Monday, 31 October 2011
Saturday, 29 October 2011
It's here again, that vapid lull in a Saturday night that is the X-factor. I really fail to see the appeal, it seems that a large chunk of the viewing demographic cannot distinguish between talent and entertainment. Watching talentless half-wits fall flat on their arse for me is entertainment but when judges and acts start to take themselves a little bit too seriously it's time to combine the show format with a new one, celebrity strictly come sniping where celebrity snipers attempt to pick off the worse acts whilst singing improvised recipes in Klingon, a surefire winner I'm sure all will agree.
It's the day after we returned from our Center Parcs adventure, I can't help feeling that our escape was successful as we've heard nothing from the appropriate authorities. In all seriousness the experience was not for me but I can see how it does appeal to so many, there is so much to do on a single site it is possible to park up on the day of arrival and not sit behind the wheel until it's time to leave for home, it would be expensive but entirely possible.
We chose to spend the weekend at the caravan, from one holiday home with security fencing, armed guards and no real bar to speak of, to another with complete freedom, a bar and no goons. A few too many pints, some wins on the horse racing and a quick go on the karaoke and the spectre of Center Parcs was consigned to the cobwebs of my dusty mind. We won the quiz and I slept very, very well after a short walk back to my comfy bed.
Today I relented to Ed's demands and booked tickets to see 'Real Steel' at noon. The morning was a rush as I had to get back to Gosport to pick up Beth's friend and drop them in Fareham on our way to the cinema at Port Solent, all before twelve. It transpired that we had bags of time to spare and Eddy and I found ourselves facing the screen, alone ten minutes before the start time. A dozen or so others appeared just before the allotted hour and together we waited, and waited and waited until, an announcement.
'I'm afraid that we have a major technical problem, bear with us and I'll update you shortly.' The poor scapegoat smiled her thin apologetic smile and before swiftly scurrying back out. Eddy and I exchanged glances but thankfully the little guy kept his thoughts to himself. We sat quietly listening to the growing murmurs of discontent and alternate plans were audibly hatched. Ten minutes later our doomsayer re-emerged, her initial silence and apprehension spoke volumes.
'The technical problem is worse than we thought and a technician is en-route to sort it out. Unfortunately we don't know when he will get here so if anyone wants a refund or to see another film AND a refund we will completely understand.'
'Told you we should have gone to Vue.' Eddy declared looking up at me with a smirk. I nodded, knowing he was absolutely right.
Murmurs, and mutterings before a group of us opted to shuffle off to another screen to watch Tin-Tin, some to see Johnny English and some, more disgruntled punters, took the money and ran.
Tin-Tin was absolutely brilliant. I think it's always better to see something unplanned as it's less likely that the disappointment fairy will turn up. We both loved it and this film will definitely end up in my digital film library.
After picking up Beth and her friend and returning home to tidy up a few odds and ends we returned to Solent Breezes and the effort to obtain tickets for the Halloween party for Beth, no chance. She pestered me and Emma for over two hours to try a myriad of ridiculous ideas to get tickets, including phoning reception (closed at twelve on a Saturday), walking into the bar and attempting to convince the staff that we should have been assigned tickets (thanks dad). Nothing worked so as a final hurrah Beth just walked in, no problem.. What was all of the whinging for. Eddy has spent the evening dressed as Jack Sparrow, nothing to do with Halloween he just wanted to be a pirate.
Time for bed.
Thursday, 27 October 2011
Wednesday was always going to be the quiet day in the week, other than Will's quad biking we had not planned to do much. After five days in Stalag 14 I was more than ready to pack and prepare for our long drive back to the South coast. The golf driving range nestled temptingly close to the quad bike track so I accompanied Will to his session and for the first time in my life smacked a few hundred balls down the range. I spent most of the time on my own, which is probably why as I discovered I could actually not only hit the ball but send it where I wanted, my confidence grew. My cocky attitude took a nose dive when I moved from the iron I had selected to a more formidable wood. This took me nearly an hour before I could hit the ball with any degree of success let alone accuracy. Finally Will joined me and we spent some time marvelling at his inability to come near to a decent strike. In time he grew in competency and we agreed that golf was something we should have a go at when we got back home. It was almost as though the golf took the shine off the quad biking for Will so I hope we do get an opportunity to have a go at a later date.
We returned to Cafe Rouge for lunch, all of us this time, the Merguez Tartine was again my goal but I was served some mackerel, must be my crap French. Finally I was served the correct dish and we all enjoyed our meal immensely. Before the kids went swimming once more Will managed to sit quietly on the porch and almost managed to get Ian, the red squirrel, to eat from the palm of his hand. The lodge quiet once more I opened a bottle of wine and cooked up a cottage pie. We had a quiet evening, even after the kids got back, playing our new game, 'Making an Impression', this is where we all write down half a dozen characters from films or TV, fold them up and take in turns to select one. We then have to impersonate the character (without using catchphrases). It was very popular. Surprisingly, so was the cottage pie, everyone loved it. The night wore on and we all retired reasonably early. I think I may have been a little bit drunk.
I awoke a few times in the night and grew increasingly colder and colder until, at around 4AM I gave in and used the covers. Emma was somewhat worried that unless we left a reasonably early time we would not get to the venue for our ceremony, Langdale Chase Hotel on the shores of Lake Windermere. I dismissed this as nonsense as it was a mere thirty-five miles. How wrong I was. Tom-Tom has many route settings the one which I had selected was of course the wrong bloody one. The most direct route took me away from the main roads and over the Kirkstone Pass. This took us nearly two hours, we did however reach the hotel in good time and squared away the final arrangements with a slightly surly receptionist.
Eddy was complaining, as expected, about feeling sick so Emma remained in the car as I, Bill and Beth strayed into the impressive entrance hall, the kids melted away into the many rooms leading off the high ceilinged hall. I eventually found my way to the reception area and waited for some time for any service. I explained who I was and why I was there.
'Do you know where you're going?' She asked dismissively as another phone rang in
the background. I contemplated answering 'kin insane' but instead opted for:
'No.' Left it at that and was surprised at the sneer I received.
'Through there and straight on.' She waved vaguely as the phone stopped ringing. Her expression hardened as I failed to sprint off in the direction of her waving hand. 'I'll get Ben to come through and explain.' With that she turned her back and disappeared back into the office. For some reason I took this as a sign that our conversation was over and returned to thehall. The warm coal fire glowed welcomely opposite the main entrance within an imposing large carved wooden fireplace. The open space was dimly illuminated with an orange glow and modicum of natural sunlight filtering in through small square windows. A large maritime oil painting dominated one wall whilst smaller faded portraits filled the remaining spaces. I glanced around searching for a member of staff to ask where the small sitting room may be. There was no-one, not even those that had accompanied me as I entered. Pacing forward I was impressed at the layout, the room I sought lay beyond the first archway. A square wooden panelled room was bedecked with portraits and smaller photographs, a large fireplace dominated one wall and I wondered why a small room such as this would have a hearth many times larger than the main hall. The view of Lake Windermere was breathtaking, I believe that the hotel had won the prestigious yet obscure title of 'Britain View of the year 2011' and I believed it. I heard footsteps approaching and Emma and a slightly pale Eddy hoved into view. Almost immediately Michael and Keri, Emma's auntie and uncle, appeared. They had a room at the hotel and were our guests of honour. Our celebrant from Kendal registry office arrived almost immediately and following that point events moved rather quickly.
Emma and I sat with the registrar Paul Cowerd as he explained the ceremony. Our words and vows were agreed and we also opted to ask Will and/or Beth to read a poem, to which they agreed.
After that it all happened so quickly. The photos will speak for themselves.
We arrived at the site by a quicker route and booked dinner, eventually.
Tuesday, 25 October 2011
Monday, as mentioned earlier, started rather well as there were Cranston's sausages involved. After writing up to speed at the bar I left Ed and Beth mooching about at the bowling alley and arcade, after all we were due back there just after 1PM as we had an alley booked. Nothing that happens on this horrifically mercenary site is without design. New punters are allowed onto the site at 10:30AM on their chosen arrival day (Monday or Friday) but they are not permitted to access their accommodation until 3:30PM. This leaves thousands of the aspiring middle-class wandering around a massive complex replete with restaurants, bars, cafes and shops with no choice but to part with their hard earned cash to access these tantalising facilities.
Upon my return I was very swiftly hushed into submission by Will. He was crouched halfway across the lounge area facing the partially open french windows. Emma sat to one side brandishing her mobile phone aggressively. A small pile of nuts sat hopefully on the mat.
'What's going on?' I brashly enquired only to be admonished by Emma and Bill simultaneously. I shrugged, Bill pointed at the decking outside in explanation where I saw a flicker of movement, I edged forward and once again was hissed into inactive silence. As I watched, our friend from earlier, a red squirrel we had christened Ian, sniffed his way cautiously forward and onto the nut strewn mat just inside our back door. Of course we took any number of photos but this single incident seemed to awaken an obsession within Emma, she laid lines of nuts on window-sills, floors and tables until I could hardly take a step without crushing something. The highlight was when Ian ventured all the way into the lodge before realising that he could carry no more and fled. The spell was broken some time later when an arguing Ed and Beth clattered through the front door causing a flight of a plethora of wildlife of almost Snow White proportions. Following the curses and complaints we tidied up and left for the bowling alley. The seeds had, however, been sown for further nut related japery.
I am shit at bowling. Even though I used to bowl for a team during my time based in Gibraltar, I am awful. There is a certain macho bravado about getting the heaviest ball and smashing it down the alley (something sexual lurking as an analogy I have no doubt) but even that yields no success or satisfaction for me. I came last, the kids held up the middle order and Emma won. There we go. I had the same chances and opportunities as everyone else but I failed, miserably. There's no more to say really, apart from; on our cycle back to the lodge Emma got lost and ended up cycling twice the distance necessary and in the process her knee complaint worsened. Oh, and something occurred on the way back to the alley that rankled, another final straw to ensure that my decision to return to Center-Parcs (or as I now think of it; Haven Lite) is likely to return a negative response. I had to queue for a piss! Or at least I would have if I had remained at my chosen lavatorial facility, I left and sought solace in the bar. We decided to remain at the lodge for the remainder of the day. The kids soon grew weary of our company and disappeared back to the pool. In the meantime I rustled up a beef stew and we ate quietly, all the while the back doors remained open with a pile of nuts on the mat. Ian failed to make an appearance. Oh, an another little point; do not try to cook at Center Parcs. The smoke detectors are so sensitive that any cooking beyond the steam from a kettle illicit a combined response from a household host of detectors, resulting in a deafening assault. Last night, when I eventually managed to silence the bastards, I could hear dozens of others throughout the site.
The badger channel, now referred to as 'Snuffle-cam' by Emma, provided us with entertaining viewing for the evening. During a break in the badger viewing experience Emma caught up with Coronation Shite and I with some sausage trail research. Did you know that not only is John Snape a sly murdering bastard but that the Sumerians were the first to record a sausage recipe in writing. Can't remember which one was which but both are useful. The stew was insufficient to completely banish our gnawing hunger pangs so, as turn around days (again, Monday and Friday) offer free delivery for all take-way food, I ordered the pizza family feast. The kids returned just before a large Eastern European bloke dropped two large flat boxes on our dining room table and made good his escape. Bill and I opened the boxes and stared at disbelief at their contents. We theorised that as most of the staff here were Eastern European this food must have been cooked with a Polish or maybe Bulgarian clientele in mind consisting as it did of cabbage, onion and the contents of a balti house hoover bag. Still, the bins were full this morning and the wildlife will more than likely eat well, or maybe they have developed a more discerning palette than the standard squirrels, badgers and rabbits.
An early night of sorts; Emma with her knee elevated and me knackered. Beth, Ed and Bill were all in bed and asleep by 11PM.
As usual Emma was the first up. Miraculously her knee was completely fixed! I struggled awake after yet another world beating cup of tea from my missus to find Ed curled up watching Phineas and Ferb (can we not escape this inane noise?). The plan today? To leave this concentration camp and seek the bright lights of the big Cumbrian city, Carlisle!
A swift departure, when Beth and Ed are concerned is an optimistic dream and this morning was no exception. Our expected 9AM window slowly became 9:30 which quickly morphed into a 10AM target. I went on ahead to send emails etc. and was pleasantly surprised to find that we all arrived at the car at the same time. Something, as they say, was fishy. Well, smelt wrong at least. It was of course Eds latest bag of travel sickness that we had neglected to remove upon arrival.
'Dump it in a bush.' I hissed to Beth as she carried the bag from the car. She didn't hear me. 'Throw it away.' I whispered, loudly as I glanced around. She stared at me blankly. I motioned for her to throw the offending material to one side, she shrugged and held up the soggy carrier bag.
'Dad.' she yelled as I finally reached the car. 'What shall I do with Eddy's sick?' Several fellow inmates in the immediate proximity turned their heads (and probably stomachs) in disgust.
'We'll have to find an appropriate recycling node.' I responded, highly mindful of the aspirations of those also incarcerated here at Whinfell. I am sure I saw a few mute nods of approval.
I took a route new to me through Penrith and discovered that there was indeed a budget supermarket, a Morrisson's, and as such resolved to return to bolster our alcohol supplies on the return journey. Leaving the town it did not take me long to breath the heady fresh air of freedom and marvel at the raw majesty of the Cumbrian countryside. Away from the pines and bicycles of captive Whinfell the bruised dark skies of this crisp October morning seemed to breath a new optimism into my soul and I looked forward to re-visiting my old haunts in Brampton and Carlisle. En-route we would visit Armathwaite, a small town which holds a large place in our family's heart. Not only did Liza and George marry here, a rather interesting day where I first witnesses middle-class mentality, but Emma's father, our children's grandpa has his ashes interred. It had been seventeen years since Liza's wedding, the last time Emma had visited the small churchyard where the commemorative plaque marks the location of her father's remains so today really meant a lot to her.
As we drove through the small town of Armathwaite and passed the turn off to the parish church we opted to stop on the way back to spend some time at the cemetery. Instead we pushed on to find Ruckcroft, a tiny hamlet, not even that I suppose, where Emma, her father and mother had lived when John, that would have been Mister Gradon to the likes of me at the time, was promoted to British Rail area manager of Cumbria and chose his seat of residence. I had visited the impressive house only a handful of times when Emma and I had first started seeing each other but it was exactly as I remembered. After taking a few emotional photographs we pushed on, initially to Croglin, home of the Croglin vampire legend (obviously) but a wrong turn saw us emerging into the town square in Brampton sooner than I expected.
This, in contrast to Ruckcroft, had totally changed. Other than the pubs, The Nag's Head, Howard Arms and The Shoulder of Mutton, and a few others, I failed to recognise practically any of the shops. Cranston's is still there, but, following his major sell out years ago, is corporate and sanitised. I remember the Brampton butcher, the first in his chain, smelling of fat and sawdust with bickering locals standing in line for their order of offal and flesh. The locals are still there but the hallmarks of a local butcher are long gone. Disappointed we piled back into the car and set off for Carlisle Lodge, the ancient seat of the Gledsons 1985 – 1991. A traumatic time for my mum and a time for me and Emma to meet and get engaged, so it was an important place for us. Unfortunately the current owners have purchased a huge chunk of the lay-by and it was not possible to drive beyond the new gates to see our old house. Never mind, at this point I was, disappointingly, realising that I wasn't as emotionally attached to Cumbria as I had originally thought. We pushed on to Carlisle, blimey this sounds like Shackleton's heroic journey.
The Lane's, Carlisle's premium shopping concourse, hadn't changed much. The car park still sported the unmarked concrete posts I had hit a few times with Dad's old Ford Capri, and the lifts were still very, very slow. Predictably, we all separated and got lost. A few frantic calls later we regrouped and set off to look for our goals, rings and clothes. Wedding rings for Emma and I for our vow renewal ceremony and clothes for Eddy at the same. It took some time but we accomplished everything, thanks to Emma. Once more I felt a bit down as Carlisle returned very little in the way of retrospective emotional feelings. I'm not sure what I expected, but it wasn't nothing. Carlisle meant very little to me when I moved there in 1985 with my parents and brothers as I was to join the Navy a few days later. It was as though I had left a life behind and begun something new, worse. I had no feeling for my parents new choice of home so focussed on my new choice. Over the following six or seven years I returned to Carlisle very little. It failed to make an impression on me until I met Emma at the pub (I think the term at the time was PLUB) Annabelles a few days after the 1990 World Cup semi-final loss against Germany. After that I travelled from my base in Fareham, 6 miles from where I now live, back to Carlisle every weekend until Emma moved in with me when I was finally drafted to Portland.
A new paragraph as I could easily become bogged down and distracted. On the way back we did indeed visited the churchyard in Armathwaite and something peculiar happened. We disembarked at the entrance to the small graveyard and followed the narrow, well kempt path to the rear of the chapel where the steep grassy bank, well populated with ancient headstones, rose to a high dry stone wall against which three empty plant-pots lay forlorn and neglected. The inset plaque they framed remained proud and legible, although the lower lettering was obscured by encroaching turf. We all took a hand at enhancing the patch and I hope Emma felt that we respectfully took time to help her with the task of refurbishing her father's final resting place. Eddy, I think, understood more than he should the reality of the situation and it was with a certain relief that we returned to the lodge and he and his siblings quickly jumped on their bikes and rode off to the Canter Parcs inmate activities.
Monday, 24 October 2011
Saturday, 22 October 2011
I have to get this off my chest. I honestly thought, before I arrived at a Center Parcs, that if Middle-Class was a virus then you would surely catch it at Center Parcs. I have now changed my mind, it is a great place to visit if you have kids BUT I have seen and heard those who are very keen to let everyone know that they are at a Center Parcs (on their mobiles) and look somewhat out of place. I am probably wrong but, hey-ho it's my blog and such my opinion!
I don't think that I am the sort of person who doesn't like being told what to do, ten years in the Royal Navy and Twenty years of marriage are testament to that fact. Instead, I believe that I am the sort of person who hates being told what NOT to do. This was evident today when I left early to search for a supermarket and purchase our weekly needs, food, alcohol and what-not, as the shop on-site at Center Parcs is pretty steep. In fact it's not only the shop but everything. I realise that there is a premium involved with convenience stores but when all said and done the fact that the accommodation prices are high at these woodland havens should at least ensure that the prices paid whilst on-site are kept competitively low, but no. Back to my original point, when I returned to the site all of the entrances to the roads were closed and padlocked shut. I even tried the 'staff only' roads and the 'emergency only' roads to no avail (how does a fire engine get on site if the rocket salad overheats and causes a the balsamic vinegar dressing to ignite?). Annoyed I flagged down a rather odd looking security guard:
'Excuse me mate!' I gruffly began.
She glowered, whoops. 'Yes.' A rather strained pause followed by a further strained, 'sir.'
'Er.' Shit, I forgot what I wanted, the butch guard rested a hand on my open window. 'We arrived very late last night and didn't have the chance to unload properly and I think...' my lie petered to an embarrassing, stuttering silence. She grimaced and pointed into the woods.
'Through the barrier, keep left and be quick.' The response was short, curt and the security guard immediately lost interest and wandered back to the awaiting line of arriving punters.
The barrier opened as I approached and I quickly deposited the 'luggage' before returning the car to a parking spot probably closer to Gosport than to Penrith. Mission accomplished.
I was now quite a long way from our lodge and in no mood to walk, so I hired a bike. Initially I contemplated 'borrowing' one but with so many witnesses I thought better of it. Returning to the hungry family they were more concerned with the fact I had a bike than the fact I had delivered a weeks worth of tasty treats. It didn't take long before we had two more bikes and the three kids were mobile, Emma and I trailed behind, our knees clacking like castanets.
After a quick circuit of the village, which is quite impressive, we returned to the lodge for the kids to pick up their swimming kit. We quickly returned to the main complex and Bill, Beth and Ed disappeared into the 'Tropical Swimming Paradise', Emma and I found a ubiquitous Starbucks and logged on to check mail. We realised that we had booked an activity for Beth in the early afternoon. Emma mused that Beth would not really enjoy balancing on the multitude of high-wires suspended above the Cumbrian woodland. We decided to find the kids and ask Beth if she wanted to cancel.
The central pool complex had no viewing area as such. We had to remove our footwear, exposing my talons, and trot through to the expansive, domed swimming complex. I eventually found Beth and, predictably she wished to cancel her dare-devil booking. No problem. We, faded into the background and retreated to the bar next door. After spending just under ten pounds for two pints, twice, we gave up waiting for the off chance that the kids would appear (I had told them where we would be) we set off in the search for lunch.
The French restaurant was reasonably empty so we found a table and ordered. The meal last night at the American style diner was amazing, all things considered (captive audience, quick turnaround, thousands of miles from the U.S.), so I looked forward to our order. Sausages enter the frame here. I had sliced, sautéed, Merguez sausages on a slice of garlic bread with dijon mustard and caramelised onions. I am once again looking forward to the French leg of my sausage sojourn.
The kids remained in the pool for over six hours. I joined them for the final couple of hours and returned with Ed. Beth and Bill stayed for a while. We had a disaster attempting to hire another bike, the centre was closed so we settled down for a quiet evening. Bill and Beth disagreed and set off to the village centre to see what was occurring. Emma, Ed and I sat and idly flicked through the nonsense on TV.
Emma discovered a fantastic new channel. Ok, not a real one, but a local CCTV feed from a badger set, a very unique Badger Watch. So far we have watched for over an hour and seen only a single badger. The monochrome, night-vision view of a small patch of largely unchanging woodland is far more interesting and entertaining than Cowell and his cronies. Love it!!