Fun, family, friends and four layers of clothing

As many of you who read this blog will know we have just spent five weeks back in the UK and, for those of you who didn’t know, the title was probably a bit of a give-away.

The four layers of clothes was perhaps the biggest surprise to us. We had brought vest t-shirts and long sleeved t-shirts and sweatshirts and waterproof jackets in order to be prepared for most types of weather. What we hadn’t expected was that we would need to wear them all at the same time and for most of the time. It wasn’t that it was particularly cold and to everyone living there it was a normal Autumn ….it was that we had just spent the previous two hot and humid months here in Grenada and that the nine months of Caribbean living has acclimatised us more than we thought to 80 degrees plus [OK 25 degrees for those who prefer to work in centigrade].

But, as I said above, it wasn’t four layers all of the time. Indeed, we had absolutely perfect weather for a brilliant BBQ on the first weekend. And that’s when the fun, family and friends really started. Those of you who attended a memorable evening at Dave and Mag’s house when Mike and I were back in the UK last September [2011] may remember a particular “traditional” Canarian dish which Mike insisted on making. Yes, the squid stew will remain indelible in some people’s minds …even if it didn’t actually pass their lips, which some may wish it hadn’t as indelible probably isn’t how their stomachs might remember it. This year he went for a Caribbean favourite – but this time he nailed it perfectly….those baby back ribs were absolutely brilliant.

And what a great night it was all round. So many people we hadn’t seen for a year and some people who hadn’t been expecting to see us at all – well we think we managed to pull it off before we got back to the UK – certainly Lesley’s, Cath’s and Mark’s faces were a picture. We had hoped to hold out with Steve and Mary until the wedding of the year but that probably wasn’t going to work…especially as Pete was also at the BBQ. Sorry Pete we know you wouldn’t have meant to spill any beans but sometimes enthusiasm and beer gets in the way… and it was nice that Steve and Mary could then come to the BBQ as well.

It was lovely to also chew the cud with John and Nadia and Martin and Ruth and it was brilliant of Phil to come up from London too. Maybe the person we had least expected to see was JW… but it was great that he was around, not only for the BBQ but also a couple of nights later when we were able to spend an evening sharing a meal and catching up with him and another long lost mate, AJ.

The Byrne family was also out in force at the BBQ – wow haven’t Matt, Hannah and Laura grown up – especially Hannah. We could hardly believe the beautiful young lady was the same girl who had been at our wedding just 15 months before.

So, our first weekend proved to be a fabulous start to our UK trip. We are sorry that we haven’t got any photo’s of this evening. If anyone has and would like to post them then that would be great….our camera wasn’t working at the time.

We also had excellent weather when we went sailing in Scotland. Well, we knew we would be missing the yachtie experience and given that Malc and Nikki and Steve and Gill have been regular correspondents and are planning to follow sometime in the next five years [hopefully], then it seemed an ideal opportunity to get together and share some of our “do’s and don’ts” whilst having the chance to visit Siga Siga’s former pond – the Clyde.

We started with a lovely evening sail from Ardrossan to Millport. We didn’t arrive in time for a meal at Steve and Gill’s usual haunt but were more than happy with the Bistro fare and a wee dram or two on Coriander rounded the evening off nicely.

The following morning was just perfect and set the tone for a lovely sail up to Otter Ferry. DA [Destination Anywhere] and Coriander both showed their true colours in light winds – gliding gracefully up the Clyde with Spinnakers flying. We dined at the pub, which has always been a favourite place, and the home made Steak Pie was a winner again. It was then onto DA for the last drinks of the night.

Then it was Sunday and time for the lengthy journey back. But…it was Steve’s birthday and after a rousing chorus over the tannoy from Nikki [yes, she roused all those other boats too] we met for coffees and a question and answer session [about Cruising in case anyone is mistaking the content here!]. This was great fun and we got so involved that we forgot the time and almost didn’t leave with enough time to get back to Ardrossan before dark.

Unfortunately Steve and Gill had to return to Edinburgh and couldn’t come to the Indian which rounded the weekend off really well.

So thanks Malc and Nikki for your excellent hospitality on DA….

And Steve and Gill for your brilliant company too [and Steve’s prepared questions of course]….

Another nice weather day was the Saturday we spent at the Nantwich Food and Drink Festival with Chris and John.

The festival was held in the town hall and in a couple of tents in different parts of the town so we were able to wander around and see the sights of Nantwich. We picked up some excellent cheese [some of which we ate and some of which we didn’t – for reasons that will become clear later in this post] and Mike tried a few Welsh beers – but he can’t say he was that keen at all….. much better indeed were the pints served at “The Lower Chequer” in Sandbach.

We were also treated to a little light music at the Food and Drink Festival. Not quite “The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain” but a very close second.

So, you might be wondering when the weather wasn’t good. Well, there was the evening that we spent in Blackpool….

Why were we there? Well, Mike had been to Liverpool for a new passport and I had been with mum to the hospital in Preston as the first part of a three day stay with her and Mike needed picking up from the train and we needed to go somewhere for a meal and it was the “iconic” Blackpool Illuminations so we decided that we just had to go.

The rain really picked its moments. One minute it was dry so we stopped to try to take a photo of the lovely murky Irish Sea and the next minute it was pissing down…..

As dusk approached the true Blackpool of our childhood emerged [well, my childhood actually – as Mike went to far more exotic places]…

And then we drove through the illuminations in the rain.

OK, this might not have been the highlight of the trip but we really enjoyed it.

It also rained on the night of the Mushroom foraging. This had been arranged by Andrew [the foraging that is, not the rain] and was part of the Manchester Food Festival. Having been, some years ago, to a foraging weekend in Scotland Mike and I weren’t sure how many varieties of mushroom we would find in a local wood in less than 2 hours…but we were astounded by the volume and range. Most impressive of all was the “Hen of the Woods”, a magnificent mushroom which we learnt also has effective medicinal qualities. Our mushroom “guide” was a very nice chap called Jesper Launder who is a consulting medical herbalist. It seems that he treats quite a wide range of medical problems. If you are interested you can always check him out:

What made the evening more interesting was that after the walk [or slip, slide through the mud] we all gathered at the back of the pub where Jesper cooked some of the mushrooms for us and we were able to enjoy them with a pint or two of real ale.

The evening didn’t end there – as we went back to Dave and Mag’s house to be joined by Lesley for some cheese and wine. Lesley was in a particularly fine mood as she was jetting off for a long weekend in Dubrovnic – so we hope that she had a great time. As you can see Dave couldn’t decide which he was more interested in… the wine or the mushrooms…..

I think the wine won out as he insisted on a photo to make John jealous!!!!!!

Talking of real ale [as I was a couple of paragraphs ago] – this was something which Mike had been looking forward to very much because “beer” in the Caribbean is, like in most places, actually lager. So, right from landing at Gatwick he was on the look-out for different beers.

In total he drank 40 different ales over the five week period and enjoyed 38 of them [those two Welsh ones at Nantwich were not favourites at all!]. Fortunately he didn’t take photos of every one and his excuse for this photo was that he was trying out the camera having sorted out the problem we had with it.

But back to friends and family and first of all to say a big Thanks to Phil and Emma for letting us stay with them for a night in London…. not only the stay with them but also for the excellent Tapas meal we were treated to. It was really nice to go to a “local” restaurant in a residential area of London rather than a tourist trap and the Sherries at the start and end of the meal were particularly memorable. It was also lovely to see Joel growing up and “Mite” enjoyed sharing Joel’s collection of cars and lorries. [My name is even more difficult for little folk to get their tongues around so I don’t blame him for not trying. It would probably have come out as Air – as in air head or something – not an image I want to cultivate!]

Anyway, the reason we were in London was to get our Visas for the US. For Cruisers intending to visit mainland USA or any of the islands – including the Spanish Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico it is a requirement that you have a ten year visa. There are yachties who have managed to by-pass the system and travel from the BVI’s to the USVI’s by taking a ferry and getting a visitor visa – but that probably only works for the USVI’s. Trying to get further is likely to be a problem – and the temporary visa is, exactly as it says on the packet, temporary, lasting only a few weeks.

But, actually getting the Visa is quite an experience. First of all there are only a few places you can get one from. It is really fortunate that we had planned this trip back to the UK because otherwise we might not have been able to get one. When we were in Barbados last year Visa applications could be made there – but that has now stopped. As far as we can tell, Jamaica and Trinidad are about the only places in the Caribbean but we aren’t sure how long this will remain the case or how easy or difficult it might be to do it. It was certainly quite difficult even in the UK. An appointment has to be booked in advance and they are morning only appointments. No rucksacks/luggage, phones or electronic equipment can be taken to the embassy and you have to arrive 10 minutes prior to your appointment time with all the correct paperwork. You also have to have unblemished finger tips [i.e. no cuts or blisters]. Well, you can imagine what that has been like given that the previous seven weeks had been spent doing work on the boat. Every job we did it was “be careful, don’t cut yourself”. There was also the form which you fill out on line. This took us about two hours each and some of the questions are difficult to answer – like “Your address in the US”. In the end we just put the first marina we are likely to encounter on St. John – even if we don’t go there. I filled the form in first and “sent” it which effectively closes it down from being changed. I was then really worried when Mike was asked questions that I wasn’t. Although I couldn’t work out how it could have happened I was really worried that I had missed some pages – but it seems that my further education details were of no interest and neither was my travel over the past five years. Again, you can imagine, given our last 18 months travelling that it took Mike some time to list all the countries visited using a drop down box system. There was then the photograph. This has to be done electronically with a back up printed one to take to the embassy. So, we got ourselves some passport photos – but these aren’t the right size/shape. We have found out that there are some photo booths which have Visa as well as Passport option – but we didn’t know that at the time. Fortunately Dave came to the rescue and produced some the right size. We were very relieved when our Visas were granted and our passports returned to us by courier five days later in good time for our return flight to Grenada.

One thing I hadn’t anticipated happening when I boarded the plane in Grenada was that I would spend an evening with four former school friends doing a pub quiz – especially as I haven’t really seen three of them since leaving school 37 years ago! It was a real shame that Vicky and Dorothy were unable to come along but it was fantastic to see Judith, Julie, Joyce and Chris and, you know, we haven’t changed one bit!!!!! Well, in my opinion we don’t look at all bad for a bunch of women in our mid fifties.

I mentioned that Nadia and John and Cath and Mark had all been at that first BBQ and we continued to enjoy their company at various culinary get togethers, with brilliant meals cooked by Nadia and Cath. Unfortunately Mark was unwell on our last night in Holcombe Brook and couldn’t come along to feast on Mag’s slow cooked lamb and beef – but the rest of us tucked in and finished off some more red wine which has been lying around for some time waiting for a good home!

And so – to family. We made two separate visits to Tuddenham to see Andrea, David, Fiona [another stunning young lady emerging] and Martin and were able to visit Arnold and take him out for lunch on a couple of days. It was really great that Andrea had a couple of days off and took us to an excellent brew pub in Cambridge and also on some nice walks with the dogs. We also had a day out to Orford to see our friend Chris. Chris is an award winning artisan baker who some of you might recall took us around Barbados in January when he was visiting his family. Well, he is possibly about to become more famous as he has been shortlisted as a finalist in the BBC Food and Farming Awards. Good luck Chris….and thanks again for sharing your wisdom and a pot of yeast starter with Andrea. She has kept it alive and is producing nice bread – but I don’t think you need to have any fears on the commercial rivalry side!

A particularly memorable evening with Andrea and family was when we decided we would cook – but forgot that we were dealing with an Aga – and an Aga that had been baking bread all day – so in desperation at about 9.30pm when not a lot [read nothing] was happening with the sauté potatoes Andrea and Mike had to go out to the camper van and use the stove. We apologise to Fiona and Martin for serving the meal so late that they were practically asleep in the food.

We also spent two fab weekends with Chris and John. You have already read about the food festival but we also had some great evenings in the local pub and at home in Winterley.

On our first weekend with them we heard the sad story of “Spencer”, a dog they had rescued from The Manchester and Cheshire Dog’s home who only had five days with them before he died. We know from all they have told us that despite him being ill it was probably the five best days of his life in terms of having someone love him. But, undeterred, they have now rescued Preston who’s photo is at the top of this post. When “adopted” Preson was called Larry – possibly because of his kind of wide mouth grin. He then went through a series of names and when we left after the first weekend we were calling him “Larry, Harry, Henry” as we weren’t sure which name, if any, might stick. Well, none of them did and he is now Preston. But, he is not just any old Preston. Oh no. He is the first – and only – pedigree Land Crab Terrier! Not heard of them before. Well, it’s hardly surprising but he is very proud to be one and is really enjoying living with Chris and John……

And they are enjoying him too…. most of the time….

His excuse here was that he was missing us [it was the day we left – so photo courtesy of Chris]. But we aren’t really sure what his excuse was for eating half of our cheese the first weekend. Actually, it was probably our fault for leaving it wrapped in silver foil in a cardboard box on the kitchen surface. Well, mostly our fault!

So, as you will have come to understand there were many, many good reasons for visiting the UK – but perhaps the best of all was to be able to go to Steve and Mary’s wedding. What a fabulous day it was.

Mary was late…. but well worth waiting for….

And the reception was brilliant [well three receptions actually given that we were treated to a sit down buffet in the village hall, tea and cakes at the cottage and an evening ceilidh back in the village hall].

The arranged visit by the Fish and Chip van for supper was inspired and, just to prove that we joined in the evening frolics here we are dancing the night away.

James took a slightly more refined view of the evening

….well that is until the alcohol kicked in – but we won’t go into that here. We were so pleased that James came to the wedding because we had only managed to get a couple of hours with him at Euston Station on our London Visa trip. He was also able to join in a family meal at Andrea’s as he is currently working on a project in Cambridge – but we won’t go into that either. Whatever, it was really great to see him and we hope that he – and all of our friend’s out there will think about coming over to visit us. You are all always welcome.

So huge, huge thanks in particular to Dave and Mag, Chris and John and Andrea and family who made us so welcome and provided us with beds and to everyone else for being great mates. Until next time……


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