Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Full of Hot Air

Last weekend I was able to tick one of the items on 'bucket' list. When my friend Johanne, said that she was planning a trip in a hot air balloon to celebrate her birthday, my immediate response was to say I was coming with her! I love flying and even more on those little planes, I  have enjoyed parasailing on two occasions and I would still like to paraglide. Last year I flew through the air hanging onto a cable on a canopy tour in Tsitsikamma and now I have gently wafted through the skies dangling from a balloon. It was awesome!
It was peaceful - so quiet up there amongst the clouds - looking down on the birds. We had an early start and arrived at the launch field in the dark. The ground crew set to work unpacking the enormous furled up balloon which stretched about sixty metres in length. The basket was attached and then the task of getting air inside the balloon with the assistance of rather large fans - then a couple of blasts of heat and the balloon started to rise. It's a pretty skillful procedure and the way in which the team did it all so efficiently gave me (and I am sure the others) the confidence to step into the basket and upwards we drifted towards the moon which was still visible in the dawn sky.

Up and Up and Up but so gently that you didn't feel the ascent. I thought we may drift towards the Swartberg mountains to look down on farmland and game, but the air currents had a different plan and sent us over Oudtshorne to look over 'lego' land - well that's what it looked like from above - with ants scurrying around it on their way to work. Ironically we drifted towards the prison too and I thought how sad the inmates must feel watching the balloon and the people in it be and feel so free while they were definitely not!
Of course we had a spectacular backdrop of blue mountains to frame our views and were able to witness the sun's first rays peeping above them and rising high into the sky. We enjoyed over an hour of voyeurism - silently observing the wold beneath and then sadly our descent started and we bounced to a halt in the veld next to the airfield.

Our capable ground crew drove along to meet us and with a glass of champagne we toasted our happy landing. Its an experience to remember and on reflection I learned that:

* Sometimes the important people in your life/team stay on the ground while you enjoy the experience.
* It's not easy to go with the flow but sometimes you have to.
* You will travel higher and further if you don't carry heavy baggage with you.
* You don't need half the stuff you think that you need
* Journeys are fun when there are others there to share them with you.
* Turbulence and crash landings may be dangerous and exciting but a soft and gentle landing is the best!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I am back - but am I home?

Well I am back in South Africa. The last week of my holiday passed in a blur. Monday was a recovery day after our boat adventure and a quick whiz around the shops. Tuesday was the perfect day for the Trafford Centre - for my SA Friends this is an enormous and very grand shopping mall with the most amazing shops and everything that you could possibly want or need. After the obligatory 2 hours in M&S we headed for John Lewis and it was there that I found a little device called 'Gaydar' perfect for detecting  - you guessed it! I thought it may come in handy for one of the boys!  We met up with a friend for a lovely Chinese meal and then hit the shops again.

Wednesday found us in Culcheth where we discovered the Black Sheep Craft Barn - an amazing venue filled with every sort of wool, yarn and embroidery goodies.  I had to be very selective about what I bought as I now had a growing pile of 'stuff' in the bedroom which looked considerably larger than my suitcase! I settled on some unusual yarns that unfurl to make frilly scarves and some of my favourite Funky Fur. Around the corner we found a lovely florist come gift shop with some really interesting objet d'arts and next door an old fashioned paper shop that sold midget gems - Heaven!

On Thursday the local Retail Park beckoned (are you picking a trend up here?) This collection of stores included B&M where I bought croaking frogs, invisible ink and other strange and equally necessary things; the Pound Shop where everything costs..... and then Dunhelm Mill where I discovered craft corner and felt like crying when I saw all the scrap booking things that I really couldn't buy as the corner in the bedroom had swelled since Monday!

Later we took some garden flowers to Craig's special little corner at the crematorium which is always sad but I am glad he is there where many of my family are - including my beloved mum, dad and nan. Then we drove around to the cemetery to search for the grave of our noble ancestors.  We had earlier had a conversation with Auntie Gladys - appointed family historian- about my mothers side of the family. My mothers maiden name was Westwell - her mothers maiden name was Cathcart and my great grandmothers name was Noble. We had a vague memory of being brought to it by our grandmother but thought it was an impossible task to find it. We walked along the path talking about our childhood and in particular Nan Westwell who was a huge influence on us when we were young as we spent so much time with her.  Julia remembered that it was not on the front row of gravestones and as soon as she said that we decided to cut through to the second row. Lo and Behold! The first gravestone that we looked at was that of James Henry Noble dated 1893 - our great, great grandfather! Inscribed were the family names that we had been discussing. We were amazed and more than a little freaked out that we had walked straight to it.
And so - my holiday ended in a graveyard and that is indeed how I felt when I left the UK - grief stricken!

I have had a wonderful holiday and as always when I look around me when I am there, I am filled with a sense that 'these are my people and this is my land.' I have enjoyed a full and happy life here in South Africa and have wonderful friends here. The loves of my life are here - husband, children, grandchildren but everytime I leave my native shores - I leave another piece of my heart behind.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tales of the River Bank

I thought that I would just share some of the highlights of the last weekend spent in the Lake district.

Our accommodation:

We slept onboard the Niaid (Julia and Tom's 33ft Cabin Cruiser)  which is moored on the Levan river at Newby Bridge.

The river is at the South end of Lake Windermere and the boat is moored at the Swan Hotel which was a favourite destination of my parents when we were young and 'days out' were part of the school holidays. On one visit my parents were inside the hotel enjoying a drink and we were left on the car park with pop and crisps and the river and for entertainment. Half way home my younger brothers owned up to having emptied all the tables set outside of the glasses which they had packed into our boot. too late to go back we spent the rest of our childhood drinking from glasses with 'The Swan Hotel' written on them!

A trip to the village of Cartmel

Cartmel is 15 minutes drive away and the most beautiful little village built around a 12th century priory. The priory was filled with fresh flowers as a wedding had just taken place and there was an organ recital in progress. It had such a calm and spiritual atmosphere and it was manned by some really helpful and friendly volunteers more than willing to answer questions. Two of them invited us into their home Park Cottage as we strolled by he following day - how friendly is that?
Cartmel is also the home of sticky toffee pudding - Guess what we had for dessert that night?

As we walked into the sticky toffee pudding shop there were two ladies who when asked by the assistant if they needed help replied, 'We are looking for two men,' this caused a lot of mirth as they were at least 70 and were looking for their husbands - who were probably across the road viewing the racecourse.

A Family Picnic

On Sunday my niece Claire brought Aunty Gladys through for a picnic. It was pouring down in the morning and we considered cancelling but they had already set off. We were sat in the Swan hotel - where Aunty G had spent many happy hours with her late husband and our parents - making contingency plans, when the rain stopped, the sky cleared and the sun put its hat on. We sat by the banks of the river and enjoyed a lovey picnic in the bright sunshine - just perfect!

A game of ludo

Ludo is a game that the family have enjoyed since Nan Westwell introduced it to us even before we started school so it has become a tradition for Julia and I to have a Ludo evening at least once when on holiday. We played it on the boat with a vodka and coke (Nan would definitely not approve) and the usual knocking back and 'cheating' was enjoyed. shouting  S (E)IX every time you throw one is compulsory and I can only imagine what the other boat owners thought when I rolled eight on the trot followed by much laughing. It was all in vain though and Julia is still the undisputed Ludo Champ!

Beautiful Countryside.

The Lake District has to be the most beautiful place on earth. Walking along the banks of the river and seeing the hawthorn, lilac, buttercups, wild flowers nestled in the woodlands, sheep with lambs on the distant hills, birdsong and the call of water birds also added to my delight. On cue a swan sailed under the bridge towards the weir and met up with a lone heron that was wading there. The swan called out and then gracefully slid over the edge and continued on her journey down stream.  A weekend to remember! I took some lovely photos and cant wait to scrapbook them!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Diva Feva Fun

Today I met Jonathon and he introduced me to my abs and a lot of muscles I had forgotten I had. I spent the morning at the Gym in St Helens where Jonathan and his divas bounce around to Lady Gaga, Pink, Mariah Carey and the biggest diva of them all Barry Manilow - we had Copacabana three times today and each time Jonathan rotated his pelvis like their was no tomorrow!
He is a bit of a legend in the north west where he presents 60 classes a week - his divas range in age from twenty seven to seventy two. He used to be a dancer ....and it shows! All the ladies swoon when he walks into the room  but he only has eyes for himself. I can see why he is so popular - today was such fun! Check it out here

Jonathan and his Divas like an occasion and in the past they have celebrated

Christmas Fever  - Divas dressed in red and Jonathan in a Red Cowboy hat with flashing lights and tinsel galore.
Breast Cancer  Awareness Fever - Divas dressed in Pink Boas and Jonathan in a pink Cowboy hat,
Halloween  with Divas in  witchy gear and Jonathan in a black and silver cape with a very large fluffy spider on a lead and a handbag full of eyeballs
American Fever - British Fever  and Michael Jackson Fever where he wore a black glittery trilby, one sequined glove and white socks in which he tuaght the divas to moonwalk - well he tried to!

His exploits seem to be getting progressively weirder and diva Julia tells me that he has a  doll version of his female idol - Cher  -  that he has brought to class and to which the Divas had to curtsy to.
When not jumping and lunging around the studio, he is full of quips and today he berated us all for eating too much chocolate at Easter and quaffing too much champagne for the Royal wedding and made us work extra hard.
In his spare time he organises nights out on a coach with himself and 49 women arriving at clubs around the north west to dance, party and generally have fun! Next months is fully booked with a waiting list of 70!

He also oorganised a flash mob at B&Q (with T mobile) where 'I gotta Feeling'  by the Black Eyed Peas came on at the same time nationwide and all the divas turned from shoppers into prancing disco queens in the store.

All I can say is What an Experience - I wouldn't have missed it for the world and every time I hear Lady Gaga 'Caught in a Bad Romance', I am sure I will spring into the routine - that is if I will ever be able to move again!

PS. I started with Diva Feva then did Body Sculpt, Abs and the Splash Aqua - more Barry Manilow!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Whiplash and Wysteria!

I have spent the last four days driving around the countryside in Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Surrey and Kent - the Garden of England and all very beautiful. Country lanes lined with white cow parsley, fields of every shades of green, quaint villages built around steepled churches  and stone cottages dressed with bunting and wisteria.
I wanted to photograph it all but we would have made no progress towards our destination so Janice (my niece) and I developed a system familiar to those who have taken a British driving test. when I tapped the dashboard she did an emergency stop while I leapt out with my camera - hence the whiplash and wisteria!

We made our way to Chippenham for a wander around the Georgian town centre. A keen knitter, Janice wanted to introduce me to the local wool and fabric shop filled with every hue and type of yarn and bursting with  happy crafters. We bought some royal wedding fabric and pressed on to Sherston for a cup of tea with family whch was enjoyed in the sunny cottage garden next to the stables of a very large country house where my niece's stepmother lives. Walking around the village was like going back to another time and I expected to see gowned and bonneted ladies alighting from carriages being pursued by Mr Darcy! Sherston is one of the oldest and prettiest villages in the region with a history dating back to Roman times.

 Tetbury was next which is never complete without a visit to the Highgrove shop where you are encouraged to buy all sorts of Charles and Camilla essentials such as tweed clothing, green wellies, garden twine, trugs and shortcake ( the proceeds of which go to support to the good work of the Prince Charles Charity Trust) Just around the corner is a lovely bookshop - the Yellow Lighted Book Store where Jilly Cooper is frowned upon and real literature is celebrated! My enquiry to purchase a local novel was met with a suggestion of  'Mud, Muck and Dead Things'.  We had a drink at the Snooty Fox- rumour has it that it that Charles, William and Harry has propped the bar up there on occasions!
We also visited Wootton Bassett which has become a national symbol of a very British way of mourning those who have lost their lives in the service of their country. Servicemen who are killed in action in Iraq,  Lybia and Afganistan are flown into the nearby airbase and hundreds of residents line the High Street in hushed silence to pay their respects as they are transported home. A very moving sight!
Then home to enjoy teacakes in shiny red and silver paper and tea and cake in the garden. I love this way of life!

After an early morning forest walk we set off for Tonbridge to visit my dear friends Leanne and George - more scenery to be enjoyed along the route - we spent the evening catching up on all the PE gossip and after a very civilized breakfast we headed into Royal Tonbridge Wells and a visit to the The Pantiles which is the first covered shopping arcade dating back to 1695 and where gowned and bonneted ladies strolled under the covered walkway pursued by Mr Darcy and other dapper gentlemen. This ancient row leads to the Spa where they were refreshed by the waters of the spa which was said to cure all ills including shopping!

What a memorble journey and a modern experience of middle England. We are off next to the Lake District to enjoy what's on offer in the North West.