Hello. thank you for visiting. A number of my Willowbrook colleagues have asked me to keep in touch now that I have retired - where I go and what I see and do etc. This should keep you "in the picture".

A week in Cornwall.

June 19, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Helen and Ant wanted Libby to have a "seaside" holiday and had found a lovely holiday house in the village of Treyarnon, just 10 mins. walk from the picturesque Treyarnon Bay, one of the famous "Seven Bays" around Padstow. I joined them and so did Ant's parents, Dave and Jen. For once we were blessed with superb sunny weather, after a couple of showers early on. As has become the norm with our "multi-generation" holidays, we each go our own way, sometimes meeting up during the day but sometimes not until back at base in the evening. The back of our house was west-facing with the sea just visible in the distance - and perfect for sunset photos.

I visited Tintagel Castle on the Monday (English Heritage and seemingly over-run with German visitors!). I'm glad I've "done it" but found it slightly uninspiring photographically - and probably won't bother to go back.

Tuesday I spent at the house, waiting for a delivery of wine from Waitrose (ordered via internet sunday and confirmed for delivery on Tuesday). It never arrived. It eventually came Wednesday midday, so effectively a second day of my holiday "wasted". I am now awaiting a response from Waitrose to my strong letter of dissatisfaction with their service. (I had taken one bottle of this rose down with me. Helen and Ant raved about it so, as a holiday treat, I decided to order more.)

Wednesday was a beach day.

On Thursday, I drove across to near St. Austell and visited the Wheal Martyn China Clay Museum and country park. Over the years, we have passed by or through the "Cornish Alps" on several occasions and I now wanted to learn more about this extremely important part of Cornwall's industrial and mining heritage. I found it fascinating, very well done and with a walk (hot sunny day) through what has now become a country park, up to a viewing gallery overlooking a working pit. 

Friday 13th and a drive up to Launceston to visit the Castle (also EH and as I am a member, I must get my money's worth!). An impressive keep and excellent views out over the town and surrounding countryside. Sauntered round the town; a typical small market town which reminded me a lot of Dolgellau in mid-Wales (except for the accents!).

Saturday and all good things come to an end. I did briefly consider finding a B&B and staying down in Cornwall for another couple of days in the beautiful weather, then remembered the lawns needed cutting. Back to reality!  On the way down, Helen and Ant had stopped off at Tyntesfield House, a NT property just south of Bristol, for a snack and to let Libby run off some energy - and had raved about the place. So I called in on my way home. An added bonus that day was a display of 50-60 classic cars, with owners delighted to tell you all about them! Had a long chat with 2 owners: one about his Jaguar E Type and the other his MGB. Nice restaurant there. NT always do very tempting cakes!! Then headed back to M5 and up towards home, stopping off at Gloucester to check out the new Gloucester Services, operated by the same people who created the very highly rated Tebay services up in the Lake District. I can confirm that Gloucester is following exactly the same theme, operating as a local community business with a very strong emphasis on the "local". All the wood used in the construction came from the nearby Forest of Dean and their food motto is "grown, not flown".

The album "Cornwall June 2014" has pics. of my week there with the family.


Back to my roots - a trip to Norfolk.

May 28, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Last week I went back to the "Land of my fathers" - Norfolk. I was born in Norwich, as was my father but the previous seven generations were all born in the villages surrounding Fakenham, up in north Norfolk. I wanted to spend time at the premises of the Norfolk Family History Society (NFHS) investigating their records of "all things Norfolk" and to soak up a bit of atmosphere by visiting some of the villages associated with my forebears. I also planned to go south into Suffolk, to Ipswich where I grew up and went to school; and finally to return home via Essex and call in on my cousin Judy (on my mother's side and one of my few living relatives). Four nights away, five days and a round trip of nearly 600 miles.

Travelling over on Monday, a fatal accident at 3am had resulted in the A11 still being closed at 2pm and total chaos on all surrounding roads. I therefore headed much further east to avoid the area and visited a little village on the Suffolk/Norfolk border where my mother's family hail from. Her father owned several farms in and around Mellis, whose main claim to fame is that it has the largest area of unfenced common land in England. Its iconic old mill buildings are also where respected British furniture maker, Multiyork, started up over 30 years ago. This also put me not far from ace model car maker Toby Sutton, whose beautiful 8" long walnut re-creation of the iconic 1958 Lister-Jaguar "knobbly" sports-racer takes pride of place in my study. (Genuine Listers with full provenance now change hands at auction for £1m - and are still raced). I had never met Toby but, having spoken on the phone, I knew we had much in common. Fortunately he was in that afternoon and we spent two hours chatting about all things car-related. He did his apprenticeship at Longbridge ("The Austin" as it was known in the 1950's) and remembered the Lickey Hills well. Small world!

After spending Monday night at the Travelodge at Cringleford on the southern edge of Norwich (only a few miles from Hethersett where my mother lived for many years. Her bungalow seemed virtually as I remembered it.) I spent time reading other people's research into the "Dodman" name, then in the afternoon headed north. The curator/librarian at the Gressenhall Museum of Rural Life (see photos) wasn't in but I now have a contact name for further research. I was aware that in the small village of Horningtoft was a "Dodman's Lane" (see photo) and I wanted to see/photograph it and hopefully find someone who might know of its history. A resident mowing his lawn directed me to the local historian a mere 50 yds down another track, a charming lady whose curiosity I aroused and she insisted on getting out all the old tythe maps. We established that a man called Dodman had lived in a cottage (long since demolished) by the lane. Her husband was from East Rudham, the village I was heading to that night and insisted on ringing a few relatives still living there to check on a few facts. More of this tomorrow!

I then drove the few miles to Weasenham to check out "Dodma Road" and see if anyone knew its derivation. As it is only a few miles from East Rudham, I reckon it is a corruption of "Dodman" - but could I prove it? I called at a B&B opposite the end of Dodma Road, but the lady there admitted they were "incomers" and had only been there 12 years. Her accent was definitely not Norfolk - possibly London/Home Counties. Two other locals also shook their heads. I called at the village pub but the licensee was a Londoner and there was no-one in the pub who could help. I drove away, then spotted an elderly lady watering her front garden and asked her. "No, but I know who will" was her comment. "Walk with me to the end of the lane and I'll point out his house". As we walked and chatted, I mentioned being born in Norwich, to which she replied that she was a Freeman of the City of Norwich. I replied that I was honoured to be talking to her. "Oh, it's nothing these days", she replied. "I think it gives me the right to graze my goat somewhere within the city walls!". On the edge of the village green lived the church warden so I knocked on his door. His wife explained that he was out but invited me in anyway as she was curious about my research and she gave me the phone number of someone else in the village (who I still have to make contact with) and it turned out that her husband is a retired RAF Victor bomber pilot and had been based at Marham, one of the many RAF bases in Norfolk.

And so on to East Rudham, the village where my grandfather was born in 1881. The Crown Inn is an old pub, but the restaurant was busy ("It's gone rather up-market", Mrs. bomber pilot had told me) and they have obviously hit on a winning formula. Dinner was excellent, the bed was comfy and I slept well till 5 am. That was when the heavy lorries started thundering past, on the main Fakenham-Norwich road! After breakfast, I strolled the village in glorious sunshine and talked to a lady at the church. She called over one of her colleagues to join in the conversation and this lady knew of my visit, her brother being the person the Horningtoft man had rung the previous afternoon. You can't keep any secrets in these small villages! I photographed the building (now a private house - see photo) which was formally a shop run by a "Dodman" and which sold saddles and all sorts of items made from leather for the farming community - and sweets, remembered another old local I spoke to later. This chap, who had lived in Back Lane (where my grandfather was born)(see photos) all his life, had been a truck driver, worked for a Fakenham haulage company and several times each week drove produce from the local farms to markets in Derby, Nottingham, Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Evesham. A 330 mile round trip, which "we had to do in 14 hours". No motorways, no tachographs then! A hard life I suspect, he looked older than his years. Another resident told me most of the properties were originally farm cottages, tied to two local farms. Like many of the local villages, quite a few residents are now "incomers". Londoners "discovered" the north Norfolk coast some thirty years ago and property prices rocketed; that same process now affects these more inland villages with many being "second homes". I could have spent all day talking to people there and just soaking up the atmosphere but I needed to get back to Norwich and further research. Two different people told me that Back Lane used to be called, by the villagers, "Cindermuck Lane" - now that is the sort of information you don't find on the internet -  that comes from talking to the locals!!!

Wednesday night was back at the same Travelodge (and I have to say that Travelodge do seem to be investing a lot of money in re-furbishing their premises. A few years ago Les and I had spent a weekend at Okehampton on Dartmoor. The bed was comfy but the premises were really so shabby and facilities non-existant). What was also very interesting was that the Norwich site also had a Manager who was there in reception in the morning, talking to guests as they checked out and asking for feedback. After more reading at the NFHS on Thursday morning, it was off to Ipswich, 40 miles south. I quickly found Sidegate Lane (see photos), the house where I grew up (see photos) and the first school I went to (see photo) a few hundred yards down the same road. I still recall the standing joke that the children who were always "late" were those who lived in the houses opposite the school! I then visited the crematorium where my father's ashes were scattered in 1958 and retraced the route I used to cycle from my home to Ipswich School. (No being dropped off by Mum in those days; you either walked if local, went on the ordinary bus or by bike). Considerable redevelopment has taken place since I left in 1963 but, by chance, a cricket match was taking place on the School Field (see photos) which brought back many happy memories.

After a night at another Travelodge just south of Ipswich (No food facilities other than a Starbucks which closed at 6pm but this meant that I could head into a local village and a lovely steak at the Bull Inn in Brantham), I headed down into Essex, to visit Judy and her husband Clive, a retired agricultural engineer, in the small village of Gosfield. I spent most of the day there; we had much catching up to do! - and then set off for home about 6.30pm. Total mileage 570 miles. The Audi is now nicely run in!!


Community Orchard at Lickey.

May 12, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

During last year, I applied for a bench to be erected on the Lickeys in Les' memory, only to be told by Birmingham Parks Dept. (who administer the Hills) that they were not putting up any more as there "are already more than enough".

Then, a few months ago, I heard that the Lickey Hills Society (which we have been members of for some years) has been working with the Park Rangers to create a Community Orchard, in a very quiet, and previously neglected area of the Hills which is only a few hundred yards from the Visitor Centre but down a not-very-much-used path (actually called "Drovers Way"). The path eventually comes out to the Old Birmingham Road almost opposite the Old Rose and Crown pub at the foot of Rose Hill. Forty-two fruit trees, all old traditional Worcestershire varieties, not grown commercially any more and in danger of being lost, have been planted and the Society were looking for "contributions". Peter and Helen have given a very generous donation and "our" tree is No.6, an apple called Sandlin Duchess. This variety was raised in about 1880 by a Mr. Gabb at Sandlin near Malvern and subsequently introduced by William Crump, the head gardener at Madresfield Court. 

The first two pics. show me with Peter and Hazel when we first looked at the Orchard a few weeks ago, to decide if it was what we had in mind as a memorial, as we had also been invited to participate in another scheme near the Old Rose and Crown. The peace and tranquility of the Orchard appealed to us more than the other, which is much closer to the main road and therefore noisier.

Today (12/5/14) I decided to go and look at "our" tree whilst still (hopefully) in blossom - and I plan to re-visit each May and photograph it as it grows. What I had not realised is that the Orchard is surrounded by bluebells and the remaining pics. show how the whole area looks today. The ground drops away down to a bridge over a small muddy stream and then a footpath leads off into the Hills. There were a couple of ducks poddling around in the stream! Not a sound other than birds. Idyllic.

The other reason for choosing tree no. 6 is that it is close to the centre of the Orchard, which has been designed with an open space in the middle where the Rangers were hoping to place a picnic bench. They were delighted when I said I would sponsor it.  

 


Weston Sandocross

April 23, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Once a year, the Weston-Super-Mare Motor Club hold an event unique on the British mainland - sand racing on the beach. I had visited it once before, with Les 6 years ago. The weather forecast for Sunday, April 13th was dry and sunny (though with a bitter wind blowing off the sea). I had previously checked with the Club that I would be able to sign on as media and go trackside to photograph.

When I got there, one other person had signed on and I just assumed he was either from the local paper or perhaps the club's own photographer. At one point, we passed each other and just nodded and exchanged greetings but I didn't stop to quiz him. I took photos from a couple of different corners, then after lunch settled on another corner where I reckoned that someone might just roll. During the afternoon, two cars did. Quite spectacular, fortunately neither driver was hurt though both cars looked decidedly the worse for wear.

At some point during the day, the commentator had asked me if I could let him have a photo for the local paper, as they apparently hadn't sent a photographer along. I agreed. During the day, with 2 cameras with different lenses attached, I took over 700 photos which that evening were whittled down to just under 300. I emailed four to the club for them to make a final choice and this was subsequently published in the following week's edition of the local paper, both the print version and the online edition. The club then asked if I could put all the photos into an online gallery for their members and the competitors to view. So I did. On the Monday, the Clerk of the Course, the Secretary of the Meeting and the Event Commentator all emailed me to thank me for the gallery link which they had viewed and thought the photos were fantastic.

A very enjoyable day out;  doing what I love doing and it was nice that the results gave other people a lot of pleasure too.

And the other photographer - I have no idea who he was.


My new car.

April 14, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Before she died, Les and I had talked about getting rid of the Corolla when she retired. We both agreed on what we wanted. A bit smaller, newer, more powerful, more "image".

Last Christmas, I realised that, to find the spec. I wanted as  "nearly-new" would be impossible for probably another 12 months and, if I am to enjoy my "mini breaks away" I wasn't prepared to wait that long. The order for a new car was therefore placed early in January, with a predicted hand-over of late April/early May. In the intervening weeks, the dealership has been first-rate with regular courtesy calls and updates, including the good news that the "build-date" had been brought forward by the factory by two weeks. Keeping my personal reg.was no problem; all the paperwork was handled by them and the LE51DOD plates were on the car when I collected it.

The dealership; well, they trade as Birmingham Audi, are actually based in Shirley but we all know them as LISTERS. And I have to say that, from the very first time I walked into their showroom, they have been absolutely brilliant. (Unlike the first (and only) contact with my "local" Audi dealer in Halesowen. There, the salesman intimated that they really weren't interested in selling A1's (too little profit on them) unless they assessed that the next purchase would be a "bigger" Audi and which in my case it clearly would not be).

Needless to say, I curtailed the discussion, walked out and rang Listers. 

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