Sunday, 16 February 2020

A Week in London - but not by boat

So where have we been this last week? In London but sadly not on nb Alchemy, but in the Travelodge at Waterloo. The main reason for our visit was so that Mike could attend General Synod from Monday lunch time through to Thursday afternoon. To make the journey from Droitwich less of a hassle we opted to go on Sunday, after having been to St Peter's church for the morning service. We booked a taxi to take us to the station for the train into Birminghm, which arrived on time as well as into New Street on time,.

However, by now, Storm Ciara was making itself felt and trains from Birmingham on the main lines were badly disrupted. The 12:50 train we were booked on no longer appeared on the list of departures, not even to say that it was cancelled so we guess that it had been removed from the schedule much earlier in the day. we went straight to the information centre who said that it would be at least two hours before the next departure to London so we should walk across to Moor Street and try there - but they could not tell us when the next departure might be! We were a bit mystified as the 13:30 out of New Street was still being listed even though all the others were gradually being cancelled. We worked out that we had time to walk to Moor Street and get back for that train if there was nothing on the other route.

Arriving at Moor Street (finding the right way out of new Street is not as easy as it might be!) we found that there was a 13:13 departure into Marylebone and was already boarding. We were advised go right to the front - there were two sets of four coaches (perhaps they had coupled up the previous cancelled train - and there were enough seats for everyone boarding. The train was routed via Aylesbury (not its usual way into London) but the expected arrival time into London was much the same as the other train from New Street so we settled back and found our packed lunches.

Alas, it was not that smooth! We already knew that a 50 mph speed restriction was in place but the first few stations were almost on time until the train manager gave an announcement that the signaller had sent a message that there was a power failure ahead! After about 20 minutes we were able to move on once more.

Just before Princes Risborough there was another delay, this time the reason given was that there was a train in the way at the station ahead. This time the delay was about half an hour. Once we had made it into the platform the train changed direction to go back up a less well used line to Aylesbury where we joined another main line and another change of direction! Eventually we made it into Marylebone just before five o'clock over two and a half hours after our expected arrival!

This would not have mattered unduly but that we had arranged to meet some friends fro dinner at 6:30 - they live near the Tate in Pimlico. So once we were at the hotel we had a quick turn around and back to the underground.

We were only a few minutes late and had a great evening, catching up on events of the past year since we saw them in January 2019.

We did not have much to do in the morning except that Christine popped to a nearby shop for items to make a snack lunch in our room. Mike headed off to Westminster for a 2:30 start whilst Christine went up to Oxford Street in search of a new suitcase - the handle on one of those we came with broke on the journey and was uncomfortable to pull along (with exposed sharp screws it was almost dangerous).

She also checked out a place to eat near the station so that Mike was able to be directed there on his return - the session ended at 7 pm. We had a tasty pizza each in a place that has a 'proper'oven for cooking them.

Whilst walking across Parliament Square, Mike noticed the full moon - by the time he had managed to get out his phone to take a picture, clouds had come across so the picture is not as spectacular as a few moments before.

Tuesday was a long session for Mike - starting at 9:15 and ending at 7:00 with a meeting in the lunch break as well. he then had to walk over the river to Lambeth for a reception in the evening, back at the hotel not much before 10 o'clock.

The friends we met on Sunday have a membership of the Tate which allows two friends to visit as well so Christine was able to go to the new Baroque exhibition. she also joined a guided tour of other parts of the gallery.

A font cover by Grinling Gibbons caught Christine's attention - njust amazing the intricate detail and that it has survived unbroken!

Mike's day was a similar schedule except that he could return to the hotel after the end of the session at 7:15. Christine met up with Ellie, our oldest grand daughter who lives in a flat near Bow Road, close to her university - this is his final year. They took the underground to the Monument for a wider choice of places to eat and Ellie guided Christine to a sushi place (a new experience for Christine but much appreciated)

As she wandered back towards Waterloo, Christine discovered St Stephen's Walbrook which was designed by Wren as a trial of ideas (on a small scale) which he later used in St Paul's, especially the dome structure. The central area has been re-ordered - it once had box pews - and the altar is by Henry Moore - apparently there was quite a task to get the stone into the church!

On the way back to the hotel she also picked up a range of salads (and a bottle of wine) from M&S for our evening meal.

Thursday had a similar start for Mike but he was able to leave Westminster by 2:15. We already had seats booked for a concert by the Philharmonia Orchestra in the Royal Festival Hall this evening. We set out to walk from the hotel in good time and found a place to eat very closer to the concert hall. A quite a large seating area it catered for a wide range of needs - happy to service tea of coffee with pastries as well as full meals. We both opted for their Steak and Ale pie which proved excellent - the service was efficient and very pleasant.

Christine had collected the tickets earlier and so already knew which floor to go to and where the lifts were! We had time to sit in the gallery before making our way into the auditorium and finding our seats. The programme contained items by Prokoviev and Rachmaninov and was well received by the audience - we enjoyed it just as much. Alas, we did also notice that the hall is much in need of refurbishment - the chairs in the gallery, for example, were faded and worn, with several tears in their fabric. The seating in the hall itself has also seen better days. At least the orchestra were up to scratch!

On Friday we had the luxury of   slower start and took our time over breakfast - our train from Euston was at 11:03. Fortunately the return trip was very much smoother and both were on time. As we waited at New Street we were able to book a taxi which was waiting for us on arrival at Droitwich.

By Saturday, Storm Dennis was already making its way in from the Atlantic - so after shopping in the morning to top up our food stores, the remainder of the day was a chance to recover from the week's activity. These visits to London do involve a lot of walking!

This morning we went to St Peter'd again - some of the people there are beginning to recognise us now. The storm was making conditions quite uncomfortable so we were quite pleased to be in the warm once we returned to the boat. After lunch there were some chores to be done - Mike found the outdoor temperature rather cold as he carried out several different disposals. After lunch, it was necessary to empty out rather a lot of water that had collected in the engine bilges - in sections not emptied by the automatic pump. It looks as if the heavy rain over the past week had swept some leaves into the gullies around the deck board so forcing some of the rain into the engine bay.

By mid afternoon sunshine had arrived and stayed for a couple of hours - it was then quite warm. Mike went into town to start photoing St Augustine's churchyard graves.

On the way back he took a look at the navigation where the Salwarpe joins the canal. The river level was quite high - no way a boat could get under even Bromsgrove Road Bridge. The lock just below the motorway had a fall about half normal and the weir alongside was levelled out and not visible. The lock landing was under water as well as the towpath. Our next door neighbour said later tat first thing this morning the level was even higher. Christine walked up the locks to the junction, taking a look at the Eagle and Sun (which always seems popular, especially at weekends) On the way back she spotted a hire boat having to come into the marina as they were unable to reach their hire base as the end of their cruise.

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Shopping, Gravestones, Snoozing

This will not be the most exciting of blogs to read as we have not been over energetic today - just marking time, I guess.

Mid morning we popped into town for a top up to the stores and for rolls to have on our journey into London tomorrow. Christine had hoped to find a jeweller's shop as the battery in her 30+ year old watch is fast dying. Alas, she was told that there are none in Droitwich. Should be no problem in London (we hope!)

After taking the shopping back to the boat, Mike took time to take some more gravestone photos at St Nicholas's church in town.

Then time for lunch. (I warned you about the excitement quotient!)

We planned separate outings for the afternoon - Mike returned to St Nicholas where he completed as much as he expected to do on this trip. There is one patch of 'ashes tablets' but they are a bit difficult to see and will take a bit of time so he left them for another visit. He then, in the fading light, called at St Augustine, mainly to take enough photos to sort out the layout of the churchyard and how best to divide it up to help locate individual photos later on.

Back at the boat he found Christine already back from her walk - well actually no. She had opted instead to doze comfortably and then read a book!

Time then to sort out things for tomorrow, book a taxi to the station and prepare the evening meal. Gosh,how tired we are at such a heavy day . . .

Friday, 7 February 2020

Back to the boat

We are now back on the boat for a couple of night on the way to London where Mike has a meeting Monday to Thursday. As in previous years, Christine is coming as well since the hotel charges by the room rather than by person. She can then explore more of London.

We managed a good get away this morning, leaving the house by just after half past nine (but Mike did forget to redirect the phone so if you read this and wondered why no reply, try the mobile!) Traffic was moderate and we made good progress with a brief comfort break at Sedgemoor.

However, as we approached Junction 21, with traffic a little busier, and driving with the flow in the middle lane, a flat truck tried to pull in front of us from the slow lane into a space that was not enough. What then made it worse was that he had forgotten that he was towing a rather large empty trailer! We were side swiped into our front left wheel which caused us to swerve around but fortunately we were able to regain control without straying into the path of another vehicle.

Despite his protestations to the contrary, he pulled onto the hard shoulder before we did - Christine managed to persuade him to go off at the junction just ahead rather than risk life and limb for any longer than necessary on the main motorway!

Whilst the driver gave us his details - he is employed by a small transport company - he was not especially apologetic but, at a guess, was rather more shaken by his experience than he wanted to let on. Fortunately, apart from some cosmetic damage to the wheel trim, the body work was unscathed and, as far as we can tell, the car suffered no other damage. Still, it was an unwelcome reminder of how quickly things can go wrong on a fast moving motorway.

At the boat we found all well - for once! - and we did not have as much as usual to unload. After a mug of tea, filling the water tank etc and chat to neighbours, Mike was allowed to go off to photograph some more gravestones (his continuing diversion). Although it was fast approaching sunset, he was able to do quite a bit at two churchyards to take general pictures that show the layout and are important later when it comes to tying each memorial to a specific spot. This is something that is not always done on listings of memorials and, as we know from experience, it can take some time to locate a specific grave even with a photo, if all that one knows is 'south of the church'.

Eventually we were all sorted and unpacked - even if just for  couple of nights, but we will be back for another few after London - and then it was time to prepare an evening meal. Our plan is to travel to London, via Birmingham, around lunch time on Sunday we are meeting some friends in the evening) but are a little concerned that the radio news is indicating that trains may be difficult as a result of high winds from the latest storm in from the Atlantic. Maybe we will pop to the station some time tomorrow when in town to see what the local advice is.

Thursday, 2 January 2020


Another rather laid back day with a little bit of housework - Mike had several chores including chopping a batch of kindling and splitting some over-sized logs in the last supermarket bag. As expected, the new logs from our local supplier were much superior. Meanwhile, Christine was cleaning through so that we can get back on the road Saturday morning - tomorrow we are visiting a friend who moved from Wadebridge in the past year - but more on that in a later blog.

After lunch we popped into town - only milk and paper needed so, believing that town would be quiet, we sought a parking slot on the Main Street (the oldest part of the town centre still surviving).

As we walked to the supermarket we spotted a newly renovated property that we had not noticed before. In fact most of the work was done in the time since we left the marina last Easter.

There was a brief explanation on the frontage and we have been able to find a little more on-line subsequently. One photo shows the state of the  building in the mid 20C and there are photos here  and here of what it was like prior to this restoration - not very attractive! The classic overhanging upper floor had long since been cut back and front left with a plain render.

The building dates back to the early part of the 15C, probably 1420, although there is a suggestion that there are some remains close by that are several decades older. From the earliest date the property had mixed uses but usually with part for residential purposes. In the 19C it became an inn but since the start of the 20C it has mostly been used as a retail shop.

The street has suffered extensively from subsidence created by the famous brine pumping and all the buildings are at odd angles. As the street declined in significance for retail - larger shops being built nearby as the town re-invented itself after the end of the salt trade. No doubt today it has not been easy gto develop a viable business plan to justify all of the restoration. The approved planning application indicates that it will provide three retail units, an office an an apartment. As it stands, it appears that the building is still unoccupied.

Stephens appears to have been a stationer and gift shop for over four decades until the late 1970's since when it has either been empty or used for short lasting retail.

The pictures on display also show what the interior looked like when work commenced.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

New Year's Day

No-one was in a great hurry to get up this morning - surprise! The girls had decided to return home today so we needed to be ready to leave by 1 o'clock - just about made it having had a snack lunch, mainly leftovers from last night's party food.

We (or rather Mike) wanted to start the return journey whilst it was still light - the first half hour is the more complicated bit, after that it is 'plain sailing' along the M40/M42 until we join the M5 one junction north of the Droitwich exit. In the end we were back at the boat not long after 18:00.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Theatre and New Year's Eve

The main feature of the visit by Alice and Jess was to go into Birmingham for the afternoon performance of The King and I at the New Alexandra Theatre, closer to New Street station.

We parked at Droitwich station and caught the 11:33 train into Birmingham - arrived on schedule. Jess had already proposed that we find a Pizza Express for lunch - there is one in the Bull Ring shopping centre. However, we walked up to New Street and along just to see if anything else took our fancy but by the time we reached the bull statue we were still targeting Pizza Express. We looked up its location on the centre plan but by the time we thought we should be there we arrived at a glass window from where we could see out destination only a few metres away.

Christine took advice from one of the security staff who assured her that by far the quickest way involved going outside, around the edge of the building and back in again, up to the top floor!

We were quickly seated, our orders taken and the popular dough ball starter arrived soon after. However, we then had a long wait before the main dishes arrived - black mark for something with 'express' in its name. Perhaps 40 minutes after ordering we were tucking in - the food was very tasty.

Next we had to find out way to the theatre. Amongst all the tall buildings our GPS struggled to find its place and we took a rather longer route than we should have, despite thinking that we were following the directions from a street plan outside New Street! (It turns our that we really should have gone back into the shopping complex over the station)

We were still in good time when we arrived and located our seats. The theatre was still filling up but by the time the show started few seats were empty. Looking around, it did look as if the show's appeal was less to the customary family seasonal outing and more to those  with nostalgia for when the musical was originally created! (LTRU)

Of course photography is banned during the show but, along most other people, we managed a sneak shot before the start so all you can get to see, dear reader, is the decorative curtain - the rest is up to your imagination!

It was show with strong production values - the publicity aid that the cast numbered over 50. This meant that the songs were sung by good singers and the dances featured really good dancers.

The story, set mid 19C, had much stronger, even at times quite dark, themes than we had recalled: the role of women and gender equality, slavery, empires and the impact of excessive kowtowing to those in power. The King was intent on modernising his country in order to fend off the unwanted attentions of predatory empires and large corporations. This was why he hired an English teacher to train his family and court ion Western ways so that they would not be though of as barbarians, just because their customs were different. The relationship between king and teacher was sometimes stormy, sometimes tender as both struggled with ways that were new to each of them. The end, when the king had died and was to be succeeded by his son, the Crown Prince, the story was ambiguous - had there been real change or was it, as so often happens, merely a veneer and power stayed where it always had been? As far as we can see from a limited internet search, the musical's book stuck reasonably closely to actual history but, of course, sometimes a bit sanitised for the original; 1950's American audience.

After the show had finished we walked back to the station - this time by a very much shorter route, helped by directions from a very pleasant and helpful member of the theatre staff. As a result we had half an hour to wait on platform 10b! There was a slight further delay as the (in)famous congestion at New Street meant that our driver had to wait for another train  to clear our path. Once on our way it ran smoothly and we arrived back at Droitwich just after 7 pm.

After several years the girls expected their traditional NYE schedule. We would have some food later than our usual dinner to be followed eventually by Jools Holland's Hootenanny welcome to the new year (even if it was recorded a month ago!)

A new feature this year was a musical Christmas Program which Alice and Jess had been rehearsing and they even produced a programme sheet for us to follow! We have been following Alice's violin playing for some years but were especially surprised by the strength of Jess's singing.

This year's lineup on Hootenanny maintained the quality that we had come to expect and time passed very quickly until the arrival fo the Scottish pipers and the singing of  Auld Lang Syne.

Time for bed!

Monday, 30 December 2019

Windsor and Back

Not a lot to write about today: we drove to Windsor and back to collect Alice and Jess in time for our theatre visit in Birmingham tomorrow. The journey was just under two hours each way almost all motorway with the traffic relatively benign - plenty of cars but very few trucks.

It was close to sun down when we arrived at the marina - via a stop at Morrisons to stock up on party food to fill in the time between our return from Birmingham and midnight!

Mike started on the evening meal straight away as we planned a roast. Alas, around 5 Mike realised that something was awry - the gas bottle had run out and, although he then quickly turned over to the spare bottle, the meal will now be a little later than planned. Fortunately, no-one is complaining (yet!)