Monday, 31 August 2015

Summer Chores and another Summer Outing: Pee-bles

Last day of August and the last week of school holidays.  Time and the pace of life seem too have speeded up in the past few weeks after the long lazy days at the end of July.  Things shift after the exam results days, and my mind turns back to work and also to the chores on my summer list.  So I've been decluttering and painting.  The understairs cupboard is now tidy and piles of unwanted clothes and books have been given to Barnardo's.  Yesterday I even painted the shed, so I'm feeling quite pleased with myself,  Today I'm having a rest from all this physical activity and catching up with the blog and some reading for school.  But I thought I'd share the results of one summer project - our new seating area in the kitchen.  We tend to hang out in here with the dog watching tele rather than the lounge and, until now, it had a range of random, unmatched furniture.  I'm very pleased with my coffee table from John Lewis which has storage for remotes, ipads, glasses, notebooks and other assorted clutter.  I also like the grey squares cushions which came from that emporium of good taste - Primark.. 

I want also to record another of our summer outings earlier this month to Peebles in Scotland where my husband had signed up for another cycle event, the Tour of the Borders.  We stayed right in the town centre in the Tontine hotel, which dates from 1808 and was built by French prisoners from the Napoleonic War.  Downstairs, it was quite grand with a big, formal dining room complete with chandeliers.  It was also busy, full of other cyclists as well as tourists.  We had the dog with us which is probably why we were in a rather poky room right at the top of the building, well away from other guests.  He was well behaved with one exception: one afternoon, before we could stop him, he pee-d on the peonies just outside the front door! 

We arrived on the Saturday afternoon before the race and explored the town which is quite touristy with lots of little craft shops, ice cream parlours and cafes.  It has quite a few independent shops, including a couple of good shoe shops and is free from the usual high street stores.  Behind the hotel and the main street is a park and the river where registration for the cycle event was taking place.

On Sunday morning I got up early with my husband to see him set off, while my daughter slept in. Or tried to.  Outside the hotel, groups of cyclists were starting the race encouraged by loud thumpy music and an enthusiastic commentator. So we got up and had breakfast in the Adam room which overlooks the river.  I had the full works breakfast with haggis - very nice indeed.

Unfortunately my husband didn't enjoy the ride as it was stopped for an hour because of an accident: someone came off on a steep hill and had to be rescued by air ambulance.  He was ok in the end and apologised to the other riders who had to wait around getting cold at the top of the hill until he was taken to hospital.  Just glad it wasn't my husband who arrived back around lunchtime safe but grumpy, having had to do the shorter version of the ride because of the delay.

We spent the rest of the day lazily exploring the town walking by the river, eating cake in a cafe in the afternoon and then later on pizza in a very good Italian restaurant just by the bridge.  Cooked breakfast, cake and pizza all in one day - that's why I'm having to cut back now!

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Summer Outings: Lincoln Cathedral and Castle

A couple of weeks ago we had another summer outing, staying with some friends in Lincoln.  They live in the town centre close to the cathedral and the castle.  Lincoln Cathedral is huge, much more impressive than our own in Chester, and visible on top of the hill from miles away as you approach the city.  The castle has been restored recently and now has a new visitor centre and vault to display the cathedral's copy of the Magna Carta which, as you probably know, is 800 years old this year.

The first thing you see as you enter the castle grounds is this building, which, in my ignorance, I thought was part of the castle.  It isn't - it's a Georgian building which houses the County Court.

We decided to do the Medieval Wall Walk rather than the full tour and there were information boards all the way round which was enough history - none of us are keen on guided tours.

As well as the courthouse, the castle grounds house a Victorian prison, on the left in the picture above, where prisoners used to be kept in total solitary confinement.  There's a small graveyard behind the prison, with gravestones inscribed only with initials, presumably belonging to deceased prisoners. I thought this was sad.

At the courthouse, 21st century justice was in full flow - there was a security firm's van parked at the back entrance and, at the front, a close-cropped, thick-set man in a suit on his mobile phone.  I wondered aloud whether this might be the defendant and got told off by my daughter for stereotyping. 

The view from the walls over the cathedral, the city and the surrounding countryside is superb for most of the way round.  But in one section it is obscured by thick perspex, which my friend tells me, is because some local residents objected to visitors looking down on their houses and gardens.  His partner, who lives just outside the castle walls, didn't object and, in fact, has designed her garden so it looks good when viewed from the castle walls.  If you look closely at the picture below you can see her, my husband and our dog among the lush greenery.

We climbed the steps to the top of the tower on the keep and here the view of the cathedral and the surrounding countryside was unobscured and spectacular.

Outside the walls, we found one of the Lincoln Barons, a trail of statues which has been designed for children visiting the town.  A few years ago in Chester we had a similar trail with Rhino statues instead - it seems to be a bit of a tourism trend. Someone obviously thought this baron was finding this summer a little chilly and gave him this furry scarf.

And, back in the garden, I spotted some teenage invaders trying to scale the castle walls - they aren't visible but just behind the trees here.  

I think this a great place to live - close to a historic town centre with and everything is within walking distance. Another enjoyable summer outing.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Summer Outings: Daytrip to London

Back in July when my sister from New Zealand was visiting and staying with Brighton sister we all met up in London for the day.  I meant to blog about this at the time and didn't get round to it, but better late than never.  As her children are at the age when they are finding out about cities like London, she wanted to do the traditional tourist sights.  And actually, even though I lived in London for a few years in the 80s, I hadn't seen some of these either.  First of all we went to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.  Now I do have a video clip of this which I tried to add but apparently it's too big and my attempts to cut it failed but you can see it on You tube anyway.  There was a lot of standing around in hordes of people before watching the bands parade by.  'Avocado,' said the policeman on crowd control duty.  At least that's what it sounded like to my daughter, used to Northern accents.  I explained that he was simply encouraging us to move in to leave the pavement clear and to .... have a cuddle. I remarked to my sister that crowd control outside BP must be a pretty boring job and the policeman who overheard me agreed! 

After that we walked down Birdcage Walk to Westminster Abbey along the edge of St James' Park where running under the sprinkler provided more entertainment for the six year old than Buckingham Palace. Big Ben chimed midday as we arrived in the square.   Some of us were getting weary as you can see from the picture so we continued our sightseeing by river boat.

It was quite a hot day so sun cream was needed.

We travelled under Tower Bridge and all the way to Greenwich where we climbed the hill to the Observatory and had a look at the Meridian Line.  This was of passing interest to the now rather tired children as the 12 hour time difference means that they are up and getting ready for school in NZ when we ring on a Sunday evening.  

We caught the boat back and got off at the Tower of London.  Then we travelled by London bus, catching a number 15 and getting seats at the front of the top deck.  This was great as we travelled through past St Paul's and Fleet Street and parts of the city I'd not seen before.  We got off on The Strand and finished the day in Covent Garden watching the street entertainers.  

It was sad saying goodbye for another couple of years but we'd enjoyed our family day out in London.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Two little birdies....

This little robin flew in through the kitchen window yesterday morning.  He panicked a bit when our dog tried to catch him but then settled down quite happily on the window sill.  Eventually I gently persuaded him to leave.

And I snapped this colourful rain forest bird at Chester Zoo on Monday. I can't remember what it's called but I think it's from Brazil.  More on this visit later - I'm making rather slow progress recording my summer outings.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Summer Outings: Cholmondeley Castle Gardens

Apart from our family reunion in Northern Ireland in July, we're not having a summer holiday this year but instead are having a few weekends away and days out.  So I've decided to record these in a series of blog posts entitled Summer Outings.  I'm starting with what was actually just a Sunday afternoon visit to Cholmondeley Castle Gardens, half an hour or so away from.  I love visiting gardens but the rest of the family have to be persuaded and this time I got my way.  Cholmondeley Castle also accepts dogs on leads, unlike most of the National Trust properties around here, a reason why we don't often go. 

That afternoon there was a horse jumping event going on in the surrounding parklands so our visit was accompanied by the loudspeaker commentary on the show.   It was a lovely sunny afternoon for once and we enjoyed our walk around the gardens.  Husband has a new camera and took more pictures than me so I'm using these.  Only the one of the rose garden is mine. You cannot visit the castle itself as the family still live there but there is a little cafe in the grounds so we stopped there for a cup of tea.

At home my own garden is looking rather tatty.  Although it's not been a good summer in the north west, cloudy cool and dampish for much of the time, it's actually been quite dry. So the lawn is parched, and the hydrangeas, which usually add colour at this time of year, are disappointing. I was actually quite pleased to see yesterday's downpour, especially since it's fine again today. I have had one success.  I bought a patio buddleia hoping to attract more butterflies to my garden and, although the plant is nothing special to look at with yellowing leaves at its base, it does seem to be working.  Camera luckily nearby when this peacock visited, but I also saw a comma and numerous whites.

Look out for more summer outing posts soon.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

The Year in Books: August

Joining in again with The Year in Books hosted by Laura at Circle of Pine Trees.  I missed the July link up and am only now reporting on my June book 'Bellman and Black'.  I didn't read very much at the end of June and July but I'm catching up now it's the school holidays.

I enjoyed 'Bellman and Black' by Diane Setterfield, though I'm not sure it was a ghost story as it claims to be.  It's a portrayal of a successful Victorian industrialist: how he is 'haunted' by the elusive Mr Black who seems to be associated with the rook that William Bellman shot with a catapult as a child.  The shadow of the rook pervades the novel: there are chapters devoted to descriptions of the bird and the folklore associated with it.  There's also a great deal of description of Bellman's success in his business; he is a kind of upmarket undertaker, providing coffins and the trappings of mourning for wealthy clients.   This contrasts with the tragedy of his personal life - I won't reveal any more plot details in case you are tempted.  I was particularly interested in the character of his daughter, Dora, and was a little disappointed that her storyline wasn't developed more.  Penny at The Homemade Heart has written an excellent review of the book.  She described it as a psychological study of Bellman and that is, I suppose, why we don't hear more about Dora.  The focus is on how his mind works, how he makes a success of his working life at the expense of personal happiness, perhaps because he is unable to deal with strong feelings. So, overall, good, but doesn't compare with my all time favourite period ghost story, Susan Hill's 'The Woman in Black', which is properly scary.

I've also been reading a couple of texts by Irish writers in preparation for a coursework unit I'm going to be teaching to an A Level class in September.  I've read 'Amongst Women' by John McGahern and also the play 'Dancing at Lughnasa' by Brian Friel.  By coincidence, both texts feature on a group of sisters living in a village in Ireland so particularly appeal to me.  I am already familiar with 'Dancing at Lughnasa', having seen an excellent production of it at the Theatre Clwyd in Mold a few years ago.  It was one of the most enjoyable evenings at the theatre I have ever had.  The play explores the relationships between the sisters and how things are changing for them and the country.  Reading it wasn't quite the same as a live production but I do have a DVD of the film to watch this week.

For my August book I'm reading another novel by an Irish writer, 'The History of the Rain' by Niall Williams, which was nominated for the Booker prize. NZ sister recommended it and for me that's a better reason to choose it rather than a Booker nomination.  I'm also dipping into another book which kind of links to 'Bellman and Black' as it features Victorian business men. It's Jacqueline Yallop's 'Dreamstreets: A Journey through Britain's Village Utopias'.   It has a chapter on Port Sunlight, which is near here, and how it was created by William Hesketh Lever for his workforce to live in, We visited Port Sunlight last week and went to the museum as my daughter has to complete a piece of history coursework about Lever and Port Sunlight.  So I'll be encouraging her to read this book too.