Category Archives: FUN

SILENCE … BUSY … CHELTENHAM FESTIVALS

Sorry about the long hiatus. I’ve been very busy since the beginning of May, so there’s going to be a flurry of posts yet again! A lot has been happening, but after a concert yesterday (Cheltenham Music Festival), I now have the ideal excuse to arrange my posts by subject matter. So let’s start with the Cheltenham Festivals – that’s Jazz, Science and Music in chronological order. But I shall handle them in reverse order, as that’s the order I can remember them best.

Cheltenham Festivals – tickets (Left – Right: Music, Science & Jazz)

After a fairly rubbish day, we rushed off to Cheltenham for a meal at Ask Italian before venturing into the “Pillar room” at Cheltenham Town Hall …  ah

…  and now that concert wasn’t yesterday either, it was well over a week ago! Still, I shall carry on regardless even though that music concert is fading into the distant memory as well. It was great fun – a combination of baroque and folk musicians. There were bagpipes, pipes and recorders, fiddles, cello, harpsichord and something indescribable (well see the picture below). A sort of lute type thing with a very large extension piece having “sympathetic strings” – I think. Unsurprisingly, his instrument with extra long extension piece got lots of enthusiastic interest during the 15 minute drinks break … and a fairly dubious posting by Kevin on Facebook which questioned whether he was trying to “compensate for something”.

So now passing swiftly backwards to the 2nd week of June (you must remember it, it was the one with the rushed general election in the UK and I’ll post a picture about that too – I wonder if you can guess which one!) … straight back from holiday – more about that in a separate post – and there we were at the Cheltenham Science Festival. For once, the weather was not too bad and we had glorious sunshine (for a day), lots of wind (nearly every day) and some intermittent, light rain (which is much better than normal).

Now it is questionable how “accessible” the polling station really is, when this notice is pasted on a closed and seemingly locked door which can only be opened from the inside. Thank goodness I have a Kevin, who can enter the polling station via the main entrance and then open this fire door from the inside!

 

… And this is the day with the nice weather! I am only looking rather concerned, because we are waiting to enter the tent in which the “overambitious demo challenge” is due to take place and that’s where lots of things tend to start flying about. This is one of the few times when being in a wheelchair and located at the front is not necessarily the best place to be!

Now my last festival is actually the Cheltenham Jazz Festival which is one of our favourites, but it took place at the very end of April / beginning of May. Therefore, I can remember very few of the concerts – they were all good – and I don’t have any photographs. I remember the Saturday though, as it was extremely tiring and we attended 7 different events, starting with the “Trondheim/Birmingham jazz exchange” at 11 am and concluding with a concert at 9 pm at night. To put this in perspective, it takes us about one hour to drive to Cheltenham and back, it takes a while to find parking and so this day started about 9.45 am and didn’t finish until after midnight.

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Start of 2017 – what’s new?

The start of 2017 was not really very exciting and there  wasn’t much interesting to write about – hence the dearth of new posts.

There were the work tasks: I’m trying to cut my business costs this year and therefore replaced my IP database at the start of January (which included a couple of on-line training sessions in January/February), I met with an old colleague from my previous employer, ostensibly to talk about possible IP protection for some new ideas that he had been tinkering around with, but ended up having a general chat about how the atmosphere has changed as have many of the people. I also did quite a few professional webinars (always good for my CPD).

On the MS/medical front: There were all the usual things – open gym sessions (Monday & Friday), seated yoga (Wednesday), dentist etc., but there were 2 things that did stand out as not being the norm:

1.  On the afternoon of 04 January 2017 – we took delivery of my “super duper” assisted bike which Kevin had arranged as my Christmas treat. We are hiring it for 3 months on a trial basis and I’m trying to use it every day. At the end of the 3 months, we will purchase it and the 3 months hire cost will be deducted from the sale price. This just goes to show you how expensive it is!

2.  During the last weekend in January, I hosted the “Twitter takeover” on behalf of Shift MS. This might have been quite mundane, but of course in the US there was all the chatter about the election/inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the USA. Fortunately, most of the tweets during my “Twitter takeover” steered well clear of politics!

Unfortunately, this fairly lacklustre spell of progress or rather complete lack of it, gave me the urge to organise several things – another visit with my MP (much shorter and more friendly this time), organising a visit from a carpenter to quote for changes to our stairs and levelling our upper landing and also a visit from a blinds company to quote for installation of electrically controlled blinds in our bedroom. Kevin was NOT pleased, although I have to admit that this flurry of activity was taking place just before my parents were coming to stay with us for a couple of days prior to going on a bell-ringing trip to Devon with a view of their friends from Somerset.

Roll on March: As I’m in bad odour with Kevin anyway, and things still aren’t progressing with the new house, I also arrange for a visit from a landscape gardener to quote for cleaning our block paving area and replacing the paving slabs/edging along the path to our front door. A very nice, young chap (I’m getting to that age when lots of competent adults look ‘young’ to me now) came to visit us, see what was required and provide a quote for the work. My main aim was to get the path to the front door level (making it easier to manoeuvre my wheelchair) and to replace the edging along the path to restrain the gravel between the plants in the adjacent beds, which was spilling onto the path in several places due to accidental hits & bumps from me in the wheelchair. The Gardener said that he could, and would prefer, to do the work before the end of March. In fact, he could start the following week.”Ah, that’s difficult” I said, “because we are off to visit my patents in France next Tuesday and don’t return until 22nd March”. (Mmm, now I’m beginning to appreciate Kevin’s frustration – but I wasn’t going to admit it and he could jolly well sort out arrangements for feeding the cat while we’re away … SULK!) Anyway, the Gardener agreed to start on our return from France and right at the last moment, Kevin organised for a “professional cat sitter” to come in and feed the cat, while we were away.  …

AND SO, OFF WE GO TO FRANCE … (Garden photos courtesy of my Dad)

Now my Mum had warned me that on 17 March (St Patrick’s day) they were hosting a celebratory Irish meal and had invited a number of guests – both French and English. We had already seen the Irish flag and bunting as it was ordered on-line and had been delivered to our house a few weeks earlier, and we had been treated to a viewing of their cheap elf T-shirts (picked up in a supermarket during their quick bell-ringing trip to England). The authenticity of the “Irish food” was somewhat dubious, but they had made several attempts to try out the cocktail ‘Black Velvet’ (a mixture of Guinness & Champagne) – now that was sure to go down well in France (!?!) The verdict on the ‘Black Velvet’ was understandably somewhat confused, ranging from “a good way to ruin both Guinness & Champagne” (majority) to “it’s quite nice really” (minority).

I don’t drink much alcohol and definitely avoided the ‘Black Velvet’, but I think the next two photographs go to show what a terrible effect it can have on the photographer (my dad).

All set – before ‘Black Velvet’

I leave it to you to make up your own mind!

Party in full swing – after ‘Black Velvet’

My parents had set up an office for me in their spare, spare bedroom and I did spend a couple of hours each day at my computer doing some work! There was some socialising, relaxing, watching films and shopping too and it did provide a nice break for us humans. And now onto the cat: He seemed to have a pretty relaxed and fun holiday too, being well looked after by the “professional cat sitter” as can be seen from the pictures at the beginning of this post and the photographs to end. We shall definitely be using her again for our next holiday – Birthday celebrations!

Christmas Preparations – Part II (addendum)

Oops, I got so engrossed in posting pictures of our new house with Christmas decorations I completely forgot to say anything about all the people we had visiting this year. Most obviously, my parents arrived from France in the evening of 23 December and so they were here for Christmas eve and Christmas day. In fact, my dad helped Kevin with the final modification and decoration of the ‘real’ Christmas tree. The stars and artificial Christmas tree (pictured below) had already been assembled by Kevin – OK, only one of the stars was lit because Kevin had to rig up an extension lead for the 2nd star.

artificial-christmas-tree-2016

Then on Boxing Day, Kevin’s family came over to visit (his mum, dad and sister) and it was his sister who helpfully took the glamorous shot of Tramp sitting in the middle of our 3 seater sofa. He’s looking up to the heavens because my father was standing in front of him attracting his attention.

The next day (27 December) my cousin and his wife brought my 80 year old aunt over for afternoon tea and nibbles. It was lovely to see my cousin (much older than me) and his wife, who lives closest to me (between Swindon and Cirencester) and my aunt who was visiting from Greenwich.

Christmas Preparations – Part II

OK – As I said in my last post, on 12 – 13 December 2016 the central heating plumbers arrived and fitted 2 new radiators, new electronic radiator valves on (most) of the radiators and connected up our new super duper electronic control system. Because of the slight miscount of the number of radiators in the house, they could not completely fit a couple of the radiator valves immediately but returned the next day to complete that part of the job. Unfortunately, the radiator in our en-suite is still a mystery to everyone – both us and the plumbers – as no water appears to reach it! However, a new electronic radiator valve had still been fitted, although the temperature recorded refuses to budge from the default setting and no heat is forthcoming from this radiator.

Now Kevin had to do lots of tidying up and we had to start stocking up on Christmas provisions. To cut a long story short, we didn’t even start looking for a ‘real’ Christmas tree until the day before my parents arrival on 23 December. Needless to say, nearly everywhere had sold out of real Christmas trees long ago, but we were lucky enough to pick up a tree (much too tall for our new house). However, after cutting off the base of the trunk and removing some of the lower branches I think we ended up with quite a good looking tree and very cheaply! You will have to judge from the attached photograph.

Christmas tree & presents

Christmas tree & presents

Now I did promise a post with more pictures of the inside of our new house and our few Christmas photos of the ground floor rooms (with decorations) will have to do for now. So here are a couple of photos that were previously posted on Facebook.

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Stars

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Stars, Christmas tree & drinks

This shows our “very large” living room/dining room. There are no pictures of the dining table from where the 2nd photograph was taken, but I assure you it is now VERY long i.e. our existing table with all extension leaves inserted.

I thought I would finish with a current picture of our lovely cat (Tramp), complete with his Christmas glamour collar. I still think he’s quite an elegant chap, even though he is over 19 years old (quite old for a cat). We don’t really know his age, because he was a stray but we know he’s getting on a bit and a vigorous scratch with his back leg occasionally causes him to topple over – I can understand/appreciate this difficulty being a bit ‘wobbly’ myself! Also, being rather old his neck is a little slimmer than the collar Manufacturers expect and therefore his collar often slips round his neck to form more of a choker/necklace (as shown in the photograph).

Tramp

Tramp

 

 

Christmas Preparations – Part I

 

OK, I agree that it’s quite an unorthodox Christmas tree. However, it is old and is the 1st Christmas tree we erected in our new house. It used to be erected every year in my office at work and for a cardboard tree it has lasted extremely well!

our-1st-christmas-decoration

Now I was going to post some more pictures of the inside of our new house, because there has been lots going on. However, this is likely to be the only Christmas decoration put up for the next couple of weeks – hence the title of this post: Part I. Next week we have major work happening to upgrade our central heating system, which includes new boiler, some new radiators, high-tech radiator valves and a super fancy electronic control unit to adjust the temperature in each room independently. Once this work is complete, our Christmas preparations will conclude and then I will be able to post lots of pretty pictures.

To keep myself in the regular–ish diary mode, instead this will be a post about my first Christmas meal out which took place on 1 December 2016. (I think this has been the most organised and early Christmas meal that I have ever had!) Myself and a group of friends that we call the Midweek Socialites had a great evening at ‘The Old Bank’ brasserie and cocktail bar just around the corner from our new house (see picture).

christmas-dinner-venue

As normal …/ traditional, being the people having the least far to travel, we were the last to arrive. We always seem to be late !!

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Now as far as I am concerned, I would prefer to have been sat at the opposite end of the table, but when you’re late you have to take which ever space you are given – and anyway I got treated to a close-up (look away).

noo-photo

Noo … photo

 

2 WEEKENDS OF ACTIVITIES & NO POSTS (AGAIN !!)

Sorry for the dearth of posts once again, but I have been doing lots – really!! So now I’m afraid that this will have to be a consolidated post again and also you will have to excuse my definition of a weekend, which includes the preceding Friday too (on both weekends).

Friday, 22 April 2016 we had booked an ‘advice surgery’ appointment with our local MP to discuss our issues with moving house and the implications caused by SDLT announced in the recent 2016 budget. Hardly something to look forward to, but I have to admit that I did look forward to it and it was ‘FUN’ in a rather perverse way. It was raining at the time of our appointment and the MP was running a little late, so we had to wait under the overhanging ‘shop front’, which was fortunately just wide enough to accommodate my wheelchair if I sat parallel to the window. While we were waiting, we noticed several parking spaces being vacated opposite the MP’s office and so Kevin went off to collect the car to be closer in case it started raining even harder at the end of our meeting. Eventually the previous meeting ended and the MP himself came out to greet me, apologising profusely that our appointment was late. He wheeled me into the office preceding all the while to refer to me as ‘sir’ – not a good start for him and in accordance with my ‘evil streak’, of course I didn’t make any admission of the fact that I was actually the ‘Debra Smith’, who had booked the appointment and therefore was not a ‘sir’. Once inside the warmth of the office and upon his observation to his assistant that we were “just waiting for Debra Smith, who was currently moving the car”, I felt it only fair to say that in fact I was Debra Smith and it was my partner who was moving the car. (Not the ideal way to start a meeting in my book, but that’s the reason that I found it ‘fun’ and quite liberating really!) So, we had the meeting, said our piece including pointing out how simply the draft bill could have been written to exclude those people unintentionally (?) hit by SDLT despite having no desire to own a second home or buy to let property, but requiring modifications to their new property before they could move in. For us, we need a lift installed, which has a 6 to 8 week lead time and we did point out that SDLT meant that we were having to take out a loan (for which we pay interest + set-up fees) just to provide HMRC with an interest-free loan which we knew they were required to repay, supposedly within 14 days. We’ll see! Having worked for the MOD (civil service) in the past, I commented that unless HMRC were planning a major recruitment drive, I thought this was highly unlikely! The MP tended to agree.

Meal with Kevin's family

Meal with Kevin’s family

 

Valerie & Maria

Valerie & Maria

Saturday, 23 April 2016: Unusually, we drove into West London (Cheam to be exact) to meet up for dinner with Kevin’s parents, his sister, aunt and eldest cousin. This was a special opportunity because neither Kevin nor I had seen his aunt since she visited us at our basement flat in Chelsea (and that was years ago!). This is because both his aunt Valerie and cousin Maria live in Majorca, Spain and were over for a couple of days because his cousin had meetings in London. I have never met his cousin Maria before, but she is almost the same age as me (she was born in January and I in May of the same year). I thoroughly enjoyed myself, which undoubtedly meant that I was being my usual, extrovert and ‘naughty’ self. (Maria is the one who described to me as ‘naughty’ and she also said something in Spanish which neither she nor her mother were able to translate and I speak no Spanish – however, they assured me that it was complimentary! Mmm.)

 

Now spin forward to the following weekend – Friday, 29 April 2016. The Friday started fairly inauspiciously with me having to go to the hospital for two eye appointments, the first a visual field test (awful – me having to transfer from my stable wheelchair to a very unstable/freely rotating ordinarily chair with no arms – it was terrifying!). This was followed up by the usual orthoptic appointment where the findings were much the same as before, but this time were repeated with my new distance and reading glasses. Conclusion: Do nothing, but repeat appointment in 3 months time. I’m really beginning to wonder if there is any point in these regular appointments as nothing seems to result and I really find them quite stressful. Fortunately, on this occasion after an awful start of the day I knew we were going to see our first jazz concert at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival that evening. We saw Penguin Cafe (lead = son of the original Penguin Cafe Orchestra), which everyone had told me was great, including my father and they were quite right!

Penguin Cafe

Penguin Cafe

Saturday, 30 April 2016 we knew was going to be tough as we had booked to see five concerts starting at 12.00 hrs with the Trondheim Jazz exchange (group 2 were excellent and really different – it made you feel a bit sorry for groups 1 and 3) and ending with ‘the Printmakers’ at the Parabola Arts Centre (Cheltenham Ladies College), my favourite venue, at 9.00 p.m. It was a really enjoyable, but very tiring day, not helped by a mix-up in booking to eat at Pizza Express, which left us very little time to change venues and eat at Ask Italian. In fact, we had to slip out early from every one of the last 3 concerts, just to give us time to scurry between venues.

Zoe Rahmen Courtney Pine

Zoe Rahmen & Courtney Pine

Courtney Pine

Courtney Pine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fortunately, Sunday, 01 May 2016 was a much more relaxed affair, with us managing to have a lie in as our concerts (only 2 of them this time) didn’t start until the afternoon / early evening. As the weather wasn’t too good and I didn’t really want to eat outside as I was cold, we went to Ask Italian again for an evening meal which was much lighter, more relaxed and altogether more enjoyable than the previous evening. And that’s where it ends … Our Cheltenham Jazz Festival was over for 2016 and now we just had to wait until early June, when we had lots and lots of tickets for the Cheltenham Science Festival. Hopefully, our rather over heavy schedule on the Saturday will allow us to plan things a little more successfully – although looking at the calendar, every day seems to be a ‘heavy schedule’ at the Science Festival, so much so that on occasion I have no idea when we are going to make time to eat!

Tim Berne

Tim Berne

12 March 2016 – Disabled Access Day

OK, so despite my last post you are still going to have to wait for the ‘continued’ saga of our house hunting – there’s lots going on regarding the house move at the moment, but nothing conclusive to report as yet.

I have something much more interesting/fun to write a post about tho’ and this one will have photos attached – so something colourful to break up all the text.

We took part in the ‘Disabled Access Day’ (again) just over a month ago and believe me going out and about in March is vastly superior to a freezing cold day in February (see my post for the same event last year, which also includes photos but in them I look absolutely frozen – I was!) … Whoops, just looked back through my earlier posts and realised that I hadn’t started this blog in February last year. So, just for comparison, here are a couple of photos from ‘Disabled Access Day’ in February 2015 – me ‘freezing’ and needed coffee & cake in the warm & dry.

This year, I managed to obtain special, pre-opening tickets for ‘the Magic Garden’ at Hampton Court Palace in London. I was so pleased because I really had no ideas or inspiration for somewhere different to visit. True, we were visiting West London (which I have avoided like the plague for many years now – after working & living there when I was in my 20’s), but the weather was sunny and warm, we managed to leave the house about 10-10.30 a.m. and the traffic on the M4 was surprisingly good. What I had failed to take into account was that this was also the day that England were playing Wales in the rugby six Nations cup at Twickenham. Now this shouldn’t have been a problem except that we were travelling from Swindon to Hampton Court Palace (not too far from Twickenham) along the M4, which is the route that most Welsh supporters would also be following!

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‘The Magic Garden’

Anyway, as luck would have it we didn’t meet too much traffic on the M4 and the weather was lovely. We had a great day out in the sunshine watching all the children playing in ‘the Magic Garden’, including some impressive tumbling routines from a couple of girls in the Astroturf bowl at the centre of the gardens. I had to admit that I was slightly disappointed by the ‘fire-breathing dragon’, who didn’t really breath any fire at all and just puffed out the occasional whiff of water vapour – still, as Kevin pointed out with all the children climbing on the Dragon they could hardly have it breathing real fire!

To conclude, here are some colourful photos!

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On top of the world?

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No, I won’t fit down the tube, with or without wheelchair!

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A ‘dead’ (no fire!) dragon in the distance

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The wobbly bridge + dragon (background)

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Pensive – watching ‘tumbling’ preparation

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Resigned  – could never do gymnastics anyway