2016 – A year in pictures

As 2016 draws to a close I thought I would post a few photos I’ve taken during the year while I’ve been out and about round my local area with the dogs and the camera. I’d also intended to write briefly about a few of the things which have happened in my life over the last twelve months but I’ve been so unexpectedly busy over the last few hours that I’m running out of time to get this done before midnight. So here you go, one photo for each month of the year –
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January – Sophie and Poppie sharing the big bed
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February – River Irwell, Burrs Country Park
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March – Private garden, Barrow Bridge
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April – View over Jumbles Reservoir
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May – Bolton and Bury Canal
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June – Bolton and Bury Canal
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July – Entwistle Reservoir
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August – Wayoh Reservoir
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September – Wayoh Reservoir
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October – Moses Gate Country Park
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November – Late afternoon sun, Turton golf course
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December – Frozen pond, Turton golf course
All that remains now is for me to say ‘thank you’ to all my blogging friends, known or unknown, for taking the time to read my blog posts, and to wish you all a very happy, healthy and peaceful New Year. Here’s to 2017, I hope it’s a good year for everyone  🙂

Sophie & Poppie – my two little elves

After several quite dull grey days the weather today turned out to be quite reasonable with plenty of sunshine so I took the opportunity to take Sophie and Poppie for a long walk, but first I took a few snaps of them in their new Christmas outfits. Now I wouldn’t normally dress them up, though as they both have very short fine fur I do occasionally put them in hoodies to keep them warm when the weather is really cold, but my daughter-in-law bought these for them and they looked so cute I couldn’t resist getting the camera out. The writing on the back of each one says ‘Mummy’s little elf’ though neither of them would stay still long enough for me to photograph it.
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Needless to say, the outfits were taken off again before we actually went for our walk as they are too nice to get dirty so they’ll be kept for indoors only and after New year they’ll be put away. Then in twelve months time – if I can remember where I’ve put them – I’ll get them out again and Sophie and Poppie can become my little elves for next Christmas.

You really couldn’t make this up

Following on from the first burglary at work in early November events have recently been getting more and more outrageous, and in spite of various security measures being put in place the same thieves have continued to target the premises. At the beginning of this month, on the night before I went to Ireland, they broke the lock off the pedestrian gate and broke into the gas bottle storage compound, stealing three large propane gas bottles. Unfortunately the gate and the compound are out of sight of where the dog security guy is on guard so this wasn’t discovered until several hours later.
While I was in Ireland the place was hit again, this time in broad daylight and right under the noses of various people who work there. One of the guys in the main works had an accident which needed an ambulance to attend and while everyone was at the front of the building and busy concerning themselves with him the thieves drove their van into the car park at the side, lifted another guy’s motorbike into the back of their van and drove out again. It must just have been pure coincidence that the thieves were in the vicinity at the time, so when the ambulance arrived at work they saw a chance and took it – it was certainly a very risky but bold move and they were lucky to get away with it. They were captured on cctv however, and although the images of their faces weren’t completely clear they showed enough to identify them as the same guys as before, but so far the police have been unable to trace them.
Then a couple of days ago, again in broad daylight, an incident happened which showed that these guys will stop at nothing to get what they want. Across the corner from where I work is a tyre fitting and MOT garage and the guy from there was working on a car just outside it when the thieves pulled up; two of them got out of their van and while one distracted the garage guy the other jumped into the car he was working on. Trying to stop the car from being stolen he jumped onto the front of the bonnet but the thief accelerated quickly, causing him to fall into the road; luckily he fell sideways and not directly in front of the car otherwise he would have been very seriously hurt or maybe even killed. The car didn’t get far though as the thief was in such a hurry to get away that he smashed into another car further down the street, causing considerable damage. He mustn’t have been injured though as he jumped out, jumped into their own van and the three of them got away. The whole incident was captured on our works cctv which this time provided a clear image of the van’s registration, but when the police checked they found that the number plates are false so up to now they are no nearer to finding and catching these guys.
Needless to say the PA is extremely concerned for my safety, especially when I’m locking up the premises after hours, and I now have to ring the dog man to let him know when I’m leaving so he can accompany me while I lock up. I’ve never been a nervous or timid person though and working alone and being the last one to leave a building and lock up has never bothered me, so I absolutely refuse to start worrying now about something which may or may not happen. There are even more security measures being put in place now anyway, so hopefully with more deterrants the thieves will soon give up and move on.

A new mouse for Christmas

This little cutie is an early Christmas present to myself; I was lucky enough to win it on ebay at the beginning of the week and it arrived today. The seller’s listing described it as never having been displayed and it certainly does look new. It came in its original box with the original price ticket of £22 on it, and as I paid less than £5 I think that’s quite a bargain. It’s hard to tell from the photos but the tail is so well sculpted it looks almost real.

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According to the box it’s a Sandringham piece, though I have to confess that in all my years of mouse collecting I’ve never come across that name before, and even a Google search hasn’t given me much information. There’s nothing written on the box other than ‘Sandringham – made in England’ so as it doesn’t seem to have a name or title I don’t know if it’s one of a series or just a one-off. It’s definitely cute though, and it’ll be making its home somewhere within my collection by the end of this evening.

A disaster averted and a light bulb moment

Tuesday Dec. 6th
I got up early again that morning and just like the previous day I had the fire lit and the living room cleaned and tidied by the time Nellie came down. It was while she was cooking breakfast and I was up in the bedroom packing my things that I heard a man’s voice at the front door saying something about wanting a pan of water, which I thought sounded rather odd, but I carried on packing my things and thought no more about it. It was when I went back downstairs that I found out from Nellie who it was and why he’d wanted the water; he was a neighbour from a few doors away and he’d been just about to leave for work when he noticed smoke seeping out from the wheelie bin outside Nellie’s door
It seems that when I’d emptied the ash pan before I lit the fire there were still some very small fragments of coal still glowing, though I hadn’t noticed them in all the ash and I’d emptied the whole lot into the ash bin. Unfortunately someone had put some very dead and very dry flowers in there and the glowing bits of coal had started them smouldering, but thanks to the neighbour the pan of water had doused everything before any proper flames took hold so disaster and damage was averted. Thinking about it though, I had to wonder why, when so many people there have proper fires, the local council provide them with plastic wheelie bins for the ashes – I’m sure it would make more sense to put them into metal bins to avoid just such an occurrence.
With that little drama over I sat down to the breakfast Nellie had cooked, then after a quick check to make sure everything was packed I went up to town; my coach wasn’t until 11am so I had a couple of hours spare and there was something I wanted to do. Michael’s passport still hadn’t turned up so I began to think that maybe he’d been mistaken about leaving it on the table and he’d actually lost it outside somewhere – after all, the day of the funeral had been a rather mixed up and emotional time. So although it was a long shot I went up to the local Garda (police) station to see if it had been found and handed in – it hadn’t, so it very much looked like I would have to send over a copy of his birth certificate once I got home, and if the passport still hadn’t turned up by Friday that could be used as ID for him to travel back on the ferry instead of flying back.
It was while I was walking back to the house that I suddenly had a light bulb moment – what’s the one thing that many women, when going to church, carry with them? A handbag! I was sure that Nellie had had one with her at the funeral so maybe, just maybe…..That thought lent wings to my feet and I ran the rest of the way back, where Nellie confirmed that she had indeed had a handbag with her that morning and she would go and check it straight away. A couple of minutes later she shouted me and there she was, standing at the top of the stairs with Michael’s passport in her hand – it had been in her handbag all the time. I was so relieved I just grabbed hold of her and gave her a big hug – the crisis was over. We couldn’t think why it had ended up there though – Nellie knew she hadn’t put it in there so we could only assume that whichever friend cleared the table after the funeral buffet must have thought her handbag was mine and popped the passport inside it thinking that was mine too. Well however it came to be there I was just so glad that it had finally come to light.
With the passport problem solved there was just one more thing I wanted to do. Michael came with me and we went round to the flower shop to choose a couple of things to go on the grave. He got two plaques, one for Dad and one for Uncle, and I chose a white lantern with a red candle in it, then as we were leaving the shop the lady gave me a lovely Christmas decoration to add to them. I did ask her how much it was but she’d known Michael’s dad and Jimmy and said it was a gift so she didn’t want paying. Michael came up to the cemetery with me and we placed everything on the grave, then we went back to the house to collect my case.
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Nellie came up to the bus stop with us and they both waited with me until my coach came; I felt sad to leave, especially as Michael was staying on for another few days, and there were a few tears from Nellie but I promised her I will go back to see her when I can. My flight wasn’t until nearly 4pm so once I got to the airport I had plenty of time to look round the shops then relax with a coffee and something to eat. The pilot must have taken the most direct flight path this time as the plane was no sooner up in the air than it was ready for landing again and I arrived at Manchester at 4.30. Once I got to the airport station I didn’t have long to wait for a train, and with a taxi from my local station I was back home just after 6pm.
Thinking back over the last few days I realised that even though my reason for being in Roscrea was a sad one I felt like I’d almost fallen in love with the place. I wouldn’t want to live there as it’s much too small and quiet for me and too far from many other places, but having familiarised myself with the town and got to know Nellie and some of her community of friends and neighbours I almost feel as if I belong there. Michael’s dad may no longer be around but in a strange way I feel that I can always refer to Roscrea in the same way he did – home.

 

A long walk that got me nowhere

Monday Dec. 5th
I woke earlier than Nellie that morning and decided to make myself useful, so by the time she got up I’d raked out the ashes from the previous day’s fire, emptied the ash pan, got another fire going, brought in some coal, timber and peat logs from the garden shed and swept the floor; she was quite surprised when she came down and saw that everything she would normally do had already been done. Just after breakfast the medical equipment hire firm came to collect the hospital bed and once it had been dismantled I helped the guy to take the various pieces of it out to his van, then Michael and I brought the settee back down from upstairs, the furniture was rearranged and the living room was soon back to how it should be.
After spending the rest of the morning relaxing with my book I decided to take Trixie out. While looking round the shops the previous day I’d picked up a copy of a hand drawn map with directions to a castle situated in the countryside just outside the town, so although it was a rather dull day I thought I’d have a walk there and hopefully get some photos. The directions said I was to follow the road from the town centre past the railway station and continue until I came to a pub on the left, turn left there and I would find the castle about half a mile further on just past a saw mill. Looking at the map it didn’t seem to be any great distance so off we went – but how wrong I was!
I found the station with no problem, it was only just out of the town centre, so happy that I was on the right road I carried on walking….and walked, and walked. Every time I came to a bend in the road I was sure the pub would be just beyond it but it never was, and with very few houses there was no-one around to ask. At one point I almost decided to give up and go back to town but as I’d gone so far I thought I may as well carry on – after all, if I gave up then and later found that one more bend would have taken me to the pub I would have been kicking myself. Eventually, after several more bends and what seemed like forever, I did reach the pub and turned left – hopefully I wouldn’t have much further to go, but again I was wrong.
Even though I was in open countryside and could see for quite a distance across the fields there was no sign of anything that looked like a castle or even a saw mill. A check on the time and a quick mental calculation told me that by then I’d walked about five-and-a-half miles, and of all that distance I hadn’t seen a single sign for the castle. There was another bend up ahead so I came to a decision – if the castle wasn’t at the other side of it I would give up. I’d just set off walking again when I saw a van about to turn out of a nearby farm entrance; apart from passing cars this was the first person I’d seen since I’d left town so I stopped the driver and asked where the castle was, only to be told that it was about another two miles away.
Now had it been summer time I may have carried on but the further I walked meant that I still had that distance to walk back again and I would end up running out of daylight. So as I had no wish to be walking along an unlit country road in the dark the decision was made – I would abandon my quest and go back to town before the light started fading. I hadn’t reckoned on the unexpected kindness of the farm guy though – even though he was supposed to be going in the opposite direction he offered to drive me back as far as Roscrea station. It was an offer I wasn’t going to refuse, and as we drove back along the road I realised just how far I’d walked – and I came to the conclusion that (a) whoever drew that map has absolutely no sense of distance and (b) if I ever want to make a future attempt at finding that castle I’ll be driving, not walking.
Back at the house I found Nellie talking to Patsy and Noreen, and they were all surprised when I told them where I’d been. Trixie just hopped up onto a chair, curled up and went to sleep – I don’t think her little legs had walked as far for a long time. After a coffee and a few minutes chat I went out again, this time to the travel agents; Michael’s passport still hadn’t turned up so I needed some advice on what to do if it hadn’t been found before Friday. When I got back to the house again I found that Noreen and Patsy had gone but Carol had called to see if the passport had been found; when told it hadn’t she suggested looking in the recycling bin as that was just about the only place we hadn’t tried. So between us we turned the bin over and tipped all the rubbish onto the front path, putting it back in again item by item; there was still no sign of the passport but at least we provided the neighbours with some early evening amusement.
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After Carol had gone Nellie cooked a late dinner then we spent a pleasant evening watching tv, and though we all missed Jimmy very much it made a change to be able to actually watch a full programme without him continually changing channels with the remote. Although Michael stayed up quite late I went to bed earlier than usual; I had several hours of travelling ahead of me the following day, plus my long walk of earlier on had finally caught up with me, so I wanted to get some decent rest on my final night.

A missing passport and a great bargain

Sunday Dec. 4th
The day started off with a very lazy morning for all three of us. Even Nellie, who was normally quite an early riser, stayed in bed until 10am; I lay reading for a while longer and Michael didn’t surface until gone 11.30, though I think it did us all good not to have anything to rush round for. It was while we were sitting at the table having brunch that Michael suddenly said “Where’s my passport?”. The previous day the funeral procession had stopped briefly outside the house on the way to the church and as he was feeling cold Michael had run in to get an extra jacket; his passport and an envelope with his return boarding pass had been in his inside jacket pocket so he’d taken them out and left them on the table. The envelope was still there but the passport wasn’t and I didn’t remember even seeing it there, so once we’d finished brunch we set about looking for it.
The three of us searched high and low, looking in cupboards and drawers, under cushions, and even dragging out various items of furniture but there was absolutely no sign of it so Nellie began ringing round everyone who had been in the house after the funeral to see if anyone else remembered seeing it, though she drew a blank with every phone call. Michael insisted that he couldn’t have lost it outside as he’d definitely put it on the table, so working on the assumption that if it was in the house it would turn up when we weren’t looking for it we each went about doing other things.
My first port of call was back at the castle; it was the last day of the Christmas market and I wanted to take some daylight photos before the stalls were dismantled and everything was taken away. The courtyard was very busy so it was hard to get any shots without someone getting in the way but I managed a handful then went for a walk round the town. Opposite the castle was the entrance to a small indoor shopping centre so I looked in there first then went out through double doors at the back which took me out to a large car park and a Tesco superstore.
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Christmas market, castle courtyard

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There are two Tesco supermarkets here in my home town but as they are each a five mile drive from home I rarely go to either of them so I decided to have a look round this one. I’d been wandering round for a while when I ended up in the clothes section and that’s when I saw it – a rail full of casual jackets with a colourful embroidered design which just shouted “Buy me!” There was only one in my size so I tried it on and it was perfect; I just had to have it but there was only one problem – I didn’t have enough money with me. Fortunately Roscrea is such a small town that everywhere is fairly close to everywhere else so it didn’t take me long to walk back to the house for some more money.
Hoping that no-one else had bought the jacket in the short time I’d been away I returned to Tesco and there it was, at the back of the rail just where I’d left it. It had been reduced in price too, from €29.80 to €21.40 so I was more than happy with that, but when I went through the checkout it was further reduced to €19 – that really was a surprise so I was more than a happy bunny when I left the store. It really is seriously gorgeous, although the photos I took don’t really do it justice.
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Back at the house I found that Carol, who had helped Nellie to arrange the funeral, had called down and there was another hunt going on for Michael’s passport, but though everywhere that had been searched before was being searched again there was still no sign of it. This was a complete mystery, it seemed to have vanished into thin air; fortunately Michael wasn’t travelling home until Friday so there was still plenty of time to find it – fingers crossed it would put in an appearance well before then.

Mixed emotions and events

Saturday Dec. 3rd
The day of the funeral, and I woke that morning to a cloudy grey sky. Nellie made Michael and me some breakfast but neither of us felt like eating much; we weren’t exactly dreading what was to come but we weren’t looking forward to it either. The funeral was to be at 11.30; Mari arrived just before we set off for the chapel of rest and as it was only just at the far end of the main street we all walked there. It was so strange seeing two identical coffins side by side, and remembering how Michael’s dad had looked just a few months ago when he was still quite well it was very upsetting to see him lying there, just a thin shadow of his former self.
Once everyone was assembled the funeral procession set off for the church; as seems to be the custom there were no funeral cars, just the two hearses with most people walking behind, though there were many more people assembled at the church when we got there. The service, although a bit long-winded, was lovely – there were no hymns but the choir sang three lovely songs, Michael read out a poem, just about managing to get through it without breaking down, and someone else from the church played a beautiful piece of music on a synthesiser. As an immediate family there were only four of us sitting at the front – Nellie, Michael, me and a cousin from Portlaoise – and after the service everyone else came down to shake our hands and offer their condolences, then the two brothers were taken up to the graveyard in the church grounds and buried side by side in the family plot.
When we got back to the house we found that Noreen and a neighbour’s daughter had laid out a buffet on the table in the living room and a big tureen of soup was heating up on the cooker. The hospital bed that Michael’s dad had been using was still in the corner of the living room and it came in handy for people to sit on as there were so many crammed into the house; somehow I got shovelled into a corner but at least I was near the fire. It must have been an hour or so later when people began to drift away and the house finally became quiet; Michael took himself off upstairs as he wanted some time on his own, then after I’d helped Nellie to clear up the living room I got my camera and went out for a walk.
As we’d been walking back down from the grave side I’d got talking to Father Pat who had presided over the funeral, and I’d asked him if it would be okay for me to go back to the church sometime and take some photos inside; he’d said it was, and as I also wanted to spend some time on my own with my thoughts it was a good opportunity to do both. The church was beautiful, old but decorated in modern colours, and there were colourful stained glass windows everywhere – unfortunately the lights were only lit on one side but I still got some reasonable photos. From the church I went back up to the grave and spent several minutes sitting quietly before making my way back to the house.
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St. Cronan’s Church
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Church grounds and Bunnow River
It was early evening before Michael put in an appearance and as neither of us wanted much to eat after having the buffet earlier on we settled for just coffee and cake. A few of Nellie’s friends called round later on and as these were people I’d never previously met I just introduced myself then made myself scarce. The bedroom wasn’t really warm enough to sit up there reading for any length of time so I went out again, this time to the castle. There was a 3-day Christmas market in the courtyard and the place had been decorated with Christmas trees and a Santa’s Grotto; there was even artificial snow blowing from a machine somewhere, and with colour-changing lights everywhere it all looked quite attractive.
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Castle courtyard

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As I wandered round my attention was caught by the sound of music coming from the permanent marquee in one corner so I went to see what was going on; I remembered Nellie mentioning a fashion show in aid of charity so presumably this must be it. The place was packed, though as I didn’t have any money with me I couldn’t pay to get in so I just stood by the open door to watch from outside. I’d not been there long when one of the comperes shouted for someone to close the doors as the models were getting cold, and a tall guy standing just inside said to me “Are you coming in?” then put his arm round my shoulder and drew me inside, closing the door behind me. So I was in whether I wanted to be or not – and that was the start of a really enjoyable hour.
The fashions were modelled in sections of about half a dozen items and in between each section the two comperes, who seemed to be a comedy/singing act, would crack a few jokes and sing a song. At one point they sang one of my favourites, Footloose, and they got people up dancing so I took the opportunity to join in, though I didn’t stray away from the table where I put my camera and jacket. The evening ended with a very hilarious raffle then as soon as the doors were opened again I grabbed my jacket and camera and made my way outside and back to the house. After such a sad and sombre day that hour really brightened my mood, and though I had no wish to disrespect Michael’s dad or Jimmy I went to bed that night feeling more light hearted than I had been of all day.

They say things come in threes…

Friday Dec. 2nd
This was the day that Michael and I travelled back to Ireland for his dad’s funeral the following day, and though I’d got everything meticulously planned down to almost the last second things weren’t as straightforward as I’d hoped they’d be. The first spanner in the works came when we got to the local station and found that the 9.30am train to Manchester airport was running at least forty minutes late – Michael was going to Ireland ahead of me and with a train journey time of fifty minutes the next train, which could also have been delayed, may not get him to the airport in enough time. After a quick discussion he decided to jump onto a train to Manchester Victoria station, get a taxi from there to Piccadilly station then get the first available train from there to the airport. He sent me a text later to say the change of plan had worked out well and he’d arrived at the airport with time to have a coffee before his flight was called.
Fortunately things went more smoothly for me. My 12.30pm train was on time, and with not many stops I was at the airport a good two hours before my flight. With only hand luggage to deal with I was soon through security and relaxing with coffee and cake, but not long afterwards I was hit with a very unexpected piece of bad news. Michael, who was by then outside Dublin airport waiting for the 2pm coach to Roscrea, rang me to say that Nellie had just phoned to tell him that Jimmy had died in the early hours of the morning. I felt absolutely stunned – we knew he’d had a heart attack a couple of days before but as far as we knew there was no reason for him not to recover so that piece of news was shocking for both of us.
The next spanner in the works hit me later on.  I’d landed in Dublin just before 4pm and though my coach to Roscrea wasn’t until 6pm I didn’t mind the wait too much as at least I had plenty of time to get another coffee and relax for a while, but what should have been a fairly pleasant two-hour ride to Roscrea turned into a three-hour ten-minute marathon. The coach left the airport bang on time at 6pm but unfortunately it was rush-hour in the city centre and the whole place was chock-a-block with traffic, meaning we crawled through at a stop-start snail’s pace. It took an hour just to get through the centre itself and I was rapidly getting fed up; I’d got so far into my journey with no delays and I just wanted to get to Roscrea as soon as I could. As it was dark I couldn’t even take any proper photos as the coach went through the city but I did manage to get a shot of the illuminated front of the Custom House across the river.
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Custom House
I should have arrived at Roscrea at 8pm but it was gone 9pm when I finally got there. I’d sent Michael a text as we got to the outskirts of the town so he was at the bus stop to meet me when I got off the coach; Nellie had plated up a meal for me earlier on and it only had to be microwaved when I got in so I was soon sitting down with a brew and something substantial to eat. The long day finally caught up with me though so it wasn’t long before I took myself off to bed; it was much earlier than I would normally go but I had an emotional day ahead and I didn’t want to face it without having had a decent night’s sleep.