Friday, March 29, 2013

A green bucket.

A more leisurely day or two was called for after the walk-a-thon of yesterday. Tuesday morning was spent writing the blog-postings and selecting the photographs of the previous couple of days’ travels. In the early afternoon, I visited a large garden center in which the sight of scores of potted Spring-flower arrangements, statuary and garden implements caused me to wonder what my own garden ‘across the pond’ must look like after the 13” of snow that had just fallen there.

We returned to Merrist Wood Golf Club to again make use of the WiFi to upload bucket-blogs. The only activities to be seen out on our walk (of less than 2 miles) around parts of the very wet course were the gaggling of geese and the comings-and-goings of  some vets, police and RSPCA personnel who there to round up a couple of undernourished stray ponies found languishing in an adjacent field.  
Even less walking was involved on Wednesday. After a morning of being a couch-potato, a trip to another large garden center was in order. In this one,  near Aldershot, we looked at more pots of daffodils and other brightly colored arrangements of various ‘annuals’, numerous ‘water feature’ structures and large tanks of koi carp. We then entered its large cafeteria for a pot of tea and a buttered scone; very British! A few miles away in Farnham is a building called Bourne Mill, parts of which were built more than a thousand years ago. There are more than 2 dozen tiny oddly-shaped and sized rooms on 3 or 4 floors of this old mill-house, into which more than 70 different vendors have inserted all manner of ‘antique’ bric-a-brac for sale. The wooden-beamed, plaster-walled, ‘mind-your-head’ doorways presented an interesting maze-like journey regardless of its contents. Ironically, it was here, in England, that I bought a couple of small brass items that had a Welsh ring-and-theme to them. One was a small dinner-bell figure of a Welshwoman (Jenny Jones) in national dress; the other was of a coalminer, complete with pick and Davey-lamp; kneeling and hewing at the face – as so many hundreds had lost their lives doing, beneath the once-green valleys of Wales in years gone by.  

Thursday’s activity entailed trips to two more antique shops in the Aldershot / Farnham area – neither as interesting as the Bourne Mill shop – and a trip to a rose-garden horticulturist to find a variety of rose called ‘Century’. It was to be for a neighbor who will be 100 in May; the search was unsuccessful – not much of a market for such an item, I’d say!  We also visited a DYI store (it may be affiliated with The Home Depot – same orange colors, anyway) and two supermarkets. One, ASDA, (affiliated with Walmart) has independently operated portable car-wash service. Guys pushing grocery-cart-sized containers of water, soaps, buckets and other car-cleaning paraphernalia walk around the parking lot offering to wash your car while you shop. Sounds like an idea that may have a market in the US – keep your eyes open for one near you!

To be continued . . .




Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A capital bucket!

Monday – 25th

As I suspected, yesterday’s culinary indulgences had a price-tag to come. But first, I had to say farewell to my Croydon hosts. Anita escorted me via the mercifully short duration (6 minutes) sardine-crammed electric tram journey from Addiscombe to Croydon East train station. There, I bought my one-way ticket for the 30 minute train ride to Waterloo (change trains at Clapham Junction) Station in London.

My brother and I had arranged to meet (as millions do) ‘under the clock’ at Waterloo Station at 10:30 am. He had a planned walking tour of London’s sights and sites. I had one other place wanted to capture on camera, but as it was not on his itinerary, I set off earlier so that I could ‘do it’ and get back to the clock for the prescribed meeting.

My ‘solo’ trek was to the place where my wife had worked when she first left Ireland, to work in London, more than 45 years ago. That place, still survives – it is the Law Courts Branch of Lloyds Bank on the Strand. I thought she would like to see a photo of it, so the round trip walk of more than 2 miles was worth it – though the hastiness of the walk made my legs ache - but I needed to be back at Waterloo by 10:30 am.

I was only five minutes late for the ‘meeting under at the clock’. We took the Underground (the ‘Tube’) under the Thames River emerging at Embankment where a cup of coffee and a slice of minced pie was most welcomed. I probably had not had minced pie in more 43 years!

Then the walking my brother’s part of the scheduled trip began. We passed St Martin-in-the-Field church (known as ‘The ‘actor’s church’) adjacent to the National Portrait Gallery in front of which a ‘film-shoot’ was taking place. I have no idea who the ‘punk-haired’ actor was, but he emerged from adjacent Trafalgar Square. I think Lord Nelson would have toppled off his lofty perch at the sight of the apparent reprobate being filmed. Photos of Nelson’s Column and Trafalgar Square abound on the internet, so I decided to offer a different one – a mermaid in the semi-frozen fountain in the Square. 

We walked past Admiralty Arch and down Whitehall to Horse Guards Parade, which is adjacent to the back side of Number 10 Downing Street. The Prime Minister was nowhere to be seen, but you could see him on the ‘tele’ any day, but this is a rare sight: - me and one of Her Majesty’s defenders, a member of the Blues & Royals of the Household Cavalry (no longer called the Horse Guards.

Next, I marched toward the corner of Westminster Bridge to see the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. I stood to look at Big Ben just before noon was sounded out by the bell known as Great Tom. As proof, I present this image:

Turning westward, we walked into St James’ Park – past dozens of species of waterfowl on the cold lake. The coffee I had drank earlier was telling me to head to the toilet, but my brother urged me to run past the loo, across The Mall in time to see the band of the Grenadiers Guards in their red dress-tunics marching into St James’ Palace. Once they were dismissed and disappeared, I made an equally hasty retreat to the loo, stopping only to look at two modes of London transport:

Relieved, I resumed my walk back across the park towards Wellington Barracks, from where most of the marching parades start. From the bridge over the lake, I was able to see, to the east, two of London’s more modern structures – the London Eye (a huge ferris wheel) and in the distance behind it, The Shard – a tall structure looking like pointed piece (a shard!) of glass.  

At the west end of Wellington Barracks is Buckingham Palace. Her Majesty was not at home, so I had to pass up on the tea and crumpets. Photos of it are all over the internet too, so I’ll not bore you with mine. Instead, I’ll bore you with one of the Queen Victoria Memorial which stands opposite the Place, at the west end of The Mall. You may agree with her famous words, ‘We are not amused!’  On such a blustery and cold day, I’d have to agree with her.

We headed eastwards now again passing St James’ Palace where took the liberty of photographing myself in front of two Grenadier Guards, one Black (note, they are not called ‘African-British), one ‘White’ – in their heavy grey coats. BTW, their headdress is a ‘bearskin’ – not a busby!

Turning onto Piccadilly, we walked east passing the Royal Academy of Arts and on to the statue of Eros (Cupid, if you like) in Piccadilly Circus. There are no clowns, acrobats or elephants here; ‘Circus’ was a Roman word for a circular road junction. Just beyond there, I spied a pub at the end of a narrow street. The place had an intriguing, though unappealing name – the Slug and Lettuce!  It reminded me of a lunch I once had with my wife and mother-in-law in Dublin many years ago. The renowned restaurant on O’Connell Street had served our salads – one with a tiny slug on one of the lettuce leaves.

Nearby, is Leicester Square – not a square at all; more like a rhombus, but who cares, eh? This is where the actors and theaters abound, and is adjacent to where we had begun my brother’s part of the tour - at St Martin-in-the-Field. Remember?

Just up the road is China Town, adjacent to Soho – London’s theater and ‘red-light’ district. One establishment on the edge of China Town boldly proclaims itself to be an ‘Award Winning Gay Bar’. The other entrances are marked by more traditional Chinese ‘arches’ or ‘gates’ – such as this one, through which the British TeleCom Tower may be seen. Cheer now, if you have internet or ‘mobile’ phone service in the UK.  

While almost everybody in London has a ‘mobile’ (‘cell’ phone to those in the US) London has a thousands of the old style red phone-booths – which nobody uses, except to be photographed alongside!  For whatever reason though, there are a handful of old-style phone-booths that are not red, but black:

Walking eastwards, we arrived at Covent Garden - an area that in addition to an opera house, used to be home to dozens of stalls filled with flowers and vegetables. The glass-covered buildings now house what is best described as a flea-market array of merchandise. The ‘flower and veg’ stalls are now located elsewhere in London. One interesting remnant in the Covent Garden complex is the Punch and Judy mural. Now that is something you should revert to the JFGI action. I must make a note to myself to search YouTube for videos of that ‘Victorian display of violence for the entertainment of children’.

I was beginning, by this time, to feel a little ‘punched’ myself, as we had now walked almost 4 miles on my brother’s ‘leg’ (no pun intended) of this tour. Don’t forget, I had done 2 miles before he arrived!

So, a welcomed trip on the ‘Tube’ was in store. Well, if it had not been for that sardine feeling again, it would have been OK. Nevertheless, after a change from the Red Line to the Central Line (or some such thing) at Holborn, we arrived near St Paul’s Cathedral. It was too late to enter and see Sir Christopher Wren’s handiwork on the ceiling of the dome and instead of the usual ‘post-card’ image of the whole place, here is a simple one of St Paul himself.

We then walked down Ludgate Hill, looking toward Fleet Street, but turned on to New Bridge Street to Blackfriar’s Bridge where we turned west to walk along the Embankment and across Waterloo Bridge (for the 3rd time today!) back to Waterloo Station. This last ‘leg’, from St Paul’s, added a little more than 2 more miles to my day’s marathon.

The train ride back to Woking, and the car trip back to Guildford was not over soon enough. I needed a bath, a beer and bed!  I had walked more than 8 mile today!

To be continued . . .

A family bucket

Friday 22nd

Today, I did bugger all - except sat down, wrote the blog about Thursday’s trip to Selbourne and contemplated the next few days plans.

Saturday – 23rd

After another lounge-about session in the morning, I headed off with my brother to Caterham, near Croydon, for a pub-lunch meeting with his daughters at the Lady Bird. The pub sits alongside the army barracks where my brother began his 35-year career as a Welsh Guard in early 1958. I had last met his daughters in 2009. After a couple of pints and a plate of Lancashire hotpot, we stepped back into the blustery, snowy air to head to Croydon.

I had not been in Croydon since 2002 when my wife and I made a brief stop-over at the home of her briefly met with her cousin, Jimmy. He was my Best Man at our wedding in 1970 – which was the last time he had seen my brother so they had a nice chin-wag, including recalling that my brother had toured him around the hilltop overlooking Swansea Bay while we were away on our 1-day honeymoon! After an hour or two, my brother returned to Guildford. Jimmy and his wife took me to a crowded, but excellent (Bangladeshi, I think) restaurant that evening. Quite a businessman, the owner gave us brandy ‘on the house’ – just the thing to wash down my Lamb Vindaloo curry!

Sunday – 24th

A cold blustery morning greeted us as we walked the ½ mile round trip to Palm Sunday Mass so it was nice to warm up afterwards when Anita made a traditional Irish / British breakfast of (real) bacon, sausages, baked beans, egg and hot tea. Jimmy’s two daughters and their children arrived at different times during the day, so there was the customary recounting of their meeting with our daughters there some 25 or so years ago.

Jimmy and I sat and watched TV while Anita prepared a surprise dessert for that evening. Earlier in the day, the conversation was focused on events, times and customs in decades past in Ireland and Wales. From that conversation, Anita got the idea for the dessert – a Christmas plum pudding on to which she poured custard – are treat indeed. Being that t followed a large portion of chicken, ham, vegetables and roast potatoes, I should have suspected I may need some exercise the next day when I would travel to London!

To be continued . . . 

Crossing County lines with a bucket

Thursday, March 21st

OK – I may not be King Alfred (burner of cakes, remember?), but I sure can set a smoke alarm off!  This morning, after initially making an unsuccessful search for an egg cup, I decided to fry the damned thing instead of boiling it. As that required getting out the frying pan, I thought, ‘Why not fry up a piece of bacon too?’  My brother had a gas cooker; I am not familiar with these, so while I’m hunting for the spatula, the damned smoke alarm goes off. Whilst throwing open windows and doors, waving a tea-towel to disperse the barely noticeable smoke, hoping I hadn’t woken my brother, I see that my bacon is now looking like Alfred’s cakes – burned!

First ‘planned’ order of the day - the breakfast fiasco was NOT planned – was to try the WiFi system at Merrist Wood Golf Club (where my brother was Senior’s Captain last year – a big feather in his cap, I understand) and sought the computer guru. ‘John-the-guru’ helped me through the ‘too elaborate’ sign-up process (to access a ‘Cloud’ WiFi) and I sipped on my hot tea as I uploaded the belated narratives and embedded photos that finally hit the blog-site yesterday. 

Next order of the day was to visit a place in neighboring Hampshire (another English County) where I could get immersed in a bit of history, culture and more countryside rambling. We sped off down the A31 towards Southampton but turned off near a town called Alton, passing the Jane Austen’s house. Having neither Sense nor Sensibilty, and without ‘Pride or Prejudice’, we cruised on by to the nearby village of Selborne and its abundant thatched cottages.     

After a pot of Breakfast (even tough it was now almost 1:00 pm) Tea and a scone, we toured the Gilbert White House. A foreboding (and forbidding sign) denied me taking photographs inside the building. I thought of sneaking one or three, but the prevalent CCTV cameras deterred me from my errant ways.

Gilbert White stood no taller than the life-like, children-scaring, 4 feet 10 inch model of him in the first room of the 9-room tour. White was an 18th century cleric, keen naturalist and author (the guidebook says) ‘of his world-famous book, ‘The Natural History and Antiquities of Selbourne’, published in 1789 and never since out of print’. Have you bought your copy, yet? He was quite a prolific writer – and all done with a quill and ink – no computers in his day!

Also housed in the building (Room 7) are exhibits of Frank Oates, 19th century explorer of Africa and the Americas. A beautiful (take my word – no photos allowed, remember) glass case filled with dozens of exotic and colorful birds sits side by side with Wildebeest and Antelope heads, African weapons and maps of his explorations in Eastern Africa.

The final two rooms are devoted to Oates’ younger cousin and Boer war veteran, Captain Lawrence Oates. It was he who accompanied Captain Scott on their unsuccessful quest, in January 1912, to be first to reach the South Pole. Norwegian, Amundsen’s party had beaten them there - in December 1911. Film footage, skis, sleds, photographs and maps recount the historic expedition. Scott’s party all perished on their return journey, just 11 miles from safety. Frost-bitten, starved and weakened, Captain Lawrence Oates vanished a few days before the remainder succumbed, saying ‘I am just going outside and may be sometime’.  

We left the building and undertook our own far less arduous expedition up into Selborne Common, a wooded hillside overlooking the village. The circular route was a little more than mile long along muddy and slick chalky paths through woods maintained by the National Trust.  The most notable part of the walk was the ‘zig-zag’ path that had a rustic resemblance (without automobiles) to the famous Lombard Street of San Francisco that I had walked down 18 months ago. This time, the walk was up – so not nearly as easy. I think there must have been about 10 ‘zigs’ and as many ‘zags’ in this Selborne replica!

The rain held off until we approached Aldershot, where a welcome ‘all-you-can-eat’ (for the not-so-cheap $19.50-each tab) buffet of Indian, Chinese and Thai dishes was washed down with a pint of Stella Artois.

To be continued . . . 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Wobbly handle on the bucket

Wednesday – 20th

I made myself a breakfast of bacon, egg and tomato and sat around doing nothing of any consequence or value until near lunchtime. My plane was to walk to the Cricketer’s, have lunch, a beer5 or two, and post the blogs of the past few days, using the pub’s WiFi.

Shortly after crossing on to Aldershot Road, I looked into a rain-sodden field where a few ponies schlepped around munching on the grass. They’d not have looked out of place if they had been wearing ‘wellies’ – or wearing the ‘coolie-hats’ of rice-pickers!

Yesterday’s walk had taken a toll on my calf muscles, so the ¾ mile trudge to the Cricketer’s was a little slower than I had imagined = and the last 200 yards was uphill. Nevertheless, I parked myself at a table by the window after ordering a pint of Foster’s lager and a Cottage Pie. After 5 minutes or more, I finally got connected to the WiFi, but the connection was as slow as cold molasses. It took more than 3 minutes to upload a single photo – and I had almost a dozen to upload! Groan!  There was little to do, but order another pint, take a ‘potty-break’ and continue. Bugger me! The damned WiFi connection had become ‘disconnected’ while I was in the loo! 

Pissed, (Pd-off, not Pd–drunk), I turned my laptop off, glanced several times at the woman sat nearby and rubbed my hand across the top of my head. I was wondering if I had horns growing up there, the way the old hag had been ogling me. I downed the rest of my Fosters, paid the bill (yes – they were able to get my credit card to ‘work’) and headed out for the walk back.

For those who think the pub is named for some insect of the area, no – ‘cricket’ is a popular sport that ‘Mad dogs and Englishmen who go out in the midday sun’, play when there is sufficient absence of rain.


As far as getting my blog stuff uploaded at the Cricketer’s – I had been ‘bowled over’, stumped, caught and run-out – all in the same trip to the wicket.

I arrived back at my brother’s house, leg-weary, computer-angered and gut-troubled. It was that Cottage Pie, I think. I had no ill-effects from Fosters on prior instances of imbibing it. I made sure I stood well away from the gas-stove when my brother lit it later to heat his food. Cottage Pie is worse than beans! 

To be continued . . . 

Bucket! My feet ache!

Today, I decided to take a walk around the area where my brother lives – near Guildford.  I started off on a public footpath just 20 yards from his front door. After 100 yards of paved pathway, it turns right and becomes a gravelly path behind the bottom of his garden. Another 100 yards and it becomes a narrow muddy and brambly path, which can be avoided by walking through an adjacent field, but it was also quite wet from the rain over the weekend.

I decided to change my plans – which would have taken me on more muddy footpaths and had me back at the house after less than two miles. Instead, I opted to stick to the paved footpaths along the main roads that loop around the area.

That route enabled me to check out a local pub – The Cricketers, on Aldershot Road. It had just what I needed for tomorrow; WiFi, a good looking lunch menu and a nice atmosphere.

I plan to walk there tomorrow and, God willing, post this and the bucket-blogs of the past 2 days. My brother doesn’t have WiFi and there seems to be a problem with his system precluding me downloading my photos to the blog. Crossed-fingers (not good for typing, of course) will be the order of the day.

A little further on, I cut back sharp right towards Wood Street Village, an unimposing collection of houses that contained a Post Office; just what I needed! I had promised to mail an adapter plug to Iain, in Llanelli. He had graciously loaned me one when I was there – almost three weeks ago. My - how time flies when you are carrying a bucket. I no longer had need of the borrowed plug because Barry had given me one when I stayed with him in Swansea. The borrowed plug is now on its way back to Wales. Before the Post Office was another pub – the Hare and Hounds, but it appears that it may have morphed into a ‘curry shop’ – an Indian Restaurant.

Not far from where Broad Street makes a sharp turn northwards, where it becomes called Frog Grove Lane, is a nice, but disconcerting place – a frog pond.

Nobody should ever use such a word in the presence of someone on a ‘Bucket-List Trip’, but that bend in the road is called ‘Croaker’s Corner’!

I trudged on, munching a bar of Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut to give me energy for what was becoming a grueling walk – and it was only about half through at this time – and no shortcut to take – except across muddy fields and trails. I had to admire the workmanship the owner had undertaken to bend and weave (pleatching) living beech tree branches to form a most unusual fence in front of his house. He also arranged the thin 3-foot long cuttings in patterns on his lawn. 

Frog Grove Lane, it seems, is populated with some very rich people judging by the houses and cars parked in the large graveled driveways. Opulence was no use to me! My feet were beginning to ache and I felt the need to hear a beer can popping open. Although most houses along on that road were quite nice, there was one that must have housed someone a little ‘off-kilter’, judging by the masonry of its outer wall.

A right turn brought me back to Aldershot Road and another half-mile or more of sidewalks to pound before entering my brother’s housing estate - that’s UK-speak for ‘subdivision’. For some dumb-ass reason, when I was within a 1,000 yards of his house, I decided to wander along a public footpath that I knew would end up right behind his back garden. The problem soon became apparent, that I had made a poor choice. That route turned out to become progressively wetter – and a little muddy; plus it was more circuitous, such that I landed at his house with aching feet, that were now wet too! I had completed a walk of more than 4 miles, but I didn’t compute that until after I had popped than beer and taken an equally welcomed bath.

To be continued.       

A ‘Bucket’, not a ‘Cauldron’

After a bit of faltering due to icing problems on the electric rail system, causing delays on the Gatwick to Reading diesel-train line, I arrived in Reading. The purpose of the 25 minute train ride was to meet up with an old friend whom I had not seen since 1984. This was the man, who in the mid-1950s, used to shout across the garden wall at his bald-headed neighbor, Mr. Waldron, ‘Old man Waldron has a head like a cauldron’. For that, and other reasons, I have always remembered Christie Davies. We had shared an interest in geology in our schoolboy years – I pursued that interest into and beyond University; Christie studied it for just one year before switching to economics while he attended Emmanuel College at Cambridge University.
Christie and I had attended the same grammar in Wales but did not meet up again he stayed at my house in St Louis for a few days in 1984. Today, he recounted an event that day that I had long forgotten. Apparently, my youngest son (then 6 years old) was ‘not feeling too happy with his lot in life’ that day – until Christie suggested that he join the two of us on the day-trip we had planned. ‘His eyes lit up and he was happy as anyone could be after that’, said Christie. Funny how some things stick in one person’s mind but escape from another’s.

Christie is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Reading University, so it was there that we began our day. After an excellent lunch at the staff diner, followed by a coffee in the library while he checked his email and we were off on our tour. We passed the place where Oscar Wilde was once imprisoned – on homosexuality charges – and headed towards Oxfordshire and the South Downs.  That is a sheep-spotted ridge of chalk deposits overlooking a broad, flat, valley of clays. The ‘Downs’ are often characterized by dry valleys that would not seem ‘out of place’ – except in this rain-sodden country!  

After a walk of a mile or so, clambering over stiles

and gates, we drove to see ‘The White Horse’. It is not a live animal, but an ancient carving some 200 feet across, in the chalk hillside – adjacent to several Iron Age fortresses. A flock of sheep, including 3 or 4 black sheep, scuttled before us as Red Kite’s circled above. The White Horse remained unruffled, and because the day was dreary, did not show off its fine white, chalky, color – but looked anorexic and rather as the song says, ‘The old grey mare, she ain’t what she used to be . . .’


We drove on to the quaint town of Wantage - one-time home of John Betjeman (modern English Poet) and of King Alfred the Great (born 849 AD), the daft bugger who burnt the cakes! But, thanks to him, we had many a laugh at the cinema when we were kids. I must have mentioned that in an earlier bucket-blog, didn’t I?

The statue erected in ‘ye olde towne square’ was NOT erected by the local baker’s society, I imagine! Alfred, you see, was hiding from the invading Danes (who did NOT arrive in a red car or a white van) which took his attention away from the cakes that the widow who was sheltering him had asked him to watch over whiles she tended to other household chores. 

In a quantum leap back to the future, we passed the huge coal-fired power plant at Didcot.

I was told that the coal that supplies the plant comes from Wales. I suspect it may be from the opencast mines just a couple of miles of where I once (1967-1970) worked when I was with the (then) National Coal Board.

A short distance away is the small town of Harwell – site of Europe’s first nuclear reactor in 1946. All 5 reactors have since been shut down. I did not see any 5 legged, green badgers running around the village, so have to conclude the area is safe!

It was shortly after this, that on the return drive to Reading, the first showers of the day started to fall. Another successful trip had been conducted without the need to break open the ‘brolly’. It had been a most enjoyable day visiting with a friend from the distant past. As we parted at Reading Station, Christie gave me an autographed copy of his 1990 book, ‘Ethnic Humour Around the World – A Comparative Analysis’.

After arrival back in Guildford, my brother took me to the local ‘Chipper’ where I ordered fish & chips and a large sausage in batter – just as in the old days. Back at his home, a mile away, that went down well with a much needed can of Foster’s lager.

To be continued . . .    

A bucketful of dirt

March 17th; St Patrick’s Day – so in the true tradition of the Emerald Isle and its 40 shades of green (not a bit like those Shades of Grey the world’s womenfolk have been getting the knickers in a twist about) it rained most of the day!     

About 10:00 am, I headed off with my brother to Wisley Gardens, about 20 miles up the A3 towards London. Wisely is one of a small handful of beautiful facilities maintained by the RHS – the Royal Horticultural Society. In spite of the weather – it either threatened rain, or succeeded in that effort for the better part of the 3 hours or more that we spent walking around the gardens – it was most enjoyable. My brother estimated that we had walked more than 2 miles around the numerous pathways between the thousands of species of flowers, shrubs and trees in the ever-changing beauty of this place alongside the rain-swollen River Wey.

Most prominent at this time of year are the millions of white, yellow and purple crocuses and Wordsworth’s favorite, ‘a host of golden daffodils’. We passed other flowers that I do not believe are to be found in the St Louis area of the US, but may occur in milder climes – such as Oregon or Washington. The sights from my past were the snowdrops and primroses.

The very large greenhouse houses plants from several different climatic zones and so not surprisingly it exhibits various forms of cacti in one place

and vibrant orchids in another.

In the summer, the place is reportedly awash with butterflies, whilst outside, hundreds of ‘stock’ and hybrid roses adorn the gardens.

One section of Wisley is devoted to dozens of types of conifers. All sizes, shapes and shades of green – including the infamous ‘Monkey Puzzle Tree’ - abound there.

Every individual tree, whether evergreen or deciduous, is marked either with its ‘botanic name’ or with a numbered tag. Visitors can purchase a booklet in which each ‘tag number’ may be found to obtain information, including the ‘common’ name, for the thousands of labeled trees, as well as for each labeled shrub or flower. Wisely also contains ponds which in summer abound with koi and ducks. Bonsai, a Chinese Pagoda, cacti and tropical plants in the greenhouse, lend a truly global atmosphere to this place.

A wish I could fill my bucket with the rich dirt of Wisley and the velvet-like mosses than thrive on the kind of dampness that was in the air this day. Sadly, such a humble but beautiful plant would not survive the harshness of St Louis’ cold winters – or the searing heat of its summers.   

To be continued . . .

Monday, March 18, 2013

Kicking – but not the bucket

Saturday March 16th

This day was destined for only one principal activity – watch the final 3 matches of the 2013 Six-Nations Rugby Tournament. A minor activity was a trip to Tesco’s to pick up some food-stuff not readily available in the US, but which I could savor as snacks and breakfasts in the coming 2 weeks – sausage rolls, a Cornish Pasty or three, ‘real’ bacon, British ‘bangers’, Wensleydale-with-cranberries cheese, chocolate Digestives (a delightful chocolate and oatmeal cookie) and a few russet apples.

My brother and I settled in about 2 pm to watch the first of the day’s 3 rugby matches – Italy v Ireland – on BBC 1 TV. By 3:30 pm, glasses of Guinness were being diluted by tears whilst vino and ice-cream was being tossed down throats in Rome. Forget those folks, time for a Cornish Pasty and a can of Foster’s Beer for me before the ‘main event – Wales v England, from Cardiff.

That Millenium Stadium crowd should be as good as having a 16th team-member on the pitch. Wales needed to beat England by 8 points to ensure that our cocky neighbors to the east would NOT deny Wales in its bid to remain ‘Champions’.  The final whistle echoed through the valleys to a creaking, moaning sound - it was the sound of the English chariot crashing after the Welsh team had taken out its cotter pins and its wheels fell off! The score was 30 points to 3 in the final tally; Wales still Champions; ‘da iawn’ (well done), boys!

An hour or so later, as Englishmen still looked back in awe, France took on their visitors, Scotland, in an effort to avoid receiving the ‘wooden spoon’ – an imaginary trophy awarded to the 6th place finisher in the tournament. ‘Les Bleu’ won the match but lost the day; they beat Scotland, but by fewer points than were needed to hand ‘the spoon’ to Ireland.

Nothing else of excitement happened today. How could anything top that? My Welsh team kicking the pants of the English!

What will happen to ‘the bucket’ tomorrow? Stay tuned . . . to be continued

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Bucket on my head

Everywhere I have been on this trip, people have been remarkably blessed. Not by my prescence  (though it would nice to think I had that effect!), but by the good weather I brought. Yes, there were some cold and windy days, but they were dry - until yesterday!

Yesterday (Saturday 15th of March), I spent the morning packing, catching up on these blog postings and being (as the soothe-sayer admonished) 'aware of the Ides'. I cursed that I forgotten to get a pie on the previous day! [A joke most likely lost on the British, because in their way of recording dates, it was 14.3, not 3.14;  just not good at all for the Geometry-Joke, is it?]

About 1 pm, I said 'farewell' to Rowen and North Wales (beautiful scenery and walks - thoroughly enjoyed it) and headed to England. Allan was going to a 'dragonfly convention' in Berkshire and I was headed to my brother's house in nearby Guildford, so we rode together. The trip took a little more than 5 hours (less than half of it on divided highway - all at 55-60 mph) in his 4-year old, 1.6 litre Skoda. He said it maintained a fuel consumption of 60 mpg!  I find that to be remarkably efficient. Adjusting for fuel-type (it is diesel-powered) and converting to US gallon from Imperial gallon, that still equates to approximately 40-45 mpg (US). What gasoline-powered car in the US gets that mileage?

The journey took us alternatively through sunshine and drizzle - never heavy rain - and was unremarkable in terms of events. We passed through Llangollen (JFGI all about 'International Eisteddfodau' now) and on into England. It was raining a little heavier when I said goodbye to Allan at  Wokingham train station. [If you are reading this, Allan, thanks for a great time; hope all works out well; maybe we can do that Bucket-Trip to Ireland later this year].  An hour later, I was downing a  much welcomed can of Carlsberg in my brother's family room.

This morning, I awoke to the sound of a steadily falling rain. I quickly closed the bathroom window as soon as the wind tried to force its coldess upon me and threatened to 'shiver-me-timbers'. This day was going to be very dreary - unless Wales could beat England later; and do it with at least a 7-point margin. If they do that, I'll take my hat (er, uh . . .  bucket) off to them and say 'Da iawn'!

To be continued . . .      

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Bucket ‘does’ Snowdonia

Thursday 14th

The British may often deride Americans (Texans in particular) for having ‘big’ things, so as if to rub it in, the North Wales town of Conwy boasts the smallest house in Britain. The red-painted (are they trying to make it look like a phone-box?) house is less than 8 feet wide and the doorway is less than 6 feet high.

Conwy, famous for its Edwardian Castle (do that JFGI thing here for history and professional photos) was a walled town. My host took me on a very interesting walk along the top of the walls. In the following photo, a Catholic Church (St Mary’s) sits adjacent to the wall, upon which you can some of the ‘Stations’.

In the UK, when someone wishes to withdraw cash from an ATM, they’ll often say they need to go to ‘the hole in the wall’. This hole in Conwy’s wall contains no cash, but you can see another section of the wall (with its own hole) through it.

Thinking I was some species of Andean goat, Allan told me we were then going to walk to the top of Conwy Mountain. ‘What do you mean “we”, paleface?’ I said!

I surprised myself, by agreeing to ‘give it a try’ and indeed, was able to get ¾ way up the thing before calling it quits. I was pleased that I had attempted it else I would not have seen some of the magnificent views from its heights, including this one, to the south-east,  of Conwy Castle on the Conwy Estuary.

A little to the west, this view over the estuary looks north-east toward the town of Deganwy which is on the south side of the Great Orme – site of the Bronze Age copper mines – you remember that from a prior posting, right?

Once again, but this time far enough away to escape the gasps of ‘the national paranoia’, I took a photo of an activity that must surely have been taught to most Welsh kids when they were being suckled – mountain climbing: These kids were maybe 9 or 10 years old, so they’d likely be fully-fledged Sherpas or mountain goats by now!. You might say this is ‘a different flock on a different rock’!

As we left the area, I noticed a sign that should be posted at the entrances to all public parklands in the UK. In the US, we have our 2nd Amendment, in the UK, they have another form of lethal pest – and this one is fully automatic and loaded:

After a quick lunch back in Rowen, we headed off, southwards down the beautiful Vale of Conwy through Betws-y-Coed, a quaint little town with several stores loaded with camping and hiking equipment for those so inclined. 

I prefer to take a more casual approach to the sites – by car! My wife and I had been here in 2002 and I recall us having tea, scones, clotted cream and other pastry delights in this old mill house – now converted to a mundane clothing store!

We drove on through Capel Curig and past the remnants of a Roman Fort, but there is little to be seen - except in one’s mind’s-eye of a centurion freezing his arse off in his short tunic more suited to a Mediterranean climate than the cold, drizzly air in this spot. Large pipelines convey water from Llyn Llydaw, a lake a mile or two to the west, to what was once an industrial site – now used for hydro-electric power generation.  

The road goes SW to Beddgelert; you should do the JFGI thing to learn of that sad tale, but we turned and headed back north toward Rowen as the rain clouds started to drift in.

Do you remember Tal-y-Bont?  If you read an earlier blogpost, you would, I’m sure. Well, a mile or so south of there is a small village called Dolgarrog. Lakes and reservoirs are commonplace on North Wales – pause here for ‘Nationalists’ to hiss at the fact that some of their ‘Welsh water’ goes to bathe and hydrate the blydi Saes (English) beyond the borders of Cymru. All seriousness aside, this village has something in its history that it will never forget. My friend and I climbed several hundred feet up the very steep valley which brought despair to the village almost 88 years ago.

We returned, somber after that short stop, to Rowen for another disastrous (for me) snooker match, but not until after I finally was able to capture this little bouncing black bugger (I love alliterations) in my camera. I don’t think it would be able to produce more than a few ounces, much less ‘three bags full’!

 Undaunted by the sight of that cute little lamb, and because there was no haddock (my first choice, of course) on the menu at the Ty Gwyn, I opted for the lamb shank. That’ll teach ‘em!

The meal was more than filling – as were the 3 pints of Guinness, then came the inevitable kerfuffle as the landlord’s daughter – who had been pleasant previously, threw a hissy-fit and morphed into a witch when she proved herself incapable of answering a simple question regarding the bill – which she recited from, but had not shown me.

Her father, whose personality had been a good imitation of a wet cabbage each time I had seen him previously, added ‘pratt’ and ‘plonker’ to his repertoire as he emerged – just, I assume, to appear ‘lordly’. ‘Good riddance’ and ’Bad cess’, I thought as Miss Muffet could be heard in the background decrying ‘all things American’. I was beginning to tire of some British attitudes and behavior, too.

To be continued - Her Majesties subjects, willing.  LOL

Taking the bucket to the extremes

Today, March 13th, was a day to go to the extremities of Wales – almost.

At the extreme north-west end of Wales is a large (20 x 20 miles) island called Ynys Mon, which to the non-Welsh speakers is known as the Isle of Anglesey. It was to that part of the country that I went on today’s leg of this bucket-list trip. Anglesey is separated from the mainland by the Menai Straights and may be crossed by on of two bridges.

We entered Anglesey from the Britannia Bridge which dumped us immediately into the one place that most people have heard of, but few can pronounce. To save many key-strokes, I’ll let you see for yourselves: 

The locals call it LlanfairPG. That is the railway station sign that I cleverly (after 5 failed attempts) managed to ‘capture in my rear-view mirror’ so to speak.

The main feature of today’s trip was subject me to a 3-mile round-trip trek through woods, across dunes, sandy and rocky beaches and cliffs to the extremity of a bipolar piece of land known as Ynys Llanddwyn. It is peninsular at low tide and an island at high tide. There was a $4 (but in GB money) fee to pass through the barrier to the promontory. Today, we were allowed free passage because the facility’s car park is undergoing upgrade and expansion; also, the ‘usual’ access to the beach is blocked off during construction of new boardwalks – a la South Carolina style. So, we had to walk several hundred yards though the pine forest that sits atop grassy sand dunes before emerging on to the beach.

After tumbling down the face of the 15-feet high dunes and on to the beach, to the left is a view of Snowdon – a slight dusting of snow at its upper reaches. Straight ahead, is the Lleyn Peninsula – that long ‘arm’ of land that on a map of Wales looks like . . .  well, an arm, pointing accusingly at Ireland – for having beaten us in the opening match of this years 6-nations Rugby Tournament.  

To the right, several hundred yards head of us was a shrieking sound, coming from flock of brightly colored critters clambering on to a large outcrop of ancient volcanic pillow lava. As we drew nearer, I could see that these were no ordinary animals – no, they were schoolchildren on a geology field trip – a veritable ‘Flock on a rock’, if you will.

Although having followed my host’s suggestion (which he withdrew too late, though I was going to do so without his suggestion) I snapped a photo of what I thought was a cute picture. Lo and behold, my action unfurled the National Paranoia that produces shaking heads and palm-forward hands. It seems that a camera pointed in the direction of a child, much less a whole twittering flock-on-a-rock of them, causes people in the UK to wince as they envisage a pedophile behind every lens. Soon, the photos being taken by chaperones will likely appear in the local newspaper anyway, undoing the protection they so valued. Go figure! 

I had hoped one the chaperoning teachers had announced to the kids, ‘These rocks are 600 million years old’ (which they are), so that I could have burst into song with ‘Happy Birthday . . . ‘

Onwards past that outcrop, there were many more outcrops of those pillow lavas and soon I was standing at the part of Ynys Llanddwyn which alternates every 12 hours and 25 minutes between dry land and a shallow watery rockery. Fortunately, the tide was receding so we were able to move on toward the extremity of the promontory. There, near the lighthouse that featured in the Demi Moore–produced film, ‘Half Light’, are the remnants of an Abbey.  The lighthouse seen here however is a newer one – go watch the movie to see the old one!

It had been an invigorating walk to the headland - one that had numerous trails to follow through the grass and shrub coated rocks. There were a dozen or so other people walking along the paths - several taking advantage of the opportunity to thumb their noses at the nation’s lease-laws as they allowed their mutts to run loose. Since beginning this trip to the UK, I think I have seen 10 unrestrained dogs for every one that is leashed.

As the dreariness and clouds began to lift, snow-capped Snowdon (Wales’ highest peak, at 3,600 feet or so) became more visible in the distance.

A nice view was had of the various small inlets and coves on the promontory, but now it was time to trudge back to the car. We were careful to avoid the crocodile that lay basking in the afternoon sun at the edge of the sand dunes. I wondered, hopeful, if it had eaten any of those dogs! 

We then returned to the mainland; this time across the other bridge to Ynys Mon, the Isle Anglesey - world’s first (Thank you Mr. Telford) suspension bridge, the Menai Bridge

To be continued . . .  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The bucket goes ‘Gog’

What is ‘Gog’?  That is the name given to people from North Wales – based on ‘Gogledd’, Welsh for ‘North’. I arrived in Llandudno Junction about 5:30 pm on Sunday, March 10th and was met by colleague from Southampton University (1965-1967), Allan Brandon. We drove up the Conwy Valley to his home, Bryn Heilig, in the very picturesque village of Rowen.

We had decided to eat dinner in the local pub, Ty Gwyn, but messed that plan up by arriving 5 minutes after the kitchen closed having squandered our time watching a recording of England squeak a win over Italy (18-11) in the 6-Nations Rugby match earlier that day. He won’t admit it now, but I think Allan (a Lancashire lad by birth) was cheering for Italy to win. Oh well, beer is food, so I just ordered a order a pint (20oz) of lager. The pub’s name means, ‘White House’ – but unlike the one in DC, its occupant has not banned public tours; this one at least has transparency!

I no longer have a taste for ales. Within minutes, I had struck up a conversation with 'Mike', one of the locals – no doubt having been attracted to a strange accent in their midst.

The next morning, we headed in to Llandudno, about 10 miles from Rowen, to see the sights of town and the coastal scenery. The wind was howling and whipping the sea into a furious parade of rock-pounding waves when we got to the cove in which seals normally congregate. Not one was to be seen – they must be in town buying overcoats or something!

Llandudno must be packed with visitors in summertime; it has just what a holiday town needs – a big sandy beach, a pier, great views of (and from) the Great Orme - a hilly promontory that has Bronze Age copper mines beneath it - and lots of small souvenir shops, cafes, hotels and a pay toilet! As Allan conducted a little business, I wandered the shops and streets, and inevitably needed to ‘spend a penny’ as the saying goes. The toilet attendant failed to see the humor of the verbal exchange as I entered the ‘loo’. He: ’20 P, please’; Me: ‘But I only want one!’ Daft bugger!

We ate lunch next door to a Welsh Rock and Gift Shop at which I had no success with either my American Express card, or with my Visa card. What IS it with credit card machines in this country? They had no problem with my Visa card in the restaurant next door where I had a nice ‘beef and gravy pies and chips’ and a ‘pot of tea for one’.

Lewis Carroll must have some connection to Llandudno as there a several wooden sculptures of ‘Alice characters’ about town. Glad that was not a rabbit pie I ordered!

Maybe the toilet attendant was the Mad Hatter. Speaking of ‘Wonderland’ – I had occasion that afternoon to wonder how inept I had become at playing snooker and billiards. We had walked into the village (Rowen) to the community hall and Allan spent an hour getting revenge – he repeatedly said that I used to beat him at both games when we were at Southampton University 45 years ago. No pun intended, but today, the tables were turned.

We ate a Tesco curry for dinner and walked 300 yards down to Ty Gwyn where 4 pints of Guinness went down very smoothly, thank you!

Tuesday – none the worse for wear after the indulgences of the previous night, I had a mission to fulfill today. An aged (but very sharp and agile) member of our Welsh society (SDSoGSL) back in St Louis has family ties to the area. Her father was born and raised near Tal-y-Bont, a small village just a few miles from Rowen. Princess Grace, as she jokingly calls herself had given me the name of her only known relative, Rhun Edwards. I asked at the pub if anyone knew him. Mike, the man I first spoke to on Sunday night at the bar, knew Rhun (rin) and that he lived at Tanrallt - a few miles away, near Taly-y-Bont. 'Princess Grace' had always said her father was from Rowen, but looking at an Ordnance Survey map I was able to see places called Rowlyn Isa and Rowlyn Uchaf near Tanrallt, so we headed there. We were lucky to catch Rhun as he was just about to pull away from his farmhouse. After the introductions, we exchanged email addresses and he pointed us to her majesty’s paternal farmhouse – Rowlyn Isa.

Her majesty will be delighted when she opens her next email and sees the various photos I sent her. Maybe I’ll be knighted!

In the afternoon, I was treated to a drive along narrow (9 feet wide) country roads west from Rowen on to the coastal road drive through Penmaenmawr, past Llanfairfechan, to Abergwyngregyn. Near there, are two waterfalls, Rhaeadr Fawr and Rhaeadr Fach. We took the 2-mile round rip hike to the Rhaeadr Fawr falls – the larger of the two. The coldness had caused much of the rock-face to ice over; some pieces of ice shaved off narrowly missing a pair of dopes who had stood too close to the toe of the cascading fall. No, the dope pictured here, is not one of them, but is ‘yours truly’!

Later, I bravely fought another lost cause on the snooker table and after watching a class of locals (mostly 60-something ladies) getting folk-dance lessons downstairs in the community hall, we headed to the local pub, Ty Gwyn, to see what action there may be there. Not much, but it does have a nice ambiance – and a lot of brass Welsh love-spoons on the wall.

Lisa, the landlord’s daughter, was able to get my Visa card to work, but they don’t take American Express.  Groan! After a couple of pints of Guinness, Allan and I headed back to his house where we both nodded off watching a program about asteroids, meteors and comets. Apparently, none landed in Rowen last night! 

To be continued . . .