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)

Saturday, 7 August 2010

the blind time machine maker

I seem to remember from my reading of Richard Dawkins' work last century that evolution takes place in a series of leaps.  You know, all that stuff about eyes not gradually developing but jumping to the next generation fully-formed (my memories not what it used to be). I think the next leap forward in the evolution of ants has recently happened.*

I've been trying to figure out how flying ants can just appear without being seen to fly from one place to another.  Presumably, they've been thinking, "Right, okay lads, we've got to get out from behind his fridge and past that sticky stuff that seems to stop us getting out into the wider world.  Any ideas?"

I'm suggesting that some sort of teleportation device has been created.  Or possibly a Time Machine rather like the one used to send Bruce Willis backwards and forwards in Time in 12 Monkeys.  A sort of 12 Ants, I guess. At least, this is my current theory.  They seem to suddenly appear on the windows, walls, saucepans, anywhere through sheer stealth - possibly some sort of cloak of invisibility could be another answer.

Ah well, first born's birthday and last day in England before she disappears off to teach in Mexico for two years today. I'm sure there's something more constructive I should be doing. Like pulling out the fridge - again - to spray "Deathlac" around.

* Or, of course, in the case of a Time Machine it could be any time past or present when it's invented . . .

Thursday, 5 August 2010

we never left the garden

A few things to comment on . . .

Firstly, I'd like to explain that last night took on a surreal tone.  After writing about My Death, somehow a sort of tiredness took over, and I managed to wake up at about 2 o'clock in the morning needing to go to bed - just like everyone else managed to at about 11 o'clock.  Also, there were seven pairs of boy's shoes in the hall - third born went to a party - but did they all wander in to see dad asleep?

However, I did actually spend an hour or so trying to change the battery in my Oral B "Pulsar" toothbrush. Whilst this venture was fuelled by several glasses of the Isle of Jura's finest export, I was totally sure that it was "really easy" to change the run-down battery.  After all, there was a battery in the easily accessible battery compartment.

Now, after un-screwing said apparatus, I found a Duracell battery, which needed a little help in being taken out of its compartment.  With the help of a Leatherman tool and a screwdriver, I soon manhandled this out.  The little connective thingy was soon bent back to accommodate the easier removal of said artifact, and all would be all right again with the world once I'd actually found an AAA battery. Which I did.

Most of the rest of the hour or so spent on this little job was actually spent trying to bend the little bugger back into shape to make sure that the connection and the battery actually, well - connected.  This didn't happen.  At all. Eventually, after the little silver connection broke off (possibly due to being bent into the "right shape" by yours truly) I gave up and decided that Oral B can't make modern tools very well.

This morning I had to get up really early (the 2 o'clock bedtime and copious quantities of Jura's finest didn't exactly help) to take Harvey to the garage* but eventually I managed to wander in to town to buy a new toothbrush.

When I got home and ripped off the packaging, I glanced over the small print on the back of the pack. The phrase "contains a non-replaceable Duracell battery" seemed to stand out.

I may have mentioned (I did) Rob Young's rather fine essay in last month's Sight and Sound and today I received his new book Electric Eden.  It was obviously an edited chapter from the book. Brilliant. He's a great modern journalist that understands totally where I come from and, unfortunately, he's written the book I probably was going to. So, at least he's saved me a huge amount of time.  Now, I have to go and read the 400-odd page tome.

Anyone vaguely interested in folk music (particularly the electric route taken by RT and co) will want to read this.

Be warned, it is a HUGE book.  Although the back cover says £17.99, I only paid about £9.99 on Amazon. More on it later.  I'm off to read some more of it.

*All's well - fuse blown; world saved.

la mort

Firstly, I'd like to remind you of a recent posting that mentioned the fact that no matter when I joined the A14, the song Abilene by Dave Alvin came on the old iPod. Well, as we left our town and joined the A14 in exactly the same place on Saturday in Harvey, Abilene by Dave Alvin came on. Now, I'm not superstitious but how come . . .? (Ronnie Lane joke there for any interested parties).

Whilst I'm on the subject of iPods . . . I may have mentioned the so-called "shuffle mode/random setting" on the infernal devices before.  Tonight whilst cooking (Kakavia from Jamie Does . . . Dallas page 252, I think) my iPod threw up this wonderful song from David Bowie Live at Santa Monica 1972 along with a whole string of songs about death.  Now, I know what you're thinking.  However, I 'm going to write about it anyway.

I was an arty type in the early '70s, so Bowie fascinated me.  I didn't buy into the whole thing, I mean I didn't become gay and wear make up and "men's dresses" and all that.  Well, not too often, anyway. But I did go to the first Rainbow gig where he played Ziggy Stardust (and Roxy Music played their second big London gig*).  As a fairly innocent lad of about 17, Bowie completely blew me away.  Perhaps I should re-phrase that. As I was at the gig alone I just sat and took in the whole thing and honestly, I'd not really seen anything quite like it.  Peter Gabriel and Genesis had prepared me for it so I wasn't completely spastic in time (thanks, Kurt) but when Bowie and Mick Ronson** sat and performed a short acoustic set, I really was totally blown away.  I had heard of Jacques Brel - many before me and after haven't - but Bowie's solo performance of My Death was astonishing.  I mean, Jesus,  a man not many year's older than me singing about mortality in such a way was quite a mind-blowing experience.  Listen to it if you can.  Then listen to Scott Walker's version (all available on the ubiquitous youtube).  I like Walker's version but, to me, he doesn't really get the angst or je nais sais quoi over.  Oh, I don't know . . . (haha).

Bowie's version (written by Brel in c. 1950 with English lyrics by Mort Shuman) was a bit of a revelation to me in 1972 ( Christ, I was only 17!).  I love it and still feel a thrill when I hear it. Bowie's version is hesitant and so youthful (I would think that a Doherty would give his left gonad to write/sound like that) but to me then it had a gravity to it that still resonates today.  Listening to it tonight unexpectedly threw me slightly.  The awareness of what is just beyond "the door" reminds me so much of my youthful angst (up until that point Peter Green's Man of the World was my guiding light). Solo, acoustic 12-string and an awareness of mortality framed this version.  Hesitant, maybe, but quite knowing.  I'd dedicate it to any that went before (there have been a few).  I really am beginning to get upset that I missed the night Bowie got up at Bowes Lyon to sing a few songs (this happened just before I was there to witness  - god help me, Iron Butterfly - or a great Strawbs gig with Rick Wakeman on keyboards).

I don't smoke a pipe, by the way, but it's a sly nod to both Jacques Brel photos AND the cover of Bowie Live.

Well, it seemed to make sense at the time.  Much like the 70s, I guess.

* I believe a supporting gig for Alice Cooper was the first
** Great guitarist but a man that was uncomfortable with the glam rock look of "builders in skirts".  The two of them performing a short acoustic set - Space Oddity, Andy Warhol and Kooks remains an abiding memory. My Death was always performed solo.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010


It was quite nostalgic standing in Knebworth Park yesterday morning. It was a bright sunny day and I could see the lovely, tiny St Mary's Church in the background.  I once went to a wedding there.  Nothing looked very different really. We were there to pick up our son who had been to a festival.  As it was what I would call a Heavy Metal Festival, it was a difficult job trying to spy him and his mates amongst the relentless sea of black T-shirts as the hordes of unwashed left the park.

I wondered how many of them still felt it was as good an idea as it seemed the night before to buy five foot totem poles with various ogre's heads on them, or plastic leatherette helmets with horns on? At least they won't have to buy them next year.

I looked back over the years since I worked at the park including the day I got paid for wandering around pretending to do something like "security" on July 20th 1974. I basically got paid a fiver ( a fair day's pay for a fair day out) to watch The Allman Brothers, The Doobie Brothers, Van Morrison, John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, Alex Harvey and, right at the bottom of the bill, Tim Buckley.  Everyone else there had paid £2.75 for an advanced ticket or £3 on the gate.  I know all this because whilst I'm writing this I am looking at the poster for the said event on my wall. Here it is:

Anyhow, it all happened last Century and I was still only a teenager. A lot of water has flowed, etc . . . and any other cliche you want to add.  Happy, carefree times though, I must admit. I hope my son and his friends enjoyed the weekend as much as I enjoyed festivals.  Obviously nowadays I tend to go to Cropredy.  Unfortunately we're not this year (I don't think much of the line-up and RT isn't on).

Ah well.  We had agreed to pick our son up but we were expecting to be later than we actually arrived as the plan was to pick them up in Harvey on the way back from the Midlands.  Then I was expecting to get up early this morning to take second born to Luton airport.

However, a frantic phone call on Sunday night brought us back early as she had discovered that the flight was MONDAY morning not Tuesday! So Mrs Dave had to drive Harvey down on Sunday night as I had spent the afternoon sitting in my sister-in-law's garden enjoying a glass or two of local ale (actually, it was Banks's bitter and the phrase "tolerate" might be closer to the truth).  It was a baptism of fire as she hadn't driven it on a road before.  She's used to it now!  All is well.  Second born safely in Croatia.

Actually, Harvey has to go to the garage to have its electrics looked at.  My brother-in-law stuck a multi-meter in the lighter to see if it worked.  He thought nothing of the sparks.  It would appear that it might have blown a fuse or two as we can't get the radio to work.  Or the cab lights.  Or, indeed, the lighter - not that we smoke but nowadays the lighter is used for other things.  Like solar panels to trickle-charge the battery.  Anyway - it needs looking at because I just look at these things and I have no idea whatsoever about how they work.  Like knitting.  How can you put some wool between two sticks, jiggle them about and come up with a jumper?  That's not a skill, that's witchcraft.

Anyhow, I digress.  It's a lovely day.  I don't know why I'm sitting here writing when I could be outside in the sunshine.  I've added a picture of the view as I sit and write. I've managed to avoid getting the washing on the line in the photo.  It all looks nice and verdant.  I suppose I should do as I've been told and go and get some Ant killer and toilet rolls.

It's that time of year when we get a little problem.  Ants, that is, the toilet rolls are because we've run out.

Rambleaway is a character in a traditional song.  It just seems apt because I'm, well, rambling away I guess.

They rambled the country from village to town
This Nancy she followed her true love around
He swore by the stars that he'd prove faithful and true,
In the very next town, well he bid her adieu.