Wednesday 31 December 2014


On Christmas Day we pretty much visited all of the people that we know and love and spent the majority of the day with all of the family at mum and dad's.

We opened lots of presents, ate far too much ...... dinner was lovely, played the His & Hers Logo Game, which was very controversial, and managed to get back home early evening to crash out in front of the fire and the TV.

Boxing Day was another day visiting friends, Lesley, Tom, Lauren, Jess & Auntie Dot, for the annual Boxing Day lunch of cold turkey and chips, followed by more game playing and snow!!

I didn't leave the house then for the whole of the weekend and Martin didn't do much better, just nipping to Sainsbury's for a few bits and pieces.  I'm sure we could have managed, but you know what it's like.

Come Tuesday, we were well in need of some fresh air and a bit of gentle exercise.  Mum, dad, David & Alison were doing some of the caches we had set along the canal, which is not far from where we live, so we decided we'd have a walk and meet up with them.

We thought it would be freezing so were well wrapped up, but after walking not very far at all, we realized it wasn't actually that cold and we were far too warm, even though the canal was still frozen solid and the birdlife wasn't quite sure how to handle this.
We soon bumped into the family to join them for their walk.  Whilst we were standing on one of the bridges we heard a very strange rumbling and cracking sound and wondered what on earth it was. It turned out to be a canal barge breaking its way through the ice, which we stopped and watched for some time.  It was pretty fascinating and definitely counted as the "interesting thing that we had never seen before" for this walk.

We were quite surprised at how thick the ice was.  If the birdlife was confused before, it was even more so now, with ducks swimming for a bit, then climbing onto sheets of ice to pass them, before slipping back into the water.
We left the family at their car and made our way back along the canal and home, boy we were shattered, with very aching legs ..... and we'd only walked about 2 miles!!

Now, where's the Quality Street, I'm having withdrawal symptoms.

Caching on Christmas Eve

Following our exciting evening at the LG for the Andre Rieu concert we had a much more sedate day planned for Christmas Eve.

We had a very slow start, and early afternoon we headed over to Lichfield for a spot of caching around the city before meeting up with friends, Jo, Steve, Hannah & Megan, for our traditional Christmas Eve meet up for an early tea.

We had a lovely wander around the cathedral area of the city.  It was really nice and quiet and we took our time wandering around looking for the clues that we needed and taking plenty of photos.
Part of our walk had us looking at plaques on the church in the Market Square, where we were both quite surprised with what we found.
Having found the final booty it was time to meet up and we had a nice relaxed meal in Ego, overlooking the lake, which looked very festive with the Christmas lights all aglow.

Oh yeah, I also managed to sneak in a bit of a selfie coaching session with Hannah, who was adamant that the whole idea is that they are not perfect and she should know, after all ........ she is a teenager!
After our meal we wandered back to the cars for the annual present exchange before heading back home for a nice chilled out evening doing not very much at all.  Just the job!!

Monday 29 December 2014

Andre Rieu at the LG

My 50th birthday present from Jo, Steve, Hannah & Megan was tickets to see Andre Rieu & his Johann Strauss Orchestra on his Love in Venice tour at the LG Arena at the NEC.

Martin and I had taken mum & dad to one of his concerts a few years ago, as a Golden Wedding Anniversary treat and we had really enjoyed it, so we were really looking forward to seeing him again.

Because of illness the concert had been postponed and we ended up going on 23 December, which was a really nice start to the Christmas festivities.

You may not think that this type of concert sounds very appealing or that 'cool', but I have to tell you ... Andre and his orchestra really do make classical music exciting, colourful and real good fun.  

Andre is from Maastricht in Holland and one of the 50 things I'd love to do before I'm 60 is to go and see him and his orchestra perform there.  They regularly perform in an outdoor square and I am sure that the atmosphere would really be something else.  

Our evening started with a visit to our local Pizza Express for a pre-concert tea, followed by our drive to the NEC.

As we arrived and parked it started to rain so we jumped on the courtesy bus, which just happened to be waiting very conveniently, for a short drive to the Arena.

Although we were pretty early the place was already busy, but we did manage to sneak down to the front of the stage to take some pictures of the set, which just looked magical.

We eventually made our way to our seats for a quick selfie before the show began.  I have to say, that from a photography perspective, selfies just don't really seem to be my thing!
The show started with Andre and his orchestra entering from the back of the arena to Seventy Six Trombones.  This is always a real spectacle with the whole of the orchestra, in their finery, marching their way through the arena, waving their instruments in the air, to climb the steps to the stage and take their places for the concert.
Watching the orchestra closely is a real treat.  You can really see the fun that they are having and the love they have for what they are doing.  It is most definitely not a boring, stuffy, black and white kind of orchestra.  There is lots of larking about, which really adds to the overall entertainment value, without taking away any joy from the music.
I will apologise now for the overload of photos.  It was just so colourful and beautiful that I took so many and struggled to pick my favourites.
The concert is a real mix.  The atmosphere goes from raucous singing, clapping and stamping to so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.  The backdrops are stunning, changing regularly to reflect whatever is being performed.

There is amazing music and singing, lots of colour, fun and laughter, balloons, Santa hats and even snow!  And of course, there is the waltz.
The concert finished with the backdrop zooming in on the LG through Google Earth from space, ending up with images of the city in the background - that was pretty darn impressive, I can tell you.
After the concert had finished, following lots of encores, we sat and reflected for a while, waiting for the masses to clear before walking back to the car.  The concert had been spectacular and had really put us in the mood for Christmas.

If you ever fancy a look at one of Andre's concerts, he can normally found at some time on Sky Arts. We would both definitely recommend having a look.

Monday 22 December 2014

3 More Sleeps to go ......

If you are in the UK and you listen to Heart FM on the radio at this time of year you will be more than familiar with their 'sleeps to Santa' song. 

Today they will be singing .... 

3 more sleeps to go 
3 more sleeps till Santa 
3 more sleeps till a big fat fella 
Comes down your chimney 
And brings you presents 
3 more sleeps till Santa 

It repeats and repeats and gets faster and faster! 

Whilst the Christmas period for Martin and I doesn't involve us in lots of effort, we do have a busy week out and about coming up. We are off to see Andre Rieu this week at his re-scheduled concert in Birmingham. We are then out with friends for tea in Lichfield on Christmas Eve, off to mum and dad's on Christmas day with all the family and then to more friends on Boxing Day for the traditional turkey and chips lunch. 

We shall then flake out on the sofa and just watch TV on catch up for the weekend and not speak to a soul other than each other. 

I thought now would be a good time to wish everyone who reads my posts a very Merry Christmas and a great New Year. 

I also wanted to thank you all for reading. It's been nearly a year now since I started my blog and I didn't really know where it would take me or how it would turn out. After all, it was something that was completely new to me, I'm not even on Facebook! 

I can't believe how much I enjoy doing it and how I am still finding such a variety of stuff to write about. I shall definitely be carrying on with it in 2015. 

Whilst I don't get very many comments, I can see from the blog stats that people are reading my posts, almost as many in the US as in the UK, which I find absolutely fascinating. I often wonder who it is, other than my friends and family, that reads my posts and what it is about them that they find interesting. 

I'd love to hear from you. If you have the time, please drop me a comment and let me know. It's dead easy to leave a comment, but if you're not sure how you can find out here. 

That's all from me for now. No doubt I'll be back to sneak in a post between Christmas and the New Year, so I'll see you all then.

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Making Lance Corporal

William Preston Sidney was Martin's granddad.  When Martin's mum died earlier this year, we came across lots of WW1 memorabilia in Martin's mum's things, including his granddad's war diaries for 1917, 1918 and 1919.

Having read some really poignant entries from the diaries I decided that I wanted to look into Will's story more and to share it here on my blog.  If you are new to Will's story and would like to follow it from the beginning, you can find all previous posts here.

My last post finished at the end of July 1917.  At the start of August 1917 Will was still with the 9th York & Lancaster Battalion in billets in the Meteren area of France, not far from Ypres.

Following his Sports Day accident in July it seems that Charlie, Will's brother, was still incapacitated and hadn't re-joined the Battalion as yet.

From Will's diary it seems that the first part of August was fairly uneventful for the Battalion.  Will writes about the weather, a mixture of heavy rain and high temperatures, finally hearing that his brother Charlie is all right and his constant thoughts of his sweetheart, Ethel.

The Battalion seemed to move around quite a lot in August, moving from Meteren to Caestre, where they entrained for Arques, before moving on again to Alquines, where they stayed until the 8th of the month,

On the 9th they were on the move again, marching to new billets in Northlevlinghem.  They moved on again on the 10th, marching to Watten station, where they entrained for Proven, thence by route march to the tunnelling camp at St Janster Beizen.

Whilst at the tunnelling camp Will writes of his daily routine of parades, cleaning, inspections, arms drills, musketry practice and trench digging.

On 14 August Will was recommended for his Lance Corporal stripes.  Will was clearly proud of this achievement, though we can find no evidence as to the circumstances for the recommendation.

"14 Tues - Rev 6, Parade for getting equipment @ 7, B 8, Parade @ 9 for inspection, 9.20 for gas.  10.15 for arms drill.  11.15 for musketry.  Parade for baths @ 12o'c.  Parade 3o'c for trench digging.  Finished for day @ 5o'c. Recommended for LCpl stripes.  Paraded with NCOs for lecture by the Major.  Paper from Ethel."
"15 Wed - Rev 6, Parade with box helmets till breakfast.  8o'c breakfast.  Parade 9o'c for communication drill for NCOs, finishing @ 12o'c.  Parade for orderly review before CO. Promoted Lance Corporal (swank).  Got a parcel from my own darling. Would like to kiss her for it.  Writ to her."
Whilst we are not certain as to exactly when this photograph was taken, we do know, from his later diary entries, that Will was actually made a full Corporal on  16 September.  As the note on the reverse of this photograph indicates it was taken whilst he was a Lance Corporal, it must have been around this time.
Will is on the far left of the picture - Don't they look young?
Will writes - 'Mon cherie .... Aimez vous les quoi? (Do you like it?).  Non bien (No good).  With my best love from Will ..... LCpl W P Sidney'
On 23 August the Battalion were on the move again, this time to Chateau Segard, via Dominion Camp.  It sounds like this is where the war started to get really serious for Will, as he writes of being shelled pretty heavily whilst at Chateau Segard.

From here, the Battalion move again, further up the line, to Zillebeke Bund, just about 1.5 miles south-east of Ypres, before moving on to Wippenhoek, again, very close to Ypres.
"26 Sun - Rev 6, B 8, inspection of rifles @ 9o'c.  Got shelled pretty heavy.  Another cold & wet night."
"27 Mon - Rev 6, B 8.  Inspection rifles 9o'c.  Inspection of PH & BRs & medical.  Letter from Ethel (bless her) but no chance to answer it.  Moved up to the Bund.  Got shelled very heavy.  Very wet night.  Rotten."
"28 Tues - Rev 6, B 8, Inspection to see if every man had been washed & shaved & rifles cleaned.  Went on a working party carrying stuff up to front line for REs.  They gave us hell for a few minutes.  Went by his old front line.  They must have give him hell before they went over."
"29 Wed - Rev 6, B 8.  Washed  & shaved for dinner.  Letter from darling wife (Ethel).  Answered it.  Warned for gas guard until tomorrow night 6o'c.  Very cold night.  Shelling us all night.  It was hell on earth for about an hour & not much sleep. Rum issue."
"30 Th - During the night not much sleep.  Thinking of what would Ethel say if she saw me now, dodging shrapnel.  Guard all day.  Rotten sort of work.  Dismount @ 6o'c pm.  Get ready to move to Cafe Belles to entrain on M lorries @ 6.45 to Stumwoorde.  Arrived 10o'c.  Very tired.  Soon asleep."
"31 Fri - Rev 6, B 8, Parade for OC inspect 11.30.  Spick & span.  Got praised for clean & light fitting equipment.  Acting Orderly Cpl for afternoon.  Paper from Ethel. Thinking of her.  Bless her.  Writ to Ethel."
This is where the Battalion saw out the rest of August, in the thick of the action on the Western front. However, September would only see an escalation of action for the Battalion.  You can read more about that in my next post.

Monday 15 December 2014

It's most definitely a wrap!

We didn't really have anything at all on the agenda for Sunday, so it looked like we would be in for a nice relaxing day. How come it never turns out like that.

As there was not much doing, and the weather wasn't too bad, Martin decided to clean the car. 

At a bit of a loose end I thought I'd give the Christmas wrapping a go and am proud to say the whole lot is now done!!! 

I think I can say that "Yep, that most definitely is a wrap!"

For those of you who know me well there will be no surprise to see that there is a bit of purple going on in my wrapping this year.

Martin then decided he'd have a go at making rice wine ...... From scratch. All I can say is that it doesn't look that appetising so far!! Although, the house does smell of Christmas pudding!

All in all a very productive day. 

Not sure what happened to the rest and relaxation though.  Maybe next weekend!

Monday 8 December 2014

It's feeling even more like Christmas!

Well, if last week it was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, this week has really upped the ante. 

Friday night we were disturbed from our cosy TV watching by a knock on the door, to find it was Santa!! I had to follow him up the road on his sleigh in my slippers to get a decent photo! 

On Saturday we woke to a real frosty scene in the garden and I managed to get all my card writing done.  This was followed by the very last few bits of Christmas present shopping and then we were off to get the tree.
I love going to get the Christmas tree. We always have a real one and go to a local farm to pick it up. When Martin and I first started buying our Christmas tree it used to take us ages to choose one, looking at loads before finding the right one. For the last few years, apart from last year when we didn't have a tree, we've managed to pretty much end up buying the first one we've looked at. This year it was the second, so we were in and out in no time. 

It's not the cheapest way of having a tree but, in my opinion, nothing beats a real tree. It makes the house smell lovely and it just feels really Christmassy and it's much more fun going to get it than getting one out of the loft (not that I have a loft, so I'd have nowhere to keep an artificial one anyway). 

We didn't get back till quite late so we decided to see the decorating until Sunday, when there was nothing on the agenda other than chilling at home, the best kind of Sunday.

After a lazy Sunday morning breakfast we got cracking with the tree.  I can not tell a lie, this year, it took us an age to get it looking straight.  Every alteration Martin made seemed to make it lean more than it was to start with. Now, you don't have that problem with an artificial tree! We had to resort to propping up the stand with coasters in the end.

Then it was time to decorate.  Its always really nice looking through everything that we carefully packaged away last time and brings back memories of where we've picked up different bits and pieces over the years.

We always start with the lights, then tinsel and garlands, followed by all manner of hanging baubles and decorations and then, hey presto ....... it looks the business.
Whilst we had the DSLR out it seemed like a good opportunity to set up the tripod and do a few close ups, so here you go ......

And then, I just love these guys that we bought on a trip to The Peak District a few years ago.
Once everything is up, all that is left to do is to switch on the lights and snuggle down on the sofa with a nice glass of bubbly to finish off the day - lovely.

Monday 1 December 2014

It's Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas!!

Back in late October I had a wander round the local retail park and the shops were all really geared up for Christmas with lots of cards, wrapping and gift ideas about. 

I have a lot of close friends and family birthdays in October, then my Goddaughter and I both have birthdays mid-November. For me, once all of the birthdays are out of the way I can start thinking about Christmas and Christmas shopping in earnest. 

Views on Christmas at Number 27 are at complete opposite ends of the scale. I love Christmas. Martin says he hates it, apart from the fact that he gets time off work. 

Last year I made a stand. I got fed up listening to Martin moaning about buying and putting up the tree. So I just said, OK then, we won't have one! And we didn't! And, result, he didn't like not having one, so this year, I am hopeful that buying and putting up the tree will be a joyous event at Number 27, taking place very early in December. 

I am a bit embarrassed to say that I am not in the least bit religious and love Christmas for all the wrong reasons. So, here goes with 10 things I love about Christmas:
  1. Christmas lights 
  2. Christmas songs on the radio 
  3. Putting up the tree 
  4. Christmas shopping 
  5. Wrapping presents 
  6. Curling up in front of the fire with just the Christmas tree lights on 
  7. Two Bank Holidays, three, if you include New Year 
  8. It's proper Winter, cold outside, but cosy indoors 
  9. Eating stuff you wouldn't normally 
  10. Spending time with family and close friends 
And, for the bah humbugs amongst you, here are 10 things that Martin doesn't like about Christmas:
  1. Commercialism 
  2. Christmas Adverts on the TV from as early as October
  3. Christmas music playing in shops 
  4. Old Christmas pop songs, get some new material!
  5. Having to think about what to buy me for Christmas 
  6. Santa knocking on your door asking for money 
  7. Taking the tree down 
  8. How early it all starts 
  9. Christmas present shopping 
  10. Knowing that it will only be a year before it happens again 
This year will be my first Christmas since giving up work and I am really looking forward to a really relaxing and enjoyable run up, with plenty of time for planning, shopping, wrapping and visiting friends. At least all Martin should have to do is to turn up and look like he's enjoying himself. 

Over recent years, more of my Christmas shopping has been done on the Internet. It is just so easy. You can find what you want, at the best price, see if it's in stock and get it delivered, usually for free. There are lots of places to find unusual, but really personal, gifts, such as Not on the High Street, as well as being able to find all of the specialised bits and pieces that make the perfect present. 

I tend to start tentative Christmas present shopping in Early Autumn. I normally start trying to tune in and listen really well to my friends and family to see if they give away any possible perfect present ideas and, if they do, I make sure I keep it in mind. 

Then it's time for list making.  I write a list of who I need to buy for, so I can jot down any ideas immediately that they spring to mind. I then have a good look through any bits I've got left over from last year, as I normally end up with a few bits and pieces that, for some reason, didn't get given away. 

Then it's a good old browse through the Christmas catalogues for the big chain stores like Next, Marks & Spencer and WHSmith. If I'm struggling I will resort to asking family and friends for their Christmas lists, but it is much nicer finding that perfect something that will come as a complete surprise. 

And don't forget everyone - check what wrapping, bows and ribbons you have at home, before you go out shopping.  As you can see, it looks like I must have hit the January sales this year and definitely do not need to buy any more - however pretty it looks! 

This year I am really hoping that having that bit more time will make the whole Christmas Shopping business a much more enjoyable experience.

Goodbye November, Hello December

November was a mad round of 50th birthday celebrations and I started the month off with a very nice afternoon tea at The Old School House, a really nice restaurant, not far from home.

It was my friend Jo's birthday back in October and we had decided that as a birthday treat for both of us, we would meet up, just the two of us and enjoy a relaxing afternoon of tea, cake and chat.  It was just that, and we had a lovely time and have agreed that we must do it again, in the Summer, when we can sit outside on the terrace and enjoy the sunshine too.

Then it was all systems go getting ready for our week away in Norfolk with the majority of the family and Lesley & Tom, some of our other close friends.

Other than that, the month has seemed to fly by with no time for much else, other than a few Governors' meeting thrown in just to keep my feet on the ground.

We managed to get a couple of hours in the garden on the very last day of the month, but there are still lots of Winter gardening jobs still on the list .... maybe December will see us buckling down and getting that big Winter tidy up done.

Now we're actually into December I feel I can now say 'It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!!! And its definitely time to start the Christmas preparations properly, although I have to say that, this year, I do already feel quite organised.

As well as saying goodbye to November, I think we've well and truly said goodbye to Autumn and we've already had our first Winter frosty mornings.

As well as looking forward to the festive season, we have an evening out to see Andre Rieu on the agenda later in the month, which was a birthday treat for me from friends.  We've been to see him once before and it may not be that current or everyone's cup of tea, but it's a real spectacle and I'm really looking forward to it!

In the Garden - November

I was beginning to think that this post just might not materialise.

We'd had such a busy November, it was the last day of the month and we hadn't been anywhere near the garden. It was most definitely not because there was nothing that needed doing!

Luckily the morning of the 30th dawned, bright and dry. Neither of us really felt like doing much but decided that the garden needed to be a priority, there was just so much needed doing and we weren't likely to get the benefit of good weather for much longer.

Captain thought it was a crazy idea!

So, we ventured into the shed to find the hedge trimmer and the leaf sucker, got our scruffs on and were ready to go.

We started with a good clear up out the front, trimming the hedge and clearing the borders, to give the bulbs some space to poke through.  It looked loads better when we'd done and you can see the before and after shots below.

Having made such a good impact in not that much time inspired us to do some serious leaf clearing round the back.  We hadn't done any at all as yet so the borders were pretty much knee deep in leaves that looked far better on the trees!!
There's still lots more to do, but our enthusiasm is waning as the end of the year draws near and the sunny days give way to cold and damp.

One thing we did notice whilst out there was that, though Winter has only just begun, there are a few signs of Spring about already!
Whilst the mood took me I did arrange for mum to come over next week for an afternoon so we could have another go at it, but I'm feeling cold and tired already, just thinking about it!