Saturday, 31 July 2010

A lesson in writing

Hannah has been encouraged to keep a diary over the summer holiday to improve her handwriting and force familiarity with the creative process.
To prove this is not impossible I'll be writing about yesterday.
Friday was the wettest Friday since records began. Perhaps it was wetter than that, wetter than the day after Noah finished building his ark.
We needed a wet weather activity and settled on the grimmest, greyest activity that would match the weather: a slate mine tour.
I can see you're thinking that this was going to be a barrel of laughs.
The journey there was wet, cloudy, grey and twisty-turny. We were clearly very committed to the idea of learning about slate because it took us an hour and a half to get there. The children were blissfully unaware of the times we weren't paying attention to the satnav and had to do a u-turn, because they were watching Shrek 2 on the in-car entertainment system.
By the time we arrived it was lunchtime so we sat in the car, which was parked in a puddle, and ate our packed lunch.
Having driven for 90 minutes we decided the full monty tour was in order and started queueing for the Deep Mine tour.
We donned our attractive hard hats and descended via cable railway into the depths. The tour took us through ten caverns explaining that boys as young as 12 went underground to work by candlelight. We were told about the community and how slate mining fitted into that community.
My favourite cavern was number nine. It was cathedral-like in its dimensions and had its very own lake. Beautiful.
After coming up the cable railway for air, we moved on to the Tramway tour. This took us on some original tramlines down to a couple more caverns (of which there are over 200). The children loved the fairground excitement afforded by the rickety tram journey and we learnt more about the different jobs that were undertaken underground, and later above ground where we saw slate being split and edges neatened. The team were producing thick 10mm slate for a Scottish Heritage project while we were there.
After the grimness of underground life we surfaced for a quick cup of tea and a look around the mock mining village that was created for our education and entertainment. Needless to say the biggest draw was the old fashioned sweet shop but, if we'd had more time, and realised it was there, the pub could have taken more of our time.
The rain was unremitting and our drive back was simply the reverse of our morning trip. We did stop for supplies in Waitrose though (yes, Wales has Waitrose) and bought parental sustenance by way of gin, lime and tonic. Child sustenance took the form of pizza and apple juice.
We returned to base tired but pleased with the day's adventure.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

An unaffordable memory

How many of you remember Pick and Park/Pick Your Own from your childhood?  Who doesn’t recall eating more than you took home?  Well I suggest you hang on to those memories before they start fading.

It was a few years ago that I discovered our local Farm Shop.  I’ll allow myself to give them a name check – Calcott Farm Shop in Brentwood.  Over the last few years they seem to have been doing really well, enough to require, and be able to afford, extensions to the building and an increased product range.

For the last couple of years I’ve been recapturing my childhood by taking Hannah, and Ethan fruit picking at Calcott.  We’ve come home with delicious strawberries, the best raspberries in the world ever, gooseberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants.  Calcott call it Pick Your Own but the equivalent from my childhood was Pick and Park.  Pick and Park was literally just that in the seventies.  It’s grown gradually over the years and is now a massive development called Fermoys.  I’ve just checked their website and whilst there’s a mention of their Pick and Park beginnings there’s no mention of being able to pick your own fruit now.  I might know why.

I spoke to the staff at Calcott because, despite punnets galore in the shop, there were no strawberries being picked.  In fact picking anything wasn’t an option.

They’ve had to stop the general public picking their own fruit.  The reason given is a sad reflection on the nanny state in which we live.  Health and Safety seems to be the cause, or more precisely “People who can’t take responsibility for their own actions.”

If you pick fruit you may need to reach down low or stretch up high.  You are likely to be walking on uneven ground.    That’s what farms are like.  Calcott strawberry picking though was a breeze as over the last couple of years the plants were grown on beds at hip height.  It seems though that a few people have twisted ankles and claimed and complained.

Fear of insurance claims has prompted thoughts about paved walkways amongst the fruit but the cost is prohibitive.  In addition numbers of customers prepared to get their hands dirty, or at least stained with juice, have been declining.  All in all it just seemed too much like hard work for the owners, for the customers, for everyone.