Thought I’d start with a silly cartoon from the Crow Collection archives…
Not far from the city centre, is Soho House, a 18th century Georgian house in Handsworth. This was once the elegant home of industrialist and entrepreneur Matthew Boulton, which was the regular hang-out and drop-in centre for the Lunar Society.
Members of the Lunar Society, which included Erasmus Darwin, James Watt and Joseph Priestly gathered here every month on the night of the full moon to wine and dine, discuss experiments, and chat about philosophy – it was a sort of 18th century knit and natter group with Bunsen burners.
It was at Soho House where Boulton developed the steam engine in partnership with James Watt, amongst other entrepreneurial inventiony type of things.
Steve and I descended on this once-thriving hive of industrial activity for a look around before hitting the nearby Black Eagle pub for an industrial pint or two.
On display at Soho House were some of the products of Boulton’s nearby factory – now sadly demolished – with buttons, buckles, clocks, vases, silver and Sheffield plate tableware. An interesting and informative tour was conducted throughout the various rooms and offices, in which we explored the house and cellar, noting the early central heating system, and one of the very first photocopiers in Boulton’s study.
Hemmed in nowadays with houses backing onto the grounds, and several holdings and premises creeping right up to the edge of the fence, the gardens, which were once over 100 acres in size, are now a mere half an acre.
Here’s an old picture of the factory:
Then it was off to Derbyshire the following weekend in search of a rural interlude.
It was a stunning spring day on which to ramble in Dovedale so ramble we did.
Courtesy of the UCB walking group, a bunch of us took off for the Peak District with the agreeable prospect of a good yomp followed by an equally agreeable pub ahead. Apart from one calf-crunching ascent onto a ridge, it was a short, gentle meander around some stunning countryside.
Of course, with the weather being so clement, the tourists were swarming around this honeypot – especially the stepping-stones over the River Dove.
We were soon striding along the valley, past several interesting rock formations including Lover’s Leap, a bare shin of rock jutting out over the river. Opposite were the Twelve Apostles, a last supper of dramatic pinnacles gathered together on the rock face. We checked out Reynard’s Cave before hitting that killer climb up onto the ridge, and then skirted across Dovedale Wood, past Ilam Tops Farm before joining the footpath around the end of Bunster Hill.
I don’t quite know why I’m telling you all this – here’s a map with the route on it. A thoroughly recommended ramble (with ice cream to be had from the kiosk in the car park!)
There was a pub to repair to and repaired thusly we did – the Oakover Arms in Ashbourne, which provided the perfect conclusion to our walking day.
Lots of piccies from the group coming up:
I went over to Leamington Spa with Craig and met up with another friend – former fellow footy player (and mad for the alliteration) James for a mid-week comedy evening at the Bourbon Smokehouse. Craig opened proceedings with his usual accomplished flair, and was very well received. The evening also featured a deaf comedian, Rinkoo Barpaga (with interpreter providing the voiceover) and Vince Atta, who used a multi-track looper and pedals to create a Hip-Hop/Reggae/Techo/Whatever show within his stand-up routine.
A good-humoured audience added to the occasion, despite a few gobby diners yakking away in the background.
The Manic Street Preachers – this band never fails to consistently deliver brilliant concerts, so it was off to the Genting Arean (NEC really…) for another excellent showing by the Welshmen, ably supported by the Editors who opened for them.
…and here’s another shamelessly-purloined interview and piccies from the Birmingham Mail review by Aidan McCartney:
It had been six years since Birmingham had last seen the Manics but they were back with something special. To hand ‘Everything Must Go’ – the triple platinum selling album that marked the beginning of second-era of the band – a sterling 20th anniversary celebration to remember.
The last time the Welsh trio toured, including at Wolverhampton Civic in 2014, they had played 1994 ‘The Holy Bible’ in its entirety.
Yet that twisted masterpiece was missing with the band focusing the first half of their set on the more accessible 12-track stellar record that saw them cross over from underground heroes to mainstream indie rock stalwarts,
The powerful 1996 album marked a poignant and grander return post Richey Edwards, who disappeared 21 years ago, and the Manics do it justice, ensuring it sounds every inch the masterpiece of 20 years ago as they rip through it in order.
Lead song from the album ‘A Design For Life’ feels a bit out of place second up, as the traditional set closer, but it sees an early singalong with James Dean Bradfield’s tremendous working class vocals echoing around the Arena.
The rarely heard run-through of the mid-nineties album reminds of the other top-ten singles ‘Australia’, ‘Kevin Carter’ and the centerpiece of the record ‘Everything Must Go’ with its energetic, soaring chorus.
A crisp ‘Enola/Alone’ leaves a lasting impression as a piece of Brit-rock genius while Richey penned ‘Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky’ with Bradfield’s acoustic solo and album closer ‘No Surface All Feeling’ offer further euphoria to the majestic first half.
Following a brief interval, the second part of the night offers the epic guitar anthems which have become their trademark with some rarities including a pleasing cover of Fiction Factory’s ‘(Feels Like) Heaven’ which the crowd lap up.
‘Your Love Is Not Alone’, ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ and ‘You Stole The Sun From My Heart’ are highlights as the audience get fully into their stride.
By the time, ‘You Love Us’ is followed by ‘If You This Tolerate This’ to close the evening, a cue for ticker tape to spread across the Arena, the audience filter back into the night knowing they had witnessed a national treasure. 20 years may have passed but ‘Everything Must Go’ is a record that has stood the test of time, by a band that will continue to do so.
I thought I liked this band but Steve’s niece, Emma, has the copyright on full-tilt adulation. Check out her website for much Manics meanderings (jeez, I need to stop with the alliteration…)
Of course – being spring – one of the best places ever to visit at this time of year is the Ynys Hir nature reserve in Wales.
This reserve encompasses a variety of habitats – oak woodlands, heathland, wet grassland, salt marshes, reed beds, hillside scrub, freshwater and peat bog, and is situated on the Dyfi estuary near Machynlleth – what’s not to like?
Pied Flycatchers were plenty, flitting around the oaks, feasting no doubt on the tiny little flies that were nipping us. Along a boardwalk planked over the peat bog, a Cuckoo flew over, being chased by a crow. An obliging Wood Warbler provided the star turn at the end of the day, spilling out its spinning-sixpence song in the branches above us.
Up on the meadows, wide views across the saltmarsh and river presented a panorama of the reserve. Up in the sky, a Red Kite fannied around.
Ynys Hir translates as ‘long island’ in English, and – according to the International Phonetic Alphabet – is pronounced (ənɨ̞s-hir), which is a massive help! It fairly trips off the tongue. The name refers to a wooded ridge, which was once surrounded by marshland.
It was founded on the estate of the late Hugh Maplin, who invited naturalist Bill Condry to move into one of the estate cottages. Not only was Condry one of the main forces in the preservation of the Red Kite, he was also a Brummie. His father worked as a craftsman jeweller – probably in the Jewellery Quarter, a gemstone’s throw from Soho House.
Rarely has a blog entry been tied up so clumsily but there you have it.