Wednesday, 20 September 2017

The adventures of Teddy – September 2017

Judith carefully putting me into my sleeping bag

A short post from a guest blogger: Teddy here, having enjoyed themselves out dancing and eating fish and chips in Blackpool, they were running late, and ran off leaving me in bed, now yes, I was cuddled up, warm and cozy, but I don't like to be forgotten!

Apparently Jackie had an inkling and checked as soon as they hit Alvechurch, but it was too late. After careful consideration she decided that perhaps Judith and Richard's in Ledbury was the best place for me to be sent, they didn't want to risk a collection depot in Hackney and Abi had other housesitters in.

Arriving in Redmarley - I got a bit fidgety on the way
Judith in Blackpool carefully put me in a nice padded sleeping bag, much more comfortable than being scrunched up in a compression bag as I've been used to while on the last Americas trip, and put me in the post.

My arrival didn't quite go as planned, the postman tried delivering me to the wrong house, but fortunately the home owner recognised Judith's name and hand delivered me.

Recovering on the bed, with my stand-in while I've been away
It's not the first time I've been in the post, but the last time was probably 27 years ago, between Tring and Nottingham and my legs don't bend like they used to, so I was quite pleased to be let out today once they arrived from London where apparently they had had a lovely last evening with Fenella, back from her holiday.  Brian was very jealous as Benji was really pleased to see his mummy home and perched on her shoulder, snuggling into her neck. They had tried replacing me with a small dog, cuddling up between them on the pillow, but apparently he fidgeted more than me. We are all looking forward to a good nights sleep tonight!
Benji bird snuggling up to his 'mum' Fenella after her return
Kasper asleep on the bed


Saturday, 16 September 2017

London housesitting – September 2017

Benjie bird on Jackies shoulder
Another week bites the dust in chilly Dalston. We quickly established our routine with Kasper, explaining that yes he could go out for a wee first thing, but we were then going to have coffee in bed before breakfast. This seems ok, though on a weekend his wee is literally that as he has to go into the garden on his lead to stop him dashing off to kill his Kong and woof at where a squirrel might have been. The neighbours like a lie in on the weekend! 

Kasper protesting that he doesn't want to go home yet
Mad dog jumping up while back door is being opened
Having thoroughly enjoyed our local Ridley Road market, bowls of fruit or veg £1 (though we did get 10 bananas for 50p at the end of the day), or bowls of 6 mackerel £5, we headed off on Saturday to the slightly more upmarket Broadway Market. Very different, actually not much to buy except a huge variety of 'artisan' foodstalls, everything from curry, scotch eggs with for example a haggis coating, cheese, bread, Vietnamese, falafel, rice and beans, slow roast pork, beef rendang and these are just the things that first spring to mind! Last week we shared (we'll it is only lunch) a chicken katsu wrap, battered chicken, veggies, hummus and chilli sauce, yum. This week, my choice was the Hamish Macbeth sandwich: haggis, bacon, cheese, fried onion.... it was good, but sadly not quite as good as it looked!

Relaxing together watching TV
Hackney carnival
We hoped for a repeat of all these food options on Sunday as the Hackney Carnival (a smaller version of the Notting Hill Carnival) was coming past the end of the road, while Ridley Road was going to be sound stages and food stalls. Turned out to be very Caribbean, rice and beans, and fried chicken, and lots of heart pounding bass, so not nearly as exciting as we'd hoped. The procession as it came past however was great, how some of those girls didn't freeze to death I don't know. The atmosphere was lovely, and on occasion laced with illegal substances. But eventually enough was enough and we got home (1 minute away) just before the heavens opened!

Hackney Carnival
The loudest part of the procession. Music was pumping out of the speakers next to that woman in pink so loud that the vibration was punching us in the chest. The crush was unbelievable, good job we were by a lamp post to stop us getting swept along with the crowds. Interesting smells coming from some home rolled cigarettes too!
The Tower of London
Tuesday thought we'd probably better make the effort to go into London so using a mix of overground and underground trains we got to Tower Hill for a perfect view of the Tower of London and to meet our walking tour guide, a very nicely spoken Rachel who took us around the sights of the East of the City of London for a very informative 3 hours. We then had to run, as Kasper never grew out of his puppy hood and still expects lunch! He hadn't faded away. 

A bit of the old 11th century wall originally surrounding the old City of London, that kept William the Conqueror at bay for a few months. To gain entry he offered the citizens special rghts that are still enjoyed today. For example, the Queen cannot enter the old City without permission from the mayor and all her guards must lay down their arms
The old Leadenhall Market, now trendy restaurants and shops
Wednesday we had our first mackerel (enjoyed it so much we are repeating tonight). I've tried to cook local, so we've had a mini meze with dips, Greek salad, olives, halloumi cheese, and prepared meat from the Turkish supermarket. I've made moussaka and now whole mackerel with tomato and pepper.

This small pub sits on the site of an old coffee shop where merchants used to meet to discuss shipping with Mr Lloyd, who went on to form the giant Lloyds of London insurance company
The modern, inside out Lloyds of London building
Thursday we actually went out for lunch to eat Turkish prepared by someone else as we weren't sure how we'd fit dinner in. Just as well we did as our plan didn't quite work, the plan was to walk Kasper to the Hackney Empire and get our tickets for Radio 2's Friday Night is Music Night validated before taking dog home, getting changed and making our way back for our free evening out. The queue at 17.45 was massive, this was the allotted time for validation, before doors opening 18.45 and show starting 19.30. I stood in the queue, while B walked the dog home, fed him and came back, a round trip of half an hour. Fortunately I'd barely moved and they hadn't yet checked our photo ID. I had taken my old BBC ID card as well as my driving license, but on looking at the picture I remembered why I refused to wear it and kept it hidden. They didn't seem impressed. But we did get in! 

Mansion House. Home of the Lord Mayor of the City of London
A thoroughly enjoyable evening, Ken Bruce introducing various guests, like Gloria Hunniford, Albert Hammond and the BBC Concert orchestra doing their thing. It was a special event for Radio 2's 50th birthday, so lots of nostalgia not to mention watching the orchestra playing all sorts of things. It will be broadcast on September 29, but I don't think we did anything to make us noticeable on the radio! A great evening out, free and 15 minutes walk from home! Loved the Hackney Empire and appreciated watching a live orchestra.

The old Royal Exchange. Now a fancy shopping arcade
Yesterday we went back into town, to follow up on two things Rachel had said. You can apply for free tickets to the Sky Garden at the top of the 'Walkie Talkie' building on Fenchurch Street, for a great view over London up and down the Thames. We followed this with a trip to the Bank of England Museum, also very interesting, but he's going to talk about that a bit. We got back to hear about the partially exploded bomb at Parsons Green underground station. It had not impacted us at all, despite being on the same line we travelled on, just makes you feel a bit weird afterwards!

Kasper is a dog of two walks, this morning I could barely reach to press the button at the road crossing, he thought I was going past and not to the park, where he was desperate to get to chase after his two balls, thrown in rotation to avoid having to get him to drop. This afternoon he chose to go in the opposite direction, to the other park I assumed, but no, he wanted to go through the market, well it's Saturday and there may be lots of chicken bones on the floor! I have never seen a dog like him (Helen, Monty has nothing on Kasper) for vacuuming up any bones he comes across. We have both had our hands in his mouth more than once removing chicken bones, toast, all sorts! Benji on the other hand is a bird of simple requirements, fortunately he is happy in his house and shows no wish to leave the house through door or window, open for plant watering. Not like the parrot we saw flying overhead this morning! We'd heard it on many occasions, but this was the first time we'd seen the Hackney parrot.
The Bank of England. Formed in 1694 after the Glorious Revolution in 1688
On the way to St Pauls Cathedral

St Pauls Cathedral. A bit too close to get a good shot

Nice view looking along the Thames at the London Eye, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

Group shot of our group on the free walking tour. We're on the back row, just to the left

Jackies mackrel and tomato bake
Benjie taking an afternoon nap on top of the door
And now he's awake
Arriving at the Hackney Empire amongst the BBC broadcasting lorries. That'll be a queue over there then!
It went all the way round the building and along there to the entrance
But we got in OK and had pretty good seats in the circle.
Its a lovely old theatre
Back to London and this time to see 20 Fenchurch Street, better known as the Walkie Talkie building. Here it is, you can see how it got its name. When it was first built it was all glass and its curved shape concentrated the suns rays, burning things in its ray. Apparently it melted the interior of a Jaguar car. Those white bits were added later to stop it happening again
Up on the top floor where there's a cafe and superb views over London. The trip up to the 35th floor is free, provided you book in advance on line:
That's a pretty good view from the top! Left is the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, City Hall (the round building), HMS Belfast and on the R the Shard building
A closer view of Tower Bridge and, just to the left, The Tower of London, built by William the Conqueror
Looking out the other way, left is the Leadenhall building, known as The Cheesegrater, right is the St Mary Axe building, known as the Gherkin and under construction to its right will be the building to be known as The Scalpel
Looking the other way down the Thames. The dome of St Pauls Cathedral is right of centre. On the left in the distance is the London Eye and, just to the left of it, hardly visible is Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
The gardens on the 35th floor of the Walkie Talkie building
In the Bank of England museum. A little device to demonstrate how difficult it is to maintain the governments target of 2% inflation with economic shocks, just by adjusting the bank base interest rate
In that box is a real gold bar, known as a Good Delivery bar. It weighs 400 Troy ounces, approx 28 pounds or 13kg and is almost twice the weight of a similar size piece of lead. Its value is about £390,000.00. You can put your hand in and lift it up - it's very heavy - and you are on CCTV all the time!
This is the Bank Charter that sets out the conditions under which the newly formed Bank of England will operate. It was granted by the joint monarchs William and Mary, whose names appear at the top and became official on 27th July 1694

Friday, 8 September 2017

Blackpool to London Housesitting – September 2017

Blackpool Tower at night
We arrived at Judith and grandma’s house in Blackpool at about 4:30 in dry weather after our very wet journey from Scotland, but with rain never far away and making an appearance from time to time. 

Judith is the mother of Simon, who we met, along with his wife Cassie on our first ski season trip to St Jean d’Aulps, near Avoriaz in France. 

Judith, grandma and Jackie outside the Grand Theatre, Blackpool
We now know Si and Cassie well after two ski seasons of helping them on their chalet change-overs and airport transfers and met Judith and her mother (Si’s grandma) on the few occasions they visited while we were there. The name ‘grandma’ has stuck with us since we only recently found out her name, but somehow, with her being 92 (or is it 96?), it seems appropriate. We had always promised to call in to Blackpool to see them and all go to dance at the world famous Blackpool Tower Ballroom and, as we were on our way down from Scotland to a housesit in London it made a natural break on the way.

Illuminated trams on the front at Blackpool
They were both looking well, although grandma is not so mobile these days and getting a little confused, causing Judith some exasperation. However they greeted us very well with hugs from both and after a cup of tea we walked only 5 minutes from their house to the promenade on the sea front and Blackpool Tower. It’s about 25 years since I’ve been there and Jackie didn’t think she’d ever been, so we were keen to see the annual illuminations, billed as the ‘greatest free light show on earth’ and covering 7 miles of seafront with an estimated one million lights, after we learnt the big switch on was on 1st September.

Judith and Jackie outside Blackpool Tower
I remember being wowed by the lights as a child on a trip up with my family and I have to confess I was a little disappointed. We only saw about a mile section from the Tower up towards the north shore and maybe we walked the wrong way as the Pleasure Beach amusement park and other major attractions were in the other direction, but at least it wasn’t raining. The Tower was brightly lit and we could see the lights snaking away in both directions and, in the darkness the sea pounding in to the promenade as the tide was fully in.

Grandma, Judith and Jackie in the Tower Ballroom
We booked tickets on-line for the Tower Ballroom for the following day as it’s a bit cheaper than on-the-door and caught a black cab as it was raining and we didn’t want grandma getting wet in her wheelchair. The Tower complex is on three floors with a copy of the upper part of the Eiffel tower on top and is a huge entertainment building. It was built and opened in 1894 and still retains its Victorian architecture. On the first floor (second if you’re American) is the magnificent ballroom that is the most spectacular I have seen, very ornate and very big. The sprung wooden dance floor measures 120 feet by 102 feet (36.5m x 31m) and here’s a few facts taken from their website:

  •  Opened in 1894 as a much smaller ballroom, but upgraded to its present design in 1899
  • Badly damaged by fire in December 1956 during which the dance floor and restaurant below were completely destroyed, rebuilding taking two years and a cost of £500,000

  • Phil Kelsall has played the famous Wurlitzer organ, that rises up from below the stage several times each day, since 1975

  • Reginald Dixon is the most well-known Wurlitzer organ player in the ballroom, playing from 1930 until his retirement in 1969 (excluding a period in the RAF in WWII), plus one final performance in 1970 to mark 40 years at the Tower Ballroom

The Tower Ballroom
Even on a wet Tuesday morning there were quite a few other dancers warming up, we got a table a couple of rows back from the many reserved tables at the front (they remained empty for the two hours we were there), put on our dance shoes and hit the floor. Although there were several rows on tables encroaching onto the floor it is still huge and a circuit of dancing round it takes quite a while and leaves you a little out of breath and quite hot. The organist played all the ballroom dancing favourites I remember, plenty of modern Waltzes, Quicksteps, Foxtrots, Tangos, Cha-cha-chas, Rumbas, Sambas and a Viennese waltz (but no Jives, Rock ‘n roll or Paso Doble) and quite a sprinkling of the well-known sequence dances: Mayfair Quickstep, Square Tango, Saunter Together, plus a few Old-Tyme such as the Veleta and the Boston two step.

The Ballroom
I danced for a good portion of the time we were there, sometimes struggling to remember some of the old sequence dances hidden away somewhere in my mind, but managing to follow others on the floor, but always enjoying it. It all came flooding back to Jackie too, struggling sometimes, but getting better all the time. Judith had her dance shoes with her so I took her several times round the floor too. She only had to say she learnt the Veleta at school and we were up, both struggling to remember the steps, but actually doing pretty well. 
That's Jackie and me on the floor
Brian with grandma
The Waltz and a Foxtrot we did together also flowed well and were great fun. Grandma was itching to get up as it obviously stirred some great memories in her mind, so I walked her slowly onto the dance floor and we had a gentle sway to a rumba rhythm for as long as she wanted, which turned out to be several minutes. The huge smile on her face said all we wanted to know! All the people there were very friendly and there were several quite good dancers among them, all of whom were keen to chat about dancing.

For people who watch the BBC show Strictly Come Dancing the Tower holds a special place as it is the location of one of the shows each series, so we were dancing in their footsteps. It’s not easy getting tickets to see the show though, Judith who lives there has never succeeded in getting any and one couple we spoke to who also live in Blackpool and have an annual pass to the Ballroom, visiting two or three times every week also can’t get any. They told us that they even asked the organist, who they know well, if he could get them any and he told then that even he can’t get any!

Have a look at our Youtube video of our visit by clicking on this link:

Phil Kelsall playing the Wurlitzer
Brian and Jackie with grandma
Inside the Winter Gardens
We left the Tower at about 12:45 to get some local fish and chips at Judith’s favourite chip shop, to take back to their house to eat. On the way we passed the historic Grand Theatre and also the Winter Gardens, another huge entertainment and theatre complex. Apparently every British Prime Minister since WWII has addressed an audience here. We could walk inside the entrance area of the Winter Gardens to see its marvellous Victorian architecture and, in the entrance a bronze statue of the famous UK comedian duo Morecambe and Wise (did you know Eric Morecambe was originally John Eric Bartholomew and changed his name to Morecambe, after the seaside town just up the coast from Blackpool where he was born).

The bronze statue of Morecambe and Wise
So finally we left Blackpool at about 2:30, hoping to see Judith again on the ski slopes in France this coming winter. After another very wet journey down the M6 motorway we arrived in our home town of Alvechurch in Worcestershire to stay a night with Jackie’s mum, Pauline, have an Indian curry dinner with her in the New Dilshad in town and swap a few things we didn’t need with things we did need from our storage area in her loft.

On Wednesday afternoon we left Alvechurch and drove to Hackney in London for the latest of our UK housesits. This one is for a border-terrier dog called Kasper and a free-flying cockatiel named Benjie and is for almost two weeks. Home owner Fenella was here to meet us and show us the routine for the house, Kasper and Benjie and the normal walking/exercise route for Kasper. She cooked for us, and we had a good chat over wine and dinner and on Thursday morning she left for her holiday in Athens, Greece for a bit of sunshine and to catch up with her daughter. The only other person in the house was lodger Dawn, a very busy person who rents a room while in London for work. We did meet her, but she keeps herself to herself and spends most time in her room. Today (Friday) is the start of her holiday and, this morning after finishing a few work emails she said goodbye and has headed off to Turkey.

Jackie with Kasper on his walk
So we are now alone with Kasper and Benjie in a nice old house in this very interesting neighbourhood, which has a heavy Turkish influence. We’ve already visited the market and shops and, yesterday went to the afternoon showing of the film Detroit (which was a bit depressing, but quite good) at the Rio Cinema, an old Grade II listed Art-Deco cinema just round the corner from us. On Thursday next we are going to the Hackney Empire for the recording of the BBC 50th anniversary show of ‘Friday Night is Music Night’, hosted by Ken Bruce. Jackie spotted that we could apply for free tickets to the show and we got accepted. However they over allocate seats as many people don’t turn up, so we have to be there early to ensure a seat.

Running at top speed with his ball
Kasper likes his walk along the roads to the local park where he runs round like a mad thing chasing his two balls. Fenella explained that he likes one thrown so it bounces to allow him to leap and catch it in mid-air, dashes back with it, drops it and immediately likes his other ball thrown in a similar way. This goes on for 10 to 15 minutes or so until he can hardly keep up with his panting, where he likes a bowl of water poured for him to slurp down. He is such an energetic thing and, although Fenella only takes him for a road walk on his second walk of the day we make take him more often to the park as he seems to so enjoy it.From the first night here Kasper decided we were OK as he spent the night on our bed and, it looks like it will be a regular occurence.

Benjie on one of his pictures
Benjie spends most of his time either on top of the lounge door preening himself, or on top of the fridge where his food is, often chirping loudly. He sleeps on top of one of the pictures hanging on the wall in the lounge and we have to put a cloth on the back of the chair under where he sleeps to catch his morning poo! He apparently likes to sit on peoples shoulder, he did that a lot to Fenella but, so far he hasn’t sat on our shoulders, except briefly on mine. I’m hoping he gets used to us soon and I really want him to sit on mine.

It’s really good to be finally relaxing here, although we’ve enjoyed catching up with people, it has been frenetic and the chance to relax is lovely. Kasper is asleep somewhere, Benjie is on top of the door preening himself and chirping, Jackie’s reading and occasionally dozing, I’m writing this, domestic bliss. Time for a cup of tea….
Will he catch it?
Still trying...

Yes, got it!