Our Travel blog
Tuesday 11 October – Thursday 13 October
Okay, let us get this entry over with in a hurry. It hasn’t been our finest few days. Alison had a relapse of the virus that’s been haunting her for a while. It hit her hard and she spent much of Tuesday in bed. We went to Shallowford on Wednesday but although the change of air and company helped it’s been a difficult few days for her. Nevertheless we joined in with the garden working party and generally pottered about. I even got to drive the tractor.
On Thursday I had an interview in Leek, for a job I’d applied for before being offered work at Shallowford. Thus early in the morning I was trying to remember how to do up a tie and generally attempting to look respectable. I emerged from the interview after an hour and a half mentally exhausted but pleased enough with my performance to warrant treating Alison to a baked potato lunch in Leek. Never let it be said that I don’t know how to treat a lady. The illusion of a cool, calm and debonair man-about-town crumbled when it came time to pay and I realised the café didn’t accept cards and I was ‘light’ of cash. I left Alison as security while I popped next door to the cash machine and returned to find her swapping life stories with our host. I eventually hauled her away and back to our borrowed car and to Shallowford where Alison took a nap to try and shake off the symptoms of her virus. I donned my work clothes and made a token effort to join in the gardening, casually appearing just as they wandered in for tea and cake, for which I enthusiastically joined them.
Later I took a call to let me know I wasn’t successful, although the feedback was generous and kind. I’d missed out to the person who was offered the position by 2 points. Which on reflection may be good or not. If it was 2 points out of a possible 100 then I don’t feel too bad. If I was 2 behind out of 3 then maybe I wasn’t so proficient after all. Anyway, it has all worked out for the best. It means Alison and I can work together in one place, I won’t need to commute and the tie can be consigned to the back of my underwear drawer again.
I’ve never really understood the purpose of a tie. It can certainly look smart, affording decorum to a gentleman’s attire for formal occasions. But as everyday wear it seems odd. Like a fabric arrow pointing to one’s willy or often in my case a kind of formal bib. In the days when I wore one regularly I seriously considered getting my ties laminated so that they’d last longer than a week without the pattern being obscured by food debris or serrated by the shredder. And of course in an office environment the wearing of ties opens a window to the soul of your colleagues. You get the plain, sombre tie wearers, the fashionistas with their huge or skinny knots as fashion dictates, the work experience lad with his nylon school shirt and a tie he’s borrowed from his dad; it’s probably brown with a pattern like 1970’s wallpaper. Then there’s the old boy in accounts who’s worn the same suit for 20 years and who dusts off his racy Christmas tie with the sad little faded reindeer on that is wearing 20 years’ worth of mince pie crumbs and smelling of moth balls and spilt mulled wine. And then, worst of all is the office worker who wears silly ties with adolescent comic book motifs, little cars or Disney characters on to show he’s a bit of a laugh and not the sad sack of disenchanted frustration with an unrequited crush on Sally in Administration that he really is. Ties, pah says I.
Meanwhile Alison continues to make a slow recovery and tomorrow we leave for our last adventure on the road for this year when we head to Wool in Dorset to see my sister and brother-in-law. From there we plan to mooch around in Mavis wherever the mood takes us, with a final stint of house sitting in Suffolk and then up to Shallowford to start work. I’ll continue with the blog until we get there.
Friday 14 October
We rose early in order to get away and off to Dorset in good time. The biggest distraction on our long and largely featureless journey was the colours. The A40 was particularly blessed by autumn, with large strands of trees, their foliage shaded in rich auburns and russets, golden green and pale lemon, studded with the occasional deep green conifer. Larger woods on the hillsides were spectacular, reflecting the colours of the surrounding ploughed fields with dark browns and yellows at their edges and deeper greens within the dense woodland yet to feel the full chill of the autumn air.
Our site in Wool is very nice; clean and with pleasant views over open meadows to the north. The occasional parp of a train’s horn is the only distraction to an otherwise tranquil little spot on the outskirts of the village. Wool sits inland from popular Lulworth Cove and just south of the River Frome, which flows under a lovely 16th Century 5-arch stone bridge and passed the slightly newer Woolbridge Manor. The Manor was the fictional setting for the honeymoon of Angel Clare and Tess in Thomas Hardy’s book Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I don’t wish to spoil the plot but their nuptials were ill-fated; suffice to say Angel really was an ass.
We took a walk around the village and it’s an interesting mix. The west is mostly newer buildings, faceless offices and the old Ship Inn. Between them we walked along a road of anonymous bungalows and tidy houses, passed the library and sports field and into the older part of the village with its pretty thatched cottages, squat Holy Rood Church and imposing Black Bear pub. Spring Street, so named I assume because the name Wool derives from the Saxon for Well, has a bubbling little brook running beside it, the cottage gardens accessed over miniature bridges. Further up, the road divides and Church Lane leads gently up to the church, passed plenty of examples of the thatcher’s art as the lane twists and narrows to a farm track on the edge of the village. Along here it is easy to imagine the world of Thomas Hardy, who lived and wrote extensively about Dorset. Well, easy if you remember you are not up to your knees in mud and horse manure, the cottages now have running water and inside plumbing and you’ve a good chance of surviving childhood but, you know, all that aside its very ‘Hardyesque.’
I’m no Hardy scholar; I think I might have owned a copy of The Mayor of Casterbridge once in a vain attempt to look serious. It probably sat on the bookshelf beside a load of other ‘classics’ I had no intention of reading. Alison though is more familiar with his works and tells me he was something of a serious social commentator, raising issues and injustices of the day through his writing in a way that didn’t win him many friends at the time, at least not from among the class of people he was criticising. Good for him I say. And on that note it’s time to retire for tomorrow we have a long awaited reunion.
Saturday 15 October
We got up late. The rain last night kept us awake so we felt justified. Rain usually isn’t a problem in Mavis but here we are partly under trees so the usual gentle rhythm of the rain was punctuated by irregular staccato bursts of drops falling from the branches. Still, after the rain had cleared a gentle watery sunshine melted away the gloom and we took a walk around the older part of Wool and up to the abandoned farm of Wood Street, weaving in and out of the rather becoming Cole Wood along the way. The paths here are worn smooth as they rise and fall through the tangle of the trees. The woods are at once tamed by the path and wild and unspoilt away from it. Thickets of briars nestle in glades and occasional small Fir trees sprout like dark green interlopers amongst the mulch and wilting autumnal leaves. We emerged from the dark woods into brilliant sunlight from where we traced a B road along a marshy lowland and then back up along a forestry road in the woods to emerge, completely by chance, back on the outskirts of Wool in time to stroll back and ensure that we were safely snuggled up in Mavis before the rains started again.
Okay, this next passage may not be for the squeamish. Access to the shower block here is controlled by an entry code, which for convenience I keep in my phone case. After a shave this evening I went for, let’s call it a ‘sit down’ followed by a shower. Unrobing in the shower cubicle I couldn’t locate my phone so put my trousers back on and retraced my steps, with increasing urgency as it wasn’t anywhere to be found. I appeared to be the only person in the shower block and had clearly had it with me to gain access. On my fourth retracing of my visits I became aware of a curious weight in the pants department as I bent down to look behind the toilet bowl, just in case it had fallen there. I had a flashback to being 3 years old at nursery and having one of ‘those’ accidents. I was just investigating this curious phenomenon when someone else came in; someone who may be traumatised by the sight of a topless middle aged man scurrying into a shower cubicle with one hand down his trousers retrieving his phone from his underpants. Truth be told I was slightly disappointed no one chose that moment to call me as I had it on vibrate.
Still, a minor compensation was exiting the shower block to see a perfect vivid rainbow arched right over the site, one end illuminating the ancient stone walls of Woolbridge Manor, the other rather less poetically the railway bridge. Shortly afterwards we were picked up by my brother-in-law and sister and whisked away to an evening of fine food, good beer and convivial chat. I mentioned earlier in this blog that my sister and I had been separated by distance and to some extent misunderstanding for many years so after our emotional reunion in April this was an opportunity to reignite our friendship and start to re-build confidence in our relationship.
Sunday 16 October
After a great evening yesterday we’ve been invited to Sunday dinner at my sister’s. Clearly we didn’t embarrass ourselves, which is unusual when food and I get together, especially if food’s cousin alcohol joins us at the table. Still, after another slightly disturbed night thanks again to the rain we had a late breakfast in Mavis and pondered the state of the world, as one does.
Part of our motivation was a couple of appalling comments some mindless numbskulls made on social media. Exhibit A concerns comments under a heart rending piece on the deteriorating situation in Aleppo and the awful casualties children are suffering there. The comments in question were along the ‘what about the children in America, shouldn’t we direct our resources to help them first?’ lines. To which the obvious answer is no. You live in the richest nation on earth, a country that has over 200 brands of breakfast cereal on the supermarket shelves and you think you cannot afford to help people in Syria? By help I don’t mean buy them a colouring book or give them a better choice of candy bars. I mean save their lives. Let’s spell that out. Stop them from dying in appalling pain in the streets, writhing in agony because the grown-ups are bombing the fuck out of the country.
We concluded that actually we haven’t done anything practical to help either. No amount of shares and likes on social media will help anyone directly, no earnest discussions over the toast and coffee will right any wrongs. We have donated a sum to Doctors without Borders, because they are there on the ground, doing what they can in incredibly difficult circumstances. It’s a paltry amount in the grand scheme of things, but when we can choose between jam and marmite for our toast then we have to consider ourselves well off in comparison with people living in a war zone and every little helps.
Of course where one chooses to donate their loose change is entirely a free and personal choice. It’s not that there aren’t plenty of worthy causes on our doorstep. My issue is not with the individual choice but with the thoughtless assertion that somehow the life of a Syrian child is worth less than whatever unspecified cause at home that they think more important, and probably don’t bother donating to anyway. And talk of thoughtless comments brings me to exhibit B. Recently an Eritrean man was run over and killed by a British holiday maker in Calais. Apparently the man was erecting a road block, and I have no idea of his status, whether he was a refugee, economic migrant, fleeing persecution or whatever. He may have been up to no good, he may have been desperate; the point is whatever way you look at it, it’s a tragedy. Through a desperate or foolish act a mother has lost a son, a man has been killed. At that point surely a civilised response, the response of a mature first world nation, is to stop name calling and persecution, to pause, reflect and to mourn the loss of a life. Instead the baying mob of Daily Mail on-line commenters went into full-on gloating mode, celebrating the death of a human being with a tirade of gleeful posts. “Good, pity it’s only one”, “wife’s alive? Good, make her pay for a new bumper” and “run them all over….” It’s this mob mentality that so divides the world. One doesn’t have to condone irresponsible behaviour to be moved by its consequences. The irony is that a lot of these keyboard warriors consider themselves Christians. The line of The Mail is that this is a Christian country and our Christian values need protecting and preserving. It’s a perverted self-serving version of scripture that is not even remotely based on love and compassion. Baying for the blood of perceived ‘enemies’ is not the mark of a civilised faith or patriotic country, it’s the rhetoric of a de-humanising fascist ‘Might, White and Right’ ideology.
When we start thinking of some people as being less worthy of our help, love and respect and we start treating them as 2nd class citizens then we’re heading towards an abyss, a cliff edge where the disabled and infirm are considered a hindrance; where the mechanics of organised opposition are outlawed and where it becomes acceptable to divide people into the worthy and unworthy; where the ugly philosophy of eugenics starts to gain traction and where we start dividing people by nationality, race, creed, sexual preferences and ability; who knows, maybe we could oblige them to wear a neat little triangle or star for easy identification?
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
 Pastor Martin Niemöller
In an odd case of serendipity one of the photos we took to show my sister showed my parents and me visiting my gran, aunts and cousin. I was wearing a ‘Rock Against It’ badge – a homemade rip off of the Rock Against Racism (RAR) badge I was prevented from wearing for school at the time. According to the school authorities, rocking against ‘It’, whatever ‘It’ was, was acceptable but specifying racism wasn’t okay, because, as I was told at the time “one has to consider both sides Raymond. If we allow the wearing of RAR merchandise we have to allow racist badges, and you wouldn’t want that now would you?”
I was a meek child and allowed this to go unchallenged, my passive resistance being the fashioning of my ‘It’ badge. Inside though I screamed at him…”Allow it, why? We have to have some lines in the sand to preserve our democracy you pointless wet middle class excuse for a teacher. Surely we need some positions where we draw the line. If I wore a Rock against Rape badge would you ask me to remove it lest someone wore a Rape is Fun one? Rape is wrong, there’s no counter argument, no justification, its rape. Likewise racism is wrong. There is no defence. Our fathers fought for a democracy that has rights and freedoms; with them comes the burden of responsibility. Sometimes that responsibility needs to be reinforced. I shouldn’t need to make my anti-racism position clear but sadly the fascists are gaining traction again. It is time to stand up and be counted.”
Of course I wasn’t anything like as eloquent as that at the time (if indeed that was eloquent, which I doubt), but that was the gist of my argument, filtered through the intervening 48 years. The world is still chaotic and troublesome, we have many issues to grapple with that require intervention, many injustices that we must face, and we should face them with heart, compassion and reasoned debate. Let’s not revisit the dark days of Mosley’s blackshirts (incidentally lauded at the time by none other than The Daily Mail) or the National Front that prompted the formation of RAR, nor should we tolerate todays quasi-fascist parties or indeed the revolting keyboard warriors who fuel the click-baiting Mail on-line. When we devalue a human life to the point of ridicule the only people who benefit are the fascist enemies of democracy.
Goodness that was a bit of a tirade. Now that’s out of my system lets return to what passes for normality around here. To lighten the mood I can report that we went off to meet my family, including a niece I haven’t seen for years, we were made very welcome and had a super time. And Alison fell over a dog. I only mention it because it the sort of thing that usually happens to me.
Monday 17 October
We were up and away this morning to make the most of a sunny gap between showers to meander our way along the highways and byways to the rather plush Henley-on-Thames. On the way I pondered upon some of those odd sayings that pass between us that, taken out of context, sound decidedly odd. This morning’s crop included these bon-mots; “have you never tickled an elf?” and “that’s a REALLY attractive field.” I’m wondering if the first one would be a good title for the book.
It so happens that Henley is where my sister and brother-in-law spent a lot of time in their courting days so it’s a nice link to our stay with them, although we chose it for the more pragmatic reasons of having a voucher for a free night and for its proximity to London where we are off to for a gig and bit of a wander tomorrow. The Catherine Wheel public house where they passed more than a few evenings is still busy. Now a Wetherspoons, it was a handy refuge for us when we’d walked in from the nearby Henley Caravan Club site. Once stuffed full of cheap and cheerful fare we wandered around the town centre. It’s very comely in a twee well-to-do kind of way. The prices in the estate agents windows made our eyes water but the views along the Thames were splendid and the sight of a vivid rainbow sinking into the autumnal trees on the opposite bank was truly breath-taking.
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