Thursday, 31 March 2016

Crich Tramway Museum - Thursday 31st March 2016

A morning full of birds. Apart from the rookery there were blackbirds, robins, great tits, dunnocks, sparrows, blue tits, a Martin and a mistle thrush building a nest just thirty feet from our front door. The Martin was obviously finding food floating over the farmyard and the thrush was lining its new nest with lichen and sheep's wool.

In lovely sunshine we set off in two cars for the Tramway Village at Crich.

This was the more expensive of our trips out this week, though the parking was free and the entrance ticket allows readmission for the rest of the year, should we so desire.

With your entrance fee paid you are given a penny to pay for your tram ride. If you choose first to head for the Glory Mine (more lead) and then back down into the town you will travel for 20 minutes for your penny, and your ticket lasts all day.

They've made an effort and you can easily spend three hours touring the old shops, George Stephenson Discovery & Learning Centre, the workshop where you can watch them rebuilding old trams that were short of TLC, through to the tram depot and the Great Exhibition Hall. There are also walks, play areas and picnic spots. A great day out when the sun shines.
Crich Tramway Museum

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Heights of Abraham - Wednesday 30th March 2016

At last. Sunshine greeted us and both boys seemed to be over whatever was afflicting them. So, a day out to suit their taste.

The Heights of Abraham are situated at Matlock Bath on the A6, where the power of the River Derwent powered the mills and local industry.

Masson Hill was a noted source of lead. There is evidence the Romans knew about the various mines that locals dug wherever they found evidence of lead. Certainly the Nexus mine was recorded as being highly utilised in 1470, and for the next three hundred years.  Other mines were dug, but eventually they began to play out and some miners found it more profitable to conduct tours of the bigger excavations than to scrape the lead out of the ground.

In 1698 they finally properly controlled the springs that led to the creation of the baths and tourism began to flourish, but access to the hill was difficult, so that was not for the faint hearted. In 1759 General James Wolfe died in Quebec at the Heights of Abraham and similarities with Masson Hill were noted and the name was changed.

In 1780 the first efforts were made to tame the hill and appeal to more tourists, but it was not until 1974 that serious development was underway. There still remained a problem with access but in 1983 planning permission was sought for the installation of Alpine type cable cars. Permission granted, they were in use, impressively, by 1984.

The Heights are very popular and have a lot to offer. Serious visitors should allow a good four hours in order to take everything in.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Poole's Cavern - Tuesday 29th March 2016

The snow came back, but not for long. Roan had slept the clock round and was still running a bit of a temperature, so Pauline stayed behind as we took Reece to Poole's Cavern.


Buxton in the sunshine glows. In the rain is resonates with Yorkshire or even the older parts of Manchester. As a market town it is the highest in England and you climb up to the town from the south but you climb even higher as you leave it heading north.

Anyone from the Manchester region will tell you Buxton is the gateway to the Derby Dales. The southern half of the country bestows that honour on Ashbourne. There are some long established hotels, on a grand scale, in Buxton and that is testimony to the importance of the health giving spa.

As with Bath, the Romans established the spa and the town has sat proudly amidst the limestone hills ever since, although the real impact of the waters came less than two hundred years ago. Limestone features not only with the brick work but also in the atmospheric Pooles Cavern. Erasmus Darwin also recognised the benefits of the waters in Buxton and also Matlock, some twelve miles away, and he saw two family members settle there and highly recommended healing visits to Josiah Wedgwood.

The whole of the Peak District indulges in well dressing, Buxton well up in the list. Some of the dressing are incredibly artistic, but ephemeral and we will watch the diary carefully this year because once over, it is another year for the next chance to see this endearing practice.

The River Wye starts two miles out of Buxton and then runs down to Bakewell and eventual liaison with the Derwent and finally the Trent before reaching the North Sea. The A6 follows the meanderings of the Wye for the most part but I lost it on the map somewhere in Buxton. Today I found out why.

Poole's Cavern

The limestone caves under Buxton have been known for more than 2000 years, but easy access is relatively recent. The impressive caves were eroded by the River Wye as it disappears below ground before re-emerging to make its impressive descent towards the east.

What was pleasant about this experience was that the visit was friendly, the guided tour was informative and humorous at times, and the prices in the gift shop were gentle - not the rip-off charges of many other attractions.

As Buxton began to flourish as a spa town, the lame headed for the waters and the curious went to crawl into the atmospheric cavern. With only candles to light the way, exploration would have been fraught, especially as there is a steady stream of water droplets that would have challenged any candle holder. The Victorians added gas lighting but today there are strategically placed electric lights that focus the attention on the more interesting of the features.

The temperature in the cavern is a constant 7 degrees C (44F) but the steady flow of information and apocryphal stories, coupled with the intriguing sights meant that an hour on the tour flashes by with no realisation of the fact that it was no warmer inside that it was outside, except for the lack of wind.

You get plenty of chance to see the fledgling river as it burbles over the rocks, flashes of white water hinting at what the river does when once again free of the gloom and tumbling down to meet Bakewell.

Poole's Cavern

Monday, 28 March 2016

Bakewell - Monday 28th March 2016

The inch of snow was a surprise. I don't know how high we sit above the valleys around us but the clouds are flat on the highest points. We took our time over breakfast, waiting for the weather to change. Roan was running a temperature and so Gary stayed behind whilst we went down to Bakewell.

The journey down the A6 to Bakewell is a delight, but better suited to sunshine. Today the River Wye was crashing down in mist and white water. Parts of the road were flooded and the lower reaches of the river looked a definite threat to some of the surrounding properties.

Bakewell is famous for its pudding, which is a different animal to Bakewell Tart. There was one Tart shop but several pudding factories, including the Original Bakewell Pudding Shop (1869) and the Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop (1860), but neither served gluten free.

We've known Bakewell to be overly popular in the summer but didn't expect the traffic that was evident today. The queue into the car park as we came out threaded right back and promised a very long wait for a free parking bay.

The sun made wreak threats of breaking through, but the tail end of the storm that had battered the south of England kept to rooks on their toes and kept spreading the grey clouds back across the sky.

Back at the farm for a restful afternoon we saw sun, rain, sun, fierce hail, even more sun. Meanwhile it was my turn to cook. I wanted to do a Lancashire hot pot, but Pauline said I would have to make do with what we've got. "just improvise!"

So I did.

An hour between these shots

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Taddington - Sunday 27th March 2016

We are just a mile outside of Taddington, on one of the highest spots around. Four of us decided to walk down to the village, leaving Reece to help Pauline. The threat of rain was in the air and as we walked down the long driveway from the farm the wind threatened to blow us back again.

Once we turned away from the wind it became quite pleasant and the one track road that leads over the hill and then winds down to the village was pleasant to stroll. Once over the crest we were well sheltered from the icy blasts.

We walked down the Main Street and there diverted into the grounds of St Michael's church. We ventured inside and then stood alongside the remains of the 1400 years old Celtic cross. Then it was a different kind of church in the shape of the Queens Arms pub, where a roaring fire and a frosty reception greeted us.

The journey back up to Taddington Moor was challenging, not just because of the steepness of the lane (where a farmer was sheering his sheep and a hare lay dead at the roadside), but because a hail storm hit us head on. Still, it was over in minutes and the singing of the chaffinches more than made up for it.

Back at the ranch it was a dip in the swimming pool, Grandma's superb roast lamb, kids to bed and Holywood dominoes.

I feel like I'm on holiday!

St Michael's

Taddington, from the moor

Windy - Saturday 26th March 2016

I watched the clouds roll in at ground level. The rain came and obviously meant to stay. No matter, this is all about rest and conviviality. I'd bought an electronics kit for Roan (which he quickly mastered) and a stamp collectors starter kit for Reece, and I'd brought every magazine I haven't had time to read since Christmas.

Our greeters told us that a fox on the grounds shares a den with a badger. The fox forages and the badger does the housework. We've got a lively rookery in the copse behind the buildings and rabbits are tame enough to come out and see what you are putting in the recycling bin.

We are in the Derbyshire of grey limestone brick houses, beautiful when the sun is shining but dank in miserable weather. The farmhouse is some four hundred years old and the converted barns are over 300 years.

We had lunch, the rain stopped and Pauline and I found our way to Buxton to shop for a few extras and a razor and toothbrush for me. The countryside hereabouts is gorgeous and I can only hope for one or two nice days. The rain came back with a real vengeance, almost horizontal, but with archery lessons for the boys and the swimming pool - no worries.

I haven't seen wind this strong for a good many years. I was surprised one of the trees behind the house survived. It must now have very shaky roots.

Moor Farm

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Taddington - Friday 25th March 2016

This was the most unrushed day for yonks. We spent the morning getting ourselves together. Pauline did a big food shop and I took instructions for the TN teams into the studio and then filled the car. We packed the boot and rear seats to the gunwhales and then set off for Derbyshire.

There were three routes that I had identified, but I let the satnav chose and it found one I had not considered. Once we had reached Ashbourne the pleasure began. Into the rolling hills of the Derbyshire Dales, roads bordered by dry stone walls, birds everywhere and every field hosting livestock, mostly sheep.

We reached our destination - Grange Moor Farm - an hour early, but it turned out to be two hours early because they'd changed the arrangements. It didn't matter one jot. Dan, Gary, Reece, Roan and Jackson joined us and we waited in the sunshine, enjoying the vista until the agents arrived to let us in. By this time other families had arrived to occupy the other converted barns and farm house, some for the weekend and others for the full week.

We are about a mile outside of Taddington with no other habitation visible within three miles. Bliss.

The only downside from my perspective was that I had forgotten my wash bag and laptop, meaning that photos would have to wait until we got home.

Our front drive

Friday, 25 March 2016

All around the Wrekin - Thursday 24th March 2016

I was conscious of the fact that some of our listeners wouldn't get their talking news until Tuesday, but I decided I could limit that number, so I got to it as soon as the Stevenage Comet and the Ruston Crow came across. I recorded the Stevenage TN and then went into the studio and ran it off. I had all TNs bar Lichfield in the post before noon.

This afternoon I did the Live at Home run and then got everything ready for tonight. I knew there would be no Wilf but Peter was a 50/50 chance. As it happens it was the wrong 50, but Keith was there and between us we got the Lichfield finished and in the bag.

The Wrekin

In other areas you get led on a wild goose chase, or taken around the houses, but Midlanders who are being bamboozled are always led all around the Wrekin. Growing up I had idea that this was anything but an expression, and then I found the place exists, just outside Telford and across from Wellington in Shropshire.

Although only 1335 feet high, the Wrekin stands out because it is surrounded by some of the flatter areas of the county, so it is visible from quite a long way off. More to the point, from the top of the Wrekin you can see into Wales, the Black Country and even as far as Manchester on a clear day.

If you are ever in the area, take a hike up to the summit. The pats are well established, the views are often quite stunning, and there are the remains of an Iron Age fort on the summit.

The Wrekin

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Ironbridge Gorge - Wednesday 23rd March 2016

With a Bank Holiday looming, the question was, what to do about the Talking News. No post of Friday or Monday meant that normal postage wouldn't reach the listener until next Tuesday. So I set about doing something about it. I collected the usual five sacks of returns and started processing them whilst Pauline was flower arranging at church. That took care of the morning.

Pauline fetched Rita round and then Louise came over with baby Molly. Only 6 weeks old but quite content and already showing some awareness. Louise is doing the right thing by showing her different environments from time to time. Babies kept cossetted at home can became alarmed when taken out if it goes on too long.

Molly Keating

I decided I could beat the post with three of the four talking newspapers, so I recorded Scotland thi8s afternoon. Then it was into the studio with two of our lady readers and together we recorded the Gwent TN, whilst folding church programmes (around 700) at the same time.

Ironbridge Gorge

You don't have to stray far in Ironbridge to find something of interest, mostly to do with the industrial past. There is the Broseley Pipeworks, the Museum of the Gorge and another museum called Enginuity, but there is also a museum that most people do not expect to find in Ironbridge.

If you mention English China to most people they will assume that you are talking about Stoke on Trent and the Potteries, but tucked neatly in Ironbridge is the atmospheric Coalport China Museum, with its obligatory kiln and its entrancing demonstrations of glass blowing. Well worth a visit.#

Coalport Museum

Coalport china

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Ironbridge - Tuesday 22nd March 2016

I collated my paperwork and then drove over to Norton Canes to see a new listener. A couple in their mid-seventies, both need the talking news, but agreed to share. At that point the sun was shining. I got back just as Pauline was going out to take a friend on crutches for a coffee break. I did the garden pond and then turned to the Lion Magazine.

For over twenty years I produced a talking version of The Lion for the blind Lions around the country. Pressures early last year meant something had to go, and the Lion takes quite a time to produce. Things are easing off a little and I was asked if I could produce it again for a Lion from Wales. I said yes and settled down to three hours of recording.

I got it all wrapped up and told Lions HQ that it was available once again. I got an e-mail from an MD Officer saying Hold On. So I'm holding on.


Ironbridge claims to be the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. It certainly played its part. Abraham Darby discovered a cheap method of smelting iron by using coke, and this made manufacturing cheaper and easier and the industry that drove Britain to briefly dominate a third of the world was underway.

The River Severn is an important waterway, but it is difficult to access from Ironbridge. Much more accessible a little further down river at Bridgnorth, so a decent bridge would come in handy, and so the iconic Ironbridge (the first in the world and still proudly standing) was built between 1779 and 1781.

Ask one hundred people who built the bridge and 50% will say Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It was actually built by Abraham Darby III, grandson of the original.

 The iron bridge at Ironbridge

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Blists Hill - Monday 21st March 2016

I'm going on holiday, so that means that there's a lot to do in the next few days. One of the main tasks, after a relatively quiet week last week, was to process five new listeners, all of whom need a media player.

The week ahead was looking very full. Meeting in Cannock this afternoon, meeting in Burton on Trent tomorrow, sitting in for Peter O'Brien on Wednesday night and the usual full-on Thursday. First the Tuesday meeting was cancelled by the NHS, then today's meeting was cancelled by the MS Society, and suddenly there was room to breath.

Blists Hill

Helen and Dave did not go to Ironbridge on their way back from Shrewsbury, and that was wise. You cannot do justice to Ironbridge in a single visit. Few places in Britain can have so many attractions in such a small area. There is the enigmatic Iron Bridge, there are museums aplenty, and there is Blists Hill.

The Blists Hill Victorian Village was opened in 1973 and recreates a Victorian village and all you would expect from 130 years ago. Any child would be spellbound and amazed at what life was like so relatively a short time ago. Someone like me, born in a small market town during the war, sees only their childhood. It is well worth a visit and is on a par with the Black Country Museum.

My Mom had all the time in the world for us kids. You could tell that by way she used to say "Not now. Can't you see that I'm busy!"

Monday, 21 March 2016

Much Wenlock - Sunday 20th March 2016

The girls have been a dream to look after. They are both very pleasant young ladies, and very different from each other. Jessica is now fifteen, looks more like her Mom every day and strives to be as tall as her Dad. Megan is very thoughtful and caring, and has a wickedly bizarre sense of humour. I must steal some of her jokes.

We picked up Rita and all went off to church for Palm Sunday. This was more sociable than I've experienced in Lichfield before and I was able to catch up with a few people. By the time we got back I could just grab a sandwich and then it was back to Wyevale for two hours in the company of John Cassie. This was our most lively stint to date, and we made a few people laugh, but it has been hard work this time around.

Helen and Dave got back from Shrewsbury and Ironbridge at 4pm. Then it was time for a big Sunday roast (lamb and every vegetable you can think of), Sadly, a new week beckoned and they were on the road back to High Wycombe at least two days too soon.

Much Wenlock

Much Wenlock sits between Shrewsbury and Ironbridge, but not if you take the M54 route, so Helen and Dave missed this very picturesque village. It is a popular place to visit for those who know of its existence, and it received a bit more publicity in 2012.

Dr William Penny Brooks thought the small town needed something to look forward to, and so he established the Wenlock Olympic Games in 1850. The games became popular, attracted a wider area of interest and led directly to the establishment of the Olympic Games that we all know today.

As it was 2012 when we went there the place was buzzing with all aspects of the games. The local populace proved to be very friendly and communicative and everyone we talked to wanted to extol the virtues of the larger of the Wenlocks. As with so many things back then, time was always against us, but maybe we can get back for a more leisurely exploration.

Much Wenlock

Pauline says I have a god-like figure. Then I found she means Buddha.

Shrewsbury - Saturday 19th March 2016

I got straight to my desk this morning. There was a pile of papers to do something with, and the desktop had to be cleared before the invasion.


I am happy to say that there isn't a single member of our family that I don't hold in the highest regard, and so it is a joy whichever branch comes home. Today it was the Lewis bunch from High Wycombe.


It was our wedding anniversary on Tuesday, but also for Helen and Dave and there is a tacit agreement that H&D get a weekend to themselves and we have the pleasure of Jess and Megan.


They arrived at 11.10am, and so the work was put aside for a couple of days. Dave was taking Helen to Shrewsbury, but Helen didn't know that. They stayed for coffee and off they went, heading west into the beautiful Shropshire.


After lunch Pauline took the girls to Ventura Park and I collected Lizzie Bermingham and together we sold a few Easter Egg raffle tickets at Wyevale. The more I hear Lizzie talk the more impressed I am. She seems oblivious of her stunning looks, which is always refreshing, and she is a perfect candidate for Young Ambassador.




Having exhausted my experiences of Cambridgeshire, Shropshire can come next and Shrewsbury seems a good place to start.


When Daniel left home he took on the role of manager of Dolland & Aitchiison in Shrewsbury, and so he rented a house just across the River Severn and a short walk from the town centre. We visited often and Pauline has always said she could happily live there, or somewhere in the county.


There is an old fashioned town centre, bridges labelled English and Welsh, the River Severn and the obligatory castle. There is also a lovely park that hosts one of the best  flower festivals in the Midlands and is well worth an excursion.


Built of red sandstone, Shrewsbury castle was erected on a hill on a loop of the Severn. It now stands overlooking the town. The exact origins of the castle are not clear, but it was not a difficult fortress to overcome. King Stephan's besieged it successfully in 1138 and the Prince of Wales had a good go at it in 1215, so what is there today is very much rebuild. 

Shrewsbury Castle

Sounds fair

The High Street

Memories are a thing of the past

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Cambridge - Friday 18th March 2016

I like to totally unwind on a Friday. No chance.

First I went back to the studio to see if I could find the recordings that Peter O'Brien had done. The fairies had been! Peter had gone back himself and not only knew where they were, he duplicated both of the recordings and all I had to do was pack them in envelopes and then take everything to the Sorting Office.

Next I did the minutes from Monday's Lion's meeting and got those distributed. That took an hour. Then I set to on the AGM minutes from Tuesday's meeting. That took another hour, and that was the morning gone.

Rita had been left with four boxes of bathroom tiles when the shower room was finished. They were too heavy for Pauline to lift, so they waited for my availability. We went round and I discovered why they were too heavy. I could manage one box at a time. We took them back to Tipper's and they issued Rita with a refund for £244. That cheered her no end and she suggested we go to the Hedgehog.

Twice in one week, but Rita is familiar with the Hedgehog, so off we went. The ladies ordered their fancies and declared themselves well pleased. I went for the sea bass and was quite disappointed. I suppose it has to happen sometimes, but though I will be happy to go there again, I'll steer clear of that offering.


In the beginning there was Oxford University (we'll get to that in detail in about a month, when I've slowed down a bit). There was a dispute between some of the townspeople in Oxford and some of the students, and blood was shed. Some of the collegiate sensed trouble ahead and left in numbers great enough to form Cambridge University, in 1209.

We've only been once and the experience was magical. As soon as opportunity permits we will go back for a longer stay. Our first visit was on a Lion's reunion and so it was structured to meet the abilities of everyone in the group. This meant not too much walking.

Stroll around the university colleges, particularly Kings, Trinity and St John's and you feel education flowing over you. Walk along the enigmatic River Cam at the weekend, when the punters are on the river and the sun is shining and you could be forgiven for assuming that all is right with the world.

We must go back and properly explore.

King's College

St John's College

Trinity College

Punting on the Cam

Cannibals got their first taste of religion through eating missionaries.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Peterborough - Thursday 17th March 2016

So, it was a Thursday.

The sun shone, it got quite warm in parts of Britain (11 degrees in Lichfield) and I was stuck indoors and working on Talking Newspapers. Wilf called to say that the National Lottery will give us £8400 on the 25th March, so that made the slog a lot easier.

I did the Stevenage Talking News in the morning, using Audacity, so that has become my norm. Now we just need to get Lichfield over and I think our nights will become quicker and shorter.

I did the Live at Home run and was at the studio for 5.45pm. I couldn't find the Scottish or Welsh recordings anywhere on the computer. No point panicking. I texted Peter O'Brien but he didn't pick up my message until we had finished, so I left it all to the morning.


I had quite a lot to do with Peterborough for several years with Lucas because Perkins Engines were major customers. A gang of the people we dealt with won the pools, the equivalent of £300,000 each, and so they partied. They came to us in Birmingham and then we went there, going out for lunch in a pub overlooking a tide barrier on the canals at the edge of the fens. We watched dolphins and realised just how low and flat the countryside is in the fen region.

I paid another trip to Peterborough a few years later to meet a genius. I had been told to produce a study and forecast of the world tractor market. No one had told me how to go about it, so I used my own twisted logic and came up with projections that no one would believe. They said only if Jan Ortoni confirmed my findings would I be given any credence.

I made an appointment to see Jan and was told by his assistant that he was particularly belligerent that week and I could expect a roasting. I had nothing to lose, so I went into his office and began to ask him the most inane questions that I could think of. He stared at me with incredulity and eventually said "Do you honestly believe this clap trap?" I told him I didn't believe a word of it, and he asked me why he was spouting this rubbish.

I said that I'd been told he was most incommunicative and I figured if I asked questions that I needed verifying, all he would do would be say yes. So I asked questions that he could rubbish and maybe disprove, so that I could find out what he really thought.

We spent the rest of the day together, even getting lunch, and he looked at my findings. He said he hadn't looked at the situation that way, but now that he did, he agreed. From that my new business was born.

Whilst I was there I took a look at Peterborough Cathedral.

A church was built on the site around 655, lasting 200 years but eventually destroyed by the Vikings. Eventually a Benedictine Abbey was built, probably finished in  966. This suffered some damage along the way, partly due to the Norman invasion, but it was a fire that destroyed the abbey. Work began on the new cathedral, taking some 150 years to (almost) complete. Some of the original building work was deemed unsatisfactory and so some major rebuilding took place from around 1230 to 1250.

The cathedral was vandalised in 1643, during the English Uncivil War. Restoration work was carried out several times over the next two hundred years and all seemed to be going well until arson in 2006 marred the exquisite ceiling decorations. That brought the need for even more restoration.

Peterborough Cathedral

Effie Gray - Wednesday 16th March 2016

I have promised Pauline that I won’t let another month like this one happen. It may nor seem much at a casual glance, but we haven’t had a day to ourselves for weeks and it’s going to be a bit longer before that happens. Today I set off early for a Volunteer’s Fair at the Lichfield Campus.

I went with no expectations whatsoever, which was fortunate because nothing happened. I set up displays for the Talking News, SNA and the Lions and three people took notice, in four hours. Still, it did give me a chance to compose the minutes from Monday and Tuesday. I broke the back of those tasks, leaving the completion to Friday.

Pauline was out for lunch with the girls. I collected the returns from the Sorting Office and was just starting on them when Pauline got back, so we toiled away in the garage, not so cold as for the past few months, and we had it all done by 4.40pm.

I downloaded the news for Scotland and South Wales and processed three media players for listeners, plus got everything ready for another new listener that I would be able to visit. I took everything to the studio. Peter O’Brien had no support. I said I’d stay and read with him but he wanted to do it at home, with the help of his wife, so we came home and watched the film Effieray.

Effie Gray

The story of Effie Gray was a sad one for quite a spell. She lived in the house where the grandfather of John Ruskin had committed suicide. Ruskin wrote ‘The King of the Golden River’ for her when she was twelve, and married her seven years later. However, what Effie had thought would be an idyllic marriage became a nightmare as Ruskin failed to consummate the marriage.

Effie Gray by Thomas Richmond

Ruskin had taken John Everett Millais under his wing, which backfired badly because not only did Millais marry Effie after she successfully sued for divorce, he also changed his style of painting – much to the disgust of Ruskin – and so painted one of my favourites. Furthermore, if there was ever a doubt as to who was impotent, Effie bore Millais 8 children.

Ophelia by Millais

I only make mistakes to prove I'm human.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Happy anniversary - Tuesday 15th March 2016

Forty seven years. March 15th 1969 was our wedding in Coleshill, with family and friends and Clive Pitcher as best man. To me it was a wonderful day and 47 years later I still think it is wonderful that someone like Pauline would accept me with all my faults and foibles. Whatever I've achieved in life has been with her holding me up. Whatever we have achieved are all now living productive lives in the South East of England, with grandchildren to keep us all focussed.


Today was the AGM of the Staffordshire Neurological Alliance, plus they were presenting two more of their Best in Staffordshire awards. The event was at the Medical Institute Centre in Stoke on Trent, but the post code that had been supplied took me to Uttoxeter. A very pretty drive at this time of the year, through the lovely Abbotts Bromley, but half an hour lost and a late arrival guaranteed.


The morning was very encouraging. I felt for the first time that real progress is being made, and that doubles my determination to be of use.


I was home by 3.30pm (didn't use the satnav!) so we relaxed for a couple of hours and then went up to the Hedgehog for a celebratory meal. We were treated very well and the meal was very tasty, if a little too much.

Still the happy couple

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Freeford Manor - Monday 14th March 2016

Somehow or other I have to clear one more task a day than comes in with the morning post, otherwise I will never get clear. I made a good start today, but I was also aware that Pauline has not had enough attention recently, so I resolved to spend more time with her.

I had someone to see in Tamworth at some stage so we went there first and then back to Ventura Park because Pauline was present hunting for a friend.

Tonight was Lions and it was better attended than of late. It was also quite lively but there are still two people that I have to convert to the new way of doing things. I have no problem with people raising issues and expecting full and frank discussion. I just want them to give notice before the meeting so that any discussion is focussed and, if it's important, is tackled early in the meeting. I think waiting until Any Other Business, when some are putting their coats on because they work and it has been a long day, is counter-productive.

Freeford Manor (or Freeford Hall) is only about a mile away as the crow flies, but is normally well hidden. It is a private residence, owned by the Dyott family, and is only visible if you take one of the ramblers tracks that circumnavigate the plot.

The Dyott family moved into Lichfield about 1600. Two family members (both named Richard) represented Lichfield in Parliament. One became - arguably - more famous because of his involvement in the siege of Lichfield by the Roundheads in the English Civil War. An inscription in Dam street reads thus:


The Dyott family built Freeford Hall, just outside the city, in the early 1700s. It later became Freeford Manor. The gun that fired the fateful shot is still owned by the family.

Freeford Hall

A nurse was watching a cricket match. The batsman thundered a drive straight at a fielder, who doubled up and collapsed with his hands deep between his thighs. The nurse ran onto the pitch and began to massage the afflicted area. After a while she asked if the fielder was feeling any better. "Mostly I'm great," he said, "except for my thumb where the ball hit it."

Monday, 14 March 2016

Quite a difference - Sunday 13th March 2016

The sun shone. It was only 8 degrees but when the wind dropped it was nice enough to do some gardening. Mostly I just cleaned the pump in the pool because it hasn't been touched since November. I don't turn it off for the winter and then the pond always has an area free of ice.

After lunch I went over to Wyevale and did two hours with John Cassie. That was the bonus. The downside was we did very little trade. It's amazing how invisible you can be to hundreds of people. Perhaps we should have taken the Marie Curie daffodil hats along.

This underlines the problem of being the world's largest unknown organisation. Those that do recognise the Lions were friendly and supportive, but a couple even offered abuse, which upset John more than me, because I am more used to suffering brickbats.

Cambridge University Botanic Gardens

This is a very user friendly site. Covering 40 acres it can boast 8000 plant species gathered from all over the world. With such a massive collection it means that the garden has something to offer at any time of the year.

Cambridge University spent a couple of hundred years trying to establish a proper botanic garden to facilitate research, but they had to wait until 1760 until they could claim some success. This grew in popularity and it was realised that a larger site would be required. The first tree in today's Botanic Garden was planted in 1846.

Landscaping began but it took a long time to develop the whole site, and to add the obligatory lake. Development continued over the next 150 years and today the garden can boast some very impressive research features.

Courtesy of the High Sheriff of Cheshire: Noah's Ark was built by volunteers. The Titanic was built by professionals.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Yesterday's man - Saturday 12th March 2016

I have been going to Lion's Conventions for 34 years. In the early days we went in a group and the idea was to have a party, but I always came home with some spark of inspiration. I have never forgotten the first time I heard "Touch a life with hope."

This year's MD105BS Convention was at Cranage Hall, just by Holmes Chapel in Cheshire. I'd never been there before.

I collected Harry Taylor at 8am, having scraped ice off the car and filled up with fuel on the way. The journey up to Cranage was only 62 miles and we were signed in and drinking a cup of tea by 9.05am.

There were quite a lot of faces that I knew, several that I would call friends, too many faces missing, and the feeling that my time is running out at 105BS.

We would go to Convention from Lichfield at least a dozen strong. We enjoyed our Lionism and the idea was hatched that we could host the Convention, and so we did. A District Governor came to us and said that the District was headed for disaster. The DG-elect was about to be charged with malfeasance and would bring the district into disrepute. He presented a strong case to our club and pleaded with us to oppose the man's election at the 1988 Convention, so when the time came, I stood and asked for a vote of no confidence.

I was soundly defeated and the man became District Governor. Time past and it became clear that we had been misdirected. There was no malfeasance (it wasn't the only time this was tried on us). I got a phone call from the new DG and he offered me a minor role on his District Cabinet. I asked if he was truly aware that it was me that had tried to stop his appointment, and he said he did. So, I thought, keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

I did my best for the man that year and I learned a lot about Lionism. I watched the best and most inspirational speakers and noted that they rarely ever used notes. They spoke from the heart, and I resolved that would be what I would do. But first I had to right a wrong.

At the District Convention in Lichfield, as soon as it was officially opened I walked to the stage, took over the lectern and issued a public apology to the man. I was very emotional and don't remember walking back to my seat, but apparently the entire hall stood for me.

Shortly after Convention the new Governor rang me. Would I be his District Secretary? I said yes and we had an amazing year, one of my best in Lionism. I would do the job again in a flash, but have never been asked. At Ernie's final Convention we sat toasting our year and he said he really appreciated what I had done for him, especially as I was the fourth person that he'd asked!

The next Governor gave me a minor role, because he'd promised the job of District Secretary to someone else a long time ago. The new DS did nothing and I did it all, but with no one's knowledge. A few weeks later there was a knock on my door and two Lichfield Lions said they'd come to persuade me to stand for DG. I said it was the most ridiculous suggestion - I was far too busy setting up a new business.

They asked what would be required to make me change my mind and I said it would mean that I would never go anywhere on my own. Someone would always have to be with me so that I could work in the car whilst they drove. A rota was drawn up and the club was good to their word. Pauline and I carried our 274 functions in 1993/94, and Lichfield Lions were with us every step of the way.

When my year was over I served the District Cabinet as Immediate Past District Governor. During that year I was approached by the Multiple District to ask if I would serve on the committee that would plan the International Convention in Birmingham in 1996 (only the second time it was to occur in Europe to that point).

This was an intense couple of years and our leader (PDG Doug Cross) suggested we all pull away from our respective Cabinets because the work load was so high. I did. I was alone in that action.

The International Convention was a huge success and the eleven of us involved received plaudits and awards, no one more deserving than Doug. When that was over I was asked if I would become MD Officer looking after Leos. As their Convention clashed with 105BS, I was not able to attend my own district, for seven long years, by which time I had become the forgotten man.

My involvement with Talking Newspapers nationally meant that this was actually a relief and I never thought about Cabinet again until a desperate DG rang and asked if I would be Zone Chairman. As this was a role I had never filled, I agreed, and enjoyed that experience. I was asked at one time to deliver the Invocation at Convention, which I did, in a way that had never been experienced before.

Last year I was asked to do it again, and I regard that as my swan song. It turned out to be quite emotional and I got another ovation, which was a total surprise, but it regenerated me for a while. I have never sought office but I thought that if I was asked again, I would do it if I could.

However, I realised today at Convention that no such request will come. MD105 is about to be redistricted. Our Zone will leave 105BS and join a new District based on MD105M and MD105W. I will be a new boy, an unknown, and as such I realise that my days in the higher ranks of Lionism are over.

This is probably a good thing because Talking Newspapers need my input and effort and I have to accept that I am no longer a spring chicken, but I will be a little bit saddened to know that the chapter that was the last thirty years is drawing to a close.

Cranage Hall

My brain hurts. Today one of the presenters showed us a picture and said "This is unique. There are only three of them."