The brink of an abyss

It was a normal day of mundane chores and I had been going through the weekly shopping routine when my phone rang. It was Kate. “Hi, are you okay” I said.

Shock quickly gripped me and a stunned look shrouded my face. Cold panic ensued freezing me to the spot.

“I need to talk to you. Something has happened”. Her voice was serious yet showed a hint of apprehension.

“Okay, what is it”? She had my attention.

“I can’t tell you over the phone. Just come home as soon as you can”. And with that the call ended.

I finished my shopping but with a constant nagging sense of dread in the back of my mind that was about to be revealed like a Jack-in-the-box.

I got home and then Kate looked at me. “I’m pregnant”!

That was the Mike Tyson knock out punch. Shock quickly gripped me and a stunned look shrouded my face. Cold panic ensued, freezing me to the spot. I had metaphorically, had an out of body experience. Then when the realisation took back control returning me back from the brink of an abyss I smiled at her and we hugged.

“Christ…four kids and two adults in a three bedroom house. It’s going to be crowded; things need doing, DIY, getting baby stuff, and baby proofing the house”. I was in overdrive.

Television is for entertainment, keep your hands in your pockets…

Several weeks later and I’m still reeling from the news. We decided to tell the children. My daughters were on board with the news straight away. My son however, being the youngest at first rejected the idea. “Why did you tell me now” he protested.

“Well when did you want us to tell you”? I said

With all seriousness he responded “Not for a few years at least”!

I couldn’t help but try to hold in my laughter. “I think you would notice by then”.

“How long have you known”? he quizzed.

“Oh, for a few weeks but we don’t tell anybody until 12 weeks” Kate said

“Oh no”! he cried “You knew and you didn’t tell me”? he cried even more contradicting his earlier statement “You lied to me”!

My eldest daughter interjected “Think of the baby as a gift from God”.

“Well, God can have his gift right back, I don’t want it!”. He curled up in a foetal position, his hand shielding his face and wept.

He cried and protested for about two hours, which I guessed would be his reaction. His fear of not being the baby of the family and he said he wouldn’t be loved as much anymore. It was upsetting to watch him going through all the emotions and to come to grips with the news that in his eyes had “ruined his life”. But we reassured him and now he can’t wait to tell everybody he’s going to be a big brother. My agreement with him is that anytime he feels left out, feeling sad or unloved in any way, he can come to us and we will be there. It seemed a turning point for him. He wants to be part of the whole process now.

I guess without the crying my initial reaction was a similar version of his; shock and awe. A child has no previous experience of handling this and either he was going to implode or explode as his mind tried to rationalise the concept of a new baby in the family.

As I recall we are still at a stage of “ooo, that’s nice news” later the “oh what a lovely baby” before we get to a later stage of everyone sending us glares of contempt at us in a shop because we have the uncontrollable screaming baby throwing a screaming fit. As Jeff Goldblum said “Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and um, screaming”. For now we will enjoy the “ooo, that’s nice news” stage and roll with the punches as they come.

So I’ve got busy times ahead of me. Financially, I will just need to be a bit more thrifty. The news is still fresh and planning needs to be a fun part of the experience. The hospital class Kate as a geriatric mum to be. Something she doesn’t like. She’s 41 and there are risks in “older” women having children. I’m hoping everything goes smoothly and as one person has said to me. “Television is for entertainment, keep your hands in your pockets from now on”. Damn right!


Wales adder bite hotspot

I knew the UK had wild snakes but I wasn’t aware that we had  Adder’s in Wales that bite!

Apparently getting bitten is a rare occurrence but as the numbers are on the increase due to warmer weather, more reports are appearing of hikers getting bitten. So I thought I would share a link from the BBC which includes a quick “what to do if you get bit by an Adder”. (2012 report) (2016 report)

New Gear!

I was bought a new tarp by DD Hammocks (3x3m) back in February this year and I have just had chance to set it up. I chose two configurations. However, even though I have many trees in my garden, none were suitable to hang a ridge line correctly. In fact, I had to use my conservatory window as one anchor point so I couldn’t put too much torque on the ridge line. Never mind, I wanted to see how easy it was to set up and thought I would share it with you.(10 pegs, two walking poles and a ridge line were used and pitching took around 5 minutes).


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I’ve also had a Thermarest Ridgerest SOLite and self inflating air bed; the Alpkit Airo 180 (, which I haven’t field tested yet but I could still feel a lot of reflected body heat while lying on them in my front room.

Finally, in my last post I touched on the large purchase of my new backpack; the Osprey Atmos AG65 (, featuring the Anti-gravity suspension. Which helps lift the weight of the pack away from your back. I’ve only tested it out once on a 10 mile hike and I only had issues with my Osprey 3L reservoir bladder (separate purchase). The water kept running back up the tube and back into the bladder, leaving the tube empty. An annoyance at the time but I think it was my issue rather than the Osprey bladder. Further testing is needed!

With any luck, I will get to use this new gear  in Wales and the Lake District this year. I already have maps for Snowdon National Park and the English Lakes and some hikes picked out. Just comes down to a positive mental attitude to get up and go!

Road Trips of Exploration

I have been busy this month travelling around on what Kate refers to as our road trips of exploration (RTE). This is where Kate points to a place on a map,we get in the car and go and explore.  I even managed to squeeze in my usual 10 mile hike wearing my new backpack the Osprey Atmos AG 65.

The focus of the first RTE began in the town of Shrewsbury. Unfortunately, on all the RTE’s  I didn’t take many photo’s. Only one or two. Which is odd for me.

Shrewsbury is the county town of Shropshire on the river Severn and founded in the 9th century. With a sandstone castle (not sure this would stand heavy bombardment) and Abbey it is historically known for its wool trade and brewing. Okay, those are some of the facts but what was the actual experience like? For starters, the people are very friendly as you would expect from the West Midlands (slightly bias opinion as I also live in the West Midlands). The town is fairly large with old looking buildings lining the streets and supplying high quality products from chocolate to camping gear. A ukulele group of around 20 people play Octopus’s Garden  by The Beatles (probably the worst Beatles song in my opinion)  to the hustle an bustle of the Market. The Market were selling home produce. Cakes, chocolate, nougat, art and I have to say the nougat was excellent covered in blackberries and raspberries.

Shrewsbury Market

Walking around ends up with the need to stop for a cool pint. So we chose Cromwell’s Inn. The beer and food are outstanding with great service. Everything seems to be home-made not brought in from a factory from the  far stretches of the country frozen and then reheated . I couldn’t fault it.

Okay, so as I’ve done a few RTE’s I will move onto the next destination. Gloucestershire.

Gloucestershire Cathedral

Gloucestershire is a county in the South West of England on the border with Wales comprising part of the Cotswold Hills and part of the River Severn valley and the entire Forest of Dean. Known for it’s timber, silk weaving and agriculture the city oozes with history from the Brythonic people (Welsh ancestors), Iron age and Roman periods. This is another place I need to spend more time exploring as it is large and has plenty of shops to look at and we only had so many hours to look around. We opted to go to the Cathedral which is a must for Harry Potter fans as parts of the first two episodes where filmed there. If you saw the Troll scene, Moaning Myrtle and Harry and Ron walking the corridors of Hogwarts School then this is where it was filmed.

Inside the halls of Gloucestershire Cathedral

Apart from the Harry Potter franchise, the history and religious interests are more inspiring. This Cathedral has it all and even if you’re not from a Christian religion or you’re an atheist it’s worth a visit just to appreciate the architecture of this huge structure.

Okay, I know what you’re all waiting for. Where did I go for food and which cool amber nectar did I refresh my thirst with? This time I did away with a pub and we decided to eat in a Pan-Asian restaurant in the dockland area called Vinings. This is an all you can eat style buffet with foods from Asia. Washed down with a cool Boston beer. The staff were very inviting and friendly and accommodated my son’s taste for anything that wasn’t Asian food without any fuss at all. He is a fussy eater still but I’m sure his tastes will expand as he grows up. My daughter is however a lot more willing to taste new foods from anywhere on the globe. So as far as the food I thought it was okay. I’ve cooked food that tastes the same from a jar so I can’t really rate it highly but a good place to take the family where the food isn’t very spicy if you have young children. A bonus to the restaurant is that you get to look out onto the water in the surrounding docks. It did however feel a little isolated from the rest of the city.

Gloucester has a market and we did hear an American voice looking at purchasing sweets from ……an American sweet stall? Not very adventurous.  My son has a fascination with all things and persons American and has been saving his pennies in an old coffee jar towards visiting. I think though it may take a long time and a lot of coffee jars before he gets to go. He puts half of his pocket money away each week so I don’t discourage him as it is a good lesson in budgeting. He was very thrilled when Barrak and Michelle Obama recently visited England.

So lets quickly move onto this weekend. Foregoing the regurgitation of my 10 mile hike which I’ve talked about before. ( I may throw in a picture for the sake of it as I’m wearing a new Osprey backpack). It’s Kate’s birthday weekend and we decided at the very last minute to take a trip to the Welsh capital of Cardiff.

Osprey Atmos 65 AG

Cardiff is a port on the south coast of Wales where the River Taff meets the Severn Estuary founded as a city in 1905 and became the capital in 1955. It was a Roman military fort in 55Ad where the current castle now stands. Popular for its rugby, singer Shirley Bassey, comedian Griff Rhys-Jones, writer Ronald Dahl and the infamous pirate Henry Morgan. Cardiff’s history stems from coal and exporting coal. Setting the price for coal worldwide.

I wasn’t expecting too much but I was blown away. Cardiff is massive. Never ending shops, restaurants, pubs music in the street. It took all of the day to get around and we still didn’t see it all. Large music shops selling Guitars, keyboards. Dress shops, theatres and a Castle. It was too much to take in and we decided to visit the castle when the children were not staying at their grandparent’s house. My mothers family are Welsh, although a lot have passed away. My nan (now departed) was a big fan of Cardiff. The welsh accent is all too familiar to me and reminds me of my visits to see my welsh family in Abertillery, Merthyr Tydfil and Abergavenny as a child.

So let me talk about food before I reminisce into my childhood memories too much. We went to a restaurant called The Meating Place. No I haven’t misspelt “Meating” as it refers to Meat as in Steak. I love steak….rare! This lovely restaurant had dark stained wooden beams and struts and was dimly lit by small flickering oil lamps on each table. Served by a French waitress and a chap from Birmingham. What are the odds someone who lives 32 miles from my home serving us. In Wales it actually doesn’t surprise me. It’s very multi-cultured, so a Brummie and a yam yam (someone from the Black Country – further reference:  would fit in easily.  Actually only ten percent of the population in Cardiff actually speak Welsh but you will hear the English-Welsh accent rather than the actual Welsh language.

Second Severn Crossing Suspension Bridge into Cardiff

The food was outstanding. Beautiful steak covered in a blue cheese sauce which was almost melting in my mouth, home-made chips cooked to perfection, it was so good. My mouth waters just thinking about it.

As ever, all good trips come to an end until another day and tonight I need to celebrate Kate’s birthday. She does so much for us and I love her with all my heart.

Happy birthday Kate X.




The Urban Hike

Firstly, I would like to apologise for not adding to this blog for quite a while. It was in part writers block, being busy with work and family and the rest just being lazy. So with the blog rebooted for 2016 I’m going to kick it off with what I’m titling as the urban hike.

I’ve written in the past about hiking through areas that are on our doorstep. Just to get out of the house and breath in the fresh air is a good way to relieve the stress of everyday life, which is increasingly becoming virtual as we rarely raise our heads above the parapet of our smart devices.

“our cocoon of transportation which
encases us in a womb of steel”

I tend to drag my family along on day hikes just off the event horizon of cities and towns, giving my children the illusion of being in the wild back country. Although my eldest daughter refuses to come along, the rest of us enjoy a day away from society for a few hours.

IMG-20160102-WA0000-01It’s amazing how memories are made just by walking, talking and listening to the wildlife and each other. The moment you stop to drink and eat to the point where your legs begin to ache along the trails. Surprisingly, the achievement your children feel from completing a small adventure resonates throughout the lives and possibly stories are passed on to their children. What also surprises me is the endurance and energy children have walking long distances and bearing up to the adverse weather conditions.

It was soon after Christmas that my car was being used by Kate while she was training to be a supervisor for Lloyd’s Pharmacy and then it had to go for a service and MOT. I was without my car for a week. How would we cope? The children were hyperventilating at the prospect of having to walk to and from School. How will I collect my car from Toyota? By local transport? No, I hate local transport. I prefer my own space rather than someone coughing on me and invading my personal bubble. It was a testament to how lazy we have become. How anti-social and insular our cocoon of transportation which encases us in a womb of steel has made us avoid other people.  Even a short trip to the local shops had become a car journey.

“I remember a time we had a novel way of getting from one place to another. I remember as a child being taken everywhere by this mode of transport” I said. “What’s that Dad?” my youngest said. “Walking!” I replied. Moans filled the room with grumbles of “it’s too far to walk”.

Once I had explained that it was less than we would walk in a single short hike spread over the week and it was sort of training towards longer hikes, I had (almost) everybody agreeing that it was in the realms of mankind to make such epic trips on their own two legs.

By the end of the week however, even I was ready to hug my car. Something about walking along streets to make an appointment to be on time for school was not as enjoyable as our trips out as a family on the trails. Maybe it was the time constraints. No time to stop and smell the flowers if you like. Maybe the sights were uninspiring. After all we see them everyday. Maybe it was the confinement of not seeing wide expanses of fields and hillsides. I’m not sure….actually that’s exactly what it was. The point of enjoying a walk is to be untethered from the normal chains of life and feel free. Even if it is for just a few hours.

IMG-20160102-WA0007-01Have we gone back to using the car for every journey? Well for now we use it a lot less. What did I get from this? Well, I’m aware I’m happier in a rural setting. I’ve walked more often in the countryside and along canals just for the hell of it. I’ve enjoyed it and felt fitter. I have even lost weight! All in all that can’t be bad.  Will I do another urban hike? Probably not. I need to escape the confines of the digital, industrial and social aspect of urban life once in a while. I wonder what your thoughts and experiences are. Do you hike and do you prefer urban or rural hikes?




Follow your spirit, and upon this charge Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

220px-Flag_of_England.svgSaint George, the patron Saint of England is today celebrated. Saint George was first mentioned in documentation by the monk Bede in c. 673 – 735 and in the liturgy of Alfred the great which documented the miraculous appearance of Saint George whom lead the crusaders into battle. Famously, Shakespeare’s Henry V mentions Saint George in the famous line “Follow your spirit, and upon this charge Cry ‘God for Harry, England and Saint George!”. It’s a banner all English people associate with as it  instills what it means to be part of a proud English heritage. And of course in Bram Stoker’s Dracula where evil begins on the day of Saint George. “It is the eve of St. George’s Day. Do you not know that tonight, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway?”.

Saint George’s day is not just celebrated in England alone but in many countries around the world. It is a Christian celebration, a feast to Saint George. But lets talk about the dragon! This is what legends are made of. Tales passed to our children, about knights, princesses and fire-breathing dragons….are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

There once was a kingdom and the people of the kingdom where being terrorized by a dragon. The frightened people would offer up two lambs to appease the dragon’s hunger. However, the lambs were  becoming scarce, so the people decided to offer a person up to sacrifice to the dragon by lot. Each family of the sacrificed person would receive recompense of gold. But the people grew angry that the royal family did not sacrifice any of their own family. So it was decided that the princess would be sent next.

The princess went along with one lamb to the dragon’s lair but on her journey she met a knight called George. On hearing about the dragon, George drew his sword and battled the dragon, slaying the dragon through its heart. The dragon lay vanquished, blood flowing into the ground and from the blood soaked ground roses began to grow. George being a gentleman took the rose and offered it to the princess.

The king offered wealth and riches to the knight but he gave it to the people. The people built a church in Georges name and by a miracle, water flowed from it which healed the sick.

Even today in some countries it is customary on Saint Georges day for men to give woman a red rose.

So who was Saint George? Well he wasn’t English. He was born in what is now Turkey and was a Roman soldier who had risen in the ranks. For turning to Christianity he was executed. His symbol was later used during the Crusades as an emblem of fighting for Christianity and converting people to Christianity. The emblem of the red cross is the english flag and used on tunics during the Crusades and sometimes included Saint George slaying the dragon on the shields.

The dragon was also a symbol of other religious beliefs outside of christianity such as the pagans and Druids whose beliefs would incorporate human and animal sacrifice to appease their Gods. Of course a dragon is serpent like and the relation to a Dragon and satan is fairly obvious as is the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Evil and temptation is what is probably being conveyed here being overthrown by those who follow in the footsteps of the christian God.

There are variations of the story where the water is being withheld by the Dragon and by slaying the Dragon the water is free to flow to the people. Again this is symbolic of the Christian message of removing an unholy obstacle to let the message of God wash over you.

It’s interesting that Bram Stoker hits upon Saint Georges day as “all the evil things in the world will have full sway” as if the battle over evil has not yet been won and Dracula(meaning:son of Dracul, based on Vlad II who wore the dragon emblem, aka Vlad the impaler) is from the Order of the Dragon. We can see parallels of fighting for one’s soul, the corruption of Lucy’s soul and saving that of Wilhelmina and Jonathon Harker against the evil of Dracula, or the Dragon. Dracula who once fought to protect Christianity but turns his back on God.

So the story is perpetual, Saint George marks an ideology of mans battle over evil and ultimately being saved by God. Even though we celebrate it today I wonder how much of the battle has been won and how much of the symbolism is lost in today’s society. Does it still matter? Possibly; this is a personal question on our own beliefs. We all have our demons to face and battle whatever our faith. Only when we vanquish them can we truly celebrate.






Out of Darkness Cometh Light

Today, Kate and I attended a school assembly. Usually these are for awarding the children for different accomplishments for Maths, English, behaviour to attendance.  We’ve been to these many times over the years (sounding too braggadocio) but this time it was for a competition for designing a Christmas card. Companies in the city sponsor one card and the local newspaper presents them for people to vote on.  My son (8 last month) had entered this competition several months ago and if I’m honest it had faded in our memory with all the Birthdays and Christmas organising we’ve been doing the last two months.

As Kate now works at the school she had the call to the headteacher’s office yesterday and informed that Reece had won but we were sworn to secrecy. Today we sat in the assembly, the newspaper reporters were there, the owner of the  company who sponsored Reece’s design (better mention it: Hillmans Dental Practice, Codsall) was there and after a long address to the children and with growing suspense they announced Reece had won.

His little face lit up, smile from ear to ear and he proudly stood in front of the school to accept his prize. Twenty printed cards with his design, a framed copy of his design and a £50 voucher for the school.   Kate and I were grinning and clapping our hands so much we must have looked a little deranged.  The design was….well you can see below but to make it clearer for you the image in the centre is of the Wolverhampton Wanderers Football club motif of a wolf’s head with the Wolverhampton motto “Out of darkness cometh light”.  So as I’m so overly proud of my son, (as all parents are), I said I would put it on the blog for all to see.  I guess the last thing for me to say is for all those who celebrate Christmas, “Merry Christmas!” and for those who don’t “I wish you all the good fortune and peace in the new year!”

Out of darkness cometh light