Saturday, April 23, 2016

Birthday cake and knitting

Maisie, my youngest grandgirl, turned two in the first week of my stay ... and Meghan asked me to paint her birthday cake. Yes, well, painting on icing is rather different to painting on paper, board or canvas, and I never have been much of a watercolourist anyway. So this was a little intimidating.

Here's Maisie's best friend Molly, with my daughter Meghan, and the birthday girl herself ... sadly not feeling too well as she was in the throes of developing big sister Holly's nasty flu bug.

Molly, Meghan and Maisie (Mai-Mai)

Meghan had chosen a "Guess How Much I Love you" theme (written by Sam McBratney and illustrated by Anita Jeram - and had the illustrated book, which made my life much easier. Nevertheless, I spent two whole days painting bunnies and their playthings on the cake. In the end it was really quite fun, with all my special girls peering over my shoulder with encouragement.

You can find all the pics of the progression of the creation of the cake here on Meghan's Facebook Cake Progression Page.

 I practised a little first on paper.

The final cake!

The party was a grand success with a jumping castle, bubble fun and colouring in for the kids, along with loads of cakes, cake lollies, jelly and pink juice to give them a good sugar overload. As mentioned, I couldn't catch Evie (the medium child, she emphasises not the middle child) because she's just never still long enough for anyone to know where she is! I did get a lovely one of Holly on the jumping castle slide, which I'll treasure. First, here's a formal studio shot of the three of them taken this past Christmas.

Evie, Maisie and Holly

Holly on the slide

In typical Evie-style, she was enthusiastic about choosing her wool with me, was quick to learn how to knit while Holly battled her 'flu, mastered it, and then lost interest. She picked it up every now and then because she wanted to please me but I could see she would rather be out playing (of course!) or be wriggling around singing or playing with Maisie. By the time I left, there were only a handful of rows on her knitting needles but plenty of giggles about how she had written "kinting" instead of "knitting" when she was taking notes during the learning procedure. Evie has just turned seven.

Holly, our big girl at nine years old this June, finally felt better and wanted to learn how to knit. She took to it like a duck to water and was soon clicking her needles and working her bright purple and pink wool at a rapid rate. I was so impressed because she is left-handed and I had taught her how right-handed people do it! Here she is perched on Maisie's pram while we had Sunday lunch with friends in the local pub, knitting like a pro.

I just had to take pics of her creation ... it's the most creative piece of knitting I have ever seen by a beginner. Somehow - heavens knows how! - she has created bunny tails and pockets in a length of knitting which I hope no-one ever sees fit to unravel while I'm not looking. It's just too precious for words. Evie helped me to photograph it just before I left and it's her little fingers you see indicating where one of the pockets is.

And then my whole trip fell apart.

I started feeling like I had Holly's 'flu at the party on the Saturday, met two lovely arty-farty friends for lunch at our local pub on the Sunday, and woke up feeling pretty yuk on Monday morning. But ... I had pre-booked a ticket to visit The Garden Artists exhibition - mainly Monet's paintings - at the Royal Academy of Arts just off Picadilly Circus in London for that Monday and was damned if I was going to miss it.

Meghan dropped me off at the train station in Stevenage, and from Finsbury Park I joined the London throngs and descended into the very windy tube tunnels to get myself to Picadilly. I hardly had the energy to walk to the RA, which is unusual for a hyperactive person like me, and found it difficult indeed to make my way through the crowds at the exhibition. I stayed only long enough to find out that I was attracted to Joaquin Sorolla's work even more than Monet's (don't shoot me anyone!!!) before I rang Meghan to please meet me at a much earlier train as I wasn't well and needed to go to bed for a day.

I collapsed into bed and only got up to dress for an outing to a stunning garden centre which the girls loved going to. There are animals and playground rides for them as well as normal garden stuff and stunning decor items for us grown-ups. And a tea room.

Hardly an hour into the outing I dredged up every ounce of energy I could find and went and sat waiting for them in the warm car, with every breath I took a painful and breath-stealing event. I wondered if I was having a heart attack. As soon as we got home Meghan tried to get me a doctor's appointment immediately, but failed, so called 111 who sent an ambulance (of all things!!!). Hardly able to stand or breathe, I still refused to get into the ambulance until they could assure me I wouldn't have to pay for it ... that would be all I needed to add expense to my trip! They assured me that extreme chest pain immediately qualifies folk for a free ambulance ride. Phew.

And so I ended up in hospital, with pneumonia having taken up residence in more than half of my left lung. The doc assured me it was very serious and then proceeded to give me something very strong which made me feel very happy and see red swirling patterns in the royal blue curtains. I became dimly, and extremely happily, aware of my worry-guts of a daughter telling me to stop scaring her. They kept me there for just over three days and forbad me to go to Ireland. Meanies. I was to recouperate at Meghan's house for ten days then drive straight home to France.

I stayed with Meghan for two days and then drove home to France. And now, two weeks later, I'm up for the first full day.

Let it be known that my daughter and husband are both angels in disguise. They've both got such a lot on their hands to do each day and yet they've both given me their love and care without a second thought.

I've run out of steam now (will this bug ever go?!) but might do another blog post tomorrow to show you what lovely things I bought at the Royal Academy of Art in London, and at the garden centre, in between painting cakes, birthday parties, knitting and pneumonia.

And I've still got to tell you about the Irish Faeries.

The Hunter's Moon

After my few hours of peaceful bliss in the Himalayan Gardens of Minterne House I only had to go a further 2 miles to find my first Britstop overnight safe-place. Britstop is a "club" we joined just before I left. It's based on the "France Passion" system which we have been members of for a couple of years. Various small businesses like (in England) pubs and farm shops, and (in France) wine or cider and various similar farms, pubs and restaurants, offer free overnight accommodation to motorhomers in exchange for non-obligatory purchases from their business. It's perfect for us, takes us to corners of the countries which we never may have found normally, and provides safe accommodation, sometimes with water, power and cleaning facilities as well.

The Hunter's Moon, pictured below, was my first Britstop overnight in the UK, where I enjoyed a wholesome dinner in front of a blazing fire - which was so blazing I had to ask to be moved a little further away from it! - and a safe night's sleep. Mind you, ever since we installed good solid locks on the passenger and driver doors of Milly, alarms on all the windows including the skylight, and an excellent sliding lock on the habitation door, I sleep the sleep of the happy dreamer.

I thought I might like to try and incorporate
these two lovely sculptures into a
painting sometime. They're in the garden
of The Hunter's Moon.

I didn't get any pics of the next day, Saturday, which I spent with my sister Pat and brother-in-law Lindsay, at the site of my next Britstop overnight, a farm shop, cafe and art gallery in Pylle, Somerset (near Shepton Mallet). It was rainy and dull and we spent most of our time chatting non-stop over lunch in the cafe. True to form, my scatty sister provided the best laugh. She visited the loo while Lindsay and I pottered over to the well-stocked art gallery ( for a gander. Pat joined me there and on our way back to the motorhome, past the cafe, she casually said: "Oh, I think I may have set off the fire alarm there." Evidently Lindsay had gone back to tell her where I was, and without thinking (told you, scatty) she turned to leave by the nearest door ... which just happened to be the No Exit Fire Alarm door! Being scatty Pat, she just carried on walking to find me, leaving mayhem and alarms ringing behind her.

Sunday was a lazy-driving meander in windy, but soft and warm sunshine, avoiding freeways (thanks to Hamba Kahle* the GPS), up to Meghan's house in Weston, Hertfordshire, where my blonde aka The Blonde and my 3 little grandgirls awaited with arms wide for Big Granny Hugs ... Holly's (the eldest) hug not as tight as usual thanks to a nasty 'flu bug she was enduring.

Next morning I kidnapped my daughter all to myself and we spent a lovely, jaw-wagging 24 hours together at my next Britstop overnight just outside of Cambridge. Pics below of our riverside parking in the grounds of a pub, and the beautiful late afternoon sky. Sadly the dinner wasn't anything to write home about.

The publican had assured me the ground was hard enough for me to park on overnight, and it felt okay to me too, so I took a chance. Hmmmm, it rained overnight and the next morning my front left wheel began to stubbornly dig itself in as we had sunk a little - probably due to the weight of water and paintings I was carrying.

Thanks to the days of Landrover driving in the complete no-wheres of Southern African desert and mud, I knew that a few well-placed twigs and small branches in front of each wheel, plus a little pushing help would do the trick. The publican and his son obliging came to be the pushing help. It didn't work at first but I realised that a little trick of playing with the clutch so that the motorhome rocked itself forward in and out of first gear, was the thing to do! Voila! And I earned a salute of respect from the publican who probably looked at this mother and daughter duo thinking he'd never get us out of there. He must have been relieved. I was.

We spent a lovely couple of hours wandering about Cambridge, along the river and at the edge of the University, having a delicious Chinese lunch, before heading back to the duties of Mum and Granny back home in Weston, just in time to take Evie to her swimming lesson. I don't have many (if any) photos of Evie from this trip .... she's a hard one to catch because she's either out playing with the neighbourhood kids, or swimming, or playing tennis or football. Hardly ever still for a moment.

Special days with my girls coming up .....

 * Hamba Kahle is Zulu for Go Well or Go Safely

The Chalk Man, Thomas Hardy and Minterne Gardens

I left in high spirits on the morning of Thursday 24 March ... putting the only Daffodil and Tulip flowering at the time in the garden, in a glass of water on the dashboard. I always like to take a little bit of home with me when I can.

Milly the Motorhome and I tootled along happily, enjoying the scenery and listening to "African Dawn" by Tony Parks, one of my precious audio books, sadly read by an Australian trying to do South African (both Black and White) accents. He read it well but pronounced it soooooo badly! I'm afraid only South Africans can do a South African accent. No-one else should really try if they don't want the world to reverberate with painful vibrations. I forgave him because I enjoyed the book, but my ears rang throughout with all the clangers.

I stopped off half-way at the St Malo Aire for a quick sandwich and chocolate milk, parked amongst the towering and intimidating trucks, before the final leg to the Cherbourg ferry terminal, joining the ferry queue with time spare to enjoy a cup of coffee before boarding. Milly was parked right up front on the ferry deck, out in the open, which didn't excite me at all, thinking of all the salt water which would collect on her. And yes, there was a big wet patch on the floor inside when I got back, thanks to spray being blown in through the fridge and oven vents. Hmmm, lesson learned. Don't be in a hurry to be first in the queue to get on the "Barfleur" from Cherbourg to Poole. Hang back so some other poor soul gets the full blast of the sea spray!

Arrival in Poole was late. I seem to remember it was 9.30 pm or so, so I spent the night, with a handful of other motorhomers, parked in the ferry check-in lanes, very safely and quietly. They ask you to pay £5 at the cafe for overnighting there, but each time I've stayed there the cafe hasn't been open at either my arrival or departure.

 Parked up at Poole harbour in the ferry check-in lanes

Good Friday morning set the scene for a few days of time confusion. France is an hour ahead of the UK in time, which, of course, not being a clock-watcher, I forgot about, so got up an hour earlier than I need have. Never mind, I lived by my hunger patterns for the next 48 hours, also forgetting that the Winter / Spring clock rewind took place on the Saturday night. Or is it that the clocks go foward? Aaargh! So confusing! Regardless, the hour difference and the clock adjustment blew my little mind and I had to keep asking folk I saw if they could tell me the correct time. I thought it more important to concentrate on driving on the left hand side of the road again because I've got so used to be a French driver now.

I loved the 45 minute drive to Cerne to see the rather proud man brandishing his weapon etched in chalk on the hillside. No really, I mean it, the weapon in his right hand!

The Chalk Man

The Chalk Man is quite impressive but once you've looked and taken photos, there's nothing more to do but go! I'm sure there must be a hike to get to him ... but then again, I think he's on private land, so maybe not.

English countryside is so breathtakingly beautiful, especially in Spring sunlight, and the English ability to name towns and places with almost fictional assurance never ceases to charm me. I almost went off the road when I passed an establishment called "Casterbridge Home" and remembered that this was Thomas Hardy country. I love most English literature and "The Mayor of Casterbridge" was the first serious work we were given to read at school. I absolutely loved it and was lucky enough to have an excellent English teacher throughout most of my high school years who, along with her stern demeanour to keep us all on our toes, managed to instill in me a love for the English language. I have since developed an interest in how words are used within a language by different nationalities, and thoroughly enjoyed using this twist when I wrote the profiles of more than 120 Irish artists. Another story, another time.

Later, after winding through country roads and villages, ooohing and aaaahing at their beauty and quaintness as I went, I arrived at one of Winston Churchill's family's former residences, Minterne, where their Himalayan Gardens are open to the public. In the ticket cabin I discovered from a brochure that there is a monument to Thomas Hardy in Dorchester … a must for me for a later visit to this area.

Three peaceful hours were spent wandering amongst plants and trees in the Himalayan garden, threatening Spring but not quite exhibiting the strength for it yet. It wasn't the best time of year for flowers, and the trees were waving leafless branches and twigs still, but loads of Daffodils and lots of peaceful time spent sitting next to waterfalls kept me more than happy and refreshed. The following gallery of pics are just a few glimpses of my time there. They speak for themselves, so I've only labelled a few of them.

 Reflections in the water

  Reflections in the water

  Reflections in the water

 This little fella just wouldn't play the game and
keep still for me so this is the best pic I can offer.
He's really beautiful though!

 The bench where I sat for ages just
listening to the waterfall and birds.

And so on to my first Britstop overnight at The Hunters Moon.