Category Archives: Gardens

Caribbean Cruise: Part 5, The Finale

Standard
Caribbean Cruise: Part 5, The Finale

And about time too. This Blog has been going on for months and needs to conclude. Problem? There are 3 more islands to visit. But as one island is much the same as the next (Aruba notwithstanding), the final 3 shall be handled here with much the sameness. The only difference is St. Vincent, though it is much like St. Lucia except that its claim to fame is providing the Jamaican scenery from Pirates of the Caribbean. So, I guess apart from that, St. Vincent is St. Lucia.

Some might disagree. It’s all a matter of perspective. It’s also a matter of all those hills, or mountains of a sort and bendy, twisty roads and palm trees and banana groves and volcanoes and hot weather. Oh, and very nice, but ubiquitous beaches. The other exception to this is St. Kitts which has mountains but we didn’t drive through them, just around them. St. Kitts also is where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean in this part of the world and you can see the two collide.

And since all of the Caribbean islands were formed from volcanoes spilling land from their tops and sides, it is no wonder that the islands in this part of the world have so many similarities. The third of the last 3 we visited, Antigua, was another beach day. We didn’t see much of the island. The sea was rough and someone said there was a shark sighting. More shell gathering. Not so memorable.

20171208_105021

Fryes beach, Antigua.

St. Kitts was another story. Our tour guide made the day. I called him Fancy Danman. He had a very dry sense of humour and loved to tell us at every turn that the British pretty well wiped out the indigenous people of St. Kitts. Never mind that everyone on the bus was British.  No one took the bait. We all acted like the polite British people we used to be. I say we because my family background goes back to William the Conqueror and Border Scots even though most of my life was lived in Canada. Mostly I am polite. I wanted to tell old Fancy Danman to blame the privileged classes of Britain for past misdemeanours, but my best friend gave me one of those looks and I kept quiet. That too is very British unless one is a Football/Soccer Hooligan.

20171207_094631

Fancy Danman (aka Rastaman) our guide on St. Kitts.

Most of St. Kitts seems to be for Medical and Veterinary students from everywhere. Then there is the old sugar plantation with a Batik shop that is the real reason we were here. Lovely stuff….not cheap. We didn’t feel guilty because St. Kitts had been spared the worst of Hurricane Irma. We stopped where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea complete with a lady in a shack painting pictures for tourists. I went in and bought one of an island couple in traditional dress.

20171207_091501

One of the medical colleges on St. Kitts.

20171207_095826

Woman working on Batik.

20171207_095211

Batik drying at old sugar plantation on St. Kitts.

20171207_110757

Where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea.

20171207_110625

The artist’s studio on St. Kitts.

20171207_111158

The artist in her ramshackle studio on St. Kitts.

Back on the bus and off to a cliff that overlooked a lava rock beach. Quite a sight. But the best feature of this tourist spot was at the back of our bus. Our driver, not Fancy Danman, had lowered a ledge behind the bus and was supplying us with another very potent rum punch. I kept going back for refills, and though we were supposed to have only one, the driver obliged with a knowing wink. Tourism is thirsty work.

I felt no pain for the rest of the trip. When we got back to Bassetierre, we walked into town to find a bank to replenish our dwindling funds. In the middle of one garden square is the statue of a half-naked island girl. It was commissioned by the British government to stand atop the tall plinth in Trafalgar Square. But it was deemed too risqué for the sensibilities of Victorian England and so Admiral Horatio Nelson won the honoured spot. That’s how Fancy Danman told it anyway. I have been unsuccessful in finding any corroborating evidence to Danman’s story, but he would be the first to say it is a conspiracy of silence.

20171207_132828

The clock tower in Bassetierre’s town centre.

So much for politics. On to St. Vincent. Our day began on a catamaran, the reverse of our day on St. Lucia. The sea was rough this day and we bobbed about like a cork. Some people were sick and the rest of us just hung on. We passed all the places used in the filming of Pirates of the Caribbean, including the bay that substituted for Nassau Town (Jamaica) where actor Johnny Depp was said to have been drunk for the entire 3 months of filming here. Apparently, it became impossible for Depp to stay at the resort nearby because of the damage he did to the place and so he was moved to a boat anchored in the bay with his own onboard chef and rowed to the day’s film shoot.

20171209_093024

Rainbow from the bow of the catamaran.

20171209_093921

Scene used in first Pirates of the Caribbean film.

20171209_104942

Lava Beach where I snorkeled.

We anchored at a beach consisting of black lava sand. One of the film’s scenes was filmed here (the one with the big wheel for all those who know the movies) and we were told we could swim or snorkel. Problem is, the trip planners had not said we had a swimming break. I went in any way with mask and snorkel….and not much else (island fever had taken over). Lots of colourful fishies. But the current was strong and at one point I had to crawl up on to the lava beach to catch my breath. Ended up cleaning lava sand from every part of me for the rest of the day.

When I got back on the catamaran, the crew was handing out ….you guessed it….more of that potent rum punch. But before that, those of us who had braved the waves were asked if we would like to sample a special rum. I am a gamer. What I didn’t know was that this rum was 90% proof and I swallowed it all at once. Like lighted gasoline in the throat and belly. Forgot my pain. And washed it out of my system with a few rum punches.

We headed shoreside to the place where lunch was arranged, along with one free drink. But to get there, we ploughed through some of the roughest water yet. By this time, I was feeling no fear or pain and ended up on the bow of the catamaran, holding on to a guy wire, woohooing all the way to shore. No wonder sailors drank rum. Gets you through anything.

Once safely ashore, we had lunch at a restaurant by the water. I ate my chicken something or other and drank my locally brewed Hairoun beer as I watched little sand crabs moving about, disappearing down holes at the slightest sign of danger. They move very quickly. After a stop at another Botanical garden and waterfall, we drove the long, twisting, up and down road to our ship in Kingstown. Then it was off to Barbados and the flight back to cold, wet England.

20171209_123744

Enjoying a Hairoun brewski on St. Vincent.

20171209_130705

Waterfall at the Botanical Garden on St.Vincent.

20171209_132257

Crossing the rickety bridge in the Botanical Garden on St. Vincent.

Ciao Caribbean Cruise. Like a distant memory as I write this. Will I ever go back? Most of me says ‘Been there, done that’ but you never know. If I ever do, it won’t be to Grenada. I’ll probably stick to Majorca….closer and cheaper….so far.

20171210_082920

And it’s goodbye from the Caribbean.

Caribbean Cruise: Part 3B, St. Lucia

Standard
Caribbean Cruise: Part 3B, St. Lucia

No bones about it. I love St. Lucia. Every moment we spent on the island was worth it and I had some of the most fun I’ve ever had. That part involved a catamaran and rum punch. But the whole island is a treasure trove of tropical and geological delights….if you are into those kinds of things.

Botanical gardens, banana plantations, a volcano, a salt town, a cocoa plantation that is now a museum of sorts and….oh, the Pitons. Not to forget the most fun I’ve had on the catamaran party from Saltière back to the tender boat that took us back to our ship. 8 hours of fun, sun, facts, flora and fauna that spun my mind and taxed my body.

We were tendered into port at Castries by one of those boats with uncomfortable seating, packed to the gunnels with passengers from our ship. To make matters even more unpleasant, it is a hot, humid morning. But, who’s complaining? It was freezing back home in England. So, we get to port and have to queue like captured prisoners waiting for our mini buses to take us to our touristy spots.

20171202_083733

Leaving Castries, St. Lucia, on our mini bus.

Let’s go first to the Pitons, those two 2,500 foot cone-shaped volcanic plugs at the southwestern end of St. Lucia near Saltière. They are a World Heritage Site and require a guide if you wish to climb them. I didn’t want either. Bet the view is incredible though. The whole island is a verdant wonder. And the going up and down the steep hills and twisting around bends seemed far more tolerable than they had on Grenada.

20171202_103530

The Pitons from afar. You can see them to the right in the heading photo.

20171202_104135

The Pitons with Saltiere below.

St. Lucia’s Botanical Gardens end at a waterfall that emanates from the volcano. I have never seen so many colourful flowering plants and species in one place. I am not, you see, one to frequent botanical gardens. But this one was both beautiful and entertaining. They even have one beautiful flower that can kill you if you simply touch it….and a caster oil plant that produces ricin, a deadly poison. At least that’s what our guide told us and the sign said.

20171202_105918

A Gecko welcomes us to the Botanical Gardens.

20171202_110857

Touch this and you’ll die.

20171202_112105

More deadly stuff.

20171202_111149

Name that exotic flower.

20171202_112741

Name these too.

Our group walks along the garden path, a narrow stretch with an array of flowering plants on either side. Mind boggling. To the point that the group left me well behind as I tried to get photos of everything. After all, I may never pass this way again. We came to a table laden with island specialties, everything from cocoa beans to coconuts. Did you know that palm trees aren’t indigenous to the Caribbean? I didn’t. They were brought from across the Atlantic (Germany….just kidding) and introduced to the Caribbean back in the early slaving days.

I ended up at the waterfall as the rest of the group was heading back to the gift shop. I had it to myself for a minute or two. I wanted to plunge into the lagoon beneath the waterfall, but the problem with guided tours is there’s never enough time to do it all. I’d need a week. I’ll be back. After Grenada, St. Lucia was paradise.

20171202_112531

The volcanic waterfall and lagoon in the Botanical gardens.

20171202_110351

Another beauty.

20171202_113800

White bell flowers (real title?)

20171202_113730

A Poinsettia Tree/Plant.

On to the volcano. It’s not dormant and it’s not ready to explode. Our guide said it was bubbling and steaming to remind us that there was still life and activity deep in the earth under St. Lucia. We walked right down into the crater and watched the earth bubble and steam in pools. But it’s the smell of sulphur that gets you. And, believe it or not, it’s good for you in small doses. Will cure anything. The latest research says that smelling fart gas (which give the same odour and effect) is good for you. We are supposed to thank those we are with every time he or she farts in our presence. They are lengthening our life expectancy. So far my best friend has refused to say thanks at such times (rare as they are).

20171202_115959

Volcanic Steam.

20171202_121925

Boiling mud pots

And, back on the trail again, to a cocoa plantation of yesteryear where we had a typical St. Lucian lunch and a tour of the huts where plantation slaves lived and worked, the huge manor house and an old taxi/bus that shuffled slaves and cocao about the island. Behind the manor house was an old guy hacking coconuts apart with his machete (those things make me nervous), discarding the husks on a large pile and preparing coconut juice for us to sample and the raw coconut flesh (the white stuff) to eat. Coco means head and it really isn’t a nut. It’s a drupe, or stone fruit. But it’s too late to change the moniker now.

20171202_130656

Plantation Huts.

20171202_131140

The Plantation Manor House.

20171202_132307

Ye Olde island transport taxi/bus on the Cocoa Plantation, St. Lucia.

20171202_132729

Coconut Husk/shell Pile behind the Plantation Manor House.

20171202_133109

View from the Plantation to the bay below.

Back to Saltière and on to the catamaran. We say goodbye to the Pitons and travel north along the coast back to Castries. On the way, we duck into Marigot Bay where the rich and famous holiday and play. From there, a beach near a 5 star resort being rebuilt. We climb down the steps at the front of the catamaran and swim in the warm waters of St. Lucia. Lovely.

20171202_091115

Marigot Bay from above.

Back to the catamaran and into the rum punch….very, very strong rum punch. I had enough to get me up dancing island style, which I never do. The crew inspire us with their moves. More rum punch as Bob Marley is blasted out of 2 enormous speakers. We are deafened by the sound but we are feeling no pain. We drink and dance all the way back to Castries, ready to board the tender back to our ship. What a day. Takes me ages to come back down to deck.

20171202_142854

Adieu Soufriere from the catamaran

20171202_143259

Adieu Pitons from the catamaran.

DSC00210

Yours truly partying on the catamaran after a swim.

If ever you decide to go to the Caribbean, you have lots of choice. We still had another 5 islands to visit. But St. Lucia stands out to me like a beacon in the night, a siren on the shore (but in a good way), a tropical paradise. The people are friendly, the food good and next time, I’m going under the waterfall and bathing in the sulphur springs and snorkeling and sailing on a party boat and……..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caribbean Cruise: Part 3A, Grenada

Standard
Caribbean Cruise: Part 3A, Grenada

I’ve talked to a lot of people about the Caribbean Islands. Everyone has a favourite. And it follows there are islands they don’t particularly care for. We had a great time on St. Lucia, one of the next 2 islands we visited. Someone I met said they hated the place. Someone else loved Grenada. Not me. Here are my reasons for loving one and not so much the other. A tale of two islands. Grenada first.

Grenada, the Spice Island. Well, it’s supposed to be. But Hurricane Irma of  last September decimated the crop and because the storm hit the United States, everyone forgot about Grenada. Not a good year for the island. And not a great tour of the island for we tourists. Not because of the problems of the poor islanders, but because of our tour guide. The worst in history. My history at least. He was, without doubt, out of his depth and quite useless. I’ll tell you why, shall I?

The day was a very hot and humid one to begin with. This must be understood or nothing I am about to tell you is going to sound as harrowing as the day ended up being. And before I get too Dickensian about it all, let me say I could write a book about our day on Grenada. I still remember in 1983 when America, plus some others, invaded the island to rid it of a perceived communist threat. Anyway, without researching, that’s how I remember it. Weird politics and machete wielding islanders makes you wonder. Still, fascinating all the same.

So, our driver picks us up in the worst minibus of those waiting at the port at St. George’s to take others from our ship hither and yon over the island. We were supposed to be on a 3 hour trip. Turned out we were the last to get back to the ship. First, let me tell you about driving through St. George’s. The streets are narrow and clogged with traffic, both vehicular and human. People stare at us as we go by….slowly by….as if we have no business being there, but please leave us your money. I guess you can’t blame them in one sense. Most of us only barely tolerate tourists in our back yards.

Finally we leave the confines of the city and begin the endless ascent into the very high hills, along winding roads, hairpin bends, houses on stilts and amazing views of the bays below. Our driver hadn’t said a word to us yet, after 30 minutes on the tour. We had to wonder what we were looking at. And the young driver delighted in shifting gears so that the minibus lurched forward with each change of gear. Then we stalled, started up again, stalled again. This happened a few times before we finally came to a halt for good, on a hill between two sharp bends. It was hot, humid and we were nowhere.

20171201_144251

houses in the hills on stilts.

20171201_144157

Going nowhere in the heat.

The driver mumbled something and got off the minibus, looking the thing over as if it might tell him what was wrong. He managed to communicate with one of our passengers that he would call for help and we should stay on the bus. Forget that in this heat. All 18 of us filed off the bus, taking our chances in the hot, humid morning air. The driver protested our leaving….health and safety and all that….but we were having none of it, being stuck in a hot tin can.

Some of us questioned the driver as to the possible reasons for the breakdown. He just shrugged his shoulders and got on his mobile (cell) phone to call for help. The rest of us tried to find shade where we could find it. Fortunately, we had parked right in front of a house with a large veranda that seemed to be empty. The front of the house was on pretty solid ground. The back was on stilts. Most of the passengers sat on the steps of the veranda, battling the ants that kept trying to greet them. Some of us wandered about exploring the area. We became a great source of amusement to all who drove by, especially the locals.

20171201_143903

Keeping cool on the veranda in Grenada.

Good news, the driver announced to a couple of us who stood near him, waiting for information. Help was on its way and would be here in 15 minutes, a replacement vehicle he said. An hour and a half later, a taxi with a couple of tourists inside pulled up behind the bus. A man got out carrying a jerry can full of petrol. We hadn’t broken down after all. The twit had run out of gas. He claims his petrol gauge was broken. He also told one of our fellow travellers that the reason he could not give us any information about what we were looking at was his microphone was broken. Strike 2

The chap who had the jerry can forgot to bring a spout to get the petrol into the bus. He hunted around until he found an empty plastic water bottle and proceeded to ask us if any of us had a knife. Oh yes, of course we do. They issue them to us as we leave the ship to fend off marauding communists. No, we don’t. You’d never get them by the ship’s scanner anyway. Another search for something sharp. He finds a coconut shell, smashes it in two and uses a sharp edge to cut the plastic bottle into a makeshift funnel. Enterprising but an annoying waste of time.

20171201_151946

Pouring the petrol everywhere.

As the petrol spilled over on to the side of the road as much as was poured into the bus, we all began gathering back around our vehicle in anticipation of finally getting on our way. As the gas cap was closed, we noticed movement from our bus. The driver was not back inside and we were all standing outside. The bus was moving backwards on its own and about to ram the taxi behind. We all yelled and our driver was quick enough to get to the brake in time. Just. He said the parking brake failed. Actually, he hadn’t put it on. Strike 3 and we still had the whole day ahead.

So we got on our way, in silence, trying to guess what sites we were viewing as we twisted our way up one hill and down the same, then around a sharp bend and up again and down until we found ourselves in one of those villages that time has forgotten. Locals walked around as if in a trance. We were here in a village with no name….our driver didn’t tell us and when asked mumbled something incoherent….to visit a nutmeg factory. It was an open barn with lizardy things crawling around the floor. The place had not had a makeover since being constructed many years before. Nothing was going on and the guide from the factory was incomprehensible. So, we learned nothing.

20171201_155909

The Nutmeg Factory

20171201_154801

A shop in Nutmeg Town.

I left the group and wandered about looking at cobwebs and sacks of what I presumed contained nutmeg at some stage of  usefulness. Put me off the spice once and for all. Nothing worse than knowing where your food comes from. Everyone was herded through the strangest gift shop before getting back on the bus. A few items on rickety shelves and postcards that had been on display since who knows when, dog-eared and wrinkled. No one was in the mood to purchase anything. The shopkeeper, a sour-faced woman, didn’t seem to care. She sat reading a magazine, never looking up. Island malaise.

And back on the road, this time to a volcanic lake. That was it. A small lake surrounded by trees. Nothing to see here really and, of course, no info coming from our driver, with or without a microphone. We drove up to a place that overlooked the lake….ought to have come here in the first place….where souvenirs were sold and gardens could be viewed. But we were behind schedule and had no time for that. Three old toothless men played island tunes badly on instruments they really had no idea how to play. But you have to make money some way I guess.

20171201_170458

The Volcanic lake

20171201_171816

The Volcanic lake from the tourist spot.

20171201_171844

The Touirist Spot

20171201_172537

What we had no time to explore.

By now the sun was sinking but the driver was determined to get us to every scheduled site. The last stop was at a lovely waterfall with beautiful gardens and the chance to swim in the lagoon beneath. Trouble is, by now it was nearly dark. At first the chap looking after the entrance booth didn’t want to let us in because it was too late. But somehow our driver convinced the him to let us enter. By the time we reached the waterfall, it was dark and the pathway wet and slippery. No time for a swim. A quick photo, with flash, and off we went, back to the bus, slipping and sliding all the way, iPhones lighting the way.

20171201_175115

The Volcanic Waterfall in the dark.

Friday night in St. George’s. Traffic worse than when we left that morning. People everywhere. A ballet of chaos and colour. Our bus edged along. We could see our ship now, but couldn’t get to it. When we arrived at the port….finally…. everything was shut. No one was around to let us onto the quay. We yelled. We banged things and finally a man came and let us through. The ship couldn’t leave without us, but all they knew, once we arrived at the gangway, was that we were missing. No one had told them on board where we were. Lost on Grenada.

We went as a group to the desk on the 5th deck that handled trips and we complained through a group rep. They don’t like complainers, but a mob they cannot ignore. We got a refund for the trip. Don’t misunderstand me, please. The island is lush and verdant, teeming with life and lots of mountainous terrain. Invading it would not be easy. Exploring it is not easy. Never going back is a breeze.

 

Chilli Day

Standard
Chilli Day

Let’s talk all things spicy. Perhaps not all things, just those related to food. Specifically, let’s talk chillies. All kinds of chillies from everywhere. Whether you are a person who loves your food hot and spicy or as plain as boiled rice, sometime in your life one chilli or another has shown up in your food. If you’ve ever eaten chilli con carne, you’ll have had chillies in spades….unless you’re like my best friend who likes her chilli (not her favourite meal) mild as can be. Chilliless.

So, on the heels of the Sausage Sizzle, here we are in Eddie’s BMW, top down on a hot August afternoon, heading for Benington, a small village 4 miles east of Stevenage in Hertfordshire. We were going with Eddie, Mimz and two other friends, Sandy and Graham. Graham took his Porsche with its top down too. Regal travel and all. The destination was The 2017 Chilli Festival held at Benington Lordship Gardens, featuring 7 acres of gardens, a carp pond, an old Georgian Manor House and the ruins of a Norman motte and bailey castle. So very English wot?

20170828_133159

The Norman Gate.

20170828_134251

Castle wall ruins and gardens

I remember years ago in Canada, some Italian guy I worked with on the Eaton’s (like John Lewis in Britain) delivery trucks gave me a pepper from his lunch and dared me to eat it whole. Poor naive me did just that and paid the price. I can’t remember what variety it was but when it took hold, it nearly killed me. I have been wary ever since. But my interest was piqued during the finale of the Chilli festival when the annual chilli eating contest was held.

9 brave or reckless souls sat at a table with a beer and a bucket in front of each of them before the contest commenced. The MC had been running the show for years and educated us as the event wore on as to the name and effect each pepper would have on the contestants. Chillies are rated by their SHUs (Scoville Heat units). The New Mexico green Chilli, for example, can be anywhere from 0-70,000 SHUs. That seems quite a range, but most of us, except for my best friend, can handle them.

20170828_134751

Beware of the Chilli. Booth at the Chilli Festival.

20170828_133946

Chilli Festival and rolling hills of the Benington Lordship Gardens.

From there, we go up the scale until we get to a chilli known as Dragon’s Breath from Wales of all places. It has a SHU of 2.48 million. The chemical produced by the pod of chillies is capsaicin. If you swallowed a vial of that, you’d be ingesting 16 million SHU and you’d be dead. But then even eating a whole Dragon’s Breath can kill you. It was developed not to be eaten but to be put as an anaesthesia on the skin for people who can not have normal anaesthetic.

The competitors started with chillies at around 100,000 SHU and it went up from there. By the time they got to the Scotch Bonnets at around 500,000 SHUs, only half of the group remained. Then it was on to around 800,000 SHU and more dropped away, using the buckets provided to….well, you know. Red Cross folk were on hand to provide aid to contestants who were overcome by their chillies. They had milk and sugar cubes to counter the effects. Interesting.

20170828_141451

Some of the Gardens and the gardener’s house.

 

One young man who began foaming at the mouth and dribbling profusely hung in there despite his anguish. The audience began to chant ‘Dribbler, Dribbler….’ but Dribbler had enough and off he went. Two remained. They had to eat a whole pepper at 1.6 million SHU and did so. It looked for a moment like the contest would end in a draw, but one of the two decided he couldn’t go on and took a sip of the beer….which meant he capitulated. The winner got a case of Budweiser beer as his prize. No thanks.

Meanwhile, a Chilli Festival was going on….60 pitches (booths) with everything from chilli cheeses to chilli chocolate, fudge, chutney, sauces, pickles, seeds, plants and, naturally, booze. These were the top echelon of independent chilli traders. Very nice and all but a bit samey after a while. There was a carp pond and lovely gardens as well as views of rolling countryside. A very satisfying way to spend a holiday Monday. My life is full. But not of chilli. The only thing we ended up buying was a non-chilli  butterscotch, spicy liqueur. Hot enough on its own.

20170828_134210

Chilli stalls and Manor House.

We wandered about in the heat after arriving and getting something to eat first. The food vendors were from many cultures. There was Greek, Texan, Italian, British, of course, South American and South African. I had a South African steak sandwich with chakalaka….some spicy tomato, onion and pepper mix. Yummy. Then it was on to the Chilli festival and all that I described. What a treat. I must say I tried to sample at least the sweet stuff. Loved it. And I do like some chilli in my chocolate.

Started in 2006, the Festival has grown in size and popularity. It runs for 3 days over the Bank Holiday weekend. They even have entertainment for the whole family. This year it was the famous Bruce Airhead (never heard of him) and his big green balloon. But the hit of the show was the young lad Mr. Airhead picked from the audience who, much to the surprise of even the Airhead, actually entertained us with an array of gymnastic routines while the famous Bruce prepared his balloon. I think the lad was supposed to be a flop, but fooled us all. Even Bruce admitted that perhaps he ought to step aside and let the kid do the show.

20170828_142445

Bruce Airhead and his young assistant.

Just before the chilli eating contest, my best friend and I found a shaded spot beside the marquee where the contest was to be held. A man, dressed in those khaki shorts with millions of pockets, an unironed T-shirt and a pair of well-worn brown trainers (sneakers) sat in a chair just in front of us. A woman came from the audience and introduced herself to this chap as the wife of someone he knew. They spoke of food preparation or something. Turned out to be Richard Bott, owner of the place. Unassuming, charming and so very English, right down to the shoes.

Part way through the proceedings, I just happened to look up into the wide, blue yonder and there, flying right over head was the beautiful sight of a Second World War Spitfire. Made my day as the next contestant headed off behind the marquee to empty his insides into a bucket.

 

 

Sausage Sizzle

Standard
Sausage Sizzle

This is not a pornographic Blog. I don’t do those. I could, but I don’t. I know sex sells. But I’m not selling anything and at my age, I think it best that I stick to safe subjects. Like this one, a good old-fashioned Sausage Sizzle where the only sex involves males and females working together to raise money for a worthwhile organisation.

It all began, the charity stuff I mean, a year ago at Halloween. We decorated the boats and the marina perimeter wall behind the boats with scary things and put out a donation box for people to give generously to our charity of choice. It happened to be an End-of-Life Hospice where our neighbours Eddie and Mimz work and volunteer. Then at Christmastime the displays became Mega and the money raised greater still. Easter rolled around and eggs, bunnies and the rest became the theme and more money came in.

We were on a roll. Every season and celebration have become an opportunity to keep the donating going. Gardening season provided the needed impetus to keep the ball rolling. And it has. For over 4 months now. Things started slow but have evolved into the jungle madness I Blogged about not long ago and turned Mimz into the Bubble Lady of our marina. She was forever blowing bubbles. The locals, children and adults, loved it. Any time a child passed by the boats, Mimz was up to the wall, turning on the bubble machines we had purchased from hither and yon and waving the large wand to make monster bubbles.

Then a new shop came to town. Well, not so much just a shop as a Megashop, another Australian incursion into the British Isles, Bunnings Hardware, a DIY fanatic’s fantasy come true. They took over from Homebase and boast 20 locations by the end of the year. Brits don’t own anything anymore and don’t seem to want to run things or open new ventures (nothing big anyway), so they leave it to foreign investors to rescue the economy.

20170827_091608

Eddie and the Bunnings lady conferring before the event.

Be that as it may, Bunnings has done its best, so far, to fit into the local community. Apparently, they are nothing like that in Australia, just about money. I’m sure the same will happen here once the dust settles. Anyway, for the moment, all goes well. Every weekend, Bunnings runs a charity Sausage Sizzle outside its premises, one on Saturday and a different charity on Sunday. Bunnings was supposed to provide everything. That was the deal. All they asked was for volunteers from the sponsored charity to run the event.

That’s where we come in. We thought it would be a good idea to do one for the Hospice. After some strange negotiating with the Hospice and Bunnings, our day came. Bunnings provided nothing like they said they would. We had to buy all the goods. But we were determined to go ahead and do this thing. It was for a good cause and we had talked about doing it for a long time. The day came. We were loaded with bread, sausages, napkins and the rest and off to Bunnings we went on a fine, hot August morning.

20170827_094226

Three Amigos ready to work.

They had already set up the gazebos and the grill….at least. But the people running the charity the day before had used up all the oil and so we had to go back to the boat to get some. Hard to sizzle sausage without the oil. Kind of essential. The Bunnings person who supervised the event went through a bunch of rules, the dos and don’ts of sizzling sausage, most of which we ignored, and off we went. Eddie cooked, I served and the ladies ran the money side of things and the raffle table.

Good team work. It had to be. We were there for 8 hours in the heat, standing the whole time. Eddie was stalwart. He cooked in the heat, over the heat. He and Mimz had cut up the onions the day before and paid the price. Now Eddie was grilling them to perfection. By the half-way point of the day, he had those sausages sizzling like a master chef. Not one customer complained about the product and more than one gave us the thumbs-up after consuming the goods.

20170827_132859

Mimz and Andrea at the Raffle table.

20170827_132843

Team work at its best.

No matter what you do in public, especially for charity, there are those who are simply grumpy. We had our share. Rude people who react like children when spoken to by a stranger in public. My best friend simply asked if passersby were hungry and got all kinds of rude remarks and gestures thrown her way. I did too. To one couple I just happened to say, “Now then, you look like a hungry couple. Sausage Sizzle?” A harmless remark really. Except that my best friend pointed out that may have been construed as rude as they were persons of a certain girth that said, ‘do I look like I need another sausage?’ Well….

Generally, things went well. We survived the day and made a goodly sum of money for the Hospice. The womenfolks did a tremendous day’s work on the raffle table by selling lots of tickets The draw was at 3pm. Some good boat neighbours, who had come over during the day to support us, won a few of the prizes.

All in all, everything went well. Eddie’s OCD kicked in right at the end of the day. The Bunnings lady who was in charge of the event said of all the groups they had the pleasure to work with so far, we were the cleanest. That’s down to Eddie. The grill looked good as new, but Eddie insisted that every nook and cranny had to be spotless. The Bunnings lady tried her best to dismiss our Eddie from duty, but I knew better. He would leave when he was satisfied that everything was immaculate. Oh, and by the way, the Bubble Lady (Mimz) was there all day doing her thing. No event is complete without her bubbles.

20170827_132906

Eddie and me. The perfect team.

 

Southbank Strolls

Standard
Southbank Strolls

No point being in a rush. You miss all the salient points that go into making a place what it is. It’s the little things in amongst the larger bits that tell you where a place has been and what is going on now and in the near future. Some of the things are temporary and the next time you pass by this spot, they won’t be there. Such is the case along the south bank of the River Thames. It changes nearly daily. Some of the things are trendy. Others are fixtures, but only in the sense of a lifetime. So many changes over the centuries, that someone from the Elizabethan era, for example, would not recognise the place.

In my case, I have seen changes along this part of the Thames, some satisfying and others not so much. I have to laugh at some of the trendy changes, like the ubiquitous juice bars that are all along the Southbank. Someone said eat or drink lots of fruit and the hawksters spring up out of nowhere to sell you expensive fruit drinks that come from concentrated juice, not fresh fruit. If you get there early enough in the morning as they set up, you can see them making the stuff. Then they put pieces of fruit out to make it look like they’ve actually used fruit.

20170813_100142

The ubiquitous juice bar. Setting up in the morning.

Not to mention the wasps and flies all over the plastic cups. No thanks, and certainly not at those prices. But, as they say, a sucker is born every minute. Hawksters rely on it. Getting away from the hidden, there are all the other delights, many of which cost you nothing.  A leisurely stroll is all you need and observant eyes. My little stroll took me from London Bridge station, down to the Queen’s Jubilee Walk beside the Thames. Here we go. Can’t tell you about or show you everything in a thousand words and a few photos, but I’ll do me best.

Usually, the Southbank walk begins for me at Westminster Bridge, past the London Eye, the National Theatre, The ITV television studios, the OXO building, the new (old) Globe theatre, Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind ship, the Canon Street station, the Tate Modern in an old power station and the Wobbly Bridge (Millennium Bridge). Did I mention the Clink and the Anchor pub? Lots to see.

My walks begin at London Bridge and move along to Tower Bridge and slightly beyond to Butler’s Wharf (WareHouse At River Front).  The crowds are a little thinner along this stretch and yet there is so much going on. And not all on the surface. But on ground level, things are moving ahead at a frenetic pace. London Bridge station has gone through a complete overhaul for the last few years, in part due to the addition of the Shard, a large glass tower with a top that resembles a broken bottle.

20170813_101602

City Hall and the Shard in the background.

Roads are closed around the station and the noise from the work on the roads and in the station is deafening. Sneak through an alley between buildings and a whole new world of quiet along the Thames greets you. The first thing I encountered on the day I’m Blogging about was a painter. His easel was set for standing and the scene before him was a combination of old London and new London.

20170813_094937

An artist at work early in the morning before the crowds arrive.

The new seems to be taking over, but the painter was highlighting old London. Good man. Even the famous pickle shaped building, known as the Gerkin, was the landmark when I came here 12 years ago.  Now it has all but disappeared among the Walkie-Talkie and Cheese-Grater buildings. Other newer, taller buildings are going up too. Londoners love to give their office monstrosities pet names. Makes the new look ridiculous. Good on ’em.

Meanwhile on the Southbank, the buildings tend to be more residential than business with lots of new boutiques selling artisan quality products opening up in every space available. Clothing, unique shoes, graphic designers, pottery artists, art galleries and gadgets of all kinds just away from the Thames in the Hay’s Galleria. All very interesting and all very expensive. The amount of foreign investment especially in London and the number of those coming in from elsewhere have boosted an otherwise lethargic economy. Brits are funny that way. Love the money, not so sure about all the foreigners moving in who have the money to spend.

20170813_095114

Look Mum No Hands….stretching it just a bit for a BBQ pit.

20170813_095244

Entrance to the Thames Clipper at London Bridge. A fast commuter boat.

20170813_095400

Signs announcing the Summer Festival at the amphitheater near City Hall.

20170806_091402

Sculpture of family on a Thames beach. Weird.

Ignoring all what goes on behind the scenes, the old is still evident in the pubs along the Thames that still operate, attracting young people of every nation to imbibe. The HMS Belfast (two Blogs ago) still floats to the delight of some 300,000 visitors a year. Then you come to City Hall that looks like something from a Star Wars movie. Always something going on around here, an amphitheater that features plays and monologues, a bar and food stand that looks like something from the Caribbean Islands, last week a temporary beach and on this occasion, a Latin American food and goods market on the same piece of ground.

A large fountain that shoots sprays of water at various altitudes, seemingly randomly, attracting kids to run through, lined by restaurants offering various cuisines.  Then you walk through a short tunnel under the south end of Tower Bridge to Butler’s and other old Wharfs converted into million pound flats with restaurants selling such meals as Spaghetti Bolognese for £20 a plate. Pretty around there. Funny to think of all the spices and such that landed here years ago with men gathering ever day hoping to get a day’s work to feed the family.

20170813_100933

Caribbean Bar by City hall and the amphitheater.

20170813_100952

The Amphitheater.

 

20170813_100537

Early morning exercise before the mob jog.

20170813_100847

Egg sculpture. Groovy.

20170813_101452

Latin American Street Food Market. There was a beach there a week before.

I have walked this stretch a number of times over the years and have failed to notice some of the most meaningful sites. One in particular is by the old pub beside Hay’s Galleria. Ships used to sail right into the midst of the buildings to unload their cargo. It’s all filled in now. The Horniman Pub has been on this location since 1873. I’ve eaten there a few times. Good grub, reasonably priced for the location. Outside on the wall as you leave Hay’s Galleria is a brass plaque, a tribute to all those who worked around the wharf but lost their lives during the two Great Wars of the 20th Century. Glad I finally saw it.

20170813_095750

The Navigators sculpture in the Hay’s Galleria from 1987.

20170813_095857

Brass Plaque outside Horniman’s Pub at Hay’s Wharf.

Lots happening at every part of the Southbank. I noticed that at low tide, more and more people are going down along the sandy beaches to sit and sunbathe or build sand castles while treasure hunters comb the rocks for the next artifact that is going to make them millionaires. A sign over one of the drainage holes on the path has a sign politely asking people not to pollute. Some cheeky sod put his/her rubbish on the spot in a fit of rebellion. So, this is the Queen’s Walk, otherwise known as The Jubilee Walk. Bet the Queen has no idea what goes on down here. She might like it. At least she’d have no trouble paying for a plate of spaghetti.

20170813_101924

Looking north on Tower Bridge.

20170813_102043

The City on the north side of the river from Tower Bridge.

20170806_093646

From Butler’s Wharf looking back to Tower Bridge and the City….oh look, the Gerkin.

20170813_101803

Ground plaque near Tower Bridge announcing the Jubilee Walk.

 

 

 

 

Jungle Madness

Standard
Jungle Madness

I wrote last year about the garden we had along the pathway behind our narrowboat. This year, earlier, I talked about a Spring Clean and featured the beginnings of our new garden, complete with an added arch between our neighbours Eddie and Mimz’z boat. The arch was made possible because we moved our boat during the Spring to its present location, sharing a jetty with Eddie and Mimz.

Well, things have progressed to the point of complete madness. Everything from lilies to a flamingo have been added to the collection and plants grow alongside both of our boats, hiding nearly everything from view….the boats that is. We are nearly overgrown and the strange thing is, we keep adding to it.

DSCN2347

The garden in the early Spring

DSCN2348

The garden between the boats in early Spring.

DSCN2359

A narrowboat planter added to the mix as the garden evolves.

Don’t get me wrong, it all looks lush and lovely. The colours and smells are intoxicating. Everyone who walks by tells us how wonderful it is and the solar lights light up the night in what can only be described as magical. And, up until the end of July, we had lots of sunshine to keep the old solar lights lit long into the night.

Eddie and Mimz, my best friend and I have sat out many a long evening, surrounded by our jungle, sipping rum and cokes or drinking red wine and even getting trendy with Gin and mixers, discussing life and laughing at Eddie’s antics. Mimz tells a good story too. The weather had been unseasonably dry and hot through May, June and most of July, with the light lasting until after 10pm. Paradise some might say.

DSCN2378

Add an arch with a straw bird on top.

DSCN2384

Yours truly under the arch.

And well it was. Then came the end of July and into August. Cool, damp and terribly uninspiring as far as summer goes. So, what did my best friend and I do? We left the gardening to Mimz and took off to the city to look after the few plants at my best friend’s son’s place near the River Thames. Mimz, bless her, has been holding down the fort. I think Eddie leaves it to her anyway.

The assortment of plants has been overwhelming. Besides lilies, we have geraniums, honeysuckle, juniper, jasmine, lobelia, gladioli, Virginia Creeper (otherwise known as Parthenocissus Quinquefolia….but you knew that), marigolds, busy lizzies, crocosmia (Lucifer….scary plants), dahlias, passion flower, panzies, petunias, anemones, ivy, mixed wild flowers for the bees, mint and other herbs, french beans, tomatoes, strawberries and other things I can’t remember and neither can my best friend as I write this. Oh yeah, almost forgot the sweetpea. Unforgivable.

DSCN2558

Welcome to our jungle.

DSCN2562

Mimz’s garden. Spot the hidden hedgehog.

DSCN2572

A new addition.

So you see, welcome to our jungle. The marina warden says he loves it and it has inspired others around the marina to grow more flowers and plants this year. A lady just moved in to a mooring near us a couple of weeks ago and already has some huge ferns along the pathway that runs around the perimeter of the marina. Some other residential boaters said they were going to put in an arch, but we’ll see. Getting late in the season and, well, maybe it’s just wishful thinking at this point.

Meanwhile, our garden continues to take over everything.  I look out our portholes and all I see is plants and flowers….pretty but a little claustrophobic when we already live in a narrowboat. I suppose that may be construed as sour grapes, especially when winter comes and I’ll pine away for the days when I could see green outside instead of frost. Still, a little light would help. Who knows what it’s going to all look like when we go back to the boat tomorrow.

DSCN2578

And this is how it looks now

DSCN2576

Our side of the boat.

DSCN2581

Jungle madness along the jetty.

But, for the moment, we can all enjoy the jungle while it lasts. The bees are loving it. They leave us alone and we them as we sit among the floral madness. They buzz right past our ears and off they go to the hive. Bumblebees of every kind and, finally, the honey bees found their way to us. Just doing our bit. One of our neighbours, Jools (you can read about her a couple of Blogs ago), is rather skittish around the buzzy creatures. If one of them comes near her, she screams so loudly and piercingly, that even the bees scatter in fear.

The metal arch at the entrance to our jetty is now unrecognisable. Even the straw bird perched atop the arch, with the lobelia growing out of its butt, is nearly overgrown with Virginia Creeper and Honeysuckle. Wild. Earlier in the season, we found stone planters in the shape of a narrowboat at a local florist and each bought one. You can hardly see them anymore. Our old man of the woods looks out from the foliage as if about to be strangled by one of the plants. The rubber ducky sailors keep having to be moved to be seen and Mimz’s little hedgehog is outta sight….literally. Some of the windmills have ceased to turn because their blades are overrun with plant leaves and flowers. Madness.

Mimz has taken some of the plants and flowers down to the entrance to the marina and a kind of second garden has been growing there. To top it off, we decided to raise money for the hospice where Eddie used to work (until the other day) and Mimz volunteered, by rescuing plants from a nearby garden centre that was going to throw out a bunch of flowers that looked unhealthy. Mimz and my best friend nursed them back to life, put them on the wall along the perimeter path as giveaways to donors.

As if that weren’t enough, we started buying battery operated bubble blowers to entertain the young and old as they passed. All that has been missing are the clowns. Mimz and my best friend would probably tell you that would be me and Eddie. But I ain’t dressing like Bozo for nobody see. Anyway, all I can tell you from this moment is that the madness continues. Mimz texted us the other day. She went to the garden centre and rescued some more plants for our return. Will this summer never end?

DSCN2556

Mimz with plants for charity.

DSCN2553

Sitting in the jungle.

 

 

Canada at 150

Standard

Not sure how to go about this. Sitting on my boat in a marina, thousands of miles and an ocean away from my old home, thinking about its birthday. 150 years old is not old when it comes to the age of countries. Canada was populated long before Vikings and then European settlers came along, but only became a nation in 1867 when Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec), known as the Canadas, joined with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to become a Confederation. After that, the other provinces and territories joined in. The last to become part of Canada was Newfoundland in 1949.

And that’s the history lesson for today. I wasn’t born in Canada. My birth took place near Hampton Court in the outer reaches of London in 1951. We emigrated to Canada in July of 1955. In 1967, Canada’s Centennial year, my dad, mum, brother and I became Canadian citizens. I had just assumed we were all citizens already. Nope. Had to join. I was 16 years old. And we went to Expo ’67 that same summer. As far as I was concerned, I would be Canadian and remain in Canada for the rest of my days.

Didn’t work out that way. In the 1980s I lived for 5 years in France and then in 2006, I moved lock, stock and barrel to England and have been here ever since. When people ask me why I moved from all that space in Canada to cramped England….the accent gives me away….I say, I love it here. Always been a dream to live again in the country of my birth. I love the history of the place too, the good, the bad and the ugly. I got a university degree in British history back in 1980….after a number of years studying at night. Every inch of this country is teeming in rich stories from history.

My first visit back to England from Canada was in 1973 when I was 22 years old. Met all my cousins and aunts and uncles and my nans, had my first drink (Newcastle Brown Ale), visited all the sites around London and ate lots of fish and chips. I loved it. So quaint. Small houses joined together in a row, large palaces, double-decker buses and home to most of my favourite bands. I went on a trip with one of my cousins to the south coast and up to York. I was sad to leave then, but vowed I’d be back.

Meanwhile, in Canada, my favourite sports teams were losing and I had to find a job. I got married, had kids and became a preacher like my dad. My favourite places to go in Canada were the mountains in the west and cottage country in Ontario, my home province. I’ve camped in the Rockies, travelled through them for business and skied at Whistler. In Ontario, I spent summers near the water at Sauble Beach on Lake Huron and at cottages on some of the lakes in Haliburton and the Muskokas, as well as the lake district in Eastern Ontario, especially around Bon Echo, along Lake Superior and always Algonquin Park. When I left the ministry, I enjoyed playing music with friends.

Canada has so much to offer if you love the outdoors, because there’s plenty of it. I have told some of my British friends when they ask me why I would leave Canada for here, I said that Canada is big, but it’s boring. Depends what you’re looking for. The grass, as they say, seems greener elsewhere than where you are. Canada was a great home for many years, 51 to be exact. So, for 1/3 of Canada’s history, I was a part of it. Not bad. If I’m honest, the best part of living there was raising my kids. I am proud of all of them.

You can look over the 150 years of Canadian history and pick holes in a lot of bad decisions made by its leaders. That’s the same everywhere. The treatment of its First Nation Peoples has been nothing short of atrocious. Federalism has worked to some extent, but if you travel around the country, there are discrepancies in how certain regions are treated by the Federal government. The folk in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, can be pretty stupid sometimes when it comes to fair play for all the provinces and the 3 territories. And often, Canadians, like Brits can be too focused on making money than living and caring about their neighbours. But, as I say, every nation still has those problems even after thousands of years of recorded history.

So, wherever I go, I try to be a part of what is going on in that place. It’s really all any of us can do. Fit in and care about those around you….unless they’re arseholes (assholes). You can find those everywhere in any country. I’ve met a few over here let me tell you. And I had my share of running into them in my old country. Come to think of it, I have probably been one at various times in my life in all 3 countries.

And so, here I am, far away, missing the party to celebrate Canada’s 150th. I just found out there is a party in Trafalgar Square today after it had been cancelled the last 2 years. I discovered it by chance when I was looking for information on 150th celebrations around the world. It was on the Canadian High Commissioner’s Blog. She said the theme this year was ‘Bring a Brit.’ My best friend is a Brit….but then so am I by definition. Anyway, she’s outside the boat doing some gardening with our neighbour Mimz. I went out and said, “Hey, guess what.” “What?” she replies. “I just read that they were having a party in Trafalgar Square after all. They say Bring a Brit. Wanna go?” It’s 3pm already. Catch a train at 3:40 to Euston station, Northern Line tube to Charing Cross and a short walk to the Square. The celebrations end at 8pm, so probably time at least for some poutine.

My best friend gives me a look, her hands deep in a pot of soil, ready to plant some needy flowers. “Uh, I don’t think so mate.” And that’s the end of that. I ain’t going alone. It says bring a Brit and last-minute doesn’t work around here. But, for all you in the Square, expat Canucks and your Brit guest, have a good one. I’ll raise a pint on my boat. Oh wait, I’m out of beer. What self-respecting Canadian would be out of beer on Canada day? That would be me.

 

 

Henge Madness

Standard

 

Related Entries Cheating On College Exam Women Drivers Microsoft Office Building_ Beautiful...

I was in Swindon not long ago. Not my favourite town. The people we visited are though. Nice couple. My best friend and the lady of the duo used to work together in London in the Civil Service. The male is a Doctor Who fanatic and has a collection of memorabilia that does the doctor proud. He also has other Super Hero stuff and a bunch of comic books. Shades of The Big Bang Theory (TV program for those less erudite among you).

No one goes to Swindon for a holiday or for cultural reasons. Even their football team was relegated to a lower division this year. And the Chinese restaurant we went to in town was closing that night after 14 years of trying to get Swindonians to eat more exotic dishes than Sunday roasts. Not a happening town. Unless you live there I guess. The last time we visited, the couple in question had moved from one new house to another, better built home, across the road from a farm and fields that were a protected property. Protected from greedy developers that is.

The protection comes from another source than it being a farm. You see, out there in that field lies what is commonly known as a Stone Circle, an ancient grouping of rocks that quite probably had astronomical and spiritual significance to people thousands of years ago. Their real purpose is lost in time, but some good guesses have been made over the centuries since. Mostly, many of these sites were abandoned for whatever reason eons ago and locals pilfered the stone for building and such and no one appears to have written anything we know about or have found that indicates their actual use.

But that doesn’t stop the theories or groups of wannabe druids, witches, pagans and the like adopting the various stone circles as the birthplace of their particular religious practices. Groups gather at significant astronomical times of the year….winter solstice, spring equinox, summer solstice and the autumn (fall) equinox….to sing, dance naked, wear other ancient garb or offer various sacrifices to whomever or whatever as a way of maintaining harmony and balance in the universe. Works for some.

Stonehenge, on the Salisbury Plain, has long been the ‘go to’ site for all and sundry, from pagans to Chinese tourists. Nearby is Avebury, not as spectacular but definitely worth the visit, a collection of  various sized stones and a big ditch around it. At other places all over Wiltshire, these stone circles abound. Some have completely disappeared. Henges are a little different because they involve earth works around them and sometimes they are wooden circles, but all these  circles and henges are understood to be linked together somehow. It is estimated that around 1300 stone circles exist in Britain. Many of them are dotted in and around Yorkshire. Some chappy estimates there are some 31 in the county of Wiltshire.

They missed one. Ours. Well, not ours, but I’m claiming it. It has a name and apparently it is now protected. Only 5 stones remain and they are fairly flat to the ground. It’s now known as The Coate Stone Circle. I didn’t name it (Googled it later). I just found it again when it had become lost. Out of sight, hidden from the masses and all but forgotten. Sit down and let me tell you a tale.

So, here we were, visiting our friends in Swindon…or just outside. They live in a very new housing development. As I said, bare fields lay across the street. We visited there once before, heard tell of said stone circle and carried on with the visit with the promise we would go to see it sometime. But this time, I said, ‘let’s go see this stone circle. I’m feeling quite nostalgic and stuff’. So, we put on our shoes and off we went.

It’s all so new that we had to gingerly walk across a patch of freshly laid and evened out soil over the road that led to the fields. They hadn’t even put down the sod yet. Our footprints were left all over the neatly groomed surface. Couldn’t be avoided. Our quest had to be fulfilled at any cost….or nearly any cost. We didn’t even know what to look for or where to find it. I guess that’s why it’s a quest.

We made it to the fields, the intrepid 4. A path lay before us. You needed a path because the grass and other weeds had grown as high as my waist in some places. And we were supposed to find a stone circle in this. Not a marker anywhere to be seen. No sign board with historical data….nothing. Very disappointing. But we were determined to find the stone circle if it took all day (it was 4pm and we had a dinner reservation for 5:30, so not that determined).

We waded through deep grass, sweeping aside huge swaths of the stuff to find some sign that the stone circle did, in fact, exist. Over this way, back that, crisscrossing the large field until, BINGO! there it was. A large rock, gnarled and worn. One of us stood on it while the others went searching for other stones. We found 2 more, smaller stones, buried deep in the grass. Progress. I stood on this one while our intrepid friend went wading off looking for more. So far, all we had was an arch of 3 stones.

Eureka! He found 2 in a row pointing west to where the summer solstice sun sets. That was our conclusion. 5 stones, which I was later to discover is the exact amount found by those experts who rate these places as the real stone circle deal or just another bunch of rocks in a farmer’s field. Were there other stones here? Probably. We may never know. What went on here? Like with the other stone circles and henges we may never know.  We have some good guesses (like ours), but no certainty. A mystery.

There shall probably never be a crowd of tourists in this field as at Stonehenge or Avebury or the like. But we intrepid 4 marked the place and wondered back through the ages as we stood on Coate Stone Circle what kind of folk stood here and what they were doing. And, I hear tell, a group gathers here at summer solstice to dance naked around the stones. They’ll have to cut the grass first….then I’m in.

MARINA BABIES

Standard
MARINA BABIES

Last year we had ducklings in the marina that I Blogged about in Duckingham Palace. They have all grown up and since moved on to greater things, I hope. It was a pleasure watching them grow week by week. The duck lady raised them as much as mother duck did. She has become the marina wildlife guardian and feeder….the good stuff, not bread and other things that are not supposed to be good for them.

Then an edict from above came over the ethernet to all residents of the marina not to feed the ducks in the marina because it caused them to poop on the pontoons. We didn’t think the demand went far enough. The ducks fed outside the marina ought to be told not to come into the marina for fear they would poop on the pontoons and we would be blamed. Not for us pooping on the pontoons, you understand, but those pesky ducks. Nonsense, all of it.

Feeding ducks, geese, swans and coots is a time-honoured tradition that goes back to prehistoric days when cavemen fed pterodactyl and such. You can dispute that fact all you like, but you weren’t there either. The point is, going to the park to feed the ducks and such is a given. Feed them better food than bread if you like, but feed them we must. I’ve read conflicting reports as to the efficacy of feeding swans bread. Some say it’s okay, others say they get some kind of wing disease. I also read that, unlike ducks, swans only eat what they need. Ducks are a bit like me. They eat anything put in front of them until they explode.

So this year a wrinkle has been thrown into the mix at our old marina. At first we thought there would be no ducklings. Duckingham Palace lay empty and no baby fowl of any description could be seen in the marina. The only babies we had were of the human species on our side of the marina. 2 of them to be precise, a male and a female. We made no attempt to feed them even without an edict from above (head office for those who have not yet caught on….no deity involved here).

At first it was 4 baby coots. Then it was three. They are so tiny that even a fish could swallow them. Apparently, we have a mean-spirited Pike in the marina who has a taste for cootlings and ducklings when they are very small. It may have been the Heron. We just don’t know. Anyway, 3 survive and took up residence in Duckingham Palace….a changing of the guard, so to speak. Cute little coots too. Tiny balls of black fluff cheeping away as they passed by.

DSCN2414

Cootlings head for their new home in the marina.

DSCN2421

Cootlings being fed in their new home.

Then in moved the swans with 5 cygnets. They are the ugly ducklings of Hans Christian Andersen fame. I remember Danny Kaye singing the song. But they are anything but ugly….the cutest big balls of fluff ever. Swan parents are not good at sharing space, so the Coots were driven out and the swans moved in to Duckinham Palace and what a scene that has been. Try moving 5 large fowl into a space built for tiny ducklings. Result? The roof was displaced slightly.

I suppose feeding them in the marina doesn’t count in the overlord’s dictate. They do not usually get onto the pontoons to poop and only eat a certain amount. The same goes for those very pesky Canadian Geese that are prolific and profligate. They give all Canadians a bad name. And they hiss a lot as you walk by, even when no goslings are involved. We don’t like feeding them, greedy buggers. Come to think of it, that’s what my best friend calls me….a greedy bugger….hmmm.

Anyway, the swans swim up to us when we are sitting at the end of our pontoon and pretty well demand being fed or they’ll start snapping at our legs and feet. And they do. They snap at them and hiss at us even when we feed them. They are protected by the Queen, so we can’t fight back. Canadians may be greedy, but these are nasty, vicious, English bastards I have to say. Still, we forgive them now because of the babies who don’t hiss or snap….yet.

DSCN2393

The coots, meanwhile, had to move into an old tyre (tire) tied to the back of a boat that came into the marina a week or so ago. It’s a temporary home that the mm or dad or both threw together when they were made homeless by the vicious swan parents. We all hope the boat owner doesn’t move out any time soon and leave the poor Coots completely homeless. That would be tragic.

And so into the mix come the ducklings. At last, the darlings of the marina. I don’t think it’s the same mum as last year, but who knows? They do tend to look the same to me. The duck lady will know. I’ll have to ask her when I see her next. They were 8 ducklings now down to six and are nested on an impromptu stand situated at the back of the duck lady’s boat. Problem” The duck lady has a cat who loves to torment the ducks by sneaking along the gunwale to the back of the boat and saying BOO! in cat speak, scattering the mum and ducklings out into the centre of the marina.

DSCN2447

Quite entertaining actually. Mum duck appears to have a certain quack for “Swim for it!” as they scatter wildly when she quacks it. As long as no one gets hurt….don’t judge me. And so it goes, day in, day out and we love it. What we don’t love is nature taking its course when some babies depart from this earth. Always a sad moment. I’ll update as time and situation permit. In the meantime, get out there, buy some fowl food and feed the little buggers wherever you are. Rise up and defy the Man. It is our right and our heritage.

DSCN2390