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.


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."