Eyeball on the cover

There was a mammoth effort made in Keswick today, in the wee small hours. Teenagers were roused from sweet slumber and forced to move, pack and start a journey south. Parents managed to set off at 06:30, worn out from horror treks across hills disguised as wet mountains, up paths pretending to be streams and down knee twisting stairs threatening to dissolve in the almost constant rain. They arrived at ours by 13:20. A huge effort.

In the meanwhilst, we had quite a pleasant morning. I went to the gym, shopped and walked home while Mirinda sat in her impeccably clean and tidy library working.

The weather started off pretty good but quickly reverted to the on off, rain sun pattern we’ve been subjected to for the last couple of weeks. The big doors, rather than remain gloriously open, were closed frequently as the rain threatened to bring the outside soakingly inside.

The weather did not stop the parcel delivery man though (as William Mitchell Kendall would be happy to see) as he delivered a totally unexpected (by me) parcel for both Mirinda and me. Bob had been in Bygone Beauties and he spotted a couple of objects that he thought Mirinda and I would love. And he was so right.

Mirinda’s was a cup, saucer and tea pot set with Australian birds depicted on it while mine was an amazing set of Alice figurines. The figurines are hinged and opening them reveals small gold necklaces with miniature versions of the figurine on each chain. They are just an absolute delight and I love them.

I think this is the first time that Bob has spotted something he thought I’d like and just treated me. He was a bit concerned I’d not like them but Mirinda set him straight.

Apart from the parcel, our other delivery turned up as Sharon, Jud, Naomi and Luca arrived and The Visitation began. (Joel had already returned to Australia though his jacket was some way behind him as it was delivered this morning and was sitting on the bed in Clara’s Room.) They quickly filled our hall with the most amazing array of luggage, plastic bags and mouldy hiking clothes.

Then, without much ado, Jud and Naomi zoomed back out into the weather to drop the hire car off at Guildford. I’d just had time to hand Jud a map and instructions for returning.

The rest of us then settled down for a lovely long chat about the rest of their European leg and their subsequent experience of The Lakes in typically foul weather. We also had a number of erudite lectures from Luca regarding the French Revolution, Human Evolution and the Lakeland Hell that was their visit. His recall of important dates in French history was impressive as well as being accurate. His survival of the rigours of fell-walking was extraordinary and worthy of Wainwright.

Eventually, having survived the drive into Guildford (it took an unprecedented 15 minutes), the half hour train trip back and the wet, windy and wild walk to the house, they returned, somewhat damp but happy. We were also happy because it meant we could have lunch. Jud was going to have something at Guildford but he couldn’t find the McDonalds.

Lunch was a quickly prepared Caprese salad and assorted charcuterie and devoured in short time (mostly by Luca who was given a much needed education in cheese).

Eventually we were off to dinner. In the week we had had an email from Jud in which he expressed a longing to have dinner in an English pub. I immediately booked the legendarily perfect example of an English pub, the Nelson Arms (or Arm as Mirinda oft points out) for food for six.

Of course, we had to walk, going via our castle, through the park and skirting the gathering hordes of Farnham teenagers who seem to take over the park when the sun goes down, giving the usual history lesson. I was suitably impressed with Mirinda’s use of the term motte and bailey. I was quick to correct Jud when he thought the motte was the moat. Mirinda glared at him and told him to stop setting me off. Understandable I suppose.

At the pub we were served by a rather happy chap with a great memory for food orders and a deft hand at pouring pints. He was also pretty good at selling gin. I insisted that Jud try a Timothy Taylor’s Landlord which he correctly and politely agreed was a lovely drop of beer. For his second pint he shifted to a fizzier Hogs Back lager.

Dinner was lovely as was the long stroll home via the back streets. I have no idea what the others were talking about but Naomi and I had a very enjoyable chat regarding the state of the world, politics and how she was going to fix the world my generation has neglected for so long. She is a smart and eager young woman and a pleasure to talk to. If I’d had a daughter like Naomi, I would be well proud.

Back at home, I forced them to pose for the obligatory after dinner photograph. It was a challenge because Luca just wanted his bed. It was a bit like herding cats but eventually (after four failed attempts) I had a photo which can be used on next year’s calendar as well as here.

And they’re all smiling
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No such thing as ‘two little things’

There was a lot of last minute cleaning up today ahead of The Visitation. I had to move my dressing room for a start. And wash everything that refused to move out of the way, even the dogs. Actually they did move. The moment they get a hint of what’s possibly going to happen, they run and hide. Well, Emma does anyway.

I managed to trick her, dump her in the laundry sink and apply enough shampoo to make her soft, fluffy and smelling delightful enough to sit on anyone’s lap.

Freya doesn’t run and hide. She thinks she’s in trouble so her tail goes down and she very slowly slinks towards me, expecting the worst. And, of course, she’s right. Her worst nightmare (having water poured on her) is about to come true. Mind you, she rather enjoys the fuss afterwards.

After lunch Mirinda announced she needed (note the word ‘needed’) to go to the garden centre for two little things. We went via the recycling centre and finally managed to rid ourselves of the last cardboard from the greenhouse construction as well as an entire wardrobe worth of clothes.

The pond at Forest Lodge

We spent an awful long time at the garden centre and managed to fill Max with the ‘two little things’.

The weather had been rather pleasant all day – a bit breezy, sunny most of the time and no rain – so it was a bit of a surprise when, settling down to watch our nightly bit of Korean TV, the skies opened up like some planetary pluvium and rain poured in. There was a mad dash for the sun lounger cushion but, fortunately, I’d already brought in the rug.

We had a lo carb pizza for dinner which was very filling, followed by some lo carb pistachio ice cream which was DELICIOUS.

On the way to the garden centre I noticed that, immediate construction completed, the bus stop has been re-opened, having been moved forward about two metres in order for the hoardings to be moved.

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Incomplete sentence

Reverend T Lawrence Shannon has his demons. They turn up every now and then and send him into a spiral. On the surface he isn’t a very nice man. He has a lot of faults but, deep down, masked by his demons, he is a decent man, a man with a conscience, a caring man. But he is like a sleeping volcano, slowly heating up until it’s time to explode.

Shannon is the central character in The Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams. He is presently working as a tour guide, taking a bus load of Baptist ladies on a sight seeing tour of Mexico. But the lava is rising and he has had enough. He leaves them to melt in the bus and heads up to the verandah of the Costa Verda Hotel run by his friend Fred and Fred’s wife Maxine. But Fred is dead.

Tonight we went into London, to the Noel Coward Theatre, to see Clive Owen as Shannon.

The main reason we booked was because it was Clive Owen. I always see Tennessee Williams as a bit daunting, to say the least. His plays take one through the wringer a number of times. However, Iguana is different.

I’d never seen it (either on stage or celluloid) or read about it so it was a complete surprise. And I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Okay, the play is still quite emotionally draining but, somehow, it is tempered beautifully with touches of humour and, not least of all, by the utter charm and charisma of Clive Owen. Seriously. He is extraordinary.

There’s plenty not to like about Shannon but you feel for him in the hands of Mr Owen. He is an amazing talent. For me, this is one of the best male performances we’ve seen this year.

As superb as Clive was Lia Williams as Hannah Jelkes. We saw her in Mary Stuart and she was magnetic in that. She was just as powerful as Hannah. It’s difficult to see anything else when she’s on stage. She glows. The scenes between Shannon and Hannah were perfection and why we go to live theatre.

The rest of the cast was excellent, including Anna Gunn as Maxine (Anna was Skyler in Breaking Bad and completely unrecognisable), the poor desperate widow looking for some sort of companionship: a Fred replacement.

I absolutely loved the Germans. What a stroke of pure genius by Williams. Having this strange family group (played expertly by the utterly convincing Alasdair Baker, Timothy Blore, Karin Coulson and Penelope Woodman) always wearing swimmers and listening to the radio as the Luftwaffe bomb London, rejoicing in the death and destruction is brilliantly funny. This strange family helps lighten the play, something lacking from a lot of Tennessee Williams. They were very refreshing.

Speaking of refreshing…the thunderstorm that finished the first half was ‘fantastic’, to quote Shannon. The torrential rain was so amazing that half the auditorium came down at interval just to inspect the wet stage and wonder at the theatrical magic. I was amazed that the front row wasn’t drenched.

The only thing I didn’t like was the use of microphones. On the West End one expects to see our greatest actors. They should not need microphones, particularly in such an intimate space as the Noel Coward.

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Weather warning

I have to say that the National Grid could have picked a better day to have problems. Not that we had any problems in Farnham but around a million people were affected elsewhere around the country. Very high and strong winds, torrential rain, clouds then blue, it was all happening, all day.

I went into town first thing managing to get slightly wet but, basically drying off in the sun which appeared not long after the rain.

Back at home I put washing out on the line given there wasn’t a cloud to be seen. About five hours later I was in the park with the girls when the rain pelted down, giving the washing a second rinse. Back at home, the sun once came out (and it was hot) so I decided to leave the load on the line thinking it might just dry again. And it did.

I’ve written before how much Freya hates the rain and today, in park, she excelled herself.

We were sitting on a bench, throwing the ball for Emma. I was sitting at one end and Freya was lying at the other, on the lookout for squirrels. The sun was beaming out and Emma was having a fine old time.

Suddenly the wind whipped up, rattling the leaves above us and stirring Freya into mild action: she went from lying down to sitting, her little face looking around at me a bit concerned about what the wind was about. Then the rain came.

The drops were big and powerful, blown as they were by the gale force winds. Freya instantly moved onto my lap insisting that I turn around, my back to the rain, protecting her from the torrent.

Don’t get me wrong. She wasn’t scared at all. She just doesn’t like the rain hitting her. It was all over in a matter of minutes and she returned to her end of the bench waiting for other dogs to join us for a bit of socialising.

Back at home I was happily cleaning the big glass doors when I suddenly realised I’d bought toilet paper rather than paper towels. That put paid to any more window cleaning. I considered bringing the washing in. Then it started raining again.

The washing ended up going into the dryer. By the time I brought it in it was wetter than it had been when it originally went out. And I’m not going to mention the sunbed cushion.

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Saying “statistics” sucks

I had a Talking Newspaper (Haslemere) today which meant I didn’t have to leave the house till 10am. This meant, among other things, that I could bid Dr Wife farewell as she left for the station at 8am. I then left the girls to their own devices and set off.

For this session I had a new reader (for me), Rod. If you were to look up the phrase ‘laconic Scotsman’ in a common man dictionary, Rod would be the description. A lovely, deeply mellow voice with an unmistakable twinkle and delight for the absurd. He was armed with humour and was not afraid to use it. I thoroughly enjoyed his contribution.

The session was almost derailed because Rosemary has problems with statistics. By that I mean she has a problem saying statistics rather than a problem with the inherent value of them as mathematical tools. Then, by some strange quirk of reading, Margaret had to use the word three or four times in a piece and had major problems saying it.

Margaret is a bit hard of hearing (as was our sound engineer today) and hadn’t heard the previous conversation regarding Rosemary’s linguistic inability so the laughter went right over her head.

All in all, it was a most enjoyable session and, as usual, while I was a bit miserable at the thought of doing it at the start, by the end was a-buzz with delight. Life is always rosier after a performance.

Back at home the puppies insisted on a walk and, as usual, I was amazed at the number of dog walkers out and about in the park from 4pm. It’s always more crowded than our usual 2pm slot.

For dinner tonight I had a couple of pork medallions and decided to try something with them. Rather than just season and fry them, I spread some white miso paste on top of them then, with a bit of olive oil, roasted them for half an hour. I laid them on a bed of coconut oil fried kale.

Before serving, I placed the medallions in the still hot fry pan and let them sizzle on the bottom for a bit. They were delicious.

Nothing boring about my dinner

Worked very well with a glass of white wine.

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Sitting outside at Cote

Today at work, everything was a bit frantic. Packing boxes and piling them into the back of a truck was happening in earnest. Librarians, curators and removalists were all getting in each other’s way while equally managing to avoid each other with trolleys and publications. It was all a bit manic.

When I turned up, Heather indicated that I was to sit at her desk in the reading room around which she’d built a wall of books. I thought the wall was for protection but I was mistaken. As Heather explained, the wall was to keep me in. In order to escape, I had to add the books to the master disposal spreadsheet. Until then, I was trapped.

And so that’s exactly what I did. I managed to fill three filing boxes with books as diverse as a Spanish version of the Geneva Convention on Human Rights, A Gunner’s Handbook from 1790 and the unputdownable How to Use a Broomwade Diesel Engine Driven Portable Compressor Plant.

Given the variety of the books and the spread of years, it was actually very enjoyable. One of the things that can make my Wednesday’s a bit dull is when I have to enter piles of books with very similar titles on very similar subjects by very similar authors. (Which is why I could never do a doctorate: I’d get too bored.)

The day fairly flew by as I updated the spreadsheet with around 150 books in need of a home. Once the wall had been successfully breached, it was time to go home with the news that there would be no volunteers in next week because the office was going to be moving. All back the following week though.

Then home to two puppies and Dr Wife, who were all pleased to see me. Even Freya.

Speaking of my Dr Wife, last week she said she wanted to dine at Cote, outside, if she passed her viva. I was ready to book it but she insisted I wait in case she failed (I laughed a lot at that) plus she didn’t want me to jinx it. So I waited until yesterday and we went there tonight for a celebration dinner.

We were a bit concerned because it had rained, on and off, all day but the gods of weather were kind and we sat outside (alone I should add) and thoroughly enjoyed our meals basking in the glow of my wife’s doctoral success.

I asked her to pose like a doctor and this is what I got
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Female doctors

Mirinda aced her viva. Clearly the smartest in the room, her knowledge and expertise was no match for the examiners. They went away to deliberate and, ten seconds later, shook her hand and told her she’d passed. There’s a few minor changes to the thesis but, basically, she just has to wait for the next graduation ceremony for it to be official.

That’s two, what with Dawn becoming one as well a short while ago. It’s now my job to organise a celebratory Doctor’s Dinner, probably at the Chesil.

While very exciting for Mirinda (she visited Sophie afterwards, which was nice) my day was basically spent doing housework. I do, however, have to report that the showers on the ground floor at the gym are better than the one I used on the first floor yesterday. That is good.

Actually, my day didn’t start to really hot up until about 5pm when a horn tooting Nicktor turned up to drive us to Woking.

The Mighty Shots, having managed to dodge a bullet as far as relegation was concerned, were playing the old enemy tonight. The tickets were buy in advance because they were a bit worried about the fence being knocked down for a third time. They needn’t have worried because a few very conscientious and helpful Shots fans brought some Fragile tape to run along the top of the fence in order to make everyone aware of the danger.

Health & Safety is very important

Before the game, we met up with Steve from Number 11 and new chum James (who will possibly feature more often as the year progresses) at The Inn in Maybury. While Nicktor was a bit concerned with the ‘poncy’ food, the beer was good and we sat outside amid the traffic on the rather busy triangular bit of land.

We were also joined by Andy, who works with Steve from Number 11 and is a Woking fan. He was a nice jolly fellow and the five of us had a lovely time with beer and some ‘poncy’ food┬╣.

After a repast of salt and pepper squid (which is not calamari, as I explained to Steve from Number 11) which was okay but nowhere near as good as the Holly Bush, we headed for the ground and a rather large police presence which included dogs.

Nicktor told an interesting story about a police dog at a football game. Apparently, back in the day, the police would line their dogs up on the edge of the pitch in order to deter any pitch invasions. During one match in 1986, a rather over zealous attack dog called Bryn, took a bit of a liking to Torquay United player Jim McNichol. McNichol was running towards the corner flag, ready to whip a ball across the goal mouth when Bryn took a fancy to the player’s legs.

The game was held up while the teeth marks were treated. Poor McNichol has been known for this every since.

I’m happy to report that there was no attack dog action tonight. Well, none that we saw anyway. Mind you, I’m a bit surprised because there was a large Aldershot contingent and it was, to say the least, rather boisterous.

Neighbour Dave and Richard the Eggman are in the stand

The game started at a cracking pace and pretty much maintained the same throughout. It was very exciting and a joy to watch. After the lackadaisical display at most games last season, the new team (only two of last season’s players remain) played out of their skins. It was excellent and a bit of a feather in the cap for the new manager.

The Shots scored an early goal and the fans behind me went insane. Nicktor almost climbed on my shoulders urging me on to make a victory lap. Then, sadly, Woking scored not long afterwards and so the score remained at 1-1 throughout the rest of the game. Except it didn’t.

As the game started to wind down, Steve from Number 11 said something about us hanging on to such a narrow lead. I commented on this, suggesting that we’d only take a single point away from the draw and another goal would be preferable. He looked at me like I was a village idiot who had just overdosed on idiot pills.

Apparently the Woking goal had been disallowed because it was off side. He suggested the fact that there hadn’t been a kick off following the un-goal should have been a bit of a clue. I agreed. Everyone took great delight in pointing out my stupidity. And fair enough too.

And so we won. The second game of the new season proved to be our first win of the new season and the players were well pleased, growling around the ground on a victory lap after the final whistle. It also gave Nicktor a bit of fodder for his second book in which I think I just might be featuring.

┬╣ – When he says ‘poncy’ food, I think Nicktor means pub food that has been a bit trendified which, in turn, means it’s unreasonably expensive. For example, he feels it unnecessary to charge extra for fat chips when they are just chips that cost more because of an extra word. 

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Passing the test

Mirinda headed off for Bath this afternoon. She’s staying at the uni holiday accommodation for tonight in order to be fresh and ready for her viva which is tomorrow morning. It’s a far better idea than setting off for a three hour drive early in the morning before sitting down for a couple of hours discussing her thesis.

She left after lunch, having seen off Gardener Dave and Louis who Gardener Dave calls Luigi for reasons known only to himself because I don’t think he’s Italian.

I’d been to the gym for my first session this morning then the shops so they wowed me with what they’d accomplished.

About the gym…the equipment is excellent, the fact that there are few people there at 8am is superb and the walk is best of all. The one thing I wasn’t that keen on was the upstairs shower. While it’s a walk in shower, there’s no shelf for soap (or anything else) and there appears to be no extractor fan. The room is quite small so it gets like a steam room. The only upside to that is that it’s actually cooler outside when you’ve finished.

Still, I can live with the shower (I’m going to try the one downstairs tomorrow) because everything else is perfect. I especially love the fact that I can leave the gym and be in Starbucks five minutes later. No bus. No cars to avoid. It’s marvellous.

Anyway, back at home, the gardeners had managed to work their magic throughout the garden, clearing the Secret Arch and Emma’s Bush, which seems to have been struck by a meteorite.

Emma’s bush is on the left with a dark area where the meteorite struck

It’s called Emma’s Bush because she likes playing underneath it while Freya deliberately avoids it. I have seen Emma dart underneath and Freya, who had been chasing her, suddenly slam on the brakes. I can only assume it’s a place where Emma goes for solitude when she needs it.

I do think I’m going to have to move the stepping slabs though. The walk through Carmen’s Sweet Escape was always a bit of a squeeze but now we have a four lane highway, I need to centre the path a bit.

However, my favourite bit of the work today has to be what they accomplished with the Secret Arch. Before they started this morning, this arch was close to invisible behind the dogwood. Now it’s perfectly framed.

We’ll still call it the Secret Arch though

They really earned their money today, just like the Australian men’s cricket team did up at Edgbaston.

They had a mighty unassailable lead going into the fifth and final day. All they had to do was bowl out the English and that is exactly what they did. Possibly the best bit was that the commentator at the fall of the last wicket was Australian Jim Maxwell. He was pretty delighted, I have to say.

And so, Australia won the first Ashes test decisively by 251 runs. Long may it continue. It seems like a lovely set up for the Lord’s test match next week. Lucky Jud.

The Hot Border looking…well, hot.
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Sunday roast

Today was a very easy one at our place. Mirinda worked on reading her thesis in preparation for her viva on Tuesday while I pottered around, giving the house a bit of a deep clean ahead of next week’s visitors. I also listened to the cricket.

Today was the fourth day of the first Ashes test at Edgbaston. The match has been tottering from side to side with the Australians looking completely beaten on the first day then the English looking hopeless in the field today. Apart from it being at Edgbaston, I really wish I’d been there. Mind you, TMS is always an excellent way to be there without having to travel.

In fact, they were all having a lot of fun with the fancy dress happening in the Eric Hollies Stand. Possibly the best was the arrival of the Pope and his full entourage of cardinals. There was also a Trump and the Queen at different times. It was all very funny.

And noisy. The thing about Edgbaston is it’s generally very rowdy, sounding more like a football game than cricket. And it doesn’t stop. The noise goes on all day. And no wonder because the first four days were all sold out which is brilliant from a test cricket fan’s point of view.

Anyway, by stumps, Australia had declared, leaving England with an almost impossible chance of winning on the final day. Two wonderful innings by Steve Smith (144 and 142) have left Australia with a good chance of winning if the bowlers are successful tomorrow. It’s all very exciting…though I had a hard time convincing Mirinda.

Dinner was Persian chicken with ribbon cabbage. It was delicious.

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Puns galore

Last year we saw Sian Eleanor Green play (among other parts) Romeo in the Handlebard’s production of Romeo and Juliet. She was very good (as was the rest of the cast). Tonight we saw her again, this time playing Nick Diamond in a stage adaptation of Anthony Horowitz’s The Falcon’s Malteser. Again, she was very good and, again again, she was playing a male.

I booked tickets back in June without knowing that Anthony Horowitz writes books for children. The reasons I booked tickets were simple. Firstly because the production was being held at The Vaults (where we saw the interactive Alice) and secondly because I thought it was going to be an over the top, comedic version of The Maltese Falcon.

It was a lot of fun and we thoroughly enjoyed it. And, while the subject matter and maturity level was a bit more adult at Thursday’s Present Laughter, the energy and level of ensemble playing was just about the same. (The theatres are also not that far apart.)

Of course we were ridiculously early though I wanted a bigger buffer than usual because there had been a stuff up with the tickets. While I opted to have them posted they didn’t actually arrive. When I contacted the box office I spoke to a very nice fellow who assured me that, if I arrived at the theatre bearing the order number, they would issue me with our tickets there and then…which is what happened.

Mind you, the theatre wasn’t actually open when we arrived so we went for a bit of a wander up the Marshland-That-Once-Was first.

Back at the Vaults we obtained our tickets then queued up outside the performance space before taking our black seats in the special three front rows. These were the Diamond seats and very similar to our black dining chairs. They looked more comfortable than the majority red chairs behind us. We also had a little cocktail table between us. I should have popped up to the bar for a beer. For some reason I left it too late and missed out.

Diamond Brothers Detective Agency

The play was very funny even if it was aimed at an age group considerably younger than ours. And the kids in the audience loved it. There were a few jokes for the oldies but, basically, it was silliness with a fair amount of slapstick thrown in.

There were two little girls sitting next to Mirinda (9 & 7 maybe) who were absolutely glued to the action. They laughed, they stared, their mouths were almost permanently open. If for no other reason, it’s great seeing such an amazing response to live theatre and long may they continue attending theatrical productions.

The plot, though quite complex and convoluted, revolves around a lot of diamonds, a box of Maltesers and the multi-character skills of Fergus Leathem (Inspector Snape, Himmell, Johnny Naples, dad) and Samantha Sutherland (Beatrice von Falkenberg, the Fat Man, Betty Cleaner, Lauren Bacardi, mum) who never stopped. Samantha, in particular, was brilliant.

The fourth member of the cast was Matt Jopling playing the hapless and, frankly, witless Tim Diamond. His comic timing was excellent and his business beautifully executed. In particular the stuff with the guitar strap and hand cuffs was a delight.

All in all, it was actually highly enjoyable and, best of all, we were back at Waterloo heading for home at 8:30. That never happens. Obviously, the girls were very pleased.

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