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2004 - 2005

Skip holiday section || Visit to Mold and Northop

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HOLIDAYS:


2004-

Llandudno again. Why the same place three times in five years? Continuing problems with rail services restricting our available routes, plus every time we go we find more places to visit and see. And the wetter and wetter weather means we haven't begun to look at the walks possibilities.
With August 2004 being the wettest ever, with lots of flooding and lightning damage all over, we had a better week than we could possibly have expected. This year in addition to the offshore "oil rig" we could also see the new large off shore wind farm - both have the same owners.
We had a casual stroll over the Great Orme, this time going counter clockwise for a change. The tourist maps incorrectly locate a cafe by St Tudno's Church, it closed a long time ago. They do not mark a long established but remote cafe near to the old Orme Lighthouse, called Rest and Be Thankful. A simple menu and slow service but a lovely place for the wearied traveller to rest from either the sun or the rain. Coming down we took a new path, the "Zig Zag Path", a steep mostly stone stepped route, which I would not fancy climbing on a hot day. This met up with the Invalids Path leading to the Haulfre Gardens.

We repaid a visit to Llanberis. This year the bus timetables are not so friendly as previously and the North Wales bus drivers have discovered a new form of anarchy where bus timetables, bus stop notices, bus publicity leaflets and so on are all ignored and advertised tickets are refused, and marked bus stops passed by in favour of the drivers choices. Nevertheless the area still has better bus services than most rural areas and we managed not to be stranded. We visited the Welsh Slate Museum, which bizarrely has a suggested route map placed in the middle of the route rather than as you enter, and lacks adequate signage, but is still a useful place to visit - especially if you have previously visited the better explained slate mine at Llechwed. Llanberis has the second largest waterwheel in the UK (after the Isle of Man Laxey wheel).
This year the Llanberis Lake Railway is extended to the village, to save you a walk to the Museum? No-way. In line with other Welsh narrow gauge railways the only ticket on sale is a full line ticket, and from the village you first are driven past the museum to the far end of the lake before returning same-line to the Museum, saving a short walk in exchange for an incredible six pounds!
We also did a short walk along one of the many paths around the lake - recommended - and had a cold drink at the Hospital Museum - an old slate miners hospital now preserved.

In 2002 we visited the Llanberis Power Plant, in 2004 we visited its earlier model near to Blaenau Ffestiniog. A lovely walk from Blaenau (as the bus service ran out of sync with everything else, and ran empty as a result) to the power plant, which was not quite as impressive as the Electric Mountain, but at least we saw the control room! Now mostly unused as the plant is controlled from Llanberis. The bus service to the upper dam no longer runs, and we found that the two stations had just been sold - so who knows how long they will be open for visitors! Of note- the Ffestiniog plant says room on tours is limited- it really is, to eight at a time per hour! It is fortunately not as popular as its bigger offspring so we had no problems with that. Travelling along the Conway Valley by train we were able to appreciate the astonishing work put into rebuilding the line after the severe flood damage in January 2004.

We paid a visit to Ynys Mon this time to visit Beaumaris (where my parents honeymooned - and reputedly June was conceived!) and its lovely (unfinished) castle, now a World Heritage Site. As I now work in a Court we also visited the ancient (17th Century) Court House- very little has altered over the years.
Then onto a new tourist attraction, the Welsh Highland Railway, travelling from Caernarfon to Rhydd Ddu, for the "easy" path up Snowdon, although you don't have time travelling by train to make it to the top and back! The two engines in use on this day were 1958 Beyer Peacock articulated engines, made in Manchester for South Africa and now brought back. To avoid fire risk they are now oil-burning alas. The WHR has a larger carriage size than the Ffestiniog Railway as a much more comfortable trip.
The WHR is hardly a preserved railway- the railway closed more than sixty years ago, and the original company went into receivership after only four years, although the receivership took much longer than usual to be concluded. As a result almost everything is newly built, to a high modern standard. Just a few old bridges are still in use. Note- the stations are presently quite barren and lacking amenities, such as shelters! At Rhydd Ddu the passengers make greatful use of a National Park toilet near to the station!

We were enthusiastically washed off Snowdon by torrential rain, and travelled back to Caernarfon in the first class coach!
Our final day we went to Trefriw, to visit the reopened Iron Wells, site of three springs- two heavy in sulphur and used for bathing in times gone by, the third heavy in dissolved iron, and source to an iron supplement.
Iron tablets can have some side effects, however the claim was that this natural iron water did not have these- so Cathy bought some to try, and my word, the claims seem to be correct, with easier and faster to digest iron. Useful tips too- don't take with wine, grape juice, tea, dairy products etc as they reduce iron absorption.
A brief visit to the Woollen Mill (bought some nice Welsh CDs there). The trio of shops have become a duo of shops (goodbye fruit and veg) and the cafe has changed hands. No more plate fulls of healthy food, now just baked potatoes served in a shop fitted and furnished entirely from Ikea. Maybe an American hamburger joint next year? Ikea is tasteful or not but it definitely is not Welsh traditional. Following the really bad floods of earlier in the year the Trefriw footpath network has been resignposted and waymarked, and we did walks 1,2, and 4, visiting the lovely Fairy Falls, and walking along the protective embankment around the river and up the path from the station.
Nice holiday. The Greenery was still available for lovely meals (last meal at about 7pm for an 8pm close) and we found a newish and very pleasant restaurant nearby called The Candles. The Vegetarian Restaurant in Conwy had closed last year alas and was no longer available.


Holidays-2005

Just a quick week in Bridlington- some ten years after our last visit. George travelled back to Stockport from Winchester on the Friday -damaging his back, possibly from the ill designed seats on the Virgin train which many complain of. Consequently our initial outings were restricted to buying a tube of Neurofen gel and waiting for his back to settle. On the Monday we just had a visit to The Deep in Hull- a pleasant town apart from the racist grafiti which no-one seemed too bothered to remove. The Deep is a large aquarium- the tank is some ten metres deep. They have the largest pieces of acrylic around, to form huge windows at varying levels.

As The Deep is intended for all ages, there were some parts we found quite boring (notably the futuristic Deep Blue area) but overall we enjoyed it. Not too many aquariums have displays of jellyfish and Nautilus. No museum I have visited has yet had a catering facility I would wish to use, and even though new, the Deep follows the trend despite two eating serveries - both with staff quite unconcerned if anyone bought anything and a limited range of second quality food, and absolutely no catering for any dietary needs. Museums cannot cater. An apparent picnic area was not signposted or marked at all. The display staff were very helpful and attentive

The advertised shark hologram is absolutely nothing of the sort. It is a visitor operated computer program with a virtual shark, projected onto translucent glass. Nothing even remotely holographic, and I seriously doubt the use of the word unique (in regard to it having any merit anyway). The Polar Gallery somewhat lacked anything interesting. The Twilight Zone section was restricted but enhanced by Patrick Stewarts voice! Of note is the number of conservation organisations working with The Deep, and their approach to research and conservation.

In Hull we were very impressed with... a public convenience. On Nelson Street, across the bridge from The Deep. This public convenience had lots and lots of flowers, tourist information, poems (and a resident poet...), lovely tiles and a splendid washbasin... it should be a listed monument if it isn't already. Top marks.

Tuesday we visited Old Bridlington- we had not previously walked the old shopping area, which seems to have been well preserved, and is well worth a stroll. We also visited nearby Bridlington Priory- no organ recitals this year but we did see the start of the installation of a new large organ, and the Bayle Museum- only small but lots of history. Then a stroll to our favourite gardens at Sewerby. Their pricing policy is unfortunate- one price fits all, even if you only wany an hour in the garden. The head gardener had died this year, and perhaps the flower beds were a little simpler, but still excellent. Cathy was wearing her new walking sandals (we both bought new this year) but chose to wear socks with them, something of a no-no as the neoprene pads grabbed the socks and then rubbed them on your feet. Her consequent blister meant she had to wear rather unsuitable pumps for the rest of our stay.

Wednesday was a walk to Danes Dyke- and we found a portion of the coastal path had been closed for 6 months due to erosion - although of course many still walked the closed and hazardous cliff edge path, we chose to divert our walk. Near the start, Cathy went over sideways (fortunately not on the cliff edge) but continued walking, ending the day with a bad sprain needing bandaging and treatment with Lasonil. As planning permission has now been sought for a holiday village with swimming pool and tennis courts, at Home Farm, perhaps we visited just in time. The footpaths through the woods are very enjoyable. We walked back to Bridlington, arriving just in time to avoid one of the heaviest showers I have ever seen. Indeed I think it rained every day of our holiday this year!

Thursday was a walk around South Landing, quite a small bay, with much of the footpath significantly moved and redone since our last visit. The Heritage Centre which was there in 1995 and still appears on many maps (and signposts!) is no longer there- now a cafe. We were disappointed at the lack of publicity for the Flamborough footpaths- no Heritage Centre, no walks booklets, and even a reduced bus service, with no buses at all to South Landing (only a short walk from town anyway) and just a Sunday bus to the light house at Flamborough Head.

Then on our last day, Friday, a walk around North Landing, with morning and afternoon snacks and lunch at The Caravelle, which is quite a pleasant cafe. There has been much cliff fall in this area also. And so home. A pleasant rest.

Bridlington had finished relaying the North promenade, and had completely redeveloped the South Promenade- but by 5pm almost everything was closed. The Southern development meant that the three "land trains" now had two routes to serve. The Southern route from the Spa was quite short and one train handled it every 20 minutes, not always full. There still seemed to be plenty of room on the beaches. The Northern land train to Sewerby (10:15 to 5pm) was now just half hourly, and either totally full or fairly empty. This tourist transport option is surely in need of some commerical involvement as it is hard to see how it could be less well operated. There is a better bus service to Sewerby! and it is also fairly walkable. Local busses -where there is a service- were quite inexpensive.

Wildlife we spotted included a very nice little bird called a Turnstone, and the Little Copper butterfly. Then there was the young man with a heavily modded car (cosmetically modified to look very silly) driving up and down the front with the audio on full, in the manner of 1950's American teen movies, and a group of youths wandering around town openly smoking joints. No chance of being caught- despite a number of visitors in town, there didn't seem to ba a police presence within miles. Although we did learn that the local police put out no parking cones to help people reserve spaces for removal vans. Have to get priorities right! There was an appeal for witnesses to an attack in a nearby park, and a newspaper report of a violent assault in a nearby pub. We didn't see any violence, but we don't go out getting blind drunk...

Eating out generally meant fish and chips, although we did enjoy a nice meal at Bean There on the Saturday night- they only open for lunch on 4 days and just one evening per week. Their sweets are in very large portions. Beware the Crachan, you need diamond edged teeth to manage the whole oats.

Travelling home was fun as Manchester Picadilly was closed for the weekend. Originally we were advised to travel by bus from Huddersfield but this then became a separate train from Huddersfield to Manchester Victoria. There was a free bus link to Piccadilly but this meant crossing a road, so we chose to pay fror the tram. At Piccadilly we nearly got a taxi home, but the taxi drivers -as usual- were far more concerned with their conversations so we took the 192 bus instead. Single journey bus fares in Manchester are so high it was very nearly cheaper to take a taxi!


2004

So, time goes by and as my six month fixed term work contract with the Probation Service comes to a close, my contract is extended and I become "established staff" working half time (17.5 hours per week) in a job share arrangement- just right for me. I even get a pay increment - something the Bank stopped doing many years ago. A quick calculation shows that if I do carry on working til 60 my hourly rate with the NPS will be higher than it would have been if I had continued to work for the Bank for the full 42 years. Sad really just how much bank salaries have dropped in real terms, no wonder you hear so many complaints about poor service. But then again, service is expensive and few will pay for it.

I hear from my friends in the Bank that yet again there has been a reorganisation, and further downsizing. A visit to one workmates leaving do showed two types of face- happy relaxed faces on those who have left, and taut pale stressed out faces on those still in the Bank. Leaving was the best thing for all of us who were ejected or left.

2004 - a very wet year, and we found water trickling down the inside wall adjacent to the gable end chimney. Builders could find no structural fault, but pointed out the bricks were like sponges, utterly saturated, allowing the water to flow around the flashing on the inside of the bricks. So at last we have the gable end chimney stack removed. Perhaps we should have the central stacks removed also, but that is a much bigger (more expensive) job. Meanwhile our neighbours have a loft conversion- six weeks of building noise (daytime only thank goodness).

We find another build error with our 1998 Mesh computer- how on earth do these guys keep getting build awards from the PC Magazines? There was no air inlet at the front of the machine- a fan mounting had merely been utterly blanked. The only limited air circulation was air in by a narrow strip at the back, straight up to the PSU, with no air flow past the CPU at all. Oh well, easily fixed, just add lots of holes to the front casing.

Not much work on the 2003 MD computer, still running SuSe Linux, just a few program upgrades. The Linux genealogy program Gramps seems to be rather well thought out and has become our program of choice. Audacity is a really great audio recording and editing program. Xine/Kaffeine are good media players and XMMS deals with most other multimedia. I am running most of my old DOS programs with DOSBOX (but no CD access by the programs as yet alas) and WINE handles some of our W16 and W32 programs such as Irfanview. I have also done a quick and dirty DOS boot floppy which enables me to run some protected mode programs that DOSBOX is unhappy with- but the processor speed is a disadvantage with some of these! Mame roms run well in Linux with XMame- all those old arcade games such as Hustle, PacMan, Invaders and so on.

The release of so many vintage films and tv programs on cheap DVDs is a boon this year, even though we do have to buy so many from the USA. The lack of a train service to Manchester and a somewhat deteriorated bus service (too few busses, too crowded, too unreliable) has severely curtailed our outings this year and wet weather as usual makes walking too much like a chore.

George returned from Aberystwyth after the end of his second year there, and we had a couple of days there to explore the land- some lovely walks and hill climbs. We could see as far as 50 miles and had three wind farms to view. Best eating place seemed to be Wetherspoons in the old railway station, but we did have a memorable evening meal in the upper room of a Chinese takeaway- we were the only customers all night. The place had changed hands fairly recently after a high profile people-smuggling etc prosecution!

And then I had to take George to his new home, a shared rented house in Winchester, where he will be for a year working for IBM at Hursley. The closeness of my sister at Fareham was a great help, and I was able to meet again after 8 years my niece Tracy and her husband Christian, who were visiting June at the same time. They also had with them, for my introduction, their son Paul, nearly two now, and absolutely full of energy.

We managed a very quick visit to the ancient family home base in North Wales, staying in Northop and with a day in Mold. Graveyards are rapidly being made tidy and safe, and already my grandmothers grave in Mold has become unmarked, but we did locate some great grandparents graves. Northop has lost its Park which has become a huge private golf course- I have family photos of my mother as a small girl, and then myself as a small boy, under an identifiable oak tree, which is still in the Park, but no longer can small children picnic under its branches.

My great grandfathers, and then grandfathers garden in Northop has been asphalted to become a car park, but the iron railings grandad lifted me over remain. My grandparent Hughes house has been little changed outwardly, and whilst the village corner shop and chip shop closed long ago, the closed Co-Op Store has been reopened as a convenience store and post office by a brave family. Northop seems to have no take aways at all, most odd. Food is available from two old pubs, the Boot being the more high class joint, although they serve tepid soup.

I was pleased to see that Brook Street still has its ford, it has not been culverted here. We did walk down The Green - scene of many ages-past family rambles and blackberry picking. The brambles have been cut back to widen the road, and there is some very unattractive new housing. We walked along the brook for a while but stopped before we got to the still unmarked WW2 poison dump (a secondary site for the one nearer Mold which still concerns the Chemical Weapons Inspectorate!). It was a pity to see the old school, closed in 1974, left to rot and collapse but delightful to see the Northop butcher Jimmy remembered in a very tasteful conversion of the old butchers shop. We had a lovely Evening Prayer service at the Parish Church, just Cathy and I, the cleaner and the Vicar. A really nice service.

Mold has many new buildings but nothing quite so out of keeping as the Northop developments. Mold also has the best hardware store I have seen anywhere. Not a sign remains of Mold Station, the line has now been well built over. The corner store for Broncoed Park still remains, which was a surprise- and selling some really excellent meat pies from a Flint baker who has a stall in Manchester once a month, which we regularly visit. The bus service in the area seems to be somewhat improved since we last visited some decades ago, although with low patronage. The bus fares are low- a three mile journey from Northop to Mold for less than it costs us here in Stockport to travel to our local Town Hall.

A good year for a wet loo (=toilet) as the waste pipe sheared inside the house- an old lead pipe, previously broken and inexpertly fixed with sealing cloth. So at last we get a new toilet- close fitting and using only two thirds as much water as the older one, but to make for efficiency, a differing bowl shape, and only just enough room to open and close the door!! We were limited by the basic construction of the house and available fittings, and the cistern had to be a couple of inches from the wall, which gave me the excuse for a mock dado rail with faux engraved wood panels...

Still with the Probation Service at year end- a rather good place to work. Almost every company has formal policies against discrimination, side by side with institutional discrimination.... but somehow the Probation Service are different and really do have a culture of diversity, which I find really nice.

Does shopping therapy exist? I hate shopping - very large stores with no staff, no obvious pay points, unmanned pay points, pay points which only accept payment for certain goods, staff too busy gossiping... (first rule of commerce: make it easy for them to give you their money...), no products I want - or no prices marked, too hot, too crowded, ... and so often these days horrible loud bass music. On line shopping? - problem is delivery, as mail order and on line stores insist on using second rate (but often well known) courier companies, who unlike Royal Mail only deliver 9-5 Mon-Fri and have no alternative delivery options or local collection options. Discover Sendit use Royal Mail for delivery, and move my UK DVD purchases from the increasingly unfriendly Amazon UK.

This year, with the main bus route to Manchester (192) so overcrowded and with totally inadequate facilities at the Manchester terminus, I have been exploring other ways to get home and now have quite a few non-obvious routes. Travelling time may be longer but with a shorter waiting time and a more comfortable journey, I have virtually given up on the intended main bus service!

2005

Quite a quiet year.

Problems with our bank accounts led to payment by the bank of compensation of over a hundred pounds- and no certainty at all that we would not have the same problems again. Trouble is all the UK banks now offer such a completely unsatisfactory service, and there are no alternatives.

A slight improvement to the bus service makes the 192 route somewhat more usable apart from the crush at the Manchester stop. Staff changes in probation meant I was working rather more hours than usual, but only for a month or so.

There is quite a close relationship between risk assessment and risk management in the finance sector and in the justice sector, also similarities in cost reduction pressures and de-skilling of jobs. This year I have to manage a rather rushed legal amendment which changes the recording and reporting of the victim contact work in the County (one of my tasks). Having direct access to the statutes on the internet is invaluable. Pity I have no work access and have to do my homework- at home!

The college where Cathy was working was now in its terminal years, following an odd financial deal with Stockport College, described as a merger but the end result being the closure of North Area College over the next five or so years. Being in a closing business is not fun, and Cathy had no real guarantee that she would have a job she wanted in Stockport (or any idea when her job at NAC would be transferred), so she took the proactive route and applied for interview with the probation service. As with myself, the job the interview was for was not forthcoming, but she was quickly given a very acceptable alternative.

Our remaining wooden windows now all show quite bad rot- I have repaired a couple, think I can fix another, but the two worst look like they need some more professional attention- full replacement with upvc seems attractive. Actually finding someone who is prepared to do the work is another matter and we end the year with rotten windows.

We have the task of moving George back home from Winchester at the end of his year in employment and then moving him back to Aberystwyth for his final year at University, by far the hardest year, with a very demanding academic work load. The idea that graduates can just walk into employment is shown to be very false by the difficulties faced by his friends who had completed three year studies and not been able to find work. That George should have to go though the rigourous and very time consuming hoops of graduate employment search at the same time as a very full study year is just silly.

For a short period we hosted one of George's Uni friends, now completed their degree, and working for a time in Stockport- with a long wait for a first pay day, and then having to find shared accomodation. Just like having another child without the need (or cost) to bring them up...

Some nice concerts in Stockport this year, thanks to some varied chamber music recitals in the Town Hall (alas, for this 2005 only) - but very limited Manchester evenings out due to the effective withdrawal of our local evening train service. Our rush hour train service becomes little more than a token and the weekend service a joke. Long distance rail travel is a lottery at all times. Public transport is suffering from the imposition of short term profit goals and lack of cooperation or coordinated planning. Unimagineable sums are spent on highly complex (and unreliable) new long distance trains which have no luggage space and tight cramped uncomfortable seats.

Sadly we have no political parties prepared to consider the concept of public service, and commerce is increasingly extremely short term oriented (paying large sums to advisers who can sell their bad advice well, but are otherwise harmful for everyone, and paying the executive far too well and the real workers far too badly).

We actually went to the cinema a few times- good grief. Serenity was quite a bit more violent than we are used to but a remarkably good film. Wallace and Grommit were far better than we thought a film version could be. And March of the Penguins was sumptuous- but in the absence of any film prints for the opening date, only a very small number of cinemas were showing the digital version, and, true to the hype involved with other digital media, I could tell the difference and as usual digital was second rate. But nice to have a film system able to offer both subtitles and audio description at last.

Loaded my 1979 church history onto the web (finally!) and it meets with some welcome comments.


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