Monday, 27 December 2010

hunting the wren

I hope everyone's Christmas was a good one.  I found it a little subdued, really.  Our eldest daughter lives in Mexico, so wasn't around.  Our second daughter got flu, my wife got a cold, my son got a bit for his computer and I got to cook Christmas dinner.  Later we played a new board game based on Dr Who which was fun even though I lost.  Personally, I felt that Dr Who itself was disappointing.

As a Christmas present to one and all try listening to this excellent broadcast:
www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b00wvbt0/Tom_Robinson_24_12_2010

Today, of course is supposed to be Boxing Day according to some sources.  However, today is actually in place of Christmas Day.  It's all very confusing but based on the fact that Christmas has fallen on a weekend.  Of course, it was Boxing Day yesterday - it's just a bank holiday in lieu of yesterday.  We're now a secular country, so given most shops are open on Sundays (although banks aren't) today and tomorrow are given as bank holidays. To be honest, I couldn't care less.  I don't have to work anyway and I wouldn't want to go to a bank unless I needed to take some money out.  Maybe if I wanted to go to the pub and was financially embarrassed, for instance. However, like everybody else, I'd use a 'hole in the wall' or go to a supermarket which I'm assuming are open today.  I haven't been out of the house so, again, I don't care.

I'm not going to the pub, either.

I did check the news to see what happened about the hunts as Boxing Day is traditionally the day people go hunting.

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds
St Stephens's Day was caught in the furze.

It would seem that the wren is seen as a trickster bird and in some parts there was a story of how a wren had alerted enemies by landing on a drum.  In truth, it would seem that it was never really taken that seriously, it was an excuse for people to rush about and make lots of noise. And probably drink lots. Probably not too many wrens actually died in the process.  I could be wrong.  Evidently squirrels were popular to hunt too. Still, back to the news.  According to the BBC, many hunts didn't go out yesterday because people don't traditionally hunt on a Sunday, so they were due to go out today.  That's hunters and protesters too:

"Around 300 hunts around the country were due to head out, weather permitting, with some of the biggest including the Beaufort Hunt and the Quorn Hunt."

The Quorn Hunt? Isn't that taking this whole blood sports issue a bit too far?  It must be PC gone mad. Hunting the Mushroom, anyone?

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

kodak ghosts

A Christmas card from my late Uncle's wife contained some photographs of my distant past.  There were two of me taken at Junior School, several of me older - one from my wedding day.  There were ones of my mother - a fantastic one of my mother, father and our first born at their Ruby Wedding Anniversary bash.  But the one included here seemed the most poignant.

All of the people in this photo have gone. This was taken on April 10th 1948 at St Mary's Church in Baldock, Hertfordshire. My mother and father's Wedding Day.  Obviously my mother and father are at the centre of the photo.  Next to my father stands his mother - a tiny lady.  I don't think my grandfather was at the wedding.  There's no one left to tell me, now. My father, like me, was a tall man - both of his parents were tiny. Next to my mother stands my maternal grandmother - I only ever really knew her as wheelchair-bound or bed-ridden.  She used to be brought over to our house for Christmas.  A victim of Parkinson's Disease.  She died when I was quite young. Next to her stands my Uncle from whose album this photo came.  I think he must have been doing National Service then.  He used to tell me funny stories that involved Russian soldiers and lots of vodka.  He passed on just before Christmas last year. The two outliers were friends of my parents - Jack and Doreen.  They disappeared from our lives when I was about 10.  They may still be alive but lost to us.  I remember bumping into them once when I was a teenager. They never got back in contact with my parents.  I don't know if there had been a falling out or not.  They just stopped seeing each other.

My father was born and lived with his mother in Letchworth.  My mother came up to Baldock with her mother from Eastbourne thanks to their Bed & Breakfast house being bombed during the war.  My Uncle had been evacuated to Baldock.  They had nowhere else to go. My mother worked during the war at The White Horse pub near the railway station in Baldock. It was a favourite haunt of American Servicemen and she served Glen Miller - the famous flying band leader - there.

My father passed on 21 years ago.  In January.  My mother outlived him by some 15 years and she died in October whilst we were away on holiday in Holland.  All of these people died in the Winter - stretching it a bit for my mother, technically Autumn, I suppose.  However, this time of the year certainly tends to be a melancholy time for us. Well, for me particularly.

I've spent a while thinking about this post - it's obviously personal.  But, I watched the wonderful BBC documentary on Ray Davies which finished a few moments ago, and towards the end they played a song he'd written what? 1968?:

people take photos of each other
just to prove they exist

I'm glad all those people existed. I'm about to raise a glass of single malt to these ghosts.

To absent friends.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

walking in a winter wonderland

The morning started with me refusing to wake up properly - after all, I didn't get in until about 1:30. A night out to celebrate the end of term with my colleagues. The warnings were coming in thick and fast about the weather - it was going to spread across the whole country.  The sad news of Captain Beefheart's demise came through too.  Although not a huge fan, I had seen him live at least once - in Stevenage(!) of all places.  I may have seen him at Reading too, but I think I'm probably mistaken. Let us not forget the fact that he is the man who introduced the World to Ry Cooder.  His like will never be seen in these parts again.

I may also be mistaken - but I think I may be eventually proved right here - that the good Captain recorded a version of "Walking in a Winter Wonderland".  I've tried Googling it - the phrase comes up connected to himself but there seems no proof of an actual recording.  I'm sure someone out there will let us know.

9 o'clock this evening
We went to Ipswich to do some Christmas shopping, keeping an eye on the weather - the threats were real enough but this is Suffolk, after all. Too close to the sea and all that. So we shopped and before we dropped (keeping the Capt Beefheart/Ry Cooder theme going here), we came home.  On the way home, the traffic news came on to let us know that Essex was covered. Back by 4-ish.  Within an hour our son came home complaining about the weather.  We checked, and yes, the snow was falling  with all the force the radio had promised. So, the freezing fingers of cruel December were beginning to clutch at our far eastern coast.

This is all well and good - after all, we can turn the heating up or light a fire.  So I set off to the kitchen to make dinner whilst Mrs Dave put a few more Yuletide declarations up.  I had promised to make sure that dinner was over and done with by 7 o'clock as Strictly Come Dancing - the Final was on.  No major problems there.  Dinner over - I even offered to clear up.

And then disaster struck.  Mrs Dave entered the kitchen whilst I was trying to see if it was possible to scrape any more out of an empty bottle of Shiraz with a look of sheer despondency upon her visage.

"What is wrong, beloved?"

"Bloody satellite reception has gone."

"Ah, so no Strictly then?" he said smugly.

Not a good idea.  Perhaps having not followed this (or any) series, I had no idea of the sheer impact of this momentous statement.

Hmm . . . perhaps the snow was covering the dish? Before any real panic settled in (not on my part) we thought it best to see if the neighbours could still receive Sky.  No, they couldn't.  They also informed us that this happened last year when it snowed too. The more astute members of the readership can see where this one's heading, can't you?

"Oh great - so I can't watch the finals, then?"

I have a plan.  Despite it being all crisp and deep and even. By the way, the neighbours kindly invited Mrs Dave in to watch it as they seem to be able to get Terrestrial tv (of course, we can't - probably my fault, too).

So, I'm out on the flat roof at 7 o'clock in the dark with the snow falling with a step ladder and brush clearing the snow off of our, and the neighbour's, satellite dishes. I'd stopped my son going out to the pub to help me.  "Oh is this to prove to mum that if it doesn't work I witnessed you going out there?"

"No, it's so you can call the bloody ambulance if I fall off the roof."

"Oh, ok."

Anyway - it worked.  It bloody well worked.

I settled down to watch a documentary on the making of the National Theatre's version of War Horse in between rounds of SD.  Guess what?  "I'm beginning to suspect that the snow is building up again - the picture is digitallising."

So, 9 o'clock and I'm back on the roof with a brush clearing the snow off of the satellite dish. Honestly, the things I do for a quiet life.  Not once, but twice. Twice.

Anyway, if I'd have thought about it I should have taken a photo from the roof.  I'm sure my friend Mike would have - mind you, he wouldn't be on his roof in the dark in a snow storm anyway.  So we'll have to put up with the shot from the front door. Let's face it, you wouldn't send a dog out on a night like this.

Just a husband with a step ladder and a hand brush.

The things we do for love . . .

. . . and from behind the house later

Friday, 17 December 2010

there but for fortune

The last day of term - the Christmas one, too.  It's always been a tiring term and the last day often exhausting.

However, the need by modern management for complete control freakery meant that everything was tied down and ran with almost military precision (cliches-r-us).  They in their infinite wisdom decided to ask the pupils what they would prefer for "Christmas Dinner".  Evidently, the answer came back as "Turkey Burgers and Chips" (I kid you not).  So, Turkey Burgers and Chips it was with a Veggie Burger as a sop for the more fussy eaters.  What happened? Very few of the little dears opted for the Christmas meal because they wanted a "proper Christmas Dinner".

Last year they asked the pupils what they wanted for a school uniform.  "Blazers and ties" they all demanded which appealed to the management - why, they'd all look smart all the time. Well, shirts out, ties in all sorts of ridiculous shapes or just hanging barely done up around their stomachs.  And blazers?  "In my bag, sir".

It would appear obvious to most intelligent people that asking kids what they want is the last thing you should do.  We spend all our time trying to get them to look smart with no real sanctions to help. Given this is the result of asking them what they want for a) uniform and b) Christmas Dinner guess what c) might be?

Give up?  I'll tell you - they ask them how they want to be taught. I'll leave it at that but you can probably fill the blanks in yourselves.

Meanwhile, back at school . . .after the hordes of pupils had gone and the last plates cleared away, the uneaten Turkey Burgers thrown away, we had our end of term meeting.  Usually this means saying a "fond farewell" to the lucky ones who've escaped.  This year, so far, no one has left.  Our glorious leader gave a brief Christmas speech in full Mr Grace mode ("You've all done very well") which involved a large box of Fortune Cookies sent in by a proud parent - the use by date was probably "Year of the Rat" - which he went around the staff room offering to the staff.

Amongst all the "trust your intuition" and "good luck comes your way in a telephone call" fortunes, mine read: "you are soon going to change your present line of work". 

How did he do that?

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

sad deserted shore

I wandered down along the beach mid-morning just to take account of passing time and time passing.  Although I'm no photographer, I like messing about with the camera on my phone - the sepia setting seemed suitable for my mood.  Just like the sad deserted shore Sandy Denny sang about in Who Knows Where The Time Goes where "all the birds are leaving".  This one seemed almost totally bereft of bird life.  There was one solitary gull but every time I tried to take it passing by some sort of latency took place and none of the photos has a bird in it.

As I walked home I heard the most raucous screeching of gulls and saw that there were twenty or more in someone's back garden in a feeding frenzy.  No wonder there weren't any on the beach.

The Chimney Sweep came round today - one of the traditional characters around these parts.  He still wears clogs and has a VERY Suffolk accent. It took 15 poles to get his brush up our chimney - it's a three-storey house.  Anyway, he was very complementary about the way I'd fitted the stove.  That cheered me up a bit.  As he left I saw a very large bird drifting over a garden down the road.  It was a heron.  I don't see many herons this close to the sea.  By the time I got my binoculars, it had gone.  Wonderful eerie creatures.  Silent, graceful and mysterious.  The Chimney Sweep said that they look fabulous in the sky but ungainly on the ground - "all legs".  I often wear an RSPB heron badge on my suit jacket.  If anyone asks why (and they often do) I always say, "It's tall, grey* and has a big beak - remind you of anyone?"  I must admit that I am more similar to the ungainly heron on the ground than the elegant creatures in flight.

I went to buy a copy of A Christmas Carol today.  I haven't read it for years, I'm not a big fan of Dickens but I've been meaning to read it for a while now.  A good friend of mine reads it every year at this time.  As I said, it's been a long time since I read it but it has all those fantastic typical Dickens characters: Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Bob Marley, Kermit, Fozzy and Gonzo.  If my memory serves me well . . .

However, I couldn't get hold of a copy - not even in the second hand shop.  Ah well, I guess I can wait a few days and buy it at the weekend - or perhaps download it onto Mrs Dave's Sony Reader.  That's a bit modern - not sure I'll cope reading a book electronically.  I prefer to stay unplugged when reading.

Oh well, happy St Tibba's Day to you all.  December 14th is The Feast of St Tibba.  She came from Rutland where I spent part of the half term holiday.  She's the patron saint of falconers and wildfowlers.  Ah yes, wildfowl, that's where I came in.

*corrected - see comments!

Sunday, 5 December 2010

more from stella street

Gordon "Jasper" Sumner
That Sting is singing in the kitchen.  I think it's Cherry Tree Carol. I guess Mrs Sting has kicked him out for hanging around the house again.  He has a far away look in his eye nowadays, it's probably all that tantric sex he's always banging on about (ho ho).

Whilst I don't intend to have a go at the poor old chap - I'll leave that to Richard Thompson who has a song about him on Dream Attic (Here Comes Geordie) - but honestly, he does come over as a bit of a . . .  I am reminded of the comment the great Stuart Maconie made about him.  I think it was in Pies and Prejudice (any of his books are well worth a read) where he recounts the "story" of how he got his nickname.  Now, according to yer man himself, he used to wear a black and yellow striped jumper to school.  Hence the nickname.  Now, as Stuart reminds us, most people are more unkind when handing out nicknames - especially kids - and they would more likely have named him "Waspy" or "Buzz" or somesuch.

If he'd been at my old alma mater he'd have been called "Jasper"  No, I don't know why either, but that's the old Stevenage term for a wasp in the early 1970s.

Anyhow, he always comes across a bit earnest to me.  Again, if he was at school with me I wonder what his reports would have said?  Whereas mine tended towards "Satis" - brief, to the point and I must have been obviously less than impressive as old Romper Williams couldn't even be bothered to waste much ink on me by finishing the word - or occasionally "could try harder".  I bet Jasper's would have been, "Needs to relax, tries too hard".

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen.  Mrs Dave is making the Christmas cake - the usual Nigella Lawson one with Tia Maria that has become traditional here (well, for about three years running).  That means "Christmas music" is on the Bose.  So unusually for Mrs D it's not Now That's What I Call Christmas it's old Buzz Lightweight's If On A Winter's Night . . . which is a little bit upmarket.  I mean, it's on Deutsche Grammophon like his lute albums.  Fancy old DG releasing an album with Message In A Bottle played on a lute - I kid you not.

Did you know that an average pint of bitter - say 3.8% abv - contains 182 calories and would take a man 30 minutes to walk it off whereas a lady of the opposite gender would take 40 minutes?  A traditional full English breakfast is estimated 807 calories and whilst I should take 2 hours and 20 minutes to walk it off, Mrs Dave would need another 20 minutes walking.  It's a good thing we grilled ours today and had scrambled rather than fried eggs.  Especially as I can't be bothered to go out for a walk.  Still, here's the big one.  A Christmas dinner with all its trimmings with a side order of mince pies, chocolate log and pudding is estimated at a colossal 3200 calories.  A man would walk that off after 9 hours and 20 minutes whilst a lady would have to keep going for 11 hours and 10 minutes.  So I suggest giving your partners a head start.

You could always have a glass or two of beer and a fry up while you're waiting before you go to catch her up.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

inclined to ramble

Suffolk medicine
Although I am no longer a "youth who is inclined to ramble" (cf Paul Brady) I am certainly a man who is inclined to ramble - and to repeat myself, obviously. Due to the current bad weather I awoke this morning without the scheduled hangover.  That in itself is probably a good thing.

However, the weather in this section of the UK was awful last night - frozen roads and paths by 3 pm and treacherous conditions generally.  I had walked to work yesterday - a late start was a bonus - and walking home was not pleasant.  I had worn my walking boots (yes, alright, I know they're ALL walking boots) and I found some of the paths impossible - literally like glass. My friend who was going to visit had texted and said that it would be foolish to try to travel down on such a night and the head cold I had been suffering for the last three days was in full flow.  Feeling quite miserable I decided to turn down an offer of a trip to the pub (I felt that bad) and Mrs Dave and I ordered a takeaway instead.  We had a fantastic Hindustani Gosht - lamb with green chillies to blast the cold away.  I was going to say it was just what the doctor ordered; perhaps the order got mixed up, but as a joke it received a stony silence earlier, so I won't bother.  Anyway - although I still feel a bit "woozy" in the old head department, the cold does seem to be on the run now.

I think the old adage was "feed a cold and starve a fever" but it could be vice versa - I'm sure someone will put me right.  I'm eating loads at the moment.  Mrs Dave is in the kitchen as we speak fiddling with her famous fish pie - which I'm aware sounds like an entry in Roger's Profanisaurus (it isn't). I'm not allowed to help. So I'm taking the edge off of my cold with a glass of Adnam's Bitter.  I'm sure it'll work. But I might need more than one.

Last night I was going to post a blog about Fred Hoyle's theory on the coming Ice Age - you know, so much for global warming etc - but I found out that his theories have generally been pooh-poohed* by everyone else and then I watched some comedy programmes on iPlayer instead and couldn't be bothered.

The other point of rambl . . . er, posting is because I realised that I left off a song from the "songs that make me happy" cd that actually really makes me happy.  I'm not going to change it now, I'll have to save it for another time. If This Was The Last Night of the World by Bruce Cockburn was the one song I wanted to hear on the Millenium night and I will be playing it this New Year's Eve too.  A great song which always brings a smile to these jaded lips. Can you have "jaded lips"?

I've just bought a copy of Roger Deakin's Waterlog as I've left the last book I was reading (The Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle) in Harvey.  That and a copy of Country Walking that promises lots of great pub walks.  Plenty to read then.

Meanwhile, back to the weather.  When I finally got up and looked out the window:  where's all the snow and ice gone? The cold, haily, windy night soon got rid of all that silliness.  The three inch pile of snow on the little table outside the room I am corresponding from was gone. Vanished, like an old oak table.  However, we are warned that the temperature will drop again tomorrow - we're not out of the woods yet.

Oh well, the first pint hasn't worked, time for another . . .

*I always come over all Stephen Fry when I use that phrase

Thursday, 2 December 2010

laughter for the man of constant sorrow

Well, I warned you it was coming.  An album of songs that, "make you (well, me) happy". Well, to be quite honest, I've spent a large part of my life being made happy by some fairly low-key music (ok, I know bloody miserable etc . . .  "cathartic", I tend to refer to it as) but I'm working for a genuine audience here, so here goes: "strap your hands across my engines, together we could break this trap":

The opening few moments are given over to Ade Edmundson and The Bad Shepherds - a quick burst of their opening gambit at the Cropredy Festival.  All Around My Hat is a most irritating song for most - and it sums up the F word for many (er, that's folk - another kind of profanity).  A great opening gambit destined to win the crowd over.  54 seconds of fun - I'm assuming some may turn it off as they "don't like that song" - well, try 54 seconds and accept that it's a bit of fun.

Oh yes, fun . . . every song on this cd brings a smile to my face for one reason or another. That's what it's all about.  First up, Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen.  What can I say?  I remember buying the album (that's on vinyl for you youngsters) the day it came out in 1975.  I rushed around to a mate's to play it but I think he may have been less impressed than me.  Or perhaps he was on a promise and me rushing around having latched on to yet another "passing please*" (see below) was par for the course: oh great, another future of rock'n'roll.  Whenever I hear it, it makes me smile - a great opening: big, brash and VERY American. Okay, I'm not American - but I've stood on street corners in the States watching cars whizz by and the soundtrack in my head is usually The Eagles, Jackson Browne and . . . well, this really.  I love it.  I haven't seen him doing it live yet - but one day!

Mockingbird by Barclay James Harvest just brings back memories of seeing them live at Weeley in 1972.  The band were squashed to the sides because of the 50 piece orchestra seated in the middle of the stage.  As the members of the orchestra passed joints around the music got more and more stratospheric - Christ, we were only 15 and being transported to another dimension - who needed a Tardis?  Fantastic song - more mood than anything, but makes me smile and has hung around for nearly half a Century.  You don't need to be life-long fan of particular bands to enjoy their stuff.

I've always loved The Easybeats' Friday On My Mind, when Richard Thompson (okay, my hero) did it as part of 1000 Years of Popular Music, I was overjoyed.  So much so that I forgave the fact that he included an ABBA track - ah well, even our heroes have flaws, of course. Just him and an acoustic guitar with two female backing singers, one of whom plays percussion. We're not worthy.

Rory Gallagher, god bless him, was around all the time in my youth.  I saw him live so often yet I never bought any of his albums.  A very good friend of mine used to play this quite often and I love it - it reminds me of being somewhere in the last century - about age 19, I guess.  His little "guitar orchestra" is fantastic - again, it automatically brings a smile to my face whenever I listen to it. "Packed all my things in an Overnight Bag, toothbrush and guitar, got no tail to drag; gonna leave on the next passing please*" - it's about the loneliness of travelling and doing one night stands.  Well, yes of course, I'd know all about that then, wouldn't I!  This leads on to The Galway Farmer by Show of Hands. One of the few amazing acts to come out of the last part of last century - they wrote possibly the best ever song about being English and also one of the best actual folk songs  of recent years.  If you've not heard Roots, do. Download it and if you think it's crap I'll refund your 99p.  I'll probably never talk to you again, but you'll not be poorer (I'm ignoring the irony here).  A fantastic song that rushes through with the rigour of the horse in the song.

Next up, Brown Sugar, well, the only song I ever get up to and dance to .  . . it always makes me happy  because it's such a blast.  Mrs Dave demands it at every do we go to - either just to embarrass me or to simply dance.  Yes, of course, it's the latter - every time it comes on I smile and sing along. What more can I say? "Lady of the house wonders when this's gonna stop  . . ."

I've included May I? by the inimitable Kevin Ayres because it really does light up my life.  A one off.  A totally unique character who I used to love going to see live in the 1970s. I first saw him supporting Pink Floyd at that amazing free Hyde Park Concert in 1971 (the first time Atom Heart Mother was played live to a London audience).  I know I was only 15 and in those days you were very much a child.  Either my mum thought I was very mature or couldn't give a shit.  However, she did me a great service allowing me to see such things.  Don't forget - I went up alone.  My mum was a one off and I took her to see loads of great gigs in later years - she saw some gigs that people would kill to have seen nowadays!  Anyway, back to May I? and Mr Ayres. I was at this live recording, so HAD to include it.  Kevin Ayres, Nico and John Cale from the Velvet Underground with Mike Oldfield and Eno.  I mean, come on? It cost about a quid and it was 25 minutes away from home.  The late, great Ollie Halsall plays lead guitar.  I'm smiling now as I write this!

Doing The Inglish by The Home Service is the first song recorded by this mighty ensemble.  It may sound dated - it is! - but what a group.  A huge mighty sound when they got going.  They opened the Barbican with a fantastic concert supported - for Christ's sake - by Richard Thompson.  You can't make this stuff up, you know.  This song simply celebrates Englishness -  a less earnest and cynical version of Roots, I guess.  Good fun though.  It was written by two of the greatest living Englishmen it has been my pleasure to meet: Bill Caddick and John Tams.

You only have to hear the riff from Reelin' In the Years by Steely Dan to smile.  What can I say? I did think about putting Only A Fool Would Say That from the first album on instead.  But - what a great song, the guitars are worth the entrance price alone.  Of course (geek hat on), it was influenced by Wishbone Ash and their harmony guitars, as were Thin Lizzy.  Which of these three bands is a) still going b) still releasing albums of original material and c) still matter? I'm looking forward to the Ash's next tour.

I could not imagine creating such a playlist without a John Martyn song.  The obvious one was going to be May You Never and I just felt that I needed to be maybe just a little bit obvious.  But "you've been such a strong brother to me" . .  . rest in peace, John, I never, ever saw a bad gig. And your likes will not be seen in these parts again.

I drove my family both a) around Scotland and b) mad, playing The Stamping Ground by Runrig a few years ago (both at the same time).  Wall of China really just makes me want to play air guitar around the kitchen.  Well, actually it DOES make me play air guitar around the kitchen - and I may have only put it on purely to introduce the next song.

I stood in a field a few years back (last century?) watching Neil Young for the first time.  I'd been a fan since 1970 but this was the first time I'd seen him live.  So 30-odd years later there we are. My mate turned to me as this song blasted out across the rain-sodden park and said, "You could die now, couldn't you?"  What he meant - and I knew full well, - was that I'd seen everything and couldn't be happier. Er, well, I think that's what he meant (help me out here Brendan). Like A Hurricane, my god what better song could he have played?  Oh yeah, Cortez The Killer.  Well, he played that too.

However despite popular belief, I did not shuffle off the mortal coil at that point and remain your humble servant.

By the way, the Man of Constant sorrow is a painting of Jesus in Scotland by William Dyce.  A fantastic, late, Pre-Raphaelite Brother.  And did those feet . . ?

Sunday, 28 November 2010

put another log on the fire for me

I can't believe that it's so cold
And there ain't been no snow.
The sound of music comes to me 
From every place I go.
Sunday morning and there's no-one in church
But the clergy's chosen man
And he is fine, I won't worry about him,
Got the book in his hand.

Thanks, Sandy.  We've certainly got no snow.  And it's Sunday.
burner - not really working

It's been an interesting weekend.  It's certainly worked out better than I thought it would, given that I was supposed to be in Yorkshire doing the Three Peaks.

As the news suggested that this weekend was going to be a white-out in most places, I became hopeful that the trip was going to be cancelled - it wasn't my call to make. Up until 9:30 on Friday morning, it was still looking like we had to go.  Thankfully someone had the sense to call the whole thing off.

Friday evening meant a visit to the capital of Suffolk to see the rather wonderful Show of Hands who were firing on all cylinders and produced a cracking set - their version of Boys of Summer was a personal highlight.

Saturday at home meant that I didn't have to get up and scrape the car down at the crack of sparrow fart and drive up to Yorkshire - or more likely, sit on the A1 freezing to death. So, a leisurely day was had instead.  We had kippers from Pinney's of Orford for breakfast and a stroll into town to spend large amounts of money unnecessarily.  Lunch at a local Italian-style hostelry (a veggie platter and a glass of Adnams) before going over to Ipswich to Sainsbury for the weekly shop. It's an exciting life - mind you, given the alternative weekend I was expecting, a much better one.

So, over lunch we discussed the idea of a walk on Sunday as we weren't hill-walking - I guess it'd be flat-walking here.  Yes, we could wander through the woods and gather some branches to paint white and decorate for the coming festivities.

Was I dreaming that my life was being directed by Frank Capra? On waking in our snow free town, I was informed that what would be a good idea would be to go and buy a new vacuum cleaner.  Ah yes, a much better idea.  Anyway, thankfully the local House of the Book of Laminated Dreams had one so I didn't have to go all the way in to Ipswich again for what would have been the third time this weekend. Whilst we were out we went and gathered some winter fu-oo-el from the hardware shop.

Which brings us to the here and now, trying to get the damned wood burning stove working as it's really cold in the back room - yes, I know I could go into the kitchen where it's warm but the computer is in the back room. I know that men are supposed to all be pyromaniacs and experts at burning things but I do struggle to keep the damned thing alight.  Mrs Dave has just fiddled with it and it's "going well now" - there's a sort of look of disdain and a slight hint of "now leave it alone".

I've already prepared dinner - Beef in Marston's Oyster Stout, if you're interested. So all seems well.

And finally, on to a subject that seems to strike fear in many a red-blooded man.  "Home Improvements".  Yes, it has a sinister ring, doesn't it?  Anyway, Mrs Dave has taken a sort of Zen approach to "H.I." recently.  After last week's successful putting up of the IKEA shelves, a new phenomena has occurred - the "illusion of space". This was created by tins of tea and other kitchen paraphenalia being placed on the shelves, thus creating some space which therefore gives this illusion of space.  To create another illusion of space, the chopping board near the sink has been turned round so the narrow part of the oblong board now faces out to me whilst I am, indeed, chopping up things.  This has created a much more harmonious space on the kitchen worktop.  Well, at least the illusion of said space.

Through using this wonderful way of creating space, I have tried it here in the back room.  I've moved a few books off of the table and onto some shelves.  Blimey!  Once again, the illusion of space and uncluttered space has been created.  Excellent, so I'm going to go around the house improving it by creating the "illusion of space" everywhere.  Very soon we'll have created the illusion of so much space, our house will be like Dr Who's Tardis.

In the meantime I'm praying for snow. However now we're considered "key workers" we are required to make it in to school no matter what.  The onus has been put onto us "key workers" and we have to decide for ourselves whether or not it is safe to come in to work.  Unfortunately I live a 20 minute walk away from my school so I'll no doubt have to go in no matter what.

Bloody fire's going out again . . .

Sunday, 21 November 2010

if i'm dreaming my life

I've been listening to David Bowie most of this weekend.  Bloody bloke, he's always 'round here complaining about something or other.  Personally, I think Mrs Bowie prefers him to keep out of the house - I don't think she likes him taking cocaine in front of their daughter now she's of an impressionable age. Anyway, after living with all that 1970s stuff, I thought I should catch up with a few more recent albums - nothing too recent, of course.

I really like "hours . . ." and read recently that "Heathen" is better. We're talking turn of the century here, so quite modern, really. Well, the jury's still out but there are some good songs on the latter, especially Everyone Says Hi, so I'll keep listening.

So, it's Sunday.  The day of rest.  An opportunity to catch up on a few chores.  You know, those five minute ones.  First up, get rid of the "beer fridge" (idly interested parties are referred to last week's blogs) - so a few minutes after I got up, I managed to do my back in a bit.  Great. Next up how about checking why the security light by the back door won't come on?  Probably the halogen bulb has blown.  A simple task.

Now, if you invent something that is designed to be kept outside in all weathers, would it be too ridiculous to ensure that the one screw that is likely to be needed (ie to change bulbs, etc) would be either weatherproof or covered in some way?  Okay, thought not.  A design fault, I guess. Or just too much to ask.

So, the rusted screw that now has a hole that no earthly screwdriver could possibly work on is totally impossible to remove.  So, the five minute job of changing a light bulb now becomes a hunt to find exactly the same model (on Sunday) and a need to turn all the electricity off in order to put said replacement on.  Now, I know that it is entirely possible to isolate the area of the house electrics to enable such emergency work, but if there's one thing I won't do, it's mess about with electrics when there's ANY chance of  being electrocuted. So, it all gets turned off. First, off I go to the local "Homebase" and, yes, unbelievably, an exact replacement is found.  Readers who know the Jack Dee sketch about DIY may begin to smile at this point - my facility for inventive foul language is well known around these parts.  The neighbours are kept amused by the colourful new verbs and adjectives I invent.  Perhaps that's why Mr Bowie was around again.

Actually, it all went swimmingly - replacement part found and replaced in a few minutes. No need for the family to move out for any length of time. But, a five minute job on a Sunday morning can so often become a full day's chore if you're not careful. Electrics changed and working, all tickedy-boo. Then I spent the rest of the afternoon putting up shelves in the kitchen.  I have in the past managed to keep things bought from Ikea hanging around for quite a while - a year is my personal best.  But, I was put into an awkward situation and forced to put up the giant shelves.  Obviously, it goes without saying that they were never going to fit in the space allocated.  So the electric saw was involved.  An electric saw and an electric drill - recipes for disaster both.  Oh well, sometimes the bullet has to be bitten.  All worked out okay.

The truth is I've plundered my eldest's cd collection whilst she's away in sunnier climes so I've found Mr B's "Heathen" cd - not bad at all.  I've also managed to purloin  Kate Bush's "Hounds of Love" and several Ryan Adams' albums I'm unfamiliar with.  All excellent stuff.

Mrs Dave and I went out for a meal last night to a local Brasserie.  I thought the cod loin was too good to miss despite my reservations about the "bed of roasted artichokes" - obviously Jerusalem Artichokes. Are you familiar with said beasts?  The impact upon one's stomach can be devastating, but I really didn't fancy anything else.  Well, along with the lighting problem, I had to deal with the after effects of the artichokes - I'm not adverse to a little, er, wind after a night out, but Jesus, these devils really are in a World of their own.  Standing up a ladder fighting with rusted screws that won't budge in the freezing cold with - literally - a tail wind isn't the best way to spend Sunday morning.

God knows what the neighbours thought.  Speaking of which, I made a rhubarb crumble for pudding tonight.  The rhubarb was given to us earlier in the year by a well-meaning neighbour.  That David Bowie, since he got his allotment hasn't stopped showing off his green fingers.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

morgan the pirate

Mrs Dave has been wandering around the house dressed in an eye-patch with a colourful scarf about her head, white frilly blouse and long black boots.  Yes it's that time of year again (quiet at the back) - Children in Need. Tomorrow at her school there will be plenty of sixth formers and staff willing to go "ooh-arr" and "avast there land lubber".

I won't.

Okay, as no one else will be wearing a suit etc then, of course I won't either.  I'll wear civvies and pay my pound for the privilege. However, with heavy heart, I'll enter a full teaching day knowing that class after class will have assumed that "non-uniform day" means "leave the brain and manners at home day".  Alright, cynical I know but I have suffered this, sorry, experienced this, for quite a few years. Don't get me wrong, I'm more than happy to give money to charity, it's the complete refusal by pupils to accept that they're still expected to learn and work that gets my goat.

Ah well, I've not been into work today.  I felt awful yesterday.  I won't regale you with the full details but I did spend a lot of time rushing to the loo.  We had a sixth form parent's evening afterwards which meant that basically I spent about 11 hours at school yesterday (feeling awful) so I felt fully justified on waking up with gut-ache and a sore throat to not go in today.

Just for once - and I mean this most sincerely, friends* - I didn't do any work.  I messed about with guitars and crosswords.  I felt that I needed a complete rest (a recharge). However, as soon as I thought that I felt okay and I'd be back at the chalkface tomorrow, I thought I'd better do some work. Any other jobs make people feel like this?  I'm ill and I feel guilty, for Christ's sake.  One day I'll win the lottery . . .

*thank you Michael Miles.  

Monday, 15 November 2010

twilight alehouse

It was a damp November evening and I set off from the East Coast on my annual visit to the Hitchin Folk Club - still often mentioned in dispatches by Radio 2, Froots magazine et al as one of the best folk clubs in the country. I started returning a few years ago when they started booking an annual visit by tonight's guests. An easy drive, despite poor weather, and I was looking forward to seeing John Tams and Barry Coope.  After all, it was Remembrance Sunday so I was sure that it would be an emotional evening for Tam, and indeed for us. As always, they delivered and it was a cracking gig. Plenty of songs from the past and various shows that he's been involved in over the years.  Over The Hills and Far Away (theme song from Sharpe) and several from War Horse (currently being filmed by Spielberg) although not Scarecrow from Alright Jack.  The Home Service are reforming so I'll look out for those gigs - a live album from the Cambridge Folk Festival which I'm sure I was at.  Excellent.

A few things have changed over the years since I left the area. The last act I went to see when I lived down that way was the Oysterband some 22 years ago.  In those days there was a bar upstairs at the Sun Hotel and they had support acts and floor singers. Nowadays the main act play two sets and the support act is the raffle. And there's no bar upstairs. Everybody queues up like the good Englishmen we are - it was a long queue, though, at half time. Brendan suggested we go across the courtyard to the other bar. Good idea quoth I.  It appeared to be shut.  Never mind, let's nip 'round the corner to the one in the market square.  Shut. The Red Hart? Shut. The King's Arms, shut. As were all the others. 

Sunday night in Hitchin - in the town centre - and there wasn't a single pub open.  I've never known anything like it. It wasn't like that in my day.  We ended up at the back of the ridiculously long queue  waiting at the hotel bar. I remember when Hitchin was the place to go to find where all the parties were. It was a ghost town. It was like being in Letchworth before the Black Squirrel opened.

Even in sleepy Suffolk it's difficult to find a pub that's shut. Oh how time's have changed.  If anyone has any ideas as to how this sad state of affairs has come about, I'd be interested to know.  I'm pretty sure it wasn't anything to do with Remembrance Sunday - there were quite a few pubs open in other parts of the town as I drove my weary way home.  100 miles. Tired and slightly astounded.

Despite the pub thing, Brendan pointed out that there were only two young people in the audience.  He said, "There's not really a generation behind us."  And I guess he's right.

The vibrant folk club culture has gone and it seems that our traditional social life of pubs is very quickly disappearing.  I'm beginning to feel like a character from Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford watching the old ways go:

One last drink and then I'm on my own
Still trying to make the long voyage home

Sunday, 14 November 2010

who'll blow the candle out tonight?

And so the youngest child becomes a man. Eighteen years ago I had to rush out of the house to the first frost of the year to scrape the Sierra down (remember them?) and drive in a panic to Ipswich in miserable weather.

Flash forward eighteen years later.  Last night he had a soiree - NOT a party.  Mrs Dave and I spent all day shopping, preparing food and driving him into Ipswich to meet up with a crowd of friends.  They all went to see Let Me In while we continued to prepare food etc. When they all turned up we had to go out.  So we hopped into a taxi and were whisked away to the Hand In Hand pub to see some friends playing in a band.  A very pleasant evening, too.  When we got home we found our son ushering everyone out of the house.  Obviously this busy day celebrating had tired him out.  The previous evening he'd been to someone else's 18th birthday party.  This one was organised in a bar - a good way to celebrate your coming of age.  Unless, of course, you are not actually 18 until the following day. They refused to serve the lad because he wasn't old enough!  I think having your birthday either on the night or a few days later might have been a little more sensible.

My son's friends tended to ignore the large amount of lager we'd bought for them which may be a good thing for the Mrs but not really for me as I don't tend to drink the stuff. I'm sure we'll manage somehow.

Ah well, off to Hitchin tonight for my annual return to the Sun Hotel where the Hitchin Folk Club has existed for the last 25 or so years.  John Tams is an annual fixture and I can usually guarantee seeing him at least once a year, so off I go.  No wine this afternoon with the slow cooked lamb, then.

Probably a good thing. I really do need to cut down:

it takes a lot of wine to cheer up my mind
and i've drained a few bottles for sure
but now i find - i'm not so inclined
to spend so much of my time on the floor
                                                 (you keep me right on line - john tams)

Thursday, 11 November 2010

a stick on fire

I should think things through more thoroughly, I guess. There are, of course, probably loads of firework/Bonfire Night songs.  There are probably whole blogs devoted to them. . .

I was thinking about Kate Bush the other day.  Not for the first time (in fact, there is a Kennedy effect at play here for those of us of a certain age: Where were you the first time you saw Kate Bush?*) but this is in relation to the previous post.

That November night, looking up into the sky,
You said, "Hey, wish that was me up there -
It's the biggest rocket I could find . . .

Yes, Rocket's Tail from The Sensual World - the one with Dave Gilmour, The Trio Bulgarka and, most probably, a kitchen sink. Totally barking - the verse about turning herself into a rocket! Great track and one, like the John Tams' one Brendan reminded us of, Winds of Change (Yalta, Bonfire Night 1992) from Unity, that I should have remembered. Ah well, blame it on the generals, blame it on their guns, blame it on the scarecrow in the rain.

Anyway, after a passing comment in the staff room, it would seem that everyone and his wife have written songs about the subject including Souxsie and the Banshees, Carter USM and all sorts of people I've never heard of. So, I'll draw a veil over the subject.

Another of our occasional cds is required: songs that make me happy.  12 tracks. So, thinking hat back on.

* One for another time, methinks.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

i just want to be your firecracker

We watched as fireworks zoomed up into the air over Stevenage Old Town.  Amongst the "oohs" and "aahs", I wondered why no one has ever written songs about Guy Fawke's Night.  I wasn't really thinking about all that  money going up in smoke - I quite liked it to be honest.  Maybe it's the beer, wine, baked potatoes and vegetable chilli that goes with it.  And the craic. After all we've been going to this particular do since last Century.


Now, I could be wrong and maybe someone is about to send me a list of songs I've missed (or ignored over the last 50+ years) but beyond light up the sky with Standard fireworks, I can't really think of any. No one else could either last night. I did think of a few American songs, most of which involve the Fourth of July.  Dave Alvin mentioned "Mexican kids are shooting fireworks below" and Ryan Adams provided the title of this blog, but I 'm racking* my brain for British November gunpowder references.  It all came down to the suggestion that I would have to write one. Oh alright then, watch this space . . .

It's weird going to your hometown for an evening and only dipping in and shooting out again the next day. To be perfectly honest, I only know a couple of places in the town - mostly the houses of my friends and the graveyard.  I feel no real attachment to the place - and why should I? I left it in 1982. Still, there is a sort of pull that I can't quite explain. A temporal ebb and flow, I guess.

On another note, dear reader, I seem to be under attack as far as personal emails are concerned.  All I can do - it seems to me - is to change my email account, so you may well get a new address to contact me.  120 junk emails yesterday - 237 today suggests that it's time I closed the current account.  I may be missing something here - I've done everything I've been told to to battle against it but I do feel totally fed up and hotmail don't seem too helpful about it. The small-minded criminals that rely on messing up our lives for whatever perverse pleasure they get from it may possibly be able to eloquently explian the point of what they do but it's beyond my comprehension.  At least another account may last for a few years as much as the last one did.

The end of an era, I suppose. 

*not exactly sure about the etymology here, but the popular vote is for this form as in "the rack" -  a popular torture instrument a few years back ( as in stre-e-e-tching . . .).

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

what shores?

I was brought up within a drinking culture.  Actually, I was brought up in a smoking culture but tended to veer away from that. My smoking career lasted from about 1973 to 1980.  I remember giving up on New Year's Eve 1980.  That's when it stopped.  I didn't really enjoy it - except for rolling your own Gauloise tobacco  cigarettes - well, we all have to grow up. And cycle to and from work. However, I've never given up drinking.  I can't see the point. What would be the point?  Health reasons?  The only doctor whoever mentioned it to me, mentioned it with a smirk.  I later found out he was the biggest dipso in our town . . .  and the only reason for our discussion was a brief course of antibiotics.

Anyway, alcohol.  Today on Radio 4 they made great play of the fact that it was the most destructive drug . . . blah, blah, blah . . . ad nauseum. Oh come on, I know people who have managed to wreck their lives by NOT drinking - choosing other ways to entertain themselves. I'm still around and I have a reasonably long list of friends who are much the same as me. Okay, I know that drinking isn't the answer - but it is an answer. Martyn Cornell runs a website about beer (http://zythophile.wordpress.com if you're interested) and has recently posted about the fact that ladies don't tend to drink beer despite the various attempts of the brewers to entice them to.  I maintain that the female of the species has more of a tendency to change over the years than the hairier of the species.

Personally, I enjoy drinking - it's social, fun and leads to great stories and I have had some of the most fantastic experiences of my life being involved with like-minded people. Okay, most of them can tell a story about me which I may not fully remember, but at least they remember who I am the next day!

And nowadays, I can remember them, too!

And please, check out the red triangles on the beer bottles in the Manet painting (Bass - remember?) - or else I will have to buy Brendan a pint.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

the autumn sun crash-landed a couple of fields away

I'll leave the physics to the Backroom Boys, but the elasticity of time seems to have come in to play this week. It's been half term - yes, it's gone with a similar whooshing sound to Douglas Adams' deadlines.  But we seem to have packed a lot in. Last Saturday we celebrated 28 years of Mrs Dave putting up with me by going to a 60th birthday party (don't ask). This basically was a rare occasion where we were the youngest in the room. Every so often, a silver haired person would wander up to me and ask, "how long have you got, then?" It all seemed a bit creepy until eventually I realised that they meant until retirement.  Well with the current government's way of thinking, I'll presumably die in-service because they keep putting the age of retirement up so that they won't have to pay any pensions.

Anyway, on Sunday we went up to Oxford to see my only surviving blood relative - my sister who has recently been going through chemotherapy; off the next day to Southampton to see second born and a quick respite at home to do some school work (marking) before planning the rest of the week away.

Interestingly, at Southampton, I picked up one of those booklets that one finds in hotels that offer all sorts of vouchers and money-off schemes that obviously nobody ever uses. We went to a rather swish restaurant called the White Star Line - do you have a sinking feeling about this story? - where we spent a fair bit of money on a meal.  BUT - and it's a big but - I had cut out a voucher from one of the aforementioned booklets.  The offer was for a free bottle of wine per couple buying a two course meal. The waitress went off to ask the manager, and they said that yes this was a valid offer.  Well, Mrs Dave and I and second born and her beau (a clue in this Friday's Independent crossword as "a young man") were two couples and we all ordered two courses. We proceeded to receive two bottles of house wine with our meal that we did not have to pay for (okay, they tried to charge for the second one but we had them by the short and curlies - in print). Now, that is £29 off of our meal.  Twenty nine of your earth pounds is actually quite a hefty amount.  Instead of £130+ we paid £106 or so.  Now. I'm not a tight person but £29 pounds off of a meal is actually quite a good deal.  The upshot of this is that wherever I go I see these booklets and have usually ignored them - I won't in the future: even in Ipswich I'll be popping in to the Tourist Information Centre to pick up a few leaflets. Anyway, fantastic food - I had the most expensive thing on the menu (Wild Sea Bass on a bed of Sweet Potato mash and spinach with a red wine and octopus jus in case you were wondering).  I'd go there again but I'll check the booklet to see if they've changed the offer to a bottle of house wine per table!

These restaurants presumably offer such deals on the assumption that most people won't bother to ask.  So rise up people, all you have to lose is . . . well, nothing really.

After that we went to Rutland.  As with most of you, I'm sure, all we knew of Rutland was Eric Idle's tv series in the 1970s.  A lovely little county.  However, we booked a Certificated Site and trundled off in Harvey to stay.  I had agreed to get there by about 5 o'clock but manged to turn up at about 7-ish.  When we eventually found it in the dark, the owner was putting his boots on and muttering under his breath - but just loud enough to be heard - "hmm, five o'clock, eh?".

Later in the rather er, unreconstructed village pub - The Sun in Belton - I was asked how I found "Basil". "Sorry?" I asked.

"Basil Fawlty - he's alright as long as you pay him upfront."

Ah yes - a familiar character, then. He told me to park carefully as people tend to reverse and churn up the site, so be careful. Cue yesterday morning after an evening of rain and Harvey struggled to move in the wet.  As we left the site, I looked back through the wing mirror and noticed that I had left a huge gash of mud across the field.  I don't know why, it just happened. We were thinking of going back as Rutland seemed nice and we quite liked the site but as so often seems to be the case we feel we can't go back, at least to that site.  I actually felt really bad about it, it was, after all, an accident, but I somehow feel that Basil will see it as a deliberate slur.  Ah well.

We walked in what some might consider to be God's Country, or the Intelligent Designer's or Rutland if you prefer, and found lots of sloes and an Arthur Rackhamesque tree - see for yourself. We saw a cormorant flying overhead, and we were nowhere near any sea as far as I could tell.

Driving through unfamiliar territory showed us the best of Autumn.  A great pleasure remains in travelling through England as the summer turns autumnal and the trees are dressed in red and gold especially in bright sunlight.  With the gently undulating hills of the East Midlands promising us farms that sell venison and bison and we saw beautiful (but well-heeled) villages every few miles, we kept "oohing and ahhing" and remarking on how nice it would be to live in such places.  It was a genuine situation of feeling that it was a joy to be alive.

I'd have loved to have jumped out and walk through some of the woods we passed and smell the fungal air of Autumn.  I need to get out next weekend to pick chestnuts.  However, that other reminder of Autumn will be upon us, Guy Fawke's Night.  We haven't even bothered this year with Hallowe'en and we haven't had a single knock on the door for trick or treat (an awful American import).

A wonderful weekend ensued, old friends and lots to drink and wonderful food (and company, needless to say).  And back to the East Coast in time to cook dinner and get ready to return to work tomorrow.  Well, sort of think guiltily about it.

Actually I could do with a week off.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

these last days

Saturday 5:00 pm: "What would you like to drink?"
Sunday 3:00 am: "I really think I need to go to bed now."

It's been a fairly busy time work-wise over recent months.  We decided to invite old friends down. The weather has been much better than we thought it would be. We had a Roasted Vegetable Terrine (roasted red peppers, aubergine slices, goat's cheese) to start and Roast Pork with fennel and preserved lemon to follow (accompanied by roast butternut squash and chestnuts). Afterwards - and before the all -important cheese board - chocolate mousse tartlets. I can't say how many bottles of wine were harmed in the making of that evening but you get the idea. About one o'clock this morning we met our son coming home as we were going out.  He went to bed and we went to the beach to light Chinese Lanterns and giggle - I had a can of London Pride in my pocket as it seemed the right thing to do. All very pretty - ghostly white lanterns gently drifting off above the sea. Some crashed and burned - the lanterns, that is. 10 hours.

Later, an impromptu jam with 12 string guitar and Stylophone (oh yes!) on Spancil Hill and Wild Mountain Thyme before fatigue overtook us. Who says us middle aged people don't know how to have fun?  Possibly the neighbours. Next week I'll have to go to the bottle bank again - I've only just got rid of the late summer load. Not a single glass of Single Malt came into play.  Unlike now as I write. A nightcap of Bowmore's Legend is helping me prepare my entry into Dreamland.

This afternoon we wandered up the coast to the Ferry taking in the early Autumn sun - and a welcome pint of Guinness to "blow away the cobwebs" as my dear old mum used to say. The apple tree pictured appears to have succumbed to the reaper - or a reaper - which is a shame. Gradually we wandered back, walking into the sun's glare.  A casserole of beef, chestnuts and red wine followed by a blackberry and apple crumble - we foraged the blackberries ourselves, as you may be aware.

Tomorrow we have to wake up and go to work.  It'll be another high pressured week of teaching, meetings and unnecessary claptrap.  But these last days* make it all worthwhile.

*Hats off to Roy Harper for the title.  He seemed to feature heavily on Saturday night, too.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

personal jesus

Some of the more astute amongst you may have realised that 93%* of the titles I choose are song titles. I was going to choose "No More Heroes" but it was far too obvious.

However, let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late - as the thief kindly spoke**. Many years ago, and I'm talking last Century, my best school mate (you know who you are) and I wrote to our then current hero  and - this is almost unbelievable - he wrote back.  Not a Beatles' style photocopied response or whatever, but a personalised hand-written letter (I'm aware that I teach young people who probably have no idea what the phrase "hand-written letter" may mean). Believe it or not - and I'm sure you do, I still have that letter.

Can you imagine the frisson of excitement that that very artifact may have caused to a couple of adolescent lads? Anyhow, Peter Hammill of Van der Graaf Generator (for it was he) wrote back to a couple of 15 year old Stevenage scrotes and we were over the moon about it.  Not for us the pop stars of the day, but we had  personal correspondence with a shooting star within the fickle firmament of 1970's music (anyone could have become a star - Dave Cousins or Roger Chapman anyone?).

So what has this got to do with the price of fish?  Well, nothing really, but this morning I had a slight frisson of excitement return when I received a personal email from none other than Nigel Slater (I'm fairly sure one of my readers will be impressed). I had written to him when I was bored on Sunday evening about his article on Sloe Gin in this week's Observer - I wanted him to be aware of the abundance of sloes on the East Coast (I know he visits the area often).

I don't want to come across as some sort of adolescent (immature) hero worshipper but it is pleasing to know that occasionally one's heroes do read their mail and do still answer personally.  Okay, not the two page hand-written response PH gave us all those years ago, but an acknowledgment at least.

Otherwise, Mark Gatiss's History of Horror is worth a look and it looks like his version of H G Wells's The First Men In The Moon - both BBC4 - is well worth a look too. Also on BBC4 on Friday evening the Songwriter's Circle features John Hiatt and Joe Ely (and, unfortunately Lyle Lovett).  But Hiatt alone will be worth the admission price.

What's that? "Freeview"? Oh okay, so no admission price, then.

* given that 83.2% 0f statistics are made up on the spot . . .
** page 374 NOT 377 of Bob Dylan Lyrics 1962-1985 - oh god, is OCD contagious?

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Sloe Turning

The early moring sun was glinting on the sea and the gulls were wheeling on the stiff breeze.  It's the last gasp of summer - better than some August days - and too good to be sitting indoors marking.

Mrs Dave and I decided that a walk along the sea front up to the Ferry ( a hamlet/village at the end of the line) was worthwhile.  Why not take in the sunshine?  Although the breeze was fairly strong, it was warm.  It's not quite Autumnal enough yet to play Sandy Denny and wander about in woods amongst the fallen leaves picking chestnuts and smelling the dark musky fungi.

We've already made our Sloe Gin and picked enough wild cherry plums and blackberries.  But yesterday we walked through Rendlesham Forest and into Orford and were astonished at the size of sloes.  At one point we all had to scrabble through a blocked path - it was blocked by a single pregnant branch of Blackthorn (alright, Sloe).  So fecund this year.  It has almost made up for missing out on gathering elderflowers to make champagne.

Almost.

This weekend is one of those where you feel so glad to be alive.  The sea was crashing against the prom as we walked back from the Ferry towards home but the sun was so strong that even though I couldn't see, I walked home with a Cheshire Cat-sized grin.  Today was one of those days that made me realise why I lived here. No matter what merde is thrown at us over the next year (a shit storm brewing in education - Bad Wolf indeed!) we can still enjoy the day-to-day existence.

I don't know if either of you has been enjoying the BBC4 series of Songwriter's Circles on Fridays (or iPlayer) but last week's with Thompson, Vega and Wainwright was fantastic.  This week's just showed how Justin Currie (of Del Amitri) was one of the saving graces of the 1980s - Mrs Dave actually applauded after each of his songs! Wonderful stuff.  I must get back into writing a few lines with one or two chords attached myself.  If only I could sing, it is with a voice such as his that I would wish to sound like.  Emotive, melodic, with a slight bit of grit.

Ah well, it was never to be.  I'll continue with the voice I was blessed with: "Could you just mime, please, Leeke? You're putting the piano player off."

Sunday, 26 September 2010

windmills of your mind

Hmm . . . interesting.  The world seems to have moved on a few stages whilst I was looking the other way.  As a teacher, the initials AQA have always meant an exam board.  However, if you text 63336, you get another company called AQA. Any Questions Answered.

I thought I'd try it out - it costs £1:50 but they seem to want you to use the facility so I got another one free. Anyway, I thought I'd be a bit clever and rather than try "What's the Meaning of Life" type questions, I'd ask something a bit harder. So I tried "How Many Times Do You Have To Fall Before You End Up Falling?"  (the title of a Richard Thompson song as any fule no*).  Within minutes, I received a reply:

"Some children don't fall at all when they are learning to walk. Others fall dozens of time (sic). The average age children start walking is 16 months."

Okay, not the answer required but I don't know what I was expecting - possibly a long wait and an incomprehensible answer.  But they delivered!  My god!  I'm going to use this in the classroom.  If the buggers are going to keep using their phones, they might as well be using them to help them become useful adults!**  What a wonderful resource.

Just for your information, I'm reading Ian Gilbert's guide to 21st Century teaching called Why Do I Need A Teacher When I've Got Google? I won't  be a teacher for too much longer in this century but I do want to remain useful for a year or two more.

*Obviously, the song is about making mistakes - of the heart most likely, knowing RT.
** It's not what knowledge you have but how you use it.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

not like jordan

The sea breeze blew gently through our hair and the expectancy was high. A slightly salty smell reached our nostrils.  Just a few hundred yards away from the town where we live, but we needed to cross the River Deben to get there.  We'd had reports from friends that there was wild food in abundance nearby.  It was late afternoon and Mrs Dave and I had managed to complete any outstanding work - I'd got up at the crack of sparrow-fart and marked some essays. We'd had breakfast, and indeed lunch (Raclette with potato and prosciutto, wonderful).  The ferry from our town to the Radar capital was still running (until 6:00 pm) so we were able to go across the water and enjoy an hour or so foraging.

Bawdsey is well known for its place in the WWII war game  - the home of radar and all that, but now it offers a quiet hamlet that is only disturbed by the occasional tourist seeking solitude or, indeed, wild food.

We parked at the local pub ( there was a space - why pay?) and jumped onto the ferry.  We asked the Ferryman (Mrs Dave paid - haha*) where we could find the reported wild plums and he, cryptically told us we could go left or right.  Thanks.  We went left and found a huge amount of blackberries.

Wandering on a little further we found a single bush that offered us enough sloes to make a couple of  bottles of sloe gin. Whilst I took off my gloves and got down to business, Mrs D concentrated on blackberries.  When we got a bit bored we thought we'd wander on - bramble on? - down the road apiece.  What did we find but a load of wild cherry plums?  Wonderful! We - I say we but I mean I, managed to ensconce myself into a small roadside grove that offered a huge amount of wild plums and plucked to my heart's content. Beautiful red fruit growing wild, fantastic taste.  Heaven.

I don't know why this particular area is so abundant with fruit - if you want elderberries, look no further.  I will be here in the spring when I want to collect elderflowers to make champagne.  I suppose it has been ignored generally through either lack of interest or just plain secretiveness (?) and this area of Suffolk is generally quiet. Ah well, I need to get across here more.

I have only ever been across to Bawdsey a few times in the twenty years or so that I have lived down here - I strongly suspect that I will be taking more and more advantage of the opportunities available now that I know that I can forage successfully.

Sloe Gin, blackberry pies and some sort of plummy sauce beckons.  I've already seen a few useful sites for picking fruit in the future - heaven on Earth.

We move in god's country.

* Who pays the  . . . .

waiting for the ferry, tickets in our hand
good people that were never out of sight of land. . . 

. . . and we're all on board
it's not very far to ride
your river is not like Jordan
we'll meet on the other side

Saturday, 11 September 2010

a scholarly man

We do not live in a paper-less world. Interestingly, with the advent of the web and all things cyberspace, many doom-mongers were informing us of the death of paper.  However, I often refer people to the magazine section of W H Smiths and suggest they check out how many magazines are devoted to the internet. And the amount of packs of printer paper that are sold every day. So, leaving the ghostly realm for a while, I have just purchased the latest edition of Guitar & Bass Magazine.

I was idly perusing the letter pages whilst waiting for someone to make me some lunch when there seemed something familiar about a photograph on said pages.

It may appear familiar to others amongst you, too as it appeared last month here. This simple picture was taken on my phone and accompanies a letter (actually an email) I sent to the magazine.  I certainly didn't expect it to be printed - I was actually just thanking them for an article they published earlier in the year.  Obviously I ingratiated myself by congratulating them for their  "lucid, well-written articles".  But, print it they did!  The editor said that my "endeavours (are) an example to us all".  And not only that, it was this month's Star Letter.  Star Letter - no ordinary, namby-pamby every day letter. The letter that wins a prize.

Unfortunately, much to Mrs Dave's chagrin, the prize is yet another guitar soft gig bag, but you can never have too many gig bags. It does mean that the black guitar case with fluorescent orange fur lining (once seen, never forgotten) is going to have to be retired.  I've had that since circa 1975.  All things pass, I guess.

So, I am finally in print.  Not self-published or a blog post.  It quite made my day.

Off to Jimmy's Farm Harvest festival tomorrow to see Kate Rusby and that young dreadlocked fellow I saw earlier this year.  I hope he brings out his guitarlele.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

albion sunrise

Well, as the voiceover on the 1960's tv version of Batman used to say, "anything can happen in the next half hour!"

Just after I finished whinging about this blasted cd that I couldn't play, third born came downstairs and told me he'd managed to burn a cd of it on his computer. Now, it's not as simple as that.  First I had to get the new disk to play.  Eventually I did manage (this from a complete Luddite).  So, I now have the whole cd on my iPod.

World saved.


. . . except to ask why he couldn't do it about six months ago.  Ah well, everything comes and all that.

a nameless kind of hell

I wrote yesterday about Greyfriars, the ruins of a Franciscan Monastery near the lost city of Dunwich.  As I said, I knew nothing about it.  I was reading W. G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn this morning whilst supping the first cup of tea of the day.  It's a book about travelling through Suffolk whilst thinking a lot.  That's the sort of thing I do. Anyway -there it is, synchronicity in action, some very informative stuff about the way Dunwich was taken by the sea and how the ruins I came upon were first built around 1230.  They were abandoned and rebuilt after 1238.  However, according to good old Wikipedia, the sea has continued to erode the cliffs and the ruins will probably go the way of the rest of Dunwich. The Ship nearby is the only pub, it's a bit gastropub but serves a welcome pint of Adnams. Dunwich, by the way, was a city of some 3000 and was considered the capital of East Anglia.

Whilst I am writing this, I am listening to a fascinating Radio 4 documentary of Peter Warlock the composer.  Again, syncronicity in action as he was featured heavily in Electric Eden. Complete nutter - he wrote folk songs, rode around naked on his motorbike and enjoyed the occasional menage a trois and had "a kitchen swimming in beer".  Sounds like a lively sort of guy who was probably born about 30 years too early.  Shame he burned out and committed suicide at the age of 28. Why do people think the Pogues were so new and rebellious.  I was in a band that got banned from a pub in 1974! For fighting!!  It's a long story. Anyway, Warlock would have enjoyed being in a band with me. Actually, he probably wouldn't have, no one else did.

I have had the most bizarre and infuriatingly frustrating situation for the past six months or so. I own a copy of 1990 by The Albion Band on vinyl, I would love to have it on my iPod. I have bought three copies of it from sellers on Amazon as it's not readily available on cd. Not a single one works on my Bose or on any of the computers in the house.  I've sent each one back and recieved a refund although the current one is suspicious as it plays on his cd player.  I've discovered that it works on the cd/radio alarm by our bed and in the car but that isn't terribly helpful as I can't get it downloaded into a more useful format.  I understand the guy may be a suspicious but I've found that people never believe you unless you can prove it.  Oh well, I guess I'll have to give up on my quest.  It seems to me that there's a "digital pressing error" (I made that up).  Anyone out there who can help?  I'm not mad, it really won't work!

Anyway, today as I'm sure you are aware is St Bartholomew's Eve.  It is a day when traditionally schoolboys would pit their wits against each other.  No one knows why.  However, tomorrow is St Bartholomew's Day.  Not much is known about him at all but he was flayed alive and beheaded; he became ironically the patron saint of people who work with knives (and tanners). It's also Plague Sunday next week.  If you've ever been to Eyam in Derbyshire, you'll know all about it.  Mind you, it's only celebrated in Derbyshire.  In fact, it's probably only celebrated in Eyam.

I'm sure some of you know that in English pubs ale is sold in pints and quarts.  Years ago in taverns when the customers got a bit unruly, the bartender used to yell at them to "mind your pints and quarts and settle down".  That's where the phrase "mind your Ps and Qs" comes from. Another one of those fascinating facts tomorrow!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

wild, wild horses

I trudged wearily late yesterday afternoon on the Sandlings Walk becoming increasingly frustrated by many of the nightjar signs being somewhat elusive.  Possibly, due to me pencilling the route on my map some six years ago, I may have missed the way some things change in the world of ordnance surveying.  Perhaps as my map is that old, some woodland paths have changed - not the trail but the private woods.  Anyway, I did manage to lose my way a few times - I maintain that several of the waymarked signs have disappeared. In fact, in places some of the signposts themselves were rotten and not being kept in a decent state of repair - that could be very dangerous in the Peaks or wilds of Yorkshire, for example.

Anyway, I managed to finish the walk but my poor aging body thinks that I did far more than fifteen miles! I was pleasantly surprised by seeing an adder, two red deer circling me (big buggers, aren't they?) and basically walking on possibly the hottest day of August in Suffolk.  What I didn't expect was to walk into a herd (?) of wild horses - Polish konic horses I believe.  These were okay about me walking past them - I had my trusty walking pole in case - I'm not good with large animals, and these are quite large.  One thing I do know about horses is that they kick and if that happened, it would hurt.  I gingerly managed to pass them only to come upon a few more a couple of hundred yards up the track.

Another unusual thing was to come across the ruins of a 13th Century Monastery in the middle of, well, nowhere.


There is a small community - larger than a hamlet around it called Greyfriars with houses called White Friars, East Friars et al, but it was a surprise to stumble on to a place that I had no idea existed.

The other interesting (to me) phenomena was the plethora of huge fungi out there in the Suffolk wildlands.


The light was unusual here.  I'm no expert but the taller ones to the left look like Stinkhorns to me but probably aren't.

By the time I got to Southwold, I was absolutely shot.  By Southwold docks I sat down and as I drew a few breaths, took a glug of water and rubbed my aching back, I thought I recognised a person walking past.  It was the partner of a friend of mine and they and their twin sons were busy about a hundred yards from me fishing for crabs.  I believe Southwold is the best place to catch crabs.  Still, moving on . . . so the end to my journey meant a drink in the Red Lion just near Gunhill with some old friends whilst Mrs Dave turned up too to take me home.  All-in-all, a successful day.

At least I can stop saying that I've nearly walked the Sandlings Walk, now I can actually say that I've walked it.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

egrets, i've had a few

I've been wandering around the Suffolk countryside today.  I only went for a three and a half mile walk around the Trimley Marshes in preparation for tomorrow's final assault on the Suffolk Sandlings Walk. I started the said walk some few years ago and still have about fifteen miles to go.  Mrs Dave will drop me off where I finished last time (at Sizewell) and I will walk on to Southwold to finish it.  More about that tomorrow.

Mrs Dave and I went for a cycle ride on Sunday by the River Camel in Cornwall - it was a five mile flat track from Wadebridge to PadStein (does he really own it all?) - and we coped well.  Fair-weather cyclists, I guess.  Anyway, halfway there on the mudflats, what should I see but several Little Egrets checking out the local food supply? Now, I have become a complete apologist for these rather wonderful creatures - I believe breeding programmes from France in the 1990s created the current surfeit of the ghostly little buggers but they're now an accepted part of our English wildlife, which is great. I had never seen one in my youth (ie the 1960s - my birdwatching days).  Still, climbing up the embankment and watching the wild fowl was a thrill. FOUR egrets, several cormorants, a pair of green sandpipers and a pair of grey herons messing about in fields full of sheep -  I don't care where life is going, but I know that Life goes on.

I must admit that with the various sightings (which included a muntjac doe) just brings you back to being completely blown-away by the wonderful, abundant, indigenous life we have all around us. Just keep your eyes open.

The last time I saw loads of egrets was last year in fields by the Nile (along with some wonderful Pied Kingfishers). So, they now seem to be regular British birds,

Oh well, onward towards the rest of the Sandlings Walk.  More after that.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

one of these things first

And here I am again.  After a week or so away exploring the further reaches of Albion's shores, I'm back sitting here with a lot of food for thought. I've finished Rob Young's Electric Eden which at some 650 pages is a mighty tome.  It'll take a while to put some of the thoughts that came to me whilst reading it together, but it is in some ways a culmination of my recent year or so's reading list.

Interestingly, whilst we've been sojourning in Cornwall in Harvey, I've had a lot of time to think about much of the subject matter of the book.  We took in the Eden Project, the Lost Gardens of Heligan (we managed to find them) and, of course, the St Austell's brewery tour.  Well, it wouldn't be a holiday without one, would it? But this all came together at the same time.  However, after spending a week reading the book and thinking about all the lovely pastoral English music mentioned, I immediately started listening to Los Lobos as soon as I got home.  Ironically enough, the new album - Tin Can Trust - arrived the same day firstborn arrived in Mexico - a sort of cultural exchange, I guess.

Electric Eden was a mighty undertaking - to write I mean, not to read - and despite the omissions and occasional mistakes, it was a joy to read.  Personally, I would have liked John Tams to have been featured and I certainly would like to have seen The New Merlin's Cave discussed. It was a folk club near King's Cross in the mid-70s and its resident floor singers were - for god's sake, this is almost unbelievable - Richard & Linda Thompson, Simon Nicol (aka Hokey Pokey), Steve Ashley, the Dransfields and Royston Wood. I spent a few evenings there less than sober to be sure!  I remember one evening where RT was showing a friend of mine how to play Roll Over Vaughn Williams whilst Steve Ashley and I tried to drink each other under the table whilst some poor sap was trying to perform on stage!** Years later at Hitchin Folk Club I met up with him again and he remembered the evening well.  I'd already formed an acquaintance with RT et al as I had booked them for the fateful gig at Stevenage College mentioned in Patrick Humphries' biography of RT.  I was also at a major discussion at a University College Union gig (5/12/73*) just before RT formed Sour Grapes and a huge group of us (the late Tim Hart amongst others was certainly present) tried to come up with a name for the band as they were just about to go on tour with Traffic. This was all in the days before the conversion to Islam.  They all drank quite heftily then, I can assure you!  Anyway the name "Sour Grapes" never figured that evening - "Thompson's Gazelle" was the favourite.  My own rather immature attempts ( I was about 17 then) were dismissed out of hand.  Understandably.I won't bore you with them but they were more akin to a Viz idea of band names than a serious attempt at "making it".

Still, tempus fugit and all that.  Where was I?  Oh yes, thinking about all this pastoral stuff.  The 1970s were an interesting time, certainly, and much of the music has lived on.  My wanderings in Cornwall and the reading of this book have certainly brought some things together but I fear that it is all for another day.  Right now, I'm very much in the present and need to finish making dinner and have a beer.


Did you know that whistles used to be part of old tankards so that drinkers could whistle for another drink (so the waiter could bring a tray . . .) and this is the reason we use the term to "wet your whistle"? Oh well, suit yourself.

* No, I don't have an encyclopeadic mind, it's in Clinton Heylin's flawed book on RT's gigs and recordings.  It's flawed because it doesn't have the aforementioned Stevenage College gig in it (10/1/74 - sadly, I still have the contract!) where Hokey Pokey supported Al Stewart.

**I think that in retrospect, it would have been better the other way round!  I'd have liked to have had a personal lesson from RT. Hinton and Wall's excellent biography of Ashley Hutchings gives more info on New Merlin's Cave - it was set up by Steve Ashley and only lasted a few months.  I feel privileged to have attended it. (this written 23/8/10)