Leaving India, Again…

John and his ‘leavers of 69’ pupils, over 50 years ago

Completing the circle, half a century later

John and me and the leavers of 1969

When we left India in April 1968 we imagined we were leaving for good. John’s three-year contract with the Cathedral and John Connon School in Bombay had come to an end and he had been offered another teaching job in the UK. We had thoroughly enjoyed our time in India, but were now, complete with baby (Ruth) embarking on the next stage of our lives.

Little did we think…

Continue reading Leaving India, Again…

Family Links and Memories

Hall plaques in the Collegiate Church, Dunglass

Last week we were in Northumberland. Everything was lovely, apart from the weather but even that didn’t stop us. We did so much, and had such a good time I may risk sounding as if I were in the pay of Visit Northumberland. I assure you I am not!

So I will try to skip along quickly, before I come briefly to the family memories bit…

We stayed in The Byre, a superb holiday cottage by the sea, overlooking Holy Island. Our very good friends, the Cartwrights, stayed in the Mill House next door and during the week various permutations of the nine of us did various things, but all meeting up in the evening for very jolly and delicious suppers.

Our cottages in Lindisfarne Bay

Of course we visited Holy Island, and most of us walked home one day along the Causeway, making sure it was very low tide and that we didn’t inadvertently kick any unexploded World War 2 armaments.

Inevitably we did lots of touristy things. Various of us visited Barter Books in Alnwick, and Alnwick Garden (The Poison Garden was alarming!) Seahouses for fresh fish, Budle Bay, and Budle Hall, a very lovely B&B. Our last evening we had a splendid meal at the Potted Lobster , in Bamburgh. It was a lovely way to conclude the holiday.

Bev looking after John!

Then John and I drove up one particularly wet and windy day to Cockburnspath, in the Scottish Borders, to Dunglass where the Hall family lived for over two hundred years. The estate was sold in 1919 to the Usher family, who live there still although no longer in the ‘big house’ which was pulled down – well actually blown up – some time ago.

Dunglass is now a thriving wedding venue. Weddings are conducted in the most atmospheric and windowless church. Historic Environment Scotland casts the blame for its state of apparent disrepair firmly on the Halls.

In the 18C the Hall family apparently turned the church into a barn, knocking down one section you see in the photo below for easier access… However, several Halls are buried there and the plaques of many more are on the walls in the south transept so there can’t have been total disrespect…

Dunglass Church

While chatting to Simon and Joyce Usher they told us they hold about 60 weddings a year. (They also assured us that in chilly weather people are kept completely warm and comfortable, so current day Halls need perhaps not feel too guilty.)

We met for lunch Sally Wilson and her husband Kenneth, a multi-talented pair but I think essentially a writer/researcher and an artist. Sally has written a most interesting and informative book about Cockburnspath, and another about Lady Helen Hall, my several-times-great grandmother. We could have talked to Sally and Ken for so much longer.

Now back at home, I intend to re-read both books, and share with family, and any interested friends some of our Hall family history. (Of course there are various other families too, which I mustn’t ignore…)

Downsizing Dos and Don’ts

As most of you know, we are (still) in the process of doewnsizing. It isn’t something done in a twinkling, because buying a smaller house is only part of the story which also includes lowering one’s horizons, downsizing one’s lifestyle.

Crown Cottage July 2017But that first, visible part of the process we have achieved and mostly happily, with the purchase of Crown Cottage, so we keep being asked for advice by friends who may well be looking for polite excuses not to contemplate the idea any further.

Anyway, here goes with some personal and far from expert thoughts that may or may not be relevant because very obviously everybody’s situation is different. So much will depend on personal priorities of health, family and financial situation and of course personal lifestyle but the general How, Where and When may apply to all.

MAKING COMPROMISES. Before we start, It is worth pointing out an awkward obvious. Many compromises are called for. If you are lucky enough to still have a partner their priorities may surprise you, and be rather different from your own. It is no good making decisions that one of you is never going to be happy with.

WHAT ARE YOUR PRIORITIES? Town or country? Two cars or one? What possessions can you do without? Do you still want to have friends to stay or perhaps you may like an excuse not to? What will their needs be if one of you is left living on their own? What are your children’s thought?

WHEN TO DOWNSIZE? Being practical/pessimistic, I’d say, do it sooner rather than later, while you are still in full control of the situation. Downsizing is difficult, physically and emotionally, even when you’re basically fit and healthy. You really wouldn’t want to be doing it feeling old and frail, or because circumstances had forced it, through ill health or bereavement, and none of us knows what is round the corner.

My sister Ruth’s devastating stroke at 70, when she was still fit, healthy and full of life and far from ‘old’ was my wake up call, and the realisation that we had to face a very reluctant decision to move from Orchard Farm, a big(ish) house and garden and two very successful holiday cottages all of which we loved, while things were still going really well.

HOW TO START DOWNSIZING? Having thought long and hard about your future needs and priorities, the first big step is selling your current house. Don’t start looking for your new one unless you can afford to buy it before you’ve sold your existing one otherwise therein lies inevitable disappointment and despair.

Make enquiries about good and reliable estate agents. They aren’t all either good or reliable; if you don’t know any ask friends and contacts for recommendations. We were very lucky to be able to choose one whom we already knew slightly personally who proved to be totally honest and upright and who guided us wisely throughout the whole process.

In our case initial tentative enquiries to local estate agents about valuations and a possible sale in a year or two led unexpectedly to a very quick sale, wonderful in many ways but handing over a successful holiday cottage business and packing up 30+ years of accumulated clutter in a few months was a nightmare.

A mountain of cardboard boxesWe simply couldn’t have done it without significant help from our young, and the many friends who at the end were physically wrapping and packing things up for us almost as we moved out.

WHERE TO MOVE TO? Next, you need to think long and hard about where you hope to move to. If you have family, they need to be part of the discussion because the time may come when you may need to rely on more support from them, and they will inevitably be busy people with demanding lives of their own.

If you’re lucky you can stay in the area where you already live. Your network of long term friends is important. It isn’t always easy to make new friends in a new place and it can take a while to feel accepted. And embarrassing as it may be to acknowledge it, driving may become a worry or a real problem eventually, so really you want to be within easy reach of a doctors’ surgery, shops and public transport and, ideally, a support network of good long term friends.

Crown Cottage gardenWHAT SORT OF HOUSE? The really brave may consider a retirement home, or a small flat. We couldn’t face that, as we felt we had to have a garden, even a tiny one, and we wanted still to be able to entertain friends and family. We made a clear check list of essential needs, and of course the house we fell in love with meets very few of these! It does have a lovely little garden though.

HOW? Fitting the proverbial quart into a pint pot doesn’t work.
We know, we’ve tried and failed.

Decluttering...Selling, giving away, charity shops, auction houses, car boot sales, Mari Kondo, skips, skips and more skips… This needs – and will shortly get – a whole blog post on its own.

I hope that gives you a reasonable idea of what to expect (or reject!). Good luck!

The Nutcracker

And quickie news catch-up

I am sure you probably all know that the Royal Ballet is producing the Nutcracker at Christmas. This is just a hasty note to let you all know that Nick has just told us that if you are interested and likely to be near a computer this evening, October 27th 2016,  The Nutcracker rehearsal is being streamed live on YouTube, apparently starting at 7.20. Sam our soon-to-be daughter-in-law will be appearing, although I am not quite sure when, rehearsing her lot (the corps de ballet). Nick most certainly will not be seen on the screen, although you can see them both here.

It is also by way of an apology/explanation for another long silence. There have been serious problems with the blog which we think and hope our good friend and web guru, Jeremy Brough, has now sorted out. It was all to do with backups, backs up backing up back ups and so on, making our web hosts annoyed and rather demanding, and perhaps more importantly, seriously slowing everything down.

And the grandmother mother of the bridegroom thinks she has found a dress. Having struggled as many of you know, trawling through acts of matronly dresses modelled by preteens with hollow cheeks and trout lips I have actually chosen one that could be thought mutton dressed as lamb, notably because it is on the short side. And in the shop it was just hanging on an ageless rail, not defined by anyone young or old.

Nick and Sam Sept. 2015
Nick (not a ballet dancer) and Sam who most certainly is

The other problem is that although the front is multi-coloured, from behind it is all black. I certainly don’t want anyone reading anything into that. We are so happy about getting Sam and Nick getting wed. However, I am assured that short is okay, and that black is the new wedding white, or something like that. Let’s hope it will pass muster. It’s beautifully comfy and  unrevealing so that is all to the good.

Meanwhile, happy watching tonight!

Jack Rabbit’s Ashbourne

St Oswald's Church, AshbourneAshbourne is a very delightful small market town although since it lost its cattle market the actual market side has dwindled somewhat. Its charms are still many…

…’The Gateway to the Peak District’, elegant Georgian buildings, Shrovetide Football, a magnificent parish church, lots of top quality independently owned businesses. It also its share of estate agents and charity shops. For centuries the historic Green Man and Black’s Head was the undisputed heart of the town where everything important seemed to take place and when it closed there was a great sense of loss.

Green Man and Black's Head sign, AshbourneFor several years the building sat there in the middle of the town – unseen here, but on the near right corner of this photo – increasingly and depressingly desolate. The heavy trucks thundered and rattled past (unfortunately the ‘Gateway to the Peak’ doesn’t have a full ring road) narrowly missing the famous and by then redundant Green Man and Black’s Head sign across the road and many foretold the demise of Ashbourne as a town of any note.

However, thanks to the enthusiasm and commitment and really had work of a band of local people determined to restore Ashbourne’s pride things are distinctly on the up again. The Green Man has been bought, and is slowly being restored to a new existence. Posh dress shops and other businesses are moving in and there are plenty of exciting plans for future developments within the site.

Jack Rabbit's external viewYesterday saw us savouring the delights of the latest of these. We had trudged – so to speak – somewhat grudgingly into Ashbourne, with a long list of rather boring things to do on a horribly blustery and wet day. Of course on the list was a trip to the Recycling Centre. Incidentally, they are so pleasant and helpful there it is almost a pleasurable task, except when the weather is foul, as it was yesterday morning.

Jack Rabbit's Ashbourne - opening dayWe needed our spirits reviving. Fortunately, I remembered just in time that Jack Rabbit’s, Ashbourne’s latest coffee shop/teashop/restaurant was opening on March 1st at the back of the Green Man, so before returning home we decided to pay a visit. We have friends involved in the project and we knew, knowing them, that we would be in for a (well-deserved, we felt) treat.

And as we approached, the sun came out. From the outside the very modern building – lots of unexpected shapes, glass and light – looked most inviting; inside it lives up to its promise.

Jack Rabbit's - view looking outAnd what a warm welcome we received. The coffee was delicious, John’s scone, still warm and freshly baked – I ended up sharing. There is an attractive looking menu, for brunches and lunches as well as coffee time treats, so we shall certainly return.

There are several really excellent cafes and restaurants in Ashbourne and Jack Rabbit’s looks as if it will quickly join the ranks of the best. Fortunately we still have many trips on the horizon to the Recycling Centre, otherwise John and I would be hard pushed to keep supporting all our old favourites, and this our newest favourite.

Perhaps I ought to remind one and all that my blog is entirely independent and non commercial – my thoughts, my opinions, my blog… I don’t benefit financially in any way, nor will it ever cost you anything (other than your time or perhaps boredom).

Another New Supermarket for Ashbourne

With a flurry of excitement and an enormous fanfare of publicity, a brand new out of town supermarket opened in Ashbourne last week. Apparently according to all the excitement that was being generated, it was to be just what Ashbourne needed, but it seemed hard to see why, in a small town already served by a Coop, Sainsburys, Waitrose and M&S, and already concerned about the future of small local independent shops. Continue reading Another New Supermarket for Ashbourne