It has been traditional among my ex-rugby playing chums during the summer months to meet up at a few of the local Beer Festivals and enjoy some thirst-quenching entertainment. Last summer Covid-19 was rampant and with the country, in lock-down, all entertainment involving our gathering of souls was quite rightfully cancelled, so it was with great disappointment that the Langton Beer Festival, due to take place over the weekend of the 9-11th of July was rescheduled for later in the year. It had been a late decision by the organisers, probably thinking there would be insufficient numbers attending to make it worthwhile as restrictions are (likely) coming to an end on the 19th. It was non-the-less yet another disappointment. However, whilst cycling around the town, everywhere seemed very busy, despite the number of infections rocketing towards the stratosphere, I guess the majority have already decided to begin their return to normality.
On the 13th, Paddy and Linda Keane came to Willow Bank for me to apply online for new Irish and British passports. They came armed with professionally taken photos, yet these proved to be useless for an online application. Though I scanned and saved them in the appropriate file type (jpeg), both government sites rejected them. However, a photo taken on my phone was accepted and the applications were successful. The only difference between the two applications was that the Irish do not require you to send them your old passport before the issue of a new one and the British do.
The following day I met Peter’s landlady at his apartment in Lubenham. Peter (still in NZ) has decided to give up his accommodation and we met to decide what to do with his belongings. Sensibly we decided not to do anything until Peter puts something in writing with the date he intends to end his tenancy and stop payment of rent. I had promised to store some small items for his return, but certainly not the larger equipment such as fridge, freezer, washing machine etc. He will have to decide as to what to do with these.
Sue had a much more enjoyable day, she made an early start with her U3A Activity group, travelling to Braunstone and spending the day taking turns steering narrow-boats through the canal locks. She returned at 6.30 pm gushing about her helmsman-ship and lock opening skills and what a wonderful day it had been. Aye, aye, captain!
To celebrate the completion of the fence between Willow Bank and our neighbours in Bridgeview, we invited Mike and Claire around during the afternoon of the 16th to toast the fence with a bottle of champagne. We had envisaged a small celebration with a single glass of plonk and some crisps. However, they arrived armed with carrier bags of beer and cider and it was after 8 pm before the celebration ended.
The same morning Jamie had brought Nala and Rocky for us to look after over the weekend while he, Ruth and Joey had a short seaside break at a Pontins Holiday Camp in Southport. The weather was perfect for a break by the beach though they weren’t overly impressed by their accommodation. Regardless of the Colditz style camp, they seemed to have had plenty of fun.
To add to the watery theme, Sarah and family met up with her friend Abbey and family and headed for the wet stuff and like Jamie and company kept cool trying out their new paddleboards.
Freedom Day (19th July)Boris Johnson: “There comes a point after so many have been vaccinated when further restrictions no longer prevent hospitalisations and deaths but simply delay the inevitable. Proof of vaccination will be needed to enter a nightclub – and possibly sports matches and the pub – as Boris Johnson ordered young Britons to get jabbed or miss out on “life’s pleasures”. As if to help the spread of the virus, the UK weather witches have been mixing their potions: The Met Office has issued its first-ever extreme heat warning today as the UK experiences sweltering conditions in parts of the country.
Lucas and Ellis finished the school year with excellent reports, both of them coming top of their respective year group, a brilliant tribute to some fine parenting by Charlotte and Suraj, after solid groundwork by the grandparents! On a drippingly hot day, the Rothwells took to the water in earnest, while poor Ellis had to dress up and swelter at his school prom.
Feeling ‘the freedom‘, Sue and I booked our car into the long-stay cruise car park in Liverpool with an overnight stay in a nearby hotel in readiness for our August trip to Iceland. Now that is what I call optimism!
Early in the evening, Sue drove up to Newbold Verdon to help look after Alice. The childminder had to isolate after her sister tested positive for Covid-19. Lee’s mother Diane was looking after Alice until Sue arrived to take over duties until Wednesday evening. Thursday is Sarah’s day off and Diane will be back to childminding on Friday. Since the start of the pandemic both Sarah and Lee have worked mostly from home, but all 1 year old needs your full attention, Alice is quick on her feet and full of cheeky mischief so has to be watched carefully. Sue returned home a couple of days later none-too- tired after her spot of Nanny McPhee-ing, as a mother and past nursery teacher she has just been getting in a spot of practice.
Earlier in the day, Jamie arrived at Willow Bank with Joey and the dogs before his physiotherapy session at St. Lukes Hospital. I dropped him off for his appointment, and while we waited for him to finish, Joey and I took the dogs for a walk. He reported afterwards that the exercises were quite painful, but no doubt they will be beneficial in the long term. He is
expecting to return to work next Thursday. I took them to the White Horse in Stoke Albany for a pleasant but grossly over-priced lunch, before returning them to Jamie’s place in Desborough. I saw them again briefly later in the afternoon when they arrived to borrow my mower and take the dogs for a walk around Marston Trussell.
On my way home from lunch at the White Horse I called in to see Roger Woolnough, sadly I learned that his father had died last March, he was 96 yrs old. Oddly, he had failed to mention this during the several phone calls I had made over the last 5 months. His 2-year-old top of the range TV had annoyingly lost its picture but not the sound, it had been like it for 2 weeks and to my incomprehension, he was just putting up with it. On inspection I discovered that the backlight had failed, you could faintly see the picture, but not well enough to see the settings to bring up the contrast. I contacted a local engineer for him and he confirmed it was a common problem with that make, he promised to call around later in the week to assess a repair. He informed me that at the beginning of August he has booked a taxi to visit his sister in Bristol, he hasn’t seen her since the start of lockdown. He usually drives there or uses the train, I was surprised at his choice of transport as the return fare would easily cover the cost of a new TV.
On Thursday (22nd) Jamie, Ruth, Joey and dogs had booked an overnight stay at a rather interesting local venue. The Sleepy Explorer’s Globe is a treehouse in a 2 acre wood just outside the village of Hallaton. They invited Sue and me for breakfast early the following morning and we duly obliged. I couldn’t help think what a novel initiative it is to make a bit of money in a pandemic if you own a bit of woodland. It is a lot more lucrative and environmentally friendly use than many forests are put to. After a very tasty traditional English breakfast, Jamie and I took a walk with the dogs to discover they shared the wood with a family of badgers just a few metres away. Sue played cards with Ruth and Joey until it was time to leave them to their rustic idyll and return to Willow Bank.
Soon after reaching home, Harry arrived for a short doggy break with us, while Charlotte and family drove to Cleethorpes to meet up with Sarah and family for a weekend of seaside fun. They were staying at a caravan owned by Sarah’s friend, Abbey. The weather stayed fine and despite not being impressed with the vast and muddy Cleethorpes beach (it is well known as being a bit of a trek to get to the water) they, unfortunately, ended up having an early trip to A&E with Alice who had been hit in the face with a ball whilst playing a game. However, afterwards, they seem to have had a good time.
On Saturday (24th) I had a bunch of rugby minded friends over to watch the British and Irish Lions take on the world champions, South Africa. I provided a BBQ before the match and it set us up nicely to witness a narrow Lion’s victory in a tense game. To celebrate, we toasted the ‘boys in red’ with a glass of champagne.
The following week turned out to be typically British, rapidly changing weather fronts, with a constant dilemma of whether to wear shorts or not. On Wednesday (28th), while Sue rambled with the U3A I took Ellis to the Virtual Flight Experience Centre in Wolvey, Warwickshire. It was his birthday gift from Sue and me. He has been there before and it had enthused his imagination so we thought it a good treat. After watching him take control of the Boeing 737 and fly it with confidence from Bristol to Jersey in a thunderstorm, I can envisage him being a pilot one day. Before returning home we treated ourselves to an excellent Italian meal at the nearby and very busy Pesto at the Axe and Compass. That evening Jamie sold his quad bike. It has made parking the cars in our garage, so much easier!
The following day we took Ellis and Lucas to Bottesford to visit Jamie and Joey. We broke the day up with a walk with the dogs in the woods and gardens surrounding Belvoir Castle. Ruth has a friend that lives in the old dairy within the estate, so we took advantage of accessing the grounds for free. The 11th Duke and Duchess of Rutland (the Manners family) have successfully turned the castle into a very popular visitor destination. The land at Belvoir had been a gift from William the Conqueror to the family’s first recorded ancestor Robert de Todeni, who was William’s Standard Bearer in the Battle of Hastings in 1066. He began building the first Castle there in 1067. I wonder what he would think of it today?
After our ramble through the grounds, we moved on for lunch to an inn called The Dirty Duck at nearby Woolsthorpe Wharf Here we satisfied our hunger with an excellent meal before working off a few calories with a walk along the canal. Nala unexpectedly chose to cool off with a swim in the rather greenish, algae-covered waterway. We finished off our ‘day out with coffee and ice cream with Ruth at her home in Bottesford.
The following day and after a rather rainy night, I had arranged to discuss the renovation of the swimming pool with a local installer. Since the start of Covid-19, it has been empty and in need of some extreme TLC. I had planned to spend much of the rest of the day pruning the grapevines, but a development with our Iceland adventure distracted both mine and Sue’s attention to more pressing matters. Booking excursions had turned out to be a huge problem; changing government advice and an unresponsive website that eventually went off-line, led to phone calls and coping with the usual frustrating queuing system employed by seemingly everyone nowadays. We are now required to produce two negative Rapid Flow Tests per week up to departure day. With the kits already acquired
from Suraj, we duly tested ourselves and as expected, returned a negative result(long may it continue!) The results have to be entered into our NHS records via the App. Entering mine proved to be no problem, but the App on Sue’s phone refused to work (despite working perfectly to print out the vaccination certificates a couple of days previous). After several maddening hours, we eventually inputted Sue’s result correctly using a laptop.
The arrival of a letter notifying us of a governmental required, 2nd day of return PCR test, threw a further spanner into the already spluttering machine. Fortunately, the cruise line will book the tests for us, albeit at a cost of £99 each (BUPA). After researching into the various options the cost is unavoidable so we will let them do the arranging (life is too short!) It seems there are plenty of companies who will provide this service, not surprisingly at around the same cost. The test itself is the same one I have had several times for free in Harborough, and though the government requires you to be tested, it is only available through private companies. I see the common sense in requiring a test, but I fail to comprehend the reason why we cannot turn up at the centre in Harborough to take the test. The test kit will arrive by post and we return it by post. How will they know it was me that took the test, and for obvious reasons, not someone else?
Over the weekend we had Harry again as our house guest while the rest of his family had fun at Alton Towers and its associated water-park. I hosted another Lions v South Africa BBQ, though the outcome didn’t warrant the opening of another bottle of champagne as the boys in red employed a predictable game plan that clearly wasn’t working and they hadn’t the guile to change tactics, it was a heavy defeat. On the same day, Jamie and tribe visited Towcester Greyhound Track while Sarah and Lee spent the afternoon decorating their patio with lights.
Again, the following week was very changeable. In between showers, I managed to dig up and fill 3 sacks with early potatoes, pick the last of the black currants and prune the extra growth on the grapes. The tomatoes, cucumbers and plums have come into season and we are busy utilising them in a multitude of ways (well Sue is). I do love this time of year when salads and soups are full of the flavour of fresh tasty homegrown produce.
Jamie, after returning to work and despite still recovering from his knee surgery, also managed to complete an HGV training course with a 100% pass.
A following rainy weekend saw Sarah and tribe come down with a nasty stomach bug, with only Mia unaffected and being the only one not limited to the bedroom and ‘little room’. Jamie and Ruth watched a spectacular aerial fireworks display at Belvoir Castle from the garden of their friend who lives on the grounds, on the videos he posted on Messenger it looked amazing and for free! I hosted the last of the Lions v South Africa rugby matches at Willow Bank, it wasn’t BBQ weather and pizza was the order of the day. Despite the Lions narrowly losing it was nice that a couple of good friends Jeremy and Frank, who I used to coach with many years ago came to watch the game.
On Monday (9th Aug) Sue took Lucas and Ellis to Wistow Maze. They managed to successfully navigate the maize (sweetcorn) maze, cleverly designed in the shape of a Phoenix rising from the flames, and also complete the Quiz Trail themed on other mythical creatures. They were fortunate to dodge the showers that plagued my vegetable patch back in Harborough, significantly delaying my leek planting through frequently having to seek shelter inside the shed. Sue treated the boys to a MacDonald’s burger and McFlurry before taking them home.
Sue went rambling with the U3A on the following couple of days, but she also managed to fit in a morning with her New Experience Group, learning how to make sausages. We had the ‘turkey bangers’ she made for tea that night and they were VERY tasty!
On the 11th, Charlotte and her family drove to London for a very busy day. She posted on Messenger some of the things they did: Buckingham Palace, Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, China Town, Leicester Square, M&M World, Hamleys, Highgate Cemetery, Graffiti Tunnel, Little Venice, Camden Market, House of Minilama and a few other things and shops but can’t think as exhausted!!!! . What a busy day.
The 12th of Aug was spent preparing for our trip to Iceland. Borders and vegetables were watered, lawns mowed, batteries replaced in the alarm system sensors, suitcases packed and the documentation checked. Jim dropped by on his way home from the gym, he is kindly watering the greenhouse for me and wanted to check that the hose was connected to the outside tap. Usually, on the eve of an adventure, I begin to feel a little excited, but in the present circumstances, it has been replaced by a feeling of trepidation. Have we completed all the paperwork properly? Will we test negative before boarding the ship? Will my laptop/tablet/phone all work as they should do when logging onto the various sites to gain entry into Iceland and then again on return to the UK? Strange times, but we are trying to be normal!