As I prophesied at the end of the last blog, I have now spoken with Darren Marner of the CSA (I name him because the CSA some time ago told that there would be a lot of trouble if I named names, and I am curious to see if they have a. the balls, and b. the competence to carry out their threat. As this cock-up is entirely their fault I doubt it in both cases). It does appear that they screwed up at the beginning of October and started taking less than they should. According to Darren Marner, I should have noticed this, despite the fact that I was recovering from my surgery, but he did admit that I am being penalised for his department's incompetence. Interestingly, when I asked about the money that I'm owed, it wasn't his department. James Purnell will be receiving suitably snotty letter within the next few days.
On a much lighter note, me and m'Julie have been away for a couple of days to the West Country, staying in an old fishing village called Clovelly on the North Devon coast. Despite having lived in Exeter for 4 years, and having talked about visiting Clovelly, which was less than 70 miles away, this was my first visit, which meant a 500 mile round trip.
We left on Sunday morning because we had decided that we were going to break the journey a couple of times. On the way, Julie indulged in her new hobby.
A couple of years ago, whilst on a long and boring trip to somewhere, I was pointing out to m'Julie the Eddie Stobart lorries, telling her that each of the lorries has a unique name and that there were even 'Eddie Spotters'! As a result of this m'Julie joined the Eddie Stobart Fan Club, and was then armed with the spotters' book when we did long and boring journeys.
As a direct result of this, a few weeks later on a trip to France, m'Julie spotted a lorry with the words 'Eat More Chips' emblazoned on its side. There are several blogs and web pages about the trucks, which apparently belong to a fruit and vegetable producer in Wiltshire. Unfortunately, now, whenever we are driving and we see one of these lorries, m'Julie will point and announce at about 130 decibels
"EAT MORE CHIPS!"
Sunday was no exception and when we did see one on the M3, I almost had another MI as Julie shouted!
The first break was at Stonehenge. This is just of the A303, the route that we'd taken. Although I have driven up and down this road numerous times and seen it, I'd never stopped. Julie had never seen it other than in pictures or on TV, so it was a new experience for both of us.
It was surprising was how busy the place was. There was almost no space in the car park and the queue to get in was fairly long. However, as we had our English Heritage cards, we were able to 'queue-jump'. We spent about an hour walking around the site with Julie inevitably taking pictures, a couple of which are below. The downside was that although we had snow two weeks ago, this part of the UK didn't get it until a week after us and it was still, to quote m'Julie, 'Absolutely gibbering!'
After a quick hot drink we then continued our journey westward although there was another stop prior to our final destination, in Ottery St Mary. The reason for this detour was to visit my old school friend, drinking buddy, best man etc, Richard aka Pete, his wife Maree and his daughter Keira, who is three days older than my daughter Maggie.
Due to the time that we left, we realised that we would be arriving in Clovelly after dark, which made for an interesting journey. The reason that it was interesting was that as we got nearer, a mist/fog descended, not unlike that in the film of the same name. Whilst this made driving a little more difficult, it freaked m'Julie out completely, who found it very 'Hound of the Baskervilles-like'. However, as we drove from Higher Clovelly into Clovelly itself, the mist vanished, literally. One minute it was thick mist, the next, nothing.
Now it’s not possible to drive into the village itself, so what we had to do was park in the visitors car park. Normally, if you aren't staying in the village, you have to park here and enter via the visitors centre, there being an entry fee to the village. However, because we were staying, there was no entry fee. But, because we didn't arrive until after 6pm, the visitors centre was closed.
Fortunately, there is a side gate that's open 'out of hours' and we were able to make our way into the village via this. The initial path is quite steep, but tarmacked, and then the fun began. The path becomes steeper, and cobbled, which is fine if you're wearing thick-soled shoes, as I was, but not if the soles are thin, like m'Julie's. That was why, as we walked down the street to the hotel, my progress was accompanied by the sound of footfalls and m'Julie's was accompanied by the sound of footfalls and her saying 'ow', 'ouch' etc.
However, the torture didn't last long as the hotel where we were staying was about half-way down the hill. Having booked in and dumped the bags in the room, we decided to have a walk down to the harbour, but only after m'Julie had changed her shoes.
We walked part of the way down to the harbour, but because it was so dark, we could hear nothing and decided to leave it until the following day. So it was back to the hotel, dinner and sleep.
After a pretty good night's sleep (well, on my part at least) and a good breakfast, m'Julie and I headed up to the visitor centre to watch the video about the village. Then we decided to make our way to the harbour, stopping at all the points of interest in-between. At least m'Julie was wearing her trainers today and we didn't have a repeat of the previous evening.
Having seen all the sights on the way down through the village, we arrived at the harbour just in time for lunch, so we had a pub lunch at the pub on the quay.
By the time we'd eaten, the tide had gone out and we were able to make our way along the 'beach' to a waterfall. I say 'beach' because this is no golden sand sun-kissed beach, this one is bleak, battered by the Atlantic and consists of large pebbles/boulders. The waterfall is often more fierce than when we saw it and there is a legend that the cave behind the waterfall is the place where Merlin was born.
I also discovered, whilst taking the pictures, that if, after taking the picture, I continued to hold the camera to my face, then m'Julie would carry on posing in front of the waterfall, getting more and more wet. Well I laughed!
After this, it was the long walk back up the hill to the hotel and another pint before having an afternoon doze.
Feeling suitably refreshed we then set off up the hill again to the Norman church of All Saints. This was quite a walk, including a slight detour when we went through a gate, thinking that it was a short-cut to the church, only to discover that it seemed to lead into the grounds of the person who owns the village.
After walking back to the hotel and having something to eat, we decided that walking up and down the hill that is Clovelly had knackered us and we retired to our room for the rest of the evening.
After another good night's sleep and breakfast, it was time to say goodbye to Clovelly for the circuitous return journey to Kent. I say circuitous because our first stop was Exeter.
As I have already said, I lived in Exeter for four years just after I got married. I had done my training there and my eldest son was born there. But this was the first time that I had been back since leaving in May 1994. m'Julie, on the other hand, had never been there.
Again, it wasn't to be straight forward as Gadget Girl had taken a liking to a camera she'd seen and we had to detour to a couple of shops to try and find one. Unfortunately, they only had them in silver, and not the red that she wanted.
For that reason, m'Julie had to use the perfectly good camera that she already owned to take the photos in Exeter Cathedral.
After walking around the Cathedral, we had some lunch and then I decided to visit the old school of nursing to see who was still around. I was to get a shock.
The school of nursing, when I'd trained had been in the old maternity home. So we drove to where it had been located, only to discover that it was no longer the school of nursing, but now an old peoples home. In fact, one of the ladies that I spoke with told me that many of the residents had actually been born there. I suspect that the school has now been moved to the site of the main hospital, which has changed a lot in the last 15 years, especially the fact that the old concrete-cancer riddled tower block that had housed the wards has been pulled down.
After briefly pointing out to m'Julie a couple of the houses where I'd lived in Exeter, we set off homeward again, this time with a detour for m'Julie to the town of Glastonbury, as neither of us had ever been there.
The intention had been that we would visit Glastonbury Tor have a look round the town and then carry on. However, the only way to get to the Tor is either a long walk or a bus ride, which we didn't really have time to do either, although we did see the Tor from a distance.
I have to say that my impression of the town of Glastonbury was not very favourable. It was full of either beggars or 'pseudo-hippies' (these are the ones that are wearing their designer hippy gear, paid for with the allowance that they get from their parents, who are either something in the City, doctors or lawyers, and these 'hippies' are on their gap year before going to University to study Law or Medicine) and the town is full of over-priced shops selling fake 'New Age' products, priced to fleece the allowance away from the pseudo-hippies.
The only upside was that when we had a drink before leaving, the guy that was working in the kitchen (possibly the owner) was the spitting image of James May.
So now we had what turned out to be the longest part of our journey, not in distance, but in time, because we had the 'joy' of driving round the world’s biggest car park, also known as the M25! As a result of this, we were both shattered when we got home, although we both felt that even though we'd only been away for two days, it seemed to be a lot longer.
Now we had twelve hours to recover before the kids descended on us............