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Anaemic April

JCFugi

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.

JCAnnie

S&PMarina

JCBeer2

AnnieBoat

Benny

Benalmadina

Boat

Scooter

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.

Narja

Nerja

Dave

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.

Fugi

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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.

MarbellaPots

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.

PBanus

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.

Gulls

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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…

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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!)

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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.

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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!)

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Great Grey Shrike at Costa Teguise

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Steve finds his spiritual home

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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

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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

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Monroes

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Dance

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Gary

Chair

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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.

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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…:

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Bostin’ in Boston

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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:

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waterfront

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Washington wearing a Grackle

Grackle

A Grackle

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Salt Lake City to Denver

Steam+

First impressions show Salt Lake City to be an excruciatingly clean and tidy place, tucked-in and turned-down with nothing remotely unmade about it. True, there are a few homeless sprawled on the lawns of parkland and slumped on the swards but it still looks like someone has been busy putting this city together in as ordered a manner as possible.

The Church of the Latter Day Saints or Mormons are to blame. They had such a work ethic when creating this city, Utah would forever be known as the Beehive State in homage to those crazy workaholic insects that find it impossible to pull up a chair and relax.

Seeking to escape religious persecution, top Mormon Brigham Young founded the city in 1847 when he and other followers settled in this inhospitable valley. The valley was dry and surrounded by the Great Salt Lake, as well as being circled by the steep Wasatch and Oquirrh mountain ranges. (Average snowfall in the mountains near Salt Lake City is over 40 feet – nearly 5 times the average snowfall of Juneau, Alaska).

The streets of the city are wide, deliberately designed as such to accommodate the turns of wagon teams (without “resorting to profanity.”) It is also probably quite useful to contain those bloaters who are no strangers to the Kentucky Fried Bargain Bucket Feast. (The first Kentucky Fried Chicken was established in Salt Lake City in 1952).

SLC

Overlooking downtown Salt Lake City, Capitol Building is a striking architectural landmark, located on a hill, and set on over 40 acres of sculpted lawns, trees, flowerbeds and shrubs.

Temple Square is the main focal point that draws locals and tourists in, home to the granite-built Salt Lake Temple, and the neo-Gothic Assembly Hall.

The Family History Library houses the largest collection of genealogical information in the world with copies of millions of original records including the names of more than two billion deceased people.

In 1875, two 35-foot Australian whales were shipped to the Great Salt Lake, wherein they were released with the intention of creating a tourist attraction. Off they swam, never to be seen again.

The whales may have fared better in Bear Lake, a natural freshwater lake on the Utah-Idaho border, with a rich turquoise colour, and a shoal of species that occur only within the lake and no where else.

BearLake

For those with piscatorial leanings, you may be interested to know that these endemic fish include a strain of Bonneville Cutthroat Trout, Bonneville Cisco, Whitefish, Bear Lake Whitefish and Bear Lake Sculpin. No sign of the rare Bonneville Whales though…

For those with Pleistocene leanings, the Bonneville Salt Flats are a remnant of the prehistoric Lake Bonneville and is the largest of many salt flats located west of the Great Salt Lake.

For those wondering who the heck Bonneville was, he was a fur-trapper and explorer in the American West, noted for blazing sections of the Oregon Trail. He was made famous by an account of his explorations written by Washington Irving (who also penned Rip Van Winkle while residing in Birmingham…)

For those wishing I’d just get on with it, we continued out from Bear Lake and made for said Oregon Trail, trundling along to the little town of Afton with its impressive arch of elk antlers and stunning chocolate emporium.

Afton

ChocShop

Mmmm…chocolate!

Jackson Hole is a valley, which has the rather majestic Teton Mountain Range ranging along beside it (that’s what ranges do). The town of Jackson is also very much into antler arches and has a selection looped around the George Washington Memorial Park. A few of us settled down to a beer perched on saddles at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.

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AntlerArch2

We were to spend a couple of days in the Grand Teton National Park, and checked into the Jackson Lake Lodge. The lodge is listed as a National Historic Landmark with a flat roof and huge windows providing stunning views of the Tetons with Jackson Lake shimmering in the near distance.

LobbyView

When the sun goes down there is another stellar performance lying in wait when the night sky floods with countless constellations and luminous whorls of stars.

TetonSils

…and the sunrises weren’t bad either.

Sunrise

A quiet welcome to the morning was provided by a rafting trip along the Snake River, which ran smoothly through a pristine natural landscape of open meadows and low forests with the ever-present peaks of the Teton Range keeping pace. It was really a gentle ten-mile float entirely within the Grand Teton National Park, covering this most scenic stretch of the Snake River in the Jackson Hole Valley.

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A couple of Bald Eagles, and an Osprey provided ornithological interest, and a female Moose munched away on a riverside salad.

Baldeagle

The name of Snake River was derived from an S-shaped gesture the resident Shoshone tribe made with their hands to represent swimming salmon. Explorers misinterpreted it to mean a snake, giving the river its present-day name.

StainedGlass!

The Church of the Transfiguration is a wooden chapel sited within view of the celestial peaks of the Tetons – there is little point in having stained glass in such a window.

Then it was time to enter the legendary Yellowstone National Park.

Renowned for its unique geothermal activity, wide, sweeping landscapes and spectacular wildlife, Yellowstone has run out of boxes to tick. A little taster in the form of the Lewis Falls and the surrounding forests readied us for a similar cascade of memorable wildernesses that bubbled and steamed with fire and brimstone.

A Grizzly Bear was spotted swaggering along the Hayden Valley; Elk were spied sporadically, and there were plenty of Mule Deer, but it was the herds of Bison that bossed the park.

Yellowstone was the first National Park in the United States, and is crammed with natural wonders – many of which would burn, scald or eat you.

A stroll through the Upper Geyser Basin, the West Thumb Geyser Basin and the Norris Geyser Basin made you think there was more basin than bison in Yellowstone. The colours of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone with its dramatic drop of the Lower Falls perfectly illustrated how the park came to be named as such.

Of course, you can’t visit Yellowstone without seeing Old Faithful, the reliable geyser, which has a good gush about every 90 minutes or so. The nearby Old Faithful Inn is also worth gushing about. Built with Lodgepole pine logs, wooden shingles and stone, the hotel features an immense lobby (complete with tree-house), plus a massive soaring stone fireplace and handcrafted clock.

Let the photos begin:

ThumbGeyser

Alas

Alas! He sank and left hardly a trace…

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DragonMouth

Dragon’s Mouth Spring

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Mud Volcano

Clarke's-Nutcracker

Clarke’s Nutcracker

Bison

Bisons

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Yellow-Stone

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MuleDeer

Mule Deer

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Castle Geyser

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Crested Pool

Steama

BacteriaMat

Fountain Paint Pots

Elk

An Elk

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Old Faithful

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After departing Yellowstone, we travelled through the stark Shoshone Canyon and Absaroka Rocky Mountains to reach the Wild West town of Cody. En route we checked out the old hunting lodge of Buffalo Bill – now a trendy hotel.

Cody was named for William Cody AKA Buffalo Bill, which trips off the tongue a little more smoothly than the more accurate Bison Bill.

The Buffalo Bill Center of the West was built in honour of the great American Western legend. It is also a quite brilliant museum, or rather five museums rolled into one with whole wings given over to the history of Buffalo Bill, a Natural History museum, a Plains Indian section, an impressive Art Gallery, plus a detailed exhibition of firearms.

Buffalo Bill Fact: When touring England in 1903, one of the entourage gave birth to the first Native American Indian child born in England. They were performing in Aston at the time and named the child Alexandra Birmingham Cody Standing Bear.

Obviously not content with our appetite for the awesome, the landscape conspired to blind us with more staggering views as we crossed through the Bighorn Mountains on the way to Gillette.

After staying overnight in Sheridan, and with a Solar Eclipse looming large on the horizon, we headed over to the astounding Devils Tower, the stark geological feature that protrudes out of the rolling prairie surrounding the Black Hills.

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Dtower

It’s also difficult to imagine a more fitting location in which to witness the solar eclipse and, sunglasses at the ready, the eclipse was summarily witnessed.

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TowerCloseUp

Plains Indians depended on buffalo for most of their material needs – food, clothing and tools – but before they had horses, the buffaloes were hunted with bows and arrows. Tribes often joined in communal hunts by driving herds of buffalo over a cliff – one such is a natural sinkhole now known as the Vore Buffalo Jump. Huge volumes of bone and assorted artifacts have been held in place over time by the bowl shape of the sinkhole, and archaeological studies have unearthed much evidence about this period and its people.

Bones

The things you find when you take the carpet up…

A talk given by a Native American about this period was undertaken in the blazing sun amid tepee and props from the Dances With Wolves set. A piece of artwork commissioned by Kevin Costner rides over such a jump.

Injun

BuffJump

The wonderful Spearfish Canyon was the splendid setting for our next stop-over.

“How is it that I’ve heard so much about the Grand Canyon, when this is even more miraculous?” Thus spake Frank Lloyd Wright when viewing Spearfish Canyon.

“That was a bugger of a climb.” Spake me thus, after inadvertently following the route up to the rim of the canyon rather than the recommended preprandial recce to the local waterfall. It was a decent slog up to the top with wide vistas across the canyon, and ever-diminishing views of the spacious hotel we were lodging in.

SpearfishLodge

Spearfish Lodge

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Spacious for sure…

Custer State Park is renowned for its beauty and serenity, and home where the buffalo and antelope roam. On a scenic tour of the back country by jeep, suitably attired in cowboy hats and neckerchiefs, close encounters with Bison were inevitable and we enjoyed getting up close and impersonal with the shaggy beasts. Pronghorn antelopes roamed about in small herds, Prairie Dogs chuntered around their network of burrows, and there was always a Mule Deer peering out of the forests.

Finishing the jeep tour in a secluded canyon, an authentic Chuck Wagon Cookout was served up with Old Western entertainment providing the tunes.

YeeHaw

Yee-Haw

Cowboys

Crossing the high plains to the Black Hills of South Dakota, we made our way to Deadwood, the town made famous during the gold rush of the 1870s. Famous residents included gunslinger and gambler Wild Bill Hickok and not-much-of-a-looker Calamity Jane. It is not difficult to imagine the Old Western days of warring gunslingers here despite the sidewalks being paved and bereft of tumbleweed.

Deadwood

Deadwood

Legs

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Wild Bill enjoying a Skinny Latte

WildBill

Where Wild Bill was Killed

A cool beer was taken in the bar where gunslinger and gambler Wild Bill Hickok met his end, shot in the back of the head while holding the playing cards that would become known as Dead Man’s Hand.

I think that a lot of the conflict that happened in the Wild West could’ve been avoided if town planners in those days just made their towns big enough for everyone.

Here’s a photograph of Deadwood from 1876 to help with the imaginings:

418px-Deadwood13

Probably the Black Hills most famous landmark is the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, a carved mountain monument to presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt (Ted to his friends). Jefferson was originally intended to appear at Washington’s right but the rock was unsuitable – the original unsatisfactory result was dynamited out and a new figure was sculpted to his left.

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JCMR

Georgegap

GrandView

Elsewhere in the Black Hills is the much larger Crazy Horse Memorial, carved into the granite rock face and constructed to commemorate the famous Native American leader as a response to Mount Rushmore. It will eventually be nearly ten times larger than Mount Rushmore.

CrazyH

“My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes also.” Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear insisted.

The United States had seized the area from the Lakota tribe despite it having been granted to them in perpetuity (might have had something to do with gold being in “them thar hills.”

Crazy Horse took up arms against the U.S. Federal government to fight against encroachments on the Lakota territories. He helped defeat US Army Poster Boy George Custer at the Battle of Bighorn, forever etched in history as Custer’s Last Stand.

Work on the memorial began in 1948, and it will eventually depict the Lakota warrior riding a horse and pointing into the distance. Crazy Horse refused to have his photograph taken so it would be interesting to know what he would have made of the memorial. (“My friend, why should you wish to shorten my life by taking from me my shadow?”)

CrazyRock

Time for some Native American wisdom:

Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.

Crazy Horse

When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.

Cree Prophecy

When the white man discovered this country, Indians were running it. No taxes, no debt, women did all the work. White man thought he could improve on a system like this.

Cherokee proverb

Denver was our final destination on our group tour although several did escape in Rapid City en route. Rapid City proved a bit of a diversion for the rest of us, trying to identify the statues of former U.S. presidents that loitered on every corner.

Denver, the Mile High City and capital of Colorado, lies at the base of the Rocky Mountains, and dates back to the Old West era. I was already hooked by the fact that Colorado produces more beer by volume than any other state and Denver ranks first for the U.S. cities.

Denver’s bustling downtown is centred on 16th Street Mall, a mile-long promenade with free buses shuttling up and down it.

In between sampling some of that voluminous beer, there was time to visit the Colorado State Capitol with its rather fetching gold-plated dome, and the prestigious Brown Palace Hotel with its massive atrium and equally impressive guest-list. Having played host to presidents and pop stars alike, the Beatles seemed the least impressed with the plush surroundings of the hotel and didn’t even bother coming out of their room.

Now for a Photography Masterclass:

PhotoClass

Nailed it!

…and now for the official group shot:

Group

Next morning, it was time to fly out to Boston.

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New York, New York, so good so far, etc.…

NYC_Montage

Jleon at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

A bunch of us (Dave, Annie, Martin, Simon, Natalie, Me, Julie and Steve all found ourselves USA-bound when we met up at Birmingham Airport for our grand trip out.

During the flight, one attendant recognised Annie and asked if she had been on the flight that landed in the Hudson River in 2009…

“Are you sure you weren’t on it?”

“I think I would have remembered that.”

Once ensconced in our respective hotels, (my Empire Hotel being some 40 minutes walk from their Iberostar) it was only natural to launch ourselves into every attraction and sightseeing must that the Big Apple has to offer.

However, it seemed marginally more natural to launch ourselves onto the rooftop terrace and have us a few beers.

And afterwards – a pizza! Not an average British pizza but an American one that would have been equally at home spinning atop Devils Tower awaiting a close encounter of some sort – possibly a third kind.

There is too much written about the city scape of New York that to even attempt a justifiable regaling of such landmark architecture is somewhat futile – so I’m just going to throw in a bunch of photos!

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Street5

Street4

Street1

A&DNY

Central Park was the focal point next morning – some cycling, some getting lost in the park (during a fruitless search for the boathouse inn – located ridiculously next to a lake. Couldn’t find it).

We did find the Strawberry Fields Forever memorial to John Lennon, stepped out over picturesque bridges and contemplated a lake crammed with turtles – basically enjoying a sunny amble through the park greenery.

Central-Park

Continuing with a Merseyside theme, Birkenhead Park was the original inspiration for Central Park. Designer Frederick Law Olmsted visited Birkenhead in 1850 and was quite taken with the town’s park and incorporated its layout within his plans.

New York is, of course, frenetic, bustling – all manner of energetic adjectives apply – even without us being trapped between a Dominican Republic Carnival and an anti-Trump Protest March but these things seem bye-the-bye in a city on the go 24/7. However, the previous evening, thinking it really was the city that never sleeps with its nocturnal vanguard of street entertainers, I realised it was only 9.30pm!

Times Square is always a fun place in which to perch for an hour or so. So bright and crazy, it doesn’t need daylight – sunglasses are recommended such is the glaring intensity of the billboards and neon displays.

TimesS

TimesS2

TimesS3

The High Line is an elevated freight rail line, which has been transformed into a public park on Manhattan’s West Side, and obviously needed walking along. This repurposed railway line initially overlooks the Hudson River before passing under, over, through and along the various streets and avenues. There is an ongoing gallery of art installations and sculptures en route plus several rest areas even though it’s not exactly a taxing yomp.

Close to the new One World Trade Centre is the 9/11 Memorial. Reflecting Absence represents the watery footprints of the Twin Towers, symbolising the loss of life and physical void left by the attacks. Names of victims are inscribed on bronze plates and arranged along the parapets of the memorial pools. A rose is placed on any name that would have celebrated a birthday today.

It is a solemn place, the waterfalls muting the sounds of the city, but is nevertheless an impressive testament to the resilience and can-do attitude of the States.

It was a dull, overcast day when we visited but even on a sunny, glorious day it would be difficult to override the poignancy this powerful memorial invokes.

FreedomTower

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GZ2

 

The grotty weather continued for much of the day, causing us to explore a few drinking dens along the way. Drinking pints of Brooklyn while looking out at the Brooklyn Bridge was a thirst.