Sunday, 19 April 2015

Walking the Stratford-Upon-Avon canal from Wilmcote to the Navigation Inn

Yesterday in Stratford-Upon-Avon was so warm and sunny that it felt
Narrow bridge over the Stratford Upon Avon canal 
like summer was already here. Today was definitely either back to early Spring or possibly already autumn! In preparation for a typical UK summer, I think these cast iron rain gauges in the English Heritage shop are a fun idea.

The 25 mile long Stratford Upon Avon canal runs from Birmingham to Stratford and, according to a helpful placard along the way, was the first in England to be restored to navigability. It was reopened by the Queen in 1964. We walked a short section today and I loved the peace and tranquillity. We didn't see much in the way of exciting wildlife - mostly ducks and sheep - although I was delighted to spot six tiny ducklings with their mother. When they accelerated across the canal, they were practically running on the surface like pondskaters. The last of the daffodils were flowering together with some primroses. We also saw lots of bright cowslips which I love, and our first bluebells of the season. Ironically, our sighting of (probably) a sparrowhawk on the garden fence when we got back to Measure Cottage was the most 'exotic'!

Cowslips on the canal towpath 
We began our walk in the picturesque village of Wilmcote, parking opposite Mary Arden's farm which is apparently a working Tudor farm. The cows in the field were certainly of a long horned breed I had never seen before. Along the canal we saw several narrow bridges which looked as though maybe they could be raised to accommodate tall boats and were only just wide enough for narrow boats. There were also two aqueducts with the towpath continuing alongside high above the road and railway lines. One of the two, the Edstone Aqueduct, is the longest in England. There's more information on this pictured placard - click into the photograph to see a larger version and actually read the text:

About the Edstone Aqueduct 

An hour an a half's leisurely stroll got us to the Navigation Inn where we
Edstone Aqueduct 
glanced at the narrowboats for hire and hurried into the warm bar! The pub has a traditional olde-worlde feel and serves an excellent lunch with generous portions. I had ham and eggs, Dave a homemade burger, Gemma an omelette and Carrie a chicken pie. After yesterday's microwave-reheated offering, Dave was quite envious of the pie!

We cut ten minutes off our time on the return walk to Wilmcote. The sun did break through clouds for a few minutes here and there and it is nice to be in the shelter of the towpath, out of the wind. Now we've got one more night at Measure Cottage before Dave and I return to Bailey tomorrow. We've decided to avoid the M6 on the return route and will brave the Coventry ring road instead!
Cast Iron Rain Gauges 

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Toodle-oo Sussex, now we're in Stratford-Upon-Avon!

I think every single possible Shakespeare pun has been employed in the
Stratford has many
naming of shops and businesses in Stratford-Upon-Avon and the surrounding villages. The Bard and his life is a huge tourist attraction around here. We are staying for the weekend in Wootten Wawen - nope, no idea how to pronounce it! - in Measure Cottage. It's a cute little property with replica beams and low ceilings upstairs, lots of wood floors and doors, and only a shortish walk into Henley-In-Arden. I wasn't too impressed with the cleaning when we arrived - cobwebs in the kitchen and upstairs, vintage biscuit crumbs between the sofa cushions - but the cottage is well-equipped with everything we could need and even has a hot tub in the tiny garden.

Today we drove into Stratford, although walking along the canal would have been quicker due to the volume of traffic also going to town. We'll know for next time! I loved the varied range of independent shops and boutique store, plus cafes, pubs and restaurants to suit every taste. We had a good lunch at the No. 37 cafe and I can happily recommend the Brie and Cranberry Quiche. Dave was a little disappointed with soft pastry on his Chicken and Leek Pie.
Independent shops abound in Stratford 
Hall's Croft is a striking example of a 17th century building in Stratford and it was far enough from the tourist trail to be able to take a photo of the whole place! I am told that it was owned by Shakespeare's daughter Susanna and her husband John Hall. John was a doctor and Hall's Croft houses a museum of medicine as it was in his day. We didn't go in though - enjoying the fabulous sunshine was the priority.

Hall's Croft in Stratford 
After lunch and a whippy ice cream bought from a narrowboat, we watched the restaurant boat, The Countess of Evesham, successfully navigate a lock on the canal and saw a beautiful swans sculpture by Christine Lee. Apparently the sculpture is part of a fountain but the water wasn't flowing today.

Swans by Christine Lee 
Stratford does have quite a chocolate-box quaintness to it and I think it blends the historical half-timbered houses well with the vibrancy of a modern town. I think if we visited again, we would bring our bikes and cycle into town, especially on a sunny Saturday, as there seems to be goid provision for cyclists and the car traffic was a nightmare! Tomorrow we think we will take a stroll along the canal and maybe gaze longingly at a few narrowboats. Dave is still very attracted by the idea!

Dave and his daughters, Gemma and Carrie,
recover in the Measure Cottage hot tub after a
tough day's sightseeing! 

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley / A Night On The Orient Express by Veronica Henry / Where The Bird Sings Best by Alejandro Jodorowsky

Crome YellowCrome Yellow by Aldous Huxley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brave New World is the famous Aldous Huxley novel and I was very impressed with my audio version of it a few years ago. I saw Crome Yellow in Hailsham's OXFAM shop, an almost new copy at at just £1.50, so bought it expecting something vaguely similar. There are a few glimmers of the direction Huxley's writing would later take, but Crome Yellow, his first published novel, is actually a very humorous country house-based tale. Published in 1921 and set in the same era, it describes the visit of a self-conscious young man, Denis Stone, to a society gathering.

Huxley based his fictional characters on real people and, according to the excellent introduction by Malcolm Bradbury, not everyone was flattered by their portrayals! Huxley pokes fun at the pretensions of the time and of the upper classes, and also includes his writing in the mix. One character, Scogan, is particularly critical of exactly the type of novel that Crome Yellow is. I loved the Wimbushes, Henry and Priscilla, and can picture people I know who are remarkably similar to them. Not a lot happens during the gathering, but Huxley's sharp observations and the incidents he sets up are great fun and frequently had me giggling. There are a few moments where lengthy speechmaking slow the pace and date the novel, but overall I enjoyed Crome Yellow very much.

Buy the paperback at Waterstones.

A Night on the Orient ExpressA Night on the Orient Express by Veronica Henry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a copy of Night On The Orient Express as a prize during Sophie and Suze's Review Challenge and it's taken until now for us to travel close enough to my sister that I could collect the book and get reading it.

Veronica Henry introduces us to several couples who will be travelling on a single Orient Express journey to Venice. Each pairing is quirky in some way and we learn a little of their history as the novel progresses. Flitting from one story to another made the pace swift, but I would have preferred to have spent more time with fewer people and got to know them better. Particular stories such as Riley and Sylvie are potentially fascinating.

Although the book is inspired and based around the physical train journey, there isn't much detail outside its carriage windows. I did enjoy getting insider information about the Orient Express as it's a trip I have aspired to, but I think most of our protagonists' journeys are within their own emotions as they discover what they really want from their relationships. Having said that, this isn't a deep philosophical read and I was a little irritated by sweeping gender stereotyping. A Night On The Orient Express is an entertaining light holiday novel and I'm happy to have had the opportunity to read it in a sunny campsite field among daffodils!

Buy the paperback at Waterstones.

Where the Bird Sings BestWhere the Bird Sings Best by Alejandro Jodorowsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of Where The Bird Sings Best from its publishers, Restless Books, via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. I think this review is my tenth for Sophie and Suze's NetGalley Challenge.

I had not previously heard of Chilean born film director and writer Alejandro Jodorowsky so this translated edition of one of his most popular Spanish language novels is my introduction to his work. The book is a truly fantastical journey back through several generations of the Jodorowsky family, each more bizarre than each other, as they make their way from Russia, via Argentina, to settle in Chile. We meet circus performers, political activists, shoemakers and ballet dancers, a rabbi who doesn't actually exist and a child who is desperately trying to engineer his birth. I did find it quite difficult to keep track of the vast cast of characters, especially because they all are portrayed in a fairytale style. Men and women act on sudden instinct and make life-changing decisions, but without much explanation to the reader so I never felt as if I had got to know anyone as a real person. Also much of each storyline progresses through magical occurrences and extreme coincidence so it is impossible to guess where the narrative will go next!

I was totally swept up in Where The Bird Sings Best for about the first half of the book. Jodorowsky's rich language and incredibly inventive imagination make for a very different reading experience. However, I do think the book is too long to sustain its pace. I thought some of the later threads failed to maintain the promise of their earlier counterparts and felt rushed. I'm very glad to have had the opportunity to read Jodorowsky. His prose does require effort from its reader, but is certainly rewarding and I plan to try the Restless Books translations of two more of his novels at some point in the future. I just need some lighter reads to refresh my brain first!

Buy the hardback at Waterstones.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Our last day in Hailsham and it's a hot one!

Can you believe this wonderful sunshine? Glorious! We have got our
Toby finds some shade 
shorts back on again and are almost feeling Spanish again. Having taken the awning down yesterday in preparation for our move tomorrow, the only spot in the shade is a couple of metres at the back of the caravan. Even our new friend, our CL owners' dog Toby, is trying to stay cool by lounging underneath. Of course, he has much shorter legs so finds it easy!

I spent yesterday evening baking in preparation for our friends, Andy & Barbara, who are visiting this lovely campsite for tea and cakes this afternoon. I have made a loaf of fruit cake and a dozen little chocolate cakes. The chocolate ones have turned out particularly well so I must remember to post the recipe in the next few days. The sun is out and the wind is just a light breeze. I might even spread a picnic blanket out on the grass.

Our eagerly awaited first gig of the year - Kris Delmhorst at the Con Club in Lewes - is this evening. I'm so looking forward to it, especially after having been involved in her Kickstarter campaign last year. Hopefully we won't get snarled up in so much traffic as for our lunch at the Eight Bells in Bolney on Monday. As a half-way point to meet up with friends Dave and Margaret it was a perfect choice. And I enjoyed the asparagus quiche. But we failed to take into account that driving around in Sussex takes much longer than we are used to so were a tad late, both for lunch and for evening drinkies with Richard and Heather. Sorry all!

I'll leave you with a Kris Delmhorst youtube to enjoy. And see you later if you're going to the gig too ...

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

I find some fun handmade caravan items and struggle to resist shopping!

I've been enjoying following Librarian Lavender's blog over the past few months. Suze, whose creation it is, is a driving force behind the NetGalley Review Challenge and she also loves to promote beautiful objects she finds on Etsy UK. I used to sell crocheted items and vintage books on there years ago, but had lost track of the site since. Now Suze has rekindled my enthusiasm for Etsy UK's eclectic selection of handmade and vintage wares.

There are loads of fun caravan-related finds and this trio
particularly caught my eye. First up is an elegant print by snowdonprints of Manchester. I love the reddish colour and the folky lettering. The legend, 'Home Is Where You Park It', is so appropriate for our lifestyle at the moment because that is exactly what we are doing. Another print from the same shop also appealed to me because it was worded, 'This Is My Happy Place'.

Fattadamamma is based in Lincoln and, as we are planning to spend a
couple of days in the city in the near future, I am glad to include this fantastic handmade lampshade. I love the hippie flowers everywhere and the cute curtains in the caravan windows. Hopefully we will have lots of days this summer with the same bright sunshine. The shade is made of natural linen paper so would be light enough for us to transport, but sadly wouldn't fit the ceiling lights in Bailey.

I'm travelling to the other side of the planet for my third find and a
greeting card which is so funny for me because I have such a terrible sense of direction. Dave is always in charge of navigation and, even when I am sure which road to take, it will be the one going completely the opposite way. So this 'not all who wander are lost' is true for many, but not all! The card is made by ThePaisleyFive.

Happy travels!

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Super Dave repairs our caravan water heater and we cycle to Hailsham Farmers Market

We have only been able to use our Truma water heater on gas since the
Llamas (or alpacas) by the Cuckoo Trail 
autumn as its electrics tripped out and haven't worked since. We did begrudge having to use up our precious gas when most campsites charge a fixed price for electric hookup regardless of how much is used. Heating a saucepan full on the electric hob was an option, but we don't have particularly large saucepans!

Dave spent ages researching the problem online and thought that the
The Homestead campsite from the Cuckoo Trail 
Heating Element was most likely to be at fault, although there were also other possibilities. The whole water heater retails at nearly a thousand pounds so we hoped replacing the element would work. Just that part was about eighty quid - outrageous compared to the price of one for general home use and the tank is only 10 litres! Anyhow, Dave ordered a new element from eBay while we were in France and had it delivered to Argos in Hailsham for easy collection. He also needed to get a mini socket set and connecting thingy from Screwfix. There's never any such thing as a simple task! Then, after a mere two days of trying to work in a ridiculously confined space with a combination of sparky electricity and leaky water, we have a perfectly working heater again. Well done Super Davey!

Our social whirl continues apace. Thursday afternoon we cycled along the Cuckoo Trail for a cuppa at Dad's and yesterday I drove up to Sutton to visit my sister and niece. I looked into travelling by train but was put off by the return fare being £26.60! And that was off-peak! Wouldn't it be nice to have a decent, affordable public transport network in Britain instead of so much tax revenue being frittered away on substandard roads that swiftly crumble away? I've dodged more gaping potholes on Sussex roads in a fortnight than we did during five whole months in Spain. Grrr!

We braved a seasonal rain shower this morning to visit the monthly
Wild Preserves jam trio 
Hailsham Farmers Market. Again, an easy cycle along the Cuckoo Trail to get there and it gave me a reason to don my comfy Marmot waterproof trousers for only the second time ever! Unfortunately the market itself was a disappointment. There were only about a dozen stalls and less than half had food items. I had hoped to get a nice pie or savoury pastry for lunch, maybe some fresh cheese too, but we had to settle for just a trio of Eastbourne-made Wild Preserves jams and cycling on to Waitrose instead. A shame as the weekly markets are pretty good so I had expected this one to be even better. It turned out that Waitrose has a small selection of local cheeses though and the Sussex Slipcote from High Weald Dairy is lovely.

At least we got out in the fresh air and the sun had returned by the time we got back to Bailey so now we can sit out on our loungers for a while, with a book apiece, before we set out again. Curry in Heathfield tonight!

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Kerry McCarthy talks about humane farming and sustainable food production #EndTheCageAge

I recently joined in Compassion In World Farming's request to contact
my potential MPs asking their stance on humane farming and related issues. I have previously blogged about my reaction to the CIWF book Farmageddon which I think really should be required reading for everyone who eats! I have also been supporting their campaign to End The Cage Age, attempting to stop farmed animals having to live their entire lives in cages.

Today I received my first response: a comprehensive answer to my queries from Labour's Kerry McCarthy, one of the candidates for Bristol East. I've not decided who I will vote for yet, but am very encouraged by Kerry's words so have posted her letter below for anyone else who would like to read it. Hopefully she won't mind!

"Thank you for getting in touch to ask if I would promote a humane and sustainable farming system in the next Parliament. I am pleased to reassure you that I feel very strongly about these issues, and hope to continue to build on my record of promoting these issues in Parliament, if I am re-elected as your MP in May.

I’m a proud Vice-President of the League Against Cruel Sports and patron of the Vegan Society. I am also co-Chair of the Agro-ecology All-Party Parliamentary Group and patron of the food redistribution charity, FoodCycle. I very much feel that we need to create a food and farming sector which promotes high standards of animal welfare and is genuinely environmentally sustainable. At its worst, our food system is endangering the future security of our food, harming the natural environment and widening inequalities in health.

I completely agree that we should phase out production that uses cages and crates, which thwart the basic instincts of animals. I very much support Compassion in World farming’s, ‘End the Cage Age’ campaign. I recently met with CiWF and tabled many questions off the back of our discussions, which you can see here. I very much feel that we need to extend the ban on battery cages to include quail egg production and for restrictions to prohibit the farming of rabbits in cages. I was shocked to discover that currently 99% of rabbits are farmed in cages and there’s no legislation on how they’re kept. I’ve also spoken out on the transportation of live cattle (eg here), and at Christmas raised the shocking conditions many turkeys are reared in. I’ve also raised in Parliament my concerns about the overuse of antibiotics in intensive farming, where farms animals such as pigs and chickens are regularly fed antibiotics to suppress infections that are likely to arise in overcrowded and factory farm conditions. I co-hosted and spoke at a reception in Parliament last month on antibiotic resistance and livestock farming, which was co-organised by Compassion in World Farming.

You raise the need to encourage the adoption of balanced diets with a lower proportion of meat. I was the first MP to raise the issue of sustainable livestock, raising concerns in 2009 about the impact of the livestock industry on land use, soil, water, biodiversity depletion and climate change. I was also nominated for a PoliticsHome award for a speech I gave on World Vegan Day 2011, which set out the environmental, ethical and health benefits of a vegan diet (both of which you can see here).

We are paying a very high price in terms of our health for cheaply produced, highly processed food. Diet-related ill-health is causing premature deaths and is behind rising health inequalities in rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. I’ve asked the current Government if it would update the Eatwell Plate, in line with the latest scientific research on diet – but it clearly has no interest in doing so. I also have major doubts about the effectiveness of the government’s engagement with fast food firms, drinks makers and supermarket chains to tackle excessive drinking and obesity though voluntary “public health responsibility deals” – in which the food and drinks industry pledge to make healthier products and market them more carefully. Some examples of my interventions on this are here. I’ve also spoken in Parliament on the horsemeat scandal, which has highlighted how government cuts and an undermining of the regulator responsible for maintaining food standards, has led to a huge increase in food fraud and food crime.

I am also interested in the wider issues around sustainable food production. I have been strongly campaigning against the decision to put a Metrobus junction on the Feed Bristol site – not only because it will bring little, if any, benefit in transport terms, but also because of what we will lose from tarmacking over Grade 1 agricultural land, in terms of biodiversity, as well as local food security. I lead a debate in Parliament on this issue last month, which you can read here. And in 2012 I introduced the first ever piece of legislation to tackle food waste, the Food Waste Bill. This was backed by Friends of the Earth and WWF-UK, Feeding the 5000 and food redistribution charities FareShare and FoodCycle and received strong cross-party backing.

I have recently read “Farmageddon: the true cost of cheap meat”, which sets out how the steady intensification of agriculture to increase yields – led by heavy reliance on artificial chemical -inputs, intensification of livestock systems and increasing field sizes to accommodate larger machinery – has been responsible for declines in farmland wildlife, reduced water quality and impoverished soils. I have raised my serious concerns about the decline of our bees and other pollinating insects, which is attributed to habitat loss and other changes associated with agricultural intensification, particularly the use of chemical pesticides – neonicotinoids. You can see my speeches about this here. I have been working closely in Bristol with academics and other stakeholders who are mapping and planting flower and pollinator-friendly meadows and habitats across the city. Urban environments – by contrast to some agricultural environments -are increasingly being cultivated as rich sources for flowering plants and creating pollinator-friendly habitats.

Labour has produced an animal welfare manifesto, which I am extremely pleased with. You can access a copy here. If you have any queries about this or any other issue, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Best wishes,

Kerry McCarthy"