February Musings – stuff and more stuff

February 2014

A new venture with the West Midland Bird Club took us on a morning visit to Cromford – a village in the Derbyshire Dales. It is principally known for its historical connection with Richard Arkwright, and the Cromford Mill which he built here in 1771.

It is also a prime site for Hawfinch at this time of year, and a couple of these brave finches were duly seen, unflinchingly perched atop the trees despite the miserable rain. The River Derwent was having a bit of a rage close by, and a slow saunter took us along the nearby canal, but the weather continued to sulk.

It’s been the wettest winter on record, and a second outing for the welly boots was in order – £9.99 well spent!

Afterwards, we walked along the Carsington Water shoreline, enjoying good views of the waterfowl and grebes – plus a Great Northern Diver. Plenty of passerine interest was to be had amongst the waterside trees – bullfinches and willow tits showing particularly well.

We finished with refreshments at the Visitor Centre – huge slices of cake and a flapjack you could pave a forecourt with!


Gez and Yumi came along for the College’s Flat Disk Society’s film offering. It was showing the Paradine Case, a Alfred Hitchcock film starring Gregory Peck in a courtroom drama. We settled ourselves near the cheese and wine at the front and had a great evening!


The February Fell-Walk to Fauld’s Crater would also have been more enjoyable if I’d taken the wellies – very muddy and with an unreasonable number of stiles to drag reluctant limbs over!

Anyway, here’s Adrian Lea’s entertaining account of the walk:

Tutbury has several pubs. There used to be the Tutbury Crystal industry but that closed and moved to Stoke before being closed down there as well.

We go up the hill out of Tutbury to the Castle and from there we will be able to navigate across the flood plain which hopefully won’t be flooded. Mary Queen of Scots was housed at Tutbury castle for a time and her ghost is said to roam the place on occasion. If you ask nicely and are lucky I might do my Mary Queen of Scots for you at this point.

Having transversed the flood plain we go through a small industrial site with buildings dating from the war era as well as old railway lines in the concrete. I would say it was here that the munitions were bought in and out on to trains. There were a couple of lines across the field to a main line just the other side of the river.

We then go up a wooded hill. At a point I will request that dogs are put on a lead. The path is perfectly safe but you will see from signs that off path is not. Should any accompanying dog dart off under the fence you may not get them back again as there is still unexploded munitions the other side of the fence. I wouldn’t go for a comfort break off path at this point either or you might get a blast to the undercarriage not bargained for!

We then come to the site, crater and a monument placed by the Italian military. About 77 people died in the explosion a third of which were Italian prisoners of war.

With the war on, little was disclosed at the time. It was believed that the detonation could have been as a result of a typical Nazi dirty trick. However, the Nazi’s kept extensive documents of what they did which the Germans eventually released. As they are silent about the Fauld explosion it is now presumed to have been an accidental detonation. With a shroud of secrecy about the explosion I believe all relating documents have a 100 year ban on disclosure so not a lot is known about it. However, it is believed now to be a world record in the non nuclear category of explosion beating our own previous personal best and former world record from World War 1 when the British Army dug mines underneath German positions on a hill in France filling the mines full of TNT and then evaporating the hill and dreaded Hun in the explosion.

This was bigger. There was a top to a hill here where now there is a very deep crater.

There was damage from the resulting earth tremor as far as Burton upon Trent.

It appears that about 77 people are believed to died in the explosion:

26 killed or missing at the RAF dump – divided between RAF personnel, civilian workers and some Italian prisoners of war; 10 severely injured and another 5 of whom were gassed by toxic fumes. 37 killed (drowned) or missing at Messrs Fordes and Sons, a nearby plaster mill, and 12 injured in the surrounding countryside.

Possibly 7 farm workers who had also been working nearby.

200 cattle were killed by the explosion – a number of live cattle were removed from the vicinity but were dead the following morning.

The munitions depot was using part of an unused gypsum mine. The mine is still in operation. A lot of a medieval alabaster figures in various Churches around the country used alabaster from here. It might have been the only source of alabaster – it was certainly the purest.

We then have an early pub stop at the Cock Inn in Hanbury which serves food – it also serves Real Ales.

From here it is across the fields to Anslow, past the school named after Oswald Mosley. He would have been proud of the place – I went past the school on a week day and nearly all of the pupils were blonde haired. Looked like the film Village of the Damned – scary or what? I don’t know it they were blue eyed – I didn’t want to get that close to the school.

From Anslow it is then back across to Tutbury. We will go past Rolleston, the Oswald family home, and then past a chicken farm. If they are in the field (and you ask nicely) you might get my Chicken impression as well!

Cheers, Adrian – as illuminating as ever!



Antique Brick

Antique Brick


Interesting Snippet Time

(a bit long-winded…)

Legendary wartime song’s name was changed in a pub bet and it still garners royalties today.

Falling into the “not many people know that” category is this little snippet lifted from a recent edition of the Daily Mirror. Who knew that the chap who wrote ‘It’s a long, long way from Tipperary’ comes from Birmingham and the Black Country?

Here’s the gen:

Marching towards the unknown terrors of the First World War in August 1914, young soldiers of the Connaught Rangers broke into their favourite marching song.

The rousing tune of It’s A Long, Long Way To Tipperary echoed through the narrow streets of the French port of Boulogne, building camaraderie and chasing away fear as the 1st Battalion of one of the British Army’s Irish regiments headed for the Western Front.

Within weeks the song’s popularity had spread among all the troops fighting the Germans and it became one of the four-year war’s defining symbols.

One hundred years ago this was at first unknown to the man who had written the song five years earlier. Harry Williams, 41, was 300 miles away in rural Warwickshire, unable to answer the call to arms because he had been confined to a wheelchair since a childhood accident.

But the popularity of his song among the British troops meant Harry did a lot for the war effort. And to this day his surviving relatives get more than £30,000 a year in royalties from all over the world for Tipperary – a legacy of the song’s enduring popularity.

In the last 100 years it is estimated three million copies have been sold in the USA and another five million around the world.

Despite its Irish name, the homesick ballad began in the unlikely surroundings of the Black Country in 1909 – and instead of Tipperary, the lyric originally spoke of Connemara.

Harry was born in Erdington, Birmingham, in 1873 and spent his childhood living in pubs run by his parents Henry and Mary.

As a schoolboy he fell down the cellar steps in one pub, breaking both legs and putting him in a wheelchair.

Unable to play in the streets with his friends, Harry developed a talent for songwriting. Then, at around the turn of the century, he met a man called Jack Judge at his brother’s pub, The Malt Shovel in Oldbury, West Mids, and they began writing songs together.

“Jack had a fish stall outside and they became partners,” says Harry’s great-niece Meg Pybus. “They were a team and wrote about 32 songs in total. Jack was a great singer and my Uncle Harry was a musician. He wrote lots of songs and poetry.”

After they came up with It’s A Long Way to Connemara, Jack regularly performed the ballad during concerts, But it was another three years before the song took its final shape.

A keen gambler, he was set a five-shilling challenge to compose and perform a song within 24 hours at the New Market Inn in Stalybridge, Cheshire.

Wily Jack simply changed Connemara to Tipperary, winning the bet and delighting his audience with the catchy “new” song.

Bert Feldman, a London music impresario, heard about the song and within months had released the sheet music with a small but important change.

“Bert published all 32 of their songs,” says Meg, “He told them Tipperary wouldn’t be a hit unless they made it into a marching song and added an extra ‘long’. “I don’t know if he saw the war coming. Anyway they changed it and he published it and the rest is history.”

A Connaught Rangers captain had heard a busker playing the song in Galway the previous year and encouraged his troops to sing it during marches.

Journalist George Curnock, in France at the time, heard the singing soldiers on their way to the front and reported the story of Tipperary for the first time.

“The song instantly went around the world and was sung by all the soldiers,” says Meg, from Hopesay, Shrops.

Harry and Jack earned £1,680, equivalent to more than £150,000 today, from sales of Tipperary in the 12 months after its release.

“Harry eventually became sole rights holder and we still get his royalties to this day,” says Meg. “Jack was a gambler and owed money to Harry and my grandfather. Rather than pay them he gave away his rights to Tipperary.”

In the end, word of the song’s popularity among the troops got back to Harry, living with his parents in the Plough Inn pub in Honiley, Warks, at the time. Moved by the story, he donated £1,000 – £65,000 today – to the Great War Injured Beneficiary Fund.

But when Harry died from pneumonia at 50 in March 1924, his role in one of the nation’s most famous songs all but died with him.

“His part in the song was quickly forgotten about,” says Meg. “Jack took all the credit for writing it and it became his song. Because he sung it, everybody just accepted that he wrote it too. Jack couldn’t write music – it was Harry who wrote it.

“When Harry died I think everyone forgot about him. He is a forgotten hero. We’ve always had this thing in our family to try and prove he was the one who wrote Tipperary.

“They are like Rogers and Hammerstein, Gilbert and Sullivan – you never knew who actually wrote the song.

“Jack couldn’t write music. He couldn’t have written it down, so I don’t know how anyone can quibble over it.”

Meg eventually decided to launch a campaign to have Harry’s part in writing Tipperary officially recognised.

“It got to the stage where I felt I had to do something,” she says.

“We got together in 2012 as a family, my cousins and myself, and looked through an enormous amount of material we had been left.

“I put it all on a website and sent it off to the Imperial War Museum. They now have the paperwork in their archive and they wrote letters saying they recognise his role in the song. It was 2012 when we got the formal recognition that he wrote the song. Before then, he was just recognised as the rights-holder.”

Tipperary is now the longest-earning song in musical history, even raking in cash from ringtones and YouTube.

Though copyright expires 70 years after a composer’s death in Britain, ­royalties still arrive. Meg gets a one-eighth share, about £4,000 a year.

“The royalties we have now come from all over the world,” she says. “I can’t believe we’re still getting paid for it 100 years later. The rights passed on to my grandfather when Harry died, then on to my mother and her sisters, and now through to the cousins. We get cheques every six months. It’s everything from ringtones, cruise ship performances, YouTube hits and jukeboxes. The individual amounts are absolutely tiny, but when they are all added up it comes to quite a sum.”

Arguments continue over where the song was written, with the residents of Honiley and Oldbury at loggerheads to this day.

“We can’t say for certain where it was written, nobody can, but my grandfather and other relatives always said it was at the Plough Inn,” says Meg.

“Harry lived there from 1900 until he died. His name is on all the original sheet music, so there is no doubt he wrote it. Jack’s family claim it was written by him in the Malt Shovel, but as far as we’re concerned it was in the Plough. I remember going to my grandfather’s house as a child – Tipperary was always being played. I grew up with the song.”

The Plough Inn was renamed The Tipperary Inn in Harry’s honour in the 1940s and remains a shrine to the famous song to this day.

“It’s a terribly sad song in many ways, given the connotations attached to it nowadays. It’s a strange story, because if it wasn’t for that bet in Stalybridge or the outbreak of war the song would never have become so popular.”

Inspiring Quote Section

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

H. Jackson Brown Jr., P.S. I Love You


Welcome…just a bunch of scribbling and rambling…


At last! The new novel is out on Kindle!

This is intended as a monthly digest of musings, manic mutterings, poor alliteration and much-like…with a few piccies!

It follows on from the inconvenient blogging on the http://www.premiercrow.com website, which is still accessible – and worth a punt if settling down with a nice cuppa coffee.

Here goes January 2014 – waking up to a new year in Dorset:

Hung around Weymouth for most of the week before heading back to Brum.

Had a tremendous little mooch around a bric-a-brac depot at Brewer’s Quay, managing to unearth a little book from childhood days as a sudden attack of nostalgia surged over me. It was one of those Brook Bond card collecting books – the Panini of its day (or is that a bread?). One of African animals, which I avidly collected as a kid, pretty much being responsible for Mom’s overiding tea addiction with so many offers to make tea so I could complete my collection.

Went to Paul Harris’s 50th birthjday celebtation at O’Neil’s which featured a great covers band – the Subterraeans who regularly feature at the Jam House so I’ll be suggesting a night out ther before too long.


Our usual January trip to Rutland Water commenced with the recommended purchase of wellies after all the torrential rain we’ve been having recently (it was like the summers of recent years again).

As usual, at this juncture, we have to have a: Nature Notes Warning for the following account. I do try to contain it by the third paragraph watershed but occasionally an unexpected migrant bird or bemused badger may cross my path and I go all eulogisey over it.

A Great Northern Diver was dotted distantly on the open water, and amongst the usual litany of ducks and geese, were good views of Smew (I’ll just borrow the RSPB illustration from their site so you can see what this splendid little chap looks like. Pretty cool, eh?) There was also distant views of Barn Owl, and best ever views of Song Thrush and ducks and stuff plus a fox to add a bit of mammalian colour.





Steve’s sister, Christine and bro-in-law Bernard, – and myself (obviously) – took off for a week in sunny Tenerife.

We weren’t disappointed, the weather settled on an agreeable mid – twenty mark, and the cuisine of the Fanabe Costa Sur Hotel in Costa Adeje being more than up to the task.

Unlike the frenetic Seville week of November, this was a designated chillaxing break.

Costa Adeje, is on Tenerife’s south coast and there are two beaches to choose from if you can feel a bask coming on. The dark volcanic strip at Playa Fañabe contrasts nicely with Playa del Duque, with golden sands freshly imported rom the Sahara.

There’s a great choice of bars and kiosks on the promenade which stretches all along the coast, the slightly more expensive ones veering off to the west. The pint-a-Euro bars along the opposite stretch were often deal-breakers!

Costa Adeje doesn’t do big clubs like the neighbouring resorts, but has plenty going for it in the way of cosy waterfront bars and restaurants. We took a bus ride over to Los Cristianos where we relaxed over a beer at one of the pavement bars.

Steve and I walked back  via Playa de las Americsa in such a leisurely way as to almost horizontal. The mandatory stopping off points being a bar, another bar and (well, I never) a pub.

I booked a boat trip out to see the dolphins and whales in the choppy Atlantic (Bottle-nosed and Short-finned Pilots for you species junkies out there). Sunny and hot with complimentary drinks throughout – combinations rarely come so winningly.

The island of La Gomera is the second-smallest Canary Island and, not being too far from Tenerife, demanded our attention – so we popped over.

The island is of volcanic origin, the upper reaches almost permanently shrouded in clouds and mist. As a result, the central mountains catch the moisture from the trade winds and produce a dense jungle climate in the cooler air, and consequently cover themselves in lush and diverse vegetation.

The inhabitants of La Gomera have an ancient way of communicating across deep ravines by means of a whistled speech which can be heard 2 miles away. This whistled language is indigenous to the island, and its existence has been documented since Roman times. Invented by the original inhabitants of the island, the whistling was adopted by the Spanish settlers in the 16th century and survived after the indigenous inhabitants – the Guanches – were entirely assimilated. When this means of communication was threatened with extinction at the dawn of the 21st century, the local government required all children to learn it in school.

Christopher Columbus made La Gomera his last port of call before crossing the Atlantic in 1492 with his ships. He stopped here to replenish his crew’s food and water supplies. The house in the capital, San Sebastián, in which he is reputed to have stayed was summarily visited but he wasn’t at home.