Spring can’t be far off (please)!

After retiring from playing the noble game of rugby, I first flirted with coaching and then finally refereeing in order to prolong my involvement with the sport. It has provided me with such wonderful memories along with a large group of friends who I have shared many a changing room and muddy bath. Looking forward to a Saturday and Rugby has been a way of life since the age of 12, and it’s still the same today. Sadly, I am now limited to watching the game that has provided me so much pleasure. Having at first I stood on the touch-line along with friends, never short of an amusing comment directed at players and ref alike, wrapped up against the elements and immersed in the camaraderie of the crowd that only this game can provide in bucket loads, now, I and a dwindling number of friends prefer the comfort of a warm lounge, a large TV and proper ale. The Six Nations Tournament is something that we look forward to each year, surpassed only by a Lions Tour or perhaps a visit by the All Blacks (but only when we think we stand a chance of beating them). It’s the oldest Rugby Union competition in the world and began as the Home Nations Championship in 1883 with England winning, eventually becoming the Six Nations with the inclusion of Ireland, France and lastly Italy. It is one of the highlights of my year and it began in 2018 with Wales putting Scotland to the sword and Ireland producing a finish against the French that I think encapsulates the spirit of rugby perfectly, ‘it isn’t over ‘till the fat lady sings’. It’s why I love this game. England beat Italy quite comfortably. Can’t wait for the next round of matches.

Both Sue and I seem to be recovering nicely from our ills of a few weeks ago. Sue survived her first U3A ramble and I have been on my bike again frightening the heavily pregnant sheep in the fields of Leicestershire. The first week in February was very wet and ploughing through sodden fields on my bike was exhausting, but sorely needed to get back to some semblance of fitness. The second week saw nightly frosts and much easier cycling.

On the 4th Feb. Jamie took his first ride on his quad bike. Unfortunately, he ran out of petrol near Harborough train station and got a friend to help him out. I think he was too embarrassed to ring his dad for help, but I had already worked out what had happened when he returned the quad to the garage and he rather red-faced admitted his error. It happens I guess, but hopefully only once.

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On the 6th Feb. I started decorating Jamie’s bedroom in his apartment while he and Ashton were working. It entailed stripping off the wallpaper, emulsioning the walls then gloss painting the skirting boards in white. It took three days to complete the task and I quite enjoyed it. I noticed that Jamie’s rabbit (Maddy) now has company in the shape of two guinea pigs that belong to Ashton. Maddy has free roam of the apartment but the guinea pigs are secured in a cage.

The following day we went to see ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’, the sad story of AA Milne’ son born of dysfunctional upper-class parents whose life was made even less tolerable through the publication of the ‘Winnie the Pooh’ stories. That evening Sue and I decided to get away from the British cold and booked flights to Cyprus to see Jim and Bridget who moved there before Christmas. It can’t come soon enough with an Arctic vortex forecast for the UK over the next few weeks!

Charlotte and Suraj have been busy in their loft converting the space into a usable room for Ellis to play with his train track and I guess also to be a den for the boys and Suraj to escape to. It took just over a week of work to complete the project and from the photographic evidence they have made a fine job of it. I think both Suraj and Charlotte enjoyed planning and constructing and they both acquired useful skills that I am sure will come in handy in the future.

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Poor Mia had a trip to the vets. She had been sneezing violently and obviously something was not quite right. The vet suspected that there may be something stuck up her nose and that meant she had to have a little induced nap while a camera went up her nose. It was discovered that there was no blockage but a very inflamed nasal passage and throat. The doggy equivalent of what the rest of the family have been through since Christmas. She is now on antibiotics and Sarah and Lee are the recipients of a very hefty bill. Awhile back, Pepper (Charlotte’s cat) had a similar thing; sneezes, runny nose and lethargy, Charlotte accused him of passing the cat flu on to her, so it wasn’t a great surprise when Lee complained of something remarkably similar to Mia’s symptoms. They say things come in threes, so I am now expecting Maddy (Jamie’s rabbit) to develop flu symptoms and pass it on to Jamie.

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Though there is little to do in the allotments during the winter months, there is always the pruning of the fruit bushes etc. to do while the plants are dormant. This year I decided to change the pruning regime on my vines. While on a road trip with Jamie in New Zealand last spring, I was intrigued by the stumpy pruning that the locals practise in their vineyards and determined to give it a go with my own. It meant drastically lopping the vine’s parallel side branches down to the main stem at a height of around 60cm. I am hoping that they will shoot vigorously from the cut so that I can train the new growth into a fan shape. I hope it works and that I haven’t just destroyed next year’s vintage. Fortunately the Council decided to deposit a huge pile of their shredded autumn leaves, gathered from the local parks by their grounds men, near to my allotment. As I had given my vines a huge shock I took advantage of this and mulched them with this manna from the council. I also gave the other fruit bushes the same treatment.

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On the 9th Feb. it was Ashton’s 21st birthday. Jamie joined in with her family in a celebration birthday meal that evening at Frankie and Bennys in Northampton. Very early the following morning he and Ashton drove to Dalston Hall near Carlisle to continue the celebration. While he was there he took the opportunity to do a little PR. He met one of the new members to his Binary Destroyer family and very kindly gave him a training session on how to trade in Binary. He had also brought along a Binary Destroyer hoodie as a gift and bought lunch too.

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The weather while they were there was not great, very chilly and plenty of snow, but their accommodation was quite special.

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Prior to the start of their next adventure to discover the Far East, Philippa and Paul visited Uncle Stanley in the care home in Manchester. They didn’t find him in a good mood and it was a bit of an ordeal. He is quite frustrated by the situation that he finds himself in and I gauge through the phone calls I make to the Home that he is in a permanently grumpy state. I asked if they could provide a radio for him as he loves the news and especially politics, but they said no. I did speak to Selena and ask if she could fetch his radio from home and she promised that she would. It may make a difference, we shall see. Pip and Paul started their current saga with a two day visit to chilly Helsinki before travelling on to Changmai in Thailand. They are expecting to visit Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia,Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam and Cambodia, returning in May. They write a blog as they travel and no doubt we will be following their adventures with interest.

On the 15th the washing machine broke, I checked the water filter and drive belt but both were fine. The internet suggested that the culprit could be the brushes on the motor, now in the far and distant past when bottles were made of glass and you got 6p for returning them to the retailer and everything electrical or mechanical went to the repair shop before being reluctantly discarded, I would have whipped out the motor, looked at it and changed the brushes if necessary. However, those times have long since gone. On the 16th we purchased a new one, resisting the temptation to save a few pennies through the internet we went local in Harborough and it was delivered and fitted that afternoon. We replaced it with its more modern Bosch equivalent and much to Sue’s annoyance, EEC legislation has decreed that these machines will no longer support a 50 degree wash cycle on the grounds of energy efficiency. It just happens to be the one wash cycle she used the most. I just hope that it doesn’t turn out to be like one of the other German made environmentally friendly machines the Volkswagen Diesel and in the future we discover that I paid an awful lot more for a contraption that tells lies when you test it and is anything but environmentally friendly. However, I can’t complain as the the previous model had given us good service for so long that neither Sue or I could remember when we bought it! If this hi-tech replacement puts in a similar longevity, I for one will forgive it for the lack of a particular temperature, but I am not sure that Sue will.

The following day Sarah was working out of Northampton so I had Mia for the day. Charlotte had the boys on half-term and was keen to occupy them with a walk, so despite it being a cold and miserable day they travelled to Harborough. Sue was having coffee and cake with Lynne Keane in the town when we set off at 11am on what I considered to be a short walk to Great Bowden, then back along the canal. We had a little rain on route, but mostly we accomplished the walk under leaden skies and through waterlogged fields. Unfortunately, halfway through our trudge, Lucas had a little mishap when he slipped in a particularly muddy patch and covered one half of himself in an excellent coating of Leicestershire sludge. It didn’t seem to matter much as we were well and truly splattered already. Mia was enjoying it. A couple of hours and 6 miles later we returned to Willow Bank for hot drinks and pancakes (well, it was Shrove Tuesday).

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On the evening of the 8th Feb. Sue and I were sitting in the lounge listening to the wind howling outside and a spluttering wood burner, trying desperately to throw out enough heat to to keep us interested in feeding more wood into its rapidly emptying belly, the temperature outside had just tipped into the negative and I had a thought. “Shall we go and find some sunshine?” At that very moment Bridget popped up on Messenger. “Shall we go to see Bridget and Jim?”, I asked Sue (silly question) and after a couple of exchanges on the social medium and a bit of navigation through Ryanair’s website I had booked two return tickets to Paphos in Cyprus for the following Thursday.

It was an early start for a 9.45am flight and the journey down to Stansted was relatively quiet, though the queue for the transfer bus from the Long Stay Carpark was long and we had to wait for a second bus to arrive, before we could get on board. The flight left on time and 4 hours later, rather overdressed we made our way through security. Jim and Bridget were both waiting for us in Arrivals. They had acquired a Honda 4X4 CRV (Cyprus Retirement Vehicle) since they had relocated to Argaka on the northern Cypriot coast and that was soon whisking us along the steep, windy and rather illogically speed regulated roads towards our accommodation for the week.

jim

Bridget

Jim and Bridget have a lovely house, gorgeously situated above the beach in Argaka, affording splendid panoramic views on three sides and there is a pool too. Oh, and the temperature was somewhere in the low twenties and we were feeling better already. After being greeted enthusiastically by their dogs, Harby and Shoby we unpacked in our en-suite bedroom before being given a tour of the house and grounds. They had already installed a wood pellet burner in the lounge and made quite a few alterations to the outside foliage. Jim was in the middle of replacing large sections of wood chip with white stone chips, a much better option when you have two dogs.

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Apart from a spectacular thunderstorm on one evening we had excellent weather during our week of R&R and managed to see quite a bit of the locality, with Jim chauffeuring us to some of the nearby tourist hotspots.

We visited Aphrodite’s Bath. Sue and I had been there many years ago when Charlotte was young and indeed I had visited it less than a year ago when Jim and I came to look at properties suitable for their new life. However, on this occasion we were to have a bit of excitement. On our way back from the small pool that seems to attract so many tourists looking for a bit of Greek mythology, Sue spotted a handbag draped on a wooden bench alongside the path. Checking the contents it contained a purse and personal belongings. It belonged to an English woman and she had a dog, it conained several doggy poop bags. Her bank card indicated that she was living in Cyprus, so we attempted to pass the bag onto them by visiting a branch in Polis, but they weren’ t interested. Next we went to the police station and had better luck. After a short wait at their reception a couple of officers turned up and took down the details. I left my mobile number as a contact. Around an hour later the owner of the hand bag rang to thank us. So Cypriot police are honest, if not a little too keen to catch speeding drivers with their unreasonable and illogical speed limits.

On the Tuesday I had my chance to take the wheel of the Honda and drove Bridget and Sue to Paphos Town. The aim was to pick-up a display cabinet that they had bought, but we also managed to fit in a spot of tourism with a visit to the Harbour Fort before finishing out trip with a splendid lunch overlooking the pretty little boats in the Harbour. Jim had stoically remained behind and opted to spread 2 tonne of the the white stone chips around the pool while we undertook our more cerebral activity.

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Though we ate all but two of our meals out series of excellent and often scenic restaurants, the highlight was Sunday lunch at the ‘Farmyard’ restaurant, set up high on one of the surrounding mountains in the village of Kathikas. A fabulous carvery that ensured we all rolled back to the car pleasantly sated. All Cypriot restaurants do excellent salads, but when it comes to a meat dish, they pile it on in bucket loads. Completing most traditional Greek meat dishes is a bit of a challenge, one that we managed to rise to, just! Though Jim and Bridget have been living there for a very short time, each restaurant and bar we visited (and there was a lot) they would be greeted enthusiastically by either local Cypriots or other ex-pats who they had met before and would engage them for a while in familiar banter. I guess they are well suited to their new life.

We took Hoby and Shoby for several walks during the week and even Sue grew very fond of them. They are lovely dogs, obedient and greatly enjoy regular cuddles and ear fondling from anyone. Nowadays, Hoby is getting very much to look like the older statesman and doesn’t bounce around anymore, he leaves that to the younger Shoby. They were both managing to cope with the February temperatures but I think they may well struggle when June and July arrive, particularly Hoby who seems unlike Shoby to have an aversion to water of any depth.

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On the day before we flew back to the freezer, Bridget drove us to the Akamas Peninsular to join her walking group. There was around 20 or so members who met at a picnic site at the end of a narrow windy track somewhere on the peninsular. How they all managed to find the remote starting point is a bit of a mystery, but they did. It was a lovely ramble, quite steep in parts but the views were quite special. We inspected some ancient magnesium mine tunnels at the half way point, stopping for a brief rest before returning to the cars on our circular route. Most were then moving on for lunch at a nearby restaurant but we returned to Argaka for ours as we were going out that night for a special meal as it was Bridget’s and Jim’s wedding anniversary. Jim again was the hero as he had remained behind to complete his gravel moving task. As the day before, he looked shattered when we arrived back at the house for a light salad lunch.

The anniversary meal took place at the the Santa Barbara restaurant just a 100m down the road alongside the beach. We gave it the full works, but as we had to leave at 3am the following morning to catch our flight, it meant we ate at 5.30pm and were snug in bed by 9pm. None-the-less we we marked the event with full stomachs and cocktails.

The early morning drive to the the airport was undertaken under a brilliant starlight sky with lightning flickering randomly over a not too distant Turkey. It was either the natural phenomena or possibly (tongue in cheek) a few strikes by the Turkish Air Force. We met few other vehicles on our bombing run and after saying our goodbyes outside Departures we began our journey back to Blighty.

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The weather forecast for next week is for a return to Arctic temperatures, but luckily, next week, on the 1st of March we fly to Thessaloniki in Greece for a week. Fingers crossed, the cold temperatures won’t reach that far south.

Other News: At the weekend Charlotte, Suraj, Sarah, Lee and Jamie are spending the weekend in Grantham at a Murder Mystery weekend dinner. Ashton has been ill all week (off work) and sadly won’t be joining them.

While we have been away Stanley caught a chest infection, but he was given antibiotics by the doctor and today is much better. Even better news is that he has been persuaded to get out of bed and he has started to sit in the lounge.

Charlotte has started her gardening work and has a full diary of work.

Jamie has released his new website for the Binary Destroyer and his new automatic trading platform (T.A.D.) is up and running as well.

I broke a tooth whilst away in Cyprus and like a hero suffered until I returned to the UK before having a new filling.

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