Friday, 31 August 2012

Clint Eastwood's speech

I awoke this morning to being told that Clint Eastwood had given a speech at the Republican National Convention. I had read yesterday that he was the most likely candidate for the "surprise speaker", so I wasn't at all shocked to hear that he had spoken at the convention. What I didn't expect to hear was that his speech was bizarre; I took the time to watch all twelve minutes of Eastwood's speech and found myself cringing for most of the way through it. Besides being bizarre, I found it disappointing and upsetting.

Normally, I would have found the content in his speech offensive and it would have angered me; I certainly don't condone anything that he said (I am beyond tired of blatant disrespect/outright rudeness directed at President Barack Obama - there is a difference between legitimate criticism and pure insult, and that applies to any politician of any political party), but in his case it was difficult for me to be angry: for one thing, his entire demeanor came across as tired, worn-out and somewhat incoherent, which I found sad because I've always observed Eastwood to be highly energetic and comprehensible with a fine speaking voice. I appreciate that he is elderly and doesn't have the stamina he once had, but even so, seeing him that way was awful. Then he started arguing with/talking to an "invisible" (pretend) Obama, and again, under other circumstances what he said would have made me furious, but it was hard for me to feel anything but sympathy for him as he talked to a person who wasn't there and appeared to have difficulty in his delivery.

In regards to his actual content, I didn't ever expect Eastwood to stoop to the level of being blatantly disrespectful towards President Obama. I knew he wasn't a supporter and wasn't going to vote for the president, but until that point I had always witnessed him being reasonable in his praise or criticism of other people: I didn't think he'd say the things he said in that speech. If Eastwood had just made a few nice comments about the Republican nominee and given some fair and polite criticism to Obama I wouldn't have thought anything more about it and wouldn't be writing this post, but the sheer disrespect he displayed in his speech was extremely disappointing and the sort of behavior I figured he was above. I really am not sure what Eastwood was trying to achieve with his speech; it was completely out of character for him.

Looking at the news, I'm not the only one both disappointed and/or upset by Eastwood's performance, and there are people on all sides of the political spectrum who share my feelings. I'll be interested in Eastwood's follow-up, if he does one.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Writing a speech

My blogging has been affected for the past few days because I have been thinking about and working on a speech (it is related to the photo book), and am suffering an extended period of writer's block (so annoying!). This speech will be the first one I've written that is independent from the dialogue of a character in one of my past writing projects; by extension, it will also be the first speech I have ever delivered.

It won't be very long piece, roughly a page in length translating to about a minute and a half when said aloud. I can't go into a significant amount of detail here for now, but writing the speech is complicated given that its subject relates to family (and my current bout of writer's block isn't helping either).

Still, it's a new challenge, and while I am somewhat nervous about the actual presentation I am confident that I will succeed and my speech will be well-received.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The wheat ear

I found this superb image of a wheat ear today:

My brother took this picture earlier this summer; I think it's a great capture! I love the contrast of the wheat in the front with the forest and sky in the background.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

A little more on the photo book

When I wrote about the photo book a couple of days ago I thought my job of finding images was almost complete. Once it came to assembling the book today it turned out that the 100+ I had chosen weren't enough at all! (Bear in mind we are creating it using software, but will ultimately have a hard copy.) Fortunately, to cover the shortage I had help in selecting thirty more photographs.

The book contains more than fifty years of photos. We should hopefully have it ready tomorrow...I'm looking forward to when it's complete!

Monday, 27 August 2012

The giant gobstopper

Remember the giant gobstopper I wrote about a few days ago? This is its appearance before it was entirely consumed:

There were a variety of flavours present in the gobstopper's many layers but I was only able to recognise two, vanilla and banana, although I thought I could taste a touch of cinnamon. Regardless of the exact flavours the gobstopper was pleasant to taste...even if I cut my tongue a few times on it! It took me about a week to eat the gobstopper, well ahead of the year others estimated it would take me (given all its sugar I ensured my teeth were clean after each "licking session" on the candy, too).

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Neil Armstrong, and the Moon landing conspiracies

I was completely shocked and upset last night to hear about the death of Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on the moon, and by extension the first on a terrestrial body other than Earth. His accomplishment and first words on the Moon ("That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.") are both symbols of hope and human achievement. Despite his obvious importance and place in history, Armstrong was a humble man, preferring to think of himself as someone who merely did their job rather than as a hero. No reasonable person can have anything other than respect for him.

My admiration for Armstrong is one of the reasons why it infuriates me to read comments on various forums dismissing (an understatement) the Apollo 11 mission rather than commiserating over someone's death. Moon landing denial is among the very few things that immediately anger me, and it is especially sickening when it's combined with the Internet equivalent of defacing a person's grave; it doesn't matter whether it's outright insults and denial to sarcastic "he was a great actor" posts. If someone, for whatever reason, doesn't believe the Moon landings took place they should at least have some sympathy for a person who has died; to not do so is an insult to the deceased's memory.

As for the conspiracies about the landings, the more I thought about them the more I came to realize they are nonsense. To start with, without even going into the various "problems" with pictures taken on the Moon look at history: the 1960s were the height of the Cold War, and the United States and the Soviet Union were far from friends; the Soviet Union would most certainly have been aware of the launch date for Apollo 11 and it's safe to assume that they would be monitoring activity coming from the United States. When the rocket launched and headed for the Moon it is likely that they would have been listening to as much of the communications between it and NASA as possible. Thus, if the Soviets had discovered the mission was fake they would have been the first to expose the United States. Other nations, such as the United Kingdom and China, would also have had the technology to verify the existence of the mission.

I don't think that bribery would have been possible. If the landings were faked all of NASA would have to have been paid off, followed by various members and aides of other government agencies, the aforementioned Soviets (I doubt they would have accepted money over the chance to discredit the United States and try to win the Space Race themselves), other countries that would have been able to monitor the mission, anyone who supposedly helped create the "video" of Armstrong and others in a film studio, and anyone else involved in faking the mission or had the ability to expose it. The more you analyze the conspiracies the harder it is to take them seriously.

Going back to Armstrong, he was a great human being; while he was somebody who declined to be in the spotlight he is still deserving of our respect and gratitude. He has a permanent, high-profile place in the history books and will continue to be a hopeful and inspiring figure for the long-term. I wish his family the best in this painful time for them.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Photo book

We are currently working on a photo book for a couple of special people in our lives. It will consist of a large selection of pictures taken throughout their lives, from their marriage up to and including the present day. I know for certain that they will appreciate the gift and the thoughts behind it very much.

The only downside is that I am once again going through thousands of pictures. Image sorting is a task that never seems to end...and this time it's not because of pictures that I've recently taken! In all fairness I'm not bothered by having to pore through masses of photographs in search of about 100 of them for a photo book: I know that people the photo book is for will absolutely love it, and the work will pay off.

In the meantime, I'll be returning to my image search. We are on somewhat of a clock to get the job done!

Friday, 24 August 2012

Parting thoughts on the Olympics

With everything that has happened recently, the one topic I barely covered during its progress was the 2012 London Summer Olympics. I wrote about it a year in advance and mentioned it briefly when it began, but beyond those instances I have not said anything about them even though they have been the largest event in the United Kingdom this year! I suppose it can be excused because I was busy during the Olympics; I didn't get to see much of the Olympics, and the parts I did watch were when I was in Nottingham.

As for my opinions on the Olympics, I am glad that they went by smoothly, with the worst part I'm aware of being a few athletes failing drug tests (unfortunate and disappointing, but at least not destructive to the Games themselves). Despite comments from certain individuals doubting the readiness of this country for the Olympics, it pleases me to say that they were proved wrong: the United Kingdom was not overwhelmed during the two weeks, and nothing tragic such as a terrorist attack, a deadly accident, or a shooting occurred. No major disruptions took place anywhere in the nation, so the preparations and security worked.

It was also good that the United Kingdom came third in the gold medal count (29, behind the United States and China) and fourth in overall medals (65, behind the United States, China and Russia). In the first few days of the Olympics I was worried that this country would have the dubious "honour" of being a host nation that was obliterated in the medal counts, but I'm glad those concerns were alleviated once British athletes started winning!

I think the Olympics were a success, and judging by the positive international response to them I'm not the only one with this view. Now that the 2012 London Summer Olympics are over we can look forward to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics in Brazil.

As an aside, while this is a small thing, it does feel good knowing that this was the third time I've been resident in a country while it hosted the Olympics (the other two times were in the United States with the Atlanta and Salt Lake City games).

Thursday, 23 August 2012

New ideas

Every writer, at one point or another, will go through a period where they temporarily run out of ideas for what to write next. This is called "writer's block", and it is normal. It doesn't usually last for long and can be easily cured by something as simple as reading a book, going on a walk, or even just taking a short break from writing (or if the block is localised to one to piece of writing, working another project sometimes helps as well).

I currently have this problem. The recent Nottingham trip provided me with a lot of content for almost two weeks, and I didn't have to think much about what to write. Now that I've said all I had to say about the trip I'm back to thinking about what topic to cover for each post. Not that I mind, of course, as thinking is a great way to exercise the brain.

This problem will be temporary! I just need to regain a little inspiration after cutting a load of work out for myself. I'll be back writing more interesting and compehensive posts than this one soon.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

"Domino" - Jessie J

Whenever I am feeling down I always endeavour to listen to a cheery, positive-sounding song. Currently, the song that I usually play to raise my spirits is "Domino" by Jessie J:

When Jessie J became popular in early 2011 with "Do It Like a Dude" I was unsure what to think about her music, but once later singles such as "Price Tag", "Nobody's Perfect", and "Who's Laughing Now" became hits she had really grown on me. Now, Jessie J is one of my favourite recent artists, and in my opinion "Domino" is one of her best tracks!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The spider and its web

Dad captured this image of a garden spider who had built her web between our car and the nearby bushes (there was a four foot gap between the car and the greenery):

This is a surprisingly good shot considering the best angle for taking a picture of the spider involved looking into the direction of the incredibly bright morning sun. It was taken with my main camera.

Monday, 20 August 2012

More about Matlock

The last complete day of the trip to Nottingham took place on the 11th of August; for that day we visited the Heights of Abraham in Matlock Bath, Derbyshire (I incorrectly referred to the place as Matlock in the initial post about the day; Matlock Bath is a village south of Matlock). The people in the group consisted of my aunt and uncle, two younger cousins, an older cousin, a friend of my older cousin (whom we picked up on the way), my brother, and me.

Upon arrival in Matlock Bath we were in the mood for a light meal. We went to a place called Pancake Cafe, and my uncle and I ordered omelettes while everyone else had either pancakes or crepes; the pancakes and crepes could all be considered "light", but the cheese and onion omelettes that my uncle and I ordered were huge. Neither of us were able to finish our meals and were full for the rest of the afternoon.

The Heights of Abraham is only accessible via a cable car; there was a time when it could be reached via stairs, but this this route is now overgrown and fallen into disrepair. While I would have appreciated a walk up to the park it was good to experience a ride in a cable car. Once at the top we took the tour through the Great Masson Cavern - a former fluorspar mine and one of the two caves located at the Heights of Abraham; my favourite part of these caves were the rock formations that appeared to resemble animals, such as the "rhino" and the "lioness".

After a walk around the park we then visited the fossil shop (actually, it was more like a gift shop), followed by the canteen; my uncle and I were the only people in the group who didn't eat anything, as we were still too full from the omelettes, despite the walks. I did, however, eat an ice cream cone with nearly everyone else when we passed the ice cream stand half an hour later. Four of us then went to the Great Rutland Cavern, the other cave system at the Heights of Abraham; this tour was much shorter than the first one, and at the end it contained a presentation about how the miners went about their work.

The other members of our group had travelled the cable back down to Matlock Bath and had gone to The Midland, a local pub. We joined them and had a drink before heading back to the car park. I swapped vehicles on the way back, opting to travel with my uncle, my older cousin and his friend for the journey back to Nottingham.

I only took a few pictures while at the Heights of Abraham and most contain family members; here are three that are suitable:

Taken from the Heights of Abraham, this is a view of Matlock with Riber Castle visible on the mountain to the right. As I mentioned in a recent post, Derbyshire truly has some of the United Kingdom's most beautiful landscape.

Another view of Matlock in the distance, taken from our cable car as it descended back to Matlock Bath.

A shot of another cable car while it and ours were descending.

For dinner that night my uncle, aunt, brother, and one of my younger cousins went to the Red Hot World Buffet, a buffet restaurant with a multicultural food selection. My older cousin, his friend, and my other younger cousin from Nottingham did not come with us as they already had plans for the evening. We returned to my grandparents' house after the meal.

The journey to the Heights of Abraham was a grand way to spend the full last day of the trip. It gave us the chance to see more of the United Kingdom, make a new friend, and most of all enjoy ourselves with family. While I did experience a feeling of "oh no, it's over" when I said goodbye to my aunt, I comforted myself in the knowledge that the visit had been a week well spent, with new memories and an overall great time for everyone.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

More about the city again

The 10th of August marked the departure of all my relatives from the East of England and my cousin's boyfriend. They spent the morning and a part of the afternoon packing their belongings, finally leaving around 2:00pm. My aunt and uncle from Nottingham, my brother and I were not present when they departed, though, as we had left for the centre of Nottingham around midday (we did, of course, say goodbye before we set out).

Our primary reason for going to the centre of Nottingham a day after my brother and I went there the day before was to find new pairs of walking shoes for us (mine were wrecked from the mud jump, and my brother's were falling apart and in need of replacing). We visited a handful of shoe stores before coming a place called Millets, where we found shoes that suited us in every way - they looked decent, were durable, comfortable, and not too expensive. It was a relief that it only took us half an hour to shop for shoes, rather than an entire afternoon, as has happened before.

With the main objective out of the way, we had a small lunch at a Caffè Nero. We then went to the local Hotel Chocolat outlet, followed by going to another small store to try our luck at the £148 million pound Euromillions jackpot (the same one that Gillian and Adrian Bayford won). With several hours in the afternoon still ahead of us we went to the City of Caves (known colloquially as the "Nottingham caves") to learn about the vast cave network located underneath Nottingham.

I found it fascinating to learn that over one thousand years ago the people of Nottingham built and lived in underground caves. A few hundred years later, around 1500, a tannery was housed in the caves; this led to the pollution of the city's drinking water when the animal skins were washed in the cave water, which led to the river. In the 1800s the residents of Drury Hill, a neighbourhood, lived in basements within the caves; the basements were often one-room dwellings, and the cramped conditions combined with the poor sanitation led to a number of diseases affecting the inhabitants. The most recent use of the caves prior to their conversion into a tourist attraction was during World War II, when they were utilised as air raid shelters.

After we had completed the tour of the City of Caves, we walked over to Nottingham Castle:

My aunt, brother, a cousin and I visited the outer gate to Nottingham Castle last year, but we chose not to enter because of the high cost at the time (I think it was around £10-£15 per person); with it being less expensive on this second trip there (about £5) we did decide to visit the castle. I'm glad we did, too; the castle itself was primarily a museum, containing local artifacts and information about the city's links with other parts of the world, but in my opinion the best part about the castle was the main balcony on its grounds, offering amazing views of Nottingham:

I have seen pictures of Nottingham taken from this vantage point, but I never realised until then that they captured from Nottingham Castle. Can you spot the Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station in the first picture?

This is the Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem - also known as The Trip to Jerusalem Inn - the pub we visited after leaving the castle's grounds. The Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem claims to be the oldest inn in England, but this label is disputed. Disregarding the supposed age of the building, it was a quaint little place to have a drink (I had a Coke), and I found it interesting how the building is built into the cave system (in the lower section dust from the sandstone often falls from the ceiling and into food and/or drink).

After a refreshing drink in the Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem the early evening had set in, and so we returned to our grandparents house. Our family members from the East of England had long departed Nottingham by that time, and were probably even close to home. Those of us still in Nottingham went to Nando's for dinner that evening; I had two "yes!" moments in the restaurant when I correctly guessed the names of two of the waitresses without looking at their name tags.

Our grandparents took us back to their home after the meal; with that day over, only one full day of the trip remained.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Stratford-upon-Avon treats

Today has been a busy day, and I don't have enough time to write a comprehensive post about our activities on the 10th of August. To fill in I'll write about the treats I purchased from the Stratford Sweet Shop:

From left to right: treacle toffee, Toxic Wastes, milk chocolate-covered nougat, and a giant gobstopper (jawbreaker). The toffee, nougat, and gobstopper are all self-explanatory, but Toxic Wastes are a hard and sour candy; one of my cousins introduced me to them and expected me to pull all sorts of faces from their sheer sourness, but I turned out to be fairly resilient to the candies (I could still taste how sour they were, but they didn't have much of an effect on me).

This is the gobstopper again, positioned on one of our plates and taken just before I started to eat it. It is completely solid and a very hard piece of candy; it can only be eaten through continued licking until it is small enough to place on the mouth and suck. Since this was shot two nights ago the gobstopper has lost little of its mass, but I have been able to lick all the colours off; it's going to take quite a bit of time to consume it entirely!

Friday, 17 August 2012

More about the city and dinner

On August 9th my brother, four younger cousins, my cousin's boyfriend, and I went to the centre of Nottingham. To save time in getting there we took a bus ride to the Broadmarsh shopping centre, as walking would have taken us at least half an hour. Not that I minded taking a bus as it give me my first-ever "proper" bus ride since returning to the United Kingdom (the one we rode in when we left the airport in Manchester was a minibus).

The day was essentially a shopping trip; initially our group separated for the three gals to shop for clothing while the guys went to do something else. My cousin's boyfriend needed a new wallet, the cousin we were with needed a new hat, and we all wanted to go the HMV, so rather than wander aimlessly around the various stores we knew want we wanted and went directly for it. We did have to check out a few places, but before long a suitable wallet and hat had each been purchased and we made it to HMV and then another CD/DVD store named That's Entertainment. I did well in HMV...remember Kimbra? I purchased her debut album, Vows, in that store!

We met up with the gals once we guys finished our shopping goals for the day and then the re-united group went to Yo Yo Noodles, a Chinese restaurant, for lunch. Although the facility was primarily a take-away it did have a dining area, and we chose to eat in there instead of carry our food around Nottingham. I was glad, too...the meal was hot, and as it was a hot day it was good to eat it in a cool room rather than in the sun!

After the meal, it turned out that my cousin's boyfriend still had a piece of shopping to do, though not of his own volition: we were having dinner at an expensive restaurant that night, and extremely decent clothing was required. As such, my cousin dragged her boyfriend to a nearby clothing store to find him a good shirt for the evening; they were back a few minutes later, so then we had a look around a few more stores before returning to the bus stop outside the Broadmarsh.

It was around 5:00pm when we arrived back at my aunt and uncle's house. I was pleased to see that one of my two older cousins was waiting there and would be coming with everyone to dinner that evening; while my only younger male cousin and I caught up with him the girls went upstairs and spent much of next two hours getting themselves ready. I will admit that I was shocked to see all three of my female cousins wearing dresses, heavy make up, and high heels; it wasn't unexpected, of course, but it was still a surprise.

Before 7:30 (the time booked for the restaurant), everybody was ready and people from my grandparents' house was now over at my aunt and uncle's. The group now consisted of my brother, my grandparents, my aunt and uncle from Nottingham, my aunt and uncle from the East of England, five of my six cousins, my cousin's boyfriend, and me. The location for the night's dinner was a place called Signature Steakhouse.

Signature Steakhouse is easily one of the best restaurants I've ever been to. The portions were just the right size and the food was delicious - naturally, I had a steak, but they served other meats, such as lamb and chicken. The service was excellent, not at all rushed as to try to get you out the door in favour of the next customers. Not surprisingly, the meal was very expensive, but that was expected considering the quality of the restaurant, and worth it given that nearly the entire family was present and everyone had an outstanding time.

I think I speak for everyone there when I say now that it was a lovely evening - the type you hope would go on indefinitely and not ever come to a close. When the meal concluded we returned to our respective houses for the night, ending a spectacular day.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Images from the Chatsworth House trip and hike

On the 8th of August my aunt and uncle from Nottingham, aunt from the East of England, all four of my younger cousins, my cousin's boyfriend, my brother, and I all went to Chatsworth House for the day. This journey differed from the last in two ways - the first being the amount of people in our group (seven then, ten now), and the second being the manner in which we visited Chatsworth and its grounds.

To start, the best route to Chatsworth House from Nottingham goes through the town of Chesterfield, known for its "crooked spire", the peak of the Church of St Mary and All Saints. Various explanations have been provided for why the spire is crooked, with the most likely being that it was built with damp wood that warped as it dried out. Another is that heavy lead was added to the spire a few hundred years after the church was constructed, and when it expanded in the sunlight it bent the frame.

I was fortunate to take this shot of the spire, as we were in motion and driving on a roundabout.

Rather than going directly to Chatsworth House we parked about a mile away from it. Our goal for today was to walk a nine-mile "loop" around the main grounds. The trek started off reasonably well, save for us having to turn around a couple of times because we were walking in the wrong direction. The above picture was taken when we were passing through a field full of sheep and cows, and presents a view of the Derbyshire landscape.

Unfortunately, the trek did go downhill somewhat for a spell: we ended up bumbling around a village or two and going into a field that wasn't a part of any of the paths. Worse, the maps we had for the loop were useless, as the routes listed on them didn't appear to exist (either that or we had the wrong maps).

The walk brightened up again when we encountered a helpful couple who directed us to the paths through the forest. After thanking them we made our way to the forest, of which a brief segment is shown in the above picture. However, the walk through the forest consisted of going almost entirely uphill, and whenever we were approaching the top of a hill we kept saying to ourselves "we should be able to see Chatsworth from the top of this next peak!".

This was taken from one of the highest points in our journey, and it shows an even better portion of the Derbyshire landscape than one of the aforementioned images. With its wonderful mountains and countryside, Derbyshire is amongst the most beautiful counties I've visited in the United Kingdom since moving back.

Another shot from the highest peak in our walk, this time of a zoomed-in view of the road leading into and out of Chatsworth House. However, we still could not see the house itself even from this vantage point, and so we continued on the path before reaching a crossroads with a helpful sign saying "house" and directing us to the left.

We never saw Chatsworth House from the peaks we climbed that day, and it was only when we approached the main grounds after walking downhill that we finally saw it. The route from our parking place to Chatsworth House was about nine miles in length (or at least felt like it anyway...we were walking for several hours!), but it did not consist of going on the loop. Everyone was tired and incredibly hungry when we arrived at Chatsworth House - during our afternoon meal not one of our plates had any food remaining.

There were still several hours remaining before Chatsworth House and its grounds closed for the day, so everybody except for my uncle and me chose to visit the house's interior. My uncle and I wanted to take advantage of the beautiful weather, and so opted to walk around the gardens.

The above picture is of the south wall of Chatsworth House; last year that end of the house was covered with scaffolding from all the renovations being done at the time. It was nice to get a proper picture of the south side.

This rock entrenched in one of Chatsworth's many ponds was the catalyst to the highlight of the day. My uncle and I decided it would be a great idea to leap onto the rock and take some pictures from it, citing "no one's likely ever done it before." We easily cleared the jump down to the rock, congratulated ourselves on our achievement, and then took some pictures. Then came the issue of getting back over.

The gap between the pond rock and the rock nearest to the main path was three-and-a-half in length and two feet in height...meaning we had to jump up as well as over. My uncle went first - he performed a running jump and clear the gap back over. I thought for a moment, and then I decided to pass all of my electronic equipment - camera, phone, and Vado - to my uncle. It was the best decision I had made all day, because when I attempted the run-jump back I did not jump high enough, I felt my stomach collide with where my feet were supposed to me, and I fell into the water. Chest-deep in stinky, muddy water. I took my uncle's hand and climbed out of the pond, and then we made our way to the nearest bathroom, where my uncle had to hand-wash most of my clothes in a sink.

A shot of the fountain, located at the south end of the house. I do wish I had taken this picture, and my others similar to it, with the camera held vertical rather than horizontal (as well as a little straighter). Still, I think it's a fine image.

A view of Chatsworth House from the back on that lovely, sunny day. I was still mostly wet at this point, and it had been over half an hour since my clothes had all been washed. After I had captured this my uncle and I then sat at one of the tables at the rear exit of the house to wait for the rest of our group; needless to say, when they had finished inside the house and its gift shop a few minutes later they were surprised to see the dampness of my clothing!

We all ate an ice cream each, and then all my cousins, my cousin's boyfriend, my brother, and I went to the maze in the gardens. We had to find the centre fairly quickly, as it was getting close to 6:00, Chatworth's closing time. After reaching the middle we took a few pictures and then hurriedly returned to the house when one of the keepers of the gardens shouted at people to start hurrying up!

One of my last pictures of the house that day, of the front and taken with my phone. When we left the house we still had about an hour's walk to the car park, giving my clothes additional time to dry; I only had to change my shirt and sit on a bag for the journey back to Nottingham.

It was a superb day. The weather was perfect, we had a lengthy walk, saw more of the countryside, had plenty to eat, saw the house and its gardens, and had an overall amazing time. We were exhausted at the end, and it almost goes without saying that everyone slept well that night, but we were contented. As for the mud...well, that merely added another layer of fun, didn't it?

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

More about the brain, finances, lasers, and bowling...and also the piano

Going back briefly for this post, in the late evening of August 6th, the day we returned to Stratford-upon-Avon, the boyfriend of one of my cousins arrived at my grandparents' house. He had been invited to come up and join my cousin/his girlfriend in visiting my family; neither my brother nor I had a problem with this because it meant meeting a new person.

Now onto the 7th of August. This day was different from every other day in the week because the morning consisted of a lesson covering some aspects of the brain (a few months ago my grandfather provided several members of the family with a DVD course on improving memory and keeping the brain healthy), followed by a lesson and debate over finances. To sum up both topics, the main point of the first lesson was about keeping our brains exercised and not letting them degrade through inactivity, while the second was about the lack of knowledge numerous people have about money - from banks to renting or buying a house. I thought we all had a very worthwhile morning.

Our afternoon activities were also indoor events, as the sudden rain disrupted the schedule. Instead of visiting a place called Wollaton Hall we went to the tenpin bowling/entertainment facility from last year's trip. The first game we played there was a laser tag shootout, with me and my brother appointed by our uncle as the captains of our respective teams; it became up to us to choose the rest of our teams from our group, and with five members out of nine my brother's team ended up with a numerical advantage. Worse yet for my team, my uncle's laser didn't work (although he only became aware of that in the second game), rendering him nothing more than a target and making the game five versus three. Needless to say, my team was defeated twice - narrowly on the first game and handily on the second - with the majority of our hits against our opponents coming from my cousin's boyfriend being on my side, as he turned out to be the best player overall by a wide margin. At the end of the day it didn't really matter who won: it was all good fun and there were plenty of laughs all around, and that is what's most important.

The running and laughing from the laser games had made us hot and sweaty, so we had a rest and some drinks before heading off to the bowling alleys. Most of us were running fairly even in our scores during the bowling, although my brother, aunt, uncle, and cousin's boyfriend were all the best; my aunt beat my uncle by one point in the first round and then defeated my brother by four in the second - as she was on my brother's team during the laser games she was the only person to win in both events. I did not pass one hundred points in either of the two rounds of bowling, and much to my chagrin I caused a foul by throwing my ball too early on one go and it hit the barrier; worse yet, the ball had stopped, and when I rolled the ball on my subsequent both balls went into the gutter and ended up jamming the barrier. Fortunately, someone quickly remedied the problem, and as with the laser games it was all fun.

We had pizza for dinner when we went to my aunt and uncle's house later on in the day. After the meal my brother, cousins, and my cousin's boyfriend all went to watch a film while my aunt gave me a lesson on learning to play to piano. She told me that within three-quarters of an hour I had learnt more on how to play than she did in five lessons! By the end of the lesson I knew middle D, middle C, and middle B, and I do have an interest in learning how to completely play the piano, although I'm not sure how feasible that is at the moment. I'll have to see what happens.

When the film was finished we returned to my grandparents' house; we were exhausted, but there was a positive atmosphere and we eagerly awaited the next day.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Images from the Stratford-upon-Avon visit, 2012

On the 6th of August my brother, aunt and uncle from Nottingham, two cousins from Nottingham, two cousins from the East of England, and I all travelled to Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire. Initially, we were worried that this new trip to the town would be marred by rain, but fortunately the weather ameliorated over the course of the day and we had a marvellous time.

As with last year, the first location we went to in Stratford-upon-Avon was the leisure centre, where we had a small meal before venturing out towards the river. At this point we were concerned about the weather so the decision was made to go on a boat ride first and save any indoor activities for later. Coincidentally, the boat and navigator we had during our previous visit were the same for this ride.

A random shot containing the front segment of our boat in the foreground, the Royal Shakespeare Company on the left, the Avon in the centre, and the dock from where our boat was launched in the back. While the overall length of the ride was around half an hour, the route was changed somewhat, possibly owing to the higher water level compared to last: we did not travel as far as the Colin P. Witter Lock, although when going in the opposite direction we did go past some houses and a car park, both of which we didn't see last time.

Easily the most surprising object I observed when on the boat ride was this flag of the Confederate States of America. Seeing the occasional Star and Stripes isn't unusual here in the United Kingdom, but a Confederate flag is bizarre, especially in Stratford-upon-Avon! This is, at a minimum, the second Confederate flag I have seen in this country.

Almost as odd as the Confederate flag were these "Manga Shakespeare" books inside the Royal Shakespeare Company's gift shop. I have no idea if Shakespeare in comic book form has any effect in attracting unlikely readers of his works, but it's certainly an imaginative approach! (I should note, however, that I have observed something similar to this idea before: there is an episode of the science fiction/comedy television show Red Dwarf where one of main characters is reading the "comic book version" of the Greeks versus the Trojans.)

Among the 350+ pictures I took during our visit to Stratford-upon-Avon, the ones I consider my best are those of the observation tower of the Royal Shakespeare Company obstructing the Sun. The camera was mostly still, allowing the tower to be as straight as possible in this picture; and the Sun being blocked while its light shone from behind gave deeper hue to the sky and the clouds. Perhaps the only part of the image that spoils it a little is a segment of the non-tower area of the RSC shown in the bottom-left, but as it is not possible to take a picture of a tower (at least for this angle with the Sun at that point in the sky) without at least some portion of the rest of the building in, one can't complain too much about an otherwise perfect capture.

Remember the "Milkshake Lady" from Stratford-upon-Avon Moo-Moo's? Sadly, she wasn't anywhere to be seen this time, but I did get this shot of the milkshake bar itself. We were down Henley Street at this point and were visiting a few of the stores (such as the Stratford Sweet Shop); one of my cousins and I went into a "souvenir shop" expecting to find items to do with Stratford-upon-Avon, but we left after less than five minutes when we noted that all the products were London-oriented.

This is Quickly's, where we had our lunch; I had a delicious ham, egg, and chip main meal with a chocolate cheesecake for dessert.

After Quickly's we left Henley Street and walked to the Stratford-upon-Avon Butterfly Farm. We noticed the above statue on one of the arches, and those of us who had visited last year agreed that she was a new addition to the farm's front garden. So far I haven't been able to find out what her significance or name is.

My aunt, uncle, one of my cousins, and I decided to forgo entering the butterfly enclosure, citing the now-beautiful weather outside and the heat of the building's interior as our reasons.

Once those who had entered the butterfly farm had finished, we slowly made our way back to the leisure centre. On the way we noticed a machine generating bubbles like these ones; getting a decent shot of the bubbles was immensely difficult given their speed and distance from me.

A closing shot of the Stratford Leisure & Visitor Centre just prior to our departure. We had a lovely day in Stratford-upon-Avon, equalling the fantastic time we had there last year; the town is one of the best and most beautiful places I've visited so far in the United Kingdom, and providing it's a decent day I will always be delighted to go there.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Picture sorting after a holiday

It happens every time: you go on a week-long or more holiday, you have a superb time, you take hundreds of pictures to help preserve the wonderful memories, and then you go home. Once the fun is over and you've settled in back home, you now have countless images to rename and organise into the appropriate folders on your computer; you also have to fulfil, in a timely manner, any promises you made to your relatives to provide them with copies. If you're a blogger, there's also the matter of satisfying your followers.

I've been back for a little over a day from our Nottingham trip and I have successfully renamed and organised all of the 1000+ pictures I took on the holiday. I sorted out around a tenth of them last night, and today I spent a combined total of under two hours dealing with the rest. To be fair, I did have an advantage as I had visited Stratford-upon-Avon and Chatsworth House last year and had existing references to go from for them in renaming a portion of the new images, but even for those two parts of the journey there was a plethora of pictures that needed original names.

We are lucky that in today's world we have digital cameras: just fifteen years ago most people were not able to take 1000 images on a trip...and if they did they would have had to carry an extraordinary amount of film, which would have been expensive to then have developed. It may be a lengthy process having to sort through hundreds of pictures on the computer, but it's infinitely more preferable than having to fork out huge sums of money to have someone develop the film.

Now that I've renamed and organised the images of the recent trip and have them available for my relatives, the final step is now to satisfy my blog readers.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Back at home

We've just returned to our home in Northamptonshire after a wonderful week with family in Nottingham. It has been good to spend time with relatives, visit some new places and make some new friends, and to again see the great county of Nottinghamshire. Now begins the process of sorting out all the pictures I took and writing the extended blog posts about the trip.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

To Matlock

For the final full day of our trip to Nottingham we all went to Matlock in Derbyshire. We had two extra people come today: my second oldest cousin and one of his friends, who has now become a friend of ours. The day did not seem as though it was rushing by, and instead appeared to go at a reasonable pace. We return to Northamptonshire tomorrow.

Friday, 10 August 2012

The city again

My aunt and uncle of mine who live in Nottingham took my brother and I into the centre of the city to purchase some new walking shoes for us (especially me, as my previous pair was destroyed the other day), to visit the Nottingham Caves, and to go to Nottingham Castle. There are some pictures from today to post here.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

The city and dinner

Today's events included bus rides, a shopping trip in the centre of Nottingham, and an excellent dinner at a wonderful restaurant. For now, all I can say is that the past 12+ hours have been absolutely wonderful.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Chatsworth House trip and hike

We returned to Chatsworth House today, although the actual house and its grounds only consisted of a part of the trip. I will be sure to go into more detail about the day when I post pictures! Until then, these small updates are all I currently have time for!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Brain, finances, lasers, and bowling

Today consisted of a diverse range of activities: we spent the morning discussing the brain and finances with my grandfather, and played a laser game and bowling in the afternoon. I don't have any pictures from today but I will write a more comprehensive post about the day next week.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Stratford-upon-Avon visit, 2012

Last year we visited the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, and today we visited the town again. Our time in Stratford-upon-Avon this year was as amazing as it was last year, and I have plenty of pictures to post of the day next week. For now, I only have the time to post about where we have been!

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Week-long Nottingham visit, 2012

My brother and I are again up in Nottingham for a week-long visit with family. I'm looking forward to our time here: we've already seen family members whom we haven't interacted in person with since the end of 2010. Several events have been planned for the week, and providing the weather improves and holds we will all have a great time! I'll be taking plenty of pictures and will be posting them on my blog when we return home.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

No raincoat

Well, I certainly made a mistake earlier. My brother, father, and I were all about to head out for a walk this afternoon when it started raining; it wasn't a light shower, it was a heavy downpour. From the look of the clouds we expected it to be a short spell of rain, and we were proved correct by the sun coming out and some blue sky returning.

With the weather appearing to be clearing, we went out for our walk; while my brother and father brought raincoats I did not, thinking that it wasn't going to rain, given the apparently dissipating clouds. However, when we were halfway through our walk the clouds had covered the skies again and we could hear thunder in the distance. As we continued to walk it started to rain, and then the water came down with an intensity similar to that of the rain earlier on in the afternoon.

Fortunately, my Dad had an umbrella with him, so we both stood under that for a while. Rather than standing in that same place for too long, I passed Dad my phone (he had a pocket in his coat where it would be shielded from the rain), and then we continued our walk. Despite the rain it was warm outside, so the water mixed with the breeze was pleasantly cooling.

The rain eased off and stopped again the nearer we got to home, but I was soaked and had to change my clothes when we arrived. The moral of the story? If it has been raining and there's a chance of it raining again, have a raincoat on standby!

Friday, 3 August 2012


There are some wonderful mint plants growing in our back yard; here is a cluster of them:

There are also some others in a pot; Dad collected some stray, weak mint plants growing near the above bunch, placed them in water to give them a better chance to develop their roots, and once they had  grown a substantial root base he placed them in one of the many plant pots in our back yard. As a result, those mints have survived, although they are not yet as strong as the flowers in this image.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Wild search

My mother and brother spent most of the day sorting through some boxes in the garage in search of a couple of small yet important badges. They brought a few boxes inside the house, repacked them while looking for the badges, and then returned them to the garage when they were done; they also cleaned up the mess in the garage...a task that should have been done months ago.

Despite the search and the sorting, the badges were nowhere to be found. By the late afternoon they were both tired from their work, and although they had not found the badges they were both pleased at the garage now being at its tidiest in several months.

When they came back indoors, a thought suddenly crossed my brother's mind: he looked in a drawer in the living room and...voila! There were the missing badges! They had been in an obvious place for ages, yet no one had thought to look in that drawer until that moment. Both my mother and my brother were relieved that the badges had now been found, and neither of them had any regrets spending a significant portion of the day in the garage (it was, after all, much tidier now).

So, to summarise: we have a tidy garage, a few re-sorted boxes, and the badges have been found. An overall net positive result.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Now in August

It is hard to believe that we are in the eighth month, August, already; it doesn't really feel as though it has been seven months since the very beginning of 2012. For obvious reasons, I anticipated this year to have a dragging feel to it, but I am surprised that this hasn't been the least from my perspective anyway.

It is said that time flies when you're having fun. Maybe I've had more fun this year than I had expected to. Of course, time always goes by at the same rate, regardless of what we're doing.