Adventures in Home Education & Asperger's Syndrome

We stayed up all night last night. Or at least most of us did. James succumbed sometime around 2.30 I think and Matthew crashed out at just after 6, but Robert and I hung on until the very last result had been counted. We both finally hit the hay at something like 8.30 this morning.

I found it impossible not to watch every moment of the process of vote counting and every result being announced. I was glued to the BBC coverage from the minute the polls closed at ten last night until Robert downed a bowl of cereal and then staggered off to bed some ten hours later.

Yesterday was a strange and surreal day. After we voted there was nothing further to do except bide our time and then watch the future unfold in front of us.

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For the first time since this campaign began I actually felt almost excited at what was happening. People have frequently described this whole process as historic, but last night it felt genuinely for the first time as if we were indeed watching a moment in history playing out before our eyes.

This is not to say I was hoping for a Yes vote. I most assuredly was not. In fact I became more and more conscious of how very very deeply my desire for a No vote ran. It seemed unthinkable that in just a few short hours we might no longer be residents of the UK.

Anyway, as you all know, in the end that didn’t happen. The No voters won the day, albeit by a relatively small margin. I went to bed last night…sorry, I mean this morning…feeling as if the heavy weight I’d been carrying around for weeks, months even, had finally lifted.

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And I slept very well indeed, for a full three and a half hours anyway, until I had to get up and make lunch. Or breakfast. Or whatever it was.

This afternoon James and I went up to the shops. No one we saw was saying much. Most were just getting on with their lives as usual, possibly a little bleary-eyed but otherwise seemingly hardly shaken after such an epic night.

And so we carry on here in Scotland and in the UK.

Yay!

Things have undoubtedly changed though. Perhaps not as dramatically as 45% of people living in Scotland were hoping they would, but they have changed nevertheless. No politician can possibly ignore the power of feeling expressed by 1.6 million people. Or if they do it will be at their peril. There needs to be discussion about the future, about the greater devolved powers promised last week and how to help people unite again and move on together.

Lots and lots of discussion.

The papers varied a bit in their stance this morning.

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The Scotsman declared its support for the No campaign recently, choosing to remain factual in its headline coverage.

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The Evening News expressed a more emotional view of the result.

It must have felt like the end of a dream for First Minister Alex Salmond who has just announced that he plans to step down.

So a new future for Scotland lies ahead. And for the first time for a long time, I’m feeling optimistic.

This morning Clan Newnham hiked en masse to our local polling station to cast our votes.

And now there’s nothing more to be done except wait.

Who knows what changes tomorrow may bring?

I took a few photos, just to say we were there.

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After all the warnings about massive turnouts and special queueing measures I was worried we might have a long wait at the polling station, but it turned out we didn’t.

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Instead we just ambled in, did the biz, and left again. In fact we were pretty much the only people there at that moment.

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Apparently at another church they had two signs pointing in different directions. One said VOTE and the other PRAY. Presumably you do one followed rapidly by the other.

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The owners of the house overlooking the polling station made it clear how they hoped everyone would vote.

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And here we are having done the deed.

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I didn’t intend to look quite as miserable as I do, but there you are!

So by this time tomorrow we’ll either be an independent country or we won’t. Either way I suspect it’s going to take a while for the dust to settle.

And then I suppose what will be will be.

The referendum to decide on Scottish Independence is less than ten days away. Next thursday, September 18th 2014, Scotland will decide its future.

Yes or No

I probably should come straight out here and say that I for one am a definite No.

I’m strongly in favour of maintaining a United Kingdom. I fear that division will make us all weaker and believe that there is strength in unity, particularly during such uncertain times. We’re better together, as the No campaign has been quietly and almost apologetically suggesting in its barely noticeable campaigning leaflets.

I don’t know for certain, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only No’er in our household. For this one event the Scottish Government has decided to drop the minimum age for voters to sixteen. This means that for the first time ever, Clan Newnham will be heading to the polling station en masse.

Despite my personal feelings about the importance of maintaining the Union, we’ve done our best to put across neutral and balanced arguments to the boys, to allow them to make up their own minds about how they wish to use their votes next week.

It’s probably fair to say that Matthew has managed considerably better than I have to remain neutral during our debates. The boys are in fact in no doubt at all about where I stand.

In my defence they have always been their own people and are both more than able to make their own decisions based on reason, logic and the information they see in front of them. I acknowledge that there is certainly an emotional element to my decision, although I really don’t think that’s such a bad thing. Some of us are swayed a little more by our hearts and others by their heads. But I feel we really need both.

So we’ve watched some of the debates on the telly and discussed them at length.

We’ve glanced at the blurb that’s come through the door and listened to what others have been saying on Facebook and twitter.

I suspect the boys both lean in favour of a No vote, but I haven’t asked them directly. Matthew has remained open to the debate and I think has yet to make a final decision. And that’s the point.

We each have to make up our own minds and vote according to our own beliefs and feelings. Someone recently put a message up saying neither Yes or No but simply, stop telling me what to vote, I’ll decide thank you.

This morning the news suggested that the polls had for the first time moved slightly in favour of a Yes vote. It seems the two campaigns may now be neck and neck.

On our way to collect our dog-sitting hound this morning, I took a camera with me and snapped every window notice I spotted around the area. It seems like we may on the verge of an historic moment. It may or may not be the one I would personally wish for, but either way I feel I ought to acknowledge the moment.

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Campaigning material for Yes

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And No

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Some of our neighbours feel pretty strongly about it all

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On both sides of the vote. These two happen to live in the same stair as each other, but as far as I know they’re still talking

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The Saltire pops up quite often 

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At least the Nos say thanks. Well some of them

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The Wee Blue Book appeared recently, or at least we only heard about it last week. It contains a detailed analysis of what a vote for independence might mean to Scotland. It’s been compiled by the Yes campaign but there doesn’t seem to have been any sort of defence by the Nos. If there has we haven’t heard about it anyway.

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I reckon there are about three Yes notices to every No one. Maybe many people are reluctant to say what they plan to vote for fear of a backlash

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It’s hard to say.

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So who knows? Next time I write a blog post here it might be from a foreign country. That is, for me at least, a strange and disquieting thought.

Gerbil Happiness

With all the excitement of the summer and the book festival and such, the gerbils have been rather low down on my list of priorities. Don’t get me wrong, they have been fed and watered and cleaned out regularly, but I haven’t otherwise spent much time chatting to them and providing them with cardboard entertainment.

They get a bit bored with nothing much to do and tend to curl up and sleep their days away. Yesterday I glanced into their tank as I wandered past and there wasn’t a gerbil in sight. Not a tail or a whisker to be seen. The tank looked clean and tidy in fact and that didn’t seem right.

I was a wee bit worried actually. The gang are heading into their middle years, in gerbil-world and if they don’t show themselves for a day or two I start wondering if something’s wrong.

So I lifted the lid and had a bit of a furniture reorganisation, changed their water and added more food, spread some bonus seeds about for foraging purposes and added a batch of loo rolls and some other cardboard I’ve been collecting up on their behalf.

Still no sign of life.

I closed the lid and went away to wash my hands and make myself a coffee.

When I came back the tank looked like a scene out of some weird rodent action movie. There were gerbils rushing about everywhere, jumping on and off nesting box roofs, running in and out of tubes, chewing manically on cardboard and racing each other up and down the bridge.

It was as if I’d somehow vented concentrated caffeine into their tank.

I couldn’t take any photos as all you’d see would be blurry furry images everywhere. Although, now I think about it, a burst of videoing might have been a good idea.

Anyway, the happiness in the tank was palpable. I pulled up a large bale of gerbil bedding, sat down and watched the fun as I drank my coffee. They really are entertaining little dudes sometimes.

Eventually the cardboard was all but destroyed, the best of the food had been foraged and the gerbils settled down into a sort of peaceful trance-like state.

This did finally allow me to take a few snaps. So here they are.

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Steve and Thor sitting next to the remains of a small house they once owned and have now eaten. 

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And now somehow Steve has been replaced by Bruce, although Thor doesn’t seem to have noticed.

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As you can see, Bruce is the most difficult gerbil to photograph successfully. He tends to look more like a gerbil shaped hole. This is probably the best photo I’ve ever managed to get of him, as usually my camera struggles to keep him in focus. He is in focus, if you look very closely.

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Steve on the other hand is very photogenic. I was told his colouring is rarer than the others, although this may be complete hoo haa. Either way his coat is like that of a Siamese cat, which is lovely and reminds me of Emma, the beautiful seal point Siamese we had years ago.

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Here’s Tony. He’s quite shy but braver than he used to be. He’s the one that prefers to sleep upside down, in the dead rodent position. It’s always a relief to see him revive. He has also got front paws, by the way. Perhaps on reflection this isn’t the best photo of him.

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And then of course we have Thor again. He’s secretly my favourite, but don’t tell the others. He’s the bravest of the gerbil clan and the one who likes being handled the most, or at least puts up with it the best. He does enjoy having a bit of a chew on my engagement ring, if given the chance. In fact he’ll hold on to it so hard sometimes that I can lift him off the ground by his teeth alone. I don’t encourage the chewing though, mainly because if he swallowed one of the tiny diamonds I don’t fancy having to search for it later.

And on that delightful note I’ll end my rodent ramble or gerbil… blurble.

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Until the next time.

More time has passed since I last wrote a blog post than I’d realised.

I’ve decided to put this down to how totally immersing the party was and not to how lazy I’ve been about writing ever since.

Well, I’m back now and ready to give you an exciting run-down of the wonder that is…

THE EDINBURGH BOOK FESTIVAL 2014

I love the book festival. I think I may have mentioned this before. Probably every August since I started this whole blogging thing. I could check but I haven’t. I’ll leave that to you. Or not. Whatever.

This year the weather was a strange mixture of wonderful sunshine and pouring rain, sometimes shifting between the two in a matter of moments. But there was enough good weather to enjoy plenty of relaxing afternoons in Charlotte Square gardens eating and drinking and watching the world go by.

My brother Tim came up for the second week of the festival, which was excellent. He and I left the boys and Matthew to fend for themselves for whole afternoons and evenings at a time while we meandered around the book shop tents, drank tea, coffee, hot chocolate and Pimms (depending on the weather) and people-watched.

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First day of the book festival. The lady selling The Scotsman was offering an amazing array of freebies with the paper. Over several days we picked up free recipe books, coffee, a dvd, children’s books and several I ♥ Edinburgh bags.

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Lots of events on offer over seventeen action-packed days

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One thing about Edinburgh during August…You never know who, or what, you might bump into on any street corner.

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The weather was lovely on the first day. Probably the best day of all in fact. And lots of people flocked to the gardens to enjoy the ambiance. It was busy but still relaxing. Quite different from the more frenetic activity of the rest of the city as it hosts the enormous event that is the Edinburgh International Festival. 

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Here people relax and read and chat and catch up on the latest news. 

Catherine at Book Festival 2014

This photo was taken by the book festival’s roving photographer and put on their website. I discovered it yesterday and spotted myself, captured (sitting on the chair to the left) mid ice cream and having a rifle through my free I ♥ Edinburgh bag!

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It was still sunny when I met up with cousin Ruth and daughter Molly. We ate more ice cream. Of course. Shortly after taking that photo we all had to run for cover as the heavens opened and drenched the place.

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And the people

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The sky transformed as we watched from this…to this. It doesn’t look as dramatic here as it felt at the time. Imagine thunder and rain and a 5 degree temperature drop.

Despite the varied weather there were plenty of interesting events to choose from. I didn’t buy many tickets but did manage to sneak into a book signing queue to speak to one of my favourite authors.

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I chatted to Alexander McCall Smith about greyhounds* and he signed a book for a friend of mine who’s also a big fan.

Tim, Matthew, the boys and I did actually attend an event with Michael Morpurgo and a French illustrator called Barroux.

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While we waited to go in we ate…yes, ice cream

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We had to wait quite a while

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But it was worth it. 

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Barroux brought original drawings with him to show us and the WW1 French soldier’s diary that he found and illustrated.

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He also signed our books with an artist’s enthusiasm.

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This is his book, in both English and French

Tim and I did quite a bit of chilling out in and around the book festival.

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Pimms was involved at times.

One interesting event we didn’t manage to get tickets for was with the famous Japanese author Haruki Murakami

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Apparently, in Japan, Murakami gets mobbed by the press wherever he goes, so he requested that here he carry out his signing behind a curtain, out of sight of the cameras and press. So we watched as the patient queue of people clutching their books disappeared one by one behind the curtain, emerging a moment later the other side. Apart from this there was no mob waiting however, just the two of us and a man waiting for a cup of tea. At the end the staff formed a protective wall of people behind which Murakami escaped from the watching crowd of three.

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And then all too quickly it was the last day. We all spent the evening mooching about, not wanting to say our final goodbyes for another year.

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But finally it was time to leave. 

We are lucky to have such an event almost on our doorstep.

* The reason we chatted about greyhounds was because Sandy used to say hello to Judy whenever we bumped into him in the street, which we did quite regularly as he lives on part of what was our main dog-walking route. Also, as I may have mentioned before, Sandy once included us (well, mostly Judy) in one of his books. It is a fleeting mention, but a mention never the less. If you want to find us/her you’ll need to search “The Lost Art of Gratitude” chapter 8, just after Jamie’s lovers song. Blink and you’ll miss us.

It’s been an amazing summer so far. The last seven weeks have been spent in sunny Devon and now we’re back up in sunny Scotland again. Time goes so fast when you’re having fun.

Much of the Devon time was taken up with party planning.

It’s surprising just how much planning is needed for a party isn’t it? Well, this party certainly.

Many of you will know about the party because many of you were there. Sixty of you actually, well fifty eight to be absolutely accurate. But for the purposes of this blog I will assume you know nothing about the event and give you a guided and illustrated tour of what happened. Because that’s what I do.

The event was my mother’s eightieth birthday. Her birthday was actually in May and she celebrated it then by going out for lunch with my brother Tim. She also received lots of presents and wonderful flowers and generally seemed to enjoy herself.

Last summer while down on our annual visit I casually suggested the idea that to celebrate her big birthday in a bigger way we could have sole hire of a youth hostel for a weekend and invite the whole family. I thought Ma wouldn’t want to do this but I was wrong. She thought it was a great idea and within moments we were discussing it with the extended family and picking possible dates.

We chose August because the boys and I would be down there anyway, Tim had a small gap in his incredibly busy schedule and most other people would be about to start their own summer hols. Actually we originally booked the weekend before last but the hostel was double booked and so we had to move it on a week. The previous weekend was very hot and very sunny. Last week was…er… changeable. Ah well. The rain and hail and thunder ended up being a bit of a feature and it all mattered far less than we feared it would. And we did get enough sun to get a few outdoor photos, so all was far from being lost.

And so exactly one year ago we started planning and organising. I contacted family and sorted out numbers and accommodation and financial stuff and found a hog roast man and paid a deposit for it all and confirmed things and double checked it all and emailed people and worried a wee bit and then didn’t do very much else for several months.

In the new year I focussed back on it all again and did a bit more organising of finances and hogs and people and such and then put it aside for several more months.

And then it was nearly the summer again and we were making plans to travel south again and I panicked a wee bit about the party and started buying disposable plates and napkins and cups and bowls and cutlery, as you do. And also, being a bit of a geek, I started making notices about things and laminating them. I love my laminator. Strange but true.

Once we were back in Devon again this June, Ma and I set to with the lists. SO MANY LISTS.

We made lists of food, lists of people, of rooms, of equipment and of more food. We listed what needed to be made, what needed to be bought, what we could ask willing ‘volunteers’ to help with and anything else that needed to be on a list plus several things that didn’t.

Next we decided to do a recce to help us plan what was needed. So one sunny morning we packed a picnic and, with the boys, drove up to Gloucester to Slimbridge youth hostel where we spent several hours sussing out the place, looking in kitchen drawers, checking out the bedrooms and making more lists. It was the most useful part of the whole planning process by far.

The next several weeks went by in a haze of meringue cooking, soup making, label printing and secret cake baking, until we could do no more and we finally stopped and waited for the party weekend to arrive.

I’ll stop yakking now and just show you some photos of the party.

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This is one of the piles of stuff we accumulated as we prepared for the party. It’s bigger than it looks. 

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 And this is Tim attempting to get it all into his car. I don’t know how but he managed to do it. Just.

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And this is him getting it all out of his car at the other end. There were a LOT of boxes and bags. 

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Slimbridge welcomed us…

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And we welcomed everyone else.

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People brought lovely flowers.

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We put up a noticeboard to show where everyone was staying.

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And labeled each room so in the night no one got lost. Ours was the Scottish suite. We also had a West Country Suite, a Yorkshire one, a Wessex, a Halifax, a Northern one, A White Horse, a Long Boat, a Devonshire and a Maple Leaf Suite. Each intended to have a link with their occupants.

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And placed welcome bags in every room, containing Devon fudge, weird name badges made from a jigsaw I found in a charity shop and a card featuring the in-house star Bruce the Goose.

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The card gave details of the itinerary for the weekend

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Bruce the Goose was extremely popular with everyone, especially the young. He was chatted to constantly and fed croissants on more than one occasion.

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The rooms were excellent. More like hotel rooms than hostel ones for many of us. Two dorms however had ten and twelve beds respectively. Lucky our lovely cousins all get on so well.

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The food proved plentiful, despite our concerns that people might be left hungry. Friday’s pot luck supper was huge and many people took home bags of spare food on Sunday.

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Jess and Lizzy did an amazing job of the table decorations which looked stunning.

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Really beautiful.

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 Saturday was Hog Roast Day. Shaun and his assistant did a great job. It was really delicious and extremely efficiently done. First class service from them.

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And for those who preferred the vegetarian option, a veggie lasagne. My first actually. Great moment to try out a new thing. No pressure at all.

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During the afternoon, Tim, Lizzy, Jess and I made several discreet but focussed visits to the classroom where between us all we gathered together and decorated all the secret cakes people had kindly helped make.  The pressure began to get to us after a bit and hysteria set in. It was hilarious.

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Between four of us (Tim, myself, Jess and Ruthie) we made eight cakes, not counting the failed ones made using the recipe I initially gave everyone, which proved to be exactly half the size it needed to be. We reckoned that between us we’d used just shy of eighty eggs in total. An appropriate number considering the birthday they were being used to celebrate I suppose. Those chickens gave their all in the making of these cakes. But it was worth it in the end I think.

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Da daaaa!

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Here is the finished garden mosaic cake, with integral gnomes and a sad rabbit and a happy mole, hiding there on the cake top right, next to the tree which shortly was felled as the icing trunk finally gave way under the pressure. I know how it felt.

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Martin was instructed to distract Ma while the party assembled around the cake. He then brought her in and made a wee speech, thanking her for being such an amazing wife and mother and everyone else for all that had been done for the party. It was perfect.

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And now for lots of photos of people enjoying the party. Here we have Tim, Lizzy and Jess eating pudding.

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And here are some of the young ones having fun. Ruby, Jakey, Olivia and Megan.

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And even younger ones having breakfast. Olivia, Lola and Florence.

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Some had their own individual ideas about what constitutes fun. Little Michael being a transformer I believe.

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Beth looked lovely in her new dress.

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Tim, Robert, me, James and Martin.

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 Ruth and Neil

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Molly, Ruby, Megan and Eloise

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Colin, Josh, Matt, Jeremy and Margaret

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Tony, Matt, Jess, Lizzy and Ray, who had travelled all the way from Canada for the party.

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Heather, Barbara and Margi

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Ann, at 91, was our oldest attendee.

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Sisters Ruthie, Ray, Margi, Ma and Liz

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        Rhiannan, Léonie and Eirwen

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Theo, Michael and Little Michael

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Sisters Rachel, Alex, Emily, Louisa, Beth and Jo with Jakey, Lola and Florence

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 Helen, Liz and Paul

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Andy, Jakey and Margi

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And the birthday girl herself with Lizzy and Tim

HAPPY 80TH BIRTHDAY MA

You don’t look a day over thirty seven. Honestly.

PS I apologise that not everyone who was there has been captured in the photos above. There are more pics to come once we’ve swapped around with each other a bit. Watch this space. Or another similar space.

The Tempest

The other night we went to see The Tempest.

It was an outdoor production and, for a while earlier in the week, we were afraid we would be experiencing it rather more personally than just on stage.

Fortunately the weather held, despite forecasts of thunder and lightning across the UK and the humidity you often experience in the lead up to a storm.

The evening was warm and sunny, with a pleasant cool breeze blowing across the fields behind us.

We came prepared though, after years of experience of this ever changing climate, with ground sheets and rugs and emergency raincoats. We used all but the coats. Even a warm sunny day can turn chilly by 9pm.

The play was held at Nethercott House, the home of the charity Farms for City Children and the venue for our wedding reception all those years ago.

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Getting set up outside Nethercott House

The Miracle Theatre company is based in Cornwall but tours the whole of the South West with its outdoor productions. They come to Iddesleigh every year and we’ve been going each summer since the boys were quite small.

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Over the years we’ve seen a number of Shakespeare’s plays; Much Ado, As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet… as well as Molière’s Tartuffe. A couple of years ago Ma took the boys to see The Importance of Being Earnest, while Tim and I were up in Oxford selling pots at Art in Action. Last year they saw an interesting production of Waiting for Godot, which they described as ‘thought provoking’.

The reviews for this version of The Tempest have been enthusiastic and we’d certainly have to agree. It was a really excellent evening, funny and clever and absolutely up to Miracle’s previous productions.

The boys were absorbed throughout and Robert in particular loved the humour. It was great to see him relaxed and laughing at the antics on stage.

I wasn’t able to take photos during the play, although I did manage to snap a quick pic of Ariel just as they started. The actress playing that part was outstandingly athletic and surefooted as she leapt up and down the simple stage layout.

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Ariel balancing on top of a tall pedestal. Very impressive performance.

It was hard to believe that there were only six actors in total, several playing more than one part, with some very quick changes taking place just behind the stage.

We took a picnic, of course. Sandwiches and pies, crisps and puddings, fruit juice and coffee and brownies. Fantastic.

I would post more photos, showing us all happily eating our picnic and so on, but the internet isn’t going to let me tonight, maybe it’s the humid weather, or perhaps it’s the heavy usage that’s being demanded of it from the boys’ gaming. Hmm, we’ll say it’s the weather eh?

If things improve I’ll add more photos later.

This week Ma and I took the boys on a journey to Middle-Earth.

Robert is an avid reader of all things Tolkien. He has bookshelves filled with tomes written by JRR, and not just the obvious ones. He’s also read many of Tolkien’s lesser known books, the ones I started and abandoned years ago or didn’t even know about at his age.

I remember reading The Hobbit with great delight when I was eleven and absorbing myself totally in Lord of the Rings at fifteen, reading it cover to cover in four days the summer I finished my ‘O’ levels. But, unlike Robert, The Silmarillion defeated me entirely.

I’m thrilled that Robert gets such pleasure from Tolkien’s magical world of Dwarves and Hobbits, Wizards and Trolls, and when Ma spotted that a Tolkien exhibition was being held not far away, at Rosemoor, the lovely RHS garden, we thought it would be an excellent outing and a way to get the boys away from their computers for a few hours.

DSCN6948Our journey into Middle-Earth started here

DSCN6962We were delighted to discover this impressively detailed Hobbit hole

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DSCN6976Our quest took us into the woods…Mirkwood presumably

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DSCN7008Fortunately there was help at hand. Take a close look up in the tree

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We heeded this warning, but crossed the bridge nonetheless

DSCN7016Fortunately, this particular Troll seemed like quite a gentle fellow, largely because he’s been turned to stone 

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DSCN7043We did find this Pixie house, which confused us a bit, there being not one Pixie in any Tolkien book, that we’re aware of. Still nice wee front door

DSCN7061Our quest ended here, with this rather magnificent Smaug, perched on top of a summer house filled with treasure, breathing wickerwork fire at passers by

It was an excellent quest and we were very impressed with the amount of work that had been put into the whole thing. As well as the Dragon’s Trail, they also had an exhibition of beautiful prints and original paintings of various scenes from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, by the Tolkein illustrator Ted Nasmith. Robert took great pleasure in checking out the titles, written in both English and Elvish.

In honour of Bilbo Baggins, we had a lovely picnic while we were there, eating quantities worthy of any hungry Hobbit or company of Dwarves for that matter.

We took a drive across the moors the other day.

Leaving Dartmoor behind for a few hours we ventured North East to Somerset, crossing the wilds of Exmoor.

Winsford is one of the four small Somerset parishes which together made up my father’s final incumbency before my parents retired to Devon, some twenty five or so years ago now.

We drove over to visit Ann, whose family have lived in the village for three generations.

Ann was keen to show us the church’s commemoration of WW1, a display of plaques giving detailed accounts of over forty men of the parish who served in the Great War.

The exhibition was very moving, with stories and photos of young men in uniform heading off to war. Many of course did not return.

The photos included one of Ann’s uncles. He died aged 21 in the trenches of France. The picture showed the pale face of a very young man, with no idea of the horrors that were to come.

The church was decorated with flowers and displays of croqueted poppies hung from the ceiling lights. In the church yard small wooden crosses with poppies were placed in front of the gravestones of all those who had served in the war.

It was a fitting reminder of the sacrifices of those young men. Such a small village and yet what an impact the war must have had on that community.

 DSCN6886Poppy flowering outside the church doors

Ann is a close family friend. She’s also an artist. One of the things we always enjoy when visiting her is being shown around her studio.

She has two large and wonderful old easels at which she still works. They stand the full height of the studio. She also has a large printing press, dating back to the late 1800′s and still used by her to make prints of her etchings.

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It is worked by turning an enormous spoked cog wheel (I’m sure there are actual names for all its parts, but I have no idea what they might be). The spokes must each measure three or four feet in length.

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I particularly love Ann’s work bench which is covered in an array of old tools and jars of screws, nuts and bolts.

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Next to her easels is a small table where she places her tubes of paint and the assortment of brushes with which she works.

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To someone who hasn’t picked up a paintbrush since school, largely due to being rather cruelly advised that my painting was like that of a three year old, all this paraphernalia is fascinating and holds a beauty all of its own.

Any visit to Ann’s isn’t complete without saying hello to the chickens and in particular to Alfred the Great…

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Such a majestic creature.

We enjoyed our visit across the moors, although were a little disappointed not to come across a deer or two during our travels.

Maybe next time.

Sunny Devon

It has been beautifully sunny ever since we made it safely to Devon six days ago.

I gather we left Scotland just as the heatwave hit. Twenty seven degrees shortly after we escaped. Phew!

Since we arrived, having successfully negotiated the various motorways and A roads that led us here via Nottingham (dropping Matthew off there for his meeting along the way) we have been relaxing and chatting and generally enjoying being back in the old country again.

Yesterday we decided to take a trip to my brother Tim’s garden to catch the final day of his summer exhibition, before it all gets dismantled.

It was another perfect day, sunny and warm and peaceful. The garden looks spectacular. It is even better than last year, if that’s possible, which is hard to imagine.

Of course I took pictures. And here they are, or at least some of them. I did take a lot.

DSCN6768 We had tea in the garden and the boys tested out the swing seat, on loan for the exhibition. It’s lovely!

 DSCN6832The pond in the foreground contained some interesting wildlife, and I don’t just mean the tadpoles. 

 DSCN6665This rather lovely creature could be found wallowing around in Tim’s pond, along with his/her friend. They seemed very well behaved fortunately.

 DSCN6666Gorgeous. 

 DSCN6707Ma and Tim admiring the borders.

DSCN6674 Even the best gardens can suffer from pest invasion.

 DSCN6726They grow them big in Devon

 DSCN6695These guys tried hiding behind the shrubbery, but being something around six feet tall, they didn’t do a very good job of it.

 DSCN6694Jemima…we can see you.

 DSCN6813Gorgeous planting. 

DSCN6762Some handsome pots, just so you know it’s not just about the wildlife.

The garden is fantastic. In fact it’s utterly beautiful. Everywhere you look, quite apart from the glorious planting and colour, there are interesting objects, some hidden surprises and many wonderful creations.

Inside the gallery there are some lovely flowery pots by Laurence McGowan.

I have so many photos that I can’t possibly show them all here, but hopefully you can get just a taste of how fantastic it all looks.

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