The Pig Yard

April 10 - Another eventful month with a roller coaster of ups and downs. We had great plans for the month, some of them came to fruition whilst others missed the target but we still managed to make the best of things. Another milestone reached this month was our 39th wedding anniversary. We celebrated by going to see Joan Armatrading - see below. We also put our hot air balloon up for sale and once it is sold it will mark an end of an era.

At the beginning of the month we went to see Joan Armatrading in concert. The last time we had seen her live was about twenty years ago in Coventry and we went without any great expectations. The support band was a young girl called Lisbee Stainton who played acoustic guitar and she had a double bass player and someone on percussion. She was good enough for us to purchase her album, Girl on an unmade bed, at the interval.

Joan's performance was superlative. She has to be one of the greatest guitarists of our time and accompanied by her quirky, interesting voice it is a winning combination. She performed a number of her old songs as and introduced us to her latest creations from her new album - This Charming Life. To hear some of the tracks click here...

Joan Armatrading Lisbee Stainton

April blooming

The garden has started to bloom however there are still some late frosts and there is a risk that some flowers will be damaged. With spring getting a foothold we've seen the return of "our" swallows. Initially they spend their time flying in and out of the garage selecting which nest they will start their first brood. One of the nests seems to be more successful than the other but the swallows have to make that decision for themselves although we're not sure whether they learn from the mistakes of the previous year.

Steve was bought a web cam for his 60th birthday last October specifically for observing nature in the making. Once the swallows have settled down he intents fitting the camera close to the nest so we can watch their activity from the comfort of the armchair. We hope to be able to capture the hatching and rearing of the youngsters and possible even see them make their first flights for themselves. More on this next month.

This month we were supposed to be flying off to New York for a mini break but some unpronounceable volcano on Iceland decides to become active and the resultant ash closes down the whole of UK airspace and half of Europe. Trust Iceland to come up with this idea - a bankrupt country owing everyone money decides to burn itself down so it can claim on the insurance. Our holiday wasn't formally cancelled until the afternoon of the day before we were due to fly and so Jane reverted to plan B. She had already made tentative inquiries after seeing an advert for a hotel on the Isle of Wight and so before the day was over we had our hotel room and the ferry booked. All we had to do is pack clothes appropriate for the English seaside rather than the New York city life.

Thankfully we have managed to get a full rebate for our flights and accommodation but we are still battling with Ticketmaster for a refund for the Broadway show West Side Story.

Volcanic ash cloud

Red Funnel Ferry

We were up early to get on the road for 08:30 and be in time to catch the 11:00 ferry from Southampton to East Cowes. We had such a good run down the A34 we were on the quayside by 09:50 and managed to get onto the 10:00 Red Funnel ferry. It was an enjoyable journey down the Solent and into East Cowes - travelling doesn't get any easier than this.

The only hiccup in our journey was the TomTom Sat Nav which, once we'd landed on the Isle of Wight insisted we get back onto the ferry because we'd missed part of the route. A quick tweak on the system and we were soon on our way to Freshwater Bay.

Jane's choice, The Albion Hotel on Freshwater Bay couldn't have been any better. We were welcomed when we arrived and shown to a large room that had a patio opening out almost directly onto the sea. The hotel had a swimming pool which Jane used twice and Steve joined her on one occasion. Every night we went to sleep to the sound of waves on the beach - just perfect.

Breakfasts were the usual offering of cooked breakfast as well as cereal, toast and fruit. We never have a cooked breakfast but we did take full advantage of the evening meal which was three courses and very well done. Needless to say we ate sufficient but didn't over indulge considering the exercise we were getting every day.

For the three days we were there we walked to the Needles, walked to Yarmouth along an old railway line and then the long way back and on the last day hired bikes and cycled to Shorewell. It didn't rain once and most days were sunny and relatively warm.

Albion Hotel Freshwater Bay

Needles, Isle of Wight Our hotel was a couple of miles from the Needles so having arrived and unpacked we headed up along the Tennyson trail, past a monument to Alfred Lord Tennyson and on to the Needles. We then hiked round to Alum Bay and back across country to the hotel probably covering ten miles in total. It was enough to reward ourselves with a three course meal in the evening.

Alum Bay has been turned into a tourist trap with shops and cafe at the top of the cliff with a chair lift taking people down to the beach. We turned up just as everything was closing but managed to get a cold drink and cake to stave off the hunger pangs. Jane of course shared her cake with the birds and this rooks were not afraid to come close and see what we were giving away. There was an element of Hitchcock's Birds about it.

We were surprised at the lack of bird life in the area. Whether we were on the coast or in fields and woods there seemed to be very little bird song particularly as this is spring and the birds in our own garden have been full of song and chatter for some time now.

Close up crow

Cow and calf The sight of a cow and calf was irresistible. The mother had two calves the one in the picture and a similar sized black one but the brown and white was getting all the maternal attention even if the calf was taking more notice of us than it was of its mother.

Our cycle from Yarmouth to Shorwell was great fun. Although we are not used to fat tyre mountain bikes we made the most of them. Our route stuck mainly to minor roads that were pleasantly quiet and initially flat. To get over to Shorwell we had to climb over a hill and rather than stick to the roads we followed a bridal path through some beautiful woodlands. This was a long, slow climb and eventually we both succumb and decided to walk. Once we reached the top we had superb views and it was possible to see both sides of the island. Of course having climbed all the way up we then had to cycle down a very steep, rough, farm track with loads of loose stone. Jane was quite worried by this and even Steve kept his brakes on all the way down until we reached tarmac. It was then a short ride into Shorwell where the village pub, The Crown Inn, welcomed us for coffee and Steve had a holiday toasted teacake.

As we sat in the pub garden in glorious sunshine we enjoyed watching the duck with her tiny ducklings playing on the stream and some large rainbow trout. We could have sat there all day but we were only half way through our planned route and so had to move on.

Jane & Steve at Shorewell

Wolverton Manor

Part of the reason we chose this particular route was because we would pass Wolverton Manor. Jane stayed here with her family as a child on holiday and she has some wonderful memories as a North London city girl finding herself in the heart of the English countryside on a working farm. Her love of the countryside and animals may have started on these holidays because the working farm had pigs, chickens and cows and she was allowed to help the farmer look after them from time to time.

When she stayed here in the late 1950s and early 1960s the manor didn't have any electricity so all lighting was from gas mantles and candles. Its difficult to imagine how this large house must have been like with limited lighting at night in the corridors and bedrooms, the word spooky springs to mind.

Before we had time to really appreciate our mini break it was time to head home. Once again the journey back was straightforward and we really enjoyed watching the various yachts and power boats crisscrossing the Solent. If we don't enjoy dinghy sailing then we're definitely getting a power boat so we can feel the sea breeze rushing through our hair (in Steve's case that's a little difficult) without worrying about speed cameras all the time. Speeding on the Solent

Cruise ship Eclipse

As we came in to Southampton to drive off the ferry we could see the cruise ship Eclipse. This was the ship that sailed down to Spain to pick up all the passengers stranded in southern Europe and from further afield by the volcano eruption that had also been the cause of our holiday cancellation.

These cruise ships are  truly monstrous, an enormous floating hotel. We're not sure that we would want to spend any length of time cruising on something as impersonal and detached from the sea as this inevitably must be.

It does seem strange how a three day mini break can dominate the whole month but it seems to have done. We did do a lot of other things - Steve did a lot of cleaning and Jane worked a lot at the surgery.

We did get out on our bikes on several occasions and on one circular tour that took us from home to Stoke Bruerne (see picture) and then back via Shutlanger we covered over fourteen miles. The interesting point to notice in the picture is that there isn't a single airplane vapour trail to be seen because this was the weekend that all flights in UK airspace had been stopped.

Cycle to Stoke Bruerne

Steve says:

Steve's Blog

The flight disruptions caused by the volcanic eruption have once again highlighted the position of insurance companies when it comes to paying out whenever there is a "disaster". Immediately the insurers declared this an act of god and in many cases refused to pay up. Who is this god person is what I want to know and can we sue him?

I've been having a running battle with TalkTalk who are our telecoms provider. They keep advertising cheap broadband but whenever I make an enquiry the total package turns out to be much more than we're currently paying, This month they called to let me know that they considered us to be a new customer because they hadn't transferred our details into their main database (our original contract was with a company called OneTel who were taken over by TalkTalk). As a consequence of this database exercise they reduced our tariff by over £5. We were happy with this decrease but still cannot fathom out why it took over 3 years for them to realise this, perhaps my email complaint to their Chief Executive did work...