Living as I do in Welwyn Hatfield my Member of Parliament is Grant Shapps. I met him a couple of times before he was elected in the 2005 general election and he has been our MP ever since. I have contacted him on a number of occasions since then on issues such as Palestine, arms sales, Trident, cannabis etc. Suffice it to say that we rarely agree. Last year Grant Shapps was appointed Secretary of State for Transport.
My walking club (which has a Facebook Page) was at St Andrew’s Youth Centre in Coniston for New Year. We normally alternate between there and Hawse End on Derwent Water (where I was last year) but two years ago it was Buckden House in the Yorkshire Dales (and I went to Wales instead anyway) so this was my first time in Coniston for four years. I drove up on December 27th after the usual last minute packing frenzy and arrived at the centre at about 9pm. The next day I had a lie in and eventually went out for a short walk along the lake on my own. I had wanted to take a bike with me but my touring/utility machine was in bits so I took the fixie, which is not ideal for mountainous terrain! On the 29th I decided to try cycling round Coniston Water, which I did in an anti-clockwise direction in just under an hour.
Lunch on Dow Crag
Hertfordshire County Council recently published its Draft Active Travel Strategy for consultation. This is an amalgamation of the previous Walking and Cycling Strategies and discusses the benefits of Active Travel, primarily bettering public health, reducing congestion and improving air quality in Hertfordshire.
I know 2011 is not over yet but I want to send out an email before Christmas and rather than including a load of detail I will just point to this blog entry.
No really big changes for me this year. I am still living in the same house with the same lodger and doing much the same sort of work. I suppose the biggest change is that after a couple of years of searching and false starts I finally bought some woodland in Hertfordshire – if you are interested in that then you can check out my new blog called Ware Park Wood.
Lunch at the summit of Cadair Idris
I will just mention a few other highlights of my year. I started 2011 in Wales where I climbed Cadair Idris on New Year’s Day – and again on Jan 2nd! In March I travelled to Riga with my parents and sister. In April I provided the soundsystem at London 420 in Hyde Park and in June I experienced my first Glastonbury Festival, working with Bicycology in The Green Fields. In July I went to my uncle’s Golden Wedding Anniversary in Devon then stayed on a boat in Exeter and went for a sail to the Mewstone with my friend Al, stopping for the night in Brixham and then Torquay. Finally in September I stayed a couple of days in the Kielder Forest and did some mountain biking. After Christmas I will be going up to the Lake District and joining a large group for some energetic hill walking. I plan to maintain my tradition of climbing a mountain on New Year’s Day.
Mountain Biking in the Kielder Forest
In terms of work I am still self-employed and basically doing odd jobs (dog walking, gardening, tree work, occasional house sitting) but I probably spend more time doing unpaid than paid work. I am still a member of Bicycology but I have been getting more involved in local cycle campaigning too, both with the Welwyn Hatfield Cycling Forum and a new all-Hertfordshire organisation called CycleHerts. I am also now a member of the Hertfordshire Local Access Forum. Veolia has finally, and in the face of intense local opposition, submitted its planning application for a giant waste incinerator in Hatfield. I have been helping Hatfield Against Incineration by delivering leaflets to local residents and I used my mobile soundsystem on a couple of protests. I was also invited to take the soundsystem along to a festival in Letchworth.
My Mobile Soundsystem
I had big crop of apples this year and made numerous apple crumbles. I also picked a lot of wild plums to make jam and my grape vine yielded about 10 litres of juice which I have frozen in plastic bottles for the summer. Out at the front I planted a Heavenly Blue morning glory which flowered spectacularly for many weeks.
New Flowers Every Morning
That is probably more than enough information for now. As well as this blog you can also find me on Facebook and Google+ (and a lot of other places if you look hard enough). I hope you have had a good year and best wishes for 2012.
I had never been to Riga before but my mother was born in Latvia and lived there as a child before fleeing the Soviet occupation. She arrived in the UK aged about six with her parents and her older brother and younger sister. Her sister went back to visit in the 1970s when the only way to go was with Intourist but my grandfather didn’t want to go back until Latvia regained its independence, an event which he sadly did not live to see. After independence my grandmother visited with her son to scatter her husband’s ashes. A few months ago my mother was reading an article about “boutique hotels” which featured a hotel in Riga called Ekes Konvents which (as its name suggests) was once a convent, and decided to go for a few days. My father started organising things and I said I would like to go along too, as did my sister. There was a slight dilemma for me because for environmental reasons I prefer not to fly. My previous flight was nearly seven years ago when I went to Italy to walk across the Alps to Zermatt and back (bagging a few 4000m peaks on the way) and since then I have pretty much stayed in the UK, barring the odd cross channel ferry. But this was to be our first family holiday for many years and a significant event for my mother so I relaxed my principles and accepted my father’s offer to book me on their flight.
We arrived on March 22nd but only stayed two nights so I don’t really have a great deal to report. We ate good food and managed to find places with decent vegetarian options for my sister (I have been almost veggie since New Year but I did have a delicious elk and wild mushroom goulash for a starter one evening). It was cold and windy but there was plenty of sun and the only precipitation was in the form of a couple of short snow flurries on our last day. Riga is situated on the mouth of the Daugava, which was still largely ice covered, though apart from one detour across a long windswept bridge we stayed on the side where the historic city centre is located. The city seemed clean compared to London and not at all crowded, though that may be because of the time of year. The old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, due in large part to what are regarded to be some of the finest examples of Art Nouveau architecture. I particularly liked the buildings designed by Mikhail Eisenstein, father of the famous Soviet film director.
Whilst wandering aimlessly on my own I caught the smell of incense and was attracted into a relaxing tea room with cushions and nice tunes on the stereo. There were only two people inside, at least one of whom worked there (he got up and prepared tea for me). They both had bikes in the shop (one of which was a fixie) and it turned out that although they were Latvian they had both lived in London for a few years and had only recently returned to Riga. I had a long chat with them and they told me that a lot of people left after Latvia joined the EU. They reckoned that the population had dropped by as much as a fifth since then, and presumably it was mainly younger people who left – that might explain why the city seemed a bit deserted. If you are in Riga and you want to chill out and drink tea I would recommend visiting the place – it is called KAMA and is at Jekaba Iela 26/28. Another place you could visit is the Naive Art Museum of Latvia.
The flight home was interesting. There was a drunk guy sitting on the row in front of me until he was removed by about six balaclava-clad Polish border police after an unscheduled detour to Gdansk. The incident was reported in the Aviation Herald.