Thursday, August 31, 2017

Road Trip 2017 (2) - Richmond to Chawton to Salisbury.

Good afternoon!

Would you like to join me for the second part of my road trip in the South-West of England? A long time wish of my daughter came true: visiting the village where Jane Austen lived and worked for the last years of her tragically short life, Chawton.

Jane Austen's cottage, Chawton

It turned out to be a wonderful visit. The Jane Austen Society had restrained itself and used taste, and refrained from turning it into a sugarcoated tourist trap.
We took our time wandering around the rooms, and read the plentiful information provided. There were lots of original furnishings to look at, and one of the things we liked the most was the small round table Jane used to write her books on.
The role of her sister Cassandra was documented very well, and we realized for the first time that it was Cassandra who made it possible for Jane to write in peace, by taking it upon herself to run the household.
One of the charming cottages in Chawton village.

It only took us ten minutes or so to walk up to the manor house, and it was
fun to walk in Jane's footsteps, so to speak, as we knew she used to
visit her brother's house very frequently.

In her cottage we learned that although Jane herself is buried in Winchester 
Cathedral, her mother and Cassandra are buried in the village church, near 
the manor house that used to belong to Jane's brother Henry.
So we decided to visit their graves, and leave a tiny floral tribute for Cassandra.

The manor house
This house now belongs to an American literature enthusiast, who has turned it 
into a library
and study centre for Women's Literature.
The atmosphere in the house was wonderful, and the garden charming.

After an extremely pleasant day, it didn't take us long at all to drive to Salisbury, 
the capital city of the county of Wiltshire.
I had visited this city before in the Eighties, and found to my pleasure that the old 
centre had not changed hardly at all. We found a lovely B&B along the  bank of the 
River Avon, The Rose and Crown, overlooking the water meadows.

Just as we walked up to Salisbury Cathedral, the setting sun lit up the spire, and we 
vowed to visit it properly first thing the next morning.

I have visited plenty of cathedrals, but for my daughter this was only the second, 
and (after the Sacré Coeur in Paris) the first one in England. She was charmed. 
We liked the cloisters especially.

Only three days into our trip, and we were having a wonderful time, despite the 
unstable weather. This being the same old - same old weather we have in The we took no notice of the sudden downpours.

I would like to leave you with a page out of the visitor's book in Salisbury cathedral. 
Amongst the prayers and thoughts about sick spouses, a child's dreams for his future
 and giving thanks, there was a  prayer that spoke to me.

Next time, I'll tell you about our visit to Stonehenge and Lacock.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Viggo's Blog: Hot Summer Nights

Hiya fans, Viggo here.
Did you know that my woman left me for a fortnight? I was shocked! But then again, that young guy looking after the house wasn't stingy with the crunchy nibbles, so me and the brat were okay, I guess.

Do not trust appearances!
I was on the bed first, and the brat plunked himself right in front of me, the nerve of that young tom!
Anyway, as I said, me and Bowie had the house to ourselves for a fortnight. We have a saying in my country: "when the cat is away, the mice have a party on the table". In our case: as our woman was away, us cats ruled the house. I got extra food out of our sitter by waking him up very early, so he gave us nibbles just to keep us quiet...hahahaha, sucker.
I would like to share a photo with you. My woman took it in Bath I believe.

See that? My hero is in that picture! Middle left. See him now?
It's The Cheshire Cat. You know, him of "We're all mad here" fame. In my country he is all but forgotten, so I was so chuffed to see half a shop window devoted to his adventures.
I tried to tell Bowie about him, but that silly youngster is too impatient to listen. All he cares about is running around outside and showing off to the other cats.

And I want to show you something else.

See that? A black cat! On top of that column. And what a handsome cat he is! It is in one of those stately homes, or manors, that my woman is so fond of visiting. She loved this one, it is called Anglesey Abbey, near Cambridge, and it was filled with wonderful stuff.She told me there were lots of animals there, in paintings and statues. The English have got class. They know our value.
Right, well, time for my nap.
Oh, by the way, what about his then? I want one!

Two Dutch Girls on a Road Trip - 1 (Harwich to Richmond)

When the possibility arose that I would be able to go on holiday  after all this year (due to my caregiver responsibilities that was very uncertain for a long time), I realized I really wanted to take a trip to Wiltshire, England. So I did.
Please come along.

For 4 years in the Eighties England used to be my home, and London used to be my hometown. But when I lived and worked there, all I really did was work...there was no time to visit other parts of that wonderful and beautiful country. During the years following that period, I've compiled a list in my head of all the places I had wanted to visit, would I have had the money and time.
Wiltshire was one of those places.
So I worked out a road trip starting in Harwich, taking in a piece of London as my darling daughter was determined to visit Hampton Court, and then working our way down to Wiltshire.
This first installment will tell you about the first two days we spent in the UK.

The first night, straight off the ferry, I had decided to stay the night in a b&b in Colchester, as I didn't want to be driving in the dark, on the left, straight away.
As little said about that b&b (The Grey Inn) as was old and decrepit and had a second life as a shagging-by-the-hour place - we heard everything through the walls...
So, for the second night I decided to treat ourselves to a wonderful b&b in Richmond, called the Rose of York, overlooking the river.

The weather was wonderful, so the first day, after driving around the West route around London (I don't bite nails, but could've! But I did fine, really, and for the rest of the holiday the driving was a doddle) and checking in, we took a lovely walk along the Thames after descending the hill.

My daughter was amazed that the river water washed over the quay at high tide, making the walk very slippery. (In my country folk would have thrown up a dam!)
We walked all the way up to Teddington, and then back again and visited Ham House.

It being a lovely balmy night, the riverside was teeming with people having a drink, or pottering about in boats, or taking a walk, like us. For  a Dutch girl it was a very nice initiation into English after-work customs. She saw businessmen in their shirtsleeves, tie loose, proper coat tied to the back of their bikes, cycling home along the towpath at breakneck speed. But also how many people enjoyed each others company outside on a Tuesday evening.

The next morning we took a bus from Richmond Hill to Hampton Court.

Unfortunately the weather turned, and would not turn again...So the rest of our holiday was spent watching rainclouds gather, googling the dry spells and dodging the raindrops.

It was my fifth visit to Hampton Court, but my daughter lapped it all up and they practically had to evict her when it closed.

All in all it was a very good start to our road trip. We had a lovely vegetarian dinner in The Slug and Lettuce in Richmond, watched the now deserted towpath gleam in the rain, and were looking forward to driving West towards Jane Austen country the next day.

The sunset was amazing.

Next post: Jane Austen's village.

Long Time No See...

Morning folks!

You have been wondering where I've been...yeeesssss, you can admit it ;-)
Well, I have been on holiday. So there.
I need to get myself sorted out first, and every day there's the taking care of my time is rather precious.
New installments of my travel adventures will be posted VERY VERY SOON.
So keep your eyes peeled!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Viggo's Blog: This, that and the other about this cat's life.

Hiya fans, Viggo here!
Boy has it been long or what? Life in the fast lane here!

I've been extremely busy. Ever since my woman has taken to politely asking me and Bowie the Brat (he is!)whether we would like to go out at night, it's been all go, go go.
Bowie has all kinds of friends, and he usually simply vanishes down the street when we walk out, but I am a mature tom, so I have my routines down pat.
First I walk down to number 28 to see if their front door is open, and if it is, I know my way to the kitchen as they keep the food for their old cat down there. But that lady sometimes forgets I do that, so if I'm really lucky she leaves some titbit out on the counter. I'm partial to a nice rasher. But I don't dismiss a nice greasy frying pan either.
Then I walk down to the corner house, to see if their front door is open. They've got a silly golden retriever who is a very sloppy eater, and I quite like his nibbles.
When all doors are closed though, I usually walk down the street to see if any of my mates are around. Mate usually hangs out underneath the bushes on the corner, and Big Black has a favorite garden seat a few houses down. I haven't seen that bully Nose for months though, and good riddance!

Will you look at those hind legs? Bowie still hasn't stopped growing...Thankfully I weigh at least three times his weight. That makes a huge difference when we mock fight for being alpha male in our house. He's quite relaxed about that...usually he submits and shows his side to me, just like in the photo in fact. And he always shows respect when we accidentally meet.
Oh...and I have been in a proper night fight some weeks ago. The black female from the other corner suddenly attacked me from the alley. I swear she had no cause, must have been pre-mating season! She made such a racket that my woman left her bed to come rescue me (not that I needed rescuing, I had it all in hand!), but I couldn't prevent the nasty feline tearing my ear. What? Oh...okay, yeah, so I screamed a bit. My woman says she recognizes our voices anywhere. Anyway, that torn ear gives me a very suave look, a bit bad-boy, you know. I quite like it, myself.
Bowie has asked me to tear his ear as well, but I refused. He can get into his own fights, right?

Right, time to visit my bowl.
Take care, tar rah!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Dementia...scourge of our time.

Good afternoon to you!
It's been a few weeks and, after some deliberation, I am going to tell you why I haven't blogged my usual happy hippy rambling/gardening/music blogposts.

The thing is, and boy oh boy is it a THING, that I am the caregiver for my increasingly muddled 89 year old Mum.
She is a widow; I am her only child. Thus I have been thrown into the life-altering situation that I have become the mother of my mother, so to speak. And as I am writing this to you, the word 'reluctant' is screaming for attention in my brain.
For it is. I am. Reluctant mother to my mother. 
The little girl in me feels that this is sooooo unfair. I should not be mothering my Mum, I want to be mothered myself (from time to time, as life is pretty hard for a single menopausal lady with two kids and two cats to take care of). Never mind that I am almost 59 myself, I can still access that little girl deep within me, who didn't want to pick up the pieces for my mother when she was 36 and depressed and I was 6 ('unfair'!) and now realizes that if I don't pick up the pieces no-one else will.

Yep. Not a very attractive character trait, I know! And to put your mind at ease, I do do it, I do pick up those pieces, and do the daily shop, and talk to all those professionals who suddenly have a role to play in my mother's life (and thus in mine), and dress her, and bathe her when necessary, and give her her medication, and tend her garden, and listen to her asking me the same question over and over and over.

When I started realizing that something was seriously wrong with her memory, it was 2015, and no-one wanted to believe me. Hey, this was my strong, creative, still driving her car all over the place mother, right? Opinionated, strong-willed, often stubborn and frankly not very flexible in her way of dealing with the world and all those tiresome people in it. But also talented, and in her way very loving towards me and my two kids.
I kept alerting people around me that she was changing, that she sometimes did and said weird things. But people frowned at me and remarked that she seemed the same to them. So what that she suddenly kept the cloth napkins in the fridge...that wasn't life-threatening, surely?

Until November 2016. I took her to the cardiologist for a new pacemaker, after a year of Mum canceling appointment after appointment with said lady, because she 'didn't see the point'. The new pacemaker was put in and my Mum consequently lost her mind.
In December I was phoned by various neighbors, acquaintances and the valued cleaning lady that my mother was acting strange. That she had lost her way on the way to the shops (5 minutes by car). That she didn't dare to drive any more. That she let the mail pile up without opening it. That she didn't tend her beloved garden. That she had told my ex husband that she never saw me or the grandchildren (whilst coming to dinner every Sunday).

I decided enough was enough and took her to the GP. Who at first mumbled something about her being 89, what did I expect. But then admitted that she hadn't reported for her diabetes checkups for some time (1,5 years, it turned out!!!). I instantly lost all faith in him. 
But in my country it is a hassle to get another GP, so I gritted my teeth and decided to work with what I had got - so asked him for a referral to a Geriatric specialist and got it in February.
It took until April for her to have time to see my Mum.

In the meantime I shopped around for help. And felt like Gretl lost in the woods of all the rules and regulations regarding a person with suspected dementia. I need a referral for absolutely everything my Mum needs. Incontinence diapers? Ask a referral from the GP. Zinkoxide for the decubitus wound on her bottom? Ask a referral from the GP. A place at the day centre for people with memory problems? Ask...etcetera. A taxi to get her to the day centre? Ask...etcetera. A personal alarm button she can use when she has taken a fall? GP.

It now has gotten to the point where I am juggling my demanding school work around the appointments for my Mum. I drive to her house every day, to check up on the professionals who check up on her. For she still has her wiles, my darling mother. She blatantly lies (except she doesn't do it on purpose, I suppose) about all kinds of things. A shower? Yes, she has taken a shower (not), she has taken her medicines (not), she has already eaten (not).
She cancels appointments I make for her with her welfare in mind. She refuses to use her rollator.
And at the same time she endlessly tells me she couldn't do without me, she wouldn't know what she would do if I would not take care of her.

Next week we go on yet another trip to the hospital. For the poor thing has breast cancer as well...
Hopefully the Geriatric specialist will tell us that we get Mum a referral to a psycho-geriatric home. My Mum would be safe there, at least. For it is my everlasting worry that she will keel over and break her hip or hit her head.
Until then, and this can take months yet, it is up to me to help Mum find her way through The Land of Dementia. 
The pebbles that helped Hans and Gretl out of the woods, are the pebbles of humor that I doggedly keep throwing on the path behind me. For my Mum can be funny as anything - she has developed a taste for beer (she, who has always deemed beer drinkers 'common') and  thinks nothing of pouring half of it in her discarded glass of  sherry in a restaurant, taking a huge swallow and then gives the shocked waiter a beaming smile and gushes that she simply loves this food and does he come there often?

Right. I will now have a beer. Tomorrow is yet another day.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Urban Hike: Heenvliet Castle

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Good morning to you!
Last weekend I fulfilled an old wish to visit Heenvliet Castle (Kasteel Ravesteyn).

We have two castle ruins on my tiny islands of Voorne-Putten, one (Burcht van Voorne) on Voorne and one (Ravesteyn)on Putten.
Both had been slowly and silently falling apart, providing stones and bricks for neighboring farmsteads, until folk realized in the last century that having a castle on your doorstep was rather special, and created societies to save and upkeep them.

Ravesteyn is private property, but a couple of times a year they open up their 5 acre garden to the public.

And a very nice garden it is. There is a respectable collection of statues and art in the grounds. Most of the modern variety that either makes me smirk or sigh with incomprehension, but some of them I liked very much indeed.

Would have loved to take this baby home with me! Way above my budget though...Six monthly wages worth of it.

We took a leisurely ramble around those 5 acres, and as it was gorgeous summer weather it was a pleasure to be able to walk in the shade of large trees some of the way.

I don't know if you are familiar with our native trees (probably not, and I don't blame you), but we have a lot of willows (both ordinary and weeping) due to the sogginess of our ground, and horse chestnut, beech and oak, but a lot of birch and poplars as well.

From time to time we caught a tiny glimpse of Ravesteyn, where most visitors stayed in the vicinity of the refreshment tent, so our ramble was quiet and we could enjoy the beautifully kept grass pathways on our own.

It turned quite hot, so I was happy to catch some shade from time to time.

You probably are not familiar with the geographical history of my part of The Netherlands either, so I'll give you a quick lesson (ever the teacher, sorry, professional deformation I'm afraid).

We are a land ruled by the sea.Actually most of my country, and especially the part I live in, is one large delta. In the olden days, the sea would shape the many islands in my part of the country, and travel was mostly by boat. Either in between the islands, or on the islands, as narrow boats were used as transport on the many creeks and rivers.
This made this part of the country rather difficult to rule. Large armies had no business here, they got lost in the marshes.

In the middle of this old map you see the islands of  Noord Voorn (or modern day Voorne) and Putten, with Heenvliet in the middle. (Below is Zuidt Voorn, nowadays called Flakkee, and glued to small Goeree on the left!) Not so important, all those names, but it does give you an inkling what the problems were in governing this bit of country.

Castle Ravesteyn was home to a clergyman called Angelus Merula.

The Remonstrants are Dutch Protestants who, after the death of Jacobus Arminius, maintained the views associated with his name. In 1610, they presented to the States of Holland and Friesland a remonstrance in five articles formulating their points of disagreement with Calvinism.[1]According to 2010 statistics, a 6,000-strong Remonstrant community remains in the Netherlands. There is also a single congregation in Friedrichstadt in northern Germany.[2] 

Source: Wikipedia.

Merula was a remonstrant, and thus persecuted by the ruling Calvin order. Ravesteyn was confiscated and Merula ordered to be put to death by fire. It didn't work though...he died of a heart attack just before they put him onto the pyre. The ruling Calvinist burnt his corpse anyway.
Voorne remembers him though, and in nearby Den Briel a school and orphanage, and many island streets are named after him.

Kasteel Ravesteyn is lovingly kept up, but when it comes down to it, not much more than four roofless walls, where you need your imagination to see a castle. I did find the resident hare though.

We ended our ramble in the refreshment tent, and very lovely fresh cakes were served there!
All in all it was a very pleasant afternoon.

The nitty-gritty:
You'll find Heenvliet on the N218 which starts in Rotterdam. Heenvliet itself is a small village with a charming village centre in typical Dutch style, with the 16th century centre surrounded by a moat. It has some fame as a horse market village.
It will take you an hour at most to visit it, and be sure to check opening times for the castle!
Remember this is cattle country, so cattle flies are around in summer (take precautions if you are allergic).
It would be a very good idea to combine visiting Heenvliet with visiting nearby Den Briel (also on the same provincial road). And please look up my urban hike through Den Briel.

Well, I hope you've enjoyed this post. Until next time!