Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Life goes on.

Our garden, but the grassy area isn't ours.
This year has been a bit of a challenge at times, (understatement). We've decided to eliminate some of the stress by taking our house off the market. I'm actually very happy with this decision as I had mixed feelings about moving in the first place. Our new neighbours are delighted as they didn't want us to move. But it has been really upsetting that the reason our house isn't selling is because of our garden situation. For those who don't know, we found out a year after we moved in that the bottom part of our garden doesn't belong to us, it belongs to the owners of a small industrial estate located at the bottom of the garden. We had to sign a lease which states that we can use the land indefinitely. It's been like this for over 30 years, but we weren't told about it when we bought the house. It seems unfair that we are being penalised for something we knew nothing about. Still, life is unfair at times.

A photo of me on a school trip to Hadrian's wall, shared by a school friend.
Still, it hasn't been all bad. At the end of July I was able to return to Scotland to attend a reunion of the Musselburgh Grammar Class of 1968. We were all turning 60 this year and a couple of my old schoolmates had decided to celebrate by organising the reunion. Roughly half of those eligible attended. A few were not able to attend as sadly they are no longer with us.

Friends who were at the same primary school as me.
I had a lovely time catching up with old friends and finding out what everyone had been up to. I've become friends on Facebook with some of them and there is talk of having another one in two years time, which will be fifty years since we all started at the Grammar School. The sad fact is that leaving it for another ten years at our age, could result in a few more not being able to make it. I even got to meet, 'the one that got away', and realised that it was probably for the best. The reunion was followed by a lovely weekend of catching up with family and other non-school friends.

August has also been a great month as we had our annual WOAPA DAY, which I always thoroughly enjoy. This year was no exception. For anyone new to my blog, I'm part of the WOAPA Adult Singing Group, which meets every Wednesday evening, during term time only. Every August, to give us our WOAPA fix, Brian and Lou, organise a day, usually a Sunday, when we meet and learn some songs on a theme, which we then perform in the evening for family and friends. This year's theme was Best of Broadway musicals. It is also an opportunity for those of us aspiring Diva's, (ME) to sing as part of a duet, or larger group, something we don't usually get to do with WOAPA. This year I performed a duet with Gail, the girl I sang with last year. We performed Carole King's, 'You've Got a Friend', from the musical, Beautiful, which is about her life and work. There was also a very special performance from a pair of sisters, one of whom is normally very shy and reserved, and it was very emotional seeing her being so brave.

WOAPA day wouldn't be the same without a surprise guest. Who can forget last year's special performance by Shirley Bassey, alias Louis Raschke. This time it was the turn of Dolly Parton, singing the iconic '9 to 5'. I was very jealous of her/his, legs, but I wouldn't have been able to walk in those high heels she/he wore.

I also managed to get a little bit of writing done. At Cogges, we sell a book about the places used as locations in Downton Abbey. But this book was published before they began filming at Cogges. I was asked to produce a double-sided leaflet about the filming of Downton Abbey at Coggges, to be inserted into the book and it is now part of the book. That cheered me up.

So, all in all, this year isn't turning out too badly. It's had its lows, but also some memorable highs, and hopefully, there's still more to come as i still have my Popstar experience and my simulated skydive to come.

That's all for now, I wonder what the topic of my next blog will be? Meanwhile I hope you'll enjoy watching this video of Gail and I singing our duet.

Photographs Isabel's own or shared by permission of Diane Iverson Mullinger.

Video, courtesy of Diane Iverson Mullinger.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

You couldn't make it up.

Well, 2016 is certainly turning out to be quite an 'adventurous' year. But certainly not what I had anticipated. It's been a few weeks since I last posted a blog, but not because I had nothing to write about; quite the opposite.

Plan for May, June and July.

19th May Visit of Countess of Wessex, Cogges.
21st May Popstar Experience.
2nd June Exam
1st July 12 night Mediterranean Cruise.
19th July re-scheduled Popstar experience.

What actually happened.

As I've already written a blog about it, you know that the visit of the Countess of Wessex happened, and was a very special day. But then, first of all, my Popstar Experience was postponed. Due to 'unforseen circumstances', the camera man wasn't available, so it was mutually agreed that it wouldn't go ahead on the 21st and I re booked for a later date. So I threw myself into studying for my exam.

 My exam went well, in that I felt able to answer the questions, and I left the examination hall feeling quite euphoric. Things were a bit stressful as my hubby had resigned and we were trying to sell our house, but at least we had the cruise to look forward to.

Then on Tuesday 28th June, three days before we were due to go on our cruise, I went along to feed the cats at Cogges. Bonnie and Patsy, the two females were there, but Clyde, the young tom, wasn't. This wasn't unusual, as he was the one who was the least friendly and who tended to spend most of his time off hunting.

After I'd fed the other two, I made my way down from the loft above the stables where the cats live, only to see Clyde sitting on the grass a few feet away. As I approached him, instead of running away, as was his wont, he sat there meowing quite insistently. Then after a couple of minutes, he set off in the direction of the stables, stopping occasionally to look back, as if to check that I was following.

When he entered the loft, he made his way to the back of the room and sat down, completely ignoring the food I'd put down. By this time I was beginning to suspect that something was wrong. He let me get very close to him and I could see that his breathing wasn't right. I ran outside and called on one of my colleagues to come and give me her opinion. She agreed that he didn't seem right and that we should take him to the vet as soon as possible.

I stayed with him while she went to fetch a cat basket. I decided to try to get hold of him ready to put him in the basket. I picked up a large towel and put it over him and then proceeded to try and pick him up. Clyde wasn't used to being handled, plus we have since realised, he was in pain and probably feeling quite frightened. I wrapped him in the towel and picked him up. He struggled, but I held on to him tightly, but before I knew what was happening, he bit my right index finger twice and his claw pierced the back of my left hand. By this time, my colleague had appeared so we placed him in the basket and she hurried off with him, while I wrapped my finger, which was bleeding quite profusely, in the towel, and followed on behind.

I stopped briefly in Reception to put an elastoplast on my hands. Meanwhile, the Director of Cogges, who had looked in the basket, set off quickly on foot to the vet, saying that speed was of the essence. I followed on, but when we got to the vet, who was only a few minutes walk away, it was too late, Clyde was gone. The vet thought that he'd suffered some kind of trauma and that he'd had a clot which had entered either his heart or his lungs and that was what had killed him. This was obviously a great shock, but what was to follow was an even bigger one.

On the advice of the vet, I took myself off to minor injuries where they washed out the wounds and dressed them. Meanwhile, the emergency paramedic who was treating me had contacted the hospital and they told her to start me on a course of antibiotics and tell me to report to the hospital at 10am the following morning.

What followed next took me completely by surprise, by 4pm on the Wednesday I was wearing a hospital gown and those lovely surgical stockings, and being wheeled into theatre to have an operation, under a general anaesthetic, to cut open my finger and the back of my left hand, so they could be deeply cleaned, or debrided, the technical term, as both had become infected. In fact, by the time I was taken to theatre, I could see the infection tracking up my arm and it had almost reached my elbow.

Unfortunately, because of this we had to cancel our cruise, for the next to weeks, instead of sailing around the Mediterranean and soaking up the sun, I was visiting the hospital and my GP and having my hubby act as my nurse, helping me to redress my wounds. Over two weeks later, I'm still having to redress them daily. They're getting better, but I'm still feeling a bit emotional and shocked by this turn of events.

When my hubby was telling a work colleague about it, she said, "You couldn't make this up." I wish I was writing about it as fiction, but unfortunately it is true.

We did manage to get away for the weekend to the Isle of Wight and are hoping to go away for a week later on. It won't be the cruise, but I'm thankful that I'm still here. Apparently cat bites are even worse than dog bites.

Has this accident put me off cats? No way. It wasn't his fault and if either Bonnie or Patsy ever have to go the vet, I would do the same thing again, only this time I'd make sure I had a pair of thick gloves on. After all, better safe than sorry.

This is no where near the worst experience I've ever had, but it's certainly been the most bizarre one.

During this time, I found out that I'd passed my exam, but didn't feel much like celebrating.

At least I had my Popstar experience to look forward to-right? Wrong. On the morning of July 19th,
I received an email from Songmaker to say that when they'd gone into the studio that morning, they had discovered that their mixing desk had blown and that they were having to re-schedule all their appointments for that day. As I've said, you couldn't make this stuff up. The good news is, not only are they giving me an extra hour free when, or if, I get round to doing it, they are also going to set it up in one of their recording studios in Oxfordshire, so I won't have to trail up to London.

I don't know what lesson I'm supposed to be learning, but I'll be glad when this year is over.

What's going to happen next? Watch this space, who knows? I certainly don't!

Photos Isabel's own, except the popstar experience, courtesy of :- http://ow.ly/2IZ5302xnTf

Friday, 20 May 2016

My adventures continue:- A royal visit.

Cogges Heritage Trust is celebrating its fifth year of re-opening the manor and farm. From a shaky start it's gone from strength to strength. In fact, I heard that we are about to welcome our 200,00th visitor. Not bad considering we only had 11,000 visitors the first year we opened.

To celebrate, Cogges hosted a lunchtime reception for all their volunteers and supporters, to which a special guest, HRH the Countess of Wessex, was invited. The schedule of the day was very tightly planned. The Countess was coming to plant a tree and unveil a plaque commemorating the day. The royal party were running late, but a marquee had been set up on the lawn in front of the house for the reception and we passed the time enjoying canapes and drinks. I was really touched as many of my fellow volunteers took time to come and wish me well as I had a special role to play in the day.

Finally, the Countess arrived. As the helicopter set down in the field beside the manor house, all the guests standing by the wall to watch the landing were covered in newly cut grass stirred up by the helicopter's rotary blades. I had to get my hubby to brush me down as I was covered in grass.

The Countess made her way into the Walled Garden where she was greeted by some local dignitaries. She was then given a short history of the site, a tour of the garden and a demonstration of a 'vegetable growing session', by some children. She then proceeded into the orchard where she was supposed to watch a wool weaving session by some more children, before planting an apple tree in the orchard. But as we were all already lined up to watch the tree planting, much to the horror of our Director, Colin, Judy, the Chairman of the trust, took her to plant the tree first. She said later that she couldn't just walk past us all, despite giving Colin a near heart attack.

While this was all going on, I made my way to the dairy lawn, where I was to wait to be introduced to the Countess and invited to explain to her how Cogges was used as a location for Downton Abbey, i.e. as Yew Tree Farm. As you can imagine, I was very nervous. But I'd been briefed by Colin, that she was a big Downton Abbey fan, and it was just meant to be 'two Downton fans having a chat.' As I'd only been given five minutes, to talk, I wasn't sure how that was going to work.

After what seemed like an eternity, the Countess and her entourage emerged from the orchard, but before they reached me, the Countess stopped to look at our Vorwerk chickens, and when she bent over and talked to them, I knew that it was going to be OK.

Finally, my big moment came. Judy introduced me and told her that I was going to talk about Downton, at which point she replied, 'I love Downton'. As we walked towards the farmyard, I explained about some of the changes the Downton art department had to make, including the making of a false dovecot to hide a security light. I showed her a photograph of it and she said that it was lovely and it was a shame that we couldn't keep it. I also told her about an amusing incident, concerning one of our Cotswold Lion sheep, that occurred on the first day of filming, , which she thankfully did find funny. You'll have to come on one of my tours to find out what.

As we made our way over to the house, I explained how they transformed the kitchen into the interior of Farmer Drewe's cottage, and then my part in the day was over. I almost got away without embarrassing myself. I say almost. As we were walking towards the farmyard, a sheet of paper containing my notes fell out of my folder and onto the ground and Judy had to bend down and pick them up. Oh well.

In the kitchen, the Countess was introduced to some more volunteers and helped make some welsh cakes, before making her way to the marquee where Judy made a speech about the Cogges journey so far, and announced that we had been awarded the Best Team of Volunteers award by the OVCA. Judy then invited  the Countess to unveil the plaque. The Countess was then presented with one of our mugs depicting Cogges as Yew Tree Farm, which contained some fudge made by volunteers. Finally, it was time for the Countess to return to the helicopter and go on her way.

It was a really special day for all of us at Cogges. There was a lovely atmosphere and I was once again very touched by the support I received from my colleagues, both before and after my big moment. I'm so proud of them all and of what we have helped Cogges to achieve over the past five years.

Now on to my next adventure.

Photo's Isabel's own. Apart from:-

Sophie in the garden and kitchen, and the helicopter which are courtesy of Cogges at


Footnote. Reminder to self. Next time don't wear brand new shoes. I ended up walking home in my stocking soles as my feet were killing me.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Slow down. Not blooming likely.

2016 is shaping up to be a funny old year. I read on line that so far this year, 35 well known celebrities have passed away. It seems that hardly a week, or sometimes even a day, goes by without hearing of another person passing away. The passing of Victoria Wood really affected me and made me think, as she was only 2 years older than me. But this has made me even more determined to keep on making the most of my life, and doing as much as I can, for as long as I'm able.

A couple of people I know, have recently commented that they love reading my blogs and miss them when I don't. This came as a complete revelation to me. I'm really pleased, but a bit surprised, that anyone is interested in what I get up to. I'm just having fun. I was also chatting to a friend who was having coffee at Cogges with someone I didn't know. My friend started telling her companion about all the things I do and remarked that she didn't know how I fitted it all in. I may not get paid, but I certainly do seem to fill my time. But what can I say? I love a challenge.

Along with volunteering at Cogges, I'm currently studying towards a BA in Humanities with the Open University, as well as writing my blog and singing with the choir.

Volunteering at Cogges certainly keeps me on my toes, but I wouldn't have it any other way. My duties used to be, feeding the three farm cats, five days a week, other volunteers feed them at the weekend, before I'm accused of animal neglect, and once or twice a week, manning the Welcome (ticket) desk and shop. Last year I added being a Downton Tour guide and story teller to my CV.
This year, so far, I've added nursery rhyme singing to the list.

During the February half-term, I led some nursery rhyme singing sessions which were very well received, especially when I had the children performing Sleeping Bunnies and Dingle, Dangle Scarecrow, with actions. Then on Easter Monday I read the Tale of Peter Rabbit followed by a repeat performance of Sleeping Bunnies but singing Little Peter Rabbit instead of the scarecrow song. I was asked to do this again a week later on the Wednesday. The Easter Monday sessions were quite well attended, but the following Wednesday, I couldn't do Sleeping Bunnies for health and safety reasons, as the room was jam packed with little kiddies and their parents and/or grandparents, there was barely room for the kids to stand, let alone jump around.

The Downton Abbey tours are also going really well. Much to my delight, I've been applauded at the end of my tours and even given tips, of the monetary kind that is, not advice. I love doing the tours as I get to talk about two of my passions, Cogges and Downton Abbey. We recently had 2 tour groups, totalling about 80 people, arrive around about the same time. There were meant to be 3 of us to do the tours, but someone didn't turn up. It was quite a challenge, but with a bit of organising, we managed to cope and sent them all on their way, happy and saying how much they'd enjoyed their visit.

Finally, it looks like my birthday celebrations are probably going to go on all year. I've already booked my Popstar Experience and once that's done, I'll see about booking the simulated skydive experience. Somehow, I'll try to fit in my studies, and I'm  definitely looking forward to having a break over the summer.

Well, I can't sit here writing all day, I've got things to do and people to see. You'll probably hear all about it in my next blog.

Photos courtesy of:-

Isabel's own plus:-

2016 https://www.facebook.com/Powerquotes-770222523110316/?fref=ts

Dingle dangle scarecrow http://ow.ly/4mYCmz

Old lady https://www.facebook.com/ShutUpImStillTalking/photos

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Turning 60.

Well I've no idea how this happened, but it's 2016 and I've just turned 60. I know it's a cliché, but I don't feel it. Although to be honest, I don't know how 60 is supposed to feel. But I was very relieved when I woke up on the day and discovered that nothing had changed. I still had all the teeth I'd had the day before, no bits had fallen off or dropped any further, nor did I spot any new grey hairs, although that may be due to the fact I'd had it coloured a few days earlier. They say 60 is the new 40, but I'm more active now than I was in my 40's.

How times have changed.

My maternal grandmother was about 52 when I was born. She passed away at the grand old age of 86, and to me she seemed not to change in appearance in the intervening years, although I do remember her as getting frailer. To me she was always a white haired old lady, with incredibly soft skin, who smelled of lavender. I certainly don't remember my grandmother jumping off a mountain or flying in a para glider or any of the other activities I've been doing over the past 4-5 years.

Like Sharon Stone, I've been through quite a lot in my life, all related to Lupus. When I turned 50, my sister-in-law remarked that she didn't think I would ever reach that age. Well here I am 10 years on and have just reached another milestone. I've suffered child bereavement, serious life threatening illness, battled depression and yet here I am. Not only am I still here, I'm still determined to enjoy life and have as many experiences as possible while I still can. I'm extremely lucky that I have a family that support me. The phrase, "What's Mum up to now?", must often go through their minds.

Add caption
I read an article recently in the Huffington Post, explaining why it's better to spend your money on experiences, rather than 'things', a sentiment I  wholeheartedly agree with. It explains that experiences give us memories that stay with us. To celebrate my birthday, I chose to go and see Wet Wet Wet in concert in their hometown of Glasgow. That was certainly an experience. The atmosphere in the large venue was amazing. Marti Pellow almost didn't need to be there, as the 11,000 strong audience sang along to almost every song. I was surprised to find out that we had 'hot tickets', and we were given a signed programme and photograph of the band. I'll certainly remember this experience.

Among the lovely gifts I received from my family are four experiences. Three of them I'm looking forward to, but the fourth one, I'm also slightly terrified of doing. I've received tickets to go and see Il Divo in concert, a spa day for two voucher, and a simulated skydiving experience, which, believe it or not, is not the one that's worrying me. The fourth voucher is for a popstar experience, where I get to go into a recording studio and record a song, I'm not sure, but I think there may be a video as well. eek. I'm over the moon about it, but also nervous at having to sing in front of the professional recording technicians. The song is also available as a down loadable mp3, which they place on their Songmaker chart.

Did I mention that I recently held a python.
According to my hubby, I've been complaining for a while that I need something to stretch myself, as if doing an Open University degree at my age isn't stretching enough. Well, this is definitely going to do that. But my hubby's right. I can't decide that I want my life to be an adventure, without stepping out of my comfort zone from time to time.

So watch this space. I will almost definitely be blogging about this and I might even share the link to the mp3.

For anyone who's interested, here's the link to the Huffington Post article.


Photos Isabel's own apart from

Sharon Stone:- courtesy of https://www.growingbolder.com/

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Behind closed doors at Cogges.

Neil and team with the new Cogges sign.
I'm a volunteer at Cogges Manor Farm in Witney. Every winter Cogges closes its doors for the season. Apart from the highly popular Christmas market and seasonal pantomime, the site is no longer filled with the happy sound of children playing or feeding the animals. But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing going on. Cogges is a seasonal site and the animals still need feeding and cleaning out, the house and garden need putting to bed for the winter and the fields and grounds need maintaining and improving. 

From November until March, when we open again, our lovely team of volunteers are busy, beavering away, working to make sure that Cogges continues to be the special place we all love.

The woodland volunteers have been busy coppicing, trimming overhanging trees in the car park and painting furniture in the barn, amongst other things. It’s an ongoing project and there’s always something to be done.

Every Friday, with a few exceptions, our enthusiastic garden volunteers have been busy, pruning, tidying, weeding, transplanting, digging and composting, and are ready to go, “as soon as the weather says it’s time to start”.

Rag rug
Meanwhile in the dining room, the craft team have been meeting on a regular basis making items to sell in the shop and at the craft fair in May. Last year they knitted squares which were sewn together to create a beautiful blanket and this year they are planning on making a patchwork quilt. A rag rug and cushion cover, which ,with the help of the public, young and old, has been made over the past two seasons, is now on display in the Victorian kitchen, along with a list of all those who have helped.

Louis enjoying his supper
Although the pigs left us at the end of the season, there were still plenty of animals to look after. Jonathan, Louis and Timmy, our pygmy goats, the guinea pigs and rabbits, not to mention our rare breed chickens and ducks, all had to be fed and watered and given the occasional cuddle; yes even the chickens. The goats miss the interaction with the public and jump up every time anyone walks past the paddock. Or maybe it’s just the pots of food they miss!

Barbary ducks enjoying the goats climbing frame.
We have had two sets of Barbary ducks join us, four black ones and some lighter lavender coloured ones. The black ones are in the same paddock as the goats and have been making good use of the goats’ climbing frame. Even the Pekin family of chickens have been testing their climbing skills on the wall behind their coop..

Patsy and Clyde
Patsy, Bonnie and Clyde, the three farm cats have become a bit tamer over the winter and hopefully our visitors will see a bit more of them out and about this year. We appear to have a visiting black and white cat and rumour has it that he and Bonnie are an item.

New look for cafe
The cafĂ© has been transformed, all the hard work of the new proprietors, Rob and Sarah from Coffeesmith in Witney and they are eager to welcome you to taste their locally sourced food.

Our new piglets
Well that’s a taster of what happens behind closed doors down on the farm. The Shetland ponies, Toffee and her son Treacle, have returned from their winter home. Two little sandy and black piglets have arrived. It’s time to open the doors and welcome back visitors, old and new. We look forward to seeing you.

You can find us at:- http://www.cogges.org.uk/

Photographs:- Isabel's own apart from Neil and team which is courtesy of Cogges.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Flawed, yet perfect.

One of the things I've battled with for most of my life is thinking that I needed to be perfect before people would accept and like me. Apart from being exhausting, not to mention impossible, all it did was stop me from letting anyone get too close. Over the past few years, I've actually been able to gradually stop feeling this way. I don't know if it is a feature of growing older or not, because as Johnny Depp puts it so eloquently, 'I don't know how to act my age, I've never been this old before.' Whatever the reason, it has certainly made life a lot easier.

But we don't live our lives in a vacuum, and we can't help but be affected by the actions of others. 

I recently had lunch with a friend who had been hurt by someone close to her. As we talked about the situation, she said that, 'Once a vase has been broken, it is never the same again.' While I agree with this statement, it doesn't mean that it has to be a negative thing. I believe that certain situations that seem to 'break us', can make us stronger and even better people because of it.This is something that I think is at least worth striving for.

I came across the following story on Facebook. I probably couldn't tell it any better myself, so I won't try. Besides it's not really my story to tell. But I really wanted to share it as I feel it contains a very important message.

An elderly Chinese man had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole which he carried across his neck.

One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the man bringing home only one and a half pots of water.

Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do. After 2 years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the man one day by the stream. "I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house."

The old man smiled, "Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side?" "That's because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them." "For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house."

Each of us has our own unique flaw. But it's the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding. You've just got to take each person for what they are and look for the good in them.

So, to all of my crackpot friends, have a great day and remember to smell the flowers on your side of the path! (Leo Petrik 2016. )

What a lovely story. I thought of my friend as I was reading it. But I do believe there's a time and place for things to happen. Sometimes, we need the distance of time, to be able look at a situation and realise that we can move on and be all the stronger for it. Life is complicated and sometimes we don't see the wider picture. We don't see the flowers by the wayside because we are so pre-occupied by our cracks. 

I also was struck by the arrogance of the 'perfect' pot, not an attractive quality.  

It's a serious subject, but I thought I'd end by sharing this cartoon. None of us are perfect, But I do believe that there can be situations which we're just perfect for, just like the cracked pot. We need to learn to embrace our flaws. As the caption says, none of us are perfect. But we each have our part to play.

Something to think about perhaps?

Johnny Depp photo courtesy of:- 

Cracked water jar story can be found at:- http://ow.ly/YghUz

No one is perfect:-