Some estate agents are in the wrong job, they should be novelists:
> luxurious finishing touches
> carefully considered design
> impeccably high standards of craftsmanship
> extensive living space
> comfort, style and practicality always fit together harmoniously
And they were all describing the one home.
Other agents are less gifted with hyperbole:
> the interior of the house is approached from outside
> ceiling light, radiator
> space and plumbing for washing machine (and dishwasher but currently the space is used for a cupboard
You can somehow tell when the house is in a crap position:
> good access to A38 …….. on the slip road?
> A popular holiday destination ………… don’t expect to find a parking pace in town
> rural location …………. in the middle of nowhere
> highly coveted cul-de-sac situation
> has the benefit of the afternoon and evening sun
Some phrases automatically make you think:
> Part of our renowned Heritage Collection = looks old fashioned
> Internal inspection is essential to fully appreciate this lovely home = OK, it looks rubbish on the outside
> Low maintenance front & rear gardens = stone and gravel front and back
> Potential for Sep W.C or Study = this is so small we have to imagine it with extra rooms
> two wall mounted electric heaters = this gets really cold in winter
> secluded rear garden – Leylandii hedges
> churches of most denominations = you won’t find a synagogue or temple here
> renovated with some original features = bare stone walls
This is why it costs so much:
Coat hanging hook = I am running out of things to say about this very ordinary property
> Solar panels provide annual income of approx £1600 = so we have aded £30,000 to the price
> could easily be converted back to its original use = can’t imagine what the owners were thinking of
> deceptive accommodation = as small as it looks
> sure to make a superb and comfortable home.
> front bedroom window and back bedroom are both triple glazed.
> you are greeted with a traditional hallway
> Like most modern properties this home offers many practical advantages including driveway parking
> Redefining the concept of the two-up-two-down
> A path leads past the low-maintenance front garden,
> The kitchen is light, curtesy of the window, stylish and modern
Or you click on the tab for a full description:
> Full description
>An impressive Grade II* listed semi detached house with character features situated in the town centre
And finally I find myself clicking on the details of a “4 bed detached house” and then notice that it costs £2.5 million – nope, close it quick!
The 1600s had not been a very good time for Scotland. From 1603 when the Union of the Crowns meant they were forced to share their King with England and Ireland, they had struggled, never receiving what they considered a fair share of English trade agreements. The English East India Company controlled trade with foreign countries and was given rights to set up English territories overseas. It was very profitable, but even so, towards the end of the century, after Scotland had experienced extremes of weather a series of devastated harvests, by 1695 were feeling very sore about everything.
Scotland decided to go it alone and set up their own “Company of Scotland” to control overseas trade. The Scottish Parliament (there were separate parliaments between 1603 and 1707) gave this Company a monopoly on any trade between Scotland and overseas colonies. The problem was, however, Scotland had no overseas colonies of its own any more. Very briefly, from 1629 to 1632, Scotland did have Nova Scotia as a colony, but they lost it to France in a treaty arranged by – yes, the English!
So the Company of Scotland set out to establish some Scottish colonies. Their first (and last, to date) was The Isthmus of Darien, better known today as Panama. As a strategic area for control of trade between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans it made a great deal of sense. The idea had been put forward by William Paterson and his previous idea, the Bank of England (1694), had been quite successful so the Scottish trusted him and threw money his way to the tune of £400,000.
In 1698 five ships carrying 50 canons and 1200 people, including Mr Paterson and his wife, set sail from Leith, across the Atlantic. It must have taken a very brave person to board the ship – the orders were kept secret until they were well and truly on their way. Even when they first landed they maintained an optimistic note and the first reports described fertile land and exotic fruits. But we are talking 8 degrees north in latitude – expect daytime temperatures of 28C, humidity above 80% and rain on 23 days a month and poisonous snakes and spiders! It must have been unlike anything they had ever seen. They called it New Caledonia.
Things did not go well. William Paterson’s wife died early on and, unsurprisingly, he became depressed. Without good leadership the people struggled to establish themselves, and although they did build a fort of sorts, which they called Fort St Andrew, many of them died from fever, probably yellow fever and malaria. They met some indigenous Indians but the Scottish had only furs and woollens to trade – that didn’t work out. They surveyed the seas for passing ships, but unknown to them, King William had forbidden English ships from stopping by and gradually they came to realise that, if they were to survive, they needed to abandon the colony. In July 1699 the 250 survivors left the Isthmus of Darien, headed for New York, an English colony.
Unfortunately the news of their departure was not in time to stop two further expeditions from Scotland with a few thousand more people. On landing, faced with 400 fresh graves, an empty fort and a few palmetto covered huts they did very well not to just turn round and go home. But the Spanish, who had in fact staked a claim to the land several years beforehand, seiged the Scottish fort and after a month with limited fresh water and food the new settlers also abandoned New Caledonia. That was the end of the Scottish colonies.
The “New Company of Scotland” ?
I don’t imagine Scotland would go as far as to try to establish new colonies today, BUT Nicola Sturgeon has recently set out to establish an agency called “Scottish Development International”, with a remit to “promote exports and investment deals overseas”. In addition she is creating “a new board of trade and a new network of trade envoys using prominent Scottish business people”. Maybe she should tale some lessons from Scottish history?
> He merits to be buried in the bottom of the sea that shall but think of separation, where God had made such a Union
King James (1 or V1 depending on you viewpoint)
We currently live in the site of the old Trowbridge Barracks, on the corner of Frome Road with Bradley Road. In 2014 the remaining walls of the Barracks were given blue plaques. This is the one I walk past every time I pop out to the shop.
Trowbridge Barracks was erected in Bradley Road in 1794 by contractor John Scobell.
It seems sad that apart from his name and a single statement that he “ built barracks in the west of England” I can find nothing about this man. The surname appears to be strongly associated with the South West. Maybe there are descendants who can add more to this story.
The barracks were abandoned after the close of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815.
Because of the Chartist disturbances in the mid 19th century, the Government increased the size of the army which required establishing proper military quarters. The Chartists campaigned for votes for all (men only of course) and asked for annual parliamentary elections. It was a time of a poor economy and considerable civil unrest so Trowbridge re-opened the barracks in 1839.
From the late 19th century the barracks housed the Royal Artillery and had accommodations for over 100 men. It seems that having artillery units scattered and homed in small isolated units was a bone of contention and Hansard records a question in parliament from 1893, relating to this (http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1893/mar/11/trowbridge-barracks) which comments on the huge expense of the barracks. It ends with the instruction that the MP should ‘ask the late secretary for war” how much was spent on the barracks – was that a joke? Anyhow, he was then told to put his question on paper and he would be answered on Monday – clearly they didn’t have very full in-trays then.
The barracks were finally demolished in 1961.
View from Frome Road of the barracks, taken 1961. (from Trowbridge museum page)
So that was my morning’s shopping trip – and I only set out to buy some peas and honey (Seriously!)
The world of cats:
I had assumed Egyptians were first to domesticate cats, I guess I read it somewhere, but in fact cats have been found buried alongside people in Neolithic graves dating some 10,000 years ago. The Egyptians did rather have a thing about cats though!
They are responsible for the earliest image of a cat wearing a collar – from 2400BC on a fifth dynasty Egyptian tomb. By 1700BC cats commonly appeared in art.
Strange stories include a battle in 500BC between Persians and Egyptians. The Persians collected up many cats and used them as a shield for their approaching armies, knowing the Egyptians would never attack them – the Persians won!
DNA studies showed the ancestor of all domestic cats was an African wildcat which lived in the Middle East. I saw a documentary recently which suggested that man came out of Africa through the Middle East, during a time when the Sahara desert was green and fertile, so I suppose the cats came with or followed the people.
Cats invaded Scotland more successfully than the Romans.
European settlers took cats to America: cats with five toes or more were considered lucky so more of these found on board ships, hence the greater prevalence along the Eastern seaboard of America of multi-toed cats.
Modern-day Rome protects it’s many cats, seen as part of the bio-heritage. Estimates are of some 300,000 cats living in the city.
Health and cats:
Almost every article about owning cats claims that just owning them will improve your cardiovascular health, lower your BP and cholesterol, but data is conflicting and despite a flurry of studies, mostly from Australia, in the 1990s, there is no direct evidence that cats will protect you in this way. Anecdotal evidence says that stroking your cat will help you relax – I guess it depends on factors such as whether it moults, how hard to pummels your chest and, in the case of one of our cats, whether it dribbles.
Are cats intelligent?
They do have brains that are relatively large for their body if compared to similar sized mammals. Brain averages at 5cm long and weighing 30g, but it by no means clear that brain size correlates to intelligence.
Their brains have same basic structures a human brains.
They demonstrate understanding of object permanence long before a human baby does – I saw this recently as Loki continued to look for a toy that had been hidden behind a cushion, impressive! Memory has been preserved for at least 10 years in studies and this would account for the amazing stories of cats turning up at an old address many years after their owners moved away.
Biology of cats:
Special features are retractable claws, ability to hear high pitched sounds (comes in handy when mice are around ); they can see in near darkness, have very good sense of smell, and are flexible with quick reflexes.
They have 13 thoracic vertebrae (humans have 12) and 7 lumbar (5 in humans) with 3 sacral and a variable number in the tail. Their clavicles are not fixed at the shoulder which makes them extremely flexible. This, along with pads on their feet and retractable claws enables them to stalk silently. When they walk they move front and hind leg from the same side together but this switches to a diagonal pattern as they speed up. [This might explain why the Forbury Lion in Reading is depicted as he is – as a child I was always told the statue was incorrect, but it seems in this case I was misinformed! How many things that you learned at school have turned out to be wrong?! ]
The skull has particularly large eye sockets and they are able to see well in dim light – at one sixth of the lowest level a human can see. This is facilitated by large pupils and by a membrane at the back of the retina called the tapetum lucidum. The large pupils can change to slits to enable them to focus in bright light without losing acuity. However they do not have the same range of colour vision as humans, seeing mainly in blues and yellow-green.
Whats all this with catnip?
Not all cats have a thing about catnip – 70-80% are sensitive to it and they can detect it in concentrations as low as 1 part per billion. It will stimulate their social and sexual behaviours. Valerian can also affect cats in this way.
Their taste buds are not tuned to detect sweetness.
They prefer food to be at 38C which simulates the temperature of a fresh kill – not eating cold food will keep them from ingesting long-dead food.
They are obligate carnivores with short GI tracts and cannot easily digest plant matter. So it remains a mystery as to why they sometimes eat grass! They are most definitely not vegetarians.
They have every effective kidney function which means they do not need to drink a huge amount, and can even quench their thirst with sea water if they have to.
They actually have whiskers all over their body, which sense width of gaps and location of objects in relation to the cat.
Interestingly the cat does not have a circadian rhythm which is why they may sleep all day or may sleep all night, it doesn’t matter to them, though they do like to have between 12 and 16 hours of sleep each day.
The natural lifespan of cats has increased dramatically. In the 1980s one might expect a cat to live 7 years but by 2015 this was closer to 15 years. The oldest cat recorded lived for 38 years. Neutering your cat may contribute to a longer life – good news for vets, and it makes you feel better when he (the cat) looks up at you with a look of horror, having realised what happened. (Hannah you will have to send me the photo again!)
In 2007 a UK household survey suggested that 26% households owned one or more cats. The number of domestic cats was estimated as 10,332,955. Thats 10.3 million!
Is your cat happy?
As humans, we can only ever understand things from the human viewpoint, and so we tend to anthropomorphise our cats. We say they “like sleeping on the bed”, that they “feel sad when we are out at work” and we talk to them sometimes more than we talk to our fellow humans.
I came across one study in 2008 where owners were asked to describe their cat’s personality, some defining their cats as “bad-tempered” or “protective” both of which are a bit of a stretch. Yes, I know, hundreds of cat owners are now shouting at me – after all I confessed that I don’t own a cat, so what do I know! I did live with cats for almost 40 years – Caesar, Moppett, Sheba, Tigger, Tabby, Duster – and I too would have assigned characteristics to each of them. I am not sure how we know these things, but I like to think that when they bring us nearly-dead mice, cabbage leaves, live goldfish, and when they rub themselves on our legs that somehow they are expressing a similar emotion to what we perceive as happiness.
In the process of tidying my iCloud photos I realised there are an inordinate number of cat pictures – and I don’t even own a cat!
How come it is so hard to delete a cat image?
Unable to bring myself to cleanse the whole lot, I took a closer look.
I came to realise that the pictures of the cats tell me a lot about their owners. Don’t worry, I am not about to dissect your inner workings, I shall use my children’s cats.
Here are the first set of images – I am looking for instant reactions:
Loves new toys; plays with them over-excitedly until suddenly falls asleep.
Enjoys crafts and gardening, holds strong principles, occasionally over-optimistic (that cat is never going to fit in that basket) but really just likes to spend a lot of time in bed.
And then we have
Inquisitive, wants to join in everything especially if its an adventure, knowing (does that human really think I am going to chase after paper tied with string?) but sometimes just wants to hide in a bucket!
So for those of you who know my offspring, it is an easy guess to work out which cats belong to which person isn’t it?
I trust with the long gap since my last post I haven’t lost my readers (not both of you anyhow). It can all be explained by the fact that we have been busy relocating ourselves to Wiltshire – Trowbridge to be exact. Though it may take some extra effort on my part to be as enticing as Pinkbikepinksand (The Bermuda Years), I think the next adventure starts here! I began my explorations with a walk into town.
Now I am currently living where it says “The Barracks” – it is not an up to date map, they are proper houses now – and I walked along Frome (pronounce Frooome) Road, up Newtown, across the railway line and entered the town across the appropriately named “Town Bridge”. Here I came across building no 24 and stopped for photos:
Miscreants of Trowbridge were, once upon a time, confined in the village-lock-up: The Blind House. Built in 1757/8, it has “rusticated stone, with an open gabled stone porch and a stout plank door, formally iron-clad and studded” (as per the 1950 listing by Historic England).
Despite 19th century riots and 20th century bombing, both de-roofing this small building, it has stubbornly persisted and now, with Grade II listing, will forever be a reminder – of what I am not quite sure, perhaps that punishment was once immediate, local and brief.
The accompanying stocks, pillories and ducking stool have not endured, though I did find a detailed description of the use of the ducking stool in Trowbridge, in a newspaper archive.
Some of you will know I lived in Bermuda for a while and there the ducking stool has become an attraction, with the same women being ducked three times a week come rain or shine, summer or winter. It was a punishment kept mainly for women, specifically “scolds” or “nags”. In some places the chair used was actually a commode or “cucking stool”. I know if I were convicted of being a nag (don’t ask my husband) then I would much prefer ducking in the clear blue waters of the Bermuda sea than the probably effluent -filled stream of the River Biss in Trowbridge. (Note to self: don’t nag R. Just in case)
Law enforcement by social humiliation was legalised in the mid 14th century in England when the Statute of Labourers required every town to provide and maintain a set of stocks. In the context of a decimation of the labour force nationwide by the Black Death, the purpose of the stocks was to confine any man who demanded extra pay for his job. Later, the Vagabonds and Beggars Act of 1494 dictated a 3-day sentence in the stocks for unlicensed beggars – strangely, some people, the “aged, poor and impotent” we’re given a license to beg! In 1605, being drunk or uttering profanities in public were added as crimes occasioning the use of stocks.
Use of the stocks as punishment required a degree of audience participation and was popular street theatre. Stocks are actually the ones that restrain the ankles, those with holes for wrists and head are pillories. It seems the more severe crimes were punished in pillories, with the additional horrific feature of ear-pinning (probably self-explanatory). Pillories were abolished in Britain in 1837 but the stocks have never formally been prohibited, though the last documented use was perhaps in 1872 – internet sources claim this was in Newbury, or Wales, but none state the nature of the crime and none have followable references.
Back to the Blind House – so called because it has no windows – it is actually going to be open in two weeks time, on 10th September all day, viewings free of charge as part of Trowbridge Heritage Weekend. It has two chambers and as such is one of the larger lock-ups in the country. Did you know that Wiltshire and Somerset have more extant lock-ups than any other county in England? Given that we have chosen to move house to this area I shall interpret that fact as indicative of the local awareness of heritage and not local crime.
The stone ball finial on top of Trowbridge Blind House once gave local youths the nickname of “Knobs” in the context of regular fights with Bradford-on-Avon’s youths called Gudgeons after the fish found on the top of their local blindhouse. I do not think that should be taken out of context these days. The building was in use through the 19th century but mainly for temporary confinement before taking the offenders to the courts in larger towns. Before the 19th century prison reforms, prisoners were actually charged for the straw, any food they were given and even for the padlocks or handbolts.
One thing I remain puzzled over is why restoring the town’s lock-up was considered a suitable memorial for the Queen’s Jubilee in 1977. From what I have read, Royalty has almost never visited the town, unless you count King John who may have stayed in Trowbridge Castle (saved for a later post) in 1212, but even if she did come down this way, aren’t there more impressive buildings to show her?
Curious Punishments of Bygone Days by Alice Morse Earle, 1896
Have you ever been dolphin watching in the North Sea – a cold, windy grey day when you strain your eyes to spot anything through the drizzle? Then the skipper declares, with a confidence usually seen in second hand car dealers, there’s a whole pod over there, just in front of the rocks – nope, you see nothing! But at least you can go to bed at the end of the day knowing they were there, just needed a bit more imagination.
Animal spotting on the Galápagos Islands is nothing like that. The week starts with excitement “Wow, a marine iguana!” And requires no imagination at all to see – they are everywhere, mind where you step!
Actually you will smell the iguanas before you see them – really stinky creatures.
Our late afternoon activity was set to be a walk along a promontory of sharp black rocks and our expectations were that we “might see some iguanas up close”. The zodiac discharged us at high tide (the slippery scramble back at low tide would earn our supper for sure) and we walked between the markers. Every landing on the islands is tightly controlled, conservation depends on preventing humans doing stupid things and restricting access to paths is the first lesson.
We walked with the guide, that teachers-pet feeling is just as enticing as an adult. And she was good: a degree in microbiology, several years in the Galápagos National Park yet still generated an enthusiastic anticipation despite the fact she has done this hundreds of times before. There were never more than 14 people to a group, and in some of the activities we did there were just 6 or 7 in our group (we did use the shower, just in case there was an explanation).
Beside the carpet of black smelly marine iguanas that were disinclined to move, was another carpet of red and black crabs, Sally Lightfoots (light feet?) sidling along the waterline so that in the bright sun the rocks themselves seemed to be changing shape.
With the sea lions, Galápagos penguins, flightless cormorants, and Galápagos Hawks this one walk alone had been pretty amazing.
Usually when birds are pointed out to me I am too slow to turn my head before the bird takes flight. Here the birds seem happy enough to stay on the branch and watch the humans pass by, the avian “am I bothered?” equivalent.
The lack of fear is apparent in the water as well, so when we snorkelled the sea lions and turtles swam with us. This was the most brilliant activity of the whole holiday. One small sea lion was playing with an apple core close to S and D, and as we approached he dropped the core at S’s feet, waiting and watching – yes, when she picked it up and threw it the sea lion chased after, caught it and brought it back – amazing! We would have stayed there playing long after sundown.
I have to add a rider that the “deep sea” snorkel along the most western coast was actually bl****ng freezing – good news for the islands the cold currents have returned after last years El Niño, but don’t get in without a wetsuit.
Then there was kayaking. If you have read my Bermuda blog you will know I really like kayaking. I was a little apprehensive, not for being in the Pacific Ocean, but because I have only ever paddled a “sit-on-top” kayak so I was worried that squeezing my ample backside in a normal kayak might be a problem. I guess they anticipated that and acquired an extra-large-bottom-kayak – no sweat! Our ship had just 8 double kayaks so we thought we’d be lucky to get one chance, but for non-obvious reasons this activity seemed not to be a priority for others so we were able to paddle on all three the occasions the activity was offered. Admittedly S and D were a little bit rebellious on the last paddle, their intention of using a cave as a whitewater channel “to the other side” was thwarted by the instruction to “stick with the group” so they did the kayak equivalent of wheelies while H and I stayed close to the rock face and spotted boobies.
The best excursions were in the National Park, which comprises some 97% of the uninhabited islands, but we did also visit two “towns” on Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. If the sea lions permit – they sleep across the steps of the landing jetty – then this is your chance to buy souvenirs. We did because we wanted to support the local businesses; Ecuador is not a wealthy nation. So we have added a carved blue-footed booby and a tortoise to our cedar angelfish, bronze hare and giant cheetah. Given I don’t go in for knick-knacks these purchases signify how special this holiday was. And I haven’t even started on the tortoises yet!
The tortoises are what Galápagos is famous for – and Darwin’s finches too I suppose but they are rather unimpressive birds aside from their beaks. Bermuda zoo has two giant tortoises so I had seen them ‘up close’, but somehow to walk alongside wild giant tortoises is rather special. They are surprisingly vocal, mumbling as they munch in the same way S did as a small child, and every now and then they make a Darth Vadar noise as drawing in their neck forces air out of their lungs – quite alarming the first time you hear it.
I could keep going with this post but I know you just sat down with your coffee for a short read, not expecting an epistle, so I’ll finish here. I reserve the right to blog about it again sometime though, it was absolutely fantastic and recalling fun things keeps me sane, or so my psychiatrist says.
[Images from HCL and SEL, please ask me for crediting details if you wish to use them]