Monday, February 24, 2014

Compliments to the chef

Our best friends Andy and Nicky have been staying in Kendal for a long weekend.  We don't see nearly enough of them now that we live 160 miles away, so on Saturday we all met up for a meal out.  Nicky said she fancied Italian food and we know there are 2 or 3 Italian restaurants in Bowness, so we braved the rain and trudged down the hill.

The first restaurant we tried was bursting at the seams.  The manageress tried so hard to fit us in, but it would have involved either an hour's wait or a table on the roof (in the rain) (I'm joking), so we thanked her and tried elsewhere.  The next one, Amore, was just across the road.  We'd never tried it before but the place always looked tempting and the menu was standard Italian - no frills, but probably jolly good.  By now the rain was coming down in stair rods so we didn't bother looking at menus outside, we just hurtled through the door.  And were rather surprised to find it empty, with not a single customer at any of the tables.  Ah well, it's early, we thought, and sat ourselves down.  And only then began to notice little details.  Like the picture of Buddha on the wall above our table... and the fact that the menus the waiter helpfully brought involved all sorts of dishes but very little Italian... and the fact that the name painted on the windows wasn't Amore at all, but 80 Days.  Turns out the place changed hands without us even noticing, had a re-fit without us noticing, and only re-opened as a brand new venture specialising in cuisine from around the world about five days ago!

We were a little nervous, but we didn't need to be.  The service was impeccable, and the food, although not perfect, was all made from fresh ingredients and cooked or prepared from scratch - a welcome change in this day of pre-packaged ready-meals.  There were one or two minor hiccups with our meals (skin not taken off the smoked mackerel bruschetta, Moroccan cous-cous perhaps a tad too highly spiced) but the waiter asked for constructive feedback after each course and for once we had the feeling that they were taking some notice of what we said.  And the overall attention to detail and sheer friendliness (not to mention a bottle of the best Prosecco any of us had ever had) made the evening a very pleasant experience.  We'll almost certainly be going back.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Stars - of both varieties

A couple of weeks ago Dave headed down to London to attend the big Astrofest event - a convention for astronomers.  We both went two years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, but this year the university had asked him to help man their stall, so I decided not to go again as I'd have been on my own most of the time.

He had a brilliant time, meeting lots of interesting people, giving out leaflets, twisting a few arms, and even finding time to attend some of the talks.  And in a spare moment, he got me a rather special present to bring back. 

It's a book about the history of the universe, called 'Bang'! and co-authored by Patrick Moore (of Sky at Night fame), Chris Lintott (who's taken over from Patrick Moore) and the ex-Queen guitarist and cosmologist Brian May.  Not only that, but he'd got signatures.  No sign of Patrick Moore as he'd have needed a séance and a Ouija board to contact him, sadly, but there was Chris Lintott's scrawl, and underneath, my name, a couple of kisses, and the autograph of Brian May.  To say I was over the moon is one, a really bad pun and two, a complete understatement!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Coastal drama

On Sunday we had that rarest of commodities this winter - sunshine.  In the morning we had to do the usual supermarket run, but after lunch we were determined to get outdoors and make the most of the conditions, since the forecast was ominous.

Both of us felt a sudden urge to see the sea.  With all the recent storms and coastal flooding, the Morecambe Bay coast (our nearest) has been firmly out-of-bounds, but with the coast road between Ulverston and Barrow re-opened, we thought we'd go for it.  It was a dramatic ride.  Yes, the road was technically open, but the damage was easy to see.  Great chunks of the sea-wall had been washed away, along with an entire hut.  Boulders had been thrown across the road, gouging the surface into troughs, and in one place (helpfully sign-posted "road liable to tidal flooding") the waters were almost impassable.  Our 4x4 coped just fine, but I'd hate to have been in the little Fiat 500 buzzing along ahead of us.  The occupants might well have got wet feet.

The authorities are clearly working hard on repairs and shoring up the sea defences again, hopefully before the next storm hits, but it really does demonstrate the awesome power of nature to throw aside the puny efforts of man.

We parked on the causeway between Rampside and Roa Island and set off for a walk.  The shoreline was too muddy, but we explored Rampside village, including its impressive Jacobean hall, then trudged along the causeway to the island, and scuttled into the Bosuns Locker for tea and home-made scones.

There were signs of activity at the lifeboat station so we popped along for a look and found that both the shop and the viewing platform were open.  The shop is tiny, but the platform gives a fantastic view of the lifeboat, which is much bigger in real life than you expect when you see it in action, a tiny speck amongst tossing waves, on tv.

We'd no sooner left the lifeboat station behind than we heard the chugging roar of a helicopter.  Looking up, we saw a huge chopper hovering right over a fast-moving catamaran, before winching someone down.  The Cat charged in towards Barrow docks whilst the chopper circled low overhead the entire way in.  It was quite something to watch.  Turns out that it was a real-life rescue, as a man had been taken seriously ill on a service boat on the way out to one of Barrow's mass of offshore wind-farms.  He was eventually winched on board the helicopter and flown to Lancaster hospital, and we hope he's okay.

By that stage the next storm was brewing, the sky had turned the colour of lead, and stray wisps of low cloud were already blowing in.  It gave Morecambe Bay (atmospheric at the worst of times) a menacing look, so we piled back in the car and headed home.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

New arrival

Nice to see a bit of good news for a change - South Lakes Wild Animal Park, near Dalton-in-Furness, have announced the birth of a rare baby giraffe.  Although 'baby' is something of a misnomer since the youngster is already almost as tall as me!  Mother and baby apparently both doing well.

Fish, fluffies and flapjacks

Dave and I don't usually go a bundle on celebrating Valentine's Day - the odd card, the odd box of chocolates, the odd meal out.  It's been a difficult week, though, what with storms, gales and work issues for both of us, so we switched off our computers and took Friday afternoon off.

The weather was still lousy with low cloud and lashing rain, so first port of call was the Lakes Aquarium.  It's only a short drive away, it's indoors, and we have local residents' season tickets, so it's the perfect place to spend a wet afternoon.  And for some reason, it was almost deserted.  There was one other family pottering about but otherwise we had the place to ourselves.  Tough luck on the owners, of course, but it meant we could wander about and watch the critters to our hearts content.

The display mostly involves the journey of a rain drop from the top of the fells to the sea, and although small, is surprisingly interesting.  There's a tank of tiny fish like stickleback that you could find in the smallest tarns; there's another of arctic charr which got left behind in Windermere after the last ice age; there's another of pike, hanging around looking menacing.  There are even animals from further afield, including harvest mice, otters, and adorably cute pygmy marmosets.

After a good stomp round we usually head for the café where our season tickets give us 10% off, but this time it was closed.  We clambered back into the car and sloshed off down the road from Lakeside to Hawkshead, whooshing through puddles and whooping at the wild ride.  The car park at Hawkshead was also deserted; it's possible the weather has put visitors off and it very nearly put us off as the heavens opened the minute we arrived.  We ran across the tarmac, straight into the 'Hawkshead' outdoor clothing store, and dripped into their café for tea and wonderful home-made flapjacks.  Then it was back home via Ambleside, with more whooping and whooshing, for a Thai takeaway for tea.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

An evening of comets

Last night for a complete change we headed over to Kendal Museum for a meeting of the Eddington Astronomical Society, which Dave is quite keen on joining.  He'd been to one of their events, an 'open telescope/star gazing' evening, a couple of years ago, but work commitments and general 'life' have got in the way of taking it any further.

The Society hold regular meetings on the first Monday of the month, at the Museum, with a range of talks, guest speakers and presentations.  Last night it was the turn of Nick Howes, an amateur astronomer specialising in comets, who spoke about his work, recent discoveries in the field, and his drive to popularise astronomy amongst school children.

The talk wasn't one of the best.  Mr Howes seemed to find it difficult to divorce himself from his subject matter and every time we heard something fascinating about a new comet discovery, or a new discovery about an old comet, he tended to veer off and tell us how he made the discovery, how this furthered his career, and which important people he spoke to in the process.  As an exercise in name-dropping it was brilliant, but as a serious talk about comets it left something to be desired.  However, it was still a fun evening out, with a free cuppa, a chance for Dave in particular to chat to some like-minded people, and a chance to look round some of the Museum's wide range of exhibits at 'half time'.  Dave will definitely be going again.  I'm not quite so sure.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Museum of Lakeland Life

Winter finally seems to have caught up with us, and the weather the last few days has been horrible.  Snow on Friday, and horizontal sleet blown in the teeth of a screaming gale yesterday.  Finding something to do outdoors was impossible, so we drove into Kendal to spend some time at the Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry.  We've tried to go a couple of times before, only to find it was closed.  This time we were in luck, and thoroughly enjoyed the visit. 

The museum is tucked away down a side alley near to the Abbot Hall art gallery, and is a lot bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside, with galleries dedicated to various industrial activities of the past.  These include the obvious - farming and mining - but also the more surprising, like the manufacture of Kendal Mint Cake and the local prevalence of the Arts & Crafts movement in venues like the Keswick School of Industrial Arts, and The Spinnery in Bowness.

All in all, it was fascinating.  We picked up snippets of information on all sorts of local businesses, crafts, and ways of life, and the displays were informative but also lots of fun, with everything from a replica mine adit to a Victorian chemist's shop to explore.

The only downside was a lack of heating.  With the wind blasting through every gap in the windows, it was distinctly chilly inside, which perhaps made the 19th century farmhouse bedroom, kitchen and parlour more authentic, but also turned us the colour of woad!