Tag Archives: Spitfire

Chilli Day

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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?

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The Norman Gate.

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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.

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Beware of the Chilli. Booth at the Chilli Festival.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Wight England: Part 2; The Walk

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When is a walk not a walk? When it’s down to the local for a pint. A really good walk requires sturdy and comfortable footwear, perhaps a walking stick, varying levels of altitude, at least one flask of water and a lot of time. Usually, a good walk depends upon good planning with maps displaying the route and things to observe along the way. Long walks are a good way to notice the many splendoured things around us.

Spontaneous walks can be good too. Depends on geography and weather. Also depends on the condition of the walkers and, as always, the footwear involved. If, for example, you find yourself walking along cliff tops in slippery pumps and get vertigo when encountering heights, the walk may not be as pleasant as it could be.

And this is where we find ourselves on a lovely summer day. We had already gone over two monumental hurdles challenging my best friend’s comfort zones. An open chairlift from the top of the cliffs to the beach below. Then a boat trip in choppy, open, deep water to the Needles. So, a walk along the cliffs to the Needles, high above the Solent off Alum Bay was to be expected.

Not exactly expected. As we bobbed along the surface of the water toward the Needles, we saw people walking along the cliffs leading to the Needles. An uphill walk too. Should we try it? Maybe not. But then, we may never be this way again. Back up the chairlift, purchase a photo of us on the chairlift (as you do), buy a bottle of water for the walk, pick up our sun hats from the car and off we went.

Part way along, a bus passed us. A bus goes to the end of the cliffs? Seems so. A Doubledecker too. Up the slope it went, swaying from side to side. Meanwhile, we walked a narrow, uneven strip of chalk path above the road. No safety rails here. The land slopes toward the cliff’s edge. My best friend worried about my reputation, proven on more than one occasion, of being uncoordinated and not always spatially aware. Rock climbing is not for me.

I think she was thinking, ‘one slip and he’ll roll down the steep hill and into the sea’. Not to be, though she was anxious the whole way along. The view back toward the attractions area was spetacular. We were now high above our starting point, looking back to the Solent, the coloured sands cliff and the farm fields beyond. Magnificent.

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Some way along, we noticed a steep path to the left, across the road, heading up to the summit. My best friend persuaded me to keep to the level and narrow. It was hot and I was in no mood or shape to argue with this logic. On we went to the end of the peninsula….which stops at an old barracks from the 19th century. It was built in response to the French launching their first ironclad warship, ‘La Colowe’. There are also cement gun emplacement platforms (minus the guns) and the old rocket launching sites on the cliffs beside the Needles.

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The Old Battery at The Needles on the Isle of Wight.

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The gun emplacement platforms.

You don’t usually equate Britain with rockets. But back in the late 1950s, the site was used to test a first stage rocket, The BLACK KNIGHT. Then in the 1960s they upped the ante with the Black Arrow, a¬† multi-staged rocket. And finally, in the early 1970s, came the Prospero X3 satellite. Then, for economic reasons, the whole programme was scrapped and everything went to America….right.

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The Rocket Test site.

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Chalk Cliffs at the end of the peninsula.

Then it happened. Over the Solent flew a Supermarine Spitfire. Loops, glides and finally right over us and out toward France. Time stood still for a moment. Memories of my dad working on these iconic planes in the last world war and thankfulness for this machine that kept Britain away from Hitler’s grasp. It made my day.

We hung around the end of the peninsula for a while. My best friend stayed on the road travelled by the bus while I generally dare-devilled along cliff edges and took photos. She is the cautious one. The bus that passed us on the way up, came back and went off again. We were determined to walk the whole way back too.

But to take the winding road back down to the path along the cliffs that would get us back to base camp (the attractions centre, with rides, restaurants and boutiques) was the long way home. The pathway leading off the road looked to be the fastest way back.

My best friend said, “I think that’s the steep path we saw on the way up.” “Nope,” I said with a confidence I wasn’t too sure of, “This is that other path.” She of little faith said, “What other path? This looks like the steep one.” “Nope,” said I, “That was the other one that went off to the left. This is the low one that ran alongside the steep one.” “What other one?” said exasperated she. “I only saw one, leading high to the top.” “Trust me,” said I, “I would not lead you astray.” “You’d better not,” said she.

But I did….as usual. We were going along just fine until the path took a sudden dip that even had me a tad concerned. “What the hell!!” said she. “I’m not going that way in these shoes.” “Don’t worry,” I said, “Just take my hand, I’ll get you down safe.” “Don’t touch me, you liar. I’ll make my own way.”

My best friend did fine for the first 20 feet or so and then the bottom fell out of the world….or so it seemed. A plunge to the left. My best friend’s foot slipped and she grabbed a few tufts of grass just off the path and froze. “I hate you right now and I’m not enjoying this walk anymore. Why do I listen to you?” I had no response. All I knew was I had to get her safely to the road. “Please,” I pleaded, “Take my hand. I promise I’ll get you down safe. Please?” After another failed attempt on my best friend’s part to make any progress, she relented.

Painstakingly, step by step we made our way to the road. I was called many unflattering things….but I deserved it. When we got to the road, all was forgotten and apologies made on both sides. We even laughed about it. Arriving safely after a harrowing experience does that. We walked back to the car and headed back to the Air BnB. “Good day that,” I said. “Well, at least we’re still alive,” she said. More than ever I thought.

 

 

Wight England: Part 1

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Wight England: Part 1

Yes I can spell. And no, this is not a commentary along racial lines. I’m not interested in that. Too much misinformation, too much dragging the past along with us and too many who still think one or another colour of skin is superior to another or someone’s culture is better than the others. The universe cares not a wit about our silly nonsense.

This is about true beauty. The earth’s beauty and how it must be preserved in its natural state before we lose everything good about this planet. And it’s about one small area of the planet that I had never seen before. Makes you forget for a moment about all the stupid things the human species does to itself. Even though there are deep wounds made by that same species, nature has a way of covering up our blunders over time.

This journey finds us on the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England, a couple of miles from the mainland. We had to take another kind of water craft to get there than the one on which we live. My best friend was not as at ease during this trip. She likes the shallow waters of the canals. This is the deep sea. But, gamer that she is, all was well in the end.

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It’s all part of seeing this great country in which I was born so many years ago. The myth, magic, majesty and mirth that is England has to play above anything that is mirky, maniacal, machiavellian or monstrous. I decided to focus on the positive list and seek the best of England. Much of it has been discovered on the Isle of Wight.

I am no geologist. I like rocks and things but couldn’t identify one from another. And there is plenty of geological stuff going on here on the Isle of Wight. So, I consulted some books owned by the lady whose Air B&B we stayed at on the island. She has shelves of them. I won’t bore you, but you can probably guess that the island was once part of the mainland and was separated some time after the last ice age receded, leaving all sorts of strange formations and sediments.

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Chalk Cliff near Sandown on the Isle of Wight

The cliffs are spectacular enough. One of them, on Alum Bay, was tossed 90 degrees during an earthquake and is virtually lying on its side. You can see the layers of sediment formed over millions of years. Coloured sands of red, green, yellow, white, orange/rust, deep browny rust and so on. A whole tourist trade has developed from selling glass shaped recepticles in the form of birds, bears, lighthouses, the outline of the Isle of Wight and the like, filling them with varied layers of the coloured sands. We did not succumb.

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12 days before our arrival, a portion of the sand cliff at Alum Bay slid sown the slope onto the beach. No one was hurt. This has been a regular occurrence over the years as erosion has taken its toll all around the island, especially on the sand and chalk cliffs. We were told that around 50 cm a year is lost along the coast of the Isle of Wight, sometimes more. Depends on the weather. And it has been very wet and windy these last few years.

Elsewhere, the cliffs are either chalk or granite. Quite a mix. In the interior you find sand, clay, bedrock, good soil for planting and, well, more chalk. I always had the image of the Isle of Wight as flat. Not so. The land rolls this way and that, like a mountain range that has been eroded to hills over the eons. In fact, that is exactly what happened. And….there are the dinosaur bones which have abounded all over the island, even of the large Brachiosaurus. Not a swimmer, so you know the island was once part of the mainland which was attached to the rest of Europe. No talk of Brexit back in the dinosaur days.

Vegetation is varied and abundant. Loved all the wooded areas and tree lined and canopied roads crisscrossing the island. Flowers grow everywhere and the gardens are showcases. Hedge row fields. Roads also lined with high hedges. Sometimes they were so high, panoramic views were obscured. You might get a glimpse of fields, cliffs and the sea, then it would disappear as if there were nothing there. But those glimpses were breathtaking at times.

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The entire experience was very oldie worldie, lost in time and beautiful to behold. Some of that may be the average age of the island’s inhabitants, this being a great retirement spot. The islanders voted 62% to leave the European Union. Some of it may be due to the preservation of old homes, villages, manor houses, castles, Queen Victoria’s Osborne House, Roman villas and even a Saxon enclave. It may have to do with the Spitfire I saw fly over the island. But most of it is probably my own age reflected in the island’s timelessness.

My best friend did the driving, so I got the benefit of the local scenery. Sounds a bit selfish I know but I refuse to drive in Britain. I won’t get into it here. Suffice it to say I’m an impatient driver and the roads over here would only exacerbate the situation and drive me over edge….so to speak.

But, back to the Isle of Wight. One of the things that struck me most was not only the topography, as magnificent as it is, but the creative energy on the island. The number of artists and hand crafting artisans, musicians, purveyors and seekers of a more enlightened spiritual path in life, festivals of all kinds (including the annual Isle of Wight Festival which features old and new bands, from 1968-70 and revived in 2002), Morris Dancers and, of course, those avid gardeners is too numerous to list. A cornucopia of talent and craftsmanship (sorry, craftspersonship is too awkward). Beauty in nature, beauty in our fellow beings. The Isle of Wight.

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This is Part 1 of my tale. More to come. Thought you might enjoy an overview before we get to the nitty gritty of the Isle. Like a walk that nearly got my best friend killed, a beach too far, a steam train not far enough, a village idiot, some wee folk, Little Canada and maybe time to squeeze in a Roman bath. Let the pageant proceed.