Posts Tagged ‘Dorset’

Every single year, as Christmas approaches like an out-of-control express train, I am gripped by panic at the thought of The Cards.

Obviously there’s the perennial dilemma of what to do with the ones we receive, which we usually end up littering around every room, squeezed like squatters on to picture frames and any available surface because we have tried and failed to find any other sensible method of display.

Beyond that dilemma, though, is the one of ‘Are we sending cards again this year?’ This is usually a conversation – very brief at that – held in about the second week of December when my panic is reaching danger levels.

I know I have to have everything sorted well before the 25th, but life is rapidly going out of focus and I dream of darkened rooms and spa holidays in Mauritius.

If only Geoff would say ‘No, let’s forget about cards for once. People will just think we’ve gone away.’ But of course he doesn’t say that because, like me, he actually likes to keep in touch with friends and send them our greetings, however much of a toll it takes on nerves and time, not to mention my dreadful handwriting.

This year, however, I took an entirely different approach to the problem of cards. I went off piste, and, holding my breath, hoped Geoff would join me. He did! And that is why, for the first time, we have made a donation to charity instead of sending cards.

We’ve emailed everyone who would normally receive a card from us to explain what we’ve done and why we’ve done it, and included a link to the charity we chose to support. This is the Dorset Cancer Centre at our county hospital in Dorchester, a cause very close to our hearts for all sorts of reasons and one which we know will definitely help change lives for the better.

Geoff and I went to a talk earlier this year when we learnt about the proposed centre. It moved us greatly to hear how some cancer patients in the far west of Dorset have had to forgo radiotherapy treatment because their nearest centre, in Poole, is quite impossible for them to reach on a daily basis over a number of weeks.

Any patients without their own transport or, perhaps, with young children either still at home or needing to be accompanied to and from school, would simply find the routine out of the question.

The new centre at Dorchester will solve so many of those logistical problems. It will not only have the longed-for radiotherapy department but much-enhanced facilities for cancer outpatients, including a reconfigured chemotherapy unit that will be able to accommodate a family member or two alongside patients during their treatment, something which lack of space means is not currently possible.

There’ll be rooms for counselling and support services, too, and another significant bonus is in the extended range of cancers that will able to be treated at the centre, making the whole project an absolute win-win for north, south and west Dorset.

The £1.75m project is well on the way to being fully funded through supporters’ charitable efforts and the building is already taking shape.

Quite honestly, the satisfaction of supporting such an incredibly worthwhile project has totally eclipsed the pleasure of being in personal contact with friends and family through writing messages in 100-odd cards. Nowadays, with the ease of email and phone calls, we can do that when we wish, but giving something a little extra has taken on a new meaning for us this year.

Happy Christmas everyone!


Read Full Post »

I’ve never been a particularly good present person. Happy to receive presents, of course, but a bit lacking in inspiration when it comes to thinking of things for others. As with everything, I try hard, my intentions are good, but I am liable to fall short.

It is true that I sometimes surprise myself with wonderful ideas, and make a mental note that such-and-such would be ideal for so-and-so’s birthday six months hence. Sadly, the mental note, as with 99 percent of things committed to memory, promptly flies straight back out of the tiny slot through which it entered, leaving me bereft, as ever, once that birthday comes round.

Christmas is another trauma altogether. I have found over the years that my only way to cope in respect of the ‘what to get for whom’ dilemma is to place myself in a state of suspended animation until the 24th and then panic, big-time.

This time of year is particularly difficult because there are so many birthdays of friends and family that my inspiration drains away faster than you can say gift wrap.

One of my problems is that if I hit upon a formula, I dare not let go. This means, for example, that our poor daughter-in-law is almost certain to end up with something to keep her warm. Theirs is a very cold house so my instinct is always to wrap her up. Her stocks of thick, cosy hats, socks, jumpers and scarves could probably kit out a Polar expedition team.

It’s always worse when the luckless person on the receiving end of one of my gifts is a brilliantly inspired present-giver themselves. My sister-in-law, Geoff’s sister, for instance, just has a gift for it, if you’ll forgive the wholly intended pun.

She always gets it right. What, then, to give her for her birthday this year, after so many lack-lustre efforts on our part in the past? Geoff and I pooled our thoughts for so long that despair set in.

I know, I suddenly screeched. A voucher! Do you mean a book token, asked Geoff. No! A voucher for a day out! We’ll take her for a day out and fill it with surprises.

Geoff designed the voucher and put it in with the birthday card. We got her favourite cousins on side, arranged a date and planned the outing.

It was a great success, though I can take little credit for it. We picked up the bemused birthday girl from her home and drove her through the stunning Dorset countryside to a lunch rendezvous with the cousins, who she had not seen for a few years. They were lying in wait, their presence still a secret to her.

Surprise, surprise! Oh, the hugs, the happiness and the huge, huge smiles. It was wonderful to behold, and to be a part of.

Lunch followed, with not a gap in the chatter, and then we migrated south to West Bay. The plan had been to take a post-prandial walk, but the weather was dire and so we did the only thing Brits can do under these circumstances: we sat on a bench and ate ice-creams.

The wind may have blasted our faces, sent our hair all over the place, whipped flecks of ice-cream on to our clothes, but it didn’t matter. It was daft and wonderful and utterly memorable.

Our photos of the day only need one caption: Five Go Mad in Dorset.

Read Full Post »

We’ve had our mini-summer holiday in the past couple of weeks: two days out, in Dorset, in beautiful weather, with no crowds. Bliss.

Once the schools are back and holiday memories for most people are tucked away with the suncream and the flip-flops, that’s the time to reclaim our best destinations and explore again the honeypots that so recently buzzed with crowds.

We first headed out on a warm, sunny day to Moreton. We dropped everything we’d thought of doing and just went, seizing the chance that suddenly presented itself after a run of dismally damp weather.

We parked in a field (it was an official car park, sensibly keeping the village roads relatively obstacle-free) and walked about, admiring and appreciating the prettiness of everything as cottages slumbered under sun-warmed thatch and gardens billowed in a last burst of colourful enthusiasm.

At the ford, small children splashed and paddled, thrilled no doubt to have such an accessible playground where dogs could join in the fun, too. It was so Enid Blyton-esque that we half-expected to spot Timmy, tail a-wagging, leading Anne, George, Dick and Julian into some frightful scrape which would ultimately lead to the unravelling of a mystery.

St Nicholas Church was our principal destination, to see once again the 13 magnificent engraved windows by one of my all-time heroes, Laurence Whistler. For once, happily, we had the whole building to ourselves and so were able to allow the atmosphere created by the extraordinary light that filters through to infuse us and add to the whole utterly memorable experience.

Moved, as always, by the windows and all they represent, we returned to the sunny village and walked around the Walled Garden and then the churchyard – located some distance from the church itself – where T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, is buried. I very much appreciated the fact the large and elegantly inscribed gravestone on his tomb is beside the modest stone that records the passing of one Ethel Shrimpton, proof were it needed that we are all equal when we’re six feet under.

Another of Dorset’s greats, OK, arguably the greatest, is Thomas Hardy, and the next warm, sunny day saw us making a beeline for his birthplace near Higher Bockhampton. Both Geoff and I were convinced we’d been before but not actually made it into the cottage. I even described the view I’d had of it from the village road.

How wrong we were! There is no road past the cottage. You walk to it either through the woods or along a lane from a car park more than half a kilometre away. To say the cottage is atmospheric hardly begins to describe it. It really is possible to imagine the child Thomas growing up into the young man Thomas, surrounded by his sisters, brother and parents in this bucolic, rural haven.

A haven to us, of course, in this brutal world, but I bet back then, in the 19th century, it was cold, damp, draughty, smelly, uncomfortable and crowded. It is not hard to see – literally, from the windows – how Hardy drew on his surroundings for inspiration, and on the lives and experiences of his family and acquaintances, too.

I wonder if, sometimes, the distraction of baking smells wafting up from the kitchen beneath his room caused him to cease the scratch of his pen and hurry down to discover what was cooking. On our visit, it was almond biscuits, fresh-baked in the brick oven by costumed Lou and Hetty, that set the seal on another lovely day out and gave us a taste for more.

Read Full Post »

Everyone has a hobby, whether it’s running up mountains or watching reality shows on the telly. Somewhere in between those two extremes lie the sort of pastimes that normal mortals can get passionate about, such as jogging and swimming, for the active, or crosswords and Sudoku, for the more sedentary.

Generously placing Geoff in the category of normal mortal, I have to admit it is no great surprise that a lifelong interest in things that go vroom-vroom means his hobby is cars. In particular, classic cars. Not the gleaming, superbly restored glamour vehicles of ye olden dayes, with leather-strapped bonnets and a pedigree to make grown men faint, but something a bit more vroom-vroomish and nippy yet with enough age about it to qualify for the definition of classic.

The interest, or should I say the passion, developed into a longing, and the longing turned into an urgent need the second Geoff spotted a For Sale advert for the car of his more realistic (by which I mean affordable) dreams.

The need was duly met, and he became the owner of a modest, feisty, occasionally moody drain on his finances that causes him both anguish and joy. That sounds like me, for the description certainly fits, although I’m afraid the four-wheeled object of Geoff’s affections is also racy and beautiful. But, get this, she’s inclined to be unreliable.

The vision of Basil Fawlty taking a branch to thrash the hell out of his broken-down car comes to mind every time Geoff tells me of the latest cough-and-splutter debacle that Carlotta has indulged in or the latest requirement for a this or a that to ensure she remains roadworthy.

Once, memorably, the branch-thrashing vision happened 30 miles from home. We were out together for what had started as a beautiful drive but which turned into a silent, tense hour of breath-holding as Geoff nursed Carlotta home at snail’s pace while she hiccupped and disgraced herself and I sank into the passenger footwell, willing the tarmac to open up and swallow me.

In due course, Carlotta was sent to the breakers, no, no, sorry, I mean the hospital for clapped-out classics, where something horrifyingly expensive was done to her and she returned home all smugly and going like a dream again.

Geoff still can’t talk about that day, and we certainly don’t mention the cost of the miracle, but I understand that such incidents are not uncommon in the world in which we now find ourselves.

I remain braced for more, but in the meantime I really enjoy sharing Geoff’s hobby. We tootle happily all over the place, appreciating life in the slow lane and acknowledging the waves of fellow enthusiasts.

On Sunday there were plenty of waves from onlookers, too, when we completed the Hardy Country Classic Tour, which took in 75 miles of glorious countryside. It was the greatest treat to be supporting charity while also revelling in the delight of Dorset in bloom.

Over every hill and through every gateway nature’s many shades of green provided a background for a heady palette of early summer colours.

It was a good day on all levels – even the picnic I’d made for our lunch-stop got a thumbs-up from Geoff – and Carlotta made it there and back without so much as a splutter.

As Geoff frequently reminds me, classic-car owning is a hobby with built-in excitement and surprise. There’s no saying if the car will break down, throw a fit, go like a dream – or even start. You don’t get that sort of thrill with crosswords.

Read Full Post »

GEOFF and I are always reluctant to go anywhere that might get us caught up in crowds of people and queues of traffic. This means that during the high season most visitor attractions and many roads are off limits.

We choose instead to enjoy the home-made attractions of our own house and garden and our familiar local walks while we wait until the holiday madness settles and the roads become less clogged.

On Sunday, we found ourselves with a rare free afternoon. Let’s go somewhere, I said. The schools have gone back, the holiday crowds have returned home and I’m sure that by this time of day the roads won’t be busy.

So off we set, our destination Lulworth Cove, for a coastal walk in the warm sunshine and for Geoff to give his camera some exercise. Perhaps it would be the last chance of going anywhere this year without foul-weather gear over 36 layers of Arctic-proof body protection – who knows?

The last time we’d been to Lulworth we were showing it off to Italian guests. They come from an area of Italian coast that boasts mile after of mile of featureless beaches plastered with bodies spit-roasting in olive oil on hired sun loungers.

They’ll love this, we told ourselves. Lulworth is so beautiful, so English, with its perfect bay, its dramatic cliffs and its pretty cottages.

In fact, our visitors could not have been less interested. For one thing they didn’t stop talking long enough to give us a chance to explain where we were and what they should be looking at, and for another, they were about as comfortable admiring stunning English landscapes as we are when we watch their ghastly Italian television programmes.

Of course, this made us all the more possessive and proud of Lulworth and anxious to reach out and embrace it. Unfortunately, when we reached out to it on Sunday, it was apparent half the rest of the world had done the same. The car park was packed, cars were going round and round trying to find spaces (there is something so very depressing about that) and everywhere you looked there were people.

This was not what we’d come here for. Geoff extricated the car from the mayhem and we drove west to Durdle Door, where we hoped the teeming hordes were less evident.

They were. We parked and walked. It was so beautiful, so intoxicating in its extraordinariness and so unspoilt, despite its honey-pot effect.

The beaches were busy and many people were bathing, no doubt astonished, as we were, that it was even thinkable let alone enjoyable at this time of year.

Geoff and I made a pact to return in winter and see it all under the influence of different elements, without the sun and the blue sky streaked with clouds, without that amazing turquoise seawater in the bays, and without such a proliferation of shorts, sleeveless tops and sunhats.

Perhaps we would find, instead, a heavy sky, a cruel sea and a few stalwarts of the cagoule and boots brigade. What we would most hope to find, I know, is a tractor to tug us up that lung-burstingly steep, stony track to our car at the top.


Read Full Post »

Another week, another chip in my poor car’s windscreen. This one, like the nasty one it suffered three months ago, is bad enough to require attention from someone who knows about chips, and so I shall have to muster the mental strength and the space in my diary to seek help.

It brings me, with sinking heart, back into contact with an insurance company, this time the car’s insurers. It is going to be doubly trying as it comes so soon after the grim skirmish with the home contents insurers when my mobile phone swallow-dived into water.

These experiences, now woven into the fabric of our daily lives, are defined by what I call the Equation of the Hapless Customer: small voice in wilderness + faceless company with automated phone system = frustration and loss of half a working day.

It’s what we are all up against, whether we are trying to contact insurers, as in this case, or any of the countless other businesses or public bodies that eschew customer service in favour of customer get lost. The factor they have in common is the ease with which they take our money and the poor hand they deal us in return. All we want is to speak to a person, so that when something vaguely recognisable as a human voice eventually responds, it would be swimmingly fab if they could just shut up and listen before spouting lines from a crib sheet.

OK, now that’s off my chest I’ll calm down and steer myself back to the happy memory of Sunday, when, glad to put the approaching storm of the chipped windscreen out of my mind, I accompanied petrol-head Geoff to the annual Classics at the Castle event at Sherborne Castle.

Such a setting in such weather would surely guarantee success whatever the event, but the attraction of a huge gathering of ancient and modern cars proved irresistible to thousands of happy punters. The ubiquitous bouncy castle, burgers, hot dogs and ice-creams probably played a part, too.

We loved it, walking miles and missing not a single one of the thousand-plus exhibits. Beside many of them sat their owners, like proud parents overseeing their well-behaved, shiny-faced offspring.

We heard stories of how new life had been given to so many vehicles that were no more than a car-shaped pile of rusty scrap metal when discovered. Now, the reborn, pampered beauties, unrecognisable in their perfection and unblemished by 21st century life – not a chipped windscreen to be seen – provoked Geoff and me into thinking along our favourite theme of “What if?”

Obviously, a spare garage and being reborn ourselves as qualified motor mechanics (I do like a nice set of greasy overalls), were two basics taken for granted. What car would we choose upon which to lavish our every waking hour and our last pound?

It would have to be an Austin Healey 3000, we decided, or perhaps a friendly old Riley with a running board. Then we saw a Jaguar SS 100 and added that to the fantasy list. We had to rein ourselves in as our imaginations ran wild, especially when I started lusting after a combine harvester that we followed on the way home.

It just seemed so majestic, filling the road in its superior way. Also, I pointed out to Geoff as I extolled its virtues for taking over our spare, expandable, virtual garage, I bet it doesn’t get its windscreen chipped all the way up there.

Read Full Post »

Someone, somewhere in west Dorset, has had a parcel delivered this week by a driver whose sheer brilliance deserves medals. I know this because I encountered him.

We met, head on, in what must be one of the narrowest lanes known in the modern universe, in some parallel-world rural nirvana somewhere within egg-throwing distance of Eggadon Hill.

At least, I think that’s where I was. You do tend to lose a bit of mental and geographical stability when one bicycle-width lane in fifty shades of green leads into another and then into another.

I grew up among lanes like these in Cornwall, and had no choice but to learn to drive in them since we lived four miles from what anyone would call a proper road. Reversing held no fears for me, at least not after my first encounter with a tractor and muck-spreader meant I had to zig-zig my way backwards into the nearest gateway. It was all the incentive I needed to nail that skill, fast.

But this week, with the blowsy froth of early summer flowers making the lanes appear even more narrow than the ridiculously narrow they already were, Van Man and I came to a halt, radiator to radiator. We both signalled we would retreat. Then I thought, ‘Hang on, don’t be rash. There hasn’t been a passing place for miles. Let him do it. Anyway, I can’t turn my head without everything hurting and going ping and I can’t reverse in a straight line for more than four yards.’

So I did let him do it, and I have to say he executed a quite magnificent display of reversing. Not once did his van touch the sides, at least not in a bumpy, damaging kind of way, and he only turned back to look in my direction a couple of times, presumably to see if I might have freakishly dissolved into the tarmac.

Back and back he went, and back still further. I was impressed to see that at no point did he throw up his hands in despair or slew sideways off course and embed the rear of his vehicle in a precious chunk of Jurassic-period Dorset hedgerow. He didn’t even throw on the brakes, jump out and run away weeping. I would have done all of those things, obviously. He was calmness personified.

I kept a respectful distance: getting too close might have indicated an indecent haste and stress him. The last thing I wanted was for him to gesture to me that it was no good and there wasn’t a passing place, and would I now please play my part in this pantomime and reverse until a space appeared behind me.

Van Man held his nerve. I trickled forward. He trickled back. Finally, and it must have been after a good quarter of a mile, he swung the van into a pixie-sized indentation in the hedge, leaving just enough room for me to squeeze past, wing mirrors tucked in and breath suspended.

As we clocked each other through our respective windows, I gave him a huge smile and a high-speed thank-you wave routine as inadequate expressions of my gratitude for a task so willingly undertaken and so brilliantly executed.

Van Man accelerated away to deliver his parcel and I drove on, praying no other vehicle would come bearing down in my direction. It didn’t, by some miracle, and I eventually reached the blessed haven of a main road. How huge and wide it seemed, and how novel to see cars going past each other in opposite directions.

Huh, I thought, those drivers don’t know what they’re missing.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »