Monday, 29 September 2008

Under the Tuscan Sun; the honeymoon, day 2

We awoke after some 11 hours sleep, feeling much refreshed. And after a breakfast of exspressos made into Americanos and some jam on the remaining bread and it was time to head out into the Tuscan countryside proper.

Casalone

Our destination was a town called Montalcino, a place I had visited before, and where they make a stunning deep red wince called Brunello. It seemed simple enough to find, or so we thought, and headed east to where we had to make our first turning. We ended up turning onto the narrow streets of Civitella Maritima, where the ‘streets’ were just wide enough for our car, and twisted and turned upwards before heading back down and around before depositing us back where we started. We did miss the second turning completely, and headed further east past other ancient Tuscan hilltop towns; Monte this, Monte something else, before we realised we were about to head off the side of the photocopied map we had and so into the unknown.

Montenero

We headed what we thought was north, and in doing so got us back on the right road, and as the road plunged up and down into and out of old towns once again built on hilltops, each one looking more and more spectacular, each with stunning views of either wooded valleys or golden arable fields stretching into the blue distance. There are worse places to get lost in.

Montalcino

Montalcino appeared on signposts again, and about two hours later than we thought, we arrived at the town gates. Parking was a problem as the Tour of Tuscany cycle race was also arriving, but up another steep hill amongst some houses we found a place and walked down into the mediaeval town.

montalcino

At this point words fail me as I try to describe the town; old town houses nestle beside each other, on street level most had a shop or Taverna; I quickly bought a bottle of 2003 Brunello from a small producer, some herbs and porcini mushrooms for dinner. We came across a street market and bought more tasty things; cheesy bread the texture of Madera Cake; a candle made of beeswax, some jam; all wonderful things.

montalcino

Into a café for a couple of Americanos and something chocolaty to eat, before more exploring, and the view I knew was there; all over the southern Tuscan countryside, from a viewpoint on the edge of a cliff hundreds of feet high, and the golden fiends stretching apparently forever into the distance and time.

Montalcino

We climbed to the top of the town, beside the ancient church, looked down narrow alleyways with views of the fields far below, we followed the cobbled streets back out of the town gates and past the castle now filled with tired and sweaty cyclists, back up the hill to the car, and so then back west to our place in the monastery and dinner of pasta, porcini mushrooms, some random Italian herbs, fresh asparagus with shavings of parmesan cheese, all washed down with more Tuscan wine. And outside the sun set again in spectacular fashion.

Under the Tuscan Sun; the honeymoon, day 1

Three o’clock in the morning is never a good time to be getting up, but after less than three hours sleep is particularly early. In fact Jools got up at three while I went back to sleep for another half an hour. After feeding the cats, the final task was to pack Molly, my cat from home, into a box as Julie’s sister was going to have to take all the cats to the cattery later in the day; and catching this dark bolt of lightning, especially smelling of dog which Cath does, would have been impossible.
Right on time, Cath pulls up outside and we do a final check that all is switched off and windows locked and we leave through the front door and into Cath’s waiting car. Sleeping whilst travelling is something I could never do, and so it was here. And when Cath opened a window to smoke I certainly woke some more up as the cold wind swirled around the inside of the car.
After just over 100 years of flying Gatwick airport seemed to have realised that to make waiting times shorter when checking in, the key is to have lots of staff on duty. Anyway, what seemed like a long queue resulted in just a 5 minutes wait, and we were heading through security and all ready to fly away with nearly two hours to spare.
There were queues at nearly all places to eat, but a sandwich and a smoothie was all we needed, and that proved to be the easiest option. Just enough time to get a paper and a couple of books, and then walk calmly down to our gate ready to board.
The flight was unspectacular; well, except for the landing at Pisa as the pilot did make the plane bounce quite worryingly on the runway; but we got down safe and were soon in the baggage hall waiting for the luggage.
I could go into detail about the crowds around the carousel, the groups of people gathered around stressed tour reps in the arrivals hall, the queue for the bus to the car hire companies (which was on a bus ride that lasted less than two minutes and a walk would have been quicker than the wait), but I’ll skip those.
In the car hire hall, they had a ticket system like in a supermarket; so whilst the sheep gathered around the Europacars place, we sat at the back and had a cappuccino. Our number came up quickly and after finding all sat navs had been taken, we got the keys and went put to find our steed for the next week.
And then we were free of the sheep and queues and of onto the Autostrada to Florence. Light traffic, clear blue skies and just the two of us; Mr and Mrs H.

Sadly we missed the turning south for Siena, and ended up going through the centre, or pretty much the centre of, Florence. The wide four lane road quickly ended and we found ourselves travelling between high ancient buildings, past wide parks and boulevards. And then the traffic ground to a halt. We inched our way back out of the city, until we finally came to the reason for the jam; a bus had broken down in the narrowest part of the road, and police were trying to get it towed away. But we managed to get past before being stopped and we were heading south again to Siena; on clear roads and through stunning scenery, travelling on a road that was a triumph of engineering, that in Britain would be famous; plunging through tunnels and coming out in the sunshine crossing viaducts of great height. And all the time we were so very tired; less than seven hours sleep in two nights was much too little.
We had directions to the villa, and we turned off the Autostrada at a place called Civitella Maritima, an ancient Tuscan hilltop town, and plunging down the side of the hill on which it sat and down a 6km long roman road. All around us were more ancient towns sat on flattened hills. And then through another ancient town called Roccastrada and the final few kilometres until we turned off onto a narrow single track road, and ended up at some old iron gates. After speaking to the owner through the intercom, the gates swung open and we headed off down a steep gravel track to the old monastery that was going to be our home for the next week.
The owner, Emy, came out to greet us, and took us into the reception; which was once the chapel, and filled with such works of art you can’t believe. We filled out the paperwork; he gave us a each a glass of the wine they make on the estate, and another as a wedding present, along with a bottle of their olive oil(extra virgin); and then to show us to our apartment; the Architect’s House.

The Architects House


Up some ancient stone steps, and into a low vaulted set of rooms with a huge kitchen come dining area, a room with a bed under a tapestry, and a balcony overlooking the plain to the hills on either side and to the Aegean Sea in the blue distance and down below olive groves and vineyards.
Being Italy, all shops are closed on Sunday, so we were told to head out before seven to get any supplies we needed; but the company we booked with had filled the fridge with some essentials.
The local Coop was only a 10 minute drive away, and filled with produce and things that would either cost a fortune to buy at home, or be impossible to find. We bought bread, fine cheese, butter, milk, etc, and were soon back here.

The Architects House

A meal of plump tomatoes, topped with buffalo mozzarella drizzled with the local olive oil, fresh local bread and a glass or two of the owner’s wine was perfect. Outside the sun was going down, the sky turning pink, and the land darkening.
After a lay down, we awoke to find the Milky Way visible above us, and the lights of the Tuscan towns twinkling in the inky blackness. How wonderful it all was.

shades of tuscany 7

Saturday, 27 September 2008

The Wedding; Friday 19th September

We woke at dawn to find the chaos from the barbeque all around. Seagulls had feasted long on discarded flavour of ribs and the suchlike. Quite where to start. So, bin bags were filled, washing up done and all other tasks that needed to be done.

There was just time for a shower; Julie went in as a calm woman, the same I had known for the past two years, but came out ‘with a panic head on.’

One of the jobs that needed to be done was going to the tailor to change the top hat. Somehow the wrong size one had been put in the box, and the hat sat on top of my head in a very humorous way, but not at all becoming. Julie also had to go and have her nails done; a first for her, and she had been growing them for weeks, making typing ever more difficult. Dropping her off in the centre of town, I headed to the main car park nearest the tailor.

Hughes is an old fashioned shop; full of suits, but served with manners from days gone by. The door would be opened, and all the other such things that are vanishing from the modern world. With minimum fuss a replacement hat was found, this one a perfect fit, and I was on my way back home.

I got a call from the planner asking about ice, and a mild form of panic formed in my head; and upon Julie’s return we checked with Jen and realised there was going to be no ice to keep the drinks cold. So, against all our plans we found ourselves having to go to Tesco’s on a Saturday morning, mixing it with families and the confused to get bags of ice. We filled the trolley with bags, checking that we could use the express checkout and have 10 items or less.

The cashier looked at us strange after looking at our purchases, ‘do you have some kind of ice fetish,’ she asked. ‘Wedding; drink; no ice; panic!’ I replied. She seemed happy at this. She had been passing the time of day with an old friend as we waited to pay, and as the minutes dragged by I could see the minute hand on a clock in my hand sweep round like the blade of a fan. We then had to get to the other side of town, mixing it with traffic heading to the port as the tunnel was still closed. Thankfully, we did not get held up, and we arrived at the barn as the planner did and at least it was open.

As we stood there, the florist arrived, dropping off the table arrangements before heading to Julie’s Dads to deposit the bouquet and buttonholes. The caterer was there, already preparing our wedding breakfast, and seeing everything come together was reassuring, but also creating an even greater sense of panic as we realised it was now less than three hours to the beginning of the ceremony, and we had to get home, then Julie to her Dad’s, my best man arrive, get ready.

Aaaaarrrgggghhhhh.

Thankfully there is a back way into Dover and right to our street, and so we were back home and only mildly worried within a few minutes. Julie had all her stuff in a bag, and so grabbed that and headed up to her dad’s, leaving me to shower and get ready, and wait for Mike, Julie’s brother and my best man, to arrive.

Unbeknown to me; Mike had decided to walk up from his house, and therefore be fashionably late and causing the panic level to rise still further. Causing me more worry was the discovery that there were no cufflinks in with the suits and shirts. My fault for not checking, for sure, but this meant I had to call Tony, Julie’s father to see if he had any; no dice. The only thing to do was to call Hughes and ask them; apparently the cufflinks were in the inside pocket of the jacket; I failed to see that there were two inside pockets and so checked just the one.

Another panic over, Mike arrived and it really started to come together. Thankfully the suits fitted, and somehow I had managed not to cut myself shaving, and it was time to head out to the pub down the road for some Dutch courage and to wait for the limo to take me to the barn. Whilst walking down I received a call from the limo driver, he was coming into town from a different direction and the directions to the pub did not work. I say I received a call, I had a voice mail asking me to ring him back and guide him to the Five Cups.

I did not have his mobile number; the only thing to do was to call Julie, and she call him back as she had the number. I really did not want to worry her right at that moment, but I had no other choice.

So, with that sorted there was just time to have a pint of Australia’s finest amber nectar before the Mercedes pulled up outside.

Our arrival at the barn was seen by no one, and walking into the barn itself we met just the photographer who was checking light levels and other such things. He set up a few shots of Mike and I outside, and it was during this that the registrar arrived; as did the first guests.
I have to admit that seeing that there was no one at all in the barn was a shock, but with 30 minutes to go before kick off I thought it a little early to worry too much. I had a short chat with the registrar, just confirming details I had given before, and then I was all ready to be wed.
More and more people started to arrive; I went round and thanked them for coming; then as two o’clock approached Julie arrived and I waited, back turned, for her appearance in the barn.
To be honest I was nervous, more than I thought I was going to be. The ceremony went by quite quickly; I slipped up on one part forgetting what I was supposed to say. It was a civil ceremony, nothing religious, no readings to be done, but instead there were passages about love and commitment; it was all rather wonderful, and I will try to post about that when I get home(I am writing this in Tuscany right now, more about that another time).

And after many nice words it was time to put the ring on her finger and for me to kiss Julie; and we were declared husband and wife. Everyone applauded, and we walked up the aisle outside to the marquee were we could meet each of our friends and welcome them as a married couple.
Second through was Julie’s father, but he could not stop and speak as he was choking back the tears. I gave him a look and went over and hugged him; he sobbed some more and patted me on the back.

Then it was time for the photos; with my Mother and Julie’s Nan sitting on chairs we arranged ourselves in ever bigger groups, as Colin snapped away. We then moved down to the Georgian townhouse that also stands there to take up places on the steps leading to the main door for some more pictures. The late afternoon sun beat down on us; the birds sang in the trees and all was right with the world.

We went back into the marquee where elderflower pressé was being served in champagne flutes. Seeing so many friends around was a real joy, and Jools and I circulated talking to as many friends as we could.

Then it was time to eat; we were seated at four round tables; Julie and I next to each other with each family next to us. This meant I was next to Mother dearest, but this was ok. We had steak, salmon, buttered potatoes, with salads of various kinds; followed by a choice of three desserts. The hobbits amongst the guest had two or even all three.

Then there were the speeches; Mike did not really know me, so there were not the usual embarrassing stories about the groom. I spoke only really to thank both Julie’s Father and my Mother for helping towards the cost, and to thank everyone for coming and making it such a joyful occasion.

Then the free bar opened.

We both mingled more; we watched the sun go down and the trees change colour. The DJ arrived and I said to play the usual cheese that gets played at weddings as I don’t think anyone would have liked Blister in The Sun, Wave of Mutilation or Train in Vain instead of Lambada, The Birdie Song or Agadoo.

The evening guests arrived from seven, and some of the older people began to leave. From that point on events get a little sketchy. One thing I do remember is that on of my friends of the matchdoctor site was there, and I forgot all about her until Julie mentioned her. How terrible I felt, all I could do was to blame the day and my mind being all messed up. But once I went over to say ‘hello’ to her, it was so good to meet someone for the first time that I felt had been friends for many years.

I think it would be fair to say I had had enough, but there were those who had much, much more. Glasses were dropped; people did fall around on the ground and I am sure people felt very silly in the morning.

It was left to Julie and I to get people into taxis and order plenty more, before it was time for us to climb into one of our own to get us back to the flat, and crash out for just three hours before it was time to get up, this time to get to the airport for the flight to Italy.

Friday, 19 September 2008

The day before

In fact this begins on Wednesday when Mother and Andrew arrived at Dover Priory station at ten past two.As agreed her friends came to pick her up to take her to the hotel, where they promptly left her as soon as possible with the final words of 'see you Friday evening'. This is what happens when you lie to friends and they find out.I took Andrew back to our place and cracked open a big bottle of ice cold German beer. and we kicked back and chatted.We picked Jools up from work just before half six as she had been putting in so many hours trying to clear her desk for two weeks holiday. But they kept finding more work. In the end she had to leave or she would have been locked in the factory all night.Back here we fired the Weber up, and with beer or wine, personal choice here. And we cooked bugers, some nice buthchers sausages and some mighty fine corn.And so to the day before. Or after. Anyway, Thursday. I picked up Andrew and Mother for a trip out to the game butchers we use. Its a half hour run out to the village, and on a nice sunny autumnal day, nothing quite beats the Kentish countryside. Once loaded with a huge box of various bits of animal, I thought we would try to get Mother into the flat not to be left out of things stuck in her hotel. Once out of the car she asked for a rest while she got feeling back in her legs.A rest means pause for a cigarette.Apparently.By this time Andrew and I were off into town to pick up the suits with top hats, etc.Back here to finish off the saffron buns I decided to make for those arriving early for the evenings bbq.Then in the afternoon meet up at the barn with Jools' Dad to deliver the booze and meet up with the organiser, sort out some last minute things, and then back here to chill before the gusts arrived.Although we did leave the wedding cake in the flat.So another trip was needed back to the venue to deliver that.About four we started to get messages from friends that there were in there hotels and guesthouses; so I said come on down to the flat for coffee and buns. Soon enough we had more people than we had chairs for, but as it was a fine evening it was nice enough out on the patio watching the world go by.At seven more people turned up, and yours truly donned his chefs hat and did his duty at the Weber whilst Julie did hers in the kitchen making coffe, splitting rolls and all the other things that needed to be done.Most left about nine, but my two oldest friends stayed until quite late as we progessivly sampled ever more expensive malts from my collection, and over a cigar and a very rare and peaty Islay we reflected on what was a rather good day.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Take a deep breath

So, Tuesday. I feel like I should be doing something more than I'm doing. But really thinking hard what can be done right now.Its three days to the wedding, various people have called confirming the details for Friday.

And tomorrow people start to arrive.

Well, Mother dearest.And one of my oldest friends, Rambo.Yes, Rambo. How'd he get the name? Well, he is the most timid and shy person you can imagine; but one day at the chicken factory someone nicked his Crunchie bar and the others from his section egged them into a fight. Just as the factory manager walked past.He was sacked on the spot; his Dad went up to the factory to ask from his sons job back. Which is what happened. And so the nickname stuck.

Apart from me, he is the only person to have been to all my weddings; maybe he's the bad luck charm? Not that I believe in such things.

He is going to be luggage porter and general dogsbody for the trip down by train with my Mother. I just hope it all goes well for him.Jools is having her hen night tonight. The booze cruise on a ferry fell through for one reason or another.

They are going to a local pub for a meal and some rose wine. I haven't work out how to put accents over letters yet, so thats not rose wine; oh you know what I mean.We did go and pick up the wedding cake yesterday; nothing too extravagant, just one tier. It'll do for us.I can't promise that I will be able to write much from now on, but I am going to take this opertunity to thank everyone who has sent us good wishes for the big day.

Thank you all very much.

Monday, 15 September 2008

The Arrival of the Orient Express

Folkestone Harbour



Thanks to the wonders of the internet, we are able to get almost information that we want, and much more that we don't. The key is knowing where to look of course.Throughout the year a branch of VSOE, the company that operates the Orient express runs dining trips through the UK, and one of the destinations is Folkestone.Folkestone is a channel port, and in many places is pretty ugly. But the town is overlooked by the whote cliffs, and down by the harbour is is stunning. And right across the harbour is a small branch line that used to serve the boat rrains to France. I can't begin to describe how beautiful the scene is, a multi-arched pier made of brick, with small fishing boats in front sitting on an azure sea. Well, at high tide at least.Network rail has been trying to close the half mile branch from the Dover to Charing Cross mainline due to cost, and as no train ferries run now scheduled services run down there. Just the occasional tour and during the summer the VSOE; The Orient Express.So, I noticed the Orient Express was due yesterday; and it being a stunning late summers day we decided to spend the day, or part of it at Folkestone in case the train used the branch. We arrived and managed to park the car on a street with no restrictions and headed off to see the view and try to find out some information. The securitry guard was in a bad mood, as we had disturbed him from reading The News of the World; too many big words, I guess. And his reply was how should he know. The harbour information kiosk was more helpful; she said if you see people tidying up the platform on the Harbour Station then it would be coming.We headed off for a walk around the impossibly pretty harbour, and saw there was a produce market on; we bought some French chese, pate and some crispy bread for later. Had a tea and a bacon butty whost we watched the world go by.After a while some British workmen with day-go jackets on surveyed the line, and began to half-heartedly clean the platform. No one else seemed to notice, but we sat down to see if anything else was going to happen. A passing guy who was parked up here because of the channel tunnel closure asked if we were waiting for the train, and when we said we were he told us it was due at twenty to two. Time then for a quick trip to the pub for some ale and a packed of salt and vinegar crisps before grabbing what I thought the best position.The barrier leading to the ferry terminal began to clang, although the barriers did not work, and a string with some red and white plastic was moved across. A distant train whistle signaled the iminant arrival as the train made it's way down the 1:30 embankment.A large diesel locomotive came round the bend between the houses and hotels; followed by a dozen immaculate dark red Pullan cars, with another locomotive at the rear, this one in dark royal red, as it is this one that hauls the Royal train when needed.

67006, the Royal train.

Seagulls scattered as the train went over the pier and the swing bridge; breaks squeeling over the rusty rails. A wonderful sight, and I snapped away to my hearts delight. The line may well close in November when the last VSOE service has run, in which case I have some stunning pictures.It was then time to head home and tuck into the bread, cheese, pate and a glass or two of red wine.Not a bad day.Although we did forget to oick up the wedding cake.


67006

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Meeting friends in the singular

It was last January when the arrangments were made for our wedding, including the stag night. Many people were suprised at the timing of the invitation, but as many of my friends are still in the Air Force and need that kind of notice to plan thir lives, but in for leave, etc. But even then if the call came, they would have to go anyway.The choice to meet up in London came as having to choose somewhere central, but easy to get to. And so thanks to the net via Facebook and a RAF website details were posted and invitations sent.Throughout the year I sent out reminders to people, postings on message boards. And so yesterday it was just a wait to see who would turn up. One or two had messaged me saying they could not make it, most didn't. Oh well, nothing could be done now.If the worst came to the worse and I sat in the bar and no one turned up, I would go and find the poshest place I could and have a meal . And then I wouldn't worry about how to get back to the Kent coast the worse for wear.Before setting off, Mother dearest threw us a curveball. In fact she had done that a few months ago without us realising. When she comes down for the wedding on Wednesday, she is to stay with friends in the town. A few days ago we got a call from them asking us to go round so we could say 'hi' before the wedding. We thought it was a courtesy thing, but it turned out there was a reason.As you may know, Mother is a big lady, and is not mobile at all. It's one of those things; she is trying to lose weight, or says she is. She walks around her house with a zimmer frame, and she can walk as far as her rubbish bin round the side of the house once a day.The fact she is planning on coming down on the train is a worry, but she says she has arranged help at stations she needs to change trains at. Anyway, that is something that we will worry about nearer the time.So, Friday night we walked down to where her friends now live; a flat in an old shchool building just down the road from us, and they only moved there four months ago, and it not a bad place.As soon as we walked into their place I saw the problem; they live on two levels with the bedrooms and bathroom on the ground floor and the living rooma nd kitchen up the stairs. Mum cannot do more than a couple of steps, and only once or twice a day; being in a place with a whole flight of stairs that she would have to tackle if she wanted to eat/go to the bathroom is something that is just not going to walk. The do have a stairlift that has a weight limit, but set lower than would be ok for Mother. Much lower.It seems her friends had been unhappy with some of the answers to their questions Mum had been giving them, and decided to ask me. At least I was being honest, and told them straight out it would not work. So, what to do? Well, Saturday morning I had to call Mother to see what she had to say. She says that she thought they lived in a flat with no stairs; her friends say she had known for months. Whatever. Whatever, indeed; but we now had just 4 days to find a place for Mum to stay that is disabled friendly and something near the centre of town.And I had a train up to London to catch. So, Jools went round various places and found a ground floor room on the seafront. Thank goodness for that, but the fact we were running around four days before the wedding when this is what all our planning over the months had been done to avoid. Sadly, Jools now sees the reason I say the things I do about mother, and it gives me no pleasure to be proved right. Again. Sadly, liars do get caught out eventually.Anyway, I caught the express service up to London, and was soon whizzing my way through the Kent countryside in bright sunshine. At Waterloo, after spending a penny; which thanks to the credit crunch a penny now costs thirty pence! I hailed a taxi, and told asked him if he knew the Wibbley Wobbley on Surrey Quays. He didn't, but getting his A-Z out he said it would be an adventure. So, we set off through the light Saturday traffic.The pub is on an old dock, now set between flats and old warehouses that are now loft conversions. Its an old boat, but is full of character, but those uneven floors would be trouble later on I warrant. I had a copy of the Times to read while I waited, and so I settled down on a trestle table on a small barge tied up bedise the pub. I fed a small duck soe chilli nuts I bought, the clever creature washing the coating off before eating the nuts.I got a call from a friend, Adam, who was about two miles away asking for directions. So, at least I wasn't going to be alone. As the day went on I got many text mesages appologising for not being able to be there. And it became clear that it was just going to be Adam and I for the evening.Although disapointing, it did mean not having to worry about having pints bought for me with the chance of there being a double vodka in it; and I had already thought about if it was just the two of us. We walked to the main road and hailed a cab, who whisked us to Butler's Warf to the Italian place Jools and I had went to the other week.A four course meal, a cheeky bottle of red, expressos and a Limonchello or two later, and the world seemed much better. We waled to a bar I knew near Borough Market for a large Irish Whiskey or two, before it was time for Adam to head to Kings Cross for his train to Cambridge, and I to Charing Cross for my train back to Dover.

Friday, 12 September 2008

More pictures of the week.

bales 13

Dover Patrol

low tide

Tornado

The Crossings at Kings Ferry

windmill 2

pictures of ther week

Channel Tunnel

DB 5

working

green tunnel 1

Hampton Court

Shore leave.

Friday 29th August.

And so after three days at home, I can now say I am getting used to it. After having the limited space and restricted time on ship; to be home and havve the time to do whatever I want is just great.I wish I could say that I have used my time in a fruitful manner and achieved many of the tasks I have to do. Some things have been done, some mail answered, magazines read and pictures uploaded to Flickr. But there is planty more to do.I have struggled with switching sleeping patterns, and have worken at half three, half four and today, five o'clock. By mid afternoon I feel like a zombie and the sofa calls for a snooze. And so Sulu and I take 40 winks beside the French windows with just the sound of the fledgling seagulls and the occasional passing train to break the slilence.I took Julie's Nan out for lunch yesterday; a quiet country pub nearby that does great ploughman's and real ale. She has her 94th birthday next month, just after the wedding, and I have spent most of yesterday designing a photobook full of pictures and the blogs from our trip to Cornwall. I can't wait to see how it turns out, as more of them could be the ideal presents for birthdays and Christmasses for years to come.Three weeks right now will see us as the new Mr and Mrs H; and how great that still sounds. We have hammered the final details of the wedding with the planner, and now all we need is the weather. Fingers crossed.This weekend we have several things planned. First of all, tomorrow morning Julie goes to pick up her dress if the fitting goes well. And then we head out to the Isle of Sheppy for a 10 mile walk along the mud flats and broken ribs of countless acient wooden ships. And then on Sunday we head to Loughborough to ride on a preserved railway, and see the first all new steam locomotive bulit in Britain since the beginning of the 1960s. 'Tornado' is not yet running, but is undergoing trieals before the final painting and then main line tests before she can run on the main line and thrill a new generation of children, and many older ones as well!Summer is threatening to come back tomorrow, but they said that for today and it didn't happen. We'll take each day as it comes.Have a spendid weekend, folks.


30th August

Well, days like today make the weeks spent working away worthwhile. Summer returned, maybe just for 24 hours, but to see clear blue skies and heat hazes is great. It was just wonderful to sit on the sofa beside the french windows with the sound of crickets birds and passing trains.Jools went to have the final fitting of her dress, and I stayed at home as I had been ordered to by her best friend; it's bad luck or something.Jools was back by lunch, and we had curried lamb and butternut squash pies. I hold my hand up now and admit I didn't make them; there's a farmers' market here on Thursdays and I stocked up. The Bengal mince ones were spicy man, but great. And then a cup of amoretto coffee and a saffron bun and we were set to head off to the Isle of Sheppy.Sheppy is in the estury of the Thames and hardly rises above the water. In fact at several points the sea on one side of the earthen bank we walked along looked higher than the farm land the other side. Andyway, a quick zip up the M2 and accross the Swale and we were in a different kind of place. It is rumoured that there are still people on the island that have never left; I can almost believe it. I guess the highest point of the isle is about 20 feet above sea level, and is made of rolling fields or just plain flat ones.To get to the walk we had to drive through Leysdown; a seaside village full of amusement arcades, fish and chip shops, fun pubs and pie and mash shops. And lots of families walking between these places. Beyond there, the land flattened out and we were soon beside sand dunes and the sea. We found a place to park and consulted our guide book, and then set off.At least there were no hills to climb, and the scenery soon became dull. But the rarer butterflies and damselflies at least lightened up our way. After a while we came to the most remote Kentish church at Harty. It was quiet, at the end of a 10 mile dead end country lane. Once this had been on the road to arty Ferry, but two newish bridges amde the ferry obsolete.A little further on was The Ferry Pub, and glories, it was open. Drinking on a walk is never a good idea, and on a hot summers day the Belgian blond beer and Kentish cider slid down easy. But we had four miles or so to get back to the car, and I realised we had two hours to get there before our car would be locked in for the night.Panic.So, we route marched back along a wide earthen bank that served to keep the sea out and the farmland salk water free. On one side was salt flats and meandering waterways, and on the other side drainage dykes and fields. There were no sounds of modern life, just the rustle of bullrishes as they swayed in what breeze there was.Three miles on, we came back to the sea, and the nudist beach.I thought it was a joke, but there were several creased bodies on display, and may more in the long grass.I hurried on by.We got back to the car with half an hour to spare,as the mist was forming on the marshes, and the sky turning to pink.Sadly a serious accident on the M2 meant we had to labour through endless traffic for mile after mile.But soon we were back on the open road and heading to Dover.There was just enough time to get in, feed the cats and fire up the Weber before it got dark, and tucked into those well earned burgers and corn.


1st September

It seemed such a good idea at the time; agreeing to travel halfway up England to the town of Loughborogh to see a steam locomotive. And come back again the same day.Even worse we had to be back by six in the evening for a family Sunday dinner.So, it was hard to get up out of bed at half five in the morning, get our act together and feed the cats, checking for dead wildlife before heading out onto the empty roads.Seems like not even Sundays are immune to crazy drivers, and as we headed out of London a group of boy racers decided the best way to honour a dead friend was to drive at 50mph in convoy up the M1.And then there was the fog. But that we will skip over and say that we did arrive at the headquarters of the Great Central Railway unharmed at half nine.And then we had to wait around for my friend who was driving over from Suffolk to meet us. At least there was a buffet on the station, and in mid-war chiq we sat down to tea and cake to wait.We had come to see a brand new steam locomotive, the first one built in Britain since 1960 or so. The brainchild of a group of people that took some 20 years and £3 million to make happen. Preserved steam is a booming business over here, and steam hailed trains can be seen most weekends hauling boys of all ages up and down the land. But these steam engines are old and wearing out. So what better idea than to build a new one.And so the A1 Locomotive Trust did just that, and it is now ready to go to work.At the moment it is in just its primer, and not in steam, but from mid-September it will undergo mainline trials. So for now it is on disply for those interested at the Great Central Railway in Loughborough.We also could go for a ride on one of their other steam engines, and take pictures.Many pictures.And have lunch on the train as the smell of smoke mingles with that of frying eggs and bacon.There are worse ways to spend a Sunday.My friend who also like all things train shaped had a great time too. As did Jools; she loves travelling on a train and watching the countryside, and lets me go off and takes pictures, and together we really enjoy ourselves.Soon enough it was time to head back home for that date with a roast beef dinner. And we did it, with 40 minutes to spare. Nothing quite like a roat to make the day perfect after a hard days travelling and photographing.


8th September


Hello folks and welcome to another Monday morning. Quite how I have the strength to face another week is beyond me, but I have struggled out of bed, had a cup of vanilla laced butter pecan coffee and thought about what to do with this, amazing sunny day.First off; make some nice wholemeal bread rolls laced with various nuts and seed. I know the recipe well enough to throw guessed weights in the bowl and mix, then kneed. Ah, smell the yeast already.I check my mails to find I have none. Well, I'm not the best online friend these days, so no real surprise there. Next, to download the pictures from the weekend and load them into photoshp to be messed about with later.Jools has gone to work, and left me with the cats and a sink of washing up. Well, I think I can squeeze that task into the day at some point.Friday:Well, after spending the day watching more rain falling outside, I stayed in and listened to the radio and actually got round to some chores. It'sabout time, Ian. I did bake a vanilla cheesecake, and it was with some self control that I kept it in the fridge until Jools came back to share with. Nothing quite like cheesecake, and the vanilla one is my favourite, and with a whole vanilla pod and a spoonful of vanilla extract; set the dial for maximum vanilla-ryness!Jools headed up to her Dad's for a final try on of the dress and some thinking about beading decoration she was not too sure about. She decided to leave them on. She seems happy enough, which is for the best really.As it was now later we sent out for pizza. Mmmmmm, bbq chicken flavour, and some cold beer. Cider for Jools. And enough left over to have cold for lunch tomorrow. Works for us.Saturday.More chores this morning; off to the tailors to the final measurment of my suit and settle the bill. Pay the florists bills and arrange delivery of buttonholes. And pick up the wedding ring for Jools. She has a 22 carrot one with an inser single diamond. Looks really nice.Back home for luch; cold pizza and cheesecake. Even more vanilla-ry now. Oh, it's a hard life.We have the afternoon free, and so we head up to the cliffs for a walk and some photographs. It was a breezy day, and the Englsih Channel was all capped with white horses, and the ferries were diving through waves. It was also a bright day, and it was glorious to walk along the edge of the white cliffs. Fields went down right to the edge at times, and the rolled hay bales made for another great subjest for yours truly and his cameras.In the old coastguard staion is a small cafe; and so we stopped off for tea and cheese scones. All with the views across the channel to France.Sunday.I have made friends with one of my contacts from the Flickr website, and we planned a day up in London. So it was early that we left the house and cats to pick Bob up to head for Folkestone as engineering work meant there were no trains out of Dover all day.At the filling station there was a young mother with a baby in pushchair, and she asked the teller if they sold baby milk. No, was the answer. So, there being seven hours until the shops open we guessed that was how long the baby was going to wait for breakfast. As we drove up the road she was slowly pushing the sleeping baby back home.In the end we went up the motorway to Faversham to pick up a train as it has double the service that Folkestone has, and we would arrive in London at Blackfiars which was nearer where we wanted to go to. The arrival at many of the London terminii stations from southern England into London is to cross the Thames with stunning views both ways over the many bridges.The promised sunny weather failed to happen, but we made the best of things. it was only a short walk to Waterloo to pick up the train to Hampton Court. Another crossing of the river was called for, and the wind whistled through my summer clothes, with a reminder that autumn is close by if not already here.Hampton Court palace is just an half hour train trip out of the centre of London, and could be a different world; in many ways it is. Built by Henry VIII, it is a wonderful place with stunning gardens all set in huge grounds beside the Thames. We did not go into the palace, but made do with the grounds and gardens. Most of the eople there were Americans; not that I have a problem with that; just showing that locals really don't visit stuff on their own doorsteps.We had a shedule to keep, and so by half two we were back on the train back into central London for a date with the East End.Well, not quite the East End, but St Catherine's Dock and beyond to the edge of the new commercial centre around the old docks at Canary Warf.Many of the old warehouses have been turned into luxury flats and condos, and in-between former docks held yachts, boats and other rich mean's playthings. Occasionally, there were reminders of its past use; brightly painted cranes and other industrial detritus served now as eye and camera candy.The promise was of three tradtional East End pubs beside the river; and it was The Town of Ramsgate that won out for our custom. Mainly as they served Adnams on draught and still had roast beef left. So, we drank some, and ate roast beef which was welcome.We had intended to walk back to Blackfiars, or at least to Tower Bridge, but as as a bus stopped as we passed a stop, we decided to hop on and make it back to the station for an earlier train.And so as the light of the day faded we rushed through the Kentish countryside back home.



12th September

In one week I will be in a panic.So will Jools.So will all our families.It will be T minus three hours and a couple of minutes. After something like 9 months planning will hopefully all come together for one glorious afternoon and evening.This week there have been the odd chore to do, some final bills to pay and general organising stuff. Talked to the photographer yesterday, he is nearly a friend and so we have done a deal. He is staying with his partner for the meal and evening thing. And so tomorrow is the first major item of the wedding; namely, the stag night. Or as it is described on my Facebook page; Stag day evening thing. As I mentioned before many of my Air Force friends are away in Afghanistan and so can't come; many others live further away and due to losing their jobs can't come either. And so, 24 hours before I climb on the train to head to London town I have just one friend confirmed who will be there.At least it will be a cheap night. Anyway, the guy who is coming is my best friend and we see each other only a couple of times a year and if it is just us, then share a bottle of wine during the afternoon and then o to a swanky resturant for a slap up meal with lashings of ginger beer and maybe a show in the evening.It won't be a dead loss for sure. Sunday, the Orient Express is coming through and so we will be heading into Folkestone to see it and maybe take some pictures. We will be taking my new local friend, Bob; yes, that's his real name. And sadly has a very similar sense of humour and is a bit on the geeky side, needless to say we get on great. Just pity poor Jools sat with us all day.It all begins on Wednesday when my Mother and my friend Rambo arrives on the 14:10 train from London. The next day many of my other friends arrive and that night we hope to have a bbq here in the flat. Or in the garden so the smoke detector doesn't go mad and call the fire brigade.That afternoon, we are all going to be transporting the booze from Tony's lock up to the venue, and then sorting out the final arrangements.Friday morning, I have to go round putting signs at major junctions so people can find their way to the venue, and then try not to get too nervous. A wee dram might help.And then another might help the first do its important job.And so on. And that really is it; all systems go. I have already started to fill on various forms as Mr and Mrs Jelltex, which is fine, but made me realise how darn close it is now.Thank you for all your good wishes, and I will try to keep you informed as the days go by.