Crich Tramway Village (Part 1)

 Posted by at 14:43 on 30 July 2014
Jul 302014

Just on the other side of the Peak District is the Crich Tramway Village, home of the National Tramway Museum. From the website: “Nestling on the edge of the Peak District this award-winning museum takes you on a mile-long scenic journey through a period street to open countryside with panoramic views over the Derwent Valley.” Tram enthusiasts started putting it together after a group of them went on a tour to see trams in different parts of the country, and discovered the serious state of decline many tram lines were experiencing. They found the home at Crich in 1959, and right away started buying up trams and storing them under cover.

Countryside, Woodland, and a Labyrinth, Oh My!


One day last week, I went with some of the members of Charlesworth WI for a visit. It’s only 40 miles away, but it took an hour and a half each way by private car (we went one way and came back another); the winding, narrow roads of the Peak District really impact speed. (As an aside, Google Maps is generally wrong on travel time by car in England. Sometimes not by much, as here; sometimes vastly so.) Thankfully, the view along the way is of pretty countryside. We set off around 10am and got there about 11:30.

Once we arrived, I split off to wander on my own, because that’s how I like to roll. The village has several attractions, but perusing the map, I saw it basically divided into the Woodland area and the townscape area. The entrance is about in the middle of the village, with the townscape to the left and the woodland to the right.

I took nearly 400 photos on this trip, and while you’re not going to see most of them (I nearly always take duplicates in case of blurring, for starters), there’s still quite a lot. So this entry will be in multiple parts – once it’s done, click here to see all the parts.

I decided to explore the Woodland first, while my feet (which have all sorts of issues that mean that they frequently hurt) were still fresh, and I could get the most out of it. I didn’t realize it would really be quite woodsy – I found myself dearly wishing I’d brought my bug spray!

Then I found a labyrinth!

That was the end of the woodland. It was about 1pm by now, so I was hungry for lunch. There were a couple of picnic tables here at the tram stop, so I decided to stop here and eat. Not the most scenic choice, but it was handy, and quiet, and bug-free as far as I noticed, and I even got a bit of shade.

Right, that’s as good a place as any to stop for now. Stay tuned for the next installments!

US Road Trip 2013: Day 2: Blinking Headlights!

 Posted by at 10:14 on 28 July 2014
Jul 282014

I’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback from this series, so I know you’ll all be pleased it’s picking back up again. I can’t manage the rate I started at, though, so I shall aim for two to three of these a week (since there are a fair number to get through), and then that’ll allow me to intersperse other things without cluttering up your life.

Remember to click on the images to see a bigger version, and to click the link in the description (you may have to scroll down) to see an even bigger version if you want to (though probably not on this particular post, since it’s just photos of rain, but this is a refresher since I’ve taken such a hiatus from these).

Now on to the next exciting installment!

Day 2 (Saturday, 30th March 2013): Grenada, MS to Vienna, IL.

“Blinking headlights!” (mostly by Chris)

Day mileage: 316

Super 8 Grenada, 1451 Sunset Dr, Grenada, MS 38901 to Limited Inn, 709 E Vine St, Vienna, IL 62995 via New Asia, 2540 Lone Oak Rd, Paducah, KY 42003 (US51->US79->51 in Memphis)

We’ve changed how the maps are done – the zoom was messed up, so instead of a zoomable map here on this page, you get a photo of the map that links to the zoomable Google map.


We set the alarm for 7:30am, as we wanted to get on the road and headed north before 2:30pm this day. Originally SJ had budgeted half a day to explore Mackinac Island in north Michigan (it’s actually between the two peninsulas of Michigan), but we’d found out that they don’t actually open Mackinac Island to tourists until later in the year, so we could spend that half day looking around Memphis rather than racing through it on the interstate, but only if we got going pretty early rather than hanging around Grenada for a chunk of the day.

So, up early we got. I got showered and dressed to go over to the continental breakfast, but they only had boxes of cereal and no actual cartons of milk, so we ate a breakfast of our own cereal and doughnuts in our room, and then began another Grand Sort to try and make it easier to find things and keep track of everything, after which I performed the Tetris-like loading of the car. While loading the car, I went and had another hunt for the possible cause of the whine we had been experiencing on the road. The plastic flashing around the windscreen had been damaged in various places over time, and it looked like, while we were washing the car, some bits had been caught and bent into just the right way to vibrate and whine when air passed over them rapidly. A few minutes’ work to stick them down properly and I was fairly sure I’d squished the problem. This was made a little tricky by the drizzle that had descended while I loaded the car, the first precipitation of any kind we’d seen since the snow flurries up in Chicago; otherwise we’d had clear, sunny days so far.

We managed to check out exactly on 11am (despite getting up early, that sorting business takes time – we’ve learned some lessons about packing for our next trips, road and otherwise) and got on the road, back onto I-55 North to Memphis. As we gained speed, and the whine failed to reassert itself and its vehement hatred of my ability to think, we tentatively declared my fix a success (and indeed, we were untroubled by it for the rest of the journey). The joy over this was very slightly offset by the rain which was steadily getting heavier and heavier as we drove, to the point where occasionally it looked like cars were gliding over a sea of water (although it was absolutely nothing on a storm we drove through later in the trip.) We were fine though, and managed to avoid getting wet thanks to Iolana, until we had to stop for gas – and sugar as it turned out – somewhere between Grenada and Memphis.

Somehow, in all the preparations we’d made in Bossier and Shreveport before the start of the road trip, we had managed to completely forget that I needed sugar for my tea. I don’t need much – I put one teaspoon in half a litre of tea, for goodness sake – but it is amazing how noticeable the absence of sugar is when I don’t have any. During breakfast SJ had made the ever-so-helpful suggestion that, since I kept on insisting that US cereals are made entirely of sugar, I should just mix some of those into my tea.

I love my wife. I truly do. Every day I feel lucky to have found her, and that she married me. And I did manage to refrain from telling her that she was out of her godsdamned mind, but I did have to tell her that sometimes she can be really, really disgusting.

That said, eating the US-style double-sugar-level Frosties did make it easier to drink my tea. See? I was right.

The subject of sugar does deserve some mention, however: it’s all over the place in the US, even in things you’d think it had no business being in at all. The cereals are obvious and at least understandable (and there are some “Boring Grown-Up Cereals,” as SJ calls them, that don’t have half a sugar plantation included in the box), but the breads are as bad unless you specifically get bakery bread, and even some of them have noticeable amounts. But the one that really got us was when we picked up a sausage of ground meat during one of our visits to a supermarket in Shreveport only to fine that even that had sugar in it. It was insane.

But none of that was suitable for my tea – especially the meat, believe it or not – so while I filled up the car, SJ went into the gas station store and managed to get some sugar, and some desperately-needed Rain-X for us to apply the next time the windscreen was dry enough. They also apparently had the most horribly pinky-purple bathroom SJ had ever seen… It was like being inside a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, with added fuschia, ugh.

Back on the road, we headed to Memphis. We’d emailed SJ’s brother again during breakfast, telling him that we were going to be in Memphis that day and would still like to meet up, but by the time we hit the outskirts of Memphis we still hadn’t heard from him, so we decided just to carry on though. He’d only recently moved to Memphis, so I didn’t have a phone number for him – not sure if he even had one yet, it was that recent – or an address. He was probably still unpacking. However, instead of staying on the interstate, we decided to pull off onto US highway 51: Elvis Presley Boulevard (there are only two roads named after Elvis in the US: one in Memphis, and one in Shreveport, and we’ve been down both now…)

We do wonder what the King would think of his boulevard now, as some significant stretches of it were described charitably by SJ as being, “not the best neighbourhood in the world,” (and less charitably by me, as “a total shithole”). Some areas were horribly poverty-stricken, bizarrely and incongruously interspersed with sections of immaculately maintained, obviously expensive houses apparently oblivious to the precipitous drop into near-slumdom just across the next intersection. At one point SJ spied a grocery store, and pulled in, leaving me to guard the car while she went in for milk and a couple of other things, on the basis that she knew the prices would be low. If I’d thought about it at the time, I’d have been vaguely concerned about trusting milk from such a place, but I didn’t, and we’re still alive, so it must’ve been okay!

The road took us into central Memphis, doglegging west and through parts of the medical district (which is very aptly named, given the insane density of hospitals. Apparently Memphis is full of extremely ill rich people). We remained on US-51, but at this point it was also simultaneously US-79, and US-64, and state highway 3, and probably something else because the US road system hates me and wants to make me go insane.

Ahem, the US road system is an inanimate object, so it does not hate Chris or want to send him insane. It’s just that 51, 79, 64, and 3 overlap for a short section there, that’s all. Whereas in the UK, they’d rename that chunk a whole nother name/number, and then the next ten feet would get its own name, and again a new name for the ten feet of road after that, in the US, we’re expected to zoom out a bit and look at the overall road system, rather than constantly being zoomed in so far you can see a mouse take a poop on the side of the road.

US-51 turned north again, magically dropping US-79, US-64, and 3 and only managed to pick up state 1 in the process, and for a while went through a decent area of the city. But as it went farther north the decay began to return; more derelict buildings, more abandoned lots, and more signs of poverty.

Around 1:30pm we were both getting pretty hungry, so just before the north edge of Memphis we pulled up on an abandoned lot across from a Blues club to eat lunch. We knew we’d be on US highway for quite a while, and that there wouldn’t be any rest areas along the road, so we’d otherwise end up having to pull off onto the shoulder to eat. We had sandwich stuff with us, because that’s part of how we like to travel: it’s often easier, and much cheaper, for us to make or bring our own lunch when we need it, rather than trying to find somewhere to eat. I’d cut some rolls, the salami was pre-sliced, and SJ had – by dint of herculean effort – managed to slice some cheese (real cheese, I note, not US “cheese”, aka yellow plastic…) the evening before at the hotel using the plastic knives we had with us. So we pulled up off the road, sat in the car and ate our lunch as the rain came down around us, watching the world go by and looking at the artwork on the nearby wall.

Shame the light wasn't better, it was very impressive.

Shame the light wasn’t better, it was very impressive.

After lunch we headed on north up US-55. The Rand McNally map shows US-55 as a scenic route, so we’d hoped it would have some, I don’t know, scenery to look at! In the most literal interpretation of the word it does have scenery – the car was not, in fact, surrounded by an infinite, black, featureless void as soon as we left Memphis – but it certainly isn’t scenic. Unless, that is, you classify churches, flea markets, gun stores, or antiques stores as scenic, in which case it is positively picturesque. I began to wonder if Rand McNally were actually using the dotted marking on the side of the road to indicate the locations of churches or flea markets rather than actually indicating a scenic route.

Around Dyersburg the US road network conspired to continue its assault upon my sanity as US-51 was subsumed beneath the harsh rolling asphalt of I-69, and I became horribly confused about what was going on. Thankfully, we managed to end up continuing north, rather heading west towards Missouri. Just south of Troy (not the Trojan war one, the one in Tennessee) I-69 mysteriously and instantly vanishes (or at least goes into hiding, possibly inside a giant wooden horse or something. I believe it reappears – poof, as if by magic – near Calvert City. Madness, I tell you) and US-51 once again reasserted itself beneath our ever-rolling tyres as we went on around Union City and crossed into Kentucky at Fulton.

At Fulton US-55 branches off north west, whereas we needed to carry on north and north east, so we took US-45 towards Mayfield and then north towards Paducah. All the way up from Grenada the rain hadn’t really let up at all; it got lighter and heavier, but it never really stopped. As we drove into the gathering evening we passed areas that looked like submerged fields, and everywhere had that air of emphatic wetness.

As we came up on Paducah at 5:30 to 6pm, we decided that we should start looking for somewhere to eat dinner. Driving in on a US highway rather than an interstate meant that we got to see a few differences from the normal selection of roadside eateries; local independent shops, rather than national chains. After we passed two Chinese places in quick succession, we pulled in at the third Chinese place; New Asia on Lone Oak Road, on their opening night as it turned out. The place was nice, the staff were friendly, the service was excellent, and the food was good, although SJ was less than impressed by their iced tea, and from here on for much of the trip I needed to make her tea.

I have friends here who are so confused about my tea drinking habits; the sort of tea I drink is so alien to them, I gave up trying to explain it years ago. It’s just your normal sweet, iced tea, inspired by what’s found in the South of the US, except made with Twinings (a British tea brand) because it’s far superior and doesn’t give that astringent aftertaste. When Brits add sugar to their tea, they do it on the order Chris mentioned earlier – a few grains per cup. As my mom said when Chris either showed or told her this, “What’s the point?” Southern sweet tea is so sweet by their standards that Chris calls my drink “tea flavored simple syrup.” (Simple syrup is where you boil more or less equal quantities of sugar and water together until it’s dissolved.) Hah. Some of my friends have concluded that I don’t drink tea at all; I let them, because that’s easier than explaining that hot tea is gross, unsweet tea is gross (it’s still unsweet with just those few grains of sugar added), and so forth. Anyway, to me, tea is also just something nice to have – I’m okay without it, which is another alien concept for most here (including Chris). Since we had teamaking equipment (a necessity for Chris), we made me tea as we went through YankeeLand, but if we hadn’t, it’d have been fine. Don’t get between me and my Coke, though!

After dinner we drove up Lone Oak Road and joined I-24 West – which actually goes north, because US roads – with the intention of trying to get to Marion, Illinois to stay overnight. But the fates, or at least those concerned with automotive matters, had different plans for us that evening. As we drove north from Paducah through the persistent rain, darkness descended upon the land, as it is wont to do as the evening passes and the sun sets. But we were in a car, and cars have headlights, so we drove on northward through the damp gloom… until we were somewhere on the long, empty stretch of I-24 north of the hilariously grandiosely named Metropolis, Illinois (population: a whopping 6,482) when suddenly one of the headlights stopped working. And then it came back on again, only for the other to go off shortly after. And then both went out, and SJ was driving along with no headlights, and then they both came back on. All of this spontaneously, for no discernible reason, much like they had done while crossing the bridge back in Shreveport. And this continued, headlights going on and off, with nowhere we could see to stop, no exits for a couple of miles.

This was one of the most frightening driving experiences I’ve ever had – certainly not the worst, that was hydroplaning on Barksdale Air Force Base’s East Reservation (read: out in the middle of nowhere) – and unlike any other frightening driving experience, I had no clue what was causing it, or that this was ever even a possibility, which added to the fright. Thankfully, there wasn’t any traffic, the tail lights were unaffected, and I could see the road ahead clearly enough (it was a full moon, after all), and of course opposing traffic was way off on its own road, hundreds of feet away (wide American roads), so we made it through. I perhaps should have stopped and called for a tow, but between all the conditions, I really didn’t feel it necessary to wait the two hours or more it quite likely would’ve been just to go those last couple of miles.

Eventually we saw an exit for a town called Vienna, which apparently has two gas stations, and a single entry for a non-chain motel called “Limited Inn” on the ‘Lodging’ sign, and pulled off the highway there and headed to the forecourt of a BP so that I could check whether the headlights had worked loose and fallen back into the engine compartment or something. Peering into the engine compartment, I checked the headlights only to find they were firmly in place, and any hope we might have had that this was a simple issue was gone. I wanted to double-check fuses and stuff, just in case, but it was cold, wet, and late, and SJ vetoed the idea and said we should just get a room at the Limited Inn for the night. Getting to it proved interesting in the pouring rain, in the dark, with bandy headlights, up a poky road with no street lighting, but we managed it and, after checking the room out, decided that it was good enough (not that we had a huge amount of choice, mind) and checked in for the night.

We unloaded the car, dragging all our stuff in while trying to stop it getting too wet, and trying to avoid slipping on the tiled floor in the lobby. The room was adequate, although I had to do a quick repair on the curtain rail after it fell off when we tried to close the curtain, and while SJ was in the shower I had to sacrifice a small black goat (we always carry several when we travel, naturally) to coax some life out of the horribly poor data connection (the motel had no wifi, and the mobile signal in the area was faint at best) to consult the Great Internet Oracle to see if I could work out what the problem with the headlights might be. At that point the only thing I found was a consensus that, if the bulbs and fuses were okay, the only things left were relays and wires, so I decided that I’d try checking the relays in the morning. After I showered, and we got a snack, we collapsed into bed with the alarm set for something like 7am so that we could get up early and see what we could do about the headlights.

Monkey Nuts

 Posted by at 13:15 on 27 July 2014
Jul 272014

Even after six years of living here, I occassionally come across things that throw me.

On the menu this week is Kung Pao Chicken. This means I need peanuts. We’ve had Kung Pao Chicken before; I’ve bought peanuts suitable for cooking with before. In Tesco, nuts generally come in a small bag (about a cup’s worth), and will sometimes be with the baking stuff, or with the health food stuff, or now they have a bit in the produce section that has some nuts and dried fruits, or there’s one or two other places to look. Before I got there, I was at the greengrocer’s, Sowerbutts, so I checked their stock of nuts – nope, no peanuts. Right, Tesco it is.

I looked high and low, in all those different places. I found no peanuts. Almonds in twenty different forms, walnuts, pistachios, even macadamia nuts, but no humble peanuts. I then thought, this is crazy, peanuts are the most common snack nut – surely there’s at least some in the snack aisle? So I went slowly down the aisle with the crisps (chips), etc, and nope, no nuts at all. This is insane. How can a whole supermarket have no peanuts? I’m sure I’ve bought them from this very supermarket before!

The quest continues …

At last, I found a worker, who led me to the display of snack peanuts (which wasn’t with the crisps, of course). Hooray, peanuts! Now, could there possibly be any that aren’t salted for snacking, but rather plain, more suitable for cooking with? Not these … not those … what are these, down on the bottom shelf?


Monkey nuts? What in the world are monkey nuts?


Hey look, roast peanuts. In shells. So they’re peanuts. Where do the monkeys come from? Who knows.

Hooray, I have some unsalted peanuts now for my Kung Pao, even if I have to shell them myself. Don’t think it’d be quite right with almonds…

Poole’s Cavern

 Posted by at 00:04 on 15 July 2014
Jul 152014

Last Wednesday, 9 July, I went to Poole’s Cavern with Glossopdale Women’s Institute. It’s well worth a visit – a great cave, good info from the guide, and really easy for those less mobile with not too many steps, and flagstoned walkways and handrails throughout. I borrowed Chris’ camera because it has an infrared setting, so I could take pictures in the low light of the cave.

We had an early start; we set off about 8:30am. We were trying to beat the rush – apparently every school in the High Peak decided to take its kids to tour that cave that very day. Schools tend to start later here than what I’m used to, more like 9am than 7, so we got there for when the cave opened at 9, and got the first tour, and just were vaguely aware of the first lot of kids being around. Phew.

Pictures from the cave …

It’s been awhile since I did one of these gallery things – remember to click on the first photo and then use the right arrow on the right side of the screen to see each picture one by one, and the full caption I’ve written at the bottom.

After the cave, we split into three groups – convenient, since we’d come in 3 cars and all. One lot went off hiking up the hillside over the cave. I’d have liked to join them, but since I’d dressed for the 45F/7C cave, it worked out for the best that I didn’t; I was sweltering before too long without exertion. I shall drag Chris and we’ll hike that woodland another time (and I’ll dress less warmly!). Another lot went off to a fine lunch at the Old Hall Hotel. My carload wandered off to the Buxton Pavilion Gardens for a compromise between the two: a stroll instead of a hike, and a light lunch instead of a fine lunch.

Pictures from Buxton Pavilion Gardens …

All in all, a lovely day out!


 Posted by at 00:08 on 12 June 2014
Jun 122014

HOORAY! I passed the driving theory test! Amazingly, on the first try! Wowza! What luck!

I’m not opposed to a written test for driving – there are all sorts of reasonable things to make sure drivers know, like what various road signs mean (moreso here, since they’ve used a bunch of symbol ones so they can be standard across Europe), for example. Lots of other things that would occur to me if I wasn’t so exhausted just now, too.

Excuse me while I rant a bit and natter on about the test …

I am, however, opposed to the stupidity that is the hazard perception test, rolled in with that multiple-choice ordinary test. Mostly, I’m opposed because the video quality is so grainy that you can barely make out anything, and yet you’re expected to be able to tell what the five pixels that are a distant pedestrian are, and what the one pixel that is the biker’s face turning is, and so forth. The video quality is from around 1980. Behold, the instruction section before the test clips I saw today at the test center (skip to about 1:51 to see one of the clips in question):

In contrast, here is the video quality I’m used to seeing these days:

On top of that, I learned by searching online last night that what they tell you about when to click isn’t actually right. They tell you that the earlier you click when you see a hazard, the more points you get. I’d bought the official practice DVD, and was running it over and over again (trying to be able to suss those few pixels that meant this or that), so I knew the clips, and would click very early when they’d appear … and was getting zero scores. Bwuh?

It turns out that within the clip, there’s a certain window of time that is the scoring window. Clicks before this don’t count at all for or against your score. They want you to click every time you see a potential hazard, and every step of the way when that changes – so for example, you’d click when you see the pedestrian, again when you see their (one-pixel) face as they turn to see the road, again when they move their body to face the road, again when they get up to the curb, again when they step into the road, and so on. I’m not sure exactly when the scoring window in that scenario opens, but it’s most certainly not when you see the pedestrian to start with. This is all sheer stupidity.

Anyway, after I knew that, I did a few more practice clips this morning before we left – and what do you know, I scored way better on them! Lo and behold, I did very well indeed on the test, as well. Amazing what a difference it makes to actually know the grading rubric.

When you click, a red flag appears. At the test center, the red flags accumulate on the bottom of the screen. During the introductory video, as I saw that happen, I was reminded of American football, and how I’ve heard announcers talk about flags on the play. “There was a flag on that play, we’ll have to wait to see what the refs say.” “One – two – three! – flags on that play!” Etc. I don’t know much about sports, but I think those flags are thrown by the referees to say that the play wasn’t done quite right. (If I’m wrong, don’t bother correcting me; it’ll just go in one ear and out the other because I really don’t do sports.)

Chris and I have concluded that Aliens From A Utopia Planet (where everything is perfect all the time) came up with the rules I’m being tested on in this process. So I decided to just make a video game out of it. “That pedestrian isn’t walking perfectly correctly! Flag on the play!” “That car isn’t driving perfectly correctly! Flag on the play!” “That van is turning! Flag on the play!” When I started the city center (extremely urban) clip, I wondered if there was any limit to how many flags I could put on the play – but it turns out I spent most of that clip stopped at a red light (appropriately enough), so it was actually the suburban clips that drew more flags.

So, yes, one hurdle down. Now some lessons (I do have to master the stick shift and the extremely narrow roads, after all), and then the driving test – however many times I have to take it.

The rest of the day – and a few pictures, too!




After I passed, as I stood waiting for the elevator, I had a lovely view of a canal, with a small waterfall over a lock wall, right in the center of the city – so lovely and so completely unexpected – and me without any camera! (They’re very particular [pdf] about not letting you have anything in the testing room that I thought it best to just leave absolutely everything nonessential with Chris, who was waiting outside the building.) I found Chris and walked him around the building until I found the scene I’d seen from the 6th floor.


The white building is where I took the Life in the UK test.

The white building is where I took the Life in the UK test.

It doesn’t look as nice from the ground as it did from way up there, but it was a lovely, tranquil place. Chris was amused, because, turning left a bit from looking at the canal, he saw the building I’d jumped through a different ridiculous hoop in — where I’d taken the Life in the UK test (citizenship test, essentially, though it’s given before that point in some cases, including mine).


We were also in Manchester for a doctor appointment for me, at Manchester Royal Infirmary. They have this process of three waiting spots: you go from a larger waiting room in the ENT department for everyone, to a smaller one for the section you’re going to that day, to a line of chairs in the hall right outside the room you’ll be seen in. I guess it’s so that even if they’re running late, you know you haven’t been forgotten – I’m all for it. Anyway, while sitting on the chairs in the hall this time, I found myself being drawn … towards … these … rooms … 😉

Haha, just had to share that with you. After the test, we hopped back on the train immediately – the 3:47pm train is just about the last one before rush hour starts – and headed back to Glossop. I was in desperate need of new shoes, and finally found some. I hate shoe shopping – my feet are very awkward and need all sorts of support that isn’t fashionable, so it’s usually a frustrating experience – but thankfully the gent at A & B Shoes on High Street made it as painless as possible, and I found a pair that will do. Don’t know why I’ve never poked my head in there before. By then it was 5, and our favorite restaurant, Thai To Go, should be open, so we went to have a celebratory dinner. Except they weren’t open yet. The proprietress comes by bus, and it runs late sometimes, as buses do, so we wandered around a bit, watched and anthromorphized the ducks a bit, and wandered back.


It still wasn’t open by 5:20, and Chris was ravenous, so we gave up and headed home. We went via the in laws’, and told them the news, and told them about the stupidity of that hazard perception test, and so forth. We got home, set our stuff down, etc, and before starting dinner, I tried phoning the restaurant again to see if it was open yet – yes, they’d just gotten there, the bus had indeed been late. This served to reinforce to me why I’m going through all this annoyance with this driver’s license malarky – public transport is unreliable, vastly more expensive, dirty, and annoying. I was going to order delivery, but sadly they don’t deliver on Wednesdays anymore. So we trekked back out and had that celebratory dinner after all. It was fab, just as we expected. 🙂

All in all, not a bad day!

The good ol’ county council

 Posted by at 18:16 on 4 June 2014
Jun 042014

Cllr John Owen spkg eloquently abt Turkish mining tragedy given Derbyshire’s links w coal mining; Tories chatting to themselves #Shameonthem
— @CaitlinBisknell 4:36 PM – 4 Jun 2014

I saw this tweet earlier, and couldn’t fit my reply into 140 characters, so I’ll put it here instead.

First off, people chatting amongst themselves while someone’s speaking during a meeting is one of my biggest pet peeves: they shouldn’t be doing it – especially when they’re being paid to attend the meeting – and the chair shouldn’t allow it to happen. One of the best lines I’ve heard to deal with this is, “Can we please have one meeting?”

So, while the chatter’s completely unacceptable, so too is talking about this, tragic as it is, during a Derbyshire County Council meeting. When I went back to Caitlin’s twitter page now to find this tweet, I saw that some of what was said was focused on how and why it happened. That would make sense, if the point was for the county council to take some action(s) to avert a similar disaster here within Derbyshire. But I’ve just had a look, and it seems Derbyshire has no mining taking place anymore. In that case, this “link” is so tangential as to lead to these sorts of ideas…

  • “How bout that missing plane from Malaysia? Planes fly over Derbyshire — let’s talk about this tragedy at the next county council meeting!”
  • “They’re talking about sending people to Mars to set up homes and grow stuff and live there? People grow stuff and live in Derbyshire — let’s talk about this mission at the next county council meeting!”
  • “They’re talking about pulling up the Titanic from the ocean floor? Boats go on bodies of water in Derbyshire — let’s talk about the Titanic at the next county council meeting!”

And so on. Really, councillors, can you please actually focus on Derbyshire in the Derbyshire County Council meetings? That’s what we pay you for. The only time any place outside the county should factor into your discussions is if it’s DIRECTLY RELEVANT to something YOU, THE DERBYSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL, can impact. Even if a thing is massively tragic, if it’s not actually relevant to your business at hand, it shouldn’t take up valuable minutes in your meetings – focus on what you can do for Derbyshire, and do it. Save your sob stories about tragedies for cocktail parties.

Book club & Buxton

 Posted by at 00:02 on 28 May 2014
May 282014

Continuing to tell about my super-busy week…

Thursday I read a book, and then went to my book club meeting that night. I’m one of these people who can very easily slip into another world while reading even a halfway-decently written book, and some of the worlds that bookclub books are in are quite depressing (I’ll never understand this trend in writing), so I’ve found it easiest to binge-read the book as quickly as possible, as close as possible to the meeting itself. Then I can come back out of the world more quickly, and shorten any suffering the book brings me.

Thursday: Book club …

Yes, I know, all that sounds ridiculous. But I really, really enjoy the company of my fellow book club members, and it really does make me read more, so it’s not completely insane. Anyway, I needn’t have worried this time: this book is a weird one, and no genre fits it. They’ve printed “memoir” on the cover of my copy, which might be closest, but it’s rather hodge podge, really. The hodge podginess means that it doesn’t transport any reader to another world, and it isn’t depressing. It’s interesting, and I may read it more slowly another time.

Book club went well, as always, and I managed to catch up with a friend afterwards for a bit of a chat. Wednesday’s glorious sunshine and warmth had disappeared, and the temperature had plummeted perhaps 30 degrees (f) before the sun went down; I’d been inside all day completely unaware, so I left the house very poorly-dressed for the conditions. Thankfully, I’d arranged a lift there, and a friend drove me home so I didn’t shiver me timbers! 😉

Friday: Buxton …

Since Monday was a bank holiday (federal holiday), Chris decided to take Friday off work. He wanted to go to Buxton, since it’s ages since we’ve been – I’ve just checked: it was October, yeesh. So, off we went. No fair or farmers’ market this time, so we were all leisurely and took the 11am bus to arrive in Buxton by Noon. We prefer to avoid the 10am bus, because it gets absolutely packed (after 9:30, buses are free for pensioners nationwide), so we usually opt for the 9am or the 11am.

A vaguely disturbing owl we found in a shop. Owls are everywhere - you can see some more in the background here.

A vaguely disturbing owl we found in a shop. Owls are everywhere – you can see some more in the background here.

We didn’t get rained on, thankfully. We wandered around a bit, window shopping mostly at this point. After awhile, we were hungry, so we went to the imaginatively-named The Slopes (a park comprised of … flat! No, it’s actually slopes.) to eat the sandwiches we’d packed. We discussed the cast iron frying pan we’d seen, and decided to buy it. We’ve been in desperate need of a new frying pan for ages, and I’ve been kicking myself for not getting the Lodge cast iron one I’d seen at a particular shop in Buxton ages ago. I’d hunted high and low online and couldn’t find a single cast iron pan anywhere within the UK. This is enamelled cast iron instead of plain cast iron (the enamel is on the outside only), but it works well, and that’s what matters!

Then it was time for my eye exam, so off we trekked to that. I’d tried one of the opticians in Glossop a few years back, but had such a lousy experience, it’s put me off ever using that chain again. Bad, grouchy service in and of itself would have simply led to me trying a different local optician; this place lacked the testing equipment I was used to, and I thought that was representative, so I concluded I’d have to just make time to go to my eye doctor when I was in the US. I like very few medical people, but my eye doctor is wonderful, comprehensive, and always on the ball.

A distinctly disturbing dish pattern.  Can't decide which is worse; this or plain white.

A distinctly disturbing dish pattern. Can’t decide which is worse; this or plain white.

Then I got this ad through the door, a booklet affair, telling me all about Specsavers, another optician chain. The booklet told me they have at least some of the testing equipment I’m used to, and it had a coupon for a free eye exam, and a location in Buxton, and we were already planning to visit Buxton soon, so I decided to give it a go and see.

Holy cow, it was wonderful! They had all the testing equipment and then some, so were able to assure me that my eyes are healthy and there’s nothing to worry about there. Moreover, every single member of staff I dealt with was amazingly friendly, helpful, and patient. After spending a decade on the other side of the counter, I have incredibly high standards for customer service – because it’s just not that hard to give a shit – so anytime one person measures up, it’s a notable occassion. Four different people all measured up amazingly this time – I should’ve bought a lottery ticket! So yes, highly recommended. I’m thrilled that now I needn’t worry about that when back in the US!


My prescription’s changed a fair bit from the glasses I’m currently wearing, so I’ll do something about this, but the optician told me contact technology’s come a long way in the decade or more since I gave up on them, so I’ve decided to give contacts a go again. Means I’ll have to make weekly trips down to Buxton for a bit until we find contacts that work for me, so it’s a bit of a pain. Ho hum. I do miss some things about contacts, so hopefully it’ll be worth it. Think I’ll start that process next week.

We looked at glasses for awhile before we left the shop. I noted down some of the numbers of the ones I liked best (never go without glasses, even if you wear contacts full time). I’ll start with the contacts and see if they work; if they do, I’ll get one pair of glasses. If they don’t, I’ll get the two-for-one with one pair of glasses and one of sunglasses.


We wandered around a bit more, including our delight at all the random stuff our favorite shop, Lomas, finds to sell. Some of my favorites this time were the clips only of name tags like these, loose brads, and some truly eye-wateringly patterned Wellies. Chris didn’t want the Tweety Bird or Taz socks – I don’t know why!

We poked our heads into the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, where we found some thoroughly abstract paintings (read: paint splatter) in the changing exhibition room. We were amused at the visitor log, and found ourselves agreeing with the person who wrote, “This is shit.” I told them to put something interesting up.

We timed it well to catch the bus, not having to wait long, and happily both buses were on time (what luck with that – one of the largest reasons we quit going to Buxton was the utter unreliability of the buses), and neither was crowded at any point. Win! We passed this on the way home:


I snapped a photo to show the Americans following this blog what a “porch” is in these parts (it might be different elsewhere in the country, I don’t know). On the left, you see the “porch” being added to the house, and on the right, you see a completed “porch.” Sometimes these are made out of glass, though that’s rare. Sometimes these are built into the house, taking a chunk out of the living room. Either way, it’s generally about that size, regardless of the size of the house, and people don’t sit on their “porch,” but rather they stick things in it, ie: “If I’m not home, leave it in the porch.”

It is, of course, not a porch at all. Chris and I have taken to calling it a vestibule, which sounds silly and makes us giggle, which I recommend to all. 🙂 A porch is meant for sitting on, in rocking chairs, preferably, or on swings, with a nice tall glass of iced tea, watching the world go by or the sun go down. Ah, the good life.

WI Day

 Posted by at 01:47 on 27 May 2014
May 272014

Continuing the thread about what I’ve been up to this week …

Wednesday was my monthly WI Day: I have a meeting in the morning and another in the evening.

The morning meeting …

I had to write a report from my day in Chester two months ago for the morning meeting; since it was such a horrible waste of a day, I’d had trouble writing it up. Finally, Tuesday night I really just had to get it done, so that I did. Chris helped by cleaning up the recordings I’d made as much as he could and putting them on a CD, in case anyone wanted to listen to them reading to us. Tuesday night became the wee hours of Wednesday morning … I got a scant few hours of sleep before getting up extra early Wednesday morning – it was my turn on the tea rota, so I needed to be there about half an hour early.

However, I really enjoy these members’ meetings I go to, and I generally perk up once I’m there on these early mornings. This time was no exception.

May is the resolution meeting. We generally don’t have a speaker, and instead spend the time debating the resolution, catching up on any business we’ve ran out of time for in the past month or two, doing some activity or other, and socializing with each other. It’s usually a relaxed, excellent meeting.

My morning group, however, decided to have a speaker this time, which made for a very rushed meeting that went over time. I do hope we don’t repeat this experience in future years – live and learn! We still had the cake “competition” (it’s not a competition at all, with the winner not decided by proper votes, but instead by the largest value of random change people donate in the cups beside the cakes – the donations go to ACWW). The speaker, for his part, is a very good one – I just wish his subject was less depressing. He spoke to us about the First Day of the Somme, the deadliest day for UK forces in World War 1. I’ll never understand the fascination with depressing oneself with war stories; once I knew there’d be a speaker about war, I’d have skipped this meeting if only I hadn’t signed up for tea this month. Gah.

We had a very short discussion about the resolution, and a much longer discussion about the centenary baton relay, which will be passing through Buxton, a town not far from here, next month. I didn’t have a chance to give my report, but I handed it off; it is at least done and dusted now.

The wreckage …

Afterwards, I got to go check out the wreckage I’d heard about. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it til I wandered down high street later on and gossiped with various shopkeepers who knew the skinny: a large tow truck had been towing a bus when his brakes went, coming down the hill. Rather than plowing into the line of stopped cars (waiting at the red light), he swerved and hit the shops. Astonishingly, no one was hurt. One person – either the driver or passenger in the truck whose brakes went, reports differ – was taken to the hospital for minor hand injuries.


The wreck happened at 6pm the night before – so most of these businesses were shut, but that’s prime time for that Chinese takeaway (take-out) that the bus is buried in, and the taxi place next to it of course always has people in it. I’m utterly amazed that no one was hurt.

I went to lunch – it’s a tradition Phyllis started in that WI, for any who want to, to go out to lunch together after the meeting, since it ends around 12:00. We were at the Norfolk Arms this time, which I always like, and was across from this wreckage. After lunch I went nosying again, and saw they’d moved the tow truck, leaving just the bus. Later on, passing by that night, they’d finally opened the road back up, and boarded up the various businesses mostly, but we could see part of the bus still buried in the Chinese takeaway.

I only wish his brakes had failed coming down Chunal – he could get the demolition started sooner rather than later on the empty factories at the bottom, which are currently covered in mold and quite a public health hazard. I mean, y’know, if they had to fail.

Anyway, I ran some errands and then came home for a bit. We got dinner, and then I was off again, to my evening meeting.

The evening meeting …

We didn’t have a speaker at this meeting, and instead did the business first and then discussed the resolution. Surprisingly to me, there was actual discussion here. My blood began to boil, though, when they were saying they felt it was so poorly worded, yadda yadda … That’s a fair criticism of every other proposed resolution from NFWI I’ve seen. This one, however, is exceedingly clear and simple to me, and a thing that really has to happen. Here’s the resolution:

The NFWI notes that 3 people die every day whilst waiting for an organ transplant. We call on every member of the WI to make their wishes regarding organ donation known, and to encourage their families and friends, and members of their local communities to do likewise.

They’re used to resolutions that lead to campaigns primarily carried out at the national level, whereas this one is going to have to be a grassroots thing. There’s no call to action to BE an organ donor, which also received some criticism. There’s no stance either way on whether to be an organ donor or not, so the NFWI can’t join the national conversation currently happening about opt-in versus opt-out systems.

But to me, the point is that everything is there already to make organ donation happen – except organ donors! The thing is, in the UK, your family decides whether to donate your organs or not. You can sign up to the organ donor register, but it doesn’t matter: what your family says goes. So obviously, your family needs to know what you wanted. But no one wants to talk about any of this because it’s about DEATH – and worse, one’s own death – so no one talks about it, and when the medics ask, the grieving family doesn’t know what to say, so they generally say no.


So yes, this resolution – essentially, “TALK ABOUT IT” – is clear, simple, and exactly what’s needed on this particular issue. When I heard the derisions of this particular resolution, my blood boiled, and I finally got my word in edgewise and gave quite a passionate speech more or less telling them the above. I saw nods and heard murmurs of agreement – someone just had to lead the way. This reminds me of this quote I just read earlier:

I just love bossy women. I could be around them all day. To me, bossy isn’t a pejorative term at all. It means somebody’s passionate and engaged and ambitious and doesn’t mind leading. — Amy Poehler

A bit more discussion followed, and then the vote by secret ballot. We had our break then, so I went upstairs to get a drink to steady my nerves – public speaking always makes me a bit anxious, even in a smallish group. I saw this glorious sky, which I paused to appreciate.


The barkeep gave me a bit of a pep talk, pointing out that it was better to speak up than to let it fester. He’s right. I went back down to the meeting room, and the vote results were announced – 16 for, 3 abstentions, and 1 against. Suppose I made my point!

After that, we had the much more enjoyable auction – an annual tradition. We bring things we no longer want – some are new, some used, but all are perfectly usable. Some have hilarious stories behind them; some lead to hilarious exchanges happening during the auction. It’s a really fun time, and I highly recommend it!

May 272014

This is another post to point people at later. I’m sure I’ll be adding other things as I think of/come across them, so I’ve pre-emptively numbered this.

The so-called “Conferences” …

I went to Chester on 19 March 2014, on behalf of the president of one of my WIs, who couldn’t attend, to an NFWI (National Federation of Women’s Institutes) event. They put on this series of days across the country, about a dozen, that they called Information and Inspiration Days, and alternately, “Inspiring Women Conferences.” I have very limited experience with conferences, but the math conferences I’ve presented papers at were wonderful opportunities to connect and really communicate with others: to learn about things going on in the field, in the area, etc. They’d said the trustees would be at this event in Chester – those are the members who run the national level of the WI. I had these visions of us breaking into smallish groups, each with a trustee, and really discussing and hashing over issues that we face at each level of the organization, coming up with ideas, giving real feedback to national, and that sort of thing.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. They stood on a stage and read to us. The stop I went to was about halfway through their list – so they’d done this about half a dozen times already – and they were still at the stage of reading every word to us. They didn’t engage us at all, they spent the whole day hyping up the “Open Forum” at the end, which turned out to be a whopping TWENTY MINUTES, and they only spouted all the information that’s already been made available – I learned nothing new. THEY COULD HAVE EMAILED IT!!! Such a massive waste of everyone’s time and money – I was FIVE HOURS in the car and 11 hours gone from the house for this crock.

I don’t know why I dreamt that national would finally engage, interact, and listen to us members. This is one of my problems with the organization, and a huge factor for why I won’t do more than be a member: the higher the office, the bigger the blinders and lack of engagement with the members seems to be. Even some presidents suffer from the blinders: at lunch, one woman asked me which WI I was president of (the invitation had been issued for “the president or her representative”); when I replied that I wasn’t president, she hastily beat a retreat – so as to not be contaminated by my mere member cooties, it seemed.

The Resolution Process …

May is the resolution meeting, and we’re to discuss the national public affairs resolution (occasionally others get tacked on, too – last year, there were constitutional amendments to discuss). Here is the process:

  • Members are supposed to submit prospective resolutions almost a year in advance.
  • A few months after that, county federation representatives and national federation representatives meet to shortlist the proposed resolutions to usually about 8 or less to pass along to us mere members to vote on.
  • In December, we vote on the short list, generally choosing one (sometimes two) we’d like to see go forward. All the votes are tallied – each individual vote is added up across the entire NFWI.
  • Based on those results, in May, we’re given an even shorter list – one or two, depending on how the votes fell (a closer vote between the top two is likely to see two go forward). We then vote on each one, separately. If there’s more than one resolution proposed in May, it’s not an either-or. On each resolution, we individually vote either For, Against, Abstain, or to Let the Delegate Decide after she’s heard the arguments for and against at the national AGM. The majority vote in the WI decides the WI’s vote, which the link delegate1 casts at the national AGM.
  • There’s a big song and dance put on at this meeting of having the proposer say a few words, then a seconder, and then an expert speaks in support of the resolution, and after all these positive remarks we get one expert who speaks against the resolution, and then there are questions from the floor for the two experts, and then the chair asks for the vote.

The NFWI is keen to tell us that we’re not voting in December, that we’re selecting instead, and the voting happens in May; this was one of the points our chair was using up that 20 minutes of Q&A in Chester to make. Sounds like hogwash to me: it’s two rounds of voting, plain and simple. A primary and a runoff.

The resolutions which are passed form the basis of campaigns. As the largest voluntary organization for women in the country, the NFWI has some power, and certainly manages to get things done on a national level. The campaign work subsequent to our resolution about honeybees is credited by the Bee Minister (yes, there is one) as quite a substantial reason behind the money found for research into pollinators, including bees. Our Care Not Custody campaign has helped spawn pilots in 20 locations across the country to address the mental health issues of criminals, instead of simply locking them up and forgetting about them. And so on. There’s more here if you’re curious. So yes, lots of good work is done.

That said, in my four years so far, they’ve avoided anything controversial, and have worded the proposed resolutions so that any that make it to May are essentially guaranteed to pass. They hit a snag in 2011, when the wording of one was so bad that a member at the NFWI AGM moved to move on without voting on that matter, and got an overwhelming yes answer from the delegates. I noticed that by the time I was link delegate in 2013 (and I suspect before that), the rules had been changed in several places to keep that from ever happening again. Because, of course, the mere members mustn’t do anything but rubber stamp what national wants to do.

Oh, and as for the members supposed to be putting the resolutions forward? Technically, yes, that’s true, but I noticed that most of the ones we see in December in the last two years have been put forward by the chair of the Public Affairs Committee. Yes, she is a member, but that isn’t really the democratic, member-led process they harp on about, at that point. Part of the problem is that the process to put a resolution forward is massively time-intensive, which puts most people off. There’s no reason at all why it should be a process of anything more than writing out the proposed resolution itself in an email or on a postcard and sending it to national by a certain date. Anything beyond that is purposefully exclusionary. One of the things required is to produce explanatory guidance of the pros and cons of the proposed resolution: No. Our subscriptions (dues) pay a staff of 40, and the pros and cons never fill more than one (A4) page (and that only if they make it to May!) – they can produce that.

So yes, the resolution process is another thing I’m disillusioned with about NFWI. It isn’t truly member-led when the paperwork required puts people off; it isn’t truly democratic when you structure it this way. The first and last steps are merely representative democracy, with only the second step being actually democratic – at which point it hardly matters what we vote for. The song and dance you do at the AGM is an insult to any individual possessing a brain – the votes have all been cast, quit wasting time trying to persuade us one way or another. If you really want us to hear what your experts have to say, put it on YouTube before we vote in May. Quit calling December’s thing a selection as though that’s any different from a vote – you’re only trying to exert power because you can, rather than doing anything useful.

I know I’m not alone in my disillusionment of the resolution process – this year we had 77,071 members vote in December out of 212,000: about 36%. Fix it, NFWI; that’s what your power is for.

  1. The delegate represents a number of WIs, which are linked through her, so she is the link delegate. Four is the norm in Derbyshire at the moment, though last year some represented three and some five – it depends partly on geography. Other numbers have been experimented with in the past and likely will in the future. []

DFWI Craft Dabble Day

 Posted by at 22:39 on 26 May 2014
May 262014

It’s been a crazy busy week. I’ve finally recovered – after about 12 hours of sleep last night and a down day today. What have I been up to?

Sunday and Monday were spent working on a project which may or may not bear fruit; I shall let you know if it does. Tuesday’s more interesting – it was a WI (pronounced “double-you eye”) Craft Dabble Day, arranged by the county (Derbyshire Federation of WIs, DFWI). They set up various tables in a large room, and a person gives tutoring at each table in a different little project, letting you dabble in a particular craft. This one was in Chinley, just a few miles away, and turned out to be well-attended, with all the student spots at each table full the whole day through.

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This was my first trip to Chinley; it’s far bigger than I’d imagined. Quite a nice small town. Being May, it was full of flowers, of course.


We were amused to see the police were ready for us, as evidenced by this notice just outside the hall…


Inside, we found 5 wonderful tutors – most I already knew, and was surprised to see their hidden talents – who helped us create some fun and interesting things.

These are the four I made. I went to Heather Vickers’ table first, because she is an expert craftswoman, and I wanted to be sure to have a go at whatever she was offering (she can do just about every craft under the sun). She had dry needle felting, which was a lot of fun to do. We could make a brooch or a little picture – I opted for a little landscape picture, attempting something of a Derbyshire landscape (with the purple heather on the hills). Not something I’d take up, but it was fun to do – you just stab your barbed needle over and over again, trying not to stab yourself.


After that, I headed to another familiar face – Pat Jones of Simmondley WI was showing us how to make pin cushions in tea cups. My pin cushion keeps rolling all around, most annoyingly, so I think I’ll actually use this technique – but I’ll make one into a mug, so it doesn’t have a narrower bottom than top, to help it stay put. Also, dainty teacups aren’t my style.

Last before lunch, Maggie Bristow of Sparrowpit WI showed us how to make the decorated little box. These would be great for small gifts at Christmas, etc, and really didn’t take any time at all to make.


We’d brought packed lunches, and they’d set up tables and chairs for us to use as the fit took us. I lunched with a group of ladies from Simmondley WI (which I used to belong to, before I decided three WIs was really too much) and Glossopdale WI together. I like helping them mingle together – the human tendency to stick with people you already know is deeply entrenched, after all.

After lunch, I managed to grab a seat at the cardmaking table. Sheila Berry had a variety of options on offer, and initially I’d decided to do all three. I started with that card you saw up there – the front of it. On the back were a bunch of dots, and I poked each dot out with a needle. The drawing in the middle was already done, and then I just cut the outside edge and stuck it onto a piece of card to complete it. Yes, you read that right: I poked out each dot, one at a time, by hand. The whole time, I couldn’t help but think, “There must be machines that do this!” I’m never doing it again. (Also, whoever I send that card to had better feel mighty special!) But hey, now I know that’s not for me, without having had to buy anything to give it a go. By the time I finished that piece, my head was killing me from having been bent over to do it, so we just talked over the other options, and she happily told me how to go about doing those other things – which I can pursue another day.


The only thing I didn’t get to try was the crocheted brooches. I haven’t a clue how to knit, crochet, or anything like that; I may well have given it a go (I hadn’t decided), since that’s what the day was about. My raging headache and the level of frustration one of my companions was having with it, though, put me off, I must say. She had nothing but praise for the tutor – just that she couldn’t get it. She’s decided she’ll get on YouTube and figure it out and conquer it, though.

All in all, it was a lovely day, and I was really glad I’d gone!