Friday, 28 July 2017

Still in Birmingham - July 2017

Good times with good friends. Crystal, Manu, Jackie, Ian and Helen
Since the last blog entry I think I have cooked three times, the last fortnight has been a whirlwind of socialising and eating, which has been great, but I think yesterday my body had finally had enough, half a day of a very poorly tummy, but the toast I risked at 14.00 was fine so that was it, I could still go out with Helen and Ian to Blue Ocean (Blue-Ocean-Cafe-Restaurant) for a very authentic Malaysian mee goreng!

The leg of kurzi lamb at The New Dilshad, Alvechurch
We've been for a Monday Club beer at the Old Mo (Old Moseley Arms) followed by a curry at Diwans (Diwan Balti) and to the New Dilshad in Alvechurch (New Dilshad) with Sarah and John for the kurzi lamb, this is a set meal, a whole lamb leg that you have to order at least 24 hours in advance so they can marinate and slow cook it to a tenderness that can be carved with a spoon! We did make a mistake, we ate the starter, not that it was bad, but we should just have had it put in a box to take away, as along with the rice, the vegetable dish, the mince gravy and the dessert and coffee it was all too much, MUCH too much.
Jackie doing her usual gnawing at the bone. Can't take her anywhere!
The lamb is a magnificent sight, obviously not seen before by the new, young member of staff who was taking loads of photos. It was also a talking point with the couple on a nearby table, she was thrilled when I took them a taste, but I have been that person! This was after I had said to Sarah at the works buffet meal that perhaps not Indian as we'd had a few, but this was different.... Add in to that that one of the meals I have cooked (and we ate twice so was actually two of the three meals) was tandoori chicken from scratch and vegetable biryani as living where we are on the edge of Sparkhill (Sparkhill High Street) it is possible to get any ingredient mentioned in any Indian recipe in either huge quantities, at a ridiculously cheap price, or both!

Sooty cat enjoying some fuss
We've been out for two lunches, one with Terry and Sue, (Brian's ex work partner), which lasted until the car park ticket ran out at 17.00! Then to Judith and Richard's in Ledbury where we had a rapturous welcome from all the animals, Fred cat running back 25 metres over the, horrible for cats, gravel for some special Fred love. Richard was very impressed when he actually witnessed Lottie, wuss cat, trotting towards me squeaking. The dogs were meanwhile being just as welcoming to Brian. As ever the time flew with loads of chat and good food. 

In Birmingham's China Town for a Sunday evening beer
Brian did a day helping Paul put up an archway in the garden while I sat and put the world to rights with Denise. Guess what? She did lunch, not as big as the previous two but with the leftovers from our Monday Club curry for dinner, perfect! We've had two meals with Manu and Crystal, one at theirs, and one a Sunday tea club with Helen and Ian, where we sit, like royalty, in one of many small Chinese restaurants in China town while Crystal orders amazing food in Chinese for the table. We say it every time, but she is fantastic and the meal gets better and better. 

Sillyness with the home grown veg Helen had brought for Manu and Crys
The evening started well with a pint in the pub, Helen to Manu "what time are we eating?" Manu "eight o clock, so plenty of time for another beer" Helen "which one are we going to?" Manu "haven't decided yet!" He wanted another beer and Helen was hungry, but joined up thinking? No, lots of laughter? Yes! After a second pint we drifted down to Helens favourite restaurant, which, unusually, was empty save for a young lad on his own. Helen started talking about tai chi when the lads ears pricked up as apparently he is a keen student of tai chi, he was soon demonstrating and manipulating Helen and Brian while the rest of us laughed and took pictures! (Birminghams Chinatown)

Helen doing tai chi in the restaurant
This isn't going well!
So apart from lunches out, daytimes have been taken up with the gym and bike rides, buying a car with mum, taking Sooty to the vets - she's lost 400 of the required 500 grams. I had coffee with Alex while Brian had coffee with Andy Vine who he managed to sell two of the four bike carriers that we'd bought (along with some roof bars) to. This week though, has been quite stressful and hard on the brain, having completed all the modules of the TEFL course and passed the exam with flying colours we were then presented with the first of two end of course assignments. This was not one but two lesson plans, we had foolishly thought two assignments, two lesson plans, but no, and until assignment one is marked we don't know what assignment two is! I know teachers rattle off lesson plans, but not us. We have spent hours on this, they say you can work together as long as the plans are different, we found it better to work separately and our plans are so different, can we both possibly pass? 
Jackie on her bike - yes it really happened!
We suddenly felt really under pressure as although we have until the middle of September to complete the course, they take a week to mark them, we move to Derby on Sunday and then have Charles and Caroline to stay so we had given ourselves till today to submit so they can be marked next week. If we hadn't got them in it would all have been getting very tight with trips to Scotland and then to London from August bank holiday.... The relief yesterday after submission was fantastic. Better get on and clean the house before Abi gets back and then welcomes new housesitters. The bed will barely be cold, we leave and they arrive on Sunday!
At Earlswood Lakes, about 10km away
And all looking a bit low in water level. Up to July there hadn't been much rain, but July has made up for it!

Sooty walking precariously round the edge of the wash basin. It's a bit blurred, Jackie took it, she's not used to taking photos!

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