blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

In Cardiff, Bristol, Cardiff, Bristol, Cardiff ...

Park Street, Bristol
We're hopping back and forth.

Chris is at the 21st Safety-critical Systems Symposium here at the Bristol Marriott Royal, taking copious notes as he listens to the talks (on Day 3, tomorrow morning, he gives one) and I, as usual, am along for the ride. This evening he is at the conference Banquet, listening to a speech by the Hon. Sir Charles Haddon-Cave, QC, who told the uncomfortable truth about the tragic Nimrod case, calling it "a story of incompetence, complacency and cynicism," and who is consequently one of Chris' heroes. Instead of sharing the Banquet, I have just had a French supper for one at the Café Rouge, which in my own way I probably appreciated just as much, contentedly reading the Ottawa author Mark Frutkin's memoirs of a draft resister, "Erratic North," between courses and sips of red wine, and watching the people go by up the hill (Park Street) towards the university.

Inside the Wills Memorial
tower, on Park Street
Cardiff, at the weekend, was our first stop on this trip, because one of the reasons for flying over was to spend some more time with Mum. We also spent what's called quality time with Faith, Mel, Rhiannon, Justin and the baby Phoenix (visiting from Oxford) on Sunday, a low cloud day in Gwaelod-y-Garth. I saw the primroses and cyclamens in Faith's garden, though. Monday was far brighter, which meant that Mum could show Chris and me a favourite walk of hers on the edge of Whitchurch, to a bird hide by the canal. "It's like real country," she said. The expert watchers in the hide reported spotting a kingfisher, a snipe and a bittern, but we saw mostly robins, chaffinches, bluetits, coaltits (which are the same as chickadees, if you ask me), blackbirds, thrushes and mallard ducks. We had a good lunch in a Whitchurch eatery called Deli-a-go-go, which I mention here to remind myself that we ought to go-go there again when we can-can.

Monday evening, Chris and I took the train to Bristol, exploring the vicinity of the hotel after dark when it was mild enough to sit on a bench and look at the boats on the water, not something we can do in Ottawa at this time of year. We went for a walk up and down the hill as well, which walk I repeated yesterday (Tuesday) in the company of Faith, with a day return ticket from Cardiff, and her friend Ben, who lives in Bristol. We found the Clifton suspension bridge, near which Ben encouraged me to pick up a leaflet that proved most interesting, about the remains of a 500ft long cliff railway, presently being restored, that had been built inside the Clifton Rocks in 1891. The construction was quite ingenious.
If the lower car was heavier than the top car, water was allowed to flow into a tank underneath the top car until it was heavier than the lower car. Water had to be recycled from the bottom station constantly, as there was not a continuous supply at the top station. A Crossley gas engine pumped the water from a reservoir at the bottom station, some 230 feet to the top station.
I K Brunel's suspension bridge, spanning the Avon Gorge
After the train ceased operating in 1934, the tunnel's history became even more interesting. During World War 2 (when the port of Bristol was heavily bombed) it was used as a rehearsal space for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, as a transmitting station for the BBC and as the BOAC's head office and as a workshop for barrage balloon repairs. Not only that, the central section of the tunnel became a shelter for civilians during air raids. Via the Royal York Crescent and other terraced cliff top streets, and through a picturesque little old cemetery, we also found some grassy parks at the top of Clifton hill with satisfying views of the bridge and the gorge.

Old cemetery near Victoria Square, Bristol
Detail on a gravestone
In the evening Chris and his two QNX colleagues Michael and Gary let me join them for supper at the Za Za Bazaar, an all-you-can eat place on the edge of the marina.

Today, I used a Bristol-Cardiff day return to meet Mum again, doing some shopping in Cardiff and taking a stroll through the old Arcades and past the snowdrops in Bute Park, the daffodils and magnolia trees not quite in flower yet. To my delight, in the chilly north wind, it was another fine, bright day.

I took the opportunity to participate in Evensong at the Cathedral, as I did this time last year, not once but twice, this time round, sitting in the "Quire" stalls on successive evenings, once on the south side, once on the north, hearing / watching both the girls' choir and the boys' choir sing under the carved stone arches. I listened to settings of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis by Moeran and Ridout, responses by Piccolo and Nixon, and anthems by SS Wesley and Holman. At this evening's service I joined in the Isaac Watts hymn O God Our Help In Ages Past (fine words), but I didn't know and can't remember the hymn I sang yesterday. I heard readings from Isiah, about the Beautiful Feet of them that preach the Gospel of Peace, and the passage about scapegoats and the Man of Sorrows, who is acquainted with grief. There was a tremendous pillar-shaking organ voluntary, which I haven't been able to identify, at the end of yesterday's service.

Bristol Cathedral

Tomorrow, once the conference is over, Chris and I return to Cardiff for the night.