Archive for July, 2013
Our time recently has been mainly spent organising our new flat, helping to look after small boys, and meeting friends. We’ve also had a short trip up to Scotland!
The new flat
Not surprisingly, putting our new flat in order has been a major task. The job is by no means finished, but we’ve made good progress. We’ve managed to find places for all the things that were in store, plus most of the things that were in Claire’s shed (Ian’s art materials and our camping gear will stay there for the time being). There is yet more stuff to come from Claire’s attic and Andrew’s cellar, but for the moment even the spare bedroom looks reasonably tidy.
On the whole, we are very pleased with the flat, as the design and the location suit us well. We have had only one real problem. We noticed that the fridge was not as cold as it should be: the beer and white wine were not properly chilled (horrors!) and a couple of bottles of milk went off. We called in an engineer who said it would be very expensive to fix the fridge, and better to get a new one. The problem is that we have a combined fridge/freezer, and it is built in. Sandie spent literally hours on the phone trying to locate a company that could supply and install the correct replacement. She was getting desperate when she finally succeeded in finding some-one who could do the job – she nearly crawled down the phone and kissed him! Now we have a brand-new fridge which keeps the beer and wine (and milk) nice and cold.
We have had a number of babysitting duties in the past few weeks. Claire has been away flying every weekend. Charlie and Oscar normally stay with her friends Terri and Andy, and in return Claire looks after their two boys (Oliver and Jake) during the week. One weekend Terri and Andy were at a wedding, so we stayed in Claire’s house with our grandsons. At other times we babysat in the evening so Claire could go out, or looked after Oscar while Claire took Charlie to the cinema or a birthday party.
On a couple of occasions we took Charlie and Oliver out, while Claire looked after the younger boys. Once we took them to Bourne End on the bus, and strolled along the Thames looking at the boats. Another time we took them for a boat trip along the very small river that runs through the park in High Wycombe. A few times we looked after all four boys in the house, or took them to the playground.
At the end of term at Charlie’s nursery, they had a farewell performance for the children (including Charlie) who will be going up to ‘big school’ in September. Charlie was one of the Three Bears and made a suitably loud growling noise. His friend Oliver was the Grand Old Duke of York.
In between flat sorting and babysitting, we have had some welcome opportunities to meet up with friends. One day we went to Slough Cemetery, and put flowers on the grave of Sandie’s parents; while in Slough we had lunch with Sarah, a friend who was a colleague in NFER days. Another day we had a visit from Kate and Blu, New Zealand friends who are nearing the end of six months’ travel, focusing on Central America and Europe. We took them to Marlow, where we enjoyed a pub lunch and a short stroll along the river.
More recently, Dougal (another NFER colleague) joined us for a walk starting from West Wycombe. Unfortunately, the directions we followed came from a very old book, and things change over time, which may be why it was not always easy to find the right path! We returned to our flat for lunch, and in the afternoon we were joined by Lesley (yet another ex-NFER friend). The four of us discussed the possibility of forming a loose consortium for future consultancy work.
Up north again
On July 18 we set off on yet another ‘UK tour’, a short one this time. First stop was Evesham, where our friends Brenda and Phil now live. They moved into their house about a year ago, but it was our first chance to visit. The wonderful summer weather which we have enjoyed enabled us to have dinner sitting in their garden, and then go for a short stroll around the town.
We stayed overnight in Evesham, and next day drove a further 300+ miles north to visit Ian’s Aunt Margie (now aged 93) in Glasgow. She has limited mobility, but her mind is still very sharp. We took her (in a wheelchair) to visit the Botanical Gardens which are close to her nursing home, and (the next day) to have lunch in the Pond Hotel where we stay. While in Glasgow we also managed a couple of walks on our own, including one from Balloch, at the southern end of Loch Lomond.
Next stop was Newcastle. Ian spent a day doing consultancy work at the university, mainly training a colleague of our friend James Tooley. Sandie joined them for lunch, and spent the rest of the day shopping and catching up with emails. After work, James took us both to his home, deep in the country 27 miles from Newcastle. We’d heard a lot about it, and again this was our first chance to visit. We sat out in the garden and sampled some wine from his brother’s vineyard in Berkhamsted.
On our way home from Newcastle we stopped in Loughborough, and had an enjoyable lunch and chat with our friend Jacqui (Roger arrived home just before we left). All in all, with opportunities for visiting friends as well as taking Aunt Margie out and doing some paid work, this was a really good trip!
Our USA road trip ended at Las Vegas Airport on Thursday 27th June. During the previous eight weeks, we had travelled over 7,000 miles across ten states; we’d stayed in 47 different motels or hotels; and we’d visited a dozen national parks or monuments. All in all, we’d had a great trip with so many varied experiences that it would be hard to say what we enjoyed most.
We were fortunate enough to get on the first flight we tried out of Las Vegas – unlike our experience in Cape Town. We were luckier than some others, because the BA flights to Vegas had suffered technical problems, and many of the full-fare passengers on the same plane had been waiting for two days!
A new flat, and a surprise
Claire picked us up from Heathrow and drove us to our new home: we’d exchanged contracts and completed the purchase while in the USA. She’d worked hard while we were away, getting our belongings brought out of store and arranging the delivery of a bed and table we’d chosen back in April. She’d also bought two chests of drawers, and assembled them as well as our old bookcases. She’d even made up the bed, so we were able to move in straightaway.
However, after we’d dumped our luggage in the flat, Claire was keen for us to go round to her house, because the boys wanted to see us, and also because there was a ‘surprise’ waiting for us there. The surprise turned out to be a black and white kitten, called Bruce, who had joined the household just days earlier. He is playful, friendly and very cute.
Our flat is a second-floor two-bedroom apartment in a modern development five minutes’ walk from Claire’s house. Our time so far has been mainly spent sorting out all the stuff piled up in the spare room and buying all the 101 things you discover you need in a new home. Opening all the boxes and finding things we’d forgotten we’d got (because they’d been in store for five years!) was a bit like Christmas. The problem however was trying to shoehorn everything into a smallish flat. Even though we’d got rid of tons of stuff before leaving our house in Langley, we still have hundreds of photo albums, theatre programmes and other souvenirs accumulated over the years. We’ve made quite good progress, but it will be a long while before our second bedroom can be used as a bedroom, if ever.
Big hats on the Thames
In addition to the unpacking, shopping and occasional babysitting duties, we have managed to go out and enjoy ourselves. We’ve had a couple of pub meals, and seen the film Now You See Me at the cinema. On Sunday 7th July the weather was remarkably warm and sunny – definitely too good to be indoors! So we decided to walk a stretch of the Thames Path, from Reading to Henley (about nine miles). On the way, we saw many different river craft, from large gin palaces to small canoes being energetically paddled. And we visited three pubs (walking in hot weather makes you thirsty, that’s our excuse). As we’ve often said, the Thames Path is the longest pub crawl in England!
It happened that our walk coincided with the Henley Regatta. So when we reached Henley we were able to amuse ourselves by taking photos of the crowds who were then starting to leave the enclosures. The men wore standard uniform of loud blazers and straw boaters; the women wore posh frocks and large hats. We thought of trying to get in, as we were wearing hats, but Sandie was not sure her ‘Bud light’ baseball cap would qualify.