Category Archives: Traditions

Remembrance Sunday 2018

Remembrance Sunday 2018 – the centenary of Armistice Day – the end of the First World War, and for some of us a day to remember for different reasons. I had always wanted to learn the skill of bell ringing, so with that aim in mind, in May of this year I made my way to Hereford Cathedral where local bell ringers had set up a mini – ring to demonstrate what actually happens when you pull on that rope and the bell, which is usually hidden in a chamber above your head, turns through 360 + degrees and chimes out.  I was invited by the tower captain, Karen Powell,  of St. Bartholomew’s, Holmer,  to start my apprenticeship under the watchful eye of her husband, Dave,  whose career in bell ringing spans some 30 + years. I practised every Tuesday, from June to October, and eventually joined the regular ringers for their practice on a Thursday evening. I learned to ring handstroke and backstroke unaided and was just getting the hang of learning to ring rounds with the others when disaster struck – I was forced to take a break due to a car accident.

The regular ringers continued with their preparations. Experienced ringer, Hayley Clarke, had been given the task of ensuring that all the local churches which had ringable bells also had a full complement of ringers on Remembrance Sunday – no mean feat as it turned out ! But she succeeded and on Sunday November 11th church bells across the county rang out from 12.30  onwards.

Before this the team had already rung the bells muffled for the service at Holmer, before ringing open at 12.30. Then, after a photo call, 

we three apprentices,  Jayne Morgan, Laura Simpson, and myself joined the regular Holmer bellringers on a ride round the lanes of Herefordshire to call in on four other churches. starting at  Vowchurch, in the west of the county, which has a ring of 3 bells.

Next stop was just down the road at Peterchurch. First impressions? it was so warm and cosy ! With the aid of Heritage funding, the church has become an important social space for local residents,  with a café, comfy sofas to sit on, a library cum bell tower on the first floor,  as well as some lovely traditional stained glass windows.

      

We then visited Tyberton, a small village about 3 miles west of Madley. Tyberton has an unusual red brick built church with plain windows. See if you can spot the other unusual feature in the next few photos!

Yes, that’s him – the dummy vicar who resides in the bell tower! Anyway, here we are, apprentices and old hands alike, marking the day. After Tyberton we called at Holme Lacy, a beautiful, but sadly, redundant church. When you decide to learn to ring church bells one thing you realise is that there are ladders or spiral staircases to be negotiated to get up to the ringing chambers in some churches – in Holmer we are spoilt because it is a ground tower – and I am told Herefordshire has a disproportionate number of ground towers, but eventually you face a scary ladder. Luckily, Holme Lacy’s looked scary -but wasn’t !

Holme Lacy, a beautiful church, set in the lovely Herefordshire countryside near the River Wye,  boasts some unusual stained glass windows.

 

Our last stop was Wellington, a village, just north of Hereford, off the A49. This time it did mean wending our way up a stone spiral staircase but quite an amenable one.

This day was special –  It was special to be part of it and special when you realise that this anniversary will never be  repeated -the Centenary of the end of a war which happened at the beginning of the last century. My grandfather would remember it as he was one of those boy soldiers who ran away to fight, to serve his country.  But with each passing generation it becomes harder to recall the sacrifice and suffering that those men endured to guarantee peace for ensuing generations. But remember we must! 

It was special for me too because I am starting to achieve something I had wanted to do – to acquire a skill and help maintain a tradition which is so quintessentially English – when you hear bells ring out on a Sunday morning you think of everything that is good about England.

And …………. bell ringing is fun! Try it!

CLICK HERE TO SEE A VIDEO of The Holmer Band at Tyberton

Christmas in Madrid

This year my sons  and I decided to spend a few days in Madrid over Christmas. Madrid is their home town so not such a random destination! Of course, the Spanish do the giving and receiving of presents part on January 6th, el Día de Reyes,  so whilst all my English relatives are busy playing Santa on December 25th, all my Spanish relatives have to wait another 12 days – in other words, we English celebrate on the first day of Christmastide and they celebrate on the last.
Barajas, Madrid’s airport,  has expanded since I was last there and we arrived at the newest terminal, 4, late in the  evening to see the unusual tubular design at its illuminated best!



We had so many relatives to catch up with that our stay turned into a bit of a culinary marathon. We arrived on December 28 so we got TWO Christmases in – first ours in the UK and then theirs!  The first big Spanish family feast we attended was on New Year’s Eve, (I had originally written New Fear’s Eve here before I proof read – which could be more accurate, actually – fear that we were going to explode with all this food!)  Anyway, in for a penny, in for a pound!
At my oldest sister-in-law’s we kicked off with a glass of cava and the customary toast and then started off gently with a consommé, quickly followed by the tenderest cutlet of hake you can imagine, served with shellfish and washed down with wine or more cava. This was a night time meal so fish was the star of the show. We also polished off platefuls of ‘gulas’ (‘angulas’ to give them their official name – elvers, or baby eel)

and to tell the truth I don’t rightly remember what pud was! It’s all a bit of a blur now but the meal would have been rounded off by the ubiquitous ‘roscón de reyes’ (kings’ cake) – a sort of giant doughnut – some are filled with cream, some not, and traditionally they contain a trinket and an ‘haba’,  a bean, which these days are made of plastic – if you are unlucky enough to break a tooth or choke on either of these it’s meant to bring good luck !! The ‘roscón’ serves the same purpose as our English Christmas cake – everyone has some tucked away in the larder in case unexpected guests drop in.
Obviously, you have to leave a bit out for the Three Kings too when they drop in on their camels with the presents on the eve of January 6th.

The next spread was the very next day – New Year’s Day. In between, the younger element went into town to La Puerta del Sol to celebrate New Year’s Eve in the traditional way, by drinking too much and falling into the fountain – much the same as Trafalgar Square in London, really. So back to the dinner table – my middle sister-in law was in charge this time (there are three of them so they spread the load!) First seafood soup, and for the main course,  ‘cochinillo asado’ (suckling pig – this family does not cater for vegetarians!!) Apart from ‘roscón’, the other traditional Christmas sweet in Spain is ‘turrón’, which these days you see made of all sorts of ingredients – chocolate, coconut, crystallised fruit – though still the most popular (and some say the ‘only authentic’ ) is the original one made traditionally from honey and almonds. They’re all delicious – so I say ‘Bring it on!’! She then brought in the most enormous pot of coffee  to finish off – or to finish us off!

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No room at the inn!
At any other time of year when we visit Madrid we stay with relatives, but as everyone had lots of their other relatives staying because it was Christmas,  we rented an apartment which was bang in the middle of the  old quarter of the city in La Latina, a stone’s throw from La Plaza Mayor. To work off a few calories, over the next few days we explored the area around our apartment, starting with the Plaza Mayor – the  beautiful, historic and atmospheric main square of Madrid – if it ain’t happenin’ around here – it ain’t happenin’!!
The Segway seems to have become the transport of choice for the more intrepid tourist.  The Tourist Information Office in the La Plaza Mayor is one of the departure points for these tours and and now that a lot of Madrid’s central streets have been pedestrianized it’s the ideal way to go  – plenty of ramps and flat surfaces to whizz down – you can be outside the Royal Palace or the Prado Museum in no time!
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Wherever there are visitors, there are street artists and La Plaza Mayor is no exception – very interesting to watch them work, although they usually have a zealous ‘minder’ hanging around to stop you photographing their creations – except for one here, who had left a phone number and a note saying ‘Call me if you want to buy something’ !!
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The Plaza Mayor is an architectural gem, a beautiful part of the old city, but it’s a typical tourist trap – they lure you in and are quite happy to charge 3 or 4 times the going rate even for a beer or a coffee. But you’re paying for the surroundings and to watch the world go by – this is true winter or summer.
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At Christmas time, as in any big city, the square fills up with the weird and the wonderful – like Merlin here, who didn’t seem entirely sure of what he was doing!
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Or would you miss this photo opportunity?
The square is lined with great shops – natty headgear – suits you, sir!

or some Toledo steel – Toledo is a town just south of Madrid famous for two things – one is the painter, El Greco,  born in Crete, but who settled in Toledo and worked there for over thirty years till his death in 1614; and the other is the production of steel, dating back to 500 BC – lots of daggers, and swords etc but since knights are a bit thin on the ground now they have taken to selling these weapons to tourists and collectors.

Below is a traditional Belén, the Nativity scene you see depicted all over Spain at Christmas in homes and public places. This particularly detailed one   was on display in a glass cabinet in the Plaza Mayor, but all the churches have one,  some much more elaborate than others – some life size, others more modest, some with moving parts, and, although younger Spaniards are not church goers, a lot take their children to see a Belén or indeed help them to build one at home.  Of course, some families have a Christmas tree instead or as well – I prefer the Belén.

The Plaza mayor was the perfect place on the way home from the hubbub in town to chill with a glass of wine or a beer  – they even put on a nightly light show and a jazz trio up in one of the balconies.


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The main shopping areas around Calle Mayor, Preciados and Gran Via were building up nicely to a last minute pre – Christmas buying frenzy, with people snapping up those last few items  – funny, this was all over and done with in the UK but here we were again – Christmas lights, wrapping paper, street stalls with seasonal food to sample, choirs singing carols, cash tills pinging – it all felt a bit Ground Hog! One of the main streets, the Gran Vía has some very swish shops – fancy some jewellery ?-  the Spanish are nothing if not ostentatious!
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or some shoes ? These were beautiful quality.
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or at the other end of the scale, despite being housed in this very grand building, I am told  you can bag a bargain here in the Mercadillo del Gato,

Or when you tire of shopping you can just admire the contours and lines of the city’s apartment buildings and urban architecture.
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Although it gets bitterly cold in Madrid in the winter, most of the time you can be assured of a brilliant blue sky which really lifts your spirits. This means, of course, that you also get a beautiful sunset, and one of the best places to appreciate it is from the Parque del Oeste, just up from the Royal Place, where you will also find El Templo de Debod (or Debod’s Temple) which was gifted to the Spanish by Egypt in the late 1960s. With the sunset as a backdrop and the strategically placed floor lights, it’s a dramatic sight and very popular with visitors – in fact, we were being elbowed out of the way by people wanting selfies or just nice pictures – but at any other time of year it’s a beautiful spot to look across to the Royal Palace and the Almudena Cathedral, which take on a fairytale quality when they are lit up at twilight.
 

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as does the esplanade in front of the Palace, where we came across this wonderful old carousel, and a very enterprising ‘musician’ getting a tune out of some wine glasses!

Of course, Christmas is all about children! I don’t have any small children of my own now as mine are grown up but that didn’t stop me going to see a brilliant exhibition of Comic Book Superheroes, all made from Lego! You have to admire the ingenuity of the exhibits.
See if you recognise anyone!
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I will finish with a bizarre sight that met us on our way home from the cinema on our last night there – two science bods (unless they were just two geezers who had stolen a very expensive piece of equipment!) had placed a big telescope

out in the street near Opera so that,  for a small donation obviously,  you could gaze up at the moon! And the donations disappeared into here!

 

Another year, another River Carnival on the Wye.

The stretch of river that runs between Hereford Rowing Club and the Victoria Footbridge was once again the setting for the main attraction of the Hereford River Carnival –  the parade of a dozen or so colourful floats.  For reasons I am not privy to – but probably to do with access points along the bank – the floats first have to be towed upstream along the same stretch of river before they set off downstream again. There was nothing for it! The crews had to brave the water and it looked pretty cold!!  Then it was a case of just pulling against the current – and let’s face it – carnival floats aren’t usually built with good handling in mind! The more unwieldy the craft the more resistance it put up,  but the crews were having none of it! The river was not particularly high, but weather conditions weren’t ideal –  a wind had got up and rain clouds were gathering – again.
Amongst those organisations represented  were the Alzameimers Society (I’ve forgotten how to spell that) , Aspire, Harrison Clark Rickerbys, Hereford Food Bank, Hereford MIND, Newton Farm Community Association, the Sea Cadets, Strong Young Minds, Horizon Training, local health food shop, Fodders, Sheila’s Wheels,  and two local pubs, the Barrels (representing aforementioned Wye Valley Brewery) and the Vaga Tavern.
I positioned myself on the footbridge and watched as our water babies slogged slowly upstream to take their starting positions. It looked like hard work!
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The support dinghies and canoes were manned by members of CHAR (the River Wye Charity Raft Race organization) and local sea cadets  (always seems strange to me that a landlocked Midlands county, as far away from the sea as you can get in the UK, should have a unit of the sea cadets, but we do – I suppose water is water!) Anyway, they were out in force, expertly manoeuvering their kayaks and dinghies to escort, aid, and lend support and encouragement where needed.
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Ever get that sinking feeling?  A few sticky moments here for the castle.

The green and yellow craft below looked tiny in comparison with some, but maybe small is beautiful in these conditions.

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She hugged the bank and made her way quietly up to the start.

Then came  ‘the Fried Egg   (I’m assuming this was Hereford Food Bank)

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All the crews did whatever it took – towing, pushing, pulling, wading through the water tmentalHealthogether.shirleysWheelsThe efforts of the Wye Valley Brewery crew were nothing short of heroic  – I have to say the design of their float didn’t exactly help – It looked heavy with 4 barrels on a square platform – it was always going to be a handful!  barrels8Eventually they towed it under the footbridge on the first part of its journey upstream – our hero had hold of the rope attached to the support boat and manfully hung on!
Only a mile to go!
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Eventually he could hold on no longer and decided to attach the rope under the raft. Success! And applause from the crowd above! Away they went. Further upstream another snag – the brolly started to catch the breeze so they jettisoned that and at last disappeared into the distance.
barrels5When the floats finally started to reappear on their way back, as I looked down the length of the river it struck me that they were bunched a bit like horses in a  race – some hugging the near bank,
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some the opposite bank
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and some coming straight down the middle.
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Whether they were following instructions, or just being carried along by the current I don’t know. As they moved falteringly along, the escorts were still doing a grand job, weaving through the water, ever watchful, ever ready to move in , and giving much needed reassurance to our wobbly wayfarers.
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It was easy to see that coming downstream is a doddle compared to going up!
castle4 And relax!
cygnet2A cygnet in tow! Cute!
downstreamTime to tip our toes in!
downstream2 This is more like it!  Shame the sun’s not out! Could work on my tan!
swan I’m gonna get there first!
Now, you see that? It’s a stone pillar! Paddle round it! bridgeInSight Okay, boss!
intheWaterNot sure what’s happening here but I bet he’s glad of that wetsuit.
And – under we go……….
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All using the same technique – no collisions – and the end is in sight.
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For the trip back downstream the ‘Fried Egg’ has acquired a sharply dressed captain!underBridge
This wasn’t a race, but I believe there was a prize for the best float. I don’t know who won.  You be the judge. Here’s a reminder of the gallant participants in the 2016 Hereford River Carnival Parade.bananaMan
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