Saturday, 27 November 2010

Cornish Floods and Northumbrian Snow!!!

[A photo taken of part of our back garden forty minutes ago.]

This morning we have awoken to massive snow scenes. We are due to go to a Winter Wonderland Day at Kielder. It will be interesting to see whether we get there! Everyone in Northumberland/North East has been advised to stay at home today!!

I was thinking that we are either afflicted by floods and/or snow these days. Our hearts go out to everyone who has been caught up in the very recent flooding in Cornwall. We have many friends down in the West Country and it’s an area we have visited many times as a family. Before we decided to stay up in here in the heart of Hadrian’s Wall Country we made several trips to Devon and Cornwall to look at properties to buy with an eye to setting up in business. Mr. H. (Nigel) used to be a scuba diving instructor down in Newquay before the place became ultra fashionable. We also considered buying a self catering and B&B business in the delightful town of Camelford but, in the end, this area kept drawing us back again and again.

Everyone dreads something awful happening to their homes and I freely admit that I am much more conservative (with a small “c”) than Nigel. Given the chance I would have an insurance policy for just about everything. Luckily we do have home insurance for our two properties (and blessedly) they are both situated up on hills.

I was quite taken aback to read an article in which up to a fifth of folk in this country have decided to cut back and not have any home insurance. I can completely understand that money is extremely tight these days and that food and warmth come high on our agendas. I would, however, strongly urge everyone to consider having some home insurance. It is possible these days to shop around and get a good deal.

All sorts of things can happen which surge up out of the blue.

I met a wonderful family locally, a few months ago, who’d had the misfortune of having their boiler serviced only for something to go wrong. Their entire house ended up being covered with oil and its residue. When I talked to them they seemed to be handling the whole situation magnificently. They were being extremely pragmatic and, luckily, they were covered 100% for everything. They were still forced to look for alternative accommodation (potentially for months) and knew that they would have to replace everything in their home.

And it’s not just the big things we have to worry about. Lots of little things can go wrong too…cameras, laptops, games consoles lost or broken and anything electrical malfunctioning. Touch wood - nothing serious has happened to us yet. (Although if I could get my/our lost photos and data back by claiming on my home insurance policy believe me I would!!!)

In ancient Roman times a sophisticated financial system also existed which I am only just beginning to understand. I can imagine that valuable objects, such as works of art and jewellery would be used as “home insurance”. All these ideas brilliantly come together in one of my favourite books – in Dickens’ novel “Great Expectations” particularly when the bill collector John Wemmick, acting as clerk to Pip’s lawyer, Mr. Jaggers, turns out to be very keen on “portable property”.

[Chapter 45 – Dickens – Great Expectations (Conversation between Pip and Wemmick in the latter’s “castle” where they are toasting sausauges for the Aged. P’s breakfast.)]

In fact, Wemmick, advises Pip to get hold of Magwitch’s portable property to ensure that Pip is properly set up for life:

He laid his hands upon my shoulders, and added in

a solemn whisper: "Avail yourself of this evening to lay hold of

his portable property. You don't know what may happen to him. Don't

let anything happen to the portable property."

Ooh! The suspense! I just love it!!! (And I'll let you know if we ever get to Kielder today to see Wintry Scenes, Santa and the Elves!).....

Monday, 22 November 2010

Latin and Greek for All & Felix The Fast Tractor

I met the author of Felix the Fast Tractor yesterday at Hexham Christmas Fair and I immediately wanted to rave on about her books.

Catherine Cannon is based in Cumbria, Penrith and she has written four books about Felix. The illustrations and storyline are delightful and my little son (aged 4) already loves them. They are a good mixture of story and fact e.g. "Want to know more about low-loaders?" (a different fact tip is written inside a tractor tyre in the corner of each page at the bottom). We have searched and searched for books a bit like Thomas, the Tank Engine, but they seem to be thin on the ground. This is why it is so fab to have a local author discussing life on a country farm with some interesting facts and tips. The stories are all about a family: Farmer Story, Mrs. Story, Max, Lucy and their dog, Ben..not forgetting Felix the Tractor! There are more (f)activities on the Felix website and a competition to win a ride on a tractor on Facebook. My daughter (aged 7) loves the Felix tales too!

Catherine Cannon has not paid me to review her books and we paid to buy them...that's how enthusiastic I'm being! (I've asked her if I can display Felix on my sidebar. ) The marvellous and very lifelike illustrations are by Jean Murphy and June Allan.

At the fair I also met Julie Oswald from The Cloth Shed and her vintage stall looked very inviting. So I'll be popping over to her blog and website on a frequent basis. She's just blogged about her recent visit to Paris to see her daughter (and there are some super photos of Paris all lit up for Christmas). She recognised me from this blog (I'd not met her before) which knocked me for six. I'm chuffed to bits! She's a lovely person too so why not take a look?

I also caught sight of a £2.5m campaign being rolled out by Bettany Hughes, Ian Hislop, Colin Dexter, Boris Johnson, Tom Stoppard, Joanna Lumley to name just a few to get Latin and Greek taught in all Britain's state schools within ten years. The article "Latin lovers march on UK schools" was printed in yesterday's Sunday Times (page 3 main news section). It is impossible to reproduce it here sadly. Bettany Hughes, who is spearheading the campaign, was quoted as saying that she gets 150 mails a day from people asking where they can go to learn Latin and Greek. Minimus has sold 115,000 copies now and the movie 300, about the battle of Thermopylae, took $72m in its first weekend.

Forest Murmurs (a.k.a Fr. Michael Brown) reproduced the Bettany Hughes on Women's Hour Transcript (talking to Jenni Murray) here and there is a fascinating debate on the level of interest in Classics (at a local level) as well in his blog's comments' section.

I cannot contain my level of excitement at this. We are currently deciding how best we can teach it here - say, over a weekend, as I'd love to teach it from the New Year onwards and combine it with a site visit over to Vindolanda. My brain cells went into overdrive at 2.35 this morning I could not get back to sleep! I've started teaching it for practice to my mum and Patricia, a fellow volunteer. So hopefully watch this space!

(P.S. My City memoirs (Part IV) are on their way...)

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Life with a capital "L"

I'm usually pretty hard on myself. I'm determined not to be.

I also find it quite hard to show how I am here - on this blog. So from now on I am challenging myself to be as open as possible.

When I first started blogging - it was like a drug. I had to do it night and day. I'd wake up and want to blog in the middle of the night. I'd let myself comment on a blog here and then I had to do another, another and another.

I reined myself back in as I felt very guilty when my son (aged two then) and daughter (aged five then) tugged on my sleeve...begging to be let between my eyes and the screen.
So I'd didn't let myself blog. I wrote posts and then felt very guilty when I didn't go back to other people's blogs.

So I am going to try again to see if I can be "normal" about it. I'd be interested to hear everyone's strategies for dealing with blogging. How often do you comment? Do you stick to the blogs you know? Do you strike out into unknown territory and if do you do it? How often?

I've deliberately not mentioned too much about our 2009 annus horribilis ('orrible year) because it is so bad (in my head) that I still cannot bring myself to think too much about it. Some things are still ongoing and are "sub judice" (kind of "under review") as they say. When I can talk about them I will. Sorry to sound so mysterious.

I've enjoyed going out and blogging this morning. Catching up on a few blogs and hearing all about your different lives. I've heard that French Fancy has given up blogging (very sadly for us) and that Fly has moved to Costa Rica from France. Just to name a couple of examples.

I've made a list (for myself) of about 25 things that did not go too well for us last year but some things are definitely going right for us in 2010. The B&B is an undoubted success. Mr. H's father is a lot better than he was. He is over his period of mourning for his wife (who died on Christmas Day 2008). I'm feeling much better healthwise. (I was struck low by something truly 'orrible in 2009. With the right treatment that resolved itself.) We still need to seek a Winter Income and for that reason...I'm working on teaching Latin Minimus Courses to the wider world (combined with the guiding). I'm a tad nervous about that. I'll try and talk about my hopes and fears on that front if I can. (Having said that. The lovely Bettany Hughes was talking about Latin & Greek on Women's Hour this morning.)

We're still living between two houses and we need to try and decide what to do. I hate living out of bags but I'm prepared to face up to doing what I have to do purely to get this family reunited under one roof. Can we afford to do the loft conversion (for us) this Winter? (The sales of houses in this area are pretty dead. We've had the little house on the market for over a year now. Nothing doing. ) Needless to say our filing systems are not straightforward!

I had a slight panic attack this morning about how much there was to do in so little time but I ate a slice of Mr.H.'s fruitcake and felt much better (along with a stiff cuppa). I calmed down.

What's also helped me too - is living in this area. We all pull together. Everyone has a good word for everyone else. The wonderful vicar has retired to pastures new but the three Judiths are doing an excellent job in his place. One of my super neighbours over at the little house is keeping an eye on the house and empties the bins for me (whilst we are here at the B&B). The marvellous doctor has left for fresh London fields (he, who helped me so much through my last year's health blip) but we still have a fantastic medical practice over in Haltwhistle. The lady at the chemist freely admitted, with a laugh, that it was her memory that was going and not mine when something got lost in the system. I went back to check that this morning. I thought that it was me who was going mad. (It cheered me up mightily on this dreary, cold, dank day.)

These are the, friends, people, bloggers and Twitterers which/who really keep me going.

Thank you muchly for that! :)

Bye for now. Hadriana xx xx

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Money, Money, Money, Must be Yummy... (Part III)

"Money, money, money....must be yummy in The City's World *- yeah!"
Even though I had been a mere stripling when that famous pop song* ("Money, money, money...") was written back in 1976 by Abba those innocuous words had stuck in my little filial firmament. My parents had done well in the rag trade in the North East and I was extremely lucky to be sent to a girls' private school in suburban Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne. About the time that song had been penned, hummed and sung by almost everyone, everywhere, I can remember my parents' pale blue Jaguar parked up on the main courtyard of the Junior School. They were inside having a meeting (they were on the Parent and Teachers Association). I, aged nine, was outside discussing the merits of Jaguar ownership with one of my classmates. Money, money, money. It does funny things to you even at the tender age of nine.

So fast forward a fair few years and here I was, aged twenty three and a bit, commuting into The City from Kew to the Scottish Bank in the first few months of my Graduate Banking Scheme. (To refresh your memories - you may like to read Parts I and II again: here and here.) I had kitted myself out with office clothes from Next and I'd bought my faux leather briefcase from goodness knows where. "Yes", I thought to myself, "I've made it!" I was now officially part of "The City" crowd. I was renting a flat in Kew with some students I'd known from my college days and I lined up on the District Line platform along with everyone else. We all shuffled into our places and I soon sussed that if I waited at the top of the platform I'd be guaranteed a seat all the way to Mansion House tube station. (Everyone got into the other end of the train at Richmond which was the starting point of the tube train.) Result!

At first it seemed like an absolute novelty. Of course I did the classic thing of buying The Financial Times until I realised that no-one in branch banking (in the actual bread and butter side) read The FT. You were viewed as a bit of a nutter if you did.

Those first few months of being amongst the people who actual ran the branch were an absolute torture. Perhaps it was inevitable. There I was a well paid graduate who did not seem to know her behind from her elbow when it came to doing all the daily tasks in the branch. Somehow or other Ted, Beryl, Brenda, Jack, Eliza, Amy, Ollie, Reg and Lil all knew what level of high flying salary I was getting even before I did. (They kind of ran their own ship. They were pretty much divorced from the lending section. In fact looking back on it all it was very strange that the two parts were so removed from one another. A quirk of history I think.) I barely knew what a bank account was. (Well, I had an inkling but I had not been inducted into the black arts of banking by then.) In any event they did treat me reasonably. Coming from the East End of London they treated me *gently* with boxing gloves - let's put it that way. I felt constantly terrified.

I had to come to terms with pink debit slips and white credit slips. Interbranch debits and credits. Cheques being encoded for the clearing system. What had to go into which bag and when. Who had to be debited there and who had to be credited there. Certain names kept cropping up with alarming alacrity. City based names of solicitors, lawyers, other banks, the worshipful company of this, that and t'other.

It was just as well that I had studied a language degree I reflected..they were all speaking a different, obtuse type of language here. I had slipped into a parallel universe. In the those first few weeks and months I felt like Alice in Wonderland falling down and down  and down that profound rabbit-hole. Pink and white slips fell alongside her like confetti petals. Files, ledgers, waste bags, names, numbers, direct debit mandates, standing orders, foreign exchange dockets, cheque books, credit books, double entry systems, clearing, waste, computer systems, different screens, customer names, interview rooms, the lending section over the road (read that as "the Bogeyman"...which may as well have been in Zambia for all I knew or cared), six months for good behaviour, other graduates on the scheme, branch banking courses (held at regular intervals), banking exams, banking books, graduates at other branches scattered all over in London. Alice or I, Hadriana, would reach out occasionally pick things up and rapidly put them back again. Nothing really made much sense. Could I find a potion which would turn me into a bona fide banker?

Nevertheless I existed. I scrambled through my days...commuting, despairing, commuting, despairing but equally I gained mental sustenance through my lunch hours gazing at the history of the City: regarding walls, buildings, cemeteries, the names and facades of foreign banks, smatterings of pockets of green where medieval churches nestled.

I also bonded and made friends with that year's current crop of graduates. I marvelled at the talented numerate girl, Janice, who, after the day's lecture on debit and credit slips, nonchalantly threw them away in the bin whereas I bundled them all up together into my file to take them home, to revise them in a desperate bid to make something of this branch banking malarkey. (They were, in fact, destined to become beermats at a pub in Kew.) I did admire her nonchalance though. I had to try to stop taking all this stuff so seriously. My six months' probation was nearly up.

I learned to joke with Ted, Beryl, Brenda, Jack, Eliza, Amy, Ollie, Reg and Lil. (Just as well really after I had made them all stay working late one night after catastrophically messing up the processing of the direct debits and standing order mandates. My paperwork had all merged into one huge, tottering pile. Some of it insisted in falling off my desk quite often. Sigh.) I learned to look forward to my Wednesday half days over at Moorgate College where all us graduates would meet up to hear about the joys of Banking Law with Barry the wild, esoteric law lecturer.

To be continued....

This week's Hadriana award goes to the marvellous blog of Maggie May called "Nuts in May".

Maggie and her family are an exceedingly enterprising, warm and tough bunch. I always love to go over to her blog and see what is happening. Maggie's forbearance, charm, love and sheer bravery are a lovely lesson for us all! Pop over there today and see for yourselves!

Monday, 8 November 2010

News Roundup

I'm writing this from another computer (the B&B's) and have ten minutes to write this post.

So...I thought I'd throw a few thoughts down.

1. Grandpa South is up with us for a couple of weeks. Hence schedule has gone out of the window. Nice to have him here. Must get his reminiscences about World War II down on paper or video or something. Like his son he has a few tales to tell. Including guarding the Royal Family at Windsor Castle during the War. Hates talking about it but it is all fascinating to hear none the less.

2. We've managed to gather together some photos from the computer crash of a few months ago. I'm looking on the bright side that we didn't lose everything. There is a lot we still do have.

3. The Summer season has been incredibly busy and we've enjoyed it. Bookings beginning to come in for next year already!

4. There are lots of things I do want to talk about but don't want to spoil the broth. I'm too aware and perhaps too superstitious that if I talk about them here before they are ready to be hatched then...everything will go to pot. So I'll talk about them at the right time.

5. I've got onto the Vindolanda dig next April 2011 - first time for me. Can't wait!

6. Will do an update of my "annus horribilis" (horrible year) some time. I know I promise you lots of things on this blog and then somehow don't deliver. I want to deliver...but it is all in my head and I hope to get them to the page/blogosphere at some point. In my life I do usually achieve my aims (and ambitions) so, mark my words, I'm pretty determined to get them all done. (In the meantime have stopped promising. Maybe watch this space?)

7. You may have noticed that I've started Tweetering or Twittering. Despite my initial scepticism I'm finding it hugely rewarding. If I'm not blogging you'll find me there mostly. Try it. It's good fun! (Haven't quite got to grips with Facebook as yet. Possibly a lack of time?) BTW Stephen Fry is back!

8. The funny thing this country gets more miserable about life in general...I feel that I'm getting more and more cheery about it all. I'm hoping it is age and that I'm getting older and more wiser. Or perhaps just gone a bit daft in the heed? (Southern translation : head).

9. Read recently in my favourite magazine "The Radio Times" a most wonderful paragraph by Eddie Mair of the PM programme on Radio 4 (RT current edition p.133). "Somewhere in the mists of time (ie, I can't be bothered checking) ...Respected financial institutions were collapsing like Chilean mines and taxpayers were bailing out banks with enormous cheques which, curiously, for once didn't take three days to clear." Forget Robert Peston and Nick Robinson ...give me Eddie Mair any time for summing up the financial debacle in a mere 28 words. Sheer brilliance.

9 mins. 55 seconds and counting: Back soon!!!!

(P.S.: Where for great ideas come from? "Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down; but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies, frequent coffee houses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle, reinvent." I'll also Twitter this article. There's a short video there as well.)

P.P.S.: I do bank bash I admit it. I'm also trying to do it in a constructive way. I am enthralled by the City of London i.e. by those who made it both financially and physically and historically. Always have been. The banks really do need to pull up their socks. They need to wake up to the fact that they need us...the little guys. The depositors as well as the borrowers. And when they do wake up...I'll stop bashing them.)

P.P.P.S.: I urge you all to pop over to Dumdad's blog. I've never awarded him an award which is absolute laziness on my part. It is brill. His blog is all that I aspire mine to be. I will scale those dizzy heights one day. I hope. Cheers Dumdad! I hereby convert my earlier virtual award to a real rollickin' good read award! Image created by Little Miss H. Text added by her ma.