Saturday, 31 March 2012

Everybody! Let's get out of this hellhole

One of the downsides about living in England is that winter lasts too bloody long. Generally, by November I am completely pissed off by it, but by that stage there's still another four months to go before Spring. Talk about pants - it drags on longer than an episode of 'Match of the Day'.

So, after spending months wearing sackcloth, dragging a pit pony through the village (not sure why, it just sounds wintery), and having various frostbitten digits amputated, I decided it was time to leave the UK for sunnier climes for a while.

It was the perfect excuse to visit my chum Clare (the one with the norks) in America. After all, it's always bloody sunny there. And she has got a swimming pool. And she can cook.

And that is why, a couple of days ago, I headed for Gatwick and jumped onto a Virgin flight bound for the US of A (I nearly missed it because I was late - I manged to check in my luggage 2 minutes before the flight closed).

Pic.No.1 This was the view from my seat whilst we were waiting on the apron. See that EasyJet aircraft? I used to supply them with landing gear in the olden days

Pic.No.2 This is the view shortly after take-off. If you squint, that lake looks like a penis

Pic.No.3 Virgin operate two types of aircraft: Airbus A340-600s and Boeing 747-400s and I had the misfortune to be on one of the Virgin Craplantic Boeing 747s. Unlike the modern A340s, the 747s feature uncomfortable seats and an inflight entertainment designed by Luddites R Us. It made for a long 8h 30mins

After booking my flight and seeing the flight details, I did telephone Virgin Craplantic to complain about their old fashioned Boeings. Some random woman told me that they were overhauling the fleet, but obviously that didn't include the aircraft I was on. They should rebrand themselves as 'Rubber Band Airlines'.

As well as having to travel on crappy aircraft, there is one other thing that always makes me mad when travelling to the States, and it's the bloody border control. I was going to take a photograph for you, but as soon as I got my camera out, some power-crazy guy with a pencil moustache and uniform shouted at me to put it away. Arsey git.

Anyway, it bloody took me an hour and forty minutes to get through the border. We were queuing for so long that the bird behind me fainted and had to be wheeled through in a wheelchair. I wished I had thought about fainting to speed things up. 

Eventually though, I did get through and Clare was waiting in the 'arrivals' hall. 

She greeted me warmly; "where the bloody hell have you been?"

"Border control," I stated, "they are all a bunch of nobs."

Clare nodded in agreement, before adding, "let's go find the car."

Pic.No.4 So, 40 minutes after being picked up, I was finally sat next to Clare's pool watching the sunset over the lake in the distance. Marvellous. And more of my crazy American antics to come ....

Anyway, it's weekend dahlink! What the devil have you been up to?

Dead dogs and daffodils ..... and cake

What ho! What the blazes has been going on in Oxfordshire, old chap? I hear you cry.

Well, last weekend, it was 'daffodil day', that's what. Now daffodil day is an annual tradition upheld by the landed gentry in the locale of my village, Forest Hill. Basically, the Lord of manor invites all the local peasantry (like me) to his stately home for the afternoon to view the amazing displays of Spring daffodils.

Despite the fact that once you have seen one daffodil, the rest are pretty samey, it is still a lovely community event. And it raises a lot of money for the upkeep of the local church, to which the Lord belongs. I'm not a member though, nor am I religious. But I probably would be if being religious didn't involve getting up early on a Sunday. Plus I think hymns are a bit boring. They should maybe introduce some hardcore breaks to mash 'em up a little. Or throw in a bit of darkside jungle to spice up the mix.

Anyway, I digress, back to my afternoon out at Shotover House. As I mentioned, it is a friendly community event and virtually everyone from the villages attends. And here are some pictures for you.

Pic.No.1 The entrance to Shotover House. This is where you get your first glimpse of daffodils (on the right hand side)

Pic.No.2 I have to say that Izzy wasn't particularly interested in the daffodils. Someone had told her that cake was being sold at Shotover House, and she was focussed on the prize. So we made our way to the cake stall at the back of the house (pictured above). I figured that if I plied her with cake, I could bribe her to like daffodils (no flies on me although you can see where they've been)

Pic.No.3 It was £1.50 for a large slice of cake and a cup of tea. Bargain. I ordered 'walnut and coffee' (right) and Izzy predictably ordered chocolate cake. She loves chocolate she does. Where she has got that from, I have no idea. I can't stand the stuff

Pic.No.3 Izzy nicked some of the icing from the top of my cake and it was caught on camera

Pic.No.4 What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than chilling in the sunshine after scoffing a cake as big as your head? Actually, if they sold 'beer and cake' for £1.50, that would have pipped it to the post

Pic.No.5 A mouldy plantpot

Pic.No.6 Izzy didn't want to lounge around for long because she is a kid, and they have the attention span of a gnat. So I decided that we were going to walk around the grounds of Shotover and that Izzy was going to enjoy it. In the picture above, there is a folly in front of a lake

Pic.No.7 This is Izzy next to the lake and some brown crispy grass

Pic.No.8 Then we happened upon this. It is only a dog's graveyard. And there was a stone with the names of all the dead mutts on it. I fleetingly wondered if I could sneak NG in there, but then the thought passed, so he is safe

Pic.No.9 Totally gnarly dude

Pic.No.10 Given that it was daffodil day, Izzy got totally into taking pictures of daffodils. This one was yellow with a green stalk

Pic.No.11 This one was yellow with an orange middle bit and a green stalk

Pic.No.12 Bet you can't guess what this is?

Pic.No.13 Yup. Another flock of daffodils

Pic.No.14 They sure were pretty ....... drifting through the bare woodland as I wondered lonely as a cloud

Pic.No15 This is Izzy perfecting her skills behind the camera

Pic.No.16 Ooooh looky here. Guess what the bloody hell I found?

Pic.No.17 This dog statue was situated under a tree in the foresty bit of the gardens. I don't know what it's name was, but if it was my dog I would have called it Raggy

Pic.No.18 Woo hoo, cop a load of this if you thought you had already seen a lot of daffs ...... Also as you can imagine, I had to coax Izzy in front of the lens

Pic.No.19 This is Izzy looking all dreamy and interesting. Straight afterwards she said "can I 'ave more cake?" which shattered the illusion somewhat

Pic.No.20 I have a challenge for you - What the bloody hell are these? They were randomly situated throughout the wooded areas of the Shotover grounds

Pic.No.21 They differed in design slightly, but always had three legs, a barrel and a spring hanging down underneath. I was perplexed

All in all, it was a rather lovely afternoon and the sun stayed out for the entire time. Spring is ace - my favourite time of year.

So what have you been up to today dahlink?

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Izzy gets arrested aged 6

There is one trick that I have learned whilst dragging bringing up Izzy, and that is, if you keep an kid entertained, your house doesn't get trashed. Yep, it is that simple. Find 'em something to do and you spare yourself the trauma of seeing 'I luv High skook musikal' daubed over your living room walls with an indelible marker.

In this vein, last weekend I decided to take Izzy and her chum (whom I shall call Chumski) on a day out. Actually, Chumski's father, Tim, also decided to come because he was at a loose end.

Bloody marvellous. Bring on the fun.

Pic.No.1 I had decided to take the sprogs to the Natural History Museum (NHM) in Oxford (pictured above), because they were holding a 'Wow, How?' event designed to get kids interested in science. Which is a good thing because I wanted Izzy to be an engineer like me. Or a hairdresser, because then I wouldn't have to go to the hairdresser's shop. We arrived at 2pm

Pic.No.2 The first thing we encountered as we approached the NHM, were a number of cool stalls all demonstrating different sciencey principles. This is Izzy and Chumski at the bubble stall (even though bubbles really aren't that sciencey)

Pic.No.3 They spent nearly 30 minutes blowing bubbles until I realised something. Kids are well easily amused

Pic.No.4 Next up, we went to the 'slime stall'. Basically, the kids were taught simple chemistry, i.e. baking powder + borax = slime. You have no idea how much I had to restrain myself from jumping in and making my own slime

Then, just as the kids were entering the 'zone' with their scientific experiments, an announcement came over the tannoy; 'please note that the Wow How science exhibition will be closing in ten minutes'.

Aw crap. Apparently we should have arrived at 10am instead of 2pm in order to fit everything in.

Izzy's bottom lip started wobbling a bit, and Chumski was looking a bit distraught.

I looked at Chumski's dad, Tim, and said, "oops, I think I got the timings a bit wrong. Same old, same old - great on the big ideas and crap at the execution!" Tim nodded despairingly.

But being an optimistic person, Tim placated the sprogs by saying they could look at the dinosaurs in the NHM instead of doing the 'Wow How' experiments'.

So we still managed to take in some of the Natural History Museum even though the experiments were all packing up.

Pic.No.5 Look, here are the skeletons of a Tyrannasaurus Rex, and another big bastard dinosaur whose name I don't know (probably called something ended in -us)

Pic.No.6 This is a statue of Newton. It's a bit ironic given that he his famous for his 'laws of motion'

Pic.No.7 This is Chumski and Izzy being attacked by a T-Rex. Not a real one, obviously. I don't want Social Services on my back

Pic.No.8 This is a statue of the Prince Consort. I thought that he was that bloke who married Queen Victoria. If he was, I have no idea why a statue of him is installed in the NHM. What naturaley stuff did he do?

Pic.No.9 This is the 'Pitt Rivers Museum'. It is a permanent exhibition tacked onto the back of the NHM. It is basically an enormous room containing thousands of totally barking exhibits, donated by explorers who travelled round the world in the olden days ..... including things like pygmy skulls, and poisoned darts (by the way, that is a huge Totem Pole at the back of the room)

Pic.No.10 A real pair of 'stocks'. This was a typical punishment in the UK's olden days, and the 'stocks' were normally located in the market square of a town. A prisoner would have his ankles and wrists locked into the holes, and he would then be pummelled with rotten tomatoes by the townsfolk. We should still use a system like that

After completing our tour of the NHM and Pitt Rivers Museum, the fun didn't stop there. Tim had suggested that once we had finished at the NHM, we stop by at the Sheldonian theatre to meet his wife who was singing there. Bloody brilliant idea!

Let me explain. Tim and his wife (Denise), are ardent choral singers, so getting a chance to meet up with her, and then to witness her performing in one of the most iconic theatres in the world was a Brucey bonus. 

Pic.No.11 On the way to the Sheldonian Theatre we passed the gates of one of the University Colleges

Pic.No.12 We also passed the incredibly famous Hertford Bridge, otherwise known as the 'Bridge of Sighs' after a similar bridge in Venice, Italy

Pic.No.13 Before finally arriving at the Sheldonian Theatre ........ famous for it's circular shape and amazing architecture

Pic.No.14 In order to get a sneaky preview of Denise's choir rehearsing prior to their performance (later that evening), we surreptitiously snook down the side of the theatre and entered by a side door

Pic.No.15 I hadn't been inside the Sheldonian Theatre before, so it was a total treat. Just look at the ceiling. How long did some painter have to lie on his back to paint that mama?

Pic.No.16 This was the orchestra (bottom left), and choir (located to the right hand side, and up on the higher back levels). It was a rehearsel which is why they weren't wearing their posh gear

Pic.No. 17 I did a bit of research about the Sheldonian Theatre and found this ancient photograph of the inside taken before the turn of the last century. It really hasn't changed much

Pic.No. 18 See all those 'organ pipes' on the upper level? Bloody amazing they are

 Pic.No.19 Look at this! It's a drawing showing the interior of the Sheldonian Theatre in the late 1700s / early 1800s. The picture on the ceiling still looks the same as in my photographs

Pic.No.20 This is Tim trying to keep Izzy and Chumski amused whilst I watched Denise sing one of Bach's choral works in the Sheldonian Theatre

Vid.No.1 This is the video of Bach's choral work being performed in the Sheldonian Theatre. Sorry the picture is really thin - I had forgotten my Canon Powershot S95 and had to rely on my iPhone. Pants. But how cool is the performance?

Pic.No.21 A picture of one of the windows inside the Sheldonian Theatre, taken just before the concert ended ......

Pic.No.22 After hearing the concert, we left the building and let Izzy and Chumski entertain themselves by running repeatedly around the circular Sheldonian theatre. Ah. Easy life for me!

Pic.No.23 In fact, in a total period of 45 minutes, they only stopped briefly (2-3 minutes) to have a rest from running around the theatre - wearing themselves out - how marvellous?!

Pic.No.24 ..... but in that short period of time a Japanese lady sat down beside them whilst her companions took photographs 

"I've had enough of watching them run around the Sheldonian Theatre," Tim said, "some of our friends have met up for a drink at a local pub, do you fancy hooking up with them?"

"Spiffing idea," I replied.

Pic.No.25 So we made our way to the White Horse pub in Broad Street where Tim and Denise's friends were enjoying a beer out front in the sunshine

We whiled away the time chatting and sipping beer, when suddenly I realised that Izzy and Chumski had gone missing.

"Blimey, where are they?" I asked Tim. 

"Don't worry, they are in the bookshop next door, called Blackwells," he replied, "and I have checked on them regularly to make sure they are ok."

Yep, everyone was happy because there was beer involved, and the sprogs were enjoying themselves.

So I didn't really take much notice of the police car arriving nearby with it's blue lights flashing. Nor did I hfeed the two coppers who jumped out of the car and ran into Blackwells Bookshop. 

A further five minutes passed before the aforementioned two coppers emerged from the shop, each with their hand gripping a child's shoulder. And as you have probably already guessed, the children in question were no other than ...... Izzy and Chumski.

One of the coppers started radio-ing the police station, and I caught the words 'abondoned and children'. BLOODY HELL!

I remained rooted to the spot with shock, but luckily Tim took the situation in hand. He ran over to the policeman.

"They are not abandoned," he said quickly, "they were just playing in the bookshop and we had been regularly checking them."

"Well the children claimed that they weren't sure where their parents were," said the copper (the tinkers), and then remonstrated with Tim for a good few minutes before handing over the strays, who were grinning broadly at the excitment of it all. I luckily got off scot-free because I pretended that I didn't know who the kids belonged to. Huzzar!

Drama over, the group of us decided to walk and get something to eat in an Italian restaurant in the city centre.

Pic.No.26 We walked from the White Horse pub, down Broad Street (pictured above)

Pic.No.27 Then we turned onto George Street. And there was an amazing stretch limo waiting at the lights. I want one of those I do

Pic.No.28 We were headed for the 'ASK' Italian restaurant on Broad Street, Oxford

Pic.No.29 This is Tim recovering from his encounter with the police, with Izzy and Chumski looking unphased in the background

Pic.No.30 I ordered a Calzone pizza and very nice it was too. I had never eaten at ASK before, even though it is a chain restaurant, but would definitely go back there again

And so dahlink, it was an uneventful, yet pleasant end, to a somewhat eventful day. I love eventful days I do. They are ace.

So, have you even been arrested? 'Fess up now.

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