Friday, 29 April 2011

Another trip

Suitcases trundling, everyone hurrying
Pushchairs fill the escalator
A long long platform where numbered posts show us where to go
Our number is many posts along but eventually we are there
We struggle up the extra high steps into the carriage
And heave our cases onto the luggage rack
They have gained in weight somehow
Count the seats, Ahh! To sit down at last
More people and children seek out their seats
A long wait….. Children cry and wail
Standing to reach the luggage rack, we sort out the things we need for the journey
All the while squeezing back into out seat space to let others struggle by
A loud voice gives an announcement in three languages
A post slides silently by the window
You had not realised the train has started
You doze off for a while, when you wake it is dark outside
Your watch says 11:58AM, you are under the sea
A long wait….. Children cry and fidget
The toilet light is on - you wait – it goes out
Swaying and reeling you reach the door
The soap dispenser is empty
Swaying and reeling you return to your seat
You stand up and let her into the aisle
She too goes swaying and reeling down the aisle
But forewarned she carries a bottle of hand wash
A long wait….. Children complain and fight
We burst into daylight, we are in another country
A loud voice gives an announcement in three languages
We are at Lille
Are we there? Children ask and are ignored
The loud voice gives an announcement in three languages
Again a post slides silently by and we are off on the last leg
Another long wait…. Parents are getting tired too and voices rise
A louder voice gives an announcement in three languages
We arrive
The suitcases do not want to leave their rack
We stand in line for the door with our reluctant suitcases
A long platform and we trundle to the lift
The lift is out of order
We trundle to the stairs and lug the suitcases higher and higher
Loose change, keys, watch, dark glasses and mobile phone go into a tray
Our luggage slides into a tunnel with rubber strips trailing over them as they pass out of sight
We claim them after passing through an empty door frame
We are handed back our loose change, keys, watch, dark glasses and mobile phone
It takes forever to get it all back into the various pockets and purses
Another shorter trundle and our suitcases are taken
They will get to the hotel before us
We emerge into the daylight
A fairytale castle is silhouetted against the sky
The afternoon stretches before us and an excited child leads the way
We are here again

Thursday, 14 April 2011

A week in Stratford upon Avon

Whilst visiting this quiet little town, buried on the borders of the Cotswolds, I got the strong feeling that Stratford upon Avon has some kind of connection with a little known playwright called William Shakespeare. It may have been the prominent theatre that tends to almost exclusively put on a lot of plays by this guy and is the home of a tiny bunch of enthusiasts who call themselves the Royal Shakespeare Company, or the many old Tudor houses that seem to bear names like ‘William Shakespeare’s birthplace’, ‘Anne Hathaway’s cottage, ‘Mary Arden’s Farm, Halls Croft and ‘The New Place’, all of which lay some claim to his immediate family. These subtle clues made me realise that this was some kind of local celebrity.

Shakespeare's Birthplace

I imagine that many of you reading this will have never heard of this little known playwright, who although recognised by the residents of this tiny country town, may not have spread far outside his home town.

Halls Croft, Shakespeare's daughter's house

Amazingly, for such an obscure playwright, there seemed to be a large number of tourists wanting to visit the town, many arriving from distant lands just to see his birthplace. Coachloads of tourists were constantly arriving and jamming themselves into the tiny hovels which had once been occupied by this local hero.  

Anne Hathaway's cottage, later Mrs Shakespeare

By the last afternoon of our visit, a Saturday, the open grassed area between the bridge over the river Avon and the Theatre, an area of at least two acres, which had been a pleasant place to stroll in the sunshine, was so crowded it was just a sea of people.
I think I should warn anyone from overseas who has yet been persuaded to spend good money in order see the place, that it is not very good value for money. Whilst there are many perfectly good modern clean, spacious and well lit buildings around the town, the tourist guides insist on sending their clients to see some really ramshackle buildings that are obviously very old and built to very low standards that would be firmly rejected by today’s more discriminating citizens.
There is no double glazing, the central heating and sanitation is primitive to say the least. The floors are extremely uneven and could cause accidents due to their irregularities. The windows are tiny and let in little light and the ceilings are so low that anyone over five foot in height stands a good chance of injuring their head on the low and protruding beams that abound in all these buildings.

This notice mind your head should have read mind your back.
Bending down so far was not good for lumbago.

Some of the local people were able to quote a few lines from the plays written by their local bard and will put on an impromptu play for the benefit of the tourists as a part of different guided tours.


We were able to watch an extract from two plays, Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer night’s Dream. They were very good and The Granddaughter (TG) was entranced.
Unfortunately the theatre was closed for refitting and so we were unable to watch the real thing.

Although the weather started cold for the first two days, despite weather forecasts of rain and clouds, we had the most glorious weather for the rest of the week.

A visit to Mary Arden’s Farm was interesting, since it is run as a Tudor period farm and as far as possible keeps the traditional methods in use. The staff are all dressed in Period costume and provide a lot of information about how people lived and worked. They have a falconry exhibition and display certain birds of prey whilst explaining how they would have been used in medieval times to augment people’s diet by hunting with them. They also went through the hierarchy of who could use which kind of birds and the penalties of transgressing these hunting laws.

The Eagle owl refused to co-operate with the handlers and comically walked around rather than fly for them.

A Waddling bird of prey

Another one of the nearby places to visit in Stratford-upon-Avon is the Butterfly Farm. This is quite small but full of tropical butterflies and other insects and arachnoids. Once inside you are surrounded by butterflies, fluttering past and around you.

Food is put on the flower shapes to attract the butterflies

For some reason whenever I stood in a patch of sunlight, several butterflies settled on me. This did not happen to any of the others of my family until finally one settled on The Better Half (TBH) TG was quite disappointed that none settled on her. The one on TBH was able to disguise itself as a dead leaf when it closed its wings, which was obviously a survival tactic for that species. 

 It was quite hot inside, being kept at a tropical level for the insects, but we were glad of the change because the weather had not at that stage of the week warmed up much outside.

Close by is the stately home of Coughton Court, the home of the Throckmorton family since 1409 and we did the tour and listened to the guides give some really interesting stuff about the family history and their involvement in both the Gunpowder Plot and in the English Civil war.

Coughton Court

It had grown really warm by that day, and so for lunch we picnicked outside and whilst we ate, we were entertained by a single crow driving off a buzzard, a much larger bird. Later three buzzards soared above us climbing on the thermals until they were almost out of sight.

The crow chasing the buzzard off
The gardens of Coughton Court are very extensive and well maintained by the family. We were able to wander around and admire the views for the rest of the day.

Some blooms in the gardens

The daffodils were almost over but still had masses of blooms
The Lake in the gardens

A View from the roof of the tower

Another view from the tower showing some of the extensive grounds

Because we were staying in a self-catering place which did not provide an Internet connection, I decided to buy a 3G pay-as-you-go dongle. As I am sure many people will know, these things plug into your laptop and are supposed to connect you to the Internet via the mobile (cell) phone network using the modern smart phone technology but without an actual phone.
It was rather erratic but did allow me to get on line for a while each evening, just enough to get my e-mails reliably but it did not let me get into blogging at all well and most of my comments were often blitzed by it, so apologies to anyone who sees me regularly on their site and got nothing from me.

Apart from poor Internet which, contrary to TBH’s opinion, I can live without, it was a brilliant week and we are now resting our sore hips and knees, the result of being on our feet for several hours every day and being with a lively granddaughter.