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World Cup June

SeabirdCity2

Yes, it’s that quadrennial celebration when every screen is set to shades of green as football dominates and disrupts the embedded drinking patterns of all.

However, before the football madness began, there was plenty of time for a little nature and some wild spaces to be indulged.

It is often a two-fleece job whenever a visit to Yorkshire is planned so we were very lucky to plunder three excellent sunny days for ourselves in Bridlington.

A minor sea fishing port with a working harbour, Bridlington is a great base from which to explore the wild and not-so-windy-this-time recesses of Yorkshire.

Fairburn Ings was well worth dipping into on the way up from Brum. The word ‘ings’ is of Old Norse origin meaning ‘damp or marshy land that floods’ so that gives you an idea of this nature reserve – plenty of flood meadows, fenland, some reedbeds and a fair chunk of woodland. The Ings got the weekend off to a fine start with stunners such as Hobby, Black-necked Grebe, nesting Spoonbills and a Cuckoo.

There was also a collection of Cuckoo Wasps, scribbling their way around an old dead tree. These were Ruby-tailed Wasps or Jewel Wasps – common monikers for what are formally known as Cuckoo Wasps which, like their avian namesake, plunder the nests of other species. The resulting larvae eat the egg or larvae of the host – not the sort of guests you want to invite over for cocktails.

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From Bridlington, it is a short zip up to the awe-inspiring Bempton Cliffs, a veritable seabird city with Gannets and Guillemots galore, neat little Razorbills and Kittiwakes, whirling Fulmars, and everyone’s favourite, Puffins – all thumbed tightly into dizzy notches and nicks on the towering chalk cliff faces.

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There are excellent viewing platforms arranged along the cliffs at various points for some of the most spectacular seabird viewing in the country. Nearly half a million seabirds don’t know the meaning of the word ‘quiet.’

Gull

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Puffins

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Razorbills and Puffin

Kitti

Kittiwake

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Razorbill and Guillimot

The hypnotic sight (and smell) of the various colonies, with additional gulls and jackdaws is mesmerising at times, a bit like watching the sea – until you realise you are actually watching the sea as well.

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Even more senses can be overloaded with a stirring yomp over the cliffs to Flamborough Head for more of the same.

Strip

sky

Flowers

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Jackdaw

 

Tophill Low was a surprisingly good find over the weekend. Tucked away off one of the main roads, this reserve is an active Yorkshire Water Treatment Works built in 1959. It opened its doors as a Nature Reserve in 1993 and features several hides spread across two main reservoirs that flank the River Hull.

The two reservoirs – ‘D’ and ‘O’ dominate an area peppered with substantial marshes, ponds, woodlands and grasslands.

A Great-spotted Woodpecker was a great spot from the first hide, as were the Yellow Wagtails, but the most memorable sighting of the day were the Marsh Frogs.

These are large non-native species, frog-marching their way up the country from Romney Marshes. It was their incredible booming croak – they are also known as the Laughing Frog – that was difficult to pin down at first. A couple of male frogs were soon spied, rattling their sabres at each other across a small pond.

Here’s a little clip from YouTube so you can appreciate the crazy volume of these amphibians (filmed by Anna Benson Gyles):

…And here’s a froggy cartoon from the Crow Collection – a best seller in its day:

frog

Blacktoft Sands is another great little reserve on the Humber estuary, and one we often visit when up in Yorkshire. The vast tidal reedbed is the largest in England, a haven for many species of wildlife, and it wasn’t long before some lofty Marsh Harriers heaved themselves into the air and began scanning the reeds for snacks. We once saw a harrier take a gull chick from its nest at this reserve so were hopeful of a replay but nothing doing.

Blacktoft Sands also has saline lagoons, which are rare in Europe and provide an ideal habitat for a variety of leggy wading birds including the ever-elegant Avocets.

 

Cattle

There were more leggy shenanigans later in the month when the fell-walking crew took to the Staffordshire Moorlands for a brisk circuit.

Fortunately, Adrian L was on board to provide his inexhaustible commentary:

Start at Hulme End, Staffordshire Moorlands

Location: Grid Ref: SK 1062 5927

From the car park, we walk for a mile along the route of the railway. Then go up Ecton Hill. Information points on way up about the mining that has occurred there since the Neolithic ages. 

Nice views. Then we come down Ecton Hill and through a bit of a gorge (Wetton Mill). Nice views. Then we go up another hill. Nice views. Then we go down the hill. Nice views. Then we walk along the Hoo Brook for a while until we get to Butterton, which is on the side of a hill. Then we go to the Black Lion Inn on top of that hill. The pub does not mind dogs coming in. It’s the owners they sometimes have an issue with and may get ordered out. After the pub, we go down the other side of the hill. Nice views. Then we go up another hill. Nice views. Eventually reaching Revidge Moor – nice views. Then we go off that hill back to the car park.     

Some of you have not been happy in the past about not being told if there is any mud. If there has been rain do not be surprised if there is mud. That usually happens when it rains.  

Cheers, Adrian, for a very singular take on this month’s wanderings.

 

Watson

Heather Watson Wellies It

In between various World Cup kick-offs, there was a series of supporting events to enjoy:

The Nature Valley Classic at the Edgbaston Priory Club – for a long time an annual event for us – again shocked with the lack of rain – that’s two years running now.

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Pat Cash gets to meet Steve P

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Steve P took his first ever selfie with tennis idol, Pat Cash, and the scene was set for some seemly sets. Here was the order of play and results:

Elina Svitolina beat Donna Vekic  6-1, 3-6, 6-1

Lesia Tsurenko beat Heather Watson  7-6, 7-5

Petra Kvitova beat Johanna Konta  6-3, 6-4

Garbine Muguruza beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova  6-1, 6-2

 

This seems just the place to serve up another silly toon:

Calves+

 

The novel Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks was one of the must-read books of the last ten years. The Alexandra Theatre was showing the critically acclaimed stage show based on the novel, which was well worth trundling along to.

Birdsong

Here’s Stephanie Balloo’s edited review of it for the Birmingham Mail:

With the centenary of the First World War drawing to a close this year, it seems fitting to stage a heart-wrenching tale of courage, anguish, duty, passion and love.

An adaptation of the book of the same title, doing justice to Sebastian Faulks’ beautifully visceral prose was bound to prove challenging.

It kicks off with an introduction to a peculiar, stern-faced Lieutenant Wraysford – played by Tom Kay – as he leads a team of fathers, husbands, sons through the trenches, tunnels and brutality of war. Tim Treloar as loveable cockney ‘sewer rat’, Jack Firebrace steals the show.

It is only as Wraysford lies seriously injured in a field – deliriously clinging to memories of all he holds dear – that the details of his perilous affair with the beautiful Isabelle Azaire emerge.

This is how we see the characters of Amiens, France – in abrupt flashes dotted throughout the incredibly powerful performance.

Breath-taking scenes of adulterous passion are effortlessly intertwined with the heartbreak of war – with the cast hurrying between each other as Stephen dips in and out of consciousness and daydreams.

It comes as no surprise as Faulks himself approved of the script – all the vital standout moments within the novel were accurate, intense and emotive – just as they should be.

 

Then it was off to the critically acclaimed Ivy restaurant for dinner to round off the weekend…

IVY

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That’s not the Ivy – that’s The Botanist…

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Alpha May

Blue

Yes, that is actual blue sky!

It is quite possibly the first of its kind seen around here since July last year (OK, maybe a slight exaggeration there – but not much of one).

Of course, if it’s hot and sunny, the obvious thing to do is to take off to somewhere quiet and peaceful and far from the madding crowd – somewhere like Stratford-upon-Avon on a Bank Holiday Monday!

Street

Stratford-upon-Avon is, of course, birthplace to the most famous writer who ever lived – old Shakey whose prodigious biro penned many a sonnet and balcony scene, and whose venerable status draws tourists aplenty to this little market town.

A procession of vintage cars glided along the street for the annual classic showpiece with some splendid old models being shined and waxed.

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Car camouflage

But this was not a day for looking at classic cars or for traipsing around museums and old houses, but a day in which a pub with a decent beer garden was to hold sway.

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Steve spots a beer garden

Soon we were meeting up with old friends – matey old beer and chummy cider mainly!

BeerGarden

 

Nature Notes Warning:

Although Ynys-hir in Wales is one of the best places in the country with its fabulous ancient oak woodlands (and Ice Cream I’m talking to you, Rum ‘n’ Raisin…), the West Midland Bird Club’s aim was to clock the Western Woodland Trio of Wood Warbler, Pied Flycatcher and Redstart – a summer visiting threesome that favours the woodlands of the west for their breeding grounds.

Woodies and Pied were quite obliging but the elusive Redstart remained out of reach for most of us.

Trees

However, Ynys-hir offered much more – a Red Kite soared past, its forked tail effortlessly steering the bird over our heads. A pair of Great-spotted Woodpeckers faffed around their nesting hole, the flycatchers were flitting around everywhere, and a medley of songsters were giving it full throttle: Willow Warbler, Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Song Thrush and Chiffchaff.

A Cuckoo perched up atop a low, bendy sapling – no doubt browsing for some poor sap to offload its parenting duties to. According to folklore, the cuckoo is also a good omen for marriage – should you wish to know whom you will marry, take off your shoe when you first hear the cuckoo and you will find a hair the same colour as that of your future spouse.

In his poem ‘The Shepherd’s Week,’ John Gay wrote:

Upon a rising bank I sat adown, 

Then doffed my shoe, and by my troth, I swear,

Therein I spied this yellow frizzled hair

(he then copped off with Robert Redford…)

BluebellsJC

Fen

It wasn’t all about the birds – bluebells, bees and butterflies abounded too. Damselflies and Dragonflies, including a Four-spotted Chaser (thank you Mr Bug Expert), could be seen zipping all over the reserve, with Brimstones leading a charge of butterflies throughout the woods.

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PeteBluebells

 

Mid-week, and Craig was headlining at the Barnet Street Bar in Leamington Spa so it was off to the royal town for some first rate comedy and some royal drinking amid the Regency architecture and broad boulevards (OK, just in a bar or two…)

 

ComedyCraig

 

With the good weather threatening to last almost a week, it was a good omen for the weekend’s walk around Herefordshire.

Green

Here’s Jane with a comprehensive guide:

Bosbury – Map: OS Explorer 190

Start: Meet up at Ledbury – car park is just off the main street (near to the market square) in Bye Street (HR8 2AA).

Pub lunch at the Bell Inn in Bosbury – it’s a nice dog friendly pub that serves baguettes as well as a carvery on Sunday (also notable for the poor waitress tripping over when delivering a cheese baguette and sprawling on the lawn. The dogs appreciated the baguette).

The Walk:

Ledbury – Wellington Heath – Bosbury (about half way round) – Oyster Hill – Frith Wood – back to Ledbury

Field

There were several interesting little churches along the way – one at Wellington Heath, another at Coddington, and there was a 12th century church tower stumped in Bosbury itself.

The route cut through Coddington Vineyard, one of the smallest commercial vineyards in the UK.

The dizzy prospect of Ledbury’s church spire during the final descent from the cool Herefordshire Trail was worth the walk alone.

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Most interesting of all was the scenery, elevated views taking in great swathes of the green and the pleasant variety, seeping along with the Malvern Hills often in view, edging along deciduous woodland, through pastures, hop-fields and orchards.

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Trig

A short climb up Oyster Hill presented a panoramic view from the distant Black Mountains to the Malvern Hills. The descent along the edge of a wide, flower-strewn valley took us past Hope End House, the childhood home of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, which was corralled behind a walled garden.

Dandelions

Barretts

Elizabeth was a frail, poorly woman who struggled with a lifelong illness but was strong-willed and fiercely opposed the slavery on which her family’s fortune was founded.

Although her most famous poem was ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways’ (that enduring staple of wedding speeches everywhere) Lizzy BB also penned a line or two about the Herefordshire countryside in her epic poem Aurora Leigh:

The Herefordshire Landscape

I dared to rest, or wander, – like a rest
Made sweeter for the step upon the grass, –
And view the ground’s most gentle dimplement,
(As if God’s finger touched but did not press
In making England!) such an up and down
Of verdure, – nothing too much up or down
A ripple of land; such little hills, the sky
Can stoop to tenderly and the wheatfields climb;
Such nooks of valleys, lined with orchises,
Fed full of noises by invisible streams;
And open pastures, where you scarcely tell
White daisies from white dew, – at intervals
The mythic oaks and elm-trees standing out
Self-poised upon their prodigy of shade, –
I thought my father’s land was worthy too
Of being my Shakespeare’s…
Then the thrushes sang,
And shook my pulses and the elms’ new leaves…
I flattered all the beauteous country round,
As poets use; the skies, the clouds, the fields,
The happy violets hiding from the roads
The primroses run down to, carrying gold, –
The tangled hedgerows, where the cows push out
Impatient horns and tolerant churning mouths
‘Twixt dripping ash-boughs, – hedgerows all alive
With birds and gnats and large white butterflies
Which look as if the May-flower had caught life
And palpitated forth upon the wind, –
Hills, vales, woods, netted in a silver mist,
Farm, granges, doubled up among the hills,
And cattle grazing in the watered vales,
And cottage-chimneys smoking from the woods,
And cottage-gardens smelling everywhere,
Confused with smell of orchards.

ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING

I think a line or two about a hair-filled shoe would have enhanced this enormously.

Offside

This month’s Flat Disc Society prepared itself for the World Cup in Russia.

First up was an episode of Look at Life: Behind the World Cup, about the benefits of holding the World Cup in Britain in 1966.

Next was a short feature, Vita di Giacomo – with Giacomo struggling with his faith as he becomes a priest during the summer of 2006 at the time of the World Cup.

The main feature Offside tells the story of a Iranian girl who disguises herself as a boy to see a qualifying match between Iran and Bahrain prior to the 2006 World Cup.

In Iran, female football fans were not allowed into stadiums in case violence or verbal abuse was directed against them.

Despite these films, I wasn’t so over-dosed on celluloid that I could afford to miss the latest Marvel blockbuster:

Avengers

Brilliant!

A fine ramble along our regular Lapworth route was enhanced by glorious sunshine after a misty start. With all manner of rail network disruption going on, it necessitated a taxi being commissioned from Dorridge but it all worked out well in the end…

lapworth

NewABBA

NewABBA2

The New ABBA

Canal

 

World Cup Finally – a cartoon with a footy theme to round things off – back of the net!

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Sunken March

Adder

Fully loaded with a family bag of Minstrels and a frothy Latte, it was off to the cinema for the latest release from Marvel – The Black Panther.

Apart from the dire Fantastic Four films, Marvel’s characters always provide an entertaining diversion, although the eponymous hero in this case seems to have accrued more super powers than the character I was familiar with as a kid.

The film posters are pretty impressive too.

BlackPanther

 

It was quite early on in the month when a bit of culture was deemed to be coming on…so it was off to see Quartet. This from the Birmingham Rep:

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A very entertaining production, seen from the cheap seats!

Quartet is the charming tale of four ageing opera singers. Cecily, Reggie and Wilfred reside in a magnificent retirement home. The rumour circling the halls is that the home is soon to play host to a new resident. Word is – it’s a star! Jean arrives and old rivalries resurface, secrets are revealed and chaos unfolds, but in true theatrical tradition – the show must go on!

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Quartet_Paul_Nicholas_Sue_Holderness_Jeff_Rawle_Wendi_Peters_0068

Paul Nicholas, Wendi Peters, Sue Holderness and Jeff Rawle star in a revival of the bitter-sweet comedy Quartet from the Oscar-winning writer Sir Ronald Harwood. A celebration of the twilight years and the hilarity of growing old disgracefully!

 

Redshank

Redshank

Nature Notes Warning:

The annual long weekend to Devon gave us good weather for ducks…and grebes!

Over the course of the long weekend, we notched up grebes galore – Great Crested, Little, Black-necked, Red-necked and Slavonian.

First port of call was to clock the Cirl Buntings over at Labrador Bay, and one was duly clocked as soon as we parked up, popping along the hedge of the car park. Before we had hardly stepped out of the car, a Skylark ascended and a Sparrowhawk suddenly zipped by. The hawk ominously glided down a scrubby trail leading to a favourite field of the Cirls. Fortunately there was plenty of bunting laid out to celebrate our arrival.

The Cirls proved to be very confiding if a little skittish, and flitted back and forth to snaffle seeds from the field edge. A Peregrine put in a soaring appearance, scything through the sky in typical imperious fashion but the buntings were clearly beneath its notice.

Then it was onto Broadsands to nab the Great Northern Diver – a Rock Pipit, Gannet and Scoter having to be content with second billing. The rain came in hard so rather than huddle away from the elements on Berry Head, we headed to Beesands where in a ley lay our Red-necked Grebe – and a new one: a Ring-necked Duck.

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They’re mad for maintaining their flags in Beesands…

Slapton is a little Devon village, which gives its name to the nearby beach of Slapton Sands. Presiding over this coastal bar is a Sherman Tank, which was recovered from the ill-fated Exercise Tiger that took place in 1944.

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Exercise Tiger was the code name for one of a series of large-scale rehearsals for the D-Day invasion of Normandy. 749 American soldiers and sailors died during this rehearsal when German E-Boats snuck in and torpedoed three ships. More men died during Exercise Tiger than died in the actual landings on Utah Beach.

This from the information board by the tank:

Info

Rollof-Honour

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A strange gull had appeared in the waters around Langstone Cliff, a short sandwich-snatch away from our hotel – the spookily named Langstone Cliff Hotel.

As gullish as a gull can be, it didn’t look particularly exotic to us. However, a handy gull expert nearby insisted it was a possible partial albino Thayer’s and Kumlien’s gull hybrid! (what do you mean, hold you back?)

Here it is:

Gull

We then headed over to Exminster Marshes where an obliging Black-necked Grebe pootled about in the canal. Red-breasted Mergansers were also present, as was an unusual Cormorant that looked as if he had just popped in from a face-painting session at the Turf pub.

Bowling Green Marsh near Topsham was where the rain began to pick up again so it called for some serious hide huddling. Wigeon, Teal, Pintail and the ubiquitous Mallard scuttled around the water; a pair of Snipe snipped in for a quick paddle, and Greenshanks and Redshanks stretched out their legs in the shallows. A Kingfisher perched awhile from a post.

A Slavonian Grebe – the final grebe of the weekend – was viewed from Cockwood, bouncing along in the turbulent waters of the sea. Brent Geese were busy cropping the fairway of the adjacent golf course where a couple of dead lapwings were also in evidence – casualties, no doubt, of the recent ‘Beast from the East’ snowstorms or, as they call it in Russia: Thursday.

 

DoubleIndemnity

Meanwhile at Film Club Night, the main feature was Double Indemnity.

Scoring 96% on the TOMATOMETER, here’s Linda Rasmussen’s take on Rotten Tomatoes:

Directed by Billy Wilder and adapted from a James M. Cain novel, Double Indemnity represents the high-water mark of 1940s film noir urban crime dramas in which a greedy, weak man is seduced and trapped by a cold, evil woman. Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) seduces insurance agent Walter (Fred MacMurray) into murdering her husband to collect his accident policy. The murder goes as planned, but after the couple’s passion cools, each becomes suspicious of the other’s motives. Double Indemnity ranks with the classics of mainstream Hollywood movie-making.

The short second film, also based on a James M. Cain story, was The Girl In the Storm, made in 1990 and capturing the essence of American film noir from the period, using 16mm film stock. The film explores a situation where two strangers are thrown together in a dangerous environment. In fairness, a dangerous environment to the girl could be have been anything from a infant’s tea party at Fluffy Camp to a spelling competition with gerbils judging by the fragility of the woman – she gets knocked out when her car stalls and is killed by a mere waft of a knock on her head.

Anyway, a quick search on YouTube and here it is in all its 15 minute glory:

 

Having been postponed due to the Beast from the East, the annual spring jaunt to the Forest of Dean only just got underway before the month was out.

Cannop

Cannop Ponds

There was a brief stop at Lydney to check out a couple of waterlogged fields for a reported Glossy Ibis but there was no sign of the shiny bird although a bevy of Red-legged Partridges were nicely lined up on a concrete wall for formal inspection.

Then onto Parkend where we missed out on the Hawfinches but clocked a couple of spiraling Goshawks. New Fancy View provided more distant Goshawks with a supporting cast of several Buzzards and an indolent Sparrowhawk circling above.

The real stars though, were the couple of Adders out for a bask in the sunshine. There was one curled up just off the path, and another braver soul sunning itself beneath the viewing platform where a couple of Common Lizards had also put out their beachtowels.

Adderview

Never Mind the Goshawks – there’s an Adder in that corner…

After lunch at Beechenhurst, it was onto Cannop Ponds for Mandarin amongst a reasonable selection of Ducks, Coots and Little Grebes; the always-reliable Treecreeper moused its way up the trees nearby.

Finally, nestled in at Crabtree, a Great Grey Shrike put the cap on a fine day.

 

The Coming Out Exhibition at the Gas Hall was well worth dipping into.

This major exhibition featured over 80 modern and contemporary artworks by internationally renowned artists who explore themes of gender, sexuality and identity in art.

The exhibition curated art by many well known artists, including works by Andy Warhol, Grayson Perry, David Hockney, Francis Bacon, Steve McQueen, Derek Jarman, and Richard Hamilton.

Photos from the Art Gallery’s website:

Hockney

Warhol

 

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February Commentary

USA

The Reunion

Matlock Bath last month and this month: just Bath.

Bath is one of those creamy, warm cities garnished with royal crescents, enviable bridges and collectable stony facades. It really is a city just gagging to have some regency feature filmed about it (maybe even a bit of Les Miserables?) or maybe even a novel or two.

Jane Austen was a one-time resident in Bath (although she wasn’t keen on it). She set two of her novels (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion) in Bath.

Bath is probably unchanged in the older part of the city, and many of the places in which she would have twirled her parasol are still there – the Royal Crescent, the Circus, Queen Square, Pulteney Bridge, and the Pump Rooms.

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Photo by David Iliff. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

Just to rub it in, Bath also has the rather splendid River Avon nudging its way under the Pulteney Bridge, which is one of only four bridges in the world to have shops sited across its full span.

Not far from the bridge is Bath Abbey in all its ecclesiastical splendour, towering and imposingly bulky against the grey February skies.

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But the main attraction was waiting across the main square.

No, not the remarkable Roman Baths but my Long Island buddies Tom, Laura and Kristine!

A great day was had by all with plenty of reminiscences about last year’s USA trip to Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore and beyond. Obviously, it’s difficult to have a reminisce without a tall frothy one so a suitable drinking den was soon unearthed.

Tom&JC

Peaky Blinders playing a blinder

However, it would be unseemly to visit Bath and not seek out its main attraction, so a seemly bunch of us traipsed our way around this ancient Roman resort.

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Getting ready for the pub

Bath has the only thermal spring in Britain, much enjoyed by the Celts before the Romans shouldered their way in sometime around AD43. They built a bath complex called Aquae Sulis – a resort devoted to rest, relaxation and probably a little fooling around.

The main pool is overlooked by a terrace of statues, the hot water itself looking anything but enticing these days with algae fooling around in it.

Baths

The whole complex is quite a feat of engineering, and provided healing hot baths, swimming pools, cold quarters and sweat rooms all ministered to by an impressive plumbing system.

There used to be a high colonnaded hall arching over the baths but it now stands open to the sky. There was once a handy temple nearby for worshipping between washing.

The Sacred Spring, a natural phenomenon where piping hot water hissed up through a crack in the earth, helped this plumbing along. The Romans took it to be the work of the gods.

 

Bowie

 

Speaking of natural phenomenons, the Bowie Experience at the Alexandra Theatre contrived to pay tribute to a musical one (you’ll never guess who?)

Red shoes were put on and Bowie’s life’s soundtrack was, if not danced to, at least enthusiastically nodded to as the concert did justice to his various musical personas from A to Ziggy. Vocalist Lawrence Knight was a convincing stand-in for the great man, and virtually all of Bowie’s hits were powered through – Life on Mars, Spaceman, Space Oddity, Fame, Rebel Rebel and Heroes, finishing on a high with All the Young Dudes.

No sign of the Laughing Gnome though…

 

OldMoor

Old Moor up in South Yorkshire was the venue for a spot of birding this month.

Old Moor is in the heart of the Dearne Valley, and has several trails and pathways to steer the happy wanderer around the open wetlands of reedbeds, meadows, scrapes and meres.

Wigeon

Wigeon

Teasle

Cormorant

Cormorant

The feeding station next to the visitor centre generates as many birds as you’ll be likely to see the rest of the day. Especially good are the finches with good numbers of Bullfinch, Greenfinch, Chaffinch and Goldfinch.

Bullfinch2

Bullfinch

The bird feeders attract huge numbers of other species too – Tree Sparrows, Reed Buntings, Robins, Blackbirds and Dunnocks, as well as a decent selection of pigeons and doves. A Kestrel perched up close by but affected such lack of interest that a tiny Bank Vole mustered a few nervous little scurries out from under a log to snack on a seed or two.

Jackdaws mobbed a Marsh Harrier, Goosanders goosed around the pools and a small gathering of barely-visible snipe hunkered down by the water’s edge.

Snipe fun fact: hunters have such difficulty shooting this bird because of its erratic flight that it gave rise to the term ‘sniper’ – meaning a highly-skilled marksman!

Here’s a snipe from the RSPB website (curiously, they don’t have any illustrations of snipers).

snipe

The Winslow Boy – Birmingham Rep

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This little production was pretty good – not bad at all.

Here’s the Express & Star’s take on it, by Kirsten Rawlins.

At the end of Queen Victoria’s reign, about thirty per cent of the population were practising Christians. There was a rigid class structure and a very strict code of moral ethics. Perhaps the most highly valued of these was to always tell the truth, which is the central plank of Terrence Rattigan’s 1946 drama The Winslow Boy.

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Dorothea Myer-Bennett & Raquel

The history of politics is littered with the names of those who have failed in this respect. David Lloyd George sold knighthoods and peerages while John Profumo was involved with prostitutes and spies. Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitkin went to prison for their misdemeanours. In most cases it wasn’t the deed that caused the problem but telling lies about it most certainly was.

The play has 13-year-old cadet Ronnie Winslow expelled from Naval College for allegedly stealing a five-shilling postal order and cashing it.
When questioned by his father he denies the charge and the family decide that they will do whatever is necessary to clear his name.
This requires the hiring of the best barrister in the country, Sir Robert Morton, QC. The case takes nearly two years to be resolved. The Winslows lose most of the family money, the daughter is forced to break off her engagement, and the eldest son has to give up his place at Oxford University while the father’s health deteriorates rapidly. But the mantra ‘Let right be done’ ensures that the family will keep the action going.

The stand-out performance of the night comes from Dorothea Myer-Bennett, as Ronnie’s elder sister Catherine, who is a leader in the early Suffragette movement and clearly a proto-type feminist. She remains committed to her brother’s cause even if she has some doubts.

Timothy Watson gives a nicely judged portrayal of the celebrated barrister and admits that his courtroom style is in the pursuit of what is right. There’s tremendous support from Tessa Peake-Jones (Raquel from Only Fools and Horses!) as Ronnie’s devoted mother Grace and Aden Gillett as his father Arthur.

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The production has no quirky distractions and characters are allowed to develop. The drama is carefully unwrapped and tells a compelling story most convincingly.

The play does have a sad irony: It is based on a true story about George Archer-Shee who left his naval college and went to another public school. He was commissioned in the South Staffordshire Regiment at the outbreak of World War One, but was killed in action in the first battle of Ypres in October 1914 aged just nineteen.

 

walk

Now for this month’s walk – a bright, blue spring day ramble just a short hop from Brum. At lunch time, there was a classic car garnering quite a bit of attention in the pub car park (I think it was a 90 year old Austen 7).

Here we go, courtesy of Paul Hands:

Parking & Start :

New Wood Lane, Blakedown – parking on grass verges on left hand side of lane.

GR: 880777     OS map Explorer 219

The Walk:

Take the footpath North to Blakedown. NW past the golf course to Waggon Hill. Then Bridlepaths and footpaths to Churchill via a good viewpoint. Footpaths to Stakenbridge Farm, then on S of Harborough Hill to Broome. Footpaths S from Broome to Drayton for lunch at the Robin Hood – pleasant pub with good food and beer (and a good little sun trap on the patio!)

Austin

After lunch, take the footpaths to Hillpool, Sionhouse Farm. Bridle path over Barnett Hill (good views) and back to the cars.

This is pleasant, gently undulating walk, with lakes, some nice views, not far from Brum.

image001

Lunch Hour

This month, the Flat Disc Society offered a double-bill: two main features with a similar theme.

Lunch Hour, a tale of a romance between a married junior executive (looking not unlike a rogue Alan Partridge!) and one of his designers. They begin their romance by sneakily booking hotel rooms under an assumed name, but before long the lies told to the hoteliers take on their own form.

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Une Liasion Pornographique

Next up was Une Liasion Pornographique from 1999.  Unavailable commercially in the UK, Une Liasion Pornographique tells the story of two people who meet after she places a no-strings attached advert in a paper. They share their experiences individually and directly to us after the event. But are their meetings really that simple?

 

Apropos of nothing really, but here’s a Father Ted sketch to nicely round things off this month:

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January Commentary 2018

ColdBeers

Spent the New Year in Matlock with the family (that’s not Matlock above, by the way…)

Situated on the edge of the Peak District, Matlock does a nice line in rocky outcrops, underlying bedrock and watercourses. The River Derwent winds its way through nearby Matlock Bath, and appears to possess something of a dogged nature, opting to cut its way through a limestone gorge rather than follow an easier route to the east. Geologists may suggest landslips or glaciation would account for this but sometimes a river just wants to get out of its comfort zone.

MatlockBath

Annie and Sarah in need of some winter sun

Matlock Bath developed as a spa town when thermal springs were discovered there, and both John Ruskin and Lord Byron – celebrities in their day – popped over to check the waters out. Not long after, they may well have been inspired to a bit of canvas daubing and sonnet scribbling.

This may be an opportune time to introduce a few notable quotes from Lord Byron:

Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine.

Friendship may, and often does, grow into love, but love never subsides into friendship.

The great art of life is sensation, to feel that we exist, even in pain.

There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.

I only go out to get me a fresh appetite for being alone.

Lots of necessary drinking took place with an inevitable curry at Maazi’s – a contemporary Indian restaurant set in a former cinema with an incongruous tuk-tuk plonked neatly above the main entrance.

TukTuk

An incongruous tuk-tuk

 

I’m not sure if Alan Bennett ever went to Matlock Bath (I’m betting he has) but in his memoir, Keeping On Keeping On, he borrows a line from the poet R. S. Thomas on political correctness, which is worth an airing:

I am not going to affect the livery

Of the times’ prudery.

 

That’s enough culture to be going on with. How to follow a great few days in the Peak District? I would have thought going to a Pen Museum would be the obvious answer.

PenMus

Pen Museum – Oosoom

Based in a former pen factory, the wittily entitled Pen Museum celebrates the story of how our modern pens evolved from quill to steel nib to fountain pen.

Birmingham’s factories supplied the majority of pens to people all over the world with thousands of skilled craftsmen and women employed in the industry. Apart from anything else, it encouraged many who previously could not afford to write to develop literacy skills.

Tucked away in the Jewelry Quarter, it is a quirky little museum packed with exhibitions and fascinating bits and pieces.

Of course, the whole business collapsed after the invention of that pesky little Biro – but that’s another story…

pen

englandexplore.com/birmingham

 

The annual trip out to Rutland Water turned up its usual blend of birds and banter but we didn’t manage to cover as much ground as usual. This was probably due to a surfeit of waterfowl splashing around on the water, and we enjoyed particularly good views of the bonny Smew (it’s a duck!)

Biders

There must be something feathery out there…

There also seemed to be more waterfowl than ever ducking and dabbling around the pools in huge numbers – just about every species of duck you would expect to see including Pintail and Goldeneye. A sneaky Caspian Gull also managed to immerse itself in with a flock of floating gulls until some sharp-eyed birders dug it out.

A few Red Kites were spotted en route to Rutland in the morning. On the return journey, further diversion was provided when a loud crack came from the roof of the coach. Some air-conditioning mechanism had been torn loose, and there was a bit of a cold journey back for some.

One bird at Rutland that did get pulses racing – plus a fair bit of jostling and jousting in the hide – was that splendid little wader, the Whimbrel.

Birders2

Always a bit of a star whenever seen in the UK, they seem ten-a-penny in the Canary Islands. (This is a lazy little tie-in to that other annual pilgrimage of ours – a cheeky week in the sun!)

Hotel

Arrecife Gran Hotel & Spa

Lanzarote was the island of choice this year and although not overly sunny and hot, there was still enough warmth for shorts and T-shirts during the day, and a fleece in the evenings.

SBLocal

Steve and I stayed at the Arrecife Gran Hotel & Spa. Located on the front and alongside the harbour, overlooking the Reducto Beach. It is the biggest landmark on the skyline with seventeen floors (we were on the sixteenth, just below the panoramic bar!)

Drink!

HotelSpa

The capital of Lanzarote, Arrecife was once a small fishing village – boats could be hidden behind the black volcanic reefs to deter pirate attacks.

Another defensive stronghold to keep out the pirates was just along from the hotel, the Castillo de San Jose, a historic fortress now housing contemporary art exhibitions in the barrel-vaulted rooms that were once used to store powder.

SanJose

Castillo de San Jose

LanzoFC

“Eat my goal!”

On Sunday, we went to watch Lanzarote FC play the Villa.

Brad Cockerell (the son of a friend of a brother) plays in midfield for Lanzarote’s top team but unfortunately he wasn’t on the pitch as they went down 0-1 in the last minute to Villa Santa Brigida.

The neighbouring resorts of Costa Teguise and Puerto del Carmen are all within easy reach of Arrecife. Certain levels of exploration were required, which took in several bars along the way.

Shrike

Great Grey Shrike at Costa Teguise

cactus

SBBar2

Steve finds his spiritual home

GoldenCorner

As do I

Puerto del Carmen was within walking distance along the coastal pathway that sneaked around the airport. Flitting around the rocky beaches were more Whimbrel, Turnstones and Sanderlings, which provided the ornithological diversion between beers.

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Sanderling

Bar-tailed-Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit

Whimbrel2

Whimbrel

Whimbrel3

plover

Ringed Plover

Compare

Grey Plover

The marina also became a favoured spot for a little light drinking…

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Marina

boats

 

Stop Press! A children’s book that I illustrated is now up and running on the shelves:

SanityBook

http://thesanitycompany.co.uk/product.php?id=8

After the publication of the children’s book, it seemed of only natural to attend the Wolverhampton Literary Festival at the end of the month.

At first I thought it would be a good opportunity to discuss the metric structure of Byron’s love poetry with kindred spirits – or possibly to interrogate the conflicting interpretations of Kafka’s Metamorphosis.

But really I wanted to go so I could ride on the tram.

There were a couple of very good talks to attend – a passionate delivery on the merits of writing groups by the Oldbury Writing Group, and a interesting discussion given by a panel of self-published authors, which provided much grist to this mill.

Now, here’s a little extra plug for my own novel published a couple of years ago (in the very unlikely event that anyone missed this little gem!)

Cover

Please read the amazon reviews first though – it definitely isn’t a children’s book despite one friend accidentally ordering several copies for her children’s library!

 

The Flat Disc Society’s film offering this month was this excellent choice:

Madre

It scored 93% on the Tomatometer – and here’s a review by Hal Erickson from the Rotten Tomatoes website:

John Huston’s 1948 treasure-hunt classic begins as drifter Fred Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart), down and out in Mexico, impulsively spends his last bit of dough on a lottery ticket. Later on, Dobbs and fellow indigent Curtin (Tim Holt) seek shelter in a cheap flophouse and meet Howard (Walter Huston), a toothless, garrulous old coot who regales them with stories about prospecting for gold.

Forcibly collecting their pay from their shifty boss, Dobbs and Curtin combine this money with Dobbs’s unexpected windfall from a lottery ticket and, together with Howard, buy the tools for a prospecting expedition. Dobbs has pledged that anything they dig up will be split three ways, but Howard, who’s heard that song before, doesn’t quite swallow this.

As the gold is mined and measured, Dobbs grows increasingly paranoid and distrustful, and the men gradually turn against each other on the way toward a bitterly ironic conclusion. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a superior morality play and one of the best movie treatments of the corrosiveness of greed.

Huston keeps a typically light and entertaining touch despite the strong theme, for which he won Oscars for both Director and Screenplay, as well as a supporting award for his father Walter, making Walter, John, and Anjelica Huston the only three generations of one family all to win Oscars.

 

There was a short introductory cartoon, Bugs Bunny Rides Again, to start things off – one of the first cartoons to pair Bugs and Yosemite Sam who faced off in the Western town of Rising Gorge.

 

That’s all folks!

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December Splendour

Merry-Christmas!

Yes, let’s squeeze another gig in, why don’t we?

Following Queen’s regal offering on the previous evening, pop punk-alternative rock-pop rock-punk rock-skate punk-emo pop-post grunge-emo band, Good Charlotte went at their set-list with renowned vigour, and not a little mascara. The gig was at the 02 Academy, supported by Against The Current.

goodcharlottetour

After more than two decades on the scene, Good Charlotte proved they’re still relevant with lots of younger fans singing and dancing around to their hits. There were also some significantly older fans that should have known better – dad dancing is not a prerequisite when attending these sorts of gigs.
The Maryland band, formed around the Madden twins, opened the sold-out show with hit The Anthem, which had even the oldest members in the crowd jumping around like teenagers (like I said: dad dancing!!!)

This song was followed by The Story of my Old Man, My Bloody Valentine, and Boys and Girls – which every Good Charlotte fan knows the words to (but I don’t, as I’m busy googling this set list).

The final set hit its stride with Dance Floor Anthem, I Just Wanna Live, The River, and finally Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous.

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The final bird trip of the year was to Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire (loved for the biggest skies and the tiniest creatures).

Wicken Fen is one of Britain’s oldest nature reserves, and has been a National Trust property since 1899.

We first visited this site a few years ago and, despite seemingly having no shortage of wide open spaces and reed beds, we saw very little of note.

It seemed a similar story this time around although there were plenty of Kestrels about but not a great deal else.

Pete and I took an extra long walk that took in the Reach Lode, before doubling back into the reserve and checking out The Mere and Sedge Fen.

It was towards the end of the day, with dusk pooling, that we saw the first Marsh Harriers homing in on their roost for the night. Top sighting though was the male Hen Harrier, which elbowed its way over the fen before settling down and going to reed bed. A splendid view of a splendid bird (as can be seen from the RSPB’s ID guide above).

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An evening of laughs with the Wax Elephant comedy night was to be had at a new venue – the Dark Horse in Moseley, with Craig on the bill with Jack ‘n’ Andy and Paul Tonkinson – plus a guest appearance from Joe Lycett.  The club had a very friendly atmosphere, and was held in rooms above the pub. Further ale and banter was to be had downstairs afterwards with open mic entertainment that took us sailing past midnight (rebellious or what?)

Darkness-SQ

It seems to be all about gigs at the moment, and next up was a return to the 02 Academy for a stonking show by The Darkness.

The Blackfoot Gypsies did a decent enough job as warm up before Darkness took the stage, the shy and retiring Justin Hawkins kept his appearance pretty much low profile with a sparkly, spangly cape and tight turquoise cat suit.

The Darkness are good fun to watch but they also have the necessary hard rock credentials to strip away any pretensions of a novelty act. Justin Hawkins is an engaging frontman – few can shriek as fetchingly as he – and he obviously enjoyed the banter with the sell-out crowd.

It was interesting (to me, at least) that the drummer of Darkness was Rufus Taylor, the son of Queen stickman Roger, who I had seen hitting the drums just the other week in the Birmingham Arena.

The hits were belted out (if there was a ballad in there too – it was also belted out) – I Believe In A Thing Called Love, One Way Ticket and, of course, Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End).

 

Before the Film Club, it was time to off-piste and watch something totally mainstream. Justice League…

justice-league-poster-social

…before the Flat Disc Film Club reigned us in for more challenging reels. This month’s festive feature was Home For Christmas, a Norwegian yuletide yarn that Wikipedia will now explain:

The film follows several different Christmas celebrations in the small Norwegian town of Skogli. Paul is a thirty-three-year-old labourer who marches into his doctor’s office demanding a prescription, then proceeds to lay bare all his woes. The doctor is beleaguered by his own marital and financial difficulties (he’s left his upset wife to work emergency calls on Christmas Eve). There’s also an elderly man preparing an esoteric ritual, a vagrant who runs into an old flame, a middle-aged couple in the throes of passion, a boy hopelessly in love with his Muslim neighbor, and a young émigré couple whose car breaks down as the woman goes into labour.

Home_for_Christmas_poster

A short feature, Every Day Except Christmas, introduced the characters, and sights and sounds at London’s Covent Garden market in a bygone era (1957). The style of the documentary was ground-breaking at the time, showing working class Britain in the 1950s going about their business in a style which modern reality TV owes much to.

 

Malvern2

Paul H led the next walk – to the Malvern Hills – and here’s the usual lead-up:

Parking and start:

Quarry car park between West Malvern and Upper Wyche. GR 767448. Above the Spout marked on the OS map: OS map:  Explorer 190

The walk can be flexible depending on how the weather is (it was crap!). The plan is to meander around North Hill, then drop down to St. Anne`s well for a cuppa (it was closed!). From here to Wyche cutting and the pub, The Wyche Inn.

After the pub we can climb Worcestershire Beacon and down to the cars via the Quarry.

Malvern

A little more walking – and a heap more drinking with a Boxing Day wander around Sutton Park:

SuttonPWalk

FamilySuttonP

Of course, a New Year will need to be celebrated in time-honoured fashion (alcohol, friends, family) so we took ourselves off to Matlock in readiness to ring in the new, and to wring out the old.

But first, this little gem from YouTube:  “Fairytale of New Street”:

 

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October Over and Out

laddermontageSituated on a farm, The Barn at Upcote in the Cotswold Hills was the perfect location for Gavin and Keira’s wedding. Getting spliced in the old threshing barn wasn’t as painful as it sounded either.

Here are some photos of the happy few hundred…:

After

Done

Table

Clap

Sheep

What..

Chat2

Outside

Steps

AnnieDave

Monroes

Gran.jpg

Dance

dance2

dance3

Gary

Chair

Chair2

Gavin on a CHAIR…!!!

 

Enough of the wedding – now for some nature.

Merlins are magical birds and two separate sightings of these raptors were conjured up during the WMBC’s visit to Gibraltar Point in Lincolnshire.

There was a distant, hazy view of a beached Merlin resting out on the sands beyond the Mill Hill viewpoint, and then a ringside showing from the platform off the new Visitor’s Centre. The latter flew up over our heads and sped away to perch awhile atop atree. The Merlin, a female, loitered long enough for leisurely views of this elusive falcon before zipping off out of sight at a rate of knots.

There was a blizzard of Knots and Oystercatchers whirling around in front of the distant wind turbines. Gibraltar point is a dynamic stretch of pristine coastline with sand dunes, saltmarsh, ponds, and lagoons and woodland so it’s not so difficult to rake up a good haul of wildlife on a walkabout.

PlatformGibPoint

Seals were hauled out on the sandbanks, and sooty multi-horned Hebridean Sheep converged in the grassy hollows of the reserve. These hardy sheep are particularly effective at scrub control, and help maintain natural grassland and heathland habitats.

It had already been a good day at a very good reserve, having just clocked a confiding Pink-Footed Goose knuckling down in the rough grass, which turned out to be not so much confiding as broken-winged.

Spotted Redshank, Greenshank (bereft of spots), Avocet, Snipe, Water Rail, Mandarin Duck, and several Kingfishers were spied along the freshwater lagoons. In a small wooded clearing, a cheeky little Pied Flycatcher was sensibly keeping a low profile with all those Merlins about, and a flock of Redwings scattered overhead as if shot from a gun.

LesserSpotted

Lesser-Spotted Twitchers – can you spot them?

Quirky Aside: en route to Gibraltar Point, we passed through Boston so the American city and the English town were quirkily tied up as having both been visited within a matter of weeks!

Symptoms

It was soon Film Club Night and the Flat Earth Society went Peter Vaughn-mad (the actor died last December and was widely known for his menacing cameos in BBC’s Porridge as Grouty).

The main feature was Symptoms.

Having been released back in 1974, British horror film Symptoms has always been incredibly difficult to obtain. It was last seen on TV in 1983 and has since lived only in legend.

Here’s Movie Marker’s Stu Greenfield take on this mysterious and under rated film:

Set in a large country house surrounded by woods in the English countryside, Symptoms focuses on Helen and Ann. They return to Helen’s family home from Switzerland and it soon becomes apparent that there is more to this situation than meets the eye. As they spend more time together Helen’s nervous disposition becomes apparent, as does her affection for Ann. A previous occupant of the house, Cora, is spoken about but appears to touch a nerve with Helen who refuses to talk about her in any detail. Also present is the grounds keeper Brady (Peter Vaughn), and the cracks in his relationship with Helen are tangible, but without context. Gradually the sinister and disturbing truth is revealed…

Angela Pleasance, daughter of Halloween’s Donald Pleasance, is perfectly cast as the lead role. Her piercing blue eyes and ability to portray a seemingly vulnerable and nervous young lady whilst also providing a sinister undertone is outstanding. Symptoms is a must for any British horror fan.

Symptoms was ably supported by The Return:

Lonely spinster Miss Parker has been employed as the caretaker at a huge home for the last twenty years. It’s been up for sale the entire time and over the two decades she’s seen living there all alone, not one potential buyer has expressed interest in purchasing it or even renting out a room there. Could be because its reputation precedes it…

Plus a bonus A Ghost Story for Christmas story: Warning to the Curious.

Broadcast in the dying hours of Christmas Eve, the BBC’s A Ghost Story for Christmas series was a fixture of the seasonal schedules throughout the 1970s and spawned a long tradition of chilling tales for yuletide viewers.

An amateur archaeologist arrives in Norfolk and strikes out in search of the lost crown of Anglia, but at every turn, something unearthly guards it…

 

Bristol and the Zoo

One of Sarah’s birthday pressies was to be Keeper for a Day at this famous zoological garden, so a weekend in the making was summarily made.

Sarah

Chuffed to be here…

Dave

The rare Red Dave

Bristol Zoo is justly famous, of course, for providing the television backdrop to many a seventies childhood with Johnny Morris and Animal Magic.

Here’s a YouTube clip for anyone feeling nostalgic:

Many breeding firsts were acclaimed here – the first Black Rhino in Britain, the first Squirrel Monkey in captivity, and the first Chimpanzee in Europe. It is probably fitting that Bristol is also home to the magisterial BBC Natural History Unit.

Before hitting the zoo, it was incumbent upon us to see what Bristol had to offer on a fine Sunday morning, the Saturday having been a wash-out, relentlessly driving us into a selection of sheltering pubs and bars.

TrioBristols

BristolAutumn

There was a Banksy on one wall (the elusive graffiti artist is believed to be from Bristol), and some very fine buildings through which the River Avon weaves its way. The River Avon made Bristol a great inland port, and in later years boomed on the transatlantic trade in rum, tobacco and slaves.

Banksey

A Banksy on a wall

BristolUni

A vantage point on Brandon Hill can be easily reached from which to view the city. A better view would have been from Cabot Tower just behind us but only Theo had the liver for it after the previous night’s drinking.

family

All this plus an enormous gorge running through part of the city ensures Bristol is regularly cited as one of the UK’s most liveable cities.

 

RavenAge

October was rounded off with the soothing sounds of thrash heavy metal as Paul C and I took in a brilliant Raven Age gig. They previously supported Anthrax earlier in the year but were now headlining for the head-banging at the old Digbeth Institute with their own support – In Search Of Sun.

…and there was more:

Craig and I went to see The Elvis Dead at the Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton. Elvis Dead is not another thrash metal offering but a brilliantly innovative show by Rob Kemp loosely based around the film Evil Dead II and Elvis (naturally). It is certainly difficult to categorise (the flyer has it as a unique thrill ride of hip-swinging music and blood-soaked mayhem, so that will do for me) but very easy to enjoy.

ElvisDead

Here’s some YouTube footage to give you a taste…: