Friday festive photo hunt – my own choice

The last post in December’s weekly photo hunt  although it’s only Thursday, and as I’ve already written quite a long ‘looking back’ post this week I’m keeping this one fairly short and light-hearted.
Several times over the weeks prior to Christmas I’d asked Michael what he wanted and was met with the usual reply of “I don’t know, just get me anything” which really didn’t help. However, a couple of weeks ago and not long after I’d asked him the same question yet again I got an email newsletter from the animal sanctuary I support, with pictures of various long-term residents who can be sponsored rather than actually adopted. One of these is a donkey called Sean and as Michael’s first name is Sean I had the mad idea of sponsoring the donkey in his name.
Three days after I took out the sponsorship an envelope arrived with a photo of the donkey, a fact sheet with the donkey’s history, a certificate in Michael’s name (Sean) and a lapel badge. The photo was in a brown cardboard surround but I found a couple of nice frames in a local shop and framed both the photo and the certificate before wrapping them for Christmas.
Now you can’t have a donkey without giving it a carrot and it just so happened that as I was coming out of Tesco the following day my quirky sense of humour got the better of me when I spotted a round cardboard display stand in the entrance with ‘Free carrots for Rudolph’ written across the top – so I took one and wrapped it separately in Christmas paper when I got home.
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Michael’s face was a picture of total puzzlement on Christmas Day when he unwrapped the carrot, which I’d given to him first, though he was quite surprised and pleased when he unwrapped the photo and certificate. The donkey may not be an actual present as such but the sponsorship will help the animal sanctuary if only in a small way and once the place opens to the public again we’ll be able to visit Sean and see him properly. Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, yes I did get Michael a couple of proper presents which have been put away in his unit, though I’m not sure what he did with carrot.
So there you have it, my final post for this year, and thanks go to Kate for continuing to host the photo challenges – I often wonder how she manages to think of all the different topics. All that remains now is to welcome any recent new readers to my blog and thank everyone for visiting and commenting on my various posts – I hope 2021 is a much happier and healthier year for everyone.

Looking back – 2020

As another year draws to a close it’s time for me to look back on some of the events which have featured in my life and on this blog over the last twelve months. With dull grey days and almost incessant rain January was very much a ‘nothing’ type of month; good walks and outdoor photography were out of the question and not just because of the weather. Early in the month, and for no apparent reason, little Sophie suffered a debilitating stroke so all my time and attention was devoted to caring for her and helping her to recover in the best way I could.
February was a particularly sad month. In spite of medication and all my care and attention, after almost five weeks of constant nursing and a lovely morning when I really did think Sophie was going to recover she sadly slipped quietly away while sleeping in her bed at the side of mine – the grief and feelings of loss were overwhelming and it hurt like hell that I didn’t get the chance to hold her one last time and tell her how much I loved her. She was buried in a corner of the garden close to Sugar and I always keep a plant of some sort on her little patch. Later that month a break in the weather gave me a sunny Sunday when I was able to visit Hornby Castle to see the snowdrops; under normal circumstances Sophie would have been with me so it was an afternoon out done very much in her memory and after several weeks of not being able to go anywhere it was good to be out for a few hours.
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After my sunny afternoon at Hornby Castle the rain was back and my planned visit to see the snowdrops at Lytham Hall didn’t happen until the beginning of March. By then most of the snowdrops were over but it was still an enjoyable visit. Just a week later I spent a very enjoyable time looking round Lark Hill Place, a reconstructed late Victorian street set within Salford Museum & Art Gallery, followed by looking round the museum itself. It was a grey and very chilly day but by the middle of the month the weather turned sunny again and much warmer, and I managed another couple of visits to Lytham before my freedom was curtailed by various restrictions.
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The good weather which arrived mid March continued into April, getting warmer all the time, and I discovered a few different local walks which I could take right from my own front door. On my Easter walk I was lucky enough to see a small herd of deer in a field not too far from home, on another local walk which I’ve done many times before I came across two adult llamas with two young ones in a paddock at the open farm near home and a walk round the Jumbles reservoir gave me the unexpected sighting of a jay, the first time I’ve ever seen one.
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The first few days of May saw the previously lovely weather turning back to rain but as I was in pain from a pulled muscle in my back I couldn’t go anywhere anyway. Neither the rain nor the pain lasted very long though, the warm sunny weather soon returned and I was back to walking again, both locally and further afield once various restrictions were relaxed. Local walks included Barrow Bridge and a quarry I’d never been to before then during the spring bank holiday I walked along Skippool Creek and a short section of the Lancaster Canal.
The last day of the month, which was probably one of the hottest so far, saw me walking round a gorgeous section of the River Lune at Caton, a place which was completely new to me but which I’ll certainly return to. May was also the month when Poppie slipped her lead on a Jumbles walk and ran into the water after some ducks, giving me several heart-stopping minutes when she wouldn’t come back, and Michael promised to order a pizza for tea one day but gave me a sausage roll instead.
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The arrival of June brought more lovely hot weather and my birthday and a few days later, while strimming the long grass in the back garden, I had the lovely surprise of finding an Elephant Hawk moth, something which I’d never seen before and which prompted me to leave an area of the garden uncut to encourage other forms of wildlife to visit. I had a couple of afternoons in Manchester and walks away from home that month were along the Glasson branch of the Lancaster Canal and round three different parts of Heysham – the nature reserve and Half Moon Bay, neither of which I’d been to before, plus the village itself. I also went just a short drive from home and walked from the lake at Brinscall to the village of White Coppice.
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There was a deterioration in the weather at the beginning of July and the first few days were damp and grey but it didn’t last long and the sunshine was soon back. Early in the month I got wind of a new street art installation on the side of an old mill building in town and the middle of the month saw me returning to White Coppice as part of a walk from Heapey, during which I was lucky enough to see two damsel flies at close quarters. Towards the end of the month I took a drive to Morecambe and walked quite a long distance along the promenade from south to north and back again. July was also the month when Michael decided to rearrange his room and I opened the door to find a scene of utter chaos with furniture and stuff all over the place, though it wasn’t long before everything was tidy again.
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The early days of August saw lots of patchy cloud covering the blue skies and though it meant changing my plans a couple of times as I needed clear skies for the photos I wanted to get it didn’t stop me from going out. A look round the big car boot sale at St. Michael’s was followed by a walk along part of the River Wyre and a look in the nearby church then later in the month I had days out to Knott End and Fleetwood, where I went to photograph the old wrecked boats on the marshes before looking round Fleetwood itself. August was also the month when I picked up the wrong sandwich from a shop near work one day and discovered that I definitely don’t  like jalapeno mayo.
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The last few days of August sent a storm which put down some quite torrential rain but by the beginning of September the weather had cleared again. Early in the month I took the 35-minute drive to see the Singing Ringing Tree near Burnley and this was followed a few days later by a walk along the Lancaster Canal at Garstang, then the 12th saw the start of a 2-week stay-cation when the weather was so good I was hardly at home. As well as various local walks I also visited two churches (one local and one which I’ve still to write about) walked along another section of the Lancaster Canal, went to Corporation Park in Blackburn to find the Colourfields panopticon, had an afternoon in Southport with Michael, enjoyed a day in Kirkby Lonsdale and had a day out in Morecambe which included a ‘behind the scenes’ tour at the Winter Gardens Theatre.
Towards the end of the month and on what would have been Sophie’s birthday Snowy came to my attention, and two days later she came to live with me. Initially a timid, scared, unsocialised little scrap she gradually came out of her shell and has turned into a funny, affectionate and mischievous little character. Call it fate, coincidence or what you will but as Snowy’s arrival coincided with Sophie’s birthday I sometimes think that she was actually sent by Sophie to help fill the space in my heart and my home which Sophie herself left behind.
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The good weather continued into the first couple of days of October and just a week after I got Snowy I took her for her first long walk, four miles along a section of the Leeds/Liverpool Canal. The weather went rapidly downhill straight after that and though most mornings started off with sunshine it was guaranteed to be raining by 9.30am, rain which would last for the rest of each day. Dog walks were kept to a minimum and I only went round the local avenues, with the canal walk being the last proper non-local walk which I did. Also the 9th of the month saw this blog becoming four years old.
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The rain continued into November though there was a very brief break one day in the middle of the month and I came out of work that morning to blue sky and sunshine so I left the van there and went for a walk round the nearby Jumbles to try to catch some late autumn colour before it all disappeared. 
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Unfortunately the sunshine didn’t last and the rain returned the following day, lasting right into this month and almost up to Christmas, though there was just one day early in the month when it did come nice enough to do another local walk and discover somewhere I’d never been before. 
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I had all my Christmas shopping done and dusted several days beforehand so I didn’t have to dash round Asda at the last minute and Christmas itself was a very quiet affair with just the two of us. Michael only really got one full day though as he was back at work on Boxing Day, whereas I’ve been off from my job since the 23rd and don’t go back until January 4th so I’m enjoying the rest. I still have a handful of this year’s posts to write yet though so if anyone wants me I’ll be in my usual place – here at my pc.

Some festive bits and pieces

With the lack of a Monday walk this week I thought I would post a few festive photos I’ve taken just recently, the first few while I’ve been walking round the local avenues with the dogs and the others on a visit to a couple of garden centres.
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There’s a bit of a story to the next photo which was taken round the corner from home. A couple of years ago the local housing association fenced off the end of an alleyway between two houses and created a small pink-flagged area with a tiny diamond-shaped patch of grass in the centre; it all looked very pleasant but was totally useless for anything, however earlier this year the young man from the house on the left got permission to make a small garden at the end and plant a young sapling on the patch of grass.
With its bright bedding plants the little garden looked really pretty and I got chatting to the guy one day early in summer when he was out with the watering can. Apparently his wife was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer and with no proper garden of their own he had created this one so she had somewhere nice to sit and enjoy the sunshine; the sapling had been planted in memory of the guy who had lived in the house on the right and who had passed away in March from a long-term illness.
With the onset of autumn, and winter approaching, the bedding plants were eventually removed but at the beginning of this month they were replaced by various Christmas lights and decorations to brighten up the little garden. Unfortunately I had to use flash to take the photo so the lights don’t really show up but it really is a very pretty corner.

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The next photo is the display in the local florist’s shop window, the following six are from one garden centre and the other five from the second garden centre I visited. I didn’t look at the price of the winged horse but given the size of it I can imagine it wasn’t exactly cheap.
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The next photo was actually a mistake but I liked it so much I decided not to delete it. Last year the second garden centre had a large working miniature Christmas village on display but this time the models are all displayed individually. Unfortunately I forgot to change the camera setting when I took the shot of the carousel and though it was only going round very slowly it was enough to blur part of the image, however I think it has a bit of a psychedelic abstract look to it and I really like it.
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I’m not sure if the last display was actually a Christmas one or something more permanent. It was in the foyer of the second garden centre and didn’t seem to be very Christmassy but with everything draped in lights it looked very pretty and was worth a last shot before I headed home.
Finally, all that remains is for me to send
Seasons greetings
to all my blog readers, both regular and recent, with very best wishes from me, Michael, Snowy & Poppie – I hope everyone can make Christmas as good as these very strange times will allow  x

Friday festive photo hunt – tree

This week’s festive photo hunt  topic is ‘tree’ and for something a bit different my first photo isn’t actually a tree and it’s not even mine. While taking the dogs on their bedtime walk one evening I came across a lovely tree-shaped window decoration in a house round the corner; I’m not quite sure what it is as it seems to be stuck to the window but it’s very pretty and was worth a quick photo.
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My own little tree has quite a story behind it. Back in the 1990s I worked for a local joiner/builder who also made and installed double-glazed windows and every December I would decorate the tree for the showroom at the front of the workshop, until one year when he decided the tree was past its best and with a broken stand it had to be thrown out.
The tree actually split into three sections and though nothing could be done with the bottom section the centre and smaller top sections were okay so I brought them home, put each one firmly in a planter full of sand, and decorated the two of them, giving the larger one to my partner for his flat and keeping the smaller one for myself. However, once I’d decorated them they looked so pretty I thought it would have been a shame to undecorate them so come the New Year I just put a bin bag over the top of each of them and stored them away in our respective cupboards under the stairs until the following year.
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Those two trees were brought out of hiding every Christmas until the time we went our separate ways though once I started living alone I didn’t bother with mine. It’s different now though, since Michael came back to live at home my little tree has been resurrected although I think it probably is past its best now. Maybe next year I’ll get a new one – or maybe I’ll just redecorate this one so it can stay around a while longer.

Autumn down the lane

My Monday walk this week is less of a proper walk and more of a very short wander along a very short lane just after I finished work one morning in mid November. Looking through one of the office windows while I was working I noticed how attractive the lane looked in the sunshine and as I just happened to have the camera with me I decided to get a few shots of the remaining autumn colours while the sun was still shining.
As I walked up the lane a squirrel ran across just ahead of me and scampered up the low wall on the right but by the time I got there he’d disappeared, however a few seconds later I noticed a movement in the undergrowth and there he was, foraging about among the fallen leaves.
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Nearing the top of the lane I was almost at the main road and there was nothing attractive about that so I turned and headed back down to the works car park. Just as I stopped to take another photo near the bend in the lane there was a flash of reddish brown and a roe deer shot out from among the trees on my right, disappearing up the bank on the left. It went so fast I only just saw it so I had no chance of getting a photo, and even though I scanned the bank intently for several minutes there was no sign of it again.
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By the time I’d got back to the van and heading for home it was 9.30 and true to recent form the sun was doing its morning disappearing act behind banks of ever increasing cloud. Less than an hour and it would be raining yet again and sure enough, by ten o’clock it was, so I was glad I got those few photos when I did.

Friday festive photo hunt – baking

The topic for this week’s festive photo hunt  is Baking and this one did initially present a challenge as baking is one thing I don’t normally do, however a friend of mine just recently moved house and for some reason, during sorting out and packing away various kitchen stuff, she gave me a jar of mincemeat. Now I love mincemeat and could quite happily eat it by the spoonful straight out of the jar but with this challenge in mind I decided to get my brain into gear and make a small batch of mince pies.
Not having made anything like that for many years I wasn’t sure how they would turn out. They aren’t very big and they are certainly not perfect but as Michael doesn’t like mince pies anyway they are only for myself so it doesn’t matter what they look like.
I’ve sampled a couple and they are nicer than I expected them to be so I thought I’d better set up a suitably festive photo of some of them before I eat them all – in fact as I write this I’m just about to make a mug of tea and have a couple more.

A discovery walk and some local history

My Monday walk this week is another local one which I did just two days ago after coming across some local history on the internet which led me to following a path I’d never taken before, which in turn prompted me to research more of the history of the place I’d just been to. Back in the early-to-mid 1990s a secluded private housing development was built on land which had once contained a 17th century grand manor house and a bleach works built in the early 19th century, and though I’ve passed the entrance to the development many times I’ve never known the history of the land until now.
In the 1600s Bradshaw Hall was built in the rural Bradshaw area of Bolton by John Bradshaw, replacing an earlier building which had existed on the same site, but by the later part of that century the estate wasn’t generating the amount of income he needed, especially as he had a large family to take care of. After mortgaging his estate he took out a substantial loan from the Chethams of Turton Tower but circumstances eventually forced him to sell up and move on, with the estate being bought by Henry Bradshaw, a distant relative from Marple in Cheshire.
The Marple Bradshaws owned the estate for more than two hundred years but as none of the family ever lived at the Hall it was occupied by a succession of tenants. Originally a three-storey house about 60ft long the Hall had a central porch with bay windows at each side but successive alterations were carried out over the years by various tenants.

Bradshaw Hall, date unknown – photo from Lost Heritage

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Bradshaw Hall, date unknown – photo from the Bolton News archives

In the 1780s the Lomax family, who were tenants of the Hall at that time, started a small bleaching business where they would lay out cloth in the meadows behind the Hall to bleach naturally in the sun. This often attracted various people who would steal the cloth to make money so to combat this watchmen would put out man-traps and loaded guns fired by a trip wire. Anyone ‘lucky’ enough to get caught by a watchman would either be deported to the colonies or executed. One particular local man, James Holland, was unfortunate enough to be executed for stealing cloth so to make sure everyone got the message the entire workforce was made to watch the hanging.
Eventually bleaching cloth in the sun became obsolete when the proximity of Bradshaw Brook, which provided a large and steady source of water, led to the establishment of a more industrial process, then in 1834 the Bradshaw family sold 60 acres of land to Thomas Hardcastle who already owned a bleaching and dyeing operation elsewhere. He moved into Bradshaw Hall as the new tenant and would later spend a large amount of money restoring it as well as building a new bleach and dye works.
The Hardcastle family came to have a major influence in the Bradshaw area and over the years they funded the building of a new church, constructed a mission hall, built a new school and opened the town’s first bank; they also built several rows of terraced workers’ houses, some of which still exist today. After buying up small local bleaching businesses and with a new printworks producing 2,400 different patterns which were engraved onto copper printing rollers the site at Bradshaw Hall grew to be the largest bleach and dyeworks in Bolton.
A list of workers’ rules printed in 1875 said that all workspaces, including windows and machinery, were to be kept clean, and fines were imposed for being absent without permission, bringing in people who didn’t work there, smoking, drinking, and being in any part of the site where one wasn’t employed to be, with all the fine money going into a club fund for any sick employees.
In 1900 the bleachworks and the Hall were taken over by the Bleachworkers Association though the Hardcastle family continued to live there, with Colonel Henry M Hardcastle being the fourth and last generation. A keen historian, he took a great interest in local historical matters including the sale of Smithills Hall in 1931, and Bradshaw Hall was filled with antiques, old masters, furniture from the 1600s and several suits of armour. The Colonel died in 1948 and some of his possessions were transferred to Turton Tower where they are still on display today. In 1949 the Hall was subjected to an extensive building survey; it was found to have a large amount of dry rot and some parts of the stonework were unsafe so the Bleachworkers Association claimed they would be unable to sell it, meaning that demolition was the only option though it was decided that the central porch would be saved.
Before World War 2 the bleach, dye and print works had employed around 700 people; the business continued in existence after the Hall was demolished but by 1955 employee numbers were down to 300. However with further investment new buildings started to be constructed in 1960 but three years later, and just weeks after they were opened, the whole site was closed down permanently. For the next twenty-odd years a succession of different businesses occupied the buildings but they were gradually showing their age and becoming unsuitable for use; one by one the businesses moved out and by the late 1980s the buildings were derelict. The land was sold for housing though it was hoped that a couple of the three-storey buildings could be saved and converted to apartments, however they were in such a bad state of repair that along with the rest of the works demolition was inevitable. Unfortunately during the demolition process one of the works chimneys fell the wrong way and severely damaged the preserved Bradshaw Hall porch but this was rebuilt in the early 1990s and stands in situ where it can be seen today.
The historical remains of Bradshaw Hall, its gardens and waterways all lie within the Upper Bradshaw Valley Local Nature Reserve and the path along the riverside is part of the Kingfisher Trail, a linear route running 14 miles southwards from the Jumbles Reservoir on the north eastern outskirts of Bolton to Philips Park Nature Reserve just north of Manchester. My walk started at the Jumbles car park at the south end of the reservoir and went downhill to the bottom of the dam, though instead of crossing the bridge over Bradshaw Brook I took the path to the left. This was a route which was new to me and in spite of there being no leaves on the trees I was quite surprised at how attractive it looked.
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A few minutes walking got me to a gate leading to Bradshaw Hall Fisheries, a series of nine fishing lakes and ponds, the largest of which were once part of the Bradshaw Hall estate. Although there’s an on-site cafe which is accessible to the public the fishing lakes unfortunately aren’t, so as I couldn’t take my own photos I’ve pinched one from the internet. A bit farther on the path crossed a narrow water channel leading from one of the fishing lakes down to the river; very much an overflow channel it would once have been part of Bradshaw Hall’s water management system.

Bradshaw Hall Fisheries – photo from Fishing Fiend

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Eventually I came to a fork in the path and taking the left side I came out onto the Bradshaw Hall housing development. With a nod to the last residents of the Hall the road was called Hardcastle Gardens and just on my right was a three-story block of apartments built in the style of one of the old printworks buildings which had been demolished. Heading towards the main road I came to the Hall’s old timber-framed barn now converted to housing; blocked up archways set at right angles to each other at one end would probably have led to a stable and a cart shed while windows now fill the space where the very large barn doors would have been.
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Across the road and through a gate I came to the remains of the Hall’s gardens and the preserved central porch dating from the original part of the 17th century house. The Bradshaw crest sits just above the arched entrance and looking into the porch’s interior shows a stone bench set against each of the side walls.
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Some of the original garden paths still exist and these wind their way through mature trees and rhododendron bushes, crossing a small brook and leading to the Hall’s original entrance driveway flanked by two large stone gateposts with iron gates and half a dozen wide stone steps leading up to the main road. It seemed strange to have steps across the Hall’s driveway but presumably they had originally been part of the bleachworks and had been saved and relocated during or after demolition.
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Although it was only just gone 3pm the sun was already quite low in the sky as I set off back to the Jumbles car park. It was quite a distance up the road to the turn-off for the Jumbles but with the low sun casting a golden glow over the fields it was a pleasant walk and I managed to snap a few decent shots before I got back to the van.
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Before I left home to do this walk I decided not to take the dogs as I suspected that it could be muddy in places and I was right, it was – very – so I was glad I was wearing my wellies, but unlike the previous walk which didn’t seem as good as usual I did enjoy this one. It had been good to discover somewhere new and it’s definitely a walk I can look forward to doing with Snowy and Poppie sometime next year when it’s much drier underfoot.

Friday festive photo hunt – decorations

For something a bit different for December Kate’s monthly photo challenge  has gained a Christmas theme and gone weekly with a photo, or photos, posted each Friday except Christmas Day. The topic for this week is Decorations and I could think of nothing better than the highly decorated house front just a few doors up from the family home in Roscrea.
The couple who live there originally put a few decorations in the front garden just for their kids but after compliments from a few neighbours they decided to continue each year but adding at least one different thing each time; they also have a ‘post box’ on the gate post for people to post donations if they wish and these all go to a local charity.

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I only started going over to Ireland in 2016 but unfortunately the photos I took of the decorations that year didn’t come out too well. I should actually be over there now for a short break but circumstances being as they are I’ve been unable to go, however I’m keeping my fingers crossed that in twelve months time I’ll be able to see what’s been added to the decorations and take some more photos.