Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Spring Colours

Exactly six months ago I wrote this short post with photos of some trees along one of the roads into our village displaying their autumn colours.  And now, here they with their fresh and vibrant spring foliage.

My goodness, what is that?
Could it be the sun sneaking in to my shot? Surely not!

Don't you just love a tree tunnel?
One of the loveliest things about driving along country roads in the spring and summer

What a difference six months makes.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Are We Sitting Comfortably?

Back in November hubby fitted an island in the kitchen, after months of debating where it should go, how big it should be and, indeed, whether we should have one at all.

Ever since then it has been a very handy place on/in which to store things, on which to make things, and against which to lean.

But it hasn't been used to its best advantage. You may be able to tell from the photos above that we specifically had the work surface made longer/wider on two sides, to form a breakfast bar.

And while it may suit the Continental types to stand up at an above waist-high table to down their espressos, it doesn't suit those of us who like to ingest serveral bowls of Cheerios (DC), Shreddies (hubby) or coffees (me) at leisure/in comfort of a morning.

So, since November we have been on the hunt for the perfect bar chair. Bar CHAIR, not bar stool. Because we are all about the comfort in this house and it had to be a chair with a back to lean against, not a stool that can only be perched on. The seat (ie the bit that you rest your derriere on) also needed to be comfortable and it needed to be easy to keep clean (DC doesn't yet understand the concept of not wiping chocolate/jam/food-covered hands all over everything.) And it had to be not unattractive.

So that's a comfortable, easy-clean, attractive CHAIR. Not too much of an ask then. In an ideal world it would also have been old/vintage, but that really was a huge ask. Luckily good old John Lewis (of couse, because I find it almost impossible to shop anywhere else) came up trumps with all boxes except the 'old' one ticked.

This is the Miso chair, in cream leather. Yes, I know cream isn't a hugely practical colour when you have a small boy child with hands that are sticky or muddy, or both, more often than not, but the only other colour this comes in is dark brown which we thought would stick out a bit in our kitchen with its cream units and wooden worktops. So, after sitting on this chair and many others for comparison purposes during several visits to the Mothership (aka John Lewis), we decided that, yes, this one definitely suited our bottoms, backs and dishcloths. Unfortunately, what it didn't suit was our wallets. £149 each is the retail price, and needing three (for now, and possibly another at some point if we think it would fit/get used), we were looking at a grand total of... £447. Big ouch.

And thus began the search for a similar chair, but cheaper, or the same chair, but cheaper. We've used the John Lewis outlet in Swindon successfully before now for all sorts of great items, but that was mostly when we lived a lot nearer or when we were in the vicinity more often. So this time, I turned my attentions to eBay. The odd one or two of these chairs would pop up, but never in a convenient location. But then, almost six months after the island was first installed, we hit paydirt - three of these beauties for a good price in a location not too far from hubby's parents (well, about an hour's drive) ending on a weekend when hubby was actually at his parents. And they were brand new. Too good to be true? Nope. I contacted the seller to see if they had a 'Buy It Now' price and they did - £190. For all three. Yes please and thank you very much. And a couple of days later they were ours. Three chairs for the price of one-and-a-half. Apparently the sellers had bought them to dress a show home but the show home was sold before any of the furniture even went in. Lucky for us.

And here there are in all their impractical cream glory.

Note George the teddy giving one a test drive.
This photo shows that the chairs don't stand out too much when tucked under the island.

 And here's DC showing how the chairs can be used as a handy spot for playing with Power Rangers and drinking juice.
 Or for having breakfast. Note unseasonal pyjama top (it's his favourite and he often wears it out and about as a t-shirt. Ho hum)
And so, the moral of the story is that patience (as well as being a virtue) often pays off, as long as you don't mind standing up for six months.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Book Review No. 9

These book reviews are coming at you thick at fast as I've managed to get through several books in the last few weeks. Hot on the heels of When God Was a Rabbit came the next book club choice. I was keen to read this book, having seen it in many bookshops and in plenty of magazines/newspapers - it even graced the pages of the TLS (although it didn't get a particularly good review.) So, without further ado, may I present: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.

I was looking forward to reading this book, not least because it's a more 'current' book than many we read at either of the book clubs I go to (I have suggested to one of the book clubs that we make more of a point of reading recently-released [paperback] books and the idea seemed to go down well, so fingers crossed.)

Anyway, back to the book. The story goes something like this: Harold Fry, a retired man living (not altogether happily) with his wife in a neat little bungalow in Devon, recieves a letter from a former work colleague (Queenie) telling him she is suffering from terminal cancer and is writing to say goodbye. Harold writes a letter in response and walks to the nearby post box; but when he gets there he doesn't want to let go of the letter and decides to walk a little further to the Post Office, meaning to send it from there. But the Post Office comes and goes, as do more post boxes and soon Harold has made the decision to walk from his house in Kingsbridge, Devon to the care home in Berwick-upon-Tweed where Queenie is being looked after. He has the feeling that Queenie will survive the cancer long enough for him to get there.

So far, so interesting. And so the walk begins, through Devon, Somerset, Wiltshire, the Midlands, and ever northward. Harold is ill-prepared and suffers quite considerably, but eventually he gets into his stride and begins to enjoy his adventure. As he walks he has lots of time to think about his life and we get to find out a lot of what makes Harold who he is - the good, the bad and and the often very ugly. Along the way Harold meets a variety of people and the story of his walk starts to hit the news, regional and then national. And that's where, for me, the story started to unravel. When Harold is joined by a large group of other 'pilgrims' I found that I was really put off by the characters and even Harold started to annoy me. Unfortunately, the book lost me here and I couldn't really get interested in it or care what was happening. All in all, I was disappointed by the book although, to give it its due, the end (or near end) wasn't what I was expecting and didn't conform to the cliche I was anticipating. It's probably my own fault for being disappointed by the story as I sort of expected it to be a little more of a 'travel' book with some descriptions of the towns, cities and villages that Harold passed through but, apart from Bath, there is little in the way of travel writing.

I'm not doing well at the moment, am I? Not many positive reviews recently. Sorry. I hope I'm not putting people off too much! Reading is very subjective though, isn't it? You only need to glance at the reviews on Amazon, for example, to see how any book can get 5 stars from one reader and 1 star from another.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

A Visit to Corfe Castle (with added Vikings)

On Sunday Family W made a spur-of-the-moment trip to Corfe Castle. We had intended to stay at home and get some indoor jobs done since rain was forecast, but the day dawned brighter than anticipated and a chance reading about Corfe Castle in the Coast magazine that I was flicking through sent me to the National Trust website to find out more. As luck would have it, weekends in May were dedicated to the Vikings and Saxons and included some re-enactments and a chance for children to join in. It was too good an opportunity to miss, what with DC being such a fan of knights, castles, swords and all that jazz. And even more so since our National Trust annual membership had yet to be used this year (it runs from April) and it was beginning to feel rather expensive.

An hour's drive and we were there. We parked the car and tried to hurry up to the castle as one of the Viking demonstrations was scheduled for 11am (we parked the car at 10.30am.) But we figured without a small boy who is as obsessed with rivers and Pooh Sticks as he is with castles and Vikings. There was just no hurrying him as the route up to the castle runs alongside a river/stream and we had to stop every few yards to throw yet another stick/twig/blade of grass in and watch its progress (or lack thereof as it got stuck.) But it didn't really matter, since this was all part of the fun and when the child is happy, we're happy (mostly...) Since we weren't in time for the Viking show we decided to make the tea room our first stop; suitably refreshed we then headed for the castle.

As you can see, we came prepared. DC brought his very own sword and shield, ready to ward off any Vikings or other marauders.
That small dot on the top of the second grassy 'knoll' is DC. He headed up those embankments and then took great delight at running down them and falling over. Needless to say he was wet and muddy within just a few minutes of arriving at the castle. Boys, eh?
 It's a fair old climb up through the castle ruins, but there are so many nooks, crannies and arrow slit windows to wander round, over and through that you don't actually notice how far/high you've gone.
 Until you turn round and look back down at where you started. The town of Corfe is in the background, with the Viking 'encampment' just within the castle walls.
Despite the rain, we had a great time wandering round (I assume the rain also kept lots of people away since it wasn't very busy at all) and DC took great delight in running away from us and hiding behind the hulking great ruins; it really is a tip-top location for hide and seek.

 Every now and again we would hear the 'peep peep' of a steam train; you can catch the train from a nearby station and arrive into Corfe in vintage style. Hubby has declared that next time we visit, we will do just that.
 Obligatory stocks shot. Unfortunately we had no rotten vegetables to hand. DC was keen to throw an apple, but that would have been such a waste...

And then it was time to watch some Vikings and Saxons wielding a variety of weapons - axes, swords, spears.
Like father, like son.

And, finally, all of the children were invited to join in. Could he be more excited?!?
 They were taught how to line up against their opponents, keep time by banging their swords on their shields and then how to CHAAAAAAARGE.

Victory is ours!
What a fantastic day we had; I'm looking forward to going back again soon as there are plenty more events on throughout the summer.

And at least now with one NT trip under our belts, the price per visit has been halved to just £45 (or thereabouts...)

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Book Review No. 8

And it's not a cozy! I know! Get me, reading two 'proper' books in a row! In fact, I'm even reading another 'proper' book right now. I'm starting to feel like a legitimate reader. Please allow me to introduce:

When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman.

This was actually a book club choice, but I already had it on my bookcase; I remember swapping it via the Read It Swap It website (which, by the way, I urge you to use if you're the sort of person who doesn't feel the urge to keep hold of every book you've ever read, or if you have a spouse/relative/friend who feels that way.) I think I must have seen the book mentioned somewhere as a 'must read', hence tracking it down, putting it on my unread bookcase and promptly ignoring it. This is why book clubs (I belong to two) are good for me - they make me read books I might never otherwise read and which might otherwise languish on my bookcase from here to eternity. That's not to say that there aren't book club choices that I've refused to read on the grounds that they simply don't appeal to me and life is too short to waste on books that I don't enjoy. What a rebel.

Anyway, back to the point: the book is divided into two parts, the first dealing with the narrator's (Elly) childhood, the second with her adult life. To me it also felt that the first part was sub-divided into two halves: the first being when Elly and her family lived in Essex, and the second when they moved to a farmhouse in Cornwall (after her father wins the football pools) which her parents open up as a B&B (with little idea of how to run one.) Personally, I much preferred the second section of the first half (would that make it the second quarter?!?) as the descriptions of life for the family in Cornwall were much more interesting than that of their life in Essex; I also felt that the first part was too full of supposedly comic moments which felt like they were there for effect (although the story of the school nativity play and baby Jesus tripping over a papier mache rock did make me laugh out loud [even though it probably shouldn't have.])

The second half concerning Elly's adult life is less compelling and intriguing, but perhaps this is purely because it deals with adulthood, rather than childhood in all its innocent, unsentimental glory. There seemed to be a lot of to-ing and fro-ing - one minute Elly was in New York (where her brother was living and working), then she was in London, then Cornwall, then back to New York. I found it a bit confusing at times and not as easy to follow as the first part.

There are plenty of characters in this book who are larger than life: Elly's best friend Jenny Penny, Arthur the lodger, Arthur's friend the eccentric singer Ginger, the rabbit called 'god', Elly's aunt Nancy. But that's not necessarily a good thing. When there are a limited number of characters, they don't all have to be quite so 'out there', do they? And talking of 'out there'; it seemed that if there was a drama that could befall this family (in all its extended glory) then befall it would - we're talking sexual abuse (for two or even three of the characters), domestic abuse, suicide, cancer, loss of sight (miraculously regained with the aid of a coconut, I kid you not), winning the pools, being personally affected by 9/11, being taken hostage in the Middle East and losing a body part, murder, being sent to prison, loss of the love of your life but then miraculously bumping into them again on another continent, and there may even be more I've forgotten about!

As I read this book I veered from not thinking that much of it, to enjoying it, to being bored of it, annoyed by it, enjoying it again and then being glad to finish it. I really can't decide whether I liked the book or not; I think I'll mostly err on the side of not, but I think it's a book a lot of people will enjoy. I'd be interested to hear if anyone has read it, and what you thought.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Dear Columbus Direct

Thank you for sending me a kind email to say that you will automatically renew our annual travel insurance policy. Apparently, I need do absolutely nothing; I can sit back, relax and plan my next trip overseas and you will simply take the money from my account.

Well, that all sounds absolutely perfect. And you almost had me there. The only reason I wondered whether or not to take you up on the generous offer is because there's a (tiny) bit of a time difference between the new policy starting and when we next go on holiday - only a week, but still, why pay for a week's worth of insurance that you don't need? And so I thought I'd call up and cancel the insurance and then re-buy it when we need it.

But just before I called up to cancel it, because truth be told I am actually rather lazy and really ummed and ahhed over whether it was worth the call or whether to just let the new policy follow straight on from the old one, I had a little look on your website to see how much a new policy would cost, just to compare it to the price you were quoting me for a renewal.

Yes, that's right, the price you were quoting little old me, a loyal customer who has been using your travel insurance services for at least ten years and has only ever made one claim (and that was for DC when he got a bit of an infection in a rather sensitive area [say no more, spare his blushes] while we were in New York in 2009.)

The 'let's be lazy and let dear old Columbus do all the hard work' renewal price: £128.99.

The 'let's not be lazy, let's cancel the policy [5 minute phone call] and buy a new one [another 5 minutes on the internet]' price: £64.19.

Yes, that's right. The lazy approach would have cost me more than TWICE the '10 minutes extra work' price. That's what being a loyal customer gets you!

So, let that be a lesson to us all - don't let those 'kind and helpful' insurance companies save you a few minutes work, because it could be turn out to be very expensive!

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Shepton Mallet Flea Bounty

This past weekend my darling boys were away visiting Grandma and Grandad, so I had three lovely days all to myself. I started off Friday afternoon with a little trip to our village tearoom for a hot chocolate and a read of a magazine, all the while pondering how on earth I was going to fill all this free time...

Saturday morning dawned drizzly and overcast but, luckily, by the time Mum and I headed off to a nearby village for their annual May Fair the sun had got his hat on (but so had the wind.)

My tombola ticket-picking hand was clearly, erm, *blessed* and I came away with a mini can of Tonic Water (perfect for hubby as he does like a G&T) and a Fruit Shoot (which I'm sure DC will take one swig of and then leave.) The cake stall yielded a lemon drizzle and from the 'all sorts of everything' stall I purchased an Emma Bridgewater 'hearts and flowers' tin (in the dishwasher when I took this photo) and a new place mat for DC, except he doesn't like it because the birds are "silly". Le sigh. Perhaps if I tell him they are actually Power Rangers disguised as birds he'll have a rethink.
 Mum and I then popped in to Ilminster for a bit of a wander and a coffee/cake break. While we were in the cafe a couple of local Town Criers popped in, as you do; left me wondering if there's a collective noun for Town Criers - a ding-dong? A yell?

On Sunday morning I took myself off to the Bath and West Showground for the Shepton Mallet Giant Flea and Collectors Market. This is held seven or eight times a year, but it seems to be an annual event in this house, as I notice the last time we went was this time last year.
I got there nice and early (c.9.45am - it opens at 9.30am), only to be confronted by this huuuuge queue; the ticket office is in the white building that you can juuuuust about see at the far end of the road. Actually, it wasn't too bad since it moved fairly quickly and as I had a magazine handy I was well-prepared for such an eventuality.
This was the first stall I came to, and there were plenty of lovely things I wanted almost immediately.
Inlcuding this first aid box which I really ummed and ahhed over. However, being a great believer in fate I decided to wait to see if it was still there once I'd had a bit more of a look round.
Same went for this lamp.
Luckily we already have a sledge or I'd have been very tempted by this one. DC would look quite the dashing vintage boy sledding down the hills surrounding our village on his Flexible Flyer III.
I contemplated this for our new chimney breast (about which I will tell you, one day). But the £100+ price tag was a little higher than I wanted to pay, considering we had seen a mirror we liked at a car boot sale for just £15 (but which we didn't buy as it would have been too heavy to mount on plasterboard.)
Lovely botttles, jars and wooden crates.
Mirror, mirror on the floor.
The vintage 'Christmas Dressing' was tempting.
And if you ever need a bucket/barrel, this is the place for you.
It was lucky that DC wasn't with me or there may have been tears when I refused to let him buy a real sword to go with his ever-growing pretend sword collection.
Anyone want a pet? Very easy to look after, doesn't eat much.

So, what did I end up buying?

Well, as luck would have it, when I went back after nearly four hours the first aid box was still there (the lamp had just sold.) I did wonder if that meant it wasn't any good, since no-one else had snatched it up.
But a little bit of TLC should see it right as rain and hanging in the bathroom.
I also acquired this little pot, just because I like the shape.
Contents not included. Luckily.
Although I'm sure they would have done DC the world of good.
An old chemistry lab bottle.
Again, a little bit of a clean-up and I thought this would make a nice little vase.
And last but not least, a very patriotic purchase.
Please be upstanding for the Union Jack.
And I believe in this instance I can call it a Union Jack rather than a Union Flag as it came from a boat; although having just Googled it I've come across this:
"in 1902 an Admiralty Circular announced that Their Lordships had decided that either name could be used officially. Such use was given Parliamentary approval in 1908 when it was stated that "the Union Jack should be regarded as the National flag". Source.

The plan is to hang it in DC's bedroom. One day. When I get round to it. In the meantime it can be added to the list of jobs to do.
Oh, and just out of interest, the meat safe that we bought at the Flea Market last year that just needed "a rub over with a bit of wire wool or a wire brush and then a lick of paint"; yes, well, it's still sitting in the garage in the same state as when we bought it...