I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!

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Thursday
Aug252016

Just one day

 

Reorganisation and general upheaval at my salaried work prompted a reassessment of priorities.  What is it that I really enjoy?  What would I miss?  What might I do instead?

 

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As always, I apply the elegant sufficiency principle.  What does “enough” look like?  I’m still mulling that one over but in the meantime, my annual Local Government pension statement made a timely appearance in the post this morning.  Being one of the WASPI generation, my pension age was suddenly recalculated and I have a few years to wait until I can claim my bus pass and anything else pension-age related.  The statement confirmed that date and the amount payable is, unsurprisingly, neither elegant nor sufficient!

 

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But a long time ago, I was a teacher.

My first job when I qualified was on the Isle of Wight, which is where I was working when I met (and became engaged to) my Hero, who was successfully climbing the professional ladder at the time.  When we were both invited to a smart business “do” then, my heart sank when I realised it was on the first day of the January term.  What should I do?  I decided to apply for a day’s unpaid leave, which any teacher will know, was quite a serious business.  After much communication it was granted, I accepted and looked forward to dinner with the great and the good and most of all, to being at my Hero’s side on a rather important occasion.

So what’s that to do with the price of fish? (as we say in Hull)

 

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Well, the arrival of the pension statement this morning prompted me to think that I must have a teacher’s pension somewhere?  As usual, the answer is probably online so I went to the Teachers Pension website (of course) completed my details and logged in to find it all there: A complete record of my teaching career and confirmation of another tiny pension to be paid when I reach the magic age.  The amusing thing is that my employment record shows the total number of days worked – minus one!  Yes, the Isle of Wight County Council recorded my day’s absence, in spite of subsequent events.

Because life is never simple nor straightforward, is it?

Forgive me if I’ve shared the story before, but on that January day, in 1979, it snowed heavily in Hull, which meant the dinner I’d been looking forward to was cancelled.  Not wanting me to drive back to the IOW ferry alone in such treacherous conditions, Daddy decided he’d come with me as far as Portsmouth and then return to Hull by train, which is exactly what he did.  Except that he was already home in Hull when I was still trying to reach the Island – I’d spent more than an hour on the (then, open deck)  Portsmouth-Ryde car ferry with waves crashing over the sides before they decided to turn back and instruct us all to go to Southampton.  After another couple of hours, I finally reached dry land in Cowes and made it back to Newport where my flatmate was surprised to see me.  School had been cancelled for a few days because of the weather!

Who’d have thought that day would affect my pension?! 

 

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I know I’m not the only one reassessing life-work balance right now but I recognise how fortunate I am to be able to make choices.  If I had to rely solely on the sums of money quoted in those pension statements, the decisions would be far more difficult to make. 

I might not even be in a position to have a choice at all.

I count my blessings.

Wednesday
Aug242016

As we were talking…

 

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A conversation about Myanmar came up yesterday on a travel-related list I read.  Specifically, someone wanted to know if it was worth the considerable effort (not to mention the expense) of making a trip to Bagan rather than stay in Yangon.  I replied with enthusiasm.

 

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“Of course you must go to Bagan,”  I wrote, “unless you plan another, longer visit to Myanmar, when you will be able to spend longer there and absorb the special atmosphere”.  Because, of course, we have wonderful memories of our time there a couple of years ago.

 

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We marvelled at the fine restoration, ongoing with the support of UNESCO.

 

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We stood back and admired figures of Buddha unlike any we’ve seen before.  Here, in the Ananda temple, four enormous statues stand facing the four points of the compass.  I well remember catching sight of them one by one as we entered that dark temple, not knowing what treasures lie within.

 

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And even though we weren’t lucky enough to see a magnificent sunset as shown in the travel books, we’ll never forget standing on the top of that terrace and watching, waiting for the sun to go down…

How awful then, to learn of the earthquake today, which hit with a powerful force and damaged “up to a hundred” of these amazing temples and stupas.  Whilst we learned about the fate of the Italian towns hit by a similar fate this morning, we knew nothing of the events in and around Bagan.

Of course, it’s not the first time an earthquake has hit that area of Myanmar.  Many of the temples were already damaged – hence the restoration work ongoing.

Things can be repaired.

 

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It’s the people who are on my mind tonight.  The delightfully friendly people in Bagan who made us so welcome in their town.

 

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I can’t imagine how frightening it must be, wherever in the world an earthquake strikes.

Friday
Aug192016

Another lovely day

 

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It was an early start but I didn’t mind one bit, because at just gone 9.30am we were sitting in our favourite seats on the top deck of the number 452 bus.

 

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First stop was my favourite OSKA shop where the new season collection is in.  Not that I felt much like buying woolly clothes and warm Winter trousers yet.  Still, it’s good to see what’s around and identify a few nice things Winking smile

 

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Our aim for the day was the Royal Academy, where the Summer Exhibition is in full swing and a separate, intriguing David Hockney show is running too.

 

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Neither gallery was too crowded to get a good look at things though it was easy to see why the David Hockney show is on timed tickets.  Not quite so much room in there.

 

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It didn’t take us long to identify our favourite pieces of work in the show and an early contender was this clever painting on rough, recycled timber which cleverly utilised the join and the characteristics of the grain to create a wonderful background to some simple but effective painting.  Sadly, way, way out of our budget, but we can all look and admire, can’t we?

 

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The room of architectural art struck a chord with us both and I especially liked this 3D map.  Difficult to photograph in a way which explains the fun of the piece, as each location was marked with a small “signpost”, way too small to read…

 

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but thankfully not too small to photograph!

 

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Also in this room were some stunning architectural drawings, both of the neat and accurate, blueprint ruler and pencil kind but also of the highly skilled, fast and furious thick black marker sort.  My favourite was by Norman Foster – so clever!  In the corner, though, was this assembly of small paper constructions, apparently random folds and shapes but for me, very appealing (it did nothing for my Hero).  I caught my self thinking “I could do that”  (but of course, I probably couldn’t <g>)

 

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One thing is always interesting to observe: the hanging.  Clearly, there are way more pieces of art to hang than in a normal exhibition and displaying the exhibits in broad themes was one way of achieving a coherence of sorts.  Each room had been hung by a different artist, however, and this, the landscape room was especially interesting.  On each wall was a line of smaller works like this one by the door, together with another separate but complementary arrangement.  But who’d have thought of putting that one right up there, high above the others?  Or the little one out on a limb near the corner?  Intriguing.

 

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The large statement piece presented on a set of doors clearly chimed with many and had been selected for reproduction on one of the postcard selections.  Powerful words, I agree.  But going back to the hanging of the pieces, look at that little orange and red piece up there on the wall.  Would you have hung that there?

As you can imagine, we had plenty to talk about even before we viewed the David Hockney (sadly no photographs in those rooms).  Clever, clever man!  The Royal Academy page about the exhibition is a rich source of background information about the man and these works so rather than say any more here, I’ll simply say, we loved it!

Wednesday
Aug172016

Keeping busy

 

When I don’t write a post for a few days, it’s generally because we are busy enjoying ourselves, as has been the case during the last week or so.  With a day at home, I’m ready to catch up with things generally, not only the washing Winking smile

 

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I don’t think I posted a picture of this cute entry in the “peg bag” class of a local show?  I thought it a great idea and rather topical too, don’t you agree?

 

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It’s been an inspiring few days one way and another, with a gathering of my friends, the Artful Dodgers at the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham last week.  It’s always good to see what they are up to and to catch up with each other in real life, even if we do chat incessantly online!

 

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There were some stunning examples of technical skill at the show.  This one caught our eye just as the steward was revealing the back to another visitor.

 

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I am in awe of such precision!

 

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I’m not sure the design is to my taste, however clever the sewing is (though this was just a small corner and possibly not representative of the overall effect, to be fair).

 

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I couldn’t imagine working all those french knots, either, though on closer inspection, a few of them were actually small beads.  A real heirloom, wouldn’t you say?

 

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For me, I’d rather have something like this – practical, soft, interesting design and beautifully made whilst not too precious to actually use and enjoy. 

 

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None of which could be said about this little treasure, found in Avening church when we dropped in last weekend!  It’s a real blast from the past, created by a group of WI ladies for a competition years ago to depict a story of the church bells being stolen in the dead of night by a bunch of people from the next village.  Who’d have thought that all these years on, it would still be there, sitting on a windowsill in the church?

 

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We were showing the beautiful Norman church to our sweet friends Bill and Wendy, from New Hampshire, explaining to them how it had been founded by William the Conqueror’s wife Matilda in 1079.  It’s so easy to overlook the treasures we pass by frequently but good to have reason to recognise our rich heritage, isn’t it?

 

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Next stop was Fairford, where a rather larger, grander church offered yet more delights, some smaller than others.

 

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We spotted an appropriate kneeler in amongst the collection, too; a reminder of the US Airforce community based in Fairford for many years.

 

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We found a great spot for a picnic by the river, too.

 

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Outside Cirencester Parish Church, there was a parking space just waiting for us to arrive – how could we not make use of it?

 

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Though a sign in one of the side chapels confused me until I took a closer look.

 

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The word “brasses” is hidden behind the frame!

 

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It’s always good when visitors to our part of the world are able to see it at its best.  Standing on Crickley Hill overlooking the Severn Vale, we count our blessings and fill our lungs with clean, fresh air.  No matter what the season, on a clear day it’s beautiful.

 

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Bill and Wendy’s short stay in the Cotswolds ended with a flourish!  We were delighted to be able to share one of our annual treats with them both and gladly followed the directions of the man in the tasselled hi-vis waistcoat.

 

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We had the usual bovine company for our pre-show Pimms, too.

 

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Gifford’s Circus never disappoints and this year’s American “Painted Wagon” show was super.

 

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All our favourites were on the programme: Tweedy the clown, Bibi and Bichu the wonderful jugglers, my Hero’s favourite Nancy Trotter Landry and, this year, some rather incredible acts from the outstanding Konjowoch troupe from Ethiopia.  The women juggled spinning handkerchiefs whilst performing some impressive acrobatics.

 

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It was possibly the men who stole the show though – no I don’t know how they did it, either!

 

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We’d never seen anything quite like it – amazing.

(There’s a great account of the circus here with more photos too.)

 

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Finishing off with supper in the Circus Sauce tent is always a good idea.

 

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The show isn’t over till the Kitchenettes have sung, anyway!

 

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Of course, when all the fun is over and the goodbyes have been said, there is work to be done.

There’s always a blog post to write too Winking smile

Tuesday
Aug092016

Excitement

 

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I’ve been doing one of those tagged challenges on my FB page: Post a photo every day for a week with the theme of nature.  It’s quite fun, really, because it’s meant I’ve spent time looking through folders of photographs in Picasa and in doing so, I’ve revisited several places and enjoyed the remembering.  I took the photo above whilst on a cruise a few years ago, sailing off the coast of Papua New Guinea and thought it looked as though someone had thrown a pot of paint at the sky.

 

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As regular readers will know, we really enjoy our annual cruise.  I never tire of watching the sea, the sky and the ever changing pattern of the waves.  Though I love the fun and spirit of our road trips and am curious enough about the world to want to spend time travelling independently off the beaten track, there can be no more comfortable way to see the world than from a luxury cruise ship. 

There’s one problem though: if the ship isn’t going somewhere you fancy, then you have to think again and that’s exactly what happened when we were ready to book something for early 2017.  We were not ready to revisit the same places we’ve been in recent years and the itineraries didn’t include places on our wish list at the time of year we want to travel.  There wasn’t an obvious answer, so we dithered a while until one possibility occurred to us.  It was on a brand new ship which was creating much curiosity and excitement and of course, by the time we had the idea, others had got there first and there was a waiting list.

 

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We placed our deposit and added our names to the bottom of it, hoping that, as the weeks sped by, people would change their minds and cancel.  We were advised that we were twelfth in line, which seemed pretty far from the top, but then, a few weeks later, we were seventh.  We were unsure whether to be “squeaky wheels” and call the reservations people from time to time to ask how things were going, or whether to be patient and have confidence that they would call us if something came up.  The final payment for the cruise in question was due mid-August, so as July came to a close we were hopeful that money might provoke at least a couple of cancellations (I know, horrible, isn’t it!?)  But whereas we Europeans have steep cancellation policies which make us think twice before committing to a booking, in other parts of the world, full refunds mean that plans are frequently changed when a better offer comes along.

In the meantime, we were musing on alternatives for early 2017.  Maybe we’d head in an easterly direction and meet up with Tra in Saigon for a few days before exploring another corner of SE Asia?  My Hero fancies seeing some of the Silk Road and so we’d been looking at Uzbekistan and maybe some of the historic parts of Iran. But I didn’t fancy the idea of wearing a burqa for two weeks and one way and another, we hadn’t really focused on anything specific.

 

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To satisfy our little cruise “itch” we agreed to join our sweet Californian friends Ellis and Mary  in the Baltic this autumn.  Originally, we were just going to meet up with them for a weekend in Copenhagen, but the more we thought about it, the more we realised we really wanted to sail off on our long-time favourite ship with them too!  Well, it would just mean that our 2017 cruise happened to be in late 2016, wouldn’t it? 

So, here we were, in early August, still mulling over thoughts of travelling somewhere fun and exciting in the New Year, even if we haven’t a clue where just yet.  A chat with the cruise company last Friday confirmed that the new ship had proved very successful during its first couple of cruises and that, yes, we were still waitlisted.  Seventh in line.  Never mind.  We had thought when we placed that deposit that this might happen and decided that perhaps we’d better begin thinking more seriously about our plans now.

 

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Imagine my Hero’s reaction then, when checking his email in between University Challenge and Only Connect last evening, he found an email with the header “Your Booking #XXXX, Suite XXXX”.  Sure enough, on closer reading, we find ourselves with a confirmed booking for just the right suite in just the right place on the cruise we rather fancied on the posh new ship next January.

Less than 24 hours later, we have confirmed flights, we’ve selected our seats on both outward and inbound planes, we’ve booked hotels and the car park, we’ve spoken to or emailed friends and decided which excursions we would like to take, booked places on those we can and putting our names down for a couple which are currently full. 

We are so very lucky!!