Eating out Italian style

Do you know that niggling feeling when there’s something not quite right? As we walked through the restaurant to a table in the centre, I felt there was something slightly out of place. We sat down, looked around and I realised that I was one of very few women in the place. All the tables were full of men – young men, old men, in-between men, – but definitely men. A business convention? I wondered for a nanosecond. As two well groomed twenty-somethings were shown to the next table, the penny dropped. Il Pirato del Porto was clearly part of the “lively gay and lesbian scene” we’d read about in the guide books.

We were in Italy in Bologna for the weekend, a post-chemo celebratory/break from too much work weekend and had been recommended this restaurant by the gentleman at our hotel reception. There had been a moment’s pause Continue reading


It seems a lifetime but it was only two years ago. We went on a big family holiday, right round the world. Cancer had been banished and our eldest was on the brink of leaving school; it felt the right time to spend a month together, the right time to stop putting things off. We took a collective deep breath, phoned Trailfinders and bought the tickets. Singapore (to break the journey) – Queensland (Barrier Reef of course) – Sydney (well, you just have to, don’t you) – Fiji (came recommended) – San Diego (to visit Kris) – home. We had wonderful experiences from cities to wide sand beaches and rainforest. The boys learnt to dive on the Great Barrier Reef and then tackled the Rainbow Reef as though born to it. We ate all sorts of food, made new friends and met old ones. We stayed in hotels, on boats, in tents. And amongst all that, one particular day, our last on Fiji, really stood out for me; that was the day of these happy faces.






We’d spent a week at Dolphin Bay, a most wonderful, tiny dive centre accessible only by boat.  We needed 24 hours without diving before flying back to Nadi in an unpressurised tin can so chose to stay on the neighbouring island, Taveuni, and have a look about. We’d stood on the date line and messed about on a natural water slide (Wild Wadi eat your heart out). It was time for A Walk. The taxi driver agreed to call for us early on Sunday morning to take us along the island – there were a few paved roads – to Lavena in the Bouma National Heritage Park where there was a trail to a waterfall. Just time before our plane, everyone reckoned. You would think we’d suggested a spell in a torture chamber. A walk, for goodness sake! Why would two teenagers want to go on a walk!

So we set out and it was raining, on a path along the coast, past a village, through dense vegetation, over streams, Continue reading

Life’s a beach

I spend most of my life in, on, under, beside water of one sort or another,  so Water as this week’s theme for the Gallery seems particularly apposite.  It is raining at the moment. It has been raining non stop for about three days.  However, it has not all been rain this summer and so to celebrate the fun days I thought I’d show you some of the watery things I’ve been up to.

Common Dolphins in the Sound of Canna – they have to bring a smile to your face! There were seals and puffins on Skokholm, although I swam around underwater wondering if it might be one of the last dives I would do. It won’t be but I was feeling particularly mortal at the time.  And then it rained in Edinburgh. Torrential rain, hailstones, forked lightning over Arthur’s Seat, thunder and lightning every few minutes for over an hour, floods in Morningside. We sat outside the dive shop waiting for the rain to ease so that we could sprint across the road.

It might have rained in Edinburgh but it was sunny in Donegal when we dashed over for a few days. Continue reading

Dancing on stars

It’s the week before Christmas and Tara’s Gallery theme is Sparkle.  I don’t have time to write a new post and in any case these are my sparkle pictures of the moment – phosphorescent waves lapping on the shore in the Maldives.  I don’t feel too guilty rejigging this post from a few weeks ago as the phosphorescence was one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in a long time and not many people spotted this post.  So here’s my offering for Sparkle:  Dancing on Stars.

It was our last night on holiday. Our bags were packed.  GP2 was already in bed.  We wandered out onto the beach for the last time.  The full moon we’d had all week was now waning, and was still hidden behind the palm trees.  We could see the Milky Way above us on this dark night with no city glow to disturb us.  But down at our feet, the waves lapping on the beach were shimmering bright blue, tracing chains on the sand like strings of Christmas lights or necklaces of sparkling stones.

I’ve been wandering along beaches most of my life but have never seen phosphorescence so bright or so blue. We paddled in the waves and as we lifted our feet the tiny algae attached to the soles cast an eery glow over the sand. We dragged a reluctant son out of bed and he was soon jumping in the wavelets with us.

We tried to take photographs in the darkness but, without a tripod to hand, we were taking pictures of blackness.  It was a magical moment, dancing on stars.

Let there be snow

“Can I take the car tomorrow?”


“I need to get back to Uni.”

Just 18, he passed his test in July and already, of course, he’s a far better driver than his mum.  Never mind that the car is buried under a 3 ft blanket of snow and hasn’t moved since the weekend.  Don’t worry that all the roads are single track and covered in slush, with cars abandonned all over the place, and as soon as the plough goes through and clears the path new snow fills it in again.  So what if the AA has had 18,000 breakdown call outs and that the temperature is predicted to drop to record lows tonight?   Even the buses are struggling to reach the village.

The Forth Road Bridge was closed by snow for the first time in its life. The schools have been off all week and Continue reading

The white knuckle drive

We went on holiday at half term, of which more anon, and flew via Dubai.  Well, as my brother lives in Abu Dhabi, it seemed a little rude not to stop by to say hello so that is just what we did on our way home.  We arrived on Thursday afternoon and so were able to spend Thursday evening (their Friday night equivalent) and all day Friday (their Sunday equivalent) with little brother and his wife.  There was lots of talk amongst the local ex-pats on Thursday evening of the impending Grand Prix and on Friday we found ourselves on Yas Island, home to the Grand Prix circuit, having brunch at a neighbouring hotel. We spent the afternoon lazing by the pool and saw the lights on the F1 hotel come on as the sun went down.  It was a very pleasant, certainly decadent, way to end our holiday.

But all good things do come to an inevitable end and at 4am on Saturday morning a taxi pulled up outside the flat to drive us the 1 1/2 hours back to Dubai.  Continue reading

How to spend Christmas Eve. 2nd instalment

(You thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you?)

“Midnight? Midnight?  It’s Christmas Eve for goodness sake.”  It was just as well it wasn’t me on the phone to the AA as it was at this point I suffered a sense of humour blackout.   “There are a lot of people having a far worse Christmas than this” I kept muttering to myself.

“Very sorry sir, but there are some people who’ve already been waiting almost 8 hours.”

We’ve already been waiting 8 hours. You want us to wait another 8?”

I buy more coffee and some peanuts, the only gluten-free food available.  Despite the fact that we’ve been almost the only customers all day, the lady in the cafe still doesn’t acknowledge us.  Meanwhile GPD phones our best hope of rescue, but they’re already in Blackpool for Christmas.  Or Bolton or somewhere starting with a B off the M6.  We knew it was a long shot.

We debate trying to get the car back onto the motorway, to bump ourselves back up the priority list.   Unfortunately, though, we figure that might result in a priority ride to A&E so abandon that plan.

Harthill’s only saving grace is the free WiFi.  Continue reading

The Grand Tour

Port Douglas beachWe’re back.  We’ve been, we’ve done it, we’ve come home again, the inheritance and all future salaries are spent.  600+ emails, 700+ piles of laundry and millions of raindrops and I know we’re back.  Singapore-Port Douglas-Sydney-Fiji-San Diego are already memories.  I have pictures and posts planned but am dashing off to Shetland for 2 weeks and first have to finish the work mountain that kept me busy before we left on our Grand Tour.   Although, given that I’m still waking up at 5am courtesy of jet lag, I really should make use of those early mornings.   But, with the promise to myself that I really will write down some of our tales, here are a couple of photos to make you envious. Or not, as the photo uploader won’t play.

Father and sonGP2 and giant clam


Spending the inheritance

I’ve been shaking out the piggy banks and flexing the credit cards for the past few weeks, eyes screwed up and fingers firmly in my ears.  The BBC series South Pacific has become compulsory Sunday night viewing in the Guineapig household.  We’re going on holiday.  Had I mentioned that?  A BIG holiday.  The sort of holiday that consumes the boys’ inheritance.  We’re off to the other side of the world.

I wasn’t much older than GP1 when I first decided I wanted to dive.  We lived in Jamaica at the time and I had already spent many hours snorkelling over the coral reefs.  Diving was the obvious next step.  Being one of six children, though, nothing came on a plate Continue reading

The days of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas my 3 boys gave to me…
…a basketful of dirty laundry.

So that would be GP1, GP2 and GPD.

It became a basketful or more after I collected 3 wet towels from one bedroom floor and 4 from another then went into the bathroom and threw a wobbly at the pile of clothes on the floor.  I collected it all, dumped it in the sitting room, and proclaimed that henceforth any clothes I picked off the floor would go into a bin bag and then the bin.  And I wouldn’t be the one replacing them.  It worked for a while…

On the 2nd day of Christmas my 3 boys gave to me…
…two piles of ironing and a basketful of dirty laundry.

Nothing new there, then.

On the 3rd day of Christmas my 3 boys gave to me…
…3am vomiting*, two piles of ironing and a basketful of dirty laundry.

*Poetic license. It was only 1 boy – GP2. Too much chocolate rather than alcohol we think hope.  Murphy’s Law, according to the Guardian, states Continue reading

The Grand Mosque

gold-finials-minaret.jpgIt’s officially known as Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque.


It may not be quite finished but it’s stunning.

Third largest in the world.  From Italy – the largest main-prayer-hall.jpgchandelier in the world.  From Iran – the largest handmade carpet in the world.  White marble from Greece.  In fact, about 200 different types of marble from around the world.  Hand painted tiles from Turkey.  Hand carved ceilings by Moroccan craftsmen.  Three main domes, four minarets.  I’ve forgotten how many pillars, but a lot.  An area of 22,000 sq m.  Marble and mother of pearl marquetry, marble relief decor, mosaics, acres of gold leaf, concealed lighting. It’s taken 10 years to build and there’s a little way to go yet.  If you go to the Emirates, you must go and visit this

Oh, and no hugging. 





Some photos in Bubbleshare:-


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The Tesco internet shopping moment

vegetables.jpgPersonally, I blame it all on GP2.  He wanted an apple.  We were heading, in the blinding  afternoon sun, temperature c. 400 C, towards the fruit and vegetable market at the time, so it didn’t seem an entirely unreasonable request.  However, I still think it was his fault.

But before that, let’s go back a year or two to the first time I did my supermarket shopping on the internet.  It seems so easy, doesn’t it?  You sit at the comfort of your desk, no time wasted, no oil consumed driving to the next town.   You wander leisurely down the aisles with your mouse, no trollies to push, no arguments with the children about which over-packaged yoghurts or tooth rotting, trans-fat laden biscuits and crisps to buy this week.  Click, click, click and there’s your shopping done.

Mmm.  If only it were that simple.   Continue reading

Growing up

suitcase.jpgFour & a half sleeps, two long car journeys and one wedding to go.  Oh, that’s a family wedding in there.  Make it three and two half-sleeps.  And then we go on holiday!

So, at the weekend, it was time to go shopping.  Our travel bags have finally fallen apart.  At this point you have to understand that I’ve never bought a suitcase.  Never really grown up, you see.  We’ve always travelled with those soft squashy grips that have somehow been acquired, rather than bought.  Or rucksacs.  Years of travelling with rucksacks.  So it was that at the weekend our middle-aged selves were spotted in Debenhams (my mother would be proud; that was always her favourite shop) perusing the massed ranks of suitcases and trying to figure out what it was that we needed.  A big one and a small one?  Two medium sized ones?  A hard one and a squashy one?  And why was the greeny blue one £10 cheaper than the blue one?  All down to the colour, apparently.  Then there were the mental gymnastics required – how many litres volume and which ones could go as hand luggage when required.  In the end, we just gave up and bought two suitcases that looked nice.

Of course, as soon as we got them home:- “These are huge! Did we really need them this big?”  But we’re very grown up now.  We’ve got proper suitcases.

Now, some might note a milestone of growing up as the first joke.  (We’re still dealing with that one, by the way.  Yesterday’s offering:- “What do you call an Italian who has an arm cut off?  A man with a speech impediment.”)  Others long for the privacy that growing up brings.  Been there, but almost too far back to remember clearly.  And then, of course, there’s the suitcases.  Our current milestone?  Read on…

While we were out, Continue reading

A half way witter

writersblock.jpgIt’s been very quiet in this corner for some time now.  I have no real excuse, just a jumble of reasons.  It’s partly been a form of writer’s block – how pretentious!  But I’ve had several posts in draft for some time and don’t seem to have been able to find the words to finish, or in some cases even start them.  Perhaps it’s been more a dive in motivation.  I’ve been finding it hard to motivate myself to do anything much for the last few weeks.  And that has been partly due to hitting something of a low, a wall – or perhaps more correctly slumping against the wall.  I think a mid term low is probably quite normal – I do seem to remember it happening with my broken ankle.   I’m a real expert in these things, you see!

Some of it has been brought on by having to admit to myself that I really am a lot more tired these days.  It’s all very well trying to carry on as usual, but Continue reading

In praise of…

london-bus-5.jpg…London buses.  With apologies to The Guardian.  Lest I become permanently marked as a moaner and ranter, I thought it was time to write something positive. And I always enjoy the “In Praise of…” piece on the Guardian Leader page – an antidote to the ranting and complaining of so much media.  I would like to write something about GP1’s recent school report.  But that would be too depressing and would definitely negate the required positive, enthusiastic, upbeat tone I need.  Perhaps I’ll wait until after Parents’ Evening for that one.  So London buses it is.

I think it’s about 3 years, maybe 2, since our last extended visit to London.   That was over Easter and was mainly memorable for GP2 breaking his two front teeth on a bench in the Imperial War Museum.  We were in the Trenches at the time.  Easter Monday was spent in dental casualty at Guys.

Our visit this New Year was less eventful, thank goodness,  Continue reading

High days and Holy days

grumpyowl.jpgThis is going to be a very selfish, mean-spirited, churlish, curmudgeonly, whingeing and Grumpy Old Woman sort of post.  There.  You’ve been warned.  For more enlightened, friendly, positive, cheerful reading you could try some of the links on my blogroll instead.  Iota’s started posting again about life in the States and she’s always entertaining and currently much more enthusiastic than me.  Or there’s Reluctant Memsahib who writes about homeschooling, schooling of the boarding variety but mainly day to day living in the Tanzanian outback.  And you could try Potty Mummy, Mother at Large and Pig in the Kitchen for general entertainment and cooking tips.  Oh, and I nearly forgot Fidra books who are offering to give away books to schools.  I hope you’ve all gone now so I can complain in peace.

Well, brother-in-law got engaged at Christmas. Good news! Exciting news, even, as his fiancee only appeared on the scene in September; Mother-in-law had, I think, secretly started to give up hope of any more grandchildren and suddenly hope came galloping into our Christmas celebrations.  Sister-in-law to be, who keeps Continue reading

The holiday from hell?

Superfluous to requirements on holiday:-

  • Shorts
  • Cropped trousers
  • Sun hats
  • Rounders bat
  • My crutches!

Would have been useful:-

  • More fleeces
  • More waterproofs
  • GP2’s current wetsuit (ie not the one he grew out of 2 years ago)
  • More warm things for under my drysuit
  • Wooly hats
  • Flask.

But I’m glad we left at home:-

  • The tent.

I’m sure you get the idea.  On our last two holidays on Coll we experienced weather hotter than the Mediterranean. In fact, the last time we were there, there was a drought and water had to be shipped in by tanker.  That was the time we were being kept awake in the tent by corncrakes in the adjacent field. 

The weather wasn’t really that bad, this time.  It was a mixture of wind, showers and patches of sunshine and, as the wind came from the north and west, we could body board on the glorious, deserted beaches of the west coast and dive on the east coast.  And yes, I went diving.  Continue reading