Archive for May, 2015
We are settling into our condo and enjoying the Floridian lifestyle. The weather here has been consistently hot and mostly sunny, although there have been several showers or thunderstorms, usually late afternoon or evening. It is nice to get up every morning and put on shorts and t-shirts, knowing that nothing else will be needed (except for a sunhat when you go out). Here everyone, regardless of age, wears shorts and t-shirts (or ‘strappy tops’), not just for the beach but for shopping and everyday life.
Ian’s birthday was on Tuesday 19 May. He had several birthday greetings via email, Facebook or skype. He had already had his main present from Sandie (his easel and other art equipment) but as a surprise she gave him a mug she’d spotted in Disneyworld. By coincidence, he was wearing the t-shirt Claire had bought him last year – a good match. What are people trying to say to him?
He opted to have his birthday dinner at Sharky’s on the Pier, down in Venice, one of our favourite restaurants. The plan was to have a drink there, go for a walk along the beach, then return to eat. However, while we were on our way, the heavens opened. Luckily we found a table which was outdoors but under cover. So we had a drink and stayed to eat. By then the rain had stopped, and it was just the right time to walk along the pier and enjoy the sunset.
Setting up the condo
We spent a lot of time that week in the condo, waiting for things to be delivered. They did not all arrive at the expected time, but by Thursday evening we had received a TV, a TV stand, a DVD player, a desk, a bookcase and a patio set (small glass table and two rocking chairs) for the lanai. Everything was fine, except that the TV had no signal – we discovered we’d have to wait a week for an engineer to come and set it up. But we could watch DVDs (from thrift shops) while we waited.
The only thing that had not arrived was our box spring. The saga continued! When we ordered it, we’d been told it would be in the store on 19th May and delivered to us next day. But by Friday 22nd there was no sign of it, so while out on a shopping trip we called at the store to enquire. The guy there said his deliveries always came on Tuesdays, so he had just assumed it would arrive on the 19th. Since it didn’t come then, it would be some other Tuesday, but he didn’t know which. Given that it was almost the weekend, and Monday was a holiday, he agreed it was unlikely to arrive on the 26th. There was no point in asking the suppliers to hurry, because they would not change their manufacturing schedule to suit just one customer. And so on. We complained, said it was urgent etc etc, all to no avail. Or so we thought.
Two hours later, while we were still out shopping, we had a phone call to say the box spring had (mysteriously!) arrived, and would be delivered to us that afternoon!!! Sure enough, we got back around 3.30 and the box spring was delivered 5 minutes later. So now we are sleeping in our own bedroom, which we think looks really nice.
Ian has also put things up on the walls, so the place is really looking like home. This includes two composite photo frames with pictures of family and friends. There are also souvenirs from our travels, most notably Ian’s collection of (mainly silver plated) teaspoons. These are now displayed on racks going all the way up the stairs – on plain white walls, the ideal location. Some were badly tarnished after their long residence in Andrew’s cellar, but they are much improved after Sandie cleaned them with some magic goo. The collection has been augmented by spoons collected since our retirement, and by ones inherited recently from Aunt Margie – a grand total of 197 with a few spaces yet to fill.
Life at Central Park
We really love life at Central Park II. We spend a lot of time on the lower lanai – our favourite location for breakfast, morning coffee, lunch, afternoon tea and sundowners! We have a great view of the lake, fountain, trees and clubhouse, and we enjoy watching the wildlife: squirrels, turtles, lots of birds (herons, ibis, egrets) and hundreds of small lizards. (The only downside is that we do get some traffic noise – we thought our particular condo was far enough away from the US41 to avoid it, but sadly that’s not the case.)
The swimming pool is beautiful and we go there for an hour or so most days. In the clubhouse there is a library and a gym, which Ian has started using. There is also a tennis court – we haven’t played since schooldays, and were bad then, but may summon up the courage to have a try.
The pool is a great place for meeting people, and we have made lots of friends here already. Central Park is quiet right now, as some of the residents are ‘seasonals’ or ‘snowbirds’ who by late May have migrated to the north. The permanent residents include people who work all day, and don’t have time to go to the pool, but many are retirees enjoying the laid-back lifestyle.
The main thing that attracted us to Central Park was the location – there’s a supermarket opposite, and it’s within walking distance of the Bayfront, Main Street etc. One evening we walked the triangle we’d long planned: down to the Bayfront, drink at a bar, up Main Street, dinner in a café and back to Central Park. It was delightful, except for one thing: just after we’d finished eating a heavy storm blew up out of nowhere, so by the time we got back to the condo we were soaked through!
Since Ian’s birthday we’ve been to four different beaches, enjoying the sun and the warm sea. We’ve also been to the theatre twice. May is off-season here, so there is not so much happening, but we managed to catch a production of The Miracle Worker (about Hellen Keller), the last production of Venice Theatre’s 2014-15 season. We went back the following week for a one-off concert by Lotela Gold, based on music from the 50s and early 60s. Very nostalgic!
One particularly enjoyable evening we drove to Anna Maria Island, parked the car at Manatee Beach and took the free trolley to City Pier. We had drinks there while watching the pelicans. Over the road we sampled delicious home-made ice creams, which we ate while walking along Pine Avenue which crosses the island. Reaching the beach we saw an arch and seats, obviously ready for a wedding. We decided to have drinks in a nearby bar so we could watch – the first beach wedding we have seen. Then we followed the water’s edge back to Manatee Beach, laughing at an egret trying to sneak up on a fisherman’s catch. We had dinner at the Manatee Beach Café, where there was music and a drum circle leading up to a beautiful sunset.
We have now been in Sarasota exactly three weeks, and it has just occurred that we have not been more than 20 miles from the city in that time. Unusual for us! But now the condo is in shape, we are thinking about venturing still further afield.
On Sunday 10 May Claire drove us to Gatwick, and we flew to Tampa. We were on standby (using Claire’s staff travel) but had no problem getting seats – in fact the plane was half empty. At Tampa airport we picked up a rental car and drove to Sarasota as usual. We had to remember, though, that this time we were heading for our condo, and not for Jane’s house!
Fortunately we’d already acquired enough furniture – including twin beds from the previous owner – to be able to live in the condo. We had china and cutlery, so we could eat! But there was still a lot to get, and the living room in particular looked very bare. So we spent a lot of time on shopping expeditions. We spent all of Monday and Tuesday looking at furniture, and then had to make up our minds what would fit best, before going back on Wednesday to buy things, or order them if they wouldn’t go in the car. On Thursday we investigated TVs and TV stands, but decided to order online. After that we bought a printer, an iron, ironing board and lots of other bits and pieces for the kitchen or bathroom. Choosing everything was fun, and so was living in the condo. Going upstairs seemed odd though, and we realised it was seven years since we had lived in a two-storey home!
The box spring saga
When we first started looking for furniture in Florida, we had no idea what a ‘box spring’ was. We found out that it was more or less equivalent to the base of a divan bed at home –not quite the same, because it has no casters and has to fit inside a metal frame. As explained in our last blog but one, when our bedroom furniture was delivered, the box spring would not go up the stairs. After phoning the salesman, Eric, the delivery men took it away, and we understood that it was to be replaced by a split box spring, i.e. one that comes in two pieces as most do in the UK.
We fully expected that this might cost a bit extra, so were surprised when time went by and we heard nothing. We phoned to check progress, and were shocked to find that we would have to pay the full cost of a split box spring, and would get no refund for the one that had been returned. We argued unsuccessfully, so when back in Sarasota we visited mattress shops (there are many!) in the hope of getting a better deal. In the US, we discovered, king-sized box springs are usually split, but not queens, so eyebrows were raised when we enquired about a split queen box spring.
The prices quoted were even higher, so we went back to the original company – with reluctance, as we felt they had treated us badly.
However, that evening we went to the cinema, and arriving early we passed the time by enquiring at another mattress shop nearby. We were offered a split queen box spring cheaper than anywhere else, so placed an order. Next morning Sandie phoned Eric and told him we were buying elsewhere. She also gave him a piece of her mind, with the result that, after consulting his manager, he phoned back offering a better deal – better but still not good, and by then we had had enough.
Time to relax
Although most of our first week in Sarasota was spent shopping, we had ‘time off’ to relax. Sandie went to the tap dance class she had tried out last December, and had not had a chance to take part in since. It was good to put on her dancing shoes again!
Ian was keen to start painting, for the first time since leaving Ghana in 2012 (there is no suitable space in our High Wycombe flat). While we were looking for furniture, he was delighted to find a full-length easel in a thrift shop. He stocked up with paints and other materials from a nearby art shop, and is now using the upstairs balcony as his studio.
The complex in which our condo is situated has a pool and hot tub, as well as a gym and clubhouse. We tried out the pool one afternoon, and enjoyed it very much until a thunderstorm sent us scurrying back to the condo. At other times the weather was perfect, and we had the pool all to ourselves!
Further afield, we made a couple of trips to favourite beaches.On Manatee Beach we enjoyed a walk before the rains came, followed by dinner watching the thunderstorm. On Siesta Beach we found a volleyball tournament in progress. We also went to Sarasota Opera House, for the first time. We saw the ballet Coppélia, performed by a local dance studio, with an audience consisting mainly of proud parents and other relatives. Just outside the Opera House, we encountered the Harvey Milk Festival, with a sound stage and stalls advertising various gay societies. There were also fundamentalist Christians protesting – reminiscent of New Orleans!
After Aunt Margie’s funeral, we had three weeks based in Wycombe, before heading back to Florida. We were quite busy during this time, with work, babysitting, meeting friends and catching up with appointments at the optician and dentist. We went to a meeting of our folk dance club, and to their spring dance. One Friday night we did our usual ‘pub crawl’, up to the Crown at Hazlemere.
Ian had a bit more work to do, and a meeting at the Department for Education about the work he had already done. We were both involved in an ERA meeting at our flat. Charlie and Oscar stayed with us twice while Claire was on her trips to Dubai. Some of the time, the weather was very good, so we made several trips to the park. The Bank Holiday weekend, and the one after, there was a travelling children’s funfair. We went twice to the children’s weekend cinema, and on one occasion we saw some street theatre in the town, which was fun even if we did not exactly understand the message the actors were trying to convey!
With Claire’s impending move, there was quite a lot of paperwork, emails and phone calls to deal with. We also needed to clear out our belongings from her shed! So one fine morning we went to her house and shifted everything outside. Our old tent and camping gear had not been used since 2011, while Ian’s art materials (paints, brushes etc, plus many finished paintings) had been stashed in the shed since we retired in 2008. Obviously we did not expect Claire to take them all to Bussage, and we did not have room for them all in the flat. We chose a few things to take to Florida, and the rest were disposed of, via friends, Freecycle or the tip!
Bussage and Henley
On April 27 Sandie went with Claire to Bussage. The primary purpose of the trip was to visit the local school, where Charlie will become a pupil after the move. It was only after Claire had fixed the appointment that she discovered it coincided with an INSET day at Charlie’s current school, so he was able to come along and see the school for himself. But there seemed no point in subjecting Oscar to the long journey, so he and Ian had a ‘boys’ day out’: they went by bus to Henley, where they walked by the river, had fun at the playground, visited some charity shops and had lunch in a pub.
Two days in London
We love days out in London, but it is very rare for us to visit the city twice in one week, as we did this time. Ian had to go to London on Tuesday 28 April for his DfE meeting, so we decided to make it a day out for both of us. While Ian was at the meeting, Sandie bought theatre tickets and then walked along the Strand, visiting familiar haunts including King’s College where she did her first degree more than 40 years ago! She had lunch sitting in the sun in the courtyard of Somerset House.
In the afternoon we met up at Waterloo and took a train to Kingston. We walked another stretch of the Thames Path, but with limited time available we were able to walk only five miles, from Kingston to Richmond. (This stretch is amazing – it is as though you are in the depths of the country, hard to believe you are so close to London.) Then it was back to the Strand for dinner in a pub and a performance of Oppenheimer at the Vaudeville Theatre – an RSC production, and brilliant as always.
The following Saturday we went up to London to have lunch with Rose Hague, a friend from New Zealand days. Once again, we decided to make a day of it. The Wycombe trains arrive at Marylebone, and we were meeting Rose at the new Granary Square near King’s Cross. With time to spare, we decided to walk along the Regent’s Canal, for the first time in many years. We stopped for a coffee break at the busy Camden Lock market. We had a long leisurely lunch with Rose, and went with her to the British Museum. In the evening we saw Gypsy at the Savoy. Imelda Staunton’s performance was amazing, but we were rather disappointed with the play itself.
Faversham and Slough
On Monday 4 May we went with Claire and the boys to Faversham, to visit Andrew and his family. We gave light sabres (Disneyworld souvenirs) to our granddaughters; the boys had brought theirs, so (appropriately for ‘Star Wars Day’), there was a lot of harmless fighting in the garden. We had lunch in Herne Bay, and strolled along the seafront. The children had some rides and the family enjoyed ice creams. On our return to Faversham, we went down into Andrew’s cellar and emptied one of the trunks we’d stored there since 2008 when we first went to New Zealand. The contents consisted mainly of Ian’s chess sets, silver spoons and spoon racks. We took them back to Wycombe, for storage there or onward transfer to Florida.
After lunch the next day, we went to Slough. Well, almost – we did not make it to the town centre. We got off the bus in the Farnham Road, went in a few shops and then walked through housing estates to the cemetery where Sandie’s parents are buried. We put flowers on their grave, and then walked along the canal to the Red Lion pub in Langley. This was a nostalgic trip, as we walked along the canal many times when we lived in Langley, and went to the Red Lion frequently! The purpose of this visit was to meet up with Sarah and Tami, friends from NFER with whom we had an enjoyable dinner.
For Sandie, one of the best things to happen during this time was that she acquired a new laptop. Her old one was well used and well travelled; in recent times it had developed problems (doubtless due to old age) which made it increasingly difficult to use. It finally packed up completely, and has been replaced by one which is much smaller and easy to tote around. This blog shows the new laptop in use!