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Tuesday, 1 July 2014

The Streets of San Francisco

We belong to the National Trust. We belong to the RhS. We belong to the RSPB and the Victorian Society. We need to belong....

The trouble is all this belonging doesn't translate into much. I can't recall the last time I traipsed along a desolate shore line owned by the RSPB enchanted by the cry of the curlew or lesser uplifted great bloomer. I've been to Vincent Square, the home of the RhS, once and that was for a wine tasting - nothing to do with my herbaceous borders or green fly on my petunias. As for the National Trust: the last time we visited a stately home Good Queen Bess was on the throne and Will Shakespeare an angry young man.

So today we decided that we should put our memberships to good use. A trip into the countryside surrounding this great metropolis of ours, and a visit to....where? Both the RSPB and the RhS were discounted immediately. Far too far: especially as the petrol gauge was on 1/4 and I wasn't going to give either the Govt, Sainsbury's or BP any more of my hard earned pension until mid July.

By default it was the National Trust, and one of its delightful properties less than a 1/4 of a tank full  away from Milton Road, Walthamstow that would be honoured by our appearance.

Bourne Mill, Colchester, Essex was to be our destination. "A Pictureseque watermill with a working waterwheel". What started as a fishing lodge in 1591, ended up as a corn mill, working up until the 1930's. How could one resist such a description.

I am the proud owner of an iPhoneS: a little packet of miniaturised marvels full of all the computing wizardry needed to navigate to the stars and beyond let alone a few miles into the Essex countryside. I fired up the Apple Maps - disconcertingly finding myself located somewhere off Route 66 in a diner called Max's. However, Mr Apple soon oriented himself and I was where I thought I was: Milton Road, Walthamstow. I keyed in the post code for Bourne Mill and in an instant a route was laid out before me.

Hopping into the old reliable Astra, with the missus beside me, iPhoneS in her hand listening to the instructions from our on board navigator,we set off.

Everything was tickity boo for miles and miles and miles. We excitedly found ourselves heading towards Cambridge on the M11 and then taking a sharp right onto the M25 before leaving England's equivalent of the BMW's testing track in Germany for the quiet two laned congestion that is any road leading to the counties of East Anglia.

Well known landmarks  came and went. Vinnies cafe, with its not quite vertical portaloo  stuck on as an after thought and after not a few complaints from the Dutch lorry drivers hoping to take a comfort break on their way to deliver another batch of Ikea's goodies to London's insatiable shoppers.

And then signs pointing unerringly towards Colchester. Except our on board navigator, in the most charming of tones, directed us in precisely the opposite direction. Towards the ancient  port of Malden.

I've nothing against the old town. In fact as we headed towards it the missus and I recounted a lovely holiday spent at the "Blue Boar Inn" in the delightful place. Visions of bowling greens on the promenade, soggy sandwiches, stewed tea and visits to antique emporia brought smiles to our faces.

I have to admit that my sense of place is not what it should be. I wasn't quite sure of Malden's position in relation to Colchester, but even I thought it strange that we should apparently be heading away from our hoped for destination. However, I had no reason to doubt our electronic guide, so we bravely headed away from where we thought we were going.

As we found ourselves heading towards Malden's town centre, the thought occurred to me that Apple Maps was even smarter than I had imagined. It was taking us by a rarely used short cut to our little Mill on the Floss. That thought had just formed when our arrival at our destination was announced. At the entrance to a nondescript road called "Milton Road".

A quick check of the map's search history uncovered what had happened. I had correctly keyed in the post code for Bourne Mill, but the smart alec computer phone also provided a list of similar post codes. Inadvertently I click on the Malden one.

Keying in, with extra care, the correct post code, we rapidly discovered that we were some 20 odd miles from our desired destination. Since Colchester is only 50 miles from London, we had achieved the equivalent of setting out for the Moon and ending up at Uranus.

Undaunted, and, on reflection, showing a child like trust in my iPhone's navigational skills, given our recent miss, we set off again for the fabled mill. But not before a sandwich and a sticky bun, purchased from a corner shop in Malden and consumed in the car in a rather bleak side road. Passers by looked at the two of us with some surprise- picnicking visitors in residential Malden is an uncommon sight.

Finally, we were on our way. The rest of the journey was uneventful - if you exclude my attempt to park at Bourne Mill.

The thing is it wasn't apparent that the parking at the Mill was limited. I only discovered that when it was too late. Not a single space. A young couple with a sprog stuck to the male partner's chest unhelpfully looked on.

I'm great going forward. I have no problem with straight ahead or, for that matter, turning left or right. It's going backwards, in reverse that is my blind spot, so to speak. It took me at least 5 minutes to extract myself, the missus and the car from the car park. Much revving of the engine, meshing of gears and shouted instructions finally saw us back on the main road and searching for a less embarrassing parking spot.

Once we got to the Mill, everything was delightful. The other sad old pensioners unable to climb up to the second floor of the mill due to a near vertical set of stairs. The tea bagged tea at a £1 a throw and the unnervingly authentic stench of swan, goose and duck poo.

The building's a gem. It's clear that there's much to be done to repair the damage wrought over the years. The waterwheel is most impressive, turning as water drops from the artificial pond into the stream below. It's all so human sized. The mill itself is built of limestone, some local mud from Malden and Roman brick salvaged from the old priory which in turn had plundered the old Roman fort.

And then there was the pair of swans and their ungainly, delightful cygnets, and three families of ducks and ducklings.

After a quick game of croquet and quoits we left and headed back home. This time with our navigator silenced.

Oh by the way, the missus knew how to get to Colchester without the aid of the Apple Maps, but let me have my way. She's like that: ever so accommodating.


Jack the Hat said...

Much better in the old days when the Mrs read the map and had a barney with hubby when he ignored her instructions

Steve said...

If aliens wanted to conquer the human race they could just hack into our satnavs and direct us to their human neutralizing plants. We would all happily drive ourselves to our own destruction and never question it.

Anonymous said...

Bit confused. Is Colchester now in San Francisco? Sooner we leave the EEC the better.

Barry Coidan said...

Dear JtH. You old retro you.

Dear Steve, my biggest fear.

Dear Anon, I'm told eating loads of spinach can retard the onset of Alzheimer. However, in your case it's a bit late.