Monday, 21 August 2017

I've got a bit of a teaser

How about this, it's one of the courgettes from the garden...

Home grown courgette
Now here's the thing, the above courgette is photographed on a chopping board next to my 12" (305mm) chef's knife, as you can see it's a bit of a whopper!

The question is, what should you call a giant courgette?

  1. Marrette
  2. Courgow
Answers on a postcard please. And a free Courgow/Marrette to the winner! 😆

On reaching state pension age

I don't know how it works in other parts of the world, but here in the UK those people who are entitled to a State Pension have to formally apply for it when they are within three months of pensionable age: applications can be made either by telephone or online. Since I was due to reach State Pension age on 7th August this year and being one of those people who don't much like using the telephone for official communication because you have no hard-copy record, I made my application to the Department for Works & Pensions via their online service back in May.

The Department for Works & Pensions online application form asked for various details about my public and private life, which I dutifully provided. These details included the name of the bank I wanted my pension to be paid into, the bank's sort-code and my account number... remember this, it's important!

The Department for Works & Pensions online service clearly states that all claims will be dealt with and claimants will normally receive written details confirming their entitlement at least two weeks prior to them reaching pensionable age. Any claimant not receiving such written information is advised to contact the Department for Works & Pensions by telephone when within two weeks of pensionable age. Having not received anything in writing from the Department for Works & Pensions I telephoned to confirm my claim on 25th July. The person I spoke to apologised that I had not been contacted and explained the Department for Works & Pensions had experienced a 'software error' which meant some applicants had 'slipped through the net.' I was assured my application would be processed that day and I subsequently received a letter from the Department for Works & Pensions dated 26th July setting out the details of my claim and confirming my first payment would be made on 7th August.

My 65th birthday came and went and I checked my bank account to make sure my very first pension payment had been made... no... nothing... no pension payment. I gave it a few days then contacted the Department for Works & Pensions by telephone on 11th August to query why my pension had not been paid using the contact telephone number stated on the top of the letter I had received from the Department for Works & Pensions. The representative from the Pension Service I spoke to informed me I had telephone the wrong number and provided me with a different number where she assured me help would be at hand. I telephoned the new number. The second representative from the Pension Service I spoke to informed me I had come through to the wrong department and I was told I should ring a different number where I was once again assured help would be at hand. I telephoned the new number...

Having waited on hold for over 20 minutes with a poor rendition of Vivaldi's Four Seasons playing in the background and constant messages telling me my call was important, but I could almost certainly get the information I required on the Department for Works & Pensions website, which of course I couldn't, I finally managed to speak to yet another representative from the Pension Service. I explained I had not received my first payment from the Pension Service and asked whether there was some problem with my claim. This representative from the Pension Service checked my details and told me there appeared to be no reason why a payment had not been made. She promised to reissue the payment and informed me the money would be in my account within 5 working days. I subsequently received a letter from the Pension Service confirming the payment would be in my account no later than 18th August.

18th August came and went and still no payment from the Department for Works & Pensions.

I telephoned the Department for Works & Pensions again this morning and once again told my tale of woe. On this occasion the representative from the Pension Service I spoke to told me the payment had most definitely been made and accepted by my bank. I assured him no such payment had reached my account and asked if it were possible for him to check my bank details, which he subsequently did. Now bear in mind I had supplied the Department for Works & Pensions with the correct details of my bank back in May and had a hard copy of those downloaded from the Department for Works & Pensions website so I knew they had the right information... the representative from the Pension Service I spoke to this morning apologised because an error had been made by the Department for Works & Pensions and my first pension payment had been paid into a bank account, it just wasn't MY bank account!

The problem has now been solved (I'm not holding my breath) and my first pension payment is being reissued to the correct bank. Despite the wonders of electronic banking I won't receive the payment for 5 working days and believe me if I don't actually receive the payment on this occasion I'll be making a trip to Wolverhampton (yes my regional pension office is in the middle of England, not in Wales as you might expect) and camping out in someone's office until the issue is finally resolved!

Footnote:


If the Department for Works & Pensions has issued a payment or payments to someone else's account, what happens to that money now? Presumably they will reclaim it... I'll bet they're more efficient at getting money back than they have so far been in paying it out!

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Is autumn just around the corner?

One swallow does not a summer make or so the old saying goes, but when they start congregating on telephone lines I can't help thinking autumn must be just around the corner.

Birds on a wire

Don't get me wrong I love the autumn, but I'm always sad to see the swallows leave. British swallows spend their winter in South Africa: they travel through western France, across the Pyrenees, down eastern Spain into Morocco and across the Sahara. Some birds take an alternative route and follow the west coast of Africa thus avoiding the rigours of the Sahara. Either way it's one hell of journey for a such small animals to make.

So with two weeks of August still left in the calendar and the swallows already congregating, does this mean autumn will come early this year?

Friday, 18 August 2017

And the fruits just keep on coming

It's been an exceptional year for fruits from the garden. We've been inundated by raspberries, tayberries and various currants, though sadly they are all over and done now. The strawberries cropped reasonably well earlier in the year and are just producing their late crop now. The only disappointment in the fruit stakes are our pears... there just three on the whole tree!

Next up will be a race between the apples and the grapes, although unless we get come consistent sunshine I fear the grapes probably won't ripen.

Grape vine, Bacchus
These are our white grapes, the variety is called Bacchus, but don't be confused by the name they're a dessert grape.

Grape vine, Bacchus
We have two white vines growing, both Bacchus and I guess if we ever did end up with a huge crop we could try making wine from them despite their being a dessert variety. We also have a Black Hamburg vine chosen because we were assured it's fruit would ripen without sunshine, but in fact it has proved to be less than fruitful.


Bizarrely I have no idea what variety our apple tree is. The little bundle of twigs and associated root-ball was sold as a Victoria Plumb. Once the plant started growing and produced leaves it obviously wasn't going to be a plum. I've always enjoyed apples so we decided to leave the tree and let it grow, this is the second year it has produced a reasonable crop of fruit.


These apples will be ready for eating a few weeks from now, they are crisp and slightly sweet and quite delicious with a piece of good cheese.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Typical British summertime and the British fixation with the weather

As everyone knows we Brits love to talk about the weather... for those who don't really know us that's because under normal circumstances no two days are ever the same.

Last Sunday's weather forecast said this area was going to be dull and overcast, however the day turned out to be bright, sunny and very warm... just goes to show what the weather wizards know! Having decided to take advantage of an early start we undertook a trip to the Ships Graveyard at Purton in Gloucestershire. Having wandered among the hulks we hit the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal bank and walked through to Sharpness Dock. Towards the old dock entrance and modern day marina is an area where enthusiasts 'park' their canal barges - there are literally hundreds of them!

Canal barges at Sharpness - Sunday
As you can see from the above photograph, Sunday was a lovely day. Compare that sunny image to one of the images I took in damp, overcast Newport on Monday morning:

City Footbridge, Newport - Monday
Tuesday's forecast was sunny intervals and indeed the morning wasn't bad at all, quite warm with some nice sunshine. The afternoon was wet and dismal. Yesterday was a mixture of sunshine and cloud with the occasional light rain shower. Here's a mobile phone image I captured during a sunny period yesterday morning:

Transporter Bridge, Newport - Wednesday
So far today has been broadly similar to yesterday with the addition of some wind, but without the rain... are you starting to build up a picture of the average British Summertime here? With such variation in our weather is there any wonder we Brits discuss it at every given opportunity?

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

'Graffiti, art or eye-sore?'

I spotted a couple of examples of street art (graffiti) while walking in Newport a couple of days ago. The pieces in question were directly opposite one another in an alleyway that used to be known as Carpenter's Cut back when I was a kid; I don't recall the alley ever having an actual street sign and checking out the location on Google maps, I find the alleyway is not designated. It was well known to people of my generation because it gave access to the rear bar of the Carpenter's Arms, known as the Log Box, which had a great jukebox back in the day. But I digress... back to the street art.



This first piece, whilst colourful and well defined, does nothing for me at all. The artist is undoubtedly skilled, just look at the detail in the lettering, but as piece of art it leaves me cold.


I photographed this second piece from both left and right because the alleyway is not wide enough for me to capture the whole thing in the amount of detain I required. Looking at this on the building's wall I found my eye immediately drawn into the piece, then found myself questioning whether it was the work of one artist or two? Note the lettering holds the tag Ghost Writers, while the figure is wearing a tee-shirt with the logo Ink Devils emblazoned on the chest. I admire the skill that has gone into this piece of art it appeals to me on several levels and whoever worked on it, I like it. 


I think it's interesting that these two pieces of street art, possibly by the selfsame artist and displayed immediately opposite each other, should engender such a different reaction in me. They also raise the question in my mind, 'Graffiti, art or eye-sore?'

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Newport on a damp, grey Monday morning

Spent a few hours trudging around the old home town yesterday, from necessity not from choice. Had a camera with me so took a few images of the greyness.

The Riverfront, Newport City Footbridge, University City Campus - mid-tide
Near the city centre, the residential east bank of the River Usk overlooks (near to far) the University of South Wales, Newport City Campus, Newport's City Footbridge, office block and Riverside Arts Centre.

Newport City Footbridge
A welcome addition for pedestrians and cyclists, the City Footbridge offers convenient access to both banks of the river.

Transporter Bridge - near high tide
Newport's famous Transported Bridge, designed by the French engineer Ferdinand Arnodin to provide a river crossing and still allow high masted ships access to the town's riverside wharves was built and opened in 1906.


The towers stand 241 feet 5 inches tall (73.6 metres) and the span is 644 feet 9 inches (196.56 metres). The distance between the centres of the anchorage caissons is 1,545 feet 5 inches (471.06 metres). Power to propel the transporter platform or gondola is provided by two 35 hp (26.1 kW) electric motors, which in turn drive a large winch, situated in an elevated winding house at the eastern end of the bridge. This winch is sufficient to drive the gondola through its 196.56 metre total travel at a speed of 3 metres per second.

This is the oldest and largest of the three historic transporter bridges which remain in Britain, and also the largest of eight such bridges which remain worldwide.

Looking back into the city from the SDR - near high tide
The Southern Distributor Road bridge offers a good vantage point to look back along the tidal River Usk towards the centre of the city, the view is very different at low tide.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Purton on Severn - ships graveyard

It had been a while since I last visited the ships graveyard at Purton so as I was up early having spent half of Saturday night up watching the Perseid meteor shower a Sunday jaunt into Merrie England seemed like a good idea.


For those who don't know, the ships graveyard at Purton was created in an attempt to stop the erosion of the river bank and therefore protect the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. In essence around 80 vessels of various types have been beached on the muddy bank over the years to add strength and prevent the tides from displacing more of the natural river bank.


I find Purton to be both a sad and a joyous place. It always saddens me to see ships of and description deliberately sunk or left to rot, but at the same time the various rotting hulks at Purton offer unlimited photo opportunities for a rust freak like me.





Saturday, 12 August 2017

Catching the morning tide

I spotted a coaster making the most of the morning tide as she headed down the Severn Estuary and felt compelled to capture the moment...

Heading downstream

Approaching the Second Severn Crossing

Passing under the Second Severn Crossing

No idea where she's heading, but I'm pretty sure her last port of call would have been Sharpness Docks, Gloucestershire.

Friday, 11 August 2017

The Afon Lwyd - what a difference in 50 years

I spent my secondary education attending school at Croesyceiliog in Cwmbran. A river runs at the bottom of the school playing fields, the Afon Lwyd (Grey River in English). Being only around 13 miles long the Afon Lwyd is hardly a mighty stream and my childhood memories of the river are of something dead and dirty.

The river's source rises to the north of Blaenavon, flows through Abersychan, Pontnewynydd, Pontypool, Llanfrechfa and Cwmbran before flowing into the River Usk at Caerleon. In other words it flows through what were some of the most industrial sites in the area and was polluted by industrial waste and mine discharge and in more recent times, fly-tipping: my goodness, didn't the poor river suffer for it.

The Afon Lwyd at Llanyrafon, Cwmbran
Fortunately since the mid 1980s an effort has been made to clean the river up and improve both water quality and fish stocks. It certainly seems to be working too, the river today is almost unrecognisable from my its days in my youth.

The Afon Lwyd looking much better today than it did in the 1960s
Still not as clean as it could be, but the Afon Lwyd looks alive now and you can see the river fish swimming in it. There are dragonflies flitting about and I even caught sight of a kingfisher this morning while walking through Llanyrafon. All I can say is, what a difference 50 years makes!


Saint Tewdric's final journey

I mentioned Tewdric's final journey in yesterday's blog post and it occurred to me it may be helpful for anyone not knowing the area to get some idea of the distances involved.

We know Tewdric's battle against the Saxons took place in or near Tintern. Tintern is famous today for its ruined Cistercian abbey nestled against the banks of the River Wye, but of course the abbey didn't exist before the 12th century, 700 years after Tewdric. In the 5th century Tintern would have looked very different compared to today.

The actual site of Tewdric's battle is disputable, but I very much doubt it would have been fought on flat, open ground given the overwhelming odds against Tewdric's army so I rule out the Wye's floodplain. It is far more likely in my view that Tewdric would have chosen high ground, forcing the Saxons to fight uphill, hence putting them at a disadvantage. What we do know is that Tewdric was mortally wounded during the fight.

Legend has it that Tewdric, knowing he was dying, asked to be carried to Ynys Echni (Flat Holm Island) to be buried and that he was borne away on a carriage or cart pulled by two yoked stags. We are also told his journey from Tintern to Mathern, where Tewdric died, took three days. They must have travelled very slowly since the distance between Tintern and Mathern by ancient footpaths is only around 8.5 miles.

Tewdric's Last journey
What has always confused me is why a journey would have been made overland at all. We are told Tewdric was being carried to a boat waiting at an ancient wharf, a location now known as Mathern Pill, to complete his journey to Ynys Echni (Flat Holm).

Mathern Pill - still being used as a haven for small craft
Let's put this in perspective. Tintern stands on the banks of the River Wye, which flows through Chepstow into the Severn Estuary (see top right corner of the map below). Since the Wye is navigable way past Tintern it is hard to believe that a boat of some description could not have been obtained at Tintern, in which case Tewdric could have sailed in relative comfort to Mathern to pick up his own boat, or all the way to the island of Flat Holm.

The Severn Estuary indicating the relative locations of Mathern and Flat Holm Island
A river voyage would surely be preferable to being tossed and bumped about on the bed of a cart being dragged over rough terrain. Those ancient footpaths are hard going, trust me I've walked them, especially on the high ground above Tintern. I'm sure there are numerous good reasons/excuses why Tewdric was carried overland, but it makes little sense to me. But of course to have Tewdric's last journey take place by boat would put a considerable dent in Tewdric's legend, possibly deny the church of a saint and probably deny present day Mathern its very existence. 😉


Thursday, 10 August 2017

Tewdrig ap Teithfallt - Saint Tewdric

Tewdrig ap Teithfallt, or Tewdric, was a 5th century Welsh warrior king famous in these parts for defeating a Saxon army at Tintern.

Tewdrig ap Teithfallt or Tewdric
King Tewdric was a highly religious man who had been a successful warrior in his youth. He abdicated his throne in favour of his son Meurig (Maurice) to take up the life of a hermit, living in a cave and surviving on nuts, berries and such offerings as were donated to him by the local people.

Tewdric was coaxed from his hermitage to lead his son Meurig's army when Britain was under threat from an invading Saxon army. It is said that Tewdric was sent a vision by God at this time, telling him if he fought the Saxon horde at Tintern he would be successful, but would sustain a fatal wound. Being already an old man and not afraid of death, Tewdric followed the vision's advice and indeed defeated the Saxons despite being considerably outnumbered.

During the battle at Tintern, Tewdric was wounded and knowing he would die from his wound asked to be carried to Ynys Echni (Flat Holm) in the Severn Estuary to be buried. It is said that Tewdric's body was carried on a cart pulled by two yoked stags and that the procession travelled slowly due to Tewdric's great pain. Fountains are said to have erupted wherever the stags stopped for Tewdric to rest.

Three days after the battle having almost reached a small harbour Tewdric died. When Tewdric's body was laid to rest fresh water sprang from the ground and today we can still see Tewdric's Well. King Meurig built a small church to honour his father on the site, which became known as Merthyr Tewrig (Tewdric the Martyr). The location later became Mateyrn (place of a king) or Mathern as it is known today.

Nothing remains of King Meurig's church now, but the 13th century Norman church that has taken its place is a fine building.

Church of St Tewdric, Mathern
A stone coffin believed to contain the remains of St Tewdric was unearthed during a 15th century renovation and this was relocated to the chancel in 1614 where it remains to this day.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Anubis

Anubis, also known as Anpu, is an Egyptian deity associated with death and mummification, and is usually depicted as a canine or a man with a dog's head. His body is always black, the colour associated with rebirth and the discolouration of the corpse after mummification. A favourite with many modern people, Anubis is one of those gods whose statues are most prized by visitors to Egypt. This one came from a visit to the ancient city of Thebes, part of modern Luxor, in Egypt.

Anubis or Anpu
There are plenty of websites with information about Anubis for those who wish to know more, but for anyone interested enough to search I suggest starting at Wikipedia's Anubis page.

Rows and floes of angel hair...

Clouds - sometimes you just have to photograph them
...And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I've looked at clouds that way.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Second Severn Crossing and Black Rock Light panorama

Felt the need to do a little panoramic sequence while overlooking the Second Severn Crossing the other day... here's what I came up with:

Second Severn Crossing and Black Rock
If you click the image you'll be able to view it larger. 😉

Monday, 7 August 2017

Oh I say Postie, what a monster!

I've noticed over the years how all men like to brag about the size of their endowment and I get the feeling that today it must be my turn. The feeling started when I spotted Postie struggling up the drive under the weight of what I assumed must be a surfboard.

Me: 'Morning Postie, my word you've got a big one there...

Postie: I certainly have Mr Page, but it's not as big as yours! Lend me a hand to unload it will you?

Me: Gosh is that really for me? It must be my birthday. Oh, wait... it is my birthday!

And this is what I got...


Cute isn't it?


This is a milestone year for me because from today onwards those nice people from Her Majesty's government actually pay me just for staying alive. Well best I make sure I live a damn long time then! So yes, by way of celebration the family presented me with a Big One and at last I have something to brag about.

What's that you say, you don't believe it's very big at all? Well you just wait there and let me get it out to show you!

What a Whopper!
That's no toy it's standing next to you know...

So, all together now:

Happy Birthday to you
The dog ate your shoe,
Happy Birthday dear Usky
This rhyme is just poo!

Terrible isn't it? But I don't care because today and for one day only, I'll bet mine is bigger than yours! 😅

Sunday, 6 August 2017

In praise of public drinking fountains

What ever happened to the public drinking fountain? Time was you could find one in almost every public space, but not any more. Of course the last thing the various companies selling water in plastic bottles want to see is a return of the water fountain. I've nothing against bottled water, but I do object to the number of plastic bottles that are just thrown away in the streets, parks, beaches and elsewhere. From an environmental point of view wouldn't it make sense to help put a stop all that nasty plastic waste by bringing back a British institution?

Women's Temperance League Fountain, Newport
As nice as it would be to see the old Temperance League fountains restored to use I suspect that will never happen for all kinds of reasons, but I cannot see any logical argument against reintroducing simple drinking fountains like this one I found in Swansea:


The Australian's have it right in my view, just look at this cleverly designed fountain from Hindmarsh Square in Adelaide:


Not only practical, but artistic too. I'd be happy to use it, wouldn't you? Or there's this fountain in Sandford, providing refreshment for both humans and canines alike:


To cut back on plastic waste we are charged a fee for carrier bags in shops and supermarkets, why not extend that and charge a fee for plastic bottles? I say bring back the public water fountain and help reduce plastic waste.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

St Woolos Cathedral, Newport

It had been my intention to spend some time photographing Newport's St Woolos Cathedral yesterday morning, but unfortunately for me a considerable amount of restoration work is presently being carried out and a lot of those items that interest me are currently hidden. Nevertheless I did take just a few images to share with you.

Gwladys, Gwynllyw and Cattwg
The first place of worship built atop the Stow Hill and overlooking Newport was an early wooden church dedicated to Saint Gwynllyw Milwr in the 5th century who was King of Gwynllyw (Gundleus in Latin) in South Wales, the area where Newport now stands. The name "Woolos" is an English corruption of Gwynllyw and is probably taken from the nickname Woolos the Warrior by which Gwynllyw was known.

The wooden church was rebuilt in stone in the 9th century indicating both the importance and wealth of the shrine, since stone buildings were still relatively rare at that time. Sections of the present building date from Early Medieval times and part of this stone building is now incorporated into the present building as the Galilee chapel located at the western end of the Cathedral.

Galilee chapel and font
Around 1080 the Normans built a new nave to the east of the Saxon ruins, and a lean-to south aisle, building a new entrance archway through the Saxon wall, but I was unable to access that area yesterday.

The Nave
The building sustained damage during both the Owain Glyndwr rebellion and the English Civil War. On both occasions repairs were undertaken and additions to the structure made. Indeed the cathedral has been partially rebuilt or extended in every period up to the 1960s.



As cathedrals go St Woolos is relatively small by any standards, but it is the pro-cathedral of the Diocese of Monmouth and is described as being the centre of a busy, active and attractive Christian community.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Chartism in Wales - the Newport rising

Much has been written over the years about the rise of Chartism in Wales, from it's birth in Carmarthen in 1836 to the 'massacre' at Newport in 1839 and beyond. It's not my intention to write an indepth history of events here, but I will provide a few details of the events of the 3rd and 4th of November 1839.

The Welsh Chartists had been holding secret meetings in the pits and iron works of south east Wales for weeks in advance of their march to Newport. Demonstrators numbering close to 10,000 were assembled in three separate locations and organised into marching columns. The main column from the west of Newport was led by John Frost, a second column from Blackwood was led by Zephaniah Williams and a third column from Pontypool was led by William Jones. The plan was for the columns to march overnight and meet at the Welsh Oak public house in Rogerstone on the Sunday morning before making their way into the centre of Newport. Poor organisation and foul weather put a dent in the plans with many marchers losing interest in the cold and wet of Saturday night. In fact Jones' Pontypool party didn't even arrive at the Welsh Oak at all.

Without doubt the Chartists believed their demonstration would take the authorities by surprise, but in fact the marchers were expected, preparations had been made and a reception committee in the guise of 60 soldiers from the 45th Regiment of Foot and some 500 Special Constables had been gathered.

Of the original 10,000 protesters only around half actually made it to Newport. A rumour that a number of Chartist sympathisers were being held prisoner in the Westgate Hotel inflamed the mob who marched down Stow Hill shouting slogans and waving home made pikes and cudgels. 32 of the soldiers were hiding in the Westgate and as the mob approached they were ordered to open fire: some 22 of the protesters were killed and another 50 or so wounded. The dead were buried at St Woolos Cathedral, where this plaque commemorates the event:


There is also a small artistic tribute to the Chartists within the Cathedral grounds, a pair of ceramic working man's hobnail boots, by Ned Heywood, which I think is perfectly fitting under the circumstances.