Sunday, 28 November 2010

Tithebarn Mayoral Evening

What a brilliant night we had last night! It was one of those nights where we could do no wrong!

Garstang's Tithebarn was full to the rafters (I know because I could see them!) and they were well up for a night of music and laughter.

I think David and I could have spent the night doing a comedy stand-up, but we got them singing along to our selection of country, folk and irish, fifties and sixties through to more modern songs and then after a hotpot supper, the dance floor filled!

Well alright - there wasn't a dance floor as such, but the space in front of the toilets became full of people swaying, stepping, gyrating and it wasn't because the toilets were engaged at the time!

Garstang's mayor, Gillian Lamb was pleased with the night and as the evening coincided with the official Lancashire Day we had a loyal toast to the Queen, the Duke of Lancashire.

To top the night off, as we were loading the car under a brilliantly dark sky, filled with stars, Jeannie and I saw a shooting star streak momentarily across the central sky. Well it could have been a lost spanner from the space station, but it made us both gasp and brought forth instant queries from the other two as to what we were doing...

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Blackpool

Well after the long run of memories from 1998 - it gave me 23 entries to the blog - it's time to think about what comes next.

I had promised one or two readers that I would take a proper look at my home town of Blackpool so here is a quick introduction to some of the topics I'll be covering about the town.

Blackpool is England's most famous seaside town. Big, brash, bold and in-your-face, Blackpool started out as a tiny fishing village, the insignificant neighbour to nearby Bispham which has a history going back to the Norman times and beyond.

It grew with a passion for sea bathing in the 18th century when stagecoaches ran from the mill towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire to the beach. Hotels and entertainment were not long in coming!

The Tower dates from the 1890s. Half the size of the Eiffel Tower that inspired it, the tower itself is only part of the fun contained wthin the building that surrounds it. As the owners pointed out pityingly, the Paris tower had "nowt t' tek brass!" (nothing to take money!)

Next to the Tower and the sands Blackpool is famous still for a few more things.

Not only was Blackpool the first English town to have electric trams running through its streets (in 1885), but it was the only town to keep them in operation to the present day.

The bulk of the fleet of trams to the present day has dated from 1934. The system is currently being overhauled and new trams are about to replace the older fleet, though some preserved trams will still be operated they tell us. Tram fans are not exactly over the moon about the new plans, fearing part of Blackpool's character is about to be lost, but we shall see...

Blackpool Pleasure Beach started in the very first years of the 1800s and has remained in the ownership of the same family throughout its history.

It started to charge admission fees a couple of years ago and predictably has plummeted from its long-standing position as Britain's most visited tourist attraction.

And there are not one; not two; but three Victorian piers sticking out to sea so that people can walk over the waves. The North Pier (shown) is the oldest and most sedate. The South Pier had to change its name to the Central Pier when the third pier was built further south along the Promenade. They have survived fire, shipwreck and indifference to stand to the present day whilst other seaside towns are losing their piers at an alarming rate around the country.

There are the famous Blackpool Illuminations, an annual display from August Bank Holiday week to the first weekend in November. A tradition that started with the invention of electric lights - an early display was postponed until after World War One had finished and similarly they were reluctantly turned off during World War II - the Illuminations still choke the Promenade road with crawling traffic and yet how much more thrilling they must have been before computers and television!

And the town has its quieter sides too, a zoo and the glorious Stanley Park with its acres of gardens and boating lake, playing fields and sports facilities.

There are many entries on the blog already about Blackpool. There are many more to come!

Large versions of the photos: beach and tower, trams, pleasure beach, north pier, illuminations, stanley park

Friday, 26 November 2010

Moreton-in-the-Marsh Time

Friday 31 May 1998. The last day of our holiday. Fran and I left the hotel in Bourton-on-the-Water and headed northwards, passing through Stow-on-the-Wold and Tramp-on-the-Road (I made-that-one-up), stopping for a while in Moreton-on-the-Marsh, where I took a few photographs.

This quiet and picturesque village was a centre for the preparation for the invasion of Normandy on D-Day in the Second World War and a display in a shop window had photographs of the main street, full of rows of U.S. tanks.

Where the cars are parked in this photograph, the tanks were lined up side by side. It was a miracle that the Luftwaffe did not catch a glimpse of the preparations and warn the German High Command.

"Vas ist das?!? Panzer-in-der-Street!!! Achtung! Raus der Fliegers-in-der-Stukas!!!"

The building seen in the first photograph had a splendid sundial carved into the face of the stone. The weather at the time was such that it was seen to its best advantage. Sundials were in use long before governments decided to fiddle with time and have Summer Time for "saving light" and in fact as pubs weren't subject to opening hours back then farmers could work until it went dark then go for a firkin - whoops no, scratch that, looking at how it reads - then go for a pint no matter how early it was. Though there were one or two places where they could go for a - no!!!!! Keep it clean!

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes. In the days when sundials told the time and villagers were left standing outside the shop on cloudy days waiting for the owner to turn up, there was no such thing as Geenwich Mean Time.

Anyone mentioning GMT in the pub would have probably got a gin and tonic from a slightly deaf barman. Every town decided its time on factors such as when the sun came up. It wasn't until the railways arrived that people came round to the idea that for train timetables to make sense it had to be ten o'clock in Bristol at the same time it was ten o'clock in London.

You can imagine the chaos and confusion it caused when they moved from one system to another. There is a sign under the clock tower in Ramsgate that says:

"Ramsgate Mean Time is 5 mins 41 secs faster than this clock"

A bit like decimal coinage being brought in during the late 1960s. People had to stop saying "tuppence" and start saying "two pence" in order for others to understand which system they were using. How you do that when answering the question "What time is it?" I'm not sure, unless that marked the demise of "It's ten after three" for "ten past three"...

I do like to stimulate a touch of cerebral action in this blog. As Miss Franny's DS game says: it does you good to give the old pre-frontal cortex a workout!

And that pretty much brings this series about our 1998 holiday to an end.

We stopped briefly in Stratford upon Avon on our way home, to have a look at Shakespeare's birthplace and admire the formal brick patterned paving outside that he must have known and loved.

He lived there throughout his young life until his mother told him he was bard...

Large versions of the photos: all the photographs from this holiday can be viewed as a set at Flickr.

Addendum
I received a message from the lovely Mags, who says "'Moreton In Marsh' John.... I always thought it was 'In The...' until last year. Lovely place. x"

A lovely place indeed - and all the better for my erroneous "the"... Apologies to Moreton-in-Marsh residents and afficionadoes everywhere. However surely in the suggests something more substantial than a mere in...?

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Uffington, Horse and Dragon, King Arthur and St George

Thursday 30 May 1998. Leaving Oxford behind, we drove on to Uffington, the site of our last white horse of the week and a place of considerable mystery.

The horse is thought to be the oldest of the white horses of England and is not a true representation, but rather a cartoon, loose formed, styled for speed and grace, picked out on the crest of the highest hill in the area as though galloping for the safety of the hill fort a few yards away.

We parked the car and started walking towards the horse, but meeting a white sheep first...

As we approached the hill we could see... something...

There is a problem here. The horse is on the crest of the highest hill... There was someone else, a couple walking down from the horse.

"Where can you see it from?" the chap asked me in a puzzled voice. I pointed at the sky.
"Up there," I said. The only way you can see the entire drawing is from the air. From the ground you can only see bits of it.

This could explain why it looks so little like an actual horse of course... You have to wonder what contemporary opinion was at completion. Did the commissioning king or chieftain exclaim "Bloody Nora, what a pillock! How is anybody supposed to see it?!?" and have the unfortunate artist put to death on the spot? Or is it a horse at all?

Just below the horse is a smaller flat-topped hill with a large white spot in the middle of it. This, according to an ancient folklore, is where St George slew the dragon. It is said that the dragon's blood, being spilt here, inhibits the growth of grass, leaving the white spot forever to mark the place. Which is fine except that there are no records to show that St George ever came to Britain at all.

"Yuck!" his page said, "Britain? Why would you go there? Full of blue-painted twits and dragons all over the place! They'll take you for a dragon slayer!"

"They'll take me to their hearts or not at all..."

There is a school of thought that says the drawing is of the dragon, not a horse. Another that it is St George's steed.

We left the horse and turned to have a look at the near by hillfort.

Turning away from Dragon Hill (that's really its name so someone believed in it!) we saw another natural feature. The Manger. Formed by melting ice as the ice age ended (always a good time for ice to melt...) it is the supernatural feeding place of the white horse which on moonlit nights (this is the legend you know, I'm not making it up!) canters or rolls down the hill (alright... I did make that bit up...) to feed. Three sets of brackets in a single sentence, by heck, that's not bad!

And here's Miss Franny trogging along the rampart wall of Uffington hillfort. It's quite a large hillfort and has been suggested for the site of King Arthur's Battle of Badon, mentioned in the Annals of Wales. It's in a strategic position as it protects the ancient trackway known as the Ridgeway. But there are so many contenders for Badon and it is unlikely we shall ever know.

So another school of thought is that the horse is that of King Arthur. The scouring of the white horse, to stop grass growing to obliterate it, was turned into a festival that occurred every seven years and included games such as wrestling and cheese rolling. Cheese rolling sounds a crazy sport doesn't it? You can't help wondering if it started by accident when some twit dropped his cheese and had to hare off down the hill after it and everyone laughed and rolled their own cheeses after him in an attempt to knock him down...

Where are we going next? Blimey, this holiday is almost done!

Large versions of the photos: all the photographs from this holiday can be viewed as a set at Flickr.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Oxford

Thursday 30 May 1998. We had seen a number of white horses during the week but had not seen what is arguably the most famous one - the Uffington White Horse.

Fran and I left the Rollright Stones and headed into Oxford which was on the way to Uffington.

Oxford has to be one of the most car-unfriendly places in England. Finding a car park was incredibly hard and we had a near heart attack when we found out how much it was to park in the dim and extremely tight dungeon that we drove into.

Oxford is of course a university town but instead of a single university it has numerous colleges, some old and famous, others less aged and renowned.

It also has a number of old buildings in the shopping centre.

It is a place where the bicycle reigns on the road. There were hundreds of cyclists and collections of cycles awaiting collection.

We took the bus tour of Oxford. It is famous for universities you know. Have I said that already? Hmmm - more or less the only thing the bus commentary said also... Boring... This is only my opinion of course, but on the other hand, the faces of fellow passengers all lightened whenever the commentator shut up and music came on the headphones... Even Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland got the merest of mentions.

I have to say that since that day I've been back to Oxford a couple of times and enjoyed it more, but back in 1998 it was easily the most boring place we visited and the lack of signposting and the awful policy attitude to cars did not give a good impression!

Tell you what... let's find that white horse... Moving on...

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Frolicking in Frodsham

Are you allowed to frolic in Frodsham? I'm not sure - this is, after all, the posh area near Chester and we went out to the Golf Club last night to play for a 50th birthday party.

It was a double celebration as the birthday was that of twins Michael and Carolyn. Does that make it a 100th birthday party? Oops no...!

Michael even joined us to sing Jim Reeves' Welcome to my World and got a huge round of applause for his efforts!

Michael is seen here with wife Yvonne, listening to us trying to follow his spot! Another highlight was a quiz which asked guests to identify which of the twins was the first to walk, talk and be potty trained...!

The Rollright Stones

Thursday 30 May 1998. Having come out of the Motor Museum we saw this excellent chop-topped half-cab single decker bus waiting to pick up passengers for a trip.

The Cotswolds Tour bus wasn't quite ready to leave Bourton-on-the-Water but we were and made our way back to the car to find our last stone circle of the week, the Rollright Stones.

The Rollright Stones are so called because they are close to twin villages of that name.

There are two circles of stones and one monolith. This is the larger of the two stone circles and is known as the King's Men. Legend has it that these are the petrified figures of knights who come to life once a year at the dead of night.

The stone is of a softer substance that those at Stonehenge and Avebury, and thousands of years of wind, rain and the acidic sweat of curious fingers have eroded the stones leaving them in the gnarled twisted shapes that we can see today.

A bit like me really, but in my case it's a dodgy back rather than the sweat of curious fingers... sigh...

A short distance away is a smaller circle of larger stones that lean towards each other in a tight group. Not surprisingly, these have been given the collective name, the Whispering Knights.

Nobody seems sure whether it was a small stone circle or is a collapsed chambered tomb - what they call a quoit in Cornwall.

Across the main road from the circle is the King Stone - supposedly the very king who the knights were commanded by.

The railings prevent further damage by sweaty fingers but do not add much to the mystery and atmosphere!

Speaking of quoits, we saw a tumulus marked on our map - we were using one of the official tourist maps published by Estate Publications. They show just about anything of interest whether it's an ancient ruin or a one-man marmalade maker.

This turned out to be a half-collapsed burial chamber: a barrow, quoit, tumulus - whatever you want to call it. Unfortunately, although there was a small obelisk with a notice from the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works which used to be the government department for preserving these old artifacts, it fails to give the tomb a name. So if anyone recognises this and can provide me with a name, I'd be grateful for any information. I can't be certain now just where it was, even with the aid of the map which I still have...

Large versions of the photos: all the photographs from this holiday can be viewed as a set at Flickr.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Bourton-On-The-Water, Essence of the Cotswolds

Thursday 30 May 1998. After our day in Bibury and climbing up never-ending hills looking for Barrows, Fran and I spent the first of two nights at Bourton-on-the-Water.

This is early morning after a wonderful breakfast in the conservatory of the hotel - I had to wear sunglasses to breakfast, it was extremely nice!!!

The river is delightfully named the River Windrush and it babbles under several low distinctive bridges. There is plenty of greenery and lots of colour in the trees and flowers.

The buildings are all of the Cotswold mould - the area has inspired many model cottages. In fact, Fran has a collection of them, taking up valuable space that could be used for guitars, pinballs or jukeboxes!

This is the village toy shop! I spent ages looking at model trains and Dinky cars and of course I had to part with a bit of cash...

I had been trying to collect models of all the cars I'd personally owned, but finding recent models (unless one happens to own a Porsche or Ferrari) is not easy at all.

Strange really, I always remember as a boy wanting models of my Dad's car to play with. However I did find a model MkIII Ford Cortina even though mine was a slightly earlier version with different shaped headlights. I bought it and intended undertaking the sacrilege (to serious model collectors) of painting it in the colours of my own car of several years ago. (I never did though...)

At one end of the village we paused to watch the river for a while and looked round the yard of the Motor Museum. It's not big, but every inch of space is used inside!

An old pickup van is parked in the yard to give a taste of what awaits the visitor.

The museum cat was weighing itself on the scales (above) whilst a familiar yellow car announced his presence.

At the time my niece Heather, loved the childrens' TV programme "Brum" about the little car with a mind of its own that sneaks out of this very museum and has adventures in the big city (a rather long way away from here...)

So is he really here?

Of course he is!!!

Large versions of the photos: all the photographs from this holiday can be viewed as a set at Flickr.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Hills and Barrows

Wednesday 29 May 1998. After calling at Bibury, Fran and I headed up through Northleach, calling in at Keith Harding's excellent mechanical music museum, and then Bourton-on-the-Water which we shall see in the next entry.

We booked in for two nights in Bourton and then drove out to look at a couple of long barrows, along the lines of West Kennet Long Barrow seen a few days ago.

Our first stop according to the map was Notgrove Long Barrow. Here's the car in the massive lay-by they have provided at Notgrove to take the hordes of visitors who flock in their.... er... we're on our own...

There are several piles of gravel stored in the lay-by. A number of traffic cones help by showing a British car in its natural environment... Ok... so why am I prevaricating and delaying our look at Notgrove? Moi? Here it is!

Notgrove Long Barrow (according to the signboard nearby) was vandalised and to avoid further damage was backfilled by the local council. In other words, they brought a load of earth and filled it in. So it now looks like a hill. It no longer has hollow bits.

However, archeologists at some point in the future, say in a few hundred years, if they are confident that the vandals aren't lying in wait, can dig it out again as to their trained eyes it will be obvious which dirt is the added dirt. Ye-e-e-e-es...

Ok, let's go somewhere else!

Well this is looking promising! The signpost, despite being perfectly horizontal, points towards a path that really is quite a way from the horizontal and in no time at all we are puffing and panting our way up a steep hill and hoping that we shall find something that doesn't totally resemble a natural hill.

Happily we arrive at a tumulus that does not in any way disappoint the curious traveller.

This is not the entrance to the tomb. This is an elaborate false entrance to slow down the would be treasure seeker of millenia ago. The main entrance is round the back and we'll see that in a bit.

Before we get round that far though there are several small chambers entered through small outlets in the side of the mound. Standing against this, the lintel of the entrance is at groin height...

So to take this photograph I've crawled inside on my stomach. The chamber takes a quarter turn to the right and is incredibly professional looking. If they built one of these today it would not look too different from this - neat rows of brick and look at the ceiling!!! What is holding it up?!? So they were no slouches two or three thousand years ago...

And here I am, crouching in the rear entrance - which again has been backfilled. Looking at the height of the mound here, the main chamber was excavated underground rather than built on the level and then covered as at West Kennet.

So we may have started with a disappointment with Notgrove Hill (ex long barrow) but Belas Knap, besides having a wonderful name, offers a wonderfully atmospheric and mysterious glimpse of a past so far back that the name England was still thousands of years in the future.

Large versions of the photos: all the photographs from this holiday can be viewed as a set at Flickr.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Bibury Showpiece Village

Wednesday 29 May 1998. We awake in Cirencester to a cloudy but bright day with the sun threatening to come out.

We are heading up throughs the Cotswolds and my map told me that Bibury was a "Showpiece Village", so we made it our first stop of the morning.

It is indeed a lovely place and the sun ices the cake by making an appearance.

Bibury is a delightful village, with a trout farm and a row of cottages and some well kept gardens to enjoy.

If it wasn't for the yellow lines down the edge of the main street you could imagine yourself back in time here. The trout farm was either losing fish at a great rate or was a bit redundant, because the little stream that bubbled its way down the street, passing under several little bridges was teeming with them.

This is Arlington Row. A row of old cottages that makes as many appearances on postcards and chocolate boxes as the bridge at Castle Combe that we saw a few days ago.

In fact on that day (and visible to the left of the photo) a photo shoot was going on with a model walking a dog up and down the row whilst the small team of photographer, stylist and make-up artist made the most of the sunshine.

Here, away from those tell-tale yellow lines, it really is possible to imagine you are in a different century. In this photo only the road covering and the yellow H sign strikes a more modern note.

You see these small yellow markers all over the place in the UK and Ireland. They mark the position of the nearest fire hydrant which are all hidden in the ground rather than being street furniture. It does mean that cars don't run into them which TV and movies would have us believe happens all the time in America, sending great geysers of water shooting into the air. In the UK the water companies use leaks instead to waste water... My grandma had a car game where the first to see a yellow H had to shout "Fire Plug!". It keeps kids amused for ages and drives adults bananas!

Who wouldn't want to live in such an idyllic place? Yet town dwellers who move to the country can't seem to accept that it has its own way of working and existing and that sometimes it does smell when fields need fertilising, that there are slow tractors on the road, that going to the cinema involves a long drive, that animals make a noise when dawn breaks...

In the next entry we go in search of more hills of the dead and at one of them I have to enter by worming in on my belly. I hope you realise the lengths I go to for these articles!

Large versions of the photos: all the photographs from this holiday can be viewed as a set at Flicker

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Ship Shape and Bristol Fashion

Tuesday 28 May 1998. In the previous entry Fran and I visited the S.S. Great Britain in Bristol Docks. The well-known saying that is the title of this entry was stamped onto the ship's bell.

In its ship-building days, Bristol had a reputation second to none and that led to the saying becoming part of Britain's folklore. Along with such gems as "Red sky at morning - shepherd's warning" which meant that if the clouds were low enough to be tinged red by the rising sun it was likely to rain. Its sister saying is "Red sky at night - shepherd's alight!" or something like that...

Anyway this has nothing to do with our entry here except to pad it out as, although I took plenty of photos, I don't have plenty of tales to tell!

The Great Britain is a fair bit away from the city centre so we took a ferry through the old docks. Bristol has a history not only of ship-building but as a port, where not all the goods are to the city's credit. Slavers used Bristol with over 2000 slave ships setting out in the 110 years from 1697 to 1807.

It was an important wine port also. England's best known sherry, Harveys Bristol Cream, is so called because the Harvey family were based in Bristol.

We came to the city centre and immediately noted the sky. "Dark sky in afternoon - get out of Bristol soon!"

There being no such thing as mobile Internet in 1998 we went in search of a Tourist Information Office to find some accomodation for the night. The place was absolutely full. So was Cheddar, Wells, Weston... We spent two hours in the Tourist Information Office and didn't have any luck until we said we were going to head towards the Cotswolds and was there anything up that way?

We eventually secured a room in a guest house in Cirencester - the place we started this holiday with a brief stop at the Roman arena! It was an hour's run so we set off back towards the car which was parked near the Great Britain. The sky wasn't quite so threatening now. "Sky turning fair - no need for scare!" so we walked back down the docks instead of taking the ferry. Well ok - the ferry was nowhere in bloody sight actually, but the walk was ok.

This wasn't a ferry, but a pleasure cruise around the docks where they tell you things like the dockside Post Office had to have the cellars excavated and when they did, the skeletons of scores of people were found. Must have been hellish working for the Post Office in those days...

Now I remember that story because I had been to Bristol for a conference a few weeks previously and they had taken delegates on such a trip and it's the only story I remember! Oh the days of hospitality...!

As we neared the car we came across this little fellow, quite unperturbed that his home was bobbing up and down as the wind got up and the sky was definitely going dark again! "Daytime street lighting - don't get struck by lightning!"

Look, alright, I'm making these up as I go along, ok? I have visions of folks in other countries going, "Here! Look at what they say in England!" I could start a national trend in Mozambique or somewhere where folk gather and intone solemnly "Daytime street lighting..."

So we head north to Cirencester where we find our guest house is managed by a very friendly Chinese couple. We walked into the town centre to eat in a pub and found just one customer with a dog and a pint and no-one behind the bar.

"If you serve yerself, can yer pour me a pint?" said the customer, nodding sagely whilst the dog stared at me with a look that clearly said "take no notice, he's a pillock..."

Large versions of the photos: all the photographs from this holiday can be found in a set at Flickr
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