We arrived back in Cheltenham from our Thai holiday to sub zero temperatures and heavy snow in what was called "The Beast from the East". We were told this was caused by a climate phenomenon which occurred naturally from time to time when mild air was drawn up to the arctic and the jet stream then circulated cold air back over Siberia, across central Europe and the UK. This extreme weather then lasted for about a week followed by a rapid thaw followed by "The Pest from the West" when mild air from the Atlantic met with cold air turning to snow! I blame global warming!
The big news from us now is that we have finally decided to move out to New Zealand around the end of this year. This is not a problem for Sue as she holds dual NZ/UK citizenship. Because we are married I also qualify for permanent NZ residence but must apply for a visa and have begun the process with a view to completing the move before the end of the year.
Our destination in NZ will be Tauranga on the Bay of Plenty and you can read about the area on our last NZ visit in February last year.
We had established on that visit that property rental in Tauranga was within our means and further research has revealed that we would qulify for a NZ pension which they call superannuation. Our UK state pension would be transferred to the NZ government and our NZ super would then be fixed in $NZ and at current exchange rates would make us about $NZ150 a week better off. Our UK private pensions would still be subject to exchange rate risk and attract NZ income tax and there is no tax allowance in NZ unlike the UK where we do not pay any tax on any income up to just over £11,000. However the good news is that we would be exempt any NZ income tax for the first 4 years.
There is no capital gains tax in NZ and we could keep our UK investments for at least the first 4 years with tax free income but we will then face an increased cost of living although Tauranga currently compares pretty favourably with Cheltenham on most day to day living costs. A warmer climate will certainly reduce heating bills!
We have obtained estimates for shipping most of our furniture and belongings which thanks to containerisation has become more affordable. One expense I did not forsee was obtaining a residence visa which with police certificates, medical examinations and visa fees will leave little change out of £1,500, however we are looking forward to living down in "God's Own" so watch this space for our progress.
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The weather continued cold and wet as we travelled South once again to Somerset and Stogursey for house and cat sitting duties while daughter and family went off to Florida for the Easter break.
Before they set off we met them at Brymore Academy for the parents "fun run" round Chad's Hill. The pupils are encouraged to run Chad's Hill at least once a week which is a 2 mile circular road route and as number two grandson could not do it while recovering from a knee operation, number one granddaughter Eliza had promised to run it for him. She turned up complaining her leg hurt so we all walked round the course.
Living in Cheltenham we have become accustomed to the sound of police and ambulance sirens but in Stogursey the silence is rarely broken so we had trouble adjusting to the quiet! We walked down to the Babbling Brook pub at Shurton and the slide show above shows some scenes of the babbling brook.
A shopping trip to Taunton culminated in a visit to Eliza and Zac and their two cats Rupert and George. Rupert is an aristocat called a Burmilla, a breed which originated in the UK in 1981. It is a cross between the Chinchilla Persian and Burmese breeds and displays the affectionate nature of the latter. George is a black and white mog but Rupert keeps him in his place!
The Babbling Broook pub was visited on several occasions and we can recommend the Sunday carvery. There was no rush to get served. Instead you are invited to go to the servery table by table in the order you arrive. We both had the roast beef which was pink, lean and tender accompanied by the usual Yorkshire puddings and a selection of vegetable. The horseradish sauce made your nose run and your eyes water!
On one of the few sunny days during our stay we managed to walk up on the Quantocks. We began this particular walk at Hodders Combe car park at Holford and followed what used to be called Coleridge Way but seems to have been renamed The Green Path or visa versa. It is named Coleridge Way on the map but the waymarks and signposts call it the Green Path.
I had only ever been as far as Alfoxton Park previously so it was new territory once we began to climb up Pardlestone Hill which joins the Great Road. At the summit we turned right on the Packway and detoured slightly to the top of Beacon Hill at 310m from where the photos of the ponies were taken in the slide show below.
From here we headed downhill, once again in new territory to the junction with the Green Path and realised our mistake. We should have done this walk the opposite way round as this part was muddy and difficult with lots of ups and downs which took its toll on our unfit bodies. By the time we arrived back at Alfoxton Park I was panting and knackered!
The last photo on the slideshow, Smiths Combe, looks a really nice place for a summer picnic and could be approched more easily up the path from Higher Street on the A39.
Towards the end of April the weather briefly returned to more normal Spring temperatures and our friend Murdo McCleod arrived for a short stay. We walked over Cleeve Hill in shirt sleeves and glorious sunshine before enjoying a pint in the beer garden of the Rising Sun.
We took him down to see the Palmers then continued on the South Petherton, spending the night with the Hockeys in South Petherton and a session in the Brewers Arms before returning to Cheltenham.
On the way down we had called in to the Farm Shop on the M5 and bought some Barnsley Chops for some ridiculous price and wished we hadn't as they were tough as old boots. Never again. By the time we were back in Cheltenham the weather had returned to the previous cold temperatures so we needed coats for our walk over the Malverns. We had lunch at The Prince of Wales pub in Ledbury. Fine ales and good pub food at affordable prices in an olde world atmosphere.
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Early May sees the return of Cheltenham Jazz festival which this year saw record temperatures and sunshine throughout for a change.
We visited the pop-up jazz lounge of Empirical in Montpellier Courtyard. They are a jazz quartet composed of Nathaniel Facey (alto sax), Tom Farmer (double bass), Lewis Wright (vibraphone) and Shaney Forbes (drums) from London who have been together as a group since 2008.
The music they play is complex and seems to consist of compositions from each of the members. This is a unique contempory sound of contiually changing time signatures and tempo that makes it difficult for newcomers to jazz to understand. They would benefit from introducing a few jazz standards to their repertoire if only to demonstrate to lesser mortals the brilliance of their improvisation.
I was paticularly impressed with Shaney Forbes on drums whose timing was immaculate, especially when accompanying Nat Facey in a solo improvisation where he had every bar counted precisely and every break made at exactly the same time as the soloist. All the group demonstrate this empathy with each others playing but none more so than the drummer.
Tom Ibarra is an 18 year old French guitarist who featured at Cheltenham as a result of winning a competition. He played with a band who the festival programme gave us no clue as to who the participants were which consisted of keyboards, tenor sax, bass guitar and drums and of course he outshone the lot. Most of the stuff he plays are his own compositions which for someone who has had no formal training and can not read a note of music is in the jazz tradition of its founders.
He was considered proficient enough at the tender age of 16 to guest with Marcus Miller and also appeared this time in concert at Cheltenham with Courtney Pine.
Georgia Cecile cam doon fer the day frae Glasgie and gave us a nice set on the free stage in Montpellier gardens. She brought with her a trio including Euan Stevenson on piano with whom she collaborates in writing songs and performed a number of their compositions. Georgia studied classical piano and trained as a vocalist before graduating with First Class Honours in Music from Edinburgh Napier University in 2014.
She gave us two or three jazz classics like Cole Porters Love for Sale but Ella she ain't! Euan Stevensons improvisations were melodic and accomplished which we both enjoyed.
The London group Lydian Collective comprises Aaron 'Lazslo' Wheeler (keyboard), Todd Baker (guitar), Ida Hollis (bass) and Sophie Alloway (drums). They call themselves a jazz fusion group but in my opinion it is mostly funk and little jazz in what they play. Their music is precisely orchestrated and repetitious which becomes boring after half an hour of listening but there is no doubting their musicianship.
The star both in looks and ability is drummer Sophie Alloway.
Of course if you are three parts to the wind in the early evening after a blistering sunny day in Montpellier Park, all you need is a solid beat to get you bopping!
We had yet another cold spell then the following week it began to get warm again so we went for a walk to look at the Malvern bluebells.
|CLICK HERE TO SEE A DESCRIPTION OF OUR MALVERN WALK.|
The slide show below traces our walk. We had watched the BBC Young Musician of the Year the previous night when the final piece played was Edward Elgar's cello concerto. He probably walked this way through countryside which inspired him to write his Pomp and Circumstance marches and he was buried beside his wife down in Little Malvern to the South East of Black Hill.
The next day was even hotter so we decided to explore another section of the Three Choirs Way. Just to recap this is a long distance path which links the three Cathedral cities of Worcester, Hereford and Gloucester. It also runs along the spine of the Malverns where we were yesterday.
|CLICK HERE TO SEE A DESCRIPTION OF OUR 3 CHOIRS WALK.|
We watched the two Aviva Premiership semi-finals on the TV on the Saturday as the next weekend we will be at Twickenham for the final. Sarries beat Wasps and Exeter beat Newcastle as predicted so we will be supporting Executer Chiefs in the final and just hope we are not sitting behind a fan with his Red Indian headdress on obstructing our view!
Winter seemed to have finally come to an end so having been cooped up in the house for so long it was great to be able to get out walking again on the Sunday, this time close to Cheltenham up on Leckhampton hill on another section of the Cotswold Way.
|CLICK TO SEE A DESCRIPTION OF OUR LECKHAMPTON HILL WALK.|
The slide show below tracks the walk and depicts the lovely views across Cheltenham as well as an interesting view of the Devils Chimney from below which is kept in place by a dry stone support.
The end of the UK Rugby Union season is also the start of Summer and the temperature at Twickers was in the mid twenties and not conducive to good rugby. That was the case with the Aviva final where we sat on plastic seats in the hot sun to watch a dominant Sarries side defeat Exeter Chiefs 10-27. We felt for the players as we sweated but for them it must have been very tough. Mako Vunipola never looks happy and he looked knackered when he came off after a Man of the Match performance. The best side won on the day but not a game for either the spectators or the players.
The following day was just as hot and England were thumped at the same venue by a great Ba-Ba's side 45-63 in a great game of rugby. I know that England were without most of their star players from Exeter and Sarries but they must now face the Jarpies on their home turf where England have never won a test series. I don't hold out much hope.
You may have noticed a change in this page layout. The menu is fixed in position so you can see it wherever you are on the page and there is no side menu. However, if you align one of the slide shows with the menu it is hidden behind the slideshow. I have not yet figured out how to make the menu display over the slideshow.