Archive for July, 2009

The 2009 version of the quintessentially English summer’s afternoon

Friday, July 31st, 2009

The lawn has been mowed and I finally managed to get the tent back into its bag after last year’s camping holiday. The detritus from this year’s holiday is now more or less stowed in various appropriate (and some inappropriate) cubbyholes. The birdseed holders have been refilled. The children are busying themselves elsewhere in the house, quietly. They are playing an interactive game with a friend over the internet. I have made enormous progress with my jobs list. The third Ashes Test match at Edgebaston is on Test Match Special on iPlayer. I’m also following it on The Aussies have just been bowled out for 263 in their first innings. I’ve just had a second cup of tea. Later we are going to the cricket club for the lads to have some time in the nets. Afterwards we will probably have a beer (lemonade) in the clubhouse and watch the game. Curry is on the menu for tonight. I’m still on holiday.

All is well with the world.

Isle of Man Day 10

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Early up and the weather at first glance looks good for traveling. This was somewhat deceptive as we were later to find out. A slow journey to Douglas behind a driver unaware that she was allowed to travel faster than 25 mph was compensated for by the fact that because we were towing a trailer we were second onto the boat and second in line to get off. Yo!

The “Snaefell” was a lot more cramped than the Mannanan that brought us to the island. Still we settled into our reserved seats and ate our croissants, baked by my fair hands shortly before leaving the house. What a pro!

Now every person in our family has something to contribute. Specifically at sea it is Joseph who is a bellweather for rough times ahead and promptly chundered into a well placed sick bag taken from the back of the seat in front of him.

It was not long before he was joined by a chorus of small children from the seats around us with a smattering of adults thrown in to provide harmony in the lower octaves. The sweet smell of vomit began to waft across the cabin…

Isle of Man Day 9

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Back to it’s wet and windy ways, the Isle of Man drove us into Douglas again for a spin on the horse trams.

We arrived almost and hour before the first horse so we “did” Strand Street for the third time. Once along Strand Street is too many times. I can’t understand why people would bother.

Finally the tram. At £12 for the family to go one way along the prom the horse trams were seemingly making an enormous contribution to the Manx economy. I drove to the other end and picked the others up, more due to pressure of time than anything else but assisted by the cost.

Lunch was at Green’s vegetarian restaurant at the Steam Railway Station at the end of the harbour. My old mate Crell and his lovely wife Renate proved pleasant company surrounded by railway memorabilia. A passer by was flagged down to take the obligatory team photo and we said our farewells vowing not to leave it another ten years.

Back in Peel we caught no fish again and finished off with the tour of Moore’s kipper factory, “the only remaining traditional kipper curers”. Interesting enough though I did leave the tour feeling somewhat smoky eyed. Also found out the source of the saying “on tenterhooks”.

Isle of Man Day 8

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Stop press. Day 8 and it’s a result. At long last our first basking shark sightings, just two or three hundred metres off the breakwater. I tried to get some photographs but some analysis on the laptop is required before I can confirm that I have the hard evidence. The photos just looked like lots of pictures of waves when I looked at them on the camera. The sharks were definately there though.

The rest of today is all planned out, for me at least. This afternoon it is golf with dad in one of the Peel Golf Week competitions followed by a team dinner out with the Shimmins, Kellys and Fletchers at Coasters in Douglas.

Isle of Man Day 7

Monday, July 27th, 2009

A wet and windy start to the day keeps the crowds at bay. No fishers at the end of the quay and indeed we conclude that they are right and elect to shark watch instead. Still no sharks to see though, despite the admission from a friendly tourist that they had seen fifteen from the Foillan Beg excursion boat yesterday.

In fact at this early stage of the day there are few people around although the presence of around ten cars is somewhat puzzling. The answer lies in the lifeboat house as the tractor trundles out to the end of the ramp and some lifeboatmen distribute rubber batons down to the water. The lifeboat is about to return!

Joe and I move to a vantage point atop the breakwater and keep lookout. There are no boats in sight. Anywhere!

Then I see a small dot on the horizon. Just a bow wave at first, but gradually growing to be discernible as a lifeboat. The boat rounds into the shelter of the harbour, drops four crew members off at the steps and then begins the process of being hauled out of the water. It is all exciting stuff for a landlubber and takes probably an hour or so, including the washing down and cleaning.

By this time the quay has become crowded and the sun has broken through. It is set up nicely for our afternoon of gorge climbing.

Ballaglass Glen is the scene for this. A beautiful walk down with a tree canopy above keeping the sun from ever penetrating to the water itself. The scene might be a tropical jungle as dripping mosses mix with tall ferns, fallen trees and the river roaring over the rocks below.

We climb down into the water and begin our upwards journey through the rockpools and raging torrents fuelled by last night’s rain. Two hours later, soaked, scratched and bruised but satisfied we emerge through the trees to the carpark.

Isle of Man Day 6

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

The annual Southern Agricultural Society show is held at Great Meadow near Castletown. A perfect sunny day set the ideal stage for a day out at the show. It’s a great family day out.

Horses, great brutes of bulls, cows, uncooperative sheep, yapping show dogs, poultry, rabbits, lawnmowers, fridges, picnic tables, cess pits, smoothie makers, cookery displays, vintages tractors and agricultural machinery (including baling machines), beehives, chairoplanes, bouncy castles, slides, Isle of Man Bank, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, WI Refreshment tent, cars, Recruitment Consultants, ice cream vans, burger bars, milking machines, smoothies, potatoes, dahlias, onions, green beans, marrows, roses, apple pies, fence posts, quilting, rhubarb, radish, beetroot, raspberries, blackcurrant, gooseberries, cauliflower, strawberries, cabbages, lettuce, carrots, coconut shy, straw hat, picnic, brass band, car park queues.

Later, Great Union Camera Obscura followed by a spin to the breakwater in Peel. The Seacat is in on a day trip from Belfast. We enjoy a cold beer outside the Creek Inn followed by a meal outside in the garden back at the house.

Isle of Man day 5

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

A lovely summer’s day which considering that we were off on a trip on the Manx Electric Railway was somewhat of an anomaly. I have years of family photos taken in front of the MER station building in Laxey clad in waterproofs and huddling together for warmth.

Today was different. The sun shone benevolently, bringing satisfied smiles to our faces as we gazed up blindly, eyes closed, taking in the heat. It was only Joe and I, the others preferring retail therapy to trains.

The MER is somewhat of a pilgrimage for me. At the tender age of eighteen I found employment there for the summer holidays before fleeing the coop and heading off to university.

Every year I bring up the same old stories and point out the same old stagers who were there when I was a conductor. They wouldn’t remember me, if nothing else because time has changed my shape, but also as I was only there for the one season, a fleeting eight or ten weeks.

The money was great but at the end of the summer I had saved nothing and ended up finding a low paid labouring job on the Highway Board for a month to try and amass some cash.

Anyway we made our memory filled way to Laxey and alighted for a wander round. I bought an Isle of Man teatowel in the souvenir shop on the way to the big wheel. Then we had an early lunch at Browns Teashop on Ham and Egg Terrace. Browns has a very good reputation but now milks this with high prices. The original owners moved on some time ago.

We caught the 12.25 back to Douglas sitting on the outside carriage so that we could take photos en route. I always tell the story of how one day I was conducting on Number 1 with Gordon as driver. Number 1 is the oldest functioning electric tram in the word. On this occasion we only had a couple of passengers and we hatched a plan for lunch.

Gordon made the 30 minute journey to Douglas in only fifteen. We then stopped the tram about half a mile short of the terminus and just around the bend where we could not be seen. I then ran in to the Port Jack Chippy and bought a couple of fish and chips. The tram made it in exactly on time and we ate our lunch in the depot with the same element of excitement as under age drinkers. Beer never tasted the same after my eighteenth birthday. Happy days.

Isle of Man Day 4

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

The classic British summer holiday starts to gain momentum as the weather improves, albeit probably temporarily. A good night’s sleep after yesterday’s coastal path walk, followed by a hearty bacon and egg for breakfast set us up for the day.

The weather was perfect for flying our new kite. It failed to get airborne. We need some professional advice on this subject and there is none to hand. Hmm.

The weather was also perfect for fishing of the end of the quay. We caught no fish, although we were not alone in this predicament. For some of us this is not as disappointing as it may sound. Catching a fish means getting hands cove red in fish bits. For me the pleasure is in standing in a pleasant place in the sunshine periodically casting the lure and reeling it in.

The rest of the family eventually joined us and Tom and John eventually set off to the other end of the prom to play tennis. In the meantime the bridge opened and we saw a steady stream of yachts sailing in and out of the harbour. This is such a relaxing sight. We waved, or at least I did, and had a reasonable response rate. As they got beyond the quay the boats raised their sails and started tacking into the South Westerly, whither bound I know not. Ireland or Wales.

Next we took the fishing net to the rock pools by the castle. There were tiddlers on show but we didn’t catch one. The point of the activity is to stand there looking into the pools to see what we could see. To say we had been “rock pooling”.

Round at the beach we got out the picnic and tucked in to our sandwiches. Paddling was obligatory though the weather was not quite right for lying on the beach all day with the occasional cooling swim. Actually the water is cold.

Setting off for part two we went to Onchan Park where the usual go-karting, motorboating, remote controlled boats, crazy golf, play park and ice creams filled the afternoon and gave us a healthy tan.

As we finished the boat set out from Douglas harbour bound for Heysham by all appearances.

Isle of Man Day 3

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Intrepid, adventurous, brave. All words used to describe the Davies gang on holiday. Today we walked up Peel Hill and carried on along the coastal path to Glen Maye.


An element of subterfuge was involved here. We stopped frequently on the way to the top of the hill. Mainly for me to catch my breath but also ostensibly for the kids. Stops involved the frequent distribution of energy giving sugary sweets, a flashback to my own childhood where my father would find packets of fruit pastilles left by the fairies behind rocks to keep me going on my way up Cader Idris, the mountain that towered over our home in Dolgellau.


The weather deteriorated on the way up Peel Hill,  having lulled us into a false sense of security at lunchtime. We all had decent waterproofs so the rain, only persistent and not lashing, did not really trouble us and having reached the initial objective of Corrin’s folly,  we stopped to assess the situation.


There was an moment where the defeatist faction, naming no names, wanted to return to Peel but the rest galvanized Hannah who led the “let’s keep going” movement and we continued south, assisted by the fact that it was all downhill.


The walk was a lot longer than anyone had bargained for.  We traversed treacherous cliff-tops which, had the wind been stronger, would not have made sense, skirted a field with a bull in it, had our bare legs attacked by nettles, gorse and brambles, climbed stiles and were constantly on the lookout for basking sharks in the sea  below.


In the wilderness beyond Peel we met nobody.  The coastal path itself seemed hardly a regular route. Not a beaten path. On one occasion I heard a cacophony of seagulls. Looking up I saw a flock trying to scare off a kestrel which ignored them and dropped in on an unseen prey.


 The weather turned out to be near perfect. Typically, I had forgotten the map so our destination, Glen Maye, was always around the next bend. Finally we arrived at Glen Maye beach.  Luxuriously empty.


We skimmed flat stones across the waves, leapt from slippery stepping stone to slippery stepping stone and spread ourselves out to dry in the sun.  After an appropriate pause we set off for the pub at the top of the glen where we met Tadcu who had come to take our weary limbs home.

Isle of Man Day 2

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

It was a beautiful afternoon when we arrived at the Isle of Man.  Ice cream on the promenade weather. The following morning was a different story entirely.


Joe and I went to the quay immediately after breakfast to try our hand at fishing. The wind was far too strong and the couple of lads already there braving the elements did not stay long.  In fact our own expedition was a non starter because whilst I had packed the rods and the fishing box I had completely forgotten about the reels!


We retreated into Michael Street and found an all purpose outdoor activities shop that sold us a couple of cheap reels at £11.98 the pair. Just down the street a baker sold us a couple of sausage rolls that we had to protect from the rain as we ate them walking back to the car.


As the wet weather persisted the only recourse appeared to be a shopping trip into Douglas. This is somewhat of a recurring theme of our holidays in the Isle of Man. The sea on the front in Douglas was very violent and kept us entertained for five minutes or so, crashing onto the prom.  Good job we had arrived yesterday.


I survived the shopping trip and we retreated to Peel for the usual splendid lunch. The afternoon was a completely  different kettle of fish. We journeyed to Port Erin, ostensibly to find some amusements. In practice there were no amusements. As a breed of entertainment they are completely extinct in the Isle of Man which is a real shame because us kids used to love betting (5p) on the mechanical racehorses and dropping two pences into the “penny” falls. It’s no wonder really that they have all closed.


The afternoon weather in Port Erin was a complete contrast to the morning.  We had tea in our favourite end of the beach “Nook Café” and then player cricket on the sand. returning to Peel, Joe and Tadcu accompanied me for a bit of late afternoon fishing followed by a pint at “The Creek Inn”. Sitting outside the pub the sun was warming though the breeze was challenging. After dinner Anne and I enjoyed a walk down to the prom, over to Fenella Beach and back.  It is the same routine year after year – a winning recipe.


School Blues (and Reds)

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

LaserBlasted tonight.
Death to all Y6s.
Shattered again – wish the term was over.
Fear is power I believe – and I wish I had a fist of it now.
Kids worn out too but keeping them happy watching the Tour.
Never used to drink beer during the week, maybe that will be a 2010 revolution.
Doubt it.
Watching ‘Double X’ – really quite good.
Reds won tonight.: My team of course.

Isle of Man Day 1

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

We arrived at Pier Head at almost exactly 10.30, the appointed hour for check in. Whilst not last to arrive we were near the back of the queue and seeing our trailer the attendant waved us into the “white van lane”. We weren’t sure if this was a good thing because being stuck behind a high sided white van we couldn’t see the queue ahead and in consequence had no idea whether the line ahead was moving.

Of course the line wasn’t moving and we stayed there for the usual interminable length of time, waiting. The waiting is a traditional part of getting on a ferry. It’s a bit of a lottery really. When you get into that queue there doesn’t seem to be any logic as to which lane moves first and therefore who gets on first.

Even if you do get on first that often means that you are parked in a dead end on the car deck that pretty much guarantees you are the last off. And nobody wants to get into that position. When the boat hits the jetty in the Isle of Man everyone is chomping at the bit to hit the road.

So this time we were in the white van queue and waiting…

When in the queue the dynamics in the car change. Suddenly everyone gets bored. The box of sandwiches, made by Anne at the crack of dawn for consumption on the boat, is breached and handed round. Anne wants to get out of the car. There is an interesting new building a hundred metres or so away. No no I say. They will all want to follow and what then happens when the lane starts moving?

Anne and Hannah settle for standing next to the car, stretching their legs after the 20 minute journey. Starlings break the boredom by looking for food on the wall next to the car. There is no food. Why don’t they go somewhere there is a bit of grass where there at least might be worms.

The man in the van behind us gets out and sits on the wall.  The cricket has not yet started on the radio. The kids start arguing.

At last we start moving, slowly, although when we get to the front we are waved through without the security checks that apply to white vans and we drive onboard.

The journey is smooth though not entirely uneventful because whilst we are at sea England beat the Aussies in the second test at Lords. The Niarbyl lounge is comfortable and almost empty. When we arrive in Douglas we are indeed one of the first off. Result!


Friday, July 17th, 2009

I’m here, looking at the trees.
They look so tired after a day of pounding.
The sun (I see) is setting in the west and the clouds are scooting wildly across the tops of the ash and elder.
Who would travel on a Monday after such a skirmish?
Those who travel hopefully I suppose.
Short of Juan next week but pretty complete otherwise until the weekend when W leaves to tend to sick father.
In primary now – not the Presidential. Tired beyond belief. Looking forward to seeing Freya’s big almost sister. So is she.
Good luck with the weather – we now call it surfing (new boat).
See you soon!

The story so far – Cardiff/Islay

Friday, July 17th, 2009

Feels like months, but it’s only really been 2 weeks. Five ferry trips and one uninflatable inflatable bed later and I’m in the pretty little village of Port Ellen on the South West part of Islay, with a sun tan that rivals the one I had after two weeks cycling in Vietnam. The sun’s out and the landscape is dramatic in its intensity of blues, browns, greens, purples (that’ll be the thistles) and yellows. The skies are very picturesque with huge cloud formations which change every minute in the blustery wind. Arran was controlled wildness. Gigha was small and friendly with spectacular white beaches. Islay is so far magnificent in its big open moors stretching miles. I drove past some men hand-cutting the peat for the Laphroaig disillery today, then saw it stacked up in the distillery itself. The next island will be Jura. That’s another kettle of fish. Big jagged mountains and lots of dark looming clouds. Happily, unlike the bed, the tent has taken everything thrown at it so far. Have bought a new one which needs checking out later. Photos at a later date when I’ve got them off the card.

After the storm

Monday, July 13th, 2009

The monsoon finally arrived to break the run of hot weather. Latterly the combination of heat and humidity had become difficult to tolerate. Nobody had wanted to stir. Instead everyone languished indoors in the shade, patio doors flung wide open in the hope of catching the faintest of breezes. We craved for ice in our drinks but had to settle instead for the cold tap, run as fast as it would go to maximize the cooling effect. The lawn had lost most of its colour and the streets were uncomfortable to walk. Ten paces and you broke into a sweat. Life slowed down to the slowest of slow. In the papers we read of the deaths of old people in apartment blocks. The fragile and the sick who’s bodies found it easier to give up rather than contend with the unaccustomed heat.

Then the rain came accompanied by spectacular thunderstorms. We watched the flashes of lightning and counted to see how far away they were. They came gradually closer bringing with them a torrential downpour that filled the gutters to overflowing and sent us outside to unblock the drainpipes that had filled during the dry period, the leaves prematurely shed from the trees that surrounded the house. We sat in the conservatory looking out at the vertical torrents that bounced off the roof, nature banging its drum. Occasionally we would have to venture out, clad in shorts, sandals and waterproofs. Although it was wet it was still pleasantly warm.

The rains finally left us. We set to unblocking the drain in front of the garage. The garage itself had flooded, as it does every time. I took Tom for a driving lesson, instructing him to avoid the large puddles that met us at every bend in the road. The sky was spectacularly grey and white, a steely contrast with the damp straw colour of the fields that we sped past in the car. We arrived home as it grew dark. The television could be seen lighting up the room with the curtains fully open. Leaving Tom to lock up I strode through the front door, opened up the laptop and started to type.