October was dominated by our ruby wedding celebration, as we achieved 40 years of marriage on 10/10/10. On Saturday 9th 21 family and friends joined us at Stoke Place for a special dinner party. Stoke Place is a 17th century Queen Anne mansion, just north of Slough at Stoke Poges (think Gray’s Elegy), and mainly specialises in weddings. They have a smaller room which was ideal for 23 of us, and the evening went really well. We all sat round one big table which looked beautiful. The food and service were excellent, and after the meal we cut a cake we’d had made and toasted ourselves in bubbly. Ian also presented Sandie with her new ruby pendant, to replace the pearl one she has worn for ten years.
On Sunday 10th, the actual anniversary, we went out for a pub lunch with the family, including the grandchildren and some relatives who couldn’t make the precious evening. Fifteen of us met at the Stag at Flackwell Heath, on the outskirts of High Wycombe, and had a pleasant and much more informal meal together. The weather was good, and we were able to go outside afterwards to admire what is supposed to be the best view from a pub in Buckinghamshire, while the children played on the playground.
Ian’s sister Maggi had come over from Spain for a week, and on Sunday both her sons, Chris and Tony, were able to join us. It was especially good to see Chris, as he is in the army and was going to Afghanistan later that week. On the Tuesday after our anniversary, we went with Maggi to London for the day. We went on the London Eye, visited the Gauguin exhibition at Tate Modern, and saw the musical ‘Sister Act’ at the Palladium. At the Tate Modern we visited the new installation which had just opened in the Turbine Hall – millions of model sunflower seeds made of pottery, which were scattered on the floor like a beach. We were able to walk about on them, but the next day the exhibit was closed to public access as a health and safety issue!
The next day Maggi went back to Spain, and we went to Italy for a week, on a holiday we entitled our ‘rubymoon’. Claire drove the three of us to Stansted, and then Maggi flew off to Malaga and we flew to Bari, in southern Italy. We hired a car, and spent the week touring the Puglia region, which is basically the heel of the boot which forms the shape of Italy. We stayed in a different place each night, including a former palace, some modern hotels, B&Bs, an apartment, and a ‘trullo’.
Part of the reason for visiting Puglia was to see the trulli – whitewashed circular buildings with conical roofs. They are found throughout the Valle d’Istria, particularly around the town of Alberobello, where there are literally whole districts of trulli – we even had dinner in a trullo restaurant. Another highlight of our tour – this time completely unexpected – was Matera, where there are districts called ‘sassi’ composed of cave dwellings carved out of the soft rock, and we spent an interesting time exploring these. Luckily we had good weather in both of these very picturesque towns.
In other places we admired more traditional architecture. We saw more ornate Romanesque-Baroque cathedrals than you can shake a stick at, as well as shedloads of castles. We drove right down to Santa Maria de Leuca, at the very end of the ‘heel’, and got some great views. Along the coast we passed through several dormant beach resorts – nobody goes there in October, even if the weather is better than at a British resort in high summer. We visited the Castel del Monte, an impressive and insane edifice built by the Emperor Frederick II. In Bari, we saw the last resting place of St Nicholas (don’t tell the kids we visited Santa’s tomb). In Barletta we saw the ‘Colossus’, a large bronze statue of a random Roman emperor – no-one can agree which one it’s meant to be.
Altogether we had a good ‘rubymoon’, despite variable weather, including one whole day when it poured with rain continuously. We look forward to the next 40 years!