Category Archives: Uncategorized

Shugborough in the Sunshine

Ignoring the forecast of “possible showers”, we took the MX-5 for a run down to Shugborough today, meeting up with Diane and Les for one of our periodic outings.

Decent early lunch in the Lady Walk Tearoom, followed by a look round the house and gardens.

Impressed with the comfortable, “lived-in” feel of many of the rooms. Enjoyed looking at the reconstruction of Patrick Lichfield’s portrait studio, with various items of period photgraphic gear; some really nice photos too, of course.

Spotted this chap fishing on the far bank of the river. (Though I’m not sure if “fishing” is quite accurate — that catch looks distinctly un-fish-like to me!)


Peak Enjoyment

Nice day on the edge of the Peak District, on the sunniest day for some time.

Forecast said wall-to-wall sunshine, so decided to take the MX-5 for a bit of a run, in the general direction of the Peaks and Staffordshire Moorlands. Headed to Congleton and out on the A53 towards Buxton.

Enjoyed lunch at the Rose and Crown, Allgreave — sandwiches in the beer garden, with an excellent pint of Robinsons.

Cross country to pick up the A53 near Flash, then south to Leek, and on towards Rudyard Lake. Stopped to take in the steam trains, which are obviously a popular school holiday attraction, especially on a day like this.

Over the top and down toward Biddulph. Had a wander round Biddulph Grange Gardens, and enjoyed a Snugburys banana and toffee ice cream.

Home via Astbury, avoiding the centre of Congleton.

A great little outing, with some superb views in all directions at times.

Life’s little ups and downs

Just enjoyed a very pleasant evening  in Rusholme with the Boys from Barclays (now mostly ex-Barclays, it has to be said).

Couple or jars in The Albert and a nice curry in the Dar Bar. Then just when you’re thinking life is pretty good, it all goes pear-shaped.

Left the restaurant in plenty of time; reached the bus stop just as a bus arrived; hopped on the bus without looking too hard at the destination – well, they all go straight up Oxford Road, don’t they? well no, actually they don’t, this one turned left at RNCM, heading for Salford!

So I end up legging it the rest of the way to Picadilly and am just in time to see the 22:35 leaving platform 6.

That’s the last direct train for Crewe; so now I’m on the rail replacement bus service with an ETA of 01:55


Winter Visitor Returns

(Image courtesy RSPB website)


Though hardly a rarity, it’s always nice to see something a bit out-of-the-ordinary in your home location.

Once again, the all-too-seasonal weather has brought us a visit from the fieldfares. Sadly, not actually into the garden, but close enough to be identified (just) in this fuzzy photo.

[Olympus E410 + M42 adapter, Sunagor 400mm f/6.3, Prakticar 2x teleconverter]

RAF Shawbury

To Shawbury in Shropshire last Friday, on a visit to RAF Shawbury arranged by Andy Holly, in company with 44 fellow marshals from BMMC.

Andy, who marshals mainly at Oulton Park and Angle

sey, is chief flying instructor at Shawbury by way of a day job.

The station is home to the Defense Helicopter Flying School and also the Central Air Traffic Control School — both joint-services facilities. In addition, several hangers on thee site house the Aircraft Maintenance and Storage Unit.

We visited all three facilities.

In the Storage Unit, work was in progress to prepare new aircraft for the Red Arrows, servicing and uprating the new planes, and transferring specialist kit,like the smoke generators, from old Arrows craft. There is also space given over to a project to reconstruct a WW II assault glider, where there was an actual DC3, largely intact, and a Tiger Moth.

The Helicopter school has about 38 Squirrel training aircraft, as well as some other types. We had a detailed introduction to the machines, from some of Andy’s instructor colleagues, and had the opportunity climb aboard — I nipped into the pilot’s seat and was able to play with the controls and check out the bewildering array of instruments.

The ATC training facility gave us an insight into the tricky business of making sure aircraft avoid each other. There was a neat simulator mockup with big screens for teaching visual control tower skills, and allegedly they have some equally good simulator kit for radar training, but we didn’t get to see that.

All-in-all, an interesting three hours.

Belated Update: Rome 2009

Continuing what started with Barcelona last year and hopefully may continue in future, our End-Of-Year City Break this year was …

Rome ("The Eternal City" — or is that somewhere else?)

Flew from Manchester via Brussels on Brussels Airlines. No, I’d never heard of them either, but they got us there and back quite efficiently; in fact, in unaccustomed comfort on the Manchester-Brussels legs of the journey, on an Avro RJ85 with only 5 seats across where you normally get six and far more legroom than I’m used to.

Arrived around teatime and transferred by train from Fiumicino to the Stazione Termini. I thought it looked like walking distance on the map from station to the hotel, but it turned out I was a bit optimistic; still, we staggered there in about 20 minutes (which is a long way with a 15 kilo bag, at least at my age!)

Hotel very spacious and comfortable. They tried to sell us a "special price" upgrade for a room with a view (of nothing remarkable) or one with a jacuzzi-bath, but we decided we’d be quite happy with the original booking.

Strolled out for a pre-dinner drink at a cafe on the Via Veneto: sat outdoors but it didn’t have the atmosphere of Paris or Barcelona, and was in truth a bit on the chilly side! Mooched around some local side streets looking for an eatery, and settled on a small pizzeria that looked as if it had local clientele. Enjoyed bruschetta followed by pizzas and a pud with a bottle of house red.

Wednesday, we started out by heading to the Spanish Steps.
I had this idea that we’d be sure to pick up the Open-Top Tour Bus somewhere near, but I was wrong, so we set off to walk along the Via del Corso to the Colosseum. We hadn’t been going all that long, and had paused at the Piazza Colonna to admire said column, when Lesley spotted the bus turning off a little way behind us, so we retraced our steps and followed its route up the Via del Tritone until we found a stopping point.

Purchased a one-day ticket for the tour bus and were smartly conveyed past a few minor sights and so the the Termini station. Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it — all the tour busses are going to have a stop at the main station: why didn’t I think of that sooner?!

In due course we reached the Colosseum, our target for the day.
Following Anna’s advice we hired one of those audio-guide things, and worked our way up and around and down, duly noting the points of interest along the way. It’s pretty impressive, what’s left of it, and must indeed have been a spectacular venue in it’s day. Had an inevitably overpriced and over-breaded sandwich for lunch. Explored the surrounding area, without actually going all the way to the main Forum part, and then rejoined the bus tour

Completed the tour bus route and returned to the hotel for a cuppa and a bit of a rest, before heading to the area around Piazza Navona  to find somewhere for our evening meal.

The Piazza proved to be a rather more lively spot for an al fresco vino (and the cafes all had gas heaters too!) Roamed around for about half-an-hour trying to find a place I’d read about in one of the guide books; eventually gave up and settled on a crowded little place in a back street that seemed to be popular with local-looking types. Proved to be a real gem of a find! Enjoyed three courses again, this time from a menu with no English — thank goodness the Italian for risotto is risotto!

Thursday we did St Peter’s from top to bottom — literally: paid an extra 2 euros to take the lift up to the base level of the dome but then climbed about another 250 steps to reach the top.
Astounding view of Rome and the mountains in the distance; great feeling of satisfaction at the time — but learned later Anna and Matt also made the ascent while being 7 months pregnant and carrying Archie (respectively!). After viewing numerous pope tombs in the basement area, decided we couldn’t be bothered with the trail around Vatican museums just to see Sistine Chapel. The engineer in me was always going to be more impressed with the Colosseum, St Peters, and the Pantheon, than some bloke lying on his back to paint a ceiling. Incidentally, by far the cheapest place in Rome to get a coffee is the cafe on the roof of the basilica!

Returned for evening meal to the same place as Wednesday, after a preparatory snifter at a cafe opposite the Pantheon. Lesley had the risotto again and I had one of the best steaks I can remember. Tiramisu for afters (well you have to really) — proprietor obliged us to have seconds with an excess of cream, which L regretted during the night. Still, three courses and a bottle of acceptable red for around 50 quid is pretty remarkable for a capital city these days!

After two days of fortuitously excellent weather (breakfast in bright sunshine on the rooftop restaurant of the hotel was a really brilliant way to start the days), Friday the weather broke and we mooched around a somewhat bedraggled park/garden area of the Villa Borghese killing time before heading for the airport and flight home.

All told, an enjoyable visit, though not a city I think we’ll be rushing back to do again.

(Some piccies here)

To The Sunny South for our Autumn Break

As is customary at this point in our highly repetitive annual schedule, we enjoyed a few days last week with our friends Chris and Phyl, in Dorset.

Travelled down on Wednesday using the Scenic Route. Via Market Drayton, bypassing Newport and Telford, through Bridgenorth and Kidderminster, stopping for coffee at Waresley Little Chef on the A449; picking up M5 North of Worcester, then M4 to J18 and A46 South, pausing again at the Gorse Lane viewpoint just off the A420 for picnic lunch; continuing A46, avoiding Bath and using the Bathampton toll bridge to pick up A36 to Warminster; last leg, A350 to Shaftesbury then backroad through Melbury Abbas to Blandford and finally B3082 to Wimborne; arrived Broadstone in time for afternoon tea.

Thursday a leisurely day: taking Maisie for a walk on The Heath, before buying butties at Mollie’s and consuming them at the beach hut; then crossed to Studland on the ferry, and home via Corfe Castle and Wareham (pleasant half hour browsing Wareham high street).

Friday no more active: all four of us enjoyed taking the dogs on to the Heath again, this time including Rufus (and his ball — he moves surprisingly quickly when he wants to!); Mollie’s sandwiches again, this time by the boating lake in Poole Park; as usual, G&S in the evening (Pinafore), joined this year by Peter and Jan Connor.

Saturday, despite everyone telling us the forecast was lousy, we launched forth on the standard Joint Outing: this year, a circular walk from Osmington via Sutton Poyntz, up above the White Horse, where we enjoyed lunch with stunning views over Weymouth bay, and back down to Osmington (through a VERY muddy lane!). Weather was great throughout. Finished the evening with traditional curry.

Sunday dawned very wet but cleared up by the time we left, around midday (having spent a chunk of the morning tutoring Topher on his newly-installed Ubuntu PC). Home using the Easterly Route (A31, M27, A34, M40, then The Belfry, Lichfield, Rugeley, Woore) — mostly a good run, spoiled by closed road north of Bridgemere, causing a last-minute diversion through the countryside, to arrive home about 5.00

All-in-all and excellent time was had.

Menorca 2009

So here we are again …

Day 1

Good flight out, despite 1/2 hour delay in taking off, due to two slight mechanical problems with the plane. First, the seat of the bloke in front of Lesley collapsed, causing some rearrangement of seating — we actually benefited, being relocated to seats with extra legroom. An engineer was summoned and declared the seat could not be repaired, which caused some concern among the crew, as the return flight was going to be fully booked, unlike  ours. Then the captain announced we were still unable to start, because one of the luggage containers was giving problems. Tried not to spend the rest of the flight wondering what might be " the third thing"!!
Landed more or less on time, but then had best part of an hour waiting for luggage! — due to a combination, I suspect, of the size of the plane (we’ve never been on a 400+ seater before) and the speed at which the Spanish seem to (not) move.
The car this year is a Seat Leon diesel — quite impressed so far.
As usual, we lunched at the Arenal beach bar on the way from the airport. This always puts us in the mood, and the marvelous setting is unchanged, though somewhat busier than usual, we thought.
Basic shopping in the Spar at Mercadal, before going the the apartment (just a few essentials, quite a lot of then in bottles). Inevitabley, forgot something –  this year, tomatoes and mahonesa (really should set up a standard shopping list and keep it in the Holidays File).

Day 2

Lazy day (pretty much as expected).
The wind, which had started to get up yesterday evening, was at full belt when we woke this morning. Consequently the breakers are rolling in, in a most un-Mediterranean way, and the attendant noise has, by late afternoon, begun to be a bit wearing!
Breakfast was followed by a stroll to the supermarcado to buy bread (barra Provenzal) and some tomatoes for lunch.
Enjoyed the first of many late lunches, consisting of cheese (La Paysena semi –  one we haven’t tried before), ham (jamon curado, that is) and chorizo, with a said tomatoes and bread.
Cooked loin of pork with baby new potatoes and tinned sweetcorn for evening meal.

Day 3

Wandered into Fornells in the morning, having bid bon voyage to Christine and Des, returning home to Manchester today.
Had coffee at the bar in the centre and mooched about, observing that not much has changed. Failed to buy Roquetta, which was our main objective, but content that we’ll probably find one in Mercadal tomorrow.
Bought a cooked chicken (allegedly the best in Menorca, according to the notice outside the deli) for this evening’s meal.
Lazed around afternoon, exhorting the sea to be calmer from time to time.
Enjoyed said chicken with Ainsley’s Morrocan couscous after watching a nice Mediterranean sunset.
Hoping to wake up to less wind and a millpond sea.

Day 4

The wind has finally dropped and the sea has gone down overnight, though still not quite calm enough to swim in the cove.
Lazed around most of the morning. Took some pics of a group of fishermen on the rocks in front of the apartment. They didn’t appear to be catching much, but then that’s not necessarily the point of the exercise, I suspect.
To Mercadal for a bit of shopping and a late morning coffee. Found a Roquetta in the paper shop, as we had hoped.
More lazing after lunching on the remains of last night’s chicken. Siesta – slept for nearly two hours (damned hard work this vacationing business!)
Dined at Es Cactus, up the road — both had fish. Pretty good and reasonably priced.
Only note of discord an invitation to go out for dinner with Peter and Jacqui; they’re nice people, but I really don’t want to do socialising on my holiday (or most other times, to be truthful!)

Day 5

Another lazy day! Really must make the effort to do something soon.
Eventually summoned up the energy for a swim, before strolling to the supermercado to get bread for lunch.
Unable to get any reply when I tried to ring Casino de Sant Climent so we are assuming there’s no jazz club tonight due to Fiesta de Virgen de Gracia in Mahon.
To restaurant Ca Na Marga for our evening meal – chuletas de cordero accompanied by Azpilicueta crianza; excellent as always. Lesley thinks the proprietor has lost a little weight, but I’m not convinced. Mostly the same staff as before – most of whom we suspect are family!

Day 6

To Es Castel for BCP communion at Sta Marguerita. Revd Michael Bunce in his usual ebullient form (one of the few people I’ve met to whom that adjective truly and appropriately applies). Fewer in number this year – partly due to the fiesta, perhaps, but sadly also possible that some of the older folk we are used to seeing are poorly or have been promoted to higher things!
To El Sol Naciente afterwards for customary noon beer — in contrast to the church congregation,  positively thriving here!
Then onward to Es Grau for lunch of tapas, as usual. Had planned to call at the Syp supermarket in search of Pernod for Her Ladyship, but it seems to have closed down; however we found a new and very impressive hypermarket in the polygon industrial which provided said beverage and sausages for tea tonight.
Bar Es Mol in Es Grau disappointed a little, not having tortillas de patatas or carne en salsa, but we made the best of things with alternatives.
Home for a short siesta and then bangers and mash for tea.
Hard to believe first week almost over!  😦

Day 7

Packed up a picnic lunch and went across to the little "beach" on Cap de Caveleria, where we like to swim. Quite a lot of traffic on the road as far as the carpark for the main Playa, which looked pretty full. Fortunately, not so busy where we were headed, though more people than we have sometimes seen; and goats aplenty – which is new! Party of French people turned up later — quite unusual for Menorca, in our experience.
Jacqui strolled by the apartment late afternoon, but thankfully didn’t mention going out together! — maybe by avoiding contact for a few days and then not refering to it today, we have got the message over to them.
Take-out pizza from Es Cactus for evening meal — OK but not outstanding; maybe it’s worth the extra distance to get them from Ca Na Marga.

Day 8 (Friday 11th)

Active start to the day, changing beds and dealing with minor influx of ants!
To Fornells to order a take-out paella from Es Cranc, then a beer in the square, before shopping for a few essential supplies — mostly liquid!
Swam in the pool, late lunch and usual siesta.
Had planned to snorkel late afternoon, but in the end hadn’t the energy — maybe mañana!
Paella in the evening was most enjoyable, as usual. Unusually, didn’t feel completely stuffed afterwards!

Day 9

Snorkelled in the cove in the morning — a little bit choppy, but greatly enjoyed none-the-less.
Mercadal for weekend shopping. It transpires it’s fiesta weekend, so
they were spreading sand in the central square in preparation. Don’t
think we will be attending —  when you’ve seen one jaleo, you’ve seen
them all 🙂
Corned beef hash for tea.

Day 10

To bar Es Cactus for morning coffee and to use the free internet.
Weather took a turn for the worse around lunch time — became quite
dull and cloudy. After siesta we had the odd rumble of thunder and
early evening a bit of a shower, though nothing by Mediterranean storm
standards. Jacqui reported heavy rain in Mahón while lunching near
Hamilton hotel.
Cooked some nice steak with tomatoes, mushrooms and sauté potatoes.
No improvement in weather by bedtime 😦

Day 11

at first; thunder seemed to be moving away North after breakfast, and
sun began to shine: looked hopeful … false hope — black clouds and
some rain just after 10:00
Weather improved a little towards midday and we had a bit of an outing to the leather-good shops on the poligon industial this side of Ferreries, where I bought a t-shirt, then up El Toro.
to have lunch with the doors open, but shortly after that it took a
turn for the worse again; raining properly when we woke from siesta.
Brief improvement late afternoon/early evening.
Dinner at Es Cranc: shared a mixed-platter starter, followed by caldereta de marisco (shellfish soup/stew), with cheesecake and coffee to finish. Very good!! (Very expensive!) We shall return DV  🙂
set in properly by the time we got home; thunder and lightning began by
bedtime; full-blown Mediterranean storm during the night — up at 04:20
for a cup of tea.

Day 12 (Tue 15th)

Not a promising start – still raining when we woke at 8:30, but improved by the time we’d had breakfast.
to chance a trip into Mahón. It was not too bad for a few hours, even
sunny part of the time, and we had a long walk round the town, seeing
some bits we hadn’t seen before,including a former windmill done up by
the GOB which gives a panoramic view of the town from the top floor.
Few spots of rain while having a midday beer. Enormous (private?) yacht
parked next to the ferry terminal — "Mayan Queen", registered in Georgetown.
for a late lunch, with a bit of sunshine, but raining again as we went
to collect a cooked chicken from Fornells for tea tonight.
Very heavy squall around 5:30 — lighthouse and Cap de Caveleria totally obliterated for a few minutes.

Day 13 (Wed 16th)

Church a.m. — Michael has had a successful trip to UK: baptized baby
of a friend and landed a grandchild (Fleur). Better attendance this
week (12 including Michael). It transpires in conversation that MB has
been here nearly ten years,  contrary to what we had thought: tempus
Weather really not up to scratch: sunny at first, but began to cloud over while we were having midday beer at El Sol Naciente.
Headed for Canutels, at least hoping for sardinas a la plancha, thought
swimming looked decidedly doubtful. In the event, the bar was dead; so
we headed up to Es Grau for tapas.
Bar Es Mol positively heaving, but managed to grab a table. Proprietor
doing blue-arsed-fly impression, but in due course we much enjoyed a
lunch of tapas and some sardines. It looked very much as if we would
get wet before we finished eating, but we got away with it.
Decidedly cool and overcast afternoon and evening, though it began to
look more hopeful by sunset. Hoping for a better last day tomorrow!

Day 14 (Thu 17th)

After and uncertain start,
it turned out to be a perfect last day — some light cloud, but mainly
hot and sunny. Water in the pool very cold after four days of rubbish
A bit of last-minute shopping at the Spar for things to take home (tuna, ham, brandy).
a run down to Es Migjorn for coffee in the central bar (v. quiet) and a
brief visit to Graham Byfield’s gallery — had a quick word with
himself and bought a couple of postcards.
Final lunch of chicken leftovers, tomato and the remnant of Coinga Semi.
Swim, sunbathing and packing.
To Ca Na Marga for tea tonight.

To the South for a Family Meet-Up and a Change of Scenery

On Tuesday we fetched Lesley’s Mum from Garstang in preparation for a trip to Olney to see Rosemary “Forbes” (a cousin, I think, of Mother-in-Law, who despite having been married twice is always referred to intra-family by her maiden name)

Bright and early Wednesday (well, not very bright – filthy wet morning, and not very early, in truth) we set off down the M6. Absolutely disgusting conditions for driving much of the way, but traffic not excessively heavy. Arrived at R&M’s soon-to-be-ex house just before eleven.

After a brief pause for coffee and comfort breaks, we headed for Olney in two cars. Made good time in spite of the continuing rain and were having tea and biscuits with R.F. by midday.

Very pleasant lunch at The Courtyard Brasserie – we all had salads, which I remembered from our last visit as being excellent; the Smoked Salmon was most popular, but I chose the Nicoise, which did not disappoint. Then on to visit R.F.’s daughter Katie and her two offspring.

All-in-all an enjoyable little get-together. Mother-in-Law will have been well-pleased, I’m sure.

We parted company on leaving Katie’s, with Mother-in-Law returning to R&M’s for the night. Lesley and I headed West to spend the night in Bourton-on-the-Water, where I had booked a room at the Mousetrap Inn.

After skirting Northampton, we took the A43 past Towcester and Brackley towards Bicester; then B430 to Middleton Stoney and B4030 across to Enstone, picking up the A44 through Chipping Norton; branched off on the A436 to Stow-on-the-Wold (passing Adlestrop — “Yes, I remember Adlestrop …” – funny how poetry sticks with you, 50 years on); and finally south to Bourton. Pleasant cross-country drive; so many interesting/curious place names in the Cotswolds.

Enjoyed a couple of pints of good ale and a nice meal at the pub, before a somewhat fitful night’s sleep, punctuated by bleeping church bells every quarter hour.

Yesterday we made our way home “by the scenic route” – cross-country from Stow to Tewkesbury (quick once-around the abbey), then on through Ledbury to Hereford and up via Leominster to Ludlow, where we dropped in unannounced on Val Warren for a cup of tea. Pleased to find her in (when we eventually did find her, not having address or phone number, but sure we would know the house when we saw it!) and she pleased to see us too.

So finally up the A49, round Shrewsbury to Whitchurch and thence home.

Total of just under 500 miles for the three days, and really very nice (apart from the wet motorway bits on Tuesday). We really do have some great countryside, when you can take the time to look; and a number of places we could have stopped to look at, and might one day go back to.

It’s (hasn’t really) been a quiet month

I’ve realized that, apart from a test posting when I installed ScribeFire on my netbook, I haven’t written anything in my blog for a whole month.

It isn’t that nothing has happened …

There was an enjoyable day marshalling at the Cholmondeley Pageant of Power, for instance.

And I was at Oulton Park 25th July when Matt and his brother used my guest tickets to bring Archie to his first motor racing event.

We’ve also had the Hewitt wedding-celebration BBQ (weekend before last) which was an enjoyable family “do” and remarkably lucky weather-wise. That weekend also included a tour of Anne and Franks new residence (lots of work in prospect there, but they seem confident!) and the first official viewing (exterior only) Rosemary and Mervyn’s probable new home – they expect to be in in a matter of weeks, DV.

I also took a small step forward in the ongoing “sort out the car tuning” project, which now seems to have stalled again. I have at least now got the data-collection module sampling RPM and boost, so that I was able to do a preliminary test run and get a recorded trace of Lambda, RPM and manifold pressure; only had a cursory glance at the results though, so far. Must try and progress this soon!

And last weekend, I had a taste of being a flaggie at the MSVR meeting. That was an interesting exercise – don’t think I see it as an ultimate ambition, though it has to be said there’s probably less potential for being bored when flagging (except perhaps when it’s a Silhouettes race and there’s a grid of only six!)

So – I really must try and keep the blog up-to-date …