23 April 2015

The Stranger with the False Beard

On the Trail of the Yellow Fingernail - Part 5

Recap: Our hero; John is now on the trail of the mysterious Yellow Fingernail. Having found a note that's asked him to go to a chip shop in the nearby town of Hemel, he decides to take a shortcut but finds an unaccommodating farmer who threatens to put an end to his momentary toilet stop. We join him as he's frantically trying to get to the shop on time.   
Manga art from Sketches in Travel
Needing a pee certainly makes you run faster, and that's exactly what I was doing, running and fast. I knew I didn't have long to get there, which was not helped by having to find somewhere to stop and relieve myself. Also the letter was completely worthless because it hadn't told me which chip shop to go too anyway. How many chip shops were there in Hemel? None the wiser I picked up my pace.  

I eventually arrived at the edge of the town, having stopped behind a tree to "pay a visit". An old lady had walked past with her dog. The dog also took the opportunity to take a break. It somehow missed the tree and got my leg!

Shaking off the excess I took in my surroundings, all concrete and grey buildings, and noticed that there was a chip shop next to the railway station just up the road. The smell of fresh chips drew me in and so I headed towards it, hoping I had found the right place.

At the counter stood a very large man, all tattoos, muscle and flab (few too many chips perhaps?) His name tag read Mr P Anfry. As I had time to spare I ordered some chips. With a grunt he threw in a fresh batch of potatoes and went out the back. I looked around for some clues, but found none. Was this the wrong one? He returned a few minutes later, checked the chips and went out again. He repeated this four or five times. Curious to find out what he was doing I tried to peer over the counter. It was hard to see but I was sure he was sitting in an armchair knitting a jumper! Not such a macho thing to the doing for a man of his size and demeanour Suddenly he got up and walked into the shop. I was still clinging onto the counter

"What the heck are you doing, you nosey sod?" I couldn't hold on for any longer and crashed to the floor.

"Was just curious about what you were doing, that's all."
"Keep your stinking little nose out mate" came his curt reply.
"Looked like a nice jumper." I mumbled in return.
"Shut it, that's 80 pence." Mr P Anfry stated, slapping the bag of chips on the counter.
"What I have to pay for them? I have no money. Never needed it in Leyhill."
"Well you do here. No money, no chips".
"I'll owe you, promise" I pleaded. 
"Are you trying to be funny?" came his reply.
"No, I have no money, look I'm waiting for someone called The Yellow Fingernail, I've had a long, harrowing day. I'm hungry and I promise not to tell anyone about your knitting." Just as I said that a tall gentleman walked in and started laughing. "You knitting a jumper George?" he mocked between laughs.
"Get out of here" he replied to me, voice now with a tinge of menace.

And with that I was manhandled and booted out of the shop by a rather large steel toe capped boot. The last I saw of Mr P Anfry was him chomping into my chips and trying to reassure the tall gentleman that he wasn't knitting but actually playing poker. Looking at the tall gentleman, who was laughing even more, it didn't seem to be working. 

Things were not going well and dusting myself down I looked around for some inspiration. It was then I noticed a badly typed note pinned to a nearby lamp post. 

So nO ChiPs....weLl Why NoT TRy a WalK iN tHe wooDs? ThEre mAy Be a SurpriSE WaiTINg for You...

The YELlow finGernAil 

Woods, which woods? And how did they know I didn't get any chips? I felt I was being taken on a wild goose chase and being watched. I looked around to see if anyone was watching but saw none. Hemel was all concrete so that must mean I had to head back towards the village. As I deliberated this, someone bumped into me. I was knocked sideways but managed to catch a glimpse of them. They seemed to be wearing a false beard and had a slight limp! They were also wearing slippers. Odd. They had dropped a piece of paper but before I could hand it back to them they had disappeared. 

On the paper was a hand pointing down the road and the words, go this way. I noticed the finger had a bit of yellow on it. Was the person who had just bumped into me the Yellow Fingernail? I looked at the paper again and on closer inspection realised it wasn't a bit of yellow but a bogey, but still I reckoned I had just bumped into this elusive criminal. So with that I set off down the road for the woods.

To be continued....

Authors note: My thanks goes to Tomowaka for the illustration. You can find her work on twitter @aPH



19 April 2015

Travel Diaries - Hobbit Holes

April 15th - London (again)

Something's not right, its over 24 degrees, it feels like summer, I'm wearing shorts (that's it now with me and jeans until the Autumn) and we're heading once again on the tube up to London. My task is to keep a 3 year old amused whilst the others head off and enjoy a movie. Now that's easier said than done but when the weather is nice it makes your decisions on what to do a little easier.

So onto the South Bank. My favourite part of London. Many will disagree of course but how many other places have purpose built "hobbit holes" for the kids to play on whilst the adults have a quick break? Right next door to Festival Hall is this little sanctuary for the kids to play on. Grab a coffee and sit back whilst they little ones run around and pretend to be hobbits or whatever they decide to be. Yes it needs a lick of paint but its a gem of a distraction. And you get some good views of the south bank and London Eye to boot. We headed to the park after that and enjoyed the open spaces.

The Colourful Underground

Have I ever mentioned I like the tube? Well lets do a consider this feature. Have you ever noticed how colourful the underground is? Check it out the next time you walk through the tunnels or sit on one of the newer tube trains. Individual stations seem to have different colours and patterns as do the different train lines. I've lived, worked and visited London for (thousands of years!) and never really noticed it; why would I you may ask. It actually makes the stations look rather pretty. Not something you associate with the underground. So here's a challenge. Post some of the colours and patterns you see in the comments and lets build up a collage. Colourful Underground; who knew? 

As this is the final Travel Diaries for awhile (they will return in the summer), I wanted to highlight the places featured over the past few weeks. I hope you've found these posts interesting, fun and informative? Please let me know.

Places featured: Caffe Nero at the BBC
Dunstable Downs
Waddesdon Manor
Quainton - Bucks Railway Centre
The Science Museum
The South Bank 
The Underground


15 April 2015

Travel Diaries - Messing around in Mazes and on Hills

Cliveden House

April 13th - Dunstable Downs

Darn it the wind has dropped! Always does when we head up to fly kites on the edge of the world, well The Chilterns (Dunstable Downs) at least. Saying that we managed to get them flying for a bit and had a great time. I love kites, I love flying them, I love controlling their movements through the sky and enjoy introducing others to this wonderful pastime. 

The Dunstable Downs are a fabulous place to fly kites (when it has enough wind). You also get great views, a fab cafe and shop. So whether you are flying kites, going for a walk or just want to have a picnic, the place will more than fill in a few hours. I'll do a future post on the kites and the festival held there in the summer but for now lets just say that if you have the chance, buy yourself a kite and fly it. It will enhance your travelling life. I took one of mine to Dubai recently and flew it in the desert, fabulous. 

Dunstable Downs

April 14th - Cliveden House

I like getting lost, you discover so much more! As long as you can find your way back that is. Well if you are like minded then Cliveden is a great place to get lost in. Not only can you get lost in a maze but also woods, gardens and a quaint little tea room. This is another gem run by The National Trust and is a great place to keep the kids amused for a few hours. It also has stunning views from the terrace and is currently full of spring colours; helped by beautiful weather. We've been lucky this Easter hols, long may it continue into the summer. 

I'll say this here and now, we are extremely lucky in the UK to have organisations like the National Trust. Preserving our past for the future. Suitable for all ages and if you are a member they solve the problem of finding things to keep the children occupied. We're also extremely lucky that when the sun shines (which is more often than many think) we have a country that radiates with colour. It's all about greens and yellows at the moment, and is exemplified by Cliveden and its gardens. It's a magical place to visit and is only a short distance outside of London.

So the next time you have a free day, go visit your local National Trust property and discover yourself the joys of what they offer. I also hope you've enjoyed these travel diaries? Please let me know what you think.

Coming Soon: Hobbit Holes.  


10 April 2015

Science Museum

Travel Diaries: April 9th - In the Labyrinth of London

Weather remained nice so we decided to go to a museum! Where's the logic in that? We don't get great weather that much here and when we do we go indoors! I did try to change our destination but to no avail. So after enduring the typical scramble for seats on a train where you're paying far more than perhaps you should be. Although in saying that I did nod off for a bit and felt very comfortable upon arrival into Marylebone station. We got the less comfortable tube train on the way back, without finding a seat. So one journey out of two wasn't bad I suppose. 

Our first port of call was The Science Museum, that was after some deliberation about which museum we were going to visit. There are three to choose from in less than a stones throw from each other, (V&A and Natural History) but science won the day. 

Now I have a bit of an issue with this museum, it's not that I don't like it, I do. It's just that I find it all a bit messy and as the title of today's post suggests a bit of a labyrinth. There doesn't seem to be a logical way to go around it? Is anyone with me on this? Bits here, bits over there. It's just not as visitor friendly as say The British Museum, which has some logic to the route you take through its corridors. That being said we managed to negotiate its halls well enough to try out a few things and learn something new. And it's free, one of London's great assets; our free national museums. 

So if a visit to a museum wasn't enough we then walked around Londons crowded centre and number one toyshop, Hamleys. We also had a coffee outside the BBC. Highly recommend that. Its not hard to find, look up Regent Street at the junction of Oxford Street and you will see it. Caffe Nero is next to the entrance and you can enjoy a game of spot the celebrity. 

We're heading to London again next week for week two of our holidays but will be doing something completely different. What is for certain is that I'm sure we're have to find our way through the labyrinth that is the underground. Bring it on. Until the next time, happy museuming...


7 April 2015

Travel Diaries: Traffic Jams on a Bank Holiday Monday? Never

April 6th: Colourscape

Ah the sun was shining; finally. And for the second time in three days we were once again headed up the A41. Thomas and his friends (see the last post) were a stone throws away from todays destination. This time we were bound for Waddesdon Manor (the beautiful stately home of the Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild. I'll do a proper post on it one day, promise). So it seemed was everyone else, as the traffic snaked through the village and beyond. Bloody Bank Holidays! Why do people want to do the same things as us? Just so inconvenient.

Our destination this time was not to look through the house and its treasures but to visit a giant inflatable building with coloured chambers and people blowing large horns at its centre! Colourscape is only open for a few days, so was bound to be a crowd puller as the hour long queue testified. So was it worth it? Most definitely.   

You stroll through the coloured chambers wearing a coloured blanket and are taken into a world where you senses are put through their paces. One minute its bright red, the next blue, then black, green, orange and so on and so on. The chambers clashing with your blanket. Its amazing. And whilst you explore the chambers, music is bouncing off all the chamber walls, playing havoc with your senses and orientation. 

The contrast between the stately home and this are about as extreme as it can get. But what a way to spend your bank holiday. We ran around the grounds, had ice cream and looked at the Aviary. All good fun but Colourscape will live in the memory for much much longer. Traffic Jams, a minor blip, thankfully.

5 April 2015

Travel Diaries: In Search of the Easter Bunny

These are the diary entries of a holidaying travel teacher who has to keep the kids entertained . Slightly exaggerated for entertainment purposes but still with a hint towards the wonderful things to do in the UK, whatever the weather - enjoy!

April 3rd & 4th - Thomas and his Friends  
The Night Before:
This was suppose to be my birthday treat but in reality it was for the kids. London was a no go. Thanks rail networks for completely shutting off all routes to the capital! Over the Easter weekend too, pathetic. 

So a trawl through the internet gave us the option of "A Day with Thomas" at the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre in Quainton. After a few minutes of debating whether it was worth giving it a go or not. We decided that it was.
The Next Morning:
Weather was crap as always; gray skies, but no sight of rain, and upon arrival discovered the wind was adding its usual chill factor to the rubbish temperatures. It's Spring now, please warm up!

As it turned out the day was a lot of fun. A ride on Thomas and Percy, and a minature railway. Couldn't get a forth ride in as there wasn't one. Add to that the joys of battling hordes of families trying to find a miniscal spot to eat their packed lunch, the four of us had to share a small bench.  

Note: There is something very British about eating a packed lunch and drinking from a flask whatever the weather in whatever place you can find. We do that well us Brits.

Anyhow a bit of face painting, a meeting with the Thin Controller (not the fat) and chasing the kids around the museum helped to pass the time. Oh, and there were a few trains and carriages to look at. So if you just happen to be passing near Aylesbury and fancy a bit of railway nostalgia, then please pay it a visit. A successful start to the two weeks ahead. Anyone for a sandwich?


3 April 2015

For the love of Trees

With Easter upon us and Spring now well and truly sprung, it felt right to unleash this post now. Easter is a great time to go for a walk or stroll and this post is to celebrate our trees, and why for me they help to make a simple walk so much more pleasurable. 

At this time of year nature is starting to awaken from the harsh winter and now is the perfect season for watching the wildlife and admiring the views and clouds, (see my very first post for that; look up to the sky and see). So let's add to that the wonder of trees. There is something magical about observing trees, climbing them (responsibly) and photographing them in their various guises. They help to shape our landscape and give character to our cities. I also think that here in the UK we are very lucky to have so many.

I would love to hear the stories they could tell about the people that have walked close to them, climbed them and rested upon them. How the landscape has changed around them and the endless changes in weather they have had to endure. The joy for me comes from sketching or photographing them and looking at them whilst enjoying the fresh air. These pictures were taken during the cold winter days; though not beautiful in colour, they still offered interesting imagery. I hope you agree? I seem to love nature more the older I become and looking at trees is becoming an important element to my overall enjoyment of any walk or journey; along with clouds and birds. 

So the next time you take a walk in a wood, forest or city centre park for that matter, make sure to look at the trees. I promise you they will add to the experience. They can turn a mundane walk into something more interesting. You may even want to find out what type they are and when they are at their most beautiful. If you are visiting the UK during the Spring, then make sure to have a look, you will find London and many of our towns and cities and villages have plenty to offer and admire. For the love of trees.  



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