Monday, 30 July 2012

Dark satanic mills and devon cream tea

OK, so my picture quiz was too easy, try this one.  What are you seeing here?


Things have been happening too fast to blog about them and this is a few weeks old now.
Keeping sea horses, I have been told, is very difficult.  They are very particular about the kind of food they eat and unless they get exactly the right kind of food, they will starve.   Being a very primitive creature, in the absence of a food supply, they will start to eat their own bodies, using their extremities as a temporary food source until they find the right food.   This is a built in survival technique which works fine if the food supply returns within a short time.  Once back on a suitable diet they are able to re-grow the missing bits.  However, if the food supply never returns or takes too long, they will keep on eating their own body until eventually they eat a vital organ and die.
 One of the firms I worked for seemed to have evolved from a seahorse.  They had never properly recovered from the 1980s slump and over the next fifteen or twenty years went through a process to make itself ‘leaner and fitter’ by shedding staff and closing departments which did not show a direct profit.  Eventually, like the seahorse it lost so much of itself it could not survive and after a series of convulsions died.
In the process the department I had worked in, shed staff regularly and so from a group of about eighty productive people, there were just four by the end of this process.  Our team had been a great group of people and we had all worked well together, so before we all had a chance to disperse to the four winds and lose touch, our erstwhile head of department got all his old staff together for a farewell party.  We enjoyed this so much that we have had a reunion every year since.   Our group is scattered across the whole of GB and NI and so for a reunion, we have to gather somewhere and it is accepted that we each host a reunion in turn and find some local entertainment for the group.  
This year it was the turn of J and his wife J who live in Tiverton, so we went off to stay in a hotel in the Exe Valley in Devon.  The part of the Exe valley we stayed in is devoid of any phone signals or Internet, so for the second time this year we were completely IT free. 

A model of the Mill inside the museum
 On the Saturday it was arranged for us to visit the local woollen mill museum and this may be enough of a clue to identify the first picture.  Hands up all those who think they know what it is. 

Some of the spinning machinery

When I was a child my grandfather owned and ran a factory which he had built up from nothing starting in the late 1890s.  By the time I came along it was in full swing, manufacturing paper tubes and cardboard packaging and the interior of this old mill reminded me very much of his old factory.   It was I recall very dingy and dark and would by no means have complied to modern health and safety standards.  When he died, the family ran it for a while but eventually they all reached retirement age and it was closed.  There was considerably less demand for cardboard products by then since plastic had come of age in the meantime. 

The more modern steam power added in the early 1800s
Before electric motors became cheap and plentiful most factory machinery was driven by a central shaft, and all the different machines ran from overhead pulleys driven from the main shaft.  In the case of the mill we were visiting, it had been driven by a water wheel originally and later when this was insufficient, by steam.   My grandfather’s factory had used a stationary gas engine* and it looked very similar.  *For those who live across the pond, that is coal gas, the stuff we used to cook with before natural gas took over, not gasoline which we call petrol.   
Pulleys delivering power from a rotating shaft
In the afternoon, our hosts J & J had booked a trip on a horse drawn canal barge.  The Better Half (TBH) is not too happy about being on water and after looking at the cramped seating, decided not to take the trip and so instead she and I walked along the canal path, whilst the rest of our group went on the barge
The horse drawn passanger barge

A one horse power engine
The invention of the horse collar allowed the horse to pull loads more than three times the weight a pack horse can carry, but the use of a barge allows a single horse to pull up to 50 tons.
Although we missed the commentary we had a peaceful time, saw a lot of wildlife and had a very pleasant stroll.  

The classic swan and reflection picture

A flotilla of mum and her cygnets

That evening, we had a meal at the hotel.  The menu was first class which accounted for the popularity of the place.  Its accommodation was acceptable but nothing like the food.  The hotel was right under a cliff and so the rooms at the rear were very dark even in full daylight and the fittings were not special.  Most of us managed to pull the toilet roll holder off its stand whilst there and several other fittings were none too stable either.  However the company and the food more than made up for this and we had a great time. 
Knightshayes Court
On the Sunday morning, we went to visit Knightshayes Court and we took a stroll around the grounds.. 

The Queen was visiting too

This is a large stately home that belonged to the Heathcoat-Amory family and was given to the National Trust in 1973.
This character seems to delight in pulling faces at the tourists

The deer in the park are in fact sculpted from willow cane

This clever bit of topiary depicts a fox hunt

John Heathcoat invented a mechanised lace manufacturing process in the Derby area where he made a substantial fortune.  Later his machines were destroyed by the Luddites, so he moved lock stock and barrel to Devon.   The house was built so that his factory was in view from some of the windows.  Presumably he wanted to keep an eye out for Luddites. You can still see where the old mill buildings would have been in the nearby town although the trees have grown up a lot since his ownership.
Before going home, J & J had invited us all to their home for a traditional Devon cream tea where we had homemade scones with cream and strawberry jam*.   

Devon tea is cream first jam on top as opposed to Cornish which is the reverse
 After that we returned home.   Rather than taking the delights of the M5 and M4 on a Sunday evening, we went across country which turned out to be a good idea since there was a long holdup on the motorway route and we got to see some nice countryside as we tootled along.

*Jam seems to be called Jelly in countries where they don’t speak English properly, also the proper name for what they call jello is really jelly.  Goodness knows we tell them often enough!  Mind you they changed the name of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Northern Lights to The Golden Compass also for some strange reason, so they obviously get lots of things wrong.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

What is it again?

The last post got a lot of answers and everyone was right.  So it was easy, maybe this is a little harder? Not found in the UK exactly as this.  If you are overly familiar with this view, shame on you :]

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Picture quiz - what is it?

We (The Better half TBH) and myself have been very busy these last few weeks and some of that will be blogged later, but just to show I am still alive and blogging, I give you this odd picture and ask you if you can spot what it is.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

What happened to Wimbeldon?  Your comments are still here but the post has vanishd??????

Monday, 2 July 2012

Summer Holls part three

Castles and Cathedrals
We had another rest day and then we went off to have a look at Rochester.  Charles Dickens is strongly associated with Rochester, since he lived there at one time and it also happened to be the bi-centenary of his birth that week.
The first hint that something was going on was this pipe band
In Rochester we discovered a number of Dickensian characters parading about the streets and shortly after we had explored Rochester Cathedral, there was a parade with dozens of enactors dressed up as various characters, with fife and drum bearing soldiers, Victorian sailors and even a contingent of the Confederate Army as a part of the parade

Abel Magwitch from Great Expectations
A family legend has it that my mother’s great great aunt was a friend of his and went to tea with him on occasions.  Since he was thought to be a bit of a philanderer, at that time it would not have been considered respectable for a woman to visit a man without a chaperone.  Of course we have no way of knowing if she was chaperoned or not, but it is also part of the legend that she once took my great grandmother along on one visit, who was a child at the time, which suggests that the relationship may have been completely innocent.
Rochester Cathedral from as seen from the castle
Whilst these characters were assembling, we had a look at Rochester Cathedral, which whilst not huge is still quite impressive.

Inside the cathedral
 On leaving the cathedral by the front doors, you see a large tree and on a protective fence surrounding it is this plaque.
A centenarian Catalpa tree
The characteristic bean pod in amongst the leaves of the Catalpa tree
I have seen this kind of tree on several occasions and had no idea what it was.  There used to be one in my home town's shopping district, which was removed a few years ago when the place was given yet another pointless facelift, something my beloved town council seem to do on a regular basis, spending millions and getting rid of perfectly good trees.
The tree has broad leaves and grows beans and I had been curious as to what kind it was, but had not been able to find out before this.  Whilst not common, it had cropped up here and there.  We had sheltered from the sun last summer in Topeka, when we were watching TGS compete in his swimming heats whilst we were in the USA.  Also when we did the tourist bit in London, the grounds of the Houses of Parliament were full of this kind of tree. So I was quite interested to find out at last what kind of tree it was and was pleased to find that my name for the one back home was close to its common name, since I and my family had always referred to it as The Bean Tree. 

After we had explored the cathedral, the parade started and I stood along with the crowd that had gathered on the roadside and watched all the various Dickens characters and other period enactors go by.

Once this was finished we went on to the castle and found a fun fair inside the castle grounds.

From the castle you can get a great view of Rochester and the Medway and lying by a small jetty is an ancient submarine, looking a bit worse for wear.
The view of the fun fair from the top of the castle

The Medway

Yet Another Cathedral
The next outing was to Canterbury, where we visited the cathedral there.  Whilst Rochester Cathedral was splendid, it was completely eclipsed by Canterbury.  The size and splendour was verging on ostentatious and presumably was paid for by the constant stream of pilgrims who made their way there during medieval times and which were made famous by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

So what else is new?

This is the symbol for Amnesty International and inside the cathedral they had a real candle along side an offering box for this important charity

This is just a part of the detail...

...of this
That evening, the sky stayed clear and out of the windows of the cottages we could see bats flying around the grounds.

Our last trip of the fortnight was to Leeds Castle. For some reason, Leeds Castle is not in Yorkshire where the town of Leeds is, but in rural Kent.  The weather stayed warm and bright for this trip and we were able to walk, not scamper from shelter to shelter, when out in the open for a change.  This 900 year old Norman stronghold was the home of six English queens and it was also used by Henry the Eighth but was sold to a Lady Baillie in the 1930s who redesigned much of the interior, losing the Tudor d├ęcor in many rooms.
The exterior is still much like it was for much of its life and is a splendid set of buildings built on a couple of islands on a small lake.

Our first stop was for a coffee in the Castle cafe and whilst we ate some snacks and drank coffee we were hassled by this peacock.  It would stand behind the unsuspecting visitors and annouce its desire to share in their meal with a loud honk, making some visitors jump so much they dropped what they were eating. Obviously a tactic it had honed to a high level of skill.

A bandit bird
 In the large grounds there is a maze and of course we had to give it a try.  There is a legend that any maze can be tackled by simply turning left at every branch, but whoever designed this maze was wise to that strategy so those of the party who tried that method made no better progress than the random turning group.  In the end, close to the centre but frustrated and getting footsore, we were shown which direction by some kind hearted soul already in the centre.
It looks so simple from up here
Once having reached the centre, you are above the maze and so can see where to go, but you return by going underground into a grotto and exit the maze via a series of strangely decorated tunnels.

The Green Man inside the grotto.  The Green man is a persistant country image in the UK, a character who lives in the woodland and features on many cathedral carvings and country inn names.

At 2PM there was to be a falconry exhibition and so we ate some sandwiches and waited for the show.  They started with a Harris Hawk which demonstrated how smart it was by finding food under pots and on one occasion getting into a dustbin to find food placed there by its trainer.

This kind of hawk does a lot of its hunting on the ground

This was followed by an owl, which was much less smart but survives, so we were told, by having sensitive hearing, sensitive enough to pick up the heartbeat of its prey.

The owl was also able to fly very quietly and so take its prey by suprise.  To demonstrate this, they got several children, includiong TGD and TGS to sit in the areana whilst they got the owl to fly over them.  They were asked what they could hear and all agreed there was no sound as it flew over them.
The final display was a smaller falcon which flew around like a jet plane and took a lure being whirled around the trainer on the end of a string whilst in flight.

After the show we walked around the grounds and formal gardens and then returned to our holiday cottages.

Finally it was time to pack up and get ready for our individual trips home.

Travelling both there and home was complicated since there were three parties in our family group, three from the US, three from Cumbria and the two of us grandparents from Wiltshire. The Better Half (TBH) and I had arrived in separate cars since one car would not have carried all the luggage we needed.  The American contingent had been collected from Heathrow by TBH, who had an empty car and so could take their luggage, whilst I had driven in my own car with all our luggage.   We rendezvoused at the wonderfully named motorway service station Clacket Lane which is on the south M25.  Here we had a comfort break and then went on to our holiday cottages in Kent.

Meanwhile the Cumbrian contingent were driving down from the north and joined the M25 north side.  This meant they had to cross the Thames at Dartford, where you go across the QEII bridge when travelling clockwise and the older Dartford Tunnel when traveling anti-clockwise.  They had to use the bridge and so passed very close to a place I had worked at in the 90s, where lorries going onto the bridge had caused an unpleasant strobing of the sunlight in my office window as they drove across the start of the bridge in the afternoons.
The Queen Elizabeth II bridge looking North.  Borrowed from the 2012 charity swim from Teddington Lock to Calais web site

Both bridge and tunnel are a toll and so you pay £1.50 for the privilege of going from Essex to Kent or vice versa.   This is considerably cheaper than the cost of going over the Severn Bridge into Wales, which is £6, exactly twice as much since you only pay one way there.
The Queen Elizabeth the second bridge (QEII) features in the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, showing in the background during the funeral sequence in the film where they all gather at Gareth’s family home.  The church they used is also in that area and can be found only by driving into an immense factory and dock area, where the medieval building is dwarfed by immense modern industrial buildings and chimneys.
Our return journey was as complex as the start, each going our separate ways.  TBH and her son’s family had to be at Gatwick for their return flight before 8AM, so we all arose at the crack of dawn to allow her and the US contingent to start out with enough time to allow for traffic on the M25 and all the uncertainties that it brings on that route.
So after loading TBH’s car and a tearful farewell TBH set off with her son’s family.
I remained behind to pack up our own stuff and sort out the final checkout and pay for the extras, such as electricity, which was metered by the owners.
The Cumbrian family, TBH’s daughter and family said their goodbyes and set off whilst I finished off and finally I set out for home.
So that’s it folks, all our adventures for the summer holls, but our feet only touched the ground briefly, because it was my old firm’s annual reunion the following weekend.
So stay tuned folks, for our next exciting post.