Wednesday, 18 December 2013

beach scenes

The Martello Tower and Golf  Links
Bleak and solemn was the view on which he took a last look before starting homeward. A faint yellow light in the west showed the links, on which a few figures moving towards the club-house were still visible, the squat Martello tower, the lights of Aldsey village, the pale ribbon of sands intersected at intervals by black wooden groynes, the dim and murmuring sea. The wind was bitter from the north, but was at his back when he set out for the Globe. He quickly rattled and clashed through the shingle and gained the sand, upon which, but for the groynes which had to be got over every few yards, the going was both good and quiet. One last look behind, to measure the distance he had made since leaving the ruined Templars' church, showed him a prospect of company on his walk, in the shape of a rather indistinct personage, who seemed to be making great efforts to catch up with him, but made little, if any, progress. I mean that there was an appearance of running about his movements, but that the distance between him and Parkins did not seem materially to lessen. So, at least, Parkins thought, and decided that he almost certainly did not know him, and that it would be absurd to wait until he came up. For all that, company, he began to think, would really be very welcome on that lonely shore, if only you could choose your companion. In his unenlightened
"Burnstow" with "Aldsey" in the distance
days he had read of meetings in such places which even now would hardly bear thinking of. He went on thinking of them, however, until he reached home, and particularly of one which catches most people's fancy at some time of their childhood. "Now I saw in my dream that Christian had gone but a very little way when he saw a foul fiend coming over the field to meet him." "What should I do now," he thought, "if I looked back and caught sight of a black figure sharply defined against the yellow sky, and saw that it had horns and wings? I wonder whether I should stand or run for it. Luckily, the gentleman behind is not of that kind, and he seems to be about as far off now as when I saw him first. . .
(M. R. James, Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad. 1904)

I live in the seaside town that James fictionalised as "Burnstow". The northern part of the town his protagonist stays in is just past the Golf Links that the Martello Tower sits on, it's the tiny hamlet where I buy fish. The Martello Tower is still guarding the encroaching coast but nowadays people live in them as "unusual" houses. I presume the inn that Parkins stays in is the Victoria, which has been closed for several years. In the distance, the lights of "Aldsey village" is none other than the tiny village of Bawdsey which itself is watched over by Bawdsey Manor where essential radar work of WWII was undertaken.

Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You is a genuinely unsettling ghost story - many of the stories by M. R. James are - and it's nice to live somewhere that has, at least, one decent work of fiction based there. It's also one of those rare ghost stories that (partly) take place in daylight on a beach. Having spent a lot of time recently looking into the Gothic for Film Studies, I wonder how many other tales use daylight and beaches for their settings? Most seem to use obvious tropes - the lists that students reel off when asked what the imagery of the genre are.

Richard Adams set the creepiest and most shocking part of his novel The Girl in a Swing (1980) on a beach in full daylight. Alan and Karin are enjoying the afterglow of their lovemaking on a beach:

The level, still sea was moving, rippling unnaturally. Something was disturbing it, something was approaching the surface, though with difficulty, as it seemed; something close at hand, not twenty feet from where we were lying. A higher wave, softly turbulent, flowed forward and round us, soaking my clothes and very cold upon my naked loins. The shock brought me to myself and I knew once more that I was lying on the beach, holding Karin in my arms. She had turned her head and was staring, wide-eyed and unbreathing, at the water. Following her gaze, I saw the surface break and saw what came out of the sea.

What came out of the sea, groping blindly with arms and stumbling on legs to which grey, sodden flesh still clung, had once been a little girl.

I'm pretty sure that wherever Adams set his novel, it wasn't "Burnstow". I don't think a lot of idle lovemaking goes on on these beaches. Too bloody cold, for a start. Even in the summer. The thought of it is scarier than the ghosts.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

there's no way back

Beneath the stars there are the bars
That serve the bitter drink...
The barman smiles at me,
His wife she gives a secret wink...
They listen patiently to me,
My story I unfold...
I see their faces change,
The lights grow dim I'm losing hold...

I used to be a boy,
My heart was young and supple then
But now it's stoney cold,
I'm old and I could use a friend...
My world is not like yours,
I come from somewhere long ago...
But now there's no way back,
I'm lost and I feel so alone...

You can leave me in the air age if you like
But I'd dearly love to go back to my own time....

Life in the air age, isn't all the brochures say...
Life in the air age, it's too dangerous to stay...
Life in the air age, airships crashing every day into the bay...

Life in the air age, it's all highways in the sky...
Life in the air age, all the oceans have run dry...
Life in the air age, it's grim enough to make a robot cry...

A tracking shot of Ipswich harbour looks remarkably familiar. Despite the monochrome and the fact that the few ancient fishing boats are rusted where there now sit brand spanking new gleaming white yachts, there really is a familiarity to it. The film cuts to an old pub in the distance viewed from an approaching car. But it looks timeless - it could be now, fifty years ago or even back to Edwardian times. The soundtrack features the start of an old drinking song, Here's the Health to the Barley Mow. We cut to the inside of the pub, the Ship Inn at Blaxhall near Woodbridge, Suffolk. The whole film lasts about seventeen minutes and shows the locals singing their songs, soloists being joined in the choruses by the assembled crowd, and a few step dances. The Barley Mow song builds in a litany of different sized drinking vessels. At the end, one of the soloists leads the crowd into the traditional song of closing such meetings. The National Anthem is sung with a jaunty melodeon accompaniment. 

Apropos of nothing, the Ship Inn at Blaxhall is mentioned in a brief story in today's East Anglian Daily Times ("Suffolk and Proud") but it just reports of modernity taking its toll.

In Lark Rise, chapter four: At the Wagon and Horses, Flora Thompson describes a typical night's entertainment:

But this dolorous singing was not allowed to continue long. 'Now, then, all together, boys,' some one would shout, and the company would revert to old favourites. Of these, one was 'The Barleymow'. Trolled out in chorus, the first verse went:

Oh, when we drink out of our noggins, my boys.
We'll drink to the barleymow.
We'll drink to the barleymow, my boys,
We'll drink to the barleymow.
So knock your pint on the settle's back;
Fill again, in again, Hannah Brown,
We'll drink to the barleymow, my boys,
We'll drink now the barley's mown.

So they went on, increasing the measure in each stanza, from noggins to half-pints, pints, quarts, gallons, barrels, hogsheads, brooks, ponds, rivers, seas, and oceans. That song could be made to last a whole evening, or it could be dropped as soon as they got tired of it.

The scene from Here's the Health to the Barley Mow (1952, EFDSS) could just have easily been from Lark Rise - Flora Thompson's book not the humdrum TV series that got pulled probably due to inauthentic continuity. The National Theatre's plays were so much better - possibly due to the fact that they used more authentic music for a start. During the short film a version of The Nutting Girl is performed. It's probably my favourite moment in the film and it was performed to exactly the same tune and words that John Kirkpatrick used in the 1972 Morris On album. There are even asides and whoops from other members of the band in Kirkpatrick's version that are similar to the asides the pub regulars offer during the filmed performance. 

What we have here are unique documents, windows on to other worlds. These are, of course, pre-digital worlds where tradition and culture continued without being questioned or intellectualised. Laura in Lark Rise is a thinly disguised Flora Thompson in what is really her autobiography and she tells us in this most musical of books, of the passing of a more rural way of life of the nineteenth century. By the end of the book she talks of her small village changing as it is about to become engulfed by an encroaching town. Modernity raises its ugly head. The Barley Mow film is an attempt to show a rare glimpse of a disappearing way of life even as it is being filmed. Other films on the BFI dvd of which this is the title film, explore other such moments over the years from 1912 to the early eighties. The last of these, The Burry Man of South Queensferry is so bizarre that it looks like a sketch for The Wicker Man. Watching the young volunteer dressed up in Burdock burrs, paraded around the town (he's not allowed to speak) and fed whisky all day is certainly a strange experience. It could even be a lost episode from the very early days of Dr Who

Interestingly, all of these images from the past seem to involve pubs. Even the old guys standing around the Ship Inn performing ancient songs reminds me of the scenes in the Green Man on Summerisle. There are several excellent short films on the disc set of how Mummers' Plays continued into the twentieth century. Derby Tup is the tale of how generations of young lads continue the tradition of presenting a two minute play that had long-since disappeared from Derby. The film follows the new lads around 1972 carrying on taking their traditional play passed down through generations into the local pubs. The boys had to learn the play, plan their routes and perform them all without adult supervision. The rite also introduces the lads to the ways of the adult world of the pub. Some of the older men in the pubs turn their backs on the little eldritch play being performed and ignore them. The putting away of childish things or the embarrassment that seems to come with adulthood? 

This leads on to another set of BFI films, Roll Out The Barrel: The British Pub On Film. This series of films takes us on a tour of hostelries from 1944 up to 1982. It's a rich seam of stories from yet another world. Of the twenty films, the one that stands out is the last one, Local Life (1982) which was sponsored by the Brewer's Society. It was little more than a promotional enterprise but now stands as a record of another rapidly disappearing world. Cleverly filmed, it uses filmic techniques that are probably familiar to most of us but conjures up a Lost World that may have been familiar to some of us more than others. The exaggerated sounds that build up the tension of waiting for opening time may seem strange to a modern audience. Cutting to images of a clock face, the barman testing the pumps, laying out mats, a cat idly licking itself, a rushing lorry with the legend "beer" in big red letters on its side, all lead to the moment that the doors are opened dead on eleven o'clock. I had, on occasion in the 1970s, stood at the door of the Marquis of Lorne or wherever waiting for it to open (I was never alone). The image of a punter handing over a wrinkled £1 note brought back memories. The food on offer looks little different to much of the general pub fare on offer today - pie, peas, chips etc. The film follows the structure of what were then the opening times of the day including the familiar barman's calls of, "Time Gentleman, please!"

There is a moment in the film where it cuts from one pub to another around the country allowing us access to the many groups of punters. In one we see a group of older people signing to each other, presumably deaf-mute people (not sure about current PC term). This reminded me of an old joke - definitely un-PC - of a group of such travellers. The coach driver explains to the barman what each sign means for half pint, pint, shorts and others. When the coach driver comes back in he finds the barman in total panic and getting totally stressed out because he doesn't understand what they're all requesting: all the party are standing at the bar opening and shutting their mouths. "Oh no!" the driver cries, "they've started singing, we'll never get them out!"

Anyway, ahem, the film follows various activities of pub life including the raising of £20 million a year (1980s) for various "good causes", other community activities and many pub sports. Also the amount of entertainment in the form of music is explored. One of which is a Mummers' Play performed outside in a darkened car park. Even that far into the century those ceremonies seemed to continue to hang on in there somehow. 

Everywhere in these films exist links to the Lost Worlds. Lost ways of life. I guess they are of little interest to many, especially youngsters in the digital age for which all this exists as boring history. However, one thing I am grateful for is the fact that it is precisely the existence of the digital age that allows us glimpses into these other worlds. The digital world has allowed such records to be kept, restored, catalogued and available in the public domain.

a pub with no beer?
Personally, I am genuinely grateful for that. Even if the students I teach have no interest in context - more fool them - I am able to draw on them for a deeper understanding of times past. Having a good contextual understanding of the times when books, poetry, films, songs were written or made adds to the pleasure of them. Perhaps just accepting what is in front of us can be as pleasurable but I can't help feeling that there's something missing.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

the electric muse

I dreaded walking where there was no path
And pressed with cautious tread the meadow swath
And always turned to look with wary eye
And always feared the owner coming by;
Yet everything about where I had gone
Appeared so beautiful I ventured on
And when I gained the road where all are free
I fancied every stranger frowned at me
And every kinder look appeared to say
"You've been on trespass in your walk today."
I've often thought, the day appeared so fine,
How beautiful if such a place were mine;
But, having naught, I never feel alone
And cannot use another's as my own.

I can't quite remember when, but some time earlier in the week a thought came and lingered. Maybe it was because of a piece of music - it often is. I think, perhaps, that it was A Lincolnshire Posy, the Percy Grainger suite arranged and played by the Home Service on their Alright Jack album. Maybe it's the centenary celebrations for Benjamin Britten that fills our local papers.

Having done my teenage service in the early 1970s, I discovered music that really moved me and meant something to me somewhere around the 1969/70 meridian. The standing joke at school was that I was obsessed with the band Genesis, not long out of the cloistered realm of Charterhouse School themselves. And, truth to tell, I was. I'm not sure why - can any of us know why we become obsessed with any particular thing? Especially music. But there it was.

Somewhere around the tender age of some fifteen summers I went to see them in their early days - this was just after the release of Trespass but they had already brought in Steve Hackett and Phil Collins - at the New Resurrection Club in Hitchin. This was a weekly gig above a sewing shop a bus ride away from my home. It was cheap and cheerful but provided me with some wonderful memories. I could also get served at the bar and actually drink beer - this may have had something to do with my happy memories of the place, of course! But, what, I wondered (back in paragraph one) was it that lead me to my love of folk music? Was it something to do with the sounds I was hearing? Was it the mixture of acoustic and electric instruments that somehow fused rock music and the more pastoral atmosphere that 12 string guitars and flutes added to that overall mix?

For a while, the strange storytelling of Peter Gabriel, both lyrically and in between songs, held me spellbound and I saw the band many times live. After all, the 50p circuit allowed us access to many original bands - many of who became famous later. When Gabriel left the band my interest in them waned. Somehow my musical interests that had been awakened and had lead me to watch many "Progressive" Rock bands - and, of course, collect their albums - began to wane too. By now, of course, I was in my later teens and had been ignominiously asked to leave my alma mater. Whilst my interests in Prog bands dissipated somewhat, new music began to hold my interest.

I have no qualms about admitting that at this time in my life - 1973 - albums such as Tubular Bells held my interest. I know, I know, but we lived in much more impoverished times. But what really excited me was the discovery of The History of Fairport Convention. This was an album that looked fabulous - it seemed sepia and had a Pete Frame family tree for its cover! - and suddenly lit up my life more than anything since Trespass. Given that there were so few albums released compared to today, we tended to, in those days buy what we could afford when we could afford them. At the back of my pile of albums was a strange double lp that had been released by Island Records as a composite sampler of their acts. It held a strange charm over me. I thought that it was a some sort of message from another planet, to be honest. However, suddenly I realised that at least one of the songs on The History of Fairport Convention reminded me of Bumpers, the Island sampler. And there it was*. The discovery of the FC album allowed me into yet another whole new world, but not only that, the wonderful songs that had haunted me like arcane messages from elsewhere suddenly became more available - Nick Drake, Sandy Denny (via Fotheringay - ah! The Sea), Traffic et al. Acoustic/electric music that spoke to me in hushed whispers and drew me in to other worlds.

Now, when I listen to Vaughan Williams, Peter Warlock or say, the Grainger suite by the Home Service I can be easily transported back to those times. More innocent times, of course. But still, I wondered, what was it that drew me towards such sounds rather than the more obvious stuff that many of my contemporaries were drawn to?

Whilst the atmospheric sounds of acoustic 12 string guitars laying down a background for melodic overdriven guitars and the rise and fall of mellotrons and the woodier timbres of the cellos and violas mixed in with the irresistable pull of acoustic six-string guitars humming and buzzing somehow drew me in; something else was there. Ah! It was the story. Peter Gabriel's eccentric ramblings and quasi-Classical allusions (pretentious, I'm aware - it was the early 70s) gave way to the timeless stories of the old ways that folk song offered. By now I had read Thomas Hardy amongst all the Penguin Classics and felt drawn to the disappearing world that he, Lawrence and Flora Thompson spoke about.

Now as I hold my beautiful Fylde acoustic guitar or strum disconsolately my Fender Stratocaster and attempt to recall the glory days of youth when I could jot down wondrous stories with a semblance of a tune, I am reminded of how words, sounds and atmosphere excited me and made me want to create something of my own. I know there are some youngsters out there that are discovering wonderful music and stories that will drive them on. I'm sure they're out there.

Over the last few days I have been forced into a situation where I very much doubt that the sort of kids that are put in front of me have any such interests and seem unlikely to discover the worlds that require an effort to explore beyond quick flicking of their thumbs. I'm not finding it in their books or any dialogues I have with them. I sincerely hope that this is confined to the far eastern reaches of East Anglia and that some of these kids will discover that there are worlds out there to be discovered that don't demand digital equipment to conjure them - a song, poem, story or the sound of a few instruments will hopefully stir a few of them up.

Without even that, they're lost.  Some of the most enduring creations have come from simple tools - paper, pen, pencil etc. Maybe an acoustic guitar or squeezebox. As we face an uncertain future - one where even having access to regular electricity could become a class issue, then hopes, fears and storytelling are needed more than ever. The games industry isn't creating anything like what's needed.

In Mali, the desert blues of bands such as Tinariwen and Tamikrest developed out of adversity - a story for another day - but it will be a shame if it takes that amount of hardship to create a new era of storytelling that doesn't rely on thousands of pounds worth of computer development and a ready-created so-called "reality" to allow some begrudged suggestion of a possible storyline. The books I'm marking currently aren't really making me feel too optimistic at the moment.

* Walk Awhile by Fairport, if you must ask.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

blame it on the poppies

I see the barley moving as the mowers find their pace
I see the line advancing with a steady timeless grace
And there's passion in their eyes and there's honour in their face
As they scythe down the castles and the courts

Blame it on the fathers, blame it on the sons
Blame it on the poppies and the pain
Blame it on the generals, blame it on their guns
Blame it on the scarecrow in the rain

I smell the smoke of stubble when the harvest is brought down
I see the fire a-burning as it purges all around
And the field is turned to ashes and the only living sound
Are the skylarks as they try to reach the sun

Blame it on the fathers, blame it on the sons
Blame it on the poppies and the pain
Blame it on the generals, blame it on their guns
Blame it on the scarecrow in the rain

I see the barbed wire growing like a bramble on the land
I see a farm turned to a fortress and a future turned to sand
I see a meadow turn to mud and from it grows a hand
Like a scarecrow that is fallen in the rain
Blame it on the scarecrows...

I have always been quite ambivalent about the wearing of poppies at this time of year. I refused to wear one when I was young, much to the chagrin of my father. Robert Fisk's Comment article here makes no bones about his attitude. I have thought long and hard about this and think that the poem in question is not as ambiguous as others have said:

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

This is the third stanza of In Flanders Field. How ambiguous is it? Sure, he'd lost friends and colleagues but on the whole he does seem to be saying, "if you don't finish what we've started, we'll never rest."  It's a week or so since the curmudgeonly old sod Lou Reed died and the meaning of one of his most famous songs, Perfect Day is still hotly contested. In truth, it may have been written as a paean to heroin but has since risen to become a song celebrating a wonderful, personal moment in time.  The poppy image itself has become an icon that most people accept. Detractors like Fisk have a point but I still find it difficult to fully agree.

But . . . as a shorthand icon, we all seem to accept that it really symbolises those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Well, I guess the jury's still out on that one. This year I bought a poppy but didn't get round to wearing it. However, tomorrow is actually Remembrance Day so will I wear the poppy or not? Alongside that, I also have the annual problem of teaching at precisely 11 o'clock - just as students come tumbling in to class from break. A two minute's silence? 

There's forty shillings on the drum
For those who volunteer to come
To list and fight the foe today
Over the hills and far away.

Monday, 4 November 2013

welcome to the machine

welcome to cyberspace, I'm lost in the fog
everything's digital I'm still analogue
when something goes wrong
I don't have a clue
some 10-year-old smart ass has to show me what to do
sign on with high speed you don't have to wait
sit there for days and vegetate
I access my email, read all my spam, I'm an analogue man.

the whole world's living in a digital dream
it's not really there
it's all on the screen
makes me forget who I am
I'm an analogue man . . . 
what's wrong with vinyl? I think it sounds great
LPs, 45s, 78s but that's just the way I am
I'm an analogue man

turn on the tube, watch until dawn
one hundred channels, nothing is on
endless commercials, endless commercials, endless commercials

I am aware of the recent arguments and disagreements with Spotify but I must admit that, although not a regular user, I occasionally enjoy the opportunity to listen to music on a whim. And I really do listen to music on a whim.

Tonight whilst "working" I have capriciously felt like listening to Ravel's Pavanne by Joe Walsh, Ralph Vaughan William's Lark Ascending and Tim Hart & Maddie Prior's Heyday. Okay, maybe not that eclectic but definitely "whimsical" in  choice. And they've got Peter Warlock stuff on there too! Perhaps tomorrow. All this stuff is there - I could spend hours lost there in Cyberspace looking for stuff to listen to. It's all free, too.

I have on many occasions spoken of myself as an "oik". By that I mean that I was born in Middle Row in Stevenage Old Town above a tailor's shop, raised in a council house, went to a Grammar School because of the falseness of the 11+ and worked in Country Houses, factories and Insurance Companies (excuse me whilst I spit). My father was a security guard (after being made redundant from a fairly good factory job fitting conveyor belts in car factories) and my mother was a life-long barmaid. Somehow, I guess, something approaching "culture" rubbed off on me. But I've always been an oik deep down. But I do listen to some Classical Music and I do know a little bit about Art and Literature. These things can be learnt.  I enjoy good food and I can tell a Malbec from a Merlot. Just about. But ask me about guitars and strings and things, then I really am your man. But I'm still an oik at heart. I still get caught out mis-pronouncing unfamiliar words and Latin names. But the internet is my personal teacher if I can just get used to sitting in front of it for hours and sift through the millions of pieces of information it offers.

The internet seems to be a great leveller. Self-educated oiks like me can continue our own education and interests despite not being well-schooled as such.  I can go and find out things easily and I can catch up with news stories, radio programmes and instantly get hold of information that would have been impossible when I were a lad. This is the crux of the matter - the internet is the Tower of Babel - in the Borgian sense perhaps. Everything is there. In his book, Why Do I Need A Teacher When I've Got Google?, Ian Gilbert realises that teachers are there to help us understand the World. Information is there but which is the right information? William Gibson has made a career on similar observations.

That's been my job, then. To try to help young people move through shark infested waters. Of course, the youth don't care - their's is the digital world. If it says so on the internet, it must be true. I've spent the last twenty or so years trying to give youngsters the benefit of my experience. But, as J. M. Barrie said, "I'm not young enough to know everything"*.

One day soon I'll accept this and just get on with finding out what I want to know.  And catch up on all sorts of music I've ignored over the past 50 years.

* No, it wasn't Oscar Wilde.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

and another thing

Time to lighten up.

everyone's a star

Have you seen the stars tonight?
Would you like to go up on A-deck and look at them with me?
Have you seen the stars tonight?
Would you like to go up for a stroll and keep me company?

We stood in a flapping tent built to house wine, food and an urn or two bubbling away to heat red wine. We huddled together to drive the cold Autumn away - the first real cold evening of this wonderful time of year. The fire about a hundred yards away roared and crackled and spat. I feared for our friends' house as the wind whipped up the cinders and flung them across as though a bully testing the resolve of a regular victim. 

No major problems, the threat of a fire died down. The fire itself died down. The awe of seeing a spectacular firework display died down. Speaking as someone who is not that impressed with the cordite-smell and spectacle of money going up in smoke, it was an impressive show. I turned to Mrs Dave and her friend and remarked that it wasn't like a traditional Firework display. Why? Because it wasn't raining. They smiled - another wasted breath.

I had a can or two of beer and tried to keep the circulation going in my extremities. Eventually, thankfully, we were moved indoors. A chance to warm up by their huge wood burner - at least three times the size of the poor excuse for one such in our tiny back room.  We moved about and shuffled from one acquaintance to another to catch up with the last few years. A lovely guy I'd met a few years ago on a skiing trip was there, he's a dentist and not having a great time of it under the current regime. Not a Tory, to be sure. However, as I'd recently been having a spat on Twitter with a local MP (Mr Privilege: possibly publicly force-fed BSE burgers by his father) the subject came up. He was quite gracious for someone who is being hung, drawn and quartered under that current regime. Okay, we're all human and we are all influenced by our parents - I'm talking politically here*. His wife has been forced to give up teaching due to the difference between what passes for education and what's in her heart. So, nobody seems to be doing well under this current regime. I'll use the term "regime" where plenty of public servants are using terms like "shit shower" on the various social networking sites as I don't like to use foul language on this blog. Anyway, my little contretemps with the local MP was probably of no significance to anyone but it did seem to ruffle a few feathers along the way. Perhaps he has had an Icarus moment here - flying quite close to the flame. There will be plenty of far more angry dealings for him to come.  Maybe the current Secretary of State for Education is the epitome of Bright Phoebus himself. But throughout the land there are teachers being burnt to the glory of the DfE in giant mortar-boarded structures made from old National Curriculum documents in the hope of driving up standards. Even without qualified "teachers" (an unqualified teacher is an instructor - what's an unqualified doctor, brain surgeon, pilot et al?). Still it's good to know that the future of education is safe in their hands . . . oh, it's not is it

I have been a teacher - sorry, for the sake of Gove and his acolytes, I'll rephrase that - I've been a Qualified Teacher - for over twenty years now. In that time I've seen plenty of bright kids (I haven't taught many as I've always been given second and third sets) pass through the gates of the schools I've taught in. Very few of those could give a flying one about Shakespeare, Keats or Dickens** - even less about excellent articles in our "Quality Press" - but somehow, they get through. However, when Mr Ofsted comes knocking - or for that matter, a member of SLT - we are judged on whether or not that child is showing interest. I remember once when a student came in to class whilst I was being observed and the only thing he cared about in his life was his moped. He had crashed it the night before. I didn't know how he "celebrated" that loss but I have a good idea. He came in to the classroom that morning looking awful and sunk his head in his hands and refused to give a toss about Shakespeare. I mean, how unreasonable. He should have left all his angst at the classroom door and fully engaged with The Tempest, for Chrissakes . . . and certainly not showed me up. Because, of course, when students come in to school with their own problems and issues, that's the teacher's fault. How uncivilized can you get? He was Caliban to my Prospero, of course.

A few years later, the same student, now a lad of some twenty summers, apologised deeply and with a heavy heart when he crashed an English Teachers' post-term meeting in a local hostelry. He bemoaned his own school behaviour and work ethos. All too late, for him and me. He had another chance (albeit with regrets) but I had to put up with the ignominy of being seen as a failure by the person who is now - a few years on - the Head of the school. Oops! I meant "Academy". At least I was able to offer some words of wisdom. You can guess the rest . . . 

In the meantime, I have recently been back in contact with one of my old teachers. Yep, that's a gob-smacking thing, isn't it? There were a few good guys there at my Alma Mater. It's great to actually "talk" (write) with someone who only knew me as a 14 year old oik but somehow through all of that still remembers me. I'll remember many of the youths that pass through my auspices. I was absolutely useless (laughably so) at Languages but he became my form tutor. And somehow, he believed in me. Me. I was out of my depth and such an airhead that I still, to this day, have no idea what the hell I was doing at that school. But here was a guy - not long out of school himself. He'd been at Uni with members of famous Jazz-Rock bands and became a great Careers Teacher. I'm sure I told him I wanted to be a shepherd or something. When he was my form tutor he leant me a copy of Titus Groan because it was the name of a band and I thought I would be a great intellect if I read it.  I never finished it (by god, I tried) and gave it back avoiding any conversation about it, too embarrassed. By the time I'd been ignominiously asked not to come back to the school (C'mon, how many of you had a personal FO from your Head Teacher?) it was a forgotten moment in the past. Yet I was troubled about that moment.

A few years later I was working at Knebworth Park. Much of what I had to do was meaningless. And boring. Somehow, I managed to struggle through Titus Groan and ultimately the rest of the Gormenghast Trilogy. I could also not only pronounce that but knew what it meant. A couple of years later I even managed to work through a redundancy by reading Daniel Martin by John Fowles in the loo at some rather long "toilet breaks"***. Serendipity, but the factory closing down - and later the thieves Insurance Company I worked for - worked out so well. I was able, finally, to go to a reasonable University even though I was in my late thirties.

Oh well, I won't go on about all of that, but, really, we all have shooting stars pass before us. We don't always realise that, of course.  What's the Wilde quote about we're all in the gutter but some of us are looking up at the stars? 

I see kids pass through my classes and I just wonder how I don't really seem to get all that experience I've gained across. I was walking through Debenhams about ten years ago and a lovely young lady bounded across to me and told me that I was Mr Leeke. I couldn't disagree. She was a manager at the store. "I can't ever have water running whilst I clean my teeth because of what you said!" 

"Er, why?"

"Because you told us about how much water we'd save if we didn't run it, I've never forgotten that." Oh dear, be careful what you say. Hopefully she turns the tv and computer off at night too.

I now have two colleagues at the school (Doh! Academy) I teach at that I taught Film Studies to. They both regularly mention things that I told them. And that, too, was years ago. Somewhere, along the way, something I said or did got through. Just like with my former French/Form teacher all those years ago. None of these are high flyers, bright stars. But they have gone off on their own course and been reasonably successful. Just like me. 

There must always be the hope of having made some sort of impact.

We miss those shooting stars. The fireworks were brilliant tonight, sparking out all over the sky. I noticed a few that nobody else seemed to. They were all looking at the obvious ones shooting off above us. Occasionally there were a few that quietly flew off at a tangent and presented their spectacle a long way off over to the left.  I wonder how many shooting stars have been missed over the last century because we were too busy looking at the pretty lights?

The stars out in the night-time country sky were also beautiful tonight, much as they were over Lyme Regis earlier this week. Later this week fireworks will cover your skies for the evening and maybe, too, you live in an area where there is so much light pollution that you'll wish yourself elsewhere. Just for an opportunity to look at the stars for short while. Just look sideways for a moment and maybe you'll catch sight of something wonderful that others may miss.

You can see all the stars as you walk down Hollywood Boulevard
Some that you recognize, some that you've hardly even heard of
People who worked and suffered and struggled for fame
Some who succeeded and some who suffered in vain

* My dad drove landing craft in WW2 and was involved in bringing home British servicemen from Japanese POWs. A life-long hatred of the "Japs" followed - amongst other non-British citizens. Growing up in that environment in the Peace-loving end of the sixties convinced me that sort of attitude is wrong. I still do.
** Oh how I hate Dickens - it's like ploughing through legal documents.
*** I was transported and often forgot the time. But, by god, was Daniel Martin difficult to hide down your trousers!

Saturday, 26 October 2013

lake eerie

Ooh, I go swimming, swimming in the water
Swimming in the river, swimming in the sea
I go swimming

"Visits to the swimming pool in the fifties and sixties were always accompanied by anxiety about diseases, especially polio whenever there was an outbreak, and verrucas. There were steel baskets for your clothes, a Brylcream machine on the way out, and Wagon Wheels, Penguins and Bovril at the café. And always, everywhere, boys shivering. On swimming days at school, the smell of wet togs pervaded the classroom, the dampness seeping through to smudge the ink in the exercise books in our satchells."   Roger Deakin Waterlog page 310
Gigi Cifali's beautiful images here reminded me of Roger Deakin's wonderful book Waterlog. Although I never met him - he lived in Suffolk - but I miss him as his books were always a joy to read and gave me a yearning to get outside.

I remember open air swimming pools in Hitchin and Bedford by the River Ouze. Mostly I remember the one near my house in Stevenage in Letchmore Road park. A place that was frequented by big wild boys who took great pleasure in leaving broken glass there for us littluns to maim ourselves on whilst shivering in our home-knitted swimming trunks. I also remember those swimming lessons with a shudder.

Have a look at these fantastically eldritch images from another time somewhere in the deep past.

october 26th

Soon if we meet again then there'll be
Revolution, that's all that it can be
If you find your own solution then that's all right with me.
If I wanted to, could I depend on you, my friend?

Soon if we dream again then there'll be
Revolution, that's all that it can be
If you find your own solution then that's all right with me.
If I wanted to, could I depend on you, my friend?

Soon if we hope again then there'll be
Revolution, that's all that it can be
If you find your own solution then that's all right with me.
Revolution. It's got to be revolution.
It's all that it can be.

On 26th October, 1917, the All-Russian Congress of Soviets met and handed over power to the Soviet Council of People's Commissars. Lenin was elected chairman and other appointments included Leon Trotsky (Foreign Affairs) Alexei Rykov (Internal Affairs), Anatoli Lunacharsky (Education), Alexandra Kollontai (Social Welfare), Felix Dzerzhinsky (Internal Affairs), Joseph Stalin (Nationalities), Peter Stuchka (Justice) and Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko (War). Anatoli Lunacharsky was made the Commissar of Enlightenment and went on to establish the Bolshoi Drama Theatre. Proper intelligent politicians that lot. Mind you, I can easily imagine the current Secretary of State for Education eventually sharing Trotsky's fate. Sooner rather than later, please.

Not many specific dates are celebrated by their very own song. The beautiful creamy lead guitar on this 1970 single by the Pretty Things has always been a favourite of mine. The harpsichord was probably at the suggestion of its producer Norman "Hurricane" Smith. I first heard it the week before its release on a Radio 1 Sunday night "Progressive" show. I rushed out and bought it the following Friday - release day for all new records in those days. I've still got the single and it's there on my iPod as an additional track on Parachute. An album that still resonates for me from those heady days. I bought it in the Longship (here and here) for a few quid off of a heroin addict who needed some cash. I guess I got the better deal. I've still got it.

In the cd cover notes (just about legible), one Mike Stax says, "It was the date of the Russian Revolution (sic), but the song appeared to be a kind of farewell to the comrades of another, more recent, failed revolution." The late sixties were a time of hope and the future looked great. But the cold winds of the austere Seventies soon blew such silly notions away. I've mentioned elsewhere my disappointment in the lack of a jetpack or holidays on Mars. Mind you, recent news about the Gold Rush mentality of volunteers for the one-way trip to Mars and the advert for the current series for Have I Got News For You  suggests that the jetpack is a fundamental right for all. We want our jetpacks and we want them now! James Bond had one in Thunderball in 1965. It looks as though they're still a long way off from being commercially available. Ah well, I still fancy an electric bike - I had a go on one recently. It was great fun, they go up to fifteen mph and no pedalling uphill. That's cylcing.

Anyway, back to reality. Today's date is an auspicious one. It seems that the idea of Revolution is currently popular. If you can bear to watch it if you missed it, the spat between Jeremy Paxman and the over-rated loquacious Russell Brand is worth watching (once). Both personalities are Marmite types. Personally I quite like Paxman. Can't stand the other fellow though. Perhaps he thinks he's the new James Dean: what are you rebelling about? What you got? Anything to keep in the news I guess. He's probably got a new book with a ridiculously childish title to sell or another film out that I'll avoid like the plague.

Still, the other thing that seems to be going on is the way that social media has lit up with anti-Gove vitriol. The man is a charlatan, and the most dangerous (and hated) man in the country at the moment. An English Spring could be working its way through facebook and Twitter. Probably more of an English Autumn and it won't be violent but at least there's hope. Remember Tony Benn's five questions of power:

What power have you got?
Where did you get it from?
In whose interests do you use it?
To whom are you accountable?
How do we get rid of you?

All together now:
You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world

Sunday, 6 October 2013

the world is a wonderful place

You live and you die
There's no reason why
The world is a wonderful place

I was sitting quietly in the staff room a few months back when the question was raised as to who - if anyone - knew of the name of a Bassoonist. Any Bassoonist, not just a famous one. I, of course, was able to supply the name of one to everyone's chagrin amazement. I chose to mention Brian Gulland of Gryphon fame mainly because I had met him a few times (see here) but a few minutes ago was immediately aware that I should have mentioned the wonderful Lindsay Cooper  who I have just read has died at the ridiculously young age of about 62. That's no age - Christ, that's a year younger than my dad.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I didn't want to just write about dead people but I can't help but mention the passing of some fellow travellers. Lindsay Cooper was a great musician as the obit from the Independent will testify. She played on some great albums - I may not love Slapp Happy etc but via Henry Cow, I was introduced to Dagmar Krause*, Peter Blegvad and the occasional album Cooper played on. Not forgetting, of course she played on the much-maligned Mike Oldfield album Hergest Ridge.

More importantly, I suppose, is the fact that she played on this a great rare track by Richard and Linda Thompson. I think - and quite happy to be corrected - it was recorded for I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight but remained unreleased until R&L became vaguely famous enough to release. This was before his conversion to Sufism and shows Thompson's dark world view to good effect. Lyrically and melodically it has echoes of Brecht & Weill and Cooper's bassoon helps no end in creating that effect.

And then she was diagnosed with MS and left to cope in ignominy for years. And now an obituary. So, she wasn't famous or particularly important but she was a great talent. And a famous Bassoonist. Remember that in your next quiz.

* Dagmar Krause: Supply and Demand: Songs by Brecht/Weill and Eisler (1986, LP, Hannibal Records) is well worth spending a few hours with. Has Thompson on it in case you're not sold . . .

Saturday, 28 September 2013

all is safely gathered in

Come all you gallant poachers that ramble void of care
That walk out on a moonlight night with your dog, your gun and snare
The harmless hare and pheasant you have at your command
Not thinking of your last career out on Van Diemen's Land

Me and five more went out one night into Squire Duncan's park
To see if we could catch some game, the night it being dark
But to our great misfortune we got dropped on with speed
And they took us off to Warwick gaol which made our hearts to bleed

Then at Warwick assizes at the bar we did appear
And like Job we stood with patience our sentence for to hear
But being old offenders it made our case go hard
And for fourteen long and cruel years we were all sent on board

We had a female comrade, Sue Summers was her name,
And she was given sentence for a-selling of our game.
But the captain fell in love with her and he married her out of hand
And she proved true and kind to us going to Van Diemen's Land.

As I lay on the deck last night a-dreaming of my home
I dreamed I was in Harbouree, the fields and woods among
With my true love beside me and a jug of ale in hand
But I woke quite brokenhearted out in Van Diemen's Land.

So come all you gallant poachers, give ear unto my song
It is a bit of good advice although it be not long
Lay by your dog and snare, to you I do speak plain
If you knew the hardships we endure, you'd never poach again*.

Okay, it wasn't exactly a moonlight night, more a sunlight day. There were five of us, though. 

The previous evening, we sat with colleagues after Mrs Dave's meeting with her Book Club and, inevitably the discussion turned to what we were all doing for the weekend. And, of course, we weren't doing anything normal by anyone else's standards. We should have been driving up to the Lake District to spend the weekend drinking walking with friends. However, far too knackered to even entertain that idea, we chose to spend it at home but go out on a half price foraging course for the day. As soon as you mention such an experience, it's assumed that you're going out poaching. Or, inevitably for English teachers, "are you going to live off the fatta the lan'?"** No, we're going foraging.

Wherever you are in this green and pleasant land today, I'm assuming that you probably enjoyed the continuing last gasp of Summer. We had an absolutely gorgeous day on the Suffolk/Essex borderlands. The amount of mushrooms - which became the main focus of the day - were almost overwhelming. I did manage to bag up enough sloes and crab apples to do something useful with them. Well, sloe gin, for instance.

We found wild hops, blackberries (which we ignored because of their ubiquity), horseradish and all sorts of things you can't - or shouldn't eat. It was entertaining as well as healthy and, of course, instructive. All of these things were the intention of the day. 

After a good few hours wandering, we went to Carl's kitchen unit (he was running the course - a Michelin
they live like pigs you know
starred chef) and refreshed ourselves with tea and bread and jam. Off for another walk. On the land Carl's kitchen unit is housed were a herd of wild boar. Evidently, after seven generations wild, domestic pigs return to their natural state - these vicious animals. Don't fall over in front of these devils. They'll eat anything. The scenery was stunning at times but our focus was really on what we could (literally) bring to the table. By the time the afternoon was over, we had managed to bring rather a lot to the table.

I was surprised at how quickly Carl was able to magic up some home-made pasta. I'm not pasta's number one fan, but it was quite magnificent. With a bit of muntjac deer thrown in, we gorged on home-made soughdough bread with fresh watercress and water mint salad along with the various edible fungi we'd managed to find.

By the time we got home, we were ready to rush down (all right, saunter) to the pub for a well-earned pint of Adnams bitter. We have a fridge with unusual (for us) mushrooms and bags full of crab apples and sloes - sloe gin day tomorrow - and a thirst for getting back out there and finding some stuff to pick.

We had reservations, please be aware, about today's jaunt. However, we are now much more ready to get out there and look for some more esoteric fruit than we normally would. I guess you're never sure who or what you're going to be presented with. Carl and our fellow travellers were very pleasant and very good company. We will be more than happy to go on similar jaunts. 

I will personally be far happier to pick some (SOME) mushrooms now. Oh, and eat them. The future will include casting a far wider net than the usual sloes, rosehips, blackberries and . . . er, well that's about it isn't it? 

I'm not about to go out with a gun and start bringing home muntjac deer for Mrs Dave to skin or myxomatosis-laden rabbits. I'm not going to risk our lives by picking things that may vaguely look edible. I'm not going out poaching and I'm not worried about the jeers and slurs of less adventurous people. What I am going to do is to continue entertaining myself and getting out there in the woods. I'm going to feel smug occasionally that I've found edible stuff that has been around for centuries and try it out. 

So, a day from this weekend has been well-spent. We've recharged our batteries as well as gained some useful knowledge (not to mention some very useful natural foodstuffs) and readied ourselves for the onslaught of the week ahead. I'll be more than happy to drink to that. Cheers. Now, what shall I make with all these bloody mushrooms?

* Lyrics from the Shirley Collins version on No Roses. My favourite version is by Terry Woods on the Gay & Terry Woods album Renowned. Terry lewdly changes the lyric about the unfortunate girl being transported for "a-playing of the game" and suggests "she gave us all good service boys on the way to Van Diemen's Land". Or Tasmania as it's better known today. Good old Terry - ended up in the Pogues.
** A John Steinbeck "Of Mice And Men" reference. You couldn't move for English teachers.

Monday, 26 August 2013

love hurts

Hearing shingle explode, seeing it skip,
Crow sucked his tongue.
Seeing sea-grey mash a mountain of itself
Crow tightened his goose-pimples.
Feeling spray from the sea’s root nothinged on his crest
Crow’s toes gripped the wet pebbles.
When the smell of the whale’s den, the gulfing of the crab’s last prayer,
Gimletted in his nostril
He grasped he was on earth.
He knew he grasped
Something fleeting
Of the sea’s ogreish outcry and convulsion.
He knew he was the wrong listener unwanted
To understand or help -

His utmost gaping of his brain in his tiny skull
Was just enough to wonder, about the sea,

What could be hurting so much?

I write this with no sense of schadenfruede. Ironically enough, as I sat on the back door step next to the barbecue cooking a chicken for dinner, I watched two pigeons on a neighbour's roof. One was attempting to mount the other . . . 

On a beach in Gytheon last week we sat looking out to sea after a pleasant meal in the taverna behind us. I had just finished off a plate of about a dozen small sardines beautifully grilled. We swam for a while before we had to head off to catch the boat. As we were drying off in the sun, our gaze wandered across to a couple who had also been dining in the little taverna. We recognised them as being on the same trip as us as he had often been posing around the swimming pool showing off his semi-Illustrated Man physique. They were a lot younger than us and had swum out a little way away from the beach presumably to cool down in the sea. 

Being young and presumably in love, they got quite close. "Are they . .?" asked Mrs Dave. I replied in the affirmative without adding the mental "lucky  b. . . " so we averted our eyes. We've all been there. We were all young once. As it was a small beach on the edge of the little town, it was difficult not to be aware that there was the possibility of passion being aroused in that direction - presumably just far enough away from their mothers who were sunbathing near us. 

A while later as I looked back in their direction, there seemed to be some commotion. The female member of the duo was now standing on the beach whilst the male was rushing around the beach. He ducked down and did some press-ups in the gently lapping sea as it came up to the shore. That seemed a bit bizarre. Then he ran away behind some rocks. Then a moment later he came back bending up and down as one who is in great pain. He held an arm out and indicated that his partner should stay away from him.

By now we were rather fascinated with this passion play that was unfolding before us.

The lady came back to talk to the two older ladies and told them something - unfortunately we were a little way off from them but they appeared to be Italians. We wouldn't have understood anyway.  However, the young man in question didn't seem to be feeling much better. He had changed his trunks by then though. He had a more capacious pair on that perhaps were a little more airy around the legs. They were gently flapping in the breeze.

We had to leave fairly soon. But back on the boat - a small tender to get us to the ship we were travelling on. The couple sat fairly near us. Well, I say 'sat' but the girl didn't sit - her legs appeared horrendously red as though stung possibly by a jelly fish - perhaps she'd squashed one? There was a lot of kerfuffle going on and the guy still looked remarkably upset. Lots of anguish in his facial expressions. They were allowed off of the boat first and quickly taken away to be met by some medical people.

We never saw them again for the rest of the week. We never learned what had actually happened and it means we have to fill in the details ourselves. As an English teacher, I often try to get students to understand that good writers should show and not tell. 

I wonder how he explained to the doctor how he had got so badly injured? But I bet it put them off drinking cocktails like Sex on the Beach forever.

Sunday, 25 August 2013


This beautiful creature spent an hour sitting by my back door this afternoon. A female  Aeshnea Cyanea I believe*. A Hawker, a member of the dragonfly family.

The Dragonfly

Now, when my roses are half buds, half flowers,
And loveliest, the king of flies has come-
It was a fleeting visit, all too brief;
In three short minutes he has seen them all,
And rested, too, upon an apple tree.

There, his round shoulders humped with emeralds,
A gorgeous opal crown set on his head,
And all those shining honours to his breast-
‘My garden is a lovely place’ thought I,
‘But is it worthy of such a guest?’

He rested there, upon the apple leaf -
‘See, see,’ I cried amazed, ‘his opal crown,
And all those emeralds clustered around his head!’
‘His breast, my dear, how lovely was his breast-’
The voice of my Beloved quickly said.

‘See, see his gorgeous crown, that shines
With all those jewels bulging round its rim-’
I cried aloud at night, in broken rest.
Back came the answer quickly, in my dream-
‘His breast, my dear, how lovely was his breast!’
(W. H. Davies)
* more than happy to be proved wrong, of course! No expert me.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

you go montenegro?

And when your ship sets sail do not worry
I'll wipe your sweat away
all your life you travel blind
not a peace, not resigned
at least you get to leave the pain behind
when your ship sets sail

There's definitely a buzz about swimming in the Ionian Sea. Sometimes scrabbling over rocks on a "beach" that many Brits find too rough can be quite a thrill. You can slip into the slightly buoyant - somehow oily - sea  and drift there whilst the morning sun warms you whilst building up its fiercer heat for the afternoon. Even when you're just a tourist, it is possible to get away from the crowd and spend an hour or two away from them. Lovely as they are . . . 

Okay, it was our fault. We hadn't got it together enough to sort a proper holiday out and the Motor Home is in a garage as I write waiting to have its "water problems" sorted out. Anyway, off we went to the so-called Eastern Mediterranean to join HMS Sybarite and watch hundreds of Europeans graze on a continual diet of freshly made pizza and 24 hour-at-your-service-cocktails. If it got too hot we could always go and stand in the small pool and be bombarded by the hundreds of out of control children that had been left to their own devices as their parents were "on us 'olidays" and therefore were negating any responsibility for the behaviour of their offspring. Which is why we made any attempt we could to avoid the crowd and jump into the 'Med' (or which ever sea we were in) as early as possible whilst the rest of the jolly holiday makers were still clambering off the ship and trying to stop their kids from consuming the whole of the European Pizza Mountain before waddling up to find a beach. Any beach.

Truth to tell, we took an opportunity to go to a few places we've always wanted to visit. Mrs Dave has always wanted to go to Venice, which has never been that high on my list of priorities, and I wanted to visit the old city of Dubrovnik as I've only ever seen it from the Franjo Tuđman Bridge on a ridiculous journey* to the Croatian airport a few years ago. So, along with a few Greek ports and one or two other places, they are the places we visited last week.

Ah! I wondered what had happened to Gryphon.
Venice was as busy as the London Embankment on a hot Sunday in August only worse. Yes, I went to the South Bank as well a week or so back. It was the day of a big bicycle race which meant that the World and his wife's extended family had turned up. Anyway, Venice. It was very hot but Mrs Dave was happy (actually "excited" was the way she described it) so that was good. We went back there yesterday and as there weren't so many people, I enjoyed it more. Especially when the reverse gears on the water bus stopped working on the way back to the airport but that's another story!

After visiting a non-descript Italian town at the start of the week, we finally reached Dubrovnik. It was a beautiful city to visit. As it is an old Mediaeval city that is now a World Heritage Site a few inherent problems were made immediately obvious. An ambulance reached the old gates to the city at the same time as we did. Modern vehicles can't get into the old city so it takes time to deal with emergencies. Still, we were entertained musically by a few locals who have taken on board the idea of its World Heritage status whilst waiting to pass through the city gate. Having been to Croatia before, we were aware that pre-EU their currency was the Kuna but as they had just fully joined the EU, we assumed (stupidly) that they accepted Euros. Nope. Not interested. Even when you want to buy something! Oh well, off to Greece for a few days.

Which is where we came in, of course. Swimming in the Ionian away from the crowds and taking in the rural beauty of Greece. We went to Corfu and Kefalonia but the real find was Gytheion (Sparta) which we really enjoyed and can imagine going back to. Helen and Paris supposedly found refuge here on the tiny island of Kranai, which sticks out from the harbour, just before going off to Troy. We found a wonderful small taverna where I was able to eat a big plate of grilled sardines. It's not something I can cook often as I'm the only one who seems to enjoy fish with heads and bones. Excellent.
St Peter's church on the small island of  Kranai

A couple of days ago we pulled in to Kotor, a beautiful ancient city which is the gateway to Montenegro. Nobody knew anything about the place although obviously it was where Casino Royale (the film, Brendan, the film) was set. What an amazing find! It was the highlight of the trip for me. Although we didn't really have time to climb the city wall fully (up and up . . ) we managed to take in a fair amount. We will hopefully return one day. And, yes, they take Euros as they don't actually have their own currency. Italianate in appearance and very like a mini-Dubrovnik, it was a very welcoming town.   It seemed to be full of very beautiful young ladies, er, if you like that sort of thing. Interestingly, of all of these towns we visited, there were generally very few beggars on the streets. Unlike in England. Lots of happy faces too. Again, unlike England . . .

Meanwhile back on board the Sybarite, the entertainment officer was pulling out all the stops. It's good to know that since the virtual demise of the Muppets old has-beens like Kermit can still get a job. No matter what rubbish they threw out each evening as entertainment, there was Kermit introducing us to the "Showwww!" If that wasn't to your tastes, the bars on board all had a different act on to entertain us. For some reason the "Red Bar" provided us with the best: a French couple comprising a piano player in his late fifties with a younger female singer. For some reason she wasn't allowed to sing too much but as she sounded somewhere between Edith Piaf and Marianne Faithfull we would have liked to have heard more of her. Meanwhile the Woody Allen lookalike on piano spoke through a few "hits" and every one of them to the tune of The Girl From Ipanema. They were supposed to perform "your favourites" and do requests. However, Mrs Dave had put me under absolute instructions not to request Je t'aime… moi non plus which I think would have suited them superbly. It could be a hit all over again.

Interestingly, as often happens, I was approached by an attractive young lady who asked if I was "Mr Leeke"? Er, yes . . . "You used to be my form tutor!" Blimey, nearly fifteen years ago. And I haven't changed a bit - unlike them of course.

Oh well, back to Blighty and the rain. Easy Jet managed to land us in the North Terminal of Gatwick instead of the South but we were one step ahead of them and had organised our car to be delivered to whichever terminal we arrived at so they turned up at the North Terminal. It wasn't the best journey home but we got back about two in the morning. 

Whilst all this jollity was going on the school was managing to get some of its worst GCSE results for years so the coming year ahead looks like it's going to be awful. But that's another week away:

I guess it's time to think about moving on again
Stop all this painting in the rain.
The colours only run and merge as one
Oil should be left to dry in the sun.

* A very tired taxi driver stopped on the bridge at our request as we felt we may drop in, literally, to Dubrovnik if he didn't stop and try to wake himself up!