Keys keys keys 

So. We saw the house in the middle of March. On Tuesday we completed. Whilst we were at Chelsea having given the lawyer power of attorney to sign on our behalf. Miss Chelsea. Never. So we went to Chelsea on Tuesday as usual. I went again on Weds. You can never get enough. Then first thing Thursday I got on that flying machine and whoosh. I was off. First on the plane. Last off. Eager to get going up that long and winding road. 

We were expecting to complete next week. Not this week  and for a number of reasons RHS Chatsworth being one we weren’t coming out for another two weeks. So time for the Estate Agent to get a few things done for us. Sort out some locks being one. But we completed early. Being impatient. I am here early. Excited. Not Arf! 

Boy we’re there keys. Lots of them.  The vendors said there were keys. It’s like Fort Knox. Ian will be happy. You don’t notice little details when you view! 


So I arrived. On my own.  Ian not arriving  until the next day. In a foreign land. To a house that I had dreamed of and which was in front of me. Did I get emotional. Huh. Yes. It was scary going in. Not because I was scared scared but because we had only seen the house  three  times. Some people pooh pooh love at first sight. So do I generally – unless it’s cake. Or a plant.  But I fell in love with the garden. Straight away. No hesitation. No thoughts  on how I would manage to keep it as is let alone change anything. So big breaths and all that …..

The House of eternal summer

And I’m in. First reaction – no lock on the front gate! But I’m  two weeks early. It’s Spain. Manyana.  A word I’ve been told to get used to.  I open the gate – the smell of honeysuckle mixes with the scent of Jasmine greets me. I’d forgotten how much I love that smell. 

The garden is as lovely as I remember. More lovely now as it’s ours. Debbie whose garden it was had been panicking about the lavender hedge. One part of the garden not on the simple irrigation system. She needn’t have. It was fine. Before I opened the door I went to check that the timers had been put  on the taps. They had! Good old Victor had been. The Estate agent had given me a plan of the areas for the zones. I have yet to work that out. That’s for another day. So I’m in. The house is just as I remember. Just as well really there is no going back at this stage. 

So down go the bags. A quick whiz around and straight out into the garden. A cuppa tea in hand. We have been left an array of garden tools.- a wheelbarrow. Hedge trimmers. A chain saw! I find the secateurs. I’m an avid deheader. That’s my mother’s influence. She couldn’t resist walking up the path without deadheading her roses. Or anyone else’s to be fair. 

Garden tools!

The tools . All neatly hanging on the wall.  So armed with the secateurs I wander around snipping here and there as I go. 

Next to the olive tree

A trug soon filled. It’s exciting to find the plants. The scented Lavender path. Honeysuckle. Jasmine – 

One of the three types of Jasmine

I counted three varieties of Jasmine this one a sweet smelling Jasminum azoricum – a new one on me. But I’m going to try it in London. It flowers all summer. 

A pineapple guava, whose name I got from a request to my friend Sara Venn.  The flowers and fruit are edible.  I’ll try the flowers next week. 

Pineapple guava

There is olive , citrus, bird of paradise, a black bird of paradise something I’ve never seen before and had passed by twice thinking the plant was a banana. Not noticing the flowers half way down the plant. 


My favourites – agapanthus in pots, & the borders. I suspect self seeded. And I forgot to bring out my poo. Lou’s poohs – Alpaca fertiliser. 

Succulents who’s  name s I have no idea. 

Various flowers in the garden

So am I happy. Hell yes. A good sleep and I’m wakened on Friday morning I think by the sound of the bell on the gate. ( it sounds grander than it is. Trust me. ). Well I think I heard something and get up. Throw some clothes on.

 Look out of the window to see that the bell may have been rung. But we have no gates. They are  on the back of a van. Being manhandled by a young man. A young man who speaks no English. My limited vocabulary in Spanish of ordering a coffee. Asking for the bill. And toothpicks is no good in situations like this. So between us we speak Spanglais. I ask him how long they will be away ( we are having a lock fitted – I know more keys) at which point he sticks two fingers up. By that I am meant to understand two. Two what.? Hours. Days. Weeks. I understand the word hours. But do I believe him. 

In 2 hours the gates are back. With a new lock. Hung back in place and two of them this time knock the kitchen door with 3 more keys. 


All whilst Mr Wifi is on the roof pointing his aerial across the valley so I can get access to the other important things in life. Calls via Tu for a start as the signal is a bit iffy.  Social media. Emails. Skype. 

So we have lift off. A front gate with a lock. And wifi.  Not the lock. That doesn’t have wifi. What more could I ask for. I don’t suppose they deliver pizza round here. On horseback. 

I have  fun looking at plants. Looking again. And wondering what on earth I do. We have a slope behind the house. It has almonds. Some figs. Nespera/loquats I’m not sure if those olives are on our bit. Next time I see the previous owner I will have to ask. 

High on the hill

I decide to go for a swim. Which I do but it may say it’s 22* but to me that’s like swimming in the North Sea.  So I’m in and out as fast as Ian Thorpe in the Olympics. I have a confession. I hate wet swimming trunks. Hate them.  Always have.  Trunks that stick to your legs. That and those crappy hotel shower curtains that stick to your bum. Hate them. 

So. I get out of the pool and quickly get out of the trunks as usual to change into a dry pair & wrap myself in a towel. Just as the bell on the front gate rings. I can’t ignore it – they may never come back. It may be the plumber. Or the Estate Agent. Ha . It’s  the neighbours coming to say hello! The last time I took my top off in public was 1986. What a way to greet them. Lovely neighbours too. With a bottle of red and a card to welcome us both. So I’m off and in quick  time I had thrown on some clothes. But I looked shifty. They will have thought I’d been skinny dipping. Not at 22* I hadn’t. Trust me. 

I decided that as I was picking Ian up from the airport late – like 1.30am I should fill up with fuel. Another job I hate in a strange car in a new town. What side is the cap on. Will I get it off. ( don’t mention France when I couldn’t and threw a strop. I know. Me. A strop).  Easy least this one. Drive in. HOla. Buenos días. cómo estás To the young man. Who says 95?  I look bewildered I know but I haven’t even got my bus pass. Not yet. Then realise he’s taking fuel grade. 

Cheapest. It’s a hire car. So I’m back in the 50s and he unscrews the cap and fills up the car. With 95. I pay. Go back to the car. Get in. Actually get in. Sit down. Now they are laughing at me. 

Why? Because I’ve only got in the passenger side. Sat down and looked down and realised there was no steering wheel. Huh. That broke the ice. The mad Brit  who thought he was being asked his age then gets in the wrong side. Ian can fill up on Monday. . 

So day 1 and day 2 of  the new adventure. Interesting. Fun. And at times embarrassing! 


Tomorrow is another day. .and to be honest. I can’t wait. 

Driving over lemons. 

When I mentioned to some friends Matt & Clare  at my favourite local breakfast haunt Petitou in Peckham that we were looking at a place in Spain Matt said that he had recently recommended the  book Driving over Lemons to his daughter. A book that was sitting on the book shelf at home. It reminded me that I had read the books some years ago and thought I’d go back and read them again. I’ve started and they are wonderful and particularly relevant to the new adventure we find ourselves having. 

As well as twitter I use Instagram. A lot. My camera was a purchase not long after my father died and was a more expensive one than I would normally buy. But I’ve loved it. Never far from my hand it enables me to snap away. That’s why the pictures of Ian are always of him ahead of me. Firstly he hates pictures and there are very few of us together. Secondly. I am always hanging back snapping away happily. This and that. 

I digress. But only a bit. 

A fellow instagrammer commented on some of my recent Andalusia pictures and said that it was like Driving over lemons. That had me smiling. Two mentions of lemons in such a short space of time.  I almost gave myself a squeeze with delight. Rather than usually having a face like I’ve been sucking a lemon. 

It’s all about the citrus. Oranges and lemons. Lemons and limes. 


Andalusia is indeed special. Has beautiful scenery. Mountains. Great light.  Long and winding roads  where motion sickness pills may be required. Just to get to the bottom of the hill. Zig zag roads. Twisty.  The road from  Competa to Torrox Costa a roller coaster of a drive. There is Coastline. Beaches. Mountains. Natural parks. People. ( back to the horse rider again). Tapas. Wine. The attitude of don’t do it today if it can wait for a week.  Maybe not next week. But a week. You can’t be in a hurry in Spain. Unlike London where we are always rushing. Here there. So it’s a glorious difference and a great adventure to be starting.  Part time. Not full. I need no convincing. 

The mountains are spectacular surrounding  the Andalusia Towns and villages. There was snow on the mountain tops in early March when  we were last there. Now its all gone.  With bright blue skies. And a moon. Oh and heat and a mosquito. Or two. 



The white washed towns and villages hang onto the side of the mountains. Pristine. White. Narrow streets – steep and winding. But making you want to see what’s around the corner. At the top of the steps.  Breathless. Both in body. And spirit!  Ian ahead of me As usual. Striding to get to the top. Me just striving to get to the top. Eventually. 


The white washed town of Competa rolling down the mountainside. Beautiful. White. A pretty spectacular sight as you turn the bend on the road from Malaga. 



Dramatic skylines over Competa. 

I have found my Spanish’ Petitou. Casa Paco is situated on the square. Is friendly. Always busy. Now to try and order in Spanish. Or spanglais. I can ask for the bill. For toothpicks. Say hello. Ian is better than me. We both have apps on our phone trying  to learn. If you see Ian on the tube. He’s not talking to himself. He’s learning his verbs. If you see me. I probably am. 


Town squares to people watch. Eat Tapas. Drink wine. 

Just down yet another long and winding road is Torrox Costa and then onto Nerja . Nerja with its restaurants. The beaches. Glorious torquise sea. Rocks. A coastline. Sea air. A slight detour to Frigiliana  another white washed town nesltling on the hillside. But more touristy – has tour buses. Tourists. Like us. Except we have driven. 

So back to Competa.  On a clear day you can see down to the coast a 45 minute drive away. Probably quicker if I am not driving. Slowly. Ignoring my co driver saying. Ooh look at that.  Sorry Ian. All I can look at is the road ahead. 


The villages have these amazing doors. Original and painted in vivid colours. Or left to the old wood which is  equally striking, 

These are known as the hanging houses in Competa. There are literally hanging on the cliffl looking   pretty  moorish lit up at night. 

I wonder if i can get a part time job. The goat man with his herd of goats. Who walks them around the town and mountainside.  Ian unimpressed with my sound of music rendition of ‘High on a hill with a lonely goat herd’. He hasn’t heard the yodelling bit yet.  You smell the goats before you see or hear them. And the man has a whistle that they seem to understand. A bit pied piper to me . The downside for the part time job. That suit. I’m not sure it would suit me. 

These plants are lethal. They seem to have taken a dislike for me. Big time. I swear they see me coming and jump out to scratch my arm. Badly. My hand was swollen after getting stabbed by one of these. But they along with the palms are beautiful and majestic. 

More great views across the mountains. 


I wish I had shares in white paint. Every house is white. The churches are white. Some of the streets are white. But I don’t have a head for heights. 

I am looking forward to further forays into the surrounding villages. A trip to Granada. To Córdoba. To Malaga old town. A train trip to Sevilla. Oh. There will be pics. Lots of them. But not of me. Maybe of the back of Ian’s head. Of plants. And definetly of a horseman riding by. 

Gardens – a trip down a  garden path. 

Have I told I have retired. Oh. Yes. About a million times. Not that I exaggerate at all. But I have. That was the start of a new adventure. I’m still asked. ‘Aren’t you bored yet’ I’ve learnt to smile sweetly. And just say.  No. What do you do they ask. This and that I reply. This and that. Here and there. 

So the adventure continues.- with a bit of there. Rather than here. Or here  rather  than there. Dependant on where there is. At any given time. 

For a long time Ian and I have wanted something ‘abroad’. We looked at France. We loved France. But why buy in France when we can stay at  Cuq en Terrasses where we have celebrated big birthdays. Friends who own a fantastic Small hotel. With amazing food. We love Italy. But we have an annual invite to go and stay with friends at their house near Sienna. Which surprisingly. We take up. Annually. 

We love Spain and have been back and forth for the last few years. Gaucin – too quiet. Benhavis. Lovely but not for us. Archidona – lovely but again a bit too quiet. 

In March we headed to  Competa in Andalusia. An hour from Malaga. To stay at a fab B&B Casa B  We had some viewings. I was pretty definite in what I wanted. In the town. A roof terrace. No pool. But it didn’t work out like that. 

We are back here at the beginning of May. To sign papers with the notary. . For completion at the end of the month.  A place 10 minutes drive from town. Not a town house. Without a roof terrace. 

So what sold it. What?  The house or the town. 


For the town it was  life. It had a soul. In March. When many towns are still indoors. Still recovering from  Xmas . Tapas in the square. Coffee. A glass of wine. Or two. One for me. The road is windy and narrow. 

 Less than an hr to a beach and on the edge of a national park. A shortish trip down the long and windy road to Nerja. To Frigiliana.  We met some great people on the viewings. Stayed at a fab B&B. Made friends. 


There was Tapas. And sunshine. And no. The horsemen riding by  in the square on a Sunday morning didn’t swing it. Not really. I didn’t  really see them. The oranges caught my eye.  I was photographing the oranges. They photo bombed.  I have been sat in the square for hours this time waiting to complain. They haven’t reappeared. 


The house? Need you ask. It was the garden. I didn’t notice the house. Not at first. We viewed because I’d seen pictures of the garden.  Small but beautiful. Both the house and the garden. A lock up and go. But the garden. Lovely planting. Lots of plants. Mediterranean. Dry. 


Interesting. Different to what I am  used to. 



With amazing views across the mountains. 


In time I will be able to tell you which mountains. But geography isn’t my strongest point.  The sat nav tells you the route. Not the name of the mountain ranges. The garden has citrus. It has lavender. Different types. Lots of it. Along the path. From the gate past the garage. 


It has succulents. Agapanthus. Jasmine. A grape  vine. Bird of paradise.  It has plants I have no idea what to do with. How to care for. It has fruit I can’t pronounce or know what it tastes like.  But  for me the house had been sold on the garden. 


So. I bought a book. On Amazon. Mediterranean  garden plants. A whopper of a book. . Pictures. Descriptions. I took it with me when we went to meet the owners again. 



But first. I Made the mistake of not deleting the email from our joint email account. Ian saw the price. How much? Well was more of a shout of disapproval. I couldn’t lie. He’s seen the invoice. 

 When we met the owners again I hear him say ‘he’s only gone and bought a bloody book  and spent a fortune’. Oh that’s  Lorraine they say, on seeing the book  the author – she lives here on the outskirts of town. Runs a garden centre. Supplies all the plants he’d like to have in his garden  – whose laughing now eh. Especially as we went in  and said hello. Where she gave me details of two open gardens nearby but sadly I won’t be here when they are open. Or there depending when you read this. 

But I’m on her mailing list already. That book.  Money well spent I say. He’s said I’m not  to go there alone. I said she seemed very nice. I’m not worried about her he replied. Your gonna spend a fortune in there. And that’s just on what he’s seen! I haven’t started. New plants. New pots. 

So it’s an adventure. A new path. Lined with lavender. From the garage to the house. 

 So we begin the adventure at the end of May where will be go between London and Andalusia. Gardening in both. Two very different gardens. Two very different climates. Both exciting.  Different. Fun. Who said I’ll be bored in retirement. 

A decision also  made that after 23 years we will sell our lovely cottage and garden  in the West Country and embark on this new adventure. We have had a wonderful time. A fabulous garden. But sometimes in life you need a new adventure. A change. Something different. Surprisingly we have taken the plunge. 

There will be pictures. Lots of them.  A bit of a blog here and there too. Apologies in advance! 

The  Garden at Ard Daraich 

We had decided that we would go away for Easter again this year. I’d have liked a bit of sun. Ian decided the Highlands of Scotland. As far away as possible from any sun. In April. But I was persuaded on two counts. The first a trip on the Caledonian sleeper. The second was a stay at Ard Adraich which looked great. Which also had a fantastic 8 acre garden.  The garden is open to the public and there is a small nursery where you can buy plants. The added bonus we were staying there. In the garden. Well not in the actual garden. But the garden studio. 

The house was originally owned as a holiday home by  the cookery writer and florist Constance Spry although  I suspect she wouldn’t recognise the garden today which has grown in size and beauty. 

To be honest. I was in love as soon as I saw the hedge. Yes. In love with a  hedge that sits along the front oft the main house. A stunning camellia hedge. And I mean stunning. 



We were staying in the garden studio alongside the main house where the first thing you saw as you came downstaors in the morning were rhodendrons . From the skylight window. 

The front of the house along the lane had a long row of skunk cabbage which I had never seen before and which is due to be thinned out. Thankkfully after we leave. 


The opposite side of the lane was filled with pheasants eye daffodils. I had planted a 100 for this year. I have to make do with these. Mine are probably flowering in Australia. 


And it got better. The path to the garden was outside our studio door. Inviting me to meander the garden at leisure. Which I did. More than once. More than once a day to be fair. 


The garden is the continuing work of Norrie and Anna Maclaren .  Norrie’s  parents bought the house in the late 1960s and were keen gardners. 

Norries father collected seed from around the world and the trees and the plants in the garden reflect this. 

The garden is full of  Rhododendrons azaleas and maples with rare exhibits and plants from around the world. . The rhodendrons are being catalogued and there are over 1000 species in the garden. That’s species not number of plants! 

Norrie kindly gave us a tour – an hour long through the various levels. They garden on a hill with practically no soil which in itself is impressive. I have heard of no dig gardening. But no soil.   The garden is fed with seaweed. The moss  taken off the granite rocks lay  at the bottom of the rock. 

The garden isn’t without moss especially on this tree which looks like a hand making a rude sign. 

But the variety of the plants, the planting and the colours are simply magnificent. Breathtaking. So much so I listened intently to Norrie and tried to remember the names and species. Great big fat fail I’m afraid. There were too many! But I heard maples. Camellias. Sorbus. Plants originating from Japan. South Korea 

Plants in bloom 


The flowers were glorious in bloom but I loved the ones which were budding and about  to burst into colour, form and shape.Of which  there are many. Hundreds if not thousands of flower buds. 





I have never really looked at the buds before. Usually just the big blousey flowers. But Norrie was right. The buds are often as interesting if not more exciting than the blooms and  they vary in shape, colour and size. 


I think these buds look like little birds! 

Alongside one tree were branches  still with last season seed heads. Brilliant to see this together with this seasons flowers.


The garden is much more than just rhodendrons. At the side of the path from the garden studio sits a big fat gunnera looking magnicent as the sun shines through the leaves. There are camellias. Euphorbia. Large trees. Sorbus. Maples. Hosta. Japanese anemones. Wild flowers. 


The large labels are ones placed on the rhodendrons when they have been catalogued by the rhodendron society. 

Other interesting plants and flowers 

Norrie keeps bees and even at this time of the year you can hear them working in the quiet stillness of the garden. As well as bees thengarden is a haven for birds and we have been lucky to watch the woodpecker at the feeder each morning along with blue tits great tits coal tits a sole robin and chaffinchs. 

I have taken so many pictures of the garden and I only wish I could remember all Norrie told me. The garden is stunning. 

The garden studio a great place to stay and with access to so many places nearby. Oh. I can’t forget fresh eggs from the Ard Daraich chickens, and the friendliness and helpful hosts. 

The gate to the bees the chickens and more plants! A glorious country view. 


Oh. And the amazing space to sit looking out towards the water and The beach. 

You may find me there. With a glass of wine. And a view. 

  

 A bit of an adventure – pt II

So the adventure continued. I went back to sleep for a bit but I didn’t want  to miss anything – certainly not a Scottish breakfast. It was light – outside. Not the breakfast. Keep up. There was scenery to scene. Photo opportunities to opportune. 

What a joy the scenery is to behold. Stunning. Absolutely stunning. Wild. Barren. Lush. Green. Dead. All kinds of everything. ( thanks Dana). Such variety. 

So we managed the Scottish breakfast. Not a cordon bleu delight. – more cordon bleughhhhhh. But hot edible and a hot cuppa tea to go with it. And we had to talk to each other.  Sort of. 


Did I say the corridor was thin. I could have made los of new friends in that corridor – getting past each other was tight. And I mean tight! 


At some points I had to Town sideways for fear of getting stuck. 

But I managed to blag a window that opened and took some pics. Don’t try and move me. I’m here for the duration.  

I made sure there was nothing to hit  my face on as I hung out of the carriage- in parts it was pretty barren. But lovely. 

The higher mountains still had snow caps. 


The stations we passed through were pretty well kept and remote. You wouldn’t want to miss your train and have to wait for the next one! Ian did ask me if I wanted to get off and take some photos – yea right. As younwave goodbye when the train takes off. I stayed out. Thank you very much.

To be fair I really enjoyed the journey. I’m sure next year with the new fancy carriages. The new livery. The new food options. But  In 2018 with a new operator there will be new carriages with ensuite compartments, pod flatbeds and a brasserie-style club bar will be part of the new service. I hope with a 60 million grant from the Scottish govt they will keep prices reasonable. Somehow I doubt it. It will become a luxury tourist trip. 

Ian reckoned he’d booked us two tents. He used to go camping as a kid. He forgot. I booked the accommodation. I know where we are going. Trust me it ain’t camping. I may have brought thermals. I may have brought a hat and a scarf. But unless there is an inside toilet a log burner and a dishwasher then I’m sorry. Thanks but no thanks. Not for love. Not for money. 

Fort William was our  final train  destination  – there To pick up a hire car. When did you last hire a car and the person checking yr details actually came to the car. Showed you the controls. Talked to you. Like never. It always used to happen. And it did again today. We met the guy in the car park – dodgy – and he handed over the keys. Sat in the passenger seat. Showed me thecontrols  signed the  papers. I expected  him to say to ian  get in the back mate. I’m coming along for the ride.  He didn’t. This time. 


The last leg of the journey was the ferry. The Corran ferry. A 5 minute crossing to Ardbough. Never complain about the servern  bridge tolls. £8.20. For a 5  min  crosssing. But better than a 35 mile detour. So we arrived. And the house. The garden. The little studio we had rented was glorious. 

 

The main house. Originally the holiday home of Constance Spry. 

The garden studio. Our home for 4 days. 

I fell in love straight away with the camellia hedge. Which is stunning.  


So we are settled. Food in the fridge. Wine. Crisps. And chocolate. And a map. Oh and an invite to a gallery art exhibition on Friday. Happy holidays. 

A bit of a holiday adventure. 

There’s no doubt I like a holiday. I always have. Like everything i blame  my mother. But then I blame her for almost everything. Growing up she and dad always were always on the go. The garden, out dancing on a Friday and Sunday night. Or going for a ‘run’ on a weekend. Today going for a run means just that – not that I do not even for a bus. To mum and dad it meant getting in the car and driving somewhere. The beach usually. places within easy reach of Cardiff. Lavernock – or knock knock I called it as a youngster. Southerndown. Porthcawl. Llantwit Major. Fontagary. For an ice cream at Penarth or a walk around the show ground at Barry Island. Watching Nessa work the change cabin in Gavin and Stacey brought back memories. What’s occurring indeed. No she wasn’t there in the 60s. But there were people like her! 

I digress. But that’s not unusual. So they gave me the bug. Not to sit down for too long. The garden. Little trips out. Bigger trips. So. Its Easter and we decided on a staycation this year. Scotland won – better go and use my EU passport whilst I still can. Ian’s a Scott. Glasgow born and bred and still yearns for Scotland, it’s friendliness and its scenery. He recalls tales of camping in the highlands and has suggested that we could do that. Yea. Right. Camping – no comments please – is not for me. Unless its luxurious.  Plus. Midges hate me. With a vengeance. 

Instead we book the overight sleeper toFort  William from Euston. It’s by no means cheap but with a bit of thought and a two  together  railcard you can get 34% off your fare. Even the first class fare. Helps when the train guard says nice picture. Which it isn’t. 

From Fort William we will head to Lock Linhie to do a bit of self catering at a garden studio in what was once Constance Sprys holiday home.- where the garden ( oh look a garden thrown in too) is open to the public. I’m hoping  rhododendrons. 

 Ian’s  done the train before but not for a long time. When we board he says nothing has changed. ( I don’t tell him he has) The carriages have been in service for 35 years and are due to be replaced. In 2018. So we have to do and make do with what we have now. I make a note to do this again  when the fancy pants new carriages are in place. Because they do sound fancy with a 100 million  budget. For now I’m glad to experience this one. At these prices because as sure as eggs are eggs there’s only one way they will go. 

To be fair whilst the carriages  look a little tired – as do we – they aren’t bad at all. Clean. Tidy. Good white sheets. A sleep over kit from Arran Aromatics. A sink. The important USB charger point. Interconnecting door between our two single  cabins which actually does make a difference – you don’t feel quite so claustrophobic with the door open. But I did think I was getting one night snore free. 


It’s a bit tight meeting anyone in the corridor especially when someone tries to pass and says breath in. I bl…y well am thank you very much! 

I’ve started to write this at 4am as we have pulled into Edinburgh Waverley where we have stopped for a while before the highland journey. To be fair the stop didn’t wake  me and I’m surprised that I have slept for over 5 hours. The journey  wasn’t as bumpy as I had expected and to be fair whilst the berth  was a little  warm  it’s been really comfortable. I’m not sure I’d want to share a double cabin in bunk beds particularly if I was in the top bunk – I’d be paranoid I’d fall out. But first I’d have to climb up there. And it would need to be reinforced. 

The next leg of the journey will be interesting. We did the west highland line over 20 years ago and it was stunning and then we went from Glasgow to Mallaig. 

So I’m going to be found in the corridor with my camera as we pass through Bridge of Orchy Spean Bridge Rannoch and there will be pictures. As usual.  But first I think I have another hour or so before dawn so I’m going to get a bit more beauty sleep. 

Happy Anniversary to me 

So this time last year I was preparing for my last working day. My office had been cleared of 28 years of stuff. Precisely that – stuff. Clients had been told. Lunches had been had. Today was to be the day I retired. Not  Monday the last day of the month when it was expected.   Today. I would go to work as normal and at lunchtime I would depart quietly. A few goodbyes. But with no fuss. No ceromonial handshakes and the usual bollocks. An email set to go out after I had left the building. Thanking those I had respected. Valued. Loved. Saying goodbye would be bitter sweet.

I can’t believe I’m a year older. A year of retirement. Me. Retired. How did that happen. 52 weeks of not having that Monday morning feeling. 


I saw friends last week who I hadn’t seen in a while. Go on they said   – admit it – your bored. You must be  bored by now. 

My response – a huge belly laugh. Bored. Bored. You must be ‘aving  a laff. What have you been doing then they asked. 

Let me see. I posted A blog  a few months ago on my first 6 months. That was a period of adjustment I said – but think ducks and water. Fat ducks. Lots of water. 

I had lunch yesterday with an ex colleague who I hadn’t seen since Jan. You look really well she said – a comment that has been said so much this year. What have you been up to. I keep getting asked the same question and my reply is I’m busy all the time – this and that. Actually I don’t know what I’m doing. It just happens. Either that it’s on the list. Ian’s list. Of jobs. 

I have had a great summer in Somerset. Gardening. Growing fruit and veg. Actually picking it and using it too. Picking tomatoes. Cucumbers. Apples pears. Grapes. Runner beans. My dad would be proud. Except I didn’t dig a trench. That’s a big black mark from him. 


I picked dahlias. Constantly. Along with a whole load of other stuff from the cutting garden. Grand. What I mean is that the whole gardens for cutting! 



Socialising. Spending time with my godchildren. Continuing the  School runs. Being a manny for a day here and there whilst their mother worked. Think Mary Poppins but heavier and a better beard growth. Me not her. Although I’m sure hers wasn’t ginger and grey. Oh. And I can’t sing. Well I think I can I’m Welsh after all. I did annoy the  kids singing raindrops on roses whiskers on kittens. And changing the words just like my mother used to. 

The London boys reminded me when I picked them up from school  that I used to sing with them in the car. They asked me to put that song on again – oh dear. smarty pants by First Choice. They are now 10 and 13. They remind me that i changed the title. So I did again. 

Ian’s birthday
We used to sing it when they were 3. It also reminded me that We had a horror with one of them. We had taken Kai to the zoo. He must have been 2 or 3. On the way home we stopped to get cakes. Me in the car. Kai in the back. Ian got in and asked what was the matter. I said listen to Kai. Closely. We are gonna be in trouble. He listened. And was horrified. He looked at me and said. That’s probably my fault. We thought he was saying F off.  I turned to say no. Then burst out laughing. He actually was saying fork off. He had broken the little fork lift truck car his grandad had given him.  Phew. I digress. 


Having time to have days  out with the children.  Taking my god daughter for a ride on a steam train on a day I was looking after her. –  was that for her or me?  We went despite  an earlier tantrum on the doorstep where I nearly said thanks but no thanks to her mother. Take her away. 

Cooking with her brother  – a 13 yr old 6ft rugby playing young farmer who over the summer has grown from a mono syllabic teenager into an interesting young man who can bake and talk sheep.

I’ll lead you’ll follow. Young shepherd.
And at a cost of a new pair of rugby boots and trainers he looked after my greenhouse whilst I was away. Taking a 13 year old to buy clothes was an experience  in itself. He had a very definite opinion on what he wanted. 

Junior bake off. Making Bara Brith

I have attended talks at the  Wells festival of Literature  – Vince Cable. Rev Richard Coles. Mathew Parris. Intersting. Funny. Being taken to afternoon tea by my friend Helen with whom i had days out to Bradford on Avon. 

Afternoon tea at the Crown Wells
Attended courses at Common Farm Flowers   Been a Saturday boy there. ( well Friday’s really) when they have had a big wedding on. With my friend Lorraine – queen of the jam jar posies Helping out. 

Lorraine Queen of the jam jar posies. Bloody lovely she is too.
Me Queen of everything obviously – but on food and beverages and large arrangements. Being allowed to assist the head honcho.  Not making a complete Dick of myself. 

To me the highlight of my summer if I am honest. Spending  2 working days at Common Farm Flowers with Georgie Sharon and Lorraine was such fun. I’m hoping to be invited back for more in 2017!   Please….

Me with the inspirational Sara Venn

To breakfasts at   Hive Beach cafe with Ian on a Monday morning in October watching the sea from the cafe.

Hive Beach Cafe

Continuing visits to National trust properties on our days off.  A bit of travel here and there. A bit like taking a gap year except more sedate and a little more luxury. I’ve seen the Alhambra. The museums of Amsterdam. The east coast of Portugal. The wonders of Vienna. The delights of Madrid. Sat up most of the night in Italy listening to the referendum vote. And going to bed at 5am and saying to Ian. We are doomed. 

Short  European breaks going through the EU passport gates thinking it may be the last time. Who knows even now.

 A big trip to Canada – a trip of a lifetime. Bears and whales & Vancouver. A sea plane. Long car drives. Bears. Lots of them. So close  you could smell their breath. Making new friends. People. Not bears. 

Hello. It’s me

Cooking. Baking. More cooking. Making cordials lots of them. Jellies. Cakes. Standing in the tractor bucket 20ft in the air picking   bullace and making a version of sloe gin. Not whilst in the bucket but at home later! Planning for an extension that has flexible timescales. Very flexible. More flexible than me.  Now maybe into 2017. 

All things my time in retirement has allowed me to do. 

You’ve got to love a Welsh cake

Throw in the annual river clearance where I get to wear rubber. Waders. coffees with friends and Neighbours who are also friends – chatting with the coffee roasters at Bean Shot whilst purchasing beans and ground coffee. Or lunching at Cole Manor Tea Rooms 

Annual river clearance River Pitt

So that’s what I have been doing. Looking back I’ve done a lot. Throw in my endless trips for dental treatment over the summer where I travelled intercity like the men due ( anyone remember that ad) on my cheap day returns ( always an excuse to go into Selfridges) – my trips to the theatre. Continuing trips to exhibitions – Oh. And I stayed in a premier Inn. Shopped  in Lidl. Pounsaver. Aldi. Eaten a ton of Lidl stollen bites set aside for Xmas. 

So. I enter year 2 and whatever that brings.some things I know already.  I have my annual trip to Italy booked. My trip to Chelsea flower show. The new show at Chatsworth.  I have theatre booked. Hamlet.  Roaencrantz and guildenstein. Mary Stuart. All booked in already. 

No doubt there will be more child minding duties both in London and Somerset. More common Farm Flowers. More courses. ( billingsgate. And a  Bread one are on the list) – garden planning. Meetings within the architect. Maybe an extension. More short breaks.

But  whatever the next year throws at me I won’t ever have that Monday morning feeling again. 

Oh. I’ve also bought myself s new camera. You may have gathered. I’ve been snapping away like my life depended on it. Ian won’t stand still. He hates his photo being taken. I’m Still rubbish at selfies. 

So. Have I had a good year. Do bears  ….. in the woods? They do. And in the rivers. I can vouch for that!  So the answer. . YES. 

Ps. If your wondering. Yes. I still have the list from  Ian – the attic and cellar are still outstanding. But  You’ll be glad to know the septic  tanks been done.  Thereby hangs another story.