Well here we are in October, the growing season is more or less finished bar a few things that can be grown over the Autumn / Winter months, and as I write this rain of biblical proportions is falling and it's dark at 2 PM in the afternoon.
What a strange year it's been, in March I had just got back from France when we went into lockdown, a bizarre experience, toilet rolls became as rare as Unicorns and milk was impossible to get hold of, pasta was bought by the bucket load and everything that came through the letterbox was doused with anti bacterial spray.
Hands were washed until raw, everyone was a possible carrier and walking (a rare treat) meant taking a wide berth when somebody was coming towards you, not everyone observed this and a few runners managed to get close to me whilst puffing and panting, which pissed me off somewhat.
People fell into two distinct camps, those who would willingly move to one side to keep a distance and those who were like a train on a track from which they couldn't deviate, either not seeing you or at least pretending they didn't.
March for me is usually a time to look forward and start to think about what I'm going to plant and the days drawing out just that tiny bit longer day by day, trips to the garden centre to stock up on compost (peat free), and get canes and stuff ready for the growing season.
This posed a problem as most garden centres were closed and most people would have been too scared to use them even if they had been open including myself. Luckily I had a good stock of seeds and managed to find a garden centre that took orders on the web and delivered to my door.
I managed to get hold of some tiny tomato plants and two chilli plants, I got the tomatoes planted out into compost in buckets which is how I usually grow them.
My conservatory gradually became full of small pots with seedlings growing by the day, | was really pleased when the melon seeds germinated, along with the aubergine seeds, this time I wanted to actually end up with some edible ones.
Those little plants grew well and with the hot weather that came in the Summer I ended up with lots of lovely toms.
Back in March I didn't know how much the allotment was going to turn out to be very important in staying sane over the coming months, being able to get out and talk to people was going to become so important.
I This year I wanted to grow some things that I'd tried last year but which hadn't quite worked out, aubergines being one, they had formed but had never grown into a usable size, but I also wanted to try some new things.
Someone at the allotment had told me they had grown melons successfully and the chap on the plot next to mine had given me cucumbers last year which gave me the idea to try and grow some myself.
I had never grown peas before so this was something else to give a go, so on my rather ambitious list for 2020 were -
My plot is a tale of two halves, the top end is very heavy clay soil, the other end is a lighter soil but very stony, my shed was taking up quite a lot of room at the stony end and was in a sorry state so it came down. I could then use the bit where the shed had been to grow more stuff.
The boards which mark the border of the plot were all pretty much rotten, so I took the opportunity to take these all up and replace them with new ones, and so after some digging the plot was ready to grow stuff as soon as the seedlings were a bit more mature. The ground was still relatively cold so I needed this to warm up a bit as well, a bit like a kid waiting for Christmas.
For the last three years I have had a few empty plots near me, not that I mind to be honest I enjoy the solitude sometimes and I can always wander down and have a natter with some of my fellow plot holders.
This year was different because people had cottoned on to the fact that a plot was going to give them at least an element of freedom and all the empty plots were snapped up.
And so I had lots of new neighbours who set about their new plots with gusto, one young couple employed a gardening company to clear their plot which was admittedly like the Borneo jungle.
Others did it the hard way digging and clearing all the weeds, some bought their children which livened the place up a bit, there were barbebcues, a very pleasant vibe developed from a pretty horrible general situation.
Some of the newcomers were asking me for tips and I passed on what little know how I have accumulated, which is not a whole lot, we were swapping plants we had too many of, the allotment really was helping me get through these strange times.
The weeks passed and my melon seedings had progressed well in the conservatory and I had high hopes. Growing is a learning process and this year I was going to learn a lesson on how germination takes place with melons.
The melon plant needs the bees to move between the flowers so germination can take place, unfortunately I left the plants in the conservatory perhaps a month too long, so the bees couldn't get at them.
Once I did put them out into the garden I watched the bees settle on the flowers and just hoped I hadn't left things too late, lesson well and truly learnt.
On the large Oak tree near my plot is a bird box, early in the year I always watch to see if the box is being used, this year I didn't see any activity but last year I spent quite a time watching the parent birds flying back and forth with food for the fledglings.
Once the soil had warmed a bit I put in some peas, when they popped through I was delighted and I built a support for them to climb up, but something or rather somethings were about to intervene in my quest for fresh peas for dinner.
Pigeons seemed to have multiplied and they descended on the young pea shoots and proceeding to feast on them, yes I know I should have netted them but I didn't and so they were mercilessly ravaged.
Miraculously they seemed to recover slightly and I did get a few peas, not many but what | did get were nice, so all in all I considered that a result of sorts and a lesson to me to protect the young shoots next year.
The Chard I planted seemed to flourish and I ended up with quite a lot, Chard has such vivid colours, it's a joy to look at.
My melon mishap didn't turn out so badly, from this baby I got one reasonably sized and very tasty orange fleshed melon.
I also ended up with two cucumbers, which I was particularly pleased with, eaten along with my home grown tomatoes.
I even managed a few Peppers, they did seem to take a long time to grow but we got there in the end.
Something did take a liking to my Sweetcorn, well and truly nibbled.
Meanwhile in the garden.
I think its safe to say that food is one of if not the greatest pleasure in life, looking at it, anticipating it, smelling it, feeling it, talking about it, and of course eating it. In fact I had some great food last night cooked by a Nepalese friend, the food was spicy, with so many different flavours and textures, absolutely wonderful,
If you have never tried Nepalese food you are missing out,
One of the most popular Nepali dishes Momo is a doughy steamed dumpling originating in Tibet and served with a Nepalese spice dip.
The spice dip my friend served was hot, hot, hot,
Traditionally stuffed with ground buffalo meat known locally as “buff”, they are now more commonly found filled with goat or chicken, I'm not sure what mine were stuffed with but they were very morish.
They remind very much of Chinese dumplings, I had some very good Chinese dumplings in Melbourne which has a big Chinese quarter, great food, great aroma's and worth trying if you haven't done before.
You can get vegetarian alternatives which have a variety of finely chopped vegetables including carrot, cabbage and potato.
Many versions of the momo abound, deep-fried andif its your thing dessert momos filled with chocolate. Although eaten as a snack, momo can also be served with a rich broth.
During the day I had wandered along to the Love Northampton food fair which was held in the Guildhall, a visually treat of a building both inside and out, located right in the centre of the town.
The interior of a building can either make you feel alive and inspired, or bring your mood down, the fabric of the building itself can feel alive and make you feel the same way, invigorated, curious to learn more.
Overlooking proceedings are a rather dour looking Oliver Cromwell, don't know what he would have made of the food and drink, and his old enemy Charles 1st, no doubt his court would have welcomed the wine, although rose may have been a step too far even for the King.
The other person pictured is ???
You could even draw a parallel between dull and uninspiring food and dull and uninspiring buildings, Northampton has got some glorious buildings, it's also got some shockers, the Guildhall is one of the former,
Even on a wet and dull day like yesterday it's great to walk round the corner from the market and cast your eyes over the carved figures that cover the exterior, and I hope the thing is still standing hundreds of years from now.
Northampton has also got quite a lot of fast food outlets, but to balance that it also has some producers of high quality food and drink, and I'm not saying all fast food is bad, but I think it's important to have variety otherwise everything becomes homogenised.
Generally I think peoples expectations of food and drink is way beyond what it was even 20 years ago, we want quality, we have become obsessed with food, look at any night on the television, food programmes.
To see all the small artizan producers who go out of their way to brew great beers, distilling gin, producing meat and poultry without compromising our health, baking wonderful cakes, biscuits, bread, all this is good.
A few months ago I went out for Sunday lunch at a local pub and on the menu was Northamptonshire cheese, it was some of the best cheese I'd tasted for a very long time, that made the meal memorable for me.
So onto the food fair.
This thing of beauty is a breakfast loaf, I picked this up from Whittlebury Bakeries stall, absolutely gorgeous.
I also picked up some gingerbread houses for a friends children, they loved them, I had a little taste, I loved them too.
I was hoping to pick some Cobblers Nibble cheese but didn't see their stall yesterday, but here's a link
And here's another link to a cheesmaker I was completely unaware of -
If you have tried any of the cheeses from Nene Valley Dairy please give me some feedback, I'd like to here anybodies thoughts on the various cheeses they produce.
At this point a shout out to Shop Zero -
Picked up these nice fridge magnets from Fridge Street I like them all but I really like the one depicting the bandstand in Abington Park.
The St Crispin Street fail was in full swing while I was in town, but the wet weather had obviously put a lot of people off, and I can't blame them.
I stopped at a stall and got myself a tea and listened to the music being played for the various rides, most of it from the waltzer was early 70's stuff like "young gifted and black" and some Eddy Grant, "Electric Avenue".
Some years back I was coming back from work and got off the train at Castle Station and walked up Gold Street which was full of rides and stalls, because it was evening it bought the town alive, it was really good to see.
I know not everyone thinks its good for the town and maybe yeah its looks a bit tacky, but it livens things up a bit, although looking at the stallholders yesterday you could tell they would rather have been somewhere else, somewhere warm and dry.
I also had a chat with Fitzy on his market stall about the what is going on with the old building that was Chicago's, the scaffolding is still there but apparently the roofers haven't been paid so work has stopped.
A great shame as it would be good if the development really got going, as it is it's just another eyesore, not what we need.
This sunrise lit up the sky on a Monday morning in Northampton a few weeks ago, as I lay in bed I could see a red streak in the sky, then the sky slowly became more and more illuminated in red hues until I had to go outside in my pyjamas and get this picture.
On the subject of illumination -
With the nights drawing in as they are it's always great to see something that lifts a bit of the darkness, so last night I went along with some friends to the Diwali parade in Northampton town centre.
I'd been aware of it before but had never been along to watch, and I'm glad I did, the whole thing was a wonderful lift of the spirits.
Lots of children with their parents and drummers in colourful costume beating out a sound which in its own way lit up the mood for everyone, a delight to see so many smiling faces, and just what Northampton needs.
The parade passed slowly up Abington Street, then turned left down by St Giles church right onto St Giles Street,
A moody October sky with All Saints in the background.
Diwali celebrates the victory of good over evil and light over darkness, but it's also a time for friends to have fun and exchange gifts and sweets, and the work Diwali means "row of lights".
The parade ended on the Market Square, where everybody mingled and had a closer look at some of the very cleverly put together puppets, if that's the right word.
First off, we're into October and I'm starting to see Christmas tree's and all the other paraphernalia thats goes along with the season of good cheer in shops and garden centres.
This year seems to have gone by even faster than they normally do, a sign of my age I suppose, I went over to my very elderly Step Mums yesterday, she will be 91 this month, to plant out some winter plants for her and deliver some home made vegatable soup.
When I was 16 and she was 44 I thought she was old then, its seems incredible she's now over 90 and still going strong, if a little unsteady on her feet, I sometimes try to imagine being that age, to be honest I can't.
She is a mine of informtion on old Northampton, but because she is unsteady she doesn't get into town much now, but we often talk about what's going on, this week I was talking to her about a very positive proposed development for what used to the the site of the Angel Hotel in Bridge Street.
This was one of the oldest coaching inns in the country.
The building suffered a catastrophic fire way back in 2012, in fact January 2012 when it was being used as a bar called Fat Cats, I was in town not too far away and remember seeing the smoke, I didn't realise then how long the shell would remain surrounded by scaffolding or why.
The site has been an eyesore in the town centre for 7 years, now at last it looks as though that eyesore will be replaced by a new hotel, and a 4 star one to boot, which is great news for the centre.
This goes into detail
I get the thing about protecting very old buildings (Grade 11 listed) absolutely but maybe a balance has to be struck whereby the needs of the present are given as much thought, that's not to say we should give carte blanche to developers.
We have seen the result of developers ignoring laws for their own financial benefit, most notably in London where an historic pub was demolished on the whim of a dodgy development company,
But whatever way you look at it it's good news for the town, and will provide employment and jobs for people once it's built, when I took these pictures yesterday I also took this one.
This old boarded up snooker club sits directly opposite the site of the proposed new hotel, not something I'd want to be the first thing I saw when leaving my nice plush new building.
The town used to be well served by hotels, with one of the best known being the Grand which used to be located in Gold Street, that building is now a Travelodge.
A few bits of interest about the former Grand Hotel - this information comes from a 2010 edition of the Northampton Chronicle and Echo.
1889-1892: The hotel was originally built for the Northampton Brewery Company supposedly because it was thought it would be "Far too grand for Northampton".
1941: A Sterling bomber crashed in the middle of Gold Street, clipping the hotel.
1946: It was reported the hotel served between 1,600 to 2,000 meals a week and more than 400 teas.
1955: The Shah of Iran called into the hotel for coffee and biscuits while touring the Midlands looking for horses.
1963: The hotel was upgraded to a four star venue. Work included the creation of a grill room offering three course meals from 6s 6d. The restaurant's wallpaper included real butterflies.
May 1966, thieves stole two large safes form the hotel containing 347 in cash and cheques. They were found empty in Little Houghton the next day.
I have very vague memories of going into the Grand with my Uncle when his came up from London, but don't remember anything specific other than he wanted to go there because it was the best hotel in the town.
While I was wandering about I came across this, on the building which is now Turtle Bay, but which I believe was the headquarters building of a large Northampton brewery at one time.
With something equally ornate above it.
Going off at a tangent slightly if you love music get along to The Deco for this -
Carole King, one of the finest singer / songwriters, I'm booking my tickets today.
I've been trying to ween myself off Twitter, mostly because I find that the amount of negative stuff on there is not good for my state of mind, however amid all the name calling and other silly stuff there is always a few gems.
A few days ago I saw a tweet from a campaign group based in Northampton called "Save our Tree's Northampton", so reading on I found out that this group have started a campaign to bring back trees to Northampton's streets.
The number of street trees has seen a massive decline over the years, and the aim of the group is to not only reverse this and get tree's planted where none exist but also to protect existing trees, and they are working together with The Woodland Trust and Northamptons two Councils.
The twitter link for the group is @SaveStreetTrees
This whole subject was bought home to me earlier this year when Sheffield council decided in their infinite wisdom to chop down quite a number of healthy trees, a number of protesters were arrested, one unbelievably for blowing a plastic trumpet.
It seems we are not the only place to have short sighted councillors, thankfully people kicked up a fuss and the situation has been resolved but not before many trees were needlessly destroyed.
I took a walk into Wellingborough town centre from my work place earlier this week and although the road I was walking beside is busy thankfully the path I was on had trees on both sides.
What a difference those trees make, they provide shade, are great to look at, soak up pollutants in the air, and generally for me personally lift my spirit, why the hell would anyone want to chop down a healthy tree ?.
It's good to hear that both Northampton councils are involved with saveOutTrees and the Woodland Trust, I suspect the council would like to sell or rent the land where our old bus station once stood but if nothing is forthcoming ?.
Surely the site is a prime candidate for a park, even if only part of it was greened think of the benefits, but the problem we have is the existing culture where everything is seen only as a cost,
We need councillors at local level and politicians at a national level with the foresight to be able to see the very real benefits of improving our environment, its been proven that the quality of our environment has real cost saving potential.
In terms of both our mental and physical wellbeing we are storing up a whole world of sorrow if we not only recognise now the benefits but actually start putting things in place, with well thought out planting projects.
Depending on the time of day you can get some different scenes, when the sun sets is a good time to get some pictures.
So with the Cricket Summer nearly wrapped up and Northants CCC on the cusp of promotion I have mixed feelings, I would have prefered England to win back The Ashes rather than win the Word Cup but then hey ho.
On the whole I was disappointed with Englands performance, they seem to have lost the art of test batting, Ok there were a few standouts which saved us from complete humilation but on the whole not good.
I know we didn't have Anderson but the batsmen showed a lack of application, too many flash shots, too much limited overs mentality, on the plus side Broad did well, but we need to bring through more players of Test quality.
Joffra Archer was impressive and he really shook things up, lets hope he can play a part in the next Ashes series, maybe he he could be our new Tyson,
Ben Stokes, what can you say about his innings at Headingley, but rearguard actions are not good for my nerves.
Really when you boil the whole thing down without Smith Australia are a pretty average team, David Warner looked hopeless, it was touted that he was keen to make amends for his role in sandpapergate, he failed.
Marnus Labuschagne the concussion substiture for Steve Smith stood out for me, four 50's
to his name and a best score of 80 was impressive.
Steve Smith, it hurts me to say it but he is one great batsmen, whatever you think of his involvement with DIY products his skill can't be questioned.
I saw this in the one of the daily rags recently which interested me, the great Northants bowler Frank Tyson, he put the fear of God into the Aussie batsmen, we need some modern fast bowlers of his ilk coming through to take over from Anderson and Broad.
And now footage of Donald Bradman at Northants ground found in an attic.
Went out for a walk earlier and saw these Rosehips, seem rather large, wonder if this is a sign of a hard Winter coming up ?
And lot of bushes heavily laden with berries.
A new bench has been placed in our local park which I thought was really nice.
A few times this Summer I've been to The Saracens Head pub in Little Brington and as I've driven to the pub I've seen an old church on a corner which looked a bit worn and torn so I thought I'd drive back just to take a look.
When I'd set out from home it was sunny and bright, as I got to my destination the clouds rolled over, hence some of these pictures are not as sharp as I'd like them to be, but then in a strange way it made the church more atmospheric in that light.
A little bit of information about the church, it has a spire but no nave. The 4th Earl Spencer, Frederick Spencer, built the church of St John as a memorial to his wife, Elizabeth Poyntz whom he had married in 1830. The church was built for the convenience of villagers from Little Brington and Nobottle, who found it difficult to attend St. Mary’s in Great Brington.
Services were still held on a regular basis right up to the 19th and early 20th centuries.
By the 1940s, the church had fallen into a state of disrepair and the main body of the church was demolished in 1947.
And here is the really interesting bit, at the request of the Air Ministry, the tower with its octagonal spire was not knocked down, it had become a landmark to navigators and is still used for the same purpose today.
Northamptonshire housed a lot of air bases during WW11 used both by the Americans and the British, landmarks such as this must have been a great source of reassurance to airmen returning from raids.
I think we sometimes forget what a beautiful country we live in, there's a lot of pleasure in just driving out to a quiet spot and just taking in what surrounds you, something you probably only get to appreciate as you get a bit older.
Before we get into the latest news about the town centre consultation I'd like to show you some great sketches done by a lady called Jean,
This is her site, take a look she has some great stuff on here, and thank you Jean for letting me post these up on my site. All the sketches I have posted are of places in Northampton, but there's loads more to see on Jeans site.
I particularly like the one depicting Carlsberg and Abington Park which I'll be mentioning later on in this post.
So I was perusing Twitter earlier in the week and came across a tweet by the Chronicle & Echo which was reporting about and I quote "There is a perceived lack of cleanliness in the town centre". "Perceived poor street cleanliness putting people off visiting the town".
The article also mentioned that out of a population of over 200,000 people only just over 700 had responded to the Councils consultation laying out it's proposals for possible improvements.
The Council had said that they many people had responded positively to some of the ideas put forward, and this predictably drew a scathing response from some quarters.
As soon as the tweet went out some people on another very popular social media portal were saying that there should be no building on the towns historic market square as to do so would destroy its character etc.
Now correct me if I'm wrong but apathy is more often than not taken as consent, and if people felt so strongly they should have registered these feelings on the consultation website,
The article went on to say that footfall in the town centre had dropped by 700,000 on last year, a huge figure, and then expanded on this by asking the question "Is Rushden Lakes drawing people away" ?.
Well in my opinion the answer is yes, and it doesn't take long to work out why, what has Rushden Lakes got that our town centre hasn't ?.
Again an easy question to answer and that one visit will answer for you, its a complete no brainer.
Rushden Lakes is a relatively new development and was purpose built, it didn't evolve over a long period of time like the town centre and it has all the advantages that that brings.
Ok you have to drive to RL but once you arrive there is a huge amount of parking which is free for up to five hours, I'm not extolling the virtues of out of town shopping complexes just doing a contrast and compare before anyone gets their eco hat on.
With the amount of traffic generated that's really the last thing we need, putting more cars on the road is just increasing bad air quality, and it's becoming apparent that this will have dire consequences for our health in the not too distant future.
RL has a wide variety of shops, an M&S food hall, and lots of other nice food outlets which cater for nearly everybody, numerous clothes outlets, lots of good quality stuff on show and for sale, all in a nice clean environment, with the added bonus of the lakes as a backdrop.
Contrast this with our town centre which is full of charity shops and budget stores, and while I use charity shops myself I think a good town centre should have so much more if its going to be worth visiting, and above all the overall environment should be clean and safe.
When St Giles street was repaved the whole look and feel of the street was vastly improved and its probably the only street I would want to show anyone who was visiting the town from oversea's.
The success of RL is proof that there is still a call for shopping and proves that although a lot of shopping is done online that doesn't have to mean the death of the high street.
This being the case there must be lots of other factors such as the general environment and the perception of a relaxed and trouble free shopping experience that the town centre doesn't currently offer.
So to compete with the likes of RL our town centre has lots of catching up to do, a good example of where we are going wrong is an exchange of emails I had with Andrea Leadsom some yearsback when Gold Street had just been repaved.
The paving had been done well and I believe a lot of money had been spent to get it looking good again, but within a few days chewing gum was being spat out and being trodden into the new paving stones.
When the paving was laid common sense would dictate the asking the question "why don't we put something protective substance onto the stone to make cleaning them off a lot easier" ?, apparently that hadn't been done.
I emailed Andrea Leadsom and asked why as money had been spent why hadn't that investment been protected, I can't remember the exact reply she gave but it didn't inspire me to feel that our town was being well served.
Going back to the perception that the town centre is dirty, do you remember when Veolia won the contract for street cleansing and recycling in Northampton ?
I seem to recall certain pledges being made, one being that they would carry out a deep clean in the town centre, did that ever happen ? does anyone recall a particularly bad area that was cleaned up ?.
Here is what Veolia said at the time -
"We are very pleased to have been given the opportunity to improve the local environment for the communities in Northampton".
"Street cleansing will focus on improving standards across the borough and the grounds maintenance service will deal with all area's of public open space with particular attention on Northampton's premier park in Abington.
So I thought I'd take a look at Abington Park one evening after work, here's what I saw.
Over the years the park has won awards and walking around it in the early evening light it was easy to see why.
I was generally impressed with how clean and litter free it was, there was some litter but given it the school holidays and the park is being heavily used by parents with their children I though it looked pretty clean.
When I was young there as a boating lake and some nice gardens, those sadly have disappeared, well not strictly true, the lake is there but no boats, the gardens are there but no longer looked after and planted out.
Probably a cost cutting measure but for all that the park is a lovely place just to walk around, or visit the aviary and look at the birds, which kids loved when I was young and still seem to.
Abington Park is still somewhere I would take a visitor from overseas which is something I couldn't in all honesty say about some parts of the town, When you see a park and all those glorious trees and wildlife it lifts you up.
That above all is what we all need, we need to be inspired, uplifted and be able to see nature in the heart of our towns, I hope the Council will make use of the empty site of the old bus station and if greened that would be a massive improvement to the town generally.
It would help cut pollution, and give people somewhere pleasant to sit and contemplate what a great town Northampton is for all its faults, the people of the town deserve no less.
What a week that was, a week of extremes in many ways, we now have a new Prime Minister who has been selecting his cabinet ministers, we have had weather like I can't remember, and this was how I came to meet Betty, more of which later.
But first behold my chiili plant which has at last started to produce some bambino chilli's, for weeks it seemed to languish in a state of coma, giving no indication it would produce the goods for me. Now the recent sun and rain seems to have kickstarted it into life, and this simple thing has made me happy, which is what my Wife says about me to her friends.
Oh and while we're on the subject of extremes, before I forget we're now on the cusp of another Ashes series at the concusion of which I will either be elated or very downhearted.
Just like my chilli plant the England players need to produce the goods, as usual I'm anticipating a good result, I'll give you my thoughts as the series progresses.
As well as the chilli the Verbascum which has evolved over the Summer has just flowered, its been great watching it grow and the bee's seem to love it, a very large and unusual plant.
The picture above is the core of the plant and looks like something out of a Sci Fi film, and below the plant produced these lovely flowers some weeks back on the tendrils that grew away from the core of the plant.
The bee's really liked these and I managed to get a few decent pictures, taken with my Sony HDR-CX405.
My Sunflowers are now thriving as well, after a dodgy start when one of them was dug up by a cat taking a crap in the soft earth I'd planted it in, I ask you you what an undignified way to go, dug up and shat upon, poor little thing.
A rather large slug took a liking to one of them and that was duly dispatched over the back fence like a duke being hit for six.
My garden is in stark contrast to my neightbours whose lawn looks like a particularly well kept bowling green and where everything is pruned to the nth degree, that's fine but I prefer the slightly wilder look.
Anyway back to how I met Betty, the date was 25/07/2019, this Thursday just gone, I was told I needed to go to London to attend a work related user group meeting, in fact I had to attend two, one in central london on the Thursday, and the other in Hatfield on the Friday.
So together with a colleague who was also going I booked a hotel, somewhere within an easy commute of both locations, so me and him drove down on the Wednesday evening to the Ramada at South Mimms services.
I know what you're thinking and you're right, in a bloody services, well things were about to get interesting, I'm not a cheapskate but I'm restricted on cost you understand, of course you do.
We checked in and I went up to my room, no air con, and it was warm, very warm, so down I popped to reception, which was nice and cool, and asked "do you have a fan", "ah" the young lady said, "I'll have a look for you but I can't guarentee anything", "Ok" I say. and go back to my room.
Five minutes later a knock at the door, a young lady stands in front of me with a a fan, well in better times it had been a fan, now it looked like something that had been pulled out of a skip.
The back cover which hides the electrics that power the fan was missing, the stand was at a 45 degree angle, and the blades had what appeared to be black mould on them, she plugged it in, it didn't work.
"" I'll go and find another one" she said and disappeared to return five minutes later with what looked like a nice clean serviceable fan, and it worked, thank god I thought, otherwise I would have cooked like a medium sized chicken in that room.
The windows were open so I took a look outside,
Not the best view, ah but at least breakfast was included in the cost of the overpriced room, although when we asked at reception we were told, "I can't see any sign of breakfast being included on your booking", "bloody hell" I thought.
My colleague later questioned this and came back with two coupons for a breakfast at the Harry Ramsdens in the services area which would have cosy us 8 quid each, welcome to rip off UK.
After a night of little sleep with the fan droning away in the background Thursday morning dawned and off we trotted to fortify ouselves for the upcoming day, well all I can say is it was interesting, if I'd been charged 8 quid for that I would have been pretty pissed off.
Funnily enough my colleagure had read some reviews left by pevious guests and one comment was "for the love of God don't have the breakfast".
There were lots of very young Chinese people staying in the hotel and they had been queuing in front of us to get their food, when we left after having ours we noticed all these breakfasts still completely untouched on the tables,
I hope they didn't think that's the best we have to offer, they may never come back.
My colleagure got a ground floor room with a broken window lock and which was opposite the area where the smokers fill their lungs with various toxins, and the smoke was wafting into his room, oh and no fan either.
He asked to change rooms which they did only to give him a room which still stank of smoke and but at least had not one, but two fans, two fans, to say I was envious is an understatement.
I later took the view he needed at least one of those fans to redirect cigarette smoke back out of the windows.
After feasting on a what was described as a traditional English breakfast, we made our way to Potters Bar train station, a gentle walk of 40 minutes in the coolest part of the day, this involved walking through a nature reserve at the back of the Hotel which was actually quite nice.
Arriving at the station things were now starting to warm up, I hope the train is air conditioned was my one and only thought, when it did turn up it was obviously old rolling stock and no air con.
When you watch people who obviously commute regularly by train you can see in their eyes that with each journey they take a part of their soul dies, they have that blank, resigned sort of look,
We arrived at Finsbury Park and here we had to get on the underground to travel to Victoria, this was the bit I'd been dreading, under normal circumstances I like using the tube, but today it was going to be warmer than a pair of testicles trussed up in a pair of 1970's bri-nylon underpants.
If people on the overground appear half dead then those forced to use the tube on a hot day resemble animated cadavers, with all the seething resentent of vampires forced to live forever in a state of unrest.
With each station we arrived at I ticked off one less to go before we got to our destination, and when we did I was glad we were now near to our final destination which I knew would be air conditioned, whether I would be in any fit state to take in any information was another matter.
I'm sticking in this random image of beer girls at the Adelaide Oval during an Autralia England test match just to cheer myself up, the girls escort you back to your seat with your beer, I didn't avail myself of this service but many testerone filled yound lads did.
If you are a cricket fan and find yourself in Australia the Adelaide Oval is a lovely place to visit.
Below I can be seen with a cock on my shoulder, and it has to be said a bit of a belly, this is beer related nothing to do with eating too much chicken, this is in France, it has to be in France where else could you get a cock so well behaved ?.
Here sans belly and ready to dine at a lovely place in the South of France, I love France, the food and wine, food wise you can't beat a good cassoulet, washed down with a red, it's bloody nirvava I tell you.
What a week it's been for me, the Cricket World Cup has seen me both despondent then higher than a kite, I was convinced we had blown our chances and would be dumped out by Australia.
I tried valiantly to avoid looking at the score but this plan was defeated by a colleague wandering over to me and telling me Australia were 14 for 3, when he assured me he wasn't winding me up my hopes rose.
Then my mind turned to the many times England have flattered to deceive, could Australia still nick the game, the final outcome was too much for me to take in, in a pressure situation England not only won, but won in style.
I was hoping to see the West Indies do really well, that however was not be be, but I would love to see a really strong W.I side in the future.
Now today it's the final, whether we win or lose its been a great tournament, with the Ashes still to come, and now I've got into the tennis as well, sport is consuming me.
The Grand Prix I can take or leave, I used to love it but its become a tad boring in my opinion, in fact I'm more interested in the E-Prix, those cars doing incredible speeds but almost silent, incredible.
Anyway apart from all this an update on my last post.
In my last post I covered some of the ideas put forward in the Council and their partners consulation document which closed last week.
I took part in that and I hope lots of others did too, what the outcomes are from this will be interesting as will how long things take to get moving, obviously as said before lots of thought is required.
I'm hoping the results of peoples input into the consulation will be published as I'm keen to see peoples ideas, we can't just leave this to those who make decisions as they have proved before to be, shall we say "unreliable" :)
Going off on a tangent and before I bore you to death, what do you think of this picture I manged to get a few days back, I was quite pleased with it, watching this stuff is a great antidote to the pressures of watching sport .
An update on the mess I saw last week on Campbell Square, see below -
I reported this to NBC and they responded saying it would be cleared within two days, hopefully it has.
Also I mentioned that I'd walked past idling taxis next to All Saints church belching out diesel fumes where a lot of shoppers are affected, so I passed this info onto the council.
Now lets put this into context, councillors in Northampton very recently declared a climate emergency with talk of making Northampton carbon neutral by 2030, very ambitious but given the councils reply to me probably not attainable.
I'm not going to cut and paste the entirety of their reply to me but basically the gist of it was -
"Whilst I agree that it serves no purpose and is unsessesy for hackney cab operators to idle their vehicles engines during the warm periods of weather, there are currently no Road Traffic Orders in place to prevent any vehicle to idle whilst parked stationary in the town centre. Such orders are put in place by and enforced by the Highways Authority which is currently a County Council function".
So we are back to the old, "this is somebody elses remit", now where have we encountered that before ?, oh yes, in the saga of who was going to be responsible for the repair of Saint Eleanors Cross,
Then we get -
"There is legislation that makes it an offence to leave a vehicle engine running unnecessarily whilst parked under the Road Vehicle Regulations (1986). A £20 fixed penalty notice can be served under the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) (Fixed Penalty) (England) Regulations 2002. To the best of my knowledge, Northampton Borough Council have not adopted a policy to enforce this legislation thus enforcement officers are not authorized to enforce the legislation. Consideration has been given in the past to such actions but in order for a fine to be issued the driver of a vehicle has too refused to turn their engine off after being asked to do so by a council official".
So I think you can see that for the council to declare a climate emergency and then state the above is a bit of a joke.
They want to make the town centre a better place to be, well in my mind that doesn't include having to breathe in diesel fumes, there is absolutely no reason for an engine to be running when stationary.
I know that central govenment hasn't helped here in that the example it sets is less than perfect, and they have given councils less to spend, this was published in the Guardian newspaper back in 2016.
"Last March, the supreme court required the government to produce an action plan, but nothing much has been forthcoming apart from extending low-emission zones"
We're now more aware of the dangers of dirty air, so this should be at the top of the agenda, the council used to operate a park and ride form the council offices on the Bedford Road into town, I used it regularly.
Why not bring that back and keep the traffic in the centre to a minimum, seems like a relatively easy fix which could at least go part of the way to a solution.
The big ugly space which is where Greyfriars bus station was could be partially greened, more trees would enhance the place visually and help mitigate some of the pollution, a great opportunity to really make a positive difference.
I've often sat in a green spot in central London and had some food and a drink, it a makes a big difference to the tarmac and concrete environment, to leave this space as it is would be criminal.
Back to the consulation and I've been keeeping abreast of what others think on Facebook, there is some discussion but most of it seems to come from the same people, and most of it seems to be negative.
We all look at things through the prism of our own past experiences and yes we all know the town used to be vibrant, but the factors I've mentioned before have changed things and they are not going to change back overnight.
Some people seem to be upset at the councils proposal to put a food market on the market square making the point that we had one before in the form of the Fish Market, a good point but not necessarily a bad idea.
Shopping was the main reason people went into town, I used to regularly go in to buy albums back in the day, if the primary reason for most people has gone with the advent of shopping online, what will replace this ?.
Can the affect of online shopping be mitigated by creating a more diverse mix of shops, restaurants, pubs, and other facilities?.
From a personal perspective I love to read, and yes I do buy books online but I also like to wander round a bookshop and look at books, maybe more variety in term of shops would tempt people back in ?.
I stopped going to the cinema many years ago, mainly because of the distraction of people on mobiles etc, but a few years back the Errol Flynn cinema opened in the town, now I regularly go to see new films.
The last one I saw was "Yesterday" a brilliant film, watch it if you get the chance, I watched in a great little environment, quiet and comfortable.
So now most of my trips into town are to watch films, what would I do before of after the film, go for a drink, have a meal, and there are some decent pubs and restaurants in the centre.
I've already mentioned that for the town to become attractive again we need a visible police presence, and this was born out by events on Saturday just gone at Sol Central, the entertainment complex.
I was on my way into town on Saturday evening for a night at the Roadmender, and as the taxi approached Sol Central we saw three police cars all with their blues and two's on and the entrance was cordoned off with tape.
This was obviously not a traffic accident so me and the taxi driver assumed that some sort of fracas has happened, and we were right, a group of men had been fighting and someone had been stabbed.
This was bad enough but the following day somebody was shot and stabbed on the football fields on the eastern side of town in front of spectators.
Earlier in the week a man was robbed at knifepoint in an alleyway, the problem we have is with the rarity of seeing a policeman the n'er do wells are pretty sure they won't be caught and this makes it easy for idiots to engage in anti-social behaviour.
Old and young alike are not really going to have confidence that they will be safe if this continues, and it needs to be stamped on very quickly, because otherwise it's only a matter of time before we have have a fatality.
On a brighter note I had a great evening watching this band who I only became aware of recently.
They were supported by Jared James Nichols
Living Colour are well worth checking out, as is the splendid Mr Nichols who does a great rendition of Mississippi Queen
Now you know I wax lyrical about the beauty of Northamptonshires countryside, but unlike some lets say more official sites that cover the town I'm not going to just show the positives,
There are some lovely buildings in the town centre but it doesn't take long to see how the town has been spoilt and neglected over the years, in many cases the good has been torn down and replaced with the bad.
There is no one culprit to blame although I think most people could give you their views on that, and to be fair that's a whole new conversation.
There are exceptions to that though and they are the redeeming features of the towns architecture.
Lets start with the good, Northamptons Town Hall or The Guildhall is a magnificent building, when you step back and take the time to look at it properly, it's full of detail and a delight to look at.
The history of the building is interesting and I'll let you look further into that if you want to, if you get time or are in Northampton take a wander along and take a look inside.
The inside matches the exterior for beauty, stanied glass windows and other stuff well worth seeing, worth taking time out definitely.
Now Northampton has had a market for hundreds of years, over 800, obviously with such a long history many things have changed, including how it is used and who uses it,
Old Northamptonians like me will tell you it's lost much if its character, the fountain that used to grace the middle of the market was pulled down in the 1960's, the cobblestones were pulled up and replaced with block paving.
Certainly it's not used anywhere near as much as it was, and that obviously has an effect on the atmosphere of the place, but then this is largely true of the town centre itself.
Some pretty momentous events have taken place there, one being a riot involving 7,00o supporters of Charles Bradlaugh the famous Northampton Politician who I have mentioned in the radical Northampton section of this site.
Above the north end of the market in the 1950's, with the Emporium Arcade where Boots now stands.
Above the market as it appears today, in the background you can just make out the ugly monstosity of a 1970's multi storey car park.
The buildings surrounding the Market are a hotch potch of the old and newer, some visually appealing and some to be frank an eyesore.
The picture below illustrates my point, whatever were they thinking of when they built the square grey box below ? It's ugly, very ugly, reminiscent of eastern bloc architecture in the 1970's, contrast that to the building to the right.
Now I understand that places evolve over time but surely some thought should be put into how a new building will integrate with what's already there?. It can be done and it has been done very sucessfully elsewhere.
Below is Welsh House, the oldest building on the market square, it's had many uses over time but is a still fine looking building,
This heraldic sign on Welsh House which in Welsh reads "Without God, Without-everything, with God enough".
Welsh House was one the the few buildings to survive the Great Fire of Northampton in 1675,
Above is the north end of the market, the building surrounded by scaffolding has a long history, it was once the Corn Exchange, in more recent time it was Chicago's nightclub.
The sign attached to the scaffolding is for a roofing company and that got me to thinking that if they are refurbing the roof there must be something more going to happen.
I chatted to an old boy on the market and asked him if he knew anything about what was going on, he told me he'd heard it was going to be developed into retail units and flats, the interior of this builing is enormous.
I'd seen somewhere that Northampton Borough Council had a consulation document which lays out several idea's for improvements to the town centre which they have designated as comprising several specific area's.
The market square area is one such area and the proposals within the docment are -
"Upgrade market square public realm"
"New indoor food hall as a catalyst project"
"Rejuvenate active frontage around market square"
"Redefine existing pedestrian links"
"Improve Drapery environment and public realm".
OK, the first one "Upgrade market square public realm", what does that actually mean ?,
Firstly I seem to remember the new fountain which cost £50,000 to put in and has added nothing visually as it's rarely seen working, so a lot of thought has to be put into any upgrades proposed.
Hopefully the consulation which get a good response and and the council and others involved will take note of what people say, but it needs people to engage in the process, put scepticism aside and let the powers that be know what they want.
The new indoor food hall, this maybe a good idea, the market covers quite a large area and not all of it is utilised, why not have small units selling foods from all over the world as we are now a town with many different nationalities.
Rejuvenating the frontage, not really sure how that would work, but there must be some inventive types in the town that could input their idea's. Could be a project for students at Northampton UNI ?.
Redefine the existing pedestrain links, needs some thought, really dependent on if residential development happens, and if it does how will that exist alongside commercial activity.
The Drapery could be improved straight away by just removing the buses, which being diesel pump filth into the air shoppers have to breathe.
Personally I'm very aware now about dirty air and if the centre could be made cleaner that would definitely be a plus for me, I'm not sure if everybody feels the same but just as a point of public health it must be a priority.
There are proposals for many other parts of the town centre some of which sound positive and some which I'm not so sure about, lets hope I'm able to write about some improvements in the near future.
For me priorities would be making the place a pleasant and safe place to visit, with definite reasons to want to go there.
One thing I noticed when I went into town to take the pictures on here was idling taxis pumping out diesel fumes, I contacted the Council about that and will let you know their response.
Newer buidings can be added in sympathy with what is already in place as seen above when the Guildhall was extended.
St Giles Street is probably the best shopping street left in the town centre, it has some nice cafes, some decent shops, and was recently repaved, if the rest of the town could match this ?.
There's no doubt the town could be vastly improved in many ways, footfall has fallen and as a result businesses have suffered, and with Marks and Sparks closing there is yet another empty unit in the main shopping street.
A lot of the proposals in the consultation document are positive, introducing more housing within the centre would in my opinion be a step forward, as long as it is affordable and not just luxury flats.
A building like the old Corn Exchange should not be standing empty and hopefully this will be developed and add somwhere for people to live and some decent shops, it's important that the town is clean and attractive, at the moment that's not the case.
A decent transport strategy needs to be put into place, it's ironic that the town centre used to be served by a Tram system, replaced by buses, but we need to move away from polluting vehicles in town centres.
I'm not an evangelist on this subject as I own a diesel vehicle myself but I wouldn't drive it into town, it just seems to be common sense when so many vehicles are on our roads.
Northampton has many rivals for people to go shopping so something urgently needs to happen, I love this place and I would hate to see it turn into a ghost town.
A tent in All Saints church yard, surely in the our supposedly rich economy we shouldn't be seeing this ?. I know the causes are complicated and central government squeezing councils funding haven't helped but this has got to be wrong.
I know the church has asked others who were camped in the same place to move because they wouldn't interact with people trying to help them, so those that did move are now camped on the land in front of the Mayorhold car park.
The cost to society of homelessness is high but more important is the the cost to the homeless, we have already had people die on the streets, some quite young, this is not a third world country, There are people out there helping and I'll write about that in a future post.
There is much to think about and much to do but I'd like to think that in years to come hopefully sooner we won't be seeing this, people need to be put first.
If you have taken the time to read this thank you, if you have any thoughts feel free to comment.
Have a good Summer :)