A chance meeting


Morning. This is the view from our own private jetty this morning. I’ve just, unsuccessfully, tried to swim in this; for those of you with dicky hearts, turn away now, in my birthday suit. Needless to say I wimped out, getting only partially wet. In my defence, by the time the middle half of my anatomy was thinking about getting wet, part of its armoury were losing its gunpowder and were telling me that if I went in, I was on my own.

Yesterday we were heading for Skye, but not quickly. I couldn’t get wifi so C drove along with my iPad open refreshing the wifi until she picked up a BT hotspot. It worked!  Bex phoned just before we got to Rannock Moor (her car battery was flat) and whilst talking to her Jen and James drove past, phoning us to let us

a chance meeting

a chance meeting

know they’d zoomed by. We caught them and James’ parents up at a pull-in burger bar just short of Glen Coe and compared journeys thus far. We had planned to eventually meet with them on Skye on Monday, but it was great to catch them at the start of heir hols.

Here’s a puzzle:  I’ve never quite understood why, somewhere in the middle of Scotland, these signs appear with the sentence “Links Farhen” and similar expressions in French. I spotted one of these yesterday. The nearest port that accepts European car ferries is scores of miles away, so isn’t it a bit late to be reminding our fellow continentals that they might be driving on the wrong side of the road; I would have thought the damage would had been done by now. It’s a mystery to me.

imageWe stopped at the Glencoe visitors centre and walked down into the village, over the river and back up the valley towards the glen itself. It was neither a strenuous nor difficult walk, but it was just what we needed. We circumnavigated Signal Rock, where the Campbells signalled to the English troops the position of the Macdonalds so they could be massacred. I think that’s the story.


There’s something’s special about Glencoe. C remembers it from her family holidays; her folk had a caravan on Loch Leven.  Me, always as the driveway to Ben Nevis, the starting point for the Three Peaks. I don’t want to swing the lantern and ask you to pull up a stool, but having done the challenge three times (ok, not all three peaks from the base of the first to the base of the last in 24 hours, but door to door from somewhere in the south in forty-eight; it’s still non-stop), the last one with school children, it is a special area and Ben Nevis is a special mountain. And as we drove northwards late morning there where plenty of hired minibuses hurtling south I’m guessing some of whom had just completed the Ben, all tired, hurt but happy.  C  and I have done Ben Nevis and Snowdon (twice). Sca Fell, the ugliest of all of them (in terms of views), is next for us to complete the trio. Stand by for tears.

Perhaps surprisingly the main road was packed. I would have thought it would have thinned out by now, but there were tons of coaches, caravans and motorhomes making the arterial A82 a moving carpark. It’s time they all went home.

our own private jetty

our own private jetty

We drove through Fort William and found somewhere to park on the North Bank of Loch Garry. Miserable (weather wise; we were cosy) and midge ridden last night, sunny, sharp and edible this morning.  Supper was venison sausage and vegetable curry accompanied by PD James, ‘An unsuitable job for a woman’ on our Aiwa cassette machine.  It is a fabulous piece of retro, but plays the tapes slightly slower than intended, so everything happens at a more relaxed place and all the girls sound like Moira Stewart and all the blokes like Barry White.

Finally, after my rant about the upcoming yes/no vote yesterday, am I wrong in thinking that this is my country as well? I am British, which last time I looked included Scotland, so what gives David Cameron the right to allow part of my country the opportunity to break away without asking me if I mind? Shouldn’t I get the vote too?

Just a thought – being here brings it all a bit closer.

Have a good Sunday.

The Kelpies


Let’s be clear. These are as big and impressive as they seem. The Kelpies are a new sculpture (Andy Scott, 2013) set in a new parkland near the join of the revamped Forth and Clyde canal. Kelpies are mythological transforming beasts with the power of ten horses and, here in the Helix (the new park), are meant to reflect the longevity and endurance of the Scottish waterways. The horses also evoke scenes of heavy industry, pulling ploughs and barges, although the one on the right is clearly not happy with his lot and would rather be munching grass.

Having left Lockerbie in good but damp spirits, we stopped off and foraged like cigarette smokers in a tobacconist before budget day at Tescos and Aldi some hundred miles later in Falkirk. We were due to spend the next two weeks in the Highlands and whilst we don’t go out of our way not to shop north of Glasgow, it can be tricky so it’s often best to stock up.

imageOn the route up pottering along my favourite motorway, the M74, C and I got talking about what the real fallout would be if everyone voted for the dear Mr Salmond. Before I paraphrase what we discussed it might be worth exposing my position: I think it would be utterly miserable if a relatively minor, but vocal group of Scots broke up the Union – I am proudly British, not English, the latter I can’t stop myself associating with jingoistic xenophobes, probably wearing a football shirt. But this is an emotional position (clearly) not one based on any real understanding of the benefits and disbenefits of both sides of the argument. And that, I think, is the whole problem with the upcoming election. Let me give you three examples where I think this thing has not been thought through by either side.

First, what nationality will I be? Scotland will be, to all intents and purposes, another country like, say, Uganda. Will I be able to keep my GB passport and will we be able to travel freely to one of our favourite holiday destinations? If I live next door to a Scotsman, does he automatically become an alien and have to go home, or very quickly apply for a visa? What currency does he get paid in and is his income tax-free? If we all have to have new passports, who is going to pay for that and will the Scots need to form a new passport authority (indeed whole new branches of an equivalent Civil Service) to make that happen for them. Second, how will the Scots register their cars? Will they need to form their own version of the DVLA? How are they going to change their number plates and what do the people of Carlisle do who bought their cars in Ayr? How are they registered and who’s going to pay for the change?

Third, what’s going to happen to RAF Leuchars? I know this has been aired, but really, what’s going to happen? Are the English/Welsh (what are we going to be called?) going to rent Leuchars from the Scots, or move all our Eurofighters to Brampton? Hang on, who owns the aircraft? And so, by way of a conclusion: if the Scots get a pro-rata – say by numbers of population – set of RAF stuff (probably a couple of wings and the odd landing gear) why isn’t the same rule applied to North Sea Oil and Gas? Sure as eggs is eggs BP and Shell have contracts to extract the explosive stuff with the British Government, not the Scottish. And, if the AngloWelsh lost the vote why would we really – no come on, gloves are off – really just hand over the oily-brown goose? I would absolutely not hand anything over to the government of Scotlandia until an agreement was reached in the highest court that that wealth was distributed in way that matched previous effort, population numbers etc. Why would I?

And there are thousands of other untrivial questions that have failed to be answered and almost all will cost somebody something. How much of the national debt do they take with them? How will the police forces get split up and work effectively? Will we keep all the Scottish prisoners in our jails? Can you hold an English parliamentary seat when you have Scottish/dual nationality? Will the Queen keep Balmoral (and what on earth does she think of all this?). What international telephone prefix will they have and will they keep the same numbers? What do we do with all the Scottish TV presenters? Not only would the split be utterly miserable, it would also be unfathomably costly and that makes me anxious.

Anyhow, The Kelpies. Wow, just wow. They are extraordinarily beautiful, an adjective conjured from a combination of articulate sculpting, significant materials and size. They are big. Overpoweringly so. And we saw them in poor weather but that didn’t matter. You have to go and see them.


Whilst you’re there pop along to the Falkirk Wheel (new, massive, cylindrical canal boat lift mechanism between two canals at different altitudes) which is industrially significant and a lot of fun. We went there a couple of years ago and spent a great couple of hours poking around.

Our next jump was to Loch Earn, thirty miles north of Falkirk. The route north with low cloud suffocating the rising hills, set our pulse racing – we love it here (hilly Scotland, not just the Trossachs). The rainy August had painted everything a deep, glossy green with crisp, dark shadows and the passing lochs were dark grey, black where the mountains stole a reflection. We drove down the very narrow (Doris is specially thin to allow us to do this, hurrah!) south loch road and quickly found a loch-side pull in and made ourselves at home. Loch Earn is a slither of a lake like most in Scotland, cut deep into the hills as if chiseled by a child with a plastic knife through Playdoh. There were one of two other lone campers loch-side, but we saw almost no-one. It was a beautifully quiet place deserving of a short walk to take in the grey green views after which we threw supper together and watched some early last century film about a love triangle and a Cornish artists’ colony. I think it was called Summer in February. It was ok (well acted); three stars for mushiness and drama.



At least we got to the end of it without: a) the electricity running out (must get a new battery); b) getting to the end of the second cassette of the v good ‘The Blind Assassin’ which we took from the school library, only to discover there were another two tapes we didn’t have. Carol (if you’re reading this): help!

Absolutely no idea geographically what to do today. In principle we’re heading west to the coast and have agreed that a ‘long walk’ is on the agenda. C’s awake reading Lynda LaPlant in bed – about a serial killer (“Ro, are you sure about wild camping?”) and I’m finishing this off with the only sound being the loch caressing the pebbled shore. Let’s hope I can get internet to post this now…

For diary completeness, Bex and Steven are back in the country and Jen (+ boyfriend clan) are in Glasgow on the way north to Skye. Have a good weekend.

Hans und Freiderick

I’ve drove a lot yesterday. More than I would hope to on a single day in Stage 3. But we had to get to Wallasey to see (Aunt) Dorothy and then I wanted to get into Scotlandshire (coined by JP who I think is going to get a number of mentions in this post).

Hans und Freiderick's domain

Hans und Freiderick’s domain

So whilst pottering along at 54 mph – I set the cruise control to juggernaut speed so I’m not upsetting every driver on the road – I got thinking about how we were going to cope now that my HP laptop is knackered. C dropped it the other day which broke part of the screen, which I could work round, but now individual letter keys are typing two or three number/letter combinations at the same time which makes logging-on tricky, and once the main screen is up, the Help? box keeps popping up even when you don’t want it. Persistently so. It’s also v heavy and the charging lead is big and thick enough to recharge a couple of Toyota Prius’, so moving it on to the laptop nursing home just outside Lower Chipset is probably not a bad idea.

I have three sets of data: photos, music and files. They’re currently all saved in Windows format on the HP and on an external disk drive; the music, all 26GB of it, is on a tiny MP3 player. I am fastidious about backing everything up having lost a painstakingly long document whilst studying on some important Army course which had a deadline of 8am on a Monday morning and my screen went blank eight hours earlier. Drink heavily was the only solution. But with a dud laptop, a tight budget and the global trend of sticking everything in a warehouse in Amsterdam (= the cloud), I needed to look wider than just buying a new laptop. I have an iPad (mmmm, iPad, let me stroke it) but this is really a display tool rather than a work tool. A chromebook is considerably cheaper than a laptop at around £175, but this requires access to the internet; this has been perfect so far thanks to JP’s campernet and Annie’s BT Fon connection, but it may not always be so. In the end I have come up with trying to use the iPad (mmmm) and I have sent my working documents to Hans und Freiderick for them to keep safely in Utrecht. The solution is more convoluted than that, but it’s an elastoplast answer for the time being.

exterminate! exterminate!

exterminate! exterminate!

It took us three hours to get to Wallasey. We came across a twenty foot dalek

(Aunt) Dorothy

(Aunt) Dorothy

made out of straw-bails and spent a very happy thirty minutes on the beautifully smooth and very empty M53, The Wirral’s private motorway. Lunch with (Aunt) Dorothy, C’s Godmother, at the Lighthouse pub which is just off the seafront. Standard pub food made only slightly amusing by the fact that the pub is already offering the opportunity to join them for your Christmas party; I suppose those do tend to start at the end of October so it pays to advertise. It was perfect to catch up with all of Dorothy’s news and, I guess having not seen her for years, she with ours.

(note size of current back garden)

(note size of current back garden)

Another three hour drive to our current stop, another small field just outside Lockerbie with panoramic views south over the Solway Firth. We arrived in a good slab on sunshine and, once quickly set up, hiked up the local hill where I imagemanaged to take a number of half decent photos. At the top of the hill C said “well, we made it”. She knew that was a wider statement than just making it to Scotland. The summer holidays were pretty much over and we were starting our new life. And to reinforce this, last night’s post-walk time was a combination of necessary admin, simple food prep, glass of wine and no TV but with R4 on in the background. It was great to be back into that sort of routine.

Today further up under the kilt of Scotland with the main aim of seeing The Kelpies; not what you are thinking, these are thirty metre high horse heads somewhere near Glasgow. I’ve no idea what they’re about, but C found them on some programme and they look fab. We have to be on Skye for Monday night to meet up with Jen and James (and his family), so a slow amble north is required.

sunset at the Ok Corral

Raining here, but spirits are high. Have a good Friday.

back in the groove

back in the groove

On our own

with Mary and her new rose bush...

with Mary and her new rose bush…

We left Mary’s in time to pop to Sainsbury’s and forage for lunch which we took to Denise’s mum’s house in Wokingham. It had been a short but restful stop at Mary’s but we had Scotland to get to and a few people to see on the way. Nothing was going to stop us.

Denise (and Phil) live in the States. He’s a v senior bloke in the Army (in terms of rank there is only one more senior) which surprises me and the rest of us as we know Phil v well; I joined the Battalion six months after he did and he’s now more important than the panic button in a nuclear power station. Don’t misunderstand me, I think it’s great and none are more capable nor more deserving than Phil; he has hardly been at home and he has spent more time in Afghanistan than Osama Bin Laden. But he’s still just Phil. He’s also the Colonel of our Regiment, which for the non-military means he’s responsible for the smooth running of most of the soldiers who come from East Anglia. Hah! What, Phil? Ok then….. We are all immensely proud, if nearly always unable to suppress a fit of giggles when we meet up pointing at his ridiculous gold braid.

Phil is in Italy (it’s a senior NATO post). Unfortunately Denise tells us he’s in Pisa, but his uniform is in Rome. That happened to me once in Finland when visiting an equipment display in the Arctic Circle. It was so cold I needed uniform so I was lent Finnish military garb and over-sized boots. Whilst nowhere near as senior as Phil, I was important enough to be given a second take by other military officers who probably thought I was defecting. Doubtless Phil will have handled his lack of the green and blue stuff with his, as always, gently charismatic aplomb. I was just glad to be warm.

Denise is staying with mum for a couple of weeks and tying up with Phil at the weekend as the Regiment gets its new colours (ceremonial flags). Her mum, and I’m sure she won’t mind me saying, is in her nineties and whilst a little frail has a mind as sharp as a poorly tuned violin. She belies her age with a

and mum came too

and mum came too

complete understanding of the modern world (she’s on Facebook and was keen to talk to me about a male relative of hers who had just married a younger man; she smiled a knowing smile), but equally at home talking about her previous love of motorbikes (only as a passenger – pointing to a black and white photograph: “that’s me on the back of a Norton”) and joining the Ton-up club. She also wholly understood what C and I were up to and said she wished she and done similar when she was younger. By the end of the afternoon I wanted to take her (and her scones) with us.

Denise was in good form, although I guess being in the States at our age is a long way from home and family. This comes back to what is emerging as a central tenet of what we’re up to: “how do you define success?” I still have no idea, but it is quite clear to me that Phil and Denise could be one answer to the question. But, perhaps, not ours.

ehh, which way now?

ehh, which way now?

We left them about 4ish and made our way to a small CL in a field just outside Lichfield (£5 – no electric). On the way I had to negotiate the M6/M6 toll/M42/A5 junction set. Has anyone done this before? We had the satnav on which provided pretty clear instructions, but it was a nightmare. At one point there were eight lanes to chose from and, perhaps tired from being up at five thirty (no idea why), they all merged into one piece of tarmac being skated on by more Range Rover Evokes than I could possibly count without crashing. We made it, just.

The small field is quiet and we are both so glad to be back on our own. The wind is buffeting the van, it’s dark and, here in Doris, it is cosy. Supper was pasta formesausagea and salad (if anyone wants the recipe…) and as I start to put this together I’m taken back to early yesterday morning when, having posted the blog before PY could moan that I hadn’t, I popped out into Mary’s Godalming suburb to check out what’s what. It was quiet at 6.45, save a businessman in suit trousers, training shoes and open shirt walking down the middle of the road reading a book. Literally (no pun intended) walking down the middle of the road…reading a book. Thank goodness traffic was light.

on our own

on our own

Off to Wallasey today to have lunch with C’s Godmother Dorothy before the final assault on Scotland.

Have a great Thursday.

Lies, damn lies and statistics

We’ve just started week seven and, for no other reason, I thought those of you of actuary persuasion might like to be furnished with some early Stage 3 statistics. Here are some random numbers which you will almost certainly want to gloss over.

We’ve travelled 1107 miles (note to self, insurance is currently capped at 10,000 – might need to renegotiate that). Current fuel economy is 32.4 mpg according to the onboard computer, but after a cursory full tank top up check on Sunday shows that’s probably slightly over-generous, but not bad. We filled the big yellow gas bottle at the beginning (20 litres = £15) and that’s still got some in it; not sure how much as the Gaslow meter is rubbish. We’ve not yet used our skis. I’ve emptied the loo five times and filled up with water twelve times (must remember to keep getting those the right way round). We’ve watched two episodes of the West Wing, two of the US series 24, one film in the van and I’ve not yet engaged the satellite TV (the unboosted indoor aerial I bought form Currys at £12 does us proud). We’ve fallen out three times, but reconciliation has been swift and, as I am always right, C has apologised where necessary. Ok, only kidding. It’s four times.

Bizarrely I have lost my small (decent) binos and yesterday morning we realised we have left one of our two, bought specially for the trip, Aladdin flasks somewhere. Not sure I understand how that happened. And, as yet, I’ve fixed more things than I have broken, although I did spill a whole glass of red wine over the front chair the other night. Quick work by C has reduced the damage to a watermark which we should be able to sort later. Oh, and we’ve listened to half of a talking cassette book.

I’ll throw some more useful data at you when we’ve been on the road a hundred days – stuff that matters like costs, pitfalls and surprising benefits. Remind me later.

Rain yesterday. A pretty miserable trip (weather wise) to the RUH in Bath where, after a prolonged wait whilst I was parked up a mile or so away, C was given the all clear with her eye. She can now look at things without fear of her eye exploding and damaging some small child nearby. I wasted a couple of hours not doing a great deal and picked C up when she called – I’m always determined not to pay hospital car park fees unless we absolutely have to. I know it’s sounds tight, but it always seems like an unnecessarily cheap trick to charge the sick and injured (and their caring visitors) when they have no choice but to come to a hospital. I know the government are looking at making parking free for visitors of the terminally ill. That would get my vote.

We left Bath stopping for a quick lunch of soup and bread just off Lansdown Racecourse. This after a bit of a hairy sharp hill, which was wet and with a front wheel drive, rear-heavy van, meant Doris’s front tyres were at times spinning twice as fast as we were travelling….an interesting few moments but the girl, who hasn’t let us down at any time so far, made it with breaking into a sweat.

one of Mary's plants first thing this morning

one of Mary’s plants first thing this morning

We got to Mary’s at about 5 and, as is always the case, settled in like it was a second home. Most important my iPad/HDMI cable had arrived at Mary’s from Amazon. We’ve been encouraged by Jen to put Netflix from our iPad through the TV (so we could watch more Friday Night Dinners). We’d watched the second Hobbit directly from my iPad but it’s not really a two-person sport. It should be possible to do this via a simple cable? Well I searched most places and ended up at Maplins. “Do you have an iPad/HDMI cable so I can watch Netflix via my iPad on our TV?” “Ahh, yes sir. Here, in our special ‘so expensive we must keep them hidden behind the sales counter space’, we have the bespoke Apple lead. Suits you sir.” “How much is that then?” “£40…..” “But I’ve seen them on Amazon for £6.” “Ahh, yes, but this a special Apple lead made of titanium coated in crocodile skin. Apple guarantee that it will work on their very beautiful, but very exclusive machines.” “Ok, but no thanks. I’ll take a £6 punt and come back with a mortgage if it doesn’t work.”

mmmmm, my iPad

mmmmm, my iPad

Well it does work and simply so. Ok, it took a couple of goes to get the thing pushing out the requisite ones and noughts to form a picture, but it delivers. And that’s the thing with Apple. I love my iPhone. It, and my iPad, are so tactile and so intuitive they hurt. But ring-fencing the technology and, most infuriatingly, not allowing you to easily extract photos from your iPhone without breaking seventeen copyright laws (as an example) is a nonsense and does them, I think, more harm than good.

Supper of upside down chicken (private joke between Mary and me), writing some of this rubbish, a latest from Rebecca and Steven who are now in Seville – one continent one day, another the next – and bed.

Anyhow. Any ideas on how to spend £34? And for those of you who have missed some pictures (sorry but I was driving most of the day) here’s a library photo of the pair of us last summer somewhere in Central Europe.


Denise today and then northwards!

We’ve been National Trusted

It is quite clear to me that a picture does not always paint a thousands words. The thing about the blog is that, hitherto, I have been up early writing away (for about an hour) and then forming and posting the thing (about another half an hour). By which time C has emerged from her pit and, over a cup of coffee, she critiques it. WordPress is brilliant, but not without its foibles. I want

rainy days and Mondays....

rainy days and Mondays….

the pictures exactly so, and sometimes that’s ok when the little men work hard at WordPress, but sometimes they’re having a coffee, or are feeling a bit rubbish and, as a result, pictures end up all over the place and then getting them right (and I only know this once its published) is a struggle – sometimes impossible. As a result yesterday’s blog’s piccies are all in a straight line (which I don’t like) and there are gaps between paras that I can’t get rid of. Naughty little men at WordPress

The other thing is writing every day is fine (actually I love it) but I do feel the need to do it as well as I can. Yesterday I thought a quick bunch of photos would paint well over a thousand words, and I could do it more quickly than writing and in time for us to go out. But I was up later than usual and looking back I’m not happy with it. And I was under a bit of pressure to get my pants on and get out of the van to do something, so I couldn’t sort it. I’m sure I gave up work to lose that feeling of ‘needing to get things done’, so that’s not right either. Don’t misunderstand me, the blog is currently central to what we are doing. I look at everything we do with slightly critical eyes and always with a view to a comment or for a photograph. C helps too. Without it I might struggle for any focus and end up needing to go back to work. Yikes!

So I have decided to write a slug before I go to bed to ease the whole thing. And as people who write stuff apparently deliver a different product depending upon what time of day they write, who knows what will happen…..

Now, what did we do yesterday?

Sandham Memorial Chapel

Sandham Memorial Chapel

The aim was to visit Sandham Memorial Chapel near Newbury (NT). The chapel was designed to house art work by Sir Stanley Spencer, a WW1 veteran who served as a medical orderly in the Salonica Campaign and in a military infirmary in Brissol, post war to recognise and remember Lieutenant Sandham who died just after the war. Dubbed as ‘Britain’s answer to the Sistine Chapel’ we were expecting great things. We were even encouraged to close our eyes before we went in to heighten the experience.

Sir Stanley Spencer

Sir Stanley Spencer

In my mind, having seen some photos in the entry display, I was expecting a vaulted ceiling with bright, almost garish wall-to-wall Pre-Raphaelite painting depicting the horror of war and physical recuperation. It was going to be a conflict of emotion, coloured, grizzly detail plastered all over the walls. Well it’s not quite like that. I know it was raining outside and the dullness permeated into the chapel, but the small rectangular shape without any particular additional form lit by heavily blanketed natural (cloudy) light does little to show off the paintings. They are probably brilliant, but it was so dull in there that none of the colours shone. It was an umber display, with brown tinges and highlighted with some dark red. The curator said this is how Sir Stanley wished it to be (but it was fabulous when it had been recently exported to Somerset House – where it was, wait for it, lit). I’m not sure this is what he would have wanted. The dullness does not evoke wartime sensitivity and depth of feeling. It lessens it. And with light-technology so good nowadays, you could light the chapel so effectively without damaging the work; it seems like too good an opportunity to miss. C thought it was brilliant, by the way.


The whole visit struggled to fill an hour so we had lunch at the local pub (thanks Annie) and headed west for Basildon Park (NT), an 18th century Palladian country house today masked in a fleece of rain. Now this was NT at its best. This big house is typical of its kind with some nice internal touches (a room decorated entirely with seashells, with all the furniture inlaid with crustaceans, and a 1950s working kitchen where the lady who does had just finished cooking scones). We were regularly interrupted by the volunteers – one man decided to add his own anecdotes about meeting famous people which had no relevance to the room in question; that was novel – telling us one thing or another. We had tea downstairs in the cellar to finish off the day.

imageBut, of course, I have missed the key to Basildon Park. The insides were borrowed to film the Christmas Special of Downton Abbey. It was used as the Grantham’s London residence so all the towny bits, including the Regent dancing away with one of the girls, were filmed here. I have to say that the NT have milked this point somewhat, including laying the dining room (which was actually used as the ballroom in the show) for the Earl and his guests. I’m not a Downton fan (watched the first series and the Christmas Special, but that’s all) but it added a familiarity to the place which was comforting. I am getting old….too quickly.

The rain remained relentless even soaking me on a run when we got back to Annie’s. It had been, weather-wise, our worst day so far. But that didn’t dampen the day. We had been thoroughly National Trusted and felt much better for it.

C’s popping to the RUH tomorrow to get her eye looked at and then we’re off to Mary’s as a stop over before seeing Denise (of Phil and Denise) on Wednesday. And then Scotland – yippee!


fabulous sculpture in the garden behind Sandham Memorial Chapel

The sound of my own voice

I guess it makes sense that on late August Bank Holiday Sunday we should do a series of things that are quintessentially English. On a day that included driving to Annie’s in Lambourn (Jen came with us in her car for lunch) I’ll let some pictures tell much of the story, picture book like…

English activity one: car boot

English activity one: car boot

Bradley Stoke car boot early doors. Packed out with folk selling stuff from their attic. A different class of car boot from Cheddar with the buyers and sellers (many East European) very much buying and selling because they probably need to. V few traders so there were bargains to be had. C: pyrex dish for Jen’s kitchen = £1.

rolling chalk downs

activity two – walking in rolling chalk downs

A slow drive in surprisingly easy traffic to Lambourn, the home of steeplechase racing. Annie’s ex-husband was a jockey famous for riding the grey Desert Orchid, who was v big in the eighties. After lunch we took her two jack russels up over the Lambourn Downs, a huge rolling chalk plateau of open fields and distant views. Four miles later, with the younger dog desperate for a carry, we had a cup of tea!





 Then, perhaps surprising to my Somerset readers, C and I popped in to Lambourn carnival. Yes, it had floats and everything. However, for those more used to Wells’ extravaganza, it lacked some of the glamour. Whilst those preparing for the Somerset series in November start the previous November, I’m guessing many of the floats in Lambourn started life like: “Hey Jim, do you want to put together a float for the carnival?” “Yea, I guess so. When is it?” “This Sunday.” “That’s plenty of time then, why not?”


activity three – a carnival!



Annie had made us a sausage casserole a la Brown and with a v special herbal tea made with my quite fabulous infuser (still haven’t got the ingredients right) we watched some more Friday Night Dinner on Netflix.

must remember to use a flash...

activity four – a selfie (must remember to use a flash…)

Off to Sandham Memorial Chapel today (NT).  And having just read this (in a rush to go out…) I think I’ll stick to words rather than photos from here on in.  I do like the sound of my own voice.


Ruining a good cup of tea

When should you stop exercising as you always have done? And when you do, what should you step down to? How much do you listen to your body and how much do you listen to the hype? Should we now been exercising in six second bursts? Is walking better for weight loss and general toning than running? Am I more likely to get arthritis of the knees if I continue to run? Closer to home a v fit acquaintance of mine in the Army died of a heart attack whilst running; he was in his early forties. He had a cold and the heart was stressed enough dealing with the illness it really couldn’t be bothered with going for a run as well. But Jo Pavey has shown again with her European Championship gold that you can be at your very best later in life.

Like another v good friend of mine (and consistent running partner when we were serving together), I have a heart ‘blip’. It skips a beat every so often, so much so that I was hospitalised with an attack of atrial fibrillation eight years ago. I am conscious of my heart. And as a typically male hypochondriac, which I have to say has become more acute since I turned forty (I know many years ago) I am conscious of every creak and wheeze. But I cannot not exercise. Running and C’s and my long walks are central to what I am. Often I will run like a wimp, pottering along seemingly slower than Mrs Woman and her pram. Other times, like yesterday, when I did three times one kilometre circuit of an oval path that threads its way round part of Bradley Stoke’s lovely nature park, I am Steve Ovett. I scream “runner coming” at pedestrians as they block the tiny path, forcing them into bramble bushes to get out of my way. I end each lap with my hands on my knees gasping for air and dismissing my tired legs as the pathetic limbs of another man; I am euphoric. But how close is my heart to giving up?

What a way to go though…

there in there somewhere

they’re in there somewhere

leak's in there somewhere

leak’s in there somewhere

An admin day yesterday. A long walk with Cassie (like Lassie, but without any of the super-canine powers and with complete disregard for human suffering) and then, with C and Jen searching the garage for the hose, I fixed: the leak in the shower room (not easy and not without tears); a wall socket; my pocket battery pack (clean the terminals and then ‘this charging device is recognised by your iPad); but not the ringer on my v old, but loveable, iPhone. It works perfectly, but does not ring. In fact none of the side buttons work at all so I’m guessing its a mechanical fault. Any ideas?

I also made an attempt at infusing some herbal tea: raspberry, ginger and honey. A little bit more work required here..

just before this ruined a good cup of tea

just before this ruined a good cup of tea

Spent yesterday evening looking to early February with James and Jen with a view to them flying over to Italy to meet us. Chicken and mushroom thingy with rice followed by bread and butter pudding (+ locally reaped blackberries). Jen has introduced us to the BBC3 TV series Friday Night DInner. Jewish family where their two grown up sons come home every Friday night for, well, dinner. It’s like Outnumbered but with older children. Four stars from me!

Off to Annie, C’s sister, today for a couple of days. Expect rain and heavy winds apparently. Have a good one.

Remind me…

Cassie - like Lassie but not really

Cassie – like Lassie but not really

It’s been forty days since we left Wells. We have travelled six weeks before in a van a couple of years ago, when we drove through Germany into Poland, down into Slovenia and then home. And our other summers have been close to six weeks too. So does this feel any different?

I guess it does, but not completely. First we haven’t been abroad. And the ‘waiting on Dover docks’ brings such a powerful feeling of anticipation and adventure which has left a summer holiday gap in the proceedings thus far. Foreign languages make a difference and, whilst the UK continues to surprise us, it doesn’t have that alien element that manages to deliver samey things like cathedrals and churches that feel more special. We’ve had the weather (the sun has followed us from left to right across England in a way that makes us pity those not on holiday where we are), but even so continental weather seems different. The sun is sunnier, the wind windier and the thunderstorms stormier – although if I read back six weeks I am reminded of significant, unending thunderstorms overnight here in Brissol. I guess there’s also something slightly risky about being abroad that heightens the senses and gives everything a more fantastical feel. We’ve missed that.

Second it really hasn’t felt truly like a holiday. And that fact is going to be interesting over the coming months. Whether that’s because we have visited so many people (only seven out of forty-two nights on our own) and whilst they’ve all been great and not before time, visiting requires effort; if sizzling sausages are laid on it’s only polite to get up, eat and ask for more – and all this without burping. Even here with Jen there’s a third person to throw in the mix and because we’re all not on holiday together, in a holiday environment, we’re, well, not on holiday. I suppose also part of me is struggling to let go of the old life and embrace the freedom I felt I so desperately needed. Every so often I have to remind myself that I no longer have to live my life to a template. “So, Roland, how is it you really want to behave today?”. The answer really shouldn’t be “as people expect of someone like me”.  The answer might better be ‘Today I’m mostly going to run through the woods naked’.

wild flowers on the roadside in central Brissol

wild flowers on the roadside in central Brissol

That point is key because, for a start, we need to holiday. We need to completely switch off. And if I don’t embrace the freedom offered, what’s the point? It’s early days but the whole philosophical underpinning of stepping out of the expected into the unbounded needs to happen even if it is rejected by the both of us. We need to let go and that hasn’t happened yet. Keep reminding me please.

thumbs up for the hoddie

thumbs up for the hoddie

What about yesterday? Mostly pottering round the shops with Jen. We went to Brislington where we got (well, she got) a new hoodie and some trekking shoes. I am v excited with my new purchase of a superfast Campingaz cooker which you can purportedly use in a gale and will boil a kettle before you’ve had time to put the teabag in the cup. We looked at different storage options for carrying stuff on our bikes as the panniers we currently use make getting them in and out of the garage tricksome. And some other stuff.

I went for a run (still reasonably quick and certainly stronger than when I ran at Jen’s last month). We debated, with some considerable hypocrisy, the fate of the gypsies who had moved into Bradley Stoke just off the dual carriageway by Tescos. And after baked potato and chilli for the three of us and Jen’s housemate, C and I disappeared into the van and watched Zombieland which just happened to be on Film 4. Do you want me to critique? Ok then. It’s a bit of fun, not scarey and well put together. Key to it is one of the stars is Woody, the support bar tender in Cheers, who has transformed himself for this film into a v believable redneck. Brilliant.  And Bill Murray makes a cameo appearance as himself (for a bit; they kill him). Three stars from me then.

Today looks like being even slower than yesterday. With the sun shining that won’t be a bad thing.

Have a great Bank Holiday weekend.

new burner - v exciting

new burner – v exciting

The Lego Movie

You don’t have to do something every day. I think we’re beginning to get to understand that, however counter-holiday that may be. We stayed long enough at P&K’s for Peter to pop home for a coffee. Before he arrived the three of us got discussing the benefits of an Oxbridge education (none of us have one; I tried and failed the exams; none of our children either). I would argue it hasn’t done us any harm – indeed success is more sweet without that fillip – but Karen would argue that Peter has had to work harder to make senior contacts. I haven’t had to work in the upper echelons of business and government where you got your degree is important, so I was arguing from a theoretical, philosophical position (probably slightly dented for failing to get there in the first place) so in my mind I was more the devil’s advocate than my own. Anyhow we will see them in September in London to continue a number of rows we have been knitting.

vagrants on Jen's drive

damn those vagrants on Jen’s drive

It took us no time to get to Jen’s (Bradley Stoke, Bristol) where, with news that C’s matron cannot see us on Saturday, we decided not to leave here until Sunday. We had parked on Jen’s drive for four weeks last summer to sort out some stuff and, just after we left, she received a council complaint about vagrants parked on her drive. I think the fact that I had wired us into the plumbing which had made us look permanent hadn’t helped, but we had always been tidy and we did own the house! But rather than someone coming along from this small close and asking us whether we were staying long, notifying the council is probably a bit much especially as we spent most of the time sprucing up the outside of the house, raising the tone of the area. But hey ho.

Anyway an afternoon of a bit of admin (backing up pictures, doing some bank sums and reading some more of Jen’s v good book) was followed by the highlight of our trip so far: supper at James’ (Jen’s boyfriend) to watch The Lego Movie on his big Panasonic TV. Supper was shop bought fish and chips during which James and Jen showed us how video games (now via a PS4) had improved from when we had bought a Nintendo 64 – yippee for Mariokart, I was unbeatable pitted against our small children.  Yup, I can report that it’s all got so much more realistic and they do look fabulous. But, you know, I’m not convinced I get it. Watching the new Laura Croft (not a patch on the very talented and very real Angelina Jolie) doing her stuff against the tyranny of the world is just so divorced from anything that resembles normal life that the realness of the what you see on the screen jars so dramatically with the unrealness of the world you’ve imaginarily thrown yourself into. I can’t reconcile the gap. So it looks fab…..but how come when you’re dead you’re resurrected so instantly? Missing a bit of my eduction, clearly.

imageThe Lego Movie was fun. If you’ve not seen it I won’t destroy the ending for you, which is a nice, albeit marshmallowy, touch. The rest of it is so fast moving that, at C’s and my age with our wits speed tested, by the time you’ve got the joke you’ve missed the next three. It’s good versus evil in Legoland with a love story thrown in, but its success (yes, it is good, although probably too over-hyped for it to really score 5-stars with my movie-pundit hat on) is the fact that it’s all made in lego and, even at our age, the evoked childhood references are strong and v funny.

A bit of shopping today. I have to do some small bits in the van and doubtless another run later. Both C and I are both enjoying not needing to be on best behavoir in the company of others (sorry Jen and James) and, in that vein, really looking forward to going to Scotland next week.

Have a good Friday. Oh and a couple of photographs I failed to post recently. No references needed I feel…