15th May 2017
Apart from when Mrs Gnomepants V1.0 and I visited in the early noughties, and when Mrs Gnomepants v2.0 HD+ and I went swimming there in 2016, the last time I was in Alton Towers was when I was 14. So what poetry it was to take my 14 year old niece there as an Uncley Treat.
Of course, when I was 14, my fun Aunt had passed away a couple of years previously and my remaining grandparents were too frail to attempt the trip, let alone the standing around waiting for young me to get off the rides. Instead I had to wait for the school to take me which, tradition dictated, they did with all the other boys as an end of academic year treat right through secondary school, although during following years they offered other trips such as climbing mountains or some such.
So it seemed right that I took my niece to the Earl of Staffordshire's pile where upon I took great delight at having her walk well over 9 miles in a day without actually realising. Hah! Alton Towers, for those not in the know, is the UK's premier rollercoaster theme park. Or at least that's what it claims to be. Set in the gardens and grounds of the ruins of a former stately home, some enterprising cove set about building elaborate nests of twisted metal upon which people can sit and experience accelleration and exhileration at high speed with the associated pull and tug of gravity on their leathery chops.
One such ride is Oblivion which teeters on the brink of an iron precipice before plummeting its screaming riders into a pit of darkness. There was no way I was going on that.
Another such ride was Nemisis which Mrs Gnomepants V2.0 HD+ claimed was "Nice and smooth" which must be the alt-fact definition of "OMG I'm going to die" as I found out. As for Smiler, well I'm quite attached to my legs so I didn't fancy going on that and I also didn't fancy whiplash so I avoided Rita too. However, I did manage Hex, Thirteen and Grand Canyon Rapids so I think I got my £30's worth. Especially as I was also tricked by Mrs Gnomepants V2.0 HD+ to go on Enterprise which by all accounts was just a tumble drier simulator.
Of course Alton Towers is not just death roulette machines, its acres and acres of picturesque landscaped gardens. Some of the ruins belay the once grand manse that was Alton Towers. Summer houses and decayed greenhouses now overgrown with vegetation while here and there are hidden speakers piping irritating music into area where irritating music shouldn't be. The cable cars over the area do give you a better, plinky-plonky-less experience.
If you've ever played the PC classic Rollercoaster Tycoon or early nineties Bullfrog classic Theme Park then, like me, you'd probably have spent the day imagining people walking round with think bubbles saying things like "£2.75 is too expensive for a bottle of pop" or "I feel sick" while sporting green pukey smileys above their heads. Or looking skyward in the hope of spying a pair of pincers dropping in a new ride or even imagining that the popcorn tasted good because the themepark management AI decided that it could do with an equal mix of salt and sugar.
In all though it was a most enjoyable day out. I can't wait to do it again when my nephew is a little taller/older, but probably by that time the rides will all be different again.
27th April 2017
Before I blather on about how amazing Wales is I'd like to point out two important things.
1. On the subject of the Russian provoked LJ to Dreamwidth exodus: - I'm there as Stegzy too (http://stegzy.dreamwidth.org
) although I rarely post there because I forget to do so but feel free to add if you are there. Alternatively, you can follow me on Blogspot (http://stegzy.blogspot.com
) although, to be fair, you'll only get to see articles and social media posts that I like there.
2. Did you know that Smart Cars come with a free invisibility cloak? Similarly, Mercedes cars come with automatic road ownership deeds it seems.
Wales - that crinkly bit that keeps the West Midlands away from the sea. The bumpy bit that keeps Cheshire cheesy and the coaly bit that kept Cardiff busy for a couple of hundred years. That's where I've been.
If you've read this journal long term, you'll already be familiar with my love affair with the place but usually, I either float between the Llyn Peninsula, Anglesey or South Wales. This trip, however, we loitered with intent at the foot of Snowdon, in the glorious Conway valley while using the peaceful former fishing village that's soon to be the front garden of a nuclear powerstation
, Cemaes Bay as a base to launch a sortie into Llandudno before scooting up the coast via Rhyl towards Liverpool.
Our journey began early Good Friday morning when, fortified with chocolate porridge, I drove (invisibly) north via the sat-nav's "Shortest route" which eventually seemed to want to take us through the heart of Coventry. "Stuff that!", I thought and quickly joined the M6 at Walsgrave and navigating by memory westward along the M54 bypassing Telford and Shrewsbury.
First stop was at the mysterious often cloud bound lake of Llyn Brenig. I first visited Llyn Brenig over thirty years ago with my Aunt Joyce. I remember the visit fondly especially as it was in the visitors centre there that she bought me a memorable puzzle book which featured a maze through a haunted house. More recently, Mrs Gnomepants V1.0 and I made a return visit to Llyn Brenig around 1999 where I was pleased to see that the visitors centre hadn’t changed, the shop still sold cool books and there was an informative exhibition detailing pre-Cambrian times, dinosaurs and ice ages and how they were important in supplying water to modern day homes in Wales.
Llyn Brenig hasn't changed in over 3000 years
As with all things, the sands of time have been harsh to Llyn Brenig. While the scenery hasn’t changed much, it seems that the visitors centre has. The exhibition, once so informative, is now reduced to a rotary leaflet cage and a couple of dodgy looking poster boards in an entrance hall; the vast majority of the floor space now given over to a new bright and airy cafe selling a range of trendy coffees and cakes. Mrs Gnomepants V2.0 HD seemed to enjoy it though, especially after a brisk wind lashed walk along the lakeside together.
Back to the car, we drove further north towards Bodnant Garden. Bodnant too has changed since my last visit nearly 15 years previous. The once dominant faux-Swiss log cabin cafe with the gorgeous cakes has now been replaced with a flimsy looking wooden shed like structure, sadly now lacking the gorgeous cakes.
One bonus change about Bodnant is that visitors no longer have to take risks with their own lives by attempting to cross the road from the carpark to the actual gardens. Now you can cross in safety by taking the tunnel under the road while trying to visualise where the dominant faux-Swiss log cabin has gone and whether those fifteen year old cakes were actually just a dream (surely no-one could really make profiteroles the size of cricket balls).
Another change about Bodnant is the footprint of the gardens. Since my last visit, new areas have opened up and there are some really interesting juxtapositions of man-made and natural landscapes enhanced by the lovely rhododendrons and other flora.
After a quick lunch and an even briefer lesson in Welsh at the disappointing cake sporting shed, we jumped back in the car again and yet again drove (invisibly) north then west along the A55 to the delightful Cemaes Bay.
We last stayed in Cemaes in 2011
but it seems I was starting a new job around that time so long pieces of prose took a back seat. It hasn't changed much. Some of the quaint little village high street shops have shut but everything else seemed almost the same. The hotel, mostly unchanged. The high street, mostly unchanged. The strange elderly man with his unusual tick, mostly unchanged. The quaint quay (or was it a jetty), mostly unchanged. The little kitten following us down the lane, mostly a different kitten. The peace and tranquility juxtaposed against the crying seagulls, lapping waves and irritating yapping from a distant dog. Lovely.
Equally lovely and unchanged (mostly) is Llandudno where we visited the following morn. A killer wind prevented (yet again) a cable car trip down the Great Orme. It has been thirty five years since I last travelled down the Great Orme by cable car. This time Mrs Gnomepants V2.0 HD and I caught the cute Victorian cable tram down the hill into the town.
Llandudno - Where the old go to die (and have a holiday).
Llandudno is where old Scousers go to die, much like how Worthing is where Brighton pensioners go and Scarborough is where old biddies from Leeds, Wakefield and Sheffield go. A massive Victorian seaside retirement town complete with remains of ornate gardens, grand hotel and a pier selling ice cream to wailing and demanding grandchildren.
You can see how Llandudno was once a grand place where the wealthy would adjourn to during the summer months following a busy year promenading around the city. Big former hotels, big wide sweeping boulevards and avenues, now largely an amount of old buildings just waiting to accidentally on purpose catch fire, be pulled down and turned into luxury flats.
From Llandudno we nipped back over the Conwy estuary to Conwy. A delightful town within a castle’s walls. I always think of Conway as being much bigger than it actually is. It isn’t big at all though. Consisting of about five short narrow main streets and the UK’s smallest house. The town is enhanced only by the constant throng of gawping tourists mooching around the place making everything expensive.
Conwy - Small and full of tourists
On this visit I managed to locate the UK’s smallest house and, as a bonus trick, was also able to visit Thomas Telford’s bridge and tollhouse. Such an amazing feat of engineering. I often feel that Telford is overlooked because of Brunel yet all Brunel did was make a railway that nobody could use and build three massive ships that bankrupted him. At least the majority of Telford’s legacies are still used, and he has a town named after him. Meanwhile most of Brunel’s creations are now reincarnated as tins of beans and a bit of Bristol.
We headed back to Anglesey and dined on mountain of fried seafood before sloping back to the hotel. The mountain of fried seafood was well worth every penny but it saddens me that mountains of fish are not as freely available in the UK as they are in other parts of the world. I sometimes wish I could go on a Mountains of Fried Seafood tour of the world. Perhaps when I’m a millionaire. Or retired. Or fed up of the sight of Fried Seafood.
It took 4 experienced climbers to rescue me from the top of this mound
The next morning I fulfilled my threat of taking Mrs Gnomepants V2.0 HD to Rhyl. If you’ve never been to Rhyl, you’re lucky. Rhyl was once a place where elderly Scousers went to die. Now it is where elderly scousers who live most of the year in static caravans go to die. Indeed, as if to illustrate Rhyl’s level, we espied a family happily having their midmorning cigarettes on the veranda of their static with a view of the main road while dressed in their nightwear. Awesome.
I didn't leave her there honest!
8th April 2017
What a lovely day to sit in the garden and enjoy the peace and quiet of rural Northamptonshire! Clear blue skies, flying things in the air, crawly things crawling about and a 13-year-old rotting garden suite rotting away.
I've had that wooden garden suite since 2003 when Mrs Gnomepants Mk1 and I bought it from a bespoke garden furniture builder at that little poncey middle-class garden centre thing near Delamere forest
. It looked nice back then in the garden of the new house.
When in Liverpool the furniture was a great place to build snowmen
It came with me on the move to Barnsley in 2007 where it dominated the small back garden. It was put into storage in 2010 then moved to Leamington Spa sometime later where it was ideally placed in the large garden.
Here is the furniture when it was in Barnsley
Sadly lack of spoons to sand the bugger down and then coat the suite in thick furniture treatment resulted in bits here and there rotting and so the time came today to use the Bosch jigsaw to cut the thing up into woodburner sized chunks so that come the cold nights, the suite can serve me one final time by keeping me warm.
Meanwhile we can hope our new garden suite, purchased and erected today, will bring us just as many happy memories.
16th March 2017
New year, new wheels. The trusty VW Golf TDi, Binwids, cost me just one £80 fill up too many and together with the diesel emissions thing, the VW software fiddle and the fact that I no longer need to drive over 100 miles a day to do my job, it was time to retire it. Fortunately Mr Big Man, the boss, bought it off me for his brother. Which was nice; and he thought so too.
So now I drive this little zippy thing
It's a Smart ForFour with Nightsky and it's slicker than the hair on a 1950's binman and fewer miles on the clock than the coast of Wales. It even has heated seats, so Zoe is happy and the number plate is handily blurred so that I don't get caught by speed cameras and ANPRs.
Of course today was my first proper outing in it and I quickly remembered how it was when I used to drive the AX.
My first car, the Citreon AX Jive, with Mrs Gnomepants Mk1
That was a nice car too, but you often found that van and truck drivers and wankers in BMWs thought that they could drive as close as they liked. In the Vectra, the Golf and the Hyundai Coupe, I noticed they held well back. Though I did notice that BMW drivers remained wankers. Of course back then I didn't know that BMW drivers only drive BMWs because they can't actually drive and that driving a BMW is the motoring equivalent of cycling with stabilisers. Trufacs.
Although it is built by Mercedes Benz, as you can see, the Smart actually comes with indicators and, unlike Jaguars, it actually has a decent accelerator. Indeed, you might also notice that it has mirrors too, something sadly lacking on Audis. Not only that, you wont see any rust on the vehicle which proves that Ford have nothing to do with it.
13th March 2017
I have low Vitamin D.
Possibly because I'm a northerner and have lived a short spell in Gods own county, Yorkshire (technically the south bit; that's where all the culture is) and lived near a former coal mine for a few years. Indeed, it is quite possible that it is because I slather myself in zinc sunblock when I go outside for fear of getting sunburn. Moreover, it is also highly likely that it is due to my love of Islamic fashions and my continuous wearing of a full-length burqua.
So last month I subjected myself to a "supplement" of 2 ampoules of Vitamin D a week for six weeks. Horrid stuff. Tasted like oily chocolate orange. Oh how the guys down the pit laughed when I told them about it all especially Old Jimmy "Bandy legs" Brown. He laughed so much his last tooth fell out.
Next week I'm hoping that my GP will diagnose me with scurvy, that way I'll hopefully get to have bags of oranges on the NHS. After that, no doubt the doctor will scold me for my Marmite aversion causing my bad dose of beriberi. I only have myself to blame. Woe is me.
In other news though. New car on Wednesday. It will look like this:
Only in black and with a floppy roof.
In other other news. Left alone to my own devices at the weekend I foolishly watched Sinister II
before watching hours of Youtube videos about Number Stations. Silly thing to do really. Fortunately the man who hides in the attic and the creepy dwarf guy who lives in the cupboard under the stairs kept the odd menacing scarecrow figure in the allotments at bay. That and the occasional knocking on the wall from the empty house next door.
3rd March 2017
22nd February 2017
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You are walking side by side with a friend along a narrow pavement on the side closest to the road. You espy two people walking towards you, as they get close nobody seems to be budging. Do you
Step into the road to walk round
Hold your ground and be damned
If they get any closer punch them in the face
Become vaporous and let them pass through you
Do a barrel roll and try and score a strike
Dive into the bushes/Over the wall to the other side of your walking companion
Form a single file behind the person you are walking with
Form a single file in front of the person you are walking with
Jump onto the shoulders of the person you are walking with
Shove the person you are walking with into the two people walking towards you
21st February 2017
Wordsworth eh? Never did like that dog. Had a stupid hat and rarely helped Jamie out. [Wasted on most readers that bit of derivative humour]
An anniversary weekend was had this year with a splendid trip to the Lake District. The last time I went to the Lake District I was 30, the time before that I was about 17. How the world and times have changed. Or is it, perchance, my aging memory has smudged some of my own memories following a brain defrag or that bang on my head I had when I was 18? Or the one I had last decade (can't remember the year, it was when I went gorge walking and fell off the waterfall, was that 2005 or later? I can't remember)?
Anyway, I took Zoe on a journey to pastures familiar and unfamiliar with a trip to the Tan Hill Inn, which is the highest pub in the country. That's not to say it has been smoking draw for years on end but that it is wayyyy up above most streets and houses on the North Yorkshire Moors on top of the Pennines (your geography may vary). My last visit there was in 2003 or thereabouts when I inadvertently re-enacted the Everest commercial a la Ted Moult by opening my car door and watching several bits of paper blow out of the passenger footwell together with the most relevantly important page of my AA Road Atlas. This visit was slightly less tempestuous, probably because of zoefruitcake
s calming influence.
Zoe was thrilled to visit a pub in the middle of nowhere
After a light lunch and half a pale ale, we continued to Keswick. My last visit to Keswick was probably about 1991 or 1992 when I was a member of a local church choir. I wasn't a member for holy redemption and blessings but as a way to meet girls. Mostly Sarah Bamber. She's now a dentist. Still, during those two holidays we stayed at the Youth Hostel in Keswick for a period of two days while Andrew Sharples, my former music teacher and, to some extent, role model, went to all the pubs in the area to smoke pipes, cigars and roll ups and drink plenty of beer and whiskey while the rest of us went on walks. However, apart from a memory of listening to Roxy Music's Flesh & Blood
album sat on the veranda of the hostel overlooking the nearby passing river, I don't actually remember much else of the area. After much racking of brains and thought, I actually think I didn't leave the hostel for the two days.
The Youth Hostel where I lost two days
After a wander around the area and a text message that the £3 an hour parking was about to run out we checked into our hotel. Beautiful scenery and peace and quiet aplenty with lots of comfort made for a pleasant stay. Only slightly marred by the meagre "pay more get less" cooked breakfast (see picture) and the antwacky shower which was probably state of the art in about 1978. The hotel seemed to follow the "overcharge it, they'll pay" philosophy where something is seen as posh if you pay a little extra. I've had posher hankies.But, like I said, it was pleasant and I wasn't there for the hotel or breakfast, I was there to celebrate 2 years of happy marriage to my bride.
£105 worth of breakfast
To show her just how much I love her, I thought I'd take her to somewhere I'd never been to before. Through the magic of the Tourist Information Office, I got wind of a far off wondrous place, full of adventure, Georgian architecture, boutique shops, folk festivals and fine foods. A place with a mysterious sounding name....
Originally called Alauna by the Romans and then Ellenfoot, a local 18th century dignitary had the town renamed after his wife Mary. I can only imagine that he wasn't fond of her. Either that or 18th century Maryport was a lot nicer than 21st century Maryport. Nothing much to see in Maryport, unless you like mud, closed shops and shopping at Heron Foods (which unless you're from the north of England you might not have heard of; just be grateful if you haven't). Not wishing to overstay our welcome in the free all day car park, we high-tailed it out of Dodge and made our way south along the coast, just to see what Workington and Whitehaven were like. Indeed, it wasn't difficult to see that Maryport was the better of the three towns, by no stretch of the imagination.
No matter though, because we did get to see some interesting buildings and reluctance being our middle names, we continued further along the coast than planned and ended up in the contrasting St Bees which seemed a nice place even in bleak, cold and wet February. It was here that I convinced my darling wife to try some chocolate coated toothpaste known locally as Kendal Mint Cake. She seemed to enjoy it.
Not wanting to loiter longer than necessary for fear of attracting the attention of locals, we made our way back to the Lakes, this time to Grasmere for a visit to the Gingerbread shop
. I love gingerbread. I love Grasmere gingerbread more than any other type of gingerbread there is. You can keep your Pepparkakken and your Jamaican gingerbread, I'll have Grasmere gingerbread any day. Of course, the shop is minuscule and the queues are long, more so with Japanese and American tourists so while the good wife queued in the rain, I took shelter under my hood and watched a RED SQUIRREL gambolling in the trees, squeaking cutely as he jumped.
Sufficiently warmed by the red squirrel gingerbread experience, we then headed to Ambleside for our evening meal at LUCY ON A PLATE. If you ever plan to go to the Lake District for whatever reason and you are looking for a place to eat, then LUCY's always LUCY's. I've been twice in my life and I've been bowled over by the service and food quality ever since. Saturday night further fuelled my love for the place. The tiny little flourishes (the menu is unique every night and to show this they provide news about your fellow diners), the attentive staff and, of course, the delicious food all add together to create a charming little popular restaurant. Go there. Go there and dine.
Next morning a visit to Wray Castle on the banks of Lake Windermere. Victorian rich bloke retired and he and his fancy heiress wife bought a sweet little cottage with lots of land. The cottage wasn't sweet enough so he had a MASSIVE CASTLE built in the back garden to entertain his guests. Of course, it wasn't long after the castle was completed they died with no heirs so by some chain of events the National Trust bought it. Of course, they didn't know what to do with it so they rented it out until eventually, nobody wanted to rent it anymore so they ended up opening it to the public. You pays your £10 and you too can wander round bare rooms looking at photos of what it once looked like. Ace.
Not to scale.
Homeward bound I fulfilled a lifetime ambition of getting my sat-nav to tell me to "TAKE THE FERRY" by catching the Windermere car ferry
from Far Sawrey to Ferry Nab. I've always wanted to take my car on a cross-river ferry. I've taken it on the Isle of Man ferry but that's across the sea so there's nothing remarkable about that. But crossing a lake....or a river....now that's something special.
Take the ferry
Windermere is unremarkable, more so on a Sunday. It seems most people head to Windermere to catch the train or to visit the mega-Lakeland. We were there for the latter. An entire store filled with teabag spatulas, clothes peg cases, onion cosies and other stuff you never knew you needed until you saw it. Zoe loves it. Unfortunately, I have a sensible voice in my head that tells me that I don't actually need a sausage rake or a dishwasher pencil sharpener and that I can actually use my own hands to fashion a melon into an edible form without the use of an electronic melon scraper. Still, it was fun.
The 4-hour journey home wasn't much fun though. Traffic, roadworks and rain. Never a good combination and worsened by an approaching work filled Monday. It was a lovey break though.
13th February 2017
It struck me this evening, while walking through the car park at Daventry Tescos, that the youth of today are weird. Well, I say this evening, I've known the youth of today are weird for some time now.
If you've never been, and you should, Daventry is as dull and as boring as a room full of EU Directives. So it's no surprise that the youth gather in dull, uninteresting places to socialise. In my day we would go to the pub or lurk around the park or school playing fields like dog turds. These days, it seems, the best place to be is in a car (usually mummy's or daddy's or the one you've managed to save up to buy/steal) in the car park of the local supermarket.
Like I said, I was struck, while walking through the carpark, by the thought that the youth of today are weird. Mainly because if say me and say stainsteelrat
were to hang out in the car park with our lights off, stereos blaring and occasionally intimidating passers by revving our engines, people would think we were up to no good. Or dogging. Or something.
So, with that thought in emergence, I extrapolate that the youth of today are weird (and are probably into dogging or something).
12th February 2017
It has been nearly 14 days since I logged out of Facebook and already the incessant pestering has begun. But the pestering comes not from associates, from Facebook itself. Every day I receive a reminder that I have a Facebook account together with some titbit of information about how someone close to me has updated, posted a picture or liked something. It even reminded me that I had 19 unread notifications (fuck knows what they are), 2 friend requests and 1 event invite. The 2 friend requests were there before I logged out so they're nobody new and the event invite is one I have not responded to since it was posted last year.
So really I'm not missing much.
Instead I have allowed myself a social media diet of 2 Twitter visits and 1 Livejournal scroll per day. A visit to Twitter usually doesn't take me long. I dont experience much interactivity on Twitter, probably because I have less real life people there than on Facebook. Twitter has never been all that engaging for me and has recently been a receptical for sharing non-information like Pocket saves, Swarm check-ins, Pinterest pins and Feedly shares. In fact, nearly everything you can find on stegzyblogspot
which is pretty much all I was doing on Facebook in the first place. I had been mooting with the idea of using something like IFTTT or Workflow to auto post to Facebook, but really I couldn't care less.
I mentioned to Zoe today how, by me not being on FB or wherever these days, she could use what she knows about common associates as conversation topics which reminded me of how quickly conversation with other people I know is now becoming harder. Indeed, outside shared Facebook updates and shite telly, day-to-day people seem to have little to say about much. LittleK asked me if I saw her pictures of a celebratory 8 course dinner she'd been treated to, I said I hadn't. E asked me if I had read her monologue about some vaccuous nonsense I can't remember, I said I hadn't and other office conversations involving social media quickly become background noise.
In other news, I have had a fairly uninteresting week featuring drives to work, sitting in work, drives home from work, watching TV and going to bed. Although, I did come home from work one evening to Zoe in a fabulous dress. After she told me to take it off, she put it on herself and went out for the evening.