Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Wednesday 30th May 2012

In years gone by, May was the month in which almost all birthdays fell; even ex-wives and stepsons. These days with my shrunken family, just my Mother has her birthday in May, and as it fell on a Sunday this year we decided to head up to the old country, and to sweeten the deal. So, we got our friend Gary to look after the cats whilst we were away, and at six in the morning we headed up to A2 northwards.

Heading south on it would have taken us to the ferry port and France. Worth a though though………

The plan was to head to the north-Norfolk coast, drive along it for a while, have lunch, photograph a Deltic on the NNR and head to Coltishall where we were booked into a B&B and maybe find somewhere to have dinner. Phew.

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With the B&B booked, the NNR timetable printed out, we headed into Essex through the Dartford Tunnel, and found on the other side the road-widening work had actually finished and we cruised along to the M11 and headed into Essex. Traffic was light and me made good time, and within two hours we pulled off the motorway and up the A11. But as soon as we were on it, we turned off, as we had plans. Or rather, I had plans, photographs and breakfast.

Saffron Walden is a town nestling in a shallow valley beside the M11, and is filled with wonderful buildings, a fine church and seemed like an idea to stop off. It is a place I have wanted to visit, if for nothing else I loved the name. It was a the centre of the saffron industry, where millions of crocuses were grown for the spice. It was a five mile drive off the main road to the town, and after driving through the town to see what there was to see, we found a car park and got our cameras out ready for some serious speed photography and to hunt down somewhere for breakfast.

Saffron Walden

Dominating the town is the spire of the church, and it was here that we would eventually head to; but I had spotted a very fine pub on the edge of the town, The Eight Bells, and wanted to snap that first, and get a shot looking down Bridge Street hopefully without any traffic. Bridge Street is lined with fine timber-framed buldings, painted in a variety of pastel shades and is picture-perfect.

Saffron Walden

I got the shots I wanted and so we made our way to the church, to find it was built on an almost cathedral scale. And it was open. We were greeted by a churchwarden, who showed us the highlights of the church and gave us a leaflet full of information. She was waiting for the male members of the church have breakfast; seems very odd that this was just a male-only event, but we did hear the sound of merriment and eating from the hall next to the church.

Saffron Walden

We snapped the church from all angles inside, before heading out to get some exterior shots and then heading back into the town to look for somewhere to have second breakfast! We found that Bridge Street whilst being the main route through the town was not the town centre, and at the market-place we found a few places to eat and so went inside the first one we found that had a washroom and ordered a Panini and a coffee.

Back outside to snap the town square where a market was being set up, which got in the way of my shots! How inconvenient!

With the town filling up with shoppers we decided to head back to the car and head north into enemy territory, Suffolk. We did not stop in Suffolk, and soon were speeding into Norfolk and onto Norwich. I decided to drive past the football ground and along the river and then up onto Mousehold Health to be the quickest and less busy way of getting to the north of the city. We took the Wroxham road north, which was quiet, unlike Wroxham itself which was heaving already at before ten in the morning. Coachloads of pensioners were being deposited beside the river so they could do an hour tour along the river to the broad.

We headed on and turned off to head to Coltishall; not to the B&B but to my old base, and from where I was demobbed nearly seven years ago. It is now a prison, and access onto the airfield is impossible, and once through the old married quarters and the NAAFI to the main gate, I found it fenced off and the Jaguar gate guardian long gone. I siged and got back in the car and we drove north towards Sheringham and the coast.

It was a glorious day, with not a cloud in the sky, we drove along with the windows open, or hair blowing in the wind. We got to Sheringham to find a market was being held on part of the car park beside the railway; it looked crowded so we drove on. I knew a place where the railway passed over the road, and hoped that there would somewhere to park. We were in luck; there was a space, and after looking at the timetable I realised the Deltic was due in less than ten minutes. We got out our cameras and get up our shots and waited.

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A shout went up from those on the embankment and we could hear the throb of the Napier engine. And there is was, snap, snap, snap. And it curved away eastwards heading out of sight into a cutting. We waited another 5 minutes for a steam locomotive to come the other way, the light and wind direction was perfect and I got some fine shots. And with that we climbed back in the car and headed further along the coast in the search for somewhere for lunch.


Weybourne was very crowded, and the one pub seemed to have every table outside full and nowhere to park. We drove on until we came to Cley-next-the-Sea. The road narrowed as it weaved through the village, and on a sharp bed I saw a beer garden on the other side of the road. On our side of the road was the pub with a sign saying there was car-parking at the back. We turned in, got the last space; Jools went to the beer garden to get a table whilst I got the drinks and a menu. I had a fine cheese and ham ploughmans whilst Jools had wild mushroom stroganoff, both were excellent, and even more so sitting outside.

The George Hotel, Cley-Next-the-Sea

So, we headed further west and came to Blakeney; the church looked impressive so we parked at the end of the village and walked back to the church. Once again it was open so after snapping the outside we went inside. After more snapping we went back outside into the sunshine to hear some loud engine noise coming from the main road. A parade of vintage trucks and lorries were cruising past; I would like to have driven anything bigger than our Polo along these twisty roads, let alone a vintage HGV without power steering. Still, it was interesting to see.

Back in the car, it was now the hottest part of the day, and we headed along to Stiffkey; only it’s not pronounced ‘Stiffkey’ it’s ‘Stewky’ of course. There was an interesting church to look at; so we parked up and went to have a look. Built into the churchyard wall was a massive tower, and in the land beyond at least three more. Seems like it was the remains of an Elizabethan manor house, which the current owners are trying to renovate.

St John the Baptist, Stiffkey

It was now getting on for four, and I wanted to try to call in at Sheringham, so we turned east and headed for the station. The market was packing up, and I did manage to squeeze the car into a space, and there waiting in the station, growling loudly, was the Deltic. Clearly nothing else mattered so I grabbed my cameras and went to the station, leaving Jools in my wake. I snapped it and a 47 that had just arrived from about every angle including sticking the camera in the cab window and engine compartment vents! Hey, I got the shots!

Jools got an ice cream and I had a cuppa, before we turned to leave and find our B&B. It was a short drive down to Coltishall, and being called Bridge House was right beside the bridge; we checked in and were advised if we wanted to eat in the recruiting Sergeant we had better try to get a table now as it was more popular than ever. We walked over the bridge and ordered a pint, but every table was full so we had to plan something else.

We decided to head to the other end of the village to The Rising Sun, which we were told was good and might have a table, and as they do not accept bookings we were going to have to leave it to luck.

The British in summer

At seven we walked down to the pub, stopping at the parish church and finding it open, snap that too, and once at the pub we find a picnic table empty on the banks of the river; we grab it and order our food and have an hours wait as they were very, very busy. On the other side of the river we watched a barn owl hunting, and just saw it drop like a stone as it grabbed some unsuspecting prey. So, as the sun went down our food was served, and all in all it was a very pleasant evening indeed. We walked back through the dark streets back to our room, put on the kettle and sat on the sofa with the door open, listening to the sound of the night drifting in.

Sunday morning we were up well before breakfast, we had fruit and some toast before packing the car and then girding our loins for the task ahead; visiting Mother. I will skip over the details of the visit, other than saying things don’t change, and mores the pity, but it is how things are going to be. And I have learnt to accept that. At midday we went to the Blue Boar in Oulton for lunch. It does seem that the weekend was one long meal, and it did feel like that I have to say. Anyway, I had fish and chips which was nice and fresh, whilst Mother had roast beef. It was very nice, but thoughts were already turning to the thought of us heading back home. And after dropping Mum off back home, that’s just what we did.

We headed down the A12 to Ipswich, with me checking the BBC website all the time, but there appeared to be no traffic problems on the M25. And that is how it turned out to be. Without barely slowing down we crossed over the A13 and onto the Bridge, no queues at all, and right down to the tolls, paid our money and we were at least in the right county. And an hour later we were back in Dover, heading back up Jubilee way, along the Deal Road to home. And waiting for us were three indifferent cats, but they wanted feeding anyway. And just like that, that was the weekend. Or so it seemed.

Monday night, Jools, Gary and myself headed back out to the Elham Valley to see if the orchids were any better; it seems a bind to spend over half the evening in the car, but once at the meadow it was plainly worth it, as dozens of spears showed through the grass and buttercups just begging to be snapped. I guess we spent an hour there, and in the neat field there was even more; and those got snapped too. Monday was the last of the glorious weather, for now, and it was wonderful driving back home in the fine evening sunshine, along the cliffs with clear views to the cliffs between Calais and Boulogne some 25 miles away.

Then it was time to check the photos and begin uploading them to Flickr…….

Monday, 28 May 2012

Monday 28th May 2012

A few weeks ago whilst down on Samphire Hoe a fellow photographer mentioned a site along the Elham Valley where very rare orchids grew. We did go an investigate, and found the site quite easily. But only because we knew it was there. Anyway, as we knew we were to be going away at the weekend, and the guy said the Monkey Orchids would be out at the end of May, I decided to take this literally, and so we after picking up my friend Gary, we headed out up the valley along the narrow road last Tuesday evening.

Once turning off the ‘main’ road, we went up a lane and left at a fork in the roads then through a wooded copse. I knew we were on the right road. At the bottom of the hill we parked up and after grabbing our gear from the back set off up the meadow.

Our eyes scanned the grass for signs of what might be an orchid. At first we spotted a lot of bright purple, but that ended up being some early purples coming to an end of their time, and were looking very sorry for themselves. However, I did begin to notice what looked like they might be spears of asparagus, some had colour at their tops, and it was these that turned out to be the monkeys. Right at the top of the meadow, in the lea of the western wind, a couple of spears were showing not just colour, but blooms and with one or two open wide. We got down on our bellies and snapped them up close. It was quite a thrill if I’m honest; these are some of the rarest plants in Britain, and here we were just snapping them on a side of a down here in Kent.

Monkey Orchid

It was the end of a glorious day, but as it turned out the beginning of a week, and counting, of increasingly sunny weather.

Each morning the mist and fog would burn off before mid-morning, and the sun shone down from a sky unbroken by clouds. Heading to work as the temperatures raised was difficult, as thoughts went through my head of all the places I could be photographing instead of working. But, it has to be done, and by Thursday the wind began to blow too, and any macro shots would have been impossible anyway and so I got my head down and worked on an increasing number of complex spreasheets. But by the end of the week it was making some kind of sense, and the report I wrote to accompany the spreadsheet seemed to make my boss happy.

And that was it, soon Friday dawned and time crept towards the weekend and clocking off time……

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Tuesday 22nd May 2012

And in due course it was time to put the bread into the oven; Jools was out on a beading course, but by the time she returned, the bread was cooked and cool enough to eat and good enough to just need some butter on it. We went out into the garden eat it washed down with a nice strong cuppa. Whilst the bread was cooking, I had mown the lawn, and what a picture it looked too. Although, it does seem I had the mower on too low a setting as some of the grass has turned brown. Oh well, it’ll be OK when it rains again. At three it was time to watch the Championship Playoff game, and in the end it was West Ham that ran out winners in what was a nervous game from both sides. It would have been nice to see Blackpool back in the top flight, but it was not to be. And then we headed out to stand on the top of the cliffs at Capel to watch a steam hauled train go by, way down below us next to the sea. As I had snapped trains from just about every location roundabout, I thought this would be something different.

Golden Arrow Statesman, Folkestone Warren, 19 May 2012

And so to ‘the BIG game’ the Champion’s League Final, played in Munich, it was Bayern v Chelsea, and a game that Bayern dominated, Chelsea held on until the 83rd minute when the Germans took the lead, only for Drogba to power a header in for an equaliser a couple of minutes from time. In extra time, Munich missed a penalty, which would have won them the game. But it all ended all square and it was penalties. By now it was 10:15 and I was almost asleep, but the drama woke me up some, and in the end, Chelsea ran out 4-3 winners and then the celebrations began. And so another football season ended.


Only it hasn’t; there are the League 1 and 2 playoffs next weekend, and on June 8th the European Championships start. And when they finish the Olympics begin, and have the novelty of seeing a GB team compete. But for now, there is no footy.

Sunday morning, Jools and I went to Waldershare to look at the wild garlic, which despite smelling like they were in their prime, many of the plants were wilted and turning brown. Still, it is always to walk somewhere so infrequently visited, and like every time we go here, we see now and different things to photograph and marvel at. With the temperatures finally warming up somewhat, nature is waiting to finally spring into life and reach for the sky and sun.

Wild garlic

Back home for cheese and biscuits with some wine, which meant that another session on the cross-trainer was scrubbed, and in the afternoon we sat down to watch the new Sherlock Holmes film, which has the honour of being the second coolest Holmes adaptation released this year after the BBC TV series which was way cooler.

texture (close up)

Steak and Ale pie for dinner, and then some more photographic based stuff in the evening before the weekend came to an end, and it was time for bed.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Saturday 19th May 2011

Good morning, and welcome to the weekend.

And outside the sun is shining; it should be cloudy with a risk of a shower. But, it is sunny. Maybe later we will go for an orchid hunt, or at the very least go and snap Tangmere as she steams through East Kent. So far today I have got back on the cross-trainer; this is the first time in 20 days I have done any exercise, and if truth be know my belt has been getting a little tighter. So, better get back on the training, if only for a few days as our holiday, or Operation Avoid Diamond Jubilee as it has been designated, is due to begin.

And today, the Olympic Flame has arrived in Britain, and it has begun its grand tour round the country beginning in Cornwall. It will reach here the week before the games are due to begin in about 65 days. Half the country is saying 'Meh' and the rest of us are quite excited. Lets hope the games live up to all the hype......

And proving on the hob is a loaf of wholemeal bread which I made after the workout. In about and hour I will pop it in the oven and hope it rises as much as the blurb on the bag of flour says it would.

Jools has finished her first weaving commission, a rug for a baby's crib. So, I snapped it as Scully did her quality inspection and rolled on her back looking cute.

And today is the grande finale of the football season; both the Championship play-off game and the Champion's League final too. And there is the steam train to snap and maybe hunt down some orchids. Something is going to have to give.

We shall see.

And if that was today, and it seems busy, wait until you hear about my week. On Monday, at eight in the morning I was down in Dover collecting a hire car and heading towards the tunnel as I had a road trip to do for work. After getting through the tunnel, and programming the sat-nav I headed up the motorway towards Belgium. Having lived in Germany for three years, I guess switching over to drive on the other side of the road doesn't make me think twice, and it seems so easy to speed through northern France and into Belgium.

Ijmuiden an zee

I turn off and make my way into the town of Zeebrugge and towards the port. My contact was waiting for me under a water tower beside one of the quays, and lead me to where the boat was tied up that I had to audit. Turned out the boat was moored alongside an old container port. After I got into the fixer's car, he drove me through the gates and along the quay, passing underneath the huge cranes that are used to unload the ships. Needless to say they are huge, and would make wonderful subjects for photography. And my cameras were in the back of the hire car back at the dock gates, and I would have to just concentrate on work.


So, we walked aboard, signed in and then went down to the mess and begun the audit. In front of me were a sea of worried faces with eyes wide open as they had no idea what was to come. If they would have looked closely, they would have seen me as nervous as they were.

In the end, it went pretty well, and like during most audits we found some stuff which justifies what we do, but nothing serious. Afterwards, the health and safety guy finished his audit, and then we were treated to dinner; which was pretty much like every other meal I had whilst working on survey boats. It was a relief to get off the boat and get back to the car and so we could think about heading to the hotel for the night. Only that we had a three and a half hour drive to Ijmuiden in Holland where the hotel was, so we could do more audits in the morning.

It was a long drive, nearly 200 miles. I must have done more as the sat-nav decided to take me through the centre of Antwerp instead of the ring road. Thankfully it was evening, and the roads were quiet. Before I got to Anvers, I passed over tree-lined canals, looking wonderfully serene in the evening sunlight. But, I pressed on wanting to make it to the hotel before the restaurant closed. On passed Amsterdam as darkness fell, onto Haarlem and then on local roads to Ijmuiden.

Beach huts, Ijmuiden

I walked into the hotel at half ten, and found only the bar and reception open. I took my bags up to my room and then headed to the bar and got through two bottles of fine Belgian Trappist beers, taking the second one back to my room to eat with my warm corned beef sandwiches that had been maturing in my bag all day.

Next day after breakfast, we headed to the office and were faced my more blank faces and wide-open eyes. But, all went well, they were happy as was I and we were all done by two in the afternoon. After the 16 hour day on Monday, the poor night's sleep that night and up at the crack of sparrows on Tuesday, I was struggling keeping my eyes open, so I bailed and headed back to the hotel to relax.

Room 231, Holiday Inn, Ijmuiden, Netherlands

So, for me relaxing is to pick up my bag of cameras and head out for some snapping. The light was glorious, with wonderful cloud formations in the distance. I walked to the beach and along the beach-side bars still closed as summer seems so long away. A keen breeze was blowing and the sand was reclaiming the boardwalk and tables outside the bars.


I went back to my room and sat beside the window catching up on my reading; I worked my way through Rail, When Saturday Comes and finally Empire. Outside dark clouds showed on the horizon out over the north sea. And then the clouds swept towards the coast and the rain and hail hammered down.

At half seven I went down for dinner, and like in most business hotels all diners were scattered around with one per table for four. The food was good; pumpkin soup followed by a burger, fried and lots of mayo; perfect. And all washed down with more Trappist beer.


Back in my room, I sat down to read some of the book I have been carrying in my work bag for over a year, Peter Hook's How Not to Run a Night Club, which is a cracking read. and outside more squals sweep over the sea and hammer against my room's windows.

Next morning I just had some training to carry out, with me as the teacher! I had a shower, dressed, packed had breakfast and checked out. I got on with the training and was finished by eleven, and soon heading back through Holland towards home.

At least the weather stayed fine, and I made good time until I came back to Antwerp, and the heavy traffic delayed me by about half an hour. Once through it was clear really into France, and i had time to head to Calais Vin to top up of small wine store and fill up the boot of the car.

I caught the twenty past four train, as planned, and so was back in England before four and in Dover by quarter past, transferring my booty and bags into our car and then heading home.

Phew; and that was Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. and I was shattered.

Time for bed!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Thursday 17th May 2012

Of course, the problem with holidays is when they end. And particularly when you come back and head back to work the next day, thus making it seem even more obvious that vacation time has stopped. Even if the working week now comprises of just two days before the weekend rolls round again.

Anyway, we managed to get ourselves out of bed and off to work on time, to be greeted with full e mail inboxes and no time to sort them out. So, Thursday passed in a flash, and so did Friday, mainly because I was preparing for this week’s events; a road trip to Belgium and Holland for more audits and hotel food. But, soon enough four o’clock rolled round and it was time to leave and have another fine weekend ahead of us; or would have if the weather would play ball. In fact, it was almost spring-like on Saturday, so we got out of bed nice and early, as the sun was shining brightly through the curtains, and headed out to look for bluebells.

Bluebells We headed once again to Kings Wood near Challock, and found the car park with just two other cars in it. After putting on our walking shoes, we set off along the path through the trees, and already on both side, bluebells covered the floor in a carpet of blue. But we knew that they would be even better further on. All around us, there was just the sound of nature, no sound of any other people could be heard. It was wonderful, and with the sunlight falling through the canopy of leaves, it made for wonderfully bright colours in amongst the trees.

Kings Wood Along the paths, and over the managed clearing; down the slope to the main forest track and along to where the main body of bluebells still lay. On the left they could be seen covering the forest floor as far as the eye could see. And on the other side of the track, the winding path passes the hole where the cloud chamber used to be, and just beyond the bluebells begin again, stretching far into the distance and into the light of the rising sun. It is perfect, and we had it all to ourselves. Needless to say, I snap away like crazy. We could have stayed there all day, but in truth once we got the shots we wanted we turned round and headed back for the car, pausing just to snap some uncurling ferns that we had spotted beside the path.

Bluebells And we had been up so early and got round snapping our way round the wood, that we were back in Dover hat just before nine, and sat down at a table at a French café having ordered toasted sandwiches in no time at all. I went to the street market and bought some vegetables for Sunday dinner, and having achieved all our tasks, we head home and are sat down once again drining big cups of fresh coffee by half ten.


Tease And as the weather was so nice, we went into the garden; Jools did weeding and I got the mower out and gave the lawn a good trim. And before long it was looking very good indeed in the sunshine. And that set me up for an afternoon of watching playoff football on TV; despite the season having ended for the Football League, it somehow manages to struggle on making that death rattle last longer and longer. That night we dined well on lots of stinky French cheese we brought back last week, and washed it down with good German beer too; being the good Europeans that we are.

Sunday was bright and sunny too, and having done most of the chores we go out for a walk in the morning, just a short one along the lane from our street to see the pigs in the wood. And they have now been joined by four piglets that will go to make fine sausages come the autumn. Such is the country way.

Starburst Jools went up to pick Nan up, as we were going to have her over for Sunday lunch, but on the way take her via Kings Wood so she could see the bluebells from the car. And whilst they were sightseeing, I listened to some radio on the i-player and prepared the roast lamb and vegetables for dinner before Nan and myself sat down to watch the drama of the final afternoon in the Premier League season unfold. And what drama it was! Before the game I said that I expected it to be with no drama at all with the issues being decided along the lines of the way the table stood before three. And I was right, but what twists and turns there were: all Manchester City had to do was to beat QPR at home. City had played 18 games at home before Sunday, and won 17 of them and drawing the other one. City took the lead before half time, which should have calmed the nerves and meant a stress-free day for City fans. Instead, Rangers came back to score twice, including the second after Mr J Barton, professional idiot got himself sent off and then kicked out and attempted to head-butt Kompany.

Piglet And that is the way it stayed until the 90th minute; City laying siege to the Rangers goal, and yet City never looking like scoring. City Equalise in the 91st minute, but that still meant United would still win the title. Until the 94th minute when City grab a winner and the stadium goes wild. And then some. I know its been said, but if you saw this in a film you would say that’s not how it happens in real life.

But it did.

And, for the time being, I am pleased for the City fans who have experience more than their fair share of disappointment over the years. If they make a habit of it, my attitude will change.

Norwich won their final game to end up in 12th place on 47 points and very, very safe. And Delia and Co will spend the summer trying to keep Paul Lambert at the club. But that is for another day.

Blue, green and black

Friday, 11 May 2012

Friday 11th May 2012

And so, and about time too, it was time to set out on our travels.

But before we could hit the long road to the docks to catch the ferry, we had to round up the cats and get them in their baskets. Molly, being sharp as a knife saw me bringing the cages up from the shed, and so tried to hide in the kitchen. Once Molly was in the basket, next up was Scully and she was no trouble. And last was Mulder. We leave him last as he has a weak bowl problem when it comes to heading to the cattery.

So, we loaded the car up, bags, cameras and cats and headed to Denton to drop the cats off; Mulder nearly made it all the way, but nearly is quite all the way. Oh well.

And once the cats were in their pen, it was time to speed to the ferry port; living Dover has its advantages, like not having to leave home until about ten minutes before we need to be at the port, and upon our return, a 5 minute drive until we’re back home. But getting home was a long way off. About a thousand miles off in fact.

We checked in, went through both sets of customs; the French barely awake and the British one checking every page of every traveller. And we made it to catch the earlier ferry, and so we drove straight on The Spirit of Britain, parked up, only to find most seats taken. So, we went up to the deck to watch our departure and the cliffs slide into the distance as head got nearer and nearer to France. We did head down onto the covered decks to find most Brits tucking into their third or fourth pint of Stella with their children running around wild.

First of the many Once off the ship, we headed onto the autoroute and headed up the coast to Dunkerque and then onto Belgium and on to Brussels. The sun began to shine, and once through the Belgian capital the roads got less crowded and driving became a pleasure. We stopped off at a parking place to have our pate sandwiches and watch the cars speed by. Back into the car and onwards into the Eifel mountains and then onto Germany.

Guenter Crossing the border increased the average speed of the other traffic by about 20%, with some cars whizzing by at something close to the speed of light. Although upon entering Germany there is a suggestion that the speed limit on the autobahn is 130km/h, it seems that it is every German’s right to drive at maximum speed whenever possible, and anyone going slower had just better get out of the way, or expect to have the faster car stay 0.2mm from your back bumper until you get back into the slower lane from whence you came.

We headed past Cologne, and onto Bonn; the sat-nav guided us into the city centre, across two tram lines and into an area of housing, and finally onto the right street. No worries at all. Our friends live in a house on a dead-end street near one of the tramlines and main railway line to Cologne. But despite being in the city, the view from their back garden was mostly of green plants, and quite wonderful for that. Birds sung from the trees and the neighbour was getting ready his garden railway for the summer; but I was not to see it going, sadly.

After unpacking, Guenter took us for a walk down to the banks of the River Rhein as they live about 1km from it. Above us dark clouds were gathering, but we thought we would be OK without coats. Down by the river there was a wide path, lined with trees. We walked along taking in the view of the old new Bundestag on the other side of the river; as soon as it was completed, the wall came down and government was moved back to Berlin.

We came to a bierstube, and so went in for a cold beer, and as we sat down to drink, the first drops of rain began to fall, which in time became one of those Biblical storms newspapers always talk about. Guenter called one of his sons to come and fetch us in the family car and so avoid the rain and arrive home in time for dinner.

The forecast for Sunday was not good, although not as bad as the BBC would have had us believe, but there would be rain and there would be no sun. Why was this important? Well, the main reason for us going to Germany was for Rhein in Flames, something I had heard about when I lived in Germany but never saw. So, Guenter and Martina invited us over whilst they were staying with us last year, and we accepted.

Of course, we had no idea what the weather might be like; but this time last year we had wall-to-wall sunshine, and it had been like that for weeks.

Not this year, though.

On Saturday morning, the rain had yet began to fall, and with little else to do, we thought we should head over to where I used to be based, the old RAF base at Laarbruch. The sat-nav said it was some 90 minutes away, and so we set off. After joining the motorway, the rain began to fall and fall heavily. I can’t say it was pleasant, travelling in heavy rain and I did think of turning back; but, thankfully the rain did ease and stop, and so by the time we pulled into Weeze, the nearest town to the base it was dry.

The town does look the same, and I recognised many buildings, although some things had changed, like the British post and phone box. Anyway, we have breakfast in the town café; hot waffles with cream and hot cherries! That felt much better. And then time to drive to what is left of the base; Most of the buildings are left, although some looking very sad with boarded up windows and being overgrown. There is a museum, but that was closed, and so I made do with taking a few pictures before moving on. The base is now home to a mainly freight airport, and a new terminal building has been built, right opposite 1 squadron’s compound. Finally, I drove to Singlie Strasse, where I used to live, but apart from the block at the top it was out of bounds.

I took a shot and we got back in the car and drove off the base. I suppose it shows we should never go back as it was never really as good as we remembered. Or if it was, it certainly isn’t now.

We drove to Kaevlar, a town of pilgrimage, and ripe for some photographs due to my new-found interest in churches, but as we drove through the countryside, the rain began to fall, and the thought of wandering around in a downpour was not pleasant, and so we headed back to the motorway and back to Bonn.

We arrived back in time to head back out again to catch the tram back into the centre of Bonn. Of course, apart from the occasional holiday in Blackpool, riding a tram is an unusual experience for a Brit, like being on a train but running down streets just outside of shops and the such. We got off just over the main bridge cross the river, and headed down on foot to the bank where many boats were moored; no mistaking ours, which was shaped like a whale and called ‘Moby Dick’ of course!

And waiting at our table were slices of sticky sweet cakes; why not? And at four we set sail for some 30km upstream and then turn round and come back again. Of course, there was more to it than that. Cruising along the Rhein is great, even in damp and grey weather. I snapped away at the sighs and the towns. But even better were two main lines either side of the river, so every 5 minutes or so a freight train would rattle past. It livened things up.

Rhein in Flammen 2012 Back in the 1940, Remagen was the scene of a huge battle for the last bridge over the river; now it was where our boat was to pick up the cooked meal. After passing beneath the buttresses of the old bridge, we went down to our table to wait to be called to get our food from the buffet. There seemed to be enough for everyone, and for the next couple of hours people went back for seconds and thirds. Jools and I went back upstairs to watch the valey slide past as it got dark, and in-between the trains a man we liked to call “Mr Eyebrows” conducted at the prow of the ship along to the piped Eurodisco boomed out. He wore eggshell blue blaizer, a flat cap, had a bright red face and as you would expect, great eyebrows. Everytime he walked past he was babbling to himself, but then seemed to be in the company of a couple of women with whom he would sing or dance the Lambada with at mostly inappropriate moments.

Rhein in Flammen As darkness fell, the boat turned round, and we headed back downstream towards Bonn. Just before we reached Remagen again, we were held back by the carnival police to be sure of passing the towns that were letting of fireworks at the right moment. And by some signal, we moved off waiting for the first flash of an explosion in the gloom of the near-dark.

And then it began; and soon enough the fireworks began to blur into each other. The displays must have cost hundreds of thousands of Euros, but they were good. Those of us on deck huddled in our winter clothes in a bit to try and stay warm. Just shy of Bonn, the flotilla of 50 ships stopped again, and in the park beside the river another firework display sprang into life. More fireworks.

Rhein in Flammen And in time, we ended back in Bonn, and waited for the ship to be tied up and fight our way through the crowds to the pier where the ferry was due to leave, only to see it casting off and our short cut home was gone. We went to the tram stop, and being a weekend the routes had changed a little, and Martina realised that one waiting would go past their house; we got on and soon were zipping through the quiet streets and back to their house and our beds.

And Sunday morning dawned damp and grey too; but with a faint promise of sunshine later. So, we headed to the tram stop, and purchased a ticket that would enable all four of us to have unlimited travel in the area on trains, trams and buses. All for €22.50! So, we set out for Cologne.

We got off the tram at the next stop, the local railway station, and waited for our train to Cologne.

Cologne straddles the river, and is dominated by the biggest cathedral I have ever seen. And like St Pauls in London, the Dom was almost undamaged during the war despite the surrounding area being flattened by Bomber Harris. We got off at one station short of the main railway station so we could go to the top of a modern tower block to take in the views.

ICE 3 x 3 The tower delivered on the views, despite the cloudy and misty weather, the views over the river to the cathedral were breathtaking; as was the railway line passing beneath the tower and then crossing the river over a multi-arched bridge which is as much a symbol of the city as Der Dom. I really could have stood and watched the trains passing hither and thither all day, and probably would have done if the rain hadn’t have started again. We went back down and crossed on the footpath beside the bridge with trains crossing just a couple of feet from us. We dived into a café, not just a café, but Café Reichard, some 150 years old and looking quite swish.

Hohenzollernbrücke, Köln We ordered salads, which we went to the salad bar to fill our plates. The plates were then weighed, but we were not allowed to bring our own plates back, over-worked waitresses had to do that. Turns out that you paid for your salad by weight, and mine was the heaviest and so most costly. Still, the surroundings were nice as was the people watching. And by the time we had finished, the rain had just about stopped and we headed to Der Dom.

If ever there was a building that came close to being a man-made mountain, this is it. I have climbed it in my youth, but not today. I made do with photographing it inside, in all its gothic splendour. Despite being full of people, there was so much space above us. It really is an incredible thing. At this point, words fail me, but if you’re in the city, you should go. You can’t miss it.

After leaving the cathedral, we did a walking tour round the city, but despite looking old, most of the buildings are post-war rebuild, so total was the bombing of the city. But even beneath the city, the remains of the medieval city is still being uncovered, as we saw at an excavation outside the town hall where the old Jewish Quarter is being revealed. We called in at a proper German bar for a quick beer, and then it was time to head back to Bonn for dinner which was traditional spiced beef accompanied by vegetables and boiled potatoes.

On Monday, Martina went back to work, and so Jools and I headed to Wuppertal to ride a train. Yes, a train.

We punched the details of the station Guenter suggested we should go to, and we set off into the morning rush hour on the motorways. But, we seemed to miss the worst of it and soon were heading down the steep road into the town. Wupertal is spread out in a valley either side of the River Wuper, and space is limited, and so the building of trams does not seemed to be considered, instead they built a railway suspended over the river. And after over 100 years, the train is still working, and is thrilling to ride as it sweeps round the bends in the river with the stations also suspended over the river.

Above the River Wupper After parking the car and crossing the main line railway, we had breakfast in a café before we headed up to the platforms to ride the Schweberbahn. Once a train had arrived and it set off, the experience is like riding a small plane, as the cars bank as they go round corners, and you can looking into houses and offices as you cruise by at 25km/h. Once you get over the thrill, it settles down to just like riding any other commuter transport; until you look down and see the river below. Or, at the other end of the line it crosses a motorway and curves away from the river and the trains travel above the heavy traffic on the street below.

Driver's eye view At the end of the line, we climbed down the steps from the station and walked the 1km to the first station, just to have the tracks above our heads and to snap the trains as they zoom past. Along the length of the street, the supports for the railway blurred into a metal tunnel with the traffic travelling through.

After climbing back up the steps to the next station, we caught the next train to the centre of the city, where we got off again as I had spotted a photogenic car park. I kid you not. We looked into the main shopping area, but in truth shopping isn’t one of our things unless its cameras or records, so we decided to head back to the train and head back to the car and head to the end of the line once more where the car was parked.

We did have a shock, as it turned out that despite buying our tickets, we had not validated them, and so the inspector who caught us, wasn’t really sure what to do, but said to keep quiet and do it when we got off. And Jools understood his meaning and I didn’t; oh well.

As the trains were now full, there was little fun in riding the line again, but there will be a next time, so we walked back over the main railway line to the car.

We punched the location of a cathedral that Guenter had recommended into the sat-nav, and we set off. After about half an hour and 50km, we descended into a deep valley, and at the bottom was what looked like an old monastery and a huge church. And there was nobody about.

We walked to the church doors, and from inside we could hear the organ playing; I walked into the shop next door to ask if it was OK to go in; in my broken German I asked, and it seemed it was OK, and was free too. Canterbury and Salisbury take note! Inside there was no one about, other than the organ player, who seemed to be learning a new piece, but the snatches of music filled the huge space of the cathedral like nothing else can. Instead of the dark interior at Cologne, Altenburg is painted white and seems so much a more pleasant space. It made me want to fill the space with music too.

We left the church and headed to the hotel opposite where staff in neat uniforms were rushing around serving lunch. We manage to order drinks in the bar, and feeling out of place in our jeans and t shirts watch the women who lunch at the next table sipping Chardonnay and making small talk.

We headed back to the car and then back onto the autobahn and back south to Bonn. Traffic was heavy but not too bad, and within an hour we were back at the house and soon sitting in the garden pretending it was warmer than it was.

As Tuesday was going to a be a glorious day, we decided to stay in Bonn and walk down beside the river to the old/new Bundestag. We caught a tram into the city centre, and walked round a bit window shopping before setting off on the 3km walk along the banks of the river. There is something about Bonn, being unlike almost any other city I have visited in Europe in that it feels like a village. And then there is the river, which sweeps round in a huge “s” and on the western bank the remains of the West German government’s buildings remain, some empty, some not. Some of the minor ministries have been left behind, so to keep the city sweet I guess, but it does feel like a ghost town at times.

Route 62 At the Bundestag, we stop and find an Imbiss, so we order drinks and something to snack on. It was now, very warm, and the 3 km long walk back along the river didn’t look to inviting; so after a look at the city map, we see there is a tram line the other side of the buildings, so we set off in search of the line. At the main road there was no sign of the tramline, until Jools noticed a large blue “U” sign leading down into a subway. We go down into the cool, and soon enough a tram came rattling down the track

trees and shadows We stay on until we think it was near to the main bridge, and get off in search of ice cream.

Big ice cream.

We headed to the main square around which were many places to eat and drink. We spy an Italian eiscafe, and after looking at the menu order huge ice creams filled with chocolate and other sweet stuff.

We ended up on the large grassed area in front of the university, and laid down amongst the students who had come out for lunch. After a while we walk over to the art museum, but find it apparently closed for repair, so we walk back to the main square where we think a coffee would be good. We order coffees and a slice of cheesecake each, and sit outside at a table so we could watch the world go by.

Now feeling full what with the ice cream and cheesecake, so we decide to head back to our friend’s house to chill and sit in the garden.

That night our friends took us by tram to a fine restaurant beside the river, just outside the city limits. We order traditional German food, which is very pleasant and filling. Good for me, the restaurant lays between the river and one of the main railway lines, so at regular intervals the meal was disturbed by a freight train rattling by at a distance of about 10 metres. Not bad!

And that really is it; we head back to the house by tram as darkness falls, and in the morning we quickly pack and are ready to leave.

Travelling back under leaden skies and through the occasional torrential downpour was not nice, but we make good time and arrive in Calais just after midday. P&O wanted a £60 extra to catch an earlier ferry, or face a wait of two hours for one we have already paid for; we opt to wait and save us some money.

So we park up in the deserted car park, and head to the vending machines and end up snacking on crisps and chocolates whilst I manage to get the radio to pick up Radio 5 from across the Channel. As a result, when the ferry arrives, we are one of the first cars let on, and we bag seats right at the front of the ferry and end up getting a captain eye’s view as we cross the Channel and head to Dover and home.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Three years

Three years ago today, June 3rd 2009, Norwich City played their last game of the 2008-09 season, and required a win against already relegated Charlton to have a chance of staying up. Norwich had not won away all season, and promptly lost 4-2 and were relegated. Despite being on another continent, or not (Kazakhstan is a member of EUFA) and travelling back home via Almatay, which is in the foothills of some pretty impressive mountains, my thoughts were in East London and that game.

(if you look at my posts for April-May 2009 you can read about our adventures in the land of the fruitless)

Sometimes it pays to look back to see how far you’ve come, or in the case of Norwich, how high we have climbed. Looking back, it seems at though it was so easy, promotion from League 1 as champions, automatic promotion from the Championship and now staying up with points to spare in the Premier League. At times Paul Lambert has said the hardest part is keep us, the fans, expectations based in reality; and he has a point.

But then there was talk of Grant Holt maybe being picked for England this summer so who has high expectations?

And so we face a nice quiet summer, maybe adding one or two new faces to the squad, and getting ready for the new season. Only problem may be hanging onto Paul Lambert; but I think he’ll stay for another year, just to see what he can achieve in Norfolk.

Our survival was confirmed last night after Spurs demolished Bolton 4-1, and so Bolton cannot now catch us, as can none of the bottom three. So, let us give thanks to all the players over the past three seasons that have made all this celebration possible, and the fans who never waivered in their support, to the board who saw that Paul Lambert was the answer and to Paul himself for delivering in spades all those league victories and points.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Tuesday 1st May 2012

It must be an age thing, as we find ourselves on the sofa at half eight on a Friday evening ready for the start of Gardener’s World with the man to melt the hearts of women of a certain age; Monty Don. It gives us ideas of things to do, and spinning around my mind is the thought of a fountain or maybe a pond. As I can barely dig a hole in the ground, a pond would be like the great wall of China for me. Kings Wood Anyway, so with our heads full of plants and flowers, we headed to the garden centre in Folkestone Saturday morning, with no real clear thoughts of what we wanted to buy, but we did manage to spend £65 in ten minutes on some plants for the new flower bed. We quickly left as in our heads we totted up what we had already spent. And then we went home and planted them right out, and then watered them in. I am missing the stage where I photograph them in all their colourful glory. But that is to be expected I guess. Bleeding Hearts And, right on cue, the heavens opened and the rain began to fall and soon had developed into a general Biblical downpour. And it continued pretty much for 20 hours non-stop. But despite the rain, we are still officially in drought and cannot use a hosepipe on the garden. So, I settled down to watch the final games of the Championship season, and Southampton ended up by following Norwich in back-to-back promotions. Bleeding Hearts And then to the main body of Saturday games, followed by watching the Norwich game with Liverpool via the text updates on the BBC website. Well, until Liverpool went 3-0 up and I decided that was enough internets for one day. Ahem. Sunday morning, and the rain continued lashing down. The weatherman promised that it would clear in the afternoon, but that seemed to be hopeful at best. We both went on the cross-trainer, the first time for a week, and it was hard I have to say. But I had to play with the i-pod to get a new selection of workout tunes as the old one was getting a little boring. So, in preparation for the sunny afternoon, I cook the beef for lunch and soon the house is full with the aroma of sizzling beef. Leaves As I carved the joint, the rain stopped and it looked brighter. The choice was to stay inside to watch more football or go out and find some bluebells to snap. In a surprise decision, we loaded up the car with camera and walking boots and headed off to Challock and the delights of Kings Wood. As we drove the sun had broken through, and after so much rain the land was a riot of colour, so vibrant it seemed un-natural. Kings Wood We were not the only ones at the wood, but once we parked we only saw a few people, and the peace and quiet was only broken by the occasional screaming child looking for its parents. Deep into the wood, although not at their best, there was enough colour on the ground from the bluebells to have made the trip more than worthwhile. Once we had our shots and our legs told us enough phys for one day had been done, we headed back to the car and home. And with the promise of yet more rain overnight, the weekend ended. Kings Wood However, this is only a four day week for reasons which will be revealed at a later point. Kings Wood