Returning from the Blue Boar, over the next few days we added to our cultural knowledge after first seeing ‘Suffragette’ in Stratford we moved onto ‘The Dark Horse’ at Harborough Theatre. The latter being a true and disturbing tale of a Maori gang member playing chess in New Zealand. Not quite what I expected the land of ‘Lord of the Rings’ and superb rugby to be.
On the Saturday we were invited to a dinner party at Paul and Louise’s, Jim, Kate and Sean were the other guests.They had moved out of Harborough earlier in the year as the garden at their previous home had become unmanageable. Their (now very extended) bungalow in Kibworth had just seen the builders off and been decorated. Chilli and jacket potatoes was served and extremely delicious it was too, one of Jamie Oliver’s recipes we were informed. We guys even managed to catch most of the one of the rugby semi-finals on their new curved screen TV’s. An enjoyable evening topped off with Lemon-cello, we left feeling rather envious of their new house.
For some reason, we felt the need to hit the decorating button again. After having had completed the dining room I had reckoned on a lull until the spring, however radiators now got a new coat of paint and all the downstairs rooms (bar the study) got a fresh coat of paint and a rearrangement of paintings. There are plans to move on upstairs to the bedrooms over the coming weeks.
I have started to make this years vintage. The red-wine grapes (as usual) were the first to ripen and have sufficient sugar levels to be picked. They were crushed and mashed in two large 25 litre bins for around 7 days then pressed and allowed to ferment until the specific gravity came down to 1.020. I calculated that this gave around 10-11% alcohol content and I was happy to have the brew on the sweetish side to counteract the natural sharpness of British grapes (lack of sun). After a final tasting I filled 30 bottles and stored them in the garage. During the fermenting stage I picked the rest of the red grapes that hadn’t ripened on the first picking and added 20kg of windfall apples, following a recipe to make Apple Rose. I mashed them, pressed them and then decided to pick a bin full of white grapes to supplement the brew as I gauged that the colour was coming out a little too much on the dark side for a rose. After further fermentation I stopped the process with Campden tablets at 1.010, again aiming for sweetness. It is now settling out in a full 25 litre bin in readiness for bottling. I purchased some potassium carbonate just in case I find it too sharp, the idea being to equalise the acidity. Today I picked the white grapes. They probably have the most sugar content of any of the crops that I have harvested, I must remember to do the same next year and leave it as late as possible and ignore when the vineyard in Farndon pick theirs, which was some 3 weeks ago.
The last of the sweetcorn have been picked. 24 rows of 11 plants with an average of 2 cobs per plant is quite a lot of corn on the cob. However, the Rothwells enjoy them, Sarah and Lee have taken some, we have scoffed a lot and Sue has cooked, stripped and frozen a lot.
The day after Paul’s party we went to Charlotte’s for a lovely Sunday dinner. Suraj had bought the chicken for their meal and it had turned out to be Mr Big, so we were volunteered to make it disappear. We played a game of Bingo during the afternoon with the boys, though came away without any prizes.
During the previous week our central heating system had decided not to switch on so we had the engineer come out. He arrived on the Monday and as luck would have it, it worked fine! He stayed for half an hour and tested the system but there was no fault to be found. It has worked perfectly since.I had threatened it with replacement a few days prior, so I guess I frightened it into action. It’s a mystery.
During that week we baby sat for Lucas and Ellis while mum and dad had their parent’s evening at school. I occupied myself with fixing the on-suite toilet loo. As I needed parts this continued on into the following day when Suraj joined in with the fun. However, with the right parts and a bit of co-operation it was soon back to flushing properly. Apparently a lot of their neighbours had been having the same problem and it had cost them in excess of a £100. With the right £12 part it took Suraj and I less than half an hour.
That week Suraj had taken some of his holiday and with the boys still at school we played golf at the Blackthorn course one morning. I managed to lose 4 balls in the first few holes, two in the same pond!!! Charlotte had been shopping in Harborough so afterwards when I arrived home we went for a pub lunch with Sue.
On the 27th Oct. Sue and I had a walk near Welford and had lunch at the Welford Wharf afterwards. The route took us past the reservoir and up to Sibbertoft before returning to Welford via the source of the River Avon. The morning started out quite misty, but by the time we returned to the pub it was a glorious day. The route passed through some beautiful countryside and splendid old houses, one by the source of the Avon took our fancy and perhaps with a lottery win or two, we would be tempted. On the same day the Rothwell’s had a splendid day out in Stratford. They managed to cover in the day what we had done thye previous week. They thoroughly enjoyed the experience and came home (not surprisingly) rather tired.
This is a splendid chicken and leak pie I made for the weekly family get together.
On the 29th, Sue and I joined a large party of brave investigators under the Old Grammar School for a ghost walk around the town. It was a suitably filthy night, windy and drizzly though this did not detract us from the fun as all had dressed appropriately. After a couple of hours of wandering and story-telling, we retired to The Angel for a rather good and warming meal. Most of the tales we had heard before, though we did have a couple in our party who worked in one of the buildings that our guides were talking about and they confirmed what was being said and also had their own stories to relate. Quite interesting.
That Saturday I watched the World Cup Final at the rugby club. A superb game. I am saying no more about the subject.
The following day (1st Nov), Charlotte and the boys came over, and also Lee and the girls. We drove over to Gumley woods for our annual chestnut picking. Not a great year but a reasonable crop. My two 17g whoppers took the prize of the day. Despite it being an unseasonably warm day Sue had the fire roaring away when we returned so quite a few of the nuts got roasted and gobbled.
Sue and I had originally planned to jet-off to Guernsey on our chestnut-picking day but our travel agent had difficulty getting the flights so we agreed to fly on the following day, little did we know the impact this change would make.
The 1st of November was a gorgeously clear and warm day. Great for picking nuts or indeed flying to a small island in the Channel. November the 2nd was not. We woke to a thick foggy day and news that airports in the south were cancelling flights, but thankfully not from our point of departure, East Midlands. Leaving home around 10am for a 1.30pm flight we drove through thickening fog to Number 1 car-park just outside departures. We were one of the first to check in and being given a luncheon voucher with our boarding card was not a good omen. However, we Palmers can wait. Many transits in foreign airports have hardened us against boredom and frustration, we have tactics to amuse ourselves (newspapers, books, games, the bar etc.) not the least is watching your fellow passengers complain bitterly and hearing their life stories and how the world will come to an end if the airline doesn’t magically create a flight out of thin air. However, after scoffing a free lunch in one of the bars, washed down with a suitable beverage we made our way down to Gate 4 to be given the inevitable news that the flight was cancelled. Aircraft were taking off but you could see that none were landing as visibility was down to less than 50m. Our aircraft was stuck in Liverpool and going nowhere. We felt sorry for a very large party who were travelling to their grandfather’s 70th birthday on the following day. Some of the younger ones were in tears. After picking up our luggage off the belt and then the official sheet of paper confirming the cancellation from check-in we made our way back to the car. We had a small problem with the car-park gate that didn’t want to let us out so early, but a chat over the intercom to the attendant soon sorted that out, the we were back on the foggy and darkening motorway heading home.
As soon as we arrived home I rang the company we had booked the car-park with, and negotiated a full refund, one advantage of being a ‘loyal customer’. Next, I rang our travel company and explained the situation. They immediately offered a full refund. Thanking them I pointed out that we would prefer to visit the island rather than be reimbursed and asked in they could put the package together at a later date. Half an hour later they rang me back with a flight date of the 5th of November, which we accepted. Leaving our suitcases packed we set about filling in the next two days.
Thankfully the 5th of November was not a foggy day. We had a slightly later flight than previous and it was on time, though it was raining when we lifted off. Aurigny are not a company I had heard of , but they are Guernseys national airline and according to the posters and in flight magazine they are the were voted the best airline of 2015. The flight took an hour with complimentary papers and drinks on offer, both Sue and I managed a little catnap until our approach to landing. Guernsey was in the middle of a storm, the rain was lashing down with the wind causing severe turbulence that caused our little plane to bounce around violently. As I was sat at the window I could see the difficulty the pilot was having in landing. We hit the tarmac with a clout at very high speed and then the fun started. Whether it was his excessive speed or the storm that caused us to skid from side to side I don’t know, but at one point we were heading directly towards the apron before slewing around to face the opposite apron, before slewing around again to sway violently down the runway until we stopped. Phew, I was frightened.
Relieved, we disembarked and made our way through the rain to baggage control, picked up our suitcases and then made our way to the Transfer desk, as indicated on our instructions. It was shut. Inquiring at the car hire desk next door we were informed that the driver had just left with some passengers. Kindly, the lady in charge knew him and rang his mobile, to then inform us that he didn’t have any Palmers on his list and wasn’t coming back. She pointed the way to the taxi rank and that’s where we went. The ride to the Fermaine Valley Hotel took around fifteen minutes and cost £9 and it was with relief that the receptionist was expecting us.
Our room was lovely and lots of little goodies for us to gorge, not least was the decanter of complimentary sherry (this appeared each day). I took advantage of the WiFi and fired off an email to the holiday company notifying them of the absence of transfer, a request for reimbursement and confirmation that the return transfer would turn up. We attempted to walk down the lance to the little beach at the bottom of the valley, but after we left the lights of the hotel it was too dark to go any further so we returned and got changed for our evening meal. The hotel had a reputation for its restaurant and we were delighted to find out why. Great menu, delicious food. Unfortunately, when I attempted to book a table for the following night the receptionist informed us that they were fully booked and so was Saturday and Sunday. You have to book a month in advance to get a table at the weekends, even if you are a guest. Alternative plans will have to be made.
After a rather good breakfast we put on our walking boots and set off down the lane of the previous night. We had rain during the night and the sky was rather overcast. Descending the steep and windy roadway through the wooded valley was quite tricky with the wet scattered leaves threatening to cause a slip. I thought of the seagull poo in Southampton! Next to the pebbly beach in what is a a very pretty bay was a small cafe that according to Sue’s research has stars to its name. It was just opening up and we didn’t venture in. We read the notice board on the restored Martello Tower located at the top of the beach, before locating the start of the path we were to follow and started our ascent up the steep cliff.
Our route was well signposted and followed the edge of the cliff all the way to St. Peters Port, passing by what can only be called some stunning affluent properties which I guess even a large lottery win would not have dented the asking price. We took our time, stopping often to ogle and discuss the terrible lives the local residents must live; forever having to keep great expanses of glassware clean, not mentioning huge, steep elaborate gardens that have to be maintained and that was before we got around to talking about the acreage of carpets that will have to be hoovered. It must be a nightmare to decorate. Yes, we felt sorry for the owners and smugly proceeded on our way, happy with our lot.
Descending the cliffs into the capital it started to drizzle. Wrapping our coats tighter we made our way to Castle Cornet, perched formidably at the end of the sea wall protecting the harbour. Disappointingly, it was undergoing renovations so was closed, we continued along to the end of the wall to the small lighthouse and stood awhile watching a few local intrepid anglers stare at a bit of line slicing down into a quite rough sea. There was no evidence of any fish having been caught and the men wore a look of expressionless boredom. The wind got up as we made our way back to dry land.
Just before the rain increased its ferocity we dived into a nice warm harbour side cafe. We were its only customers and soon had hot drinks on the small table in front. Luckily the establishment had an information rack chock-a-block with leaflets and it wasn’t long before they had been harvested by Sue and perused. When we ventured out, the rain had stopped. We planned to follow one of the published routes through the town, but we came across the bus terminus at the entrance to the harbour and I stopped to check on where we could catch a bus back to Fermaine Valley at the ticket kiosk. Sue enquired if there was a bus that circumnavigated the island and was told that there was and just about to leave, it would take two and a half hours to return.
Boarding the bus we were astounded to discover that the fare was just £1. How do they make a profit? It turned out that all fares are £1, regardless of how far you go. Quirkily, they still have £1 notes on the island. The first half an hour of our journey was through thick mist, so not much was seen beyond a 100m of the road, but as we made our way to the top of the island the murkiness disappeared to be replaced by blue sky and puffy white clouds. Now we could see the picturesque little settlements and wide expanses of white sandy beaches with a myriad of little rocky islands just off-shore. Nowhere seemed to be commercialised other than the odd small hotel to satisfy the needs of those tourists wishing to venture away from the capital. We knew when were nearing St. Peters Port again as the mist returned and our vista became limited to the houses alongside the road. Disembarking it began to drizzle.
Despite the dampness we started on our town route, stopping often to look into shop windows. In one establishment Sue bought a Christmas Tree bauble with Guernsey written on it. This seems to be turning into a bit of a tradition and I guess should be encouraged as it is a much cheaper option that the purchase a painting.
We visited the Guernsey Museum at the top of the town. Unfortunately, the main section describing the history and life of the island was closed for refurbishment, but the art gallery was open and there was an exhibition of a local photography competition, which the receptionist promised was rather good. She was right, we spent over and hour in this gallery alone. The photography and subjects were wonderful. Sue and I often disagreed with the judges selection of the winner in each section, preferring one of the runners-up or even one among the also-ran. A lovely way to spend some time.
Descending back into town, the drizzle returned, finding the next museum on our route closed for winter, we caught a bus back to the hotel.
Refreshed by warming and life-giving sherry we changed and set off to find the Indian restaurant I had found on my tablet, just a 15 mins walk away into St. Martin. We were its only restaurant customers, though the take-away trade seemed brisk. Worrying that we had made a wrong choice, when our food arrived we were more than pleasantly surprised, it was excellent and as a special treat a fireworks display struck up in a field across the road and we had a grand stand view all to ourselves. Thinking of the following day, after our meal we carried on down the road to the Queens Hotel to have a drink and check out if they did meals.
I tried the kippers for breakfast, yum. Instead of walking left along the coastal path as we did yesterday we went to the right this time, heading towards Jerbourg Point. Again our route hugged the cliff, but today it was quite windy with clear skies and we had to be careful near the edge. Lovely walk with some great views of the other islands. Reaching the Point we stopped at the rather comfortable Jerbourg Hotel and had drinks. We dallied there quite awhile, chatting, reading the leaflets from the information rack and watching the residents and walkers going about their business.
Our return route took us passed an obelisk dedicated to to one of the islands past governors and many pretty inland cottages. We returned just in time to have afternoon tea in the lounge at the hotel. Sue had cheese-cake but I opted for scones and cream, feeling uneasily decadent I comforted myself with the thought that as it was part of our package and would later washed down with sherry this meant that there would be less for the bourgeois.
To work off the decadent calories we walked to Sausmarez Manor where they have beautiful sub-tropical gardens. The gardens were interesting, but it wasn’t the plants that took our attention, it was the hundreds of sculptures that make up this Art Park. that are dotted around a lovely windy path that seemed to go on forever and passed by and through some wonderfully exotic plant life that deserved more than the cursory glance we gave them as we anticipated the next thought-provoking structure that would appear along our route. Sue’s favourite was The Scorpion (£43 000), mine was The Drop (£14 000). There were a few gaps where I suppose the sculpture had been bought. All were individually explained and priced, none were less than £1000. Most we enjoyed, some we couldn’t fathom and others we hated. We spent a couple of hours just on the Sculptor Trail and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Sometimes great plans go awry. Later that night, returning to the Queens Hotel we were greeted by the maître d’ to be asked if we had a reservation. Despite drinking there the previous night to check out the food we had failed to do the obvious. Disappointed we returned to our most favourite Indian restaurant on the island. This time they had other customers but plenty of spare tables. Again the food was excellent. What’s wrong with the locals? Too much French influence I guess.
Eggs Benedict for me today, as usual Sue had the Fermaine Breakfast. We packed our cases and then went down t to the beach for a last look around. We explored the cave to the left and then the rock pools to the right of the shore, I had been planning to have a coffee in the cafe but it was shut, so I will never know why it deserved its stars.
The transfer to the airport was early so we were one of the first to check-in and make our way to departures. The flight took off on time and I noted that it was the same crew as the outward journey. The approach to East Midlands was bouncy. The aircraft at times lurched violently across the skies, yet the stewardess sitting facing me further down the aisle seemed unperturbed. After one particularly hair raising set of movements the pilot informed us that he was aborting landing and going around again. Still no reaction from the stewardess. On the next approach he had a little more control and he managed to keep the wings down to less than 45 degrees of see-sawing. We landed. No one said a word. Relief. Disembarking a passenger in front of me asked why we had aborted the landing, the stewardess shrugged and said it must have been windy. It was tipping it down outside. We were soon on the M1 heading south towards Harborough through some filthy weather.
The following day I picked the last of the sweetcorn and the white grapes.
Charlotte came over on Tuesday and Sue and I took her for lunch at The Bell in Gumley. During the afternoon and evening I picked the grapes off the vine and crushed them, an extremely tedious job.
I had a Doctor’s appointment on Wednesday. For the last three weeks I have been having weepy eyes , especially when I am cycling or if walking in the cold, though they were prone to erupt water at any time. After a week, I visited the pharmacist and she gave me some drops for an allergy. This I used every day as prescribed but without result for the next week and a half. They were particularly bad in Guernsey. On my morning bike ride my eyes failed to weep. As the appointment wasn’t until the late afternoon I expected them to perform, but they didn’t. I attended the surgery and confessed I was well, I explained why I had made the appointment, and after looking at my eyes, we both agreed that it was a mystery and no-one mentioned that I was wasting NHS time.
I had bought some USB wall sockets so the next day I installed it in Jamie’s apartment and then drove over to Rothwell and put one in there. Charlotte then drove me over to a plumbers outlet in Kettering to buy an inlet valve for the downstairs toilet as it had gone the same way as their en-suite. It was soon replaced as I had practice just a couple of weeks prior. On the way home I called in to see Roger as we were due to meet up with Phil and Joan who were over from Italy for a week, we needed to decide where to have lunch. We chose The Swan in Braybrooke and that’s where we met them.
I was surprised to see Phil drive the hire car to the pub as his fingers had had an argument with a lawn mower a few months ago and it had entailed quite a few hospital visits as he had come off second best. We hadn’t seen them since last year but they don’t seem to have changed a great deal, not so Roger and I, I think. Roger is the weight I should be and I am the weight he should be,!!!! We caught up on the news, agreed heartily that we had left teaching at the right time and promised to meet up again under warmer sunnier skies where the pasta is never limp. Sue has joined us in previous years but today she was having lunch at The Hare in Doddington after a U3A walk in the morning. Despite the weather being awful in Harborough they managed to complete their route mostly under clear skies.
On Saturday (14th Nov) Charlotte and Ellis came over and I drove them with Sue to Sarah’s. Lucas was feeling poorly and Suraj looked after him at home. I put in one of my USB sockets in their lounge for them and then while Lee and I took Mia for a long walk in Western Park, the ‘girls’ and Ellis went to Fosse Park to do some shopping. On returning, it transpires that they went to M&S where they ‘shopped till they dropped,’ they were evidently very excited over their ‘booty’ when they returned. Lee made a very tasty casserole (his grandmother’s recipe) for lunch. Their oven has not been working properly for the last few weeks and I had been asked to come and look at it, which is what I did after it had cooled down after perfectly cooking a meal. Though it was now working properly and I am assured that it wasn’t, inevitably we had to agree that it is another one of those mysteries, luckily this time at no cost to the NHS.