Saturday, 26 February 2011

Comments on this blog
It has been brought to my attention that leaving comments on my blog has been nigh impossible.  I hope I have rectified this now, Brian.
I am sure you will tell me if this is not the case.
My Landmark of the Week
Kingswear Castle

In 1481 a new castle was begun at Dartmouth, to defend the harbour there. To support it from the opposite shore, Kingswear Castle was completed in 1502. Together they represent the most advanced military design of their day. For the first time large guns, such as murderers and serpyntynes, were mounted inside on the ground floor, with rectangular ports through which to fire them.

Within 50 years Kingswear Castle was redundant; for another century it was manned in time of war, but thereafter was left to decay, until rescued and turned into a summer residence in 1855 by a rich young bachelor, Charles Seale Hayne. During the last World War, a concrete Blockhouse was built 50 yards from it.

We have restored the castle’s ground floor to look as it did in 1502, with the living quarters above. The rooms have that sense of sturdy habitability in an exposed place, which the Victorians knew so well how to achieve, despite the building’s inherent susceptibility to damp and cold (not even twenty-first century devices can fully overcome this). The tower stands almost on the water’s edge (those with children beware) and its rooms are filled with shifting reflected light. From the windows you can look across to Dartmouth; or down the rocky coast, with its woods of maritime pine, and out to sea. Above all you can watch the river, busy now with friendly shipping.

Sleeps: 4

Beds: T D


  • Garden
  • Roof platform
  • Parking nearby
  • Steep steps and staircases
  • Dogs allowed

Not another castle! Yes, but only sleeps four and the position is glorious.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

More on Christchurch Eathquake
Since the previouse earthquake in September 2010 Christchurch has been subjected to over 4000 aftershocks.
Follow this link to see the magnitude and locaton of these  on a map.
It takes a little while to load the data but is qutie amazing!

Christchurch Earthquake
We woke this morning to the news that Christchurch, New Zealand had suffered another devastating earthquake. The area around Christchurch was formed from two old volcanoes and is susceptible to tectonic movement.

Following the 7.1 quake last September which fortunately occurred at 4am.  Although less severe at 6.3 it is more devestating as it ccurred at 1pm when everyone was out and about. Bear in mind that the Richter scale is not linear but logarithmic. In the intervening five months they have had 4000 aftershocks!
Ten months ago we spent five wonderful weeks touring New Zealand and Christchurch was our first landfall. The warmth and generosity  of the people made our holiday - as always, the people make the place.

If you have a god, pray for them.

In the meantime here are some photographs from our visit before the earthquakes

View from the Cathedral Tower which has now collapsed

View from Cathedral tower which has now collapsed

The buses have bike racks on the front and the drivers are keen to assist


Sunday, 20 February 2011

When The Saints go Marching Out
Space is always at a premium on Gecko and despite building new bookshelves I have reluctantly decided to sell my Saint books on  eBay.

Some rare ones; some not so rare.

Take a look - you might be tempted to relive your teens - well, some aspects.
A Cover Up at Aylesbury
Our outlook since we have been moored in Aylesbury basin has been across the car park for the new Waterside Theatre. It  has been an ever-changing panorama of expectant people arriving for shows and  happy ones leaving.   However the march of 'progress' continues and the Council want to get Waitrose and Travelodge built where we moor.  This week the contractors have torn down the new chain-link fencing and erected new wooden hoarding which they have painted white. As we are the only ones who can see it I guess it is for our benefit. 

They were kind enough to cover us up to avoid changing our livery.

All we can see from our windows now is a big blank canvass waiting for someone to adorn it.  Any offers?

Saturday, 19 February 2011

My Landmark of the Week
Hawker's Cottage, Coombe

Coombe is a small hamlet at the forgotten junction of two wooded valleys in North Cornwall. Mill, millhouse and anciently picturesque cottages cluster in orchards around the ford of a shallow stream, just half a mile from the sea at Duckpool, where half tide exposes a sandy beach. The hamlet once belonged in part to the Grenville family of the long-demolished Stowe Barton, and it souls were later under the care of the Reverend Stephen Hawker, celebrated Vicar of Morwenstow. Landmark’s presence at Coombe (and only our visitors populate it today) preserves the hamlet and its exceptional setting in a joint scheme with the National Trust, who own most of the surrounding land and coastline.

Hawkers Cottages are a pair of stone, cob and thatched cottages, named after the famous Vicar of Morwenstow, who lived here briefly. The bedroom in No. 1, with a window in the form of a cross, is said to have been his study. The small garden in front of the cottage is sheltered and pretty.

Sleeps: 5

Beds: S T D


  • Solid fuel stove
  • Small gardens
  • Adjacent parking
  • Dogs allowed
After the build-up to the false millennium (01/01/2000) we spent a short break here with the boys and two sets of friends shared another property in Coombe. We each took turns in cooking a dinner prior to Dec 31 and on New Year's Eve we each prepared a course for the banquet. With some trepidation I unearthed a bottle of port from 1900 which I had been given some 20 years earlier and decanted it. It proved to be perfect and not just because it was 100 years old. (the subsequent bottles of 1963 vintage were probably just as good but lacked the cache) At midnight we visited the other properties in Coombe with bottles of Champagne and toasted the other Landmarkers. And at dawn we were sitting on the clifftop to see the sun rise. But you don't have to wait for the next millennium to enjoy this peaceful setting.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Day 15 - Feb 17
Lantern Festival - in China this is called Yuan-Xiao after the soup which is eaten.
The story behind this festival -

Once upon a time in a land very far from here a beautiful heavenly bird flew down to a village and was killed by a villager. The God of Heaven was very displeased and decided to burn the village on day 15 of the first lunar month. However, a bright spark in the village persuaded all the villagers to make candle lanterns and to put them in all their windows. They also paraded in the street with lanterns and set off fireworks. The God of Heaven looked down and thought that the village was already burning and left it alone.

London's Chinatown February 2011

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Day 14 - Feb 16
A busy day preparing for the Lantern Festival which concludes the Lunar New Year Festival.
You will need lanterns and dumplings to do this properly.
First the dumplings

4 1/2 cups (500 g) sticky rice flour (available widely in China!)
butter 7 oz (200 g)
black sesame powder 7 oz (200 g)
sugar 8 oz (250 g)
1 tsp wine (Chateau Mouton Rothschild)
1. Mix the butter with sesame powder, sugar and wine together. You need to heat a little bit. Make small balls about 0.3-0.4 oz (10 g) each. 2. Take 1/2 cup of sticky rice flour. Add water into the flour and make a flatten dough. Cook it in boiled water and take out until done. Let it cool down. Then put it in the rest of the sticky rice flour. Add water and knead until the dough is smooth. 3. Make the dough into small pieces about 0.3-0.4 oz (10 g) each. Make it like a ball using hands first and then make a hole in the ball like a snail. Put the sesame ball into it and close it up. 4. Cook them in boiled water. Make sure to keep stirring in one direction while cooking. When they float on the water, continue to boil for about one minute using less heat.
Now the Sky Lanterns
It is customary to launch lighted lanterns into the sky and if you want make your own try this link
However it is much easier to buy them or, better still, watch someone else's lanterns. The colour of the lantern is significant so here is the interpretation table:
  • Red: Good fortune
  • Pink: Romance
  • Peach-red: Decisions and opportunities
  • Orange: Money
  • Yellow: Success in school and/or job
  • White: Health
  • Pale Green: Growth
  • Pale Blue: Hoping something comes true
  • Violet: Idealism
If you can't be bothered with all this then just get the electric ones out from under the stairs and give them a quick check over!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Day 13 - Feb 15

Some celebrate the death of General Kuan Yu but you may wish to forego this in order to recover from day 12

Monday, 14 February 2011

Day 12 - Feb 14
Diarrhea Day !!!
There are times when it is wiser to keep one's council.
Your Valentine may not be impressed with your knowledge of the Lunar Calendar on this day!
Perhaps a good time to contemplate some Chinese proverbs:
  • Wife who put husband in doghouse soon find him in cathouse.
  • War doesn't determine who is right, war determines who is left.
  • A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.
  • He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Saturday, 12 February 2011

My Landmark of the Week
Elton House

Elton House overlooks Abbey Green, in the centre of Bath. It was given to us, with much desirable furniture, by Miss Philippa Savery, a gallant campaigner for the city’s preservation. The earliest part of it dates from just before 1700, but it was subsequently enlarged and re-fronted, becoming by 1750 a handsome robust building on several floors, with a fine staircase and excellent joinery, arranged as sets of lodgings. Thereafter the fashionable world moved up the hill, away from Abbey Green; part of the ground floor became a shop and the rest of the house stayed as it was. It is therefore something of a rarity, even for Bath.

Sleeps: 10

Beds: 2S 3T D


  • Small walled garden
  • No private parking
I make no apologies for featuring another propeerty in Bath. It is a lovely city and this house is quite differnt from Beckford's Tower. We stayed here with family and friends in 2008 to celbrate 35 years of marriage and both achieving sixty. With three bathrooms and two sitting rooms we were able to house three families including babies without getting in each other's way. And of course there is the private museum on the ground floor.

Day 10 - Feb 12
Eating Day - or Left-overs day  l

Friday, 11 February 2011

Day 9 - Feb 11

The Jade Emporer who rules all 33 heavans celebrates his birthday today and we must join in by preparing three bundles of long noodles, three cups of green tea, five differnt kinds of fruit (so that's whre five-a-day originated!) and six diffeernt dry vegetables. For his guardian, who is not vegetarian, we must prepare five animal sacrifices and turtle cakes.
Remember not to offend the Jade Emporer by putting this food on his vegetarian table.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Day 8 - Feb 10

Back to work day for those who did not go back on day five
Traditionally there is a quiz night held in the temple (not the pub)
Time to eat the
Laba Zhou which has been stewing all night.
In Chinese, Laba means 'gold eighth' and refers to the traditional start of celebrations for the Chinese New Year - the eighth day of the last lunar month.
This tradition has its roots in the Buddhist faith. It is said when Sakyamuni left home and strove for virtue, he fainted on the way because of hunger and tiredness. A shepherdess passing by saved him and cooked for him some porridge with glutinous rice and nuts. Then Sakyamuni sat under a bodhi tree in meditation and found Buddhism. So later the believers formed the habit of cooking Laba Zhou to commemorate it.
Inevitably there is another story about Laba Zhou but it is boring so we'll skip it.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Day 7 - Feb 9
According to Chinese scriptures, the goddess with the snake body (size zero?) created humans on day seven from yellow mud. On the previous days she had created Chickens (day 1) dogs (2) sheep (3) pigs (4) cows (5) and horses (6).
She also gave humans sex education on that day so that they might procreate.
Celebrate this in your own way

Before you get too engrossed don't forget to get the Laba Zhou onto the stove ready for tomorrow.
Laba Zhou is a special hot porridge which contains glutinous rice, red beans, millet, Chinese sorghum, peas and some other ingredients, such as dried dates, chestnuts, walnuts, almond, peanut, dried lotus seeds etc. If you get it going by midnight it will have an attractive smell by the morning. The flavour varies from place to place, in the North, it is a dessert with sugar added; in the South, salt and seasonal vegetables are put in.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Day 6 - Feb 8
If you live in Taiwan you will know this as Good Pig Day and will go to see the big pig competition. In 2007 the winner weighed 2000lb and was sold for 1 million Taiwan dollars (£20,000). It is also customary to have the cess pit cleared today. (Not really relevant if you have Elsan)

You're waiting for a rabbit.

Another Chinese Rabbit Folk Tale
Once upon a time, there was a farmer in the Song State, ofChina. When he was working in a field, he saw a rabbit running past him, then it broke its neck on a tree and died. The farmer grabbed the dead rabbit and made a stew. It was delicious.
After that, the farmer didn't want to work on his field anymore. He just sat next to that same tree and waited for a rabbit to smash itself and die.
Unfortunately, there were no more rabbits afterwards and the farmer's field grew nothing but weeds.

The moral of this story  is that nothing can be achieved without either working or paying. Hence the expression You are waiting for a rabbit.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Lunar New Year

Day 5 - Feb 7

God of Wealth Day - so back to work and expect the Lion Dancers to pay you a visit.
Setting off fire crackers will attract customers.

The Rabbit and The Back Pain - An Explanatory Folktale

There was once a rich man who was fond of rabbits and raised them for amusement.

'Look after them carefully. Ah Ji,' he said. 'If any of them dies, it'll be deducted from your pay.' One day Ah Ji accidentally dropped a stick that landed on a rabbit right across its lower back. 'Uh-oh!' he exclaimed. Scared stiff, he quickly hid the rabbit in a bean patch. A couple of days later, the rich man noticed that a rabbit was missing and took Ah Ji roundly to task.
Ah Ji had no choice but to go to the bean patch and look for the rabbit. 'The rabbit is tearing around, ' he said. 'It must have eaten something. Huh? How does an injured rabbit have the energy to run around like that? That's really weird.' Ah Ji tried to grab the rabbit, but it hopped around so much he couldn't. He went home and told his father what had happened. His father had been severely beaten by the rich man a few months earlier. His lower back hurt him so much he couldn't get out of bed. 'I'd like to know what that rabbit ate,' his father said. 'Maybe it'd be good for my back.'
So Ah Ji struck another rabbit across the back and put it in the bean patch to see what would happen. At first, the rabbit couldn't move. It stretched its neck and nibbled the seeds of a yellow plant that clung to a bean stalk. After three or four days, the rabbit was up and about.
'Hey! If the seeds of that plant could heal the rabbit's back, they could have the same effect on people,' his father said. 'Go pick some and cook them into a medicine for me to drink.' The father drank the concoction. A few days later he could get out of bed and move around.
Two months later, he was able to work in the fields. Finally, Ah Ji left the rich man's house and devoted himself to gathering seeds and making them into medicine, which he distributed to people suffering from back pain.

As a result of his story, the herb is called tusizi, or rabbit's thread, in Chinese.

The English name is dodder.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Day 4 - Feb 6
Welcome the God of the Stove back with fireworks and an animal sacrifice in the kitchen.
As heaven is a long way off the God of the Stove usually arrives in the afternoon.

Year of the Rabbit - The Legend of the Jade RabbitChinese Year of the Rabbit

In this legend, three fairy sages transformed themselves into pitiful old men and begged for something to eat from a fox, a monkey and a rabbit.
The fox and the monkey both had food to give to the old men, but the rabbit, empty-handed, offered his own flesh instead, jumping into a blazing fire to cook himself.
The sages were so touched by the rabbit's sacrifice that they let him live in the Moon Palace where he became the "Jade Rabbit."

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Day 3 - February 5
Red Dog Day (might be calle Hair of the Dog Day by some!)
After two days of eating, drinking and playing games today it is a good day to rest .
This is also the Mice's Wedding Day so you should retire to bed early .
Turning out the light early also slows down their breeding according to old Chinese farmers.
Taking out the rubbins is thought to remove some of the bad spirits which lurk around this time.

More on the Chinese Calendar

Unlike western calendars, the Chinese calendar has names that are repeated every 60 years. Within the 'Stem-Branch' system is shorter cycle of 12 years denoted by animals and 2011 is the year of the Rabbit. Actually, this is the Xīn-măo 辛卯 year. Xīn (Metal) is the eighth of the ten celestial stems and Mao (Rabbit) is the fourth of the twelve terrestrial branches and marks the year of the Rabbit or Hare.
How to calcule when the Chinese New Year starts in 2011
The fact that the date of Chinese New Year varies within about a month is a clue that it's linked to the new moon. A rough, and almost infallible guide is that the date of the Chinese New Year falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice. The winter solstice always falls on December 21st, the next new moon is January 4th, and the second new moon is on February 3rd 2011.
As with most things Chinese it is not quite that simple.....
For example, one problem with any lunar calendar system is that some years there are 13 new moons. The Chinese deal with this by slotting in an extra intercalary month.
My Landmark of the Week
Crownhill Fort
In the 1860s it was decided to protect naval bases such as Plymouth from attack by land as well as by sea. A chain of forts was built, with Crownhill in the key position in the north of the city. It is now one of only two large works of this kind in the country to remain in good condition.

From a distance, the Fort blends with the hilltop, defended not by walls but by steep earth ramparts. These enfold the central parade ground, around which are handsome quarters for up to 300 men. For further protection, the buildings and many of the emplacements for 32 large guns have turf roofs, some restored by us. Outside the ramparts is a deep dry ditch, 30 feet wide at the bottom, which could be covered by protective fire from a chemin de ronde and six three-storey caponiers, reached from inside the fort by long tunnels.

Since acquiring the Fort in 1987, we have done major work to grounds, weaponry and buildings, many of which are now let to small businesses. In 1995 the Fort was opened to the public for the first time; and in 1998 it was once again armed with a Moncrieff Disappearing Gun, the only working example in the world.

Crownhill fascinates the enthusiast and the novice alike. It is also a remarkably pleasant place to be. The Officers’ Quarters in which you stay face south, the kitchen with a large window and a commanding view of the comings and goings. Above all, you have the free run of this spectacular structure of stone and earth.

Sleeps: 8

Beds: T D IV


  • Enclosed grounds
  • Open fire
  • Adjacent parking

Please Note

The Fort is open to the public on specific weekends throughout the summer. It is also open all year round for groups by appointments, corporate and private hire, including weddings, and occupied on a daily basis by a range of small businesses.

We have never stayed here but we were priviledged to visit it and here are a few of my own photographs