Sunday, 21 January 2018

A day at the races!

Today, 21 January, is my mother's 90th birthday, and to celebrate my brother organised a family party at Fontwell races.  Originally the plan had been to take a hospitality suite, with lunch and drinks, and to enjoy the racing from the balcony.  However, a few days ago one of the principal sponsors pulled out, and my brother was offered the opportunity to sponsor a race at half price, which he chose to do, so the 3rd race of the day was designated "Marigold Somerset at 90".

It was an early start for us all, and London early on a Sunday morning has little traffic, so we arrived at Clapham Junction in good time, and joined my nephew and his partner - who had caught the train at Victoria by the skin of their teeth - on the train.  Soon the Daughter and the Boys arrived - they, too, had only just caught the train, and had based themselves a couple of carriages further up, so there was much visiting. The Boys were resplendent in new ties - Boy Two had never worn one before, and was very proud of it.

We eventually arrived at Barnham and had to wait about 15 minutes - and a long, chilly 15 minutes it was, too - for the shuttle bus to the racecourse.  The rest of the family had already arrived, and waved vigorously from the hospitality suite on the 2nd floor.  We joined them in time for a cup of coffee before lunch, and gave my mother her presents - just oddments; I've ordered flowers but no point in having them delivered before tomorrow. 

Lunch was good - paté, followed by rather wonderful fish with new potatoes and (undercooked, but not as badly as at Christmas) carrots.  Then there was poached pears with white chocolate cheesecake, but I was able to swap mine for Boy Two's brownie, as he likes white chocolate and I don't.

Then the racing began.  I don't bet, but it was fun picking the winners, and seeing whether they matched the tipster's selections - mostly, they didn't!  The Boy is obviously too young to bet himself, but his father placed bets for him, and he was delighted to win in the first race - but, alas, lost all his winnings during the rest of the afternoon!  The Daughter, with her usual luck, ended the day £3 ahead!

The third race, of course, was the main event so far as we were concerned, and we went down to the paddock as my mother had to pick the best turned-out horse (with helpful hints from the niece who is in the business and told her what to look for), and then we went to the grandstand to watch the race.  I watched it from the railings, which was rather fun.

My mother then presented the trophy to the winning owners, and then we all went into the winners' room to watch a rerun of the race and drink complimentary champagne.  And then we went up to the hospitality suite again and it was time to cut the cake, which my sister had made:
There were still four more races, although I watched most of them on the screen, from the comfort of the hospitality suite!  It was definitely an unpleasant day.  I did go out to watch the last race on the balcony, though - it was very nearly dark by then. 

Then back to the shuttle bus, and a wait for the train (there was a waiting-room, so we were not too cold.  And the train back to London, and for us, a quick bus home from Clapham Junction - noticeably more traffic than there had been 10 hours earlier!

Thanks particularly to my brother for a lovely day!

Monday, 1 January 2018

Dulwich Park.

New Year's Day, after lunch.  "Would you," asked the Swan Whisperer, "like to go for a walk?"  Now, had he been speaking Latin, he would undoubtedly have prefaced his question with the particle "Num", which "notoriously expects the answer 'No'", but I had just been thinking that I wanted a walk, so I said "Yes please," slightly to his horror.....

So we went to Dulwich Park, as the SW runs in Brockwell Park at least twice a week and is tired of it.  I hadn't been there for many years - probably at least 30 - and have little or no memory of it except that it's a nice place.  It's one of the Victorian parks laid out by the Metropolitan Board of Works, like Battersea Park and Southwark Park.  I vaguely remember, when I was last there, that there was an aviary that still had birds in it, but that, of course, has long gone.  There is the obligatory lake
which had tufted duck, moorhen and coot as well as the inevitable mallard; boards said there were shoveler duck, but we saw none.  There was a children's playground - rammed, of course - and a café, ditto.  We thought about stopping for a coffee, but decided not to. 
Right from when I was a child I have loved these benches built around growing trees.  I think there must have been one in Abingdon Park when I was very small!  There were at least two in Dulwich Park, although really, I imagine they are pretty anti-social.  Fine if you want to eat your lunch without watching your neighbour's every bite, though....

Next to the café was what was called a "Dry Garden"; we didn't know what made it dry, as the beds looked as though they had recently been mulched, and some of the plants obviously longed for a drink.  But there was a lovely mosaic in the middle of it:

We still weren't quite sure what the point was, so made our way back to the car.  I'm sure the SW would have liked to have walked for twice as long and at twice the speed, but as it was probably the furthest I've managed to walk since July, and the first time in a very long time I've really wanted a walk, I was very pleased!  And now home and a well-deserved cup of tea.  Happy New Year to you all!

Monday, 25 December 2017

Christmas on the River

For the first time for many years, we had found ourselves with no plans for Christmas.  I am sure my sister would have invited us, but we didn't want her to feel she had to, so we were pro-active and booked a lunch-time cruise on the Thames, leaving from Westminster Pier. 

On Christmas Day, of course, there is no public transport in London, but one can park, so we drove up to Westminster and found a parking-space behind Westminster Central Hall, about ten minutes' walk from the pier.  Boarding was supposed to start at 11:30, but when we arrived, about ten minutes earlier, they had already begun - and we were glad we had not been much later, since the queue behind us swelled to alarming proportions!  In fact, there were three boats making the cruise.

We had booked a window table, and, once our ticket had been checked, were escorted to it with a glass of sparkling wine.
  As soon as we sat down, our first course - a salmon mousse wrapped in smoked salmon and served with salad - was brought to us, but the boat did not leave its moorings until the scheduled time of noon.
The boat headed down river, under the bridges, past all the sights.  There was a singer-cum-commentator who did a fantastic job telling us where we were.  Many of the other people on the boat were tourists, from the United States and elsewhere.  We were able to spend time up on the deck, but it was too cold and dank to linger for long.  The next course was soup:
and once we had got past Tower Bridge
the main course of roast pork and all the trimmings (there was a vegetarian option, but we hadn't ordered it) was served, and then the pudding, which was some kind of straciatella cheesecake with a very nice fruit compote on the top. 

By this time, we were at Greenwich.  The boat paused at one of their piers, presumably to take on fuel, and went down the river nearly as far as the Thames Barrier.  Then it turned round and came back past the O2
 the Cutty Sark,
 the Shard
 Shakespeare's Globe,
 the Millennium Bridge
 Tate Britain,
 the Oxo Tower
 and, finally, the Houses of Parliament. 
Then the boat docked back at Westminster to end a most enjoyable cruise.  And then, because we could, we drove around part of Central London where one normally can't because of the Congestion Charge, and  saw the lights in Regent Street (we thought they were wasps at first, but it turned out to be angels!) and the big department stores.  And so home, and a much-needed nap!

Thursday, 21 December 2017

France, 20 December

I dashed into the Carrefour this morning to get a baguette for lunch and some yoghurts for supper, and thought, suddenly, while I was in there that all was not quite well inside.  Sadly, I was in for a tummy-upset, and by the time we got home (which we did, very quickly and easily), all I wanted was the loo and my bed, in that order!  So no Christmas concert for me, and probably no Christmas meal with the Daughter, either.  Ah well.  At the time of writing (21 December, evening) it is passing, but not the end to the holiday one would have hoped for!

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

France (was Belgium), 19 December

So the big question was, what to do today?  We decided to pay a return visit to Cambrai, a town we had liked very much on a visit some years ago.
The Satnav took us straight there, although it was horribly foggy most of the way, and we were able to park just outside the Hotel de Ville, in a square where there was a Christmas market. This, however, was not open, but we saw from posters around the town that it would open at noon.  So we went for a walk, and found the Cathedral and the Porte de Paris, the big fortified gate that is all that remains of the city walls.
Then we walked back, stopping at a bakery to get bread and patisseries for lunch, and I bought some of the eponymous "bétises" (humbugs) for The Boy, who has just discovered Astérix and they are mentioned in Astérix and the Banquet.  I was robbed, actually, as they were half the price in Carrefour, but never mind that now!
Although it was well past noon, the Christmas market showed no signs of opening, so we went on.  We had hoped to park up by a canal to eat lunch, but when we got there, it was Authorised Vehicles Only, but we found an empty car park not far away.
Then it was quite a long drive back to Cité Europe, and after a cup of tea we did a huge shop, mostly Christmas shopping, and by the time that was put away, it was time to go and eat at the local Buffalo Grill. After which we drove round to see the Christmas lights in Calais, which are lovely - leave Oxford Street standing, never mind the ghastly eyeballs they have in Brixton. We got a bit lost on the way back, but the Satnav got us back ok!  And, such is the way of things, it is at least 10° milder now that the heating is working!

Monday, 18 December 2017

Belgium (now France), 18 December

What a difference a day makes!  This time yesterday, we were shivering in bed, clad in our warmest pyjamas, bedsocks, jerseys or bed-jackets and hot-water bottles, and taking what felt like forever to warm up (although once we had, we were very warm and snug!). Now we are sitting round the table in our day clothes, vaguely thinking of heading off to bed.  Yes, the heating has been fixed. It was, as we suspected, the thermostat, and the man showed us how to do a temporary fix should it happen again!

However, the place (recommended to us by the farmer's wife where we had spent the night) didn't open until 2, so we went into Sedan and did a bit of shopping and had lunch, and the SW went to have a quick look at the castle there - I found just walking round the supermarket reminded me too vividly of yesterday's fall - and we then had to think what to do next.

We could have resumed our itinerary and gone to Mons, as planned, but it would have been dark by the time we got there, so no point, really. So we came to the aire in Landrecies, where we have stayed before (the place where the fishermen talked all night, and where we stopped for lunch and found we'd forgotten the picnic table), and parked up for the night. Tomorrow we will revisit Cambrai before heading to Calais and a massive Christmas shop!

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Belgium, 17 December

Not a good day!  We realised last night that the heating is kaput, and it is very, very cold here!  The hot water, thankfully, is still working - had it not been, we would have had to go to a hotel - but we were also low on water and seem to have spent much of the day searching for some.  Including one campsite which may or may not have been open, but it was the lunch hour so reception would have been been closed anyway.  I walked down a slope to see if I could see them, slipped on my way back up, and fell heavily. No real damage but it hurt and I was very shaken.  Grazed left palm and bruised right knee.
We have ended up back in France wrapped in rugs and hot-water bottles, at a France Passion place which was able to give us water, and now that we have eaten, we'll be getting into bed very soon. The trouble is, I want to knit, but my hands get just too cold!  I hope tomorrow we can find a service place and then can enjoy the last 48 hours of this holiday - I'd really rather be in a hotel right now.