Friday, 21 July 2017

Another Year, Another Reunion

This time it took place in Hull, City of Culture 2017.

Hull town centre
We would not normally have been able to make it had there not been an eclipse due in August, but due to my desire to see a total eclipse first hand and also due to the fact that it was going to pass very close to TS’s (The Son’s) abode in Kansas, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss and most of the family involved agreed. So, not being in the USA in June, off we went to Hull. The hotel we were booked into was the oddly named Lazaat hotel a little way out of Hull and that was our first destination.
Driving up was easy, being a Sunday the roads were free of most of the larger vehicles and for a change, there were few roadworks, although the lower part of the M1 had a 50mph stretch.

Once there we gathered in the hotel meeting old friends as they arrived until it was time to eat. After the meal, our group organiser had arranged for a local lad to give a talk on the history of Hull. What the poor man did not seem to realise was that firstly no one but the organiser and his wife had ever been to Hull and secondly that we were all professional presenters, and he was not. Although we were too polite to mention what a crap performance he made, it was not completely uninteresting and we were able to find some of the places he was talking about whilst we toured around the town the next day.

The next morning we set off for Hull town centre, where we parked in the Princes Quay Shopping Centre, a modern shopping mall with a car park that has no barriers or ticket machines but works by number plate recognition. We had taken two of our crowd with us, to save the number of cars being used and we all decided to head for The Deep.

We had been advised to take the road train, which is a hop on hop off tourist guide. This takes you in a circular tour that included The Deep which is an aquarium and we decided to hop off there.

 The commentary on the road train is canned and aimed at the average four year old with an interest in historic buildings that look like owls. It was very loud, so everyone could hear you coming and get out of the way of what was obviously a bunch of tourists. The ride was interesting both from the point of view of the commentary, although ear plugs would be useful, and the state of the suspension of the train. Every time the train went over a speed bump, there was a lurch and then a bump followed by another lurch as each carriage went over it.
The building that the road train commentary claimed looked like an owl
At one point we all had to join in a singing competition, which set each coach load of passengers competing against each other. Unfortunately whilst the canned commentary was aimed at three coaches, that particular day only two coaches were attached. So the singers in coach two seemed to be strangely quiet all the way through the competition. We separated from our two passengers, arranging to meet up around four PM. From the Deep, we walked back into town, since it meant waiting for about forty minutes for the train and anyway it was a nice day and no obligation to sing on the way.

 Hull is an interesting city with a lot of odd buildings that have been spared the demolition man in a random sort of way. Of course, one of the demolition men was a German called Schicklegruber or something who took a dislike to whole buildings in England on general principle. Hull claims to be one of the most bombed cities in England and did suffer a disproportionate number of casualties during that conflict.

One of the interesting features of Hull is Holy Trinity Square, outside Hull Minster. Several flag stones have a very shallow pool of water over them to form a reflecting pool at intervals all across the square.
One of the reflecting pools in Holy Trinity Square

 After walking around the town centre for a while, we took the road train and stuck with it until we had done the entire circular tour. By that time it was around four PM and we made contact with our passengers and we all headed back to the hotel.
That evening, instead of eating in the hotel, we all went to Papa’s Fish and Chips, a really good fish and chips restaurant, which is much more than just a chippy. It is a little way out of Hull, on the A164. The meal was one of the best of its kind I have had for some time and well worth a visit if you are in the area.

On the second day we returned to Hull without any passengers this time. In town we walked to the museum quarter where there are four separate museums, one of which is a trawler, the Arctic Corsair. After doing just one museum, we were pooped and ready for a sit down, well I was anyway. So we had a sandwich in a local cafĂ© and then once recuperated, we walked into town to the People’s museum. This is centred on the two world wars and was quite tiny, consisting of a single room inside a shop. After a short look around, we encountered a man sat at a computer who asked the Better Half if she had any relatives who served in WWI. Since her grandfather had been one of the fallen in WWI, we then spent an informative half hour being shown various records, including his grave in Amara.

 Our last visit was to see the smallest window in the world. This is in an hotel and must have been impossible to see if you did not know it was there. There are various legends about what it was used for, from avoiding the press gang when they were in the area, to spotting when a coach had arrived at the hotel and getting ready to receive guests. Without the plaque it would be dismissed as a deep slot between two bricks and never recognised as a window.

The vertical slot is the window
That evening, we went to eat at The Humber Bridge Country Hotel, which is in Lincolnshire on the south side of the Humber. This meant that we had to cross the famous Humber bridge, which is a toll bridge but not as expensive as the Severn crossing.

The hotel is set by a lake and is a really pleasant spot with views across the lake from the dining room.  The meal was really nice, but there was some problems with service, since they did not have a full staff on duty for reasons beyond their control and some meals were a bit delayed.  However, the meals were worth the wait.

The view of the lake from the hotel
On the last day, we said our farewells and headed off for home under the most appalling conditions. The motorways were saturated and there was dense spray, particularly around lorries, so the journey was not as relaxing as the journey to Hull.  On top of that, we heard on the radio that the M42 was blocked, so we kept on the M1 and went home via Oxford.  There is not a lot of difference in mileage, but the M1 had a 50 mph limit most of the way to our turn off.

Besides that, we encountered four wide loads at different times along our route, which caused the traffic to bunch up and slow down on each occasion. When we finally got home, I started to come down with a cold and for the next few days was as weak as a kitten and did not feel much like doing anything but sit and feel sorry for myself.  It was not such a bad cold, but it seemed to knock me sideways, probably a result of getting old. As a result, this blog post is a bit late and has formed a queue as other events have piled up which are worth blogging.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

A sudden day out

The weather report said Monday was going to be a sunny day, so being retired and having done all our chores on Saturday and Sunday, and like Mr Mole in the Wind in the Willows we decided not to waste a lovely spring day and so on the spur of the moment we went out for the day.
Having an annual pass for Blenheim Palace, we headed off to Oxfordshire and the village of Woodstock.

Getting out of the car, the wind seemed a little fresher than we had expected, but it soon warmed up. The grounds of BP are so vast, in the years we have been visiting there, we have never done it all, so there is plenty of scope to find something new each visit.
The first stop was the cafe for some coffee.

We then strolled around the gardens.

 To get to the larger gardens, you have to go through the main building and then through this ornamental garden

You can then either go down by the lake or along past the South Lawn to the far side of the grounds.

One of the local residents

A spring idyll, sunshine, daffodils in the foreground and sheep grazing in the distance

The parkland has a large variety of different trees

The house viewed from the south

Not a well kept secret
After this walk, it was lunch time and we ate in the Water Terrace Cafe.  The meal was not exceptional but better than a motorway service stop.

After lunch, we then walked off in a different direction heading for the weir. 

On the way we passed all this blossom
Last time we were there, the weir was not running very fast owing to a lack of rain, but today it was trying hard to imitate Niagara. 
This year the weir was flowing well

Last year,
Walking back, we passed under this tree, which was literally buzzing with activity as several dozen bees were gathering pollen.

A bumblebee working hard

I am glad that I do not have to find my lunch in such an undignified manner.
The amusing thing about this posture is that they keep flapping their feet, even though they are in the air and so gives them no purchase.

After that, we were walked out and so around three, we started back for home.
On the  way, I was reminded that this is the time of year when you can see where the local houses dumped their garden waste when no one was looking. 
Feral daffodils
If you look at the ditch opposite a house in a country lane, you will often see daffodils growing there in the spring. Sometimes in the ditch or just on the edge of it.  When gardeners dig over a flower bed, it is not unusual to accidentally dig up a few bulbs that were planted there and disposing of the waste soil, they get disposed of too.  If the gardener decides to dump their rubbish in the nearby ditch, rather than find somewhere to dump in on his own land, a few months later up come the daffodils.  So you find these little clumps of daffs at intervals along country lanes opposite a lonely cottage or two.  Just occasionally you will find an isolated bunch where there is now no house.  This show where there was once a farm hand's cottage.   In the 60s, you would often see an old abandoned cottage which once housed a farm hand and his family, but since farms have become more and more mechanised, these workers were no longer needed.  In those days, people were moving away from the country and so a small isolated cottage with poor accommodation and maybe no bathroom, no mains water or gas, were not saleable. So they remained empty and fell into disrepair, to the point where it was more economical to pull them down and plough up the land they occupied rather than repair them.
Lastly, this sign has always made me wonder.  It is not the thing you expect to find in the middle of the Oxfordshire countryside, but it is a rather specialist zoo and does in fact hold a collection of crocodiles and related species from all over the world.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

A trip to Oxford

This week, our daughter in law is over in England on a business trip. On Saturday, The Better half and I met up with her in Oxford and we spent the day there together. We were able to park in the out of town Park and Ride, which is very close to the hotel they were staying in and meeting up there, we took the bus into town together.
The standard tourist's view of Oxford.  But it was a sunny day and it was just the right light for a photograph.
We wandered around the town centre and visited Blackwell’s, Oxford’s famous book shop.

This place if you have never been there, works entirely within the physics of Terry Pratchett’s ‘L space’, in as much, that when sufficient books are collected together space time is distorted and the inside of a library or in this case, book shop is much larger than the outside. The store front in no way tells you how large the interior is.
My ruck sack became a little heavier after our visit there, but being a nice sunny day for a change, from there we went for a walk around Christchurch Meadows. The river was a lot higher than usual, having had a week of rain on and off.

The river at Christchurch Meadows

The ducks and the snowdrops were both out
 After a second small foray into the shopping centre, we met up with her work colleagues.

The idea was to eat in Eagle and Child, a pub where Tolkien and C S Lewis used to spend their drinking time together, but it was very crowded, so we went across the road to the Lamb and Flag, to wait until everyone had arrived.  The Lamb and Flag is a pub that does not serve food, so once everyone had arrived and had a drink, every now and then someone would cross the road to see if a table had become free.  Eventually the crowd had thinned enough in the Eagle and Child for us to find a table for five.

Great Pub Grub 
 After we had eaten, we then took the Park and Ride bus back to where our car was and leaving them at their hotel, we returned home.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Good by 2016 and Good Riddance

Well that is Christmas over and we have finally gotten rid of the Christmas tree.

Now well into the New Year, I have finally gotten around to my New Years blog.  What a year 2016 has been, with its ups and downs.
 Early in the year things went well for me and my eyesight has never been so good after my cataracts operation. But then The Son In Law broke his hip and then things went from bad to worse. The media was repeatedly reporting the deaths of so many well-known people who had long been a part of my life and the sad loss of my oldest cousin Pat, have made 2016 the year of loss.

Added to all that is the Brexit fiasco, with our esteemed leaders demonstrating their complete and utter inability to organise a piss up at a brewery, let alone an ordered and well informed referendum.

 Then Donald Trump got nominated as President Elect in the USA, making Brexit look like a better deal in comparison than we first thought.

 Meanwhile some of the worst humanitarian conditions since WWII have been spiralling out of control all around the third world and in particular as a few selfish people whip up bloody murder in the Middle East.

So 2016, was not such a great year, let us hope that 2017 will show some changes for the better.