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December – Exit Left…

Rainham

Rainham Marshes is perched on the urban fringe of London, and is an intriguing little part of the landscape of the Thames Estuary.

Very little has changed on this medieval freshwater marsh since its original reclamation from the mighty Thames – except all the firing and shooting that went on when the Ministry of Defence took it over for a while.

By actively deterring human encroachment, the Ministry of Defence has often proved to be a safeguard for many reserves, including Rainham Marshes, which allowed indigenous flora and fauna to flourish (once they’ve got over the initial shock of seeing a small hillock or sapling blasted to bits by covering fire).

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There were plenty of migrating birds knuckling down with the resident waterfowl on the pools and scrapes, with eager Peregrines eyeing the menu from the tall pylons that overlook the reserve.

There was the usual generous sprinkling of waders and ducks – Lapwings, Curlew, Snipe, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard and Pintail with a strong supporting cast of herons, geese and swans.

A dead Heron lay by the reed beds, the victim of another Heron. Earlier in the week, it had been photographed being attacked by a kindred spite.

The whole episode can be seen on the community RSPB website for Rainham Marshes:

https://community.rspb.org.uk/placestovisit/rainhammarshes/b/rainhammarshes-blog/posts/battle-to-the-death

Grey-Heron-fightPaul-Richardson

by Paul Richardson

A pair of Marsh Harriers gleefully flustered the ducks and waders, particularly the Lapwings which were up-in-wings as the raptors nonchalantly cased the marshy joints for a snack.

Bird of the day may well have been the Water Pipit dancing along the water’s edge at the charmingly-named Butt’s Scrape.

As with many features around the reserve such as Target Pools, Shooting Butts and the Cordite Store, Butt’s Scrape owes its nomenclature (dead swotty word meaning ‘name’) to its Ministry of Defence heritage.

If this is your bag – and you’re done with the birds – there’s a very good clip about Rainham’s role in this on YouTube:

 

Halesowen 0 – 1 Tamworth was a real humdinger of hum-drumminess. A few years back I did get to see Tamworth take on Everton in the FA Cup at Goodison Park. This was nothing like it.

 

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Many more sparks flew at the Ocean Colour Scene concert at the Birmingham Academy.

It was brave of Ocean Colour Scene (OCS to their mates) to have Martha and The Vandellas as the supporting act as they almost stole the show with a 50-minute set that showcased 77-year old Martha’s incredible vocals and the band’s superb musicianship.

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Here’s an abridged review by Millie Finn from the Counteract website:

The night kicked off with tracks of Motown and Northern Soul in the form of ‘Jimmy Mack’ and ‘Dancing In The Street.’ Martha & The Vandellas have still got it!

Ocean Colour Scene arrived with waves to the crowd that had packed out the venue. It was another special moment for music lovers, and they wasted no time before heading straight into ‘The Riverboat Song’ with its distinctive driving riff.

One glance around the room gave a swift reminder just how long the group has been on the scene. The band have had fans since 1989 when they first formed so their fan base boasts an impressive age range – people old and young stood happily in their groups drinking and punching the air as they screamed the words of each track back to the band.

It wouldn’t be the finale of an Ocean Colour Scene gig without fan favourite ‘The Day We Caught The Train’ – every lyric was chanted with pints of beer flying over the rest of the audience.

BredonWalk

Gerry volunteered to lead this month’s walk to Bredon Hill in the Vale of Evesham in Worcestershire.

Bredon Hill: Map: OS Explorer 190 – GR: SO982412

Meet in Main Road, Elmley Castle, by the Queen Elizabeth Inn, and park on road.

There are good views in all directions and, if the weather is clear, we should have good sight of the Suckley and Malvern Hills, and the Cotswolds to the east.

Leaving Elmley Castle, follow Hill Lane to a track which leads directly to Banbury Stone Tower. From there we head south-west for about half a mile where we pick up a path heading south-east which runs past Sundial Farm. In about another half mile we turn onto The Belt and follow this until we reach the Wychavon Way, which is followed down into Ashton Under Hill and our fuel stop at the Star Inn in Ashton Under Hill (dogs, hikers and Brummies are welcome in the bar).

After lunch we walk to end of village and pick up a bridleway taking us towards Fiddlers Knap to follow a path back to Elmley Castle.

The name “Bredon Hill” is unusual in that it combines the name for “hill” in three different languages. The word “bre” is of Celtic origin, and “don” is an Old English usage. Thus Bredon Hill can be translated as: Hillhill hill.

Now for a bit of poetry – this from A Shropshire Lad by A. E. Housman, which mentions Bredon Hill.

In summertime on Bredon
The bells they sound so clear;
Round both the shires they ring them
In steeples far and near,
A happy noise to hear.

Here of a Sunday morning
My love and I would lie,
And see the coloured counties,
And hear the larks so high
About us in the sky.

The bells would ring to call her
In valleys miles away:
‘Come all to church, good people;
Good people, come and pray.
But here my love would stay.

And I would turn and answer
Among the springing thyme,
‘Oh, peal upon our wedding,
And we will hear the chime,
And come to church in time.

But when the snows at Christmas
On Bredon top were strewn,
My love rose up so early
And stole out unbeknown
And went to church alone.

They tolled the one bell only,
Groom there was none to see,
The mourners followed after,
And so to church went she,
And would not wait for me.

The bells they sound on Bredon,
And still the steeples hum.
‘Come all to church, good people,’ –
Oh, noisy bells, be dumb;
I hear you, I will come.

By A. E. Housman

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by Andy Shaw

Not content with just one concert this month, it was time for those legendary rockers Def Leppard to perform a blistering break-neck bonanza at Birmingham Arena for their Hysteria tour.

Playing all the tracks from their signature dish Hysteria album, Def Leppard were not left wanting in the legendary stakes. A pulsating Big Cat of a concert if ever there was one (you can tell I haven’t been able to find a review yet to steal from…)

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By Andy Shaw

Stellar support band Cheap Trick didn’t let anyone down, and the bonuses kept stacking up with a guest appearance by the (dare I say it) legendary Roy Wood, who sang along with Cheap Trick and treated the Arena to “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day.”

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There was a final concert to head-bang to – Clutch at the Birmingham Academy.

Searching for reviews of this rather excellent gig by the Maryland rockers meant navigating through a rake of clutch repair services and various auto-suggestions.

However, I managed to abridge this glowing tribute from the Midlands Metal Heads website by Amy Lawrence (with photos by Lisa Billingham).

Looking from left to right there’s one aspect within the audience that’s noticeably prevalent. Beards. Long, short, coloured and grey, all identifying with the collection of testosterone infused rock that’s about to be unveiled on stage.

The Inspector Cluzo are without a doubt, a fantastic opening band. Bedecked in a waistcoat and suit, the French duo go beyond their suave appearance and deliver a fusion of acoustic melodies and adrenaline fuelled rock n roll. (When the frontman and the drummer are not firing their material on stage, they spend time on their organic farm in Gascony raising geese).

It takes a while for the audience to warm up to German band, The Picturebooks. However, this did not detract from their well-crafted brand of rustic rock, a soundtrack to outcast lifestyles and Harley Davidsons.

It’s refreshing to witness such professionalism and class from the supporting bands, both consisting of two members only, simply excellent to witness for the powerful music they manage to create.

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Following in the same vein, Clutch walk onto the stage with no airs or graces, no dramatic introductions or theatrics.

The music does the talking and what a hell of a speech it makes.

The audience are immediately captivated by those infectious grooves that Clutch perfectly conjures in their playing.

Refusing to restrict themselves to the same set list every night, Clutch vary the songs played at each gig, with fans unable to rigidly predict which tracks will be performed.

Neil Fallon is an absolute powerhouse of a singer, striding across the stage with ease, looking into the eyes of the audience, hands frequently pointed and clenched with crazed and distinctive facial expressions.

Within the middle of the show, Fallon reassures the audience that they’re not going anywhere yet, joking that they want to postpone the tragic dining at Greggs before departing from Heathrow airport.

Clutch complete their final show of 2018 with resounding applause. For a band that has been in the rock circuit for 27 years, they are far from waning into retirement anytime soon.

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November Splendour

JCDrink

Portugal was the destination of choice for a November getaway.

Albufeira in the Algarve ticked all the requisite boxes for a sneaky week away – namely: warmth, drink, and a timely escape from the dreary UK November chills.

Originally founded by the Arabs, Albufeira evolved into a typical Portuguese fishing village but now caters for tourists, especially the hordes that swarm over it in the high summer to partake of sandy beaches, busy nightlife and sunny days.

The town is divided into two main areas – the touristy Strip and the Old Town. Our hotel was agreeably plonked between the two.

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Restaurants and bars pop up around every corner, and several afternoon drinking sessions were set up along the waterfront. The Old Town square could always be relied on for an evening of live music and chilling out.

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The streets lead to the Tunel and Peneco beaches, wide stretches of sand that frame the town.

Beachread

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Bendy Beach

Emerging

Legs

A Hop-On, Hop-Off bus took care of the sightseeing although we did unfortunately choose the two rainy days to career around Albufeira, meaning there was little scope to hop on or off without getting drenched.

The 18th century St Sebastian Chapel doubled up as the Museum of Sacred Art, which had an impressively embellished altar as its showpiece, complete with golden woodcarvings. There were several pictures and broken artifacts from the original church that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1755.

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Beer & Sun – a great combo

Surf

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Sunset

 

With the usual medley of music, lasers, fireworks, and classic after classic after classic, the Spectacular Classics at the Symphony Hall was back with a bang – several bangs actually – and a fair few booms as well courtesy of the firing canons of the explosive 1812 Overture finale.

Classics

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Nessun Dorma, Bolero, The Pearl Fishers Duet, and Elgar’s Nimrod are all staples of this show year after year – and it never gets tiresome.

 

Canalside

Roy was leading this month’s walk around Wilmcote in Warwickshire, the home of Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden:

MAPS: EXPLORERS 205 AND 220       GR 159581.

Walk NW behind the houses to Rough Hill before turning left to enter Aston Cantlow. Follow the Arden Way to Wootton Wawen. Lunch to be taken at the Navigation Inn. Then walk south onto the Stratford canal and over the aqueduct (opened 1813), continuing south onto the canal, and crossing a further aqueduct at Edstone.

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This is the longest aqueduct in England and was opened in 1816. Leave the canal at Draper Bridge and take the field paths back to Wilmcote.

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Largely field paths and towpaths with little road walking. No significant hills – easy walking!

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Mentioned in the Doomsday Book, and being a mere quill stroke away from Stratford, Shakey name-checks his mommy’s village in The Taming of The Shrew:

 Sly, the drunken tinker, beseeches his lord:

“Ask Marian Hacket, the fat ale-wife of Wincot, if she know me not”

Strip

Paths of GloryThe anti-war film theme was to be be revisited by the Film Club this month with a screening of Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory and Charlie Chaplin’s Shoulder Arms.

Shoulder Arms is set in France during World War I, and was released as the war was coming to an end (20th October 1918). Charlie finds himself in France serving in the ‘awkward squad’ and volunteering to enter German lines disguised as a tree trunk…

Paths of Glory is a 1957 American anti-war film based on the novel of the same name by Humphrey Cobb. In the French front lines of World War I, after giving the order for an impossible and disastrous mission to capture a nearby stronghold, the upper ranks move to save face by having three randomly selected soldiers held and tried for cowardice under pain of death. Their leader, Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas), a former lawyer in civilian life, handles their defence against staggering odds.

 

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Then it was back to the Symphony Hall for Roger Taylor’s Queen Extravaganza. This is Queen’s official tribute band, fronted by an excellent non-Freddie impersonator, Alirio Netto.

A dazzling show – an extravaganza, even – kept everyone enthralled with an imaginative rendering of many of Queen’s non-Greatest hits, which are pretty great anyway!

Nutrcacker

Scene from The Nutcracker at Hippodrome
www.thestage.co.uk

For the want of something new to try, the Nutcracker at the Birmingham Hippodrome provided some diversion.

Here’s the glowing (and slightly shortened) review by Daljinder Johal of the Review Hub (www.thereviewshub.com):

It’s difficult to reinvent the wheel for a classic ballet like The Nutcracker. But Sir Peter Wright’s 1990 production doesn’t need to when it’s just so magical. Since Wright gifted it to Birmingham, the scale of this annual production never fails to enchant and entrance thanks to clever set design, lavish costumes and of course, the impeccable dancing of 60 dancers telling the story of Clara travelling to an enchanting winter wonderland with a handsome prince.

This world-renowned performance of The Nutcracker satisfies repeat spectators with its attention to detail.

The Nutcracker inspires awe as the huge transformation of the Christmas tree and fireplace towers over a startled Clara. The room even feels colder as artificial snow falls on the Snow Fairy. Yet nothing beats the opening of Act Two. Audible gasps accompany the heroine as the curtain opens to reveal her travelling to a magical land and across the stage in a flying goose. Clever layering of clouds create an astounding realism to offset the delicacy of the goose’s wings.

Karla Doorbar, and Céline Gittens give excellent performances as Clara and The Rose Fairy respectively but it’s Momoko Hirata as The Sugar Plum Fairy who truly amazes. In the final Grand pas de deux, she demonstrates a wonderful expressiveness even with the slightest movement of her hand. With her Prince, César Morales, their synchronicity is so effortless that they can finish a spin and stop together as if one person. Hirata’s fleet-foot with Morales’ majestic and noble demeanour is the perfect complement to Tchaikovsky’s iconic score.

With months of preparation, it’s unsurprising that the technical aspects, from dancing to design are so faultless.

BoRhrap

Queen’s equally faultless and iconic score for their biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, completed a particularly Freddie-filled week. It would have to have been pretty lame not to be enjoyed with all those great tracks!

Now for a couple of pics to conclude this month’s post: a cartoon from the Crow Collection – and a shot of a local buzzard in Warley Woods with a rat snack!

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Buzzard

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OctoberBest

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Autumn is in full swing so it’s time to dig out some russet-clad snaps of Warley Woods to decorate this month’s post, and see what’s been occurring in October.

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We’ll start with some Nature Notes:

October is the month when millions of birds relocate from their breeding sites to wintering grounds, with many of them getting lost along the way.

Spurn Point is one of the best areas for these lost souls to drop in as it curls for over three miles into the North Sea. With nearly 400 different birds recorded here, the peninsula has the highest species count on mainland Britain.

Being a narrow tidal island, Spurn offers a quick breather for any migratory birds blown off course. Originally it was classed as a spit but a massive storm recently pummelled it into re-categorisation. Nature is now allowed to take its course with no effort being made to fix Spurn’s position.

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Spurn Point after the tidal surge in 2013. Credit: Environment Agency.

There have been a few hissy fits regarding recent man-made developments at Spurn Point. The building of the new visitor centre, funded by E.ON (whose vast Humber Gateway wind farms loom off Spurn) have had some residents calling it a “carbuncle.”

Although there were no zingers on the day, Spurn did churn out some notable attendees.

First up was a Rosy-coloured Starling (why not just Rosy Starling?) basking in the unseasonal sunshine on a solar-powered rooftop. On a wire fence nearby, neatly lined up along a row of posts were a Yellowhammer, Whinchat and Stonechat. As is their wont, Yellow-browed Warblers skulked around in several scrubby bushes as we walked around the reserve. A Great white Egret flew over in the afternoon, and a Wheatear popped up in a nearby field, so resplendent it looked like it had just stepped out of the Collins Guide.

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A circular walk through cut paths led into the Kilnsea Wetlands, where ducks, waders and wildfowl were plentiful. From a viewing platform, an insouciant Roe Deer was seen being sort of insouciant alongside the scrubby hedges.

There was a old concrete Sound Mirror in one of the fields – a forerunner of radar to provide early warnings of incoming enemy aircraft.

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A final scan of the beach unearthed some dainty Snow Buntings, which brought to a close another grand day out.

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The trip to Spurn was sandwiched in-between a couple of visits to the theatre.

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At the Birmingham Rep was the World Premiere of Rebus: Long Shadows by Ian Rankin, featuring Coronation Street’s very own Jim MacDonald.

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Cathy Tyson with Charles Lawson as Rebus. Photograph: Robert Day

Here is an abridged review from The Guardian by Clare Brennan:

Rankin’s chance meeting with a lassie on his tenement stair stirs ghosts of unsolved cases: two murdered girls demand justice. A pending court case may deliver it, but evidence is in question. The now-retired detective (Charles Lawson) follows the old ways, trusting to instinct and getting down and dirty with the criminals he knows too well. His former protégé, Siobhan (Cathy Tyson), espouses the new world of teamwork and protocols. “Big Ger” Cafferty (John Stahl) is the villain who aims to destroy the one and corrupt the other.

As always with Rankin, character drives the plot. The script gives the characters demotic dialogue and daringly long speeches. The actors relish both. We, in turn, relish them.

Lawson’s Rebus is as gritty, tormented and uncompromising as the original. The actor effectively communicates layers of feeling through various angles of hunched shoulders, degrees of head tilt and heaviness of footfall. The villain, Cafferty, is a crowing, suave bundle of viciousness personified – Stahl’s performance convincingly exposes depths that neither explain nor redeem him. The two actors play off one another to perfection.

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The other cultural slice of the Spurn sandwich was another visit to the Birmingham Rep for The Wipers Times.

Written by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman, The Wipers Times tells the true story of the satirical newspaper created amid the mud and mayhem of the First World War.

In a bombed out building in the Belgium town of Ypres (mis-pronounced Wipers by British soldiers), a printing press is discovered by two officers, and soon a cheerful and subversive newspaper is being churned out for the men on the front line.

Here’s a snippet of the review from the Express & Star by Jerald Smith:

In 1916 Captain Roberts, Lieutenant Pearson, Sergeant Harris and a group of soldiers from the Sherwood Foresters came across an abandoned printing press near the town of Ypres.

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The Wipers Times – Philip-Tull

There was a small supply of printing materials – enough to start producing a run of about 100 copies or so, which they did on a bi-monthly basis for the next two years.

It was not so much a newspaper, more a collection of jokes and by turns it was subversive, mawkish, groaningly punny and incredibly funny.

It satirised the press and poked fun at the high command so much so there were moves to have the paper shut and the editorial staff court-martialed.

It should be remembered that the army in 1914 was made up of legendary line regiments, but you needed to have gone to a public school to get into these. The British High Command was renowned for the excellence of its wine cellars. It was therefore not surprising that the chief War Lords were not universally loved by their troops.

Indeed, General Haig acquired his nickname “The Butcher” not because of the effect his policies had on the enemy troops but mainly because of the deadly effects on his own, of which nearly one million died and two million were wounded.

Life on the front line was both dangerous and boring. Apart from having to cope with trench foot, trench livers and rat-infested accommodation, there were also artillery shells, chlorine and mustard gas shells and snipers to contend with.

No wonder that the gallows humour of the Wipers Times proved so popular.

Caroline Leslie’s production catches some of the poignancy created in war situations and the futility of war is well presented as the characters remark how familiar the scenery is, having moved just ten yards sideways in six months.

 

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by Paul Reynolds

Ash came to Birmingham, and we caught the durable Northern Irish band in full sway at the Digbeth 02 Institute and, in time-honoured fashion, here’s the review shamelessly lifted from someone else’s pen – from Counteract’s Samuel Lambeth:

Downpatrick’s finest export Ash returned to the Midlands in support of acclaimed new album Islands, playing a furious, career-spanning set.

Ash stride onstage, a whiff of adolescence still lingering over them as Tim Wheeler – bulging muscles, close crop haircut and irrepressible gregarious grin – straps on his Flying V (I think that’s a guitar – Ed) amid feverish applause. However, those waiting for the pummelling pop punk of old will have to wait as instead they open with the beautiful, aching melodies of ‘True Story’, a bruised rocker and standout song from acclaimed new album Islands.

From then on, though, it’s back to the traditional Ash format. Wheeler’s guitar squeals out the stomp of ‘Kung Fu’ and the cocksure strut of ‘Cocoon’ with such rampant energy half the crowd are dying for a post-riff cigarette. ‘Oh Yeah’ and ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ are dispatched early on in the set, two of their finest songs that glide upon twinkling lyrics, blistering brio and pummelling drums, while the gloriously potty-mouthed ‘Buzzkill’ is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it slice of old school scuzz.

These gigs display just how many hits Ash created, as well as their dexterity. The frenzied ‘Orpheus’ nestles comfortably among the arms-aloft anthem ‘Shining Light’, but there’s two songs in particular everyone in the room can’t wait to hear – ‘Girl From Mars’ may now be over twenty years old, but it still has the strong undercurrent of youthful daydreaming and free-spirited joy that made it a staple during the late ‘90s. ‘Burn Baby Burn’ is equally joyous, a thrashy rocker.

Ash prove time and time again they’re a band built for all seasons.

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Dudley Castle

This month’s walk was another of Brian’s ever-popular urban heritage walks: “You’ll be travelling to the capital city of another country – The Black Country – complete with its own flag. So bring your passport and phrasebook – I’ve arranged visas for all of you.”

This time we were off to see what Dudley was all about.

A local MP once described the Black Country flag as “racist and offensive” and wanted it scrapped on account of the possible slavery connotations of chain imagery and colours.

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However, the flag owes its design to a quote from the American Consul in Birmingham who described the region as “black by day, red by night,” in reference to the smoking furnaces that belched out smoke during the day and smouldered at night. The central white area represents the glass cone, a symbol of the region’s glass-making heritage. The chains represent a typical product manufactured in the area – you know, chains such as the ones that rattled around the Titanic…

The Titanic anchor on its original journey to Dudley train station in 1911

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Dudley Railway Station 2018

The walk commenced from The Priory of St James, the ruins of which have stood in Dudley since Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries.

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Priory of St James (seen better days)

Some historical snippets:

Originally a market town, Dudley was one of the birthplaces for the Industrial Revolution, and has a history dating back to Anglo-Saxon times. Its name derives from the Old English Duddan Leah, meaning Dudda’s clearing. In the Doomesday Book, it was scored as Dudelei.

King Stephen attacked Dudley in 1138 after a failed siege of Dudley Castle following the Baron of Dudley’s support of the throne-claiming Empress Matilda (the daughter of King Henry I for all you history buffs).

During the English Civil War, Dudley served as a Royalist stronghold, and the castle was besieged twice and later partly demolished on government orders after the Royalist surrender.

The remains of the castle overlook the town and provide the setting for the famous Dudley Zoo. The zoo received World Monument Status for the world’s largest single collection of Tectons – which are not a species of marmoset but the reinforced Modernist buildings that were revolutionary at the time.

The Limestone Way leads to the Wren’s Nest National Nature Reserve, where Dudley’s geological significance soon becomes apparent with slices and layers of rock, many pitted with fossils, and all manner of canal tunnels and limestone pits on site.

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About 300 million years ago, give or take a week, the tropical seas that covered Dudley disappeared and were replaced by a vast swamp within which the coal seams and iron ore deposits were formed. It was a perfect geological storm that tossed up all the raw materials needed to power Dudley and the Black Country through the Industrial Revolution.

“In no part of England are more geological features brought together in a small compass than in the environs of Dudley.” Said Sir Roderick Murchison in 1849, the David Attenborough of his day.

On a football note, the Messi of his day was undisputedly Duncan Edwards, a proud son of Dudley, whose peerless skills for England and Manchester United were cut short by the Munich Air Disaster in 1958. Contemporaries of Duncan Edwards have always been unstinting in their praise. Bobby Charlton reckoned he was “the only player that made me feel inferior.”

Duncan

There is a statue of Duncan in the town centre, clad in his England gear. On the outskirts of the town, there is another statue, this time to a sporting daughter of Dudley – Dorothy Round. Her bronze life-size likeness overlooks the tennis courts where she used to play.

Dot

Dudley Dot was a multiple Grand Slam winner in the thirties, taking the Wimbledon crown twice, and adding the Australian title for good measure.

 

There was a complete nut-fest going on at the Film Club, which was showing the surreal (and rather naughty) Dogtooth:

Dogtooth‘This year sees a return to all things creepy and sinister in October at the Flat Disc Society.’

First up is an episode from the first “Spooky” series of ITV’s children’s anthology programme Dramarama: The Exorcism of Amy. Amy’s malevolent imaginary friend Amelia’s mischievous behaviour can only be curbed by an exorcism.

The main feature is Yorgos Lanthimos’ highly regarded Greek film Dogtooth (winning the Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes and was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, among many other awards). Dogtooth is about a husband and wife who keep their children ignorant of the world outside their fenced compound well into adulthood. Their parents say they will be ready to leave once they lose a dogtooth, and that one can only leave safely by car.

Now, with the month almost done, the evenings drawing in and a cold snap on the way, it’s time to take flight – to Portugal for a sneaky week.

I’m all set…

Settings

 

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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.

Vineyard

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.

Cakestand

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.

Table

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.

JCGarret

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.

Leg

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.

AAGarret

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.

Constatine

Constantine: Emperor of Scaffolding

Column

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.

Greg

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.

Cruise2

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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Curlew3

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.

Dove

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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World Cup June

SeabirdCity2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Puffins

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Razorbills and Puffin

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Kittiwake

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Razorbill and Guillimot

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

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

Strip

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Flowers

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Jackdaw

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

frog

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

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

 

Cattle

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

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

Start at Hulme End, Staffordshire Moorlands

Location: Grid Ref: SK 1062 5927

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

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

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

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

 

Watson

Heather Watson Wellies It

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

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

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Pat Cash gets to meet Steve P

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Calves+

 

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

Birdsong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

IVY

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

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Alpha May

Blue

Yes, that is actual blue sky!

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

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

Street

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

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

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Car camouflage

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

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Steve spots a beer garden

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

BeerGarden

 

Nature Notes Warning:

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

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

Trees

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

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

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

Upon a rising bank I sat adown, 

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

Therein I spied this yellow frizzled hair

(he then copped off with Robert Redford…)

BluebellsJC

Fen

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

Train

PeteBluebells

 

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

 

ComedyCraig

 

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

Green

Here’s Jane with a comprehensive guide:

Bosbury – Map: OS Explorer 190

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

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

The Walk:

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

Field

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

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

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

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

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Trig

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

Dandelions

Barretts

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

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

The Herefordshire Landscape

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

ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING

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

Offside

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avengers

Brilliant!

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

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The New ABBA

Canal

 

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

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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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S&PMarina

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AnnieBoat

Benny

Benalmadina

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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.

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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.

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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…

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