Monday, February 2, 2009

We Are Looking Forward To Spring

Maybe we are jumping the gun, but after the coldest spell in the UK for 3o years and the eventual arrival of the great melt, we somehow feel we must be moving towards the northern spring and with millions of snowdrops pushing their way through the sometimes frozen ground, we are optimistic anyhow. Now we will get the wet I am told, and already the Thames is running bank to bank with more flooding forecast meaning we are confined to the marina until things improve.

When it rains it is just like a typical Auckland downpour and as the Thames drains such a huge geographic area it quickly reaches flood status. A few years ago they had a monstrous flood where the docks floated almost off their anchor piles and people were walking up hill on the normally down sloping ramps to get to their boats. The temps have improved on the odd day and I can walk around without gloves and or scarf so that is a change. Maybe the extreme cold will return but I sure hope not.

Spoke too early as today is zero again and the frost is amazing and part of the marina (around the edges) has ice on it but never mind I am sure it will come right. Fingers crossed.
The UK has officially been listed as being in recession and heaps of shops and businesses are closing down everywhere with related loss of jobs and we are told today that every 10mins someone loses their house so are out on the street. As you can imagine this must be so debilitating, hence crimes of theft and robbery are skyrocketing. I sure don't have the answers but I don't think the politicians have any better ideas than to prop up the robbing banks who really caused all of this to happen in the first place. Despite propping them up using taxpayers money to the sum of 37 billion pounds, with serious talk that the government will have to do it again, these same banks are refusing even good businesses, decent lines of credit to allow them to get on with their business but have paid themselves and their staff huge bonuses and in some cases thrown huge functions costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. There appears to be no real justice and while I know this is a worldwide happening, it is as usual, the more honest people who are hurting most.

While we are talking about business etc we visited a large retail and mail order company ARGOS on Saturday and were surprised by the large numbers of people visiting the shop (just one of the 780 in the chain) and who were pouring over copies of their new mail order catalogues which were chained to desks and then they would go to the counter and order product. Stacks of copies were available for folk to take away and perhaps order by phone, fax and of course email. This issue had just been released and we were gob smacked by the size of the catalogue which is A5 in size and at least 50mm thick with 1800 pages on gloss paper with clear photos and print. They had one out in October for all the Christmas shopping but this is the new version for Spring/Summer 2009. They guarantee that if you order and pay for the goods at the counter they will deliver your order anywhere in England or Wales generally by end of business next day for the sum of 5.80 pounds regardless of size or number of packages. It is an amazing business which obviously suits so many people who may not have cars or just want the product delivered to their homes.

I could apologise for going on about it but won't as I am sure there is no mail order company in Australia or New Zealand who would even come close in comparison so the size and variety of goods available is mind boggling. From Garden and DIY, Tools, Sports and Leisure, Home Entertainment and Sat Navs, Photo, Office and Phones, Home Supplies and Furniture, Kitchen and Laundry, Jewellery and Watches, Health and Personal Care, Gifts and Hobbies, Toys Games and Nursery needs. These are just the sub headings but to give you a further idea on size there are 145 pages alone of TVs and DVD players etc etc. It has to be seen to really comprehend the size and the value of such a publication. Goodness knows how many trees needed to be cut down to produce it????

For those who are real boaters, perhaps you can explain why in New Zealand we use to make up our mooring ropes and tie them off to the jetty ready to pick up and drop onto the cleats or bollards on board our boats and they were at the right length etc except perhaps the springs which were adjustable whereas here they never have any ropes left on the docks and or walkways. All ropes must be carried on-board hence you have to lasso the cleat or bollard when you come alongside. Any thoughts on this? Nobody here at the marinas seem to know why.

Last week we went and visited the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Air Force Memorial at Runnymede which many of you will know as being the setting for the signing of the Magna Carta, enshrining mans basic freedoms under law. This was signed and sealed under King John in 1215 and is the basis of all our laws throughout the civilized world.

A very fitting place for this fine war memorial which pays tribute to the missing thousands of allied flyers and crews in WW2. Situated on top of a very large hill, the views span from Heathrow to Windsor Castle and Queen Mary Reservoir and the surrounding lands and is surrounded by lots of trees. The grounds are immaculate as one would expect but it is only when you walk into the shrine with its cloisters and where 20,000 names are etched into the walls do you get the real feeling of this tribute. The 20,000 came from UK , Canada, Australia, New Zealand and so on and all lost their lives battling the Germans in the war where the missions mainly were flown from bases in the UK and Northern Europe.

All in all some 116,000 commonwealth flyers, aircrews and support crews were killed and many lie in graves or are remembered in memorials around the world in such places as Singapore and on the island of Malta and El Alemein. It is a staggering number as we sort of imagined that the aircraft were so often up their out of the day to day dangers that ground or sea personnel faced. To walk along the seemingly endless lines of names and see so many listed from our home countries with their rankings listed alongside plus the little memorial tributes left by families, friends or visiting comrades, just wrenches ones heart for sure.

Rhonda was doing a bit of research the other day and looked up the history of Staines which is our closest main shopping center and she discovered that while this part of Greater London was renowned once as the major producer of linoleum, the floor covering which was invented in 1864, It has a much older claim to history than that though as it was in AD 43 when the Romans invaded Britain and settled in Staines. The local museum has lots of artifacts on display so we will visit there hopefully before we move on to France. The word Staines is thought to come from the word Stones due to its association with a long lost site of monoliths in nearby Stanwell. Every town has had its famous people and some of them from Staines are Cliff Richard, Christine Keeler (only the older folk will remember this name) and the current Dr Who, David Tennant plus the pop band Hard Fi who are residents.

We are slowly getting everything ready for our crossing to France which we now hope will be in early March, weather depending. We have appointed a qualified skipper and a mate and I will go as the general hand and cook. God help them eh. The skipper who has crossed the channel more times than he can remember, came aboard the other evening and did a recce of the boat and pointed out what we will need to secure throughout the boat etc. He says it should take up to 24 hours from Penton Hook to Calais once the go button is pushed. He sure gave us a lot of confidence with his talk and listed experience, however, Rhonda and Harry will still go over on the ferry with our car so hopefully will be there when we get there. The old owner may come along for the ride as well so we will give the car to someone to bring back to London and hopefully one of the lads will buy it.

"STOP THE PRESSES'' As they say.

Yesterday, while we were down in Hastings on the south coast doing some sightseeing, we learned over the radio that severe storms of snow and ice were predicted that day and onwards for the rest of the week so we packed our car and headed home experiencing some fluffy snow flurries on the way but back at the boat it was fine and sunny, but after a couple of hours at home the sky darkened and the snow started which was so pretty according to Rhonda. The temps dropped to zero so the fire was lit and the radiators set going so we had a very pleasant warm night. But woke this morning to between 4 and 6 inches of snow everywhere with a terrible cold wind to chill all to the bones. As it was so much of a novelty to Rhonda she chose to accompany Harry and me on our early morning walk so we rugged up with every layer we could and got Harry into his wet weather gear and off we went. Even along the dock Harry was chest deep in the snow and it took him a while to get used to it but after a few minutes decided it was good stuff to run through and coat himself in the white stuff as the photos will show.

CNN, the great TV news station, was calling for photos so Rhonda sent off a couple of ours of Harry and the marina, one of which was taken up by them and rated a 5 and all of sudden it came up on screen as the lead item when reporting on the snow storm presently engulfing us. The pictures used as shown, were accompanied by a commentary that these were taken by Ken and Rhonda Blakie from New Zealand who are living on a barge in London. They were so fascinated by this that the producer called Rhonda on the phone to ask for further details of our adventure and asked for access to our blog pages and wish us to follow up with this as we make our way.

We couldn't believe how much of a disruption this storm caused. All London buses stopped. The M25 Ring Road was closed along with all schools in lower England and even Heathrow was closed so some 500 flights were cancelled or held back. It is the heaviest snow for 20 years with perhaps even more promised tomorrow so we sure have copped it this winter. Trust us to be here to witness this. Goodness knows how some of the old people will get on.

Now going back to our journey to the south coast. On Thursday we went south to Cocking which is in the middle of West Sussex where the old owners of "Somewhere" live in a beautiful country home. The area is in rolling country which is similar to lots of New Zealand and of course is the old farm village with buildings dating from the 16th century and is so fascinating.

On Thursday evening, Ross and Elaine took us to their favourite hotel restaurant named the Spread Eagle Hotel in a nearby town of Midhurst. This town has been known to be inhabited for 2000 years and has served all sorts of landlords and royals during this period. This hotel had so much history since it was originally developed as a Sussex Coaching Inn in the 15 century, 1430 and is adorned with so many antiques which were being used in every day dining like spindle back chairs and oak tables etc, etc. Adorning the ceiling of the dining area one can look up to see Xmas Puddings hanging. Some of them dating back to Oliver Cromwell's time when people who came to stay and ordered Xmas Pudding had another one cooked, their name added to the bowl and it was hung as the invitation for them to attend the following year.

While the township of Midhurst has a population of only 200 people the hotel is visited by folk from all over so offer a huge bill of fare as well as accommodation and would be rated as a 5 star hotel at least. It is amazing how far folk travel to view and to use these sorts of places and you can tell that there is a very proud feeling by locals and visitors as to the value of the heritage so all items which you can touch are just there before you. I couldn't imagine a pub in New Zealand allowing such magnificent furnishings and fittings to be handled at all.

In the foyer stands a complete suit of armour which is an original and as you can examine it so closely you get a true understanding of how small the soldiers were of the era and how strong they were as despite the old story that told of them being lifted onto horseback by rope slung over a branch or frame, this was not so. They had to get onto their horses often without any assistance same as if they got knocked from the horse they had to remount often on their own.

Completely fascinating spot to visit however, we moved on from there to the seaside resort of Brighton. Situated as it is right on the coast this big city has been the playground and holiday destination for millions of Britons and foreigners since the middle ages and the immense layout of multi storeyed buildings which once were homes for the rich and famous they are now largely converted to hotels, B&Bs plus flats and apartments as there is a large university there as well.

If you compare it to Bondi Beach in Sydney, well don't as the beach is heaped gravel, steep,with a horrible surf of brown coloured Atlantic ocean pounding onto the foreshore and as there is a real drift to the East there seems to be man-made groins built every few hundred meters or so to minimise the scouring. I guess in the heat of summer (if any arrives) there will be standing room only or in some cases you can hire pretty little coloured bathing sheds where you can sit out of the wind or store your belongings. To be honest it is like a step back in time as we stayed across the road from the Brighton Pier which is a huge appendage sticking out into the ocean. Gee it must cop some huge storms. This Pier is predominantly an amusement centre with the old slot machines and penny arcades etc.

Further west of this pier is the skeletal frame of the other pier which was almost as famous but sadly burnt down some few years back leaving the twisted steel structure remains to mother nature to destroy. In my opinion it is not only an eye-sore but very dangerous for any bathers who would choose to swim the hundred meters or so out to look at it and I am amazed that the owners have not been made to destroy and remove it completely.

After an afternoon and night spent in Brighton, we moved on as the famous Pavilion designed and built by George IV which looks like an Indian Taj or similar was closed for the winter months which was a pity as it looked quite amazing in that it has stood since 1822 when it was first used as a holiday castle and entertainment centre for royalty and the rich and famous.

We drove East towards the city of Hastings where we were to stay overnight where we viewed the original Butlins Family Holiday Park. Going since19?? this amazing family holiday camp with accommodation and entertainment which even had its own song to entice new visitors over all those years, almost a blue print for Club Meds in later years. It is a tribute to the company that this is still going and packing them in each summer period. We stopped in Eastbourne from where we took a diversion to Beechy Head based on a feeling by Rhonda that this could be an interesting area. I wasn't so sure but as usual the navigator was right as this area is like a piece of the White Cliffs Of Dover and is just amazing. Some of our photos will tell their own story and as it is so lowly populated that you can wander for miles along the cliff tops and look down far to the ocean and coast below. It is quite daunting really and usually while I am not bothered by this sort of landscape, I have to say that the way the cliff edges were not signed nor protected in any way made my stomach lurch when Rhonda and Harry got to be too close by my reckoning to the straight drop of several hundred feet to the beach below. People walk along tracks only which are probably two meters from the edge and despite the fact that every so often the cliffs do crumble it does not seem to stop the strollers even despite the freezing cold day and harsh wind.

Maybe the fact that there was a mobile Chaplain patrolling the local road in her Toyota 4 x 4 van gives a feeling that the area sometimes gets used for sadder happenings but the raw beauty of the area is something one must witness and if the cliffs of Dover are even more daunting then I am sorry we missed out but due to the weather forecast we headed north and home to our barge calling at a couple of pretty small towns which called for our attention but arriving safely before the bad weather arrived.

I have to say how we could not get over how much history is to be found in such small geographic areas and you no longer leave one thing before you are looking at the next. One would need a lifetime to absorb even half of what is on offer to see and to learn about, however, I also have to add that the bloody parking charges are a real pain and even are applied in the most rural areas and spoil the day really as most historic sights charge a visiting/viewing fee and then on top of that you have to pay to park the car which can often be many hundreds of yards away from the actual attraction. That is my only grumble but do wish better parking facilities could be provided at free entry.

Rhonda's Comments: Winning Sign of the Month