A Bar-B-Q in England

The summer family bar-b-q normally happens at the end of July, round about the birthday of the lovely Jules. This year the calendar is well cluttered at the back end of July, so we had it at the front. Everything was nicely organised for a full house of family, in-laws and friends, when one of our number decided to sneak in an extra holiday, the knock on effect being he had to work this weekend so we were an in-law down. The fun thing about the bar-b-q is that we do nothing except eat it. Jayjay prepares lots of nice food, and has the bar-b-q food ready too, and Gra does the cooking, plus he often brings things to try too. This year Dawn cooked a cake, which was also yummy. While all this was going on I was alternating between eating and chatting and wandering around the garden taking photos.

1537 Foot bridge at Ashford Kent
Footbridge as Art – as we head north to the bar-b-q.

1648 A garden awaiting a bar-b-q
Our chef Gra chatting to AJ

1670 Common Blue butterfly maybe
One of the locals resting up

1654 Butch guarding his tape
Butch in the shade

1680 Mating Green-veined butterfly maybe
If you have Sex at a Bar-b-q, I guess it’s best to do it discretely.

1693 Vietnamese Lantern
A Vietnamese lantern, but we didn’t see it working!

1735 Bar-b-q in progress
The first food to hit the bar-b-q.

1752 Sunshine and bar-b-q
An assortment of family, including in-laws and ‘adopted as’ in-laws. Well – you can never have too many in a family.

We have meat eaters, veggies, and gluten frees amongst us, so we had a wide variety of foods, and of course we all, (nearly), cross-ate to try all the flavours.
Come 7pm we started to scatter our various ways. Jules, AJ and I headed for Ynys Mon, Wales. I drove the first half of the journey, and the girls kept an eye out for Red Kites along the M40 motorway. As we approached Birmingham, a sunset started to develop, but I wasn’t going to stop until I got to the half way distance, 140+ miles, and when I pulled into a service station to top up the drinking bottles and swap drivers, the sunset was still prettyish but fading a bit. Jules took over the driving and headed north, but the woods and scenery hid the sunset, and I didn’t get a good view of the sky for the best part of an hour or so, and then the gorgeous colours and patterns were no more. Better luck next time.

As usual, I went into photo doodle mode, and experimented with the camera’s program settings. I discovered the moonlight setting and it takes three photos and puts them together to get the sharpest image. Unlike the burst mode that takes up to ten pics in a fraction of a second and saves them all, this only produces one photo at each press, and often at slow shutter speeds. The advantage is that in poor light it does seem to produce nice pics (not guaranteed of course) and I don’t have loads of pics to sort through. I can’t remember all the pics I took in ‘Moonlight’ mode, but I’m thinking most of them were. The blooming exif data doesn’t appear to tell us this info – which is incredibly stupid of some git at Canon. I’m going to do a carefully documented experiment to see if some of the weird numbers and things in the EXIF data give me a clue. Carefully documented and Andy don’t necessarily go together, so we shall see!

1761 Sunset from the M6 motorway
Pastel sunset colours from the motorway.

1775 Dusk from M56 Motorway
Stanlow Refinery from the M56 motorway with ‘moonlight mode’

1816 Night drive across North Wales A55
Jules cruising at 68 mph. Another ‘moonlight mode’ pic.

1820 Night drive across North Wales - in the A55 'Pen-y-Clip' tunnel
Nearly home, in the A55 ‘Pen-y-Clip’ tunnel.

Taken in ‘Moonlight mode’. Not perfectly crisp, but good enough considering the bouncy nature of roads. A nice safe ending to a fab day. I remember hoping that all my American friends had had a nice day too, celebrating their 4th of July.


A Re-union – The Party

Please note, some of the names have been changed to protect the innocent. I’ll apologise now for not naming every one personally, but I find it hard to mention every one and still sound interesting – some bloggers do it so easily, but not I. Every conversation was fab, and it was so fun. Another fascinating thing; although we had got greyer, older, wider, every ones mannerisms were there, as I remembered them; the way they laughed; they way they told jokes; the walks; the smiles; the shrugs and myriad other little things that project our personalities, and friendships too.

It’s just short of five, and we have just arrived at the hotel – remember! We partly unloaded the car, and because the disabled slots near the reception were full, we had to park in one miles away. Well, the other side of the bar anyway. I decided to retrieve the rest of the stuff after a sortie to the bar, guessing that perhaps the early arrivals may be there. They weren’t, but it wasn’t a waisted trip, as I grabbed the extra bits to take back to the room.

Re-union Venue - Oxford Witney Four Pillars Hotel
The Oxford Witney Four Pillars Hotel – now that’s a mouthful

I met one of the Daves and Christeanne on the way back, who gave me the evenings plan. Back in the room, I spotted Pete, getting something from his car. I opened the window (we were on the ground floor) and we had a super chat. Forty odd years fell away, just like that.

Six thirty arrived, and we went to the bar for the pre-meal meet up, and it was the beginning of a fun evening. We chatted for an hour, with gentle meanderings through our little group. One of the many delights of the evening was meeting Pauline for the the first time who is a partner to Pete. She is lovely. (Yes you are), and it is so nice that Julie thinks so too. We never travel anywhere without food and drinks for the day(s), because if we are having fun, touring, geocaching or whatever, it annoys us to waste the time having to stop and find somewhere to eat, and Pauline and Pete are the same. If we go some place with a tea bar, then we will of course make use of it, (I always rate places more highly if they have a tea bar).

To us, ok, me – a restaurant is just a posh tea bar, and a cafe is a good tea bar. We ambled in to the posh tea bar, and got seated. I was seated next to Christeanne, and an empty chair. Opposite was Julie between John and Pete. I have a theory, that sitting beside your wife means you only have one new person to chat to, and besides, we can listen to our partners any day. This didn’t work tonight, because Terry couldn’t bring his wife as she had just had a knee op, hence I got the empty seat to partner.

The meal was very nice, and the staff were brilliant. The chitchat and stories and reminiscing were of course top notch, but what else would you expect from an elite group of ‘Sooties’ – (Go and read the previous story if you don’t get the joke) – and most everyone took photos. We finished the evening with the girls sensibly going to bed, and the boys chatting into the early hours, but as a prequel to the chat, lovely Pauline took a group photograph of the boys before going to bed herself. We lined up our cameras on a table, and Pauline took a pic with each one, so giving several of us, a very nice souvenir of the re-union. People on Flickr said, ‘What a great photo of your re-union Andy’, and I didn’t even take it, LoL. When I went to bed about midnight, there were still four hardy souls reminiscing away.

The guys after dinner shot.
Back Row: Pete Dave Pete John – Front Row: Terry Andy Dave Alan

Sleeping was the only poor thing about the event, and it wasn’t the hotels fault. I was hoping to sleep laying down, but the ribs wouldn’t play ball and started complaining. I eventually hit on a suitable arrangement of pillows that allowed me to sleep sitting up.

We knew Pete and Pauline were going to be at breakfast as soon as it opened, so we wanted to be earlyish too to say farewell. We weren’t quite as early as Pauline and Pete, but before they left, everyone turned up. It turned into a breakfast party, and no one left for Ages. Absolutely fabulous. The food was so yummy, even bettering the dinner of the night before.

Life’s interesting coincidences. When I was a boy, my parents had a friend called Pauline P, who was Irish living in England, and the Garden of England at that. Now I have a new friend called Pauline P, who is English, living in Eire, and we get a new holiday home thrown in, and on the west coast at that.

In the next exciting instalment read about the oldest geocache in England.

Wake for the Party

Mum always said she wanted a good send off, but sadly, she passed away in the early hours of the 30th November 2011, setting into motion all her forward planning. We got to Kent that evening, and Daryl, my youngest sister, arrived the next day, with Bryony, her daughter and Stuart her husband. We proceeded to do all those necessary things one has to do after a death. We were so very lucky, as everything fell into place, almost naturally; getting a slot with the registrar; the funeral parlour having a free date, and the crematorium having a slot to match.

Mum's Picture as it appeared on the Order of Service.

Mum had been very distressed in her last week, and it was a relief when she died. Her grand daughter Emm spent a lot of time with her in her last few days, and was a huge help, and she enabled us to ring mum up, chat to her too, and say a few words to mum. I think we all spoke to mum a few hours before she died, and let her know we loved her, and were thinking of her so.

I use texts for passing information to my sisters, as I know they get them almost immediately, and I get replies back, usually within minutes. There was a whinge about me referring to the post funeral get together as a party, and some wanted to call it a wake.

WAKE: a vigil over a coffin, before the funeral, from an old word meaning to watch over.
PARTY: a gathering of people, especially in celebration of an event.

I rest my case, especially as everyone wanted the funeral service to be a celebration of mum’s life. I wasn’t originally going to mums party, as I didn’t want to meet anyone else, but one of my sisters talked us into going for a while. Daryl left for Scotland at the weekend, after going to the funeral parlour to see mum, and to say some personal goodbyes. She had no intention of being at the funeral, which one sister said was appalling, but that attitude is appalling to me, for denying Daryl the freedom to mourn for mum in her own way. I’m a firm believer that every one should have free will, and that that behoves everyone to allow everyone else free will also.

The Fab Five came to the funeral, and to get some chatting time in, we all met at the motorway services at the M20 J8. Bryony and Julie’s sister Jane joined us too. It started off well, with Bry getting over enthusiastic in the hug department, and spilling AJs coffee all over her; amazingly, her clothes dried off with no sign of staining. We headed off to the crematorium, and bumped into loads of relatives, whom we introduced to the Fab Five, and before we knew it, the hearse arrived, and we followed the coffin into the chapel, where we met Sandee and family, who had been in the warmth of the waiting room.

Every one had some input into Mum’s service, Mum mostly, and the older two sisters chose the readings, and they were gorgeous choices. The vicar offered to read the eulogy, and I sent him Mum’s history as the basis of it; this was put together by us all when mum went into Park View care-home. It was originally made to give the staff a sense of what mum was as a person, and to this I added a bit of what mum was like as a character. Daryl, and her daughter Bryony put together the Order of Service sheets, and I supplied them with mums photo for it, and then printed the order sheets out on photographic paper, to give them some quality. The Reverend Chris Esgate took the service, and he was brilliant. He used everything we sent him, and he put it over so nicely, making it sound very personal. He didn’t claim to know mum, but he made comments about mum, showing that he found her and her life fascinating.

Bryony read the two readings, and she did a marvellous job. I cried when I first read the readings, and so I read both pieces again and again to take the emotional impact away from them; it didn’t work – I cried yet again. Here are the pieces concerned.

Excerpt from ‘Death’ from The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, chosen by Jo in New Zealand.

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

“She’s Gone” David Harkins chosen by Sandee

You can shed tears that she is gone,
Or you can smile because she lived,
You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back,
Or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left.

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her
Or you can be full of the love that you shared,
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.

You can remember her and only that she is gone
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on,
You can cry and close your mind be empty and turn your back,
Or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes,
love and go on.

The party went very well, and although we had had differences in the past as what was best for mum, every one went to the party with the same attitude – to celebrate our love for mum, on this day dedicated to her life, by spreading love and hugs on each other. The Fab Five were brilliant, hugging and helloing everyone in sight. Sandee found the Funeral Party venue on the net, and I tidied up the arrangements. We went to the Conningbrook Hotel in Kennington, and the hot buffet was very tasty – it was a pity that they forgot to bring it until we went and reminded them. It was super meeting aunts, uncles and cousins we hadn’t seen for several years or more. After saying we’d only stay a short while, we stayed to end. A lovely if sad day to end mum’s time on on this earth, so we smile, open our eyes, love and go on.

Jamaica Inn – Sunday 6th November 2011

After last nights late finish, we had a late start. Every one eventually surfaced, and Bry organised a game of Wii golf. I was way out in front after nine holes, at 7 under par, and Bry only 4 under. 9 holes later I was only 9 under par, and Bry was ahead at 11 under. This was followed by a Fab Four packing session, and we then set off in convoy for Bodmin Moor, and by now, it’s about 2 pm. The plan was to potter through Bodmin Moor, and the fantastic foursome would head off home about 3-ish.

The Jamaica Inn

Bodmin Moor proved to be almost on our doorstep, so the Fab Four called and suggested a pub lunch. As we were heading towards the Jamaica Inn, Julie suggested eating there, and so that’s where we went. We parked at the side of the Inn, where there was a sign for the café, so we went in the front, hoping for a traditional pub lunch, only to find that there was only the one self service style foodery, but you could eat it anywhere in the Inn. We made our choices, and the serving girl was very nice and friendly, so it felt like the personal service we expecting from a pub. The vegetables were self service, but such a large selection that I had to resort to tiny portions so that I could get a taste of everything – a bit like Jules’s meals really. The roast beef was the main favourite, but I chose the steak and Cornish Ale pie, which was delicious. Bry treated us all to the drinks, which was very nice.

It was a lovely meal, and we sat and chatted for ages, but because this was followed by a cruise through the shop, goodbyes and hugs didn’t happen until nearly 4:30. We waved the Fab Four off, got back in the car, and Julie fired up the cachenav.

I’d down-loaded a geocaching program that enabled us to cream off the drive-by caches, and there was one on the cachenav, which was just a short way away. It was a clever hide too, and while Julie was filling in the log after finding it, I checked for other caches in the area, using my phone, just in case I’d missed one or two. In fact, I’d missed one back at the Jamaica Inn itself, so we returned there to grab it, post haste. Julie found a cache further East, along the A30 trunk road, and with that under our belt, we decided to head back to base. Being a dual carriageway, we had to potter along to Fivelanes before we could leave the road, and cross under it, to rejoin the West lane back to Bodmin.

A Cornish Sunset

There was a sunset developing, and we wanted to head back towards it, Sunset chasing again, but when we got to Fivelanes, Julie spotted a cache, so we had to nab that first. As we headed back to Bodmin, we kept hoping for a lay-by to appear with a good a view of the sunset, but each one was too low to give us a nice view of the sky. We stopped off at ASDA for fuel, and carried on through Bodmin and south to Lanlivery, then the sunset turned red again, but with out any clouds, it was just a bright band of colour near the horizon, which didn’t stop us trying one more time for a photo though.

Back in doors we got the Wii golf going, but had to put it on pause for a while to watch the Strickly Dancing and X-Factor results. We were going to get an early night, but we still managed to chat our way into tomorrow. The Fab Four texted us when they got home. The M5 was still closed when they got there due to a huge crash on the Friday night, but at least they got home safely.

Padstow to Party Time – Friday 4th November 2011

Today’s plan was to go to Padstow, as Dawn was treating Jay to a meal in Rick Steins restaurant there. They left about 11 for their 12 o’clock booking, and the rest of us followed an hour later. We had set our sights on having some fish and chips, and we found them at the harbour in Padstow. We also fond some turnstones scavenging about, so Julie fed them with some of her cod. The girls meal took quite a time, and they turned up just as we were planning to go for a potter somewhere. They wanted a rootle in the shops, so we arranged to head south west, and perhaps find a nice place for a coffee stop, and they’ll catch us up.

A turnstone with a piece of Julie's cod

We headed off, and of course we had a cache or two on the cachenav to visit. I’d found one on the phone too, and it was near a pretty little bay, (well, we hoped it would be a pretty little bay), and from the clue, it was at a post box. We drove into the village of Harlyn, and the phone reception died, so we drove on until we found a post box, but no cache, and as it had started raining I probably only gave it a two minute search, and then jumped back in the car. Julie drove back a short way, and we nipped into Harlyn Bay, and it was very pretty. We took a couple of photos, but didn’t stop for a coffee break because we couldn’t tell the Fab Four where we were. We were anticipating that they were already on their way by now.

We went back to the main road, and not far along it, there was a hamlet with a cache up the side road. This cache was on the cachenav, and we found it quite easily, and the phone was back on line too. I got the Fab Four on the phone, and they were still in Padstow, but wouldn’t be very long. I told them there was a cache in the area, and then we continued along the road, looking for a nice stop, with a nice view for a nice coffee break, and somewhere on the beaten track, so the Fab Four could find us. After a few miles we found just the place, and the Fab Four found us too after a short while, having given the cache a miss. The rain had stopped by now, and the sun was shining, and the afternoon was glorious again.

We had the coffee, and maybe a biscuit or three, and lots of chat, and the Kia turned into a girl wagen, as we boys were comparing phones and cachenav geocaching targets; so that’s how we set off on the next leg south-west along the coast. The sunset was looking a bit interesting, and the girls disappeared from the mirror as they pulled over for a skyscape shoot. We didn’t stop until we got to our target cache, and then we did the photo shoot bit while they caught up. The cloud patterns on this late afternoon were glorious. We didn’t look for the cache until the girls arrived, and Bry eventually found it for us.

Sunset and Cloudscape over Watergate Bay

Dusk was beginning to fall, but we continued onto Watergate beach, but couldn’t find a parking spot near the cache site, so we headed south, but stopped for a photo shoot at the sunset over Watergate bay. From here it was a potter back to base via the outskirts of Newquay, and through St Austell, where Bry wanted some wrapping paper, and so we nipped into Asda.

Back at base we had a birthday party for Jay, with presents; cake; candles and lots of fun. We ended the evening with a few games of ‘Apples to Apples’ which has few rules, but is so much fun. It’s all about words, and associations, and if you can read your opponents characters, remember their likes and dislikes, then you have an advantage. Who won? Matt won all three games – hmmm – are we all that obvious?

Oh yes, the cache at the post box – there were two in the village, and it was at the second one!

GUKs are here (Grown Up Kids)

The GUKs and partners arrived in the early hours of last Saturday morning, and fun was the order of the weekend. Out line planning for the visit included doing a cache run around Aberfalls, but as the GUKs weren’t exactly sure when they would fit in what, we put that on the back burner. One of the ‘whats’ was to see Cat and Gareths new daughter, whom we haven’t met yet, but she is a sweetie, acording to GUKs.

Bry wanted to show off Holyhead Mountain, so we set off on a cache run, with RSPB Southstack, being the eventual target. We took them to some caches we had found already, and to a few we hadn’e found. There is a cache near Y Vali that Julie and I have tried to find twice, so of course, we took our six pack of geocachers to look for it. Did we find it – NO we did not. We weren’t there more than fifteen or twenty minutes, and I was seriously bored again by then. When you find yourself looking in the same holes and crevices for the third time on a search, then you know it’s time to go. The others didn’t want to leave, as they hate beeing defeated by a cache, but hey ho, sometimes you find a cache, and somtimes you don’t.

By the time we got to South Stack we had a nice collection of caches for the GUKs, and Jules and I had one new one for ourselves. We had a coffee break, and a cache for the GUKs before heading off to Holyhead. There is a quarry on the Holyhead side of Holyhead Mountain, and the area has been turned into a park. There is a cache there that Jules and I wanted to get, so we started there, before working our back to Holyhead. The cache was up a hill, so we left Jules in the car, and went off for the walk. The cache was hidden in a stick, and very nicely camouflaged too, so it took several minutes to find it. We walked down to the quarry workings next, and then I headed back to Jules while Bry went looking for photo opportunities. While I was finding the cache, Julie had spotted a Ring Ouzel – that’s twice she had seen one now, and each time I just out of range, and missed them both. Never mind, something to look forward to though.

We took the GUKs past three more caches before we headed home; we detoured past RAF Valley airbase, so Jayjay could see where I used to work. Being a Saturday, meant that there were no aircraft to see, and the visitors carpark was closed, but she could see all the main bits from the road.

We finished off the day with a roast gammon dinner, and then party games and some golf on the Wii, finally getting to bed at one thirty Sunday morning; a very busy day, but most enjoyable.

96 and not out

We had a bit of bad news about our mum the other week. She is Park View Care home, and the doctor who visits the home as part of their care system, was asked to check on mum. Mum hadn’t been eating or drinking, and was very frail, and the doctor didn’t think she would live for another 14 days. Typical mum, the next day she got up, and was walking about the home as lively as every – well, as lively as a frail nonagenarian gets. We all decided to go and visit her just in case. We normally go to Kent every six to eight weeks to see mum, and we were due a trip about now anyway.

Mum in her room at Park View
Mum in her room at Park View

The Lincolnshire contingent went to see mum within a few days of the doctors visit. We had to wait few weeks to fit our visit in between our own schedule of appointments; as it was, we only had a four or five day window. If we’d waited another week, we would have had a much bigger space, but we didn’t want to wait that long. Poor mum. We found her very frail, as we knew we knew we would, but she has virtually no conversation ability; a big deterioration in that respect since our last visit. We know she has good days and bad days, and we hit the bad batch. My sister from Brora went down for mum’s birthday, a few days after we came RTB’d (‘Return to Base’ which = home this time). Before we came home, we chatted to Daphne, who is I/C her care staff, and asked if she could get mum to have her hair done for her birthday. The Kent contingent went in on mum’s birthday, and said that she looked great with her hair done. They had the celebrations in the lounge, with 40 visitors and residents, plus cakes and an entertainer. Mum is setting records as being the longest living person in our family; no one else has got into the nineties before, but she has two surviving younger brothers, who are in their mid eighties, so she may have competition yet.

Snipe at RSPB Dungerness -  Gallinago gallinago
Snipe at RSPB Dungerness – Gallinago gallinago

While we were in Kent, we stayed with my sister-in-law, who does a grand job of looking after us. We spent our non-mum time pottering about Kent and Sussex, fitting in a spot of bird watching. The RSPB Dungerness reserve is a delightful place, and I came back with some nice photos for a change. I take loads of bird photos throughout the year, but very few seem to come out nice. I have a problem keeping the camera still when I take the photos, and although I now have a Sigma 400 zoom with a stabiliser, it is cheap (as lenses go) and the depth of focus is not as good as the £1800 – £2400 models which are out of reach for me. Even with a stabiliser, when I’m at full zoom, it doesn’t always cope with my wobbles, hence I bin a lot of pics due to blur or focus deficiencies.

Lagoon at Pett Levels, near Rye in Kent
One of the lagoons at the Pett Levels

This trip was a success for a couple of reasons; mum still being with us; mum recognising us (she’s going through a good patch, as she had been recognising all of us at the moment, and coming back with some nice photos of mum and birds at Dungerness and Pett Levels. The autumn colours are coming out now, and the M20, M26 and M25 were quite pretty; they will be fabulous when the colours are fully out.

The M42 treating us to a pretty sunset on the journey home, yet again.

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