Thursday, November 25, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving!

It seems very strange to be celebrating Thanksgiving this year in a country that doesn't celebrate the holiday at all. But then I suppose the first pilgrims to New England were escaping from the UK and so it is no surprise that the last Thursday in November is just another working day here in England. When I ordered the turkey the butcher seemed quite surprised - no doubt he was thinking "that's a bit early for Christmas".

Thanksgiving is not only an important US holiday, it also very neatly defines the start of the Christmas season. Here in England the build up to Christmas has already been in full swing for weeks but until Thanksgiving is over there is very little impetus for Christmas until tomorrow - when it really starts in earnest!

We will celebrate on Saturday with a turkey and most of the usual trimmings. Then we will raise a glass to friends with whom we have shared Thanksgiving in recent years, in particular Richard and Bunny Becker, the wine makers, in their San Antonio, Texas home. Two years ago we drove to San Antonio and stayed at the Menger Hotel, arriving at the Becker home at noon and leaving at nine in the evening. Topics of conversation were as varied and as lively as the fine wines we consumed, some from Texas, others from around the world. A memorable occasion.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Birmingham in 1553

This map of Birmingham in 1553 was "borrowed" from Virtual Brum. I think they must have borrowed it from somewhere else but unfortunately no reference is given. It is 87 years before the prospect shown below was drawn but not much seems to be different. The meadow in the right side of the picture would likely be the Lords Demesne. Notice the triangular area northwest of St Martin's. This was the original Bull Ring. The dark church in the foreground would be St. Johns Chapel, hiding the Deretend Bridge. The river is now not much more than a drainage ditch between warehouses and factories.

Monday, November 22, 2004

The prospect of Bermingham from Ravenhurst (neere London road) on the Southeast part of the towne 1640

I borrowed this print in order to scan it. The view is from what is now Camp Hill, looking across the Rea Valley. I would guess the church must be St. Martins and the row of houses coming down the hill would be present day Digbeth. Note the spelling of Bermingham, pretty much the way it is said by many West Midlanders today! Sadly I did not scan from an original, but a photo of the original.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

New Travelogue - France 2004

One month exactly after returning from France, here is the four part travelogue we promised!

Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - Puy de Dome/St. Nectaire
Part 3 - Nissan-lez-Enserune
Part 4 - Cote de Vermeille

There is a section on Travel Notes at the end of each part with useful links to resources we have discovered along the way.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Snow on the Malverns

We continue to be fooled by the weather forecasts - Saturday should have been as sunny as Friday. So we made plans to get up early and walk in the Malvern Hills. By the time we drove off for the one hour cross country run to Little Malvern it was spotting with rain. But it was dry when we arrived at the British Camp parking area, so off we went on what promised to be a relatively easy six mile hikes across fields, common land and finally the Malvern Hills themselves. After about an hour it started to rain and, looking back at the hills, we saw that the rain was now falling as snow. This cheered us up no end (for some reason really cold wet stuff is much more cheerful than cold wet stuff!)

By the time we climbed up into the hills about and inch of snow had fallen and in places we had a near white out situation. Other hikers' footsteps guided us along the ridge and back to the car for hot soup.

April thinks the snow is great as we slog up the slippery slope toward the summit of British Camp, an ancient hill fort along the Malvern Hills ridge.

About thirty minutes later we reach the top of British Camp and as you can see at the right side of this photo the conditions are approaching a white out. At least an inch of snow had fallen by this time. Five miles to the east and 600 feet lower it continued to rain!

Geological note: The Malverns are formed of very old rocks - Pre-Cambrian - and the hills have been a prominent feature on the British landscape for hundreds of millions of years - in fact the Severn/Avon Valley was also there in Permian times when a huge desert salt lake stretched out in front of the Malverns, all the way to Poland! Alluvial fans no doubt spread out along the eastern flank of the hills which was then a very active fault line. It would have looked like Death Valley or Tornillo Flats in Big Bend National Park. Our view today was very different, mainly because of the very different climatic conditions! Actually there was very little view for most of the time.

Saturday, November 13, 2004


This afternoon I went to Birmingham, but more precisely to the northern suburb of Kingstanding, where son Pete lives, sharing a house with Sam. If you know Kingstanding then you will know that they live in an inter-war semi-detached house, one of tens of thousands. It is possible that Kingstanding is the largest single development of "semis" anywhere. The only relief to the monotony are the roundabouts (circles) and the various shops, pubs and cinemas that surround them. The other relief, literally, is the topography, for Kingstanding is a hilly area.

Until Pete moved there a year or so ago I had forgotten about Kingstanding. My maternal grandmother lived there until she died in 1957 and we used to take a bus to visit her from time to time. Other family members lived not far away in Walsall Road, Perry Barr and Newton Road, Great Barr and my roots appear to be all over the place - Birmingham, Aston and Handsworth - as well as one who moved to upscale Edgbaston (this was my "aunt" Lizzie who was, we think, my father's second cousin and who was a spinster teacher and lifelong supporter of the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, a strange pastime for someone who lived as far from the sea as you can in England!)

I am sure my ancestors thought the modern semis of Kingstanding were a great improvement on the back to backs they came from, but today this area lacks any sense of charm. It is simply a place to live, a place to park your car or van on the grass, a place that is relatively convenient for work and play. A place to plan to move out of, perhaps.

Pete has loaned me a framed picture he found of a print of "Bermingham", dated 1640. I plan to undo the frame and scan the image because the print has significant historical merit and should be shared.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Choice of Browsers

Photographer friend Ellis Vener once coined the term Microsoft Exploder for the most common browser used by PC owners. Truth is, IE (Internet Explorer) users now have choices that don't include Netscape (which seems to be on its way to oblivion). In the Mac world we have Safari, Apple's very own elegant browser that is simple to operate yet packed with features (such as tabs). According to my family expert, Pete, I have no need to worry about alternatives, but he does suggest, quite strongly, that IE users in the PC world switch to Firefox. There are lots of good reasons for doing so, not the least being security issues. It seems that hackers like to attack the most common platform which is why Mac users often don't understand what all the virus fuss is all about. So Firefox is a good solution, at least until it becomes too popular for its own good! Best reason I know, though, is because it offers tabs and is also free to download.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Birthday Surprise!

I arrived back from London Friday evening to a big surprise from April - off to Wales for the weekend and a birthday treat back at the Tyn y Cornel Hotel - see the Cader Idris Travelogue.

Paul standing on top of Cader Idris with a gale blowing from behind. The cloud base was about 800 feet below the summit.

April posing at the col above the "chair", a corrie of immense proportions that falls away vertically about 10 feet from where she stands. Sometimes dense clouds give a mis-placed sense of safety!

On Sunday we attacked Cader Idris from the north, taking the Pony Path on a day that promised plenty of cloud and mist. It's good to climb a cloud covered mountain once in a while to make the clear blue sky days seem all the more special. This was a good contrast to our March 2004 experience. Although not cold, the wind was really blowing at the summit and our waterproofs were very much needed.

The upper reaches of the walk above Dolgoch. This is a wonderful place.

On Monday we tackled Cader again, intending to visit a waterfall above Tal Y Llyn, but the path proved to be non-existent and with the slopes very slippery we aborted, and visited Dolgoch Falls instead. This was magical. We rounded off the day in low angled sunshine in an adjacent valley, examining Bird Rock and then the 13th Century ruins of Castell Bere. Both are worth a return visit. There's lots to do around Cader Idris besides climbing mountains!

To the woman at the next table

We would just like to say: "Keep your small minded political comments to yourself!"

I don't know who she might be, but we certainly got to hear her life history as her voice had a piercing ring to it. Apparently quite wealthy, she also owned some strong opinions and more than the three people at her own table were accosted with derisive comments about the November 2 elections. The entire restaurant could hear every word.

Appears her claim to being an expert on Kerry's wooden-ness and Edwards' smart mouth as well as Bush's extreme lack of intelligence was entirely based on the fact that she lived in America for several years during the 1960s!

Both of us said later that we were about to stand up, go over the her table and politely ask her to stop. But perhaps she sensed enough had been said as she barely spoke again for the rest of the evening. Ah the power of mental persuasion!

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Hotel Highspeed Internet

So I need to download some files and do research while in my hotel room. London hotels have always been notorious for their telephone charges but cell phones have probably put paid to that lucrative profit center. Along comes highspeed internet as a replacement. For £18 a day I can have both ethernet and wifi high speed internet in my room (and by wifi in the lobby should I want it!). Wow! That's more than a month's service on a regular broadband connection. I'm making sure I won't be needing the service again! Internet cafe charges in the area are a lot less.