Saturday, 30 May 2015

A week has flown by but not much has happened

Monty Dog taking a dip in Elmdon Park

Two more nights out followed, Saturday at Diwans for a curry with Helen and Ian, and ‘Sunday Tea Club’ with H&I, Manu and Crystal and Pete and Hilary. OK so it was a Bank Holiday so the premise of ‘work tomorrow’ so we’ll have a gentle meal out in Chinatown, selected by Crystal and drinking Chinese tea, wasn’t quite there, but we drank tea, after a couple of pre-dinner pints and Crystal excelled herself (ordering and conversing with the staff in Chinese), in a restaurant she’d never been in before, when half the things on the menu seemed to be off, eight of us had a fantastic meal. 
Tea and cake in the garden with Jackie, Helen, Monty Dog and Ian
I couldn’t pick for everyone, for all the tea in China, but it doesn’t seem to phase Crystal! So a slightly over indulgent weekend, and we hadn’t even really made up for it walking Monty dog – the weather wasn’t that good, so we’d brought them over to Elmdon Park, just on the edge of B’s old stomping ground, but a lovely park, which we all enjoyed, and it meant we could pop in and fuss and feed Maggy, and promise to be back tonight! Having read the papers and before tea and cake!

In Elmdon Park. It was at this very old tree that our friends Mike and Jo got engaged a few weeks back. Apparently he took her there for a walk, then got down on one knee and produced a ring! He'd even already asked her mum and dad, who live in Perth Australia! Proof that romance is not dead!
St Marys church Warwick town centre
Tuesday I went to visit Sarah and John and had a lovely chat, coming home to B announcing there was a mouse under/behind the freezer, and that Maggy was exhausted as she had been keeping watch all morning rather than sleeping most of it! Fortified by lunch and a pair of gloves, B moved the freezer and I went in for the pounce, little cute thing ran round me, but decided the dash across the kitchen floor was too open, so decided to nip into this dark space here. This happened to be up the leg of my jeans, so sealing round the ankle with my hands I hobbled outside in the strangest manner before shaking my leg and watching it scamper and hop off as fast as it could go. Not the most obvious manner of mouse removal but it seemed to work!

The much photographed view of Warwick Castle, arguably the best preserved Medieval castle in England
Castle Street, Warwick
Wednesday dawned much brighter than forecast so we thought we’d take advantage of a voucher from the local paper and go to Warwick Castle. However by the time we’d joined the mammoth queue and ascertained that yes, one of us got in free to the castle we then both had to pay for the dungeon, so the overall saving when compared to the online price was only £2, so we decided to come back when it wasn’t half term! Warwick is a lovely town, so spending the day there was no hardship enjoying an interesting chat with a guy doing upkeep on his black and white Elizabethan house, lunch in the sunshine and a visit to St Mary’s church.

Warwick Castle from the end of Mill Street
Thursday and Friday mornings were spent visiting banks looking at new current and savings accounts to try and make the most of our money, not the most exciting way to spend your time, but it has to be done occasionally and will hopefully make us some money in the coming year!

The afternoons were better, Thursday we went to a tea dance in Shirley which was good fun and very friendly, though it’s never a good sign when they say we do ballroom and sequence dancing as Latin is too fast for us! 

Mill Street, Warwick. The man in blue tends to his original Elizabethan house
No jive then, the only one I’m really any good at! Still he managed to drag me round the floor without me embarrassing myself too much, I think! “Keep talking to me” I say, so I get the odd command of whisk, telemark, heel turn, when what I actually want is every step, back left, side close side – words that actually make sense! Who would believe I actually fooled a class of 70 people for six months for two consecutive years, who were paying us good money, that I actually knew what I was doing!

Eastgate, one of the original entries to the walled town
Yesterday we had a lovely afternoon with Steph and Rory, and Denise and Paul. The plan had been that we’d hold the baby for a couple of hours, in or out while Steph either slept, did good things round the house or went for a run. So a surprise to find D&P there, but the cat had had to go to the vets, so taking Rory to the vets and the cat in its basket all on her own would have been a huge stress, so Mum and Dad to the rescue. Steph did get to do some stuff in the garden with Paul, but didn’t manage a run as it went from raining stair rods to being too hot! 

The 14th Century Lord Leycester Hospital next to Westgate
I didn’t mind I had a little sleepy baby, he is getting better about sleeping at night, but still doesn’t sleep as much during the day as would be nice! Either I’m really boring, or it was beginners luck, but he slept on me for two hours, in some very strange positions, before having a cuddle with great uncle Brian and sleeping for another half hour or so! Now in theory sleep breeds sleep, but I’m sure a routine has to be established, so I hope he did sleep last night! Bit scared to ask!

Iced caramel coffees in Warwick Market Square
In amongst all the other stuff we have been doing two worthwhile things: learning Spanish via an online course (which is proving quite hard for Brian! So far we can greet people, ask their name, tell them our name, say goodbye, thank you and a few other basic words. This in preparation for a possible trip to South America in late 2016, plus a visit to Spain in November this year), we’ve also been running, yes, even Jackie! She hasn’t done the Park Run yet, but is getting faster running round the lake in Elmdon Park from the house, so a good start! Brian’s Park Run today: 21min19sec for 5km – slowly getting better, but our friend Bill Voisey came sprinting past Brian on the final 100m to finish about 10 seconds ahead – sneaky and I didn’t even know he was there!

The Elizabethan Sheldon Tapestry, made in 1588
And look... Alvechurch and Moseley are marked (East is up)
Steph wanted a few pictures of Maggy, to see the short legs which mean her tummy gets tickled by the long grass, poor little thing, plus I think her diet has worked so she needs a tummy tuck to get rid of the belly. I think after the botched face lift leaving her with one round eye and one slanty eye it’s the least the vet could do, though I think he’d complain that the lumpectomy she had a couple of months ago on her head was medical not cosmetic and that tummy tucks for cats aren’t done, but what is she meant to do? How do you explain press ups and the plank to a cat?
Inside the splendid St Marys Church, Warwick
The original 11th century crypt under St Marys Church. A huge fire engulfed a big part of Warwick town centre in 1594, the church was extensively damaged but the crypt survived
Look, Great Uncle Brian cuddling a sleepy Rory and Twinks the cat
Unconventional Rory sleeping position, but Jackie seems to have the knack!
Maggy cat chills out while we watch TV
Maggy cat has short legs and a saggy tummy that touches the grass when she walks. Her 'face job' doesn't help her either, but she is a very cute cat!
Hiding in the grass, thinks: 'no-one can see me!'

No, the grass isn't that long, she's lying down!

Stand-off! Maggie cat, left eyes pretty ginger and white cat, right!

Saturday, 23 May 2015

A walk through Warwickshire villages

Maggy cat still unhappy when our attention is on a jigsaw!

Three counties in three days! From Solihull in the county of West Midlands (it used to be in Warwickshire until boundary changes in the 1970’s created the West Midlands), our home village of Alvechurch in Worcestershire on Thursday and a three church (and three village) walk through Warwickshire on Friday.

Afternoon tea and cake with Pauline in Alvechurch
We returned to our home village of Alvechurch (population in 2011 census: 6564) on Thursday, not to look at our houses, in fact we didn’t even pass them, but to visit Pauline, Jackie’s mum, who also lives in the village, and to undertake a day of much needed gardening.

She has an ‘unconventional’ garden: areas of gravel, stones, shells and plants that might be considered weeds by some, an interesting stone path winding round bushes and overhanging trees, to a hidden top section of plants, trees  and a small fenced patio area with a table and chairs. It’s grown and now needs taming, so we tackled it with loppers, shears and forks and made progress, oops, was that a plant I just put that bag of gravel on? Looked like a weed to me, but what do I know!

Our three churches walk from Meriden
No ‘before and after’ photos though, we were just too busy working and creating stuff and the result was good. It was pleasantly followed by tea and cakes sitting outside in the sun at the new posh cafĂ© in the village square (I say ‘new’, it’s been open 9 months now apparently, but it wasn’t there when we left in July last year), an amble back in the warm afternoon sunshine, some baking, Jackie cooking a fabulous but cholesterol on a plate tartiflet and then home to a disgruntled Maggy cat who had been left on her own all day!

Walking boots on and ready for our walk
Friday was no better for her as we were out again for the day, this time for a walk with Brian’s sister Denise and husband Paul. The weather was still warm, not so sunny but still pleasant and we decided on a ‘three church’ 7 mile walk in the central England county of Warwickshire. The three churches are St Laurence in Meriden, St Andrews, in Eastern Green and the fabulous St. John the Baptist in Berkswell.

Arriving at St Laurence church, Meriden
The start was from outside the Queens Head pub in Meriden, a town that is generally regarded as being in the very centre of England and has a sandstone monument on the village green with a plaque referring to this traditional understanding. It was home to the Triumph motorcycle factory from 1941, after the Luftwaffe bombed the original factory in Coventry, about 6 miles away, until it closed in 1983. The old factory is now a housing estate with road names referring to old triumph motorcycles.

Inside St Laurence church
Just a short walk away is the partly Norman church of St Laurence , with sections built in the 12th century and other sections built up to the 15th century. It is only open on Sundays, but as we arrived there a warden was just opening it up and we were able to go inside and take a look. It apparently was built on the site of an earlier Saxon church built by Lady Godiva, of Coventry fame, who at that time owned the land.

The cows strode towards us, but one look from Jackie stopped it dead!
Onwards across fields, ably navigated by Paul, past woods and through fields of cows, who strode towards us and intimidated us, probably following the recent report of former SMC member Richard Lloyd who has been trampled by a herd of cows while out walking his dog nearby, eventually arriving at the Victorian St Andrews church in Eastern Green on the outskirts of Coventry. Lunch stop here in the graveyard, watching some dark grey clouds hover overhead, but thankfully not releasing any rain and then on to the fabulous St John the Baptist church in Berkswell.

Arriving at St Andrews, Eastern Green
On the way to Berkswell, walking round the edge of a field of Rapeseed, Jackie bent down and came up with a four leaf clover. People not from the UK will probably not know the significance of this, the clover is a perennial short-lived plant (or weed!), very common in the UK, but most commonly having three leaves and only occasionally four leaves. 

Inside St Andrews
Denise and Jackie with their four leaf clovers
To find one is considered to be very lucky, so that’s the time to go and buy a lottery ticket! This caused us all to start looking at the wild grasses  at our feet that contained large amounts of clover growing in amongst and, in a short while eagle-eyed Jackie picked another one, closely followed by Denise, how amazing is that! The problem is that once picked they wilt very quickly, but we have photographic evidence! Not to be outdone I carried on looking and found one myself – however, I didn’t pick mine, just took a photo. ‘This is why four leaf clovers are rare’ I said, ‘because people always pick them, making them even rarer, but not me’ he said polishing his halo!

And here's mine, still growing in the ground!
The stocks at Berkswell
Bit of a posh place Berkswell, nice village green with a set of stocks in the middle with five holes in it! Why five holes? Apparently it is claimed they were specially built for a one-legged ex-soldier and his two drinking companions. Anyway the church is a gem, another Norman church, but with parts, notably parts of the crypt and some steps outside, from a much earlier period, maybe 725AD. A porch at the entrance to the church is Tudor and was built in the 16th century, when the church was already 400 years old. It looks oddly out of place, but as it’s been there for five hundred years and is much older than many other buildings it can’t really be described as modern!

The well at Berkswell
The fabulous St John the Baptist church with tudor porch extension
Denise and Paul used to know the rector of the church and remembered them to be quite well-to-do and the whole town exudes this feeling, well-kept old buildings and well-tended gardens and lawns, a very pleasant place to visit. We probably brought the tone down by sitting outside the church drinking coffee from a flask, but do we care?

Inside St John the Baptist church. Jackie is crouching down having found one of the carved wooden mice on the font
Down in the crypt
Inside the church is equally as spectacular and beautifully kept. Jackie followed a guide to try to find the nine carved mice in the woodwork, she found six, while D&P ambled round. Brian found the entrance to the crypt, which was open to the public so we went down and found a fabulous, very old with sections even older but again very well preserved, room. A great visit and well worth the visit. Just outside the grounds of the church is the old well that, it is believed, gave its name to the town, Berkswell (don’t know who Berk was!).

In the crypt. We got the ghost to take this one!
We were back in time for an afternoon pint of real ale at the Bulls Head in Meriden, then back to D&P’s for dinner, walking in to the fabulous smell of her casserole cooking in the oven, followed by Paulines apple and blackberry crumble and custard that we didn’t eat the day before and a nice bottle of red wine.

It’s a tough old life! Park Run today for Brian, 24 min 31 sec for 5km – how good is that!

Jackie, Brian and Denise looking cool outside the church. What do you think of that Tudor porch on the Norman church? What was the planning department of the 16th century thinking of!

A pond near Meriden

Arriving back at St Laurence in Meriden. Yes its 4:00pm - beer 'o' clock!

7.5 mile walk, I think we deserved it!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

A day out in Coventry

Coventry, 19 miles east of Birmingham and home to 330,000 people is generally dismissed as an uninteresting city on the eastern edge of West Midlands County, yet it has much more to offer and has great place in history and our day there as tourists was not enough. It’s the city I worked in for 23 years, but visiting as a tourist made me realise how little I knew and we thoroughly enjoyed our day visit on Jackie’s birthday. 

The 14th century St John The Baptist Church by Spon Street, Coventry
Most people are aware that the city was virtually destroyed by the German Luftwaffe on 14th November 1940 in an effort to disrupt or destroy the country’s armaments factories. Coventry had many factories producing military vehicles, munitions and aircraft parts, but they were scattered across the city and the decision was taken to blitz the city with incendiary bombs to flatten and burn the city and cause the maximum disruption. Few buildings remained standing and the rebuilding in the 1960’s was during a period of ‘functional architecture’ and the city is now blessed with more than its fair share of these uninteresting buildings, further isolated by its raised inner ring road of concrete.

Medieval Spon Street (with a very big black cloud in the sky!)
It was a tragedy as Coventry has a rich history of which precious little now remains. It was founded in Saxon times, possibly named Coffantree and had a Benedictine monastery founded by the Earl of Leofric and his wife Lady Godiva in 1043. The legend of Lady Godiva riding naked through the city on horseback in an effort to persuade her husband to lower taxes on the poor people still survives today and the city makes the most of this uncertain, dubious tale.

Statue of Lady Godiva riding naked through the city
The city is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as having 350 residents and, in 12th century had its own castle that is sadly no longer in existence. In the 14th century the city was divided into two halves, the Priors half and the Earls half, each having its own church, both still in existence today, standing less than 100m apart in the city centre, at that time fortified by city walls.
Coventry became a city by royal charter in 1345 and, in 1456 actually became the seat of government, when Queen Margaret moved the Royal Court to St Marys Guildhall, a building still standing today.

The historic centre. Guildhall on the right, ruined cathedral on the left
The city walls were all but destroyed by Charles II, the monastery was dissolved by Henry VIII and was eventually dismantled and the cathedral was all but destroyed in 1940 by German bombing. But despite all this a number of historic buildings remain and it’s these that we found on our day visit.
Medieval Spon Street was our first stop and this is a superb example of original buildings still standing, but it is not all it seems, the buildings are genuine, but most were not always here. The buildings here that survived the bombing were restored, but the street now comprises many historic buildings from other parts of the city that were moved here to create a medieval street and it is now a conservation area, containing shops, restaurants and pubs.

Inside the old bombed cathedral showing the canopy to the new
Set back from the main street is the Watchmakers Museum in an original building, containing relics from the city’s watchmaking past and we spent an interesting hour or so in this small building, partly because it was interesting but also to escape a very heavy shower of hail and rain that hammered down from the inky black cloud that passed regularly overhead at frequent intervals! It’s cold and it’s wet, not like normal May weather.

The rain abated, we left Spon Street and headed off through shopping complex in the centre for lunch, shoe shopping for Jackie and then through to the very old section around the old Coventry Cathedral, the Guildhall and the Priory church. It’s a fabulous medieval area, beautifully restored, with the ruins of the old cathedral as its centrepiece.

Inside the old cathedral looking down to the tower. The spire to the right is the Prior church, in a separate half of the city in medieval times
Inside the Great Hall of the Guildhall, the Coventry Tapestry is under the window
Whoever says there is nothing old to see in Coventry should come here, the Guildhall, although damaged in the bombing, has been beautifully restored and contains some priceless relics. In the Great Hall hangs the Coventry Tapestry, one of the rarest tapestries in the country, manufactured around 1495 and 1500 and still hanging in the place it was originally designed for. Also in the building is the Mary Queen of Scots room and believed to be the room the Queen was held in on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I. It’s old, it’s full of treasures and it is so worth a visit, it’s also free to enter!

View from the other end of the Great Hall
The old bombed cathedral has only its walls and tower still standing, the roof burned through and collapsed in 1940 and it was decided to leave it as a reminder of those days and build a new modern cathedral at right angles to give the impression of the new growing from the old. We took a guided tour of both old and new cathedrals which was both interesting and bizarre. The cathedrals are Church of England, protestant, our lady guide was a catholic German lady and our fellow tourists were Quakers, so the conversation of the overlap between the three religions was quite interesting and I think we both learned quite a bit!

Inside the new cathedral showing the largest tapestry in the world
The new cathedral was finished in 1962 and is of modern architecture and is exquisitely designed and really brings the old and new together in a very emotional way and incorporates some really interesting features. Behind the altar is the largest tapestry in the world, measuring 22m x 12m which had to be made in France in the only facility capable of producing it. The organ has over 4000 pipes and the cathedral is capable of seating over 1600 worshipers. It is immense, modern and beautifully designed with many amazing features and is well worth a visit.

The great window and entrance with a view to the old cathedral
The floor of the old cathedral is much higher than it was as it now covers the old roof ruins, presumably to protect them for future generations and the old window openings still contain some of the old stained glass remnants. Most of the stained glass windows were removed as the bombing of the city was anticipated, but although they are still in existence, they now have no home to go to, so some are on display in the new cathedral. Displayed inside the new cathedral is a wooden cross of burnt roof timbers that apparently had fallen into the shape of a cross after the bombing. Someone taped them together and put it on display. Old medieval nails were collected from the rubble, strung together into a cross and presented to a church in Germany. It has since become a symbol of unity with copies now in over 170 churches throughout Europe.

A closer view of the tapestry, altar and organ pipes
The intermittent heavy rain showers continued between sunny intervals and, by the time we had finished we had to hurry back to the car, abandoning plans to visit the historic car museum (Coventry is home to the first car built by the Daimler car company and subsequently became home to many car manufactures such as Humber, Hillman, Singer and Triumph to name but a few).

We finished our day in Solihull, walking round the corner from Helen and Phil’s house to an Indian Balti restaurant for an excellent curry and beer. I think Jackie had a great birthday, it was a really interesting day, it just shows what there is to see in a city that doesn’t normally feature on a tourist itinerary.