Monday, 29 February 2016

Almost Harewood House - Sunday 28th February 2016

We could see that it was going to be a nice day, albeit still quite cold. The wind had dropped and that made quite a difference. We had our final breakfast at the Cedar Court Hotel, paid our way and set off home by a different route.

I knew that the way I had chosen would take us passed Harewood House, which Pauline has never seen. It's a must see if you are in the area. We got there at 10am, to be greeted by a sign that read "Sorry, we are closed." We were too early, but another hour seemed a long time to wait when I had already decided we must come back, to tidy up around Uncle Ged. So this is as close as we got.

Harewood House

So we trundled back to the M1 and made our way south to the outlet centre at Mansfield. This is a favourite place for Pauline and one where I usually come away with more than she does. We went into one shop and I fastidiously stayed away from the men's section, encouraging Pauline to see to herself. Two pairs of trousers and a nice new shirt later, Pauline still hadn't purchased anything.

We stayed a little longer than usual, and it paid off because suddenly there was a gleam in her eye and Pauline found a treasure lode. So it was with contentment that we drove the last forty miles home.

Skipton - Saturday 27th February 2016

It had been another icy cold night, but that didn't bother us. We had a long, leisurely breakfast, dressed up snug and warm and headed west to Skipton.

The main purpose was Uncle Ged, but Skipton Castle arrived first, so we started there.

The drive across was beautiful. Craggy hills risings out of lush green valleys. No cows, this is sheep country. Most of the houses are built from Yorkshire stone, a sandstone that is pleasant when new but lacking the honey tones of Cotswold stone. What we did notice on our drive was six yellow bicycles suspended from lamp posts, gate posts and houses. It transpired these were to mark the Yorkshire route of the Tour de France.

We arrived at Skipton and stopped at the castle. The first castle was built by the Normans on the hill overlooking Skipton. This lasted until marauding Scots constantly wrecked the place, seemingly every Saturday night. A far more substantial building was constructed, well fortified frontwards and with a steep drop down into the Eller Beck behind. The drop was sheer enough that anyone using the guarderobe did so without affecting the outer walls. This was probably a major deterrent to attacks from that side.

The Clifford family were granted ownership in 1310. During the English Civil War (nothing civil about it), the castle was besieged by Cromwell's forces for three years, finally surrendering in 1645.  Cromwell immediately ordered the roofs to be stripped off and the castle allowed to go to waste. Lady Anne Clifford took residence and ordered the restoration of the castle. When that was completed she planted a yew tree in the courtyard, and it still stands there today.

Skipton Castle

From the castle we explored the lively market. What we have noticed here is a total absence of obesity, no empty shops and a modest air of general affluence. We asked around and were eventually directed to St Stephan's church. We searched the graveyard and found Uncle Ged and his wife Marjorie.

We never knew Marjorie, who died in 1992. Pauline's Uncle Ged was a lovely man and we visited him a few times before he died in 1998. Pauline arranged for his headstone and I've known for a long time that she wanted to see it, it was just a question of how we could fit a visit in. When I booked this weekend in Harrogate, a visit to Skipton was very much in mind. Someone planted heather on the grave a long time ago, and it has run wild, so we may have to find another reason to come back.

On the way back we stopped at the RHS garden and at Harlow Carr. a bit early in the year, but there were a few swathes of snowdrops, but it was the heathers and the dogwood that caught the eye.


Another pleasant meal and an earlyish night. I do feel saddened by this modern craving to take out your smart phone as soon as you sit at a table. A party of 12 sat down and the two eldest immediately ignored everyone to slaver over their phones.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Harrogate - Friday 26th February 2016

The first part of the morning was spent getting ready. Pauline packed, I collected a prescription for Rita, posted the agreement to the Big Lottery, took the five sacks to the Sorting Office, and put Lizzie Bermingham in touch with Rotary. Then we started the 120 mile journey north to Harrogate.

We left in some sunshine, but that had gone by the time we reached the sandstone-like buildings of Yorkshire and the fields of dry stone walls. The roads were crammed with 40 tonne lorries, white vans and businessmen heading home for the weekend. It was 2pm when we got booked into the Cedar Court Hotel.

We walked down into the town. There was a noticeable feel good factor. The buildings with their distinctive colour, clean, fresh streets and friendly shop staff. All of the big town shops were there, and a few we hadn't heard of. I did best, buying a new waterproof anorak.

Harrogate first became popular as a spa town, but its position as the gateway to the Yorkshire Moors make it a perfect base for exploration and its proximity to RHS Harlow Carr and several National Trust properties make it even more popular.

The purpose for this weekend was to relax, because there hasn't been much of that for eighteen months or more. Tonight we went early to the hotel restaurant and enjoyed a meal of high quality, much better than anticipated and very welcome.

We were off to a good start, despite the biting north east wind.

Where's the apostrophe?

I'm trying to work out how to wash a waterproof coat.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Woolsthorpe Manor - Thursday 25th February 2016

My diary

This was a normal Thursday. I confirmed that Lichfield Lions will sponsor a defibrillator in Breadmarket Street and then got on with recording the Stevenage Talking News. I'm getting to grips with the new Audacity programme and so I had finished the recording and produced the master by noon. Time to do The Times crossword, have lunch and then off again.

I took two ladies to the Live at Home Scheme and then went home to catch up on 80 e-mails. There was another new listener (8 this week) so I processed that and got the media player into the sack, then went and collected the ladies.

I was at the studio for 5.30. Wilf joined me a little later and between us we duplicated and packaged the three talking newspapers that had been finished. The team arrived, Ben turned up just as I was about to process Lichfield, the recording went smoothly, Wilf's joke got a laugh, and we were all home by 9.30pm. More listeners than we have ever had, but we are getting slick. We used to finish at eleven!

Woolsthorpe Manor

There is a tree in the grounds of Woolsthorpe Manor from which it is said an apple fell and hit a young man on the head. Yes, this was the family home of one Isaac Newton. Some people have to take a bath to get revolutionary ideas. For others it takes a smack on the head.

The house itself is unremarkable, though efforts have been made to retain it's 17th century air. Newton spent his childhood here and then returned when Cambridge University was shut down because of plague. Newton is central to all the attractions of the manor and there are hands on scientific displays and demonstrations.

Woolsthorpe Manor

The EU explained as thus:
Pythagoras' theorem - 24 words.
Lord's Prayer - 66 words.
Archimedes' Principle - 67 words.
10 Commandments - 179 words.
Gettysburg address - 286 words.
US Declaration of Independence - 1,300 words.
US Constitution with all 27 Amendments - 7,818 words.
EU regulations on the sale of cabbage - 26,911 words

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Mollie Isabel - Wednesday 24th February 2016

Beautiful early sunshine and clear blue skies. The downside was that it was minus 4 when we got up. It did struggle up to 8 at one point, and there was some warmth in the sun, if you stood out of the wind.

I started by downloading all the news for Scotland and South Wales. I downloaded the magazines and worked out all the birthdays in the coming week. That took most of the morning. I ran off 100 brochures for the Gwent News and processed five new listeners, and that was the morning gone.

I collected the returns - five sacks again - and left the news at the studio in case I wasn't around at the right time. Then we collected Rita and went over to Knowle to meet the newest member of our extended family. Mollie Isabel Keating is a delight, and very quiet the whole time we were there. She was saving the screams until we were gone.

We got back to Lichfield at 4.30, just in time for me to get to a meeting in Chadsmoor, over by Cannock, for the 5.15pm start time. However, there were the five sacks waiting in the garage and some learning required for Audacity, so we started on the returns. At 7 pm I went up and met tonight's team and Peter O'Brien showed me how to create the individual and separate tracks in Audacity. This is important to our listeners.

Back home and another long session in the garage and between us we processed everything in time for a cup of hot chocolate, and hour of the Brits, and an early night, because Thursday is a coming.

Mollie Isabel Keating

Lethologica. I can never remember that word.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Belton House - Tuesday 23rd February 2016

My diary

The main task this morning was to get the minutes done from last night's meeting. With a couple of weekends away looming, it's important to keep on top of everything. It took me most of the morning.

Pauline went to see Gill and have a few hours scrummaging around Ventura Park. I compiled a list of placers to see and visit, starting with the area around Harrogate. Pauline came back looking white, so I sat her down and cooked a soup from Sunday's leftovers. I gave it a slug of curry powder to kill off anything suspicious.

Belton House

Belton House was built between 1685 and 1688. It has been described as Britain's most perfect country house. The owners had slightly more stability than a lot of other lords and ladies, but eventually the pressures of maintaining such a large estate became too much and the family surrendered the house to the National Trust in 1984

The parkland covers 1000 acres. Designed as a deer park, some 30,000 trees were planted and a large lake was manufactured. A series of gardens were designed in different styles, more formal than decorative.

Each new owner added their own stamp, including a series of follies.

Belton House

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

8642 reasons to smile - Monday 22nd February 2016

My diary

The aftermath of my sickness was gone, though I felt inordinately tired. There's been no late nights since Helen left and I'd had one glass of wine in five days, so I can only fault a bug. I was healthy enough to help Pauline get the house back to normal as we cleared away the traces of Wycombe and Hove Actually.

We drove up to Ashby de la Zouch for one of our occasional meetings with Brian and Jackie Popple. Brian had suffered a fall a few weeks ago and looked jaded - struggling - but we nevertheless had an enjoyable lunch at the Bulls Head on the High Street. Robert would shake his head at the fact that two award winning Cumberland sausage and mash, two leek and broccoli pies with chips and four drinks came to less than £20.

We know how to live.

When we got back we found news that the National Lottery will give us over £8000 for the Talking News for the Blind.

Tonight was a Lions meeting and it was a disappointment. We had a guest speaker, 17 year old Lizzie Bermingham, who is going to Tanzania for seven weeks to help build a community. She deserved a much bigger audience. She was very competent and compelling. The six of us who did make it were very impressed and she will get support from the club, one way or another.

Gunby Hall

Having exhausted my experiences of Nottinghamshire, we now move east into Lincolnshire, an area I never visited until I was fourteen.

Gunby Hall is owned by the National Trust. This 42 room red brick house, with outbuildings and 1600 acres of park and farmland, was built in 1700 for Sir William Massinherd. The gardens are landscaped in the style of Capability Brown and worth a visit on their own. In common with many of the great houses of Britain, there is a small church on the edge of the gardens and it still functions as an active place of worship.

Gunby Hall

St Peter's Church

My mate's an aspiring ventriloquist. He told me he's just become the proud father of an 8 pound gouncing gagy goy.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Cresswell Crags - Sunday 21st February 2016

My diary

I was the last to emerge this morning. Daniel had seen the state I was in last night and everyone was considerate. So it was breakfast time when I joined them all. I weigh myself about once a week and this morning I was 4 pounds down on last week, and I reckon I lost three of those just last night. Not recommended. I was careful today, toast for breakfast, lots of water or tea and by the time the Sunday roast was served I was almost back to normal.

Rita joined us and she is quite different at the moment. Her twice weekly visitor has made a palpable difference. She is more lively and with it. She was on good form today. The meal was lovely, the boys were very good all weekend and Jackson was a big hit. When I stood outside a shop in Lichfield holding Jackson so that the others could shop for shoes and shirts, more people stopped to talk in those ten minutes than I would normally get in ten months. Some of them even spoke to me!

It's a long drive back to Brighton, especially on a Sunday and even more so at the end of half term, so they left us about 3.15pm. We got a message just before 8pm to say they were safely home.

Cresswell Crags

Britain is rich in history over the past two thousand years or so, but not so much 5,000 to 20,000 years ago, so it was quite a boost when the cave art was found at Cresswell Crags. This is Britain's only known example of primitive art, and Europe's most northerly example.

The limestone gorge that houses the caves that make up Cresswell Crags hosts Crags Pond, which then feeds into the Millwood Brook. Most of the artefacts that have been found date from about 20,000 to 40,000 years ago, although some Neanderthal relics have been discovered, possibly 60,000 years old.

the 'church' at Cresswell Crags

The police have identified a witness to a local robbery. It turns out he is deaf, short-sighted, has bad breath and stutters, and speaks in a broad Black Country accent. Apparently he is not at all helping with their enquiries.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Kelham Hall - Saturday 20th February 2016

My diary

We decided to all walk into town, explaining to the boys that wherever you are, the shopping area is always referred to as Town. The walk in was pleasant, the walk around was under drizzle and the walk home was proper rain. I even bought myself new trainers.

This afternoon was all about being a family. Then came the evening meal. Reece didn't want anything, complaining that his stomach hurt. Dan and Gary dressed in fancy dress (actually Gary just went through my wardrobe!) and I took them down to the Horse & Jockey where they met many old school friends. Tonight was the first of their classmates 40th birthday bashes. There will be a long t more over the next 15 months or so.

The boys were good and went to bed when told. So did Jackson. We decided on an early night. I woke at 10pm with stomach ache. Over the next three hours I projected more times than any in my life. I couldn't believe there was more to come. Had the house not been full I would have slept in one of the spares rooms, however I was eventually scourged and managed to sleep the sleep.

How can you not love that jacket?

Kelham Hall & Country Park

Set in 44 acres of gardens and parklands, Kelham Hall was built in 1863. Located just south of Newark, the River Trent marks part of the estate's boundary. There had been a major house on the site for several hundred years, and the original hall was the first place that King Charles I was held after being caught at Southwell. A major fire completely destroyed that building, and it's replacement, and so it took quite some time to design and then commission the current hall.

The present hall is said to be a masterpiece of high  Victorian gothic architecture. Although, unlike its predecessors, it remained intact, the owners ran into financial difficulties and by 1903 it was a theological college. During the First World War it was taken over by the military.

Following that war it had a varied career, part time college and part time housing for troops or even oil drillers. The Second World War saw it used as billets once again and the theologians gave up in 1972. The current owners took over in 2014 and eventually the hall will become an hotel, but for now the hall can still be visited and the grounds are open to visitors.

Kelham Hall

I've decided to take up meditation. Well, it's better than sitting around doing nothing.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

More family - Friday 19th February 2016

 Pauline had to be up early to take Rita for her annual check up. I thought maybe I ought to make an effort. I finished the vacuuming downstairs, got the meat out of the freezer, finished and distributed the SNA minutes, and then did the agenda for Monday. I follow the 'Death by Meeting' programme which means a lot of effort goes into the agenda but it makes the meeting much more focussed and the minutes much quicker to complete.

Pauline did another big food shop and the we got ready for the next big invasion, which arrived at 5.15pm. Dan, Gary, Reece, Roan and ( for the first time) Jackson the Labrador pup had left Brighton at 9.30, stopping off with Helen for an hour.

We had a lovely meal and then I went over o Barton for the 1st Birthday Bash of the Barton under Needwood Lions. They have done so well in their first year and made cheque presentations to the local junior rugby club and to CHICKS.

The party was clearly going to go on forever, so I left at 9.30 so that I could have an hour of catch up with Dan, before my eyes wouldn't stay open any longer.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Sherwood Forest - Thursday 18th February 2016

My diary
Thursday's are packed, so anything extra has to be important. A friend had rung and asked if I could possibly get him to the Robert Peel Hospital in Tamworth for 9am. I scraped the ice off the car at 8am, drove to Fradley and took him to Tamworth, a 36 mile round trip. On the way he said he couldn't ask another friend because "He likes to do things on a Thursday!"
I waited an hour and a half, taking the opportunity to do the minutes from Tuesday. He came and said there was no sign of his treatment starting so I went home, waiting for his call. I recorded the Stevenage Talking News - and got it wrong, so I had to do it all again.

The call to go back to Tamworth came just as I was getting ready for the Live at Home Scheme. Pauline did Tamworth and I collected my ladies. On the way back I called in on Beacon Park Village, to give a radio to Caterina and a new media player to another listener from the retirement village. I got the Mercury whilst out, did the return trip, shared a fish meal with Pauline and was at the studio for 5.45pm.
We completed the Gwent and Scottish recordings in record time, but couldn't make Audacity work for us so went back to Newsbridge for the Lichfield version.

It was a very full day.
Sherwood Forest

Sherwood Forest is to the rest of the world what Cannock Chase is to us inhabitants of Staffordshire, except we never had a Robin Hood. Sherwood Forest used to be called the rain forest of England, which is why Robin had to wear his hood. However, in common with all the great woodlands of Britain, it began to shrink in proportion to the rise in population numbers.
Just two hundred years ago the forest stretched from Nottingham all the way to Worksop. Now there is just 10% left, and even that is not all in one clump. Twenty years ago it was decided to do something about this and the Sherwood Forest Trust was formed. By 2000 the erosion was still going on, and that’s when the halt was called. Now efforts are being made to regrow and renew what is left of the forest for future generations.

What you see now is not what your grandchildren will see, and all the better for that.
Sherwood Forest

It's dangerous in the English Channel. A ship carrying red paint collided with a ship carrying purple paint. Both crews were marooned.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Southwell Minster - Wednesday 17th February 2016

My diary

The house was full of willing helpers, so I put them to work. Helen and I collected five sacks of returns on a damp and miserly morning. Then I introduced the ladies to the media players. I processed three new listeners and packaged four players for immediate despatch.

Every box has to be opened, the player checked as working, everything set up for a blind person to operate, a return label stuck to the back and a letter of instruction and welcome inserted. There were 58 boxes and the ladies took care of those whilst I started on the returns. Eventually they all came to help, but it all took 4 hours - or twenty man hours.

Helen and the girls left us at 4.15pm. I downloaded all the Welsh and Scottish news and then went to the studio to make sure Peter O'Brien was happy with Audacity. He knew more about it than me and taught me how to enhance the quality of the recording.

Can hardly wait to get started. I also downloaded the magazines because my usual Thursday morning would be disrupted.

Southwell Minster

This impressive minster began to take shape in 1108 when the Normans demolished what was left of the church that had been on the site since 697. Progress was slow, work on the nave began in 1120 and it took 30 years to complete.

History hurt the minster many times, not least when King Charles I hid there, unsuccessfully. The building alternated between being a place of worship or a stable. The Bishop's palace next door was razed, and then lightning almost saw off the church. However, by 1720 repairs had been effected, but not very well and less than 100 years later the spires were deemed unsafe and taken down. Some 80 years later they were replaced with new adornments.

For now, it all appears stable.

Southwell Minster

In deference to the late, great Spike Milligan, the Chinese have crossed a table tennis ball with a very tall chamber pot and got a ping pong piddle high po.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

The Workhouse Southwell - Tuesday 16th February 2016

My diary

Everything shines when the family are home, and the sun joined in today, although it didn't stray above 4 degrees. The ladies were going out and I don't get much chance to spend with them so I put most things aside until the shopping trip began. Before that, however, Jess and Megan came out with me, first to Beacon Street Village to deliver a media player to Caterina (she was outrageous and told the girls that I am evil) and then round to Rita to sort out a problem with her media player,

I did some frantic work, fed myself and then went over to Rugeley for the monthly meeting of the Staffordshire Neurological Alliance. There were a few faces missing today but it was good to see John Morgan looking much more sprightly and walking without sticks.

I got back in time to make a loaf and prepare dinner. There was enough casserole left for the five of us so I topped it with sliced potatoes and cheese and it was a notch above OK. Then we settled down to watch the poignant film 'Still Alice', pertinent to us and becoming familiar everywhere you look.

The Workhouse - Southwell

The Workhouse at Southwell was the first of its type built in the country, back in 1824. The homeless and out of work were growing in numbers and the workhouse concept was deemed to be the answer. The official view was that there were two types of people who were homeless or out of work - the Blameless (unemployable) or the workshy (Idle).

The workhouse had accommodation for 158 people. They were divided into these two sections, as well as being segregated, and the Blameless were reasonably treated whilst the Idle were driven to the point of collapse. It was a horrible practice that ended around 1924.

The building remained in use until 1990, mainly as shelter for battered wives and such. They were fleeing one bad situation to be faced with the grim and imposing fa├žade of the Workhouse. When the National Trust took over there was a lot of work that needed doing, and it is still in progress. Some rooms have been restored to their original condition and others are in the process.

The Workhouse Southwell

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Mr Straw's House - Monday 15th February 2016

My diary

This was a day for family. We gave the house one more tidy up, I cleared my desk and we prepared the bedroom for Helen and the girls. I went round to see a listener not too far away. Beautiful sunshine but 4 degrees maximum.

Helen, Jess and Megan arrived at 1pm. We settled down to a bacon sandwich lunch and catching up on everyone. Everyone wanted to go into Lichfield and then go and collect Rita, so I stayed at home so that there would be room in the car. Whilst they were out I made a hearty sausage casserole with many secret ingredients. I made enough to feed the rest of the family if they turned up, so that's lunch tomorrow as well.

Lucky for me that it was one that worked.

Mr Straw's House

The home I was born into was quite old. It had what I was once told was the oldest butcher's wheel in Warwickshire and I often saw it put to good use. My hands would sting from salting fletches of bacon when we slaughtered one of the pigs. We had an outside double-seater toilet that was replaced at the end of the war by indoor facilities. We had gas lamps in a couple of rooms that were changed to electric at the same time.

So I find it strange to go to a National Trust property that has newer fittings than those I grew up with for the first decade of my life, yet are considered historical.

Mr Straw's House is in Worksop. It is Edwardian, built in 1905. Mr Straw was a successful grocer. Mrs Straw was the daughter of a wealthy butcher. They moved from a flat above their shop to their new home in 1923 and Mrs Straw set about redecorating and turning this home into a place fit to accommodate a 'modern' family of four.

William Straw died in the garden in 1932. The family was grief stricken and nothing inside the house changed from that moment. When Florence died in 1939 the two sons had moved back to look after her and in deference to her they continued to live in the house until their own deaths, in 1976 and 1985. In all that time, not even the 1932 calendar was changed. The house is as it was in 1932.

So, about 50 years more modern than we had initially enjoyed.

When I see what today's younger generation are born to and catalogue the experiences of my own 74 years, I feel that I am the richer. Possessions and technology apart, we had a freedom and innocence they will never experience. We could entertain ourselves with a fast stream and pooh sticks. We could catch sticklebacks, pick wild bluebells, scrump apples, collect the eggs and make damson jam. We could play in the street and talk to strangers. We could watch the knife grinder and chase the rag and bone man, hoping for a balloon or even a goldfish.

But they say nostalgia is a thing of the past.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Clumber Park - Sunday 14th February 2016

My diary

The benefit of using Newsbridge for the Talking News was its simplicity and its conversion of WAV files into MP3, making them easier to post on the internet and store on the memory sticks. Other aspects left Newsbridge wanting, but it did its job for a good many years. However, we have to move on. The feeling was that Audacity would proof an improvement, if we could make it do some of the things that Newsbridge does. So Peter Fox and I met at the studio and downloaded the LAME attachment that enables conversion to MP3.

There was still the issue of creating separate tracks. There was a way but it might have been too cumbersome for the likes of Wilf. We believe in the KISS principle (Keep it simply, stupid) and so Peter in particular did lots of trial and error experiments, and came up with the solution. So that's settled - it Audacity henceforth.

Rita joined us for lunch and dinner and has clearly benefited from having a companion drop in twice this week for two hours at a time. Rita thinks all the woman does is talk, but this lady clearly knows what she is doing because Rita was far more responsive and alert than of late. It was good to see.

Clumber Park

Mentioned in the Domesday Book, a monastery through the Middle Ages, created as a deer park, a hunting lodge that was develo0ped into a stately mansion. Then the whole lot torn down in 1938. What's to see?

Clumber is 3800 acres of lovely parkland, with woods and heathland to roam and a chapel that is described locally as a cathedral in miniature. There is a double row of elm trees that is the longest in Europe, walled gardens, lakes and the whole area is designated a site of special interest.

Clumber Park

This is by far my oldest joke because it was written 2000 years ago. Three Romans, a barber, a bald man and an absent minded philosopher went on a long trek together. When they stopped for the night they agreed to take turns guarding the luggage. When it was the barber's turn he got bored and so whilst he was asleep he shaved the head of the philosopher. When the philosopher was wakened for his turn he put his hand on his head and said "That stupid barber. He's woken the bald man instead of me."

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Newark-on-Trent - Saturday 13th February 2016

My diary

We have a week of being sociable coming up, so first the house needed to be straight and then the larders needed to be stocked. In between I had a good go at my desktop and made more progress than for a while.

It was bitterly cold and grey outside. I did walk down to Ryknield Street to post a wad of letters and maybe buy a card for a secret Valentine, but a fair part of the afternoon was just the two of us sat reading. Barry gave me about 2000 kindle books and we are working our way through them. Can't go till they're finished!

Tonight was the charter Night of the Walsall Lions. Not in our Zone or District but only 13 miles away. We shared a table with Mike and Mary Knight from Lichfield Club, Brian and Thelma Ward from Cannock, John and Pauline from Rugeley and a couple from Ellesmere Port who had transferred north from Walsall.

It was a pleasant night and a very good meal. I also met up with Mike Jobbins and Harry Fry from our days in MD105M 35 years ago.


I found Newark by accident. I had designed a media player for blind people with mobility problems and a company in Nottinghamshire had built one for me. I was on my way to collect the prototype and my route took me round the edge of the town. I could see the ruined castle as I crossed the River Trent and, as the sun was shining that day, I made the slight detour on the way back.

The castle is a ruin,but still looks imposing. There's enough substance to show you what it once was. However, realising this would not occupy me for hours, I followed the paths on foot into the town. Newark is about the same size as Lichfield, so lots of things to see are close to hand.

If in doubt, head for a church is my motto and so I headed towards the steeple of St Mary Magdalene. I found the short trek to the church rewarding enough, but especially as it led me into the medieval market place. It was market day, but that did not prevent me from seeing or taking in the historical feel to the place. Some places have a natural warmth, almost a soul, and I felt that about Newark.

I put it down as a future base for a weekend away.

Newark Castle

The market place

St Mary Magdalene church

How do I turn off presumptive test?

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Blossoms - Friday 12th February 2016

When we started the Talking Newspaper for the Blind it took us three hours on a Thursday night to do everything. Now that we have grown and keep growing it takes 16 hours over Wednesday and Thursday, plus whatever it takes to cater for new listeners, visiting them if we can.

So I have a rest on a Friday.

However, I had to get up early because the Kia was booked in for service. It's only a mile to Turner's so I scraped the ice off, dropped the car and walked back across the railway line and through Sadler's Wood. It probably was a wood at one time but now it is a copse that you can walk through, and a playing field. Some of the trees were leafing a bit early, but the blackthorn was in full blossom, and that's a nice sight.

On the way back I reflected on a peculiar dream I'd had. Sometimes I do remember them. In this one I was called to see someone I apparently knew. I got to a strange site and there was something pyramid shape sticking out of silt. It had been uncovered to about twelve feet and there was a broken window of very ornate glass.

My 'friend' asked me to touch it, which I did, and said "This must be 4000 years old." The man looked at me and asked "Can you tell us who they were?" Another man with him scoffed, but was told "This is what he does."

I placed my hands on the glass and concentrated. I willed the history of the place to touch me. The silt fell away and I found myself in an ancient city, long covered by the elements. The streets were straight and the buildings were white marble. There were people, stately and refined. A lady approached me. She was tall and regal, drifting towards me, dressed in a floor length purple gown, hair pulled back and coiffured at the back. I turned to ask her who she was and where was this place when

Pauline turned over heavily and I woke up!

I took the recordings down to the Post Office. Next I did some Lions paperwork, then letters of thanks for the recent donations. Then it was time to walk into town. We banked the cheques, bought stationery, bits and bobs, and walked back. Robert had bought me a fitness bracelet and the challenge is to walk 10000 steps and expend 2000 calories a day. This was the first day that I achieved both, with 11280 steps.

My feet know it!

Sadler's Wood


They said I should work until my bank balance looks like a phone number. 101 is a phone number. My work here is done.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Peewit - Thursday 11th February 2016

This was another full-on day, partly for unwelcome reasons. I'd installed Windows 10 on my computer after the one that came for the Talking News was already equipped with it. I'd installed what I thought was stronger protection on both machines, but Peter said it was too strong because it kept interfering with some of our older programmes that it didn't like. So I uninstalled that and it all seemed better.

Last night Newsbridge worked perfectly at the studio, but this morning it wouldn't open on my computer at all. I didn't panic, even when the machine said it no longer recognised the Internet or the printer. I'd got Newsbridge on my laptop and accessed the news on my I-pad and somehow or other managed to record the Stevenage Talking News. But there were no magazines and I thought that would have to wait until I got to the studio.

I finished off wrapping and packing seven media players for despatch, and then I did the Live at Home Scheme run. By now it was 6 degrees and beautiful sunshine, so I decided to go to one of our remotest listeners at Whitemoor Haye. This house stands alone, about two miles from the next dwelling. The lady who lives there is lovely, visually and physically impaired, but cheerful and pleasant. I told her it is always a pleasure to visit, but more so today because there were over 400 peewits in the flooded field at the front of the house.

She was delighted I'd called them peewits. That's the name we had for them as I was growing up (it comes from their call) and the fields around Coleshill were full of these striking birds. But then they disappeared. The other name we had for them was plover. When I joined the local RSPB I found that they didn't understand peewit, knew plover but said that was a generic term and the bird I was referring to is a lapwing. So I Googled it today and found that all three terms apply.

I went to the studio early on a premonition, and it proved right. Newsbridge wouldn't open there either, not just for me but also for Peter, and he knows things I don't. That meant that last night's recordings were lost to us. I couldn't do nothing so we loaded Audacity and I gave a message of apology to Wales and Scotland and then added all the magazines so that they would have something to listen to.

We used Audacity to record the Lichfield TN. It was short of an add-on that I will have to sort over the weekend, but in many respects it was better, and quicker, than Newsbridge, so I think our future was determined tonight.

lapwing - plover - peewit

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Flat out - Wednesday 10th February 2016

No time for meandering thoughts today. I had to get out of Lichfield during rush hour. I'm so glad I no longer work for a living. The daily commute has become a nightmare. I made allowance for the road works and took an alternative route out to the A38 for my trek up to Burton on Trent.

The occasion was a fund raising seminar run by VAST, the organisation that supports charities across Staffordshire, which explained why the healthy gathering had come from all over the county, from Stoke on Trent, Newcastle under Lyme and all points south of there. I shared a table with two men from Age Concern, a lady from a children's charity, two ladies from the Alice Charity, and another from a chat line service in Ashbourne, which is actually in Derbyshire.

Over the next six hours we received a lot of tuition concerning fund raising, especially what we are doing wrong. With only one in ten applications for funding successful, I need all the help I can get.

On the way home I collected all the talking news returns and then Pauline and I laboured in the garage as we processed them, catching up on each other's day. I downloaded more news for Scotland and Wales and then it was into the studio.

From there I went to the Methodist's Hall for a meeting of Lichfield Soroptimists to collect a cheque for £400. I hadn't realised that I would be expected to sing for my supper, but there were eleven ladies there who knew nothing about the Talking News, plus one who had sat next to me for six hours today.

We had a few laughs, made some telling points and I finished by telling the lady "All those people we were with today and I bet I'm the only one going home with some loot."

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Melbourne Hall - Tuesday 9th February 2016

My diary

It was time for our monthly meeting at the University Hospital North Midlands. I allowed myself extra time to get there. The first delay was scraping ice off the car. Then Lichfield was gridlocked. There are four routes to Stoke on Trent and the best route was blocked to me. Still, the sun was shining so I took the pretty route - slower but less well used. I got to the hospital in plenty of time for the meeting.

By the time I found somewhere to park the car I was twenty minutes late.

John Morgan and Lisa were in deep discussions but Hayley hadn't made the meeting. Whether by accident or design was established, but it meant those three hours were basically lost.

Back home I got to work. There were two boxes of media players to unpack and make ready for despatch. Two new listeners to process, two players to package and label, and the minutes from last night's meeting to write and distribute. I also downloaded as much news for Wales and Scotland as I could because of tomorrow being full.

Melbourne Hall

We found this place by accident. I was driving to meet a new client, the road was blocked, I took a detour and found myself passing Melbourne Hall.

A mansion existed on the site but needed renovation. That was partly achieved, in 1629-31. Further expansions and renovations took place over the next century and the hall we know today came into being. Eventually it came under the ownership of William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne and Prime Minister under Queen Victoria. It was from him that Melbourne in Australia was named.

Although privately owned the house and gardens are open to visitors and the history of the place is very well documented.

Melbourne Hall

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Bluebell Arboretum - Monday 8th February 2016

My diary

The rain was still making itself felt. I drove over to Tamworth to meet Fred Meddes. The River Tame was higher than I've ever seen it. The fields around Hopwas were flooded, but that's nothing new, but I figured another 4 inches and the houses in Tamworth that run alongside the river were in danger of flooding.

Fred is a retired accountant and he kindly audits the books for the Talking News. I presented him with everything I'd got, receipts and details of donations received, plus a spreadsheet I had produced. He asked me where the accounts book was. I'd forgotten it. I hadn't made it up to date. So I went home and spent an hour updating the books. Fred rang to say he was finished. The spreadsheet was brilliant and we don't need the ledger any more!

Pauline spent the morning at the National Memorial Arboretum with Kath and Janet, and then took Rita to the knitting club. She then waited to hopefully meet Ged and |Margaret on the way back from seeing new mom Louise following the birth of Mollie at 11.35pm last night.

I made a hearty vegetable soup, we shared it when Pauline got back and then I was off to a meeting of Lichfield Lions. It wasn't that well attended and lethargy is creeping in everywhere. I hope it's just this long, miserable winter.

Bluebell Arboretum

There are a number of flowers I like to capture on film when they are in their glory. Snowdrops to start, then daffodils, bluebells, cowslips (if abundant), rhododendrons and azaleas, and anything else that I can find growing in large numbers (such as fields of rape or lavender). I saw reference to the Bluebell Arboretum one time we were over at Ashby de la Zouch, so we went.

We weren't expecting bluebells because of the time of year, and we soon learned that we wouldn't have seen them anyway (we've got a bluebell wood much closer to home) so there was no disappointment, and the owner volunteered lots of information.

Apparently people come from miles away in the bluebell season and go away disgruntled, because there are none. The arboretum got its name because the decision to buy the land and start an arboretum was taken over a few pints in the Bluebell pub.

This is a project for the long term, but every year will see improvements. It has already gone past the basic level and some areas are already showing character and promise. This is a place we can visit every year and mark the changes.

the Old Man of the Woods

A Mayfly emerged late afternoon and fluttered over the river bank. "Look at that beautiful sun." It said o a companion. "Huh," said an older Mayfly. That's nothing compared to the sunshine when I was younger - about six hours ago."

Monday, 8 February 2016

Eyam - Sunday 7th February 2016

My diary

Selfishly we decided to make this a day for just ourselves, or that was the plan. Pauline took Rita to church and I spent an hour and a half at the studio with Peter Fox trying to sort out what went wrong with the Lichfield Talking News when the other three were fine. We ruled out everything except operator error, which could be a problem.

We did have the afternoon to ourselves. Driving rain kept us indoors, so mostly we just relaxed and read books. Then it was time to go to join other Lichfield Lions at the Penguin Swimming Club. We spent £600 on new T Shirts for everyone concerened, and another £500 was donated to fund training for the helpers.



We look at Eyam today but we'll leave the Peak District alone until we holiday thereat the end of March.

Eyam is a special place, because it was once populated by special people.

When the Great Plague swept through London, the rest of the country thought themselves safe, and the further away the better. The story I heard said that some clothing had been sent to an Eyam inhabitant in 1665, and it turned out to be carrying the plague. As people became ill and started to die, and when the cause was realised, the remaining inhabitants set up barricades to keep travellers out.

People from neighbouring villages would hang food on the barricades and the village as totally cut off until the last victim died.

The village has been preserved very much as it was and is worth a visit in its own right. Anna Seward was born in the rectory. Much of her fame stems from her time in Lichfield and her association with Doctor Erasmus Darwin, but the poetry below is part of her remembrance of Eyam.

Eyam Hall is run by the National Trust but, surprisingly, it is only leased to them

When the current word load eases we will go back to Eyam because there is much more there than time currently allows me to cover.

For one short week I leave, with anxious heart,
Source of my filial cares, the Full of Days,
Lur'd by the promise of Harmonic Art
To breathe her Handel's soul-exalting lays.
Pensive I trace the Derwent's amber wave,
Foaming through umbrag'd banks, or view it lave
The soft, romantic vallies, high o'er-peer'd
By hills and rocks, in savage grandeur rear'd.
Not two short miles from thee, can I refrain
Thy haunts, my native EYAM, long unseen?-
Thou and thy lov'd inhabitants, again
Shall meet my transient gaze.-Thy rocky screen,
Thy airy cliffs I mount; and seek thy shade,
Thy roofs, that brow the steep, romantic glade;
But, while on me the eyes of Friendship glow,
Swell my pain'd sighs, my tears spontaneous flow.

Eyam Hall

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Sudbury - Saturday 6th February 2016

My diary

It was raining when we woke, but it didn't stay that way all day - part of the time it poured! It was relentless and not inductive to clearing up the debris in the garden, so we went out.

Pauline fancied a trip to Burton, which is always our stand by, but I asked her to compromise and go that little bit further up the A38 to the Intu shopping complex at Derby. If it didn't work out, Burton was on the way back. As it happened we spent three hours there and didn't see all the shops. Pauline bought new shoes - good quality and excellent price - and we also bought a birthday gift because there are quite a few in the weeks ahead.


Drive north out of Lichfield up the A51 and you come to Sudbury. We've been a few times and never seen it all because usually we take children and there is a museum of childhood which always fascinates, especially when they realise that we grew up with non-electrical toys. The youngsters in our family are usually quite in awe, but for me I am just looking at my own childhood, which is sad because that makes me part of history, and I haven't finished with the present just yet!

Sometime this year we will go back to Sudbury on our own and do the full tour and glean all the history.. Meanwhile, here are a few pics I took the last time we went, in 2009.

Sudbury Hall

You can't get the cleaners

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Bolsover Castle - Friday 5th February 2016

My diary

It seemed strange waking to find Rita missing, but when we checked she had been better being back home. I didn't do a lot today. I did the agenda for Monday's meeting and that took over an hour. This afternoon I had to visit new listeners and so we decided to carry on to Cannock and have a look at the shops over there. I bought 14 books bringing Shakespeare to youngsters, and that was it.

Bolsover Castle

The drive is 53 miles from Lichfield into the beautiful rolling hills of east Derbyshire. The castle is a very impressive sight as you approach from the M1 motorway because it sits high on the edge of a hill, surrounded by the medieval town of Bolsover.

The castle is more or less empty now but English Heritage are doing a great job of conservation. It will take a long time but I got the feeling a lot of it will be restored.

No one knows how long a castle has been there, it probably began in 1086. There was a ruined castle there when King Edward VI gifted the site to George Talbot, sixth Earl of Leicester. He married Bess of Hardwick and she eventually became the richest woman in England, primarily through marrying well and outlasting everyone around her. She was 81 when she died, a real achievement over 400 years ago.

Bess married into the Cavendish family and it was they who built the castle. The small castle that was built in the grounds of the real castle was really a feature and not functional as a defence. It was built to attract royalty, and this it did. King Charles I was a visitor, which was probably the downfall. He got his head chopped off and the castle was badly damaged by the Roundheads as the Parliamentarians had little time for those who had so overtly courted the royalty of the day.

Bolsover Castle

Song lyrics! "We will find you on your best behaviour. Turn your back on Mother Nature. Everybody wants to rule the world." Turning your back on Mother Nature isn't best behaviour. And I don't want to rule the world. I'm not cleaning that mess up.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Calke Abbey - Thursday 4th February 2016

What can I say? It was Thursday.

I took Rita home to let the workmen in. They have nearly finished. Lichfield was gridlocked, due to road works in all the critical places. That put me back a little and so the rest of the morning was spent recording the Stevenage Talking News.

I did the Live at Home Scheme, stopping to help them dismantle the room at the end. The Lichfield Mercury wasn't in the shops, so I had to download as much Lichfield news as I could glean from the internet. That added another hour.

I went to the studio at 5.30pm. Pauline was round with Rita and had decided to stay and clean up for her so that she could sleep in her own bed tonight. There were problems with Newsbridge so my early arrival was fortuitous. We finished everything but Peter believes there is a fault that we will have to tackle very quickly. I'm not getting the same fault at home, and I'm using the same programmes, so this will mean time over the weekend.

Calke Abbey

Calke Abbey is the second nearest 'stately' home to us in Lichfield. Stately is a misnomer because Calke was found to be an incredible muddler when the National Trust took over, and they decided to leave it as they found it.

Calke Abbey was built in the early 1700s on the site of a 12th century  Augustinian priory. Although called an abbey, it actually never functioned as such. The present building was named Calke Abbey in 1808. It was owned by the somewhat eccentric Harpur family for nearly 300 years until it was passed to the National Trust in 1985.

Calke Abbey is approached along a lengthy path that winds through pleasant grounds leading to the house, church and deer park. The gardens are extensive and respond to the seasons, so several trips can be planned throughout the year. Pumpkins are grown by the truck load for annual carving sessions by local children. The gardens are a haven to insect life with several different types of bee, butterflies, and the biggest spreads of ladybirds I've ever seen.

The deer park is important not just because of the deer herd but also because of the rare woods that can be found.

Calke Abbey

Calke church

The problem with being born with a silver spoon in your mouth is that no one can understand what you are saying, and your Mom must have been a really sloppy eater.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Hardwick Hall - Wednesday 3rd February 2016

My diary

I woke in the night feeling quite sick. This is very unusual for someone with a cast iron constitution. However, I survived but woke feeling very sleep deprived. Not good on a Wednesday. I took my work down to the dining room and soaked up the occasional sunbeam that spasmodically broke through the showers.

I booked Pauline's car in for service and collected the returns from the Sorting Office. We processed them all in the garage, plus I started on four new listeners that came through within minutes of each other. I downloaded the news for Scotland and Wales and took everything to the studio for Peter O'Brien and Jane.

Hardwick Hall

Hardwick Hall is at Doe Lea, about 6 miles north of Chesterfield. The new Hardwick Hall was built in 1590 by Bess of Hardwick (properly Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury) and the house has ES all around its crenulations. It's a bit gloomy inside the house, which the National Trust says is important in preserving the myriad tapestries that have hung there for 400 years. The old hall was used to house the servants until it started to fall down.

Hardwick Hall passed to the Duke of Devonshire after Bess moved on and he also owned Chatsworth, which is definitely England's finest stately home (and is still owned by the Devonshires) so he based his living there, relegating Hardwick to housing family members in need of peace and quiet.

They must have enjoyed a wonderful retirement. With 300 acres surrounding the hall, the estate was self sufficient, generating profits of £1000 a year, which was a huge sum in those days. Servants were paid a penny a day and the best groundsman received £2 a year, but with bonuses this could jump to a mighty £10. With the estate being so large, the approach to the house from either entry was long and all uphill, but the views must have been worth every gasp.

Hardwick Hall

We tried to spice up our love life by buying a water bed, but it didn't work. We just drifted apart.