Archive for the ‘departures’ Category

And we are Boarding.  For a flight to Shanghai, China!!  After so much effort.

Oh, the excitement.

All that history   –  The Boxer Rebellion and The Opium Wars,

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The memories of books I heard about in my youth very much from my parents’ generation –   Fu Manchu and The Triads.

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Murder Mysteries on the Home Service Radio Station about Chinese men with long pigtails in Opium Dens and Paul Temple investigating

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and bamboo hats shaped like shallow wigwams.

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and people fishing with tame cormorants

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Finally, we’re boarding a British Airways flight direct to Shanghai.  Just stepping over the threshold onto the plane had my heart thumping with excitement.

We were met at the door by the delightful Chief Steward called Jamie and I introduced myself as the, hopefully not, ‘difficult’ passenger who just might need oxygen.  He was very kind and immediately introduced me to the Stewardess who was in charge of my area of the plane and she took me to my seat to discuss the situation.  J. zoomed on down to her seat, which she had managed to change to an aisle seat, which is her preference so she said she was very happy.  My seat was super, a bulkhead seat with more legroom than I could use beside a window!!!

When I had explained that I would only need oxygen if someone used some chemical in the cabin to which I was allergic or when they fumigated the plane,  she brought me a cannister of oxygen and face mask and showed me how to use them and said that if the portable cannister did not deliver enough oxygen then they would use the cabin supply on the plane: then the situation become very embarrassing for me as she asked the young man sitting next to me to please call her if I collapsed and to help me with the oxygen if I needed it. I never wanted to bother unwitting strangers going about their daily lives.  Anyway, he was very decent about it and made nothing of it, and then up popped another man sitting behind me who said he was a First-Aider and would be very happy to help if necessary.  I was mortified.  It was very kind of them.

Then just as we settled into our climb out of Heathrow she asked over the tannoi for people in my area of the plane to please not use hand sanitizer, creams or sprays because they had a passenger who was allergic.  Very sensible and helpful, but more mortification.

Having said all that, it was kind of her to arrange things like she did because an hour or two into the flight, I collapsed.  A man two seats away from me used a sinus spray containing eucalyptus and I was gone.  I managed to let my seating companion know and he helped me get the face mask in place and turn on the oxygen and called the stewardess.  Unfortunately the smell was so strong that the amount of oxygen available could not bring me round, so the air stewardess fixed up the cabin supply for me.  This necessitated going onto the flight deck to ask the Captain to turn it on: then a pipe had to be inserted into the nozzle above my seat and the mask given to me.  This was heavenly and after about 15 minutes or so I was myself again.  Meanwhile she had asked the poor unsuspecting man with the sinus spray to please not use it again: he did not need asking twice, he was so alarmed and immediately went to the loo to wash himself down.  The man beside me said the smell was very strong and on the other man’s clothes.  The poor passenger suffered badly from congestion and said he used this spray all the time on all his flights as the only thing which could keep him comfortable.  I felt terrible for him and especially as it was an eleven hour flight: indeed he was sneezing and blowing his nose for the whole time.  While arranging the cabin supply and mask for me I could vaguely hear the man next to me saying what a terrible disability to be so sensitive to such everyday things, as I was.  Once I was myself again I was given a driving lesson for my oxygen: it could not just be turned on and off, it was always something that had to be done from the cockpit.  I was to be sure not to accidentally pull on the pipe or dislodge it or the cabin would de-pressurize and everyone else’s mask would descend.  Golly!!

While all this was being set up Jamie came back from First Class to assess the situation and then and there emailed the flight staff on the plane on which I would be returning to give them his assessment and explain my needs.  How very kind and how efficient.

Then meals were distributed.  Oh dear, the message about gluten free had not been transferred from the original flight to this one.  She looked in Business Class and First Class but nowhere could she find a special gluten free meal.  She could offer me a plate of lettuce but that was it.  Then the young man beside me said that really was not good enough on a flight of over eleven hours: I produced some corned beef which had been left over from my vouchers from the night before, she produced the lettuce and we found a salad dressing.  That was lunch.  Later on she came back and said she had found two dishes in First Class, one was chicken with salad, the other was salmon and potatoes, “were they all right for me?” I leapt at them and said absolutely so she kept these two for me for later on.   I have to say they were absolutely delicious and I had no idea airplane food could taste like that.

Later in the flight the young man beside me became talkative for a while, about his Grandfather.  About how had just died a week before and how he did not know how to grieve as it was his first death.  We had a rather serious conversation which he later said he had found helpful and then we both reverted to our previous occupations: he catching up on films, me following maps, reading, writing my diary, going to speak to J and look out of the window.


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After leaving London our journey took a shallow arc across Europe and Russia to turn SE from Novosibirsk down across Mongolia to Shanghai. Basically flying across Denmark, Southern Sweden, Moscow, Kazan, Chelyabinsk, Novosibirsk, Ulaan Baatar (Ulan Bator), and down to Shanghai.

Five hours in to the flight and we hit darkening skies: I managed an hour’s doze but as we flew on I became far too excited to sleep more, following the route and getting up frequently to have a drink and look out of the rear door window as mine was over a wing.  I always like a plane when it is dark and most people are asleep: the staff are quiet, there are plentiful drinks available at the rear of Coach and usually some interesting people to go and talk to about their travels.  I have never been further East than the Urals and as we passed over the Ural mountains  and then onto the Western Siberian Lowlands, past Chelyabinsk and on towards Omsk and Novosibirsk I found it hard to contain myself.  I noted that we were passing north of Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent – all names of Romance and Mystery – names to conjure with. From Novosibirsk, as we flew SE into Mongolia across the Altai Mountain range to Ulan Bator (which gave very noticeable turbulence) I noted that we flew south of my beloved Lake Baikal (on which I wrote a Research Paper some years ago).  From Ulan Bator the plane made a decided turn SSE and flew down to Shanghai.  When you are on a plane which takes hours and hours to fly across a country, you realise quite how vast that country is.

And then, we landed, early. Saturday morning, 7.30 a.m.

I was half way round the world and in China.  Unbelievable.

The usual pouring of people from the plane ensued, retrieving luggage etc etc but I did not rush and stopped to thank all those who had helped me and said I would write to BA to comment on how well I had been looked after.  I had felt safe and cared for, which had been so relaxing, and I was truly grateful.   The First-Aider behind me said that he was very rusty and most relieved not to have been needed!!

J and I followed the herd and went to Passport control where we were kept very firmly in control by a man in a suit who choreographed our placement behind a yellow line as we waited for an Officer to check our papers: no way could we decide which queue was the shortest or which desk seemed the obvious next one to go to.  He was whipping those Westerners into shape.

We began to get rather apprehensive.  Passport control was serious, no smiling or talking. Then on to Customs: as we charged in a gaggle across a large hall we were fascinated to see a crocodile of beautifully smart and disciplined members of staff marching, yes Marching, to work, under the eye of a senior officer.  All smiling and looking very happy, but definitely marching military style. Gosh.  Golly gosh.

The Green Channel was closed to us, although open to returning Chinese.  Seemed strange to me.  We were herded through the Red Channel where every single piece of luggage was sent through the scanner.  As we queued I saw our BA flight staff sailing through a special channel just for them, and feeling very anxious about my medical case in particular, I envied them.  As my luggage went through the scanner I had to go through a scanner too: and not an eyebrow was raised, not a question asked, only a minor pat down.  And we were through. I was speechless, everything seemed topsy turvy and illogical.  But no matter, keep on walking.

As we exited into the arrivals concourse there was a young woman waiting with a broad smile and a sign with our names on it: this was Ci Ci, our guide for the day who had been drafted in on her day off to look after us since we were on a different, later flight.  And the first thing she said, “The Tour to Shangzhou has waited for you so that you do not miss it, you can leave your luggage with me and go straight off:)”


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And D-day is here.  Thursday – Departure Day!!!

And here is the map of my proposed travels with my friend J.  We have organised it this way round so that we have the long river trip up the Yangtze on which to rest just in case we have a real problem with jet-lag, before the really gruelling days in Beijing.

Imperial Jewels of China Map

Tonight we have a flight from Manchester to London, then London direct to Shanghai. We arrive Shanghai at 5.0 pm local time tomorrow, Friday, which we feel will give us time to unpack, have something to eat, take a walk and get a good night’s sleep:

We have bought two extra days pre-trip excursion package before the official Tour begins, to get over any jet-lag and have some time to ourselves and I have booked a place on a special day tour with our same travel company as it is not included in the main trip: this tour goes on Saturday morning, to a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Suzhou – a Classical Garden called the ‘Master of Nets Garden’ known as one of the finest classical gardens in China.

The trip also includes a full-day guided tour to the city of Suzhou itself and a canal trip:  the brochure picture suggests to me that we will be on a part of a canal which gives us some insight into peoples’ back gardens and riverside use which I will find fascinating.

Built in 514 BC, the ancient city of Suzhou —42% of which is covered by water—is, I understand,  renowned for its canals, bridges and classical gardens, earning it the name “Venice of the East,” as well as its unique double-chessboard layout of canals and streets and I am really looking forward to this.

Then we have Sunday all to ourselves as the main body of our fellow travellers arrive during the day, in dribs and drabs, from various parts of the world.  The official Tour begins on Monday morning.

Our hour-long shuttle flight to London leaves Manchester at 19.35 and then our flight to Shanghai leaves London Heathrow at 22.35: these timings were booked by the tour company and should give us plenty of time to transfer since we will have completed all our security checks at Manchester.

My friend, who is going with me, lives south of Sheffield and is making her way by Taxi to the Airport.  My husband is kindly coming with me to help with all my luggage: my main suitcase which I shall check, my medical supplies suitcase, my gas mask and filter bag and my handbag.  I feel as if I should have a Sherpa with me.

I have upgraded my ticket one class to World Traveller Plus since I am tall and there are fewer seats in that area: hopefully this will also be useful if I do come into contact with anything that should prove to be problematic chemical-wise.

To begin with all went well.  Taxi to station in Sheffield, direct train to Manchester airport, text from J. to say she had also arrived safely but had already gone through Passport and Security

Since I had so much medical stuff with me my husband decided to remain at the Airport just in case of any hitches, until I rang him to say I was through security.  Well, in the event, he had to wait an hour: not because there were queues, but because I was detained for detailed examination.  I showed all my paperwork to the first man who stopped me, which he read, but they still wished to check the contents of the medical supplies case, which is quite understandable.  First of all I was asked to open and unpack the case in the open on the conveyor belt.  I refused and said that since everything in the case was, if not sterile, then very clean, I needed to unpack somewhere clean. They had no problem with that and the suitcase was taken by another young man who waited with it while I went through the X-Ray machine after which I was given the usual pat down.  We all moved off to a side room, not sterile, nor particularly clean, but at least private.  Both young men were very pleasant and when I asked them to at least change their gloves before handling all the suitcase contents there was no problem at all and they obliged at once.  It was embarrassing for me to have all the appliance stuff looked at in detail but since it did not seem to bother them, I tried to laugh it off as normal and understood that they needed to make sure that the paperwork matched the suitcase contents.  But then they said that I had to have an examination of my person:  two women arrived and the men left.  One woman stood by the door looking grim and never made eye contact with me, but the other talked pleasantly enough.  When she asked why I wore the appliance bag I said that I had had surgery.  She said she had never heard of such surgery, was very suspicious and said she  required to look at my scars at which she proceeded to get a wand of wadding, and actually rub it on my scars and then on the appliance bag.  At this I was outraged: as far as I was concerned we were trespassing into areas of my personal privacy to which she was not entitled.   So what if they had not heard of a particular type of surgery?  What about personal dignity?  So many people travel after surgery, some with life threatening diseases or terminal diseases, were they all subjected to this treatment?

I managed to hold myself together and concentrate on thinking that this would soon be over and was just an insensitive procedure by an ignorant official that it was necessary for me to endure so that I could make the trip I wished to.  But keeping calm was touch and go and psychologically very hard: disfiguring surgery is not something you get over, one always remains sensitive and private.  Well at least, most people of my generation do.

Finally, all was cleared, I zipped up my clothes, re-packed the suitcase, and finally left security.  But I was severely shaken and trying not to cry.  One woman walking past me said that she was furious at her treatment, and she had only been shouted at for being too slow.  When I rang my husband to say I was through he said he had been really worried at the time it took and J. had wondered what was happening too.  The interesting point is, that I am a white, well-educated, middle-class lady of 70: presumably not in the high risk category for terrorism activity.  If I had to undergo that, what happens to other groups of people?  And, having seen all the paperwork, checked my passport and checked the contents of the suitcase, why did they not believe my Doctor and my Pharmacist who would only prescribe such things for someone who had a bona fide medical issue.  I see no reason at all for them to examine my surgical scars.  I am very angry about that.

Anyway, I pulled myself together, and went to the Lounge which was lovely.  Free wine, water, fruit juices, soup, sandwiches, crisps, health food bars, fruit, magazines etc.  My friend J. was shopping and wanted to visit Costa for coffee: we kept in touch by phone and waited.

However, just before we were due to board we were informed of a delay in our shuttle flight of one and half hours.  At this point J, came and joined me in the Lounge and we continued to wait.

Without boring you with a blow by blow account, we took off at last, only to be told at Heathrow that we were being put into a holding pattern and would miss our connections.  For some people this meant their whole holidays had to be cancelled.  Since our suitcases were in transit we were given a hotel room at Heathrow, a night pack containing T-shirt, tooth brush and paste, deodorant, vouchers for food, vouchers for shuttle buses etc.

But this all entailed standing in different queues for hours.  Then they had to try to find us flights which could accommodate us. They found me a seat on a plane leaving the next lunch time (Friday) but had nothing for J. until Saturday. I refused to fly without her, and since I had requested oxygen they finally relented and found her a seat too.  Gosh, it was hard work and we had to make out that J. was my carer.  Something I would normally die before suggesting.

So, off we went to find our shuttle bus, our hotel and then stand in another queue while the hotel found rooms for us all.  We finally fell into bed at 1.0 a.m. in London, instead of being en route for Shanghai.

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Our new flight left at lunchtime the next day, Friday, and arrived in Shanghai at about 7.55 am local time on Saturday.  After disembarking and going through Chinese Customs and Security followed by over an hour’s drive to Shanghai, there was no way we would be in time for the Garden Trip and we suspected we would be absolutely shattered anyway. A guide was meeting us for my booked trip to Suzhou, so, first thing the next day we would have to ring the Tour Company to advise them to cancel the Guide and the Garden visit as we would not be there.  So much for our pre-trip excursion and jet-lag rest.  A really disappointing end to an extremely upsetting day.

However, there was nothing for it but to just roll with the punches or we would end up nervous wrecks.

A short and somewhat disturbed night followed but we were sooo grateful to have a room and a bed to rest in, rather than be sitting for hours on plastic chairs in the airport.  We had a very good breakfast and then girded our loins for the next hurdle, Heathrow Security, to see if we could actually begin our holiday: initially, as we were checked straight through to Shanghai from Manchester, we would only have to go through Security the one time, but having left the airport we had to go through the process again.  My son texted that Heathrow had a bad reputation for the severity of its Security, for reasons I quite understand, but I was not looking forward to a repeat performance of Manchester.

Now, I freely admit that I was tired, worn out and feeling ground down by so many months of preparations only to feel that my efforts were not working properly, and I was  rattled and extremely distressed by Security at Manchester: but I thought I was prepared for Heathrow.  Not.

It began in a similar fashion: they wanted to look inside the suitcase and kept it on one side while I went through the X Ray machine thingy.  Then they did the usual body wand search just past the machine, and then a pat down.  But during the pat down they discovered the appliance and tried to look at it there and then in the middle of the hall of people.  Now, I realise that they did not understand what they were doing, but I explained what it was and again they said they had no idea what I was talking about and I had to physically restrain them from opening my trousers and pulling down my knickers to expose my stomach in the middle of the hall.   At the time it felt terrible.  But it passed.  Two women then came up and asked me to unpack my suitcase.  I said of course, but asked for a clean room.  They became most antagonistic and said that nowhere was cleaner than the conveyor belt and the public hall and I must do it there, in full gaze of everyone.  I showed them my paperwork.  They then said that if I did not like it I should not have packed my medical equipment in my carry-on case.  I explained that this was the medical and airways advice that I was following. They replied that whatever British Airways or the NHS permitted or said was of no interest to them, that they were UK Government Security and outranked all others.  I replied that I had spent seven months and some large some of money arranging this holiday, getting the necessary advice and permits and that my medical supplies were clean and needed to be kept that way. They repeated that they had no such facilities it was unpack there or not travel.  But of course, “It is your choice Madam.”  It was at this point that, overwrought and exhausted, I broke down and began to cry – in despair and frustration that no matter my preparation or planning it was not working.  I said that they left me no choice.  They replied that of course I had a choice  –   their way or no way.  I seriously decided that this had to stop, that I could not take any more, and that I must just call the whole trip off.  There was no point in taking a suitcase of dirty medication all the way to China.  At this realisation I became distraught.

I was inconsolable.  I could no longer speak, answer questions, or even move, and just stood in the line holding everyone up, with my face covered, shaking and with tears streaming down my face. 

I really felt that I could not deal with anything further.  I needed help and support and there was none.  People were stopping and staring but I was past caring.  The Security women tried to make me make some decision or move away but I could not speak to them or physically move. I do not know why but suddenly they relented and suggested that we go to a private room, although that had apparently been unavailable before, although they said that it was no cleaner than the rest of the baggage hall.  I allowed myself to be led there, and tried to unpack my case onto the clean towelthat I had packed in the top of the case to hold everything together.  Then my legs gave out completely and I had to sit down and ask for water. Since I was now physically unable to stand and the women were stuck with me in the room, they relented; one went back to work and the other got me some water. Both women looked intensely fed up and irritated.

Both Security processes left me feeling frustrated, violated, humiliated and with no provision made for personal privacy.  What was the point of all that paperwork if it meant nothing?  Cross-checked with my Passport it all gave assurance that I was who I said I was, and that my situation was genuine and the supplies guaranteed.  If Border Security wishes to physically check the medical condition of passengers then it should educate its staff to understand the conditions they may encounter.

Finally I was allowed through.   And after all that, to add insult to injury the woman who had brought me the water, patted my arm, smiled at me, and suggested I go and get a mug of sweet tea and have a piece of cake to get over the shock of the procedures.  WHAT? Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde?

Even allowing for all of us perhaps being tired and for a possible lack of communication I find these two security situations to be illogical and a senseless use of time and manpower, let alone not what one expects from one’s own government.  I shall be approaching our Border Control and Security Offices to find out what was correct, and how to avoid similar experiences in the future.

At least I must be grateful for small mercies: a middle aged German friend of J who is married to a German Senator, was made to submit to an internal body cavity search when she tried to come into the country.  The world has gone stark, staring mad.  And this is terribly, terribly wrong – no-one should be treated like this.

However, enough of all that.

A very worried J. and a tottering I finally met up at Starbucks, had a drink –  a very large, very hot, very sweet hot chocolate in my case – and went to our Gate and Boarded our plane.  And, finally, our holiday was beginning.

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I have just seen this trailer for a new series by Jane Goodall and it looks wonderful.

Although it seems dreadful to utter the C word, we have had our first Charity Catalogues come through the post already so I might as well put it out there that I would like this Series for my present this year:)


Then I can go back to enjoying our wet, Spring-like August and praying for an Indian Summer through September and October to give me some kind of harvest this year.  It was too cold, wet and windy to plant out early, not really until late May, and it has come back in July, making for such a short growing season on the top of my hill.  The shortest I have every known.  I have just germinated some more French Beans and Sugarsnap peas because the last lot have not done well: these will need a couple of days to harden off and then I will plant them out, probably with fleece, to see if I can possibly get a bit of a harvest for the freezer.

Yesterday a photographer from the local paper came to take photos of me and Eddie:  he behaved like a pro but I was not very happy about having my own photo taken.  The photographer was a lovely young lady who said it made a change from football matches!!

Today I have been clearing piles of papers from several years ago and researching suggested supplements online for therapeutic ketosis and immune support.

Life has thrown us another curveball in that a house we have long had in the back of our minds for our old age has just come on the market.  But we cannot bear the thought of leaving our present home for at least four or five years.  So what to do?  It is unique, as our present house is, has even better views than we do and is just on the edge of the village instead of down the lane in a small hamlet.  The last owners of this other house have been there for 35 years so if we do not take the plunge now, will we lose the chance?

It is very expensive which might just take the choice out of our hands; we are having ours valued on Monday.  This other house is modern, smaller, and we would want to spend quite a lot and make some substantial changes, but it is on fairly level ground, five minutes from the bus, ten minutes from the doctor and shops, yet has a paddock which would take the geese and ponies, a stable and huge workshop garage, garden shed and is fully dog proofed.

However, it has street lighting which I hate, a busy road running past, and is semi-detached which we are not used to.  Oh dear, this is so very hard.  I know what I would say to someone else, but it is quite different when it is your own home you might have to leave, which you have loved and rebuilt over 40 years and where all your pets are buried and which has all the plants and trees from friends and family now deceased.  Here we just walk out of the gate onto a lane with trees all round, where we feel totally safe, comfortable and at home.  But good sense suggests that we think extremely carefully about our decision as in all the years we have been here, we have never seen another house, except for the one now for sale, which has things that we both need and want.

We went to look at it yesterday: it is not surrounded by trees as we are here.  When I went to bed last night our owls were hooting and chatting in the big trees outside the bedroom window. Our pheasants and badgers creep over the fields and through the undergrowth and the hedges we planted 30 years ago and wait for us to feed them every evening. How can we leave them?

But, if things go badly for me healthwise in the next little while it would be much easier for me to manage in this other house, and if I die before my husband, he could actually continue on in this new house whereas he says he could not manage here alone.  Oh, how hard it is to grow older physically but stay young mentally.

You have to admit that life on this hill is varied!



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I’m off to Oban on the West Coast of Scotland to visit friends who have moved there to live: I have not seen them for over a year and the trip which was planned earlier in 2016 did not work out because of accidents to, and sudden and severe problems with, one of my knees.  It should take about nine hours to drive there barring severe traffic, bad weather, road diversions or road works.  But in UK most of these will occur so I am not expecting a hugely fast trip and anyway it will be more fun to take my time and see things that I want to see.  One thing I have learned this year is that we must take every opportunity to do things we want to do, never put it off!!

So . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Dates worked out with friends’ timetable: tick.

Places I wish to visit en route: tick. (Ripon, Carlisle, Birdoswald Roman Fort, Loch Lomond, Oban, Killin, Stirling, Falkirk, the Antonine Wall, Hexham, Corbridge Roman Town, Middleham Castle, Richmond Castle.)

Route planned: tick. (Must include the A66 and the A68!)

(A few notes about my route.  I am basically travelling North up the West, and back South down the East, sides of the country, although I am not heading to the Western route immediately.

From home I am taking the A1 from here northwards to Scotch Corner.  The A1 used to be called the Great North Road as it was the highway from London to Edinburgh.  It has been superceded to some extent by the newer M1, the first motorway built in this country, but I suffer travelling the first part of the M1 northwards from here to Leeds as PTSD makes the journey distressing, both mentally and physically (some terrible things happened to me in Leeds many years ago) and anyway I prefer the A1.  Since becoming more of a secondary route it is not usually so busy, fast or intense as the M1.  Scotch Corner is so called because it is the point of divergence for northbound traffic which splits here to head either West to Glasgow [on the A66] or continuing to Edinburgh.  From Scotch Corner I shall take the A66 which is a lovely road over to the West through Cumbria and there stop over in Carlisle, thereafter joining the M6 leading North to the M8 taking me round Glasgow to Loch Lomond [another stop there] and then up the side of the Loch on the A82 to Crianlarich and on to Tyndrum, from where I shall cross West to Oban on the A85.

On my way home I shall cross Scotland from Oban to Stirling via a stop for lunch at Killin, coming back along the A85 and turning off at Lochearnhead on to the A84 and M90.  Then continuing on down to visit Stirling Castle and Falkirk [another stop here], M9 and A720 round Edinburgh and travel South on the A68 through Northumbria which is a road I love and which holds many happy memories, to Hexham [a stopover here too].  Thence continuing on the A68 all the way back to the A1 near Darlington, this time Southbound, Richmond and home.

Daily mileage worked out: tick.

B&B research re budget price, accessibility, ground floor rooms and walk-in showers: tick.

B&Bs booked: tick.

Plants planted: plants watered: animal food bought: husband food bought: lists of instructions for husband written: vet’s instructions for dog and gecko written out and medication  timetabled:  an evening out with each of two of the three grandchildren achieved: medications gathered in: physical aids gathered in: maps sorted:

Gosh, will I ever get off?

Yes, its Sunday lunchtime, I’m ready and I’m leaving.

First stop, Ripon in Yorkshire.  I want to see the Cathedral and especially the Crypt.  Apparently it is only an hour’s drive away from my home, according to Google.

I hit the motorway, sun shining, easy listening – Vivaldi’s Concerto for Flute and Oboe on the Radio.  Freedom.  I feel eighteen years old.

Ring husband – “Did I forget to collect my Magnesium oil from the kitchen worktop?”  (In this new car you can phone using the car itself, hand free, magic!!!)

“Cannot see it, you must have picked it up!”

Ring husband – “I forgot to mention the vitamin drops in the Gecko’s water, they are on the bathroom shelf.”

Ring husband – “I think I forgot to water the plants in the conservatory, would you mind giving them a little please.  Thanks.”

The traffic gets really bad, no chance to ring again, road works, diversions, everyone slowing down.

It takes me several hours to reach Ripon and I am shattered: from the driving and the leaving home.

The city of Ripon is located in North Yorkshire on the River Ure. Ripon is a beautiful market town that was founded over 1300 years ago, and is famous as an old Cathedral City where monasteries have stood since the 7th Century.

(from  http://www.ripon.org)

Find hotel which is in the main square, (the half-timbered building to the left of the obelisk at the rear of the square)


(photo from http://greatnorthartshow.co.uk)

 check in for their really cheap Sunday night special, park car, have bar snack, settle in room, unpack loo seat (from its three bags which are meant to camouflage its existence) and fall into bed by 8.0 pm and sleep.

Nine p.m.  Oh really, this is too much, I had forgotten all about the hornblower.  He blows his horn each night at nine in the evening, once at each corner of the square.  Four  times!!!

The following article is taken from the BBC in 2014,


Ripon hornblower, George Pickles

Ripon hornblower, George Pickles

Ripon’s hornblower

The watch has been set in Ripon every single night for well over one thousand years. The ceremony is one of the oldest still performed in England. George Pickles is the current hornblower and tells the story of this ancient ceremony.

The setting of the watch dates back more than 1100 years to the year 886. That was Saxon times, and also troubled times. The Vikings were raiding up and down the east coast and occupying parts of the country. The local thieves, rogues and vagabonds were taking advantage of the unsettled situation.

On the English throne at that time was King Alfred the Great. He had lost his father and three elder brothers fighting the Vikings, but he was intent on victory and bringing stability back to the country. In 886, at the age of 37, he recaptured London from the intruders and set about touring the country drumming up support and giving confidence back to the people.

The 886 Ripon hornThe original horn given to Ripon in 886

When he arrived in Ripon, he liked what he saw and decided to grant a Royal Charter to the settlement, which is all it was at the time. The only thing he had to offer the people as a symbol of that charter in those simple times was a horn.

On the advice of the King it was decided that the people of Ripon should become more vigilant and should always be alert to the danger around them. They could lose their settlement and the relatively good way of life they were enjoying, should an unexpected enemy descend upon them.

Setting the watch in RiponThe Hornblower sets the watch

It was therefore decided to appoint a wakeman. That was a man who would stay awake and patrol the settlement and the surrounding areas from dusk till dawn. He kept a watchful eye for any approaching enemy or troublemakers, while the rest of the people slept safely in their beds. It was further decided that the wakemen should put the charter horn to good use. He would sound it at the four corners of the market cross each evening at 9pm to let the people know that the watch was set and he was now on patrol.

Because the first wakeman of the day needed to be paid for his work it was decided to impose a tax on the citizens. After much debate it was decided they would be levied according to the position of their house door. If your door faced onto the market square, or a main thoroughfare of the city you were considered to be well off and were charged four pence per door, per year tax. If your door was down the side or round the back you were considered to be less well off and you were only charged one penny per door each year.

“If your door was down the side or round the back you were considered to be less well off and you were only charged one penny per door each year.”

George Pickles

It is still evident today that homes built after this tax was introduced were designed in a way that the position of the door brought them into the lower tax bracket. They were built with a very narrow frontage and most had a ginnell down the side leading to the door. There is still evidence if you look at the oldest properties in the city.

This system prevailed until 1604, when a second charter was granted to the city by James I of England, who was James VI of Scotland, and was the first king to reign over a united Britain. It was decided that the time had come to make things more democratic in Ripon. The wakeman of the day had become a very powerful man and was elected or re-elected annually by 15 of his peers, these being the most influential men in the city. These men were the city’s ‘police force’ and ruled the city with a rod of iron.

That year a mayor was elected democratically for the first time by vote, by all the people. The first mayor of 1604 was Mr Hugh Ripley who happened to be the last Wakeman of 1603. He lived in the house which still stands at the south west corner of the market square. Wishing to keep the setting of the watch ceremony alive, the mayor appointed a hornblower to carry out the duty of sounding the horn at the four corners of the market cross each evening on his behalf.

Because he didn’t trust him, and to ensure that the hornblower fulfilled his obligations, he imposed an extra duty on him. After setting the watch at the market cross, he must find the mayor of the day, wherever he may be in the city and sound the horn three times in front of him, raise his hat, bow his head and say the words “Mr Mayor, the watch is set”. This is to prove his duty has been done.

That ritual is still carried out at nine o’clock every night at the Obelisk and has not been missed, not for one night, in over 1100 years.

George Pickles

How on earth could I have forgotten about this.  But to be fair, it is not something I have given a moment’s thought to for over 40 years.  Back to sleep, too tired to stay awake any longer.  Lovely high bed, comfy mattress, no responsibilities except for myself.



View of Ripon Cathedral at night.





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Trying hard to exude confidence and calm I had a lift to the station and registered at the Assistance desk.

I was very heartened to be met by a young woman who greeted me by name holding a form with my details on it. I was whisked away in a wheelchair accompanied by a rather worried husband, and put on the train, followed by my suitcase. We set off gaily waving goodbye to ‘other half’ who says he is looking forward to some bachelor time!!

The first part of this trip was completely uneventful and when we drew into St Pancras there were two young women waiting on the platform for my coach. Apart from having to look in my suitcase to find my Eurostar ticket which I had mistakenly packed (senior moment/nerves) all went smoothly and I was wheeled straight to Eurostar Assistance.

However, here we met with a problem. My suitcase was weighed and came in at 21k. The weight limit per case had been changed (I was told it was hidden in the small print) and although I could have taken two cases totalling 30 k my one case was not acceptable. To have the case go with me on the train would be an extra £30.00 each way. To add insult to injury I had specially chosen the one case as being easier for those helping me. And it was half full of medical supplies, not geegaws or nicknacks!

I had a good chat with the luggage booking clerk the upshot of which was that he disobeyed all the rules, refused to take payment saying he felt it was discrimination and insisted on taking it to the train personally and putting it on for me. He said that some of them still had a heart despite the corporate ethos. We ended by discussing particle physics, the state of health of his mum (why does everyone appear young nowadays?) and he said what a shame I did not have longer before my train or we could go for a coffee and discuss string theory!

Once again I was helped onto the train and happily settled: my gluten-free meal came as ordered and all went smoothly until Paris where two gents were waiting for me as the carriage drew in.  They whisked me and luggage straight to the taxis where they had already booked me a taxi which was waiting at the front of the queue.

There followed a drive filled with panache, hooting and hand gestures during which I sat back and enjoyed the tree-lined Boulevards, the Circulation, the Seine, the bridges, and so many old haunts.  We flashed over the Pont Royal, past the Musee d’Orsay, down the Left Bank and turned into the 7th Arrondisement where nary a riot or strike was in evidence

Quel surprise!

My friend had arrived earlier that morning from the airport and opened up the flat and came down to open the door for me after the driver had reassured himself that someone was meeting me.  He held up the following traffic for me and the crutches to get out of his taxi insisting that there was no hurry at all.

So there we have it: all my fears were groundless and in fact I was bowled over by the kindness and patience of strangers (exactly as Jocelyn predicted, omniscient woman!)

So, here I am, back in Paris, with my great friend, and we will just have to see what I can manage. Or not.








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For over a year my friend from California and I have had a plan to return to Paris together this Spring, after the fun we had last Easter.

We have been organising a small apartment in a cheaper part of the city, buying cheap advance train tickets to other parts of France and booking Air B&B places to stay when we got there.

Deposits have been paid, flights and Eurostar booked and we were all set for adventure until this upset to my knee.  All through recent events I have been determined not to cancel but it was looking really impossible. So, after the MRI, I rang the Train company in the UK and Eurostar to examine my options for assisted travel. Everyone  I spoke to was sympathetic, helpful and went out of their way to explain what might work for me.

So, much against the advice and opinions of those around me, I have booked wheelchair assistance to all trains and connections with luggage being put on and off trains too. I have changed my seats to single, airplane type seats so that neither I nor anyone sitting near me might be inconvenienced by my immobility.

I have to admit to being afraid: of pain, of making things worse with the knee, of appearing a helpless old woman and of being  dependent on others. Of the reported strikes and being abandoned on a ‘foreign shore’ unable to help myself. It is salutary to appreciate that this is what many people must have to face for much of their lives if they wish to travel.

But I do not know what the rest of this year holds for me medically and I cannot bear to let my friend down so, with cold, clammy hands  and a tight fist round my stomach, I am going for it.  I shall wear a spotty kerchief and a hat and take some marmalade sandwiches in case I need rescuing;)

I have bought a snazzy, scarlet walking stick (with coloured spots all over to match my scarf) and will paint my crutches with the tricolour going for a ‘disabled chic’ look.

Mercifully, just in the last few days,  the swelling has subsided, finally, and with it much of the pain, all thanks to the ugly, ironclad but wonderful leg brace which is holding the knee together.

A young nurse friend has offered me a lift to the station and I was greatly affected when she hugged me and said she was proud of me for going. As against those who prophecy doom and gloom.

We have yet to see what help actually materialises.  Oh yes, and the State Department has issued a warning to US citizens to avoid the part of Paris we are going to because of riots, tear gas and ongoing strike action.

Wish me luck, because although I may appear intrepid, I always have to push myself to do things since I insist that fear will not diminish my life, and I am usually scared!!

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When I arrived at the flat at the beginning of this trip, one of the things I did was to buy a white azalea in a pot to decorate L’s room:

later on it had looked gorgeous in the sitting room.

With our imminent departure I was wondering how to find it a good home since it was still in full glory:  I had been watching out for the concierge who waters the plants in the courtyard in case he might like to have it, but I kept missing him.

This morning at about 7.30 am I heard him in the courtyard watering the plants so dashed out to catch him: I was actually still in my PJs which are more than decent, however, I don’t think that is what the fashion conscious Parisian woman would do!  On my way down the stairs with the plant I encountered a very distinguished grey-haired man coming up them with his morning baguette and a bag of croissants – incidentally smelling wonderful: on impulse I asked him if he lived here, and looking rather surprised (whether at the question, my clothing, or both I don’t know) he answered, “Yes”.  I explained that I was going home today and asked whether he would like the plant: he looked delighted, readily agreed and wished me a good journey:)  So that is one thing sorted at the beginning of a very ‘sorting-out’ kind of day.  Job done: but I wish I had not been in my PJs.

Looking out of the front window I saw the soldiers still on guard outside the Synagogue.  They had the plain-clothes policemen with them again: sad, but we have got used to their presence.

paris last days 2015 021.jpg 1.jpg 2

L and I have done most of our packing and since she does not leave until the early hours of tomorrow, 3.30 am to be precise, and I leave at 3.0 pm this afternoon, we had decided that we would try to do something this morning.  You remember me mentioning that French detective series Engrenages?  Well on one of our bus routes we had passed the Bistro L’Engrenage over on the other side of the third arrondissement,

paris last days 2015 022very close to the Police Headquarters there.

paris last days 2015 024

Therefore I rather fancied going over there for lunch, to scope out the area and see if it was named with reference to the Series.

We caught the 29 bus over to the Bistro only to find it closed until the early afternoon: I had not read the website correctly.

So I took a few photographs paris last days 2015 023

and then we caught the bus going back the way we had come.  We got off on the Rue de Turenne and walked over to the Italian Bistro in the St. Paul’s district where we had such a good meal a while ago, remember I had the aubergine dessert?  Well, we were the first there and the Proprietess who had been very friendly was not there and we were met by a surly chap who actually made us feel very unwelcome.  We tried to be pleasant and thaw the icy reception: I ordered bream with fresh orange segments, pistachio nuts, new potatoes and broad beans, and it was really wonderful.  The broad beans had been shelled and then had their skins removed so they were soft and delicious.  I have never had broad beans that tasted like that.  L had a pasta dish and this time the pasta was well cooked: clearly the chef was on form but we managed no improvement in relations with the patron and we felt most uncomfortable.  I hasten to say he was Italian and not French!!!   It was such a shame as it made it hard to enjoy our meal and we left as soon as we could, refusing coffee or dessert.

Not the most marvellous way to pass our last morning:)  Anyway, unwilling to give up we walked over to the super ice cream shop by the Place des Vosges, Amorino,


and bought one small tub each.

and spent a happy time sitting on a bench in the Place in the sun eating our ice creams, soaking it all up.

easter monday 018.jpg1

At 2.0 pm we reluctantly decided we had to drag ourselves away and go back to the flat.  We walked back past one of my favourite shops which contains bronze sculptures covered in some kind of enamel or resin and others set in glass/acrylic.

I have never dared to even go into the shop let alone ask for any prices

more richard and paris 106

more richard and paris 107

but I would love to have this one to take home

more richard and paris 105

We returned to the flat for me to pop the last few things in my case and make sure all was organised for the taxi.  This came promptly and by 3.45 pm I was at the Gare du Nord, through Security and waiting for my train.  The place was packed with Brits returning home after their Easter holidays, and a few French going over for a trip:  a kind woman budged up to make space to allow me to sit down beside her and wait for my train.

Eurostar left late and then waited for a further 15 mins outside the station, so we were over half an hour late into St. Pancras.  I was extremely pleased that I had not booked any particular train home as I would have missed the one I had been thinking of.  So I had time to buy something to eat on the last leg of my journey and I went into M&S to buy some gluten free brownies: normally I can buy quite a lot of gluten free things in M&S but this outlet did not have them.  A very kind Indian lady came out from behind the till and walked round the shop with me to show me the one thing they did have but it was a shock after Paris where there was always something, and it was always lovely.  It was strange being surrounded by the English language and suddenly, lots of fat people, and I felt rather ill at ease for a little while.  A quick coffee upstairs near my platform and then 8.0 pm found me on my next train bound for the North.  I eventually arrived home at 10.40 pm.

I have had the most wonderful trip: Paris just gets under your skin and it will always have a part of my heart.  I am so lucky just to be a couple of train journeys away, but however much I love going, I find it is never as pleasurable by oneself as it is if one can share it with somebody else.  And no-one in my family or circle of friends in England shares my love of France.  Thanks to the generosity and kindness of my friend L, I have had the opportunity for both the pleasure of her company and her equal appreciation of things French.

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