Monday, 30 December 2013

Dickens said it all

'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' and ain't that the truth.

I can't tell you how pleased I'll be to see the back of 2013.

It's funny when you think about it as it's just another day that passes as we go from one year into the next and yet it has such significance... at least for me. And then of course the year doesn't truly seem to start for me until my birthday, so I shall have a good few days to ponder on what 2014 could bring. I do so hope it'll be a better year than this last one.
Don't get me wrong, I know I'm a very lucky person and I've had some truly wonderful moments and memories this past year, but the reality is they've been underpinned by difficulties that started almost right at the beginning of 2013. And the fallout has affected pretty much everything this year.

Anyway, I don't like this blog to be downbeat and it's a bit indulgent of me to mention it now, I know, but what's New Year without a bit of indulgence?

There... I'm indulged out now. Done and dusted.

Normal blogging of the up-kind will resume sometime in January.

Meanwhile I'm looking forward to my New Year's Eve with our dear friends Shirley and Andy, which this year is at our house. I've already been and raided M&S's party section to help us on our way, though I think MM and I might well have to try some of them out before tomorrow night... just in case, you understand!

So here's me signing off for 2013 and wishing everyone everywhere a very happy New Year and a wonderful 2014.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Been and gone

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas. I certainly did as my boys came home. I wasn't the only one... Odi loved having them here too. It certainly gave her someone else to bounce off.

No. 1 Son gets a dog collar!
I managed to get collateral damage in the shape of scars. I have rather a fetching one from my forehead down to the bridge of my nose, another on my forearm and a punctured thumb. I think I might have got off lightly.

And now boys have gone home and we're left in the quiet for today while we recover. The weather has been foul and we've stayed indoors watching crap films all afternoon while Odi's managed to massacre all her Christmas presents. She had a urinary tract infection (her second one in the past month) and is back on antibiotics, but it doesn't seem to have dampened her enthusiasm for life nor her growth spurt. She's now 3 times the dog she was when she came and weighs in at 10.3 kg... that's a whopping 2kg gain in 2 weeks.

Actually when I come to think of it, with the amount of food I've eaten, I'll be lucky not to have had a 2 kg gain too by the end of the holidays!

Monday, 23 December 2013

The moment you've been waiting for

Yes... it's here! The coffee plant Christmas post!

As you can see the larger one is still in it's winter wrapping, while the smaller ones, which were on the window sill for the summer, are now sitting without wrapping and without being directly under the light. The larger one is hogging it all, but the smaller ones are doing ok where they are. I had contemplated forking out for another light but I don't think they need it at present.

There are a few more leaves on them all, but that's all there is to report... no flowers, no berries, no nothing and, imho, not a cup of coffee to be had this side of 2023!

So there you have it... worth waiting for?

Happy Christmas one and all!

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Thank you Teddy

There are lots of things that I can think of to do on the Saturday morning before Christmas and, after packing bags in Sainsbury's to raise funds for Border Search and Rescue Unit, shopping absolutely isn't one of them.

I couldn't believe the amount of money some people were spending. One person who, as far as the woman on the till and I were concerned, won the 'spending the most amount of money' prize for the morning, was a guy who spent £473. He kept apologetically saying, 'Well I have got 14 people coming for Christmas dinner,' but even he knew it was excessive. Not helped, I have to add, by his daughter (who was about 14) who had managed to put a few extra items into the trolley... you know the things, those essential items for Christmas dinner, like nail varnish and mascara.

By the time I'd finished my stint (9 - 1) I couldn't bear to do any shopping myself and just wanted out of the there.

We were very lucky because Lynne and her family, who live in Tweedbank and are puppywalking the gorgeous Teddy (aged 9 months), said they'd have Odi for the morning. She had such a fab time that when I went to get her she couldn't have cared less whether I was there or not. In fact I think I was greeted far more enthusiastically by Teddy.

Teddy shares his bed

Odi was exhausted when I got her home and crashed out for most of the afternoon. She woke up just in time for her supper and for our first round of snow of the year. It was quite funny really as her reaction was to rush around trying to eat it!

Odi's first snow experience

And this morning Odi was still quite subdued. So much so that when we braved it to Sainsbury's for a shop (the one that got postponed from yesterday) she behaved pretty damn perfectly and it's actually given me hope for the future.

Tomorrow... all being well... you'll get a coffee plant update. I know you've all been wanting one for ages... go on... admit it... you can hardly contain your excitement, can you?!

Friday, 6 December 2013


No, not just 'out there' but me... I've got one... and I'm not a happy bunny.

We were lucky to survive the storm yesterday with little else to show for it than the flower pots, so artfully placed outside our house, going for a small wander. I felt really sorry for all those who had real problems. Not far from here people were without electricity, trees smattered across the roads, closing them in all directions and yet, the roads around here were fine and I made the decision to go to Guide Dog puppy training in Penicuik (about an hour away) where there was a micro-climate all of its own and was sunny and hardly a snicker of wind.

I could feel my cold coming on while at training, but it was definitely worth going to as Odi and I learnt all kinds of new stuff. Odi behaved like an ADHD child and wouldn't settle to what she was supposed to be doing and decided biting me was far more worthwhile, but at least it exhausted her and she settled down for the afternoon no problem.

Meantime, in the afternoon, I was called to do bowls duty and be an extra for someone who couldn't make it to their league match. I played ok, which is more than can be said for the rest of my team and we lost by rather a large margin.

By the time I got home I had a sore throat and was beginning to feel awful, but the cold waited until the middle of the night to really get going. So with 3 hours sleep and now a nose that feels like someone has stuffed a whole roll of cotton wool up there, I'm having a gentle day of doing not much at all.

Hopefully I'll be back on track soon.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Getting bigger...

Those of you who are perceptive will have realised that tomorrow rarely exists for me. I said the other day I'd post more pics of Odi as she's grown so much recently, but then yesterday came and went, most of it in my car.

I had to go from Tweedbank to Edinburgh and made the decision to go up the A7. It just so happens that at the moment they are building a rail link between Edinburgh and Galashiels pretty much right along the A7, so just in case you are needing to travel on that road... don't! It took me so long my whole afternoon was put out and I didn't get home until well after 6 instead of at the back of 4. And the work is going on for the next 9 months to a year. You have been warned!

So here you go, a day late, a couple Odi pics for you to enjoy... one of these days I'll take them outside and you won't get the 'devil eyes'!

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Back on the world wide interweb!

After a frustrating, internet problem few weeks we're now up and running... it's great to be back!

It turns out that EE had taken over Orange and in the process almost cut us off. We were informed by EE that if we waited until next year it would all be brilliant... I'm sure you'll realise what our reply to that was!

The outcome is we decided to go with BT, who, although I know some people have had problems with, seems to work well in The Borders, but then it took 5 days - as in working days - to get it up and running and as we ordered it on a Friday, it took til this Friday for it to be working, but working it now is... what a relief.

What's struck me out of this is how much I rely on the web for all kinds of things and in some ways I've been pleased to have to focus on Odi.

So, apart from frantically trying to log on from time to time, what've I been doing?

Most of my time seems to have been taken up doing puppy training. Some of it has been really successful as Odi now sits and waits and can now lie down on command. We're currently working on 'stay', but that'll take a time I think. Every day we go and do something to challenge her a bit, which mostly seems to take the form of shopping. We've been to shops in Edinburgh, Kelso, Galashiels and Earlston. We've been on a bus (to Earlston 6 miles away and had to be picked up by Mountain Man as it was too much to ask an 11 week old pup to do the journey back) and spent many a happy time standing outside the house in the freezing cold to get over the sound of the large trucks rumbling by. She's still not housetrained, but we're trying and she's certainly trying us. On Wednesday this week we had the puppy training supervisor down for a visit, which lasted about an hour and a half. It was like being back in school and that's all I'm saying about it!

On a more pleasant note we've had puppy playdates with a seventeen week old Guide Dog puppy called Nancy who lives in Lauder and the gorgeous Poppy, who's going to be training as a SARDA (Search and Rescue) dog and we have another puppy coming over to play tomorrow afternoon.

Yes, life has taken on a distinctly puppy flavour!

Apart from that, I've been getting on with my Romance novel writing course, which is coming to an end this week. I've learned a lot, most of it being that I have a lot to learn; I've had workshop work to do, which has been a huge shock to my system; and had a son (No. 2) and a friend of mine to stay, both of which were fun.

I'll post some more Odi pics tomorrow to show you how much she's grown (she put on 2.2 kg in 3 weeks), but here's one to be going on with that my friend, Jenny took with 'Paper Camera app', which is great fun, but more than that actually makes me feel reasonably photogenic!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Time out plan B

Yesterday saw Odi and me heading for our very first Guide Dogs puppy training class. 18 manic dogs under 6 months old (quite a few of us first timers with 10 week old pups in tow) all trying to play with one another and the trainer trying to be heard over the din and get us into some kind of order!

Odi was by far the smallest, by far the loudest, the most attention seeking and the most aggressive in the trying to get the others to play with her. I also have to say she was the cutest... but I am a bit biased here, tho she was the only one sought out to have her photo taken.

Apart from all the behavioural issues and peeing on the floor twice, during the actual exercises she did extremely well. Her recall was particularly good.

It turns out the trainer yesterday happens to have Odi's brother Ozzie (though he wasn't well and couldn't attend yesterday) and her other brother Oliver was there too. She battered him a bit as sister's are inclined to do!

What was great was that I got some tips for time out and since then MM and I have employed our time out plan B (plan A being putting her in her cage - which, although it stopped the behaviour, I felt was a step we need to keep in hand for when she's particularly naughty), which is to remove Odi from the room the moment she starts barking and wanting attention and putting her into the utility room with the freestanding wooden trellis gate across the doorway so she can't get in. We only do this for a minute or two until she's calm and then let her back in. It's working a treat.

I wonder what tips I'll get from next week's class?

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Time out

Home from the peace and quiet of London.

Odi, apparently, didn't miss me at all but when I arrived back I got one of those greetings that start off being pleasurable... the excited wagging and licking (I'm talking puppy here not Mountain Man)... and then rapidly turn into being painful as ears, nose, neck, clothes and anything that tiny shark-like puppy teeth can get hold of, get bitten to death.

Eventually, after beginning to realise that Odi must think her real name is Odi NO (complete with expletives and exclamation marks), I decided on a time out. No naughty step for her, but into her cage. I wish I'd employed this tactic earlier as it worked a treat.

Obviously my years in Child Psychology are paying off!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

In shock

Not me... but Mountain Man.

Back from 10 days of working on The One Show Children In Need Rickshaw Ride, he arrived home last night to be confronted with the reality of being a Puppy Walker. And it wasn't long before that reality hit home.

He might well have been in a bit of a bubble at work, driving wonderful young people who've overcome incredible difficulties to manage a 24 hour 700 mile challenge, to being in a completely different bubble of 'puppy world', a 24 hour Odi challenge, where time is totally taken over by playing, watching puppy sleep, feeding or taking her out to get rid of whatever has gone in. And that friends is quite a challenge!

I'm off to London tomorrow for a meeting and then back on Tuesday, so MM will be on his own and his rude awakening to what will be our next year will be all his until my return.

Good luck MM... I think you're going to need it!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

A proud ma

Odi has now got a routine (of sorts) and it's making my life so much easier. I'm still tired as I'm having to get up in the night, but it's good to know when I can do things and when my attention is demanded.

We get up at anything from 6 - 7 (this is usually instigated by me, I have to add, as I usually wake and need to get myself something hot to drink) and rush outside so there's no accidents on the floor. After my drink we play for a little and then Odi takes herself back to her bed, where I shut her in and go get myself showered and dressed.

Then it's time for breakfast... mine first and then hers at 8. What's quite lovely is that Odi then takes herself back to bed and settles down for an hour or so, which gives me time to do whatever I need to do.

Getting ready for a post breakfast snooze
When she wakes we go outside so she can relieve herself and off we go for a walk. And after that? Well she falls asleep again for most of the morning.

Afternoons are usually spent doing some 'work' as in Odi's work of going to shops and being well behaved, which she mostly is.

My highlight today was going to get my paper and having someone in the shop say, 'What an incredibly well trained puppy you have there.' Proud? Moi? I should say so!

Friday, 15 November 2013

Not the best

Seriously cute!
My internet's been off since I last posted. It's been most frustrating, but at least I've had Odi to keep me occupied.

It's been hugely frustrating as I've been receiving emails but couldn't send anything, couldn't log onto internet sites and it made me aware just how I've come to rely on internet access 24/7. I couldn't even pay my credit card and had to do what I needed to do on my iPhone when I was at the supermarket.

It's all very well being home alone for 10 days with a new puppy, and actually I've welcomed that it's allowed us to bond and develop a pattern to our lives, but the responsibility of being a Guide Dog walker is an added dimension I'd not thought about before getting Odi and this, combined with no internet, has led to me feeling a bit isolated.

Meanwhile, I've done precisely no work at all and when I look back and think about what I have done this week, I have to say that my answer would be 'very little'.

I've been to the supermarket 3 times. The first was ok, the second I tripped and fell on my way out so have a wonderful, painful bruise on my right thigh/hip, and the third Odi managed to poo on her way out, which was pretty embarrassing even though I was armed with bags and cleaner. We've been and had a couple of puppy play dates with the enormous Teddy, who resides in Tweedbank. At 7 months old he's bigger than most adult dogs, but he doesn't know it and thinks he's tiny, so when he jumps on Odi from a height and lands with his full weight on her, it's a little scary. Also doesn't help when his owner says, 'Oh all that stuff's on the internet' which has served to add to my frustration. We've had my friend Shirley come for a visit, been to Edinburgh to meet No. 1 and No. 2 Sons, and Odi and I have done walking and a bit of training and that's about it. 

The good news is that Odi now knows her name well and responds most of the time. She sits on command and I think that's about as far as we've got. Oh yes, and the good, quiet little puppy has changed into a complete demon now she's better!

And finally, I was supposed to receive my State Pension last week, but have had nothing from the Pensions people and because I couldn't log on to the internet I couldn't do it all online. When I phoned apparently I didn't give the right answers to name, rank and serial number so they couldn't process it over the phone... wtf?! - don't ask me, I thought I new my name etc, but apparently not! When I mentioned that I should perhaps have had a letter from them telling me what to do, the reply I got was, 'We get it right 99% of the time and you are just one of those people who falls in the 1%'. Very reassuring... not! I'm hoping to get a letter soon but I'm not holding my breath.

All in all not the best of weeks.

Odi at her best!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Supermarket day

Yesterday was supermarket day. You may wonder why this is so significant, but if all you did in one day was go to the supermarket you'd understand.

After 'chickengate' I made the decision that no matter how Odi was, we would have to go. I chose Sainsbury's in Kelso because it's big enough to have chicken, isn't huge and is only 9 miles away.

And so with trepidation and armed with: poop bags, kitchen towel, badges to say she was a Guide Dog and I was a Puppy Walker, lead, shopping bags and my list of things I needed in my head, we made our journey.

Odi was great. When we got there she got out of the car and had a pee. I had to carry her around as she's not lead trained yet and negotiating a trolley and a puppy on a lead would've been too much. Sainsbury's staff were unbelievably welcoming and everyone we met was entranced with her. She seemed a little overawed by the whole experience and came over all quiet. She didn't seem particularly scared, but just sat in my arms watching it all. As we left she had another pee.

It took us far longer to do the shop with all the patting and chatting, my arms feeling the stress of carrying a 4.4 kg puppy for what felt like hours, but worst of all I shouldn't have trusted that usually trusty shopping list in my head. We came away with half of what we needed. Still I suppose having done the supermarket once, I'll know what to expect when I do it next.

Meanwhile, I'm getting a whole lot better with the pee timing and she didn't pee once inside yesterday, which is a major step forward for me. Her insides seem to be returning to normal, but time will tell on that one.

The (only) problem I am having is that I realise how ill she's been since she arrived, because a completely different puppy emerged this morning after a dreadful night of my having to get up every 2 hours. This morning I got the manic Odi, the one that races around right after her meal, which is something she shouldn't do as it can affect a dog's stomach in a very negative way if they jump around after eating, but what can I do? I sat quietly while she raced around with her toys, jumping in the air and rolling over and over. Then she wouldn't settle at all. She barked and growled and a whole lot more.

I've decided that I'll discount the last couple of days as sick days and today will be counted as day 1 and that way I'll have no expectations at all. This, I feel, is the only way I'll manage as I was rather getting to like the quiet puppy that did 10 minutes of play and then crashed, this version is far harder work especially after very little sleep, but cute button eyes and a very waggy tail can still work wonders!

Friday, 8 November 2013

The problems of being a veggie

I was going to give you a coffee plant update today, but that will have to wait and instead you will get an account of Odi's first proper whole day with me.

The day was actually not too bad. We had plenty of pees in the 'wrong' place (the utility room floor/kitchen floor) and a few in the 'right' place (the space designated by us in the garden, which Mountain Man spent some time cordoning off with a wooden surround last week). She also pooed in the 'right' place the whole day, which was encouraging... or rather down to my timing it better. It's not so easy with a small puppy to be ahead of the game and take her to the 'right' place in time. It was more a matter of luck yesterday than judgment on my part. Also, her poos stopped being runny, which, I felt, was a major step forward.

I decided to keep a daily diary to see if there was a pattern so I could be a bit more proactive on the taking her out front. I didn't so much get a pattern of the going out, but did get that she loves to sleep a lot, so much so that I actually felt I might get something else done apart from watching her over the next few days.

We had a little trip to the village shop, where Odi was much admired and then we got in the car and went off to the next village to get a prescription of mine that needed picking up and to see if we could get some chicken or fish for Odi, neither of which I stock in my freezer (being vegetarian has it's downfalls!) just in case her tummy went off again, but we were out of luck. Still it was a nice little trip out and I discovered it's rather good being able to take a dog into a shop rather than leaving her in the car.

So there we were at 6 pm, doing rather well I thought, when I took her out and she had another episode of diarrhoea and then came in and was promptly sick. She didn't look herself at all. This is where, I have to say, the Guide Dog people are very good. There's a 24 hour helpline and any problems it's easy to phone, which I did. The advice I got was, as I didn't have fish or chicken, to feed her scrambled egg and then leave her til the morning and if she was sick again then to take her to the vet. Scrambled egg was duly cooked, but my greedy guts puppy didn't want to know. She also didn't want to drink. One minute she was ok and the next she just flopped down on her bed totally listless. Talk about going downhill fast.

We were at the vets by 7.30 and poor Odi having the ignominy of having her temperature taken. She was dehydrated and not herself, but luckily hadn't been sick again, so the vet decided she could come home with me and I could do the rehydrating by sticking a syringe (minus needle) in her mouth to give her the required dose of medication and also he gave me some special food for her. He showed me how to do the syringe bit and, joy of joys, Odi responded well. So much so the vet was surprised that she was looking for more... there's something about having a greedy dog that is quite good I've discovered!

Home we went with the instructions to give her a small feed and to make it palatable to mix it with warm water so it was nice for her - I needn't have bothered with this last as she was in that plate like no tomorrow - and give her some more medication and let her settle, which I did.

By this time it was 9 pm and I realised I hadn't had anything to eat since a slice of toast around 4 so, as Odi was settled, I cooked myself my dinner. And that's when I became aware just how tired I was. I sat down to watch a bit of TV, but could only just keep my eyes open, so just before 10 I took Odi out to perform and put her in her bed and went off to bed myself.

She settled pretty quickly, I'm pleased to say and woke up at 1.30. I took her out for a pee then put her back in her bed. It took a little longer for her to settle (and even longer for me - I didn't get back to sleep until around 2.30), but she slept until 5.30 this morning. I took her out again, gave her some medication and put her back in her bed and she promptly fell back asleep. And here I am, at just past 7 in the morning, with a sleeping puppy and me wide awake.

After last night's emergency drama I hope she'll be her bright self today and then, joy of joys, we can go supermarket shopping to get some chicken in. I'm not going to be caught out again as I could almost hear the smirking down the other end of the phone when talking to the Guide Dog vet and him saying, 'Feed her some chicken,' and me answering, 'Sorry, I don't have any. I'm a vegetarian'... no sirree I don't want to go there again!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

She's worth it

Yesterday at just after 11 a.m. Odi (short for Odina) entered my life.

My day started at 5.45 when I had to get up to take Mountain Man to Berwick-upon-Tweed station to get a train south for the start of The One Show's Children In Need fundraising event. The event is a rickshaw challenge where riders will pedal round the clock for 700 miles supported by loads and loads of 'backroom boys' one of whom is MM.

Then it was back home for the long wait. She was supposed to arrive at 10, but the Puppy Supervisor is always late so I wasn't expecting her then which was just as well.

Odina is 8 weeks old today. She's a golden retriever/labrador cross (her dad being the retriever and mum being the lab) and is absolutely gorgeous. She's also very naughty. She only showed this side of herself once the Puppy Supervisor had left (after a mammoth almost 3 hour stint of paperwork and instructions) and until then was as good as gold. I did feel sorry for her as she had diarrhoea the moment she got here, which she hadn't had before and I was advised to take her to the vet asap as during the PS visit she had same twice.

Odi decided, the moment the PS left, to show me her other side. She ran around manically trying to bite everything in sight, jumping up and trying to grab my watch, my glasses (when I was sitting down of course!), my jumper, my trousers, the kitchen table, benches in fact anything that was just out of her reach seemed fair game to her. Then, just as quickly as she'd turned into devil dog she flopped down and went to sleep.

Last night was a bit of a trial as I put her in her cage and she wailed and wailed (the baby alarm works - oh dear!). I went down to let her out, but no, she didn't need anything, so I put her back and she wailed some more. I went down again to find she'd had a dose of diarrhoea all over her cage (she had a pad to soak it up, but it had got over her bedding) and just to make things even better, the teddy that we'd bought her to settle her got dragged into it too. At just coming up to midnight I wasn't amused, but shoved everything (minus the teddy who got a handwash) into the washing machine (thank goodness for 15 minute washes) and because I had no other option I put her in her travel box and (the PS had said I could do this if necessary) took her upstairs with me. She squeaked for a moment, but in a moment of enlightenment I told her to settle down (in quite a strict voice) and blow me, but she did! I left her for about 10 minutes and then took her in the travel box back downstairs and left her in the utility room, where she slept for 2.5 hours.

When she woke (the baby alarm works - yeah!) I went down and took her out and she was very good as she actually wee'd in the designated place (this is a Guide Dog requirement, but this was only the first time she'd managed it since her arrival), so I put her back in her box and she wailed again. I went out. She still wailed. I sat on the stairs and told her to settle in my quite strict voice... and she did! She went back to sleep until 6.30 a.m. Sadly, I didn't.

I am exhausted today, but she seems reasonably settled. She's now got her collar on and her id tag without any fuss. She's eating voraciously (but it has to be very little and often because of her yesterday's tummy problem (which I'm pleased to report is settling), which I don't think suits her at all. She's a proper greedy guts and will do anything for food and her idea of little and often I suspect is a lot different to that of the PS and the vet!

Meanwhile I've spent my morning filling out paperwork to be sent off today - yes, we're going to be brave and head out to the local post box in a while - and, apart from a shower, getting dressed and getting something to eat, I've done pretty much absolutely nothing else but clean up puppy pee!

Still, I think she's worth it, or maybe that's just 'famous last words'!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Today's the day!

Not puppy day... though it might be and I'll find out later... no today is No. 1 Son's birthday!

He was born a whole 29 years ago today at 01.10 am.

Now that really is something to celebrate!

Monday, 4 November 2013

Will she/won't she?

Arrive that is.

I've had a phone call this morning from the Guide Dogs For The Blind Puppy Supervisor (now there's a job title to conjure with and I'll bet that starts cocktail party chat no problem), who told me that we won't know until her rendezvous with the Guide Dog Puppy Wagon that appears at The Forth Road Bridge at approx 3pm tomorrow afternoon. Still, she did say no news is good news, though given my nerves right now and the last 2 fairly sleepless nights, I'm not so sure what 'good news' actually means!

Because of the long journey, if the puppy makes it at all, then she will have to stay overnight in Edinburgh and be brought down to The Borders on Wednesday... and depending on whether the Puppy Supervisor can cancel another arrangement, this might not be until Wednesday afternoon.

And to add to my stress levels, all this now coincides with Mountain Man going off for ten days of Mountain Man duties on a BBC Children In Need event. He was supposed to go for a week and be here for puppy arrival, but things got changed. Needless to say my sense of humour has been severely challenged, but things are as they are and I'll say nothing more about it... for now!

One piece of good news is that our puppy (if it is this one) comes with a name beginning with 'O'. I have been alerted that it may be something like Odine or Odina, neither of which is a name I'd have chosen, but then it's not my puppy and it could've been a whole lot worse.

Of course this might not actually be the puppy's name and the puppy might actually not be coming on Wednesday at all... I sense my 'go with the flow' skills are going to have to be on high alert!!

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Alarmed and ready!

Our Guide Dog puppy is due to be with us next week! In preparation for this momentous event we've been given a puppy cage, a manual and instructions as to what we need to get. So, we've been puppy shopping.

So far we've bought a dog bowl, a truly hideous, but lovely soft, blanket and a cuddly teddy from the Charity Shop, some toys, a dog bed for it to lie on in the living room, and a baby alarm as the utility room is completely the other side of the house and a set of stairs away from our bedroom. Though we're aware this last might not prove such a good idea!

Now we wait for the 'main event' which is supposed to take place next Thursday. As far as we know it'll be a female, golden, Labrador/Retriever cross. But that's all the info we have. It still might not happen though as the puppy has to go through it's final checks to make sure it's suitable Guide Dog material and this we won't find out til the last moment.

The other thing we're waiting to find out what the puppy is called. We've been given the update that the name will begin with either an O or a Q. We've been racking our brains to think of suitable female names that might begin with a Q and we're keeping everything crossed that it's not Queenie... that could be an embarrassing name to call out in the depths of the Scottish Borders!

Pics will be posted as soon as poss, so watch this space.

Monday, 28 October 2013

A day out

After a weekend where Mountain Man had been off doing his Cascare exam out in the Cairngorms (he passed - yeah!) and working on the Jedburgh Ultra Marathon on Sunday while I had the pleasure of going to see Andy and Shirley in their lovely new home in Tullibody, we decided on having a day out just the two of us.

We had, ages ago, bought some Groupon vouchers. One was for a mini indoor golf experience at Paradise Island in Livingston and the other was for an Indian meal at Gucchi in Edinburgh and today was the day we decided to use them both.

The golf experience was fun, but not to be repeated. Frankly it was a bit of green carpet with a few bends in the floor, a few obstacles and not much more. So much so that 18 holes took us just over half an hour - and we would have been quicker if there hadn't been someone ahead of us who took a while on the last hole. However the fact I won and we had a real laugh made it all just fine.

From there we headed for a bit of a shopping experience. I only wanted a nail file, but the scariness of the shopping centres in Livingston is... well... a bit scary, so much so that both of us were relieved to get out. After this a quick trip to Costco to spend quite a lot of money saving a bit of money (yes, even I know this is madness, but it always seems like a good idea at the time and we did buy an Xmas pressie for MM's grandson, which, in spite of my hate of doing anything to do with Xmas before December, did seem pretty perfect for a 4 year old) and then followed this up with a visit to the VW garage in Edinburgh to try out a Sirocco - and no, I'm not going to buy one, but more about this in another blog no doubt.

We arrived at Gucchi at 5.45 pm and even though they don't open until 6, they opened up just for us. We had a lovely meal (as always) and, after a personal invitation, we've decided to go back on Sunday for their Diwali celebrations, which sound like fun.

Tomorrow is back to work, so it was lovely to have a day out. It would be lovely to think we could do this more often, but this is just as we're about to take on our puppy for Guide Dogs For The Blind, so days out might not be quite so simple in the future. Still with just over one week to go (as far as we know) we'll just have to make the very best of the short time of freedom we have left!

Friday, 25 October 2013

The holiday trilogy (part 3)

Day 19
I went to see my friend Nok again, who gave me some Tiger Balm to put on my mozzie bite, which wasn't going down at all, and then had a quick lunch before going to my Thai cookery class at The Blue Elephant. The reason I chose this place for my class was because it was literally 5 minutes from Michael's and even though it wasn't my first choice, because it looked more 'dinner party' than any of the others, I thought I couldn't really ignore the fact that it was ultra easy to get to and from.

I took this pic in the street. Thought my friend Denise might like it!

There were 14 of us in all, 2 of whom were British Airways crew and whose first comment to me was 'So you live in Bangkok then?' I was thrilled! Fancy being taken for someone who lives in BKK? I must've become a local somewhere along the way!

We started off in the classroom being shown by our teacher how to make the dishes and then we'd hurry next door to the kitchen and get making. It was all a bit rushed, but we were taught baked fish in Thai herbs, spicy glass noodle salad, red curry, yellow curry - the curries I can now make from absolute scratch. We got given an apron and a red curry kit to take home. We also had a draw for a teapot, which I'm pleased to say I didn't win as I don't think I'd have been able to fit it in my bag. Funny when it's better not to win!

In the classroom

Our teacher

We all enjoyed the class immensely, learned a lot and the food we came out with was absolutely delicious. Oh yes, and we were on TV. A Malaysian TV channel was doing a programme on The Blue Elephant and so we all had to put our serious faces on. My third TV appearance!

After getting back to Michael's I began to wonder about the mozzie bite. It had started to spread down my arm in thin red streaks and didn't feel like a mozzie bite itch, but was quite painful. Michael pronounced he thought it was a spider bite (yikes!) and if it wasn't better by the next day he'd take me to the docs. I took an antihistamine and slathered myself again in Anthisan and added Tiger Balm for good measure.

We went out to a Mexican restaurant for dinner and I'm thrilled to report that Wednesday night was Ladies Night and that entailed completely free margaritas for all women all night. I had 3, which in hindsight was one too many, but it was fun. Michael wasn't amused that he had to pay for his.

Day 20
Luckily the bite started to go down. I was mightily relieved I can tell you and decided my own home made remedy of Anthisan and Tiger Balm was a good one so more slathering was performed before I went to meet Michael for  a lovely dim sum lunch. After lunch we went to Toys 'R Us as he wanted to buy a present for a 4 year old son of a friend. I put all my boy toy buying skills into action and he ended up buying a Lego dump truck complete with dustbin and toolkit... oh yes.

Then we went back to his place to get changed as Michael wanted to take me to the top of the Hilton Hotel to have cocktails while watching the sun go down. We arrived at 4.30 and left at 8. I'm happy to say I only had 2 cocktails (martinis) in all that time.

My martini. Now I realise how big it was I can see why 2 took so long to drink!

The view was spectacular and it was lovely to sit with great company and watch the sun go down and the lights come on.

The view downtown

The sun on it's way

Getting darker

Lights full on. On the left is the Skybar where I was a few nights before

After this we went to an Italian round the corner from Michael's for a delicious dinner and more chat. We ended our day by Michael sitting on my bed cross legged in his shorts talking about clothes and what we were going to do on my last day when I was going to join him and his gay friends for a day out sightseeing. It was hilarious, but maybe you had to be there to see how funny it was!

Day 21
My day started really well as Michael's housekeeper arrived and gave me a kiss and hug goodbye as she doesn't work on weekends and I was heading out for the day. So sweet and kind. Then I was off shopping for a present for my mum and some bits for boys and MM. Then I had my final foot massage before Michael and I went off to The Thai Cultural Centre to watch the Karlsruhe Ballet Company from Germany do a medley of dances. It was another night of royalty, only this time it was the crowd's favourite, Princess Sirindhorn (who's apparently known throughout Bangkok as 'the fat one') and she, remarkably, was neither late nor demanding. Because of her being there and us sitting in the seats Michael always buys I was on TV for a 4th time! We got a cab back and it was one of those completely mad Bangkok taxi drivers who paid no attention to lanes, other cars or anything else on the road. Think cartoon madcap drive and you'll have it to a T. I kept my eyes firmly shut!

Day 22 - my last day and where I became an honorary gay guy for the day
We had to get up early as we were having Mike, Norman and Eck coming over to pick us up and take us out for the day. Norman and Eck run a tourist guide company and wanted to repay Michael for his kindness to them and Mike is Michael's best friend in Bangkok. I think Geng (Michael's boyfriend) was a bit miffed that he wasn't coming, but there wasn't room in the car so he had to stay behind. Anyway, Norman and Eck wanted to take us to places Michael hadn't been to - as he's been living in Bangkok for 16 years I was surprised there was anywhere.

As we were getting ready Michael came into my room and asked me if I could help him stick the pads for the TENS machine I'd lent him on his bum. Before I could say anything he'd dropped his shorts (he doesn't wear underwear) and I almost didn't know where to look! Still I performed my duties pretty well, or at least I thought so. It turned out later Michael had to go and be 'adjusted' by Eck in the toilets at one of the tourist attractions. I'm saying nought!

We started off at the Erawan Museum, which is a museum inside a 3-headed elephant. Yes.. really!

Arriving at Erawan Museum


The inside is fascinating, but before I was allowed in I had to put some trousers on over my shorts as there's a Buddha inside. So I borrowed some from the museum (not my best look!) and off we went. It was amazing. The inside has walls decorated totally in old china dishes and spoons.

Can you see the spoons?

There's three floors, which culminate in an incredible ceiling and the top floor is 'heaven'.

The ceiling

Me in heaven in my borrowed trews

After Erawan we drove out to Muang Boran or Ancient City. Now this is a place I urge you to visit if you're going to Bangkok. It sounds like it's going to be hideous, but it's truly a-may-zing.

Muang Boran is a huge site which recreates all the important Thai cultural buildings all recreated to a third of their original size complete with paintings and everything. It's a theme park of sorts, but it shows the architecture across Thailand. It also used to be the shape of Thailand, but has recently been extended. By the end of the day I felt I'd visited the whole of Thailand rather than just Bangkok and Hua Hin!

As we arrived we were greeted by a monitor lizard in the middle of the road. It was huge.

Met and greeted

The site is vast and we rented a golf cart for the experience. I took so many photos and it's hard to choose ones to show you, so feel relieved that you've got about 1% of what I could have given you!

The Scripture Repository, surrounded by water and huge lily leaves. The water is to stop termites from eating the building

Pavilion of the Enlightened

Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

Sumeru Mountain - being redone, but fascinating to see the stranded animals in the mud

The other part of Sumeru Mountain with the giant fish surrounding the building


Mike, Eck and Michael at the top of Prasat Phra Wihan. This was a bit sneaky of me as none of them like having their photo taken!

The view from the top of Prasat Phra Wihan, which is on the Thai/Cambodian border and is currently being disputed. You can see the whole of the site of Muang Boran from the top.

The Grand Palace

We stopped to have lunch at the miniature Floating Market... yum!

The Floating Market

After several hours we were all exhausted and opted to go back to Michael's for a cool down and then I had to pack ready to leave.

Michael had ordered me a massage as my last Thai experience and it was a great way to end my holiday. A taxi came to get me at 9.45 pm and, after another madcap ride that took a mere 30 minutes instead of 45, got me to the airport where I had an easy way through security to sit around and wait for my flight at 01.10 am.

I arrived back in the UK at 07.15 am severely lacking sleep and with a broken suitcase. I was so tired and jet lagged I didn't even think to report it at Heathrow, but went straight off to my mother's in London. I did, however, take a photo of the broken lock.

Thank goodness for having a camera!

When I got to my mother's I looked at the paperwork for my case and realised it was still in warranty (I bought it 7 years ago and it was guaranteed for 10 years) and I'd bought it from Selfridges, so armed with the paperwork I hiked off to Selfridges feeling less than human with my broken suitcase in tow. They sadly told me as it was airline damage and not faulty goods they couldn't do anything for me but sympathise. At this point I made the decision to buy a new one and junk the old one. My old one was heavy and I wanted something slightly bigger and lighter.

And so it was that I swapped my old Samsonite for an expensive superlight Samsonite that was considerably larger and considerably lighter and left my old one for Selfridges to dispose of.

I have to say Thai Airlines have been wonderful and on the strength of my say so and my photo have already paid me the money for my old suitcase. I only hope that if the new one breaks I'll be flying Thai as I'm sure other airlines aren't quite so generous.

I then treated myself to a dinner at Scott's which was hilarious. I have to say if you ever want an overpriced meal with a whole bunch of very miserable rich people do take yourself there!

After a night's sleep it was time for me to pack my huge new case and get myself to King's Cross. I was given a lift and the friend who lifted my suitcase into his car said, 'Jeeesus, this is a beast!' and thus my new suitcase was christened!

Meet my new travelling companion - The Beast!

I made my train no problem and with The Beast stowed I sat down to enjoy my journey back in my cheap first class seat to Scotland - just in case you don't know, if you book really early with East Coast Rail you can get a first class ticket for less than £18, which is pretty good value if you eat everything in site and have wine! This was not without drama - one of the stewards pouring drinks was just pouring my wine when she looked like she was having a panic attack. I did my best 'I know about anxiety' voice and got her to sit down. Her supervisor came while I got her to stop hyperventilating and calm down. We both insisted she took a bit of time out. She recovered fairly quickly and came back to thank me, as did her supervisor. I felt this was rather a good way to come back to reality after a stupendous holiday!

So there you have it... the end of the story of how I ate my way around Bangkok, became an honorary gay guy for the day, chillaxed in Hua Hin and ended up seeing far more of Thailand than I'd initially thought. What a great holiday.

And as they say, 'that's all folks'... normality, in my form at least, will resume soon!

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Back on holiday

So there I was in Hua Hin about to leave. I'd made the decision to take the bus back to Bangkok, mainly because I really like buses. I think I shocked the management with this as most guests take a taxi or a plane or a helicopter, but they'd already given up on me with the 'one suitcase' I think and deemed me a lost cause!

Totally chillaxed by being at Chiva-Som and ready to take on the world, so much so that even a last minute mozzie bite didn't phase me, the hotel organised for me to take a taxi to the bus station - even I don't love buses that much that I want to drag my suitcase on a local Thai bus - I arrived ready for my bus only to find I'd been taken to the wrong bus station - so the management at Chiva-Som got one back on me! However, being chillaxed certainly has its advantages and I made the decision that a trip to Bangkok's airport and then getting in to Michael's from there would be an ok adventure and at least another time I'd know the bus routine.

The bus was great. Airline-type seats, air con and an onboard toilet certainly made the over 3 hour trip to Suvarnabhumi Airport no problem at all. And when I got there I knew exactly where I was and how to get myself into Bangkok. Because of the time (as in not rush hour) I decided on a taxi from the airport. It cost a mere 300 Baht (just under £6) and would have been not much cheaper to get on the Skytrain and then a taxi from the stop point to Michael's and was certainly a whole lot more convenient.

Michael had told me he was going to be away for the weekend and so when I got to his I made myself at home and then made it to the Sirocco Skybar with no problems this time. Had a martini and took some pics and then headed off to get something to eat. I felt I was a dab hand by this time at getting to where I wanted to be, but was a touch mistaken as the taxi I got into took me to the wrong end of the road I'd asked for, but at least I managed to walk in the right direction this time!

View from the Skybar
After dinner at Silom Village Trade Centre (not the best in Bangkok, but ok) I walked back to Michael's only to find a very surprised Michael to be there - actually I was just as surprised as he was! He hadn't been feeling too great and so hadn't gone away for the weekend, it's just he'd been out when I got back from Hua Hin.

Day 16
The next day I'd made a plan to visit Jatujak Market, which covers a whole 35 acres and absolutely filled to the brim with stalls. And I'm pleased to relate that I made it there with no problems at all.

It was a helluva'n experience. I actually went to see if I could buy my mother a present of a Thai book rest, which is something I'd spotted ages ago that I could buy from the States at an overinflated price with an even more overinflated price for postage. Michael had already warned me that he doubted I'd find such a thing in Bangkok as most Thai's don't read. Could I find it out of over 15,000 stalls? The short answer is no. I did spend an hour and a half looking though, but after that I'd almost lost the will to live.

I did buy a rather nice Kipling bag for myself... well ok it wasn't a real one (it cost about £8 whereas the real thing cost ten times that if they even made them in the style I bought), but is great. I also overheard someone asking if the pearls were real (they cost 250 Baht (less than a fiver) whereupon her husband told her to look at the price. And this, friends, is the story of JJ market. If you want something cheap it's great and if you want to spend a lot of your life looking for it, it's also great. An experience? Yes. One to be repeated? I hope not!

'I saw a man today with a mango on his head' Oh yes, I really did!
One great thing though is that I saw a man with a mango on his head, which I thought was the perfect opening line to a poem possibly ever! So, one bag and one poetry line later I left JJ market and took myself off for a lovely Japanese lunch and then a quick supermarket shop (to buy my daily obsession of pomelo, some black sesame powder and my other daily obsession of ginger tea) before heading off for a foot massage.

Michael and I went out for a Vietnamese dinner and took almost 3 hours as we were deep in conversation. What a lovely way to spend an evening.

Day 17
I went to Jim Thompson's house, which was a delight. Jim Thompson's is a fascinating story of money and intrigue. His body has never been found and no-one knows what really happened to him, which considering he was one of the most famous Americans to live in Asia is quite remarkable. There were lots of lovely fish in the garden. Most of them seemed to be living alone in large pots, which I found rather sad.

Poor old lonely fish
I also went to visit a friend I'd made in Hua Hin, which was fun. I had become such a local that I even managed to haggle well for the motorcycle taxi to take me to her place. After visiting with Nok I took myself for a foot massage local to her's - by this time if I didn't have my daily foot massage it was like something was dreadfully missing!

In the evening Michael had invited me to go to the Foreign Correspondents' Club (he's a member) to see 'The Act Of Killing'. It is hard to describe this film, but if it does come your way do go and see it. It was very long and very uncomfortable viewing, but compelling. It also mirrored what I'd been reading in 'The King Who Never Smiles' (the book Michael had lent me). I'm not surprised the Thai Government have banned the book.

Day 18
In the morning I discovered I'd been bitten again and after slathering myself in Anthisan I took a boat ride up and down the Chao Phraya river. It was lovely. Took loads of pics, but I won't bore you with them. There were a couple of very sad sights. The rains had caused flooding and watching people having to clear up wasn't pleasant viewing. Also some fish that had been stranded in the flooding were being fed white bread and coloured popcorn by the locals. I know this was done out of kindness, but made me want to cry. It also has spurred another poem called 'Victims of the flood', which I'm working on.

Victims of the flood

One of the many junks out on the river
After my boat trip I went for a full Thai body massage, which sorted out my back no problem! And finished the day out for dinner with Michael and his boyfriend for fab charcoal-grilled fish and green papaya salad.

Come back tomorrow and (hopefully) you'll get the last part of my Thai holiday. Seeya then!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Nothing to do with me?

I am so pleased I made the effort to go to the Bloomsbury Festival launch of 'In Protest: 150 Poems For Human Rights', it was fantastic!

I started off by going to the Poetry Slam, which was on before the launch. 6 poets were performing their human rights poetry and they were a-may-zing. I've never been to anything like that before. The way they performed their poems was... well the only word I can think of to describe it is 'performance', which I know is a bit weak of me, but it really was. Imagine 6 poets all trying to outperform each other as well as choose their strongest poems and the 4 judges give marks so that in the end only 2 poets remain. The only one I didn't resonate with so much was a member of the audience who stood in at the last moment and, although her poem was great and she was brave to do it, she didn't perform well and she also flouted the rules as they asked for a person who had 3 poems to come forward and she only had the one. In spite of that the judges put her through to the final where she was resoundly beaten by last year's winner Keith Jarrett, who recited his poem 'A Gay Poem' to completely blow the audience away. You can see him on YouTube performing it here.

After that it was time for the launch. Loads of people and many wonderful readings. The ones that stood out for me were Ruth Padel and Cath Drake. The book itself is lovely (I got a free copy) and it really was quite special to see my poem 'Kora in Lhasa' sitting in the same book as such luminaries as Carol Ann Duffy and Ruth Padel. It's on page 159 if you're interested.

I was a little overawed by the whole thing to be honest and I could hardly believe that my poem was judged to be good enough, but one of the organisers told me that all poems were judged blind by 4 different people. They'd had over 600 poems to work with and whittle down to 150. They also told me they're doing other events during the year and I might well be asked to read, so I'm going to have to get my performance hat on having seen the standard of those at the launch if I'm going to do that.

When it finished we were all invited for a glass of wine and a mingle. I was a bit taken aback when Ruth Padel came up to me as we were both heading for the peanuts to tell me how much she loved my top! In my fluster I said thank you and then promptly asked her to sign my book, which felt a bit cheesy to say the least. She obliged and then went on to sign many others so I wasn't the only cheese in the room!

I left after a while and promptly showed my lack of awareness and got lost... I went in the total wrong direction to where I was headed, which won't surprise many who know me and hadn't a clue where I was, but after a rather long detour I found myself back on track and decided to reward myself for my poetry efforts, my cheese skills and my getting lost by having a wonderful Japanese dinner at Kiku on my way back to my mother's house. Expensive, but so delicious!

I seem to have this rather bizarre skill of attracting small children. I think it's the very obvious child in me that refuses to grow up and is stuck somewhere around the age of 6, because that's usually the age of the children who want to come and talk to me. I also have a propensity to chat to teenage boys of about 17, but I'm not going into that one now, you'll have to talk to Mountain Man if you want the lowdown!

Anyway, there I was at dinner and on the next table were 2 families who had young kids with them and the next thing, as I'm sipping my saki and revelling in my Page 159 success, I was surrounded by a small girl, her brother and another boy. She was about 6 and the boys about 8. They chatted away to me in an engaging way, but I couldn't understand a word... they were Italian without a word of English apart from 'hello' and my Italian stretches not much further than 'spaghetti' and 'arrividerci' (MM would also tell you, I'm sure, of the time we were in Venice and spoke the most perfect French ever, but again that's another story). They had an Italian au pair with them and she translated. It was a fun meal.

Yesterday it was time to head home. I got my train with no problem at King's Cross at 11 and settled down in what seemed like a very full train. I had a conversation with a fellow traveller about travelling to Scotland and how pleased I was I didn't have to do the 8 hour train journey from London to Inverness any more and how civilised it was living in the Borders and it only taking 3 hours 40 minutes and not long after that I decided to go to the loo. We'd just passed Peterborough, about an hour out of London. As I flushed the loo there was a loud bang. I wondered what I'd done. The next thing is, as I headed back to my seat, I was aware the train had stopped. Then I really wondered what I'd done!

It turns out it wasn't me at all. The train had struck an overhead cable and we were going nowhere. After about twenty minutes we were informed they were sending for a rescue engine to tow us. Only problem was it was coming from Doncaster and would take 'a while'. This 'while' turned into 4 hours! We then had an unscheduled stop at Doncaster just in case passengers were so pissed off they wanted to alight there, which made us over 4 and a half hours late.

I eventually arrived in Berwick upon Tweed, totally exhausted. I don't think this was helped by the fact that they ran out of all snacks on the train apart from alcohol and frankly, as we crept into Newcastle, I made the decision that a gin and tonic was going to ease the pain of what turned out to be an 8 hour and 34 minute train journey. I felt really sorry for those with small kids.

In future I don't think I'll tempt fate by saying anything about how long it can take on the train from London to Inverness. Oh yes, and I'll be a little careful when I flush the loo. I'm still not convinced that it had nothing to do with me!

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Holiday break

Today you'll notice is not a blog entry about the last part of my holiday but that's because I'm off to London and I don't have time.

This week has zipped by in no uncertain terms and the fact that I have to get myself ready for the 09.11 train from Berwick upon Tweed has slightly caught me out. I usually get the 11.10, but I booked this earlier one ages ago I think because it was so much cheaper.

What all this means is that I have no time to finish off my holiday for you, so you'll have to come back next week for that.

This week has rushed by in what felt like an influx of Highlanders... ok that's a slight exaggeration as it was only 2, but it felt like more!

First we had Russell Turner (aka Bassman and publisher of my little book) to stay. He was doing a 3 day tour of the photography clubs in The Borders to talk about his photos. It was a very clever presentation - MM and I went along to Hawick on Thursday night and we enjoyed it immensely. However it meant my week was spent in a flurry of cooking. A rather good opportunity to try some of my new found Thai cookery skills, but I think what turned out was definitely fusion food - as in Thai and what I could actually find in Sainsburys - and not as like the real thing as I would have wanted.

Then yesterday, just after I'd ripped the sheets of the bed and waved Russell goodbye, the phone went. It was another friend from The Black Isle who was coming down in our direction and would we like to go to dinner. It was then that I discovered I was on the early train to London. They decided they'd stay in a B&B instead of with us as it felt a bit awkward us having to get up early and head off and leave them and I think they wanted a slow start to their day.

Dinner was lovely. We went to Chapters in Gattonside. Good meal and lovely company and then a quick goodbye and back home to bed.

So... why am I going to London? Well tomorrow is the launch of 'In Protest: 150 poems for human rights' at The Bloomsbury Festival and one of my poems called Kora In Lhasa made it into the Anthology, which was exciting enough. However, when will I ever get the opportunity to spend time with the poeterati in London again? Probably never. So that's why I'm rushing off this morning.

I'll be back on Monday and will update you on how it went and finish off my holiday blog.

See you then!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

To Bangkok and back - part 1 (Bangkok and Hua Hin)

I left London on, what felt like, a reasonably warm day for Autumn in the UK and arrived the next day at 3.15 pm Bangkok time to be met with a wall of warmth that hit my body the moment I got off the plane. A wonderful 28 degrees!

On the journey over I sat next to a 24 year old Thai guy who was really sweet. He gave me his card with the instructions that if I were to have any problems, any problems at all while I was in Thailand I was to give him a call and he'd come and sort it out for me. He also gave me some language lessons so that I'd have a rudimentary knowledge and wouldn't come across as a complete novice when I got my taxi from the airport to my friend Michael's house.

The beginning of my journey was a bit of a laugh as the computers were down at the Thai Airlines desk at Heathrow. That caused quite a bit of chaos, but suffice it to say we all got on the plane and we all arrived, together with suitcases in Thailand. Can't really ask more than that.

Michael was lovely. It's been a while since I'd seen him and not since his partner, Conrad had died almost 3 years ago now. He gave me keys, settled me in and told me to make myself at home. He was off out to the some event, but he'd ordered me in a Thai massage to help get over the jet lag. I had strict instructions to enjoy myself, which didn't seem hard to do!

Michael's masseur (Din) is a guy, but he'd brought a woman to do the actual massage. I hadn't realised that Din had stayed and was slightly taken aback when he arrived in the room with a bowl of cucumber strips. I was starving and was just about to help myself, when Din started putting them on my face. It was actually very soothing and lovely, but my grumbling stomach sure was making itself heard.

The massage was great and when it was over I found that Din had made my dinner for me. Was I ever grateful!

Day 1 - Monday
I got up early, but Michael has a massage every day for 2 hours from 8 til 10, so I read my book. But when his massage was finished, Michael announced he wasn't feeling so good and was going back to bed for a while. My flight exhaustion was kicking in so after some breakfast I also went back to bed and slept for a couple of hours.

In the afternoon I went for a walk to try to orientate myself to where in the city I was. I was so proud of myself as I made it to the river and back with only one slight loss of direction, which for me is brilliant.

Once I got back Michael and I chatted for a while and then had to head off as we had tickets for a performance of Indian dance at the Bangkok International Dance Festival. One Skytrain with a change of line took us to Terminal 21 where we chose our restaurant for a meal, then after that we skipped onto the Metro (I got an over 60's ticket which cost 10 Baht... that's 20p), then a free bus ride to the Thai Cultural Centre where we met up with Mike, Michael's Thai friend, who was accompanying us that evening. We also learnt we were to have Royalty attending. I was given a quick low down by Michael as to what this would entail, which was lots of waiting (they're usually late), lots of standing, bowing, singing of National Anthem and subservients crawling on their knees fetching tea or anything else the Royal might want.

I'm going to deviate a bit to tell you what Michael's like. If I had to describe him as an animal I would say an Alpha male Silverback Gorilla. He doesn't come in the bracket of your normal gay guy. Oh yes and he wears shorts... all the time... smart shorts for theatre, dinner etc and others for daytime wear. And whenever he goes to the Thai Cultural Centre he always has the same seats. Very good seats right in the middle in the Royal circle and just behind where the Royals sit. Anyway, he was telling me the last time he'd been to a performance the Queen had been in attendance. Apparently she didn't like Michael wearing shorts. I won't tell you what he actually told the person who came to tell him of the Queen's consternation, but the polite form was, 'well I bought the ticket so you can stuff it' and no-one, literally no-one argues with Michael!

Anyway, it turned out it was the Princess Consort (the Prince's 3rd wife) who was coming to watch the Indian performance. She was 25 minutes late and no-one was allowed out of the auditorium while we were waiting. And at the end no-one was allowed out until her cavalcade had been gone a good 5 minutes. It was a late night! I also was on Thai Royal television channel as I was sitting directly behind her (she was gorgeous by the way) and so couldn't escape the myriad of TV cameras and crew in attendance.

The performance itself was a rather strange mix. It was an Indian classic The Ramayana or how Rama met Sita his love and what happened to them. Only problem was the dancing was a bit amateurish in places and it wasn't the whole story as I think the whole thing would take about 3 hours, so we got an ongoing written commentary on the side of the stage to keep us up to date with where we were in the story, but the commentary was often at least one or two slides late or early from the actual dance. It certainly suited my jet lagged mind!

What I learned: most Bangkokians go out for meals and rarely cook at home so the amount of restaurants and the choice is huge... and the food is just wonderful. The King of Thailand is held in great esteem and you can't say anything negative about him at all. If you do you can be held for Lese-majeste and given a prison sentence. However, the Prince of Thailand is a different kettle of fish. He's universally loathed and when talked of is done so in very unflattering terms, so when I give you Michael's description of the Princess Consort - 'oh it's the prince's whore in attendance tonight' - said in a very loud voice and all those who heard nodding their heads in agreement, you'll understand that Lese-majeste has no hold over anyone other than the King and Queen, so it doesn't matter. It'd be rather like going up to Prince Charles and calling him a wanker and everyone agreeing and nothing would be said or done!

Day 2 - Tuesday
An early start as Nikki my guide came to pick me up at 9. Michael had told me when we were arranging the trip that he won't do the guide stuff anymore (he's lived in Bangkok for 16 years and has loads of visitors, so hardly surprising), which was fine with me, but we both thought having a guide would be a good idea so I could orientate myself to the city. So Nikki was booked through friends of Michael's who run a tour operating business in Bangkok.

Nikki turned out to be a boon. She looked about 15 but was actually 35 and we got on a treat. We had a fun day going to the Grand Palace in 30 degree swelter. I bought a hat for 120 Baht, which I was very pleased with, from a small stand after coming off the River Bus. I left Nikki to do the bargaining.

Me at the Grand Palace in my shades and my new hat looking suitably touristy
Architecture at The Grand Palace

More from the Grand Palace.

It was a lovely couple of hours, but exhausting and not helped by the hordes of Chinese tourists. My favourite bit was the textile exhibition. Then it was off by the river for lunch.

Nikki, my guide, at lunch
After lunch we walked to the veg and flower market.

Bowls and bowls of chillies

A dragon made completely from flowers and leaves

The flower market

Then to Chinatown where I could have, if I'd wanted, bought a myriad of plastic goods. I didn't bother, but this made me laugh - there were plastic bags saying 'save our planet, don't buy plastic bags'!

I was exhausted after 7 hours of being a tourist so we decided on a Tuk Tuk back to Michael's and then a shower before heading out for a meal.

At night I realised I was sharing my room with a friend. An inch long gecko, whose abode was the  wood door surround. He (don't ask me why I thought it was a he, I just did) would take a walk around the ceiling one way, then around the other and then settle back in his home for the night. Gorgeous.

My gecko friend

Day 3 - Wednesday
I was unbelievably tired after yesterday's tourist exertions and was thankful that I'd decided on a day off in between my jaunts with Nikki (I'd booked her for 2 days).

This day was spent being sociable. I went out to meet Geoffrey, an 80 year old rather 'interesting' friend of Michael's - actually he'd been Conrad's best friend in Bangkok, but Michael still went for lunch with him on occasion.

After getting back I went for a foot massage. An hour of bliss in a place the next street up from Michael's and all for 280 Baht (approx £5.50) and got back just in time to turn around and go out for dinner. My first taste of pomelo, which turned out to be a lasting passion of mine while in Thailand. This one came as a spicy salad and was delicious.

What I learned: restaurants very often don't have toilets. Many are shared. And many, according to Michael, don't have toilet paper. I was pleased I had a couple of tissues in my bag. Michael gave me a plastic pocket thing when we got home so I could always carry some with me. Of course after that all the places I visited did have toilet paper, but rather that way than the other!

Day 4 - Thursday
Nikki arrived at 9 for my second tourist day. This time though, for some reason I couldn't quite fathom, she had her friend's 4x4 and we negotiated our way through the Bangkok traffic - quite a feat I can tell you - but it gave me a great opportunity to get the geography. It's not so easy if you're on the Skytrain to get the layout of the city.

We went to the Golden Buddha, the Reclining Buddha (my fave) - a huge Buddha who just fits into his resting place, the Dawn Temple, then a very late lunch followed by the Teak Palace and finally the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall. I was stopped outside the Reclining Buddha and had a TV camera shoved in my face and was asked all kinds of questions about my visit to Thailand. This was my 2nd time on local TV within a couple of days. Freaky!

The Golden Buddha
The Reclining Buddha

To get to the Dawn Temple we had to pass the dried fish stalls and cross the Chao Phraya river, which is the colour of milky tea.

Dried fish stall

On the way to The Dawn Temple across the river

At the Dawn Temple tourists were getting dressed in traditional Thai costume ready for their photo opportunity - and no, I didn't!

Chinese tourist getting ready for the photo call

The Dawn Temple

Just as we were walking back to the jetty to get the ferry back I saw 2 women who were trying to get a photo of themselves. I offered to take it for them. They were thrilled and insisted on having a photo with me to remind them of my kindness. I, of course, had to reciprocate.

Me and my pals

All this took far longer than we'd thought it would and so lunch wasn't until 2.30 pm, which wasn't great as I was so hungry by that time and opted for the first thing on the menu, which was mushroom curry. I didn't realise I'd opted for the hot version and when I say 'hot' I mean extremely hot. I love spicy food, but if I hadn't been so hungry I probably wouldn't have eaten it.

By the time I got back to Michael's I felt I'd well and truly done justice to my tourist bit. Michael was out so I had a shower and felt a bit better, so decided to take a trip to the Skybar, which is a place Mountain Man and I had visited on our last visit to Bangkok when visiting with my niece and her husband. From the map it didn't look too far away, but after walking a mile or so and starting to feel a bit under the weather from lack of food and a lot of humid heat, I changed tack and ended up in a restaurant where they served me a free ice cold pink fizzy wine, which was delicious and a beautifully contructed fish dish.

My dinner

After dinner it was only 7.30 pm, but I was fit for nothing except bed and my book. Michael lent me 'The King Who Never Smiles', which is a biography of the King of Thailand. Not comfortable reading and if I was caught with it I'd be at risk of Lese-majeste, so Michael covered it for me, but I made the decision not to take it out of the house just in case. I was so pleased to read it though as it gives a great picture of the political side of Thailand.

What I learned: I should always eat my lunch well before 2.30. I should never go walking at night in 30 degree heat after an exhausting day being a tourist and thinking I can manage more than a mile. Oh yes and I wish cameras could capture smells so you could smell the dried fish, the flower market and Chinatown.

Day 5 - Friday
I woke up with a headache and not feeling good. Michael got Din to give me a foot and leg massage, which was fantastic and we made the decision we'd do something silly and light for the day, so unbelievably of all the things I could do in Bangkok, we went to the pictures with Michael's boyfriend, Geng. Michael decided we would see 'Diana' - mmmm maybe not quite so Alpha male Silverback as previously thought?! It was unutterable crap, with a not very good script, but a pleasant way to spend a headachy afternoon. We had a lovely Japanese dinner after and I went to bed reasonably early.

Day 6 - Saturday
Off to Hua Hin. Michael had ordered a taxi for me for the 3 hour journey. It seemed the comfortable and not too expensive way to travel and Chiew, the driver, was lovely. We spent a pleasant time chatting and listening to cheesy British pop songs of yesteryear. We arrived at Chiva-Som in Hua Hin just after 2.30. The place was sooo swanky. They were a bit freaked that I only had one suitcase! At this point I wasn't sure I'd made the right choice of place. I had chosen this because I wanted some downtime, where I could truly relax, but also because I was a woman (of a certain age) and on my own, I didn't want to be surrounded by families or couples. It turned out to be a high class spa resort, which was absolutely fabulous and I'm so pleased I went.

Chiva-Som has a no mobile phone/computer/e-reader or any electronic device whatsoever in public places only in your room policy. Also no kids under 16 are allowed on the property. I have to say that it was truly wonderful and peaceful to spend time in such a quiet but fun place. I met some really interesting people and had a great time. The food was to die for and the massage programme, the beach, the pool, in fact everything about it was fab. It isn't for everyone and certainly not if you're looking for a tourist experience, but for a complete R&R for me I couldn't have asked for better.

Days 7 - 14
I also got a physio check and a programme of exercise I can actually do with my knee problem, my toe problems and my ankle problem. I did Tai Chi every morning at 7 and ate my heart out with their organic food, most of it grown by themselves and surrounded by beautiful flowers also grown by themselves. I went on a trip to their gardens to see it for myself. I did kick boxing in the pool and a 10K walk along the beach and watched the tiny sand crabs dash for their holes amongst many other things and came away feeling so chillaxed I felt I could take on the world. I want to go back!

The gardens at Chiva-Som

The view from my room

Okra growing in the organic garden

The melon house


The orchid nursery

You'll have to take my word for it that all these small holes contain tiny crabs scuttling about!

My hotel was 5K at the other end of this lovely stretch of beach

The entrance to the hotel

Well that's the first 2 weeks of my 3 week holiday and it makes me feel tired just reading it, so that's that for today. I'll post the last week in the next couple of days. Hope you enjoy.