nichollsretirementproject

Well, who’d have thought it?

I started my blog in June 2012 as we started our preparations to go on VSO to South Sudan.  Since then there have been just over 1500 posts which have attracted 39,056 views from 15,420 visitors – most of the latter being faithful readers, whom the WordPress elves have duly counted every time they have clicked on the site.

I have blogged from the UK, Kuala Lumpur, from Norway, from Papua New Guinea, from Australia, from South Sudan and from New Zealand.  I have written about topics ranging from the Northern Lights to New Year in Sydney Harbour, from tribal face painting in Papua New Guinea to civil war in the Sudan, from cattle camps to crocodiles, from corals reefs to kangaroos.

Every now and then, one or other of my readers has felt moved to post a comment in response to a blog entry.  They have invariably been interesting, often amusing and always very welcome.  Some, about 700 or so, appeared on the blog itself, others arrived by e-mail.

So, hands up if you think you can guess which blog has elicited the biggest response.  Come on, there’s only 1500 to choose from.

No? OK, let me tell you.  So far, the biggest response to any blog over the past six years came this week, when I blogged about the frog, or was it a toad, that has taken up residence in the outside drain at the back of our house!

I even received a comment from a very long-standing French friend who said “I love your story, Robert.  I hope I’ll meet your secret lodger sometime.”

When I wrote back saying how surprised I was that this story, above all others has elicited the greatest response, within a very short time I received another email…

“I think it’s because your story is more “philosophical” than you think.  You offer this toad food, a good house … and what happens?  It goes back to its own life.   Don’t you think that humans are less clever then your toad?

We are drowning in an ocean of ‘plenty’ and still we don’t turn away.  We want more!!  I think your toad is clever!  Why don’t you write it for Martha?”**

Well, I certainly never expected my blog to bring forth philosophical musings from anybody and especially not from a post about a frog, (or was it a toad?) in a drain, but, hey, who am I to complain?

When we came back from our travels and settled back into Brighton, I thought that it was probably time to let the blog die.  There seemed to be little of interest to blog about.  However, my French friend’s comments have made me think that I should perhaps keep going and just write about whatever catches my attention.  Even since the start of 2018, there have been over 1700 visits to the site, so maybe there are still people out there looking in from time to time. And Martha can’t even read yet!

(** Martha, by the way, is my little granddaughter, who is just 10 months old and very beautiful.)

So, stand by and watch this space. I have no idea what direction the blog will take, but it seems a pity to stop now.  I mean, how will I be able to keep my readers up-to-date with the fate of our frog, (or is it a toad?)?

 

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Meet our secret lodger

At the back of our house we have a secret staircase.
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Well, it’s not really a secret staircase, it’s just a set of steps that we don’t use.  It leads from our garden, down to a door that leads, in turn, to a little corridor along the side of the house, which, if we used it, would bring us to our front door. However, since the corridor, (known affectionately as our ‘back passage’), is full of ladders and tools and pots of paint and bits of wood that might come in handy one day, the passage is never used.

At the bottom of the steps, there is a drain, which takes away water from the kitchen, and over the drain there is a not-very-glamourous plastic cover.

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About six weeks ago, I had to clear the steps of leaves and other garden debris, so I lifted the drain cover to make sure that the drain itself wasn’t blocked.

That’s when I discovered our secret lodger, a fat and hapless toad. (All toads are hapless.  See Wind in the Willows.)

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Poor creature, I thought.  How did it get stuck down here?  I must help.

So I carefully picked up the slimy, wet creature and carried it to the bottom of the garden and nestled it in amongst the undergrowth where it would have a better chance of finding things to eat and surviving.

Two days later, I had occasion to check the drain again and … the toad was back.

Today, some six weeks later, I checked again.  He’s still there!

What’s he’s eating, I have no idea and prefer not to ask.  The fact is, he has found a spot where he wants to live and that’s where he plans to stay.

Toad knows what’s best.

Meet my compost bin.

 

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It’s a humble enough compost bin.  It’s made of plastic and it just sits at the bottom of the garden, patiently waiting for me to feed it.

It has a varied diet of vegetable peelings, mushrooms from the back of the fridge that  have been long forgotten,  lettuce leaves, apple cores, tea-bags, pears that have turned to mush while we weren’t looking, deadheads off the roses, grass cuttings, weeds and anything else from the garden that I think will rot.

It then sits quietly over the winter and digests whatever it is given.  Indeed it amazes me how I can fill my bin to capacity after a hard day’s gardening or a particularly unsuccessful session in the kitchen and yet, when I come back a week later, there is plenty of space inside.  Sorcery, absolute sorcery.

And then when spring comes, my faithful repository triumphantly presents me with about twelve inches of rich, dark, steamy, rotted material that I can dig into my flower beds and give them new life after the winter.  Wonderful!  Free compost!

This year, I decided to fill some flower pots with my newly acquired compost and then, for one reason or another, became distracted and didn’t go out into the garden for a number of weeks.  Imagine my surprise when, as if by magic, strange plants began to emerge from every single flowerpot.

And then…… look what happened…

Tom3    Tom4

Where did they all come from?  I certainly never planted them.  I wouldn’t dare.  To say that my knowledge of horticulture was minimal would be to flatter me. But there they were.  Beautiful tomatoes from nowhere.  All I had to do was pick them.

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and, of course, prepare lunch!


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Brighton Seagulls get everywhere.

g1  Seagull on a stump.

g2  Seagull proclaiming ownership of a stump.

g3  Ownership of stump being challenged.

g6 Negotiation.

g4  Resolution.

A Few More Brighton Seagulls

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Random Brighton Seagull.

 

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Off we go to Piddinghoe!

Some weeks ago, the choir with which Linda and I sing, the incomparable Ouse Valley Singers, gave a concert in the tiny medieval church in the village of Piddinghoe in East Sussex.

If ever you get the chance to pull off the road and visit Piddinghoe, I would heartily recommend it.  It won’t take long.  It’s a tiny village, with the church being only one of its highlights.

You should make sure that you make the most of the Village Green, although if you thought you might be able to have a kick-about with a football, forget it.

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That is the full extent of the village green, but at least there is a bench where you could while away a happy hour with a good book  –  if you could find a good book.

No problem.  The village of Piddinghoe has its own public library.

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However, if you want to phone someone to tell them what a wonderful village Piddinghoe is, you’d better have your mobile with you.

Some things just deserve to be shared,

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Love it!

 

Well, he did it!

In my last blog entry, which to my shame was on 22nd February, I mentioned that my aberrant son was breaking with a lifetime of family tradition and getting himself off the couch, donning actual running shoes and training himself up to a level of physical fitness that would enable him to take part in a half-marathon!

I never thought I would see the day, but last Sunday, there I was witnessing the whole thing in Sheffield!

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Linda and I were out in good time on the Sunday morning.  The race was due to start at 9.30am and at 9.30am sharp there we were, about a mile outside town,  armed with our bright pink noise-making implements, ready to cheer our boy on.   We felt a bit lonely.

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It seems that everyone else knew that nothing would be happening until 9.45am at the earliest, so they were still sitting in the comfort of their homes drinking tea.  Fifteen minutes later, just before we started to see movement on the horizon, the crowds started to gather.

I tried to send subliminal messages to encourage our son to get a move on.

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Two, four, six, eight.  Come on, Tom.  Let’s conjugate!

Eventually we saw the blue flashing lights of the police outriders, and shortly behind them the ‘elite’ runners. An terrifying amount of testosterone on display.

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Then the throng started to surge up the road and we began to despair about ever getting a decent photo of our son In his very fetching Sheffield Children’s hospital running gear.  There were over 11,000 runners streaming past us.  Where was he?

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No, that’s not him.

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And please don’t let that be him!

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Hang on, isn’t that him with the camera strapped to his forehead?

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Yep!  That’s m’ boy! Number 7830!

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Looking good.  Only 11.5 miles to go!

From her home in Battersea, our little granddaughter, Martha, who hasn’t actually learned to talk yet, added her own words of encouragement

 

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Time for the parental support team to walk into town and find a coffee shop.

Well before noon I made my way to the finishing line and tried to fight my way through the crowd, so that I could get a picture of No 1 son crossing the line.

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There were about four or five rows of people between me and the actual barrier, so I stood on tip-toe for about half an hour hoping that my camera would pick Tom out as he came across the line.

Hundreds of tired runners started to arrive, and eventually the crowd in front of me began to thin out as support teams saw their runners arrive.  I finally got to the barrier itself and so could get a clear view of the finishing line.  Just in time!  Tom was due any minute.

At this point a woman, carrying a huge balloon, also reached the barrier just in front of me.  My line of vision to the finishing post was completely blocked.  I tried to stand even taller on my aching toes but it was no use.  Eventually I asked the women in front of me to ask the woman in front of her to ask the woman in front of her to move her balloon, which she duly did with her apologies.  All very nicely done, I thought.

I continued to wait for my heroic son to reach the finishing line.  My camera was poised to take the ultimate victory photo of Tom with his finishing time emblazoned on the digital clock in two foot high letters.

The next thing I knew was that my phone was going off in my pocket.  It was Linda.  She was asking me where I was.  “I’m at the finishing line,” I said, “waiting for Tom!”

“He’s with me!” she said. “He came through a few minutes ago!”

The lady with the balloon had robbed me of my photo.

Tom had crossed the line in 2 hours and 13 minutes, seven minutes faster than he had expected!  He was still upright! Exhausted but still standing.

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More than that, within ten minutes, he was chatting to his friends looking as if he had just had a brisk walk into town.

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Proud Mum and Dad disappeared quietly to find themselves a celebratory lunch.

Anybody got £20 they don’t want?

If you fancy a gentle walk in the park on a Saturday morning in Brighton, forget it! You run the risk of being trampled to death by the hundreds of crazy people, who forsake their beds or their breakfast tables in order to go running round and round the park in endless pursuit of nothing in particular.

I thought that this kind of collective madness was just a Brighton phenomenon, but no! It’s happening everywhere! All over the country!  As if Brexit wasn’t bad enough!

It’s all part of the “Couch to 5K” movement, that was set up a couple of years to encourage people to get up off their couches and get some exercise. What a ghastly idea! I can think of nothing worse than having to put on gym shoes and get sweaty with a bunch of strangers in the park!

Imagine my surprise, nay, horror indeed, when I discovered that our own son, Tom, had not only taken up the “Couch to 5K” challenge but had actually started to enjoy the experience and had progressed way beyond the 5 kilometre target! Horrendous!

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that a son of mine would ever show an interest in, let alone an aptitude towards, any kind of sporting activity.  After all my efforts over the years to steer him away from any hobby that would require me to stand outside in the cold and show enthusiastic support for anything that involved mud or sweat, let alone running shoes! After all those conversations extolling the virtues of music or theatre or any activity that takes place indoors and doesn’t have the words ‘touch-line’ or ‘referee’ in its vocabulary, it was quite a shock to discover that my own son had gone over to the dark side and become a sportsman.

So why am I unashamedly asking for donations through the medium of this blog? No, it’s not to pay for Tom to go into some expensive clinic to be cured of his aberrant behaviour. Believe me, if I thought that that were still a possibility I would not be ashamed to beg for money, on bended knee if necessary.  But it’s too late for that now!

On April 8th, (and I never thought I would write a sentence like this), my son will be taking part in the Sheffield Half Marathon! The very idea makes me feel weak at the knees, – even though I have to admit to just a tiny frisson of admiration.

So where does the £20 come in? (Or indeed £10 or even £5)

Well, Tom is using his attempt at the Half Marathon to raise funds for the Sheffield Children’s Hospital Charity, which provides the little ‘extras’ that the NHS cannot fund but which can make children’s experience of hospital just a little bit less distressing.

Tom has set himself a target of £300 and I’d like to see him burst that target wide open. So if you’ve got a little spare cash and are wondering what you can do with it, can I suggest that you help Tom to reach his target and encourage him to get over the finishing line in Sheffield on April 8th.

Just go to https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/nova-does-a-runner

Many thanks

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