Thursday, 26 May 2016

UK May madness continues

Sooty asleep on the bed

It is nice being back in the UK and catching up with people, but it is very, very busy and we’re feeling a bit stressed! We’ve not spent as much time with Sooty as we’d have liked and trying to get on top of things after being away for over 6 months is proving difficult. 

We’ve had bank accounts to sort out (still on-going), re-mortgaging  of a property I own with my old business colleague, Terry (still on-going, but actually it was great to meet up with him again and have business meetings), but the main issues for us has been medical as we’ve both got problems that need addressing. 
Jackie and Pauline at the Penguins in Cotswold Wildlife Park
Jackie has had several visits to dentists, involving big amounts of money, with several more to come, I have had a suspect mark removed from above my lip at the QE hospital last Sunday lunchtime (yes, Sunday lunchtime, amazing, no queue’s, great service and immediate treatment, how good is that!) and now have a stitch in my lip that needs removing on Saturday.

Hungry penguins following their fish dinner
Meerkats standing to attention
This weekend is Iain and Bev’s wedding in Bristol and we’re travelling down with Ian and Helen tomorrow, so there’s no time to have the stitch removed at the doctors. Fortunately Crystal and Manu are medical people and are going to the wedding , so they will take it out at the reception on Saturday afternoon. It just means that I’ve grown a moustache section on my lip around the stitch where I can’t shave so I may not look my best, but hey!

A big Asiatic Tortoise munching grass
I’ve also had three visits to a sports physiotherapist to look at my knee, which is still hurting when I run. It looks like I may have damaged my meniscus in the knee which may mean no more running. However I’ve got a number of knee exercises to do and, in 6 weeks he says I could try a short run on grass with good trainers and see how it is. He knows of people with torn knee meniscus who have gone on to run marathons, so it isn’t a game changer, but it may be that I have to be careful!

Jackie can't resist a little stroke
Socially it’s also been hectic, but of course very nice, with many evenings out with different people: Thursday, Blue Ocean Malaysian restaurant in Acocks Green for Jackies birthday (fabulous) after the daytime visit to Cotswolds Wildlife Park, Friday, Solihull with Denise (my sister) and Paul after helping them lay some slabs in their back garden for a new greenhouse, Saturday, down to see Jackie’s niece and nephew, Charles and Caroline (watched Caroline horse riding in the morning) in Edlesborough with Pauline, Jackie’s mum, with an evening meal in their local restaurant, Sunday (after my visit to the QE for my little operation and stitch) was our 
Time for afternoon tea and cake!
‘Sunday Tea Club’ meeting in the Chinese Quarter of Birmingham with Ian and Helen, Manu and Crystal and their friend Reuben (Crystal selects the dishes, orders in Chinese and we just feast, drink Chinese tea and have great fun), except that my lip kept bleeding! On Monday we had a lovely daytime visit to Redmarley d’Abitot to see Richard and Judith and all the cats and dogs prior to housesitting there again in July. Monday evening we were back in Birmingham for an evening meeting with our friends Bill, Mark and Tim, the old Monday evening drink and chat team, but this time for a beer in the ‘Old Mo’ followed by an excellent curry in Diwans. Poor old Sooty we say being ‘home alone’, but we were in on Tuesday to see her!

Caroline on her Saturday morning horse riding lesson
Looking good!
So after rushing from here to there and feeling like we haven’t had a minute to ourselves, our first housesit (this year) with Sooty is coming to an end. We’ve repacked, loaded the car and, in the morning we head off to Ian and Helens to leave our car there and travel down to Bristol for the ‘wedding of the year’. Many of our friends will be there and it promises to be a hectic, fun-filled weekend lubricated with plenty of alcohol! We’re back on Sunday but then head to Acocks Green, a suburb of Birmingham to housesit two rabbits until Friday 3rd
Brian and Jon (Jackies brother) doing gardening jobs
It promises to be a continuing busy time, Lisa (who rents the house) lets out rooms through Airbnb and has left us with a houseful on Sunday night. Most (except one long term renter) go on Monday and we are off to Steph and Sam’s (my niece) to do plumbing and decorating work at their house in Dickens Heath - except that one of the Airbnb people have to collect luggage from the house, so Jackie will have to return to Acocks Green during the day to fuss bunnies and let the person in to collect his luggage.

While Charles gets on with making a cat house for his cat Thomas
A sign of the times. Charles (13) shows Jackie how to use her ipad
The week continues with many more appointments and, on Friday we repack the car and head off to Scotland for 6 weeks, staying in various places. More on that later.

Bear with us, dear reader, I know we’ve got a much easier time than many people (‘first world problems’ Cassie, our friend in France would say), but we’re just not used to it, bickering between us.

The next entry we hope with be a report of the ‘wedding of the year’ weekend in Bristol.
Jackie strokes 'top dog' Oscar at Richard and Judiths house

Crystal writes out our order in Chinese in the restaurant on our 'Sunday Tea Club' outing

Bye-bye little Sooty, see you again in August

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

U.K. May madness

Sooty the cat in Hall Green, Birmingham

“Do we need to go back to the UK before the wedding at the end of May?” he asked. As we haven't stopped for a fortnight, I think the answer was a definite yes!

After unpacking the car and repacking the loft we went out for a long awaited curry, in the village, with mum, yum.

At Alex and Robs for tree cutting and a BBQ
Off to visit Denise and Paul to deliver the tartiflette cheese, and duck confit in a tin we'd brought for them, then on to Lockwoods to get the skis serviced, three pairs which seems too many for two people, but hey. Back to the village for tea and then G&T with Sarah and John, before tartiflette for us as it is one of Mums favourites too, and that was just the first two days.

It's been one thing after another, dentist, doctors, and Physio, Halfords to replace the glass from both wing mirrors which fell out on two consecutive days, though I did manage to catch the passenger one! Haircuts, computer maintenance, tree surgery, financial adviser and two half days sorting out bank accounts.

Now this is proof that BBQ'ing is mans work. While Rob and I were doing manly stuff with chain saws and trees, Jackie was BBQ'ing. Just look at those sausages - or are they blocks of charcoal?
The birthday cake I baked for Becky and Jackie. Good or what?!?
It's not all been work though, we caught up with Abi before we moved in and she moved out of her house, including a visit to her caravan which she got for £375 on eBay. It's lovely very well loved and bigger than the little van we lived in in NZ and Oz, jealous? Me? I caught up with Alex for our usual coffee and a chat, and we both went round on Saturday for more tree surgery and a BBQ. We have left Rob with the chain saw, is this a good thing? We've met Lisa and her house rabbits Poppy and Sahara, our next Housesit, been to an afternoon tea dance, where we halved the average age and Brian has bought a new mobile phone as the old one was very tired and driving him mad, which was driving me mad! Amazing how long playing with a new phone can take!

May 'Christmas' at Fiona and James'. LtoR: Jackie, Fiona (my daughter), Sam (in the background), James, Steph and Harry (Becky's boyfriend)
Paul, Denise (Brian's sis) and Brian
We've been out dog walking, getting caught in a downpour just as we arrived at the pub with Helen and Ian and Monty dog! Shame, though this did make us slightly late for the curry at Diwans, our favourite! Two lots of Monday Club drinks, a Big Wok meal with Rob and Alex and Jo and Mike, and been to the cinema with mum to see Eddie the Eagle and have a Mexican meal.

There's been cake baking by B, to use up old bananas, for Mum to take to a volunteers meeting at Forge Mill, a four storey, birthday, chocolate Oreo cake to take to a family 'Christmas lunch' at Brian's daughters, where we met two of his Granddaughter's boyfriends, both called Harry and ate far, far too much. And two yesterday, one for us and one for him to take into Andantex his old place of work where he is today, meeting the old gang and then doing some 'stuff' with Terry his ex work partner. 

A great photo of Rory, Steph and Sams son of nearly 14 months at Fiona and James' ' MayChristmas'
Oscar the cat suns himself
So I'm home alone, blog writing, fussing Sooty and doing a few odd jobs for Abi and chilling, before we go over the Helen and Ian's as Ian is home alone too for a few days while Helen and Monty are visiting her Mum. She's worried he might fade away, and or work too hard, so a meat fest is planned for tonight (she is a pescatarian). Whether we corrupt him with a mid week glass of wine we shall see!

Here's a 'do you feel old' photo of Brians three granddaughters with boyfriends. In the front row is Abbie, Brian's granddaughter of nearly 18, with her boyfriend Harry, back row is the other Harry with Becky, nearly 16, holding Oscar the cat and 11 year old Jenny
Rory having a splash about in Fiona and James' hot tub. LtoR: Harry, Abbie, Fiona, Harry, Denise holding Rory and Paul
Jackie and Becky blow out the candles on the birthday cake being held by Fiona and with Jenny looking on
Narla the rabbit. Both her and Oscar the cat are left free to roam free in the garden and neither seem to bother the other
All this was while Sooty was home alone in Hall Green!
In Andantex (Brian's old company). This is Martin repairing Terry's (Brian's old business partner) golf buggy. Nothing like us old retirees disrupting work in our old company! Is that a great looking buggy or what!?
On the left is Phil (Terry's son and now MD of Andantex after Brian retired in 2012), Terry in the check shirt and the only man working, Martin
Martin's got the buggy drive motor and gearbox off and on the bench. 'Go on Mart, hit it. Can't beat a bit of proper engineering!'
Terry looking on as Martin takes the buggy drive motor apart
In the main office at Andantex. That's Paul in the distance on the left and Wendy on the right

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

A final Au Revoir to St Jean d’Aulps (for now!)

The last view from our balcony at 06:00am just as we were leaving

Our ski season and Europe adventure is over and we are now safely back on UK soil after an easy, but very long drive and ferry trip back on Sunday 1st May. 

As it was the middle day of a European long weekend holiday it was a good time to travel with little (almost no) traffic on French motorways, a half empty ferry on the Calais to Dover route and relatively quiet (if the M25 London orbital motorway can ever be considered quiet!) motorways back to The Midlands and Jackie’s mum’s house in Alvechurch.

Waiting to board our ferry at Calais eight and a half hours later
We were ‘on the road’ at 06:00am (05:00am UK time), setting off in heavy falling snow and driving through fairly heavy rain and low cloud, occasionally turning to snow, almost up to the Paris area, where blue sky replaced the cloud and we were in a clear and sunny, but cold afternoon. Only stopping to change drivers and for fuel we got to Calais at 14:30, just under 8hr 30min and had the welcome news that we could board the 15:30 ferry, instead of the 17:00 one we’d booked, so with less than an hours waiting in sunshine at Calais we were on board relaxing in the half empty ferry. 

On the ferry leaving Calais. It was sunny but cold
Approaching the white cliffs of Dover
Donning coats, hats and gloves we ventured outside on deck in the afternoon sunshine in the cold stiff northerly wind watched the beaches of Calais pass by us and could clearly see the white cliffs of Dover not far away. It made us realise just how close the UK is to Europe and also just how busy this stretch of water is with ships everywhere – one of the busiest in the world but, being Brit’s we had a nice feeling of returning home while looking at those white cliffs (but we didn’t see any blue birds!)

Safe and sound with a glass of wine at Pauline's house in Alvechurch
We were at Pauline’s house, where we’re staying until Friday, at 19:30, after stopping at the Chinese take-away in the village to order a delivery of dinner for us and Pauline, leaving the unpacking until the next day and cracking open a bottle of wine with the meal. Finally home, at least until September when we plan to be off again!

Our balcony from the top of the some down which the cats came. On the blanket asleep is Peter the cat with Groucho just peeking out over the edge of the box she's in
Close up of the above. Groucho's white head is just visible
However, we still have news to report from St Jean d’Aulps, even though we only had two days left and the big news (or what Jackie would consider to be the big news) is that little Groucho kitten has given birth to an unknown quantity of kittens. She uncharacteristically disappeared on Friday night and Saturday morning. I (Brian) took the opportunity to thoroughly clean the balcony where they had stayed, as we couldn’t leave it as it was for Carol to re-take possession after we had gone. The blanket was taken away, the cardboard boxes they had used as little homes were disposed of and I was in the middle of washing everything down with mop and bucket when she suddenly jumped up on the wall and looked on with a mixture of horror, need and pain. I left everything and went inside just as Jackie returned after having been out looking for her. 

5 deer graze on the grass of the house on the opposite side of our valley
Groucho came onto the windowsill and it was immediately clear that she had not long given birth as both sides and tail were wet and bloody and her rear end looked very sore and bloody. She didn’t immediately want food, she wanted fuss and strokes from Jackie and she absolutely lapped it up. I produced some warm water in a bowl and a cloth and Jackie gently washed her down to help clean her up, afterwards feeding her lots of cat biscuits and water with milk. She seemed to settle a bit and then went off to tend to her babies.

Si and Cassie in the Bar National in St Jean d'Aulps
Jackie went up to see where she went and it turned out to be a high shelf in the tool shed of a big house next to our apartment block. Not wanting to get too close as, apparently that can endanger the lives of new born kittens, she could just see Groucho climbing the slats inside the shed, climbing onto a high shelf and hear the faint ‘meaows’ of tiny kittens.

By Saturday afternoon and evening Groucho had been back on our windowsill several times looking much better with clean fluffy fur, much more herself and demanding cat biscuits, so everything seems to be well. As a final goodbye she reappeared on the windowsill on Sunday morning at 06:00am, just as we were about to leave, Jackie had strokes, left a mountain sized pile of cat biscuits and lots of water and we waved goodbye as we closed the door and left. Hopefully we’ll see them all again when we expect to return the year after next.

Drew and Leanne in the Bar National St Jean d'Aulps
But that’s not all the news, in between all this on Saturday afternoon we had an invite to a live screening of a Navy vs Army rugby match being played at Twickenham. This was an event that Si and Cassie had organised at the Bar National pub in St Jean d’Aulps village and Si had flown back from his month long diving job in Belgium to be there (a nightmare journey as it turned out as Brussels airport had only just reopened after the terrorist attack and security was very high and so very slow. Coupled with a nightmare road journey to the airport as well, he only just made his flight). Si is ex-Navy, all his other mates in the Morzine area are ex-Army. Apparently the Army usually win, the last win for the Navy being in 2010, but Si takes it in good part and there is friendly banter between him and all the others.

Si basks in Navy glory to the tune of 'In The Navy'
Watching a live rugby match is not top of our things to do (we know nothing about rugby), but Si and Cass had arranged it, they had prepared food along with Leanne and Drew, they were doing it all for their charity, so we thought it would be nice to go as well as being able to say bye-bye properly before we go.

The food was excellent and the atmosphere good even though not that many turned up. There were maybe 20 or so of us, just enough to make it go and, to our relief not everyone was ‘glued’ to the  match, it was more in the background so we could have a chat and meet new people (there’s a new bridge club starting up we found out and, had we been staying there I could have learned to play – Jackie already knows).

Si making announcements for his charity
Anyway, early on the Navy scored a try and then a conversion and the score was 7:0 – a good start and Si was on form, not missing this opportunity. Sometime later is was 7:7, then 7:14 to the Army then later on it was 7:29 with only about 10 minutes remaining. Ah well, pretty much like previous years and Si was quite accepting, while I was chatting to a French girl with Scottish husband (complete with red hair and red beard) about their house purchase in the nearby village of Le Biot. A while later someone shouted across to Si to look at the screen; unbelievably the score was 27:29 to the Army, but a player in the Navy was just setting up the ball a long way out to take a conversion shot. 

Fun in the bar just as we were leaving. We're on the left!
We watched as he ran up, took the shot and saw the ball go between the two uprights to score 2 points and level the score at 29:29 with only 90 seconds to go. That was the final score, a draw, but apparently the Navy beat the RAF and the RAF had beaten the Army, so victory was claimed by the Navy and they lifted the trophy. Si raising his hand to claim victory with a broad grin was a picture (oh yes, I did get a picture) and we were glad we were there to witness this apparently rare event.
I asked the barman if he could find and play ‘In the Navy’ by the Village People, so he searched through his mobile phone, connected it to the PA system and played it quite loud. Si recognised it from across the room much too quickly, waving his arms around and laughing. We were expecting it and still didn’t immediately recognise it – he did, what does that say?

The victorious Navy team hold up the trophy
After eating far too much of the food we said goodbye to everyone, had a great send off from them and drove our luggage laden car back up the hill ready for the long journey the following morning. The packing had gone extremely well, it all seemed too easy making us wonder whether we had forgotten something big, but no, everything was in, including 14 bottles and one carton of the Roche Mazet wine we had taken a liking to and the extra pair of skis I had bought for €25 at the beginning of the season and used most of the time.

Bye-bye St Jean, we're going to miss you!
Sad to leave, of course, but we’re heading for new adventures, a summer in the UK and then our big trip to South America in September for 12 to 14 months – better get on with planning that, it’s only 4½ months away and there’s lots to do! Yesterday, as we got in the car to go and see our friends Sarah and John in the village I noticed the date, 3rd May. Oh, that’s our anniversary, 13 years today, ‘Happy Anniversary darling’. Neither of us had remembered, but that doesn’t matter, too many things to do, too many places to see and too busy enjoying ourselves. Here’s to our next many years and anniversaries together!

By the way, I have created a Youtube video of 132 still photographs taken of the mountain view from our balcony, one photo for each day we were there and all at 08:30 every morning. The first picture on this blog is the last one, admittedly taken at 06:00am on this one occasion. It shows the changing weather and snow cover and lasts for just under 5 minutes. We appreciate it may not be everyones 'cup-of-tea' and possibly could be likened to watching paint dry, but some may appreciate art in it's higher form! What do you think? Here's the link to view it: