Friday, 25 June 2010

Our days were of wine and our paths through roses

High Summer and outside the garden, the area is being colonised by foxgloves (and also by bindweed, but I pulled most of it up).

The hedgerows are full of dog roses

Our new elms are flourishing;

... and the farmer behind has made his first cut of hay.

Where the may blossom was full of perfume, berry production is moving apace.

And the dreaded lily beetle is at it again! (Look just under the leaf in the centre.)

I got this one anyway!

Opposite the back door, the trellis is burgeoning (with my 'garden glasswork in the centre)

And this is Summer Song, an Austin rose.

And Albertine - great habit and beautiful scent.

Just underthe plum tree is one of our newer ones, Belle Epoque.

And, growing over the shed is Pleine de Grace - never disappoints, always full of blooms, unbelievably vigorous climber - needs cutting back hard in Autumn AND Spring, but one of the most scented roses we have.

Together with Paul's Himalayan Musk - the name says it all.

And just as you go out of the gate, one of my personal favourites: Eye Paint.

Meanwhile, in the hedgerows, the brambles are in flower - should be a good blackberry season to come.

If I can get past the usual vicious thorns.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

And the winner is...

So, off to London on Thursday for the Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards. We, the administration team at the University of Leicester School of Museum Studies were nominated in the category of Outstanding Departmental Administration Team. In nearly 40 years of working for the University, I’ve never been nominated for any sort of award, so we were all very excited.

Outside the Grosvenor, about to go in for the awards

A glittering occasion

As one of 5 nominees, we didn’t think we had much of a chance, and when Alexander Armstrong read our names out, we were astounded - and very pleased. We don’t get presented with huge amounts of money, just a nice trophy and lots of kudos.

L-R Myself, Bob, Barbara, Gus and the Lady from AUA who presented the award

The judges picked up 3 things in particular: “... Students have also benefited hugely from the team’s approach in forging close links with the sector. Among their successes has been the implementation of an online ‘jobs desk’ for graduates, which is quickly becoming a definitive source of employment information in the sector - in 2008-09 it featured 2,900 jobs and attracted 250,000 web hits. (This was my own contribution – something I thought up and have implemented over at least 10 years, and... am very proud of).

Barbara and me with the award - Barbara is keen to hang onto it!

The team have also worked closely with the Museums Association on a national scheme to enhance workforce diversity and have coordinated a network of more than 200 museums that offer work placements each year. ...In particular, the panel were impressed by the overall effectiveness of such a small team. ...They also rated the way the team worked together, involving academic, administrative and technical staff, for the benefit of students.”

All the winners

So we were all feeling rather pleased with our success. However, one comment on the THE website seems to sum up everything that makes me angry about the mean mindedness of people who simply cannot bear to see anyone receive any praise, especially those not ‘on the front line’.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry at this. We are rewarding non-front line activities, putting them on a par with teaching and research excellence, topics that extend the boundaries of their field. We are now handing out awards for the best marketing and comms team, the best HR team!!!, and as for best finance and procurement team. These are the academic equivalents of Oscars for best make-up, costume design and special effects, in that order. ... Next week the winners of the best library shelf stacker will be announced in a glittering display in McDonalds.”

Leaving aside my own contempt for those who use triple exclamation marks to express their feelings, I am heartily sick of this front line/back room distinction. We are being told that the Government’s cuts will hit hardest in the public sector and especially in non front line services. How do these people think front line services are enabled to happen? Would you send an army into the (real) front line without a team of people making sure they are supplied with food, transportation, information and equipment?

The last time I heard this particular argument (during the notorious Thatcherite 80s when ‘City Boys' were making millions and the mining communities were being destroyed) I was chairman of the County’s Social Services Department and we were being urged to cut jobs behind the scenes – bureaucrats, pen pushers, desk pilots! When we were confronted with the evidence of past abuse in the County’s Children’s homes, it was plain for all to see that one of the major factors in allowing the abuse to continue over a period of years was the lack of proper record-keeping and co-ordination and exchange of information. Front line workers were too busy to do all the paperwork demanded by the Department of Health etc. And the lack of ‘back room’ support meant it was impossible to unravel some of the allegations.

Frank Beck, a manager of one of the County’s homes was eventually sentenced to 5 life sentences plus 24 years when he was found guilty. He later died in prison of a heart attack.

All the above reinforces my belief that ‘back room boys/girls, as they are often pejoratively called, have a real value and deserve consideration as much as those who deliver so called ‘front line’ services.

I suppose, for me, the message is “Don’t take pride in what you do; don’t believe that what you do is important and, above all, never accept praise or congratulations for ‘just doing your job’”.

Sorry to rant, but I foresee a holier than thou, puritannical attitude to any activity not actually involving wearing a hair shirt and self-flagellation. Or is that just me?

Friday, 11 June 2010

A Country Wedding

Last weekend, we attended the wedding of a couple of friends in a beautiful little country church - St John Baptist, Chelveston cum Caldecott.

This (Autumn) photo from

The Church dates back to 13th century, with additions in the 14th & 15th centuries. Restored and extended in 1849 at an estimated cost of £726, the Church is a grade II* listed building. Unfortunately, its 5 bells aren't functional.

In these days of more, and yet more elaborate weddings, this was a beautifully simple affair.

The Bride and Groom led the congregation in the short walk from church to reception which took place in the nearby village hall.

Initially, they booked a hotel for the reception but, just before they paid their deposit (phew!) the reception company went out of business and they were thrown back on their own resources.

The village hall and 'retro' feel of the reception, which the groom wanted to be like a 'cricket tea' were an inspired choice. There was, indeed tea, cucumber sandwiches, dainty cakes, etc. and the hall was decked with bunting made (in part) by the bride.

This was a gentle, friendly wedding reception where everyone got the chance to talk (no overwhelmingly loud music), almost like something out of the 1950s and all the better for that (there speaks someone born in 1947).

The happy couple have gone off to Rome for their honeymoon taking everyone's best wishes with them.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Paint your faces blue and...

... head for Scotland. Sorry to mock 'Braveheart' not my favourite film.

Friday 28 May 2010

We had decided to spend a long weekend in Scotland at one of our favourite spots, Port Sonachan on the side of Loch Awe, the longest freshwater loch in Scotland (over 25 miles) and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful. “It was from Loch Awe and surrounding area that Clan Campbell established itself as a powerful family. In 1308, Robert the Bruce defeated the Clan MacDougall at the Battle of the Pass of Brander downstream from the loch.” (Wikipedia).

Anyway, we set off about 8am in heavy traffic for the drive North, but as we drove through the Lake District the traffic thinned out as the landscape improved. There’s a lot to be said for the North of England (and I am strongly aware of the horrific occurrences of the last few days, so I’m sorry if this blog item seems frivolous; this blog isn’t intended to explore the deepest depths of human depravity.)

Having got through Glasgow, we headed for Loch Lomond and the Trossachs but first we decided to stop for a bite. Unfortunately the Services turned out to be a Little Chef! When my mushroom omelette came, it could have been used to sole boots. I think this is probably more ‘Glasgow’ than ‘Scotland’.

Loch Lomond

Beside Loch Lomond, all the verges were full of bluebells (Photo Billogs and, of course there were more along the way and at Loch Awe.

Loch Awe

Highland Cattle near Loch Awe

We did our usual trick of heading for the North side of the Loch, but soon recognised the road and turned back to the South side.

Port Sonachan is always just a bit further off the main road than we remember but we arrived in sunshine and the Loch and Ben Cruachan looked beautiful.

Our room wasn’t ready because of staff shortages – the hotel is rather isolated and finds it difficult to get staff to stay but this did not bode well. Anyway, we sat outside with a cup of tea and shortbreads while we waited. Last time we came (in late August) we couldn’t have sat outside – too cold!

The room itself was delightful and the Loch view was well worth paying a bit extra for. We decided to eat in the bar so went down early for a sundowner (though sundown is a bit later the further North you go – still light at 10.30pm – the ‘land of the simmer dim’). We found out later that some guests had had to wait about 2 hours for their rooms to be got ready. Ate in the bar; lentil soup and venison sausages – pretty good!

Sunset over Loch Awe

Bluebells at Loch Awe

Saturday 29 May 2010

We had wonderful local smoked haddock for breakfast and decided to go into Oban, actually about 42 miles away, to see whether there was an island trip we’d like to go on (any boat, anytime, anywhere – that’s me). Marea, of course, wanted to do some shopping so we had a wander around, particularly aiming for a shoe shop we visited last time we were in Oban. After trying on about 20 pairs, Marea decided on one pair and we went upstairs where I picked up a pair of Barker’s slip-ons, tried them on and bought them.

Oban - weather not great

Typical of Oban's Victorian style. The lady in green is Marea.

We wandered around to the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry office and eventually decided on a Sunday lunch cruise to Tiree, leaving port at 9am and getting back at 17.15 so it would fill the day. After further wanderings and purchases (Marea buying 2 tops) and both of us indulging in chips (VG) from the local chippy, we set off for Inveraray with the intention of buying a bottle of Loch Fyne whisky.

Inveraray Maritime Museum

Main Street, Inveraray

As we set off, it was raining but Marea said “Don’t worry, it will be dry by the time we reach Inveraray. It wasn’t! And it got worse! We bought the whisky – an extra bottle for a present and a couple of pieces of jewellery, one for Marea (birthday) and one for her sister (also for her birthday). The rain eased as we drove back to PortSonachan and had stopped by the time we reached the hotel, but it was rather cold.

When we got to the room it had not been made up. One of the great pleasures of staying in a hotel is that you come back to a perfect room and have time to get yourself sorted before dinner. Marea rang down and they said; “We’re sorry, we haven’t got around to your room yet; she will be there straight away” (this was 5pm). So we had to go down to the bar while the room was prepared. As soon as we got to the bar/conservatory, the heavens opened and it rained into the evening. Needs to be better tomorrow!

Sunday 30 May 2010

Up early and had a scratch breakfast. Set off for Oban in cool, cloudy weather. On the way down the Loch to the Oban Road, we flushed a Sika deer, our first of the holiday. Oban was still dull and a bit rainy as we boarded so we sat inside – comfortable but a bit noisy because we were in the family lounge with the children.

On the road to Oban - bright gorse but cloudy skies

The Calmac Ferry (left) ready to board

The Sound of Mull

Craignure Ferry

Into the Atlantic!

The cruise up the Sound of Mull was quite dull (weather wise) but as we turned out into the Atlantic, the sun came out through broken cloud and it got a bit warmer. Still too windy to sit outside, however.
Staffa in the far distance

Mull from the East

It’s a long cruise to Coll – about 3 hours 30, mostly not very exciting except when passing some of the smaller islands – Staffa in the very far distance. Coll seems rather bleak and there’s no sign of habitation but many people go there to walk and study the wildlife. Lots of vehicles got off the boat. By this time, the skies were gloriously clear and it was sunny and hot!

Arriving at Coll

A further hour’s cruising to Tiree which looks more lively. I know there’s windsurfing and kite surfing and there are great beaches and beautiful water on both islands. We think that coming from the midlands to sit on beaches in the far North sounds daft – it’s easier to go South, even over to Europe – but to Scottish tourists, they’re very close and easy to get to.

We ate lunch on the way from Coll to Tiree. CalMac advertise it as a Sunday Lunch Cruise but what they ought to say is that you can eat a traditional Sunday lunch aboard the ferry to Coll and Tiree. They do make an effort, setting tables with decent linen, etc., and the service is friendly and efficient. It’s still served in the cafeteria, however.

And Tiree

Leaving Tiree


Ben Mor on Mull

We sat in the sun all the way back to Coll and Oban, so I’ll probably regret that. Had cheese and wine for dinner – too full after a large lunch.

Back to Oban

Loch Etive, like a millpond

... and Loch Awe

Sunset over Loch Awe

Monday 1 June 2010

On the way home, we called at Loch Fine Oysters for smoked haddock, peppered mackerel and kippers... oh, and milk for when we got home.

Still some patches of snow on the mountains outside Inveraray

We drove back in sunshine. Not as much traffic as we feared, it being a bank holiday, and arrived home to our own beautiful garden about 4pm. We have a list of improvements we’d like to make to the Port Sonachan Hotel but, all-in-all, a very enjoyable break.