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January’s Canaries

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A cold, dank, dark (absolutely nothing crisp about it) January in England just can’t be done with – so it was off to sunny Tenerife for added winter sunshine.

The Best Jacaranda Hotel on the south coast resort of Costa Adeje was the choice of venue, duly ticking all Rest & Recreation boxes.

Not much more to add but photos of sunny scenes and selfies galore…

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The Best Jacaranda Hotel

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Some bloke against a blue sky…

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Could be the same bloke – this time wearing a Wonder Woman costume

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Cats

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Since 2004, 16th January has been declared as ‘Appreciate a Dragon’ so this month’s Flat Disc Society film night centred around Dragons.

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There is, of course, a very important Welsh heraldic Dragon to honour – first up was the complete Ivor the Engine story, which introduced us all to Idris the Dragon.

The main feature was King Hu’s genre-defining Taiwanese Wuxia film Dragon Inn.  Wuxia is a traditional Chinese martial arts fantasy fiction where the heroes typically come from the lower social classes following a code of chivalry and fighting for righteousness, removing oppressors and bringing retribution for past misdeeds.

“Before Kung Fu, there was Wuxia. Before cinema, there was Wuxia.”

Dragon Inn became known as a keystone Wuxia film and has become influential in world cinema with similarities found in such films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and House of Flying Daggers. Also owing their creative debt to Wuxia are the Kung Fu Panda films – and the Snickers advert featuring Rowan Atkinson.

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The University of Birmingham is always worth a visit with its pleasingly green campus and mixed architecture. Plus it also contains the impressive Barber Institute and Lapworth Museum.

The Barber Institute marked the 150th anniversary of the artist Vuillard’s birth. The Vuillard and Madame Vuillard display was the first ever exhibition to explore the relationship between Eddie and his Mom.

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Édouard Vuillard painted his mother more than 500 times throughout his career, striving to establish himself among the French avant-garde. He lived and worked in apartments, which he shared with his mother in Paris, daubing away like a man possessed whenever Mommie Dearest reached for the Vim and a duster. His small-scale, domestic portrayals featured heavily throughout the exhibition in a selection of paintings, pastels, prints and photographs.

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‘Studies of a European Otter’ by the Dutch School

Another exhibition, Perspectives on the Natural World, showed how much images of animals could reveal about the creatures themselves. The display explored a wide range of representations of animals – drawings and prints – dating from the 16th to the 20th century by artists as diverse as Rubens, Gericault and Delacroix.

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“A Study of a Horse” by Eugène Delacroix

The Lapworth Museum, as mentioned in a previous post (Glorious August 2018) is always well worth a visit.

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All that culture needed rounding off with pizza, beers and brilliant live music by the Trevorless Burton Band at the Brasshouse in Birmingham…

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Finally – another old cartoon from the Crow Collection archives…

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December – Exit Left…

Rainham

Rainham Marshes is perched on the urban fringe of London, and is an intriguing little part of the landscape of the Thames Estuary.

Very little has changed on this medieval freshwater marsh since its original reclamation from the mighty Thames – except all the firing and shooting that went on when the Ministry of Defence took it over for a while.

By actively deterring human encroachment, the Ministry of Defence has often proved to be a safeguard for many reserves, including Rainham Marshes, which allowed indigenous flora and fauna to flourish (once they’ve got over the initial shock of seeing a small hillock or sapling blasted to bits by covering fire).

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There were plenty of migrating birds knuckling down with the resident waterfowl on the pools and scrapes, with eager Peregrines eyeing the menu from the tall pylons that overlook the reserve.

There was the usual generous sprinkling of waders and ducks – Lapwings, Curlew, Snipe, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard and Pintail with a strong supporting cast of herons, geese and swans.

A dead Heron lay by the reed beds, the victim of another Heron. Earlier in the week, it had been photographed being attacked by a kindred spite.

The whole episode can be seen on the community RSPB website for Rainham Marshes:

https://community.rspb.org.uk/placestovisit/rainhammarshes/b/rainhammarshes-blog/posts/battle-to-the-death

Grey-Heron-fightPaul-Richardson

by Paul Richardson

A pair of Marsh Harriers gleefully flustered the ducks and waders, particularly the Lapwings which were up-in-wings as the raptors nonchalantly cased the marshy joints for a snack.

Bird of the day may well have been the Water Pipit dancing along the water’s edge at the charmingly-named Butt’s Scrape.

As with many features around the reserve such as Target Pools, Shooting Butts and the Cordite Store, Butt’s Scrape owes its nomenclature (dead swotty word meaning ‘name’) to its Ministry of Defence heritage.

If this is your bag – and you’re done with the birds – there’s a very good clip about Rainham’s role in this on YouTube:

 

Halesowen 0 – 1 Tamworth was a real humdinger of hum-drumminess. A few years back I did get to see Tamworth take on Everton in the FA Cup at Goodison Park. This was nothing like it.

 

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Many more sparks flew at the Ocean Colour Scene concert at the Birmingham Academy.

It was brave of Ocean Colour Scene (OCS to their mates) to have Martha and The Vandellas as the supporting act as they almost stole the show with a 50-minute set that showcased 77-year old Martha’s incredible vocals and the band’s superb musicianship.

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Here’s an abridged review by Millie Finn from the Counteract website:

The night kicked off with tracks of Motown and Northern Soul in the form of ‘Jimmy Mack’ and ‘Dancing In The Street.’ Martha & The Vandellas have still got it!

Ocean Colour Scene arrived with waves to the crowd that had packed out the venue. It was another special moment for music lovers, and they wasted no time before heading straight into ‘The Riverboat Song’ with its distinctive driving riff.

One glance around the room gave a swift reminder just how long the group has been on the scene. The band have had fans since 1989 when they first formed so their fan base boasts an impressive age range – people old and young stood happily in their groups drinking and punching the air as they screamed the words of each track back to the band.

It wouldn’t be the finale of an Ocean Colour Scene gig without fan favourite ‘The Day We Caught The Train’ – every lyric was chanted with pints of beer flying over the rest of the audience.

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Gerry volunteered to lead this month’s walk to Bredon Hill in the Vale of Evesham in Worcestershire.

Bredon Hill: Map: OS Explorer 190 – GR: SO982412

Meet in Main Road, Elmley Castle, by the Queen Elizabeth Inn, and park on road.

There are good views in all directions and, if the weather is clear, we should have good sight of the Suckley and Malvern Hills, and the Cotswolds to the east.

Leaving Elmley Castle, follow Hill Lane to a track which leads directly to Banbury Stone Tower. From there we head south-west for about half a mile where we pick up a path heading south-east which runs past Sundial Farm. In about another half mile we turn onto The Belt and follow this until we reach the Wychavon Way, which is followed down into Ashton Under Hill and our fuel stop at the Star Inn in Ashton Under Hill (dogs, hikers and Brummies are welcome in the bar).

After lunch we walk to end of village and pick up a bridleway taking us towards Fiddlers Knap to follow a path back to Elmley Castle.

The name “Bredon Hill” is unusual in that it combines the name for “hill” in three different languages. The word “bre” is of Celtic origin, and “don” is an Old English usage. Thus Bredon Hill can be translated as: Hillhill hill.

Now for a bit of poetry – this from A Shropshire Lad by A. E. Housman, which mentions Bredon Hill.

In summertime on Bredon
The bells they sound so clear;
Round both the shires they ring them
In steeples far and near,
A happy noise to hear.

Here of a Sunday morning
My love and I would lie,
And see the coloured counties,
And hear the larks so high
About us in the sky.

The bells would ring to call her
In valleys miles away:
‘Come all to church, good people;
Good people, come and pray.
But here my love would stay.

And I would turn and answer
Among the springing thyme,
‘Oh, peal upon our wedding,
And we will hear the chime,
And come to church in time.

But when the snows at Christmas
On Bredon top were strewn,
My love rose up so early
And stole out unbeknown
And went to church alone.

They tolled the one bell only,
Groom there was none to see,
The mourners followed after,
And so to church went she,
And would not wait for me.

The bells they sound on Bredon,
And still the steeples hum.
‘Come all to church, good people,’ –
Oh, noisy bells, be dumb;
I hear you, I will come.

By A. E. Housman

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by Andy Shaw

Not content with just one concert this month, it was time for those legendary rockers Def Leppard to perform a blistering break-neck bonanza at Birmingham Arena for their Hysteria tour.

Playing all the tracks from their signature dish Hysteria album, Def Leppard were not left wanting in the legendary stakes. A pulsating Big Cat of a concert if ever there was one (you can tell I haven’t been able to find a review yet to steal from…)

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By Andy Shaw

Stellar support band Cheap Trick didn’t let anyone down, and the bonuses kept stacking up with a guest appearance by the (dare I say it) legendary Roy Wood, who sang along with Cheap Trick and treated the Arena to “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day.”

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There was a final concert to head-bang to – Clutch at the Birmingham Academy.

Searching for reviews of this rather excellent gig by the Maryland rockers meant navigating through a rake of clutch repair services and various auto-suggestions.

However, I managed to abridge this glowing tribute from the Midlands Metal Heads website by Amy Lawrence (with photos by Lisa Billingham).

Looking from left to right there’s one aspect within the audience that’s noticeably prevalent. Beards. Long, short, coloured and grey, all identifying with the collection of testosterone infused rock that’s about to be unveiled on stage.

The Inspector Cluzo are without a doubt, a fantastic opening band. Bedecked in a waistcoat and suit, the French duo go beyond their suave appearance and deliver a fusion of acoustic melodies and adrenaline fuelled rock n roll. (When the frontman and the drummer are not firing their material on stage, they spend time on their organic farm in Gascony raising geese).

It takes a while for the audience to warm up to German band, The Picturebooks. However, this did not detract from their well-crafted brand of rustic rock, a soundtrack to outcast lifestyles and Harley Davidsons.

It’s refreshing to witness such professionalism and class from the supporting bands, both consisting of two members only, simply excellent to witness for the powerful music they manage to create.

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Following in the same vein, Clutch walk onto the stage with no airs or graces, no dramatic introductions or theatrics.

The music does the talking and what a hell of a speech it makes.

The audience are immediately captivated by those infectious grooves that Clutch perfectly conjures in their playing.

Refusing to restrict themselves to the same set list every night, Clutch vary the songs played at each gig, with fans unable to rigidly predict which tracks will be performed.

Neil Fallon is an absolute powerhouse of a singer, striding across the stage with ease, looking into the eyes of the audience, hands frequently pointed and clenched with crazed and distinctive facial expressions.

Within the middle of the show, Fallon reassures the audience that they’re not going anywhere yet, joking that they want to postpone the tragic dining at Greggs before departing from Heathrow airport.

Clutch complete their final show of 2018 with resounding applause. For a band that has been in the rock circuit for 27 years, they are far from waning into retirement anytime soon.

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November Splendour

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Portugal was the destination of choice for a November getaway.

Albufeira in the Algarve ticked all the requisite boxes for a sneaky week away – namely: warmth, drink, and a timely escape from the dreary UK November chills.

Originally founded by the Arabs, Albufeira evolved into a typical Portuguese fishing village but now caters for tourists, especially the hordes that swarm over it in the high summer to partake of sandy beaches, busy nightlife and sunny days.

The town is divided into two main areas – the touristy Strip and the Old Town. Our hotel was agreeably plonked between the two.

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Restaurants and bars pop up around every corner, and several afternoon drinking sessions were set up along the waterfront. The Old Town square could always be relied on for an evening of live music and chilling out.

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The streets lead to the Tunel and Peneco beaches, wide stretches of sand that frame the town.

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Bendy Beach

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A Hop-On, Hop-Off bus took care of the sightseeing although we did unfortunately choose the two rainy days to career around Albufeira, meaning there was little scope to hop on or off without getting drenched.

The 18th century St Sebastian Chapel doubled up as the Museum of Sacred Art, which had an impressively embellished altar as its showpiece, complete with golden woodcarvings. There were several pictures and broken artifacts from the original church that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1755.

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Beer & Sun – a great combo

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With the usual medley of music, lasers, fireworks, and classic after classic after classic, the Spectacular Classics at the Symphony Hall was back with a bang – several bangs actually – and a fair few booms as well courtesy of the firing canons of the explosive 1812 Overture finale.

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Nessun Dorma, Bolero, The Pearl Fishers Duet, and Elgar’s Nimrod are all staples of this show year after year – and it never gets tiresome.

 

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Roy was leading this month’s walk around Wilmcote in Warwickshire, the home of Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden:

MAPS: EXPLORERS 205 AND 220       GR 159581.

Walk NW behind the houses to Rough Hill before turning left to enter Aston Cantlow. Follow the Arden Way to Wootton Wawen. Lunch to be taken at the Navigation Inn. Then walk south onto the Stratford canal and over the aqueduct (opened 1813), continuing south onto the canal, and crossing a further aqueduct at Edstone.

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This is the longest aqueduct in England and was opened in 1816. Leave the canal at Draper Bridge and take the field paths back to Wilmcote.

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Largely field paths and towpaths with little road walking. No significant hills – easy walking!

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Mentioned in the Doomsday Book, and being a mere quill stroke away from Stratford, Shakey name-checks his mommy’s village in The Taming of The Shrew:

 Sly, the drunken tinker, beseeches his lord:

“Ask Marian Hacket, the fat ale-wife of Wincot, if she know me not”

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Paths of GloryThe anti-war film theme was to be be revisited by the Film Club this month with a screening of Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory and Charlie Chaplin’s Shoulder Arms.

Shoulder Arms is set in France during World War I, and was released as the war was coming to an end (20th October 1918). Charlie finds himself in France serving in the ‘awkward squad’ and volunteering to enter German lines disguised as a tree trunk…

Paths of Glory is a 1957 American anti-war film based on the novel of the same name by Humphrey Cobb. In the French front lines of World War I, after giving the order for an impossible and disastrous mission to capture a nearby stronghold, the upper ranks move to save face by having three randomly selected soldiers held and tried for cowardice under pain of death. Their leader, Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas), a former lawyer in civilian life, handles their defence against staggering odds.

 

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Then it was back to the Symphony Hall for Roger Taylor’s Queen Extravaganza. This is Queen’s official tribute band, fronted by an excellent non-Freddie impersonator, Alirio Netto.

A dazzling show – an extravaganza, even – kept everyone enthralled with an imaginative rendering of many of Queen’s non-Greatest hits, which are pretty great anyway!

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Scene from The Nutcracker at Hippodrome
www.thestage.co.uk

For the want of something new to try, the Nutcracker at the Birmingham Hippodrome provided some diversion.

Here’s the glowing (and slightly shortened) review by Daljinder Johal of the Review Hub (www.thereviewshub.com):

It’s difficult to reinvent the wheel for a classic ballet like The Nutcracker. But Sir Peter Wright’s 1990 production doesn’t need to when it’s just so magical. Since Wright gifted it to Birmingham, the scale of this annual production never fails to enchant and entrance thanks to clever set design, lavish costumes and of course, the impeccable dancing of 60 dancers telling the story of Clara travelling to an enchanting winter wonderland with a handsome prince.

This world-renowned performance of The Nutcracker satisfies repeat spectators with its attention to detail.

The Nutcracker inspires awe as the huge transformation of the Christmas tree and fireplace towers over a startled Clara. The room even feels colder as artificial snow falls on the Snow Fairy. Yet nothing beats the opening of Act Two. Audible gasps accompany the heroine as the curtain opens to reveal her travelling to a magical land and across the stage in a flying goose. Clever layering of clouds create an astounding realism to offset the delicacy of the goose’s wings.

Karla Doorbar, and Céline Gittens give excellent performances as Clara and The Rose Fairy respectively but it’s Momoko Hirata as The Sugar Plum Fairy who truly amazes. In the final Grand pas de deux, she demonstrates a wonderful expressiveness even with the slightest movement of her hand. With her Prince, César Morales, their synchronicity is so effortless that they can finish a spin and stop together as if one person. Hirata’s fleet-foot with Morales’ majestic and noble demeanour is the perfect complement to Tchaikovsky’s iconic score.

With months of preparation, it’s unsurprising that the technical aspects, from dancing to design are so faultless.

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Queen’s equally faultless and iconic score for their biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, completed a particularly Freddie-filled week. It would have to have been pretty lame not to be enjoyed with all those great tracks!

Now for a couple of pics to conclude this month’s post: a cartoon from the Crow Collection – and a shot of a local buzzard in Warley Woods with a rat snack!

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Buzzard

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OctoberBest

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Autumn is in full swing so it’s time to dig out some russet-clad snaps of Warley Woods to decorate this month’s post, and see what’s been occurring in October.

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We’ll start with some Nature Notes:

October is the month when millions of birds relocate from their breeding sites to wintering grounds, with many of them getting lost along the way.

Spurn Point is one of the best areas for these lost souls to drop in as it curls for over three miles into the North Sea. With nearly 400 different birds recorded here, the peninsula has the highest species count on mainland Britain.

Being a narrow tidal island, Spurn offers a quick breather for any migratory birds blown off course. Originally it was classed as a spit but a massive storm recently pummelled it into re-categorisation. Nature is now allowed to take its course with no effort being made to fix Spurn’s position.

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Spurn Point after the tidal surge in 2013. Credit: Environment Agency.

There have been a few hissy fits regarding recent man-made developments at Spurn Point. The building of the new visitor centre, funded by E.ON (whose vast Humber Gateway wind farms loom off Spurn) have had some residents calling it a “carbuncle.”

Although there were no zingers on the day, Spurn did churn out some notable attendees.

First up was a Rosy-coloured Starling (why not just Rosy Starling?) basking in the unseasonal sunshine on a solar-powered rooftop. On a wire fence nearby, neatly lined up along a row of posts were a Yellowhammer, Whinchat and Stonechat. As is their wont, Yellow-browed Warblers skulked around in several scrubby bushes as we walked around the reserve. A Great white Egret flew over in the afternoon, and a Wheatear popped up in a nearby field, so resplendent it looked like it had just stepped out of the Collins Guide.

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A circular walk through cut paths led into the Kilnsea Wetlands, where ducks, waders and wildfowl were plentiful. From a viewing platform, an insouciant Roe Deer was seen being sort of insouciant alongside the scrubby hedges.

There was a old concrete Sound Mirror in one of the fields – a forerunner of radar to provide early warnings of incoming enemy aircraft.

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A final scan of the beach unearthed some dainty Snow Buntings, which brought to a close another grand day out.

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The trip to Spurn was sandwiched in-between a couple of visits to the theatre.

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At the Birmingham Rep was the World Premiere of Rebus: Long Shadows by Ian Rankin, featuring Coronation Street’s very own Jim MacDonald.

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Cathy Tyson with Charles Lawson as Rebus. Photograph: Robert Day

Here is an abridged review from The Guardian by Clare Brennan:

Rankin’s chance meeting with a lassie on his tenement stair stirs ghosts of unsolved cases: two murdered girls demand justice. A pending court case may deliver it, but evidence is in question. The now-retired detective (Charles Lawson) follows the old ways, trusting to instinct and getting down and dirty with the criminals he knows too well. His former protégé, Siobhan (Cathy Tyson), espouses the new world of teamwork and protocols. “Big Ger” Cafferty (John Stahl) is the villain who aims to destroy the one and corrupt the other.

As always with Rankin, character drives the plot. The script gives the characters demotic dialogue and daringly long speeches. The actors relish both. We, in turn, relish them.

Lawson’s Rebus is as gritty, tormented and uncompromising as the original. The actor effectively communicates layers of feeling through various angles of hunched shoulders, degrees of head tilt and heaviness of footfall. The villain, Cafferty, is a crowing, suave bundle of viciousness personified – Stahl’s performance convincingly exposes depths that neither explain nor redeem him. The two actors play off one another to perfection.

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The other cultural slice of the Spurn sandwich was another visit to the Birmingham Rep for The Wipers Times.

Written by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman, The Wipers Times tells the true story of the satirical newspaper created amid the mud and mayhem of the First World War.

In a bombed out building in the Belgium town of Ypres (mis-pronounced Wipers by British soldiers), a printing press is discovered by two officers, and soon a cheerful and subversive newspaper is being churned out for the men on the front line.

Here’s a snippet of the review from the Express & Star by Jerald Smith:

In 1916 Captain Roberts, Lieutenant Pearson, Sergeant Harris and a group of soldiers from the Sherwood Foresters came across an abandoned printing press near the town of Ypres.

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The Wipers Times – Philip-Tull

There was a small supply of printing materials – enough to start producing a run of about 100 copies or so, which they did on a bi-monthly basis for the next two years.

It was not so much a newspaper, more a collection of jokes and by turns it was subversive, mawkish, groaningly punny and incredibly funny.

It satirised the press and poked fun at the high command so much so there were moves to have the paper shut and the editorial staff court-martialed.

It should be remembered that the army in 1914 was made up of legendary line regiments, but you needed to have gone to a public school to get into these. The British High Command was renowned for the excellence of its wine cellars. It was therefore not surprising that the chief War Lords were not universally loved by their troops.

Indeed, General Haig acquired his nickname “The Butcher” not because of the effect his policies had on the enemy troops but mainly because of the deadly effects on his own, of which nearly one million died and two million were wounded.

Life on the front line was both dangerous and boring. Apart from having to cope with trench foot, trench livers and rat-infested accommodation, there were also artillery shells, chlorine and mustard gas shells and snipers to contend with.

No wonder that the gallows humour of the Wipers Times proved so popular.

Caroline Leslie’s production catches some of the poignancy created in war situations and the futility of war is well presented as the characters remark how familiar the scenery is, having moved just ten yards sideways in six months.

 

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by Paul Reynolds

Ash came to Birmingham, and we caught the durable Northern Irish band in full sway at the Digbeth 02 Institute and, in time-honoured fashion, here’s the review shamelessly lifted from someone else’s pen – from Counteract’s Samuel Lambeth:

Downpatrick’s finest export Ash returned to the Midlands in support of acclaimed new album Islands, playing a furious, career-spanning set.

Ash stride onstage, a whiff of adolescence still lingering over them as Tim Wheeler – bulging muscles, close crop haircut and irrepressible gregarious grin – straps on his Flying V (I think that’s a guitar – Ed) amid feverish applause. However, those waiting for the pummelling pop punk of old will have to wait as instead they open with the beautiful, aching melodies of ‘True Story’, a bruised rocker and standout song from acclaimed new album Islands.

From then on, though, it’s back to the traditional Ash format. Wheeler’s guitar squeals out the stomp of ‘Kung Fu’ and the cocksure strut of ‘Cocoon’ with such rampant energy half the crowd are dying for a post-riff cigarette. ‘Oh Yeah’ and ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ are dispatched early on in the set, two of their finest songs that glide upon twinkling lyrics, blistering brio and pummelling drums, while the gloriously potty-mouthed ‘Buzzkill’ is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it slice of old school scuzz.

These gigs display just how many hits Ash created, as well as their dexterity. The frenzied ‘Orpheus’ nestles comfortably among the arms-aloft anthem ‘Shining Light’, but there’s two songs in particular everyone in the room can’t wait to hear – ‘Girl From Mars’ may now be over twenty years old, but it still has the strong undercurrent of youthful daydreaming and free-spirited joy that made it a staple during the late ‘90s. ‘Burn Baby Burn’ is equally joyous, a thrashy rocker.

Ash prove time and time again they’re a band built for all seasons.

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Dudley Castle

This month’s walk was another of Brian’s ever-popular urban heritage walks: “You’ll be travelling to the capital city of another country – The Black Country – complete with its own flag. So bring your passport and phrasebook – I’ve arranged visas for all of you.”

This time we were off to see what Dudley was all about.

A local MP once described the Black Country flag as “racist and offensive” and wanted it scrapped on account of the possible slavery connotations of chain imagery and colours.

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However, the flag owes its design to a quote from the American Consul in Birmingham who described the region as “black by day, red by night,” in reference to the smoking furnaces that belched out smoke during the day and smouldered at night. The central white area represents the glass cone, a symbol of the region’s glass-making heritage. The chains represent a typical product manufactured in the area – you know, chains such as the ones that rattled around the Titanic…

The Titanic anchor on its original journey to Dudley train station in 1911

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Dudley Railway Station 2018

The walk commenced from The Priory of St James, the ruins of which have stood in Dudley since Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries.

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Priory of St James (seen better days)

Some historical snippets:

Originally a market town, Dudley was one of the birthplaces for the Industrial Revolution, and has a history dating back to Anglo-Saxon times. Its name derives from the Old English Duddan Leah, meaning Dudda’s clearing. In the Doomesday Book, it was scored as Dudelei.

King Stephen attacked Dudley in 1138 after a failed siege of Dudley Castle following the Baron of Dudley’s support of the throne-claiming Empress Matilda (the daughter of King Henry I for all you history buffs).

During the English Civil War, Dudley served as a Royalist stronghold, and the castle was besieged twice and later partly demolished on government orders after the Royalist surrender.

The remains of the castle overlook the town and provide the setting for the famous Dudley Zoo. The zoo received World Monument Status for the world’s largest single collection of Tectons – which are not a species of marmoset but the reinforced Modernist buildings that were revolutionary at the time.

The Limestone Way leads to the Wren’s Nest National Nature Reserve, where Dudley’s geological significance soon becomes apparent with slices and layers of rock, many pitted with fossils, and all manner of canal tunnels and limestone pits on site.

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About 300 million years ago, give or take a week, the tropical seas that covered Dudley disappeared and were replaced by a vast swamp within which the coal seams and iron ore deposits were formed. It was a perfect geological storm that tossed up all the raw materials needed to power Dudley and the Black Country through the Industrial Revolution.

“In no part of England are more geological features brought together in a small compass than in the environs of Dudley.” Said Sir Roderick Murchison in 1849, the David Attenborough of his day.

On a football note, the Messi of his day was undisputedly Duncan Edwards, a proud son of Dudley, whose peerless skills for England and Manchester United were cut short by the Munich Air Disaster in 1958. Contemporaries of Duncan Edwards have always been unstinting in their praise. Bobby Charlton reckoned he was “the only player that made me feel inferior.”

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There is a statue of Duncan in the town centre, clad in his England gear. On the outskirts of the town, there is another statue, this time to a sporting daughter of Dudley – Dorothy Round. Her bronze life-size likeness overlooks the tennis courts where she used to play.

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Dudley Dot was a multiple Grand Slam winner in the thirties, taking the Wimbledon crown twice, and adding the Australian title for good measure.

 

There was a complete nut-fest going on at the Film Club, which was showing the surreal (and rather naughty) Dogtooth:

Dogtooth‘This year sees a return to all things creepy and sinister in October at the Flat Disc Society.’

First up is an episode from the first “Spooky” series of ITV’s children’s anthology programme Dramarama: The Exorcism of Amy. Amy’s malevolent imaginary friend Amelia’s mischievous behaviour can only be curbed by an exorcism.

The main feature is Yorgos Lanthimos’ highly regarded Greek film Dogtooth (winning the Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes and was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, among many other awards). Dogtooth is about a husband and wife who keep their children ignorant of the world outside their fenced compound well into adulthood. Their parents say they will be ready to leave once they lose a dogtooth, and that one can only leave safely by car.

Now, with the month almost done, the evenings drawing in and a cold snap on the way, it’s time to take flight – to Portugal for a sneaky week.

I’m all set…

Settings

 

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Windswept Sept

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The Minster – by MatzeTrier

A Staff Residential trip to York this month included a visit to the English Wine Project at Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire.

Interest in English wine has never been so strong with around 400 vineyards producing still and sparkling wine across the UK – from as far north as Yorkshire, and all the way down to the Kent coast.

Kieron Atkinson is the Founder of the English Wine Project, and he gave a short tour of operations at the vineyard, which included the obligatory wine tasting session.

Vineyard

Kieron oversees the development of the wine product, having planted a third more vines on the existing site at Renishaw. This has increased the yield with a red grape variety, Rondo, producing some tasty rose and red wines.

A tour of the vineyard followed where we learned about the fruiting seasons, cycles of vines and some tips on growing grapes (you can get a hefty punnet from Aldi for a decent price so don’t bother). Having grown to optimum plucking state, the grapes are always hand-picked.

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Renishaw Hall has been the home of the Sitwell family who have lived here for nearly 400 years. Keen collectors and enthusiastic patrons of the arts, the most famous of the Sitwells was the literary trio of Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell (yes, really). They all played a significant role in the artistic and literary part of the last century, no doubt propping up their literary aspirations with the odd drop of claret now and again.

Dame Edith Sitwell was a grandly eccentric poet and novelist whose literary merits often played second fiddle to her general nuttiness. Edith did not actually consider herself to be eccentric: just that I am more alive than most people – I am an unpopular electric eel in a pond of catfish.

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Edith trying out Madonna’s Vogue dance routine

‘Still Falls the Rain’ may be considered her most famous poem but ‘Came the Great Popinjay’ is worth a whirl for its intriguing meters – it’s not very often you get Uganda, Handel and Civets all in one go.

Came the great Popinjay
Smelling his nosegay:
In cages like grots
The birds sang gavottes.
‘Herodiade’s flea
Was named sweet Amanda,
She danced like a lady
From here to Uganda.
Oh, what a dance was there!
Long-haired, the candle
Salome-like tossed her hair
To a dance tune by Handel.’ . . .
Dance they still? Then came
Courtier Death,
Blew out the candle flame
With civet breath.

Cup

 A Traditional Afternoon Tea was served at Betty’s Tea Rooms – we had jam sandwiches and a Penguin each.

Actually, it wasn’t the traditional afternoon tea I’m used to but a refined Edwardian custom as proposed by the (probably quite lardy) seventh Duchess of Bedford who needed to bridge the gap between lunch and dinner by stuffing her face with sarnies and scones.

Thus we indulged in freshly made finger sandwiches, sultana scones, and dainty handmade cakes, all served on an elegant little cake stand with pots of tea and coffee brewed up in the best china and silverware.

Cakestand

Mmm……Cake

The tea rooms, artfully designed with interiors inspired by the Queen Mary ocean liner, are quite a draw for tourists where polite queues line up outside to partake in a spot of tea-taking.

These traditional afternoon teas have been served up since the 1920s when Swiss confectioner Frederick Belmont arrived in England to build up his own business, and opened his first Betty’s in Harrogate.

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He had originally planned to head for the resorts of the south coast but got the wrong train and ended up in Yorkshire. He quite liked it so he stayed.

Fortunately, in accordance with the Duchess of Bedford’s prescribed regimens for afternoon tea, we had been shored up sufficiently enough to last until dinner in the Refectory Kitchen & Terrace at the Principal York Hotel.

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The following day, it was onto the Jorvik Viking Centre for a bit of intellectual pillaging.

Between 1976-81 during a good dig around, archaeologists from York Archaeological Trust revealed the houses, workshops and backyards of the Viking-Age city of Jorvik. The remains of 1,000-year-old houses, Viking-age timbers and various objects and artifacts from the excavations are on show at the centre, either in display cabinets or below shoe-level thanks to a glass floor.

A ride experience ushers little peopled capsules through an updated historical interpretation of the Viking city with impressive reconstructions from the age including flora, fauna, breeds of animal, natural dyes – and even the smells and sounds of the era.

Animatronics provide a key emphasis on Viking authenticity with clothing, facial features and speech being meticulously researched to offer a telling insight into the lives of people who lived through Viking times.

There was also a particularly scary dog.

York has walls. And a walk along the fortified perimeter walls provides a good elevated view of York. Since Roman times, York has been defended by walls, and has more miles of intact wall than any other city in England.

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From various vantage points along the wall can be seen the impossibly intricate York Minster, a Gothic-style cathedral built on a scale that knocks most British cathedrals out of the park.

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It costs a bit to get in. There’s no ‘suggested donation’ here, just a stern demand for an entrance fee and, if you try to slip into the Evensong in the guise of a worshipping public, you must commit to the entire performance or frocked bouncers will bar you from entering.

Lounging outside the front entrance is a statue of Roman Emperor Constantine – it was in York where he was hailed as Emperor of the Roman Empire in AD 306.

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Constantine: Emperor of Scaffolding

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York has some serious back-story.

Budding arsonist, Guy Fawkes was born in York, and baptized at the church of St Michael le Belfrey next to York Minster (seen at left).

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The Shambles is a general term for the maze of twisting, narrow lanes, which make York so charming. It also provided inspiration for some of the Harry Potter film sets – hence the proliferation of Harry Potter stores at one end of the twisty lane. It is arguably the best-preserved medieval street in the world, and was mentioned in the Doomsday Book of William the Conqueror in 1086.

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Peter K Burian

Dog

There is a shrine dedicated to Margaret Clitherow in the Shambles. She was caught hiding Catholic priests, which in sixteenth century York was a serious offence. Her sentence was to be ‘pressed’ – with the door of her own house laid upon her and huge stones piled up on top to squish her.

It was the last time she played ‘hide and seek’ and often wished she’d hid behind the curtains instead.

Greg

Soon it was time to sit back, relax and appreciate York from a different perspective with an afternoon Cruise on the Ouse.

The River Ouse was already carrying visitors long before the arrival of the Vikings, and York owes its existence to this one. When the Romans constructed a fortress above the River Ouse, it provided an ideal defensive site that over time brought both invaders and trade to the city.

A Mink provided a little diversion for some as it was seen scampering away under the shored-up riverbank.

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A steady course was steered through the heart of York, with the knowledgeable captain alerting us to fascinating facts about various buildings, bridges (apparently the Blue Bridge is so-called because it’s painted blue) and other historic sites that we could hardly see from our riverine viewpoint.

 

Titchwell

As usual, Titchwell served up a great day’s walking and birding for the West Midland Bird Club. This famous Norfolk reserve rarely fails to deliver and in amongst the usual pick ‘n’ mix of waders and water birds were Curlew Sandpiper, Grey Plover, Pink-footed Geese, Little Stint, Red-crested Pochard and Ruff. A Great White Egret settled itself down amongst the reeds and a Bittern flew past. Marsh Harriers played their part in the general pageant, and there was the usual compliment of ducks, geese, herons, plovers and swans.

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Bath Time for Curlew

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Pete

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Little-ringed Plovers

There was no partridge, no pear trees either but we did get great views of two Turtle Doves – a rare sight these days.

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Turtle Dove

 

 

The first Flat Disc Society evening of the film season was marked with a triple-bill of films starring new Doctor Who actor, Jodie Whittaker.

VenusFirst up was Dust, a bizarre short film also starring Alan Rickman, where an unusual-looking man follows a woman and her daughter to their home and breaks into their house.

Then an episode of Charlie Brooker’s anthology series Black Mirror: The Entire History of You. Is it possible to remember too much?

The main feature was Venus, Jodie Whittaker’s first lead role alongside Peter O’Toole, Leslie Phillips, Richard Griffiths and Vanessa Redgrave. Written by Hanif Kureishi, Venus concerns an elderly actor (O’Toole) who finds himself increasingly attracted to his friend’s grand-niece whilst finding himself in deteriorating health.

All good stuff!

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Bonny Scotland (and other clichés)

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“They may take away our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!” roared Scottish rebel William Wallace until he was blue in the face.

Mel Gibson’s portrayal of the rebel – and revered symbol of Scottish resistance – in the film Braveheart was a tad on the inaccurate side to say the least. For starters, Wallace wasn’t even “Braveheart” – that was Robert the Bruce!

In a film famously shot-through with historical inaccuracies, even the scene featuring the famous Battle of Stirling Bridge was missing a somewhat significant prop: the bridge.

The Battle of Stirling Bridge took place in 1215, when the Scots routed the English troops, and a view of the battleground with a loop of the river can be seen from the top of the National Wallace Monument.

Loop

The famous loop

In a nutshell, possible something resembling a pistachio, the huge English force of cavalry and infantry were caught on the confined narrow loop of the River Forth having crossed a wooden bridge, and were soon driven into ignominy, then into the ground, and finally into oblivion.

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The actual bridge

Niggly little side note: William’s mother was Margaret Crawford – a daughter of Hugh Crawford, head of the House of Crawford.

The Scots were encamped at the time on the rocky Abbey Craig where the National Wallace Monument stands today. It is only a short haggis throw away from the University of Stirling where I was encamped myself.

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Not a bad campus

Nestled snugly in the foothills of the Scottish Highlands, the university campus is often cited as one of the most beautiful campuses (or is that campi?) in the UK with its own loch amidst acres of trees and greenery.

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Not bad at all…

Known as the Gateway to the Highlands, Stirling tumbles down from the castle – grey, blocky and brooding. Mary, Queen of Scots, lived here, and her son, King James VI, was crowned King of Scots at the nearby Church of the Holy Rude; arch Scottish reformer John Knox was on hand to rattle off the sermon.

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Aerial view of Stirling Castle by Godot13

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The Old Town Jail was built when the former Tolbooth Jail (now Stirling’s venue for music, performance and classes) was rated as the worst prison in Britain. It was still no picnic though – a strict regime of solitude, ghastly food, hard work, and aching discomfort saw to that. They were probably made to watch Eastenders too.

The tour of the jail was an enjoyable actor-led romp with one actor playing all the characters from prisoner to warden to executioner.

The roof top observation area gives excellent 360-degree views over Stirling where the Wallace Tower can be easily seen poking out of the forested crags.

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Old Stirling Bridge and the Abbey Craig with the Wallace Monument by Kim Traynor

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Wallace Monument by BusterBrownBB

The site of that other famous Scottish battle – the one of Bannockburn in 1314 – can also be pointed out from the observation deck.

The Battle of Bannockburn has an immersive 3D battle experience on site at the visitor centre. The 3D technology puts you in the thick of medieval combat on the momentous day when Robert the Bruce changed the course of Scottish history. But without being splattered with blood and guts or having a horse fall on you.

Unlike Braveheart, this was a more accurate telling of Scottish history.

Robert the Bruce faced King Edward II at Bannockburn in the decisive battle of the Wars of Scottish Independence.

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Located between Stirling and Perth is the small town of Auchterarder, a mere putt away from the famous Gleneagles Golf Course. The steeply sided Ochil Hills range back from Auchterader towards the Wallace Monument.

The long high street of Auchterarder gave the town its popular name of The Lang Toun. In the Middle Ages, Auchterarder was also known as the ‘town of 100 drawbridges’ – a natty description of the narrow bridges that once led from the road across wide gutters to the doorsteps of houses.

Auchterarder was also home to several generations of the Crawford family – going all the way back to at least 1630 (that we know of!)

Auchterader

Auchterader

Close to the University of Stirling is the town of Dunblane. A tributary of the River Forth, the Allan Water runs through the town; there is a post box painted gold to commemorate local hero Andy Murray’s Olympic achievements, and a smallish cathedral, in the nave of which is a cenotaph in commemoration of the Dunblane Massacre of 1996.

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Across the way is the 17th century Leighton Library – the oldest purpose-built private library in Scotland – with a collection of 4,500 books including a first edition of Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake. Best of all is Buffon’s artistic drawings of animals in his seventeen volumes of Histoire Naturelle written between 1749 – 1804.

Buffon

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Leighton Library by LM Rodger

Time for a ‘toon…

Librarian+

 

 

Glasgow – what can you say about it?

Historically always vying for top Scottish billing with Edinburgh, there’s enough meat on this city’s bones to satisfy the greediest of travellers.

It is difficult to describe a three-floored, vast-spaced towering edifice as a hidden treasure but the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is tucked away on the edge of the rather splendid Kelvingrove Park in the west end of Glasgow.

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The Kelvingrove Museum and Art GalleryLin ChangChih

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However, it is still one of the most visited attractions in the city, not least because it houses many outstanding artworks including daubs by Rembrandt, Monet, Renoir, Vincent van Gogh as well as one of Salvador Dali’s most famous pieces – Christ of St John of the Cross. You would almost certainly recognize it if you saw it:

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Kelvington Art Gallery is probably as equally famous for its big organ:

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by innoxiuss

Before Birmingham reared its industrial head, Glasgow was the country’s second city, and its wealthy past has left a legacy of Victorian architecture including the City Chambers which preside over George Square.

Local artist and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh added his own Nouveau and Deco tastes to the cityscape. Mackintosh seems to have carved out quite a bit of the city with buildings such as The Lighthouse, his first major architectural project. It was originally completed for the Glasgow Herald Newspaper, and claimed its name from the tower which reaches high above the city. It now houses the Scottish Centre for Architecture and Design. The iconic Glasgow School of Art is one of his most famous projects, at the moment undergoing extensive repairs and renovation after suffering yet another crippling fire.

Glasgow Cathedral pursues a medieval theme with its imposing presence and glittering stained glass panels. It is dedicated to St Mungo, the founder and patron saint of Glasgow, and was built on the spot where he was buried.

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On Glasgow’s coat or arms there is a bell, bird, fish and tree, which all relate to legendary episodes in Mungo’s life (check out the lamp-posts by the cathedral).

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Great views can be had of the cathedral and the city from the mesmeric Necropolis – the twisting cemetery that overlooks Glasgow, and is awash with statues, sculptures and headstones. Oddly enough, the first person to have a memorial isn’t buried here. A statue of John Knox became the foundation stone of the Necropolis, and was also the first statue built for the great protestant reformer throughout Scotland. Mackintosh also has a memorial here but he was buried in London. They did manage to up the ante by tipping in William Miller, the man responsible for the nursery rhyme Wee Willie Winkie.

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Glorious August

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‘Celebrating 30 Years Conserving Nature Worldwide 1989-2018’ was how the Birdfair at Rutland announced itself, and – being suckers for any avian announcement – Pete and I took ourselves over to rub shoulders with fellow devotees.

The Birdfair is a national event, bringing together wildlife enthusiasts and experts to show off and sell their latest binoculars and telescopes, field guides and biographies, paintings and prints, conservation gadgets and cameras, clothing, accessories and holidays.

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The experts…

Marquees and tented theatres were set up for the exhibitions, forums and lectures, and there was plenty of mingling to be had with well-known wildlife personalities such as Bill Oddie, Simon King, Mike Dilger, Nigel Marven, Jonathan Scott, David Lindo and Iolo Williams.

However, the real stars of the show were the Osprey and the Red-necked Phalarope that were seen as we soon strayed out onto the reserve.

 

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Bs0u10e01 – own work – Wikipedia

Dr Samuel Johnson, who married a Birmingham woman, was quite handy with the odd insult now and again. He called the inhabitants of Birmingham “boobies” who were not to be compared with the folks of Lichfield, “a city of philosophers.”

It could have been worse – his famous dictionary of 1755 contains such curmudgeonly barbs as Lackbrain, oysterwench, wantwit and clotpoll.

However, Birmingham has a top-notch philosopher in Ozzy Osbourne so what would he know?

Lichfield is a fine, nicely-appointed city, as notable for its three-spired medieval cathedral as it is for its philosophers.

A mere finch’s flight from the cathedral is Erasmus Darwin House, the former home of the grandfather of Charles Darwin. Erasmus anticipated the survival of the fittest in his scientific work, Zoonomia, foreshadowing the modern theory of evolution long before his grandson. Being one of the key thinkers of the time, Erasmus also dabbled in natural philosophy, physiology, and poetry, as well as inventing and debating all manner of stuff with his Lunar Society pals. He was also pretty good at tiddly-winks and hop-scotch.

Darwin

 

Last year, the Lapworth Museum of Geology was one of five museums shortlisted for the Museum of the Year, and is a right little gem of learning, located on the campus of the University of Birmingham.

It has three state-of-the-art galleries, vast fossil and mineral collections plus a range of innovative and interactive exhibits that recreate the Midlands landscape from millions of years ago. Fossils, volcanoes, diamonds and dinosaurs are all catered for here.

Trilobites

Some of the best fossil horizons are found in Dudley, in the Much Wenlock limestone with Trilobites featuring so heavily, one is even called the Dudley Bug!

It’s difficult to visit the University of Birmingham’s green and pleasant campus without popping into the celebrated Barber Institute.

On this occasion there was several items vying for attention.

The Drawn to Perfection collection trotted out some serious doodles – Claude, Bernini, Poussin all contributing their exquisite little scrawls to the exhibition.

The Centre Stage exhibition explored how artists such as Degas, Sickert and others have portrayed figures that were linked to the stage, but it was a painting on loan from the National Gallery that stole the show.

The Barber has its own Bellows painting – the shy and retiring ‘Nude – Miss Bentham,’ which flaunted itself alongside the visiting ‘Men of the Docks.’

George Bellows was the leading artist of New York’s early 20th Century ‘Ashcan School’ documenting an integral phase in the social history of the Big Apple.

It is worth showcasing more of his brilliant paintings here – especially the superb brutal boxing scene.

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Men of the Docks

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Blue Morning

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Central Park

Stag at Sharkeys by George Bellows

Stag at Sharkeys

 

Holding out for the last two weeks of August for a staycation was, as expected, not the best decision – the unprecedented summer heat wave didn’t quite make the end of the month.

Two out of three days stayed reasonably dry over a Bank Holiday spent in Liverpool. However, as predictable as a rainy day in August, we had a splendid time.

The Museum of Liverpool hosted an exhibition, Double Fantasy, about John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s story in their own words. This featured personal objects alongside their music and art; various interview footage, lyrics and quotes filled many a space.

The Pubs of Liverpool also continued to shine – the Cavern Club and Upstairs at Eric’s were soon bustling with Bank Holiday revellers and thirsty Brummies.

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…and thus was August concluded.

A few loose ends to tie up:

a rare visit to Villa Park to see a stirring 3-2 victory over Wigan Athletic.

Villa

…and a photographic exhibition at the Birmingham Library:

In the Footsteps of Phyllis… a homage to a tweed-clad Geography Lecturer who documented Birmingham 50 years ago. Her photographs have since been updated with later ones taken from the same location and displayed alongside the originals.

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Plus the latest Marvel blockbuster obviously needed viewing…

Antman

 

There was also the small matter of a little Scottish sojourn, which will be coming soon to a screen near you…