Sunday, December 26, 2004

Ilmington Down

There seems to have been more sun the past two days than for weeks - what a great holiday if you like being outdoors! Today we set off in the car to Ilmington, a village in South Warwickshire not too far from home. We followed a set walk published in a series of volumes we often find invaluable. Basically, the walk took us up onto the large circular mound that is Ilmington Downs, past a very impressive Cotswold stone mansion that is owned by an American billionaire who seems to know how to keep the locals happy by building good stiles and footpath signposts. Then up to the highest point (850 feet and the highest point in all of Warwickshire!) with commanding views of the Avon Vale to the north and west before descending back into Ilmington. This village is quite special and worth a visit. With a village store and two very lively pubs (one, the Howard arms is considered to be the best "gastropub" in the country) it seems to have a good community spirit. All in all, about 8 miles, so we are suitably tired but very happy.

View of the east flank of Ilmington Down - typical Shire country, don't you think, Peter Jackson?

Foxcote House from one of several public rights of way that come very close to the property. We wonder if the absentee owner knew about English footpaths when he bought the property!

Saturday, December 25, 2004

A White Christmas on the Malverns!

Today started out sunny so we quickly got our things together and set off for the Malvern Hills in the hope that we would have great visibility and maybe some snow! In fact we got snow and later on some superb views of half of England and Wales. The following were taken as a blizzard rolled across the hills, enveloping us in snowflakes. Later the sun forced its way through and created some marvelous scenes. A white Christmas - hard to believe but true!

Paul trying to avoid being bombarded by snowflakes as the blizzard moved in.

Paul on top of the Worcestershire Beacon (highest point of the Malverns)

April enjoying the driving snow just below the top of the Worcestershire Beacon. The marker was erected in 1897 and dedicated to Queen Victoria.

Paul on the way to conquer North Hill, bathed in sunshine now the blizzard has passed.

April on the summit of North Hill with the Worcestershire Beacon behind her.

Paul shivering by the quarry lake near the car park. No swimming today, folks, forgot our towels!

Friday, December 24, 2004

A day in Birmingham

Our day out before Christmas included tickets to the CBSO's Christmas Concert at Birmingham's Symphony Hall. This was our first visit to what is generally considered to be one of the finest concert halls in the world and it certainly lived up to our expectations, though with a few disappointments in the program. All in all, though, a very worthwhile experience.

Before the evening concert we walked along the canals to the Mailbox, where we had lunch at Café Paxton. This is a new venture by the cheesesellers, Paxton & Whitfield. Their fourth store includes a café with a menu that is unusual and exceptional - we both thoroughly enjoyed our selections, and will include a review in a the next few days.

We then went to the BMAG (Birmingham Musueum and Art Gallery) primarily to see the social exhibits about the development of Birmingham in the nineteenth century. Some excellent if rather musty exhibits (but remember BMAG is free!) Next door is the Birmingham Main Library, a montrous concrete structure designed about 40 years ago (say no more!) which contains an impressive genealogy section that seems to be very heavily subscribed. We had about two hours to spend so we researched directories and found some useful information for the Ashton side of the family! Paul may yet get interested in genealogy.

Highlight of the day? Perhaps looking out of the glass wall at the Symphony Hall and noticing that the adjacent Birmingham Wheel was perfectly framed. Would have needed the ultra wide angle lens, so no picture this time!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

About time we had some photos!

"Santa" Paul by the Christmas Tree

Baby Olivia (in the buggy but not visible) is witness to the fact that her Daddy appears to own a shoe shop in Stratford-upon-Avon. Mommy seems very excited at the prospect that Philip will be "bringing home the shoes"!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Hard Disk Failure

Our "tower" G4 started to play up a few days ago - iTunes would stop for no reason for a few seconds, then resume. Then the drive stopped altogether and would not reboot. There is a second drive in the computer, so I loaded OSX 10.3 from the master disks onto it and was able to look at the first drive. All the data seemed to be intact but the "keys" were not aligned, whatever that means. So I copied all the data files and program files onto the second drive and erased the first drive, then loaded the operating system and copied everything back again (keeping the second drive as a mirror of the first). I am basically back to where I started but now have to upgrade 10.3 to 10.3.7. This requires a download of around 100 Meg and on a dial up this will take forever. So I am going to wait for our broadband connection, promised on January 5. All very sobering and a good reminder to back up!

Friday, December 17, 2004

While in line at the traveling fishmonger's van

A week ago we heard about the traveling fishmonger who shows up at a hotel car park every Friday afternoon with fresh fish from Louth, on the Lincolnshire coast. We went to check it out and there was a line of people. When we finally got served, he had no monkfish, so I ordered some for this week. Today I lined up again and before I could say "I ordered some monkfish last week" he slapped a fine filet down on the marble slab at the back end of his van. "You remembered!" said I. He nodded.
We joked that monkfish is often called "poor man's lobster" but John (that's his name) said "not any more" to which I replied "I wouldn't know, I haven't bought a lobster in a long long time!"

What was most interesting about this event, however, was the casual conversation with another customer. Turns out he had lived in Houston during the 1990s and had worked for a British oil company. And he knew people I know and currently work with! It is a small world.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Christmas is Coming. . . .

Things are moving along toward the Winter Holidays - today we wrapped presents, mailed cards, sent e-mails to places cards don't necessarily go, mixed the Christmas cake mix (will bake them tomorrow), made three alarm chili, visited the local dump, bought two dozen bottles of Hooky (Hook Norton Best and Old Hooky) and three tubs of Rachel's ice cream. The local wine merchant sold us the last two bottles of a particularly fine Zinfandel that will no longer be available in the UK - perhaps the low point of the day. But overall I'd say we're in the mood! Tomorrow we try out the visiting fishmonger for the first time (his van shows up every Friday afternoon, with fresh fish all the way from Lincolnshire) and will cook some monkfish curry for the freezer.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Fox and Goose Inn, Armscote

We have visited this fine pub and restaurant a few times and recently learned that it has a new owner. But the staff have all stayed with the place, including the excellent chefs. South Warwickshire is blessed with excellent "gastro-pubs" as they are called and many of them manage a balance between the old village local and the new adventurous menu style restaurant. None does this better than the Fox and Goose.

The bar is small but with a real log fire in winter. Two beers are on tap, a "house" bitter, actually brewed by Ansells in Birmingham (I believe), and a guest beer which was last night was Hooky Best. There is a good wine list and the house wines by the glass are very drinkable. Most of the rest of the space is given over to the restaurant with scrubbed pine tables and old pews with soft cushions in eclectic colors. A large blackboard displays the ever-changing menu and the fact that some items may be struck out would strongly suggest that only fresh food is used in the kitchen.

We started dinner with a few slices of hot bread (locally baked) with olives and fig chutney. This helped to stave off pangs of hunger as we waited for the entrés. April had a mouthwatering fried chicken in rich brown sauce, accompanied by loads of fresh vegetables (also sourced locally). I had taggliatele with goats cheese and a most interesting salad. With beers, a glass of red wine and an expresso the bill came to less than £40 with gratuity - which is moderate by today's standards.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Black Country Joke

The driver of a white van from London was lost somewhere in the Black Country*. He stopped to ask a local man standing by a canal bridge, "Is there a B & Q in Wolverhampton?"

The man by the canal bridge thought for a minute and replied: "Dunno, mate, but I know there's two Ds in Dudley!"

*The Black Country is defined as that part of the West Midlands conurbation that isn't Birmingham! Used to be black as industrial soot, hence the name.

Jola Glass Studio, Chipping Campden

Last evening we were invited to spend the evening with Robbie and Joan Kingston and their friends. Joan and Robbie run Jola Glass Studio - this is a serious plug for Joan's unique glass fusion designs.

The evening was a great success with many friends sharing stories and generally coming to conclusion that we have chosen to live in an area that is very special to us. We define the area as having "rural sophistication" and this definition met with universal concurrence. Something of an oxymoron? Well, not really, as this was a center for the Arts and Crafts Movement at the beginning of the 20th Century and the principles of the movement have strengthened in recent years. If you don't believe us, try a visit!

Friday, December 10, 2004

ADSL Broadband Start Up Date

Well, BT (British Telecom) have finally confirmed that January 5 will be the start up date for ADSL at our exchange. 512K 15 Gig/month download service will start as soon as I receive the modem and filter(s) on the Fifth of January. About time, BT. The story behind this is long and boring but suffice it to say that BT kept raising the bar and the community kept rising to the occasion. BT finally gave way and then admitted that they would have to lay 9 kilometers of fiber optic cable before ADSL would be possible. Somehow I think they were hoping we couldn't match their ever-increasing threshold. But we did.

Another language idiom - I starting hearing internet people say "rooter" and did not have the faintest idea what they were talking about. Then I said I needed a "router" and the whole thing fell into place. American English tends to say words the way they are spelt, British English tends to say whatever has become normal over hundreds of years. Just look at the word "route" and tell me it's pronounced "root"! Oh yes, in France. . . . but they speak French over there!

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Local Language

Yesterday's entry included two observations on the local language. The one is obvious, where I refer to what the "paint guy" said. The other was my own subconscious effort. Ending a sentence with the word "really" is definitely in the Midland dialect. This is how it works. "I don't think I like the new Bullring really" means something like "I'm not altogether sure but I don't think I like the new Bullring; if you like it, well, that's fine." One word can convey a lot of meaning!

And Pete used another piece of Midland dialect when he signed off for a month: "Tara a bit" is classic Brummie (Birmingham) in that it collapses words and syllables. In the Queen's English he would have said: "Goodbye for the time being".

The Brummie dialect is variously labeled as the worst, ugliest and laziest regional accent in the UK. Yet most foreigners find it easy on the ear and researchers say that it is very likely that William Shakespeare's accent was not very different. And while we're on the subject, be sure to remember that a Black Country accent is different from a Brummie accent. A very important distinction really.

Saturday, December 04, 2004


Seems like a week of decorating both here and in Banbury (where I get paid in delicious dinners - thanks Lucy!) At home it's the turn of the guest suite. An interesting area in that the ceiling is "very cottagey" with lots of slopes and so on. The original decor was all Gardenia (an off white/cream) but I thought the rooms would do with a bit brighter look so bought Brilliant White for the ceilings, and more Gardenia for the walls. This rule was decided: if the wall is vertical, Gardenia, if not, White. It seems to work but it does look a bit fussy. However, that's what cottage bedrooms generally are, so perhaps it will look fine once all the furniture is back in. Only the trim left to do.

I went to my favorite paint store this morning. The "paint guy" observed that "it's a bit thin today". I thought he meant the paint but he was referring to the weather (heavy freeze last night!)