I hate Tesco

I had had some crazy assed idea to walk into Itchen Stoke to get the Sunday papers this morning. I woke up at 10! I just made a coffee and woke up properly. Mirinda woke soon after and, after her first cup of tea, decided to try out the Jacuzzi. Accidentally putting three drops of bubble bath in meant she slowly vanished under a mountain of soapy suds. I feared opening the bathroom door, preferring to leave the bubbles inside.

After successfully filling the bathroom with bubbles, Mirinda emerged to announce how good the Jacuzzi was. It was then off to Arlesford for brunch.

As we tramped across the lawn we were approached and then accosted by a woman in jodhpurs and riding boots who quite confidently asked if she could help us. When I explained that we were staying in the flat, Susan introduced herself as the owner. A good firm handshake she has as well.

We’ve been to Caracoli in Arlesford once before and I was particularly looking forward to the pancake stack, bacon and maple syrup but, alas, they change the menu regularly. So I had scrambled egg and smoked salmon on a croissant (which is not the greatest combination and needed some salt) and Mirinda had mushrooms and bacon on toasted sour dough bread which she judged delicious.

After brunch, I went across the road to Tesco Direct to buy supplies for tonight’s dinner while Mirinda went for a stroll down the high street. Another nail in the coffin of the multi-annoyerating supermarket chains. Anyone who knows me should know how much I hate them. The supermarket chains I mean, not anyone who knows me. They are increasingly replacing any variety with their own brands, taking away any chance of choice, something I hold dear. They over-package to billy-o and then give you extra points on your loyalty card if you reuse their plastic bags. This they call social conscience. I call it crap. The only reason I had to go to Tesco Direct was because they’ve forced the independent grocer to close. For those that don’t know, Tesco Direct is a smaller version of their superstore. This, I assume, goes a good way to explaining why the store I went into had nothing fresh (except some sad looking fruit) and only mince, bacon & hamburger patties in the meat section. I replaced my basket and left the store.

I caught up with Mirinda at the bottom of the high street and explained my lack of groceries and we decided to drive to Alton and go to the Sainsbury’s there. They are only slightly better! But given the lack of options, what does one do? Not eat? But enough big corporation bashing! On with the holiday spirit.

In 2000, Arlesford opened a new public footpath and called it the Millennium Way. It follows the Itchen River and then returns through the town, making a big circle. Although we’ve been to the town a few times, we’d never been along the river trail and just stumbled onto it this afternoon. What a lovely little walk, evidenced by the scores of families using it at the same time as us. Felt similar to Farnham on a Saturday morning.

Along the Itchen

The path passes a 13th century fulling mill which sits astride the river, resplendent in thatch. A sign on its wall proclaims fishing in the river is forbidden by the law of 1253. Around the corner swimming is also banned – no date on that one but the sign was quite modern. All a bit odd as the water isn’t particularly dangerous or deep – ducks would just put down their feet in order to stop midstream. It made Mirinda quite cross although when pressed she didn’t actually want to go for a swim.

The path at Eel House has been deemed unsafe (though I overheard a local assuring his companion this was just so much tosh) so we strolled back to the main street (with a brief moment for Mirinda to fuss over a very silly sausage on legs). Without our hats we realised that the sun was beating down on us and the heat was back to summer proportions. We’d just had rain all week and not a lot of sun so it came as a bit of a surprise. That’s why we didn’t have our hats. Actually Mirinda was so confident, she left her hat at home.

Eventually we returned to Sidney and drove off for Alton, a town we know exceedingly well. After a long shop for supplies and a quick trip to Woolies for a baking dish – actually it wasn’t that quick because Sunday is traditionally kids day at Alton Woolies and they have no idea what they are doing. I truly believe it is a mistake putting 10 year olds behind the tills – we headed back to the apartment at Avington.

On Sunday afternoons the house is open to visitors, complete with guided tour so we joined up for the 4pm (and final) trip. Charles II and George IV stayed here at various times and my old friend William Cobbett claimed it was one of the prettiest places in the county of Hampshire. More impressive is that Nell Gwynne stayed here when refused lodgings in Winchester by Thomas Ken who went on to become the Bishop of Bath and Wells but was known thereafter by King Charles II as “the ugly little man who wouldn’t give poor Nelly lodging”.

By the way, Nelly’s bath-house was richly decorated with Delft tiles which, when it was no longer needed, were put up all over the house. Some even found their way into the fireplace surround in our apartment. Ah, just like home!

Delft tiles

There has been a lot of rebuilding and adding to the original house with the result that some of the walls are four feet thick. Nowhere is this more obvious than as you walk through the doors from the main reception room into the staircase. The space between the doors is large enough for an ensuite. There are three statues on the roof, each weighing three tons, which were transported (somehow) from Cannons Park, London by the Duke of Chandos in the mid 18th century. The statues represent Minerva, Juno and Ceres and stand very impressive over the entrance.

The tour started in the main entrance and worked its way up the staircase (passing our apartment door), into the very impressive ballroom, through the red drawing room then, finally, back down to the library.

Our tour guide was a very knowledgeable (though short) woman who obviously has a great affection for the present owners. Speaking of whom, the woman who now owns (along with her husband) Avington Park, is on the selection panel for the British Olympic horse-y event teams!

At one time the house belonged to John Shelley, Percy’s brother – of the poetry kind. In 1953 the house and stables were sold to Lt Col Hickson whose family live there now.

Having toured, we decided to visit the perfect example of a Georgian church. St Mary the virgin is indeed lovely and sits delicately peeking out from behind a big hedge. It was built by 1771 (the year after Captain Cook discovered Australia) and replaced the flint and stone Saxon church that stood before it. James Brydges applied for the new building to the Bishop of Winchester stating that the original church was old, dark, small, ruined and decayed. Sadly James didn’t live to see it completed.

Box pews

In an odd nursery twist, when the Duchess of Buckingham died in 1836, she was buried in a glass coffin beneath the floor of the church. I assume she is still waiting for her prince.

The church has wonderful box pews with sides high enough to snooze behind…until the priest mounts his very high pulpit and reigns down fire and brimstone, that is. The church has a nice light and friendly atmosphere although from the outside it looks like a Victorian brickworks.

One of the church’s most prized possessions is one of the few ‘Vinegar’ bibles in existence. So called because, due to a printing error in 1715, in the Parable of the Vineyard, the word vineyard is misspelled as vinegar.

After the church, we strolled around the grounds for a bit then returned to the apartment so I could start the roast lamb for dinner. Soon the rooms were full of overpowering smells. The lamb was lovely, the roasted anya potatoes, interesting and dinner was very, very filling.

We watched some TV then to bed.

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