Monday, 18 August 2008

In the shower(s)

Penury, brought on by poverty wages and the eldest daughter's self-funded round-the-world gap year travels being not quite as self-funded as we would have liked, means the Dog Walker is spending his annual summer holiday at home.

We rarely venture too far - Northumberland, Cornwall, Isle of Wight and such like - but this year, East Anglia is our oyster. This would normally be okay - days out, trips to the seaside, paddling pool in the garden - but the weather has made planning anything a real nightmare.

Day after day, the forecasters have hedged their bets - sunshine and showers (and they could just have easily added possibles gales, frosts, snow, heatwave and drought). Why can't they be honest and say 'we just don't know'?

Anyway, our plan was to have days out with the kids (for this read boys - the girls at 19 and 17 aren't really interested anymore), but choosing where to go when you've no idea what the weather is going to be like is quite difficult. This, of course, just adds to the problem we start with of finding places that will interest both boys who, while being 11-year-old twins, have completely different needs and interests because of the 'youngest' one's learning disability.

So, where to?

Most successful was our trip to Mole Hall, near Saffron Walden.

There's nothing sophisticated about this little farm/animal park, almost hidden at the end of a series of single track roads, but we had a delightful time at a reasonable price - just over £20 for a family ticket.

Food for the deer and ducks was pretty cheap (we've been ripped off at other similar places) and we spent several hours among the deer, chickens, rabbits etc.

I suspect the place was once a small private zoo and we felt a little uncomfortable about there being a couple of elderly-looking chimps in a not over-large enclosure. But, having said that, they looked healthy and well. I'd like to say they also looked happy, but I don't think elderly chimps do happy (they're the grumpy old men/women of the primate world).

The playground was a bit too simple for twin 1, but twin 2 enjoyed it, along with the butterfly house where, I have to admit, he decided to catch a butterfly between finger and thumb. It flew off, so no damage done (I think).

The highlight for Mrs DW was a little family of bantams - the little ginger chick being her favourite.

My favourite day out so far has been to Blickling Hall, a National Trust property in Norfolk. A bit of a trek for us, but well worth it (though I'm not sure if the others thought so).

Because of the length of our journey, we decided to have a coffee before looking around. There was one poor woman serving single-handedly in the Courtyard Café. She was incredibly cheerful and helpful, which also meant service was very slow. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because, having chosen the Courtyard Café (seating outside in the courtyard), the skies decided to dump a week's worth of rain on Blickling in a few minutes.

Happily, by the time we emerged after an extended spell in the serving area, the sun had returned and largely dried the seats!

Our tour of the (lovely) gardens was punctuated with further showers, which meant that it was rather whistlestop - a shame because I could have spent hours wandering around.

I don't suppose the gardeners were enjoying it much either . . . rain stops mowing, below.

Mrs DW and the boys head off after a shower

Across the rooftops at Blickling Hall

We were rather taken by that area of Norfolk - it was like going back in time - and prompted questions about job opportunities in the area (none, I don't suppose, for an old has-been like me).

These two days out were in sharp contrast to the day we had at High Lodge, in Thetford Forest, a couple of weeks ago. It was the first time we had been there since they raised the parking price to £7 and force visitors to go through the palaver of taking their ticket to a pay station (which, on the day we were there, was being very selective about the coins and notes it would accept).

I have to say that £7 seemed a bit excessive and, while we try not to abuse the Blue Badge we have because of our son, The Forestry Commission's argument about not offering free or discounted parking to disabled people because £7 is such 'good value' is a nonsense. Disabled visitors here can access only a limited area around High Lodge, especially those with a physical disability, so why should they pay the same as someone who can use all the facilities, walks, playgrounds etc.

Perhaps the cyclists, who make life very difficult for mere pedestrians at High Lodge, should pay a premium. The Forestry Commission could perhaps then afford to 'police' cycle use, especially around the visitor centre where cyclists just plough through anyone who stands in their way - whether or not they're carrying children, food or hot drinks.

I would also expect that, having paid my £7, the Forestry Commission might arrange for the bins to be emptied overnight so that rubbish isn't strewn everywhere (by foxes, presumably) by the morning.

We won't be rushing back!

Sunday, 3 August 2008

I'm bored . . .

Actually, I like being bored.
I don't know how to meditate, but I imagine it's a bit like my own state of boredness (yes, I know, there's no such word). I can empty my head and think of nothing, I can even do it while apparently doing something else - reading, watching TV etc.

I can go for a whole day (if uninterrupted) in this state. But for the benefit of my colleagues, I can assure them I've not yet been able to master the art of being bored and appearing to work at the same time.

Now tedium, that's another thing altogether, and work, I find, can often be tedious. This weekend has been seriously tedious. Apart from taking the dog out and a bit of gardening, I've not really done anything, but at the same time I can't say I had the joy of being bored. Circumstances simply conspired to make it difficult to do anything constructive . . . I won't bore you with the details.

The gloom did lift a little this evening when I took the dog out (in the rain) and we got a good look at a female sparrowhawk. We don't see many of those around here, so it was a nice treat. I didn't have my camera with me (but I think it would have been too quick for me anyway), but I did take a few pictures over the weekend - new pictures of the hound and the cat, today's crop from the garden (later served up for dinner) and a not quite sharp shot of a bee.