The Palace of Earthly Delights

This is a Bolton week.  This is the week for Ellie’s second dose of chemo. As we feared, it’s made her feel very nauseous, despite apparently super-efficient state-of-the-art anti-sickness medication.

So I’m in loco parentis.  One of my duties was to take the boys to what Ellie cheerfully calls ‘Grief Club’.

‘Once upon a Smile’ supports bereaved families in all kinds of ways, practical and emotional.  The children often have fun together – and appreciate being with other young people who share their unwanted feelings of raw emotion and grief.  Yesterday they were at the Trafford Centre, so I had an hour to waste there while the boys got competitive on the bowling alley.

‘Waste’, because shopping is no kind of therapy for me.  And the Trafford Centre is a château, a folly, a temple to consumerism.  Just look at this.  Look at the kitsch statues, the faux gold, the marble, the sweeping staircases and the wannabe classical fountains.  And this palace, which dates from as long ago as 1998, is merely a home to the likes of Marks and Spencer, Boots, Next and Paperchase.  I got crosser and crosser as I thought of what fun I’d be having if instead I was at a community market, chatting to the locals.  And I was cross with myself too, for feeling so holier-than-thou.

Perhaps the Trafford Centre wasn’t built with me in mind.  The boys had fun though, which was the entire point of the excursion.

Snapshot Saturday: a Good Match for Newcastle and the River Tyne

The Millennium Bridge, looking along the Tyne towards the Sage concert hall and the Tyne Bridge.
The Millennium Bridge, looking along the Tyne towards the Sage concert hall and the Tyne Bridge.

We were in Newcastle last weekend, and we spent much of our time admiring the fine buildings of the city centre, and mooching about the Quayside.  That Millennium Bridge! What a perfect match for its surroundings.  It links the proud Victorian architecture of Newcastle with contemporary work housed in the Baltic Centre just on the Gateshead bank of the River Tyne.  Its clean soaring parabola provides a perfect complement to the more long established city bridges.

‘The bridges over the Tyne between Newcastle and Gateshead are justifiably famous. They are not merely bridges, but icons for the North East. Over the years the single (Georgian) bridge existing in the early Victorian period has been joined by six others. First the High Level Bridge, giving the river its first railway crossing, then the Swing Bridge (replacing the Georgian bridge), and the first Redheugh Bridge, replaced twice, to be followed by the King Edward Bridge and the most famous of them all, the new Tyne Bridge. After many decades came the Queen Elizabeth Metro Bridge and finally, in 2001, the Gateshead Millennium Bridge opened to provide a stunning pedestrian and cycle link between the redeveloped quaysides on either side of the river. In the space of less than a mile seven bridges link Newcastle with Gateshead.’

From ‘Welcome to Bridges on the Tyne

A response to this week’s WordPress Photo challenge, ‘A good match‘.

The Tooth Fairy

This is much larger than the original, which is about a quarter the size of a Post-it.
This is much larger than the original, which is about a quarter the size of a Post-it.

I was having A Bit Of A Sort Out the other day.  This involved my sitting on the floor surrounded by miscellaneous memorabilia which mean nothing to anybody but me.

Here’s something I found.  Back in the days when my children were losing their milk teeth on a regular basis, they expected to be visited in the night by the Tooth Fairy, who’d extract the little tooth from under their pillow and leave money in exchange.

Which would you choose?  £1.00?  50 pence?  Or 10 pence?
Which would you choose? £1.00? 50 pence? Or 10 pence?

This was a problem in itself.  Some Tooth Fairies left £1.00.  Others left 50 pence.  Our tight-fisted old besom left 10 pence.  This wasn’t surprising.  My goodness she was tetchy.  Every time she visited, she left a note written on some scrap of paper little larger than a postage stamp.  She was always moaning.  Either she had to come too often, or the tooth hadn’t been left handy enough, or the bedroom door was shut, or something.  Nothing was ever good enough.

Underneath her crusty exterior however, she was good-hearted.  The expected payment was always delivered.

Thirty years later, Daughter of Tooth Fairy started to visit my grandsons.  The first time Ben received  a cantankerous note from her, he burst into tears.  Daughter of Tooth Fairy was summarily sacked. Will an ill-tempered sprite visit William one day, I wonder, or are fractious fairies no longer part of the Tooth Fairy Team?

 

A broken resolution

I only made one New Year’s Resolution this year, which is one more than I usually make.  This year, I would not buy any more second-hand books from charity shops – my main sources for all kinds of serendipitous purchases – till I’ve read almost every unread book on our own shelves.

Well, that worked.   It’s January 13th and I’ve just spend £3.75 on this little lot, culled from the charity shops of Ramsbottom, just up the road from where Ellie lives.

books

Ramsbotton is a post-industrial once-upon-a-mill town, a nice little market town with a whiff of artsiness about it. It has a cute little heritage railway: you can catch an East Lancashire steam train on high days and holidays.  There are lots of independent shops, great coffee shops and restaurants. As a side-line, it does a fine line in charity shops with book departments that are a cut above the average, and I spent a happy hour or two browsing this afternoon before the boys came home from school.

Ramsbottom seen from snowy fields.

I’m in Bolton this week because on Monday Ellie had her second operation, her mastectomy.  It went well, thanks, and she’s recovering at home.  Her dad and I  took turns to manage-a-patient and manage-a-dog and manage-the-twins .  The worst job is definitely getting the boys up in the morning.  They’re just like their mum used to be when she was 11.

The ‘timeless’ countryside of Kedleston Hall.

kedlestone-049

Once upon a time, before 1066 and all that became the most famous date in British history, William of Normandy wanted to get his local French barons interested in helping him conquer England.  Land was the answer.  Vanquish those Anglo-Saxons and English lands would be there for the taking.

A lord called de Courson was one of those who answered that call and came to England, perhaps for the Battle of Hastings, perhaps a little later.  He was rewarded by being given many acres  in Derbyshire.  Over the years, the family name became de Curzun, then Curzon, and the lands at Kedleston which had certainly been claimed by about  1150 have remained with the descendants ever since.

Now it’s one of life’s pleasures to visit the splendid buildings of Kedleston Hall, a classical showcase of fine paintings, sculpture and furniture*, and to stroll round the grounds.

And what grounds!  When we arrived there the other day, it was sunny, with rain promised later, so we set off to make a three mile circuit of the so called ‘Long’ or ‘Ladies’ walk’.  How natural and timeless the landscape seemed.   A charming rustic bridge crosses a serpentine lake.  Woodland was just becoming autumnal.  Spacious meadows spread before us with grazing sheep.  Just as nature intended.

Except it’s all a massive con-trick perpetrated by Robert Adam in 1758.  Away with the out-moded formal geometric garden of Charles Bridgeman! He’d been the Royal Gardener, and only dead 20 years, but his work by then seemed suddenly hopelessly out of fashion.

In with the naturalistic ‘picturesque’ style promoted by Capability Brown.  Out with the public road along which the village straggled untidily, far too near the Queen Anne redbrick house which has itself been replaced.  Village and road were moved.  A brook was dammed and  excavated to become a lake, a stream, gently splashing weirs.  Adam had a ha-ha built – an unseen ditch across which unwanted livestock couldn’t pass: so much more natural-looking than a fence or wall.  Temples and other follies were built or planned,  pleasure grounds too. Sadly today only the hermitage is still around, and even this thatched hut is currently being restored.

If you wanted an afternoon alone with your thoughts, your sketchpad or your book, this thatched hermitage was just the place
If you wanted an afternoon alone with your thoughts, your sketchpad or your book, this thatched hermitage was just the place

Our three mile walk was crammed with pleasure.  There were waterbirds on the lake, Autumn leaves to enjoy, views across the park and surrounding countryside.  Where did the grounds end and open countryside begin?  We didn’t know and didn’t care.  And we hadn’t even seen the house yet.  You can get a taster here.

*There’s even a magnificent bedroom which has never been slept in and is currently being restored: designed to be used if ever the king should come to call…

The Devil’s journey from Ireland to Stiperstones.

Our road from Church Stretton to the start of our Shropshire walk.
Our road from Church Stretton to the start of our Shropshire walk.

Shropshire’s one of England’s forgotten counties, and full of secret landscapes for the lucky traveller to discover.  We found a few ourselves this week, when visiting ex-Riponian friends Hatti and Paul.

Here's our route, as shown on the OS map.
Here’s our route, as shown on the OS map.

They took us on a walk along one of those characteristic long, narrow scenic ridges which offer easy walking, and wonderful long distance views to east and to west.  So there we were, rambling from Wentnor to Bridges along the ridge for a rather good pub lunch, and then back to Wentnor along the valley floor.

To the right of us was the Long Mynd, a gently sloping plateau.  To the left, and higher above us were the more rugged Stiperstones.  Both hillsides were covered with an intensely purple carpet of flowering heather.

You’ll want to know how the ridge of Stiperstones came to be covered with an untidy tumbling of large and rugged boulders.

The Devil's Chair (Wikimedia Commons)
The Devil’s Chair (Wikimedia Commons)

It was the devil who dropped them there.  He’d once noticed an old crone carrying her eggs to market by holding them before her, nursing them in her apron.  That was the way to do it! That was how he carried a large bundle of rocks all the way from Ireland to Shropshire, where he planned to drop them in the valley called Hell’s Gutter.  It was heavy work, and he sat for a rest at the very top of Stiperstones on a rock known since that day as the Devil’s Chair.

As he stood up again, his apron strings snapped.  Out those rocks tumbled, all over the ridge.  He didn’t bother to pick them up.  They’re there to this day.

Look carefully, just follow what the sheep are gazing at.  There, on the skyline are the devil's carelessly-lost rocks.
Look carefully, there on the skyline are the devil’s carelessly-lost rocks.

Climatologists and geologists have a different explanation, more credible but less fun.  If you get the chance, go to Shropshire, savour its varied and delightful landscape, and decide for yourself.

Olympic Fever?

Two posts in quick successsion. Sorry. But this one is topical now, although I first posted it exactly four years ago. And it made me sad. And cross.

Four years ago, England was in the grip of Olympic Fever, and we were in London, sharing all the optimism and the feel-good factor with Londoners from every possible cultural background. Today seems so different. The country seems suffused in post-Brexit economic gloom, post-Brexit immigrant antipathy, often towards citizens who’ve lived here thirty years. Only the headlines from the Daily Express and the Daily Mail promote the fiction that all is well, and all will continue to be well. It’s all very depressing.

From Pyrenees to Pennines

The Thames at sundown

A fortnight ago, our local paper, La Dépêche du Midi had ‘Londres, capitale du monde!’ as its banner headline.  The story was, of course, the Olympics.  We’re unaccustomed to this particular paper taking much notice of anything that occurs outside south-west France, but ‘les  JO’ (Jeux Olympiques) have been big news.

Not as much as in England though. When we arrived in the UK, we were unprepared for Olympic Fever.  Red white and blue banners and flags hang from houses.  Shops have Olympic-themed window displays, and if you want to buy mugs, some paper napkins, or fancy a new cushion, you’d better want them plastered with the Union Flag.

Across the Thames: a view of St. Paul’s Cathedral

Still, we enjoyed staying with Tom and Sarah in Olympic-happy London, and spent an evening round the South Bank area.  Eat near Borough Market and you’re sure of a tasty…

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