Thursday, 28 February 2013

Why I Cycle

Never Photograph Yourself While Cycling - It's Dangerous!
Ever since I was a young child, I have cycled. Now, several decades later, I still enjoy the trouble free parking and the freedom to slip past traffic, through parks and shortcut down paths. Within the city it is very often faster and easier to ride than to drive.
A Ten Mile Bike Ride In The Forest of Dean
Children love to go on a bike ride, they can cope with surprisingly long distances and as long as the route is safe, I really enjoy watching them swishing along getting fitter and stronger. Bikes are cheap too, you can get a nice second hand bicycle for next to nothing and after a service they ride as good as new.
Bike Ride!
I have always used my bike for pleasure and as a great fun way to keep fit, and this becomes more important as I get older. Thanks largely to Bradley Wiggins and the rest of our Olympic heroes; we are now seeing an upsurge in cycling on our roads. The roads are also gradually becoming safer, with more cycle lanes, paths and better awareness.
Always Wear A Suitable Helmet
Cycling, as opposed to driving, is also a splendid way to save money. Not having a car can save you about £5000 per year off your annual bills. I don’t mind spending money on my bike and equipment, because I save so much by using it. A few years ago we decided, as a family, that we could cope with only one car. I now pedal to work most days; the journey is about 4 – 5 miles each way, depending on my route. I arrive puffed and with my blood is pumping - I feel awake and alive.
All Wrapped Up
It is obviously necessary to buy suitable protective clothing, when cycling through the English Winter. Even if it pours, I don’t arrive wet when I am properly equipped. I took the precaution of covering my bike in retro-reflective tape, making it very visible at night. It now lights up like a Christmas tree in car headlamps; it looks pretty cool in bright sunlight too.
Be Bright!
Bike lights have come on in leaps and bounds since the advent of LED technology, and they can now be as bright as car's. The batteries last ages too; I have not replaced mine for over a year. Bright clothing, is the obvious choice for the cyclist; wearing dark clothing, or riding without lights at dusk or night time, is asking for trouble.
Zooming Onto the Bevois Boardwalk
One other essential item that I really enjoy is my air-horn; it is as loud as a claxon and will easily make oblivious-fools-crossing-the-road-while-texting-or-wearing-headphones, jump out of their skin and then (hopefully) back onto the pavement. It is simply charged by my bike pump and yet I can now easily compete with car horns.
We Painted That Bike Together
 When you commute by bike every day, you soon get to know the most dangerous places on the roads. Places where drivers try to pass you, where there is not sufficient room. Places where drivers tend to accelerate to overtake you, only to break and turn left. Places where drivers do not look left, as they zoom across roundabouts regardless (on these occasions, the horn really helps). 
Southampton Sky Ride
I now have a helmet camera and have been recording the fun I have riding to and from work. I will shortly edit it all together and post it in here (number-plates and all) for people (and traffic police) to see. 
Of course, you need to be constantly vigilant when riding, we all make mistakes, and everyone will miss something, or misjudge the situation occasionally. Online discussions between cyclists and motorists can become quickly polarised, with the same silly quarrels being batted back and forth. It’s worth remembering though that most adult cyclists, also own cars too, they are riding as a lifestyle choice.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Big Clock Tower Tour

The Iconic, Art Deco Guildhall

When civic chiefs decided to open a new museum in Southampton, it was frequently portrayed as a tribute to the Titanic. This tragic catastrophe had a massive effect on the city due to the large number of workers from the city that lost their lives in the shipwreck.
The Iconic, Sea City Museum
Although the new venue does devote lots of space to the fascination that surrounds the disaster, it’s good to see that the displays also truly celebrate the city’s ancient and modern relationship with the Solent & Southampton Water, hence the Sea City moniker. We had a good time when we visited and the children enjoyed themselves as much as the adults. It was also nice to get inside our beautiful Art Deco civic building again.
The Iconic, Art Deco Clock Tower
While nosing around I spotted a leaflet proclaiming tours of the Guildhall clock tower and made enquiries. This iconic tower can be seen from many places in town, even from the Cobden Bridge. I knew the kids would love this kind of thing as they both relish clambering up lighthouses when they get the opportunity.
The Iconic, Art Deco Lamp Post
Sadly, the indiscriminate regulations of the city council stipulated that children needed to be over the age of 12, even though the trip was no more dangerous than ascending stairs in a house and far less risky than tree climbing. These are activities that both our kids are more than capable of performing without incident, although they do often seem curiously reluctant to climb the wooden hill to Bedfordshire… 
The Iconic, Art Deco Spiral Staircase
After an inexplicably comprehensive health and safety monologue, and an interesting talk about the history of the building itself, you ascend the tower, one floor at a time, via several sets of offset iron spiral staircases.
The Iconic, Art Deco Clock Face
Eventually you reach the clock… Well, actually it’s all electric now and you couldn’t see the original clockwork mechanism because it’s all hidden in a wooden shed that Andy, our guide, did not have access to.
The Iconic, Big Bells
On the floor above the clock you can see the bells that chime out, Oh God our Help in Ages Past at midday; they are duly huge. From the bell room I was hoping to be able to take some panoramic photos of the city and I did manage a few but my attempts were hindered by further health and safety obstacles.
The Iconic, St. Mary's Football Stadium
Rusty metal grills had been fixed over all available openings and I had to press my camera into inch square holes and hope for the best.
The Iconic, Southampton Docks
After a talk about the bells we had to descend from our chilly eyrie, all the way back down to the Sea City museum. I did enjoy the visit, and the panoramic view gives a very different perspective on our proud city but a few simple changes would have made the whole experience far better…
The Iconic, Oceanographic Institue
1.       My children are currently 7 and 9 they would have very easily and safely coped with the climb and enjoyed this tour very much. 12 seems a completely arbitrary age to allow visits from. Trinity house have a simple height limit that children hit about age 6. Allowing children to attend this tour would be a fun way to improve their local historic and geographic knowledge. It might even enhance their sense of civic pride.
The Iconic, Geothermal Heating Plant (left of picture)
2.       The original mechanical clock should be on display, this is a missed opportunity and I would have loved to see it. I’m sure the others would have enjoyed this too; it is a large part of the reason for attending the tour.
The Iconic, Art Deco Staircase (again)
3.       Removable shutters should be available at the top of the tower to allow panoramic photography. If there is a danger of dropping cameras, netting or shelving could be fitted below or a simple sign, warning people not to hold items outside. Alternatively, at the very least, clean(able) windows should be fitted. Even periscopes / telescopes could be used to take photos through.
Cormorants on the Itchen
(I spotted them on the way home from the Iconic Boadwalk Cycle Path)

Friday, 15 February 2013

Spring Flowers

Most people associate Spring with blossom and flowers.  But the seasons do not suddenly change, rather they segue, sliding from one into the other and occasionally back again. However, the wheel turns relentlessly and the more times we see it rotate, the more we become acquainted with the sequence.
Although the months slip and slide and what happens during their passage can vary; within a tolerance, we can predict, roughly, what will appear at a given time.
January brings delicate snowdrops, for the galanthophiles.
February fetches up the shifting colours of crocuses.

March trumpets in yellow daffodils on the roadsides and then Blackthorn (Sloe) and Plum blossom in the hedgerows and trees . Having said this, I have already seen my first Plum blossom of 2013 and recently in Devon we saw a deligtful roadside bank with Snowdrops, Crocuses and Daffodills all in bloom at once.
April fills the woodland floor with Bluebells and Cherry blossom bursts from the trees.
April-May brings the Apple & Pear blossom as Spring eventually draws to a close. May-Day heralds the start of the Summer; with Elderflowers, ready to be turned into champagne and cordial.

Something else for me to point out, is that I'm still eating delicious apples that we picked last September/October and stored in our shed!

Friday, 8 February 2013

Smuggler's, Witches and Dragons in Burley

We visited Burley in the New Forest for a pub lunch and a wintry walk with our friends.
Burley is a picturesque village mostly famous for its tales of smugglers, witches and even a dragon that was slain by a local hero dressed in glass coated armour. In fact, the hamlet was originally built in the sheltered lea of an Iron Age hill fort.
After stuffing ourselves with enough pub lunch to insulate us against the elements, we set off along the nearby Smuggler’s Road, over the sandy hills and heathland.  This path is part of the network of routes that was involved in the distribution of contraband, into the forest, during the 18th century. Local legends abound, with tales of swinging lanterns and women parading on hills, wearing red cloaks, to warn of approaching excise men.
Looking back toward the village you can clearly see the embankments of the Castle Hill, although much of it has now been built upon.
It was midwinter and dusk was approaching, so we marvelled at the interplay of the thin sunshine and predominantly cloudy weather.
We took a boggy and waterlogged circular route. The children all enjoyed yomping along together, seeing if they could fill their wellies by fording ponds,  ambushing each other and fighting imaginary enemies.
Eventually it was back to the cars, in order to replace soggy clothes with dry items, and then home for tea and a warm bed!

Friday, 1 February 2013

Lambing at Sparsholt

Each year at this time Sparsholt Agricultural College holds its lambing weekend. We always try to go but don’t always notice when it is on, January always seems so early to bring young into the Wintry world.
It’s a great day out for all the family, always a bit chilly and invariably very muddy but the kids love it and get to learn a lot about life (and death) on the farm.
First we saw the lambs; tiny, wobbly, fluffy, lovely, little lambs, nuzzling up to big bewildered Mother sheep who have just given birth.
The young seemed unbearably cute, but there was also a live birth going on at the same time, projected onto a large screen. This one ended in two still born lambs – a stark reminder of the harsh reality of Nature’s ways. The unfortunate Mother sheep was mercifully given a speedy substitute lamb from another Mother sheep that had given birth to triplets.
We also saw horses with a farrier. On the way to Sparsholt we had driven through Hursley village and I can still remember, as a child, watching the blacksmith that used to work there. He would make horse shoes using a bellows driven forge and anvil; we were allowed to watch his work and see him fit the shoes to horses.
All kinds of farming activities were on show; cows were present, being milked at various intervals, and the children could play in a massive tractor but I think that the part that they all enjoyed most was bending metal into flowerpot holders.
Afterwards we retired to the lovely Plough Inn in Sparsholt village for a satisfying lunch, followed by a run around the garden and the chance to feed the local donkeys.