The American Connection

A client of mine asked this week if I could resolve an IT issue at his property. Now this is not unusual as I tend to fix minor issues for people all the time. The location was quite hard to find as you can’t see it from the country lanes but was surprisingly close to where I live being all of 23 minutes drive away. The property was however a little different to the normal houses I attend as it is part of a manor house.

General Robert E. Lee
General Robert E. Lee

 In the parish of Alveley, Shropshire stands Coton Hall Manor. Now this alone sounds fairly grand and I wouldn’t have looked up the history if I hadn’t had a difficult time locating it on Google Maps. What surprised me was that it has an American connection to a famous family. May be the family name of de la lee rings a bell with anyone in the USA, especially from the South. It was in fact General Robert E. Lee’s ancestral family home. The family has connections with the land dating back almost 1000 years although the current manor only dates back 200 years the original manor went by the same name.

There is a 13th century chapel on the grounds, one of the few remaining buildings that General Robert E. Lee’s ancestors would recognise today and a secret underground tunnel (now blocked off for safety) that runs from the two storey cellar to Alveley village two miles away.

In a twist General Robert E. Lee’s father fought the British in the American War of Independence against the Soldiers of the Shropshire wiping out most of the British regiment in 1777 in the Battle of Saratoga.

Now I don’t know a great deal about General Robert E. Lee but I have read he was an American hero to some and a traitor to others due to his allegiance to the Confederate army but is now perceived as an American Hero to most being pardoned of any wrongs committed by ex-president Jimmy Carter. I’m sure someone will correct me if this is incorrect.

Coton Hall Manor, Shropshire
Coton Hall Manor, Shropshire

Coton Hall Manor has long since passed ownership from the Lee family in 1821 but the existing family has visited the manor in recent years according to reports.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to tour the manor being privately owned and as my client resides in the extension of the manor known as the Bishops tower but you can view images on the internet of the interior of the manor or visit Alveley parish church for remnants of monuments to the Lee family.

It’s interesting though that the local history of a small village in Shropshire had such an impact in American history.

 

 

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”.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-18171174 (2012 report)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-36448924 (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 (Alpkit.com), 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 (OspreyPacks.com), 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Country)  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.

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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.

 

 

 

Killer Foul And Vertigo

This Saturday (5th March 2016) , I ventured to do something a little different than worrying about all the jobs in the house that are slowly growing on my to do list. Plus, it was Mother’s day the following day and Kate awoke with a mission to go visit Ludlow.

I’ve never been and didn’t mind as it was only one hour away by car. My eldest daughter Lucy was away for the weekend so my usual ranking for bathroom usage had moved up a notch. I even had time when I came downstairs to have a breakfast. Usually, I just have time for a cup of Tea but today was a porridge and syrup day  (nom,nom,nom).

Now Ludlow is not a big town. It looks dare I say rather antiquated but this is a town with a castle at its heart and history to-boot. I guess that is what I should expect. First port of call was The Blue Boar. A nice old pub with matching character. Open fire places warmed the little nooks in this pub and odd items for sale randomly dotted on shelves. One picture hung on the wall depicting a swan eating a stag….yes you heard right. I was also a little uncomfortable. A feeling of dread, a feeling of being constantly watched. I turned my head to see a stuffed duck with a voyeuristic look in its eye,  not much different from what I imagine a psychopathic killer would look like, planning to kill his next victim or it could have been the look of vengeance as it was stuffed unnaturally by an amateur taxidermist.  I looked at Kate and reminded her in my best Sommerset impression that “Folks from round ‘ere ain’t from round ‘ere!”.  But my fears were put to rest as the friendly staff brought our food and drinks. Although roughly £10 per head for food is fairly expensive it was a tasty and filling meal and the Guinness was pretty good.  I did like the pub and there aren’t many old pubs left that haven’t been mutilated into characterless shells.

So we ate and left and as the castle wasn’t far we headed not for a history lesson, I couldn’t be bothered after the beer and grub but just for a roam around the castle grounds and a climb up the ramparts to see the views.  My son Reece told me to follow him up the spiral stairs as it lead to the top of the highest rampart. My daughter Ellie-Mae and Kate close behind. We nearly made it to the top but as we emerged I had a very unnerving attack of vertigo. This is something I had once before in York when I went to the top of another ancient building.

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I don’t know why I’m suddenly getting it as I used to fly in small two seater planes doing aerobatics  and climb down 30 foot shafts when I worked in civil engineering on the most untrustworthy of ladders. But the last few years this has started to happen. Now, I’m not one to stop over fear but I do slow down and take time to centre myself. Reece sensing my slight imposition began to panic and demanded on going back down. It was as if I’d transferred the vertigo to him as he gripped onto the wooden balustrade for dear life. Looking like a couple of wimps as the girls waved at us from the top,  we bowed our heads in shame and headed back down. (well, I went down because Reece was panicking……really!).  On a serious note, I need to get over the vertigo as I’m planning on going up a few mountains in the lake district this year. Height is sort of a big part of it. Maybe I just don’t trust ancient monuments from crumbling under my feet?

So, with a day of beer, food, castle romping and a little shopping for wine, flowers and chocolate (for Kate and our parents) we headed home. Topping the night off with spaghetti and meatballs made by yours truly and settled in to watch the new James Bond movie “Spectre”. (See it, it’s a good one!).

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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?