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20th February 2010



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2009 holidays - in two parts! Part one... June 2009
We return to Wales yet again, but somewhere new. Barmouth this time, a small place famous for the wooden bridge over which the trains cross the wide river estuary, avoiding a long detour inland. Usefully, in addition to a passenger ferry across the river (Summer only), the railway bridge also carrys a footway open to the public (for a fee - a toll footway)..
The Barmouth Biscuit I enjoyed in my childhood has long since disappeared, and appears to have had no relation other than the name to Barmouth. The welsh tea loaf - or Bara Brith - seemed to be very different in Barmouth to anywhere else, more of a cake than a loaf. We did enjoy a local oggy, made with lamb rather than the usual beef. As with other holiday resorts, the seaside rock sold in Barmouth was made in Blackpool, Fylde.
Our journey to Barmouth was fine - catching a glimpse of the fine fleet of new trains operated by Wrexham and Shropshire between (guess...) Wrexham and London at very low simple prices. We just made our journey home as the line was closed after our train passed over it - for the second time in six weeks a car had ignored a train crossing in Fairbourne. The train passengers were able to continue to Barmouth by the 10.25 inch guage Fairbourne railway and then the tiny river ferry.

Barmouth is a fine place for walkers with a variety of good footpaths, some vertical, some flat, on stone and on grass. Up the crags or along the river, with some fine views to be had in return for fairly gentle ascents. There is plenty of sand but also warning signs, as at Porthmadoc, to beware of Weaver Fish, and walk on the sand and in the sea in shoes.

We started on Sunday with an ascent to Dinas Oleu, the first National Trust land, and explored the vertical "streets" of the old town, full of complexes of steps. Monday we walked North along the shore to the little Norman church at Llanaber. The train from Llanaber to Barmouth was a short journey of just under two miles and only cost a mere 90 pence.
Tuesday we took the little ferry from Barmouth to Barmouth Ferry, on the tip of the spit of land from Fairbourne, then walked down the spit and returned via the pedestrian toll path on the Barmouth Bridge. Other web sites reporting this as an operational rotating bridge are in error, the rail track is welded, I believe the bridge was last opened back in 1986. The web can be so slow to reflect reality sometimes. The Fairbourne narrow guage railway, like the other small Welsh railways, is really quite costly, over seven pounds for a line that probably runs just over one and a half miles. The small railway was running four trips a day, very lightly loaded and was probably running at a loss.
Wednesday we went up the "100 steps" - we counted 112 to the gate and then there were several more. From here we went along some varied paths including a lovely old road at Gorllwyn, to reach the Panorama View, a very pleasant panorama along the river estuary. On our return we spotted a slow worm on the road side. We returned to Barmouth going over the top to visit the Frenchmans Grave (buried quite some height above sea level).

Thursday it was the long but level trek up the river estuary to Penmaenpool toll bridge and then a bus back to Barmouth. This toll bridge is quite narrow and is used by cars, so could be hazardous for pedestrians at busy times. The Arriva bus back to Barmouth was a 15 minute journey of 6.6 miles- at a cost GBP 2.80. .

Friday was cloudy but we still made the climb up to Cell Fechan and over Graig y Gigfran (184 metres), returning on a very steep path just as the rain pelted down. And so home.
We had a lovely large apartment (Sunny Bank) on the Southern edge of Barmouth, with a nearby bus stop, chip shop, and close to the small harbour. If we had one problem with Barmouth it would be food. The local trade is very much geared to day trippers, with lunch typically being burgers and chips. The alternative was fairly large and costly meals which were not very much healthier. We generally had sandwiches for lunch and ate in for some nights. Despite all our walking we still managed to put weight on.

Part 2- August 2009 holidays

Despite George spending some years at Aberystwyth, neither he nor we really had a good look around, so off for a week in Aber.

The weather forecast was pretty poor before we went, so two days of sunshine was a bonus. Aber is really isolated, and there is no really adequate public transport- the rail service is every two hours, and apart from buses in town or to the caravan parks at Clarach and Borth, there are few bus services - many are less than daily and there is even a once a month bus. The bus timetable- when you can wheedle it out of its locked draw in the basement - is full of pages on community transport, car sharing, voluntary bodies assisting with visits to the doctor and so on. Anyone in Ceredigion without a car, goes nowhere.

Our journey in both directions was without incident. On the Sunday we went to a street with two Churches that normally have their services in Welsh, and as the singing sounded remarkably good we had a look- one church was very full, but there was an audio relay to the area below the church - which was also quite full. Although the preacher had a lovely Welsh accent, the service and hymns turned out to be in English. Same across the road. We had picked the Sunday when everyone had services in English. Ho hum.

In the afternoon, over to Constitution Hill and a ride up the steep inclined cable railway (There is now a charge for the Camera Obscura, one pound to see inside the view outside...) and a long walk around the hill, nearly reaching Clarach. Some of the path was in the open, some in bracken, and quite a bit in lovely woodland. We had a bit of rain but not much. The walk finished in a local nature reserve where we spotted an unusual insect, now identified as Coreus marginatus.

Monday was wet, so we went off for a tour of the Welsh National Library and a look behind the scenes in their storage areas. This is one of the UK copyright libraries and they have my book on the TI99/4A computer- not that I saw it, they have many miles of shelving. We saw three pleasant watercolours by the Prince of Wales, and some of the oldest books the library holds, in the flesh- including the 13th Century Black Book, and the 13th Century Law of Hywel. They have a very good web site, well worth exploring. One area well worh a mention is their Pen Dinas cafe, which has the best food I've found in a museum/art gallery type location, with a very good choice of delicious food. Recommended. There is also an excellent shop. The staff are delightfuly friendly. George had not been in the National Library before.

Then across the road to the University glasshouses, now running on a very low budget but still more or less maintained. Here there are some very old Cycads, some rather sorry looking cacti, and many lovely variegated plants. There was a large orchid in flower, and one of the hugest mallows (Hibiscus) imaginable. We had previously visited once when visiting George at the Uni. George had not known the house was open, and indeed there is no formal arrangement in place and no signage to encourage you, but we discovered it on the Uni website.

Tuesday was sunny day one, and we took a ride on the 12 mile narrow guage railway to Devils Bridge. George had not previously made this trip, and didn't really believe us when we said it had run as British Rail - their only narrow guage and last steam line - until we got to Devils Bridge and saw the British Rail road sign for the station! Generally only two trains per day apart from a few days in August when it has four, a very attractive line with lots of views of the Rheidol valley below. The train whistled as it approached the various path crossings, and birds of prey answered back and flew alongside a short distance- the train did sound quite like their cries. The railway timetable suggests you can take the scenic walk at the end in under an hour - we took three and a half hours but did both the short (10mins!) and long (45 mins!) walk as well as having a cup of tea in the former Post Office (closed last year). To keep to the suggested timings you would have to be very fit and run all the way, looking at nothing. The shorter walk is essential to properly see the three bridges, one built on top of the other, and to see the Devils Cauldron - sink holes now opened up by the river which rushes through them and then through a very deep and very narrow opening in the rock under the bridges. The long walk gives views (sometimes very close) of two waterfalls. Both walks are on private land and there is a small fee payable. Very enjoyable.

On Tuesday evening we very much enjoyed the Aberystwyth Silver Band playing in the "bandstand" on the prom - don't look for a bandstand, look for a shed!

We paid a swift visit to the town museum, walked to the far end of the beach South of the harbour, and took a short walk along the Rheidol in the town. We saw and identified our first Painted Lady butterfly (subsequently also seen in Manchester). The beaches are shingle, larger to the North, much smaller to the South. Footpaths are secretive, often permissive (and hence not on OS maps). Walks guides from the Tourist centre do not mark the public rights of way at all and mostly assume the use of a car. Some paths on the Tourist guides did not seem to exist on the gorund at all. As a car is essential to life, the larger stores are out of town, although there is a small Spar supermarket and two health food shops.

The accommodation? I won't name it - although the most costly we have stayed in it was also the least satisfactory. Yet again the indicated 4 star accomodation grade given the property was no indication of the quality- they only look at the ticked boxes, not the property. There were good views- of the National Library and University from the kitchen, of the Rheidol and old kiln from our bedroom, and a seaward facing lounge. The front windows facing a stiff wind from the sea would not close, the kitchen mixer tap was wobbly and dripped, the toilet door lock fell apart locking you inside, the binoculars to watch the dolphins were broken, and there was no storage space- in our bedroom we had just half a metre of hanging rail and the floor. In the kitchen we had the table. We also had a bad start- despite giving our time of arrival throughout, and ringing as we arrived in Aber, we were left hanging around on the pavement despite arriving to the minute of our indicated time- and we had to make a further phone call to get in.

Aberystwyth is not a cheap place to stay- the cheapest bed and breakfast in town (this in August) seemed to be seventy pounds per night, which is more than a four star hotel in Manchester (or London - if you haggle). Aberystwyth is a place to relax and do nothing, expensively. The local people were extremely friendly. There were several takeaways- Indian, Chinese, and our favourite was Thai. As mentioned the National Library cafe was well worth the climb up the hill. We did find a Welsh bottle conditioned beer, but all their varieties seemed much too acidic for our taste.

===End of Holiday Section===


We attended the Winter Ale Festival in Manchester, a very civilised do, with well over a hundred beers on offer, and available in useful one third of a pint measures so you could taste more without overdoing it. Despite huge numbers of people attending it was always easy to obtain a drink - but the beer tasting notes had run out before we got there so we selected our beers by genre and pot luck. We agreed with the judges over their choice of Sara Hughes Ruby Mild as a prize winner. There was a good variation in the taste of the Porters. Unfortunately the next Winter Ale festival is to be held some distance from the City Centre in a new cheaper venue, so that was probably our one and only visit.

Subsequently I visited some of the better pubs in Stockport - both inclined to very busy moments, both with music, both with heritage decor -the Swan with Two Necks, small and inclined to fill up very quickly, but cosy at quiet times but oddly now fenced off by the landlord to prevent entry! and selling the rare Dark Hatters mild. Nearby the Ardern Arms serves the Hatters Mild (the none dark version), and in addition to a nice open room with fires, has a neat hidden snug behind the bar. The Crown Inn on Heaton Lane is remarkable with a dozen beers on tap including usually one mild and either a stout or a porter, sometimes busy but with plenty of peaceful moments- the quality of the beer relies upon the numerous casks being turned over equally quickly.

We later discovered a very friendly pub in Heaton Norris, the Nursery, on Green Lane, which still has its vault (for workmen and heavy drinkers originally) with its separate entrance. The Nursery is one of Stockport's pubs to retain its own bowling green- well maintained and very popular. And unlike the two central Stockport pubs, the Swan and the Ardern, the Nursery is a quiet pub, no music. A second lounge has the large screen tv, usually not in use, and easy to get away from. They have a rare choice of two cask milds- light or dark.

We enjoyed a nice afternoon walk around Lymm one winters day, with lots of ice in the canal and on the lake.

Some hours of scanning images at Stockport Library as a volunteer, resulted in the launch in February of a web page giving access to the first 7000 images, with quite afew more to come.

Also in February the Plaza Theatre in Stockport closed for refurbishment until November, and a splendid bash with a dozen organists on the Compton, organ music together with a silent Laurel and Hardy movie, a piano./organ duet, a rare Cinemescope musical demo piece, and a special message from Ken Dodd filmed the previous month in the Plaza. A very nice temporary au revoir to the building before a large sum of money was spent on it to restore it to largely original 1930's splendour. No gold leaf decor this time though..
With the Plaza closed, the monthly fund raising coffee mornings / organ recitals moved up the hill to St Peters Church, with music supplied by the very impressive Copeland Harte organ in the Church, together with a borrowed Conn organ, and a baby grand piano.

We have previously attended and enjoyed concerts by Stockport Youth Orchestra but found ourselves the victim of a nasty trick in March. A concert on 8th was listed on their web site with no pieces named, but not listed on the Town Hall website. There was a poster in the Town Hall itself, placed by the SYO, which named two pieces of music and gave a strong indication that this was to be an SYO concert. We turned up to find the price increased to eight pounds (more than the subscription price for the highly talented Stockport Symphony Orchestra) but no problem, we bought our tickets from right by the afore mentioned poster. The concert started with a couple of pleasant pieces by a string group, not the SYO. Then disaster as the Stockport Youth Wind Band came on - not the SYO - we have previously enjoyed their concerts but on this night their musical director seems to have had an obsession with very lound pounding bass drums. There may have been a hundred or so children playing but the drums significantly dominated - and I don't think they fit with a wind orchestra. Finally, at the end of the night the SYO Symphony Orchestra played ONE piece lasting a mere seventeen minutes (and was not one of the two pieces named on the poster). Eight quid for 17 minutes - and a free headache. Rip off, confidence trick, fraud. Doesn't matter what the intention of the organisers we will NOT be attending any more SYO or SYWB concerts ever again.

Having missed out on the November 08 Memorabilia at the NEC due to poor organisation by the new arrangers, it was back to the Memorabilia in March 09, with already quite a change of direction, with very little in the way of memorabilia, and an emphasis on quite recent films and tv programs. None of the "table top" sellers of real memorabilia, mostly what can only be called pirate dvd vendors (who are useful for purchasing the many programs that commercial distributors won't touch as the market is too small). There was a plethora of autograph selling guests - perhaps too many, as obtaining one autograph from each would have required a mortgage. I selected just six and duly obtained my autographs. Most pleasant conversation was with Melvyn Hayes - I seem to have been the only person to mention his voice acting in the English dub at Bray of Alfred J Kwak, which seems to have disappeared. He did not even know it had been on tv - and there seems to have been a problem with being paid for his work.
I also met Hunt Emerson, an illustrator whose work I have enjoyed for some two decades or more - and he kindly autographed a 1989 work for me. I also purchased a couple of comics he had worked on for the Ruskin Foundation. I correctly identified that Hunt was owned by a cat (three actually) from the personality shown in his work!

The Show had quite a contingent of cos-players, youngsters dressed up in largely anime/manga costumes as well as the Star Wars storm troopers who marshalled the crowds (with the help of the Planet of the Apes apes). Attendance was well up on March 2008. Saw a Universal trailer for The Boat that Rocked- one of those horrible films based on a premise and no research, in this case the 1960's UK boat-based pirate radio stations. The film makers had not been interested in the music the boats played (there are many hours of recordings available), and didn't seem to have spoken to anyone on the boats - it came over as a very Hollywood film even though they assured me it was a UK production. Universal should have shown a trailer for Coraline, based on an English author's book, I would have been interested in that! It is a huge pity that Coraline has been made in 3D and I do not have 3D vision, so no matter how good the film, I can't watch it. Even the DVD is in 3d.

A bright Spring saw us returning in some cases after many years to some places we hadn't been to for a while - train to Wilmslow and then a walk along the river to Styal Mill and Country Park. The mill owners garden was now in a neat state of renewal, and some new engines had been installed in the basement. The water wheel- the largest working water wheel in Europe (as in doing actual work, not just rotating) which we had seen installed was still in functioning order.
Then the train to Cheadle Hulme and a walk along the brook to Bramall Hall in Bramhall. They had a grandfather clock sold to the USA in the 1930's and now returned to the hall - they hope to recover more of the old furnishings in due course. The attics had been fitted out in the manner of servants quarters..

Next a bus to Marple and an intended walk to Romiley along the canal was rerouted due to the closure of the canal here due to a pollution incident. Instead we turned right to go (for the first time) through Brabyns Park, to see the cast iron carriage bridge, and on to Etherow Country Park. Then a visit to see a brass band in Vernon Park was cancelled as the advertised event was never organised, and instead we walked along the river in Woodbank Park, seeing a heron at close quarters.
Cathy and I went to our first brass band contest, in Buxton - just for the two bottom sections. Worryingly Cathy picked the winners of each section... it was fun and we'll go again, despite hearing one piece five times, and despite a mass invasion of the lane outside by two hundred large motorbikes revving their engines for a couple of hours. We are not sure how much the local authority had to do with that..

Meanwhile, in April, after a gap of 30 years, back to St Thomas Church Heaton Chapel to record the organ there, which is probably now sounding better than at any time since the 1930's, its maintenance having in the past been skimped and renovations left to the cheapest hands. It seems sad to see some memorials no longer there- the sanctuary lamp in memory of Mr Whatmough, gone, and the 1979 Stations of the Cross already replaced in 1993. The huge empty area of the chancel, with the removal of the choir stalls and pulpit, left the communion table very central, but I felt the emptiness and could not worship there whatever the service used. I seem to have a fear of large featureless places....

At work, my line manager for my entire period there to date (nearly six years) left, together with her office manager (due to changes brought about by HQ), leaving us served only by mostly off-site management, who didn't know what we did and who were not there for us in our hour of need when on their first watch the computers and telephones failed. The admin team were so well integrated that they worked around the quite considerable problems very effectively without management assistance. And received a message from HQ regarding the need to reduce staff costs. and volunteers for early retirement and reduced hours. Hmm - I've been here before, this is just like the collapse of the RBS bank. Horribly like it. This time I don't need to worry too much about finances as I am nearly at the stage of receiving my free bus pass.

My workplace this year is very like the RBS came to be towards the end. Having removed our local management in March, along comes August and we learn that the two replacement management persons who worked mostly off site (I saw one for maybe ten minutes in six months, and the other for not much longer - neither knew what we actually did)- are to be replaced with another two persons also at another location, and knowing nothing of what we do. And our Executive -who had an inkling of what we did - was also being replaced. Opportunities for early retirement are offered. Staff levels are much too low and knowledge and expertise is being jettisoned. The RBS limped on a few years before it went belly up. I'm not sure that this employer will be able to last even that long. We need a paradigm change.

The centenary of the Garratt design articulated locomotive was celebrated with a big bash at the Manchester Science Museum with several large visiting locomotives and lots of models. The first Garratt (K1), sold to Auckland, was there and on its actual anniversary of first steaming which was the next day, was to be taken to its works in Gorton to be steamed, then on to Hyde to visit the grave of one the works founding owners. The K1 is still in service on the Welsh Highland Railway. We had a ride on an old bus to the remains of the Beyer-Peacock Gorton loco works and walked through the original engine assembly shed, with the last Works Director as our guide.

My father in law died in 2011. He had been a commercial photographer, and looking through his photographic sample books we found a lovely photograph of an East African Railways engine in course of construction at Gorton- then I discovered that he had been photographing the engines for Peacock from the mid fifties to their closure. The firms archives, including images captured by my father in law, are now held at Manchester Science Museum (called MOSI in 2011).

Then a visit to an organ concert by Keith Hearnshaw at St Anns in Manchester - a remarkable young man. The church organist (for 31 years) came to Keith at the interval to see how he had produced some of the sounds from the organ. Keith follows in the footsteps of Carlo Curly and ensures that he has plenty of time to explore an organ before a concert, unlike some who step out of their car to immediately give a concert on a strange organ. Bought some of Keith's excellent CDs, including one recorded at Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral, and one from Rochdale Town Hall. The next Sunday to Stockport Town Hall for a well attended concert on their Wurlitzer by another great organist, Richard Hills- previously seen, much younger, in the documentary "Metroland".

The Manchester Brass Band festival at the Bridgewater Hall came round again and we enjoyed a full day of excellent brass band music including a world premiere by Sparke, and two composers present in the audience - and the welcome news that in 2010 there are to be two full brass days.

The following day off to Heaton Park, which we had not visited for quite some time, for the opportunity to hear Besses Boys Band playing at the "Hidden Gem" garden centre. Hidden is dead spot on. No signpost, just locked and padlocked gates. Many people passed by wanting to come in and not able to find the splendidly hidden entrance, handy for the car park but not for anyone wandering the park. No strong reason for the locked gates either- there is no admission charge. We enjoyed listening to the band for a short while until two families decided to take advantage of the quiet solitude of the sensory garden very close to the band, for their small children to play football with them. Lots of thuds, lots of squeals, (don't worry about any damage to the flowers, that's ok...).. we left.
We had a short ride on the preserved electric tramway (NOTE: join at the lake stop as they only do return rides, not singles) on an oddity of a tram part way through restoration, a Hull tram painted as a Leeds works tram due to lack of funds for the full paint job. There was also a huge collection of buses in the park on their annual day out, from buses with starting handles to the very latest, from all over the country.

September could only mean a return visit to the North West Fairground Organ Preservation Rally at Widnes, now grown to a major free event courtesy of Halton council. Lots of geese and swans on the lake with a portion used by remote controlled model boats. There was a collection of rare breed sheep and a live sheep shearing demonstration; owls and birds of prey; a fairground, a brass band, and of course quite a few fairground organs. Met organ builder John Smith and bought a DVD record of a delightful ad hoc concert in a church with small street organs, accordians and so on. Delightful day which we topped off at home with an Indian takeaway.

In October, actress Madeline Smith gave an interview to the BBC, quite widely quoted on the web, in which she remarked: Somebody sent me Taste The Blood Of Dracula and I thought it was a really good film (end quote). That was an original retail copy and the someone was I, Madeline kindly sent me an autographed montage from the film.

As the year ebbed we assisted some friends to move to nearby Woodley, where we discovered a first class Indian takeaway. We finally paid off our mortgage and discovered that the Bank had lost all of the deeds, some dating back to 1905. Fortuitously not too long ago the Government had passed a law to indicate that it was no longer necessary to have physical deeds, the electronic registration was sufficient.

November and back to Memorabilia to buy a few DVDs - most notably all that remains of Harry Worth's tv output, and Six Faces of Jim with Jimmy Edwards. Autographs included Camille Codury (The River), Linda Thorsen(Star Trek), Honor Blackman(The Invisible Man), Gary Raymond(The Invisible Man) and Richard Moore.

To celebrate the year end the analogue tv broadcasts ceased. When we married we had no tv set - by choice. Our friends and relatives rather insisted we had a tv, and so no matter how little we watched we had to pay the tv licence fee. Now we don't have to pay this as we cannot receive broadcast television again. A tv licence costs the same as a budget tv set but you have to buy the licence each year even if you only watch ten minutes of tv. We are not short of things to watch on our old technology television sets, as we have a lifetimes viewing of dvds to catch up on. Our government, so concerned about green issues that the opal 100 watt lightbulb has been made unlawful to sell, at a time when anyone can have 500 watt garden lights, patio heaters, and other energy wasters, is pushing new technology at alarming rates, with high levels of old technology going to landfill. Now the country has digital tv, next there is high definition tv, then 3d tv - and new equipment needed every time.

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