Ashford, Kent - Sept 9-26
Sep 26, 2010
|September 9, 2010
After getting up and finishing off our bread for breakfast, plus giving some to the ducks, we packed up and checked out of our room. Our flight is leaving from Billund so we have to get a bus there before our evening flight to London. The buses aren’t very regular so we spent a couple of hours hanging out at the hostel before heading into town to get the bus.
The bus didn’t take too long and neither did checking in. It was nice to get rid of our heavy bags and relax for a while. The flight back to London City Airport was really short and took less than a couple of hours and we were soon picking up our bags again. My dad was there to meet us and it was good to see a friendly face. My dad drove us down to Woodchurch where we were staying with my parents for the first few days and it was lovely coming back to a home cooked meal that I haven’t had to cook, too!
September 10, 2010
Today we went out to Faversham as my mum had arranged a brewery tour for us at Shepherd Neame. We headed into Faversham early and had a walk around. The town is really nice and the market in the main square was quite busy. We found a pub for some lunch and a couple of pre-brewery tour beers, too! There we tried a special beer from the recent Hop Festival and it was really nice – certainly drinkable enough to warrant a second one!
The brewery tour was a lot of fun and it was surprising how big the brewery was and how many beers they made. They make Kingfisher and Asahi under licence here and they even said Kingfisher was their biggest seller in the UK. The brewery was a full working brewery so we saw all the stages in action and it was amazing how hot some of the areas were with all the hot water being pumped around. They also had a great little area with a load of old vehicles and old pub signs. After that we did the tasting. We got to try three tasters and then got another half pint of our choice. We tried the Holsten Export lager, Bishop’s Finger and the 1696 ale which is only bottled. The lager was pretty decent and the Bishop’s Finger (which I’ve had before) was really nice. The trouble was though that the BF is quite bitter and as a result the 1696 didn’t taste of much other than the bitterness we already had in our mouths! For my final beer I chose to try the Master Brew and Elizabeth had the Oranjeboom lager. As mum was driving we got to share her beers as we didn’t want anything going to waste!
After the brewery tour we had a bit of a walk around and grabbed some Spitfire beers from the shop as well as a couple of glasses (to accompany the one I stole from the tasting room!) before heading home to collapse!
On the way back we had some bad news as my mum got a phone call with the results of a recent test she had. It showed that she had cancer again and would require more treatment. It was such a horrible feeling hearing the news and no-one really knew what to say. We popped round to my sister’s house to see the kids briefly before we went back home as I don’t think my mum was in much of a mood for socializing after that.
September 11, 2010
I had told my dad that I wanted to get up early one morning and go somewhere to take some pictures. I managed to convince him that a 6am start was OK and so the two of us headed out to a small village on the south coast called Rye. It was so nice and quiet at that time of day and we had a good hour just taking pictures around the harbour. I didn’t get any great pictures but my dad was able to show me a few things with my camera and I got to experiment a bit with the lighting. Once the sun got too high we headed back and we were back just in time for some breakfast.
We went into Ashford later on to do some shopping but nothing too exciting. I wanted to get a new lens and tripod for my camera so we stopped in a photography shop but I didn’t buy anything as I wanted to check the prices online first. Other than a stop for a load of toiletries we needed and a quick coffee we were soon back at home and enjoying a relaxing day.
In the evening we went out for dinner. My parents were treating us to dinner as our “birthday and Christmas” presents for this year! We went to a lovely Italian restaurant in Ashford where we all stuffed ourselves with three courses and plenty of wine. There were TWO hen parties at the restaurant so the noise level was pretty loud (and high pitched) but thankfully they left to go and get drunk before we had finished. Tonight was my dad’s turn not to drink so he only had half a glass of wine. On the drive back through the quiet, dark country lanes we passed a police car and it immediately turned around and pulled us over. I’m not sure what the reason was and I don’t think the copper had a reason either, really, firstly asking about the front fog lights (which we don’t have), then the rear fog light (which wasn’t on) and then finally saying it was a random stop. My dad had to take a breathalyzer test which was amazingly the first one he’d ever taken and I think my mum was a bit nervous given my dad drives for a living. Obviously he was fine though but it gave him a story to tell all his cab driver friends at work on Monday!
September 12, 2010
Today we went down to Camber to have a walk along the beach with my mum’s dog. My sister met us down there with her kids and it was a nice way to spend the morning. The weather was good for a change although I’m not sure I’d want to have gone swimming like some people were! Back at my parent’s house we had a huge roast dinner with everyone and it was certainly great getting a good home-cooked meal – there is only so much you can make in a small hostel kitchen!
September 13, 2010
We left my parent’s house this morning to go around and stay with my brother. We had decided to spend a week there and then our final week back with my mum and dad so we weren’t putting anyone out for too long! Dad dropped us off in Merstham on his way to work and we got to see my little niece Charlotte again. It is only a couple of months since we’d last seen her but she has changed so much already and she’s already started taking a few steps. It won’t be long before she is running around the front room and causing havoc! In the evening I cooked for a chicken stew for everyone and despite thinking I’d made too much it soon disappeared!
September 14, 2010
This morning my sister-in-law woke us up early as she was feeling ill so we looked after Charlotte for a while as she had a lie down. It didn’t get any better though and she was advised to go to the hospital so I drove her there while Elizabeth looked after Charlotte. We were heading out in the afternoon to meet my friends and go and watch the football so Naomi’s mum came over just after lunchtime and took over baby-sitting duties! Charlotte had been really good and well-behaved and it was good practice for when we look after her later in the week!
We got the train up into South London and our first stop was the stadium where Elizabeth got her first ever Crystal Palace shirt and she was obviously oh-so-proud to wear it! We headed to The Cherry Trees pub where we first met Jay and before long more people were turning up including my brother, Simon, two Marks, Neill, Lauren and some new faces I’d not seen before, too. There were lots of Portsmouth fans in the pub too and Elizabeth was really enjoying introducing herself to everyone and anyone, even people I didn’t know. After a fair few pints Elizabeth was getting annoyed with all the away fans singing so she put her shirt on and was getting into the swing of things. It wasn’t long before she was standing up on the seats in the pub giving them stick and giving everyone a good laugh! She managed to break a fair few glasses as she got down too which didn’t impress the barmaids so much! The game itself was quite a blur after so much beer but it was a decent atmosphere and every time Palace scored the guy in the row in front kept leaping on us. This would’ve been OK if we’d scored one but we ended up winning 4-1 so there was lots of jumping and cheering going on. We’re going to the Palace again on Saturday so I hope Elizabeth doesn’t expect this much fun every match – I’ve suffered for well over 20 years so it wouldn’t be fair if she got to see two big victories! It was such a fun night – getting to see everyone, some friendly banter with the away fans and rounded off with a Palace win I don’t really remember!
September 15, 2010
Today we didn’t do very much at all apart from look after Charlotte in the afternoon when Naomi went to work. She was really well behaved after a little bit of crying to begin with but she soon settled down and was good for Elizabeth which allowed me to get dinner sorted. Our friend Sophie came round for dinner and it was great to see her again. She is pregnant and is actually due the same day as Naomi so it was difficult to keep them away from baby talk but we just about managed! I’d made a huge cottage pie with broccoli and cauliflower cheese as well as a lemon cheesecake for dessert – most of it went so I’ll take that as a positive for all my hard work cooking this afternoon!
September 16, 2010
Today was a day when we did absolutely nothing. Naomi was working this afternoon but Charlotte was being looked after by her grandma so we had a nice peaceful day of nothing! Elizabeth got caught up on her travel journal and did some of her cross-stitch and I did a bit of my travel journal (and got pictures uploaded from Sweden and Denmark) and got some stuff sorted for our Norway trip in a week or so. Nick was out this evening at some work event so I cooked Spaghetti Bolognese for everyone, which was a lot less effort than yesterday!
September 17, 2010
This morning we didn’t do very much either but the afternoon more than made up for that. Charlotte had been a bit grizzly after lunch and when Naomi had to leave for work she just wouldn’t stop crying for a good hour or so before Elizabeth eventually got her to sleep for a while. All afternoon though she was switching between napping and crying and dirtying her nappy so it wasn’t the most fun day of our trip, that’s for sure. In fact we were very pleased when Naomi came back home and took her off our hands! We’d survived the five hours but only just and it certainly made us think more about whether we really want kids or not!
This was the first night it had been just the 5 of us for dinner and we had bangers and mash tonight. It had certainly been a good (and heavy) week for food, except for the kebab I had after the football on Tuesday!
September 18, 2010
We again were going to see Palace today so at lunchtime we got the train to the ground and met my parents for some lunch before heading to the pub for a couple of quick beers. Elizabeth didn’t want to get quite as drunk as Tuesday but I advised her that a couple would be good – watching Palace with no alcohol is something I’ve not done for a few years and wouldn’t want to do now! At the football itself, the game was not as good as Tuesday night and Palace drew 0-0 with Burnley. Elizabeth has seen 5 matches now and two have been 0-0, two have been 1-0 and one has been 4-1. Given how drunk she was for the 4-1 compared to being sober for the rest I’d suggest she gets drunk in future!
We got a lift back with my parents as we were heading back to Woodchurch for next week. We had a lovely casserole for dinner. I’m not looking forward to travelling again – we’re going to miss out on all this great food!
September 19, 2010
Today everyone came to my parent’s house so we had all the family together. Nick and Naomi came over early with Charlotte and we had a lovely roast dinner. Later in the afternoon Karen and Ryan came over with Joshua and Phoebe for some tea. It was quite loud and stressful having everyone in the same confined space but it was good to see everyone.
September 20, 2010
Today we did a bit of shopping to get some more of the stuff we needed. Elizabeth picked up some more thick socks (cold weather + one pair of walking socks = very stinky!) as well as some new flip-flops and a couple of other small things. I got a couple of cheap t-shirts and a shirt so that should be me done on the clothes front.
In the afternoon we went round and saw my sister and had a chat and a cuppa before we went out to pick Phoebe up from school. We are taking the two kids out for dinner to McDonalds on Friday night so Karen wanted to show us where the school is and what we have to do to pick the kids up. Given the sensitivity around security at schools we had to wait for a teacher to unlock the main gate and then had to stand outside the classroom door while the children came out in single file and weren’t allowed out until they had pointed out their parents. It seemed a bit over the top but I suppose the schools have to cover their arses nowadays!
September 21, 2010
We decided to spend the day in London today. We got the train into Waterloo and were amazed at how expensive that was. For both of us for an off-peak ticket it was nearly £45 which is crazy for a day trip just an hour away. We got into Waterloo and headed first for the Tate Britain gallery. It was a really nice day so it was a pleasant walk along the south bank of the river, past the London Eye and the aquarium and along to Lambeth Palace before crossing Lambeth Bridge. I got some nice pictures of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. I even learnt something here today I’d never known before. One of the bike tours around the city had stopped near us and the guide was telling the tourists about the colours of the veranda areas on the river bank. One had a red roof and one had a green roof and each one matched the colours of the chairs within the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Furthermore, the two bridges either side of the House are also similar colours, with Westminster Bridge painted red and Lambeth Bridge painted green (I think I have those the right way around!). Really, I’d never even noticed the bridges’ colours before and certainly didn’t realise there was any significance to them. However, the guide did continue to tell his group that the tower which houses the large bell is called Big Ben Clock Tower when in fact everyone knows Big Ben is actually the name of the bell! This did make me doubt his other “fact” but it sounds plausible and sounds good enough for me!
At Tate Britain we found ourselves surrounded by lots of paintings of landscapes and portraits which are far from being my favourite. That is probably an understatement as we must’ve spent around 2 hours walking around the section called Historic British Art and I can barely remember a single piece I saw. Of course there were Turner’s, Sargent’s, Constable’s and Gainsborough’s but I couldn’t tell you a thing about what was depicted on the canvas. There were some really impressive large pieces depicting the Last Judgement and these were really dark, both in colour and meaning, and where there was brightness it stood out from the other side of the room! The one real thing which stood out for me here though was the room dedicated to the work of Damien Hurst. I would not describe anything he did as being art but, like much of the modern stuff we saw later in the day, it was memorable and a little captivating. Amongst the pieces here were models of medical figures, including cut-through bodies showing organs, muscles and bones, some more butterflies he’d killed with paint and, finally, a sheep in formaldehyde. According to the description, the position of the sheep, with the front legs raised a little, was supposed to “give it life” and make it look like it was ready to leap. Nope – it definitely looked dead to me! In the main area between the galleries were two planes hanging from the ceiling. They were both sculptures but they were both full-sized too which was quite an impressive feat!
After the first museum stop we had a walk around more of the Houses of Parliament and walked between that and the back of Westminster Abbey. It was packed full of tourists and we were quite pleased to get out the other side and onto Westminster Bridge, heading back south across the Thames. After a few more stops for photos we found a café for lunch and a short break. I’d been surprised how long we’d spent at the Tate, actually, and was starving by the time we stopped!
We continued eastwards along the south bank of the river and walked back passed Waterloo again and continuing on towards the Tate Modern. We’d chose to do the two Tate museums as they were two that neither of us had visited before and they were both free, something which definitely made up for the exorbitant train fare. It is really something when after almost a month in pricey Scandinavia you still think London/England is expensive!
We visited all of the main four areas at Tate Modern and some of it was certainly more interesting than others. One of the more interesting pieces was a painted canvas (one colour, one tone) which had been slashed across the middle. Whilst it isn’t exactly what I would call fine art it was quite funny how the picture seemed to almost alter the further you moved away from it, almost as if the slash was growing and changing appearance slightly. We saw a couple of Lichtenstein works including a painting called “Whaaam!” and a sculpture of a comic scene. The sculpture was the first I had seen by Lichtenstein and it was really cool although I’d struggle to find a suitable place to hang it in a regular house! There was a full-sized version of Rodin’s The Kiss here as well as a painting by Munch of a sick child, similar to one we’d seen elsewhere. Given we were going to Norway next it is interesting seeing some more of Munch’s work but I really want to see The Scream! Some of the less interesting or weird items included a large, over-sized plug socket and some crap by Joseph Bueys. I suppose the fact I am writing about these things means they captured my imagination a little but I’m not sure they had the effect the artist would’ve preferred! Bueys stuff just doesn’t interest me remotely and I found myself barely stopping to look at anything in his room as it just doesn’t make any sense and he obviously thinks himself the king of wit with some of his personal explanations. There were works by Dali and Miro here, each of which are strange in their own way, but for once the Dali painting actually seemed to make sense and the abnormal stuff was pretty well hidden in the background rather than front and centre! Miro though is a strange one for me as his work is so stand-alone in the composition. All great artists have followers and you often see people who have imitated their style. However, no-one before or after Miro seems to be even close to the same style. The Andy Warhol room was decorated with bright pink and yellow cow wallpaper which itself was quite over-powering and really detracted from his other works there. However much I tried looking elsewhere I always ended up staring back at a cow! Sometimes these kind of galleries really disappoint me and this one did a little, too. We saw plenty of really good stuff and some excellent classical pieces, like a Monet water lillies, but then you get whole rooms dedicated to “artists” like Cy Twombly. For those of you who aren’t regular viewers, Twombly is the guy I wrote about in Berlin who had “painted” a whole big pile of crap. I went on quite a tirade about how awful the art was and how he must be laughing at the idiots who pay to purchase his work. Well, these pieces were of a similar standing, in my opinion, and featured three large canvasses with red splodges all over them. I fear I can’t truly describe these “artworks” without being crude and referencing the monthly cycle which women experience so I shan’t go any further!
After finishing here we went to London Bridge station to meet our friend Sharon for some drinks. She was running a little late so we just headed for the nearest bar and found a seat and a drink while we waited. It was fun to catch up with Sharon and have a gossip about people we know from Bermuda and people we haven’t seen for ages. We couldn’t stay too late though as we had a long trip back to Ashford and so before we knew it we had to go and catch our train, finding time to quickly grab a sandwich for our tea!
September 22, 2010
Today my mum had to go to the hospital to find out about what treatment she was going to need and the timescale for her operation and any after treatment. After a lazy morning we went around to Karen’s and looked after Joshua while she went with my parents to the hospital. As she is a nurse my mum wanted her there to ask some questions and help take all the information in. We had a few tears with Joshua when Karen first left but we managed to bribe him with some sweets and we took him to Imagine, a play area full of soft toys and climbing frames. He had so much fun and had both Elizabeth and I chasing him around and wearing us out, climbing up and down and running around! We were glad when it came time to leave that he didn’t get upset but it did help that I had some more sweets to bribe him with! He was so well behaved and before long Karen was back and we were off duty!
My mum found out that she will definitely need a hysterectomy and she will need to have a scan to find out whether she needs any radio or chemotherapy again. She was a bit annoyed though as she had assumed that her treatment would be at the nearby hospital in Ashford but instead it is going to be in Margate, about an hour drive away. It shouldn’t make much difference but if her after-op treatment is there too she will need the hospital to shuttle her around as she can’t drive for a minimum of 6 weeks after her operation. I’m sure it will all work out fine but it is a horrible thing for us all to go through again and if we are all worried I can’t even begin to think what it must be like for my mum going through it all again. In many ways I guess I have it easy as I’m not going to be around but I feel bad that I am not around to help out and will try and call and email home as much as I can. Thankfully, for the next few months we’re going to be in Europe so I can always get home quickly if I need or want to.
September 23, 2010
Karen had to work last night so as usual my mum looked after Joshua on Thursday morning. We decided to take him to the local Rare Breeds Centre which is a cross between a zoo and a farm and caters a lot to small children and those with special needs. It allows a lot of hands-on contact and plenty of access to animals. There were lots of donkeys, sheep, pigs (including some week old piglets), rabbits, guinea pigs and many other similar animals. They also have a great little area with birds of prey (mostly owls) and they were all so well kept and so close. Of course these weren’t free to pet but they certainly kept Joshua amused. His favourite colour at the moment is orange so when we went into the butterfly house we were determined to find an orange butterfly for him and we finally saw a huge one just as we were about to exit. He gets so excited and animated about the things he likes and he kept us on the move all morning. When we finally got him to stop we had a picnic lunch but the rest didn’t last long as he soon wanted to play on the swings and slides and so Uncle Peter got the job of pushing him on the swings for about 15 minutes!
Once Joshua had gone back to Karen’s we all lazed around. We had ordered some things online over the course of the last two weeks and we had finally received all of them. Yesterday, the calendars I had made for my family arrived and I was really happy with how they had turned out – the pictures and print quality was excellent and I hope all the family like them! We also had some things turn up from Next that we’d ordered although Elizabeth’s t-shirts didn’t fit but my flip-flops were just fine, an excellent Christmas present from my parents! Today my brother called to tell me my new lens had turned up (was expecting it by Friday but better late than never!) and then our Kindle’s arrived. For those that don’t know, Kindle’s are electronic reading devices and we decided to get ourselves one each as we were fed up with the additional weight of carrying books around. When we arrived in the UK we had TEN books in our bags and leaving UK we were still going to have eight. Compared to the weight of the Kindle’s we thought we were on to a winner! Elizabeth was loving going online and downloading lots of free books for her to read and I was too. I think these purchases might be one of our better investments. Now we just need to read the books we have and dump them somewhere! We might’ve spent a bit more than we intended on extra things while in the UK but it is certainly things we either needed or will get use out of. I’m sure Elizabeth will argue my new camera lens is not quite a necessity but I’ll have to make sure I use it to justify the cost!
September 24, 2010
Today we had a day our on our own and we drove to Sissinghurst Castle. Sissinghurst is part of the National Trust and Nick has lent us his and Naomi’s membership cards so that didn’t even cost us anything either! The drive was nice and the GPS took us around some little country lanes. The castle was not much a castle any more but the main building and the small central tower were both really picturesque and set in a wonderful little garden. The castle and grounds were surprisingly busy but I think we were the youngest people there by at least a generation, possibly two! It was good to get some fresh air and some exercise just walking around the gardens and we managed to find a table to enjoy our picnic lunch. Mum had made macaroni cheese last night and there was loads left over so we took that and had it with a baguette for lunch. I don’t think mum liked dinner too much last night and she isn’t a big fan of leftovers but we had both really enjoyed it and were happy to polish it off for lunch today! Given some of the crap we put up with for lunches and dinners this was a lot more than adequate to keep us going for an afternoon! We left Sissinghurst and drove towards Smallhythe Place, another National Trust site. However, we arrived to find it shut and within seconds, literally seconds, of us arriving the heavens opened and the rain poured down. We were glad we were in the car and out of the way and even more glad we’d visited Sissinghurst reasonably early and avoided the rain.
Karen was working again tonight so we had agreed to look after Joshua and pick Phoebe up from school and look after them until Ryan finished work. We met Karen and Joshua at the school and managed to just avoid the rain waiting for Phoebe. Joshua was being a bit silly and wouldn’t talk to us but once he saw grandma’s car (which we’d borrowed!) he brightened up! We took them back home for a bit and amused them with a bit of TV and colouring before we took them to McDonald’s for dinner as a treat! We did have a bit of drama though as Phoebe doesn’t like anything other than cheese on her burger and we got them mixed up. As soon as she had taken four or five bites she noticed the ketchup in the burger and started getting a bit panicky and teary and she wouldn’t accept just swapping with Joshua. We bought her another burger and she was happy and I got to mop up the extra one, despite not intending to eat here as we were going out with my parents tonight for dinner. Still, it was just one measly burger so I knew I’d be hungry a bit later! We dropped the kids back off with Ryan and headed home to get changed for dinner. We went out for dinner to Pizza Express as my mum had collected some vouchers and Elizabeth and I shared a really spicy and tasty pizza with a side salad to pretend we were healthy. We all skipped dessert this time though, preferring to wait until we got home and have some ice cream there!
September 25, 2010
Today we had a lazy morning and got our stuff packed up. We aren’t flying out until Monday (27th) but we are going out this evening and most of the day tomorrow so we thought it better to get it out of the way. Also, we’d bought a fair few things and scattered a few things around the house so the sooner we packed the more likelihood we had of remembering everything!
In the evening we went round to Karen’s for dinner. Ryan cooked a really lovely Beef Bourguignon and it was a shame Karen was working tonight so we couldn’t spend some more time there.
September 26, 2010
We headed out early this morning as we were going to Nick’s house for Charlotte’s first birthday party. They had moved the party forward by a week so that they could have it when we were there which was really nice. As we were there early I helped Nick with some of the cooking. I’d already made some flapjacks the night before for the party and helped make some parsnip and carrot crisps and helped cook the mini sausages. Proper party food! I did manage to slice off a bit of my thumb cutting the carrot slices but it wasn’t enough to stop the party! It was lovely to see Charlotte enjoying her presents (mostly the boxes!) and to see the other children, Joshua and Phoebe, playing together. All of Naomi’s family were there as well and it was a really good day.
Once we had got back to my parent’s house I finished my packing and watched some of the NFL matches on TV, something I probably won’t get much of a chance to do once we’re back on the road!