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Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Time for Some Humour!

Time for Some Humour!

As most of you probably know by now, I am recovering from a particularly nasty bout of Septicemia, which was touch and go there, for a while. I am now convalescing by taking it easy and letting nature take its healing course. I have a temporary indwelling catheter, and am under a specialist with whom we are discussing next steps (which could involve reduction of the size of the prostate, or its complete removal). 

We've cancelled all house/pet sits for the rest of the year and I am not taking on any weddings until next Spring. Apart from feeling very tired after doing very simple activities, I'm feeling good, and have the best care-giver anyone could wish for in Mark. 

After a prolonged break from writing blogs, I'm now feeling that it's time for a little bit of humour, so here goes!

The Advantages of a Catheter #1...

In spite of the discomfort, you can pee as many times as you like during the night, without getting up!!!

Hope you got a little chuckle from that. 

Hugs to everyone. 

Alan and Mark 

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Friday, 7 July 2017

The Finchingfield Lion - A Pub Worth Saving!

The Finchingfield Lion - A Pub Worth Saving!

A view of the village looking over the bridge

In the north-west area of Essex, England, lies the small, picturesque village of Finchingfield. Often described as a 'picture-postcard' village - and one of the most photographed - it calls to tourists to check it out for themselves. During my recent visit to the U.K., my friends and I decided to do just that and, although it was overcast for most of the day, it did not disappoint us. 

The Finchingfield Lion, on Church Hill.

Standing proudly on the slant of Church Hill, you'll find a delightful building that represents the best of a time-honoured traditional symbol of British hospitality and community - the British Pub! 

The first thing I noticed when we entered the Finchingfield Lion was the dog bowl in the hallway - which indicated that dogs were welcome! That - right there - was a big clue about the values of the owners. Stepping inside, we were immediately welcomed by Spade, who was serving behind the bar. We had popped in before the busy time, so we were able to chat with him - and it turned out that he was a mine of information. 

Spade - the epitome of friendliness and humour

Jacqui - one of the joint proprietors
His sister, Jacqui, who lives just 3 doors down the hill, had been a regular to the pub for many years. It had been owned by a younger couple who had decided to sell up and move on to new ventures. There was a strong possibility that the building was going to be refurbished as a tea room. There are two other establishments in the village that serve alcohol along with a meal. Although they are similar to pubs, the way they are set up reveal that they are more like restaurants. Delightful as they are, Jacqui felt that the village deserved to have a genuine pub in the traditional sense - not another tea room. So, she, her sisters, and their partners, purchased the freehold and they set about refurbishing it so that the tradition could be preserved. It was opened just before Christmas, 2016.

And what a great job they've done! 

All of the original timbers and ornamentation have been preserved - including the timbers which date back to the early 16th Century. In fact, some of the timbers were originally those commissioned by Queen Elizabeth 1st for ships to fight the Spanish Armada in 1588. 

Timbers dating back to the time of the Spanish Armada

The presence of a wood-burning stove adds to the ambience, and one could just imagine the warm comfort on a cold winter's evening, with patrons gathered to enjoy each other's company. 

Attached to the pub, just through an old (and low) wooden door, there is a full restaurant for patrons and visitors alike. The walls have been decorated with a variety of seabirds in splendid colour. 

Restaurant - accessed through a low, wooden door

Still in the process of improving the decor, Jacqui installed a lamp stand in the dining area while we were there. 

What really stood out for us, though, was the sheer friendliness and welcome that we received from Spade and Jacqui. From the moment we walked in, Spade made us feel as if we were the most important people in the village. A world traveler, with extensive publican experience, he shared with us that he had moved to Finchingfield in order to help his sisters get established. His friendly manner and dry sense of humour resulted in our decision to return for lunch after we had completed our tour of the village. 

The Lion 'Shield' - presented by the locals
I asked them if the locals had been supportive of their venture and they proudly showed us a congratulatory card that had been signed by the villagers who also had presented them with a beautiful metallic lion's head which adorns the wall above the woodstove alcove. 

The locals offered their full support

Spade explained that there were 4 rooms upstairs that would soon be open for a Bed and Breakfast experience and he took us up there to show us some of the rooms. 

A delighful 4-poster!
We were so impressed with how beautiful they were - and how the modern conveniences had been incorporated into the rooms without changing the original structure, complete with its wooden beams and its charming, uneven floor. Visitors would be able to imagine that they were back in an earlier century, but with everything they would need for their comfort. 

A mix of old and modern

An innovative 'coffee/tea alcove'!

View from one of the rooms - looking out at the old Guildhall opposite the pub.

We enjoyed our experience (and our lunch) so much that my friends, Alan and Elaine, decided to book a room to celebrate the anniversary of when they first met. (In fact, I'm timing this blog to that they read it upon their arrival on July 8th!) I'm sure that they will thoroughly enjoy being spoiled by the owners and their staff. 

If you are ever visiting Essex, you won't want to miss out on an excursion to this amazing village; and no visit to the village would be complete without dropping in to the Lion. 

View from behind the bar - thanks to Spade!

The pub, which stocks an extensive range of keg and cask beers, spirits and wines, also offers a menu comprising of home-made pub grub, curries, and locally sourced delights. 

For more information, visit their website at:   or call 01371 810400

Click the caption under map for directions:

Directions to the Finchingfield Lion

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Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Bringing the Past into the Present... for the Future... it CAN be done!

Bringing the Past into the Present... for the Future

 - it CAN be done!

Tucked away in West Norfolk - not far from Norwich, Kings Lynn, and Cambridge, is the picturesque town of Downham Market. Apart from its historical significance as a Market Town, it shines as a jewel among the Fens, with the Anglican Church of St. Edmunds atop the hill, the spire of which can be seen from the west and south for miles around. Approached from the west across wide acres of flat Fenland, Downham Market lies ahead on the first high ground. Here, the prehistoric ancestors had dry land, safe from flooding, on which to build their homes, raise their cattle and crops, and still enjoy the wealth of fish, eels, and wildfowl from the fens. 

My sister and her husband have lived in this town for decades and have become cornerstones of the community. This is obvious in that you cannot walk through the town with them without several people stopping them to say hello! 
Some of the people who 'made it happen'. Dave is in the centre, and my sister, Jess, is second from the right,
(wearing a hard-hat)

So, it was no surprise to me when I heard that they had got involved with the Downham Market Heritage Society. In fact, they were more than involved - Dave became the chairman of the society, and, together with his committee members, oversaw the transition of the Heritage Centre from the town hall to the Old Fire Station that was no longer in use. 

The Old Fire Station as it was before the Heritage Centre took it over

Funding had been promised to the society, and plans were made. However, these plans were nearly shelved after a knock on the door revealed a representative from the funding organization who announced that the funding would not, after all, be available. 

Not to be daunted, Dave went back to the committee and suggested that they raise the funds themselves. Although the majority of members agreed to take on the challenge, there were a couple of nay-sayers who said, 'You'll never do it!'. That comment was all that Dave needed. Recently he told me that this was the catalyst that galvanized him into massive action and he gathered those who agreed with him to join him on the venture. 

Four years later, in March, 2016, the Discover Downham Heritage and Learning Centre was opened to the public and has been thriving ever since. It is a magnet that draws people from beyond the limits of the town - in fact, from miles around. Through exhibitions and displays, the Heritage Centre tells the story of the area and its people through the ages. 

The Heritage Centre - "Discover Downham"

During our recent visit to the U.K., we were able to spend some time in the centre. We knew that it would be great; we didn't realize just how amazing it would be! So many of the artifacts on display were donated by the local residents, so typical of the supportive community. 

Butter Churn

Gift Shop

Sports paraphernalia - including ice-skates worn by Philip Doubleday
- winner of the National Speed Skating Championship in the 1980's.

Old Servant's Bell (shades of Downton Abbey??)
 Mark had to try out the Servant's Bell - Lord Grantham - watch out!

Various implements used in olden days

Hands on exhibits for children to practise weighing items using old-fashioned scales

Portable Siren from World War II

Interactive displays focus upon the concepts of work, leisure, local trade, Fenland life, and conflict through the ages. There are also research facilities with a small library, archives of maps, and computers (with free wi-fi) to find out more about the heritage of the town.

Research Centre

Map Drawers

Glass display cases show off the exhibits in authentic settings, and there are other free-standing figures that give an idea of life in earlier times.

Display telling the story of the 1816 riots - "Blood or Bread"

Tribute to the Fire Service

Washing Day

As a teacher, I really appreciated the hands-on activities that are available for students and how some of the displays feed directly into the U.K. National Curriculum. 

Animal Sounds and 'guess what it is' objects featuring the local landscape as it would have been in ancient times
 Mark loved trying out the various sounds!

Part of a time-line of significant dates to the town

Hands on, pre-decimalization currency

Matching pictures of buildings, past and present

I love this matching activity

The centre also features a large room that can be hired. It can accommodate 60 people seated, and boasts a small, but functional, kitchen with full equipment and tableware, which makes the space suitable for gatherings.

Kitchen and equipment - great hiring facility for formal/informal functions

(In fact, we celebrated Jess & Dave's 60th wedding anniversary at the facility!) Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, sent special greetings to them to mark this milestone in their lives together!

Floral tribute and Celebration Cake - together with personalized card from Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II

There is also a screen and projector that can be used for more formal meetings/gatherings and it's a really good venue for talks, workshops, and other programs. 

Perfect for presentations

This undertaking shows so clearly what CAN be achieved when people have the right mindset, the perseverance to overcome obstacles, and the ability to work with a team to get things done; it also demonstrates what can be achieved when leaders step up to the plate and make things happen. 


Enjoy these pics taken from around the town: 

The Town Clock

Anglican Church of St. Edmund

The Town Sign

The Castle Hotel

Another view of the Town Sign

So many beautiful walkways

The Old Priory

For further information: and

Facebook link: Discover-Downham-Heritage-and-Learning-Centre

If anyone in the UK wishes to help raise funds for the Centre, at no cost to themselves, they can do so by clicking this link and signing up as a supporter. They can then use the outlets partnered to the site to shop at no extra cost and a donation will be made to the Centre for recommending the site and using the service. Amazon, Tesco, and many, many more are  listed on the site.

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