Monday, 29 October 2007

A weekend of familynosity

Friday, 26 October 2007

Becca has been down in London for the Stringwise teachers' course, and extended her visit, geographically as well as chronologically, to include a visit to my Mum in Chichester. This extremely nice idea has certain logistical implications so I went along to ride shotgun, not that I'd take much persuading.

We left, as we always seem to, a lot later than I meant to. It's tricky - I would far rather be punctual but even if I were packed in advance (ha!) it's still very difficult to get home in the usual fairly dire Friday night state from work and just go straight out again. So I really feel I need to sit down and have a cup of tea... and so on. Of course I hadn't managed to leave work right on the dot of 5.00, so it's all running a bit late already. One of these days I swear I will manage the whole package and nothing will take place even one minute later than planned. Maybe I've even done it once or twice already: I honestly can't remember. This, though, was certainly not one of those occasions and I think it was nearly eight before we left, which is disgraceful and seriously to be avoided. It also transpires that if we are late and eat late then Mum is much less likely to have a good night's rest: I record this here not because I believe it to be wildly interesting to most of my (many thousands of) readers but as a reminder to myself. It's not OK, don't do it.

Anyway, there we were eventually gorn and happily en route. The drive down was the usual sort of thing though we perhaps benefited a little from our lateness, as the traffic was not too bad. Even Hindhead (of which more in a separate piece one day) wasn't too bad, and it was very interesting to see the roadworks, and very good to not be significantly delayed by them.

Mum's house, much though I love it, is not accessible to Becca, the bathroom being upstairs. So it's OK for a visit but not to stay in: we were, therefore, booked into the Chichester Park Hotel, an ex-Ramada now gone independent. On arrival we went there first to book in and dump some bags then round to Mum's for dinner. The hotel is just on the eastern edge of the city on the way out to Westhampnett so it's very convenient for the parental ranch, maybe five minutes by car.

The dinner (vegetarian fricassee from the Cranks cookbook) was utterly delicious, and fortunately not easily spoiled by being left and eaten hours later than intended. The dessert was cosmic - pears in hot butterscotch sauce. Aroooo!

We also had a nice chat and watched some of Martha's DVD of a concert given by the schools symphony orchestra of our great capital city (GCCSSO perhaps?), a copy of which DVD she'd sent for GJ. I may just say that the best places to catch Martha laughing are not during the three out of four pieces that she and the orchestra met with approval and seriousness: and there I had better stop before reputations are impugned, feathers ruffled and the like.

After a bit more jollity it was time to get back to the hotel. I was so exhausted that, having intended to be quite well-organized, I found myself waking, in a state of total confusion, at 3.30. Where am I, who am I etc. Telly rabbitting on, me fully clothed, sprawled all over, but not in, the bed: and so on. I hate doing this as it makes me feel like a drunken businessman and there's one of those labels I'd strongly reject. Oh well.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

We made a rather leisurely start, with one thing and another, and enjoyed the spectacular breakfast at the hotel. It would be quite possible to eat enough to keep you going all day, or perhaps week, and I fear that I came close to accomplishing this.

Eventually we chugged round to Chateau GJ and, deciding that the logistical challenge of going in was just a touch too great (plus we were not exactly running early by this time) we just picked up the Duchess herself and off we went to our Destination du Jour, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) place at Arundel. This was, as always, extremely good. Among the highlights:

  • Kickoff with a pleasant cup of coffee in the entirely nice café. This is built right over a big lake and sees an incredible number of birds. You could, in all seriousness, have quite a nice time if you simply sat there all day. They feed the birds outside the huge windows and this clearly helps keep things busy out there.
  • Fantastic access - good for Becs and GJ alike though for the latter an extra bench or two and more grab-height stuff would be even better
  • Amaryllis showed up and had lunch and came round with us which was also very nice. David was off doing a guitar course at West Dean College and Isobel was doing something Isobellish - visiting friends I think - hence just Amaryllis.
  • I was pleased that, knowing we were probably coming here, I'd brought my binoculars, but furious that I'd forgotten my camera! I bought a disposable one, which is why there are no pictures yet. Believe it or not I found myself once or twice trying to look at the back of the camera to see what I'd just taken, but it remained cardboardly inscrutable. (Update: Pictures now back and a few pasted in. Those cameras can work quite well under nice bright sunshine but aren't great in the late afternoon in October! Oh well. Still nice to have for memory-jogging purposes.)
  • Nice lunch in the same excellent café.
  • Brilliant boardwalks - fully accessible, great fun, nice design (corners, islands etc), exciting. One is quite short (but still nice) and the other goes on for miles and is genuinely excellent. What it goes through is "one the biggest and best reedbeds in Sussex" - certainly it is most impressive, and the walk is nicely designed with interesting corners, variations in width and so on. It's really superb to walk through. You also pass an interesting building/artwork which is a reed building shaped like a hay stook and containing a camera obscura. The last time we were there we couldn't really see much in the camera despite waiting a very long time, as advised: this time it was shut! But it's a most attractive and unusual building.
  • Becca and I hung around in a hide for a long time hoping to see the almost-promised kingfisher. Sadly no luck: indeed I usually seem to see less from the hides than anywhere else. As Bec points out this isn't unreasonable: the hides look out over the wilder, less regulated reserve rather than the more zoo-like interior.
  • Wonderful "boat safari" - late in the day, just the four of us, amazingly accessible boat with massive ramp up the front like a landing-craft. Slightly scary to get on as the power chair's weight made it dip a couple of inches, but when we got off again the driver had sussed it and it hardly moved at all.
  • The boat is electrically driven and pretty much silent. It's fabulous.
  • We saw a heron stalking water voles,
  • A little grebe swimming very fast underwater, "like a torpedo",
  • Perhaps most excitingly, at the very end of the trip we had an extremely good view of a water vole sitting munching reeds. This was just superb - cute little hands etc. I very much doubt that I got a decent photograph, though.
  • I wasn't previously sure about this, but the boat bloke confirmed that there's no such separate species as water rat - when people say that, they mean water voles. Ratty, in Wind in the Willows, is a water vole. Real rats can swim, but they don't look or live like water voles: a swimming rat is just that. Water voles must suffer from really messed-up PR.

We returned via the hotel where among other things I visited the desk to moan about the smell of smoking in Becca's room. Of course this is not the hotel's fault but that of the selfish swine who did the smoking. I'm finding it a trifle difficult not to think uncharitable thoughts about this behaviour. The hotel were very nice and promised to try some ozone gizmo which might help. What a ****** though. I'd have asked for a room swap but it's clear that we got the adapted room: which of course makes the conduct of the selfish smoking ****** even more ******-like. Thanks and have a nice day.

From there it was a mere hop and a skip round the corner back to our extensive southern estates and Schloss GJ nestling in its girdle of orchards and lakes, erm yes. We had a fantastic macaroni cheese with vegetables and the other half of last night's rosé. Yum.

Eventually we snurgled our way back along to the hotel, where their efforts with the smoky room had made some small improvement. They had also helpfully left an industrial-size air freshener in the room, which is fine as long as it doesn't fall into the hands of some over-excitable person who is going to pump 80m³ of the stuff because they've lost track of reality and think they're in a decontamination scene from almost any science-fiction film ... ahem, yes.

The other grave irritation was that all of the disabled parking spaces were taken. There was a function, a wedding I think, at the hotel and all the parking was very busy: fair enough. Two of the disabled bays had legitimate users with permits: the third was occupied all day by a gigantic boat-like shiny new Chrysler pretending to be a Bentley. Nice personalized registration with "FUN" in it. (Yes, quite, I thought so too.) Astonishingly enough this car was not displaying a permit. First allowing for the very slight possibility that this was a legit user who happened to not have the permit available (and acknowledging that if so they could have left a note) it's difficult to know what to say about the kind of unethical scum (oops) who would do this. I discard them, as Molesworth would say. The hotel were very nice and helpful but could not find the driver so they offered all sorts of car movements and managers' spaces and stuff, and in the end someone just cut the Gordian knot and very kindly said "just park it right there" immediately outside the front door, so we did.

They say that what goes around comes around and indeed my General Theory of the Cosmic Bank of Goodwill™ also sort-of requires this, but I have an uneasy feeling that in some other horrid way the universe seems to quite like unethical pigs, and that this pompous *rse, who parked his horrible fat shiny car where Becca's should have been, will continue to be rewarded - for a lifetime of bad and selfish behaviour - with good looks, health and prosperity. And, indeed, abundant, convenient parking. I suppose it is to be hoped that St Peter or someone is keeping a note and that sooner or later he'll be asked about his CBG balance, but I am not betting on it.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

We got out to the usual mega-fast start (oh I am so funny when being ironical. No? Ah.) and went round to Mum's in a rather miserable drizzle. Bec had wanted to see the sea, though, so we piled in and charged off to Bosham, a place I always find a delight. If you do not already know about Bosham, then:

  • It's a very picturesque little village.
  • It's pronounced Bozz'm.
  • It's on a tidal creek: a very tidal creek.
  • Despite very clear warning signs it is not uncommon for foolish or ill-advised motorists to leave their cars in front of the village for a bit too long. At low tide this is a nice safe roadway and the water is a pathetic little piddle some 150m away. At some high tides, it's pretty much the sea, deep, right on the village's doorstep. We've seen people have to paddle in ankle-deep water to rescue the car, but the pub has a gallery of photos showing vehicles in all states, including with the roof only showing in what appears to be the open sea. It is a source of endless joy to the idle onlooker, I'm afraid.
  • Another pointer to the tides is that all the houses down near the front have very raised doorsteps and/or garden entrances; some have an ordinary door but runners to drop a board into. It is not uncommon to see a front door which ends 12-18" above pavement level, the rest below the door being solid stone- or brickwork. These must be interestingly difficult to live with.

Anyway, we rolled up and found to our delight that there was a very high tide and that the water was right up nearly in the village street. Fortunately it was not threatening houses but another inch or two and we would not have been able to walk along the road that runs behind the first row of buildings. Despite the unpleasant weather this made a very interesting and exciting visit: I don't think I have ever seen the water that high there. I am relieved/disappointed to report that no cars were to be seen floating by!

Having got wet and cold enough we went back to Mum's and had a lunch of truly delicious vegetarian goulash, also from the Cranks cookbook, with rice. Mum also had lovely red-fruit and lemon mousses from the Cook frozen food shop in Sadlers Walk. After that it was time, regrettably, to get moving, me back to London and Becca on her long drive to Manchester. I'd perhaps wisely extended our hotel checkout time to 4pm so after we'd said goodbye to Mum we went back there to finish sorting and packing, repack the car and so on. Bec then kindly dropped me at the station and we went our separate ways. A most satisfactory weekend of familynosity.

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