4 January 2015

London 2015Happy New Year to you all! We welcomed the New Year in our usual fashion – by snoring soundly through the celebrations. We were in bed just after midnight in Moscow and sound asleep by about half past Vienna.

It’s been a fresh & brisk week with temperatures dipping below freezing at night with some quite hard frosts. Nothing compared to the minus 500 degrees the frozen northeast gets from time to time but, for us, quite chilly. There have been smatterings of snow in various parts of the country but nothing apart from the odd flake or two in our neighbourhood. I have to confess, I actually quite like the cold, frosty mornings – the ground is frozen so that Molly and I don’t come home from our morning perambulations caked in mud and there is no need for a freezing spray down when we return. It’s a good job, as well, as the hosepipe is frozen!

We had a lovely day on Sunday with Nick & Lucy and Annabelle. They very kindly invited us over for a spot of playtime, a walk in the park and an early evening meal, all of which was lovely.

While we were with Nick & Lucy I received a phone call from neighbour Sally. It seems that our very good friends, Paul and Mary from across the road, had suffered a house fire and were temporarily homeless – could they camp out in our house (for which Sally had a key). Of course, was the immediate response and after an excellent lasagne at Nick & Lucy’s we headed home to welcome our unfortunate and unexpected visitors.

As many of you will remember, Paul is the neighbour across the road we initially met as a result of an enquiry from sister Sallie – she had been trying to notify various folks of the death of Rod’s mother and one of the people she had on her list was Paul whose father and Rod’s father were former colleagues and good friends. When she eventually tracked down his address courtesy of his brother in Ireland, she wrote to ask us if 17 Banbury Road, Byfield was anywhere near us. Yes, I replied, just about exactly opposite on the other side of the road – what are the chances of that?

It seems that Paul & Mary and two of their sons with their respective partners and children were down for the day. There were all sitting in their kitchen chatting with the Sunday roast simmering away in the oven when all of a sudden their main electrical board burst into flames. Actually, it was a bit of time before they noticed it by which time it had started to blaze quite impressively, I gather – the joists and floorboards above were in flames, the plastic consumer unit was melting emitting noxious fumes (and Paul has significant lung issues so this was not good) and the wires in the immediate vicinity were similarly burning giving off more smoke and fumes. The fire brigade arrived in ten minutes and soon had the fire extinguished but they were now, effectively, homeless – no electricity and no heating and an unbelievable mess to clear up – soot and smoke all through the house, the effects of the fire extinguisher throughout and the stench of the burned plastic and cables. What a drag! So, we had all of them for the night – thankfully, Penelope’s Playchute Palace had not yet been sold and we were able to accommodate them all quite comfortably.

The next day, Monday, Paul was able to get on to their insurance providers and I have to admit, these guys came up trumps – no attempt to find some way of denying the claim and they authorised all the necessary structural and clean-up work along with the temporary resettlement costs. And, they’ll handle everything so Paul & Mary can put their feet up in a holiday cottage until theirs is restored. Just hope they can get the work done quickly.

So, that was our exciting end to 2014. The New Year started equally forebodingly when we completely lost our telephone and broadband. Why do technical support lines always make you jump through the same hoops even though you know that’s not the issue? I know the answer to that question, of course. It’s because they have a script to follow and daren’t deviate from the path through the list of questions. Since our main telephone socket is in the loft and all the extensions run off that, whenever we have an issue with our phone or broadband I have to climb up into the loft to plug a phone directly into the master socket and report that, guess what, it doesn’t work! Every time we’ve had an issue the fault has been either at the local exchange at the other end of the village or on the pole on the other side of the street. Still, I have to “prove” to the technical support technician that the fault is external. Only then will they instruct the engineer to investigate on the ground and the earliest they can possibly do that is generally sometime next week! Fortunately, we had to wait only twenty-four hours before service was restored. Not a good way to start off the New Year.

I guess just about the only thing worse would be if the television stopped working! Then I really would be in trouble.

And speaking of starting off the New Year, you will be surprised to learn, no doubt, that I did not participate in any of the New Year’s Day swims organised by various groups world wide. You can find some photographs of various events on the Guardian web site including my favourite Superwoman Angela McClements taking the plunge at Carnlough Harbour, Northern Ireland. Great photo but I suspect the landing was not only cold but probably somewhat less than elegant as well. Brrr!

Superwoman Angela McClements taking the plunge at Carnlough Harbour, Northern Ireland


And finally, we’ve just finished watching the new BBC adaptation of Mapp & Lucia starring Miranda Richardson and Anna Chandler which was very, very good. If it’s being broadcast wherever you are or you can catch it on-line somewhere, don’t miss it. This adaptation was written by Steve Pemberton from The League of Gentlemen fame who also plays Lucia’s friend Georgie and there are a number of exquisite moments. If you’re not familiar with Mapp & Lucia get hold of the books and dive in. From Nina Stibbe’s review in the Guardian:

For those not yet acquainted with the Mapp and Lucia novels, written between 1920 and 1939, they are delicious send-ups of the snobbish cultural lives of upper-middle-class people in interwar Britain. Amid endless musical evenings and ridiculous mannered luncheons we watch social rivals Miss Mapp and Lucia vie with each other to become Queen of Tilling-on-Sea. The books are as fabulously plotted and as funny as PG Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster books or his Blandings novels.

Mapp and Lucia

Enjoy if you get the opportunity.

SegueAnd finally, finally, a bit of advertising from our good friend Mary Hamer targeted at any of you who enjoy SciFi – her son-in-law has written a novel under the name of John March entitled Segue. It’s only available as an e-book but might be of interest to those of you who enjoy that particular genre. You can get it at your local Amazon.

Love to you all,