Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Wednesday 30th June 2010

Wednesday 30th June; a day without football. The two day gap between the so called round of 16 and the quarter-finals. Although, that don’t stop the radio talking about the football, who is going to be England ’s new manager, does England need a new manager, the latest football-related jokes and looking forward to the games on Friday and Saturday. Oh, and did Ronaldo spit at a cameraman at the end of the game last night; I thought he did; nice bloke, nice and dim, really.
I think we have a quiet weekend ahead, which is just as well really, with the travelling about we have done these last three weekends; I think what we need is some serious relaxing.
I did arrive home last night to find scattered feathers around the garden, and a greenfinch’s head in the middle of them, and Molly looking rather pleased with herself. She’s a cat, and it’s what she’s supposed to do. Although she did run scared last night when the bully tomcat came in the cat flap, I chased it out; but we do know he’s been in before, and so will again.

Such is life in leafy St Margaret’s.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Monday 28th June 2010

And so it was with some relief that we got back into our car at Dover Priory Station and drive back home. We got so little sleep in the previous two nights we felt washed out, and fit for little other than snoozing and/or laying in front of the TV watching more football. That night we had what was left over from the brunch we had on the train, and went to be really early.

Someone told me there were no more Minors in Kent!

Like a well oiled machine, on Saturday morning we had our tasks; after breakfast, I went to Tesco whilst Jools went to collect the cats, then she picked me back up on the way home, we both put the shopping away whilst the cats made themselves comfortable once again. As on Friday, we both felt pretty washed due to the heat and lack of sleep, and so there was more football to watch, and some general pottering around in the garden, and so passed another Saturday.


Sunday dawned as bright and glorious as the previous four or five, and the weathermen promised it was going to be the hottest day of the year, and so if we were going to do anything, it would have to be early in the day.

Barbie queue!

There was a steam fair at Preston , in the middle of the rolling Kentish countryside, I had not been before, but it was supposed to be good. We collected our friend Bob on the way and headed out in a lazy route to where the fair was being held.
The line of cars kicked up a plume of dust, very much like the desert rats in north Africa during the war, it was already scorchingly hot as we parked the car and made our way to the entrance.

All aboard!

In truth most of these fairs are inter-changeable, with vintage cars/trucks/tractors and military vehicles being on display, a few fun fair rides, and over around the farm, the traction engines and assorted other steam machinery that we had come to see. And then there was the people. Lots of people. Many already burnt lobster red by previous days in the sun, wearing assorted England shirts with visible tattoos and attendant children in tow.

Flaked out

We made our way round the cars and trucks, taking pictures as we went. And then to the steam engines and the like, still snapping away. After an hour we were parched, and had a pint at the barn bar, before looking at each other with the same thought, do we want to be out in this sun and heat? And the answer was a loud and unanimous NO! We made our way back to the car, going in the opposite direction the crowds, got in the car, whacked up the air con, and headed back to the (slightly) cooler coast, where Bob and I had a couple of bottles of home brew and waited for the main event of the day; the England vs Germany game from the World Cup.

I scream ice cream!

And what a let down, England were even worse than in previous games, and despite pulling a goal back before half time, and having a perfectly good goal disallowed, they were a very poor second to a cool and efficient German team, that now goes on the meet Argentine in the quarter-finals. This is a healthy dose of reality for most England fans, brought up on the belief that England has always been the ebst as well as inventing the game. But years or under-investment in youth, and over reliance on expensive imports have meant a darth of talent in the Premier League, and this day had been coming a long time, that most hadn’t seen it coming is a sad indightment on the FA and Premier League. Many of the so-called world’s best, or Golden Generation have had their international careers brought to an inglorious end, and rightly so. Failure of the basics like how to control the ball with one touch or be able to pass to each other being worse offences than tactics or who should or shouldn’t have played. That there are no real replacements in the pipeline means that the day when England might challenge for the World Cup is maybe a generation away, and only then if there is a sea change in attitudes, which lets be honest, isn’t going to happen any day soon.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Sunday 27th June 2010 part 2

So, Friday morning dawned clear and warm too. we had a shower and packed our things and got the heck out of the hotel.

Whitechapel London Overground Station

We headed to Victoria, so I could take some shots from a bridge, of, you guessed it, trains. Jools waited whilst I snapped at commuter trains heading past Battersea and over the Thames. It was already hot, and so we stopped in the nearby shopping centre for a fruit juice in the shade before heading back down into the underground to head east to Whitechapel to ride on the newest line in the country; The East London Line.

Class 378 interior

It meanders from just north of Shoreditch, down through wapping, under the Thames to Rotherhithe, down to Newcross, and then either to Clapham or Crystal Palace. We rode in the spanking new class 378s to Crystal Palace, in air conditioned luxury, marvelling at more new parts of London we had not seen. We glided past the end of leafy gardens in Crystal Palace before arriving at the grand station, built for the Royal Exhibition in 1851.

Crystal Palace London Overground Station

We walked onto the High street, bought an ice cream, sat on a bench and watched the world go by, and decided we were tired and hot hot, and on balance we would like to go home.
So, back on the train and back up to Whitechapel, on to a train on the Hammersmith and City Line to St Pancras; Jools raided M&S of salads and sandwiches to eat on the train; and on to the train; more air conditioning, and back home.

Sunday 27th June 2010

Another dream comes crashing down on the drunken be draped heads of St George's finest. Oh, when will we learn? Over-paid millionaires fail to live up to the hype. again.

However, other things other than football have happened in the world. For us, it has been a hectic week, and to be honest we are just about pooped.

Three days of work, battling with my boss about the aims of the job; is it about money or about quality, or both. In the end, we know the answer, it's money; actually improving the process to make the quality of work seems to be beyond their comprehension. At least it was for three days, as we had bigger fish to fry.

Wednesday afternoon, England were due to play their final group game against Slovakia, and after that Jools and i were to head to London for the evening as we were booked on a trip the next day. England did play better, and did enough to win, just; I left work at half time, with England winning 1-0, which is how it stayed. The roads were so quiet, it was a real pleasure to drive home.

I grabbed a shower and we headed down to the station to catch the quarter to six train to London and once again soon we were whizzing through the Kentish countryside up to London. Out of St Pancras, over Euston Road down to the hotel we had booked, the Wardonia. We had seen it before on a walk round the area, and thought it looked nice, and very handy for the three stations on Euston Road. What I had failed to do was check their website or; I should have, as the rooms were tiny and mean; nowhere to hang clothes, just enough room to walk round the bed on two sides, and no air conditioning, and as the room faced the sun most of the day; the room was roasting.

The Wardonia Hotel, Argyle Street

After dumping our bags, we went out to find a place to eat; after the England game, everywhere was still packed, with the staff stressed. But we found an Irish bar with seats upstairs, we got some good simple food and a couple of cold beers, whilst the Germany game boomed out from the widescreen TV.

Jools is enthralled by the World Cup

After eating, we escaped the noise of the TV and headed back to our room, and after the match finished, we hung out of the window watching people pass by down below, many the worse for wear.

Thursday morning dawned bright and warm; we know that as our room was heating up and I have the shot of St Pancras, and the clock is showing 17 minutes past. we grabbed showers and dressed, and then went out to find somewhere for breakfast. we have coffee and paninis in Cafe Nero, and then walk down to Euston Station to catch our train north.

The Royal Scot

Once in the station, Jools went to get food for the journey, whilst I found our seats and take pictures. we were going by electric and steam train to the far north of England, and it was from here where our journey was to begin.

First Class

On the 24th March 1990, some mad people decided to try to build a brand new steam locomotive. It took 20 years, but they did it, and two years ago, Tornado took steam for the first time, and now it roars up and down the country, hauling trains of old and young, eyes wide with awe.

Slightly steaming at Preston

We took our seats in an old BR first class coach, with seats as wide and comfortable as armchairs, it was wonderful. Right on time we eased out of the station and headed north. we stopped at a few places, picking more passengers before we arrived at Crewe, where we were due to lose the electric locomotive and from there be hauled by Tornado.

It took some time to change locos, but it was done, with a huge crowd watching, then, with three blasts on the whistle, it was time to get back on and be taken in style up north.

The picture that writes it's own title

There really is nothing quite like being behind a steam locomotive racing at full speed; as we went along, there were crowds of people just to look at Tornado, and everyone went away with a huge smile on their face. We headed up the main line, towards the Lake District, where Tornado's challenge lay. Over Britain's rail network, there are hills, inclines of varying steepness; Shap is one of the steepest, and is on a main line. All along the four mile bank, there were thousands of people there just to watch and listen as the engine roared and puffed up Shap; the sun came out and the landscape was alive with light. It must have been quite a sight; it was wonderful just to see the countryside pass by to the soundtrack of a hard-working steam locomotive.

we arrived at Carlisle ahead of time, and so Jools and I got away from the crowds at the station, and made our way to the cathedral, which we knew was graced with a fine roof and wonderful decoration. Indeed this was the case, I took many pictures, but we thought we should maybe have a meal. we had passed a nice looking Italian place a few hundred yards towards the station. We got in just as they were closing the kitchen, but in time to order. we both had pasta with chilli-tomato sauce, it was a good meal, just the right amount. and so we headed back to the station, ready for our journey back south.

Francos, Carlisle

Little did we know that plans had gone awry; the local water board had turned off the mains, and so the staff could not top up the tender properly, and when we did pull out of Carlisle, an hour late, we did not have enough water to get us back to Crewe. However, plans were in place, and water tankers met us twice on the next stretch or line to top up the tanks, but this delayed us further.

But, for now, we enjoyed the splendour of the majesty that is the Settle to Carlisle line, heading as it does through the heart of the Pennines. And as we climbed into the hills, we were served fresh cram scones and lots of tea and coffee, all at our window seat. wonderful.

More people came out to watch the train pass, over spectacular viaducts and through tunnels and cuttings. It was rather wonderful, i have to say.

As we were now so late, and the next stretch of line being single track, we got caught at every passing place by trains coming the other way, further delaying us. we creeped into Clitheroe, where people refusing to get off the level crossing meant we were stopped for another ten minutes. We crawled into and through Blackburn, and onto the main line, and then the driver opened her up and we flew down to Crewe, but now some hour and a half late.

A friend of mine, Ang, came down to see us at Crewe as the changed the locos again, and after an hour's wait we pulled out as it got dark and headed back down to London. We crawled into Milton Keynes via the good yard for some reason, and limped through Watford and Wembley, before finally arriving nearly two hours late at a quarter to one; many passengers and staff having missed the last train home, were left with nothing else than a night sleeping on a station bench. we headed back to the hotel, and fitful, hot sleep.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Saturday 26th June 2010

And here I am back in the land of the blogging. It has been a heck of a week, travel, work and football, lots of football.

But first to last Sunday, when we drove down to sunny Wiltshire to drop nan off en route to her friends in Exeter, her friends met us at a Little Chef beside the A303.

Once again, as forecast, the day dawned bright and sunny; Jools got nan up and about early enough, and they came to collect me at half eight and soon we were on our way heading up the M20 towards London and the M25 and the traffic.

As it was early, the traffic was not too bad, but the standard of driving was pretty appalling, and it was great to turn off and head westwards down the M3. The traffic lightened, and soon we were beginning to enjoy the trip. we stopped off at a service station, filled up with fuel and bought ice creams, and we headed off again.

Beyond Basingstoke, we turned off down the A303, and the traffic lightened further, and the sun came out and cast wonderful light on the rolling hills and scattered woods. It was wonderful I have to say, passing picturesque villages and neolithic sites. As it was the day before the solstice, Stonehenge was packed, and so we pressed on.

We came to the Little Chef at East Knoyle in Wiltshire. Nan's friends were waiting, and so we sat in the 'restaurant' drinking tea and coffee, whilst the two waiters/waitresses were rushed off their feet by passing travellers of a certain age and demographic. Middle aged couple ate toasted teacakes and sipped from small teacups; we couldn't wait to get the heck out of Dodge.

East Knoyle is one of my favourite villages; away from the A303 and the Little Chef is a wonderful village nestling in the folds of the Wiltshire countryside; it has thatched cottages, two pubs and a fine church. I had arranged to meet a Flickr friend of mine, who shares this passion for churches, and sample some fine beer and take snaps of the church.

We drove down into the village, parked beside the village green, and walked upto the church. England's most famous architect, Sir Christopher Wren, was born in the village, where his father was the vicar. There is a memorial, and a particularly pretty cottage named after their family.

The parish church of St Mary, East Knoyle

The church is fine, with wonderful plaster reliefs inside; turns out Wren Sr designed them, and not the famous builder. It is a fine church, and once again the centre of village life.

The parish church of St Mary, East Knoyle

we drove to one of the two pubs, The Fox and Hounds, where we had stopped for dinner a couple of years ago. It has fine views over Salisbury plain, or a similar landscape, and does fine food and good ales. We sat at the picnic benches outside and ordered roast beef lunches, followed by wonderful desserts. It was splendid for sure. My friend, Mark turned up and we chatted for a while until it was time for us to go separate ways.

Just Desserts!

We headed down to Shaftesbury, a fine market town with one amazing feature; a very steep cobbled hill lines with thatched cottages and once used in an iconic television advert for sliced bread. And I had never seen it, yet having lived in Wiltshire for four years, and so it seemed like a good idea.

Which it was.

We parked up and wandered around expecting Gold HIll to be signposted, but it didn't seem to be. We headed for the church, and beside it was the hill; or it's beginning.

Shaftesbury, Dorset.

And there was hardly anyone there. I took unencumbered shots of the hill, the cottages, and some old folks struggling to climb back up the hill. There were tables at the Taverna looking down the hill, if you were hungry; people just wandered around, eating ice creams, some of us were snapping. It was all wonderful.

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset

Having taken shots from all angles, we wandered around and found an abbey open to the public; or it's garden. We went in, and I took pictures of the garden now planted in the remains of the abbey church that had been destroyed completely centuries ago. The flowers were wonderful, all fragrant and dazzling with their colours. But, we had to get back to Kent, the clock had ticked round to four, and we had many miles to go.

There is a wonderful drive south of Shaftesbury, over the hills to Blanford Forum; I thought it might be fine to go up there and have a quick walk to survey the scene over the fields to the horizon or sea, whichever is further away. It was cooler there, and the view splendid, but the clock was ticking.

We drove along the twisty road to Salisbury, thus avoiding the gathering of pagans at Stonehenge, seeing many more things and places we have to revisit at some point. At once place we went past some military badges carved into the side of a hill; I knew they were there, but even still to suddenly see these huge badges, wonderfully crafted, just there on the side of a hill.

Once back on the main roads, and then the motorway network, the traffic got thicker and the drivers more stupid, and was not pleasant at all. And it was not the slightest enjoyable at all. But, soon enough we were back in Kent, and the traffic thinned and we drove into the golden evening and home.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Saturday 19th June 2010

Day 9 of the World Cup, I think. It's hard to tell, so many games with so few goals, and every game sounding the same with a background hum of droning from the plastic horns, which, we are told, as so much a part of South African culture, no can can think of banning them, even though it drowns out the crowds, the ref's whistle. Oh well, we listen with the sound turned down for the most part.
And then there is the endless re-hashing of the previous day's news by Radio 5 in the morning. I have begun to turn it off now, makes me wonder if anything else in the world is happening, just 32 teams of men taking turns in kicking a bag of wind around.

Evil Jools!

Maybe this jaded thought comes from the fact England are rubbish, really rubbish and doing quite a good impression of Norwich under Bryan Hamilton; don't ask about that. Last night they played the might of Algeria, who have not scored for 6 games, losing each one, and for 90 minutes, nothing much happened. At all. For 23 millionaires who have known each other since they were teens, they did a good impression of having not met each other before.
But, other things have happened; work. Rain. work. sleep.

North Foreland Lighthouse

The job is still ongoing, even though I swing between good and bad days, one step forward two steps back. But the week has passed, the afternoons fly as we have the 48 inch monitor on with the football. Some work does get done, and we leave at five to get home to watch more football.

Red Arrows

Today we went up to Thanet to see an air show, or to see the Red Arrows. we drove off at ten, took our time, wandered around Broadstairs some, had breakfast, got wet in a downpour, dried off, got wet again. and then set off for the north coast just around North Foreland point. we walked past the grand houses, the lighthouse, and then the bloody Red Arrows began their display 15 minutes early. we saw some of it through the trees as we made our way to Kingsgate Bay, another 15 minutes and we would have made it.
As they neared the end of their display, the storm clouds rolled in, and we ran for shelter in the nearby pub.

Kingsgate Bay

Once the rain cleared, we went for a walk down on the beach under the shelter of the chalk cliffs. I walked through a natural arch in the cliffs, taking pictures all the time. Somewhere new so close to us, there must be hundreds of other places to visit.

Tomorrow, we're off to deepest Wiltshire, so a long day with many miles of driving; see you next week.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Sunday 13th June 2010

Once Saturday rolled round, it was time for our plan to kick into action. The plan was to leave Dover early and drive into Essex and go to Dovercourt to snap a couple of unusual lighthouses and look at the ports of Harwich and Felixstowe over the river and then head into Suffolk to Lowestoft for my school reunion and go to a transport museum before that. And maybe take in a couple of churches too.

With hindsight, i see this was all too much, especially leaving Lowestoft to come back home until ten made for a very long day indeed. But before we reached that state of nirvana we had the day to enjoy.

There is something wonderful heading out before the masses onto the empty and open roads, zipping up to Dartford, under the Thames and into Essex before turning off and driving up the A12 and heading north towards my hometown.

We turned off at Colchester and headed to the coast; there were the usual boy and girl racers in the inevitable souped up Ford Focuses nipping in and out of the light traffic causing chaos, but they turned off towards clacton, and we headed to the delights of Dovercourt and Harwich.

Hawich is a port, which mainly links England to Holland via The Hoek of Holland, but over the river Felixstowe is a hive of activity as huge ships load and unload amazing amounts of containers, the noise of the works just carrying over the water to us.

Dovercourt cast iron lighthouses

Dovercourt is a genteel suburb, with view out into the North sea, with graceful lines of the promenade and a slight rise of a grass covered rise that may have been a small cliff at some point. Pride of place however, are two cast iron lighthouses, built to replace Tudor ones, two lighthouses, on skinny cast iron legs, with a set of steps rising on the outside like a spider's web. One light, the high, is on the beach, and the other, the low, is out some 150 years in the sea. Together, the show a safe heading to enter the port in the days before radar. I snapped them, and snapped them good, and then we walked along the prom towards the town and the river.

Dovercourt cast iron lighthouses

We stopped to look and snap flowers growing on the bank, and to look at the people out and about on an early Saturday morning. we ended up in the maritime quarter of the town, all museum and partly disused buildings, some put to new uses, other still waiting. we walked back to the car back down the prom, pausing to take some seeds of a vivid purple poppy that was just glorious, and now we plan to plant some in our garden.

East Anglian Transport Museum, Carlton Colville, Lowestoft

Back in the car and back to Colchester, and then north again into Suffolk. It was now getting towards lunch, and north of Ipswich we spied a sign at Darsham for a pub, The Fox, and so we turned off and waited the 5 minutes for it to open. We had a fine lunch, cod and chips for me and steak in a country sauce for Jools, a glass of Broadside for me and a small cider for Jools, and then it was time to drive on.

We turned off again to drive through Bungay, and on the way we stop to snap a couple of churches at Ilkeshall, two of five very similar scattered around the parish. The churches are small but well made, and both open and well used. St Peters though is in a poor state of repair, with the roof needing repairing if the green stains on the wall were to be stopped.

East Anglian Transport Museum, Carlton Colville, Lowestoft

The transport museum in Lowestoft houses working trams and trolley buses and tries to restore others. It is quite small, but we did get to ride on a tram, through the cobbled streets of the museum, and into the wood beyond. It clanked and screeched its way along the track in a most satisfactory way, and the conductor came along and 'clipped' our tickets, just how they used to. But it was quickly over, and after buying a couple of books we left as more people arrived.

We visited more churches, and I drove round some of my favourite places. we had coffee and a bun at The sparrows Nest, the old Naval Patrol base, now a civic park, but a shadow of it's glory years when I was a boy, when the flower beds would be a riot of colours and numerous ponds full of golden fish. Now just one pool remains, and the water a deep green, and most flower beds empty of everything except rocks.

We visited a couple of churches out in the country, at Haddiscoe and Herringfleet; they are both round towered flint built churches, an East Anglian speciality, and wonderful. and inside beautiful, with remains of wall paintings and gloriously complicated pipe organs filling roof spaces. Both were wonderful I have to say. I snap a couple of others from the outside before we head to the meeting point of the reunion, a pub in town, and find a table as we settle down to wait for people to arrive and for the England game on TV to start.

In the end, just six of us turned up, which was very disappointing to say the least, and England played poorly, from what I saw, and it was time for us to head back home at ten. We stopped off at KFC for something to eat, and it was filling up with those wandering home, bedecked in flags of St George and face paint. How will they face the almost inevitable disappointment when England have to come back hoe? With more beer one suspects.

It takes over three hours to get home, and the roads cleared as the hour got later and Saturday gave way to Sunday. Back in Kent, the motorway was almost deserted, and we sped home, and then to our beds.

As is proper, Sunday is to be a day of rest.

Friday 11th June 2010

And so it is Friday afternoon, and another working week draws to an end.


And I am very glad to have reached this point after yesterday, when I had a morning in the hospital being poked and prodded. Not very nice at all, and it knocked me sideways for the rest of the day in truth. I had the day off work, and could have had today off too if I’d have wanted. But being the trooper I am came in and did my turn at the coalface.
As ever I am drowning in a sea of information, and struggling to see what it all means, as soon as I get an answer for question A, that throws up questions B-Z, or so it seems. It must mean something, although I am struggling to find that meaning. I write mails back and get ever more complicated answers drenched in technobabble, which is the word of the day for today. The company has all it’s information on a stupidly nonsensical database, which it is halfway through replacing with the propaganda pages that they call “The Hub”. It is full every day of faux ‘news stories’ about how great the company is, and how quality means everything, and yet on an hourly basis I see the lies that lay behind the spin. If they spend some of the money on the real issues that effect the company rather than glossy non-stories, things might be better.

Or not.

I have at least reached the stage where I have sent invoices to other parts of the company for stuff they have or not have done, that has cost us money. This is really a paperwork exercise moving money from one part of the company to another. The aim is to improve quality in the company, whci as I have seen is almost non-existent. Or so it seems. My boss is here next week and so maybe we can sort something out. Or not.

At least the weekend is here, and this means getting out and about, and for us, heading back in time to deepest Suffolk for another school reunion, and before hand taking the chance to visit a couple of photogenic locations, and maybe et up with my friend, Andrew. As well as seeing lots of old schoolfriends, with whom I have nothing in common except the past.

It isn’t work, though.

And today, the World Cup begins, which means that I will have less time than I have normally to do stuff like photography and the like. It’s only once every four years I guess, and when that finishes, it will be just three or so weeks before the football season begins again. It’ll be like it was never away…..

Monday, 7 June 2010

Monday 7th June 2010

On the way to the port, I stopped off at the supermarket, sorry supermarche, and bought a selection of chesses and some wine, before going to the wine place for a couple of crates of wine and then off to the tunnel and home.

The best thing about living in East Kent is when returning from France , the drive from the Channel Tunnel is so short. Less than half an hour after driving off the train, I was reversing into the drive of the house and ready for the weekend. I unloaded the car, sorted out my dirty washing,a nd then set about mowing the back lawn so it was one thing less to do over the weekend. And then sit down with a cold beer and look at the pictures I took during my week away.

Western Heights Open Day 2010

And so, in the cooling evening air, we sat out in the back garden and ate bread and cheese, all fresh and very unhealthy I don’t doubt, but wonderful all the same.

Saturday, we had to drop off the hire car first, and then the day was ours. High above Dover , on one side is the world famous castle, but on the hill opposite is the lesser known Western heights; built during Napoleonic times to house troops to repel attack, but obsolete soon after being built. The three forts have been built to blend into the landscape, and are all but invisible from the sea or the town. And once a year, there is an open day where people dress up in period costume to pretend to fight battles that might have been fought at that time; had Napoleon actually have made it over the channel.

Western Heights Open Day 2010

For me, it is a photographic opportunity, more so for the people as I have visited the forts several times now. And as ever it was wonderful, and blessed with stunning summer weather. I stood near two ‘camps, and snapped the comings and goings as people put on uniforms, got their weapons ready, and with fife and drums playing, marched off to war.

Western Heights Open Day 2010

All good stuff I have to say, but at that point I left, like I said I have seen most of the fort before, and one can only photograph it so much, and so I made my way down to the street below, via the Grand Shaft, and met up with Jools as we drove off into the country to buy some stuff for the BBQ we were planning for the evening.

Rolls Royce and Bentley abstracts

For the rest of the day, we did stuff in the garden, before lighting the Weber at half six and then cooking burgers, sausages and ribs. As always we had too much food, but cooked the extra for salads later in the week, which seemed like a good idea.

Rolls Royce/Bentley abstract

Sunday dawned grey and damp after a night of thunder and lightning, which kept the scaredy of our two cats cowering in one of our wardrobes, but at least with the promise of sunshine later. There was to be a rally of vintage Rolls Royces in town to celebrate the crossing of either Mr Rolls or Mr Royce
Of the channel in both directions without stopping, exactly 100 years before. More photographic opportunities I thought, and so we set off at nine, before the crowds.
The cars were still arriving, some from the turn of the 20th century, but from most years that the company had been in production, some owned by average looking people, but many by those who look liked they weren’t short of a penny or two. It was fun, to see then try to line their luxury cars along the promenade, and all the while I was snapping away.

Rolls Royce/Bentley abstract

But, it seems you can have too much of a good thing, and we left as the crowds grew thicker, and headed back once again for lunch and more relaxing and ‘stuff’ in the garden.

Chalkhill Blue (Polyommatus coridon)

And that really was our weekend; we achieved very little, but it flew by and now five days of work before we can relax again. Welcome to the working week!

Friday, 4 June 2010

Friday 4th June 2010

Friday. And I’m going to start the short drive home in about an hour. I couldn’t get a later train through the tunnel, so I’ll just have to put up with going home earlier and having a longer weekend. But, I’m willing to put up with that.

It is another glorious morning here in France , not a cloud in the sky and just a gentle breeze to stir the branches. A fine day to be heading home, and it should be the same tomorrow at least in Dover . But Sunday come thunder and lightning, very, very frightening, indeed. So, best make the most of it this morning.

La plage, Dunkerque

Yesterday I sent myself back to the hotel at four, not much work on, and then had a quick shower and headed out for the beach, with cameras for a stroll, a beer and some snapping.

The view from The Cactus Cafe

The beach is where some 70 years ago, 300,000 allied troops were evacuated in what was the lowest point of the war. Now, the ebach is lined with hotels, bars and restaurants, the beaches filled with families and the waterline packed with kite-surfers, the sky filled with multi-coloured kited dipping and weaving. It was very nice, I have to say.

The (modern) beach at Dunkerque

I chose a bar and ordered a large beer and sat back and watched the world pass by along the beach front. It all seems so bloody continental, and yet less than 40 miles from our house; how can life be so different so close to home? I walked to the Dunkirk Memorial, looked at the wreathes, and pondered that that event made my life possible after my Grandfather was rescued.

Les Beach Huts

I walked back and came to a nice looking place to have dinner; it was seven, a bit early for France , but I was hungry. I had fried camembert followed by a Caesar salad, and then a crème brulee and a coffee. Not bad Mr H, I have to say, not bad.

scene from over the creme brulee

In the evening light, I walked back to the hotel and lay reading before sleep took me from this world.

More later…..

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Thursday 3rd June 2010

So, last night I decided to eat in the hotel; I guess the food is not so bad, and there is a tab open so I can book everything to it so easily. Unlike most Brits who stay not just in this hotel, but all hotels, I was determined not to be at the door of the restaurant when it’s doors opened at half seven, but to go down at a continental time and be really hungry.

Which is what I did, I chose some simple French food, and a nice bottle of Bordeaux, and settled down to people watch whilst pretending to read my book. The speciality of the restaurant is seafood, and people were tucking into all sorts of sea creatures, with a variety of odd looking cutlery and tools. I watched one guy munch his way through a small mountain of what could have been fresh cockles or limpets, hooking out the creature with hooked knife, dipping the unfortunate thing in butter and then opening wide and down the hatch. Another guy had just finished a lobster, and there was what looked like a bucket for the discarded parts he had cleaned out.

The waiter brought the bottle over, showed me the label and uncorked it. He poured a small amount in a glass and offered me to try. That first sniff of a decent wine was heady. I say decent, it wasn’t expensive, but tasted as good as it smelt. I think, in hindsight, I should have ordered something in half a bottle, but what the heck, eh? When in France and all that.

As work is drawing to and end over here, there is a distinct party atmosphere, nothing more clear than an impromptu barbeque that was thrown yesterday afternoon; a variety of sausages and chicken kebabs, and sitting out in the bright sunshine was all rather wonderful. And then back to work.

Work is not that taxing here; I can only act on information received and until that comes in there is only so much going over case information one can do. Like now, as yesterday, I wait for mails and news of questions and enquiries I have asked, and time passes.

On the way home yesterday, I went off to take shots of the industrial area near here, all steel and chemical works and railway marshalling yards. The air was thick with sulphur, but made for interesting, at least to me, photographs. I then went to the town centre, to look at the huge church and separate tower that dominate the skyline, at least when there are no wind turbines to compete with. And then along to the town all, Hotel de Ville, more shots, and then a thirst-quenching beer in a small bar on the town square. Not bad, not bad.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Tuesday 2nd June 2010

Bonjour, and welcome to La Belle France. Again.

I am here, again, to smooth things out after my e mail last week, only to find those I want to see are all away. And so I find myself in an office here in gloomy Dunkerque, doing the same job I do in Ramsgate. It all seems a bit mad, but I am getting to speak to people face to face and listen to their problems and hear their side of the story and why the system, in their view, does not work.

I don’t know enough to decide who is to blame, even if there is someone to blame, but the system is certainly not working here, which is something that should not have been allowed to continue. But it has, and we are here to pick up the pieces and make order from chaos.

As is usual on a British bank holiday, the weather was pretty bad, with just Sunday good enough for going out photographing stuff; castles, trains and flowers, etc.

Friday night we went down onto the cliffs to watch the full moon rise; it was chilly, but the lights of Calais shone over the Channel, and ferries zipped across. We sat down and waited for moonrise, and as soon as the dark red ball rose, it went behind the clouds and so no good pictures to be taken. So it goes, so it goes.

We went back home, and I had a whisky to warm my blood and then we called it a night.

Saturday dawned grey and drizzly; we went into town for breakfast and then I went to have my mop of hair tamed, which involves sitting listening to the barbers cracking wisecracks and giving their view on the world. It passes a morning, and I look half presentable.

The forecasted rain did show up in the afternoon, and I settled down to watch the penultimate game of the season; another play-off. I should have cared more than I did, but I found myself nodding off.

Sunday was a much different affair, and we decided to head to the north and west of the county, to visit yet another castle and gardens. Scotney Castle is in fact two castles, a broken down ruin set in a moat, and a Victorian house overlooking it. With many rhododendrons and other spring plants in flower in the large gardens.

We arrived an hour after opening, and already it was filing up with tourists and the curious. The old castle was very picturesque indeed, all tumbledown walls and ivy covered towers; I snapped away. The spring flowers were reflected in the moat, ducks and lilies broke up the reflections; it was very pleasant I have to say.

Scotney Castle, Kent

We went round the new house, it was full of grand paintings and fine clothes, with the mundane mixed in to show it was until recently a home. An old TV, a small domestic stove beside an ancient Aga copies of “Your Cat” magazine mixing it with the first editions in the library.

Scotney Castle, Kent

It was lunchtime, and instead of eating in the expensive National Trust restaurant, we headed out into Tunbridge Wells to find something cheaper and more filling. And to find the Spa Valley Railway, as I knew there were smoke breathing locomotives to be seen there.

L99: Spa Valley Railway

Opposite the station, in the old station building in fact, was an American West themed restaurant which had fine smells coming from it. We checked the times of the trains and found we had nearly two hours and so a nice leisurely meal lay ahead. In a surprise move, they only sold been in half pints or two pints, and so I had two halves, which make very nearly a pint, and Jools ordered BBQ ribs and me a ranch burger. With curly fries. And onion rings. Lots of onion rigs.

The Station Master

And then out into the steamy world of preserved railways, me snapping away at rusting hulks of locos of years gone by. Until our little train came in, and we climbed into the not-so-old carriage and into the wonderfully soft seats. And in due course we puffed away and chugged through the glorious spring fields of the Kentish countryside. The line ended at a neat little station in a cutting, and we waiting while the little engine ran round to the other end of the train so to do the reverse trip.

The middle three carriages had a wedding party going on, with the reception carrying on at a line side hotel, served by the line at a small halt. And at the halt guests got on and off, with just the bride and a few friends left on the train, until the journey back when they could get off. Or not.

The Weald

We got off at the end of the line and headed back east; stopping off at a village on one of the highest points of the county, with the church at the highest point of the town. And the tower was open. The view from Goudhurst church was magnificent, as the spring sunshine cast green shapes over the high land of the Kentish Weald; scattered around were oasthouses, churches and many farms; all in all a glorious English scene. Another glorious scene was inside the bar of the pub, where we had a fortifying drink before heading back in the car and home.

St Mary the Virgin, Goudhurst

Monday was all damp and grey again, and so we did go for a walk along the cliffs to spot some spring orchids and other spring beauties, before giving up as the drizzle turned to rain, and so we headed home to watch the rain fall through the windows whilst we did our hobbies; beading for Jools and photography, for me.

St Mary the Virgin, Goudhurst

And so, here I am back in France. I left Tuesday morning, after picking up the hire car from town and then coming home and battling that unmoveable beast, the Eurotunnel website. It crashes more time than a ZX81! In the end I went old schoola nd called them, as I wanted to catch a train within an hour. Eurotunnel don;t seem to care about the website, or the person I spoke to, as it keeps them in a job I guess.
After planning on arriving early and heading to the terminal to buy lunch, I took the wrong turn and headed to an earlier train. Oh well, it means being at work half an hour earlier!
And soon we were moving off, under the sea to France. And it really is that simple, very functional and undramatic; in 35 minutes we were in Calais and the doors opened and we drove off onto the motorway and me off to work. I know the way now, and just relaxed, listened to the radio as I drove.

Once in Dunkerque, I stopped of at McDonalds to grab lunch before putting in an afternoons work. It was fairly undramatic, I managed to make myself understood and came out with pretty much what I ordered, Royal with Cheese! Jules from Pulp Fiction would have been proud!

And on to work, answer mails, and make enquiries, although, as I said, most of the people I had hoped to meet were not here. And repeat until five, or thereabouts, and head off to the hotel and relax some more.

And the shock of not having a room in the attic as before, but a suite with a balcony, although it was raining, but all very nice, and a double bed and a bigish TV, but no coffee making stuff. Can't have everything. And I can't make the internet connection work, but maybe that's for the best, as it means i do really old school things, like read.

At half eight I head off to the little place up the road for dinner. I look at the menu and choose what I think should have been pepper steak with muchrooms and cheese, I am pretty sure that's what I ask for, but the owner decides what I should have, and cooks skewered beef, salad and fries; it was very nice even though it wasn't what I asked for, and some of the beef was nearly bleu, but yummy nonetheless.

And back to the hotel room after just two beers for more reading and quality sleep.