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Photograph by Alistair Pryde of Words & Pictures,

Tara the greyhound

Hannah with greyhound Tara.

The mandatory Christmas family pic!

After the rigours of Christmas and New Year (which in fact were not all that rigorous at all), January has been much quieter. The high point was a trip to the Highlands, incorporating a Travelodge stay. Full details about that on the Travel Blog in “Adventures”. Apart from that, it’s been very quiet indeed ... apart from us having our open plan stairs closed in. Ian from ISWORX did a great job as always and all we have to do now is paint the new wood and get a stair runner for it ... pictures when we’ve finished! We had our birthdays too, which was nice.
Today is: 2020
Site last updated: Thursday, January 30 2020


December 2019
Looking back on December to summarise it for you is quite tough … because not very much happened, really! A glance through our diaries shows that Lois and Ian spent nearly every day doing some sort of voluntary work … Hospital Trustees, Research Groups, Patient Groups, Judicial work, Advisory Committee stuff and so on. It was, depending on how you look at it, either a mad month or one that showed a marked lack of diary control! Hannah continued with her job – which has now graduated away from “new job” to just “job” as she settles in to professional life and the joys of commuting and, towards the end of the month, a Tyne & Wear Metro strike which was carefully timed to hit end-of-year festivities as well as a key NUFC football match.

More positively, Tara gained Kennel Club recognition as Flomur Tara, her “posh Sunday name” after a protracted email discussion between Ian and the KC followed by a really, really helpful telephone call with Lesley from the Club who painstakingly and with enormous patience talked Ian through a whole new world of terminology including “sires” and “dams” which previously he had thought were about mediaeval kings and irrigation control, and “stud book” which is a phrase not well served by Google searches! It’s a long time since Ian was fazed by terminology and he found it refreshing … or maybe another word. Also, the Christmas food started to arrive … by van from Tesco, another van from Iceland and a courier also in a van from Campbell’s Meat in Linlithgow. Might’ve overdone it a bit … indeed we had to nip out and buy another freezer to accommodate everything.

We also went to see “A Jazzy Christmas” at the Sage which careful readers will remember we saw last year. We’d booked the tickets in the “BT era” (ie Before Tara) and were now a bit stuck because she’s not yet confident enough in us to be left for several hours … not without us (although probably not her) “worriting”. However, Hannah and Ben volunteered to look after her while we gallivanted. And we had a fabulous time. And then there was the Strictly final …

Christmas itself was wonderful – mostly food orientated of course – but terrific. We all had a brilliant time and Ian got a pie in a tin for Christmas. Nuff said!

November 2019
November was a nice, quiet month (for a change!) We have been enjoying getting to know Tara and she us. We have established a reasonable routine, now, which makes for an easier life for us all. Hounds like routine, we find, and Tara is no different. She goes to bed and sleeps through without hassle and, like us, doesn’t really like getting up in the morning especially when it’s cold … and certainly not when it’s raining. She enjoys her walks on a set route for morning, afternoon and evening “pee and poo” sessions. She also loves going for rides in the car and we have had a couple of lovely visits to the Greyhound Trust people one of which was their Christmas Fayre at Hardwick Park. We have also had a super session at home with Vicky from Have a Good Dog ( who started us on basic training (in fairness, it really was us rather than Tara who needed training). Vicky really was great and we got a proper set of notes, handouts and references as part of the fee, as well as a very enjoyable session. Thoroughly recommended.

There is now a link in the menu on the left for Tara’s background data including her pedigree and race results before she retired. And some photos too.

Apart from that, the month has seen a lot of interviewing for new JPs – Durham & Cleveland are right in the middle of a recruitment campaign at the moment and we’ve also had a couple of excellent events at the University. And Ian had a very enjoyable “black tie” dinner at the UTC to launch their new STEM initiative.

So all in all a very pleasant month with enough interesting things but a lot of enjoyable stuff going on too.

Oh, and the Christmas trees are up … in November! I know!!

October 2019
Well, what a month October has been! We had the last bits of the new kitchen fitted and the decorating more or less done. In amongst that, Lois had a few days on holiday in London, visiting her family and catching up on some of the genealogy stuff she’s been working on. We got the rubbish removed from the old kitchen (a truck full) and the old but still good fridge and freezer as well as a whole lot of other superfluous stuff went to the BHF charity shop. Later in the month, Ian did a quick run up to the North West Highlands! Alongside all that we attended an excellent Lieutenancy dinner and got on with our usual Judicial business; so all in all a very packed month!

But we know you don’t want to hear about any of that! You want to hear about Tara don’t you! It’s a while since we had someone in the household that needed lots of care and attention - 25 years, in fact! Rescuing a greyhound is remarkably similar to having a baby! September saw Tara settle in, understand what a house is, what stairs were and what a hoover is like. October has been much more about getting her into routines to that she feels comfortable as a new member of the family. What they say about a couple of hours’ snooze for each half-hour walk is about right and we have found some lovely routes round about that keep us clear of the main roads. We have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of green space there is around here – loads of it. All of which makes for a wonderful smellscape to be created for a hound. We daren’t let her off her lead, though ... she finds rabbits very attractive and will go for magpies like a shot; well, she did race at Sunderland after all (that’s a local joke). But other dogs rattle her ... unless they are other greyhounds. We attended the monthly Sunday walk organised by the Darlington Greyhound Trust where she linked up with some of her old friends and we made some new ones!

September 2019
September was dominated by the arrival of Tara. But that wasn't the only thing that happened, so before we tell you about Tara, here are the other highlights ...

We spent a wonderful week in Shetland. We've done Orkney before, so wanted to go a little further afield and do the northernmost extremity of the UK. Details are in the travel blog, of course, which you can access from the Adventures link in the menu on the left or by clicking here.

On our return, we prepared for a lunch to which we invited some friends. It turned into quite a big "do" with about 20 people coming. We'd originally envisaged it being a barbecue but the weather was a little unkind to us - maybe not a surprise for mid-September, but annoying nevertheless. Instead we did a roast dinner (beef, lamp, pork, chicken, salmon and a veggie option too). It seemed to go down well and we had a very relaxed afternoon eating, drinking and chatting; it was very pleasant. In parallel, we had emptied the kitchen because, yes although we'd said we had finished the renovations for now, we got an excellent deal on a new kitchen so went for it. Not great timing, but ...!

Alongside all that was the arrival of Tara who we adopted on 12th September. Tara is a four year old ex-racing greyhound, rescued by the Greyhound Trust at Darlington. Tara’s first race was on 21st July 2017 in Kilkenny, Ireland and she raced 5 times before coming to the UK. Since she was trained in Ireland she has an identification tattoo is both ears. She raced at Sunderland 48 times from 8th September 2017 to her final race on 30th June 2019, winning six times. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately for her) she wasn’t all that good at keeping to her lane as she raced and there are numerous notes in her record about bumping which means that she bumped into the dog running beside her or crowded them – she didn’t baulk them, which would have meant that she interfered with them, she just wandered a bit. She also has notes about being slow away and running on. In other words, she wasn’t a very good racing greyhound which presumably is why she went for adoption at quite a young age.

She's still settling in to life here - we've had a few sleepless nights and some "accidents" too, but things are improving by the day as she learns to trust us and enjoy her new life with us.

August 2019
August has been a month of getting on with life, really. There have only been a couple of excitements! We have both been settling in to our volunteering, catching up somewhat on things that have drifted by. For once we didn't do much in the way of holiday ... we didn't need to because we can go any time (did I mention we're retired). And anyway, Scotland is currently sinking under the sheer number of camper vans on its roads - best to stay away unless you have a camper van of your own. We nipped up to Edinburgh to collect Hannah from university - for probably the last time. We've done this for seven years, what with her first degree then her PhD, and it was a bit of a "lump in the throat moment" to drive away after we'd loaded up. We'd intended to have a "final breakfast" at Frankie and Benny's in Fountain Park, but they don't open until 9:00 and we were ready to leave at 8:10, so we went to McDonalds in Berwick-upon-Tweed instead which was very nice and a fitting "full stop" - or maybe a semi-colon - in Hannah's educational journey. Next month she starts her first full time job!

We spent a few days up at the caravan, which alternated between very hot and pouring rain on what seemed like an almost hourly basis, but which was actually only daily. The key entertainment was watching the croft owners using a mini-digger to remove rhododendron bushes (which are weeds up there). It ranks alongside "Bones" in entertainment value. Ian also had some work with UHI so than necessitated a trip to Inverness which is never a hardship.

We've kept the big new until last, though. You'll recall we we're considering adopting a rescue dog and we have spent a good deal of time in July and August visiting rescue centres, seeing all kinds of dog (often embodied in one animal). After a lot of thinking, an interview, a home visit and a great deal of reading around the subject, we have reserved Tara - pictured above with Hannah - who will join us in September. We'll begin yet another chapter of our history as a family ... and we'll tell you all about it here.

July 2019
Last month I promised to tell you about the photograph of the Forth Bridges, above. Well, here you go!

In February 2015, Lois was in Scotland visiting Hannah in Edinburgh and decided to drop in to South Queensferry to see if she could find out about the building of the Forth Replacement Crossing, as it was called then. Construction had been going on since 2011 and it was due to open in 2016, so it was close to opening around the time of Ian’s 60th birthday, she thought. Something linked to the bridge, like a visit to an exhibition about the construction might make a suitable additional birthday event. While wandering along the narrow road through South Queensferry and admiring the existing bridges that reached so high she spotted a small shop and studio on the High Street called Words & Pictures. Along with wedding and family portraits there was a nice print of the Forth Bridge and the Forth Road Bridge, plus another photograph of local architecture. These took her eye and she called in. She met Alistair Pryde, the studio owner and chatted with him. Between them a plan was hatched that involved a commissioned photograph of the three Forth bridges, to be taken once the new crossing had been completed. This was agreed and then the wait for the perfect shot began.

Alistair quickly realised, based on our brief and his creative knowledge, that a night-time photograph would be best, but even after the formal opening by The Queen the work on the bridge was still going on. There were overnight lane closures (with all the orange flashing lights necessary for those) and the bridge’s own lighting design was still under discussion so was not yet in place. Furthermore, there were still lots of construction paraphernalia on the bridge – portacabins, plastic sheeting and so on. It didn’t make for a good photograph, so we waited … sort of patiently. It wasn’t until November 2018 that the works were finally completed and the construction paraphernalia cleared away. So Alistair had not been able to take advantage of the autumnal light which he favoured. Meanwhile he had been hunting around to select the best spot from which to take the picture. We waited for further news. The winter weather, however, was very poor which led to more delay. January 2019 Alistair had chosen the perfect location, but now faced another problem. The newly installed lighting to complete the bridge was an issue. Alistair wrote:
“The lighting on the Queensferry Crossing continues to frustrate us because it is so much more intense than the lighting on the other two. So shooting at dusk is the solution to this dilemma and will give us the contrast that Ian wants, and will look spectacular in black and white.”

On 9 July 2019, we collected the print!

The picture hangs on the end wall of our dining room, alone and spectacular. The causeway in the foreground takes you as you walk into the room from the other end and leads you forward into the picture. On the left is the new Queensferry Crossing, to the right is the Forth Road Bridge. Look beneath the Road Bridge and you can see the Forth Bridge.

Apart from the picture (which obviously took over the month, really) we've fitted in another couple of things. Ian had a very enjoyable couple of days at UHI sitting on their assessment boards. Always very good discussion and an excellent group of people. He also had a day at the University of Sunderland Graduations - it's always lovely to see the students crossing the stage. Mind you, Ede & Ravescroft lost his gown booking so he had to process in a Sunderland gown rather than his Keele robes! We also attended Matins for the Courts at the cathedral which is always a terrific event and we went to a Lieutenancy event too. All in all, quite a busy month.

Bigger news (maybe) is that we have started down the road considering adopting a rescue dog. We visited a few rehoming charities and even took a rescue greyhound for a walk (see the picture above). Lots to think about!

June 2019
June has been busy. We haven't had the refurbishment to deal with although see above for one of the results, which is our new dining room now complete with the stunning picture taken for us by Alistair Pryde of Words & Pictures in South Queensferry (the full story will be in July's update). But there have been many other things to so! Mostly to do with the voluntary stuff we do. So both of us were undertaking Judicial duties a lot, Lois has been doing things as a Trustee at the Hospital and Ian's been doing UTC stuff too. In between those, we found time to collect Ian's new car (see the vehicles page for more) and we did some entertaining in the "new" dining room, which was a really good start for the new floor and decoration. It was a pity that the big bridges picture wasn't in place then; that's due in July so more about it then. But the meal and the company were lovely. Hannah and Lois sent a couple of days in York while Ian was tied up with interviewing. They had a great time away and came back buzzing! We also did a "spur of the moment" theatre trip to see Susie Dent at the Gala. She's the words woman on Countdown - from the telly. We weren't sure what it would be like, but for a start it was a sellout and it was also hugely entertaining. Two really good hours of intereresting stuff, presented very well. Perhaps the highlight of June was a day at the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh. It's a long time since we've been to an agricultural show but we had the chance of tickets and took it. It was a lovely day - my word it got hot as the day went on! Some really interesting displays and stands as well, of course, as the tractors and stuff! Lois bought a very fine hat which is shown above.

April and May 2019
April and May and at last ... the end of the refurbishment is here. Just a couple of tiny things to do and then we'll be done. Phew!

We spent the bulk of April away from the mayhem - we went to Devon for a bit - all documented properly in the travel blog - Part 2 2019. That included some terrific things which we found exciting and enlightening, but we'll let you read the detail for yourselves. We saw, in Inverness, one of the best drama productions we've ever seen - The Lady Vanishes at the Eden Court Theatre. This is a lovely little theatre, probably punching way above its weight actually. The production really was excellent.

But we also built a roomful of Ikea furniture and then took a skipload of cardboard packaging to the dump! The carpets and flooring were down last month, so things are, as we've said, getting there. Ian did a whole lot of plumbing and carpet laying for what will later become the guest flat but more immediately in preparation for Hannah's return home at the end of her PhD study in August. He took out the bath and turned it round (so that the lashup made by the original builders stopping it draining could be corrected) and fitted a new "rain shower" system. All that remains it the facings on the bath and so on to be done professionally and some new flooring too, to finish that off. Lois spent a happy (that's a lie) week or so prepping and painting the new dressing and study areas. It all looks great now.

May has been quiet ... putting all the stuff back, for example, and doing quite a lot of judicial stuff since that's been rather neglected over the last few months (we've been distracted). The highlight was a visit to "The House of Gentlemen" for Ian - which we know sounds a bit dodgy but is actually a rather good barber's shop in Durham. Ian, at last, has been "made over"! We also saw The Red Hot Chilli Pipers. A terrific show at the Gala in Durham. Billed as "bag rock", that wasn't a reference to the agegroup of the audience who ranged from 14 to 80, we thought, but to the bagpipers fronting the show. It's a long time since we have been to a rock concert - Floyd 2 was the last, but that was a tribute band ... Santana at Bingley Hall Stafford, in 1979 was probably the last time we saw an original group! Anyway, it was brilliant!

March 2019
March was dominated by the rebuilding and refurbishment work, which I won't bore you with the detail of here! Suffice to say that the new floorcoverings are now down (wooden floors and carpeting), the redecoration has happened and the new curtains are up. The new wardrobes that we got from Ikea last month are built and filled, too.

BUT - we have finished! No-one more pleased of that fact than us! But we are SO pleased with it all. One or two small bits to do, like the Forth Bridges picture install and the Ann Dabbs picture being copied ... but we'll tell you about those later.

February 2019
Another month largely dominated by the refurbishment works. It's getting there, though (well, that's what we keep telling ourselves anyway!) We got a few nice days out, including a great day in Ikea, which sounds sad except that it was to choose stuff for post-refurbishment. They have a "way" of describing things that really makes you go in to have a look - we can't really make head nor tail of the descriptions on-line, nor the photographs. Deliberate, no doubt, but they do a great lunch. We also went for lunch with some friends which turned out to be dinner in the end and which was very pleasant indeed.

In between times, we had a visit to Edinburgh, ostensibly to see Hannah but also because we like it there! Had a fabulous meal out and went to see Alistair Pryde of "Words and Pictures" in South Queensferry from whom Lois commissioned a photograph of the bridges four years ago. Delays to the building of the Queensferry Crossing, and then delays in the removal of the post-building painting scaffolding (we sympathise ... we're living that particular dream too) meant that he's only just been able to take the photograph. But we have now seen it and we're really, really looking forward to getting the finished picture, hopefully next month.

Ian had a visit to UHI in Inverness for a Board, which was great ... it was good to get back up there and breathe fresh air that's not laden with plaster dust.

So there you have it - as usual with February, a slow month.

January 2019
We started the year off with a pantomime. Hannah accompanied us because you can't really go without your children, can you! When she reads this she'll be furious to be referred to as "our children" when she's in her twenties! It was Aladdin at the newly refurbished Darlington Hippodrome, which is terrific - and so was the show. Even Louie Spence did great - his script was littered with double entendres which went straight over the kids' heads (thankfully) but which the adults loved!

The month at home so far has been dominated by the refurbishment work that we set up last month. Plastering is very dusty, and that started the month off! Jason, Andrew and crew got going taking off the old plaster that has "popped", which also involved removing (and later replacing) a radiator. Messy ... and did we mention the dust! Plaster dust gets EVERYWHERE - it's so fine. They also built a wall in the dining room thus carving off the leg of the "L" and forming a small study for Hannah when she comes back to write-up. Once they'd done their bit, Ian (not me) stepped in to do the joinery - skirting boards (which Lois likes to call wainscoting, much to the confusion of the trades), architraves etc, and then ... finally, Nick and Shaun came in to redecorate all the new bits plus the old bits that, as we mentioned, haven't been done for YEARS. In the mean time, we had the new gas fire and marble fireplace fitted and new curtains for the lounge and the library. Frankly, it's been hell, but well worthwhile because it looks lovely.

In between all that, we've been out to the theatre a couple of times, including (see above) Burns Night where we held our own supper celebration in Heworth Metro Station car park from a thermos jar before getting the metro to the theatre to see "A Comendy About a Bank Robbery", which was great entertainment. It was fun and actually very successful. Haggis, neeps and chappit tatties stay hot longer that sausage and beans which was our last (less successful) attempt at this idea. We've also seen the very first performance of "Shy Manifesto" at the Live Theatre in Newcastle - a one-man play which was interesting and thought provoking. The venue is great - a bit like a cabaret - and well worth a visit.

So having done the downstairs, we're just about to start on round two - upstairs. More plastering I'm afraid, but then some new wood flooring to go down and then the rest of the house to be decorated ... but we have a month off before that happens.

It'll be nice when it's finished.

December 2018
December was dominated, of course and as it should be, by the festivities. However, we did still have time to get quite a lot of other stuff done – most notably making some organisation towards the refurbishment of the house. Those of you who know us will also know that we’ve done very little to our home over the last 20 years or so following the big remodelling. We’ve done maintenance, of course – it doesn’t leak – but little else. Things are tired. SOOO, during December we spend a lot of time getting quotes for decorating, which meant we also had to get quotes for replastering the bits where the cowboys of 20-odd years ago didn’t do it properly, so it has “popped”. The notion of plaster “popping” is a new one on us, but it’s where it parts company with the wall that it’s supposed to be covering and starts moving away. Eventually, it’ll fall off and although it hasn’t got to that stage, there are some alarming cracks! We also decided to treat ourselves to new curtains (those are over 25 years old – bought when we moved in!) and so on. It all needed visits, quotes, negotiations and so on, and that took much of December to sort out.

We had one outing – to “A Jazzy Christmas” at the Sage, which was really good and set the Christmas festivities off to a good start.

We spent Christmas Eve “doing” the Edinburgh Christmas Market, including lobster and chips – I kid you not - salmon and bratwurst. That’s one each, not all for all! Christmas Day was mostly taken up with lunch at the Grand Café (it’s not a café! – not even close – but it is very grand). Full details of all that on the blog.

Then we went north and came back via Stirling, which was lovely. Again – see
the blog for that story.

So now we’re back home – a new year and we’re all set for the disruption of the new work!

Novmber 2018
It's been quiet. We haven't done very much - no long trips away for the two of us, for example. However, we have done a couple of things around here that were good. We went to see the Sue Ferris Quintet at the Gala - one of their Jazz lunchtimes. Now, we didn't even know that they had Jazz Lunchtimes, but a lot of other people did - it was packed! Sue taught Hannah the saxophone a long time ago when she (that's Hannah) was at school, so we already knew her to be an accomplished musician; and we were not disappointed with her quintet, either. It was a good gig. Monthly lunchtimes at the Gala and similar frequency at the Newcastle Lit and Phil, too. We had been looking for some decent jazz gigs for a long time and all of a sudden, we've found two regular ones. Lois sent a good day in Runcorn making new connections with family members unearthed through Ancestry. The trip with Transpennine Express was poor since they simply terminated her service early, denying her onward connections and delaying her for a full hour. Typical, we thought, of a company that puts its own considerations above those of its customers - but sadly all too common. The compensation claim is in! Together we attended the EIT (European Institute of Innovation and Technology) event at Newcastle. This organisation brings together university students with researchers and entrepreneurs to innovate (and the UK's involvement will be another victim of Brexit). The theme of this day was to invent something to assist older people in the kitchen. It was great to be involved, working with the student teams to test and challenge their ideas and let them hone their thoughts into something new, exciting and useful. Why were we there? Well, we counted as "older people" for whom the innovation could be useful.

Hannah came down for a holiday from Edinburgh and we did two great days on her PhD together ... as well as other stuff of course.

Ian attended the University graduation ceremonies, too - it was good to go back and see how the place is doing under the refreshed leadership of its new V-C - rather well, actually! Fabulous opening speech by him - best I've heard of the five V-Cs (including acting) I've experienced since UoS became a university. As well as some old faces, it was nice to see Alison Griffiths (she of retirement cake fame) cross the stage to receive her Master's - congratulations to her.

Better get the Christmas cards done!

October 2018
Another busy month, although not very much of it was at home!. We visited Hannah in Edinburgh, ostensibly to hand over the Christmas tree and decorations, but actually to go for lunch. It was a nice stay, albeit brief. Later in the month, all three of us spent a lovely day in Glasgow. Ian was going there anyway to attend a meeting for the University, but we turned it into a family outing! It's a nice city that's always worth a visit. Lois and Hannah appeared to have spent all their time in Clark's Shoes ... but maybe that's just perception.

Then we had a lovely holiday away from it all in the highlands - two weeks away this time, with some of it all three of us. We spent a bit of time pondering on the notion of the use of the word "holiday" when it's from retirement! Can one have a holiday from retirement, or is that going back to work? Whatever, it was a very relaxing time away. We also entertained for Bonfire Night, and even had some fireworks - although the Tesco 18 event Firework Cake was a bit of a surprise since it was over so quickly! Very pretty while it lasted, but my word it was quick!

So, all in all a good month of family activity and relaxation, ready for the rigours of Christmas to come!

September 2018:
We've had a very busy month! We popped up to the NW Highlands for an excellent week. Really enjoyed that and the weather was excellent! Hoping to return again soon!

We attended the Lord Lieutenant's Dinner in Hartlepool which was a really nice event. Interestingly, we met more colleagues and ex-colleagues on that evening than we've seen for ages. It was great to catch up. Terrific venue, too - we were at the new Hartlepool Art Gallery which made a spectacular venue for a formal (black tie) dinner. The meal was super and, given that there were getting on for 100 of us there, the service was fast and efficient. Thoroughly recommended! We went to the NE Circult Legal Service at York Minster, which was a really enjoyable event. We followed that by lunch with an old friend and his new partner - a really lovely occasion. Ian also nipped down to London for a judiciary meeting, which was tiring and a good meeting, but it reminded us why we prefer living in the north east!

On top of all that, we've had the tiling done so apart from a bit of painting, the bathroom and en-suite renovations are done. All we need to do now is persuade Lois to use the new steam cabin!!!

August 2018:
We are REALLY enjoying our retirement! That's the first summer gone that we didn't have to go away ... so we didn't! We stayed at home and started on the refurbishment of the house. We now have a new steam shower cabin ... very nice it is, too - this morning I steamed with Yanni* and then showered off. Fantastically relaxing, especially listening to Darlene Koldenhoven sing "Aria". And we have a lawn that's green. We even had a day at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

And now, when all our ex-colleagues are gearing up to start the new university term, we're not and are planning our next travel.

The travel blog is in Adventures - I really need to update it.

*Yanni's "Live at the Acropolis" - the steam cabin also has bluetooth.