Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Library Rules

Yesterday I walked the two miles to our local library in order to renew my library ticket.* I strolled into the newly refurbished library unaware of the confusion that lay ahead. Actually my ticket ran out last year but because I’d been doing an OU writing course and then had succumbed to the Waterstones’ 3 for 2 offer on books a couple of times last year and then been tempted by one or two books in Tesco for £3.73 each and also bought a couple of magazines with free books, I hadn’t needed to go to the library.** So, I went up to the counter and asked very nicely if I could renew my ticket.

Well, the answer was no, not unless I had proof of my address on me. As a non-driver I don’t have a driver’s license so I was a bit stuck. I only had bank cards on me and they don’t have an address on. I said I could come back with my passport, national insurance card or medical card to prove I was who I said I was, but no, it has to be a letter with my address on received in the post that day or quite recently. ‘Don’t you get junk mail?’ one of the librarians asked ‘I get loads.’ Well yes, as it happens I do, but I couldn’t see how a piece of junk mail would be as reliable in identifying me as a passport or medical card. Anyhow, the only letter I’d had that day was one telling me I had won some fantastic gift if only I would ring the attached 0900 number and it had been shredded. Therefore, until I can prove that I am really and truly me I can’t have a new library ticket. I’m just waiting to receive a letter with my name and address on so I can trip down to the library again holding it in my sticky mitt.*** You know, I suppose they have their job to do, I might be trying to steal someone’s identity but if I was, borrowing books from the library would be the least of my concerns.

* I know, what an exciting life I lead.
** You are right, shame on me, I should support my local bookshop and not these huge high street stores, but I’ve applied for a job twice at the local bookshop and never even had an interview so I feel disinclined to put my money in their coffers.
*** I did have two letters today but not “official” ones – they were both hand written ones from friends so they will not do.

Highlight of today – the lovely letters mentioned above.

Today’s gripe – it has taken me hours to clean the spare bedroom and rid it of all the cat fluff and crud. Also I bet one of the cats was responsible for the headless baby bird I found on the lawn this morning. Why do I love cats so much when they do this?

Monday, April 25, 2005

Red Kite Delight

It’s hard to gather my thoughts together enough to recount the things I’ve seen and done over the last few days. I was so looking forward to my trip into Wales to meet up with friends and I wasn’t disappointed. I set out on Tuesday morning from Stoke Station on a coach up to Crewe, yes I know, I just assume that the trains to Crewe weren’t running that day. We took a circuitous route via Kidsgrove and Alsager stations, and I began to worry I wouldn’t get there on time to catch my train down to Shrewsbury. I needn’t have worried as, in the end, I had plenty of time to spare. At Shrewsbury I met Pauline from her train and we popped into town to have lunch at the art gallery just up from the station. We were back at the station in time to catch the Swansea train.

This train travels through the most delightful countryside, meandering past the Long Mynd at Church Stretton over the viaduct at Knucklas and into Wales. Our friend Susanna was waiting at the station in the little village where she lives and where we were staying at the local bed & breakfast which is also a museum, tea rooms, art gallery and craft workshops.* We had supper at Susanna’s little cottage overlooking her splendid garden whilst watching the birds on her feeders, including Goldfinch, chaffinch, nuthatch, great tits and blue tits. What a super display. We strolled back through the village to the guest house still amused by the fact that when we arrived my room still seemed to be occupied by someone else. It turned out that the brother of the owner had been staying and gone back to London and left his things. I had already moved to another room which on such a cold night was altogether cosier, then I found that I couldn’t get the hot tap to work on my bath but Pauline managed to sort it. All this caused much amusement.**

Next day, after breakfast*** we set out with Susanna to Rhayader to have lunch with her sister and brother-in-law and then to drive to the Elan Valley. The Valley is quite spectacular and on the drive we saw several red kites wheeling around in the sky, apparently there is a farm nearby where people can go and watch them being fed. We walked awhile at the side of one of the reservoirs and then went down to the visitor centre near the water cascade where we found out how the land was developed and the feat of engineering that went into the supplying of water to Birmingham and the Midlands.

I brought home such wonderful memories of the Elan Valley that I have to go back again soon with Paul so he can see the Red Kites.

* I may write more on this place later.

** Also amusement the next morning when Pauline set off the smoke alarm with her hair dryer.
*** the marmalade should have been in the museum.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Where do you Start?

Well, the writing class on Friday went well. We all had to read out the pieces we’d written for homework, based on the theme of childhood memories last week. This week’s homework is to write about a piece of music and why and how it appeals to you. Now this sounds easy, but where do you start? There are so many different pieces of music that appeal to me and for different reasons. Should it be the first piece of music you ever heard? If so then I would have to chose ‘The Cuckoo Waltz’ because I remember my father used to put the record (a 78 rpm) on the turntable and play it and waltz me around standing on his feet. I must have been about four years old. Or what about ‘Andy Pandy is coming to play tra, la la, la, la la’ - apparently I used to cry when Teddy disappeared into the toy basket at the end. I remember having to sing ‘Rose of England’ at a school concert, then there was the school hymn I think it was “Ye Holy Angels Bright” and my favourite hymns “Glorious things of thee are spoken” and “I give to you my Country” – not sure if they are the titles or the first lines. Next memories, well I fell in love with the golden face and voice of Scott Walker - I only have to hear the first few notes of “The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore” and the back of my neck prickles. Robert Knight’s “Everlasting Love” and the Supremes “Reflections” remind me of dances at the youth club. Or what about Waterloo Sunset written by one of the best ever English song writers, Ray Davies. I also like to play Jimi Hendrix very loudly at times to cheer myself up, I remember seeing him on stage years and years ago and I can still see the bandana and the purple crushed velvet suit and the larger than life image of something special. But where do you stop with music that means something to you? There are many classical pieces including Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Vaughan Williams’s “Fantasia on a Theme from Thomas Tallis”, Barber’s “Adagio” and the theme music from the ‘Mission’ in fact almost anything by Ennio Morricone, or the whole of the Carmina Burana, or Michael Nyman’s music from "The Draughtsman’s Contract" So I’m going to have to choose one of these to write about. Maybe I’ll write about Waterloo Sunset or the Vaughan Williams or perhaps I should try Hendrix?

Highlight of the day – getting lots of gardening done this afternoon and getting ready for my three day trip into Wales on Tuesday.

Today’s gripe - rain stopped the gardening before we had finished – the garden will never dry.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Barefoot in Hanley

I was sitting in the conservatory this morning, drinking coffee, looking out at the garden with its brand new spring colours and I got to thinking what other sights, tastes and smells make you feel safe and happy. I always enjoy my first sip of newly made coffee after the aroma of making it has filled the house and I love the taste of fresh apricots*, gooseberries and mangoes. Smells would have to be lavender, torn basil leaves and freshly squeezed lemon or lime. One of my favourite sensations is walking barefoot in the sand with the sound and smell of the surf drifting into my consciousness** also the smell of the garden early in the morning when the sun has been up just a little while and the grass is still damp from the dew. I also love it when, very rarely nowadays, I wake up warm and comfortable after a good night’s sleep, that moment between waking and being fully conscious is wonderful. The feel of a warm, furry, purring cat on your lap when you are feeling down. Just a few of my favourite things.

* especially when bought early from a market stall in France and taken back to our lodgings to eat with warm fresh baguette, greengage preserve and – you’ve guessed - freshly made coffee.
** quite hard to do in Stoke, I admit, but usually managed two or three times a year, sometimes at Cherrueix or St-Jean-Le-Thomas, sometimes on the Welsh coast near Criccieth, last year on the Yorkshire coast, in the rain, but I still loved every minute. How wonderful is Staithes in the pouring rain? I thought it was breathtakingly beautiful and atmospheric.

Highlight of the day – there isn’t going to be a bus strike after all, so I don’t have to walk the two plus miles up to Hanley in order to get to my writing course. I don’t mind the walking, I’ve done it before it’s just the noise of the traffic on the main roads I have to walk along – could I suspend all belief and pretend I’m walking barefoot on the beach at Cherrueix ? Nope!!

Today’s gripe – happened yesterday actually, in Tesco. Why do people have to ‘push’ from behind in the queue? They come right up behind you with their trolly in the back of your legs, come right down and stand almost behind you while you are paying – very rude! Sometimes they have a partner in crime who is getting their bags ready to fill whilst you are still filling yours. They watch your every move, eagle eyed, ready to pounce, even before you have moved away from the checkout. Don’t do it! Thanks.

Sunday, April 10, 2005


We set out early yesterday morning and journeyed out towards Ipstones and Onecoat and then down to the stunning Manifold Valley. The morning was bright and clear but very cold. Occasionally the liquid sun would break through the clouds to fool us into thinking it was warmer but believe me it wasn't. We parked close to Wetton Mill and donned warm coats and walking boots. There were very few people around at 9.30a.m. which meant we had the track way more or less to ourselves. Our intention was to walk up to Thor's Cave. We'd passed by it once before and this time intended to go up and have a look. Perched high above the valley on its rocky outcrop it looks very impressive, its entrance, like a gaping mouth, being visible from miles around.

Apparently local excavations have revealed evidence of Iron Age and Romano-British settlement in the area around the cave. Early last century the cave became quite a tourist attraction when the Leek and Manifold Light Railway was built and visitors would leave the train at the local station and walk up to the cave. This railway was in use from about 1902 to 1934 and the walk along the valley from Hulme End to Wetton mill uses the line of the old railway track so it is suitable for cycling too. The walkway up to the top was steep but not too taxing and we reached the cave quite quickly. What splendid views there were across the valley, although the wind felt as if it would blow us down to the ground below. There are other smaller caves visible across the valley, and from Thor's cave you can look across to another cave which is up behind the Mill.

As we descended from the cave it began to rain lightly and the sun disappeared, we passed one or two walkers on the way back to Wetton Mill where we stopped in the café for coffee and toast. What a delightful spot for walkers to rest their weary bones for a while. We watched the ducks on the river and the farm cats being fed before we left.

Highlight of the day - managed to buy the Guardian at the local shop - they don't usually stock more than one and you have to get up at the crack of dawn to get it.

Today's Gripe - don't really have one, except when it rains really heavily, we have a leak in the conservatory roof.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Dreaming of Dr Johnson

When is a dream not a dream but a nightmare? I suppose when it disturbs you, makes you cry out, wake up in a sweat or stays in your memory for a few days? Yet, we all have surreal dreams that disturb us and we would not call them nightmares. I’m thinking of the anxiety dreams that we have. Like the ones I sometimes have about running down endless corridors in large, unfamiliar houses. The ones where you are walking up the stairs and the ceiling is coming down to meet you. There are also the ones where you are out in the street in your underwear, the one where you are trying to run but your legs won’t move or you are trying to shout or scream for help but no noise comes out of your mouth and the one I have quite often of my teeth falling out of my mouth and spilling across the floor like a broken string of pearls. I always seem to loose far more teeth than can possibly be in my head though. These are all unsettling dreams but I wouldn’t call them nightmares.

In yesterday’s Guardian there was an article about Samuel Johnson’s famous dictionary. It was, apparently, published 250 years ago this month.* His definition of a nightmare was ‘a morbid oppression in the night, resembling the pressure of weight upon the breast.’ This morning I woke up with a ‘pressure of weight upon the breast’, a paw patting my cheek and a purring in my face, not to mention cat breath - perhaps best not to, good old Max, he knows when it is time to get up.

*funnily enough I’ve just finished reading “According to Queeney” by Beryl Bainbridge. A wonderfully atmospheric account of what Dr Johnson’s last years may have been like. How can an author “get inside” a time in history with so much atmospheric accuracy as to make you feel it is one hundred percent real. A truly wonderful piece a writing.

Highlight of the day – if it’s Sunday it must be The Archers – off to listen now.
Today’s Gripe – being woken up by cat-breath – but I love him really.