Friday, 11 June 2010

Formby - the last stop

A little jewel on the North West coast is Formby and after leaving Manchester we headed west to stay for a couple of nights at the world famous Formby Point Caravan Park. The site is a little oasis surrounded as it is by sand dunes and pine woods. But best of all is the fact that it is only a short car ride away from Annita and her family and Ian and his daughters.
Lesley travelled over with us from Manchester and we all had a smashing time with Annita and John especially as Ian offered to drive us over to Liverpool. Needless to say my sister laid on a lovely meal for us all and it was great to catch up with everyone again.

On the Monday Dave and I borrowed Ian's car and drove into Southport and despite the sky being overcast the weather was warm enough for us to enjoy our breakfast in the park on Lord's Street. In the afternoon Helen came over to the campsite to see us and we had a great time catching up with all her wedding plans for next year.

It was strange walking though the pine woods without the dogs but we had a very relaxing walk trying to spot the illusive red squirrels.

Posted by Picasa

Manchester in the sunshine

I know very little about my maternal grandmother. I was still young when Nan Redfern died and I'm not sure where her family was from apart from some sketchy memories from my Mum. Apparently one of her sisters went to America ( I still have the doll that Nan told me had been sent from New York) and another lived outside Manchester.
My Mum had memories of travelling from Bootle in the 1930s 'all the way' to Trafford with her sister Lilly, to stay with their Aunt for a holiday. How times have changed - Trafford is no longer a small village in the countryside, it has been swallowed up by Greater Manchester and is now most famous for the vast Trafford Centre shopping mall.
Manchester itself has changed too and I'm sure that my parents wouldn't recognise the city from the one that they used to visit in the 1970s. The Metrolink trams are a cheap and easy way to move around the city and with more shops and bars than you can shake a stick at it's an ideal place for the thousands of students who live there.
There is one thing that Manchester is famous for around the country and that's it's weather. It's known as the one of the wettest places in the country. This however is a myth! in fact the it has on average 140 days of a rain a year compared to the average in rest of the country of 154. So we really shouldn't have been surprised when we visited Lesley to find the sun shining and the temperature in the high 2os, but we were!!

A small oasis of green in the city centre is Piccadily Gardens, well not so green at the moment but definitely an oasis.

Lesley and I quite fancied a paddle ourselves but we were far too sensible so it was an afternoon of a long lunch in a little cafe in the Northern Quarter followed by a mooch around the shops before collapsing in the shade beside the Cathedral for a cooling drink alfresco before dinner.

Posted by Picasa

Back Home

While we were away the dogs went on a little holiday of their own to a very nice kennel just out of town. Before we went to pick them up we let the cats have the run of the house and the garden without running them running risk of Murphy trying to get them joining in with one of his 90 mph romps around the flower beds!
Jess was particularly appreciative and rolled around the lawn (OK the dust bowl we laughingly call a lawn) to her little hearts content.

Sassy is far too sophisticated for such nonsense and looked aghast at her sister's tarty behaviour

Before walking off in disgust!

Even the poppies smiled...

Posted by Picasa


It is becoming a tradition on our visits to Aber that we stay on the small campsite in Borth next to their world famous Animalarium where the screeching of the peacocks is our early morning alarm call. Our other tradition is to meet up for dinner at the Victoria Inn on the High Street to sit on their terrace overlooking the Irish Sea to watch the amazing sunset and try our hand a Dolphin spotting.

The sunset didn't disappoint.

But the only things we saw in the water were some intrepid swimmers - never mind, we did see a dolphin earlier in the day when we were sitting on the prom in Aberystwyth and how cool is that!

Posted by Picasa

Devils Bridge

I love waterfalls and if I can view one without scaling a rocky cliff face and risk loosing my life in the process I will happily stare at one for hours. Devils Bridge 12 miles outside Aberystwyth was once famously described by Wordsworth as a raging torrent, the day we went it was more of a trickle - who could have known that Mid Wales was having such a dry spring....

Needless to sat I totally wimped out when found that there were about 3000 steps down from the road to see it, well OK I'm not sure how many steps but there were LOTS and they were very steep and there wasn't a handrail the whole way down! Those Victorian ladies must have had some balls to walk down them in their long dresses and unsuitable footwear!!

That said, it's a lovely place and well worth a visit (even for a scaredy cat like me)

Posted by Picasa

Road Trip

When James first went to University, many moons ago, he bought me the Malcolm Pryce masterpiece Aberystwyth Mon Amour for no other reason that it had the word Aberystwyth in the title. Over the years I have become a huge fan of Louie Knight and all the other strange and wonderful characters that spill from Mr Pryce's wild imaginings, so you can imagine my childlike delight when on our recent visit to James and Claire not only did we see Louie's Dad leading one of his donkeys along the prom but Dave was ready camera in hand to record the event!!

J and C didn't share my excitement but they were happy enough to partake in an ice cream from Sospan's even if I couldn't get them to the Druid run Moulin Club in Patriarch Street.

Instead they took us up to the Red Kite Centre to see those beautiful birds at feeding time, where the beating of their huge wings through the still air sounded like the gentle singing of Mfanwy at her very best.

On a day as warm and sunny as that one I am sure that even the Ladies from the Sweet Jesus League would have approved (well I would like to think so but we all know what those Ladies are really like!)

Posted by Picasa

Dover Castle

As part of the Operation Dynamo commemorations, Dover Castle had a special weekend where you could visit the old tunnels where Admiral Ramsey conducted the operation to evacuate the troops from Dunkirk and in the grounds around the castle they had people in very authentic costume reinacting everything from NAAFI canteens to Home Guard emplacements to German check points.

The reinactors were very knowledgeable and it really brought history to life to be able to walk around the different areas . This woman was a recruiter for the WVS which eventually became the WRVS.

This chap was from the Home Guard and looked so realistic we expect Cpt Mainwaring to appear at any moment.

We took the 'little train' tour of the whole site and were stopped at the checkpoint by this officer and his troops. It was a little disconcerting to be asked for your papers but one man in our carriage who announced that he was a Basque and he had special papers really entered into the spirit of the thing!

Every where you went there were people in costume, civilians as well as service men and women. They had ship out in the harbour and landing craft coming on the beaches and even a parachute drop.

The Little Ships

This year is the 70th anniversary of Operation Dynamo and the evacuation of 338,000 British and Allied troops from Dunkirk.

In May Ramsgate commemorated the event with a gathering of about 50 of the remaining 'Little Ships' that played a part in that amazing rescue.

It was amazing to see the way that so many of these ships have been restored and in the afternoon sunshine they were a truly memorable sight.

While the Little Ships were safely berthed in the harbour before recreating their journey across the Channel to the commemoration events in Dunkirk on the quay side there were a selection of authentic vehicles from the Second World War.

Including an original NAAFI van with staff in period costume selling tea and coffee in some very 21st Century paper cups!

Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Found an old Album 2

Mum hated having her picture taken but couldn't refuse her grandchildren anything - I love this picture, their smiles are beautiful.

Not sure how I managed to capture this - Dave with a gun stuck in his ear and Lesley stuck to his arm!

This picture is special for two reasons 1) We were only a lovely camping holiday in Brittany and 2) Both the kids are smiling at the same time!
Posted by Picasa

Found an old photo album

Dave has been decorating the front bedroom and I decided it would be the perfect opportunity to sort out the old cupboard in there. When we moved I had packed all our old photo albums in boxes - many many boxes, but there was one I missed. So instead of sorting through the reams of cables and scart leads in the draws I've spent the past hour going through some lovely old photos.

I'm not sure when they were taken, I think it was either 1999 or 2000 but they did bring back some lovely memories -

We were all together for a family party - Mum and Dad's anniversary I think - I can't believe that this was at least ten years ago - where have the years gone?

I can't remember what Laura was telling James but it was very serious and very important!

This is James and I at the Imperial War Museum Duxford you wouldn't guess it from this picture but as a moody teenager James a) hated having his picture taken b) was totally embarrassed by his Mother and c) would only smile on point of extreme torture or bribery

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Politicians for Hire

When I was a very lowly civil servant I was in a meeting one day when our new department head started talking about our 'customers' and how we had a duty to provide them with the most efficient and cost effective service possible. He then fired off a question out to the audience 'just who do you think our customers are?' quick as a flash came the reply, 'the public'. The poor man looked horror struck - 'no' he said 'the Department's Ministers' are our customers. We work for them.'

Well call me naive but I thought that civil servants 'worked ' for the Crown and as such, in working in a contact centre, our 'customers' were ipso facto, her majesties subjects i.e. members of the public rather than Members of Parliament.

This strange memory came back to me last night when I was watching the Channel 4 Dispatches programme, Politicians for Hire, where four Labour Cabinet Ministers were caught on camera boasting that they had used their influence to change policy in favour of business.

Now let me say that I never worked for any of the Ministers filmed, but some civil servants did. In fact a whole raft of people would have been employed in their offices, from the Permanent Secretary at the top of the tree right down to the poor sods who answer the phones from irate members of the public at the bottom.

How proud they all must be today to know that all the years they have put in 'serving' their Minister, (for far less money than they would have reasonably been expected to earn in the private sector!) weren't wasted. Or the hours spent on developing new policy and strategies only to have them rejected because the Ministers and their advisers didn't want to implement them in an election year, would come in handy when their Ex-Minster was writing his cv as a Lobbyist.

How very gratifying it must be knowing that some of the Ministers they worked for have used the knowledge gained in those Departments to such good effect.

I'm sure that the Support Grade Band 2 worker, trying to raise a family on £13,882 a year, is absolutely cock a hoop today to know that Stephen Byres referred to himself as 'a sort of taxi for hire' on up to £5000 a day.

It seems incredible to me that these same Politicians who were claiming every penny they were 'entitled' to, are the same ones who are calling for swinging cuts in bureaucracy. Not that they will calling for a saving of the high salaried Special Advisers or the Whitehall Mandarins just the lower grade civil servants and public sector workers who presumably they consider dispensable. The biggest machine in the world will not work if its smallest cog is missing and more than one government department wont be 'fit for purpose' if the Politicians get their way by laying off thousands of its work force, or god forbid, outsourcing the work to a company whose only motivation is profit, not customer service.

They will argue any job losses are through natural wastage, well it doesn't matter how they sugar the pill, once those jobs are gone they will never come back. Those departments that brought employment (all be it low paid) to areas of high unemployment around the country, will eventually close and as a result the job prospects for young people there will suffer for years to come.

The one office that wont suffer is the Minsters' own. They will make sure that they have the right people with the best qualifications advising them on policy, so maybe our senior civil servant was right all along, and the civil servants' first customer is their Minister? And if that's true maybe they would like to consider some kind of profit sharing scheme for their staff - out of the 'taxi for hire' money they expect to earn as a Lobbyist!

If you missed last night's Dispatches, shame on you, but you can catch it for the next 29 days on 4oD at

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Up up and away

A couple of weeks ago, when, as luck would have it, Kent was having one of it's wettest weeks of the winter, Annita and John came down to stay for the week.

I had been hoping that we would have enough fine days so that I could take them out and about and had mentally planned a itinerary that would probably exhausted even the most intrepid explorer. So it was probably a good thing that our outing were confined mostly to long bracing walks along the seafront in-between the showers, with just the odd walk into town and couple of trips along the coast.

John however was praying for fine weather, having lugged his kites and cameras on three trains and two car rides to get here, he was determined to get some KAP shots. Now for those of you unfamiliar with KAP it stands for Kite Aerial Photography and not as I thought Kent Auto Panels (that's a whole different thing altogether) and it involves sending a camera up on a very impressive looking hand made kite to take aerial photos.

This first shot is taken from Fisherman's Beach looking across the MOD firing range towards Dymchurch.

In this one you can see the beach that stretches five miles around to Folkestone and next to it the Promenade that Annita and John walked there and back on. On what was probably the windiest day of the winter. Our intrepid couple put me to shame, I've been waiting for Spring to arrive and Dave to finish his latest contract before planning to walk there and hop on a bus back!!

And finally this is a shot of the road from the prom up to our place - I knew it was a sharp bend but hadn't realised till I saw this quite how sharp!