December along the Danube


In December I ticked another goal off my retirement bucket list to visit the Christmas Markets in Europe. With a friend I ventured forth along the Danube. It was the most delightful and beautiful experience and well worth the years I have waited to achieve this! Vienna was magical and as we cruised back to Budapest the next morning the scene was as Christmassy as you could hope for with the riverbanks shrouded in a heavy fall of snow.

Just Life – I suppose?

Kinver Edge (1)

Well, here I am…… apparently letting all the things I cared about slip further and further away. Disappointed in myself…. letting my writing slip, letting my photography slip, letting my interest and enthusiasm slip.

Life is different, very different but I don’t think I have the enthusiasm to pick up the things that are on offer. Perhaps it’s too hard – to step out of the door and build a new life…… the me I used to be doesn’t seem to be here anymore….. or perhaps this is me and the other me was just a façade that enabled me to do the job I had to do?

I knew leaving everyone behind would be tough, but I don’t think I was prepared for feeling so alien!  There’s a lot to be said for driving home along familiar routes that hold the memories you’ve grown up with, and very little to be said for driving home where nothing means anything, nothing connects to the person I am. And it’s not just the physical environment……. I’m constantly encountering attitudes and an outlook that I don’t share.

Enough of the self-indulgence though – it’s not all doom and gloom…….. there are so many positives to being here – Birmingham’s thriving cultural scene on my doorstep (once I shake off this lethargy and get out there to find it!), easy access to places via a well-connected transport network and , of course, family….. the point of this whole exercise!

They have to be the one huge plus out of this whole business……. whilst allowing for the irritations of any close family! I see them two or three times a week, whereas before it was once every month or maybe six weeks. Sunday lunch with Mum has become the norm (now the new kitchen is finally finished!)  – and Friday night fish ‘n’ chips too! Shopping trips with my daughter-in-law (who can shop for England believe me) where we have reached a mutual misunderstanding – K searches every aisle in every shop in case there’s something she might need, or a bargain to be had, while I go straight to the item on my list and only browse the stores that really grab my interest or serve my purpose for the day. My granddaughter calls in on her way home from school (providing Nanna keeps the cake tin replenished!); she sleeps over when Mum and Dad have an early start for work the next day; we bake together; we watch films together; we share music (hmm….. more hers than mine!!) and I am able to experience the glorious, unpredictability of an hormonal 12 year old girl at first hand instead of having it recounted to me by phone or text!

And I have made new friends….. three individuals so far who I get on well with, seem to have hit it off with and are turning into regular contacts for coffee, lunch, Tai Chi and craft sessions (interestingly all three having moved into the area recently), a lively group of ladies I meet for lunch in Birmingham each month, plus other faces becoming more familiar day by day.

Oh how I miss the familiar faces of friends though, and the places we used to go. Sitting for a coffee or a meal with someone who knows me through and through, who knows why I think the way I think, why I am the way I am, the people who have shared the highs and lows of my life with. Yes they’re all still there – just a call or a text or a PM or a FB photo away…… yes they’re just 200 miles along the motorway away, just a 3-4 hour drive away …….. but sometimes it might as well be the other side of the world!

Travelogue 1 – Glasgow

Every so often I like to break away from the humdrum of everyday retirement and explore a bit more of the world beyond Norfolk. As much as I love Norfolk it can be rather insular…… but that’s a subject for another blog one day….

As I’m hoping to move house soon I’m not planning any long trips in the near future, but keeping my wanderlust content by exploring more of my own country. This time my destination was Glasgow. I’m a relative newcomer to the delights of Scotland, having married a Welshman our trips tended to gravitate in a westerly direction.

Glasgow has been a long time coming….. as lovers of all things by the designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh best friend and I have had this trip in our sights for about five years now. My impending departure brought some urgency to the plan and spurred us on to book a three day trip at the beginning of the Easter holidays – whilst I have escaped from the restrictions of the school timetable friend is still very much tied. Local schools breaking up a week earlier than other parts of the country seemed an ideal opportunity to avoid the main holiday rush too. So, a month ago we got together one Friday evening to plan our trip. The bottle of wine may not have been such a good idea – having dealt with the intricacies of the train journey we hadn’t even got as far as looking at hotels by the time her husband arrived to carry her home….. I left that for her to investigate the next morning!

The plan finally came together last Wednesday morning. We left Norwich to arrive in London in time for the 12.40pm from Euston to Glasgow Central. The original intention had been to travel up by Caledonian Sleeper but we didn’t fancy the idea of arriving in Glasgow at 7 am with a day of sightseeing ahead of us so we saved that pleasure for the return journey. Instead we boarded a routine Virgin west coast train – crowded, hot, noisy ….. cue another blog on the UK rail network?

So – after waiting so long to visit did Glasgow live up to expectations? It most certainly did – and more. I’m not sure what I expected really….. the stereotypical image of a tough Glaswegian perhaps? We’d both been warned that we were unlikely to understand anything that was said to us…. that certainly wasn’t true. In fact people everywhere were exceptionally friendly…… from the hotel staff to the lady who stopped us in the street to ask if we were lost, and continued to describe something of the locality for us.

Glasgow is a beautiful city – unexpectedly, incredibly beautiful. Being used to towns and cities with quaint medieval centres I found Glasgow robust, strident, from the dour St Mungo’s Cathedral, looking out onto the Necropolis, to the sparkling Clyde Auditorium. But it also struck me as a city that has struggled for its existence. The city bus tour, which we took on the second day, revealed stark contrasts between the affluent west side and the poorer east, with the newly regenerated riverside sandwiched between. It’s a hard-working city, built by great industrial entrepreneurs who were proud to mark their lasting influence with the grand memorials of the Necropolis, but it’s a city that knows how to play hard too…. we made sure we didn’t have to walk far from the restaurant to the station on a Friday night in Glasgow!

The highlight for us has to be Glasgow School of Art, but the influence of its designers is evident everywhere you look, in the stained glass windows lighting the houses of the west end and in the glass roof of Central Station. Afternoon tea at the Willow Tearooms was also top of our list. The tea itself wasn’t exceptional, although the renowned meringues were very good, but the recreated surroundings of Miss Cranston’s original surpassed any tearoom I’ve eaten in anywhere – and I’ve had a few afternoon teas in my time!

We needed at least a week to taste Glasgow fully but, unfortunately we only had two days. Tired, and completely Mackintoshed out, we boarded the Caledonian Sleeper for the overnight journey back to London.