Emails to my cat-sitter while I travel England

Finally a holiday for Dick and I, the two of us – together! We were in England with visits to family in Cumbria, Liverpool and Devon, and then down to Kent for a little r ‘n r in the old seaside resorts of Whitstable and Broadstairs.  We had our Britrail passes and all our accommodation was booked. But when we started our trip we were concerned — would Molly and Rufus, our two cats be ok with the cat-sitter?  Molly is 8 lbs and aged about 14 and a former member of my cat colony.  Rufus weighs in at 18 lbs and we’re guessing (since he adopted us) that he’s around 5 or 6 years old.  It’s the first time they will have been left without one of us around.   So I’m anxious.  Following is a blog on our travels (most recent post first) based on emails to Jennifer who moved in to look after the deadly duo.  In case anyone was wondering, the rest of my Cabbagetown cat colony were well-looked after during my absence.

Tuesday, August 20:  Everything went so smoothly this morning, something was bound to go wrong.  Light breakfast, taxi to the station, a fast train with a surprising link through Ramsgate to St. Pancras, a quick underground connection to Paddington, help with bags from the Heathrow Express staff going down the steep stairs, a fast run to the Airport and then suddenly – “why were our tickets not showing our seat numbers”!!  Air Canada staff was apologetic but said we hadn’t checked in on-line.  I hadn’t seen anything but then we hadn’t had regular access.  Well the good news was we would be on the flight but not necessarily sitting together.  All would be determined at the Gate.  I started to flip at the thought our holiday would end on a negative note.  Dick remained cool.  Then the lengthy snake-like line-up to pass through security – throwing away bottled water rather than risk drinking it all and then not finding a loo.  My hand luggage (a very small bag for books, glasses, tickets) was pulled over and stuck on a shelf.  It had triggered an alarm.  I suddenly remembered “hand sanitizer”!  No, I couldn’t be allowed to pull the bag back.  I had to wait and have everything checked.  We waited, waited, and waited.  An Asian lady with five children was ahead of us.  They went through every single one of the kid’s back-packs – slowly and laboriously.  One of the children wanted desperately to go to the washroom.  A staff shift change took place during all this.  It was a night-mare.  Eventually my time came, the offending sanitizer was produced and I was given the obligatory lecture.  We rushed to the gate and they had managed to put us together – surrounded by mothers with babies and young children.   Other than shrill screams and crying babies the flight went smoothly.  Halifax was a dream.  Fast gate access, smiling faces greeting us and helping point us in the right directions.  The airport was spacious, architecturally interesting and well designed.  The line-up for customs and immigration was handled with diplomacy and pleasantry.   The onward flight connection for our bags was handled so well that I wondered if we had made a mistake.  Out to the main departure area and since we had two hours to kill and had passed on the flight food, we had a final and excellent holiday meal at the Maritime Ale House – seafood chowder and a lobster sandwich complemented with a large glass of white wine.  And then home.  And there’s Rufus and Molly.  Happiness all round.  Everything’s right with the world.  That night we had a visitor on our deck.  Rufus was hopping around behind the glass barrier.  Not a rat – an Opossum! 

Monday (later):  Our last day.  While I had been at the library Dick had taken off for the Spitfire Hurricane Museum at Manston and was immersed in WW2 artifacts.  The Transport Museum was closed so I wandered around Crampton Tower and then dropped into the City Hall to see if I could find old maps of Broadstairs as a final check on my Aunt’s old house.  Lunch was on the lovely old jetty – the seaside resort’s icon – where I indulged in a pint of shrimp attended by some very assertive seagulls.  Then, our final walk on the beach and out to an old fashioned paddling pond that is revealed at low tide.  Kids with their buckets and spades were catching starfish, crabs and baby shrimp: all to be returned to safety after a bit of prodding and the requisite photo opportunities.   That night we dined again at the Tartar Frigate and contemplated the return journey next day.  Neither of us were looking forward to it:   Aeroplan points had had to be used and the lack of seats on required flights had us flying from London to Heathrow to Halifax (with a 3-hour lay-over to facilitate customs and immigration) and then Toronto.      

August 19 (Broadstairs, Kent):  Tx so much for all the follow up data — have just read the last few days and you have certainly sussed them out.  It’s funny how you notice things but they don’t really make an impact on the mind until someone else spots it.  Yes, Molly’s arthritis is playing her up and she does love to have her manicure on the deck in the morning while Rufus likes to forage in the undergrowth getting burrs locked in his fur and then act up when I’m trying to remove them!   I must confess it’s been lovely having this trip with no (or few) worries but I shall be glad to get back.

We are currently in Broadstairs and I haven’t been able to access a computer because of travel and the weekend.  In fact the only place I seem to be able to find computers is at the library.  So to catch up, I have to go back to when I last wrote you which was last Thursday.

Thursday, Aug 15 (later):  After visiting the library in Whitstable to access a computer, we headed over to the Sea Wall and walked to Seasalter.  Years ago there was an old Boating Pool — all overgrown now — and a mini-golf putting green — that’s gone too.  It’s still a lovely beach and the tide was so far out so you felt you could walk to Sheppey.  We had a sandwich and a traditional g & t (gin and tonic) at the Old Neptune pub.  The wind blew the crisps off the plate and frankly I thought it was all a bit overpriced — but it was reliving the past – so what price for memories.  By the time we walked to the harbour the tide was coming back in so we stopped an enjoyed some of the famous Whitstable oysters (60p each versus a restaurant price of 2.4 pounds) then walked past the Street.  Not sure if I told you but the mythology around the Street — a road of pebbles that stretches into the ocean and is revealed at low tide — is believed to have some Roman significance.  I know there is a petrified forest under the sea at this point and if memory serves me right there were indications of a Roman town lost as the seas rose and coastal erosion took place.  Also the Romans loved the oysters in Whitstable so there’s probably a lot of fact to the story rather than fiction.  That night we had a great meal of mussels and frites at the Marine Hotel, met up with some more relatives that we hadn’t seen for eons, and then repacked our suitcases for the next and final phase of our journey.

Friday, Aug 16:  Early next morning we took our last walk along the heights of Tankerton and stopped at JoJo’s, a Tapas bar and cafe, for a morning coffee.  It was once a little corner store and they would give local residents the benefit of ‘buy now and pay later’.  If you didn’t pay you had the embarrassment of seeing your name splashed in the front window with ‘ Mrs…… has not paid her bill of ……’    Everyone soon paid up.  A taxi took us to Whitstable station and then we were on the train for Broadstairs.  I’ve mentioned how wonderful the BritRail passes are, but I really should mention the on-board staff.  We chatted with Bob who plied the coffee cart through the train and is a mine of information.  He pointed out the area around Reculver where they tested the first ‘bouncing bombs’ during WW2 — remember the film ‘The DamBusters’.  Some raised areas were not dykes or ditches as I had always thought, but were set up as training areas for WW2 enlistees.  They could fire their rifles from behind these earthen barricades and any bullets not hitting the target would head safely out to sea.  I think British Rail is missing a great opportunity with people like Bob — he should be taking senior’s groups or military enthusiasts and giving a light-hearted tour as the train goes around the countryside.    We arrived in Broadstairs and headed to The Royal Albion Hotel.  I’m amazed at the lack of taxis at these small stations.  They say there is no business for them, but as a tourist you are stuck if there is no ‘phone, no info, and no taxi.

Broadstairs is located on the South east coast of Kent between Margate and Ramsgate.  Dickens called it his favourite watering hole and also stayed at The Royal Albion until a piano-playing guest drove him to seek new accommodation at what is now called Bleak House.  I filmed Bleak House some years ago and haven’t been back yet, but it is now touted as an upscale place to stay.  The Albion has been completely renovated and I have to admit the changes are welcome, a comfortable and spacious bar, a bistro, and outside decks where you can enjoy your food and overlook the lovely little harbour and bay of this famous seaside resort.  The town will never change, the streets are too narrow, the majority of houses are heritage properties and the old town encircles the cliff top overlooking Viking Bay. We relived some of our yesterdays as we walked about looking for ‘naughty postcards’, visited the Arcade with machines guaranteed to take your money and then, after wandering around the jetty, went to The Tartar Frigate a lovely old pub that has been there since the year dot — great wines, great service and a seafood chowder to live for.  At Whitstable we had just missed the Regatta week and now we were just catching the tail end of Broadstairs Folk week.  Buskers, Morris dancers and odd little furry characters were wandering the streets.  Music everywhere.  Much like the Beaches Jazz Festival. Heavy on pedestrian traffic and a strong jovial Policeman Plod presence designed to keep some of the youth in place.  That night we had a lovely cheeseboard at the Albion and then sat in our room overlooking the sea and the patio below where an excellent Celidh group were playing.  Broadstairs was jumping: a quite different, but equally enjoyable, atmosphere to the Dickens’ Week that I filmed years ago.

Saturday, August 17:  Very impressed at the Broadstairs City workers and their clean up job.  We enjoyed our wonderful breakfast (smoked kippers) and watched the guys at work. You would never have known the festival existed if you looked at the condition of the streets – spotless.   Today was going to be our walk to Ramsgate — around the coast.  The weather was not the greatest but the walk was lovely — a combination of promenade, natural beach, white cliffs, lots of dog walkers and little family groups organizing their deckchairs and windbreakers in the many coves around that stretch of coastline.  We’ve visited a lot of the maritime museums in Ramsgate in the past and walked it’s harbour — so with heavy clouds looming and a promised costumed walk cancelled we decided to take the bus back to Broadstairs, but not before we chatted with the very knowledgeable folks at the Information centre. The gal who was going to guide the walk told us all about naughty George 1V, how Jane Austen loved to visit the seaside, the orphaned childrens’ home, and how Ramsgate received it’s royal recognition.

Back in Broadstairs I popped into Morelli’s for a knickerbocker glory — don’t ask — and then sat and ate it outside while we were serenaded by an excellent country-style duo.  I made the mistake of saying that you would never lack for dining out in the town because there are so many restaurants, but that night, unbelievably they were virtually all booked, so it was a quick soup and cheese plate and then up to our room with a bottle of wine and the Olympics on tv.

Sunday, August 18:  A fruitless search for the lovely home of one of my Great Great Aunts.  We think it has probably been levelled and now forms part of a housing estate  A similar fate to the Dumpton Park Greyhound Racing Track.  Back in town we had coffee in what was once Dick’s all-time favourite second-hand bookshop.  It was called the Albion Bookshop but now it is The Chapel and you can enjoy just about any flavour of cider, have a coffee and sit in an upstairs alcove surrounded by books.  The Chapel of St. Mary dates back to 1070 and is situated on the cliffs at Broadstairs.  It was once the Shrine of Our Ladye Star of the Sea and a beacon for sailors at what was then known as Bradstowe with a  staircase cut into the limestone cliffs  leading down to the beach.  There’s a story that the statue of Mary became known as “The Weeping Virgin” — condensation on her face likely caused by humidity.  Since a storm would often follow this effect, it was considered a bad omen.  Truth be told though, it was probably atmospheric changes giving a rough guide to sailors about to embark on the perils of the sea.  One day I’ll find some time to research  more about it’s past.  Next, yes, the Punch and Judy show taking place in the Bandstand.  Judy berating Mr. Punch, the policeman and baby, all characters alive and well in this very old form of entertainment that still captures the imagination of both adults and kids.  Then it was time for the Margate Marathon.  Because of the tide times we took the bus to Margate and before starting our walk went over to check out Dreamland – a kid’s paradise in olden days — now an abandoned shell with promises of restoring it to its’ old splendour. Then we walked back around the coast. It’s about 8 miles and my knees, feet and back, are still feeling the effects of walking on sand, soft, rippled, hard-packed; crossing over boulders, small, large and slippery; wading through kelp reminiscent of a thick spinach stew; passing smuggler’s caves, around small bays, cliff falls, flotsam and jetsam; and passing Palm Bay Beach with its noisy evidence of jet skis and dune buggies.  All the way around you long for the sight of the Broadstairs jetty or Bleak House, but no, just another stretch of white cliffs with another challenging section of beach.  There are a few sections of promenade but the bulk of the journey is along the beach with the lovely cliffs keeping you company.  There are warnings that you can get cut off by the tide if you are not careful.  Back at the hotel, and feeling very proud of ourselves and our accomplishment, a glass of wine and a well-earned soak in the bath, then out to Prezzo for dinner.  Years ago the Albion had it’s own private restaurant Marchesi’s and I do miss the sophisticated charm of its owners the Rogers family — but now Prezzo has taken over the space and it is essentially a feast of pasta and pizza.  Billy who served us was excellent but the quality of food was basic — the caesar salad dressing tasted like bottled mayonnaise, the tomato sauce I suspect was tinned tomatoes and the lasagna was a bit like a cottage pie with pasta instead of potatoe.  One of the customers at the next table was having, don’t die, lasagna with chips!  Oh England, my England!!  Yes I hear you.  I know I’m fussy and difficult to please and I’ve been spoiled and I probably expect too much, but…………  

Monday, August 19:  Today, as you know, I’m in Broadstairs and catching up, then I’m hoping to pop into the Transport Museum and learn about the Victorian steam train that used to run around the coast and I’ll be checking out the train times again for our journey back to London tomorrow.  All too soon the trip will be over — but it will be wonderful to see the guys again.  Tonight our last fish meal from this little fishing and seaside resort and we’ll be dining in the safety of an excellent meal at the Tartar Frigate again — fully booked! 

Aug 15 (Whitstable, Kent):  Yes Rufus loves to sit on the dining room table — I think he has a cat thing about being up high and able to oversee everything.  The coffee table is a new one.  When he first came to live with us he spent a lot of time on our laps on the couch — then I think he felt he was sufficiently accepted and a full member of the family, so we were suddenly relegated to the back of his priorities.  Be interesting to see how he reacts on our return.  We are now close to the end of our trip and about to have our few days of ‘just the two of us’.  Yesterday we had a wonderful day on the beach at Tankerton, sun was out, we were using the old family hut, and my barbeque skills were put to good use when the new bbq failed to perform.  My cousins, myself and an old school chum had the ‘Fab 4 Foto’ and realized that it was close to 60 years since we had all first met and had a memorable photo as we played in a backyard.  I had picked up a couple of bottles of Bordeaux from the little wine shop at Tankerton Circus and the lubrication of our minds helped as we started to mull over memories of rationing, Christmas’s past, plucking chickens and icing cakes.  Times have certainly changed and not for the better.  Afterwards we returned to the Marine Hotel for coffees before they all drove back to their respective homes in Kent. We are enjoying the hotel with a nice little balcony overlooking the sea, all mod cons, and have had some good meals. Wonderful breakfasts with kippers and smoked haddock.  Today I am back in Whitstable at the library playing catch up and then we are off to the Neptune Pub in Seasalter.  This pub has been an institution since before the 1850s and my grandparents used to go there for an evening of peace and quiet — or so they said.  That was after a full day on the beach when they brought my mother and the rest of the family to Whitstable for their holidays — and really that’s how we all ended up here in the 1950s.  We have wonderful photos of them all as teenagers being rowed over to the Isle of Sheppey by my grandfather.

I think we will probably opt for another fish dinner tonight.  Whitstable was famous for its oysters in Roman times and there was a small railway in later years called the Crab & Winkle line that used to take the fish to Canterbury.  Of course I knew none of that when I lived here.  Will hope to find a computer in the next few days but the weekend looms!  Tx so much for keeping me informed of Rufus and Molly it makes it so much more relaxing for me to know they are both ok.  Glad you are enjoying the bbq.

Aug 13 (Canterbury):  So Rufus almost escaped!  I think the squirrel just wants to get into the garden and have a drink of water, but he shouldn’t make faces at Rufus or he really will end up as ‘squirrel pot pie’.  It’s amazing that an 18 lb cat is as agile as he is — maybe we should put him in for Ascot.  Glad you caught him in time.  And glad you enjoyed the Stratford performances — hope the bus was comfortable.

I’m playing catch-up and now in Canterbury in Kent using a computer!  It’s very hard trying to get access and decent time.  Dick did his weekly soccer radio interview last night from the hotel and it really seemed to be a major issue trying to arrange for the ‘phone to be answered at reception and patched through.  Some people like to make hard work, but eventually we got them to understand it was a ‘live’ radio show and it went off really well.

Well before I tell you about Kent, I’m going to back up to Devon and then bring us through to today.

Spent a lot of time in South Molton with Mum on this trip and had a belated 90th birthday party with her –all the other residents got a bit of her cake.  Took her out to the patio and we did some painting.  She was an excellent artist and the ability is still in the deep recesses of her mind, but you have to work at it to get her so focussed and relaxed that she literally is ‘not thinking’.  Strange isn’t it.  With Alzheimer’s you want them to think and remember, and yet when they are not struggling with memory is when they will suddenly come out with some gems.

In the past we have spent good time travelling around Devon and sadly were not able to this time around.  But if you come you must drive up to the northern Devonshire coast.  Following are some of our favourite places with stops along the way for village pubs, Cider, Devonshire ice cream, Cornish pasties and, of course, clotted cream. 

Woody Bay is a hidden gem: a lovely little walking trail down to a very rocky beach with a small heritage area and remnants of the old stone gun emplacements used during WW2.  There’s a neat little tea room en route.

— Ilfracombe has a superb harbour and some great fish and chips but we love the tunnels built in the 1800s that were hand-carved through the stone cliffs and led out to the beaches where there were bathing machines and segregated areas for men and women.

—  Woolacombe Bay has the best beach bar none — it’s a massive expanse, great for walking with pounding seas and great breakers.  At one end is the typical seaside town and the other has a terrific climb up to Baggy Point with a lovely walk that again leads around to a Heritage area

Exmoor, of course.  But you should wear good closed shoes and long pants as the ground can be quite prickly and depending on recent weather there can be mosquitoes

On this trip we learned more about the Tarka Line (a railway, cycling and walking circuit) that starts in Barnstaple.  You can rent bikes at the station. Next time!!  We had some excellent meals in South Molton: dinners at The GeorgeThe Stags Head and The Old Coaching Inn, where we stayed.

Devon to Kent:  We left Devon on Monday August 12 and got back on the train at Tiverton Parkway, travelling down to London, across on the Underground to Victoria, and then on the South East trains to Whitstable in Kent.  This is ‘Home Country’ for me and has it changed!  Quite modernized and I gather that a lot of Londoners have made it their home now and do regular commutes to their work in the City.  We are staying at the Marine Hotel in Tankerton right on the sea front.  It has been recently refurbished and they have done a brilliant job.  I can remember organizing dances here back in the 50s.  Perhaps the most immediate thing you notice are the Wind Farms out in the channel.  Once again Toronto should take note.  They are not at all intrusive, in fact quite the opposite.  They are becoming an attaction and an old fishing vessel the ‘Greta’  (it transported  ammo during WW2 and assisted in the evacuation of Dunkirk) is the oldest active little ship taking you out to the old Thames Estuary Forts and the Kentish Wind Farm.

We walked along the promenade through the harbour and then continued along the SeaWall through Whitstable, stopping at The Pearson’s Arms for a terrific fish dinner.  A great selection of wines too!!  Luckily we were upstairs and could see one of the town’s famous sunsets over the Isle of Sheppey.  Peter Cushing and Somerset Maughan would be happy with our observations, though ironically I think it has more to do with industrial pollution over London.  If we come back again I think I’d like to rent one of the old fishermen’s cottages.  they are on offer for 75 pounds per night mid-week and when you consider you will pay anywhere upwards of 100-130 pounds per night for a hotel room, that’s really good value.

Today, Tuesday August 13, we have taken the bus into Canterbury and I’m currently at the old Library and Museum with access to a computer.  These computers and uninterrupted time are getting harder to find.  Dick has gone off shopping.  Even Canterbury has changed — which is amazing since it is such an old Heritage city, but somehow they have managed to find space to reorganize the bus station and create a pedestrian area right through the centre of the City. I’m really impressed by these pedestrian streets and although I’m sure drivers went ballistic when they changed the rules, it must be paying off.  Also England is rapidly becoming cycling country with a huge influx of funds to create bicycling paths throughout — again Toronto take note — or maybe Canada take note! 

I’ve filmed Canterbury before for my tv series and visited The Canterbury Tales (a medieval adventure),  The Ducking Stool, and of course the magnificent Canterbury Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  In fact one of these features is up on this web site under ‘Journeys through the British Isles.  You might like to check it out.  

Well I should end here and just ask you give my big hugs to Molly and Rufus.  Glad to hear all is generally okay though Rufus continues to be ‘naughty’.  Hope to connect with you again, likely Thursday as tomorrow we plan to have a barbeque on the beach, go for a walk on the mudflats and maybe visit my old home.  All our yesterdays!

Aug 9 (Cumbria to Liverpool): Finally able to catch up. Many tx for keeping me informed re Rufus and Molly. Sorry the racoons and blue jays have been driving them nuts by dancing in front of the patio doors. Learning that an iPad or whatever might be the answer for our next trip. Internet went down in the Pennines and then the machines we were able to access were like going back to the dark ages.

Anyway — we left Cumbria on Monday morning but I must first tell you about the activities that took place later on Sunday. Tom the sheepdog was ‘bringing in the sheep’. Boy can he run. It was wonderful to see him rounding up all the sheep and lambs and moving them expertly into another field to graze. Just as well he did. In the afternoon we had the rocket launch. Dick’s niece and her family had joined us. Caitlin is 3 and Ewan 5. Grandpa Dave had promised he would make them a rocket. Late in the afternoon, it was all ready. Two pop bottles carefully taped together and attached to a compressed air pump. A communications set up with siren and phones. The two youngsters were kitted out with yellow protective gear, head sets and goggles for safety and security. Ewan was in charge of the siren. Dick was on hand as the broadcaster “tension is mounting”, “the crowd is on its feet”, “we are close to countdown” and then “we have lift off!!” As we counted down Ewan was positively quivering with excitement. On “One!” he hit the button and the rocket launched high into the air and over into the sheep field. It was hillarious and to add to it all a helicopter went over just as we launched so we were able to say that the rescue mission had arrived. We clambered into the field, found the rocket and did two more launches; one of which landed on the cameraman and the third on the bonnet of the van!  Our last meal that night and again loads of fresh veges and fruit — what a joy to be able to grow everything yourself.

The following morning, Monday August 5, we were up early, returning back over the Pennines to catch the train down to Liverpool. Liverpool would knock socks off Toronto. The waterfront once distressed and depressed is now a masterpiece of innovation with museums, art galleries, patio restaurants, pedestrian walkways, and the ferry terminal for the ‘ferry cross the Mersey’. The interactive Museum of Liverpool stands at the top of the list with the likes of the Ontario Science Centre and Rochester’s Strong Museum. Our main reason for being in the area was to visit two elderly relatives who are in care. One is in a lovely residence in the village of Tarpoley. She just recently lost her daughter to cancer so it was a bit of a sad time for Dick, but she is a bright and very alert 90 year old. It’s a residence with care help, food, etc., and joys of joys they are allowed to have a cat — who lives in! Cat bed, food and water dish all in the reception area. How I wish more homes would do this. Animals are so therapeutic. We spent time with her grand-daughter and great grand-son, a soccer enthusiast who was star struck when Dick was able to tell him stories about the great players that he knows on a personal level. Afterwards we went to a lovely pub with excellent fish and chips, the Rising Sun. If you are ever up that way Tarpoley is a pretty village with cobbled lanes, intriguing little stores, lovely old architecture, I’m guessing medieval and Edwardian, but I didn’t have time to wander. Then it was back to Crewe and on the train to return to Liverpool to the Lord Nelson where we stayed for the night. The Lord Nelson is a relatively inexpensive hotel, pretty basic, but ideal for our needs as it is about 5 minutes walk from Lime Street Station.

The following day, Tuesday, we were off to see an Aunt who is in care at Bebbington on the other side of Liverpool. We took the small Metro trains on the Wirral Line — a sort of combo of our underground and LRT — very efficient and affordable. I wish I could say it was a good visit, but frankly it just serves to reinforce my feelings about the need to allow people to make their own life decisions. She is completely unable to communicate and there is little or no quality of life. We were glad we went to see her but I’m not sure she knew who we were. I still think it’s vital to go and respect the person they were and not the disease you see.

That night we treated ourselves to a show. The Empire Theatre in Liverpool is right by the Lord Nelson and I spotted “Soul Sister” playing there – excellent. It’s based on the life of Tina Turner and Jenny Fitzpatrick, who played Tina, had got all the moves and facial expressions down pat. The cast and the band were incredibly talented and the video sequences that provided the backdrop and interplayed with all the songs and acting was really creative. The old performer and editor in me got a huge kick out of these elements and especially the manner in which they got the actors on and off stage during scene changes. Hope it comes to Toronto.

Wednesday, it was the long haul down to Devon. We are still so happy we buy Britrail flexi-passes. An unbeatable investment. ‘Simply the best’, as Tina would say. We are staying at the Old Coaching Inn in South Molton, an old market town. There are not many hotels in the area and prices vary. The Coaching Inn has a pub attached (very convenient) as does The George (a bit pricier) and there’s also Stumbles, more of a cafe/wine bar. A lot of people who visit the area opt for self-catering and there are a number of farms and properties in the area which are reasonable and ideal for families travelling with young children. There’s also a great attraction, the Quince Honey Farm. You can watch the bees at work, buy honey, and they have a great playground with all manner of climbing attractions and bouncey floors — for the kids of course.

Thursday is market day when they have sheep and cattle auctions.  We went to the farmers’ market for coffee and toast with marmite — an institution when we are in this part of the world — then wandered the stalls, purchased local cheeses, and met my father for lunch. He is 96 going on 55! Rushes around and always trying to put the world to rights. Mum, as you know has severe Alzheimer’s but unlike our Liverpool experience, is wonderfully happy and has excellent care and facilities. I’ve heard many tales of people with loved ones who suddenly get violent so we are very lucky that Mum is still the social personality that we all knew and loved. She’s 90 now and not so good on her feet and sadly doesn’t seem to know me — although there are flashes.  I took her out to the garden and got her painting, so one-on-one is definitely a positive way to interact.

And now, hard to believe, it’s Friday August 9. We’ve been into Barnstaple for some shopping (Marks & Spencers, Edinburgh Woollen Shop, Robbins shoes) and all located on another busy pedestrian main street.  Tough on car traffic but great for retailers.  Now I’m typing this at the library before I go off to visit Mum.  I may not be able to write you again until next Tuesday as the library closes on Saturday at 1 pm and we are off on the next leg of our journey down to Kent early Monday morning.

I was just reading your latest notes on our feline family and horrified to learn that there was a rat around the area. I knew we had had some field mice when the construction was on-going with the nearby developments.  I wonder if the latest construction is responsible.  Regardless I do hope it wasn’t poisoned — that would not be good for all the other wild-life and family pets in the area and I don’t like to think of any animal suffering. Perhaps (hopefully) it died a natural death and the raccoons (like the good members of the cat family that they are) decided they would deposit it in our neck of the woods as a kind of present!  Tonight we are off to another local pub ‘The Stags Head’ — so we are really sampling the area.  Sorry you are having another heat wave. Must run now. Talk soon. Cheers and hugs to the guys.

Aug 4: Sounds great that Rufus can now see anything and everything that might be coming his way.  I think there’s a spot somewhere up around 3 or 4 where the sparrows hop around gathering insects or some such.  Weather here has been mixed, raining and now gorgeous sunshine.  Internet went down and only just able to access — hope not a general problem.  Will try to get and respond to my messages first thing tomorrow, then we leave here and head for Liverpool.  Suspect I may not be able to access a computer immediately, but will try.  We are in Liverpool for 2 nights and then head down to South Molton in Devon.  Sounds like while you have the cats’ number, they now have yours!  Rufus is often waiting for us at the top of the stairs — especially when I was at the old office.  Molly hovering first thing in the morning with her new-found voice.  I thought I had mentioned that our neighbours were having a wedding reception at their place on Saturday, the child of close friends.  Great location.  Grass got mown and everything spiffied up — so it was one of those ideal deadlines when you suddenly have to do things you’ve been putting off.  When Rufus escaped that time, it was like tromping through a rainforest since we knew he would head for their backyard or under their deck — and sure enough he did.  But being black it was impossible to spot him until the bushes moved.  We haven’t seen any tv or news — is anything significant happening in Canada?  Cheers and hugs to Rufus and especially Molly.

Aug 3 (Cumbria):  Rufus used to like to put his head thru the netting and one section of wider vertical bars (but with a horizontal one above) so he could look down the alley.  If you can find a way to let him have that bit of ‘give’ I think he would be happy.  If I tried to do on the left or in the middle, he just might, weight included, try the jump.  He’s quite agile and has figured out how to jump up on the ledge in the bathroom.  The other thing he might do in his frustration is jump the patio table and try to climb up the tree and over the fence.  Good Luck!  Dick’s niece, her husband and their two youngsters arrive today.  His other niece arrived yesterday.  Went for a gorgeous walk on the Fells – a muddy boulder-strewn pond-ridden track just below Black Fell that the farmers use when they go out to bring in the sheep.  Flushed a lot of pheasant.   Had put on a clean pair of slacks that day and needless to say also flushed a very boggy puddle. Sod’s Law. Great views and the sun stayed with us. Towards the end of the day we experienced that lovely late afternoon light.  Had the bbq and the charcoal grill worked really well.  We ate outside.  Breezy enough to keep the mosquitoes away and the sun stayed with us until around 8pm. Had bought a good bottle of Bordeaux — all very nice.  We were off to Alston early this morning to put all the bottles in the bottle tip and a visit to town to pick up a few supplies.  Went into the Cumbrian Pantry where Jack has returned and — thank heavens — is offering ‘real’ coffee.  Enjoyed an Espresso — actually a dry cappuccino — and really good crisp bacon on a bun. He returned to Alston to help out his mother who has holiday cottages and opened up the cafe.  Glad to see someone making a go of it.  I think trying to thrive and survive in the smaller towns in England is tough going.  Cheers for now and glad Molly is ok.

Aug 2:  Really glad you have got their ‘numbers’.  Molly loves cleaning up Rufus’ food.  He doesn’t eat a lot of wet food but I do think it is good for him.  Do you think Molly’s tummy is ok.  Vet said it was a bit distended but nothing to worry about just worth monitoring.  Sounds like the poops are doing well.  Is the downstairs litter becoming the main venue or are you still finding contributions to the one in my office.
It’s been a lot of rain and wind here.  This morning the gang have all gone off to the old market town of Hexham — an hour’s drive there and back – so I opted out.  It’s the nearest town with Marks & Sparks, Edinburgh Woollen Shop, etc. They are charged with bringing back steak for a bbq, but we are back to the charcoal type so I must never again sneer at folks who still have to pile on the fluid and try to get the heat up.  Oh for our Napoleon  bbq– born, bred and made in good old Ontariario.
Was greeted this morning with a heavy grey overcast, now sun coming out and blue sky, so think I’ll head down and sit in the garden.  This morning there was a pheasant sitting on the wall and a mummy with 4 chicks running around the garden.  Then I looked across and saw a rabbit sitting up checking the lie of the land before he scampered out — Dave shoots them!!  Also watched the earth move.  Not what you think.  A thrush was going ballistic as soil was pushed to the surface.  Dancing around atop and pecking at worms.  My first real experience of a mole at work.  The farmers hate them but I found it fascinating. Wished I had my camera.  So I can’t say when I see rabbits or moles as I might be signing their death warrant.  Rabbit pee is toxic to baby sheep and moles mess up the soil, so farmers around here are very anxious to keep the population down.  I can understand the need to do so, but they are all so fascinating to watch. I’m trying to figure out their role in the non man-made eco-system. I’ve never figured out mosquitoes — and they are abundant right now with the warm moist air.  There’s also been quite an influx of Daddy-long-legs.  Yesterday I rescued an admiral butterfly that had got trapped in an upstairs room.
Down for my second cup of coffee.  Cheers and tx for all you are doing for our feline family.  Anne

Aug 1: If no-one knew what we were talking about there could be quite a bit of speculation about ‘Rufus playing with his balls’.  I’m really glad he is because I think it stimulates him (double entendre intended) but also keeps his focus off Molly.  I buy those little sponge rubber balls for about $1 and it’s amazing given his age (5 we think) the way he charges down the stairs to catch them and then brings them back for us to throw again.  Never known a cat like it.  Kittens, yes, but not his age. One group of relatives leave today (we have discovered more on way to Devon and one we were trying unsuccessfully to Skype in Bangkok), another one arrives tonight and the clan arrives on Saturday.  Bathroom challenges — how I love en suite!  How are the cats’ poops?  Is Molly going ok?  Rufus tends to do lots of little ‘Hershey kisses’ all at the same time and occasionally leaves them on top so that we might admire his handiwork.  Molly will leave hers perched on the litter against one long side of the tray.  If you think she might not be going regularly could you try a tummy massage.  You wouldn’t know where to start with Rufus’ great expanse.  Did I tell you that when we took him to the vet for his shots, he weighs 18 lbs, but he is so incredibly active and it’s pretty well all muscle.  Molly is barely 8 lbs. Weather still very mixed here although reasonably warm – they are promising a nice day but right now there’s a lot of black cloud.  Problem is you can’t go for a walk on the Fells without the risk of a sudden (and massive) downpour and nowhere to shelter.  Plus the sheep track or whatever you are walking on, becomes a small river.  It has been raining heavily and the rivers are quite swollen and in some areas, raging torrents. Still it is lovely up here.  Cheers for now and glad fencing seems ok.  Anne  PS  Watch Rufus he may think he has lulled you into a false sense of confidence.  You may find him watching you when he thinks you are occupied and I can almost see his mind turning over. ‘Is now the time to make a break for it — maybe not’.

July 31: So Molly and her desire for cuddles is affecting your ability to write? Try sitting on the other end of the couch, ie closest to the books — she usually sits on my right when I sit there.  I moved the wooden bit of fence into the middle and I’m wondering if that is why the racoons can’t get up and over the area they maybe usually did so they resorted to the netting.  Only Molly can get through the fence and just at the upper level where it is wider.  Rufus jumps at the gate area which is why I keep that so well barred and netted. He can’t get through the bars, so you might not have to do a lot of repair work, just around the gate.  We have more visitors up on the Hill, folks we haven’t seen for some years, so it’s all our yesterdays.  Looks like a nice day today, so hopefully a walk and maybe a bit of painting.  Was chatting with a farmer yesterday.  The sheep are all over the place and most of the Ewes have two lambs who are fair sized.  He was telling us that the market keeps changing.  They’ll be offered so much for lambs one week and half as much the next.  Varies according to holidays and restaurant demand and, of course, if tourism is down, the restaurants don’t want as much.  So much work for these guys and yet if you went to buy lamb at the butchers or a supermarket — the price is out of sight.  Something is very wrong somewhere and not just in England, this unfair market value seems to be out of whack in Canada and elsewhere. A lot of houses for sale, businesses and small stores closed down in the Alston area and yet there is talk of zinc mining starting up again.  So maybe by the time the little Steam railway reaches Slaggyford it will have more of a commercial purpose than pure tourism and satisfying railway fanatics.  It’s a real challenge though — they have to raise significant money to continue with improvements, extension of the rails, etc., and match the offer of a government grant.  Hugs to the guys for me and a little head scratching for his Lordship — Rufus that is!

July 30: We have no tv up here just marvellous views and I am reading using Dave’s Kindle as the lighting isn’t great for reading a regular book.  Amazing how you don’t miss tv after a while.  Still raining on and off.  More relatives arrive today — less shower time!  Rosie, their cat, passed away about a year ago and I quite miss her.  I was always spending time grooming her and giving her special treats.  She lived mainly in the barn and kept down the local population of rabbits and any chance of mice.  As she got older and closer to retirement, she was allowed into the living room and loved the fireplace.  There’s a definite lack of presence in the house — so I’m guessing what you must be going through without Miss Min at the moment.  Glad the guys are ok.  Molly really shouldn’t have Rufus’ crunchies — if you spot a bit of diahrrea that will be why — has she taken to her new dry food at all.  Off to Alston to do a bit of shopping.  My stomach is like a balloon so might try and get some probiotics — change of food, water and generally discombobulated.  There’s the most gorgeous pheasant in the fields outside my window.  Beautiful colouring.  I think (naughty boy) he might have two wives and about 5 chicks.  Or maybe it’s just that one of the chicks looks adult.  The shooting season is about to start and in the neighbouring farm, they are getting the jeeps ready for the people who will come from all over the world to shoot grouse.  I don’t see it as sport.  They have beaters who go out and beat the bushes to cause the birds to fly up in the air and then the Great White Hunters shoot them.  They bag hundreds but they are eaten and some are sent down to game shops in London so they are not wasted.  It certainly brings money into the area and since the economy is affected in many of the smaller towns in England, you can’t argue with it. Just got the call to breakfast. So talk tomorrow.  Tx again for your diligence with the guys.  Cheers for now.

July 29: I think Molly is a calming influence for doing Sudoku — whereas Rufus will do your head in!  Went to the 30th anniversary of the reno of the South Tynedale Railway steam train yesterday, very interesting and of course got all sorts of ideas for filming. The train currently has 3 stops and is great for hikers, with limited capacity, wanting to explore the area around Whitley Castle (an archaeological site formerly known as the Epiacum Roman Fort).  You can get the early train out, a good walk, and then a later train back.  We, however, sat on the train, chatted with Tom Bell, an historian who wrote the first book on it’s history, and drank Pimms — now that is civilized!    Maggie’s jazz group was a geat success.  They had changed the words to Chattanooga Choo Choo to South Tyne Railway Choo Choo and we made up song sheets to hand out.  Worked well.  Also dropped into The Hub Museum, an old railway warehouse converted into a transport museum with everything from penny farthing bicycles to early motorbikes and some classic cars.  Lots of pics on the walls of the old days around Alston.  People are encouraged to bring their old family photos and scan them into the Museum’s system.  Just a potpourri of everything and anything Alston.  All run by volunteers and every square inch of space, floor, walls and ceiling covered with artifacts. Many famous steam engines were hidden here from Nazi bombers during the Second World War. Outside they have one of the old buses — kind you see in current tv series for Heart Beat and such.  Opposite I found Toil and Bubble — a great place for kids — but secretly super for adults too. It’s a craft shop with a DIY difference.  I watched as a 6-year old took transfers and stuck them on a drinking glass (you can also use jam jars or vases), then went to an engraving machine. Afterwards he peeled off the transfers and Hey Presto!   Not sure how it worked, but it did. There were lots of other things you could do including pottery and painting.  A neat idea.  At night we went out to the local pub, The Kirkstyle Inn.  Tucked in the middle of nowhere and the Chef is a real find.  She had a good mix on the menu and since there were six of us we really tried it out.  No complaints, in fact only compliments and lots of interesting gourmet touches without going over the top.  Glad to hear the Beaches Jazz festival went well. Relatively quiet day today with some more relatives descending tomorrow — gradually getting over jet lag.  Stomach giving me a rough time. Cheers for now.  Anne

July 28: Tx for the giggle.  You really have to get into the mind of a cat.  Yes, I’ve seen Molly slip outside the odd time when Rufus has disappeared upstairs.  She will sometimes go and sleep under the hydrangea or behind the day lillies and believe me it is tough to see her there — especially when the sun is up — she camouflages well!  Glad you have heard the Meows.  I think they like the change to something new so don’t be surprised if they won’t eat the Recovery just as soon as you think they love it.  One of the old time favourites is the Chefs supper — but you never know.  Pouring with rain overnight and today.  Such a shame it’s the 30th anniversary of the reno of the South Tynedale Railway.  Maggie, Dick’s sister, and her jazz group, The Lounge Lizards, are performing for the special celebration run at Alston station.  May be wellies and umbrellas all round.  Hopefully folk will turn up. So lovely up here.  Nothing but birds, sheep and the sounds of weather.  Great view. Nice walk yesterday talking to cows and sheep instead of cats.   Well must get ready to head off to the station and fingers crossed the rain will hold off while they play.  really appreciate the cat updates — keeps me reassured.  Any idea where Rufus is spending the night, I know Molly will be downstairs.

July 27: Slept well — unusual for first night, so hopefully jet lag will disappear faster than norm.  Sun out but rain expected – going for walk over the fells.  Sounds like Rufus and Molly are getting into the zone quite quickly.  Keep an eye on her and that he doesn’t bully her as soon as you are out the door!   Dick was sorry to miss the Beaches Jazz Festival as he loves the Samba Squad and they are playing on the corner.  Ok, off for a walk with dark clouds looming.  cheers. Anne  PS.  Re the insect bites, I put polysporin on Molly’s ear and above her eye.  Last time I only did it a couple of times about 3 days apart and it soon disappeared.  Tx again.  Give them both a hug for me.

July 26: Hi there;  Left the house at 5pm and despite traffic, etc., were at the airport, bags checked and thru customs by 6:30.  Air Canada plane full to overflowing and a  real crunch in the seats.  Rows so tightly pushed together, you can’t walk in upright and then once you have managed to get yourself sitting down, you can’t bend down to get at bags that you had pushed under the seat in front of you.  Wicked.  Arrived at Heathrow, got our Britrail passes stamped (they are an absolute Godsend) and took the Heathrow Express to Paddington.  Then the nightmare of getting across to Euston via the Underground.  We were faced with a set of stairs akin to climbing Everest.  The Express folks were on the job though with staff to help people with their bags.  Got to the top, found the Underground entrance and couldn’t buy tickets with cash unless we wanted to go all the way back down the stairs to the main Paddington Station, and then back up again.  Had to use credit cards which really annoyed me for such relatively small amounts and knowing there’d be the conversion plus charges, etc.  Anyway, used the cards and took the train to Euston Square then walked to Euston Station.  Loads of stairs throughout all of this.  Glad we travel reasonably light.  Dick’s sister met us at Penrith and we drove over the Pennines to Cumbria — same general area as the Lake District. Now up at their 16th century converted stone farmhouse near the little village of Slaggyford and just had a light salad, etc.  Mag and Dave bought the place for a song (relatively speaking) when they got married some 40 years ago and have put on extensions, converted bathrooms, built a barn, planted trees and are now (almost) fully self-sufficient, with fruit and vegetables.  They love the outdoor life – you’d have to up here in the wintertime – and do a lot of skiing, climbing and kayaking. We’ll have an early night after all our hours of travelling.  Glad to hear the guys are ok.  Don’t know why I’m so concerned this time around — but it’s been a while since both Dick and I have been away at the same time. I think our last trip was 2011 so Rufus hasn’t experienced our combined absence.  In fact at that time you were giving him the left-overs outside – the stray that came in from the cold.  Must run and will look forward to hearing from you.  Thanks again.

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