Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Guest Blog: Country Castles

Commentary by COUNTRY BUMPKIN

We have a system in our household by which we get ready far too early for forthcoming events. This has both benefits and drawbacks. The benefits (or at least the main one) have to do with not suffering stomach cramps and constantly having to wipe the sweat off our hands. The drawbacks (or at least the main one) have to do with our relations and friends thinking we’re crazy.

Sticks and stones may break my bones . . .

This is a rather florid way of telling you that our trip to Europe is pretty much organised. There remain a few minor details, but the whole project has been simplified enormously by the fact that our daughter and her family will house-sit for the six weeks we’re away; our son has changed jobs and thus has a space in his Wellington garage where our car can be housed and collected when we come off the plane on 27 September; and barring a few simple matters . . .

I hope.

As always, a few things have changed. We won’t be able to link up with our grandson, who will be in Poland around the time we depart Berlin but we have nevertheless changed our itinerary to include Salzburg, Vienna and Prague although these are not places which feature in my wife’s or my history. But it is unthinkable to travel all that way without sampling a slice of the real Sachertorte. Expect further news of this. After Prague we’ll swing back into Germany in a counter-clockwise loop across the centre, finishing at Frankfurt Airport on 25 September. (On my birthday, we will spend the night in a splendid 800-year old castle not far from Neheim where my father was born. This is a bit unfair because my wife turns 70 this year on 23 September . . . (And hold the jokes about birthdays and 800-year old castles, if you don’t mind!)

Instead of making the journey directly from Wellington to Berlin to be followed immediately the next day by the start of the Berlin Senat’s programme, we will stop in London for a few days and get our eyeballs restored to their sockets.

The memory card in my camera has been upgraded and is now capable (if you can believe the little meter) of taking and storing over 500 photos, which I reckon is enough to get us through a 44-day tour. These days, if anyone offends me, I counter-attack by threatening to send them the whole lot by email if they don’t make nice. That brings them up short.

Since I last wrote winter finally arrived, and for a week or three in June the cold was the deepest we’ve experienced in these parts. Dowagers in the supermarket commented to my wife that they were wearing gloves for the first time in years. It wasn’t as if the temperature recordings were exceptional, but there was something about the feel of the air that cut to the bone. And it rained, not too heavily, for weeks which put paid to any thought of working in the garden to make it ready for the new season. But things have improved — it’s warmer, and the garden essentials have been done.

I should add that our acquisition late last winter of a heat pump has transformed our lives. There has been a steep reduction in our consumption of expensive (manuka) firewood, which we only have to use if we wish to heat the whole house, as when we are entertaining company. There has obviously been a blip in our power bills, but these are outweighed by the savings and to those of you who have been asking me about heat pumps I can now say with high confidence that you should certainly go out and buy one. The technology is advancing too, so our year-old system will not be as good as the one you can install now.

Doesn’t beating the power company make you feel all warm?

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Country Bumpkin is a bibliophile and man of the world who lives in New Zealand. Among his other guest blogs are Country Planning, Country Travel, Country Polikarpovs, Country History, The Country Way of All Flesh, Country Images, Country Winter and Country Ice.

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