Sailing along – Thursday 17th May 2012


Sailing is, of course, all about wind. The direction, the strength: the gusting, the continuity of it makes or breaks a sail.

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Overnight, in our isolated bay, I was aware of the motion of the ocean, and could hear the anchor chain drag over the seabed, yet, we awake to find our anchorage held well.
After breakfast, gazing over the green shore (not a building in sight), we sail off to another bay several miles away. Each morning Captain briefs us on the wind forecast, and our course. Various possibilities are considered and our day is agreed.
Out at sea, the wind gets up; 25-35 knots so we achieve 9 knots speed at times. The sails are reeled almost to pocket handkerchief size and we still zoom along. The beginning of the journey offers calm seas, but as we approach our destination, the sea begins to churn. The waves reach 2 metres high. This is the Mediterranean Sea, where tide and wind is far calmer than one might expect on the open ocean. Nevertheless, this is an exciting ride. You need a strong stomach as a sailor – and it helps if you like fairground rides (which I don’t).
Our bay for the night is very well sheltered. We can tuck right in away from the wind, so we need to motor in. Sadly, this reveals a problem. The engine is not cooling properly and we need to call out the engineer.
Such amazing service! They offer to come straight out if we are in danger. But we are fine, quite safe and settle to preparing the evening meal on board. Tonight I take my turn to be head chef. The food is good but the atmosphere is tainted by the prospect of the engineer arriving at 9.00 in the morning and what they might find.
Will they be able to get us going again without having to interrupt our itinery?

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A night in a bay – Wednesday 16th May 2012


It’s a lovely town, Pythagorio. Clearly used to tourists, but, as it is early in the season, there are many glimpses of everyday life.

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Captain has a few arrangements to complete, including buying a suitable SIM for Internet and phone now he is in Greece. We all take a taxi to the capital of the island, buy a few more fresh ingredients to boost our culinary endeavour, prior to sailing off again for a night in a remote bay.
It’s good sailing weather. The wind takes us to the Northern shore. We eat lunch as we sail.
We anchor in a pretty bay. Our friends volunteer to lead the cooking.
It’s a beautiful evening, clear stars, good food, wine and great conversation.

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Cast off – Tuesday 15th May 2012


Last night the engineer was still at work on board until 11.30 at night. Seats had been dismantled, lockers emptied, carpets lifted and the stairs between decks had been removed for access to the engine room. (Actually it is a simple thing to put the stairs back in place!)
This morning, our task is to it everything back in place. We wake at 7.30 to arrange passport control, and get the ship in ship shape condition for sailing. There are plenty of small tasks, removing a stain from the cushion, scrubbing the deck where some chemical had been spilled – and breakfast, of course.
By 11.30 Captain says we are ready to cast off. We leave Turkey today and sail to Greece. Goodbye to the lovely warm showers at the marina and the posh restaurant. Whilst the marina sea is flat and calm, as soon as we reach the open sea, we find out that the gentle breeze is, in fact, quite strong. This is good for sailing, but creates a ‘lumpy’ sea. Short bursts of high and low rock or toss, depending on your constitution. It is always a shock at first until your body gets into the swing- pun intended!
We hoist our sails and set off. Both John and his friend instantly parry with each other to be at helm. Our friend is 70 this year, but you would think they were both 7!
After 4 hours, with wind of around 20 knots and a speed of 8 knots we land at Pythagorio. This is the island of Samnos, on which Pythagorus lived, becoming the famous mathematician and triangle buster!
It’s a tiny harbour near an airport. There are a few other yachts. There are several good restaurants to choose from and we eat in a garden, covered by vines.

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Ephesus- Monday 14th May 2012


Captain has owned this 45 foot yacht since she was built over 20 years ago, near the beginning of his retirement. Every year, he sails her around Europe. Beginning in the North West, around Britain, France, Scandinavia, and then over to the East, via Italy, Croatia, Cyprus.
These days he sails it for two seasons. From May to July and from September to November. Every fortnight a different crew arrive to cook and support the sailing, doing heavy work, but enjoying themselves hugely.
We know Captain through friends of friends.
However, the beginning of each season is fraught with the need to maintain the boat and she needs at least another day of serious engineer time.
As crew, we are redundant. The ancient site of Ephesus is a long taxi ride away and would cost order £100 so we opt to hire a car and drive off.
Best preserved after Pompeii and more visited than any place in Turkey, after Istanbul, Ephesus dates back 7 millennia. The roads, public toilets, amphi-theatre, library have been restored to something of their former glory, although photographs show just how ruined it must have been at the turn of the 20th century. Not all the restoration is a success. Frequently, the overuse of concrete, the mismatch of remains creates a strange, rather ugly.

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In some areas, the remaining stones line up awaiting for their turn to complete the city further.

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The library shows the elegance and grandeur of the city in days gone by.

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There are streets with houses and even public toilets to admire!

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The scale of the place is very impressive, even with the coach loads of tourists. Surely it must be far more crowded during July or August.
Near the main site is a rather lovely legend of seven Christians who were entombed for their faith. Some two hundred years later, they emerged to tell the tale of their ordeal and shortly after died. I was eager to see this and am so glad we did, as we found a fabulous restaurant just by.

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Driving down the road, we came across a tortoise! What country do tortoises come from? Was it wild or an escaped pet?

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Close to the marina, we stopped at Didima to see the famous Medusa’s head and found another great restaurant for our evening meal. The food was cooked in a wood oven just by us and tasted wonderful.

Learning the ropes – Sunday 13th May 2012


I’m sleeping on bunk beds which are incredibly hard. I bulk up the thin mattress with an extra sleeping bag, which makes a big difference. Our shared bathroom is a narrow triangle consisting mostly of cupboards. The tap pulls out of the basin and then acts as a hand held shower. The main saloon is very comfortable with comfy seating, a dining table and a small galley kitchen. Our captain sleeps at the stern with his own bathroom.
Around 9.00 we assemble for breakfast: bread, cereal, honey, orange juice with coffee. The sky is a soft blue, the air warm, the sea in the marina very still.
As crew we are divided: those who know stuff about sailing and those who are able to follow orders. We are also in charge of food.
We are going nowhere today as the engineer continues his work aboard, so we assess the food stock. Miserably low! Captain has not spent any time buying food, except essentials and some of last year’s stuff is out of date and we throw it.
The sails were hoisted back into place by John and our friend, overseen and assisted by the captain while Louise and I wrote careful lists for the afternoon expedition to the supermarket.
Lunch at the marina was a beautiful affair. The yacht club has exceptional views and the dining area surrounds a large swimming pool. All very white table linen and considerate service. It was like being transported to a new ethereal world.


The afternoon was spent at the supermarket, water, beer, tonic, lots of tins for emergencies, fresh vegetables and fruit etc.
In our time off we thought we might like to swim in the magnificent marina pool for half an hour but, the rules insist that unless we actually own a yacht each we have to pay over £10 for the privilege. No way!
The 7 o’clock gin went down well as did dinner back at the yacht club, generously paid for by our lovely captain.

Journey to Turkey – Saturday 12th May 2012


Our friends turn up with the taxi about 20 minutes before they were due! Not that it mattered, we had already packed and had only the last few things to do. Packing brings its own excitement: what to take and the piquancy and anxiety of forgetting something vital- like passports!
Our journey to Gatwick took just over an hour. By train it would take more like two, so we were lucky that Louise had won a voucher for a minicab ride and was happy to donate this to our trip.
Although EasyJet Bag Drop was impossibly slow, there was time, once through passport control and security to buy some lunch and avoid the ridiculously high prices from plane food.
EasyJet, of course, do not allow booking of seat numbers without a premium, so we felt lucky to make our way through the scrum to the emergency exit and the additional leg room that space provides. Three and half hours flying time is best with a little wriggle room!

Our yacht’s captain had arranged for a taxi to meet us from the Turkish airport. It’s the first time I have ever needed to scan the crowd awaiting planes to see our name! The driver sped along for over an hour and delivered us safely to the yacht in the marina.

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She has been out of the water over winter, having repairs and improvements to her engine and canvas hood. She looks beautiful, but still has a few minor changes before we can set sail. It will be at least a day onshore.
Nevertheless our captain maintains a strict code of conduct which includes a gin and tonic around 7 at night. This settles us in well and the marina has a good restaurant for the evening meal.

I’m convinced travel suits me!

A Grand Design to see the Queen


Flushed with success as Nonna and Poppy, John and I are happy to be asked to care for Keoni again for a day. Actually, it was all a bit of a mix up. My daughter and her husband are keen to move to Devon, but have lots of packing to do before they can. I have generously given them old sofas, chairs etc but as they have no where, as yet, to move to they are reluctant to take them with them.
I am reluctant to take them back. Everyone is agreed that selling this house is high priority and that it is crammed full of 28 years living. So they agree to hire a van, and take loads of stuff to the dump. Trouble is, I don’t realise that they will not be able to manage Keoni, so John and I have booked to go to the ‘Grand Designs’ show on the same day.
Still, toddlers love large spaces and new things. How hard can it be to take him too?
This particular journey across London, involves several trains. Right down Keoni’s street: he loves trains. We get to Waterloo without incident. John plans a short detour, purely for educational purposes. Today is the State Opening of Parliament. the Queen is in London. So we stop at Westminster station, with just ten minutes to spare before she is due.

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He loves the horses, the bells, the beautiful coaches. Even though we cannot actually see inside to be sure the Queen is there, it is worth the effort. The British do pageantry with a particular panache.

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By the end of the day, Keoni seems to recognise the headlines in the newspaper of the Queen’s carriage and happily ‘reads’ the paper on the train.
After our Royal Appointment, we head over to the Excel exhibition centre. This involves two more trains. By the time we arrive, he is asleep, which is great because it gives us time to get orientated and visit the stand we really want to see: oak frame houses. Part of the dream is to buy a wreck, knock it down and build our own house.
We are impressed by the range of companies and the standard of care and design they offer. For a short while we believe this will actually happen.
When Keoni wakes we dedicate our time to him, allowing him to tell us what to see. Favourite things are; houses you can walk into without queuing, garden seats where you can sprawl and a giant telephone.

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Armed with our information about timber framed houses, we begin the journey home.
Another successful day.

A wet weekend and a game of hide and seek


Mamma and I had taken Keoni round Tescos almost as soon as I returned from Australia. They had run the stocks down. I did not know what we needed in the way I usually did when shopping. Taking a toddler round a supermarket is a skill I have to re-learn. Mostly, Keoni participates in the debate about choice. However, he seems to need treats like a strange bag of fruit purée which you suck through a screw top, or oatcakes quite regularly.
Tescos is not stupid. Their marketing boys knew their onions! Part of the store is devoted to extracting money from parents through pester power. You can avoid it, of course, but what is a Nonna supposed to do. It’s a well known fact: grandparents should spoil their grandchildren. Anyway, who is counting a £10 box of wooden train track and an additional box of engine.
Keoni has already discovered Thomas the Tank Engine, but he is not discriminating against cheap replica. He loves this new toy and for the next few days, we play at building the track, chuffing and tooting together, while Mamma grabs some well earned rest. Toddlers are highly demanding of attention. However many adults there are, you always need one more. That’s the law!
On Saturday, Mamma goes to work. Usually Pappi does the minding but I’m keen to try my hand. The trouble is it rains all day!
So what shall we do?
(Just before we get to that part, I need to explain the names slightly or you might get confused. You will have gathered the Mamma and Pappi are my daughter and son-in-law. But Poppy is their name for John as Grandad and I am the Nonna. So now we can all play Happy Families)
John reckons that trains are such a hit at present, we could take the train to Waterloo. Good plan!
We pack food, change of clothes, nappies and associated material into the buggy.
By the time we have walked to the station, he is asleep! On the platform, the excitement is lacking due to the heavy relaxed sound of breathing coming from the buggy. The train whooshes in, but Keoni maintains a dignified snore. All through the journey, this continues. The rain pours down the carriage windows and the delighted grandparents wonder why they decided to do this in the first place.
He does not even wake to the sounds of a busy London terminus. It is only when we are walking towards the embankment that he stirs. He seems puzzled as to his whereabouts; fair enough really. Suddenly, Poppy and I begin to realise the additional burden of trying to negotiate stairs with a buggy. We walk a long detour to avoid carrying the deluxe buggy too far. It’s heavy!
It’s past lunchtime and we need to find food. Restaurants are packed with families, all sheltering from the rain. Eventually we find space within the Festival Hall and encourage Keoni out to explore. But he is still sleepy, reluctant to be exposed in a foreign environment with Nonna and Poppy. If he has to be out, he prefers to cling to me, burying his face in my coat.
Still, the food does wonders for his mood. He livens up and begins to gain confidence. John and I are feeling a little tired by now, but that is beside the point.

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Strop over! Let’s enjoy life!


I’ll not beat about the bush!  It was dreadful!

I hated being back home from 6 months travel.  Poor Mr was a final straw.  I simply stopped, sulked and shouted a bit!

I still miss Mr.  He was a fantastic cat.  The other two seem slightly relieved it is over.  Perhaps they knew he was suffering.

Topping that, the house is still full of two families belongings.  My wonderful daughter, her husband and son have done a great job at cleaning and caring but their things have entered the fabric of the building.  We are only just beginning to see how to extricate them from us!

They plan to move from London to Devon.  Although they have job prospects, nothing substantive has been finalised yet.  As a consequence they are finding it hard to leave.  Besides, I honestly wanted them to stay on for a little while so I could get to know my grandson again after our six months apart.

He is gorgeous!  I’m amazed by his sense of humour!  Before we traveled, we were lucky enough to see him nearly every day sometimes, and certainly every week.  So we both felt there was a lot to catch up on.

We decided it was time to go on an outing.  Three generations packed into the car: it’s a Mini so ‘packed’ is the right word. I had forgotten how much space a 20 month old takes with all his paraphernalia!

Polsedon Lacey is the headquarters for the National Trust in Southern England, some 4 miles from Dorking, Surrey.  It was bought by Mrs Greville, an Edwardian hostess, in 1906 and became a fabulous venue for weekend parties, including visits by royalty. Best for a toddler are the gardens.  At this time of year, there are fabulous displays of tulips.

Keoni is very keen on nature and ‘ohh-ed and ah-ed’ well at the displays.  The hen house is a new feature, which I had not seen before; Keoni loved it.

He was quite keen to explore the flower beds and look for minibeasts.  In fact, he must have walked for miles on the muddy grass, simply because he will not walk in a straight line!

Ok, so maybe it’s not so bad, being here!  We had a great day out!  Thanks Keoni.

Unravelling Mr’s Mystery – part two of Mystery Cat


I couldn’t believe we had just inherited a cat and that his last owner had three others,but simply did not care enough about him to encourage him to stay.  So I returned to my neighbour’s house several times to check they really meant it. They never changed their minds, but they told me more of his history.

Mr had been born in their house of two equally large and hairy parents.  Initially, he had been a playful, affectionate cat, but as the family grew, and he experienced several changes he became withdrawn, even aggressive. (Oh good!)

The family have moved about a lot.  Firstly to Northumberland, where Mr was involved in a car accident, resulting in a chipped canine tooth and damage to his claw.  This claw got so bad, it was eventually amputated.  The family then moved to Spain, taking Mr (aka Simba) with them.  He found country life did not suit him because the local farmer shot at him, thankfully missing.  I guess the idea was to scare him away for some reason.

He then came back to England where the family had the new baby and invested in another kitten, who seriously challenged Mr Simba within the house.  So Mr decided to move into the garden, returning to his house for food every third day or so.  All the neighbours knew him because he also tried his luck in their kitchens, requesting food and menacing their cats. He was frequently chased away.  We think he lived a hobo’s life for nearly one year.

Why he chose to move in with us and the new kittens; who knows.  Perhaps he thought he could gain dominance whilst they were still so young.  Perhaps he knew he was onto a good thing.

Mostly, he slept and ate.  Sometimes he disappeared for a day, but never longer than 24 hours.  He learned to play with the kittens.  His huge bulky frame gambling down the garden like an elephant, tumbling headlong into a kitten, who was bowled over in the rush.  The kittens thought it normal!

He joined in with them when there was a string to chase.  As he weighed over 8kg, he crashed through the undergrowth, somersaulting onto the string and grasping the tiny thing tightly in his massive claws.  Just for comparison a full grown domestic short hair cat should weigh 5-7 kg.

When he was poorly he was a great hypochondriac.  Many was the time we took him down to the vet, only to be told there was nothing wrong with him.  So when recently he took himself down the garden and sat in the rain, refusing food, we knew he was ill. The only other time he had been truly ill, it had been a urinary infection and £500 vet fee, nearly a year ago. My daughter was house sitting.  Her only task (apart from looking after her own family etc) was look after the cats.  She took him over the road to the vets.

£750

Bladder the size of a football.  Hospitalisation.  But all failed as within two days of our arriving back from our travels, I just knew he was still really ill.  The vet said we could try drugs for a few months and more hospitalisation, but there was more than a chance it would not work.

So this is my salute to Mr.  The cat who decided for himself.  Despite the fact that every time you touched him, drifts of fur flew through the air; that he dropped twigs and dirt over the carpet when he scratched or shook himself; that he continued to hassle local residents by wandering into their kitchens, he had many outstanding features.

He welcomed you by sitting at the front gate, rolling in dirt baths to bring in more mess. He showed us that he loved us by learning to play.  John loved him, and he does not like cats much.  He was incredibly laid back with us,  very easy going.  And now he is gone.