Some Fine Tudor Buildings – And Albert’s Shed!

When we went to Shrewsbury recently for my birthday lunch, we got lost. And when we made the return trip home, we got lost. Some helpful drivers assisted in rectifying our poor navigation by pomping their horns and making hand gestures. We did eventually find the vegan bistro and we also made it home in one piece – just.

While stopping and starting and turning around, I took some snaps of some of the Tudor buildings for which Shrewsbury is famous. Unfortunately I had left my camera at home and these were taken with my iPhone. The light was appalling, it poured down just after we left, so they don’t present this county town at its best, but do give a little flavour of the birthplace of Charles Darwin. There are over 660 listed medieval and Tudor timber-framed buildings from when the town was a centre for wool trading.

Here are a few: IMG_3878IMG_3875IMG_3821IMG_3814IMG_3819IMG_3788IMG_3874IMG_3820

Oh, and Albert’s Shed – I have no idea who Albert is or what’s in his shed, but to have one in the middle of Shrewsbury is pretty impressive!

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

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The Tour de France & A Parquet Tour de Force!

It’s that time of year again when the sun shines (theoretically), the men don their lycra for a cycling saunter around France and Chris gets house makeover ideas beyond her station! After a few years of not really tackling any major work on the house – I think the last big upheaval was for my mum’s 80th birthday celebration 7 years ago – last year, *we* (I ;-)) decided it was time to do over the front room, which had been neglected for many years. It was dark and dated, needed new curtains and carpets and I was dying to get rid of the 90s sofa, which to my embarrassment actually featured in an episode of Eastenders when Sharon and Phil ran the Queen Vic!  Despite its age, it was hardly used until recently when we had a woodburner installed in that room. I found the room depressing and wanted to lighten it up. Bit by bit, I eventually won over hb and that’s when we struggled over the decision to give away our old piano (see post links below).

At first, we were going to replace the carpet with good quality laminate flooring, but when we lifted it we found this: image

So we took the bit between our teeth, got some quotes and found it would cost no more to refurbish the old parquet than to buy good quality laminate or carpet. We had no idea what it would look like: Wayne of Acorn Floor Sanding aka wood floor doctor warned us it would be a lot lighter but other than that it was in the lap of the gods. We were lucky in that only a few blocks needed relaying, although there were many gaps needing to be filled and many of the blocks had warped as well as shrunk. There was also the hearth to take care of. We needed to replace and extend it as there was a strip of concrete where the old fireplace had been removed and there were no blocks to replace it. So we had that done first. The whole job took 4 days and we ended up with this:

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The fire recess is actually dark teal. We were so delighted with the result that we decided there and then we would save up and do the back room this year and then the hallway next year.

The back room is variously referred to as the kids’ room or Mum’s room, depending on who is occupying it at the time: it is the original dining room but we have always used it as an extra bedroom/playroom for the younger family members. More recently, my elderly mum has been using it as she can no longer use the stairs. And therein lies the problem: trying to arrange a room that is suitable for toddlers, teenagers and my elderly mum! The teenagers complain it’s too babyish, it’s also a bit boyish as it was predominantly used by the older three, but now we have girls and Mum too.

It was going to be a thankless task. Mum doesn’t like wood floors, she likes the comfort of carpet under her feet, is convinced wood floors make a room colder – they don’t – and worried about slipping, but it is not slippy at all.

Six weeks ago, we grasped this particularly prickly nettle, emptied the room, pulled up the carpet and found a much more difficult project awaiting:

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The blocks were badly stained with bitumen that had gradually worked its way through the many large gaps, the blocks were warped but also badly cut – few were squared off properly. There was a large concrete slab where the old fireplace was, plus cement-covered bricks supporting the sliding doors to the playroom. Worst of all, the entire room other than three sides of the border had to be relaid, a time-comsuming and expensive task.

A 4 day job turned into 9 days, Summer chose that week to pay a visit making it hot and sticky work. At one stage it looked like a humungous game of jenga was being played in there!

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A large tin of filler for the gaps would normally cover 5 rooms the size of ours but it only filled two thirds of the gaps here! Every day there was a problem that delayed procedings. The concrete slab was more difficult to remove than first assumed and the floor wasn’t level, spare blocks were needed and dowelling to fill the gap that still remained under the skirting board.

We had tried to source reclaimed blocks on eBay, the internet and a reclamation site in our local Bermuda triangle where even Silly Sally SatNav got us lost 3 times! All to no avail. We needed maple and we could only find pine and oak and not the right depth. Our carpenter neighbour came up trumps with a random box of various-sized blocks that someone had given him and he’d never used, and which turned out to be maple. They weren’t the right depth, but Wayne removed some originals from under a built-in cupboard where the space wouldn’t be seen, used those in the middle of the room and our neighbour’s were used to make a slight ramp up to the sliding doors over the brick supports.

This is after the first sanding:

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What a transformation already! It had 9 sandings in all, done corner to corner in 4 directions to go with the grain as much as possible. Then it was sealed with one coat of Bonakemi Traffic and 2 coats of Bonatraffic HD. This is a high quality low maintenance Italian satin finish recommended on a website about wood floors I discovered when researching the first room we did. It is hard wearing, not too shiny and requires no ongoing upkeep, unlike an oiled finish.

It was such hot, hard work and honestly there were times when I thought Wayne was losing the will to live! We kept him supplied with copious amounts of strong coffee and amusing (haha) anecdotes to keep his spirits up, and finally it was done.

Prepare to be stunned:

We are delighted with the result. The room is so much lighter and looks more spacious. I can’t praise Wayne’s work highly enough. A lot of improvisation and imagination was required as well as hard physical work in difficult weather conditions.

Mum came this last weekend. She loves the floor, said it’s beautiful, then ‘what kind of carpet are you going to put over it?!’

I need a rest, I’m off to watch skinny men in lycra riding bikes and swapping jerseys to see who fits what the best!

To read about our traumatic decision to give away our piano see:

Ode To Our Piano, a Faithful and Long-Suffering Friend

Ode to Our Piano – What Happened Next…

Ode to Our Piano: Guess What?

Ode to Our Piano – Flowers & Phew!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Ever Tried Wrangling Young Rabbits?

This may seem a strange question on a health and wellbeing blog but bear with me. 

This morning, I was woken by such a commotion in our front garden which seemed to then moved and down our drive. I could hear children, adults, a dog barking, someone shouting to a cat and a child calling to someone or something else and a lot of running back and forth. It took me a while to process it all. At first I thought the neighbour’s dog must have escaped again. I couldn’t hear my husband so I hauled myself out of bed and opened the curtains.

Rabbits! Two of them. Scampering all over, children chasing, adults cajoling and admonishing, a cat and a dog being restrained, utter chaos. I didn’t recognise half the humans running amok on my lawn, jumping over the newly blooming irises. I reluctantly went downstairs and found my husband completely oblivious as he was making juices and hadn’t heard a thing.

I went back upstairs, looked out and one of the fathers gave me a smile and a thumbs up! I assumed that meant ‘success’ and ‘thank you!’

We went about our morning tasks, I had a shower and washed my hair, husband finished juicing, and when he took out the compost discovered that the rabbits belonged to the son of our newly-widowed neighbour, a birthday gift for her older son. But they were back in their hutch, locked up and she was going out, not being any the wiser as to how they had escaped. It appears it wasn’t the first time, and her son gets so distraught when they do.

Not half an hour later, husband goes outside only to discover them sitting at the top of our drive where the young apple trees and tomato plants are, the cat from next door keeping a nonchalantly watchful distance. We had no idea what to do, neither of us having the first inkling of how to entice a frisky pair of bunnies back to their home, nor being sprightly enough to chase after them!

Picture the scene: I am standing holding a towel not exactly sure as to when it would come into play, my husband is wandering about looking clueless and wishing his phone would magically conjure up the neighbour’s number, but we don’t have it.

I suggested he at least shoo away the cat – it doesn’t take any notice of me but doesn’t like him at all – and then he remembered he had neighbour number 2’s number in his cycling book (really) from when we rescued her escaped dog (do you see a theme developing here? We have also in the past rescued former neighbour number 3’s ducks, neighbour number 4’s chickens and neighbour number 5’s two daft senseless dogs from being run over!).

It turns out, number 2 doesn’t have neighbour number 1’s number either, they communicate via Facebook, but does have new neighbour number 3’s (who lives in former duck neighbour’s house, are you keeping up?).

To cut a 2 hour long story short, we got the rabbits coralled behind our shed, hemmed in by wheelie bins and a fireguard.

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The end of the line, nowhere else to run
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Gotcha!

Throughout the entire procedings, the robins kept a beady eye on us, their nest is nearby and they interrupted their collection of nesting materials.

Then the cavalry arrived – or rather by the wonders of bush telegraph, the local neighbourhood rabbit-whisperer!

She wrangled them into a plastic recycling box which was quickly covered with my towel and lugged them back to their home. Which, it soon became evident, was falling apart and all they had to do was lean against the door and the catch fell down, and out they romped.

The grandad had been so excited at making the hutch himself for his grandson’s birthday, but unfortunately the wood near the catch was rotting and the screws were loose. These rabbits were very nifty and not short of a few brain cells.

My husband made a temporary repair, the catch was tied up and a box leaned against the door. An hour later, they were still ensconced in their residence looking a bit out-witted and not at all happy,  but safe.

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Back home

We had all been worried that their young owner would come home from his school trip to find them gone – there are several dogs adjoining our garden, including a Jack Russell and a Retriever, so it could have been very dodgy – it would have been too much so soon after losing his dad, but hopefully he will be none the wiser.

His mum came home and thanked us profusely. She is going to buy a more secure hutch.

What I wanted to say here though, was that out of a potentially disastrous and emotional situation, a new friendship is building.

I have never said more than hello to our neighbour as she passes by on her way to or from school always in a hurry, but since her tragic loss, we have offered help in the form of using our drive for all the visitors coming to support her and her son has begun chatting with my husband when they see each other on the drive: it seems he has a keen interest in cycling, as does my husband. Today was my first proper conversation with his mum as I explained what had happened with the rabbits. She was so grateful and so relieved and as we chatted about her son, she mentioned that she wasn’t sure she had the confidence to take out the two boys on the bikes by herself. I immediately offered my husband’s assistance and she looked really pleased and suggested that perhaps he might take the older son out on the bike track some time. I said he would be pleased to, and he later agreed.

It was a good feeling to have helped saved the day and prevent the family from having to face another loss, as well as finally getting the opportunity to meet properly and offer our friendship if she ever needs it.

Postscript: This episode was particularly poignant on this day when news was coming out about the awful slaying of young children and their waiting parents and grandparents at the Arianna Grande concert in Manchester. It felt good to feel useful and to do something positive for our young neighbour at a time of helplessness in the face of such an atrocity.

My thoughts are with all those affected.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

If you like country estates, you’ll love this!

Last summer, in Magnificent Trees, Olympic Medallists, A Czar & Some Sheep! I took you on a tour of our National Sports Centre at Lilleshall and gave you a potted history in among the photos of the beautiful grounds. Many of you have liked this post and those of a similar ilk, and I am so thankful to be living in the vicinity of these grounds, I thought I’d share these photos of Lilleshall in Spring. Unfortunately, we only had an iPhone, so some of the ones taken at a distance are out of focus, the zoom is really bad. I hope it doesn’t spoil your enjoyment.

These were taken on a gorgeous sunny midweek afternoon – these gardens really are breathtakingly beautiful and the trees are just overwhelming in their majestic beauty. Whatever season you visit, the colours are just stunning. The amazing thing is that it is always quiet and peaceful. During this visit, there were people from Rugby England (the sport not the town) on some sort of course; the England gymnasts and archers train here as well as the footballers, but local people can visit and use facilities, my husband has sports massage there and benefitted from their treatment when he had his bike accidents.

Get ready to be in awe! The rhododendrons take your breath away, there are at least five different colours, as well as yellow honeysuckle and bluebells.

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These wrought-iron gates are generally locked and the trail inaccessible, but this time they were left open invitingly. It led through a cool woodland with bluebells and yellow honeysuckle.

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When you come out of the woodland and back onto the trail, you’re confronted by this striking maple tree which stops you in your tracks. It reflects the light and displays so many shades of red, brown, orange, russet, burgundy .

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There was a lot of clearing going on near the mansion house too (which is a hotel, restaurant and wedding venue). I don’t know if it was all the result of Storm Doris or if they’re planning another structure:

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 While driving down the long, tree-lined drive on the way out, we saw a pair of pheasant, just I pressed the shutter the female flew off, again the zoom spoiled the photo:

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We are so lucky to have this wonderful playground on our doorstep. The young grandchildren love the freedom and space, we collect giant fir cones and spot rabbits, squirrels and pheasant.

It’s a wonderful place to recharge your batteries for an hour or two.

And all for free.

(Also posted on Haddon Musings 52 Weeks of Thankfulness)

Copyright: Chris McGowan

A Nursery, a Ruin and a Baby Cow

This is a bit of a mish-mash of a post resulting from a spur-of-the-moment decision to take advantage of a sunny (but chilly) afternoon to buy some plants from the local nursery. On the way back we did a little detour (of course!) to look at the ruins of an Augustinian abbey, the idea being to see if Mum would at least be able to make it inside the site, if only to sit on a chair rather than walking around. The sky was stunningly blue and so clear, the moon was easily visible. You can just about see the white dot in the top left and bottom right photos. The photos are a little deceptive as there was a fairly strong cold wind blowing when you were out in the open, but a couple of hours in the sun and fresh air was just what I needed after a difficult few weeks (see here). I took deep breaths and absorbed the tranquility of the place in its wide open spaces. We were the only ones there, apart from the cows, and even they were still and silent.

The shapes in the bottom right photo are the graves of the abbots. The right column of the entrance in the first photo used to be higher and there are spiral steps up to it where my husband and young grandsons once climbed up and had their photos taken right at the top. Sadly, the entrance is now fenced off and it looks like the tower has crumbled somewhat.

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The abbey is surrounded by farmland and these very young calves were in the field by the lane. I thought this one was an unusual colour, it was nervous and very wary.

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The others couldn’t care less!

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Here are the some of the plants we bought, still waiting to be homed:

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Just don’t ask me what they’re called!

Ps You can read about our other detours here: An Impromptu Mother’s Day Adventure or How We Survived the Vortex that is Our Local Bermuda Triangle … & Ducks, Daves and Detours

PPS Unfortunately, the entrance to the site is through an awkward swing gate with such a narrow opening so no, Mum wouldn’t be able to get through.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Being Thankful During Difficult Times.

I have so many things to be thankful for. I know that and am grateful. For one thing, my family.

I had planned an amusing post about the Easter weekend visit from our littlest grandchildren, their first Easter with us. We had lots of fun and the weather co-operated long enough to have an egg hunt in the garden on the Sunday morning. (More later). Then, that evening something horrible happened – not to us, thankfully, but to our young neighbour. Three ambulances with flashing lights were there for two hours, but he was gone. He was 34 years old and leaves a wife and two young children, one so young he will never have any memory of this time or his dad, the other much older who will remember and miss him forever.

This sad event has affected me very badly. I can’t stop thinking about them and how they’re going to cope, and if they’ll even be able to stay in their home. Fortunately, they have a lot of close family around them, supporting them.

It took me most of the week to realise that the depth of my sadness and growing depression was not caused just by the shock but was mostly about the young children. It brought back memories of when my brother and father died suddenly and tragically, in separate events, and I had to process it all whilst still caring for my young children and trying to keep life as normal as possible for them, when it was anything but for me. I found it incredibly hard. This realisation brought on a bout of sobbing I never thought I’d experience again. Neither of them knew my brother (my son was just a toddler and my daughter not yet conceived), my daughter doesn’t remember my dad. (You can read about him in the Original Writing section of the menu).

During that following week, I heard of three others who had lost their lives – all this whilst also sending positive thoughts to three friends who are undergoing serious medical treatments, and fielding repetitive calls from my elderly mum.

I shelved my Easter post idea, I hadn’t the heart and it didn’t seem appropriate.

I’ve been in a bit of a slump.

I had no desire to post, no inspiration, no energy. I ate copious amounts of (raw) chocolate.

Help arrived in the form of my brother and sister-in-law. They are about to emigrate to the US and are doing their farewell tour. It was touch and go as to whether I could get through without any waterworks! I really am extremely happy, and indeed excited, for them as they are moving to be near two of their children and their three young grandchildren. My mum on the other hand is very unhappy and convinced she will never see them again. I spend a great deal of time trying to convince her otherwise.

We had a busy, lively and very chatty 3 days. Lots of eating, lots of talking – till 2 am – we even played a silly game of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? ( I won, not that it was a competition ;-)). My sister-in-law loved walking in the surrounding countryside, fulfilled her desire to have a ride in our Morris Minor and learned how to make a wholewheat loaf from scratch (no breadmaker involved!). My brother brought an ancient photo album of us when we were kids that I hadn’t seen in a long time, and which brought back lots of memories, a few tears and some laughter. Oh,  and we watched The Tour de Yorkshire cycling!

The tea towel was an attempt by my brother to hide his shiny pate whilst I took the photo, and the cardigan over my husband’s head was a hundredth attempt to see if the night-time screen on his iBooks page was working!! My sister-in-law is pretend-stabbing Heston Blumenthal’s Persian Christmas Pudding, which we had been saving for them since Christmas. They loved it. My husband is from Yorkshire and decided to don the new top our son (from Lancashire) gave him and go for a ride during the early stages of the race, no doubt imagining ‘if only…’ The Carrot, Apple & Spice Cakes with Cashew Frosting were a nice afternoon treat.

We ate homemade soup with homemade rolls; watermelon, curry and brown basmati rice with a green salad; pasta with tomato, veg and red lentil sauce, vegan parmesan cheeze (soaked almonds patted dry and ground with nutritional yeast and a pinch of dry mustard) and green salad, and a lovely fruit salad with vanilla CoYo coconut yogurt. We made a family-sized banana berry smoothie with tiger nut milk for breakfast (but no cacao, see Paul’s ‘Too Much Cacao’ Banana Baobab Smoothie!). The weather was just mild enough to enjoy it outside. The apple and cherry trees were in blossom, the forget-me-nots were making a show and the birds were very busy and very loud!

By the time they left, my physical energy was exhausted (in a good way), but my spiritual energy was restored. I felt like my old self again. Yes, my eyes had misted over when we had waved them off, but mostly I was happy and rejuvenated. We had FaceTimed all three of their children and spoken to their American grandchildren. We Skyped my son and chatted to my daughter on the phone. They were relaxed, amusing and chatty despite he taking time out from a busy working day and she being in the midst of invigilating exams – a tiring and stressful time of year – and it was wonderful to hear her so. They made arrangements to visit them too before their final departure.

So, now I feel up to posting some photos from Easter Sunday:

Raw chocolate crisp nests with homemade marzipan eggs were quickly separated and split up as Littlest Little liked the eggs and Elder Little liked the chocolate! Outside, it quickly became apparent that Littlest Little had a thing about silver eggs: he rejected them in favour of the red and gold ones, but his sister was happy to oblige!

They managed to find all the eggs and make it inside before the heavens opened – I wish I could post the picture of Littlest Little with more chocolate around his mouth than in it! The Easter bunny was extremely generous and had even handmade and wrapped all the silver eggs himself;-) It was a lovely, amusing time (oh, apart from the catastrophic flood from a burst radiator in the dining room just as dinner was about to be served! Our son was an absolute hero, stemming the tide for nearly 3 hours before a plumber arrived).

Thank you, family.

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Dad and Dave’s cherry tree currently in blossom

Rest in peace, Jamie.

Also published on Bernadette’s 52 Weeks of Thankfulness page over on Haddon Musings

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Ducks, Daves and Detours

Some of you may have read my post An Impromptu Mother’s Day Adventure or How We Survived the Vortex that is Our Local Bermuda Triangle …, and were kind enough to say you found it amusing, well, here’s a little sequel for you…

But first, I must tell you that the other day someone used the search phrase ‘how far away from Fiji is the Bermuda Triangle?’ and guess where they were directed? Yep, my Mother’s Day post! If you’re reading this too, I am so sorry I couldn’t be more helpful answering your question.

On with the sequel: we have established that my husband has a reputation for going off road, or at least off the road he’s meant to be travelling, and ending up somewhere else. What you may not know, is that he’s also terrible with names, and since he knows an incomprehensible number of Daves, he tends to use this generic name whenever he gets stuck. This is relevant later on.

IMG_1448After the earlier post, he invited me to accompany him to his bike-fit session at a bike shop called Bicycles By Design. The shop is 15 miles away – more or less, depending on whether or not HB is doing the navigating: when we did our recon last week, it was 30 miles away because we made several unplanned detours! As you may recall from the earlier post, a bike fit involves setting up your bike to fit your particular physical quirks so that you can ride in comfort and avoid those niggling aches and pains from riding in the wrong position.

As exciting as that prospect was, I politely declined, citing hair washing and nail filing, and I looked forward to having a few hours on my own playing indie (or Indian as hb insists on calling it) music very loud, while eating raw chocolate almonds* and bantering on social media. No car keys to find, no bike parts to admire, no iPad problems to sort out (despite spending years working with computers, he just can’t fathom how to tweet or message on Instagram).

Friday morning came and all went according to plan. Hb left early for his bike-fit. It was a lovely morning and I had breakfast outside, while listening to the birds and watching the bees. Bliss.

He arrived home, happy with his bike adjustments and no impromptu sightseeing – or so he reckoned. However, on putting his bike away, he noticed Dave, the bike-fit guy, had left a shop quick-release on the back wheel instead of replacing his own. He had to take it back. He was going to have a quick bite to eat and set off. The sun was out, the bike shop is on the river, it was going to be a quick in and out, so I decided I would go with him.

Surprisingly, we had an uneventful drive and pulled up outside the bike shop. It was in a lovely setting, part of an old building that used to be the china works but is now a Youth Hostel, café and the bike store. The cherry blossom was breathtaking, the sun was shining and it was so quiet. Just the river flowing behind us and the occasional whoosh of beating duck wings flying by.

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Hb went in and returned the quick-release to Dave, then we spent some time by the river and the canal which runs alongside it which used to serve the china works with its bottle kilns, tar tunnel and tracks, but is now home to a large colony of mallard ducks.

 Bottoms up!

We realised it was getting late and we needed to set off home before the rush hour.

First, though, we had to find our way out of the vortex of these 4 small towns!

I don’t really need to say it do I? We got lost. Again. No, we still don’t have a Sat Nav. In all fairness, the signage in this area is woeful, and that’s putting it mildly. Several times, you arrive at a junction and the sign will indicate that the town you are aiming for is in fact in both directions at once! So you ‘discuss’ the alternatives and whichever you choose, inevitably end up having to go back on yourself, spinning round and round the local plughole until it finally spits you out, dizzy and exhausted, and barely speaking to each other, as both are adamant their way was the right way!

On the way there, we had passed what looked like some lovely public gardens and I suggested that on the way back we take a look to see if Mum would be able to manage a visit – she is coming to stay for a few days soon. Needless to say, we couldn’t find them. They just disappeared. I had made a mental note of whereabouts they were, I could describe the row of cottages nearby, the railway bridge and so on, all of which we found, but no gardens. Apparently sucked into the vortex.

By this time, we were both tired and hungry so we agreed to give in and made it home without further issues.

Apart from the energy-sapping journey home, it was a lovely afternoon. Next time though, can we just borrow the Tardis?

Oh, and Dave the bike man? His name was Rob!

*Highly recommended, but be warned, very moreish!

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The Raw Chocolate Company

Copyright: Chris McGowan

An Impromptu Mother’s Day Adventure or How We Survived the Vortex that is Our Local Bermuda Triangle …

28064096_Unknown… Actually, the fact that it was Mother’s Day was almost incidental. The adventure wasn’t planned because it was a special day. It just happened to coincide with the clocks going forward, Spring conjuring up a spectacularly sunny day, and Hb wanting to scout out a bike place some distance away for a bike fit session the following week. (For those of you who are not members of a family whose lives revolve entirely around bikes and their mechanical whatnots, this does not mean getting sweaty in a large room on a stationary bike, but having your bike adjusted to give you the optimum fit, thereby (hopefully) avoiding any aches and pains in neck, back, hips or knees).

28063888_UnknownI don’t know about you, but I always feel discombobulated when the clocks go forward, it takes me ages to adjust. I got up at my usual hour which was now halfway-through-everyone-else’s-morning time, but before I could reach the shower, my favourite Daughter phoned me for a Mother’s Day chat. (I have only one really). Having been given a cup of tea in bed, she was instantly abandoned by her boys in favour of a Minecraft game and as I was in the role of bike widow, we were able to have a rare, uninterrupted natter until eventually son number two demanded she put the phone down as he’d brought her breakfast in bed. It would be some time before I got mine.

28063760_UnknownI had my shower, then tried to phone my mum, but someone else had got in first, she was busy throughout 20 minutes of trying. I knew she could be in for the long haul and I was starving. A Papaya & Pear Smoothie* beckoned. My whole morning was already awry, when Hb announced his plan for a quick drive to the bike place and asked if I’d like to come. Normally, I would politely decline on the basis that I planned to spend the day watching paint dry or filing my nails, but it was a lovely day, I was going stir-crazy and there was a possibility of seeing water, flowers, trees and birds along the way, so I decided to take the smoothie and go.

Now, normally when we go off in the car I make sure we have plenty of food and drink, a chair, cushions, jigsaw (well, maybe not), because inevitably a ‘short drive’, or a ‘quick there and back’, turns into a ‘why don’t we take the most circuitous scenic route and get lost again’ trip! We have no Sat Nav. We got lost in this same vortex last summer and I should have known better when Hb’s response to taking food was ‘we won’t need it, it’s just a quick-there-and-back.’ Famous last words.

There are four towns popular with tourists that form our local Bermuda Triangle. (I know, but you know what I mean). We can never go straight to the one we want without going round and through the others first, then having found it, we can’t find our way out of it again! Last time, we pirouetted in so many concentric circles, we resembled water going down a plughole and I thought we might end up Down Under.

This morning, or rather lunchtime as it now was, we set off, only to put in some early practice by instantly returning home via a circuit of our block. Hb didn’t feel confident without a map. He had one on his iPad. We came back to get it. It made no difference. The other towns were well signposted, but we couldn’t find our destination for love nor money. I kept saying helpful things like ‘we’ve been past this already’ and ‘I remember seeing this earlier…’

Beeeep. What’s that? Some gauge or microchip had registered a drop in tyre pressure. We needed to look for a garage. Great. Now two things we needed to look for. I, and three dogs, spent 20 minutes in the sun in cars with windows ineffectively cracked open for non-existent air but plenty of petrol fumes, while our drivers checked oil, tyre pressure or bought armfuls of snacks. None of us was in a chatty mood when they finished. The car still noted a drop in tyre pressure.

We were just about ready to turn around and head for home when I got very over-excited at a small signpost indicating left down a narrow road, and I couldn’t get the words out quickly enough as I realised Hb hadn’t noticed. Too late. The local cycle club, of which he is a member, will never appreciate his decision to carry on to the next layby to turn around, rather than mow them down like skittles, as would have happened if he’d responded to my hysterical navigation!

Having arrived in the town, and successfully winning a game of chicken over a single lane ‘Weak Bridge’ to reach a car park, I was so glad we’d persisted as I then spent a peaceful hour sitting outside a lovely old pub on the river in the sunshine, watching the water and the world go by.

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The Weak Bridge, a single-lane iron structure that was just the width of a medium-sized car. BMWs were a bit of a push and their drivers – young and male – extremely rude and impatient! 

 

 

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The water was flowing quite fast, I almost missed this shot of the canoeist 

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After trying to convince me a floating log was Nessie’s cousin shimmying by, Hb strolled off to recce the town for the bike shop. This is always a mistake. He always gets lost. He found his way back just before I sent out the St Bernards, by which time my stomach was telling me I had missed one or other, if not several, of the various meals/snacks/juices it was used to, and a bottle of fizzy water was not going to cut it. I knew we should’ve packed proper sustenance. Being vegan and gluten-free makes it extremely difficult to find emergency rations when your blood sugar starts diving. And now we had to navigate the Triangle again and avoid being sucked into its vortex.

First, though, I had a lovely if somewhat frustrating not-Mother’s Day chat with my son (the signal kept disappearing). He always calls on Mother’s Day but pretends it’s just a normal everyday call because I’ve spent decades telling them I don’t need over-priced cards and flowers to make me feel special. He was just back from a 110 km ride in wind, sun and dust – see what I mean about my family of bike enthusiasts, he does this for fun!  (See the link below to read more about his Mother’s Day surprises).

After a couple of wrong turns, we made it home unscathed. I had my juice, phoned my mum, everything returned to normal.

Hb plans to do this 30 miles-each-way journey next week on his bike. I’ll put the St Bernards on standby.

The car has an appointment with its mechanic.

For those of you who may not have seen it, here’s a link to last year’s light-hearted Mother’s Day post  A Tribute to My Children

*See my Instagram feed for the ingredients @pearsnotparsnips

And here for your delectation and amusement is The Pushbike Song!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

A 40’s Night Out at Blackpool Tower & A Broken Arm at the Dodgems!

img_6815A couple of weeks ago, a conversation about our grandchildren’s class projects developed into an intergenerational reminiscence about Blackpool Tower.

The class had been given different geographical monuments to research: our grandson’s was Stonehenge and our grand-daughter’s was Blackpool Tower. Whilst we had no experience of the former, the memories of this seaside town and its iconic landmark flowed like uncorked vintage wine from its dusty bottle as my mum, husband and I stretched our minds back many decades, recalling incidents and accidents that had our daughter’s family laughing and shaking their heads while jotting down our slightly addled anecdotes and the somewhat rarer nuggets of useful information. (Sorry, that was rather a long sentence!)

You see, my family used to live near Blackpool and my husband’s family went there often for day trips, so to us it was just down the road. It was a Mecca for young people with its funfair, arcades, annual illuminations and of course the famous tower with its ballroom, aquarium, menagerie and circus. My brother also went to college there and I remember we all visited him in the depths of winter when I was very pregnant and spent most of the visit scouring the streets for a shop that sold the object of my craving, an Orange Maid ice lolly. No other kind would do, of course.

Some historical context

Inspired by the Eiffel Tower and opened in 1894, Blackpool Tower is 158m tall and reputed to be the 120th highest freestanding building in the world.

(Circus, left, Ballroom right. Images from the official Blackpool Tower site, link above).

The main attractions in the tower include its splendid circus ring (still in action today, but thankfully with no wild animals since 1990) and its magnificent opulent ballroom, designed by Victorian architect, Frank Matcham. This stately setting features in the BBC ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ programme when, halfway through each series, the show gets very excited with itself as it heads for the splendour of the sprung, woodblocked, 11msq ballroom. It’s a dancer’s dream and where the original ‘Come Dancing’ series of the 1970s was filmed. You can still attend daily tea dances there.

This wonderful ballroom has also witnessed less glamorous dancing as my mum testified, when she had us in stitches with her tales of going dancing at the tower on a Saturday after work with her friends.

Apparently, in the 1940s, a special train ran to Blackpool at about 5pm for ‘the couples’ and young people having a night out, dancing. She and her friends would catch the bus to the station, using the journey time to put in their metal curlers and do their make-up, then they would tie up their hair in a turban with a headscarf (like the factory workers in wartime). These curlers were kept in for the entire journey and when they arrived at the tower, they would head straight for the ladies cloakroom where the curlers were removed and they would primp and powder until glamorous enough to make an appearance on the dancefloor! She doesn’t remember what they did with their curlers while they danced. Any suggestions?

img_6814Mum remembers live dance-bands like Joe Loss and his Orchestra (I remember seeing them on tv and hearing them on the radio, a bit too old-fashioned for me even at that young age). In the interval, the now world-famous Wurlitzer organ would slowly ascend through the floor, with Reginald Dixon the renowned organist playing as it did so. He would play until the band was ready to resume. Reginald Dixon designed the tower’s second Wurlitzer and he played there for 40 years. You can still witness this phenomenon at the tea dances today.

Later, my mum and dad would go dancing together at the Tower Ballroom. She misses those days, they both loved ballroom dancing. The labels on the 78s we used to have were all marked as ‘foxtrot’ or ‘waltz’ and so on. In the late 1950’s I remember her teaching me to rock ‘n’ roll to Cliff Richard!!

When my husband reminisces, on the other hand, we steel ourselves for the latest in a long history of mishaps, usually involving lost teeth or broken bones, which more often than not occur when out with his older cousin and he should have known better. The grandsons in particular find these stories hilarious and get Grandad to repeat them to entertain their friends when he visits. My daughter and I wince at what they are absorbing by osmosis and storing away for their teen years when they will dredge them up in an effort to redirect admonition because ‘You laughed when Grandad did it!’

One of these stories involves a trip to Blackpool on the back of his cousin’s scooter at the ages of 16 & 17. You see, right there, it doesn’t get off to a promising start. From past experience, straight off the bat you know that any story with this combination of characters is not going to end well!

Along the way, they have a puncture. My husband falls off the back and breaks his arm. Unperturbed by this misadventure, they decide that, as they are more than halfway there, they would carry on. So, Cousin takes the wheel to a garage but can’t get it to inflate properly, they then decide to make use of the inner tube from the too-large spare wheel tied to the back of the vehicle!

Somehow they make it to Blackpool and have a jolly time – Husband sets great store by the fact that they won a tiny 2″ model of Blackpool Tower on the Pleasure Beach before throwing themselves about on the dodgems. With a broken arm. With torn jeans and blood running down his leg.

It is 24 hours before he thinks to go to see the nurse at work and she packs him off to Casualty to have it x-rayed! He was most upset that he had to miss his scooter test the following week because he had a cast on. I think we’ll leave that story there. (In fact, he complained and requested a rewrite because I didn’t give enough attention to the miniature model of the tower! He insists it was the highlight of the day.)

He did, however, contribute to the project by remembering the zoo which prodded Mum’s memory a bit more. She remembered those poor animals in cages: big cats, polar bears and so on. They lived in cages underneath the tower. Thankfully, no longer. She said the aquarium was wonderful, with beautiful small fish of all colours and some large evil-looking ones too! The aquarium was the first attraction in the tower since the first owner bought the existing aquarium and planned to build the tower around it.

Mum and I couldn’t remember whether we went to The Blackpool Tower Circus or not. I recall one visit to a circus as a child, but I think that might have been Billy Smart’s Circus in  a proper circus tent on the local park. The memories are confused because the clowns at the Tower Circus included the famous Charlie Cairolli and Paul, whom I remember well, but I don’t know if I saw them live there or just remember them from television.

Then there was the time we went to see Blackpool Illuminations and the queue of traffic was so long I couldn’t put my foot on the floor of the Morris Minor because it was over-heating so badly! Our son had been keeping his much younger sister awake, chatting and singing and pointing out things of interest, until we finally reached the start of the brilliantly colourful spectacle along the Promenade. We turned round to see the wonder and delight on our daughter’s face, only to discover she was fast asleep after all.

I love occasions such as these, when we share family memories.

Family history is important because it acts as an anchor. It holds people together and prevents geographically distant family members drifting apart. My grandsons rarely see my mum, they have little interaction with her other than perhaps seeing her once in 18 months and receiving a birthday card. She is deaf and becoming increasingly forgetful and confused. She doesn’t use technology other than a basic tv and an even more basic landline phone. These stories help them see her as a person, to see that they are linked by more than a £10 note in a Christmas card. They help her feel involved in their lives when she knows that these titbits will be used in their schoolwork and she enjoyed making them laugh about her curlers on the bus.

I am aware of time passing and soak up as much as I can when we chat. Nowadays, though, it is often I who provide her with the memories as she confuses different events, times or personnel in the near past or present. But the distant past is mostly still there. She laughs at the time she outwitted her dad to go off with her friend to meet their boyfriends, only to find him waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs when she snuck back in. She loves to tell how she used to go to the pictures every week on a Friday after work and my dad would pretend that he was going there too so that he could go with her. They worked for the same company and his colleagues had bet him he would have no chance asking her out!

I write everything down and one day I will put it all together so my grandchildren can read the whole story and not have to pay a fortune to genealogy sites searching for information about their ancestors like I have!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Waiting for Inspiration to Strike – The Shower Beckons!

When I began this blog, it was to help people make healthy choices and improve their sense of wellbeing. I envisaged passing on nutritional information and writing about complementary therapies etc., but never imagined that I would be investing so much of myself and my life in this new project or that it would become so chock full of food photos and recipes!

It puts so much pressure on a person to produce something that’s worthy of a photograph and a post, you feel like you can no longer mindlessly throw together a bowl of muesli or a hummus sandwich without making it look beautiful: you feel so guilty if you don’t at least try to create some culinary art. Every evening my husband feels like he has to sit back out of shot and wait to eat until I have finished photographing the meal! (Have you seen the Instagram Husband tongue-in-cheek video about just that?)

Recently, I’ve been feeling like I’ve pretty much said all I have to say in terms of health and nutrition and that I’m just repeating myself. I’m sure you’re all getting as bored as I am of endless recipes for smoothies and raw treats, there are so many bloggers doing this who are much more creative and qualified than me.

The other day I was scheduling posts for another break for osteopathy next week and afterwards I realised I had used up all my draft posts. I had no ideas in the pipeline at all. This was at once anxiety-inducing and liberating. I even contemplated stopping blogging. Was that a sigh of relief at the back there?!

And then I commented on Brian Lageose’s very funny post 10 Things To Do While Waiting For An Inspirational Blog Idea, to which he responded with another gentle push in the direction of writing more anecdotes, more short stories.

I love writing and have always written in some form, but I have no confidence and also feel I have no original ideas. I tend to be reactive rather than creative, I respond to other people’s posts with some witty retort or family anecdote or a blast from the past, a light-hearted observation. I write fact not fiction. Even my poems are based in reality.

The posts I’ve published about my dad, my teacher, my children and so on, have gained a lot of attention and compliments and I would love to do more. My difficulty is that I can’t easily write posts that involve the younger members of the family or indeed older, still living members, it isn’t fair to them and parents don’t always want photos of their children splashed around the internet, with which I am in full agreement.

28062032_unknownSo, I did what I always do when feeling at a loss, I looked in the fridge (no.1 on Brian’s list) and found this amazing mango chia pudding; I looked in the raw chocolate cupboard (averting my eyes from the raw chocolate almonds* while also resisting a bar of Pitch Dark*) – and then I took a shower!

My inspiration always comes at the most inopportune moments, generally when I’m just dropping off to sleep, when I’m in the bathroom (!) and most often when I’m taking a shower! This last is the most frustrating because not only is there no access to pen and paper, let alone iPad, but I have to finish washing, conditioning, drying, dressing and styling before I can jot anything down, and of course I also have to dodge my husband’s frequent attempts at memory scrambling when he inevitably asks me where his phone/keys/wallet/spanner/glasses are (you would understand my lack of inspirational/inspired posts if you realised how often in a day this occurs, it really is nothing short of a miracle that I post anything at all – just now I had to break off to help him decide whether to paint the new wooden drain cover first or the new wooden garden edging! Honestly). Before I can get my fingers to a keyboard, the ideas are tumbling over themselves, the proof-reading has already begun and I want to shut myself in a darkened room to reassemble my brain cells.

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(I was going to caption this ‘Man with a Plan’ – he was making a drain cover – but my wit of a son came up with ‘Man with a Plank’ when I put it on Instagram!) 

The result of his afternoon’s work (just don’t tell him it’s not straight!)

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Today, while cleansing body and mind, it came to me. That elusive next anecdotal post. So now the pressure’s on to get it done and dusted before I take my leave for rest and recreation next week. I won’t give it a big build-up in case it’s rubbish, I’ll just slip it in between the recipes and hope it passes muster. Don’t be afraid to comment, I’ll already be lying down, I can take it, just be gentle, my back hurts.

(I’m going back to finish the Mango Chia Pudding now).

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Links to the posts mentioned earlier:

You Were So Much More Than Your Job: A Tribute to My Dad For Father’s Day

My Dad Walked Straight and Tall Like A Soldier

Hand in Hand: A Poem for Father’s Day

Inspiring Women: An Expression of Gratitude

Mother’s Day: A Tribute to My Children

Ode To Our Piano, a Faithful and Long-Suffering Friend

*The Raw Chocolate Company

Copyright: Chris McGowan