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!