Holiday: Scotland โ€“ Day 1(8)

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We always go away for my birthday and this year is no exception. Although the official celebration is still a week away, we thought we’d start early! ๐Ÿ˜

What a difference a year makes! Twelve months ago for my celebration, we were in central London, shoulder-to-shoulder on a sweaty tube-train! This year, we’re heading in completely the opposite direction, spending just over a week in the Scottish Highlands.

10.30am: But first, we needed to get there! We headed for our least favourite airport – Luton – and our 1.55pm EasyJet Flight – EZY147 – destined for Aberdeen Airport.

I really hate Luton Airport with a passion – it’s always so busy and the whole experience tends to feel like a rugby scrum at all points of the process! And to bring out my snobbish tendencies, I often seem to be in a queue somewhere behind the family that finds it impossible to speak quietly, whilst sporting the maximum number of visible tattoos! Yuk! ๐Ÿค” Given current Coronavirus-conditions, I wonder what it’ll be like today?

11.45am: Actually, it was almost pleasant! Outside, the place still looks like a building site, but inside, it was relatively peaceful and well-organised !

It was a shame that many of the eateries were closed, but we did find a Pret for a coffee and a sandwich; and for payment, the obligatory second mortgage! ๐Ÿค” The retail outlets looked a bit sad where some looked as though they’d not re-opened since you-know-what!

What could possibly go wrong?

2.55pm: We landed on time at just before 3pm and with only hand-luggage to slow us down, we were soon on our way to the car-hire point to pick up our ‘wheels for the week’. As we quickly discovered, it’s another of those airports where you need a car from the Terminal to get to the err, car-hire desk. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

3 miles later…

On arrival, oh joy! No-one on the Avis desk! ๐Ÿค. Luckily there was a mobile number to call. Apparently, ‘because of COVID-19, there are fewer staff on duty’ and the solitary member of staff, was elsewhere on vehicle returns and there had been some confusion over the plane’s arrival time.

What, no staff!

3.45pm: Just ten minutes later, we were sorted – sort of! Instead of the promised Vauxhall Astra, we were upgraded to a Mercedes A200. A car so technically advanced, even I couldn’t work out how to put it in gear! (that’s my street cred in tatters!). A quick training session from the Avis staff revealed that the ‘gear selector’ normally located in the centre console was, on this particular model, actually a fake and the gear ‘lever’ was on the steering column! Doh! I know what you’re thinking: why didn’t we just consult the handbook? Simples! There wasn’t one! ๐Ÿ™„ Apparently, Avis remove them as a matter of procedure! ๐Ÿค”

Top (no) Gear!

We were soon our own way to Richard and Lynn’s. It was a gorgeous day, pleasantly warm at around 18โ„ƒ. Under normal circumstances, our destination was just 40 minutes away. I say ‘normal circumstances’, because we dialled in the post-code only to find that when the sat-nav pinged to announce our arrival, we realised that the rural nature of the area meant the postcode is shared with about 30 additional locations! A few fumbled mobile calls to our host (hardly any signal at all here) and we were now pointing in the right direction. And luckily, Ann’s razor-sharp memory pinpointed the finish line. Lynn met us on the drive and we were soon bumping elbows at Culdrain House.

Perfect! (1)

5.30pm: With elbows retracted, we headed for the garden to enjoy the pleasant weather, oh, and Richard’s home-made very pleasant Rhubarb Gin! We reckon it’s close on 20 years since we were last all together here – and we some serious catching-up to do!

Perfect! (2)

Our hosts’ ‘pet complement’ has expanded since we were last here, and we were soon greeted (‘smothered’ actually!) by dogs: Dougal, Pippin, Merrie and Parker (Dot and Dash, their cats, were temporarily AWOL).

6.15pm: A quick unpack and we were ready for Dinner!

7.30pm: Time for our evening meal. Richard and Lynn had been busy in the kitchen and we tucked into Roast Pork and a very tasty vegetable selection followed by Lynn’s homemade Eton Mess. Our catch-up conversation continued helped along by some excellent wine choices! ๐Ÿ˜›

10.00pm: With the meal over, we were beginning to flag and by 10.30, we called it a day.

The weather forecast for tomorrow looks good, just shy of 20โ„ƒ, so we plan to explore some places that Richard had helpfully pointed out on the map including the Moray Coast.

10.45pm: ๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด

Party, Party!

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Well, we haven’t done this in a while! It’s fair to say that many of our immediate circle of neighbours have all had significant things to ‘deal with’ these past few months, so tonight was the perfect opportunity to get together.

We played to our strengths, Ann weaving her magic in the kitchen and creating a couple of cheesecakes and me – washing the car! ๐Ÿ˜

With our strengths played-to, we picked up Paul and Karen and headed off in the direction of long-time friends, Tom and Julie (Georgina was celebrating her birthday today – and we’d all been invited!).

At the last minute, Trish and John couldn’t make it, but it still felt like a house full with aound 40 people there!

Safe to say, Ann’s cheesecakes went down a storm!

We stayed until around 10.30 leaving everyone else to finish the food and drink! It had been a really good ‘do’ although Eileen – Tom’s Mum – did manage aggravate her her knee along the way resulting in some much needed TLC – and an extended period on the sofa!

I’m tempted to say tonight was a great ‘knees up’ – but that wouldn be sooo corny! ๐Ÿ˜‰

London Mini-Break – Day 2 (of 3): Birthday Boy (2019)

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Here we are then, in the capital for my Birthday celebrations!

After yesterday’s retail therapy, today, it’s all about sight-seeing, and we’re off to visit Westminster Abbey and The Banqueting House …and maybe more!
That means there’s at least THREE relics on show in London today then! ๐Ÿ˜‰

7.20am: Another lie-in – that’s the second one this year! Instead of ploughing through emails, it was a really nice change to wake up to a record-breaking number of text messages and social-media posts wishing me well. A great start to my day.

As we’re away, we only brought the first few cards with us – the rest will be opened when we get back. Thanks in advance… and for the various gifts too! I’ve heard there’s quite a few to open on our return!

Wot! No candles???

8.45am: My ‘Birthday’ Breakfast in the Hotel was impressive in terms of its range. You’ll be pleased to hear that I did precede the above with a bowl of fresh fruit (hurrah!) but then go on to spoil the healthy intention with a couple of pastries (boo!)

Westminster Abbey

9.45am: My birthday celebration began with a spring in my step (early days yet!) as we took the short walk to Stratford Station, heading for our first sight-seeing opportunity – Westminster Abbey. It was a good day to travel underground (and stay inside) as the weather for London was already damp with more rain forecast. We were prepared for it and although I was pleased to see Ann, it WAS an umbrella in my pocket! ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚

10.30am: By the time we arrived, the weather had deteriorated and it was now pouring! Luckily, the queue wasn’t too long and we were soon inside. The 2-for-1 offer had saved us a hefty ยฃ23.

Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside, but the excellent – and free – multimedia guide (portable video player and headphones) made up for it with Jeremy Iron’s soothing tones telling us all we needed to know. Simply, put, the interior was stunning with lots to see. Today’s Top Tip? With so much to take in, in addition to everything that’s in your normal eye-line, it helps to look down as well as up on a regular basis.

Westminster Abbey

The Supreme Court

11.45am: In a change to the advertised programme ๐Ÿ˜ we stumbled across The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom – just up the road in the direction of Whitehall. We already knew of it, just not exactly where it was.

Architectually, it was a fascinating building with a mix of old (it used to be council offices) and the new (it had been extended and was very light and airy). Free admission too! ๐Ÿ˜

Click on the pic for a larger version
Just an excuse for me to show off the lens on my new phone that blurs the background

It had a very ‘open’ feel to it and was scrupulously clean. Inside there are just four Courts where supreme justice is served, so it’s kept very busy. Deserted today though!! A lovely piece of London! ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘

Even the staircase was beautiful

A very interesting place and well-worth a visit if you’re also planning to see the Abbey, Parliament, Big-Ben etc etc. best of all, given its function, we were left completely free to wander around without any restrictions. ๐Ÿ˜Š

The Banqueting House

The Banqueting House

12.30pm: Next stop (and back on schedule) we arrived at The Banqueting House, home of the famous Charles I’s execution and Ruben’s ceiling – how’s that for contrast!!??

Where’s the Anadin?

Beheading aside, the jaw-dropping moment was easily the Ruben’s ceiling on the first floor…

Err… WOW!

This was a real treat for me and the vibrancy of the colours, let alone the feat of actually creating it in the first place, was mind-blowing! If you’re interested in visiting, the location is easy to miss unless you’re specifically looking for it. Located between Downing Street and Trafalgar Square, opposite Horse Guards. Price of a (London) pint to get in!

Birthday Lunch

1.15pm: Birthday lunch was at the nearby The Clarence Pub – and perfecly timed as my feet were reminding me how much walking we’d done so far!

Still no candle!

When it comes to food (birthday or not) I’m easily pleased, whilst Ann is far more discerning. The Hake from the specials board found a home with Mrs P, whilst I chose the Chicken Pie and Smashed New Potatoes. One thing we did agree on was the cider – it had to be Aspall on draught!

Cheers!

The National Portrait Gallery

2.05pm: Next stop – and our last for the day – was The National Portrait Gallery. Last time I was here was back in May 2016 with my old prog rocker mate, Ian. We were on our way to see supergroup Yes in concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Just like my previous visit, there was lots to see. Some familiar, others less so, but it made for a very enjoyable experience. For us, the amazing thing was that it was sometimes hard to tell whether it was a painting or a photograph! What a talent!!

Thoughtfully laid out by age, the displays showed-off a wide range of subjects and styles…

It felt like it was perfectly possible to stay here ALL DAY and not see the same portrait twice!

How many faces do you recognise?

Nice to see very modern interpretations too!

3.45pm: Tomorrow, we’re off to see a Play just up the road (more about that tomorrow), so we thought we’d beat the queues and pick-up our tickets today. It seemed like a good idea, but no such luck, as the Box Office politely informed us that our tickets won’t be ready until 30 minutes before the performance tomorrow. So, it was back on the Tube, as we headed back to the Hotel.

4.35pm: Phew! What a day! I may only feel 19 on the inside, but my feet definitely are all 63 years of me! We hobbled back from Stratford station, picking up some sandwiches along the way – all set for my Birthday Tea (where I’m not expecting candles! ๐Ÿ˜Š)

5.30pm: It’s certainly been an actioned-packed Birthday (just the way I like it) and if I didn’t get round to replying to all your best wishes on social-media, I’m working through them next. For those who sent me cards, as I mentioned earlier, we travelled light and I’m opening those when get home on Saturday – that goes for my presents too! ๐Ÿ˜

Now for a lie-down in a darkened room! ๐Ÿ˜ด

Previous Birthday Celebrations…

2018
2017
2016
2015
2014
2013
2012
2011
2
010
2
009
2008
2007
2006
2
005
2004

London Mini-Break – Day 1 (of 3)

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We’re on a three-day mini-break in London that’ll incorporate my birthday celebrations tomorrow.

Last time we visited the capital was back in August when we stayed ‘up-west’.

This time though, we’re on the opposite side (literally) and heading for east London where Stratford will be our home for the duration.

9.35am: OK, the weather forecast suggested we won’t need factor 30, but it was far better than when we looked yesterday. Valerie dropped us at the station in good time for our 10.01 departure. The train was slightly late, but made up for it as we sped towards the capital. It was the first time that we noticed the numerous and regularly-spaced new gantries above the track (in preparation for electrification).

Those that know us will not be surprised to hear that whilst we’re down south “We’ve got plans”.
On the list – The theatre; tracking down some new technology; therapy (of the retail kind) and a spell in ‘tourist mode’ sightseeing – courtesy of the popular ‘2-for-1’ deals offered by the railways.

11.05am: We arrived in London pretty much on time. First job was to head for our hotel and either check-in (if they’d let us, as we were early) or failing that, just dump our bags.

The ibis, 1A, Romford Road, Stratford (Gawd blimey guvnor!)

12.15pm: After a tortourous journey by Tube, due to an ‘unspecified incident’ that halted the train (meaning we had to switch to the Northern Line at Bank) we eventually arrived at the ibis. Check-in was super-quick, and we were soon on our way to Room 320.

Not bad for just ยฃ85 per night (including a cooked brekky!)

The room impressed us. We’ve stayed in larger (much larger) affairs, but this had a very modern feel to it and contained everything we needed. One example of how modern it was – it’s the first hotel we’ve stayed in where there wasn’t a phone in the room, replaced instead with a WhatsApp number! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Penny-pinching or smart – you decide!

Location-wise, we’re well positioned here. With Stratford station just down the road, we can get pretty much anywhere in the capital without too much of a stretch.

1.30pm: After catching the 1 o’clock news (Oh, Boris, what have you done!!!) we headed out into ‘darkest’ Stratford. Wow!, it’s certainly changed a lot round here since we both worked in and around the area. The numerous shiny new skyscrapers and apartment-blocks now punctuate the skyline, visually transforming the area from ‘old and run-down’ to a modern city.

Absolutely no sign of the Mitchell Brothers though – EastEnders this most definitely (now) isn’t! ๐Ÿ™„

1.45pm: We began our retail therapy with a visit to Westfield, a short(ish) walk from the hotel. Opened in September, 2011, it’s a gigantic retail space, some 1,910,000 square feet of shops, shops and more shops! Perfect then for us two and our therapy! ๐Ÿ˜ต

2.05pm: After a bit of window-shopping (there’s a lot of windows!), we took a break and stopped off for lunch at The Real Greek. We’d not heard of this chain before, but apparently (at the time of writing) they have another 15 outlets around the UK.

Very efficient service and mouthwatering food meant they’re now definitely added to our list called: ‘Must try some of their other restaurants’. Sensibly priced too! ๐Ÿ˜

2.55pm: With lunch out-of-the-way, we continued our retail therapy and headed for the TK Maxx – probably one of the largest of their outlets we’ve even been to! They were busy too – really busy – with the queue for the (many) checkouts snaking round the displays more akin to a Post-Office queue.

…Meanwhile the nearby M & S was struggling! We played ‘spot the customer’, a game that was over very quickly! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ
Happily, the Food Hall was doing better and we picked up a few snacks for our evening meal. ๐Ÿ˜

We called it a day shortly afterwards, and headed back in the direction of the Hotel. With a reasonable step-count for the afternoon, we reflected on the impact of Stratford’s transformation of its retail landscape together with the explosion of new buildings in the immediate area. In my eyes, it was completely unrecognisable from the Stratford I knew back in the 90s.

And yet, even though the architecture had changed, the locals still looked very familiar! Consequently we couldn’t help feel an irrational sense of unease as we mingled amongst the residents of E20. It was nothing we could put our finger on – we love our fellow man – but it was the Stratford of old, pre-Olympics – a place where it was probably wise not to wander the streets after-dark! ๐Ÿค” I did see the Mitchell Brothers and plenty of other ‘dodgy geezers’!

Also on our to-do list was to chase-down some technology! That technology was ‘5G’. In spite of being armed with quite a detailed map, it was nowhere ot be found.

A quick conversation with the nominated ‘tech expert’ in John Lewis proved that he was none the wiser, and he suggested that I try ‘further south’. When we got back to the room, I rang ”3′ my phone provider only to be told that their 5g service has NOT been launched yet in London for mobile-phones (but it had for home-broadband) in spite of what the map suggested.

Well, that’s one less thing to worry about whilst we’re here ! ๐Ÿ˜•

Dining in!

6.00pm: We ate in tonight! The Duck Wrap was very pleasant, but the Gluten/Wheat-free Piri-piri Chicken Wrap (that I’d picked-up in error) was the work of the Devil! ๐Ÿ˜ฃ

The Changing Face of Stratford

It’s been an interesting first day and by way of a change, we’re sight-seeing in central London tomorrow!

90 – Over and (not) Out!

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It was Denis’s 90th Birthday today!

As part of his Birthday treat, and in keeping with Dad’s RAF experience, we took him to the IBCC (International Bomber Command Centre) in nearby Canwick Hill, Lincoln.

Opened in 2011, the aim of the IBCC is to tell the personal stories of service men and women of RAF Bomber Command, ground crews and civilians impacted by the bombing campaigns on both sides of the conflict during the Second World War.

It’s an impressive building inside and out, so there’s lots to see. But before all of that, like the Planes themselves, we needed re-fuelling. And the Restaurant turned out to be as comprehensive as the Museum itself!

The restaurant was busy and that meant a slightly longer wait than we would have liked – but it was worth it! Omelettes for Ann and her Dad (large and fluffy! – the eggs, not the eaters!) whilst I wrestled with the themed ‘Bomber Breakfast‘ – a monster of a full-English where the Toast would have doubled as the wings on a Lancaster! Yummy ๐Ÿ˜‹

Click on the image for a downloadable larger version
Click on the image for a downloadable larger version

The Museum itself consists of two floors where everything to do with Bomber Command’s activities was explained in great detail. It was difficult to take photos inside, but take it from us, it’s worth a visit even if you just have a passing interest in WWII history.

The best part was probably the gigantic screen that showed a detailed map of Europe. On the left hand side, a rolling timeline of WWII, month-by-month, year-by-year – and on the map itself, a ‘dot’ to show every bomb that was dropped. Fascinating stuff, especially once the Americans entered the War – as this had a direct impact on the quantity of bombs dispatched (especially on Germany!).

With both floors covered, it was outside to take the short walk to the Memorial to all those who died. This was an eye-catching piece fashioned in the shape of an aircraft wing. It was complemented by commemorative stones to the left of the path listing many who paid the ultimate sacrifice…

…and once we’d arrived at the Memorial, there were multiple panels commemorating everyone who had died during bombing raids – not just WWII. We also got a superb view of Lincoln itself…

All-in-all, it turned out to be an excellent trip. Denis had enjoyed himself (these days, it’s one of his rare days out), and we’d learned a lot more about the whole ‘Bomber Harris’ debate and the wider impact of bombing raids in general.

Happy Birthday Denis! ๐ŸŽ‚

Birthday Girl 2019

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It was a welcome return to The Tollemache Arms in Harrington today. We met David, Valerie and little Evie there – where my natural charm with children took a back-seat and reduced Evie to a mega-sulk for most of the meal! Young children and me? It’s NEVER an easy relationship! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

Today was to celebrate Ann’s Birthday. Last time we were here, back in January, the food was nothing short of excellent – and today was no exception! ๐Ÿ‘

They must be doing something very right here, because the place was packed – and this was just Monday lunchtime! All-in-all, a thoroughly enjoyable experience (but maybe not for Evie!) ๐Ÿ˜•

Happy Birthday Ann! ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ‘

Moggy Birthday – Biscuit at 14

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Biscuit doing what she does best!
Biscuit turned 14 today. With Bon-Bon looking down on her sister, Biscuit continues to be โ€˜top-catโ€™. Sheโ€™s still VERY vocal at times โ€“ quite spontaneously โ€“ and a year since it first started, weโ€™ve still no idea what she wants. Itโ€™s amazing how such a small mouth can emit such a loud noise. Luckily, her โ€˜tantrumsโ€™ are over as quickly as they started and when itโ€™s at 3am, thatโ€™s a welcome relief! She continues to be a โ€˜sofa-catโ€™ and pops up next to us in the evenings when she feels like it (which is quite often โ€“ and something she NEVER did when Bon-Bon was around). Once a lover of tinned Tuna (only Aldiโ€™s!), she is now completely indifferent to it. Sheโ€™s back on Senior Iams and fresh chicken. Sheโ€™s also sable to resist a saucer of the famous Dreamies! Sheโ€™s sleeping a lot more and hardly ever wanders upstairs when weโ€™re asleep – she seems quite content sleeping on one of the sofas. Patsy, our nearby Groomer, still sees her every six weeks, (every four, in the Winter), and is keeping on top of her coat. And although she planned to close down her Persian Rescue business, a year-or-so ago (again!) she still continues to take in strays and provide โ€˜top catโ€™ with a first-class grooming and bathing service. Health-wise, Biscuit is in fine form. Although we see her limping very (very) occasionally, we assume it’s just old-age and (perhaps) a bit of arthritis in one of her back legs. Other than that, given her age, sheโ€™s doing really well. The Cattery continues to be a god-send. Weโ€™re travelling quite a bit more these days and Valerie the owner, is recognised by Biscuit now as her second owner! Fourteen is a good age for a Persian, so we’re counting our blessings that she is still with us.