January Commentary 2018


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.


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.


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.


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…




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!)


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.


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!)


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.


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!)



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.


Castillo de San Jose


“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.


Great Grey Shrike at Costa Teguise



Steve finds his spiritual home


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.




Bar-tailed Godwit





Ringed Plover


Grey Plover

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





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



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!)


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:


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!


Dismembering September


Occasionally, the UK provides little scenes that wouldn’t be out of place in the wilds of the America West (admittedly there may be a certain lack of fire and brimstone).

One such occasion happened during our weekend in Minsmere in Suffolk where we enjoyed the spectacle of three otters winnowing about in the shallows of Island Mere. (There was also a fourth otter – we saw one earlier but it may have belonged to this particular trio). A Marsh Harrier circled the otters on the lookout for fishy scraps; a Kingfisher fished and caught a fish, a Bittern sailed into the reeds, and a Water Rail sprinted between reed beds.



Water Rail Chick with a bald spot


Rare Headless Water Birds

As dusk approached, a Red Deer trotted past us, and several Green Woodpeckers rose up and pegged it as we walked up Whin Hill. Late sightings of Stoats, Muntjac and Red-legged Partridges all capped a fine day.


With acres of woodland, wetland, scrapes and heath – and a bit of coastal to go with it, you could spend weeks in Minsmere and never think it enough.

Mingling with the ducks and waders were Spotted Redshank, Ruff, Avocet and godwits. Elusive Bearded Tits (stop sniggering at the back) showed well in the reeds, and a Red-necked Phalarope dropped in. Raptors were well represented by the harriers, a Peregrine, Sparrowhawk, Hobby and Kestrel. Emerging from the grazing marshes, a Chinese Water Deer stepped out from the tall grasses for a quick munch.



There is much to recommend Southwold for its proximity when visiting Minsmere. Not least the Adnams brewery, which faithfully stocks the town pubs with a selection of its wares.

The town was also the home of a number of Puritan emigrants to the Massachusetts Bay Colony so it ties in nicely with the previous post.

Southwold has a pier, and a lighthouse; brightly painted beach huts overlook the sand and shingle beach.


Pre-squabble Gulls

A short hop past the old and new water towers took us to Southwold Harbour, where a squabble of gulls fought over a dead rat. The rowing boat ferry service then rowed us over to Walberswick where a quick pint was quaffed. It was not long before the rain lashed down and forced us into Southwold’s pubs.


Now for a little Crow Collection cartoon before we go into the culture section: This one almost never made the cut as it was deemed too icky but it sold quite well:



At the Barber Institute, there was a Monet doing the rounds.

Water Lily Pond, on loan from Chicago in exchange for a Gauguin, was showing well in the Blue Gallery. Probably one of the most recognisable motifs of Impressionism – the Japanese bridge over the water lily pond in Monet’s garden at Giverny was a theme he became obsessed with – and this version is considered one of the artist’s most luminescent masterpieces.


Water Lily Pond

Minding its own business close by was an early oil painting by Henri Matisse – Landscape in Corsica – on long-time loan from a private collection.

The Barber Institute never fails to deliver, and in a little offshoot gallery, an exhibition was showing 19th-century portrait photography, with many public figures striking notable poses including Queen Victoria, Oscar Wilde and John Hanning Speke.


Craig Deeley was appearing at the Glee Club’s Rough Works with Joe Lycett, Andy Robinson and a whole bunch of comedians. For the comedians, Rough Works provides an ideal platform to try out brand new material, and the packed audiences are very encouraging and supportive. A very funny night out with drinks before, during and after – and the comedy was pretty good too (drum roll).


The resumption of Film Club opened with the Spanish animation film Wrinkles, the story of a retired bank manager who has been shuffled off into an elderly care home. The Tomatometer from Rotten Tomatoes website gives it 96% and the consensus can be agreed on as such:

Poignant and tender without succumbing to schmaltz, Wrinkles offers a thoughtful — and beautifully animated look at old age.


The “I Want! I Want!” Art & Technology exhibition at Birmingham Gas Hall was inspired by William Blake’s engraving of the same name. This little engraving shows a tiny figure that announces his desire to get to the moon with a cry, “I want! I want!” It conjures up a memorable image of aspirational zeal.

The exhibition features work by contemporary artists who have been influenced by the rapid development of technology. Some interesting stuff was on show – particularly the Dawn Chorus video installation and a computer animation by celebrated Blur cover-artist Julian Opie.


Goodbye July


The Malverns

A fairly quiet month hardly deserving of a post so its going to be mainly filler and not killer this time!

In between bouts of drinking and watching the cultural twin peaks of Wonder Woman, and Spiderman: The Homecoming, there was a nevertheless an excellent walk to record.

This one took in patches of the Forest of Dean, views of the Malvern Hills, and a Roast Beef Ploughman’s at the Glasshouse.

It was Stuart’s walk and here’s the gen:

Map: Explorer sheet OL14 Wye Valley & Forest of Dean

GR: SO721260.

The walk:

The walk is mainly along field paths, through woods, and along quiet country lanes.

Go west from the car park in the market town of Newent, across playing fields then SW to Briery Hill. Follow Three Choirs Way southwards to Clifford’s Mesne, continuing along quiet lanes past the now closed Yew Tree Inn to ascend a long but not difficult climb to summit of May Hill (977 ft).



There are breath-taking views to Malvern Hills, Black Mountains, and the Severn Estuary (let’s hope for good weather). From the summit continue along Geopark/Wysis Way SE then NE to Glasshouse for lunch at The Glasshouse Inn.

Dogs are not allowed in the pub but there are pleasant gardens.


After lunch we head northwards through the pleasant but occasionally muddy Newent Woods, and then past apple orchards to return to the cars.


1930s Poet Laureate John Masefield describes May Hill in his narrative poem “The Everlasting Mercy.”

It’s about a fist fight with a fellow poacher over territory with the main protagonist called Saul Kane with some Christian/Satan overtones and implications.

Its way too long to reproduce here so here’s some of the more memorable verses. It’s worth reading just to roll out the fantastic names of two of the peripheral characters: Doxy Jane and Dicky Twot!

Ploughing the hill with steady yoke
Of pine-trees lightning-struck and broke.
I’ve marked the May Hill ploughman stay
There on his hill, day after day
Driving his team against the sky,
While men and women live and die.
And now and then he seems to stoop
To clear the coulter with the scoop,
Or touch an ox to haw or gee
While Severn stream goes out to sea

and this bit’s quite good:

“Where is it, then? O stop the bell.”
I stopped and called: “It’s fire of hell;
And this is Sodom and Gomorrah,
And now I’ll burn you up, begorra.”

as is this:

“After him,” “Catch him,” “Out him,” ” Scrob him.”
“We’ll give him hell.” “By God, we’ll mob him.”
“We’ll duck him, scrout him, flog him, fratch him.”
“All right,” I said. “But first you’ll catch him.”


They drove (a dodge that never fails)
A pin beneath my finger nails.
They poured what seemed a running beck
Of cold spring water down my neck;
Jim with a lancet quick as flies
Lowered the swelling round my eyes.
They sluiced my legs and fanned my face
Through all that blessed minute’s grace;
They gave my calves a thorough kneading,
They salved my cuts and stopped the bleeding.
A gulp of liquor dulled the pain,
And then the flasks clinked again.

This last bit was after the Boxing Day Sales at Selfridges…

Speaking of which: This was taken at the Green Man in Harborne on July 24th – WAY TOO EARLY!!!




Sometimes, when you’re feeling a bit peckish, only a Seafood Fujiyakko will do, and fortunately one was at hand for our footy A-Team social at the Miyako Teppanyaki restaurant .

Kraaled around a Japanese teppan grill (with live cooking and loose egg throwing), an entertaining evening was in store with salmon, lobster and scallops being fired up on the Barbie. Of course, we had to have some traditional Japanese ale to help us along.





Gavin failed to catch the egg in his mouth

A visit to the Falconry Experience in Swadlincote ensured a surfeit of raptors for our appreciation. For the first section there was a selection of owls including Little Owl, Barn Owl and Eagle Owl before the falcons, hawks and eagles took centre stage. The Kestrel, Harris Hawk, Buzzard and Tawny Eagle were all mightily impressive but even a guest appearance from a Kookaburra couldn’t diminish the star of the show – a Golden Eagle.

The talons on this eagle are impressive enough – then you learn they have a gripping strength of over 700 psi, which is up there with me hanging onto a Topic (the average person has a grip strength of about 20 psi.)


Check out the talons…


Nature Note: Raptor comes from the Latin word “rapere” which means to seize by force.



And finally, this cartoon from the Crow Collection – I always liked this one but it never sold particularly well. I just like the silliness of it…

glacier copy




In the nineties, Michael Jackson moonwalked out on to the balcony of dictator Ceausescu´s Bucharest Palace and addressed the worshipping throngs below him. The King of Pop held out his arms and squeaked:

“Hello Budapest!”

He wasn’t the only one. So many people mistook Romania’s capital city for Hungary’s, that Bucharest once launched a “Bucharest not Budapest” campaign to encourage visitors to learn the difference between the two cities. There was even a rumour that 400 Spanish soccer fans accidentally flew to Hungary’s capital for a Bucharest-based game!

At least the King of Pop got to address a crowd from the hallowed balcony, which was more than Nicolae Ceausescu ever did, having been overthrown (or rather, shot dead) before such an accolade could be accorded.

The Bucharest Palace has since been re-named the Casa Poporului – which means Palace of Parliament in Hungarian – sorry, Romanian.

A 90-minute guided tour of the palace reveals only a mere 3% of what’s available with 12 floors and at least another 8 underground levels (you also need to bring your passport to get in). The Palace is immense and plays host to the Romanian parliament, as well as providing ample room (it has 1,100 rooms) for various conferences, museums and theatres.

Incredibly, the person responsible for the construction process of the Palace of Parliament was coordinated by a mere slip of a girl – 28 year old Anca Petrescu.


Palace of Parliament

The presenters from popular BBC show Top Gear once recorded a programme where they drove cars through vast tunnels hidden beneath the palace. These tunnels were originally designed so the cautious Ceausescu could do an underground runner to the airport in case of a revolution.

Check it out:

When the Romanian Revolution did start, Ceausescu and his wife Elena made their escape from Central Committee Building by helicopter. They didn’t manage to get far as the pilot dropped them off in the countryside where they were arrested and later shot.

There is a fascinating blend of turn of the century elegance and communist excess in Bucharest, which can be appreciated through its architecture. The city centre is a melting pot of Medieval, Neoclassical and Art Nouveau buildings with blocky, functional communist-era architecture lumped in for good measure.


Oana was our guide and she gave excellent potted histories to several landmark buildings during a walking tour of the capital. There were many interesting back stories to life under the exacting communist regime that Romania experienced after the Second World War. Shackles were finally struck off in 1989 and Revolution Square was an obvious place to begin our city tour. It was here where Ceausescu addressed the crowd from the balcony of the Central Committee Building, blathering on about the small matter of a recent uprising. He completely misread the crowd’s mood, which resulted in that emergency helicopter dash for freedom.


Central Committee Building

After being shot, footage of the trail and execution was released in Romania and to the rest of the world. The moment of execution was not filmed since the cameraman was too slow – only just getting into the courtyard as the shooting ended. (There is a rumour that the cameraman had, in fact, gone to Budapest first).

Ceausescu whittled away at the national debt by exporting all the choice food abroad. Throughout the 1980s increasingly grim reports tumbled out about the Ceausescus’ “State of Terror”. Too much food was being exported to repay Western loans and many Romanians were starving.

“It was as if he sold all the best parts of a chicken – the breast, the leg, the thighs – and left the offal, feet and necks for his people.”

Bucharest boasts many fine buildings besides the Palace of Parliament. The Romanian Athenaeum, an impressively columned concert hall, is just one of several landmarks in the city. Other impressive edifices include the Triumph Arch, the CEC Palace, and the National Museum of Art of Romania. Bestriding the square is the equestrian statue of King Carol, a German who became king (the Germans have a knack for this sort of thing). The Romanians fancied that a bit of monarchy would be just the ticket to spruce things up after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.


Romanian Athenaeum


National Art Museum (former Royal Palace)


Old Court Church (the Old Princely Church)


Romanian Savings Bank (CEC Building)

The National Museum of Romanian History has a strange statue on the steps featuring a wolf being held up by a naked fella.

This is a statue of the Roman Emperor Trajan who conquered Dacia, the province located in Romania. He is holding a Capitoline Wolf, whose head is joined to the tail of a dragon.

When popped on its plinth, the statue was not exactly lauded by the locals, with some describing it as a “monument to Romania’s stray dogs.” Others wondered why the dog was levitating and why it was wearing a scarf while the emperor wasn’t even wearing any underwear.


National Museum of Romanian History


Trajan and his pet dog

The Memorial of Rebirth is another monument in Revolution Square, commemorating the struggles and victims of the Romanian Revolution that overthrew Communism. It also sparked spiky controversy when inaugurated for being too abstract and unrepresentative of the suffering and hardships of the revolution. Others suggested in looked like a potato on a toothpick.

Looking like a Giacometti figure having a bit of a sit-down, the statue of Iuliu Maniu pays tribute to one of Romania’s foremost politicians and former Prime Ministers who scorned the Russian influence and was imprisoned when the communists came to power. The statue is slyly positioned in Revolution Square, in front of the former Communist Party Headquarters.


Iuliu Maniu

Somehow along the way, we managed to get trapped in the Stavropoleos Monastery, a small Eastern Orthodox Church for nuns. With a service in full flow and some impressive chanting from the black-clad nuns, there was some reluctance to push past the imposing bouncer on the door: a terrifying lady with a thousand yard stare. Fortunately, Oana rescued us.


Stavropoleos Monastery (Fusionofhorizons)

After a decent walkabout, there were a number of bars and hostelries crying out to be repaired to and we summarily obliged.


After which, we were all going on a bear hunt.


The Carpathian Mountains bustles with bears – brown bears, which require a certain level of care when traipsing through their territory. Romania has a healthy bear population, over 40% of Europe’s ration, and this region is of key international importance in their conservation.

If confronted by a bear, do not turn and run and, if attacked, curl up in a ball and protect your face. There would be no ball-curling for me – I was just going to leg it as fast as I could and hope to overtake the slower members of our group.


Bear tracks were clearly visible on the path as we walked through the woods, and then quietly tip-toed up the wooden steps to the hide.

The hide overlooked a small clearing in the forest, and already a large bear was snuffling around below us. Binoculars and cameras were cocked and ready. As dusk approached, more bears dipped in and out of the clearing with five bears showing up at one time; a couple more timorous beasts circled around and sniffed the air suspiciously.

It was all quite splendid.


The Transylvanian village of Moieciu was to be our base for the next few days. The view from my room, one of sweeping hilly slopes with wildflowers and birds, was in stark contrast to the vista from my room in Bucharest, which was, basically, a wall.


Room with a View – Moieciu


Room with a View – Bucharest

The following morning, Romania did away with its natural modesty and decided to show a bit of leg.

A walk in the Bucegi Mountains up through forest and woodland brought us into a vast clearing with a Sound of Music backdrop. Dark mountains bulked against the sky and low cloud slipped across slightly snowy slopes; wildflower meadows rolled up to the curve of the hills.

It would’ve been rude not to have a beer with such a backdrop and a shack-like bar doled up the necessary refreshment.

Known as the ‘Pearl of the Carpathians’ because of its stunning scenery, Sinaia was a short drive away. Faced with such natural beauty, imported monarch King Carol felt compelled to build Peles Castle here – a Neo-Renaissance chateau crammed with ebony, ivory, Persian carpets, stained glass and all manner of curios.

There is a statue of King Carol overlooking the main entrance, presiding over a goodly amount of other statues aligned along the terraces.

In one corner of the terraced gardens is a statue of King Carol’s wife, Elizabeth, stoically setting about her embroidery. It probably wouldn’t have been her first choice when it came to the commission – surely striding majestically alongside a steed or brandishing an impressive breastplate to the elements would have done the job better.


Queen Elizabeth – Giving it some welly

Pelisor Castle was within touching distance of Peles, an Art Deco/Art Nouveau creation of Queen Marie of Romania, granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Known as the Artist Queen, Marie set about Pelisor Castle with great gusto – and probably a paintbrush. Lots of oak-timber, a working glass ceiling that slides away when the weather’s good. An intricate spiral staircase loops up one side of the hall, and various other chambers lead off from the corridors. There is a ‘golden room’ with gilded walls and thistle decorations – a Celtic nod to her Scottish roots (although she was actually born in Kent).

There is, of course, another castle Transylvania is quite famous for – Bran Castle.

Yes, the family seat of Count Dracula, the notorious Nosferatu who liked nothing better than settling down in front of the TV with some Nachos and a pint of Rhesus Negative.

Not that Bran Castle was ever visited by Bram Stoker, the novelist responsible for bringing all things vampirism into the public consciousness when his book was published in 1897. However, Dracula was banned in Bran and throughout Transylvania due to the communists banning all vampire fiction until 1990.

Vlad the Impaler, the notorious 15th century ruler of Wallachia, never actually lived at Bran yet his fearsome reputation stoked macabre myths more monstrous than anything Bram could.

In modern Romania, dracul means “the Devil” so we can see where this is heading.

Stories about Vlad’s evil deeds began doing the rounds during his lifetime, and he was often described as a man of unheard cruelty and justice – the perfect personification for the creation of Count Dracula.

A lengthy poem about Vlad, the “Story of a Bloodthirsty Madman Called Dracula of Wallachia” deftly outlined a few of his more unsavoury pursuits. Vlad had two monks impaled to assist them on their way to heaven, and also ordered the impalement of their donkey because it brayed too much.


In fairness, he was a rubbish lap-dancer

On another occasion, some Turkish messengers refused to take off their turbans when paying dutiful respect to Vlad. Vlad simply reinforced this custom by having the turbans nailed to their heads.

Although described as a ”demented psychopath, a sadist, a gruesome murderer, and a masochist” his brutality was probably exaggerated to some extent by some old adversaries – the Saxons.


“Throw another shrimp on the barbie.”

In the curiously titled documentation “About a Mischievous Tyrant called Dracula” it was alleged that Vlad (old cove that he was) ordered some women to be impaled together with their babies. He was also not averse to boiling alive the odd dissident or two but impaling was really his thing.

It is doubtful the intended sequel to this document, “The Naughty Antics of Nasty Vlad” ever got published.

It is easy to see why Bran Castle was considered the home of Bram Stoker’s creation, allying its location and details with the jumbled descriptions offered up by the novelist: “Every known superstition in the world is gathered into the horseshoe of the Carpathians, as if it were the centre of some sort of imaginative whirlpool.”

The vast ruined castle being on the edge of a terrific precipice, at the bend of the Carpathians and looking triumphantly down from a rock, has all the hallmarks of Chez Dracula.


Bran Castle by Florin73m

The castle is indeed perched high up on a tall rock, following an irregular outline with tall towers and trim courtyards. Inside the castle walls, narrow and low hallways lead down winding wooden stairs, through lobbies and chambers, bedrooms and corridors and out on to terraces. Much in the way of weaponry and armoury adorns the walls and spaces, with the odd wolf pelt splayed randomly across a floor.


At night, under a fanciful full moon, it is hoped some bats would set the whole scene off nicely.

One of the most historic medieval cities in Transylvania is Brasov, a cluster of ancient fortifications where Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance influences abound around the narrow passageways, wide open squares and cobbled streets.


German settlers originally founded Brasov to protect routes that threaded their way through the high passes of the Carpathians.

The Saxons built massive stone walls around the city that are still visible today with Catherine’s Gate being the only original city gate to have survived since medieval times. The town has a fine central square, claimed to be the spot to which the Pied piper led the children of Hamlin. The most iconic historical building in Brasov is probably the 600 year-old Black Church, which became known as such after a great fire blackened its walls. During its tenure as a place of worship, several permutations of different persuasions knelt down at its pews including Catholics, Lutherans and Protestants.


Catherine’s Gate

The History Museum of Brasov is worth a look with rare exhibits and collections but on a bright sunny day, a visit should never be at the expense of a cable-car ride up Mount Tampa.


Fringed by the peaks of the Carpathians, Brasov is known as the city at the foot of Mount Tampa. When our old Friend Vlad attacked Brasov in 1458-60, the citadel was destroyed and 40 merchants were impaled on top of the mountain. Nowadays, you can enjoy a leisurely cola and look down on the red-tiled rooftops of the old town sprawling out to meet stern communist blocks on the outskirts.


A tasty traditional Transylvanian meal was waiting for us back at the guesthouse – bean soup, Tochitura – a sort of pork stew, with Sanmale (cabbage rolls) all washed down with some robust local wine.

All that remained was to toast the hospitality of Romania with the local firewater, Tuica.

As they say in Romania – Noroc!



…finally, what happens when a bat flies into an Irish home:


Sri Lanka


It’s only a little drop of an island off India but Sri Lanka manages to cram a whole continent’s worth of wonders within it.

Flying overnight from Birmingham to Colombo – via Dubai – with fellow fell-walker and holiday-aficionado Trev, we arrived bleary-eyed in the morning for an overnight stay at the Gateway Hotel in Seeduwa.

Now, in time-honoured fashion, I will shamelessly crib from the tour notes, and seamlessly add some sizzling little anecdotes along the way.

After hanging around for a couple of hours and suffering hotel lobby-rage, we were finally allocated our rooms. Although the hotel is close to the airport, it is located in the middle of a coconut plantation bordering the Negombo lagoon. Its air of tranquillity was soon disrupted with a monsoonal deluge in the afternoon, which ended a brief walkabout and sent us scurrying to the bar.

In the evening, we got to know our fellow travellers at a meeting with the tour manager. Then it was off to dinner in the hotel’s restaurant.


We left the hotel early in the morning to travel to Habarana, taking in a panoramic tour of the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo. Of particular note was the international cricket stadium, the fashionable residential districts, and the busy, traditional bazaar areas.

We also checked out a Hindu temple with elaborate stone carvings, an 18th-century Dutch church at Wolfendhal and the historic Devatagaha mosque, before leaving the city behind.


A scenic route then propelled us past pineapple farms and paddy fields until we reached our base for a couple of nights – the Cinnamon Lodge.

Complete with Grey Langurs – large sociable monkeys (they hang around in family groups drinking beer), the Lodge is set on the edge of a natural lake with acres of natural habitat.


Before chilling out, the group embarked on an elephant ride around the lake. I managed to ride along on the elephant’s neck, its flapping ears keeping my knees warm as a torrential downpour ripped down from above.



One of the group, Brian Farrell used to sing in a band called Colonel Bagshot, and once toured with the mega rock band Slade. Fortunately, he wasn’t shy when it came to belting out a few tunes with the resident band, and provided great entertainment throughout the evening.

Here’s a YouTube clip of Colonel Bagshot in its heyday – well worth a listen!


An early morning excursion took us to Sigiriya’s famous ‘Lion Rock’ – the brief capital of King Kassapa I some 1,500 years ago.

Two colossal paws still stand either side of ancient limestone steps, a reminder of the lion figure that once guarded the entrance to the lofty palace gardens on the summit of this 370-metre-high granite rock. Cuts and grooves carved out of the rock face give an idea of the size and shape of the original lion structure. Sigiriya is also well known for the Maidens of the Clouds – paintings of women found on a sheltered ledge. (Carol wondered if the girls in the frescoes had been “touched up.”)

Originally one wall was so highly polished that the vain king could see himself whilst he walked alongside it. Covered in polished white plaster, the wall is now partially covered with verses scribbled by visitors, some of them dating from as early as the 8th century.

An archaeologist deciphered hundreds of verses written in the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries on the mirror wall.

One poem from these long-past centuries, roughly translated from Sinhala, is:

“I am Budal. Came with hundreds of people tо see Sigiriya. Since аll the others wrote poems, I did not!”

They were a witty lot, them Kassapans. That one had me going.




The Gardens of the Sigiriya city are one of the most important aspects of the site, as they are among the oldest landscaped gardens in the world. The gardens are divided into three distinct but linked forms – water gardens, cave gardens and boulder gardens. Precariously-balanced boulders were positioned (carefully) ready to be pushed off from the top at a moment’s notice and flatten any approaching enemies.

The video for Duran Duran’s ‘Save a Prayer’ was filmed primarily at Sigiriya so – as we’re having a musical flavor to this month’s post – here it is:

A few of us took off for a Nature Walk around the grounds in the afternoon. This entailed very little walking but involved a jeep, a couple of bullock-driven carts and a dodgy-looking catamaran. As we glided serenely through the lily-layered lake, our oarsman fashioned hats for us to wear out of the huge water lily pads.




A brief stop at a smallholding in a wooded clearing featured a cookery demonstration by a local woman. She cobbled together a few traditional dishes with grated coconut, chilli and ground flour, all washed down with refreshing herbal teas (served in half a coconut shell).

Next day, there was a quick demo at a Batik factory. After suitable homage was paid to the waxing and colouring processes, traditional dresses were then modelled by some of the braver members of the group. After the twirls and turns of the catwalk, there then followed the obligatory sales pitch in the factory for gaudy tapestries, hankies and wall-hangings.


En route to Kandy, the Dambulla Cave Temple and the Matale Spice Garden were both ear-marked for a bit of a foray.

The Dambulla cave is the largest and best preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. The weathered rock towers over the surrounding plains. The main attractions are spread over five caves, which contain statues, icons and mural-covered walls. These paintings and statues are related to Buddha and his life. There are no end of Buddha statues, plus some likenesses of Sri Lankan kings and a few renderings of Vishnu and Ganesha.




Prehistoric Sri Lankans would have lived in these cave complexes before the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka as there are burial sites with human skeletons about 2700 years old in this area.


The Matale Spice Garden served up a decent lunch, which was then followed by a walking lecture around the gardens – us nodding approvingly at patches of vanilla, coffee, cocoa, cinnamon and sandalwood. This was followed by – surprise, surprise – a sales pitch! Our group were effortlessly enticed by the balms, oils, creams and unguents on offer.

We continued onto the Cinnamon Citadel Hotel for a couple of nights. This hotel is built on the site of the ancestral home of Dunuvila, a minister to the former King of Kandy.

In the morning, there was a brief stop at a gem factory to ogle some sapphires, rubies and suchlike before popping along to the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage. Several orphaned, ill or deserted elephants are looked after here, and its no easy task as one elephant can drink up to 80 pints of milk a day!

A pint of beer was more in keeping with an equally enjoyable lunch, the restaurant overlooking the river where elephants were taken for their daily bath.


A little sightseeing tour of Kandy commenced, of which the highlight was a visit to the former Royal Palace and to the Dalada Maligawa, better known as the Temple of the Tooth Relic. The temple houses the tooth of the Buddha, which was concealed in the hair of an Indian princess and brought to Sri Lanka in the 4th century. It is an object of great reverence for Buddhists the world over.


One of the ceilings at the Temple of the Tooth

In the evening, a traditional Kandyan dance was performed featuring some surprisingly chubby acrobats, and ended with a bit of fire walking.

A short visit was planned to a metal working factory which, no matter how you look at it, seems just about the last thing you would want to be doing during a tour of Sri Lanka. The Royal Botanic Gardens in Peradeniya was more like it, and a circuit or two of pleasantly landscaped lawns, a bit of fernery, some bambooed and water-featured gardens was enjoyed before travelling to Nuwara Eliya.


Nuwara Eliya lies nestled in a wooded basin at the foot of Mount Pidurutalagala – Sri Lanka’s highest peak at 2,555 metres.



The cool, crisp climate makes the region unlike anywhere else in Sri Lanka and is a serene retreat far removed from the hustle and bustle of Colombo. The town still retains a Victorian English appearance and is famous for its tea production. We managed a tour of one of the tea estates and factories – tea is still one of Sri Lanka’s major exports and the country produces more than 200 million kilos a year.

Stayed overnight at the Grand Hotel Nuwara Eliya, set within tightly manicured gardens and suggesting the grandeur of a bygone era. Built in the 1800s, this large mock-Tudor style mansion was the former residence of Sir Edward Barnes, the Governor of Sri Lanka from 1830-1850.




Back to Skool…

We visited a local school and many of the group took a few useful gifts for them – school bags, pens, various toys – and were rewarded with a few songs and performances from a very cheerful and grateful bunch of kids.

After peeling ourselves out of some of the smallest chairs ever made, we bade farewell to a very happy bunch of kids and motored on to Ravana Falls, named after the legendary King Ravana (no, me neither). According to legend, Ravana (who was the king of Sri Lanka at the time) kidnapped Princess Sita and stashed her in the caves behind this waterfall. Allegedly, she was kidnapped as revenge because her husband had sliced off the nose of Ravana’s sister (I think I got that right…)



We were on a roll, and continued on our way, paying a short visit to Kataragama to check out the Shrine of Lord Skanda and the Buddhist Temple of Kiri Vehera.

Kataragama is a pilgrimage town sacred to Buddhist, Hindu and indigenous Vedda people of Sri Lanka. People from South India also go there to worship.

Sheltered by foothills, Kataragama is one of Sri Lanka’s most holy of towns, and is an important religious pilgrimage site and is a holy place for Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus alike.


Eventually we made it to Yala National Park, a protected area spanning over 321,000 acres of land, covering a vast range of different landscapes, from sand dunes and grassland, to lagoons, lakes, wetlands, thick forest and the shores of the Indian Ocean.

First used as a hunting ground for the British elite in the 19th century, the area is now dedicated to the conservation and protection of the wildlife.

We stayed at the Cinnamon Wild Yala hotel, situated on the southernmost tip of Sri Lanka.

Our chalets were spread all over the resort and, when the sun went down, it was necessary to phone reception and ask for an escort!

This was due to the wild elephants that often take a fancy to wander through the hotel grounds at night. We saw plenty of wild boar sauntering around but the only jumbos we saw were in Yala.

There was an observation deck on the top floor of the hotel from which to take a cold beer and watch the sunset over a lake. Plenty of buffalo around but it wasn’t until the early morning game drive that we saw our first elephants.


The early morning session also unearthed herds of deer, some jackals, more wild boar, tons of birds – especially peacocks – plus crocodiles and monitors.

The birds were so numerous, I’ve decided to list them at the end of this post for any twitchers to drool over.

Here are some great photos from fellow-traveller Peter Ward:









Following a champagne breakfast, the jeeps took us out again the next day and we managed to clock a couple of leopards, a big cat for which Yala is renowned. Both were draped over branches and totally uninterested in the surrounding clamour with many vehicles jostling and baying for a glimpse.

An afternoon game walk took us around the local lake, where a huge crocodile had already taken up residency on the near shore. We also had to slink past the occasional dodgy buffalo, before finally emerging onto the beach, and making the slow circuit back to our hotel. Ant nests, craftily-concealed lizards, and small falcons made up much of the wildlife interest on the way back with the lake offering up a vast selection of storks, herons, spoonbills and pelicans.


In the morning, we left for the pleasures of the coast, travelling to Beruwala, which is on the south-west coast of the island.

Along the way we stopped to visit the bird sanctuary at Bundala, an important centre for aquatic birdlife, crammed with storks, bitterns, ibis, herons and such feathery ilk.

Then, finally, onto Galle, a quiet town with an old-world atmosphere and a long history. King Solomon reputedly sent his merchant ships here many years ago. The town sprung up around the harbour and the fort, which was captured by the Dutch in 1640. The fort became an archaeological reserve in 1969 and is arguably the best-preserved Dutch fort on the island. It is a short walk from the town centre and it was well worthwhile taking time to explore the historic ramparts.

And that was just about the last action for me, cramming in a fair day’s work before bidding farewell to Sri Lanka – a fantastic holiday enjoyed with a fantastic group of people. Before I knew it, I was soon speeding off to Columbo from Beruwala for the flight back to Brum with some great memories and no credit cards.

I’d lost my wallet.

Which, incidentally, was returned intact but not before I’d cancelled the cards!


And now for the bird list. Fortunately, former RSPB warden and bird expert Colin was always on hand to help with the identification!

Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Indian Peafowl, Lesser Whistling Duck, Cotton Pygmy-goose, Painted Stork, Asian Openbill, Black-headed Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Cinnamon Bittern, Black Bittern, Black-crowned Night Heron, Yellow Bittern, Indian Pond Heron, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Cattle Egret, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Spot-billed Pelican, Little Cormorant, Indian Cormorant, Darter, Brahminy Kite, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Shikra, Crested Serpent Eagle, Crested Hawk Eagle, White-breasted Waterhen, Watercock, Purple Swamphen, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Indian Thick-knee, Black-winged Stilt, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Red-wattled Lapwing, Kentish Plover, Common Sandpiper, Gull-billed Tern, Caspian Tern, Whiskered Tern, Eurasian Collared Dove, Spotted Dove, Sri Lanka Green Pigeon, Green Imperial Pigeon, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Jacobin Cuckoo, Greater Coucal, Indian Roller, Green Bee-eater, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Stork-billed Kingfisher, White-throated Kingfisher, Common Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Common Hoopoe, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Lesser Goldenback, Sri Lanka Woodshrike, Brown Shrike, Jerdon’s Leafbird, Black-hooded Oriole, House Crow, Large-billed Crow, Barn Swallow, Jerdon’s Bushlark, Red-vented Bulbul, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Yellow-billed Babbler, Common Myna, Rosy Starling, Oriental Magpie Robin, Indian Robin, Purple-rumped Sunbird, House Sparrow, Scaly-breasted Munia.



Remembering September

A staff industry update residential by the Business School@UCB tagged Liverpool and Manchester with the onerous task of keeping us informed and entertained for a couple of days.

Armed with Enterprise, Regeneration and Digital Innovation themes, these two major cities ticked all the boxes for our team building and bonding sessions.

First up was a tour of the Auto Trader premises, which followed a talk on the challenges of running an online commercial business.


The Auto Trader magazine was published weekly in a number of regional editions with circulation peaking at 368,000 in 2000 but soon dropping down to 27,000 by 2013. It was in this year, 36 years after it began, that the final magazine was printed before the company concentrated on its online business.


First and Final editions


Autotrader.co.uk was launched in 1996 and is the UK’s busiest automotive web site with over 10 million users per month.

So many stats and numbers so here’s a little unrelated fun fact: the founder of Auto Trader in the UK was John Madeiski, who went on to take over Reading Football Club.

After a presentation, we ventured through the offices, spread out over wide floors with shiny cars scattered everywhere and not one in need of a polish.


In accordance with its adoption of agile ways of working, Auto Trader’s offices include hot desking spaces, informal breakout areas, walls that can be scribbled on, touchscreens, and ‘war rooms’ for teams to attack various problems.


Some walls were decorated with graphics from the well-known Haynes manuals, which could be coloured in if the mood took anyone but the most striking element were those cars – a series of iconic vehicles that were chosen to represent different decades in Auto Trader’s long history.


Before these were brought into the offices, staff were given the opportunity to drive the cars around the old offices as a tribute. Afterwards, the engines were removed, and the cars coated with a special paint allowing them to be written on. Some were also adapted into little meeting dens – making them the perfect jotting pads!






Lunch was scheduled at Pokusevski’s, a Mediterranean style deli in the heart of Media City. Suitably shored up, the team took a tour of Media City, part of the recently regenerated Salford Quays and home to a whole host of BBC channels and programmes such as Match of the Day, Blue Peter, A Question of Sport, Mastermind, BBC Breakfast, Radio 5 Live, CBBC, and BBC Sport, to name but eight.





Sian with Dave and Derek the Daleks (Dave always stands on the left)

The team was treated to an exciting interactive radio drama experience with all participants performing impressively. Four of them were immediately signed up for the next series of Downton Abbey.


Visits to the BBC Breakfast studio, Radio 6Music studio (where Stuart Maconie and Mark Radcliffe were jabbering away) and the BBC Sport studios were next up.


The team were given the chance to see and take part in innovative digital broadcasting channels and there was no shortage of volunteers with several of the team stepping up to read the news, forecast the weather and play Question of Sport.










An exhausting but enjoyable day saw us depart Manchester for Liverpool where we booked into the Nadler Hotel. This unique hotel – once a warehouse and print works – is situated in the centre of Liverpool’s authentic, urban cool Rope Walks village.

Dinner was taken at the Old Blind School, a restaurant that had previously served as a school for blind children, a police station and a trade union headquarters.

Drink was taken at the Philharmonic Dining Rooms, which is slowly becoming my local, it seems.

With a continental breakfast to help us on our way (a paper bag with muesli and yogurt neatly stuffed in the fridge), our first call was the Museum of Liverpool.



A presentation was given by Tracy McGeagh, the Director of Marketing Communications, on Innovative Digital Practice and Audience Engagement.

A swift tour of the museum followed and then it was off for a ferry across the Mersey.

An Indian festival joined us aboard the ferry, making for a lively cruise along the river, which offered sweeping views across Liverpool’s iconic cityscape whenever the blustery wind wasn’t keeping our eyes closed.



Afternoon tea at the Hard Day’s Night hotel rounded off an excellent couple of days, with cakes and sandwiches being served in the Blake’s Restaurant (Peter Blake being the sleeve artist for the famous Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album).

PS: For more about Liverpool and some sunnier photos, just scroll down to last month’s post (Robust August)…


Nature Notes Warning

Having done Manchester on Thursday and Liverpool on Friday, I did Norfolk on Sunday – a full weekend and more! It was the start of the birdwatching season and we made our way to Titchwell.

It’s not always necessary to see stuff when visiting this reserve – just enjoying the wide expanses of water, reed beds and sandy beaches under blue skies generally does the job.


However, amidst the usual array of Titchwell specialties, there was a new tick – a couple of Black Terns flying low over the sea.



Otherwise, it was business as usual with Ruffs, Yellow Wagtail, Little Stints, a Garganey, Whimbrel and various ducks, grebes, geese, swans, plovers, snipe, waders and whatnot milling about to confirm Titchwell as a truly premier reserve.


Then there was the fell-walking club’s not-quite-fell-walk around Hopesay in Shropshire. This walk also turned up about six Red Kites, picking through a recently ploughed field for wormy delights.

Here’s Paul with the details, in case anyone fancies doing a gentle amble through some fantastic countryside – weather helps, of course, and it was fantastic on the day too!

Map:  Explorer 217 The Long Mynd & Wenlock Edge

Start Point and Parking: 

Stokesay Castle. The car park is to the rear of Stokesay Castle and the church. It is An English Heritage car park and you pay at a machine.

Grid ref: 435817 – Postcode for SatNav: SY7 9AH

The Walk:

We follow the Shropshire Way via Sibdon Carwood to Hopesay Common. This gets the climbing out of the way and is worth it for the wonderful views from the top. We then descend to Cheney Longville and cross the River Onny to Wistanstow for lunch. The pub is the Plough, which is the tap house of the Woods brewery, an independent brewery since 1980. Probably best known for Shropshire Lad.

Following lunch, we head SE crossing the A49 and the Quinney Brook, then S along the Onny valley, back to the start.










To conclude the cultural element of the month, the Flat Disc Society fired up a new season with a screen showing of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.


This little blurb from the Michigan Theatre Facebook page pretty much sums it up:

This influential German science-fiction film presents a highly stylized futuristic city where a beautiful and cultured utopia exists above a bleak underworld populated by mistreated workers. When the privileged youth Freder (Gustav Fröhlich) discovers the grim scene under the city, he becomes intent on helping the workers. He befriends the rebellious teacher Maria (Brigitte Helm), but this puts him at odds with his authoritative father, leading to greater conflict.

This film was the Giorgio Moroder restored version, which threw in a synth-rock soundtrack including Freddie Mercury, Bonnie Tyler, Pat Benetar and Adam Ant and is, quite possibly, the first ever disco remix of an entire movie.


Finally, to round off October – an enjoyable evening was spent at the Birmingham Rep to see Dead Sheep, a play about Geoffrey Howe’s bloodless revenge on Margaret Thatcher.

Here’s the poster from the Rep, and a review from Birminghampress.com by Richard Lutz:

To put this play and its title in context: Labour heavyweight Denis Healey once hilariously called being attacked by Tory politician Geoffrey Howe akin to “being savaged by a dead sheep”.

Howe, Maggie’s right hand man, was indeed placid, quiet, monk-ish and he maybe deserved the quip from the sharp-tongued Healey as they sparred across the Commons back in the eighties. But this play is about when Howe turned from dead sheep to a wolf. When sidelined by an increasingly rigid out of touch Thatcher more than a quarter of a century ago, he resigned from government and delivered a vicious attack on the flailing anti-Europe Prime Minister. She resigned soon after.

Ex BBC reporter Jonathan Maitland re-creates this episode, throwing in the delightful sub plot of Howe’s liberal wife Elspeth tangling with Maggie every time they met – like “two wasps in a jam jar” quips louche MP Alan Clark at one point. She comes across as half Lady MacBeth, half St Joan.

Paul Bradley pulls off the humbled figure of Howe to a tee – even when he wakens from his subservience to launch his fatal assault. Carol Royle is Elspeth Howe… assertive, in love with her cowed husband and still an enigma as to what part she actually played in perfecting the fatal verbal blow against the woman she detested.

As for the Maggie herself, here’s a surprise. It’s taken on by Steve Nallon who voiced the Spitting Image Thatcher three decades ago. He/She comes across as a bit of caricature, the face rigid, humourless, the gait stiff and awkward, the voice perfectly pitched. But sometimes it is a panto dame in what is a fine dark comedy play coloured by superior acting.

A trio of actors valiantly portrays some of the main players from that era: the aforesaid Alan Clark, Neil Kinnock, Downing Street spokesman Bernard Ingham, Ian Gow, Nigel Lawson and even an hilarious impression of Brian Walden, the TV front man who never could pwonounce the full wange of the alphabet. Too bad, though, there was no Denis Thatcher (only an offstage voice) or the Tarzan-cum-elephant in the Tory room, a certain Michael Heseltine.




Robust August


Liverpool should really make more of the Beatles connection – they certainly seem to underplay this card.

That one niggle aside, Liverpool is a well worth a weekend of anyone’s time in which to dip an exploratory toe.

There’s so much to see and do, it can be quite bewildering at times so its usually best to start with a few pints in one of the many pubs and bars. A bar was duly found – the Pumphouse – just one of a number of bars strung out along the Albert Dock complex (it was once the pumping station for the Dock, and now serves a decent raspberry cider).


The Pumphouse

Then some drinking partners were also found – Annie and Dave, who were en route from holidaying in Scotland.


Liverpool’s waterfront is a designated World Heritage Site, stretching from Albert Dock, through the Pier Head and up to Stanley Dock.





Up at the Pier Head can be found the Three Graces and the Four Beatles. The Three Graces line the waterfront, and comprise of the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and Port of Liverpool Building.

We ended up there at the closing of the day, and the sinking sun was in particularly fine fettle, firing up the Graces in a rather fetching light. That really is just the setting sun blazing on the Port of Liverpool Building at the top of the page.


The Four Beatles were some musically inclined blokes, suitably captured in a waterside sculpture in the act of leaving Liverpool on their way to becoming mega-stars. Fortunately, there was no proviso to this legend stating that the city would cease to exist with their exit – unlike the one imposed on the Royal Liver Building whose two fabled Liver Birds (I think they are meant to be cormorants) must stay put or Liverpool will be no more.

In John Lennon’s hand are a couple of acorns, which John and Yoko used to send world leaders to symbolize world peace. These are no run-of-the-mill English acorns but were cast from acorns found outside the Dakota Building in New York (outside of which Lennon was shot).


Being in a suitable Beatles frame of mind, we took in some of their early drinking haunts – The Grapes and the White Star – before joining merry throngs of tourists crammed in the Cavern Club. These intimate, brick-vaulted cellars were sprayed with 1960s memorabilia, and featured plenty of live tribute acts.

Later on, we ensconced ourselves in a little marquee by the river where a lively duo, Electronica, was on top form. Some great 80s stuff – with plenty of beer, great company, alongside a mighty river – is a difficult combination to beat at the best of times.

The next day, the drinking was interrupted with fresh outbreaks of culture. The Museum of Liverpool is the UK’s first museum dedicated to the history of a people – and very fine it is too. You really need a couple of visits, as there is so much to take in, with plenty of floor space given over to the port and docks, the people and all the associated creative and industrial energy that drives Liverpool.


Feeling a bit churchy, there is the Parish Church of Our Lady and St Nicholas to dip into – a little taster before savouring the twin peaks of the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Liverpool Cathedral. These two completely contrasting buildings sit comfortably on the gob-smacking spectrum of ‘sights to be seen while in Liverpool.’

Equally splendid were the Philharmonic Dining Rooms, a stately Victorian pub tiled within an inch of its life, and plush with leather sofas, stained glass, chandeliers and wood paneling – and quite possibly, the most ornate gents toilets on the planet.

Liverpool is a vibrant and distinctive city with friendly locals and great pubs. It being a Bank Holiday, there were festivals and bands all over the place.


Martin and Dave and an Empty Glass!

I just about managed to squeeze in a short visit to the International Slavery Museum before closing time – the first time I’ve been thrown out of a museum!



Annie and Marie


Marie, Bobby and Annie

Thank God for beer! Bobby and Marie – friends with Weymouth connections – joined us for another evening of unrestrained revelry with another dose of Electronica by the river before we headed back to the Cavern Club. En route was a quick drink downstairs at Eric’s bar, before the Cavern mayhem. Lots of bands appeared, doing 30-45 minute slots each, and every one slipping in a Beatles number or two. Best were the Tearaways with ex-Blondie drummer Clem Burke giving it some sticks at the back.



The New Blondie

There were a couple of hours free in the morning to check out the Francis Bacon exhibition at the Liverpool Tate, so off I plodded with my cultural head on. The exhibition entitled ‘Invisible Rooms’ featured my favourite piece of Bacon’s – Three Studies at the Base of a Crucifixion. It’s just so pastoral.three_studies_for_figures_at_the_base_of_a_crucifixion

Francis Bacon wasn’t a conventional artist (as if you couldn’t tell) but does a very nice line in warped, caged figures with thunderous oranges and reds hammered onto the canvas.

There was an accompanying display of Austrian artist, Maria Lassnig’s paintings in the gallery leading to the Bacon exhibition – lots of self-portraiture with porous and shifting boundaries (yes, I’m reading the gallery notes!)

Now for a few more piccies from ‘pool…










Queen Victoria: Is there something we should know?


Of course, a few other things occurred before Liverpool but these were much in the way of drinking sessions loosely arranged around other activities.


A great little walk was had around Lapworth (as outlined below) but – so good was the sunny weather – we shamelessly eschewed Packwood House and Baddersley Clinton for pints and pub lunches by the canal. Another time perhaps…





It was a damper affair at Halesowen FC where the mighty Yelts were taken apart by Blyth Spartans 5-0. An entertaining afternoon with a sending off to boot.


“Come on, you Yelts!!!”