Sunday, 21 December 2008

We Wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

On one Christmas Eve, many years ago, I overheard the following conversation between two middle aged ladies:

1st lady - "Are you all ready then"?

2nd lady - "No kid - and I always say, if Christmas never came I still wouldn't be ready".

It made me smile then and I have often remembered that conversation at this time of year when there seems so much still to be done.

However, this year I'm really quite well organised. The house is decorated, all ready for a certain little 4 year old, presents are wrapped and under the tree, the
cakes are iced, one for us, one for daughter and one for a friend. As well as that most of the food shopping has been done.

DD and GD are due to arrive this evening and this will probably be my last post until after Christmas, though I may look in a couple of times.

So now, OH and I would like to wish all blogging friends a very happy and peaceful Christmas and best wishes for 2009.

For a jolly Christmas greeting, click here

A x

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

A Christmas Carol

A few evenings ago OH answered the door to some carol singers. He heard them out then found them some coins. He said he had asked them "is this a practice because you need to improve before Christmas"! Oh dear!

I didn't hear them but I have heard this lovely carol being sung by Enya and thought what a beautiful version it is. You could click on her name to hear for yourself.

If you wish to see another version of this with the translation, once you are on the relevant page, just click on the first of the related videos. The words are slightly different to those most of us are familiar with.

I do hope you enjoy it.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Christmas (iv) - Getting to know you!

Popped over to Gill - That British Woman's blog and came across this:

Welcome to the Christmas edition of getting to know your friends. Okay, here's what you're supposed to do, and try not to be a SCROOGE!!! Just change all the answers so that they apply to you. You are all's Christmas after all and I don't want to leave anyone out!

1.Wrapping paper or gift bags? Both if there happens to be more than one parcel per person or if we have several going to one household.

2. Real tree or Artificial? Artificial - I do love real ones and the scent of them and don't even mind the needle drop - for me it's just easier.

3. When do you put up the tree? It varies - this year the first weekend in December.

4. When do you take the tree down? Again it varies - but usually leave it up as long as possible.

5. Do you like eggnog? Yes but haven't had any for ages. Perhaps I'll put it on the shopping list for this year!

6. Favourite gift received as a child? I suppose it must be the one I remember best - a doll's crib, draped in blue. My cousin had one in pink. They were both from Santa!

7. Hardest person to buy for? My mother. She tells me there is nothing she wants then a week or two before Christmas buys herself something which would have been perfect! Sound familiar to anyone?

8. Easiest person to buy for? My daughter or the grand-children.

9. Do you have a nativity scene? Yes - we have two. One is traditional and the other is for tealights.

10. Mail or email Christmas cards. Mostly mail but some email too - some of the animated cards are fun.

11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? I don't know.

12. Favourite Christmas Movie? Scrooge - and I'll always watch "The Great Escape" whatever the time of year!

13. When do you start shopping? I suppose as soon as Christmas over if I see something in the sales but usually like to leave it until November. Love the Christmas atmosphere - not the crowds though.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? Possibly.

15. Favourite thing to eat at Christmas? Christmas pudding with brandy cream.

16. Lights on the tree? 200

17. Favourite Christmas song? I don't really have a favourite but love to hear Kirsty McCall's " Fairy Tale of New York", Johnny Mathis "When a Child is Born" and any carol being sung by a choir.

18, Travel at Christmas or stay home? Usually at home, with family round. A couple of times at daughter's and one year travelled to Australia on Boxing Day.

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer? Yes, I think so - if given time to think about it.

20. Angel on the tree top or a star? Small angel with a star.

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? Christmas morning.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of the year? Worrying about whether I've bought the right thing!

23. Favourite ornament theme or color? Red and gold

24. Favourite for Christmas dinner? Turkey with ALL the trimmings and Christmas pud with brandy cream.

25. What do you want for Christmas this year? It would be nice to know that everyone, children especially, were being cared for but for me - a new cosy dressing gown and some new books.

I thought that was fun - hope you join in - will look forward to reading your responses!

Portrait of Words - Mr X's Plan

This is my entry for December's Portrait of Words. Why not have a go yourself?

Mr X's Plan

Mr X was a man with a plan! It had been forming in his mind for some little while and he had even put the initial part of it into action. He was just having to take his time for the rest to come to fruition and during that time he was "fine-tuning" the final details.

He didn't think of himself as a happy man, in fact for the most part he felt as though his life was just passing him by. That was why the time had come for action. He was in his early 50's and married to Mrs X for the past 20 years. They were not a happy couple, probably never had been really happy and he had often wondered how it was that they had ever taken that final marital step. They had met, through friends, at a party and had paired up because it seemed they were the only ones there who had come alone. He had asked her out and their relationship had just gone on from there. Thinking back to those early days he recalled that there had been some happy times and supposed it was then when he had suggested they get married. She hadn't exactly been eager, had just sort of gone along with it. They didn't have much money to spare so had a civil ceremony in a local registry office. He had no family, she only a sister, who couldn't come anyway so it was just the two of them with witnesses asked in from the street. She liked yellow roses and so he had bought her a single long stem and joked that when they were rich he would buy her a whole bunch of them. But they hadn't got rich and life had become humdrum quite early on.

They lived in a third floor apartment, moving there about a year after they were married. There were no children, never ever any signs of a pregnancy and for the past 10 years they had slept in separate bedrooms. They had grown apart. It was because of this situation that the first inklings of his plan had come about. Not for the first few years of his almost solitary existance, but slowly thoughts had crept into his mind and for the past 5 years he had been working on a scheme that would set them free from the rut they had got themselves into. It was a slow process but if he was careful it could and would work.

They both worked, he as a sales rep and she as an assistant in a care home. Each morning she left the apartment before he did, returning slightly before him, but they had very little contact now. Mrs X got her meals at work so only snacked at home, and he usually ate at cafes and restaurants during the week, during the course of his work. Weekends she went out with friends, shopping or whatever, holidays she spent with her sister who was now living about 40 miles away. He went to football matches or just watched TV. To all intents and purposes they lived separate lives and he had had enough. His dream was to own a small-holding out in the country somewhere, with a few animals and enough land to grow vegetable and fruit, maybe to sell at a local market.

His plan started to form when one night he had gone out with some friends to a casino and had spectacular luck on the roulette wheel. He had come away with winnings equal to six months wages. Once back at home he decided to keep the winning news to himself and thought about where to put the money. He and Mrs X did not have a joint bank account and he did not want to put the money into his sole account in case somehow she found out about it. He decided to hide it in one of the inside pockets of his old fishing jacket which hung in the cupboard in his room, knowing that it would be undiscovered there as she never came into his room anyway, as far as he knew.

So having had one win he thought that if he was careful he might be able to add to his winnings and save a really tidy sum of money, enough to get away from here and maybe start to live the dream, before it was all too late.

And so it began. First of all he needed to keep it a secret from Mrs X. Her bedroom was at the front of the apartment, close to the door, so he decided that once she had gone to bed at night he would sneak out, down the fire escape, thus avoiding making any noise which might arouse her suspicions. He didn't go out every night, just 3 nights in a week and never touched his initial winnings, wanting to keep that intact, just adding to it whenever he came home ahead. Well that worked OK for the first few weeks but then one evening when he got home from work she asked why he hadn't answered the phone the night before, it had rung and rung, disturbing her. He had to admit that he had gone out, making the excuse that he had had a few beers with a work colleague. Because of that he decided to buy an answering machine and when she questioned why, he said that it would cut out the nuisance calls from sales people that seemed to be increasing these days.

She looked doubtful but merely raised her eyebrows and said nothing. He set the answerphone up to ring only twice before the message cut in, figuring that if she did happen to hear it ring, it wouldn't really disturb her.

He kept going with his plan. Three nights almost every week he would quietly make his way down the fire escape, drive to the casino, stay a few hours then drive home, back up the fire escape again and creep back into the apartment. He would check the answerphone before going to bed, but there were rarely any messages. Little by little his "pot" increased. He knew that if it was in a savings account he would be earning interest on it but determined to carry on the way he was for a while longer. There were some weeks when he had no luck at all but every now and again he won a substantial amount which helped to make up for the bad times. Then, one night he seemed to be on a winning streak and again won a sizeable sum of money - almost a jackpot! Lady Luck was certainly with him. Back at home he counted his stache and whistled quietly when he realised that he now had enough to put the next part of his plan into action. He had worked out that once he had enough for a deposit on a property and to keep him going for a couple of years until he was on his feet, he would do just that. He didn't want to rush into anything. On his travels he had come across a few areas that would be perfect and he kept his eye on those localities for just the right place to come up. Lately there had been a couple and now the time had come for him to take the next step.

The next day was hot and sunny and he dressed casually, in shorts and trainers. As soon as the coast was clear he made a couple of phone calls. First to work, calling in sick, then to the local esate agents to set up appointments to view the properties he has his eye on. He would see both places that he was interested in later that morning. He took enough of his money to pay a holding deposit, should he find something suitable.

By the afternoon he had made a decision on the one he wanted and paid the deposit. He would go back to the apartment, pick up the rest of his money and then leave, alone, to begin a new life.

As he arrived back at the apartment he saw his wife getting into a taxi. She saw him too but didn't acknowledge him and the cab moved away.

He stood, watching and wondering where she was going at this time of the day when she would normally be at work. He went on up to the apartment and as soon as he got inside he saw the flowers - on the table next to the answerphone was a bunch of yellow roses. The answerphone light was flashing and he checked the message. It was from his wife. "Its me, you said when we got rich you would buy me a whole bunch of yellow roses. I just got rich so I left a bunch for you. Goodbye".

Light suddenly dawned and he rushed into his bedroom. The cupboard door was open and there on the bed was his old fishing jacket .............

To look at more Portraits of Words and/or to join in click here.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Christmas (iii) - Getting into the Christmas Spirit

I have just spent a few days with my daughter. She lives in Stratford upon Avon and it is always a pleasure to go there, mostly because I am able to spend time with my girl and her little girl but also because Stratford is such a lovely place to visit.

However part of the reason for going this time was to finish Christmas shopping and to see my grand-daughter in her first school play - she was a snowflake!

The evening I arrived we went to the school for the "Christmas Fayre". All sorts of things going on and the children having loads of fun, extracting cash out of parents for face painting, transfers, secret Santa presents etc. It was ex SIL's weekend to have little girl and they were already there when we arrived. We spent about 45 minutes with them then left them to it and made our way home, fortunately just around the corner.

The next two days were spent quite leisurely and with no rushing about I got most of my shopping finished. There was plenty of Christmas atmosphere in the town, it is beautifully decorated and the lights are wonderful. There were the usual buskers as well. One, a young lad possibly about 14, was playing a banjo and was very good. We wondered if his mum knew what he was doing and decided that she would guess on Christmas morning!

Another was a one man band and his dog. We spotted them as we were making our way to another part of the town and looked for them on the way back. By then they had gathered quite a crowd. The man was playing Christmas songs and carols and occasionally at the end of a "verse/line" would lean towards the dog who then barked. Then he said "over to you Bessie" and the dog sat up, raised her head and howled a few bars. It was very entertaining.

On Monday morning we went to buy a Christmas tree, set it in place and got the lights on it. When my grand-daughter arrived home from school we put on some Christmas music and all three of us decorated the tree. Lovely.

Tuesday was school play day. My daughter had not been able to get me a ticket as, predictably, they are hard to come by. Disappointing but not a problem - I intended to do some ironing for her while she was gone. I had just switched on the iron when the phone rang. There was room and she was holding my seat! Switched iron off, donned coat and boots and raced along to the school arriving just as the children were filing into the hall. Phew!

They performed "The Little Fir Tree". It was lovely. All the children had a part, the older ones having had to learn a line. One little girl had tears in her eyes and sobbed through hers! I did have a tissue handy (for me). Did I mention that my grand-daughter was a snowflake. She and all the other snowflakes were dressed in white (obviously), the sunbeams were in yellow and the raindrops in blue. It was charming. All the children did well but of course most of my attention was on the reception year and GD in particular. I love to see those little ones, all a bit uncertain as to exactly what is going on and watching one another in order to make the right moves. I was so thrilled to have seen it. The second performance was on Wednesday evening and ex SIL would be going to that one.

For me those few days set the Christmas scene. It is what it is all about. Forget the parties with music so loud you have to shout to be heard. I've done all of that in my youth anyway, without the shouting!

So, now at home, I'm getting back into the preparations. Have to finish decorating the house as DD and GD will be with us, as well as wrapping presents and icing cakes.

In the words of the song "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas"

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Christmas (ii) - A Cool Shepherd

Over the years, like most families, we have accumulated lots of different Christmas decorations. Some lasted only a short time, either getting broken or, dare I say it, becoming unfashionable. However quite a few have stood the test of time, are rediscovered each year and set in their customary place of honour.

One such was made by my son when he first started school, so he would have been 5 years old. Each year this is placed beneath our Christmas tree and after the festivities are over is reverently wrapped up and carefully stowed away again for another eleven months.

A few years ago our eldest grand-daughter, then about 5 years old herself, asked me about it and I told her how her uncle had made it at school when he was about her age. She looked at it and then at me and said "I think it's really cool".

So do I.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

SkyWatch Friday

A windy day at the beach

The Quantock Hills are in the distance

If you wish to take part in Skywatch Friday or just look at skies around the world, click here.

Christmas (i) - Any room at the Inn?

Well Christmas is fast approaching and I have to admit that I love all the preparations. This is the first Christmas I have not been at work and all the jobs which always seemed to take days, writing cards for example, are being completed in a relatively short time. So with puddings and cakes made (cakes not iced yet though) I decided to start trimming the house. OH kindly got into the loft for the boxes of decorations and I have been unpacking some of them and replacing our usual ornaments with various seasonal ones. In one of the boxes was the little nativity scene which is now well over 30 years old. I think it cost me about £4 and although at the time money was a bit tight I did decide to buy it and have always loved it.

Anyway, seeing it again reminded me of a nativity story I heard a few years ago.

A friend of mine has a nephew who was chosen to be the Innkeeper in his school nativity. He would have been about 4 or 5 years old. Rehearsals done it was time
for them to play to their audience and the relevant scene went something like this:

Mary and Joseph arrive at the Inn. Joseph knocks on the door. Door opened by Innkeeper.

Joseph - " .... have you a room for the night"?

Innkeeper - "yes, come in".

Voice off - "you are supposed to say "sorry there's no room at the Inn" "

Innkeeper - "but they can have my room"

Bless his heart - the true spirit of Christmas.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Watery Wednesday

If you wish to take part in WateryWednesday or simply look at photos from around the world, click here.

I visited Adelaide Zoo earlier this year with my 8 year old grandson and he borrowed my camera to take these shots.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Skywatch Friday - The British Seaside

Lunchtime for some?

definitely for the donkeys

and possibly the fishermen

and then maybe a walk by the dunes

If you would like to take part in SkyWatch Friday or simply look at photographs from all over the world click here.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Meme Meme Meme

I've been tagged again. This time by Cheshire Wife, who passed the following meme to me:

4 Places I go over and over:

Tesco supermarket
To see my mother
Into the garden to feed the birds and squirrels, and sometimes to work there!
The walk into the local town

4 people who email me regularly

My daughter
My cousin
My friend - H

4 of my favourite places to eat:

The local Indian restaurant
The Knoll Inn - a local pub
At Lucia's in Stratford on Avon - (after dinner the chef and the waitress and her mother (aged about 72) play and sing to the diners and hand out musical instruments so everyone can join in) - fabulous! Food is delicious as well!
At my friend's - a great cook.

4 places I'd rather be

Well I'm very happy at home but -

In Stratford on Avon - with my daughter and grand-daughter
In Australia with my son and family
In New Zealand with my step-daughter and her family
Lying on a beach, in a hammock under coconut palms, in the warm sunshine.

4 TV shows I could watch over and over

A Touch of Frost - David Jason is the best
Wild Down Under - fabulous photography
Mapp and Lucia - wonderful characters - brilliantly played!
Friends - love all the characters - they make me cry and they make me laugh out loud.

And finally ...

4 people I think could be willing to take up the baton and respond:

Denise at An English Girl Rambles
Karen at The Rubbish Diet
Lindsay at Rural Villager
Flick at Dusting Spiders

Now, like Cheshire Wife before me, I won't be letting them know - will just wait and see if they spot it and are willing to take it up. If they do there is an ice cream here for them if they would like it - you too Cheshire Wife!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Skywatch Friday

If you would like to take part in SkyWatch Friday or simply look at photographs from all over the world, click on the above link.

I went out early yesterday and returned home just as the sun was beginning to set. Fortunately my camera was nearby.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Portrait of Words - The Reunion

Portrait of Words

Jeff B at "Word in Edgewise" hosts this monthly blog. This, my first attempt, is an entry for November. If you wish to have a go yourself, click on the link above and visit Jeff B's blog to look at the rules and categories.


Sally had returned to her home town for the funeral of her uncle, her mother's brother and decided to stay on for a few more days. Steve her husband had to go back to work so left that evening saying that he would return for her at the weekend.

The weather recently had been wet and miserable and the day of the funeral started the same way. But the afternoon turned out to be glorious and the sunset was fiery and beautiful. Sally had promised Carol, her cousin, that she would go and spend a few hours with her the next day, it would give them chance to reminisce and maybe she would want to talk about her dad as well.

Gazing at the sunset took Sally back about 40 years as she remembered how she and Barney used to walk up to the wetlands and sit and watch the sun disappear over the lake. She had always marvelled at the colours even then. Barney had been her first boyfriend and she had loved him very much. She had got to know him at school, he was a couple of years ahead of her and a bit of a "Jack the lad", but she had caught his eye and eventually he had asked her out. She could still remember how she felt about him. It had been an innocent romance, especially compared with those of today, and they had gone out together for a few months. When one evening he told her, very gently, that he couldn't see her anymore she was devastated and cried for days. Her dear dad had tried to sympathise and said that one day she would wonder what she ever saw in him. She had thought then as she had ever since that she knew exactly what she saw and felt about him, and she always would. However, that evening she decided that on her way to see Carol she would drive to the wetlands, just to see it again.

The next morning she borrowed her mother's car, an old convertible that dad had been so proud of. Her mother hardly ever drove it now, it was too big for one thing, but would not get rid of it - "not yet" she would say and smile. Sally's dad had been dead for 25 years now, and she guessed the time for her mother to sell the car would never come.

She drove in to the town, passed her old school, then took a left turn along towards the lake. The road had been modernised with new systems and roundabouts and lots more houses than she remembered, but once off the main highway the lanes were pretty much unchanged. She passed the swannery, the lovely birds had been there for as long as she could remember, and before long she came to the lake. As soon as it came into view she slowed the car and just gazed at it. It was still as beautiful, especially now in the sunshine and with autumn leaves on the trees. It made her feel quite emotional and she was very glad she had come. She drove to the parking area.

Barney had admired Sally for quite a while before he eventually asked her to go out with him. He had had lots of girlfriends and they were all quite a bit more sophisticated than she was. She was quiet and shy but there was just something special about her. They had gone about together for a while but then he became unsettled and knew he had to finish it. It was partly due to pressure from his parents although he never told her that, in fact he had never really given her an explanation and she had just accepted it when he told her it was over. She was only 15 then. He was about to leave school and already had plans to go to college to try to get a degree. She was coming up to taking her 'O' levels at school. Any other commitments may spoil their chances and future prospects. And so it had ended and he had left their home town to go to college. One time when he was back he had got a friend to arrange a "blind" date for him with Sally. She had agreed and was amazed that he was her date, and they spent a very happy evening together. So then he asked if she would write to him whilst he was away and she had happily agreed to that too. However, with the pressure of his college work he found little time to write letters and eventually Sally wrote to say she had started seeing someone else. They didn't meet again for many years. At times, back at home, he would run into friends of hers and always asked after her, but never saw her and then one day he heard she had married and moved away herself.

Sally parked the car and decided to walk around the lake a little way. As she walked she thought about the last time she had seen Barney. It was very shortly after her dad had died. She had been staying with her mother and had driven to the local supermarket to get some groceries for her. She had borrowed the convertible then as well, the first time she had driven it. As she was backing out of her parking space she had nearly hit a man walking behind the car. Slamming on the brakes she wound down her window to apologise and found herself looking at Barney. She recognised him instantly even though he was now sporting a beard. They were both pleasantly surprised so she parked the car once more and got out to speak to him. He said that he had thought he had seen her a few days before in the town but that it had actually been someone else he knew. So then he had wondered to himself about her, where and how she was. They spoke for several minutes - she told him she was married with 2 children, a son and a daughter and he said he was married with 3 sons. As they parted he told her he was very glad to see her as he and his wife were selling up and emigrating to Australia. They had smiled at each other - remembering, perhaps. As she drove away she realised that she had almost certainly seen him for the last time.

Her thoughts were interrupted as she noticed a small cafe, which looked as if it had been built fairly recently. There certainly hadn't been one in her day. Inside it was warm and inviting and there was a lovely smell of baking and coffee beans roasting. A few tables were taken but there was one vacant by the window and so she made her way towards it. As she went to sit down a man sitting by himself at the next table looked up and smiled. Sally couldn't believe her eyes - it was Barney! She stood gaping at him and eventually sat down opposite him.

A waitress came over and Sally ordered herself a coffee and, as she was drinking it, realised Barney didn't have anything but he said he didn't need anything more and was just happy looking at the view.

And so they sat and chatted. She told him about her husband and family, including their 3 grandchildren and he owned up to 4 grandsons of his own. He and his wife and family had gone to Australia all those years ago, lived there happily and had only returned for a visit a couple of times before. He was on his own this time though and only for a short while. He said he usually came to the lake each visit because he had always loved it here. He had wondered if he would ever meet her again as they had that time in the car park.

When it was time to go, he walked with her to the convertible and laughed as she reminded him how she had nearly knocked him over. As she turned to say goodbye he reached out and pulled her towards him. They kissed briefly, sweetly - and hugged - knowing this would be the last time they would see each other. They held hands, trying to prolong the moment. He asked if she had been happy and her eyes glistened as she nodded and smiled, unable to speak. She got into the car, Barney leaned in, put his hand to her hair then stroked her face, smiled and walked away.

Sally sat quietly for a couple of minutes then started the engine. She glanced back but he had already gone.

She drove to her cousin's house in a daze. At least she would be able to talk about it with her, she was so amazed at the coincidence. Carol was pleased to see her but noticed immediately that she seemed agitated. They sat looking out at the garden bathed in the warm September sunshine, and Sally told her that she had been to the lake near the wetlands and how she had seen Barney. Carol, open-mouthed, stared at her for several seconds then got up and walked over to her bureau. She took out a newspaper cutting and passed it to Sally. "My love, you couldn't have seen him" she said, "he was killed in a car accident in Australia last year. I didn't know how to tell you".

Monday, 17 November 2008

I have been given an award

Cheshire Wife has kindly given me an award for my creative blog name. I replied that in fact the name was given to me by friends, many years ago, and when I began my blog decided it was a good name to use. However, I accept with thanks.

The "rules" that go with this award are that I list six things that make me happy and I should pass it on to six fellow bloggers. So first my "happy list":

1. Long Sunday lunches with family and/or friends. And by long I mean that they go on well into early evening or beyond!

2. A day at home with Bob - just the two of us.

3. Spending time with my grandchildren.

4. Chatting on the telephone to my daughter who lives 100 miles away; also my son who lives 10,000 miles away.

5. Watching the wildlife in our garden, the birds and the frogs and newts in the pond.

6. My-time relaxation which includes sitting in the warm sunshine, reading, eating chocolate, listening to music and time in the kitchen - just peparing meals or baking.

And the award goes on to -

Gill at Gill - That British Woman for the variety of her posts, especially the recipes.

Jay at The Depp Effect for her ability to include Johnny Depp's name in so many of her posts.

Denise at An English Girl Rambles for her lovely photographs and poems.

Sandi at Holding Patterns for her wonderfully creative writing.

Fern at Ferns Lakeland, again for photographs, particularly of some stunning views of the Lake District.

Rosiero at Alcoholic Daze for being able to remain positive in extremely difficult circumstances.

I do hope they will accept the award even if lack of time means they are unable to pass it on immediately.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Playing Tag

Whilst I was on holiday I was tagged by Lindsay. Wondered what the email meant until I started to catch up with blogs. Well it means that Lindsay requires me to post six interesting facts about myself!! Unfortunately it has had to wait until now to be dealt with as I wanted to get my Indian experience down before I forgot it. I'll never forget it!

So, six "interesting" things about me:

1. I have been driving for about 38 years. I only learned to swim about 20 years ago, when I was in my mid forties. I still cannot ride a bike!

2. When my children were in the junior school I became quite involved with helping in school, listening to readers, helping with artwork etc. I also was part of the PTA and was the chairperson for a year. I really enjoyed it all.

3. One of my first jobs was as a waitress in a restaurant which was frequented by some of the stars of the 1960's film "Far from the Madding Crowd", during the time of the film being made. Saw such celebrities as Peter Finch, Terence Stamp and Alan Bates. Director of the film John Schlesinger also ate there, and I remember him coming in to reserve a table for that evening and having to spell his name for me! On another occasion Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas came in to eat.

4. I adore cats and have always had them in my life until about 4 years ago and I do miss having one around.

5. I dislike tea. I cannot even bear the smell of it so never drink it.

6. I love cooking and like to experiment with different dishes. I particularly enjoy baking cakes and decorating them. Over the past 15 years or so have made dozens of celebration cakes including wedding cakes.

So there you are!

Now I have to tag six others and report back to Lindsay. Not sure I will manage six as the tagging game has been popular lately.

So I am passing the baton - so to speak - to, and in no particular order -

Rosiero at Alcoholic Daze

Maggie at Nuts in May

Pam at Life with our Lads

Gai at Just Gai

Ann at Retired and Crazy

Winifred at The World's Greatest Procrastinator (Ditherer)!

Naturally this is not compulsory and if any of the above have already been tagged and I have missed it - apologies.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Skywatch Friday

If you would like to take part in Skywatch Friday or just simply look at photographs from all over the world, click on the link above.

Early one morning

Just as the sun was rising ....

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

India (iii) - Delhi to Chennai

Chennai, formerly known as Madras, is in the south east. The flight from Delhi took about two and a half hours. We arrived at our friends' apartment just as the rain began. A monsoon rainstorm, torrential, for several hours, accompanied by an almost deafening thunderstorm. The roads were soon like a river and we heard the next day that many people, adults and children, had taken several hours to get home that night. But the next morning, although not sunny, at least the rain had stopped and the roads were mostly dry again.

Our friends had made arrangements for us all to go along the coast to a beach resort for the weekend. It was about an hour and a half drive and we arrived at around lunchtime.

That part of the coast was hit by the 2004 tsunami and there are still about 1700 people waiting to be rehoused. Lions Clubs International are helping with this project and there are some new buildings still being erected. Meanwhile the people are having to live in temporary accommodation. (click on the picture to enlarge)

The weather improved over the weekend and by the time we left to go back to Chennai it was very hot and sunny and in fact remained that way for the rest of our holiday.

That first weekend saw the start of Diwali - the Festival of Light. From Saturday through to Tuesday there were fireworks being set off most of the time, day and night. In some cases it was the children in the streets setting off firecrackers, there were fireworks being set off from roof tops but we also saw large displays, one such on the Saturday evening lasted for about 30 minutes and Standard Fireworks posters were much in evidence.

We had a very relaxed weekend, swimming, reading or just dozing in the warm sunshine. Unfortunately, I didn't swim in the sea, which I love to do. There it is part of the Bay of Bengal and a little too rough for me as I am not a strong swimmer. In any case, the red flag was often flying.

This is the view from my hammock -

and this is some young local men with their home made craft getting ready to go fishing. They bound four pieces of wood together with twine/string, pushed it out into the water jumped on and paddled away. Once beyond the shore they threw a net over the side and then waited for their haul.

The rest of our holiday was very relaxed. Two weekends at the beach with some shopping, sightseeing and socialising in between. At the beach we were close to Mammalapuram, which is famous for its wonderful carvings in the rocks. We visited to see for ourselves and bought some hand carved bowls as a memento.

There is so much more I could write about, that we saw in our two weeks, I have only really scratched the surface. Our holiday went all too quickly and suddenly it was time to pack up to come home. I have to admit that India was never at the top of our holiday destination list, in spite of my longing to see the Taj Mahal. I am so pleased we decided to go there.

So, some of my abiding memories and in no particular order:

That first moment in Delhi in the heat and sunshine and noise.

The Taj Mahal - obviously.

The sheer volume of traffic.

The beautiful Indian girls and women, in their jewel coloured saris.

Also seeing some of those lovely women, sitting side saddle on the backs of motorbikes and scooters, their glossy black hair, sometimes in a plait, hanging down their backs and of course, no helmets.

And the motorbikes and scooters with the whole family astride, dad steering with small child in front, another small child behind and mum at the back, sometimes holding baby. Again, no helmets!

The friendliness of the people.

The deliciously fragrant food.

The colours and vibrancy of it all.

I loved it and wouldn't have missed a second. Would I return? Most definitely, YES!

And finally - we got to the airport at 1 am for our 4 am flight back to London and checked in to be told that courtesy of British Airway we had been upgraded to Business Class. Wow!

We arrived in London at 9.15 am, met up with our friend/driver at 10 am and were back home by just after mid-day.


Saturday, 8 November 2008

India (ii) - Delhi to Agra

Having finally met up with our friends (relieved hugs all round!) and caught up on the events of the past 24 hours or so, we were able to then carry out our plans for our visit to Agra. That was already booked for the next morning. We were to leave relatively early - 7am - as we would be travelling by car and the journey would take at least 4 hours. So bright and early, off we went.

What an experience! Traffic in Delhi in the early morning was heavy. Everything seemed to be on the move. Cars, lorries, tuktuks, motor bikes, scooters and bicycles - all rushing along, mostly in the same direction, and it appeared that horn sounding is compulsory. It seemed to indicate "get out of the way - coming through, like it or not". And that is what our driver did, he just pointed the car and hurtled along at great speed with his hand permanently on the car horn and occasionally speaking on his mobile phone! As well as all the vehicles there are the pedestrians and animals and of course cows wander at will or just sit down somewhere along the side of the road.

At one point during our journey we had to pull in for the driver to go to a border checkpoint. He left us in the car with the instruction " do not open any of the windows or doors"! As soon as he was gone we were approached from all directions by all sorts of vendors, the disabled and children, all trying to catch our eye, some tapping on the windows. A snake charmer came and sat beside the car and started playing but we saw no snake - presumably because we did not pay up. Eventually we set off again and had a relatively uneventful journey, albeit completely fascinating. We arrived in Agra and went straight to the hotel we were staying at that night.

In the early afternoon we were taken to meet a guide and then on to see what I had wanted to see for a long time - the Taj Mahal.

We had a short walk before we went through the first gate. Our guide told us we would be surrounded by people trying to sell us all sorts of items and to just ignore them, make no eye contact and they would go away. However they were very persistent and just kept following. I do not like ignoring people, I think it is demeaning, therefore I found it easier to just look at them, shake my head and say "no", with a half smile. And do you know, it worked, it was much easier and that is how I dealt with that particular problem from then on. Made me feel better too. However, on to the Taj Mahal. There was very tight security, as you would imagine and we were not allowed to take in bags etc, only small handbags and cameras of course. But finally we got through and there it was. A wonderful moment for me and I felt very emotional.

Considered to be one of the Wonders of the World the Taj Mahal was built by the Emporer Shah Jahan for his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1630 giving birth to their 14th child. It is said that it was her last wish that he build a beautiful and incomparable monument over her grave as a token of their worldly inseparable love. It is truly beautiful. Built of white marble and inlaid with semi precious stones it took from 1631 to 1653 - 22 years - to complete, using 20,000 labourers. If you look at the main picture of the Taj Mahal, the four columns at each corner appear to be leaning outwards. It is thought that this was part of Shah Jahan's plan so that in the event of an earthquake the pillars would fall outwards and not on the Taj. There are 22 small domes on the main entrance gate and it is believed that these represent the 22 years of construction.

The body of Mumtaz Mahal was finally placed in her tomb inside the Taj. Shah Jahan had planned to build a similar mausoleum, across the river, for himself but unfortunately for him, because he had spent such vast sums building the Taj Mahal, his son deposed him and imprisoned him in the Agra Fort where he spent the rest of his days. From his window there he was able to look across at the monument he had built for his beloved Mumtaz Mahal. After his death his daughter had his body placed in a tomb beside that of his wife and there they remain, side by side.

The tombs are enclosed within a wonderfully ornate screen, away from the public, who are allowed inside the Taj Mahal, but photographs are not permitted. So here I have scanned a picture from a book that we have. Apologies for the quality.

I think it is very moving to see them there, together for eternity, in such a beautiful setting.

Some of the carving and inlay work - (click on the pictures to enlarge)

We spent most of the afternoon there and it is another memory that will stay with me. Seeing it for myself, the hot sunshine and the whole atmosphere of just being there amongst so many others wanting to see it for their own particular reason, mine being mainly romantic I suppose. It was hard to leave it and I kept glancing back to get a final glimpse of that wonderful building.

Back to the hotel then, having made arrangements with our guide for the following morning, when we visited Agra Fort. (Again photo from a book)

This is an imposing building of red sandstone which was started in 1565 and took 8 years to complete. It had been surrounded by two ditches (moats) filled with crocodiles to repel the enemy. Only the inner one exists today (no crocs).

The fort originally consisted of many buildings but only a few exist today. One of these is a white marble building - Khas Mahal - used as a Harem by the ladies of the royal family and also used by Shah Jahan as a drawing and sleeping room.

The Jasmine Tower was renovated by Shah Jahan for Mumtaz Mahal and again is inlaid with semi precious stones including many jasmine pieces, which gives rise to its name. Ironically it was here that Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb and it is here that he died.

The picture again is from a book and you will notice the Taj Mahal on the far left (click on picture to enlarge).

We finished our time in Agra here and eventually made our way back to Delhi in another hair raising car chase! We arrived at our hotel in the early evening and prepared to fly to Chennai the next day.