I made sure I had breakfast in good time that morning as I didn’t want to be in the middle of a plate of toast and marmalade when the second RAC guy arrived with my new battery. This second visit was supposed to be before 10am, however that time came and went and there was no sign of an orange van anywhere. Okay, depending on where the guy was coming from he could have got stuck in traffic somewhere so I didn’t mind waiting a while longer but when it had gone past mid day and there was still no orange van I was getting more than a little fed up.
With no update from the RAC, either by text or phone call, I decided to try to contact them myself but that was an epic failure. Yet again the automated system wouldn’t recognise some of my details (which aren’t at all complicated) and trying to get through on the sales line resulted in me being cut off twice before I even got to speak to someone. I was getting nowhere fast, the day was creeping on and I’d achieved nothing so I decided to take matters into my own hands.
Luckily I’d discovered by accident that I could get internet access on the site – it wasn’t the best but it was adequate, especially if I went to the end of the site nearest the main house, so I googled for car accessory shops in the area and found one not far away in Abergele. Fortunately the van started okay with the current battery so a quick phone call ascertained that the shop had a battery in stock the same make and power though they wouldn’t put it on the van for me, however I had a word with one of the farm guys and he said he would do it.
It looked like I would finally get things sorted out without the help of the RAC but just before I left the site I realised I couldn’t find my bank card. It was nowhere – not in my bag, my holdall, jacket pockets or the glove box, it had completely disappeared although I couldn’t think how or where I could have lost it. Luckily I had just enough cash to pay for the new battery so I went to get that then called at Eileen’s on my way back to the site to ask if she knew where there was a branch of my building society. She and her hubby came up trumps and said there was one in Colwyn Bay, also she found the phone number to report my card as being lost, which I did straight away, then I went back to the site and the farm guy put the new battery on the van for me. Finally, and with no thanks to the RAC, I was properly mobile in the knowledge that the van wouldn’t give up the ghost again, and not wanting to waste any more of what had turned out to be a lovely afternoon I drove the few miles up to the Marble Church situated just off the A55 at Bodelwyddan.
The Marble Church, or to give its proper name St. Margaret’s, was built in the mid 19th century in the Decorated Gothic style and contains fourteen different varieties of marble. According to the church website it was supposed to be open to visitors daily between 10am and 4pm but when I got there I found it was very firmly closed, so I could do nothing other than take a few photos from the outside and hope it would be open the following day.
By the time I’d finished wandering round it had gone 4pm and I didn’t really feel like going anywhere else at that time so I just went back to the camp site and settled in for the rest of the day. It was 7.15 that evening when I got a phone call from an RAC guy to say that he would be with me in twenty minutes with a new battery; all day without an update from anyone and he rings me at this time?? He did give me an excuse about having the wrong phone number for me, which I didn’t believe for a minute, so I just politely told him to go back to where he came from and take the battery with him as I’d already sorted it out myself.
The following morning I got an email from the RAC inviting me to fill in a survey about my recent roadside experience so it could be used (quote) ”for the continuous improvement of our service to you, our valued customer”. Filling in the survey on my tablet wouldn’t be the easiest so I decided to wait until I got back home then I would let them have it with both barrells; after the appallingly diabolical service I did receive I certainly didn’t feel very ‘valued’, and needless to say I won’t be renewing my breakdown cover with them when it’s due.
Day 3 arrived with glorious early morning sunshine and after spending the previous day on site I was looking forward to getting out and about but unfortunately the sunshine didn’t last. By the time I’d taken the dogs out and had breakfast grey clouds had rolled in from all sides and the blue sky had vanished, effectively putting paid to my plans. Okay, I could still go out but grey clouds wouldn’t show the planned location at its best so I had to have a rethink.
Eventually I decided on an alternative but actually going there was a different matter, in fact I couldn’t even get the van off my pitch – it was well and truly stuck there. Somehow, and I don’t know how, I’d got a flat battery – it was as if something had drained it overnight but that was impossible as the key hadn’t been left in the ignition and I had the site electric supply for lights and everything else so there was nothing in the van which could have been left on. So I called the RAC – and that’s when my troubles really began.
Trying to actually speak to a living human being was a nightmare – first the automated reporting system wouldn’t recognise my surname, then it wouldn’t recognise my home postcode, then it wouldn’t even recognise my reg number which it previously had recognised. I was getting more frustrated by the minute so in desperation and on the fourth attempt I rang the sales line, finally speaking to someone who took my details and said someone would come out to me. The guy who eventually arrived started the van no problem, checked everything over and said the battery was low on power so it might be advisable to get a new one or I could end up with the same problem in another day or two.
A battery of the size and power I needed wouldn’t be cheap, in fact it was darned expensive and an unforeseen amount I didn’t really want to pay but I didn’t want to risk being stuck again or having to go through the RAC’s stupid automated system a second time so I agreed to have a new one. The guy didn’t have one on his van though so he rang someone else and arranged for a re-attend the following morning to supply and fit a new one, stressing that it must be no later than 10am as I had said I had plans to go out and didn’t wanting to be waiting around on the camp site.
By the time the RAC guy had gone it was too late to really go anywhere and it was still cloudy anyway so I just drove the seven miles to Tesco in Abergele to get some supplies then stopped off at Asda for another couple of things. On the way back to the camp site I passed the friendly neighbourhood giraffe and noticed he was still wearing his Jubilee crown so of course I had to stop and take a couple of photos – regardless of what he’s wearing he makes me smile every time I see him.
With the cloud continuing through the late afternoon and into the evening I spent the rest of the day on the camp site and went to bed that night with fingers metaphorically crossed that once the RAC had fitted a new battery on the van the following morning I would finally be able to go out somewhere, however more unwanted aggravation was to come.
If ever there was a holiday when a catalogue of things conspired against me this one was it, and though I don’t believe in fate or ‘things happening for a reason’ it didn’t bode well for my break when two days before travelling I got a head cold. The weather on the first day was abysmal, it rained steadily from home all the way to North Wales and effectively stopped me from visiting the two places I’d planned to go to en route, though a slight change of plan saw me calling to see Eileen and her hubby that afternoon instead of waiting until the evening and a very pleasant couple of hours was spent in the company of two lovely friends and Tilly the cockapoo.
The rain had stopped by the time I left Eileen’s and went to the camp site but halfway through setting up the tent it started again and by the time I’d got everything sorted out I was ever-so-slightly damp. A change of clothes and a chill out evening followed and by the time I was ready for taking the dogs for their bedtime walk later on it had been fine for a while so thankfully I didn’t get wet again.
The following day was a mixture of sunshine and cloud and not being too fussed about going anywhere I decided to just spend the day on the site, which I had all to myself as there was no-one else there. Prior to the start of the holiday I’d ordered online a couple of large waterproof fleece picnic rugs to use as carpets in the tent, and knowing they would be delivered while I was away I’d asked Eileen if they could be sent to her so I could collect them and put them to use straight away. They weren’t due until the following day but I got a message from Eileen later that morning to say they had already arrived and she and her hubby would bring them over to me later on.
Entertaining guests at my tent isn’t something I would normally do so this was different. It was nice to sit outside in the sunshine and chat over a brew and Tilly was really good – Eileen liked my tent set-up and given the chance I think Tilly would enjoy the camping life. The picnic rugs were much larger and nicer than I expected – I put them down in the tent later on and they looked great so I was really pleased with them.
After my guests had gone the rest of the afternoon and evening were spent relaxing with a book and watching a bit of tv, with an earlier than normal bedtime, though as I settled down for the night I had no idea of the frustrating things to come over the next couple of days.
Continuing my quest to find more flower show displays my route took me along the last section of King Street and the first thing I came to made absolutely no sense whatsoever – there was no accompanying information board, no explanation, nothing. It was only after I got home and did a bit of googling that I figured out it was a reference to a fictional place featured in the 1990s Australian film Muriel’s Wedding but I really can’t see what connection, if any, it has with the Manchester flower show.
Across the road was the Ju-bee-lee Garden, a series of hexagonal pavement planters set up to attract our black and yellow friends, with flowers including rhododendron, alliums, salvias and lavender, and some silver birch trees which will later be permanently planted as part of the country-wide Jubilee Green Canopy scheme.
Along a side street and round a corner was the King Street Townhouse, and though I thought the front entrance might have been decorated for the occasion there were just two window boxes which may or may not have been part of the flower show. In complete contrast, and even though it wasn’t mentioned in the flower show information leaflet, the Belvedere modern office block just along the street had a lovely display created by CitiBlooms outside the main entrance.
From there I had quite a long walk to the next display on my list and as I zig-zagged along various roads and streets I found a display which I hadn’t expected to see, the Bruntwood Garden Office outside the premises of an office rental agency. Unfortunately I was destined to be disappointed with the next display, situated in the entrance to Refuge restaurant at the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel. Far from getting the ”British Welcome” which the information leaflet promised I got nothing as the place was closed, though the large wrought iron gates did have some artificial flowers and greenery poking through the bars. So I went next door and photographed the inside of Giraffe Flowers instead.
From there it was just a short walk to the next display which featured an iconic London Routemaster bus, and unlike the previous display this was very much in evidence. Unfortunately the display wasn’t quite as it should be as some of the planters had been trashed overnight so the young couple from I Want Plants were in the process of clearing up and rearranging things but it was still a good display.
From there it was another good walk to First Street where I found the next three displays. The Punk Queen of First Street was inspired by the Sex Pistols album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols and the controversial track God Save The Queen which was released during the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. The figure alone took around 160 hours to build and though I wasn’t too keen on the concept of the installation – I hated punk rock and thought Johnny Rotten was dreadful – the display itself was excellent and the colourful flowers round the base gave me a few good close-up shots.
From First Street my route took me down to Deansgate and in various places around the Great Northern Warehouse complex I found cycles decked out with different blooms and foliage, while round in Peter Street the entrance of Albert’s Schloss Bavarian bar and restaurant was surrounded by the Ukraine colours.
A trek of just over a mile from Peter Street got me to Angel Meadow park and Live the Wild Side, the last display on my list. This was the topiary baby elephant and giraffe from last year but to celebrate both the Jubilee and ten years of the Far East Consortium in Manchester they had been revamped with ‘royal jewels’ made from real flowers and plants.
From Angel Meadow it was only a short walk back to Victoria Station and I got there just in time for a train back home. I hadn’t found all the displays as many weren’t listed on the information leaflet and some I didn’t even bother photographing, but after six hours trekking round the city I was looking forward to spending the rest of my birthday in total relaxation.
Back home my opinions of the flower show displays have been somewhat mixed. On the whole, most of them were good and some were very informative; some were mediocre and lacking in colour with artificial flowers which looked like they had seen better days and a few, like the Arndale bee and the King Street telephone box, were just rehashes of last year’s exhibits so nothing new. In some cases it looked like the displays were just a token gesture and the Kimpton Clocktower being closed was a complete disappointment, while the Porpoise Spit thing was just totally pointless. There were, however, some really excellent colourful displays – the Changing of the Guard to name just one – and all credit must go to those involved in designing and creating them. As I write this I’m already wondering what sort of displays will feature in next year’s flower show.
This year’s Manchester flower show has been taking place over the long four-day weekend, with many displays themed to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Thursday was also my birthday and as I would be alone for most of the day I decided to take myself off for a bit of photography round the city centre while the displays were fresh. An early train got me into Manchester just after 8.30am and though some of the displays were still being set up I was able to photograph a lot of them before the place started to get busy.
First on my list, and not far from the station, was The Buzz, a series of large bee-themed street planters on the pavement outside the Printworks. Decorated by Giraffe Flowers they were filled with honey bees’ favourite plants and flowers to act as foraging and pollination stations, though I hope the bees like them as personally I found them rather dull and colourless.
On the ground floor of the Arndale shopping centre was The Crown, a huge crown-shaped planter supposedly filled with (quote) “a colourful mix of tropical palms and jewel-like English flowers” but the flowers I saw bore no resemblance to the brightly coloured ones featured in the internet photo. Also on the ground floor, outside the Morphe store was a display of three floral dresses made from scraps of fashion waste fabric and part of a collaboration between Manchester Metropolitan University fashion students, local charity shops and fashion stores, and the team behind Manchester International Fashion Festival. On the upper floor of the centre was Queen Bee, a display used last year but now upcycled with the addition of a floral crown designed by Frog Flowers.
Across the road the Corn Exchange atrium had its inner archways decorated with floral displays featuring pretty tea cups and saucers, a nearby Greek restaurant sported a colourful entrance and Exchange Square, where all the weekend’s entertainment would be, was looking exceptionally bright with its flower-topped cabins, yellow railings and painted picnic tables.
Round the corner in New Cathedral Street I found The Queens Gambit, a display using black and white crates filled with black and white plants, with the design being inspired by a chess board where the queen is the most powerful piece, although the nearby wheelbarrow was anything but black and white. Further along the street last year’s psychedelic Pop Art arch was surrounded by flower-filled planters and wheelbarrows with the design partly inspired by Andy Warhol’s 1960s pop portraits of Her Majesty.