The year of the horse gets off to a galloping start…

In some ways, February is a frustrating month. We’re worn out and worn down by winter, and it’s easy to miss those small signs of spring – the lighter evenings, the crocuses carpeting the ground, the first daffodils pushing their way through the ground, the catkins; the grass in the park and on roadside verges being just that bit greener and brighter. Now at the end of the month, spring is tantalisingly close. The garden is coming alive, and there’s a freshness in the breeze. Although apparently, it’s going to snow tomorrow!

For me, February is always cause to celebrate. My birthday is on the 10th February, and as my first “free range” birthday, I was determined to make the whole month special.

Chinese Dragon at Wong Ting

Chinese Dragon at Wong Ting

It started on the 1st February, when my parents took me to Wong Ting Chinese restaurant in Sheffield City Centre. It was made even more special, because when we arrived, there was a parade of Chinese dragons outside the restaurant! Inside, the restaurant was decorated with red lanterns and garlands. A birthday lunch at Wong Ting has become a bit of a tradition, but sometimes asking for veggie food seems to confuse them! Sometimes it’s excellent though, and it has a brilliant atmosphere, full of genuine Chinese culture. And it was the start of the Year of the Horse. This year seems to be galloping along so far, and I’ll need to keep track of the things I’ve achieved.

Coventry Canal boat - beautiful roses and castles artwork

Coventry Canal boat – beautiful roses and castles artwork

The thing about being self employed is that if you want money to pay the bills and for extra treats, you’ve got to work for it, and in the first week of February, I was busily finishing off several freelance projects to make sure I could pay for a few nights out, and petrol money to take me to Coventry. I’d booked a place on a course with the National Association of Writers in Education. It was great to meet other writers who also work on community projects and it’ll be exciting to see what we all achieve. I wrote more about it on my Wild Rosemary blog here! It was lovely to spend time with my friends Fraser and Louise, and Fraser’s parents were very generous with their hospitality by letting us stay for the weekend.

Peacocks at the Strines

Peacocks at the Strines

After a morning of teaching at Sheffield College on my birthday, I was free to enjoy the rest of the day, and it was an opportunity to catch up with an old friend. We had a great pub lunch in the Strines a medieval pub in the Peak District, dating back to the thirteenth century. It’s an old favourite for pub lunches, and their veggie burger was vegan, and the home made chips were very tasty! It has eccentric decor, with lots of ancient stuffed animals in glass cases, buffalo horns and brass pans hanging everywhere. It has a cosy open fire, piled with logs, and it would have been tempting to linger and chat, but the sun was actually shining and after weeks of rain, we were in desperate need to stretch our legs. First though, we stopped to photograph the famous peacocks, roaming around in the garden behind the pub.

Cheeky Ladybower ducks

Cheeky Ladybower ducks

Not wanting a route march in very boggy conditions, we chose a route which would be a bit firmer underfoot – Ladybower reservoir. We parked up and walked to the Fairholmes Visitors Centre, where we a crowd of cheeky mallards jostled for attention at the refreshment kiosk. From some distance, we could hear the water roaring over the cascades at Derwent, and we walked up to the dams for a closer look. It was the first time I’d seen the dam in full flow and it was truly spectacular.

Derwent dam close up

Derwent dam close up

Damn, I really was looking forward to my swim!

Damn, I really was looking forward to my swim!

Derwent dam in full flow

Derwent dam in full flow

The Derwent dams are famous as the site where the RAF practised their “Dambusters” bombing raids with their bouncing bombs in World War Two. Today, there is a memorial to the pilots of the 617 Squadron who lost their lives on this mission, and the turret on the left hand side of the dam is a museum. As we reached the top of the dam, there was a notice informing us that all the reservoirs were 100% full, and had been for weeks. It’s not surprising, but we are lucky to have the reservoirs to catch all the rain water and make good use of it.

We continued walking on the narrow lane that runs alongside the Derwent Reservoir, feeling very lucky that such stunning scenery is a short drive away from home in Sheffield. The reservoirs are such a part of the landscape, it’s difficult to imagine what it must have been like before they were built, before the villages of Derwent and Ashopton were dismantled and drowned by the reservoir waters, and before such vast bodies of water reflected the ever-changing Peak District sky.

We headed to the remains of Birchinlee, the tin-hut village where the navvies lived while they built the dams. They lived in quite sophisticated conditions, compared to the workers half a century earlier. In the 1900s, the workers at Birchinlee brought their families, and had schools, shops, a church, a pub and recreational facilities. Although there is nothing much left, apart from some terraced pieces of ground, a hole in the ground which used to be the pub’s cellar, and some kerbstones, there is an eerie atmosphere. As the sun grew lower, we could almost feel the presence of the people who lived and worked here. The information plaques with photographs helped, showing the interior of one of the huts, complete with an aspidistra plant and a canary in a cage; the family sitting proudly in front of it. The plaque at the site of the pub says that a group of navvies once chucked the landlord out of the pub for rationing the beer out, rather than letting the workers sup as much as they liked! That wouldn’t have gone down well!

After another duck attack when my friend opened a packet of crisps, we made it safely back to the car, just before the sun went down. It was a great way to spend my birthday!

The site of Birchinlee village - "Tin Town"

The site of Birchinlee village – “Tin Town”

Tree reflections

Tree reflections

Mole sculpture by Derwent dams

Mole sculpture by Derwent dams

Tree silhouette and soft winter colours

Tree silhouette and soft winter colours

Last weekend rounded off the birthday celebrations, with a vegan trip to Kelham Island Brewery (they took the isinglass – a fish product our of the beers, especially for the Sassy V Vegan Group. I had a great time, meeting new friends and trying a whole range of beers. The food was really nice too, and I enjoyed the tour around the brewery.

Vegan beer and food at Kelham Island

Vegan beer and food at Kelham Island

And to cap it all off, on Saturday, I decided to gather some old friends and go to the Corporation Rock club in Sheffield. We had a great time, but I got wildly enthusiastic about the eighties room, rather than dancing to much actual rock music. The alternative eighties hits reminded us of the goth club we’d frequented in our youth, Epitaph / later known as Dissolution, and we whirled each other around on the dancefloor to “You Spin Me Round” by Dead or Alive. My friends were buying me the notorious Corporation vodka and Red Bulls, and I became very bouncy and enthusiastic – just like I’d been in those long-gone goth days, annoying anyone who took themselves too seriously. It was a brilliant night, but I’d been seriously mixing my drinks, being out of practise at this drinking lark! So the next day wasn’t pretty! But it was worth it.

And there I am, another year older, and some of the time, I’m wiser, and I certainly have more idea about my direction in life. But sometimes, stupidity rules. And sometimes life is all about spinning your friends round on the dancefloor and getting drunk! I hope we’re still doing it well into our old age. If you think I’m embarrassing now….. And the festival season has finally arrived, with priority Oxfam Stewarding applications opening to people who’ve stewarded before. Watch out for me at Bearded Theory, Glastonbury, Nozstock, Beautiful Days and Shambala…as well as Tramlines.

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