Monday 27 October 2008

Turning back the clock

This weekend in the UK we have turned our clocks back an hour and are now on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). For me this weekend has coincided with reminiscences of the area that I grew up in, which has been prompted by the recent success of Hull City football club, who are at present the talk of English football. On Saturday evening, after a fairytale beginning to their first season in the Premier League, they were equal on points with Chelsea and Liverpool.

I was born and brought up in East Yorkshire. Hull, or to give it its' full name Kingston upon Hull, was the nearest town. It is not a city - it does not have a cathedral. The centre of Hull was badly bombed in World War II and rebuilt in utility mode so was never very exciting. Now, after the demise of its' trawler fleet and the decline of the docks, Hull is being regenerated.

Each year in the second or third week in October, Hull Fair takes place. It always used to be the week of my birthday and I used to think how lucky I was to go to Hull Fair as a birthday treat, not realising that every other child also went, regardless of when their birthday was.

The gateway to Hull is the Humber Bridge which when it was built was the longest single span bridge in the world.

The landscape to the east of Hull is flat but to the west and north there is some stunning countryside. In recent years the Yorkshire born painter David Hockney has exhibited a series of water colour paintings of the Yorkshire countryside, which are instantly recognisable to anyone who knows the area. Going north from Hull you come to the attractive Georgian market town of Beverley then it is off to the coast to Bridlington - a fishing port which is as attractive as any in Devon or Cornwall but unfortuneately does not have the weather. Further up the coast is Scarborough which has a beach to rival any in the world but again is let down by the weather. Further up the coast again, is the pretty fising village or Whitby and the picturesque Robin Hood's Bay. Then going inland there are the Yorkshire Moors.

This is just a taste of what the area has to offer.

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Living in someone else's house

When we moved to Chester we were only able to spend two weekends house hunting, before we were due to move, so decided to rent, initially, rather than buy. Renting, we felt, would give us a better feel for the area. After viewing a handful of properties we settled on a small four bed roomed detached house, on an estate built just outside Chester, about 20 years ago. A detached house makes it sound rather grand but it was a shoe box really, as were all the houses on that estate. The fourth bedroom was only big enough for a bed, a small cupboard and a chair. What we were renting was a black and white, half timbered, mock Tudor house, in the aptly named Tudor Way. When giving the address to some one over the phone they said how grand it sounded. They were probably in a call centre in India and were just making conversation.

The business of renting itself was a bit of a culture shock to us. We had both owned property, albeit with a mortgage, for about 20 years. For me it was a bit like being a student again but my husband had never rented before, having lived at home until he moved into his flat. Any problems, and there were several, had to be channelled through the letting agent who would then contact the landlord, who was living abroad. We had been used to fixing things and sorting out problems ourselves. In a way it was nice to have someone else sorting out the workmen and paying for the repairs but it meant that we were not in control of things and some problems took longer than we would have liked to get fixed. Then there was always the possibility that we may have been responsible for the damage rather than it being wear and tear.

The first morning there my husband went off to work, leaving me to have a bit of a lie in before setting about organising the kitchen. About the first thing that happened was when I pulled back the shower room curtains and the pole fell down. The agents got it fixed but after that I do not think that I pulled those curtains over again. A week later I had gone outside to put some washing on the clothes line when the back door shut behind me and locked itself. I was locked out. Luckily one of the neighbours was at home and let me phone my husband who had to come home from work to unlock the house for me. The neighbours were very nice about it. They had had the same problem themselves when they first moved in. The locks were a bit flaky. Not long after that the front door lock became so stiff that we could not unlock the door. Again the agents got it fixed but they took their time about it.

For a few weeks everything went smoothly until one evening when I was grilling pork chops for our supper. Suddenly there was a bang and a flash and the house was in darkness. The grill element had fused all the electrics in the house and the oven no longer worked. I think that we had to go out to eat for a few days until the agents got a new oven sorted out for us. Thinking that we had had a hand in the demise of the grill element the suspicious landlord insisted that he old oven was left in the garage for him to inspect!

Not long before we moved out the curtain rail fell down in the living room when I pulled the curtains over. Really the whole house needed an overhaul. Nothing much had been done to it in the 20 years since it had been built, apart from the occasional coat of paint.

One problem that we did not manage to get sorted was the central heating boiler which heated the water up almost to boiling point and guzzled gas like there was no tomorrow. Even when it was switched off the boiler used gas. We had the biggest gas bills that we have ever had while we were living in this small rented house. I was just grateful that no elderly relatives or young children visited us whilst we were living there as I was afraid that they might scald themselves on the hot water.

We lived in the rented house for eight months until we moved into the cottage that we are now living in. And guess what - the cottage had been rented out before we bought it.


As requested by imbeingheldhostage. Here is a photograph of the house that we rented. I think that she will be disappointed as it is more of a folly than the black and white, half timbered, mock Tudor house that I described but I can not think of any other way to describe it. The landlord had the outside painted a few weeks after we moved in which improved its' appearance.

Friday 17 October 2008

21 again

According to my reckoning today is my birthday. To be honest I am not keen on birthdays and I would be happy to give the whole thing a miss but usually I am not allowed to.

When the subject came up a few weeks ago my elderly mother managed to get the date right but admitted that she could not remember how old I am. So I told her that I was 21 and that seemed to satisfy her although I am sure that she knows that I am more than 21. I thought that dementia, which she has, affected the short term memory. I would have expected her to remember the birth of her first born even though it was 21 plus years ago. Never mind, I know my place. My brother is the blue eyed boy I am the green eyed monster. Yes, I do have green eyes.

At the beginning of October my husband's bachelor uncle died. Once it had been established that he had made a will, but not given any directions regarding a funeral, my husband and his sister arranged the funeral for today. When I was told of the arrangements I said to my husband - 'doesn't that date ring a bell?' ' No' he said. I then reminded him that it was my birthday and he would have to re-arrange the funeral as I was not going to it on my birthday. So after much deliberation the funeral has been re-arranged.

No sign of a present yet, which is not surprising as I have not decided what I would like, but my husband has suggested a pair of secateurs. He ran the lawn mower over my last pair and after we had fished the remains of them out of the innards of the mower, they ended up in the dustbin.

Sunday 12 October 2008

A walk down memory lane

We have had a lovely sunny day here today. Similar to the warm weather that we enjoyed two weeks ago, which was probably the nearest that we are going to get to an Indian summer, or even a summer at all. It has reminded me of the autumn that I started university. The mature pale sun in the baby blue sky was generating the same pleasant autumnal heat that I remember so well from those first few weeks in Bath. The trees are turning and the atmosphere felt just as it did then. It is almost impossible to put the feeling into words. When Keats wrote the phrase 'season of mists and mellow fruitfulness' he should have won an Oscar or a Nobel prize, but I doubt that he got anything. That phrase is probably the best description ever of warm early autumn weather and can not, nor will not ever be improved on.

After the drive from East Yorkshire to Bath, which had taken the best part of a day, my parents deposited me at the university campus, where I had been allocated a room in one of the halls of residence. I was left to do some unpacking while my parents went to check into their hotel for the night, before driving back to Yorkshire the next day. Then they were coming back to collect me to take me out for a meal. In the mean time a mist had descended and my father had difficulty finding the university campus. There were no mobile phones or satellite navigation in those days. I just had to wait and hope that I had not been abandoned.

We do not have a pub in our village so about once a month a bar is set up, for the evening, in the village hall. It is a chance to meet the neighbours. The surroundings are basic and the drink is cheap. It's almost like being back in the union bar.

Do I want to turn the clock back? I am not sure. Probably not.

Saturday 4 October 2008

Postcard from France

At noon on Monday, we drove off the ferry at Cherbourg and into a traffic jam and queue for passport control. Armed guards stood around at the actual control point, but they did not look very threatening, just a bit off putting. We had a comfortable first night in a converted stone mill in a small town just outside Rennes. This unusual sculpture was on display in the hotel garden.

The next morning we set off for Poitiers, via Vouvray, where we made a detour to a wine cave (shop) which we had found last year. Our hotel, near Poitiers, had seen better days, but when built was no doubt state of the art. We had requested a quiet room. The room that we were offered was next to the lift which we pointed out was probably not very quiet. Reluctantly we were offered another room which we took. The hotel was a bit like Fawlty Towers. The service was appalling but we did have English speaking TV in the bedroom.

On the only sunny day of our holiday we went to Cognac, which is a lovely old town with a lot of history to it. After lunch, not far from where this photo was taken, we to the Hennessy brandy distillery for a guided tour. Hennessy was founded in 1765 by Richard Hennessy, an Irishman who settled in that area of France. Initially we were taken across the River Charente by boat, then we were taken into the original cellars where the cognac is matured. First we were shown a film about the growing and harvesting of the grapes, then we were shown the equipment used for the vinification and distillation processes and the art of cooperage. Even the oak casks have to be old before the cognac can be stored in them. What we saw was actually a museum. The grapes are now processed in a larger and more up to date facility then moved, once stored in the barrel, to the second, silent cellar that we went into, where the brandy is allowed to mature. The most valuable brandies are stored behind bars. After the tour it was back across the river for a tasting and a chance to buy some Hennessy cognac. All the brandy houses in Cognac put on these tours. We went to the Hennessy tour because the timing of it suited us best.

The next day we found, Chateau Guillame, a pretty little chateau in a hamlet down several miles of single track road. The chateau was built by Guillame X, father of Eleanor of Aquitane and here may have been her birthplace.

Next it was off to Perigueux, the historic and attractive county capital of the Dordogne. Our hotel was a chateau but we were staying in the Orangerie - an unattractive annex recently built in the grounds to house the package holiday tourists. The annex resembled a prison. Inside the floor and walls were grey with dark wooden doors. Our room was like a cell - small and uncomfortable. The only concession to luxury was the satellite TV with 30 French speaking channels. Not even one of English.

From here we had a day trip to Bordeaux, which was a two hour drive plus one hour in slow moving traffic, from the out skirts of Bordeaux into the centre. Whilst trying to find somewhere to park we attempted to drive the wrong way down a one way street which prompted much tooting of French horns. We just managed to eat our lunch outside, before the heavens opened. Bordeaux is a beautiful city of 18th century architecture and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Our visit was spoilt by the weather and traffic. So there are no photos, but I would like to go back to have a better look.

On our way back to Perigueux, we drove through the vineyards of St Emilion, stopping at the wine cave in the village to buy some wine. This photo was taken just before the heavens opened and we dashed to the wine cave for cover. St Emilion is an attractive old village, but again the weather spoilt our visit.

Our last day trip, on yet another grey day, was a drive through the beautiful Dordogne countryside to Bergerac, the home town of Cyrano de Bergerac, the French novelist, but we are probably more familiar with the Jersey detective played by John Nettles. It was a Sunday, when we visited and almost everything was closed which was disappointing, but we did manage to find a wine cave that was open.

The following day we began our journey home, stopping overnight in a village near Le Mans. At last we had found a gem. The hotel was pretty, quiet and comfortable with a good restaurant. It was everything that we could want after a hard day's driving. We plan to return next time we visit France.

I shall remember this holiday for the many fields of sunflowers that we drove past, the exotically planted tubs of dahlias, verbena bonariensis and pelargoniums which we saw almost everywhere we went, the French countryside which is wonderful and especially the picturesque villages with window boxes and front gardens planted with busy lizzies, marigolds and begonias and finally for the number of variations on current fashion that we saw flaunted by the young French girls. Even the young in France look elegant.

authorblog Post of the Day nomination 8 October 2008. Thank you David.