Thursday, 26 October 2006

The Solution

found whilst searching for some hyperlinks...

The "original" White Bear pub once stood on the area of open ground to the right of the garage. On the 16th April 1941 a parachute mine was dropped by an enemy plane and landed on the pub killing four local people and two soldiers – the pub was rebuilt further back from the road.

Full article (a walk around Masham) here. Thanks to Mark Reid, whoever you are.

Homeward Bound

Where was I?

Ah, yes, Monk Fryston Hall. Sumptuous, relaxing three course dinner (the only "big" meal of our stay) followed by a very restful (and spookless) night's sleep. I'm not too sure whether we'll ever come back to this part of the world, but this hotel would be a great base if we do. Dinner was so huge that even at breakfast we could only face egg on toast, prior to the journey westward across the Pennines.

Traffic was quite heavy but I managed a steady 70mph and we arrived at our first destination, Ikea, just about an hour after we set off. Quick shop (got a new, smaller computer desk for Alice's room) then lunch (meatballs, what else?) and we were back on the motorway for the short journey to my mum's. By this time the heavens had opened, and it was raining quite heavily.

We got to Grandma's by 2 o'clock and both of them seemed happy to see us. I gathered that nerves had been a bit fraught over the last couple of days. Yesterday, apparently, Alice had been so excited waiting for us to arrive that anything my mum did to occupy her came to nothing. Still, once we arrived everyone was happy.

Because of the rain we stayed at my mum's until as late as we dared, but it was to no avail. I ended up getting soaked loading stuff into the car, and as we drove off the rain was still heavy. For some reason we hit traffic within five minutes of leaving my mum's, and unfortunately this was to be the story of our journey home. I drove down to Warwick, where it took just on 4 hours to cover the 125 miles. After a distinctly unhealthy supper Jacqueline took the wheel. Both traffic and rain were now lighter and she was able to maintain a decent speed. In the end, we got home at around 9:30pm.

Terrible journey.

Alice went straight to bed, although I needed to stay up a while in order to chill. And now it is the morning after, I am sitting on the London-bound train. There was a derailment at Waterloo a couple of days ago, and I will need to change at Basingstoke. Down to earth with a bump!
Highlights of Yorkshire were:
  • seeing the Dales once again.
  • visiting the charming towns of Hawes, Leyburn, Masham and Thirsk
  • the excellent quality of the food. Despite us checking out of the King's Head early, the roast lamb we had on Sunday night was, in my opinion, second only to lamb I once had at the Tour d'Argent in Paris. It simply melted in the mouth. And the gammon from the Bolton Arms in Leyburn wasn't far behind, although the portions were far too large for us. I think over the next few days I need to detox!
  • Wensleydale cheese
  • last but not least, getting to spend some time with Jacqueline, sans enfant. These times really do remind you of why you got together in the first place.

Tuesday, 24 October 2006

Haunted

Mixed day.

We had a wonderful breakfast up in Leyburn, and if guest houses are your thing, Clyde House was excellent. Breakfast was served during a half-hour window, the result being that we were ready quite early.
After visiting a couple of shops in Leyburn we motored on, down to Masham once more. This time Theakstons Brewery (or was it Black Sheep?) was well in evidence, the town smelling of hops. (Reminded me of my university days, and Brains brewery in the centre of Cardiff.) At Masham we visited a couple of shops we'd earmarked, one in particular a deli with some wonderful food, the other a wonderful glass workshop where we picked up something nice for Grandma.

On from Masham, through Ripon and across to York. It had been recommended to us to use the Park and Ride (a sound piece of advice), and although we managed to park quite quickly we still had one problem - no room booked for tonight. Fortunately, the Red guide came into its own and right now we are sitting in Monk Fryston Hall, a reputedly-haunted house dating from the sixteenth century. Wonderful - the bar area is full of panelled walls and it was difficult to resist the temptation of knocking on them.

York itself was slightly disappointing. Very crowded, which didn't help.The last time I was here was as a teenager, the last time Jacqueline had been there was around 10 years ago. We went around the Treasury House (NT, so free) by the minster, but to be honest I wasn't in the mood. The guy behind the house may have been visionary in terms of the furniture he collected, but from what I could gather he was basically a rich kid. Went down all the little streets, the Shambles etc. but as I said the volume of people made it awkward. Contemplated going to Betty's Tea Rooms (famous apparently) for afternoon tea, but did not like the idea of queuing. Instead we found a charming little tea shop on the first floor of a lovely shop, where we were able to look down on the throngs below.

By the time the rain started we were pretty much tired out. We didn't find the Viking museum, and this would probably be the only reason for visiting York once again.

Homeward bound tomorrow. By the sounds of things Alice has had her moments, and in fact even left a message on my phone saying how Grandma was being horrible to her. Trouble is, whenever one of us asks Alice to do something she doesn't want to do (for example tidying up a mess she's made), we're being horrible to her. So this language is very subjective. I guess the key markers will be (i) how willing is she to come home tomorrow, and (ii) how will she respond to the suggestion that she visits Grandma once again.

Time will tell...

Quiet Night

Last night's entry was interrupted in the end not by the phone giving out (it is happily sitting here with two bars on the battery indicator), but by the desire to get a good, home-cooked meal inside us, and the Bolton Arms did us proud.

Leyburn is such a pretty village, and even despite there being a distinct nip in the air as we walked back to the b&b, the stroll was lovely.

I have just woken from a (wonderfully quiet) night's slumbers, and can hear Jacqueline breathing deeply beside me. Being up here has been so relaxing - normally at this time I would be London-bound. Today - our last day here - we will visit York and will take a hotel down there this evening. I have to say that even though the place we're staying at (Clyde House) is very well equipped and very quiet, we both feel less comfortable staying in b&bs than we would staying in a hotel. Basically the fact that you're staying in someone else's house is just that little bit too personal for us. Strange? Probably...

Monday, 23 October 2006

Change of Plans

This entry might have to be brief since the battery on my phone is low.

First job of the day was to check out of the hotel. We were due to spend another two nights there but on both Saturday and yesterday we had to go downstairs and ask that they turned some music off - our room was almost over the restaurant and even though the restaurant was empty the music was still blaring out. Too much.

So, all checked out we headed to Thirsk, which was a lovely way to spend the morning. Also, though we'd had rain overnight, we had lovely sunshine today. A visit to Thirsk would be incomplete without visiting the Herriot museum, where the house is kept almost as it was from forty or fifty years ago. I read all of the Herriot books as a teenager, and not long ago read Alf Wight's biography, and so for me the visit was totally in context. Jac had never read his books, but I think her appetite has now been whetted.

On from Thirsk up to Richmond. Nice enough, but Richmond seemed subtly less affluent than the other places we'd visited. The market square was pretty, and the view from the castle superb, but we both felt as if it were time to leave after a couple of hours.

Back into Wensleydale to Leyburn, where we've booked into a small Bed and Breakfast for the night. We got here about 4:30, time enough to explore the Market Square and to sample one of the local tea shops. To Jacqueline's thinking, a cream tea is justified each day by the amount of walking we've been doing, although I'm not so sure...

Sunday, 22 October 2006

Exploration

We've just returned from a lovely day exploring the Dales.

We started the day with a lovely cooked breakfast here at the hotel, with the weather alternating between bright and overcast.

Up to Leyburn, a beautiful village, and through Redmire (the village we stayed in during my childhood holidays - I didn't recognise anywhere) to Castle Bolton, where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned for a time. After a somewhat windswept tour (the weather still holding) we drove on to Aysgarth Falls, which were spectacular. I don't know whether the photos will show it but the water, which was in full flow, had a red/brown tinge. We lunched at Aysgarth - a cheese roll, delicious Wensleydale of course - and then motored further along Wensleydale to Hawes, a charming little town.

At this point our luck with the weather ran out, and our anoraks were aired. By this time we felt in the mood for afternoon tea, so stopped at the Wensleydale Creamery (which, we found strange for a creamery, did not serve proper cream). The weather by now having totally greyed over, we set off once again, southward over the fells and down into Wharfdale. The sheep grazing freely beside the fast-running river reminded me a little of north Wales, although what really makes this area stand out are the dry stone walls. Absolutely lovely, and though I hate to say it, we are so chilled out without Alice.

Just short of Skipton we turned back east across Nidderdale to Pateley Bridge (again, lovely) and then north-east back up to Masham. All-in-all, a lovely day. A shame we have only two more to go...

Alice has just phoned and had a great time at Chester Zoo. By the sounds of things she has bought at least a couple of cuddly toys. Oh, and I have read some more about the bombing of Masham. Apparently the Germans dropped two parachute mines (the question remains, why?) which destroyed a pub and some houses, and actually killed six. So why only four mentioned on the memorial? Perhaps the other two were atheists? Or maybe servicemen? The plot thickens...

Saturday, 21 October 2006

Before I forget

As we were exploring Masham, we had a walk around the graveyard. There was a prominent war memorial there, and two things were memorable.

First, the number of siblings killed was remarkable.

Second, the memorial mentioned two couples who were actually killed in Masham when a German bomber dumped its payload on them. I mean, this is a village surrounded by all things green - is that unlucky or what?

Away Again

Whoopee - we are away for the second weekend in a row, this time much farther afield than Kent and absolutely guaranteed to be less stressful than last week.

Last night we headed north to see Grandma in Liverpool. This journey has had the potential over the years to be a complete nightmare - so much so that in the recent past we've taken to flying - but we were fortunate that, apart from a painful delay at Birmingham, the roads were fine and we sped northward. Still, given that I'd done a full day's work beforehand, it was still half-past-midnight by the time we arrived.

Alice, who had been.looking forward to the visit all week, slept most of the way up, but was very excited when we finally arrived at grandma's. However, this was not to be just another visit to grandma's.
This morning Jacqueline and I abandoned grandma to Alice, and pressed on. The destination? Well, Jacqueline and I have booked into a charming little hotel in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales. So, away we headed along the M62, comfortably reaching (the very beautiful) Harrogate in time for lunch and a gentle stroll. Having explored Harrogate, we pushed on further through Ripon, where we didn't stop today, up to the village of Masham, to the King's Head hotel.

We arrived in time to visit a couple of shops before they closed, as we explored the village. We've been very lucky with the weather so far. Being Yorkshire, we've certainly packed our raincoats, but today has been sunny and I have been walking around in a t-shirt. Having said that, now we're comfortably settled in the hotel I can hear a rainstorm outside. Very much sunshine and showers weather, I certainly hope we have at least one nice day since we'd like to explore the Dales a little.

I last visited this part of the world as a boy over thirty years ago, when we came on a couple of family holidays here. My main memory of these holidays was the vast amounts of time spent travelling in the car. Now that I am mobile myself, the distances seem far shorter. As a boy the journey to Yorkshire took all day, whereas today we made it in two hours. I must say I have similar thoughts of our holidays to north Wales - interminable journeys which today are far quicker. I wonder why? Better roads? Faster cars? Poor memory?
Still, we're here now. Alice, by the way, has visited Grandad in his nursing home today. We spoke to her a short while ago and she's still very happy to be at grandma's. I believe they have a day out planned at Chester Zoo tomorrow. Ah....the excitement!

Thursday, 19 October 2006

TV Tastes

For some strange reason, Alice has taken to waking herself up, and getting herself up, shortly after me. She basically decamps to the bathroom, duvet and all, while I am in the shower.

When I get out of the shower, off we head to the lounge, where she puts the tv on.

For some even stranger reason, she seems to have become hooked on a programme called "Bespoked", on Sky Sports apparently every morning, which is basically about trail-biking (on both motorbikes and pushbikes). Quite why grown men riding (and frequently crashing) at speed along muddy trails appeals to my darling seven-year-old "girly" daughter I have yet to fathom.

The surreality is complete when she pipes up, "I want one of those for christmas"!

Web site tip, for anyone out there with kids, www.educationcity.com looks really good. Based closely on the UK National Curriculum, Alice's teacher even set her homework through it last week. We're still at the "free trial" stage but I phoned them up was told that entering the word "school" into the coupon field will reduce the cost of the subscription by a tenner. Good stuff.

Tuesday, 17 October 2006

Parents Evening

Had a pleasant surprise last night, I popped into Alice's Parents Evening on the way home.

Her teacher seems really nice and is obviously fond of Alice. Even more importantly Alice is improving such that she is reading and writing at the national average level for her age - it has always been difficult to get her to concentrate and consequently she has always been below average academically, but she's obviously starting to move forward a bit now. She's still near the bottom of her class, though.

The main message from the teacher was that the results of her work are so, so dependent on her level of concentration, as we well know.

All in all, very positive.

Monday, 16 October 2006

Ahhhhhhhh

Well, we got home yesterday with only one further bit of hassle - Jac's mum came over to our table at breakfast, just after I'd finished writing the previous entry, and started berating Jac about her parenting skills.
She was probably joking to a certain extent, although having just got up at 7am to take Alice to hospital, my sense of humour on the "crap parents" line was worn pretty thin. Trying to sound lighthearted about the situation, I told her that any parents willing to do this could not possibly be "bad".

Anyway, we chilled in the room until around midday, and to be honest would have been home for 2pm had we not stopped off at Morrisons on the way. The only hold-up was some roadworks at Basingstoke.

The rest of the day was quiet. The webcam is in the process of being upgraded at the moment, so I did some work on that but need to get hold of a new drill bit before I can complete it. Also, it was sunny so I thought I'd mow the lawn one last time, but the lawn mower flatly refused to start and I got off scott free.

So all in all, a chilled end to a stressful weekend. Ready now to start the week!

Sunday, 15 October 2006

Not over yet

I should probably write an addendum to last night's entry.

One of the reasons that Alice became unbearably tearful last night was that she and I went for a torchlight walk - the grounds of this place were beautiful - and Alice stumbled and tripped. She is normally quite a hardy soul but this time it obviously hurt.

Still, despite complaining all the way to bed she dropped off immediately. I remember back to when I broke my arm, and sleep was impossible, so I thought the omens were good.

However, this morning, she was still complaining, and so we enter the parents' nightmare. Of course she was putting it on somewhat - she reeled in pain even as I tried to put a sock on her *other* foot. But of course you can't ignore her - if she really has broken her foot then the sooner it gets treated the better. And of course the only way to know for sure is to get an x-ray.

So guess where we were at 7:30 this morning? Yep, Maidstone A&E.

A wait, an x-ray and a bandage later, we arrive back at the hotel in time for breakfast.

Alice, hobbling along, has now recovered sufficiently to want to go for a swim. But of course the answer is No - getting us all up at 7 o'clock to rush to A&E is a major thing, and the last thing I am prepared to do is to trivialise it as though nothing has happened. In the worst case, if Alice really was swinging the lead, she needs to know that there are consequences to it. Anything else and, well, she's probably better off not swimming today anyway.

Jacqueline has said some quite negative things about her family this morning. We hadn't discussed it but obviously she's picked up some of the same stuff that I've picked up. We've both felt like outsiders this weekend - not really a problem for me since I've never really considered myself an "insider" - but Jacqueline has always thought she was quite close to her mum and sisters. Families.....it is like the bloody cosa nostra not matter what family you're in.

Saturday, 14 October 2006

Trial by Ordeal

Jeeeeez, thank god for that, we survived the wedding..... So unbelievably stressful.......never again.
It has just ended for us with a taxi ride back to the hotel. Over the last hour Alice has become hysterical, she has basically become overtired.

Remarkable things about the wedding:

Susan has two daughters, yet only one of them was asked to be the bridesmaid. The other daughter simply did a reading. Of course I am totally ignorant of the politics of the situation, but I did find it a little surprising.

The other bridesmaid was Susan's sister Lorraine. Her kids, Lucy and Solomon, were there as a page boy/flower girl. Jacqueline wasn't asked to be a bridesmaid, neither was Alice asked to be a flower girl. I wasn't aware of this until the actual ceremony itself, had I been I'd have stayed home.

The wedding was in a lovely location, and for mid-October the weather was fine and bright. The ceremony was held outdoors.

At the reception, I went without wine. Everybody else's place had a set of glasses, except for mine. So I thought "fuck it". I know - I could have just asked for a glass, but why should I have to?

The bar was apparently open to everybody but me - I was charged for my beer, everyone else got theirs courtesy of the bride and groom, Again, I'm sure none of this was deliberate, but why did it happen when I went to the bar?

So, all told, I am infinitely relieved we had the wedding we had (two witnesses only, no guests), and am resolved not to go to any more of these things. Families are dodgy things.

Back now in the room, the family is asleep and I have caught Four Weddings and a Funeral. Despite the fact that it is a very cheesy film, despite the fact that I am obviously not genetically disposed to weddings in general!, I do like this film....

Friday, 13 October 2006

Not your average journey home

I am travelling out of London, but the surroundings are unfamiliar. The train is different, and the locations have only very distant memories (Clapham, Brixton), are places of which I have only ever heard (Catford), or sometimes even never heard of (Crofton Park anyone?) Catford in particular - the stunning views toward the sheer wealth of Canary Wharf are unceremoniously blotted out by the huge concrete tower blocks, in one place three or four deep.

We pass through Bromley - prime commuterland and though the blocks of flats have disappeared the rows upon rows of terraced houses serve as a stark reminder that we are only twenty minutes out of Victoria.
A field, a wood, the surroundings are gradually starting to be punctuated. A cemetery, with neat rows of white gravestones. More fields....was that a landfill site? But it is beginning to get dark, I'm not too sure just how much more I will see.

It is the Friday getaway, my sister-in-law Susan is taking the plunge for the second time (brave woman!) and we're spending the weekend over by Maidstone. A little over an hour on the train, so I am getting off lightly compared to my normal journey. At this moment, however, poor old Jacqueline is either on the M3, the M25, M26 or M20 - I think I have the better deal somehow.

With any luck I'll get to the hotel sufficiently before them - and before the in-laws notice my arrival, for there will be a full house this weekend - to chill for a little while in the room.

Now it is completely dark. We must be rural-ish since the phone has no signal. Must make sure I stay awake!

Gnasherless

I must report that both of Alice's front (baby) teeth have now dropped out, within barely 24 hours of each other. So the tooth fairly has been busy at our house this week.

I should also add that despite the fact that Alice can be infuriating at times, neither I nor (to my knowledge) anyone else had anything to do with the teeth dropping out! In fact, when you look into her mouth, the adult teeth are pretty much visible and will make an appearance I'm sure before too long.

Carlo is back to his lovely, playful old self. Despite having two fewer bollocks than he did a couple of weeks ago. He's also insured, so if the bugger goes missing again we can go out for a meal to celebrate!

Monday, 9 October 2006

Relief

To our immense relief, the boy cat is home once again, though not without it costing an arm and a leg in the process. We found out on Friday that he'd spent the last week in a vet's in Salisbury.

He'd been knocked down - only a short way from our house by the sounds of things, and someone had spotted him lying by the side of the road and whisked him to the vet. He looked quite bloody and was in a pretty bad way, according to the woman who found him.

Despite the fact that I'd phoned the RSPCA and our local vet in Fordingbridge, we actually found out about his whereabouts from Caroline - who is one of these people who seems to know everyone and everything that's going on. True enough, when Jacqueline phoned the vet, they confirmed the story. So, Friday evening Jac headed over there to pick up a good-as-new Carlo. We literally could not tell that anything had happened to him, although he did manage to lose a couple of teeth.

We got the phone number of the woman who had found him from the vet, and I called her Friday night to say thanks, and popped Alice around there Saturday morning with some flowers. I guess in some ways it must have been bittersweet for her, since she had children of her own and had actually arranged with the vet that she would give Carlo a home, in the event that nobody claimed him.

Strangely enough, as a result of Carlo's visit to the vet's, he's now - officially - no longer a rampant male! It is ironic that, had he not gone missing, we'd have been booking him in for the very same operation. Another thing, which seems remarkably sensible with hindsight, was that the vet chipped him, so if ever he gets lost again...

So, on the agenda this week is to sort out some insurance for Carlo - yes we were caught again! - and to enquire about having Maisie chipped.

Who needs kids with cats around?

The rest of the weekend was spent at shop. Saturday we popped over to West Quay to get some shoes for Alice. The occasion is Susan's forthcoming wedding, and Alice was thrilled to get her first pair of high-heels. Yesterday we headed over to the Farmers' Market in Winchester, although the selection wasn't as good as last time. Good lunch in the Slug and Lettuce - very trendy.

This morning the train is packed - very few seats available even at Salisbury. Britain is obviously taking its security seriously still, as the squaddie sitting opposite me is reading "restricted" staff reports in full view of the rest of the carriage.

Monday, 2 October 2006

Business Update

On a work front, today is seventeen years to the day since I first did a day's work. (Some would say seventeen years since I *last* did a day's work!) And my working life is not yet half over...

Some good news, too. Anyone who has read back-entries through this blog will realise that I operate as a consultant rather than as a permanent employee. This involves running my own company etc. etc.

One of the side-effects of this type of setup is that, instead of being employed "indefinitely", my company is contracted to provide services for a set period of time. With the current client, this contract was due to expire at the end of October.

My feeling, as has been echoed a couple of times in the blog, is that I found working with the client quite menial much of the time. I have had far deeper technical roles in the past, and have been paid far more handsomely for them. The current market conditions forced me to the conclusion that it is now time to move on.

I was surprised, however, at just how much the clients wanted to keep me. I suppose I made it pretty obvious that I was about to walk, they obviously picked up on this and at the end of last week offered a much improved deal, both in terms of the nature of the services and the renumeration. Very surprised.

So now it looks like I will be signing up to provide services to the client for another year...

Concerned for Carlo

We're very anxious at the moment - Carlo has gone missing. The last time he was spotted was Thursday afternoon.

I have done the "walk" up the lane, to make sure he wasn't lying dead by the side of the road, and fortunately the road was clear.

Difficult to know what to make of things - we have to appear positive for Alice's sake, but Jacqueline has said to me that she thinks we've seen the last of him. For all his usual bravado, he is only five months old and is generally to be found not too far from a warm bed at night. Certainly both Barney and Maisie have had spells when they've both disappeared. After a time they reappeared, but they had been injured (Barney in particular) and required visits to the vets. Having said that, I had a cat in Oxford once (Boston) who would happily disappear for up to three weeks' at a time.

Maybe he'd got wind that he was about to have his knackers chopped off?

The one family member who does seem happy with the news is Maisie, she is behaving exactly as she did after Barney's death. We dented her happines somewhat on Saturday, when I took her to the vet's to have her annual jabs (during which time she managed to give me a deep, inch-long scratch on my hand), but even this did not perturb her for long. I think, if Carlo does not return, the lesson we take from this is that Maisie likes the house to herself.

Apart from this, a quiet weekend. I was clearing out the car on Saturday and came across a bag from the farmers' market which had been overlooked. Some of the cheese may be salvageable but clearly the lamb steaks were fit only for the bin!

Yesterday I caught up on paperwork, filling out the dreaded VAT return and processing some receipts etc. O how I detest this stuff nowadays.