Category Archives: Travel

I’ve seen some things, man…

It’s been a couple of weeks since my last blog, and for that I am not remotely apologetic.  According to my calculations I’ve covered nearly 1,500 miles in that time, attended a number of events of varying shapes and sizes, got very dusty, very wet, and very annoyed.  Let me explain.

The last time we spoke I’d had a lovely event at a village fete and was full of the joys of summer.  Well folks, it’s all gone a bit south since then – but there have been highlights as well.

DSCF8001First up comes a trip to the RAF Museum at Cosford in the West Midlands.  They were hosting their second food festival, and hopes were high of a successful event.  The setting certainly was a bit different – in the shadow of a Hercules transport plane, near a hangar containing all manner of winged beasties of various vintage.  There were some really interesting things in there, and I was allowed to wander around behind the barriers unaccompanied before the site opened to the public (just mind your head, they said…do they not know I’m a hobbit?).  It was really interesting to be able to get up close to the aircraft, be able to peer inside and see just how basic some of the old aircraft were.  No in-flight entertainment here, folks.

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Another real highpoint of the show was a fly-past by a Douglas Dakota, which buzzed the festival on both afternoons.  I have to admit to having abandoned my stall on both flypasts – it’s not often you get to see that sort of thing in your work environment!  I managed to get some OK-ish photos even though it’s bloody difficult to pan a 30x optical zoom bridge camera to keep the object in frame and keep half an eye on your stall at the same time!

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The hotel I stayed at for this trip was a modern monstrosity in Telford, bland on the outside and functional on the inside.  What made my stay memorable were the exchanges I had with the staff on my second night there, which just goes to show how even a bland corporate hotel can be great.  Situation one – I managed to break the loo in my room.  The flush just broke.  These things happen, especially when loos are faced with swallowing the by-products of a chilli-based diet.  Anyway, I had to report this to the front desk, and on my way back to the room with the duty manager and the young receptionist I was asked whether I was a serial killer.  There was a reason for this – the duty manager was reading a book about a killer who was disposing of his victims down the drain, and naturally the Train-asks-passengers-to-not-to-flush-goldfish-and-ex’s-sweater-into-the-toiletobvious cause of my blockage was bound to be discarded brains and intestines and sundry other gooey bits, stands to reason, can be no other explanation.  The poor receptionist – not on the same wavelength as the two of us – looked a little taken aback, but soon got the drift of the silliness going on.  Anyway, bog confirmed broken, room swapped with no fuss.

sausagesSo then it was off to dinner, but with a complication – the bar and restaurant were shut because of a wedding reception, with one of the hotel’s conference rooms adapted for use as the restaurant for the evening.  I walked past the room first up, then doubled back to find it and asked the waitress ‘is this the pretend restaurant’?  She mocked indignation, so I changed my description to ‘temporary’ which met with a better response.  I ordered sausages & mash with gravy, which duly arrived…the waitress informed me that ‘if you want more gravy just ask…I won’t get it, but you can ask’.  I like staff like that, they worked me out pretty quickly and just had a good giggle.  I’ve spent many years away staying on business, and having a bit of banter with the staff can make even the most routine of stays a memorable one.

That’s in stark contrast to the owner of the B&B in Keswick I stayed in this last weekend.  He almost seemed to treat it as an inconvenience that I was paying him to stay in his establishment, and the fact that I didn’t see him again after checking in speaks volumes about his gregarious, victorhappy, cheerful people personality.  No names will be mentioned as I have lodged a complaint about the ‘hotel’, though I don’t expect to get any recompense for what was the most undistinguished hotel stay ever.  It wasn’t bad as such, just…well…featureless, cheerless, and depressing.  Staying away by yourself isn’t all beer and skittles I know, but I love travel and have worked out how to do it pretty well over the years.  This was one of the very few occasions when I was just uncomfortable in a hotel room, and thought long and hard about checking out after the first night and sleeping in the back of the van.  I didn’t, but the thought was there.  At least the local pub served a decent meal and pint of beer, so it wasn’t a complete disaster.

The event that led to this trip up north was the Lakes Chilli Festival, a sizable event that unfortunately fell foul of the weather.  There was of course torrential rain everywhere on Saturday, but the Lake District kept it up all weekend.  A fair number of tickets had already been sold so quite a few people turned up anyway, and of course anyone in the Lakes is used to those conditions, but it definitely kept numbers down.  It was a shame, as it would be a fantastic event on a good weekend.  The Lake District is a spectacular part of the country, one of my favourite parts of England – I seem to have a thing about any region with serious amounts of ‘up’.  Regrettably because of the weather I was unable to take any decent photos this trip, but that just gives me an excuse to go back!  The irony of event organiser Mark wearing a Superdry t-shirt – under a rain jacket – was not lost to us stall holders.

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In between Cosford and the Lakes was the New Forest Show in Brockenhurst.  Jodhpurs aplenty, tweed everywhere, and the pervasive whiff of horse poo – ah, it must be a country show!  The abiding memory of this one will be dust, thrown up by visitors as they walked around.  We had lovely dry weather for the whole show, the downside to this being that even in the food hall a hell of a lot of dust was in the air, which settled on displays, stock, stall holders and anything else that didn’t move very fast.  The normal start to a day at a show is a quick tidy-up 20140731_073045of the display followed by a cuppa – not this time.  Everything had to come off the table for cleaning, which led to the sight of bunch of male stallholders dusting – causing much amusements amongst the ladies!  The show was pretty good though, plenty busy enough, though I expect the ice-cream sellers did best of all.

One thing that did come to my attention is the epidemic of tattoos in the younger generation.  As it was a warm few days there was a lot of flesh on display – which had its good, and bad points – but I was taken aback not by the percentage of young people with tattoos, but by the percentage of flesh covered by those sporting body art.  I swear to the FSM that there were some lads and lasses Tattoos-21387475351wandering round that must have been almost entirely made of ink, such was the bewildering array of images on display.  Some of the artwork on the ladies was designed to draw attention to…well…parts of the body that you could get slapped for staring at.  There seems to have been a collective decision made by the yoof of today to not give a fig about how these things are going to look in a few years time, or in a more formal environment like a job interview.  Now although I’m not a fan of tatts in any form, if they can be covered up when necessary then that’s fine.  But unless some people are going to start wearing a burka there’s no way to hide some of these things.  Faces, necks, earlobes, kneecaps, teeth – every available inch of body space is now a canvas for something which is supposed to make the wearer unique, but when everyone seems to have a tattoo…well, it sort of defeats the object, doesn’t it?  I know this is beginning to make me sound a bit old-fashioned, but the word I have for all you walking galleries is moderation.  It’s something that a lot of people appear to have forgotten about – that less is more – and that somewhen, someday, you’re going to regret having that tattoo of your childhood hero Rolf Harris writ large across your forehead.  Can you see what it is yet?

And just don’t get me started on body piercings…

Of course none of this ranting made it into the interview I did with BBC Radio Solent for their Drivetime programme.  I’ve not heard it, but a few people said they had the next day, and apparently I didn’t come across as a gibbering buffoon.  Which is nice.

20140801_185242If you remember back to the start of this post (which is a long time ago I realise, there’s a lot of rubbish in my head to get out there this week)  I mentioned that I’ve covered a lot of miles in the Silver Machine recently.  Well, a not inconsiderable amount of that has been spent at snail’s pace on those miracles of modern transport infrastructure, the motorway.  I have had a lot of time to think of horrible, horrible ways to visit excruciating pain on those that designed the MSDFADO EC034M5 and the M6 in particular.  Were they actually designed, or did they just congeal from the fetid outpourings of some kind of asphalt hell instead?  My journey to the Lakes took 9 hours in total, a good proportion of which was spent thanking my lucky stars that I’ve just had a new clutch installed a couple of weeks back, as it was nose to tail for mile after mile after tedious mile.

alfaBut as always, my mind started wandering.  I was drawn to a number of things as I stared out at the endless sea of tail lights ahead of me, one of which was just how funky tail lights are becoming.  The advent of LED lighting has led to some whizzy designs these days, such as the Alfa Romeo Giulietta’s scrollwork…Jaguar XFs just look cool (well, they do from any angle)…and even workaday motors like the VW Golf and it’s sister SEAT Leon look pretty cool.  It makes things a little less dull in the queues.

Another aspect I noticed was the preponderance of personalised number plates.  Now I’ve dabbled with the idea of getting one in the past but then come to my senses, but they seem to fall into two schools:

  • those made up of initials that are fairly nondescript but mean something to the owner
  • those that spell out ‘humorous’ words or names

Now from what I’ve seen, those drivers in the first category are pretty normal (unless they’re in an Audi).  Those in the second category seem to drive like kn*bs.  It’s as if they’ve decided that reckless driving fits well with their zany sense of humour, my how we should laugh at them as they tailgate at 80mph in the rain, chuckling to ourselves as we notice their number plate spells out something like H 1 PPO or S 3 XXY.  The things you see when you don’t have your AK47.

fairydustAnd while I’m on one, what about the ‘Powered By Fairydust’ stickers?  You’ll see these on a Ford Fiesta or Renault Clio, driven by a lady who is almost invariably not terribly fairylike…usually quite pretty in a ‘she’d be really gorgeous if there was just a bit less of her’ kind of way, but let’s be realistic – the only dust in her house is likely to be on the exercise bike in the spare room.  And before you all say it – yes, I’m a fat knacker myself, but I don’t go round putting stickers on my car that say ‘Svelte Sex God’ or the like.

And relax…

So there we have it.  I’ve got it all out of my system, my therapy session is complete for this week.  See, this is what happens when I miss a post.

It’s still all go, go, go on the events front.  We’ve just got over one hump (Dorset Chilli Fest, Lakes Chilli Fest, Commonwealth Games among others) but we still have a bundle to do in August.  This weekend is another big chilli fest down at West Dean in Sussex – Jamie’s all lined up to do that one, it’s one of his big events.  We’re also at the Bristol Balloon Fiesta and Edinburgh’s Foodies Festival, so once again we’re covering the country in pursuit of chilli happiness.  I personally will be having a quieter weekend, only making it as far as Bristol, Sherston and Swindon.  I’ve chosen to stay closer to home as my winter torture starts again on Saturday – once more unto the breach of the County Ground and hoping Swindon Town aren’t going to make fools of themselves.  I’ll never learn, I realise that now.

TerryThe Pink Chilli Hobbit is at the ss Great Britain market in Bristol on Saturday, and Chippenham Farmers Market on Sunday.  She had an interesting encounter in Marlborough last weekend, with Terry from Kansas City.  He lit up a monster cigar with some Cranberry Kick on the end of it and described the ensuing results as ‘delightful’.  Now as a non smoker I’m struggling with that description, but each to his or her own.  Unusual is the word that springs to mind.

I think I’d better wrap up now as I think I’ve used up all the words in the world for today.  Oh…I missed out zymurgy.  How could that happen?

Just be thankful that I didn’t start talking about wasps.


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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Conservatoire Africain

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Hello one and all, and here we are for another slice of life from the Hobbit Hole.

As you may remember the weekend just gone was my last planned free weekend this side of Christmas, so I treated myself to a little trip to Brussels.  Now Belgium is a much maligned nation, with a reputation for being dull.  That, I believe, is a shockingly unfair accusation, and I shall attempt to back up this bold assertion with a few photos and the odd tale from their capital.

BetjemanThanks to the rather excellent service provided by British Rail (I know!) and Eurostar the trip from Chippenham to Brussels was completely uneventful, and the first challenge came with the Brussels Metro.  This proved somewhat tricky as the little orange ticket validation machine became the little orange ticket eating machine, but thanks to some friendly staff, my ‘O‘ Level French, vigorous arm-waving and rather confused shrugging of shoulders the little orange validation machine was dismembered and forced to give up its tickety meal.  It seemed to have feasted on many tickets that day!

After that kerfuffle, it was time for a beer or two.  A procession of bars ensued, some new to me, some known from a trip a few years ago.  The beer was excellent, as is always the case for Belgium.

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On the way back to the hotel we walked through the Grande Place, and even at 1am, wobbling slightly, we were able to marvel at the spectacular architecture.

Now we have some great stuff in the UK, but every Belgian city I’ve stayed in has their own Grande Place or Grote Markt, all lit up in spectacular style.

This is not like bowling out of Wetherspoons and heading for the kebab shop, I can tell you.

So did Saturday take on a significantly different stripe?  Well no, not really.  Some epic shambling was undertaken, some wonderful architecture seen, some odd things on street corners were photographed, and a few more beers were imbibed.

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The evening of course was more of the same, just in different bars.  The beer waiter at A La Becasse took the new world record as the worlds surliest; the puppets on display at Toone were still freaky; and I drank my first ever Kwak.

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And in Poechenellekelder I saw possibly the oddest thing I have ever seen in a bar.  No photos were taken on the night, but some of this lot were in there, like something out of The League of Gentlemen.  They’re call Conservatoire Africain:

The noises they were making on various instruments were as bizarre as their looks.  Quite, quite surreal – and typically Belgian.  How can anyone possibly class this as a dull country?  (And just so you know, they are a charitable organisation that collects for children’s hospitals.  They’re just nuts).

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Finally, a view of the carpet in our hotel.  If you can get back to the hotel and not throw up when you see this, you’re probably safe from a hangover.

So now it’s back to the wonderful world of chillies.  It will seem almost sensible in comparison the Conservatoire Africain, but I think almost everything will.

Have a good week, speak to you again soon.