Saturday, 20 October 2018

Pushing my luck, but keeping options open

The new glasses saga continues. Have you noticed how each new purchase - laptop, phone, whatever - gets agonised over on this blog? As if I'm obsessed by the trivial things of life, and blind to more important things. And yet I'd say it was a way of crowd-sourcing a variety of much-needed comments that I can take on board before coming to a final decision. Whether I agree or not, I do want to know what people think. And although the final decision always rests with me, and may hang on factors I can't mention here, it's good to know how readers are reacting.

I can be very stubborn, but I am also willing to listen. The quick concensus on my second choice of two days back - those metal-framed specs with rather square frames - was either 'Well, they're OK, but you'll never love wearing them' to 'No! They're horrible!' I didn't consider them horrible, but I knew I was unhappy with them, and probably making a mistake even worse than with the first pair of glasses, the large and assertive red-purple specs that made me look bossy and managing. Friends Jo and Sue, with whom I was lunching yesterday, chortled at the idea that those first specs didn't reflect my personality. 'You are assertive!' cried Sue. 'No I'm not,' I said, 'I see myself as having a soft personality. I admit I always know what I really want, and I don't usually dither, but I never force my views on anyone else, nor try to interfere with their ideas, and I don't want to wear glasses that give the impression that I'm an unstoppable force who takes no prisoners.' Hoots of laughter.

Anyway, I set out where I stood on ordering the square-framed specs, and, after getting their views on what best to do now, decided that I must go straight back to Specsavers that very afternoon and stop the show - cancel the order - and then discuss my options.

The other girls were relieved. And so was I, subject to being able to carry off what I immediately saw might be pushing my luck a bit too far. Specsavers had been easy about one change of mind. But two?

And Sue, who had chortled about my not having a forceful personality, now confessed that she herself wouldn't have the nerve to return yet again, get them to junk a second order, and consider a third. (Now it was my turn to express surprise: I'd have said that Sue was more than adequately assertive where something important was at stake, as are all my friends)

The long and short of it was that my recent eye test had shown I needed new lenses, and that at the moment I was using glasses that weren't up to the job. I had to get new ones. They simply needed to suit both my face and my personality. To comply with that, I needed frames that were soft and subtle, and not hard and bold. I'd actually paid £216. Specsavers had my money, and unless they refunded it were duty bound to accommodate me.

Well, I needn't have worried. All was smiles, and willingness to satisfy me. I saw first the girl who had assisted me a week ago, and then a chap whose name tag said 'sales manager'. He was clearly determined to deliver excellent customer service. I showed him photos of myself wearing my 'old' specs, then the red-purple 'bossy' specs, and now the latest 'square' choice. I explained what I really wanted. I showed him a screenshot from the Specsavers website of the silver specs with a hint of pink that would do nicely, but hadn't been in stock on my last visit.

First, he checked the status of the 'square' order. Remarkably, the lab had already produced the varifocal lenses for these specs. But they could be reshaped around the edges to fit similar-sized frames, and would certainly be fine for the 'silver with a hint of pink' pair I had my eyes on. So he put that order on hold, pending my final choice.

I'd explained that I was going on holiday, but had already fixed up an appointment first thing on 6th November. The plan now was to keep that appointment, and during it look at the 'silver with a hint of pink' pair, plus anything new that had come in with the next frame delivery - they were having such a delivery while I was away. Meanwhile I was perfectly happy to manage with the specs I was using.

This took the pressure off. I could now go away with the whole business left open-ended, and not come back to a compromise choice that I didn't really like.

Before I left the shop, I had a jolly good look at all kinds of frame on display, cost no object, to see what else might suit me. I came to the firm conclusion that I should entirely avoid thick dark angular frames, and stick to light-coloured frames with an oval shape. It was half an hour well spent.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Buyer's regret

Oh dear...I don't like my new glasses.

Despite two of my friends thinking them fab, I am going to take them back to Specsavers straight away and choose another pair.

Here's why. Look at this series of paired pictures. The shot on the right - the best of several taken today wearing the new glasses - is the same in each, while the left shot is me in the old glasses, on different occasions within the last month. Try to imagine how each shot in the old glasses would look if I were wearing the new ones instead.


It doesn't work. The new glasses can't lend softness and approachability to my face. They are too definite, too assertive, too challenging. They are the glasses of someone who wants to be boss. I'm simply not like that.

I now think I should have gone for these glasses instead, which I didn't see in the shop, but are on Specsavers' website.


So far as I can see, these are exactly the same as my old glasses, but in silver and pink instead of gold. I'd prefer gold frames, but they just aren't available any more. Silver with a hint of pink will do fine. Silver will match my jewellery. And these other frames won't dominate my face, nor put off anybody who wants to strike up a pleasant conversation with me. 

Will Specsavers play ball and just let me re-order without additional cost? They might. In fact I've an idea that they are bound to, if the frames are in some way unsuitable and the customer is willing to have a substitute they prefer. They did it once before, in 2013. I hope they do so again now, without fuss.  

I go on holiday very shortly, and can't leave this in abeyance for a couple of weeks. I'd best act tomorrow. So I'll be at Specsavers first thing, before going off for the day to see friend Alice, who won't now have a chance to see me with Dragons' Den specs on. 

I dare say Jackie and Jo will wonder what on earth was going on in my mind, and may think me perverse; but it's my face, and that's the end of it.

Next day sequel
I was back at Specsavers just after 9.00am, explained why I didn't like my new glasses, and said I'd like to have different frames, and would pay the difference if those were more expensive. There was no quibbling about having something else. And I didn't have anything more to pay.

Ideally I wanted glasses with gold metal frames, similar to what I had now. Gold frames suited my hair colour and complexion, and did not dominate my face. The nice girl who dealt with me went to some trouble, and came up with two examples of thin gold frames she thought I might like. You couldn't say they were oval like my present frames - they were square rather than oval - and I wondered whether having a decidedly less girly look was a good idea. But otherwise both frames ticked my personal boxes. One of them was a particularly light and comfortable fit, and I went for that one. They'll be ready for me when I get back from holiday: I made an appointment for 6th November.

I can't quite fathom why I'm finding it harder than usual to make a choice. But it's a fact that none of the frames I've viewed on the Internet, or examined in the shop, have made me very excited. Perhaps if I'd done this months ago, there would have been more frames around matching my notions of what looks right.

Well, I've settled on frames that are similar to what I now have, and so they ought to be perfectly suitable. I took a quick shot in the shop of what I looked like in the new specs:


They looked OK. But whether I'll love them the same as my old ones is impossible to say at this point. At least when you look at my face you see me, and not just a pair of glasses. 

I will now go away on holiday, and come to them afresh on the 6th November. 

The new glasses

I picked up my new glasses this morning. They are very comfortable and - vitally - the varifocal lenses are pin-sharp. My goodness, all the things around me now look so very clear and distinct!

This said, these new glasses will take some getting used to. They are a big change from my old glasses. But I do like them: they are - well - more stylish than the old glasses, more interesting, and I think they do something good for my face. These are not the specs of a tired and timid Old Age Pensioner, ready to fade away. They declare that the wearer is alive and kicking, drives in the fast lane, has plenty to say for herself, and doesn't let anyone push her around!

I've had some instant feedback from friends Jackie and Jo. Jackie's first remark - and she was standing close to me, at my front door - was 'Oh, I like those!' and then she added, 'They lift your face!' Jo had a look from a few yards off (she was getting into her car) and called out to say they looked great. Jackie and Jo were on their way to the ASK Italian restaurant in Burgess Hill, and had rung my doorbell in case I could come too. Unfortunately I'd just finished eating a cooked lunch. A pity. I was now absolutely in the mood to join them.

Before that, I'd been in Waitrose speaking to two members of staff who knew me, and neither was embarrassed or at a loss when I drew attention to the new specs. Ditto when conversing with Eddie and Peter at the butchers. So the new eyewear must look natural. I hope so.

Of course, I can now show a few selfies. See what you think.


The frames have that trendy 'cat's eyes' shape. The colour is reddish-purple - similar to the strap of my Fitbit, albeit darker. There's no bling or other twiddly decoration to spoil the clean, sharp lines. The larger lenses mean that more of my surroundings are in clear focus, which should help avoid bumping my head or stubbing my toes so much. They also make my big nose seem less obvious.

At the moment I think I look like a high-powered PA, or a no-nonsense schoolteacher. Someone confident and pushy. That's not bad, but it might be off-putting to some! We'll see.

Incidentally, my hair stylist didn't go mad with her scissors a few days ago. That severe fringe line is my own misguided work. I made the mistake of trimming a few strands myself, so that they didn't go into my eyes. Silly me! I was in a rush to go out, cut too much off, and didn't feather the result to soften it. Yes, it looks awful. What a good thing the new glasses will distract the gaze from my fringe, as well as from my nose!

I'll just have to let my fringe grow again, and then face the music with Morgan (my stylist since 2009) who has chided me before about tinkering with my fringe line. She's right. But I seem never to learn.

Monday, 15 October 2018

The long, slow Grand National

Honestly, following the arcane twists and turns of the Brexit negotiations - which are at last coming to a decisive head - is like watching a horse race like the Grand National in slow motion. We all know there is going to be a gigantic pile-up at the final jump, the horses and jockeys losing their nerve or misjudging the height of the fence, or stumbling into the water on the other side. With casualties. All to be watched and replayed and analysed. Will anything at all make it to the finishing post? Impossible to say.

I'm tempted to say: who cares? The negotiations have been done under wraps, away from public interference and intervention. I imagine only a small inner clique within the government, some civil servants sworn to secrecy, and of course the Queen, really know what will be unveiled during the next few days. Everyone else, including Her Majesty's Opposition and business leaders, will have to wait and see.

Will we be delighted or dismayed?

Just relieved. When there is no public participation in the shaping of a deal, you lose interest in it, and just want to see the long, slow agony come to an end with some kind of definite result. Actually moving forward into the post-Brexit phase is now the most important thing. Whatever the terms of getting out, ordinary people need to know how all this will impact on them. Whether, for instance, it will be easy or difficult to take a holiday in France or Spain or Greece in 2019.

People like me, who don't go abroad, may ride the upheaval with little damage. In fact, so far as I can guess, the fallout from Brexit will hardly affect me, apart from predictable rises in certain prices, and extra taxation. And to compensate, I will experience the changes and new freedoms Brexit will bring about. I will enjoy them all within my remaining lifetime. But other people I know might be very inconvenienced.

At least the end game is near, and one will soon know what those problems will be. It's like an undiagnosed illness: you worry yourself to death about it while all the tests are done. You fear the very worst. It's a relief to finally know the facts, because then some definite things can be done to alleviate the situation and adapt to it.

Have the government been a bunch of amateurs in these negotiations? Impossible to judge. I have no confidence that Her Majesty's Opposition would have been more competent, for all the noises they make. I do think that a better political team could have been put together, and I don't mean a team made up of ambitious flamboyant figureheads full of self-interest. I admire Theresa May for her dogged determination to do her best, and stick to principles, but it's obvious that we can't detach ourselves neatly from a forty-year union without pain and destruction, whatever the advantages. I think she is too principled, too stubborn, too dogmatic. Those things command respect in many quarters, but they won't do.

What would Napoleon have done? That's always a good question. He would have done something bold and forthright. If I had the reins of power I would go for broke. I would offer Northern Ireland the chance to become an independent country, or become one with the Irish Republic. Surely all persons across the Irish Sea are, first and foremost, Irish and no doubt proud of it, and only secondarily UK citizens. Let Northern Ireland have a referendum to decide where it wants to go. Organised before Christmas. I think the outcome would be a United Ireland (hurrah!) and no border issue for the rest of the UK to worry about.

Yes, the UK would be smaller, and very likely there would also be an independent Wales and Scotland within a few years. Why not? Why is 'defending the Union' such a sacred cow?

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Get ready for a new face

Where has my leisure gone? The time to do anything? (Like blogging)

I returned from holiday on the 4th October, and will depart again in a week's time. In between I seem to have done nothing except catch up on almost four weeks' washing and ironing, processing and publishing a boatload of holiday photos, meeting friends not seen for a while, and attending a series of necessary appointments.

Here's the full list up to the end of this week:

5th  Pilates; then a long lunch with friends (called them the A Team).
6th  Evening meal with friends at a bistro (the B Team).
8th  Beauty salon (electrolysis); evening meal and cards with friends (the C Team).
9th  Evening meal with friends at a bistro (The D Team).
10th  Optician: eye test.
11th  Hair salon: cut and blow-dry.
12th  Dentist: check-up (all OK); pilates; then a long lunch with friends (The A Team again).
13th  Winter flu jab; evening quiz plus meal with friends at a village hall (The E Team).
15th  Beauty salon (electrolysis); evening meal and cards with friends (The C Team again).
16th  Volvo dealer: two new front tyres to be fitted, and new wipers all round.
17th  Optician: precise fitting of new glasses.
18th  All day far from home, seeing a friend (The F Team).
19th  Pilates; then a long lunch with friends (The A Team yet again); evening quiz plus meal with friends at the golf club (The G Team).

There are other friends or groupings of friends - call them the H, I and J Teams - that I would have liked to see, but couldn't fit in. Such as my friend Emma and cousin Rosemary, both in Kent.

That's a lot of socialising and medical stuff. And there's more; I had to stay in for a couple of deliveries ordered from Amazon. And I've been devoting time to walking around the village and elsewhere to ensure that I get in my 10,000 steps a day. Thank goodness I gave up attending Slimming World. Thank goodness I'm not addicted to watching TV.

I'm sure there are much busier people, but I feel quite busy enough!

And there's even more. I long to wash my caravan down - it's a bit grimy from its West Country tour. I need to mow my lawns front and rear. I need to do some weeding, bush trimming and lawn edging. I need to lop a third off the height of my long rear hedge... I don't think much of this is going to get done before I depart for South Wales and then the New Forest. Oh well, hey ho.

One thing I've done may prove controversial. That eye test revealed that my existing lenses won't do any longer. Both eyes have become more long-sighted since the last eye test in January 2016. The difference, as demonstrated on Specsavers' amazing computerised machines, was marked. I've been compensating. I really need new lenses.

And new frames. Sadly, the gold metal frames I've been using for a very long time are no longer fashionable (if they ever were) and I can't get an exact replacement, either at Specsavers nor anywhere else. I haven't needed to pay more, but I've had to go for something quite different in frame style and colour.

I'm satisfied that I won't look daft in them, and that they will certainly be modern and trendy; but I will not look the same as I used to. New glasses can greatly alter one's facial appearance: I think this will shortly be true of me.

As you can see already from my list of appointments and meetups above, I will collect these new glasses on Wednesday 17th, and from that moment I will step out in the world as a new and unfamiliar woman. A bit like the new Dr Who. Alice (whom I see next day) will be the first friend with the opportunity to pass judgement. I hope she isn't overcome with shock and dismay. I hope she'll commend my choice. I hope the new glasses are a wow at whatever place we lunch at. But I'm not really sure what other people will think. I may of course obtain an immediate verdict at Waitrose, and then at the butchers, before I drive home. If the people who know me there goggle, and are lost for words, then I'll know the worst.

I wish I could supply a sneak preview, but (can you believe it?) I forgot to take a selfie while wearing the demo frames at Specsavers last week. Fancy forgetting to do that! Not at all like the usual me! I must have been in a right tizz. So everyone must await the first shots, later on the day of collection.

Friday, 5 October 2018

The end of an era

I've had to make up my mind that when I go on holiday it will always be impossible to blog on any kind of regular basis. The photography gets in the way. The hours needed to process my shots normally rule out blogging about anything. It's a time issue, as simple as that. But I'm home again now - for a short while anyway, before my next (and final) jaunt for 2018 - and blogging can resume. And there's a fair bit to say.

This latest holiday marked a big turning-point in my caravan holidays. There were changes, some of them small. But there were two biggies. Those first.

Every autumn, ever since 2012, and excepting only 2013, I have booked events at the Appledore Book Festival in North Devon. I did so again this year, although I booked fewer events than last year because I not only wanted to cut down on the overall cost, I also wanted to free up time so that I could actually get around and 'have a holiday' while in the area. Last year I ended up going to fourteen or so events during the Festival week and found myself absolutely tied to Appledore. Indeed, some people there thought I must be a local resident, and were lining me up for Festival duties this year! I wasn't going to have that: so I decided I'd show less of my face, and not get in touch with anyone in advance. I'm not saying that getting deeply immersed in the Festival couldn't have been fun, but I don't like being part of any team, nor being under any obligation, and certainly not under anybody's direction. I was on holiday: end of story.

I loved attending those fourteen events last year - especially the ones which were mostly a social get-together with local people I'd got to know. And all the time with various Book World celebrities on hand. There was such a buzz all the time. And it was an equally great pleasure to bump into other Festival-goers in the quaint streets of maritime Appledore, so often that you got to recognise and talk to each other.

But this year was different. I felt much less involved. I booked only half a dozen events, and ended up skipping most of them - though most definitely not the VIP Dinner for Friends of the Appledore Book Festival. That was at a newly-opened restaurant on the waterfront - The Royal George - and this sequence of pictures will show how lively it was.


Yes, that's me with authors Kate Mosse and Simon Mayo. Here they are in animated conversation.


The lady fascinated by Simon Mayo was called Sue. She got her dearest wish, a picture or two with the famous BBC Radio presenter.


I was sat between Sue and another lady called Joy, who was one of the Festival organisers. Kate Mosse took this one of us with my phone.


Festival patron Jeremy Vine, another major Radio and TV presenter, was his usual ebullient self. He always impresses me by listening carefully to ordinary people at these events, but of course he can be a performer as well. 


Here he makes a speech of thanks for the night's event.


No, he wasn't looking at me and saying, 'And the Festival wouldn't be complete without Lucy Melford, our staunch supporter of so many years' standing', although he seems to be doing so in the shot. Though who knows, perhaps he thought it!

The food was excellent. It was a great evening all round. But it was almost the only event I attended. The Festival week turned out to be uniformly sunny and warm, and I found myself much more eager to meet up with friends from Guernsey (who were touring the South West), or to explore the area ever more deeply, than to sit indoors and listen to an author giving a talk about his or her latest book, no matter how interesting that might have been. 

There had been a change. I still loved meeting up with people I knew, and seeing all these authors close up, and my appreciation of pretty places like Appledore hadn't diminished one bit. But I'd got into a routine. It was suddenly clear that I needed to do things differently.

It didn't help that I saw nothing of my best local friend there, Jayne. I bumped into a lady walking her dog Callie on the day Jayne was up in London, but that was all. And with Jayne unable to see me, I didn't make a great effort to seek out anyone else. 

Later in my holiday, when now in eastern Dorset - it was on a lovely evening at Arne, specifically the beach at Shipstal Point, a peaceful spot on beautiful Poole Harbour - I saw that my annual visits to the Appledore Book Festival had run their course, and that I needed a break from them. I'd still want to visit North Devon every year, but no longer at that time in the Autumn. 

If I could come at all. There was another factor. The other biggie. Phil and Ann at Higher Darracott Farm, where I'd been pitching my caravan every year since 2009 - so 2018 was my tenth year - had announced that in 2019 they intended to put their property on the market, sell up, and downsize. If they found a buyer quickly, my visit to them in the first half of 2019 would therefore be my last. Oh no...

Of course, I'd realised for a long time that one day they would give the Farm a rest, but the announcement upset me for the rest of my stay, and made me feel very sad. In the privacy of my caravan I even had a little cry. I was full of sentiment. 

It would be the breaking of a long and cherished connection. And since I associated my September visits to them with the Appledore Book Festival, the loss of the Farm as a place to go to seemed to signal a necessary end to my Festival visits too. 

The mould had been broken. 

With future years in mind, I did look around for an alternative place to go, but Higher Darracott Farm had been the best original choice for my needs, and still was. 

I didn't think I'd want to come once the Farm was in new hands. Nor would be able to. The new owners might be lovely people, but if they were minded to enhance the place as a holiday destination, then the caravan field would probably be sacrificed in favour of more self-catering. The existing caravan pitches were strung out along the west side of a long barn. If that barn were converted to self-catering units - and it was an obvious thing to do - then the view from them, complete with Lundy on the horizon, mustn't be blocked by the rear ends of any caravans. They'd all have to go. 

I'd have to pitch elsewhere, and not in the immediate vicinity. After getting over the initial upset, and in a positive frame of mind, I thought I could 'do' North Devon from one of the caravan sites between Barnstaple and Ilfracombe, which would at least give me easy access to the beaches at places like Woolacombe, magnificent coastal walking, and make Exmoor easier to reach. 

But North Devon would no longer be my main caravan destination of the year. It would become just one stage in a grand annual West Country Tour that would have Cornwall as its new primary objective. 

So, I would make the very most of my last stay with Phil and Ann, and then completely redesign my caravanning year.

Did I say that there were other, smaller, changes? 

One was of course the urge to walk as much as possible, and not laze around. The Fitbit I bought at the end of August could have been a nine day wonder, to be discarded once the novelty had worn off. But that hasn't proved to be the case at all. I now have a daily need to walk at least 10,000 steps. This is enough to establish a basic level of fitness. The moment when my Fitbit vibrates and gives me a firework display - whenever the day's 10,000 step target is reached - still gives me a thrill. It's a personal achievement. Even if I've done nothing else that's noteworthy that day, I've done this. So every day can now be a Day of Success.

And I do feel fitter. It's clearly doing me good. My resting heart rate has definitely reduced, and I now find myself constantly looking for ways to be on my feet, and building up the step total for the day. I'm currently averaging around 11,000 steps a day, but often do better. This was the result for two days ago, on the very last full day of my holiday:


Drilling down into the statistics the Fitbit app provided, I could see how my resting heart rate had slowed down while on holiday, indicating greater fitness:


And my calorie burn continued to be much greater than it was pre-Fitbit:


Once back home - this morning, in fact - I weighed myself, to see whether all this extra exercise might have actually got some weight off. I wasn't expecting any weight loss at all. I'd got accustomed to having afternoon tea and cake (though without exceeding Slimming World limits) on most days - the exercise fuelling the need for refreshment, so to speak - and reckoned that any extra calories burned would be balanced by extra calories gained by scoffing a slice of sponge cake. 

But I was wrong. The walking had make a difference. My weight on the morning I left home on 10th September was 84.9kg (13 stones 6 pounds), and this morning (after returning yesterday) it was 83.2kg (13 stones 1 pound) - so a 5 pound loss while on holiday, despite quite a lot of cake! And really all down to nudging from that device on my wrist. Many was the late afternoon, or sunset, or dusky evening, that I went out walking for half and hour, just to reach that 10,000 step target. On one night in South Devon, I did it in the rain! (And astonished myself, that a gadget, and the desire to hit a target, had made me do it)     

One more small thing to mention. I junked the old (and somewhat shabby) cutlery in my caravan and replaced it with this shiny new 16-piece stainless-steel set. In its own way, a bit of a landmark, as I will explain. 


I was in Wroes department store in Bude, and spotted these on a stand. There were several designs. You could buy any item singly, as many as you required. I decided on just four of each sort - there was only me in the caravan, and four would be quite sufficient - and in this traditional style. 

There was nothing cheap or lightweight about these knives, forks and spoons. I was impressed with their finish and solidity. Much nicer than what I'd been using! 

Even nicer was the price per item. Just £1. So the entire set cost me only £16. Apparently a cutlery salesman kept bringing them in as free samples, and so Wroes sold them at a small profit. But what a bargain for me. I saw something similar in Goulds department store in Dorchester a few days later, but at £3 a piece, not £1. The normal price per item for only slightly more stylish cutlery, if you buy it singly and not as a big boxed set, is more like £7. 

So I have changed my caravan cutlery for something more impressive. It's another 'end of era' situation. The old knives, forks and spoons had had a long history, being first been used in the caravan (and it was the first caravan, not my current one) way back in 2002. And they hadn't been new even then. M--- had provided them. After she stopped caravanning regularly with me in 2009, and then stopped completely in 2010, she let me keep them. I carried on using them. Until now. They too had reached a natural end, replaced by something new, different, and nicer to use. And yet this too was an occasion for sadness. One more relic of our time together had now gone. 

I often think about those caravan holidays with M---. We went to many places, including Scotland. Even as far as the Pyrenees in France. The pattern of those holidays was different to what it became later, from 2009, when I started to caravan alone. 

And now the pattern will be different again.