Rufus and Dave’s Fortnight of Fun part 6: Rufus’ day of rest

We’ve been doing quite a lot over the last few days. Rufus runs, gallops, jogs and jumps about 50% more than I do on any given walk and I’ve done nearly 30 miles of hills, dales and water courses in that time. So today was a rest day for Rufus.

I took the opportunity to do some domestics and to visit the local museums (yes, I have an interlekt… intalect… inlect… I like museums). But the one I wanted to visit is closed on Mondays. I know because I read the sign as I walked past it. So instead, I headed off to Mumbles and had a so-so coffee at Bracelet Bay before going for a stroll along the beach. I remember coming to Bracelet Bay as a kid – we used to stop at the Big Apple (literally, an apple shaped shop overlooking the bay. It was built as part of a nationwide advertising campaign for an apple flavoured drink and it’s now one of the few (I think there are only two) left in the UK).

The tide was out today and the gentle smell of the sea also reminded me of my childhood. They say smell is one of the most powerful memory triggers and the memories were so fresh I felt as if I’d been here as a child only a few years ago. Sadly, it’s a lot longer than that. I stepped over rocks and remembered that I’d trained to scramble and walk over rough terrain by clambering over the rocky outcrops around here. But it wasn’t the same without Rufus and I turned back to the car. After a detour to the local supermarket for some supplies, I headed home.

Most of the rest of the day was taken up by bread making, chasing Rufus around the garden trying to get his chew from him, and planning where to go tomorrow.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Rufuis and Dave’s Fortnight of Fun part 5: History

1: National History

The United Kingdom remains united. Personally, I think that’s a good thing. The arrangement may not be perfect, but it’s better than the alternatives. And if nothing else, the referendum has made people think and brought about concessions, The test is now about how the people of Scotland make use of them. I love Scotland and have been many times. Don’t break it.

2: Personal History

My mother’s side of family is from Gower. When we first moved back to Swansea, more than 40 years ago, we used to go out to Gower to visit relatives and I got to hear a number of stories about old Gower, before cars were the norm. There were ghost stories; my favourite is the one about the farmer who was driving his horse and cart down the lane one day when the horse inexplicable veered the cart into the side of the lane, tight up against the hedge. It wouldn’t budge, despite the urgings of the farmer. But after about 10 minutes the horse carried on as if nothing had happened. The farmer told his story and everyone made light of it. But within a couple of weeks, the farmer was dead and at the same time of day, his funeral procession passed through the same lane in the opposite direction.

My great aunt ran the sweet shop in Burry Green and I remember her well. Typical of country folk, she was independent but kind and friendly. There would always be a spread on the table when we called in, and I particularly remember that she used to slice her bread up incredibly thinly. But the highlight was a visit to the shop, where I would always be given something. As a child of about 9, the back of the shop felt slightly scary and there was the dilemma of going there (bad) and getting a bar of chocolate (good). Years later, when my aunt decided to move into a nearby nursing home – typical of her she made her own mind up and did it and there was no persuading involved – I remember helping to clear out the house. The shop had long gone but there were some fantastic old advertising posters.

One trip to Gower I remember was with my mum and dad and we went to a place called Bullin’s Well. At least, that’s what my mum knew it as. It’s Ryer’s Down on the maps. We took the dog we had then, a black poodle named Pickles (after the dog that found the FA Cup after it had been stolen in the 30’s – my dad’s idea) for a run and he thoroughly enjoyed. as I remember, he was fascinated by the horses on the common. I also remember a very low flying Canberra bomber passing overhead; I now know it must have been from the nearby Pembrey bombing range. But the thing that stuck in my mind the most was walking across the common to a clump of trees where my mum claimed there were the ruins of an old farmhouse.

Sure enough, when we got there, the ruins were where she said they were. They were only a few stones high – no shell of a farm house to mark the spot. Mum said relatives of the family, closer to my great aunt than my mum, lived and farmed there. The reason I remember it so well is that my dad took a cutting of a sycamore tree from there and planted it at the top of our garden. Now I live in the house I grew up in, and the tree is still there although considerably taller.

I’d thought about going back to Bullin’s Well several times, and we often drive past it on our way to Whiteford (which has featured many times in this blog). So today, when I was looking for a short walk after our two long days, I decided to go there to try and find the ruins again. Rufus didn’t object, so off we set. We walked up to the top of Ryer’s Down where I found a trig point – they pop up all over the place on Gower. Then we made our way down, following the hedge line back tot eh road. In fact, it was more of a tree line and I had to duck and squirm through some of the thicker parts as Rufus just ducked under the low branches. But everywhere I looked, there was no ruined farmhouse. By the time we reached the road again, I had decided that my memory must have been playing up as there was nothing. But when I got home and looked at the route we took on Google Earth, I spotted a few parts of the tree line we had missed and one part, inparticular, that looked as if it might have had a building on it.

So another trip is on the cards.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Those magnificent men

Two years ago today (well, two years and four days ago actually), I wrote my first blog, and 242 posts later I’m writing about it again. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean the blog will cycle around in a 242 post circle but it was about the Swansea Airshow, as is this one. Yesterday and today I was at the 2013 Swansea Airshow (now called the Wales National Airshow). And it was just as brilliant. The weather was perfect, the beach was packed with people and there was a great line up.

On Saturday I met up with friends I hadn’t seen in the real world for a few years. We converse in the virtual realm of Flickr and Facebook, but there’s nothing like a sunny day on the beach to renew old acquaintances.  We spent most of the afternoon watching the displays. The wing walkers always fascinate me and having recently been in a biplane seemed to make it a little more real. The Typhoon was back after missing out last time. It’s the loudest plane I’ve ever heard (and remember, I was brought up on RAF airbases). The sound thumped the chest and was enough to move internal organs.

But my favourite is (and always has been ) the Red Arrows. From the moment their master of ceremonies announced their arrival as the shot overhead until the bomb burst finale, they were exciting and spectacular and precise. The commentator explained that for some of the maneouvers, they were 8 feet apart flying at 400mph, and you could see the proximity.

The Battle of Britain Memorial flight finished the day off – possibly the only act that could follow the Red Arrows (and I don;t mean to do the other displays a disservice). The Lancaster, Hurricane and Spitfire all used the same engines and the sound alone was enough to make the experience special. To see these aircraft, nearing 70 years old, flying over the bay was special. During the war, the bay echoed to the Hurricanes of 317 Polish squadron, 504 squadron and 79 squadron. Spitfires of 312 (Czech) squadron replaced them. All were based at RAF Fairwood Common – now Swansea Airport. My mum remembered seeing a Spitfire roar up the valley behind Swansea College from her aunt’s house just below Cefn Coed and she was looking down on the plane and pilot. If you know the area, you’ll know the plane was very, very low for that to happen.

Today, I headed back down to the bay to catch the Red Arrows again (you might be getting a hint that I’m a fan) and the Battle of Britain flight. They were well worth watching a second time and the high tide meant that the planes flew closer to the shore this time.

I walked home in the hot sun. Although I normally dislike walking in the heat, I have to remember that the trek will start and end in the African sun so it’s probably a good idea to get some experience of it in advance. Although my foot hasn’t fully healed, it didn’t stop me making the 3 mile round trip both days.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Looking back

I’m well in to the final 16 weeks of the preparation for my Kilimanjaro trek. Please visit my Just Giving site and make a donation to Cancer Research UK, the charity I’m collecting for. So it’s serious now and little things like rain and wind get in my way. So this morning, after waiting for the wind and rain to stop, I set off for a walk around the estate. Before you conjure up images of stately homes and rolling parkland, I’m talking about the housing estate on which I live. And before you conjure up images of me strolling around, know that I was wearing a backpack weighing 9kg (20lbs in old money).

I decided to take the route I used to walk to school and when I thought about it, I realised that the last time I walked to school was 30 years ago this year. I’ve used this route before when training for the other treks and it always brings back memories. I walked this route for 8 years on and off, every day during term times except for a brief period when I used a subsidised bus service. When I got to the school, it looked familiar although closer inspection revealed a number of changes – the most obvious of which was the big blue perimeter security fence and, nearer the buildings, a second big blue security fence. It reminded me of a prison camp and also of the perceived threat to school kids these days. Judging by the in depth defences, the school could hold out for days against a determined siege. Certainly until home time, when the whole barrier system is rendered pointless when all the kids pass through the gates and out of it’s protective embrace.

From the school, I walked through another housing estate and down to the sea front. Walking on sand is easier on the joints but takes a little more energy as the sand gives as you push forward. Ideal for what I’m doing at the moment. I was dressed up for the inevitable downpour; grey clouds filled the sky and the wind was blowing them along quickly. But it was warm and apart from a  few spots of rain at the start, it remained dry throughout the walk.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Around and about

In total contrast to yesterday, today was grey and grim and drizzly. I was tired after gigging last night and so I spent the morning indoors, cleaning and more cleaning and other necessities to make sure the house is at least presentable. I hate cleaning, as it tends to throw up dust which I’m allergic to. But it has to be down.

As a reward, when the drizzle lifted, I went for a stroll down through Sketty. I took the infra red camera and called in to a local graveyard on the way. It’s opposite where my Gran used to live. When I was very young and my dad was in the RAF, we’d come to stay when he was posted to a new station while he got the housing sorted. Even at that age, I was never frightened of the graveyard despite knowing what it was. Since then, I love walking through old graveyards and reading the inscriptions, which often tell a story. I was taken by one large grave, topped with a large white memorial written in French. The inscription was for a Swiss born woman and, later, her husband. But what made it more striking was that her son was buried there too, before her, as he was lost at sea as a merchant seaman during the war. It’s not only the servicemen who died to keep this country free.

From there, it was a short walk to Singleton park before calling in to the local supermarket and then, as the drizzle started again, home.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Life of Geek

When we first moved to Swansea, I started the local school half way through the 3rd year of juniors. These days that has a year number, probably year 5 or year 6 or year (x-b). I don’t know. I was 9-and-a-bit. Being the son of a serviceman, I was used to moving around and new places. I had also developed a reluctance to make really strong friendships, as they would always end after a year or two, when dad was posted to a new base. I’ve heard other with a similar background say the same thing.

So fitting in to the school didn’t pose a problem. I found I was better at English, reading and writing and slightly worse at maths and science. Different schools, different curricula, I suppose. It didn’t affect me much (except fractions – I was first exposed to them in Swansea. I didn’t understand them, despite the attentions of my teacher and my parents. Who needed fractions? two thirds of us, apparently.)

The one thing that I really looked forward to, though, was Friday afternoons when the teacher would read to us.  I arrived half way through ‘The Hobbit’. I didn’t know anything about the story or the author, but I really enjoyed the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and the Dwarves. My parents bought the book so that I could catch up with the first half of the story. I was a good reader, and loved books so it didn’t take long.

Fast forward to the late 70’s. Punk was in, flares were out, prog rock was no longer appreciated. I was scared to go into the Virgin record store in Swansea because it was dark and full of older boys dressed in the black uniform of punks. But I frequented the local library and read as much as I could. usually science fiction from the grown up section, as kids books didn’t capture my imagination. Then I discovered ‘The Lord of the Rings’. And it was by the same author as ‘The Hobbit’. Heaven!

The copy in the library was in three volumes. I read volume one, but volume two was out so I couldn’t go further. I waited ages for volume two to come in, and borrowed 2 and 3 at the same time to make sure I could finish the story. It took a long time – the language was more difficult than I’d come across before but it was worth taking the time to read it properly. I loved the world of Middle Earth and all the things that lived there. I eagerly looked for more fantasy books, but nothing came close to Tolkien. I discovered some of his other books – mainly unfinished stories and legends of Middle Earth which made his fictional world more real. But nothing compared to the Lord of the Rings. So I read it again. And again.

Fast forward to 2001. The movies were due out. I couldn’t wait and went to see them in the cinema as they were released. As I recall, it was around this time of year that each one came out. I drank them in, because unlike many adaptations of books, these actually matched my imagined world of Middle Earth. All the characters and races were just as I pictured them in 1979. Of course I got the extended collectors editions of the boxed DVD sets – why wouldn’t I?

Fast forward again – 2007. I’m in the lodge at Gorak Shep having just returned from climbing Kala Patthar – 5545m above sea level and with the perfect view of Everest. It’s cold, I’m tired and I’m reading ‘The Hobbit’. It was a welcome reminder of home and something that didn’t need a lot of concentration to enjoy.

Two years later I gave that copy of the book to my friend’s little boy for his first birthday – she’d asked that all her friends give him the book that meant the most to them in their childhood. For me there was no question about which book it would be.

One more fast forward. No more after this, I promise. It’s yesterday. I went to see ‘The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey’, the first part of the Hobbit trilogy by Peter Jackson. I was on my own – it’s the price one pays for geekdom. I wasn’t the only loner in the theatre. Buying the ticket, the person behind the counter glanced behind me to see if I really was alone, and almost asked if I was sure I only wanted one. There may have been the faint look of sadness in her eyes, or it may have been sympathy for my obvious sad, lonely existence.

I sat and watched the movie – nearly 3 hours of it. I was hooked from the opening music. It was great – no disappointment. Once again, my Middle Earth was there on screen. In places I felt it was dragging a bit, but at the same time, I was enjoying every second. I’m biased, of course, but it just felt familiar and.. right.

Shameless plug – if you go to my 1-a-day Flickr site you will see my local library. It’s role in my reading history means it deserves a place there.

Remember, remember…

…when you were a kid and fireworks were the coolest thing ever? Well, in that respect, I never grew up. I love fireworks. I love the smell, the sound and the light. I’m fortunate where I live that I have a grandstand view of most of the organised displays in the area. After festivals, parties in the park and on the 5th of November, I get to see the fireworks in all their glory.

Tonight was no exception. In fact, it was a lovely clear night, with the stars out and good visibility. Our council put on yet another brilliant display that lasted around 30 minutes. I enjoyed every second.

I couldn’t resist taking some photos of Andromeda afterwards.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mumbles

Out of my window I can see Swansea bay. If I strain and squeeze my neck out of the window (okay, I can’t do that but I’m painting a picture here so bear with me) then I can just see the Meridian Tower (South Wales’ tallest building). At the other end of the bay is Mumbles Head. The headland juts out into the Bristol Channel, and has two tidal islands. They are probably the origin of the name; many websites will tell you they are so named as they resemble breast shaped hills (the Latin ‘mamillae’ being easily corrupted by sailors and fishermen). What they’re trying, delicately, to say is that the two islands look like boobs. There, I’ve said it. The sniggering you can hear is from schoolboys who have Googled ‘boobs’. (And, of course, I can now legitimately add boobs to my keywords list and thereby raise my hit count ten fold).

Anyway, if we could get back to the real subject. I’ve been going to Mumbles for years, every since we first moved to Swansea several decades ago. Some of my earliest mameries.. er memories of Swansea are of Bracelet Bay, between the lighthouse and the coastguard station. A little shop, in the shape of an apple, sold buckets and spades and other beach essentials. It was originally built as a promotion for an apple flavoured drink in the 1930s. Recently, the apple shop was damaged by a car and there was some doubt over whether it would be repaired. As a result, a campaign in the local paper took off the the apple has been restored and is there today.

I remember playing in the remains of an anti aircraft artillery battery on the top of the mainland when I was 10. It took me many years to go back and find the place again. My mum, who lived in Swansea during their blitz of February 1941, recalled hearing the sound of anti aircraft guns. There were several sites, but they always knew when the Mumbles site was firing because the guns were bigger and made a deeper, louder sound. There was also a battery of anti shipping guns protecting the bay based just the other side of the road by the big car park at Bracelet Bay. There is nothing left of this now apart from the flattened area where the guns were located, but on the outermost breast… er… island, clustered around the light house are the remains of searchlight houses and the old Napoleonic era fort that protected Swansea docks.

In the 1980s, me and a group of school friends were making a comedy movie on super 8 equipment and one of the scenes called for an old pram (with a baby inside) to be washed up on the shore. We chose Bracelet Bay as the location and I still remember trying to get the pram to float and then hoping it would come back in to the shore again. As I recall it belonged to the sister of one of the guys, and she didn’t know we had it! We told the coastguard in case there was a scare. I’m not sure what they made of it.

Mumbles Head catches the worst of the westerly winds and it’s always a good place to go if I want to capture storm waves crashing against the rocks. I’ve seen them breaking over the lighthouse, although I’ve never managed to snap those as I’m usually sheltering in the car at that point.

In the summer, Mumbles is a popular destination for day trippers as well as those staying longer. The village itself is strung out along the shore and as a result, there is always a bottle neck of traffic as people try and get to and from the few car parks. I like it in winter, though, when the sun rises over the light house, there is no one else around and as long as I don’t look too closely, I could be back in the days of my childhood.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Weekend

Most of us spend 71.4% of our time thinking about it or planning for it, wishing it was coming, anticipating the difference it will bring or the potential it holds.  Sometimes we wish our lives away in the hope that it will come sooner.

My weekend started off with a takeaway and a movie. It’s a great way to end the week and we always have a laugh, whether it’s because of the movie (we tend to watch cheesey horror – the more predictable the better) or just a natural release of the stresses and emotions of a full on week of work. Tonight it was Frightnight, and with David Tennant in the role of a self styled vampire hunter, it was always going to be entertaining.

Saturday dawned grey and misty. I had a few things to do which would culminate in picking Rufus up from his hair consultant (a dog must look his best) after a summer cut to remove his shaggy winter coat. But first I headed off to Margam park to take some photos in the early morning mist. I like Margam with its beautiful Gothic house and the ruins of the original 16th Century manor house nearby. I had the park to myself most of the time I was there and I enjoyed the brief stroll around the grounds.

Then it was back to Swansea and the library and then a brief visit to the seafront. Eventually, with all my jobs and chores done I got round to collecting the hound, minus most of his fur, from the stylist. We headed off to the river Tawe, one of our favourite places and somewhere mentioned several times before in this blog. We had a great time splashing around in the water; Rufus was clearly relieved to have his warm coat removed. He managed to fall into a deep pool at one point when he over balanced in his eagerness to retrieve a stone I’d thrown for him. I managed to grab him but he made his own way back to the rocks and then, in revenge for my part in his soaking, he shook himself all over me so that we were both drenched!

Today, I woke early as the sun was shining through the curtains. Before breakfast, I headed off to Tycoch square and the site of my old junior school which has been demolished to make way for a block of flats. I’ve been taking photos of the area for a while in anticipation. The removal of the great red brick building has made a huge difference to the square, allowing more light in to the area. I’m sad to see it go (my mum went to school there too) and I hope the flats don’t overload the local infrastructure. I suspect they will, though.

Then I went down to Mumbles as there was a lot of sea mist and I could see the potential for some nice photos. I had Mumbles pretty much to myself, apart from the odd jogger and cyclist. I was back home by 9.30 to have breakfast (I’d been quite keen to get out). The rest of the day was spent doing work on the house (the bathroom again) and the garden. This is the year of sorting my garden out. Again. No, really. I’ve had enough practice.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.