Will it be a vintage?

Did you know that our galaxy is speeding through the universe a 600km a second and while it is doing this, our Sun is travelling at 782,000 km/hour in a circular orbit around the centre of our galaxy, some 26,000 light years away? Now that is pretty quick! Add to this the Earth orbiting the sun at 107,000 km/hour while spinning on its axis at 1,600 km per hour, a relative snail pace in comparison, but cumulatively, we are whizzing along. Fascinating isn’t it? No need for a crash helmet, no safety belt and no travel sickness tablets. Yet, it takes just a slight little wobble (tilt) of the Earth’s axis (23°) to encourage me to dig out the thermals and fleeces and start stock piling wood for the winter. Yes, since the last blog the nights have started to get cooler and the days not quite so pleasant, winter is on its way. I must stop checking the weather conditions of friends in Italy, Cyprus and Canada, it will become increasingly depressing from now on. It doesn’t help that Sue’s sister and husband are now harassing the wildlife of South Africa over the next few months and posting regularly on Facebook!

On a less dispiriting note, on the 24th Sept. Mia, Peter and I walked from Harborough to Welford for lunch at the Wharf. It was a lovely sunny day, just perfect for a long ramble through the Leicestershire countryside and it wasn’t without incident. Just after coming across a farmer and chatting at length about country matters , he knew Peter and I guess he was looking for a little respite from his hedge cutting duties of that morning, we entered a small wood that was home to a large number of maintained game birds. Our path took us alongside their pens, which unfortunately for Mia had a low electrified fence to keep out the foxes. We had stopped briefly while I explained to Peter that in the wood was an ancient Motte and Bailey castle (only the earthworks being visible today), it was thought that it was strategically located there as the River Welland and River Avon were close by and guarded the traffic travelling between these two water courses, when we heard a terrific yelping and witnessed poor Mia dashing madly around in circles, obviously terrified. She had sniffed the electrified wire with the predictable, shocking result. She soon recovered, but for the rest of the day she regarded all fences with a great deal of suspicion and care. I don’t think that there has been any lasting damage to her olfactory capabilities, she still has the ability to detect the unwrapping of any food item from several hundred metres!

The rest of our journey was pleasant and without incident, suitably finished off with a very large and satisfying lunch. Sue picked us up and transported us back to Harborough. Peter was particularly grateful as like many who have played the noble game of rugby and have developed knee and other joint problems in later life he was struggling to be mobile after resting awhile over lunch and found just getting in and out of Sue’s Suzuki difficult and painful.

That week I had my flu jab. A painless, 2 minute operation that affected me the following morning with a headache and a general feeling of about to be ill, but by the afternoon I was fit and bouncy again. Sue was due to be jabbed later that afternoon after she had taken Charlotte for a hospital appointment, but on arriving at the clinic she was told that she did not qualify for it (not old enough). It took a phone call to her GP to get her on the list and a reschedule onto the next Flu vaccination clinic, which at present hasn’t taken place.

We saw September out without any further incidents other than we booked to go away in the new year. Fingers crossed that unlike last year we will not have to cancel and be able to experience the delights of: Amsterdam, The Azores, Barbados, Aruba, Panama, Guatemala, Mexico, Tahiti, Bora Bora, New Zealand and Australia.

October is proving to be a time of change for the Palmer family. Jamie and Ashton seem to be well down the road towards exchanging contracts and a move away from Harborough to Desborough. There is a small concern that recent incidents in the apartment block may deter the buyers of his apartment, a few months ago one of the residents in a ground floor flat was involved in a stabbing (drug related) and just this week the flat was boarded up for the next 3 months as cannabis was found to be cultivated there. Hopefully, he will be moving sometime in November.

Sarah and Lee have also seemed to have decided that a move is on the cards and have put their own house on the market and placed an offer in a property in Newbold Verdon. Moving house isn’t the only target they have set themselves, they are using technology to count the distance they walk each day and they are aiming for 75 miles during October after successfully achieving 50 miles during September.

Charlotte is not attempting to move house but she is moving about a lot better now. She is reducing her dependency on painkillers and walking, sitting etc. seem to be easier. She is receiving physiotherapy, following the recommended exercise routines and taking care not to strain herself beyond her limited capabilities. Sue and I are continuing to pick up Ellis from school, while Suraj does the morning run. Lucas is really enjoying his new school and gets himself there and back on the bus. Ellis moved up from Beavers to Cubs this week and it won’t be long before he will joining Lucas in the Scouts. Sue has been busy these last couple of days sewing all his Beaver badges onto to his Cub blanket (glad my sewing skills are aren’t up to that!) Before one school run last week, I re-laid the very wobbly path in the back garden that leads to the tree house via the chicken run. I had been meaning to do this job during the summer but the ground is clay and rock-hard due to the lack of rain and would have been impossible to have got level without the use of a JCB.

I have been helping Jamie on the wording of a new initiative with his company Binary Destroyer and fxLearning for the website. The growth of his business has been quite spectacular and the comments and reviews are very satisfying. Though I don’t profess to understand how to trade in binary I can gauge that he is very successful in what he has developed and there are an awful lot of people who have had their lives changed for the better by his company. I am amazed at the amount of thought, time and effort that he puts into his business and still manages to hold down his regular job. His drive is to be admired.

On the 5th of this month Sue and I went to see The Moody Blues in concert. Time has taken its toll on the original members but the music is timeless and classic so a good night was expected and we were not disappointed. We were however in for a surprise, one of my past pupils, Bethany Tempest was the flautist in the band and her very proud parents and other family members were sat in the seats directly behind ours, now how about that for a co-incidence? Her playing was superb, especially on ‘Nights in White Satin’ one of my all time favourite tracks. During the interval I chatted to Kim, her father and he told me that they are reforming ‘Doctor Marshall’s Remedy’ at the end of this month. It was a band formed from parents at Farndon Fields Primary, many years ago. I shall be going along to watch them and meet up with old friends.

The following day I went with Suraj and a group of rugby chums to Twickenham to watch the Tigers play the Saints. Suraj was a late replacement for one of my friends who had caught a stomach bug and couldn’t make the game so he gave up his tickets. The game matched the weather, it was dire. We caught the 7.26am train from Harborough and were back at 10.45pm, it rained all day! However, despite the conditions we had a good time. A full English breakfast at a restaurant near St. Pancras station was followed by an interesting visit to the London Canal Museum located just behind King’s Cross station. The museum is housed in a building where ice for the rich and famous of London was once stored having been transported all the way from Norway. It is now home to canal memorabilia and other interesting info on the building itself. At £4 entrance fee, a bargain for a London museum.

After catching the tube then the overland to Twickenham we settled ourselves next to an open fire in the White Swan on the banks of the river Thames, a gorgeous place to have a pre-match drink on a warm sunny day, and also a great refuge to be on a cold wet one. With thirsts satiated, we moved on to a lovely eatery that we had discovered on our last visit there. Fabulous pies with huge mounds of mashed potato, peas and lashings of thick gravy washed down with a fine Malbec and some South African lagers. A very wet walk took us late to the match. Taking our seats, the Tigers were 3:0 up and though in the end they won the game, it wasn’t deserved. It was the first match I have been to where the supporters (from both clubs) were more interested in chatting to each other than watching the dismal spectacle in front of them, The quality of rugby was very poor and it was not just down to the conditions.

After the match we returned to the warmth of the White Swan via a very crowded William Webb Ellis (pub). Much later on, our return journey to Harborough was interrupted by further refreshments at the Murphy’s Irish bar near St. Pancras station. Suraj stayed the night at Willow Bank before returning home to his family the following morning.

The following Tuesday I had one of my more disheartening morning bike rides. I was stopped by a friend (rugby player) as I was (appropriately) passing Great Bowden Cemetery. He is a stonemason and was on a job there. He informed me that a past fellow rugby player, Robin Garfield had died the previous day of a heart attack. He was just 53 yrs and only a month or so ago he had fixed an Ariel problem I’d had. He had died on a similar job. I recollected that I had seen the air-ambulance land somewhere in Harborough while I was at my allotment on the previous day, it had been for Robin. We discussed at length how shocking it was before he dropped into the conversation that he had been diagnosed with an incurable blood condition and had been diagnosed as having 4 years left to live. Awkward situation to comment on, particularly as he went on to say that he was determined to live what time he had left to the full, so had bought a camper van, left his wife, got another woman and now spends all his free time walking around the country with her. Hmmm, I really do now value those rides where the only shocks that take place are to surprised muntjacs or rabbits and perhaps when I make the occasional mistake and take an expected dive over the handlebars into a ditch or hedge!

I attended Robin’s funeral at St, Dionysius in the centre of town on the Friday. The church was packed with many familiar faces, he was a much liked and loved character in the town, having once been a fireman, a rugby player, an actor in the local theatre, a pall bearer for one of the town’s funeral directors and now owned his own Ariel business. He had a wicked sense of humour but balanced it with such a studious and sensible outlook on life. He will be missed by many.

On a lighter note, I have been busy preparing this years wine for bottling. Due to the intense heat of May and June the grapes had the highest sugar content I have yet achieved, but because I changed the pruning regime the quantity wasn’t as much as in previous years. I have decided to mix the white and the red together this year prior to bottling and I am presently waiting for the lees to settle out before I adjust the flavour and bottle. I am hopeful that this years vintage will be an exceptional one.

Breaking news:

Sadly, Jamie and Ashton have had the buyer of Jamie’s apartment pull-out and this has thrown their purchase of the property in Rothwell in jeopardy. At present the apartment is back on the market and they are considering their options. Tomorrow they drive up to Scotland for a Glamping holiday until Sunday, it should give them time to reflect, but it is an unwelcome dampener to what should be a restful break. In the meantime, Sue and I have taken charge of Ashton’s guinea pigs and Maddie the rabbit is back (hopefully no diarrhoea this time!!!)

On a positive note, Sarah and Lee’s offer has been accepted on the house in Newbold Verdon. They have accepted a buyer for their home so hopefully things will go well for them. Sue and I are meeting them tonight to view the house.

Today, I had another eventful bike ride. I was on the return leg of the mornings’ route cycling along the Grand Union canal on a countryside stretch just past the village of Great Bowden when I came across four dogs. They seemed to be milling around in a tight little circle next to the water’s edge. I hadn’t passed anyone up to that point, so fully expected to come across their owner after a few metres or so, but after around 100m I hadn’t, nor was there any sign of anyone further down the canal. Concerned that perhaps the person had fallen into the canal and that was why the dogs were staying at the same spot and yapping I thought I had better check it out. Returning I could see no one in the water, but two of the dogs seemed stuck together and in distress, the other two were showing obvious concern. Were they Siamese dogs I thought? All four were friendly and seemed glad of my attention, but the two locked together at the rear ends were perilously close to the canal bank and looked exhausted. They allowed my attempts to part them, but no matter how hard I heaved I couldn’t budge them. I made several attempts but had to give up, they were locked too tightly together. I opted to call the RSPCA, but that was a waste of time as after navigating at great length through their menu system the automaton thanked me kindly for the call and rang off. I got the impression they don’t deal with dogs in distress. I rang the council and got a better response from the local dog warden, who sensitively explained that the dogs were probably copulating and that it wasn’t unknown for them to become locked in such a position. Now, slightly embarrassed, I pointed out that the dogs were exhausted and dangerously near the water’s edge, it was at that point they fell in! Even submerged below the dark green murky canal water they did not  separate, both were under water with just the leg of the smaller dog visible. I dropped my mobile and stepped into the canal, grabbing the leg I heaved the drowning mutt, still attached at the rear end to his larger mate, onto the bank. They looked quite grateful, as did their two yapping chums, but they didn’t help in the search for my dropped mobile. Thankfully recovering it from an undergrowth of nettles I was pleased to discover that the dog warden was still there and equally concerned that I hadn’t drowned. Promising to come and attempt to sort the dogs out I closed the call. Turning to the dogs I reassured them that help was on its way in the form of the dog warden and they may be in for a little ride in a van. At that point the two inseparables, separated!!!! I watched bemused as the four then milled and trotted down the canal path as if nothing had happened, I rang the council to cancel my order for a warden and a crowbar. Continuing my journey I soon came across a dog walker who informed me that they were dogs from the gypsy site further down the canal, and that made sense.

It was an experience that no doubt will cause friends to chuckle over a pint in the coming weeks, but those dogs recognised that I was trying to help and weren’t protective or vicious, they allowed me to hurt them in my attempts to separate and I do believe they would certainly have drowned in that canal.

A reminisce:

One of the most enjoyable activities I was involved in while teaching was taking part in the annual residential trip. They always created such happy memories and probably the best learning experiences that both young and old can ever experience. This particular memory is about an unfortunate occurrence to a fellow group leader who just happened to be a local councillor, a governor of the school, a part-time firemen with Robin Garfield and a good friend of our family, Roger Dunton. We had a large party of children on this particular residential trip to North Yorkshire with four group leaders. We were visiting the charming fishing village of Robin Hood’s Bay, it was a beautiful warm and sunny day and we had completed our separate history tours of the village streets and had just returned from the beach where we had been hunting for fossils along this part of the Jurassic coast. We were all spread around the little harbour area in front of the Bay pub and hotel, sat with clip-boards on laps drawing one or more of the building or boats that were in front of us. It was a good time to rest and recover from the heat and strenuous activities in this very steep settlement. I had settled myself on the doorstep of small cottage enjoying the warmth and prepared to video the scene of children quietly finding pleasure in resting and putting pencil to paper doing something that they enjoyed, before I gathered them all together for the last bit of history for the day.

This was to be an explanation of smuggling, and how this was an important element in the history of the area. I would finish off by taking those that were brave enough, into the hidden tunnels that led off the small stream that emerged from the wall in front of them. Roger, from past trips knew that this was going to happen and unbeknown to me had prepared a rather exciting true story, where the village smugglers were discovered by the Excise men and there was a murder.

As I was panning the scene with the camera I picked out Roger marching into the centre of the landing, shouting and gesturing to the children to gather around tightly as he had a story to tell them. Bemused at what he was doing, I thought this would be a good video opportunity, so I remained where I was and filmed. Great scene; stunning background, well-behaved children what’s not to like? As he shushed the children into silence, he explained that he had a story to tell them. A small group of Japanese tourists (they had latched onto our group the previous day at Scarborough Castle and listened to me outlining the history of the fortress) also gathered round on the fringes of the children.

Then a series of unfortunate events took place. Before they had started drawing, the children had also taken the opportunity to eat the remains of their pack lunch for the day, this had attracted quite a lot of gulls. Of course, much of that spare lunch had been tossed into the air, for gulls to snatch in mid flight and was now resident in their tiny stomachs. These seabirds were now intent on watching every movement of our group from their roosts on the surrounding chimney pots and roof tops. To begin his story, Roger gestured to the buildings around, several gulls misreading this act as preparation for the tossing of more tasty morsels and began their dive towards the group, then disappointed at none appearing at least one discharged its ballast as they wheeled around back to the vantage point of the nearest roof. Gull faeces for some reason, like themselves is white, but rather sloppy and prone to splatter. It hit Roger fair and square on his bald pate with the nearest children getting the benefit of the shrapnel. I have never seen a group of children and Japanese move so fast in my life, in less than a millisecond Roger was the only one left standing in the landing with squealing children and Asian tourists desperately looking for cover from aerial bombardment. I am afraid that it was rather unprofessional of me but I could stifle the laughter but the tears gave me away.

We did see those Japanese tourists again later that week, but they didn’t risk latching onto our group for a free talk again. And Roger never did tell his exciting story, not even to me.

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