04 May, 2016

Milton Manor: a lovely stately home in Oxfordshire

We had an interesting trip out over the bank holiday weekend. We went to visit Milton Manor, which is a small stately home, situated in Milton village, not far from where we live.

The house is privately owned and is only open for 30 days a year. We have visited once before—probably around eleven years ago now—but it was when the children were very young and so we didn't actually go into the house, but just enjoyed the grounds. We have been keen to visit the inside of the house for a while now and so were pleased to see that it was open on a day that we were free.

The guided tour was given by (who we took to be) the lady of the house. There were very few visitors (maybe ten of us in total), so it was all rather lovely and intimate. You were free to ask questions and positively invited to sit on the chairs. As our hostess said: ‘Well, they are made for sitting on!’

The house is very beautiful, if rather dilapidated (peeling exterior paintwork, silverfish in the wallpaper, a broken pane of glass in one of the windows, etc.). It was built in the eighteenth century by Inigo Jones, and the Gothic library and the private chapel are particularly impressive.

There are things to see and do in the grounds too. You can pet the ponies and the llama, cross the stream on the rope bridge, visit the tree house and walk in the surrounding woods. When we visited there were pony rides for children and teas for sale in the stables.

We had a lovely time, and it was good to see a small(ish) private home open to the public and run in such a relaxed and friendly way.

Jobs, pay and the future

I had an interesting discussion with my youngest daughter the other day about the future, job opportunities, etc.—the kinds of things we all worry about for our kids.

My daughter was clear that she wanted a good job. ‘What constitutes a good job?’ I asked. ‘One that pays well,’ was her reply. Well, that’s a valid answer. It’s great to have a well-paid job, but is that what makes it a good job? And what about being well paid? As I tried to explain to my daughter, ‘well paid’ is  a relative concept. You may work in the public sector and be lucky enough to have  a ‘well-paid’ job. If so, your notion of ‘well paid’ will be quite different from that of someone who works in the private sector and has a ‘well-paid’ job, simply because salaries are higher in the private sector than in the public sector. ‘Yes, but as I said, my definition of a good job is one that it is well paid,’ replied my daughter, coming right back at me. She’s not a fan of shades of grey!

When you’re young and don’t have any experience of the workplace, it’s easy to think that the ride will be straightforward. Good school education. University. Good degree. A good, well-paid job should follow, shouldn’t it? But that’s not always the case, of course. It can be difficult to get your foot on the first rung of the ladder, let alone end up in a position where you are senior enough to earn a good salary. Furthermore, it’s not just a case of getting a good degree; which degree is highly significant as well. As we all know, a degree in a science or engineering subject is a much surer route to a high earning job than is a degree in the arts or humanities. My daughter would like to do something that involves writing and pointed out to me that I had said that medical writing is well paid. That’s true—it is. But what she’d failed to take on board was my additional point that in order to be a medical writer you need at least a first degree (preferably a PhD) in the life sciences. So, medical writing isn’t an accessible career for someone with a degree in English.

On second thoughts, perhaps it’s better that we’re not aware of all this stuff when we’re young. Maybe it is just best to aim for what you love, in the belief that things will come together exactly as you would wish them to. After all, there’s always the chance that they will—and, if not, maybe it’s best to save up the disappointment and negativity for later!

17 April, 2016

Colouring for adults

For my birthday back in February, my kids gave me a rather unusual present -- a colouring book and some pencils. It wasn't a child's colouring book, of course, but one specially for adults -- a beautiful volume full of intricate designs of gardens and flowers. You've probably seen this kind of thing in W. H. Smith. It seems to have become quite popular now.

I thought this was a great present. I was sure it would do me good to relax a bit and do something quite different from the kinds of things I usually do (work at the computer, sit in meetings, do laundry, etc., etc.). It took a while for me to make a start on the colouring book, but when I did, I found I really enjoyed it. I started with quite a simple design, and as soon as I'd finished, I moved on to a highly complex, double-spread garden scene. I've still not quite finished that one.

The whole thing is highly addictive. You have a few minutes to spare, so you get out the pencils, but then you find that you can't stop. You think, 'Oh, I'll just colour that flower and then I'll go and do x,' but before you know it, you've coloured a whole meadow of flowers and you've forgotten all about x.

I'm even going to buy myself another set of pencils so that I have a wider range of colours to work with...

So, the colouring book did turn out to be a good present. And if you're looking for something a bit different and a bit creative, I'd certainly recommend colouring for adults.

10 April, 2016

"The Importance of Being Earnest" with the Pantaloons

We enjoyed a great, laugh-a-minute evening yesterday, watching The Pantaloons' production of "The Importance of Being Earnest" at the Cornerstone Theatre in Didcot.

We first came across the Pantaloons last summer doing an open-air production of "Pride and Prejudice". We enjoyed that show so much that we decided to book to see them again as soon as they were performing something in our neck of the woods.

For those of you who don't know, the Pantaloons are a young, touring theatre company who put on productions that are high quality and incredibly funny. They are masters of improvisation, engineering inspired audience participation, and physical comedic theatre.

"The Importance of Being Earnest" is a funny play in its own right, but the Pantaloons' magic made it simply hilarious. We particularly loved the crass relationship between Miss Prism and Dr Chasuble, the deliberate set up and downplaying of the "A handbag..." line, and the American-style recap scene (with multiple movie references) after the interval.

If you enjoy clever, funny theatre with an irreverent twist, then I would recommend booking up for the Pantaloons now!

04 April, 2016

New book "Six Months in Paris" now available on Amazon!

After a long wait, my new book, Six Months in Paris, is finally available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk!

It's a fun, entertaining coming-of-age story about a young woman who travels to Paris and finds that her experiences there change the course of her life for good.

Here is the complete blurb:

Anna Chaliss has her life all mapped out…or so she thinks.

Taking a gap year before university, Anna heads off to Paris for six months to work as an au pair. A nice French family. Two lovely girls. A beautiful house in the suburbs. What could be better?

But things don’t quite turn out as planned. Instead of having the time of her life, Anna finds herself on a voyage of self-discovery which changes her future irrevocably.

I hope you enjoy it!

01 April, 2016

Easter weekend on the Jurassic coast

We had a lovely Easter weekend on the Jurassic coast, staying in Weymouth. The weather was a bit stormy at times, but otherwise things were great.

We stopped en route at one of our favourite places -- Stourhead. The weather that day was perfect and we absolutely loved wandering round the beautiful grounds in the bright spring sunshine. The kids, despite being teenagers now, were insistent that we do a National Trust Easter egg trail (they're still prepared to do it for the chocolate!!) and so we did. The (gratefully received) prize was a Cadbury's chocolate bunny each. We also enjoyed eating sandwiches and cakes on the terrace outside Stourhead's cafe. We managed to secure a table in the sun after braving the rather stressful queues for food -- unfortunately only too common in National Trust restaurants these days.

Saturday saw us in Lyme Regis in the pouring rain and howling wind. We visited Dinosaurland, seemingly named for marketing purposes rather than accuracy, given that this museum was more about small fossils than dinosaurs. However, it proved rather interesting -- a large, eclectic collection gathered together over the years from Lyme Regis' beach by a husband and wife palaeontologist team. We did a bit of fossil hunting on the beach ourselves, but didn't come up with anything more than a couple of pretty coloured stones. The wind and rain were a bit of a deterrent, to be honest...

We drove back to our holiday cottage via Abbotsbury -- a beautiful village, originally the site of an abbey. We climbed the hill behind the village to visit the picturesque and windswept fifteenth century church, which was built by the monks. Despite being bare inside, apart from some nesting birds, the chapel still occasionally hosts (presumably standing) services. Well worth a visit.

On Sunday, we visited the absolutely beautiful Athelhampton House. This is a fifteenth century manor house with lovely, award-winning gardens. We truly enjoyed our visit here. It is privately owned and so doesn't have huge numbers of visitors, and when we arrived we were warmly welcomed and actively encouraged to sit on any seat we saw -- most unusual in a stately home! We particularly enjoyed sitting in front of the roaring fire in the magnificent wood-panelled great hall.

We came home via family in Bournemouth, having enjoyed a fun-filled, relaxing Easter weekend.

23 March, 2016

Lovely Tesco delivery drivers

Tesco delivers our shopping once a week and the thing we like about this -- apart from the convenience, of course -- is the drivers.

On the whole, they are a lovely, friendly bunch. And there are one or two who we have got to know really quite well. We spend a while chatting to them on the doorstep and have learnt about what's going on it their lives -- their kids, their spouses, their plans to buy a new car, etc., etc. It's a pleasure when they deliver.

Last week, the driver who delivered to us was quite a surprise -- we hadn't seen him for several months. It transpired that his partner had been ill and so he had transferred to work for a Tesco branch in Wales for a few months so that she could recuperate. He told us all about the beautiful scenery and the relaxed pace of life in Wales. It sounded as if he'd like to go back!

We just enjoy chatting to these friendly Tesco delivery drivers, but I imagine that they provide a real service to the elderly and the lonely. Who would have thought that Tesco could be credited with that?