Canada, Cars and Meerkats

Fortunately, I tested negative for Covid-19 on the 4th of April and was able to attend my 6 monthly Dental check-ups. Sue continued to cough up phlegm and got easily exhausted, but she was showing some improvement. Sue and I have been suffering from the chilly weather conditions and have been making a fire each evening and retiring early to bed. The northerly winds have been keeping the temperature below double figures during the day and I fear the Covid bug has been playing its part in sensitising us to the cold. It was on the 6th of April that both Sue and I took another test and this time we were both negative, as a spooky bonus, her sister Pip also tested negative.

On the 7th of April Ruth arrived late in the evening with Nala and Rocky. The following day, Jamie, Ruth and Joey are flying to Canada for a couple of weeks touring in a campervan between Calgary and Vancouver. As Joey is too young to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19, earlier in the evening he had to pass a PCR test online 24 hours before the flight, if he had tested positive we wouldn’t have had to look after the dogs and no doubt there would have been an insurance claim. Despite horrendous queues at all UK airports due to Covid restrictions and flight cancellations, they managed to fly successfully on time at 12.40hrs. With the thought of holidays fresh in mind, Sue and I decided to visit Greenland and booked a cruise to visit the island late in June.

The hens were reclaimed by Charlotte on the 8th, she must have been missing them greatly (or their eggs) and had built a temporary coop for them at the side of the house. I bet they will miss their nice warm greenhouse and friendly rabbit neighbours.

Jamie, Ruth and Joey appear to be having a great but chilly time in the Banf area of the Canadian Rockies. At that elevation in April, the nights are still very cold, Lake Louise is still frozen over, I believe from the word on Messenger that the temperature at night falls to -12°C they have purchased a heater for the campervan.

On Sunday afternoon Sean and Jim joined me in the garden room to watch the Tigers beat Clermont. It was the first time the room has been used for the purpose it was built (to relax and entertain)and it seemed to fit that role perfectly.

For over a week now the Chinese authorities have enforced a Covid-19 lockdown on Shanghai (pop: 25 million), this strategy is certainly in contradiction to much of the rest of the world which seems to have moved on and accepted that the planet has to live with this virus and its consequences. It’s not surprising that there are stirrings among its population who have to adhere to such harsh restrictions on what are already ‘limited’ freedoms. I fear that clamping down on this great city may reduce the spread of Covid (temporarily) but at the risk of a great deal of civil unrest which like the virus may spread out of control.

Putin shows a complete lack of willingness to acknowledge that we all live on the same planet when he threatens the world with nuclear weapons if Finland and Sweden join NATO. It is obvious to any right-thinking, civilized person why these two countries wish to join an organisation created solely for defence. Much of the civilised world has had enough of his lies and inhumanity. With the might of the Russian army foundering in the Ukraine, what does he think he will achieve by pressing a small red button, other than the destruction of many more innocents. It is time the people of Russia stood up and put an end to their shame and his madness.

Easter Friday was the warmest of the year so far and the day I helped Lee start laying the floor of their new kitchen. It took us 5 hours of glueing and crawling on our knees to complete half of the task. While we worked, Sarah took Alice and Mia to a nearby farm park to avoid little feet and hands becoming covered in very tacky adhesive. I returned on Easter Monday to complete the job.

On Easter Sunday, Sue and I (with Nala) met up at the Rothwell’s new house with Sarah and her family for a wonderful lunch cooked by Charlotte. Suraj, Lee and the boys managed to avoid any food preparation duties by spending an hour in the morning on the driving range at the nearby Kettering golf club. It turned out to be another lovely sunny day, just perfect to enjoy the garden and chat with drinks both before and after the meal. It was nice to hear what plans they had for their homes and upcoming holidays, usually, this ‘updating’ occurs during video calls, it seems the summer will be a busy time for the Palmers!

Jamie, Ruth, and Joey have moved on to Whistler and have been enjoying snowboarding and snowmobiles and also managed to watch an ice-hockey game. On the 19th it was Jamie’s birthday.

With the weather improving greatly over the past month or so, the family have taken every opportunity to put aside their ‘new house’ chores and engage themselves in all sorts of activities.

Jamie and his family returned from their Canadian adventure on the 23rd of April. Instead of heading directly home, they diverted to Hertfordshire to collect Jamie’s new ‘weekend’ car, a white Lamborghini. They next travelled to Harborough to collect Rocky and Nala, despite Sue and I offering to look after the dogs for another day, they had missed them too much and wanted their company a.s.a.p. However there wasn’t enough room for Maddy and Wilma and the rabbits had to stay another night at Hotel Willow Bank. Ruth returned to collect the bunnies the following day while Jamie built their new home back in Waltham on the Wolds.

New rabbit home

New car

With the family’s animals back safely with their owners, Sue and I were free to have an adventure of our own. Part of Sue’s Christmas present this year from me was to experience one of her favourite animals, meerkats. Up until now we had too many family commitments or were ill with Covid-19 to find the time to fit in a day with these fascinating little creatures. On the 25th of April, we set off early towards Telford, stopping for a few hours at nearby Boscobel House. It is a picturesque timber-framed hunting lodge where King Charles II famously took refuge in 1651 after fleeing for

his life following defeat at the battle of Worcester. He spent the night in the priest hole as well as hid in the canopy of an oak tree while Cromwell’s soldiers searched for him below, it is celebrated to this day with over 500 pubs called The Royal Oak. The actual tree is now long gone but one grown from one of its acorns has replaced it and I think is equally impressive.

Despite bright sunshine, a chill wind made standing around for too long an unpleasant experience, but keeping on the move we visited the tree and well-kept gardens before enjoying the warmth of the interior of this splendid historical building. We both remarked on how homely the place seemed, oozing with character and somewhere that just whispered a thousand stories from every nook and cranny. Well worth the visit as was our ramble to White Ladies Priory. There is little of the structure left but the ancient remains seem to have attracted over the years a myriad of ghostly sightings. It was midday when we finished our mini-ramble so we decided to have a picnic lunch in the grounds of Boscobel House before moving on a few miles to visit Lilleshall Abbey.

We hadn’t planned to visit this English Heritage property but our route to Telford took us nearby the abbey and we were curious. It was reached down a narrow farm track, ending at the entrance to the substantial ruins. Other than a dog walker we were its only visitors, though there was a large herd of very inquisitive cows gathered by a field gate next to the tiny parking space, mooing their greetings. The Abbey was founded in about 1148 for a community of Augustinian canons, but as often was the case the abbey was suppressed in 1538 and converted into a private house, before being severely damaged in the Civil War during a Parliamentarian siege and falling into disrepair. We spent an hour exploring what was certainly once a very extensive structure, the original abbey must have been something to behold, certainly visible from miles around. What is left of its main entrance is just half the height of the original.

Leaving a herd of disappointed Fresians behind we continued on our journey to the White Horse Tavern, our accommodation for the next two days. The tavern was originally a farm and manor house built in the 1700s, though the origin of its name is unknown to the present landlord. We arrived too early to check-in so opted for a walk around nearby Wrockwardine Wood. We spent a pleasant hour identifying the flora on either side of the steep and winding path, occasionally resorting to Google Lens to confirm our thoughts. That evening, after an early evening meal in the pub restaurant we drove into Telford to catch ‘Operation Mincemeat’ showing at the Odeon. A true story of two intelligence officers during WW2 using a corpse and false papers to outwit Hitler. A thoroughly enjoyable evening of entertainment made all the better by electrically operated seating that permitted us to fully recline as we sucked on our chocolate eclairs.

After a full English breakfast, we had the morning to fill before our 2 pm appointment with some meerkats. Consulting our English Heritage handbook we chose to visit Wroxeter Roman City, once the fourth largest city in Roman Britain and 2,000 years ago called Viriconium. We had earmarked this place for a visit for many years now and it didn’t disappoint. Though little is evident above ground compared to the vast complex just a few metres underneath our feet, what is visible is well presented and gives you a real feel for what life must have been like for the Romano Britains. As is the case with all English Heritage museums linked to sites, the information is exceptionally displayed and caters for most levels of interest. A must place to visit.

With all the info boards read and buildings thoroughly investigated we still had time to spare, so after further consultation of the handbook, we made our way to Acton Burnell Castle. Built between 1284 and 1293 by Bishop Burnell, Edward I’s Lord Chancellor, though now ruined the castle remains an impressive example of a medieval fortified manor house. It didn’t take long to explore the building and nearby church so on our

return to Telford we stopped to check out the ‘Cantlop Bridge‘, a cast-iron Cantlop bridge, built-in 1813 and possibly designed but certainly approved by the great engineer Thomas Telford. It was only a brief stop but we had to walk its length and take the obligatory photographs. It looks very sound and was only decommissioned on health and safety grounds in 1997 when the alongside concrete replacement was finished.

We arrived at Hoo Farm Animal Kingdom around midday. A couple of hours before our Meerkat Experience we took our time wandering around the various enclosures and cages. It was now a gorgeously sunny day and thankfully the school holidays were over so the zoo wasn’t teeming with families, there was peace and we could enjoy the creatures to ourselves (with a few others).

At 2 pm we assembled with six others before being split into two groups to meet the little animals that have sweet natures, are the stars of an insurance website and appear in many natural history programmes. We spent half an hour feeding them fruit and mealworms, allowing the ravenous little things to jump and scamper all over us. This clan were kept outside and lived in burrows within their pen, though they had an inside area for their use. Watching them occasionally stand on their hind legs and scan the surroundings for no-existent danger was enchanting, not quite Africa but close!

Waving goodbye to our new friends we followed our Ranger to ‘experience’ another clan. These meerkats preferred the indoors, they had access to an outside pen but preferred not to. They had ‘Stumpy’ among their group, he had one of his front legs amputated and his eager hopping gait ensured that he became an immediate favourite. This clan were more fervent in their feeding and actively tried to prise our hands and fingers apart in their search for titbits, soooooo gorgeous. I would have loved to take Stumpy home with me, but I guess, so does everybody else. All too soon our half an hour was over and we had to wish them goodbye and wash our hands. The ‘Meerkat Experience’ was over.

We finished off our visit to the zoo by taking in all those areas we had not yet covered, talking inanely to the animals within, something you can’t do without being locked up when there is someone else around! Another highlight was the Dinosaur trail, a large variety of these extinct animated creatures were located alongside a woodland path. They were life-size (some huge) and reacted to your presence with movement and sound. They made me feel very vulnerable and insignificant, it’s not an epoch I shall be visiting when they invent time travel!

It was just a 15-minute drive back to the White Horse Tavern and a refreshing glass of cool cider in the bar to recover from the day’s activity. That evening we again ate in the pub, before retiring to our room for the evening.

After breakfast, we returned to Harborough.

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