Saturday, 14 October 2017

Housesitting in Stratford-Upon-Avon, preparing to depart to Europe – October 2017

Bella cat next to 'flower arranging by Jackie'
With thick white, moustache like bandage and swollen top lip, we arrived to meet Sue in Stratford-Upon-Avon, ready for our next house and cat sit 3km from the centre of town.

The two cats, Bella and Coco are fairly independent, but like company and a bit of fuss and, after a couple of hours of going through things in the house we took Sue to the railway station for her to catch a train to Manchester to meet hubby Darren and fly off to Portugal for their holiday.

Bella, eating and Coco being nosey
The bed is huge, but even so, one cat, usually Bella is quite able to stretch out, use half the bed and pretend to be asleep at bed time, giving us a look as we gently move her sideways to make room. As our time has gone on they have got friendlier, wanting fuss and we feel we’ve just about got to know them properly and its nearly time to leave, which is always the way and the reason we like housesits of 2 weeks or more to really get to know animals.

Despite the house being full of bowls of water for them, they are not sufficient
Jackie in the arms of a Shakespeare sculpture outside the RSC
Nonetheless it’s been a lot of fun with them and it’s also been a good time to relax and recover from my little lip operation, reading, jigsaw... The bandage is now off, a few of the dissolvable stitches were removed at a hospital visit on Monday last and, now the swelling has virtually gone it almost looks as though nothing has been done (apart from a numb top lip which feels a bit strange and will probably take up to 6 months for the nerves to reconnect and feeling to return). Assuming the test results come back OK there will be nothing more to do and we can move on.

Outside Shakespeares birthplace
So moving on we are and we’ve now booked a ferry to France for next Tuesday night to drive down through France to St Jean D’Aulps ski resort, drop of ski gear off at the apartment then drive on to Costa Blanca in Spain to stay with Jackie’s dad and Elizabeth until the snow appears in the Alps for our ski season through to the end of April next year.

Holy Trinity Church
Apart from relaxing we’ve been for a number of walks to and around Stratford town centre and along the river Avon and seen the local sights of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the Swan Theatre, Shakespeare’s birthplace, his grave and a few pubs and tea shops, of which Stratford abounds!

Being relatively close to friends and family in Solihull and Birmingham, we have managed to catch up a bit as well. 
Shakespeares grave
My sister Denise and hubby Paul came over for the day on Wednesday and we went for an 11km walk along the Avon, into Holy Trinity Church where only I was prepared to pay the £3 ‘donation’ to view Shakespeare’s grave near the altar, then on into town where it was crowded out with all the rides and stalls for the annual Mop Fair that visits the town at this time of year. Some of the rides are huge and swing people high into the air upside down and while it looks fun, the engineer in me sees that none of them are bolted down, the feet resting on lumps of wood on the tarmac road. I suppose they are safe, but they just don’t look it!

We want to come in!
On Thursday Abi visited us from Hall Green, having left little Sooty cat home alone and we did another very similar walk from the previous day, but this time in reverse. It’s an indication of how many times we’ve housesat for Sooty and got to know Abi that now she’s a friend and visits us housesitting elsewhere.

Now that I'm in I'll sit here in the middle of the jigsaw in order to get attention!
Owl stroking in Stratford!
We returned to Jackie’s mums at Alvechurch yesterday to start sorting out our ski gear and summer rock climbing gear for our forthcoming trip to Spain and France. Suddenly our next trip has come around and we’ve realised how much we need to sort out and buy, so mild panic has set in. It wasn’t all stress though as, in the evening we went round to our friends Ian and Helen to see how the finishing touches to their house extension is coming along and to go out for a curry in Stirchley. We weren’t the only people feeling stressed as they were still working when we arrived, having just finished the first coat of paint on the newly plastered walls and Ian jet washing the front drive in semi darkness now that the skips have finally gone. Nice meal in Stirchley at the Balti Hut Tandoori Restaurant and then a sad goodbye to them as we won’t see them again until May next year (unless they come out to see us in the Alps!).

With Denise and Paul outside Stratford rececourse
More sorting and panic buying today, tomorrow, Sunday is my great-nieces christening in Solihull (possibly another quick blog entry for that), back to Jackie’s mums for Monday and an Indian curry with her, pack the car on Tuesday, final meal early Tuesday evening, drive to Portsmouth and catch the overnight ferry to Le Havre. 

A perfect after walk stop, tea and scones!

Denise and Jackie in the arms of Shakespeare

On the chain ferry over the Avon

Abi and Jackie on our walk

Swans on the Avon. I call it art

Jackie playing with Coco cat, looked on by Bella cat

Coco cat playing


Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Birmingham Housesitting – September 2017

With Abi in the Mughal-e-Azam restaurant

Left mothers with chicken carcass to make stock for soup for when he couldn't open his mouth en route to the hospital via Sainsbury's for a cooked breakfast to fill him up, only for his phone to ring and the op be cancelled - no surgeon! Very irritated we went straight to Sooty, only to get a message from Abi "the conservatory door is open, is it you?" Do we always get spied on? Apparently not, she just gets messages about the conservatory door!

Sooty cat drinking from the bathroom sink
So a relaxing week as we had planned little, assuming he wouldn't be able to eat/talk/laugh. We've pottered in the shops and had the wheel bearings on the car changed and an MOT, exciting things like that! We caught up with Rob and Alex for a curry on Saturday which was lovely before going to the airport to collect Abi and Mary.

He did have a busier weekend than me, helping daughter Fiona's partner James fit a new bathroom. Sooty and I sang along to Oliver on the TV, much better for me to be alone in the house!

Monday night curry in Diwans with Tim, Fiona, Jill, Bill and Mark
Bathroom fitting at Fiona and James' Buy to Let
Fortunately the op postponement wasn't long and he was snipped yesterday. He's very swollen, but not in pain, but yes, trying to stop him talking/laughing and drinking wine is a problem! He has a big plaster over his top lip so looks a bit odd but that hasn't got to stay for too long.

Abi as ever has been a star, we are still here, but heading off to Stratford upon Avon tomorrow for a last minute sit for two cats, so a little more chilling before packing up and heading off.

Monday, 25 September 2017

London to Redmarley D’Abitot and back to Birmingham – September 2017

Jackie with Max
From one housesit to another took us from the capital city to rural Gloucestershire in three and a half hours and to Richard and Judith’s lovely house on the edge of the small village of Redmarley D’Abitot.

They were both there to meet us, caravan hitched and ready to go on their three day trip and we had a fantastic greeting from four dogs, Oscar, Max, Muffin and Flora and five cats, Fred, Ginger, Lottie, Mollie and Charlie, Fred recognising Jackie’s voice from his bed in the garage and miaowing very loudly for her to go and see him.

Jackie with Flora, Oscar, Muffin and Max
After lunch they headed off to Derbyshire, mainly in search of a replacement caravan, but also for a mini holiday and we got down to the routine of dog walking through the nearby woods, cat fussing and relaxation.

It was the familiar walking tracks through the woods mornings and afternoons, varied on each walk just to keep the dogs on their toes and stopping them to check which way we were going, followed by dog food preparation of raw chicken portions, minced beef and dog biscuits on our return and, in between miaowing pussy cats who act as though they haven’t been fed for weeks.

Watching the squirrel up a tree
Used to being let off their leads in the woods and being quite big dogs, their legs carry them off at great speed and out of sight very quickly, us keeping a sharp eye out for other dog walkers. They wouldn’t attack anyone, but they do bark if they see anyone and the sight of three dogs (Flora just isn’t fast enough to keep up with the other three) rushing towards you, barking would be enough to scare anyone to death. To be fair, most other dog walkers know the dogs, but it can still be startling, however the main problem seems to be Max’s aversion to joggers and I can see how annoying that would be to one. 
Chopping chicken for the dogs
Anyway, we didn’t see anyone or their dogs when they were off their leads, so all was well, the fast running off being to chase squirrels or foxes and, often we would round a corner to see them sitting at the bottom of a tree looking up, tongues hanging out. ‘You’ll never catch a squirrel’ we told them, feeling pretty relaxed about it, but within a day Oscar proved us wrong, appearing from the undergrowth with a squirrel (grey, not red I add!) in his mouth. We heard the commotion and squealing, but when he appeared with it, it was quite dead, but did he look ‘top dog’! Quite surprised he allowed us to prise his mouth open and release it, him trotting off quite happily and obviously very pleased with himself (and probably feeling pleased he had provided these useless humans who can’t catch anything, with dinner).

So after three days of days like that and evenings of TV with dogs and cats lying across us fast asleep, Richard and Judith returned. Yes, they had bought a new caravan, yes, it was bigger and more expensive than they had planned, yes, they were very excited, but it won’t be ready until next February and Judith wants in now! They are already planning next years trips to France and in the UK and want to book us for housesitting whenever we’re available, which is fine by us. On this three day stay they insisted on providing all the food we could eat, so we felt very spoilt and, having cooked then lunch for their return and Judith being very appreciative, we had to remind her that all we did was cook it, it was all their food!

Ian washing up in their temporary kitchen (builders port-a-loo outside)
From Redmarley we headed back to Moseley in Birmingham, via the dentist in Leamington Spa for me, Brian, to have a tooth filled (ouch!) and arrived at Ian and Helens (me with a numb mouth) at the same time as Phil and Sue, who had driven up from Poole, for a weekend of drinking, eating, walking and fun.

The weekend was originally planned to be at Iain and Bev’s house in Bristol, but had to be changed after the recent death of Bev’s stepdad (hugs to her), leaving her feeling unable to cope with the boisterousness of us all, so Ian and Helen stepped in and offered to have it at theirs. It was even more impressive of them since they are in the middle of having their kitchen extended, so currently have no useable kitchen and only a camping cooker and all kitchen stuff in their dining room, carrying water for the kettle and dish washing down from the upstairs bathroom. Unfazed they still managed to serve us a cold buffet breakfast and hot drinks on Saturday morning, so well done to them and thank you!

Their house so far. Looks good from the outside, just needs finishing off inside
In Diwan Balti. Ian, Helen, Jackie, Phil, Sue and Brian
Friday evening was at the Old Moseley Arms (superb real ale), followed by a balti at our favourite Indian restaurant, Diwans. On Saturday we walked 20km, or 12 miles (at least that’s what it said on my and Phil’s phone apps, Helen reckoned hers only showed 9 miles) into Birmingham city centre along the canal, stopped at several canal side pubs in the beautifully restored Gas Street Basin, by Broad Street, Jackie and I did a bit of Lindy Hop dancing to a band playing at a makeshift outdoor dance floor in Victoria Square, as part of Birmingham’s Heritage weekend celebrations, we had a few more drinks and caught the train back, stopping at another pub near their house (are you getting the picture of how the weekend is going?).

A heron on our canal walk into Birmingham city centre
A quick change of clothes and we headed back into the Chinese Quarter of Birmingham to meet up with Manu and Crystal for a ‘tea club’ evening of more drinks followed by a meal in one of the many small Chinese restaurants in the little alleyways that Manu and Crystal know. The main feature of these evenings, apart from the immense fun and laughter that we always have, is that Crystal takes charge, ordering all the food in her native language of Chinese, the dishes are spread out along the table and we all dip in and try everything. 
Gas Street canal basin Birmingham. See that narrow bit of canal there? A notice outside says 'do not try to jump this canal'. Now when you see something like that, whats the first thing you want to do? Its about 7.5 feet wide and really does look doable
So we practised in the centre. Here's Ian jumping 8 feet. No-one else was close. We couldn't persuade him to try the canal for real though
Ian, Phil, Helen, Jackie, Sue and Monty dog
We have no idea what they are, but we recognise prawn, chicken, lamb, and beef dishes, and they are all so tasty and, in some cases, spicy hot, others cold. It’s a whole experience of different tastes all washed down with Chinese tea. We could never go there on our own as we would have no idea what to order, and in any case, it just wouldn’t be the same without Manu and Crys and all our other ‘club’ members. Quote of the weekend was from Crystal who told us how Manu, who speaks several languages, but not Chinese, had, some years before, learnt some words from Crystal and then ordered a meal in Chinese at the restaurant we were in. Crystal gently took his hand, looked at him sympathetically and said “that was lovely Manu, but only I will be able to understand you!”

Birminghams new library. Iconic building
Saturday evening in the pub with Manu and Crystal
After stopping at Ian and Helens for another night we all walked into Moseley town centre on Sunday morning to meet up with Manu and Crystal again for Sunday breakfast in the local Weatherspoon’s pub (we had one token beer amongst all the teas and coffees as it doesn’t seem right to go into a pub without buying alcohol, even though it is Sunday morning), before heading off in different directions. We’ll see then all again around May of next year when we return from France.

In the Chinese resaurant. Phil, Sue, Crystal, Manu, Jackie, Ian and Helen
Crystal writing out her food order
We went to Jackie’s mum, Pauline’s house via the supermarket to cook a roast chicken Sunday dinner for us all, along with a few glasses of wine. We stayed there last night, on Sunday and will stay tonight for a visit to the cinema (Victoria and Abdul) and a meal out, before heading back to look after Sooty again in Hall Green while Abi goes off to Barcelona for a short holiday.

On the way, on Tuesday morning, is a visit for me, Brian, to the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham to have a bit of skin cancer removed from my top lip. The biopsy they took in mid-August turned out to be nasty so, although the lip healed beautifully and looks completely normal, there’s something lurking beneath that needs removing so, it’ll be more stitches and no laughing for a few days. Let’s hope I don’t drip any blood on the pillows at Sooty’s house! As soon as I get the all clear we’ll pack the car and head off to see Jackie’s dad in Spain, then back to France for another ski season in the Alps. We’re hoping for a cold winter with lots of snow!!
In the pub afterwards for yet another beer. Phil, Sue, Helen, Jackie, Brian, Crystal and Ian

Trying out our winter woolies with Pauline