Saturday, 29 June 2013

Thanks to priceless friends.



Just under seventeen months ago I was in Brighton on the south coast having just been repaired and only six days post op had to find my way home whilst in a delicate state. Calling for international rescue , my personal recovery team sprang into action to get me to and from airports at each end of the country.



Today finally we were united for of thanks and a day out in Edinburgh, each of us traveling in by train, very wise since the money we would have had to spend parking in the city could be spent on coffee and cakes. Louise says she does not like cakes but likes to bake them, Lucy at first pretended to not be interested but later relented and ordered afternoon tea…


Seven hours vanished quickly with wandering about a couple of galleries and some speedy shopping between coffee breaks then a walk around the historic royal mile before returning to the station to wave off Lucy who had arranged to meet up with another friend later that evening before continuing her holiday journey south and home again.


Just three girls on a day out, nothing more or less…

Louise told us that our first minister would like to have a new official residence high on a bluff above the station, does he have a railcard perhaps...


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Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Another kind of transition.



We have had some fine days since our return and they have been spent in battle with the weeds since the garden needs to be fairly under control so that on future fine days, if we get any, attention can be paid to house repairs and painting which two wet summers have delayed. 

On a couple of wet days I set to tidying up some of the clutter round the house. I have to admit that being born into a bombed out city after the second world war where everything had to be repaired or recycled, there was no choice, affected me. My parents built a single story home using about half recycled materials, weeks were spent chipping old mortar off bricks or bitumen off oak flooring blocks. My play pen was the building site, often the foundations or half walled rooms. Watching the process obviously imprinted on my brain that materials have worth and cannot be casually thrown away and much of this house has been repaired with other people's throw outs. Yesterday I was pressure washing my friend's fancy teak garden furniture so that it can be smartened up and be ready when one of them is recuperating after a gall stone operation, they had a solid hardwood worktop and a teak draining board ready to be skipped sitting in the drive! They are now in the back of the van...

Whilst sorting through my treasure I came across a box of jam jars, my favourite Bonne Maman, which unlike the standard british jars, allow you to get at all the contents. These jars had been missing for ages and with luck the very next day strawberries were on offer at the lowest price seen for years, I bought fourteen boxes...




Naturally we ate as many as we could but covered over nine pounds with sugar overnight, would have been ten but Julie was watching me hull the fruit and sorted out the ripest... Well, slightly unripe are best for jam, these were slightly more ripe than if I had picked them myself but that has now become too expensive if all you want to do is make jam.




This load was just about an ideal batch for our jam cauldron. Once I was sure that the sugar was all dissolved in went the juice from six lemons and the heat went up and a frothy rolling boil set.




This is foodie p*********y, the house smelt heavenly... A lump of butter at the end settles the froth while the mix is allowed to cool for quarter of an hour so that the fruit pieces do not just settle on the top of the pots.




It has been a long time since we made strawberry jam, plenty of others from our own fruit but apart from tiny wild strawberries which grow like weeds here I have never had much luck with growing them myself. The result is delicious and will require willpower to resist...


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Friday, 21 June 2013

Time for a change of colour...




Darker covers my receding hairline, must fix those bushy eyebrows...

We have been home a week from our trip. Normally I would have a low period after a trip, life not so interesting and the knowledge that it will be an age before another chance to roam…

Shocking how quickly you can fall out of love. It does not take much to taint paradise?

Had we not been in the south for a family event I would have voted for leaving almost as soon as I returned from my cycle trip with friends, a week or so somewhere else on the way home would have been so much more pleasant and I may not have ended up with such a negative memory of a place I have loved for decades. 

I felt really bad having to tell an American painter friend that we would not be back next year, he now has Parkinsons and I helped out a lot getting him settled into his home in the next village, climbing ladders to open shutters twenty feet up from the street was not a job for him now! He was away shopping when we first went to visit and his garden was a jungle of weeds after the cool wet spring, Julie sat in a shady spot to read and I set to clearing the waist high weeds and bundled them up in a plastic tarpaulin which I used to wrap my folding bike when it was in the van, by the time he returned he was delighted that the week’s work he thought he had ahead of him had been reduced to a little tidying at the edges. Soon we had his marble topped table out in the courtyard and were chatting whilst eating the freshly cooked artichokes we had brought along for lunch. Ken had just given us a framed drawing as a farewell gift, it may well have been a final farewell between us…

This year I was glad to be back and set to almost immediately on the repairs which two wet summers have made almost impossible to do. Much of this first week has been taken up with replacing the television aerial snapped off by the winds whilst we were away, julie was getting cold turkey not getting her news and sport fix, I would have been happy to not bother for a while after six weeks without news screaming out of the machine I was happy. At least it forced me to find all the components for our access tower which I would have had to do sooner or later to repair the cast iron guttering which has started to leak in many places and it is time for a few new coats of masonry paint over the whole house, this needs weeks of good weather… At least it is up and a start has been made.

I had hoped to come home to a vegetable garden under control since I had let my neighbour share part of it so that he could water or weed while we were not there. I should have known better than to have trusted a guy! It has taken me four days to get it all under control and whilst I was feeling disappointed and near to angry at first it has allowed me to decide that this year chemical warfare is allowed! All the tall weeds have been removed or cut back, even a few small trees which might have been saved and a huge patch of Jerusalem artichokes have been pulled to give access for the wall repairs, who needs to have so much digestive wind anyway? I had been told to be this ruthless to totally remove perennial weeds like bindweed and nettles which get amongst the plants you wish to keep. The neighbour will not be keen to continue now that chemicals are in use, serves him right…

Bit of culture tomorrow with an exhibition opening in Edinburgh and a day off next week too for a rare chance of a meeting of my recovery team who helped me in my journey home just seventeen months ago. How life has changed with that small change few people will ever see, who could have foretold just how much more comfortable and contented it could make you feel. As I skipped along to the post office today, long skirt blowing in the breeze, sun shining and getting happy smiling greetings from a few people who know me it s as if this is the way it has always been and what I remember as my past was just a dreadful dream, then again I hardly ever think about that past now except when in touch with others on the same path...

Life goes on...

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Sunday, 16 June 2013

Return to the UK.




Home again from our road trip. Julie wanted cool and she got it… 

3840 miles in all hardly frantic pace for six weeks, 49.5  miles to each imperial gallon which is 98% of our average consumption, hardly bad considering occasional bursts of 130 kph autoroute and climbing up and down the mountainous centre of France. I have not been taking meticulous notes and making calculations as you might think, the van has a trip computer and fuel usage figure shows prominently which constantly confirms my fairly economical driving style, my navigator grumbles if it drops... Not as economically as it could be now that the road systems are now so heavily populated with tax gathering cameras for our protection... I drive quite sedately these days but It often worries me how much time I spend checking the dashboard rather than giving full attention to the road and it is heartbreaking to have to wear out brakes on a clear downhill section, (where most cameras  are looking out for our safety and know momentum can easily ease you into the tax paying bracket), and then stare in horror at the gas guzzling figure as the next hill is climbed slowly and wastefully. These drives used to be an absolute joy seeking the perfect line like someone on two wheels and getting the best out of whatever I was driving, now it feels more like a chore, even more so as idiots hurtle past unmolested because they know where the traps are!  

What I can say categorically is that of the four countries driven through Spain, France, England and Scotland the worst road surfaces by a country mile are those here in Scotland! They are falling apart! They are hardly ever flat but cause yawing all the time, the surfaces cause considerably more noise and the constant crashing into cracks and bumps is both wearing and worrying since several friends have lost tyres to hitting potholes and my tracking was out when I went to get replacement tyres at the end of last year. The scale of the growing problem is outrageous and I can’t see how the resources to deal with so much damage can be found and the problem will only grow daily.

I cannot denigh that we had some good times and the two sisters were happy to just be near to each other even if they drove each other demented occasionally…

I fared worst because someone who I used to be quite close to and who three years ago declared that she would “never” be able to stop using male pronouns as a mater of principle, but who had last year seemed to have come onside, decided that this year she would play games. This is someone fluent in English, French, Spanish, German and Portuguese and quite good at Latin, Italian and Catalan and will lecture us on the subtle differences in a word from one language to the next with the correct accented sound but would loudly and quite pointedly come out with the wrong name and or pronoun when in public and quite unapologetic about it! Later on she might revert to the correct words in a normal voice as if nothing had happened… 

What I like about France is that we meet so many people, life is less behind doors and more open. Now that I present as an authentic personality I even finally have a voice and try it out in French where before I hardly ever dared utter a word. Never was there a moment where we were not just accepted as yet another couple of old lady tourists but there was always that unexploded bomb waiting to go off and spoil things with people we had never met before, it became unbearable!

When I returned from my cycling jaunt, rather than entertaining her sister in my absence she had cleared off for three days on a jaunt a hundred miles away then for the rest of the time we were there said that she had no time to go on any trip with her sister!! Normally she is begging to go away anywhere from the moment we arrive… I could go on for yards more but I shall spare you.

As we said our farewells there was a sudden effusive show with all the correct words a hug and kiss as if nothing had ever been amiss, if anything this made it worse.

Last year I was a bit down hearted when Julie announced before we left them that she was not going to have an autumn visit that year, this time I was delighted when she said that there was no chance that they would be seeing us before autumn next year. As much as I love it there the usual heavy heart at leaving was replaced by a deep sadness that the urge to return had gone, one fly in the ointment has trumped all the joy.

Did I mention that the sister had blitzed all their money on a mad holiday in Madagascar and run up a huge credit card bill which she could not pay to get the restaurant stocked up for the start of the season and her sister bailed her out with our house repair fund? No? I probably forgot...  

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Leaving our temporary home.



I have to admit to an error of judgement. Julie and her sister are now both retired and since none of us get any younger, though many might suggest that transition does have rejuvenating properties, this seemed like the perfect time for them to be together. Cool weather which Julie prefers to conserve her energy and a decent length of time so no panic about organising anything. I even gave them a week without me around for good measure…

I would have had more luck trying to get a pair of Giant Pandas to successfully mate in public and be overjoyed at the resulting tiny panda!! Though now that I have interrogated them they both seem to think the trip a great success! They say that HRT can bring on emotions and I am feeling far more emotionally fragile than I can ever rememberwhilst everyone else is just crashing on with their lives...

A few days ago I was really quite down with so many small irritations which have added up to an overall irritation with the way this trip had gone and with the island bike trip in the cool wind and rain glowing as far away the best part of the trip so far I am not sad that we shall soon be heading home.

Ever since we have been coming here a single tune has been whistled by Andre, first as he walked his flock of sheep through the village nibbling it into neatness then walking his dog after he retired, now he is in hospital never to return, a type of character never to be replaced, others have died since our last visit. If he was able to return  he would probably have a heart attack when he saw the sudden rash of paint markings for parking spaces which have just defaced the village. Having put all the small village shops out of business the edge of village supermarket has gone from a small treasure house to a nearly empty space with single tins on the front edge to try and to appear less sparse, they will never have enough business to generate the cash to fill the shelves again…

The business which is booming is prostitution on the national route which passes the end of the village. South American girls are being strewn along the main roads by gangs who are going unmolested by this department’s police force whilst in the department to the west which starts in the next village they have made an effort to stamp out the ghastly trade. Seeing these poor souls baking in the sun in their ridiculous clothes is hardly conducive to good start to a trip out. A short trip over the border to Spain was many times worse especially in what used to be a quaint cheap shopping town is now renowned for he largest brothel in Europe! Ever more steps away from the little paradise this corner of the world was just a few years ago.

It is not often that I have been on a trip like this with so little interest in making photographs, probably becauseI have so little desire to return in a hurry to a place which has passed it’s best.

Since I started this yesterday our homeward departure has been decided for Tuesday and I am starting to cheer up already and the tank is already full of the fuel which is over 20% cheaper than at home...

Typical, the sun has started to shine.