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Goodbye July

Malverns

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).

Crop

Tree

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.

Glasshouse

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.”

Finally…

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!!!

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Noooooo!!!!!!

 

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.

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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.)

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Check out the talons…

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

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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

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May days

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You wouldn’t have needed boots to step out with the fell-walking club this month: a droll Cotswold stroll in blazing sunshine.

Pushing through woods thick with wild garlic (as well as some fairly miffed garlic and some indignant bluebells) and up and over rolling hills and woody glades. From Broadway, the circuit took in the villages of Buckland, Laverton, and Stanton before (the only challenging bit) clumping up Shenbarrow Hill and onto Snowshill for a pint or two before back to Broadway for some suitable regard giving.

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walkdog

It was Roy’s walk and here is his only slightly longer proposal:

Map: OS Explorer OL45 (The Cotswolds)

Start: Long stay car park Leamington Road, Broadway

GR: 101377

Walk through Broadway Village and after church though fields to Buckland and Laverton and then on to Stanton. Long climb to Shenbarrow (3 acre hill fort 700BC). Then descend to Snowshill for lunch at Snowshill Arms.

Then an afternoon climb past Brockhampton Farm due north and finishing through bluebell woods to Broadway.

Covering sections of Winchcombe Way and Cotswold Way, on mainly tracks and field paths. No mud!

Garlic

Buttercups

Breather

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Oilseed

 

A mid-week Stag-do at the Glee Club for Mark K’s forthcoming nuptials was a brilliant stage in which to celebrate in suitably boozy fashion at the Comedy Carousel.

Hosted by Andy Robinson – who provided some brilliant compering – was ably assisted by comedians Bec Hill and Sunderland’s Matt Reed.

It was a fun night with one of our heckling entourage being heckled by a heckler.

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The A-Team at the Glee Club

The final Flat Disc Society evening for the season was a trilogy of films taking inspiration from the 5th International Conference on Roundabouts in Green Bay, Wisconsin (naturally).

First up was a short film from 1943: Piccadilly Roundabout A British Council film in which a soldier in a Far Eastern post explains to his mate the special significance of Piccadilly to a Londoner.

Next was an edition of Roundabout from May 1963. Roundabout was a series of short, monthly promotional films created by the Central Office of Information for distribution across the Commonwealth. This particular edition features, among other things, the opening of the new terminal building at Kai Tak Airport in Hong Kong (now closed, but still visible across Kowloon Bay).

Finally, the main event was The Magic Roundabout’s 1972 feature film Dougal and the Blue Cat. There’s a new arrival in the Magic Garden in the form of a blue cat called Buxton, which spells trouble for the gang. Some very strange things begin to happen and it’s up to Dougal to save the day (spoiler alert: he did!)

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And finally, a birding trip to that most dead brilliant of RSPB reserves – Ynys-hir, which is Welsh for ‘dead brilliant reserve.’

Crunched up in the Dyfi valley, Ynys-hir puts out saltmarsh, oak woodlands and wetlands in tantalising array and, with a cast of thousands amongst its fauna and flora, there is always a cameo or two to savour.

Best one was the Red Kite swooping in to take Oystercatcher chick, which it then started munching away on as it swept back up into its native skies.

There was a Blue Tit bathing in the flooded siding of the railway tracks, and a pair of Pied Flycatchers seeing off a Great Spotted Woodpecker, which we were initially alerted to by the squabbling woodpecker chicks in a nearby tree hole. Some tidy Redstarts also drew more than a cursory glance being one of the UKs most splendid birds, and there were also scrunched up views of some heat-haze blurred Osprey dots in the distance.

On the top end of the view overlooking the estuary, a not so young lady asked us if we had any sweeties or goodies to spare for her companion who was struggling a bit with low blood sugar. Unfortunately, we didn’t – and said as much – to which said lady whipped out a Tunnocks chocolate wafer from her rucksack and thrust it at him.

Well, you better have this then, she said.

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Finally, to finish off the month, there was a pleasant afternoon in London wade through.

Walked through Hyde Park, with its unnervingly tame waterfowl where even a Coot was confident enough to nest on the edge of the lake (actually on the pedestrianised area surrounding the water), and swans and geese seemed happier out of the water than in it.

Coot

A couple of hours spent in the Natural History Museum is never enough but I managed to soak up the Creepy Crawlies gallery and the excellent Images of Nature exhibition.

Then it was off to the Thistle Hotel at Terminal 5 for a nice little chill-out before the morning flight to Romania…

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“April is the Cruellest Month”

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Showing at the Birmingham Rep: One Love – The Bob Marley Musical, a celebration of the rare man’s music legacy as well as dipping into more turbulent aspects of his life.

If you like this sort of thing, then it’s impossible not to enjoy such a buoyant festival of reggae and song, nicely crafted as it was alongside a few more of Bob’s colourful life episodes. The finale was a surprising mash-up of cast and audience getting down and jammin’

Here’s Lyn Gardner’s edited review from the Guardian.

Clearly made with love by writer and director Kwame Kwei-Armah, and received in the same spirit by a Birmingham audience, this musical inspired by the life and times of Jamaican musician Bob Marley may not be great theatre, but it’s undoubtedly a great night out.

That’s as much to do with the infectious pleasure of an audience hearing Marley’s many hits impressively delivered by Mitchell Brunings and a terrific band as it is with the show itself. In the programme, Kwei-Armah says that he wanted to avoid “sing-a-long-a-Bob”, but if that’s what he finally delivers in a clever final framing which casts us as the audience at the One Love peace concert in Kingston in 1978, during which Marley brought Jamaica’s warring political factions and gang leaders together, there is nothing to apologise for. Has there been a bio-musical that has sent an audience out of the theatre on quite such a high?

But while it’s satisfying musically, it’s often less sustaining dramatically. Marley deals with disputes within his band, embraces Rastafarianism and becomes a local hero in dangerous times. He was the target of an assassination attempt just before he was due to headline a free concert for the Jamaican people in December 1976.

He holes up in London, where he behaves like a womanising whiner while letting his music do the talking as he makes the album Exodus. The show loses focus and doesn’t always find a way to use the songs theatrically: Waiting in Vain/No Woman No Cry delivered as a duet between Marley and his betrayed wife, Rita (an excellent Alexia Khadime), is a rare exception.

If Brunings can’t ever quite flesh out the man, he always gives voice to Marley’s songs in a way that reminds us of a mighty talent whose music still speaks across the world, even if its creator remains stubbornly elusive.

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Pizza

Pre-Bob Snack before hitting the Rep

 

Not far from the Rep is the Crescent Theatre, which offered some prime fare in the shape of Not About Heroes, an engaging piece about the uneasy friendship between poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, as they convalesced at the Craiglockhart War Hospital.

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Some brilliant performances from Andrew Smith as a haughty but playful Sassoon, and George Bandy striking a more provincial pose with Owen.

Here’s a great review from the Little Miss Horton blog (edited a little bit): http://www.littlemisshortonblog.wordpress.com

Dulce et decorum est/Pro patria mori, penned Wilfred Owen, ‘It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.’ Or is it?

The set, created by Dan O’Neil and Keith Harris, used a sombre backdrop of silhouetted barricades merging with the harsh red sky, a constant reminder of the bloody and violent fighting in France.

Not About Heroes, is a contemporary tragedy about the two greatest war poets of World War One: Wilfred Owen who died and Siegfried Sassoon who didn’t. Stephen Macdonald’s play details the friendship between them, when they meet at a military hospital in Scotland. Told through the medium of letters and poetry, the play paints a gruesome yet sincere picture of war.

Andrew Smith embodied the poet, Siegfried Sassoon; encompassing the pacifist, the lover of golf, the broken soldier and the grief-stricken friend all at once. His easy portrayal of the character grabbed me hook, line and sinker into the tragic story line.

As Wilfred Owen, George Bandy gives a thoughtful portrayal of the war poet. The progression of Owens’ character from the ‘coward’, to the man willing to go back to the front line was done masterfully.

George Bandy, whom I spoke to after the show, spoke on great length about his role, saying: ‘This was probably the most daunting project that I have undertaken. There is nothing quite like being on stage consistently for two hours, without an ensemble to back you up, but working with Andrew I could not have felt safer. Playing Wilfred Owen has been a challenge like no other, but I would not give it up for the world. I can only hope, to have done him justice.’

And I believe they have done a great justice for their stories.

Wilfred Owen’s Draft Preface:

This book is not about heroes. English poetry is not yet fit to speak of them.

Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, majesty, dominion, or power, except War.

Above all I am not concerned with Poetry.

My subject is War, and the pity of War.

The Poetry is in the pity.

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The Flat Disc Society’s monthly offering was Wasteland, an Oscar-nominated documentary about rubbish, which was anything but. Jardim Gramacho is the world’s largest landfill, on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. It follows the artist Vik Muniz as he creates portraits of the workers used from materials scavenged from the tip.

The title is a nod to TS Eliot’s poem The Wasteland so here’s the first verse seeing as we’ve a poetry thing happening this post. Spookily, it also tips a wink to this month’s blog title so I’m really going for it:

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

According to Eliot, who wrote these famous opening lines to “The Waste Land,” April is a bastard because it leaves you hoping and wishing that spring would come, but it never really closes the deal. It is a time of year when everyone’s sick of winter and wants the light and warmth again. April usually delivers a few sunny days just to tease us and then it pisses down the rest of the month, and the whole thing’s a big disappointment. It’s a bit like watching Aston Villa.

As usual, there were also a little short features to get us settled into the rubbish theme – British Transport Films: I am a Litter Basket, a quirky educational offering, and Isle of Flowers, a documentary following the fate of a spoiled tomato – that is, a squelchy tomato discarded by a middle-class housewife, not a tomato that is given too much pocket money.

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The annual birding visit to Devon came at the end of this busy first week – a few long, sunny days by the sea – the hottest so far of the year.

Before checking in, it was necessary – nay, essential – to saunter around Exminster Marshes to the Turf, a handily placed pub on the estuary where any obligatory twitching can be undertaken on the water’s edge with a pint or two of Avocet Ale.

Staying at our favourite haunt, the Langstone Cliff Hotel, in Dawlish Warren meant we were handily placed for several forays out into the Devonshire countryside. The splendid weather lasted as we checked out Berry Head (nice Ring Ouzel in the quarry), Labrador Bay (Cirl Buntings looking good against the red-turned earth), Dawlish Warren (stunning Cornish Pasty with an early migrant Magnum to follow).

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Sticking to the pattern of previous years, it was onto Bowling Green Marsh the next day, with Woodbury Common for Dartford Warblers in the afternoon. These birds are chirpy little things that only ever surface above the gorse when you’re looking the other way. A Stoat bounded across the path on the way up to a stand of pine, and Stonechats and a Wheatear kept us entertained between Dartfords.

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Pete and I stayed an extra day, which meant we could indulge in a bit of Somerset on the way back to Brum.

Visiting the reed-laden expanses of Shapwick Fen and Ham Wall turned up a Bittern, as well as the now regular sightings of Great White Egrets. A Mink swam across one of the pools, causing widespread panic amongst the ducks and grebes. I’d not seen such wholesale panic since the English fled Mel Gibson in whatever movie he made last.

 

Managed to get some footy in – the mighty Halesowen were taking on plucky Sutton Coldfield Town in a relegation battle. It only took several hours after the match finished to realise that it was, in fact, Sutton who had won 1-0 and not Halesowen (they also play in blue…)

 

The month was book-ended with another birding sortie – this time to Cambridgeshire. Not the greatest in terms of spotting stuff but two great locations visited.

First up was a stroll through Fowlmere Nature Reserve. Natural chalk springs bubble up and feed the pools and reedbeds, which are surrounded with hawthorn scrub and crack willow. Not a great deal of birds around but plenty of butterflies such as Orange Tip and Brimstone.

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And finally onto Paxton Pits, an area of active and disused gravel pits, but also a haven of lakes, meadow, scrub, grassland and woodland. Usually packed with wildlife, especially birds. There were plenty of Cormorants and Tufted Ducks, no small amount of pigeons either, and finches and tits but no sign of Nightingales or Turtle Doves this time. Kestrels and Buzzards provided the raptor element, as did a lone, hunting Sparrowhawk but it was the Hobby that took all plaudits with its scything falcon flights over water to grasp luckless dragonflies.

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February Fun and Frollix

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After the quiet but very enjoyable heralding-in of 2017, there’s nothing quite like an Anthrax gig to open February.

The heavy metal/thrash band was in Brum at the Birmingham Institute and supported by equally impressive The Raven Age.

The Raven Age, an English metalcore band, provided a brilliant opening for Anthrax to follow with some scintillating guitar-shredding and bang-on drumming fronted by some dead-good vocal gymnastics (I’m awaiting a call from Classic Rock magazine anytime soon to review stuff).

Here’s some YouTube of The Raven Age:

…and here’s a musical cartoon from the Crow Collection:

ralphAnthrax were on form with a blistering set, as befitting a band whose reputation is already cemented in the big four quartet alongside Metallica, Megadeth and The Dooleys (actually, that last one may be Slayer).

Here’s an edited review from http://www.metalwani.com by Jack Toresen.

On February 9, 2017, I traveled the short distance to Birmingham to see Anthrax celebrate the 30th anniversary of their classic 1987 studio album ‘Among the Living’. The support act for the tour was The Raven Age, a melodic metal band featuring guitarist George Harris, the son of Iron Maiden founding member and primary songwriter Steve Harris.

The Raven Age audience enthusiasm and participation definitely started off relatively minimal and grew continuously as their set went on. However, for an opening band I feel that The Raven Age did an admirable job of warming the crowd up for what was to come, although in circumstances such as these it is difficult when you’re playing before a classic 1980s thrash band.

Anthrax performed a variety of tracks that included “Madhouse”, “Evil Twin” and “Fight ‘Em ‘Till You Can’t”. “Among the Living” came next – the title track followed directly by “Caught in a Mosh” which is one of the best 10 minutes of live music I think I’ve seen in a long time, played to a room of people who knew every word to every song.

Just under two hours flies by when the band’s technical prowess as musicians as well as their undeniable enthusiasm as musical performers draws you in.

To conclude, Anthrax’s performance at the Birmingham Institute was very, very good. The Raven Age was a welcome opener, and I’m looking forward to seeing them again with Iron Maiden.

It was so good to see that they got the recognition they deserved on that night. If you’re seeing Anthrax this year, and especially on this tour, you’re in for a treat.

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Anthrax proved to be a gentler emotional interlude than going to see Birmingham City beat Fulham 1-0 as part of Dave’s ongoing 50th celebrations. Dave was the half-time guest of honour and presented with a signed football shirt and stuff on the pitch. (Never mind Classic Rock – I should be writing for Four Four Two).

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dave

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For my own more modest birthday celebrations, a crawl around the Jewellery Quarter did the trick, gathering in the Rose Villa Tavern and ending up with a highly-recommended Black Shack Chicken in the Church. That was lunch in a pub, not a sacrifice at the altar…

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The February film on offer from the Flat Disc Society’s Film Club was a Swedish teenage lesbian romp, which garnered great reviews from Rotten Tomatoes website with a 90% liking on the Tomatometer and an unusually large club attendance on the night. The Critics Consensus: a naturalistic depiction of teenage life, Show Me Love has a charming, authentic feel.

Here’s the blurb from the Tomatoes: This coming-of-age comedy is set in a sleepy little Swedish town called Åmål — the most boring place on Earth according to adolescent Agnes. Agnes is not able to make friends at school. She’s in love with Elin, but no one knows about it except her computer.

A short film, Talk, preceded the main feature: Birger is old and retired from work. Still, he goes back to work since he has nothing else to do. Back home he gets a rare visitor: a girl from Hare Krishna recruiting new members. But his need for human contact proves to be overwhelming for the girl.

If my Aunt Florrie had called instead with her bible, it would have been a different outcome, you can be sure…

 

Which left a final weekend for a bit of a ramble in Mamble.

Mamble is a village in Worcestershire in the Malvern Hills district, somewhere between Bewdley and Tenbury Wells. It was also in the lower division of the Doddingtree Hundred – not a football league but a huge slice of land carved up during William the Conqueror’s day and handed to his standard bearer as a reward for bearing his standard during the Norman Conquest.

Nice work, if you can get it – a nice chunk of land for waving a flag.

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house

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All penned in

The poet John Drinkwater penned a poem about the village of Mamble, spookingly called Mamble:

I never went to Mamble
that lies above the Teme,
so I wonder who’s in Mamble,
and whether people seem
who breed and brew along there
as lazy as the name,
and whether any song there
sets alehouse wits aflame.

The finger-post say Mamble,
and that is all I know,
of the narrow road to Mamble,
and should I turn to go
to that place of lazy token,
that lies above the Teme,
there might be a Mamble broken
that was lissom in a dream.

So leave the road to Mamble
and take another road
to as good a place as Mamble
be it lazy as a toad;
who travels Worcester County
takes any place that comes,
when April tosses bounty
to the cherries and the plums.

The walk itself was brutally muddy but, in the tradition of all great rambles, it was bracing! Dragging ourselves through mud and sludge, over stiles and across fields, petting ponies and carrying little dogs. We trampled our way through the endearingly entitled little village of Neen Solars which, according to Wikipedia, boasts a phone box!

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Gary to the rescue

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Liz often needed a good defibrillating

 

A welcome lunch awaited at the 17th century Sun & Slipper Inn. No song set alehouse wits aflame but the excellent bill of fare had many cooing with delight – slabs of roast beef dinners and salmon steaks stuffed many a gill.

 

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April Foolery

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Our annual trip to Devon kicked off on the 1st of the month and a long weekend lay in wait for some walking, birding and boozing.

It was the WMBC’s spring foray into darkest Devon, and before joining the rest of the group at the Best Western Passage Hotel in Kingsteignton, Pete and I ran up a few hours in Haldon Forest Park.

Clocking the Siskins and Coal Tits on the feeders, we then took one of the circular trails through the forest, detouring slightly to visit the raptor viewpoint from which we could hear a thrush but little else.

Exminster Marshes proved more profitable with the poster boy for the day – a Short-eared Owl quartering the fields not far from the car park.

The marshes are always a good diversion with stretches of marsh (the clue’s in the name) and squelchy grass fields spanning the points between the railway lines to the canal.

A pint of Yellowhammer ale in the Turf Hotel after a yomp to the estuary shore supplied all the criteria of our initial aims. A few waders pootled around the mudflats as we quaffed some ale and made inroads on huge slabs of fruit cake (a staple accompaniment on a par with scratchings and peanuts).

The next day and a very similar (but not unwelcome) itinerary to previous years with a first stop at Berry Head for Cirl Buntings and Wheatear, then Broadsands for Coffee and Pasties, and Dawlish Warren for Whatever the Wind Blew In.

Berry Head was in much better condition than last year without the howling rain and crashing wind. The buntings weren’t showing particularly well, but some sprightly Wheatears were flitting around by the quarry.

Cliffs

BerryHead

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PoopScoopNeeded

Poop-Scoop needed!

Stroll

We returned to the car park and left 22 minutes past our allotted 2 hour stay and were subsequently fined £85 by the marauding car park company via their CCTV. Rip-off doesn’t come close so a strongly worded letter must surely be in the offing.

Broadsands has a very convenient café from which to view the sea for the lazy watcher, and much to enjoy around its little circular shoreline. A pair of Peregrines bombed through overhead, and a Kestrel stuck to the script, hovering above the lower slopes of the surrounding hillside.

Train

At Dawlish Warren, the walking took us over the sapping dunes alongside the golf course and onto the hide facing across the strand and shoreline. Nothing out of the ordinary but the ordinary is always welcome with waders, plovers, gulls, mergansers, egrets and terns tearing up the place.

On Sunday, we took off for Bowling Green Marsh on the east bank of the Exe Estuary. Plenty of waterbirds crowded the grassy banks and swirled around in the pools. BGM overlooks the Clyst and the rising tide often pushes waders off the mudflats. The tide was taking a time-out when we got there, many of the birds blurry in the distance.

Phil

So it was off to the fern and gorse of Woodbury Common for Dartford Warblers and a general mooch about, catching the odd glimpse of these elusive little perks of a bird as they ducked and dived in the undergrowth.

Woodbury

Woodbury2

Having stayed overnight at the Manor Hotel in Exmouth, we made the slow run back to Brum via Ham Wall and Shapwick Fen in Somerset. Lots of Great White Egrets, a Bittern and Glossy Ibis provided a decent haul in between the prolonged showers (actually, prolonged drenching, more like).

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Glastonbury in the distance

Pete

The Rotter’s Club, that most excellent coming-of-age novel by Jonathan Coe, was being adapted at the Birmingham Rep. A World Premiere, no less (according to the flyer).

Always a sucker for a World Premiere, I roped in Steve B and we popped along for the show, performed by the Rep’s very able and talented youth theatre.

Here’s some of the review by Richard Lutz and a photo from the Birmingham Press website: http://thebirminghampress.com:

 

The Rotters’ Club: Sparky, cheeky and fresh faced in a changing world

There’s a telling photograph on the cover of The Rotters’ Club theatre programme. It shows a group of mid-seventies grammar school boys in Birmingham: cocky, ready to roll, happy to pose and be posey in front of the camera. They’re the aspirational class lads. And Jonathan Coe’s novel brought their hopes, anxieties and fantasies sharply into focus in his successful novel of the same name.

Rotters'Now it comes to The Birmingham Rep. And what a pleasure it is to see a Birmingham story, written by a Birmingham writer, staging the premiere in a Birmingham theatre by a young troupe of…you guessed it…Birmingham actors.

It’s never easy to transplant a book into a play. Many times it fails. This one doesn’t. The novel’s context is stripped away by adaptor Richard Cameron leaving us with what has to be the bare bones of Coe’s book and its era: From Callaghan to Thatcher, from the end of frugality to the pub bombings, from emerging prosperity to the Longbridge strikes and even from the ennui of prog music to the anger and spit of the punk generation.

The transformation is told through the eyes of Ben Trotter clearly a youthful Jonathan Coe – who loves his music, loves his dream girl and has an even more deep love for his grammar school pals (Coe himself was a King Edward lad).

The young cast, some of them in their teens, acquit themselves well: refreshing, vigorous, foul mouthed, sparky and, for the boys at least, fetid, sweaty and, of course, obsessed by sex.

Leading the pack is Charlie Mills as Ben, a south Birmingham shaggy-haired lad whose daily path on the number 62 bus takes him from post-war family complacency to the more rigorous world of school. He experiences the universe of changing music, the anger of politics, the ugliness of racism and, through a family tragedy, the vileness of the IRA murders in the city in 1974. There is growth and there is the allure of the future. Mills does teenage yearnings and anxieties very well. An A for him.

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Other cast members flesh things out – Jasmin Melissa Hylton as the young teenager who longs for her older married lover and Haris Myers has a nasty sting as a fresh-faced proto National Front supporter. All thankfully use the Brummie accent, that only adds to the sense of place.

So, full marks for this cast from The Young Rep troupe. They had to deal with the stripping back of a good novel but in all a production worth seeing and one for this city to be proud of.

 

Gorse

The month’s fell-walk ventured into the heady heights of Leicestershire, a county no doubt agog with impending Premiership acclaim.

Here’s Adrian with his usual brief account:

Welcome to details of the next excursion this time to the pleasant hilly countryside of Leicestershire.  Several miles of undulating loveliness with (on a bright day) some excellent views to be had. There is some Geology for the rock heads, some archaeology for me, something for the steam heads and a bit of tarmac for Roy. And dur dur dur dur, dur dur:  a surprise feature on the walk. Might do a dur dur dur dur, dur dur surprise feature bit on walks from now on. 

Burrough Hill, Leicestershire

Start: 10.00 am: Burrough Hill car park

GR: SK 766115

Map: Explorer sheet 246

Postcode for Sat Navs: LE14 2QZ

The walk:

We end up going through the Hill Fort at the end so will probably not dwell there at the start although views from there are glorious on a bright day. Anyway if I start rabbiting on about the Iron Age at the end of the walk instead of the beginning, you can all make your excuses and leave or just sneak off behind my back so I am left talking to myself.  

From the Hill Fort area we pick up the Old Dalby road. Sorry Roy don’t get too excited it was grassed over decades ago you will have to wait a bit longer for some tarmac. We go through a pleasant wood then turn to pick up the path to Somerby taking in the lovely Leicestershire countryside. The beer at the Saddle in Twyford where we shall go for lunch is pretty good. It must be. It is after a visit there that most people have spotted the Twyford Panther roaming in the village. Green King IPA was on last time I was there at Easter as well as some local panther-seeing inducing brews.     

Anyway we make our way out of Somerby and Roy finally gets a bit of tarmac to walk on. I am then in two minds. No, not that of a fool or an idiot. There are two paths we could take. The one slightly longer but does disguise this walk’s dur dur dur dur, dur dur surprise feature for longer and may be the more pleasant. If there is time I shall take the slightly longer route (Editor’s note: we did). Either way we end up at White House Farm. From there we go through a very pleasant shallow valley to: dur dur dur dur, dur dur – THIS WALK’S SURPRISE FEATURE.

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The Surprise Feature…

I could give details about it but then it wouldn’t be a surprise would it. From dur dur dur dur, dur dur THIS WALKS SURPRISE FEATURE, we make us way to nearby Twyford and the aforementioned pub The Saddle. 

Bridge2

Crops2

Crops

Details of pub menu are given below at the bottom. You can try and book your order if you want to. Might be best, as they may feel swamped otherwise. (Editor’s note: no point – they only had sandwiches on).

 From the Saddle it is a little uphill but we go through some lovely open country side. Crossing the bed of the old railway line and eventually to the edge of the Church at Burrough Hill. From there we head for the Hill Fort, which we do have to climb up to. It took me 1 hour and 20 from the Saddle to the top of the Hill fort last time I did it. That was by no means pushing it. So we should do that stretch in well less than a couple of hours. But you do then have time to take in the Hill Fort and its glorious setting and surroundings. There is a toposcope in one corner of the fort. You can see back to a walk we did a few years ago just outside Leicester where the newly elected Chairman of the club won the annual raffle for a year’s subscription of a magazine. You will pass the bottom end of that walk on the A46.

Road               

This walk does undulate. I was originally going to push on from Twyford to the Carrington pub at Ashby Folville. But that would push the walk too far and the Carrington has been taken over by someone who wants to project manage it. Project Management in the civil service usually means a bloody shambles.      

Cheers Adrian!

 

Bonus bird trip time: Off to Woolston Eyes in Cheshire to see what was occurring at this RSPB reserve, a superb wetland habitat, which lies next to the Manchester Ship Canal and can only be reached by scurrying across the Mersey via a steel bridge.

The eyes are beds that were (and still are) used for holding pumped dredgings from the canal. No3 bed is the main part of the reserve, and is actually an island accessible by a bridge with a secure gate. Pochard, Teal and Tufted Duck milled around on the pools; some Shoveler, Shelduck, and a couple of Little Grebes also did their bit. However, the flagship species is the Black-necked Grebe, and there were several of these bonny little birds bobbing along in the water.

Then it was off to a new reserve for the afternoon – Burton Mere Wetlands, which straddles the border between England and Wales on the Dee Estuary.

It was worth going just for the bluebells that floored the forest. Here’s a selection:

Bluebells4

Bluebells3

Bluebells2

Bluebells

Burton Mere has been crafted by many years of hard work, which has restored reedbeds, fenland and farmland into a unique blended landscape. An impressive Visitors’ Centre leads out onto boardwalks and trails, which lead up past an Iron Age Hill Fort to Burton Point, affording wide, sweeping views over the estuary.

As well as the usual medley of waterfowl, a cluster of Yellow Wagtails proved to be a highlight, flitting between goose-laden grasses and often perching on the wire fencing.

BurtonMere

 

The month’s Flat Disc Society theme was nuclear catastrophes (next month: rom-coms) marking the 30th anniversary of the disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near Pripyat, Ukraine.

First up was a documentary, The Battle for Chernobyl, to get us in the mood. Then Threads – Barry Hines’ controversial 1984 film examining the effects of nuclear war by following two Sheffield families. Barry Hines died last month, and is best known for his novel A Kestrel for a Knave, filmed as Kes.

Threads was pretty meaty but if you want a more thorough review, here’s the lowdown from http://tvtropes.org:

“In an urban society, everything connects. Each person’s needs are fed by the skills of many others. Our lives are woven together in a fabric. But the connections that make society strong, also make it vulnerable.”

Threads, a 1984 docudrama produced by the BBC. Britain has quite the history of post-apocalyptic fiction on its DVD and book shelves, and Threads is amongst the most disturbing examples.

The film depicts the terrifying consequences of nuclear warfare upon an unsuspecting world. Set mainly in Sheffieldduring the height of the Cold War, Threads follows two families, amongst the other members of their town, as they deal with the absolute destruction of their society as a result of nuclear war with the Soviet Union (which at the time of release was somewhat more likely than it is today). The findings of the 1955 Strath Report noted that the UK was singularly vulnerable to a nuclear exchange due to the country’s small size, high urban population, and dependency upon food-imports. The film reflects this fairly accurate assessment of the UK’s likely situation with what the uninformed might call a hopeless and pessimistic outset – ending with a medieval world where agriculture predominates, starvation is ever-present, modern medicine doesn’t exist, martial law prevails, capital punishment is routine, children are undereducated savages, the ozone layer is gone, and Survival Of The Fittest is the only way to get by.

To any would-be viewers: if you’re looking for a story with a happy or hopeful ending this movie is not the way to go, and a strong stomach is pretty much mandatory. Its strict adherence to a realistic portrayal of nuclear war and its after-effects makes it one of the scariest films ever made.

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March Mutterings

A quote to start – mainly to divert attention away from a lack-lustre month…

“Sobriety diminishes, discriminates and says no; drunkenness expands, unites and says yes.”

William James – The Varieties of Religious Experiences

Foxy

I managed to finish the illustrations for another children’s book this year.

This one’s called Ollie Collie’s Daydream by Hermione Bailey, and above is one of the panels, which won’t make the slightest bit of sense out of context. It’s about a daydreaming collie (they should put that in the title) who has to keep counting his sheep in case Freddie the Fox steals them away.

I already completed the illustrations for George and the New Noise earlier in the year – and pinched the eponymous hero for my Christmas greetings card. Here’s another sampler:

Leglick

So you can see, there wasn’t a great deal going on this month, and I‘m just looking for filler really.

March did actually have much to recommend it but just about everything clashed with everything else. However, when paying £80 (including the insufferable booking fee) for Great Britain’s clash with Japan in the Davis Cup, the tennis obviously held sway.

We saw a mammoth five-hour match between Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori in which the Brit prevailed 7-5 7-6 (8-6) 3-6 4-6 6-3

Special mention to a tremendous atmosphere at the Barclaycard Arena, helped in no small measure by the rousing vocals of the Stirling Uni Barmy Army, who provided a brilliant backdrop to the match.

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P1010221

 

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Now it’s time for Film Club:

Following on from the Golden Raspberry Awards (Fifty Shades of Grey picked up the most awards including Worst Picture) the Flat Disc Society this month marked the anniversary of the first Golden Raspberry Awards evening (31st March 1981) by screening Robert Greenwald’s musical fantasy Xanadu, one of the two films that inspired the event.

 

It was truly awful – here’s the lowdown from Wiki:

 

A box office flop, Xanadu earned mixed to negative critical reviews and was an inspiration for the creation of the Golden Raspberry Awards to memorialize the worst films of the year. Despite the lacklustre performance of the film, the soundtrack album became a huge commercial success around the world, and was certified double platinum in the United States. The song “Magic” was a U.S. number one hit for Newton-John, and the title track (by Newton-John and the Electric Light Orchestra) reached number one in the UK and several other countries around the world.

 

As usual, an unusual short feature was shown first – Rita Heyworth is Stayin’ Alive – a YouTube production.

Xanadu’s plot is inspired by Down to Earth (1947), which starred Rita Heyworth (both Hayworth and Newton-John play the mythological Greek muse Terpsichore).

 

After this, I needed to source a deeper film with lots of killings and blood and slaughter – something rom-comish.

Deadpool was brilliant.

 

 

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February Frollix

Bear

The Dearne Valley was the venue of choice this month, and the WMBC (West Midland Bird Club – keep up!) left Birmingham on a chilly and rainy morning for the Old Moor Nature Reserve.

This reserve is based around several lakes, reed beds and marshes with various trails winding between them.

Not far from Barnsley, Old Moor is impressively well maintained with good facilities for the visitor. Entered through the visitor centre (an old converted farm building) an essential first stop – not counting the café – is the small garden it leads onto.

There was an impressive selection of garden birds ebbing and floing between the feeding stations and the backdrop of bushes and shrubbery – Bullfinches, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Yellowhammers, Tree Sparrows, Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Siskins, plus the usual tits including a Willow Tit. In fact, just about the entire cast from the Ladybird Book of Garden Birds.

There are several hides based on the land cutting through the middle of the main lakes and, as would be expected, there was an equally impressive array of wetland birds on the waters – Goosanders, Widgeon, Teal, Goldeneye, Cormorants and plenty of other ducks, geese, swans and gulls.

Old Moor certainly has enough for a good day’s mooching, and we even copped a Barn Owl just before leaving.

I’m short on photos this month, so here’s another cartoon to lead us onto the cultural bit.

colliehalf

 

A bit of theatre seldom goes amiss, especially when staging the Green Day musical, American Idiot. Dave, Padge and myself took our seats for an enjoyable performance at The Old Joint Stock Theatre.

The Old Joint Stock was originally designed as a library before becoming the Birmingham Joint Stock Bank. Lloyds Bank then took it over in 1889 – the same year that Birmingham officially became a city.

Making a feature of the original fixtures and fittings, the high windowed dome and massive front windows, the Old Joint Stock has now evolved into a welcoming old pub (it is also a very enthusiastic throwing-out pub when last orders are called).

American Idiot is a stage adaption of Green Day’s Rock Opera, American idiot, and includes all the songs from their landmark album (also spookily called American Idiot).

It was an bustling and energetic show performed by the very creative Old Joint Stock Musical Theatre Company, who probably only need to work on a snappier company title to go with their vibrant mix of dance and music numbers.

Better throw in another ‘toon before the walking photos kick in.

This is one of the early ones from the Crow Collection.

black-widow

The Film Club – Flat Disc Society’s – offering was a little hairy this month: The Hairdresser’s Husband.

Here’s a brief rundown from entertainment website http://www.avclub.com

As a young boy, the hero in Patrice Leconte’s The Hairdresser’s Husband dashes out to the barbershop at every opportunity, no matter whether his hair is already cropped to a trim quarter-inch. For him, the place carries sensual associations that are endlessly intoxicating, from the subtle aura of shampoo and perfume to the lusty power of the generously endowed women wielding the scissors. One day, he makes an announcement: When he grows up, he aspires to marry a hairdresser. And in spite of his family’s horrified response, he goes on to do exactly that. What better dream than to find the thing that makes you happiest in the world and commit yourself wholly to it?

We don’t know what happened in the decades since childhood, but by the time that barbershop-loving boy has grown up to be played by the charming Jean Rochefort, he’s so certain of what he wants that he proposes to gorgeous barbershop proprietor Anna Galiena the moment he sits in her chair. Remarkably, it only takes a couple more visits for her to accept.

The remainder of The Hairdresser’s Husband is a tribute to the simplicity of their relationship: They enjoy each other’s company. They dance. They make love at every opportunity. The only time they ever fight is over a trivial item in the tabloids, but the sting is enough to keep Rochefort from ensuring it never happens again. If for nothing other than Rochefort’s mesmerizing interpretive-dance sequences, the film succeeds swimmingly.

It was a short and enjoyable little film, much like one of those slim novels where nothing much happens but you carry on reading nevertheless as it’s just a pleasant little diversion. As diversions go, it went well.

There was also another short feature of a hairy persuasion – Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience: Hairdresser.

The stand-up comedian goes straight from the stage to the hair and beauty salon, trying out spray tans and bob cuts along the way. Quite funny but Rhod should concentrate on his roots.

ThousandStars

ER Hughes, Night with her train of Stars, 1912 (Birmingham Museums).

 

I just managed to catch the latest exhibition at the Gas Hall before it finished on Sunday.

Enchanted Dreams was the first ever exhibition dedicated to ER Hughes, a lesser-known light of the famous Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

The art of Edward Robert Hughes has been largely overlooked compared to his rakish familiars, and the exhibition brought together various strands of his oeuvre (basically: his work – one is allowed certain pretensions when discussing culture) with the red chalk drawings equally as compelling as the more familiar watercolour pieces.

Birmingham is world famous for its collection of Pre-Raphaelite works, and one of its most popular paintings is by ER: Night with her Train of Stars. I also liked the slightly less mystical rotting corpse in a ditch – ‘Oh, What’s That in the Hollow…?’), The Valkyrie’s Vigil, and a sort of hippy minstrel with piercing blue eyes – Blondel’s Quest.

Hollow

ER Hughes, ‘Oh, What’s That in the Hollow…?,’ 1893 (Royal Watercolour Society).

Hippy

Valk

 

Night with her Train of Stars was inspired by this poem by William Ernest Henley who was musing on death (as you do) and likening it to a damn good sleep.

Margaritae Sorori

A LATE lark twitters from the quiet skies:
And from the west,
Where the sun, his day’s work ended,
Lingers as in content,
There falls on the old, gray city
An influence luminous and serene,
A shining peace.

The smoke ascends
In a rosy-and-golden haze. The spires
Shine and are changed. In the valley
Shadows rise. The lark sings on. The sun,
Closing his benediction,
Sinks, and the darkening air
Thrills with a sense of the triumphing night–
Night with her train of stars
And her great gift of sleep.

So be my passing!
My task accomplish’d and the long day done,
My wages taken, and in my heart
Some late lark singing,
Let me be gather’d to the quiet west,
The sundown splendid and serene,
Death.

Poem alert: Henley also penned the oft-quoted Invictus – you know, captain of my soul and all that.

Graveyard

I thought an appropriate photo from Haselour Church would link the Henley poem to our latest walk.

 

Stuart led the line with this jaunty little romp across the Warwick shire from the charmingly clichéd market town of Alcester

 

Location gumpf: GR: SP088572. Postcode for SatNav: B49 5BA.

Head south through Oversley Green to cross A46. Pass Oversley Wood and head north passing through Exhall to recross A46 to Haselour (walking past the village stocks) and climbing up towards Haselour church for some good views (altitude a dizzy 70 metres).

Descend northwards to cross River Alne for lunch in Great Alne at the Mother Huff Cap pub. Good food and beer (the Purity Brewery is a short distance northwards).

After lunch a short road walk northwards before following Arden/Heart of England/Monarchs Way westwards to return to Alcester.

When Stuart pre-walked the route about a fortnight ago some of the fields and minor roads north of Haselour were under water. The recent dry spell flood levels had receded but parts of the walk were very muddy. It was!

TrevBook

Trev just couldn’t put it down

telelibrary

Yes, it actually was the library

Gatewalk

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Haselour Church

WindingRd

The long and winding path

ToughWalking