Sunday, May 19, 2013

40 Shades of Green

I love this time of year - the garden looks so fresh and green. New shoots are coming up everywhere and on a day like today there is no better place to be than the garden - the sun is warm but not intense, the insect life - though vital - is not yet making its presence felt (yes, butterflies - okay, but who needs those pesky wasps and ants?) and the seeds you planted way back when are beginning to appear. Planning what to have in the garden is fun but not as much fun as seeing it all start to flourish. My garden is tiny but this year I was determined to plant more things to eat, so I've put in a gooseberry bush - much to the consternation of number one son ('mmm....very tart, gooseberries'), and also a blackcurrant bush - both of these remind me of my childhood - one summer when I was about 14 I went  blackcurrant picking and it took me all week to earn enough to buy myself some shoes! The gooseberry - well, that reminds me of my granddad's vegetable garden. He worked on a farm and had all manner of things in the enormous vegetable patch behind the house. I've also invested in some tomato plants, some onions, carrots, peas, lettuce, chillies, peppers and all manner of herbs.  Today I had lunch outside and sat for half an hour or so and admired my handiwork. This year is going to be a good year. 


Friday, May 17, 2013

Ludlow Races

Ludlow is a beautiful town on the Shropshire/Herefordshire border with some lovely architecture including the old butter market building built in 1744 and known as the Butter Cross. The town also boasts many historical black and white timber framed buildings  and one of the finest examples of a medieval castle in England: the events organised at the castle will transport you back to medieval times -  castle tours, story telling, jousting, falconry displays and medieval games. The town has also become something of a gastronomic hub with many fine restaurants and two food festivals, one held in spring and another in autumn. Ludlow also has an arts festival in June - so plenty to keep you occupied, but my interest last week lay just outside the town at the racecourse for the last day of the jumping season. Ludlow Racecourse is, as you would expect for a small town - well, small! But it has everything - a beautiful old grandstand, private boxes with viewing balconies atop, a big screen so that you can follow every minute of the race, burger vans and hot drinks stalls, a members' marquee where the well-heeled were enjoying a three course dinner, bookies dotted about plying their trade, even some live music (well, I think they were alive!) but, most importantly, some beautiful racehorses and some brave jockeys for us to watch - even the Champion Jockey, Tony McCoy, was in action (yes, of course he won). It was a fine May evening (well, till it rained!) Anyway, here are some photos to remember it by.  

Monday, May 13, 2013

The May Fair

The May Fair comes to the city of Hereford for three days immediately after the May Day Bank holiday and disrupts the traffic from Tuesday to Thursday. Of course, anyone who knows how awful the traffic jams in Hereford are will be laughing out loud! After all, the ring round doesn't go round the city - it goes straight through the middle of it!

Everyone knows that when you are a child things seem bigger than they really are, but in the case of the Fair, when I was a child  - a mere 50 years ago - it really was a lot bigger. From the top of Aylestone Hill, the main road into town from Worcester, you could see the lights from all the rides and the candy floss and burger stalls and what seemed like the entire population of Hereford out enjoying themselves. First stop was Stonebow Road where there was a huge car park - here they always had a boxing ring  alongside all the other attractions, as well as a stage with dancing girls 'a la Tiller' . The Big Wheel and the Helter Skelter were always opposite the boxing ring at the railway station end of Commercial Road, with the Wall of Death, along with a ride whose name escapes me, but it entailed standing inside a big cylinder against the wall - the cylinder then began to spin and as it gained momentum, the ceiling went up and the floor went down and when it was going fast enough you were pinned against the wall - and we called this fun! The Fair snaked its way right through the town and every year there was some new ride to try - it hadn't been a good night unless you'd scared yourself witless and your insides had practically become your outsides. All ages were catered for -  for a few pennies little tots could try their hand at hooking a plastic duck  - the prize? usually a goldfish in a bag. Older lads loved to show off to their mates aiming an air rifle at a row of moving targets, or knocking a coconut off its perch - were they  glued on? it always seemed so!  You couldn't go home until you had bought a toffee apple or some candy floss or a burger, and a must-have item was a tosty  ball - a ball filled with sawdust which, if I remember rightly, was attached to a stick. Its purpose? Your guess is as good as mine! Personally, me and my two brothers used to see if we could hit each other with them until they exploded (bit like conkers only not quite so painful!)

Years ago there was such anticipation of the arrival in town of the May Fair - it was one of the highlights, like our annual trip to the seaside. Everyone went to the Fair, the streets were packed and the  atmosphere was great. Now it seems that young people are either a lot more sophisticated or there's better entertainment to be had elsewhere. Some of the traditional rides have endured - the Dodgems, the Waltzers, the Ghost Train and the Big Wheel, but this year when I had a wander round, occasionally it looked as if the Martians had landed - in a bid to give their customers bigger thrills there were rides like The Terminator and Freak Out! I don't think it will be long before the Fair disappears altogether, which is why I took a few photos for posterity.      

Friday, February 17, 2012

Viaje en globo

Hace un par de años mi hijo y yo hicimos un viaje en globo por los cielos de Cataluña. La aventura empezó en el pueblo de  Igualada, al noroeste de Barcelona. Allí nos reunimos con el piloto y su ayudante en una tarde soleada de verano. Se pusieron en seguida a sacar todo el equipo de dos vehículos todoterreno -  la barquilla, la tela que formaría el globo una vez inflado con aire caliente, muchas cuerdas y las cámaras de gas. El piloto, un ex-soldado muy experimentado, quería que nos involucráramos de lleno en los preparativos, asique nos explicó detalladamente el proceso.

¡Manos a la obra! 

Extendimos la tela, acoplamos la barquilla, y con la barquilla volcada en la tierra, el piloto encendió el gas para hacer el llenado inicial.

Yo no sé si este piloto  despega siempre del mismo sitio pero en esta ocasión llamamos la atención de todos los niños del pueblo  -  habíamos invadido su parque y lo ocupamos durante una hora larga.

El globo, engalanado con el nombre del pueblo en letras gigantes, cogió forma y nuestro piloto dio la orden de subir a la barquilla en cuanto ésta se pusiera en pie. ¡RAPIDOS! Ya dentro de ella  solo faltaba soltar las cuerdas que anclaban el globo al parachoques del todoterreno. Esto se hizo sin demora y flotamos suavemente hacia un cielo raso de un azul intenso. Cuando llegas arriba experimentas una sensación de paz y tranquilidad de lo más inesperado. Hay un silencio absoluto y parece que no te mueves, pero mirando la tierra, que de repente se ve muy lejos, registras un panorama cambiante de cosas diminutas - coches, campos sembrados y parcelas geométricas , animales que parecen puntitos, casas, piscinas y carreteras -  y lo curioso es que todo parece muy limpio y muy ordenado.  

¡Es cosa de hombres!  A los tres hombres que viajaban en el globo les fascinaba el quemador de gas - de vez en  cuando hacía falta abrirlo para  calentar el aire dentro del globo, manteniendo así la altura.
 Yo, la verdad, prefería mirar el paisaje.  

Pero todo lo que suba tiene que bajar y esto me tenía un poco preocupada. Llegó la hora del descenso - ¿qué remedio? - y nuestro piloto empezó a otear el terreno para encontrar un sitio adecuado para aterrizar. Bajamos despacito, evitando los árboles y cables eléctricos,  pero de repente apareció el dueño del campo elegido, agitando las manos y gritando un inequívoco '¡NO! AQUÍ NO BAJÁIS'. Volvimos a cobrar altura  y entonces divisamos otro campo - levemente inclinado y arado - perfecto, porque la esquina de la barquilla dio justo en uno de los surcos y allí paramos en seco. Mi pesadilla de ir todos arrastrados por el viento durante medio kilómetro,  tirados todos patas arriba en el fondo de la barquilla, que iba botando por el suelo,  dando golpes violentos...............bueno, como veis por la foto eso solo ocurrió en mi pesadilla.


Monday, February 13, 2012

A year or so ago we took a balloon ride over the skies of Cataluña. Our pilot drove us to a small town called Igualada to the north west of Barcelona, his crew following us with all the equipment - acres of lightweight yellow and black material which formed the balloon canopy, the basket, gas cylinders and a lot of rope. The experience includes helping to lay out the balloon, fill it with gas and then hop in to the basket before they untether it and you float up into a clear blue sky.

So here we are, strectching the balloon canopy out on the grass of a local park. The obliging townsfolk were well used to this and before we'd finished we had attracted the attention of all the local children who gave us a noisy send-off.

The picture below is a view from inside the balloon with the basket lying on its side. Our instructions were to leap into the basket once the balloon was fully inflated  - once inflated the basket rights itself - last one in is a cissy (and more to the point would have to wave goodbye as the rest of us sailed skyward).

Things are taking shape!!

Whilst the balloon is being inflated it is firmly tethered with guy ropes to something solid - in this case the bumpers of the support vehicles - two whacking great 4 x 4s. If the wind gets up, it all starts to get a bit unwieldy, but we were lucky - only a couple of hairy moments.

Our pilot encouraged a very hands-on approach - he got us 
involved with every stage of this fascinating (if slightly scary) 
process - like here - having a go at igniting the gas - this produced a really loud roaring noise - a bit worrying when you're not used to it!

But as you can see below, eventually we were ready and the command to untie the guy ropes was issued, we waved goodbye to the excited collection of local kids whose play area we had invaded for over an hour on this balmy Spanish evening, and away we went.

The views were fantastic - like this Dinky toy red tractor ploughing a vast field, or the geometrical plots of houses we floated over, with their swimming pools and vegetable plots and flower gardens.

But the landing was always my biggest concern - I didn't really relish the thought of being dragged along the ground at speed at the mercy of an out of control giant balloon - like you see in the films. Our first attempt had to be aborted - our pilot had his eye on a nice level field, and after negociating the telegraph wires and big trees on the descent he was refused permission to land by a very irate little Spaniard who was jealously guarding his crop (of weeds!) So we went up again, carefully avoiding those power cables. The driver of the support vehicle, who had been tracking us, hared along the road in pursuit. Our man then spied a ploughed field and headed straight for it . 'Mmm ........' I thought,  'looks a bit bumpy' , but actually the field was on a gradient and this worked in our favour because the edge of the basket just caught nicely in one of the furrows and anchored us immediately to the spot. All smiles!