Category Archives: General

General comments on life as I see it

Guest Jest 1

We hear a lot of funny stories from (not about) our guests so I have decided that in addition to Child Stories I should have this new series called Guest Jest. The first of these, the flippy floppy hat, has already been posted as the third funny thing,  under a different title in a previous article.

I somehow think that most of these stories are destined to come from one, special guest, The Engineer. The Engineer has been staying with us once a week since 8th September 2015, so we know him quite well. We are acquainted, directly or indirectly, with his family and friends too, in fact it’s true to say that he is a ‘Paying Friend’. The Engineer brings beer and (usually) fixes broken things, so we like him a lot.

This week, The Engineer has had an eventful time both domestically and socially.

At home, some impending visitors caused his wife to insist that he fix the defective flush mechanism on their loo.

The toilet was prone to flush continuously unless the button was prodded and thumped.  On investigation, he decided that a new mechanism was required so he removed the cistern and replaced the flush mechanism, returned the cistern to its place again and flushed. Sadly, water began dribbling from its connection with the pipe. It didn’t take a genius to conclude that there was a leak where before there had been none.

It being difficult to detect exactly what was leaking, The Engineer removed the cistern and enlisted his wife to help find it (the leak). He half filled it (the cistern) with water and sat in the conservatory with it resting on his parted knees while Wifey knelt below, trying to see what had gone wrong. The underside of the tank was wet so she got some kitchen roll and began to dry the area.

This was the point at which things went wrong. It seems that the workings of the newly fitted flush mechanism were nearby, and quite by accident the poor lady set it off. The result was a face full of water for her and filled shoes for him – and a lot of mopping up.

I was trying to find a funny image of a woman with a wet face when I remembered this. It’s me after an unexpected downpour while walking the dog.

Toilet fixed, The engineer set off for his weekly commute from Surrey, bunking at various places, including ours. On this particular evening we were to be deprived of his company; he was to dine with some colleagues. Lucky him, he was being driven to the restaurant.  After a brief chat with us he set out to walk towards his workplace, intending to meet his chauffeur en route. He wasn’t sure what car the guy drove but was relieved when a red Ford Focus, driving towards him, indicated and pulled across the road, stopping a little behind him.

He swung round and opened the rear door. There was a large rucksack on the rear seat, right where he wanted to sit so he grabbed it to move it to the other side of the car. Suddenly a hand shot out from the driver’s side and gripped his wrist. He looked up, into the eyes of a compete stranger. Wrong car!

This puts me in mind of another story, also hear-say but I have no reason to disbelieve it:

Many years ago LH and I had some friends with the strangely normal names, Michael and Karen. These friends were responsible for introducing us to a load of Hooray Henries who called one another ‘Chap’.  From M and K we also learned where in Kinsale, Ireland, we could go for a drink, in every one of the 24 hours that made up an average day, and how to lose at Poker. They owned a bulldog called Horace that was partial to a Vindaloo curry – that’s not relevant but adds to the somewhat eccentric nature of the people concerned.

The couple (Karen eventually ran off with the plumber) lived in a house in the Midlands, a quaint place with oak beams. Their drinks  cabinet – this is relevant – was an old pine corner cupboard, mounted on the wall in the sitting room.

The Hooray Henries treated Michael and Karen’s house like home. They would often wander in for a drink when they were passing. Eventually, M and K moved to a larger house but may have failed to mention this to one or two of their more irritating acquaintances. As a result, one afternoon, a particularly gormless ‘chap’ wandered into the house and proceeded to help himself to a drink from the pine cupboard.

He heard footsteps coming down the wooden stairs and turned to raise his glass to Karen. The person who met his gaze was neither Karen, nor was he delighted to meet him.

The only moral I can think of is: Never call anyone ‘Chap’ as in ‘Hello Chap, how are you?’ I apologise to all public school persons who don’t do this – never would I describe you as Hooray Henries, even if you happen to be Members of Parliament.

Winnie the Pooh

I was a dreamy child. By that I don’t mean I was a dream, more I was IN a dream. I bumbled through life only vaguely aware of what went on around me, more interested in books and art. I moved little, in fact my grandfather was once heard to observe, while watching me at the swimming pool, ‘She even dives slowly.’

In my spare time, influenced in no small way by the above grandfather, I consumed every book available, starting with the books on my shelves, Peter Rabbit and friends, The Secret Seven, Famous Five, Naughtiest Girl, Chalet School, Black Beauty (so sad) and others. I read my brother’s Billy Bunter, Just William and Jungle Books then began on books my mother had read and before her, my grandmother and in some cases my great grandmother: Eric or Little By Little, Little Women, Tom Brown’s SchoolDays and I can’t remember what else.

The stories from childhood that I remember most fondly, the magical, funny stories that were read to me by my mum or dad at bed time, and later read to myself, were A.A. Milne’s: Winnie the Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner and his poems in Now We Are Six and When We Were Very Young – Aah, Alexander Beetle and They’re Changing Guard at Buckingham Palace.

I was always puzzled by the first chapter of Winnie-the-Pooh, entitled, ‘In which we are introduced to Winnie-the-Pooh and some bees and the stories begin’. The first line is, ‘Here is Edward Bear, coming down the stairs…’

No real clarification followed although Christopher Robin gives a child-like and inexplicable explanation of why he is Winnie, that being a girl’s name. There is no reference, after that first sentence, to the name Edward.

So when Whizz pointed me at a very modern version of the transmitted word, a podcast, about that very subject I was interested.

I suppose it is fairly common knowledge that Christopher Robin was the son of A.A. Milne and that the stories in the books are based on his toys, but who knew that Winnie the Pooh was named after a real bear?

It started in Canada.

In 1914 Harry Colebourne  of the Canadian Cavalry was en route to report to the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps (CAVC), when he spotted a bear cub on White River, Ontario Station, and bought her for $20. Winnie is short for Winnipeg, Harry’s home city.

Winnie with Colebourn. (Thanks to Wikipedia)

Harry kept Winnie throughout his service on the Canadian Western Front, and eventually she travelled  with him to England  as his pet and a mascot for the CAVC. Some time later Colebourne had to go to France, and he left Winnie at London Zoo.

It was at London Zoo that the child,  Christopher Robin, was to encounter Winnie. Because she had been a pet, she was gentle and could be stroked, and fed Honey. Christopher loved feeding Winnie and apparently returned with his father several times do do just that. He became so fond of the bear that he renamed his teddy from Edward to Winnie.

Well, you learn something new every day.

I would like to credit Futility Closet for the information in this blog. and also Wikipedia. Follow the link to hear the whole episode and to see some amazing pictures of Winnie, her owner and also Christopher Robin feeding Winnie with HUNNY.

Child Quote 14

My Mum reminded me of this.

When I lived in Sheep country I bought myself a fabulous coffee table – well I thought it was fabulous. I was proud of it because it represented my independence in a new single life, after a rocky marriage.

You can see copies of my table all over the place now, but when I found it, it was in a small, independent shop and the owner told me that they would not be able to get many more because it had been manufactured from floorboards, taken from the homes of those who made their fortunes in India during the days of the Raj (Indian for rule). Those homes had now been stripped bare so the supply of floorboards was drying up.

I love my table. Sadly it is now too large for the lounge, but I resist getting rid of it because to me it is more than just a table.

As you see, it is a little more rustic than more modern versions

Anyhow, my marvellous parents were visiting Sheep Country from ‘daahn saaath’. They used to pop up quite regularly to look after Horace, while I was at work or away for a weekend. They had a key, and would walk through the front door, go to my drinks cupboard, which usually contained the remains of the Scotch they had brought last visit and, very generously, fill it with this time’s supplies. Then, while I was at work, they would sit and drink half of my month’s supply of wine (one wine box), which we would later empty during the evening.

During these visits Mum and Dad got to know a number of Horace’s school friends, and on this particular occasion the little girl from next door was in the house. We were all sitting in my living room admiring the new table.

‘It’s an old Indian table’, I explained

‘Oh,’ piped up the little girl, ‘I wonder what happened to the old Indian.’

Boom boom

Picture from the BBC ‘Day in pictures’ 12.12.2010

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo



The unexpected advantage of driving to Motovan in the teeming rain was that when we retraced part of our journey to get to Trogir, the scenery was completely new.

What an amazing sight! More mountains, tortuous ravines and eventually, glorious blue seas against a backdrop of crags, and a twisting coastline with trees dropping right to the water. Islands reclined in the bay and little boats puttered and sailed on the water.

We nosed the car into the town, across two bridges onto the island and squeezed through more narrow streets, up a steep climb until we saw our host waving to us from the veranda of our new home. Not quite as stylish but with a fabulous view of the sea. It also possessed, we later discovered, a bathroom that farted all by itself.

This was taken from the balcony on our last evening.

Our host, Darko (slightly uncomfortable about this name but he doesn’t seem to be), turned out to be a Canadian Croation. His English was fluent, as was that of his family.

We had checked the weather, and the following day, Tuesday, was set to be sunny with a high of 22 degrees, so when Darko told us that he offered days out on his boat and was free then, we booked his services. After dumping our stuff in the flat we tripped back down the hill for a look round and to visit the supermarket for picnic and breakfast food and something (pasta in the end) to cook that evening. We puffed back to our apartment.

The next day…

Breakfast next morning. Butter from Zagreb, bread and tomatoes from Trogir
Leaving Trogir for the islands

Foaming sea
A fair wind

Our first stop was on the island of Drvenik. Darko dropped us at one end of its natural harbour and recommended we walk round the water and back and he would wait as long as we needed.

The weather was warm and we seemed to be the only tourists. It was as if the local people were waiting for the summer to begin again. A couple of men sat drinking beer and a dog lay in the sunshine. Kittens pounced on bags of rubbish as we passed shuttered up holiday homes and peeped into crumbling buildings that must once have been used to process fish.

A statue, dated 1951 was of a Sylvester Stalone look alike. Naked to the waist and carrying a machine gun. Darko told us later he was probably a local partisan hero from the war.

At the end of the harbour, opposite the waiting boat, we stared up at another statue, a woman, gazing out to sea, clutching a handkerchief and weeping. This was to commemorate, according to Darko, the children, evacuated to Egypt during the German and Italian occupation (For more information, click here) (and here). I shared the woman’s distress as she watched her children wave to her from a clandestine boat, wondering if she would ever see them again.

We strolled back and climbed aboard the 20ft traditional craft, looking forward to the cool breeze on the water. Darko turned up the speed and the water splashed in over the sides. Our next stop, Solta, was slightly larger but equally empty. It felt as though it was there only for us. We sat at a table in an empty bar and ordered squid and chips and drank beer, that’s all we did.

Darko then headed for what he termed ‘a beautiful, blue lagoon.’  As he dropped anchor he asked if we would like to swim and then lay back under the prow of the boat while Whizz wriggled into his trunks. I hadn’t brought swimming gear with me – in fact I didn’t even have shorts, so convinced was I that the weather would be cloudy all week.

This was an excellent first day. We didn’t need to eat after our fishy lunch so the evening was spent in the apartment with wine and nibbles, planning our day at Krka National Park the following day.

Krka National Park

This jewel is an area of stunning beauty around a section of the Krka River. Its USP is the series of seven waterfalls that start at the top, with the highest, Manojlovaki Slap (slap is Croatian for waterfall).

There is no point in my reciting loads of facts and figures but have a look here.

All along the river are other spectacular falls, finishing at the bottom with Skradinski Buk and below that, an enchanting network of walkways over the water and between little cascades.

I’m getting bored of my own voice now so will post the pictures that  rather inadequately tell the story.

Fish in the water from a walkway
Map of the network of walkways
Skradinski Buck
Skradinski Buck
Skradinski Buck
A canyon in the park

Everything we have done so far has involved steep climbs. If you don’t like hills I suggest you find another country to visit.


On our last morning we did a lightning tour of Split.

On his wall, Whizz has a picture, I think he bought from IKEA, of a reconstruction of Diocletian’s Palace in Split. I have looked at the picture nearly every day for the past 19 years and never realised that it was this place in front of which we Parked.

Diocletian must be turning in his grave at the cafes, stalls, shops and even hotels within the walls of his palace. That said, the area is very charming. The ancient parts bound together with more modern infill.

People live within the walls in tiny homes squeezed in where they will fit.

We drank coffee at a pavement cafe, expecting to be ripped off because of the location but it was cheap and good.

After absorbing the atmosphere for a bit longer we decided to follow the suggestion of Horace.

Horace was in Split a few weeks ago and recommended the climb to Marjan Park. She had already told us that it involved a climb of 300 or so steps but that was only half the story.

Walking from the Palace we found a narrow road that pointed straight up to the sky, and began to climb, and climb, and climb.  We arrived at the foot of some steps and climbed some more. Then we got to the 315 steps that led to the viewing point at the top. According to google we climbed for 3.3 km but it was a very steep 3.3 km indeed.


Croatia, through its membership of the European Union, has received a good deal of money to boost its economy and has invested it in tourism. The trunk roads, all subject to tolls, are new and fast, and at this time of year, empty.

While we were in Croatia, the colours of the trees to either side of the motorway had become even more intense.  The lowering sun casting it’s yellow light on the orange and gold trees was stunning.

As we crossed the mountains near Zagreb on that last afternoon, the world turned from gold to grey. A wind rose, and leaves began swirling across the motorway and whipping under cars, then it began to rain. This drew a line under our fabulous trip, preparing us for the coming winter, back home in England.

There is no doubt in my mind that we will be back.

From Istria to Dalmatia. Food, drink and toil.

October in Croatia is a must for foodies. This largely unexplored and unspoiled part of the former Yugoslavia is a jewel. Combine the beauty of a mountain-top walled towns with truffle season, local quality wines and oils and the glorious colours of Autumn and you have perfection (IMHO).

Our trip began in Zagreb, an elegant,  peaceful city with wonderful open air and indoor food markets, oh and a cathedral and other imposing buildings. We scooted through the market, past stalls loaded with fresh and bottled produce, to find somewhere for an early dinner and fell upon Kod Mike on Tkalciceva 59. It stood out from the pizza and burger restaurants around it, advertising local Croatian cuisine. It was busy. One waiter and one cook, who calmly dispensed food, one table at a time. Yes we could sit down but we would have to wait about 35 minutes. We were in no hurry and sat, watching the waiter scoot between diners, and the cook tinkle her little bell as dish after dish of delicious looking food passed our table, out onto the pavement or round a corner to another part of the restaurant. After about half an hour the young man got to us, a charming smile on his face and offered drinks. ‘I will bring you local beer,’  he offered and soon we were  enjoying bottles of Ozujsko and studying the menu.

Whizz chose a mountain of meat including locally produced sausages and much more,  more than one human should eat, but he is a trencherman of the first order and polished it off, pronouncing it good. I had something called Hot Kiss, which was diced steak in a spicy sauce, not unlike a Sechuan sauce, with gnocchi. It was not bad. The most enjoyable part of the meal, it has to be said, was the atmosphere.

The lady in the kitchen (and Whizz’s ear)

The next day we headed off for Motovun. The journey promised to be scenic but rain pounded so furiously on the windscreen of our little VW hire car that we could hardly even see the road. Intermittent tunnels implied mountains above, and provided momentary peace from the stormy beating on the roof.

‘The sea is over there,’ Whizz  informed me at one point, but there was nothing but mist.

As we neared our destination the rain let up and we were entranced by mountainous hills swathed in trees.  A carpet of Oaks and  Aspens in golds and yellows, offsetting the dense, dark green of Pines, and Cypresses, their tops poking out and flopping over in the wind like sorting hats. Every now and again we passed small clusters of houses clambering over each other up the steep slopes or teetering on the top.

‘Look,’ I pointed upwards, ‘Do you think this is it?’

It was. I think this may be the beginning of a love affair with Istria.

Only residents were allowed to drive into the town so our host, Hana, met us  just outside. ‘One can’t be too precious about the car, here,’ she told us as she negotiated the pitted and narrow streets, between houses that you could reach out and touch. We lurched through the forecourts of a couple of restaurants with tables to right and left, those on the right abutting a wall over which yawned open country as far as we could see. Hanna explained that we had arrived in truffle time. There had been a big truffle festival in the town the previous week and all restaurants and shops would be selling truffles (tartufi in Italian and Croatian) and truffle products. ‘You will notice that most people here own dogs – to search out the truffles.’

‘Do you do that?’ I asked.

‘No, it is hard work and muddy.’ She laughed a little self depricatingly, as if that was something to be ashamed of. Perhaps was, is in a community so united in its adoration of the mighty fungus. ‘Food is Italian influenced,’ she continued. And despite it being the Sabbath, ‘The restaurants will be open when you want to eat.’

The car lurched to a halt in the middle of a steep street. Hana helped us into a gloomy hallway with our bags, and showed us into our home for the next couple of nights.

The apartment was just below the city walls on the side of the city shown above. Inside, the floors were of shiny black and white tiles and the walls hung with local limited edition prints (furniture was by IKEA). There was a spacious sitting/cooking area, a dining area with bathroom off and a large bedroom that looked out onto the mountains.

The view from our window in the early morning before the mist had burned off.


And another view. I didn’t do it justice.

We had decided on a simple meal that evening, with a wish for a quick turn-around after our journey, so after unpacking a few essentials, we toiled up the cobbled street to the restaurant area we had spotted on the way in. I thought my lungs would burst, so steep was the climb and so heavy my body.

There were two shops, and between them, two restaurants. Without really considering which to chose, we dropped in to the nearest restaurant. It was completely empty, well, empty apart from the staff, who sat round a table chatting.

Any hesitation about our choice was dispelled when an elegant man rose and led us to a table by the window, presented us with menus and insisted we drink a sparkling wine, produced in his own vineyard. Were we likely to refuse?

I chose ravioli with mushroom sauce and truffles, Dave had tagliatelle with white truffles. ‘You must try this next wine, it is very special. We won a gold award with it.’

He poured two glasses of golden wine. ‘It should be served at 50 degrees,’ he explained.

We sipped. Nectar. It did seem wrong at first to drink white wine so warm but it was deep flavoured and very alcoholic and we soon got used to it. The meals arrived as did two more glasses of the wine.

Dessert was some kind of eggless tiramisu, accompanied by a glass of Muscat – you guessed it – from his own vineyards.

By this time I was in love not only with Motovun but the restaurant and its proprietor. We stumbled home, replete.

The next day we hauled ourselves more easily up to the second restaurant and brunched on excellent pizza. We decided to forgo the truffle ones in favour of Siscillian and Istrian – the Siscilian was better and would have been ample on its own but a usual we scoffed both before setting off to explore – uphill.

A path atop the wall circumnavigated the square. In the square, we whispered into the small cathedral/large church and then followed a sign to the tower.  The tower was a separate building, seemingly locked. A man stepped like magic from the doorway of a house. ‘Would you like to go up?’ He asked in a soft voice. ‘It is 20 kuna.’

‘For us both?’ Asked Whizz.

He weighed us up. ‘Per person.’ We paid up, it was less than a fiver.

‘One hundred and twenty steps to the top.’

Why am I doing this? I wondered as I studied, not steps, but open wooden stairs. It would be a hands and feet job and I tried not to think about the descent.

‘In the bell tower you must climb across the hatch,’ the man told us. ‘Then  through a hole onto the roof.’ Now he tells us.

We set off to his final words, ‘Don’t ring the bell.’

The view from the roof was spectacular (so Whizz told me). The bell was very nice.

View from the roof
The pinnacle of my climb. A very nice bell.


I reversed back down and had a nice chat with the man, while Whizz studied the geography of the area, the route we had taken to get here, and checked out his shutter settings.

The man worked in Motovun in the summer. He lived somewhere else, I can’t remember where, and worked with horses in that other life.

We bid adieu  to the friendly/rip-off man and went back to the apartment, to collapse. Eventually we did the only lightweight thing that could be associated with us and changed into jimjams and went to bed at about 8pm.

The following morning with the help of Emil (stress on the Em), husband of Hana, and a friendly passing car, I was transported past Whizz and down to our hire car for the next lap of out journey, to Trogir, some five hours away.