Last job and then off to Scotland

26 Aug

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.

The black lines are the record of our travels in England!   (I had to take the map outside and weight it down with stones)

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.

I’m always a bit wary of the look of these narrow and not very tall tunnels….

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 rose beds had just finished their main flush of flowers

Lavender was doing well with all the rain we’ve  had

Lots of lawn to mow….

…. but when there’s a ride on mower, I don’t get a chance

Great to see the garden in full leaf now that summer’s here

I really liked the helix that Mr Client had made out of box, a nod to both their professions of biochemists

This last winter was so hard, the olive trees in the garden overlooked by the kitchen had been severely affected. One had died completely and the others closer to the shelter of the house had lost about two-thirds of their height.

Our bed in the one of the guest rooms

Everything was very grand and spacious in this old rectory

The smoggy layer over London makes for great sunsets

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!

Elsa was so strong that I couldn’t walk her with the lead, if she saw another dog, or horrors of horrors a cat, I wouldn’t have stood a chance

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!

Rape-seed crop cut and drying

Yah! I waited for ages for this butterfly to open his wings….

We’d lose Elsa in the midst of the barley

Such huge trees in England all over the place. This one is a Copper beech.

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 ( 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 drove past three of these Power Stations in Ferrybridge. Only one of them is still in operation and it has now been converted into a Co-fired Station, burning waste, wood and coal. It also has a Carbon Capture Plant attached. Originally all three burned coal sourced from the UK but with the demise of the mines here two proved uneconomic

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.

On the road again…

Thankfully the woman seemed shaken but uninjured

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.

Sign on this building tells us that Sir Thomas Herbert Bart (whoever he might be) was born in this house in 1606

The local Council in York did a brilliant job with their floral displays

York Minister was so tall and long I couldn’t fit it all in one photo. (Usually you walk backwards until you can but I would back into buildings, the river or busy roads if I tried)

Extensive renovations are being undertaken on this 1220 cathedral, called a Minister because it is the seat of the Archbishop . The modern bits blend in beautifully with the ancient workmanship

Hard to imagine that buildings built in the 1400’s still are used as shops with offices upstairs today

Looking down the street called “The Shambles”

York houses were distinctive, using their own local stone and bricks

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.

I have been trying unsuccessfully for many months to capture a decent photo of the extra-large car carriers in the UK. This is the best I have done so far. They hold 13 cars of this size and up to 16 if they are all small two door models!

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.

Sheep at last!

I see they have Ministry of Defence sites in Scotland as well, they are all over England.

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!

Ok thank you

On our way to Oban, we ate our dinner beside Loch Lomond

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.

Strange looking crow

A black guillemot

What a difference a sunny day makes

Beautiful yacht on a dismal day

Back in 1897, a wealthy Oban banker decided to build an elaborate monument to his family, based on the Colosseum in Rome.  He had planned to erect statues of himself, his wife, children and parents but unfortunately worked stopped upon his death.  He used it as a way to help those unemployed in the town.

It’s surprising how often we see cabbage trees in this country. Here they are only small ones in the middle of a bed begonias in Council gardens

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:

Oban, the Isle of Mull is the one with the cloud covering

A common sight in this part of Scotland around the lochs, small towns each have a huge hotel.


Oban’s houses are made of stone


Wow! What a House!

15 Aug

East Sussex

Our next house sit was back in Uckfield but this time in the countryside, not in the village as on our last visit to this area.  We generally quite enjoy it when the clients ask us to come and stay the night before they leave, as then we get to know the family as well as their pets.  We arrived at 7p.m. and were immediately invited to join them for dinner but as we had already eaten, actually we had parked in the local railway station carpark a few miles back and I had cooked us a meal in the motorhome, we declined and settled ourselves in the Annexe while they finished up.  The house was AMAZING from the outside and the gardens looked well designed and cared for as well.  After dinner we meet the clients properly and were introduced to their 10 year-old triplets (two identical boys and their sister) and 2-year-old Joe.  Joe was so excited to see our motorhome and was distressed to be informed that he was not allowed to sleep in it!    We had quite a discussion about the last couple of days of the housesit.  Dennis was due to begin the next one two days before they returned and that would mean either Dennis returning to get me or finding a way for me to get to Stevenage under my own steam.  (Uckfield to Stevenage takes around four hours driving in our slow van.)   Mrs Client was so helpful and organised that she would run me to the nearest suitable railway station and I would take the train into London then another out in the opposite direction to be met by Dennis, I would end up staying one extra night, as they weren’t due home from France until 5p.m.  This helpful attitude didn’t stop there, she had a fridge full of food that she was adamant was meant for us and when the next organic veggie box arrived on Wednesday we were to just help ourselves and also please drink as much as you can from the bottles of milk delivered to the back door every three days!  We enjoyed a bottle of local wine as well!  It is amazing the different attitudes shown towards us from the various clients, this lady was so welcoming.   Her husband was quietly spoken but also a really friendly person.
We were warned about the various foibles of the animals, Monty will eat anything left on the bench, Henry loves to wander and if you forget to get the cat to come inside at night she may very well scare you silly when she jumps spread-eagled against the window behind you when you are watching TV!

Henry, the wanderer. We know all about dogs who go walkabout, we’ve got one at home!


Imagine getting your milk in bottles and having them delivered to your door!

Monty standing on the outdoor table-tennis table

I just loved that house, it had a great feeling about it and was so full of character but Dennis was blinded by the amount of work still to be completed and was genuinely amazed that someone would be willing to spend that amount of money, effort and patience on this old building.  I don’t know why wealthy people have the habit of leaving all their personal stuff lying around for all and sundry to read, like builder’s invoices for six figure sums each month, etc.  It was genuinely like living inside an episode of Grand Designs on TV.   Let me explain….

The first night we slept in the Annexe. This is a self-contained cottage, complete with kitchen and Aga stove.

The house was first built in 1450 (!) and was one of the original medieval Wealden Hall Houses of the area.  At the time it was built, the house would have had a thatched roof and walls of wattle and daub, whitewashed, but over the years as the house has been added  to some of the walls were rebuilt in brick and clay tiles and the thatch replaced with more permanent clay tiles.  The clients had bought this property just three years ago with a view to completely restoring the house and gardens and then selling up and taking early retirement and moving north, past the London commuter zone to a more affordable property.  Mr Client took the train to London Bridge each day to work in the financial district in “The City” and Mrs Client worked full-time on the house renovations, alongside a builder and in the designing and maintenance of the gardens, ably assisted by her gardener.  A Nanny was employed to care for Joe in the meantime.  By all accounts when they first moved here it was an absolute tip and extremely rundown.

Mrs Client had good ideas for her garden designs. That tree in the background had a huge wild beehive in its branches so I steered clear of that one as well!

The front of this 1450 house looks a picture

The first people they employed when they shifted in were two archaeologists, who had a good poke around and informed them what they were and were not allowed to do to the house.  They were told that there are bats in the ceiling cavity and now this section of the house has been nationally recognised as a Bat Nursery and as such is not to be touched!  They are not allowed to close off the gap where the bats enter and leave the premises as in this country bats take precedence over people!  When the moon was shining it was plain to see these little creatures flying in and out of their sanctuary.  Interestingly, the lady from the Bat Preservation Society is called Mrs Batty!
After completely rewiring and replumbing the house they started work on the kitchen and this is very nearly entirely finished, just a bit of paint needed in several places.  The house had been enlarged in this room and now reveals an original piece of wattle and daub wall, beautifully whitewashed.  Lifting up the lino on the kitchen floor they found the old bricks still in good shape and these are proudly on show now.  Interestingly, almost every room is at a different level so there are small steps everywhere and in the kitchen there are a couple of different levels.  I had to be especially careful as looking through my bifocals I often tend to trip on unfamiliar steps or do my ankle in coming down unexpectantly.  It is a source of constant amusement to Dennis and has developed into me looking a bit like Dick Emery and his silly walks, for those of you who remember his TV series years ago.  Even I have to laugh when Dennis gives me that look afer a stumble!

Part of the original wattle and daub left in the kitchen


The kitchen just needed the finishing touches (painting) to be the first room to completely rebuilt.

A smaller dining table in the bespoke kitchen

Alongside the property is a Bridle Path.  You see these all over the UK as well as the Walking Paths.  There is an extensive network of signposted, metalled paths open to the public to take their horses for a walk in particular but dog walkers and ramblers make good use of them as well.  Actually, the first section of this Bridle Path is on the clients’ property and it is their duty to keep this section free from obstruction and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Walking on down the Path a way, leads to the start of a 40 acre woodland owned by the clients’ as well.  This was where we took Monty, the 3-year-old Spaniel and Henry, a 12-year-old German Short-haired Pointer for their walks and Dizzy the cat followed on behind!   It had a small section of pine and fir trees but mostly it was a typical Wealden broadleaf forest of oak, elm, sycamore, birch, beech, hazel, holly, hornbeam and ash.  It also had a spring fed lake, which is one of the few times we have seen clear water on our travels, the last times I can remember was the mountain streams in Snowdonia in Wales and in The Lake District up north!  This lake had a real shimmer to it and was never completely still, it was beautiful.  There are a few paths in the forest but they are not really very distinct and sometimes just petter out.  Mrs Client tells me that she hands a cell phone to one of the triplets and sends them into the forest with instructions to only come back when dinner’s ready!  I can well imagine the fun and games those kids have here!   The dogs love it too and run around freely chasing the deer browsing in amongst the bracken.  One time I took the dogs by myself and managed to get myself lost!!  I was striding out quite confidently imagining the direction I was going would take me through to the other end of the Bridle Path when after 45 minutes I began to realise that I had in fact, walked in a big circle!  It was no use following the dogs as they could stay in there for hours, loving the freedom of running this way and that, sniffing down the rabbit and badger holes.  Obviously, I made it back but it was quite a walk that day!  I never did get a photo of the deer there, they were too quick or I had forgotten to bring the camera.  One walk we disturbed around eight fallow deer who were hiding in an area of lush bracken and were flushed out by the pointer. They are very small and pretty (like Bambi) standing about a metre tall.  

This lake was never still, had a beautiful shimmer to it

The Bridle Path

So beautiful,  even in the rain

What a fantastic place this forest is – so peaceful.

The dogs disturbed an adder in the forest but they were very wary of it and kept their distance. After the initial shock we were fascinated with this beautiful animal, he was about 1.5 metres long. It wasn’t until later the gardener assured us that they are poisonous  and that he thought maybe I was too close.

There are some huge specimens amongst the forest of slender birches as well.

This contraption was for the deer “stalkers”! They just climb up the ladder and sit in silence waiting for the deer to stroll past them!!

On one walk, returning this time along the narrow, country lanes, Dennis had elected that the dogs could wander freely (admittedly they chaffed at being held on a lead and were a real nuisance walking directly in front of you) so they were generally a bit faster than us and further up the road and they didn’t always respond obediently when called.  We heard a car coming up behind us and we started coaxing the dogs back to us in an attempt to hold onto their collars while the vehicle passed us.  But when the car came level with us and Henry was steadfastly ignoring the calls, it came as a bit of a shock when the driver leapt out of the car, strode down the hill away from the car leaving the driver’s door wide open!  He was clearly frustrated so I started apologising profusely for allowing the dogs to wander and not having them under control but he turned to me and more or less shrugged and then I heard the lady in the front seat screech, ” I told you, you were driving too fast!!” to which he replied, ” If you’re so good, why don’t you drive, you seem to know so much about it?”  Ahh, an ugly domestic.  We let Monty go and continued on our walk and left them to it.  It was a good few minutes before we heard the car begin to move in another direction from us.

Even way out in the country we see so many   public post boxes. There were two just along our road where we were, which was only a few miles long and less than 10 minutes drive away from the nearest post office!

I was happy to see they had five chickens, this being the first lot of chickens we’ve had at a house sit.  They had quite a large section fenced off with an ingenious electric fence system, powered by solar energy and battery.  This was as much to keep out the dogs as well as keeping the chickens contained and I was also told it was to help keep out the foxes as well! I was instructed to not only close the small house but ensure that the chickens were all roosting in the top floor of the pen and pull up the ladder and securely lock the outside doors, once more to deter the wily foxes!  Living in NZ you just never have to think of anything even scaring the chickens let alone eating them, other than rascal dogs.

Great little portable secure chook house


Mr Client had his own bee hive. Thankfully, we didn’t have to do anything for them!

At the back of the house there is another one of these spring fed lakes, though not as big or deep, with a sunken dingy in it, the kids used to have fun rowing it around but since it is out of action their Dad is in the process of building them a new one!
We had to make do with the large plasma TV in the games room for the first three days, as the boys had left the other smaller one in the lounge tuned to the Playstation and try as we might we could not get the normal TV to work!  We really have no clue to these technological things, as our children can testify to!  Rob came on the fourth day, this time taking his car for a spin as the weather had been so wet, and ended up spending a good deal of his time sorting out our computer, TV and other electronic issues!  It was good to see him for his company as well….
Having the use of a beautiful oven, I tend to use recipes that require baking while we are in people’s houses.  One night I cooked a roast chicken and lovely it was too, if I may say so!   I sliced up enough for our two meals, popped the rest back in the cold oven (as opposed to the hot one it had just come out of) and took the two plates to the lounge where we ate tea in front of the evening news.  Dennis liked it so much he helped himself to a second helping, as is his wont.  After dinner we came back out to the kitchen to clear up, etc and I opened the cold oven to retrieve the remainder of the chicken and it wasn’t there.  “Oh no, Dennis will have put it back in the warm oven and it will be drying out the meat!”   But, no.  No chicken anywhere!  Dennis had in fact just left it sitting in the dish on the bench and Monty had helped himself to it and eaten every scrap!  He had left a perfectly clean dish, no cooking juices, no bones, nothing left.  To achieve this he would have been standing on the bench, with not a worry in the world.
Five days before the clients due date of return, I received a text from Mrs Client telling me that since the weather in the south of France was so dreadful and since they were staying in a static caravan and since Joe wouldn’t let anyone sleep, they were coming home the following day!!  This was the first job cut short and I was wondering what the protocol might be about whether we should return part of the money we had already received or what?  But, once again she was so lovely, not only did she not accept our offer to give them a refund she had bought presents for us from France and when I worked out the money she had given us in the first place, discovered she paid us a tip! 

The other end of the lounge

The lounge room was once the original kitchen. This fireplace is four metres wide, two metres deep and two metres high and still has the small alcoves in either end where the pole for the spit was secured!  This space was once an enormous fireplace!!   On either side of the fireplace you can clearly see where the cook used to sharpen her knives, up and down on the stone! Very low ceiling in this room

Dining room. These photos don’t adequately show how low all the ceilings are!

A very narrow hallway towards the bathroom. Dennis had trouble hitting his head several times in the dark of the night in the countryside. That bit that sticks out a bit along the wall is the back of a chimney!

Looking from upstairs down onto the front door and entrance way. They intend to install a fabulous staircase in this area

Master bedroom

What you see from the road doesn’t prepare you for the real thing

The back of the house, still with wattle and daub walls

The old stables have been converted into a gym, a playroom, storage rooms and a water treatment plant for their own bore water.

A new matching building houses the utility room and laundry

Joe’s bedroom

Still Sightseeing

27 Jul

Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Kent, East Sussex

We arrived in Great Yarmouth in the early evening and just drove quickly through the town looking for a suitable place to park up for the night.  The city didn’t look very attractive but we thought we would not judge it too harshly on first impressions but really get to know it the following day.  

Great Yarmouth Gasometer built in 1884 and still in use! You see these gas holders all over the country but this one is particularly ornate. They have a moveable cap that collapses or rises depending on how much gas is coming in.   I haven’t seen one in NZ in years.

We found a good parking place opposite a power station at the start of an industrial area on the waterfront.  It is a Combined Cycle Gas Turbine type of power station that runs on natural gas. It has one gas turbine with the exhaust gas heating a heat recovery steam generator, leading to a steam turbine – all very technical I know but it looked so odd that I had to look it up on Wikipedia to understand what it actually was.  The sign said it was a power station but I was confused as there wasn’t the usual array of high voltage power lines coming out of it.  A couple of blocks away there was a huge substation but that was all.  Anyway,we parked on the other side of the road and after making the dinner we sat down to enjoy it when all of a sudden huge jets of steam came billowing out of this building, with an awful noise to go with it and we soon realised that if we wanted to sleep that night we would have to move back down the road away.  

An example of a hurdle fence, made either of hazel or willow. This one is unusual as it sits atop a brick fence.

In the morning we did indeed return to the centre of town and proceeded to walk around the shopping area, set back from the waterfront, and through the ghastly entertainment area along the waterfront.  All English seaside resorts seem to be very proud of their beach pier which is full of dodge-’em cars, candy floss sellers, ferris wheels, cafes, crazy mirrors and all sorts of “entertainment” parlours, in short all the fun of the fair.  My guess is that as the weather is frequently inclement the holiday makers need somewhere to entertain the kids while waiting for a patch of fine weather, but they are all very similar and so tawdry.  Wandering through the actual shopping precinct, we were confronted with so many oompa loompa girls dragging their heavily tattooed males around the shops and so many heavy, older folk in mobility scooters, it got to the stage that we couldn’t look at each other for fear of laughing out aloud.  I don’t know if that particular day was special but we got to see an extraordinary array of not too pretty people!  No doubt they were staring at us as well in wonder!  It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that we mentioned this to other English people and they thought it was a great joke as Great Yarmouth is well-known for these features.  It was as if the whole town should have been on the pier.

So many of these awful

amusement arcades.

After walking the length of the tacky amusement and eating establishments along the waterfront for probably 2 miles we arrived at the tacky Pier that all good British seaside resorts must have.

That little boy who looks like he’s about 3 has just changed his money to a container full of 2p pieces so he can feed them into the vast collection of gambling machines in one of these colourful and noisy arcades! That is so sad…

We called into various other small beach settlements as we travelled back down the coast.  One of these was the tiny village of Dunwich.  In the Anglo-Saxon period Dunwich was the capital of the Kingdom of the East Angles and had a busy harbour and population of 4000 but all this has since disappeared due to coastal erosion.  Today there are three or four houses, a church and a shop/cafe on the shingle beach!   We had a walk along the beach and ended up being thoroughly entertained by a group of older people who were busy doing an interpretive dance, maybe impersonating the sea(?), for a film.  The producer was very intense and everyone other than the Bartletts took it very seriously!  As with all filming, they had to do many takes of the same thing, before she was satisfied.   A good bit of free entertainment!  

The seaside dancers on Dunwich Beach

Beaches on this coast are pebble ones, which makes them very difficult to walk on

We carried on and finally came to stop the night in Aldeburgh.  What a beautiful, little village,   it turned out to have enjoyed quite a history. Back in the 16th century it was a leading port and famous for ship building.  Sir Frances Drake’s ships, Greyhound and Pelican were both built here.  This town had suffered from severe erosion as well.  Moot Hall had been built in the centre of town back in 1520 but is now standing just a few metres from the beach, they have reportedly lost 2kms of land over the years.  It’s still a fishing village, though they have no port anymore, they just winch the small vessels up the shingle beach.   Each boat owner has a small fish shop on the beach where they sell that day’s catch.   All along the waterfront the houses are either hotels or available for holiday rentals.

This sculpture on Aldeburgh Beach celebrates the life of Benjamin Britten, one its famous citizens. “I hear those voices that will not be drowned” is carved on one shell and is taken from one of his operas.

Moot Hall. A Grade 1 listed building used for Council meetings for 400 years so far.

Good to see that Aldeburgh wasn’t afraid of splashing the colour around. Almost all of the seaside properties were hotels or self-catering houses for let but few were being used as the summer hasn’t really kicked in yet!

Aldeburgh Beach South Lookout is home to a artist-in-residence program

Yellow Horned Poppies (named for their foot long seed pods) thrive in the shingle

Pretty – looking out to the North Sea.  One of the small fishing fleet and the fish shop.

Actually the erosion continues still today, in fact in the last week two people have been killed due to this fact.  One woman was standing on the edge of the cliff with her husband admiring the view (where we had been a few weeks prior to this, at The Seven Sisters) and fell when it gave way under her and she plummeted 100 metres and then another young woman, walking along another beach had the cliff fall on top of her, the searches found her body just yesterday (at the time of writing) under 400 ton of rubble!  
The Martello Towers up and down this coast are amazing, altogether 103 were built in the years 1808-12, to resist a Napoleonic Invasion.  A typical single Tower has over 700,000 bricks brought in by sea from London (in places the walls are 8 ft thick)!  Nowadays, the majority of them have been sold and people live in them, which I think must be quite weird as they only have two or three windows!  We also walked past one which was used by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and they had added another level that was completely glazed for the ideal lookout.   

A more typical Martello Tower.   This one sits beside a golf club so maybe it’s wise not to have too  many windows!

Martello Tower, this one is the only example of one in the shape of a clover leaf. It has been turned into holiday apartments!  It is the only building left of the old village of Slaughden the rest having been washed away entirely.

When Dennis realised that Sutton Hoo was in the general vicinity, he got quite excited and proceeded to explain what was so interesting about it.  He knows so many things that I have never even heard of!  Sutton Hoo is the site of 20 6th- and early 7th-century burial mounds, one contained a ship burial.  They have built an extensive Visitor Centre there, which is great for me because it means that before I walk around the site outside, I can learn all about the significance of the finds at Sutton Hoo.  Just before WW1 started the then landowner, a widow named Mrs Edith Pretty, invited Basil Brown, a self-taught Suffolk archaeologist to come and investigate one or two of the bigger burial mounds on her property.  With the help of her gardener, game keeper and farm worker the four of them began to excavate.  What they found there was so unusual and precious that the dig was eventually taken over by Museum officials.  As it was found on Mrs Pretty’s land and the original owner never had the intention of recovering it, she was legally entitled to own all the treasure but she did the decent thing and bequeathed it all to the British Museum, where we saw it months ago, but I had forgotten.  When war broke out in September 1939, the grave-goods were put in storage and things were covered up.  Sutton Hoo was used as a training ground for military vehicles and it wasn’t until 1956 when they went back and completed the dig.  What was found in most of the mounds were cremated remains of humans and artifacts, as well as one buried man alongside his horse and more artifacts but most interesting of all was in the tallest burial mound.  There they unearthed the shape of a sailing vessel, the timbers had not survived but had stained the sand to reveal the exact shape and outline of a timber built ship, the rivets were all still in position.  Under the ship a body of a king, probably that of Raedwald, had been laid out along with vast amounts of treasure.  The whole thing had been covered with a timber frame and then the earth mounded on top.   All this is reminiscent of the old English poem “Beowulf” written somewhere around 8-11 century, though that tells of a similar burial but in Sweden not England.   Evidence here shows that this site was occupied from around 3000BC.  It was fascinating!

The replica burial chamber: a body and all the treasures were laid inside this then it was covered with soil, on top of this the ship was laid and then the great mound of  soil covered the lot.

A photo of the excavation that revealed the presence of the ship which is 27 metres long!!

An ornamental lid covering a dissolved leather pouch, hung from the waist-belt of the “king”.  Another replica of course.  1,526 inlays, mostly of garnets, with the smallest only 1 mm across!  Each stone is perfectly cut and set in a gold cell.  To think they did this all without our modern-day equipment and tools!

Such exquisite workmanship.  A buckle that weighs 412gms.  13 animals are depicted within the design.

They think this might be a Sceptre made from Greywacke.  Could have been used to give the final sharp edge to a sword.

The reinstated mound where the ship burial was originally found

What a sight for sore eyes! Walking to the carpark at Sutton Hoo we saw this sign. It did seem a bit odd as around this area, as in many places in England there are no fences, it’s either hedgerows or nothing in this agricultural land.  I suppose he had a good spot for advertising – on your way back to the car.

Beside the head of the corpse, which had completely dissolved into the acidic soil, they found a helmet wrapped in cloths. The original tarnished one is in the British Museum and they made this display model for Sutton Hoo

Next stop Felixstowe was another lovely seaside town.  Since leaving Great Yarmouth we have been so surprised with all these other places that are so completely different!  Some of them do have piers and the like but nothing quite as garish as Great Yarmouth.  We walked for miles along the beach, using the concrete path provided rather than on the pebbles, until we came to the largest container port in the UK.  Two rivers converge to create this wide deep water port, which boasts 25 container cranes.  We had seen several large ships “parked” out in the North Sea, different ships each day, and wondered why they were standing still and now we had the answer.  They were waiting their turn to come into port to unload and then load more containers.  Amazing!   On the far bank of these rivers is Harwich, which has the ferry terminals that go to Esbjerg, Denmark and the Hook of Holland.  All along this stretch of coast were elaborate schemes to contain the erosion: wooden groins, large boulders and concrete defences.

Beach huts were popular in Felixstowe. There are 100’s of these small huts, all along this beach. They basically have a small kitchen and dining area in them, not even long enough to accommodate a bed, some could be hired for $NZ40 per day! Even though the weather wasn’t marvellous, people had come to beach and were sitting outside their privately owned hut enjoying a cuppa on the concrete terrace.

What a busy place….  The small vessel is a foot ferry between  Harwich and Felixstowe

And so we slowly made our way south, back over the Thames and down through familiar territory aiming for Uckfield once again.

My kind of sign!

Sea kale growing in the shingle

We really noticed how the crops had grown on since our last time in this area.  Barley in the fore and background and cut hay in the middle paddock

Broad beans for miles across this land! I have finally found out that this is used for animal feed and turned into silage.

An Unexpected Break in House Sitting

24 Jul

Surrey, Reading, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Suffolk

You get some weird road signs in the UK!

Our next house sit was in Egham, 20 miles (32km) south-west of central London on the River Thames.  When we arrived at 10.30a.m. Mr Client was busy loading up their car, by the time he was finished there was just enough room for an infant’s car seat and a place for Mum and not a lot else!  They were one of our few clients that were off for a holiday break in the UK, most of them have been off overseas to Egypt, Thailand, France, Canada, USA, Kenya, Jersey and Guernsey Islands (oops, they are technically part of the UK as well)Once more the house was a semi-detached one, this time with households with young children either side.  I am thankful that when we had five small kids at home we didn’t have neighbours quite so close!!  This three bedroomed home was quite comfortable and actually had an outdoor washing line. 

Looking down from our bedroom gives you a good idea of how tiny the sections are and how close the neighbours are! Ours is the middle section.

So nice to see people keen on their garden

We had two cats, Samson and Delilah, to look after for a week.  Happily, these owners were normal people who were brave enough to own a cat flap, which enabled both animals to make up their own minds as to when and where they may wander.  I just had to secure them inside at night to stop them killing every young bird and rodent for miles around and sharing their treasures with us in the morning.

Samson and Delilah

Kitchen in Egham, great oven – gas on top and electric in oven, my favourite sort

Sign on the front of these semi-detached houses

Looking towards the back of the house. Upstairs window to the right is the neighbour’s and the small path on the left hand side separates us from those neighbours

Instead of having all underground services or all overground, they have a mix in the UK. Mostly you will see one or two of these poles in the residential streets, just for the telephone cables, I think

The most striking thing about this house was that it was directly underneath the flight path from Heathrow, about 5 miles away as the crow flies.  Greater London actually has seven airports, five of which are international, with Heathrow being the busiest.  If you think of the face of a clock then Stansted is at 1 o’clock, Gatwick at 6 o’clock, Heathrow at 9, Luton at 11 and City more-or-less in the middle.  As we have been moving from house to house throughout the Greater London area, on our house sitting adventures, we often see relatively low flying aeroplanes and many, many vapour trails and it wasn’t until I sat down with a map that I understood where they all were coming from or going toThe planes flying above Egham had just taken off and were still climbing steeply and I just loved it!  I was forever zipping out into the back garden, camera in hand, trying to capture the extraordinary sight of these huge planes.  But every photo was a disappointment, because they looked so far away, when in reality they were so close!  I didn’t find them very noisy really but it got on Dennis’ nerves, not so much the noise but the frequency!  Looking down the length of our garden, every 90 seconds one took off at right angles to where I stood, then alternated between flying straight ahead and away from us or turning to the right away from us or to the left, meaning every third flight came over our house.  Heathrow runs at 98% capacity at the moment, I can’t imagine what a nightmare it will be when the visitors for the Olympics start arriving in town.  They expect 200,000 people flying into Heathrow each day from 14 days before the Games start and then throughout the season.  We will make sure that we don’t go anywhere near London during that time, as all up they tell us there will be 5 million people coming for the Games, that’s on top of the usual 8 million residents in Greater London!

Egham is a cute, wee place with a population of around 6,000.  We often comment to each other about just how many Charity Shops there are in each town in the UK, so this time I decided to photograph them all in this one small town…..

Other towns have charity shops for British Red Cross, Pets Need Vets and others that I can’t remember.   Also, there were two shoe repairers, it’s very obvious that British people are more inclined to repair their shoes rather than just throw them away, going by the number of repairers there are everywhere.         

Egham is famous for the surrounding grasslands called Runnymede.  This was where the Magna Carta was signed and sealed. 

This time it led to the American Bar Association Memorial to Magna Carta

Even on the bike Dennis finds worthwhile detours!

All takeaways in the UK are twice the price as back home ($NZ20!)

A coot, as in “silly ol’ coot”

Bee, another species I’ve not seen before

We were so pleased to have beautiful weather again than we took the opportunity to climb onto our bikes and explore the Thames Path.  This cycle/walking track generally takes the route of the old towpath where the horses used to walk pulling the canal boats behind them and is 294km long starting at the source of the Thames.  When we were still staying at Rob’s place we had cycled down by Greenwich, east of London and seen the Thames Barrier up close, this is the end of the Path.    This time we went from Windsor to Staines, which is about two-thirds the way down the length of the entire Path and west of London.  It’s a great way to enjoy the place, England is surely blessed with its beautiful scenery!

We seem to be bumping into more and more ramblers as we take to the highways and byways

Opposite the Castle  the Windsor Dog Show was in full swing. It was held over four days to accommodate the 10,000 dogs on show!

A completely different perspective of Windsor Castle from the Thames Path

It was a tight squeeze biking through Eton. They still have all the bunting out since the Jubilee Celebrations

Some beautiful canal boats tried up alongside or waiting their turn in the lock system, this one had a huge  mast  for sailing

Beautiful wild flowers

are encouraged

to grow everywhere

by not mowing alongside the roads, paths and canals

We took the van back to Old Amersham, north of London.  We had been here previously on a walking tour of the town, while we were staying in Chalfont St. Peter, but had missed the monthly Martyrs’ Walk on that occasion.  Back in 1521 seven Lollards were burnt at the stake in Amersham for their refusal to submit to the established Church’s absolute decrees.  “They died for the principles of religious liberty, for the right to read and interpret the Holy Scriptures and to worship God according to their consciences as revealed through God’s Holy Word” as inscribed on the monument.   John Wycliffe was one of their leaders and he proposed that every man should be able to read the Bible in his own language and laboured at translating it from Latin to English.   The Lollards had 12 basic principles where they differed with the Catholic Church of their day and also held a strong conviction that there needed to be a distinct divide between the Church and the State.  The tour was really good and the seven guides all dressed up in the appropriate clothing and spoke using the appropriate language of the day.  It proved to have been very worthwhile to revisit this beautiful old village.

Following the leader up beside a wheat paddock on our way to the monument

The monument at Old Amersham with one of the guides on The Martyrs’ Walk

It was obvious that the clutch was playing up in our trusty vehicle so Dennis took it along to the local garage in Egham and after parting with over $1000 we now have a smooth machine!  I guess that’s what happens when you buy an older model, we thought it prudent to have it repaired now in England rather than risking it when we’re on our way to Istanbul and back.

The garage where our clutch was repaired had this Bugatti to advertise their business.

Whenever we leave our latest house sitting place we always are careful to leave the house clean and tidy with the bed remade with fresh sheets, the fridge and oven cleaned, the lawns mowed, a bit of weeding done (if they don’t have their own gardener that is), everything looking spic and span and the animals well looked after.  Mrs Client had left piles of washing behind in this particular sit so I had spent days washing, drying and ironing it all as a surprise for her.  I was thrilled to get a lovely text from her when she got home, a nice touch.  It’s amazing really, after travelling around in the small, contained space of the motorhome how I enjoy having the use of an oven and a washing machine when I get to these houses.  I have never been known for my housekeeping skills and have always preferred to be out in my garden getting my hands dirty, so all this house cleaning is quite a turn around for me!  My mother would have been proud to finally see that her teaching has actually had some effect.

We had been feeling rather chuffed with our full calendar of house sitting jobs booked in from May through to the end of July so it came as a shock to have our next job cancelled a couple of days before we were due there.  This left us with a gap of two weeks to fill, so we looked at the map and chose to explore the coast from the northern side of the Thames Estuary up to Great Yarmouth (up by Norwich).  Once we have completed this stretch it will mean we have driven all along the coast of England and Wales (and of course Ireland). Only Scotland to go…..

Steering clear of the M25 we took the slow route to find the northern bank of the Thames.  Travelling on these big motorways means all you see really is the busy road with the full complement of trucks, buses, cars, etc and very little scenery so even though it is slow we prefer to use the narrow lanes to get a feel for the country.  We were aiming for Tilbury, right on the river bank, and found an intriguing sign on our way in Ongar.  “Secret Nuclear Bunker”  seemed pretty exciting but proved to be a disappointment because by the time we got there, they were just about to close up for the day.  It is a small guardhouse which hides a three-level bunker complex 38 metres underground; a long corridor leads down to a place in which up to 600 people would have been confined behind blast-proof doors in the event of a nuclear war. The bunker was originally built in 1952/3 during the Cold War.  It was sold in the 1990s and is now a tourist attraction and film location and owned and operated by the family who originally owned the land before the military moved in.  As we got closer to Tilbury the land looked unusually unproductive and everything looked tired and past its use by date.  The town itself looked so poor, with maybe 50% of the businesses closed and reinforced with steel rolladoors.  We found a perfect parking place for the night beside a ferry crossing jetty (Gravesend is on the other side of the river) and enjoyed watching the many large ships plying the Thames, container ships, ferries to the Continent, tugs and dredges.  Made a nice change from craning my neck looking at planes! 

A freighter coming up the river, just on dusk

Shops at Tilbury looked as if they belonged in a third world country

Essex has a shocking reputation in the media – full of badly dressed women, lots of council housing complexes and a poor standard of living.  We found all these things to be true, an overall feeling of unemployment and loss of hope.  Looking at the map we had originally intended to stop for the second night on Canvey Island but after driving through this area (not an island at all, more a peninsular) we both had the feeling, and this was the first time we have felt it at all in England, that it was too unsafe to stop and park up for the night.    By just driving on for another hour or so we left all that poor country and inhabitants behind and ended up in Southend-on-Sea, a beautiful seaside town complete with pier.  Really delightful and such a contrast.

Everywhere you drive there’s Queen Anne’s Lace just growing wild along the roads, often up to a couple of metres tall! They don’t tend to mow the sides of the road very often so there’s always plenty of wildflowers growing in and amongst the nettles

I spent quite a few hours doing up an advert to sell our fully equipped motorhome on TradeMe.  My idea was to appeal to another Kiwi couple to consider the idea of travelling through the UK and Europe as we have done and sell them our accommodation and means of transport, all ready to go, available to drive away in December 2012.  Sounded like a good idea to me so after investing quite some time and effort I finally uploaded all the photos and so began the auction on TradeMe.  Unfortunately, after three days the TradeMe people not only pulled my ad but suspended our account!  Horrors!  Apparently, unbeknownst to me, you cannot list a vehicle that is not in either NZ or Australia.  Happily, after my complaining they did refund my money but it does leave me with nowhere to alert the prospective Kiwi buyers out there of our great offer.  So if you know of someone who might be thinking of travelling around this side of the globe please pass on Dennis’ email address. (

It was around this time that Dennis managed to lose his wallet for the second time!!  The first time he only mislaid it and it was returned to him by one of our clients but this time it appears to be actually lost.  What a pain, getting new credit cards sent over from NZ, the loss of discount cards, replacing International Driver’s License, replacing English debit card, etc, not to mention the actual wallet which was his father’s.

We had been investigating a new business venture to take back to NZ as a franchise and we had arranged to meet with three franchise holders and the owners of the business during this two-week break in house sitting.  It seemed like an interesting concept but as we investigated further we eventually decided against taking this franchise opportunity to the very different market in NZ.  But it did mean that we were in the general region of Welwyn on the weekend and we attended Welwyn Evangelical Church again (we had been there while house sitting in Stevenage in February).  We were so thrilled to be invited back to Nicky and Kevin’s for lunch between the services and had wonderful fellowship with them and their four children and also another family from Church.  This is just the second time in all the weeks we have been attending churches in the UK that we have received a personal invitation back to someone’s house!  The first time was to our own pastor’s brother’s (Andre Beck) house in London.   I must say that we miss the Reformed Churches and Gracenet’s general hospitality in NZ, I couldn’t imagine visitors being allowed to wander away from a service and not be invited out to lunch or coffee.  We had a grand time with them and just “clicked ” with them all, a real bond of Christian unity.  We also managed to take part in the Olympic Torch Relay that went through their village that day, which is such a BIG DEAL at the moment.  We will be going back to that Church in a couple of weeks again, while at our last house sit in Stevenage.

After purposely avoiding all villages and towns where the Olympic Torch was being run around because of the traffic delays, this Sunday we actually joined the crowds to cheer it on in Welwyn Garden City!!

We slept in a carpark under the viaduct that carries the Great Eastern railway lines, near Welwyn

Next day we took the inland route straight through to Great Yarmouth.  All the way up it was fields of barley, wheat, oats, brassicas, broadbeans (never seen so many broadbeans in all my life until we came to England), carrots, rape seed, peas and pasture destined for hay or silage.  The land is so productive and very beautiful.  With all the rain we continue to get, if there were diary or beef farms we certainly never saw the animals as they are all back inside the sheds, protecting their paddocks from becoming a muddy mess. There have been more and more areas effected by flooding in the UK and everyone is heartedly sick of this continual rain!  There have actually been fatalities now associated with the downpours.  The wettest April and June on record so far but the good news is that they have finally lifted the hose pipe ban!

It was interesting to take note of the date around this time – 11 July 2012 – marking one year since we sold Hurry Up Shoe Repairs.  12 months with no income is fairly sobering, though we have no regrets and feel particularly blessed to be able to enjoy this extended holiday.

Making the most of London

17 Jul

Tiny kitchen and dining room combined

Tiny back section with an overgrown garden. One day soon the cats will be allowed to get out and play!!

I don’t usually show the front of our clients’ houses but this one is so nondescript it probably doesn’t matter. England is full of these semi-detached pebble houses.
We had the smaller one on the left.

Green Finch

Surrey, London

It is very interesting to compare all the different houses we have stayed in while employed by the Housesitting Agency.  This house in Epsom was very modest which is fine but it was also very tinny!  So many things were flimsy and poorly built about it.  I often would pull open a cupboard door and the handle would fall off, that sort of thing happened too often for my liking.  The clients were due to return at 3.30a.m and wanted us to stay with the cats until at least 8p.m on that last day (so they wouldn’t get too lonely) so Dennis had plenty of time to fix all these broken handles, etc while I did the cleaning.

Typical of this modest house, if I wanted to use the oven I had to jam the chair against the door to have it shut properly. The stove top had solid rings which took ages to heat up and cool down.

Evidence of the Jubilee Celebrations still up in London

When the sun shines the feathers on a swallow are a beautiful navy blue

It was another case of not having to stay in to look after the cats at this house sit in Epsom so we made frequent trips into London.

If you stop and look up you see the most fabulous stone carvings

…. all over London

… on the old buildings…

On one such trip we met up with Rob and went to The Globe Theatre to see the play Henry V.    We had booked our “seats” a few days previously and were surprised how busy they were!  We only had a choice of two matinees and that was standing room only.  The lady at the booking desk told us that standing in front of the stage is actually the best viewing place, even though that meant standing in one spot for three hours and she proved quite correct.  The stage jutted out into the audience and on several occasions the actors either walked through the crowd to get up onto the stage or descended from the stage on their way out.  Neither Dennis nor myself have really had much experience with Shakespeare’s works other than when we were in college (which was a negative experience) or the one outdoor play we saw in Wellington a few years back (which we thoroughly enjoyed).  The three of us just loved this one and all felt that even standing for so long was a great way to spend a sunny afternoon!!

The Globe Theatre on the banks of The Thames

Three tiers of seating with a thatched roof on top. The central section is completely open to the elements, so along with the lovely sunshine we had to put up with the frequent planes flying overhead, but it all added to the carnival atmosphere.

The stage juts out into the standing audience. No photos allowed while the actors are doing their thing.

Rob and Dennis, waiting for the play to begin

Signpost at The Globe, Auckland was the furthest away (sob, sob)

A fantastic wrought iron gate, probably three metres high, at The Globe

We were happy to return to St. Helen’s Anglican Church again under the great Gherkin building, right in the heart of London.   Evangelism and church planting are a couple of key priorities for this Church and that Sunday they introduced four pastors who were starting new evangelical Anglican congregations, of the same ilk as St Helen’s, in London.  They each had a core group of 12-20 people already committed and invited regular members of St. Helen’s to join them in spreading the Good News to these four different suburbs.  William Taylor, one of the ministers at St. Helen’s spoke of when his predecessor, Rev Dick Lucas began work here there 1961, he had 6 members in the congregation and now 41 years later with God’s blessing, they have a congregation of 1100.  It is so extraordinary to sit each week amid all these young university students, lecturers, bankers, etc.  We have not attended the morning service but apparently young families and older members fill the pews for this service.

London Eye up close looks remarkably like a bicycle wheel

All over the UK we’ve seen recovering drug addicts and the like making a livelihood by selling copies of The Big Issue but this guy went the extra mile! He stood motionless for ages. I respect these people more than those the just sit and beg. Actually, London has very few beggars though you often see people who sleep rough wandering around with all their bags in tow.

They have just finished constructing the tallest building in Europe – The Shard. Dennis thought a bloodnut in the frame added drama

Dennis took the van in to get a wheel alignment and as is his wont, he spent some time having a chat to the owner of the garage.  He told Dennis that he pays 50% tax on his business and pays rates of 30,000 pounds (double that for $NZ) on the half-acre land and buildings per annum!   He has water rates to pay on top of that as well as all the other business expenses.   Obviously, he was bemoaning how hard it is to run a business nowadays in Britain, especially as people from the EU are entitled to emigrate here and start undercutting the existing businesses!  We do hear this same story over and over again, about how fed up the English are that foreigners are just allowed to come in and do as they please.  They also have a huge problem with illegal immigrants.

Canary Wharf, looking for the Docklands Museum

You’ve all seen the men dressed in silver pretending to be statues, well this one is similar but how does he do it?

 It took two separate trips to do justice to the Docklands Museum at Canary Wharf.  We rate this one as the best Museum in London!  It was so interesting to learn all about how and why London was established along the banks of the River Thames and all the industries associated with it from the beginning of the settlement to current times.  There was one particular guide that was so knowledgeable and so friendly.  Dennis had her complete attention for about 30 minutes, explaining all the finer points of two painting panels that were attached to a curved wall and combined were about 6 metres long.    On the other visit she showed us around a recreation of a typical narrow alley leading down to the river, complete with shops, pubs, houses, chandlers, etc, and gave us a running commentary for an hour about who would have lived, worked and relaxed down in this 1840-50’s East End recreation.  What an asset that lady is to the Museum, a real storyteller who could really bring the history to life, complete with different accents!  We were so happy we found this Museum when we did as parts of this building will become the headquarters for the German Olympic Team during July and August and thus closed to the public.

Canary Wharf has some beautiful modern buildings standing alongside the old features of the Docklands

Blackfrairs Bridge spanning the Thames in the middle of the city with 4,400 solar panels attached. The new Blackfriars Tube Station has only been open for a few weeks, when all the panels are up and running it will supply 50% of the station’s energy needs

After the murder of his former friend Thomas Beckett, the penitent King Henry II commissioned a  stone bridge in place of the old, wooden one with a chapel at its centre dedicated to Becket, now referredto as the Old London Bridge.  This chapel became the official start of the pilgrimage to Beckett’s Canterbury shrine, 192 kms away.  It had a river-level entrance for fishermen and ferrymen.  The bridge took 33 years to build (1176-)and by 1358 had 138 shops built upon it.  Some buildings were up to 7 stories high and leaned out seven feet over the water and over the roadway!  They also had communal latrines, suspended over the river!!  On the north end two waterwheels were installed to pump water up to street level and in the south arches the wheels there were to grind grain in the floors above.  The starlings tended to restrict the flow of water and there could be a drop of six feet from one side of the bridge to the other.  They used to have Winter Festivals on the frozen Thames above the bridge, in those times the river was not contained as it is now and was wider and shallower.  They used to say the bridge was “for wise men to pass over, and for fools to pass under” because it was so dangerous in the water, even in boats, not to mention the many diseases you could contract from the water.  The southern gatehouse was one of London’s most grizzly sights: a display of the severed heads of traitors, impaled on pikes and dipped in tar to preserve them against the elements.  The head of William Wallace was the first to appear on the gate in 1305, starting a tradition that was to last for 355 years. Other famous heads on pikes included those of Thomas More in 1535 and Thomas Cromwell in 1540.

The Old London Bridge was home to many shops, houses and pubs and had a small draw bridge to allow the taller sailing ships through which was also used to stop the bridge traffic at night.

Old London Bridge even had the Chapel of St. Thomas sitting on one of the starlings

The Thames was useful for all sorts of things; not only was it used as the raw sewage system for this growing metropolis, they also used it for capital punishment.  The gibbet was suspended just above the low tide mark and the victim would be submersed by three successive tides .  This was used especially for pirates

The Police in London are very busy just ahead of the Olympics. This pair was inspecting the many wharves around the Docklands/Canary Wharf area. On our previous visit we spoke to a couple of policemen doing the rounds with their dogs trained to detect explosives!  Makes you think….

During WW2 they constructed these Maunsell Forts right in the middle of the River Thames. They comprised seven interconnected steel platforms, five carried guns arranged in a semicircle around the control centre and accommodation while the seventh, set further out than the gun towers, was the searchlight tower.

We have had a mixture of heavy rain for days on end leaving us with a lake on the back lawn, and then the most beautifully warm and sunny days.   Thankfully, we have not suffered from the sever flooding that has been happening around England during this time.  Even with all this water coming down the hose pipe ban is still in place!   

After the rain out comes the slugs, they are enormous!

Canary Wharf happened to have an impressive electric car display…no coveting allowed, Dennis!

…. and the specs

I do feel sorry for the cats, who are stuck inside no matter the weather.  The only exercise they get is running at top speed up the three flights of stairs to the loft and back, up and down, up and down!   On the sunny days we have been very energetic and walked for miles either around the general area or in London.  Once I even fell asleep on the train coming home, very unusual for me but standard for Dennis.  That day we spend hours looking for a particular shoe shop that had the best price to buy Dennis a pair of Loakes.  He was suitably thrilled to finally not only find the shop but find that they had a pair he liked in his size.  We have been to a “few” shops now and been disappointed that they do not have his size 12H in stock!  

The longest day of summer is on the 21 June, nothing unusual about that, just that the sun set was at 21:21!

Oh no! In one of the huge malls at Canary Wharf was this “racing car” brmm, brmm pit. Canary Wharf is now the very upmarket financial district where the docks used to be, home to 90,000 workers. All the major banks have their head offices here.   I was sure that this lame place of relaxation could only be attractive to males but Dennis was delighted to show me one female on the far side looking just as absorbed as the others. Each machine had “authentic” noises to add that note of realism.

The M25 is magic! This motorway encircles Greater London and is often eight lanes wide.

My best friend – the Tom Tom.  We recently had an entire day when it wouldn’t turn on!!  That is a recipe for domestic disruption!  What’s showing on the scene is a junction on the M25, I think.  Imagine me trying to direct Dennis through that maze?

Just about to go through the Dartford Tunnel, taking us under the Thames.  There are actually two tunnels going one way and the bridge takes the other direction but if it’s too windy then the bridge closes and the two tunnels revert to one each direction.  That “chimney”stack is for the exhaust fumes!  150,000 vehicles use these roads per day!!

They have such tall trucks around here. The white truck and bus are just the same size we are used to but the Postal Truck is considerably taller. Those big trucks often have an extra pair of wheels on the front and back, making two sets of three each side, that can be lifted when the trucks are empty.

This bonsai is selling for a staggering 450 pounds ($NZ900) at the local Garden Centre!!

They came late morning and removed most of the weeds growing in the gutter, then laid hot mix over the road, didn’t smooth out or fill the potholes and bare patches, just covered the lot.  By 4p.m. they spray painted this sign at intervals along the street and prepared to leave.  They must have had a visit from the boss man because next thing they were laying down another layer of the black stuff, covering all the signwriting.

A typical example of the state of the roads in the UK.   This is the street we stayed in Epsom.  They had notices up that on Monday there was it was to be a No Parking Zone as they were to reseal it.

Sometimes We Earn Our 20 Quid a Night!

28 Jun

East Sussex, West Sussex

As we were forbidden to take the dogs in Uckfield for a walk, we ended up having plenty of time to see the sights around that area, so we took many day trips.

That’s my idea of good graffiti…..

We really enjoyed Brighton, although Dennis thought the Brighton Pier on the beach was extremely tacky.  The sad thing to see was the young kids in the many Amusement Halls on the Pier, putting their 2p coins into 100’s of greedy slot machines.  It really was a mini casino for them.  We have noticed generally that the Pommies are way more involved with gambling.  Every small town has at least one betting shop, even the equivalent of our Morning Report programme on National Radio (Today, BBC4) gives betting tips on most days of the week before they sign off at 9a.m!  Being such a beautiful sunny day the Pier was teeming with people, even though it was a week day.  The sun must have inspired people because though the sea temperature was only 10 degrees they were in swimming, reminds me of James who can’t resist the urge to swim even in the middle of winter.   The city of Brighton is beautiful.  It reminded us of Cuba St in

…. covering up the windows of an empty shop in Brighton

Wellington, with cute wee cafes, boutique shops, buskers, and lots of art & craft places.  Way back in 1787,  George the then Prince of Wales (later he became King George IV) had a seaside retreat built.  We were so impressed with this fascinating Royal Pavilion, in the style of something you would expect to see in India.   It is huge and quite exotic.  Even the original stables were built to match and they now use this part for Council Offices, Cafe and a local Museum and Art Gallery.   The Art Gallery in particular was great, quite quirky and original.

On the drive to Brighton we passed another White Horse.  This one, the Litlington White Horse, was made is 1924 to replace an old one nearby that succumbed to erosion etc originally made in 1838

Looking out to Brighton Pier, if you wish to use the deck chairs you will be charged for the privilege

Looking back at Brighton while on the pier

The Royal Pavilion

Fantastic architecture for England!

Crowds of people eating their lunch on the lawns around the Pavilion, really enjoyed these buskers, sounded just like Flight of the Concords

This beautiful building was originally used as the stables of the Royal Pavilion!

The gardens were planted up in keeping with the era when King George  IV would have been in residence. That pretty yellow shrub is gorse!

And inside “the stables”!

I love these seats, on sale in one of Brighton’s cute wee shops

The Museum and Art Gallery in “the stables” were excellent

While still in NZ, I had thought it might be a good idea to visit the Chelsea Flower Show.  I hadn’t done anything about finding out when it was on or anything just thought about  it now and then.   It turned out that it was held in London while we were at

Uckfield, which was too far for us to travel.  One of the rules of house sitting is that you may leave the house only for 3 hours per day (and one hour during the evening), which would not have allowed us enough time to get to London, walk around the Flower Show and be back in a reasonable time.  As it turned out the weather broke for the first three days and it looked pretty miserable but when the sun came back out again the crowds came too!  Attendance is limited to 157,000 over the last three days, the first two days are dedicated to Royal Horticultural Society members only.  That’s over 50,000 people in an 11 acre site on each of the public viewing days!    As it happened the TV coverage was extraordinary, with an hour each lunch time, two hours of programming dedicated to the Show each evening for the five days and then other “Specials” before and after the actual Show Week.  So as it turned out I relaxed at home and enjoyed the commentaries on TV.

You get some weird road signs around the UK

We celebrated Dennis’ 57th birthday while in Uckfield.  Rob rode his new motorbike over for the day, it goes without saying that it is very large, powerful and fast!  I cooked us a lovely lunch and we wandered on down to the local pub for a delicious dinner together.  Surprisingly, Samara and Ella were very taken with Rob and sought his attention frequently!  It’s always so good to keep in touch with family in NZ and Australia, via emails, Skype and phone, particularly on these special days.
I really am feeling very unfit and have noticed that I have put on weight, all this swanning around looking at things.   Having two winters back to back probably hasn’t helped.  I’m not at all happy about it and will have to gather some will power and get into some smaller meals and a lot more exercise.  Now that the weather is better we have been feeling proud of ourselves for biking around the place rather than taking the van.  The local library is a good bike ride away and as we had not been given permission to use the clients WiFi in Uckfield we have been in and out of town often.  So many libraries around England have a great system of internet connections.  They either have free or very cheap WiFi (that’s using our own netbook) for either 30 or 60 minutes at a time with the opportunity to return in 15 minutes, or you can use their computers for the same amount of  money and time.   Almost all of them won’t let you upload photos but you can easily check emails, research destinations, etc.  Even as a visitor and not a local we are allowed to join in the fun.

Now summer has arrived the country lanes seem even narrower with all the trees in leaf again

On the weekend of 2-5 June the UK celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, everyone having an extra public holiday added to the usual long Queen’s Birthday weekend .  We have been surprised with the general sense of pride and goodwill shown towards the Queen.  Generally, the Duke of Edinburgh is tolerated, he has a bad name for putting his foot in his mouth (though we think it’s hilarious!) but when he fell ill midway through the festivities people were disappointed on his behalf.  I have not met anyone however, who even tolerates Prince Charles!  He is thoroughly despised and everyone is worried about when it will be his turn to be monarch.  He writes a column in one of the papers which often comes across as negative, complaining about environmental issues, new architecture, farming practices, etc.  His wife, Camilla, has an even lower reputation and I noticed that the commentators on TV often ignore her altogether!  As an example:  when lovely Kate, cheeky Harry and Camilla were travelling in an open, horse-drawn coach to watch the Trooping of the Colours 10 days after the Jubilee Celebrations,  a journey that took maybe 15-20 minutes, the commentators praised Kate and laughed about Harry all the while but never mentioned the lady sitting next to them at all!  Once again, we were unable to travel to London to join in the many events but actually we were pleased to just stay at home where it was dry and warm and watch it all on the big plasma TV.  You probably would have seen some of the TV coverage too and seen how the weather had changed so dramatically!  Wind, rain and cold temperatures certainly spoilt it for the 1.5 millions lining The Thames for the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant, even to the extent that some things had to be cancelled.   Our Kiwi breasts swelled with pride to see the waka paddled up the river and John Keys was shown on the TV news greeting the paddlers with a hongi!  The Australian PM didn’t even come, their Governor General was sent instead!

Not a very good photo but the best I could do at the time! Everywhere it’s red, white and blue for the Jubilee

…clever gardeners

The city of Lewes is only about 10kms away from Uckfield and it had been recommended to us as a “must see”.  It really was a cute wee place.   Very old and quaint.  One of the shops there was celebrating their 500th birthday!  We took a guided walking tour in and around the town, we were somewhat disappointed though as the guide just lacked that “spark” that all our other guides have had.  Still you always learn heaps while walking around the sights.  Lewes is famous for a particular battle in 1264  where King Henry III was reminded in a violent way that he should stick to the terms of the Magna Carta and not try the old trick of raising taxes willy, nilly and telling everyone what to think.  Wikipedia mentions that on 21 August 1864, Lewes suffered an earthquake shock measuring 3.1 on the Richter Scale – this is an unusual occurrence in the UK but seems so common and insignificant to us New Zealanders!  Tom Paine, one of the founding fathers of the United States, came from Lewes and his home still stands along the main street.   Part of Anne of Cleves’ divorce settlement from Henry VIII was a house in Lewes, which still stands and is a museum today.

The top storey of that same house where they sharpened the knives,  overhangs the rest of the building.  There’s a shop opening out onto the High St on the ground floor and the rest was used as a private dwelling. The narrow lane  is called a twitten.

Tom Paine on the wall and our tour guide in Lewes

A kitchen door. They used to sharpen their knives on the door posts which are made of limestone.  If you look closely you can see how worn they are!

From 1784-1850, there was a Brick Tax, so to get around this the clever people in East Sussex and Kent developed the Mathematical Tiles. Like shingles, these are glazed, clay tiles overlapped and nailed in place on a wooden frame.  It only covered the front,  the other three walls were back to bricks.   Lewes had quite a few examples of these historical buildings.

Another days outing took us to the Seven Sisters.  These are impressive chalk cliffs, along the coast  between Brighton and Eastbourne.  They are actually often filmed as “stand-ins” for the White Cliffs of Dover.  It was fascinating to see the distinct band of flint embedded in them.

The first of the Seven Sisters. We walked around the base for a while then got worried about what if the tide came in faster than we expected? So we retraced our steps and climbed to the top and along for a while, quite the ramblers! Notice the small group of walkers on the beach which gives you an idea of scale!

Distinct bands of flint stones within the chalk

From on top of the first Sister looking south

Dennis spent an afternoon exploring the Victory, Lord Nelson’s famous ship, in Portsmouth.  I declined the generous invitation to join him and stayed in a cafe happily using their WiFi to upload about 30 photos onto another Blog post.  If I use our dongle to do this it costs me $1 each per photo so I just love it when I find a fast enough free WiFi site!

Our next house sitting job was due to start at exactly the same time as the one in Uckfield finished, 9a.m on 10 June, in Epsom an hours drive away.  Dennis rang the new people and suggested that he drop me off the night before to enable them to get away on time and for him to meet the homecoming clients at his end.  This was so confusing and upsetting for the new clients!  They needed to think about this novel suggestion for a day or so and get back to us before they would confirm.  It really threw them in a spin and we heard from our employer that they had phoned her to check that this might be suitable and then they reluctantly agreed.  Dennis had been the one speaking with them so he was overjoyed to think that he would drop me off at the gate and leave me to it for the night!  The first thing I noticed when I did arrive was how young they were!  I had a mental image of a couple of old dears but these two were in their late twenties/early thirties, I guess.  Thankfully, they had gotten over their initial worries and were quite welcoming and actually enthused that Dennis’ idea of having me come the evening before was such a good one as we had all the time in the world to discuss the various requirements for their two cats.  And that is what we did, basically from 7.30 – 10.30p.m. I was given a very long list of rules, accompanied by a verbal run down of the said rules, explaining the whys, wherefores and times of each of those said rules!  Unbelievable!  I have copied out a small example:

Crumble, 4 year old male tabby cat
Willow, 2 year old female black cat


Crumble is a rescue cat. We got him in October 2007 at the age of 4 months. He did not have a good start in life as he was abandoned in a flat for a week and was never played with as a kitten.  When he was rescued, he was very, very timid. He is very good with us now, but is very scared of strangers and will run up the stairs even if somebody knocks on the door. He does not like to be cornered, so it may take a couple of days for him to adjust to you, but give him space and we are sure he will come around. He does not like to be picked up, but will enjoy to be stroked, once he has become used to you.

Willow is the opposite of Crumble. She is also a rescue cat and we got her at 8 weeks of age. She is very confident and loves to be fussed and held. She will sit on your lap for a cuddle. She is very food orientated and this came about when she was spayed. It totally changed her and all you need to do is rustle a bag and she is running in to see what you have. She has a habit of jumping on the worktops when you are trying to weigh out their food, so you have to keep putting her on the floor until she gets the idea! She loves broccoli, so if you are having some for your dinner, please allow her a floret or two.

Both cats will sleep on the bed in the evening, so please be careful not to squash them.


Black bowl is for Crumble, red bowl is for Willow. Crumble is fed on the left.
Please clean bowls daily with a spray of Johnson’s cleaner.

Both cats will try and wake you up anything from 5.00am onwards. Mr Client normally gets up for work at around 5.20am and has tried to get into the habit of feeding them as late as 6.20am. You may be lucky and find that they leave you alone as late as possible. Feeding routine is as follows:


Crumble 12 grams of Science Plan
Willow 8 grams of Science Plan

Half a sachet each (Crumble to get the bigger portion) of IAMS or Sheba. This will be
followed by 6 big TD biscuits for Crumble and 4 TD biscuits for Willow. With regard to Willow’s share, please throw this around the room for her as she likes the chase.


Crumble 12 grams of Science Plan
Willow 8 grams of Science Plan


Crumble 12 grams of Science Plan
Willow 8 grams of Science Plan
Please weigh an additional 6 grams to be hid around the house before you go to bed.


Plastic bags – please do not leave these lying around in case the cats get stuck in them.


Do not allow the cats to go in, as they might hurt themselves.


We will discuss this with you when we speak on the telephone. They are mainly indoor cats as they are only let out when we are home. Willow has only just started to go out unassisted (she was previously taken around the garden on a lead).

See what I mean?  Generally, we have found cat lovers to be a little more fussy than dog owners but these two were the ultimate!  The cats had to stay indoors for the entire 11 days.  When Dennis joined me the following day, actually for the next few days, I kept remembering more rules that weren’t actually written down and solemnly passed on more cat wisdom.   For instance, Mrs Client had special “canisters” (similar to air fresheners) that you plug into the wall sockets around the house wafting out soothing aromas to calm the cats or the cats have never been out the front door as the road was an extremely dangerous environment!

10 June was a Sunday so we found out where the nearest train station was and after walking there took the overground and tube trains into London to attend the 6p.m. service at St Helen’s.  Great to be back!  You always have to allow plenty of time to get in to Church and back again and so by the time we got back to Epsom it was almost dark and it was raining as well.  Now that the motor home was parked out the front of the house I started to unload our essentials for the night and breakfast next morning, with the idea of leaving the general unpacking until the next day when it wasn’t raining.  On one such trip out to the van I had inadvertently not closed the front door properly and when I came back with an armful of things I saw horrors of horrors!  the wind had blown the door wide open!!  I yelled out to Dennis to help me find the cats, first of all searching the three-storied house.  He told me the disturbing news that he had seen Willow come down the bottom staircase around the same time as I was in the van!  I shot outside and he went upstairs.  He came outside to confirm that Willow was not in the house!!   After sitting and listening to hours of loving conversation about their cats the night before, I was now facing the real possibility of phoning Egypt to tell the clients I had lost their prized animal/family member.  Here I was in the pouring rain, in the dark running up and down the street in tears, looking underneath all the parked cars, calling out for Willow! Willow!  Eventually I came inside to get some high quality cat biscuits to rattle around in her feeding bowl to tempt her back home.  Dennis didn’t help the situation, laughing at me and telling me we would “just buy another black cat, they would never know the difference !”  After quite some time, I admitted defeat and came in, dripping wet and sat on the bottom stair looking out the open front door, very upset.  I felt I had to have the door open so that Willow could return in her own good time, if only she could work out where she lived, we were on a corner section so she could have chosen one of two streets to explore.  I also needed to stay by the open door just in case Crumble made a run for it as well!  Dennis was calmly watching telly, not a care in the world!  His only concern was “how long are you going to have that door open, there’s a draught in here?”  I finally resolved to close the door and start a thorough search of the house, what with Dennis being the one searching in the first place he may just have done a “man-look”.  I started on the top floor in the loft and sure enough there was both Willow and Crumble staring at me, wondering what all the ruckus was about!!



Crazy Dog!

23 Jun

Warwickshire, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Hampshire, West Sussex, East Sussex……

We still had a few days before we were due at our next house sitting job in the county of East Sussex, so as usual we chose roads we had not travelled before, in the general direction and stopped off at various points of interest.  
The Great Western Railway Museum in Swindon was one such diversion.  The GWR was one of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s inventions and the huge building where the Museum was housed was one of the factories that made the steam engines.   IK Brunel’s railway was unique in that the trains ran on extra wide tracks (7′ 1/4″) to give a smoother, faster and more comfortable ride, but being unique meant that they had to build the entire system from scratch.  At the age of 29, Brunel designed this broad gauge rail network in 1833 and at the time was in direct competition with George Stevenson’s original narrow gauge system  (4′ 81/2″) that was already in operation.  (George was the father of Robert Louis)   Although the wider tracks successfully proved Brunel’s theories of better speed and comfort, eventually in 1892 his wide gauge system was abandoned and the narrower became the standard throughout the UK.  Up till then if you started on one of Brunel’s trains and wanted to travel further than his wide tracks you needed to stop and transfer onto the other railway network to continue on your journey.  The Government of the day decided that one integrated rail network made more sense and passed an Act to enforce this.  Stevenson had started his railway earlier and had more miles of track to show for it so his design won out in the end.  The GWR Museum did a great job of showing the complexities of designing, building and maintaining everything required to run a rail network.  They built the tracks, engines, wooden carriages, signalling systems, station buildings etc, etc, in Swindon at this huge factory.  In the 1850’s the factory employed 2000 men producing one locomotive per week  but from the 1920’s-40’s the staff numbered 14,000!  During the War years the production changed to tanks, landing craft, midget submarines and armaments, with women taking the place of those men who were sent off to war.  

Another unique feature on IK Brunel’s trains was the massive wheels on the locomotives

The finished article

After wandering around the Museum for several hours we were sitting in the motorhome enjoying a cuppa out in the car park when a school group of 5 or 6 year olds slowly made their way towards their bus parked beyond our van.  These kids were all decked out in their school’s uniform, looking really cute and sounding cute too with their distinctive Pommie accents.  One small child got very excited when he saw our van, “Oh! Ice Cream!” and was thrilled to think his teacher was going to buy him an ice cream.   She tried to dissuade him by telling him “that’s not an ice cream van.”  “Yes, it is!”, “No, it’s not, it’s a caravan.”  The poor kid nearly cried when walking further had to admit to himself that his teacher was right.  Really funny to hear all this conversation before they walked into our field of vision!
Next stop, travelling in a south-east fashion towards our goal, was Stonehenge.  We had thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Drogheda in Ireland, where we toured in and around Newgrange and Knowth Passage Tombs.   Before proceeding to the historic sites though, we spent a good deal of time in the Visitor Centre there, reading all about the general and specific information relating to what we were about to experience.  Arriving at Stonehenge was such a disappointment!   One of England’s most famous icons and the infrastructure was shameful!  Here were a few prefab buildings, one the ubiquitous Souvenir Shop, and a couple for purchasing tickets but no Visitor Centre at all.  Oh, there is a sign up telling us that at some time in the not too distant future they are planning to build one, but it is incredible to think that this has been a tourist site since 1928 and yet the facilities are so poor!  The toilets provided are a series of large portacoms!  There is a major motorway running alongside one boundary and for years now English Heritage have been trying to get it redirected away from the famous site.  Anyway, the site was teeming with visitors from all over the world!  Part of the entry fee purchased individual audio guides, which are great but it looks so strange to have all these people with earplugs listening to a guided tour in their own language and not talking!    Visitors are restricted to walking the pathway provided, circling the stones and taking photos from every angle.  They give a special  dispensation to the modren day “druids” who flock to the site to hug the stones on Solistice day!  The spectacle is certainly impressive, especially when you consider that all this was built around 2600BC or earlier and some of these massive stones have been hauled from 150 miles away.

Stonehenge, the monument, is truly   impressive!

Just up the road a bit was Old Sarum.  Years ago both Dennis and myself read the book Sarum by Edward Rutherfurd about the building of Stonehenge, the castle at Old Sarum and the construction of Salisbury Cathedral, as well as Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet, which covers much the same topics,  so actually walking around the ruins at Old Sarum was fascinating!  The history of this site is substantial: a protective hill fort was constructed by the local inhabitants during the British Iron Age (around 500 BC) by creating enormous banks and ditches surrounding the hill (which still look impressive); the Romans had their town, Sorviodunum here; later the Saxons used the site as a stronghold against marauding Vikings; Normans built the castle and cathedral; William the Conqueror lived here and King Henry I built his palace here; and on and on.  In 1219 it was decided that they needed to build a new cathedral in Salisbury, Old Sarum was getting overpopulated and they were running out of water from the only well there and besides the King would make more money if the town grew, so Salisbury the town and the cathedral was relocated five miles further on and it sits at the confluence of five rivers.
Dennis had another excellent  supermarket shopping experience, he came across a Bacon Roast in the “specials” bin. I was a bit skeptical, not having heard of a Bacon Roast before and thought maybe it would be salty but it was delicious exactly like hot, Ham on the  Bone.  Very yummy!  We have not seen another one since.

An aerial view of Old Sarum

Looking down on the ruins o the old Cathedral at Old Sarum

We slept the night in a public carpark in Salisbury and woke to the news that there was a heat way on the way from Europe.  “Heatwaves” always sounds so dramatic to me and I thought it would be an exaggeration.  I don’t know why I did, I should have learnt from mistrusting the same description while in Ireland and then experiencing the temperatures soaring from 8-10 degrees to 21 degrees for a week.  At this time I was still dressed in my fetching thermal underwear and the usual daytime temperature was around 9-12 degrees but that day when the heat wave arrived I had to scurry around in our suitcases to find more suitable clothing because by 10a.m. it was 22 degrees.  We enjoyed about 10 days straight of up to 29 degrees (!) and then just as quickly it dropped down to 12-15 again and in came the rain for a week, causing extensive flooding.
A real highlight in our travels has been the guided tour in and up Salisbury Cathedral!  They took us up the 332 steps into the roof spaces and through the tower to the base of the spire and then outside onto a tiny balcony on all four sides for spectacular views.  We were standing level with the bells at 12p.m. but thankfully the striker to the main, large bell was out of action so we only heard the ding, dong, ding, dong tune before 12 strikes would have rung.  Talk about loud, Trev!  Salisbury Cathedral is unusual in large churches as it was all built in one go, rather than a nave here and a cloister there sort of thing, using several different styles.  It took 38 years to finish, 1220-1258.  After saying that, that’s not the whole story as 50 years later some bright spark thought a spire would be good, so they added the tallest spire in the UK (it still is) and by so doing added 6,500 tonnes to the original church without adding any extra bracing or buttresses and you can clearly see the roof line dip by 8 inches where the new spire is attached to the bell tower!  It wasn’t until 1668 that Christopher Wren inserted more internal reinforcing to stabilise it.   Nowadays the spire leans 69.85cm (27.5in) to the south and 44.44cm (17.5in) to the west!   There are 365 (the number of days in a year) windows and 8760 (the number of hours in a year) marble pillars and if they laid out the lead on the roofs it would cover four acres!

Walking along the way towards Salisbury Cathedral we found this interesting sign

Salisbury Cathedral

They have one of the four remaining copies of the Magna Carta (1215) housed at Salisbury Cathedral.  “Its content was designed to re-balance power between the King and his subjects. When King John set his seal on Magna Carta he conceded the fundamental principle that even as king he was not above the law.  Magna Carta contains 63 clauses written in Latin on parchment. Only three of the original clauses in Magna Carta are still law today. One defends the freedom and rights of the English Church, another confirms the liberties and customs of London and other towns, but the third is the most famous:  No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled. Nor will we proceed with force against him except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.  Magna Carta has come to symbolise the rule of law in England, protecting the rights of the individual. Its basic principles have been used in the constitutions of Commonwealth and other countries worldwide.”  (I couldn’t have said it better myself!)  It is in a remarkably good condition after all these years.

Looking down into the baptismal font and seeing the reflection of the arched ceiling. The four corners of  the fleur-de-lis design act as the overflow conduits into the small drains in the floor, which recycles the water 24/7. Good photo, Dennis!

We are standing on top of that first row of arches. This is the first stop of the two-hour tour going up the tower

Up, up and up some more

Looking down, we’re standing at the base of the spire, on top of the bell tower

The old craft of craving in stone is alive and well, the old finials, blocks of stone and statues, etc finally succumb to erosion and need replacing

The lead on the roof slowly corrodes and every 125 years they remove it, melt it down and after adding new lead to that then make new roofing panels again!

Boy, we got such a fright when the bells began to chime! We had forgotten the time…

The following day we carried on to our new house sitting job in Uckfield.   Travelling over the  Salisbury Plains we were once again driving through the most productive country.   I can think of many situations while driving through New Zealand that are very unproductive e.g. driving over the Rimutakas, through the Manawatu Gorge, etc, but other than a few miles in the Lake District or Peak District that was too steep to farm, every bit of land between metropolitan areas is farmed around here.  It is no wonder that England is such a wealthy country in comparison, add to that all the coal, iron ore, and slate etc mined for generations.

Once again we arrived the night before at our clients’ place as they were due to leave around 5.30a.m.  We met the lady of the house who introduced her two Borzio dogs,  10-year-old Ella and 3-year-old Samara.  Borzio dogs (the breed) come from Russia, favourite dogs of the Czars, apparently they were used to hunt in pairs and they could take a wolf down!  They stand about  80cm tall and look like a cross between a greyhound and a long-haired afghan.   The word borzio in Russian is an adjective for fast.   They have the most beautiful, silky, wavy, long hair and when they walk look so graceful.  The few times we saw them run they were very fast, but usually they would prance along up and down the fence line, if they weren’t asleep on the couch or a bed.  The first instructions we got and these were repeated often, in discussions and in written instructions was to NOT LET THE DOGS OUT OF THE PROPERTY!  The owners had only recently shifted into this house, having come from a place in the country that had a large two-storied house and an acre of grounds.  Sadly, they needed to shift as three years ago Mr Client, then aged around 50-55, had suffered a debilitating stroke and he is now either in bed or in a wheel chair.   It became essential that they found a house that was all on one level.  Previously, the dogs exercised themselves running around the large property all day, everyday, but now having moved to this site they only have probably one-eighth of the area they were used to!  They have never been taken for a walk with a collar and lead and never learnt the knack of meeting other dogs and not eating them!  If they did get out of the front door or through the gates into the wild blue yonder it would be unlikely that we could get them to come back, as they have had that trouble themselves.  If they see a cat, squirrel or rabbit on the property they certainly live up to their name and are FAST!

Samara and Ella eating dinner

A chestnut flower

The house was lovely, three bedrooms, one office, a large kitchen, spacious lounge and very big conservatory which they used as a formal dining area.  We have been in many houses that have plastic windows and door surrounds.  This one had that and really neat windows in the conservatory that you could open either with the hinges engaged on the outside edges to open the window vertically or the same windows had another set of hinges which allows them to open horizontally!    Very nifty.

This time we were directly under the flight path to Gatwick International Airport and with the gorgeous weather planes fly overhead OFTEN.

As well as being the main carer for her husband, Mrs Client also works full-time in their publishing company.  That’s the reason for the office in the house.  It was so sad to hear her speak about how different life is for them both.  Previously, they were a very social couple, always travelling down to London for shows, the theatre and parties and had spent many happy times overseas on holidays but now are very nearly housebound.  She receives six hours a month of respite care, where her Mother is paid to come and care for her son-in-law, as he can’t be left alone!  Of course, it is very difficult for her husband whose intellect has not been affected severely, to live with the realisation that his paralysis will not improve.  It has made me appreciate all the more Dennis’ reason for wanting us to travel at this stage of our lives, while we are fit, healthy and able.  We often think of our time when we had to sell  DJ’s Market Garden and were left with a huge debt and are so thankful for God’s provision for us.  We left the Wairarapa in 2000 and here we are only 12 years later on the other side of the world!  We do have much to be thankful for.

Kitchen with slate floor

Our house in Uckfield – not too shabby!

We were warned that Samara was nervous around men, particularly large, dark-haired men so it wasn’t strange to have her spend most of the time lying on her mistress’ bed, well away from Dennis for the first few days.  She slowly became accustomed to him and would sidle up to me for a pat and a bit of attention.  The first week I was her best friend really but for no apparent reason she began to get nasty.  When I sat on the couch in the lounge, the seat was so low and she was so tall, that when Samara stood in front of me her face was at the same height as mine.  She began to snarl at me and bare her teeth (she had a good set of chompers!) and really crowd into me!  I was quite alarmed and threatened by her behaviour and found I had to sit on a dining room chair so that I was taller than her but when she continued this I had to ban her from the lounge altogether!  For the next two weeks I had to be so careful with her, she was very unpredictable, one day she was fine and back to her agreeable self and the next aggressive again.  From time to time she would warm to Dennis and let him pat her but usually she would ignore him.   When the cleaner arrived on the first Thursday, she asked me how the dogs were behaving for me, and I could say truthfully that they were fine.  On the second Thursday I explained to her how Samara had changed and then I learnt that she had actually been their house sitter before us and now will no longer come to look after them due to the same problems with Samara!  She has experienced the same thing while there cleaning, with the clients still at home, and will not go into a room where the dog is, unless she has the Hoover with her as she knows that Samara hates the vacuum cleaner!  It made it easier for me to not feel so bad when I shut the doors between Samara and me, but I thought it was pretty poor of the client to have not warned us before.   Dennis spoke to Mrs Client about it when they returned and she told him Samara treats them just the same, from time to time, for no apparent reason.  Nuts!  What that dog needs is some regular and long exercise, it really is cruel to have these athletic dogs cooped up on a small section in the middle of town.  Needless to say, Ella was lovely and we had no issues with her at all.

Samara was great for the first week…

Ella is lovely. Each dog had their own seat in the lounge which left just the couch for us. See what I mean about the low seats?

The weather continued to be beautiful and now that I was wearing T-shirts I was astonished at how white I was!!  I never tan anyway but even my freckles had faded to be almost invisible!    This is the result of having two winters in a row. I enjoyed doing a bit of weeding in their garden and getting my hands all dirty for a change.  We took a day trip to Brighton and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I walked all day in the sun without the need for suntan lotion, which is unheard for me and my sensitive complexion.  The sun just doesn’t have the power in it as it does in NZ.