Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Wednesday 29th June 2011

Summer arrived with full force on Monday with temperatures reaching 93 degrees, or whatever that is in new money. This necessitated driving to and from work with both front windows open just to get some cooling action. Needless to say, Sunday and Monday nights were hot and sweaty and resulted in not much sleep, doubly so when we were joined on Monday night by Molly who thought that it was a good idea to sleep on the end of the bed. It wasn’t Molly.

Talking of Molly, she has been a loving as she ever was, and demands attention as well as food now. And she seems to positively enjoy being picked up and fussed over.

But, as far as the weather is concerned, normality has been restored with things pretty much back to normal, and it feeling quite chilly last night!

As a bonus for me, the hummingbird hawk moth has returned, and after me stalking it a couple of times and it flying off, I got two good series of shots these past two nights, even better as I have the macro lens. The shots last night were really very nice indeed.

Hummingbird Hawk Moth

Jools is doing yoga on a Tuesday night, which leaves me home alone for a while. I listened to the radio last night, once again going over the bones of last year’s failed England World Cup campaign. As if things will ever change. Its good that people really care how well the national side does, but when it comes to deciding it’s the same old story of vested interests and having three different organisations in charge of various aspects of the game. Chances of them agreeing on anything are remote.

Tomorrow is to be the nearest the country has been to a General Strike since 1926 as millions of public sector workers demonstrate their feelings over reduced pensions, working longer and life in general. Listen, its tough for us all. A tank of petrol costs £53, down from £58 a month or so ago, but a long way above the £40 it was eighteen months back. Groceries now cost £60 a week at least, inflation rises 5% and pay rises barely 2% if at all. We are all suffering.


In the world of cats; Scully has taken to sleeping in the bird table. I have photographs. Mulder is a demanding for love as ever, but the hot weather did make them very sleepy and not at all hungry. And Little Girl is, well, Little Girl. She lives her life by a different set of rules to the rest and does things her way, but seems to be doing well on it, so that’s all that matters.

And that is it, Wednesday night and all is well……..

Monday, 27 June 2011

6 years and counting.....

The 27th June sees the sixth anniversary of my last ‘working’ day in the RAF. There will be those who will say I never did a days work during my 15 years; like many jobs, life in the RAF was months of boredom with days of excitement mixed in. However, by the time I had done 13 years, I had upset my SNCO and he had effectively killed my career with the damning with faint praise ruse. At least I knew with two years notice, and so was able to get my life sorted; well, get my head straight, as I was not a happy bunny when I found out that I was not on the promotion board but the alcoholics and philanderers who made up my SNCO’s friends strangly were. Go figure! He a short arsed prat, still in and here I am doing what I do.

What do I do?

Good question, but before we get there, it is sometimes good to look at my journey here.

AC Jelltex

I walked out of RAF Coltishall that day in 2005 and did not look back, once. And I have no regrets, we had fallen out of love with each other, that’s me and the RAF. I took the summer off as I was still being paid and drove round America for nine weeks. I did write about that, at great length in previous blogs. And then, back home on September 11th, and with thousands in the bank, I did more relaxing. And then got down to some real relaxing. I did do some driving jobs in between the relaxing, sometimes nearly a week of driving. I was joined in this relaxed life my a cat I adopted, Molly. And the year moved into winter.

Which one is Jelltex?

I did more odd jobs, I drove for 5 weeks as a draysman, in that I delivered beer. But for a right cowboy outfit in Lowestoft. And for a pathetic wage, but it did get me working until I left over an argument about overtime; they didn’t want to pay for it, and I thought it being a legal requirement and all. Then I reported them to the local council for H&S breaches as they delayed my final pay-off.

And then I ran out of money. I mean really ran out of money. I maxed out my overdraft, and there wasn’t enough to pay my mortgage for the month. By then it was too late for them to help, and so I had to ask my Mother for help. In time I did pay her back, but for all the stuff I say about her she did come through. Then again, the only other option would have been for me to move back in with her, which did not thrill either of us.

I then fell into driving for a chemical company. That was probably the worst job I had, in that I hated every moment of it, because the thought that at any moment a lapse on my part could cause a cloud of gas, or worse. I did get into it, but began to get fed up with the management’s attitude, I believe with good reason. And anyway, I began to argue and not accept and crap.

One morning in November, I was laid off early one Tuesday morning. They said for cost-cutting reasons, but the truth was that I made it clear that I expected rules to be followed, I had joined a union and said that from the next July there was going to be no smoking in any of the offices as I would report them to the council if there was. I walked out of the yard, laughing as I had no job, little money and a huge mortgage. That day my life changed. They paid me a week, and so I did what I usually did; watched TV and drank whisky.

The next Monday I began to look for work, and the second agency I wrote to called back.

Was I a gun mechanic they asked.

Well, I was. I had done a small arms course in the RAF and could repair and service most guns. They sent my CV to a company and I waited. If you get the interview, the agency said, you’ll be offered a job.

I got the interview and listened as the interviewer talked and talked. I said yes a few times, and all seemed fine. I went home and a couple of days was offered the job which involved going to sea.

I had to go to Portsmouth to do a sea survival course, I dropped Molly off with my girlfriend in Dover. I guess we had become an item by then, it seemed to be the right thing to do. Anyway, I did the course and went home to Lowestoft to wait developments. I went into the office on Monday and Tuesday supposedly to learn something of the job, but Kevin was busy. We got to see inside a ship, and after two days went home with the news I was to join the ship in Yarmouth that we had visited the next morning.

I’d like to say I knew what I did for those 5 weeks. There was a lot of sitting around in various ports, after a few days we moved from Yarmouth to Den Helder in Holland. I drank some good beer, and I watched while the engineers did their stuff. The Engineer in Charge was a git and made my life hell, I was clearly not welcome and asked to get off. As I did the EIC did as well, and the new one was great and offered to do loads of training with me, but I was already going to leave and the next morning climbed aboard a flight back to Norwich and then back home.

A few days later, I received a call from Kevin: did I fancy a trip to Indonesia on an easy job? Duh!

So a few weeks later I boarded a flight to Jakarta, and then onto Borneo to join the ship to do more survey work in the South China Sea. This was more like it, dessert islands and volcanoes rolled past, we sun bathed, played cards. It all came to an end after one swing and I flew home feeling better. Even better was that I had to do two return trips to the same ship in various parts of Indonesia; I also went to Papua and West Timor. I saw more tropical islands, more volcanoes, more whales and had a few adventures in the ports we called in mainly due to huge cheap bottles of beer.

These trips and the downtime took me to the autumn and then back onto ships in the north sea. Oh well, and back under the control of assholes to put it bluntly. Thing is, on a ship you can’t escape and the life could be really quite unpleasant. I stuck it, but at times I don’t know how. In 2008, I moved to a ship operating out of Norway, initially out of Hamerfest, which is almost as far north you can go in Europe without getting your feet wet. Life in Hamerfest, and even further north at 72 degrees north in February is an experience. I saw icebergs, frozen harbours and 12 hour shifts on the back deck that were hell, or felt like it. I came home in April and saw green plants for the first time in nine weeks.

Back then to rejoin the ship in Bergen, which by now was high summer and hot, hot, hot. The Foo Fighters played the park next to where we docked, and so we went to see them play, it was a fine day. Back then to Blighty, I moved to Dover and Jools and I got engaged and were married in September that year.

After nearly two months away from the sea, I went back to sea in Hull.

Hull deserves all the bad press it gets, as it’s a dump, and being in dock, waiting for the work to be completed meant we saw a lot of it. The job went well, so well that after 5 weeks we were kicked off as there was no more work, which meant I was to join another ship in December and be away from home again for Christmas.

By this time I had been approached by another company, and took their extra shilling and resigned from Gardline. Kevin was furious, and tried to get me to change my mind. I told him I had been promised Christmas off and look what happened! Too many calls asking me to join ships at 24 hour notice and I had had enough.

I sold my house in Lowestoft, Jools sold her flat in Dover and we moved into the house on the cliffs. I went to Kazakhstan with my new employer to survey the Caspian Sea. It was hard work at times, and we saw some fine things and ate strange food. We came back after 5 weeks, and whilst on holiday in Paris I heard that UTEC had gone bust. I had no job. Again.

And to make it worse, my old employer refused to re-employ any of us who had left to join UTEC. We started to live off our savings.

Then, my sister-in-law offered me a job in her department at the box factory. Quality again. So, I start work, checking for quality and defects on boxes. I do OK, make friends, but it is agency work, and low paid, and the work dries up. I get kept on for a while, maybe to be a machine minder. Christmas comes and goes, and on my first day back, I am escorted from the factory saying I wasn’t what they were looking for.

Stunned is not the word, but there you go. The reasons may be different, but it still hurt to be escorted from the site, even if it was policy. I did a few days work surveying the new windfarm being built off Ramsgate, but it did not develop into anything more permanent. I search and search for work, get more and more down, and then I see an ad, I apply, I get it.

And here I am working for Vestas Offshore (UK). It’s been quite a ride, good jobs, good pay, crap jobs on minimum wages.

Those companies in full:

The Beer Wagon (tossers)

Raw Chemicals (rank amateurs)

Gardline Geosurvey

UTEC Geosurvey

London Fancy Box Company

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Sunday 26th June 2011

we woke up on Saturday morning with the rain hammering down outside, looking out the window not only rain, but it was misty, and once we got up, so cold we put the heating on to take the chill off. It came as a surprise therefore to hear the radio weather-woman warn of heat waves, heat strokes and temperatures of 30 degrees and more. Although the change in weather was not expected until the end of the day, but still, it was hard to believe.
We did very little during the day, we listened to the radio, did out hobbies and that is about it. as promised, the rain stopped in the afternoon, and the sky brightened. And as the temperatures climbed, the fog came. Thick, cold fog. And that set in for the rest of the day.

Our first view of Crossness

Sunday morning, woke up, looked out and more fog. No sunshine, no heatwave, just fog. We do live near the sea, and the fog is a result of the mix of temperature of the air and the colder sea. We were promised the sun would burn it off in the end, but it could take some time.
So, after breakfast we climbed in the car and headed up the A2 towards London and a date with a sewerage pumping station. Yes, you heard right.

Built in the latter half of the 19th century to pump London's sewage out to sea from there at high tide rather than it float down the river being a health hazard. Four huge beam engines worked hard to keep London's water and river clean, and inside as well as doing the job, it was designed to look good as well. Crossness has been called the cathedral of sewage, and it is easy to see why; every surface is cast in iron, but decorated with flowers or patterns and painted bright colours. So pround were the Victorians of this engine house, they called two of the engines Victoria and Prince Consort.

The Octagon, Crossness

We drove into outer London, before heading towards the river, through the urban sprawl that is SE London, huge estates of 1930s housing, parks and open spaces, until we dropped off the downs towards the river and the smell.

Yes, the smell, because even today, Crossness is cleaning London's water, but not using steam and certainly not pumping it into the River Thames. So, we drive through the main gates, along the riverside to the engine house.


We park up, gather our stuff and walk towards the entrance, already behind us there is a heavier stream of traffic arriving. We pay our fiver and go in, and as soon as we see the engine house for the first time our breath is taken away.

we go round, amazed at the size of the one remaining working engine, and with a hiss and several toots on its steam whistle, it begins to pump, or go through the motions, and the small army of people required to feed it and keep and eye on it scamper round dressing in waistcoats and bowler hats. All wonderful stuff.


It was now getting very warm as the sun had burned the clouds away, and the glass roof along with the steam engine was warm enough. We took one last look round and headed out, past the queue of maybe 500 folks waiting to get in.

we drove back towards Dover with all windows down, the breeze being wonderful though our sweaty hair. We turn off the motorway to find a pub, and come across the Roebuck in Harrietsham. We order beef snadwiches and settle down with ice cold beer and cider and wait for the food.

The Octagon

Back home to sit in the garden, but it is too hot and so I mess around with the photographs, and Jools reads on the sfoa whilst being covered in cats.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Thursday 23rd June 2011

And so, back to reality.

Back home Saturday evening, dirty clothes in the washer, clean clothes away, and a chance to tidy the house up before the cats were collected on Sunday morning.

And Sunday, Jools went to pick up the cats, and for the rest of the day we had very clingy cats following us around. Apart from the cats, tidying up, washing and ironing, all we did was to visit Jools Dad. We spent the afternoon chatting and with one eye on the weather as we had washing out and rain was forecast. And as is usual, the rain came a couple of hours early, and despite a swift exit and a dash home, all washing was wet through by the time we got home.

But by nine, all work was done, and we sat down to get our weekly fix of Jason Isaacs in his BBC drama series, which sadly ended this week.

And so, with astonishing speed, Monday morning rolled round, and we climbed out of bed and got ourselves ready for work and prepared to get back to the grindstone. The fear is going back to work and having hundreds of mails and tasks to do, but we both had quite manageable work waiting for us, and so we had a fairly peaceful day.

Le Jardin de Jelltex

Yesterday was the 21st, the longest day, and we actually had a day without rain, and once back from work, I was able to mow the lawn, and rather wonderful it looks too. Jools went out to re-start her yoga classes, and so we had a late dinner of a Chinese takeaway and a pint of beer for me.

In the news, Wimbledon has started with a certain A. Murray carrying the hopes of the middle classes that someone from Albion might actually win the men’s title. I used to like the event, but to be honest, I can’t be arsed with it. All TV and radio seems to have been suspended for the whole two weeks, which other not getting regular news updates on Radio 5, affects us little. Last Friday, the football fixtures for this season were published, and now that we can see Norwich’s games, we really feel like we are Premier League now. The club’s news on the BBC is now on the PL page. Lets just hope we can win enough games to stay there now.

Small Tortoiseshell

In economic news, Greece is needing another €110bn loan to meet their outgoings for the year, and in return must cut more spending, raise more taxes, and even then the still might default as they are nowhere near being able to meet the interest repayments on their debts, let alone start paying the debts themselves off. The upshot might well be that if Greece defaults, it could bring a run on the Euro, the stupid banks that lent all the money to Greece not getting their money back, and the taxpayers in the countries where the banks are based, picking up yet another huge bill. Will we ever learn?

Apparently not.

Red Admiral

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Sunday 19th June 2011

And so our holiday drew to an end. We set the alarm and were up at half six, packed, breakfasted and ready to go by seven fifteen. We said goodbye to the cottage's owners, settled the bill and she presented us with a cake.

A quick drive to Shrewsbury, as we were to meet a friend from one of my Flickr groups, and due to an accident, it was the same day as Shrewsbury's carnival, which would mean it being very crowded. We decided to hotfoot it out of town at midday to avoid the road closures, as it was a five hour drive home, and otherwise it would be nearly dark by the time we got home.

We used the Park and Ride, and so were in the town centre by eight fifteen, and walking round the empty streets with me snapping apparently every building. Unlike Chester, the timber-framed buildings here all were authentic and some looking like they were in the process of falling down.

The KIngs Head, Shrewsbury

At half eight we made our way to M&S to meet my friend, Ann. And she was waiting for us. After our hellos made, we started wandering around, but found all places we tried to enter, closed. Looking at my watch i saw it was still not nine; maybe that explained it.


we went for a coffee so some time would pass, and its always good to have coffee, especially fine Italian ground coffee. We even resisted the temptation to have second breakfast!

Time then to wander the streets some more, we ended up at the castle, and then the skies darkened, and the heavens opened. We sheltered under a tree whilst the worst of the rain eased. As we walked back into town, the skies darkened again, and we took shelter in a cafe in a converted church. This time we succumbed to food, Jools and I had hot buttered scones whilst the rain hammered down outside.


Back outside the rain stopped; we went back to the churches we had tried to get into, and they were open. St Mary's was wonderful, so big it was almost cathedral-sized. I snapped it good, including using the macro lens in snapping the details.

Sadly, time was beating us, and so at midday we made our way to the bus stop, as we climbed aboard the Morris Dancers had begun dancing, the temptation was to stay, but we really had to be going.


And so, the long journey home began, down to Bridgenorth, Kidderminster and then onto the motorway. Down to Oxford and onto the M25, round London and then through Kent to Folkestone and then to Dover.

We had to do some grocery shopping, and did it before heading home, which meant no Tescos on Sunday, and just relaxing. and gardening. And washing. But we will collect the cats!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Saturday 18th June 2011

Oswestry June 2011

Saturday 11th.
Apart from packing, the other thing to do before any holiday can begin, is round up the cats, get them in a basket and then to the cattery. Three of the cats are no problem, but Molly, sweet, dear Molly knows. She knows there is something going on and will hide.


I guess the big clue for her is the catflap being locked, so they can’t get out. And then there are the packed bags and the such. And then there is the sweet talking. Sweet talking from Jools and myself as we round them up. Knowing this we start, or try to start with Molly, but as I said earlier, she knows.
This time it was under the hot water heater and under our bed. But, she does know the game is up and goes limp. But she is only waiting for her chance, the moment when our grip loosens as we put her into the basket, time to twist and try to get the heck out. But, we are ready for this, and after dragging her from under the bed, and getting her in the basket, after untangling the duvet from her claws, she is resigned to her fate.

42968 at Kidderminster

The others are fine and easy peasy. We load the car with our bags and cats, lock to door and head off. Just before we get to the cattery, Mulder’s bowels give out and there is the smell! Nothing quite like fresh cat poo in a confined space.
The cattery says they will clean the basket up, and so we put them in the pen; three clean but unhappy cats, and one slightly stained.

And we’re off.

There really is not much to say about the trip round London; the M25 is not pleasant at the best of times, and at eleven on a Saturday morning its busier than normal, but traffic moves and we’re soon turning off and heading up towards Oxford and away from the heaviest of traffic.

We stop off at Oxford Services for some dirty food, Burger King, which every now and again is not so bad. And then onwards and westwards towards Kidderminster and some trains.

One of the best preserved lines is the Severn Valley Line, we had ridden it before, but as we were nearly passing, what the heck. In truth we were only passing because I planned it that way, but still…..

We parked up and went to the station, got our tickets and had half an hour to wait for the next train. The station has been done up like it would have been in ww2; all sandbags and taped windows. And under the canopy are stalls selling railway memorabilia and maps. I was not tempted, and as soon as the train pulled in we made our way to a carriage and took our seats in a nice compartment with views out onto the right side of the line.

D1062 Western Courier

Right on time, the train headed out of the station, through the town, past the safari park and into the countryside, but always beside the river. Although the trip was no more than 12 or 13 miles, it took an hour and a quarter or so, with regular stops at quaint stations to let trains coming the other way pass.

There was time enough at Bridgenorth to get some shots of the engine sheds before it was time to climb aboard the next train back. This time we were being pulled by a fine diesel locomotive, a western, and it made light work of the sharp inclines on the line, and the air was full of the noise of the fine engines working away.

Bridgenorth Yard

So, back in Kidderminster at nearly five in the evening and an hour and a half drive to where our cottage is. But, we had a sat-nav, and so we had nothing to worry about. We drove back up the Seven Valley and then onto to Shrewsbury and along to Oswestry, through the town and onto a narrow twisty road to the village where our cottage was. The sat-nav got us to within a few yards, and the name of the road not being clear we did miss the Old Rectory sign, but turned round and soon enough we were driving up the heavily grassed gravel drive.

The owner was pleased to see us, and showed us to the cottage and did a quick tour; there was no need for a long tour. The cottage as a living/dining room and a kitchen on the ground floor, and a main bedroom, two small bedrooms and a bathroom somehow squeezed between the rafters. The sloping of the walls/roof meant that taking a shower were taken at an angle, the foot of our bed was right up against the sloping roof. But, it really was very fine; the wall are covered in brasses and pictures and is comfortable enough.

I drove back into Oswestry to get some supplies, and once back we were quickly sitting down to a huge plate of salad and cold samosas and scotch eggs.
Outside the sun shone some fine golden evening light, and maybe we should have made the best of it and walked into the village, but we watched some rubbish TV and then had an early-ish night.

Phew, rock and roll.

Sunday 12th.

We got up and looked out; more sunshine. Amazing as the forecast was for heavy rain all day. However, our neighbours in the next field, the sheep, we already sheltering under a tree; they knew rain was coming. And before nine the rain did begin to fall and in the end did not stop.

We needed to do something inside, so we thought we would go to the RAF museum at RAF Cosford; what could be wrong with that? We drove back the way we came to Shrewsbury and then to Telford; and then we saw the signs: Air Show RAF Cosford. But no dates were mentioned; maybe they were old signs and it has already happened or maybe its next week?

Solopian Peacock

We sped down the M54 in the pouring rain, turned off at junction 3 and then we saw that the right turn was blacked as all of the west midlands were trying to get onto the base for the airshow. We turned left and hoped to find something else to do. Looking at the sky I knew there was little chance of any flying on a day like that; cloud ceiling looked only a couple of hundred feet at best, and no-one would be flying in that.

Ironbridge Tile Museum

We ended up at the Ironbridge gorge, birthplace of the industrial revolution, to visit a tile museum. No really.

You see, many churches I have visited have to most wonderful Victorian tiling, and what would be better than to see where they had been made? Nothing really. And we had the museum really much to ourselves. Words cannot describe the wonders of the tiling art on display, but we had a wonderful time.

Ironbridge Tile Museum

Afterwards there was a pub just down the road on the banks of the river; we had a bite to eat, and wondered what to do next. Outside the rain fell heavier.
We decided to head back home and venture out on another day. And so back along semi-flooded roads, the air thick with spay, but it was just 20 miles or so. And soon enough we were back inside and the kettle boiling away.

And as promised the rain did continue to fall the rest of the day; sometimes it fell even harder, and so we watched it through the window of the cottage. It got so cold we had to turn on all the heaters, made regular cuppas. I whilst the day away watching, or half watching, the Grand Prix, the first one I have watched in years. Only it seems to have gotten soft, half what I saw was under the safety car, and then they stopped altogether for a while. And it was only a few weeks ago someone suggested having deliberately wet races to make them more interesting. Hmmmm.
Monday morning dawned bright and dry; even the roads were just about dry and little hint of the Biblical rain from just 12 hours previously. We drove to Shrewsbury, parked the car at the station, and bought two returns to Birmingham. Half an hour later were on a crowded EMU rattling through Shropshire, Wolverhampton and into England’s second city. We rattled past miles and miles of industrial wilderness, huge city blocks of rubble marked out by a redundant canal. There was some industry, but mostly small scale, low key stuff.

The Bull, The Bullring, Birmingham

In time the train entered the black hole that is where New Street station is, and we queued while the whole train detrained.

Up the escalator, along the corridor over the platforms and out into the shiny new retail world that is the new Bull Ring.

I had been in Brum just the once before, in the summer of 1978, when a full paying adult could take two children anywhere in the country for 50p each. My friend, Leslie and I got taken by my parents to the ideal home exhibition. We did stop off in the centre of Birmingham, and all I remember of the Bull Ring was this huge circular brutalist concrete structure full of shops.

In the 21st century, the Bull Ring is reborn, all modern architecture, that is inviting, not repelling. However, all the time and money spent on this wonderful retail palace was wasted on us as went nothing under its glazed roof; I just took pictures, until a security guard stopped me. As I knew would happen. The Bull Ring, like many ‘malls’ are private land and their rules apply. I already had the shots I wanted though, mwah ha ha.

Next was the newly reopend Moor Street station, all GWR glamour and matching signs. Only the modern trains at the platforms give the game away. I had a coffee and some shortbread there before girding my loins for the real reason for coming to Brum; Selfridges!

Birmingham, England

Selfridges is housed in a building that is wonderful. Looks like a jelly mould, and covered in thousands of white spots. Sounds dull but is brilliant. I photographed it from all angles, right up close as the rows of dots got smaller and smaller until the edge of the building. I got a few odd looks as if to say, what the fook is he photographing that for? Oh, oh God not another one.

Having snapped it from all angles, I moved on to the nearby church, snapped that, went inside Selfridges, did not snap there, but amazed that the shop had the feeling of a Willy Wonka factory, with dozens of assistants waiting to take your money; but no customers. There was donuts outlets, pick ’ n’ mix dispensers, coffee shops, and many other wonderful things, all looking great, but no one was buying.
I left too.

I met up with Jools and we went to a sushi place. I have never had sushi, but said I would as Jools loves it, and it wasn’t half bad. I had bowls of this and that and we shared a bottle of white wine too. All very nice I have to say, sitting there as these little bowls of food whizz by on a conveyor belt.

We set off for the jewellery quarter, but made it first to a real ale bar. I had a pint of Pure Ubu, which was great, and we people watched. Or more accurately, we people watched as the people watched us, non-locals. An old guy came up to us and chatted about photography, which was great; not that I am some expert on photography of course, but it was nice all the same to be asked advice.

We moved on, and came to a square with a huge TV screen showing the delayed Andy Murray game, drunks and city businessmen mixed on the steps watching; some drinking special brew, some drinking bottled water.

I snapped the buildings, civic and others, and then we had had enough, made our way to the station to catch the quarter past three train back to Shrewsbury and then on to the cottage. We left behind Birmingham, Wolverhampton, and were soon whizzing through the Shropshire countryside, past my old haunt of RAF Cosford, Telford and journey’s end.

Time then for dinner; prawn stir fry and noodles, and then bed. Phew, rock and roll.
Tuesday; and wall to wall sunshine! At last!!

After laying in bed until very nearly half past seven, we had breakfast and were out of the house by nine. And this time we drove into a different country; Wales.
Our destination was an aqueduct that carries a canal high over a valley; the aqueduct, which goes by the rather unwieldy name of Pontcysyllte (and that is the correct spelling! From this point I shall refer to it as the aqueduct). We drove along the side of the valley, but there were no parking spaces. We drove on, down into the valley, up the other side, back along, and there were the signs. We parked, and I got my camera gear together, and we walked out into the sunshiny day.
A few yards away was the canal, and a few hundred yards along was the aqueduct. The valley side dropped away for 126 feet and the canal just kept going. It looked so odd, a canal, so high up in the air. The river far below too. We had the aqueduct pretty much to ourselves, with the occasional passing narrowboat. I snapped them as they went past.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

And soon we were on the other side of the valley, and it being a wonderful day, we kept on walking, beside the canal until we came to the railway viaduct about a mile and a half along the canal. This, we could not cross, as it is still in use, so we turned back the way we came, retracing our steps to the aqueduct, along the side of the canal, under the dappled sunlight filtered through the boughs of overhanging trees. It was rather pleasant.

Once back the other side of the valley, now thronging with other visitors, we made our way to the nearby pub for refreshment; beer and pork scratchings! And then it was time to move on again.

At the bottom of the valley is the town of Llangollan, and in it there is the terminus of a preserved railway. We knew there was a train at one, which gave us enough time for a cuppa and a pasty on the station before boarding the train and then wait for the departure.

3802 at Llangollan

The line follows the river, up the winding valley for some 12 miles, from the train you get fine views of the river and valley. And that is it. Doesn’t do the trip justice by a long chalk, as it is one of the most beautiful lines we have ridden.
Once at the end of the line, time for a wander round the station and to look at the shelves of books for sale, before boarding the train again for the journey back into Llangollan. After watching the steam locomotive make its way round to the front of the train, we retire to the pub opposite the station for more refreshment before moving on again.

We head for a town at the top of the valley, where I photographed a church. And inside Jools spotted a leaflet which mentioned another aqueduct.So, back to the car, out with the map, and onwards to Chirk.

Chirk Aqueduct and viaduct

After a few wrong turns, we saw it, as we drove over a hill, the canal erupted from the hill below us and went straight over another valley on an aqueduct. Not quite as high as the previous one, but this time right beside a railway viaduct. Once again I snapped it from all angles, and whilst waiting for a train chatted to people in the passing narrowboats and other tourists, like us, just enjoying the view.
Once I got the shot with a train, we headed back to the car, and had just an eight mile drive back to the cottage where we collapsed, exhausted after a full but wonderful day.

More rock and roll.

And so to Wednesday. And Chester. Why Chester? You ask. Well, I have read two books with positively rave about how wonderful the place is, the city walls, the buildings and the Rows. More about them Rows later.

The Grosvenor Shopping Centre, Chester

Chester is all of twenty five miles or so from the cottage, and it is a short drive into Wales and back out again to reach the outskirts and the park and ride. A bus arrived in about 5 minutes, and we climbed on taking our places on the naughty back seat, and the bus revved its engine and took us into the centre of Chester.
We got out just down from the first row of huge timber-framed houses, and so we walked from the bus stop, round the corner, and on either side of a broad shop lines street were those shops housed in mostly timber-framed houses, or more accurately, buildings. In fact these building are doubly fronted by shops, as there is a passageway built in the first story on each side, and as it turns out, on most of the streets within the city walls, and these are the Rows.

Cloisters, Chester cathedral

We walk up the street, and see an Italian place, and I feel the need for coffee, we take a table on the street and order coffee and something called a bread tin, which contained three slices of fine bread, a croissant and is accompanied by wonderful butter and fig jam. Yes, fig jam. Anyway, it was all wonderful, and just perfect.
Once refuelled, we set off to explore the city. We make for the cathedral, all bult of red stone, but wonderful inside. Each cathedral is different, and while it is hard for an amateur like me to tell you what the difference is, there is a simple grace to Chester, the way in which the decorations contrast to the red stone, and the grandeur of the fittings. I snap away, snap away some more. I notice more of the smaller items, like wooden carvings on the end of the pews; I snap those as well. I could have stayed all day, but we moved on.

The Grosvenor Shopping Centre, Chester

Next was to find a bead shop for Jools; we go to the tourist information office, get the address, and make our way there. It is now a coffee shop. This is the second such shop that on this trip a bead shop, although being advertised online, had closed.
We headed for the city walls for a walk. As is usual for a world heritage site, the touristy bits were heaving with people, however a few yards along the walls and we were alone. I see an interesting looking pub, and so we climb down the steep steps and make our way to the Albion. I have a pint of something that goes white like cream when its poured and settles after a while into a fine amber ale; Jools has cider. The pub is decorated with memorabilia from the two world wars, which is fine, the menu looks great, but we were not yet hungry. We leave as a coach party of pensioners arrive for a bellyful of wartime memories.

Back up the wall, along beside the river, past the castle, past the racecourse, and our feet were getting weary. We head into the centre of the city again, and arrive just as the rain arrives too. We were now hungry, and faced with a huge array of choices, we dithered. We chose a pub in one of the Rows, the Victoria, and head in, order drinks and a ploughmans for me and chicken and chorizo for Jools.
Outside the rain continued to fall.

And then we both decided what we needed was a haircut; we split up and went to see if we could get our respective barnets mangled. I went into a fairly posh place and had something like my usual cut, but with these sarcasm than the usual place in Dover. And exchanged small talk with the young lady who did the cutting. Or shearing.
We met up at four, the rain had stopped, and so we walked a little more then decided to head back to the bus stop. But we were seduced by the Italian place and so we ordered coffees, pana cotta for Jools and a glass of Vin Santos for me. Wonderful stuff.

Back then to the car via the bus and then a short blast down the main roads in and out of Wales, and up the now familiar country lanes back to the cottage and a relaxing evening.

Thursday, the BBC told us, was going to be cool and showery, and so we decided to head off to the RAF museum at RAF Cosford. Now, RAF Cosford and I go back many, many years. In all I have spent 17 months of my life there, training, training and training. One would hope after all that training I should be able to do something by now. Anyway, it’s about a 40 minute blast along the A5 past Shrewsbury, Telford and then on to Cosford, past the railway station, past the 25m range and there it is. Simples.

Cold War Museum, RAF Cosford

About 5 years ago a huge new building was opened to house the RAF’s cold war exhibits, and that really is the centrepiece of the museum. However, they have a fine collection of test aircraft, as well as the usual Spitfires, Vulcans and the such.
And its free; how cheap is that? Cheap as chips, so we had huge jugs of coffee and bacon butties when we arrived. I say jugs, the cups were big enough to house a couple of goldfish. We empied those and ate the sandwiches and went in.

Last time we were here was four years ago, when the rain fell like stair rods and there was very little to do. The BBC promised rain, and we got sunshine. The museum was as good as last time, but on this visit I had the Sigma with me, and so got some fine shots.

After a couple of hours we decided to leave as there is only a certain amount of aircraft you need in a day, are there? I mean they’re no trains in all honesty……..
We headed back up to Telford, to visit the Ironbridge Gorge, as we had never seen that in the sunshine either. We parked up near the bridge, walked up and I got the shots. That’s it really. We thought about going into a shop or two, but didn’t, but did go in the Swan for a drink and as it turned out, lunch.


The weather then decided it was time the play along and it poured, but for just a few minutes, and by the time we had finished lunch, the sun was out again as we drove to Much Wenlock.

I could look up on Wikipedia as to why the town has that name, but maybe I should just leave it. It sounds like it should be an old-worldy kind of place, all narrow lanes, lovely pubs, nick-nack shops and maybe a ruined abbey. And as it turns out, that exactly what Much Wenlock is like. It is also the home of the modern Olympic movement; no seriously. They had some kind of games in the last 19th century, two decades before the modern Olympiad began in 1896, and even called it the Olympics.
Those crazy Victorians. There’s a monument to the man whose idea it was, and an Olympic trail to follow around the village. I don’t think there’s much hope of the games returning, but Much Wenlock should get a mention or two next year.

Wenlock Abbey

I snap the village, the church, the abbey and then the high street before retiring to the George and Dragon for a pint of 6X before we headed back to the cottage thus driving through another heavy rain storm.

And so to our last full day here in Shropshire, or Salopia as one of the tile manufacturers called it. Quite unusually for us, we laid in until seven most mornings, sometimes later, like this morning, I was struggling to get up at nearly eight. Outside, as I looked down from the bedroom window, I saw a pair of goldfinches in the long grass outside of the cottage. I watched as the flashes of gold and red of the birds appeared in the long grass. I went down to get my camera, and even got a few shots off, although the finches were some distance away.

After breakfast we headed out, headed out in a heavy drizzle. Maybe it would stop, we hoped. In the end it did stop, but not for a while. We drove back into Wales again, onto Llangollan in search of the Horseshoe Falls. It was marked on the map, between two roads, and clearly it should have been on the river. We headed out of the town, and the road began to climb and climb. Soon the trees gave out and we were going round the edge of a steep valley with a slate quarry high above us. This was the Horseshoe Pass, and even through the drizzle the views were stunning. Away in the distance the sun came out and the sides of other valleys lit up with rich greens.
Once past the summit we turned round, and at the bottom of the pass stopped for a tea at a greasy spoon. However, the smell of bacon cooking was too much and I heard myself say ‘and two bancon baps please.’ Wonderful huge baps filled with four rashers were presented to us by the woman who did the cooking; not quite sure if she was Welsh of Polish, she had an odd accent and her conversation was almost impossible to follow, but she seemed happy enough and the food was great.

Capel y Rhug

Back on the road and we take a steep narrow road up the valley side, past a bus that had taken the road but could not get round the bends or under the railway bridge at the other end as it turned out. And still no waterfall; we gave up and set sail for some churches. Back onto the A5, along beside the steam railway and onto the town of Corwen.

A few miles further on is the Rug Chapel, or Capel y Rhug. It was £3.80 to enter, but half price for us as we were members of English Heritage, and we were in.
Now, many times in my writing I say that words fail me in describing something, but in the case of Rug they really do. It is a small stone chapel, quite plain from outside, but inside is all carved and painted wood. It is really perfect; needless to say I take a few pictures. In truth I think we would have been happy enough just to sit there to take in the atmosphere. And just sit with the carven angels.
But, there was a bonus, as a visitor to Rug, we could ask for the chapel at Llangar to be opened. And we did.

It was a short drive to the lay-by, and then cross the main road, down the steep track, past the farmhouse and stable, past the old station house, through the gate and along the path marked with small standing stones, like something out of Lord of the rings.

Eglwys Llangar

And there, in a fold in the land was the whitewashed kirk, surrounded by slate and stone graves and tombs. And meeting us was a guide who explained the history, of the failed attempts to build a chapel, and a soothsayer telling that a white stag must be sighted and slain, and on the spot God would suffer the church be built.
The church may date from the 11th century, maybe earlier, it is decorated with fragments of paintings which could have been scenes from Jesus’ life, and several depictions of the slain stag. But as you walk in, you are faced with a huge picture of a skeleton with twins in its belly, between its legs are crossed tools of the farmer, and held in one hand is a winged hourglass; tempas fugit.

The church was the centre of a thriving community into the 18th century, and then the community outgrew it, and a new church was built in the next village and Llangar was abandoned. It was reopened to the public after it was restored, and the 300 bodies under the pews reburied. It is stunningly simple, and history echoes from its walls.
We drove back to Corwen to get a drink, and after parking made our way to an impressive hotel and then into the bar. We sat down and were entertained by a couple of locals, who told us many more places to visit, it would have been great to visit some of them, but our time in the Welsh Marches was running out.

We headed back home, and after boiling the kettle, sat down to listen to the radio as the rain returned outside.

And the final part will appear tomorrow....

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Thursday 9th June 2011

And so there is one more day at work before we head off to deepest Shropshire for a week in a cottage with a smattering of trains. Trains are not the only reason for the holiday, but it sure looks that way.

It happens.

It all depends on how quick we can round up the cats on Saturday before heading off, braving the M25. Heck, it might even be sunny!

French Bistro Soiree at the Dover, Dargate

So, this week: I worked from home again on Tuesday as I had to take a confidential phone call from my boss, and there really was no where to take the call in the office. So, I get to have another half hour in bed, and work sitting at the dining room table, and I was even left alone by the cats, which was nice and meant I had no excuse for not working.

It has even been a few days since one of the cats brought in a dead animal or bird; although Mulder was playing with a mouse the other day. It was alive, and I believe it got away despite being thrown in the air repeatedly. Cats still happy.

French Bistro Soiree at the Dover, Dargate

Last night we went out to a village pub over near Whitstable. After getting the chores down at home, we set off soon turning off the main road down narrow winding country lanes, through hop fields and orchards. and then to the pub, The Dove at Dargate; we parked up, had a drink in the beer garden and waited for the evening to begin.

French Bistro Soiree at the Dover, Dargate

We had booked a table for their French Bistro Soiree evening. we hoped it would be as good as it sounded.

It was. At a quarter to eight, after appetisers had been served, we sat down to a starter of a cream cheese puff pastry thing, and lots of fresh bread, followed by coq-au-vin and then a strawberry and cream puff pastry dessert. The whole evening took two and a half hours, there was an accompanying wine with each course too, and we talked with people on neighbouring tables.

The staff had dressed up, a bit like 'Allo 'Allo, but it was all good fun, and lots of laughs.

French Bistro Soiree at the Dover, Dargate

We left at nearly half ten, the half moon bright in the sky above, and we had a clear road as Jools drove us back home.

And today back at work, getting stuff done, having meetings and generally on the downward slope to four o'clock tomorrow evening. And then off for the week.


Monday, 6 June 2011

Monday 6th June 2011

And on the Sabbath the rain did fall from the sky, and those who had not built arks did drown upon the face of the flooded earth.

Or thats what it seemed yesterday as the day began grey and dull and just got worse. But the afternoon the rain was falling steadily and did not stop. There was no point in going out, as the weather was just so rubbish, and so I ended up being really quite bored and watched Touring Cars and then Tennis. Lets give thanks that Bullseye is no longer on or I would have been tempted.

we can say, as we are of a certain age, that the garden needs the rain, and it saves me the trouble of going out and watering. And then in the evening we watched more TV; Antiques Roadshow and then the new Jason Isaacs thing on BBC1 which was really quite good.

By this time the itching had begun; for the second time, a long walk along the cliffs had resulted in me being bitten by insects to buggery and I was scratching.

A lot.

I took pills, I dabbed lotion on the affected parts. The itching got worse. and then at bed time it got unbearable. I slept fitfully, and was awake in time for the dawn chorus, but I might have drifted on again.

As soon as the shops opened in Ramsgate, I walked into town and bought lots of drugs and downed pills and the like, dabbed lotions and potions on, and then felt like sleeping. But it was not to be.

As I had a webinar to watch.

Yes, a webinar; imagine an infomercial, but with none of the production values, with laid on refreshments that you can't have because the webinar is coming live from Denmark, and you watch folks eating pastries and sipping fresh coffee whilst you sit in your office scratching. and then there is the sound, which could be someone reading the football results from round the u-bend, or not. and this woman getting those 'lucky' enough to actually be there make sounds like motorbikes. This was entitled 'find you hidden tiger'; mine is clearly sleeping. I wrote mails and finished off a report rather than listen. Or, I did try, I tried to configure the headphones that connect through USB and means I han hear the system sounds of when I click the mouse and so on, but actual media and music; not a chance.

Tomorrow, I can't put it off any longer; travel expenses and more meetings, and maybe look at the two projects which I have to fisnish this month rather than the one for next month which was easy which I completed today.


At least the BBC has more Jason Isaacs tonight, and before, literature and the railways. That's why I don't mind paying the licence fee.

This is the Night Mail crossing the border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner and the girl next door.
Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb:
The gradient's against her, but she's on time.
Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,
Snorting noisily as she passes
Silent miles of wind-bent grasses.

Birds turn their heads as she approaches,
Stare from the bushes at her blank-faced coaches.
Sheep-dogs cannot turn her course;
They slumber on with paws across.
In the farm she passes no one wakes,
But a jug in the bedroom gently shakes.

Dawn freshens, the climb is done.
Down towards Glasgow she descends
Towards the steam tugs yelping down the glade of cranes,
Towards the fields of apparatus, the furnaces
Set on the dark plain like gigantic chessmen.
All Scotland waits for her:
In the dark glens, beside the pale-green sea lochs
Men long for news.

Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
Letters of joy from the girl and the boy,
Receipted bills and invitations
To inspect new stock or visit relations,
And applications for situations
And timid lovers' declarations
And gossip, gossip from all the nations,
News circumstantial, news financial,
Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
Letters with faces scrawled in the margin,
Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,
Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands
Notes from overseas to Hebrides
Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring, adoring,
The cold and official and the heart's outpouring,
Clever, stupid, short and long,
The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong.

Thousands are still asleep
Dreaming of terrifying monsters,
Or of friendly tea beside the band at Cranston's or Crawford's:
Asleep in working Glasgow, asleep in well-set Edinburgh,
Asleep in granite Aberdeen,
They continue their dreams,
And shall wake soon and long for letters,
And none will hear the postman's knock
Without a quickening of the heart,
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?

W H Auden

Toot toot.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Sunday 5th June 2011

Oh, lazy Sunday afternoon-ah, got no time to worry, close my eyes and slip away-ah.

Well, not quite Sunday afternoon yet, its only just gone nine, but it already looks like its going to be a lazy day. Doubly so as my legs ache from the walk I did yesterday (more about that in a minute) and heavy rain is forecast soon, and is very dull and cloudy now and so much so we almost need to have lights on if we wanted to read.

My working week ended with me working from home on Friday, as our car had to go for a service. And so instead of heading into the traffic of an early Friday morning, I walked down the stairs, got the laptop out of my bag, switched it on and connected to the web and using VPN got down to some work.


I know there has been talk this week of commuting times, and questions raised as to how much work can be done whilst working from home. So I can reveal that I did do at least as much work as I would whilst in the office; however, I could have done much more work if it hadn't have been for them cats. Things about young cats is that a laptop on a dining room table is a mere pounce away, and those keys look really fun to lay on, don't they Dad?

So I fed them at lunchtime to get at least a couple of hours peace in which I could work unhindered. And the good news is the tiny copper cable in which the interwebs reaches our house did stand up to the demands of conferences on the communicator. Yes, communicator, just like Star Wars, as we are living in the future.

Dover Town Yard

At four in the afternoon, i switched of the computer, as there was little point in going on as most of Denmark were having a long weekend due to the bank holiday on Thursday. So, work finished, I popped a bottle of home brew and went to sit in the garden to wait for Jools to come from work.

During the day, the DVDs I had ordered from Norwich City arrived, reviews of the last two seasons, and so I sat down to watch our glorious climb from that 7-1 opening day defeat to Colchester to eventual promotion, and later today I will watch last season which ended with Norwich promoted to the Premier League. Tow seasons of win after win after win. Probably, we'll not see days like that again in a while!

War Cl Ed.

On Saturday, I had arranged to walk from our house to Folkestone with my friend Matt. I say our house, Jools gave us a lift to South Foreland light, and then we were on our own.
We made quite an early start, with our feet on the ground at just before eight, and had the entire route to Dover just about to ourselves; a cyclist came up behind us as we walked past the lighthouse, and a couple of middle-aged ramblers strode past us as we walked past Langdon Bay; we greeted each other with a cheery good morning.

We were in Dover just after nine and walked into the town centre for a bacon roll and a cup of coffee before we set off and our ascent of Shakespeare Cliff.

Now, Shakespeare Cliff is not thousands of feet high, probably a couple of hundred of feet or so, but the path goes up and up, getting steeper and steeper. In damp conditions, the path is slippery as hack, and the only way to get to the top as your shoes or boots become mud-encrusted, is to grab hold of the barbed wire fence beside the path. But in dry conditions, it is just my general lack of fitness that is the problem, and i stopped regularly pretending to look at the view of take another shot of the view onto the beach and harbour beyond.

Matt and the shot

But, I made it, and Matt did too, and after me pausing to get my breath back and have a slug of water, we pressed on.
Up on the cliffs, the wind was keen, but did keep the temperatures down, as the sun was shining from a mostly blue sky and out of the wind was even hot. So, we pressed on, taking shots as we went, until we reached the narrow path at Capel, and our planned stop at the Lighthouse pub just a bit further along.

Climbing every mountain

Imagine my surprise to find it closed; I had drunk all my water as I was expecting a nice cold pint here, but instead we had to keep on going. Our feet ached, and in the houses that line to road, out of the wind, we got warmer and warmer.

We stopped at the Battle of Britain Memorial for a cuppa and a break, and then went on another few hundred yards to The Valiant Sailor, which was open, and we ordered pints of cold beer whilst we waited for Jools to pick up home and take us and our tired feet back home.


Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Wednesday 1st June 2011

Wednesday; Half past week and thoughts, as ever, turn to the upcoming weekend. Is this all we do, wish our lives away, hoping that tomorrow will be even better than today? Will we ever be happy with our lot in life? Maybe, maybe not.

As the bank holiday weekend ended, the sun did indeed come out of hiding and shone down from a cloudless sky. I drove to work, worked and then drove back home. Via Tesco, as we had forgotten some stuff last week. So, I rushed round the supermarket and ended up spending £32, without even trying. And its not as though it was Waitrose! So, anyway, back home and a quick meal. I had bought a larger joint of beef for the weekend, and sliced the left over, so I could warm that in the oven, cook vegetables and warm the remaining gravy, and in half an hour a proper roast dinner!

Blue for you

And then I got a call from my friend, Gary: did I want to go to Worth to see some hot rods? And take pictures?? Yes.

Blue moon

So, Gary pulled up at half seven and drove over to Worth the other side of Deal. There were already two huge American cars and a couple of ropy looking British cars that had been souped up. As we wandered around, more arrived. Their owners all looked the same; between 40 and 60, greased hair made into quiffs and Das, leather and denim was the uniform, and their soundtrack rock and roll or rock-a-billy. The guys partners mostly had dressed of the same period, all ruffed skirts, stockings and bright red lipstick. All very rock and roll.

Objects in the rear view mirror.......

We went onto the pub to get a drink so to make out we had come for something other than photography, it was all very welcoming. Due to a full belly, beer was out and so I had a whisky.

We went back out to snap a couple of late arrivals before the light finally failed, and then headed back home to pour over the shots we had got that night.


Now the football season has ended, evenings stretch out like a long and stretched out thing; and still I don’t seem to get much done. I am still working on the lawn, and the weekend rain helped for sure. And our fruit trees/plants are all bearing fruit, and so the promise is of our own produce and maybe making jam come the autumn.
Sadly, it has been too cool to sit on the patio of an evening, maybe it will warm up this week. There really is nothing quite like sitting there, surveying our little piece of England as the hills to the south of us reflect the evening sun. I guess tonight we may go for a walk in the evening sunshine, me snapping insects and interesting flowers as we wander along.

Hot rod

Its not a bad life all in all.