Sunday, June 26, 2011

Age Has Its Benefits. Really ?

Well birthdays come and birthdays go and mine went yesterday. I'm 59 now.

Actually maybe I'm 60. It's not that my birth certificate was lost or anything and so I'm just guessing. No, it's more that, as a kind friend reminded me yesterday, having been born on 25th June 1952, I've already SPENT 59 years on this earth and so to be absolutely accurate, I'm now in my 60th year.

But I'm not having it. No, no, no.

When the big six-o sneaks up and slaps me in the face with a wet kipper, I want it to be a bit more memorable than with me sitting watching Bridget Jones's Diary on ITV. As it happens it was on but I didn't watch it. I felt it hit too close to home and certainly NOT birthday watching !

60. OMG.....60. I'm not sure how that will affect me. 40 didn't. 50 didn't. So maybe 60 won't either. But I think it will. It's sooooooo freaking old !

And I won't even get a free bus pass to ease the shock. Currently my date for one of those is 6th September 2014 as that's when a woman of my age can get a state pension.

Don't ask ! This country is messed up.

Anyway I've got a year yet as no matter what the real truth may be, convention decrees that I can put 59 down on forms for my age. I'm not even too happy about THAT but as I'm not a Hollywood actress from back in the day (have to get that in on every blog you know) when they lied about their age, then it's a fair cop. I'm 59.


My middle age spread has settled in like a cockroach in a Chinese takeaway and shows no signs of leaving any time soon. I'd been told, on good authority by a guy in a bar, that if you sit watching tv for 16 hrs a day and get a good 8 hrs sleep, then the flab just drops off.

I suspect he wasn't being perfectly truthful. What is the world coming to ?

As my girth has increased, my hair has gone the other way. Actually when I decided to shave off my long held beard and moustache a few months ago, my head looked like a bowling ball. But just as hair was abandoning my head, it was appearing on other parts of my body.

What's THAT all about ?

And I don't even like liver, so why have I got its spots ? Speaking of skin, I need to remember not to pinch myself when I do reach 60 or that pinch may still be there the next day.

Then there is the attitude. Positive thinking has come up against physical deterioration and been found wanting. Back in the day (love it) I'd be vaulting over fences and gates and dropping 15 feet out of recently climbed trees. Then came the time when I'd slowly ease myself over those same fences and gates and need a hand getting down from those trees. Now I don't go over fences, I open gates and a tree is something to admire from a distance.

My armchair raises my legs electrically. My car takes me to the local shops. My remotes allow me to enjoy my tv and music from said chair. And my mail order Filipina girl takes care of everything else.

Ok one of those isn't true.

I don't have any local shops.

But despite all the doom and gloom of advancing years, I'm still retired and until death comes to tell me to slow down, then for me, retirement rocks.

Great name for a blog.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dear Diary.............

I meant to do this blog post a few days ago on the 41st anniversary of the diary page in question but for one thing I was in The Lake District (see previous post) and for another, the 41 year gap was just soooooo depressing.

Let me set the scene : the year was 1970 and the date was Thursday 18th June. Two days earlier I'd left boarding school for the last time and I was now going to go to England to take up a 'maybe' summer job offer from United Biscuits. It would my first time out of Ireland and my first plane flight. I would be on my own and I was going to London with no firm job, no place to stay and not knowing a single soul there.

Ahhhh the impetuosity of youth. I was 17.

Here is my diary entry for that day..........

Today was certainly one to remember. Got up at 6am and set off for the airport. Arrived 40 mins early so Mum & Dad left for home. I boarded the plane with apprehensions and got a seat beside a window and just behind the wing. I'd have enjoyed the flight but my ears were sore and I was scared every time the noise of the engines changed. It was raining when we left but sunny above the clouds and also when we landed exactly 75 minutes later.

London airport is enormous and it took me 1/2hr just to get out. By using 2 buses I reached Isleworth (pronounced eyes-il-worth and not isle-worth) and leaving my bags in a shop, proceeded to look for digs. I spent from 10am to 4pm looking. I just couldn't find anywhere. Very bad district and most houses have only 2 rooms. I went to the factory but they were very officious and said to come back tomorrow. I even tried the Parochial House to see if they could get me somewhere to stay but no luck.

Finally the man in the shop telephoned me and I got a boarding house at 64 The Grove ( doesn't exist anymore ) but the only room was a large 3 bedder at 30/- bed and breakfast. I hope some arrangement can be made later if a smaller room becomes available. I settled in gratefully and then for 6/- return, I went to Waterloo Station by train. I went across Westminster Bridge, saw Big Ben etc and then went to Trafalgar Square to see lots of TV cameras and 2 big screens up for the General Election. It didn't start till 10pm so I walked to Piccadilly Circus and was offered 'strawberries' by a junkie, picked up by a Greek bloke who wanted to take me on his scooter and to stay at his flat (I ran away from him at a pedestrian crossing) and after seeing Downing Street etc, watched myself on telle back in Trafalgar Square and returned to Isleworth at 11:30pm.

A most memorable day I must say.

Ok so it's not up there with the death of Kennedy or the Moon landings but it was eventful enough for a naive kid from a small town in N. Ireland. I'm not sure how that shopkeeper who was minding my bags managed to phone me in the days before mobile phones but maybe I rang him to check he still HAD my bags. Donno. Despite being excited and very tired when writing that entry, I seem to have pre-empted the idea of the mobile phone by several years.

I remember a talk we were given before leaving boarding school about the evils and perils of going to sin ridden England where awful things could happen to sweet, innocent boys like wot I was. Given that this talk was given by a priest, even back then the irony was not lost on me.

But as it happened, on that first evening in London, I could've been another crime statistic. I remember being in a park with a lake and whilst standing by a wire fence admiring the ducks, I was aware a man was standing very close to me and inching closer by the second. Suddenly his leg met mine and slow rubbing ensued. I just walked away and that was the end of it.

The bastard never wrote, never rang..........

Then later as my diary entry testifies, a Greek man (not sure how I knew he was Greek so I apologise for smearing that wonderful nation that has no history of such things whatsoever !) came up to me and asked me if I wanted a ride on his scooter. (I do hope that wasn't a euphemism). As he had my arm, I started to go with him and even at 17 and pretty wet behind the ears I was already thinking how to get away from him. As we walked along he said I could go back to his flat and I was thinking "damn, where were you a few hours ago when I'd nowhere to stay ??" No I wasn't. I was actually pretty scared by then.

We got to a pedestrian crossing and while we waited for a break in the heavy traffic, I suddenly sprinted across and left him behind. Happy days.

The 30/- a night for the bed and breakfast may confuse the yute of today. It means 30 shillings and in those pre decimalised days, there were 20 shilling in a £. I know that doesn't sound much but remember the average weekly wage back in 1970 was £13 and so that was costing me about 12% of a weekly wage or say, £70 in today's money. For a tatty b&b.

My sums and conversions may be out but in any case, it was a LOT of money to me at the time.

My 1970 diary (the page-a-day kind) is a very interesting historical record now as I tried to mention important events of the time so I may post a few entries another time.

By the way, the election results the next day showed a surprise victory for Ted Heath's Conservative Party over Harold Wilson's Labour party.

And they say this blog isn't educational !

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Great North Swim

The intrepid trio (Daphne, Stephen et moi) have just returned from Bowness-On-Windermere in the Lake District where Daphne was taking part in the Great North Swim.

10,000 swimmers, of all shapes, sizes, ages and sexual persuasions, take part in this annual swim across part of Lake Windermere and it is the main one of the 5 Great Swim series which covers the whole UK. The swim goes on over the 3 days of the weekend and so there are plenty of competitors still to brave the lake waters today (Sun). They go off in 300 person 'waves' as 10,000 entering at once would be a logistical nightmare and Health & Safety would have a fit.

I've never seen a more impressively organised event. From traffic control to changing facilities, on site announcements to catering, safety supervision to after swim arrangements, the organisation was top drawer. When you add in the friends, family and supporters who came with each swimmer, the numbers on site were staggering.

While Daphne went off to change into her compulsory wet suit (due to the water temperature), I had a look at the swimmers who were gathered nearby for the upcoming wave. There were different coloured hats for each wave and as these photos show, this was the white hat wave.

Not everyone was taking in the spectacle and there were other distractions for them.

Then just after 12:00, it was time for the 'orange hats' to prepare to set off. One by one they exited the changing tent and gathered near the ramp leading down to the lake. The announcer brought everyone to fever pitch as he did over and over as the day wore on. There was an opportunity to go to a small area of the lake to get acclimatised to the water temperature and also to get used to swimming in a wet suit as for many of the first timers, this was to be a new experience.

And then there was Daphne...........

Her wave was due to set off at 12:30 but for some reason, the organisers slotted in the men's elite race at that time. A handful of famous swimmers (famous if you followed open water swimming that is) lined up down by the edge of the lake and when the klaxon sounded, off they went on the 1 mile circuit. About 10 minutes later the 'orange hats' got the ok to set off and 7 minutes after that, the elite swimmers had reached the finish point !

But back at the start, the waters were being churned up by 300 or so more inexperienced swimmers who probably had personal times to beat but were there for fun and to 'earn' their sponsorship monies.

Once out on the course, we lost sight of individuals as, even using binoculars, it was impossible to pick anyone out. Stephen went round the lake to try and spot Daphne, but I went to the finish area to work my way to the front to be ready for her arrival about an hour later. Whilst waiting, I saw the full extent of the good, the bad and....well....the rest. As well as being impressed by the body shapes of many of the swimmers who had just completed the 1 mile course in well under an hour, I was also impressed by just how much rubber can stretch.

After a while the elite podium finishers came back, showered and dressed, to be presented with their medals and here are the photos. The men's race was won by young Brit Tom Allen who looked about 15 and completed the 1 mile course in 16mins 30secs. Jan WolfGarten from Germany was second, with another Brit, Dave Carry in third.

The women's elite race was won by Germany's Isabelle Haerle in a time of 17mins 52secs with Maaike Waaijer second for The Netherlands and Switzerland's Swann Oberson in third. Brits were 4th and 5th.

The winning teenager was happy to pose for photos afterwards..........

This was not a fun swim in the way that marathons can be fun runs and character costumes were NOT allowed. I can't imagine anyone wanting to swim a mile wearing a chicken suit but you never know. One swimmer did manage a token 'costume' which hopefully didn't scare anyone around her during the race.

One by one the swimmers completed the course and came along the finishing route towards me. Each had been wearing a computer timing chip around their ankles and these were triggered at the start and finish arches and all the times are being constantly posted on the official web site.

Despite being IN the water for up to an hour, most swimmers just wanted a drink of better tasting water at the finish point. They also got free flip flops which they needed to get to the changing tent and a well stocked and very impressive 'goodie bag' containing a t-shirt and a medal amongst other items.

Most unexpectedly, to me anyway, along the finishing route came probably our most recognisable swimmer, 54 year old Duncan Goodhew who won the breaststroke Gold Medal at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. Recognising me immediately, he came over to where I was standing and I had a word with him. Well the word was 'DUNCAN' and he only came over after I yelled it at him but that's just for us to know.

And then, just over the hour mark, along came a very happy Daphne. She had her photo taken for the web site and then it was my turn. I was so proud of her as, despite swimming the distance many times in sports centre pools, this was her first time in a lake and swimming with so many others. But she set a new personal time and it would've been even better, and maybe under the hour, if she hadn't stopped along the course to chat with other swimmers.

DAPHNE !!! What are you like !!!

Anyway if you go to the web site results link and enter her number (5145), you'll get her time and where she finished in relation to the others.

The final photo is her back at the b&b and proudly wearing her medal.

Well done, Daffy. You were very nervous about the swim but I was so glad when you finished and said how much you enjoyed it. There is still time to add something to her fundraising cause so if you can, please do. It's a worthy cause and let's face it, she more than deserves to raise oodles of money for it.

Swimming a mile in Lake Windermere (water temp 16c) isn't for the faint hearted.

It's for the big hearted and Daphne's is massive.

Just to end on a sad note, a 60 year old swimmer had to be airlifted to hospital after suffering a heart attack early this morning while taking part in the swim. At this time, he is in critical condition. This comes on top of a local 46 year old man who collapsed during the swim yesterday and was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital. My sympathy goes out to their families, friends and supporters.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Four Countries Under One Nation

It's that time of year when people wrap up in several layers of clothing, the rain comes in torrents and the bitter wind cuts you to ribbons.

Yes it's cold, wet and windy......or summer, as we call it here in Britain.

But with a determination and stubborn courage that comes from winning a few wars and test matches, we don't let such things stop us from getting out there and enjoying our fair land. The old jewel may be a bit damp, a bit windy and a bit cold, but that's what car heaters are for.

As such, yours truly is off on his 'jollies' for a few weeks, going to 4 very different countries without ever leaving the UK.

First up and tomorrow morning, we (Daphne and Stephen and moi) are off up to the beautiful Lake District for the weekend at Lake Windermere. Daphne is taking part in the Great North Swim which is like the Great North Run but wetter. Much wetter. In fact so wet that she has had to buy a wet suit just for the occasion. In their wisdom, the organisers have decreed that ALL swimmers must wear these full body condoms as the lake water will be very cold...and probably wet. This is all very well but the suit tends to raise up the body of the swimmer and so it's like swimming along on top of Dawn French (or Rosie O'Donnell if you're American).

Not entirely unpleasant but not ideal for smooth propulsion.

The following Saturday (25th) Daphne, Stephen and family are off to Wales for their annual pilgrimage to Tenby. They have been going to this sun kissed seaside town, and indeed the same hotel there, every year since the Romans left it to return to.....ahh.....Romany. I've joined them a few times and have been kindly invited again - an offer I may take up after I've recovered from my birthday celebrations, which also happens to fall on the 25th this year. Spooky really as it did that last year too.

The Saturday after returning from Wales, and if you're keeping up that'll be the 9th July, we will be heading up to Scotland and then across to N. Ireland for the last part of this UK tour : a week exploring the province. I'm really looking forward to showing D & S around the land of my birth and if there isn't a blue plaque on my house there, I'll be wanting to know the reason why !

The Giant's Causeway, Dunluce Castle, the Coast Road, the Glens of Antrim and my old boarding school are all within a few miles of each other and I'm praying that the weather will be kind for us as a warm sunny day with blue skies above will make all the difference.

Once we've recovered from these trips, it'll almost be time to pop across the channel for the main trip of the summer, a few weeks exploring France and Spain. This trip hasn't been booked yet so it might not happen but I'm hoping it will.

All this travelling will be done in D & S's little Renault Clio so if we weren't close friends before, we sure will be by the end.

Today it had its annual service.

I'll be saying a prayer for it too !

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I Need A Hedge Fund

Back in the day (I know, I know) when I bought this house, it came with a hedge twixt my front garden and the garden of my neighbour who, not entirely unnaturally, lived next door. That made my house a semi detached property as opposed to a detached property which isn't joined to anything, apart from a larger mortgage !

As the years and decades and even centuries passed by, this hedge grew as fast upwards as my savings plummeted downwards. Oh and as is a hedge's nature, it went outwards too. Now and again it was trimmed but over the past decade, even a professional basketball player couldn't have levelled the top of it even using a seriously long ladder.

Maybe that was the problem. He should've used a trimmer !

Month by month my front view was being diminished. Well unless I wanted a view of the hedge that is. It would blot out the sun (ha ! what sun) to such an extent that I never saw it till after 7pm every evening by which time, it was blushing a deep red and thinking seriously about setting.

I didn't want it trimmed as that would still involve costs every year to keep it trimmed and I try to avoid ongoing costs whenever possible. So something had to be done and despite my lovely neighbours not wanting to chip in, I decided it had to go. I knew that the end of the hedge closest to my house 'contained' a sizeable tree of some sort so a normal hedge removal company wouldn't be able to deal with it. Luckily my friend Daphne recommended a company that had removed several of her trees recently (with her permission I hasten to add) and so I arranged for them to come this morning and do their thing.

Before they arrived, I took the opportunity to photograph the hedge in all its awesomeness to remind myself what the bugger looked like before its demise and here are those photos...........

Then the A team moved in and started the demolition job........

This one reminded me of Fargo for some reason. It's ok though, no one was hurt in the making of this photo.

This one gives a good idea what the hedge was like. A man could get lost in there and actually the guys found 3 tennis balls, one golf ball and a set of bones in there. I'm not asking questions but I'm sure next door had twins at some point !

As I was in a movie thinking mood, this image reminded me of Field Of Dreams when the old baseball players walk into the tall corn stalks and simply fade away.

With the greenery removed, I was amazed to see that not one but 4 'trees' had been hidden within the hedge. Of course this is maybe what a nude hedge looks like...what do I know. Anyway within seconds, these trunks were removed faster than you could say "nudist beach."

And this is what was left.........

As you can see from the last photo, the stumps remain and all in all it looks a bit but unsightly. So with the power of Photoshop lets go forward a few weeks when hopefully the grass will cover most of the gap between our gardens.

Then a flower border can be created to show the division line between our properties and that will look a lot better than the dreaded hedge.

So now I'm looking out the window and for the first time in 28 years I'm looking at a wonderful view - of my neighbour's other hedge !

Oh well they have asked for the business card of the A team so maybe one day that hedge will go too and at last I'll be able to see into the window of her at No.17.

I've seen her washing line so I KNOW it will be worth the wait !

Monday, June 06, 2011

Back In The Day.........

One of my fav US tv shows is Pawn Stars and I was delighted when I noticed that on my return to the UK, the show is broadcast here too. For obvious reasons, I much prefer writing the name down than saying it out loud. Maybe it's my accent but I find much confusion arises when recommending it to friends and they tend to walk away muttering "pervert" under their breaths.

I'm a bit worried what they'll think when I tell them a new variant of the show is coming here soon......Hardcore Pawn Stars ! Set in a well dodgy part of Detroit, I don't expect the customers to be as polite (or as white) as the ones in the Las Vegas original. I can't wait.

Anyway the point is that on the Vegas show, every time someone comes in with an item older than 50 years or so, the guys who own the store will invariably use the expression "back in the day" when describing its function or reason d'etre.

"Back in the day this Betamax recorder was the iPad of sophisticated home recording."

That sort of thing.

If it's one thing we learn from these shows which reintroduce us to items from history, it's that stuff was built to last back then....back in the day. How many of today's mass produced Taiwanese products will be about in the next century ? The next decade ? Next week ?

Many of today's products have incredibly short life expectancies. They're designed to be thrown away if the slightest feature breaks and with redundancy built in at the factory, it WILL break sooner than later. I mean 25th century archaeologists aren't going to be digging up mp3s and TiVos and going....hey lets power these suckers up and see if they still work. They simply won't BE there TO dig up.

But not those items from back in the day. Oh no. They were made to last and I've got a couple of them in my house. In fact if you add my house, that's three !

One of the first items I bought when I moved into this, my first house, was a microwave oven. This was back in 1983 so kinda borderline for back in the day but as it'll screw up my blog post if I leave it out, go along with me here. 28 years later and it's still going strong but I tend to press the start button and retire to a safe distance as I'm sure the door seal disintegrated years ago. Would explain my lack of children and why it's not only my watch dial that glows faintly in a dark room.

A couple of years ago I did get a new combi oven but just couldn't throw out the old Sharp. And very useful it's been too. Plenty of microwaves left in the old dog yet. And I still have the manual for it.

But even older is my central heating boiler. It was here when I bought the house and who knows how long before that. It's fuelled by peat and the instructions are in Latin. It's very inefficient now and the pilot light gets harder and harder to fire up when I return from my winters in Florida. Every year the service engineer tells me it won't last much longer and with parts hard to find for it, I really should think about getting a new one. But as it was built 'back in the day' and works fine once the pilot light is sorted out, I nod and agree and do nothing about it.

Till now.

After its service last week, I just had a feeling it's not going to last much longer. So tomorrow a bright shiny (very expensive) new boiler arrives and will be installed the next day. After over 28 years in MY service, the current one owes me nothing but I won't shed a tear when it goes. Maybe it's because I didn't buy it. Maybe it's because it's hidden away in a cupboard and only seen a few times a year. And yes, I do have the manual for it too !

I like old things. Old but reliable things with plenty of life left in them. I like to think I'm one myself.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Not So Much A Career As A Calling.

Call centres are the bane of our lives. The very name conjures up feelings of frustration, annoyance and even rage. Sadly this is because the 'bad' ones remain in our minds far longer than the 'good' ones.

If we ring one and get help in an understanding and acceptable way, we rarely talk about the experience with anyone, a bit like when we get a good restaurant meal with great service.

But when we come up against a call centre which leaves us fuming and wanting to kick the cat into next door's garden, then a bit like when we get a steak that could double as a shoe insert and a waitress who could curdle milk, then we want to tell everyone we come into contact with.

And so the stereotype continues.

I'm afraid I have NEVER EVER had satisfaction from a foreign call centre....and I think you know just which foreign country I'm talking about here as I really don't want to come across all racist by mentioning it. India.

But when money is the driving force and you can hire a room full of Indians in Mumbai for the price of two Englishmen in Bristol, then you can't blame the companies that do so. Well actually you can blame them, or at least their policy makers, as it has to get to the stage where poor customer satisfaction and even losing some customers far outweigh the financial benefits of hiring the very people who are driving those customers away.

Of course the reason for this post now is because I've had to ring the Virgin Media call centre over the last few days and although I've always praised the customer service staff at VM, that was because I'd never had to ring with a bill query. When I picked that option from the multiple choices presented, my heart sank when I heard the call centre voice at the other end.

More than anything else, I hate having to listen to people reading a greeting from a script. From the get go, it gives me the feeling I'm going to have to struggle to be understood and that's exactly what happened. I always make a point of recording these calls as they make a point of telling me so are they. In the past I've been promised things which never came to pass and when I remind them the promises could be recalled from their recording of the call and they say the recording is somehow not available, I tell them they can have mine. It's amazing how quickly their attitude changes.

The English language must be a nightmare to learn. Many English people haven't mastered it. We have words and phrases that can be interpreted several ways and few foreigners can come to terms with this. The thing is, we struggle to understand them but they plough on regardless as if WE are the ones with the problem. And in a way we do. A problem with THEM.

My monthly bill from VM was £190. That's for my phone, broadband and cable tv. £190 !! You can imagine why I was ringing them. Yes I was returning my services to as they were before I left the country last November so as VM charges a month in advance, I was expecting a much larger bill than usual.....but not for £190. The first guy was obviously a trainee as I could hear someone helping him with his answers and he kept saying he had to leave me to clarify something.

At one point he told me £89.50 would be credited to my bank account. Remember I have it recorded so that's a fact. That's when I should've said thank you very much and ended the call. But oh no, big gob had to say...."I only got the bill 30 mins ago and it doesn't get paid by direct debit for 3 weeks so no money has actually come out of my account yet. I just need a new bill." This appeared to throw him completely and he said he'd have to investigate further and I'd get a callback in the morning "within 3 o'clock"

"What does that mean," I asked.

"I mean you will get callback within 3 o'clock."

Noting that it was now just before midnight and he'd said I'd get a call in the morning, I understandably wanted to be sure I wasn't going to get a call within 3 hrs, at 3am !

"I don't know what you mean by within 3'oclock," I said.

"I mean we need to investigate further and you will..............."

"No,no,no,no,no. I understand I'm going to get a callback but 3am or 3pm ?"

"Yes a callback within 3'oclock.

Sighhhhhhhh (clearly audible on my recording). "Do you mean 3pm tomorrow ?


"Ok bye"

You see, this is what I mean about the nuances of our language. He wasn't far wrong but just enough to be really annoying when I was already annoyed enough by first the bill, and then everything that I'd been through already talking with him.

Needless to say I never did get that callback "within the 3'oclock" or any other time. Not even 3pm Mumbai time. I did try again the next day but got a much more assertive Indian woman who bombarded me with details and amounts in a high pitched monotonous voice that had me on edge from the start. I tried so hard to not just say I needed to speak to someone who could both understand and speak English - mostly as I doubted there was one at that call centre.

So rather than stress myself out again, I'll just pick another dept choice from the initial phone menu and right now I'm thinking of the 'leaving Virgin Media' option. I got cable when it first came to my area so many years ago I can't even remember. Companies have come and gone from Bell Cablemedia to NTL to Virgin Media and I've remained loyal and not left to join Sky or any other competitor. But I'm not sure I want to remain with a company who put financial savings (for them) over customer satisfaction by outsourcing call centres abroad.

It rarely works, people.

Thank you for reading my blog. Is there anything else I can help you with today ?

Thursday, June 02, 2011

You CAN Just Get The Staff

I'm not green fingered. I'm also lazy. But I do like to see a nice, colourful garden. So what to do ?

Well, find a friend like Daphne who is a kind soul with a good heart and even better fingers.....of the green variety. She loves gardening and who am I to stand (or sit) in her way.

Over the last few years she and her mom, Joan, who just happens to be 87 now, have transformed my front and back gardens into something quite beautiful. It's a work in progress I'm told as these things take time but now that the sun has finally hit the north of England, I thought I'd take a few photos to show the fruits of their labours.

Payment is a cup of tea and maybe a jaffa cake if they've done a particularly decent job. I think you'd agree they've done a lot of decent jobs.

I might just spring to a jaffa cake each.

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