Tuesday, 10 June 2014

UK week 3 – Midlands and Home Counties

After our incredibly relaxing/working/drinking and eating weekend with Helen and Ian, we’ve been indoor rock climbing in Birmingham with SMC, I’ve visited old friends where I used to work at Andantex in Coventry, we’ve moved into Gill’s house in Selly Oak to look after Sam the dog, Keith the cat and Mr & Mrs Jazzy the fish, we’ve been ‘down south’ to see Jackie’s niece and nephew Caroline and Charles and to go indoor climbing with them in Milton Keynes and been for a long walk over the Malvern hills in Worcestershire with Denise and Paul and Sam the dog. Keith the cat obviously felt a bit left out, so bought us a present this morning – more on that later…..

Tuesday evening was our visit to ‘Creation climbing’ indoor climbing wall in Moseley to reconnect with our neglected climbing skills and catch up with people from Solihull Mountaineering Club. Arrived just after 5:00pm, before anyone we knew was there, so did about six or seven routes of grades 5 and 6 before the forearms were complaining and fingers were refusing to grip holds (Jackie fell off an overhang about 3m above her last clip, so fell about 6m into space when she couldn’t hold on to a small hold with one hand in order to clip the next karabiner). Stopped for a cup of tea (excuse for a rest!) and finally people we knew started to arrive, Jo and Mike, Mike R, Su, Margaret, Roger, Phil S, Rob and Alex, Richard, Donna etc and we were able to use the chatting as an excuse not to climb! In fact we only did about two more climbs before departing at about 8:30pm! We need to do more!

Martin in the workshop at Andantex
On Wednesday I left Jackie at Helen’s house and went to work! Well, not really, it was just a visit to Andantex, the company in Coventry I used to run before my early retirement in April 2012. It was good to catch up, the familiar surroundings, the familiar faces and the same customers and problems. It’s good to see people and really good to be able to walk away from the pressure of the problems. The old company seems to be doing very well and Phil (son of Terry, my old colleague with whom I started the old Kinematic back in 1989, that became Andantex after a ‘merger’ with the French Redex in 2002), now MD seems to be handling things very well. It’s just as though I’ve never been away, the ‘top customer’ is still ‘top’ and making even more vehicles, so taking even more product that Martin in the workshop has to sort out.

Phil looking like the boss
Good old Martin, always smiling, always willing and a great asset to the company. If you’re reading this Martin (he tells me he’s an avid reader) good luck on Thursday with Tina at hospital. Tina is Martins wife and is due to have major back surgery after being turned away twice due to unavailable NHS beds or theatre unavailability, after waiting all day on each occasion. I hope it happens this time and she is dancing around again soon!

Paul is still there as the bedrock of internal sales, taking most of the phone calls and always ready to do his utmost to help customers, always with a cheerful voice. Rob (didn’t we see you last night at the ‘wall’?) is still being ‘Rob’, external sales and a graduate mechanical engineer always willing to get involved with in depth mechanical applications, the ‘secret’ undersea project application that we both started together is still looking good, with the possibility to transform the company if it eventually becomes successful. 

Rob on the phone
Dagmar is a new person, who replaced both Heidi and Louise in accounts and office management and seems a very capable person and very friendly. All in all, a good, compact team, working well together and very satisfying for me to see the successful company that I, along with Terry, helped build and see it go strongly into the future, headed by the ‘next generation’. Good luck guys!

And Dagmar
A late visitor was Steve, and old employee of Andantex who now works for their main supplier, but still comes in to use one of the spare offices there (he’s the guy who came along to Morzine in France to ski with us, along with Ash, Paul and the others in February). Good to see you again Steve! I think he could smell the coffee and walnut cake I’d baked and taken in to them all! “Ah yes, the famous cake” said Martin, “That’s been mentioned on the blog a few times! Must try that”. I think he liked it.

Oh look, it's lunchtime and Martins in his usual position
And even the boss has time to put his feet up!

Here's little Sam!
We’ve moved house (again) and are now in Selly Oak at Gill’s house for week, looking after Sam, the really lovable 10 year old border terrier, Keith, the two year old cat who loves Sam to bits and regularly rubs his head against Sam’s (“I chase cats, but I suppose you’re OK“ thinks Sam) and Mr and Mrs Jazzy, two tropical fish, swimming around in their tank in the kitchen.

And Keith the cat
We didn’t know Gill, she’s a newish member of Solihull Mountaineering Club, after a lifetime of outdoor climbing, walking and sailing activities and contacted us after we sent out an email to the SMC email group asking if anyone needed house and pet sitters over the summer. She responded after Roger (current SMC chairman) sent out an email of endorsement, so well done Roger!

Very affectionate towards one another
What a little sweetie Sam is, he really is the most adorable dog and even Jackie seems converted and likes him as much as Keith the cat. “Sam loves walking” Gill had said, so I took him out on Friday afternoon for an intended long walk, but the tug back on the lead indicated to me that, at 10 years old, he’s probably not as sprightly these days, so the long walk became a ‘less long walk’!

Even sleeping together
Sam isn't a morning dog and needs encouragement first thing

But once he's out he's fine
Jackie, Charles and Caroline at the climbing wall
Timing as it was, we had arranged to go down to see Charles and Caroline, Jackie’s nephew and niece, over the first weekend at Gills, so she had to find someone else to feed and exercise Sam on Saturday night and he apparently stopped over at their house overnight (Keith got his food, but had to fend for himself!), while we went climbing at Milton Keynes ‘Big Rock’ climbing wall with Jonathan, Jackie’s brother and C&C. 

Jonathan, Caroline and Jackie
Like most climbing walls on a Saturday morning it was packed, but we found space and, with Jackie and me belaying, Jonathan did his first proper lead climb (which certainly focussed his mind!), while Caroline went up a 6a and 6a+ on a top rope, not perfectly, she hung on the rope and needed assistance on occasions, but her determination meant she didn’t stray on to easier holds nearby, so well done! Charles did a ‘mock’ lead, taking  a lead rope and clipping as he went, whilst still on a top rope for safety, so everyone achieved! 

Charles tackling a mini overhang
Caroline, Charles, Jonathan, Lucy and Jackie
Back to their house in Edlesborough while Caroline went for her riding lesson, we had a great evening with them all (Lucy, Jonathan’s wife was also there) in the garden on a pleasant summers evening, followed by a lazy Sunday morning, before heading back to see Sam and Keith and cook a Sunday roast for us, plus Gill, who came back for the night between running a leadership class in the Lake District over the weekend and going to a residential course at Woodbrook nearby this week.

Not forgetting their cat Thomas
Paul, Denise and Jackie at the start
Yesterday, Monday, was a day arranged with my sister, Denise and her husband Paul to go for a training walk for our forthcoming 10in10 charity walk in the Lake District on 21st June. Of the four of us, it’s only me and Paul competing, so Jackie and Denise didn’t want to do so much, so took it as an opportunity to take Sam for some exercise. 

Paul on the first summit
The Malvern hills were our chosen target, a much under-rated set of hills. Most people park in the North car park and walk the two miles or so up to the top of the Worcester Beacon hill, always fabulous views, rising to over 1300 feet asl (above sea level) with the surrounding plain at 5 to 600 feet asl it gives amazing views for many miles around, out to the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains, plus the Long Mynd. It is justifiably popular, but it is much more than just Beacon hill, it’s a long ridge of hills stretching from the south in Gloucestershire, about 11 miles to the north and containing 17 summits, some with quite a drop and rise between summits, it gives a good, strenuous day out and always with fantastic ‘good to be alive’ views.

Paul at Giants Cave
"Just over there" he says
Paul and I got dropped at Chase End Street and walked up the very first hill in the chain, Chase End Hill, on seldom used public footpaths, with careful navigation. It’s a bit different from the popular end, where there are wide, obvious paths and it took us about two hours to do the first two summits, making us wonder if we would make our rendezvous with the girls on Beacon Hill for 3:30pm. Fabulous views though and great to be doing the bit I’ve never done before. Thereafter the going became a bit easier, the paths a bit more obvious, the views ever more splendid, but the legs ever more tired! Meanwhile the girls with Sam, drove into Malvern town and stopped for a coffee at a café, sitting outside in the sunshine admiring the views and enjoying the attention caused by Sam looking cute!

Little Sam struggling up behind
Our walking picked up as we got into the walk and we made good progress over the following summits, quickly counting them off: British Camp, Jubilee Hill and Perseverance Hill (well named), only to walk over a rise before Summer Hill to find them sitting on a bench in the sunshine chatting away, Sam relaxing on the floor by them. I shouted “Sam” and he came running over, much to my delight, but Jackie told me how he’d struggled up the hills, walking very slowly behind them looking very sad for himself. 

Jackie with Sam on the trig point on Beacon Hill
A break on the summit. Paul, denise, me, Sam and Jackie
We set off up Summer Hill and our pace immediately slackened as little Sam found the going tough. Once on the summit his pace quickened, but only until the next rise, poor old Sam, but lots of water and crunchies kept him going and soon we were on top of Beacon Hill, admiring the fabulous views and taking a few pictures of Sam on the trig point and us all sitting by the Queen Victoria monument on the summit.

Poor old Sam struggles on behind Jackie and Denise
There were now four more summits to complete, Sugarloaf Hill, Table Hill, North Hill and End Hill, Sam would be unable to go up again and the girls were keen to go down, so Paul and I set off to tick those last four off, just so we could say we’d done every summit on the Malverns! We watched them set off down and, on a slight rise in the path, we could see little Sam doing his best, but plodding along behind them trying to keep up. We got down a little after them and apparently Sam got back to the car and just lay down on the floor, unable to even climb in, so Jackie had him on her lap on the drive home and we could hear him snoring!

But we made it to the last hill!
Sam can't even make it back into the house!
This morning we had a lazy start to the day and, when I woke up Sam and Keith were lying across Jackie, so I went downstairs to make breakfast in bed. Keith came down and went outside, Sam continued his snoozing on the bed. Drinking our coffee and stroking Sam, the bedroom door was shoved open as Keith walked in, Jackie looked down at him and said “Oh my God, put your coffee down and take mine, he’s got a magpie in his mouth!” It was a fully grown young magpie, very dead and almost the size of Keith. 

And when he did he didn't know what to do with himslf!
He’d got it in through the cat flap and got it upstairs to us, but he placed it on the floor by our bed and then went out. It was a present for us and, in his mind it was the best he could do. Very thoughtful of him, but not quite what we expected or wanted, so Jackie took it downstairs and put it in the bin. Its mum and dad were outside in the garden very unhappy, squarking away and dive bombing Keith when he next went out, all very sad. I know Keith was only following his natural instincts, but I felt really sorry for mum and dad magpie.

Gill, Brian and Jackie
We’re now here until Thursday, when we go back to Pauline’s (Jackie’s mum) to repack and head on up to North Yorkshire to meet up with our friends Dave and Pol, who we haven’t seen for a couple of years, so our travels continue…

Gill is a bit of an artist. This is one of hers, isn't it fantastic!

Our friends Sarah and John have a webcam in a nest box in their garden. There are seven Great Tit chicks in that nest

And here's mum Great Tit back to feed them

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic blog! It occurred to me half way through that all these adventures are had so close to home. We do live in a lovely country and should all just get out more. Of course with Brian's enthusiasm for everything a trip to the Bullring shopping centre would probably be blogged so well we'd all wish we were here! Perhaps you missed your vocation Brian?! Hope Sam recovered ok, we remember Lucy and Roddy getting slower and telling us that the walks needed to be shorter as their ages got into double figures. Hope all goes well travelling up north! Lots of love xxx