Tower of London

Getting off the train at Euston we (Lady Hughes and myself) jumped a tube on the Northern Line to Bank Station, planning to walk the rest of the way to the Tower of London. Climbing the stairs from Bank underground station into the bright sunlight, we found ourselves in the heart of London’s financial district just next to the Bank of England in fact. Surrounded by the powerhouses of the British economy I had only one thought – I need to pee.

I really need to pee.

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My mission became a frantic quest for a toilet and to my dismay and desperation, here in the centre of London there was nothing. You see it’s Saturday and this part of London apparently shuts down on a Saturday. Every Starbucks and Costa Coffee we found was shut, there were no public toilets and the one coffee shop we did find open, didn’t have any loos – lying %@&#’s!

In the end we sprinted all the way to Liverpool Street station where we found a McDonalds – aaaah, that’s better.

Finally relieved, we set off on foot for the Tower of London.

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Situated by the Thames just next to Tower Bridge, the Tower of London was started by the conquering Normans and has been expanded and developed through the centuries to work as a fortress, palace, prison, royal mint, barracks, armoury and even a zoo!

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At present it is, of course, the world’s oldest tourist attraction – apparently.

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We decided to go down because Clare had never been and I hadn’t been since I was a child. Also there’s a special exhibition on, to commemorate the centenary of the start of World War One, which has a porcelain poppy for every British soldier killed, planted in the moat, surrounding the whole site. The poppies are still being planted but there are already thousands of them spilling out from a window and reaching up over the entrance like a huge red wave.

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Fighting our way through the crowds we made our way into the grounds and almost immediately spotted someone we recognised. Bill Callaghan is one of the Yeoman of the Guard, or Beefeaters as they’re known. I know him from his brilliant YouTube clip where he gives a more entertaining introduction to the history of the Tower as well as frightening all the children present and putting a group of unruly Aussie kids in their place. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the link, it’s brilliant.

Billy posed for a picture and told us all about the video and what happened on the day. He was charming and entertaining and it was a real treat to meet him – the man’s a star!

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I won’t bore you with all the things to see at the Tower but it really is a full day and great if, like me, you love a bit of history – especially if it involves gruesome recollections of various tortures and executions.

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Highlights for us were the Chapel Royal (Where Anne Boleyn is buried – another highly entertaining tour, by Beefeater ‘Shady’ this time), Scaffold Site, Medieval Palace, Beauchamp Tower and the Crown Jewels of course. Those were our favourites but there’s much more.

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The only irritation was shuffling round various exhibits being knocked around by various children and people with no knowledge of the gentle art of queuing. At times I wondered if some people thought the aim was to get round everything as fast as possible like some sort of mini grand prix. This was, however, to be expected I suppose and we managed to avoid the worst of the queues so all went well. My tip – get there early and get into the crown jewels first, as that queue seemed to get longer throughout the day.

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All in all, a great day out and a lovely ride back to Manchester on the Virgin Pendalino train – quick plug there in case Richard Branson gets this and fancies giving me a few freebies.




Speke Hall

Today we took a trip out to Liverpool to visit Speke Hall, a beautiful Elizabethan House located right next to Liverpool Airport and the River Mersey.

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Making the most of our National Trust membership, Lady Hughes suggested we try somewhere we’d never been before, so off we went down the M62.

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Like Little Moreton Hall and Wythenshawe Hall near us, Speke Hall is easily identified as Elizabethan with it’s distinctive black and white architecture and wonky engineering. With little knowledge of foundations and the effects of subsidence there’s barely a right angle or straight line in them – still it all adds to their charm.

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The house is not as large as some stately homes but still beautiful and a fascinating glimpse to times gone by – God, I’m starting to sound like a tour guide!

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Great opportunity for some photography, though the rooms were very dark and flash is forbidden as the shock of bright light can be enough to bring down the roof or cause old bed linen to spontaneously combust, so time to embrace the shadows and practise my low-light technique.

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After touring the hall and gardens we walked down to the Mersey and caught a few shots of the sun streaming down onto Stanlow Oil Refinery and the odd Ryanair Jet taking off, not exactly beautiful, but atmospheric – perhaps?

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Sitting in the cafe enjoying a quick cream tea before we set off home, we enjoyed a spot of people-watching. I always wonder how strange a National Trust cafe like this, would seem to the original owners. What was once a stable-block, now seats young families and gangs of pensioners tucking into coffee, apple juice and pizza. I do sometimes wonder if this is my slow descent into old age enjoying a trip to a stately home. Sitting there, observing the mass ranks of the retired in there pastel shades and elegant knitwear it has occurred to me that my life possibly needs a bit more rock and roll in it – but hey! I’m there for the photography.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Next week, I’m going to take-up knife-fighting – honest.


Cruising through Media City and the Manchester Docks

The Manchester Ship Canal is a wonder of the industrial age. Dug, largely by hand, it created a port more than thirty miles inland just to bypass Liverpool and annoy the scousers  (apologies to my Liverpudlian friends). This marvel of Victorian engineering travels through the Cheshire countryside and ends in Salford (a different City but just next to Manchester – I know, it’s confusing but just go with it), at Manchester Docks.

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Once the third busiest port in England, it eventually declined and is currently being transformed into Media City. A hub of television studios and production facilities as well as apartments, restaurants, hotels, the Lowry Theatre and Galleries, the Imperial War Museum (North) and much more.

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Nowadays, instead of offloading bales of cotton on-route to the mills, tourist barges are more likely to off-load Chilean tourists on-route to the Lowry shopping centre.

Looking for something new to do last Sunday, Lady Hughes and myself bought a ticket and boarded the HMS69 party boat (classy!) for a short tour of the docks. This is boat is run by Manchester Cruises.

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We were sat at the back, next to a party from Chile who seemed more interested in where Coronation Street’s filmed (just next to the war museum) and the view of Old Trafford, than the industrial heritage.

We passed the old docks and up the canal under the swing bridge (which doesn’t swing anymore) and towards Manchester, and except for the odd blast of diesel exhaust fumes, the weather was great and the cruise was interesting and fun – in a rather sedate way.

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The docksides have been transformed into treelined boulevards now with swans and a water-sports centre. There were people sitting outside their houses reading the sunday supplements and soaking up the sun, and for all the improvements and chic developments I did yearn to see what it used to be like. What was it like at it’s peak, with ocean going liners moored up and the country’s biggest privately-owned railway feeding goods from the ships to the mills and factories?

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I’ll bet that was a sight, but perhaps not what they want on the Chilean travel brochure.


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Tribute to My Grandma

On the 29th August, in the early hours, my Grandmother Alice Borking, passed away peacefully in her sleep.

The funeral was last Thursday at Manchester Crematorium.

Sometimes, when people get old and go through a long period of illness before dying, it can be hard to remember them before they got old and frail, so at the service I read out my memories of my Gran. It’s not everything, there’s much more obviously, it’s a glimpse of a life from my perspective, but I’d like to share it in tribute to the wonderful woman she was.

Like many children, my Grandmother, my Grandma, my Gran, was always a constant in my life.  She was always there and she was always special to me.


For me she was special, not just because she was my grandma, but because I had a Dad in the navy and a Mum who worked shifts as a nurse, so I was frequently left with my grandparents, along with my younger sister Beverley, because my parents were away working.

I spent a lot of time with her.

My first real holidays were trips to Spain with my grandparents. Flying in a plane and going abroad were big first adventures for a small boy and I had them with my Grandma and my Granddad.


Even as a child I remember that my Gran wasn’t like other kids grandmothers. She didn’t seem old or tired or boring, she was active, full of energy, laughter and fun. She took us swimming, she rode a bicycle and she danced.

Other people’s grandma’s couldn’t do that, I thought.

In her youth she’d been captain of Manchester Girls Swimming Team and she taught me how to dive in a rubber swimming cap adorned with lots of multi-coloured plastic flowers on it (it never really suited me to be honest) – she taught me how to dive and how to swim underwater –

and I thought at the time, other people’s grandma’s couldn’t do that.

One time, at Sharston Baths she swam breaststroke up and down the full length of the pool with me sat on her back like I was riding a horse, waving at everyone –

even then, I knew, other people’s grandma’s couldn’t do that.

As a child, visiting my grandparents was always fun. I remember many times sitting down with my grandma, granddad and my uncle Ed, watching telly and taking the mickey, there was a constant banter and lots of jokes and laughs.  


That’s what my family did. We didn’t debate serious politics or appreciate art and culture, we told jokes, we made each other laugh, and that’s what I’ve always loved about it, no matter what you were feeling when you went in, you’d probably leave feeling a bit better. And isn’t that what any family should be about?

As I got older I’d walk round to Norwell Road on my own and maybe watch an old film with my granddad while my gran made tea, if you were lucky she might have orange club biscuits in. Even now, when I’m get a club biscuit I smile because, like Pavlov’s dog, I’m still programmed to associate it with a treat.


My gran was funny, but usually unintentionally.

When we had Alex, we bought a pushchair instead of an old fashioned pram. My Gran protested stating, “You can’t beat a silver cross pram. Twenty years I had that brown one parked up my back passage”.

She used to get me and my uncle Ed mixed up but over the years I learnt to ignore it. Ed had the nickname Fred, for some reason, so when I first took Clare round to meet my Grandparents she was confused when my Gran shouted to me, “do you want a cup of tea our Fred?” from the kitchen. Clare whispered, “why does your Gran call you Fred?”, “because she gets me mixed up with Edward” was my, slightly more confusing reply –

Other people’s grandma’s didn’t do that.

Years later she explained that they wouldn’t be going abroad anymore as they were too old for air travel, and had booked a coach holiday instead, “Bollocks” she said loudly. There was a pause for a moment, before I enquired, “did you mean, Bullocks, Gran?” (the coach firm), “yeah, one of them”.

As my Gran got older I marvelled at the skill she developed at upsetting people with the least amount of words. It really was an art form, but you couldn’t get angry because it never came across as malicious. For example; she once said to my wife, “ooh you do look well, now you’re a bit fatter.”

We took her to watch my son Elliott, in a Carol concert, at his primary school once. We sat quite near the front, and all the little darlings were sat on the stage singing their hearts out. Suddenly my Gran loudly pointed out one little red-haired girl facing us, “Ooh look at her face, doesn’t she look weird”. Gran didn’t realise that the girl’s proud parents were sat in the row in front of us and could every word she shouted. “Gran, please, be quiet”, “Ooh no, there’s something wrong with her, she looks evil” –

don’t try this at home kids, only my Gran could actually insult people’s children at a carol concert and call them evil in front of a crowd of onlookers, and get away with it.


As time went by my Gran did get old, my Granddad passed on and the dancing stopped, but there was always laughter, there was always a smile and a twinkle in her eye as if to say, no matter what happens right now, we’ll laugh about this later, so don’t get too worked up about it.

And if that’s a philosophy, I don’t think it’s a bad one. Perhaps there’s a lesson for us all there? So for that I’m grateful.

That may not be your experience of Alice Borking, but it’s mine and it’s how I’ll remember her, because she was wonderful, honest, fun and loving and she lit up my life –

And you know what,  other people’s grandma’s couldn’t do that.

Thank you.