Between trips.

28th Aug. The week after arriving back from Iceland was predictably a busy one with house and garden work needing to be done. The vexing British weather didn’t help yet we managed to catch up (mostly) with clothes washing and vegetables picked from greenhouse and vegetable patches. Sue even managed a U3A ramble to Hanging Houghton and a morning of magnet fishing in the River Welland and the Grand Union Canal with Ellis, followed by lunch at McDonald’s. It was the last treat before he joined his older brother Lucas and started his new school Brook Weston Academy.

On Saturday I was spending the morning preparing onions in readiness for winter storage when Jamie arrived at Willow Bank and suggested we do another road trip at the end of September, the last being in 2018 to Fuengirola on the Costa Del Sol. It didn’t take much to persuade me and we chose one of my favourite places, the Azores. I am sure he will enjoy this Portuguese island as much as Sue and I have done in the past and it was soon booked. Later, on his way to see Ruth in Bottesford, he gave me a lift into Harborough Town centre; I was meeting up with Jim H and Jim C to catch the bus to Kibworth to attend a beer festival at the Coach and Horses. On arriving we were soon joined by Paul and we spent a pleasant couple of hours discussing favourite brews and putting the world to rights. Sitting, socialising in a pub yard is such a British thing to do, so why did it feel so strange?

Early September not only heralds that autumn is soon on its way, but it is also the time when Charlotte and Suraj celebrate both their birthdays and wedding anniversary. On Sunday they invited the family for lunch in Rothwell and apart from Jamie who was still in Bottesford with Ruth and Joey, we all obliged. Sue managed to fit in a Saddington car boot visit before we travelled to Rothwell, while Sarah and family also took in a car boot and also a steam train ride on the Northampton & Lamport Line on their journey. It was Alice’s first train ride!

Lunch was magnificent with lamb and seven vegetables beautifully cooked and very tasty. It was so nice to have most of the family around the dining table again, chatting away amiably, dogs waiting patiently under the table for any dropped scraps. It is as it should be! Fully sated, before leaving for home I roused myself from a growing lethargy and volunteered to help Charlotte strengthen the fence which separated their fire pit from the adjacent cow field. Over friendly cattle have been leaning over and nibbling potted plants placed on the patioed area. The result of this is that the fence has now taken on a sinister lean and if nothing is done the herd will be joining the family for toasted marshmallows. With Suraj’s help, we managed to brace it firmly with a couple of angled, wooden posts and it was job soon done!

The following week was characterised by thick cloud, a bone creeping cold and spits and spats of a drizzle that couldn’t make its mind up whether to bother to rain or not. Depressing weather and dispiriting on the soul! However, life still goes on and none more so than for Ellis who prepared for the next stage of his life with a trip to the barber in readiness for his first day at the ‘BIG’ school. As a last treat, Sue took him and Lucas to play crazy golf in Blaby, then another slap-up lunch at McDonald’s.

Despite the growing chill, Sarah took Alice on her first blackberry picking forage and somehow she managed to avoid the worst of the thorns and develop an obvious liking for this tasty little berry. On the same day, Charlotte and Suraj took Ellis to start the first day at his new school, carrying on to celebrate their wedding anniversary in Rutland. They want to see the magnificent horseshoe collection at Oakham Castle before travelling to Barnsdale Gardens and then taking lunch in Uppingham.

Thursday night has now consolidated as the evening when our small group of ex-rugger chums meet up in one garden or another for refreshments, snacks and amiable conversation. This week was my turn, with dropping temperatures and a constant threat of rain I opted to use the garage as a venue instead of cowering under the awning on the patio. As entertainment and a spot of reminiscing, I showed three short videos of past trips that we have enjoyed; 2006 walking the Cleveland Way, 2008 to Llangynog in Mid Wales to climb some snowy mountains and 2016 when we flew to Reykjavik in Iceland to imbibe some very expensive drinks. It’s the company that makes a pleasant evening and this was a gimme.

The dull and dreary weather continued until Saturday when Sue and I drove up to Bottesford. Jamie was treating Sue to afternoon tea at Belvoir castle. We deviated briefly on the way via Syston to check out where Jamie and I were to have our PCR Test for entry into the Azores. Satisfied that I had located the little office where the tests are to be done, we carried on to Ruth’s place.

On the same day, the Rothwells also made an early start and drove to Cambridge to check out the university (always optimistic) and do a spot of sightseeing.

As we arrived, Ruth was having some work done on the house in preparation for selling, there was a handyman busy about the place. Deciding to travel to the castle in one car, we piled (dogs including) into Ruth’s Mercedes and set off. The two-afternoon tea fans were dropped off at the rather imposing castle entrance before Ruth, I and dogs carried on to a roadside parking spot around a mile away and a popular walking spot for routes along the high, wooded escarpment upon which the castle sits atop. While Sue and Jamie scoffed all sorts of fancy delicacies, we and the dogs enjoyed a ramble that gave some glorious views over the plain below. It was easy to see why the castle was strategically built here. Around an hour and a half into our walk, Jamie called for a pick-up. We arranged to meet them at the Engine Yard Retail Village, situated just below the castle. On arrival, we found them wandering in and out of the various shops admiring the goods on display, but thankfully nothing expensive had taken Sue’s fancy.

Returning to Bottesford, the handyman was just finishing as we loaded both Jamie’s and my car with sacks of garden rubbish, the tip in Bottesford has been closed, so we were going to recycle it back in Harborough. Next, we hooked up Ruth’s caravan to her Mercedes in readiness for moving it to Willow Bank. She is hoping to sell it and it will be stored on our driveway until it is (hopefully, not too long!) A couple of hours later we were safely back in Harborough and after a run to the recycling centre, they drove on to Jamie’s place in Desborough, laden with bags of fruit and veg from the garden.

Sunday (5th Sept.) saw a dramatic change in the weather. The gloomy and cool conditions of the past weeks gave way to blue skies and a temperature of 30°!!!! Tooooooo hot!  At the crack of dawn, Sue was car booting at Saddington and soon afterwards I was in the veggie patch watering, digging up potatoes, picking carrots and tomatoes and despite being in shorts, T-shirt and sandals, sweating

Alice and Mia enjoy the dawn.

profusely.  Jamie and Ruth had also been up early, they had been go-carting to the north of Leicester and arrived at Willow Bank late in the morning to clean up the caravan in readiness for sale. They gave the outside a good jet washing and the inside a thorough hoovering before taking copious photos for the advert.

Sue had a particularly busy day on the 9th, the heat of the past few days had made way for cooler and much more pleasant conditions, thankfully allowing her morning U3A nature group walk around Stanford Reservoir to take place. Several prior rambles had already been cancelled due to the oppressive heat and the sensibility of its members. She returned home mid-afternoon with tales of Golden Oriel, Spotted Crake and flocks of dragonflies. Back at Willow Bank, I was pleased to have the company of our resident cock pheasant who had recently returned after a summer of absence.

During the week Sarah and Alice had vaccinations, Sarah her second Pfizer while Alice had the measles, mumps and rubella immunisation. They both felt poorly from the experience. At the same time, poor Ellis was sent home with tonsillitis, he seems to get this quite often.

That evening I gave a lift to Sue and Bridget to the village hall in Little Bowden for a U3A chilli supper get together. Later that evening I met up with the ‘Saga’ crowd in Sean’s garden and sheltered from a light drizzle under an inadequate umbrella to talk earnestly about rugby and recent changes to National Insurance contributions (rivetting stuff!!!). Bridget’s husband Jim returned the ladies home around 9 pm. When I returned home close to midnight I was surprised to find Sue in the dining room, still awake and doing a jigsaw on bird identification.

Not surprisingly, since the schools have returned with very few restrictions in place, the infection rate in Harborough has soared into the stratosphere. On my morning cycle ride I called into the rugby club to catch up on local rugby matters and was informed by ‘Bugsy’ the bar steward, that since last Saturday’s first fixture of the season where the bars had been rammed with eager, rugby deprived members,  5 (so far) had since gone down with the virus. Also, in Bottesford Ruth reported that Joey has tested positive for Covid-19 and has to isolate. Ruth tested negative on a lateral flow test but was waiting for the results of a PCR test. However, if it proves to be positive as a double vaccinated person she won’t need to isolate, though will be taking precautions not to pass it on.

On the evening of the 10th, the local cinema club that Sue and I are members of showed its first film for over 18 months. Lured by an opportunity to ‘normalise’ and reassured by an email that full Covid-19 precautions were being taken and a new air-conditioning system had been purposefully installed, we attended. ‘Downton Abbey is not my usual preference of genre and having sat through two hours of its pap and drivel, it still isn’t. However, what made the experience tortuous was the complete lack of ventilation and absence of any social distancing, despite (for some reason) the first five rows being blocked and left empty! The shiny new aircon units could be seen attached at regular intervals to the walls, but alas, not switched on! I suppose a club run by well-meaning volunteers is prone to the occasional hiccup, but sitting and sweating in an airless room with around 1oo other souls is quite unforgivable in the present circumstances. I shall be passing on my thought to the committee members.

On Saturday, I started to re-paint the telephone box next to the pool. And on the day that Cristiano Ronaldo scored two goals on his debut for Manchester United, Jamie went to see Grealish at the Leicester City v Manchester City game (Leicester lost 1:0). Ellis has recovered from his tonsilitis well enough to go paddle-boarding with Charlotte, while Alice was also perky enough to accompany her mum and dad to the pub after first Sarah having a refreshing paddle on the canal.

Later that week Sue went on another ramble before Sarah and Alice arrived with her friend Jolene and her mother. They had decided to meet up at Willow Bank and do some shopping in Harborough. Luckily it was a nice day and after some retail therapy, they chose to have lunch in a cafe in one of the old ‘Yards’. Before leaving for home they returned to Willow Bank for drinks and a chat on the patio.

On Friday(17th) I drove over to Rothwell to help Charlotte with one of her client’s gardens. Several very thorny bushes and a hedge needed to be tamed with a chainsaw and trimmers. The old gentleman who owned the property was an ex-rugby player and very keen to chat about his playing days, he had turned out for Spalding and remembers playing against both Harborough and Stoneygate, though with the age difference I doubt whether we were ever on the same pitch together. Despite being painfully spiked several times it was lovely to work again with Charlotte, due to Covid-19 it’s not a thing we have done for nearly two years. On my way home I called in to see Roger Woolnough, he had managed to get his TV fixed but was restricted to watching just the free to air channels. Though he was paying for broadband he had no idea on how to connect any of his equipment, so I delayed my return for lunch, coupled up his laptop and TV, logged him into the main ‘catch-up’ channels before creating a YouTube account for him and logging him into that. That should relieve his boredom, for a while at least.

Over the next three weeks, Sue’s sister Philippa and her husband are presently circumnavigating Iceland by car. They regularly post photos on Facebook and are also writing a blog about their adventures. It can be found on: Iceland Blog.

I was hoping to complete the repainting of the telephone box on Sunday, but after an early start to try and beat the forecast rain, with just one and a half sides left to complete, it frustratingly arrived! Fortuitously, around the same time, Sarah rang and announced that she and Lee were coming to take us out for lunch. After a couple of phone calls, we managed to find a table at the Shoulder of Mutton in Great Bowden willing to take four adults, a toddler and a dog. As we left, Jamie rang to say he was on his way to show the caravan to a prospective buyer, we learnt later that after the viewing Jamie had changed his mind and was going to scrap it instead.  Our impromptu Sunday lunch proved to be a success with an excellent fayre provided, well worthy of a future return. We returned to Willow Bank for ice-creams followed by a stroll to Welland Park for Alice to enjoy the playground. The Fair had arrived in the park and was busy with families and teenagers enjoying the rides, but on this occasion, little Alice had to be disappointed as she is still too little for even the tamest of rides.

Monday was a reasonably warm day but there was more than a hint of autumn flexing its muscles; leaves are beginning to change colour and the grapes are full and juicy. The first job of the day was to complete painting the telephone box and I followed this up by picking the first boxes of red grapes in readiness for fermenting.

On the 21st, keen to start this year’s vintage I began the laborious job of picking the grapes off their bunches, interspersing this tedious task with listening to Radio 5 and occasionally helping Mike re-wire the horn of his Austin Healey. He was using the pit in my garage in what turned out to be a 7 hour frustrating, but eventually successful job. Considering we have had a rather disappointing summer the sugar content of the grapes is surprisingly high and I am hopeful this first 25l batch of Must will turn out to be a fine red wine.

The Rothwell’s have sold their house again, so fingers crossed, all will go well this time. Both Ruth’s and Jamie’s houses are on the market and had several viewings over the weekend, with luck they too will be having acceptable offers. Sarah and Lee have decided that Alice is to be christened and have been making preparations for a 24th of October ceremony at the local church.



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