Monday 30 November 2009

Muggins here

I need to confess something. I know you'll roll your eyes, tut, point, laugh jeeringly, but I shall tell you anyway. With a face that reads: Stupid but Defiant.

When Scooter was still just the fostered-until-rehomeable kitten, there had been another scrap of a wild kitten caged in the same foster-carer's outhouse, a sweet little ginger called Evan. I hardened my heart when I spotted him, and took the black kitten only, as my first-ever foster case. You know the rest. Evan was quickly re-homed, and is thriving, happy, and tame. The black kitten stayed with me, morphed into Scooter, and is thriving, happy, and thinks humans must be avoided at all costs unless they are offering food or under the duvet wriggling their toes for him to pounce on.

Two weeks later, Evan's ginger brother was also captured in the woods, and since then has been living with Karen the foster carer. Those two additional weeks of living wild have made him much harder to socialise, jeopardising his chances of successful rehoming. He has remained very fearful of physical contact, and puts up a violent struggle when handled, but seems happy living in a house full of cats and dogs. 

Today Karen rang me, somewhat overwrought and tearful, asking if I could help. She has recently been inundated with rescued neglected cats - a mother and her two youngsters, with another brood imminent. There has been little time to spend with the young ginger, and she wondered if I would take over his care and socialisation till he was ready for re-homing. 

And I said yes.

Of course I did.

I'm saying nothing either about fostering or keeping-for-ever; I know I'm not to be trusted in such matters. I know I said I wouldn't want another feral kitten, because they were just too much work. I know I said three cats were enough. 

He'll be moving in after his boy-operation on December 7th, and we'll see how things go.  At best, he'll be a playmate for Scooter, and free Millie up from this often-unwelcome task. At worst, I tell myself, I'll have two silly little cats who flee under the furniture and avoid physical contact with humans... 

(Actually, the Lovely Son says it could be a lot worse than that, and reminds me about the old easily-washed calico curtains that were all I could use in the house during my years of having seven cats; territorial spraying was endemic then. And the stair carpet was clawed into tatters. Somehow, I'd forgotten all that.)

There will be pictures; there will be updates. It will be nice to have a ginger cat in the house again. I miss my old Kevin and the way his fur could light up a room:

But I'm starting a new mantra: 

Four Is Enough.... 

Four Is Enough... 

Four Is Enough...

Sunday 29 November 2009

So what now?

Having come home to a warm welcome from all (or at least from humans and the dog - the cats are always a bit tepid, because, well, they're cats, aren't they, and too cool to let you see they're pleased to have you home), and after enjoying a sound night's sleep in my own bed (with added cats) and a decently-powered shower, I have time to assimilate what these past few days have added up to. 

And these are some of the preliminary thoughts that have emerged.
  1. Short of a financial miracle occurring, first-choice Sidmouth is probably too expensive for me
  2. Seaside is going to cost more than countryside
  3. Countryside is beautiful too. The animals would love it
  4. There is an awful lot of Devon and Dorset still to discover
  5. I remain confident that this is the right kind of area for me 
  6. I have time
  7. I'm optimistic! 
2010 will certainly bring more visits, but in the meantime, online research will keep the flame burning.

Watch this space...

Day 3: so much to see! Such tired tourists!

We had a very busy day. Through Dark Lane into open countryside, always a nice start to our travels.

We'd spotted a sign the day before that read 'Branscombe Picturesque Village' and thought we should have a look, so we mapped out a circular route. Branscombe was indeed picturesque, strung out along a narrow, winding lane with lovely views, taking forever to reach the sea.

I bought some stamps in the tiny post office, and the postmistress and I chatted, exchanging gruesome stories of having lost a thumbnail at some point in our lives. So surprising what information you'll willingly share with strangers!

The narrow ribbon of road went up and down

But the sea hove into view at last, There was the telltale mega-carpark that warns of hordes of visitors in the summer, but we only spotted 3 or 4 people. 

Perhaps the number of bathing huts was a sign too.

The pub had a green growth of grass or moss on its thatched roof.

The beach was empty...

...although this hadn't been the case two years ago, when a container ship ran aground. Huge crowds swooped down to salvage what they could from the floating wreckage and damaged cargo, and the council has not been slow to turn the remains of the incident into a tourist attraction.

We moved on, passing some attractive homes on our way. Could I live here? No. Summer must be torment for residents because of the traffic and congested lanes.

And on to Beer.

Beer was empty too, although its car park and pub showed that this wasn't always the case.

We decided to walk up to the viewpoint.


...and up...

...and up

The cliffs here are white

This is smugglers' territory

So beautiful. There's more to Beer than meets the eye: Phil Curtis reports from his home village that: Rock samples from the cliffs were onboard  an unmanned spacecraft launched by the European Space Agency  from Baikonur in Kazakhstan. The samples contain photosynthetic organisms and are attached to the heat shield. The craft is due to return on September 26th, 2009 when the samples will then be taken for analysis. They are part of an experiment to determine whether microscopic life can be transported through space in rocks.

Then inland, to Axminster, famed for its carpets. An old market town, somewhat marred by the traffic that winds through it, but having a comfortable, well-established feel to it. Would a bypass save it, or would the town die in isolation?

There was a parish church that seemed to have a large chicken as a weather vane - not that I could see it properly or indeed, take a decent photo of it, but it whiled away the ten minutes it took for Rose to guide some poor woman out of a very tight spot where her car had been boxed in by another, in a tiny cramped space bounded by stone walls, next to the chicken church. A 54-point turn with much revving of the engine did the trick, but we noticed that her car was covered in scrapes and dints, suggesting that perhaps this wasn't the first time she had been in this pickle, and that perhaps she had boxed herself in.

We hadn't realised that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage shop and cafe (the Canteen - I ask you!) was here, but as it was, we stopped for a cup of tea and the best sausage sandwich I have had in ages - nicely browned organic chipolatas in a big floury bun, with a choice of 'brown or red sauce' that tasted very home made. Shame about the blaring radio that interfered with customers' chatting. Rose bought some freshly-made boudin noir for David, and we could have bought other delights, had it not been for the stingy weight restrictions on our flights home.

Thus fortified, we talked to two different estate agents, a very cheering and positive experience, and armed with brochures, pootled off to Membury, a little village some four miles away to investigate two properties - just peeking from outside, of course, not a proper viewing. Interesting; affordable.

 And with lovely views. 

And some curious residents wanting to know why we were there.

Lastly, another visit to Sidmouth. I needed to see it again, and to talk to some estate agents. Was Sidmouth a realistic choice for me?

We walked about, looked at the Cultural Centre and its camellia in full bloom...

...peeped down a very pretty Regency terrace. One house had a Sold sign on it: the very cheery, encouraging young woman in the estate agent's office later told us it had sold for £400k. Ouch!

We wandered through the little streets. These dwellings were built in 1929

But the pub was slightly older - built in 1350.

We had afternoon tea, and we shopped. I can't tell you anything about my shopping, because of the Christmas presents secret, but I can show you my mad, jolly, new felt slippers with their appliqued flowers. Impossible to be a serious or a miserable person in slippers like these!

After a while, I noticed that Rose was plodding silently behind me. Poor love, she had been such a conscientious companion, cooking, organising, driving, managing the sat-nav, which last night she had finally quelled into sonar silence. In addition, she had kept in close contact with her family, ever willing to support and assist them, even at a distance, and she was worn out.

It was time to go back to the barn, have dinner, pack, and test those sofas for some serious lolling. The next day there would only be time to return the car, check in, and fly home. It had been a long and full day. We had covered a lot of ground, collected a heap of property details, spoken to estate agents and to sheep, walked on beaches and up hills, and gained a great deal for me to think about.

Saturday 28 November 2009

Day 2: very very old indeed

An example of Honiton Lace from 1750

The next day, we went to Honiton. We were definitely in Jane Austen country now. 

Honiton is an ancient town, famed for lace and antiques. It was a dreary wet day, and perhaps we saw the town at its worst, with a sad little market, a great number of charity shops, and a general down-at-heel air. 

We also went into an estate agent, staffed by a young woman whose ample bosom was falling out of her frock in a most 18th Century manner, to register for any suitable properties coming up in the future. But this too was such a dismal and discouraging experience, due to the young woman's inability to grasp that I wasn't interested in newly built estates, or to try too hard to listen, that we decided to move on, sharply, after picking up some property brochures from a second, slightly more encouraging agent, but still feeling slightly downcast.

But before we left Honiton, we found a cafe whose name I forget, but it was old and large, with a long garden to the rear. We found we had enthusiasm enough for a pot of tea and a most delicious slab of orange and almond cake. And as Rose loves antique shops, we browsed a few before we left. In one, protected by perspex, was an exposed section of wall, showing the original wattle and daub construction. 

I suspect that circumstances and weather were against this little town today, and that we may have judged it too harshly; sorry, Honiton - we did like your cake though. 

We made a detour to look at one thatched house, mostly to find out why, despite its beauty, it was on sale for such an attractive price. And we did: what was described as "tucked away" meant that emerging from the concealed driveway would lead both motorist and pedestrian straight into thundering traffic on a main route to Exeter, or possibly straight into a fatal road traffic accident. Not ideal for one such as I, with cats that she would like to keep.

Next, the seaside. I love the sea in winter. So off we went to Lyme Regis. Yes, you do know it: you saw it in films of John Fowles'  'The French Lieutenant's Woman" with Meryl Streep in a truly dreadful wig, and of Jane Austen's 'Persuasion'. Louisa Musgrove fell off The Cobb at Lyme Regis. Silly girl; however, the incident did advance the plot.

What a delightful visit! Despite the weather, this was probably a good time to see this lovely little place, as it is packed out with visitors in summer. Today it was empty, wet, fiercely windy, and very atmospheric. I loved it.

It was so blustery that I had to hook my arms through railings to take photographs, clutching the camera in both hands, for fear that we might be blown out to sea, and only when home did I notice that the street lamps have decorative features in the shape of ammonites. This is fossil country.

And fossil shop country too. Fascinating, even mind-blowing, and astonishing to think that anyone can walk along the beach and find something perfectly recognisable that could be 180 million years old.

The Cobb looked wonderful in the deepening dusk, as we set off for home. I might not want to live in Lyme Regis, but I would certainly want to come again.

Friday 27 November 2009

Day 1: Dive, dive! dive! in Devon

Well, here we go. What I Did On My Mini-Holidays. Such a meaningful little trip, that has left me with my head whirling with thoughts and images, and oh, such a confusion of feelings, so I shall just start at the beginning and walk through the (edited) highlights. Sit back and be prepared to voice your opinions.

It didn't start well. I had set my alarm clock, double-checked it to make sure, gave myself a generous amount of time to get up and ready, and the next morning found that I'd set it for 6.30, not 5.30, and had exactly 30 minutes to get the early morning essentials done and drive over to Rose's house for us to be taken by her husband David to the airport. The animals looked on in horror as a flying demon whirled through the house hurling their breakfasts into dishes, cursing her own stupidity, rushing out with the dog and exhorting her to relieve herself at high speed, and running for the car without a backward glance at the poor abandoned creatures. Thankfully, the street aunties would be in later to take over and shamelessly spoil them all in my absence.

But we made it. No one cared about the size or weight of our hand luggage. No one noticed that my passport was 7 months out of date. I still haven't told Rose about that.

After a brief and bumpy flight from Newcastle to Exeter, we got into our hired car and drove straight to Sidmouth, the little town that had been my first possibility when seeking somewhere new to live.

Rose had brought her sat-nav device (my first experience of one), to find that it had been programmed by her brother, who liked every sound effect possible, to give an alert to every edifice, service, hazard and natural feature it is possible to pass on the average British road. The alert took the form of an ear-splitting "Woop! Woop! Woop!" as though we were submariners preparing to dive.

It took Rose until day 3 to remove them all, so for a time, we were alerted at full volume to: tree at side of road; traffic sign; church; telephone kiosk; council building ahead; small scrap of litter in hedgerow; imaginary friend in distance. And so many more... so many! At first we laughed, then we puzzled, and then Rose began to speak irritably to the device. She would sort it out later, she said - although she was to find that the sat-nav had other ideas about that. It was frightening to see how quickly a small plastic box was invested with a life and will of its own, a character and a personality, and deliberate intent to drive us mad.

But lovely Sidmouth didn't disappoint. The weather was changeable, but mild; the sharp, bracing (skin-exfoliating) sensation we are so used to up here when we step out into north-eastern sea air doesn't seem to happen in the south.

We had rain.

We had sun.

We had a walk through the town, stopping for tea and toasted teacakes, hot and generously buttered (as a scone maker myself, I don't go for cream teas, as a rule). We watched the crashing waves, and I fell in love with the place. Every other person was a well-wrapped-up old lady with at least one dog; there seemed to be hardly any men around. I would fit right in, I thought.

After strolling, admiring, counting the mobility scooters that Rose had warned me would be out in droves, we set off for where we were going to stay for the next three nights. We were delighted to find a Waitrose en route, and stocked up on the things we'd need for Rose to cook lovely homely dinners for the dark quiet evenings ahead.

The sat-nav directed us along the aptly-named Dark Lane

To an old converted barn overlooking fields

It had a whopping great door key (too big to accidentally take home with you in your pocket)

And a whopping great porch light

And it belonged to this beautiful old house (C.1600) and its welcoming owners

It had something of interest to see from every window

A tiny thatched cottage tucked mysteriously between house and barn

A busy little wren in the creeper, too quick for me to photograph

Lots of space inside, two comfortable, simple bedrooms with bathrooms

And two sofas to loll about on after dinner

And Budleigh Salterton, with its famous Pebble Beds, just down the road

It was quiet; very quiet

And very pretty in the late afternoon sunshine

With the usual chi-chi little shops. We looked in, of course. We may even have made a small purchase

This is where John Everett Millais painted 'The Boyhood of Raleigh'

It has a thatched museum. Imagine being able to state "I'm a Master Thatcher" when someone asks what you do for a living

Time to go home, to cook lamb and vegetables, and to plan for the next day.

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