Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Diary - Tuesday 30th August 2016

This was a day of two halves - busy and enjoyable.

I started early and cleared a few tasks, then went into Lichfield. First port of call was Barclays Bank, and then Ansons. Here I took details of a new listener and also handed over two applications for funding. Next it was Lloyds Bank followed by a gentle stroll up Dam Street to the cathedral and a meeting with John Morgan, Bev and Judith in the Chapters Tea Rooms.

Bev and Judith are relatively new to the SNA and our bounding with ideas. John, as at the last meeting, frequently commented that we've tried that and it doesn't work.

When I first joined the Lions, I was full of ideas and enthusiasm. One thing I know about my ideas is that only about one in a hundred will work. So I come up with two hundred ideas so that I can produce two good ones. As I revealed my ideas I was constantly being told "Tried that, it doesn't work." I found that dispiriting.

As I took more responsibility and rose to the giddy heights of District Governor I adopted a different policy, so as not to discourage. When someone new came up with an old idea, I would say "We tried that and it didn't work for us. Try again if you like and see if you can make it happen." If they fail, you can say "Well, you tried." - (not I told you so). If it works, so much the better.

This afternoon we swapped our old Auris for a much newer one. This has 14,400 miles on the clock, so isn't run in properly yet, and is hybrid, so I'm hoping for some major savings in fuel.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Catton Hall and Park

Catton Hall is just 6 miles from Lichfield, tucked behind the National Memorial Arboretum, beside the River Trent and just inside Derbyshire, at DE12 8LN. Though it is so close and hosts all manner of events (we went there to a rock concert a few years ago) we had never been inside the house.

The main reason for that has been timing. The house is only open to speculative public visits on 8 days a year. However, if you are part of a corporate event, an organised and pre-booked tour, or even a wedding, then you will get inside and face the same greeting we did - which was warm.

People have lived at Catton for over 1000 years. The Saxons lost control and William the Conqueror gifted the estate to Nigel d'Albani, and his descendants held it until 1405.

The house was bought by the Horton family and they have been owners in residence ever since, although several inheritances were on the distaff side and so the family name changed a few times. It is said that the original chapel on the estate fell into disrepair and a curse was placed on the family to the effect that no man would inherit the estate until the chapel was replaced. Flights of fancy or not, no man did inherit until the chapel was replaced.

The original house was replaced in 1745 and the Baroque styled Catton Hall has stood since that date, though with a few alterations to help cope with different family situations. The house is full of treasures, including two or three portraits by Gainsborough, plus a couple of copies when the originals were sold to help finance the estate.

One name that crops up frequently when looking at stately homes and such is Lord Byron, and he was related to the family. He was introduced to Ann Wilmot-Horton at a ball and wrote the poem that begins

She walks in beauty, like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies

And all that's best of dark and bright

Meet in the aspect of her eyes.

There is what appears to be a handwritten, well preserved paper with the full poem on in Byron's handwriting. Whether the original or a personalised copy matters not: It is there for all visitors to see.

Our tour was conducted by the lady of the house - Katie Neilson. This was the most comprehensive tour we have enjoyed in a very long time, humorous but full of facts, information, plus a couple of doubts.

What was also very clear is that this is a family home that welcomes guest. The day room and the drawing room include an array of family photos and there were children’s drawing stuck to the wall in anticipation of a family invasion. The dining room was large enough to seat 50 diners, but we were told that the family could sit around the main table, leaving room for the children to ride around on the bikes.

You don’t get that at Chatsworth.

Diary - Monday 29th August 2016

I kept up my recent good run of productivity. I cleared the sudden influx of e-mails and then went into Lichfield. John Morgan had asked me to meet at the Chapters Tea Room at 10.30. I hung around for 20 minutes and later found he meant Tuesday 30th, not Monday 29th. But it wasn't time wasted. The sun felt beautifully warm, the town was half deserted, I bought varnish and yeast (for two different reasons) and then got back to other tasks.

We have an ornamental heron beside our pool that is supposed to put real herons off. It doesn't! Maybe it was the rust colour. Whatever, it isn't rusty now. I gave the old bird a sharp rub down and a nice glossy new coat. I also treated our garden bench and it no longer looks derelict.

This afternoon, at 2pm precisely, we and 14 other visitors were treated to a tour of Catton Hall. Just six miles away and passed by us every time we went to Burton from Elford, we had never been in the house.

I'd go again, and pay more attention.

Monday, 29 August 2016

St Nicholas Gardens, Richmond

The St Nicholas gardens belong to the oldest continuously occupied house in Richmond, Yorkshire (DL10 7EN). It would be more accurate to say the site has been occupied the longest.

It is known that a medieval hospital was operating as such as far back as 1171. However, it was rebuilt by William Ayscough in Tudor times, around 1448, using stones that were already there, supplemented by stones from nearby ancient ruins.

The house is now owned by the sportsman Keith Schellenberg, famous in Britain in the spheres of bobsleigh, rugby and motor sports. The house is not open to the public. Individuals and small groups are welcomed into the gardens on one Sunday a month from May to August, but larger parties are more welcome, though by arrangement.

Situated on the River Swale, the grounds cover 7 acres. The beautiful gardens were created by Bobby James in 1905. Separated by hedges and topiary, the 14 units include a Formal garden, Rose garden, Cottage garden and the Potager and Herbs gardens.

St Nicholas Gardens

Diary - Sunday 28th August 2016

This was a lovely day, and so full. Would that they could all be as productive. Maybe I've got my second wind - for the third or fourth time.

I had application forms to fill in for two of the Lichfield charities and I want to hand deliver them on Tuesday, so I got down and did them. Now in the mood I found three more national charities with application closing dates of the end of August, so that was the rest of the morning gone.

Pauline brought Rita back for the day and we were able to sit outside for the afternoon. I unblocked a downpipe, made business cards for two of the SNA members, and got a payment ready for the bank on Tuesday.

It doesn't seem much when written down, but it was satisfying to see the pile of paperwork on my desk just thinning by the hour.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Rokeby Park

Rokeby (pronounced Rookbee, due to having been in Yorkshire until the boundary change put it in County Durham) is at least the third house to be built on this site. The first was destroyed by the Scots in retaliation for the hammering they were getting from Edward (Longshanks) I. That was towards the end of the 13th century.


Some 150 years later the estate passed to the Robinson family. Sir Thomas Robinson was a well respected amateur architect and he designed and then built a Palladian-style, starting in 1735.


Eventually the estate was bought by the Morritt family, and Sir Andrew is the current holder. The house was the setting for the Rokeby Venus ( originally known as the Toilet of Venus). A copy is on display, the original having gone to the National Gallery. Among the other treasures on display is a collection of needlework pictures by Ann Morritt. There is also some fine furniture and a large amount of artwork in all rooms.


This is one garden that Capability Brown never got to see. In fact, no landscaper ever touched it. The Rokeby family and the Robinsons afterwards considered that nature alone had done such a good job that it would be left completely natural.

Visitors to the house (DL12 9RZ) don't get the chance to explore the gardens. The house is open on Monday and Tuesday from April to September, but that can change and it is worth checking in advance to either book or ensure the house is open.

Rokeby Park

Diary - Saturday 27th August 2016

Sunshine, showers and the odd mean downpour. We enjoyed the nice bits.

We went to Ventura Park to get gear for the garden and gluten-free food for Rita. We did what we could outside - Pauline tidying the edges and weeding, me doing the pool and cleaning the BBQ - then we simply got out of the rain.

This may be the last gentle day for a while so we took full advantage.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Niagara Falls

There was a period of about a dozen years when I went to the Detroit Auto Show at the beginning of every February. Usually I would fly direct and stay a week, but occasionally I would land in Boston or New York and travel, usually up to Buffalo, then cross into Canada and go the short route.

The first time I did this the falls were frozen solid. This was quite an experience and I didn't realise just how dramatic this was until someone pointed to a large crack in the ice and said "You could fit the Maid of the Mist in that crack."

The next time I went the water was flowing well, but we stayed over night and saw how much of the water is diverted through the weir into the hydroelectric system at night-time.

The amount of water that plunges over the three falls that make up Niagara is staggering. The Maid of the Mist (surprisingly reasonably priced) will take you right into the mist to the edge of the fall and you cannot help but be awed.

The smallest of the falls is called the Bridal Veil. Next biggest is the American Falls, which drop 100 feet at their highest point. Finally, on the Canadian side, is the mighty Horseshoe Falls with its 170 feet drop.

The falls are estimated to be over 10,000 years old, and at the very least they are 6.8 miles away from where they first started. Erosion is constant and the falls edge back towards Lake Eerie all the time, as the huge flow of water surges on towards Lake Ontario.

We had friends that live near Toronto and one summer we met them at Niagara. This was a different experience again. Gillian said she is still awe-struck even though she'd been the falls at least 20 times. Her husband barely looked at them whilst we were there, but I'm on Gill's side. I can't imagine seeing them and not being breathless.

The American Falls

The Horseshoe Falls

Niagara frozen

Diary - Friday 26th August 2016

I'm always good for nothing on a Friday, but today I resolved to be more productive. It almost happened.

I did my blog and a couple of bits of paperwork. Then I took the sacks to the Sorting Office, and then Pauline suggested I go and buy the Auris that we saw on Tuesday. So I did.

It is a hybrid with 14,400 miles on the clock, so should see me through the next ten years.

When I got back I mowed our lawns and the front lawn for next door, cooked what I had planned to be a mouth-watering meal, but something got in the way.

Daniel rang to say that he had had an accident in his campervan. It had been taken away for repair, but the car that was supposed to collect them all and take them to their next destination hadn't turned up. I was prepared to go and take them home but instead we booked a room for them in Hereford, but it took a long time to arrange, by which time my rib eye steaks were a bit blackened.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Helmingam Hall

You will be very lucky if you get to see any of the treasures of Helmingam Hall, but you are very welcome to explore the gardens or get married there.

Having looked at one moated house in Norfolk, here is another, in Suffolk at IP14 6EF. The building of the house began around 1480 on the site of Creke Hall. John Tollemache set about building a grand family home, and it has stayed in the family ever since, albeit not all members treated it with TLC.

The original hall was completed around 1510 and it was a half-timbered house with two drawbridges, both of which have been raised and lowered every day since 1510.

Major changes occurred in 1745 to 1760, 1800 and 1840. The half timber was nor removed but was placed out of sight beneath a layer of half-thick bricks that are held in place by wooden pegs.

One of the major treasures that we know about is a John Rose viol, dated 1580. The story says that it was donated by Queen Elizabeth I after one of her visits. If it was, it certainly wasn’t on her first visit because that was in 1561, nineteen years before the viol was crafted.

Along the way, in common with many of the formerly grand British stately home, Helmington Hall fell into disrepair, and might well have been demolished. However, John Tollemache, 4th Lord, decided to make the hall his home in 1953. Apart from the neglect he found it without electricity or drinking water (except for dips in the moat).

Today the hall is a delight to gaze upon, sitting safely beyond its moat in the middle of a large park that is the home to red deer. Also to be found in the grounds are rare butterflies and moths, seven different types of bat, and the increasingly elusive slow worm.

The gardens were brought up tp scratch with major changes to the Parterre in 1987 and the Knot and Herb gardens in 1982. In all there are fourteen sections of gardens to enjoy, including the wildflower garden and the orchard, and there are lovely walks to explore, especially the Apple Walk.

Helmingham Hall

Diary - Thursday 25th August 2016

I always go to the Talking News on a Thursday night full of good intent, but by the time I get there I have rarely got the will.

The weather wasn't kind (at times it was dreadful) so that helped keep me at my desk. I started early and had the Stevenage Talking News recorded and the masters finished an hour ahead of norm. That gave me time to process three new listeners.

I only had two ladies for the Live at Home today, and both fitted neatly under my big umbrella. If any of the people that go to this weekly gathering can afford to be robbed, it is Elma, but the loss of her purse in Poundland in the week really knocked. It's not the money, it's the violation. I hope the damage this has done is temporary.

I went to the studio, ran off Stevenage, finished Scotland and Gwent and ran those off as well. This new practice is working well. Pauline was out with Gill, but both she and Paul dropped in for a coffee. I got the Mercury, prepared the news and was back at the studio for 6.30pm.

Ben was back from the Edinburgh Fringe, which helped because Philomena is still in Ireland looking after her mother, and so Keith read whilst I did the recording. It's always good fun when Joe is on the team because he has a wealth of crazy monologues. He's being doing one every three weeks since he started years ago, and hasn't run out of new (very old) material yet.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Oxburgh Hall

Built at Oxborough, near Kings Lynn in Norfolk, Oxbru Hall (as it is pronounced) is now run by the National Trust and can be found at PE33 9PS.

Owned by the Bedingfeld family, the house - described as a Medieval Moated Great House - involved quite a lot of Henrys over the years.

The house is quite imposing, featuring a grand entrance. The front and sides are substantial. There is a large courtyard and a less substantial rear. Parts of the building are crenelated, though the house was never intended to be a fortress, simply an expression of wealth.

Sir Edmund Bedingfeld built the hall in 1482. The family were all strong Catholics which, at times, benefited them whilst more likely it led to looting, fire damage and dereliction. That it survived at all is quite a wonder.

In 1553 the first of the Henrys supported Queen Mary and was duly rewarded. He was also very lucky because he was the jailer of the soon-to-be Queen Elizabeth I. He kept her for two years, first at the Tower of London and then at Woodstock. On the one hand he kept her away from Protestants who would have supported her, but on the other hand he kept her safe from Catholics who would have seen her off. He did pay for his actions because Elizabeth stripped him of all his appointments and standings, but his life was spared. He died in 1583.

Many heavy fines were levied on the family and this led to the estate falling into deep debt and unable to carry out necessary maintenance. However, when Charles I became King he took some of the pressure off. This made the Bedingfelds more supportive of royalty and the current Sir Henry fought at Marston Moor. However, he was on the wrong side and spent 2 years in the Tower of London as a result - the place where his ancestor had been the Warden.

Whilst Sir Henry was incarcerated, Oxburgh Hall was ransacked and quite severely burnt.

When Charles II was restored to the throne, the third of the Henrys, now Baronet, returned to Oxburgh in 1661 and began to restore what he could. The 4th Henry, known as Great Sir Harry, continued and rebuilt most of the house and also created the gardens. However, he also faced persecution and died in 1704.

Next came Sir Henry Arundell Bedingfeld and he did the clever thing and married the Protestant Elizabeth Boyle in 1719. In 1725 the grand new entrance was created, then much was again destroyed after the fire of 1748.

Richard Bedingfeld inherited in 1760. He married Mary Browne of Cowdray and she brought with her a considerable amount of money, plus embroidery by Bess of Hardwick and the ill-fated Mary Queen of Scots - work she had done whilst under arrest. Richard and Mary had big plans for the house, but she died three weeks after giving birth in 1767.

This turned Richard into something of a recluse and he rarely left the hall. Eventually he regained interest and in 1775 commenced all the major changes.

The house then prospered until one of the Bedingfeld owners decided to go and live in Flanders, leaving the estate to be let. This was a bad move because the status of the tenants mattered not, they did not have the interests of the house at heart and once again it fell into decline.

Another Henry took possession back in 1826. He married Margaret Paston and decided some housekeeping was in order. In 1830 he wrote to a relative from "The Ruin" but then proceeded to make the house a home again.

Sadly the family again came on hard times and the house was sold in 1950 to cover debts. However, it was bought back on extremely good terms in 1951 and then given to the National Trust in 1952. The family still have a close connection and one elderly survivor still stays at the house from time to time.

Oxburgh Hall

Diary - Wednesday 24th August 2016

Nothing much to say, except Wednesday is now harder than Thursday, which is quite a shift after 35 years.

I watched the sun rise into a blue sky. I got up and the clouds rolled in. I did some paperwork for a while and at 10.30 I went to the Sorting Office, where there were seven sacks of returns. That's the most ever.

By the time I got home, the sun was out again and it got quite hot, though short of yesterday's high.  We processed the returns out on the patio, and with two of us working on them we were able to finish in just over two hours.

Pauline took Rita over to Dorridge to see Louise and Molly. I took some rubbish to the tip, including our old lawnmower, and then I did a couple of little maintenance jobs. Next I downloaded the news for Scotland and Wales, but there were no magazines.

I went to the studio at 6,45pm and there were three readers, so I was able to do a couple of short tasks in between recording the tracks. I was home by 8,45pm.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Trentham Gardens

The estate was mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086. In 1150 it was gifted to the Earl of Chester and over the next two years he built a priory.

The Crown reclaimed the estate in 1153 and turned it into a Royal Deer Park. By 1315 it had become a major sheep rearing area and exported wool as far away as Italy.

King Henry VIII got involved. In 1536 he leased it to Richard Trentham (from whom the name was established). However, just two years later he gave the estate to the Duke of Suffolk, who lasted only two years himself before he sold it to James Leveson.

The Leveson family were made of sterner stuff and controlled the estate until 1948. They commissioned Capability Brown to develop the gardens and the lake  and he gave it attention from 1759 to 1780. In 1833 George Granville built the hall that we see today. He also had the Italianate Gardens created.

After the Leveson family lost control in 1948, everything went into decline and in 1979 the estate was sold to John Broome, whose intention was to turn it into a vast leisure centre to rival the likes of Alton Towers. However, his finances ran dry and in 1996 estate was taken over by the St Modwen Properties, and they proved to be the saviours that were needed.

What you see today is a tribute to their endeavours.

When you enter the gardens your main choices are to turn left or right. We went right but on reflection left would be better (provided you are up to a two mile stroll around the lake) because then you arrive at the main gardens rather than start with them, as we did.

All across the estate we saw evidence of rebuilding and regrowth. People were working in overgrown areas and were clearly enrapt in what they were doing. It is remarkable that the Italianate Garden was only restored in 2013.

We passed through the Rivers of Grass, the Floral Labyrinth, the Italianate Garden, paid tribute to Perseus as he displayed the head of Medussa, and then circumnavigated the mile long lake. We saw several species of butterfly, many different dragon fly, evidence of otters, all manner of water birds, included mute swan, coot, cormorants and herons.

The whole area was a blaze of colour, and I hope the photos reflect that.

If there is any particular place or area of Britain you would like me to include, please let me know at

Diary - Tuesday 23rd August 2016

OK, so the jobs outstanding are still there - and growing - but the sun doesn't shine like it did when I was a boy. Well, it's that much older, just like me.

When we saw those blue skies I asked Pauline where she would like to go. She thought first about searching for a replacement car for me, but I am not in a headlong rush. I'm buying a used car and there will be a glut of those in two weeks time, with the change in registration plates.

So we went to Trentham Gardens.

I haven't been in the gardens themselves for at least 35 years, and even then it was for a specific event and I didn't get to look around. Pauline had never been in.

The problem is that Trentham offers you the best of several worlds. First of all there is the Outlet Retail area, then there is a really good garden centre, there is also the Monkey Forest, and you have the gardens.

There was a long queue when we got there, but it processed quickly and then we were through to enjoy lovely surroundings, 29 degrees of heat, a long walk by our standards (4 miles in all - but that was our choice. It could have been shorter or longer) and the genius that was Capability Brown.
Afterwards we drove over to Burton on Trent to look at Toyota models again. I couldn't find a Prius that met my criteria, but was certainly taken by an Auris Hybrid.

As I said, just a fortnight should see a decision.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Wark Castle - and Flodden

Wark Castle is a heap of stones lying where they fell when the castle was demolished in 1549. It was a motte and bailey castle and was never very successful as a defence against the Scots.
There were four castles in the area meant to keep the marauding Scots at bay. Norham was the more important, but that was also captured on a fairly regular basis, plus there was Etal and Ford. Norham and Wark were supposed to protect the easy routes across the River Tweed, and the other two were back-ups.
Wark was built in 1136 by Walter Espec. Two years later the Scots knocked it to the ground. In 1157 it was rebuilt and seemed to survive until the time of the Battle of Flodden.
The main thing I learned about Flodden is that the battle never took place there. Henry VIII had barnstormed his way to the English throne and had immediately tried to upset the peace that had been settled between England and Scotland by his predecessors. His demands for fealty were rebuffed and he went away and thought about it.
Henry didn't like the fact that Scotland had an alliance with France, and so he considered them both enemies. Scotland was ruled by James IV, and he seems to have been a very level headed, thoughtful and above all, peaceful man. For about twenty years the filibustering went on and in the end Henry decided to make war with France, and took his main army across the channel. James saw this as a major opportunity and he moved a 40,000-strong army south into Northumberland. He crossed the Tweed with ease, captured Norham in just six days and had Wark simply by knocking on the front door.
The English reserve army of 26,000 men were sent to meet the foe. James moved his army to Flodden Hill and set up camp waiting for the enemy.
Unfortunately for James, the army was led by the elderly Thomas Howard and his son. They had fallen out of favour with Henry and had been banished to what was considered a nothing job. Howard desperately needed to restore favour, and so did not want a defeat at any cost, even against far superior forces.
When Howard reached the area around Flodden, James sent him a letter detailing where and when the battle would take place. Howard sent a letter back saying "I don't think so." This is where it became the Game of Thrones. James sent another letter to Howard saying that he was the King and Howard was not, and so therefore James would decide where and when.
Howard packed up his camp and moved.
However, he did not go south but instead he went east, until he was seemingly far enough from the Scots not to feel threatened. At least, that's what the Scots thought.
The Battle of Flodden actually took place at Branxton Hill in 1513. Howard moved his troops north, then west, and parked them atop Branxton Hill, which is where James found them when he started to move back towards Scotland.
Several things happened at Flodden that made this battle very different. It was the first battle in which heavy artillery was used. It was the last battle in which bows and arrows were used (quite successfully by the English) and it was the last battle where an British monarch lost his life.
To begin with the Scots had the upper hand and were decimating one of the English flanks by use of pikes. But they were operating on soggy ground which hindered their progress and reinforcements arrived and broke down that attack. The other main thrusts by the Scots met fierce resistance, and when James IV fell, mortally wounded (and hacked about quite badly), the Scots turned tail, leaving behind 10,000 dead. The English lost 4,000 men.
Whilst Wark did remain for a few years after, it was decided that it hadn't been much use in any of the invasions by the Scots, and so in 1549 it was demolished. When Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne a few years later, she not only agreed that Wark should not be rebuilt, she said Norham could rot away, and so it did.
the remains of Wark Castle

Diary - Monday 22nd August 2016

Couldn't stay away from the computer any longer. If you don't prune those jobs outstanding they just grow faster than weeds. There were 36 tasks today, and I cleared just four of them.

My biggest task in the next few weeks is to raise big money for the Talking News. We are growing almost by the day and running out of funds even faster. I wrote four very important letters and got them in the post.

We walked into town, It had felt quite cool at home and it was very cloudy outside, but the heat was there and my breath came in short pants, as they say. Short pants are appropriate on a hot day.

I folded 1200 of the Barton under Needwood leaflets. Tonight we had a meeting to plan the morning of action, which will be in three weeks. There were four there from Barton, plus Geoff from Tamworth and Graham and Mark from Cannock. We are hoping for kind weather on that Sunday morning because there is the Lichfield 10K Run, the leaflet drop, followed by lunch at the Waterfront at Barton Marina.

Monday, 22 August 2016


Bewilderwood can be found at Horning in Norfolk, at NR12 8JW. You approach down a short lane into two large fields that are used for parking. When we went, one of them was already full. We walked up to the entrance and were greeted enthusiastically. The cost of entry for four of us was £58, and my initial reaction was that I hoped it was worth it. It was.


You proceed to a landing jetty and wait for a boat. In our case it was a good ten minutes but the man greeting us was in really good form, distracting the younger members, interacting with the adults and being very imaginative in his descriptions. You wait at a small pool which leads to a creek. Once on board, the ferryman begins a story that paints the scene for the kids and lasts just long enough for the journey down the creek into a larger pool and the start of the adventure.


The signage is helpful. The first one pointed 'This Way', 'That Way' and upwards to 'Sky'. There were lots of little signs that were helpful and humorous, especially signs explaining why you shouldn't drop litter or smoke.


There are at least eighteen activity attractions and many are quite impressive, especially the Sky Maze where participants rise into the trees, cross walkways and rope bridges, traversing on three levels and over considerable distances, often finding the same point over and over. But they get out of it eventually.


Essentially Bewilderwood is aimed at the young, but there is enough there of interest for it to be a good day out for anyone, even a grey hair like me.



Diary - Sunday 21st August 2016

A Christening is another event when you realise just how near to the edge you are in family or friendship structures. Of course, when it is your own child or a grandchild, you are central or close to it, but when it is the child of a niece (and a niece by marriage in this case) then you find yourself quite in the minority.

I have known Louise since she was born. I watched her grow and marry Neil. We celebrated the birth of Mollie. Today we celebrated her Christening, and the church and the reception afterwards were packed with faces I either didn't know, or had never spoken to the owner.

But this was a lovely day. We collected Rita and made the 35 minute trip south to Dorridge where a good crowd was already assembling. Helen, Dave, Jessica and Megan were already there, but Robert and Daniel are both on holiday. Helen had put her holiday back two days so that they could be there.

Gerard is the grandfather and is brother to Pauline. Margaret is grandmother and we have known her since she and Ged were at university together.

This was a lovely occasion, but there was only one star. Mollie took everything in, was very cool and captured by what was going on in the church, and only cried (it seemed to me) when the attention was too much in her face - or she wanted feeding!

Mollie Keating

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Thrumpton Hall

Close to the city of Nottingham, at NG11 0AX, can be found Thrumpton Hall. Visits can be arranged, but don't go alone, unless you are a guest at a wedding.

A house existed on the site and was owned by the Powdrell Family, but they were staunch Roman Catholics at the wrong time. They became involved in the Babington Plot, which brought their downfall and the destruction of their home.

The Babington Plot was intended to see the invasion of England by Spanish troops, the death of Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots placed on the throne in her place. Letters that had been intended to be kept secret were intercepted, and many would-be traitors paid the price.

The Pigot Family took over the site and built the main part of the hall in 1617, Successive members of the family added further to what was there. Eventually the hall came into the possession of the Byron family, and the hall shows visitors many relics of the days that the poet Lord Byron spent there.

Possession remained with the family, although passing through several branches until the Seymour branch took over in 1949. Miranda Seymour is the current owner, and she is also the principle guide when visits are arranged.

The hall is a popular wedding venue and visitors get to see the impressive library, medieval kitchen, plus a host of portraits and furniture. There is the obligatory priest hole, essential given the history of the site, but the main attraction is probably the Jacobean staircase that became the focal point of the house around 1650.

Thrumpton Hall

Diary - Saturday 20th August 2016

There were a couple of disturbances in the night and I woke still tired. So I determined this would be another wind-down day.

Pauline went off to do a food shop for Rita, plus she had the Auris cleaned whilst she was in the shop, then she did a food shop for us. Meanwhile I mainly pithered, but I did clear some paperwork and then Peter Fox arrived to help solve the problems with my printer. He successfully connected it wirelessly to my computer, but it does seem that the leaflets I've been printing for Barton have been very heavy on the ink.

This afternoon we went over to Burton on Trent to look for a new car. Last week the Toyota garage had been advertising some interesting Prius models, but they had all gone by this afternoon. Too interesting, obviously.

Pauline took Rita to church tonight so I cooked a cottage pie whilst she was out. I also hoovered upstairs and fixed a problem in the bathroom. We ate the pie, watched the biopic film about the life of Shirley Bassey, and retired reasonably early, because tomorrow is all about family, and our youngest member.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Norham Castle

For some 450 years, Norham Castle was one of the main defences against invasion by the Scots. The two main routes into Scotland used by invaders was via Carlisle in the west and Northumberland in the west. Three castles were established at points along the River Tweed in Northumberland where the river was shallow enough to allow for arms and men to cross. Norham was built in 1120 by Bishop Ranulf Flambard. The other castles were at Berwick and Wark.

Northumberland is as far from London as you can get in England and so the power for controlling the area was handed to the bishops, who became known as Prince Bishops.

Such was the importance of the castle to the defences of the north that it was besieged at least nine times, and actually fell four times. There were two very lengthy besiegement's, one of 7 months and one of eleven. One of the reasons that the incumbents were able to survive under siege was that the water was almost unpalatable and so it was turned into beer. That would have eased the burdens manifold.

Built in 1120, it first came under attack in 1136. In 1138 it was captured and quite badly damaged, but was rebuilt in 1155.

In 1215 it withstood a 40 day besiegement, in 1318 Robert the Bruce tried for 11 months and in 1319 there was another 7 months siege. There didn't seem to be much rest between attacks. Another major attempt to capture the castle occurred in 1322, it fell - very briefly - in 1327, it was surrounded by Lancastrian forces for 18 days in 1462, before the Yorkists arrived and drove them off. It was again besieged in 1495.

In 1513 King James IV of Scotland brought heavy artillery and pounded the outer walls to collapse, it was restored in 1521, but by 1596 had again fallen into disrepair and Queen Elizabeth I declared that no more money would be spent on rebuilding the castle. So what you see today is what the castle has looked like for the best part of 400 years.

It is worth a visit. The castle (at TD15 2JY) is run by English Heritage and is open from April to September and the guides are well informed and make the trip worthwhile.

Norham Castle

Diary - Friday 19th August 2016

Friday is my day off and today, more or less, was just that.

We woke early as the rain set in. Typical because Pauline was off for lunch at the Mercia Marina with the rest of the girls.

I took the recordings to the Sorting Office and then battled my way over to Wilnecote in driving rain to see Steve Searle. Steve has been one of the two main stalwarts of the Staffordshire Neurological Alliance and was a founder member. However, he has recently suffered some health setbacks and, as I tell everyone, family and health must come first. So I relieved him of a car load of encumbrances.

I called in at the Toyota showroom in Tamworth on the way back, but they didn't have a Prius for me to look at. Next I went to see a new listener at the top end of Lichfield, and that was the morning done.

I counted 38 e-mails that needed a response, plus 33 other tasks outstanding (not including painting, decorating and gardening), but this was my day off, so I sat and read half a book until Pauline got home.

She had had a lovely day, but was evidently tired. I noticed shadows under my eyes, something I've never seen before, so we watched a very gentle film and then had an early night.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Drum Castle

There is more to Drum Castle than first meets the eye. For a start is it much bigger than it would seem from the approach angle.

The main tower was built sometime during the 13th century and is largely unchanged. It can be found at Drumoak in Aberdeenshire, at AB31 5EY.

The castle was gifted to William de Irwyn by King Robert the Bruce in 1325. It remained in the Irwin Clan until 1975, some 650 years. The main extensions to the tower, creating the castle, occurred in 1619. There were a few other changes, mostly about 150 years ago, but by and large the castle has been as it is for around 400 years.

In 1975 it came under the control of the Scottish National Trust. They restrict visits to mainly the summer months. The castle is well worth a visit, but the gardens are spectacular in their own right. There is a well respected rose garden that features many historic roses, several rarely found elsewhere. The grounds devoted to gardens are extensive and warrant a full day for the visit.

Drum Castle

the historic rose garden

another Drum Castle garden

Diary - Thursday 18th August 2016

So this was just another Thursday, but with all that went on yesterday it actually felt much calmer and less pressured. We had our monthly hair cut. I fetched Rita round but there was no Gill or Paul this month.

I recorded the Stevenage Talking News and had it finished by 11am, because I started everything just that bit earlier today.

I did the Live at Home run. I have been taking a new lady lately. She used to go under her own steam but currently is not allowed to drive. She spends the whole journey, every week, bemoaning the fact that she has had her car keys taken away, and every week she demonstrates why. Today I got her to the Curborough Centre, she looked shame-faced and said "I think my house keys are in the front door."  They were.

There was only Ben missing tonight, still up at the Edinburgh Fringe. I hope he gets something out of this. He seems to me to be a potentially good journalist, but he needs a break.

The changes we made recently to the recording process and the duplicating are really paying off. I could barely load the duplicators fast enough and we were home by 9pm.

That's three hours earlier than in the bad old days.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Abergeldie Castle

In the years that I did the automotive, it became difficult for the vehicle manufacturers to make their launches attractive to the journalists. I'd have gone anywhere, but there was at least one major launch a week and often a couple of upgrades or facelifts. So various players tried to make their launches different, and as a result we stayed in some very exclusive places, and got access to stately homes and such that would not normally receive visitors.

I well remember one car launch in the Cotswolds where lunch was at a manor that had never featured before, and which wasn't on the tourist maps. One colleague from the Midland Group of Motor Writers was in front of me queuing for a bowl of soup. It was being ladled out by a distinguished looking gentleman whilst ladies saw to other tasks. My colleague, in his broad Black Country accent (where Birmingham becomes Brummagen) asked "So wots 'is lawdship like to work for?" to which an eyebrow rose and the cultured reply was "I'm told I'm very reasonable."

This roads trip started at Aberdeen and we were to head in the direction of Craithie, stopping for a break at 'the castle'. The only castle we were aware of in the area was Balmoral, and we couldn't imagine for a moment that that was where we were heading.

We were right.

Two miles short of Balmoral, on the backwater B976, we came to a lichen roofed farmhouse and a sign pointing to a track on the opposite side of the road. We followed this twisting track and came to a scene straight out of Highlander.

There, on the banks of the River Dee, was a square-based, four storey building that we discovered was called Abergeldie Castle.

This castle has been owned by the Gordon family since 1482, though they did not occupy it for great swathes of time. It was used as a garrison during the Jacobean uprisings, first by Dutch troops and later by Spanish, but it was also rented by the Royal Family from 1848 until 1972, until the Gordons moved back in.

It almost became an ex-castle in January of this year. The Dee flooded above usual levels and the ground that supports the castle was washed away. The whole building was in danger is being swept away, but Herculean efforts saw the foundations reinforced and we are happy to report that Abergeldie Castle is still there.

 Abergeldie Castle in peril
making it safe

Diary - Wednesday 17th August 2016

This was a day and a half.

The weather forecaster said "Wall to wall sunshine today" just as the clouds came roiling in and claiming all the sky. It did brighten up after lunch.

I started with 58 e-mails to action and I finished with 17 still to do. In the meantime I processed three new listeners and packaged their players for despatch. I did the SNA minutes. My missing ink arrived so I printed another 400 leaflets for Barton under Needwood Lions. I paid the balance for Reunion and sent information to several people who were requesting it.

I collected 5 full sacks from the Sorting Office, saw that Pauline was struggling with her back, so I banned her from touching them. She fetched Rita round for the afternoon and I spent three and a half hours processing the returns.

We had a great risotto that Pauline cooked and then it was the Wednesday crew at the Talking News. We got the Welsh and Scottish finished except for the magazines, so it was home for an earlyish night.

some of the returns

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Twycross Zoo

The internet will tell you that Twycross Zoo is in Leicestershire. I don't know when or how it moved across the border from Warwickshire, but for those planning to visit, it is at CV9 3PX.

The great thing about Twycross Zoo is that it is always changing. No visit is the same as any previous trip. We first went around 1972 or 73. Back then it was all about the PG Tips chimps. It reminded me of the original Birdland at Bourton on the Water because both original set-ups seemed to be around the main house on the estate. Now you struggle to find that house.

We have visited several times recently, as each set of grandchildren arrive for a few days, and the theme of the park has been different each time.

What impresses me most about Twycross is that although they only house 150 different species, many of them are highly endangered in the wild. The zoo now covers 88 acres and the amount of space allocated to each species has increased dramatically. In the early days the elephants and giraffes were displayed in relatively cramped enclosures. Now around one-eighth of the zoo is at their disposal and the environment they inhabit is much closer to natural conditions.

A sure sign that caged animals are bored or distressed is restless pacing. You won't see much of that at Twycross.

Amur leopard

Humbolt penguin




Diary - Tuesday 16th August 2016

Yet another gorgeous sunny day. The plan was to go to Twycross Zoo, with me going separately, spending a couple of hours with everyone and then going over to Rugeley for the monthly meeting of the Staffordshire Neurological Alliance. However, not everything went to plan.

Virgin sent me a new Wi-Fi router. We installed it as per instructions, and neither of my printers would work. Great timing with news to download and leaflets to print for Barton Lions. Robert spent an hour on it, managing to get my Epson running - which is fine for most things - but couldn't do the HP without us buying a USB cable.

So I didn't go. I did as much preparation as I could prior to the cable arriving and my deliver of ink to turn up, then it was over to Rugeley.

More people turned up than I expected for August. I saw more of a genuine wish to drive the SNA forward than I have of late, but we do have problems. We are short some key players and the burden on John Morgan just grows and grows. I know where he would like me to sit, but I would be the wrong choice, and the areas where I feel I can help the most don't seem to fit the plans.

What is clear is that now we have lost Steve and are currently without Trevor, I'm going to have to find more time to give to the SNA. If only I could get some extra help at the Talking News, that would make it a bit easier.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Cadbury World

Soon after the Second World War finished I had my first taste of Cadbury chocolate, and I've enjoyed it ever since. Everyone around me knew that Cadbury chocolate came from Bourneville, which was just the other side of Birmingham from where I lived in Warwickshire (pronounce warickshire).

Cadbury's was an eventual success story involving an entire family through several generations. It also involved its workforce in a way rarely experienced before.

John Cadbury started a business developing the potentials of the cocoa bean that was being imported from Central America. At first all enterprises centred on the drink qualities and specialist shops opened, especially in London, where you could sit and enjoy this wholesome new drink.

However, John began to experiment with other uses and opened a factory in Birmingham. By the time he was ready to hand over the reins to his sons George and Richard in 1861, the new management was keen to move and expand. They chose fields to the south of Birmingham where they would have room to expand, and they also had ready access to the canal system, which made transporting their products that much easier.

As the new factory grew and the workforce became involved in ways not employed elsewhere, the area around the new factory became Bourneville, and high quality houses for the workforce were built. The area is still regarded as upmarket and the village itself is worth investigating on foot.

The Cadburys were Quakers and the one rule that applied to everyone connected with Cadbury in any way was 'no alcohol'. Instead the company developed other drinks that it believed were more pleasant and definitely less damaging than the evil alcohol.

My only previous visit to Cadbury was in the mid 1970s. At that point there was a short tour of an area of the factory, and a chocolate reward at the end. How things have changed, and continue to change. The 4D cinema was only added in 2014 and it is clear that more changes will follow as virtual presentations improve.

Today's visitors go to a large, purpose built attraction that caters with more than half a million visitors a year. Go during school holidays and you won't get in unless you have booked in advance.

I wondered at the cost of the tickets, but two hours after arrival I was more than satisfied that I was getting my money's worth. It could take as long as four hours to take everything in, and you will be rewarded with chocolate as you take in the fourteen different areas that either explain the history of the Cadbury kingdom or demonstrate the skills of the chocolatier.

I'd certainly go again.
Cadbury World B30 2LU

Diary - Monday 15th August 2016

What a lovely warm day from start to finish - at last. We were on the road at 9am heading for Birmingham and the hallowed ground that is Villa Park. Aston Villa were formed as a football club in 1874 and at times rose to the highest heights. Right now they are down from the Premier to the Championship league, but with an enthusiastic new owner and a competent new manager, we hope for an early recovery, though sustained would be preferable.

Mick was our guide for 2 hours and he was excellent. He has the amazing ability to remember the names of a group of people he has only just met, and he drew facts and stories out of everyone. The tour lasted half an hour longer than planned because he kept thinking of different rooms to show us that weren't necessarily on the agenda.

From there we went to Cadbury's world, which was much better than expected by me. (see separate article).

This was a very full and highly enjoyable day.
Daisy & Harper hold a press conference