A is for Andover…good Lord!

Along with nine million other Londoners, we really needed to get out of the city for a few days. But where? Somewhere accessible by train and not so far that we’d use loads of our time just travelling. How could we choose a destination that the other 8,999,998 Londoners hadn’t thought of too?

It was a mystery. But who better to solve it than Agatha Christie herself? We would use the ABC Murders to guide our holiday choices in 2021. You might recall that the murderer used the ABC Railway Guide to choose the locations of his crimes and, in each town, his victim shared initials with the place. So we’ll be following the bodies. Let’s face it, it’s nowhere near the weirdest thing to happen this year.

First stop, then, is Andover, where poor Alice Ascher met her end. We’re only here for a night and are actually staying a few miles outside town at the Jack Russell Inn (sorry, Andover, but they promised us cocktails in the garden and a very nice room). We pick up a taxi from the station piloted by the very lovely Tim.

On the way to the hotel, he tells us that the current Andover Station isn’t the one that would have been around in Thirties. That was nearer the centre of town. The original railway line is now a main road but the Station Inn still stands next door to the old station site. As Hastings would have said, ‘Good Lord!

Dammit. We posed at the wrong station. But all is not lost. Tim is going to pick us up for the return journey in the morning so we’ll make a quick stop off on the way.

With our morning excursion in the bag, we can relax and enjoy all the Jack Russell has to offer. In our case, this is a couple of afternoon negronis (which quickly require a little afternoon nap) and then espresso martinis and a delicious dinner while the sun sets. There’s nothing here but the hotel, a pond and a field full of deer. Perfect.

Next morning, Tim collects us and takes us for a look at the Station Inn. This was definitely a working inn, complete with stables and (possibly) the remains of a railway building. Even better, he’s been doing his research – last night he looked up the ABC Murders to see if he could establish the exact location of the tobacconist where the first murder occurred. Sadly, we all conclude that Agatha Christie took full advantage of artistic licence and made pretty much everything up apart from the name of the station. But kudos to Tim for following detective instincts that Poirot would have been proud of!

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The Big Trip 2021: two nights in Brighton

After six months spent almost exclusively at home, we were gagging to see somewhere other than Vauxhall. Brighton has sea and is less than two hours away – that’ll do.

We were forced to cancel our trip to Greece back in May, so splashing out on two nights with a sea view at the Brighton Grand feels perfectly justified. Only ever having been here for work during party conferences, we’ve never had to stray further than the downstairs bar. We didn’t realise there were just two rather aged lifts. Trying to keep guests safe, these can only be used one household at a time, so getting up to fifth floor with luggage takes some time. We don’t care – we’re just so excited to see different pavements, buildings, people, wallpaper (you get the gist – even different carpets are a bit exciting).

It’s September, but the last dregs of the glorious summer linger. We’re treated to autumn sunshine and evenings dry and mild enough to sit outside. Oh, the joy of a drink outside a pub with other people (though not too close, obviously). We could really get used to this table service thing.

We walk on the beach.

We eat fish and chips and are dive-bombed by seagulls, of course.

We do some shopping. Get Cutie is the clothing equivalent of an old fashioned sweet shop, a pick ‘n mix of styles and fabrics. Every order can be tailored to your preference. A dress with pockets and a shirt will be delivered in a few weeks.

We do some sightseeing. Drowning in the excess of the Royal Pavilion without the crowds is a rare treat.

We are stalked by a gigantic seagull that hangs around outside our window for the entire trip, fixing us with its thousand-yard stare. What does it want? All the food, we’re guessing.

Most of all we are not in London. It’s a short trip that will keep us going for months to come.

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Lockdown: UK & Covid

On 23 March 2020, the UK went into lockdown. We had no real idea what was coming or, for the purposes of this blog, how long it would be before we went anywhere…at all.

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LA Day One

Touched down in LA around 4.30pm, which was gone midnight UK time. We had just three jobs: get to our apartment, find some dinner, and stay up until at least 9pm.

We achieved the first by hitching a sneaky lift with one of the free LAX hotel shuttles (we were staying just behind the Fairfield Suites). Cheeky.

Job two was completed with a walk out to Ralph’s supermarket and its pretty good sushi counter. Check.

Allan fell at the final hurdle when he completely passed out at 8.45pm. Still, we’re giving ourselves 8 out of 10 for day one!

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2013 Travels

We’ve been so slack on any updates to our blog and with impending travels coming up. So, it must be time to remember some travels we have been lucky to do in the past few months.

Undercastle Cottage once again. Firstly, there was a trip to the New Forest in March with our usual mob. Surrounded by great company, cute dogs, cute kids, lots of wine, we had a great time – apart from the post earlier about Paul getting lost down-stream on the River Avon. Undercastle Cottage beckons again in late 2014.

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Next break was in July to the land of the Fjords (that’s Norway not Dagenham). This was to see Allan’s mum who was on a cruise for her 70th birthday. It’s somewhere she’s always wanted to go for the last 40 years and Allan’s brother heroically kept her company eating probably a lifetime’s worth of salmon on the 8 days of the cruise. The weather was amazing for them and the scenery, from photos we saw was simply stunning. Even hardcow’s brief weekend to Bergen and up the mountain to Mydal showed Norway is just full of massive waterfalls, fjords that are glass-clear and snow-capped mountains. It was refreshing to see that the £9.50 bottles of beer and £30 bill for 2 subway sandwiches were not the only things to take our collective breaths away.

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Sports trip and old friends Ahoy!  Only Allan went to the USA with Mr S to do a sports trip and see Helen & Dave in September. First off was Boston to see the eventual world series champions, the mighty and very beardy, Boston Red Sox. And they won 3-1 against the Baltimore Orioles (what is an Oriole by the way?). Brief sightseeing the next day including the Boston Legal building concluded that Boston deserved a far longer visit and then it was off to the capital of the land of the free.

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Onto DC, seeing Dave off the plane, we went to some of the sights and a fantastic curry that evening with Helen too. Next day more sightseeing to the Space museum and onto Sunday to the main event of seeing American footy – they pick the ball up and everything – the Washington Redskins vs Detroit Lions. Unfortunately, the Redskins were the polar opposite of the Red Sox and fell to one of many defeats they would have that season. The lad next to Allan (not Mr. S) was so incredibly drunk and starting singing “No Jobs… No Jobs”. I presume this was a reference to Detroit’s precarious fiscal position and not a heart-felt tribute to the recently departed Apple CEO. Excellent to see Helen & Dave in their new DC environment, I’m sure they’ll be like locals in no time, y’all. Bit far to travel to the NUFC matches every couple of weeks though. And special thanks to Mr S for great company, we must do the trip again.

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Carnival calling. We both went to see Paul & Nel, Chev and the girls and also to see the world-famous Bridgwater Carnival. It was Bonfire night first night where the ahhhhs and oooos rang out over the field – spectacular. Next day’s highlight could have been watching Newcastle United beat Chelsea on the iPhone in a pub with Kev the Chelsea fan. Maybe it was, but good food and company was so good we nearly missed the entire carnival. Luckily, we just made it into town for the squibbing. Photos don’t do justice to this mad event where 100 odd people just light fireworks above their head with crowds of people in very close proximity. This video on youtube explains it all. Health and Safety. Not a chance.

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3 years since Bangkok. Final trip in 2013, apart from Xmas visits to family was for Hardcow’s wedding anniversary. Paris was an obvious choice and it didn’t let us down even though the weather was pretty foul for most of it. It’s been over 10 years since we’ve been to Paris and we’d almost forgotten some of the sights. The Eiffel Tower is still pretty amazing to see, especially on the hour every night where it sparkles, we bought a packlock on the Pont des Arts and found out that the Jardin du Luxemburg is very pretty even in the freezing cold. 3 years well and truly celebrated.

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Ok, since that’s our 2013 travels done, watch out for posts on a far more regular basis coming soon.

Doctor Who and the Six Stages of Grief

You know you’re in trouble when they change the actor playing the Doctor and you are swept away on a stormy emotional sea for the next twelve months. That is what happened to me, though it took a very dull management workshop on change for me to realize it.

(You have to pity a team led by someone who relates all management advice to her Doctor Who experiences, but that’s another issue entirely.)

Remember back. Christmas 2009 and New Year 2010. To the excess of food, booze and pointless gifts, add a double episode. Not just any double episode. We know this is the end of the Tenth Doctor. We know ‘he’ will knock three times. We know the Time Lords are back.

I started 2010 quivering with anticipation. I was genuinely tense and almost physically shaking as ‘The End of Time’ part two began. I feel far less foolish about this than perhaps I should, since my better half goes through a similar experience every time Newcastle United play.

And then it happened, as I knew it would. An explosion of golden light, some painful facial contortions and the freshly hatched Eleventh Doctor appeared on our screens. He did a creditable job with very little dialogue to work with – just a catalogue of body parts (legs, arms, fingers, eyes, nose, chin), a moment to bemoan the lack of ginger hair and the sudden realization of imminent danger. Then the credits rolled and I was left…


I was ambushed by anxiety, fear, a moment of denial and then, yes, anger.

Let’s take a moment to consult Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s classic ‘change curve’. Originally conceived as a way to map the path through grief, it is now used to help managers understand how people deal with large-scale change.

Step one: Shock
Step Two: Denial
Step Three: Anger

Check. Check. Check. At this rate, I’ll be well on my to stability by about January 5th.

No such luck. I had three months to wait before I could spend any time with Eleven (Matt was just too informal, Smith had too many echoes of John Smith – both suggested acceptance that I just didn’t feel. Eleven he stayed for quite some time.)

I didn’t get on with series five. I loved elements of it. I was able to dissect episodes and offer critical analysis with the best of the Ming Mongs. But I couldn’t embrace the Doctor. I secretly loathed his funny, alienesque bone structure. I brooded resentfully on his elbow patches. I sorrowfully recalled the Tennant years. And I bloody hated bow ties.

Bastard. I was now deeply and fully immersed in Stage Four: Depression

In October 2010, I left the UK to spend six months in South East Asia. In January 2011, while in Vietnam, I was desperate enough buy series five on iTunes. It took seven hours to download each episode, but I was recovering from some spectacular food poisoning and I NEEDED SOME WHO!

So began my journey of recovery. Through Vietnam and into Cambodia, I re-watched and re-digested the beginning of the Smith years. After so many months in the wilderness, I re- discovered my funny, sad, angry and, yes, glorious Doctor. I was successfully coming through…

Stage Five: Acceptance

So where am I now? I can safely say I am in the final stage with a vengeance. Wobbly with excitement as ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ burst back into my living room; writing for fanzines; persuading my infinitely generous husband to come to Gallifrey 2012 with me. Yes, I am finally back on the road to normality with…

Stage Six: Reintegration

And I can finally say it. Matt Smith, you are one of the great Doctors. I bloody love you.

This article first appeared in Fishfingers and Custard Fanzine in November 2011

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Two men in a boat

20130309-161347.jpgA two and a half hour odyssey led Paul and Kevin to explore currents, rowing boats and what it means to be a man.

After a disastrous foray out into middle river, Paul broke the oar lock and was washed, screaming and crying*, on towards Fordingbridge. Some quick thinking and a little luck brought him to the opposite bank from Undercastle Cottage. One problem, no bridge.

Eventually meeting Kevin, who had fought his way through dense forest to reach his stranded comrade*, the two managed to steer and pull the boat between them far upstream from our location. Floating back with the current, and some more inspiring teamwork, the two finally brought the boat home.

Kevin nearly fell at the final hurdle when he thought to test his theory that he could hang between the boat and jetty, by toes and fingertips, without incident. Allan was on hand to persuade him otherwise.

* Untrue

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Event 13 – Women’s Football Final

A dash up to Newcastle to see family after the Canoeing then it’s time for the next event for Allan and Mr. S, the Women’s football final. A cracking game between U-S-A and Ni-pon ended up USA getting a deserved win 2-1 with USA’s 2nd goal from 25 yards scored by Carli Lloyd a screamer.

Over 80,000 were at Wembley and the only boos of the night were for Sebb Blatter (see here for why), not as fast as the blokes gam,  but skill levels were excellent from both sides. The crowd were enthusiastic and very good natured, although there did seem to be confusion from lots of people of only having a 15 minute half time – masses seem to come back after 15 minutes of the 2nd half.

So, could this be the 2 Geordies last visit to Wem-ber-ley this year?  Answers on a postcard to the usual address.

The 2 USA goals in glorious burred action with the first and last photos below…

























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Event 12 – Rah Rah Rah – It’s sprint canoeing

Having a more awkward than expected journey to Windsor due to South West trains cancelling all special Olympic services to Windsor, we proceeded to Eton Dorney Lake. Hardcow could say all sorts of things about this location, but let’s leave it at; there is no wonder that the privilaged few who can afford to go to Eton public school provide good rowers with an 2km long, Olympic standard, man-made 2km boating lake as part of their sports facilities.

Onto the sport and we had front row, although pretty crampt, tickets for all sorts of canoe and kayak qualifiers and semi-finals. There wasn’t too much competition in the qualifiers as the first 5 racers got through to the semi-finals and often there was only 5 racers. Semi-finals were a little more exciting especially the C2 (Canoe 2 person) race which seemed like a dead heat between around 4 countries. Team GB had an unassuming day with a couple of knockouts in the semi-finals and one guy qualifying for the final.

Not the best sport to watch live, can’t really see the race until it’s around 200m away, but we admire the strength of getting a boat to move so quickly, another new sport watched and somehow we managed to get a suntan even though it wasn’t sunny. Ra Ra Ra indeed.

























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Event 11 – When Hardcow went to the Olympic Stadium

Both of Hardcow went to Olympic stadium on Monday night. We saw; 200m women’s qualifiers, women’s shot put final, men’s 400m hurdle final, men’s 400m final, women’s steeplechase final and the women’s pole vault final. It was thrilling.

The fantastic steeplechase which beat Allan’s previous rule of “Don’t bet against the Ethiopian” when the Russian woman won and preceded to do the fastest lap of honour we have ever seen. The 19 year old Grenadian superstar Kirani James, who won the 400m final thrilled the Grenadian supporter behind us and we also found out what 80,000 people saying “aaaarrrrrr” sounded like when the 400m hurdle winner, Felix Sanchez, sobbed uncontrollably when presented with the gold medal.

And, to top off a great night, we saw Usain Bolt presented with his gold medal!

























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