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Fountains Abbey, once a centre of learning, then a rather large garden ornament in a formal garden made by John Aislabie (1670 – 1742) , now part of the Studley Royal Park  which we visited with the boys last week.

Our boys are what the Brits and Americans would call “Free range”. In Germany this is called ‘normal': they cross the village alone to go to school, see friends, and return when they are bored/hungry/broke something. Eldest goes to school on the other side of the city, which involves riding a bus and a tram every day, on his own, so when we went to  Fountains Abbey they decided to do a treasure hunt with their usual enthusiasm.

And promptly vanished, somewhere in the 323 hectare (800 acre) estate.

After walking the length of the place three times and mindful that it was getting dark -and more importantly, this is a world heritage site and we’re liable if the boys break anything- we asked the staff of the park to keep an eye open, which they duly did, bless them. The boys were found soon after, walking back to the gate after finding the last clue. Of course, yours truly was at the far end of the estate by this time, and so they then came to find me, and get us all back together again. The boys all got ice cream from Grandma.

Heroic rescuer was happy to sit down and used the excuse that I was researching the history of the place, so here it is…

John Aislabie was quite a ‘character’ defining ‘character’ as “Lying corrupt toff who sells his principles to the highest bidder”. He went from being rich to very rich on the basis of the South Sea Company, which specialised in slaves, government debt and dodgy deals, all ‘backed’ by a slightly illegal bank and in cahoots with the government, the king and the kings girlfriend. Aislabie was the Chancellor of the Exchequer and took bribes to persuade the government to allow the formation of the company, so when the ‘South Sea Bubble’ inevitably collapsed causing hundreds of thousands of people to lose all they had and get stuck in debt*, he wasn’t terribly popular.

Aislabie was found guilty of the “most notorious, dangerous and infamous corruption”: by the the House of Commons: being called a very, very, corrupt person by politicians must have hurt. There was a serious suggestion that the bankers should all be tied up in a sack full of snakes and thrown into the Thames but the river was filthy enough as it was, so Aislabie was imprisoned in the tower of London (don’t feel sorry for him: it was a nice snug apartment) then sent back home for being a naughty boy, where he showed his remorse by building the water gardens and introducing landscape gardening to England. He died at 72 and his son managed to scrape enough together to buy the Abbey soon after as a garden ornament.

I’m sure all the thousands of slaves and bankrupted investors must have felt it was all worthwhile.

*Thousands of people who were happy to make a profit from the slave trade; my heart bleeds.

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More wandering about in York. Part of the waterfront before the tour boats start churning the water up. The building on the extreme right is a pub which flooded so often it ceased to be a niusance and became a part of the attraction.

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There was some sort of cycling event recently in York, and one of the ways the area celebrated was by hanging lots of yellow bikes off the sides of buildings. This one is one of my favourites, hanging on ‘a pub for grown-ups’ in the city centre.

 

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The Shambles in York. Ghost town like appearance is because sensible people are still in bed.

Later in the day the tourists will come out and cycling is not allowed, although you can barely walk down here during the day, let alone cycle.

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The Millennium bridge in York, part of the city of York orbital cycle route which I’ve been using a lot in the last few days.

The white arrows at the bottom of the picture are three speed bumps. This is essential to stop anyone riding too fast off the bridge and along the straight, wide cycleways on either side. Presumably this important safety feature will soon be added to all road bridges.

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I have no self discipline whatsoever.

In theory, I’m on holiday and therefore have time to write deep insigtful blog entries. In practice this isn’t happening, because I’m in York.

In the las few years the local government of York have built up a network of cycle routes around the city, and the combination of signposted cycling, lack of hills and a beautiful centre has rather gone to my head.

I have loads to write about and I will write again, soon, honest.

So, we made it to the UK without missing a train or getting stuck in the Paris suburbs, and I’m trying to get used to the place. Considering I grew up here that’s a surprisingly complicated process.

So far, We’ve remembered that because vehicles drive on the left you need to get onto the bus on the left hand side. It is therefore pointless to wait at the bus stop on the right-hand side of the road. Fortunately Eldest Son was a bit more awake than me this morning and diverted us all to the correct stop before the bus came.

Further adventures, and hopefully more coherent blog entries to follow.

Suddenly it is the end of year two at college, so we had an exam. The system of putting everyone in a room and telling them to make something perfectly in seven hours because their whole future depends on it still seems very odd to me, but what do I know?

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This isn’t the exam: it’s what happens when you get too enthusiastic with a hand plane and have to add an extra piece of wood to make up the difference. That long piece of wood is the replacement for 2mm that I took off by mistake: but for that lack of attention I could have started the next step on making a box. I’m choosing to see this as ‘character building’. Or something.

Anyway, the carpentry is now closed for three weeks and we’re off to the UK, which is always an interesting experience. I will have to get used to offering pounds in shops and looking to the right when I cross the road. We’re going by train which can be fantastic or stressful depending on how well the German and French railways, Eurostar and whoever is currently running trains to York  have got their act together. On previous occasions we’ve been through Brussels but this time we will catch a direct TGV to Paris, where we have to make our way from Paris Est station to Paris Nord without getting lost.

As the two stations are a few hundred metres apart and each the size of a cathedral, that shouldn’t present too many difficulties, but if you don’t hear from me in the next week, you know where to start looking.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASomeone visiting our garden recently may have commented on my presence half way up a sycamore tree, and wonder what possessed me to climb up there.

The reason was an urgent need to make some candlesticks.

Obviously.

Being a carpenter, it turns out, makes you first port of call for anyone wanting anything vaguely creative to do with wood. I’m very happy with this as I really like giving people a hand made gift that will last them a good long time. On this occasion someone asked me to make candlesticks for the tables at her wedding reception.

Unfortunately she asked me the day after I ‘tidied up’ all the suitable branches that had fallen over winter.

After much searching I found a sycamore tree lurking at the bottom of the garden. In the distant past someone obviously took offence to this tree and cut it down, whereupon it went feral, fired off branches in half a dozen directions and ate the fence. In a blatant disregard for the boundaries set by civilised society, it was now growing through the fence, partly in our garden and partly in the overgrown pathway between our garden and the one down the hill.

Therefore it is our tree. sort of.

The first attempt to remove one of the more accessible branches resulted in it falling into the neighbours garden. Fortunately no-one was in, and no damage was done so I dragged the remains into our garden and dismembered it.

For attempt two I cleared a way to the branches over our garden and went to work with my swede saw. This made it about a third of the way into the branch, and promptly got stuck. Being pessimistic, I’d prepared for this and brought a rope. Of course I hadn’t actually tied it to the tree  but that was a minor detail and easily rectified.

Thus I was now to be found halfway up a tree.

Getting down was easy enough, Getting down without landing on my backside in a bed of nettles less so but I managed it with minimal stings. I went and pulled the rope. The saw fell out of the tree. I went and cut a bit deeper until the saw jammed again and repeated the exercise a couple of times until there was a creaking noise and the whole fell down.

It was at this point that I realised it is always to good to have a rope longer than the branch you are cutting, or an escape route.

The bruises will have gone down by the wedding…

After we passed Eldest Son’s previous bike to his brother we noticed the brakes had the stopping power of a damp sponge. On closer inspection it turned out that it was because they were worn down almost to the metal, so Eldest Son and I took an hour or so to sort the problem out. I always found practical things like fixing bikes a very mysterious thing and never really felt confident to try and I want the boys to feel much more confident in this sort of area.

Eldest Son was understandably nervous about making a mistake that could result in his brother ending up in a pile at the bottom of a local hill, but after I assured him that I’d be with him as he fitted the brakes and that I’d also check the brakes after he’d finished and make sure they were safe and tight he was happy to have a go. As he started it occured to me that a few short years ago I wouldn’t have had the confidence to adjust my own brakes, let alone be the person who checked someone else’s bike.

Judging by the speed with which by Eldest Son sorted the brakes out, I don’t think I’ll be getting much practice in the future either.

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