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Spring is in the air……..

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It’s that time of year when Spring is definitely in the air. Birds are singing and just about everything is shagging! The lake and ponds, even puddles, are full of toad or frog spawn – I can’t tell the difference. Colonel Sherman T Potter is bursting out of the hen house of a morning, while the girls run for cover. But there is trouble afoot and it’s found on the lake.

Every now and then the Canada Geese come in to stay. The routine is always the same, first one goose arrives and then the rest follow. Now I can’t complain too much as they do a fairly good job of eating the weed. But for every piece of weed they pull up they only eat half of it. This leaves the rest floating in the lake which ends up in the overflow drain, and if we are really lucky it blocks it. In order to unblock the drain one has to climb down into the deep ditch at the back of the lake field and attempt with long handled fork to pull out the blockage. If one is really really lucky and hasn’t noticed just how full the lake is, the pressure builds up and when released it is pretty forceful, and one has been known to be knocked off one’s feet and into the muddy ditch. But back to the Geese. The problem they cause is with one of our girl Geese. She likes the Canadians and likes them a lot. In fact she spends most of her time trying to get past Gary the Gander and down to the new boys in town. Poor old Gazza spends his days trying to keep her away, he is up and down the field, squawking his head off, flapping wings, chasing – well waddling around – in a desperate attempt to keep her away from them. It just doesn’t work, she is younger, fitter and faster than him, so slips away time and time again. Best mate has named her Charlotte the Harlot, while the other girl – Plain Jane – sticks loyally with Gary.

You have to give him credit for his effort, he won’t be beaten but he is shattered by the end of the day and staggers back into Goosingham Palace. Bless him.

A smelly situation…….

There are many joys of looking after one’s “Old Dears” and then there are times I could kill them – not literally of course. I have – now and then – closed the doors to the annex with more of a slam, as they do drive one mad. I would also like to point out I don’t call my parents ‘Old Dears’ in a derogatory way, but as a term of endearment. In fact Mum coined the phase years ago and it’s stuck.

My father has never been good on the domestic front. He was a Chartered Accountant and business man and that’s what he did very very well. He was a very keen gardener but only fruit and veg, leaving the girly flowers to Mum. So to find himself aged 92, the more physically able one of the two of them, means he does prepare some of their food. Now this is becoming a worry and I mean a worry. I now cook their evening meal, so at least they eat one good meal a day. But left to his own devices the Old Boy does some strange things. Take for instance, the other week when I walked in at lunchtime. Now being ‘Old Dears’ they like to eat early, so lunch is between 11 – 11.30. He had made Branston pickle sandwiches. Yep – just Branston pickle, no cheese, no salad, no butter just bread with Branston pickle in it. Mum is always telling me she doesn’t like spices or onions, so I didn’t like to inform her of the major contents of Branston pickle. For breakfast one morning he put into a bowl broken biscuits and milk, ignoring the range of cereals in the cupboard. He purchased a ham and cheese roll from a local shop which was heated up in the oven before consumption. While tinned custard, just tinned custard for lunch isn’t unheard of. If I bring them back fish and chips the Old Boy will heat up the plates in the oven so hot the fish and chips start sizzling when it’s put on the plate. However his pièce de résistance must be the Branston pickle sandwiches again but with a dollop of coleslaw on the top slice of bread. Tasty.

Mother on the other hand is not physically able at all, blind in one eye with little sight in the other. She gets very frustrated at times telling me she can’t see this and can’t see that, thus can’t do various things because she can’t see. She has a sweet tooth so it does always amuse me that she can open a packet of sweets and empty them into a jar. It also amuses me that she knows which jar is which in the cupboard, even if I move them around! It’s also amusing when you walk into their room wearing something new. Whether it’s shoes, a jumper or even earrings – boy does she notice.

There was a smell recently coming from the annex and I couldn’t work it out. I did try to sniff at them while talking to them without them noticing, not easy. The beds were clean, their bathrooms and downstairs loo were clean, they were clean. I checked for rotten food in the fridge – happens often – but all was ok in there. I started questioning their hygiene but not in a subtle way, I don’t do subtle. I nagged at Dad about all sorts of things in hope of resolving the smell problem. They couldn’t smell it but I could and then I found the culprit. They have two bedrooms on their side and two en suites. The one adjoining their bedroom Mum uses as she can’t walk far, Dad uses the other. Mum doesn’t use the shower, I have Tessa come in to bath Mum (apparently I didn’t do it properly, that was fine by me… who wants to wash your Mother’s arse anyway!) so the shower isn’t used and the drain was drying out and smelling.

I had blamed them for all sorts of things and in the end it wasn’t their fault…picklesandwich

The Cat is gone….long live the Cat

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Well there is an old saying “You have live stock you have dead stock” – harsh but true. And sadly here at Tabor Hill we no longer have a cat. Felix the beast of Tabor Mountain has ceased to be. He is pining for the fjords. After 8 1/2 years since we bought him for 40 quid from North Devon Animal Ambulance charity we are no longer ‘pussy footing’ – excuse pun – around Felix. He DID rule this house. No longer is there the performance during the evening of opening doors, keep dogs clear so he could wander in from the ‘Old Dears’ side of house to cat flap on my side. Then wander back, then back round again. The flap ended up on my side as it was the least windy corner of the house and saved endless flap, flap, flapping on windy nights. There was also the time when he climbed through an open bedroom window, landing on a sleeping B&B guest, cos he couldn’t be bothered with the cat flap. Don’t worry, they still come back!

I will admit I never wanted a cat, I don’t like cats, I really don’t understand people’s obsession with cats and I have a problem with cats and our wildlife. But when you buy an extremely run down farm house set in the middle of 203 acres, with various sheds and outbuildings, you have a mouse problem. In fact such a mouse problem I could feel them run across me in bed at night! So a killer cat was required. The Charity did me proud when I phoned enquiring about rehoming.
“I need a killer” I told them.
“How many cats are you likely to have?” Di Lewis at NDAA asked.
“Oh God only one, I hate cats” I replied realising that’s probably not the best answer to give her. Never mind we went, viewed and bought Felix.

He was approximately eight years old, a silver/grey Bengal and a big bugger. A big noisy bugger, Bengals are very vocal. They are also prone to fight, hence the question as to how many cats I was likely to have. He was found wandering the streets of Barnstaple, picked up and as he was microchipped the Charity phoned the owners. They didn’t want him back. They confirmed his age and said they had paid £800 for him as a kitten. Bloody hell, I paid £800 for my horse including tack!!

Still he did his job and very well. He terrorised the dogs, adopted Mum and Dad’s side of the house, took over their spare bedroom and single bed. Well why have a cat bed when you can have a single bed. Ruined the duvet and took over the spare chair in their sitting room.

But sadly at approx 16 he started to show his age, went completely blind, back legs starting to give way, he was getting stressed walking round and round in circles so I made the decision.

Vet Emily and Vet Nurse Colette from Torbridge Vets in South Molton were wonderful. They were professional, friendly, caring and he was put down at home. However, he had the final laugh. I have the builders in with digger, so I asked if they could dig a grave in the field in front of the house. No problems there. However, as Colette and I walked over to the grave we were in for a shock. Colette was carrying Felix wrapped in a towel and we both stopped and looked down. “How the hell am I supposed to get down there?” I said. The grave was vast you could tell it had been dug with a blooming great digger. All I can say is Colette went beyond the call of duty and climbed down. I handed her Felix, she placed him carefully in the grave and finally I had to help her climb out it was that deep!!
RIP Felix. xxxxxxxx

Mad dogs and English Pheasants

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I have a long held belief that when a Springer Spaniel is in pup, built into her womb is a video clip on constant replay of a pheasant taking off in flight. Complete with a soundtrack of flapping wings and the distinctive cluck-cluck-clucking they make as they take off. Why do I think this? Well how else can a sweet little Springer puppy from a very very early stage in life just know what to do when they see or hear a pheasant. Just how else will a sweet little Springer puppy know to bolt after the bird, flushing it out, while controllably – yes I did type controllably – leaping around. After all Springers are not manic, just enthusiastic and damn good at their job.

The trouble is that this built-in Springer/pheasant instinct doesn’t just happen in the great outdoors. Picture the scene, me and my best mate were in the kitchen of Tabor Hill HQ having had supper, the jug of Pimms going down a treat and on in the background a Midsomer Murder. Much of the plot was based around a wood with a cottage by a pond. All very pretty and Midsomer-ish, but every blooming time anyone went near this wood a pheasant kicked off. It didn’t matter what time of day or night – the clucking started. And every blooming time I had four Springers leap in the air, run round the kitchen, bolt for the front door, dash across the garden, sending gravel flying and out into the yard. Once in the yard there were four Springers leaping around ears flying while desperately trying to spot the pheasant. It got so bad that you couldn’t watch the episode and when finally the jug of Pimms was finished I turned off the TV and best mate went home, while Springers were confused and knackered.

I will admit this isn’t the first case and I suppose it won’t be the last. I had trouble trying to watch Downton Abbey. It was during a brief period of the drama when there was a housemaid called Ethel. She wasn’t the brightest spark or the hardest worker and every time Carson the Butler yelled ‘ETHEL’ my poor dog leaped in the air, swung round to look at me with the manic…sorry intelligent…look of ‘WHAT, I wasn’t doing anything”. All I could do was laugh and all Ethel did was sulk.

And as for hounds…..oh blimey…don’t mention hounds to Ethel. Hounds have been in the farm yard and the farm yard is not owned by me, but by Ethel and Ethel HATES hounds cos they invade HER yard. So if there is a hunting scene on the TV there is a panic to grab the remote to turn off the sound before Effs hears them and all hell breaks loose.

Mr Crispy Duck Man

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On the whole I have a great bunch of guests coming and going here at Tabor Hill Farm. However, you do get the odd one who is… hum… a little demanding?! There was the lady who asked to put something in the fridge. A fairly frequent request for a bottle of wine or lunch for the next day. But this guest took it to the extreme, removing the whole contents of my fridge and putting all her shopping, still in the bags – Waitrose of course Darling – into the fridge. There was the lady who only ate healthy foods, lectured me on various diet issues, obviously hinting at my size. She ate the complimentary homemade cake in the room and asked for more. She left the tomatoes, mushrooms and egg on her breakfast plate but asked for another slice of fried bread! There was the couple who sat for 25 minutes on the farm track waiting for the bull to move so they could drive past. This was a bull who wasn’t a bull but an English Longhorn cow. However, as much as I tried to explain that it was a cow and not a bull, that horns vary from breed to breed, they wouldn’t hear of it. Apparently only bulls have horns, cows don’t and as this creature had horns it had to be a bull. So the next day they asked if I would drive out first to make sure the bull, which was a cow, wasn’t blocking the track so they could drive out.

Then a couple of years ago I got a reservation from a gentleman wanting a single room for three nights. I explained that I didn’t have a single room, but he could have either the double or twin, he insisted on a single and then began to barter. I don’t barter, the price is the price – end of. He arranged to arrive by 9pm, all fine and dandy. But turned up at 11.30! I showed him to the room and before I could get down the stairs he followed me wanting a cup of tea. At that time of night one would hope the guest/s would use the tea and coffee making facilities in the room. No – he wanted me to make it and then sat in the kitchen talking and talking and talking. I was somewhat blunt by midnight and off he went to bed. Next morning, the complaints started. The shower was cold, the duvet too heavy, bed too soft and the bath towels too large. So while he ate, actually sucked – I’ll explain in a mo – his breakfast, I ran upstairs to check the shower. It was set on cold. When he left I split the duvet to reduce the weight, not much I could do about the bed and he would just have to put up with the size of the towel.

One thing I had noticed was his lack of teeth and this was more apparent when he ordered breakfast. Toast, bacon and sausages all had to be under cooked. He clearly couldn’t chew so would have to… well… suck! He didn’t like my sausages and suggested they came from the supermarket, they don’t, they come from my local butchers. He asked if I had added food colouring to the egg yoke as the colour of the yoke from my free range girls was too yellow. Finally he asked where he should go for his dinner. I alway suggest two pubs to visitors and everyone loves both and so do I. So I suggested either the London Inn in Molland or the Royal Oak in Withypool. He asked me to book him into the Royal Oak and off he went.

He arrived back about 8ish and my heart sank, that would mean I would have to natter to him further.
“I don’t know why you recommend the Royal Oak, they can’t cook you know”, he bellowed before plonking himself down in the kitchen.
“They can’t cook green beans you know” he yelled even louder.
The trouble is I knew this was utter rubbish. I know Sarah Thomas, landlady and chef is an excellent chef. I have never had a complaint made against the place or the food. I know the place is excellent, but I decided not to argue and let him rumble on and on and on. It turned out he didn’t like his lunch in the hotel in Exford either, their green beans were dreadful too. And as for the cream tea in a National Trust cafe well I won’t bore you with what was wrong with that.

Next morning, despite making sure the shower was on hot, it was cold again. The duvet too light, he requested I put the other section back. He still didn’t like the bed and wanted a 2nd hand towel and asked for the bath towel to be removed. Breakfast again under cooked and he still didn’t see why my eggs were so yellow. Finally he asked me where to go for dinner and off he went again.

This time I booked him into the other pub I always recommend. The London Inn in Molland. Again like the Royal Oak guests love the pub and the food and so do I. At 8pm the phone went. It was Stuart Mallen landlord and chef at the London Inn.
“Who the ********* is this bloke you have booked in? Who the ******** does he think he is? What a pain in the ******** ******** he is” Stuart yelled down the phone.
“Hello Darling” I replied “Yes I love you too. Is he being a pain?”
Yes he ****** ******** ****** is” came the reply.
Luckily I know Stuart every well, so I asked what happened. Well, my gentleman (I use that term loosely) B&Ber arrived before they were open and hammered on the door. Didn’t like any of the beers. Ordered a starter which he didn’t like and sent back to the kitchen. This was only after he had completely cleared the plate while complaining at the same time. His complaint… he couldn’t eat it, it was too difficult to eat with his lack of teeth. Then why choose pate and TOAST. But to add insult to injury he ordered Crispy Duck for his main. This is a man with few teeth, he struggles to eat, he didn’t ask for it to be undercooked, which would have kinda defeated the object of the dish and then complained that is was tooooooo CRISPY.

Next morning, shower was cold, still didn’t like the bed or duvet and decided he would have scrambled eggs for breakfast. He’s been back three more times and each time he’s been back to the London Inn and the Royal Oak for his dinner. Oh bless…

Timbeeeeeeerrrrr…..

 

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The trouble with owning a place like this, one seems to need an endless supply of tools, machinery and general stuff. Take for-instance trailers… I have two…… one general purpose and one for Charlie. Then there are strimmers, wood chipper, pole saws, all sorts of stuff – you name it I seem to have it. But there is one thing I don’t own and want and that is a chainsaw. Apparently I wouldn’t be safe with one. Apparently I am accident prone so probably best I don’t own one. But I want, I want, I want and feel I have a need for one. But the other residents here at Tabor Hill are against me and insist I shouldn’t have one. Best mate has even told James at Haynes Machinery in Barnstaple not to sell me one.

So when it comes to a chainsaw I have found the perfect solution which gets the job done in safety. This solution is to call on my very good friend Sarah who is lucky enough and safe enough to own one. The job said chainsaw was required for was to take down the old look-out hide by the woods. I inherited it, I have never used it, and it was starting to rot so best take it down before it falls down. At over 25 feet high and built like the proverbial brick ****-house it was going to take some effort to get it down. Between Sarah, myself, and various tree surgeon videos on youtube, we decided the best way forward was to cut through 3 of the 4 14 foot high posts, tie a rope to one cut leg and attach to quad bike which will make sure the hide falls the way we want it and then cut through final post. What we hadn’t banked on was that the blasted hide was so heavy the quad couldn’t pull it down even with posts cut. As I revved and revved on Quentin quad bike the hide didn’t budge, while the tyres dug into the soft ground sending mud flying. After much to-ing and fro-ing Quentin came free, me plastered from the flying mud and the hide still very much in place.

Plan B was… well we hadn’t got a plan B, we never thought we needed a plan B. What we were left with was one uncut post, which was on the downside of the hide which was built on a rather steep slope. This meant both Sarah and I had to be down hill as the last post was cut. Standing to the side, using some sense of H&S, Sarah started to cut through the last post, trouble was the weight of the hide clamped down and jammed her chainsaw blade. Now I should point out at this stage that the saw was brand new, it wasn’t cheap and it was now jammed. So picture the scene – two middle-aged women, standing underneath an unstable wooden structure, chainsaw jammed and the only hope of getting it released and hide down was to push. So we did and pushed and pushed and eventually it moved. Knowing by now how bloody heavy it was, I was convinced it would hit the ground and stay put. But it didn’t, it hit the ground, did an almighty bounce, then another, then another before rolling down the hill. Chainsaw was undamaged by all this and I had hoped that the hide would break up on impact but apart from the roof coming off it stayed in one piece. So I have gone from a hideous upright hide to a hideous hide intact and on the ground.

Plan C – wait until November 5th and have a damn good bonfire party!

Money money money

imageBookings for the B&B come from all sorts of contacts and I meet all sorts of people. A recent booking came via a friend of mine, who had a business contact coming to the uk. All fine and dandy. However, the trip was first organised for September and cancelled three days before arrival. Then out of the blue the trip was back on for last week.

The Gentleman was collected from Heathrow, driven to North Devon, taken out for dinner and then driven to the farm. Time was agreed for breakfast and off he went to bed. In the morning he didn’t come down, I waited till 8.30 and then knocked on his door to check he was alright. He was, but it was too early for breakfast! The next evening, he was brought back to the farm after dinner, breakfast time agreed and off he went to bed. Shortly afterwards I heard a loud thud on the floor. I checked he was ok, he was. Next morning he didn’t come down for breakfast so this time I didn’t bother chasing. He still didn’t come down when my friend arrived to take him to work, so I let him chase him. That evening he came back, went to his room and shortly afterwards there was another loud thud. When he checked out he didn’t say anything and as they drove off I ran upstairs to see if anything was broken, it wasn’t. However when I went to clean the loo I noticed the handle wasn’t working. I took the lid off and put it on the floor and had deja vu – the same sound I’d heard the last two evenings. Inside the loo the hook which holds the loo handle lever to the ball cock was detached. Not broken, just detached. Trying to re-fix it was difficult, blooming difficult, so just what had he done to detach it? I knew that the gentleman had come to the UK with £10,000 cash on him so the only thing I could deduce was that he had hidden the cash in the loo and caused the detachment!

A trifling situation

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Dear Reader the following is a true story which happened a few months ago. The name of the cat has been changed to hide its true identity, it did have a pudding name. While Mrs Mass Hysteria has moved out of the village.

Coming home late one night via the heaving metropolis of North Molton I spotted eyes in the dark. I slowed down and realised it was a cat, I stopped and got out to find a dead cat in the lane. Before I could pick it up to put on the side a window from one of the cottages flew open and a manic woman yelled “what are you doing, what are you doing, what are you doing?”

Thinking it could be her dead cat I approached with caution and diplomacy to try to inform her there was a dead cat. Before I could finish she started screaming “oh God it’s Trifle it’s Trifle it’s Trifle”. I asked if it was her cat she replied it wasn’t but she knew who it belonged to. I asked if she had a bag in which I could put the dead cat and without answering she slammed the window shut, locked it and disappeared into the gloom. Standing there in the middle of the lane, in the pitch black, I was just wondering what to do when the window was re-opened and she threw a towel at me. Before I could ask anything she said “they are not answering, they are not answering, they are not answering, oh Trifle oh Trifle oh Trifle “. “Who is not answering and why do you say everything three times?” I asked. “The neighbours, the neighbours, the neighbours” came the reply before slamming the window shut, locking it and disappearing once again. I picked up the cat, wrapped it in the towel – there wasn’t a mark on it or any blood so I don’t think it had been hit by a car. Once again I was standing in the middle of a lane, in the pitch black, this time with dead cat in my arms. I decided to take matters into my own hands and walked down the lane towards the next cottage. There were lights on but no one came to the door when I knocked. Before I could think what to do next. Mrs Mass Hysteria flung open the window, spotted I wasn’t there, slammed it shut, locked it and dashed out of her front door running down the lane towards me yelling “oh God oh God, oh God she’s coming she’s coming, she’s coming out to see Trifle, Trifle, Trifle”. While I yelled back “oh for God’s sake shut up, pull yourself together, haven’t you ever had to deal with a dead animal before?”

Before she could reply a lady appeared from the cottage. Bracing myself once again to break the news that someone’s pet was sadly no more, Mrs Mass Hysteria yelled to her “It’s Trifle, it’s Trifle, it’s Trifle”. As the lady approached me I quietly said “I am so sorry I found Trifle dead in the lane”. The lady looked at me and lifted the towel to see the cat’s face and said “that’s not Trifle”. WHAT? For a split second Mrs Mass Hysteria shut up, before going off in triplicate again, while the other lady gave me a knowing look of “sorry about my neighbour” and said “I know who’s cat it is I’ll take it for you”. With that I thanked her and bolted for the safety of Larry Landrover. As I drove off I looked back to see Mrs Mass Hysteria still ranting while the other lady was standing in the middle of the lane, in the pitch back, with a dead cat in her arms.

To selfie or not to selfie?………..

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I have found that as one gets older, learning something new doesn’t come as quick as it used to. As one gets older one finds one doesn’t really understand the younger generation. One is turning into one’s parents. One hears oneself saying what one’s parents use to say. One can’t wear heels anymore, one likes comfy shoes. One hasn’t quite got to the Bridget Jones’ knickers yet and one can’t cope with two nights out on the trot.

Another thing I struggle with is technology. I only bought my iPhone last year and the trauma when my faithful old laptop died was dreadful. Decisions that had to be made and technology that had to be learnt was just hell on earth. However, a year on I love my iPhone, I love my iPad, I text, I FB, I do internet banking and I blog. But there was one thing I haven’t done or wanted to and that is a selfie.

I can’t understand this obsession with selfless. I can’t understand why everyone has to pout. I can’t understand why every view, building or whatever has to have some pouting ********* in front of it. And I really don’t want to see every Tom Dick and Harriet’s cleavage while pouting at the same time. I can’t pout – trust me I’ve tried and people just die laughing. And no one wants to see a woman of a certain age’s cleavage. But I have finally done a selfie, probably the first and last as it’s sooooooo hard to do. How on earth does one pout, thrust cleavage forward, balance while holding a device far enough away to get everyone in, keep finger off the camera bit and not drop the device. It’s difficult, blooming difficult and I won’t be taking it up as a hobby. But here it is from l-r Cousin, Best Mate and Me and yes there is a bottle in there and yes there was another before.

Accident…..what accident?

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I am not sure I am the best person to be a house guest. On the whole I am not too badly behaved, but I am slightly accident prone and my balance is non-existent. However I fancied some time away and had a very good excuse. My friends Lynn and Duncan Baldwin of Surrey came down during the summer. Lynn spotted a couple of items of furniture languishing in the stable shed and wanted them.
Perfect excuse to go and stay and drive said furniture up at same time.

Day duly arrived, furniture with much effort was placed into horse trailer and my best mate Carolien and I set off. Trouble was we didn’t get far, one wheel on the trailer jammed – smoke billowing we ground to a halt. After much effort and assistance from my wonderful neighbour Mr Norman Kellaway, the trailer – furniture still inside – was deposited at the garage. There was no way I was missing out on a weekend away so off we went without trailer or furniture.

Upon arrival at the Baldwins – key collected from neighbour – we were told not to let the cats out. Easier said than done while trying to open someone else’s front door, bag in hand and three cats desperate to escape. I only let two out. Lynn came back from work, a bottle was duly opened and no-balance-Astley promptly fell down a small step, lovely crystal wine glass in hand. Glass smashed and red wine everywhere.

Next morning, I somehow left the hand shower attachment on the bath running. Trouble was it sprayed water onto the floor which leaked through the ceiling and onto Duncan’s desk below!

After that the weekend went very smoothly. Pubs visited: Shepherd & Flock in Farnham, Duke of Cumberland in Henley (Surrey, not Thames), The Lickfold Arms at Lickfold and the Noah’s Ark in Lurgashall. Wonderful food cooked by Lynn. Great entertainment by Duncan. Weather not too bad. And I didn’t damage or break anything else.

Photo – the Baldwin’s cats in pole position in front of the fire.

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