When I was at school one of the things I wanted to do was join the Wrens. My father had a fit and I lost interest when I learned they didn’t go to sea (well in those days they didn’t). When I lived in Cornwall I met a man who became my partner for 17 years. He owned a yacht just like the one in the photograph above. She was a Folkboat called Applejack.
When I was 50 I was asked to help crew a catamaran from Plymouth, Devon to Santander, Spain. Yes across the notoriously choppy Bay of Biscay. The trip took two whole weeks of my summer holiday but what an experience! I spent one night in Santander then caught the ferry back to Plymouth and work the next day.
But it was on Applejack that I learned to sail. Most weekends and every holiday was spent sailing or cruising. No full headroom in the cabin and the heads (loo) was separated from the bunks and table by a curtain. It was a Baby Blake though and not a bucket and chuck it so I did have a bit of luxury. I learned to cook sitting on my bunk holding the pans on the gas as the boat ploughed its way across the English Channel en route to France or The Channel Islands.
I learned to steer at night using the stars (as well as the compass) and how to tell whether a vessel was going to go ahead of us or behind or whether we were on a collision course!l
When I was off watch during a Channel crossing I would lie (fully clothed) on my bunk and be lulled to a couple of hours sleep by the sound of the water gurgling against the hull.
In St Peter Port CI I was sitting in the cockpit in the Marina peeling potatoes for lunch into a bucket between my legs when a rather snooty woman walked up and said ‘My dear, every time I walk past I think of you crossing the Channel in THAT! I should have told her how seaworthy the Folkboat was and that Blondie Hasler used one for several years in the Singlehanded Transatlantic Yacht Race.
It was never a chore visiting her in the boatyard out of season and anti fouling and painting and varnishing her ready for the next season.
This is a watercolour painting I did of a boatyard in the early Spring – it might have been Applejack under that tarp and my coffee mug upturned on the oil drum!
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The title given to this beautiful design by William Morris so beloved of the National Trust and the Chattering Classes but it is not only birds who thieve the strawberries!
George and I are housesitting again – this time a delightful former vicarage in Cambridgeshire. Renovated and extended into a warm, comfortable, beautiful family home set in lovely grounds with mature trees. And did I mention the outdoor heated swimming pool which we have permission to use?
We are looking after two dogs – both black Labradors. One elderly and arthritic who greets us with a gappy toothed Goofy-like smile in the morning and he waddles around a bit like me on a bad day. Arthritis ain
t funny. The other dog is two years old - well-behaved and chases his ball relentlessly (I`m lost in admiration at his ability to pant and keep the ball in his mouth!)
One of our tasks is to water the plants in the garden this hot weather. My job usually. We have all the doors open to keep the house cool. By the French doors in the sitting room we use there are strawberry plants spreading out over the gravel drive – and I spotted lovely strawberries growing. One large, plump specimen I gently lifted off the gravel and placed a leaf underneath it to save the fruit from damage. It would be ready in a couple of days.
George and I were in the sitting room yesterday evening and I mentioned the strawberries and told him I had sampled one.
Thats the one I was watching
he said - the large one by the door
. No I replied - the one I ate was small I`ve placed the large one on a leaf until it ripens. ` George protested that it had gone and accused me of eating it. That was enough. I went outside and sure enough, the prime strawberry had vanished - just its hull left on the stalk.
Later that evening I watched the younger dog just outside the open door – he was sniffing around the strawberry plants and gently picking and eating them!!!!! I`ve heard of feeding donkeys strawberries but …
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George and I have this ‘thing’ which blights our plans to eat out whilst travelling. Over the years there was the (well known to G) Indian restaurant which had burned down. The Sainsbury’s cafeteria which was closed for renovation. The pub which is now a house. Etc etc – you get the picture.
So today when we planned to have lunch out as our clients were returning at 7pm perhaps you can understand my concern.
We had planned to visit the National Trust Wimpole Hall Home Farm and have lunch there. No! Rain forecast. So we drove on to a Nepalese restaurant. Four men finishing their main meal but no one on the desk or behind the bar. We waited. No one. Twice George banged on the kitchen door and shouted. No response. We walked out and drove to a pub.
The bar was crowded with people – lots of black ties. We went in the other entrance looking for the restaurant – same bar but other end. Spoke to a harassed barmaid and said we wanted lunch. ‘Sorry’ she said ‘we’re doing a buffet for a funeral party. We stopped doing lunch at 1.30’.
I livened up the company considerably by laughing long and hard to be led hastily back to the car by George.
We had a super lunch back at the housesit – all the less to take home this evening.
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Well it did this year!
Each Tuesday afternoon throughout the year I run an art group. There are 12 of us and we have been together for several years sharing our sorrows, joys and picture sales and failures.
We meet in the Community Hall which is part of the complex where George and I live. We have to be very careful as the caretaker (the Paint Police I jokingly call her) finds every tiny spot of paint – and we do try so hard to watch where we put our stuff.
Every Christmas we have a lunch in the hall. Believe me, starving artists we are not! We have some excellent cooks amongst us. Everyone brings a plate and their drink of choice. George usually sets up the tables but this year, as we are housesitting over 80 miles away, I left George in charge of Millie the dog and drove home yesterday. I’d already bought Christmas crackers, chocolate snowmen, Santa and angels for the table. I cooked the ham last night.
This morning I woke up at 7.30. I could go over to the hall at 8am to set the tables up or I could go to the supermarket to get milk, butter and a few other things I would need. I decided to do the shopping first. When I returned home I was concerned to see first one, then two and then three vans arrive at the hall (which I can see from the kitchen window). A fourth van then arrived. Young men everywhere carrying tools. I thought I’d better see what was happening.
The hall was in chaos. Radio blaring, men and tools everywhere. I was told they had come to replace the gas boiler! Not before time as we’ve had no hot water for ages and the heating has been very temperamental. But TODAY! I’d seen our Warden only a few days ago. She knows of the Tuesday Art Group but no one thought to mention the work to me.
What to do? Two alternatives sprang to mind. A stiff gin and tonic or sit down and grizzle. In the event I did neither. I told one of the young men (who seemed to be in charge) that I was expecting ten people at 1 o’clock for a sit down lunch. It was by now 10.30 am. He assured me he wouldn’t be long. At 11.30 I returned to the hall – by now more cluttered than ever – and began moving chairs and pushing the tables together down one end of the hall farthest away from the chaos.
At 12.30 I again returned – not much improvement and large bins were being carted to the kitchen sink where cement was being mixed. I wiped down the tables I had set up and sat down and waited. The first of my friends arrived shortly afterwards and we laughed together. A second one arrived. By now there were signs that the men were clearing up. Miraculously by 1 o’clock they had cleared up and left. Boiler working, central heating on. All friends arrived. We worked together setting everything up. What a team! We had crackers, chocolates, Evil Santa (a fun version of Secret Santa) and a quiz as well as mouthwatering food. A good time was had by all. Everyone pitched in with the washing up and tidying.
Like Rupert Bear I returned home tired but happy.
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I arrived in Oxford in 1973 after the breakdown of my first marriage. My father had found a house for me to rent within walking distance of the city centre. I needed a job quickly. I had not worked for anyone for 17 years and was prepared to do almost anything but what I really wanted to do was to work within the University.
My first interview was with a firm of solicitors who turned me down because they thought I was probably too rusty (although I had been practising my Pitman`s shorthand by taking dictation from the radio). The next interview was with a College – they wanted a Fellows` secretary. My first interview with the Bursar went well – he actually knew my father (which I suppose was a help) but he explained he had others to see. At the second interview he took me into what was to be my office and introduced me to the other secretary who dealt with the Visiting Fellows. It was a Graduate College – no students. He left me with her. She suggested I might like to try out the typewriter. I had spent ages before the interview searching for Tippex and had some in my handbag (just in case). I sat down at the desk and rested my fingers on the `home` keys in the approved fashion. Wow! I hadn`t realised that electric typewriters had such a light touch. My home keys crashed together on the paper jamming beautifully. The girl had given me something to copy – I typed slowly but rubbish came out. I pecked away and declared I had finished. I stuffed the piece of paper in my handbag – it was gobbledegook and no way was it going to be examined by anyone else.
Back to the Bursar`s office who offered me the job (bless him he became my friend and mentor over the years – my Svengali. I learned never to to him with a problem unless I could present him with at least three possible solutions that we would discuss). He wanted me to start right away.
Well there were 70 Fellows in the College and I was their secretary – the only one. Somehow for seven years I managed to keep them all happy and they, in turn, rewarded nearly every piece of work I did for them with flowers, chocolates or gifts from their travels.
My very first piece of work was for an Italian Astrophysicist (was the Bursar trying me out?) – his continental-style handwriting was difficult to read but I quickly became familiar with pulsars, quasars and Black Holes. At that time Stephen Hawkins was just a young up and coming star in Cambridge (`the Other Place`).
I typed their lectures, learned papers and articles, books even – mostly from manuscript but gradually the Dictaphone was being used – I ran courses for interested Fellows called `How to be a Great Dictator`!
Some of the Fellows had their own typewriters. One quite elderly Professor wanted my help to choose an electric typewriter for him to buy. Believe it or not Woolworths sold some in those days and I found one that I thought would be suitable at a reasonable price. I asked him to come with me to see it. We walked down The High into Cornmarket and Woolworths. His eyes widened and he told me he hadn`t been in Woolworths since he was a boy. We went to the counter where they had the typewriters and the assistant put one out for him to try. Fine. He liked it. The assistant said she had to go to the storeroom to get one for him and disappeared. The Professor turned to me, looking a bit pathetic and said he wanted an icecream! I told him to stay where he was, not to touch anything, and darted off to get the ice. He duly paid for the typewriter,, juggling icecream whilst searching for his wallet and we headed back to the College. I went with him to his study to set up the typewriter. The lead wasn`t long enough to reach his desk. It was afternoon and there would be no scouts around to help or bring an extension lead. We ended up both lying on our stomachs on the carpet whilst I gave him a quick demonstration and showed him how the typewriter worked. I also expressed the hope that his wife wouldn`t walk in and find us on the floor or she would wonder what on earth we were up to.
I will continue this Blog in the next session.
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I slept well last night. This morning I was woken by a tongue licking my left hand which was on the edge of the bed. Millie had come into the bedroom to wake me up. George was still sleeping peacefully. I checked the time … 7am. Fine. I groped my way to the wardrobe to get my dressing gown, feeling tentatively with my feet for a small, white furry body on the carpet.Not so.
An impatient bark from downstairs. I went downstairs and opened the back door. Millie hovered on the threshold sniffing the air. It was raining! Obviously Millie doesn’t do rain.
She said ‘thanks, but no thanks’ and went back to her basket.
I knew better than to give her her breakfast right away or this could lead to a 6am wake up call tomorrow.
It’s now just gone 8am. She’s had her breakfast but still has not been out for a wee. Ha madam. I now know your bladder capacity!
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