a train, a parade and a ferry

From markets to sleeper trains.  On the Sunday evening we headed back to Hualumphong to wait for our sleeper.  Despite all the street food we had eaten at JJ we were all still ravenous so we took it in turns to look for a bite to eat that looked a little more appetising than that on offer at the station food court.

The Boss and I found a lovely street cafe, a few chairs and a small stall.  A selection of pork, rice, half a hard-boiled egg and endless iced tea.  The girls went in the other direction and found an apparently excellent noodle bar.  All in all the food choices around the market are not great.  There are several stalls selling fruit bags, banana rice and waffles and we later found a small noodle bar by the station itself but that was about it.  To be fair it was a Sunday and we were in the middle of the business district and there did seem to be more on offer when we were there on Thursday but if you have time to kill and an appetite, eat before you arrive.

On the subject of food.  We were in first class, which costs only a little more than second but sells out very fast.  Tickets go on sale 3 months before departure so if you know your itinerary, book asap.  In first they offer you food.  Don’t bother.  We got caught out by a steward offering us glasses of orange juice before we departed.  How lovely we thought – how pricey we thought when we were offered the bill.  We made the mistake of ordering breakfast and went for the sandwiches.  The Thais like sugar.  I have never tasted sweet mayonnaise before.  Suffice to say one mouthful was enough.  Apparently the fruit juice that came with it was even sweeter.

Fortunately we had stocked up beforehand with fruit bags, banana rice, seaweed (me only!) cremos (the girls – exactly like oreos but half the price), dried fruit and nuts. I suggest you do the same.  There is a small store in the station and two 7/11 stores about 5 minutes walk away via the metro subway.

We had a connecting cabin with the girls – who insisted it was kept closed!  The steward came to make up the beds around 8.30.  They were excellent, larger and more comfortable than the Highland sleeper and the top bunk has a barrier put up so no falling off in the night.

A word about the air con.  It is wonderful – but VERY powerful (apparently the top bunk is warmer – I’m having that one next time). We never found the controls so I had rather an icy night, however the girls worked out they were controlled manually on each air vent.  Failing that bag the top bunk and let the cold air sink to the person in the bunk below!

We were woken with the aforementioned breakfast and a welcome cup of tea at 6am and pulled into Surat Thani at about 7am.  Pretty much on time.

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All very efficient, our ferry vouchers were exchanged for tickets.  The Boss and the chap in charge of the buses to the ferry waxed lyrical over Phuket and Ko Samui 30 years ago and I went to investigate the parade.

This was one of the smartest parades I had seen for a long time, albeit with a rather incongruous bride like young woman at the front.  Apparently it was National Health Day and health workers across Thailand were parading and being appreciated.  Perhaps something the NHS should think about, it needs some love.

The bus ride from Surat Thani to the ferry is a lot longer than any of us expected – at least an hour, an hour and 15 minutes.  But the bus is air conditioned – even if some of the signs are redundant.  There are no seat belts!

 

We took the catamaran to Ko Samui, which is a lot faster than the regular ferry.  If you manage to blag a seat on the top deck (where the views are amazing) do take lots of sun cream in your hand luggage, all cases (though not back packs) are put in the hold.  Failing that there is a very pleasant air-conditioned room downstairs.

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On arrival it is mayhem.  We had a hire car ordered so it was a bit easier for us.  There are hotel pick ups, taxi touts, everyone!

On the car hire front we were recommended to take photographs of all the scratches and dents on the car even if they had been written down.  Just in case!

Then off to Sea Dance.

The roads are good until you turn off the main drag.  Turnings can be very small and what you think is a dirt track may well be your road so keep your eyes open.

The oasis that awaited was stunning.  We had a two roomed hut with private pool.

The main pool was pretty stunning too.

The food outstanding (more about our cookery lesson later).  We were hungry.  Margarita and lunch.

 

This is breakfast.  I usually start with yoghurt and fruit salad.

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The Boss prefers honey on his.  My favourite juices are watermelon or carrot but there are all the usual suspects.  I usually follow with dim sum and banana pancakes, I know, but it’s my breakfast and I like it.  However if you feel the urge, there is pad Thai, Tom Gha, bacon, sausages, eggs cooked to order…

And endless pastries, croissants, toast and home-made preserves all in an airy dining room with a stunning view.

 

But most important the staff, they are out of this world, nothing is too much and they are friendly and helpful and just gorgeous.  Faith is a star and can organise anything, I am sure she could arrange for Pink Floyd to play at dinner if we asked nicely enough!

Love Gillie

in which we shop till we drop and buy almost nothing

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If I could say only one word about shopping in Bangkok it would have to be JJ (Chattachuk) market.  The Volunteer has waxed lyrical about Monday markets, floating markets and night markets. But the one that comes up time and time again is JJ Market.   It is the largest market in Thailand and covers over 27 acres. Believe me that is one heck of a market.

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It sells everything, and I do mean everything.  It has its dark side and on the advice of the volunteer we did not go into the pet section.  Even walking past the apparently mild outside my heart and stomach were sick to see huge fish in tiny bags and turtles and mice piled high in boxes.

There were also some seriously scary mannequins.

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However, the rest of the market was fascinating.  It is divided into sections so in theory you can find what you want.  But over 27 acres of “sections” still makes it extremely easy to get lost, several times!  With the help of the volunteer and a couple of online language apps I have learned some basic Thai and “mai ao kaa” is a polite and handy way to ensure you don’t get hassled (literally “I don’t take”)

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The Boss and I had foot and shoulder massage.  Now I like a hard and brutal massage, I can’t be doing with namby pamby gentle wafting of the hands.  I have had some deep and hard massages in my time, but boy did this little Thai lady get deep and strong on my poor western muscles.  Great but not for the fainthearted or those with low pain thresholds.

My favourite section, was the food one!  We had some sumptuous spring rolls from the stall that the Volunteer recommended.

But every stall was piled high.

There is little you cannot buy and the Volunteer arrived with a shopping list, memory bank, charging cable, t-shirts and flip flops.  But whether you wanted a new teak sofa, a beach dress,  more craft items than Hobbycraft has even dreamed of, or a working antique telephone I found them all at JJ.

It’s easy to get to by BTS (Mo Chit and follow the crowds) or metro (Chattachuk Park).  I don’t recommend taxi or tuk tuk.  The traffic makes rush hour in Naples look like a country lane.  Go early whilst it is relatively (and I use the term carefully!) quiet but more importantly not so hot.  Midday at JJ is crowded and very hot.  There are plenty of places to sit and eat snacks and lots of “refreshment stations” but precious few where you can sit down and just have a drink.  There is one lovely exception.  Head to section 7 (the 7 sign at the end of the long street closest to the stations)  facing the 7 sign turn left and you will see a little rest area just at the entrance to the home decor and art section.  We left my husband there whilst we went for a wander and came back an hour or so later to find him deep in conversations with his new friend Saul from Singapore whose wife was also shopping.  This was his third visit during this trip!

 

Enjoy!

Love Gillie  x

 

boats, temples and cocktails

The plan was to get up early and head off to JJ Market.  The Boss and I woke at 8am but still rather jet lagged decided to have a little more snooze.  The girls had been out for cocktails – we discovered the note when we got up.  Which was a long time before they got up!  Poor old PT Volunteer has hardly touched any alcohol for six months.  She was a little the worse for wear!

Eventually we made it to the pier to get the hop on off ferry down the river.  PT Volunteer was not keen on the boat plan and got little sympathy from her sister (something to do with an incident whilst interailing and “just deserts”!).

First stop was Wat Arun.  Golden Buddhas and exquisite mosaics.

We were stopped by two young students who asked if we would take a short survey for a school project.  When asked how we would sum up Thailand in one word we both answered in unison “friendly”  which just about says it all.  I have traveled a lot, both back packing, luxury and everything in between and I am hard pressed to think of a single country which exudes welcome and friendliness so much.

We crossed over to the other side of the river with a view to visiting the Grand Palace but we had left it rather late and instead decided to take a long tail boat through the canals of Old Bangkok.  Hearing the news that she had another hour in a boat the PT volunteer began to pale visibly.  Again her sister failed to weep with sympathy.

It was a fascinating water stroll through the back streets of Bangkok.

Quick dash back to our apartment to change and a tuk tuk over to the other side of town for dinner with the PT Volunteer’s partner’s family who are also over visiting and two other volunteers who were over from Isaan en route to their own holidays.  Never has so much noise been made and so much food been eaten by only nine people.  We still managed to make room for a couple of cocktails at Cloud 47.

Tomorrow  we WILL be up early for JJ!

Love Gillie x

 

 

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in which the geographer gets lost

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I learned a new trick this week – how to get the seats with extra legroom when flying cattle.

Emirates, and I presume most other airlines, keep back the bulkhead and emergency exit seats when booking online.  However, if you arrive early at baggage drop and ask if you can be moved – hey presto!  So from Newcastle to Dubai we had bulkhead seats and from Dubai to Bangkok we faced the emergency exit and could stretch our legs practically into the next cabin.  Thank me later.

So we arrived, tired bu in one piece.  We found our hotel.  Which is more than the PT volunteer, Geography student daughter did.  Our hotel is at 73 Sukhumvit 13.  The Geographer took the skyrail to the bottom of Sukhumvit 13 and rang us to ask where we were (more about the phone later).  At that point the Boss and I had left sleeping daughter at the hotel and were having a cold drink in a bar opposite a building site on what I later learned was Sukhumvit 11.  I described the building site but we decided our cranes were not the same ones (it later transpired they were).  So I gave the Geographer our hotel adress (again) and she decided to get a taxi.  An hour or so later she rang again, describing her surroundings it did not sound as if she was anywhere near us.  “Where did you get the taxi to take you?” I asked.  “13 Sukhumvit 73” she replied.  This, I remind you is the girl who is going to read Geography next year!

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She made it at last and yesterday she took us out to visit her school and meet her colleagues.  The train was interesting.  We were a feature of interest.  Some Europeans do take the train to visit Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand,.  But very few venture further to Tha Rua!

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We were taken out to lunch by Bea’s colleagues to a wonderful fish restaurant.

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I don’t think I have eaten so well and so much in a long time (though we managed another massive meal that evening at a streetfood cafe!).  And then a quick visit to her school and new home.

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It was lovely to see both how happy she was and how much her colleague and pupils loved her.

 

Oh and the phone?  I got a mysterious call on Thursday afternoon from an unknown Thai number.  It took several attempts for a connection to be made – it was the Geographer.  She had left her English phone at Tha Rua station and was using her Thai phone!  Fortunately her fellow volunteer picked it up later in the day and it will  make its way back to its owner this evening.  For how long however remains to be seen!

Love Gillie x

 

packing light

“Is 11 dresses too many?”  Eighteen year old daughter packing for a fortnight in Thailand.  I’m going for three weeks and only have two dresses!  Extreme measures needed to be taken.  “But they’re so pretty …”  Reader, I took her in hand and culled about 70% of her proposed packing.  Heaven knows how she is going to cope traveling through California in the summer with only a backpack!

When I accompanied the Boss on his lecture tour of Australia three years ago I managed to curtail my packing to this.   This time we are going to Thailand for three weeks, Bangkok, Koh Samui, Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai.  I reckon I have managed a reasonably decent pack.  Here is the suitcase with just the clothes in it.

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  • 1  pair of cargo trousers that convert to bermuda shorts
  • 1 pair of loose palazzoish trousers
  • 1 pair 3/4 length leggings
  • 1 jersey maxi skirt
  • 1 jersey maxi sundress
  • 1 short sleeved dress
  • 4 tee shirts
  • 1 light long sleeved top
  • 1 long light scarf
  • 1 pair birkenstocks
  • 1 pair vivo barefoot shoes
  • 1 pair flat comfy but smart sandals
  • Swimsuit and Turkish lightweight towel

Once again I have stuck to my blue and white theme (the same one I used in Australia but different clothes!)

I was feeling remarkably proud of myself until I then had to put in all the other bits and bobs, portable bbq and bamboo cutlery, knitting (well of course!) and then all the requests from the daughter in Thailand.  Custard powder was non-negotiable.  At least most of this I can leave behind with her.  Which is essential as I am planning on a little silk shopping!

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It is always easier to pack light for a trip to a hot climate, but I reckon, that had I wanted to go hand luggage only and didn’t have to take half of Sainbury’s with me I could have managed it with ease.

Love Gillie x

 

ten things I have learned about having a lousy internet connection

“High Speed Broadband has arrived”, not in this pocket of County Durham it hasn’t.  It may be all flash downloads and wall to wall Netflix a mile away in the village but in our own little notspot carrier pigeons were more reliable and considerably faster.  Not for us a weekend binge of box sets and Sky on Demand. Estimated download time for a single film was over 10 hours.  On a good day we could get 1 Mbps on a bad day it just ran out of juice.

When the bad days began to outnumber the good days and the only way we could send work to clients was to use a dongle and sit on the drive (under an umbrella if it was raining) we decided enough was enough and took our laptops to a coffee shop with decent wifi and did a bit of research.  We are now the proud owners of a mastband internet connection.  We can watch films, we can send work without sitting in the garden.  We have joined the 21st Century.

However if you are still in the internet dark ages, these are a few things I learned.

  1. Nothing is on paper anymore.  If you need to know what time your local Tesco Metro opens on a Sunday you are going to have to go out and stand outside until it opens and note down the time for next time.
  2. Telephone directories were quite useful not just as door stops but also, oddly enough,  for looking up telephone numbers
  3. Social media has too many photographs.  Photographs, videos and pictures take ages to download.  My FB newsfeed had been visually redacted.  Great blank squares all over it.
  4. If you haven’t recorded it you aren’t going to see it.  Catch up tv services were not an option. “Listen again” was but a dream for us.
  5. Your children will fail all their exams.  Or so they tell you.  It is apparently completely impossible to revise for A-Levels without a functioning internet.
  6. Your children will have no social life.  Or so they tell you.  Unless they can sit in bed and watch Netflix with their friends they are social pariahs.
  7. You will spend a lot of time on the  phone playing solitaire on your (unconnected) lap top listening to a recorded message saying “all our operators are busy at the moment but you can resolve your problem by going to our website.”  Oh no I can’t.
  8. You can’t join in any conversations about online grocery shopping.  See above about pictures and social media.  Supermarket websites have even more pictures.
  9. You can’t answer those nagging little questions like “Who’s that actress on the left of the guy who used to be in Eastender?” or cheat on the Saturday general knowledge crossword by looking up the answer to “who invented the bunsen burner?” (Robert Bunsen btw).
  10. You cannot have more than one tab open on your browser and don’t even think about sending a file by email when somebody else is trying to download something on another laptop.  Multitasking on line is a guaranteed way to bring the network to its knees.

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But now, I can listen to the Archers podcasts.    I have a Spotify account.  I watched the first series of Fortitude in a box set binge and I have discovered there are pictures on Facebook – and a lot of them are of cats!

Love Gillie x

Plastic detox

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I have been following Plastic Free July for several years now and have learned a lot and managed to cut our use of plastic considerably.  However, it’s not just about refusing plastic bags and using glass or stainless steel for food storage.  The real problem is the hidden plastic.  The plastic you can’t see and don’t expect.

When you buy food at the deli counter in the supermarket you may have noticed that some shops (eg. Sainsburys) no longer wrap your ham in a plastic bag but a paper one.  You duly put said bag in the recycling bin.  But is it paper?  No it’s not, it is “mixed  materials not currently recyclable”  The inside will be single use (i.e. non-recyclable plastic).

What about those teabags that you confidently put in the compost? If you buy organic teabags the chances are that they are 100% paper and are safe to put in your compost.  However most teabags contain polypropylene which is not biodegradable.  Which Magazine contacted major teabag producers to ask the polypropylene content of their bags.  These are some of the results:

Twinings: 0% polypropylene YIPPEE
Sainsburys Taste the Difference English Breakfast tea (Fairtrade):  1% Not bad
Morrisons: English Breakfast tea has 10% Could do better
PG Tips tea bags have 20%: YUK!
Yorkshire tea bags have 25%: YIKES!

If you are stuck on bags rather than loose tea then try to use those with the lowest polyproylene content and tear them before adding to the compost.

Most of us know that microbeads are not good.  They are clogging up the oceans and killing wildlife.  There are plenty of alternatives for scrubs.  Homemade using salt/sugar and oil, or scrubs from reputable organic companies such as Dr Organic from Holland and Barratt.  But what about the hidden plastics in cosemetics you didn’t know about?

A research paper published by the UN last year found a worrying level of hidden plastic in a huge range of cosmetic products  (UNEP report ‘Plastic in Cosmetics’, 2015)

“Microbeads and other plastic ingredients are present in products ranging from toothpaste and shower gel to eye shadows and nail polish. Their proportions vary in different products, from less than 1 per cent to more than 90 per cent of the content. In a typical shower gel analyzed in laboratory, there was roughly as much plastic material in the gel itself as in its packaging.”

You can download an app created by Beat the Microbead to check the microplastic content of a product before you purchase and look for the Look for Zero logo below to show that the product is 100% plastic free.

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I mentioned the cardboard take away coffee cups yesterday.  Have you ever tried to pour hot water into a cardboard box!  There has to be something on the inside of the those cups to ensure that you don’t end up with a hot soggy pile of cardboard in your hands as you walk through the park.  Most of the time it’s polyethylene and renders the cups unrecyclable.

Likewise those cardboard juice containers, many tinned foods, some cigarette filters, till receipts, labels on everything from groceries to clothes.  All contain plastic.

When I first started using my own shopping bags and refusing to put loose fruit and veg in a plastic bag but brought my own reused paper bags I got a lot of very funny looks.  Now refusing a plastic bag is second nature.  The way we win the war against plastic is to refuse it.  Not just the plastic you can see, but educate  yourself about that which  you can’t.

Love Gillie x

 

The reusable takeaway

Following on from yesterday I’m keeping to a bit of a theme.  The reusable takeaway.  We all like a good takeaway, for my husband it is a doner kebab with lots of chilli, the girls and I worship at the door of our wonderful Indian takeaway Jalsa in Ushaw Moor (their Chicken Makatoni is to die for).  BUT and there is a big but, all those plastic/styroform boxes are the pits.  At least our lovely Jalsa uses tin foil boxes so they can be recycled but still, we can do better.

I don’t drink coffee much, and when I do I like plain black from a cafetiere so all the fancy coffee shops are lost on me.  On the other hand I do like tea, I like tea a lot, I like lots of different types of tea.  I’m not a great one for buying a tea on the go, but there are times when I am out and about or waiting for a train when the only thing that I really want is a good strong cup of black tea.  But I don’t want a non-recyclable cardboard cup from Starbucks.  And they aren’t easily recyclable see here .  Those plastic coffee pods are bad, but those cardboard cups are just as nasty.

Did you know that almost every coffee shop / tea room will let you take your takeaway in your own mug/thermos so long as it has a secure lid?  This is what I take my tea away in.

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Joco glass mug with silicone lid.  It also comes in a lovely sturdy cardboard tub that I now use to store my Earl Grey!

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You met my water bottle yesterday.  I fill it up with tap water if we stop at a cafe or restaurant.  Most cold drinks come in their own bottles, but not all.  Plenty of smoothies, juices and cold coffees are made to order and are served in plastic cups.  I use my joco mug or water bottle.

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Finally food.  We have these brilliant stainless steel lunchboxes which come from the same company as the water bottle.  I’ve not yet tried them at my Jalsa (will update you when I do).  However, I have taken sandwiches, paninis, salads, pies and even a doner kebab away in it.

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Don’t be afraid to ask, the worst thing they can say is no.  I have yet to find a health and safety (the usual excuse) reason why I cannot use my own container so even if you do get a no, ask why!

 

Love Gillie x

The reusable holiday

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I’m just back from a fabulous three weeks in Romania, which is why the blog has been so quiet (that and some techy issues that seem to have been resolved).  However, I am aware that for many of you, particularly those of you with school age children, the summer holidays have only just started and you are probably packing and sorting ready for a few weeks R&R.

It doesn’t really matter where you are going, whether it’s a fortnight on the beach or hiking in the Alps, there are some things that are not just useful, but essential for a hassle-free holiday.  In our case these tend to revolve around food and drink.  We like lots of picnics, we like to try out the local foods and no holiday is complete without a beach or riverside bbq.

Most of the things required can easily be bought in the disposable picnic area of any supermarket.  But I don’t want disposable, I don’t want plastic.  I want reusuable and sustainable.  So this is what we packed to go to Romania.

Bamboo Cutlery.  One hundred percent biodegradable and compostable when they finally come to the end of their life.  In the meantime, light and easy to use.

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Food wrap.  These are great and double up as plates as well  I make my own using organic cotton and beeswax but there are plenty available online.  Just rinse with hot water.

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Drinking cups.  Well you don’t really want to be swigging the wine out of a bottle!

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Water bottles.  There is only a few things I loathe more than plastic water bottles, not only are they unneccessary for most day to day situations, they contribute to vast amounts of waste and most contain bpa which is directly linked to some cancers.

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Portable fire bowl  and grill.   This is the best thing ever!  We used to buy a disposable  bbq and reuse it all  holiday but this is one stage better and is absolutely brilliant.

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Finally, don’t forget a sharp knife, a corkscrew and/or a bottle opener!  Happy holidays 🙂

Love Gillie

 

The wanderer returns

So I return.  I wonder have you missed me?  I have been on a long journey since I was last here.  I have started new ventures, tweaked them, published a planner and then taken several months out to consider where I want to go and how I want to get there.

In essence I have been decluttering me and my life rather than my house and it has been a very revealing process.  I read recently in a book by Karen Maezen Miller, Hand Wash Cold, that sometimes it helps just to coast in life for a while; to take your foot off the accelerator or indeed the brake and just see where you go.  That’s what I have been doing and it is quite an interesting mode of transport.

Along the way I have read books and magazines I would never have noticed or even considered before (on the magazine front I can recommend Stack Magazines who send you a different independent magazine each month, this month I am reading New Philosopher, last month was a beautiful avante garde fashion photography publication).

I have rediscovered  my love of fabrics and yarn, learned to crochet

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and have reupholstered a footstool and a chair.

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We have put our house on the market, changed our minds.  We have redecorated the entire house and put in plans to convert part of the house into separate living accomnodation to let.  Our elderly greenhouse didn’t survive the storms so we built a  new one with much more space for potting on and for sitting in.  Consequently the garden is fuller than ever and we are even more glad we stayed.

And the decluttering continues.  I have managed to keep my wardrobe reasonably small but the book collection has been building up again.  Some are keepers but there were quite a lot ones more than ready to move on.  If the building work goes ahead we are going to have to think very seriously about what we can keep for we will be downsizing our living accommodation by almost half in terms of floor space.

Meanwhile I have started writing two new books, one a novel and the other a culmination of my experience of decluttering together with suggestions, plans and ideas for others.  I think it should be an e-book – so as not to clutter up a bookshelf!

Love Gillie