Hardwick Hall with Dennis and Sandra

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Hardwick Hall


9.55am: We drove the (just under) 90-mile journey to Hardwick Hall today, to meet up with fellow lovers-of-old-buildings and all-things National Trust, Dennis and Sandra. We last visited here back in October 2010 for a Murder-Mystery evening with Ralph and Karen (BTW, the Butler DIDN’T do it! ๐Ÿ˜).

Hardwick is a spectacular Elizabethan house filled with rich furnishings and tapestries preserved by successive generations of the Devonshire family (thanks NT!) – you can read more HERE.

Although the Hall itself was still closed to everyone because of COVID-19, our plan was to look round the Gardens and surrounding land, as we’d never done that before.

We’re building up quite a ‘back-catalogue’ of our get-togethers with Dennis & Sandra, having explored the following, in the past few years…


Castle Howard (December 2019)
The Royal Armouries Museum (March 2019)
Bolsover Castle (October 2018)
Belton House (May 2018)
York (February 2018)
Burghley House (October 2017)
Hull (May 2017)
Leeds (February 2017)


(Click on the titles for more details)

It certainly looked like it was going to be a nice day for it! ๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž

Well, I thought it was artistic! ๐Ÿ˜
Click on the pic for a larger version

11.35am: When we arrived, it was already quite busy, and after bumping elbows, we were joining the short queue to get in! In typical NT efficiency, we were processed in the nicest possible way and soon examining the site-map for inspiration. Who needs foreign climes when you can enjoy days like these here in ‘good ol’ Blighty?!?! ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘

Pity the poor window-cleaner! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ
“I’m off to mow the back lawn – I may be some time…” ๐Ÿ˜‚

There is a lot to cover here and that’s without visiting the Hall, so best bring your walking-shoes. Bring a picnic too because providing it’s not too busy, there are quite a few picnic tables just inside the entrance. Not into picnics?, there’s cafรฉ and an ice-cream vendor too! Yummy! ๐Ÿค—

๐ŸŽต Here we go round the… ๐ŸŽต

Ever tasted mulberries? Well, Ann and I hadn’t! Dennis and Sandra pointed out the trees during our walk around, and so we sampled a few! If sweetness is measured on a scale of 1 to 10 – these scored 11! ๐Ÿ˜›

Sweeter than a sweet from Mr Sweet’s sweetie-jar!

After Nature’s sweetness came a call from the same source! ๐Ÿ˜ฃ (See what I did there?)…

…These days, the ‘new-normal’ dictates some compromises, and the Loos were having to be managed manually (so to speak!). Quite how the member of NT staff managed to do it so enthusiastically and efficiently – and with a smile, is beyond me! Her sole task was to determine which cubicles were empty and then announce them by their letter-designation – “Cubicle D, Sir please!” – a sort of Bog-Bingo without any prizes! ๐Ÿค”

12.15pm: After completing our Bingo round, it was off to the walled garden. And what a delight! Given the time of year and considering the NT is probably short on garden-volunteers – it looked stunning! Full of colour and not a weed in sight!

Lunch is served…

1.05pm: There’s something about eating outdoors isn’t there? Everything tastes nicer and if the weather is good, that’s a ‘Brucie-bonus’. Today, I even ate lettuce (surely the world’s most useless salad-component – it takes up so much space on the plate for so little return!!) ๐Ÿ˜‰

Walkies!

2.00pm: Time to walk off that lunch! Fortunately, there are quite a few to choose from here. We re-visited the map and headed off in the direction of ‘Lady Spencer’s Walk’. It all went horribly wrong in terms of the direction of travel with further signage (apart from the one above) cunningly concealed to test our natural sense of direction – and eyesight. Luckily Dennis and I were on the case, although I’m not sure I helped much, as my sense of direction only tends to work if I can get a GPS signal! After a couple of missteps resulting in us getting up-close-and-personal with a barbed-wire fence, we did eventually make it back to the car park.

“Anyone seen the car-park?”

3.05pm: It was time to say our goodbyes, compare elbows and our walking apps!

Not a bad distance and our speed clearly illustrated that this had been a slow stroll rather than a sweaty sprint! ๐Ÿ˜ฏ We had a super day catching-up, and we really only scratched the surface of the ‘walky bits’. We’ll be back again (hopefully before another ten years has passed) and maybe next time, the Hall will have re-opened as well!

You can see ALL our photos from today, and bypass my commentary using the link below…

Weekend with Ralph and Karen

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Friday


11.35am: Ralph and Karen arrived after a trouble-free journey from theirs. With hardly a moment to catch their breath, we whisked them off to The Old Forge for a pre-arranged lunch at 12.20. ๐Ÿ˜. We hadn’t been here for a while (July 2012 according to my Blog, but I definitely think we’d been more recently), but even with the restrictions of social-distancing, it was a great experience, however you choose to measure it – as good as we remember it! A great experience, and good to support a local business! ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘

2.15pm: We spent the rest of the afternoon in the garden soaking up the Sun. Boy! was it hot!! Apparently, the hottest day of the year so far and the third hottest on record according to the news. Here in Kettering, it was into the mid-30s… and extremely humid! ๐Ÿฅต๐Ÿฅต๐Ÿฅต๐Ÿฅต

Rating: 4 out of 5.

7.45pm: We eventually retreated to the coolness of the lounge and (literally) chilled-out for a few hours. Ann prepared a simple supper of cold meats (followed by a not-so-simple Baked Alaska) and we watched Triple Frontier on Netflix. Starring Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, and Pedro Pascal as a group of former U.S. Army Delta Force soldiers who reunite to plan a heist of a South American crime lord, for me, it got better and better, with some great actio sequences and high production values.

10.15pm: With the movie over, we caught up with the news headlines – NOT good news as we learned that planned relaxation of some of the lockdown rules were now postponed due to an increase in confirmed cases.

10.40pm: Nighty-night! ๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด

Saturday

9.25am: A simple breakfast of fruit, yoghurt followed by toast!

10.35am: I took Ralph and Karen out for an extended walk taking in the top meadow, St Botolph’s Church, the bottom meadow…

ยฉ Ralph

…and then Wicksteed Park…

Lamb Prepped!

…leaving Ann and Karen to weave some magic in the kitchen ready for tonight’s meal!

Boys’ Stuff!

1.30pm: Ralph and I caught up with the British GP Practice and Qualifying laps from Silverstone that we recorded earlier.

2.25pm: A snack for lunch – Toasted Cheese! ๐Ÿ˜ followed by not-very-much for us boys, but the girls were busy in the Galley!

5.30pm: Nick and Celina joined us. We haven’t seen them for well over a year and we all had lots of news to share. Ann and Karen had done a great job in the kitchen turning out a menu that was ambitious as it was delicious (unsurprisingly!) ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜

Lovely Lamb!

7.15pm: All the food was ready… WE were ready… and so we tucked-in. The only BIG decision was whether to eat inside or out – and so we took a vote and the (almost) unanimous decision was ‘OUT’, but carefully socially-distanced, of course. It was a bit blowy to start with, but it soon settled down. Not surprisingly, the Lamb took centre stage! ๐Ÿ˜

…closely followed by those very Summery desserts! We all did the menu justice and there wasn’t much leftover by the end, save a slightly thinner look lamb! – I feel some meaty leftovers coming on for next week!

11.20pm: Well, the evening flew by! We sank a few litres of the grape and caught up with everyone’s news. Before we knew it, it was past 11 and getting colder, so we headed for the Lounge.

After (ahem!) testing and tasting some more grapes, we found ourselves watching highlights of the cricket! As the wickets tumbled, we were all too well-mannered (or tired, or drunk, or something) to call it a night ๐Ÿ˜‚

00.07am: …and then Saturday became SUNDAY! Collectively and individually, we were all shattered – socialising is such an exhausting activity but eventually, just like the Irish cricket team, we eventually admitted defeat.

We waved goodbye to Nick & Celina and staggered to bed. ๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด. Even for me, I felt a lie-in was going to be necessary… ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

Sunday


7.45am: Well, that was the lie-in sorted. Ann continued though, whilst I got on with some faffing (and writing this!)

9.35am: For breakfast, we ate outside – again, blowy but warm!

10.55am: We said goodbye to our best friends, and they headed for home by way of a Sunday lunch somewhere!

A great weekend catching-up with great friends! ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜

Return to The Saxon Mill

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The Saxon Mill is rapidly becoming our most regular restaurant-of-choice when meeting our friends ‘from the West’ – and today was no exception! (Either there or The Lamport Swan). The last time we met up with ‘the Westerners’ (Ian, Ann, Mags and Alan) for one of our regular three-monthly catch-ups was back in September last year. The observant amongst you will note it was actually SIX months ago! ๐Ÿ™„ We’re so busy being retired, this was the earliest date we could all make it! ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

Once seated for our 12-noon booking, we were greeted with an abundance of menus! ๐Ÿ˜, but being poor pensioners, we all opted for the fixed-price offer (ยฃ13.50 for two courses, ยฃ17.50 for three!). ๐Ÿ˜‹
Rodriguez (from Mexico) introduced himself as our Server, and he did a good job of looking after us!! ๐Ÿ‘

The food was its normal excellent quality, although it did take them a second try to get my Melting Chocolate Bomb to actually melt! ๐Ÿค”

Never seen the River level this high!

We left around 2.45 and that had given us all plenty of time to catch up with everyone’s news. Next get-together is on Thursday, June 11th at, yes, you guessed it – The Lamport Swan! ๐Ÿ˜‹

First Visit – Salvatore Ristorante Italiano

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Bev and Julie recommended we take a trip over to Finedon to sample the delights of Salvatore Ristorante Italiano. It opened in May, 2019, but we’d not heard of it.

We picked-up our dining-chums just after 7.10pm for our 7.30 booking and battled though the pouring rain heading for nearby Finedon. If the restaurant was to turn out to be as good as our friends’ previous recommendation (Frank’s Pizzas in Kettering), then we were in for a treat! ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜‹

As we arrived, the area felt immediately familiar! Salvatore’s was on the site of (the now defunct) Lovejoy’s where we’d enjoyed a meal with David and Valerie back in 2008.

Clearly, Lovejoy’s hadn’t survived, but on entering, we noticed the interior hadn’t changed too much! It still looked like someone’s lounge with all the rooms knocked through! We were soon seated and studying the extensive menu. All 100% Italian!

With our choices made, we caught up with everyone’s news, whilst the food was being prepared. It was worth the wait, as when it arrived, it looked ‘properly home-made’. It all tasted delicious, and we weren’t to be disappointed! ๐Ÿ˜

All-in-all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience – friendly staff, a not-too-noisy environment with an authentic Italian menu offering generous portions! (My calzone was about the size of Corby!) ๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜‹

And to round off the evening perfectly, we were treated to a free glass of limoncello! ๐Ÿ˜‰

It was very wallet-friendly too! – Starters x4 + Starters-as-Mains x2 + Mains x2 + Desserts x2 + Alcoholic drinks came to ยฃ96 including the tip. I have a feeling we’ll be back before too long! ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘

Valentine Meal 2020 โฃ

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The Attic Restaurant, Lutterworth


It’s Valentine’s Day!! Usually, either I cook the meal, Ann cooks the meal, or we share cooking duties with David and Valerie and get together as a foursome.

So, with cards, flowers and gifts on display, by way of a change for this special day, the four of us left our kitchens behind and headed off to The Attic Restaurant in Lutterworth for lunch! ๐Ÿ˜. David and Valerie had already eaten there on more than a few occasions, so we knew we were in for a treat!

Apart from the howling gale in the car-park, it turned out to be a very enjoyable experience. The service was spot-on, and the food delicious! We were seated with a great view across the Golf Course and looking at the weather conditions, we agreed we were definitely in the better place! It was still blowing a gale outside and it looked pretty cold too judging by the number of beanies being worn by the brave golfers!! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

The Menu impressed us! I opted for the Butternut Squash & Sweet Potato Soup followed by the Braised Short Rib of Beef (definitely melt-in-the-mouth!)

Whilst Ann and David managed to muster-up the necessary will-power, Valerie and I succumbed to the temptation of a Pud (just!) – in the shape of White Chocolate and Cranberry Bread & Butter Pudding.

Two hours later, all that was left to do was pay the bill, head home and try not to fall asleep during the journey! ๐Ÿฅฑ We just caught the school traffic as we got nearer to base, but were home just after 3.30pm.

A great restaurant experience! ๐Ÿ˜Š

Happy Valentine’s Day!
โค๏ธ ๐Ÿ’š ๐Ÿงก ๐Ÿ’™

Mival-lous

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A boys’ get-together today! ๐Ÿ‘

I drove over to Stamford to meet up with ex-business colleague and film producer: Eric Mival. We’ve kept in touch ever since Eric shot a corporate video for Sainsbury’s (that I was responsible for) back in the late 80s.

Our venue of choice was, of course, the iconic George Hotel in the town – and more specifically, The York Bar.

The George Hotel from The York Bar

We haven’t seen each other since August, 2017, and it was good to catch-up with each other’s news!

The focus of our conversation was around Eric’s semi-autobiographical book: Cutting Edge: My Life in Film and Television (get it from Amazon HERE). For me, the enjoyable read had ticked a lot of boxes – my love of the process of film-making AND the fact that Eric had worked on a lot of programmes of my youth including Doctor Who, The Strange Report and of course, the iconic, The Prisoner (amongst many more!). I knew we’d have a lot to chat about, but with the food and service its normal high standard, the time just flew by!

A slightly torturous journey home though, where a major accident on the road to Stamford just after Collyweston caused miles (and miles) of traffic congestion. Luckily, I skirted around the back roads and was home just after 2.30pm (just 10 minutes later than my original ETA).

See you next year Eric! ๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ‘

Celebrating Sainsbury’s!

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A short tale of how, many years ago, one person influenced the career paths of three others – and today’s reunion! ๐Ÿ˜

The Back-story

In 1972, I joined Sainsbury’s at their flagship store – Central Croydon as a Saturday Student – working Friday nights and all-day Saturday. By late 1974, I was still uncertain as to what sort of job I wanted, after leaving school, I started my first proper full-time job with them.

Trouble was, Mum and Dad’s plan was for me was to do a ‘posh job’ – first choice: join the Civil Service, or maybe a Bank (job-for-life in those days!) or an Accountancy practice. But, in true Palmer fashion, I rebelled, and they weren’t impressed at all!! ๐Ÿ™„ They felt I’d deserved something ‘better’ after going to a Grammar School, better certainly than ‘working in a shop’!!! In spite of acquiring an appreciable bundle of O-Levels together with two A-Levels and already passing the entrance exam for the Civil Service, I really felt JS might be the better more enjoyable career for me ๐Ÿ˜. From my side of things, I’d thoroughly enjoyed the physical and mental challenge of it all, having worked through the Summer Holidays at JS pretty-much full-time. A great working atmosphere, fab teamwork and lots of interaction with people.

Sainsbury’s Whitgift Centre Croydon
ยฉ Sainsbury Archive

At the time, Central Croydon was their largest (but small by later standards) in the newly built ‘Whitgift Centre’ (Branch ‘332’ since you asked) off Wellesley Road – and one of the first stores to open there (Boots, next door, being the first). Opened in JS’s centenary year of 1969, the management there were all hand-picked, as being the best in the company. The store went on to become a ‘pass-through’ for rising stars of the organisation, and in turn, that always created a fantastic buzz about the place. Yes, it was hard work… really hard work… but exceptionally rewarding!

Ken, in later years, as Regional Manager

During that time, I got to know a certain Grocery Manager, Mr Ken Barden, then in his mid-20s, really well. And as expected, he went on to command some very senior positions across the brand.

My Early Years

‘Rewarding’ it certainly was! From a humble Saturday Student earning less than 30p per hour, I joined the trainee management scheme (a recommendation by Ken) briefly at ‘332’ and then onto their store in Orpington (Branch 747), and completed the scheme in a record 11 months. Mum and Dad finally came round, and supported me all the way from there! Phew! ๐Ÿฅฐ

Next stop? Into junior management in Bromley (Branch 464) and after about a year, I joined the Area Training Team on secondment. My two-year secondment lasted around 4 years (!!!) and then came the BIG promotion. I was appointed Area Training Manager based in Romford (house move and divorce adding to the mix!). And finally, a spell at head office managing the company’s customer care programme and liaising with all the other training departments across the organisation.

Leaving JS

The unrivalled grounding that JS gave me in terms of training and development, provided me with a great insight into the importance of ‘people skills’, leading me to shed a tearful farewell in March 1989 – to start my own business training others in guess what? Yes, ‘people skills’.

Finally, the Reunion

By coincidence, Ann, and our good friend Sally, had learned, through separate casual conversations, that they too, having all worked for this mighty food retailer, had also crossed paths with Ken at different times. He had strongly influenced their career path too! – what are the chances ehh??

So, fast-forward (in my case 45 years!) and today was to be special in a number of ways. Although we’d all lost touch with Ken many years ago (although Ann and I had seen Ken briefly in the intervening years at a JS ‘do’) the three of us decided it would be good to catch up, with a view to reminisce about those heady days working for the champion of food retailing – and most of all, to thank him for pointing us in the right direction. We all realised, without his influence, we wouldn’t have been where we are today, nor enjoyed our careers so much!

I tracked Ken down through Facebook, and we all agreed to meet up at his, and then on for a spot of lunch. After a quick coffee and a natter, meeting Carol, his wife and their dogs and cats, we headed off to the Pub for 1pm!

Well, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Pub so busy! The food was excellent, but for once (for me) that didn’t matter at all! We had so many years to catch up with, individually and collectively and I don’t think we stopped talking (and laughing) for the whole time we were there! And surely, it was a good sign that we didn’t leave the Pub until just after 3!

What a fantastic day! We’re certainly going to do it all again sometime with Ken – there are so many more stories and experiences to share! We dropped Sally back at hers and headed home.

Happy memories! ๐Ÿ˜