New training helicopters

This week marks the centenary of the Royal Air Force (RAF) and there will be celebrations held around the country as well as open days at many air force bases throughout the year.  I am very excited to be going to arguably the biggest and best airshow, at RAF Fairford in July.

 I clearly remember the celebrations which were held for the 50th anniversary of the RAF when I was invited to a very grand ball at RAF base which shall be nameless.  The evening was wonderful with a fabulous meal, terrific music and great company.  As the sun set everyone gathered outside for the grand finale.  There was to be a huge firework display ending with an illuminated framework displaying the RAF banner and title with 50th Anniversary underneath.  There were some very important guests there and of course everyone wanted to make a good impression.  However, once the smoke cleared and the display was fully alight there were gasps all round as the entire thing was upside down.  I have no idea how many heads rolled for the incompetence and the embarrassment of the station commander, but I expect there were a few!

I and my friends from college were often invited to social functions at the air force training school on the base as we were at an all-female teacher training college, and all of the trainee pilots and navigators in those days were young men. We were treated very well with transport, refreshments and dancing laid on and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  The men were very respectful and of course rules were strictly applied.  It may have been the swinging sixties but It seems like a different world from today.  Our college was run by a very strict order of nuns who watched over us girls like prison guards.  We were only allowed visitors at certain times and they were never allowed past the common room.  We were signed out by the nun who was on duty and she made sure we were all signed back in again before 11pm.  Similar rules applied at the RAF base too where the commanding officers were even more terrifying than the Mother Superior.

I seem to remember that training took place on small red and white Vickers Varsity planes. If you are interested in seeing how training planes have changed over the years there is information here.

I was recently at our local small airfield and was amazed to see several beautiful new helicopters. I am used to seeing Chinooks, air ambulances and the police helicopters flying around locally, but these were visibly striking.  Like giant bees they were a deep yellow and black with an all-round glass cockpit.  Fortunately, when the crew popped into the local pub for coffee and burgers, they explained that these were the brand new H135 Juno and H145 Jupiter training helicopters on route to the flying school.  A total of 32 of these helicopters are due to go into service this week to mark the RAF’s centenary.  They will provide 28000 flight hours for 266 students each year.  There are different types of training for different specialisms, basic, advanced and maritime, and according to the experts and the manufacturers, Airbus,

The innovations are superb, the flight dynamics are excellent, the Helionix instrumentation is incredibly intuitive and the platform will be an excellent lead in to Apache, Chinook, Merlin, Puma and Wildcat

Along with lots of other fascinated onlookers, I managed to take a few photos with my phone through the wire fencing, but they were not brilliant.  So, I got permission from the helpful media people at Airbus, who built these beautiful helicopters, to use some of their photos. I hope you like them as much as I do.  Many thanks to Alvaro Beteta.

 

 

Cotswold Wildlife Park

 

Thea loves taking photos

One of my favourite places in the Cotswolds is the wildlife park at Burford. It is a very special place to me as the birth and development of the zoo and gardens has run parallel to that of my family.

I dread to think how much money I have spent here over the years, on entry fees, snacks in the café, whippy ice creams, train rides, and the dreaded gift shop! But I believe every penny was well spent for the pleasure it has brought to me and my family.  Not only that, but the money funds lots of conservation work here and abroad.

The wildlife park was opened by John Heyworth during the Easter holidays in 1970, which is just after my first child was born. It is set in the grounds of a beautiful house, Bradwell Grove, which was his childhood home.  In 1970 it cost five shillings (25p) for entry in pre-decimal currency.  These days it costs me £10 as I am officially ancient.  However, as I go so often, I buy a season ticket for £50, which means I can go whenever I like.

Normally the park is open every day except Christmas day. But this year the winter has been so atrocious that the park has been closed on several days due to snow or waterlogged grounds.

Originally there were lots of animals to see including wallabies, tapirs, llamas, hornbills and flamingos. Soon a reptile house was developed.   Then, rhinos and zebras arrived in 1972 when my second child was born.  And, the very popular little railway was opened in 1975 when my third child arrived.  That was followed by insects which I have never been very keen on, and butterflies in glass houses.  Following on from the birth of my fourth and final child, leopards, tigers and bats arrived at the park.

By the time my grandchildren arrived there were lions, giraffes, owls, different types of monkeys, wolves, camels, meerkats and adorable penguins. One of the great attractions these days is the petting area where children can play with goats, sheep, donkeys, pigs and rabbits.  There is also a super adventure playground, which, being an over-anxious granny, I try to steer clear of.

Sadly, John Heyworth died some years ago. He must have been a fascinating man with a great love for animals and plants.  Apparently as a child he kept many pets, including rabbits, grass snakes, slow worms and a toad that he found in the garden.  Over the years, as a schoolboy, he added terrapins, tortoises and newts to his menagerie of birds, ducks and slowworms.

This reminds me of my dear friend and roommate at college, Pat, who kept her own menagerie of assorted hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs in our tiny room.  She also had a tiny Shetland pony who lived nearby and travelled with us everywhere in the back of a mini with the seats removed!  When we moved to a marginally bigger flat after college, she added snakes, which she kept in the bath!

Nowadays I look after my gorgeous 3-year-old granddaughter, Thea, every Tuesday, and we make a beeline for the wildlife park. Thea’s favourite animal is the white rhino.  This year she was thrilled to meet Belle the little baby rhino.  Belle was born with a leg problem which meant she had to be hand reared and fed from birth.  Thea is very family oriented so she loves to see the mummy and daddy animals with their babies.  I have to say there is something very appealing about seeing large wild animals like rhino, giraffe and zebra breast feeding their small offspring.

I believe our wildlife park visits have nurtured a great love and respect for animals in all of my children and grandchildren.  Here are some of our photos taken over the years and as recently as this week.

 

 

 

I’d rather be on a train

“I knew who I was this morning, but I have changed a few times since then.”

Alice in wonderland!

 

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The question posed for WPC this week is, what would I rather be doing today?

Well, the weather here has turned very chilly again with a covering of yet more snow in my garden. So, without a doubt I’d rather be on a well heated train travelling to an exciting destination through beautiful scenery on a great rail journey.

When I was a child in the late 1940s, our main way of getting about was by steam train from the old Felling station. Like most working-class people in those days we didn’t have a car.  My dad would cycle to work and we walked to school or the local shops.  Visiting grandparents entailed a ride on the big yellow tram, but for a special shopping trip to the city of Newcastle we first had to catch the train.  And, in good weather we would go for a day trip to the golden sands of South Shields, again by train.   That is how my great love for trains started.

I’m sure the city commuters who pay extortionate prices for their daily rail journey to work would have a different view to me. But all of my train journeys, with the exception of one best forgotten, have been great fun-filled experiences.

As an adult I have travelled on many spectacular railways to some far-flung places and I still find them truly exciting.

Many years ago, I flew to Zurich in Switzerland en-route to the Bodensee in Germany and was delighted to find that I could buy a train ticket at airport arrivals then go down several levels by escalator and arrive at the railway station platforms without even leaving the airport. All through the beautiful countryside I felt like a character from my favourite childhood storybook, Heidi.

In Poland, I was amazed to see my first double decker train when I spent a wonderful study tour travelling from Torunn to Gniezno, Malbork and Gdansk.

And just last year I had my first experience of the luxurious Renfe ave high speed trains as I travelled at about 200 mph between Barcelona and Madrid to visit my scattered children.

Renfe Ave High Speed Trains in Madrid

Renfe Ave High Speed Trains in Madrid

I find with long train journeys that you get a much more realistic view of, not only the scenery, but the local way of life and culture. So, it was fascinating to travel on a sleeper train across Russia in the early 1990’s, a time of massive political change, observing the difference between the magnificence in the centre of Moscow and the dilapidation of the countryside.  I was constantly amazed to see beautifully decorated ancient churches alongside bleak housing, decaying factories, and neglected farmland.  Inside the train was a surreal experience as each carriage had a hostess who kept a samovar boiling all day so that travellers could have a cup of tea.  Throughout the 36-hour journey our hostess stayed in her nightie and dressing gown with her rollers firmly fixed in her hair.

Later in the 1990’s I travelled across Kenya from Nairobi to the end of the line at Kisumu. This was a totally different experience as the train passed by the slums of Kibera.  I found the level of poverty there deeply distressing yet after a short time the natural world replaced the horror with exquisite scenery.

Arguably one of the best holidays I have ever taken was a Great Rail Tour through the Fjords across the roof of Norway.  This holiday took in some great cities such as Oslo and Bergen, but the highlight was a trip on what is reputed to be the most beautiful train journey in the world, Flamsbana. Flam is a small picturesque village in southwest Norway, situated in the deepest fjord in the world.  Along the route there are majestic cascading waterfalls that take your breath away with their beauty.

Locally we have a heritage steam railway run by enthusiasts at Toddington. They have just extended the line to Broadway so this makes a lovely day out.

Although I don’t get much opportunity to travel far these days I can still indulge my passion for railway journeys by watching them on TV.

Recently there have been eight series of “Great British Railway Journeys” and five series of European “Continental Rail Journeys”, all presented by Michael Portillo following Bradshaws 1913 edition of the Continental Railway Guide. He has also made two series in the United States for BBC2,  as well as one in India.  I have put a link to one of the programmes here but I’m not sure if it will work.

Michael Portillo (pictured below) used to be a politician but now I think he has the best job in the world. He travels the world by train meeting interesting people, seeing amazing sights, and he gets paid for it!

So, on reflection, I’d rather be Michael Portillo.

Michael Portillo Rail Journeys

 

 

A Thing of Beauty

Mothers Day Gifts 2018

A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases: it will never pass into nothingness… by John Keats

Since I downsized from the house my children grew up in, I have let go of lots of possessions. There is simply no room for them in my new home, which is small verging on tiny.

At first, I found this ‘letting go’ hard, because every item tells a story. There was my late parents’ furniture and knick-knacks, as well as the paraphernalia that my adult children left behind when they move on with their lives.  But now I realise that the experience has actually been a positive one.  For, now that I am officially ‘old’, my mind is focussed on what I really value enough to keep.  And also, I’m aware that my children will have to dispose of it all when I’m gone!   So, these days I embrace William Morris’s golden rule:

“Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

My photos today are of several things that have pride of place in my home and are, in my opinion, truly beautiful. They make me happy whenever I look at them and each one has its story.

There is a pot by the local artist Molly Abbott, that is definitely not practical but is so beautiful and vibrant in colour and form.

Molly Abbott

Next there is a beautiful piece by Daffyd Rouse. It was given to me some years ago by my daughter in law.  She is a nurse now and was working for Headway at the time.  Headway is a charity that supports people with traumatic and acquired brain injuries.  One of her clients was Daffyd, a very creative and talented man.  Sadly, Daffyd had a motorbike accident in 2005, which took away his independence and left him with serious head injuries unable to pursue his love for art, prose and pottery.  He generously decided to sell his vast collection of work to raise money for charity which is how I became the proud owner of this pot.  Sadly Daffyd died aged just 65 in June 2014, but the beauty of his artwork will ensure that his story will never be forgotten.

Daffyn Rouse

And, last but not least, is the gift I received today for Mothering Sunday.

Claire Prenton 1

This could be a melancholy time if three of your children live abroad as mine do. However, I feel very lucky that in my case it often means that I get three mother’s days ~ the Spanish one and the American one as well as the UK one.

I don’t know how she does it, but my eldest daughter always manages to send a gift from the USA that arrives bang on time. So today I was very excited when the postman knocked!  Once I had opened the parcel I was thrilled to find an exquisite piece of ceramic art created by Claire Prenton.

Claire used to live in the Cotswolds, which is where she and my daughter became friends, when they worked together. Co-incidentally they both emigrated to the USA, Lisa to California via Vermont and Claire to Cincinnati via Seattle!  They both share a deep love and respect for nature and animals ~ although they do differ in that Claire adores her cats, while Lisa can’t live without a dog.

Claire makes the most exquisite and delicate porcelain pieces, which she embellishes with features from the natural world. Insects, birds, flowers, leaves and twigs, corals, pearls and shells feature in the ornamentation. You can see them here in her gallery. Last year Lisa sent me a beautifully decorated cup and this year she sent a plate from the same collection.  Claire tells me that her exquisite cup is tough enough for me to have my daily coffee in!  But, of course I love it so much that I will never use it in case I damage it.  I would rather just look at it and appreciate its beauty.

Lisa also sent me a beautiful card with an icon of the Madonna on.  I have loved and collected these for years so that was very thoughtful.  She also included a page from the colouring book which she has designed and created by hand,

Truly I feel blessed to be surrounded by such beauty and such love.

 

 

 

Otherworldly

frosty spiders web

There is nothing quite so exciting as waking up to a fresh snowfall.  The beauty of the spider’s web is out of this world.  This week our landscape has been transformed by the heaviest snowfall the UK has seen in years.  It makes for very exciting dog walks and hair-raising drives!  When I was teaching I used to love a ‘snow day’.  But now that I am a little too old for sledging, sitting at the window watching the younger generation having such fun just makes me wistful.  Then my mind drifts….

It snowed overnight and the roads are a fright,

So the schools are all closed ~ on a Friday!

Mums and dads can’t drive, their cars slip and slide

So its family fun on a school day.

Dogs in bright jackets are leaping for joy

Taken out for a walk, on a school day.

Babies and toddlers peep out of their prams

They’re going to the park, on a school day.

Tiny tots muffled in mittens and hats,

Squeal in delight, on a school day.

Giggling girls, hugging their friends,

Slide down the hill, on a school day.

Teen terrors in hoodies become little boys

Throwing snowballs at girls, on a school day.

Steep slopes draw the daring on sledges and boards,

They hurtle downhill, on a school day.

I sit at the window and, like falling snow,

My thoughts pile up into drifts.

My smiles turn to tears at the sights and sounds

Of my school days, as the frozen scene shifts.

Of ink wells and blotters, of wafers and milk,

Of chalk boards and outside loos;

Of walking to school by the RiverTyne,

Of castles, and coalmines and ships.

And then there are people, who wave as they pass,

Loved aunties and cousins and friends

A younger brother no longer in touch

A mother and father I mourned.

There are icicles hanging near a frozen stream,

The snow covered branches are bending

The field is a snow frosted wonderland

Its beauty my broken heart mending.

I wrote this poem the last time there was heavy snow on a Friday, in 2013.  Here are some of the photos I took then from my window or on my rambles/trudges through the Cotswolds.

The Long and Winding Road

winding road 3

I chose this title from the song by the Beatles because I do find myself very drawn to taking meandering pathways through the countryside these days.  Paul McCartney sounds incredibly melancholy, as he sings it, and I know there was a lot of sadness in his life when he wrote it.

The long and winding road is a great metaphor for life actually.  In fact, I am reading a memoir with this title by Alan Johnson, who was a member of Parliament in the UK.  He wrote in his first book, The Boy, about his harrowing childhood but in The Long and Winding Road he writes about his meteoric rise in the labour party to become Home Secretary in 2009.  With his ‘upbringing’, it is astonishing that he enjoyed such success in politics, which nowadays seems to be dominated by Old Etonians.   Like most people, the road through my life has been been very varied.  There have been some very rocky bits where I stumbled and fell with a bump.  There have been icy cold patches when I felt abandoned and alone.  There have been muddy bits where I got bogged down in troubles and cares.  There have been dark stretches where I was afraid.  There have been forks in the road where I sometimes made what turned out to be the wrong choice.  And, just once, the road was blocked altogether and I was unable to carry on.  But mostly, the road has just been long and gently winding, so even though I couldn’t see where I was going, I knew I had to keep moving forward.

These days I look on long and winding roads purely for pleasure.

I dream of walking along a coast road, like those in Cornwall or Dorset, with the sun on my back.  Or rambling through the villages and farmland along the Cotswold Way when the rapeseed is in its golden glory.  But a jaunt through parkland and woods with my dog and the grandchildren will do just as well.  In fact, now that I’m retired and my children are happy, independent adults, I don’t mind where the long and winding road takes me.

The photo is of my daughter with her dog walking through the woods near her home in California.   I expect, like all of us, she is just a face in the crowd to passers by when she strays from her corner of the world.  But of course, to me, it matters not where she is; we will always be connected by our great loves ~ of dogs, of being in nature ~ and of each other.

Enjoy some long and winding road photos.

 

 

 

 

 

These are the days of our lives

 

snowdrops-and-heelebores (2)

I went to the funeral of a dear man this week who was my next-door neighbour for many years, and, as these occasions are wont to do, it made me rethink the value and purpose of our lives and what we leave behind.

Listening to the heartfelt words of his children and grandchildren I was reminded of the saying, “people may not remember what you did or said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

Not one of them mentioned a gift he had bought them or how much pocket money they had received if any.  They didn’t mention his house or his décor, his car or his clothes.  They didn’t mention his looks or his job.  What they all mentioned was that he was kind; always there for them, would do anything for them, and that they had fun with him.

He was an ‘ordinary’ man, one of 9 children in the 1940s, when large families were more common.  He was a happy rascal as a little boy, playing truant from school to hunt for rabbits in the countryside.  He met his wife to be when he was 15 and she was 14.  They married at 19 and have been happy together ever since.

He grew up at a time when it was possible to get a job for life in a large, local company.  He worked hard, enjoyed the job, was on friendly terms with all his fellow workers, and stayed there for 40 years.

Apart from his family, the love of his life was his garden.  We always used to look after and water each other’s gardens whenever either of us was away.   His garden was a delight but his passion was such that he eventually took on 2 allotments as well.  There he grew all the fruit and vegetables you can imagine, for eating, and to brew his home-made beer, wine and cordial.

Gardening was so important to him that this lovely poem was recited at his funeral.

The Glory of the Garden by Rudyard Kipling

Our England is a garden that is full of stately views,
Of borders, beds and shrubberies and lawns and avenues,
With statues on the terraces and peacocks strutting by;
But the Glory of the Garden lies in more than meets the eye.

For where the old thick laurels grow, along the thin red wall,
You will find the tool- and potting-sheds which are the heart of all ;
The cold-frames and the hot-houses, the dungpits and the tanks:
The rollers, carts and drain-pipes, with the barrows and the planks.

And there you’ll see the gardeners, the men and ‘prentice boys
Told off to do as they are bid and do it without noise;
For, except when seeds are planted and we shout to scare the birds,
The Glory of the Garden it abideth not in words.

And some can pot begonias and some can bud a rose,
And some are hardly fit to trust with anything that grows;
But they can roll and trim the lawns and sift the sand and loam,
For the Glory of the Garden occupieth all who come.

Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made
By singing: – “Oh, how beautiful!” and sitting in the shade,
While better men than we go out and start their working lives
At grubbing weeds from gravel-paths with broken dinner-knives

There’s not a pair of legs so thin, there’s not a head so thick,
There’s not a hand so weak and white, nor yet a heart so sick.
But it can find some needful job that’s crying to be done,
For the Glory of the Garden glorifieth every one.

Then seek your job with thankfulness and work till further orders,
If it’s only netting strawberries or killing slugs on borders;
And when your back stops aching and your hands begin to harden,
You will find yourself a partner in the Glory of the Garden.

Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees
That half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees,
So when your work is finished, you can wash your hand and pray
For the Glory of the Garden, that it may not pass away!
And the Glory of the Garden it shall never pass away!

And it reaffirmed in me the knowledge that wealth, position and possessions, ultimately mean nothing to the people who truly love you.  They remember your smile, your kindness, and how you made them feel.

Although the funeral made me sad and thoughtful, this poem comforted me.  For, like the glory of the garden, this dear man’s goodness will live on, in his widow, his children and grandchildren.  His life had inestimable value to them and to all who knew him.

In memory of my neighbour I will give you a photographic guided tour of the Rococo Gardens in Painswick which at the moment is aglow with snowdrops and hellebores.