Sunday, May 28, 2017

Outing to Derngate Centre in Northampton

We've been to see several shows at the Derngate Centre in Northampton. We last went to see a production of "A Tale of Two Cities" in the Royal Theatre which is part of the complex. I have to admit to having something of an affection for that beautiful little theatre. I think it might be there that I got my interest in theatre when I was quite young and in the late 1960's I almost got a job as a Student A.S.M., but eventually ended up at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham. We have been to see larger-scale productions in the other theatre, The Derngate, which is next door. We have seen productions of "Cabaret" and "Cats" and in the past I've been to classical music concerts as well as a production of "Hamlet" which was utilising the uncut text and running for over four hours. It was a good production, but it was over two hours before there was an interval!

On this occasion we were here because we've just celebrated out 10th Wedding Anniversary. We had looked for something to see locally and had hoped the theatre in Milton Keynes might have had something we'd have liked. I'm afraid the seat prices in the Milton Keynes Theatre were somewhat too high. I had hoped we could go and see the touring production of "Funny Girl" but the only two seats I could get for a matinee performance and which were in the top-most tier of seating cost £45 each, and I'd no intention of paying £90 and then having to sit in such a poor seat with poor visibility of the stage.

So this is how I came to book us two reasonably-priced tickets for a show called "Running Wild" for a matinee performance yesterday (Saturday) at the Derngate Centre in Northampton.

On Arrival in Northampton we had to find a carpark. I knew we'd be able to park closer to the Derngate as there is a carpark virtually next door, but that is easier to get to if you come in from Bedford on the A428. But we came in on the A45 from the M1. When we'd come to see a production of 'A Tale of Two Cities' a couple of years ago we parked in a multi-storey carpark which contained a multi-screen cinema complex called The Vue. So this is where we managed to find a space this time. A lot of vacant spaces and not too far up the building.

Once we'd parked we walked towards the town centre. We had quite a lot of time to fill before we could collect our tickets from the Derngate box office and see the show. We visited a few shops to browse, including Debenhams. Carol said she needed to do a blood sugar test, so we stopped in Debenhams while she did this blood-prick test and discovered that her blood sugar level was low. Being a hot day didn't help.  The temperature outside was high and it seemed to be hotter because it was a town centre and the pavements and the enclosed nature of the streets seemed to increase the heat. It got to the point where we wanted to have some refreshment and decided we needed to find a Wetherspoon's pub.We have been to several across the country as they do reasonably priced meals. We weren't entirely sure where there was one in Northampton town centre and actually found the spot where one used to be but had been closed. There was a sign on the hoarding telling us where the nearest one was, called 'The Cordwainer' and in  street called The Ridings. There was a map on the hoardings which purported to show the route to this new pub, but we didn't manage to find it, even after we asked several people where it was. We even used Google maps on my iPhone. You'd think it would be an easy matter. After a while we did land up outside the pub and it was busy. Well, I suppose it would, seeing how it was a hot Saturday and it was lunch-time. We found a table in a corner and began to look at the menu so we could order food. Carol chose burger and I chose what was called the Three Chicken Feast, which looked perfect for what I needed because, by now I was hungry. I went to the bar to order the food as well as two sugar-free Pepsis. It didn't take long for the food to arrive at our table. The only problem we had was that unfortunately we had chosen to sit at a table near the disabled toilet. Not nice being to close at the best of times, but people kept coming and going. You had to have a special key in order to use this facility.  But never mind, the food was good and it gave us a chance to just sit and relax. Anyway, regardless of all that, the food was good and plentiful. A good enough reason to choose to eat in a Wetherspoon's pub. Also, at a very reasonable price. From The Cordwainer we walked towards the Derngate Centre. We still had plenty of time to waste and walked past the Guildhall and, in a rather  nice shady courtyard next door to this Northampton Council building we saw a statue sitting on a bench. This seems the way to present statues of famous people these days, rather than having them on plinths and too high to be able to observe properly. On inspection, the statue turned out to be of the local Northamptonshire poet, John Clare. This gave us an opportunity for rest and relaxation and to take a couple of selfies with the statue. By now it was approaching 2 o'clock so we decided to walk the short distance to the Derngate Centre where we collected our tickets from the box office. We managed to find some seating in what was the entrance to the Royal Theatre until it was time to go into the auditorium and find our seats for the play which was going to start at 2.30.

A large audience. I think the house must have been around 85%-90%. A lot of children and parents with those children. Actually good to see so many children being taken to see a live show. I was quite surprised by how many had mobile phones on. You couldn't but notice because the screens on smartphones light up. Fortunately these appeared to be turned off as the lights in the auditorium went down and the play began. Directly in front of of was the sound and lighting operator's desk and you could see the computers that the operator used for both lighting and sound control for the performance.

The show utilised clever staging, with minimal scenery which could be changed rapidly to get from one scene to the next. Actors performed alongside puppets which were operated in full view of the audience. One, in particular, was an elephant that moved very convincingly even though it was operated by around five puppeteers. The girl who played the central character of Lily had to ride on the elephant, so those puppeteers must have been strong to support her. The show was aimed at children, as already mentioned, but it wasn't in the least bit sentimental or morkish. As much as I like puppets, I don't prescribe to the idea that they should be mainly for children. It's a bit like animation, which up until a few years ago was aimed almost entirely at an audience of around 5-10. It wasn't until the appearance of the Muppets on British television in the mid 1970's that it became obvious that puppetry could be aimed at a far older audience.

As I said, we enjoyed the show and then left the Derngate to walk back to the car and home. No doubt we'll be visiting the Derngate again to see another show in the not-too distant future.

Friday, May 26, 2017

10th Wedding Anniversary

Today is Carol and my 10th Wedding Anniversary. Not sure what stone, piece of metal or other material represents this anniversary. Apparently, after doing a search on Google, it's supposed to be tin or aluminium. So, what are we supposed to be given? A tin of baked beans or some cutlery made of aluminium? A set of steak knives? Kitchen spoons? Well, at least it's warm and sunny. Carol finishes school this afternoon as it's Half Term next week. We're booked to go to see a show at the Derngate in Northampton tomorrow. 'Running Wild.' This is a play that uses puppets and is based on a novel written by Michael Morpurgo. 'War Horse,' another of his books, was adapted by the National Theatre and has been a highly successful play which is currently touring the U.K.

It's yet another very warm day. I have had to go into Sainsbury's as I needed to order Carol a repeat prescription. I didn't have much in my trolley and was queuing at one of the checkouts when one of the staff came up to me and asked me if I wanted to use the self-service checkouts. I don't always use them as I'm always in favour of having a human on the check-out. I'm not over-keen on the voice you get on these computerised check-outs which keep shouting at you to do this or that and tell you that you've got an 'unrecognised item in bagging area' when you've haven't. Anyway, I was wheeled around to the self-service checkout area and this lady whisked my shopping through at break-neck speed. I had little time to draw breath. I think she was keen to get me out of the store. Then I couldn't find my Nectar card, to swipe it to get my points. This is a problem, as most stores seem to have some sort of loyalty card. We have quite a collection and they're kept in my wallet, along with my bank debit cards. So, the problem is, when you arrive at the checkout, wherever it might be, Tesco, Waitrose, Sainsbury's or even Costa, Waterstone's, Pets At Home etc etc., you have to scramble for your wallet and then ferret within it's confines to look for the relevant card. My wallet has space for a couple, but then the rest that aren't used that often get buried in another compartment. I have managed to download the apps that are supposed to correspond with the various loyalty cards but not all of them can be used in the same way as their plastic counterparts.

I had to drive home a slightly different way because I knew that along Saxon Street they are resurfacing the road. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Warm Weather

Well, it seems that summer has finally arrived. Yesterday was supposed to have been the warmest day of the year (so far) according to the weather forecast on BBC Breakfast this morning. It seems that it's likely to last for a few days more. I just hope it stays warm into next week as Carol is on Half Term and we're planning the usual days out, most likely visiting National Trust and H.H.A. properties (that's the Historic Houses Association.) We got new membership cards for both organisations and we want to explore some new places we haven't been to before.

Gary (our neighbour) came round yesterday evening. He had to nail a piece of timber onto the fence on our side. I'm not entirely sure what it was for, so I must go and have a look. Apparently the sections of what we imagined was another shed turns out to be a summerhouse, although we can't see where on earth it's going to fit in their garden as it's about the same size as ours so by the time it's constructed they'll have very little space left. He came to collect the loppers he lent me some while ago which I used to cut back the annoying branches which grow along the fence. Actually the same trees (for want of a better word) have come back so I'll have to have another go at cutting them with loppers I have since bought from B and Q. Gary has now managed to cut back the brambles from the roof of the shed. Carol was concerned that he was going to stand on the roof of the shed to do this work, but it wouldn't have been a good idea because the shed is in a very poor state of repair and I doubt it would take his weight. 

I have managed to cut the grass. I did around half of it yesterday morning as it was sunny and finished it off early this morning. Done well before 8 o'clock. I didn't want to spend any time next week mowing so that is why I did it this week.

Carol is doing visits to the pupils on work experience. I occasionally go with her. I can't believe it's a year ago since she was visiting pupils doing their out-of-school placements. There's one she has to visit this afternoon at Hobbycraft, which is across the city at Rooksley.

Alfie doesn't particularly like it when it's hot. He can never find a spot which is cool enough for him to lay down. I'm glad we had him clipped last week. He keeps moving around the house to find the coolest spot. I'm really glad I finished mowing the grass when I did because now it's far too hot (10.15 a.m.) .

Some confusion when we drove to Tesco in Oldbrook Boulevarde earlier this morning. There were traffic cones blocking off part of the road going towards Four Bridges Roundabout near Eaglestone and Saxon Street going into the city centre was closed. Lots of workmen in those luminous orange high-visability jackets and a large digital screen with the words 'Closed for 2 Days' on it. It would appear that the road surface along that stretch of Saxon Street is being re-surfaced. I can't say I'm annoyed that we had to take a detour to avoid this work, as the road surface has become really bad with potholes the entire length. I'm wondering which section will be next for the work.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Chest Pains

Incidentally, for those that know me. Don't be alarmed by this post. I am alright. Not in hospital or anything. Just my intention to journal everything that happens to me and this is part of that effort. I'm at home and fine as I write this. So, read on . . .

I've had a really annoying cough for the last couple of weeks. It's not connected to a cold, or anything else. I've been fine for the past couple of years.  No cold or anything similar. No flu, basically because I have a flu jab every year. I might have had a glitch as regards angina attacks, but they're under control. I was given isoborbide mononitrate by my doctor some while ago after I was rushed to hospital after a particularly bad angina attack that didn't go away. Those tablets do help relive the pain and act in the same way as the main ingredients of my G.T.N. spray.  In fact I have a couple which I keep handy. One lives more or less permanently on the bookshelf in the lounge and I have one in my bag for when we go swimming. I gave a few puffs under my tongue before swimming or if there's a chance of an attack, particularly if I need to exert myself which can bring on an angina attack. If I sit down for a couple of minutes the pain goes away. When the cough didn't go away I went to Boot's over at Westcroft and bought some linctus which helps relieve the cough. Carol did me a  hot lemon and honey drink which I had on Friday evening. But then I had a really bad attack. A really bad pain in my chest. It didn't go away, even with the G.T.N. spray. I have to admit that I did begin to panic. Usually these pains go off after about five minutes. Carol told me to just lay down on the bed and relax. I did this, but still the pain went on. I was reminded on how my heart attack began. I didn't realise that I was having a heart attack and thought that the pain I was experiencing was caused by indigestion. I know it sounds crazy, but heartburn and the feelings you have in your chest when you experience a heart attack are very similar. This time I took a couple of ranitide tablets, which are intended to relieve heartburn. It took several hours for the discomfort to go off, but I have to admit that while all this was going on, it was quite scary. I have done some research on the internet and found that I'm not the only person to find heartburn of this sort of intensity to panic somewhat. Heartburn isn't actually connected with your heart and is caused by acid or something.

Anyway, the heartburn gradually subsided. But it's not something that you want to ignore, particularly if it doesn't immediately go away. Would you delay calling 999 for an ambulance? It could always be a genuine heart attack and not just caused by a really bad dose of indigestion.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday Drive Through Woburn Park

We regularly drive to Woburn Abbey and go through the park, to have a look at the deer. Also, the road which leads into the estate has some really spectacular rhododendron bushes along it's sides. At this time of the year they are in full bloom. Unfortunately there are other drivers on the roads who aren't bothered about the scenic beauty of the countryside and would rather speed past. We had to drive right through the park and make a circuit of the countryside and then return, and were then held up by a lone cyclist, which was annoying, but it meant we could deliberately slow down so that I could take some photographs of these stunning blooms, but those cars which got caught behind us were not too pleased and honked their horns when we held them up. I feel so sorry for those motorists who have little patience for anyone else on the roads and won't tolerate a driver who is looking at the scenery.

Rhododendrons along road leading into Woburn Park

We got to the main junction in the centre of Woburn where there is usually a hold-up. Some sort of farmer's market on along the road-side. We sped on towards Woburn Sands and visited Frost's garden centre where we had lattes in their café. As I've probably mentioned before, they've recently upgraded this garden centre and have improved the restaurant and the area we had our coffees is a new outlet. We bought bread and a cauliflower in the food hall and then a further brief wander around, browsing some of the items on sale, including the Weird Fish clothing concession and then home to Milton Keynes. 

Saturday Morning Outing to Castle Ashby

It's been an odd sort of couple of weeks on the weather front. Sunny one minute and then raining the next. Carol's health has been all over the place too. We wanted to get out of the house because 'Next Door' were threatening to assault our ears once more with a barrage of hammering and other assorted sounds. We wanted to take Alfie out as he loves going with us and, after going on-line and looking at there website, found that Castle Ashby allowed dogs on their estate. Something which many of the properties we visit don't allow. It's also a relatively short drive there, through Olney and between Bedford and Northampton. I've driven past on countless occasions but have never visited. Although I did work on a promotional video that was made there years ago but it wasn't a time to go exploring the gardens and surroundings.

The turning off the main A428 road leads towards Castle Ashby. Some really beautiful scenery as we drove along.  You have to drive over some cattle grids and the parkland through which you drive is dotted with sheep. Soon we reached the estate and parked near the Walled Garden. We payed for entry. We are members of the H.H.A. (Historic Houses Association) and would have got free entry but it would seem this property is no longer part of this scheme. The actual property might still be H.H.A. members, but may just not allow free entry. We got Alfie out of the car, with him making his customary loud barking, more likely for the exhilaration of being able to come with us. Usually we have to leave him behind at home, but since loosing our other dog, Poppy, it seems a bit unfair to leave him at home as he doesn't like being on his own. We encountered quite a few other people with their dogs as we walked around the gardens. All very friendly and it's good for Alfie to socialise with other dogs. At one point we were able to let him off his lead and he could run and explore.

Frontage of Castle Ashby House

We walked along beside the lake and admired the view. The gardens are beautifully kept and must take a lot of work from a very dedicated team of gardeners to keep it looking so amazing. 

Italianate Garden at Castle Ashby

We walked past the menagerie, but couldn't go in because we had Alfie with us, but will have to make a return visit at some stage in the near future when he's not with us, because there are some animals in there we'd like to see.

We got back to the walled garden area and had lattes and sandwiches from the café, all beautifully presented and delivered to our table outside. The weather didn't manage to stay dry because we had to endure a slight drizzle as we walked around the grounds. We will make a further visit at some stage in the future because it's not a long journey from Milton Keynes.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Alfie Has His Hair Cut

I'd had Alfie booked to go to the groomer's at Pets At Home for about a month. Luckily it had been a really mild and warm day. Infact, it must have been the warmest day so far this year. Being able to get his cage loaded into the back of the car was my main aim early in the morning. I had to make sure he was safely installed in the kitchen first, with the door closed. Any hint of a noise and he'd start yapping. But fortunately he wasn't aware of what I had planned. By about 11.30 I was almost ready to drive over to Bletchley and had to get him on his lead without him having an idea I was about to take him out. A few minutes later and I'd got him ready to go. He had got an idea what I was about to do and began the usual noise. He's just too sharp for me.

I got parked in a convenient spot near Pets At Home and got him out of the car. As usual, all and sundry would have heard that Alfie had arrived. We went in through the Pets At Home store as the Grooming Room is at the back of the building. The lady on reception filled in a form because you have to give your details as to how you want your dog to be groomed. Alfie had quite a lot of knots in his coat as well as some nasty bits under his eyes which needed removing. It seems most dogs get these bits on their faces. We had tried to remove them ourselves but he doesn't like you even attempting. The same with any knots in his coat. He isn't too keen if you try to comb or brush his coat. I think it's probably because it can hurt if you get the comb caught in a knot and it pulls.

I had to spend the next two hours kicking my heels. It didn't seem much point going home, even though it's not that far. I had a refreshment break at Gregg's, as there is a handy branch only a few doors away from Pets At Home. I bought a baguette a drink and some crisps and sat outside at a conveniently placed table. Other people had the idea, no doubt people having their lunch break from work. A couple of starlings came and pinched bits of food that got dropped, and in particular very brave and friendly starling. I managed to get some photos of this little bird on my iPhone.

The friendly starling I had pleasure of seeing at Gregg's

These are such colourful little birds that always congregate where they know there'll be scraps of food. I don't think the other customers of Gregg's were quite as tolerant of them as I was. This one was jumping on spare tables and chairs but eventually flew away when he realised he wasn't going to get anything more to eat.

I had to buy some things for Carol. She likes Nestlé's coffees in sachets that you make up with hot water. Specifically vanilla lattes. There is a Tesco's only a short walk away from where I had parked the car, so I went over and bought these packets. I went back to sit in the car for a while and then browsed in T.K. Maax. It was surprising how quickly the two hours passed. I wasn't going back to Pets At Home too early because I wanted to keep away from the grooming parlour because I knew that if Alfie saw me he would only start making loud barking and yapping noises and it would be difficult for the groomer to do her job properly. 

When I eventually walked through the door in the grooming parlour, I didn't immediately see Alfie. I had a word with the lady who had been grooming him. There was absolutely no sound from Alfie either. He had been a good boy, although he hadn't appreciated being bathed. No surprise, as he doesn't enjoy being bathed, or getting wet! Unlike Poppy, who would dive into the nearest stretch of water whenever she was given the opportunity, and not always at the most convenient. Usually it was freezing cold, muddy and most usually smelly!

Then Alfie was brought in to the reception area. He began barking wildly when he saw me and ran about as he has a tendency to do. He looked so different, clipped really short! Almost a new and completely different dog, having had a long wavy coat for so long. It makes him looks so much better when he's clipped. At least he'll be ready to face the summer months. No more tangles, his face is looking particularly fresh. He can see better without those clumps of hair in the way of his eyes and those nasty black lumps under his eyes are gone. He would never let us deal with those unpleasant bits and where they were are rather red and raw but they should clear up. I paid what was owed and then we went home. I was surprised how quiet Alfie was when he was in the cage in the back of the car as he usually makes little yapping sounds when we're driving anywhere and he's in the car with us.

Alfie, taken on my iPhone. He was rushing around barking and it was difficult to get a decent shot but this was the best shot out of around half a dozen I managed to take of him showing how much was trimmed off by the groomer. I think, if you compare this with earlier photos of him before he was trimmed, I think you'll agree he looks much better.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

More on Television Drama

There seems to be a great deal of really good television drama on at the moment. It's odd how such things come in such quantities. It's the same in the world of literature. There seem to also be quite a lot of excellent written literature, novels in particular. You only have to go into a branch of Waterstone's and look at the tables piled high with the latest offerings to find this (I've a particular penchant for reading and try and keep me out of a book shop, particularly a branch of Waterstone's, and it's quite a difficult job for me to resist. Also, Waterstone's often has a 'Buy one, get one half price' or 'buy two and get one free' or similar enticements, so it's not difficult to stock up on the latest releases.) As regards television drama, we have new series of 'Grantchester,' 'The Durrells', as well as 
endless American imports on Sky.

'The Durrells' is part-way through the second series. It's based loosely on Gerald Durrell's memoirs of life on the Greek island of Corfu during the 1930's. I read the first of his 'Corfu Trilogy,' 'My Family and Other Animals' when I was in my teens. I managed to buy a second-hand copy at Cardington Church Fetë and enjoyed it immensely. As a result I went on to read many of his other books, 'Bafut Beagles,' 'Three Singles To Adventure,' 'Catch Me A Colobus,' 'The Overloaded Art' and 'Fillets of Plaice.' The first Corfu boo, 'My Family and Other Animals' has been adapted twice before, the first time on BBC1 and had Hannah Gordon as Mrs Durrell and Brian Blessed as Spiro. Having been on I.M.D.B., I have discovered that an actor I worked with when I was D.S.M. at Ipswich Theatre in the 1970's, Christopher Godwin, played Theo, who attempted to tutor the young Gerry. I don't recall watching this series as I believe at the time I was working on a Saturday and wouldn't have been able to see it and it was well before the advent of video recording. They seemed to have opened the narrative out a good deal, which I suppose they would need to if they were going to develop into more than one series. No doubt I.T.V. will want it to run for far more than two series. I believe that they've already commissioned a third series, so it's no doubt going to run for at least four or five series. The books are 'fictionalised' according to what I've been discovering on the internet. I imagine it would be, if Gerald Durrell was writing from the perspective of around 20-30 years after the events of the 1930's so you would think he'd be writing from memory, that is, if he didn't have a diary which he kept at the time. That book is therefore written from the view-point of a child of about 9-10 so certain things would not be included because he would't understand or not be aware of some incidents. So, we also get more on his other family members, such as Margo, Leslie and Lawrence. It's very well done and has a certain charm and makes a change from police procedurals, hospitals and soap-opera. Not too demanding and it has some amusing moments. If I have a gripe, it's that Keeley Hawkes, who plays Mrs Durrell, seems far too young to have had three children who seem far too grown up. She's supposed to be over 50, but doesn't look much more than in her mid 30's or 40's. I'm not sure how old Larry is supposed to be, but he looks about thirty himself. In reality I suppose he would be 23-24. I may be wrong, but it's an odd bit of casting.

I have been watching the current series of 'Doctor Who.' (I have written extensively on the subject of this show in an earlier blog post.) But, from what I've been seeing, the episodes have been a vast improvement on previous series. They seem to have returned to the original format in some ways and gone for far better plots with more action and less playing about with the audience. A good amount of scares, but most of all, not really children's material. Some of it would definitely give children of a 'certain age' nightmares. A lot to think about and having more of a deeper meaning, a subtext if you like. I do like Peter Capaldi as he has given his doctor an edge. The character always had a darker side to him, particularly the original version as played by William Hartnell. He could shift between light and then become dark at a moment's notice. Almost as if he had a split personality. It's a shame that Capaldi is leaving the show as he has really bedded in well. So, who is going to take over? Why are they leaving it so late to announce who has been cast? I suspect it's to keep the audience guessing, to keep things alive until the last minute. I do rather object to having so much revealed about future episodes. Why do they insist on giving us so many details about monsters, stories and other bits and pieces? It just spoils things if you know in advance what's going to happen. I must say, a lot of the 'Doctor Who' stories can be a bit similar, but I suppose that's to be expected. It just annoys me when the 'monster' turns out to be not as nasty as it first appears. Just doesn't make sense. Making the Daleks or the Cybermen, who've been appearing in the series since it's beginning in 1963, would be so incredibly pointless. No sort of reason to make them appear they have a 'nice' side, no reason to have them defeated. Just goes against the grain.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Mixed Weather

It was a strange sort of weekend on the weather-front. It started out rather unsettled, rather over-cast, but by Sunday late afternoon it was quite sunny and warm. We didn't have to endure next door's D.I.Y. sounds. Whatever they were up to out there in their garden didn't make any sort of sound. Glimpsing from our bedroom window it looks a bit like a builder's yard with a pile of bricks in one corner and on the roof of their shed an up-turned wheelbarrow. Carol said, had I noticed the new shed? I replied, 'what shed?' There could hardly be room for another? The garden is about the same size as ours, around 15X25 feet at the most. Then she pointed out that there were sections of shed leant up against the lean-to near the house. I could see it when I had another look. Where on earth are they going to re-assemble it? There is hardly enough space. They have been putting down blocks to form a sort of patio area on one side and the remaining space is grass. Or is it turf? It must be turf, because how could grass seed suddenly sprout so quickly, and the other morning I saw a large lorry at the front of our house (it blocked us in completely) which has 'turf' written on it's side. It was one of those large flat-bed lorries which has it's own lift system built in, which would be used to unload whatever material it carried, in this case, turf. So I imagine this turf (it can't have been a particularly large amount, considering the small space left in their garden next door) was unloaded at some point in the day and which I didn't see. I just hope we don't have to endure more sounds next weekend. We were hoping for rain, so that they couldn't do any more work and spare us the constant noises. They have been laying more of the bricks for their patio/terrace (whatever you want to call it, I don't know.) The next thing well know, they have re-created Stowe Landscape Gardens with follies and lakes. Yes, that would be the last thing they'd have, a water feature, a fountain or something that makes a trickling sound. Plenty to choose from at any number of garden centres around Milton Keynes, such as Frost's or Wyevale in Woburn Sands or Dobbie's at Fenny Stratford.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

And Even More Roadworks

Carol has been off work for two days with 'flu. She has hardly been able to speak. I had to go to Boot's in the centre of Milton Keynes to get Sudafed tablets. You can only buy them 'over the counter' so it was necessary to go to a pharmacy and I knew that Boots would have them in stock. I knew if I was going to park near the main shopping centre I would need change for the machine, so I went to the Eaglestone shop, but, when I arrived at the carpark I couldn't park because it was totally full. I presumed that there must be something going on at the primary school nearby. Perhaps there was something on which meant parents were involved, some sort of performance or assembly, a prize-giving ceremony, which would account for the carpark being full. I thought to then go to the shop at Garraways in Coffee Hall, which is the next grid over from Eaglestone. It meant driving around via Saxon Street. On arriving in Coffee Hall all the roads were clogged up with more cars. Being a Friday, I was aware that the mosque on the corner of Lloyd's, the road into Coffee Hall was busy with people arriving (Friday being their holy day of prayer.) To be honest, I'd seen this building being erected, but wasn't aware that it was a mosque. Anyway, the roads in and around the area were heaving with people coming and going and you wouldn't have found a parking space if you'd wanted to. I managed to get to the One Stop shop in Garraways without too much trouble and then went in to buy some sweets so I'd have change for parking. Then I found that Saxon Street, from the Four Bridges roundabout near Eaglestone was closed off. I think because they were going to resurface the road. About time, because of the potholes, so I shouldn't really complain. It meant I would have to change my route into the city centre so drove towards Marlborough Street, only to find that other drivers had decided to change their route, as there was a considerable queue of cars approaching the roundabout.

I had intended parking where I usually park, near The Point (or what remains of this once-iconic building. It's been left in a more or less derelict state for a good many years. The Odeon cinema which was part of the complex was the first multiplex cinema complex in Britain when it was opened several decades ago. They've since built a new complex near the MK Stadium, which we have visited several times.) Due to the fact that I'd had to approach the city centre from Marlborough Street, I somehow came along Saxon Gate in the wrong lane and couldn't get into the usual carpark so I ended up parking close to the XScape. £1 for an hour, so I had to make sure I was done in the shopping centre before the hour was up. The centre was strangely busy for a Friday. It was also near enough lunchtime, so perhaps people were there during their lunch break. I could think of no other reason for it to be so crowded. I went to Boots and had to queue at the prescription counter. I wanted to get a spare G.T.N. spray and bought one here a few months ago and found it to be a good deal cheaper than elsewhere. I got one in Cox and Robinson some while back and it was one that had an unpleasant taste. If you don't know, these are sprays that you use if you get an angina attack. You spray it under your tongue and it reduces the chest pain by widening your arteries. It does work, but it can make you feel very light headed and can cause a headache. It generally goes off after a few minutes. I use one before we go swimming or if we're going to do a lot of walking or anything somewhat strenuous. I've no intention of letting an angina attack stop me doing anything, so I wanted one as a spare to put in my gym bag. I had one ordered with my repeat prescription but it wouldn't be ready until Saturday morning when we would go to Sainsbury's to pick up the prescription which I'd ordered last week. It seemed to take the lady assistant some while to find the G.T.N. spray on the computer system. But she found it and I purchased the Sudafed for Carol.

I'd been into town a few days previously (remember I'd gone out because of the annoying noise from next door.) I'd gone into The Works for a browse. I love their shops. Books going at very reasonable prices. I'd seen some colouring books (seems like a craze that's really caught on recently) and saw one using Gustav Klimt's paintings as models for colouring and thought that Carol would appreciate this. I also found several books in the 'history' section, one on Waterloo and another, written by Ruth Goodman, who does a lot of television documentaries on various aspects of history. This one entitled 'How To Be A Tudor.' Well worth having at about a third of their normal price. I've bought quite a few books in The Works, and as they now have a loyalty card, you get points which you can use against future purchases.

Time was ticking on. I walked back to the car, with about 15 minutes left on the parking ticket. I next went to Sainsbury's as I needed to get bread which we'd have for our lunch. Another detour caused by the roadworks along Saxon Street.

Saturday morning.

We didn't get up that early this morning. Carol's cold/flu is beginning to abate, thankfully. The Sedated seems to be doing it's job. It makes you sleep well and you have to be careful that, if you feel drowsy to not drive a car.

We went into Sainsbury's. Saxon Street was open to traffic. The large pothole that you had to avoid when you drove along this stretch of road is now repaired. I'm not sure what else is due for repair. They have also been mowing the grass along the side of the grid roads. I managed to mow the grass at the back of our house. Not over-eager to do it, but it only takes around 20 minutes. I did it on Monday morning.

The sky is threatening rain. Dark rain-clouds hang over the city. We actually want it to rain because we don't want the noise to continue from next door's garden. You can see the work they've been doing, laying a patio, from our bedroom window. The rest of the garden looks like a building site.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Roadworks and Repairs

I'd been to Morrison's at Elder Gate in Milton Keynes yesterday morning. When I came back I came through the Four Bridges roundabout near Eaglestone and noticed that there were traffic cones around Chaffron Way. It was only when I swung round into Saxon Street that I noticed a vast puddle of water. It seems there is a leak in the water system on a regular basis at that point. You need to slow down when approaching as it can be quite dangerous and you risk going into a sort of aqua-plane which might mean you would swerve across the road. There was a car on my tail. It was too close for comfort.  There is a bus stop within yards of the roundabout and you have to be careful if there is a bus pulled in to disgorge passengers or pick some up. It's a good idea to wait to see if the bus is going to pull out into the road again as it draws away. The car behind me was eager to speed on past, expecting me to do the same without heeding the bus. It is actually a 40 M.P.H. zone along that stretch of road, but I don't think some people realise this. There has been a digital display set up at the side of the road which warns you to 'Slow Down,' and you get a smiley face if you are obeying the correct speed. At the moment this device has been removed, but the pole it is fitted to is still in place. Yesterday when I came back from Sainsbury's I couldn't drive onto the slip road which is on the left-hand side of the road. It was blocked by a string of orange cones. On the way out I saw a lorry parked in Harrier Drive which had lengths of metal of some sort on the back. On closer inspection I noticed they were lamp posts. I think the workmen are replacing the lamp posts along Saxon Street. I have an idea they are putting in more efficient L.E.D. lamps.

There's paint around some of the worst potholes around Eaglestone.  Is it a sign that the Council intends reparing these holes? But are they going to deal with some of the really bad holes, particularly as you come into the estate from Saxon Street? Also, going around Golden Drive, there are some really bad holes, especially the speed bumps. Is it a wonder that we have to spend out a considerable amount having the suspension on the car fixed so many times? It may be fine in the summer months, but come the winter, when there is frost on the ground, when ice gets into these crevices in the road-surface. As it expands, it breaks up the road surface even more, and gets worse as the winter progresses, freeze/thaw, until the road surface just disintegrates. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Booking Theatre Tickets

On the 26th of May Carol and I will celebrate our 10th Wedding Anniversary. We've been searching for a theatre production to see near enough to the actual day and have chosen to go and see a show at the Derngate Centre in Northampton, called "Running Wld." It's based on a Michael Morpurgo book, the same author who wrote the book "War Horse," which was adapted for a production at the National Theatre with great critical acclaim and which is still touring. We've yet to see that. With my background in theatre, and, in particular, puppetry, these shows seem very appropriate.

We thought it would be easier to book on line, so we went on the Royal and Derngate website. It should be a relatively easy process to find the relevant day we wanted to go, a Saturday, so a matinee performance. Easy enough to find. Then we had to register to use the website. It was simple enough and then we found for some reason it wouldn't accept our address. Several more attempts, changing the password needed to book tickets. It just would not work and I tried on Tuesday morning again (yesterday) with no success. By now it was getting annoying and frustrating.  On Monday we'd even attempted to ring their box office telephone number but it was closed (odd, considering it was a performance day and you would imagine it would be open up until 'curtain-up' time for whatever shows were on that day. As there are two auditoria at the Royal/Derngate there would be two shows running together with a small cinema which is within the centre. But it was not operating, so further annoyance.

So yesterday evening, when Carol got home, we rang the box office again. This time, after a bit of a wait, I managed to get through and booked two tickets as planned.

I have a particularly special love of the Royal in Northampton,  there long before the Derngate was opened, which is next door and now part of the same complex. I think it was here I got my interest and love for theatre. In 1968 I had been on an A Level course at Mander College in Bedford and was supposed to go to Bristol University to do a drama course. I had originally intended getting into television to do Floor Management, but my results on the two A Level courses (or, at least, the 'mocks'.) were not very good so I changed my direction by approaching regional theatres (or 'repertory' or 'reps.') to start off as a Student A.S.M. I wrote to as many theatres as I could (using 'Contacts,' the directory of theatre and associated industries in the theatre, television and film world.) and got interviews at, amongst others, Northampton Royal Theatre and Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham. I had an interview at Northampton but the Everyman post I was offered began well before that at Northampton, so I began off working at Cheltenham on the 16th February, 1969, thrown in at the deep-end on the technical rehearsal of a production of 'Jane Eyre.'

Yesterday I just had to get out of the house. The constant 'tap-tap-tap' and 'bang-bang-bang!' coming from next door's garden was beginning to really get on my nerves. They've been doing more work on their tiling since Saturday. I couldn't believe this was going to continue into the week. So I went into the centre of Milton Keynes and spent a good hour in the main shopping centre. Having parked where i usually park, near The Point (it's beginning to get really dilapidated and tatty. It might be closed, but the site is a real eye-sore.) I couldn't walk straight into the shopping centre because the road and paved area around that side of the shopping centre was blocked off with temporary fencing, because workmen were ripping up the old pavings and re-paving this area. I have to say it was beginning to look really shabby so it's a good thing they've decided to redevelop all this. I don't think it's been renovated since this area was built in the late 1970's. Several shops within the shopping centre have re-located. W.H.Smith have moved into a smaller unit and H.M.V. has now done the same. They probably realise that they don't need such big units. Neither now don't have a second floor. I suppose Smith's would not need so much space because they don't have a record department. Likewise, H.M.V. just don't have the selection that they once had. It's mainly D.V.D's. I imagine all this is down to being able to download music from sites such as iTunes. With Sky you can download films onto your Sky + or Sky Q box and therefore don't require a disc although you can buy and keep both downloads and then be sent a D.V.D. copy of the latest film releases.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Ospreys At Rutland Water

Last weekend we had intended visiting Rutland Water. We had done some research on the internet and decided it would be the ideal place to visit, but it would need to be reasonably dry because most of the activities, or indeed, all of the activities to be found there were outside and it was no good if it was pouring with rain. Also, it seemed just the right place to go with Alfie and he was in need of an outdoor activity which included a good walk. As it turned out the weather was unsettled so we didn't go. But this weekend we needed to get out of the house because 'next-door' were continuing with their D.I.Y. activities which included hammering relentlessly. Enough to drive anyone to distraction and it didn't seem it would end any time soon, so we went for the idea of visiting Rutland Water.

We set up the SatNav and trusted that it would get us to Rutland Water without too much bother (we call it a 'she' as it has a female voice. We call her Dora, after 'Dora The Explorer.') We would have expected to drive up the A1 and then cross towards the A1 via the A14 but we were taken across towards Bedford and then on along the bypass to the Black Cat Roundabout on the A1 and then streight up to around Stamford and Oakham. It was a relatively easy journey. When we arrived at Rutland Water we went into one of the carparks (Sykes Lane) but realised soon that it wasn't where we wanted to be as we wanted to visit the bird-watching site. Then we drove to Egleton and eventually ended up at Manton where the birdwatching site and reserve is situated. As we wanted to have a chance of seeing the ospreys and other birds and have access to the hides along the shore we had to buy permits. I was reluctant to part with any cash at first, but I was brought round when I realised that the people who run the place had done a very good job of not only landscaping the area, and providing good paths and fencing, the cost of the entry is well worth it. The reserve is managed by the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust in association with Anglian Water who built the reservoir in the late 1970's. i remember driving up to the area with my parents to see this mammoth building project being constructed and then returning to see it being filled with water, probably in 1975-76. It's a huge area of water but considering it's a man-made structure seems very natural and seems to fit into the spectacular landscape extremely well.

The weather wasn't too kind when we first arrived, with some slight rain, but, fortunately, it eased off and we had some pleasant weather, some sunshine but not too warm.

We walked along the south shore. Quite a pleasant walk. There was a choice of two paths, one nearer the water's edge and the other, a lot higher up, with a gravel surface. We could see someone in a wheelchair further along and it did seem a better path if you were in a wheelchair, pushing a child in a  buggy or other wheeled contraption, but the lower path which we were on, wasn't really suitable for wheeled vehicles of any sort. Unfortunately we soon discovered that there were a lot of gnats or other unpleasant insects hanging in the air in vast clouds which we had to swat away as we walked along. We came to one hide but, on sitting inside and peering out through the openings we could see no sign of any birds or other wildlife. Perhaps if we'd had our own field glasses or binoculars we'd probably have had a chance of seeing something. We didn't stay in the hide too long.

We re-joined the path. We had the choice of following two paths. One signpost said 'This way to tufted duck.' I forget what the other said. I was intrigued to see a tufted duck. Well, let's be honest, what would you expect one to look like? Then we came upon yet another hide. Was this the spot to view the ever-elusive species? The intriguingly-named tufted duck? On going inside we did look through the viewing holes but no sign of any sort of bird, let along a tufted duck. We gave up. Perhaps you have to be a good deal more patient if you're to become a very active bird-watcher. We walked on and found a far larger hide. On entering we were surprised to find a crowd of people, all very earnest, although very knowledgeable and friendly. There was a television monitor set up at one end which was showing pictures of birds on a nest, being streamed live from a web-cam. It turned out to be ospreys. We were also able to actually view these birds through telescopes and on looking through these devices saw these birds, a female on a nest and another a male perched on a tree in the water a good half-mile away. Apparently Rutland Water is an important site for birds and is the first place in the British Isles where ospreys have bred in something like 150 years. We were told that if we came back in a couple of months we might see some osprey chicks because the female was supposed to be incubating some eggs in the nest. I hope we might be able to see some of the birds 'in the flesh' and not on either a video screen or through a telescope lens, but even seeing them like that was something of a thrill. We have many pairs of red kites flying around in the Chilterns, particularly where we go at West Wycombe, as these beautiful birds have been re-introduced in that area.

We walked back towards the visitor centre. It seemed a good deal further back than it was when we began our walk out along the shore-line.

For some strange reason, the SatNav directed us back home a different way to the route we took from Milton Keynes. You would imagine that it would use the route we took to get to Rutland Water. It just seems so strange. I just don't see the logic of the thing. But, after all, it is still a computerised gadget and not human.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Rest of Fence Replaced

I had to drive to Sainsbury's early yesterday morning for some shopping that we needed. On the way along Saxon Street I noticed that the major pothole which is just one of many in and around the Eaglestone area, and which it's quite difficult and dangerous to avoid in order to not damage the car, has now been marked with green paint. No doubt the Council has actually admitted that it's a major problem and will no doubt, in due course, get round to repairing it. I'm fairly certain that the state of the roads in and around Milton Keynes have had a detrimental effect on our car which meant we had to have certain parts replaced at great cost, namely, the coil springs, which would be made to deteriorate gradually as a result of having to drive over not just potholes, but speed bumps, a number of which are in and around Eaglestone. It wouldn't be just my vehicle that has been effected, but probably quite a few other drivers' vehicles who also use the road system around Milton Keynes.

Gary began working on replacing the fence that separates our garden from his. The work began mid-morning and went on for the rest of the afternoon, which meant I had to close the lounge curtains as I had the second Better Together session beginning at 2.30. A vast improvement on what was there before. I'm surprised the old bit of fence survived the winter and looking at it after it was removed, just a crumbling, rotting disaster. It was rickety, to say the least, and a gale, such as we had a couple of winters ago and which blew out the fence the opposite side of the garden (and which was replaced by Council workers, because  the house on that side is owned by the Council) might have destroyed it completely. 

Having now got myself an iPhone, we have now ordered one for Carol. We had a telephone call from Sky, as we are already Sky customers. They have recently added mobile phones to their expanding portfolio. It only seemed a question of time before this was done. We ordered another iPhone 5 (similar to mine) and it comes with a SIM card and you get a rolling data contract, which means that you don't loose your data at the end of a month and goes on to the next. It's for a 30-month contract and the payment is added to our Sky bill, which now means we don't have to buy top-up credit each month, which is simpler in the long run and probably cheaper. You also get the option to up-grade your mobile when a new model comes out and send the old one back when they are offered. The whole process of setting it up and ordering was done very efficiently by the lady on the telephone and the mobile is expected to arrive by courier sometime this morning. I have to say, even though the iPhone is a good deal more expensive than other mobiles, it is a good mobile and works as you would hope. It makes the Samsung Galaxy mobile i had seem fairly feeble by comparison. Much faster and more 'user-friendly' which is what you'd expect from an Apple product.

Some time later

I knew vaguely when the iPhone was going to be delivered. Sky very conveniently emailed me to say that it would be delivered by the courier company D.P.D., and with modern technology it was possible to 'track' the parcel from it's journey from the company depot in Raunds, near Wellingborough and if you put the consignment number in their website you could even see a photograph of the driver. (Looked a bit grumpy to me. Why couldn't he smile?) Using Google maps it was even possible to have a vague idea when the van was and at one point it showed up as being approximately 30 minutes from our house. I expect it's linked to G.P.S. and SatNav technology and when a parcel is signed for, using a touch-screen keypad device, a signal is sent to a computer system that tracks the parcel. I was also given an indication that the parcel would be delivered between 9.50-10.50. In the end it arrived at around 10.20 so I wasn't at all surprised when the very distinctive van drew up outside the house and the driver walked up the path to the front door and I was waiting with the door open. You then have to show some photographic identity (in this case my Driving Licence) and he handed over the parcel. Delivery completed when I signed the digital screen on the device I was handed.

It's another warm and sunny day today. Just hope it remains this sunny for the weekend and we don't suddenly get a downpour when we want to go out for the day.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

May Bank Holiday and Milton Keynes Marathon

May Bank Holiday Monday. Why is it that 1st May is a Bank Holiday in Great Britain? It never used to be such, although I recall the May Day celebrations in Ickwell, a village in Bedfordshire, not too far from where I used to live in Cardington, where they had (and no doubt, still have) a May Day Festival, with dancing around the Mayple, which is on the village green. Having now Googled the subject, yes, the Mayday celebrations do still happen, with dancing around the maypole and the crowning of a May Queen. It's been going on virtually uninterrupted since the time of the Tudors, but it was banned by Oliver Cromwell during the Commonwealth (miserable old so and so.) but reintroduced when Charles II became king after the Restoration.

So, we get a day off. Doesn't bother me one way or another, as I'm now retired, but I know Carol needs a rest from her efforts, working as a science teacher at Milton Keynes Academy.

After the last Milton Keynes Marathon a few months ago, when the route went past our house in Eaglestone (which meant we were locked in for a couple of hours and couldn't get out) and I vaguely mentioned the fact on one of my posts on this blog, it seemed to upset someone or other connected with this event. It seems you're not supposed to have an a opinion unless it's that of the mass. So much for the idea of the good old British thing called 'Free Speech' or 'Freedom of Expression.' I dared to suggest that the route went along the nearby Redway (only a few yards away.) It was almost as if I'd made some obscene remark, the reaction it caused.

On Sunday we were lead to believe that there was to be a marathon and that we'd be locked in to Eaglestone for several hours whilst this event took place. We saw the yellow signs along some of the Gridroads near Eaglestone, and, as a result, we wouldn't be able to drive to M.K.C.C. for either of the three services. As I'm involved in Better Together (see previous post.) I wanted to make sure I heard the message delivered. But I managed to be able to see this as services are broadcast 'live' via the internet and YouTube, which we can see through our SkyQ box. As it turned out we didn't have any runners come past our house, so whether the marathon (full, half or whatever) actually was diverted away from Eaglestone, I don't know. But on Monday (today) we weren't certain what was going on. We certainly didn't want to be stuck indoors and wanted to get out somewhere. It was a rather undecided day on the weather-front, but mostly it was sunny, although there was some rain during the day. We had talked about a trip to Rutland Water and we were considering taking Alfie. It doesn't take much to encourage him to go out with us and a walk around that stretch of water would have been good for all of us. I have visited before and it's certainly a good place to go to and plenty to attract attention. But then we changed our minds and decided on going to Bicester Avenue, a retail outlet and garden centre. It's very near Bicester Village and a good 40-minute drive just beyond Buckingham. We got away from Milton Keynes before the marathon began and intended getting back home after it finished.

So, we drove out of Milton Keynes and made for Bicester. On arrival at the retail park we had a stroll around the various shops and eventually went into the Wyevale Garden Centre there which is the central largest outlet within Bicester Avenue. We had coffee and scones and then looked around the plants and some of the bird-feeding paraphernalia on sale there with the eventual intention of adding to our bird feeder we already have set up in the garden at home.

We browsed in several of the other shops at Bicester Avenue, one being a pet shop where we actually managed to find Alfie another 'sound' toy (if you read earlier posts regarding the difficulty we've had finding a replacement for the Comic Relief 'laughing ball' which he loves so much, then you'll realise how great it was to find this toy. Actually we bought '2 for £5', which made it doubly great.) Then, into the Cotton Traders shop. We have bought quite a few items of clothing from this company, and get their catalogue in the post. From there, back to the car and home. The traffic going into Bicester was very heavy. Most seemed going to Bicester Outlet Village, another destination we've visited on various occasions, and then back towards Buckingham and Milton Keynes. As we approached Buckingham, the heavens opened and there was quite a rain storm. It didn't last long, but it's as well we didn't go to Rutland Water because we heard on the car radio that there were traffic hold-ups in and around that area, so we might have found ourselves held up on either the M1 or the A1 either outward bound or returning. We had intended visiting Aldi in Buckingham, which has a branch on the road going into Buckingham, but for some reason we couldn't find the exit and must have gone past, but then made the decision to visit the Aldi at Westcroft where we usually shop. The traffic was excessively heavy on the approach to Milton Keynes and, having done some basic shopping in Aldi for the evening's meal, drove home with the simple idea that the marathon had come to an end. How wrong could we be. The roads were chocker-block with very long queues of cars and we couldn't go towards Eaglestone along Chaffron Way and had to turn right along Grafton Street and then onto Standing Way. Completely grid-locked and it took a good deal longer to eventually get into Saxon Street, which by then had been opened up. Runners still running along some of the Redway system as we eventually drove into Eaglestone and home.