Running Ragged

I always seem to get stressed out on the run up to Christmas and this year is no exception, in fact Christmas seems to be catching up on me even quicker than usual. I have been so busy lately I have hardly made a start on the preparations.

What I intended to write about today has gone out of the window. I got very little sleep last night for some reason and I have spent most of today trying to do some Christmas shopping. Not without some success of course, I have managed to buy a fair few of the gifts that need to be posted but there are still some outstanding and I haven’t started on the ones for the family members that I will see over the Christmas period, nor all the little extras – stocking fillers, tree presents etc. – that go towards the fun of the day.

Apart from that I have not even thought about decorating the house and setting up the Christmas tree yet and I shall need to give the house a thorough clean first of course. I have not written any Christmas cards, I haven’t made even my first batch of mince pies this year and I have not yet made my Christmas cake. In a weak moment while shopping this morning I did contemplate buying the cake (I have done on a few occasions in the past) but I do prefer home-made and I have already bought the ingredients so it would be a bit of a waste if I just buy one. The recipe I am using requires some of the ingredients to soak overnight so my plan now is to do that preparation this evening and then I will have to make the cake tomorrow afternoon when I get home from my Spanish class.

Talking of which, this week it is my turn to provide the activities and refreshments for the group (we take it in turns) and the preparation for this occupied my weekend. I have an article for them to read and translate about Spanish Christmas customs and then we shall have a fun game about Christmas Carols and songs – at least I hope it will be fun. Each member of the group will draw a piece of paper from a Christmas stocking and must describe in Spanish the carol or song written on the paper without giving the title away and the others must try to guess what it is.

Other intrusions into my Christmas preparation time include a visit to the dentist this week and then, much more enjoyably two Christmas parties – one for the Spanish group and one for my poetry group. Then it is the final run up to the big day and at last a chance to relax as my son and his family are hosting at their house. Then they all come to us to do it all again on Boxing Day, but by then I should be ready.

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Fracking Madness

Now I don’t pretend to know a great deal about fracking, or at least no more than the average man-in-the-street, but I know it involves pumping chemicals into the ground in order to break up shale rocks to release their gas or oil. My gut feeling (which I trust) tells me that this is madness. Whoever thought it would be a good idea to pump a cocktail of chemicals into the ground must be two sandwiches short of a picnic – at least that’s my opinion.

It is almost impossible to find out exactly what chemicals are used – fracking companies are protected from disclosure under trade exemptions. From the Internet I have learned that studies of waste have identified formaldehyde, acetic acids and boric acids among hundreds of others. 80-300 tons of chemicals may be used from a menu of 600 different chemicals, many of them Petroleum Distillates such as kerosene and diesel fuel (containing benzenes, ethylbenzene, toluene, naphthalene and others). To be fair apparently the fracking fluid used is 90% water, 9.5% standard sand and only the remaining 0.5% is the chemicals, which are largely acids intended to dissolve the rock and minerals so that the gas or oil released can be flushed to the surface.

Although it has only relatively recently come to prominence fracking has actually been around of more than 60 years. Despite local opposition, fracking, by the company Cuadrilla first took place near Blackpool, Lancashire in 2011 but was stopped for 7 years after causing an earth tremor of 2.3 magnitude. Lancashire County Council, as well as the local population opposed Cuadrilla’s plans to re-start but the UK Government forced permission through this year and fracking re-started in Lancashire within days, on 16th October 2018. Currently Cuadrilla are supposedly doing tests to assess whether or not full-scale gas extraction is viable but they have vowed to continue fracking.

Since the re-start there have been at least 33 earth tremors including 3 when drilling has had to be stopped as the tremors reached up to 1.1 magnitude on the Richter Scale. Currently UK law requires fracking to be paused if tremors of 0.5 or above are detected but Cuadrilla are arguing against this.

Fracking areas UK

Available fracking areas UK

So, let’s sum up; they start fracking, it causes earth tremors and they stop fracking, all is quite again, so they start fracking, it causes earth tremors so they stop. Then they start again, it causes tremors, and so on…is there a pattern here? What is the definition of stupidity? Ah…yes, it goes something along the lines of ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result’!

Currently 60% of the UK is being offered to fracking companies for exploration (see picture above), including National Parks, areas of special Scientific Interest and areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty as well as areas of high population. Utter madness!

Guy Fawkes Night

FireworksWhen I was a child we always had a bonfire and fireworks at home to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. Many other children from the neighbourhood came round to our house for the party and often brought their own boxes of fireworks with them too so the display went on for quite a long time, often in the cold and damp. There was always much excitement and anticipation as we waited for Dad to come home from work and have his dinner (we always had it on November 5th whatever day it fell on) before going to light the bonfire. We had spent days beforehand making the ‘Guy’ using Dad’s old clothes.

Today private parties such as this are frowned on as being dangerous, so people go to organised events, usually at the weekend before or after. Of course there were also organised displays then, at the weekend, but we still had our own on the actual night and never did we need to call out the fire or ambulance services, no-one ever got hurt. My Dad was very strict about the safety aspect. Also they were never so noisy in those days. Why does everything have to go off with such a loud bang now?

A few years ago, around this time of year, I was invited to go into a local school to run a workshop and read some of my poems. I hadn’t at that time written a poem for children about Guy Fawkes night and as this was my theme for the workshop I decided to write one for the occasion, remembering the bonfire night parties at home when I was a child.  Here it is:

Oh Light the Bonfire Please Dad

Oh light the bonfire please Dad,
It’s very nearly dark.
I know it’s cold and foggy
But I’m sure you’ll get a spark.

We made the Guy last weekend
With an old pair of trousers and shirt.
We painted the face on a paper bag,
(it looks like Uncle Bert).

My friends will all be here soon,
When they’ve had their tea.
Oh go and light the bonfire Dad,
So everyone can see.

The fireworks are ready Dad,
Mum’s locked them in the shed
And Sylvia from down the road
Will bring some more, she said.

I love the Roman Candles
And the Golden Rain,
The Sparklers and the Catherine Wheels
And others I can’t name,

There’ll be Rockets too and Bangers
And, just for a laugh,
I know you’ll light a ‘Rick-Rack’ thing
To chase me down the path.

Look, the fog is lifting,
I can almost see the moon
And there’s the doorbell ringing,
Please light the bonfire soon.

We’ve got our thickest clothes on,
We’re gathered on the lawn.
Please light the bonfire quickly
So it can keep us warm.

We’ll ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ and clap our hands,
It’s going to be such fun,
And then we’ll have some Parkin
And there’s soup to eat, with a bun.

So please light up the bonfire Dad,
And the fireworks too.
We won’t complain about the smoke,
Oh, light the bonfire, do!

© Elizabeth Leaper

Nothing to Write

The following word ramble is a bit of a stop-gap place holder really. We have been away for a few days and I have some catching up to do, especially as I didn’t even take my computer with me knowing that Internet access would be limited and it’s refreshing to have a break from the Internet every now and then.

We went down to our boat in the Motorhome on Wednesday for a routine check on it and give it a generally wash and clean as it is still unsold, then on Friday we moved on to a campsite up the coast a bit as we had a lunch engagement with a group of friends to go to on Saturday.

The time away was fairly low-key and we didn’t really do very much. The first couple of days while we were at the boat were quite mostly dry, sunny and fairly mild but cold at night. We had no access to electricity but we do have a heater that can use either electricity or gas so we able to keep warm. We took the tandem with us but only used it once, for a short ride around Burnham-on-Crouch (where the boat is currently based) and to do a bit of shopping – at a guess barely three miles. We had taken it thinking we might use it to visit my husband’s brother and his wife but in the event they came to us instead.

When we moved up the coast to Thorpe-le-Soken the weather changed, turning rather cold, windy and, by Saturday evening, very wet. We were glad that we had an electric hook up so were able to keep warm. A large chunk of Saturday was of course taken up with our lunchtime get-together – excellent company and a superb meal. However the result of this wonderfully relaxing few days away means that I have nothing to write about!

With winter coming on our trail rides will probably be few and far between now so cycling will be less of a focus for these ramblings of mine. I have in mind one or two other topics to write about but these will need some research. Perhaps I’ll get my act together by next week.

 

Flying Visit

Star Gazing Hare, CotswoldsLast week my daughter came over from her home in Spain to attend a course in the Lake District (not cycling related). She finished at lunchtime on Friday and wasn’t flying back until Sunday so with a couple of days to spare she was able to pay us a visit, which was wonderful and especially so as we didn’t know until almost the last-minute. She arrived mid-afternoon on Friday in her hire-car.

On Saturday morning we were able to fix her up with a bike (we’ve got plenty) and some cycling gear (she’s a similar size to me though taller and slimmer!) plus a spare helmet and, together with our youngest son we went off for a lovely bike ride in the morning. It was mild, fine and cool without being cold – a lovely Autumnal day. Our route took us around the lanes, through some local villages until we picked up the Stafford Greenway trail in Haughton and followed it along to Gnosal before once more taking to the lanes in order to return home. Becky had done the Stafford to Haughton stretch with us before (see here) so this was a new section for her. Maybe next time she’ll get to finish the trail!

The interesting thing about this bike ride is that daughter Becky (who blogs at Mad Cycling in the Midday sun), hubby and I all had cycle computers on our bikes and our son was using his Strava ap. – so when we got home and checked our mileage I made it 16.7 miles, Becky made it 17.9 and hubby made it 18.5. While hubby would like to believe his computer I think on balance mine might well be the correct reading since our son’s Strava ap. gave the same reading and since the ap. works on GPS ought perhaps to be the more accurate! It just shows how inaccurate these computers can be when there is a 2 mile discrepancy in the readings!

We finished off the day with the rest of the family – eldest son, daughter-in-law, grandson and youngest son’s girlfriend – enjoying an Indian take-away with us followed by apple crumble and custard for desert as requested by Becky, who obviously doesn’t get it very often back home in Spain. She left us again very early Sunday morning to catch her flight home from Liverpool airport.

Typically none of us thought to take any photos on our little bike ride so I have none to share with you, hence the handsome chap at the top of the page. The photo was taken in the grounds of the Cotswold Motor Museum at Bourton-on-the-Water, the venue for our ‘Old Pals’ reunion that I wrote about last week.

I later discovered from a free magazine that I picked up while we were there that he was part of the Cotswold Hare Trail. These hare sculptures were hidden around various villages in the Cotswolds and vary in size from five feet tall to less than nine inches. My chap is one of the five feet ones. The aim of the trail is to raise awareness of the Cotswolds AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). There were apparently 130 of them to find this year and anyone who found and recorded them all, taking a selfie with them, could enter a prize draw to win a blank five feet tall one to paint for themselves! This chap was the only one I found, and that was by accident as I was unaware of the existence of the trail. He actually seems to be from last year’s trail so was probably auctioned off then and is now a permanent fixture at his current location rather than being hidden. This year’s batch are due to be auctioned off this month.  Profits from the auction will be donated to Cotswold AONB projects.

White Horses

For as long as I can remember, when we were out and about, even when driving along in the car, if we passed a field with a white horse in it my mother would say “Bow to the white horse” and we all did. (Strictly speaking there is no such thing as a white horse as technically they are all greys.) This is a tradition I have always continued and today even when out cycling if we see a ‘white’ horse my husband is also primed to say it – “Bow to the white horse.” I never knew why my mother said this, I don’t think I ever asked, it was just something she said and we did. I don’t even know if she knew why or whether it was just something her mother said, and her mother before that and so on.

Lady Godiva Statue, Coventy

Lady Godiva Statue, Coventry. (Wiki)

When I was at secondary school we studied ‘Classical Mythology’ i.e. the myths and legends of the Greeks and Romans. It was only as I got older that I realised that here in the lands of the north we had our own mythologies – Norse, Anglo-Saxon and Celtic and I often wondered why we never learnt about those at school; myths that were surely more relevant to our own heritage. I know my father was interested, he had copies of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and the Heimskringla (Norse Sagas) but never passed on his knowledge to me, although I do now own his books and have taken an interest in these stories of our own tradition as I have grown older.

It was quite some years later that the ‘penny finally dropped’ as they say. References to white horses are everywhere in our lives and in our stories. Witness the number of pubs called ‘The White Horse’, our heroes are ‘knights in shining armour’ riding a white horse such as St. George, King Arthur and even the wizard ‘Gandalf in Lord of the Rings’. Lady Godiva rode a white horse through the streets of Coventry as recorded in the nursery rhyme “Ride-a-cock horse to Banbury Cross to see a fine lady ride on a white horse…”.

White Horse of Uffingham

White Horse of Uffingham (Wiki)

There is also Rhiannon of Welsh legend and we cannot forget the ‘White Horse of Uffingham’ an ancient chalk carving in the Vale of the White Horse, Oxfordshire. I could go on, the list is endless.

The White Horse is of course a reference to Epona, the Celtic goddess of horses and maybe also a fertility goddess, who often appeared as a white horse or is depicted as riding a white horse. Interestingly she is probably the only Celtic goddess who was retained by the Romans when they ruled the British Isles. Usually they either discarded the local gods and goddesses, absorbed them into their own equivalents or adopted them by giving them a Roman name. Bowing to the white horse is obviously a nod to the worship of this ancient goddess. My mother may well have known this or maybe not, but long may the tradition continue in my family.

York Cycle Rally

York Rally Badge 2018

I arrived home yesterday from my second consecutive weekend away at a cycling event. This time the York Rally, based at the racecourse in York. We just took the tandem to this event and we were surprised at just how many tandems were there. In fact there were bicycles off all sorts: tricycles, tandem tricycles, recumbent bikes – you name it and it was there.

What a wonderful weekend! More low-key than the Eroica Britannia last weekend, this was very much a leisurely family affair. There was so much going on it was difficult decide what to do.

There were various rides to go on from Friday evening pub rides to rides out of differing duration to visit interesting locations on both Saturday and Sunday. These often overlapped so some serious prioritising was necessary. Not being ones to frequent pubs very often we passed on the Friday evening offerings preferring to get ourselves organised on site and decide on our choices for the next day.

On top of that there was also lots of activities on site so there was no need to go off for a bike ride at all if you didn’t wish. These included trade stands, children’s activities, talks a bike jumble sale (known as the Saddlebag Sale), Grasstrack racing and Cyclo Cross.

Stopping for Lunch

Stopping for lunch at Benningborough

On Saturday we opted for what was described as “a gentle ride along the ‘Way of the Roses’ to the National Trust’s Benningborough  Hall” where we stopped for lunch. This was listed as being 9 miles each way but in fact was slightly more and as we detoured on the way back to shop for a few food items we had forgotten we ended up doing around 27 miles in total, mostly off-road through wonderful scenery.

The ride allowed us to return in time to attend the ‘Bicycle Poetry Workshop’ at 5.00pm led by Bernadette Cullen, a keen cyclist who was also poet in residence at Yorkshire Arboretum. She read some of her own poems and then gave us a few exercises to trigger our imaginations to come up with our own poems. Whilst I managed to write something for each of her prompts I failed miserably in the short time available (the whole workshop was only an hour) to produce anything resembling a logical poem, though there are one or two things in my jottings that I might be able to utilise in the days to come. In the evening we looked in on an excellent live folk music session with a group called The Foresters but it was crowded and hot so we only spent a short while peering in through the doorway.

On Sunday we joined a ride through the Solar System from the Sun to Pluto and back! This was another off-road ride along York’s Solar Cycle Path. Along this route there are models of the planets in the solar system set at the correct (to scale) distances apart as well as more wonderful scenery. When you arrive at Pluto there is even a sign that points to Alpha Centauri stating the appropriate number of light years! If you wished you could then cycle on a few more miles to visit a couple of villages. My husband decided he wanted to get back in case he missed the Saddlebag Sale so we made our own way back – a round trip of about 17.5 miles. Back at the sale he managed to pick up one or two ‘spare parts’ that he was looking for so it was worth the return, but he did miss the Q & A session on ‘Flying Gates and Framebuilding’ (Flying Gates being a rather unusual frame design) he had planned on attending, but as he had spoken to the people on their trade stand on Saturday this didn’t worry him too much. We had also intended to join in the Grand Arena Parade but somehow, through heat induced fatigue we missed that too.

An addition to the scheduled events was the landing of a hot air balloon in the early morning and then two also took off from the site in the evening, creating much interest.

This was a truly enjoyable family event and one we shall ear-mark in the diary for next year. Maybe we will get our eldest son and his family to join us – our grandson would love it.

Haul Out

I have previously mentioned here that we are selling our boat. Having owned various boats over the years we are now hanging up our oilskins to go roaming in our motorhome instead. In March I wrote about our final trip when we sailed round from our long-term home port to the marina where our yacht broker is situated. (You can refresh yourselves about it here.) At the time they were not able to haul the boat out of the water and onto the hard-standing so we knew we would have to go down again before too long to finish up cleaning and clearing out the boat.

‘Red Dawn IV’ has at last been taken out of the water and we are going down tomorrow for several days to sort it all out, although we may still need to go down from time to time  to check it over and keep it spotless.

While we are away I may or may not have a great deal of access to the Internet. There is WiFi at the marina but it can be unreliable so if I do not post anything over the next week don’t be surprised. If I can I will, but no promises. Normal service should resume next week!

In the meantime, if you are interested to find out all about our boat we have set up a little website to assist with the selling where there are plenty of photos. Check out https://reddawniv.wordpress.com.

Charity Bike Ride

Cycle Challenge Poster

Last year my husband and I entered a cycle challenge event in aid of our local Katherine House Hospice on our tandem. Imagine our surprise when we saw our picture on the posters and other advertising material for this year’s challenge. Well we just had to enter again didn’t we?

As you can see from the poster it took place yesterday. Last year was a rather chilly day, at least to start with and as you can see we had to wrap up warm. This year it was a different story, it was a hot day and we were able to wear shorts and short-sleeved tops from the off.

As usual for this event there was a choice of routes, from a 8 mile family fun route, a 20 mile mini route, a 45 mile midi route up to a 65 mile maxi route. Last year we did the midi route and this is the one we opted for again. We have a different tandem this year. Those who follow my blog regularly may remember that we took our old one, a Gitane, seen in the poster, out to our daughter in Spain last autumn having bought ourselves a better one, a locally built George Longstaffe – a Rolls Royce of tandems.

One of the advantages for us on this ride is that after the first 10 miles or so it passes within a few hundred yards of our home and so we took a slight detour for our first refreshment stop. Last year this is where we divested ourselves of some of our extra clothing as it had warmed up by then. We then returned to our point of departure from the route and continued on.

Tandem SignThe event is not a race so we took our time, enjoying the countryside, especially in view of my husband’s recent angina diagnosis, we didn’t want to push it too hard. A few miles further on from our home stop we had to make a detour from the event’s original planned route due to a road closure for resurfacing. This meant going down some rather narrow lanes one of which was dreadfully riddled with potholes and liberally sprinkled with gravel – neither much fun on a tandem and we felt that the sign my husband had decided to hang on the back of the bike was somewhat justified!

At one point we missed one of the route signs and went straight on instead of turning right, despite thinking that we should have made the turn. A bit further on we caught up to a group who had also missed the sign and after a brief discussion we agreed we needed to go back to the turning. This time we did notice the route sign on the corner but it was barely visible. We found out after the event that some of the signs had gone missing altogether and some had to be replaced by the organisers.

Our next stop was at a canal-side café where we had stopped for lunch last year. This time we were rather early for lunch and it was very crowded as there was a canal-side festival going on, the fine and sunny weather making it an attractive local event, so we had a quick stop for some of the drink and snacks we had with us and used their facilities for a comfort break before continuing on. About 10 miles from the finish we stopped again at a local farm park where they make their own ice-cream; we felt we deserved a treat (and another comfort break). This stop was longer than intended as there was a very long queue for the excellent ice-cream. Thus refreshed we set off for the final leg back to the Hospice.

It was a very enjoyable ride, despite being hot and sweaty and we both caught the sun, now having red lines showing where our shorts and sleeves came to! There were a number of hills to struggle up – some were short and punchy, others more of a long drag and the last two or three I could have really done without as the heat got to us a bit, but nothing we couldn’t manage without too much difficulty. Our two or three detours, due to home visits, road-works and missing signs meant that we went the extra mile completing 46 miles rather than the 45 stated as the route length. Again we received a rather nice badge for our achievement so now all that we need to do is collect in some of the still outstanding sponsor money we have been promised and hand it in to the Hospice. Then perhaps we will do it all again next year.

Fire

Our back garden is a sort of fat, reversed  ‘L’ shape. Imagine it as a square with one neighbour’s property sitting in one quarter of the square and the other quarter of that half shares a boundary with us and  their neighbour on the other side, who is therefore our neighbour for the bottom part of his plot. Got it?

Anyway,  many years ago this second property used to be an old telephone exchange but has for some considerable time been out of commission and the grounds have become considerably overgrown. Recently this property has been sold and the new owner intends to build an eco-house on the plot. We have been clearing our side of the boundary and erecting a new fence. This has been something of a long job over the winter due to illness, weather and other causes.

Preparatory to building his house the new owner, who is temporarily living in the house on the other side of his plot, which will subsequently be sold, has been clearing much of the overgrown vegetation and removing some dead and otherwise obstructive self-set trees and shrubs. There are also on his plot two very wide and tall evergreen trees which actually take a lot of the morning sun from our property and we had privately been hoping he would remove these but leave some of the other smaller trees. However, he wishes to keep them! It’s his plot, his decision. I suspect he is keen to keep the privacy they will give to his house from the main road that runs along the bottom of his plot (and alongside our garden). He had been burning much of this cut vegetation on a bonfire on a cleared area near the fir trees.

One evening about ten days ago I was at the our kitchen window whilst preparing dinner and happened to glance out. I noticed a pall of dark grey smoke rising from where his bonfire had been and assumed he had re-lit it. Suddenly a great gout of flame shot up the two fir trees. I called to my husband and son that our neighbour would need help and we ran out to assist. Fortunately we had not yet fitted the last new fence panel in the top corner so had access to the neighbour’s plot. I immediately started filling buckets with water. The neighbour was there but his hose wouldn’t reach from the next door property so he was also filling buckets. We have two hoses, so my husband and son connected these together, which fortunately reached across our garden, through the fence gap to the trees and with this and buckets of water we proceeded to attack the fire, which had begun to spread to other small trees and hedging.

Another neighbour. we were told, had phoned the fire brigade. Now, we have a local fire station a few minutes round the corner but no, they decided to send one from the main town, some nine miles away, through rush-hour traffic and road-works – presumably because our local station is a voluntary one and they would have to call the men out. Even so, I’m sure it would still have been quicker. By the time the fire brigade arrived we had pretty well extinguished the fire and all they needed to do was spend a few minutes making sure we had damped it down properly.

It turns out that our neighbour had not burned anything on the bonfire site for about three days and he had earlier that evening spread out the ashes. Obviously the fire had not completely died out or cooled down sufficiently during that time and by spreading the ashes he had allowed the breeze to rekindle the flames. The two fir trees have survived although they have lost a fair bit of greenery and smaller branches, but we can now at least see daylight through the previously dense growth!

The moral of this story is, as any Girl Guide or Boy Scout could have told him, that you should always keep a bucket of water close at hand and make sure your fire is well and truly out before you leave it. Thankfully there was no serious harm done but it could have been a lot worse – it doesn’t bear thinking about!

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