Saturday 29 April 2023

Cat People

Never again, no more cats, no more many times have we said this only for another to come along and capture our hearts? Neither of us has ever actively sought out a cat but, without fail, a feline in need has made their way to our doorstep and claimed us as their own and the latest in a long line of furry dictators is pocket-sized panther, William.

In a town such as ours, once packed with bustling workshops and sprawling factories, felines were as much part of the industrial landscape as the towering chimneys belching out smoke. They kept the rats at bay, feasting on scraps from the factory canteens and the workers' lunchboxes. Although most of our industry is long gone, its legacy remains, the ancestors of those factory cats who've formed colonies in the boarded-up buildings like the Highgate windmill, behind Stonecroft. With the developers at work, we knew it would be only a matter of time before one of the residents sought a new home.

A chunky black cat had been regularly spending time in our garden, reasonably friendly but only interested in the Nepeta growing in the borders, in which he'd roll, staggering off over the garden wall drooling, high as a kite, with his eyes glazed over. We called him William Woolberforce because of his particularly woolly coat. A month ago, William turned up early one morning yowling for food and looking much smaller than I remembered. I assumed he'd exchanged his winter coat for a sleeker lightweight springtime version and, as we'd still got a cupboard full of catfood, I fed him. He was more than happy to be picked up and cuddled but refused to come into the house, dining on the doorstep. 

For a fortnight he came back three times a day, chomping his way through vast amounts of food (always served outside) and lounging on Jacob's pen, until, one evening, he walked into the house, ate in the kitchen before settling down on the chaise where he's spent every night ever since.

Eating breakfast with the front door ajar last weekend a big woolly black cat wandered into the house and sat on the doormat staring at us. We realised that William Woolberforce is a completely different black cat to the black cat who's claimed us (possibly his dad) but, as he answers to William, he'll have to stay being called William!

Jon's fitted a cat flap, which he mastered in less than an hour*, and looks very smart in his studded black leatherette collar. He's visited the vet twice, the first time to check for a microchip (none), to start his vaccinations and get de-flea'ed and wormed. Katie, the vet, thinks he could be between three and five years old - which surprised us as he's so small.

*William, not Jon!

He was back at the vet's yesterday to be de-pompomed, microchipped and for dental surgery; a tooth extraction and a scale and polish. He's also had blood tests which came back all clear, nothing short of a miracle for a cat who has spent his life on the streets. He wasn't at all happy when he got back home yesterday but I think he's forgiven us now. 

Of course, he couldn't have chosen a more awkward time to adopt us with a summer of festivals and travel planned but when a cat chooses you, what can you do?

And as proof he's got us humans thoroughly under his paw, we're just about to set off to the other side of Wolverhampton to collect this....

His very own catio (secondhand, of course)!

See you soon

Tuesday 25 April 2023

Out and About - Gifford's Circus & Tea For Two

On Sunday, less than forty-eight hours since we'd waved each other off at Dudley bus station, I met up with Claire at a rather more picturesque location, the sleepy Cotswold village of Frampton on Severn, for an afternoon of acrobatics, clowning and general tomfoolery at the fabulous Gifford's Circus.

A visit to the circus has become an annual event. Find my blog post from last year HERE.

Our costumes are handmade, our animals are trained by us, our sets are painted in the barns on our farm. We burn the midnight oil to conjure new visions for the show. It’s all we do. Circus is our job, our life, our love. Nell Gifford

Giffords Circus is a magical village green circus that tours England from the first days of spring to the first glimpse of winter. It’s our hymn to homemade fun, excess and benign disruption. We want our show to move something in you, and to take just a little while to recover from. We want it, wish it and mean it with all of our hearts, because it is everything we believe about life and art and love.

Because as Nell would say “Art is Love”.

Giffords Circus is what we would all like to find if we were driving along a road, a glimpse of the tent with the words ‘Giffords Circus’ shining from the top, appearing mysteriously where it wasn’t the day before and might not be tomorrow. It is the intrigue that we would stop for and it is what we would make a pilgrimage for. It is how we travel back to our childhood and how we move forwards surrounded by music, loved ones and laughter. We wear our best clothes, and wellies and run away to the circus.     (Gifford's Circus website)

Jon & Gareth.

The weather gods weren't quite as kind as they had been on Thursday and by the time we'd taken our seats in the Big Top the rain was bouncing off the roof and almost deafening us with its ferocity.

As usual we had an absolute riot and were spellbound by the costumes, daring feats and superb soundtrack (Blondie, The Clash, Plastic Bertrand and was like someone had raided our vinyl collection!)

Tweedy the Clown told us that he would be incorporating the government smartphone alarm, scheduled to go off at 3pm, into his routine but, like the weather, turned out to be a bit of a damp squib!

We could have joined in the post-show dancing but we were starving and also mindful of getting our cars off the field which, in the two hours we'd been under canvas, now resembled a Post-Glastonbury mud bath, so headed to The Bell Inn on the village green for delicious local ales and the most splendid Sunday roasts (Brie, spinach and walnut bake for me, turkey for Jon, Pork for Claire and beef for Gareth).

Full to bursting, we had a chat with the goats in the car park before bidding our friends goodbye and heading home. Thanks for a fantastic day, Claire & Gareth....see you soon!

But the adventures didn't stop there! 

For my birthday Tony treated me to vouchers for a posh afternoon tea for two at Colwick Hall, the ancestral home of the Mad, Bad and Dangerous to know poet, Lord Byron and it was high time we made use of his generous gift. So, on Monday, we headed eastwards to Nottingham, a distance of just over fifty miles.

Nestling in sixty acres of parkland, the earliest references to the estate occur on the death of William de Colwick in 1362, when it passed by the marriage of his daughter Joan to Sir Richard Byron, into the Byron family. The Byrons lived here for over 150 years until about 1660, when they moved to Newstead Abbey and Colwick Hall came into the ownership of the Musters family.

John Musters replaced all of the older buildings with the present Hall in 1775–1776.The new house was built in the Palladian style by local builder, Samuel Stretton, from designs of John Carr of York. It was enclosed with a moat, crossed by drawbridge on the north side. 


This 1777 painting by George Stubbs of John and Sophia Musters riding at Colwick shows the newly built hall. Consisting of an elegant centre, crowned with a pediment, resting on four well proportioned Ionic pillars, and joined by two wings of one lofty storey with an entablature, supported by square pilasters, with plain capitols, and lightened much in its effect by a handsome balustraded parapet.

In 1805 John Musters's son Jack married Mary Chaworth, Byron's childhood love-interest from Annesley Hall. In 1827 Jack inherited Colwick Hall from his father, but in 1831, during the Second Reform Bill disturbances, it was sacked and partly burned by rioters. Mary Chaworth Musters spent the night in pouring rain with her daughter Sophia, crouched beneath the shrubbery and died at Wiverton Hall some four months later from the shock.

Jack and Mary's eldest son, John George Chaworth Musters (1807–1842), predeceased his father. He had married Emily Hamond, the youngest daughter of Philip Hamond of Westacre, Norfolk. Both of them died of tuberculosis, leaving three orphaned children. The eldest son, John Chaworth Musters (1838–1887), inherited the estates from his grandfather Jack in 1847. He in turn was succeeded in 1887 by his son John Patricius Musters (1860–1921), who in 1888 obtained licence to add the surname Chaworth to his own.

In 1896 the Hall was sold to the Nottingham Racecourse Company and became a public house with the rest of the buildings used to accommodate grooms and jockeys. Nottingham Corporation acquired the Hall from the Racecourse Company in 1965. The building fell into disrepair until it was saved by Chek Whyte, who won a competition to restore it. It was later sold to the Pearl Hotel group and, in recent years, has become the area's premier wedding venue.

Afternoon tea was served in Byron's Brasserie and, despite the Hall's chequered history, we were pleased to discover that plenty of the original architectural features remained including the spectacular moulded Palladian architraves, Adam-style multi-coloured marble fireplaces, the elegant sweeping staircases, Spanish mahogany doors and some wonderful stone floors. 

We'd requested a vegetarian-friendly afternoon tea and were well catered for. Savouries included taster cups of cream of white onion soup served with warm cheese straws along with sandwiches on wholemeal and white crustless bread filled with vegetarian Cheddar cheese, egg mayonnaise with vegan bacon flakes and vegan Coronation chicken.

Sweet dishes included fruited scones with strawberry jam & clotted cream, chocolate dipped shortbread, carrot cake muffins, lemon drizzle cake and chocolate tartlets (most of which we took home in the boxes our waiter, Katie, thoughtfully provided!)

Fancy treating yourself? Book HERE.

After a cheeky White Zinfandel (me) and a Beck's Blue for the driver, we stashed our goodie boxes in the car and explored the Hall's interior and the rather swanky grounds.

Quite unexpectedly we stumbled across a ruined church within the grounds.

The church of St John the Baptist was built by Sir John Byron in the 16th century who incorporated 14th and 15th century sections from an earlier church. It was restored in 1684 by Sir John Musters and remained in use until the mid-1930s when the nave roof collapsed and it was abandoned.

The inscriptions on the headstones were fascinating and remarkably poignant. Here's Sarah's, the wife of William Porter, who died on August 29th, 1819.....

Here lies lamented in her silent grave,
A tender wife and friend most brave,
Pale king of terror kindly did destroy,
The widow's hope and her brother's orphan's joy,
Alas she's gone and like a spotless dove,
To increase the number of the blest above.

And Isaac Beardmore, who died in 1854 at the age of 37 years old.

Pause gentle reader 'ere you tread, 
The precincts of this sacred bed,
And firmly press upon your mind,
The frailty of all human kind,
In manhood's prime and bloom of life,
Beloved by children, friends and wife,
Death who doth no distinction know,
In one short week thus laid him low.

Poor Isaac, young, loved and gone in a week. What a timely reminder to live life to the full (as if we needed one).

Thanks for reading!

Do check out Claire's blog about our Stourbridge & circus adventures HERE - her photos, as always, are amazing.