Shropshire in the Sun

It was a bank holiday and we went out exploring a nearby Medieval castle and a village little changed since the industrial revolution. With the wedding nearly two months behind us, we’re still taking advantage of the free things to do around the Midlands for an unusual day out, to enjoy the tranquil lull after four months of non-stop running. As we explored the castle, and wandered along the river with our ice-creams, I remembered my childhood visiting French castles and tiny northern villages, and realised I’ve always been a daydreamer, walking carefully and inventing stories in my head :

This room might have been a drawing room, or an armoury, there were no battles fought here but imagine the nobleman wishing he could prove his might over this area. The King came here, maybe he made some important decisions here, right here leaning against this wall in all its glory with tapestries and candles, with a burning fire and gazing pensively out this window at the valley surrounding the manor, the same valley that surrounds us seven hundred years later when all that’s left is a tangle of stones and stories and imagination…

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Acton Burnell and Ironbridge

These old track ways, leading up to the door of what is now the tourist information office – once used for transporting goods from the bank of the river to the warehouse. Now that I work in logistics I think of the money that changed hands, the deals that were made, shouting and running – businessmen with their warm coats overseeing the commerce. A tender of rolled cloth is unloaded from a barge, it reaches the shore and positions itself within the ruts carved in the stone floor. Setting off a loose cutting falls and gets caught in the wheel, the whole tender spills out back into the river, ruining its load. The worker pushing the cart is fired on the spot, a valuable consignment from China is ruined, he walks the two miles home to his family of six children not knowing how he’ll feed them tonight…

Written for Ailsa’s Travel Theme : Tangle

Acton Burnell Castle is cared for by English Heritage and is free to enter

Ironbridge Gorge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, looked after by English Heritage and free to explore

Inside the Suitcase

Her folded clothes, neat pairs of high-waisted trousers, mini-skirts and shorts, brand new t-shirts, smart blouses her mother had sewn for her more formal dinners – or in case she meets a gentleman. Underwear of course, a nightgown, a coat and jumpers for the evening, and a new bikini. She also had a one-piece that her mother insisted she take, in case she meets a gentleman. Hanging up on the front of the wardrobe and with strict instructions from her mother to unpack and hang back up as soon as possible is her beaded dress that sparkles at the trim. Light blue, not a bright skyblue that’s the colour of the daytime, or a midnight blue that comes with the last bus home, but that magical blue that appears on the opposite side of the sky to the sunset.

She adds a small washbag with soap and toothbrush, it’s green leather with a monogrammed CA in the top corner and seems to have much better craftsmanship than everything except the dress. There will be a shop to replace what she uses, she’s not sure how she’ll wash her clothes but her mother tells her to look after everything. Two books follow, a romance and a collection of essays – to give her an interesting conversation at these dinners. She includes a small notebook with a photograph of her family glued onto the front, telling her mother she would get homesick easily. It’s empty except for five addresses – her parents, two of her closest sisters who now live in the countryside to the south of the city and two close friends from work. She checks them again and slots her boarding card in the middle of the book as she lays it neatly on top of the pile.

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She picks up her perfume from the top of the small table beside the window, there’s a photo of her sisters and a small pink candle that’s nearly burnt out. She dabs a little on her neck and drops it into another bag with her notebook, the brown leather with warm metal clasp sits next to the suitcase. She walks over to the case open on the bed and closes it shut – closing her life here and now.

Taking a moment to reflect, she hasn’t told her parents she’s not coming back. They wouldn’t let her get on that ship if they knew, she kept her secret for three years while she worked for the ticket, and in her brown leather bag she also carries an envelope with £100.00 is hidden away in the lining, she’ll exchange it for dollars or pesos or anything else she needs to get by. Her plan is to leave at the furthest port from England, she’ll watch the ship fade into the distance at sunset and she knows she’ll cry. Her parents will beg her to come home and she’ll cry and she’ll regret it, but those feelings won’t last forever. Overwhelmed for a moment a she feels the tears coming already and as she resolves herself she takes her suitcase and walks confidently out of the life that was hers for twenty English years, knowing that the world is nearly hers.

A post for Ailsa’s Travel Theme : Interior, based on a suitcase that belonged to my father’s aunt. All I know is that she used it for a cruise on the SS Canberra. I’ve guessed at her age, the initial on the address label we have is a C Asbury, I don’t even know where she went but the fact that we have the suitcase shows that she did come back. We’re using this for cards at our wedding, to fit into our vaguely international theme, a fitting reuse I think!

Trooping the Colour

A few years back I was travelling to London a lot at the weekends, and between the old markets, the Barbican and the surge of Oxford Street, one in particular sticks in my head. Being a bit touristy and walking along The Mall, I spied a group of soldiers on horseback, and then realised that the road was full of police. Walking down a bit further were more soldiers, dressed in that distinctive red and gold uniform, and then that thumping, rhythmic, military music came into focus in our ears.

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Trooping of the Colour

We all know that the Trooping of the Colour takes place on the Queen’s official birthday in June, regiments dress in their official uniform and parade their flags (troop their colours) before the Queen at Horse Guards Parade. But what you might not know is that we caught the full dress rehearsal the week before.

Written for Ailsa’s Travel Theme : Noise

Un coup de Marseille

Place Thiars, Marseille. It would be really pretty without that ugly fountain. High buildings, restaurants and cafés then leading out onto the Vieux Port. Marseille was a really strange experience, I was sent for work to improve cohesion and communication with the French sales team, and then – very unexpectedly – I was asked to stay there permanently. I remember sitting for hours on the side of this fountain, in the crêperie just nearby for a whole weekend, toying with my future. I’d just starting seeing Daniel, I was living in a nice house in Moseley and had good friends in Birmingham. Should I stay or should I go? The longer I sat the more beautiful that clumsy fountain became, and the longer I sat the more I was resolved to come back to the UK. But I still think about that weekend in Place Thiars, where my life could twist either way. When I see that ugly fountain, I’m glad I’m not there, it was too hot anyway!

Place Thiars, Marseille

Written for Ailsa’s Travel Theme : Twist

Saltley Gas Towers

Birmingham’s industrial landscape matches so well with this week’s travel theme : Metal. I caught the Saltley gas towers on the train home from Leicester a few years ago. If you come and go from the north or east of the city by train, you’ll be very familiar with these. You’ll always have a marker on that path, whether that gleaming green and white warehouse on side of the motorway, or the beautiful big church just as you enter the city, there will always be some marker that in your heart fills you with a feeling of “nearly home!”. It’s always going to be a mixed emotion, still happy to be travelling and full of fresh memories, but sad because you know that the minute you step through that door the adventure is over.

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Gas Towers

Ancient Aztecs : The Rabbit in the Moon

You might know that I run the local Guide Company, and obviously for various child protection laws in place I don’t really post about the girls at all. But this week’s travel theme from Alisa is Ancient, and we recently played a game that made me think of this straight away. Inspired by my travels, I wanted to give them something Mexican, so we told my girls and the Brownies the ancient Aztec story of the Rabbit in the Moon for the Division’s Bunny Challenge Badge to learn about Rabbits in other cultures.

Teotihuacán from the Pirámide de la Luna

Teotihuacán from the Pirámide de la Luna

Gather the girls together and tell them the actions they must do during the story when you read out certain words:

  1. Quetzalcoatl – flap wings like a bird and hiss like a snake
  2. Rabbit – bunny hopping on the spot
  3. Moon – lie on the floor and point at the ceiling*

Then begin the story :

The ancient people of Mexico are called the Aztecs, and the most important God was called Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent, who took the form of a human to walk the earth with his people.

Ladywood Bunny Challenge

Ladywood Bunny Challenge Badge

As a simple man he walked in the Mexican desert in the heat of the day, walking until he grew thirsty and hungry. He kept walking in the desert until to grew dark, and the sky filled with stars and a blank silver moon. When Quetzalcoatl had walked so much that the hunger and thirst grew too strong, he sat beside the path, suffering in a way he never had as a God. Near to him he noticed a small rabbit eating alone in the dark. “What are you eating?” Quetzalcoatl asked. “Grass, would you like some?” said the rabbit. Despite his uncomfortable hunger, Quetzalcoatl said “No”, as this simple meal is enough for a rabbit, but hardly suitable for a human. By the light of the moon, the concerned rabbit asked Quetzalcoatl what he would do, “Die of hunger and thirst probably” he replied. Getting nearer to the human, the rabbit gave Quetzalcoatl another offering, “I know I am nothing but a small rabbit, but if you are hungry you can eat me.” Touched by the kindness of the rabbit, the man gently picked him up, and revealing his true form as the feathered serpent God. Quetzalcoatl raised the rabbit up to the sky, taking as high up as the moon, where the image of this kind rabbit was imprinted onto the blank surface of the moon. As he did this, Quetzalcoatl told the rabbit he was no longer just a small creature, that his portrait painted in the light of the moon would forever tell the story of his kindness to all men. And with this reward he returned the rabbit to where he found him.

Quetzalcoatl‘s story teaches us that even if food is just fuel need to continue your journey, it is also a gift and a kindness.

* The older girls decided to change this action to bending over and taking their skirt over their head “mooning” at each other!

Hot Chocolate Season

Cola Cao, what can be better?

Cola Cao, what can be better?

Yes it’s Hot Chocolate Season, the weather is turning colder and as I don’t drink tea or coffee I can finally enjoy a hot chocolate with a clear conscience. My absolute favourite is the one at The Green Room, the deluxe is a tall glass with whipped cream, marshmallows and chocolate powder. Just Yum! It’s about half an hour from the house though, so I save it for Spanish Meetups once a month on a Sunday afternoon.

Not San Gil, but not far off!

Then it’s the one in Mexico at the Misión San Gil, Quéretaro in Mexico, it’s so creamy, and chocolatey and comes in a beautiful painted mug. And the grounds of the restaurant are magical, set in a colonial hacienda-type building, the hotel forms part of a bigger estate with a golf course and country houses. We go to the hotel just once when we go to Quéretaro, always for breakfast where you can have as much fruit as you want, eggs exactly how you want them, catcus smoothie and this divine hot chocolate. Then we take a little walk in the grounds, with peacocks and butterflies all around.

And there’s Cola Cao. My Spanish treat. Discovered in my first year at uni in the Spanish girls’ kitchen. It was also our erasmus staple drink. We’d sit waiting for (or skipping) lectures in the Cafeteria Interfacultades, with our cup of milk and sachet of Cola Cao, chatting about what happened at the weekend, who had snogged who and who was sick in a wheelie bin and where we were going to go after lectures were over for the day. For me Cola Cao is erasmus in Spain. And I still have it every time I go back, the one above was in Córdoba in a late night café next to the Cathedral in the main square.

Written for Ailsa’s Travel Theme : Brown