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May 29, 2007 > Across the pond

Across the pond

By Francis Payne

This has been such an exciting month. At times I've been, what we call on this side of "The Pond," distinctly hyper (how you feel after drinking six consecutive bottles of cola......I imagine!) First, it was a big birthday for me, one with a nought, one that leads friends and family to send "funny" cards with pictures of old, toothless ladies' or scenic woodland walks. No chance of it passing quietly and unnoticed at my work place; presents, balloons, baskets of flowers and a cake with candles to be swiftly blown out in morning break, started the day in a suitably jolly fashion.

Work colleagues told me throughout the day they had no idea I was that old.....I think it was a compliment. Family, mainly wonderful daughter-in-law Amanda, had prepared what turned out to be a decoy party in the evening, as this was followed the next day by a large surprise gathering of all the extended family members at a nearby country house hotel, where everyone jumped out of the woodwork shouting "Surprise and I nearly jumped out of my skin. It was tremendous. The venue was called Langar Hall, set in acres of beautiful rolling countryside, with grounds where the children in the group were able to run about, squeal and bounce on the cleverly provided giant trampoline for hours, without disturbing anybody.

Other wonderful daughter-in-law, Cat, produced the second exciting event. After growing to enormous proportions, she gave birth to twins, Henry and Maisie who both look and sound like a couple of senior citizens, with their knitted woolly hats and traditional names. We adore them. I shall be up and down the London bound railway line like a yo-yo to help out and be an extra pair of hands....and I won't have the night feeds

Then, in the midst of all the excitement, I finally sang in the choir at the Centenary Service of my old school. Having volunteered friend Celia and myself with the encouraging promise that at least we'd get a seat in the Church, and naively thinking that's probably all it would entail, the challenging aspect of the occasion was gradually revealed.

First, new hymns, new harmonies and only twelve of us in the choir, so no hiding at the back as I did in my school days. "We'll sing soprano," I told Celia, "At least we'll get the tune." We didn't. We got the descant, two actually. Then, just to finish the challenge nicely, no music and no words on the day. No words! It was never that difficult during my school days. I chanted the words while mowing the grass, driving to Nottingham and before going to sleep. Did I remember them at the service on Saturday? Yes! Has friend Celia forgiven me for volunteering us? Yes; we felt as if we'd climbed a mountain or completed a bungee jump when we finally sang the last word, still in tune and still standing (some of the group were really quite ancient...well done them).

Away from the personal excitement, in Newark, we've had the countrywide local elections. As expected, Tony Blair's Labour party was defeated in most areas. We'll have to see what the General Election brings in the next couple of years. Will people have forgiven him, or forgotten.

Newark showed its agricultural roots by holding the annual Newark and Notts Show, where prize cattle, pigs, sheep etc, are exhibited before crowds of 50,000 or more. Dogs, rabbit and horse competitions, trick cyclists, art displays and countless stalls ensure there is something for everybody. When my own children were young, I remember them happily scrambling over tractors, combine harvesters and other equipment on display. Fortunately the weather was good. I've been on that showground on some very wet and windy days when we scuttled from tent to tent for shelter and warmth.

Son Tom picked what must have been the wettest weekend of the year to do a sponsored 24-hour cycle ride in mountainous terrain, to raise money for a children's cancer charity. He wore his cuts and bruises with pride having raised thousands of pounds with an old school friend for this very worthy cause. As a by-product, he's become considerably fitter and now cycles regularly to work and enjoys early morning cycles along the nearby riverside track at weekends. He'll be as fit as his marathon running brother soon....who of course is not running so regularly at the moment due to running round after the twins and using any spare time for sleeping

Hope this missive finds all readers fit, well and content. If you're not, you will be soon, Life's like that I find. Hang in there and something brilliant happens!

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