Sunday, 15 April 2018

Shaking the lead out of my bag

I recall an old black-and-white Bob Hope/Bing Crosby comedy film, called Road to Rio I think, in which there is a sub-plot involving a band of dusty desperadoes who are riding furiously to get to some place in time, as if they were the proverbial Seventh Cavalry coming to the rescue. I mean really riding hard, galloping like crazy. Every now and then the film, which otherwise concerns the languid amorous adventures of Bob and Bing, cuts to these horsemen, and each time their leader turns around in his saddle and shouts something to make everyone ride even faster. On one occasion, when they are already clearly exceeding the speed of light, it's 'Shake the lead out of your horses!' For some reason this line has always stuck with me. I'd love to say the same thing if I get the chance.

Anyway, going cashless - using my phone as the main way of paying - seems like a great opportunity to shake the lead out of my big orange bag. In other words, to conduct a deep rationalisation process, so that I'm less weighed down with all manner of 'just in case' stuff, and can gallop to the rescue that much more easily.  

I'm thinking, for instance, that I need to get rid of the traditional purse, containing not only money but a mass of sundry items like my driving licence, plastic cards galore, stamps, and a collection of business cards. Do I really need to keep all this with me? In one big purse?

A purse is an obvious target for theft, easily snatched or lifted, and most of the things kept in it are rarely needed from day to day, and certainly not when at the till in my usual shops. A lot of it could be left at home, where it would be more secure anyway. The essential stuff (driving licence, loyalty cards, membership cards) could go into a handy little wallet - very easily carried, very easily concealed. This little wallet, the all-purpose phone, and my keys, would be my minimum bare-bones kit for going out.

I wouldn't need much of a bag, if carrying only this: it could be something small and sweet - not too fancy a brand, not too expensive - with a cross-body strap to keep both hands free. Something you could easily keep an eye on, or wear all the time, even when seated. Something you could even wear under a coat without looking odd. All this might be important in busy crowded places where the light-fingered lurk.

I suppose I'd still have to carry a small cache of emergency banknotes and coins. Mostly notes, enough to get me home. Plus of course lipstick, comb and tissues. And perhaps a little torch. Maybe a pen too. But no more: I'd make it a principle to be as lightly encumbered as possible.

What about umbrella, scarf, gloves, and cardigan? Well, coats and jackets have pockets. Pockets are not just for tissues. And I do have a shopping bag. And a wicker basket. And indeed an under-used rucksack. If I'm lightly-laden, might I go for long country walks more often?

Right. Thanks to Google Pay, I'm ready to streamline myself.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

The Serpent

This is about a posh silver bangle I bought for myself in Canterbury last December. It was so nice that for the first three months of ownership I kept it for best and did not wear it as a day-to-day item - just as I keep my pearls for special occasions. But recently this has changed. I've become accustomed to putting it on most days, and wearing it not only when out, but often at home as well. We've bonded. So I had better say something about it.

My bangle is not an ordinary design. It's like a coiled serpent. Here it is, resting on an Ian Rankin crime novel, apparently hissing away and poised to strike:

Actually it's harmless, and very friendly. I wouldn't have bought it, if it were in the least bit threatening. But the likeness to a real serpent does give it a certain animal quality. This isn't just an abstract design. It's got personality. No, I haven't given it a name! But I do refer to it as The Serpent.

I saw it in an upmarket jeweller's shop in Canterbury on 6th December 2017: Justin Richardson, near the Cathedral. (See I was there with my cousin Rosemary. Her son is getting married shortly, and for the occasion she wanted Justin to enlarge a gold bracelet given to her long ago by her late husband Mick, using the gold from two rings that no longer fitted and could be melted down. Her husband had bought bracelet and rings in Saudi Arabia, and they were very yellow indeed, almost pure gold. Mick had been dead for twenty-eight years. Refurbishing and wearing the bracelet was a way of his being represented at his son's wedding.

While Rosemary discussed with Justin the best ways to use the gold from the rings to insert a new section in the bracelet to make it fit her wrist, I cast an eye at the gorgeous pieces of jewellery in the display cabinets. I dismissed the gold items: not for me. But the silver items now...

And there it was. The Serpent. Gosh, it was £300. But what a nice thing.

What's your attitude to nice things? Mine is to think carefully about why I take an immediate liking to them, and then consider practical things - such as whether they would be fit for purpose and truly affordable.

'Fit for purpose' in this case meant that the bangle would have to fit my wrist, be comfortable to wear, and easy to get on and off. It mustn't be delicate and likely to get damaged easily. There mustn't be mechanisms (like hinges and catches) that would wear and loosen with time, and perhaps come undone unexpectedly. The piece mustn't catch on clothing.

Finally, could I afford to buy it? £300 was not too much to pay for an unusual piece from a jeweller who made his own jewellery, but it was still a fair bit. But the end of the year was always a good time for my finances - the year's big bills being all out of the way - and I could easily find the money.

I asked Justin about the bangle. He said that he'd had some silver left over from a commission, and used it to make this one-off piece. That was a while back. Hmm. Well, the thing was definitely appealing. Here is was, with its shop tag on, begging to be put on my wrist. Dare I?

Rosemary is a sensible, no-nonsense woman of seventy, a retired headmistress. She admired it. She thought it was a superior item of silver jewellery. That impressed me. Her approbation wasn't essential, but it meant a lot to me. Justin didn't push the sale. He did however suggest a way of wearing it, with the head of the serpent pointing forward over the top of the hand, that made it look particularly attractive for an evening occasion - for instance, a long-dress candlelit dinner with friends. I put it on. I saw what he meant. My goodness, it did look good. I imagined such dinners. And other events, at home or on holiday, where I might want to wear something special.

Need I say more? After Justin had taken the tags off and polished it up, and I'd flashed my credit card, I walked out of the shop with the thing on my wrist. I fancied that passers-by were eyeing my new bangle. Let 'em.

Not long afterwards, Rosemary and I had tea in Nasons. The excitement hadn't worn off one bit. Rosemary took this shot with my phone.

Back at Melford Hall, I studied my purchase. 38g of silver, as bullion worth maybe £12. So nearly all the value was in the design and the making. Presumably a molten blob of silver, extruded into a long tail which curled back on itself just a little bit at the tip. The whole thing shaped into a closed ring. But then the 'head' had been angled, so that a gap was made for a baroness's wrist to slide through. I was surprised that my wrist was slim enough for this gap, but it was. I shook my wrist about, but try as I might the bangle wouldn't come off. It was secure then. It greatly appealed that this was a strong piece, with no moving parts, thick enough to resist bending and other damage, and bare of fussy detail. My kind of jewellery.

It was of course hallmarked.

JR for the maker, Justin Richardson. The lion and 925 denoting Sterling Silver. The leopard's head meaning assayed in London. The year letter 'n' saying it was assayed in 2012, and the Queen's head to confirm the year - it was her Diamond Jubliee Year. It was also the year of my 60th birthday. So, in a way, I could regard this bangle as a belated 60th birthday commemoration piece, bought in the year of my 65th birthday. 

My local friends liked my new wristwear. They all tried it on. Jackie, Jo and Valerie:

It was too big for Valerie's wrist. But the other two ladies could have worn it with no problems. Jo was especially reluctant to take it off. (Hey, it's mine. Give it back!)

An item like this might be suitable for either wrist, and The Serpent could face forwards or backwards. 

Four positions to try out then. I discovered they were all different, as regards how the bangle sat on each wrist, and how it could shift about as I moved arm or hand in various ways. Then there were convenience factors: for instance, if I wore the thing on my right wrist, it got tangled up with the lanyard on my phone - and remember, I'm constantly using the phone as a camera, with that lanyard looped over my wrist, many times during the day. 

I have settled on wearing The Serpent on my left wrist, with the head facing me, on the inside of the wrist. The tail then normally grips the small mound of flesh at the bottom right of my palm, and the bangle as a whole stays put. Unless I choose to slide it up my arm - which happens anyway when I'm driving.

It's still early days, but it looks as it The Serpent will become part of my permanent jewellery set, one of the items I am most often seen wearing. If pleasant or lucky things keep happening when I'm wearing it, I may begin to regard it as a talisman of good fortune. Not that I'm superstitious, but you never know.  

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Going cashless

Whoops. Somehow this post got published when only half-written. It's complete now, but you may need to read it again!

Ah...that went all right. Rather well, in fact.

I thought it ought to, but you never know. And I didn't want to faff around, wasting time, getting embarrassed, getting flustered, and then in the end having to abandon the process and try another way to do it.

But no, the thing went smoothly. And very soon afterwards I got the expected transaction details on the phone screen, as a notification; and then in the app itself, under 'Recent Transactions'. To be viewed whenever convenient. I referred to them once home again, so that I could update Money Diary, my self-designed spreadsheet that records all cash, bank, and credit card transactions and shows me my precise financial position for the rest of the Pension Month.

All done without paper. And all without actually having to physically show my credit card, nor reveal its number. Nor (so far) without having to key in my PIN, with the risk that someone watching over my shoulder might see where my fingers go.

I'd just paid for a cut and blow-dry at Oliver Cunningham, the salon I go to in Cuckfield. I was trying out Google Pay for the very first time. This is the payment app for mobile phones created by Google. I had installed it on Tigerlily only the previous evening. Now I knew that it worked as advertised. A major step, then, along my personal road to a Cashless World.

Mind you, that visit to Oliver Cunningham's wasn't entirely cashless. I did slip a discreet fiver to Morgan as a personal tip - so cash still has that specialised role to play! But the main transaction was paid for simply by holding the phone very close to the salon's payment keypad and waiting for a tick to appear on Tigerlily's screen.

Gosh, it was almost instant. In fact so quick that it took me by surprise. Wow! That was very cool.

After Oliver Cunningham I went off to Jeremy's Two, an out-of-town roadside fruit/veg-cum-butchers shop south of Cowfold, and repeated my Google Pay trick. Once again the transaction was near-instant. Google's message about the money paid came through very soon afterwards, while I was still parked outside (I've redacted the card number):

That's only a temporary message. It replaced the first, about the Oliver Cunningham transaction, and will be replaced in turn by the next Google Play transaction. But the app itself lists all 'recent transactions', and slightly briefer details of each of my first two payments were there (and indeed on the credit card website also):

I imagine that several transactions will get shown before they begin to slip off-screen and into oblivion. But well before then, I'll have popped them into my spreadsheet, recorded for all time, to be read by aliens (or the descendants of mankind) eons hence.

Henceforth I may be able to leave my purse hidden in my bag, unless I need to get out some ID, or a loyalty card. I see that Google Pay lets you register these. Do Google mean my Boots and Waitrose cards? I'd better look into it. But it does look as if the phone is all I will now need, for most payment situations.

There were of course a couple of preliminary things I had to attend to, so that this electronic magic was possible.

Google Pay had to be set up with a default payment card. But that was as simple as confirming that the card they already knew about - the one used on Google Play - was my choice for Google Pay too.

And then I had to configure the phone settings to make the NFC (Near Field Communication) on/off screen button easily available. I didn't want NFC on all of the time - only when I knew that I would be making a payment shortly. Turning NFC on - and then off again afterwards - had to be quick and slick. But really it was no problem at all to get this set up.

So there I was: with the minimum of fuss, Google Pay enabled, and ready to go.

But why? Why now? And why use the phone? After all, cash isn't a dead duck yet.

A number of things had come together over the last year or so:

# It was becoming ever more socially acceptable to pay for practically anything with a credit card, partly because prices had risen and the number of very small transactions seemed fewer. I'd been startled to see people paying for ordinary drinks at a pub bar in New Zealand in 2007, eleven years ago. It wasn't a strange thing now.
# The closure of bank branches had made life for traders and retailers more difficult. They had further to go, in order to physically bank their cash takings. And travelling with cash was always a risky procedure for the staff doing it. I felt they now preferred card payment, even if they hadn't in the past.
# It seemed to me that a lot of coin-operated machines were going to wear out in the next couple of years. I was already paying for half of my car parking by phone, as roadside meters disappeared. It might soon become normal to make electronic payment (via mobile internet, or NFC) for many things. A good thing, in busy situations where transaction time mattered: supermarket checkouts, road bridge tolls, train tickets, toilets...
# Cash dispensers were likely to get fewer, as LINK made them less profitable for providers. Or an exorbitant charge would be made, that I for one wouldn't be willing to pay. One way around this was to draw cash less frequently, and use less of it, so each withdrawal lasted longer.
# I didn't like the bad-hygiene aspects of cash - grubby-looking bank notes touched by who knows how many unclean hands...and coins even worse.
# Old age was not far off. I didn't want it to fossilise my attitudes. I didn't want to be thought fuddy-duddy. I needed to be modern and up-to-date and adaptable, and not get stuck in an old-fashioned cash-only world, with an old-fashioned cash-only mindset.
# Keeping faith with cash might end up implying dishonesty, or at least a dark motive for paying in an untraceable way, such as tax evasion. Not for me.
# My purse - bought back in 2009 - was getting tatty and needed replacement: indeed the zip on the coin section had already failed. The new purse would be posh and stylish (naturally) but if its main contents were not to be notes and coin, it could also be small and exquisite.
# I hadn't forgotten the occasion in Brighton some years back when a wad of notes fell out of my purse one dark evening, and was snatched away by the wind. I had a torch in my bag, but I didn't find all of them. An important £40 stayed missing.
# I was regularly taking unwanted small-denomination coins to the Burgess Hill library. Everything below 20p in fact. Coins were in fact a perennial nuisance: not worth much, heavy to carry if you had enough of them to be useful, and when fumbling in the car liable to slip away into inaccessible nooks and crannies. I wasn't sentimental about British decimal coinage. I remembered with affection the old pre-decimal coins, the coins we used up to February 1971. Now they had character. The ones churned out since then were mere tokens, uninspiring bits of metal, and I resented having to deal with them.
# Banknotes were a little more interesting, and much more practical. But necessarily a high-quality product that must cost zillions to manufacture and replace when too worn or torn.
# I wanted to go ever more paperless. Electronic, contactless payment offered the chance to forego hoarding paper receipts that were only thrown away once checked against bank and credit card statements.
# In any case, retailers were starting not to offer a receipt automatically. You had to confirm you wanted one, or even expressly request one. The time would come when their payment machines wouldn't have a roll of paper inside for printing out a receipt.

But I had several reservations to overcome, before moving over (almost completely) to various electronic forms of payment.

1. A very, very easy payment procedure might encourage unthinking or reckless expenditure.
2. I'd definitely need to keep track of what I was spending - but would there be a receipt?
3. Contactless payments would lead to PINs slipping from my memory.
4. What if the payment card used were lost, damaged or stolen?
5. If using a mobile phone, what if that were lost, damaged, or stolen? Or ran out of charge?

Being disciplined about maintaining a series of financial spreadsheets, and constantly updating them, was my answer to impulse spending. I was always able to decide whether something was really affordable. This worked, if I were prepared to be rational and sensible.  (All the time, of course)

As for receipts, I was cheered to learn that Google Pay would send a near-instant electronic message to the phone after each transaction, saying what had just been spent and where. (So I'd know, and wouldn't overlook spending the money. And the lack of a paper receipt wouldn't matter)

There was nothing to be done about forgetting PINs except to note them down in a password-protected encrypted space for occasional retrieval.

I reasoned that it was easier to mislay a card than a phone, and so the best strategy here was to use a phone for payment, and keep the card in reserve, safely hidden. I keep my phone with me 24/7, and if using it in public I loop the lanyard around my wrist, so that we do not part company by accident nor through somebody snatching it. I'm obsessive about battery charge too.

So my reservations have dissolved. Suddenly my spreadsheet shows 'Google Pay' in the 'type of payment' column. Should I make 12th April 2018 an historically-important date to remember annually, as the day I went cashless (almost)?

I've now set up my Boots and Waitrose cards on Google Pay, so that when I present my phone at payment time the appropriate store card should kick in and award me points or whatever. Well, should do! We'll see.

Further sequel on 14th April
I shopped in both Boots and Waitrose today, and each time paid using Google Pay on the phone. Neither my Boots Advantage card nor my My Waitrose card got updated with these transactions. So it can't all be done by using the phone. Next time I'll have to present these cards before paying, which means getting out my purse after all. Sigh.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Meeting Lucy Worsley

Dr Lucy Worsley is of course the well-known historian and Head Curator of the Historic Royal Palaces, often seen on TV, but also the author of several books on interesting and intriguing aspects of social history. While I was down in North Devon, she was giving a talk about the early nineteenth century author Jane Austen, whose classic novels - each combining a sure-fire romantic story with wry social commentary - hardly need any introduction here. Lucy Worsley's purpose was not so much to promote her own recent book about the real-life Jane Austen and her background, but to give an entertaining talk about her family, her upbringing, her private life, and how the restrictive social conditions of the day affected her chances of happiness and personal fulfilment. 

She did it to a packed audience at The Plough Arts Centre at Great Torrington on Monday 26th March. I had secured a ticket in advance, way back in January, and had got myself a good seat. But I was amazed to learn (from talking to other people there) that many had booked seats well before Christmas! So I was in fact rather lucky not to find the event sold out.

Great Torrington is not exactly a place that buzzes after dark. It's a small, plain, inland Devon town: locally important but otherwise nothing very special, although it was the locality for a decisive Civil War battle in 1646, and is nowadays home to the Dartington Crystal Glass factory. The town has a nice old-world square in the centre, and it has a good feel, with friendly local shops, including an interesting 'pannier market'. The Plough Arts Centre is definitely the main cultural draw. If you want to see an arty film - or indeed a regular film - or study an exhibition of paintings, or attend a craft or drama workshop, or watch live comedy or talks, or just drop in to meet and eat with friends, then you come here. Really, it's the only bit of night-life in the town, unless you venture into one of the pubs (which I never have). Here's a plan of the place from the current events brochure. (Click on the picture to enlarge it)

Underneath that plan is my Lucy Worsley ticket, as it was before I went into the auditorium. Here it is again, larger.

Ooops! Somebody mis-spelt her name. I hope she didn't see that! At least it wasn't spelled Wurzely.

This was the front of the brochure. See if you can spot her face!

And this was the event description inside.

I dare say quite a lot of people would also have gone to see Griff Rhys-Jones two nights previously. It's a pretty good celebrity line-up for a small Devon town in March. If I'd ever moved down here - a notion I played with a couple of years ago - I would at least have had events like this to go to throughout the year. If not at Torrington, then at Barnstaple or Ilfracombe - or for certain at Plymouth, Exeter and Bristol.

The red blob in the brochure signifies that The Plough were offering a Meal Deal if you bought a ticket. I plumped for 'Spanish Chicken', which turned put to be this:

Hmm. It was somewhat lacking in Iberian passion - I didn't hear castanets clicking, nor frenzied flamenco guitars - but it was, for the price of £9.50, a perfectly good main course. And it was hot and tasty. I scoffed it with a glass of wine, and coffee to follow. I forewent a dessert. Later, I bought a second glass of wine to take into the auditorium, and then a third at the interval. All this (main course, coffee and three glasses of wine) came to only £20 - definitely good value then.

While drinking my coffee, I noticed this upcoming event in the brochure, apparently a free public meeting in the auditorium to discuss a proposal to build a trio of monster wind turbines, shaped like giant otters with revolving whiskers. (Click on the picture to enlarge it) It must be a spoof, surely? But of course you can't really tell. 

I decided to take my seat as soon as I could. That's why the auditorium looks a bit empty behind me in this picture... 

...but believe me, it soon filled up. By the time the lights were dimmed for Lucy Worsley to come on, as here, I couldn't see a single empty seat.

There were even people off to one side, perched on temporary seating set up for the overflow. They probably had less comfortable seats, although still a good view. 

I was a bit concerned about whether I could take photos or not. I saw a 'no photography or videos' notice near the auditorium entrance, but then, during the interval, I spotted another which suggested that only flash photography was prohibited. The Plough's current policy on members of the audience taking casual shots with their phones was nowhere to be found on their website, nor in the brochure. I decided that one or two quick snaps wouldn't offend anyone. I wish in fact that I'd taken more. Here, anyway, is Lucy Worsley on stage.

I wondered how she would be. The same as on TV? Actually, she was. I thought she came across as warm and engaging, lucid and enthusiastic about her subject, full of humour, and here and there touching on topics that were a bit risqué. For instance, she tackled the question of whether Jane Austen ever had sex. In her view, probably not. She was a rector's daughter, and belonged to the 'pseudo-gentry' - that class of educated people in Regency times who had a fragile social status between the impoverished 'lower classes' and the genuine aristocrats with land and a large income. The poor, with no social status whatever, might indulge in sex before marriage with a light heart, and happily tie the knot if a baby resulted. Apparently 30% of women in the period went to the altar with a bump on display. It was accepted as proof that the union would be fruitful, large families being the norm, and no especial shame was attached to it, provided the marriage went ahead before the actual birth. The aristocracy would of course have their fun with little concern for any consequences. But the pseudo-gentry couldn't afford to be so lax. They were forced to observe strict notions of respectability, and obey 'the rules'. For Jane Austen - no matter what the biological imperatives on her - pregnancy while still unmarried would have been a social disaster. And no doubt she feared the possibility of death in childbirth, which was still remarkably frequent.

Lucy Worsley's talk was full of similar interesting sidelights into the social realities of the period Jane Austen grew up in, and you could see how Jane's precarious position in society, dependent on a father with only a clergyman's income, and the uncertain charity of better-off family members, shaped her outlook and aspirations - and the subject-matter of her books.

During the interval, I bought the book. There were only a few copies left. Upstairs in the gallery the Zoë and Ric Hyde exhibition was still going on. I had another look at it. I don't suppose I will ever now get a chance to ask Ric Hyde what that painting was all about. I looked down onto the people having a drink and chatting. At smaller venues, there is space to breathe. My general experience of intervals is that it's hardly ever worth the effort of leaving your seat for a drink. The queue at the bar is often impossible. I suppose that's why they always suggest that you pre-order your drinks.

Back in the auditorium, it was soon question-time, and - would you believe it? - I took the mike and actually asked Lucy Worsley whether, in her last (and unfinished) book Sanditon, Jane Austen had begun to get rather political in her satire of the world as she saw it. How bold of me! Lucy corrected me at once, by saying that in every book she ever wrote Jane had been subtly (or even blatantly) political. But the question enabled her to say much about Sanditon and Jane's final days of poor health and eventual death.

Jane died pretty young. She was only forty-one. What she died of is not certain, but it seems her health may have been compromised from birth, and she simply grew weaker and weaker and died. It was such a shame: she was on the verge of making a good income from her writing, and had she survived she would have achieved financial independence and enjoyed a more comfortable life altogether.

Well, I did enjoy seeing Lucy Worsley live. The only slight disappointment was that, contrary to what she does on TV, she made no attempt to get into period kit. (Damn, I should have asked her why not) Still, there was still the chance to exchange a few words as she signed my book. I joined a long queue.

Talking with other people in the queue, the common theory was that she couldn't be staying anywhere in Torrington. She might indeed have come up from Exeter that evening (about an hour's drive), and was facing a late-evening return journey in the rain. If so, she seemed in no great hurry to rush the signings and depart. Which is a display of very good manners, in my view. She had a little to say to everyone. When it was my turn, I said that I'd thoroughly enjoyed her talk, and that as we were namesakes, could she put 'To Lucy' in the book I'd bought? 'Ah,' she said to me, 'What an excellent name Lucy is!' And so I ended up with this:

The girl behind me was on next. Her mum was instructed to take a picture of her talking to Lucy Worsley. I stood next to that mum, and got a couple of nice shots in too.

I was very tempted to linger, in case Lucy Worsley was going to have a last coffee before departing, and perhaps an informal chat with anyone still around. But the remaining queue was still long, and I thought I'd better quit while ahead. So, with a slight sense of anti-climax, I stepped out into the drizzle.

I'd been a Lucy Worsley fan before this. Even more so now. I do hope the book is a meaty read.

Monday, 2 April 2018

The dividend

It's always very pleasing to get a hoped-for outcome. Almost three months have passed since having the toe operation to remove that awful nail, and I now have the dividend from it. Yesterday I tried on three pairs of shoes that I bought from Hotter some time ago, and found that they were at last an easy fit at the toe end - for of course the toe operated on has effectively shrunk to normal proportions.

These are the shoes.

They are all summer shoes in suede. The top two pairs (in pastel green and beige) were bought in a Hotter sale as long ago as July 2016, the grey pair at Hotter in May 2017. I bought them in the hope of doing something about the offending nail, perhaps at a chiropodist, in the near future. But that didn't happen until recently, in January 2018, courtesy of the NHS. So all three pairs are still pristine, never yet worn. Now they will be. 

These are not 'statement' shoes. I wanted them to be comfortable to wear and pleasant to look at, but they didn't have to be especially trendy. I saw them going nicely with jeggings and occasionally skirts. Casual stuff. And they are strictly fine-weather footwear. Not for rain.

I expect that, with my toe sorted, I will now expand my shoe collection, adding a couple of summer sandals too. I won't feel awkward about that dreadful nail any more. And without it, I can physically get into a wide range of shoes again. I'd like some dusky pink or red ones next. 

But no high heels. Really, no heels of any kind. Only flats. I never did see the fascination of tottering around on high heels, and risking foot or ankle injury of one sort or another. It seemed to be a requirement imposed by men, to make women's legs look better, and their bottoms stick out more. All very titillating for the men, all very uncomfortable for the women. I admit a lot of women liked their high heels very much indeed, and used them as a badge of womanhood. But I dislike pandering to a stereotype. There has been too much of that. Many things are nice to wear for their own sake, but it's silly to buy them unless they are going to be practical and easy to live with.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Defeated by mud

My West Country holiday has been cut short, and I'm home. Two days ago (on the 28th March) I left North Devon on schedule, and after less than two hours arrived at my second booked site, at Curlew Farm near Lyme Regis. This is another favourite site, and has never before given me the slightest problem. But as I towed the caravan in through the entrance gate, the ground looked uncharacteristically muddy and churned up. Someone else, another caravanner, was in the caravan field before me. He waved frantically at me to stop, a warning to come in no further. He was stuck fast in soft ground. I soon discovered that I was too.

He'd already asked the farmer, Colin, to assist. Colin was coming to rescue them ('them' being he and his wife and their daughter) by towing car and caravan off the site with his tractor, and putting them on a space in front of the farmhouse. They could still have their booked holiday, though without quite the same scenic view. But there was no space for me as well. And nothing else close by. He'd already phoned around the other local sites, but they were all full because the Easter weekend was coming up. It looked as if I had two choices: to find another site in another area entirely; or just go home.

First things first, though. Colin arrived, and towed the other caravan away.

While he did that, I unhitched my own caravan and tried to drive Fiona clear. But to my consternation, all I got was spinning wheels and no significant movement. What was this? I had all-wheel drive - and tyres with winter treads! I tried again, using a manually-chosen higher gear. But still no joy. Getting out, I saw that all I had done was dig Fiona deeper into the boggy ground.

I suppose that when all four wheels lose their grip, there can be no traction and no progress. It was nevertheless hard to accept that mud had stopped Fiona when the recent snow had not. Here are shots of my car coping effortlessly with Sussex snow one month earlier.

Here's a close-up of the tracks left by her Michelin CrossClimate tyres in the compacted snow.

Well, there must be a big difference between mud and snow! 

I suppose a tyre can get a grip on snow, and can shake it out of the tread as the wheel revolves. But clearly not so with sticky, squelchy mud! I was amazed, though, that not one wheel had gained sufficient grip to create forward movement. The ground must be absolutely saturated.

Colin returned. Together, we pulled the front of the caravan sideways, away from the rear of the car - this did my feeble muscles no good at all - and then he hitched up and hauled the caravan away, this time leaving it in the lane, facing the way I had come, so that I could easily get back to the main A35 road. 

I had another go at extricating Fiona from her muddy rut, but it was again no good. Having automatic transmission, she couldn't be towed, but I asked Colin to very gently pull me backwards as I powered her in Reverse gear. This was enough. Once off the site, and in the lane, I was in a position to hitch up again and get off home.

Colin was rather apologetic. He felt he should definitely have warned people not to come. I was however extremely thankful for his help in getting car and caravan out of a bad situation intact, and not inclined to blame him. 

Jackie, his wife, actually handled the caravan bookings. I said I'd like to speak to her about the week I had booked. The site was obviously too soft and wet to use, and I'd have to cancel, but I would prefer to discuss it personally. 

Jackie arrived, and I explained that - for the first time in nine years of coming here - I'd have to cancel a booking at no notice whatever. Though of course not without good reason. Even if the weather improved and the ground dried a bit, the area near the gate would remain a morass; and I'd want to be coming and going twice a day, possibly coming home in the evening after a meal in Lyme Regis. The prospect of slithering around in the dark wasn't pleasant. She entirely understood. I offered her something in recompense - it was an Easter weekend booking, after all - but she wouldn't take even a night's fee. This was very sympathetic and nice of her, although when all was said and done, I'd been deprived of a week I'd been looking forward to. 

We will see each other again in September, hopefully in much drier weather. 

I love Curlew Farm. In most weathers it's idyllic. For instance, in these shots from 2014, 2016 and 2017.

Sometimes it has been surprisingly warm and dry here in March. This is how it was at nearby Sidmouth in March 2012 - it had seemed like a summer's day. I'd worn skimpy tops and was barefoot on the beach.

I hadn't expected it to be quite so sunny and mild in 2018, so soon after a snowy start to the year, but I hadn't reckoned on being thwarted by mud. Car and caravan were spattered with it. It was sad to see. I was sad too, having that week snatched away. Actually, I felt rather upset. I'd planned to do all sorts of things, and now couldn't.

Oh well. I now had a tiring five hour drive ahead, before getting home. I didn't want to try my luck at another site somewhere else. I'd wanted to be here. And as I couldn't be where I wanted to be, home (and its many creature comforts) strongly beckoned! 

I made it back by 6.00pm, and had fully unloaded by 8.30pm. By then I was in need of a hot meal and a good rest. 

Next day I invited my local girl friends to lunch on Good Friday. I would do a soup starter, and a bake for the main course - both of my own invention (I never follow recipes). Jackie, Jo and Valerie could all come. Jo would do a dessert. 

It was lovely to see my vivacious friends again - and a great compensation for a holiday cut short. The bake was somewhat over-cooked - it's hard to judge these things - but otherwise it all turned out well, as these photos show. It was all tasty.

Tomorrow Fiona and caravan get a proper wash. Ordinary rain hasn't got rid of all that mud.