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Windswept Sept

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The Minster – by MatzeTrier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Edith trying out Madonna’s Vogue dance routine

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

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

Cup

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

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

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

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Mmm……Cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was also a particularly scary dog.

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

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

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

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

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Constantine: Emperor of Scaffolding

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York has some serious back-story.

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

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

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Peter K Burian

Dog

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Titchwell

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

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Bath Time for Curlew

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Pete

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Little-ringed Plovers

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

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Turtle Dove

 

 

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

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

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

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

All good stuff!

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Bonny Scotland (and other clichés)

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

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

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

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

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The famous loop

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

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The actual bridge

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

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

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Not a bad campus

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

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Not bad at all…

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

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Aerial view of Stirling Castle by Godot13

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

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

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

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

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Wallace Monument by BusterBrownBB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Auchterader

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

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

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Leighton Library by LM Rodger

Time for a ‘toon…

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Glasgow – what can you say about it?

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

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

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The Kelvingrove Museum and Art GalleryLin ChangChih

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

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

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by innoxiuss

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

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

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

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

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

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Anaemic April

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With the weather forecast continuing to toll its deathly chimes, and there being no sign of improvement in the abysmal weather of late, it was time to take off once again to Spain.

Benalmadina on the Costa del Sol ticks all the boxes for desperate sun-seeking Brits and (with a credit card straining at the leash) an escape plan was hatched. One swift scroll of a holiday website later and a bunch of us were soon going mad in the Spanish sun.

Benalmadina does rather a nice line in attractive beaches, with a smart boat-infested marina and several enticing bars – so what’s not to like when the weather is hitting the low twenties.

Sitting in the sun, enjoying a spot of people-watching while swirling around a tall, cold frothy one is a heady combination but that’s what multi-tasking is all about.

Fishy flurries of grey mullet darted around in the marina waters and, if we felt land-lubbered, a little trip around the coastline was just the ticket.

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Benalmadina

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Dave Failed his Parking Exam Again…

Sporty Fuengirola is a few kilometres up the road from Benalmadina, and the less energetic Torremolinas is just around the corner. To folks of a certain age, Torremolinas always brings to mind Monty Python’s famous sketch (which also features Brummies):

A snippet:

Tourist: …and then some adenoidal typists from Birmingham with flabby white legs and diarrhoea trying to pick up hairy bandy-legged waiters called Manuel and once a week there’s an excursion to the local Roman Ruins to buy Cherryade and melted ice cream and bleeding Watney’s Red Barrel and one evening you visit the so called typical restaurant with local colour and atmosphere and you sit next to a party from Rhyl who keep singing ‘Torremolinos, Torremolinos’ and complaining about the food – ‘It’s so greasy here, isn’t it?’ – and you get cornered by some drunken greengrocer from Luton with an Instamatic camera and Dr. Scholl sandals and last Tuesday’s Daily Express and he drones on and on and on about how Mr. Smith should be running this country and how many languages Enoch Powell can speak and then he throws up over the Cuba Libres…

…and sending tinted postcards of places they don’t realise they haven’t even visited to ‘All at number 22, weather wonderful, our room is marked with an ‘X’.

Travel Agent: Will you shut up!

Extra Treat Time: here’s the non-PC YouTube clip:

Torremolinas was a poor fishing village before the growth in Monty Python and tourism, and it was the first resort on the Costa del Sol to be developed. Despite being a short walk from Benalmadina, it was nevertheless taxing enough to warrant buying some sustaining pizza and beer whenever we crossed over into Torremolinas territory.

Plenty of older high-rise residential buildings and snappy hotels run right up to the edge of the promenade and, skirting the coastline, the nearly 8-kilometre beach stretches out for nearly 8 kilometres (who’d have thought?)

The little resort town of Nerja is located on one of the most picturesque sections of the coast. The town has a famous seafront promenade, the Balcony of Europe, offering panoramic views of the Mediterranean and surrounding mountains. With neat little plazas packed with cafes and shops, there was no shortage of Cheese and Ham Toasties as we went about sampling the local cuisine.

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Nerja

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Inscrutable and Impassive – and Dave also has a statue with him.

Allegedly, the prettiest village in Andalusia is Frigiliana – a jumble of bleached-white houses and dwellings set up on a rocky hillside. A little road train rattled us around the new town, but we walked on foot (it’s the best way of walking) around the Moorish old quarter, strolling in and out of the narrow cobblestone streets, which were lined with flower-covered balconies.

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Musical Note: Frigiliana gets a tiny mention in a famous Irish song ‘Lisdoonvarna’ by Christy Moore:

“Summer comes around each year, We go there and they come here. Some jet off to … Frigiliana, But I always go to Lisdoonvarna.”

Other resorts within easy reach of Benalmadina are Marbella and Puerto Banús.

The old town of Marbella still has remnants of ancient city walls harking back to the 16th century. At the heart of the old town is the Orange Square (or the Plaza de los Narajos, if you want to get all Spanish about it). The square is bursting with bright flowers and orange trees, topped off with a bust of King Carlos 1.

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Hemmed in by the ubiquitous whitewashed houses, shops, restaurants and tapas bars, the square also contains the Renaissance-influenced Town Hall, and the oldest religious building in the city – the Chapel of Santiago. South-west of Marbella is Puerto Banús – the home of the Haves and Have Yachts.

Puerto Banús was only built in 1970 by a local property developer, and mooted as a luxury marina and shopping complex. It has since developed into one of the largest entertainment centres in the Costa del Sol.

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Propped up on a granite pedestal in the coastal centre of Puerto Banús is La Victoria, a huge statue sculpted in bronze and copper. Created by the famous Georgian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli (no, me neither), it was a gift to the town from the Mayor of Moscow.

 

Brighton Rock at the Birmingham Rep

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Perky and Pinkie

The tag line for Birmingham Rep’s production of Brighton Rock was: Romeo & Juliet meets Peaky Blinders in this gripping tale of crime and romance.

Love Midlands Theatre’s review of the performance:

Graham Greene’s 80-year-old story takes on new resonance in Bryony Lavery’s dark and thrilling adaptation of Brighton Rock at The Rep.

This brooding tale of the criminal underworld follows teenage sociopath and gang leader Pinkie Brown (Jacob James Beswick) as he attempts to cover his tracks after a brutal murder, leaving a fresh trail of destruction in his wake.

In a demanding anti-heroic role Beswick owns the character of Pinkie, his exaggerated mannerisms work perfectly and he captures Pinkie’s tortured nature, dominating arrogance and inner struggles with great skill.

Sarah Middleton produces a beautiful performance as naive waitress Rose, whose blind devotion sucks her into Pinkie’s dangerous world. The tragically abusive nature of their relationship is portrayed with power and sensitivity. Meanwhile Gloria Onitiri is superb as the unwitting detective and good conscience of the piece, Ida Arnold, who won’t settle until she learns the truth.

A simple but striking set allows for slick changes of location to help the story move along at break-neck speed and a two-piece band playing in the shadows adds cleverly to the constant sense of foreboding.

Pilot Theatre delivers a dark and thrilling reboot of Greene’s suspenseful story of the criminal underworld with bags of substance to match its considerable style.

 

Ducks

Great Weather for Ducks…

This month’s Nature Notes comes from Woolston Eyes, a small series of islands and reed beds rising out of the deposit grounds of the Manchester Ship Canal – and a mere loose tyre nut away from the M6 motorway (I’m not really selling it but it is a remarkable setting).

The Eyes have it that the name derives from the Saxon word ‘Ees’ meaning land near a looping watercourse. Our early Germanic settlers must have thrown their beach towels on the banks of the Mersey sometime around 700 AD.

Black-necked Grebes are the poster boys of the reserve, and several pairs were settling into their breeding plumage, fluffing themselves up nicely for a bit of courtship displaying.

There were warblers too – Willow, Chiffchaff, Blackcap – all pretending that spring has sprung when really we are still experiencing winter, which began way back in July.

Burton Mere Wetlands is on the border between England and Wales, a wetland (clue’s in the name) and woodland reserve with an excellent Visitor Centre overlooking acres of shimmering water.

There was lots of gull on gull action, some insouciant Spotted Redshanks lurked amongst the Avocets, and the usual full complement of waders, gulls and ducks ticked past at regular intervals.

Striding out further afield, there were Grey Partridges hunkering down in the bracken, and a few Wheatears flitted about in the top meadow. A confident Whitethroat rasped away in the bushes, and a Great White Egret was spotted out on the Wirral Peninsula, staking out the best places for fish.

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A Complement of Gulls

 

Meanwhile, at the Film Club…

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16th April 2018 would have been Spike Milligan’s 100th birthday and to celebrate, the Flat Disc Society theme was an evening dedicated to Spike by screening one of his forgotten works and two short films.

First up was the music video to Cat Stevens’ Moonshadow, which tells the tale of a young boy and his pet cat as they try to rescue the moon and put it back in the sky.

Next was The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film by Richard Lester and Peter Sellers, featuring Spike. A surrealist tale in a field in just one day. The film was not originally intended for commercial release but became an unexpected hit and was even nominated for a Live Action Short Oscar in 1960. This short film became a particular favourite of The Beatles, and as a result they chose Richard Lester to direct their films A Hard Day’s Night and Help!

Finally, The Bed Sitting Room – an absurdist, post-apocalyptic, satirical black comedy based on Spike Milligan’s 1962 play of the same name. The story is set in London after World War III (referred to as the “Nuclear Misunderstanding”) which lasted two minutes and twenty-eight seconds “including the signing of the peace treaty”.

 “I’m not able to tell whether it’s funny any more.” (Richard Lester)

 

Manics

The Manic Street Preachers were appearing at the Arena Birmingham so obviously there was only one place to go on Friday night.

The Manics are dead good – in fact, they are always deceasingly brilliant (this is why I don’t write for Classic Rock Magazine).

James Driver-Fisher does a much better job of it for the Express & Star and here’s some of his shamelessly-purloined review:

I’ll be honest. This was the first time I had ever watched the Manics.

I knew most of classics, I’d researched the new album – which from a novice’s point of view is brilliant – and then headed straight to Arena Birmingham.

The Welsh rockers have just put out their 14th album, whilst celebrating 30 years making music. Bassist Nicky Wire had questioned in interviews prior to last night’s gig whether the public still thought traditional rock ‘n’ roll was still relevant.

If the crowd at the Arena last night was anything to go, it’s fair to say the answer was a resounding ‘yes’.

It’s easy to get carried away with all the rap, pop and dance music that tends to fill the charts – but the simple fact is there is nothing better than a rock gig. The Manics strolled on stage behind a chorus of violins and then blasted out their latest smash-hit single, International Blue.

Their new album, Resistance Is Futile, which I’d been listening back-to-back for the last few days, ticks all the boxes.

How they manage to stay original after all these years is a mystery, but I suppose their four-year hiatus probably helped. As Wire put it himself, they knew they had some great songs for a new album, but it was International Blue that screamed ‘this is the Manics’ next single’.

One of the most impressive aspects of the whole gig was how clean, precise and in tune the band was from the opening chord to the last lyric – it sounded exactly the same as the CD.

To be fair, the crowd had been very-nicely warmed up by support act, The Coral, who seem to be going from strength to strength having roared back on to the music scene in recent years.

But back to the Manics, it wasn’t long before they belted out one their classics – And, If You Tolerate This, Then Your Children Will Be Next. And without hesitation, Your Love Alone Is Not Enough followed. Whether or not you’ve got the Manics albums, the hits are hits – and that was rammed home when No Surface All Feeling was played.

As lead singer and guitarist James Bradfield explained, it was the 20th time he had played Birmingham – perhaps tongue in cheek, but he couldn’t have been far off – before breaking into Your Love Alone.

If you’re novice fan, like me, it would be easy to miss how good the Manics are live. The whole band just gelled from the opening riff. It’s good to support new bands but there is nothing better than seeing an established group playing at the top of their game. It’s just effortless. And then we were given a breather…but only while we waited for 4 Ever Delayed to strike. It was another chance to simply sway, nod and appreciate the music, before more of that driving guitar came back to the fore.

Next up, it was arguably the highlight of the entire set. A sublime tribute to former band member Richey Edwards. Bradfield was on point, as the band thrashed out another of their all-time greats. Once the crowd had settled, they were treated to a slow, mellow, groovy and beautiful build up for Horses Under Stairlight.

If You Tolerate This was next, and it was impossible not to wave your arms in time to the beat – especially when a huge blast of streamers exploded from the ceiling. A nice touch.

Bradfield then got everyone to settle down, pulled out his acoustic and serenaded us, leaving just enough time for Wire to reappear dressed in an all-white suit – he was modest enough to admit he had nice legs, and put his slim physic down to drinking Ribena and eating Kit Kats.

But that was enough of the niceties – because it was time for the all-out rock track, You Love Us. And just when you thought the Manic couldn’t rock any harder, the light shone on Wire as his driving bass made way for Walk Me to the Bridge.

Bored Out Of My Mind? Hardly, as there was no let up right up until encore, the song the Manics are best known for. It was obvious, for some of the hardcore fans it might have seemed a bit repetitive – but there is no denying A Design For Life is one of the best tracks ever recorded.

With more streamers, more cheers and more applause, the gig was over. And, if I wasn’t before, I’m now a fully-fledged Manics fan.

Finally…

fish

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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.

1280px-Royal_Crescent_in_Bath,_England_-_July_2006

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.

DressedUp

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.

TWB0765_ret

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.

TWB1448_ret

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.

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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

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Whimbrel

Whimbrel3

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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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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..

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Outside

Steps

AnnieDave

Monroes

Gran.jpg

Dance

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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.

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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…:

0

Bostin’ in Boston

boston2

Revolutionary Boston has been the scene-stealer of several key events of the American Revolution. Events such as the Boston Massacre, the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Siege of Boston and, of course, the Boston Tea Party.

The key role Boston played in the American Revolution is highlighted on the Freedom Trail, a walking route of historic sites that eloquently tells the story of the nation’s founding.

One of the most popular sites on this route is Faneuil Hall, an old market building sitting at the site of the old town dock. In the day, it was where Samuel Adams, John Hancock and other patriots debated the future of American self-government and set in motion the American Revolution.

Faneuil-Hall

Faneuil Hall has been a marketplace and meeting hall since forever, with a statue of the “incorruptible and fearless statesman” Samuel Adams, presiding over the plaza in front of it. Bidding for top billing is the gilded grasshopper weather vane perched on the top of the building.

Grasshopper

Quincy Market is behind Faneuil Hall, a bustling stretch of colour and sound leading to the waterfront. There’s no shortage of food or street entertainment along the way. The street entertainers were quite brilliant with some amazing gymnastic/dance troupes, nimble acrobatic comedians, and an impressive young musician playing piano and saxophone to an enthralled audience. Apparently, the “Boston Piano Kid” has played with Billy Joel and, one quick YouTube search later, here he is:

Bradley2

waterfront

Burgerjoint

The Old State House is the oldest public building still standing in the eastern United States, now dwarfed by neighbouring skyscrapers. This was once the capitol of the colony, the centre of British authority, and also where the Declaration of Independence was first read to Bostonians from the balcony in 1776.

OSH

To celebrate, they had a big bonfire and burnt flags and reminders of British rule, including the original lion and unicorn from atop the Old State House. Replicas of these have since been installed (quite right too!)

Beneath the balcony, there is a circle of paving stones laid out to mark the site of the Boston Massacre when a squad of nervy British officers fired into a jeering crowd and killed five of them – the first bloodshed of the American Revolution.

“Listen, my children, and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere…”

Thanks to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, Paul Revere is America’s most celebrated patriot (after Mel Gibson). Mr Revere took part in the Boston Tea Party but is better known for having embarked on a midnight ride to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock of the approaching British – the Battle at Lexington ensued, which led to a full-blown American Revolution.

The Boston Tea Party was the result of a resistance movement against the Tea Act, imposed by those pesky Brits – it violated Bostonian rights to “no taxation without representation.”

To ensure their action wasn’t just a storm in a teacup, the protesters boarded the ships and threw chests of tea into Boston harbour. Some chests were thrown in with a little milk, some with a squeeze of lemon. Reports of a sizeable digestive biscuit on the side remain unfounded.

ReverHouse

Paul Revere’s little wooden house still stands – it is Boston’s oldest structure. Revere’s remains remain in Boston, lying in the Granary Burying Ground, buried with Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and a plethora of patriots. Mother Goose is also buried here.

sinking

Sinking Headstones

SamAGrave

Samuel Adams

Named after its English counterpart, Boston was founded by the Puritans, a wealthier and more literate breed of colonist. The Old Corner Bookshop emerged as something of a literary centre with luminaries such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harriet Beecher-Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorn, and that Longfellow fellow all bringing manuscripts here to be published.

As well as being crammed with American history, Boston has its fair share of greenery and water too. Well, being a port, it would have.

Taking an afternoon whale-watching trip out to the open sea to see slices of Humpback and Minke Whales in their natural habitat was an enjoyable diversion from all that foot-pounding history. It also presented a good opportunity to view Boston from a different aspect, and to appreciate the city from afar.

Boston Common is the United State’s first public park, with the Massachusetts State House overlooking it. Just on the edge of the park is the arguably more famous Cheers bar. I popped in for a swift four-pinter and although nobody knew my name, it was a friendly enough place and I managed to grab a corner in Norm’s seat for a well-earned quaff.

Cheers

Norm

Norm

StateHouse

Massachusetts State House

Before Boston, there was Charlestown.

Originally, the settlers settled (its what settlers do) over the river from Boston. However, the wells soon ran dry, and the settlers became unsettled. They decided to up sticks and settle in Boston – or Shawmut was it was then known. The plentiful springs of Boston ensured a steady growth while Charlestown became relegated to a sleepy country town until the Revolution.

The Bunker Hill Monument, a tall, towering obelisk, commemorates the Revolution’s first major battle, which the British won but at such a cost as to weaken their resolve.

BunkerHill

Patriot General Greene summed it up well: “I wish,” he said, “I could sell them another hill at the same price.”

Charlestown also harbours another monument of sorts in the Navy Yard – the U.S.S. Constitution; the most celebrated ship in American history is berthed here. The Constitution is most noted for her actions during the War of 1812 against the United Kingdom when she defeated five British warships. Expect Mel Gibson to be starring in the film any day soon.

USSConstitution

U.S.S. Constitution

Although the Brits consider the War of 1812 as little more than a minor skirmish of the Napoleonic Wars, the Americans see it as a war in its own right. Of course they would, they won it!

WithGrackle

Washington wearing a Grackle

Grackle

A Grackle