24 October 2012

to Bath with a friend

Squeezed in a weekend trip with my friend, Maree, last weekend.  Waited until she got to London just before midday on Saturday and we bused to Paddington station.  London has upgrades going on and parts of lines are closed every weekend.  It's never been that big of a deal but the last few weekends my local tube station has been closed and it's been more frustrating.  But that's London life for you.  So at Paddington we purchased tickets outta here.

Lack of sleep for both of us meant a snoozy train ride.  An hour and a half or so to pep us up for an afternoon in Bath.  It's such a pretty city.  Streets lined with ancient buildings.  If it weren't for the distraction of the modern day vehicles all over the roads you could easily picture life here in the 1700s or so.  We checked into our hostel and set out to roam the town.  We visited the circle which I guess may have been quite a sight in its early days but was nothing special really for today's various city setups.  We stopped by the Jane Austen House and paid for a tour.  Tour...a talk which was interesting enough where I discovered she only spent five years in Bath and hated it, followed by a walk around a small downstairs area that had a few things set up from that era, mostly clothes.  Wouldn't recommend paying for it if you're planning to visit Bath.

We continued wandering down, via some shopping, to the Abbey and the Roman Baths.  We didn't bother paying to go in.  Maybe if we had more time and our bathers...  We topped up our tummies with an icecream each and just roamed the streets.  It was such a lovely time of year to be there.  Not only were the buildings wonderfully old and full of character but the trees all about were scattered with the colours of autumn.  We made our way back to a restaurant we'd seen earlier and went in for tea.  The food was pretty good but I thought mine could have been a little more interesting or a little more for what I paid.  I really liked the atmosphere of the place, except perhaps the noisy hens party in the bar area.  Then us two party animals hit the night with an early bedtime.  

Refreshed by sleep we gathered ourselves together for the main event of the trip.  We ducked into the just opened breakfast room and slapped a take-away breaky into our hands and headed off downtown.  When our the Mad Max minibus pulled up, we climbed aboard and set out for some of the most famous rocks in the world.  I wasn't sure if I'd pay to "go in" but I did in the end.  You follow a path around the rocks that is roped off so you can't get too close and you can listen to the audio guide as you go.  I did start doing this, the listening part, but it got too boring to pay attention to the voices yabber about different speculations about how the stones may have gotten here and why.  Stonehenge is a fascinating set up of rocks though.  Intriguing.  Not much to do there obviously but look and take snapshots.  Which I did.  It's such an icon I didn't want to leave England without saying I've been there.

 When it was time to leave, we moved on through the Wiltshire countryside and passed a few "white horses" along the route.  These white horses are formed by scrapping away the grass and topsoil to reveal the white chalk beneath in a specific shape.  One of these horses, not one we saw, is three thousand years old.  Most aren't near that old though.  On we went to Avebury.  Avebury has a massive stone circle surrounding the small village.  So big it's a little hard to see the circle.  But you can see a row of stones in a curved line at any one time.  It has one huge outer ring and two small inner ones and apparently Stonehenge would fit inside one of the inner ones of Avebury.  These rocks are "a la natural" unlike Stonehenge.  We roamed the paddocks with the sheep for a while and ducked into the shop for warmth and chocolate.

 Further down the road we stopped in Lacock for lunch.  Maree and I ate Sunday roasts that were very satisfying accompanied by a lovely american couple also on our tour.  Lacock is a small village owned entirely by the National Trust and is well known for it's unspoilt vintage look.  It has been used for many a movie sets particularly period dramas.  But the most well known in my experience is the brief snapshots used in the Harry Potter films.  The guide showed us the house that was used as Harry's parents' house.

After Lacock we made our final stop in Castle Combe.  It's another dated little village but unlike Lacock, where the houses are rented due to the National Trust owning them, Castle Combe is paid for by individuals wealthy enough to own some property there.  It's another pretty place though and also sees some movie action such as in Stardust and Warhorse.  These building are so full of character.  In both places I admired the slapped together look of houses with wonky walls and what appears to my eye as dodgy craftmanship and other oddities like the mix of materials used.  This, with the knowledge that they've been standing longer than Australia has been civilised, makes such buildings a fascinating sight.

From Castle Combe we rolled straight back to Bath and Maree and I jumped aboard the first train we could, with two minutes to spare.  We thought we might have to stand the whole way back to London as the carriages seemed to be teeming with reserved seats.  Thankfully we managed to make our way to the unreserved carriages while the train jostled along and find a couple of vacant seats for ourselves.  I left Maree at Paddington to train on while I bused home glad to tick another place off my list and to have done it with company as I'd hoped to.

19 October 2012

there's a squirrel under my bed!

Let me tell you a story.  
It's a true story.  
It happened to me last weekend.

I was hanging out at home on Saturday, busy at my computer planning and booking my upcoming holiday to Spain.  I'd heard noises upstairs, just a bit of bustling.  It was probably outside or something.  I was pretty sure I was home alone this weekend.  It was when I heard that bustling in my room on the other side of the bed that I was sure I wasn't home alone.  As I stood to peek over the edge, a squirrel shot out of my room with a little more startle than I'd jumped with.  A squirrel inside!?

I immediately followed it up the stairs.  As it continued to race ahead of me winding up and up, I marvelled at this unexpected adventure.  I already knew I'd be blogging this tale.  I paused and went back down a little to open the front door hoping I could get Squirrel back down and chase him out.  Then I continued back up to find him.  It wasn't hard.  I could see where he'd been.  A scattering of tiny poops sporadically littered the travelled areas.  I went the four floors up to the 'flat' (self contained level) and edged in carefully.  I wasn't too sure what squirrels are like in the wild but I figured he could scratch and bite pretty well if he was brave enough or desperate enough to defend himself.  I peered up the stairs to the attic bedroom but decided to circle the flat.  As I stepped into the living area he jumped and ran around the corner.  I followed, he looped the flat and scampered down the stairs again.  Mighty fast little creature.  I pulled my mobile out to see if I could shoot him.
 Down we both went, down to the ground level and... nuts.  Squirrel ran round and under the side table instead of out the front door.  I followed hoping to step quietly around the side table and then shoo him out.  But he jumped up unto the table, leaped through the barrister and fled upstairs.

"Squirrel! You were supposed to go out the front door," I called after him.  He wasn't going to listen to me though.  I sighed, still amused by this weekend activity, and followed the sound of scampering up and up just ahead of me.

"Squirrel?  Squiiiirrel?" I called calmly as I stepped into the flat again.  I decided to go through the kitchen this time and as I was about to enter the dining room I saw the squirrel-shaped blur dash across the doorway and heard him fly through the living room.  As I stepped around the corner I saw his tail disappear down the stairs again.

This time when he got to the ground level and again hairpinned under the side table, I paused on the stairs.  I  reached from some coins that were on top in a bowl and grabbed a handful.  I backed up a few steps and began dropping coins, one by one, to land behind the squirrel in hopes he'd run toward the open door.  I did manage to scare him but he jumped up on the table again.  This time he stopped coz I was still on the stairs. He his head flicked around as he hurriedly searched for options before taking shelter again under the side table.  I fetched some more coins and tried again.  But now he went down to escape me.  Down the basement level.  The level I live on.  And yes, into my bedroom.
 As I entered he was in the middle of my room so I edged around the walls and he took off out of my room again. And back up the stairs.  This time as I traipsed after him, I opened the side door which I use as well.  More options to escape outside.  Now the only way to get him to go downstairs was to climb all the way up to the flat, hang a lap and follow him back down.  I did this numerous times this day.  But who'd had ever thought that my time in England would involve chasing a squirrel around the house?

I was quite amused and enjoying myself whilst calling to the obstinate squirrel and telling him how he needs to go out the door I'd left open for him.  I also wondered how he got in and quickly concluded that there must be an open window somewhere.  When I'd shooed him once again from the flat, I made rounds in every room all the way down and all the way back up, right up into the attic bedroom.  Ah-ha!  That has to be it.  In the large, protruding skylight over the stairwell that ended in the bedroom, there was a couple of small open windows.  With that query satisfied, I went on the squirrel hunt again.

With all the hiking up and down stairs chasing the squirrel about, I don't entirely remember how things unfolded.  However, the homeowners were away for the weekend and at some point I messaged the lord of the house. I sent him the above picture letting him know I'd had an unexpected visitor but reported that I'd just searched the whole house and couldn't find him so perhaps he used the front door.  I went back to my computer and continued my earlier task until I had to issue a correction.  Nope. Not gone yet. He's presently hiding in my room.  I'd either heard him or seen him dash back in there and when I couldn't see him I climbed up on the spare bed in my room and called to him.  Not that he answered.  Squirrels are very good at hiding, did you know?  They are so still and quiet.  I shook my bed, moved it a little--as much as I could while standing on the other bed--climbed over the dresser and checked out my wardrobe as the door was open a little.  I ended up using my camera to look under all the furniture. My bed is so close to the ground in the middle it was hard to tell.  Eventually I saw his bushy grey tail sticking out slightly between my bed and the dresser. I thumped the ground, shook the bed but he wasn't going to move.  I sat back at my computer to wait for him to be brave enough to venture out.

It took a while but out he came and I was soon chasing him back upstairs, past two open doors, and all the way up; right up into the attic bedroom.  I ventured up into the bedroom carefully.  I could hear him now.  He was more than a little annoyed at me; hissing his threats trying to sound all big and tough.  He was hiding in the bookcase, that's were the sounds were coming from.  It still took a while to find him.  I was now convinced he was determined to stay in for the night.  So I closed the door behind me as I left to ensure he would stay put.  I went back down stairs to research how to catch a squirrel.

The lord of the house rang back and I recited the events so far and I also reported that he was now contained in his son's attic bedroom.  We discussed strategies a little before he let me get back to my research. I found an idea on the internet, set about gathering all the parts I needed and adapting it to be ideal for my situation.  The son called me in the middle of construction and I admitted I was having fun.  He suggested opening the skylight that lead to a little rooftop 'terrace' so the squirrel had the opportunity to escape.  With my trap built, I set off upstairs to place it.

 I placed the trap on the staircase so the squirrel would be able to access the peanuts I'd stuck on the paper towel tube with peanut butter.  The idea was that he'd venture out to the roll to feast, the roll would spin, he'd slip onto the fabric and his weight would pull the flaps closed.  I checked to make sure the squirrel was still there and he was.  I looked for the skylight the son had mentioned and figured out what he was talking about.  I doubted the squirrel would climb the stairs which are more like a ladder.  I also doubted he would be able to get out the open windows where I assumed he had come in.  It was pretty high up with not really much to cling to on the way.  I closed the door behind me again and set myself up in the flat living room so I could hear if the trap happened to work.

Later in the evening I heard voices downstairs and investigated to find that the housekeeper was back with some friends sorting out a shoe space issue.  I informed her of the situation in the son's bedroom and her and her friend came up to look.  I still shut the door behind me as I entered and then showed them where the squirrel was still hiding.  Her friend moved enough stuff and the squirrel tried to make a run for it but discovered he couldn't get out of the room.  He creeped back upstairs and made a dash between the three of us and hid somewhere, not sure where.  Probably under the bed.  I never saw him up there again.  We opened the skylight as the sun had suggested and then left the squirrel locked up there, in the tallest tower of this tall castle.  I was happy enough he was locked in someone else's bedroom and not holed up in mine.

Morning came and I ventured upstairs to see what happened during the night.  My trap failed.  Bait was all gone and the clever squirrel obviously never slipped in.  I roamed the room but heard nothing.  I searched the room more thoroughly to see if he was hiding in any pokey little spots.  But I still saw and heard nothing.

I dared to think he may have actually found his escape though that was more a wistful hope.  I'd experienced his sneakiness, his hiding skills amidst the bustle of a search and his seeming determination to stay.  I climbed up the ladder to check the terrace. No signs of squirrel but a nice view of London on a lovely crisp morning.

I closed the skylight as I descended and replaced the things I'd moved about.  I found myself thinking over my blog story and a little disappointed that my capture plans had failed to give me an exciting conclusion.  I collected my trap and decided on leaving the door open.  That way, if I HAD missed him, he'd probably venture down again and I'd find out.

So I went on with my Saturday, checking the internet, eating, crafting and waiting for my friend to arrive.  Around midday I was just leaving my living area to head into my bedroom for something when that rat of a squirrel dashed across my path making my jump and cry out again in shocked surprise.  I stormed after the critter calling out to the housekeeper who was in her kitchen (she lives on the same level as me) that the squirrel was still 'IN'.  She had to ask for confirmation as she'd missed the scurry past her door when the squirrel headed for the stairs again.  Up I went.  Up to the flat.  Made my circuit and headed back down.  The squirrel ever-scampering ahead.  He ended up back downstairs.  Back in my room.  Back under my bed.  I knew what he was like when he hid.  

The housekeeper suggested I close the door to my area and open the back door which I did.  My friend arrived and we headed out for the afternoon as planned.  When I got back I did a thorough search but again didn't see or hear anything.  He definitely wasn't where I left him.  I was pretty sure he was gone but I opted for more proof.  As I went to bed, keeping the door to my area shut, I placed a biscuit on the floor by the back door now closed noting exactly where I put it and went to bed.  In the morning, I checked and the biscuit was entirely there and unmoved and I was satisfied it was gone.  I let the housekeeper know of my experiment and she told me of places he'd obviously been to try to get out and showed me fruit he'd snacked on.

There's one little squirrel out there in the park telling tales of his adventure into the treasure castle with the ogre who chased him all about but whom he cunningly evaded.  I'm sure I'll haunt his dreams for the rest of his life. 

What a fun story to have!

13 October 2012

snippity snip

In the quietness of the morning, I got myself up and wandered the house.  I found a pair of scissors in the sewing cabinet and decided to experiment.  The cutting of different textures; the fall of freed shreds; the creation of new holes. I snipped my pyjamas.  I snipped the sewing seat.  I snipped my hair.  I was three years old or so I think at the time.  Things haven't changed a lot these days...only I know how to do it more constructively.

Actually I'm not sure if I snipped my hair back then but I did today.  With the ends beginning to get raggedy I'd started pondering the clarity of a fresh cut.  I'd even toyed with the idea of doing it myself.  I'd done it once before.  Today I simply decided I would.
Giving yourself a haircut is not particularly easy.  It's especially awkward doing the back. Two reasons I was happy enough to give it a go. My hair is naturally wavy so it will hide a lot of any unevenness I sculpted in.  (And I avoid straight cuts anyway preferring jagged ends and layers.)  Also, my philosophy is that hair grows.  Whatever I cut off will be back in the near future. As for any drastic disasters, I would simply enlist a skilled hairdresser in a new style.  All in all, after much longer than a professional would take, I think it turned out a-ok.  I straightened my hair so I could see the end lines more plainly and used what mirrors I could position to assist me and made a mess of the bathroom floor.  I've since washed it and am waiting to see how it sits with its natural curvature.  But if I'm pretty happy with the straightened style where the cut is more visible, I think I'll be ok with the natural.  It was a bit of fun and saved me money.  How often do we manage that combo?
And just for reference, here's me at Buckingham Palace last weekend in the fresh, sunlit autumn morning before the snippity snip.

07 October 2012

kew the check list

I have a short list of things I want to do before it's time to head home to Australia.  Actually I have two.  One for London To-Dos and the other is for weekend trips.  I started listing things once I hit the six months to go on my visa limitations.  This week I realised was the end of the viewing of the Buckingham Palace tours.  So I shuttled myself off this morning to see if I could snag a ticket to see the State Rooms.  Unfortunately they'd already sold out.  The guy at the gate suggested I start queueing three hours before opening time tomorrow for a final chance to get a ticket.  I settled for another Buckingham Palace snap on this brisk sunny autumn morning.  I'm a little disappointed I missed my chance and it's just something I hadn't got around to doing but not that much to queue that long with no guarantee.  If I'm ever back in London over their summer...
So instead I phoned my friend, Maree, who's staying with me this weekend (she's already done the tour) and met up with her in Stratford to accompany her house viewing.  With her house hunting efforts I'm even more grateful and understanding of the blessings received with my accommodations.  London is not a cheap place to live.  We relaxed after an unsuccessful viewing with lunch and a bit of shopping.  Then we headed all the way  across to the other side of London (for £1.60!) to Kew Gardens.  In Kew Gardens funnily enough.  He he.  
 It was far bigger than I had thought and so relaxing to walk around.  It was lovely to see nature everywhere and walk on the grass after spending the first part of the day walking around the city streets, shopping centres and riding the tube.  It was lovely and sunny still and felt so fresh.

 I made sure we went on the treetop walk as I enjoy a different point of view than normal.  It was nice but barely compares to Australia's Otway Fly.  Ours is superb.  Nice as it was, it was just a little loop.  There was also a bunch of sculptures about by David Nash but it took me a while to realise they were spread out through the gardens.

We ended up stopping to rest our weary feet by the Japanese spot of a garden.  Japanese gardens are so pretty.  And then we caught the tube home again.  A lovely day with a new friend.