Category: My Life


I do enjoy a good book. I like to read. And, I’ve discovered it has to be a book. I do have ‘books’ on my iPad but, at the end of the day, I find I don’t like to curl up in bed at the end of the day with my iPad and read a chapter. And I do tend to forget I’ve got books there as well. I’ve downloaded some and they are just there, wherever ‘there’ is, forgotten. I’m not alone either, the sales of paper books is rising again in the UK while downloads are falling. It seemed we still like mooching about in bookshops and picking out a good read. 

I’m about to finish ‘The Flame Bearer’ by Bernard Cornwall. It’s the latest in a series of ten. To say I’ve enjoyed them is an understatement. I’ve read all ten back to back, apart from the last few pages of this one, over the last year.

I like history, and the further back the history goes, the better I like it. ‘The Flame Bearer’ is set at the end of the Dark Ages at the point where England was being forged together out of the old Saxon kingdoms of Wessex, East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria. I can’t decide where Manchester was in those days. Some maps had us in Mercia, others in Northumbria, maybe we were fought over and moved from one to the other. The remains of the Roman province of Britannia are still there with the Saxons living among the ruins of their towns, wondering how those people could have built so well. The Saxon kingdoms fought each other at that time and all of them were under attack from invaders from Denmark and Scandanavia. First they come to raid as Vikings, later they come to settle, dispossessing the Saxons of their land. At one point it looked as if the Saxons would lose, with the King, Alfred, holed up in swamplands on the Somerset Levels. If he’d lost we would be living in Daneland, not England, now and, maybe, Danish would have become to lingua franca of the world. 

It was a fascinating period in our history and I’m amazed, given how important it is to how we are now, it isn’t better known. Bernard Cornwell has woven a lot of detailed history into his books with actual characters from the period actually doing the things they did. You learn a lot of history.

 

Bernard Cornwell has done a lot of research into his own ancestors and has discovered that he is related to the people who lived in Bamburgh Castle in the Dark Ages. Thanks to Gareth Evans for the great picture above. It’s a dramatic fortification on the north east coast of England, north of Newcastle. The present castle is a stunning medieval building with Victorian additions added to make it a comfortable home. Before that there was the Dark Ages building, the Romans had a place there as did the Ancient British. It’s within sight of Holy Island, an ancient religious place which still has a special atmosphere today. People who believe such things believe that the veil between heaven and earth is very thin here. Both these sites feature in the books.

Among all the history and geography of Dark Ages Britain, Bernard Cornwell has created a fictional character, Uhtred of Bebbanburg (the ancient name of Bamburgh) who may have been his ancestor. Born into a Christian Saxon family living at Bamburgh, he falls into the hands of Danes and becomes a slave. His master grows to like him and treats him as a son. He becomes a pagan and a warrior. His ability as a warrior bring him into contact with Kind Alfred and the fictional story of Uhtred of Bebbanburg becomes interwoven, very cleverly, with the real history of England as the Saxons face annihilation and fight back to establish England as the nation we know today. It’s a damn good read.

I actually started reading the series with the ninth book of the series, ‘Warriors of the Storm.’ I picked it up just before Christmas 2015 as a present to myself and something to read over the festive season. I enjoyed it and was delighted to see that the BBC was doing a televised series of the books called ‘The Last Kingdom.’ It was very well done and very faithful to the books. A second series is being shown this Spring. I am looking forward to that but don’t let the excellent BBC adaptation put you off reading the books. Speaking to a friend, he informed me of the rest of the series which he had read, and passed on the rest to me which has provided me with much of my recreational reading for 2016. I thank him. 

And the pleasure isn’t over. Bernard Cornwell is, I hope, working on the next book in the series, hopefully for my festive reading for Christmas 2017.

After being stuck inside all yesterday sheltering from Atlantic Storm Doris, I needed to get out and about some. Doris was the most vicious storm we’ve had in a while causing destruction and disruption but we were, mostly, back to normal today.

I decided to take the car and drive up the beautiful Ribble Valley, to the north of the city, and cross the border and visit Skipton in Yorkshire. It’s a prosperous market town with handsome stone buildings, a wide high street with an impressive church and castle at one end of it, surrounded by green hills.

It’s a focal point for the local, rich farmlands. There used to be some industry here and there are a couple of impressive woollen mills in the town. Manchester was all about cotton but Leeds, which is close, is all about wool. The mills are now apartments or have been filled with other businesses. It’s the gateway to the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. It has  a famous market that attracts people from all over. Tourists like the attractive town and it’s within commuting distance of Leeds. Even on a cold February day it was busy.

Some pictures of the little streets off the High Street and some of the pretty buildings in the town…

It was market day in Skipton and the high street was lined with stalls selling stuff you might need. The Manchester markets I like to visit sell a lot of stuff you might like but you don’t necessarily need it. There is a difference…

At the top of the High Street is Holy Trinity Church. It has the biggest clock on a church tower I’ve seen in a long time. Inside it had that old church smell of dust and hymn books undisturbed for centuries…

Here is the gatehouse to Skipton Castle…

I went to this rather nice wine store where I hoped to find a particular wine. Sadly they didn’t have it. I did have a look at the whisky collection for which it is famous and noted that it now has a formidable gin collection. Gin, especially small batch, artisan gin, is big in the UK at the moment…

I was attracted to the Celebrated Pork Pie Establishment…

Here are some of the pies in the window…

Did I buy any? It would be rude not to…

I bought this huge pork pie. Yorkshire is noted for its pigs and pork pies and Yorkshire ham is, justifiably, famous. I had to buy some jam and currant slices as well. An old fashioned treat found across the north of England…

A pop up barbershop at Skipton Market. Good idea to start a business. I like the enterprising spirit of this…

A trip to Yorkshire wouldn’t be complete without meeting a couple of Yorkies. These two were checking out the market. They looked a bit nervous. Maybe they thought that Storm Doris might return and whip them off to Oz or Kansas. It was cold so they looked smart in their Friday coats…

If you are walking a Yorkie at Skipton Market you will need a traditional flat cap. They used to be the headgear of choice of the working class men and boys of the industrial north of England but now they are a fashion item worn by all…

On the way back to the car I liked this garden of gnomes…

I’m having a few days off. I’ve got quite a lot of time to take off before the end of the financial year on April 1st. So it’s nine whole days with nothing planned. Yesterday was a bit of a dead loss, to be honest, with nothing achieved at all. I got up about 9, had a shower, put on some fresh boxers and a T and that was it for the day. Before I knew it, it was time to get back in bed for the night.

Today was a bit better. I did a bit of tiding and cleaning done and planned dinner. It involved going to ASDA to pick up some stuff. Now Valentine’s Day is over and it’s a bit to early for Easter (there are chocolate eggs though), they are having a push on gardening. The return of the lighter nights and with the gardens being full of crocus and early daffodils, people are looking to do some work on theirs.

I’afraid I got no further than ASDA’s offering of gnomes. ASDA are famous for their gnomes. As well as the generic garden gnomes we’ve had limited addition gnomes for the big national events like the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics. All great fun. I’m banned from bringing any home though.

This season they have the usual, large garden gnomes…

But they have also brought in a range of smaller gnomes. Here are some regal gnomes, possibly to celebrate the Queen’s and the Duke of Edinburgh’s 70th wedding anniversary later this year which is the Platinum celebration I believe…

Mini garden gnomes….

Occupation gnomes, policeman, nurse etc…

Firefighter gnome and David Beckham gnome….

BBQ gnome, fisherman gnome and Mary Berry gnome with cherry pie and no soggy bottom…

Chilled gnome and sleepy gnome…

Seaside gnomes…

Mini gnomes on sticks (cocktail gnomes?)…

And, finally, solar panelled gnomes that light up at night…

 

I thought I’d post my pictures of St Andrew’s, Tarvin in another post. It’s the parish church of the village. It’s Grade 1 listed which means that it is as important, architecturally, as St Paul’s Cathedral or the Houses of Parliament in London or Manchester’s Town Hall. 

It was built the the 11oos, parts of that building can still be seen. Over the centuries it has been enlarged and improved, the last time being in Victorian times. The Victorians were great ones for ‘improving’ ancient buildings and redesigning them in what was then the modern style. We tend to just maintain them and, apart from adding the odd modern window like in heavily bombed Manchester Cathedral, you don’t see us adding modern wings to old churches or the like. Which is a shame as, when we get it right, like in the Whitworth Art Gallery or the Royal Exchange Theatre, we do it well. And I rather like the extension to Hallé St Peter’s in Ancoats. But that isn’t technically a church any more. But I imagine that if anyone tried an extension to St Andrew’s in Tarvin, local opposition would be fierce.

Although this building was built in the 1100s I suspect that it may have been built on the site of an, even older, Anglo Saxon church. Very few Anglo Saxon churches are still around. The Normans, who originally built this church, were great ones for ripping down older churches with no concern that we, in the 21st century, would love to see them. It may even have been built on something Roman as we are very close to the great legionary HQ of Deva (now called Chester). Maybe Roman Tarvin was in commuting distance of Chester for some wealthy Roman living in a sumptuous villa? And it’s entirely possible that the church was built on top of an Ancient British religious site. The Ancient British certainly lived up on the sandstone ridge that runs down the centre of Cheshire within sight of Tarvin.

The church is built of the local red sandstone which is used in Manchester to build a few of the buildings, notably John Ryland’s Library. The church is surrounded by a peaceful burial ground that has been used for centuries. Some of the memorials are quite elaborate, reflecting the wealth of the people interred in them and the wealth of Tarvin.

Life blew me for a meeting in the large village/small country town of Tarvin in Cheshire today. I’ve never been before. It used to be on the main Manchester/Chester road but a bypass has been built so all that traffic doesn’t run along the main street any more. It also means a lot of people miss this beautiful place as they rush from Manchester to Chester. While I wouldn’t want to see traffic thundering through Tarvin, if you find yourself close, it’s worth searching out. Park on the edge of the village and walk in please.

It’s obviously had a very prosperous past with the streets in the centre of the village lined with picture postcard buildings ranging from the Tudor period, through the Georgian and Victorian to the Edwardian era. The buildings stand together attractively and wherever I pointed my camera there was something photogenic to snap. It’s still prosperous. It’s within commuting distance of Liverpool, Chester and Manchester and the village is surrounded by expensive, ‘executive’ more modern housing. I imagine if you want to buy into this rural idyll, you will have to have pretty deep pockets.

This very grand Georgian house, at the end of the main street, took my fancy. It was having some work done. Well beyond my resources I’m afraid.

A couple of beautiful Tudor cottages.

Tarvin still has a working high street with local shops. Apart from a small Co Op convenience store, there were no large supermarkets to suck away the vitality of the town. You have to drive to Chester or Northwich to do that kind of shopping. It does have a couple of well frequented country pubs on the high street facing each other.

The meeting was in the rather grand Georgian house in this picture, on the extreme right.

We’re on top of stuff at work and it is a quiet time of year. After all the tumult of 2016 we are getting used to the new realities of life and, hopefully, moving on. It’s going to be a number of years, though, until we sail into calmer waters of course. And we’re not sure how the outcome of the American elections will affect things, but the entire planet is in that boat.

Our little department decided to go out for a ‘working breakfast.’ I did suggest a ‘prayer breakfast’ but one of the team declined that offer. In fact what she said was ‘f**k off!’ We wear our religion lightly in the UK. We headed for a restaurant in the centre of the office park where our offices are. There’s a nice little lake there where people like to sit on warm days. It attracts water birds including these Canada Geese. They were introduced to the country to grace the lakes of large country estates. Having wings and a tendency to roam, they have found the UK to their liking and are found all over the place now. They are noisy and big and these ones are quiet used to people and can be a bit persistent if you are eating your sandwiches in the sunshine. Maybe, under Brexit, we can have them declared illegal immigrants and ship them back to Canada. They were stealing bread from British ducks today.

Here are some British Ducks who are having their bread stolen.

Near the lake is the Fun Hut. It was locked today but on warm, sunny days they open it and out come the deck chairs. They also have footballs, rugby balls and other toys that we can use on the lawns around the lake. It’s mostly guys who like to play in their lunch hours. A fun idea we think.

I quite like a game of Table Tennis when the Fun Hut is open. In spite of the sunshine it was still pretty chilly though.

Spring is stirring. This is a good thing. The central reservation of the road near the offices is full of these little, yellow crocuses.

And there are some early daffodils. Last year I noticed these were in bloom on Boxing Day (26th December) but have only just come out now in their, more usual, early February. We must have had a colder winter than last year.

We needed some more coffee capsules for the Nespresso machine. We got some of the usual ones and tried a couple of the flavoured and the limited edition ones. I like the ones flavoured with vanilla or caramel. We hide those for personal use. No one knows we have them. We are bad.

I’ve not been brilliant the last few weeks. I think I’ve had that bug the Queen had over Christmas and New Year. She’s usually up and at ’em, shaking off illness and back on parade at the earliest opportunity but this time nothing was seen of her over the entire festive season. She was out of action for so long that rumours were swirling around the internet that she’d actually died and they were leaving the news until after New Year. Fortunately it wasn’t so.

If she felt as bad as I did I sympathise with her. What I thought was a simple cold, went to my chest. I just drank lucozade and popped Sudofed for two weeks. One night the vice like pain in my chest had me wondering if I’d bought it and my time had come. But, like the Queen, I came through. It did keep me inside though. On the positive side, I was able to shift the last of the holiday weight and a bit more.

I’d missed my usual visit to have my haircut so I decided to fit it in this morning. I went to my favourite place, BarberBarber in Barton Arcade, just off St Ann’s Square in the city centre. It looks like it’s been there since Victorian times with its vintage fixtures and fittings and barbers stylishly dressed and inked. Tourists gather outside to take photographs. It’s a guy only space where men go to have a great haircut and interact with other men. It’s run by Jonny, stylishly dressed always, he is something of a character. He came over from Ireland a few years back to set up this barbershop. He’s now expanded to Liverpool, Leeds, London and Birmingham. 

I usually end up talking to someone while I wait my turn. This time is was a guy who was getting his haircut and beard trimmed in time for his wedding on Sunday. He’s getting married in the pretty town of Clitheroe in the Ribble Valley in Lancashire, north of the city. Then he, and his new wife, are off to Thailand for three weeks. When they come back they are moving into an old, stone cottage in Helmshore. I wish them luck. We had a good chat about places we’d both visited, we both enjoyed New Orleans and New York we discovered. We also talked about the subject on everyone’s mind at the moment, Donald Trump.

Andy, top picture, cut my hair. He’s done it a couple of times but we have missed each other recently with me visiting when he wasn’t in. It’s always good to get someone to cut your hair you can trust. You don’t book for this barbershop and if you want a particular guy to cut it you have to wait until he’s free. Having said that I’ve never had a bad haircut here. If you are in the city you should check it out and, if you are a guy, you could worse than having a cut.

I’ve not been into Manchester city centre since before Christmas. Well, not entirely true, we did go to the Bridgewater Hall to see The Nutcracker and then had an early dinner at HOME a couple of weeks ago, but that was a quick trip to the very edge of the city centre then it was onto the tram and home again. I’ve also been neglecting this blog. I’ve had a bad case of the man flu that has floored me for the best part of a fortnight, I’ve barely been able to get into work and have spent days in bed just feeling sorry for myself. I’ve very good at that. 

After all the lights and busy of the Christmas Markets I find the city feels a little sad and deflated in January. I love Manchester but, on a cold, grey January day its appeal thins a bit. But I went in today to have a bit of a mooch. Next week is Chinese New Year and it’s the Year of the Rooster. We have the third largest Chinese community in Europe, after London and Paris, so the city does like to mark the event with some style.

Red lanterns are back up in the city’s squares and streets to remind us of the event and add some much needed colour on a raw, January day. These ones were in Albert Square. They look good against the Victorian Gothic of the Town Hall hanging from the trees. Hopefully, next weekend, we can get in and see the dragon dances and enjoy the New Year festivities.

I added a box of teabags to my #ReverseAdvent box to go with the cool, kitsch shortbread tin yesterday.

Here’s the nicely filling box.

A picture from the the Manchester Christmas Markets.

Yesterday we went out and had a Christmas meal at the George & Dragon Inn in Great Budworth, the pub we discovered a couple of weeks ago. They gave us a nice table by the tree.

I had a Smoked Salmon with Norwegian Prawns starter with a salad dressed with a mustard dressing. It was delicious.

We had a roast turkey dinner for main course. It came with ‘pigs in blankets’ (little sausages wrapped in bacon). It came with a huge Yorkshire Pudding on top. It’s a batter pudding that originates from Yorkshire. In older, poorer times, people made them to bulk a meal up cheaply. Now you find them on the menus of expensive restaurants. They are tricky to make, you have to get the batter right (make it the day before and let it stand in a cool place overnight) and get the fat it’s cooked in to the right temperature (so hot, blue smoke is coming off it, keep the fire station on speed dial). Under the pudding there were roast potatoes, roast parsnips and roast shallots. And some stuffing. We had some seasonal vegetables with it. I was stuffed.

We had a bit of a rest after that to digest some of the food and enjoy the bottle of Chilean Merlot we ordered. Then there was Christmas Pudding. It’s a rich fruit and spice filled pudding that is steamed for hours. We had it with vanilla custard and some fresh fruit. Christmas pudding has a reputation of being the most calorific food on the planet with a spoonful out performing any other food you care to mention.

On the way home we stopped at The Hollies Farmshop to buy a Mango and Passionfruit Cheesecake. When we got home I fell asleep!

I have been picking up things for my #ReverseAdvent box on a day to day basis, buying them, putting them in, tweeting and posting. I needed to get ahead of myself, buy some things in for the next few days so I don’t have to factor a diversion to a co op store everyday. Nothing wrong with that of course but it’s not always feasible. 

image

So I went over to my good bud’s store on Holes Lane in Wooston, Warrington to do some shopping. Andy is the deputy manager of the store but yesterday afternoon he was in charge. The co op will be delighted to hear that it was quite busy and Andy had to help out with real customers before he could talk to me. Warrington is blessed (cursed?) with lots of supermarkets but they do seem to congregate around the town centre. This branch of the co op is in the eastern suburbs and acts as a local convenience store for the area. Andy dealing with a customer….

image

Eventually Andy got freed up and we were able to wander about the store choosing stuff for my box. Here he is carrying my basket. You don’t get that level of service in Waitrose. But we did get it once in Fortnum & Masons though….

image

Some of the things I bought. We added more after this picture so I’ve got lots of things to add over the next few days…

image

Today I’ve added a bag of those posh hand cooked crisps. Not co op brand but sourced from the store….

image

And here’s the box filling up nicely….

image

And another picture from the Manchester Christmas Markets….

image