Sunday, 9 December 2012

almost famous

Mrs Dave seemed quite bemused when J P Devlin from Radio 4's Saturday Live programme phoned early on Saturday morning. He asked to speak to me and we had a short chat. He was planning on interviewing me live on the programme about a small incident from the past but my mouth - as the Oysterband sing - gets me into trouble.

If you're familiar with Father Ted, you may be familiar with the episode where Ted tells Dougal to chat with the Bishop, "But whatever you do, Dougal, don't mention the son."

"Oh, he's got a son, then, Ted?" And you just know he's going to mention it no matter what.  The tension raised whilst Dougal struggles to come up with something to say is almost unbearable. Well, my short chat with Mr Devlin was a bit like that.

Back in the early seventies, I was Social Secretary for my college. I had taken over from my friend Rob who had managed to organise a charity event where a band called Skin Alley played. The highlight of the evening was for several of us to push a bath on wheels to Biggleswade and back to Stevenage, mostly with two attractive ladies sitting in the said bath. All went well until it became apparent a few weeks later when hardly any sponsor money turned up. Unfortunately, nobody had thought to take the names of all the people who had volunteered to get some sponsors. I guess the Longship gained most of the takings from that arduous evening. There's a photo and a short story about it from a local paper somewhere in the attic of my life - I'll stick it in here if I ever find it.

Anyway, back to the story. In my tenure as Social Sec I was told that we had to make some money fast and don't bother putting any bands on because no one ever makes any money out of them - we were still paying for the charity do. Sorry, but the whole reason I became Social Sec was so I could put bands on. I certainly wasn't going to start putting on Rag Weeks and Jeux Sans Frontière and not watch bands! So, I decided to put on some bands.

Evidently the last time any money was made at a gig at the college was 1968 or 9 when someone had the foresight to put on a pre-Alright Now Free supported by Roy Harper.  A bit before my time, unfortunately. This was 1973 just after Glam had hit the Nation's kids and had them screaming for T. Rex and that fella who wanted us to join his gang.  Most of us, of course, are glad we didn't join his gang. 

So after phoning around I was offered a couple of acts. Two of the acts I was offered had recently released their debut albums so it was a matter of deciding which to have. The first band, Queen had a near miss hit single with Keep Yourself Alive but the great general public seemed totally disinterested.  The other band, a bunch of musos from the Royal College of Music called Gryphon whose main instruments seemed to be recorders and crumhorns looked like they were going to go places.

Okay, with hindsight, most people would say that the first band were the obvious choice.  I could say that I had not only seen but met the band in their early days.  I would have shaken Freddie Mercury's hand and say how I had shared a glass of wine with Brian Cox May.  But, of course, I had decided to book Gryphon.


Now, the reason J P Devlin was going to interview me live on air was because I had missed out on meeting Mr M and his jolly bunch of tunesters. He was just phoning to talk it through and if they go ahead with the interview they'd phone back in about half an hour or so. So what was the Dougal problem? 

Well, it is mostly assumed that the reason that Queen were not chosen is because someone scurrilously said that they "look like a bunch of f*gs!" Now, it is true that someone - and certainly not me - had said that.  But it isn't the sole reason we chose not to put them on. At the time I actually liked the first Queen album, in fact it's the only one of theirs that I ever liked. I had not long since been to The Rainbow to see David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust show so I had no axe to grind about their less than manly appearance. And let's face it - can you really tell the difference from the photos other than, perhaps, two of Gryphon are hirsute of face? 

No, the truth is that although we felt that Meat 1* and all the other hairy-arsed apprentices weren't likely to part with their readies and prop up our imported bar (thanks to my mother's employer Bill Smith from the White Hart) despite loving Slade to see this lot because NO ONE HAD HEARD OF THEM!

However, Gryphon the very week they appeared at the college on Friday night had been on Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4, on tv on BBCs 1 and 2 and ITV and also had articles written about them in every newspaper and magazine (including Woman's Own and the Radio Times) going at that time. Taking the step to advertise nationally in the Melody Maker helped too, I guess. So I was actually the first person since 1969 to make money on bands and went on to put on several more excellent gigs. This one had, however, made enough money to get the Student Union out of hock with the college authorities and they allowed us to continue on for a few more years in that vein. 

In truth, Queen's agency wanted to charge us about £250 whereas Gryphon would only cost £150. So the prosaic truth is that we simply couldn't afford to put on a band that nobody had heard of. In today's money £150 is the equivalent of about £1500. That was a lot of money to gamble. Quite simply, I made the right choice.

So there I was going through the pre-interview interview with J P Devlin and in the back of my mind was a little voice chanting over and over, "don't say it, don't say it . . . " when he asked the fatal question: "So, Dave, why didn't you book Queen?"

So I told him. Unfortunately not the economic reason. I could sense the palpable disappointment in his voice when he told me that I'd best not use that word if they decide to go ahead with the interview. Of course I wouldn't but the moment had gone.

Afterwards when they didn't phone back it had occurred to me that the actual presenter of the show, the Rev. Richard Coles, formerly of the Communards, is of course . . . ah well, at least I didn't embarrass myself live on air and cause even more public outcry for the Beeb.

They've got enough problems to worry about.

*If you remember Tom Sharpe's Wilt

Monday, 3 December 2012

vestis facit virum

Ah, for Freeport we did steer, our provisions to renew . . .


a rather fetching suit - very dashing
Despite waking up this morning feeling that perhaps a weekend should be used to relax more, I decided against my better judgement to wear something different to work. Mind you, I was very relaxed at about two thirty on Sunday morning. Still, enough of that for now. Usually, I wear a black suit and one of the few shirts that are ironed. Today, I chose to wear a suit that I have had for years but probably only ever wore once before.

It's a light colour - possibly brown, possibly grey. I'm not sure, really, I thought it was brown. Anyway, I don't think I'll bother again. The amount of comments I got was unbelievable. It seemed that just about everyone had an opinion. I really didn't think that anyone would particularly notice but so many people commented on how "smart" I looked or inquired if  was going "somewhere special" or had an interview that I began to wish that I hadn't bothered.


I do wonder why people care so much about what others wear. In some cases, it was merely an opportunity to take the mickey but with others it seemed a major talking point. These people must have sad lives if what I'm wearing seems important to them! Still, it's nice to be told you look quite dashing, I suppose. Still, it'll be back to black tomorrow.


Every once in a while Mrs Dave and I have a cull of clothes we don't seem to be wearing very often. I came across this particular suit at the back of the wardrobe and it took a while to remember where and when I got it. As it looks so new, I thought I'd better get some wear out of it. It appears I bought it at Freeport, which is a shopping centre near Braintree. We don't go there very often but it's worth driving down to occasionally. M&S clothes can be bought there at very reasonable prices. It's like a permanent sale. They also have a Bose shop but I'm banned from there - by my wife, not the shop itself, I hasten to add.


The link to Wikipedia there for Braintree suggests that the town was possibly named after the old English word "Bran" which means crow. This is linked with "Blackwater" too due to the "crow-black appearance" of the water. Funny enough, Freeport is by Braintree and the River Blackwater flows nearby, so perhaps we could call it Blackwaterside:




One evening fair, I took the air
Down by Blackwaterside


I've often wondered where the original Blackwater was that the song uses as a setting. It probably isn't this particular one as there are many called the same. Most likely, it seems, the song was named after the river near Ulster. Mind you, it's not the only place you can spy an Irish lad. I've spied them all over the place - there were several around on Saturday night and they too have a habit of leading people in to bad habits* (not just fair maidens):

Go home and weep your fill,
And think upon your own misfortune
Which you bought with your wanton will

Which is where I came in, I believe.

*It's a joke: as an Englishman I am quite able to bring about my own misfortune, as indeed I did on Saturday evening. Apologies all round but thanks for a great craic, Brendan.



Saturday, 10 November 2012

absolute beginners

Children of the future Age,
Reading this indignant page;
Know that in a former time,
Love! sweet Love! was thought a crime.

Sex education was a musical adventure when I were a lad. Bare with me, I'll explain . . .

Nowadays with the ubiquity of the internet, young people have seen everything, know what it looks like, and what it's for. Travel back with me, dear reader to a time when there was no internet or even Page 3. Pre-Sun, even.

I was quite keen on "wild life" when I was at Junior School - I was a member of the WWF and collected PG Tips cards with all that info about animals in danger of extinction. My pocket money just about stretched to buying badly printed booklets from Cramphorns ( a pet shop-cum-garden-centre) and some British Wildlife-type magazine that I've long-since forgotten. Observer's books of birds/animals/bird's eggs etc too. Basically, as a kid of about ten I was quite up on British wildlife - okay I was probably a boring geek but a spell at Grammar school soon beat that out of me (via an awful bullying science teacher). Anyway, I remember that I read zoology books (my first career choice) and it seemed okay - to be quite honest, I had no idea about that funny picture:


What the hell does that mean to a ten year old?

My mate Josh - who became an F1 driver long before that other, more notorious F1 driver from Stevenage - explained to me that it had something to do with the jokes all the girls were making. And why we played kiss chase with the girls in the year above.  And possibly why Cindy Marlowe and the exquisitely (and alliteratively  named) Melanie Mucket were so popular. Josh had an older brother who worked for RSO and "knew" Eric Clapton.  Actually, that didn't mean much to me as I was so naïve I had no idea who the hell he was talking about. You have to remember that I was probably much like the kid in Son of Rambow at this point. To be honest, if Josh had held on to all those wonderful old pop and psyche singles from the late sixties/early seventies his brother gave him he'd make a fortune on ebay. Perhaps he did. He obviously didn't become the first Louis Hamilton!

Anyway, Josh seemed to know about all those jokes those girls with the funny bumps in their jumpers kept making.  I thought I got it - but those comments were about animals, surely? I must admit, I never put these things together -I mean, I had an older sister and I knew what girls looked like naked. The lads down the street were quite persuasive (I won't explain that point here) and the "girls next door" seemed okay about showing me their's - it was all very innocent. Just looking. Remember, no opportunity to see it all online. I remember liking pictures of film stars like Dahlia Lavi  and Sydne Rome but not really why I liked them!

Perhaps Josh's older brother explained things to him - by the time I went to secondary school I was completely confused. An all boys school meant that girls were an unknown quantity. I had an older sister who kept bringing her friends home - they seemed interesting to be around.  They probably hated me being there but they were, er,unsettlingly interesting. Occasionally uncomfortable for all of us (certainly me) but strangely alluring. I remember my sister brought home an lp of Hair.  There was a particular moment one afternoon when my sister and her attractive grammar school girlfriends were sitting in the front room listening to it when my mother came in to chat to them. Raising her eyes to heaven about the nature of the songs on it, she seemed to continue to hover in the room. Maybe she was asking what my sister wanted for tea, I'm not sure. I still don't understand why they put up with me, a ten year old kid sitting there in he same room with them, but . . . they did.  As one particular song came on, my sister jumped up to change the record saying something like, "well we don't want to listen to this one really!" But my mother did - she said, "oh no leave it on - it's the only nice one on the album."

The silence was palpable. I've never been in a room where everyone was so obviously uncomfortable before. Or since.

The music started and the singer sang:

Sodomy
Fellatio
Cunnilingus
Pederasty
Father, why do these words sound so nasty?
Masturbation
Can be fun
Join the holy orgy
Kama Sutra
Everyone

Wïth a wonderful innocence, my mother walked out of the room without a word. As a fairly innocent naif, I found it funny - but I  didn't know why.

Anyway, at age eleven - 1967, the Summer of Love -  I went to grammar school. No girls. Even less chance to understand what the hell was going on. In these days there was the "Hedge System" which is a concept we have possibly met before. Basically, it meant that youngsters "found" copies of magazines like Parade and much later, Fiesta* left in unlikely places like under hedgerows. Now, I'm not sure this was an actually well known way of passing knowledge on but it did genuinely happen. There you are, walking along the fields near your house with a mate when a torn colourful magazine was poking out from under a hedge. Nowadays I tend to be pleased when some rosehips or sloes are poking out from under a hawthorn hedge but then, a copy of Parade with a cheeky rural lass with her charms showing was a much better harvest. Actually, they were more like a full colour version of the Sun, little was on actual show. And Health & Efficiency airbrushed it all out.  I'm aware from what I'm told that airbrushing is still important - probably Photoshop nowadays, I suppose. Well, that's the "Hedge System" - the visual part of our education.

Meanwhile, our sex education was being moved on in more musical ways.

My father and uncle were members (fna, fnaa) of the Baldock Working Men's Club. This was somewhere that working class families could go for an evening out without paying for baby-sitters. Much beer was drunk and bingo was played. After the bingo, if my uncle had had enough beer, he would get up and sing I Left My heart In San Francisco.  That was the only song I ever heard him sing. Usually, on a Sunday evening, there was also a comedian and a musical act. Generally, the musical act was a three piece resident band in the style of The Peddlars** with a drummer, bassist and a saxophone player called Rodney who, I believe, my sister was rather enamoured of. Their shtick was to play versions of popular songs of the day - they did a mean Lazy Sunday Afternoon, I remember - but occasionally when covering for late main acts (or non-appearances) they performed such numbers as a rather surprising ditty called Lady Chatterley's Lover to the tune of An English Country Garden. I'm not making ANY of this up. We had to make our own entertainment in those days, I guess. However, I'll leave it to your imaginations.

At about this time the charts began to fill up with songs such as J'taime moi non plus by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin ( I'm no French speaker but I'm assured that at one point he wishes to "pass between your kidneys") and Wet Dream by Max Romeo (the follow up to his more famed The Israelites) where he attempts to convince his young lady friend to lay prone and allow him to "push it up, push it up". This is repeated possibly because she is hard of hearing or just for rhythmical effect (!). Obviously, this was all rather confusing without a more worldly-wise mentor. By this time Josh was dreaming of becoming an F1 driver. There were stories of acquaintances such as the god-like almost mythical Charlie Backer who had, evidently, actually "done it" but most of us were a long way off from that. At this point a future in animal husbandry seemed more of a career path than anything else.

My father had been in the Royal Navy towards the end of the second World War - I believe he lied about his age - and during the halcyon years of the early 1970s was the Commander of the local Sea Cadets.This meant that at some point I had to join. I didn't last long but that's another story. Yes, I was a great disappointment to him. Still, it was a major part of my sex education.

On the various trips that we went on in the Cadets, we usually had to sit in the mini-bus or on coaches - occasionally on "whalers" (ridiculously long rowing boats - like Roman Galleons but without the percussionist) and, as was usual for the forces,  we had to listen and join in to popular songs. Now, I'm not sure if you're aware of such events but these sing-songs were where innocents like me learnt about the ways of the world.

From such musical exploits, I learned quite a lot about the opposite sex. I learned that in the Scottish town of Inverness there had been four and twenty virgins (no, I had no idea what they were despite being one) who had managed to go on a feminist Viking rampage of England; and about the length of hair on a woman's, er, "dickey dido" (what on earth that was). I also learned that there was a lady called Dinah who was implored to "show us your legs" - get this - a YARD above her knee. From my own observations of the various girls next door, that suggested somewhere above their chests. A yard? Perhaps maritime types liked really large women. I also learned at this rather tentative time in my development that the aforementioned Dinah also appeared to be rather different to her peer group. Whilst rich girls used Vaseline©, and poor girls used lard, Dinah, for some reason used "axle-grease". I didn't know why really nor did I really have any idea about what the hell all these older boys seemed to know about - I just went along with it all. I don't think my sister was ever going to explain it and, somehow I sure as hell knew my parents weren't going to.

So, all in all, it seems that Generation Console have it easy as far as learning about the others goes. I remember my father shuffling in to my room when I was about twelve and asking if we "did sex education" at school? Oh yes, I know all about it. The look of relief on his face that meant he had been able to relinquish all responsibility for "learning me" such stuff was palpable. It was always so embarrassing - no one wanted to talk about it. "It" was everywhere. The first naked woman I saw on tv was on Monty Python - thank you Carol Cleveland - but I knew what girls looked like. It was just going to be a few years before any of them would be - even vaguely - interested in me. Getting rid of spots and the advent of better hygiene helped. Oh, and going to college where there were girls as well as boys helped too!

All I'm saying, I suppose, is that we had to read between the lines and there seemed a lot more mystery than there appears to be now. Having instant access to some (extremely graphic) porn means that younger people  seem far more aware of what to expect.  I can assure you that (other than young master Backer, I guess) there was a lot of unexplored and unfamiliar territory to discover all those years ago.

Roll up, for the Magical Mystery Tour . . .

* slightly raunchier
** a light entertainment jazz combo featuring bass, drums and a keyboard/singer with a habit of soiling himself onstage much to the chagrin of his band mates

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

the dreams our stuff is made of

We certainly live in a science fiction world.

To think that I grew up in a house without even a phone - I bought my parents their first phone when I was about twenty. It was a Christmas present. Up until then we had very few people to call, maybe the doctor. My sister had married and eventually moved all the way from Stevenage to Hitchin (at least 3 miles from each other according to wikitravel). My best mate at school lived about eight minutes away - mind you, I had to go where there were dragons to get to his - Whitesmead Road; I still get the jitters thinking about it. 1970's Stevenage and places like that were the equivalent of police no-go areas now. That's where all the bully boys lived; the "broken families". But now, we have phones that are connected to us in the way Captain Kirk would have grown up with. Just think, had the bully boys had personal phones then, I would never have got through the alley up to Grace Way alive. "He's just entered the alley" - "Okay, we'll head him off at our end".

Over the last few year I've had to get used to laptops at work that connect you to electronic registers, 24/7 emails and instant access to the virtual world* and now, gentle reader the advent of the iPad. The iPad.  This is science faction.  When I turned it on the other day it had already linked in to my iPhone and personal emails. The iPad is a school object - tool, if you will. I hadn't "asked it" to connect to anything, I just turned it on. A bit frightening. At one point, I tried to download an app and both mine and my wife's phones and iPads were pinging with messages telling us that someone is trying to access and download stuff - it's all linked up. Seamlessly, it seems.

I am assured by those who know better - people who care - that this is all natural and part of the world we live in. To me, it smacks of witchcraft and a dystopian future.  I can write notes, plan lessons, keep a diary, make presentations, map journeys, use it as a compass and a gps system (we've been here before, I know); keep in contact with everyone (literally), check banking, read newspapers, magazines, novels, comics, watch tv, films listen to the radio and just about anything else you want to ask of it.

Another thing is to film on it - there are various ways of capturing ideas or documentary evidence available; there is nothing we can't record or document, it seems. All well and good. I suppose.

As mentioned previously, I can't actually read, watch or listen to all the stuff I have now and I'm sure I'm not the only one. The easier it has become to record and save everything, the easier it seems to compartmentalize stuff and ignore it.  The rise of "storage facilities" perhaps is endemic of this phenomenon. Those big yellow (usually) boxes on the edges of towns now house thousands of objects of ephemera that can easily be put of our minds. What will happen to these in the future as they are forgotten about - probably due to the space vacated in our houses giving space over to new chindogu. Are these new pyramids for future civilisations to find and make assumptions about us? I'm put in mind of that Arthur C. Clarke story Expedition to Earth where a future alien race find artifacts from the Twentieth Century and it ends up that it was a Disney cartoon they were watching. Suggesting, of course, that even our entertainment may seem like the pinnacle of our civilisation whilst ignoring the important stuff. Whatever that may be.

So, we have so much to take up our time now that we can't possibly process all the information available. Now I'm reminded of William Gibson's concept in Neuromancer of information being the Twenty First Century's main form of wealth/power.  The idea that all information available is out there (ie on the web) but the people with actual power are those who know the right things - you know, as far as wealth goes,  knowledge is power not how much money you have. As I often tell students, I may not be that intelligent but I know how to access information. This is a point that Ian Gilbert wrote about in Why Do I Need A Teacher When I've Got Google? I have learnt the skills required to access info and can work out what is the right info. "Research" nowadays seems to mean typing a phrase or word into Google and printing what comes out having not read it, processed or understood said info. This is where teachers are important to Gilbert - we can teach how to work out what you need to know.  An obvious point, I guess, but it doesn't seem to be globally accepted as such.

Anyway, at our school (all right, Academy) all the sixth form are being given iPads - hence me being given one as I'll need to know how to use one - but this could be seen more as a bribe than a reasoned educational imperative (I mean to keep the students at the school as opposed to defecting to another one). We'll see whether the experiment works.  I hope that they get them soon and the film and media students can get their production work made. Then we'll see whether it's useful for my subjects - whether they are going to be useful for the more traditional subjects, amongst others, is a moot point currently. I have a feeling that it's going to be difficult knowing what the students are actually doing - given that iPads were really designed for a more leisure approach to life. Texting and Gaming seem to be the more obvious choice for these machines. Still, I'm off to London again for the BFI Media conference later in the month and one of the workshops is "Using iPads in the classroom".

Hmm, I can't imagine for one minute that I'll come back much wiser but I'm sure the powers that be** know better.


* not that I ever bother to check work emails once I get home
** our management, that is, not the government - they'd have us using chalk and slates

Thursday, 1 November 2012

in your own time

somewhere a long time ago . . . 
time rise
time fall
time means nothing, nothing at all

I was going to write about the future but that will have to wait. Until tomorrow, I suppose. Having found ourselves with some time on our hands, Mrs Dave and I went to London for a few days.  We immersed ourselves in the past - partly intentionally. The National Theatre's production of War Horse was, as expected, absolutely breathtakingly good. We wandered out into the night to think about the day we'd experienced.  We started with the Tate's Pre-Raphaelite exhibition which was great, although I agree with Mrs D that the exhibits were rather packed in a bit too closely. We ended up in The Freemason's Arms round the corner from the New Theatre in Drury Lane, a Shephard Neame pub in Long Acre. Nothing special - old and new badly thrown together. All modern plasma screens and olde worlde charm(e). A bit naff and full of people shouting at their team on the ubiquitous football game. This was nothing like the lovely Greek restaurant we found housed in an old pub. It was tiny inside. The pub was the Kemble Head in Long Acre and the seats were all high up - all old, dark wood. To get round the problem of being cramped - it was pretty busy - they used what amounted to cake stands which was an interesting experience.  Especially for me as I'm usually very clumsy.   We got out unscathed.

I had picked up a copy of Simon Reynold's Retromania from Fopp the day before and alarm bells were already beginning to ring. All of the first Joni Mitchell albums in a cd set for £26!! Anyway, I recognise far too much of myself in Reynold's book. It's well worth a read. We also picked up a copy of Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris which was great fun - well worth the couple of quid Fopp charged us. The Allen character, played by Owen Wilson (who looks disconcertingly like my hairdresser) comments on how the past isn't dead, "it isn't even past"* and explores how we all look back to a more rosier time that we'd prefer to live in. In the film, the Allen figure keeps travelling back to 1920's Paris  to meet Hemmingway, the Fitzgeralds and Dali, Picasso etc, and the lady he meets wants to go back to 1890's Paris to meet Lautrec et al.

Mrs Dave asked which time I would like to go back to - I guess I was happy in the 1970s when so much seemed new. Reynolds talks about the pre-internet/You Tube/digital era and how we had to watch it or miss it, buy it or lose it World we lived in then. It's a subject I return to often, socially and professionally, but the past really was another country and we certainly lived differently there. I had a collector's mentality and still have a bit of a hoarder's one, too. I am getting better. Reading books like this is helping, to be honest.  The point Reynolds makes about how we have little time now (at my age) to read or listen to all the stuff we've hoarded and continue to collect, worries me.  Why do we keep all that stuff? Why collect more? Perhaps I should just STOP buying stuff and listen to/read/watch the huge amount of cds/mp3s/books/mags/films that I've collected? What will happen to it after I'm gone?** Does anyone care? Anyone out there?

Hmm, this wasn't the blog I expected to write (the one I'd planned is on its way), nor has it turned out how I would have liked; but I guess the past few days being drenched in the past (Art galleries and WW1 plays'll do that) have brought a few ideas bubbling up to the surface. I seem to have grown up with either the past or the future in my head - rarely the present, it seems. What's to love about the present (Buddhists need not reply)? That is, other than, it's all we've got?

I have bookshelves full of books that I'll probably never actually get round to reading. The problem is that I keep going into shops and seeing yet another bloody book worth reading . . ! Still, at least I still read books - lots of people don't, remember! I must admit that I have no real interest in people trying to recreate the past - there's too much of it around.  I'll carry on accepting the stuff from the past. I'm surrounded! As I write I am listening to Johnnie Walker's programme on Jackson Browne's Running On Empty and Ms Mitchell's Blue. I do listen to modern music as well.  At least, what I call modern music. If an artist is touring, recording and writing new songs, then, as far as I'm concerned, it's modern music. I do get very tired of people saying that it's old music - as I've just said, if it's just been written and recorded then it must be new.  Oh! you mean it's written and recorded by someone older than about twenty? Ah, get a life. I may not be over the moon about the Stones still pushing out "product" at their age but the likes of Andy Powell and John Tams are relevant because they've got an audience and still have something to say to that audience.  Just because something's new from some youngster doesn't exactly make it relevant to someone of my age. Generation Console just doesn't speak to me and I don't feel "old" because I don't get it; I need people of (a little above) my age using the tools I understand to put modern life into perspective.  We all need a signpost, that's why we have maps. Great songs by our slightly older peers work as exactly that. If someone's felt a similar feeling to the one I'm undergoing . . . then all the better. It's only a signpost.

As I said, I sometimes get accused of listening to "old music" yet when I talk to contemporaries and (slightly) younger people they all seem to think I'm up-to-date!  Maybe Show of Hands, The Oysterband and Aimee Mann are (near enough) contemporaries of mine but, for god's sake, they are working currently and not living in the past. Okay, I mean when those first two are singing their own recent (original) stuff. Interestingly, when 30/40 year old types moan they're still going to concerts to see Eighties acts being their own tribute bands! If I occasionally go to see Wishbone Ash then at least their recent albums are contemporary - I don't think we can honestly say that about acts such as these. As far as I can see, Andy Powell feels that at least he's got something to say whereas the self-tribute acts have nothing else to give.

I guess this one will run and run. Hopefully not emptily . . .

*okay, okay, William Faulkner's "people" want to sue me . . . get a life
** it'll be thrown away just like it probably should have been. Ephemera.

NB: This is a slightly modified version of this post after re-reading it this morning:  it seemed a bit shouty - too many CAPITAL LETTERS and exclamation marks!! Very poor writing. Must try harder.




Sunday, 21 October 2012

keep watching the skies

It would appear that acorns are going to be in short supply (as are apples) this year. Evidently that means lucky so-and-sos with gardens may see jays turning up looking for food. As our garden is so tiny, we'll not be blessed but I did see one fly in front of the car yesterday crossing from an oak tree on one side of the road to one on the other side. Always a pleasure to see.

Despite it being a beautiful autumnal day yesterday, the rain settled in during the early evening.  Today's a particularly dreary one.  We should be on half term break this week but for some reason there's still another week to go. Mrs Dave and I got married in the October half term break so we usually get to celebrate our anniversary during that week - obviously not this year. Thirty years is a long time* and every single one before this has been during half term break. It's a bit weird. Anyway, we'll obviously be celebrating it a week later this year. A few days in London and an opportunity to go to the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at the Tate and we've finally got tickets for War Horse so it should be fun.


A path on Trimley Marshes
 A friend has just dropped a bag of quinces off so I need to decide what to do with them - they need a little longer to ripen fully so I've got plenty of time to think about it. Last week we were foraging for sloes.  We managed to find some really ripe ones at Trimley Marshes (TM 274358). Mrs Dave soon had them in a litre of gin and another bottle of sloe gin begins its unique journey. I, however, found hundreds of rosehips so made another load of rosehip syrup. I'm quite enjoying getting out and foraging for foodstuffs - I think I'll book onto a course next year. I still have no plans to eat really disgusting looking fungi. I mean, whoever thought that something that looks like that might be edible?  "Hmm, I'm really starving hungry. I wonder if that clump of disgusting-looking jelly fungus will taste nice?" Actually, I often wonder what on earth some people were thinking when they decided to try eating some of the things that are (supposedly) edible. Snails, for example.

I was off ill for a couple of days last week - I went home feeling awful and went straight to bed. I had a couple of days off which allowed me to catch up on some reading. More of that another time.  I began to feel a bit better and decided to go for a walk by the sea to "get a bit of colour in my cheeks" as my dear old mum used to say. When I got to the front I stood by a sign and looked both ways:




So from exactly the same spot I had the hyperreal beauty of Maxfield Parrish to my left and the apocalyptic horror of John Martin to my right. It was a strange week. It didn't actually rain but it was a very foreboding sky. It was very much like the storm on the mainland here. Well, without the possibility of jumping into a swimming pool and getting sunburnt, of course.

Anyway, I'd better go and do some cooking or something useful. For a change.

* thank you, yes, I know that's bleeding obvious

Saturday, 6 October 2012

goat your own way

A late night out last night with a few more glasses of ale than are strictly necessary meant a tentative waking this morning.  The crab curry was wonderful, though. However, I felt better than I deserved to.  I awoke much as many of you did too, I'm sure, to a wonderful sunny day - almost a brief Indian Summer after all the rain of the last few days.

Still, it is officially Autumn and that means listening to Sandy Denny come rain or shine.


A Martello Tower by the Links

Mrs Dave and I walked up to the Ferry this afternoon in the warmth of the early autumn sun. I was tempted to buy some locally caught sea bass from my favourite fishmonger but we'd already done the shopping so perhaps I'll go back up later in the week.  We sat in the Ferry Boat Inn and had a glass of Woodforde's Wherry before wandering back home.  We had to get back by 6:30 as Strictly Come Dancing is back on and Mrs D has to watch that. We walked back past the Links (a golf course near the sea) that M. R. James mentions in Oh, Whistle And I'll Come To You My Lad and near a couple of  Martello Towers still defending our coast. There were a lot of fishermen out today - we watched a Mackerel being caught. There were a few sailing boats out as well as two hardy souls in kayaks - we haven't managed to get wet suits yet otherwise we may have been out there, too.

As the sky grows darker a more autumnal feel grows, too.  Suddenly, Sandy Denny seems more appropriate.  Tomorrow should be another nice one and I'm torn between getting the little foot ferry over to Bawdsey to do a bit of foraging or drive over to the Cold War Museum that I've just found out about. It's always so exciting around here.

Bawdsey Manor
 Bawdsey Manor was where Radar was developed by Robert Watson-Watt et al and they have a museum there which you can only go to on certain days in the year.  The last one was 9th September so I'll have to wait until next year now to go to the exhibition. It must be great living in large towns and cities where you can see things all year round.  As soon as I get an interest and think about going to a museum I have to wait half a year by which time I've forgotten about it.  After reading Francis Spufford's wonderful The Backroom Boys, I've got a real interest in going to see this sort of stuff.  Ah well.

We're having a very quiet weekend at home. We were supposed to be out camping with the Duke of Edinburgh kids this weekend but not enough of them could get it together to go this weekend. I said that we need to remind them what a fantastic weekend this would have been if it's cold, miserable and raining when we finally get to go in (probably) November.  Their loss.

Despite a poorish summer, we're still harvesting tomatoes and I managed to pick these fine specimens this morning (the ones in front).  There are still loads of green ones out there - we can't possibly make any more chutney as we have a cupboard full of the stuff. Talking of food, I finally managed to source some goat meat last weekend. We also bought a new slow cooker in an attempt to be more organised.  Actually I think it's a cunning plan by Mrs Dave to get me to prepare food so that we eat earlier during the week.  Still, I made a fantastic goat curry on Tuesday that had been cooking very, very slowly for about ten hours.  It was wonderful.  Why more people don't eat goat in this country continues to amaze me. Evidently the company that I bought it from can't source it from Suffolk and get it from Spain. Jokingly, Mrs Dave suggested that perhaps that's our plan B - leave teaching and start raising goats? Hmm . . .

Sunday, 30 September 2012

so, coeliac, you're breaking my heart

I'm certainly no fan of Simon and Garfunkel, but I couldn't resist the pun.

Mrs Dave invited some long-standing friends around for a meal on Saturday evening. All very well, it's been a while since we had guests but the husband is a coeliac (sufferer?) and that can cause a few problems over what food is served.  Mrs Dave often takes me to task for what I serve up - actually the WAY I serve it up. Evidently not everyone is impressed with fish with their heads still on or meat on the bone.  For instance, I was in rapture on Friday night with the Himalayan Lamb and Yogurt Curry we cooked, saying how I'd love to serve it up to guests.  However, I'm reliably informed by my more attractive and intelligent half, that not everyone will be impressed with neck end of lamb served on the bone even if served up in a surprisingly delicate and subtle sauce.  And a few friends have been taken aback by being served up fish et al served au naturel -that is, head on, un-filleted and scaly ( as nature intended). Now I know, I'm less likely to screw up (evidently). Perhaps some people are just fussy? Actually, I cooked some sardines today for lunch.  I really don't think she was that impressed - too many bones.

Anyway, some friends came round and we served them a meal fit for a king (okay one with coeliac): scallops wrapped in bacon, roast chicken with fruit and quinoa* (instead of vegetables) and a polenta cake (drizzled with orange etc). Excellent stuff. I even had to source some Gluten-free beer. Thank you, St Peter's. It all went very well - all except the fact that I seemed to be the only one drinking the wine. Lots of it. . .

It all went very well and I think Victor (the coeliac) and I have agreed to go to the cinema together to see the sort of films our spouses don't want to see but that's good (nothing sordid, you understand, but films like The Sweeney).  However, I must admit food like that seems to have a rather drastic impact on my stomach but I guess nobody needs to be concerned with my stomach's capriciousness.

After waking up just slightly left of a hangover, I managed to spend Sunday avoiding any form of work - much as I'm doing now, in fact. A bath, some washing up from the previous night's entertainment, a quick bit of toast and I was ready to find something far more entertaining to do.  So, we went off to one of my favourite shops, the Adnam's Shop at Woodbridge.  I felt that it was beholden upon me to investigate Adnam's new ranges of beer. Martyn Cornell may have a vague interest at this point.  Sole Star appears to be a "pale amber ale with a light floral citrus aroma and gentle caramel notes". At 2.7% abv, it's very welcome.  Mrs Dave assures me that the new Ginger Beer that they've produced is much more "beery" than the recent ones from Crabbies et al. I'll take her word for it, but at 2.5% it does seem to fit in with the current zeitgeist . Actually, ginger is very good for an upset stomach.  So, the next time I get one, I'll drink ginger beer as a panacea for my ills. They also seem to have started to produce Ghost Ship in cans so Adnams seem to be on the up. As long as they don't overeach themselves the way Greene King have then things will be okay. Low level alcohol beers are currently in vogue, and as long as they taste good and are not just a sop to Government rules, then all's well.  The jury's still out, of course.

Talking of ills - one of the work avoidance tactics I took was to drive off and find a wood somewhere to wander around. Although Mrs Dave wasn't feeling totally chipper today (?!) she agreed to join me in my current obsession to get my hands stung and ripped by thorns. We did get a few more blackberries at Melton (near Woodbridge for you map-crazed geeks) but I finally availed myself of the plethora of rosehips available. I will put my hand on my heart here and say that I have NEVER picked these wonderfully ubiquitous fruits before.  Obviously, you all have and think that I'm such a pleb©  for not having ever done it before. Anyway, I have now. I have actually made Rosehip Syrup - that's right, with its 20% higher amount of Vitamin C than oranges, I have access to natural health oozing from a bottle in our fridge. And I cut my own hands up in the making of it. I guess I won't get a cold this year, then.  Watch this space . . .

The other thing I wanted to mention was our "I want it and I want it NOW" culture.  I don't know where you sit on that but I'd welcome some comment on it. On Friday evening, I decided that I desperately wanted to hear a new album by a favourite artist of mine.  I had only just found out that day that Declan Sinnott (Moving Hearts, Christy Moore et al) has finally released a solo album after some 40 years of being involved in the Irish music scene; so, after a beer or two I decided that whilst the lamb was stewing (currying?) that I needed to listen to it NOW.

I'm glad I did because other than the song Corrine Corrine, it's  a great album -  I agree with the reviewer that it has a bit of a melodic J. J. Cale feel to it. But the point is that when I were a nipper (okay, a teen) if I wanted something I'd have to wait - or go to London to hunt it down.  Now, we can have anything we want immediately.  Amazon and iTunes have a lot to answer for. Personally, I think that this is a dangerous thing but revel in it any way, after all what's wrong with waiting for a few days? I will admit that I feel I am usually less excited by new discoveries nowadays than I was as a kid.  There are still things that excite me now, but more of that next time.

What do we get excited about now?

* pronounced "keen-wa"


Sunday, 23 September 2012

look at the country, man, it's looking so nice

O who can pass such lovely spots
Without a wish to stray
And leave life's cares a while forgot
To muse an hour away?

Last weekend and we awoke to a beautiful mid-September day and decided to just get the van and go away for the rest of the weekend. To hell with work and other (possibly) pressing matters, we thought.  Or, as the late, great Jimmy Alan Hull said, "Had more than my share of people giving advice, on the way that my life should be/But look at the country man it's looking so nice/it's feeling so good to be free./No time, no time to lose/No time, no time to lose". So, Mrs Dave and I quickly got down to the place where we keep Harvey and loaded him up with a few necessities* and off we went.  

I'd had a hankering to visit the island of Mersea for a long time now. Much like Lindisfarne (ooh, did you notice the a connection there?) it's an island that can be cut off by the tide. We got there early afternoon last Saturday and soon managed to find the campsite. I was immediately taken by the amount of bramble bushes behind us and was soon out with a plastic bag to fill up with blackberries:   Our hands were peppered with thorn pricks, our palms as sticky as  Bluebeard's**     I had been reliably informed that our local wild blackberries were fairly meagre - not so at Mersea.  Only thirty five or so miles away from home but absolutely heaving with goodly sized berries. There were a lot of huge red seed pod-things which, at the time, we weren't sure of.  Still, we were here for the weekend - time to worry about them later. After a quick lunch we went off to discover the village and shoreline of West Mersea.

sad deserted shore
 I don't think I've been to anywhere that has been so abundant with wild blackberries in all my life other than the occasional wild wood, mostly last Century. The island is quite well inhabited - it's only a few miles out of Colchester, so therefore close to London. There were blackberries growing everywhere - and those large red seed pods.  I didn't think they were rosehips as most of the rosehips I was aware of were quite small - these were huge. I've since discovered that they are Japanese Rose plants and are much more potent than our indiginous wild roses. I'm a bit annoyed as I could have picked thousands of them easily, but at least I'm aware of them so can keep an eye out for them in the future. They are gigantic - absolutely packed with Vitamin C.  Actually, tonight we had a wonderful pie Mrs D made using the residue of blackberries after Second Born (a brief visit) had finished making jam from the hoard. Meanwhile . . . after wandering around the island and witnessing a genuine Essex Big Fat Gypsy Wedding reception*** and buying a few dressed crabs for tea, we found ourselves on a salt marsh. As we sauntered across the wooden boards I spied from my little eye . . . samphire! I'd finally found some wild growing samphire.  Okay, so a bit out of season, but there it was.  I picked some much to the chagrin of Mrs Dave. A passer-by or two questioned her about me jumping off the causeway with a pair of scissors stripping the little elegant Triffid-like plants of their succulent "branches".  But, what the hey? We wandered home across the sadly deserted shore and I cooked them briefly in some water (no steamer in the van) and they were great. They tasted superb - the genuine haunt of the sea in each mouthful. The English Countryside is so diverse and life-restoring.
   
By 9:30, after finishing the i crossword and a glass or two of wine, we were ready to turn in.  It's the sea air, it really does relax you. We'd looked out at the evening sky and saw a beautiful end to the day but its promise didn't hold out.  Although Sunday morning was okay, it was a little disappointing, weather-wise. Still, we found an English vineyard which provided a rather excellent dry white wine that we supped this evening with our gammon and some interesting beers from the Mersea Brewery (yet to try).   Still, what a weekend. We realised that it's worth going away for a few days just to get away from the hubbub of everyday to revitalise the old batteries.  And it really did make a difference to how we felt during the early part of the week. Okay, it will never last but at least we felt good for a day or two . . . how will we feel tomorrow after being cooped up at home with poor weather?  Answers on a postcard . . .   Back to reality and this weekend we had work to do - painting bits of wall, shopping to do, school work (although no one believes that as we're all lazy and out of school by three o'clock) and our own homes to deal with:

49 reasons all in a line.
All of them good ones, all of them lies.
Driftin' with my lady we're oldest of friends.
Need a little work, and there's fences to mend.

Ah well, the summer holidays are long forgotten and life is back to normal. I do hope we've all had a good summer. Let's get back to normal and start blogging again, chaps, I feel that I need the intellectual stimulation.

* beer, bacon and a raincoat
** Seamus Heaney
*** you really should have seen the bridesmaid . . . as she turned round at different times we realised why 3D is fast becoming such a popular format: oh she's got a tatoo on her arm, oh and that one, jesus! - look at her back, it's Ray Bradbury in real life! 
   


Sunday, 2 September 2012

wondering where the lions are

Sun's up, uh huh, looks okay
The world survives into another day
And I'm thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me
I had another dream about lions at the door
They weren't half as frightening as they were before

A sort of Greek "Narnia"
 (lion, witch, wardrobe, whatever
As Bruce Cockburn finished the song and as the applause started, Mrs Dave leant over and said, "I think they're in Essex". Evidently not but the story lingers.

We travelled to Cambridge yesterday to see Cockburn with great excitement as I'd never seen him live before. I had bought lps of his back in the mid 1980s before we even came up to Suffolk. He's been around since the 1970s but still not that well known over here. I know he plays the Greenbelt festival quite often but that's often the only time he's over here. Only Christians are allowed to go there and I'm not sure I could stomach a whole festival full of them. He started the evening with If This Was the Last Night of the World which is my favourite song of his so I knew we were in for a treat.  We weren't disappointed. It's a lovely little theatre for about 200 - very intimate. Perfect for such a night.

Anyway, back to those lions.  It seems that although nobody can actually verify their existence (its?) the story wants to hang around. It was still being discussed on Radio 4 this morning. A panel of reviewers of the newspapers all came out in denying the existence of the "Essex Lion" although one of them claimed to have seen a dead leopard by the side of a road in England (I'm not sure whereabouts). Obviously that doesn't mean there's a lion roaming about in Essex! But it's interesting that people seem to want to believe in such stories. An article in Friday's independent says that although there's no lion in Essex, there is a poisonous snake. We seem desperate to believe that there are all sorts of wild animals roaming the British Countryside - pumas, lions and leopards, lynxes, dinosaurs (well, the Loch Ness Monster).

There are some unusual ones out there, of course. Recently in Yorkshire I spied some wild Macaws and we know of parakeets (I've seen one in Ipswich but that may have been an escapee), wallabies, wild boar and now beavers in Scotland and in the future, we are promised, wolves. I was reminded of that last weekend as I drove past Wolves Wood in Suffolk on my way down to a beer festival in Edwardstone. It's name, I presume, is a reminder of the fact that they used to roam wild in this country. If they are reintroduced, they won't be wild (livid, maybe) but under controlled circumstances.  Is there really any point? They're busy spending a fortune on reintroducing long-since gone creatures while modern practices are causing the obliteration of current species at a ridiculous rate.  Insects and invertebrates are being lost at an alarming rate yet we seem determined on introducing species that have died out (not extinct) and can't survive on these - overcrowded - islands. Don't get me wrong, I would love to say I've seen some of these things in the wild, but truth to tell - as the sea eagles have proved, they'll be hunted to extinction. Nobody really wants them. For sure, it's a shame but we have to live in the moment.

I don't know if there are really exotic creatures waiting in the darkness of the woods but I'm still excited by simple pleasures - I was quite upset not to see the red squirrel behind our tent in Yorkshire last month. I was, however, very excited to see swallowtails, pelicans and egrets in Greece. They're able to coexist there, nobody minds them. Here, we seem to not care about everyday exotics we see - jays and goldfinches for example (and soon sparrows will be a rare exotic); and swallows are less likely to be turning up over here over the next few years.

I'd like to keep the mystery of the rare creatures - like unicorns, lions and their ilk should be hidden and rumoured. We don't actually need to see them to believe in them do we? Do we really need a corpse to accept that there are strange things out there?  I love the idea that there may be unusual, exotic and rare creatures out there.  I'd love to see something but I don't need to actually see them to continue to hope that they're out there in the woods, fields and hills.

Cut and move on
Cut and move on
Take out trees
Take out wildlife at a rate of species every single day



Sunday, 19 August 2012

like the weather

I read with interest yesterday morning that Britain has "sold out of Mediterranean holidays" as people have suddenly realised that after all that basking in Olympic glory they needed a summer holiday.  The cost of these holidays soared as many couldn't find flights - there were plenty of apartments, villas and hotels to be had. Just no flights. We must have been lucky - I guess it's because we booked during Olympic fever. Mrs D booked on the Thursday and we went on the Sunday.
Many people could have done themselves a favour and travelled down (across?) to East Anglia for the past week. Since coming back last Sunday we've had nothing but Mediterranean-style weather and it seems to have gone by at a leisurely pace.

It's gone a bit cloudy this afternoon but on the whole, it's been hot. The streets around us were filling up with tourist's cars as they rushed down to the beach since before ten o'clock. I've just been out with my son for a practice drive and I've never seen this small seaside town so busy. There are cars parked everywhere; the beaches are full of bored teenagers, beached whales and children building sandcastles eating sand-flecked ice creams. it must be standing room only down the kiss me quick area. 

Earlier on in the week I came upon this field of sunflowers.  I don't think I've seen one around here before - in France, yes, but not East Anglia. Very Mediterranean. So much so that despite our Greek maritime adventure, Mrs Dave and I have spent parts of the last few days paddling around out on the rolling sea in our kayak. Not exactly Homer's wine dark sea, more a dirty wine glass. Still, it's large wet and deep the same as the Greek stuff. We went up the coast a little way to meet some friends and their family having a good old fashioned British day out on the beach. After a jolly hour or so and a cup of tea we paddled back homewards. A barbecue in the evening - the first this summer, believe it or not - and we sat out until late listening to music, drinking and chatting by the light of our little chimenea. We haven't really done that for a few years due to the last few summers being a bit, well . . .

Speaking of which, yesterday's i newspaper had an article about the UK's worst place names.  I can't find a link to it but the winner is Shitterton in Dorset, closely followed by places like Crapstone, Scratchy Bottom and Golden Balls.  Isn't Britain great? Do other cultures have such great names for their settlements, I wonder? Who needs to go abroad?

Well, me actually. Although it didn't rain when we were away (on the island at least) it did rain heavily on the mainland and on Lefkada.  I couldn't get a decent photo of this because I couldn't get far back enough. It looks too blue - it was very, very dark. This was a real Rene Magritte moment. On one side of the hotel it was bright sunshine and on the other it was a huge black threatening sky. It came  to nought on our island, thankfully. Most islanders were hoping for some rain - we were in a nine week heat wave. As we were only there for a week I certainly didn't want it to rain. Well, it didn't anyway. Our little room was the middle one on the right overlooking the pool. A perfect spot to sit and drink ouzo at the end of a lazy day. No hosepipe ban there though. Look at how verdant it seems.

Despite all this, Mrs Dave is out in the garden cutting wood to make kindling.  I wonder if she knows something I don't about the weather?

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

for those in peril on the sea

Well, Cornwall's changed. The small hilly streets are familiar with the colourfully painted close houses. There was plenty of good food and the weather was remarkably good for that part of the world. There were a lot of Greeks around, though.

Actually, back in the early to mid 1970s I spent many happy days in St Ives with friends. There are a few tales about those holidays at the end of our school days which occasionally get told. Not right now, though.

Mevagissey is a small fishing village as is Vathy on Meganisi. If you look at the two entries in Wikipedia you will notice that they actually look similar. Easy mistake to make - after all they both take about the same time to get to from where we live. Actually, it's quicker to get to Greece.

I thought we might escape the Olympic madness that spread quicker than swine fever throughout the land but it wasn't to be. On "Super Saturday" we sat in the bar of a hotel in Gatwick with nothing else to do but to get caught up in the euphoria. It was pretty impressive. Impressive in the way that the closing ceremony wasn't - spectacular rubbish, really. I enjoyed Ray Davies (not sure about the Ronald McDonald hair though, Ray - or was that to fit in with some of the clowns dancing around you?). Obviously it was all gloriously over the top but good old Ray seemed bemused to be there. I was a little taken aback by the "superstar" version of Wish You Were Here - with local Suffolk boy Ed Sheran. Now, excuse me if I'm mistaken but isn't that a song by Roger Waters about being alienated from other people? Er, doesn't quite fit the bill there methinks.  Oh! Of course, no one listens to the actual words, the title fits so that's all that matters. I gave up before the Who came on.  Well done to the Thin White Dame for refusing to appear in person*.

Meanwhile, back on holiday. Several people were able to access their iPhone's internet; I must admit I couldn't be bothered. I thought it was going to be expensive as I had been told not to log on to the internet whilst I was away. However, I was able to use the phone as we'll see . . .

The last time I was in that area (Lefkada) about ten or eleven years ago we hired a little boat. We spent a good few hours putt-putting along the coast and crossing to some of the little islands that are scattered across the Ionian and even spotted dolphins. So on return to the area and with little else to do on the wonderfully quiet island we hired a boat instead of a car.

We shared the boat with another couple we had met - of whom more at another time. Obviously it meant it was quite cheap to hire the boat for the day as we shared the cost. Illustrated here is the actual boat we hired (honestly, it's better if you click on it).  My good friend Brendan may notice that this one was slightly bigger than the one we shared all those years ago.  This one had a steering wheel as opposed to the basic rudder we had then. This was about 30cc and was designed to cope with the four of us. So we booked the boat through the very accommodating hotelier and went down on the Friday to have a maritime adventure.

I was forced into taking the wheel for the first part of the trip and steered us quite well into the next waterside village. I even managed to moor well without bashing into the jetty. All going well so far. We breakfasted at a little taverna then took a swim and dried off under the Ionian sun. Time to get back in the boat**. Greg our new friend took the second shift. He had an idea that when big waves hit you should "steer into them" which somehow translated into circling round a few times to enjoy the thrill. That happened a few times.

After stopping to swim by throwing the anchor overboard a couple of times (another couple had also hired one of these - "throwing the anchor overboard" took on a different meaning as they saw it disappear under the boat) and found a lovely stony beach to sunbathe on. Feeling peckish we decided to find the next taverna down the coast. Mrs Dave was on captain duty. We pulled up to the jetty well, no problem.  She did mention at one stage that the steering wheel "doesn't seem too responsive at times". But it's an old boat well used by hundreds of holidaymakers over the years. But they do safety checks regularly, of course, don't they?

As we walked in to the garden of the Paradiso taverna down on the east coast of the island, we met the aforementioned anchor-less couple. Instant dinner party in a sort of Greek Garden of Eden. A few swordfish steaks and a couple of Mythos later we thought it was time to head off again. I was back on captain duty by now.  We went down as far as we could but we were told that once you pass the end of Lefkada (on our right) we have to turn back. So we did. We needed to be back by 6:30 and still hadn't got round the other side of the island yet. So we headed back up towards Vathy port where we intended to get around the headland and chug along down to another beach that had been recommended to us.

The sea was getting a bit rougher as we neared the top of the island as all the big ferries and speed boats churn up the sea. Obviously we needed to keep away from getting too close to the shore as it's very rocky.  Mrs Dave told me to get in a little closer to the shore, though, and not sit quite so far out in the sea. All jolly well for her to say that but what she and the others were unaware of was that I had been struggling with the "unresponsive" steering wheel for a while. The more I tried to steer closer to the shore, the more adamant the boat seemed to be to go in a straight line.

As Mrs Dave began to get more agitated that I wasn't keeping closer to the island I had to announce the fact that, "we may have a slight problem here".  By now the steering wheel whizzed around easily either way but absolutely nothing was happening to the outboard motor. Now, as a teacher of some twenty years standing, I have come to realise that should the lesson be observed no form of technology should be used whatsoever.  Be it the laptop, the Interactive Whiteboard or the DVD player, it will go wrong.  At that particular moment (just as panic is setting in) some bright spark will either ask an intelligent question or offer "useful" advice. The question most asked at that time is, "Have you turned it on?" Other than that, whenever I announce such gems as the steering wheel has stopped working, I have noticed a tendency by my nearest and dearest to look at me as though I've told a rather unfunny joke.  A look of disbelief usually follows.  "Try turning it fully round".  Ah! of course, I hadn't been doing that for the last twenty minutes. I immediately turned the wheel both ways all the way round until it wouldn't go any further. Someone suggested that if I turn the engine off and back on it will somehow (magically) "be okay".

It wasn't.

We opened the only panel available to see what was wrong. We did what people tend to do now when their car has broken down.  That is, we looked in, stared, scratched our heads and closed the panel again.  Basically it was an empty space with a few wires in it and a battery.  So Greg jumped over the side to see if anything was wrong.  Like if the pathetic split cane fishing rod he'd bought which broke the first time he tried to use it had caused the float and line had caught up in something (not being too technical for you landlubbers, am I?). No, nothing there either. I did not panic.  I got out my trusty iPhone and, miraculously, it worked.  The man said he'd be out to us in a few minutes. Excellent.

By now, the fact that we were bobbing up and down on the salty sea was causing Mrs Dave to become slightly bilious.  I suddenly realised that fairly soon the car ferry would be about to appear from the mainland port.  It wasn't going to change course for a bunch of tourists who'd parked their little boat in a major shipping lane.

We were rather glad to see the man turn up a few minutes later.  The cable had snapped between the steering wheel and the outboard so it wasn't our fault. Phew.  As he towed us in to the port I spied the car ferry steaming along and passing over the exact space we were in a few minutes earlier. Phew!

After our rather ignominious return to Vathy and we were safely in a taverna drinking a medicinal beer some bright spark suggested that we could have chugged along fine by physically turning the outboard ourselves. A sort of Esprit d'Escalier I guess.

* Despite having a medley of hits being played. However, the discussion on R4's Today this morning with two comedians about how "ropey" the ceremony was suggets that I'm not alone.
** Some of you may be familiar with Apocalypse Now and "never get out of the boat"