Helen had prepared a superb three course dinner as practise for a meal they are giving to their old next door neighbours in a weeks time. Pam is in her 80’s and not so mobile now after a recent fall, but she’s got all her wits about her and was great company along with the usual fabulous company of Ian and Helen who are always a pleasure to be with and spend time with. Can’t wait for our two week holiday with them in Scotland in just over a weeks time, despite the fact that it might be wet!  
The ford by Sarehole Mill, Hall Green on our walk with Denise and Paul. We don't know who the cyclist is, but it just struck me as amusing

Young signets with mum swan close by in Swanshurst Park

Jackie, Denise and Paul take a lunch stop

A coot on its nest of sticks on the lake in Swanshurst Park

It wasn't always a flat walk, there were obstacles on the way

Mid afternoon beer at the Drawbridge Pub

Just to prove I was there, and give credence to the pub name The Drawbridge! It's on the Grand Union canal and you can see the bridge raised to allow a narrowboat to pass by

Whitlocks End railway station, the end of the walk for us, just an easy ride back to Hall Green, a short walk back to Sooty's for a feast of old cine films of D&P's wedding (1978) and Stephs birth (1984) on a very old cine projector

Jackie with little Rory at Stephs house

Yours truly with a hungry Rory

Sooty says 'thank you for looking after me, but you're not having your chair back, I'm comfy!'

Monday, 13 July 2015

Birmingham again!

Not that that’s a problem, it’s lovely being back here amongst friends. 

This is Abi and she wants to transport that tree in her car to Malvern...
It’s been a relatively quiet week for us, my sister Denise’s birthday on 8th July so we went round to see her on the day before to find she’s had a bit of a cancer scare with the family’s dodgy gene (Lynch syndrome) that we all have, so her birthday was spent taking the ‘liquid dynamite’ to clear her out ready for her colonoscopy the following day. All clear, so whoop, whoop!

So they wrapped it in mesh - as Sooty cat approached. Can you see her?
Met up with our friends Sarah and John in our home village of Alvechurch on Monday and went for a lunchtime meal in the Red Lion. S&J have very kindly let us use their address as our UK contact address, so all our mail goes there and Sarah scans all our post and emails it to us wherever we are in the world, so we really owe them. Great to meet up and have a good catch up, Sarah works at the BBC, where Jackie used to work, John works freelance for the BBC, covering the Formula 1 Grand Prix worldwide, golf and, this year the Glastonbury Festival, so it was great to hear of everything they have been up and talk about what we’ve been up to. A splendid lunch and a couple of beers – on a Monday lunchtime!

Jackie and I carried it through the house....
Wednesday was a ‘business day’ out for us. Met up with my colleague Terry Spencer and his wife Sue in the city centre to take a look at one of the apartments we own in the Jewellery Quarter of the city. Caught the train in, walked past the jewellery shops, collected the keys from the agent and met Terry and Sue outside the gated community of old jewellery factories converted into luxury apartments 10 years ago, of which we bought 2. We have a month ‘between tenants’ so took the opportunity for a rare visit to see what we own. There was a bit of wear and tear after 10 years of use and a few jobs that need doing, but on the whole not too bad. It was followed by a business lunch on the company that we still own, so we walked along the redeveloped canal, passed the Sea Life centre and onto Broad Street, the vibrant centre of pubs, clubs, restaurants, the Symphony Hall and new library, making it THE place to be in Birmingham.

We loaded it into her car....
The lunch was a 2 hour affair in a really nice restaurant, three course with wine, a proper business lunch! It’s one of the few times we’re able to do this these days, not that we miss them, ‘been there, done that’, but it’s quite nice as a treat and we all very much enjoyed it.

Had another lunch on Thursday, this time with Helen. Crusty bread and various cheeses together Helens home grown salad and cups of tea all taken outside in their garden on a hot, sunny afternoon, these weekday lunchtime meeting are becoming a habit, good job we’ve managed to get to the gym a few times this week as well to work off the additional calories!

And it fitted, much to her satisfaction after I told her it wouldn't fit!
Saturday was Mike and Ella’s summer BBQ fancy dress party at their house in Kings Heath, with the theme ‘cartoon characters’. We’d managed to obtain some costumes while we were dog sitting in Ledbury, so we met at our friends Ian and Helen’s house, took Monty dog out for a walk, enjoyed a couple of G&T’s in their garden before putting on the three costumes we’d bought and the one borrowed from Paul, my brother-in-law. Jackie went as ‘Princess Jasmine’ from Alladin in a very fancy, tight fitting (even for Jackie) costume, although she chickened out and got some material to cover her midriff. I went as King Louis from Jungle Book in a ‘onesie’, also very tight. Helen dressed up in the Sleeping Beauty outfit we got and looked very sweet, Ian went in a onesie skeleton outfit. Not sure what cartoon character he was, but there were dancing skeletons in a Disney cartoon from the 1920’s so that did.

The gated community Jewellery Quarter apartments
A great evening was had by all, I met up with some old IVC friends from 20 plus years ago and got talked into giving them a ballroom dancing lesson next Wednesday, Jackie met up with an old friend from IVC from 15 years ago, our friend Bill from our Monday evenings pub night was there and lots of other people we know. Mike and Ella really know how to throw a party so a bit of BBQ food, plenty of beers, lots of loud dancing music and we were away with a great evening that disappeared all too quickly, arriving back at Ian and Helens at 2:00am, where we stayed the night, after leaving our car at Mike and Ella’s and walking back home.

Forgot to mention Jackies fabulous paella that we ate outside one night
Had an easy Sunday morning before leaving Ian and Helen to it to enjoy their first wedding anniversary and came back to Sooty, who hadn’t missed us at all and then vegetated in the lounge all afternoon trying to recover from hangovers. Oh how familiar that all is!

Ready for the party, Ian, Helen, Jackie and Brian

That's our friend Bill, forgot who he went as

Helen, Ian, Jackie, Manu and Crystal

Manu and Brian with Jackie making a 'V' for victory sign

Crystal, Mary (a person I didn't know, but one of the people I'll be teaching dancing on Wednesday) and Sotarula, who was my Rock n' Roll partner 20 odd years ago, before I knew Jackie

The dancing is underway and Helen enjoys swinging her skirt around

Host Mike in his Scooby Doo outfit

Sleeping Beauty Helen and hostess Ella as Princess Elsa from 'Frozen'

Scooby (Mike) and King Louis (Brian) in deep conversation

Helen, Jackie and Mike. Difficult to know how people can be serious looking like that!

Mr skeleton Ian, beer in hand

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Doting on Dogs

Apparently it’s my turn again, how did that happen? ('Cause she's better at animal stories than me!)

Brian with (L to R) Flora, Oscar, Muffin and Max
The few days in Redmarley have passed in a blur of wagging, woofing and walking. The weather got hotter and hotter as forecast, which made for some very hot dogs, more ruled by routine than by the weather. I’m not sure we’d get a very good house sitters review from them as we kept going out late for their afternoon walk, once to avoid the sauna, once to avoid the downpour and once because we were a few minutes late from shopping! 

A typical view as we walked behind them through the woods
All walks passed off uneventfully, though we did end up slightly hoarse on a couple of occasions as pheasants or squirrels were spotted and Oscar, Max and Muffin all went haring off. Flora was always under control, never even having a lead with her, Muffin never went as far as the boys, though sometimes instigated the haring off for no other reason than she was at the back and saw a chance to rush past both boys out into the front. Oscar, Top Dog, and Max, his son, were a little more wilful however. “Oscar is going through an arrogant phase” the notes from Judith read, this meant that once the pheasant had flown away he would come back and would saunter up but took a lot of persuasion to then sit for treat and praise. Not being very food driven praise seemed more important than treats, and we knew that once we’d started on a course of “Oscar Come” and “Oscar Sit” we had to follow through to the bitter end. 

Moth carnage in the insect killer. This is what happens when it is left on all night with the windows open!
The fabulous view of poppies in corn field from R&J's conservatory
On the whole we decided that Oscar was Brian’s dog and Max and Muffin were mine as I’d bonded very quickly on first meeting with Max, much to Judith’s surprise and pleasure. Max responded better and quicker to the commands, but apparently doesn’t like joggers, and may try to nip them, it was for this reason he was a bit of a worry. Fortunately for us we were jogger free, horse free and mostly stranger free for the whole time. 
See the temperature? 34 C at 17:45!
We kept them on their toes by varying the route we went on every walk so they knew they had to wait for us at every junction which worked very well as a regrouping technique. On one walk in the woods we weren’t sure where the path went, so sent Flora out in front, trusting her to know where the path was and not to get distracted by squirrels. Sure enough we were back on the main path in no time! The only other time it sort of back fired on us was on the very hot afternoon when we found the one remaining mud pool in the woods, which they all took turns lying in to cool off. They looked so happy we couldn’t help but laugh and decided it was worth the chore of having to wash them down on our return which they don’t like apparently, except for today, when it was so hot, they all seemed to quite enjoy a cool hosepipe being played about their undersides and legs.

Baby swallows ready to fledge
On our return after the last afternoon walk Oscar was fidgeting with his eye, on closer examination it appeared to have a green something in it, so, on with the glasses and out with the tweezers! While Brian stroked his head I had to approach his eye with a steady hand to remove a huge (over 1cm long) grass seed from his eye, shortly followed by another! Such a good boy, he just lay there while I ‘operated’ On checking the others we found an even longer bit of stalk and seed in one of Flora’s eyes. She too just lay there, trusting me to take it out. I deserved the large glass of wine with dinner after that I have to say!

And the one that fell out, but seemed to survive
After our last walk once back at the house I almost stood on Oscar’s foot. Not wanting to put all my weight and walking boot down on him I went to lean on the table which was further away than I realised so down I went to the floor. Me lying flat on my back was obviously worrying for Oscar who went into full ‘Top Dog’ mode, guarding me by keeping all the others away, while looking concerned till I could get up and show him I was ok. Firmly accepted into his pack then! We were both at times jealously guarded by Muffin if she was having some fuss, growling gently if another dog or cat came too close, so we think we did all right!

Charlie cat tries to make Flora dog a bit more comfy
It was a strange dynamic for the cats with the dogs there, having to ask for food which couldn’t just be left down as dogs would eat it, I did see little grey Lottie, but only on one occasion, but not to worry, that is normal! Fred wanted lots of fuss if you went into the playroom which the dogs don’t go into and he seemed to have adopted for his own, Molly came to sit in the lounge of an evening with the dogs, as did Charley, but only because she thinks she is a dog – kneading Flora’s tummy before curling up next to her on one occasion and just sitting on her head as she lay on the floor on another.

That's better! Flora dog hasn't moved!
The only other bit of excitement was the early departure from the nest of one of the swallows, nesting outside the living room window. It found itself alone on the balcony overnight, safe from cats etc but unable to return to the nest. The following morning as we ate breakfast we were aware of a young swallow being fed on the roof before taking off, bouncing off a parent and flying away. I had checked it was still alive before dog walking, and on checking again it was gone so hopefully they were one and the same and it will be ok, despite its siblings still all being in the nest three days later when we left.

'Top Dog' Oscar with Jackie. Brian thinks he looks a bit like Scooby Doo
Richard and Judith returned and seemed very pleased with the condition of the animals and house, after a very pleasant lunch of Brian’s first ever quiche we left them to it. Only after a cunning plan has been hatched for another visit in September when they again take the dogs to France, we look after the cats before handing over to their friend Sue and following them to France where we are introduced to the house there which we can use on our way to and from Spain, to break our journey, leave the skis in and use to explore a new bit of France before the next ski season.

Mooching about in the woods
Back to Sooty in Hall Green then only to get a text from Abi  saying she hoped we didn’t have plans for the evening, as her favourite band was playing in Worcester, she’d drive and we could have a pint or two. This we duly did, the band were very good despite only being three quarters there – the lead guitarist and singer of 1/3 of the songs being ill in bed. What was more entertaining were the characters in the pub. If a sitcom had been made of them all it would be completely unbelievable, from the transvestite, atrociously dressed, in there with his/her wife to the glass collector who could barely stand he was so drunk but appeared with a trombone which he proceeded to play along with the band, actually not that badly! There aren’t words to describe all the characters there but we all had a good evening though not sure it could ever be repeated!

And fun in the cornfield. Can you see Muffins head on the left in the field?
We didn’t expect all these sort of things when we signed up to the house sitters website, but not knocking it!

Today – chilling, no dogs to walk but a late saunter to a craft fair at Sarehole mill, the Sunday paper in the garden in the sunshine and now a thunderstorm. But we didn’t want to go out anyway!

Go Flora! Running as fast as she can through tall grass
'Top Dog' Oscar and Muffin with Charlie the cat
Professional dog walker Jackie in the woods. L to R: Oscar, Flora, Muffin and Max
Thats dinner for four prepared then. Raw mince, chopped chicken pieces, dog biscuits, a bit of dog food and plenty of gravy!
The real Scooby Doo. Brian still thinks Oscar is similar, just not a 'druggie dog'!
Night night!