Another Christmas Letter this time for December 2015
We have had a comparatively quiet 2015, no book published, no property sold and no exotic holidays. We are settling in at Catkins, but the work we want to do to extend the dining room into the conservatory has still not happened – there have been difficulties with finding a builder who can do the work at a price we think is reasonable. In the end, the builder who did the work on Old Venn for us has stepped into the breach and we hope the work will start in January when we are away.
We did get away but only for quite short breaks; four days in Madrid visiting museums and eating some great meals. A week in Brittany at the HPB site Hilguy Manor; walking and eating. In September we went to Morocco for a week courtesy of Saga – we were not the youngest. The holiday was a mixture of gardens, art and guess what, eating. This time we went to a cookery class as well.
Margaret began to wonder what had happened to her Australian penfriend, Carol. Facebook came to the rescue; Margaret posted the story of the friendship and photographs of two of the envelopes. The post was shared over 30,000 times and resulted in the discovery that Carol had been living in the UK for the last forty years! We were able to arrange a meeting at her daughter’s home in Somerset.
The trip to France wasn’t quite our last holiday with Rudi. We went to Cornwall for two days to see a production at the Minack Theatre. The play at the Minack was rubbish but the venue is amazing. Fortunately, the weather was good and we had another couple of days doing some of the SW Coastal Path.
We had a beach hut In Exmouth for six months; it was the subject of a demolition order. Although the weather was not wonderful we went about twice a week for coffee and stayed for a couple of hours reading and watching the kite surfers out in the estuary.
If you are not a dog lover just skip this paragraph. One of the reasons we have had a quiet year is that Rudi was becoming much frailer, although he could still do a five-mile walk provided there were no hills. Indeed at the end of May, the vet had described him as remarkable when he went for a checkup. However, at the end of July, he had a number of fits which left him unable to stand so we made the heartbreaking decision to have him put down. We were both very upset by the loss of our lovely dog; he had provided us with loving companionship for nearly thirteen years. We still miss him.
Filling the gap left by Rudi, we have tried to keep walking every day and we did a few things we had put off because of him. One was a trip to Lundy; we had a fabulous if a rather long day – a two-hour boat ride each way. We also went to stay at a hotel in Rock that doesn’t take dogs and walked more of the Coast Path.
Margaret’s new book ‘The Fatal Step’ is in the final throes of editing with her writing buddy and will hopefully be published next year. Alan continues his fight with nature in the vegetable patch. The fruit bushes, however, are doing well and we had a glut of raspberries at the end of the summer.
We have volunteered to foster Guide Dogs who are being rehomed and Alan has volunteered for the Samaritans. He is still training at the moment and that has interfered with his singing, although he is still a member of Chagford Singers and he has been taking much-needed singing lessons.
We promised ourselves that when Rudi died we would take the opportunity of a long trip abroad and so we are off on 13th January to Singapore for four days and then Australia. We are staying in Sydney, outside Hobart and in Melbourne having arranged property exchanges with our London flat. Then two nights at Uluru (Ayers Rock) before making our way to Perth to stay with friends. We return to the UK on 29th February.
Our next task then will be to find another dog.
The book has not yet been published but hopefully next year and it will be called Reluctant Consent I think.
The round robins sent at Christmas usually provoke groans as the writer’s family’s achievements are enumerated in great detail. Mine however have a loyal following as I describe the ups and downs of our lives. We have always been ready to laugh at ourselves and we hope our friends laugh with us. I thought you might like to read some of my earlier letters in the run up to Christmas 2017.
If 2015 was quiet, the same cannot be said of 2016. It started with the sad news that Margaret’s rediscovered penfriend Carol died on Boxing Day. Margaret was pleased she had made the effort to find Carol and that they got to meet.
Planning and packing for the trip to Singapore and Australia took up the first two weeks of January. Margaret hates packing and there was a lot of huffing and puffing before she finally made her choice of what to put in her suitcase. The trip worked really well, our flights were all on time and staying in other peoples’ homes gave us a glimpse of the Aussie way of life.
That was particularly true in Perth where we were staying with our lovely friends Bev and John. We got up early to go swimming in the sea, notwithstanding sharks, and then after drying off, coffee at some local café. It was John’s birthday while we were there and we celebrated with dinner at the Royal Perth Yacht Club which had a curious outcome. One of the guest was quizzing Alan about where he worked in the UK and he said Sutton, to which the other guest said one of the State MP’s was from Sutton. Of course it was Bob Johnson who had been the Mayor of Sutton before he emigrated. Alan contacted him and we had lunch in the Parliament building with him and his wife Sue.
The work on the house did not begin while we were away. The conservatory was knocked down at the end of May. We sold it on ebay. The work finished in the last week of November. Rather longer than we expected. We are delighted with the new room and the canopy over the front door. Currently we are waiting for our decorator to finish the painting, new furniture to arrive and the books, tables etc to be recovered from storage. Hopefully we will be using it by Christmas.
We volunteered to foster Guide Dogs for the Blind while we looked for another dog. We had Siba for a week over the New Year and then Polly. Polly had been retired early because of her health and we had her for two months in order for her to see the vets and to organise the best treatment for her. Her teeth were in a very bad way and she had twelve removed. There is real pleasure in watching a dog revert to being a dog rather than a living guide and we are full of admiration for the way these animals suppress many of their natural instincts. Polly left to go to the IOW where we hope she is enjoying her retirement.
The week she left we adopted Lily, a six year old Springer with a few issues. We were given a long behaviourists report on her which was almost unintelligible. We decided the only way to deal with her problems was to go back to basics. So Thursday night is Dog Training Club at the Scout Hut in Exeter – chosen because the floors are washable and therefore suitable for small boys and dogs. We have enjoyed going and Lily has passed her Kennel Club Bronze good citizens award. We still haven’t sorted out all her problems!
We went to Cornwall to the Minack again. It poured down but we were well prepared and with raincoats and a picnic blanket the wrong way up we kept dry. The play/musical had a terrible plot but the actors were all students at the Central School of Drama – some amazing talented youngsters. The other trip was to Dunster on the edge of Exmoor. We stayed at the Lutteral Arms which is very dog friendly. The weather was warm enough for us to have breakfast in the garden every day. From the garden we could walk out into the park of the castle and the woods beyond.
In September we spent a week at the HPB property at St Simeon on the edge of the Champagne region. There are so few tourists the locals are friendly, almost unheard of in France. Lovely cottage and a great swimming pool as well.
Back in Devon we hired a beach hut at Budleigh Salterton. We went every day as the weather was very warm. So warm we both went swimming in the sea and not in wet suits! It’s the nearest thing to having a holiday without having to pack a suitcase. Margaret loved that.
It was the Budleigh Literary Festival during the time we had the beach hut. Some very eminent writers were speaking all lured to Devon by the patron of the Festival Hilary Mantel. Margaret introduced herself to Hilary as they have the same degree Bachelor of Jurisprudence from Sheffield University and they chatted about how they ended up doing this rather unusual course.
October we set off for St Petersburg again with our friends Rachel and Michael. This time flying and staying in a city centre, at the Astoria. We can recommend the hotel for its location and the staff who not only spoke very good English and were very helpful but also had a sense of humour. We spent two days with a guide, Liudmila, doing the tourist route, but we had one day to wander round the city, trying to get a taste of life in a museum piece. So many mansions all turned into Exhibition Spaces – what does one do with redundant palaces? We ate in local restaurants, some good, one terrible, and very expensive wine.
Alan has joined the Exmouth Choir; a much shorter journey than driving to Chagford every week. He is now a fully fledged member of the Samaritans which takes up a few hours every week, including some night shifts. Coming back from his 12-3am shift after a weekend of heavy rains he misjudged the flooding of the River Clyst (car came through the water on the opposite carriage way) and wrote off the Volvo. He wasn’t hurt only wet feet. At least the decision to change cars has been made for him.
Margaret’s next novel is being rewritten but she has published on Amazon a short book of the stories from her blog. The book is called Trials and Errors and is available as a paperback or on Kindle.
The vote to leave the EU and the election of Trump as the next President has left us feeling uncertain as to what the future hold. Keep calm and Carry On is probably the only approach.
Ever year at the Tudor house, Cotehele Cornwall, a garland is made from flowers grown in the gardens over the summer. It hangs in the hall of this magical old house, to attract visitors to the property. We went on Friday and although it was thinner than it has been in the past, due to our atrocious summer, nevertheless it is still a reminder of the time when the Christmas decorations were not bought in a shop.