Friday, October 08, 2010

A to Z Year : August 13th - September 23rd : letters Q, R and S

If you had said to me at the outset of this A-Z adventure, that we would manage to find LOADS of things to for the letter Q, I don’t think I would have believed you, in fact I would have been rather quizzical, and perhaps I would have questioned your sanity! But, you know what? Q was quite a doddle!

It helped that we didn’t have a lot of other things already scheduled for this fortnight that we needed to work around, so we could pretty much devote ourselves to Q-related activities.

For a start, we made sure we watched loads of episodes of the TV show QI – hardly a chore, as it’s one of our favourite programmes anyway. Who doesn’t love Stephen Fry?

And I decided to make my current CJ entry a mini quilt – entirely fabric – instead of one of my usual paper based pages. It didn’t half take forever! In fact by the time I finished it, we weren’t in Q fortnight any more, but we were when I started it, so hopefully that still counts.

Our first big Q-event was a day trip to Windsor to see the Queen! Well that was the idea, but it turns out she wasn’t home. Oh well!

But all was not lost as we saw the castle anyway, and also there is a series of geocaches in Windsor Great Park which are dedicated to the Quercus Robur – that’s the Great English Oak tree to me and you – so we did those instead of having afternoon tea with her Maj :)

We did find one Queen in Windsor before we set off for home – a lovely old locomotive on display near the station – built in Swindon, no less.

And we also walked past this giant Q on Windsor High Street, which was a nice coincidence.

All in all – a quality day out!

Earlier the same week we had also been to Legoland (2 trips to Windsor in the same week, no less, we're almost locals) - where, thanks to it being the summer holidays, the queues were horrendous!  an hour and a half for the log flume! 

Thankfully, they have a marvellous little contraption for hire at Legoland called a Q-Bot, which allows you to pretty much skip the lines, so we got a couple of those.  They aren’t cheap - £15 per person in the summer holidays, ouch! – but I only got them for the boys, and as I had got our main entrance tickets free with Tesco vouchers, I didn’t mind parting with thirty quid to avoid them being stuck in queues for half the day.  I had taken my little quilt along to work on anyway, so I didn’t mind so much missing out on most of the rides.
The following week, Connor and I headed over to Quedgeley one evening to see Jay - and he took us out for dinner at the Gloucester Quays complex, to the Angel Chef Chinese buffet, which was delicious, can't wait to go back there!

Oh and I made a new geocaching blogger friend called Hannah, whose surname begins with Q :) :) :)

We were back to Quedgeley the following weekend, as we stayed over at Jay's for the whole weekend for a change.

We went shopping in Gloucester first, mainly for computer games, and we very nearly bought this one just because it was the only one that started with Q :)  but we resisted as it was pretty pricey and we couldn’t find one in the second hand section.

Next, as a Q-related treat, we took the boys to the local Laser Quest – I thought they would both love it, but it turned out I was only 50% right.  Reece had a brilliant time charging around shooting people, but Connor found it all a bit dark and claustrophobic and bailed out after a few minutes.

At least I got a photo of them both in their gear first:

My other plan had been to take them both quad biking – but I couldn’t find anywhere local where it was offered for their age, sadly, most places were for 14+ or even 16+ only.

We did at least SEE someone riding a quad the next day while we were geocaching, I guess that almost counts.

That evening we had a visit from Michelle & Tracy as they are also doing the A-Z thing and therefore needed to visit Quedgeley to tick off another Q. They had been to a Playhouse Disney event and brought us back some quirky hats :)

We had quiche and quorn escalopes for dinner – yum.

Oh, and Reece found a Q on the end of his Smarties tube :)

The following day, we went on a different kind of quest – on a geocaching trail called the Coldwell Quarks series.

And yes, we chose it just because it had a Q in it, but I’m so glad we did as it turned out to be the best series we have done yet!
I’ve already covered this series in detail with lots of piccies in this post, so won’t repeat myself here. But here is a Q-related item we found in one of the churches along the trail :

Connor and I completed Q fortnight with a midweek visit to London to visit my dad, and also the Queen (seeing as she wasn’t home when we went to Windsor).

This wasn’t a real royal audience, of course, it was the waxwork Queen at Madame Tussauds.

We “met” Freddie Mercury too – from the other Queen.

And the whole experience involved us standing in lots of queues, as the place was packed!

To end Q-fortnight, here’s my favourite quotation:

There is no use trying, said Alice; one can't believe impossible things.

I dare say you haven't had much practice, said the Queen. When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

Next it was R fortnight, which ran from August 27th to September 9th

The big news for this fortnight was that we gained a new resident – Sanrio the cat – Rio for short.

She is an adorable little thing, she followed Ethan home one day and has refused to leave ever since. We have tried really hard to find her owners, but with no luck. So it looks like she’s ours now!

The first weekend during R fortnight was the August bank holiday. We didn’t have Reece with us to start with as he was up at Alton Towers with his mum and brother enjoying the rides. I would blog a pic but nobody took a camera – shock horror! I never go anywhere without at least my camera phone, would be lost without the ability to snap snap snap away.

For example – I used the start of R fortnight as a good excuse to stock up on my favourite tipple, Reef (yummmmmm) – and it got subjected to a little photo shoot before I would let myself drink any :)

Neither could I resist this shot of Connor playing Rayman Raving Rabbids on the Wii, which he dragged out especially in honour of the letter R.

On the Saturday we mainly chilled out – nothing wrong with a bit of Rest & Relaxation – and then in the evening, some recreation – a game of skittles!

This was organised by Jay’s workplace, and so I got to meet a lot of his work colleagues, including his boss Rachael.

The following day we went to Tyntesfield House near Bristol. This is a unique National Trust property, in as much as it is unfinished, but you are still allowed to look around. It is a relatively recent acquisition for the Trust, and therefore it is still undergoing major renovation and restoration (you can see why we chose to go here for R now :) )

It really is a fascinating place, it’s going to be amazing when it is all “finished”, but it’s also a real treat to be able to see it as a work in progress.

One of the most exciting bits was climbing up a tower of scaffolding to a viewing platform up at the rooftop level – it makes you feel a little like Mary Poppins (or Dick Van Dyke if you’re a boy), as it’s not a view you ever usually get of such a grand building. Or of any building really, unless you install TV aerials for a living :)

They also had a trail for Connor which involved hunting all over the grounds for clues – one of which was in the Rose Garden, guarded by this rather handsome lion – rooooaarrrrr!

The NT staff here are even cool, hip and “bang on trend” enough to have hidden their own set of 6 geocaches throughout the grounds. We only found a couple today but we were very pleasantly surprised at the size of them – they were listed as size Small, but I think my caching buddies would agree that these big boxes were at least Regular size.

The following day, with Reece back in the gang, we attempted a rescue mission. One of our geocaching travel bugs - Three Boys One Shoe - was logged into a cache on Selsley Common near Stroud, which was reputedly in a really bad state of repair (broken lid, contents soaked, etc)

We thought it best that we should find the cache, retrieve the travel bug, and then re-locate it somewhere safer.

Sadly when we got to the cache, which involved a nice long walk up on the common, and solving some clues to find the final location, the travel bug wasn’t there :(  It looks like that one’s lost now. We really don’t have an awful lot of luck with trackables!

But never mind, it was a glorious day anyway, and we had a rip-roaringly good time up on the common, relishing the stunning views, and watching the paragliders running off the side of the hill (ok they jump more than run, but that doesn’t begin with R, and I’m on a roll here! :)  )

And Reece wrote R+O on the hill using rocks - a very sweet declaration to girlfriend Olivia, awwww

The weekend after that, we had a free day on the Saturday and so we wanted to do something R-specific. We had a good look around the local “things to do”, and found a place called The Living Rainforest in Berkshire – perfect :)

We didn’t do any research about the place before we got there (not like me!), so didn’t really know what to expect, but we were really impressed with it when we got there.

There are two large greenhouses, within which they have recreated a convincingly immersive rainforest ecology. There are all sorts of animals and birds in there, some roaming completely free.  And lots of amazing looking plants too.

We went in there twice, the first time there were a few other families in there and maybe all that noise and activity kept a few of the animals at bay – because the second time we went through – wow! – it was just us in there and we saw SO many more of the free roaming lizards, birds etc out and about.

But the most exciting thing we saw was the miracle of reproduction – up close and personal. No, we didn’t interrupt any of the animals in a moment of intimacy with their mate :)  But we did see a giant tortoise laying her eggs, which was sooo cool. She had dug a hole, into which she laid the eggs (those things shoot out like ping pong balls lol, making a very satisfying “ploppp” sound :) ), and then presumably later on she buried them.

We went and told a member of staff what was happening, and they were excited about it too, so it must be quite a rare event.

I’m really glad we came here, yet another great experience that we probably would never have had if it wasn’t for the A-Z Year!

Finishing up R fortnight, on the second Sunday we finally saw the return of ice hockey to Swindon after the long summer – it was their launch day today for the new team, so we all returned to the rink to see the new roster revealed.

Some of us wore red shoes, to match the Swindon Wildcats kit colour.

After the skate-out, the team put on a barbeque in the garden of the nearby pub (that was very nearly rained off, but the sun came out just in the nick of time).

Connor had his photo taken with lots of players including captain Lee Richardson and coach Ryan Aldridge

And some brave people took the risk of eating meat that the players had rather inexpertly cooked. Hopefully they didn’t all wake up the next day with the runs :D

Finally, for this mammoth A-Z roundup – the letter S – S for Sarah :)

We went swimming twice during this fortnight – partly for S and partly because we had some free family swim vouchers from British Gas, which was handy. It’s a pity they were only valid for September – they were saving us £20 a visit!

After our soak on the first S Saturday, we headed over to Stroud, to a gallery called the Space, to see Jay’s brother Simon’s first ever solo art exhibition. Very exciting!

Bros :)
It was great to see all his art up on the walls, and we bought one for the hallway at home (a smaller version of the big piccie with Reece in the photo), so one of the first things people see as they come into my house now is a cornet of delicious Winstones ice cream by my super talented brother-in-law (kinda) (I mean he’s only kinda my bro-in-law, he is definitely super talented!)

And Connor got to try on Si's cool bug-eye sunglasses :)

We hotfooted it back to Swindon in time for the first Saturday night hockey game of the new season (well, it was a pre-season friendly, but it’s still hockey!). Our opponents this week were the Telford Tigers, which meant the return to the rink of my favourite ever Wildcat (who now plays for Telford) – the Slovakian forward Tomas Janak.

I brought my camera along and got the mickey taken out of me big time as I snapped away, with 9 out of 10 pics being of Tomas – Jay had to keep reminding me there were other players on the ice :)

On the Sunday, I was supposed to meet up with my sister and our cousins Susan and Liz in Somerset – that would be all the girls from the Southam line together as all our mothers were sisters – but sadly that got cancelled at the eleventh hour.

S is for Soldiers
So instead, we went to a very cool National Trust property up in the North Cotswolds called Snowshill Manor. This place is awesome. It used to be owned by this chap who was a bit like Ripley from Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, in as much as he amassed this amazingly eclectic collection of wonderful stuff from all over the world. He filled his huge stately home with his collection, to the extent that there was no room to live in it any more, and he had to live in the stable block next door instead.

All of the items in the collection are displayed in themed rooms, with low lighting and no labels or signage, to add to the sense of theatre.

The most stunning of all the rooms is the Samurai room – full of mannequins wearing full suits of spectacular Samurai armour. The dingy light, and the way their masks all seem to be staring at you, make this room very spooky!

The grounds were great too, and there was a really fun trail for the kids where they had to find little displays showing them how to spot evidence of the various animal occupants of the area – each display showed the animal’s tracks, plus a model of their droppings (I’m resisting the temptation to use the sh** word, S fortnight or not!), complete with the appropriate smell!

They had to sniff each one and mark on the sheet which one smelled the worst :) 

There was also a lovely restaurant here where we had a delicious Sunday roast, a games tent where we found a vintage Snakes and Ladders game to play, and a really cool second hand book shop, where we bought some bargains, like a massive Art Attack book for only £1.

After looking around the manor (for hours, it was SO fascinating!), we took a walk through a sheep-filled field to a nearby geocache, called the Alternative Snowshill Collection. The cache owner asked for animal themed swag only in this one, so we had come prepared. We swapped all our animal goodies for non animal-themed items, to try to get the theme back on track.

On the way to the cache we found this amazing natural sculpture. From a distance it had looked like a pair of hands meeting in an arch – think Monty Burns as he says “eeexcellent” – but as we approached we could see that it was simply a tree that had been blown over into a strange shape.

It made for a great photo op all the same.

During the week I started work on a Shakespeare CJ – my entry was the Taming of the Shrew

On the second S weekend, we had big S-related plans. We were going to visit the world’s most famous stone circle at Stonehenge, and also Old Sarum castle.

As we drove down towards Salisbury, however, we hit really bad traffic. The M4 was closed because of an accident, and it seems that everyone and his dog had diverted down the tiny little road through Marlborough, and we pretty much stopped moving altogether.

So by the time we reached Woodhenge – the first stop on our planned journey (yes, I know it doesn’t begin with S, but Jay and Reece hadn’t been there before, I wanted to pick up the virtual cache that I missed the previous time, and it was on the way, so ner) – we were already severely behind schedule.  I was wondering if we would have time to do Stonehenge and Old Sarum justice, given we had to be back in Swindon by 5pm for hockey.

Then, serendipitously, we met some fellow cachers (they spotted our GPS as we were having our qualifying photos taken for the Woodhenge virtual cache), who told us that Imber village on Salisbury Plain was open!

You may remember our visit in the summer to Tyneham village in Dorset – which was evacuated in wartime for use as a training ground for the army, and then never given back to its former inhabitants. Imber is another similar ghost village, again the villagers were promised that they could go home after the war, again the army reneged on their word :(

It is very rare that the public are granted access to Imber – unlike Tyneham which is open most weekends – so we spontaneously changed plans and headed up there, via another virtual cache called the Sun Gap.

It was fascinating to visit, if a little squished (but I guess that’s because it isn’t open very often so everyone has to come at once). And we were lucky enough to hear the bells ring from the church for the first time in 70 years, as a new set of bells has only just been installed.

On the way home we followed a different route to avoid the bad traffic, and ended up driving through Avebury. We had sandwiches there for lunch at an old pub in sight of Silbury Hill, which took our virtual cache count today up to 4 (Woodhenge, Sun Gap, Imber and Silbury). And the boys played on the tree swing.

That evening, after more Swindon Wildcats hockey (sadly without swoon-worthy Slovaks this time), we collected our new pet Giant African Land Snails.

They aren’t very giant yet - that's centimetres not inches :)

As there are 3 of them, we have named them after the 3 brothers in the movie Slapshot – Jeff, Jack and Steve.

They are so cute, we are looking forward to seeing them grow (hopefully to a sufficient size whereby I can stencil the Chiefs logo on their shells lol)

And that’s S wrapped up. As usual this has been a monster post, thank you for sticking with it if you made it this far down.

I’ll be back soon with tales of the letter T (just coming to an end) and U (which we are totally unprepared for, with precisely zero ideas so far!)


ally said...

wow fab stuff!! We took a very similar pic of windsor castle but there ws no giant feris wheel when we went :(
If you ever coming caching in epping forest or harlow,essex let me know one is 500ft from my house in harlow. we could meet up with my tribe :)

Hannah said...

I just love this idea of the A-Z challenge. How did you come about it?
I'm also honoured that I get a mention; there aren't too many people with a surname starting with Q!

Anonymous said...

I am sure you have underrated your ability to undertake something unique, unorthodox, unusual and unbelievable for U fortnight. It would be a little unnerving though and somewhat untidy if you ended up wearing your underwear upside down, or even underwater! I guess we'll all have to wait until U fortnight to find out!!

:) Annie