Thursday, March 31, 2005

Croissants, Hawkshead & Hotspur

We travelled through the mist and rain over the Staffordshire border into Shropshire. Before we moved into the city we used to live out near Market Drayton and the countryside around there is really beautiful. I think it was the 40 minutes travelling each way every day to get to work that made us move closer to our work places but I really miss the area.

Today we were off to Shrewsbury, a fascinating, historic town with lovely inviting shops to wander around. I usually end up on the railway station here when I meet up with a friend I used to work with in Lincolnshire and we catch the Shrewsbury to Swansea train on our way to visit another former work colleague and friend. We only travel to near Llandrindod Wells but the train ride is spectacular. We are going again in April and I’m really looking forward to it.

Today we had a mission to buy my husband some new shoes and trousers. They could, of course, be bought here, up in the city centre, but it is so much nicer to wander around someone else’s town. Anyway, I love the historic atmosphere of Shrewsbury, something that Hanley is sadly lacking. We always drive to the park and ride and then bus into the centre. I’m always amazed that the Stoke-on-Trent park and ride car park is almost in the city centre and not on the outskirts. How much more convenient that would be, especially for visitors to the city and if they were to pass the railway station, which isn’t actually in the city centre, then all the better.

Well, as usual, we have cappuccino and croissant at our favourite café and then wander around in the rain, dodging the umbrellas and gradually acquire the things we came for; and a little more, of course.

On the way back we see a sign for the site of the Battle of Shrewsbury and decide that today is the day we will go and look what it is all about. Yes, I know, in the pouring rain. Well, it’s a mound with seats and a couple of interpretation boards. Being a Yorkist and Ricardian I’m used to the rather lavish battle site at Bosworth, and this looked just as interesting. The Battle of Shrewsbury was one of the bloodiest battles of the 15th century and saw the demise of the noble Hotspur something I always remember from Henry IV part one or is it part two?* Anyway, we have decided to go back in better weather and do the walk to the church and back; so more of this later.

Highlight of the day – getting three t-shirt tops for the price of two at Hawkshead.

Today’s gripe – I couldn’t find the book of poetry I wanted at Waterstones.

*It is actually Part One, V.4

Hotspur- “O Harry, thou hast robbed me of my youth……………No, Percy, thou art dust, and food for……..”

Prince Hal - “For worms, brave Percy, Fare thee well, great heart!”

Monday, March 28, 2005

To Post or not to Post

Recently I’ve become rather concerned about what is going to happen to the postal service if the Royal Mail loses its postal monopoly. How are the other companies offering delivery services going to work? The Royal Mail has dedicated postmen who know the area and potentially deliver to every house in the land. What will happen if say two houses on one street of a hundred houses are sent mail by another delivery agency. Will it be economically viable for that company to send out a post man for just two houses? Magnify this across the whole country and in particular the outlying rural areas and we may have a situation where deliveries only take place two or three times a week. Will this mean that we may eventually have to pay for a delivery to take place from a company that is not Royal Mail? At the moment the cost of delivery is paid by the sender when they buy a stamp. If sending mail to a remote Scottish Island is going to cost twice as much as it does now the sender will stay with Royal Mail, so what is the point anyway? I know it can work with parcels, there are plenty of delivery firms, catalogue couriers etc. but how will it affect our daily postal deliveries? The powers that be say that Royal Mail will still be required to provide a daily collection and delivery service in the new market but how long will they be able to sustain that under the threat of competition? Perhaps I am worrying unduly but having seen the fiasco on the rail service since that was denationalized and going through the bizarre notion of getting gas from electricity or water companies and telephone services from the supermarket my aged brain has gone into panic scenario overdrive.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Good Friday Walk

Just over half an hour’s drive from us is the village of Ilam, it’s very close to Dovedale and you can easily walk to there from the village but Ilam is so much quieter, especially fairly early on in the morning. We wondered along the river side, the banks lush with wild garlic, dog’s mercury, sorrel and some early bluebells just showing through, then crossed back over the fields towards the Youth Hostel and National Trust shop. Fortified by coffee and scones at the Manifold tea rooms we strolled by the pretty church and down to the village to have a look at the memorial on the cross roads by the bridge. We'd passed it by so often and thought it was some sort of village war memorial but a recent article in the Local History Magazine revealed that it is in fact an Eleanor Cross type memorial, placed there by Jesse Watts-Russell, for his wife Mary Watts-Russell, who died in 1840. The architect, John Macduff Derick, in the full flow of Gothic revival, based it on the Eleanor Cross at Waltham. There is, in fact, a charitable trust set up in order to raise funds for its restoration. Later, driving towards Ashbourne we passed through the parklands covered in grazing sheep and lambs, the cars had come to a halt because there were sheep in the road, as we stood waiting to move on we saw an ewe with two new born lambs, they were still wet and bedraggled and they struggled to walk as she encouraged them away from the road’s edge, just as we moved on they began to suckle. Up on the hill there was a Good Friday service taking place around a wooden cross. So, Easter and Spring, a time of new life, renewal, abundance in the countryside and also a time for quiet reflection.

Highlight of the day - has to be the sight of the new born lambs, although I worry for their safety on that busy road.
Today’s gripe – I’ve gone caught a cold just in time for the holidays, oh well!

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Morecambe Tulip

As promised an explanation of my comment yesterday. It must be about four years ago now when we took a short autumn break in the Lancaster area. We just set off without booking anything and spent a day in Lancaster but thought we would like to stay on the coast. The Tourist Information Centre got us a good deal at a nice hotel on the sea front at Morecambe, the opposite end of town to the famous 1930s hotel and the Eric Morecambe statue. We had walked and walked taking in the sea air and as it had started to rain we decided to see what was on at the cinema and we were just in time to see Bridget Jones (the first film). When we came out we went back to the car park; by this time it was dark but the car park was well lit. That when I saw it – just one flower bulb on the ground in perfect condition right at the side of our car. I picked it up and put it in my pocket where it stayed until we got home. It was the right time of year to plant it so we put it in a pot and put it behind the shed. The next spring we brought it out and waited to see what it would be. As it emerged from the soil we could see from the shape of the leaves that it was a tulip. We then had to wait and see what colour it would be, minor bets were placed, but neither of us guessed the correct colour which turned out to be pink. Since then it has appeared every year in the same pot but this year it has become three separate stems so we will have three flowers, not just the one. Sentimental, I know, but if we ever move away from this house, I will take the Morecambe Tulip(s) with me.

Highlight of the Day - whilst walking round the lake at Trentham Gardens this afternoon, and glorious weather it was too, we saw a family walking their pet ferret, it was in a harness with a long lead and was thoroughly enjoying itself.

Today’s gripe – just the general thoughtlessness at the petrol station – why does this always bring out the worst in people? The man in front of us sent his passenger to pay whilst he was filling up. Because the queue was long it took her ages and he moved the car three times, getting in people’s way, and then shouted at her because she was so long!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Big Foot

I’ve noticed a new phenomenon on our street. All the little girls have big feet. Some of them brown suede; some of them sheepskin coloured and one in particular has pink fluffy ones. Now I’m guessing that these strange objects are the latest fashion and are presumably the cheaper versions of the “Ugg” boots so popular with the trendy types who grace the pages of the glossy gossip magazines. You know, those magazines that decorate the coffee tables in the waiting area at the hairdressers rather than those that decorate the windowsill in the doctor’s surgery waiting room. The ones in the hair salon are always up to date with photos of the latest soap/tv/catwalk star’s love split/ triangle/ weight loss or new baby on the front cover. It’s no use looking at the ones in the surgery as they are at least three years old and as such contain “old news” – so yesterday. (The dentist’s waiting room, on the other hand, has its own magazines, full of close ups of diseased gums and furry tongues and definitely not for the feint hearted). So these copies of Ugg boots, well I wouldn’t spot the real thing if it hit me in the face, especially the pink fluffy ones – well they have only just appeared now the weather is warmer so I’m guessing they are a fashion statement and should not, in any circumstances, be worn in rain, hail, snow or slush or for walking the dog around the local park. Still, for that we have the new trendy wellies spotted in our local garden centre, decorated in spots, stripes or 60s daisy petal flowers, a mere snip at £25. I mean the utilitarian green ones, worn by us un-trendy folk are only £7, I wonder if I could paint red spots on them? Or little chicks for Easter. I can but dream.

Highlight of the day - The Morecambe Tulip is now three*
Gripe of the Day - The top lawn is still sodden and damp, it has been like this all winter, it desperately need a cut but it’s just not possible.

* I will explain this tomorrow

Monday, March 21, 2005


Whilst traveling home on the bus today I sat in front of an elderly couple discussing fish. Not unusual in itself but my mind began wandering back to a place in time when I had owned a fish. Of course the people were discussing fish in the eating sense, I think comparing the merits of Haddock, Plaice and Cod but I lost the thread of their discussion as my mind drifted back to my fish. It had a small square tank on top of the piano in the “front room” as we called it then. This room was where mum placed her best three piece suite and her display cabinet of nic-nacs, This room also housed the television set and we were only allowed in there in the evenings – unless, of course, I was practicing on the piano. Anyway, back to my fish. I had been to the fairground in the nearest local town with my best friend. She and I had met on our first day at school and had an instant rapport, there being only one week between our birthdays. She was plump and pretty with long dark hair which was, more often than not, tied up in a pony tail. I was thin, angular with straight side parted hair clipped back with a slide and since I’d had the measles I wore, to my despair, pink framed glasses. I was always aware that people liked my friend more than me, especially the boys, I was used to this, so it was a surprise when we won the fish that for once in my life it was me that was singled out. You see all the fish being given out to winners in their plastic bags were gold, but mine was pink. I looked at it at little askance and the man running the stall smiled at me and said that’s a special one, it’s a Shubumpkin. I took it home with great joy and a tank and food was bought for it as soon as possible. I seem to remember it lived for quite a few years before finally one morning I went in to feed it and found it floating on the surface, poor pink Shubumpkin.

Highlight of the day – the bus was on time, not very full and the driver was pleasant and smiled at everyone and for once I didn’t have difficulty getting from the back to the front of the bus whilst it negotiated the speed bumps on the corner of our street.

Today’s gripe – I went into M&S especially to get those lovely mango yoghurts, the ones with the checked, jam cover like, tops and they hadn’t got any in stock. I am now absolutely craving mango yoghurt; the raspberry one I did buy just didn’t hit the spot.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

West to East in a Day

Saturday 19th March

Birthday Celebrations

Up at 6.30a.m. today to be ready to leave the house by 8a.m. to set out on our travels across country to a birthday lunch. First down to Tesco to fill up with petrol, how very useful their 5p off a litre coupons are. Then along the A50 to Kegworth, through the villages of Rempstone and Wymeswold to Melton Mowbray and then to Oakham. Here we had a leg stretch, bought cheese and flowers at the local farmer’s market, had a warming cappuccino and then onwards through historic Stamford and then through the Deepings and on to the fens towards Crowland. The memories came flooding back as the vistas opened, the land flattened and the drains appeared at the sides of the roads. Swans and geese were bobbing about on the River Welland as the tower of Crowland Abbey loomed in the distance. In this part of the country you navigate by Church towers. We left here ten years ago after living in nearby Spalding for twelve years. When I first arrived, after living in Derbyshire surrounded by hills and dales I hated the sparse flatness of the area, but I grew to love it, the light, the open skies and the history of the landscape. So, onwards towards the Wash and our destination. We had a lovely lunch, it is so nice eating good food, talking to old friends and catching up on news.

Highlight of the Day - being with friends and remembering past times.

Today’s gripe - Almost £8 for tea and toast at the Little Chef!!!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Sweet Willy Shakey

Friday 18th March

Well, as instructed when we bought the tickets, we arrived early to ensure a car parking place. Having a small car we can tuck in to the smallest space and whip out again just as easily. The car park was almost full when we arrived, as was the entrance foyer and upper foyer. We wandered around clutching our J2Os (Apple & Mango flavour, of course) until we found a spare corner to sit and wait a while for the doors of the auditorium to open. The building is quite modern in structure and is a ‘theatre in the round’ but this was the first time we had been up on the balcony so didn’t know what to expect. The seating was okay and the view only slightly restricted. I had to lean forward to see the area where the drums and other instruments had been set out for the performers to use throughout the play. Cue the first entrance of the “rude mechanicals”, regulars at the Tabard Inn, who were the main characters of the play. They arrived centre stage to the sound of jazz which soon turned to their rapping out the first song which culminated in the line “he’s sweet Willy Shakey from Stratford Town” rather like an ageing, Tudor Blazin’ Squad. The gist of the story is, of course, the influence these folk have on Shakespeare and his use of their characters in his plays. Fat Jack, played by Barry Rutter, was as you may guess Sir John Falstaff, the bellows mending twins no doubt the Dromios of the sister play being performed by the company, A Comedy of Errors. I won’t go any further, for fear of spoiling it for those who may wish to catch it on tour, except to say what a wonderful night’s entertainment it was, I laughed and almost cried. After the interval two people in the next run of seats didn’t return, what a shame, was it perhaps the song containing the immortals lines “And a Fol de roll, and a rum tum tum, with a large stick of rhubarb up your bum” that put them off?

Highlight of the day - well, of course seeing the play.
Today’s gripe – nope – don’t have one.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

A Bit of Name Dropping

Wednesday 16th March

Today we went to book tickets for performance of Alan Plater’s play “Sweet William” by the Northern Broadsides Company at our local theatre, the New Vic. Later that day we were reminiscing about the plays we had seen there, some very good ones, including a punk Macbeth wielding chains. Even later, like 3a.m. because I couldn’t sleep I was thinking back to all the plays I had seen over the years, and trying to remember how many Hamlets, Macbeths and Richard IIIs I had seen. I am very lucky to be able to say I have seen three brilliant Hamlets – Alan Bates, Ian Mckellan and Alan Rickman, two excellent Richard IIIs, Anton Lesser and Ian McKellan and two Macbeths – and I really can’t remember who played the lead rolls in these. Also two Coriolanus (ii?) being Ian Richardson and Charles Dance. Back in the good old days through the seventies and eighties when we used to go to Stratford at least twice a year I was privileged to see many fine performances and performers. Happiest memory is a spectacular Comedy of Errors with Judy Dench and Michael Williams, Richard Griffiths, Nicholas Grace and Roger Rees to name but a few. There was also the day we sat through The Plantagenets, three performances in one day a long haul but very well worth the stiff legs the next morning. The actors in this included a very young Ralph Fiennes as Henry VI who stood out at the time as something special.

Highlight of the day – Well, getting the theatre tickets as it seems ages since we’ve been out in the evening.

Today’s Gripe – Just a general depression about the amount of litter that collects in our front garden. Because we are at the top of the street it all blows up into the drive and deposits itself in front of the garage door. Today I found two crisp packets, a Tesco receipt, a sheet of kitchen roll, three pages of someone’s school work and a plastic Spa carrier bag. Well, at least the bag was useful to put the other rubbish in.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

That time of Day

Tuesday 15th March

Up early today and several jobs done and dusted before 8.30a.m. I must admit I’m a morning person and do like to get going early – I seem to achieve so much more before 1 pm than after it. My most deathly time is between 3 and 5p.m. in the afternoon, I just seem to go into slow motion and my brain wonders so much. It is almost like lost time. I one read somewhere that you are at your lowest ebb at the time of day you were born, I was born at 4p.m. so in my case this appears to be true. Is this just coincidence? I can’t even say that this happens now I’m older because I was like it at school too. That last hour was awful, droning teacher, half asleep students and why was the last lesson of the day always Latin? I remember the headmaster used to take us for Latin and there was always one boy who just couldn’t do it and we would all be kept in until he had answered the question correctly. I always lived in fear of missing the bus home to the small isolated village I lived in. It was almost as if the headmaster knew this as he always waited until the last five minutes of the class to ask this poor boy a question.
I can see the head teacher now, small dark, twitching mustache, always wearing his mortar board and gown, as did all the teachers, until we went comprehensive in my fourth year and gowns and mortar boards were out, jackets and polo sweaters and trendy guitar playing art teachers were in and we dropped Latin and took on Spanish instead.

Today’s highlight – was a letter in the post from a friend who is arranging a surprise lunch for another friend’s birthday. It will be so nice to see them both again even though it will take us 3 hours of travel to get there – just hope the weather is okay.

Today’s gripe – Why do people not fall into single file anymore when passing on a narrow path or pavement? I have lost count of the times recently when I’ve been out walking that I’ve had to stop, stock still and turn sideways because people walking towards me just don’t give way. When I’m out walking with anyone we always drop into single file if people are approaching the other way. Occasionally they will do the same but more often than not they won’t even see you are there let alone that you have been courteous towards them. I just wondered what they expect you to do, levitate over them or throw yourself into the road and go under the passing traffic? Just a minor gripe really, I suppose in the wide scheme of things it doesn’t matter but it just aggravates me, that all.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Dabchicks Galore

We had a wonderful walk today along the canal at Cromford. I always enjoy this walk and seem to discover something new each time. Today we ventured under the road bridge near the disused station and discovered the old catch pit used to slow down or catch trains going too fast or derailed trains from the quarry top. Beyond this is the 2½ mile walk up to Middleton Top and we decided this was to be the next walk of discovery. Possibly coming in from Middleton top down to the canal and back again. I just love these areas of old industry where canals, rivers, railways and roads meet, converge and cross over each other, now tranquil places where once there was noise, smoke, sweat and energy. There is another walk we do at Consall Forge that has the same impact but here the trains run on the line between Cheddleton and Froghall on the Churnett Valley Railway and if you are very lucky you sometimes see the steam trains. The added bonus at Consall is the Black Lion Pub, very favorably sited halfway round the walk. Anyway, I digress, back to Cromford. Of course the draw at Cromford is the Mill café with its home made cakes and scones or bowls of homemade soup always welcome after a long walk. Up in the village itself is the Scarthin book shop, well worth a visit with lots of lovely nooks and hidey holes where you can sit and look at all the wonderful books. The highlight of today was the Dab Chicks or little Grebes on the canal. They were having a super time, loads of them all together, very noisy but sweet individuals dipping and diving and generally giving loads of entertainment to the passers by. I guess it must be the mating season.

Today’s Gripe – people who don’t remember the highway - code. I always thought if there was a car parked on your side of the road then you had to stop to allow traffic coming towards you to pass before pulling out and passing the vehicle. Three times today cars have pulled out and kept coming straight on towards us even though they should have stopped. On one occasion a driver pulled out round a woman on a horse and a child on a cycle and almost hit us. If we hadn’t have been slowing down because of the horse they would have. Have they forgotten what they learned or did they never learn or are they just so arrogant they think everyone will stop for them. Grr.