Sunday, 30 August 2015

100 Years of Marriage!

A special family celebration last night... 100 Years of Marriage between us!
Mum and Dad - 52 years (21st September)
Mark and I - 25 Years (18th August)
Sister and B-in-L - 23 Years (8th August)
The Mathematicians in the family worked out that last night was the closest we were going to get to an exact 100 years ....and it was a nice way to spend a Bank Holiday Saturday anyway!
(Photo taken in Sister's garden before we sat down to our celebration dinner.)

Friday, 28 August 2015

Something of a Facebook 'Photo Shock'...

While I was a teacher I completely avoided Facebook.  I've had an account for a long time, but it was completely dormant - largely because I thought that it was more professional to keep my private life 'private'.  When I left school at the beginning of the summer I promised my older pupils (who were struggling with the idea that I was moving on) that I would be slightly more active on Facebook.  I told them that I wouldn't accept any friend requests... but I would keep my account completely open so that they could 'stalk' me.  Whatever I post on my Facebook page is always written with the thought that a few teenagers may still be 'keeping tabs on me', but I'm pretty sure that they've moved on now.
As it happens, most of the Marcos car club on-line activity has also moved from a 'chat page/forum' to Facebook this summer.  Mark doesn't do on-line social media at all so I am responsible for posting about his garage projects etc.
All of this means that I seem to have collected the usual random collection of Facebook 'friends'.... close family and Worcester friends (why???! what's wrong with the phone???!); real friends and relatives that live at a distance; ex-pupils from decades ago who have looked me up at some point and still appear on my news feed; current and ex-colleagues;  Marcos owners all over the world and a small group of people that I went to school with (we were a close circle of friends in 1984 but, since my family moved away from Oxford completely in 1989, I doubt I recognise them in the street now.)
It's far to say that, in the words of L P Hartley my "past is a different country"..
Anyway, earlier this week I became 'friends' with G.  G. and I sat in class together for 5 years and stayed at the school for A Levels.  We went on the same language exchanges, took part in the same school plays, went to the same sixth form parties and have a lot of shared memories.  He hasn't moved away from the area so he still spends time with 'the old school gang'.  He clearly takes Facebook quite seriously and made a point of messaging me to say 'Hi'.  He explained that the last 12 months have been difficult because he lost his wife to cancer - but he has two children that are doing well, and that he's spending a lot of time on his motorcycle.  He told me that he'd posted a lot of photos from our school days in his albums.  (I'd forgotten that he was also a keen member of the school photography club).
So I clicked on the album 'Matthew Arnold 1984' and prepared to 'time travel'....
It was a set of photos of the 'Great Three Legged Football Match'.  Insanely, I remembered the lunchtime clearly... On the far right, S. and C.  (S. was madly in love with C.  She wasn't interested but humoured him by being his partner that afternoon.)  On the left, my best friend S.  (She was the female half of the only couple to stay up-right because she was delightfully bossy, terribly competitive and planned all their moves..)
S. again.....

And then - the 12th picture was completely different.
What a shock....!
The first photo I've seen in 31 years of my first serious boyfriend, J.
(Dressed in black from top to toe, cowboy boots and his racing bike - just as I remember him.)
J. and I were a couple for 8 months in 1984.  It was WAY too serious so the relationship didn't really do either of us any favours.  The break up was epically messy.
(Mark was still dealing with the 'fall out' when we started dating in 1985.  J. got pretty obsessional, wouldn't let go and all sorts of really silly - and upsetting - stuff happened.)
It's hard to explain how this unexpected image has 'rattled' me - I really didn't expect my 17 year old self to re-surface and that I'd be quite so bothered by 30 year old memories.
Have you had any similar experiences with unexpected photos?

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

First Steps in Patchwork...and other crafting projects

Last week my lovely next door neighbour showed me how to make a basic patchwork cushion.
This week I've practised my new skill by making two cushions for the conservatory.
I bought two books of fabric samples from the clearance area of a local Interior Design company (£10 for a huge pile of fabric.... I think I'll be making patchwork items for the whole family this autumn!)
I'm really pleased with the way that the samples allow me to play around with designs and colour-ways.... but the two cushions end up with a similar 'look'.  The material is also really nice quality so it's given my work a nice finish (for a first attempt).

I was so inspired by my progress that I went back to the clearance area for another look.  This time I came home with two enormous sample books.  These were more expensive but still good value, given the size of the fabric samples.  I plan to make a set of complimentary garden cushions etc. for next year.  (Our current garden furniture is plastic and falling to pieces, so our families gave us a very substantial amount of money as a Silver Wedding present to buy new furniture for next summer.  I can't wait to have a meal surrounded by a 'grown up' garden furniture suite!!)
I've also been busy doing my needlework...
(This is a small sampler that I worked for my friends wedding anniversary.
It's a mixture of two traditional 'Florentine' designs and various textured cross-stitch patterns.
The colours tried to reflect the fact that 35 years of marriage is 'Coral')
Thomas has really got into the idea of having a human at his "beck and claw"..
He likes to supervise,while grooming, from a chair in the conservatory..

Then falls asleep mid-lick.....
His white fur hides the fact that he's an old cat....

Saturday, 22 August 2015

So - the reality of the 'Great Escape'...

So far, so good.... 

I am spending more quality time with my parents.  I've completely lost the 'inner stressy voice' that was constantly auditing the hours of my day and the unrealistic amount of work that I still had to complete.  I've given up clock-watching.

Mark is amazed to find that, even though he's still working long hours in his very stressful job, he's more relaxed because he doesn't have to listen to my 'work woes'.  He's also gained time on his commute because he doesn't have to drop me at work first, then fight his way through Solihull rush hour traffic in the evening to collect me.  He's also gained time because I'm doing all the 'background house jobs' during the week.  As a result, he's got more physical and emotional energy, and has even started to work on his projects in the garage again.

We are financially secure, providing that I continue to be 'quietly frugal' on a day to day basis.  To be honest, we don't have a mortgage or children, so we could easily live off Mark's salary.  However, I saved almost 80% of my salary in the last 12 months to create a 'financial cushion' (in addition to other savings) and I've got a small number of private pupils starting in the Autumn.  At this stage, it feels good to still be earning SOME money....and I'm definitely looking forward to teaching without the politics of a large institution.

Most importantly, I'm giving time to my own emotional and physical fitness.  I practice my harp every day for an hour or so after breakfast.  When my back starts to complain, I pop on my shoes and do a brisk four mile walk round the north side of Worcester.  The rest of day is divided up between family and friends, crafting, house jobs, the occasional lesson and more practice (if a performance is looming).  I thought, by this stage in the holidays, that I might miss the 'ramp up' to the new term.   Absolutely not!  I WILL miss a small group of pupils who were important to me but I've lost any inclination towards classroom teaching whatsoever.

I'm making steady progress through a small bucket list of 'Things I couldn't do while I was a teacher'.  Mark and I are going to South West France in September.  We have built a three-centre holiday around a classic motor-racing event that we have always wanted to attend.  It's very exciting.  I have also learnt the basics of machine patchwork and now my imagination is full of little crafting projects.  I've wanted to learn this skill for years and I'm so proud of my first few efforts!   We are also going away for a four-day break on my birthday weekend at the end of November.  (Every year I asked if we could go away, even for one night, and Mark always vetoed it on the grounds of concerts, parents evenings and report-writing exhaustion.) 

We've also booked Le Mans Classic in July 2016.  (We went in 2008 but I had to take two days of un-paid leave.)  After 26 years of being tied to school holidays, we are still exploring the best way to spread Mark's annual leave from Land Rover across the rest of 2016.

So, on balance, things are going well.  I'm sure that grey clouds will sometimes cover my current blue skies - but nothing would induce me to go back to a Head of Department job in any school at the moment.  I'm off now to finish another patchwork cushion.  Expect a 'crafty' post with lots of pictures next.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Happy Times..

At 12.00 on Saturday 18th August 1990 Mark and I got married at St Lawrence's Church, North Hinksey, Oxford.  Last Sunday the whole family got together and we all took a joint trip down memory lane to celebrate our Silver Wedding.  St Lawrence's is a tiny medieval church that is normally locked, so I organised with the vicar that we could pop in at the end of the morning service.
Mark and I re-enacted the 'Standing in the Church Doorway' photos..

Hmmmm - Here's the original..
(I definitely wasn't going to recreate the 1990s perm for the event!!)
Then we all walked a hundred metres or so down the lane to the pub (The Fishes at North Hinksey).  This was where Mark and I, and my sister and her friends, did most of our socialising in the late-80s.  It's become very popular again recently because it has a large, informal, river-side garden with lots of deck-chairs and traditional garden games.  They provide picnic hampers for groups who want to continue the informal theme... but we were lucky enough to be given a table on the veranda.
The weather was perfect for eating outside on Sunday afternoon - warm enough to be comfortable but not too hot for those people with their backs to the sun.
In this photo you can see (from L to R)
- younger niece (I), older niece (H), Mark and I, and Mark's brother (P).
In this photo you can see (L to R)
- P's partner's son, Mark's Dad, P's partner, my Dad and Mum, and my Sister's Husband

I decided months ago that I didn't want a big party for our Silver Wedding and this family lunch worked out perfectly.  My family and Mark's family haven't really met socially since my family moved away from Oxford shortly after our wedding - so everyone was on their 'best behaviour' and made the most of the time to catch up.
This evening Mark and I are going to have a quiet meal together.  I've splashed out and bought us some steak (which we never cook at home normally) and we'll have it with some herby new potatoes and salad.  I've also sorted chocolate mouse with fresh rasberries for pudding.  Mark's brother gave us a bottle of champagne at the weekend which I think we'll open too.
It's Mark's 49th Birthday tomorrow too - so he may well open his presents from me this evening.  It will be a lot more chilled than trying to do anything at 6.00 in the morning and we have more family and friends coming round tomorrow night.  (Celebrations are a little bit like buses in our household... you have to wait ages for them then loads come along at once.  Yesterday was a close friends birthday, Saturday will be another friends 35th wedding anniversary, then we have both my parents' and Mark's Dad's birthdays over two days at the beginning of September)
Other news... my older niece (H) got two As and a B at A level last week.  We are all very proud- because the last 18 months have been a bit of a disaster for her in several ways.  She wasn't in a position to apply to uni last year, so she's going to take a year out then apply for a nursing degree.  She hopes to work for 8 months then travel to South Africa to see relative's on her father's side of the family.
It also occurred to me that you may wish to hear a little about my continued progress through 'Great Escape', as 'phony retirement' (aka Six Weeks paid Summer Holidays) ends and real life outside the classroom starts on September 1st!  This probably deserves a post of it's own in the next couple of days..

Monday, 10 August 2015


This is the scene I found in the conservatory on Saturday morning...
The bears are delivering an enormous 'anniversary surprise' from Mark!
(The small white bear is using the Happy Anniversary balloon to help him stick the bow on the box.  There were other bears helping to supervise the delivery, but it was difficult to get everyone in the photos.)
The box contained some new travelling covers for my harp.
Mark remembered a wistful comment when we collected the harp from Morley's in January.
My old covers were second hand and probably about 50 years old.  The canvas 'top coat' was showing serious signs of wear and tear, and really wasn't doing that much to protect the harp in transit.  These new covers are light-weight, but really padded and effective.
Mark organised the surprise to coincide with my garden party gig on Saturday afternoon.
I felt really professional when I turned up with these smart black covers....
and the harp was clearly happier too - because it didn't lose it's tuning when we moved it.
The little white bear is still sat in the conservatory, holding the balloon.... so cute!

Friday, 7 August 2015

Silver Wedding Anniversary Plans and Memories

On the 18th August Mark and I will have been married for 25 Years.
We decided earlier in the year that we didn't want a big party... this is an celebration that we would prefer to spend with our closest family.  So next weekend my parents; my sister, brother-in-law and their girls; Mark's Dad, brother and his partner are going to join us for 'a trip down memory lane'..
When Mark and I met, my family lived on the edge of Oxford and his family lived about 14 miles to the north in a small village.  Our first date was at 'The Trout' - a beautiful pub by the river Thames.  We are going to start the day with coffee at the pub.  To prompt more memories I'm going to create some 'Souvenir Programmes' for everyone the day.... including photos of the early days, our engagement party, the wedding, these up-to-date images that I took when I went to collect Gordon last week, and the menu for our celebration lunch.
This river-side terrace has featured on lots of TV programmes over the years.. especially Inspector Morse.  In 1985 this was the main route into the pub (and it was a cold, dark January night!)
In the mid-eighties this was the bar area.  We sat by an enormous open fire and Mark talked about Banger Car Racing.  (I drank Pernod and lemonade, and tried to nod intelligently at the right moments!)

This is the tiny Medieval church where we were married at 12.00 on 18th August 1990.
(I went to the little village school and had really special memories of services here, so we chose this church rather than the larger 1950s one at the other end of the parish when it came to our special day)

The footpath between the school and the church is still there...just as I remember it!

These buildings were the old Victorian school and school-masters cottage.  The year that I started Infants the school finally moved into the 'new build' a little further along the lane.  The cottage was let to the family of one of my friends so I have strong memories of playing in the tiny rooms.  The school was converted into a larger house.

..And here's the pub where my sister and I did most of our socialising through Sixth Form and University.  It's just round the corner from the church (we even went for a drink there after the wedding rehearsal).  It also has a huge, shady river-side garden and a good reputation for food - so it's going to be the venue for our family meal next week.

I couldn't resist a wander through the village to see what's changed... or not!
(North Hinksey is actually right next to Oxford's Southern Bypass - but these photos make it look as if it's in the middle of nowhere...)

This was the entrance to the home of my best friend from Secondary School.
(Her family were much 'posher' than the rest of us but they thought that the daughters should have a comprehensive education and 'mix with the world'.  Of-course our paths never crossed once she left the local comp. for a private Sixth Form education.  Nevertheless, I have great memories of meals with her family and exploring this enormous and quirky old house..)

And finally I couldn't resist a trip back to the 'Rec' near our old house in Botley.
There's an immense view to the North and 'the swings of dreams' (where I spent most of my free time from 14 - 20, rocking back and forth with my friends and plotting our futures...)

It's a strange feeling to go back after so many years...
- 48 years old and just 'retired'
- planning a silver wedding celebration
Kind of 'grown up but not'....!

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Busy, busy, busy....!

My fantasy retirement had long sunny days, with plenty of time for harp practice, walks, crafting and blogging..... but my feet have hardly touched the ground since the end of term.
Mark and I were on holiday together for the first week, which was lovely but busy with car events.
In the middle of the week I received an unexpected request to play my harp at a garden party in Worcester next weekend, which has increased the practicing time and limited my time on the internet.
Then I had to get the house tidy for my Father-in-Laws visit.  On Wednesday morning the guest room was full of boxes and bags of stuff from school - by Thursday morning it looked a little more welcoming again..
My Father-in-Law has recently had to stop driving completely, so I went down to Oxford to collect him.  Mark and I plan to celebrate our Silver Wedding Anniversary with the family in Oxford in a couple of weeks time.  This trip was a nice chance to quietly sort out the final details... and take a trip down memory lane.  (Another blog post - when I actually have a 'fantasy day' and time to write properly!)
On Friday we made the most of the lovely weather.  I took my parents and Mark's Dad to Hidcote Gardens (a National Trust property on the edge of the Cotswolds).  The garden is designed as a series of 'rooms' so, even when it's really busy, there are still quiet corners and plenty of photo opportunities.  We had a lovely time...
I wish my borders looked like this...

I know that my cat would love a pond so that he could watch the fish... 

 Next year I am going to get my garden under control - I would love a space that I could be a little more proud of...

Unfortunately I don't think we've got the space for this kind of architectural feature..! 

Yesterday we went on a 'hunt' across most of Herefordshire to find a stone garden 'feature' for my Father-in-Law's garden.  He's delighted with an enormous old bowl - which is now sat in the back of the Discovery waiting for the return trip to Oxford on Monday.  Today we're going to park the car at the top of the racecourse in Worcester and take a walk through the city by the river.
To be honest - these are my fantasy retirement days too... because I gave up work to be able to offer 'relaxed' support to the people who matter.  Mark's Dad is 81 in September.  He's always enjoyed an extremely high level of fitness for his age so he's rather frustrated with some recent health issues.  This break with us has given me some ideas of the best way to be 'quietly helpful' in his new situation...
  I hope that you are all enjoying the weekend.