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Friday, 27 September 2013

Bruges - Day 3

Another nice gentle start to the day today and I went for breakfast at 9am before taking a slow amble down to fetch the coach. I collected the group at 11am for today's excursion to Ypres and the Last Post, via a couple of war graves. Lorraine has a short DVD, produced by a previous passenger, which we played on the coach and was a very good introduction to the day, telling a brief story of what happened in and around Ypres during the First World War and quoting the numbers of the fallen soldiers at each major location.

Our first visit was to the German War Cemetery, Langemark.

I chose to come here to show a comparison of British and German Cemeteries. There are two main differences that I can see. One is that the German headstones are lay flat, whereas those of the Commonwealth are upright. The other difference is that in the German cemetery there are usually multiple names on one headstone. With the Commonwealth graves, if it was possible to identify a body, therefore giving it a name, then that soldier would have his own grave. It was only the unidentifiable bodies which were in a mass grave. 

Very occasionally, we have people who are offended by a visit here and it is usually because they have very close ties to someone who fought for Britain in the First or Second World War. Today however, everyone was very interested to see it and to quote one of our ladies, 'they were all someone's Son'.

The origins of this military cemetery began with a small group of German graves in 1915. Between 1916 and 1918 the burials at Langemark were increased by order of the German military directorate in Ghent. From the mid 1920s the private German war graves organization, the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (VDK) and the newly established Official German Burial Service in Belgium began to renovate German cemeteries in Flanders. At that time this cemetery was named “Langemarck-Nord”. This was done to distinguish the cemetery from the other 15 German burial sites in the Langemark area. The VDK secured private funds in the form of sponsorship from its members and was able to carry out significant work on two cemeteries in Flanders, namely this one at Langemarck-Nord (10,143 war dead) and another further north at Roeselaere called Roselaere-de Ruyter (2,806 war dead). In 1930, with the setting up of a register of German military cemeteries in Flanders, more work was carried out at the cemetery and it was renamed “German Military Cemetery Number 123”. Oak trees were planted; the oak is the national tree of Germany. The oak trees have grown very tall over the past 80 years and dominate the sombre atmosphere of this cemetery. The cemetery was officially inaugurated on 10th July 1932. The cemetery is now called “Langemark cemetery.

Our next stop was at Tyne Cot Cemetery. Tyne Cot Cemetery is the resting place of 11,954 soldiers of the Commonwealth Forces. This is the largest number of burials contained in any Commonwealth cemetery of either the First or Second World War. It is the largest Commonwealth military cemetery in the world. The dates of death of the soldiers buried at Tyne Cot cemetery cover a period of four years, from October 1914 to September 1918 inclusive.

Tyne Cot cemetery first came into being in October 1917 when the ridge where the cemetery is now located was captured by the British Army. One of several German blockhouses was large enough to be used as an Advanced Dressing Station. As a result of casualties not surviving their wounds in this medical Dressing Station there were 354 burials near the Dressing Station. Most of the graves in the vicinity of the Cross of Sacrifice will, therefore, be identified as they died of wounds in this place and were subsequently buried here. The graves of these burials are for soldiers, including some Germans, who died between 6thOctober 1917 and the end of March 1918 when the German Army attacked and retook this ridge of high ground south of Passchendaele village. The cemetery was then again in German occupied ground from 13th April until 28th September 1918, when the Belgian Army captured the ridge in the final push during the last weeks of the war.

Of the 11,954 burials in Tyne Cot cemetery, 8,367 are unidentified British or Commonwealth servicemen. This is about 70% of the total graves in the cemetery. These graves are marked with headstones which are inscribed with the words “Known unto God”.
Approximately 90,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers died in the Ypres Salient but their identities could not be established at the time of burial or their graves were lost in subsequent fighting. The names of these 90,000 unidentified men of the British and Commonwealth Forces are inscribed on four memorials to the missing in the battle sector known as the Ypres Salient. One of these four memorials is the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing.

The Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing bears the inscribed names of over 34,000 British and New Zealand soldiers whose remains are still missing in the Ypres Salient.
Three soldiers who were awarded the Victoria Cross (V.C.) are buried in this cemetery. One is Canadian. Two are Australian soldiers, who were awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions during the battles to capture the ridge in October 1917.

Captain Clarence Smith Jeffries, V.C. Captain Jeffries was serving with the 34th Battalion Australian Infantry during the Battle of Broodseinde Ridge which began on 4th October 1917.

A few days later on 12th October he was taking part in the next phase of the battle when he was killed. He is buried at grave reference Plot XL, Row E, Grave 1.

Sergeant Lewis McGee, V.C. Sergeant McGee was serving with the 40th(Tasmanian) Battalion Australian Infantry, taking part in the attack on the Broodseinde Ridge on 4th October 1917. For his gallant actions in knocking out German blockhouses in the vicinity of HAMBURG FARM he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Sergeant McGee was killed in action on 12th October in the next phase of the Battle of Broodseinde Ridge. He is buried in grave reference Plot XX, Row D, Grave 1.

Private James Peter Robertson, V.C. Private Robertson was serving with the 27th Battalion Canadian Infantry (Manitoba Regiment) when he was killed on 6th November 1917.
His body is buried in Tyne Cot cemetery at grave reference Plot LVIII, Row D, Grave 26.

As visitors enter and leave the Visitors Centre they will hear a name spoken aloud by a female voice on a continuous speaker system every few seconds. Each name read out is one of the thousands of soldiers commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing, followed by his age. The majority seemed to be aged between 16 and 21 and this Cemetery and Memorial have much more impact than any other, not only because of its sheer size, but also by hearing the soldiers names spoken.
Many of our passengers had never visited any war graves before. They had all considered themselves well informed of the Great War but they all commented that you just don't comprehend the scale of it all until you visit places like this and see for yourself the lines of thousands of headstones or the lists of tens of thousands of names on a wall. It is, an incredibly moving experience and I don't feel it any less each time I return.
From here we went on to Ypres and tried to lighten the mood a little. We were here for some free time. The majority visited the 'In Flanders Field' museum. It seemed we had wet their appetite for more. We had a pre booked dinner in the Novotel hotel which was excellent, then headed out to the main square where there was the Grenadier Guards Marching Band.

They were fabulous. I sat on the cobbles watching them and as far as I know all our passengers came too. They finished in time to march down the road to the Menin Gate where they were also involved in the Last Post. When they left the main square, I tagged along behind, marching with them, almost hanging off their coat tails!

They were just brilliant! We stayed for the ceremony of the Last Post.

After quite an emotional day we arrived back in Bruges where Lorraine and I had a beer and unwind before bed. It had been a fantastic day.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Bruges - Day 2

I didn't get up until 9 am today. Sleep was bliss! I went down to breakfast where there were only a handful of our people left. After the caffeine had started to kick in I started to pick up on a conversation being held by a group of our passengers about mrs difficult, who the rest of the group have dubbed WB (whinge bag!), and were saying what a problem she had been at dinner the night before. It seems there was a lot going on that Lorraine and I had missed. She apparently complained about every course and was very rude and arrogant every time she addressed the staff. She had been bad mouthing Lorraine unjustifiably and has managed to alienate herself from the whole group. No one wants to be in her company, which is unusual for our people. There is usually someone who is kind enough to pal up with the difficult ones but it seems that WB is just too much! Interesting listening to their opinion of her, but I do hope she changes her attitude and pals up with someone because at the moment it's looking like she's in for a very lonely couple of days. :-(

Anyway, after a good breakfast we met our guide for a 2hr walking tour of the city.

Our guide was very good. She showed us all the points of interest and just wet our appetite for us to go back to things which took our fancy.

After thanking the guide for doing such a good job, Lorraine and I headed away from the centre of the city looking for a secluded little bar for a beer and 5 mins peace. We actually enjoyed 2 beers and then we were spotted by a couple of our passengers who were looking for the same!

I wanted to do the boat trip around the city's canals so off we went. Lorraine managed to blag us on for free by saying we wanted to see what it was like so we could promote it to our passengers! Although it was very pleasant, I'm glad I didn't have to pay €8 for it because it didn't show us anything that we hadn't seen on the walking tour and we had been packed in like sardines.

We then headed back to the main market square where we stopped for a croque Monsieur each, washed down with a couple more beers, watching the horse and carriages and all the goings on in the city.
By now it was getting on for 4 o'clock so we started to head back towards the hotel.

We had introduced the two single ladies to each other at breakfast and suggested that they may like to meet up for dinner together this evening and we were hoping that throughout the course of the morning, WB would pal up with somebody as well so that she wouldn't be alone for dinner. Unfortunately, it seemed she had no intention of trying to make friends with anyone and gave a rather sharp response to anyone who tried to include her so maybe she is happy with her own company and isn't worried about eating alone?

So we arrived back on the square where our hotel is and decided on another beer in the pub next door where we joined a couple who both Lorraine and I had travelled with before. They stayed chatting with us for a fair time before going to get ready for dinner. We stayed and took note of our people heading out for their evening meal and spotted just about everybody except for WB but we hadn't heard from her on the phone so we assumed she was ok and we eventually set out at about 7. We called into a very bizarre little Celtic bar that I know which I didn't think would be Lorraine's scene, called the Druids Cellar.

She loved it! It's a quirky little place, underground, in the dark.

Two beers here before heading for my nice little Italian restaurant which I was really looking forward to. When we arrived and it was closed I was really disappointed. And hungry. We had a job then trying to find somewhere else to eat on our expenses budget. We ended up finding another Italian which wasn't much more than a glorified cafe but the food that was served was nice and it filled a little hole!

After quite a long day and doing quite a lot of walking we headed back for the hotel, diverting into the pub for one more beer. While we were sat in the bar we saw WB walk past, so she has at least eaten tonight. Now feeling rather weary, I packed myself off to bed.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Bruges Tour - September 2013

The alarm went off this morning at 3:15 so I am going to try to keep today's entry quite short so I can go to bed! 

Once again, I am working with my good friend Lorraine this week and I'm looking forward to a few days in the very beautiful city of Bruges. We left the yard at 5:00am setting off for Dover and our ferry. Most people slept most of the way, we had a quick stop at motorway services because I was in need of a big fat dose of caffeine, then most people were sleeping again. We had a smooth crossing across the channel and both Lorraine and I had a steak breakfast, nom nom! 

We headed straight for our hotel and arrived at 1430 hrs. We are staying in the Hotel Portinari which is in a good position on one of the city's central squares and only a short walk from the very central market square and the cathedral. We have a few ladies travelling alone and so mostly for them, but also for anyone else who wanted, we offered everyone to join us for dinner this evening in a little restaurant which Lorraine has used before because after such a long day and maybe not yet making friends, they may not be wanting to go looking for somewhere to eat in a city they don't know. So a total of 12 of us set off for dinner. The conversation was not particularly exciting but Lorraine and I managed to throw in a couple of one liners to liven things up, to the horror of mrs librarian who is rather straight laced, prim and proper. But her reactions just added to the amusement!

One lady who came with us, who I haven't decided on a name for yet, sent her meal back because she didn't want dressing on her salad but, she wasn't very polite about it. When the waiter was equally as impolite back, she pulled him up on it, saying that he shouldn't be speaking to her in that way. His reply was, " with all respect madam, I am speaking to you in the way you spoke to me, and I don't deserve to be spoken to like that either." I say good for him! As the meal went on she was becoming increasingly more difficult with staff until at the end of the meal, the restaurant manager came to Lorraine and I and said thank you for bringing all these people to eat at their restaurant but please don't bring HER again! He then turned to mrs difficult and said, " you are banned madam. Don't come back!" I don't think I have ever known any of our people to be banned from anywhere and I found it quite amusing, but mrs difficult was quite upset. There were tears so I left Lorraine to deal with that one!

So we left the restaurant and Lorraine and I headed for a bar for a couple of beers before returning to the hotel. I like Kriek which is cherry beer and very lovely! So I'm now in my very nice room with a not nice single bed which means putting the mattress on the floor again and I have spotted a mosquito buzzing around so that one will have to be squished before sleep. So after a long, tiring, relatively uneventful day I will wish you all goodnight.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Cornish Riviera Tour - Day 4

At dinner last night, one of our gentlemen approached our table and asked a question. I have been having quite a lot of banter on the coach with this particular man and when I started to reply, he interrupted me and said, 'actually I was asking the gaffa!' I told him I was the gaffa, with the company director sat next to me, to which he looked rather baffled and tried to argue that it's Joan's name on the side of the coach, she was the gaffa. Then Joan stepped in and put him right! The driver is the gaffa. That's right, I'm the boss, 1 to me! Working with Joan has been no different to working with any other senior courier. We're working as a team, helping each other out and enjoying ourselves along the way ( creep, creep)! We are rubbing along quite nicely together which always makes the job easier if you're getting along with your colleagues. The same as any other industry. (Creep, creep!)

Well what a day we've had today! Plan A, was to leave the hotel at 9.45 to travel to St. Erth Railway Station to put everyone on the 10.48 train into St. Ives, returning on the 3.00 train before driving a slightly different route back to the hotel, to arrive at about 4.30. Should have been easy!

Four of our lovely people opted out of coming with us today. So at 9.45 we were on the coach outside the hotel with Joan telling me we were still waiting on 2 more people. I went for a quick scoot around the hotel, couldn't find anyone, so got back on the coach. Joan was telling me how she had counted 4 times now and there are only 41 people on the coach. Well Joan, if 4 aren't coming, we only want 41! I can't even count to 41 so I couldn't criticise! So now nearly 10 minutes late, we set off for the train station.

We arrived with 8 minutes before the train left for St. Ives. I had to unload the wheelchairs, go and pay cash for 43 tickets and direct everyone to the correct platform for the train. I was just handing over the cash and none of our passengers had come through yet, when the train pulled into the station. I shouted across that we had 3 minutes before the train left, people were disappearing to the toilet and there was still no sign of the wheelchairs. Joan came through and I handed her the tickets and asked her to try to hold the train for our wheelchairs to arrive while I went to help them. It was absolute chaos! I got the last wheelchair onto the train and gave Joan the nod that I couldn't see anyone else around the station, so off they went while I dealt with the coach.

I chatted up the station master and asked if I was ok to park the coach in the station while I caught the next train to St. Ives. No problem. So I had a quick coffee before locking up and making my way back to the platform when I saw the train come in. I had just stepped out of the ticket office when I heard a voice call my name. I turned around to see 2 of our gentlemen sat on a bench at the end of the platform. It appears that they had disappeared to the toilet and the train had left without them and in all the mayhem, we hadn't noticed that they hadn't got on the train! But never mind, they were safe and they were coming with me. So we arrived in St. Ives and walked down the platform and towards the path to town when the one gent, mr stick, started panicking because he had left his bag on the train! The train was still there so I ran back, asked the driver to wait while I retrieved the bag, which had to be on the furthest carriage, and returned it to its owner. I was going to walk them both into town to show them the way but the one had disappeared and the other needed the toilet again and so was going in the restaurant and insisted I didn't wait for him. So feeling a little nervous about leaving him because he isn't particularly mobile or switched on, I went off to meet Joan for coffee.

After that I had a walk around with my camera, had another Cornish pasty and headed back to the station. I spent about half an hour sat on the rocks watching the tide come in before I made my way to the platform where there were already some of our passengers and Joan. I was treated to a delicious mint choc chip ice cream shake. 

The decision was made that I would catch the train before the one we had planned and anyone who was there who wanted to, could come with me. Only a handful did, the rest arrived half an hour later having caught the train they were told to. So I arrived back at the coach to find a parking ticket stuck to the screen from a private company, after I had been given permission. Not happy! That one will be appealed!

So half an hour later everyone started getting on the coach after catching the correct train. Joan did a head count. We were 1 missing! Mr know all, who never stops talking and misses the information he is being given because he just won't shut up! He had been seen at the station but not on the train. The only contact number he had given us was a landline. It had been suggested that he had maybe fallen asleep on the train and not got off. Mr know all was the gent who had missed the train this morning with mr stick! All we could do was wait for the train to return back again and hope he was on it. 

I was back on the platform when the train rolled in and to my relief, there he was! I helped him off the train and asked what had happened to him and he proceeded to tell me what a wonderful day he had had. I said he should have been on the previous train and he straight away started to argue with me that Joan had said 3.30 and he'd written it down and he was right! 'I'm sorry that you had misheard but everyone else had heard 3.00 and have all been sat on the coach waiting for you for the last half an hour. But all that matters is that you are safe and you are now with us.' Silence. We walked across to the coach, no apologies to anyone and off we went.

We drove back through the pretty little town of Hayle and through the centre of Redruth. We arrived back at the hotel at 5. Mr know all made sure he was last off the coach and spoke to Joan and I, saying that he had written down the correct time and that he'd got it wrong and was very apologetic. He then went into the hotel, tripped over the mat and went splat on the floor with a very loud thud. I rushed over, the only thing he'd hurt was his pride and so we helped him up and off he went.

I parked the coach and decided on a glass of wine before getting ready for dinner. I went into the bar and joined 3 of our passengers in the hope I would have a drink bought for me. It worked! So a quick drink, shower, then dinner. Joan and I moved through to the bar as soon as we'd finished eating and we managed a whole hour before anyone found us. We just sat chatting about anything other than work. It had just been one of those days! Hopefully tomorrow will be better. Goodnight x

The Cornish Riviera Tour - September 2013

I'm nearing the end of day 3 of this tour and I've not yet written anything, so I have some catching up to do!

Day 1

We collected all our passengers for this tour on Sunday morning and our first problem arose before we had left the yard. Our company use mini buses to collect passengers from their door and bring them to meet the coach at the depot, and on this occasion, also at Evesham. Our final feeder vehicle arrived on the yard and I overheard one gentleman asking the feeder driver what he had done with his walking stick. One way or another, the stick had been left at the field gate at the end of the gentleman's drive, so he was now having a mild panic about how he would manage all week without it because it was a shooting stick with a seat on the handles so he could sit when he needed to. The gentleman's home was too far away in the wrong direction for us to be able to wait while a car was sent to retrieve it so it was left down to me and my courier to come up with an alternative for him for the week. But the stick has been retrieved and is currently sat in the office. Fat lot of good!

We left the yard with the sun shining on us and by the time we got to Evesham to collect the remainder of our lovely people, it was starting to rain. From then on, the weather got worse until we arrived at our hotel in torrential rain and gales! Because the weather was so awful today, we stopped at a garden centre en route for lunch just east of Plymouth, then continued on over the Tamar Bridge 
into Cornwall and on to our hotel which, for this week, is The Falmouth Hotel. This is a 3* hotel positioned on the beach and looking up to Pendennis Castle high on its peninsula and in the other direction, looking up to the harbour. The hotel is 150 years old this week and there are big celebrations to mark the occasion on Thursday and Friday evenings. The place is looking a little tired and shabby in places which they have plans to refurbish, but it is generally comfortable, the food so far has been good and there is a swimming pool which I've not yet managed to find!

My courier this week, Joan, is one of our company directors so before we came away, I was thinking how I must be on my best behaviour. It didn't last long! Behaving myself isn't something that comes easily to me and I am much better when I'm misbehaving and playing up so it didn't take long for me to just be myself. Joan's claim to fame is that she was the first female coach driver in the UK back in the 50's and one thing she has commented on is how the general perception of female drivers, particularly of large vehicles, hasn't really altered since she was driving 60 years ago. Comments like, "YOU drive that big coach?!", and "you're sooo brave!", but why should it be so surprising to people that women can do the job equally as well, (sometimes better than, in some comparisons!) as a man? Anyway, enough of the 'girl power'!

Day 2

As always when I'm on holiday, I don't rush out of bed! So we left at 10am for today's visit to the Eden Project.

The Eden Project was built in a 160-year-old exhausted china clay quarry near St Austell, in Cornwall. It was established as one of the Landmark Millennium Projects to mark the year 2000. While restoring the Lost Gardens of Heligan in the early '90s, Tim Smit became fascinated with stories that connected plants to people and brought them alive. He enlisted the help of Philip McMillan Browse (former Director of RHS Wisley and Horticultural Director of the Lost Gardens of Heligan) and Peter Thoday (former President of the Institute of Horticulture), to put together a team of expert horticulturalists.

In the first two months of construction it rained every day; 43 million gallons of rainwater drained into the pit. This prompted the engineers to come up with a magnificent subterranean drainage system that now collects all the water coming on to the site. The water is then used to irrigate the plants and flush the loos, while rainwater that falls on the Biomes is used to maintain the humidity inside the Rainforest Biome. Today almost half of their water needs are provided from water harvested on site.

You could fit the Tower of London in the Rainforest Biome. The Guinness Book of Records heralds the Biomes as the biggest conservatories in the world. Building these ‘lean-to greenhouses’ on an uneven surface that changed shape was tricky: ‘bubbles’ were used because they can settle on any shaped surface – the architect got the idea while washing up!

The Eden Project is an exciting attraction where you can explore your relationship with nature, learn new things and get inspiration about the world around you. Trek through the steamy rainforest in the world’s largest conservatory, seeing how chocolate grows, where sugar comes from and what a cola tree looks like. 

Take a colourful, sensory journey through the warmer climes of the world. Enjoy passing lemons trees, olive groves, vines and cork trees on your way.

Eden boasts the world's largest rainforest in captivity, stunning gardens and world-class sculptures.

We were here for 4 1/2 hours which wasn't enough time for me. The admission prices are not cheap but I think it's well worth the money.

We had no real dramas today and everyone thoroughly enjoyed our visit as well as the majority, including myself, enjoying a Cornish Pasty for lunch. Everyone was quite worn out after a busy day with so much to see, but that didn't become apparent until we sat down for dinner and were missing 12 people! We have a large group of 45 this week so trying to figure out who isn't there is not an easy task so we just left it with the receptionist to ring all our rooms! Two people had opted for room service and everyone else arrived in the restaurant apart from 2, who we still haven't identified! The waiter who was seating us hadn't helped by scattering our people all over the large restaurant instead of insisting on them all using our allocated tables. So our 2 missing people may have been in the restaurant but we just missed them, or they may not have been. Who knows?

Day 3

According to our itinerary, today is a free day. So a 9am breakfast for me was quite early enough! We have offered an optional extra for everyone today to drive up to Truro to board the boat and sail back down the River Fal with a full commentary and complimentary tea and coffee, finishing in Falmouth where I would be waiting with the coach to pick them up. Only 14 people took us up on the offer but they all thoroughly enjoyed it.

A trip on an Enterprise boat offers a great chance to relax while enjoying the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a stunning, unspoilt landscape.

This unique sea route will take you past iconic maritime locations, historic houses and landmarks, as well as taking you up close to the array of ocean-going vessels laid up at anchor on the upper reaches of the Fal.

You’ll cross the third deepest natural harbour in the world when you reach Falmouth with its bustling docks overlooked by two Tudor castles.

Another drama free day so far, other than still not identifying the 2 people who were missing from dinner last night but I'm sure we'll manage to locate them this evening! It has been a nice lazy day for me today having worked for only 3 hrs and spending nearly 2 1/2 hrs of that parked up and enjoying another Cornish Pasty! I'm going to have one for lunch every day! :-)

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Suffolk and Constable Country - Day 4

Well today has been pretty uneventful which is good for me because it means no problems! Another late start this morning before our excursion to the world renowned Beth Chatto Garden just outside of Colchester. Mrs nipples was suitably attired and everyone was especially looking forward to this visit.

Upon our arrival, the head gardener came on board the coach and welcomed us and gave a short   introduction to the garden. The Beth Chatto Gardens began in 1960. From an overgrown wasteland with poor gravel soil and boggy hollows, it has been transformed into an informal garden harmonising with the surrounding countryside.

 The gardens are an inspiration to anyone who visits them - the art of planting at its best. I have no idea about gardening so I couldn't argue either way but it is definitely a very beautiful, peaceful place. Beth Chatto was awarded an OBE for her services to horticulture and is described as the most influential British gardener of the last half century.

We had gorgeous weather today, 28 degrees, and everyone really enjoyed taking their time around the garden. There were several dragon flies around the lakes and I stood patiently with my camera for what seemed like hours, waiting for one to just settle or pause so I could get a shot. The only ones which settled were the two having sex. So I have dragon fly porn!

This was our only visit today and with the heat, everyone appreciated a relaxing day and an early return to the hotel mid afternoon where I still had some work to do.

After a cool shower it was time for dinner and we enjoyed yet another lovely meal with no major dress sense disasters! The conversation, however, was as dull as dull can be. It's not very often I say it but I would rather have sat with my lovely passengers than sat and listened to the boring monotonous talk of golf, golf clothes, golf clubs, golf equipment, golf blah blah blah. SHUT UP! I switched off and watched the handsome waiters at work instead!

So now I've escaped and I'm enjoying some me time. I've used the pool and the jacuzzi and I'm feeling rather chilled and relaxed and I know I will have a good nights sleep. Goodnight x

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Suffolk and Constable Country - Day 3

A nice slow start to the day today, I got up at 8am and went for breakfast. A lot of the ladies commented how late I was this morning to which I replied, "you're very early considering you're on holiday!" My courier is starting to get on my nerves, forever moaning about our ladies, who are all lovely. A few sharp comments have made her realise I don't want to hear it.

We left at 10am to go to Bury St. Edmunds. Everyone is dropped off by the Abbey ruins and I need to go out of town to park, which is too far away to walk back in so I have a boring time in a lorry park with a bunch of hairy arsed truckers! 

 I've never seen Bury myself before although I have dropped off here many times. Bury St. Edmunds is described as  unique and dazzling historic gem. An important market town with a richly fascinating heritage, the striking combination of medieval architecture, elegant Georgian squares and glorious Cathedral and Abbey gardens provide a distinctive visual charm. 

With prestigious shopping, an award-winning market, plus variety of attractions and places to stay. 

All of my ladies have thoroughly enjoyed their time here today and just about everyone has said what a beautiful place it is. 

One of our ladies had arranged to meet her sister who lives here, but somehow they missed each other which resulted in a lot of her family being very concerned about where she was and whether she was ok. My courier had a phone call from the daughter who had even checked with A&E and it turned out that our lovely little lady had fallen asleep in a cafe and didnt know what all the fuss was about! 

We were here long enough for lunch before visiting Sudbury this afternoon. I was going to give them a scenic drive back to Sudbury but so many people have expressed an interest in visiting Gainsborough's House that I think I shall leave that for Friday, just to give them an extra half an hour. 

On the road this morning, I had a suicidal pigeon hit and explode on my windscreen so I've had to take some time to clean off the blood and guts. There were comments hoping we didn't have pigeon pie on the menu this evening. So after lunch, off we went with a nice clean coach, to Sudbury.

 I hadn't really noticed mrs nipples today, but when she got off the coach this afternoon, I noticed. All I shall say is that it was white leggings today. I felt sick! 

Evidence of Sudbury as a settlement originates from the end of the 8th century during the Anglo-Saxon era, and its market was established in the early 11th century. Its textile industries prospered during the late Middle Ages; the wealth of which funded many of its buildings and churches. The town became notable for its art in the 18th century, being the birthplace of Thomas Gainsborough, whose landscapes offered inspiration to John Constable. 

The 19th century saw the arrival of the railway with the opening of a station on the historic Stour Valley Railway, and Sudbury railway station forms the current terminus of the Gainsborough line. During World War II, US Army Airforce bombers operated from RAF Sudbury.

Today, Sudbury retains its status as a market town with a twice-weekly market in the town centre in front of the redundant St. Peter's Church.

After 2hrs I collected my ladies to return to the hotel in plenty of time for use of the spa facilities before dinner. Mrs nipples once again was laden with shopping. I do hope she is more appropriately attired at dinner this evening or she will put me off my food!

We've had another very enjoyable meal this evening and I have eaten far too much. So after another busy yet successful day, I am off to bed. Goodnight x

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Suffolk and Constable Country - Day 2

I was in for breakfast early this morning at 7am. First one in the restaurant. I'd woke up in a panic because I couldn't find my way out of my super enormous bigger than queen sized bed! It wasn't long before I was joined at breakfast by my courier. Just as we had finished eating she noticed a missed call on the courier phone, most likely from one of our ladies. She listened to the answer phone message and sure enough, someone was ill in bed but she couldn't hear who it was or which room they were in. As she passed the phone over for me to listen to the message, she managed to delete it! So that was her left with the task of ringing around all the rooms to find out who was ill. The lady was identified and she was visited in her room to make sure she was ok. Turns out she'd had a bout of the trots all night and didn't get much sleep but she's ok now. She's not coming with us today, which is good because I don't want her using my toilet for that! But i hope she will be feeling better soon. 

So today we are joined by a blue badge guide who is taking us on a tour of Constable Country. She showed me the route we would take on the map and I was very uncertain about the way she was suggesting to go to our first stop. It looked unsuitable to me. And sure enough, when we approached the right turn she wanted me to take, there were big blue signs saying 'unsuitable for wide vehicles'. I sailed straight past with the guide saying, "oh sorry, we should have gone right there. Never mind, carry on. I should have said earlier." Little does she know I never had any intention of going that way!

We arrived at our first stop, East Bergholt and the guide walked them through the village to the church. As I was helping our ladies off the coach I noticed one lady, who is a first time traveller with us, and I think she has got the wrong idea about what type of holiday this is. This is what we call a singles holiday where nobody pays single room supplements which, when you're a sole traveller, can increase the price of a holiday quite considerably. But I think this particular lady has thought it's where single people go on holiday to get together! So she would have had a shock yesterday to see only ladies on the coach. But when she got off the coach today and was headed for the church wearing a white see through dress with no bra and big dark 70 year old nipples on full show, I was the one who had a shock! So she's obviously not given up hope!

During the 16th century, the inhabitants of East Bergholt became well known for Protestant radicalism. A few of its citizens were martyred during the reign of Queen Mary I and the Protestant martyrologist John Foxe recorded their stories in his famous work Acts and Monuments (also known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs).

East Bergholt is the birthplace of painter John Constable. Flatford and Dedham, Essex, both made famous by John Constable, are within walking distance of East Bergholt.

After having coffee in the church we drove the short distance to Flatford Mill, in the heart of Dedham Vale.

It is noted as the location for works by John Constable, whose father owned the mill. Constable made the mill and its immediate surroundings the subject of many of his most famous paintings. It is the title of one of his most iconic paintings, Flatford Mill (Scene on a Navigable River) and is in the title or the subject of several other of his largest paintings including: Flatford Mill from a lock on the StourFlatford Mill from the lock (A water mill); The Lock. The Hay Wain which features Willy Lott's Cottage, was painted from the front of the mill.

After a few people struggling back up the hill to the coach we made our way to Dedham, just over the border in Essex, for our lunch stop. The guide took those who wanted to the church for a bit more information while everyone else had a leisurely time trying to recuperate from this mornings walking.

Constable attended the town's Grammar School (now the 'Old Grammar School' and 'Well House'), and he would walk to school each morning alongside the River Stour from his family's home in East Bergholt. Many of Constable's paintings feature Dedham, including Dedham Parish Church, whose massive Caen stone and flint tower is a focal point of the surrounding Dedham Vale.

After lunch we travelled to Lavenham. Lavenham is a village and civil parish in Suffolk. It is noted for its 15th-century church, half-timbered medieval cottages and circular walk. In the medieval period it was among the 20 wealthiest settlements in England. Today, it is a popular day-trip destination for British people from across the country and Americans from the air bases of Lakenheath and Mildenhall, along with another historic wool town in the area, Long Melford.

Mrs nipples returned to the coach laden with shopping and I was disappointed to hear she had bought herself a new top and not a new bra. I suppose so long as its not a white top, that is good enough! Everybody on the coach was now pretty tired and I think I'm going to have a kip in the bath before dinner. Our lady who we left behind today is much better so everything is rosey. This is me clocking off for now. :-)

Monday, 2 September 2013

Suffolk and Constable Country Tour -Day 1

Well I'm off again today and with a late departure time of 1100 hours, I didn't get out of bed until 8 O'clock. My destination this week is Suffolk and Constable Country. I've done this tour for the past few years and apart from doing things on different days, essentially the itinerary is the same. So in theory, this should be an easy week. Famous last words! 

We were slightly late leaving the depot but it didn't really matter as we don't have an awful lot of mileage to cover today. We have all ladies on board this week and just a small group of 28. They are all single ladies, whether divorced, widowed or spinsters. Some are travelling with friends but the majority are travelling on their own. These are the groups who generally take a bit more time to gel together, especially if there are several people who have never travelled alone before and I was expecting to have my work cut out to help them along but to my surprise, they were interacting with each other very quickly apart from the odd one or two. So I shall have to keep an eye on them that they do not feel excluded.

I had made the decision to drive directly to Stamford in Lincolnshire for our lunch stop and a little free time. We had only been on the road for less than an hour when my courier came and said to me that she had broken a seat. She had leant on a back rest and it snapped, lying flat on the seat behind. She had moved people to safe seats but I now had to spend my lunch time trying to solve the problem, which is a big one. When we arrived in Stamford, everyone was let loose and the tool box came out. I couldn't fix it but my depot found a man that can!

I've visited Stamford several times and when the weather is good, which it was today, it is a lovely place to spend a few hours. This medieval town has been used for many film locations including Pride and Prejudice in 2005 and The Da Vinci Code in 2006. The Industrial Revolution largely left Stamford untouched. Much of town centre was built in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in Jacobean or Georgian style. Stamford is characterised by street after street of timber-framed and stone buildings (using the local limestone that Lincoln Cathedral is built from), little shops tucked down back alleys. The main shopping area was pedestrianised in the 1980s.

After an extended lunch break and a relax by the river we set off for our hotel. The Best Western Stoke By Nayland Hotel Golf and Spa. I've stayed here several times now. The rooms are all lovely and we never have complaints there and this week I'm in a suite with a bed big enough for a whole rugby team! After all our ladies had gone to their rooms I had to give the porters a kick for taking too long to deliver all the luggage to the rooms and I stood over them until the job was done! That didn't leave long for me to change and get back to the bar for our welcome drink. A choice of red or white wine or orange juice. I had 2 glasses! We moved through to the restaurant for dinner and had very nice food with very good service, especially from the handsome Portuguese waiter! All the ladies are getting along very well and I needn't have been concerned about anyone being left out.

Now I'm enjoying the comfort of my suite and am headed for a long soak in the bath before bed. We have a busy day to look forward to tomorrow. Goodnight x