The Pig Yard

May 10 - Having missed our New York holiday because of volcanic ash in April there was a distinct possibility that our Greek sailing holiday was also under threat. What a topsy turvy world we live in and it's interesting how we are affected by such uncertainty. The month was focussed around our sailing holiday in Greece with preparation before hand and then the settling back into our normal routine once we arrived home. When we weren't holidaying Jane was working, we spent time in the garden and managed to fit in a couple of short cycle rides.

Goodbye G-CZAG

This month saw the end of an era. After not flying for over eighteen months we decided to sell the balloon so Steve put it onto the Zebedee list and after several enquiries and some time wasters we found a buyer who had checked out as a private pilot In September 2009 and was very keen to get his own balloon.

We inflated it for him to see it in all its glory and before the deal could be finalised we had to take it down to Wendover in Buckinghamshire for it to be tested and given a certificate of airworthiness.

After over 20 years of being involved in ballooning it was a very sad moment when the new buyer drove away with our trailer and balloon, but times change. The costs and conditions of flying have become more and more difficult over the past five years to the point where each flight was costing us over 120 pounds; farmers were less happy about us landing on their fields and the weather has definitely changed with it being windier and/or wetter than when we first began flying.

At the beginning of the month we spent a Saturday morning learning how to use a speed gun so that we could participate in the Community Speed Watch. Jane is the coordinator for the village and everyone who takes part has to be trained in what to do and why it is important.

It seems odd that Steve drives around in a Porsche Boxster but has volunteered to be part of the scheme however because he believes it is important to make the village as safe as possible he has joined the team. In the first week of monitoring cars the teams recorded over 30 people exceeding 35 miles per hour and in fact a couple of drivers were very close to 60 miles an hour.

Everyone caught receives a letter from the police asking them to slow down. Persistent speedsters are monitored by the police and they try to capture them with official speed cameras so they can be prosecuted.

Community Speed Watch

Garden Flowers May 2010

The garden has really picked up during the month with some beautiful flowers coming out and making a beautiful setting. Steve has been working hard on preparing the soil of the vegetable plot and Jane has been busy in the greenhouse sowing runner beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. Whilst we were away on holiday the very hot spell managed to scorch many of the early plants in the greenhouse and this has set back the hardening off to the vegetable plot.

Steve has been cutting the lawn once a week for the past two months and the grass is looking better and better setting off the flower borders really well.

Gardening is a slow progress so we don't expect the garden to suddenly become something worthy of the Chelsea Flower Show however with Steve spending more time on it we hope that next year will appreciate the fruits of our labours.

Our sailing holiday in Greece was touch and go right up to the last minute because of the continued volcanic activity in Iceland. Early on the Sunday morning Steve called the travel agents and we were told that our lunchtime flight should be ok to fly. We set out early for Gatwick on the Sunday morning and our journey was uneventful so we were in plenty of time for our flight to Preveza with Thomson airways.

On arrival at Preveza we realised the airport was in the middle of nowhere and were informed that it was still a military airport so no photographs were allowed. Having been met by our Sunsail couriers we were taken by coach to the hotel complex overlooking the sea. We arrived just in time to unpack and sit down for dinner which was served outside overlooking the Ionian sea. It was a beautiful location and we had a good feeling about it.

The following morning we were facing the prospect of our first dinghy sailing lesson so we were full of trepidation as our heads hit the pillow.

Hotel complex

Storm clouds over Vanouki Marina

The weather was not good. There was a distinct chill in the air and the wind was blowing more than we liked. After breakfast we were dressed in what we thought was appropriate for going out on boats in the Mediterranean in mid May. Our assessment was not correct. Within the first few hours our sailing instructor had managed to capsize the boat and put us all into the cold water. This was not a good experience particularly as Jane had to be rescued by the safety boat because despite her strong swimming capabilities the dinghy was being blown away faster than she could keep up with it. It was quite scary for everyone. We then spent the rest of the lesson in the boat and on land soaking wet and getting thoroughly chilled - not in a good way.

That same night there was a barbecue and needless to say it was accompanied by a thunderstorm and strong winds. We were watching the UK forecasts on Sky News in our bedroom and it was frequently mentioned that Britain was experiencing warmer weather than the Mediterranean. The weather on the second training day was even worse than the first and although we did get some hands on in the morning we were instructed to keep within the shelter of the marina so that the wind wouldn't be too strong. In the afternoon the instructor took  over again and demonstrated gybing and although she claimed we had done some gybing in the morning none of us felt confident.

So after the training days we had complete freedom to sail or not to sail. We did get some decent weather when the sea was relatively calm and there was enough wind to get us around the bay. What we had learned was what to wear. We should have realised that the Mediterranean in May hasn't had a chance to warm up and is going to feel cold. We should have purchased wet suits because sitting around in wet swimming costumes and T shirts is never going to feel comfortable.

One of our better days was when we both went out in a Laser Pico which was a lot of fun. You can just see one being prepared for us in the background.

Later in the week we went out in a Laser Bahia which was also fun although we only used the mainsail and kept the jib wrapped up at the front. We considered it difficult enough to work with one sail let alone two and we certainly were going fast enough for us. If it hadn't been for the quick thinking and responses of Jane we came very close to a second capsize with Steve at the helm of the Bahia but a ducking was avoided thank goodness. After two hours out on the water we decided we needed to get warmed up and so came in for a hot drink.

Steve & Jane ready to sail

Steve sailing

Steve at the helm and looking comfortable with getting the boat going in the right direction. As can be seen from looking over his shoulder we were quite a way out from the shore.

We were always safe because there were three fast moving safety boats around and they were committed to reaching anyone in trouble within thirty seconds.

Pirate Parrot

 Ah Ha me hearties.

All Jane needed was a colourful parrot on her shoulder and she looks prepared for anything. Even with a buoyancy aid and two layers of clothing it still was quite chilly after two hours out on the water. We must have experienced some sunshine because Jane managed to get sun tanned feet in the pattern of her sandals.

Jane sailing

Palaros marina

The local village of Paleros was small but it did have several bars and restaurants, a supermarket and pharmacy. We visited them all on different occasions.

The marina was a really pleasant area to sit around if the weather was being kind. We often walked into the village when we found ourselves at a loose end. This was after we discovered that the swimming pool at the hotel was unheated and still very cold.

On the walk back from Paleros after dark we were delighted to see a host of fireflies or glow worms swirling about the open ground.

On two afternoons we grabbed some bikes and took to the local roads. We stayed on the coastal track which generally was quite flat. As soon as we took tracks that went inland the hills became very steep and we were not prepared to test these strange bikes to the full. As it turned out Jane's bike only had 7 gears out of a possible 21 and Steve's seat kept moving about in a very uncomfortable way.

On our cycles around the bay we did see a number of interesting butterflies, birds and lizards. We even were adopted by a dog who decided he wanted a walk and we could be his pacemakers, he followed us for at least 2 miles before stopping at a beach for a general sniff around.

Jane with her borrowed bike

Steve relaxing

When we go on holiday we do like to feel at home so we take Earl Grey tea bags for Steve and lemon tea powder for Jane. As you can see Steve is relaxing just outside our room with a mug, yes a mug thanks to Jane raiding the restaurant whilst no one was looking. She also managed to forage for fresh milk rather than the UHT stuff that come in those mini plastic pots.

In between sleeping, eating, sailing, walking and cycling we did have time to sit and read.


We finished the month off by an energetic walk around Pitsford Reservoir. We had hoped from the forecast given that there would be some sunshine however it wasn't to be. Steve had spotted from the Pitsford sailing club web site that there was going to be some dinghy racing going on so we thought we might learn what sailing in the UK might be like. Judging by the temperatures and the wind, it was not warm on land so it must have been very chilly on the boats. Further confirmation that sailing in this country is not for the faint hearted unless of course you manage to stay out of the water and wear appropriate clothing. Sailing regatta at Pitsford Reservoir

Jane at Pitsford Reservoir

Pitsford, although a flat walk of over seven miles, has a number of points where you can stop to be diverted. The picture shows a number of wooden slabs which have been carved with a part of a poem. It was quite intriguing and captured our attention for a short while. At this point we were over half way round, had stopped for coffee at the cafe, and were pacing our way back to the car. Even so we still required our coats and two layers underneath to keep the May weather at bay.

To finish the day off we cycled a round trip of ten miles to Sue & Grahams and back. If we'd fitted in a swim as well it would have been a geriatric triathlon.

Steve says:

Steve's Blog

As the weather has improved over the past few months I was hoping that the local birds would start to become self sufficient - no such luck. The quantity of bird food we are getting through keeps going up and up. In the past month the local jackdaw population seems to have doubled and they are all making an early visit to Steve & Jane's diner. Two adults and four youngsters can get through four fat balls in two days - that's a lot of fat, do jackdaws suffer from hardening of the arteries? These birds are just scroungers and it has to stop. Haven't they heard of the economic crisis and the national debt? So how do I encourage the cute small birds like blue tits and robins but keep the bigger birds away? Any suggestions gratefully received.

Another question I'm struggling with - is my dislike of the Daily Mail newspaper justified or am I being an intellectual snob and elitist or is it because I believe the Mail encourages the worst in human nature e.g. bigotry? OK that's quite a complex question but if you have an opinion then let me know.

And finally... should I restart a blog on the Pig Yard site giving all our readers the possibility of making comment and starting threads of conversations amongst like minded people? Your feedback would be appreciated but don't worry I won't be holding my breath.