Published: May 18th 2012May 18th 2012
We are having the best time catching up with friends in Shropshire. It is amazing how quickly the seven year gap has just faded away. Conversations appear to begin as they left off and the laughter seems to arrive just as freely as it always did. As one person put it; “it’s as if you just went out to get milk”. Well, seven years to get a pint of milk might be stretching it a bit but it is a comfortable and familiar environment to be back in.
So far so good with the car – we certainly like it and I can only recommend Peugeot Eurolease NZ. They took all the hard work and made the process very easy and the Peugeot 308 is nice to drive. It took a bit of getting used to as it is a 6 speed automatic with manual transmission. It is also left hand drive, which makes for some fun moments for the passenger as you venture out into traffic to do an overtaking manoeuvre. I can now make my decisions based on Narelle’s facial expressions – eyes wide open with whites showing and silent scream look means don’t go; oncoming
truck. Smiling is all clear. Easy!! It is a diesel car too, which in most years would mean cheaper at the pumps. At this very time diesel is more expensive than petrol: approximately £1.45 a litre. Hopefully we will spend less time at the pumps due to the diesel efficiency. On the first day our “fill up” was just under £85; so with petrol you can go on the 1:1 idea with the NZ dollar.
We have made camp at Paul and Benedicte’s place and we are being well looked after. I have always said that Paul is my “Father #2” – I now have to add that Benedicte has become “Mother #2” to us. She is looking after us so well; we are eating well, drinking well and generally being spoilt. My shirts have never been so well ironed (even Narelle agrees). As I write this she is mowing the lawns – I tried to do them but in her beautiful French way told me that “it’s fine – I will do them”. She laughed when we told her that I thought we should take her on the rest of the trip. It has also been
nice to see William who we have watched grow up and is now finishing his first year at university. He is playing in a Sevens Tournament this weekend so we are going to watch him in Manchester. Celine, who I have known since she was three days old, is now 22 and in her last year of study – we have to be thankful that she is away at uni at the moment as we have her bed! She is in the midst of completing her final exams so we may not see her for a few weeks. I have definitely decided that the grey hairs spreading on my head are linked to the fact that I now see William driving, Celine about to work and all the children of friends who were in Year 6 when we left Ellesmere all finished school. Another sign of my changing place in society is the fact that in the US I was suddenly SIR to everyone who served us – that was a first.
Our other surrogate parents Bill & Carolyn have taken us on quite an adventure. We left their place and travelled through the Shropshire countryside heading
down past The Wrekin to Wellington and then skirted Telford to arrive at a great pub in Norton. Wellington was where B & C had lived before moving to Ellesmere – in fact we got to see where both Bill and Carolyn lived before they met. For this reason the afternoon was called the ‘nostalgia trip’. The pub was beautiful and you can have a look at it here: http://www.hundredhouse.co.uk/
. Amazingly there has been a building of sorts on the property since the 14th
Century but the alehouse only dates back to the 1700s! When you think of the numbers of modern day pubs that come and go it is staggering to see ones that have withstood the test of time. It was beautiful inside with dark oak panelled walls and it is also surrounded by the most fantastic gardens, in fact many of the ingredients for the meals we had came from the herb and vegetable gardens. I love English pub food and this time I had that wonderful English meal of homemade lasagne all washed down with a couple of pints of Ruddles Ale. It is hard to beat.
From here we headed to the
Ironbridge gorge – the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. I had last visited in 1990 with a school trip and we had stayed in the YHA. Of course the main sites have not changed but now there are far more restaurants and cafés than I could remember. The actual iron bridge that gives this area its name crosses the Severn at this point – it is quite an architectural feat and another one that dot this area made by visionaries like Darby and Telford. Thomas Telford constructed many of the canals that weave through Shropshire including the one we walk along in Ellesmere. His home and office still stands by the canal turn-off to Llangollen. Ironbridge is a pretty popular tourist site – coach loads had arrived to see it, which made trying to take a photo with no one else in shot tough. We walked onto the bridge as three class loads of children arrived with clip boards in hand. Bill and I had a chuckle at what the teachers now have to wear – hi-viz jackets! When did that policy come in? There was more food in Ironbridge with Carolyn buying me a packet of locally produced pork
scratchings - I am sure my doctor would be thrilled! It is hard not to eat it though as it is very nice and there are not many countries that still serve such a ‘delicacy’. From the bridge we headed to the Wroxeter Roman ruins. A small part has been excavated and is on show. Bill has quite an interest in history having taught Classical Studies – he gave us a quick insight into the area including the large Villa that has been reconstructed on the site by a TV documentary. Wroxeter is also famous for its vineyard – I have only tasted them once so the jury is still out. They are not making quite the fuss of these wines as they are the sparkling wines from down south. For once England will be producing similar quantities as the Champagne houses and the quality is high. The south of England is on the same line of chalk soil as Champagne is; all of which helps with production. I am sure many French will still not want to accept that the “roast beef’ have managed to produce wines that can compare – I am looking forward to trying some when
we head south for the cruise. Anyway, I digress – our day out with Bill and Carolyn was brilliant and I must agree with their title of nostalgia day; for them as well as us. It was nice to have the opportunity to catch up with them on such a personal level.
Colin and Kerry had us around for a meal at their place. We only knew them for one term at Ellesmere but they have become close friends. It was a funny night with many old stories being retold and embellished and a few interesting topics being covered – one is best left unsaid on such a public forum but we all had a good laugh. Colin and Kerry are in the midst of organising their own relocation to Australia. From September they will be living in Adelaide so we will enjoy catching up with them there. Colin has typical South African humour and interests so we spent a long while catching up on rugby and the RWC 11. We ended the night with a Malt – made all the funnier by finding that inside the box the bottle still had the large shop security alarm.
Thankfully Colin could not remember which student gave him the bottle for Christmas!
In 1992 I played one season of cricket for the Whitchurch CC 1st
XI in the Shropshire League. At the time I lived with the Slater family on their farm near Market Drayton. John Slater and I mixed playing cricket, with trips to Tenerife, a bit of work and a great social life around the club. The Whitchurch guys were great and looking at the side we should have ended up higher up the league table than we did. I had not been back in the clubrooms since 1992 so when John rang me on Wednesday and said come across to watch his son Harry have a coaching session I jumped at the chance. I think the Thursday night sessions are basically for the parents as the bar and outside area was packed – they have fantastic real ales on tap so we had a few pints. I found a photo of me on the wall. It will be the only time that I will be on the same wall as cricketing legends like Shane Warne and Kevin Peitersen. Hampshire had played a fixture
at the club in 2005 and somehow my photo was in the middle of that montage. I am sure Warney would be puzzled as to my position but I am taking it! I spoke with John Small who had looked after me in ’92 and he said Warne was fantastic that day – all that Warne wanted was to eat his lunch in peace but anything else he was available for; he signed autographs for all the kids. I used to write long letters to John after I returned home – one of the guys there told me that John would take them down to the pub and after asking for quiet he would read them to the guys; I never knew that. It was in the days of no email so they would be handwritten letters too. The Hampshire team arrived on a coach that could not fit through the gates so their first task was to offload around the corner and wander along the cycle way. Must have made quite a sight considering the amounts of kit professional cricketers carry these days. It was great to see some of the old team there – Martin Jones, Richard Oakley
and Ed Middleton; now mostly retired they attend to the grounds, watch their kids or help fund the bar. It was a great night and I am so pleased that John got me across. We are now in the process of sorting something out for all the Slaters to gather when we get back here late June.
The next few days will be in and around Ellesmere too. We are moving across to stay with David Reffell for a few days. So far it has been a blur of meeting people and catching up, and I have yet to decide if that is down to the pace of the visit or the copious amounts of red wine, whiskey and beer that I seem to be being encouraged to have. My teachers were right all those years ago - peer pressure is a terrible thing and for the next few days I cannot see a change.
There are more photos below