Some funny things have happened at last, involving Christmas

I know it’s a bit late for a Christmas theme but this post has been rumbling round  in my head since that time. Thanks to a watery, chesty virus keeping me from work,  I have the opportunity to put finger to keyboard. It’s a ill wind and all that.

This Christmas was a weird one for my family. We all spent it in ways never experienced before. My sister went to her ‘in laws’, my brother went to his, the only ones he has ever had, as he was married for the first time this summer.

My esteemed parents stayed home alone and indulged, allegedly cheerfully, in roast beef and alcohol.

By the author

Their aloneness (I think I have made up this word) made me a little uneasy.

Someone else who added to my unease was Mavis, who was contracted to work on Boxing Day. This would not have been such a bad thing had Whizz and I not agreed to go to Horace’s, in Canalshire (work it out), for the festive season.

During the run up to Christmas, we all hoped that the Pharmaceutical chain for whom Mavis works, let’s call them ‘Wellies’,  would be able to swing it so she could have the Boxing Day off, but at the last minute, several people who were also working the same shift, handed in their notices and that was that. Mavis was home alone too.

Henny how, on  to some post-Christmas entertainment.

First: I was recruited by my school to take on the task of  being Santa for the littlies (another made up word). I was presented with a beautiful and thankfully elasticated, scarlet velour outfit, and a wig and beard of the bristly, curly variety. I adopted a voice that Whizz, when I tried it out on him, said sounded more like Winston Churchill than Santa, but since I don’t think he has ever conversed with the latter, I took the remark as approbation, and assumed it in my role.

I was led by the head (duh, not my head, the head teacher), to the Foundation class, where I was introduced, amid childish gasps, to about 50 wee ones. I then settled into a side room and the children were called, one at a time 50 of them – to come and tell me what they would like me to bring them on my sleigh. A teacher attended to take photos.

Wow, did I get into role.  I was magnificent with my, ‘Hello little boy and ‘Have you been good?’ and ‘Make sure you leave me a mince pie.’

Unfortunately the combination of Churchill’s voice and a tickly beard became too much for my throat after the thirtieth child. I began to cough. My eyes watered and my nose ran into the pristine moustache, until a teacher had to intervene and suggest I took a comfort break. Poor little kids looked really worried but none seemed to notice that on my return, my voice had become less Churchillian and more Barbara Woodhouse.

Second: At the same time as I was dressed as F.C., Mavis was bemoaning the fact that she was expected to dress as a Pixie for her work as a sales assistant in ‘Wellies’ (No, she didn’t wear wellies, that is the name of the shop. I did tell you before).

On the few days before the big day, she went on the bus – in normal clothes, refusing to draw attention to herself, even though she would be wearing a coat.

During the course of one day, a small but articulate child accosted her.

‘Why aren’t you in the North Pole helping Santa?’ she demanded, clutching her father’s hand.

‘Well,’ replied Mavis, ‘I’m doing a bit of shopping for him.’

‘The child looked puzzled. ‘But you make all the presents…’

‘Ah,’ replied Mavis with lightning wit, ‘He has to buy some because of copyright.’

The father collapsed into guffaws.

I was rather proud of Mavis for this quick thinking.

Third: Nothing to do with my Christmas, but one of our bed and breakfast guests shared this experience over a beer one evening.

He had tickets for the World  Darts Championship – the semi-finals I think. It seems that it is de rigueur to dress up for these occasions and so he wore his faithful Santa hat. This was no ordinary hat, it was remote controlled. At the touch of a button, the top wagged from side to side in time to a Christmas tune. Over the years the tune had worn a bit thin so he had disconnected the sound, but the hat still flopped to left and right at his ‘digital’ command.

It seems that he and his son, took up a position near to a speaker. Every time the commentator yelled, ‘One hundred and eighteeee’, the vibration set off his hat so that it wagged from side to side in excitement. This guy is an engineer, not given to excitable outbursts, but clearly his alter-ego hat had other ideas.

Ooh, here’s the other funny thing: I received a tea towel from my brother and sister in law. I know, not that exciting but it’s very funny. If you don’t think it’s funny you are either too young or you should not be here.







Simon Drew picked up a pencil. Simon Drew.

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.