Something Positive

After my ‘Mister Grumpy’ moan about my driving licence this morning, we finally got to go to Pensthorpe Bird Park this afternoon, in lovely weather. I had my shorts on, as it was 16C, and a beautiful afternoon.


This predominantly waterfowl park is set in idyllic wetlands near the Norfolk town of Fakenham. It is a mecca for bird-watchers, who travel from all over England to see the ducks and geese.

Despite the fact that it was early in the season, and the Flamingo and Cranes enclosure was closed because of Avian Flu, we spent a leisurely couple of hours wandering around, followed by some delicious cakes and tea in the cafe, before the park closed at 4:30 pm. Ollie could not come with us, as dogs are not allowed, but he wasn’t left alone for long.

I took quite a lot of photos, and they will follow in some posts to come.

Suffice to say it calmed me down considerably.

Ollie’s weekend trip

After the painting was finished (for now) inside, it seemed a good idea to get away for a few days. An invitation from one of my oldest friends to visit her in Kent was accepted, and on Friday afternoon, the car was being packed up for a three-night stay. Ollie was curious of course. Bags being packed, car doors open, and items like chargers and toiletries being collected from various rooms. He decided to forego his afternoon nap, and to follow me around instead.

Once he saw me washing his food and water bowls prior to stacking them in the car, he was in no doubt that something was up. Sticking ever closer to my side, he decided to keep wagging his stumpy tail, to let me know he was still around. Every packed bag was sniffed carefully, especially the one containing his food and treats for the weekend ahead. By the time I was dressed and ready to leave, he was looking glum. He no doubt suspected that I was off somewhere, and he was not to be included. But when I lifted his large bed out, to fit it into the back section of the car, he was beside himself with excitement. Not even waiting to be told, he jumped into the back and settled down on the bed. He was happy to have installed himself, even though he had no idea where we were going.

During a drive of just under three hours, he snoozed happily in the back, and it would have been easy to forget he was even there. On arrival he was delighted to see my friend, who he has met on numerous occasions. But he was even more excited to see her stairs. As we have no stairs in our one-level house, he loves to go anywhere where there are stairs to investigate. He will scamper up and down them constantly, like a child on a slide. Once his bed was installed next to her garden door, and a couple of his soft toys appeared, he soon settled down, and showed no concern about being somewhere different.

When it came to taking him for walks, I was restricted to the local park. The town where she lives is very built-up, and has no wide open spaces or small rivers, like the areas that Ollie is used to seeing every day. The trip to the park along busy roads means that Ollie has to stay on his lead. So he makes his amusement by sniffing every new lamp-post, dustbin, street corner, or front garden. Walking a very short distance can take almost thirty minutes, as he discovers new smells and leaves his own mark behind. Once at the park, there are no squirrels or deer to track down, so he has to be content with seeing the occasional dog, or exploring the new place for any other good smells. After a long walk, I found a bench to sit down on, though that unfortunately only gave me a view of the busy main road. Ollie and I watched the streams of traffic for a while, and I wondered what he was thinking.

We didn’t venture too far from the house, using the time to catch up with news, and enjoying a visit from my friend’s extended family. Ollie was pleased to have more visitors who made a fuss of him, and by the time we were set to leave, he had become well-used to the new area, adapting almost immediately. However, once we got back yesterday afternoon, and I took him back to his usual stamping-grounds of Beetley Meadows and Hoe Rough, it was plain to see the joy on his wrinkled chops.

Maybe he enjoyed the change of scene, maybe not.

But I suspect he could take it or leave it.

Back from London

I arrived home yesterday evening to find close to 400 emails in the queue, almost all to do with blog notifications and comments. I just haven’t had time to respond to them all, or to comment on many blogs that I follow. I do apologise for that, but I did my best. From today, I will be able to get back into the swing of regular blogging.

Last weekend marked my first trip back to London since April, 2012. Regular readers will be aware that I lived in various parts of the capital for sixty years, before retiring here to Norfolk. I had to attend the wedding of one of my oldest and dearest friends on Sunday, so went up on Saturday afternoon, to stay with my cousin, who was also going to the wedding. As she lives in South London, it was incredibly convenient for a wedding in much the same area. Julie was unwell, with a bad cough and chest infection, so she regretfully decided not to come with me. It was sad that she was going to miss it, but no point putting herself through that, when she felt just awful.

I left here on Saturday afternoon as planned, expecting to take around three hours to make a journey of almost 120 miles. After an hour spent meandering around the country roads in Norfolk, I arrived at the A11/M11 junction at Mildenhall, hoping to speed up, and make some progress. But it was not to be. This major route was closed, due to a serious accident. All the traffic, and that was an enormous amount of traffic, had to be diverted off onto a country lane. This was little more than a track, with room for one vehicle, and passing places dotted along it, should something come the other way. We had to go almost to the town of Newmarket, to rejoin the motorway, a distance of around 6 miles. That took ninety minutes, of stop-go crawl.

By the time we emerged onto the now empty main road, it was raining so hard that visibility was seriously impaired. With wipers on full speed, and proceeding carefully, the fastest most of us could manage was under 40 mph. By the time we arrived at the busy junction with Stansted Airport, the road was at a standstill once again. It was already the time I had expected to arrive, and I was only halfway there. Once I got into East London, I had to cross the Thames to go south. My first choice was the Blackwall Tunnel, so I headed for that. I soon discovered a 3-mile tailback, just to get onto the approach road. Undaunted, I continued into the city, heading for the Rotherhithe Tunnel instead. But the situation was no better there, with similar queues. I had no alternative but to drive further on, and cross the river using the magnificent Tower Bridge. By now, I was so much later than planned, I had stopped worrying about it.

Once south of the Thames, in a place where I grew up and know well, I was able to take many back routes and small roads to make progress. Or so I thought. I hadn’t bargained for speed bumps. There were always some streets in that area with them, but in the few years since I moved away, it now appears that every road, including all bus routes, is ‘fully bumped’. These things are so close together, that as you are driving off of one, you are almost mounting the next one. It seems possible to become seasick on a South London side street these days. I eventually arrived after more than five hours of driving, having averaged a speed of only 24 mph for the whole journey.

I spent a pleasant evening at a restaurant with my cousin, and we were both up and about early for the wedding ceremony on Sunday morning. The taxi arrived on time, and everything went very smoothly all day. I managed to fulfill my duties as master of ceremonies with few if any errors, and everyone agreed that it was wonderful to see our friends marry in such a happy and emotionally-charged fashion. The reception was in a marquee in their garden, and was executed to perfection. The excellent food was enjoyed by all, and the speeches and entertainment that followed were equally delightful. I even managed to stay relatively sober, until almost 9 pm, when I was sufficiently inebriated to join in with the dancing. A shared taxi back to my cousin’s house was arranged, and I was in bed asleep by 11. It had been a very long, but most enjoyable day.

Then I had to drive home on Monday morning.

The traffic around South-East London was completely gridlocked, not helped by emergency water-works closing parts of the main road. It took me well over two hours to travel less than 5 miles, and I didn’t get home until late in the afternoon. As much as I relished the chance to see my old friend get married, I won’t be rushing back to London anytime soon.