Friday, 25 September 2009

Wanna Buy a House? Or Hear a Poem?

I have a bit of a lower back problem today. Every so often something 'clicks' at the end of my spine. It is something I just have to let take its course and heal itself. Tried chiropractors and osteopaths in the past but they have not helped speed this pain away.

So today I took a slow stroll along a track to a much neglected area of the estate. The first stop was at the old bothy. A neighbour nearby says it was once 'the Lodge', but that must have been 40 or more years ago by the looks of the place.

Almost next to it is a large walled garden. It is about the size of two football pitches and was once tended by half a dozen gardeners of varying grades. I have a photo of this walled garden as it was in the days of the 12th Earl of Haddington. I shall have to try to dig it out.

Today it is massively overgrown. Nature hates a vacuum so she has filled this space with trees and bushes; almost impenetrable now.

Whilst standing there in that now overgrown jungle I thought I'd mention William Henry Davies who wrote the poem 'Leisure'. Many will know the first two lines at least which, today, are still as meaningful as when he wrote them in the 20th century.

I met my neighbour, Alice from the east lodge cottage on my way back. She had 'Flossie' with her, an elderly border collie. Flossie's owner is a midwife who lives in a cottage a few doors from me but has gone to Canada for a year and had to leave Flossie with Alice. I am sometimes allowed to take Flossie for a walk. As she is about as old as me, in doggy years, our walkies are gentle strolls; she doesn't pull when on the lead and she doesn't dash off when the lead is taken off. A lovely old gal, but I think she misses her 'mum' who's in Canada for another 6 months at least.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Kelso Abbey and an ex-Prime Minister

Very sorry about the noisy traffic but that's life nowadays, wherever you live!

Kelso Abbey would have been ab fab in days of yore. Started in 1128 Kelso Abbey was one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture. Finally finishedin 1243 , it was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and St John. It was one of the largest Abbeys in Scotland.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Abbot of Kelso was granted the right to wear a mitre, which gave him a precedence higher than any other Scottish abbot.

Two kings, James III and James IV, were crowned in the Abbey, and Prince Henry, son of David I, was buried there in 1152.

There's another Abbey in Melrose, about 12 miles from where we live in Mellerstain. I may try some videos there one day. The heart of Robert the Bruce, brought back from the crusades, is buried in the precincts of Melrose Abbey. Melrose Abbey is about 500 years older than Kelso Abbey. Built to last, were they not!

The video below is just a short look at the recent statue of Lord Alec Douglas Home (pronounced Hume), one time prime minister of England. He was the 14th Earl of Home and his estate is The Hirsel, in Coldstream. He renounced his peerage to become PM for about one year, (October 1963-October 1964). He died in October 1995, aged 92.

Coldstream is the home of the Coldstream Guards, formed in 1650 and is the oldest regiment in the regular British army. Coldstream is a true 'Border town', separated from England by the river Tweed, with England on the south side of the river and Coldstream on the north. It has been 'in the wars' over the years, having been twice demolished during the 'border wars'. However, it is still going strong - and very peacefully now, thank goodness!

Music: Avé Maria

Monday, 21 September 2009

My Scruffy Cottage Garden

This is a short stroll through my untidy little back garden and to the east gates of Mellerstain House.

Their gardens are much better kept than mine. But they have a couple of chaps to do theirs; I'm chief cook, bottle washer and grass cutter in my bit of Mellerstain.

Background music: Pavane (Fauré)

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Cheeky Gardener,Bumbles and Ginger Ice Cream

It is such a glorious day today I decided to wander around Mellerstain.

Gordon Low, the gardener, was making out he was working. Ha!

The Bumble Bees were bumbling happily.

A few visitors were enjoying a visit.

And I went in search of my favourite ice cream: Doddington Double Ginger. Believe yew mee, thart ther is a dee-lish-ushhh flavour.

BTW: The background music is part of Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Bernard Miles Monologue and Miles of Walls!

This is a monologue by the late, great Lord Bernard Miles. He was a much-loved actor and all-round jolly good chap. I was lucky enough to hear him give talks in St. Olave's Church in London where I sometimes spent my lunch hour when I was a civil servant.

Bernard Miles was a great raconteur. His anecdotes and monologues were unique. I wanted to let you hear one of them and the only way I could work out how to do this was to treat a recording of his as 'music' on a video!

Now I'm probably doing it the 'hard' way. That's not untypical of me. However, as I was driving home via Kelso I thought I'd show you how long part of the wall of Floors Castle is. So, my wife held the Flip video gizmo whilst I drove past part of the wall. I then chose to add this Bernard Miles monologue and cut out the sound of the video itself (which was mainly the sound of the car engine!). Towards the end of the video the monologue begins again; I don't think it's posssible for me to stop it, but never mind.

This extensive castle wall was said, by some, to have been built by Napoleonic prisoners of war, in the early 1800s. There were some 100,000 French POWs in the UK at one time and it would not have surprised me if some of them were made to do such building works - but I think this is a myth as far as Floors Castle wall is concerned. What the video shows is probably only half of the wall!

It's certainly a well built affair and it is still as solid as when it was was first constructed.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Murder, Violence, Treachery, Arson - and More!

The river Tweed runs through the Scottish Borders down to Berwick on Tweed. Once the most disputed border town in the UK. Berwick on Tweed is, officially, and English town. Its football team is, however, in the Scottish league!

The Tweed is a favourite river for anglers. They pay a licence fee to fish for salmon in this majestic river which meanders, and sometimes rushes, through the Borders including the town of Kelso.

Six miles from Kelso is the small village of Smailholm. Today I left my car and climbed to where 'The Tower House' of Smailholm still guards the surrounding area.

It's a steep climb and by the time I enter the tower I needed a short rest.

I did not fancy the further climb up the steep winding stone staircases to the very top. I've been there, done that - but still haven't got the tee-shirt!

For 300 years Scottish and English borderers endured violence, treachery, murder, arson, raiding and robbery. They lived in constant fear and often misery and squalor. The stories of the 'REIVERS' are many and varied. Bloody reminders of those fearful days.

Built in the 1500s this stone fortress in Smailholm housed people who were always vigilant and ready to repel the dreaded Reivers.

Smailholm Tower originally housed the Pringles and later the Scotts, two well established Scottish family names. Today it is a well-restored attraction and owned by Scottish Borders Council; open all the year round.

There were many of these tall tower houses in those violent and lawless days. Most of them have been demolished over the years but a number remain and tourists and visitors seek out those that still survive.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Another Castle - I've Got So Many, Ho Hum...

You know, of course, that the film director, Alfie Hitchcock, liked to appear at some point in his movies. So why not me? I am the producer, director, sound engineer, camera operator and narrator. This, however, is not likely to catch on in my case. I don't do mysteries. Not deliberately anyway! This little Flip Ultra video thing is so cheap and cheerful. It is easy to use and edit. OK, the definition is way below ideal - but good enough for the occasional amateur user. The novelty will wear off I suppose. Being a bloke, I'm a bit of a mug for gadgets and gizmos. Keeps me happy, as my missus would say, for about nine days. Perhaps I should call this blog The Chronicles of a Nine Day Wonder Bloke. What'dya think.

This short video is part of the extensive garden centre at Floors.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Lunch in a London Church - Try It

It's the late 1970s. I am travelling daily from Southend-on-Sea, Essex, to Fenchurch Street rail station and then walking to Custom House in Lower Thames Street. I had just been promoted to HEO and was leading a team of EO's (Executive Officers) known then as the Export Enquiry Unit.

Custom House is located twixt London Bridge and Tower Bridge. One of the most interesting and historic parts of dear old London town. This particular Custom House has one of the largest unsupported ceilings in the land. A huge room. Called 'The Long Room' which is the name given to all such rooms where duties are paid. It is here that all the importers and their agents come to present their documents and pay import duties and other taxes before they have their goods released by HM Customs & Excise.

My team investigated the other side of the coin: exports. Most of our time was spent out of the office, visiting various exporters and their agents for reasons I cannot divulge; official secrets and all that. (Taps right side of nose with forefinger...hush-hush){:-}

If working in the office, compiling reports etc., I would usually spend my lunch hour in church!

A very special church: St. Olaves in Hart Street. This is only a short walk from Custom House. An oasis in the busy concrete city of London. It is also the burial place of the renowned diarist Samuel Pepys. You've heard of Pepys, haven't you peeps? (Just a hint on pronunciation for non-Brits! ;-)

Why did I choose this place for my lunchtime break? Not to pray, nor to sing hymns. No, just to relax and perhaps have a bowl of spaghetti bolognese or shepherds pie.

Oh yes, this lovely church had some ladies who served some delicious lunches from a corner of the church for a price you decided to pay, as long as it was over 50p! Lovely grub, as we Londoner's would say. I wonder if they still do this? It was some sort of voluntary service and in aid of some charity I seem to recall. Anyway, one could collect your hot lunch and then take a pew. It was never crowded; frequently there might only be a dozen or so people there during the lunch break time.

But that was not all. Oh no! There were other delights in store for anybody who happened to wander into this delightful place at around 1 o'clock in the afternoon.

Free entertainment! And excellent entertainment too.

A professional string quartet on more than one occasion. A top-class piano recital on other days. Or poetry readings.

Or, (my favourite), a talk by none other than the late, great Bernard Miles! He was knighted in 1969, thus becoming Sir Bernard Miles. He was later elevated to the peerage (a Life Baron) and was thus Lord Bernard Miles was one of the few ever to be so honoured, (Laurence Olivier (Lord Olivier) was another notable peer).

Bernard Miles was a superb character actor and made many films. He also devoted a vast amount of his life, and money, in creating The Mermaid Theatre in London. Like many actors he was a devotee of Shakespeare and The Mermaid was created to be like a theatre in the Bard's day, with the audience seated around the stage, on three sides.

Bernard Miles was also a great story-teller. And this was where he excelled in my opinion. Peter Ustinov was another great raconteur and there are others, but Bernard Miles will always have top billing in my heart. He would spend around half-an-hour delighting the small audience with his tales. Some of them were quite risqué, especially when told in church! Here's just one of them (as best as I can remember it.)

"This old farmer had bought a brand new pair of boots. He was very proud of them, as being rather poor he seldom could afford new boots.

However, he was disappointed that his dear old wife had never commented on them. He was quite peeved at this. How could he make her notice them?

Then he had an idea! One evening he came into the sitting room stark naked, except for his shiny new boots. His wife was unconcerned.

"Well" says the farmer, "what do you think then?"

"About what?" asks his tired wife.

"Well look! Look where it's pointing..." he hints.

"Hmm.. pity you didn't buy a new hat then, aint it."

Of course, Bernard Miles told it with his wonderful rustic old 'farmer' voice and dialect. His style was unique. A truly great actor and a wonderful man.

If you are ever in the vicinity of St.Olave's church, do please look inside. You will love it, I'm sure.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Kelso: Town Fair 5 Sep 2009

Today, Saturday 5th September 2009, we drove to the nearby town of Kelso to do a spot of basic shopping. Forgot that the annual St. James'Fair weekend was on. Parking is restricted in Kelso this weekend but we were lucky to find a parking space at about midday, quite close to the town square. The St. Martin's Fair weekend is usually very busy and well attended, with all kinds of things on offer. Last year there were dozens of stalls with plenty of speciality foods and continental traders. Today, probably because of the heavy rains we have been having this week, there were none. A few hardy souls had risked the rain staying away today, which it did. Stayed for a short while and took a few snap videos and then drove back to Mellerstain. I've no idea what the programme is for tomorrow, Sunday, but somehow I doubt it will be very much at all. August and so far this September, the weather has been wet and windy.

PS. Just added a short clip of some younger Scottish dancers entertaining their mums, dads and everybody else with their energetic dancing. One girl has a little difficulty with the routine but she's anxious to do her best!

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Hermes - Winged Messenger of the Gods

Poor old Hermes has stood here in Mellerstain for many decades, in all weathers, uncomplaining. Faithfully watching the southern aspect of the house, ready at a moment's notice to fly to Zeus with any important message. One day he may learn how to use one of these new-fangled mobile phones but for now he's content to stay with the old tried and trusted system.