Saturday, 25 September 2021

last leaf of autumn

How I wish I could return to those summers once again
How I wish I could just sit in the presence of a friend
Making music or just listening to the birds so far from sight
Watching as the dark shades of evening turn to night
Gone the sun...

I was away in Wales the other week when the sudden, unexpected, news of Michael Chapman's death came through. Okay, he was 80 and that's not a bad innings.

Whilst Michael wasn't a household name, and his passing was fairly ignored by much of the media, I feel I need to comment. I have written before about him both in relation to the passing of Derek Brimstone and in my re-review of his album Deal Gone Down. The fact that he has been a major influence on me means I want to note his passing but, also, I think it's important to remind anyone with even a vague interest in music how influential he had been.

You can, of course, look up the obvious biographical details on Wikipedia and I do not want to reiterate that here. What I'm interested in noting is a few points about his influence and maybe an anecdote or two.

I became aware of Michael initially through Derek Brimstone who had recorded March Rain on one of his albums (and he later recorded Michael's Shuffleboat River Farewell on another album with Mr Chapman himself on lead guitar) and whilst not thinking too much of it at the time, I came haphazardly on an MC album. During a wander through Soho in 1972, at the tender age of 16, I saw a Cube Records display in Berwick Street, the albums were the first T. Rex album and a few compilations such as Procul Harum and an interesting looking one called Michael Chapman Lived Here 1968-1972. For some unknown reason, I was quite taken with it. And not long afterwards, I bought it.

I have no intention to say too much about it but the point is made that musically I loved his stuff. What I really want to mention is how influential he was. And I don't mean on me. His first two albums were produced by Gus Dudgeon and strings were arranged by Paul Buckmaster. The fact that Elton John and David Bowie were both heavily influenced by those two albums alone suggests that the mid-1970s owed much to our intrepid hero. Elton John asked him to become his guitarist (Chapman suggested Davey Johnstone instead) and the future Thin White Duke ripped him off Lock, Stock and Barrel. 

Because both Elton John and Bowie were enamoured with Chapman's first two albums they both decided to utilise a similar modus operandi: they both used Gus Dudgeon as Producer, Paul Buckmaster as orchestral arranger and the former Mr Jones even took Chapman's guitarist. Yes, it was MC who introduced the World to Mick Ronson's guitar playing on record. Bowie took Ronson and his band the Rats and turned them into the Spiders From Mars. The rest is history. 

Over the years I managed to see Michael Chapman in various guises. I remember a ridiculous gig in London where he played a gig in some god-awful disco with a keyboard player with an occasional extra musician, none other than Phil Palmer who is best known for being a) Ray & Dave Davis of the Kinks' nephew or b) a Pink Floyd guitarist.  Also, he played late last Century at a tiny pub in Woodbridge in Suffolk. I went up to see that one Sunday before work on the Monday. Fabulous: a lone long distance guitarist at the height of his powers. He played a gig (can't remember the band - do forgive me Mr Clements if you were the bassist in Suffolk called the Suffolk'n'Good Festival (read it again, slowly). But best of all was in 1977 at the Chorley Festival where Chapman played in a three piece with Keith Hartley on drums and the wonderful Rod Clements (Lindisfarne) on bass. That was one of those gigs I will put as one of the most memorable ever. Not least because my girlfriend and I hitched up to it and were given a lift in a refrigerated lorry - guess where the driver put our tent. Yep, it didn't thaw out until we got home the following week. . . anyway, it was well worth the agony & angst. Having a lot of friends in those days helped! 

In more recent years, he has been influential on many young American guitar slingers - I have been introduced to the music of Steve Gunn because of this. 

Anyway, I just wanted to mark the passing of an important artist because he has been important to me. Just one more thing: you will read of his dour personality. A gruff Yorkshire man who didn't suffer fools gladly, or waste money*. However . . .  however, one last story. I went to see him appear at a tiny pub in Manningtree where he was appearing on the same bill as the aforementioned Derek Brimstone. Evidently they had never actually appeared on the same bill despite being great friends. I still maintain that Michael had borrowed the "banjo from a friend" from Derek. It was a great gig and I got to have quite a long chat with the great man himself. I mentioned that I had seen him many years before on BBC 2's Sight and Sound concert on a Saturday evening around 7 pm. I said I would love to have had a recording of that programme. Do you know what? He gave me his address and said send me an sae (cf the point about being a tight Yorkshire man*) which I did, of course. A week or so later, a cassette of the gig, recorded through the mixer so not a crap off-tv recording turned up. I've still got it. Okay, I haven't got a cassette player anymore but the point still stands.

I sincerely hope that Michael and Derek have met up again and that Mr C has had the banjo fixed and was able to hand it back. 

Michael Chapman 1941-2021 R.I.P.

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

we're all doomed!

Hear the trumpets hear the pipers
One hundred million angels singin'
Multitudes are marchin' to the big kettledrum
Voices callin', voices cryin'
Some are born and some are dyin'
It's alpha and omega's kingdome come . . .

We jumped into the car and headed off further up the coast; Mrs Dave said she had forgotten to take any anti-histamine but it wasn't the end of the World. Actually, it could be I told her. We were heading up to look at a Medieval Armageddon scenario after all, so it was possible.

With all the cuts and everything, the First Horseman of the Apocalypse© seems to have taken over the pestilence of Roadworks and House Building, so the journey of a mere 35 miles would take about an hour. Coming back . . . Ha! Just wait . . . 

Anyway, it being a blistering late Summer day (mini Indian Summer?) meant getting up reasonably early and travelling to the wilds of Suffolk where all the best-tasting pigs come from (or kale for those faux-vegans amongst us). Mrs Dave had read a book about The Doom at the church in a tiny village called Wenhaston* and it seemed like a good opportunity to visit it. Whilst we were there, an even better idea occurred to us that we could take in the "Cathedral of Suffolk©" at Blythburgh and - even more exciting - have lunch at the White Horse in the same village. Ah well, the best laid plans and all that . . .

So, we reached the church car park at Blythburgh, put on our walking boots and off we set. The plan was to have a pleasant stroll by the river, poke about the Doom church, head back and have lunch at the aforementioned pub followed by a look around Suffolk's finest Cathedral-in-all-but-name. 

It's a lovely village and we have walked around the area a few times before. However, the first fly in the ointment was a red sign - quite prominent - that said the the river path was no longer open. Evidently, a part of the "wall" had been flood-damaged and walkers should keep away. Nearby was a lone fisherman so I decided he was probably local so we should check with him. We approached him as a possible catch seemed to be getting away from him. I thought I should see what he was hoping to catch. Interestingly enough, he was fishing for mullet. Given the length of the white pony-tailed hair poking out of the back of his baseball cap, I thought he already had one. Anyhow, he informed us that the sign had been left up for years and the path was certainly "fine." We wished him a good day's fishing and off we went. As we wandered off, another white fisherman of the bank rose up into the air. We had disturbed an egret and he haughtily flew off to start his vigil for lunch elsewhere.

Now, many of the books of local walks we have collected over the years we've lived here could actually be re-printed in a sort-of Best Of omnibus. It could be called, for example, "How To Get Lost In Suffolk."  Given this was the second time this week alone rather badly worded instructions had meant a retracing of our footprints, I'm guessing that some bad language can be forgiven. Of course, being savvy technically minded silver surfers, we also have the OS App on our phones. So, after wandering off in completely the wrong direction far half an hour, we looked at the App.

After retracing our footprints, we certainly got onto the correct path. I'm assuming that the aforementioned sign telling Walkers that the path was closed has meant that the path hasn't really been walked for possibly a few years. The reeds were overgrown so it wasn't that easy to see the river. Along with the overgrowth of reeds, grasses, thistles and nettles were in total abundance. It just so happened that Mrs Dave had decided that today was a good day to try out her new walking shorts. After an hour of redecorating her lower legs in little red bumps she asked whether I had remembered to pack the First Aid kit. So that was a negative. Well, we're only wandering along a river locally; surely we don't need a full First Aid kit, do we? Well, honestly, the language!

Anyway, we continued on a while longer with me wishing I would actually fall into the river to escape the agony of causing her so much pain. Nothing compared to the agony she was suffering of course but we're nearly there now.

Once we had turned away from the "path" by the river, we walked across fields and into the village of Wenhaston fairly quickly. Although, to be honest, the idea that we were going to get back to where the car was parked and get lunch in the local pub was beginning to look rather remote. As we entered the village, we discovered they had a Post Office with a meaningless sign announcing a café. Obviously they didn't. So we wandered off to see The Doom. The whole point of the walk. I'd heard much about it and we were finally going to witness it. When I was told about the "amazing" church at Huntingfield**, I was unsure what to expect but was blown away with how spectacular it is. This is on a completely different level. Whereas the Huntingfield church has a spectacular ceiling full of beautifully painted Victorian art and decorated angels made by a Norfolk shipwright, this church had eleven planks of wood painted by an amateur in about 1489 that had been damaged over the years - some bits cut away to allow various pipes to be fitted into the church. Now, the fact these painted planks of wood have survived many years - quite a few whitewashed over since the Reformation - is historically exciting. However, it is a little underwhelming. I may have been a little less than charitable after stumbling through what seemed rather jungle-like, and it was, after all, great to see such a striking piece of Religious Art that has stood the test of Time.  In fact, it is now considered to be the finest Doom painting of its type in England.

Doom paintings were produced to give a visual document of the End of Time to essentially illiterate working class people. Blythburgh Church was built from the proceeds of the wealthy who wished to buy their way into Heaven. I must admit, looking at the lower right-hand part of the Doom - the weighing of the souls - would have put the frighteners on anyone staring at it whilst the priest ranted and raved and damned them all to Hell (I think that's what they did). Some of it is missing: possibly the nice bits or more hopeful pictures of Angels playing trumpets. But, generally the concept it was trying to get over still get their point across. Modern congregations may have even more realistic and frightening visions of what eternal damnation may hold for all Sinners from modern CGI effect-laden films and box-sets but I think our Baldric-like ancestors had a fairly good idea of where it was all going (Hell in a hand-cart, I believe) just from the vivid pictures from these artefacts. They may have been painted by amateurs (some may have been painted by Journeyman-wandering-Netherlanders) but the point was made. Sitting in the congregation looking at these visions whilst being berated by the local priest would have been quite a thought-provoking part of Sunday morning whilst trying to remember exactly it was they got up to after last night's carousing was anything to go by. Especially if they had tried the local Scrumpy.

Having managed to take far longer than planned, we ended up for lunch at the local hostelry, The Star Inn. I'm very glad we tarried too. It was a great find - I had never heard of it before, let alone been there. A couple of pints of Green Jack Brewery's Trawlerman Bitter (4.6% in case you're asking Martyn & John) and an excellent ham and mustard roll and I was happy to wander off towards Blythburgh - as long as I didn't have to walk by that bloody river again. Mrs Dave tried the local cider (I didn't ask the landlord for the abv as I had no intention of driving home - she only had a half) and we walked it all off. Not quite following our book's instructions meant that, yes, we had missed the path but we did manage to get to the car park. A quick look at the self-proclaimed Cathedral of Suffolk© - okay but a little underwhelming - meant we had to go and spend about two hours travelling back. Given that my usual Navigator was now driving and I (not that good at Navigation to be perfectly honest - I had an argument with the Google Sat Nav. That's how bad I am at it) we managed to take an even longer route back home through the wilds of Suffolk. 

Given the First Horseman of the Apocalypse seemed quite prevalent today, I was surprised that none of the horsey-types were represented on the old Doom painting. Lots of St Michael, demons and naked souls but no horses. Maybe it's more to do with the fact that even good artists can't draw horses. Ah well: that's for another time.

*Wenhaston is, according to the landlord of the Star Inn, pronounced' "Wenaston", as in the h is silent. So definitely not pronounced like the fromer "dolly bird" hostess of The Golden Shot in the early 1970s.
**I honestly though I'd written about it but obviously haven't: apologies - another time.


Tuesday, 31 August 2021

if i whistle, will they come to me?

Oh, Whistle' and I'll come to ye, my lad, 
O whistle, an' I'll come to ye, my lad;
Tho' father, and mother and a' should gae mad, 
Thy Jeanie will venture wi' ye, my lad. 

 Reading Rob Young's The Magic Box reawakened my interest in finding out exactly where M.R. James had set The Globe Inn in 'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad.' It's a well-known fact the the seaside town Burnstow is a fictionalised Felixstowe but as the Globe Inn doesn't exist - nor has it ever - he must have based it on somewhere. Over the years I have assumed that it could have been The Victoria, now a disused pub slowly decaying as it has been left to rot by a miserable local resident*. As it is situated at the hamlet called Felixstowe Ferry next to the Links just northeast of Felixstowe itself. When I used to teach the story and, indeed, the film version, I always referred to it as where the story was originally set. However, over the years other suggestions have been made. Indeed a good friend of mine recently told me that The Fludyers Arms was a highly likely candidate. The curiously named Fludyers Arms** originally opened in 1839 and is probably more likely to be the Globe than The Victoria. The latter pub was open then and photos of it can be found from 1894. James wrote the story in 1904 and he definitely visited the town, quite often by all accounts. However, for some reason, I have never considered it as the Globe. I'm really not sure why, but somehow it doesn't quite fit the bill even though it is in about the right place. A BBC news story from October 2020 suggests a building close to what is now the refurbished The Fludyers Hotel and to me fits the bill more easily. M.R. James was a medieval historian and provost of King's College, Cambridge. His good friend Felix Cobbold, from the Suffolk brewing family, was the college's bursar. Cobbold lived in The Lodge, Felixstowe. James often spent time, particularly New Year at the Lodge. According to Robert Lloyd Parry, an actor interviewed for the BBC story believed the story was partly inspired by his stay at the house. In the story James describes the view from his protagonist's room at the fictional Globe Inn:
On the south you saw the village of Burnstow. On the north no houses were to be seen, but only the beach and the low cliff backing it. Immediately in front was a strip - not considerable - of rough grass, dotted with old anchors, capstans, and so forth; then a broad path; then the beach.
According to Parry it is clearly the view from the upper storeys of the Lodge as, "It's the only place you can get that view." Well, I will have to take his word for that. As for the Lodge, well it's now called Cranmer House and is a Grade II Listed Building worth £1.5million. I'm guessing I'm not likely to be popping upstairs for a butchers for sure. So, having lived here in the town since 1988, I have often walked past this house regularly. In fact, there's hardly a week goes by that I don't walk past it unless I'm away, of course. Neither of the two film versions of Oh, Whistle were filmed in Suffolk. The 1968 Jonathan Miller version for the BBC was filmed in Norfolk and the 2010 remake with John Hurt was filmed in Kent. Obviously I feel that's a shame but, presumably, those alternative locations lent themselves better to the wild, solitary coastlines more in keeping with the story than modern Felixstowe. James wrote a second story partly set in Burnstow, The Tractate Middoth (1911) which has been made into a film by Mark Gatiss. Interestingly, the protagonist meets a Mrs Simpson who runs a boarding house in the town. A real Mrs Simpson stayed in Felixstowe for six weeks in 1936 waiting for her divorce. Evidently she hated it. Still, that's a whole other area of interest to some - certainly not me! As for the James story, it's not one I know so I'm not sure exactly whereabouts it's set.

  I often wonder how much of modern Felixstowe would seem familiar to M. R. James, probably a fair amount to be honest. Ghosts don't seem to be much of a literary topic nowadays. I know the experience seemed to give way to alien sightings towards the end of last Century. Also, horror as a genre tends to be very graphic and, indeed, more horrific now too. I'm sure there are plenty of ghosts out there too just waiting for their stories to be told. 

* The story goes she wanted to stop people from drinking there because they were too noisy! 
 ** Named after an MP but was originally The Felix Hotel.

More on Oh, Whistle & Felixstowe on this post (also currently as Featured Post)

Sunday, 22 March 2020

abroad thoughts from home

But I might write a song that makes you laugh, now that would be funny
And you could tell your friends in England you'd like that
But now I've chosen aeroplanes and boats to come between us
And a line or two on paper wouldn't go amiss

Spain was just about to go into lock-down. We were in Seville for a few days - our birthday present to each other. We've been back 8 days now so hopefully all's well. Luckily enough we were booked on a flight out on the Friday and Spain was being shut down on the Saturday.

Many shops were closing early that afternoon and the bars and restaurants were fairly empty. We had a coffee and some tapas in a bar under Las Setas de la Encarnación (The Mushrooms of the Incarnation) and our waiter explained what was going on. He told us that normally at that time on a Friday afternoon the whole place would be heaving, all the bars full of weekend-starts-here revellers. He looked forlornly around and told us that the schools were closed as of that day so everyone would be at home looking after the kids. He then went into a diatribe about the Chinese which was uncomfortable but when in Rome . . . or Seville in this case. We were able to get to the airport despite the bus being full as an enterprising taxi driver did a deal for four of us so we got there quite quickly. Empty roads. The other two were a couple of ladies who were flying back to Manchester. The Manchester flight was very busy, much busier than ours to Stansted but both were slightly delayed. My understanding is that Saturday was a lot busier and stressful.

We were home just after midnight. It was Tuesday before we were able to buy toilet rolls. We weren't panic buying, just felt we may need more if we have to self-isolate. The unnecessary shortages could have been easily averted I'm sure. The most cynical thing I've seen so far is the profiteering nature of some of the shops. I feel sorry for families with youngsters that need Calpol but find the prices hiked to nearly £10. On Friday I bought a bottle of wine in our local Spar for £6. On Saturday they were changing the prices of all their wines. The same one was suddenly £7:50. It hadn't been on offer the day before, so it was sheer profiteering as far as I'm concerned. Needless to say I didn't buy it.

Seville itself is a city we'd never been to before and we spent four days there thoroughly enjoying it. Obviously we were tourists and felt we needed to see the sights. We went to the Cathedral which is, evidently, the largest Gothic cathedral in the World. Unfortunately we didn't go up the tower as we thought we had to pay more but it was actually included in the price. Never mind. What we did see though as we wandered around was the disgrace of redundant wealth. The amount of gold on show and 'treasures' (sic) were ostentatious in the extreme. I began to feel a little sickened to be honest. In contrast to that we got up earlier the following day and went to the Alcázar, the palace opposite the cathedral. The elegance and grace of the palace was much more to my taste. Yes, it's a huge palace built for royalty but it was far more impressive. It seemed to me that it was here that would normally show more pomp and flamboyance but, no, the cathedral trumped it completely. The grounds were great too. There was definitely a celebration of Nature here as opposed to just the small orange grove in the grounds of the cathedral. Again, the cathedral was definitely all about humanity and its ability to build needless monuments to its "jealous god" whereas the gardens of the palace seemed more about, yes, taming Nature but enjoying it too. Mind you, back in 1978 I visited the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and was far more impressed with that than any of the Christian churches too. Anyway, no lectures, just an observation.

I have to say that the weather was perfect too. Obviously we hadn't fully prepared but boots, jeans and T-shirts were all we really needed. We enjoyed the Triana market too where we ate Pescado Frito (fried fish). On the whole, Seville seemed fairly quiet so it was easy to get seated and food service was quick. We weren't sure right up until we left on the Tuesday whether or not we'd be able to travel and had been prepared to have the trip cancelled. We were quite lucky I guess. On the other side of the river was the old fish market which is now a gourmet version of the Triana and we visited that on Friday for lunch before we set off home. The river cruise was pleasant and we managed to walk all around the city easily - Mrs Dave's fitbit seemed pleased. Seville seems to be a very beautiful city that enjoys its cultural heritage. A group of buskers performed flamenco at the Plaza de España which was handy as we weren't there long enough to go to an evening performance. Food is a particularly appealing part of a visit. We found a great little bar - and I mean little as it was only about the size of the Nutshell in Bury St Edmunds! The Alfalfa bar was very busy and crowded but everyone was friendly and making the most of the last few evenings of freedom. Or so it seems.

The other thing about Seville is how many parakeets there seem to be. We're used to them on a much lesser scale here in the UK but I was taken aback by just how ubiquitous they are there.I recently saw a small flock of grey parakeets in Manchester and have seen the in London and, even, Ipswich. The noise and sight of these lovely green red-beaked chaps no matter where you go was wonderful. I spent a lot of time looking upwards.That's getting to be a dangerous habit nowadays with so many almost silent electric cars around!

I guess we're all going to have to rely on our memories of trips abroad - or anywhere really - for a while. Mind you, now that exams have been cancelled I won't be marking this year so I probably won't be able to afford to go anywhere for a while.

Monday, 2 March 2020

simple gifts

like pretty birds among the trees I will be all in motion
and skip and dance upon the breeze of love and sweet devotion
for lo it is a happy time, a time of making merry
of heavenly comfort all divine and very cheering, very

It's certainly true that wood-burning stoves are bad for your health. I cleaned ours out and prepared it for our New Year's Eve meal with friends and, somehow, by kneeling down and putting too much weight onto my right foot I managed to cause a hairline fracture of my metatarsal. At least that's what seems to have happened.

It took a day or two before the pain started but it's the only thing I can put this bizarre foot injury down to. I then spent all of January and most of February with a painful and swollen foot. I had a blood test and X-Ray but the Quack was unable to give me any definite answer to what had happened. The blood test was mainly for gout, which I haven't got, thankfully. The X-Ray didn't really show anything and I guess a scan would have been more useful.

So, we enter March. A beautiful Sunday and a chirpier feeling came over me so a walk was just what the doctor could have ordered. The longest walk I'd managed so far this year was a pleasant walk a week back during a short hiatus in the current Monsoon Season up the coast to the Ferry Boat Inn for a spot of lunch. Obviously a pint was called for to mop the solids up. This jaunt by the sea and by the famous Links golf course (as featured in the classic M. R. James story Oh Whistle And I'll Come To You, My Lad although called Burnham rather than Felixstowe) is about two miles away from my house.

On Sunday we decided that another gap between named storms required a walk to commune with Nature. The village of Melton stands just on the outskirts of Woodbridge. We used to walk there quite a lot when our kids were younger so it seemed a perfect easy walk to get me going again. When we used to walk around this area we would stay on the Woodbridge side so this time a wander along the other side of the road would be interesting. We wandered briefly along by the river where a couple of oystercatchers digging for lugworms piped to us to wish us well on our way.

Parking for free in the rather overcrowded Melton Riverside car park we set off across the Wilford Bridge and stumbled along through some reed beds coming out onto a quiet road towards a village called Bromewell. This seemed a little familiar and then I realised that this was a section of the Sandlings Walk. This is a walk that meanders from Ipswich to Southwold and takes in a range of Suffolk's heaths, woodland, farmland and estuaries for some sixty miles. I completed this walk a good few years ago when I was still a useful member of society. Dotted along the walk are various sculptures of nightjars. Incidentally, the only time I have ever seen nightjars in the wild was on the walk, which seems unlikely even now. One of the smaller sculptures resides here at a junction in the village. We took a little detour to check out the church which is named after the patron saint of Suffolk, St Edmund.  It's a nice little church with some fairly recent stained glass. Well I'm guessing they are recent as the WW1 soldier and sailor helping Jesus carry his cross would have raised Time Traveller stories or some von Daniken-type nonsense. We wandered on towards Ufford.

The walk to Ufford was only a one-divorce graded one - that is, there was only one short section of the walk where I misread the directions and we ended up walking around a field rather pointlessly as we needed to be about half a mile away in totally the other direction where we coud cross the train line safely. The grading comes from the amount of arguments such misreadings lead to. The line runs between Ipswich and Lowestoft. Good luck to any passengers as neither is exactly the best Suffolk has to offer. Much of this part of the walk follows the channel of the River Deben which was flowing very freely. In fact, there was an overflow area pumping out into a field where a grey wagtail was bobbing about in its inimitable jerky fashion. A lovely flash of yellow amongst the bushes and branches. This part of the walk seemed like a miniature Louisiana swamp and in the back of my mind I could hear the familiar twang of Ry Cooder's slide guitar. Very Southern Comfort. We don't have too many Cajuns wandering around Suffolk as far as I know but I kept an eye out just to be sure.

After crossing the pretty red-brick Ufford bridge with a natural pool beneath we turned left and were greeted with the sight of a village pub with its own microbrewery. Blimey! An unexpected bonus. As it was gone two o'clock and we were getting rather peckish having foolishly gone for walk on fairly empty stomachs, it seemed churlish not to pop in. The White Lion at Ufford is well-worth visiting. Obviously the first thing that happened was a friend of Mrs Dave's was sitting there having Sunday lunch* as she lives in the village. The place is full of cds and old vinyl and there's a Community Pub of the year award (a few years ago now but it has a nice ambience). I tried the local brew, Longship Bitter which, at 4.7%abv can't be considered a good driving beer by any standard, but was an excellent very bitter Bitter indeed. We ordered food - Cajun chicken curiously enough - but had a long wait. By the time I asked where the food was I had had another pint. It would seem the lad who took the order must have enjoyed the night before but wasn't quite so sure about today. The food was very good and they gave us a free bowl of chips as a way of apologising for the wait. It was time to move on.

We visited the church which has an unusual font cover - the second tallest in England evidently. Standing at eighteen feet it does seem rather unnecessary but it does help to remember that East Anglia was once a very wealthy county due to the wool industry. There is a set of stocks by the front gate but unlike places where they usually have old stocks, you can't use them as a photo opportunity, not that we did.

By now we were heading back towards Melton and were warned by some locals that the road was covered by a large puddle and we should use the golf course instead. We ignored them and put our Goretex boots to good use, as for "puddle" read "ford".  We passed yet another church but this one was a redundant church. Still well-kept but we couldn't enter it. As we passed through some woodland along a lengthy track we passed a large body of water with a pair of mute swans that watched us wander by. Evidently they are called mute because they are less vocal than other swans. Well, these were certainly mute on Sunday. We passed an unusual Nissen hut that had been converted into a cottage, named Nissen Cottage needless to say. It looked a bit like a place you might find an old crone from Hansel and Gretel but there were no obvious signs of breadcrumb trails. Mind you, the bird life was quite active and the many robins and chaffinches probably had them anyway.

Suddenly we were at the Wilford Bridge near the car park and the road was pretty busy. We crossed over and wandered back to the car. Among the trees I topped to jettison the two pints I'd taken on board. Whilst so engaged the call of a Curlew sounded close by, I looked up and it flew over as if to wish us a farewell, thanks for calling. And homeward we wended.

All in all, a great first decent walk for the year amongst the simple gifts that Mother Nature offers us; and we certainly had our moments of what the Japanese call shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) to set us up both psychologically and physiologically. Which is just as well given that every day seems to bring worse news than the one before.

* For some reason we seem to bump into people wherever we are in the World. I once bumped into someone who knew me whilst sitting outside a restaurant in the middle of absolutely Nowhere, Utah. It was someone who had worked in the same school as me a few years beforehand. I had just said to the family, "well, at least we won't bump into anyone we know here!"

looking for someone

nobody needs to discover me - I'm back again
you feel the ashes from the fire that kept you warm
its comfort disappears
and still the only friend I know
will never tell me where to go

It's been two years to the month since I last wrote on here. Sometimes I thought I'd never come back to it but there was always a nagging feeling that there was unfinished business.

When I started writing this blog back in 2010 I enjoyed the freedom it allowed me to get my thoughts down about any old crap really. It was exciting and when people started reading it and making comments on it, I realised that it was a worthwhile thing for me to be writing it. I guess it was started as a way of trying to keep myself a bit sane during those last few years of my working life. Actually, that's not really fully over as I still mark Film Studies exams every year but how much longer for, I don't know. Those last five years of working were not easy years. I'm not going to write about them as they are far behind me now and I still get fed up when I think about it. The education system is still constantly used as a playground for inept politicians so I'll move on as I've been out of it for a good four and a half years now. I'll say no more about it.

The World moves on and changes quickly. It seems to have changed massively in the two years since I last wrote anything here. When I retired I assumed I would have more time to write. I did, I suppose, but the madness of the job was behind me and gradually other things took over. Some other interests. Also, as I'm officially a grandad now life has definitely changed! However, whilst the World still turns and newfangled ways of tricking us and grinding us down have come along, a new sense of purpose has been building up in me. I still have some projects in mind. Also, many of the interests I had are still interests now. So, whilst walking, music, very amateur nature writing/bird watching and, of course, the drinking culture I grew up with are still very much part of my life, I do occasionally take up other interests.

So, this is a brief hello - shouting into the wind probably. I realise that writing this blog is still just an opportunity for me to get thoughts down. I know some of the few readers I had will still tag along for the ride once they become aware I'm active again. I hope so.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

picturing an exhibition

And it's cold and damp in the transit camp, and the air is still and sullen
And the pale sun of October whispers the snow will soon be coming
And I wonder when I'll be home again and the morning answers "Never"
And the evening sighs, and the steely Russian skies go on forever

In the summer of 1968 the Russians marched into both Czechoslovakia and London. Whilst there is plenty of documentation of the Soviet leadership's response to the Prague Spring, there is much less about the August invasion of London.

Okay, that was a provocative opening paragraph but at the time much was made of the second Soviet 'Industrial Exhibition' at Earl's Court that August. The first had been held in 1961 and was quite a success and a third one held in 1979 which seems to have completely passed me by. But the second one was the one I had experience of.

With the amount of news currently being devoted to Russian antics and influence in the West it is probably understandable why this occasion has popped back into my head over recent months.

I was twelve that year and had been at secondary school for a year. After summer I would be going back to a school that was preparing to change from a grammar school that seemed to think it was Eton into a comprehensive school. All sorts of revolutions were taking place that year. I had been at Fairlands Junior School and my best friend Simon had gone to a different secondary school. Somehow I had managed to pass the Eleven Plus and fool the powers-that-be into believing I had the 'Right Stuff' for a Grammar education. Maybe I did but it soon beaten out of me by the bullies and barbarians (some of the kids were quite bad too). Anyhow, I kept up my friendship with Simon and our Saturdays were filled with reading Marvel comics, teaching ourselves how to draw by copying  superheroes and beginning to listen to music. This would continue for a couple of years. Simon was one of the few people I knew whose parents were divorced. I think in my year group there was a kid whose mother had remarried and another one who live only with his mother. So Simon and his brother and sister were a little unusual to me. His dad was some sort of artist - possibly a designer - and he had a live-in partner, a much younger woman, Sally. On top of this, they lived in a flat which was kind of cool too.

One day in the Summer of '68 Simon's dad invited me to go up to the Soviet Industrial Exhibition along with Simon, his brother and sister and Sally. This was all very exciting as it meant I got to go on a train which I loved. If we ever went to London my father would drive although I have a suspicion that we went on a train to see The Black And White Minstrel Show On Ice which, for some reason is less documented than the Soviet Exhibition. I can't think why. So, off to London we went.

There is a short Pathé News piece about it which suggests that it was all very exciting. Although the 1961 Exhibition had Yuri Gagarin turn up the 1968 one still enthralled the crowds. I knew nothing about Russia, Airfix never produced a packet of tiny soldiers to use to attack my Hornby railway* and I had yet to start reading the James Bond series. That would come the next year during a dreary holiday listening to rain pattering on a caravan roof probably in deepest, dampest Norfolk. The exhibition had, evidently, been met with some protest as were most things in that seismic year. Again, to all of this, I was oblivious. The idea of it seemed to be to introduce cultural propaganda to Britain on a huge scale. The reciprocal British Exhibitions to Moscow in 1961 and 1966 eschewed such an obvious line and the attempt to promote a greater understanding between Britain and the USSR was, perhaps, more problematic than many of us realised. With the Soviet response to the Prague Spring in full swing creating further tension in the Cold War, it would seem an obvious step to attempt to create a better understanding. However, what was on show has been seen as demonstrating a 'dreamworld' of what was going on behind the Iron Curtain.

On show were all sorts of artefacts from culture and science including clothing, art and - most exciting of all - a collection of flying dustbins that had been the Soviet contribution to the Space Race. The soviets had managed to land one-such, Luna 2, on the moon. In fact it was the first man-made object to land on another celestial body. The criticism of the exhibition seems mostly to be that the whole thing showed Russia how it wanted to be seen, in other words a complete myth. Evidently on show were such wonderful machines such as the one that could bring life back to the dead. Possibly something was lost in translation there. The hall that exhibited the space junk hardware was described by no less an authority than The Sun as a schoolboy's fantasy. This suggests that the whole presentation, or dreamworld, was nothing but a child's fantasy. To be honest, at the age of twelve even in those far-off days I'm sure that The Sun was already producing schoolboy's fantasies on page 3 every morning but we'll let that pass.

One of the big exhibits was their attempt at building Concorde (aka 'The Supersonic Jetliner of Tomorrow' according to the Eagle), the Tuperlev-144 or Concordski as it was commonly called. Whilst Concord was fairly successful (as in it could fly from London to New York but not Frankfurt to NY). The problem with the Tuperlev was that its engines were twice as heavy as and it burned fuel twice as fast as Concorde's and it only had a range of halfway across the Atlantic. Still, this didn't stop it from being a centre exhibit, all this was yet to happen. We were still in dreamworld.

 We walked the halls of the exhibition wide-eyed and full of awe, it all seemed so modern with its promises of a New World. Contemporary reports suggested that many of the 8000 exhibits were not that modern or exciting but to kids like us it all seemed stunning. At the end of such exhibitions, as with museums and galleries, there is always the opportunity to buy some tat memorabilia. Obviously in those far-off days we didn't have a lot of money to waste on fripperies but Simon and his brother Guy wanted to take something back with them. As we wandered around the books, postcards and toys - mostly Russian dolls I believe - I paid little attention to what the others were up to. Soon, their dad called us all together and off we went to get the train home.

During the journey, Simon's dad and his partner disappeared for a while, perhaps to the loo or for a cup of tea. Whilst they were away Simon and Guy brought out a selection of postage stamp presentation packs. These were cellophaned packs designed for stamp collecting. I expressed surprise and wondered how much they must have cost. To my horror they explained that they had nicked them. I had visions of what may have happened had they been caught stealing from the shop. From what we know now about the KGB who were no doubt mingling with the crowds, they would have made examples of us. We'd have ended up in Siberia down a salt mine. I'm sure an international incident of the scale we are witnessing in Salisbury was only just narrowly avoided. Being a such an innocent naïf must seem quite amusing nowadays but I was genuinely shocked at the time of their temerity. Within a few years we had gone our separate ways, different schools and different friends (and, if I'm honest, different mores) played their part no doubt.

We never really saw each other much after that. In our early twenties I heard that Simon had been to prison, something to do with a mail-order** scam. I don't think I demonstrated any real surprise at that news, to be honest. Still, I am grateful for the opportunity I was afforded by his family to get a chance to go to such an unusual major exhibition. It almost seems to have been erased from public memory as there's little enough information on it available. Perhaps subsequent Russian aggression put it firmly in the past.

Fifty years seems such a long time ago. It certainly seems like it was a dreamworld.

Luna 2 - the first craft to land on the moon
* We made our own amusement in those days. The tiny Airfix soldiers were of the same gauge as their model aircraft and tanks and my train set. It was an early type of war gaming, I suppose.
**  The precursor to Amazon was mail ordering. Argos on the high streets is probably the last vestiges of it. Evidently it was quite easy to scam them but the companies and courts looked down on such activities.