We travelled as usual by train and had an uneventful journey in both directions. We arrived in rain, and every day it rained, sometimes for most of the day, which restricted our outings somewhat but we still saw almost all of the old town. Fortunately there was a box of games in the house which we played, and also did a bit of reading. The day after we arrived back home was of course splendidly sunny and dry!
Eating in Ludlow was a problem- how not to eat so much? For lunch we found a really tempting wholefood restaurant called The Olive Branch, near to the Bull Ring. They had six lovely salads, a choice of hot dishes, and baked potatoes, plus really tempting cakes. There was also a baked potato stall which seemed to be somewhere different each day (we didn't always find it!), and the market always had lots to buy and take back to the house, or to eat as a picnic, with some splendid local fruit.
From Bernadette McCarthy in the market- making her last appearance before her products were introduced to the health food chain "Holland and Barrett" and also supermarket chain Waitrose, we bought a tasty Balti Nutroast - very different. Although Ludlow is in Shropshire, just a few yards away across the river is Hereford, so there was plenty of apple and pear juice, and cider and perry on sale. We had a delicious apple juice from Brimfield, Ludlow, made from five different named apple varieties. There was a vineyard in Ludlow, but their wine was taken to a high alcohol level which overwhelmed any flavour there may have been (a common fault with English wine alas). The tearooms at Ludlow Castle used as their housewine a lovely wine from Halfpenny Green (Staffordshire) whose dry wines we had already enjoyed. There were a few micro breweries and we tasted the beer from Marches Brewery and from Hobson's - the Hobson's Mild was like nectar.
For evening eating, as well as the market food, we used the services of a Chinese takeaway/restaurant, where we were the only restaurant customers (possibly the only takeaway customers- business was not exactly brisk but the food was very edible). There was also a fine Indian restaurant/takeaway (Shapla) with very nice food- perhaps a little warmer than we are used to but we just had to go for the milder dishes. They even sold kulfi (the Indian version of ice cream).
We greatly enjoyed visiting Castle Lodge, Ludlow, a large and very old building near to the castle, a hotel around the 1940's, left to decay for a couple of decades, then bought and reroofed by a daring couple who have not really enjoyed the capital required to fully restore the building - and with so many old buildings in Ludlow, it is alas up to the private citizen to retain the vast amount of heritage in the town. Nevertheless one room had a lovely plasterwork pendant vaulted ceiling, and there was much attractive oak panelling in the building.
Naturally we had to visit the Castle- a very large estate, also in private hands, and restored for the public. The Castle has two chapels, one of which is unusual in having a round nave. Like most of the five to seven hundred year old buildings making up the heart of the town, the castle has seen many uses and alterations, but much remains to be explored, and it is possible to climb to the top of the Keep for some lovely views. The Castle Tea Rooms are excellent and offer first flush Assam and Darjeeling teas as well as pleasant lavender shortbread.
The oldest church in Dinham is barely surviving with a residence built over it but the very old vaulting can be seen. The town church is Norman, and very large indeed. A climb up the 200 Tower steps also yields excellent views - and seems lightly used by visitors. It is an interesting experience passing the bell chamber whilst the bells are ringing. The church has a ring of 8 bells and also a carillon - originally 17th century although the musical box like mechanism is now on display in the nave whilst the bells are now playable by a computer program. There is also a small keyboard in the nave which can be used to play the carillon live. The carillon can ring a peal (several are programmed) but the bells are also hung for the more heavy duty manual ringing. Whilst the church has a clock to ring the quarter hours, there is no clock face - fairly unusual.
We even went to the cinema - how unusual it is to do that in a town of ten thousand! We saw a classic local film called "On the Black Hill"- for its third showing, it was again sold out, and we were fortunate to have booked tickets in advance. This film is about the Marches - the disputed lands between Wales and England and eighty years in the life of two twins up to around the present day. Nicely shot and acted, with a lovely performance by Gemma Jones, and an unexpected appearance by Catherine Schell.
On the Sunday evening of our holiday we sat outside in our secluded garden, with a glass of wine, and enjoyed a concert in the nearby Castle grounds, a major sixties show, with no tribute bands, but the real thing - Chris Farlowe, Vanity Fare, P J Proby, Mike Pender, Brian Poole, The Manfreds, and Paul Jones.. Quite a concert, concluding with a large fireworks display.
We also managed a couple of walks along the Hereford side of the River, the lower 1850's Breadwalk (now looking quite repaired following some flooding of the river) and the higher path also, where we saw the 17th Century Parliamentarian trenches. We saw three 800 year old river weirs. The ten year old toposcope at the top of Whiteclife Common has now faded into obscurity and some of the classical views from the Common are now hidden as the trees inevitably grow ever taller, however we were able to see the Church and Castle from this side. We also enjoyed an ambrosia like local beer in the Charlton Arms at Ludford- in the midst of a long running and bafflingly inappropriate redevelopment, but still serving excellent beer. We had Hobson's Mild, a fairly low alcohol (3.2%) and very smooth beer.
One public house in the centre of town advertised this beer but we did not enter- the landlord, in a fit of creative genius, had put up a notice which in only a few lines managed to discriminate on gender, age, ethnicity and religion, not allowing entry to men wearing hats unless they were elderly. As with pubs employing bouncers, if there is a need for such behaviour by the people wanting my money, they don't get it!
The Shaw family ancestors had four known addresses in Ludlow around the 1900's, one of which appeared little changed and was just around the corner from where we were staying - this was the second and largest residence. The first known address, at Dinham, was probably present and unchanged but the address was not adequately recorded- we think we found the appropriate cottage but cannot really tell. The third residence had been demolished as a slum and new buildings now on site. The fourth building, presumably quite small and very close to the market, appeared to have been significantly altered. The graveyards as in so many places have been much tidied up (eg memorials removed) and these are no longer of much value to family tree hunters. Cathy looked at some old Census returns in the library for the pre-Shaw associated residents (whilst George took advantage of their 100 Meg WiFi to update his lap top operating system!). We caught a bus to the edge of town cemetary but could not find any evidence of any family member.
The weather was appalling but we enjoyed a really relaxing and pleasant holiday.
Part 2- August 2008 holidays
A week in Wales- back to our lovely Llandudno. Subsequent BBC news article put the point clearly: "Much of Wales has had the wettest August since 1992, and sunshine levels are among the lowest on record.". Yup.
Weather dreadful and Arriva - local transport monopoly- seriously dreadful and now unusable. We expected poor weather but had no notice of the collapse of local transport! Strange to see Llandudno so crowded with buses and yet find the system so badly staffed and managed that it was - at least for tourist purposes- incapable of use. (Update 2010: Significant improvements to bus staffing, services and information).
Sunday was as expected the best day, with sunshine! and we found a part of the Great Orme we had not yet visited. Also saw quite close up a beautful kestrel (an attractive bird of prey). On Monday rain was expected so we went by bus to Trefriw to visit the mill there. On leaving to catch a bus back we noticed a lot of blue flashing lights- there had been a bad accident and the road was closed. Buses could not get through - they could have run to each side of the accident and transferred passengers, but chose instead to divert- which left 8.3 miles of road with no bus service, passengers not knowing what was happening, and no alternatives. And pourring rain. We learned from the firemen (from coastal Colwyn Bay) that the road was likely to be closed for a couple of hours so used our local knowledge to use a pedestrian only bridge across the river and walk into Llanwrst where we were able to catch a bus back to Llandudno- as luck had it, the first bus to be allowed back through Trefriw. Anyone not near the accident was waiting for the half hourly bus service for two hours without knowing why - or when (or if) there would be any buses. And no way to find out..
Tuesday it rained so it was a day spent in a second hand bookshop, where I picked up a copy of Postgate's 1939 social history, and a couple of other interesting books. I put Mussolini's romance fiction back on the shelf. Wednesday loomed fair so it was off or another (and final) adventure on the buses. This time we had a bus driver who could not speak English (let alone Welsh), being employed from Eastern Europe. We intended to visit a village - who had built a nice bus shelter and a bus turning point- where the bus stop had been closed by the bus operator - as we discovered when the bus went sailing past. The new stop is a layby on the A55 (a motorway style road with no pavement) which involves a half mile walk to get to the original bus stop. The driver let us off at the first point where we could get a bus back - so far away and remote it cost us nearly two pounds each to get back to where we really wanted. There was no signposting at the drop off points to indicate how to get to the village - and the footway was in imminent danger of being blocked by bushes.
We were advised in the village that the bus company had stopped calling in last October, to avoid having the route run over 31 miles, which would have required a tachometer be fitted to the buses. Given the origin of the drivers we do ask why they don't want tachometers- Manchester has had a case where a different bus company employed bus drivers from Eastern Europe who could not speak English, where drivers timesheets etc records were improperly kept and the directors are serving a prison sentence for fraudulent records. Why don't Arriva wish to keep proper records of drivers times, and use a loophole for routes under 31 miles to avoid a tachograph????
I noted in 2006 the operation of buses by KMP - this year we noticed a lack of them. They were still in the published timetable and on the bus stops- but I heard complaints about people not being able to get on them. The terminal bus stop in Llandudno (not other bus stops we saw) indicated that the KMP service 9B was now Arriva 9X, whilst the KMP 9 buses were no longer running - a loss of two buses per hour between Llandudno and Bangor. Internet research at home brought up two press reports that Arriva had paid KMP to not run the route but not bought the company. Arriva fares were in some cases more than double the KMP fares, and of course two buses per hour have been cancelled. Internet enquiries revealed that other KMP routes were still operating by KMP. However a query to the Office of Fair Trading showed a completed takeover by Arriva of KMP - so the local press report (two separate issues) was possibly incorrect. Whatever- Arriva operate almost all the buses from Llandudno (only the X1 to Blaenau has a differing operator) as well as operating the local train services- with the Conway Valley line now effectively (eg for tourist purposes) down to a morning return train and an afternoon return train, much reduced from 1998 when we travelled the line often. Bus information and bus drivers are significantly unreliable and bus fares are silly unless you buy their daily (GBP 4.90) or weekly (GBP 15) tickets.
However- we did enjoy (ultimately) our walk up the valley to the waterfalls, which given the rainfall of late, were duly impressive. It was quite warm enough to stand in the copious spray without catching cold! The valley is cut off from all mobile phone networks, which is why there is an emergency phone located half way up the valley. Near the valley top we were surprised that our phones made contact with phone networks on the Isle of Man, a distance of some seventy miles (100 km) which is quite good for a mobile phone...
Confirming our comments in 2006 regarding footpaths and the local council, we found four footpaths had been closed "temporarily" including a segment of the North Wales Path, a long distance path. The alternative path was barely legible on the posted maps, and was significantly less usable than the routes it was intended to replace. North Wales councils do not like footpaths! and evidence on any map is unlikely to be met with a path on the ground.
The rest of our time we spent in Llandudno, enjoying an ice cream at Fortes and lovely evening meals at The Greenery. The Welsh shop I had purchased Welsh CDs from in the past had closed, but a nearby second hand book shop had a small stock and I was able to pick up another CD by Elin Fflur (with a curious credit to Fidel Castro), also some Welsh harp music, some Welsh Jazz, and a CD by the Welsh equivalent of percussionist Evelyn Glennie: Dewi Ellis Jones.
Thursday was fair so we discovered yet another new bit of the Great Orme (and a pillared cave) before walking down Invalids Walk to West Beach. This year Llandudno have a "land train" between the pier and West Beach (GBP 1.50 each way) and there did seem to be more people there. At the North end of West Beach we saw a half demolished dwelling- pretty well the last old property left, the holiday home of Alice Liddell. (Alice in Wonderland - there used to be an Alice attraction in Llandudno (now closed), a Cheshire Cat on the Great Orme, and West Beach had a White Rabbit, unveiled by David Lloyd George in the 1930's, now minus a hand and an ear and locked in a metal cage). There was no sign of the plaque which had been placed on the property a while back, and it seems very likely that complete demolition will follow.
We walked down the North Wales Path (and Cycleway) to Deganwy. And noted a very strange break in the definitive path- the public footpath loving council had carefully marked a very short stretch of the long distance path and cycleway as not having any footpath protection (eg could be easily closed on a whim). There was also a significant stretch covered with deep sand, which caused cyclists to dismount, and no end of trouble to wheel chair users.
And so to a wet Friday in town doing nothing very much! Travelling by Arriva Trains we had no problems, but folks travelling from intermediate stations learned that seat reservations were meaningless on crowded trains, where people who sat in your reserved seat were welcome to do so and the guard refused to intervene (on our outward journey we never saw the guard and never had our ticket checked!). Refreshment trolleys simply did not exist.
We saw thin children with dark sunken eyes, with their possessions in torn black plastic bags- - whilst some handful of people take pay rises in the multi millions, councils cease rubbish collection, dental tratment becomes impossible, seeing your doctor nearly impossible, the post will not deliver- we seem to be headed into times much worse than Dickens knew.(not worse for the new isolated aristocrats).
The North Wales Theatre- immensly huge and mostly unused- has been expanded and become Venue Cymru, vast and largely unused. There is a vast open plan shopping centre outside the town centre- taking up many acres, with little shelter between shops and vast distances between shops- the sort of higgledy piggledy vast development unfriendly to pedestrians, motorists and shops- that should be stopped from the outset but never is.
Will we return to Llandudno? The decline of local transport may prevent us - I see no prospect of Arriva being replaced by a proper bus operator nor of Arriva management offering any customer service.
The Stockport Pantonic band played in Vernon Park in May - since losing their former leader the repertoire and the numbers seem to have diminished - they played one piece three times, to fill a 90 minute slot. The steel pan is still a pleasant sound though.
I went back to the Spring 08 Memorabilia event in Birmingham NEC. Curiously quiet and smaller than previously, mentioned by several visitors and stall holders. Later discovered that a few days before ownership of the event had changed hands, so perhaps this one had not been so vigourously developed. It will be interesting to see what happens for the Winter show. Anyway at this one I met with Lisa Bowerman, who has been playing Bernice Summerfield in a long running series of CD dramas (and played a Cheetah in the late classic Dr Who). Very good voice and rather nice lady. Also met with Deborah Watling (daughter of Jack Watling) who has been acting since very young. Some may know her better as Victoria in classic Dr Who, but I also have her very early work in William Tell, and also The Invisible Man (1958). And one of her co-actors in The Invisible Man was present for a joint autograph- Zena Marshall, still a pleasant, well spoken and attractive lady. Not so well known is Deborah Watling's on-screen smooch in 1972 with one Cliff Richard in "Take Me High". Notable DVD purchases were a couple of episodes of the tv series "Logan's Run" and some episodes of Car 54 where are you?. Also picked up 42 shows - new to me- of the BBC radio show Just a Minute, including some quite early ones.
A little later this year- June- we again went to St Elizabeth's Church in Reddish to hear Nigel Ogden play the organ there, also in the audience were the new Stockport Lady Mayoress and new Bishop Mark, and former Lord Lieutenant of Greater Manchester (retired October 2007), Sir John.
St George's Church in Stockport had a bit of a festival, opening with a concert by Stockport Brass - formerly BT Brass and formerly the Post Ofice Engineering Union Brass Band - we have little opportunity to hear them, and much enjoyed the concert (in the company of the Mayoress...). The same weekend the church also pealed their bells (a rare event) and I managed to record some of it despite heavy wind and rain.
Stockport Town Hall celebrated its 100th birthday this year, the opening concert was on the Town Hall Wurlitzer, which I went to (and the Lady Mayoress was there again..).
Also back to St Ann's Church in Manchester for the regular organ recitals there by Ronald Frost - his 937th recital was on 22nd July. He gives a concert each week except during August and December.
We have been struggling for some time to find a builder anywhere near Stockport who was interested in helping us maintain our century old house, with so many saying they would call and not doing so, or calling and saying they would get back to us and not doing so. We managed to get the very rotten windows replaced in 2007, but there remained a lot of work still to be done.
2008 marked a success in finding a builder interested in house maintenance, prepared to come to Stockport, reliable and able to do a good job, also working hard to train the new builders of tomorrow (and quite prepared to redo their work if they made a small error). Terry of Tectonic Developments Ltd and his lads repaired the many cracks in the render, replaced some timber, painted the exterior throughout, did some patch pointing, sealed the brickwork, and did many other little jobs that needed doing, but no-one was interested in. Three good weeks work -by no means cheap for all that labour, also involving high level work with a tower- but the house now looks far better than it ever has, and we can be confident that Terry will call back if anything subsequently needs a bit of maintenance. Well done! Terry did keep our house in good order until 2014 when he had a stroke and a scan showed a brain tumour. How to find a good replacement builder...
Update- as the cracks to the render reopened after three years, Terry was back with a new solution - and no charge. Only the thin outer coating has cracked and the initial thin fill did not hold, so the cracks have been widened and deepened before filling with a special flexible product not available in 2008. The opening up will weaken the overall structure slightly but as it appears to be well attached and quite solid, the overall risk is acceptable.
Our employer has come over all weird this year. Last year budget savings were made by cutting back front line staff. A bit of extra budget this year has resulted in some extra executive and senior management employees- whilst admin staff joining now will be paid five and a half percent less per hour than current admin staff. And something I should be used to - heading towards Christmas with just that little hint of redundancy, and the Government wish to save one billion pounds from the understaffed and stretched criminal justice system, with reductions in staff, mostly wastage and some redundancies... at least we don't have the same financial pressures as previously as our son George is now out of University and earning for himself.
Having recently purchased some fine new anime from America, that source has had to be reluctantly dropped as postal deliveries to America have become unreliable (perhaps due to high levels of paranoia by their government over there) however we have enjoyed many newer shows recently. It is a pity that the family friendly shows just don't make it onto commercial releases in the US or the UK. As we head towards retirement and a potential drop in income, so the release of dvd's of interest to us drops to a mere trickle, with a consequent large reduction in expenditure, whilst we have a good backlog of shows to watch - so long as the dvd format is supported either by dvd players or computers anyway. Our first CD recorder on our 1998 PC is now becoming very hard to feed, as the newer 52x CD-Rs will not record at 2x speed due to the changes made to push them to 52x.
We still have no plans on digital television - there seems little point when we never watch any tv! On holiday we had access to digital television, and noticed the deliberately degraded picture on the digital tv set (tested and proved by feeding in a digital signal directly), and from lots of channels showing nothing, just watched one 1956 program not released on dvd or video. The quality of the digital services which the industry, with Government support, are forcing people to buy, leaves a great deal to be desired as do the plans for continuous upgrades requiring not only more expenditure but also more waste.
Some nice concerts to end the year- discovering another Stockport brass band - Stockport Silver Band, hearing the Stockport Pantonics again, and a morning concert on the Stockport Plaza Compton. For Heritage Weekend it was back to our usual places, the Victoria Baths, the Gaskill House, the Plaza - and two new visits to a couple of old Stockport churches, St Peters in the town centre and St Thomas Stockport.
Went to the first beer festival at Manchester RNCM. which managed to be not a beer festival and a terrible introduction to their catering department - I feel very sorry for any students eating in. I think it was a choice of fifteeen beers - many having very similar flavours - for GBP 2.50 per pint plus admission. In Stockport there is a local pub which always has sixteen beers, with a wide range of flavours, properly served and no admission price. RNCM catering charged over four pounds for a hot pot which was mostly liquid with one thin slice of burned potato and not a lot else served on a polystyrene plate with a plastic fork (useful for liquids...). The beer was not served at the correct temperature or the correct measure, and the souvenir glass which was an obligatory purchase was a normal bar glass, nothing souvenir about it (I don't count a small sticky label!). For a festival (at a college of music!) open from 4pm to 11pm, the advertised music started at 10pm!!! The festival bar was open as usual to clever students who didn't get ripped off with an admission price, and also for use by concert goers during the concert interval. You learn ... never to go there ever again!
2008 ends with recession and possible depression - certainly not happy times, with the loss of MFI furniture stores and Woolworths stores- just shy of a century in the UK. So I cannot buy any more Woolworths brand photo albums or CD-Rs. (My photo printer has also gone into administration...).. However- with all the hundreds (thousands?) of shops in Manchester, Stockport, Heaton Moor, Heaton Chapel - there are only five we shop at. All of the rest can close tomorrow and we won't miss them. There are so many things I want to buy and no-one sells them, anywhere. We regularly shop out of area, in Cheadle Hulme, Glossop and Ashton, where there remain worthwhile local shops. And even something as basic as tea we have to buy on the internet as premium tea has too small a market to sell retail, even in shops carrying the packagers name, which instead sell horrible bright tat and horrible fruit flavoured concoctions with silly names. (ah- and quickly go into administration I see...). With products I want to buy and money to buy them there are no retailers offering what I want.
I am spending more time backing up my CD collection - increasingly (as they get older) I am finding more and more of my CDs won't play at all. With no warning on the covers, and not always obvious by looking at them, my minority interest CDs (organ music, brass band music) are increasingly on CD-Rs instead of pressed CDs. And so many have paper labels stuck on them - the ones without sticky labels so far do not seem to be failing but every Cd-R with a sticky label stuck on it is failing sometimes after two years, sometimes after five years - but always failing. And some of them are on well known recording labels (at least within the niche markets they serve) sold at full commercial prices.