Saturday, 31 December 2011

New Year's Eve update

As it's New Year's Eve I thought I'd give you the pleasure of a quick coffee plant update. They have actually grown quite some in the past couple of months. All have new leaves, which are looking quite healthy, even though as you can see from the photo there are quite a few brown spots and curling on some of the older leaves. Still growth is growth and I'm grateful for that.

Meanwhile Mountain Man became Quite Sick Man yesterday as he was struck down by some mystery bug, which I'm pleased to report he has kept to himself. I'm all for generosity, but not where sickness bugs are concerned. Thank goodness he's feeling better today though as now we await the arrival of our dear friends, Shirley and Andy, for a New Year's food, drink and games fest.

So all that remains to say is Happy New Year to you all. I sincerely hope that 2012 is a good year for everyone. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that maybe this coming year will be the year my coffee plants have berries, but I have a feeling that might be a step too far. No harm in wishing though.

Have a good one!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Contacts and crocs

Just before I went to South Africa I broke my glasses. Nigel at the Opticians mended them for me in the nick of time, but also suggested I try contact lenses. In fact he couldn't understand why I'd never tried them before. I told him the reason... I don't like anything to do with things coming near my eyes. But I said I'd think about it and I'd catch up with him in December as my eyes needed testing anyway so there was no harm in thinking.

However, when I was in South Africa, Tracy Mc, who wears contact lenses, made me realise how convenient they were compared to glasses. The other thing was I went croc diving, and I can tell you that having braved that I felt I could brave anything. And so it was when I had my eye test in December I made the decision that I'd give contact lenses a go. I'm long sighted and can't read anything when it's close by without my glasses and was recommended to have daily ones and to start off with one eye for reading and the other for long sight and see how I get on.

I went back for a lesson in how to put them in and take them out, which was one of those experiences that are best left unwritten about. But the thing was... I managed it. The optician said I really ought to give it a go and she gave me some to practice with and the next time I'm in, in January, I can try varifocal ones and see which ones I prefer.

The first time I tried was in London. It took me just under 45 minutes to get them in and my sight was so odd that I thought I'd got them in the wrong way round and I wasn't sure I was going to make it. I left them in a couple of hours, but getting them out took ages and I'd poked and prodded so much my eyes were quite sore.

I decided to leave it a couple of weeks to allow my poor eyes to recover fully, and then on Boxing Day I decided to give it another go. My eyesight was still so peculiar that I felt like I was tripping when I looked into the distance. I spoke to Tracy who told me it would take at least 3 days for my eyes to get used to them as you use different eye muscles with contacts compared to glasses and to persevere. I did, and left them in for about 4 hours. Getting them out was still a nightmare.

Then yesterday I put them in again, but was getting a bit anxious come taking them out time and so looked online to see if there was an easy way... and I came across this great piece on YouTube by Akuno Tensai. It was so simple even I managed it first time and it took seconds.

And this morning I was able to put the contacts in within 10 minutes and I know I'll be able to get them out within seconds when I come to take them out, so I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself.

Of course I still need the ok from the optician when I go back in January... and it would be good to get rid of the woozy feeling whenever I go from reading to looking into the distance... but I've done it.

I can remember when I was about to go diving with crocs in South Africa thinking what the hell was I doing. I like to look at them, but up close? No thank you! They are damn scary at a distance, but let me tell you they are a whole lot scarier up close. But you know what... sometimes it's good to do something that makes you feel that if you can do that you can do anything and croc diving was exactly that for me. Hooray for the crocs!

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Christmas came and went

I hope you all had as good and peaceful a Christmas as I did.

Mountain Man, Nell and I spent a lovely day relaxing, unwrapping presents, watching telly, drinking Prosecco (well ok that was me, I admit it) and eating when we could be bothered. Santa was very good to us all and we felt very lucky. That's Nell included, who just loves to unwrap her Christmas present - especially as she gets the same every year, but I think in her mind it wouldn't be Christmas without a seasonal ragger.

Nell enjoying her Christmas ragger

Our initial plan was to unwrap a present each every hour, but that plan got scuppered quite early when phone calls came thick and fast and we had to unwrap things at rather a pace to keep up!

We played games like we usually do, though without boys here it didn't have quite the same ring to it, but we managed to enjoy ourselves nevertheless.

Yesterday was another relaxing day. There were storm force winds in the Borders so we decided to stay home and enjoy ourselves. I went out for approximately 8 minutes, but having been almost blown off my feet I went back inside and there I stayed.

We decided to play the game I bought for the family - Pick-up-Sticks - and jolly good it was too. Mountain Man is extremely good at it and I can see I'll have to put in some practice. Something to do with having very steady hands and a technique honed when he was a child. Can't wait for the boys to come a-visiting so we can have a game.

So that was our Christmas couple of days, and as we have people coming for drinks tomorrow night there's shopping to do and appetisers to make, Wii Zumba (thanks No. 1 son) to get me in the mood, and a Vegan meal to try (thanks No. 2 son).

Enjoy the rest of your Christmas break everyone!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Post party report

Two days later and I'm still suffering the after effects of my work Xmas 'do'. It triggered a migraine and I had no medication with me. Eventually yesterday afternoon I put in an emergency call to my man in the Borders, who came rushing to my aid and who stayed with me til around 7 and then, because he still had things to do at home, decided to leave me to sleep and head back with an extremely reluctant dog in tow.

I'm only slightly better today and am taking my time before I get myself ready for my hour long drive to my Border home.

The party itself was good. We were at the Scottish Malt Whisky Society, which is a lovely central venue. We were greeted at the door with some warm, alcoholic concoction, which I'm pretty sure was whisky based. I think this was my undoing, as whisky anything on an empty stomach is pretty lethal. This was followed by quite a few red wines, a whole lot of water and a delicious meal. The Secret Santa was a bit complicated... don't ask me why a bunch of psychologists have to make such a simple concept as convoluted as they can, but trust me they did. Then it was the usual madness of team games of guessing things, singing carol games and generally having a laugh. We ended up in an Edinburgh drinkery, by which time I already knew I'd had enough, so opted for water, and then left after a wee while to negotiate my way to the nearest cab.

Mountain Man had been to his spinning class in Edinburgh and so was staying too. All good so far. At about 2 in the morning poor old Nell was sick on her bed. She slept the rest of the night on our bed, while we hardly got any sleep at all as she kicked and whimpered her way through. I can't honestly say her sleeping arrangements gave me a migraine, but it sure didn't help, but by the time MM and Nell left me in the morning I was already well in the throes.

Nell has always been allowed on our bed for a while before we go to sleep, but she's never been allowed to sleep on it for the night. I think her stint that night gave her an insight as to what her life could be like and so when she accompanied MM on his rescue mission with migraine medication, she jumped on the bed and had to literally be prised off when it was time to go. It was very funny watching the usually extremely patient MM determined Nell was going to go with him, and she in turn was equally determined she was going to stay put.

So that's it for this year. Another pre-Xmas party season negotiated and just about survived. I'm now looking forward to a relaxing Xmas Day and I sincerely hope that you all have a lovely, relaxing one too.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

I predict a cold Christmas

No, not the weather variety, but the nasal sort.

After my stint in the freezing cold on Sunday, followed by 2 parties on Monday night where I went from outside cold to sitting in very warm with people sneezing around me, I think I'm succumbing to a cold.

This is not helped by No. 2 son, who has come to stay and seems to be getting over one, and finally Mountain Man, who is rarely ill, felt sick and dizzy yesterday and after a sleep woke up saying he felt like he had a cold coming on.

I'm just hoping I last til the day after tomorrow, because tomorrow is my work's Christmas 'do' and I want to go and get home again and enjoy myself too.

It's usually a much fun event - and this folks is where you let your imagination go riot - where 12 psychologists of varying persuasions (Clinical, Occupational and Health and Safety) and the support staff, who ably 'manage' us throughout the year, get together and eat, drink and be merry. Games are obviously of a reasonably sensible variety and even the Health & Safety guys join in without too much of a damper on the event, though last year there were mutterings about the number of stairs we had to negotiate after much wine and whisky was imbibed.

I will report back once the day is over, and hopefully when I'm back in the safety of my home, getting ready for the final Christmas Day preparations, which means actually going out and buying some food.

Because Mountain Man and I are going to be just the two of us this year, we seem to have been quite lax in making sure we have anything ready for the day. However, at this rate it'll probably be Lemsips at dawn and we'll take it from there. Would be a good start to have some in of course, so that'll be first on the list then!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

I'm me

When I came back from South Africa with Air France I was asked by one of the flight attendants if I would like to become a Flying Blue member and get airmiles from the flights I'd just taken. Because I have friends who I visit in France and usually fly with AF, I decided it might be nice to get a free flight. So when I got home I went on to the site and duly became a member. It told me that I would get my recent flights awarded within a week or so.

I waited. Nothing came. I waited some more. Then went onto the bit on the site that said 'claim your missing miles'. I tried, I really did, but it just wouldn't accept me. Why? Because I didn't have my boarding cards (who the hell keeps a boarding card after they've been on a flight?), and I was booked under Mrs and I had Ms on my Flying Blue membership status. For goodness sake... I mean I have an unusual name, it's me, but would Air France believe I was me? Non, absolument non.

Yesterday I remembered that I'd booked the tickets through The Flight Centre, who'd been really helpful in getting the flights at the right times and as cheap as possible for my SA flight. A quick phone call and a few seconds later I had all the details I needed. And within 24 hours I had 17338 miles added to my card.

Hooray... I'm me... Air France says so, so it must be true.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

How to get over a hangover

After getting back last night I admit to having a couple of glasses of wine. When I woke this morning I had a raging hangover. I think it was very much a case of the day after the day after. However, I'd promised Mountain Man that I'd go and help him fund raise for Borders Search and Rescue Unit of which he's a member.

I managed to get out of bed by midday and keep a piece of toast down, and then off we went to the BSARU garage to pick up the Land Rover in Kelso and from there to Jedburgh to hang out outside Edinburgh and Jedburgh Woollen Mills in 4 layers of clothes freezing my arse off.

We were joined by Kevin, the BSARU accountant, and there we were, the three of us, rattling our buckets at anyone who dared come near us. There were precious few people out and about in the treacherous conditions, but those that did make it were pretty generous.

I did have one rather strange moment when one elderly chap said, 'Well done son' to me, which I thought was interesting as I was wearing my rather fetching pink tea cosy hat (as you can see from the photo below) and thought I looked decidedly feminine, but obviously not!

The payoff for my 2 hours activities, apart from raising more than the other two put together, was that my hangover had definitely disappeared. I think it was frozen out along with the rest of me.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Party time

It's been a hectic few days. Apart from catching up with work last week, on Thursday Mountain Man and I headed off to London for our annual family bash yesterday for lunch... well I say lunch, but it starts at 12 and ends around 4. And added to that this year there was another get together last night, so we went from one party to another. We eventually hit our beds at some time well after midnight this morning, and then had to get up today to get the train back to Edinburgh to find that No. 1 son (who was kindly looking after the dog for us) has some dreaded hand problem, and had also managed to leave the keys to his flat and his phone in his flat and couldn't get back in. This was not a great start to our getting home, and consequently I didn't get home til almost 8pm, feeling tired, stressed and worst of all I'd missed the Strictly final. Thank goodness for technology and recording devices, and for Mountain Man who'd remembered to record it in the first place!

The family bash: Luckily I only managed to place my foot in my mouth once, when my mother (who'd had more than a few) was becoming over effusive and I said something a bit unfortunate when there was a pause in the conversation. Everyone took a sharp intake of breath, looked at me, looked at my mother, who had a momentary glare, but carried on. Everyone let their breath out and the party continued. I still shiver slightly at the memory.

Friday night get together: which was for a few OU friends who could make it. Cathy the Bookseller generously held it in her home. There was a slight problem when we got lost getting there, but she sent her husband out to fetch us in her car, which was quite a relief I can tell you. I'm blaming my iPhone that decided that her abode was approximately a mile from where it really was. Don't ask me how or why, but no matter as we got there in the end.

It was lovely to catch up with folk again... they really are a special bunch of people. One of them had even bought some crackers which his wife had made, and we were delighted with small bottles of eau de cologne that they'd picked up in Germany. We were then given a goody bag by Cathy, with 3 books which are to be sold to the general public next year and some personal notebooks for each of us which was just amazingly fab. I felt quite emotional, but of course had had quite a bit to drink by this time, which I'm sure contributed. It also highlighted the fact that I'd managed to leave the very small tokens I'd brought back from South Africa for them in my suitcase at my mother's house. Oh well they will just have to reconnect when I go down again in February... not that they're really worth it, but it's the thought etc etc.

An exhausting, but lovely time was had. Time to unpack the suitcase, put the recorder on and watch the end of Strictly and find out who won.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Practice makes perfect

Last night Mountain Man and I decided it was time to break out the Wii to get in some practice for our Christmas break.

Usually my boys come and join us and we have much Wii fun. This year the boys are off to their Dad's in Sutherland while MM and I have some much needed 'quality time' together (the boys will be down at some point during the holidays just not the day itself). However, MM and I still felt we needed to uphold tradition and practice was going to be the order of the night.

It took us about 5 minutes to realise that the batteries in both controls were well and truly dead. Another 5 minutes to find batteries, and then another 5 to get the batteries in and the controls working - actually that was me and not MM!

So a whole 15 minutes later there we were playing bowling, where I slaughtered MM with a run of 3 strikes and a spare to finish, and another couple of strikes in the middle. We followed this with a game of golf, where MM slaughtered me as he ended up 1 over par and I was 6 over.

Honour being satisfied we called it a night, though we both realised if we want to beat Shirley and Andy over New Year we're going to have to practice a whole lot more.

Monday, 12 December 2011

The countdown begins

Yes, people, it's only 10 days to go until the shortest day... hooray! That means that in 11 days time we will be on our way to Spring and then Summer.

I know it sounds a bit mad, but quite honestly it's the only way I can get through these long, cold, dark days. Anything that sustains me and smacks of sunshine and warmth, even if it is many days away, helps.

Got any other suggestions?

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Getting in the mood

Christmas tree is up and dressed. Presents - at least those that are bought - are wrapped. Christmas cards will be written today (well that's the plan), list of food to be bought for the *big meal* will be done, and then...?

Probably as it's Sunday, r & r is very much on the cards.

However, I spoke to Shirley today and we were talking about how we're going to manage our annual Christmas to get together - she and her Andy and me and my MM always have an evening of fun and game playing which we've been doing since our children were very small (Shirley and I met when we were pregnant with our youngest, who are both now 25 years old), so that's a whole lot of years of our traditional get together. This year we've decided on having it on New Year's Eve which is brilliant. Now MM and I have to get Wii practising!

The other news is... I'm now in the mood for organising the *big* *big* date that is going to befall me in January. As is usual on my birthday, most places - or at least the ones I want to go to - are shut. Also, because people are usually partied out by that date in January, it always feels like a bit of a low key time. But this coming year, it's not going to be like that. Well no, that's not entirely true, it will still be low key on the day, but I've decided I'm going to take the whole year to celebrate.

I'm going to have an 'official' birthday in July, as it'll be the 6th month anniversary of my being 60, and as it'll be summer and places will be open, it will be so much easier to organise something. But apart from that, prompted by a suggestion from Shirley, I'm going to designate the 11th day of each month as time to celebrate. Now I'm beginning to feel excited at the prospect and will have a whole 12 days of celebration instead of just one. Now doesn't that sound like a great idea?

Saturday, 10 December 2011

... and it didn't finish there

After the storm came the calm... at least for a while.

Yesterday was a lovely, bright day and I had an all day Mindfulness workshop to facilitate for GP's in Edinburgh. Unfortunately my co-facilitator wasn't able to travel down as planned the night before, but she valiantly got up at the crack of dawn to get the very early train from Inverness. She made it to Edinburgh in time for the 11 o'clock break, which was great. The workshop went very well, and there may be some more work coming our way from it. It always feels good when work like that goes well.

When I got home I was greeted by a celebrating Mountain Man. After the last two months or so of hell, when his business partner, C, decided to take pretty much all of the money out of the business account, lock MM out of his own website, Facebook page and company email. This caused all kinds of chaos for the business which virtually got shut down. MM has been extremely stressed, but last night all the papers had been signed (should have been all done and dusted ages ago, but C, for whatever reason, held things up as only he knows how), and MM was so happy he bought me some pink fizz and celebratory food, which was absolutely lovely. I'm just relieved that it's over. Of course now the real work begins, as MM has to put right all the wrongs that were done in the intervening months and start to build things up again slowly. He has to completely rewrite the website (again) and that all will take time. Should keep him off the streets for a while!

Meanwhile it seems that the weather gods haven't quite finished their winter hooley. Instead of the loud, raucous behaviour of Thursday, they are now throwing confetti around, better known as snow. We already have a couple of inches and it's not stopping there. Time to get out our Snowrazor and see if we can shift the stuff off the roof. Because we live in a house with velux windows, when it gets to this time of year, it can feel like living in a snow hole. Draw back the blinds and what do you see? Nothing! That's what it's like this morning.

I hope wherever you are, you are safe and warm and let's hope the winter chaos doesn't last too long.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Weather god party

It's not very nice out there... not very nice at all! It's now just past 2.30 pm and I've been sent home from work along with the other poor souls who braved it in today in spite of the weather gods having a party. It's the kind of party which means they send everything down as much as possible and make life hell for us poor earthlings. So far, in Edinburgh today, we've had wind, rain, hail, and sleet. No snow as yet, but I'm sure they'll see to that in due course.

I'm staying in Edinburgh overnight as tomorrow I am supposed to be co-facilitating an all day workshop. This could be fun, especially as my colleague has to come all the way down from Inverness, and although is taking the train... well, we all know what that can mean... so all I can do is sit and wait and wonder.

However, that's tomorrow, and right now there are other priorities. I've found my hotwater bottle which is already filled. I don't have a flask, which is a slight problem and I don't really want to venture out there to go and buy one, but it's something to put on that ever extending 'list' of must have things. I have a gas hob, so if the electricity goes down then at least I can get something hot to eat. I've got a book to read and a torch to read by should it come to that. And if it gets really freezing, I've got my sleeping bag to keep me extra warm.

Mountain Man and Nell are in the Borders, where they have all the modern conveniences that one needs at a time like this, and anyway he's a mountain man and knows how to deal with life's emergency situations so all's well on that score.

Now we just need the bloody weather god party to be over, and I have to say, rather uncharitably, I hope they have a hangover tomorrow!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Getting ready for the holiday season

A couple of months ago I was given a recipe for Blueberry Gin by one of the extremely talented OU folk... that is not just talented in the writing department, but also this is a woman with 4 kids and still has time to do loads of baking and concoct interesting alcohol infusions too. I'm full of admiration.

Tonight for all kinds of reasons I decided to see what my Blueberry Gin tasted like. And all I can say is yummy, yummy, yummy.

So here is the exact recipe that Claire gave me for one helluva delicious drink for you to try. If you make it now, it might just be ready in time for your holiday season:

 Get some gin, stick a punnet of blueberries and 6 tablespoons of sugar in it and let it sit in a cool, dark cupboard for 4-6 weeks, shaking it every day. Then get pissed!

I have to admit that I put in 4 tablespoons of sugar instead of 6 because I'm not so keen on sweet things, but Claire assured me this wouldn't be a problem, and it's turned out brilliantly.

There's just one problem... and that is I'm not sure it'll last me til Xmas. Oh well, just have to get on and make some more then.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Cold and hungry

Yesterday morning saw us heading for Kelso in the freezing cold to attend Pim Claridge's latest poetry book launch for 'Shadow on the Sand'  at Latimer's Bookshop. It was lovely to hear her read her own work.

This time of year the dark seems to come on so early and, when it gets dark, I feel I have to go to bed and curl up. So rather reluctantly I had to get myself moving in the even colder weather to go to Edinburgh in the late afternoon, when my body had clearly decided that it really was time to be tucked up rather than being out and about.

There were 2 birthdays to celebrate. My dear friend N, who I've known since we were both at 6th form college together in 1968, turned 59. She has been severely under the weather for quite a while with one of those repeating coldy/cough things that just won't go away and so she wasn't up for doing much. We called round to give her her present and chat a while, then went off to a friend of Mountain Man's 40th birthday get together at The Saint in Stockbridge. 

One of the things we hadn't bargained for was food, or lack of. We had lunch, and a quick tea and toast before we left, but by the time we left N's we were both really hungry. I don't know why but we both thought there might be at least some nibbles at the pub, but no, and 2 glasses of rather nice organic white wine later, I was feeling decidedly squiffy. We decided that it was definitely time to go and get something to eat.

We found ourselves heading back to the Borders knowing that we were going to pass one of our favourite Thai restaurants, Thaisanuk in Dalkeith Road, where we know that the Thai fish cakes are delicious. A quick phone call and fish cakes were ordered ready for pick up as we drove past. The only problem was that I was absolutely starving by this time and there was no way my portion would wait until I got home, so I ate mine while MM heroically drove on with the smell of fish cakes pervading the car.

However, my stomach, having had a starter, was in the mood for more and could bear it no further than Pathhead, where MM generously got out of the car and bought me fish and chips, which I also couldn't wait until I got home to consume.

A rather greasy 20 minutes later we arrived home me stuffed with food while poor MM was only starting his (it was now after 10) and so I left him to it, while I fell into a rather fish filled sleep.

I can only say that all this unhealthy, fatty food did nothing for my dreams and I'm not sure this is a culinary experience that will ever bear repeating... at least I hope not!

Friday, 2 December 2011

... and hello again

My South African adventure was exactly that. I'll try to make it as short as I can, but it's difficult to put into words what an amazing time I had and all thanks to Tracy Mc.

Day 1: After almost 24 hours of travel I finally arrived in Port Elizabeth having already made friends on board my flight from Jo'burg to PE. Dallas and John, a rather wonderful couple in their 70's, who I sat next to, invited me for tea and I got chatted up by a rather 'interesting' guy with a pony tail who's chat up line was, 'love your hair'... mmm... well it didn't do much for me either!

Tracy met me at the airport and whisked me off to look at the ocean and take in the sights. People surfing, sea the colour of greeny blue glass and palm trees. Then back to Tracy's place. She lives in a lovely little granny 'flat' in the garden of one of South Africa's rather famous ceramicists, Lynnley Watson, who was an absolute delight. A garden with jacaranda tree, pool and frogs and lizards to make it feel like I had arrived.

The back garden at Tracy's house

Day 2: On my journey over I had started reading Damon Galgut's  A Strange Room, and I was rather taken with the following quote: 'There is a moment when any real journey begins. Sometimes it happens as you leave your house, sometimes it's a long way from home.' I felt my journey began on Day 2. Port Elizabeth was fascinating for me. Tracy took me out to The Red Location Museum, which was housed in an award winning building placed right in the middle of a township. It tells the story of the struggle with apartheid by the use of memory rooms amongst others things.

Red Location Museum entrance statement

Driving through the township compared to driving through the residential part of PE brought home just how there is still a lot of inequality in SA. Vendors at traffic lights all trying to sell their wares - anything from sunglasses to memory sticks, from plastic bin liners to passport wallets. The residential part of PE was a wake up call for me. Everyone lives behind bars and locks. Come to think of it, it's the same in the township only they live in shacks whereas the residential areas have smart houses with swimming pools.

The rest of the day was taken up with a bit of shopping, as I realised I'd left my swimsuit at home, and then the theatre in the evening. We went to a fab musical production of 'Fiela's Child', which justified the great write-ups it had.

Day 3: The road trip began. We headed off down the Garden Route to Tsitsikamma Falls, where we went zip wiring. Incredible. I loved it!
Tracy and me getting ready for zip wiring

Me zip wiring across the valley

A quick stop off at Big Tree in Tsitsikamma National Park.

Tracy at the base of Big Tree

Then off to Storms River Mouth where we saw baboons and rock dassies, with a lovely walk to get to the suspension bridge that crosses at the mouth separating the river from the Indian Ocean.

To the left of the bridge is Storms River and to the right is the Indian Ocean

We ended up at Wild Spirit Backpackers, a highly recommended place to stay, up in Nature's Valley. Tracy had an 'amusing' conversation with a young Dutch guy all about psychology... I think she put him off for life!

Day 4: To the lagoon in Nature's Valley where I managed to burn my back sitting on the beach in the wind, sand and sun (in that order). We decided not to swim in the Ocean as there were loads of jelly fish. Tracy swam in the lagoon, but I wasn't warm enough so chickened out, and from there to a luxury hotel in Knysna, which Tracy's friend had set up for us. Sunny and warm, eating out on the sea front... oh yes!

Night sky in Knysna Bay

Day 5: Walking with Thandi the elephant at the Elephant Sanctuary, the tip of her warm trunk gently curled around my fingers. Gorgeous.

Me and Thandi at the Elephant Sanctuary near Knysna
Monkey World - monkeys and lemurs, Birds of Eden - where I had to take out my earrings because the resident cockatoo loves shiny things - just as well as it landed on my cap where it picked out one of the eyelets!

and then to Tenikwa to be with leopard, cheetah, caracal and cervil.

Me with young cheetah
The resident leopard at Tenikwa
We ended our memorable day in Plettenberg Bay. It had rained from afternoon onwards, but it didn't manage to spoil anything for us.

Day 6: Drive to Oudtshoorn, ostrich capital of South Africa. We didn't get to the Backpackers until after 4, by which time all the local attractions were closed, so we went out for something to eat and spent the night chatting about our childhoods.

Day 7: Another day in Oudtshoorn. Cango Caves. An unbelievable morning spent underground, followed by a trip to Karusa Vineyard for lunch.

Me in Cango Caves
The afternoon was spent courtesy of Cango Ostrich Farm, which was fab for probably all the wrong reasons, and Tracy braved riding an ostrich which was very brave indeed, and we ended our afternoon at Buffelsdrift Game Lodge to spot carp and turtle swimming under the wooden terrace and hippo in the distance down at the water edge, then out to dinner in Oudtshoorn and back to Backpackers for bed.

Tracy riding an ostrich

Me having a 'neck massage' from a group of ostriches
Day 8: Our 3rd day in Oudtshoorn. Cango Wildlife Ranch. A whole 6 hours. Lions, tigers, leopards, pygmy hippos and cage diving with crocs... nuff said!

Cage diving with crocodile - Cango Wildlife Park
Day 9: On a cloudy, rainy day we set off on the long way to Graaff-Reinet and from there to Nieu Bethesda, an amazing place in the Karoo. It was like stepping back in time. No bars for people to live behind here and walking down the street we were told was 'perfectly safe, even at night'.

Main street Nieu Bethesda
We stayed at the Owl House Backpackers in our own little outhouse, which was lovely. However, it was absolutely freezing as the temperature in the mountains drops considerably at night and so we spent our evening wrapped up in bed, reading our books, and me with a glass or two of wine.

A cold night in Nieu Bethesda

Day 10: From the cold, damp, cloud of Day 9 we awoke to the brightest, sunniest, bluest skies. We went fossil hunting in the river bed

Me fossil hunting

and then took a wander around the Owl House Museum, the home of Helen Martins, one of SA's more eccentric artists. Walking around the garden with the almost life-sized concrete and glass sculptures that take up almost every available space

Garden at Owl House Museum

and the house with it's garish coloured glass windows that stream light in to make each room stand out on it's own was fascinating.

The 'red' room in Helen Martins' house

The 'green' room in Helen Martins' house

 From Nieu Bethesda we headed to Camdeboo National Park where we took in the delights of fab scenery, especially The Valley of Desolation.

The Valley of Desolation
The wildlife kept itself to itself, but we did spot a couple of kudu, a few lizards, a herd of zebra and a lone tortoise wandering up the road.

Tortoise wandering up the road in Camdeboo National Park
And then it was back on the road to Port Elizabeth and settling ourselves back into Tracy's home. She has an inaugural event for her charity, Isithatha Trust, on Sunday and needed to get organised. Posters and flyers needed collecting but we were back too late for that.

Day 11: After Tracy had done her bit for Isithatha we headed off to Addo Elephant National Park, which is about an hour from Port Elizabeth. Once we'd organised our accommodation we arrived at Addo to be greeted by the sight of a couple of herds of elephants down at the waterhole.

Elephants at waterhole in Addo
It was just wonderful to see all the eles playing in the water. A couple of the youngsters couldn't get out and had to be helped by friends and adults. This was such a treat as we'd been told by many how they'd seen only very few elephants in a whole day at Addo and there we were in our first few minutes seeing herds!

The park itself is huge. We drove around for 5 hours spotting all sorts. Kudu, gemsbok, warthog, dung beetles, birds of varying sorts, and elephants by what seemed the hundred, but no lions sadly.

We decided on doing a night game drive and at 7p.m. we found ourselves in an overland vehicle along with a load of other tourists and a very knowledgeable guide.

Getting ready for the night game drive
We were privileged to see a herd of elephants chase off a group of spotted hyenas who got a bit too close to them when they were drinking at the water hole. Kudu, black backed jackal, zebra, scrub hare, spring hare, spotted thick-knee and Cape buffalo were among the other delights of the night drive.

Spotted jackal
Day 12: We spent the night just outside Addo, and then went back there on Day 12. The weather was overcast and showery and it was completely different to the day before. However, we did see elephants extremely close up, as well as Cape Buffalo, meerkat, red hartebeest and yellow mongoose, but still not a lion in sight.

Showing just how close up we got and how big the elephants were at Addo
In the afternoon we drove back to PE.

Day 13: To Kragga Kamma Wildlife Park. Rhino, springbok, waterbuck, nyala, bontebok, warthog, ostrich, cheetah and a special treat of being up close to a family of giraffe.

Giraffe and zebra at Kragga Kamma Wildlife Park
The afternoon was taken up doing touristy things in PE. The beach front, the lighthouse (where there was a really moving sculpture with Nelson Mandela at its head), and pier.

Me and Nelson Mandela at the PE lighthouse
This was followed by a trip to the theatre to watch Tracy's friend's rehearsal production of Jack in the Beanstalk, which had some hysterical moments, the most memorable of which was a black guy in the back end of a cow costume dancing around with his udder doing all kinds of strange moves on its own.

Day 14: The last full day, and 'full' it certainly was. A two hour horseback ride with the highlight of a canter along Sardinia Bay in glorious sunshine took up our morning.

Riding along Sardinia Bay (me in turquoise top)
To Schoenmakerskop to lie on the rocks and catch some rays, swim in the Indian Ocean (it was freezing!) in the afternoon. Then out to dinner in the evening.

Day 15: Tracy took me to the Association of Creative Thought Centre to meet her lovely friend Helen, and then back to Tracy's for a private view of Lynnley Watson's work which was brilliant, followed by an hour's sit in the sun in the back garden before finally packing my shorts in my suitcase and heading off to the airport for the 24 hour journey home.

Lynnley Watson, Honey and Tracy outside Tracy's home
Tracy very kindly gave me an ostrich egg to take back too, but because I couldn't fit it in, she also gave me a lovely orange Merrill bag to put it, and my onboard travel stuff in. And I'm pleased to report that both I and the ostrich egg arrived on time on UK soil all in one piece, which is more than can be said for my suitcase.

Suitcase saga: My suitcase decided to have an extra holiday and stayed in Charles De Gaulle airport, along with the other passengers cases that were on the Jo'burg to Paris to Edinburgh flight. It finally arrived at home 32 hours later with the number lock on the handle changed.... mmmm something was amiss that's for sure, but I was thankful for a case with double locks. However, trying to get into it without breaking the lock took a while. Thank goodness for the internet, where it described how to find numbers on a combination lock on a suitcase. Mountain Man managed to get it open unscathed and therefore he got his present from SA, which was buried among what seemed like a mountain of clothes, none of which had been worn. Yes... I took far too many clothes, which is unusual for me as I'm a light packer. I ended up wearing shorts, jeans, slightly smarter trousers, 3 tops, swimsuit, crocs, walking boots and my Converse boots and that was pretty much it. I had taken enough to change my T-shirt at least once a day, a couple of extra tops, another pair of trousers and some sandals but they were all absolutely unnecessary. Lesson learned if I am ever lucky enough to get back to South Africa.

Final thoughts: What a wonderful holiday! I had already made a decision before I left that I wasn't going to get caught up with anything that remotely smacked of work. I only emailed and Skyped MM and apart from that didn't bother with internet. No TV, no radio, no distractions from relaxation and great company. It made me rethink what I'm doing, and all I can say is that I want more holidays! And so folks I've decided that 2012 is going to be time to change. With a month to go until the turn of the year I've already set things in motion. My first was to cancel my membership of the British Psychological Society and Division of Clinical Psychology. We'll have to see what's next, but the first step sure felt good.

Oh yes... and going horse riding on the last day of a holiday if you haven't ridden for a while is not a great idea, unless you want to walk through the airport like John Wayne!

And that, as they say, is that.

p.s. The photos are some of mine and some of Tracy's. I hope they've given a flavour of what the holiday was like, but if anyone is brave enough and wants to see I can forward the rest of the 424 pics I took and the 2153 of Tracy's. Yes that's right, I said 2153!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

And it's goodbye from me!

Well, that's it. The time has come for me and my little suitcase to take ourselves off up to Edinburgh Airport and from there to Paris, followed by a wait of three hours before I board my Air France flight to Johannesburg. I arrive tomorrow at about 11.30 a.m. and have another two hour wait there before embarking on the final leg of my journey, via Kulula airways, to Port Elizabeth. A whole 24 hours of airports and flying to get to the 'trip of a lifetime'.

I've looked on the internet to see what the weather will actually be like. Amazing how much they differ! But the worst bit is that by Thursday it appears there will be rain! Arghh... leaving one damp, dreech country for another was not what I had in mind. I'm consoling myself with the fact that it will be 21 degrees, which is a whole lot warmer than here. And after Thursday's rain it might just want to be sunny... won't it?

I'm off to the theatre on Thursday night for a bit of South African culture. 'Fiela's Child' is on the agenda and is, apparently, a set book for schools in SA. Should be good.

And after that? Well it's road trip time... who knows where? who knows when? I'm bloody well hoping Tracy does!

I may well have no means of accessing my blog from where I'm going, so... as they said at the end of all the Saturday movies when I was a child...  

That's all Folks!

See you in December....

Friday, 11 November 2011

It's not just me that needs warmth...

I had a Skype call with Tracy yesterday (she's the person I'm staying with in South Africa) and we talked about not taking valuables on my 'trip of a lifetime'.

And so it was that Mountain Man and I ventured out to Kelso for our weekly shopfest, and be on the lookout for a cheap watch that would keep me on the right track to get my planes, connections etc, but that I didn't have to worry about.

I found the perfect thing for a whole £9.99.

Unbelievably - and that's for me, MM and the shopkeeper - it's also waterproof to 100 metres, which is brilliant as Tracy has promised snorkeling is on the cards. I'm chuffed with it... what a bargain!

I'm also now loaded up with anti mozzie stuff, stuff in case I get bitten anyway, sun tan lotion, books and cds (these are for Tracy) and enough clothes to see me through the next 6 months - or at least that's how it feels.

So that's me. But I also noticed the other day that one of my coffee plants is looking decidedly morose. The leaves have gone a light green and look like they're going to fall off. I think this is because it's got a lot colder recently and, as we don't have the central heating on that much, the plants dislike the fluctuating temperature.

I decided to take a trip to Dobbie's, the garden emporium, to see if they had anything that could help my babies. The only thing on offer was a roll of fleece, and so it was promptly bought.

Now, as you can see, the plants are all tucked up nice and warm in their cosy, home-made, wraparound, temperature fluctuating beating, little house. MM says he'll buy some sticks and make it a bit more robust while I'm away, which I'm sure they'll appreciate.

Here's hoping it helps them to survive the winter and head on into the new year with renewed vigour. At least I'll know that while I'm on holiday in warmer climes, my plants will also be enjoying a bit of warmth of their own.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Mountain Man is tried to the full

A major disaster!

I was out and about yesterday and when I put my glasses on they didn't quite fit properly. I took them off and noticed one of the arms was bent in a funny way. One touch from me to try to right them and... snap! That was it. The whole arm came off. That left me with a dilemma. I had things to do and needed to see. Tough, no time to change plans, just had to get on with it.

A while later I visited Nigel the Optician Manager and pleaded with him to fix them. Unfortunately my glasses are over 10 years old and they don't make them the same anymore. He promised he'd try, especially when I told him I was heading out of the country next week for my 'trip of a lifetime', but he wasn't all that hopeful.

Meanwhile I had shopping to do and, as I'm long sighted, I can't read anything unless I've got my glasses on. Mountain Man was not amused as I phoned him three times in the space of five minutes to check things that I couldn't read for myself... I keep telling him I'm helping him practice patience, and I think yesterday he exercised that practice to the full.

Sadly, I didn't quite make it unscathed!

A trip to the dentist

I always find it funny when I'm at the dentist, with my mouth open wide and having my teeth and gums poked with a sharp metal instrument, that my dentist will always start talking to me about the strangest things and ask me questions that demand an answer. The conversation seems to come out of the blue and I'm never entirely sure how to respond. Yesterday's conversation went like this:

Chris the Dentist: Mmmm.... you seem to have a bit of gum, just here (poking hard with his metal instrument) that is a bit infected. There was a fascinating programme on telly last night. It was on a dead hippo. Did you watch it?

Me: uhhh

Chris : it was great. it was all about how a dead hippo gets eaten over 4 days.

Me: Uhhh

Chris: Okay, well the hippo is dead on the river bank and then along comes this crocodile and it can't get through the hippo's thick skin. Guess what the only animal that can bite through the hippo's skin is? (He takes the prod out of my mouth)

Me: A jackal?

Chris: Yes! Well done, you. You're brilliant. Actually it's the female jackal. Anyway, then the crocodile comes back and snaps at the jackal so that the jackal has to leave and the crocodile eats what it wants.

Me: Chris I'm just wondering... here I am with you scraping away at my teeth and gums and you suddenly launch into a conversation about a dead hippo. Do I remind you of one?

Chris (laughing): No, of course not!

Me: A crocodile? (Chris shakes his head) A jackal? (shakes his head again, then puts the metal prod back in my mouth).

Chris: Then there's the insects. You'll need to watch this bit of gum, maybe next time you come we'll talk about whether to put a filling in there so there's no gap. Okay, rinse and spit. Did you know they put a transmitter on the insects so they can follow them?

Me (with rinse in my mouth): uhhh

Chris: That's you for today. See you in six months.

Surreal or what?

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

At least I did something

The virus I've been suffering with returned with a vengeance yesterday, and I decided on a 'day out' -  resting and trying to get myself fit again. Time wasn't completely wasted though as I caught up with some TV programmes that had been languishing on the record setting of the digibox for far longer than they should.

And so it was that I spent a very pleasant afternoon with Fiona Bruce exploring the works of Leonardo Da Vinci. The upshot of this was that I persuaded Mountain Man that we absolutely had to go to the exhibition of Leonardo's work, which starts at the National Gallery today, when we head for London for our annual Xmas family 'do' next month. The only problem was there were no tickets to be had. MM wasn't all that disappointed so I decided that when I go down in February for a meeting I'll go then instead, which means that MM and I won't be queuing for tickets in December, for which I think he's mightily relieved. Luckily there were still tickets left for the last day of the exhibition and I'm all booked in.

This led me to remember an event at the National a while back. I was walking through the gallery and came across a painting by Bronzino. I couldn't believe it as it looked very like my son when he was about 16. I was stunned by the experience. The memory sparked a story, and so the rest of my afternoon was spent writing for a competition. I'm quite pleased with the result... the writing that is, not necessarily the story, but I'll send it off anyway once I've had a chance to let it settle for a day or two and have had time to do redrafting and corrections.

I felt quite pleased with myself at the end of the day. Not a huge amount achieved, but at least I achieved something.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

A date for my diary

I decided ages ago that I didn't want tickets to the London Olympics next year as the thought of going to London with hundreds of thousands of people to add to the usual London chaos is really not my thing. I shall sit at home and watch it on the telly.

However, last night Mountain Man announced that the Olympic torch would be passing our door. Yes that's right, right past our door. And the date for this tour de force will be... drum roll... Thursday 14th June. And that means I will have to change my work day that week all so I can see a man/woman/child of notable worthiness run past my door for probably not much more than 5 seconds of flame carrying.

And more than this, the Olympic torch run past follows hot on the heels of the Jim Clark Rally, and every year a lot of us (some might say idiots, but who am I to comment) stand out in the street, scratching our chins as we watch streaks of testosterone filled, highly coloured cars zip past our doors at high speed.

Two highly charged events in the space of two weeks, and right past my front door. Can't wait!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

It goes from bad to worse

Have you seen Tamara Ecclestone Billion $$ Girl? It was the most hilarious thing I've seen in a long time.

What with Strictly Come Dancing closely followed by X Factor last night, I was getting a bit bored. I know I shouldn't say this about SCD, but I'm not so enthralled with this season's offerings as in the past few years. And as for the other... well I watch with mounting horror that this comes under the title of finding people who can sing, as there seem to be only a couple of people that I saw who have got anything like star quality and can sing in tune. The majority don't seem to be able to do any better than I've seen down at Gordon Social Club Karaoke night.

And so it was that I turned to the internet to watch Tamara Ecclestone have a melt down over whether she should go to a pitch for her hair products at QVC or visit a Harley Street doctor because she had a spot on her chin... I kid you not! This is 'real' life for some.

The start was great. Let me set the scene for you:
There she is in all her glory, the camera is close-up on her face and she says, 'There are so many misconceptions about me and it does get a bit frustrating.... when people constantly assume the worst in you and that you're a pointless, spoilt and really quite stupid, vacuous human being.' The camera pans wide and we see her sitting having her hair extensions done and having a pedicure.  She then goes on to tell us that she's misjudged etc etc.

Now maybe I'm being cruel, but it was unbelievable that someone who wants the world to take her seriously thinks that this is the way to do it. I also admit here that I couldn't turn it off. I spent a good hour laughing, for all the wrong reasons I'm sure, but laugh I did.

I'm now fearing for my sanity as maybe my illness barometer has moved from Jeremy Kyle to Tamara Ecclestone and this is not, I repeat, not a good thing.

Thank god Downton Abbey is on tonight and I can maybe reclaim myself and get back on the path to good mental health!

Saturday, 5 November 2011

I'm ready... are you?

Today is No. 1 son's 27th birthday and in honour of this event Mountain Man and I took him out to dinner last night to Maison Bleue in Edinburgh. We had a lovely meal, which was enhanced when a couple on the next but one table got engaged. It was a very sweet moment and I've never been in a restaurant where that's happened before.

Then today, No. 1 son and I went shoe shopping. He had asked for clothes, but decided he needed shoes instead. I have to say he's very easy to shop with. One shop and we were done! I know some people who would demand a trip round every shoe shop in Edinburgh before going back to the first one and actually buying. Of course I'm naming no names, but if the cap fits...

We then went off to have a cuppa and buy bits and pieces for my upcoming trip.  Then it was a quick weed in the Edinburgh garden. I'd been spotted by the Garden Mafia who'd paid a trip to my garden last week and I got a phone call to say that grass had grown and I needed to do something about it. By the time I'd got the call, I'd already done most of the weeding, but there were still a few lurking at the back. It seemed best to get on and do it before they came back to check on my progress.

On my way home I did a quick (well as quick as I could manage) Costco trip. The place was humming. Along with all the other 'essentials' I also bought a snow shovel which was being sold at an extremely good price. And I wasn't alone in this purchase, it seemed like pretty much every trolley had one.

And the snow theme continued after I got home. I've been after a Snowrazor (called a Roofrazor in the US) ever since the great snowfall of this year. I spotted them on the internet and they looked like just what we needed, but they were not to be had in this country. I emailed the company in the States and it turned out they were setting up a deal with a guy in Aberdeen. To cut a long story short, my Snowrazor is on it's way this week.

I'm now hoping that with all my snow precautions we might get away with no snow. I know there are some people who love it, but I'm not one of them. But whatever, at least this year I feel prepared.

Friday, 4 November 2011

How to tell I'm not well

Since stopping the antibiotics for my ear infection on Wednesday, my ear, which was improving has now taken a turn for the worse.

I had a dreadful night's sleep last night and felt like I had a temperature as well as a throbbing ear. Luckily I've got people to see this afternoon and not this morning, as it is now 10.15 a.m. and I'm still in my pit.

So this is my test for being ill: I've got Jeremy Kyle on. Yup that's it. I'm not completely unwell as I have it on as background while working on my laptop, rather than sitting actually watching it.

But that's the test. Sad or what?

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Sense prevails

I have a niece who posted a picture of her and her husband on Facebook. The photo was taken some time ago, but the freaky thing was her man looked just like my brother minus about 20 years and without mutton chops (yes, I'm not fond, but apparently his current wife loves the look). I immediately composed a message, and a moment before pressing the button I paused. The niece's husband and my brother are not always the best of friends, but I've realised they are so alike. And that's not just in the looks department.

I asked Mountain Man what he thought and he said, 'Go on, post it', but something was telling me 'NO' in capitals twice the size of these.

I'm so pleased I paused and didn't pay attention to MM. Can you imagine getting a post on Facebook that says, 'Well hey you, you look just like the father-in-law you don't get on with'? Yes, I could imagine it too, and the result was not pleasant.

Suffice it to say, none of the individuals here has ever read this blog, or has any intention of reading it. Well thank **** for that... and thank goodness I don't always take what MM says as gospel! Phew!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Women on a mission

Jenny came to stay last night all the way from Inverness and led me into bad ways.

We started well with a fab dinner at David Bann, followed by sharing a bottle of Prosecco and a night of catch up chat. We had a reasonably early start this morning, which saw us at work by the back of 9, but we managed to finish that in pretty good time and then it was 'women on a mission' time.

And the mission was? To march to all our favourite haunts in Edinburgh to try on clothes and spend more money than we should.

By 2pm when we realised just how hungry we were, and went to A Room In The West End for lunch. This is the 2nd time I've been there and I have to say I was just as impressed this time as I was last time. Jenny was impressed too and we ahhed our way through Sea Bream, fried potatoes, curly kale and tartare sauce (me), and sea trout, asparagus, potatoes and tomato, carrot and coriander sauce (Jenny) complete with fresh vegetables perfectly cooked.

From there we got a bus back to the house, but not before I bought a pair of earrings by a woman called Joanna Cave (called Daphne B in the earring section if you're interested), which I absolutely love, and once back at the house we realised that we had about 20 minutes to get Jenny to Waverley to get the train back to Inverness.

I've totted up the bill for purchases today, and I have to admit... mission complete!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Minus 2 months and not that many days

It's the strangest thing, but the fact that I am almost of pensionable age has now hit me and I'm actually quite excited. I know a lot of people are worried about reaching 60, but for some reason I'm not. I think I'm looking forward to it. I say 'thinking' because I have a moment of doubt every now and then when it strikes me that for someone who never thought they'd reach 30 let alone double that, it has a bit of resonance.

Yesterday I went to the Post Office to get some Rand for my 'trip of a lifetime' to South Africa in a couple of weeks, and while I was there I decided to pick up the Government leaflets on free bus passes for over 60's. I picked up 2 because Mountain Man hasn't got his bus pass yet and he turned 60 nine months ago. I was surprised he hadn't done this as it's quite a perk. Free bus travel to anywhere in Scotland with the flick of a photocard... what's not to want?

And other perks potentially coming my way? A rail card, cheap cinema tickets, theatre concessions, and that, I feel, is the tip of the iceberg.

Of course the down side to all this is that I will get sent all the Over 60's things that the government and for some odd reason, clothing stores, seem to think I need. The fact that these two are inexorably linked has always worried me. When I turned 50 I suddenly got a Saga magazine through my door along with catalogues with the kind of clothes I wouldn't be seen dead in. How did they know my birthday? I can only make a guess, but it doesn't take a genius to know that somewhere someone down the line is selling all this info.

It'll be interesting to see what comes fluttering through my door to tell me that I'm now an OAP and should dress in a way that befits the age... yeh... that'll be right!

But before I get to *the birthday* I have No 1 son's birthday this weekend and then the dreaded C stuff after I get back from SA to contend with. Lots to keep me busy without thinking about what outrageous things I can do to show them all that over 60 doesn't mean flowery prints and lots of grey baggy things in large sizes - what is it that makes these catalogues assume that the moment you hit a certain age your body miraculously balloons to matronly proportions?

Surely I can come up with something....?

Sunday, 30 October 2011

And the clocks went back

I thought I'd got the clock change under control, but when I woke up this morning the clock on the Sagem digibox attached to the TV in the bedroom (no comments thank you!) said 6.30 and I thought that meant that it was actually 6.30. Sadly for Mountain Man it turned out to be 5.30 in 'new money'.

I wasn't the only one. Nell, our aged Alsatian, also thought it was time to be getting up and forced MM out of bed to get her breakfast biscuits. He was not amused either by her or me.

I decided on going back to sleep, which turned out to be not such a great idea. I woke up at almost 9, which meant almost 10 in yesterday time, with a headache and absolutely starving. By this time MM had gotten over the early start and very kindly made me a delicious fully cooked Sunday breakfast in bed. I felt truly spoilt.

Saturday, 29 October 2011


There are some things that truly make me giggle and this is one of them.

At the end of my professional emails I have a disclaimer. Actually I have two. One which is slightly lighter in format than the other. So one when I need to be strict and straight down the line and one where I can afford to be a bit softer. I spent quite a long time on the wording for both and quite honestly was pleased when I was happy with them and felt they said what I wanted them to say. Everyone in my profession, as far as I can tell, has one. They are 'dry' as hell, and I do wonder sometimes if anyone actually reads them, but we have them just in case someone receives an email they shouldn't. In other words it covers our arses.

Well here is one, genuine I'm assured, that one bright person puts on their personal emails and I have to say I'm tempted to nick it and put it on mine:

Disclaimer: This is an email. It's like regular mail but without an envelope.  If it isn't addressed to you then you probably shouldn't read it, but since you're reading this it probably doesn't matter now. I treat email like regular mail. It could be months before I get around to answering and, like regular mail, if I find yours boring or unimportant I'll probably throw it away and forget about it or I'll lose the address. As for legal implications, how the hell would I know? I'm not a lawyer.

The only thing that is stopping me is that I know I often whizz an email off without paying total attention as to which disclaimer I've put on, and I try hard not to put them on personal emails anyway. But there's always one or two that get through the system and I don't think I'm ready yet to be quite so 'out there'.

However, it certainly made me smile and I hope it does the same for you.

Friday, 28 October 2011

All at sea

A slight ear infection turned out to be a middle ear and an inner ear infection. The only problem is that one - that is the one in the middle - is painful and treated by antibiotics, while the other - the inner one - is treated differently. I decided that getting rid of the pain was a priority and I'd deal with the feeling of being on a boat later, in the hope that would clear up of its own accord. So antibiotics it was. My GP also decided on a 'massive dose' (at least that was her expression), as by this time my sinuses were also infected. Lovely!

48 hours later and I'm still in throb mode, but it does feel like it's slowly getting better. I managed work yesterday, but decided to cancel my last two clients as concentration was low and I was running out of steam. I hate cancelling people, but given that I didn't feel I could possibly give them more than 50% of my attention let alone the 100% which I feel my job demands, I allowed myself to feel guilty and went home to sleep for a while.

When I woke up I decided to make the effort and go to my Arts Club session, which was on Tony Cragg at The Gallery of Modern Art. We had the head of sculpture at Edinburgh College of Art leading the discussion, which was very interesting, but by the time we finished I had enough energy to go home, crawl into bed and sleep. However, if that show is down your way I highly recommend checking it out.

Then today I was at an all day meeting, having to chair the morning session. I seemed to be all at sea and found it quite difficult to keep focused, but I managed and have to hope it wasn't too awful for those that were there.

So now I'm relaxing at home, wishing the world wouldn't keep lurching from side to side every now and then and that I get to dry land quite soon as I'm getting a bit fed up.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Italy in a nutshell

Back home from Italy.

Apart from having packed totally the wrong clothes (for some reason I thought it would be warm, more fool me), and feeling the cold a lot of the time, the trip was a great success.

Milan - Casa Mia our hotel turned out to be a real find. On the edge of the Giardini Pubblici in the centre of Milan and within walking distance from everything we wanted to see, it was spotlessly clean with a very relaxed atmosphere. I can highly recommend it if you're heading that way.

N and I did all the touristy things, Duomo, Arts Centre, Castello Sforzesco and many more. We ate at a lovely restaurant the first night, a crap one the second, found out that many bars do what's called Happy Hour, which is 100% different from what we expected. When you buy a drink you get as much as you want to eat from salads, to freshly made sandwiches, to crisps, to pasta - in fact you name it as an hors d'oevres and it was probably on offer. The bar we went to, Bar Cin Cin was wonderful. Sadly we went there just before we had our worst meal (at Osteria del Trana - probably great if you like meat, but awful choices for veggies and pescatarians, and our food was not good at all) and I was very abstemious as we were going for dinner. Should have stayed in the bar and ate there. Live and learn!

We were so lucky with the weather as the one full day we were there it was sunny and bright, just right for walking around. On the day we were leaving it became very overcast and apparently had a thunderstorm not long after we left.

View from the top of Duomo

Extraordinary trees in Guardini Repubblica where the branches grow upward

A relaxed trip from Milan to Venice by train and arrived to wet weather. We had no problem finding our hotel, La Residenza, which was between Piazza San Marco and Arsenale in a beautiful, quiet Venetian square. Although lovely, it wasn't nearly as relaxed as our hotel in Milan, and the owner, known to us a Mr Breakfast for his bad mood and inability to serve more than one person at a time at breakfast - we're talking a basket of croissant and roll, a juice and tea or coffee. Not exactly taxing, but he made it an art form for all the wrong reasons!

La Residenza - our room was on the 2nd floor (2 windows from the balcony with the drape) to the left of the photo
Our first day it pissed down and us, along with what seemed like everyone else in Venice that day, decided on a visit to the Peggy Guggenheim collection. A very well worthwhile experience though.

That evening we were joined by the rest of our group (13 of us in all) and the next morning we awoke to incredibly sunny, blue skies. It was cold but joyous.

Then off to the Biennale. We spent the day at the Giardini. Interestingly the pieces I liked the most were the Tintoretto's and not much of the modern stuff at all. The next day we went off to see our Scottish representative, Karla Black. Ok but not really my cup of tea, then to TRA museum. If you get to Venice during the Biennale it is a must visit place. They only open it for the event and is unbelievable. I could have spent the whole day there. This was followed by an afternoon at San Giorgio Maggiore, where the Anish Kapoor offering was housed. I can't really explain it to do it justice, but trust me it was truly wonderful.

Anish Kapoor 'sculpture'
A few of us decided to go up the tower and take in the view, which was magnificent, marred only by the siting of 3 huge liners (each housing over 2,000 people) which had blasted into the city for the day, and were on their way out while we were up there. I can't tell you what it was like seeing these vast floating cities powering their way past Venice, but it reminded me a bit of War of the Worlds.

View from San Giorgio Maggiore tower

one of the 3 liners on it's way out of Venice

San Maggiore from Arsenale
Our last day was spent at Arsenale part of the Biennale and had some fascinating pieces. My 2 favourites were by French photographer Jean-Luc Mylayne, who has only taken approx 150 photos in 30 years. He apparently lives with the birds for years until they trust him implicitly and he then waits for the one photograph. They were truly extraordinary and I know the following photos don't do much for them, but maybe gives you an idea.

And finally, Christian Marclay's The Clock. A film of film clips on the concept of 24 hours, and is done in 'real time' so whatever time of day it is it's depicted in the film. It was mesmerising and in fact won the Golden Lion at this year's festival. I urge you to see both of these two artists and the Anish Kappoor if any of them come your way.

Our last day was hilarious. N and I left our key at the desk with Mr Breakfast when we went to buy rolls for the journey, and when we got back our key had disappeared. Mr B made us empty our pockets and our bags to prove we didn't have the key. It turned out that one of our guides had picked it up by mistake, but this was only found out at the last minute, when she fessed up to her crime. Anyway, we thought it was very amusing. Luckily we'd already paid before the hiatus, so we weren't bothered.

The only thing that marred the trip was coming home to 394 emails. God alone knows how many I'll come back to from South Africa where I head in just over 2 week's time, but I'm trying not to think about that. Oh yes, and I seem to have picked up a slight ear infection, but am off to the docs to get sorted so that I'm up and at'em in time for my next flight.

And I end on a question: can anyone tell me why the sky in Venice is the most unbelievable shade of blue? We have a fab day here in the Borders, but the sky is pale in comparison. Just asking....