Monday, July 22, 2019

West Country break

Last week we were away visiting friends in W Somerset ( That's why even fewer posts than usual). Stuart is an artist (with his own shop in Porlock) and Christine is a County Councillor.  Both are Christians - that's how we met them.  Every time we catch up with them they take us into very different worlds.  On arrival they gave us a roast meal welcome and he presented me with a book :A field guide to Exmoor's traditional roadside fingerposts (2019).  You see what I mean by different worlds!

On page 15 Stuart is pictured up a ladder repainting one of these posts.  A campaign was launched in 2017 to repair these cast iron signposts many dating from the beginning of the twentieth century.  They looked to retired volunteers to take on the task. The book gives exhaustive details about their designs and the process of cleaning and rubbing down with a wire brush, treating bare metal with a primer and undercoat, applying top coat and then the black lettering.  Several signposts are featured because of special historical features and oddities.  Only one is painted red at Luccombe. Stuart told us that we would pass this red post when we drove to our lodgings.  He also mentioned the only post with one moveable finger on our route.  It says: Porlock 3 miles but because it is on the corner of a narrow lane it has to move to allow larger vehicles pass.

Never having given much thought to these fingerposts I now noticed them every time we drove around. The moveable finger to Porlock was often pointing in a completely opposite direction (apparently the wind will move it as well as mischievous passers-by).  The red post gleamed!

Reflecting on this holiday experience I thought how marvellous to keep so interested and involved - two folk in their 70's so zestful for life.  I preached in their local church and there was Stuart playing the flute and Christine greeting everybody.  A great example of ageing!  Yeah!



Friday, July 12, 2019

A Cambridge day 2) That detour

Just to add...I mentioned that my grandson and I dashed into the church restaurant for a quick bite. Extraordinarily, we found Carol sitting there.  She had planned to eat elsewhere but had finished up there. Greeting her, breathlessly highlighting key points of our day so far, I tore off my jacket and hung it on the chair-back, as we placed our orders.  Alas, time ran out on actually eating the snacks because we had to rush to a lecture which introduced potential students to studying Geography in Cambridge.  It proved very profitable.  Afterwards, reaching into my jacket pocket for my car key I realized I had left my jacket with key on that restaurant chair.  I hoped that Carol had seen it before she left...but no.

It was someone else in the restaurant who put two and two together.  Realizing that Carol would likely be waiting for a bus home, he dashed round to find Carol still waiting at the bus stop.  I don't know how many other bus stops he tried but it was a minor miracle he found the right one.

Carol, no doubt muttering about her absent minded husband folded the jacket but felt something heavy in its pocket.  My car key but no car park ticket.  With the ticket she would have been able to take both jacket and key home.  Instead she would have to find me somehow. Puffing her way to the Geography Dept. which she had never visited before, an academic saw her worried state, heard the story, texted me and promised to keep the key safe in her room.  Missing the text, I 'phoned home, to hear this saga and then set about finding my key. Unfortunately, by this time, the academic had left....but eventually a staff member opened the right door.

I would have seen this as an irritating experience that dampened the day. However, as we  searched for the room containing my key, the professor who had earlier spoken at the lecture met us in the corridor and engaged my grandson in a conversation which turned out to be key.  He could ask one-to-one questions.  What a bonus.

Reflecting on the whole day my grandson said "I don't think it could have gone any better!'   How about that!  That's enough about that day......but, as you can tell, I enjoyed most of it.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

A Cambridge day (1) A grandson's dream

This week my seventeen-year old grandson called me and asked if I was free the next day.  Cautiously, I admitted I was. 'Well, it's the Cambridge University Open Day and I wondered if you would go round with me.  I only have a 'partial ticket' which allows me a little access but one person can go with me." 'What are you hoping to study?' said I.  Past conversations with him have ranged over a wide number of options!  'Geography', he replied.  'Really, that's exactly what I studied' I told him, though I think he already knew that.

Arriving by train we raced down to the Geography Department building.  Holding his partial ticket expecting some rebuffs, instead we were able to plunge into full engagement with tutors, students, lectures.  Told to visit some of the colleges where geographers cluster we visited St. Catherine's, Emmanuel, and Downing before dashing into our former church's restaurant for a 15 minute snack.

This led to an unexpected detour which I shall mention next.  But staying with geography for a minute I found myself wallowing in memories of 1964-67 when I read geography in the same place, same lecture theatre (exactly the same!), same library etc.  We went up to the library where the librarian greeted us warmly.  Hearing that I was an old boy he found the volume containing the final examination papers for 1967.  'This is what you took', he said. My final year was devoted to geomorphology.  As I looked at these papers, the font, the questions, the smell (it seemed!) I just escaped falling into a trance!  It was surreal. This was my life!  And here, standing beside me, was my grandson possibly coming to the same place.

Doesn't life have surprises for us?  This was a good one!  I hope you don't mind me sharing it with you?

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Smoke alarm

Last Saturday at 10:00 pm the smoke alarm directly above our heads in the sitting room suddenly shrieked with a piercing squeal. The battery needed replacing.  Just as our energies were sleepily decelerating I had to fetch the step ladder from the garage and find the right screwdriver to reach into the alarm's aperture which supposedly simply releases it from the ceiling.  To my exasperation, no matter how hard I tried with different approaches the alarm refused to budge. The shrieking continued to gain in pace. It echoed through our house and we were sure would penetrate our neighbour's sonic range too.

After more failed attempts I decided to knock on my neighbour's door and ask for help. I know it was late. I apologized!  His wife, seeing my face assumed that at the least Carol had fallen down the stairs.  It was obviously an anticlimax to hear that it was only a smoke alarm problem.  Apparently, his alarms look very different.  As a practical man he mounted the ladder and applied pressure in several attempts.  Failure again. (I confess a little relief that it was not simply resolved).  'I may have to break it, ' he said. 'Go for it' urged Carol as the noise continued.   Exerting a mighty thrust the alarm came away...broken. It was still shrieking in his hand until a new battery was fixed/ 'I think it might have been broken before' our neighbour said.   Well, maybe.

Fitted back loosely the last three days have been mercifully quiet.  But on Sunday some visitors for an evening meal were sitting underneath and to our horror it started again.   'Oh, no' we chorused, as we retold the story.  Our friend smiled broadly. 'It's not that' he said.  And then he scraped his rubber sole on the wood floor to make an identical shriek again.

I can't think of learning many lessons from this experience though we note how good neighbours are a blessing and some friends are mischievous. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Procrastination

For months our TV has been playing up.  The remote button has failed to register '1' which has meant much jiggery-pokery as we use 2 or 9 and go down or up to find some channels.  The guide button has also failed.  Then several channels we used to receive have gone totally blank and even some that we can see occasionally cascade into pixels at inconvenient moments.

We have repeatedly (you're telling me) promised each other that we would get onto the TV helpline .....and weeks have passed.  Part of the delay comes out of past experience when neither of us could understand instructions given us over the phone as an increasingly agitated agent told us which leads to disconnect and buttons to press.

I got the impulse last week to finally deal with it.  I got through to an agent who called me 'Dahrling' She said her birthday was near mine and clearly could see that I was an old boy who would respond to her affection!  Help! It was obvious I needed a new remote she declared and ordered a replacement to arrive the next day.  When it did we could hardly believe the difference it made - we recognized just how slow many other buttons had also become.

However, the problem with the programmes would need a two hour session she said.  This was booked for yesterday.  With abundant affection she began the session by asking me to go to one of the missing channels.  Promptly, with the new remote, I did.  Then I needed to press a couple of buttons before hitting an entirely new purple one.  Instantly the dead channel became alive.  I expressed my delight.  Two hours were not needed.  She gushed her joy dahrling.

'Why didn't we do this before?' questioned Carol.  What a good question.  And it applies to a number of more significant issues too!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Less usual moments 2) Magician's touch

At my watercolour evening class (3 years ago) the teacher advised us to use good quality paper, paint and brushes.  He particularly mentioned sable brushes - wonderful for holding paint and flowing lines etc. he said. I quickly found out that they were priced top of the range...really top.

While in Wheaton (where we once lived) we saw that the art shop is closing down after over 100 years of family ownership.  Everything is marked 50% down so I looked at sable brushes.  Under lock and key they were originally priced $300-500 plus.  The brush I had my eye on was still nearly $240 half price!  A week later they had reduced prices again but it was still $180.

The salesman saw us dithering.  Carol said she might make it a special birthday gift for me. Then he spoke: 'Honestly, sable brushes are over-rated.  I have one and it's nice to use but you can get really good brushes much cheaper.  After all, it's the magician's touch with whatever brush they are using that really counts.  The brush doesn't do the magic.'

I laughed.  Partly because he was doing the shop out of a sale by being very unsalesman-like.  But mostly because he is exactly right.  It's the artist and measure of their gifting that really matters. That applies to other aspects of life too, doesn't it?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Less usual moments - can you smell burning?

While we were in the US most days took usual shape.  However, one or two odd things happened. One occurred on our shorter flight (just under 2 hours) between New York and Chicago. As we were seated on UA755 Carol asked me if I smelt burning.  I detected a very slight smell and dismissed it.  An hour into our flight which had left on time the captain announced we were returning to New York. Somebody was unwell and there was a maintenance problem. Finding a doctor on board quickly resolved the medical problem - the young lady returned to the seat behind us saying it was just nausea.  But....the maintenance problem continued.

Returning, we were told the plane was being taken out of service because...guess what?  The oven was faulty and a new oven had to be fitted.  It had been smoking!  Carol was right.  Of course. Waiting in the departure lounge, with a drip feed of sometimes contradictory information we were eventually informed the same plane was being refitted so that we would be flying on it after all.  Bottles of water and snacks were provided to keep us going for the five hours' wait.

It is tedious to relate how the flight was further delayed on the runway and the luggage took ages to appear at baggage claim.  The journey had taken  as long as between London and New York. Deplaning, Carol mentioned to a stewardess that she had smelled burning when we first sat down. 'If only you had mentioned it!' she said.  Would it have made any difference?  We shall never know.