Monday, 29 June 2009

Borth, Aberystwyth and Lake Bala

You could just about spot the animals on the hillside from our van

After dinner we sat by the sea to watch the beautiful sunset

The weather was glorious and Aberystwyth was buzzing with visitors (even the 4 legged variety)

On the way home we stopped at Lake Bala for a picnic but the thunderclouds were rumbling in

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Where am I?

OK fancy a little quiz?

We had a few days away in the van last week and woke each morning to the sound of little monkeys screeching as they played among the branches of a near-by tree - from the farmer's field we were saying on we could see goats on the hillside and a cheetah sleeping the day away - at the beach side pub were we were having dinner, we could watch dolphins playing in the bay - most of the locals spoke to us in English even though for some of them it wasn't their first language - the evenings were so warm we could sit by the sea watching the sun set without having to wear a coat.

So have you guessed yet?


Need another clue?

There is a railway line but it's only a single track with just one train every two hours.....

OK do you give in?

Borth in West Wales (just along the coast from Aberystwyth) and the animals? well our farmer's field was next to the famous Borth Animalarium (that's a mini zoo to you and me)

(lot's of photos to follow as soon as the heat goes out of the conservatory and I can get to the printer without passing out!)

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Liverpool - Centre of the Universe

One of the many things that happen when you finally decide to move house is that you start to appreciate what you have on your (current) doorstep. Don't get me wrong, we are really looking forward to moving down to Kent and in some ways the move can't happen quickly enough but we have decided that until the move happens we are going to make the most of where we are living now.

We have always been big fans of the North West and no matter where we live we will always look forward to coming back to visit family and friends as well as rediscovering some of our favourite places and reliving more happy memories that you can shake a stick at.

So over the next few months we are going to try and cram in as many of the places we have said that we 'must see' while we are still here. We kicked off this homage to the NW on Friday by visiting Liverpool as if we were just tourists rather than (in my case at least) an exile from that fair city. We started of at the Albert Dock to pay a rare visit to The Tate. While most of 'modern' art can, if I'm being honest, leave me cold, I did get very silly when I realised that The Tate Liverpool has Salvador Dali's Lobster Telephone, Henri Laurens Head of a Girl
as well as Andy Warhol's Black Bean Soup Can absolutely brilliant - I was so excited I can't tell you!

All that culture left us foot sore and starving so when we left The Tate we made our way the short distance to The Pumphouse for a pub lunch and a swift half before climbing up the hill to Liverpool Cathedral. The last time I was here was for a school assembly - oh yes that's right we did (I'm sure) have the odd assembly from Liverpool Girl's College at the Liverpool Cathedral. It must have been for some pretty big event but for the life of me I can't remember what it was. The one memory I have of the building was the size of it,it's huge, in fact it's the biggest cathedral in Europe and I hadn't realised that when I visited it as a school girl it wasn't even finished. From the foundation stone being laid in 1904 it took 2 world wars and the great depression before it was finally completed in 1978.

At the other end of Hope Street is the Metropolitan Cathedral and with it's iconic 'modern' design you would be forgiven In thinking that it is Liverpool Cathedrals younger sibling but appearances can be deceptive. The Metropolitan Cathedral was in fact consecrated in 1967 only 5 years after the first stone was laid - well not quite - the original foundation stone was laid in 1933 and the building of the crypt went on until 1941 when all work was halted because of the Second World War. So at one end of the street we have what looks like an old very traditional looking building while at the other end we have a very modern looking almost futuristic building that is in fact 11 years OLDER and joining the two Cathedrals we have Hope Street. Now when I was a girl this was a poor part of town. The buildings were neglected and some of the surrounding streets had more than their fair share of social deprivation, but walk along Hope Street now and you will see what urban regeneration, LIPA, two Universities and Capital of Culture can do for a city. With it's Georgian architecture, boutique hotel, cafes, restaurants, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Hall and the Everyman Theatre, I think that Hope Street is possibly one of the finest in the city.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

All Change

A week last Tuesday we had a phone call from the Estate Agents down in Kent. Apparently the people we were buying the house from in Littlestone had had second thoughts about selling. They were peeved that a house a few doors down had just been sold for £50,000 more than they were selling their house to us for. The Estate Agent tried to explain that their neighbours had sold a far bigger house with far better fixtures and fittings but they were not mollified and insisted that they were taking their house off the market with a view to re marketing it for £50,000 (ish) more.

So what did that mean to us? well we were stuffed. There was no way that we could afford the extra 50k even if we thought that the house was worth it (which it isn't) To say that were were livid is something of an understatement but after I'd dried my tears of hurt and anger we set about trying to arrange yet another trip down to Kent to start the whole process of house hunting again.

It never ceases to amaze me how selfish some people can be. If they were having second thoughts why did they leave us hanging on for two months believing that they were looking for a new place that they were going to have as a restoration project?

We had an inkling a few weeks before the bombshell that all was not well, nothing tangable, just a feeling that they were dragging their heels. We'd been down and tried to find another property 'just in case' but had been pipped at the post (literally by a matter of hours) on a house that would have made a brilliant, if not totally wacky, family home.

If they had only let us know sooner that they were having second thoughts we could have a) bought the wacky home at a knock down price and b) saved ourselves about £1000 in surveyors fees and travel expenses up and down from Cheshire.

The outcome of all this nonsense is that we have now put in an offer on a property in Hythe. It is only about 50 metres from the beach and just a short stroll into town. So it's fingers crossed all over again, although in fairness, these sellers seem a lot less 'flaky' than the last ones. They genuinely want to sell but as they still have to find somewhere to buy, it may be a while before we are moving.

(And there is no truth in the rumour that I have put a hex on the vendors of the first house - as if I'd do anything like that!)

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

The House

We were away in the camper van last week - long story -  suffice it to say if you ever see me wandering close to an Estate Agents window ever again, please shoot me!!!

We were so busy during the day looking at houses that most evening we were quite content to pour a glass of wine, fire up the bbq and just chill. So you can imagine my surprise when we eventually got round to buying a newspaper we found that not only have some back benches been plotting a coup against Gordon Brown but also that there were a cabal of women in the government who seemed to be hell bent on staging some kind of post feminist rebellion of their own.

Did Jackie Smith, Hazel Blears and the rest of the coven really think that the great British public would be impressed to see women, who had been exposed 'taking advantage' of  an expenses system that was designed and regulated by Westminster, leaving the government, not because they were embarrassed to have been caught out, but because they thought that their actions could effect a change of leadership?. Did they really think that on the eve of the local and European elections they were truly serving the people of this country with their chants of 'Gordon is a bully'?  

And if Brown is such a nightmare to work for, why, when they have had plenty of chances to make a stand and expose his autocratic ways before, where they seemingly content to sit on his cabinet and even accept the promotions that he handed out to them.  Could it be because some of them were so busy making sure that they were claiming everything that they felt they were entitled to they were happy to put up with the status quo?  

Irrational as it may sound, I am more disgusted that a woman like Hazel Blears who has banged on over the years about being a Salford girl born and bred and is a tireless worker for her constituents, has been caught taking advantage of a system, that to most ordinary people is yet another example of one rule for the rich etc. 

It is not good enough to say that MPs should get tax advantages on a second home because they have to have somewhere to live in London.  What about the thousands of people who have to work away from home, not because they want to, but because that is where the work is?  You try telling that to a builder who thinks himself lucky to have found work at the 2012 Olympic village in East London.  And just because his wife and kids are back home in Salford and there is no way that he could afford to relocate the whole family,  he is having to pay over £200 a week for a poky room in a shared flat in Leytonstone. He can't make a claim for a 42" plasma tv or a taxi to take him shopping in Waitrose never mind convincing the tax man that he should have a second home allowance.

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to go back to the days when only rich men could go into politics. The Mother of all Parliaments should be filled with the best that this country has to offer, regardless of the size of their wallet (or political colour) but the expenses that are available to allow MPs to do their job properly should be regulated by an independent body not by the MPs themselves.  The system should be open and transparent, with no room for ambiguity.  

To represent your constituents as an MP is an honour, a privilege, not an excuse to take advantage of an expanding housing market.  MPs should be paid a good wage that takes into account they hours that they have to spend both in Westminster and their constituencies.  They should have access to the best administrative and technological system that will enable them to best serve the people, whether that is in London or not.  

And maybe instead of throwing their dummies out of their prams, these woman should have tried plotting a different kind of revolution.  One that says why should, in the 21st Century, when we have video conferencing facilities in even the most humble of office suites, should an MP have to travel to London to attend a committee meeting on a Monday morning when it would be far more cost effective for them to stay in their constituency and just dial-in.  Why is it necessary for Minsters to fire off emails to each other from their offices in Westminster when they could be just as easily be done from St Ives or Newcastle.  Why should MPs have to spend all week in London when most face to face meetings could be properly scheduled to mean that they would be able to travel when only absolutely necessary. 

This way they wouldn't need a second home, what they would need is somewhere safe and comfortable to spend the odd nights when they needed to be in London and maybe just maybe this would encourage more women to stand for parliament.  Real women, women who have families and responsibilities like the rest of us.  Women who don't want to palm their kids out to someone else to bring up.  Women who are not afraid of hard work but are not prepared to sacrifice their families at the alter of Westminister. 
I would have more respect for Jackie, Hazel and the gang if they had used this protest as a spring board for updating and modernising a system that is long overdue an overhaul.  We have the technology now - this isn't some kind of science fiction story - let's use British ingenuity and innovation to show the rest of the world that we can learn from this whole expenses farrago and come out of it with a stronger and  more modern government that will once again be the envy of the world.

So come on Gordon show us what you're made off.  Instead of listening to the fools that are trying to make you look like a poor man's Tony Blair, prove to your detractors that you are a forward thinking innovative leader who is not afraid of change and is prepared to change not only they way that you lead the country but that you're prepared to makes changes now that will mean the country can once again be proud to be setting the trends and not just doggedly continuing with a system that has been shown up to be no more that 'a glorified gentleman's club'