Friday, December 03, 2021

Carlisle Victorian and Turkish Baths

Carlisle, Cumbria, UK. Monday 22-November-2021

We booked ourselves on a tour of these baths given by Friends of Carlisle Victorian and Turkish Baths. I have to say the baths are an architectural gem: beautiful tile-work and stained glass windows. Some of the original features are intact and in lovely condition.    

It has a central plunge pool surrounded by benches. Out the back are steam rooms and saunas of various degrees of heat and humidity, not as pretty. Apparently the original tiles are still there but hidden under wood panelling. 

What I learnt was that these, and other baths up and down the country, were not for relaxation but were essential bath and wash houses for the urban poor who had no ready access to cleaning facilities. 

The first such public baths were opened in Liverpool in 1842 thanks to the inspiration of Kitty Wilkinson following a cholera outbreak caused by poor public health. These baths are a later example but still provided essential facilities for the local factory workers living in poor housing and unsanitary conditions.

They are Grade II listed: "This set of Edwardian Turkish Baths constructed in 1909 have been designated for the following principal reasons:

  • Decorative Scheme; the original internal decorative tiling and glazed faience work by the respected company Minton and Hollins of Stoke, notably in the cool room, is of good quality and complete
  • Intactness: alterations are few and the original plan of the baths remains intact which renders the Turkish Bathing process highly readable.
  • Rarity: this building is an increasingly rare example of a once common building form, of which only around 20 remain in England; it compares very favourably with the eight existing listed Turkish Baths."

[Listing 1393755]

More stained glass in the clerestory windows.

Upstairs they had just cleared out a room full of junk and clutter to provide public access for the first time ever to a lovely Art Deco skylight. 

The purpose of the Friends is "Campaigning to preserve and develop the Baths as health and wellbeing centre with the Turkish Baths as the centrepiece".  Their enthusiasm and dedication to promoting these is admirable, I wish them luck.

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Seasick Steve at The O2 City Hall

Newcastle, Tyne and Wear, UK. Thursday 17-November-2021.

Now we have moved from London to Penrith our local venues are no longer the O2 Arena, Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club or the Royal Albert Hall. We have to go further afield to see well known artists, in this case to Newcastle to see Seasick Steve for the fourth time.

Billed as "Just Steve, a guitar and you" that is exactly what we got. An excellent stripped back show with a number of old favourites plus some new songs and plenty of chat in between. 

Support from Kitty Macfarlane who was charming. She sang a song about eels, specifically the European Eel. I have a slight soft spot for eels from my time volunteering with the Wandle Trust. As part of their monthly community clean ups we would keep an eel tally as they wriggled out of old tyres, tins and scaffolding poles. The count of eels was an indication of the quality of the water.

Our friends drove back that night but we treated ourselves to a stay in the Maldron Hotel close by. We spent the next morning doing a tour of the town. Being a great fan of Wallace and Gromit we enjoyed the Fenwick's Christmas window display.

The castle was impressive and would have been more so had not the Victorians decided to drive a railway viaduct slap bang through the middle of it!

We learned about Grey's Monument built to honour the man responsible for the Reform Act of 1832, the first of many acts gradually extending the voting franchise and removing "rotten boroughs".

Then home via the iconic Angel of the North.

It is 20m high by 54m wide! That's me in the picture to give an idea of scale.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Road Trip, November 2021

All over the place. November-2021

Straight after Winter Droving we set off on a road trip. It was only supposed to be a simple triangular trip: down to Axminster for a cookery course, up to London for an Elton John concert and home. Then Elton John went and broke his hip, our friend Alan announced his 70th birthday party and we realised that our friends John and Andrea were a minor detour off our route. So this is what we did.

Sunday 31-October-2021. Cranham, Gloucester. We called in for a meal with our old friends John and Andrea who we have not seen for ages along with their son, my godson, Julian. We ate, we drank, we chatted. So that was nice.

Monday 01-October-2021. Gardener's cottage, near Axminster. We booked ourselves two nights self catering accommodation in the gardener's cottage at River cottage HQ. It had two double bedrooms and as we had paid for the whole place we invited our friends Tim and Sarah to join us as our guests. They arrived from the Isle of Wight and we went to the local pub for supper.

Tuesday 02-November-2021. River cottage HQ. Much More Veg cookery course. The day was spent most enjoyably with a hands-on cookery course learning about new recipes, techniques, vegetables. It turned out to be vegan not just vegetarian, which suited Mary (being intolerant to lactose) and the vegan attendee very well - possibly why they did it. Apparently they do not advertise it as vegan because they fear that may put put some people off. We started off with the basics: a vegetable stock into which you chuck just about everything including onions skin and all. 

We picked a number of herbs and vegetables for the stock and other recipes:

  • Split pea hummus
  • River Cottage Green Herb Sauce (Salsa Verde)
  • Flat breads
  • Vegetable curry
  • Spiced Emmer
  • Roasted Apple, Daikon, Celeriac and Sage
  • Garden Bhajis
  • Oaty Nutty Chocolate ‘Tiffin’

Tim and Sarah had brought along ingredients for a self catering meal that evening but as it turned out there was so much left from the day's course that all four of us dined on that alone and there was still some left over for a doggy bag the next day.

Wednesday 03-November-2021. Denbies vineyard, Dorking. We had a couple of days to while away until Alan‘s birthday do on the Saturday. Mary found a mid week deal from Denbies hotel so we signed up for that: two nights dinner, bed and breakfast plus a cream tea and a tasting of their own sparkling wines.

We drove from Axminster to Ringwood and had lunch at one of our old locals, The Alice Lisle, Then on to Dorking arriving in time for the cream tea.

The cream tea was delicious but the wines were all a little tart for my palette.

Thursday 04-November-2021. Polesden Lacey. We have not had enough opportunity to use our NT membership of late but here we were able to fit in a good long walk round the grounds of Polesden Lacey.

Lots of woodland and mushrooms everywhere. 

We needed somewhere to stay on Friday so we made another booking in Denbies for that night. Part of the reason is that there is a parkrun round the vineyard on Saturday morning. 

Friday 05-November-2021. Speaker audition. Our current speakers are a little large for our new living room so we went up to Graham's Hi-Fi in north London to listen to some smaller speakers. We tried listening to the same speakers as we have in Italy but they were disappointing in a smaller room so we went upmarket. We have now opted for some niche Australian speakers (Serhan Swift Mu2. Mark II). On the way back we stopped for a lovely lunch at Unwined at Waterloo.

Saturday 06-November-2021, part 1. Parkrun tourism. After breakfast we just had to walk out the front door to get to the start line. For me it was my 29th different venue and my 103rd Parkrun. It sounds lovely running round the vineyards but vineyards like slopes and the first part of the course is a long, steady uphill; I was reduced to something very close to walking. The second half is downhill, I picked up a bit of speed and came in under 30 minutes.

Saturday 06-November-2021, part 2. Scattering my parents ashes. After my father died my mother never could bring herself to answer the question of disposal of my father’s ashes. Nor would she ever express a preference regarding her own arrangements. So his ashes have been sitting at the undertakers for several years until Mum died. They had no special places we could go for. In the end we decided the Thames was an appropriate location. My father was a Londoner, my parents met and married in London, their first home together was in London and us three children were all born there. 

We chose a spot between the Globe Theatre and Tate Modern as my father particularly was fond of Shakespeare and the arts. Appropriately with St Paul's behind us which contains the Chapel of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Dad was awarded the MBE for services to architecture which allowed Mary and I to get married there.

We went in order of seniority, me first, then Ian.

And finally Jane who also read a short poem.

The flowers went downstream as the tide turned.

The tide was high so we were unable to get right down to the strand. On the other hand it meant the tide turned and their ashes were swept down the river to the sea. We all three agreed that it was a job well done and a lovely send off.

PS. The Port of London authority website said that it’s okay to scatter ashes in the Thames with certain provisos like ‘not off a bridge’ and ‘don’t chuck the urn in afterwards'!

Saturday 06-November-2021, part 3. Alan‘s 70th birthday party. We switched from Denbies to a local B&B so that we would have a very short stagger home after the party. A wise choice. It turned out that our hostess at the B&B was one of the volunteers at that morning's parkrun so I was glad that I had given her a cheery "Thank you marshal" as I passed.

The party itself was a great success and it was lovely to meet up with many old friends who I haven’t seen in real life for a while. Let's hope it won't be too long till we meet again.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Brunswick Road 07 - Loft, fireplace, kitchen clearing

Penrith, Cumbria. October/November-2021

A mixture of construction and destruction tackling the loft, fireplace and kitchen. We gained space in the loft and lost some in the kitchen. 

Boarding the Loft. 

I’m getting the hang of this loft boarding malarkey. Much easier when you don’t have to wrestle existing insulation. Note the sarking boards supporting the tiles - typically Scottish but also found elsewhere.

The other end shows the light well above the stairs (currently used for access) and the space where we will have a hatch and ladder installed when we can get hold of a joiner.

I wasn’t even half done when the suitcases, hifi boxes and Christmas tree were up there. It’s even fuller now.

Restoring the fireplace. 

The next big piece of work is restoring the fireplace, Opening the hearth and installing new uprights. We used the same stonemason as for Benson Row. The stonemason discovered unsupported brickwork inside the chimney (!) so there is a now a second concrete lintel supported on brick pillars hidden behind the stone one. We now have our own mini Stonehenge. 

Still to do: cleaning and superficial distressing to get a better colour match.

Acro props to hold up the lintel (and probably the rest of the chimney!)

The middle section that used to be a back boiler now gone.

Cutting the new uprights in the back alley.

New hearth stone in place ready for the uprights.

New uprights in place.

The stone dries lighter as the cement dries out. The lintel has been given a light chiselling to remove the old cement and plaster.

Now we have to decide what we do with the fireplace. We could line the flue and have a real fire grate or log burning stove. For now we will put in a decorative fake stove.

Clearing the Kitchen.

Next up is redoing the kitchen floor. The door opening into the utility room will be moved and expanded ready for the floor works. The concrete floor will be dug down so that a multi-layer sandwich can be laid: waterproof membrane, insulation, electric underfloor heating mat, self-levelling screed and finally lino. Hopefully the latter will be down just as we leave for two weeks over Christmas and New Year.

The kitchen has to be cleared for this. All the old units are gone as are all our temporary work surfaces. We want to keep the sink as long as possible so are doing a cutaway unit to make the floor accessible. Nothing like a power jigsaw for cabinet destruction.

A flying sink so the workmen can dig up the concrete floor beneath.

All kitchen units have now been ripped out. The bridge table will go shortly.

Dining room now with the kitchen corner. With the delayed timetable from our kitchen fitter we have treated ourselves to an Ikea induction hob and a combination oven and microwave.

The next couple of months are going to be challenging in terms of eating and dishwashing. 

The mantra is “It'll be lovely when it’s finished”.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Winter Droving 2021

Penrith, Cumbria. Thursday/Saturday 28/30-October-2021.

Winter Droving was one of the reasons we ended up living in Penrith. Our first Winter Droving was in 2016 when we came up to Penrith to visit our friends and had much more fun than I was expecting. We returned for subsequent Winter Droving’s and ended up buying a second home here. When Covid hit we stayed up in Penrith and after a year sold our London flat and made Penrith our main home. 

There was no Winter Droving last year and this year they made a number of changes to accommodate the pandemic. For a start they spread it over three days. I believe the thinking was that this would reduce each day’s crowd numbers and hence lower the risk of a super spreader event. 

I think three days was somewhat ambitious, just Friday and Saturday might have worked better. As it turned out the rain on Thursday effectively turned it into a two day event. 

On Thursday one of the excellent local bands, Ponyland, appeared in the upstairs room at Fell bar and did an excellent set. Loud and energetic, we were amazed we did not all end up on the ground floor.

Reducing the crowding was the logic behind abandoning the evening parade. Instead they had a static display of the animal lanterns in Saint Andrew’s Church yard along with an excellent fire-breathing Dragon which did flame-throwing every half hour.


Fire-breathing Dragon.

Apart from that it was pretty similar to previous years: craft stalls, excellent food stalls, street entertainers, a funfair and live music at several venues around the town centre.

I got roped in from the audience to help Nula Hula.

Nula Hula.

Big wheel.

The Melodrome returns. It clearly does the rounds as we also saw it at SolFest.

Music at the bandstand from Delagrave, another excellent local band.

We had our first guests staying in the new house: Mary's sister, her husband, their eldest and his girlfriend. They all seemed to enjoy it. Once the guests had departed we set off on a weeklong road trip...