Sunday, 23 August 2009

Something new every day

Last week we sold our house.

Not this one - not the one with the carpets.

No, our home in London. Its final hurrah! for us was our holiday at the end of July.

Now I have to be careful - I've discovered my solicitor reads my blog. But over the years I have managed to own houses in England and Scotland (very different systems for buying/selling) and rent them, and rent from people in England, and rent in Zambia. I have had quite a lot of experience of purchase and sale, of hiccups in the system.

But this sale was the most remarkable. The day of completion of sale: the buyers' solicitor informs my solicitor that he's only just discovered that there was a mortgage involved in the purchase. No paperwork completed: no sale today, thank you.

This is when I realise the true benefits of using a solicitor when buying and selling property. (Of course, I have to say this - he's reading the post...!) He does all the legal stuff to inform them that as of 14:00 they will be breaking the contract and will have to pay interest on the outstanding amount.

Meanwhile, no doubt, our buyers are running round like headless chickens, chasing the bank, the solicitor, the mortgage provider, desperate to get the money to our solicitor. Eventually it arrived - but after 14:00 on a Friday, so that counts as Monday in legal terms, resulting in an extra three days of interest.

Thankfully for us we were not financially dependent on this: the money is earmarked for the renovation of our home here (have you seen the carpets??) - which has only got as far as finalising plans with the architect. But not completing an exchanged contract was a new problem for me. Just goes to show, even when you think nothing more could happen, something new is always around the corner.

Birthday party!

This week we celebrated my husband's birthday - not yet a big round number (the big party is next year!) but nevertheless an important day for the family.

So (it being the school holidays) the children had a lie-in and I gratefully received a cup of tea in bed, as he left for the 7.30am train. I did figure that there was a bit of making-up to do!

We had arranged that I would bring the children into town and meet him after work, then we'd all go out for dinner. Pizza Express did us very well, though I'm not sure the rest of the diners were so happy. Our game of I Spy did become quite raucous (SCNT, says my son - Security Camera Number Two) but the best bit was giving my husband his presents.

We started with the cards in the post, a couple of 'it's on its way...' messages.

Then there were a couple of card games I'd bought when in London (an easy present, that I knew he'd like).

Then there was my somewhat double-edged gift: a couple of library books. I did tell him they were only a present for the next three weeks... but he's already finished one and is halfway through the second. They are about narrowboats and canal travel, which may yet be the source of his retirement entertainment. Would he enjoy buying a wreck and doing it up? Or are we just fuelling a mid-life crisis?

Finally, there was the present from my children to him. I pass it to my son, to pass to my husband and what happens?

My son starts to open the present!

On realising that we had all gone quiet and were looking at him, he did notice his mistake and pass it on. Poor lad: feels it is still a long time until his birthday, I guess!

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Our holidays

Withenay Wanders was set up to describe all our travels and the various things that I wonder about. Having been absent for a couple of weeks on holiday I thought I should update you on what we did.

We went here -

- to London!

We lived there before moving to Zambia and it transpired that we had just the perfect gap between our tenants moving out and our buyers purchasing our house for us to have a family holiday. So, even though we are somewhat camping in our new home, we went to camp in an empty house in inner-city London. Having only moved house two months ago finances were a little tight but this seemed to fit the bill.

My holiday requirements were simple: no cooking and no washing. The cooking was evaded by eating out every night (after all, we were saving on renting a cottage or flying abroad and even on hiring a car). The washing was fully delegated to my husband (what a lovely man!)

So this is what we did:
(take a deep breath!)

  • Walk up King's Road
  • Saatchi Gallery (only a few items to steer the children quickly past)
  • Window shop in Kensington
  • Science Museum
  • Day trip to the Red House (built for William Morris)
  • Walk around Danson Park
  • Visit Buckingham Palace
  • See the Changing of the Guards
  • Natural History Museum (dinosaurs)
  • Have a nose around The Conran Shop
  • Visit 2 Willow Road (NT house, Erno Goldfinger's 1930's creation)
  • Walk around Hampstead Heath
  • Returned for a full day's geocaching on Hampstead Heath (in the drizzly rain...)
  • Visit our old church, catching up with friends.
  • Return to child-friendly pub for lunch (had taken daughter there when just 6 days old!)
  • Laze around on Clapham Common (and play cricket there with children)
  • Spend day with son's best friend from old school, who moved at Easter
  • Watch end of Edgbaston Test on big screen in central London
  • Go to Docklands Museum - take part in the Big Dig
  • Walk along South Bank (daughter found pottery on 'beach' of Thames)
  • Return visit to Natural History Museum (Butterfly Jungle)
  • Return visit to Science Museum (Wallace & Grommit)
  • Shop on Oxford Street for long-promised DS games for children
  • Visit British Museum - prepare for son's Egypt topic next term with study of mummies, etc.
  • Go to the games shop (Playin' Games) to buy husband's birthday present
  • West End Show: Sister Act (stalls, second row; thankful reference to orgasmic sex washed over the children...)

Not bad for 10 days?

We've now been home for about the same period of time and we have .... well, nearly recovered!

The wonderful thing about London (combined with our National Trust membership) is that so much is free. Having got a travel card for the period (children under 11, so travel free) we could go pretty much where we liked. A lot of our time was spent walking around, pointing out the sights to the children (St Paul's, The Mall, Eros, etc.) and then going into fantastically free museums. Of course, there was the odd indulgence... but we were on holiday.

And what did the children decide would be a treat? Going to McDonalds and Burger King!

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Zam News

It has been too long since I wrote about Zambia on this blog. Sadly, our holiday last week was not there, although we have plans to visit next year. Ever since I heard this in the news I have been meaning to put in a link to the most high-profile story this year ... when a monkey urinated on the President...

... but of course, this cannot be as important as hearing about the lives of ordinary people.

And then last night, I heard the end of an article on Radio 4 about ZamBikes ... listen if you can, about 34 minutes through - it is only 5 minutes long... or read an article here.

Zambikes is a company set up to build bicycles ... from bamboo. In Zambia bamboo grows quickly, easily and cheaply, thus making it the ultimate eco-friendly product. The company is now looking to export the bicycles to the USA. I can't help willing organisations such as these on, as they are not seeking to import to Africa (and build up African debt) or take from Africa (exploit its resources) but are looking to export, by developing business and strengthening local community. Their product is locally sourced and made, is specially designed to cope with Zambian roads (a miracle in itself!) and is helping local people to improve their standard of living.

The gentleman interviewed by the BBC did not shy away from the problems there are. Business in Zambia is full of bureaucracy, the taxes are high and labour is often unskilled. But skills can be learnt and people are willing to work. They see opportunity to develop and grow, to provide a better home for their family, education for the children, food on the table. So much that we take for granted is a daily struggle for the majority.

(photo copyright of Zambikes)

And, to round off my little Zambian feast, here is a photo I took a couple of years ago of a sunset over the River Kafue, whilst we were gently chugging downstream. The driver even let my children steer for a while (then aged 4 & 6). The peace is overwhelming. Wish you were there?

Monday, 10 August 2009

The Sideways Game

I have much to write about our family holiday, but the fortnight culminated in a day at the Test: the second day's play at Headingley, England vs Australia. Cricket: the Sideways Game.

Taking up a batting stance, one's body is looking square of the wicket, head turned to look at the umpire and incoming bowler.

For a bowler, the perfect action is side-on, a cartwheel of arms to release the ball 22 yards towards the sideways batsman.

For the majority of fielders their positioning is to the side. Anything further round than 3rd slip and you are viewing the game from side-on.

So all the technique has to be learnt sideways. And, for us the spectators, our view is with the fielders. Some seats line up with Third Man or Long On, but the majority are watching the game from the side, trying to grasp some of the nuances by inference. Did he hit the ball cleanly? Was that one that he left so dramatically sailing past the stumps within inches or feet? Should he have been given out lbw?

My wonderful husband is very tolerant of my love of cricket. He entertained the children. (It appears that, even in the Family Stand, uninterested 6-year-old girls are not common nor greatly appreciated.) However, his most recurrent comment (complaint?) all day was that he couldn't see the ball. From the moment it left the bowler's hand until it was either hit by the batsman or caught by the keeper it was impossible to see. Presumably a ball travelling at 90mph left-to-right moves faster than the eyeballs can, or faster than the brain can interpret the signals. Yet when he peeked through from more straight on, he could watch the ball turn, seam and swing.

For England, it was a disastrous Test. For the batting to collapse once was tragic, twice was inexcusable. Broad's best test bowling figures of 6-91 followed by 61 with the bat should be praised, but for a team to be relying on its number 7 and 8 batsmen to retrieve any dignity does not bode well for the final test at the Oval.

But who knows? It may be a sideways game, but anything can turn it upside down.
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