29 December 2014

Skinkansen - epic journeys by train

I will start this post right away by saying the Skinkansen is absolutely awesome, and quite possibly the best transport system in the world. Fast, efficient, reliable and comfortable to boot. During this current adventure we've taken the Shinkansen four times. Tokyo to Hiroshima via Osaka, back from Hiroshima to Kobe and then homebound to Tokyo. It's not surprising that each time we took it, the trains were punctual; to the minute, the second even. As it has to be said are the vast majority of trains I've taken in my 16+ years association with this country. You could probably count on one hand the number of times I've been delayed. Unfortunately that's not something I can say about my own country's transport network. The sheer joy of being taken across this vast mountainous land at 180 mph, with cities and fields flying by, knowing that you are going to be sitting in comfort just adds to the experience, the picture below hopefully illustrates this? And you don't have to be a train spotter to appreciate the trains themselves, they are just marvels of engineering. So my advice would be that if you have the time and the chance to experience Japan, you should incorporate at least one Shinkansen journey, if not more. And the best way to do that? Well how about using the rail pass illustrated below?

The Japan Rail Pass
To take full advantage of this wonderful transport network and the most convenient way to get around Japan is to purchase a rail pass. Our was for 7 days but you can get longer. It's valid on the Skinkansen and any other JR (Japan Rail) service, including the Narita Express. The amount saved when weighed against a single journey was almost enough to recoup our costs and with a number of localised journeys it was certainly a great purchase. A word of warning, you will need to get them validated and this can be done at Narita airport. Find the JR rail office at the railway station, below the terminal (ours was in terminal 1). So if you are visiting Japan and want to explore beyond the big city of Tokyo then this little card is a must. And it really will be worth the outlay. Happy travelling and please let me know if you feel the same about the pride of Japan. Have a great new year and thanks for reading. Happy travels in 2015 everyone. 

Coming soon: City review of Hiroshima


22 December 2014

"I Saw Three Trucks Go Driving By" or The Christmas Tree Debacle (Part3)

Previously: Our hero has seen some strange going ons in a house a few doors away. Christmas trees are being loaded into a truck and driven away at high speed. Upon investigating he gets collard into joining the carol singers and drinking mulled wine with a deaf old man. After going back to the house he finds it full of fake Christmas trees and has a run in with a parrot that is constantly repeating his name. We join our hero and the enraged parrot trying to escape as more and more Christmas trees catch fire. 

With the parrot in a blind panic and the Christmas trees continuing to go up in smoke and what with  the gas from the stove adding to the mix. It seemed I was about to become an ex-detective. I cared little for the parrot now and although regretting giving it the helium from the balloons I had at least some idea what was going on with the loading of the truck from yesterday. Looking for an exit route was proving difficult. The back door was too dangerous to approach and the front door was blocked by the now fully ablaze Christmas trees, I had no desire to be fried along with the parrot. Looking around the kitchen window was my best bet and so I clambered onto the sink and forced the window open, diving out just as the manic parrot came for one last attack before he was I presumed, burnt to a cinder. I thought about going out the front way and then thought better as someone might see me. So I ran up the back garden, the effects of the fumes, helium and mulled wine were all too much to take and as I ran I started to loose balance and consciousness. I tripped on something hard and collapsed into a heap in a shed and knew nothing more of the nights events. 

The house was now fully engulfed with flames. Fake Christmas trees and I presumed a parrot were no more. As was the house it seemed, as it then exploded, giving the now sleepy village of Leyhill a rather spectacular if unusual display of flying Christmas trees and decorations and flames reaching into the cold night sky. Within minutes a second truck had come down our road (the fire engine) as had half of the village, who it had to be said were rather enjoying what now was quite a pretty bonfire and had decided to turn the situation into something of an event. The carol singers who seemed to have brought along the mulled wine for everyone to keep warm also saw an opportunity and broke out in song. Others clearly felt the burning house was the perfect oven to prepare the Christmas turkey and didn't waste the opportunity to place their foil wrapped dinners as close to the fire as they could get. Others just enjoyed the spectacle.

"Jolly decent of whoever to put on a display like this so close to Christmas." Remarked old Mr Perth.
"It's someone's house you fool." Replied PC Bob Pig, who had arrived on the scene to control the growing crowds. 
"Pardon" came Mr Perth's reply. It took PC Bob Pig the next 20 minutes to try and explain, but with him not knowing that Mr Perth's hearing aid wasn't working his conversation was falling on deaf ears! 

Just then there was another explosion and it was later reported from a number of drunk on mulled wine carol singers that they thought they heard and saw a laughing but slightly demonic parrot get blown hundreds of feet into the air.  

"Quite extraordinary" came most people's reply as they dodged the flying fake trees. Not long after Mr Van Winddycke-Schmidt had turned up in his truck (that would be the third one then.) And was reportedly completely bemused as to the carnage he was witnessing and that was just the ever increasing drunk carol singers, who seemed to be putting new meaning to the song Mistletoe and Wine! Order was finally restored and the crowds watched as the house and flying trees were put under control. 

The next morning was the day before the day before Christmas, all was calm and actually quite bright as well. Blue skies greeted the now ruined house. The fire had been put out, the burnt Christmas trees gathered and the partial wing of a once talkative parrot was found. I stumbled out of the shed. My head as sore as it had ever been and I had little recollection of what had happened the night before. Confused and dazed I walked past the remains of the house and back home. Upon arrival mother was sitting in the kitchen wiping the brow of a very disconsolate Mr Van Winddycke-Schmidt.

"Where have you been?" She asked.
"Last thing I know I was carol singing." I replied. "Why?"
Mr Van Winddycke-Schmidt piped up "Some idiot has blown my house up and the Christmas trees we were storing for the annual Chesham Christmas Tree Festival. Ruined, ruined" he mumbled as mother vigorously shoved a towel in his mouth to wipe out the soot. He clearly wasn't finished. "And my parrot, gone and wingless. It was only there because it was a surprise gift for my niece. She adores parrots. If I ever get hold of who did this they will be very sorry."
Things started to dawn on me and I felt a sudden panic come across my face. "Oh dear" and with that I headed to my bed hopeful that I had given nothing away.  

Christmas Eve 
Having clearly got away with the events of previous days I sat by the open fire and contemplated the Christmas to come. I had rather enjoyed the carol singing and thought I might give it a try again next year. And with a little chuckle I raised my glass of wine and bit into a rock hard mince pie. "Merry Christmas everyone." I mumbled between crumbs and watched the snow fall gently to the ground.

The Adventures of a Countryside Detective will return in 2015 with On The Trail Of The Yellow Fingernail

Authors note:  May I take this opportunity to thank everyone for reading these tales, I'm truly blown away by how many have looked, read and commented. I hope you will continue to enjoy the future stories to come. So may I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Peaceful New Year. 


21 December 2014

Tokyo a go go (Tales from the city)

So it was a welcome return to the big city, first stop, the district of Ikebukuro. All department stores and bustling crowds. This time it was more of a pass through than a serious stopover, our intentions lay elsewhere. Still it was nice to get acclimatised to the never ending stream of passers by and the jostling amongst the crowds. Our destination was Ueno and the Tokyo National Museum, somewhere I have never visited, so a short review is to follow. 

The Tokyo National Museum Review
Set on the edge of Ueno park, amongst other notable museums and the zoo, you are greeted by a large concrete building with traditional flowing edges. For ¥650 (about £4) you have entry to a number of exhibitions; normally! Most however were closed when we came. Still the main building which houses the majority of treasures was open and we spent the next couple of hours happily looking through the exhibits. These included lacquer ware, swords, calligraphy, paintings, armour and masks (some shown below). It should be noted that many of the artefacts cannot be photographed, only admired. The layout was well structured and easy to follow with English templates of each exhibit and section for those unable to read Japanese or Korean. All set in a peaceful atmosphere, without it being overcrowded. So overall a pleasant experience that will give you a little of the background to Japan's past. It's certainly worth a visit and a nice change from the hustle and bustle of other districts of Tokyo.

1) The stunning swords. It states they were created by artists and it's hard to not agree with the craftsmanship.
2) The artwork, it's precision and colour is always to be marvelled at.

Afterwards we headed into the park and the final picture although rather uninspiring at first glance. However look closely and it can actually give you a little insight into Japan's modern day culture. In one corner you have a now familiar sight in any major city across the globe; Starbucks! Love them or hate them, they are popular, everywhere and very convenient. And in the other corner people being able to express themselves without a care of what the people watching them may think; 50's style rockers setting up base in the middle of the park and swing and jiving to their hearts content. To many it will seem bizarre and slightly surreal. At the end of the day it's just people who perhaps have nowhere else to do it, expressing their passion in a rather public place. And why not? 

So Tokyo, once again you delight and inspire and provide us with another glimpse into your mixed up heart. But it's always one that never fails to impress, however often its looked upon. 

Coming soon: Take the fast train; riding the Skinkansen 

* This may be the last post before Christmas so may I wish everyone who has read these travel sketches a very merry Christmas. Thank you for reading and I hope that you will enjoy the posts that are to follow in the future. Please comment as they are always welcome. 


20 December 2014

Non-stop to Tokyo (via Copenhagen) - The Journey 2

Getting to Japan from the UK presents you with a number of alternatives. Go direct and pay the earth or transfer on route and pay the price of having to wait a few hours extra and feeling slightly worse due to the take-offs and landings. Like most flying decisions, price at the time of booking dictates! Sigh this time being no different. We chose SAS (Scandinavian) via Copenhagen. In previous visits we've used BA, Virgin (sadly stopping their direct service to Narita), JAL and ANA. As well as Austrian, KLM and Lufthansa! All very different, all however serving the same purpose; getting you there in one piece and keeping you entertained for the 9 hours + you are on their plane. So how were SAS, well certainly not the worse and certainly not the best. So here are the pluses and minuses. 

The Good
* Friendly service (very polite and made us feel welcome. Also very child friendly. Was it because they were mature flight attendants? Possibly. 

The Ok
* Entertainment - still on a loop system, on demand arrives next year (getting fussy). 
* The food - basic (dinner was ok, you get one drink free with it (you pay thereafter) and was just about edible. Breakfast was very basic, a bit too low cost in appearance for my liking.)

The Ugly
* The seats - really need upgrading, at times felt like I was sitting on a bit of wood! (New aircraft arriving in the next two to three years.)
* Temperature in the cabin always felt too hot.  
Mark: 6.5/10

At Copenhagen there was a delay (2hrs), maintenance we were told. We received coupons for some snacks and with it being a relatively quiet airport (picture below) and with enough space for the kids to play safely, it wasn't a bind. I will just say here that Vienna remains my top choice for transfers, probably because it is ultra quiet and has these brilliant lounge seats you can chill out on. So all in allit wasn't too bad. We'll see on the return leg. I'm sure that with the upgrades SAS will improve on some of the areas highlighted and as an alternative on the transfer route it works well. No changing of terminals with this one, in fact the connecting flight was at the next gate but with a four hour wait in between flights. So we're here....time to explore and see what Japan will offer us on this trip. 

Please feel free to ask any questions about Japan or give your opinion of SAS. Would love to know your experiences. 

Next time from Sketches in Travel: Tokyo a go go


19 December 2014

Japan Wintertour 2014 - An introduction

Welcome to my latest adventure to the land of the rising sun. Japan is a place I am very familiar with having lived there and been back more times than I can count.  This time though is the first time I have a blog, so hopefully I can share some of these experiences with you. With the way I look at travel it sometimes may not be a typical post but I will endeavour to give you an insight into this fascinating country through my eyes. I will do some reviews and give impressions of places I'll be visiting, some famous, others not so. And I will do food opinions and other bits and pieces. So I hope you will enjoy? As you can see from the image below I've been turned into a manga character. Certainly makes me look a little younger and with less grey hair! So let's get this ball rolling, first up will be the next part in my journey posts (see old post about trip to work). So SAS how do you compare with some of the other airlines we've used in the past?

Thanks to Drew Comika for the picture 

15 December 2014

"I Saw Three Trucks Go Driving By" or The Christmas Tree Debacle (Part 2)

The adventure continues with our hero currently slip, sliding his away towards an abandoned houses front door. A door that had earlier been the scene of strange going ons. With three men loading a van full of fake Christmas trees.  

As I was heading for the front door I somehow managed to do a triple salchow and land perfectly with a little twirl of the hands to add a certain flair to the move. I was rather proud and this and was suddenly aware of clapping.

"Bravo", "splendid move", "really very graceful for such a gangly fellow" called some voices. Another said "Rubbish". Clearly I hadn't managed to get rid of the carol singers but their words of praise were rather pleasing to the ear, apart from the rubbish comment. "Come on we need a lead vocalist for 'Away in a Manger'. Your vocal talents seem to be, how should we say, a little immature. So you rather fit the bill for the classic children's song." one of the carol singers suggested.
"I can't sing! " I explained.
"Exactly, as I said, just what we need, someone with a high pitched voice that doesn't sound very good."
"But I...." Before I could finish I was dragged away by the carol singers and thrown into singing verse two and the finale of 'Away in a Manger'. It soon became apparent they had made a rather bad decision and hurried me through the second verse and drowned me out completely in the final verse. Clearly I would be unable to get myself away until the end of the evening, so the house investigation would have to wait and mince pies beckoned.  

After a few more attempts at singing and them drowning me out even more, we arrived at the village hall where mince pies, mulled wine and some lovely nibbles were being served. I ate royally and drank rather a lot of the mulled wine. I ended up having to talk to old Mr Perth, who spoke gibberish for a hour, mainly about his colonic irrigation treatment he was currently having. Also his new hearing aid clearly wasn't working because he couldn't hear a word I was saying in return. Eventually I prised myself away, made my excuses to the carol singers and a little gingerly I headed back towards the house. The mulled wine was clearly going to my head but I was determined to accomplish my mission, whatever state I was in.

When I eventually got back to the house I creeped to the front window and peered inside. In the room was stacked dozens of Christmas trees, and on the floor were balloons, and lights. It all seemed a little strange. I decided to investigate further so went around the back of the house and noticed the back door was slightly open. The mulled wine had really taken effect and I was feeling a little giddy now. Unperturbed I entered what was the kitchen and found that there were more Christmas trees stacked up. All very odd. As I crept through the house it was the same, stacks of fake trees, decorations and balloons. What was that old man up too? As I walked into the living room I was greeted by a squawking voice. I jumped back out of sight, quick enough for whoever it was not to see me.

"Who's that?"
Rather hastily I replied "John Wilson."
"John Wilson, John Wilson, John Wilson." They kept repeating. 
"Yes that's me. Who's that?" 
"John Wilson"
"No I'm John Wilson." This conversation continued for a few minutes until I plucked up the courage to enter the room, mainly because I had had enough and with my head spinning even more from the mulled wine I needed to sit down. When I entered the room there in the corner was a parrot, surrounded by more stacked Christmas trees. Strange kind of guard for a house I thought. Until it hit me. It knows my name! It'll tell Mr Van Winddycke-Schmidt the next time he visited and he'd know who had been snooping. I had to shut it up. I looked around the room. Nothing but the Christmas trees and decorations. Then in the corner I noticed a bunch of what must have been helium filled balloons. I hoped that with enough gas inside it the parrot would eventually be knocked out long enough so that I could remove it and hide it somewhere. So grabbing the balloons I raced across the room got hold of the parrot who was still repeating my name, used its beak to make a hole in the balloons and tried to get the helium down its throat. After a bit of resistance it felt like my plan was working as the parrots voice rose in pitch sharply, however in the ensuing struggle some of the gases must have escaped and my voice also rose in pitch. I started laughing at my now comical voice, as did the parrot. After a brief exchange of pleasantries the parrot seemingly had had quite enough. The gas took effect and it went floppy. It had worked, although my head was in a right state. 

I stumbled back into the kitchen. Putting the floppy parrot on the table. I needed to sit down and think of my next move. Noticing a kettle on an old gas stove I thought a cuppa would do me the world of good. I found some matches and a tea bag, filled the kettle and had just lit the gas when the parrot, who had clearly been faking its comatose state started to attack me again, still squeaking in a high pitched voice. I managed to get a hold of one of its wings and in the ensuing struggle the parrot passed over the naked gas flame and suddenly caught alight. It panicked and was flapping manically, flying into a number of the Christmas trees lined against the wall. They too caught fire. The parrot, now in a state of shock and looking for an escape flew into the hallway making sure that more Christmas trees caught fire. What with the gas still going it all added up to a recipe for disaster. With the fire spreading throughout the house and the parrot now in a blind panic I had to get myself out but the smoke and flames hampered my path to the door. The mulled wine and helium hadn't helped my cause and I had no idea what to do, other than snigger occasionally at my continued high pitched, panicky voice. 

Could I get out? Would I become as burnt as the helium filled and slightly overcooked parrot? Had I sung my last Christmas carol? (Well probably yes but that's not the point.) 

Find out in the final part of The Christmas Special - "I Saw Three Trunks Go Driving By" next week.

Authors note: No real parrots were harmed in the making of this story. Also can you guess the ending? Please leave your comments as I'd love to know what you think.  


8 December 2014

"I Saw Three Trucks Go Driving By" or The Christmas Tree Debacle (Part 1)

It was a cold, crisp day before the day before the day before Christmas. I was sitting in the kitchen munching on a rock hard mince pie that mother had made. Since The Missing Turnips Case I had been muck spreading but also keeping an eye out for any wrongdoings in the village. Which there hadn't been. Mrs Wilcox's farm had been a success, Parish Councillors Kiln and Pickles were stamping their authority on village matters and seemingly everyones money with the help of Mrs Wilcox it seemed. I only knew that Mrs Wilcox's farm had been a success because she would tell me every day, giving a little wink as she said her goodbyes. There was something very suspicious about her actions but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. For now at least. She was trying to turn the farm into a Zoo but was refused permission due to an outbreak of foot and mouth. I laughed at that, small revenge for her continued mocking of my muck spreading duties. Other than that it was a little too silent, night and day in and around the village. Until that was I firstly heard and then saw a large truck drive at high speed down our road. Funny that I thought, don't see trucks coming our way much, if at all. I dropped the mince pie, which created a small dent in the table and decided to go out investigate. 

Peering around the gate post, so not to be seen I noticed the truck was parked at the disused house a few doors away. There were three men milling around the truck, loading Christmas tree into the truck. There was also an old man with a white beard who looked suspiciously like Mr Van Winddycke-Schmidt. I thought he was in the slammer? (See the Case of the Missing Turnips for more details about him.) Clearly he wasn't in the nick and it seemed he was up to something. Probably no good. So I slide back into the shadows a little, not wanting to be seen.

"Boo". I jumped, throwing my arms in the air and smacking whoever it was right in the face and nose. "That hurt" they continued. I turned to see my pesky neighbour Clare Flynn, who had just delivered our Christmas card. "What are you doing?" She continued rubbing her swollen nose.
"Spying" I replied, and shoved her in front of me to show her.
"So what?" She stated.
"Bit suspicious don't you think?" 
"Not really its a Sainsbury's* van. Must be delivering some food or presents?". 
"What with 3 men and an old criminal. And anyway they're loading up some christmas trees". 
"Want me to go and ask them why?" She said as blood started to pour out of her nose.
"No, you need to get that cleaned up and anyway we need to approach this with caution. I'm going to find out what they are up to, but in a stealth like fashion. Like a Ninja". Pushing her some more in the direction of her house. 
"Idiot" she shouted as she ran home. That wasn't going to help her nose I thought and she was leaving a trail of blood and tears behind her. Suddenly the van sped past and vanished down the road towards the town of Chesham. Hopefully I hadn't been seen and I would wait until nightfall to investigate further. Well I didn't want to raise suspicion, not just yet anyway. It just so happened  The local carol singers were visiting our part of the village tonight. The perfect cover I thought. 

That night, dressed as carol singers do; bobble hat, warm jumper and gloves. I joined the back of the group as they worked their way down towards the house in question. I sang impressively for the first note and deteriorated somewhat thereafter. When they had walked past the dark house that was my destination I made my move. Slipping away at the back of the group, moving a bit too quickly for my liking and on the icy pavement slipped and pirouetted all over the place, like an Olympic ice skater towards the front door! Would I stop in time? Would the door feel the full impact of my ice skating routine? Would I get a good score for my rather excellent skating skills? Would the choir hear me and come and investigate to see who had made the noise? Would I be charged for being a fake carol singer? Or would they carry on until they were given a warm mug of cocoa and a nice mince pie at the village hall? Whatever was about to happen it wasn't going to be pretty. 

Authors Notes:
* A UK based supermarket chain

Find out what happens next week or if you think you know what might happen then please leave a comment. 

Coming next week: Part 2 of I Saw Three Trucks Go Driving By


5 December 2014

Bollocks to Alton Towers - a travel related Christmas stocking filler

Sorry for such an abrupt title, blame the authors for that one. Looking for that little stocking filler for a loved one or friend? Then how about some books that will give you ideas of places to visit around the UK for the year ahead? Bollocks to Alton Towers and its follow-up Far from the Sodding Crowd are travel books that will take you to some of the UK's more unusual attractions or 'Uncommonly British Days Out' as the book suggests. In fact I've already reviewed one of the attractions featured; Bekonscot Model Village a few posts ago.

What makes these books a joy to read is not only the humour portrayed amongst its pages but the fact that they don't preach at you, demanding you to go. They give you an historical perspective, explaining why they were created, the people behind these attractions and what makes them so special and unique, making you fascinated in them and curious to visit.  As an example among the many weird and wonderful places mentioned are;

British Lawnmower Museum
Gnome Magic (a theme park of sorts for gnomes)
Christ's House (rather appropriate for the time of year. It's in Bedford, England if you're wondering)
Clarks Shoe Museum
Bubblecar Museum 

There are many more across the two books, highlighting the diverse nature of the UK's many attractions. Although not in colour and quite wordy in places it is nevertheless an invaluable travel book to take on your journeys and a funny one to boot. The link below takes you to a documentary based on these books. So let me know what you think and if you have any other travel related stocking fillers let me know. Would be glad to hear from you. 

A documentary based upon the books

Coming soon: Wintertour 2014 (The Five Cities tour of Japan) 

1 December 2014

Musical London

If you get the chance to visit London this Christmas then this might be the post for you? We live in an age where music is now so easily assessable that we can even buy it on the move and play it instantly without the need to visit a record shop (unfortunately, but that's a blog post for another day). So how about adding some extra spice to your movements around the capital with a little musical game? The following songs relate to parts of London or to areas around London. So go and visit the areas and stick these tunes on as you do (or others that you may find). I bet you start singing the lyrics, strumming an air guitar or even doing the Lambeth Walk!?

Last Train to London by ELO - a song for your journey home? 

London Calling by The Clash - a song for those moments on the tube when all the commotion around you is sending your head dizzy! 

Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty - could do some air sax whilst you visit the home of Sherlock Holmes.

West End Girls by Pet Shop Boys - play this as you walk down Oxford Street. 

Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks - find the nearest bridge to Waterloo and watch the sun setting. 

And one for the folk aficionados amongst you:

Streets of London by Ralph McTell 

Bonus song - Heartland by THE THE - surely the greatest song about London? But could so easily be about many of the UK's cities. Should be played whilst walking down the South Bank as you look towards the city of London. 

And there are many more, so please comment and add your own in. Also how about other cities around the globe? New York has many as I'm sure does Paris. Although another unusual travel post I hope it at least makes you think about the relationship between our major cities and the music that influences them. Happy listening.

Coming soon.....The five cities Wintertour 2014 (a series of traditional style travel posts on my latest adventure to Japan) 


26 November 2014

A Summers Fete (fate) or How not to Capture a Kidnapper

Case 1:The Case of the Missing Turnips - The Conclusion (sort of) 

Late June

It was the day of the annual summer fete, Leyhill's biggest annual event, the day I was going to finally ensnare the kidnapper. Before setting up my stall I had to complete a number of forms allowing me the privilege to be part of the event. Why? No idea to be honest, clearly bureaucracy in Leyhill was strictly controlled by Mr Kiln and Co, who seemed to pocket most of the received fees. I had to pay Mr Kiln a fiver for the pleasure. which he duly pocketed in his expensive jacket. The plan was to set up a stall that would catch the kidnapper red handed, it went something like this..

The game was an impersonation game called "Can you be a kidnapper?" I would ask them to take on the role of a person trying to steal some pigs or goats or even turnips. And I might throw in role plays of the stabbing of Mrs Johnson or the kidnapping of Mrs Wilcox, if I felt the need. The one who was the most convincing would surely be the one who had done all these crimes and I would have solved the case. I was rather proud of my idea and just a little excited with the anticipation of putting my plan into place, hence the nervous farting again! 

Later that day

The fete was opened by old Mr Perth, a parish councillor, who seemed to be completely unaware of what was going on and kept complaining about the noise. Apparently the local celebrity Paine Delight (real name Stan Partridge) a singer was on a tour of Bedfordshire, so wasn't available. The whole village had turned out and I knew so had the kidnapper. I had set up my stall and waited. And waited some more. I waited a bit longer and a bit more after that for at least one person to try, alas nobody. The fete was going extremely well; for everyone else and I was just about to give up when someone came to the stall. They seemed a little suspicious in their attitude, always looking around to check that nobody was watching. Was this the moment? I told them the instructions, which seemed to puzzle them a little but they were willing to give it a go and were all too convincing in their interpretation. So the moment had come;

"You are under arrest for being all too convincing as a kidnapper" I stated.
"Are you barking mad?" Came the reply. "I'm PC Bob Pig you fool, out of uniform. See." He took his cap off to reveal his rather portly face. "How dare you even insinuate that I would be a kidnapper. You're nicked." He paused momentarily and then rattled through his list. "One, making ME, a police officer impersonate a kidnapper. Two for setting up an illegal stall, I've seen your papers and I can hardly read the writing." I had to admit I did rush them a little. "Three for not making any money on the stall and four we've already solved the case and the councillors were found not guilty as Mrs Wilcox returned this morning. Apparently she had gone away on business."
"When did that happen?"
"Must have missed that, was trying to catch the real kidnapper up at Tyler's Hill. So really you haven't solved the case of Mr Johnsons animals at all. So whoever they are is still at large!" 
"Well yeah, but at least it wasn't the councillors. They paid me a handsome fine, which I've um pocketed for now and will eventually put in next years Fete fund. Anyway come with me, Oh thought of another reason, so that's five things now."
"Why five?"
"For making me waste my time and the 50p I've paid. Which I shall reclaim for the stress of the situation."
"Oh" came my reply. "Look I'm trying to catch the kidnapper. They left me a note saying they would be here. I'm so close to solving it".
"That's six reasons now."
"What, for not solving the case?"
"No for making me miss the fetes raffle. I could have won the new petrol lawnmower they were giving away. Could have done with that."

And so I was dragged away cuffed like a criminal. I was sure I saw Mrs Wilcox hiding in the shadows laughing at me but I couldn't be certain. And my dreams of catching the kidnapper in tatters. That evening in the village hall I was put on trial.  PC Bob Pig, Mr Kiln and Pickles and old Mr Perth; who was still complaining about the noise, were in attendance as was the local hack for the LeyHill Echo, Mum and Jock the Block (both crying), Clare Flynn and her dad (both laughing) and a mysterious person who looked like an old lady who was wearing a balaclava (clapping). I was charged with wasting everyone's evening and for the six charges as laid out by PC Bob Pig! My sentence was to work on Mr Johnsons farm as his muck spreader and do all the other farm jobs his now deceased wife used to do. I tried to protest my innocence, keeping quiet about the disappearance of Mrs Johnson (which to this day remains unsolved, thankfully). However it was to no avail and so the case was closed on my time as a detective and the case of the missing farm animals and the turnips. 

I was to start work the following morning and after that they all left to go to the pub for a pint. I sat thinking about the events of the day and the case overall. Ok so I had failed to find and trap the kidnapper, even if they were right under my and the rest of Leyhills nose. But I had found the career for me and I was sure that eventually my fortunes would change and I would show them all that I was a good detective. So I made my way home defeated and a little downcast but also knowing that The Case of the Missing Turnips was only the beginning, new adventures awaited that was for sure.

The End?............
Well not quite.......

A few weeks later Mrs Wilcox had opened up a children's farm for visiting city kids in Tylers Hill. Funnily enough the farm had pigs, goats, cows and also a vegetable patch which grew amongst other treats; turnips! However I was keeping my nose to the floor for now (although not too close, especially being a muck spreader!) The kidnapper was still out there and I would be ready to catch them when they made their next move. Although a good wash would be required first. 

Coming soon (A Christmas special - "I Saw 3 Trucks Go Driving By")


15 November 2014

The Journey - a pictorial look at journeys we make.

Its a journey most of us make each and every day. For some its train or maybe even plane? For others its car or tube or bike or a hike (sorry getting a little poetic!). Have you ever taken a moment to actually look at your surroundings as you journey to and from work or school every morning and night? Well as a first in a series of journey posts I thought I'd share my journey. I'm fortunate or unfortunate depending on your opinion to be able to cycle to work. So here it is, from picturesque commons and woods to forgotten icons of years gone by, across the car park known as the M25 and the engineering marvel that is the Grand Union Canal. I feel rather blessed that each day I see these changing landscapes. So please, next week as you leave the house on a dark and misty morning, take a moment to look at your surroundings, you might just notice something you hadn't before!

From commons
to objects of the past

From the chaos of the M25
 to the tranquillity of the trees
and the peaceful nature of the Grand Union Canal

Footnote: I would love to hear about your journeys so please leave a comment, it would be appreciated. 


9 November 2014

Want to kidnap a cow?

Case 1 - The Case of the Missing Turnips
Part 10

20 something of June (with all this detective work I've lost track of the days!)

I had a meeting to attend, so packing my flask I headed up to Tyler's Hill and sat on the bench outside the church. I took out mums homemade cake she had made, took a bite and then put it back in my bag again. Tasted awful. All I needed now was a kidnapper to chat to. 

At 4:15 there was still no sign of them. My nerves were making me fart a bit too often and I just wanted to get this over with. Suddenly I heard footsteps. In the distance I saw someone who looked an awful lot like Mrs Wilcox. As she drew closer I realised it was Mrs Wilcox! 

"I thought you'd been kidnapped" I stated.
"I have" came a rather forthright reply. "I kidnapped myself but I was told to come and meet some-one here at 4pm."
"Really!" I replied slightly confused "So was I". 
"Well maybe we're waiting for the same person then" she said.

And so we sat together waiting for the kidnapper to appear. In the meantime at least one mystery had been solved and Mrs Wilcox was safe and well. We waited for another ten minutes or so and with nothing happening Mrs Wilcox stood up and said she was fed up and going back home. She suggested I may have got the wrong day and should come back tomorrow. I was sure it was today but also thought she may have a point and decided I would return tomorrow. As she walked away I'm sure I heard her mumble something about "just can't get the right kidnappers these days". If that was what she had said then I tended to agree with her. So I went home, rather confused at what had just taken place, but would be back tomorrow for sure.

The Next Morning..

So the next morning (and still farting a little) I headed back to the meeting point, sure that I would make contact and finally trap this wicked villain. However pinned to the bench was a note which upon opening just had the words,
"ha, ha , ha, ha, ha you fool, you are no kidnapper, go back to mummy"

No way was I going back to Mum, especially if her tea was as bad as the cake I tried yesterday. Puzzled I didn't quite know what to do. So I sat down to think about it, eventually falling asleep. I awoke sometime later and when my eyes had readjusted to the light I noticed another note sitting on my lap which said;

"I will be at the village fete tomorrow. Catch me if you can! Signed W"

Who was W? They had always addressed it as Kidnapper. So the final showdown had been set. I would set up my own stall and trap them that way. I would become the hero of the village or would I? 

To be concluded....


29 October 2014

Unusual travel related trips - The Garden Centre

Its raining and you want to get out and do something.  This idea may not be the most obvious travel tip or trip for that matter. It certainly worked for me and the kids on a damp Wednesday during the holidays in the UK, so lets go with it. Garden centres don't normally spring to mind but their juxtaposition of plants for the Spring to Halloween features to Christmas lights and decorations. From its cafe (with a full menu) to books and clothes all being promoted at the same time. You'd be forgiven for thinking that you had visited a Garden Centre at all; thankfully there were plants and horticultural appliances aplenty. It's because of all these elements that paying them a visit for an hour or two can actually become an experience and a rather enjoyable one at that. So if you are visiting the UK this Autumn or Christmas or unsure of what to do for an hour or two, then find your nearest garden centre and pay it a visit. You might just enjoy yourself, wouldn't you?


27 October 2014

Great days out of London No1 - Bekonscot Model Village

What would you do if you had a few spare hours and a couple of hyperactive kids who were looking to be entertained? Visit a museum? Go watch a film? Send them around to your Grandparents? 

Or you could take them to a magical world of tiny houses, tiny cars and small trains!  

23 October 2014

A goats tail

The Case of the Missing Turnips - Part 9

23rd June

Having had the brainwave of the letter to get the kidnapper to help me steal the prize bull from the Johnsons field. I set about writing it, which was quite difficult considering I wasn't well versed. It went something like this;

Dear Mr or Mrs kidnapper and accomplices 

I am a trainee kidnapper in need of some help. I have a kidnapping to perform and you seem like the best one to help me. You seem to be quite good at it, so please could I meet you for a chat.
I'll be up in the little hamlet of Tyler's Hill, by the pub at 4pm for a ginger beer and a packet of pork scratchings. 

Yours in hope,
Another kidnapper

P.S I think my plan is much bigger than yours, it involves cows! 

I was rather pleased with the letter, so I rode to the Leyhill Echo's office (a shed) and waited, thinking it would be published there and then. In fact I waited quite a long time until I realised that the paper wouldn't come out until tomorrow, and that the office was closed, so I went home. 

I awoke early the next morning, perhaps it was the adrenaline that I was going to meet a dangerous criminal? Or it could have been mums snoring! I waited at the front door for the delivery of the newspaper. That little squirt Claire Flynn was our newspaper girl so I knew it wouldn't be delivered on time. It wasn't, infact it was so late I had already had breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack of scones with some homemade jam. Eventually the paper came through the door. I was going to apprehend Flynn but thought against it as she was with her Dad. I quickly opened the paper, to see if my letter had been printed..it had. My plan was set, however my eye caught a larger headline on the opposite page, that was to throw open the case even more.

Johnson's' Goats Go Missing

The missing animals mystery has had another twist to its tail. In a similar vain to the pigs and chickens, now Mr Johnsons' goats have gone missing. These kidnappings are said to be driving Mr Johnson mad. 

In other Johnson related news, Mrs Johnson is still missing presumed kidnapped as well. It hasnt been a particularly good month for Mr Johnson sources suggest.

This was all getting beyond a joke. How was I suppose to try and solve these cases if whoever was doing this was taking all of the Johnsons farm animals. What next cattle I thought? I turned the page...

Late news

Reports suggest that a prize bull has also been stolen and a herd of cattle have been seen making their way towards the nearby village of Bovingdon. An old lady wearing a balacalva was supposedly seen sheparding the cows on their way and walking off with the bull towards the small hamlet of Tylers Hill. Mr Johnson is unable to comment as he was last seen face down in cow dung, clearly a broken man.  

Well that had blown it, hadn't it? My plan was in pieces, much like Mr Johnson it seemed. Well that was it. I had to act and it was now or never. I was headed for Tylers Hill and I would find the bull and the kidnapper of the goats, chickens, pigs and Mrs Wilcox.

To be continued......


16 October 2014

The other sides of summer

Autumn, (fall) and spring; those special times in the year when the vibrant colours appear, and the joy of walking is more special than perhaps at any other occasion. What joy it can bring to a gentle stroll in a park or wooded area. What displeasure though with the onset of April showers and Autumns rain and wind, which is what Autumn in the UK is currently throwing at us. What greater pleasure is there than a walk amongst the bluebells on a crisp spring morning? Or the kicking of leaves when Autumn descends? The following pictures I hope give some impression of the joys these seasons bring?

I am very fortunate to live in a rural part of the UK; on the edge of the Chiltern hills. A place where these delights are all too familiar. For some though are not so fortunate and from a travelling perspective I implore those who can to visit your local wood, country park or National Park and take in the sites, colours and smells that these seasons can offer. It will invigorate and inspire.

These are the perfect seasons to head out before the dark days of winter take hold or the hot days of summer rear their heads. So go for it, rain or shine, lets celebrate the joys of the seasons and the opportunities to get some much needed fresh air. Happy walking and please share your pictures of these most colourful of seasons.

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9 October 2014

The flying lady

Case 1: The Case of the Missing Turnips (Part 7 - the second bit)

June 22nd - Continued..

The press conference was to be held at St George's Hall (normally used by the local play group and the pensioners kendo club) at the top of a road called Jasons Hill. On arrival (minus the flask) I noticed that all the local press were there (i.e. The Leyhill Echo), represented by their young hack William (aged 12). PC Bob Pig was sitting at the centre of a large table with the deaf Mr Perth to his right, the accused Messrs Kiln and Pickles (who looked rather peeved by it all) and old Mrs Flueberry-Jones (who was asleep).  I assumed she was there for the kendo club? I took my seat at the back and listened intently to PC Bob Pigs statement.

Mr Pig spoke slowly and in such a monotone voice that I wasn't surprised that William the local hack was having far more fun flicking bogeys at the sleeping Mrs Flueberry-Jones. It all sounded rather boring to be honest, and didn't make much sense as the evidence he was presenting didn't add up. They had kidnapped her because she had argued at the last village committee meeting about the lack of funds for a new slaughter house she wanted to set up and they had stated that with one already owned by a local farmer called Mr Johnson. The need for another wasn't required. After what seemed an eternity of waffling from PC Bob Pig, in which he was going through those irrelevant facts of the councillors arrest I fell asleep myself. I was awoken by Mrs Flueberry-Jones, who was shaking me violently for some reason. Being a little sleepy and really unaware that it was Mrs Flueberry-Jones I pushed her back, angry at being woken. She fell, falling onto the playgroups see-saw, I stumbled when getting up and fell onto the other end of said see-saw, which in turn threw her into the air. Upon hitting the roof she descended towards the children's play pool, which hadn't been cleaned out and was full of dirty water. She landed with an almighty splash and a scream; a cry for help no-less. I stood around and waited to see if anyone would come and help, no-one did! Considering the hall was empty it wasn't really a surprise. The lack of care for the elderly was outrageous these days , I thought. So reluctantly I had to pull her up and left her to sort herself out. Well I thought, she did wake me up and I was having a rather nice snooze.

Having fallen asleep I had clearly no idea whether PC Bob Pig had in fact caught the kidnappers and also if that was the case, why hadn't Mrs Wilcox been found and paraded to the villagers? I had a hunch that Mrs Wilcox was still kidnapped and that the kidnapper was still at large in the village. Whilst walking home I came up with an idea that would hopefully draw out the kidnapper and I could then prove that PC Bob Pig had got it wrong and I could take all the credit. I would write a letter to the Leyhill Echo asking the kidnapper for his or her help and wait for a response. I would use the fact that the pigs, sheep and turnips had been stolen and I was thinking of stealing Mr Johnson's prize bull! Would it work? I was about to find out...

To be continued....


5 October 2014

Underground, Overground

I wonder what the wombles (a 1970's UK children's TV show, for those unaware of them) would think of London's underground today? I imagine they wouldn't be that impressed; delays, engineering works, no air-con. But for all its faults I still think it should be celebrated. And this is coming from someone who has experienced commuting on the Piccadilly line and Metropolitan line everyday. Forever complaining that the train was late and the seats were uncomfortable, it's too hot etc etc. But having lived abroad and now using it every few weeks or so I have grown to love it once again, to celebrate its uniqueness, whatever it's faults. There is no other subway or underground system that can be  as iconic, could there?

When you travel to one of the worlds major metropolises the likelihood is that you will need to use their subway, metro or underground system. It becomes an essential part of the travel experience and for many the only way of getting around. They are all unique, all with their own brand of colours schemes, ways of operating, sounds and smells. And all should be celebrated and adored.  An example, New York's subway, dare I say it's a little grotty, all open planned with exposed lines. But that's what's great about it. It gives it its distinctiveness. As does Tokyo's with its perfect timing, the sound system accompanying an approaching train and the blandness of its walkways. London's underground though (for me) remains the one that encapsulates the experience the most. London without the underground would be like fish with its chips or clams without its chowder, they just have to be together. From its wonderful map, to its unique upholstery, the underground sign to its history. The way you can get across the capital using many different combinations; give it a go the next time you visit, add a little fizz to your visit. Choose an end point and see what different ways you can get there, perhaps split up if you're with someone and see who gets there the quickest. A new sport?

So that's the underground. I'm sure I will revisit it throughout the development of this blog and others whenever I visit them. So whatever country and whatever transport system perhaps we need to step back and re-look at them, try to find the cuteness within them and what makes them tick. So three cheers for the underground. Oh how dull travel would be without you!

Would love to hear your own feelings towards any underground, subway or metro system. How are they for you?


28 September 2014


Case 1: The Case of the Missing Turnips (Part 7)

22nd June

courtesy of Drew Comika
Having a dead body lying around the house was not exactly a good thing, neither was a barking dog. And hiding it in mums antique suit of armour that stood on the landing wasn't going to solve the problem. I had got rid of the barking dog by dragging it back to the farm in the evening, and tying it to the front gate post. I can only assume Mr Johnson retrived it? I certainly wasn't hanging around to find out. I decided I needed to get out of the village and dispose of the body. I wasn't going to get the blame for a murder I hadn't committed. So dragging the body in the suit of armour down the stairs (past the broken cupboard, which still hadn't been cleared). I attached it to my back and cycled to the nearby village of Latimer. I had a few suspicious looks, most notably from Mr Johnson who was walking around calling out for Mrs Johnson and thankfully dragging a still barking dog. I peddled quicker to get as far away as quickly as possible, I didn't need a confrontation.

The village of Latimer had a deep well and was as good as any place to dispose of the late Mrs Johnson. Unfortunately it had been concreted in! I had to change plans. So I dug a hole in the local church graveyard (undercover of darkness of course). Having found a shovel at the church gates. I decided to stay on for a couple of days to try and make it look like I had been away on business. Which technically I had. Cycling home a few days later, I spotted our local policeman P.C. Bob Pig walking around questioning people. Again I cycled quickly to avoid having to explain my absence. On returning home there was a note pinned to the floor. I picked it up and half the carpet with it. Although it was hard to read I sort of got the gist.

Iff  yoo wan 2 see the oled laydi agin, it ill co2t ya...loads!!

Yors sinserely 
Kid napier 

Attached on the back was a stamped addressed envelope for the ransom demand, it was labelled c/o Mrs Wilcox. Strange I thought? Why address it to the person who had been kidnapped? And how much was loads? None the wiser I put it in my coat pocket and went out to have a think about what to do next. I was thinking so hard that I didn't notice the tree I walked into; causing great damage to the tree I may add. After recovering it had to be said that this tree wasn't one I was familiar with (what with me being a tree climber) and it soon transpired that I had wondered so far that I had no idea where I was. I was lost! I turned and aimlessly walked about for an hour or two, finally coming across a small hut. On closer inspection I discovered it was our outside toilet and mum was inside who upon hearing my footsteps asked where I had been. The smell was horrendous and telling her I had gone for a long walk, in which she replied "for three days!" I fled mainly because a minute longer with that smell would be enough to put me on a longer holiday in a hospital.

In the kitchen I slumped onto the chair, I was getting nowhere, no ideas, no clues and still no idea where the pigs, chickens, turnips and not forgetting a missing Mrs Wilcox. I picked up that mornings Leyhill Echo for some encouragement. The headline was about Mr Johnson wondering where his wife had gone? I skipped that one quickly and saw a small article that read;

Shock, Horror
Mrs Wilcox is still missing or so a letter from the kidnapper tells us. PC Bob Pig has however arrested Messers Kiln and Pickles, both councillors on the village commity suspected of the kidnapping. A press conference is to be held this afternoon at the village hall of St Georges. No tea or coffee will be provided so bring a flask.
I had to get myself down there and quick, I had no time to make a flask of tea this was an important development and I needed to hear the facts. Had part of the case been solved? Or was PC Bob Pig snorting about in the wrong mud bath?

To be continued......


19 September 2014

Chickens off the menu then?

The Case of the Missing Turnips - Part 6

19th June
"Blooming heck" I thought as I read The Leyhill Echo the next morning. The leading article was about some train heist that had gone wrong due to unprepared planning. Apparently whilst organising the heist the gang leaders were rudely interrupted by some bloke asking about a cheap golden ring. The report stated that an elderly gentleman had vowed revenge! No idea what that was about and it was none of my concern really. I was just about to turn the page when into the kitchen stepped Mrs Johnson the farmers wife, she seemed flustered, as if she had forgotten something! She apologised and turned and walked out? Having no idea why she had come in, and how for that matter I got back to reading the newspaper. Suddenly she appeared again with a dogs lead trailing behind her. 

"Opps, I've forgotten the dog!" She said and was once again gone. Clearly the missing pigs business had turned her completely mad, so I carried on reading and noticed a significant story at the bottom on page 3.

Mrs Wilcox goes missing 

Leyhills very own super granny and life president of Leyhill cricket club, Leyhill bowls club, Leyhill Pensioners Ravers Club, the Bridge club, Leyhills flower arranging club and the Brownies; Mrs Wilcox has gone missing reports suggest today. P.C. Bob Pig (the local policeman) stated "it's a tragedy for the community. She's never been kidnapped before.'

"Is this the right place for the party?", added Mr Kiln a local councillor who happens to be deaf. A note was found pinned to her front door with a ransom demand of £5 and a years supply of booze. P.C. Bob Pig has stated that a reward has been issued to whoever can find the old dear or give clues leading to her safe return. Mr Kiln continued by asking what time the party was starting. More to follow...

I read the report again. A reward...wow I could do with some cash, although the report didn't state what the reward would be. I was about to get cracking with what seemed to be two cases, when you guessed it Mrs Johnson returned. This time the dog was on the lead, although it looked like it didn't want to be, and who could blame it?

"Mr Wilson" she cried right in my ear, which flipping hurt by the way. "All our chickens have been stolen". 
"No!" I replied in surprise.
"Yes" she stated matter of factly. "Are you doubting me? I should know they are our chickens!"
"No" I replied again.
"What do you mean no? They are our chickens, how dare you think I am a liar"
"No I don't doubt you" I stated.
"Well, thats alright then" she pronounced, still close to my ear.
"How? When?" I asked, trying desperately to move her away from my ear, but she wouldn't budge. 
"Last night, I went down to feed them this morning and they were gone, all that was left were the eggs!" 
"Oh well at least you can still make an omelette" I clucked with a chuckle.
 "This is very distressing Mr Wilson and not a good time for jokes".
 "Its not much fun for me either, I can tell you" I said as I finally managed to shove her away from my deafened ear.  She fell a little awkwardly and disappeared out of the kitchen for a brief moment, screaming as she went.

She eventually staggered back into the kitchen, looking a little pale it had to be said. I tried asking her a number of questions, mainly about how she had walked into our house without knocking! But it was becoming increasingly hard to hear her as the dog was now barking and she was standing in a strange way, as if she was about to collapse onto the floor. When I walked over to her I discovered the reason for the lack of answers and the weird stance; a knife was stuck in her back, she was infact dead. Funny place to leave a knife I thought. I now had an extra problem, where was I going to put the body of the once Mrs Johnson? And when would I be able to get back on the case to look for missing pigs, chickens and turnips? And not forgetting searching for Mrs Wilcox and working out who had just stabbed Mrs Johnson and why?  Being a detective was a lot harder than I first thought and my ear was still aching! Had I been framed so that I could be taken off the case?

To be continued.....



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