How Many Santas?

A staggering number of Santas turned up in Ipswich Town centre for a 3K ( 3 kilometres, about 1.8 miles) Santa Run (or in our case walk). The weather was kind. It rained before the fun run. It rained after the fun run. It was dry long enough for aging, out-of-shape Santas to walk (swiftly I have to say in my defense) around the town and not have our red Santa suits bleed all over our clothes.

We were running/walking in aid of EACH, East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices, a charity that supports families of and cares for children with life-threatening diseases – a worthy cause with a light-hearted fund-raising angle.

Of course Santa is cold. He needs a warm up:

We then made our way to the start, the elite runners with the latest running gear on under their Santa suits at the front and the cheaters who pretended to window shop (c’mon, who would believe that? We were in Santa suits) alongside them.

And they’re off! This photo of slightly drunken appearance was taken on the move as we set off at a cracking walking pace:

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Donner? Blitzen? Comet? Cupid? Well, it’s not Rudolph!

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The pack thinned as the culturally-minded amongst us slowed our pace to admire the architecture while Mrs. Claus on the right shouted at her little elves named “Stop-right-there!” and “Get-back-here!”:

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One little elf returned but remained anonymous:

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The finish line soon loomed ahead and it was difficult to rein ourselves in but but we maintained our composure only splitting the Santa trousers a little bit at the crotch in our haste.

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After receiving a well-deserved bottle of water and a medal which should have been inscribed “You finally got here!” I turned to look at the building opposite. I have walked down this street and all the streets of Ipswich hundreds of times, intent on my next errand, and never looked up. ***

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How many Santas? 260 of us!!! A wonderful sum of £7,000 was raised. If you would like to add to that total please press HERE to follow the link.

*** The lovely timbered-framed building above is quite modern by English standards and is of no historical value. However there are, I have discovered to my shame, buildings of great beauty and historical value mixed in with, under the facade of and often above the ugly modern shop fronts and office buildings.

The Great White Horse Hotel dates back to the 16th Century and King George II, King Louis XVIII of France and Lord Nelson have all stayed there. Dickens, after staying there, used the hotel as the setting for a scene in The Pickwick Papers. The timber-framed hotel is hidden under a bland Georgian facade and is now, sadly, a Starbucks.

The Cornhill, the square in front of the Corn Exchange, has been the town centre since Saxon times! Graves unearthed in the town recently date back to the 7th Century. The spot where we danced uninhibitedly in silly Santa suits has been the grim scene of stocks and pillories, people (including a witch) burnt at the stake as well as a priest hung drawn and quartered in the 17th Century.

Shopping will never be quite the same. I will constantly be looking over my shoulder for the Witchfinder General.

Disaster 101

Disaster 101- a new name for my blog?

No! That would be asking for trouble although it seems to find us just the same.

After a reasonably comfortable seven week stay in a static caravan/single-wide which welcomed us on our first full day in Blighty with a puddle in the sitting room, himself drove 1260 miles to the south east coast of Italy while I alternately argued with and fumed at the GPS.

In hindsight, four days of driving, six days in Italy and a return trip of four straight days of driving was an even more ridiculous idea than the time we flew from Arizona to the UK and set off, jet-lagged to drive to the south of France.

Needless to say on our return from Italy, we were exhausted, grimy, hungry and already in a poor frame of mind when we stepped into the hell that was to be our home for the next two weeks. The curtains hung in loops from the rails, only attached every few feet like sad bunting; it smelled of dog and the carpet looked like he’d made himself right at home. There was a gaping maw where one of only two kitchen drawers had been and the cookware consisted of two small saucepans, enough for a tin of beans each.

We’d begun the tedious but necessary job of disinfecting every surface when I encountered the last straw – the kitchen sink was blocked. I poked at it with a fork and a black Satan’s spew regurgitated into the sink.

After a fourth trip with the various complaints to reception, the maintenance men turned up, disassembled the plumbing, lost a crucial piece of pipe and blamed us for taking it.

FBI Badge & gun.
FBI Badge & gun. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At 10 minutes to closing time we stood in reception, stunned with tiredness and incredulous with our bad luck, to argue our case with an 18-year-old. The manageress had made herself scarce.

We were given no alternative accommodation, no compensation, not even an apology, just a refund.

At six o’clock on a Friday night our car was crammed with suitcases of dirty washing and groceries with nowhere to cook them. We were shattered and we were homeless. Again.

Our only option was to go to the FBI.

Ferry Boat Inn - Outside the Pub
Photo credit: http://www.ferryboatinn.org.uk/index.html

At the Ferryboat Inn (FBI – geddit?), a low-ceilinged, timber-framed seaside pub exuding warmth and comfort, we stuffed our faces with fish and chips and downed large glasses of red wine. On the way to the pub, we’d booked a hotel for the night so felt no further need to molly-coddle the few functioning brain cells we’d left between us.

Dear friends took us in the next day and even offered to put up the marquee for us to sleep in.

We declined the marquee so this is where they made us sleep:

. . . . . to have this view every morning when I opened the curtains:

And this is where they made us eat candlelit dinners night after night . . . .

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. . . .and relax afterwards here . . .

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. . . . kept warm of a chilly evening by a giant inglenook fireplace:

English country house

I had just his tiny garden to play in:

Our friends kindness and generosity kept us from walking into the North Sea – ending our Which Way Now quest forever.

And speaking of the sea, I can feel your sympathy ebbing away.

We are now rested and as sane as we’ll ever be and ready to embark on our next phase – life in a tiny rental house. Our big black Chevy truck is being titivated for the UK roads and our furniture is languishing in a customs shed. We’ve no idea where any of it is other than not at the bottom of the Atlantic.

We have just been emailed and asked to write a review for our “holiday” by the head office of the caravan park – corporate communication being what you would expect. No one thought to question why we had a full refund on the day our “holiday” was due to start.

Trip Advisor here I come!

Marital Infidelity

He’s cheating on me.

He has a new girlfriend and she communicates to him via a little box plugged into the cigarette lighter. My services such as they were are no longer required.

I sit with the road atlas on my lap, ready to catch her out and just as I’m nodding off her strident voice alerting himself to an autoroute exit brings me round with a start.

After some initial teething problems in the relationship – a 20 mile detour on a ten mile journey close to home, probably operator error – I have been forsaken. I can’t argue with her, touch her or question her judgment. Her clipped British accent and penchant for being right is getting on my nerves. She is even correcting my pronunciation of French villages and towns.

I hate her.

Now and again, clearly enunciating her t’s she says, “Lost satellite reception.” Not so clever then is she? I know exactly where we are and where we’re going but if he wants to dally with her he can suffer the consequences.

The fact that he is carrying on with her right under my nose and in my car is just too much.

He thinks it’s funny.

If we weren’t in France and in my car I’d get out and leave them to it.

However . . . .

She didn’t cover herself in glory in Italy. As we approached the French/Italian border I made a show of closing the French road atlas and slipping it beside my seat.

Mt. Blanc? Really?
Mt. Blanc? Really?

“You’re on your own now, matey, you and your new girlfriend.” Himself looked alarmed. Though he’d been taking directions from her exclusively she obviously didn’t inspire him with confidence.

A spectacular journey through the Alps and under Mt. Blanc – a 7 mile tunnel in a series of 17 tunnels – came as a major surprise as no route planning had taken place.

Mt. Blanc! Good heavens! Who put that there?
Mt. Blanc! Good heavens! Who put that there?

Then she really messed with him.

She insisted he come off the autostrade, go in circles, make several u-turns, attempt some mountain climbing, pass under the same cable car three times and pay two unnecessary eight euro tolls, robbing us of all our coins.

Just as we were both feeling quite frantic – we’d many more miles to go but which way now? – I pulled out my secret weapon, a map of Italy, and resumed my relationship with my husband. I’d had my doubts all along about the two of them and had highlighted our route on the map before leaving home.

We zig-zagged back down the mountain, where we’d had a nice view of the autostade below, and headed east once more.

I turned the stupid woman off and stuffed her in the glove box.

I didn’t gloat. That’s unlike me but himself was looking strained and it seemed only fair to keep my mouth shut.

At our final destination, the seaside resort of Porto Sant’Elpidio, I was forced to make up with her in an effort to find our hotel. She invited us to complete our journey at a derelict building and was banished once more to the glove box.

On the return journey she “lost satellite reception” in Bologna, a city of 400,000, all seemingly on our stretch of road and fighting for space in our lane. Several major roads intersect in Bologna and they are designated by international, national and local numbers which quickly become meaningless when panicked. The only way to find our way through was to look for major cities on our route, all of which were on the other side of the fold on the map.

Have you ever opened a full-size country map in the passenger seat of a compact car? It blocked out the sun and the road ahead and terminated the peaceful spell in the car.

GPS – Gloriously Pointless System

EuroTunnel, France

We made it back to the EuroTunnel but I lost my dog.

Chocoholics Unite

So many of you drooled over your keyboards when I posted pictures of our desserts we felt obliged to take the same route back through France and stay in the same hotel so we could go back to the Restaurante de le Maire  to eat the same dessert so I could  photograph it and post it again. So . . . . .

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Here it is and please no comments about the fact that the wine bottle and glasses are empty. You all encouraged me to drink.
Here is a close up:

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The profiteroles were full of ice cream and the chocolate was pooling around them. I didn’t eat it all. I left some for you. Enjoy!

Toll Booth Terror

I thought it couldn’t get any worse than yesterday.

Our first toll of the day was €4.10. Take a ticket; drive until a toll booth appears; pay for the kilometers traveled.

Of the dozen or so booths, some had a red X over them and some were for the prepaid Telepass. Others only take a carte – never a good option as you can’t be sure what your credit card will be charged and receipts are unpredictable. That leaves cash only, denoted by a picture of coins and notes – 12 lanes of traffic – quick make a choice!

“Look for an arm,” I pleaded with himself, meaning I wouldn’t have to deal with the automated toll horror. I pushed a €5 note towards a human and received my change.

I felt pleased with myself, but we’d only been on the road 15 minutes.

Several miles later we drove to a barrier to pick up the next ticket. Except the barrier was up and there was no ticket. I pressed a red button. Still no ticket. I pressed the assistance button but was secretly pleased no one answered. No parlo italiano was all I could say. What good would that do?

Traffic was piling up behind us so himself pulled off the road the other side of the barrier and stopped.

“We have to have a ticket,” I said unhelpfully.

Himself stared stoically ahead.

“If we don’t have a ticket we’ll be charged the maximum amount.” My hand twitched towards the door handle. The next booth over was dispensing tickets and I contemplated sprinting across two lanes of traffic and assaulting that machine.

Trucks flew out from a blind bend and barreled through the booth we’d just come through. I thought better of offering up my life for a toll ticket. “One of us has to go and get a ticket,” I said, meaning not me. Both lanes had a solid stream of traffic.

Himself was looking over his shoulder by now. His hand moved towards the gear stick. He put the car into reverse and began backing up.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

“Stop yelling at me!”

“I’M NOT YELLING AT YOU!” I yelled at him.

I dared look behind only once to see that the lane was clear before himself began a tenuous reverse chicane maneuver around some superfluous barriers on the wrong side of the lane.

He rounded the first barrier and snugged up between the two for a moment’s shelter from the fear of the trucks appearing and ramming us. He began to reverse around the second barrier and I remember thinking, pathetically, I hope he doesn’t take my wing mirror off by driving too close to the barrier. I mean, really, a) I know he’s a better driver than that, and b) with our lives at risk, who cares?

Miraculously, he reversed far enough to go through the booth spitting out tickets and I grabbed one and slunk down in my seat.

I’m not an alcoholic. I’m really not. I don’t drink in the mornings. I rarely have a glass of wine at lunchtime. I don’t even have a drink every evening. But I’m having one tonight!

'Aloha' from Lake Geneva
‘Aloha’ from Lake Geneva. We made it through the Alps!

Road Terror

Numana Italy

My toes are cramping from curling them, my teeth are aching from clamping them and my stomach is in knots. I’ve given up with faux braking and am assuming the fetal position.

There is no need to seek out a theme park for a thrill ride. Any Italian road will do, whether on foot or in a car.

Boldly striped pedestrian crossings meant to give one the right of way appear to be optional for the motorist.

Once across the busy north/south road along the promenade in the seaside town it was tempting to let one’s guard down only to be taken out by a cyclist on the cycle path.

The promenade was no sanctuary for the unwary as cyclists sought their thrills weaving in and out of pedestrians or taking a high speed direct line to watch unsuspecting pedestrians leap left and right like a bowling ball down the middle of the pins for a strike.

We fared no better in my (new!) car. Himself braked for a cyclist who cut in front of him then he swerved as she proceeded in front of him completely oblivious while talking on her phone. When he swerved left to avoid her, a car came out from a side road on the left and having avoided that a whole family stepped out onto a pedestrian crossing in front of us.

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I assumed the autostrade – being wider with no pedestrians and limited access – would be less nerve-wracking.

We watched a car full of young lads tailgate a motorcycle to within a meter of him. The motorcycle was boxed in with nowhere to go. As we were all doing 80 mph, we willed the motorcyclist to hold his nerve and not fall off.

The style of driving here is to stay as close as possible to the motor in front whether traveling at 15 mph or 80 mph. A 15 mph rear-ender would be annoying. At 80 mph it would be deadly.

The tailgaters on the autostrade – predominately BMWs, Mercedes and Audis – given an open road are easily motoring at 120 mph.

I’m going to close my eyes now and pretend I’m not in the car.

*****

Okay. Awake now. We survived. Toll to be paid. Himself pulled up to an automated toll booth. Great. Cash only. Oh wonderful.

I inserted the ticket I’d taken at the start of the day (remember we are in a right-hand drive car in a country of left-hand drive cars so tackling tolls is my job – lucky me). The digital readout was €28.50. A ten and a twenty. That should be easy.

I tried to insert the ten. It wouldn’t go in. I turned it over. Nope. I turned it around. Nope. And over. Success!

The machine sucked in the bill, spat it out again and it blew away! I couldn’t open the door as himself had thoughtfully pulled up to the toll gubbins as close as he could so I could reach. He pulled forward at an angle so I could squeeze out of the door in my bare feet (no time to find flip-flops). In my panic I hit my head, knocking off my sunglasses (****!) then chased the bill down the road.

Back in the car:

“Back up!”

“I can’t!”

“You have to! I can’t reach!”

“There’s a car behind me!”

“The barrier’s still down!”

“I know!”

He did back up. Now what?

We certainly didn’t have €28.50 in coins. I tried the ten again. The machine sucked it up and I slapped my hand over the slot. It didn’t reappear. I tried the twenty and slapped the machine again with more than necessary vigor. It disappeared too and change tinkled out.

I think the toll machine is related to our SatNav – another long tale of woe to follow.

The same three cars were still at the toll booth in the next lane as our barrier went up and we drew away.

So it’s not just me.

Or is it?

Where’s my sofa? I want to go home.

Numana Italy

The photos in this post, taken in Numana, Italy, are completely irrelevant to the subject matter here and are purely to keep me in a calm frame of mind as I read and proofread the post.