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.
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.
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.
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.
A final scan of the beach unearthed some dainty Snow Buntings, which brought to a close another grand day out.
The trip to Spurn was sandwiched in-between a couple of visits to the theatre.
At the Birmingham Rep was the World Premiere of Rebus: Long Shadows by Ian Rankin, featuring Coronation Street’s very own Jim MacDonald.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The walk commenced from The Priory of St James, the ruins of which have stood in Dudley since Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries.
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.
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.”
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.
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:
‘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…