A Day of Two Halves

As predicted, a slight cloud cover this morning made us wonder whether that was Summer, then. But no, it’s still warm, and we took the day off to go to the seaside.

We’d been to Formby before, but today was much warmer. In places, the sand was too hot to walk on with bare feet. The last time I remember that happening in England was on the Isle of Wight, in 1978, pre children, pre marriage, a long, long time ago!

We had a lovely walk on the beach though: where the sand was still slightly damp, it was much more comfortable underfoot. And the offshore wind farm was doing a good job of blowing a cool, calm breeze our way. We watched a large ship navigate through the turbines, or so it seemed from our point of view. That would be a fascinating photo, I thought. But no. Due to bad planning, I’d left the camera at home. Instead, here’s a selfie that we took with Liesel’s phone:

The Irish Sea behind us

We sat and lay down for a short while and I very nearly nodded off. But Liesel’s declaration of hunger prompted us to move off to find some lunch. A local Co-op provided sandwiches and crisps and, for me, a one-litre carton of chocolate milk. This is the drink of choice after a long bike ride and it was the best offering in the shop today. I must have been thirsty: it was all gone by the time we stopped at Sainsbury’s for some shopping.

It was a bit scary though. I was wearing a white polo shirt. These seem to attract food and drink stains, so the idea of drinking chocolate milk, from a carton, in a moving car, had an element of risk. But no spillage occured, the shirt is still pristine!

I thought the chocolate and the sugar would perk me up a bit. But no, it had the exact opposite effect. I really did need a nap, now. A cup of coffee in the supermarket didn’t help in this respect, either.

So, when we got home, I had to lie down and rest my eyes for a while. Meanwhile, Liesel was on the phone to our travel agent.

We have, she has, now booked our first few flights. So, we have the beginnings of the skeleton of our gap year travels. Plans to spend some time in Vancouver and/or take a cruise from Vancouver to Alaska have been shelved, this time round. Because we’re leaving home so much later than originally anticipated, we just want to reach AK before the really bad Winter weather sets in.

So that’s terrific. We’re under starters orders and we’ll soon be off.

Liesel also made a nice dip to take round to Jenny’s this evening. We went to join Jenny and Helen to watch England’s semi-final game in the World Cup.

On this day 33 years ago, Sarah, Jenny and I moved from Peterborough to Chessington, into the house that Liesel and I moved from just last week.

Although we were gathered together to watch a football game with Liam and his parents too, it felt strangely ‘right’ to be spending time with Jenny and Helen, and with the two grandchildren that Sarah missed out on.

Martha was fully supporting ‘our team’

and she knows ‘Football’s coming home’. I explained this motto to Liesel but as it’s from a song from 1996 and it has changed its emphasis and meaning over the years, I’m not sure I was convinced myself that I was telling the truth.

I also had to explain that World Cup Willie was the England mascot from the 1966 World Cup, not a medical complaint experienced by men who watch too much football on TV.

Well, England lost to Croatia and then Liesel and I came home instead.

Plan B

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve looked at the wall where the clock used to be. It’s a surprise every time. Then I remember, it’s been packed. All the pictures have been taken down too and bubble-wrapped. We have twelve boxes of books, seven of CDs and DVDs and several more boxes yet to fill.

Yes, we’ve caught the disease from Jenny and our house is sagging under the weight of filled and empty cardboard boxes. Aha, so we have a moving date in mind, you’ll assume. Well don’t assume anything, as they say, you’ll just make an ass of u and me.

We received an email from our solicitor this morning telling us that our vendors are still waiting for replies to their searches and enquiries. A process that we followed several weeks ago, and we assumed they had too. See what I mean about making assumptions? We thought the hold-up at their end was that their new-build house isn’t finished yet. But no, it’s admininstration that could and should have taken place weeks, if not months, ago.

The sellers’ agent waffled a bit while I was on the phone, I didn’t get  a definitive moving date, so reluctantly, we threatened to pull out of the whole thing.

We want to get out of this house so that we can get on with our travels. There are reasons why we want to be in Alaska as soon as possible and not just because of its blink-and-you-miss-it Summer.

Plan B is to put all our stuff into storage for a year so that’s what we’ve arranged. A nice Big Yellow Storage room in (or somewhere close to) Cheadle. We’ll be homeless, yes, but the stuff will be as safe as possible, and we can look for a house when we get back. Scary, Mary. Ideally, we’d prefer Plan A, to move into the flat, which is still the best one we’ve found while searching online. And far better than any of the others that we actually went to look at.

This week, then, we’ll carry on with the packing up, dismantling the old stereo system and shelf units, disposing of items that we’re not keeping and that our buyer doesn’t want us to leave behind. We believe she’s keen to exchange soon and to complete maybe within a couple of weeks. And if we get the bulk of the packing done, we’ll celebrate by going into London and having some fun at the weekend.

I can’t remember the exact details but I suspect that this is the sort of nonsense that led Sarah and I to vow that we would never, ever again, move house when we first moved here, 33 years ago.

While we’re looking back: On this day in 2011, Liesel and I saw Alison Steadman in Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit at London’s Apollo Theatre. We enjoyed her performance…

In 2007, we were having our new kitchen installed. This is the day on which Richard the plasterer plastered the kitchen. In the process, many water and gas pipes were hidden within the walls, giving us much more wallspace for storage.

In years to come, I hope we can look back at today’s conundrum and just laugh it off. We’re listening to some nice, relaxing songs. Moving house and all that is frightening but the music is soothing and we both started grooving, yeah, yeah, yeah…

Sorry if you were hoping to read something about Plan B, the musician!

Ring of Kerry and Gap of Dunloe

Two very different days in terms of our experience, but equally rewarding in terms of natural beauty. Yesterday we drove a long way and walked a bit, and today we drove a much shorter distance and walked a lot further.

The Ring of Kerry is a circular route to the west of Killarney. The book says we should spend four days or more exploring the area, and the author, our friend Fionn, is right. We should have spent a lot more time here. At Ross Behy, there’s a small beach by the jetty, and some very brave little girls were swimming in the sea.

We drove through Kells but somehow missed the Priory: proof that we should have taken our time. But some of the roads, off the main road, were very narrow. Narrow and steep. Narrow, steep and right on the edge of a precipitous drop. I was driving and when Liesel advised me to change gear, I told her there was no way I was going to let go of the steering wheel just to change gear. That was a scary experience, palm-sweatingly so.

We took a ferry over to Valentia Island and visited the lighthouse at Cromwell Point. Cromwell Point as a place name intrigued me since Oliver Cromwell wasn’t much of a hero around these parts, I thought. Again, the views over the water were stunning: too many islands to visit, including one they named after me, Skellig Michael, even though I’m not much of a hero around here either.

We stopped at several viewpoints, but photos can’t do the view justice. Liesel suggested that painting a picture might be a better way of capturing the awesomeness of the landscape. Sadly, neither of us had the skills, time nor paints with us.

Too much about food here, I know but I’ll say just a couple of things. When you ask for a slice of cake in a café or restaurant, you’re offered or just given some cream to go with it, squirty cream from a can, mostly. And when you order a meal, the response is ‘perfect’. Like you’ve chosen the best possible meal on this occasion.

I remember hearing the name MacGillycuddy’s Reeks when I was very small, maybe my Mum mentioned it, or it was a lyric in a folk song. But how exciting to find that it’s a real place, a group of mountains within the Ring of Kerry.

We drove to Kate Kearney’s Cottage, parked up and then walked a further four miles through the Gap of Dunloe. We were offered a ride several times by drivers of ponies and traps, but we persevered by foot. There was one falter when it rained quite hard for a few minutes, but after that eased off, we continued our hike along the narrow road, mainly upwards.

MacGillycuddy’s Reeks are composed of 60% rocks, 25% water, 10% horse manure and the rest is sheep, people, grass and gorse. The waterfalls were too numerous to count, and if we’d tried to count the sheep, we would have been fast asleep at the top.

The wind was cold but when it stopped, the heat of the Sun on our backs was very welcome. Visitors are advised not to drive along this narrow road, but quite a few people thought they knew better.

The water in the streams was brown, possibly peat, possibly very dilute Guinness. The sound of rushing water meant that it was very hard to hear vehicles approaching from behind. The clip-clop of ponies’ hooves was much easier to hear.

Note: the photos need to be edited, yes, but that’ll need more practice on the phone. Also, I will upload many more pictures to Flickr (maybe) but I can’t now as I don’t have the password with me. All things to bear in mind when we go travelling much further afield.

Beast from the East 2

This weekend has seen the return of the so-called Beast from the East. The Russians are sending over their coldest wind again, resulting in more snow and a drop of ten degrees in temperature between Friday and Saturday.

But that didn’t stop me from going for a walk to Victoria Park, Surbiton today, to do something just a little bit scary.

I haven’t cycled in the snow for many years, possibly not since I had to for work as a postman. And on my own bike, probably not since I commuted into Kingston.

And I have never ridden a penny farthing. A kind of bike that Liesel didn’t even think was real until a few years ago.

But that all changed today: I had a go on a penny farthing. Around a snow-covered football field. Not a full-size, genuine Victorian one, but still high enough to give me cause for concern.

There’s a small stop half-way up the main stem, and you’re supposed to swing your other leg over and start pedalling straightaway. Well, I didn’t, and promptly fell over on the first attempt. With help, I got going and probably cycled between a quarter and a half a mile, being chased, I mean, followed by the bloke ready to catch should I fall off again.

Going along was OK, but stopping and getting off again was quite hairy. So, just like flying a aeroplane, starting and stopping are the difficult periods.

The event was to celebrate Cycling in Surbiton which was home at one point to a High Wheeler Race Track. Part of the Wheels of Time celebration of cycling in the Royal Borough – for which I partook in the interview last week.

Pauline and I were in Kingston a couple of days ago, following our two days in London. She wanted to see some ‘old things’. So I showed her a mirror.

Then we saw the Coronation Stone of course. And we spent some time in Kingston Museum which has some really old stuff.

Meanwhile, Liesel is counting down the days: just eight more with her current employer. Then our big adventure can really begin. We can deal with the practicalities of moving house while planning our gap year travels for real.

The Craic Was Good

BBC 6 Music is our Sunday soundtrack, usually. Not necessarily all day, but the presenters are all pretty good, the music is fab, and if we hear a song we’re not too keen on, we know something good will come along later.

Today though, there was some competition. The 2018 Winter Paralympics are taking place in PyeongChang. I have two whole legs and I can’t ski and steer where I want to nor stop when I need to. So to watch disabled skiers, some sitting down on monoskis, do their stuff is awe-inspiring.

But the most intriguing game is the Wheelchair Curling. And it made me think of Albert Einstein. Hold on, that’s quite a leap, isn’t it? Well, he is reported to have said, “I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones”.

Here is a game in which large stones are slid along an ice rink and points are scored in a similar way to bowls: it’s determined by how many stones are closer to the centre of the target than those of the opposing team.

Wheelchair players have to push the stones with a long broom handle. Or stick. There is no sweeping as there is in conventional curling.

So there you have it. Sticks and stones. Wheelchair Curling is really World War IV.

Oh well, back to the radio.

Amy Lamé presents a show every Sunday afternoon between 4 and 6pm. Everyone is welcome, boys, girls and everyone in between. There is a ‘French Fancy’ each week, which is great, we don’t hear much French music on the whole. But on Amy’s page of the official website, it’s billed as ‘a Gallic tunage feature’. Tunage? One of my all-time most disliked words! Ever.

Another feature was promoted on Facebook thus: “We’re celebrating music with a #NorthernIreland connection today on BBC Radio 6 Music 4-6pm GMT. What track helps you kick back, relax and get that ‘Lazy Sunday’ feeling?”

One song immediately sprang to mind, so I sent off an email very quickly.

Steve the producer wrote back and asked for my phone number so I sent it. Well, I haven’t been on air for a long, long time.

The phone rang, I spoke to Amy, talked about my Mum and about Jenny, William and Martha, and she played my suggested song. And after all that, the song still managed to bring a lump to my throat.

Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time?

Springtime

The first thing I saw when I got up this morning was a spring. On the floor. Ah, a metaphor, I thought, Spring has arrived. And indeed, the sun was out, the sky was blue, it’s significantly warmer than last week and it was quite pleasant to walk around Chessington and Kingston today. spring in bedroomBut it’s a bit worrying, finding a small spring. Where did it come from?

Well, the house continues to fight back against being taken to the knackers’ yard. In our bedroom, there is a built-in wardrobe. One of the doors hasn’t closed properly for years, not since the last time thse doors were painted. There’s a little catch that should click smoothly and keep the door closed. With a bit of a slam, the dried-up paint flaked off, and that door managed to close properly and satisfyingly.

Until today. The little catch has broken. The spring sprung loose and the rest of the plastic must have shattered. I don’t think there’s any way to fix it.

Unlike the stay at the top of the front door. I replaced that, after the estate agent had problems last weekend. So unless there’s (again) a very strong gust of wind, the front door should no longer swing open and bash into the window sill outside the fron room.

Probably tempting fate but the door bell is still working a week or so after I fixed it and sealed it in again, despite the snow and rain. Touch wood.

No more news on the home front.

“Wheels of Time” is an exhibition aiming to document the story of cycling past and present in Kingston upon Thames. An important part of this will be people that cycle as part of their job.

I was invited to be interviewed in my capacity of ex-postman. I used a bike for the job, and they wanted me to talk about it. So I visited Kingston History Centre in Kingston’s Guildhall for the first time where I met Alex, the Heritage Services Officer, and Jarek, who conducted the interview.

I don’t think I slagged off Royal Mail management too much for the decision to replace bicycles with trolleys. Big, fat, red High Capacity Trolleys. But it was fun to talk about why I liked the job using the bike, and not so much with the trolley. The changing nature of the job over the years, especially with regard to online shopping resulting in many more parcels and packets being delivered by Royal Mail, is I think not recognised by most members of the public. And dogs came up. Like the one that didn’t like the noise the bike made. Or the one that didn’t like my helmet.

The exhibition opens towards the end of the month and I’ll put more details up nearer the time. I think this is the first time I’ve potentially been a museum exhibit.

I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t cycle into Kingston today: it was quite nice outside but I didn’t want to turn up looking bedraggled, with helmet hair and stinky.

Oh, alright: it was too cold. I’m a wimp. Turning into a fair-weather cyclist.