Category Archives: Age of Innocence

Cheapskate Travel – Part One

Commenting on a recent post, a long term blogging pal of mine (who knows me so well) suggested that I am a cheapskate traveller.  I am so proud of this, it is like being nominated for an award at the Oscars, like winning an Olympic Gold Medal, like getting a mention in the New Year’s Honours List.

It reminded me of this post that I put up first in February 2014…

Complimentary Shampoo and Shower Gel…

“I still enjoy travelling a lot. I mean, it amazes me that I still get excited in hotel rooms just to see what kind of shampoo they’ve left me.”  –  Bill Bryson

Read the full story Here…

Portugal – Trouble at Supermarket Checkouts

In my previous post I dealt with the frustration associated with buying a train ticket in Portugal at a self service ticket machine.  Today I move on to the mystery of supermarket checkouts in Portugal.

In the country there were familiar supermarkets for us from the UK, ALDI and LIDL and then a couple  that were  not – Pingo Doce and Continente.  Continente is the largest supermarket chain in Portugal and Pingo Doce is the third. In Setubal we came across a convenient Pingo Doce located close by to the apartment so we went there to shop for our evening meal.

I liked all of these supermarkets in Portugal, they all had a much wider product range than in the UK, more bread, more fruit, more vegetables but especially more fish and whilst Kim shopped for essentials I browsed for fantasy.  The shopping experience is mostly similar to being in the UK and providing you remain focused you can have filled a basket, sidestepped the tempting but unwanted special offers, have negotiated all of the aisles  and be finished in just a few minutes. 

But then you get to the check-outs.

Chaos. Absolute chaos. In the UK you can expect to be through the checkout in under five minutes even if the two people in front both have a full trolley load to clear. Checkout staff in the UK are the fastest on the planet, no mercy if you don’t keep up.   If it was an Olympic event they would win gold, silver and bronze.  Not so in Portugal.  They would come last. Fifteen minutes in the store – thirty minutes (on a good day) waiting to pay.

And it was the same everywhere that we stayed and shopped in Portugal, Obidos, Cascais, Ericeira, Lisbon and now Setúbal.

A main reason for this is that most customers want to pay in cash but the cashiers have no coins in the tills so when someone offers a note they ask if they might possibly have the right change which involves fumbling in pockets and purses looking for loose, long forgotten coins.  “Oh, here is an Escudo, do you still take Escudo?”  Worst of all some customers just throw their coins down and let the cashier do the sorting and when it is all done take an age to put it away again.

This slows the whole process down to somewhere significantly below glacial speed and several conga lines of frustrated customers begin to form and begin to block up the aisles.  Although several frustrated people take the risk there is no point whatsoever  changing lanes because they are all the same.  They are all advancing at the pace of a silted up river bed.  This is life in the sloth lane.

Quite by chance there was some welcome entertainment as a group of university students entertained with music and singing which made the process a bit more tolerable but only just.

I have an important travel tip here…

DO NOT under any circumstances let the cashier see that you have a purse full of coins because they will beg to relieve you of it.  I swear that they are on a shift  bonus to get hold of coins.  I like to carry a little pouch with loose change, say about twenty euro or so but have learnt from experience never to show it.  One of my travel objectives is always to come home with my pouch full of coins ready for next time.

Behaviour at supermarket checkouts is something that intrigues me.  I wrote about it once in a post a long time ago (2010) and I do understand that it might be considered a bit sexist now but here it is now (with apologies where considered necessary)…

Read the full story Here…

So, we negotiated the checkout queue, went home with our purchases and had a simple meal of cooked piri-piri chicken, new potatoes and fresh salad and after as the sun began to slide into the River Sado took a walk to the shoreline and just sat and watched. 

Tomorrow we thought that we might try and find a beach.  We considered taking the apple green ferry to the Troia peninsular but decided instead to go for a hike.

 

Portugal – Obidos to Ericeira

Satisfied we hadn’t missed anything in Obidos we cleaned, left only footprints and exited the apartment and headed west towards the coast.

Our first destination was the peninsular of Peniche which I imagined to be a wild sort of place on the Atlantic Coast but which turned out to be an industrial/fishing sort of place which didn’t especially appeal to me.  It had some interesting rock formations recklessly sculptured  by the wild Atlantic winds and waves and then some sheltered sandy beaches next to industrial units where we stopped for mid morning drinks before quickly moving on south.

Sadly, I have to say that it wasn’t very exciting, nothing special at all.  Beaches obviously, beach bars obviously but all surprisingly quiet, September now and recovering perhaps from the now passed Summer blitz.  Hotels closed down for the year already.  We stopped a couple of times but didn’t stay anywhere long and we moved on directly to the coastal town of Ericeira, stopping off at supermarket Lidl on the way to pick up essential supplies and after lunch in the apartment we explored the small town and seafront area.

Portugal is one of the poorest countries in Europe and behind the attractive tiled walls we could see that the houses were really rather basic, but it is the seventh safest country in the world and the fourth biggest consumer of wine, after France, Italy and Germany and so, with the sun beating down we choose a table at a café close to the beach to help them maintain this important statistic.

It was early afternoon and really quite hot and the town had a soporific feel that made me think of my favourite Al Stewart song ‘Year of the Cat’:

‘She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running like a water colour in the rain, don’t bother asking for explanation she’ll just tell you she came from the Year of the Cat… By the blue tiled walls near the market stalls there’s a hidden door she leads you to, these days she says I feel my life is like a river running through, the Year of the Cat’

As the day got hotter the time was approaching the afternoon siesta as we sat and surveyed curiously deserted streets as though someone had declared a national emergency and everyone had left town.

Across the narrow lanes abandoned laundry remained hanging on overloaded balcony rails, starched and bleached by the sun to a perfect whiteness that had me reaching for my sunglasses, occasionally a loose shutter kissed a window frame and a whispering wave crashed gently onto the beach. Even the surf of the sea seemed to go quiet out of respect for the siesta.

Sitting at the pavement bar it was so quiet that I could hear the paint lifting and splitting on the wooden doors, the gentle creaking of rusty shutter hinges, the squeaking complaints of rattan as sleeping residents shifted a little in their balcony chairs and the faint crack of seed pods in the flower planters.

Eventually we made our weary way to the Fishermen’s  Beach where boats that looked barely seaworthy, held together by DIY repairs were  hauled up next to huts where swarthy salt streaked fishermen with ship-wreck faces went through the process of gutting and preparing fish for preparation and salting. .

The reason that fishing is such a major economic activity in Portugal is because the Portuguese people eat more fish per head than any other people in mainland Europe.  In recognition of this achievement it has been granted an ‘Exclusive Economic Zone’, which is a sea area in the Atlantic Ocean over which the Portuguese have special rights in respect of exploration and use of marine resources.  For the record it is the second largest Exclusive Economic Zone of the European Union, after France  and the eleventh largest in the world.

The Portuguese may eat a lot of fish but not I suspect, from places like this, more likely caught and processed in massive factory trawlers operating hundreds of miles away in the North Atlantic.

Never mind, it was all very entertaining and I captured some reasonably good pictures…

In the evening we walked further, this time along the surfing beaches.  I didn’t know this, how could I ,but Ericeira is the surfing capital of Europe named alongside Malibu in California, Freshwater Beach in Australia, Huanchaco Beach in Peru and only a handful of others.   The only one in Europe as it happens. Three in Australia, Four in South America and two in USA. We watched the brave people riding the surf as they mounted their boards and then promptly fell off.  It doesn’t look like a great deal of fun to me but then some people I know don’t like golf. 

An interesting factoid.  A  pod of seals is called a BOB and that seemed completely appropriate as people in black wet suits floated around in the sea like popped corks.

Another  interesting factoid.  Saint Christopher is the Patron Saint of Surfers.  Saint Andrew is the patron saint of fishermen.

This isn’t Saint Andrew it is a fisherman looking after his salted skate wings…

East Yorkshire – Saint John of Bridlington

On day three of our mini-holiday in East Yorkshire, the heatwave predictably broke, clouds returned, the temperature plummeted and the panic was all over.  This is England not the Costa Blanca.

So we made the short car journey to nearby Bridlington.  Bridlington remains a busy seaside resort because it still has a railway service and after the city of Hull is the second largest settlement in East Yorkshire.

We decided against the harbour and the beach because we had been there previously and quite frankly it is a bit too much English seasidy for us and the seagulls are a nuisance and went instead to the old town.  Free Parking! Where can you find Free Parking these days? Answer – Bridlington Old Town.

The historical centre of Bridlington is absolutely wonderful.

A cobbled street of rapid decay locked into a bygone age, the original Georgian shop windows are grubby, the displays are many decades out of date, the window frames are flaking and pock-marked, no wonder then that they choose this location for filming the remake of the comedy series ‘Dad’s Army’ in 2014. Being a huge ‘Dad’s Army’ fan I was really happy about wandering along this special street and made a note to watch the film when I was back at home. And I did!

We parked the car close to the Bayle Museum, the original fortified gatehouse to Bridlington Priory.  It had free admission so I wasn’t expecting a great deal but as it turned out it was well  worth almost an hour of time spent exploring the seven rooms and the history of Bridlington.  So good in fact that I didn’t have to think twice about paying a voluntary contribution on the way out.  That is unusual for me.

Next we visited the nearby Priory.  In the days of its medieval glory Bridlington Priory was one of the great monastic houses of England. Its wealth and possessions made it a key monastery in the North, one of the largest and richest of the Augustinian order.  The Priory is just a church now and a fraction of its previous size courtesy of the insistence of Henry VIII that it should be demolished in 1537 to remove the potential Catholic pilgrimage site of Saint John of Bridlington.  Henry didn’t like Catholic Saints and Pilgrimages as this challenged his new self-appointed role as Head of the Church of England.

Saint John of Bridlington, it turns out is one of the most famous of English Saints and I am ashamed to admit that I had never heard of him before now.

A little about John courtesy of Wiki…

Born in 1320 in the village of Thwing on the Yorkshire Wolds, about nine miles west of Bridlington, educated at a school in the village from the age of five, completing his studies at Oxford University and then entered the Augustinian Canons Regular community of Bridlington Priory. He carried out his duties with humility and diligence, and was in turn novice master, almsgiver, preacher and sub-prior. He became Canon of the Priory in 1346 and was eventually elected Prior in 1356. He served as Prior for 17 years before his death on 10 October 1379.

During his lifetime he enjoyed a reputation for great holiness and for miraculous powers. It is claimed that on one occasion he changed water into wine. He brought people back from the dead and restored a blind man’s sight.  On another, five seamen from Hartlepool in danger of shipwreck called upon God in the name of John, whereupon the prior himself walked on water and appeared to them and brought them safely to shore. 

It seems that anything Jesus could do, John of Bridlington could match.

So good was John at performing miracles that according to legend he continued to perform them even after he had died of the plague and he continued to bring people back from the dead for some time.  That’s a very good trick if you can do it.  These days I imagine John would be admitted to the Magic Circle.

John of Bridlington was canonised and declared a Saint by Pope Boniface in 1401, he was the last English Saint before the Reformation and the dissolution of the Monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII.

A Saint has to be a patron Saint of something and although John is associated with fishing the patron saint of fishermen had already been bagged by Saint Andrew (I will make you Fishers of Men and all that stuff) so Saint John needed something else.  The Spanish Saint Raymond Nonnat is the patron saint of pregnancy and childbirth but Saint John is very specifically the patron saint of difficult childbirth.  I kid you not.  You could not make it up.

The best bit about the church was a side chapel reserved for prayer where people are invited to leave a note requesting a prayer (or a miracle).  This one was my favourite…

Other Unlikely Saint Stories…

Saint James and Santiago de Compostella

Saint Patrick and Ireland

Saint Spiridon and Corfu

Saint Janurius and the Miracle of the Blood

The Feast of Saint Paul’s Shipwreck

 

East Yorkshire – Hornsea and a Litter Pick

On arrival I was immediately impressed.  I live near the resort town of Cleethorpes but although it is a popular holiday resort it has to be said that it is just a muddy estuary where the sea is barely visible for long periods of the day but this was real North Sea coast with a raging sea, barnacled groynes, pounding surf, churning water and a pebble beach clattering away as it was constantly rearranged by the tidal surge.

 

Read the full story Here…

The National Space Centre in Leicester

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”   –  John F Kennedy                                   

I was born in Leicester (for overseas readers it is pronounced simply as Lester) in June 1954. My family left the city for the nearby town of Rugby six years later. When asked I always say that I am from Leicester and I am always proud to say so.

Last year I visited the city for the first time after sixty years and went to the Richard III exhibition, this time round I went to the National Space Centre in the heart of the city.

Leicester has the National Space Centre because the University of Leicester has played a significant role in Space exploration and the research and development of Space technology.  Not a lot of people know that.  I didn’t!

Despite the so called Tory ‘Levelling Up’ agenda most National Museums are in London but as well as Space in Leicester there are National Museums in York (Railways), Beaulieu (Motor Cars), Wakefield (coal mining) and Portsmouth (Royal Navy).

I am not sure exactly what I thought might be there, after all  I have been to Cape Kennedy in Florida so why did I need to go to the National Space Centre in Leicester.

The place certainly surpassed my modest expectations.

I was immediately impressed.  The centre is four stories high and clad in inflated pillows made of toughened plastic – the same material used on the Eden Project domes in Cornwall.  This material is 1% of the weight of the equivalent amount of glass and post construction was described by the Guardian newspaper as “one of the most distinctive and intriguing new buildings in Britain”.

I imagined that it might take an hour to go round – it took four and the last one was rushed so I will have to go back.  It has sections about the Solar System, the creation of the Universe , a Planetarium, full size rocket displays (I kid you not) and a top floor dedicated to the first moon landing.

I found it really interesting, this member of staff has seen it umpteen times and is clearly bored with it all.  Bored enough to take a nap…

The Apollo 11 space flight seemingly fulfilled US President John F. Kennedy’s aspiration of reaching the Moon before the Soviet Union by the end of the 1960s, which he had expressed during a 1961 speech before the United States Congress.

But not everyone was convinced and almost immediately some theorists began to produce evidence that disputed the Moon landings claim.

Different Moon landing conspiracy theories claim that some or all elements of the Apollo Project and the Moon landings were falsifications staged by NASA and that the landings were faked in some giant hoax.  Some of the more notable of these various claims include allegations that the Apollo astronauts did not set foot on the Moon at all but instead NASA and others intentionally deceived the public into believing the landings did occur by manufacturing, destroying, or tampering with evidence, including photos, telemetry tapes, transmissions, and rock samples.

he most predominant theory is that the entire human landing program was a complete hoax from start to finish. Not a Giant Leap but a Giant Cheat.

Some claim that the technology to send men to the Moon in 1969 was not available or that the Van Allen radiation belts, solar flares, solar wind, coronal mass ejections and cosmic rays made such a trip impossible with a success rate calculated at only 0.017%.  Others argue that because The United States could not allow itself to be seen to fail to achieve Kennedy’s aspiration, the obsession with beating the USSR and the huge sums of money involved (US$ 30 billion) had to be justified, that the hoax was unavoidable.

As the theories gathered momentum it seemed that rather than being filmed on the Moon all of the action actually took place on a film lot and in the middle of the Nevada desert.

For a while I must confess to having been taken in by these conspiracy theories but when I think about it the size and complexity of the alleged conspiracy theory scenarios makes it wholly unlikely.  The most compelling reason of all is the fact that more than four hundred thousand people worked on the Apollo project for nearly ten years and all of these people, including astronauts, scientists, engineers, technicians, and skilled labourers, would have had to keep the secret ever since and that, I suggest, would be completely impossible

My favourite story about the space race is that because it was supposed that a standard ballpoint pen would not work in zero gravity because the ink woudn’t flow to the nib, NASA spent millions of dollars developing the zero-g Space Pen, while the pragmatic Russians came up with the alternative of using a simple pencil or a wax crayon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click on an image to view the Gallery…

 

Quiz Time…

1  How many men have walked on the Moon?

2 Who was the third person to walk on the Moon?

3 How many orbits of the Earth did Yuri Gagarin complete in 1961?

4 In what year did Leicester City win the Premier League Title?

5  James T Kirk.  What does the T stand for?

The Fear of Dogs

Yesterday I raised the subject of fear of dogs.  It is called cynophobia.

I don’t like dogs because I see no redeeming features in them. They sweat, they are greasy, they smell, they have bad breath, they shit on the pavements and they urinate up my garden wall.  What is there possibly to like about them?  If I was Prime Minister I would have them all rounded up and destroyed!

And I have to say that I agree with Bill Bryson:

“It wouldn’t bother me in the least…if all the dogs in the world were placed in a sack and taken to some distant island… where they could romp around and sniff each other’s anuses to their hearts’ content and never bother or terrorise me again.” 

Read the full story Here…

From The Archives – Hillmorton County School

The Hillmorton County Junior School was an old Victorian building with high ceilings that soared into the sky and partitioned classrooms with rows of old fashioned wooden desks with years of scratched graffiti  and attached lift up seats on squeaking hinges.

Read the full story Here…

From The Archives – The Spalding Flower Parade

The history of the Spalding Flower Parade stretches back to the 1920s when the acreage and variety of tulip bulbs grown throughout the area surrounding the market town became an annual feast of colour.

Read the Full Story Here…

East Anglia – The Evolution of Caravans and Fish ‘n’ Chips

Warning – the post contains images that some readers might find upsetting.

It had been a glorious day weather wise but the forecast for the next few days was really rather grim and although we arrived in sunshine  clouds were already worryingly close by and the prospects were depressingly bleak.

Before travel I had rather recklessly accepted a challenge from Kim to sometime this week take a dip in the North Sea and although this was only mid March I had rashly accepted.  There was a £10 bet resting on this and as I was not about to part with £10, even to Kim, especially to Kim, so I decided that it had to be done straight away.

Bloody Hell it was cold.  It reminded me of family holidays sixty years ago.

Bad weather didn’t stop us going to the beach in those days and even if it was blowing a gale or there was some drizzle in the air we would be off to to enjoy the sea.  If the weather was really bad we would put up a windbreak and huddle together inside it to try and keep warm.  Most of the time it was necessary to keep a woolly jumper on and in extreme cases a hat as well and Wellington boots were quite normal.

As soon as the temperature reached about five degrees centigrade or just slightly below we would be stripped off and sent for a dip in the wickedly cold North Sea in a sort of endurance test that I believe is these days considered even too tough to be included as part of Royal Marine Commando basic training.

It was rather like being submerged in liquid nitrogen and whilst swimmers in Australia were worrying about sharks we were busy avoiding bits of iceberg that had broken off in the Arctic Ocean.  I can remember one holiday at Walcote, Norfolk, in about 1965 when it was so cold that there was a penguin on the beach!  That is seriously true and being so far from the South Pole I can only imagine that it had escaped from a nearby zoo or aquarium.

I claimed the £10 bet but Kim reneged saying that I hadn’t fully submerged so it didn’t count and the bet was off.  I was too cold to dispute the finer points of the claim.

As promised in the weather forecast the next two days were desperately awful with rain, sleet, snow and high winds whipping in from Scandinavia so for much of the time we were confined to the caravan which was painful but not as bad as swimming in the North Sea.

I have horror memories of caravan holidays.  When I was a boy the family went to caravan holidays all of the time.  Caravans simply had no temperature control, they were hot and stuffy if the sun shone (so that wasn’t too much of a problem, obviously) and they were cold and miserable when it rained, which,  I seem to remember was most of the time .

They  had no bathroom so we had to use the communal camp washroom facilities, it had no electricity so we couldn’t watch TV, it had no kitchen so we couldn’t cook breakfast and it didn’t have heating so when it was cold it was really cold.  The only thing it did have was a bottle of Calor Gas and a one ring hob for boiling a kettle and for lighting hissing gas lamps at night which attracted insects and created so much condensation that after an hour or two, water was dripping off the ceiling onto our sleeping bags on the floor and we were sleeping in a puddle.

As I get older I appreciate more and more what my parents did for me.  They took us for a seaside in a tiny caravan and I can only imagine that they hated it, it must, after all, have been mind-numbingly boring, spending endless hours in a biscuit tin with only the popping of the gas lamp and the smell of  Calor Gas for evening entertainment, especially when it was raining. 

I am pleased to be able to report that modern caravans are much improved and our accommodation had all of the facilities of a modern home with central heating, running water, a bathroom, electricity and a fully equipped kitchen.  So we we filled the fridge with wine, cooked a Shepherd’s Pie that Mum had prepared previously, closed the doors and hunkered down for a couple of days in the comfort of our caravan.

As it turned out it wasn’t bad weather all of the time, only about 95% of the time  out so in between blizzard like Arctic showers and savage North Sea winds we did manage to get out for an hour or two.

I especially wanted to go to Aldeburgh because last time that I was there I had a mind to have some fish and chips from a highly recommended chippy but this was in August and there was queue which lasted well over an hour and however much I like fish and chips I wasn’t prepared to line up for that long.

Today there was no queue so I breezed in and ordered and took them away to the beach to eat them. I sat myself on the sea wall with an uninterrupted  view out over the North Sea, the colour of a day-old bruise, rippling away to the horizon under gunmetal skies. I unwrapped with anticipation and immediately received the anticipated aroma which, once released smells of all the good things in life in the same place at the same time.   The very warmth of it felt like a reassuring defender against the chill wind coming off the sea.

As it happened, the fish was good, the chips were poor, I enjoyed them but I wouldn’t queue for over an hour to buy them.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…