Sunday, February 24, 2008

Checking out Chequers - 24 February 2008

A parliament of crows in front of the the PM's house

EllesboroughNot far from London is Chequers, the country home of the British Prime Minister. The Ridgeway walking path used to go almost past the front door but was rerouted, for security reasons, a few years ago and now the closest one gets is about 400m.

An entry gate at ChequersToday’s walk began from the estate church in Ellesborough; joined the Ridgeway to cross the Chequers’ estate then circled back through the foot of Coombe Hill to our starting point.

Our return journey took us through Princes Risborough, a charming town that deserves a return visit.

Glitz and Glamour - 23 February 2008

London Fashion Weekend Marquee

Catwalk modelAlthough the Empire is no longer what it used to be and Britannia no longer rules the waves, London still retains its influence in finance and fashion. While we are never going to get a taste of the City bonuses we felt we should get a taste of the fashion.

London Fashion Weekend seems to be the public’s chance to see a little of the glitz and glamour after London Fashion Week has finished, and comes complete with its own catwalk show so we booked our tickets and off we went.

Spring arrives in LondonGiven the lack of attention that we pay to the latest trends, it was very much a been-there-done-that outing but quite fun to have front row seats at a London fashion catwalk show nevertheless, even if we were several decades out of place.

Natural History MuseumThe show is held in temporary marquees erected in the grounds of the Natural History Museum so it seemed silly not to visit it while we were so close. There is, currently, an exhibition of some fabulous gems stones, including a private collection of 296 diamonds of all different colours.

Being mid-term break the place was full of families and there were special attractions such as a woman dressed as Mary Anning, 'Mary Anning' with one of her findsthe fossil woman (1799-1847), standing by one of ‘her’ many fossil finds and explaining it to the interested children.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Cattle, Castle and Crooked House - 16 February 2008

Chartley Hall

Chartley CastleOver the years we have visited many country estates, looked at many fine English houses and explored many ruined castles. This weekend we were invited to stay on a country shooting estate and had the opportunity to explore their privately ownedOur hosts and the Mews Cottage ruined castle.

Ngaire and Stuart have changed lifestyles and now work on the Chartley Hall Estate and accommodation in the Mews Cottage is provided.

Chartley Hall and moatThe estate is in Staffordshire and the current dwelling is the fourth moated manor house to occupy the site after the castle was abandoned in the mid 1500s. Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned in the Hall shortly before her execution in 1587.

Chartley CattleThe estate is home to a rare breed of cattle that are said to date from Roman times and that were recorded in the Doomsday book. Chartley Cattle are one of a few herds of Old English White Park Cattle and are descendants of what is reportedly the oldest breed in the country.

The Crooked HouseOn Saturday we were taken to see The Crooked House pub built in a semi-collapsed building that is situated over a collapsed mine shaft. After the ground subsidence left one end of the pub 4 ft lower than the other the building was condemned in the 1940s before the Banks pub chain took it over, strengthened and stabilised the building and reopened it as a popular tourist destination.

The Indie Travel Podcast might give me Lonely Planet books for writing this!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Chinese New Year - 10 February 2008

Chinese New Year parade
The Chinese New Year celebrations in London are the biggest such celebrations outside Asia so, since it promised to be a beautiful day, we decided it was time to see the show.
Chinese New Year paradeChinese New Year parade

Chinese New Year paradeChinese New Year parade

We arrived in plenty of time to secure a front-row spot for the parade but that certainly did not guarantee uninterrupted views. For some reason the press photographers thought they had the right to swan up any old time and stand in front of spectators; parade stewards did likewise, as did a clutch of very ill-mannered Chinese women who pushed through and blocked the view of people who had arrived an hour before them. Nevertheless we had a reasonable view of the passing parade and then set off on another London walk.

Queen's Savoy ChapelThe first stop was the Queen’s Savoy Chapel where the sermon was excellent and included a call for understanding for the Archbishop who had opened a can of worms with his ill-judged comments this week on Sharia law in Britain. I guess a similar call was made from pulpits throughout the land. The Queen’s Chapel is so named because the Queen owns it and is a relatively small building lost among its bigger commercial neighbours. It survived the blitz unscathed and has thus retained its original appeal.

BAFTA; out-backBAFTA; out-front

Moving on we passed through Covent Garden Covent Garden stallwhere preparations were in full swing for the BAFTA Awards ceremony later in the evening. The keen souls were already in place behind the barriers so that they could catch a fleeting glimpse of a celebrity or two in a few hours’ time. (Probably the press would stand in their line of sight too!)

ChinatownBeyond Covent Garden is Chinatown; festooned in lanterns and absolutely crammed with people, to the extent that a one-way pedestrian system was in place to keep the people moving.

Trafalgar SquareWe passed, briefly, through Trafalgar Square where more entertainment had been laid on for the revellers and then discovered another part of London that we had not seen previously around Golden Square. Fireworks

Finally, to finish our Chinese New Year celebrations with a bang, we headed back to Leicester Square for a fireworks display.

The Indie Travel Podcast might give me Lonely Planet books for writing this!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

A cautionary tale about Fujifilm FinePix cameras

We have owned both the Fujifilm FinePix F10 and and the Fujifilm FinePix F30. In July 2005 we chose the F10 because of its superb low-light capabilities. However, in November 2006, not long after the warranty expired it failed with spots in the optics. These "splodges" show up worst against a blue sky and only appear when the zoom is in use.

Comparing the cost for fixing the F10 and the trade-up deal that Fuji offered, we traded up to the F30. This new camera was still under warranty when it failed in a similar fashion to the F10. It was repaired and returned with us only having to pay for recorded delivery. A few months later the repaired unit failed, again, in exactly the same way.

We are extremely careful with our cameras and always close the camera after shots so I do not believe that this fault is caused by misuse. When the camera is not faulty we are very happy with the quality of the resulting pictures and the use and features of the camera but we are extremely annoyed that two cameras should have failed in similar ways three times.

As we had a holiday booked we could not afford to be without the camera for the repair period, even though the turn-around is fairly quick. Despatched on a Monday the camera is usually back in our hands the following week but since we use the camera most weekends even this much delay is quite annoying.

So, we set off on our holiday with a faulty camera and finally, on the last day of our holiday, it occurred to me that we could hide the defects by holding the camera upside down thus putting the sky in the unblemished lower half of the frame. Not only was this a little awkward to use but it meant flipping every image; which is a tad tedious. However it is a small price to pay compared to the amount of photo editing I shall have to do on all the other spoiled images.

On our return we sent the F30 off for repair and were told that the problem was such that the "accidental damage" would be repaired free of charge but that our 3-year accidental damage cover was now void. What a rip-off: 3-year cover that expires the moment you use it!

To make matters worse, the camera that Fuji returned to us was an A350 that belonged to someone else. We don't yet know where our F30 is.

Larkrise to Candleford - 9 February 2008

Tusmore House
CottisfordThe BBC is famed for its fabulous period costume dramas and a current production, Larkrise to Candleford, is no exception. The series is based on a book by Flora Thompson (1876-1947) who was inspired by the experiences and times of her childhood. Flora was born in Juniper Hill and went to church in Cottisford so they were, respectively, the last and first towns on our walk this morning.

Tusmore estate buildingsBetween these two small and humble hamlets we passed through Tusmore Park and past Tusmore House, a superb Palladian mansion that looked like it had been built yesterday. It is actually only about 5 years old and gives a fabulous insight into what the grand houses of England would have looked like when they were first built.

First snowdrops of the yearWe are used to weathered and crumbling masonry; lichens and mosses and so forth giving the old country houses a patina of age and where repairs can look so obvious as they are crisp and new and clean.

Shotover ParkTusmore House is basically one colour, ashlar stone, and a gleaming beacon on the landscape. Being so new it does not blend in with the landscape and yet is, curiously, absolutely English.

Shotover Park follyAfter the walk we called in at Shotover Park near Wheatley. Although this too is privately owned, the follies in the grounds are visible from public footpaths so we made our own circular walk through the estate to see what there was to see.

Pendon Museum modelThen, from the grand to the miniature, we stopped at Pendon Museum where many, many hours have been spent by amazing modellers, painstakingly recreating the nearby Vale of the White Horse in a 1:76 scale model. (Making a person 1” high.) Some may see it as an overgrown train-set but the train is almost incidental to the landscape. Pendon Museum modelThe detail in the model houses, barns, pubs and privies is simply stunning. Even the interiors, that are hard to see, are modelled in exquisite detail. Trees, gardens, flowerbeds, hedgerows and fields of barley, wheat and hay are all realistically reproduced.

The Indie Travel Podcast might give me Lonely Planet books for writing this!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Art by the Thames - 2 February 2008

The ThamesWalking by the Thames is a most pleasant way to while away a sunny day and that is exactly what we did. For £1.00 we can use the trains to get from our place in North London across the Thames to Kew.

Bypassing Kew Gardens we stopped first on Kew Green to visit the church built in the 18th C when Kew was the site of the summer Bridge over the artificial river at Chiswick Parkpalace. The Georgian buildings around the green also date from that time and were homes for the royal courtiers and officials.

Crossing back over the Thanes, we made our way along the Thames path to Chiswick House, Hogarth’s Home and finally William Morris’s workshop – quite an ‘arty’ collection.

Chiswick House groundsChiskwick House was one of the original Palladian buildings in London and was really just a big playhouse for Lord Burlington to display his art collection and entertain guests.

Hogarth was an 18th C artist and social commentator who told his moralistic tales in sequential paintings which he also turned into engravings and sold as prints.

William Morris's press still in useMorris was influential in the Arts & Crafts movement and his work adorns the walls of many grand houses in the form of wallpapers and furnishings.

Today (2/2) was also our wedding anniversary so we decided an appropriate celebration would be to book a table for 2 at a 2 star Michelin restaurant so we booked a table for 2 at The Square in Bruton St, Mayfair.

Two halves of the same wholeThe service is amazing with what appeared to be at least one person per table and attentive staff who appeared to anticipate your every move. If you left the table your napkin was folded and when you reappeared there was always someone there to move your chair in for you.

The food was fabulous with 5 extra “in-between” palette-pleasing delights as well as the three courses. Our only gripe was that the room was unpleasantly cold.
Cabinet in Hogath's houseIf someone had told us on our wedding day that one day we would be celebrating an anniversary by sitting in London eating a meal that cost 2 month’s of our then household income we would have suggested an urgent trip to the psychiatrist. But with a rise through the ranks, a little help from inflation and the UK/NZ exchange rate we could cover the cost of the meal with a morning’s work.

The Indie Travel Podcast might give me Lonely Planet books for writing this!