Belleek Forest Park

Melinda was mine ’til the time
That I found her
Holding Jim
And loving him

So begins Neil Diamond’s song, Solitary Man, which shuffled into play in the car a few days ago. This song went through my mind today when I was in the depths of the forest. Not that I’m a solitary man, and I don’t think I’ve ever known a Melinda, but I was making the most of my solitude.

Today is the seventeenth anniversary of Sarah’s departure from us. Another Thursday 17th May. In some ways, it’s a lifetime ago but in other ways, it’s such a recent event.

I took advantage of the opportunity to go for a long walk my myself, while Liesel went shopping, did some cooking and otherwise had a relaxing day.

Within walking disance of Catherine’s house in Ballina is Belleek Forest Park. It was quiet, peaceful and I saw very few other people. The paths are well maintained, well sign-posted and there is a lot to look at.

I followed the river Moy for a while too, thinking I might get as far as where it enters the Atlantic, but looking at a map afterwards, that was far too ambitious.

The Crete Boom is a ship made of concrete that was used by the Royal Navy but now sits gathering moss and seaweed in the Moy.

Crete Boom
Crete Boom

I was surprised to see warning signs of Japanese knotweed in a couple of places: not the vegetation I would have sought out. The forest was of course full of trees, some of which I could identify and some of which I identified from the flyer I’d picked up. Sycamore, lime, beech, oak, willow, elm, hornbeam and Monterey pine trees are all there, standing tall and proud. And putting all the world’s problems into perspective: I didn’t want to think about Brexit, Trump, Iran, North Korea, Israel, Palestine, plastics in the oceans. I wanted to spend time with Sarah, who has missed out on all our adventures over the last seventeen years, missed out on meeting her grandchildren, and I tried not to go through the cycle of thinking how unfair it all was, and what if, and if only.

Instead, I recalled the happy times we’d had together, with regret that those times didn’t last longer, but equally pleased that we’ve all moved on. I am so proud of Helen and Jenny and I’m sure their Mum would be very proud too.

There are red squirrels in the forest, but I didn’t see any. I didn’t see any rabbits either, nor any other animals bigger than birds. But it was a beautiful day to commune with nature while my thoughts meandered backwards and forwards through time.

Hmm, yes, I was enjoying communing with nature. Meanwhile, some other folks had been closely communing in nature.

Ring Fort with a used condom packet, some folks have all the fun
Ring Fort

When I left the forest, I walked along the road for a while, having seen a sign for Moyne Abbey. I thought that would be a good place to stop, but after every brow of a hill, I could see no sign of an abbey. So as a last resort, I looked at the map on my phone and realised I was still an hour’s walk away. I went back to the forest, again saying hello to the cows and the bulls and the donkey and standing well to the side of the road when a tractor appeared.

In the forest, I followed different paths until I found Belleek Castle. Yesterday, Catherine had said there was a coffee shop here, so that became an urgent destination. Coffee and a scone. I recalled the holidays Sarah and I had had BC, before children, often in the Cotswolds, often in the rain. Tea shops rather than coffee shops usually supplied the scones for afternoon tea, but it’s funny to note how things have changed over the years, but not much, really.

Belleek Castle
Belleek Castle

Yes, I’m sure we will always miss Sarah, she and Liesel would have a lot of laughs at my expense, I’m sure, if they’d ever met.

Back at home, we enjoyed the pasta salad and the banoffee pie that Liesel had made, along with a bottle of beer from Catherine that Lochlainn has chosen for me!

Solitary Man? Not me, I’m a very lucky bloke, I’ve met and fallen in love with two wonderful women, I have two beautiful daughters and two fantastic grandchildren. This is what’s important, not the stupid stuff that I tend to whinge about a bit too often.

So, a million thanks and lots of love to all of you who have made and who continue to make my life as fantastic as it is.

Two Gigs and More Music

At the River by Groove Armada has just been played on the radio. It took me back to the late ’90s, listening to GLR while doing the washing up. The sky was blue, the sun was out, I could hear the waves crashing on the beach, the sound of gulls squawking in the distance, and feelings of comfort and warmth. Nostalgia. It seems along time ago, now, twenty years in fact, but it’s funny how hearing a song can evoke all those feelings from so long ago.

The previous song was Blues in the Night by Rosemary Clooney. Not many songs remind me of my Dad, but this one did. Far more songs remind me of my Mum, Dad just wasn’t interested in music, apart from a very select, short list of songs.

Thanks to Guy Garvey on BBC 6 Music for proving that mentally at least, time travel is possible.

Talking about music, this week, Liesel and I went to two gigs. Not on consecutive nights, that would just be too much for these old bones.

Martha Tilston appeared at The Half Moon, Putney and showed us her new film, the Cliff Top Sessions, in which she invites a group of fellow musicians around to her place to play and sing.

Afterwards, she performed some of her own songs too, both old and new. I think we’ve seen Martha play live more often in the last twelve years than any other musician and she’s always good value. We bumped into her Mum too, but never did get around to having a long catch-up.

O’Hooley and Tidow are rising stars from Yorkshire whose songs are usually about real people and real events. They have great harmonies and Belinda O’Hooley’s keyboard playing is fantastic (classically trained, surely?) and their on-stage presence is lovely, very friendly and funny. They were at The Ram Folk Club based in a sports club in Thames Ditton, not a stone’s throw from where we live. We wish we’d found out about The Ram Club years ago but somehow, it’s been under our radar. And just before we move away, too. How’s that for rotten luck?

Sadly, on this day in 1993, Mick Ronson passed away. He was in David Bowie’s band in the early 1970s, during the time most of us fell in love with the science-fictiony, strange new music. When I went up to University in 1973, there were very many Michaels so to differentiate, I chose to be called Mick, in honour of Mr Ronson. I shared a room with Nick. Mick and Nick, well, it made sense at the time. The only people to carry on calling me Michael or Mike were my parents and official bodies such as banks, the NHS and the passport office. I still feel like a ‘Mick’ and when someone does call me Michael, I still expect to be told off for something. I remember seeing Mick Ronson join David Bowie on stage at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992, a very moving event in many respects.

The Daisy Chain is Growing

We knew that moving house would be long-winded, emotionally stressful, probably not straighforward and yet, full of surprises.

What we hadn’t anticipated was that as time went on, the whole process would become so much more complex, with many more links in the chain, and so many more bodies involved.

We found a place to buy. Our seller has an estate agent and a solicitor. We can pay for it with the proceeds from selling our house.

We put our house on the market, someone made an acceptable offer quite quickly, so we accepted it. Our agents told us she was in a position to buy. We all thought that meant she had the money available in used fivers in a suitcase.

But then it transpired that she needed a mortgage. So we had the house surveyed by her mortgage provider. A very long time later, we learned that the mortgage had been offered.

An even longer time later, we learned that she is having an existing property re-mortgaged so that she can raise some cash for the deposit. That means the mortgage provider is having to conduct a survey at the old property too.

All these surprise are annoying because they’re holding up the whole process by adding more links to the chain. And all being done serially, not in parallel. Many more bodies are involved too.

We have to deal with two estate agents (our own and the one selling us our new abode) and a solicitor. We might deal with the seller’s and/or buyer’s solicitor, but not necessarily so.

Our buyer is living in east London and planning to rent out our house. That’s not a problem, but there’s no sense of urgency on her part. To now be dealing with a broker and another mortgage provider is really disappointing.

It leaves us wondering what other steps we’ll have to go through that we’re not aware of at present. Out agent is (or says he is) confident that the sale will go through. But if the buyer changes her mind for any reason, we’ll have to start all over again.

The most worrying thing is that one day, our vendors may get fed up with waiting for us to sign the contract. We can’t do that until our buyer pays a deposit for our house, and we can use that as a deposit for our new place.

We’re trying to keep our vendors up to date and fully informed, but that’s not easy when we don’t know what’s happening ourselves. We have to call the agent for an update when we think that for their fee, their commission, it wouldn’t hurt them to call us every few days, even if only to say there’s been no further progress.

What we want to do is start packing up, even if the moving date is still several weeks in the future. We dare not bring all that stuff down from the loft because if we have to prepare the house for new viewings, well, that would be so frustrating, to say the least.

More importantly though, we want to start making detailed plans for our travels, booking flights and accommodation and so on. It’s hard to get really excited about all that while we’re still in a state of flux.

There are some things about this house that I will miss, though, some quirks that we might leave as a surprise for the next occupants:

  • The bathroom hot tap that supplies hot water for a few seconds, then turns to a trickle, so you have to turn it up more.
  • The shower that, if you turn it to its limit, causes some water to also come from the bath tap. The solution is to turn the main control back a notch.
  • The bedroom door handle which works by pushing up rather than down. I’ve tried many times to fix it, but if I put the handles in the other way round, they don’t move at all.
  • I don’t think we’ll leave the washing machine, because it leaks, but if we did, the new user would notice the on/off switch is permantly on.
  • We won’t be taking the old stereo system with us. Nor can we leave it. The record player went many years ago, the cassette players’ buttons are broken, AM reception is ropey, FM reception requires the stereo option to be turned off, any CDs played will jump and worst of all, only one of the two speakers works.
  • In one of the bedroom windows, there’s a patch of what looks like grease, that can’t be removed. It’s in the cavity between the two panes of glass.
  • We like our garden but we do the bare minumum, just maintenance work, in it, and I won’t miss the guilty feeling I have when I can’t be bothered to do any gardening, because we won’t have a garden.
  • I will misss the view of The Shard from the second bedroom. But since that tree has grown an extra few inches over the last couple of years, it’s not as easy to see, except an night when its lights are on. The loss of this view is the main reason we’re moving, of course.

We won’t miss the neighbours: rude, inconsiderate, disrespectful, loud.

  • The stench of fish curry on a Monday, a cauldron of thick, pink gruel that might be fish or it might be offal, boiling away outside on their patio.
  • They and their visitors parking on the shared drive preventing us from driving into our own garage.
  • Their almost daily coming back from somewhere late at night and slamming car doors over and over. The record was 19 car door slams one night, from one, two, maybe three cars. Nineteen. You may well be shaking your head in disbelief too.
  • Talking very loudly outside their house (and therefore just below our bedroom window) late at night.
  • The pile of rubbish that they leave in a pile at the end of the shared drive, outside their garage, until such times as they take it somewhere to be fly-tipped. They take it to the correct facility, surely? Not in the middle of the night, they don’t. And don’t call me Shirley.

No, we won’t miss them at all.

But that’s all in the future. How far in the future, we can’t say. Meanwhile, here are a couple of nice things to look back on.

On this day in 2004, Liesel and I saw ‘When Harry Met Sally’ on stage in Haymarket. We’d known each other for less than a year at this point, so it was maybe a bit risky going to see a story that discusses whether men and women can just be friends. It was very good though, great fun, and the famous scene in a restaurant was very well done.

One of the attractions for me was that the leading lady was Alyson Hannigan who we knew from playing Willow in ‘Buffy, the Vampire Slayer’.

On this day in 2011, we went into London for the London Marathon. I could lie and say that both Liesel and Mick ran and both did so in the best times ever. But really, we were just there to cheer on Adam, along with Helen and some of their friends. Liesel and Mick used hire Bikes from Waterloo to beyond London Bridge to see Adam as near the start as we could reach. We then we watched from a bridge near the Tower. His time was 4h37m, not bad with not much training due to dodgy knees thanks to some unfortunate footballing injuries.

Adam so enjoyed the experience that within a year, he and Helen had moved to Sydney, Australia, so that neither of them would be tempted to enter again.

Looking forward, looking back

This hasn’t been the most exciting of weeks. Today is Liesel’s final day at her current job, which is quite exciting but otherwise, nothing special. From now on, we’re sailing with the wind until we can move house.We have a trip planned to visit Martha for her 2nd birthday. And once Liesel’s not working fulltime, we’ll make a few trips into London and further afield: watch out Canterbury, Mary Rose and Ireland…

The For Sale board outside our house has been changed to Sold.  And we have received the form from Northenden listing the items that our vendors are leaving in the apartment, if we want them. Our buyer should be receiving the equivalent form any day now too. One of the most frustrating aspects of this whole project is, we don’t really know what’s happening, the agents and solicitor don’t keep us up to date with all the activity. And we’re waiting for the next surprise.

On this day in 1989, I had the day off work and Sarah and I took Jenny and Helen to Drusillas, a small zoo park in Sussex. They were aged 5 and 2 respectively and both have very fond memories of that day. Maybe.

On this day in 2006, Mick flew to New York for a long weekend with Liesel. We visited museums and saw a couple of theatre shows. Theater shows, I suppose. But the main point of this trip was to bring Liesel back to her new home here in Chessington. We’d married 6 weeks earlier in Alaska, Liesel had her visa, and I felt it was important to escort her into the country. We ventured further afield to meet Liesel’s old friend, ‘Aunty’ Pauline, in Connecticut. So far, this is Mick’s only visit to New York.

nyc 045.jpg
Strawberry Fields, Central Park

On this day in 2009, Liesel and I visited Liverpool, and it’s impossible to think about Liverpool without thinking about the Beatles of course. We wanted to go into one of the cathedrals, but somehow missed the front door. The docks were a nice peaceful area to wander round.

liverpool albert dock
Liverpool’s Albert Dock

 

On this day in 2019, well, watch this space…