(Newest entries first)
Ikea, we salute you
Consider what a shoddy prospect shopping in Britain is today. Unless they have 'Apple' on them somewhere, most products are crap, and as well as that, service is crap, availability is crap and the actual process of shopping is a painfully crap chore.
And, if all that wasn't enough, you can be sure that in almost every shop you go in, they only really have one thing in mind - to rip you off. Almost everything you buy is not only overpriced but often so ridiculously overpriced that I sometimes take it as a personal insult to my intelligence. It really peeves me that the British public is willing to pay over the odds for virtually everything - because that means I have to, too.
And then there's Ikea.
For some reason, it has become fairly trendy to knock Ikea, but if there's a better shop in the world than Ikea (apart from Borders) I've never heard of it.
We went to Bristol today and spent more than FIVE HOURS in Ikea, including having meatballs and lingonberry muffin cake (whatever that is) in the restaurant. I would happily go back and do the same tomorrow.
Ikea is efficient, friendly, logical, sensible, clever, innovative... and yet, dozens of times today, I looked at the price of things and was amazed how reasonable they were. Some of the designs are nothing short of brilliant - quite literally - and even the styles I don't particularly like, I can still appreciate as undoubtedly cool. The designs are great, the food is great, the way it is organised is great, the Swedish stuff at the end is great... It's all great.
The only thing that wasn't great was the trolley that careered into a barrier and bashed one of our boxes - which they replaced without blinking.
We bought loads of things, from bookcases for the new extension to a cleverly designed trouser hanger for 69p - then got collared for a customer survey at the check out - which was, naturally, effortlessly conducted on a laptop. I was giving them such high marks that in the end I started to score them slightly lower, just to make it seem more genuine. It looked like I was lazily going through, just clicking 'extremely satisfied' for everything, without thinking.
When asked for additional comments, I said that Ikea should form the next government. I'd vote for them.
Stephen Fry, we salute you
The broadcasting equivalent of Ikea - clever, innovative, that sort of thing, though not particularly well designed - is Stephen Fry, whose presence in or on anything is reason enough for me to take an interest.
I've just discovered (through reading my nephew Stuart's blog), that Stephen now has his own blog, which was recently updated with a very long but interesting 'blessay' (blog-essay) about fame.
Definitely a site that deserves to be in anybody's favorites.
I have just been to a really unusual birthday party.
Actually, it was a double celebration for my nephew, Mark (above, left), who is 30 tomorrow, and his father (my older brother), Maurice (above, right).
Maurice - wait for this - is one year old today!
How can this be? Well, although he celebrated his 55th birthday earlier this month, since last September he's been like a new man - almost literally.
It was a year ago today that he had a bone marrow transplant to cure leukaemia. The transplant itself only lasted about half an hour and was done via a line like a drip, but it has taken the best part of a year for him to get over it as the build-up included chemotherapy and the recovery is steady but slow, even in the best of cases.
There was a serious risk that he might not even survive the transplant - mainly because he was comparatively old to be going through such a shock to the system - but it turned out to be a textbook case. This was due to a combination of medical science, great care at the Royal Free Hospital in London, an extremely positive attitude and massive support from his wife and kids (Jacky, Mark and Claire). I don't think he's had the official word, but he is now effectively cured.
Because attempts to find a match in the family failed (me, my sister and other two brothers were all tested), the bone marrow donor was somebody from Sheffield who is so far anonymous because you can't get in contact with donors until at least two years afterwards. Amazingly, Maurice now has different DNA to before the transplant - hence the genuine premise for a second birthday, unlike the Queen.
We are the transplant family at the moment. My brother Ron is waiting for a heart transplant, while my twin brother, Brian, could soon be a bone marrow donor. Ironically, although we were not matches for Maurice, he has been on the Anthony Nolan Trust register for a while and recently heard that he is a match for somebody who needs a transplant - and is hoping to be called in to donate soon.
We couldn't resist giving Maurice a birthday card with a big number one on it, complete with a Thomas the Tank Engine badge.
With only a bit of plastering left, a few skirting boards to go on and electrics to finish off, the building part of the extension is almost complete, although the dreaded plumbing phase begins in just over a week. We now have two nearly completed rooms, almost ready to paint. And we still have the best garage doors in Swindon.
I never thought I would say this, being a naturally untidy person (and proud of it), but what I'm really looking forward to most of all is getting all our stuff back in its rightful place.
Garage doors of the gods
Having an extension built is a bit of rollercoaster ride. One minute you get really excited about having more room to stuff all your stuff, and the next minute you remember that it's costing a fortune.
Then you have a day like today when you come home from work and realise that you have THE BEST GARAGE DOORS IN SWINDON.
And to think that we nearly went for a boring up-and-over door before deciding on old-fashioned wooden hinged ones with windows. They fit the house perfectly, giving an appropriately retro 1950s look to our 1950s house. They even make wooden clunking noises like things used to in the olden days, rather than clattering like they're made of tin.
And they've got golden hinges. Probably not real gold, although if ever a pair of garage doors deserved it, they do.
The ceilings are also up, along with the plasterboards in the new room.
LNO50 minus 4
What can you do to celebrate your 50th birthday in style? It obviously needs a lot of thought, so our little gang of ex-school friends (me, Brian, Lukey, James and Percy) are already planning it, four years ahead. We have been going out every month for years - what we call our our lads' night out or LNO - so the big birthday bash is called LNO50. We are going to put a tenner each away every month, so that by the time we reach LNO50, we'll each have nearly £500 each to pay for a weekend away somewhere.
We spent alot of last night's LNO discussing ideas. My favourite was hiring something smart, like a Range Rover, and driving from Land's End to John O'Groats, stopping off at interesting places and pubs along the way. But that didn't get much support, so we've now whittled the choices down to a) Amsterdam, b) Egypt, or c) New York, having rejected Norway and a cycle tour of Wiltshire. One of the three ideas will be rejected when we reconvene in October and in November we will end up with our final choice.
LNOs often usually only involve driving to interesting pubs for drinking real ale and eating (usually curry) but we do try to do something different every month, so over the years have been on various cycling pub crawls and walks, theatre trips, tenpin bowling and even Turkish baths! Last night, like you do, we spent half an hour at a car auction in Witney to begin with, which proved an interesting experience.
The best car was a 1980s Mercedes estate in good condition that went for just £500. After the auction we went to Burford which is about ten miles away and - right on cue, as we were walking from one pub to another - the Mercedes came up behind us and parked in the high street. We got chatting with the new owners and it turned out that he owned the pub up the road, so we went there for a drink. It turned out that they had seen us at the auction and were worried that James, especially, looked like the type who would have bid for it. Amazingly, we had been thinking the same - joking, while it was being auctioned, that we should be clubbing together to buy it for him.
The scaffolding is down, the big skip has gone (replaced by a smaller one), the garage doors have been delivered - and everything inside is ready for the plasterers to come in on Monday (or 'the muckspreaders', as builder Des calls them).
So we're in the home straight with our new home sweet home - although there is still the dreaded installation of the new boiler and central heating system to come.
The fact that we couldn't have an up-and-over garage door because of the configuration of the roof didn't leave us with much choice really, but we were already leaning towards a hinged pair - and we've gone for a retro look with 1950s-style doors, which is appropriate enough as the house was built in the 1950s.
Great ashtrays of the world
One thing I forgot to record about our trip to Amsterdam was my discovery of the naffest naff thing since Dr Naff invented the naffoscope (as Blackadder would say). It's the bottletop ashtray, which I spotted in a kind of gadget shop.
It fits the top of an empty bottle and has a hole in the bottom, so your fag ash falls neatly into the bottle. I couldn't decide whether it was serious or a bad taste joke, or whether to buy one so I could get it out every now and again and look at it.
I know what you're thinking - that your home isn't complete without this wonderful device, and you can't think how you ever survived without one. And you're cursing the fact that they didn't think of it first. In the end, I couldn't bring myself to spend 4.95 euros on it, so I got a picture off the web. It was while searching for it that I noticed that somebody had named the picture ashhole.jpg - which more or less sums it up.
In the court of King Brian
I was in the same room as a legend tonight, watching Brian Wilson perform at the Colston Hall in Bristol - and I don't use the word 'legend' lightly.
Since the release of the epic Smile - my all-time favourite album - I've come to realise that he is truly on a par with John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Martin - but that's only half the story. As the man who not only wrote The Beach Boys' classics and Smile but also produced them, he's Lennon, McCartney and Martin, all rolled into one.
Sometimes The Beach Boys are dismissed for their apparently single-dimensional surfing songs, when the reality is that Brian's album, Pet Sounds, was ground-breaking enough to inspire The Beatles to create Sgt Pepper. They've since said they were desperately trying to keep up with Brian in 1967.
You only have to listen to the perfect pop of God Only Knows, Good Vibrations and Sloop John B to hear his genius. He played all those tonight, along with three other songs from my Top 100 - Then I Kissed Her, Barbara Ann and Heroes and Villains - plus a string of other Beach Boys classics and some lesser known ones, but only two from Smile.
Then there was a 35-minute section when he played his brand new work, That Lucky Old Sun (A Narrative), which is Smilesque, including short passages of spoken word. I took an instant liking to it, which is unusual for a first hearing.
Everything was enthusiastically performed by a stunning EIGHTEEN-piece band, with Brian sat in the middle, behind a keyboard. He's now 65 and frail from years of abuse of various substances, but seemed in better health than when I saw him in Birmingham a couple of years ago, even if his voice wasn't always quite up to it. As then, I was there with my brother Ron, and this time his son, Trevor, was also there. We were all impressed with a show that was well worth the £50 ticket.
Brian really seemed to be enjoying it and genuinely seemed to mean it literally when he told us: "Thank-you for coming." He also had a couple of interesting things to say, introducing God Only Knows as "my greatest achievement as a songwriter" - which is significant because it seems to me that the longer time goes on, the more this song emerges as the one that people talk of as being the ultimate Brian Wilson song, whereas for years it was Good Vibrations. The final encore was also a surprise as he did an upbeat version of The Beatles' She's Leaving Home. He said Paul McCartney had played it to him in the USA, before they recorded it for Sgt Pepper, "so I'd like to dedicate this to Paul McCartney".*
Probably the best thing about the evening was hearing the new stuff, which shows that although he seems frail, Brian Wilson's musical brain is still working at a high enough level to produce something as good as That Lucky Old Sun. I think at least some of it is a collaboration with a couple of members of the band, but it's unmistakably Brian Wilson in style, and potentially as good as much of his earlier stuff.
Sadly, I couldn't get any pictures of my own, but there are some nice ones here.
*Being the saddo that I am, I looked up the facts behind the She's Leaving Home story. Paul McCartney's trip to the USA was from April 3-12, 1967 - directly after the main recordings for Sgt Pepper were completed, ready for the release of the album in Britain on June 1. On April 10, Paul visited Brian at The Beach Boys' Los Angeles studio, where Brian was recording Smile, and sang She's Leaving Home at a piano. When he left, he told Brian: 'You'd better hurry up [and finish Smile].' But Brian ran into massive personal problems and, unbelievably, opposition from the other Beach Boys - and it wasn't released until 2004.
Dam fine weekend
You can't go wrong with Amsterdam - which is why me and Julie decided to spend three nights there to celebrate our 20th anniversary (which was on August 15).
Actually, that was really just a good excuse for going - and allowed us to not feel too guilty about going without Sean and Holly (whom my brother Brian and Sarah were kindly looking after). That fact that it was our first ever trip away without the kids, since they were born, made us feel less guilty still.
It was our third trip to Amsterdam. We went in 1991 (the year before Sean was born) and then again, about three years ago, with the kids. Our memory of it being a really nice place to visit still proved right, and we decided it's our favourite city in the world so far, with the possible exception of Sydney.
The only real downer on a great weekend was the weather on the last day, when there were persistent showers all day, along with the fact that we didn't get round to hiring bikes in the end - partly because of the weather. The bike is king in Amsterdam and we wished we'd got in the spirit just a little more. It would have saved our feet, too.
The worst moment was getting back to Bristol Airport and waiting in vain for one of our bags to come off the belt. It had fallen off, behind the curtain, so was soon found, but not before we had experienced five minutes of marching around, swearing under our breath.
The trip didn't include some of the things that all visitors to Amsterdam should do - only because we'd previously done them, such as visiting the Anne Frank Huis (where she hid from the Nazis), a canal boat ride, the Heineken Brewery tour and the Van Gogh Museum. Otherwise, our itinerary reads like a must-do list of Amsterdam activities.
..stayed in a botel - ie, a floating hotel. It sounded like fun, but when I read some reviews on the web before we went (but after we'd booked) and some people were complaining about the rooms being small, we started to have doubts. The rooms were smallish, but they were plenty big enough unless you are the kind of person who likes to go to interesting places so you can spend your time looking at the walls of a hotel room. As well as being a novelty and perfectly located, close to Centraal Station, the botel was also a brilliant choice because the breakfasts were fantastic. Apparently, the boat is moving soon (not sure where to), but I would recommended it to anybody going to Amsterdam in the meantime.
..visited the Red Light District. Every single guide you read about Amsterdam says it's the top tourist attraction, assures you it's not as seedy as you might think - and says you've got to at least go and have a look. So we thought it would be rude not to. To say it's all in-your-face would be an understatement, but once you get over that, you realise that everybody is so laid back about it that it's not such a big deal. The most difficult thing is that there is sometimes no demarcation. One moment you're looking at souvenir clogs, and the next you're looking at... well, you have to see it for yourself. I never got round to taking any pictures - partly because they say the bouncers don't like it and I didn't want my camera ending up in the canal. Much less entertaining are the so-called coffeeshops (actually selling cannabis and other drugs) which I can honestly say holds zero interest for me. By the time you've seen hundreds of shops selling souvenirs with cannabis leaf logos, you find the whole thing really tiresome and want to tell the next person you see smoking something dodgy to go and get a life. Anybody who buys themself a cannabis lolly (available from high street shops) especially needs to get out more. However, it was fascinating to see cannabis plants growing in shop windows. They really are a pretty plant - but don't bother telling that to the police over here and expect them to believe you, unless you've also got a degree in horticulture.
..ate Dutch food. Amsterdam is one of the best places in the world for food - not because it's a haven for gourmets, but precisely because it's not. It's mostly no-fuss stuff that food snobs must hate, especially if you go for Dutch food, such as a pancake house (we went to two). They have pancakes with loads of different toppings - savoury and sweet (everything but sugar and lemon). Dutch food is not all pancakes, though. On Sunday, we had a sensational meal at a little restaurant called Moeders, which somebody recommended on a website. 'Moeders' is Dutch for 'mothers'. As it was off the tourist track, we decided to go for it - and we really hit the jackpot. It was cosy, friendly and relaxed, with honest food, including a fantastic Dutch version of bangers and mash. Definitely one of the top five eating experiences of my life.
..went up the Westerkerk tower. Apart from a few office blocks and flats, this church tower is one of the tallest buildings in Amsterdam, even though it's only 89 metres to the top. And even though you only get to go half way up, it's well worth paying to go up there because you're higher than the neighbourhood and get some great views. Your only problem is getting past the clumsy way they have of selling the limited tickets available. It's also an historic view because Anne Frank wrote in her diary how she could look out of the window and see the tower, about 50m away, when she was in hiding (her little window is in two of the pictures below, obscured by a temporary walkway, with the shadow of the tower nearby).
..became international patrons of the arts. With a new room to decorate and caught up in the happy atmosphere of Amsterdam, we headed for the Sunday art market at Spui (pronounced 'Spow'), thinking it would be nice to buy something really good and unique to take home. But having got most of the way round the disappointingly small market, we hadn't seen anything that we remotely wanted to buy. Then we saw the silk paintings of Henk Mak, which we both instantly liked. These were mostly of fish but also included tulips, and what they all had in common were the stunning colours. Colours don't usually do much for me, being colourblind, and as I told Henk, even Van Gogh makes no impression, as I discovered when we went to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 1991. But Henk's pictures and the colours in them are so amazing that we immediately decided to buy one of the tulips. He put their appeal down to the silk, although he obviously also had a gift for making them look vibrant. The one we chose has a green background, apparently - and set us back 75 euros or £54 (unframed). That's a bargain for a really striking piece of unique and original art. They must have been impressive because it was some time later before I realised that we had bought a tulip from Amsterdam. We weren't finished yet. Near the market, at a park, was a young girl, seemingly an art student, who was selling nice little views of Amsterdam for 15 euros (just over a tenner). So we bought one of those too (that's Julie paying for it in the picture). Right next door to the girl was another woman who did brilliant near photo-real Amsterdam scenes, but luckily we had run out of cash and didn't have any cards on us, or we would have kept on buying.
..went to a spa. Not just any old spa, but Sauna Deco. I saw this recommended on a website and we thought it would be a treat. The place is a real gem, the interior having been reclaimed from a 1920s department store in Paris. And that wasn't the only reason it was a bit of an eye-opener. The Dutch being Dutch, it was completely unisex and although you had a towel or gown for the rest areas, you aren't expected to wear anything in the two saunas, steam/Turkish bath, showers or the (too-cold-to-bear) plunge pool. Some people might have found the naked bit a bit daunting, but remembering that we are now grown-up Europeans and we were in Amsterdam, after all, any anxieties we had at the beginning only lasted half a second, after which you start to soak up the atmosphere. We were most concerned about resting our aching feet, though the whole experience also worked wonders for the rest of us. We may have discovered why the Dutch are such laid-back, smart and likeable people. Somehow, I don't think they would have wanted us to take photos inside, though, so I had to make do with an advertising card I picked up.
..got market mania. Amsterdam is brilliant for any kind of shopping, but especially old-fashioned markets, with its floating flower market and - best of all - the Waterlooplein fleamarket. This is like a car boot sale, only much better because the junk is much more interesting. You also get stalls selling clothes, dodgy DVDs, African crafts, etc. Our only major purchases were a reproduction poster, an African-style wall hanging and some crafty hanging things, although if I could have carried it home and had the money, I'd have bought a thousand things. The picture is from another market (at de Waag). I don't think the car is for sale, though they probably would have taken offers and I would have bought that, too.
..did Rembrandt. To be honest, I didn't go much on Rembrandt before, but having learned a lot more about him and seen his most famous painting, The Night Watch, in the flesh, I've realised that he's an interesting character and artist.
The Night Watch is in the Rijksmuseum, along with many other Dutch masters, including three impressive Vermeers. The Rijksmuseum is undergoing a major renovation at the moment, so you only get to see the highlights of the collection, but that was fine because it fitted in perfectly with our busy itinerary.
It also encouraged us to go to the Rembrandthuis, where he lived for nearly 20 years and painted many of his top paintings. It was reconstructed in 1998, using the inventory that was drawn up when the bankrupt Rembrandt moved out, when all the contents were sold and lost, but also using drawings he did of the inside. So they knew the exact spot where his easel stood in the studio. We arrived, as we often do, fairly close to closing time, so had to rush round a bit, but it was well worth going. (There's a nice virtual tour here).
..drank Belgian beer. If there's one bad thing about the Dutch it's that they prefer lager-type beers, whereas their neighbours the Belgians share with us the honour of making the best beer in the world. Fortunately, as the Belgians live next door, their lovely beers such as Chimay and Westmalle are often available in Amsterdam bars, cafes, etc. You can see how a trip to Amsterdam just gets better and better.
..walked alot. The problem with Amsterdam being so compact is that you can walk everywhere - and as we went almost everywhere, we ended up walking miles. Still, you do get to see some classic and interesting things, including kids being transported in bikes with hoppers on the front; a band on ship, sailing past the Anne Frank Huis and Westerkerk; reputedly the narrowest house in Amsterdam (166 Singel); and things that they dredge up from the canals (we watched divers doing it)...
Hole lot of rockin' going on
Today was the day when they knocked a big hole through the side of our house, connecting the old bit with the new bit. So now I know how the English and French diggers must have felt when they finally met up in the middle of the Channel Tunnel, and what it's like to be a Shuttle astronaut, just after you've docked, when you first open the connecting hatches to the International Space Station.
And it sometimes feels like we're paying out about as much as those two projects put together for our extension.
The hole is for the little staircase and passage into Sean's new (smaller) bedroom at the back, which is half of the new block, and soon - possibly tomorrow - they will knock another big hole through from the box room (Holly's old bedroom), doubling the size of the room and creating what will become our new lounge-cum-study.
It was originally conceived as a kind of lounge, but the funny skewed near-L shape that it's turned out means that it's more of a study. It'll also have the electronic drum kit in it, along with possibly all the books we own - if we can get them all in - and a TV. So 'study' is maybe not as accurate as 'library and arts centre'. In fact, we're struggling to think of a name for it yet, apart from 'the new room'.
With the roof finished, the windows in, the plumbing started and even the pebble-dashing finished today - which we unfortunately have no choice about because it has to match the rest of the house - it would seem that we are almost there. But there's still electrics, plastering, floorboarding and the dreaded plumbing - we're getting a whole new boiler and central heating system - so we're not out of the woods yet, by a long chalk.
Gary has moved into pole position in the race to become my next nephew to get married (after three tied the knot this year).
He's become engaged to Natalie, which is great news. The wedding is due to take place some time in 2009, but no news about the stag weekend yet. Another trip to Dublin is looking a distinct possibility. I can almost taste the Guinness...
Yes you did, you invaded Poland...
Drama can be a funny thing - and we know because I reviewed hundreds of plays for the Adver before our kids were born.
I hardly ever gave anything a bad review. For a start, it's always good to see something performed live and I wasn't paying. And if it was a professional play, it would always be impeccably acted for the simple reason that there is hardly such a thing as a bad professional theatre actor. They wouldn't last five minutes, otherwise. So we got to see some amazing things, like Kenneth Branagh as Hamlet at Stratford and the Royal Shakespeare Company on tour with Julius Caesar, when we were in a portion of the audience chosen to be right in the thick of the action, such as in crowd scenes. Fantastic. The only real problem was the endless procession of claptrap written by Alan Ayckbourn that was always doing the rounds.
The amateur side wasn't always so good, but because there's always something positive you can focus on, I was always kind. Even if it wasn't great, you could always admire them for being so keen and so brave. Some am dram stuff was actually excellent, but a few were pretty dire - and that's when you had to resort to praising the set or the costumes or even the lighting.
We must have overdosed on it a bit, though, because I've hardly seen any am dram at all since those days - until tonight.
Brian (my brother) and Sarah go along to all the productions by the Old Town Theatre Company because Brian does their website. They suggested going along to the latest production - three half-hour recreations of classic British comedies.
And we are talking major classics - Dad's Army's "Don't tell him, Pike" prisoners, Tony Hancock's "That's very nearly an armful" blood donor sketch and Fawlty Towers' "Don't mention the war" Germans. There was the added spice of knowing one of the leading actors - John Marshall, the brother of our friend Liz, who had three roles, including Tony Hancock, and was very good. I also know Ashley Heath of BBC Radio Swindon fame, who was Basil Fawlty and directed two of the three bits. He was good, too.
Well, there's no need to praise the lighting because it was a really enjoyable show - mainly because they approached it just right. They captured just enough of each character without it being a straight impression, and clearly decided that if they enjoyed themselves, the audience would too. So, when the classic lines came, they were greeted with cheers, like old friends.
Funnily enough, we watched the second half of the very same Fawlty Towers episode last night, not realising we'd be seeing it again within 24 hours. Not that you can ever tire of it.
Engerland, Engerland, Engerland...
Sean didn't come with us to OTTC because he was returning from Wembley where he watched England beat Israel 3-0. Maurice (my brother), Jacky and Claire kindly took him - and he not only got to see England's first competitive international at the new Wembley, but even got to see them play well.
I know this because I watched it on telly - overcoming my natural aversion to watching England play on account of the terrible ordeal it has become since 1966. I was a bit jealous of Sean, who was knocked out by the whole experience - and it's not easy to impress a 15-year-old, believe me.
I haven't been to the new Wembley yet, although I've been totting up my visits to the old stadium. I went there eight times to see matches, and twice for the guided tours of the stadium. For the record, the matches were - Swindon 3 Arsenal 1 (League Cup Final) in 1969, Swindon 1 Sunderland 0 (play-off) in 1990 and Swindon 4 Leicester 3 (play-off) in 1993. Then there was Chippenham Town 0 Deal Town 1 (FA Vase Final) in 2000 - one of the last competitive matches at the old stadium. I saw England play there four times - England 1 Wales 1 (World Cup qualifier) in 1973, England 1 Romania 1 (World Cup qualifier) in 1985, England 3 Poland 0 (World Cup qualifier) in 1989. And I was also there for the infamous 1-1 draw with Poland in 1973 which meant we didn't qualify for the 1974 World Cup finals.
Ah, such memories.
Excitement grows as the roof takes shape and the dreaded swapping the kids' bedrooms and knocking holes through D-Days loom...
I hadn't realised how much we would be at the mercy of the weather, but if it rains, we'll get wet indoors. Fortunately, the forecast is good and, as Des the builder says, "We should get the lid on before it rains."
The blimp has landed
Jefferies Avenue has never seen so much building activity. Well, not since the street was built, anyway.
Our builders put up half of the roof framework of our extension today, while both our next door neighbours are about to begin major extensions of their own. And at the back of our house they have nearly finished a massive new private leisure centre.
They recently put an inflatable dome over some tennis courts and tonight it was all lit up like some kind of spaceship. Some people might consider this to be a bit of an eyesore, but we love it. We think it looks really cool.
It's a shame that we'll never get to use the leisure centre. For the four of us, membership is about £150 A MONTH! Then you have to pay an extortionate extra amount if you want to take guests in. Worse still, when we called in there, we got the distinct impression that they'd really rather not have families with teenagers, thank you very much. So sod 'em.
August 31-September 2, 2007
Old stomping grounds in the New Forest
If the weather hadn't been so miserable during our trip to Yarmouth a couple of weeks ago, we probably wouldn't have gone camping again this year. But a dry but cool forecast (which proved accurate) convinced us that we should have another try with a couple of nights in the New Forest with Brian, Sarah, Lucy and James, plus new camping converts Maurice and Jacky.
The site was Hollands Wood, where we have been before - but so long ago that Holly couldn't remember much about it. Sean wasn't with us. We left him home alone because he had to work (at the County Ground, serving chips and burgers). This experiment in the containment and management of teenagers proved successful, despite Julie's worries.
We arrived on Friday evening to discover that incredibly hard ground - really, really solid - meant that the others had already invested in 'super pegs' before we got there, and bought some for us. Anything less than these special steel pegs, driven in with a lump hammer, would only scratch the surface of the ground.
After the traditional pre-prepared curry on the first evening, we decided to do Beaulieu on Saturday. Although this was at least my fourth visit to this attraction - where the main attraction is the superb National Motor Museum - I can't see myself ever tiring of it. There are pleasant grounds, a monorail, the stately home and the abbey (mostly ruins) and a good shop where we bought a nicely kitsch tile with a VW van design. In the evening, we went down to Lymington for chips on the harbour front - very nice, though not quite enough vinegar.
After packing up the tent on Sunday morning we had a look round a car boot sale where I bought a yellow buoy for £1* - and if you think that's strange, there was a box of pigs' ears for sale (not sure what you can do with them apart from give them to your dog or try to make a silk purse out of them). Then we went into Lyndhurst, a cheerful but busy little town where we had a nice cup of hot chocolate and ice creams, before driving home.
A weekend of fairly simple pleasures, which, after all, is exactly what camping is all about.
*What am I going to do with my buoy? Put it next to my other one.
Glyn and Laura's wedding
Mark and Maxine's wedding
Richard and Carla's wedding