Archive for September, 2013

Random acts of kindness

On Saturday, Danda and I went to Brighton and whilst pottering about, we saw a Lush shop. Lush shops smell amazing. You always know there’s one nearby cause you can smell it before you see it. I then always have to go in and poke around and pick things up and smell them.

Whilst poking around and picking things up and smelling them, a shop assistant came over and mentioned that the shampoo bar thing I was looking at is the one she uses.

“I had this shampoo bar once,” I told her. “I also had one of those moisturiser bars over there once. I was a poor student and I’d really splashed out by getting them. They smelled amazing and I was really excited. I was away from home, I forget where I was. I had a shower that evening and used both. But then I left the next morning and left them behind….. I’ve never really got over that.”

“I can see it’s really traumatised you,” she said.

“It did,” I said. “It was 7 years ago now and I still think about it.”

I wandered off and looked vaguely at face masks and bath bombs and ended up buying something small for a friend. Since the incident where I left the shampoo and moisturiser behind, I’ve not bought anything from Lush for myself. It’s like I can’t be trusted with it.

After I got home that evening, I was emptying my bag out and I found the paper bag with the little present in I’d bought for my friend. But there was something else in the bag too.

I guessed it was just a little sample thing so I opened it… And there was a moisturiser bar in there. I couldn’t work it out until I saw a little card stuck on the bag.

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How brilliant is that?!

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O, I do like to be beside the sea

Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to Danda!
Happy birthday to you!

Hip hip hooray and all that.

As you’ve probably guessed, it was Danda’s birthday yesterday so, in true birthday style, we ran off to the beach for the day. And it was glorious. The weather stayed warm enough to spend all day walking around but breezy enough to not be uncomfortable.

The day started with fancy lunch. I love a fancy lunch, as some of you may already know. I love fancy lunching. I love Michelin stars. I love pretty food.

This lunch did not disappoint.

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It started with bread, after which we were presented with calf’s tongue with piccalilli. Did I ever mention how much I love the free extras at nice restaurants?
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We had the same starter, a leek and potato soup with white truffle cream. My goodness, do I love a truffle! I love a truffle. I went crazy for this soup. It was really really good with some of the fresh bread dipped into it.
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Next up, Danda’s main was mackerel with mashed potatoes, spinach and tomatoes.
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Mine was a confit duck leg on a bed of lentils and bacon with cavolo nero and thinly cut, fried potatoes.
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It was easily the best duck I’ve ever eaten. It was so soft and fell off the bone without any resistance at all. The skin, which I worried about because it can be quite fatty and disappointing, was crispy and beautiful. The jus was fantastic too. I just ate and ate and hoped it would never end. Sadly, it did so off we went, out into the daylight, to seek our next adventure.

We found it on the Brighton Wheel, looking down at the seaside town from the sky.
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We then went for the longest walk ever in search of the Naturist Beach. O, what? Wait. I mean. I meant. I didn’t mean we went looking for it. I meant we were walking and then we saw it. By accident.

There was one bloke with a cap on chatting to a fully dressed couple and that was it. Disappointing.

We headed out to the marina to see what fun could be had there.
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There were a lot of generic could-be-anywhere shops near the marina so we decided to wander back to the beach but not after spotting an amazing ‘5D’ ride thing that we just had to go on. It was one of those rollercoaster simulator things and it was really good. We got given 3D glasses and were splashed with water or blown with wind. It was fast and furious and I yelped quite a lot!

We finished the day by splashing about in the water and lying on the beach looking at the sky.
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Things in the mist

Um. Maybe I’m on the train to Brighton and I forgot to write a post.

Yeh. Maybe that happened.

So here are some photos I took of things in the mist on the way to work the other morning.

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Cows in the mist

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Egyptian geese in the mist

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Ducks in the mist
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A person in the mist

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A horse in the mist

And now, for no other reason than I’m trying to make up for my forgetfulness by plying you with pictures, here is a picture of me with a bucket on my head.
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The contents of my purse

My purse is a constant puzzle to me. There is absolutely no logic to the things I have in there. I can think of far more useful things that should be there which are instead on a shelf in the house somewhere. Let me demonstrate my point.

In my purse, there is:

An Unpaid Fare Notice from 06.06.10 at 05.57am for £2. I promised the kind bus driver I would go into a train station and pay it. I didn’t. I just kept it. Rude.

A raffle ticket with the number 56 on it. No idea.

A business card for a barrister. Do you call it a ‘business’ card?

A library membership card for Croydon Libraries. I do not live in Croydon.

A loyalty card for a frozen yoghurt place with one stamp on it.

10 air mail stickers.

A business card for a Swimming Development Manager. I’ve never contacted her.

A handwritten recipe for truffle sauce from the chef at Polpo.

A loyalty card for Waterstones with 5 stamps on it. The card expired in December 2012.

A card receipt for £52.40 for a meal I had in May. Another receipt for a haircut I got in May, one for my electric piano and one from the Post Office for a letter I posted in July. What is all that about? Why am I keeping them hanging around?

A Holland and Barratt reward card. I’ve never activated it or taken advantage of the rewards or anything. And still I carry it around.

An interesting little leaflet entitled ‘What Must I Do To Be Saved?’ that I picked up in a restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona. My favourite part is about what will happen to people who commute sins of a sexual nature. The punishment will be guilt, moral destruction, heartbreak, pain, devastation… And STDs.

11 passport photos.

A little card thing saying Lawra that Ella wrote for me when she first started learning to write. She also write me one saying robt, which I think means robot. But I’m not sure why. I keep it anyway.

A peice of paper with a name and phone number that I’ve never used. I’m not even sure who Sian is.

A loyalty card for Paper Passions with 3 stamps on it. I can guarantee I’m never going to fill that up.

Three notes of Vietnamese money that I think equate to about 45p.

A cashout ticket from a casino in Arizona for the grand total of $0.01.

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A small Vietnamese flag badge thing.

Three letters from friends.

A room key card for the Rodeway Inn in Northern Houston.

A business card for Livingston 350 Cab Co.

My ticket to the Paralympics.

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A business card for an estate agents for a place I lived in four and a half years ago.

Two more loyalty cards to coffee places that I rarely visit. I’ll never fill those up.

My National Trust membership card.

My student card from law school that has now been invalid for a whole year.

Two locker tokens for the swimming pool.

£1.30 in 10pences.

A Canadian 1 cent.

1 euro cent.

What is all this stuff for? All these stamp cards and receipts and air mail stickers? I think I’ll just shut the purse, put it away and wait for it to sort itself out….

Stuff I wrote in Texas

He drinks his tea black. No lemon. No milk.

“No milk?” I ask and he tells me they don’t get real milk here. It’s only the powdered stuff. I remember seeing powdered milk at breakfast too. Texas lets me down, yet again.

Here I am, in this big room. And I’m just thinking. Thinking, thinking, thinking.

Thinking about America, with it’s rules and regulations and McDonald’s restaurants. Thinking about a kind blogging friend who has spent all evening emailing me with kind words. Thinking about the kind taxi driver who called me ‘nice’ and gave me his phone number and invited me to dinner at his manager’s restaurant where they serve potatoes and cabbage and chicken. He likes bacon with cabbage, he said.

The restaurant is called ‘Florida’s’.

We stopped at a garage so I could get cash out to pay him. He bought me a bottle of water and drove me around the town to cheer me up and hugged me when he dropped me at the hotel.

Carl, his name is. I didn’t call him. I didn’t go to Florida’s. I didn’t feel like eating.

I told Vaughn about about a book by Paulo Coelho. The book is called Veronika Decides To Die. Was it inappropriate to talk about it?

My auntie is going to collect me in Houston tomorrow. After I leave Livingston.

I don’t want to leave Livingston.

I do want to leave Livingston.

I guess I’ll have a big breakfast again tomorrow. Today, I didn’t eat after my breakfast. Just water and lukewarm decaf coffee from a flask.

He still thinks about women. About being with them. I ask him when he started thinking differently about it, given that some people might go stir crazy. He says other things keep him going. Letters.

He looks at me.

Letters.

I think about what to write to him. This man. This lovely man who laughs at my quaint English insults and complains about his stubble.

I don’t care about the stubble.

I care about his gentle manner and his calm voice. I care about his kind words and his capacity to comfort me in my tears. Comfort me? In my tears?

He says he’s not worried.

I wish I didn’t have to leave.

I don’t know what to say, how to end the conversation. I shrug my shoulders and feel helpless.

I loiter afterwards but am told I have to leave. I look back and wave but he’s behind a mesh screen and my eyes are too bad to make out anything except his vague shape.

I’m tired now.
……………………

More polystyrene cups. More powdered milk. Another day in Texas. I read. I eat breakfast. I think.

Maybe I’ll make a cup of tea. Black. No lemon. No milk.

(For other things I wrote in Texas, click here.)

Gradbach Mill (day 2)

This is day 2 of a trip to a Youth Hostel (which opened in 1984) called Gradbach Mill. It seems like an odd name to me. Looking up the history tells us the name possibly comes from a Henry Gratebach mentioned as living in the area in 1374.

We decided on the full breakfast to start us off: orange juice, grapefruit, cereal, big fry-up, toast, & tea. We set off walking up the hill. Initially on the road we soon came to a turn off and began the cross country stuff. OS map in hand we were making for a village I’ve mentioned in a previous post but will keep it as a surprise for now. Here’s a narrow bridge over a stream

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Then just a bit further on a TV aerial attached to a drystone wall. We couldn’t immediately see which house might be using it but closer inspection revealed the wire to it was broken. It does show how difficult it is to get reception in the area and the lengths people will go to to try and get a signal. (You might remember I mentioned that the hostel didn’t have any for TV, phones or PC.)

After crossing a few more fields we were onto tarmac for a short while. The road had been resurfaced recently and there was a 10mph speed limit sign. Here it is.

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This gentleman had obviously fallen over. We deduced he had probably been running and therefore exceeded the speed limit causing him to end up flat on the road. (He seems to be pointing at the sign to warn us.) We thanked him and moved on. There wasn’t time to help him but we hoped he was ok.

Across a few more fields and we were nearing our target. Here’s the sign

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Yes, it’s the sign for a village called Flash. If you remember the post from 10.4.13 (I is for interesting) you will know that this is the village whose height above sea level has been measured and found to be the highest in England and in fact the whole UK. We wondered what to expect but set off on the 1 mile to get there indicated by the sign; not surprisingly it was all uphill! The edge of the village is some way out from the houses and here’s the sign. Shortly after, a cyclist went past us and we almost felt as if we should be cheering and running alongside like they do in the Tour De France and maybe shouting Allez-allez. We didn’t.image

And a little further on in the village itself we saw this sign on the wall of the pub

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Yes that’s right – the highest pub in the British Isles. If you need an edge that’s not a bad one is it? After 2 hours walking across fields, up hill and down dale we were ready for a quick stop: a drink in the highest pub in the UK would be nice. We knocked on the door and were told that it didn’t open till 4pm! (It was 10.58am.) There are some who believe the term “flash money” comes from the alleged counterfeiting of banknotes in the village. It’s a nice idea and seems to fit but it’s probably an inference made from a novel (Flash) written in 1928 by Judge Alfred Ruegg rather than historical facts.

The next building was the old schoolhouse.

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And a little bit further

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Of course there’s no “new” police station.

We carried on and came to the local primary school. Here’s the sign.

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Now read that motto under the logo at the top: ‘Reaching Ever Higher’. Remember where we are – the highest village in the UK! I liked that. However after a bit of research and a conversation with a local person we found out that the school was actually closed. Apparently, in Sept 2012, the school roll fell from 7 in 2011 to zero pupils and the school closed at the end of Dec 2012. The local council said that in the last 10 years only one child had been born in the catchment area. Property prices also meant it was difficult to attract younger families to the area. The village had had a school for over 250 years (since 1760) so very sad it could not continue. (The Ofsted inspection in April last year gave a figure of over £22,000 funding required for each pupil; a comparable figure for my local urban primary school is £3,700 per pupil.)

Next building of interest was this one

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It looks like a large square house but originally it was a Wesleyan Chapel built in 1784 (and rebuilt in 1821 according to the date stone). There were 60 members of the Methodist Society which grew to 90 by 1790. In the 1851 Census there were 180 attending the evening service. It closed in 1974 and, as with many old chapels, is now a private house.

We walked on. Although a fair way out of the village we came to a place called “Flash Bar Stores And Coffee Shop”. We got some food here as it was almost lunch time. As we sat outside this vehicle pulled up in the parking area next to us.

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On the top right above the windscreen you might be able to see “Your Library”. Yep that’s right in these more isolated places there is no local library so the villages depend on a mobile one. I spoke to the driver who told me he covers quite a large area. Each stop has a scheduled time so people know when to expect him. While we were there a couple of folks came; one lady had an armful of books. I do hope this service will keep going as it’s a big help for those who can’t get to the town libraries often miles away.

After lunch we walked all of 20 feet (6 metres) across to the Traveller’s Rest for a drink. The place had a bit of a theme of “ye olde England” with the toilets being labelled – Knights & Damsels.

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Soon it was time to head off as we were only half way round on our walk and it had taken 4½ hours so far. (Lunch and drink though had taken longer than we had anticipated!)

On a lane we came to one of those stalls left unattended with an honesty box for stuff you buy. Although we didn’t buy anything there was a note hanging on it

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I think you can probably read it. Imagine that a colony of Wallabies once existed in the Staffordshire Moorlands.

This next pic looks simply like a stone bridge.

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Could be anywhere? No, this is quite a special place called “Three Shires’ Head”. It’s the point on Axe Edge Moor where the borders of 3 English counties meet: Cheshire, Derbyshire & Staffordshire. It’s an 18th century packhorse bridge over the River Dane; remember that’s the river that our Youth Hostel in its original incarnation used to drive the big water wheel that powered the mill machinery.

The rest of the route back had one difficult part. We came to a field of cows and of course we needed to be the other side. When you get close up to cows you realise just how big they are and how easily just 2 or 3 could cause you a lot of damage. You don’t mess with cows, you will lose! (Same for horses by the way – when our kids were younger we were walking across a field and a herd of horses surrounded us. Unsure of how to react, and being townies, we tried to push our way through. Man versus horse – another one you’re not going to win. Fortunately something took their attention and a small gap appeared so we could make our escape.) We skirted the herd of cows keeping close eye on them. Heads came up and a few started heading towards us. We took a bigger sweep out onto a farm track behind another wall before coming back into their field and heading for the stile at the other side.

And soon we were back at the hostel. Then it was evening meal, more backgammon & head off to bed for night 2. We liked this place.

 

Will there be any history left?

When I think about my trip to Ightham Mote the other day, part of it’s attraction was how they didn’t definitely know who’d built it, they didn’t definitely know if Henry VI had visited, they thought that probably the new chapel was built as a guest bedroom.

They had done some cool dendochronology thing where they had managed to work out the date of origin for each part of building. There were lots of theories about when the ceiling in the new chapel had been built and painted. Had it been built for another building? A ceremonial outdoor thing for the king perhaps? But the exact same proportions as the roof in the room at Ightham Mote? They worked out eventually it had been built for the room and painted in situ.

There was a lot of mystery, a lot of research. I often wished, when reading history books, that we knew exactly what had happened, exactly what kind of people they were, exactly what they were thinking. But I also recognised that if I did know all those things, the mystery and intrigue would be gone. I’d probably go, “I wish I knew what they were really thinking at that moment? O, here it is. She was a bit bored. Ok, then. Ummm.”

And this is my worry. Are we making our history boring by recording everything? There’s no mystery. If someone in a few hundred years wanted to know what the World Famous Writer/Baker/Farmer Laura Maisey was thinking about at 7:26am on September 24, 2013, it’s all here. I’m going on about making history boring.

The stuff that’s most interesting for me in Ham House is the stuff that they don’t know for definite yet or the stuff that has numerous different stories attached to it.

And there’s Time Team to think about too. I mean, what will Baldrick do if he doesn’t need to dig sections of soil up anymore? People will have been rabbiting on about their new houses and gardens and there will be no need to try and establish where the outside walls of the castle were anymore. He’ll be able to just Google it.

Is that ok? That we are turning future historians into Google lovers? Maybe we should kill the internet briefly in a hundred years or so and start afresh, erasing everything and so creating some mystery for the poor bored historians of the year 2500?