Note Number 28…Visitors, Visitors, Visitors…

I’ve put pen to paper again with a poem. I hope you readers all know me well enough to realise that it’s all tongue in cheek and that actually I love being a hostess and that I am a sociable, gregarious person.  We were visited by a few of our good friends, all of whom we first met while we were living in Italy.

Visitors…

We’ve had visitors to stay in April and I had to get things straight
They came and went like fleas on their hols, from morning until late
I had to do the housework proper, not flick around light with the duster
Dig deep into my domestic soul, find some enthusiasm to muster

I splashed the extra strong germ killer, gave the bathroom a jolly good scrub
I added a bit of fragrance so it smelt like a flowering shrub
The sheets were done, the bed was made, the food all bought and stored
The wine and beer safe in the fridge. I hoped they wouldn’t get bored

The first lot came for only one night, we packed much in before they fled
To much better pastures; a hotel, en-suite with a king size bed
A quick turnaround at our end to welcome the next lucky pair
They hung around for two nights… more than enough to bear

On to the final couple…a collection at dawn o’clock!
From the airport seventy miles away – my body’s still in shock
They redeemed themselves, a gift of smoked salmon, certainly Ireland’s best
Then ruined it all, with several demands to complete a tough, tourist quest

Off to see Lenny’s farm shop and Broadchurch’s death-cliff height
The town pub was too smelly, and the Guinness, bejaysus was shite!
They live in Italy, so he wanted to go to a typical, thatched local Inn
I found one, he liked it, but the beer wasn’t good, bloody hell, I just could not win

We’d got rid of the lot and had settled right down, to recoup our lost get-up-and-go
When a knock on the door. No! Another fine pair, wanting glasses of cold Prosecco
They stayed long enough, to scoff all the nuts, the dip, the breadsticks and wine
Then up they both jumped, thank goodness, they had somewhere much better to dine!

Ninette Hartley ©

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West Bay…the location for the Broadchurch TV series. Only a ten minute drive from our cottage.

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Washingpool Farm Shop…another location for Broadchurch

Walking the dog with our visitors

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The Ilchester Arms at Symondsbury…thatched Inn, beer not good aparently…(gin and tonic was great though) 

Note Number 27…We’re Spending the Kid’s Inheritance…

A little poem followed by what we did for Easter Weekend…

We’re spending the kid’s inheritance
And hoping that they won’t mind,
As we fulfil our dreams and ambitions
Keeping our bodies and minds alive
Because, until we reach the end of the road
And hear that inevitable knock on the door
We’re spending the kid’s inheritance,
And, we’re enjoying it, further more

We’re spending the kid’s inheritance
On doing as much as we’re able
Like, city breaks, beach holidays, classy hotels,
Sunshine, roses, champagne and those
Wonderful visits to London to see
The ballet, or theatre, or an art gallery
We’re spending the kid’s inheritance
We’re retired and at last we are free

Don’t worry, we’re not really selfish
And, there’s something I really should add
Most of our kids are now better off
Than their soon to be skint mum and dad!

Ninette Hartley © February 2017

Last Easter weekend we spent in London…a city break. We stayed at the Royal Overseas League in St. James’s where we are members. It’s a wonderful club, where they had a deal; four nights for the price of two. It’s perfectly situated for central London, shopping, theatres, museums etc., We packed in a lot of stuff…

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The Man Enjoying Window Shopping….(nooooo- not another bike!!) 

1. Friday train from Crewkerne to Waterloo. Lunch at the club. Evening a visit to the Dominion theatre to see An American in Paris. A new show, a stupendous show and well worth a visit. The dancing, mostly balletic, is wonderful, culminating in a fabulous pas de deux with the leading characters, Jerry Mulligan played by Robert Fairchild and Lise Dassin played by Leanne Cope. The Man said it was the best bit of ballet he’d ever watched.

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2. Saturday we went to the Regent Street Cinema to watch an uncut version of Novecento (1900) directed by Bernardo Bertolucci and starring Robert De Niro and Gérard Depardieu. An epic five hours and twenty minutes of film plus a forty-five minute, interval. The story covers 1900 – 1945 showing the situation in Italy between the Socialist party and the Fascists, seen through the eyes of two boys, born on the same day, one a peasant, whose family live and work on the estate belonging to the family of the other. I wasn’t sure I could sit through such an epic but actually it was like reading a good story, settling in and not putting the book down until you had finished the whole thing. I loved it.

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3. Sunday we took ourselves off to the Imperial War Museum but only managed to cover three of the five floors in four hours. We’ll definitely be going back. The Holocaust Exhibition was particularly powerful with images, artefacts, interviews with survivors and a lot more. Disturbing, informative and thought provoking.

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Beautiful Tulips in St James’s Park – We walked to the IWM 

4. Sunday evening we were treated to a musical concert at the club. Not something I would normally choose, a soprano, Sarah-Jane Lewis, and a piano, but I have to say, the singing was beautiful and the pianist, Simon Lepper, accomplished and not bad looking. The songs were short, diverse and Sarah sang in three different languages. We were given the programme with all the words translated so it was easy to follow. A glass of wine after the concert and a chance to thank the artists for their performance, rounded off the evening.

The Steinway….and The Programme

5. Monday, we were to meet a couple of our children for lunch at Dishoom in Carnaby. The Man had bought a couple of pairs of shoes on Saturday morning and I had said in a mad moment, ‘I’ve always wanted a pair of DMs.’ Well, we were early for our appointment so had a walk around and lo and behold there was the original Doc Martin shop in Carnaby Street. Had to be done!

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THE BOOTS…photograph credit Will Hartley 

In the evening we went to see The Wipers Times (so called because the British soldiers pronounced Ypres Wipers) a first world war play written by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman, at The Arts Theatre. A completely opposite venue to the Dominion it was an intimate theatre, more like a club, and the production was low key but splendid. Based on a true story about the 24th Division of the Sherwood Foresters who found an old printing press in the burned out ruins of Ypres and decided to print a satirical newspaper covering the war. The main men, Captain Fred Roberts and Lieutenant Jack Pearson, co-editors continued to produce the journal throughout the war. It was an instant hit with the troops but not so popular with the top brass. Spoof advertisements, agony aunts, musical hall jokes and routines and always taking a jibe at those higher up. If you can catch this play it’s a must.

The Arts Theatre Bar – loved the light fitting… The Programme for The Wipers Arms

Back home to Dorset on Tuesday we felt we had crammed plenty of culture into our weekend away in London and hope it’s not too long before we can cram in another. In the meantime, we’re attending as many of the 22 films showing over the next five days at the Bridport Film Festival, From Page to Screen. We’ve already seen, In the Heat of the Night and Their Finest, both bloody brilliant and only a hop down the road.

I love being Retired…

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Note 23…Spring Flowers and A Mixed Bag of Waffle…Plastic not Acceptable…

It’s funny how people chat about the weather and the seasons and the time of year.

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Beautiful Spring Flowers at Higher Ash Farm. A public footpath goes right through the farmyard…how lovely to see this display for walkers to appreciate. 

“Clocks will soon be going forward,” says one. “Can’t wait for the lighter evenings.” says another. “Have you seen all the Spring flower out? They’re amazing. Makes one feel good.”

Yes, it does make you feel good to see the daffodils, primroses, snowdrops in the hedgerows and in the gardens too. I’m loving England right now. I’m missing the warmer days that are probably around in Italy at the moment but there’s nothing like an English Spring day when  sun comes out.

If only everybody could love the countryside as I do and please stop throwing rubbish out of windows or deliberately dropping waste paper or litter out of their pockets onto the road. There is much publicity at the moment about the plastic being dumped into our seas and oceans but what about the stuff that is strewn everywhere. This habit of chucking stuff out isn’t confined to the countryside, the towns and cities are as bad. The only difference is there is perhaps more wildlife in country areas than urban, who could be affected by the crap people dispose of in any way they wish.

I have been collecting from the side of the road but sometimes I can’t reach a plastic cup or can when it’s been chucked out of a lorry window because it’s too high for me to reach.

Why do we have we need to use so much plastic? Why can’t we go back to paper bags for food and glass bottles for drinks. I particularly hate the fast food containers, those yellow polystyrene burger boxes and massive plastic beakers with lids and plastic straws through a hole in the top.

I hate these containers 

When I was younger, I used to love it in the American films when people went to the grocery store they carried it all home in a brown paper bag which they held in their arms. I thought that looked so cool. Now, everyone is laden down with several plastic carrier bags. Even me! I try to remember to take my ‘bag for life’ into the shop with me but so often I forget them and leave them in the car.

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NEW RESOLUTION – If I forget the bags I will put everything back in the trolley or the basket, take it to the car and pack it there.

Please can we go back to wrapping the Fish and Chips in Newspaper. Return to glass bottles that you pay a deposit for and then return. Food that you can buy and wrap up in paper, not pre-wrapped in, impossible-to-open, hard plastic. That goes for other commodities too, practically everything you purchase is impenetrably packed, in a completely sealed unit that you need some implement not yet invented to release the said article before it can be used…phew!

Oh…I’ve only just started on this…I feel a few bullet points coming on…

  1. Why do many magazines have to be put into clear plastic bags?
  2.  What’s the point of screws and nails being sold in packets of 50 or 100, bring back the old hardware shops.
  3. Ban take-away foods – no – on second thoughts just ban the ghastly packaging.
  4. Ban all plastic packaging
  5. Ban plastic plates, knives and forks…who needs them anyway?
  6. What’s wrong with using proper cutlery and crockery when you go out for a picnic? As a matter of fact the Italians are the worst culprits, they will serve up a complete meal on a plastic plates; pasta, meat and finishing with desserts. That’s three plastic plates for every person attending, tut tut.
  7. (I suppose we could go back to paper plates).
  8. Why is that we cannot put black plastic containers in the recycling bin? (in West Dorset that is).
  9. Ban mega stores, bring back rural bus routes, village shops and town-centre shopping…

Okay, I’m going off the point now. Time to stop waffling and have a cup of tea. I’ll be moaning about dog walkers next time…

Note Number 20…A Glimpse of Madeira and the High Life…

The Hotel Taken from the pool and Reid’s Tea Terrace 

We have just returned from an amazing ten-day holiday at Reid’s Hotel in Funchal Madeira. It was a holiday of a lifetime, (apologies for the cliché).
We should have been travelling to Thailand, Australia and New Zealand, but after a busy 2016 I just couldn’t face the lengthy flights, but, we wanted a little bit of winter sun so ended up in Madeira, spending about the same money as a two-month vacation in the Southern Hemisphere! However, I’m not sorry.

The hotel did not disappoint and the room with a promised view of the sea, was spacious, with a desk and two armchairs as well as an enormous bed. A luxury marble bathroom and separate WC. I loved it! Reid’s has been around for 125 years and the atmosphere is unique. Photographs of rich and famous people who have visited in the past are kept in glass cases in a large walk-through lounge which joins the old hotel to the new bit (you can’t tell the difference between the two).

Room with a View…and early morning sun…

The gardens at Reid’s are tropical and lush with paths and seating areas throughout. I cannot emphasise the beauty of the place enough. The staff at the hotel were friendly and rushed about attending to our every need and appeared to enjoy their job. I don’t generally like being waited on, but they made me feel as though it was no trouble at all and that they genuinely wanted to help make our holiday the best it could be. On the tables by the pool there were little buzzers that you could use to call a waiter.

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The Buzzer or Call Button…

It took me about half an hour to pluck up the courage to ring it one morning, as it seemed such a decadent thing to do, but when the smiley waitress arrived, happy to serve me with a cocktail and a sandwich all my concerns vanished. Other guests were similar to us. I had expected a lot of stuck up toffs but on the whole they were ordinary people enjoying spending their well-earned money. There were of course a few whose opinions and demands could be heard above all others. But, as one waiter told us, ‘We learn to be just friendly enough and we respond to how we are treated, if the person doesn’t smile or speak well to us, then we serve them but we don’t make good conversation. We leave them alone and give them the bare minimum.’ Most of the older staff have been with Reid’s for many years, over twenty at least, which has to be a good sign. Although the hotel was originally family owned, it is now in the hands of Belmond (new branding for Orient Express) but, essentially, the atmosphere remains that of a family run business. That is probably the secret of its success. A grand hotel which feels like home from home.

A little slide show for you….

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We didn’t manage to take a basket sledge because by the time we had reached the top of the hill on the cable car it was too late…another time perhaps.

The breakfast was the best spread I have ever seen in a hotel, there was literally everything you can imagine, the choice was unlimited…fresh fruit, cereals, bread, croissants, pastries, cheese, ham, smoked salmon and other fish, plus bacon, eggs, vodka and champagne, etc., there was literally everything you could wish for.

Amazing Breakfast…and…

Amazing Desserts…and…

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Amazing Tea on Reid’s Tea Terrace… (oh and we also had scones).  By the way, the little round brown cake at the back with an almond on the top I believe is a Madeira Cake…they don’t have anything like the pale lemon flavoured cake that we know as Madeira…how about that? 

I have been thoroughly spoilt and The Man was responsible. We did attend the fitness centre (him everyday and me for seven out of the ten) and tried only to eat breakfast and lunch or breakfast and dinner never the three. On two occasions we ate breakfast and then a Reid’s tea. We walked from the hotel to Câmara De Lobos, about 7.5k…we got a taxi back then I went swimming and The Man went to the gym. Câmara De Lobos, was a place often visited by Churchill where he sat and painted the little fishing village. He also stayed regularly at Reid’s with Clementine, I believe.

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Câmara De Lobos – Churchill’s Favourite Village on Madeira (so we’re led to believe…)

Random Snippets about Madeira…

It’s an island in the Atlantic approximately 1000k South of Portugal and close to 600k from the North African coast.

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Over the Sea and Far Away…Madeira sits in the Atlantic…

 It has several micro climates so you cannot easily predict the weather but it is warm most of the time. We experienced between 13 and 23 degrees for our ten-day stay. Rain in the morning and sun in the afternoon or vice versa. Five of our days were sunshine all the way.
Bananas grow everywhere.

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Bananas – taken through the mini bus window…hence the reflection

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Sugar Cane also grows in Madeira

Espada (pronounced ESHPAADA)is the local fish and it is not pretty . Apparently it looks a bit like an ugly eel. We were told that it is line fished from more than 2000 metres deep in the sea around Madeira and that when it is pulled up the pressure causes the fish to burst so that all the innards come out negating the requirement to gut and clean the thing…sounds disgusting doesn’t it? You eat it pan-fried with banana, if you want to have it in the traditional way.

Limpet Rice served with Espada and Banana…

The poncha drink is local rum, honey and lemon… (It tasted a bit medicinal I think)
Tea at Reid’s hotel is a must for any tourist.

img_3245Poncha…as drunk by me…

Madeira has the highest cliff in Europe and you can stand at the top of it and look down through a glass platform.

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It’s a Long Way Down…

There are Levada (irrigation channnels) walks that can be taken but we didn’t go on this occasion, but if you want to see more look here

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Somewhere in this photo is a Levada Walk…I know because our guide Christina said so…

A replica of Christopher Columbus’s ship the Santa Maria is moored in Funchal and does daily trips out to sea…not sure it’s entirely propelled by sails now though….

Painted Doors in Old Funchal Town….

There was so much to see and do in Madeira, we merely covered a few of them. A day trip out took us to the North side of the island and the weather was very changeable from wild, windy, misty and wet…to sunny and bright, although the sea remained monstrous.

Changeable on the North Coast…these photos were taken less than ten minutes apart.

One of very few places on the list for a return visit…Have you been?

Note Number 17…January’s Over…(warning post not suitable for vegetarians or vegans…)

Today the snowdrops are showing their pretty white heads in the garden, it’s such a lovely sight…Spring is on its way and it’s only about seven and a half weeks before the clocks change…

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January 2017 is over – it was a dry January for some but for me only demi-sec, I did have some Prosecco, a gin and tonic or two and a few glasses of red, few glasses of white, but overall, I was good.  The weight is staying off and if I can lose another half-stone, then I will indeed be a happy bunny. I’ve been walking as much as possible and the first part of January was pretty dry but the end of it and the first two days of February have been mega wet and windy and more to come over the weekend for those of us in the southwest.

Wet days walking in the fields, dog with her hi-vis jacket on…

As we live in the countryside, country things happen and during January I was given a brace of pheasants.  I gladly accepted, it would have been rude had I declined. I didn’t shoot them, not do I wish to, but in my opinion, they’ve had a better life than the chicken I buy, even an organic free range one. The problem with the pheasant is they don’t come plucked, gutted and oven ready.  We hung them just for a couple of days and then I had to face the music and roll up my sleeves. I’d done it before but a long time ago so I googled it and youtube showed me how. Except, it was to skin them and not pluck them. Well, I have to say, it was pretty easy although a bit gory and taking off the feathers along with the skin was just like taking its coat off. Very weird. Vegetarians and vegans, turn away now….I’ve left out the really gory photos out…

A Brace of Pheasant Hanging outside the Front Door …then in preparation. 

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I know, I know… I look like a big game hunter but honestly I didn’t shoot them…Also, had my gilet on under my apron so look over large…can’t see that half-stone I’ve lost. 

In January, thoughts turn to holidays and sunshine. My next postings will be from Madeira,  I’m looking forward to it as I’ve not visited it previously. Before I booked our ten days away, I tried to find out where the good weather would be within a short distance from the UK, also we wanted to fly from Bristol and not any of the London airports. One website came up with the five best places being, Sicily, Malta, The Canary Islands, Cyprus and Madeira and we chose the last one. I’ve looked at the forecast as it does seem we might have some rain but the temperatures are up in the late teens, so I’ll be content with that…there’s always a glass of madeira to sup!

See you in Madeira folks.

Note Number 15…Logs…Targets and Totals…

I have been trying to walk further with the dog, Jpeg (note number 16 will tell you why she’s called that) and The Man introduced me to Strava. It’s an App you can get on your phone and it’s really for people who run, cycle or swim but, he kept on at me, (as men do) because he uses it for cycling and he was convinced it would get me walking more. So I downloaded it to my smart phone. Strava logs your activity for you, making a little map, it gives you information such as the time you take to cover a kilometre or mile, how far you’ve travelled, etc., etc., Then you load it from your phone onto the Strava website and everyone can see what you’ve done. You get a little ‘personal best’ cup if you walk the same bit of road in a faster time and you can follow people and they can follow you, it’s a kind of Facebook for athletes. I feel a bit stupid on it really because I’m just walking the dog and others are swimming the channel, running 10k and cycling a 100k – sometimes all three in the same day! BUT, it has worked to a certain extent as I now think about how far I’m walking each week and trying out different places to go. So thumbs up to Strava…oh and other people can give you kudos so you feel good about yourself, which is always good for the self-esteem.

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Please note the Running shoe on the Icon…I am invariably in wellies or walking boots. See below.

welliesI don’t think Jpeg cares about targets except how many birds she can chase

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One of the many, muddy hills I struggle up, fighting against the strava clock ….phew!

I have also been trying to lose weight and get fit after Christmas, along with The Man, who is wanting to do lots of long cycle rides in 2017, some of which will take him over the Alps so he has to be ‘superfit’. Making a note of how much you lose every other day, and writing down what you eat is so helpful. Checking calories – it’s amazing how they add up, 50 here 50 there, soon become 200 or 300.  I haven’t got an App for this but I know there are plenty around.  But, the diet is going well, I’m 6 pounds down and The Man is 11 pounds down, going on a stone…so happy bunnies all round.

Things we’re not eating right now…

 

Things we are eating right now…note, no grapes The Man says, “They are sugar bombs!”

My other aim is to finish this novel ‘Oh, we’ve heard all that before!’ I hear you cry. But, honestly, I am getting down to it, aided by a programme that I have for writing called Scrivener. I love it and I can set my word target for the whole novel and a word count for each session that I type and watch it going up. I have it set for 2000 words a day, and when I’ve completed that number a message pings up on the screen – You have reached your target – which is a great feeling. Of course, half of what I’ve written is probably rubbish but, nevertheless I’m writing!

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Whoops! Look at that…not a singe word yet today…and my deadline for 85,000 words is the end of March. Now you ALL know about it,  I will have to get on with it!

Note Number 12, Out With The Old – On With The New…

It was a great family Christmas…now it’s over and I’m missing them all already. It’s been fun, frustrating, full-on, flippant, fancy, fulfilling, fabulous, farty (well all those sprouts and stuffing don’t you know?), feel-good, fortified, fantastic…f*** that’s enough Fs for now!

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A Game of Qwirkle in Progress

Haven’t made any resolutions but we did have a fab time with our neighbours and my sister-in-law and brother-in-law on New Year’s Eve.  We ate chilli followed by bread and butter pudding, then we played Qwirkle – a game I can highly recommend for most age groups. Try it if you haven’t already. Some of us drank a good dose of vino… Fun was had. At 11.45pm we went outside where The Man had previously lit the fire-pit so by then it was roaring beautifully.  To see out the ‘old year’, each of us secretly chose one or more emotions/habits, that we would like to ‘get rid of’ before 2017 came in.   We wrote them on scraps of paper and then threw them into the fire. It was something that we had done at my son’s wedding in Thailand two years ago and it seemed a good opportunity to repeat the experience.  It felt good, ‘letting go’.

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Fire-Pit Burning Well – goodbye 2016 hello 2017

Good luck with 2017 all of you and we hope to see as much of our family and as many friends as possible during the year – The Man will insist on a maximum of three nights only if you have to stay. I’m sure he’ll make some comment below as to why that is.

Note Number 3. Neighbours, Everybody Needs Good Neighbours…

Neighbours 
Click on the link above and hear the title song

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…That’s When Good Neighbours Become Good Friends…

I’ve moved a good few times in my life and therefore I feel qualified to write about neighbours because over a period of greater than sixty years I’ve had a variety of them. Some I remember with fondness, some with exasperation and some with a mild sense of distaste in my mouth but on the whole they have been a pretty good cross section of society.

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Our Row of Little Cottages

Right now, we have the most splendid people living in our small terrace of three cottages and the farm opposite and of course the lady in the big house…
Last night we were treated to the most wonderful dinner party at the end terrace. Eight of us round the table; our two lovely neighbours, three of their family members and a friend. The food was bloody marvellous, well the lady that cooked it was a professional chef so we felt quite spoilt. The South African wine was delicious and the company exhilarating. How lucky are we? These neighbours are friendly, helpful can’t do enough for us but at the same time are not knocking on the door every five minutes…well not most days anyway. I feel blessed to have met them. Must ask for that potato dauphinoise recipe it was fabulous…

The people in the middle terrace are a young couple with two small boys but it’s a holiday place so they’re not here all the time but when they have been around they’ve proved to be excellent neighbours. The farmer and his wife are friendly and welcoming but extremely busy. I had forgotten how hard a farmer’s life can be and all for very little reward. Twenty-four seven, all year round. The cows always have to be milked even when it’s Christmas. I suppose I should be a good neighbour and offer to help but…

As for the lady in the big house…well she’s no problem at all…except, you’d want her on your side in any dispute!

In my late 20s with two young children I found myself homeless and a single parent. I ended up on a pretty rough Council estate in Weston Super Mare and for the first week I was devastated. But, life throws shit at you and you have to get on with it. I was given a maisonette and below us lived an old lady who could not have been sweeter to my son and daughter, they were about six and three years old at the time…we can count her as a good neighbour. But best of all was a young mum who lived with her husband and young baby in a house a few doors away. She became one of the closest friends I was every to have. She made my stay on the estate bearable and helped me see all the good things that were happening in my life. We had a good laugh, we cared for each other and we learned from each other. I could not have got through some of the bad times without her. Things were rough, money tight but she stopped me from hitting rock bottom. The sad thing is, this wonderful woman developed a non-malignant tumour that was wrapped around the top of her spinal chord. It was not possible to operate. An intolerable situation. She became paralysed and died quite quickly in her early thirties, leaving behind her husband and two daughters. What a loss. My beautiful neighbour, I think about her often and will go on missing her forever.

Now for a bad neighbour- I’ve had a few but I’m going to tell you about one we had in Italy. She was in her eighties and had lived at the house next door FOREVER…I could understand her coolness at having foreigners move in. I could have done so much to help her, shopping, cleaning etc., but she would not consider any friendly offer. She even called in the Carabinieri when we were doing some work in the garden and halted the proceedings saying that we had taken half a metre of her land. The powers that be came to measure and said, ‘Yes you have taken a little, it’s not too clear but in any case she has taken a metre and a half over your boundary at the top there.’
‘What should we do about it?’ I asked.
A shrug of the shoulders and he said, ‘Nothing, she’ll be dead soon.’
We were allowed to carry on with the work but she was such a nasty neighbour she pulled up our plants and stole some big stones that we had set out as ‘garden art’ and proceeded to bash them up in her own garden. Very strange. The Man thought she was practising some kind of voodoo…I must admit she was very thin and scrawny and little bit witch-like. She swore at us in Italian in a very high pitched voice and The Man would swear back in English, she couldn’t possibly understand. She did die – eventually but not until six years had been spent spying on us from her window and we’re sure, putting spells on us…creepy. We asked the family who sold us the house whether she’d always been a meany. ‘Oh yes,’ he said, ‘She had a row with my grandmother and since then has always been really nasty to all of us and I suppose she’s just carrying on the feud with you.’ Thanks for not telling us before we bought the house Giacamino…Italians eh? Family feuds eh? Fortunately, she wasn’t able to actually enter our house so nothing nasty found in the bed…that episode in The Godfather brings a whole new meaning to the word ‘neigh(bour)’ hmmm…

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Another good neighbour lived (and still does) in a small house at the bottom of our rather long driveway where we lived in West Buckland. She was a teacher in the local primary school, Filleigh. When we first arrived, Thomas was six and the twins were three…she was brilliant with them. The boys were always knocking on the door or more likely barging in, and she never turned them away. She welcomed them and taught them so many wonderful things about animals and plants. There were always tadpoles and frogspawn in the spring, flowers in the summer…she made these lovely sweet, battered, deep fried elderflowers. She had cats and dogs and she loved children and animals. Her mission in life was to educate, in the best possible way. She was an outstanding teacher and not just in school. The boys adored her for all the ten years we lived there and still speak fondly of her now. You know who you are – Julie.

I could mention more neighbours but I’m saving those for my memoirs…

Those of you who know me will recognise that the song quoted in my title today was written by my bro Tony Hatch.

Summer Fruits, Friends and Gardens…

There’s nowhere better than the English countryside in the summer when the weather is good and in Dorset, at the moment, the sun is shining and the breeze is warm. My friend Jan from Bristol, came to stay for a night while The Man was away visiting London including a quick visit to Brand’s Hatch with FMS racing.

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We decided to visit Forde Abbey near Chard, which I’ve been itching to visit since we first arrived in Dorset. Originally a Cistercian monastery and dissolved by order of Henry VIII in 1539, the estate has changed hands many times over the years. The first private owners were the Prideux family in 1649 and the design of the house and gardens have been added to and altered over the years. We took a walk around the impressive gardens commenting on what a pleasure it was to be able to walk on the well groomed grass and appreciate the fantastic herbaceous borders. They were full of multitudinous colours, scents and a variety of flowers too numerous to mention (actually I hadn’t a clue what many of them were, but let’s not go there). I have only recently become interested in plants and flowers as we do have a small but attractive cottage garden with lawn and flower beds. This year has been a bit of a discovery waiting to see what came up but I did plant half a dozen roses, some of which are turning out to be wonderful and a couple that have been drowned out by some enormous perennial dahlias … at least I think that’s what they are. Any gardening tips would be most welcome.

Hard to tell the difference between my garden and Forde Abbey really…(NOT)

There is something about water that is mesmerising and I love rivers, streams, the sea, in fact water in any form. Strange, because I’m not good in boats and I’m not a great swimmer, I suppose I just love being nearby this basic element. At Forde Abbey we sat for a while by the Long Pond and watched the magnificent Centenary Fountain on Mermaid Lake close by. The fountain was installed in 2005 to celebrate 100 years of ownership by the Roper family. It is the tallest powered fountain in England reaching 150 ft. They don’t have it running permanently but for about fifteen minutes several times a day.

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The Centenary Fountain

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The Long Pond

After our tour of the garden we entered the house via the Grand Hall. There was an overwhelming smell of beeswax and carpets, not unpleasant at all but evoking memories of my childhood when I took ballet lessons in an old mansion in Eastcote Middlesex. Forde Abbey is not an enormous house and not at all museum-like, but it does have some great pieces of old furniture and several bedrooms with four poster beds and grand soft furnishings. Jan and I decided we could easily live in the place – for a couple of weeks anyway, but after that it might be a bit difficult just sitting and sewing samplers and not doing the odd job around the house or cooking the meals. Actually Jan said she would be quite happy not having to think of what to cook for dinner every day, but I pointed out that she’d probably still have to think of meal plans but then leave it to someone else to prepare, which would suit me!

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Front of the House

It wasn’t hard to imagine life for the women in the families who had lived in the house in the past. We could visualise them strolling across the lawns with lace parasols keeping their delicate fair skin from burning in the mid afternoon sun. From one smaller bedroom at the back of the house, I could picture a young seventeen-year old girl in the 19th century, sitting on the deep wooden window sill gazing down to the kitchen garden below and eyeing the muscular, tanned figure of a young gardener, possibly stripped to the waist…Mills and Boon here I come!

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The Kitchen Garden and Back of the House

Forde Abbey has a ‘pick your own’ farm about a mile or so from the main house and grounds so we jumped in our cars and headed off to gather some fruit for jam. Sadly, the strawberries had come to an end but there were plenty of raspberries, if you looked for them.
‘Lots of people don’t bother but if you lift up the branches you’ll find loads underneath’ suggested the girl at the farm shop and she was right. ‘Walk right down to the last two rows’, she added.
It was a fair way to walk but not for hardened pickers like Jan and I who have, for the last few seasons, spent our time in October picking olives. Raspberries are a bit easier and obviously we could just harvest what we wanted with the added bonus of being able to eat them as we went. Definitely something you cannot do with an olive!

And finally…..

The Jam!

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Oops…forgot to mention that we had a lovely lunch in the cafe, at Forde Abbey, jacket potato for me and quiche for Jan with salad…all from kitchen garden.  We looked but sadly we never saw any young, muscular gardeners…I think they keep them hidden from visitors. 😦

Salento…sun…sea…

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Beach at Gallipoli

The Man, Jpeg and I took a trip to Puglia. It was a six hour drive down the A14, a piece of cake for hardy travellers like us. I packed sandwiches, drinks and fruit for us and water for the dog. As regular readers know, we like to listen to an audio book and the choice for this journey was Sons and Lovers, by D H Lawrence, read by Robert Powell. I loved it and now want to read the book as I think quite a lot of content may have been cut. Next choice was The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, part 1, by Edward Gibbon read by Bernard Mayes. I’m afraid I was less attentive to this one so drifted in and out, whilst The Man was soaking it all in so I can ask him questions on the subject should I need to…enough said.

We had a little trouble when we got close to our destination as the sat nav said one thing and the directions from the villa owner said another, neither of which, in retrospect, seemed to be that good, but we did eventually find the place and ‘Dave’ not the villa owner but the friendly, do-anything-for-you, man. He was the perfect meeter and greeter, he really couldn’t do enough for us, making sure everything was right for our holiday.

The villa was a typical Pugliese house, white, square building (bungalow I suppose you would say) with a flat roof. Generally, the buildings in Salento have a strong Arabic influence, painted white, some with arched windows and courtyards. Our place had a high wall round part of it and fencing with trees. We could shut Jpeg safely in the shaded garden area at the back of the house when we went out and let her roam pretty much everywhere in the grounds when were home, which was good. But, there wasn’t roof terrace or anywhere elevated from which to view the surrounding countryside. I guess even if there had been there wouldn’t have been that much to see, because Puglia is, for the most part very flat.

The area was very different from how I thought it would be. It was a lot like Spain and although I haven’t been there, I imagine, like Mexico. Maybe it was the ubiquitous huge cactus plants that encouraged my thinking.

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The roads are flat and straight, with extensive olive groves on each side and where the groves are absent then there are small houses or shacks with allotments, fields of crops and also a great deal of wasteland or perhaps it’s more uncared for land, as though at one time there was a lot going on and now it’s just abandoned.  I wasn’t sure what to make of it all that first day.

It was pretty hot, temperatures up in the late 20’s but also very windy. The very bottom of Puglia is called Salento and for the first week of our holiday we covered as much ground as we could, visiting major towns inland and on the coast. Very quickly we decided that for us the western coast, with the Ionian Sea was the most pleasant place to take a dip. Specifially, Pescoluse, where there was a sandy beach and warm clear sea to swim in, sunbeds, a café or two. The eastern coast between Gallipoli and Santa Maria Di Leuca has many sandy beaches and depending on what you want you can take your pick.

I liked the town of Santa Maria Di Leuca, on the very tip of Italy’s heel, land’s end, ‘Finibus Terrae’ . We had a seafood lunch on the seafront, huge grilled prawns and delicious fried mixed fish. After a walk along the lungomare (promenade), a quick and yummy ice-cream stop, we drove up to the point where the lighthouse stood and admired the view down over the town. Lovely place. We returned again the second week.

Otranto is on the east coast. Another lovely town and the town beach was clean enough but didn’t inspire me to swim or even paddle.

We went to Otranto to hire a bike because The Man did not think that the ‘shopping bikes’ available at our villa, were good enough for him. I told him he was a bike snob and he agreed but still wanted to go ahead and hire something better. He wasn’t able to rent a road bike so had to make do with a rather splendid mountain bike. I believe there is some distinction to those who know about these things. For me – I would rather use Shanks’s pony.  (just in case you don’t know the expression).Jpeg and I walked everyday, but it was a bit boring along the flat roads. I did venture into the massive olive groves and allow the dog to run through the trees but it was all too easy to get lost as the paths through the trees all looked the same.

Sadly, the olive trees and some of the fruit trees in the area have fallen victim to a bacterial infection. Many of them look dried up and dying. It seems there has to be a significant cull, which has in part been carried out. But, it is a disaster for the area economically and possibly ecologically. Of course it will change the landscape dramatically.

Lecce is a beautiful town architecturally, but you do have to get right into the old centre to appreciate it, because on the periphery of the city and even immediately outside the centro storico, there are several 1960 concrete monstrosities. Buildings that in my opinion should be razed to the ground. However, in the oldest part of town, walking through the old streets, with the travertine slabs underfoot, one can easily visualize the town hundreds of years ago. But The Man is the historian, not me, so I will just leave you with a few photos.

The second week of our holiday we were expecting my son Joe to arrive. He was flying from Stansted to Brindisi to spend a few days R&R with us, as he had been a bit poorly at the tail end of May and beginning of June. He should have gone to Thailand with his twin brother Wills to celebrate their 30th birthday but, unable to go, Puglia seemed like a good second choice. The flight was after all, only 2 hours 40 mins not fourteen hours – but was it? Here, I insert a warning….do not track your family or friends’ flights on any Internet app… just saying, because…

The trip from our villa to Brindisi airport was about an hour so I thought I would check to see if the flight had taken off on time. On the flightaware website I could see that it had taken off twenty minutes late and had risen to 37,000 feet and was cruising happily. I popped out quickly with the dog, had a bite to eat and then about an hour into the flight I checked again. Imagine my HORROR….when I saw the the plane had made a kind of loop on the graph and then appeared to make a rapid descent dropping quickly on the graph to 3,500 feet and then NOTHING!! Oh my God!… I was speechless.

Conversation,
Me. Err, look at this…do you think there’s something wrong with the app?
TM Well, it could be but I doubt it. There will be an explanation.
Me I’m going to the airport, leaving now. (I could see myself as one of those grief stricken relatives weeping and waiting for news.)
TM I’m coming with you.
Me No it’s fine, I’ll be fine.
TM I’m definitely coming – bring your passport. (this was, he told me later, in case we had to fly somewhere!

We both headed quickly out of the house, a heavy silence between us. Both having awful thoughts but not communicating them. I had already googled, ‘latest news of plane crash; Ryanair; plane lost over Europe; Terrorist on board flight…; etc., etc., But nothing had come up.

About quarter of an hour into our journey my mobile rang and The Man answered it.
‘Yes…okay…where are you now?…still on the plane…on the ground?…okay, don’t worry, we’re on our way to the airport so we’ll carry on and wait…two hours, right, bye.

‘He’s okay, he’s at Frankfurt, the plane was diverted because someone was taken ill on board. They’ll be delayed for a couple of hours…phew…!!!’
I will never track a plane again, too stressful.

Back to Puglia.

 

As mentioned earlier we drove around the whole peninsular of Salento and noticed that many of the towns were run down, particularly in the north-east, with businesses closed up and weeds growing along the pavements and in the gutters. Some were like ghost towns. We asked a few questions and were told that it wasn’t the holiday season yet. Italy goes on holiday in August and maybe the last week of July. But even this didn’t account for the garage closures and boarded up shops. We didn’t think they would ever open and Lecce’s closest beach San Cataldo where everyone is supposed to rush to for the weekend was just a huge empty car park, a closed down amusement centre and a vile looking restaurant. I would love to think that in the middle of August that all is pristine and buzzing…but.

 

Gallipoli is definitely worth a visit. Like many other Italian towns you have to fight your way through the outskirts of trading estates, bad roads and dreadful signage, but once in the old centre it’s a wonderful place. After parking in the massive port car park (free of charge!) we walked up to the town and around the sea wall. The beach was small and frequented by locals. There were many small restaurants to choose from, all serving great seafood so we picked one, sat in the sun (and wind) and enjoyed our lunch before walking around the rest of the town. We met an old local man who told us that he had worked on the cruise ships before retiring and had been all over the world but that Galipoli was his home town and it was the best place on earth to be. ‘Especially for the food!’ he added. I have to agree the food in Puglia was excellent.

 

Agriturismo Sombrino was close to our villa and recommended by Dave (remember him from a thousand words ago?) We visited the place on two occasions, once on a Thursday evening and once for Sunday lunch. The menu was typically Italian, antipasti, (starters) primo,(usually pasta) secondo,(main course) dolce (dessert). On the Thursday we just went for antipasti and primo plus a little fruit and it was all plentiful and excellent. On the Sunday, we decided to go in for the whole damn lot, which at 25 euro a head including wine, water and coffee had to be a winner. The antipasti consisted of 10 different dishes, (fish, cheese, tarts, stuffed mushrooms, peppers, salmon cakes, to name just six) we were already a little full after that but managed the primo, which was, olive leaf pasta with sausage meat and tomato sauce. The shape of the pasta had been invented by the Agriturismo padrona, who told us, ‘ we make this pasta and then the others all copied us, now you can buy it anywhere in Puglia.’ She was not happy about this, you could tell by the head slapping, shrugging of shoulders and the pained expression on her face.

The main course was pork, slow cooked and melt in the mouth, with just a few potatoes. It was the best pork I have ever eaten for tenderness and flavor, but I couldn’t quite finish it – I was stuffed. However, I thought I should make an effort for desert and had some fresh fruit. The Man chose pannacotta which was a mistake because the pannacotta in Puglia is much denser and heavier than in Le Marche. We were full to the brim but guess what?!? At our neighbouring table sat two young people, the bride and groom (gli sposi) from the previous day’s wedding…and,
‘we would be so pleased for you to share some of our wedding cake and a glass of Prosecco…’ Well, you can’t say no can you?

 

I was in a food coma for the rest of the afternoon and evening and swore never to eat anything again for at least four days. Of course that lasted about 24 hours, I mean when you’re on holiday you’ve got to indulge haven’t you?