Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Rutland, Nottinghamshire, South Yorkshire, North Yorkshire, Country Durham, Galloway, South Lanarkshire, Stirling, Argyll & Bute
Please notice that at the end of this post I will give the new address to a new blog! By the end of this post I will have used up my free entitlement, so I’ve decided to start a new one with a slightly different name.
As the previous clients arrived home earlier than expected, this meant there were no worries about getting to Stevenage on time nor did I have the hassle of getting a couple of trains to join Dennis. As usual we took the long way around and ended up taking the route of the Olympic Torch Relay and the Olympic Cycle Road Race unintentionally, big signs were up every 100 metres or so telling motorists that these roads were to be closed later that day and on the 28 and 29 July, respectively.
We arrived at our Stevenage house sit to a big welcome from the clients. We had been there before during February, in the middle of winter and it was nice to think that the dog even remembered us! Mr Client is a very keen gardener and I was looking forward to seeing his gardens now that summer had arrived. He proudly took us on a tour and invited us to help ourselves to the vegetables, raspberries, red currants, strawberries and blueberries as they ripened, which we did. Unfortunately, the flower borders were just at the “in between” stage, the main flush of roses had finished and they looked a bit tatty, which was a shame. All the trees were in leaf and looked spectacular. I am still impressed with the abundance of extremely tall trees in England.
The house sits in a very small village near Stevenage, and with all the hoopla associated with the upcoming Olympics, this village had welcomed the entire Olympic Team for the British Virgin Islands. Their flag was flying on many of the houses as well as the Church which is at the bottom of our garden. From a distance the flag looked a little like our one or Aussie’s and when we asked “Whose flag is that?” the clients got very excited. They explained that the team had been staying with them and they had just transferred to the Olympic Village the day before we got there! The British Virgin Islands’ team actually only comprises two athletes but even so they had many coaches, officials and hangers-on, all up there were almost 30 people. There was already a framed photo of the team and the clients in her office, with the Premier of the Islands sitting proudly in the middle!
Talking about the Church, you may remember that I had texted the pastors complaining about how their clock was so slow last time and the bells were ringing 20 minutes late and driving me mad. Well, I am pleased to say that now they are only two minutes slow, I can live with that!
During one of our dog walks, we stopped off at a supermarket. I went inside and Dennis sat on a bench outside near the front doors, with Elsa on a lead. When I came out carrying a heavy bag full of groceries (I only went in for a few items!), Dennis had a real smirk on his face! At one point he noticed a man driving his mobility scooter past him, stop and back up. He looked at Dennis and the Rhodesian Ridgeback and said in a very broad English accent, ” You look like a man who knows all about dogs!” “Really?” “Yes. What’s the name of a Swiss dog with lots of letters?” “Saint Bernard,” was Dennis’ confident reply and was astonished when the man whooped and pumped the air with his fists in delight! He had only one answer left to complete his crossword puzzle at home !
We had a lovely stay at this house, in fact this home is our favourite one. It is so spacious and elegant but is truly a family home. One where the occupants use each room and do not treat it like a show home. Elsa is a lovely dog, who doesn’t mind if we have a wee sleep in of a morning, not like most of the others. Where their master has to get up early each day to commute to London, the majority of the other animals are used to having their morning feed from 5.30 a.m. onwards and were very impatient with our lax attitude!
I was pleased we had the use of their TV on the night of the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. We were impressed with the spectacle. It’s been amazing to witness how the English have embraced the whole hype over the last few months and turned out in their thousands wherever the Torch Relay has come around. As a rule, we made a point of avoiding the towns where the roads were closed as the traffic built up near the area was horrendous. It is very strange to watch the actual Olympic Games on telly or listen to the radio news as of course the coverage is all centred on the GB Team and they hardly ever talk about any other country unless they are in direct competition for the medals. Unless we go on the internet we have no idea of what NZ athletics are up too, it’s as if they haven’t done anything more than wave to the crowd on their circuit at the Opening Ceremony!
We were keen to repay the people from Welwyn Evangelical Church their kindness and invited both families we had met on a previous visit, to join us for lunch after the service. We had such a lovely time with them and they were first of all amazed with the house and property and also in the fact that we invited them back. I told them that when they had asked us for lunch at their place a few weeks back, that was only the second time in 10 months ! They weren’t at all surprised, it is just not the custom here to fellowship in that way between the services. That made us feel a little better about it. I had been a little nervous about the six children (Nicky and Kevin have four, Brian and Russhawn two) coming to this house, but they were fine and even though it poured with rain and they had to find entertainment inside they were excellent. The older two enjoyed a few games of tennis between the showers. Both Nicky and Kevin told me they had given their children strict instructions on the way in the car so they were just as nervous! On the Saturday, Elsa had come inside from playing down the back of the section with a cut on her back leg, it looked like she had caught it jumping a fence, I think. It was good to have Brian the vet look at it on Sunday and confirm that she was fine, it’s quite a responsibility looking after someone’s precious pet.
It’s so good to be able to spend time talking to the locals, to really learn more about this culture. Brian was telling us about a friend of his who owns a chicken farm, for meat not eggs. He has 250,000 birds at a time and works on a profit margin of a quarter pence per bird (.5 cents each) . Currently, the news is full of threats from the diary farmers who supply some supermarkets. Milk prices are due to fall to below the production costs and they are using the Olympics as a lever in their bargaining. Supermarkets contract their own suppliers and set the price related to what they sell the milk for and do not consider the farmers’ costs at all. Farmers are expected to accept a sell price that is below their cost of production. Sounds familiar with our tomato business!
On Monday 30 July, we got up bright and early, did our usual clean up and took Elsa for her long walk and waited for the clients to return. They were flying into Heathrow and we had agreed before they left that we would wait for their phone call once they landed before leaving the house. There were so many negative stories about how slow the Customs people are at the airport normally and they were expecting terrible delays during the Olympics, not to mention any Airport security issues, we all thought it best to wait until they were safely through. They were due at 11a.m. and we finally got their call at 2p.m. and so the next phase of our holiday began. This was our last house sitting job and now we are true tourists. It has been a marvelous way to see places in England that we would not have chosen to go to, other than being sent there. The house sitting company (housesittersltd.co.uk) has been so good to work for and it’s satisfying to earn English pounds rather than spending NZ dollars!
Our intention for the month of August is to explore Scotland, starting with the Western Islands. Rob was to meet us at Oban and spend the next four or five days with us in the motorhome. Dennis and I have adjusted to life in this confined space, 10 square metres all up, but it takes awhile to settle when another person joins the crew.
We had only been driving for a couple of hours when we came across the first car accident we have seen in the UK, that’s after travelling 12,000 kms. It’s quite amazing to think that the road toll per year is 1900 here in England, compared to 280 back home, considering the population here is 60 million verses 4 million in NZ, in other words Britons are twice as safe on the roads as NZ’ers. I guess the bad road surfaces and the narrow lanes have their good points after all! Dennis stopped to offer help as the lady had rolled her car just moments before we got there, it looked as if she had driven up onto the kerbing and flipped as it mounted the bank! Although very shaken she appeared to be okay and when others who had different skills stopped and took over, we left. By then the traffic buildup behind us was incredible. We are really impressed with the drivers in the UK, almost invariably they are patient, polite and forgiving. You don’t see many “boy-racers” around towns here either, car insurance is compulsory and expensive, especially for young drivers, so maybe that’s the reason.
We slept in the McDonalds’ carpark in a motorway services area just a mile away from York. We had heard from several people that the City of York was very old and quaint as well as beautiful so we were keen to go through there on our way up north. They were right – it is old, quaint and beautiful but we didn’t bother visiting any of the museums, churches, etc as it does get to the stage that one beautiful church looks very much like another beautiful church and on top of that it was full of tourists. We did spend the morning walking through the town and admiring the many ancient buildings from the outside, though.
The weather had changed to be a very cold day and we actually had to get our winter gears back on. I am often thrown by the variability of the weather here. In New Zealand, we are used to the idea of “four seasons in one day” and realise that while living on a long skinny island the weather can change quickly, with strong winds driving the changing conditions from the Tasman Sea to the Pacific, with little hesitation over the land. But here, not only does the weather change from sunny to cloudy to raining, the temperatures fluctuates widely as well, and today it was back to really cold, 10-12 degrees cold.
We then drove to Oban, around 500kms, our longest journey in one day so far. As soon as we crossed into Scottish territory the landscape changed completely. Back in England, the farmers were harvesting wheat and barley and then busy cutting and bailing straw, as the weather conditions allowed, on the lovely rolling fields. The rapeseed plants have been cut and lay drying in great drifts, up and down the rows. Now in Scotland we see sheep and beef farms and as we climb to a higher elevation stone fences reappear. The further we drive the more picturesque the scenery becomes. There are lochs of all shapes and sizes everywhere flanked by beautiful mountains. Confusingly, lochs are lakes as well as fiords or bays around the coast. Another thing most noticeable are the clean rivers, streams and lochs! Every water way in England, whether it’s a small stream, large river or standing water it is full of silt! This makes a pleasant change. The road surfaces are still in bad repair but the scenery is very reminiscent of the Marlborough Sounds back home. I can imagine that in winter these mountains would be magnificent, crowned with snow.
Oban is another beautiful small town, owing its existence to the ferry trade, taking passengers, freight and vehicles to the Western Isles. As we drove through the main street Dennis noticed a Rick Stein’s Fish and Chip Shop, which had me all excited, we will definitely be going there on the morrow! We found a quiet place to park for the night, overlooking the sea with the Isle of Mull directly in front of us, and the cloud coming in fast. Next morning it began to rain and it poured on and off all day. We had intended to go sightseeing around the general area but in reality spent most of the day inside the motorhome, reading our books. We did make it to the Fish and Chips shop though, between the showers and at first was very disappointed to find that the shop wasn’t owned by Rick Stein, just that he had visited it once and said “these are the best I’ve tasted, outside of my own shops” sort of thing and the owners had made a HUGE sign that covered a good part of the window with his name and quote in bold letters. We had previously heard that Scotland does not share in the dreadful English tradition of a few bits of fish and chips with their fat, so we took the plunge and were suitably rewarded with the freshest fish and beautifully dry chips, that we have eaten in months! I haven’t got used to the price though, $NZ12 per piece of fish!
Back to the van and with the rain coming down hard again I decided to springclean the place! I also had in mind the impending visit of another person coming into our small living space and the need to clear the bed on top of the cab. So I was turfing the cushions off the seats and opening up the storage places underneath to see how many books I could stow out of sight in between the suitcases and other items resting there, when I had a great find! Dennis’ wallet!! Complete with the credit card, debit card and other items we had recently replaced from NZ and England and the bonus of 60 pounds! So Dennis thinks it only fair of me to share with you that he did NOT lose his wallet for a second time at all, whereas I reckon the fact that he lost its whereabouts is as close as you can get. Also the need to send all the way to NZ for replacements probably shows the seriousness of the said “loss”. Feeling so wealthy now, we went back the next day to get more of those Rick Stein blessed fish and chips for lunch!
We had watched the Olympic Cycling Road Race on TV while we were still in Stevenage and listened to the commentators bemoaning the fact that they were not getting any updated information from their people, as the race progressed and in fact they were just telling us what we could already see happening on our TV screens. They had to wait until the riders got close enough to see the number on their shirts and then quickly look up their notes to tell us who each rider was. There was no information about the time taken between point A to point B or how far back the rest of the field was in comparison to these two on the screen, etc, etc. It wasn’t until a few days later we heard on the radio news that there were over a million spectators lining the course and they were all busy sending photos and texts of the race to their cousins far away which resulted in the telecommunications system crashing entirely, even though they had set up extra portable sites along the route! It didn’t surprise us at all, we are always commenting on how poor the internet and cell phone system is in general, let alone during times of added pressure. It makes us all the more grateful that NZ has such a comparatively good coverage.
In my small experience as a blogger I reckon that those of you who clicked the “FOLLOW” icon on this blog address, which enabled you to receive email alerts when we posted a new section, I would guess you will have to do the same on the next blog address. New address for the next post is: http://janetteanddennisgowalkabout.wordpress.com