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January Commentary 2018

ColdBeers

Spent the New Year in Matlock with the family (that’s not Matlock above, by the way…)

Situated on the edge of the Peak District, Matlock does a nice line in rocky outcrops, underlying bedrock and watercourses. The River Derwent winds its way through nearby Matlock Bath, and appears to possess something of a dogged nature, opting to cut its way through a limestone gorge rather than follow an easier route to the east. Geologists may suggest landslips or glaciation would account for this but sometimes a river just wants to get out of its comfort zone.

MatlockBath

Annie and Sarah in need of some winter sun

Matlock Bath developed as a spa town when thermal springs were discovered there, and both John Ruskin and Lord Byron – celebrities in their day – popped over to check the waters out. Not long after, they may well have been inspired to a bit of canvas daubing and sonnet scribbling.

This may be an opportune time to introduce a few notable quotes from Lord Byron:

Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine.

Friendship may, and often does, grow into love, but love never subsides into friendship.

The great art of life is sensation, to feel that we exist, even in pain.

There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.

I only go out to get me a fresh appetite for being alone.

Lots of necessary drinking took place with an inevitable curry at Maazi’s – a contemporary Indian restaurant set in a former cinema with an incongruous tuk-tuk plonked neatly above the main entrance.

TukTuk

An incongruous tuk-tuk

 

I’m not sure if Alan Bennett ever went to Matlock Bath (I’m betting he has) but in his memoir, Keeping On Keeping On, he borrows a line from the poet R. S. Thomas on political correctness, which is worth an airing:

I am not going to affect the livery

Of the times’ prudery.

 

That’s enough culture to be going on with. How to follow a great few days in the Peak District? I would have thought going to a Pen Museum would be the obvious answer.

PenMus

Pen Museum – Oosoom

Based in a former pen factory, the wittily entitled Pen Museum celebrates the story of how our modern pens evolved from quill to steel nib to fountain pen.

Birmingham’s factories supplied the majority of pens to people all over the world with thousands of skilled craftsmen and women employed in the industry. Apart from anything else, it encouraged many who previously could not afford to write to develop literacy skills.

Tucked away in the Jewelry Quarter, it is a quirky little museum packed with exhibitions and fascinating bits and pieces.

Of course, the whole business collapsed after the invention of that pesky little Biro – but that’s another story…

pen

englandexplore.com/birmingham

 

The annual trip out to Rutland Water turned up its usual blend of birds and banter but we didn’t manage to cover as much ground as usual. This was probably due to a surfeit of waterfowl splashing around on the water, and we enjoyed particularly good views of the bonny Smew (it’s a duck!)

Biders

There must be something feathery out there…

There also seemed to be more waterfowl than ever ducking and dabbling around the pools in huge numbers – just about every species of duck you would expect to see including Pintail and Goldeneye. A sneaky Caspian Gull also managed to immerse itself in with a flock of floating gulls until some sharp-eyed birders dug it out.

A few Red Kites were spotted en route to Rutland in the morning. On the return journey, further diversion was provided when a loud crack came from the roof of the coach. Some air-conditioning mechanism had been torn loose, and there was a bit of a cold journey back for some.

One bird at Rutland that did get pulses racing – plus a fair bit of jostling and jousting in the hide – was that splendid little wader, the Whimbrel.

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Always a bit of a star whenever seen in the UK, they seem ten-a-penny in the Canary Islands. (This is a lazy little tie-in to that other annual pilgrimage of ours – a cheeky week in the sun!)

Hotel

Arrecife Gran Hotel & Spa

Lanzarote was the island of choice this year and although not overly sunny and hot, there was still enough warmth for shorts and T-shirts during the day, and a fleece in the evenings.

SBLocal

Steve and I stayed at the Arrecife Gran Hotel & Spa. Located on the front and alongside the harbour, overlooking the Reducto Beach. It is the biggest landmark on the skyline with seventeen floors (we were on the sixteenth, just below the panoramic bar!)

Drink!

HotelSpa

The capital of Lanzarote, Arrecife was once a small fishing village – boats could be hidden behind the black volcanic reefs to deter pirate attacks.

Another defensive stronghold to keep out the pirates was just along from the hotel, the Castillo de San Jose, a historic fortress now housing contemporary art exhibitions in the barrel-vaulted rooms that were once used to store powder.

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Castillo de San Jose

LanzoFC

“Eat my goal!”

On Sunday, we went to watch Lanzarote FC play the Villa.

Brad Cockerell (the son of a friend of a brother) plays in midfield for Lanzarote’s top team but unfortunately he wasn’t on the pitch as they went down 0-1 in the last minute to Villa Santa Brigida.

The neighbouring resorts of Costa Teguise and Puerto del Carmen are all within easy reach of Arrecife. Certain levels of exploration were required, which took in several bars along the way.

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Great Grey Shrike at Costa Teguise

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Steve finds his spiritual home

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As do I

Puerto del Carmen was within walking distance along the coastal pathway that sneaked around the airport. Flitting around the rocky beaches were more Whimbrel, Turnstones and Sanderlings, which provided the ornithological diversion between beers.

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Sanderling

Bar-tailed-Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit

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Whimbrel

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Ringed Plover

Compare

Grey Plover

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

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Marina

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

SanityBook

http://thesanitycompany.co.uk/product.php?id=8

After the publication of the children’s book, it seemed of only natural to attend the Wolverhampton Literary Festival at the end of the month.

At first I thought it would be a good opportunity to discuss the metric structure of Byron’s love poetry with kindred spirits – or possibly to interrogate the conflicting interpretations of Kafka’s Metamorphosis.

But really I wanted to go so I could ride on the tram.

There were a couple of very good talks to attend – a passionate delivery on the merits of writing groups by the Oldbury Writing Group, and a interesting discussion given by a panel of self-published authors, which provided much grist to this mill.

Now, here’s a little extra plug for my own novel published a couple of years ago (in the very unlikely event that anyone missed this little gem!)

Cover

Please read the amazon reviews first though – it definitely isn’t a children’s book despite one friend accidentally ordering several copies for her children’s library!

 

The Flat Disc Society’s film offering this month was this excellent choice:

Madre

It scored 93% on the Tomatometer – and here’s a review by Hal Erickson from the Rotten Tomatoes website:

John Huston’s 1948 treasure-hunt classic begins as drifter Fred Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart), down and out in Mexico, impulsively spends his last bit of dough on a lottery ticket. Later on, Dobbs and fellow indigent Curtin (Tim Holt) seek shelter in a cheap flophouse and meet Howard (Walter Huston), a toothless, garrulous old coot who regales them with stories about prospecting for gold.

Forcibly collecting their pay from their shifty boss, Dobbs and Curtin combine this money with Dobbs’s unexpected windfall from a lottery ticket and, together with Howard, buy the tools for a prospecting expedition. Dobbs has pledged that anything they dig up will be split three ways, but Howard, who’s heard that song before, doesn’t quite swallow this.

As the gold is mined and measured, Dobbs grows increasingly paranoid and distrustful, and the men gradually turn against each other on the way toward a bitterly ironic conclusion. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a superior morality play and one of the best movie treatments of the corrosiveness of greed.

Huston keeps a typically light and entertaining touch despite the strong theme, for which he won Oscars for both Director and Screenplay, as well as a supporting award for his father Walter, making Walter, John, and Anjelica Huston the only three generations of one family all to win Oscars.

 

There was a short introductory cartoon, Bugs Bunny Rides Again, to start things off – one of the first cartoons to pair Bugs and Yosemite Sam who faced off in the Western town of Rising Gorge.

 

That’s all folks!

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December Splendour

Merry-Christmas!

Yes, let’s squeeze another gig in, why don’t we?

Following Queen’s regal offering on the previous evening, pop punk-alternative rock-pop rock-punk rock-skate punk-emo pop-post grunge-emo band, Good Charlotte went at their set-list with renowned vigour, and not a little mascara. The gig was at the 02 Academy, supported by Against The Current.

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After more than two decades on the scene, Good Charlotte proved they’re still relevant with lots of younger fans singing and dancing around to their hits. There were also some significantly older fans that should have known better – dad dancing is not a prerequisite when attending these sorts of gigs.
The Maryland band, formed around the Madden twins, opened the sold-out show with hit The Anthem, which had even the oldest members in the crowd jumping around like teenagers (like I said: dad dancing!!!)

This song was followed by The Story of my Old Man, My Bloody Valentine, and Boys and Girls – which every Good Charlotte fan knows the words to (but I don’t, as I’m busy googling this set list).

The final set hit its stride with Dance Floor Anthem, I Just Wanna Live, The River, and finally Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous.

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The final bird trip of the year was to Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire (loved for the biggest skies and the tiniest creatures).

Wicken Fen is one of Britain’s oldest nature reserves, and has been a National Trust property since 1899.

We first visited this site a few years ago and, despite seemingly having no shortage of wide open spaces and reed beds, we saw very little of note.

It seemed a similar story this time around although there were plenty of Kestrels about but not a great deal else.

Pete and I took an extra long walk that took in the Reach Lode, before doubling back into the reserve and checking out The Mere and Sedge Fen.

It was towards the end of the day, with dusk pooling, that we saw the first Marsh Harriers homing in on their roost for the night. Top sighting though was the male Hen Harrier, which elbowed its way over the fen before settling down and going to reed bed. A splendid view of a splendid bird (as can be seen from the RSPB’s ID guide above).

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An evening of laughs with the Wax Elephant comedy night was to be had at a new venue – the Dark Horse in Moseley, with Craig on the bill with Jack ‘n’ Andy and Paul Tonkinson – plus a guest appearance from Joe Lycett.  The club had a very friendly atmosphere, and was held in rooms above the pub. Further ale and banter was to be had downstairs afterwards with open mic entertainment that took us sailing past midnight (rebellious or what?)

Darkness-SQ

It seems to be all about gigs at the moment, and next up was a return to the 02 Academy for a stonking show by The Darkness.

The Blackfoot Gypsies did a decent enough job as warm up before Darkness took the stage, the shy and retiring Justin Hawkins kept his appearance pretty much low profile with a sparkly, spangly cape and tight turquoise cat suit.

The Darkness are good fun to watch but they also have the necessary hard rock credentials to strip away any pretensions of a novelty act. Justin Hawkins is an engaging frontman – few can shriek as fetchingly as he – and he obviously enjoyed the banter with the sell-out crowd.

It was interesting (to me, at least) that the drummer of Darkness was Rufus Taylor, the son of Queen stickman Roger, who I had seen hitting the drums just the other week in the Birmingham Arena.

The hits were belted out (if there was a ballad in there too – it was also belted out) – I Believe In A Thing Called Love, One Way Ticket and, of course, Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End).

 

Before the Film Club, it was time to off-piste and watch something totally mainstream. Justice League…

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…before the Flat Disc Film Club reigned us in for more challenging reels. This month’s festive feature was Home For Christmas, a Norwegian yuletide yarn that Wikipedia will now explain:

The film follows several different Christmas celebrations in the small Norwegian town of Skogli. Paul is a thirty-three-year-old labourer who marches into his doctor’s office demanding a prescription, then proceeds to lay bare all his woes. The doctor is beleaguered by his own marital and financial difficulties (he’s left his upset wife to work emergency calls on Christmas Eve). There’s also an elderly man preparing an esoteric ritual, a vagrant who runs into an old flame, a middle-aged couple in the throes of passion, a boy hopelessly in love with his Muslim neighbor, and a young émigré couple whose car breaks down as the woman goes into labour.

Home_for_Christmas_poster

A short feature, Every Day Except Christmas, introduced the characters, and sights and sounds at London’s Covent Garden market in a bygone era (1957). The style of the documentary was ground-breaking at the time, showing working class Britain in the 1950s going about their business in a style which modern reality TV owes much to.

 

Malvern2

Paul H led the next walk – to the Malvern Hills – and here’s the usual lead-up:

Parking and start:

Quarry car park between West Malvern and Upper Wyche. GR 767448. Above the Spout marked on the OS map: OS map:  Explorer 190

The walk can be flexible depending on how the weather is (it was crap!). The plan is to meander around North Hill, then drop down to St. Anne`s well for a cuppa (it was closed!). From here to Wyche cutting and the pub, The Wyche Inn.

After the pub we can climb Worcestershire Beacon and down to the cars via the Quarry.

Malvern

A little more walking – and a heap more drinking with a Boxing Day wander around Sutton Park:

SuttonPWalk

FamilySuttonP

Of course, a New Year will need to be celebrated in time-honoured fashion (alcohol, friends, family) so we took ourselves off to Matlock in readiness to ring in the new, and to wring out the old.

But first, this little gem from YouTube:  “Fairytale of New Street”:

 

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October Over and Out

laddermontageSituated on a farm, The Barn at Upcote in the Cotswold Hills was the perfect location for Gavin and Keira’s wedding. Getting spliced in the old threshing barn wasn’t as painful as it sounded either.

Here are some photos of the happy few hundred…:

After

Done

Table

Clap

Sheep

What..

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Outside

Steps

AnnieDave

Monroes

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Dance

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Gary

Chair

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Gavin on a CHAIR…!!!

 

Enough of the wedding – now for some nature.

Merlins are magical birds and two separate sightings of these raptors were conjured up during the WMBC’s visit to Gibraltar Point in Lincolnshire.

There was a distant, hazy view of a beached Merlin resting out on the sands beyond the Mill Hill viewpoint, and then a ringside showing from the platform off the new Visitor’s Centre. The latter flew up over our heads and sped away to perch awhile atop atree. The Merlin, a female, loitered long enough for leisurely views of this elusive falcon before zipping off out of sight at a rate of knots.

There was a blizzard of Knots and Oystercatchers whirling around in front of the distant wind turbines. Gibraltar point is a dynamic stretch of pristine coastline with sand dunes, saltmarsh, ponds, and lagoons and woodland so it’s not so difficult to rake up a good haul of wildlife on a walkabout.

PlatformGibPoint

Seals were hauled out on the sandbanks, and sooty multi-horned Hebridean Sheep converged in the grassy hollows of the reserve. These hardy sheep are particularly effective at scrub control, and help maintain natural grassland and heathland habitats.

It had already been a good day at a very good reserve, having just clocked a confiding Pink-Footed Goose knuckling down in the rough grass, which turned out to be not so much confiding as broken-winged.

Spotted Redshank, Greenshank (bereft of spots), Avocet, Snipe, Water Rail, Mandarin Duck, and several Kingfishers were spied along the freshwater lagoons. In a small wooded clearing, a cheeky little Pied Flycatcher was sensibly keeping a low profile with all those Merlins about, and a flock of Redwings scattered overhead as if shot from a gun.

LesserSpotted

Lesser-Spotted Twitchers – can you spot them?

Quirky Aside: en route to Gibraltar Point, we passed through Boston so the American city and the English town were quirkily tied up as having both been visited within a matter of weeks!

Symptoms

It was soon Film Club Night and the Flat Earth Society went Peter Vaughn-mad (the actor died last December and was widely known for his menacing cameos in BBC’s Porridge as Grouty).

The main feature was Symptoms.

Having been released back in 1974, British horror film Symptoms has always been incredibly difficult to obtain. It was last seen on TV in 1983 and has since lived only in legend.

Here’s Movie Marker’s Stu Greenfield take on this mysterious and under rated film:

Set in a large country house surrounded by woods in the English countryside, Symptoms focuses on Helen and Ann. They return to Helen’s family home from Switzerland and it soon becomes apparent that there is more to this situation than meets the eye. As they spend more time together Helen’s nervous disposition becomes apparent, as does her affection for Ann. A previous occupant of the house, Cora, is spoken about but appears to touch a nerve with Helen who refuses to talk about her in any detail. Also present is the grounds keeper Brady (Peter Vaughn), and the cracks in his relationship with Helen are tangible, but without context. Gradually the sinister and disturbing truth is revealed…

Angela Pleasance, daughter of Halloween’s Donald Pleasance, is perfectly cast as the lead role. Her piercing blue eyes and ability to portray a seemingly vulnerable and nervous young lady whilst also providing a sinister undertone is outstanding. Symptoms is a must for any British horror fan.

Symptoms was ably supported by The Return:

Lonely spinster Miss Parker has been employed as the caretaker at a huge home for the last twenty years. It’s been up for sale the entire time and over the two decades she’s seen living there all alone, not one potential buyer has expressed interest in purchasing it or even renting out a room there. Could be because its reputation precedes it…

Plus a bonus A Ghost Story for Christmas story: Warning to the Curious.

Broadcast in the dying hours of Christmas Eve, the BBC’s A Ghost Story for Christmas series was a fixture of the seasonal schedules throughout the 1970s and spawned a long tradition of chilling tales for yuletide viewers.

An amateur archaeologist arrives in Norfolk and strikes out in search of the lost crown of Anglia, but at every turn, something unearthly guards it…

 

Bristol and the Zoo

One of Sarah’s birthday pressies was to be Keeper for a Day at this famous zoological garden, so a weekend in the making was summarily made.

Sarah

Chuffed to be here…

Dave

The rare Red Dave

Bristol Zoo is justly famous, of course, for providing the television backdrop to many a seventies childhood with Johnny Morris and Animal Magic.

Here’s a YouTube clip for anyone feeling nostalgic:

Many breeding firsts were acclaimed here – the first Black Rhino in Britain, the first Squirrel Monkey in captivity, and the first Chimpanzee in Europe. It is probably fitting that Bristol is also home to the magisterial BBC Natural History Unit.

Before hitting the zoo, it was incumbent upon us to see what Bristol had to offer on a fine Sunday morning, the Saturday having been a wash-out, relentlessly driving us into a selection of sheltering pubs and bars.

TrioBristols

BristolAutumn

There was a Banksy on one wall (the elusive graffiti artist is believed to be from Bristol), and some very fine buildings through which the River Avon weaves its way. The River Avon made Bristol a great inland port, and in later years boomed on the transatlantic trade in rum, tobacco and slaves.

Banksey

A Banksy on a wall

BristolUni

A vantage point on Brandon Hill can be easily reached from which to view the city. A better view would have been from Cabot Tower just behind us but only Theo had the liver for it after the previous night’s drinking.

family

All this plus an enormous gorge running through part of the city ensures Bristol is regularly cited as one of the UK’s most liveable cities.

 

RavenAge

October was rounded off with the soothing sounds of thrash heavy metal as Paul C and I took in a brilliant Raven Age gig. They previously supported Anthrax earlier in the year but were now headlining for the head-banging at the old Digbeth Institute with their own support – In Search Of Sun.

…and there was more:

Craig and I went to see The Elvis Dead at the Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton. Elvis Dead is not another thrash metal offering but a brilliantly innovative show by Rob Kemp loosely based around the film Evil Dead II and Elvis (naturally). It is certainly difficult to categorise (the flyer has it as a unique thrill ride of hip-swinging music and blood-soaked mayhem, so that will do for me) but very easy to enjoy.

ElvisDead

Here’s some YouTube footage to give you a taste…:

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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.)

ycy0wBesW7WwDMqEIDghUQvAmrdDMaqrqymfvQ6_dSuycXC8j7n3IFiO-urX4LWrhk4za467pb8qM3sH0BdeNnri7lTztxogcgkgtUSpN4AZuvm3y1P5glD1EqKdgOZscF8QEyAJBuDDzyBU85Okhc8Wgpv8vXEUIaK8K0w60TfkhIR8j_vwjgF4CC

Check out the talons…

fMWbhnZygYbY5wM2czVdn-a8XrOdGLoYvZiCI141zFGY4v8KoOQIcEPf6urR8IBTzPIQPwTC5oMN-3m7eA60BYkqn_19oV2GfDkuiBkeICM--PzgbScc0w9vmVIh5aXKQzCwLD5BqL3rSKznuViS9z-nY84jXYWNZdN2bUzDCIKGwJj38Uboy8z-Mx

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

xLACTs9k5jAM2NIIN8k2LOYyZKFbzi6nBwzbUywgtADV1AWz6wnuYQmSJm1FMJ4ZZWrPPj26TwZSN4DT4oeOHsHMBPZH-NPHMQexJd-D--PMJ_Ju9OOV9QBnIy0EfpSBYxrCmsIQ3GoJJWba8zEyjYtC1D0_mZ7oAwQb5hdHLdZGesUNSiya08t9xG

 

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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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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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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