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DG1I’ve known David George over four decades, which is a sobering thought.  Not that there were as many of those back in the day.  I first met him in the mid-70s in London when his girlfriend (and long-standing wife, who features in what follows) replied to one of those flat-share adverts in Time Out and she passed whatever tests we’d set.  They were  students at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.

NT 84 CoriolanusSince then Dave has played many roles.  Equity rules forced him to become Lewis George and as such he trod the boards at the National with Ian McKellan: First soldier & First watch in a celebrated Corialanus, peasant (and understudy to McKellan) in Wild honey.  He’s been in a Guinness ad, and stopped at many other stations along the way; I was surprised eating my muesli the other day to see him in a late-series Minder as a smooth criminal (or at least smooth enough to con Arthur).  He has NT 84 Wild Honeybeen a London cabbie (the Knowledge – the real thing) and toured North America as the one in the wheelchair in a Flanders & Swann tribute act (although after much discussion, not performing in a wheelchair).  He’s been a social worker, an independent Ventnor councillor, a youth worker and probably a couple of other things I’ve forgotten or didn’t know about.  Many times I’ve told him he should write an autobiography. He is a Nottingham Forest supporter and a keen angler.

These days David George is a film-maker.  With an impressive client list, Utility Filmsclick here for the website link – named after a Jeremy Bentham quote, specialises in information films and documentaries.  You can watch Better shed than dead, a film about DIV titlethe Men’s Shed movement here.  In 2009 they made a feature-length movie for an expenditure of £2,000 pounds.  The splendidly titled and very funny Death in Ventnor was an occasionally dark crime caper that lived up to the wit of its title and then some.  Here’s the trailer:

It really should be better known. 

Here’s what I said at the time:

DIV

A still from the opening long slow pan along the sea front in Death in Ventnor. Some kinda cinematic homage.

April 22 And so to the Isle of Wight last weekend for, among other things, no less than a film premiere. Old friends Dave & Jill George’s ‘Death in Ventnor’ – how can it fail with a title like that? – was made locally for £2K (and they say most of that went on catering), and a lot of goodwill. It’s a huge achievement – a lot of laughs, some great dialogue and a whole slew of tremendous performances. There are lines and scenes that stick in the memory still – the early morning bagpiper is a stunning off the wall image, the post office raid pure Ealing, the lobster named Derek, I could go on. A lot of cinema homages going on too. Fascinating to have been close to the making of the movie; there was a hilarious scene involving a pensioner, a Zimmer frame and a drug dealer we saw in the early rushes that had to be cut, for example, and you could see why but … bring on the outtakes! The night itself was a triumph, a real community event with over 300 people at the Medina Theatre, Newport. A delight.

Anyway David had a bit of a health episode not so long ago, and here he is to tell you all about it (© David George 2016):

 ♥♣♦♠

 

The Cardiac Hotel
by David George

Every seven minutes someone in the UK has a heart attack. That’s around four hundred a day. On Dec 13th 2014 at 2.30 in the afternoon it was my turn.

I have to be honest about this. I was asking for it. 61 years old, smoked profusely, and was going to live for ever. Well that perception changed quite quickly.

I was in the back garden, digging the vegetable plot. And smoking. Of course. A lot of people have asked me “This heart attack, what did you think? What did you do?” What did I think? I thought “Oh shit”. What did I do? I did the only sensible thing. I rang my wife.

A word or two about her. She’s a very highly trained nurse, working for the NHS. The NHS? I don’t need to waste time explaining that – it will soon be history.  But for me it came in handy.

So my wife.  She’s from the tough love school of nursing. You have flu? – two paracetamol.  Broken leg? – two paracetamol. You’re dying? Two paracetamol.

Listen I think I’m having a heart attack”. A long pause.

Why do you think you’re having a heart attack?”

Because my chest hurts, and I really don’t feel at all well.”

I’ll come home.”

Now, we’re lucky, we have stethoscopes and a blood pressure monitor lying around the house. She arrives and we sit on the sofa playing patients and nurses. She looks at me:

St Mary’s. It’s probably nothing, but they’ll check you out”

Now I know I’m dying.

The car journey is interesting. I didn’t realise she could drive this fast, nor did I realise she could shout so loudly at ageing pedestrians dawdling on zebra crossings.

If you carry on like this I’ll have a heart attack”

How we laugh.

I live on an island, but we do have a hospital. In Accident & Emergency things get worse.  Much worse.  Of course she works there, so everyone seems to know her. As I sit down struggling for breath all I can hear are voices saying “Hi Jill!” “Hiya!” “How’s things?” “Oh fine!”.

I don’t know what light-hearted fripperies are exchanged with the triage nurse but I’m pretty quickly installed in the re-sus room.

Another nurse.

Hiya!”

Hiya!”

It all starts moving quickly. I’m wired up to monitors. More nurses.

Hiya Jill! How are you?”

Excuse me … I mean why do you keep asking her how she is? I mean . . .”

Shush.”

The doctor arrives with a print out.

Hey!”

Hi.”

Erm … don’t I know you?”

I dunno.”

Yeah . . . you . . . you . . .”

Delight at a dawning revelation:

You made that film here . . . a few years ago . . . here in A&E.  I was in it, I was in your film. Yeah, that’s right I remember you! How are you?”

Well I er . . .”

Yeah well . . . anyway, great to see you again. By the way you’re having a heart attack; helicopter will be here in five minutes.”

Helicopter?”

Yeah we can’t do what you need here. You have to go to another hospital, on the mainland.”

What do I need?”

It’s called an angioplasty.”

What’s that?”

Erm” He points to a nearby nurse “She’ll explain”, and then he rushes off, presumably to recognise someone else.

The nearby nurse is about to become my new best friend.

Does it hurt much?” she says.

Well . . .”

On a scale of 1 to 10?”

4?”

So I’m going to give you something to take that away.”

Paracetamol?” I ask.

No, morphine. You might feel a bit sick.”

I glance over at the wife. This is more like it. Morphine.  And its intravenous.

Whoosh! Within a minute, I feel very relaxed. I don’t feel sick. Actually I feel, how can I describe this? I feel great! If there are any opiate addicts out there, I really do understand.

More medics pile in. A nurse who looks young enough to be my daughter’s daughter zips me up into what feels uncomfortably like a body bag.

It’ll be cold in the helicopter”

The wife takes my hand.

How are you feeling?”

Great, that morphine! Wow!”

You’re not supposed to be enjoying it, dickhead.”

Another nurse arrives.

Hiya!”

Hiya.”

How’s he doing?”

Just showing off.”

I have a terrible feeling she means it. I’m trundled out to the helicopter. It sits on the pad like a small yellow wasp. There’s a crew of four; pilot, paramedic, doctor and nurse. And the cargo. Me.

Everyone gathers round to load me in. Jill steps alongside me and takes my hand again. There’s no room for passengers. This is the Brief Encounter moment. I realise if this goes wrong we may never see each other again.

The crew have been here a thousand times before. Everyone stops talking, I look at her, she looks at me and she says:

I’ll see you on the other side”

The silence is intense.

The other side?” I croak.

Of the Solent.”

This naturally cracks everyone up. I swear the paramedic and the doctor are holding onto each other helpless with laughter. I want to say something like:

Well it’s great that my last few moments down here can be spent with such a wonderful audience,” but I just grin my stupid opiate grin and very soon I’m up, up and away in more ways than you’d imagine.

The angioplasty was simplicity itself. Unless you happen to be the guy doing it and then I imagine it’s pretty complex. A wire goes into an artery (either wrist or groin – wrist for me please if that’s OK) up across the chest and into the blocked area of the heart. A balloon inside the wire expands and opens up the restriction, leaving a stent behind. My artery was congested like the M25 on a Friday night.

The surgeon said, “Are you a smoker?”

Not anymore,” I replied.

Good”.

They wheeled me into a room in the Cardiac Care Unit, plugged into a lot of equipment that bleeped soothingly. Jill arrived. She came over and stood by the bed, she began to speak but I held up my hand.

I know, I know. I love you too.”

Actually,” she muttered “I was going to say if you don’t stop smoking I’ll fucking kill you”.

I try a brave, tremulous smile.

And stop smirking. The kids are coming in the morning. I rang Ned in New Zealand. He loves you.”

I love him too. When do you have to go?”

Don’t worry”, she says “I’m staying”. Magically the door opens and a mattress is brought in.

The Cardiac Hotel,” I say. “I’m tired.”

Me too.”

Later we lay quietly as the machines whirr and shimmer above our heads.

My hand, bruised and taped with tubes and plasters, finds hers in the dim half-light of the quiet room.

I’ve stopped smoking.”

I know.”

But I’ll never stop loving you.”

I know.”

With all my heart.”

© David George 2016

A musical PS

Between David sending me this and me asking if it could be a guest post here on Lillabullero – for which thanks indeed – and me getting my arse into gear to actually put it up, his son Tom, who did the music for Death in Ventnor, borrowed the title The Cardiac Hotel for his forthcoming second LP/CD.  Tom George is the up-and-coming singer songwriter who, both solo and with a group, performs as The Lion and the Wolf.  “Genre crushing melancholy” is how he describes his music on FaceBook, and he has a nice tag line in “Bring on the sad” though he’s essentially an eminently happy chappie.  Here’s a link to his Bandcamp pages  – http://thelionandthewolf.bandcamp.com/music – and you can find more on YouTube.

My father's eyesWhat David describes above was happening while Tom was playing his last gig of the year he took the plunge and gave up the day job.  The haunting My father’s eyes was written as a consequence of the events described above.  The original is there on the Bandcamp page, but here’s a lovely version recorded with a full band in a Ventnor church:

 

 

 

I was going to say about the Welsh male voice choir we saw in Wales in my what-we-did-in-Wales post but they somehow slipped off the agenda.  Fortunately it fits nicely with one of the books I’ve been reading, which is, as it happens, all about singing …

Naked at the Albert Hall Book One

In Naked at the Albert Hall: the inside story of singing (Virago, 2015) Tracey Thorn tells of a recording session with Elvis Costello at which he asked if they wanted an ‘Elvis Costello’ vocal?  The authenticity/artificiality continuum is a recurring theme.  In an interview with Green Gartside of Scritti Politti, she’s somewhat taken aback by something he tells her: “Hang on, are you saying we can all do the Scritti voice just by smiling?” After which she comments:

If you are not now trying to sing The sweetest girl while experimenting with different degrees of smiling, then you are not the reader I took you for.

OK, I passed, but that shouldn’t let her potential disappointment put you off.  (And if you’ve never heard of Scritti Politti you probably know the song; there’s a link at the bottom of this post to it in all its 6 glorious minutes.)  True, when it comes to men she’s a bit punk as Year Zero – momentous that John Lydon sang in an English accent, no mention of Ray Davies and the Kinks – but easy to forgive the spiteful charm of her description of Mick Jagger’s voice:

It’s a cartoon of a black singer, painted onto a balloon and then inflated, then put through a mangle, then through an amplifier. What comes out the other end is patently foolish and ridiculous, and turned him into one of rock’s most admired singers …

At the time of its publication Tracey Thorn, she of Everything but the Girl, hadn’t sung in public – and still hasn’t as far as I know – for 15 years, because of chronic stage fright.  Naked is more than an addendum to her lively Bedsit disco queen memoir.  She was hoping, she admits at the end that it might have been a shot at therapy, trying to see what it means for her to still put ‘singer’ as her occupation on the passport renewal form.  And so it turns out, though not necessarily as expected (no spoilers!).  In the chapter Why sing? she says:

In this book I’ve focused on the trouble with being a singer, in an attempt to balance out some of the idealised clichés I’ve grown tired of. And I’ve looked for stories that mirror my own …

It’s a fascinating journey, starting from the physics and physiognomy of the voice  (“… unlike any other instrument, these components are your own body parts“) and takes it from there, reminding us that “Musicians … are separate, distinct from us, in a way that singers are not.”  In that way our bond with singers is “egalitarian” – we can all do it – and yet … not.

She talks to fellow women singers – seeking out particularly reluctant singers, ‘the silent sirens’ who chose to disappear, and those who don’t particularly like their own voices;  similarly she looks at the lives of some no longer with us (Dusty Springfield’s “brick wall of self-doubt and discomfort“, Sandy Denny’s fear of fame, the tragic Karen Carpenter) – while examining the career aspects of the singing life.  (Oh, and there’s a chapter on Scott Walker. )

She unpicks aspects of her subject generally taken for granted, and – intriguingly, too, for us bibliophiles – tellingly draws on characters in novels to further illustrate what she’s talking about: Willa Cather’s The song of the lark, George du Maurier’s Trilby, and George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, no less, are the main texts drawn on.

Some sage professional advice is offered in passing:

Singing live is like a complicated sporting event for the voice. A fiendish obstacle race. Over this hurdle, around this tricky bend, down for this horrible low note.

And once over that there’s the problem – this from a chapter called Little monsters – “… when you move from the territory of having listeners into the realm of having fans.”  Be warned, my musical friends.

Naked at the Albert Hall is entertaining and informative, conversational and confessional.  At times it sparkles and you feel she must be good company.  It’s full of nice asides like when the author tries a hypnotherapist to see if it can help with the stage fright:

She put on a CD of ‘spa music’, the least relaxing form of music in the world. Noodly pan pipes, fretless bass. Treacly synth sweeps and occasional random harp. The music that has ruined every facial I’ve ever had, every massage, every seaweed wrap.

From what I’ve said so far you might get the impression Naked is all about the perils, the trials and tribulations of the singer’s workplace, but it is also a celebration of the human voice, as a source of joy and transcendence:

Set against this egotistical aspect of singing, which exploits the possibility of personal allure, is the concept of singing as a shared experience, something to join us together.

Which is where the Welsh male voice choir comes in.

The Welsh male voice choir

The hotel we stayed in Wales a couple of weeks back played weekly host to Côr Meibion Cymau, the Cymau Male Voice Choir.  It’s one of those community things that is slowly dying out.  They do it because they love it, and for local charities, take a collection at the end.  Cymau is a village in Flintshire, North Wales, near Mold.  About 10 blokes – one of them told me there used to be 40 of them – white shirts, black trousers, quietly proud, aged from about 40 to 70+, enjoying one another’s company.  Damn, I should have taken a photograph.

I’m not saying it was one of the greatest musical experiences of my life, but it moved me – but it was uplifting, fun, there was the definite odd tingle up the spine – and it will stay with me.  If I had a bucket list seeing a Welsh male voice choir in Wales would have been on it.  They delivered a varied repertoire: a spiritual, a setting of the Reverend Eli Jenkins’ Prayer from Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, American Trilogy, Unchained melody and, with a tenor solo, The Rose (which far from being the ancient genre piece I imagined it to be, actually dates from the ’70s and was made famous by Bette Midler).

They did a routine about what happens when one of their members’ voice goes, when the day comes when he can no longer sing, when he can contribute to the choir no more.  One night in the middle of winter the whole choir convenes in a large hut perched on the side of a local mountain.  Cue the choir making  wintery noises, cold winds, a dark and stormy vocal night.  The broken man is ritually stripped of his clothes and ceremonially pushed out of the door onto the snow covered mountainside.  To the harmonious strains of, “F-reeze a jolly good fellow …”

Flying ScotsmanBook Two

Andrew McLean‘s The Flying Scotsman: speed style service (Scala/NRM, 2016) is a visual delight, a nice piece of book design featuring items in the collection of the cathedral that is the National Railway Museum in York.  So as well as a wealth of photographs from the earliest of the 1880s through to the Deltic diesel era and beyond, we get page after page of social history, and of sublime and sometimes strange railwayana: plenty of those classic posters, some carriage prints, cigarette cards, a tea set, the centenary anniversary wine list cover and even a fan.

FS 01 Here are a couple of my favourite double spreads: on the left,  railwaymen posing on the signal gantry at Hatfield in 1932; below, the time-travelling bizarrerie of the businessmen at the bar on the Flying Scotsman as late in the 1950s.  The book’s themed text is more companion to the illustrations than any attempt at being a definitive history, but it still manages to throw up much of interest.

FS 08In its conception and development the notion of modernity was central to the railway company’s marketing.  Initiated as the ‘Special Scotch Express’ in 1862, with both the up and down trains leaving simultaneously at 10 o’clock in the morning at Kings Cross and Edinburgh, it soon became known, initially, as The Flying Scotchman – oh yes!  Competition between the East Coast and West Coast routes to Scotland was intense – a very different model of privatised rail transport than holds sway today.  The Flying Scotsman was central in this, and as explained in the chapter entitled Building the brand, the confusion that still exists between the express train and the locomotive of the same name, introduced in 1923, was quite deliberate.

FS 06A few other things I wasn’t expecting.  In 1924 they introduced a cinema carriage.  During the General Strike the Flying Scotsman was deliberately de-railed by Northumberland miners removing a track section – what would the history books say if that had gone disastrously wrong?  And in the ’30s the installation of the LNER’s (London & North Eastern Railway) Railway Queen: “a ceremonial position given to the daughter of a railway worker every year, to promote railways and British culture at home and abroad.”  Now if that isn’t a gift to a budding historical novelist, I don’t know what is.

Great Western BeachBook Three

Doing my duty by the Book Group I started on Emma Smith‘s The Great Western Beach: a memoir of a Cornish childhood between the wars (Bloomsbury, 2008) without much hope of being able to stomach it – just look at all those pastel colours on that idyllic cover photo from the family album.  Overcoming the disappointment that, despite that tease of a title, the sights and sounds of the Great Western Railway played no part in the scene-setting, I was soon sucked in by the authorial child’s voice though – the book finishes when she’s twelve – and read enthusiastically through to the end.  That voice initially reminded me of James Joyce’s Portrait of the artist as a young man and … despite the age thing, a big touch of the diaries of Adrian MoleEmma Smith juggles nicely – manages the illusion – with giving us the info so as to know what the score is without the adult intruding and jarring the child’s naive yet knowing flow.

In fact, what we have here is a tragi-comedy of a dysfunctional family life that is full of tension, people trapped by circumstances beyond their control (the past is another country) played out in the – ok – idyllic and beautifully evoked setting of Newquay and environs.  Her father – an officer and a war hero, is a resentful bank clerk, a stubborn failed painter who will not be told – is married to a woman four years older than himself; he is her fourth fiancé, what with the Great War and the Great Flu.  The fine details and pain of scraping out a genteel poverty are acutely described, as are the changes when they inherit loads of money from her rich uncle and they become, among other things, the life and soul of the tennis club.  It could be one of H.G.Wells’ social novels.  The subtle nuances of social class, of snobbery, hypocrisy and prejudice in a seaside town are all horribly apparent.  Some of the language shocks: ‘darkies’, ‘Jew-boys’ – we have come a long way.

But we also get the joys and pregnant confusions of childhood, of friendships and adventures, of the daily life, lovingly recorded.  Indeed, one does begin to wonder at quite the level of detail of recall – this was written in Emma Smith’s 80s – that is going on here, though my father did tell me the older he got, the more he remembered from his childhood, so I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.  You wonder what happened to them all – mother, father, elder sister, twin “milksop” brother, younger sister – but it’s one element of the book’s magic that we’re not told.

I could go on, but this post is too long already.  Her father’s cringingly embarrassing bad-tempered excuses when he loses at tennis, which he always does are pure Fawlty Towers.  And yet she and her father bond over literature – poetry! Omar Khayyam! – which her mother regards as “degenerate, unhealthy, immoral.”  As I say, I could go on, but I’ll leave you with this lovely image of shelter from the storm:

Picnics-on-the-beach is the one area of an otherwise discordant marriage where our parents are in harmonious, if tacit, agreement. To be out of the house, out-of-doors, to be sitting on the sand, or on smooth rocks, with the sounds of the sea making unnecessary any attempt at conversation: this has, for them, it would seem, a significance of almost religious intensity, notwithstanding the acrimonious preparations, always attendant on these regular family outings … they are a form of salvation for our mother and father, and so, by association, for their children.

As promised, a musical bonus

Herein the link to Scritti Politti’s The sweetest girl from their Songs to remember album of 1982.  I’d say they boast one of the great band names, acknowledging the influential Italian Marxist writer and political theorist Antonio Gramsci.  But never mind that.  Here is a gorgeous piece of timeless inventive pop music, some melody lines that you may well be humming for quite a while: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExC0oK28VLA

Heulog Cymru

Not last week, but the week before …

Monday we travelled.  By the time we’d checked in and had dinner and got to the bar it was half-time.  Given we were in Wales it was the Wales match that was on the TV in the bar; I could have found the other lounge but opted for when-in-Rome over Anglo-anguish.  It wasn’t crowded.  Wales were already 2-0 up and there were only a couple of quietly committed Welshmen, concentrating conversationally on the game, still fearing the worst every time the Russians got the ball into the Welsh half until that third goal.  But truth be told, the Russians were as bad as England in the second half against Finland.  At breakfast, Danny, the man in the Arsenal shirt at our table who’d watched the goal-less England bore draw with Slovakia averred I’d chosen well.

Tuesday morning to the Llangollen Railway, a 10 mile Llangollen Railway 1trip each way up and down the line.  On the journey everywhere a riot of greens; saw an angler up to his tits in the River Dee and  some alpacas in a field.  Sight, sound and smell of a steam train in motion still gets me every time.  Loco was resplendent restored Great Western Railway mixed traffic ‘Prairie’ tank engine 5199 (one not copped back in the day, though I might have seen it as a wreck in the Barry scrapyard), turned out in classic early British Railways black livery.

Only had time for a 5-minute dash around the fiction upstairs in the modestly fronted Cafe and Books on the main street in Llangollen.  Manages to be both a vast emporium and a rabbit warren at the same time; an old cinema building, the upstairs packed with 100,00 or so second-hand books.  Bought Jack Trevor Story’s splendidly titled Screwtape lettuce for a very reasonable £1.25.

In the afternoon a situationist dérive through Chester, St John the Baptist Chesteror, in laymen’s terms, basically, aimlessly wandering about Chester without a map, until we bought a map and found the wall.  I like a good ruin, so the ruined red sandstone bits each end of the city’s oldest church – St John the Baptist church – appealed.  Weeds by any other name so impressive on a ruin.

So … the wall, the river, the half-timbered black and white of the Rows.  Does anyone dare call it a shopping experience? – probably.  Had the best chai latte of my life in an Alice themed teashop.  Three times I was tempted by a gorgeous trippy-hued paisley patterned shirt in the window of a boutique upstairs in the Rows, and three times I demurred. You’ll only regret it if you don’t said A.;  and yes, indeed I do regret it.  ‘Leave’ campaigners on the street, and a bunch of school kids holding shields being enthusiastically taken through their Roman legion paces in the amphitheatre.

Ffestiniog 1Welsh Highland RailwayWednesday was Blaenau Ffestiniog and  Rheilffordd Ffestiniog, the Ffestiniog Railway, 13½ scenic miles to Portmadog and then over the platform onto the revived Welsh Highland Railway, which only dating its original short life from 1922, for the 25 miles to Caernarfon.  Cramped but fun.  They may be considerably smaller than standard gauge railways – 1′ 11½” – but given the power needed to negotiate these gradients these are no toys.  So many trees!  Bit of drama on the Welsh Highland when the (fascinating for rail fans) Beyer-Garrett loco had problems along the way.  Camera was saying low battery so – sparing the juice – the above is the best I got (typically, camera magically revived once in Caernarfon).

I once had a boss who did volunteer labour on the Ffestiniog Railway Deviation Project (finished 1982); always made me laugh.

Lloyd GeorgeBriefly in Caernarfon, one of those ice creams (so hard to decide …) and a stroll down to the promenade.  The town square road-less, all varieties of slate and nicely patterned cobbles but with traffic still allowed; seemed to work, if disturbing ar first.  ‘Leave’ campaigners a presence again.  What would David Lloyd George have thought?  Where have his like gone nowadays?  What have the pigeons been eating?  Was it a paint protest or just a blue ice cream not as satisfying as hoped?

Thursday to the seaside and then deep into the heart of Capel Sant Trillo Llandrillo yn RhosSnowdonia (or Betws-y-Coed anyway).  At Llandrillo yn Rhos, more prosaically Rhos-on-Sea – great beach without all the holiday nonsense – a brief stop to see the tiny 6th century Capel Sant Trillo.  Atheist I may be, but I can still dig little shrines like this.  I’m a bit of a fan of coastal wind farms too, makes me think I’m in a science fiction movie:

Wind farm at sea

Promenading with the Hatter in Llandudno.

Promenading with the Hatter in Llandudno.

Old and new in Llandudno

Old and new in Llandudno

Promenading with The Hatter and another ice cream in Llandudno, we suspected vengeful local vandals had messed with the pedestrian direction signs.  45° at a crossroads to the toilets?  Turned out it was sort of right.

And so through the spectacular  Llanberis Pass and Snowdonia in all its glory.  Lots of ‘Leave’ signs in the farmers’ fields.  Again, so many trees.  At Betws-y-Coed the public – 20p – toilet seats were of built-in cold polished igneous rock.  We walked up to the Thomas Telford bridge (didn’t he get around?) and along the river.  So soon this peace after the turbulence downstream.

Down by the river Betws 1
Don’t know what has caused this patterning on the water on the other side of the bridge, but I could watch the changes a long time:Down by the river Betws 2

Llanberis Lake Railway

Coal, water & steam – the works

Llanberis Lake Railway, another narrow gauge remnant of the slate industry, is a charming little scenic run of about an hour there and back along one side of Llyn Padarn, with great views of the mountains in the distance and more mundanely the tourist steamers on the lake.  The train starts off going the opposite way you’d expect, away from the lake, a short journey away from the terminus that is not the end of the line, to the end of the line where the loco runs round to the front of the train.  A joker in the carriage – at least I think he was joking – made a good job of convincing travelling companions that the short journey back to the main station was all that was on offer, was the whole trip.

Friday was the journey home.  Early but not too early before the Referendum result was definite.  The title of this piece is Sunny Wales in Welsh.  The dispositions occupying seats 21 and 22 on the coach were far from that, though if the result was being talked about I didn’t hear anything.  No triumphalism among the Leavers, of whom I’m pretty sure there were plenty enough.

Yes, it was a coach holiday, just a short one.  Actually the coach was quite long, but you know what I mean.  No, we were not the youngest on the bus, and that’s without researching it too deeply.  A liberation not to be the driver and worrying where to park!  Mind, you get some very odd people on these charabancs, but some surprising ones too (a pro-Corbyn 70+ ex-union rep showed me her selfie with Owen Jones at a TUC Conference).  You also get to recognise among the coaching demographic – impossible not to become apparent as you wander around the usual stops – what is probably a finite variety of archetypal oldie ways of being, which can be confusing when saying Hi to people on the street who turn out to be strangers, not on our bus at all.

Three days in Wales.  Sunny, not a drop of rain.  Jumpers packed and never worn, rain gear redundant.  No-one believed us back in Stony.

I leave you with a view of puzzling blue from the Llechwedd Slate Caverns car park, and that first train, again:

Blue house from llechwedd Slate Caverns car park
Llangollen Railway 2

SL-poster… until next year.  It’s probably been done already – I’ve only lived here in Stony Stratford for 9 years – but it occurs that the title line of Shady Grove, the bluegrass standard I heard at least twice during the week, shares the same 3-syllable poetic meter as StonyLive! and so could be reasonably adapted in celebration.  Too corny … to question mark or not to question mark?

Saturday morning errands to do, couldn’t tarry too long this year on the High Street for the mummers and the morris and other dancers, before hitting the Fox & Hounds for a pint and the always cheery opening bluegrass session from the Hole in the Head Gang, before hitting the (albeit fully integrated) Alternative Fringe in the yard of the Bull, where the weather at least behaved if not excelled itself.

SL AltFringe 16Codebreakers, a barber shop quartet out of (where else?) Bletchley were a nice change of pace after the fresh multi-generational family folk of Innocent Hare and, working backwards, ever improving Taylor Smith (who we shall meet again).  Roses and Pirates wove their spell, the cello adding to the weft.  It was all good, and putting the poets out on the main stage worked well, the bravura performance of Liam Farmer Malone tale of working on the London Underground on the day of 7/7 was worth a shout of its own.  At a certain point I left for some tea.

The Fabulators duo finished as usual with their parents’ My Generation, also the name, as it happens, of the tasty guest beer on at the Vaults, but not before i). fooling me again with the not the ginger-haired one sounding like the distinctive lead singer of the Fountains of Wayne, before the crowd-pleasing I’m just a Teenage Dirtbag, baby song emerged, and ii). setting me up with said song as an earworm (here it comes again, as I type).  The David Sanders trio intrigued with their own stuff – how to categorise? – and said they were going to murder an REM song, which they didn’t.  The full VHS Pirates band were nothing like the duo I’d remembered from Vaultage, all a bit rock stodgy, so I left early.  Which apparently was their cue to move up through the gears and finish triumphantly with everyone on their feet.  Hey-ho.

Ford PopSunday – cars and guitars and Willy the Shake – I’ve already chronicled it in A Stony sunday in June.  But here’s a photo of a Ford Popular anyway.

Monday, though there were things I fancied, I reluctantly – despite a resolution to do something every day – had as a rest day, saving myself for the next six days; mistake one way, wisdom another.

Bard presentsTuesday I had a pint in the Vaults and a taste of the traditional A Capella session, occasionally crooning along (at least I knew the words to the Buddy Holly song) before wandering back up the hill for the also now traditional Evening with the Bard & Friends.  Breaking with tradition The Antipoet‘s set consisted of material from their latest CD – no bad thing – though the leather mask for Gimp Night at the Fighting Cocks was new.  Rob Bray entertained with his one man, one guitar cabaret set, setting off at tangents mid-song with another, and another …  I’d missed Roses & Pirates formal set but still appreciated their playing during the interval – great voices and I’m always a sucker for a cello.  Prolific Bard Vanessa Horton‘s variety of material always impresses.  And again, it was all good.

Free SpiritLoisWednesday was Pat & Monty, two old dudes who normally go out under the name Growing Old Disgracefully.  Always a whiff of the SF summer of love in the guitar riffs when they play together.  With the addition of a relatively young-blood fiddler they are Freespirit.  Blinding set from Lois Barrett (photo © Pat Nicholson) playing her own songs, tonight with added congas.  Her impressive rhythmic and percussive right hand technique at the guitar in full play.  One of those songs is in 12/8 time apparently.

Thursday evening started with the uplifting sight and sound of the MK Women’s Choir in full motion in the packed upstairs – blanded out, refurbished – room in The Crown.  First outing of the week for the Beatles’ Help! (from which the title of this piece is taken); can’t believe I’ve never heard Rachel Platten’s rousing Fight song before; and the miserable bastard in my soul was severely dented by their joyous I wanna dance with somebody.  Great fun.  Vaultage StonyLive 16And so a quick stroll to the Vaults for Vaultage, swifts swooping and circling over the Market Square.

To tell the truth I can’t remember much about the music at Vaultage – a guy playing slide on a Strat, Mitchell Taylor giving an outing to the new improved, less strident, more stirring Blood of St George – but, if you’ll excuse the expression, the craic was great.

Ultimate BeatlesSS Shak 400Friday we followed the Stony Theatre Soc’s Promenade Shakespeare again some of the way.  Stephen Ferneyhough sprung a surprise with his musical interlude: the Kinks’ Dedicated follower of fashion with a fully outfitted Sir John Falstaff striking all the poses; I’m sure Shakey would approve.

The Ultimate Beatles Tribute Show, promoted by Scribal Gathering, was great fun, and got a few embers of memory glowing bright again – the sight of ‘Paul’ and ‘George’ sharing a mic, the ‘Lennon’ stance.  The show was in two parts, first half performed in those smart grey moddy suits with the dark collar at the back (and thankfully not those horrendous high-neck collarless things), the second in full Sgt Pepper drag, with the songs also treated chronologically.  There was some neat, if, it appears scripted (fanboy Hobbs stole the set list) scouse banter along the way too, including some bitter-sweet “flash forwards“, as ‘John’ described them, invoking future events; “Oh, no, that hasn’t happened yet.”

When I was in a band – over half a century ago now – half our repertoire was the first two Beatles albums, and seeing the lads doing All my loving (you forget what a great song that is) I was reminded of the agony of playing all those rhythm guitar triplets for the verse.  Inevitably this was the second Help! of the week.  Increasingly there was dancing.  Even through the entirety of A day in the life.  They may not have been that great as musicians – though the drum fills were immaculate, ‘Ringo’ – but they were easily good enough to have people enjoying themselves mightily.  Nice one, Jonathan.

And so out onto the hot High Street, lingering a while outside the open door of the Vaults to hear After the Lights playing the only Sweet home Alabama I hear all week.  With the guitarist having fun.

Saturday, laden with vegetables and fruit from the market – hey, the flat peaches are back in season! – I catch the second half of the stationary promenade Shakespeare crew in the Library.  Quick spot of lunch and its the StonyLive! bluegrass outro from the Concrete Cowboys (theme song: You aint going nowhere), MK’s second oldest band, at the Fox & Hounds.  Musically accomplished fun.  (A nod to the Fox, too, for having Hawkshead Bitter – great taste at 3.8).

TC3 - Nick Gordon

Looking good in lace over black, ladies!  TC3 – Photo (c) Nick Gordon

In the evening to the amenable York House and the company of TC3, the slimmed down Taylor’d Country.  With guitar god Ian Entwhistle perched up high on his stool and country angels Irene and Louise vocalising not far below it was a night of fine music making.  Their exquisite three-part harmonies and a broad but finely tuned selection of material make them a class act, the two women’s differing approaches at times complementing and at others offering a contrast that was somehow always in charming sync, losing nothing from the emotional charge of many of the songs.  They have fun performing and they know how to make an audience feel warm, often wistful, and good.  In the photo they’re being the mariachi brass section for Johnny Cash’s Ring of fire.  Oh, and to them we owe the third Help! of the week.

I have two friends who are quite prepared to be open in their disdain for the oeuvre of James Taylor.  I’m beginning to think there’s a gap in my CD collection, so I guess you could say, Job done.

If the programme cover looks a little battered it's because it's only just dried out: the year that will go down as Soak on the Green.

If the programme cover looks a little battered it’s because it’s only just dried out: the year that will go down as Soak on the Green.

By Sunday I was feeling the strain, and the weather forecast was not great, but with the alternative of a street celebration of Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg’s 90th, we packed the picnic for Folk on the Green.  Which is, of course, I should explain for non-locals, an entirely separate enterprise from StonyLive!, yet effectively functions as its climax.  As I say, it had been a heavy week, so this was the first FOTG that I had attended without a bottle of wine in the basket.

Intermittent drizzle made way for an actual bit of sun when Taylor Smith successfully made the leap from pub floor to a larger stage, and even had a few dancing to the boppy War is business (and business is good).  Earlier I’d liked 3rd & Lindsley‘s country rock (including a countrified Foo Fighters song), and the blues vamping (and much else) on cello from Alex Wesley‘s ‘nameless’ cellist partner, while Reeds had lifted spirits with their pop-soul-rock (always nice when a performer’s mother get a shout-out from the stage).  The weather worsened, but luckily for us we’d split before the heavens really opened.  Like biblical.  Shame.

selkie-and-princess-posterBut it wasn’t quite all over.  In the evening back to The Crown and a libation of Diet Coke for a session of storytelling of the highest order that deserved a bigger audience.  Soupcons from the local suspects led to Hel Robin Gurney’s The sleeping princess, a glass onion of a re-working of fairy tale that I’m afraid I got a bit lost in, (though StonyLive! fatigue probably had a hand there).  Then Red Phoenix gave us a glimpse of a Kelpie, which was a useful lead in to Fay Roberts‘s extraordinary The Selkie.  I’m gonna steal Danni Antagonist’s description of the show: “a stunning show of poetic storytelling (which also includes lyrical whimsy, cheeky asides and BEAUTIFUL singing) which took us all on a magical journey of geographical and mythological planes, and through all the elements and planets. Superb!! ”  To which I can only add a pretty good Scottish accent (for a Welsh woman) and, as well as that singing in a completely different register to the telling, the Selkie’s alarming distress screech, that made me jump.  (I was not asleep, merely spellbound).

Phew.  Over for another year.  And I was a mere member of the audiences.  Many bad things are said of committees.  Cheers to the StonyLive! one.

classic-stony-logo-2016Just before mid-day the sun finally comes out.  Left the house a bit later than hoped (recovery time from Saturday).  Hit the Market Square and the place is buzzing.  Only just in time to catch a blues-wailing Banjo-ist singing the praises of his Sweet Home Chicago.  There seemed to be more cars and people than ever in the Square, in the car park and on the High Street for Stony Stratford’s classic car festival.

I’m not a great enthusiast (hell, I once owned a Lada) and my auto-aesthetic sensibilities are governed by nostalgia and classicism, with a soft-spot for the futurism of the past and a dash of the absurd.  So my favourites this year were the Jowetts, a Jag that took me back to the child reading the Eagle comic, the beautiful best-in-show-winner Beemer (resisting the urge to say something about Germany in 1939) and a – ah the UK ’50s car industry! – horrendous Hillman Minx Mark VIII (click to navigate through bigger pics, click again to enlarge individual images):

Deep purple 1952 Jowett JupiterJowett JavelinLe Mans 24 hr and all that JaguarBMW Prototype 328 1939Hillman Minx VIII

And so into the Vaults bar for a pint and the delights of “the longest-running ‘open session’ in the country”, including getting my head around a folk song take – played straight, one man, one guitar – on Randy Newman’s Sail away (“In America …”).  Weirdly, it worked.  “Song about slavery,” he said at the finish.

Pop-up art galleryYork HouseThen up the hill to picturesque Swinfen Harris Hall to take in some art (including Roddy Clenaghan’s original of this year’s StonyLive programme cover) and discover one of Ian Ian Fremantle wood sculptureFremantle’s intriguing wood sculptures in its grounds, on the way up to the Ken Daniels curated Bygone Stony – a pictorial history, which was doing brisk business and from which more might come, in York House.

Water liliesHome, briefly, where the irises in the pond have never been better, before a little touch of Shakey in the afternoon, the first of a series during the week to come, of the Stony Stratford Theatre Society’s promenade Shakespeare – performances of selected scenes, monologues and sonnets from the pen of the Bard hailing from the Stratford in Warwickshire.  A development from something tried last year, it worked brilliantly as the troupe of players and audience wound their way through the town, episodes linked by the suitably dressed concertina-ist playing period tunes.

ITMA. Photo (c) Derek Gibbons

So much going on, invidious to single out particular episodes and performances, but when the little girl came and sat down next to a cross-legged (poet Danni) Puck in the courtyard of The Cock Hotel, one got insight into the notion of the role model.  She had a great time, clapping and dancing along as a song followed.  A star is born.  Oh, and while that was going on, a couple of fly pasts from a Spitfire in the sky overhead.  The excerpt from The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society’s Production of Macbeth made a nice surprise too.  Great job, Caz Tricks.

Time for another rest and then an evening stroll along the River Great Ouse …
River walk

… and into the Fox & Hounds and a rock band open thingy, there soon to have the Banjo-ist trying to grab the attention and asking questions of someone called Joe, who appears to have a gun in his hand:

That old football chant: He’s here, he’d there, he’s every-fucking-where: Ladies and Gentlemen, the blues-wailing Andy Powell in motion, Chairman, StonyLive!; Andy Fenton on guitar.

 

Further on up the road to The Old George, for a grand Aortas session, where Dan had us thumping on the table and we had very fine sets indeed from Naomi Rose, Lois Barret and Mark Owen.

Dan Plews tuning up and a half-full beer glass

Dan Plews tuning up and a beer glass.  Moody atmospheric shot or crap camera?  Yeah, OK.

And so to bed.  (And not a banjo seen all day).  Given the Saturday before (which Lillabullero will briefly revisit next time) I had to take a time out on Monday to preserve myself for the rest of the week.  StonyLive! hurrah!

SL-poster stony-live-logo

 

Naked guideBe nice if every city had a guide like The naked guide to Bristol: not all guide books are the same (5th ed: Tangent, 2015).  Scathing wit and a whole lot of sub-cultural love and knowledge, a production of real urban identification and affection.  Organised energetically by postal district BS1 to BS8, and by theme, giving a people’s history.  We were out in the suburbs in BS9, Henleaze, but I thought this publication worthy of mention.  If its span had reached as far as where we were staying I’m certain they would have raved about the fruit and veg shop on the main drag – beautifully presented and full of temptation beyond what we had the capacity for.  Wish I’d taken a photo of that basket mixed in shape and colour – purple, green, yellow, oh, and red – of English tomatoes.  Also Badock’s Wood.

Chestnut blossomA short stroll over a minor crossroads and up a bit, Badock’s Wood is an oasis of green in a mild sea of mixed suburban housing – if Richard Thompson’s Mock Tudor had been a song rather than an album title I might have been humming down some of the streets.  According to its Friends organisation “It is a small, semi-natural, broad-leaved woodland situated in a limestone valley with adjacent areas of grassland.”  There’s a small river along its edge and the circular fitness route the council has instituted with unobtrusive distance markers involves, as we shall see, a bit of a climb.

Badock’s Wood has survived because it was given to what was then the Bristol Corporation in 1937 by Sir Stanley Badock, a local landowner and industrialist – something to do with metal smelting and refining – so that the citizens of Bristol could enjoy the woods as a public open space in perpetuity.  The deed of gift specifically excluded the erection of any buildings on the land.  Good for him; and wouldn’t developers just love to get their hands on it.  I mention this because I was reminded that within living memory financial success was once regarded as an opportunity to make a grand gesture and give something tangible back to where you lived, as an expression of civic pride; rather than, these days, self-indulgence far away.  (Locally one must give a very big nod of appreciation to Jim Marshall, of Marshall Amplification no less, and all that he contributed to Milton Keynes, but inevitably the nature of philanthropy, of land or libraries, has changed.)

Badock's Wood wild garlicAnd for sure the locals do appreciate Badock’s Wood.  Especially the dog owners and the keep-fitters and those with babes napping in prams.  Walking by the wild garlic in full flower and scent, then through a carpet of pink chestnut blossom.
20160523_15420160523_3

On the path (river to the right) up to top of the woods a bisected fallen tree trunk invites you on, but not before taking in the not wasted opportunity for a bit of wood sculpture – the spider stood out but other creatures and the inevitable serpent featured on the other side of the path too.

At the top a wild flower meadow and modest tumulus – a Bronze Age burial mound – and rumours of a windmill.  There’s a stainless steel sculpture marking the tumulus that plays nicely with its position and the light, the work of Michael Fairfax.  The hole is at adult face height.

20160523_8The windmill is anecdotal – there used to be one somewhere around here – but that seems ample justification for the inscription curling at the foot of the piece, written by the sculptor’s dad, John Fairfax:

At Badock’s Wood ghostly windmill sails turn / and like a rewound film spin through history / to remote times when this was burial place for bronze aged warrior / In that landscape wolves prowled / and nervy red deer grazed / while hog rooted among the trees.

It’s a thought.

StonerStoner – a slight return

Back home in time for Book Group.  Half of us had read John WilliamsStoner (1965) before but none regretted a re-read and it retains its quiet power admirably.  This is a special book.  Put simply, the only son of a farming family who could have posed for Grant Wood’s American Gothic, William Stoner, at the urging of the Land Agent, goes to uni to study agriculture, struggles with the compulsory EngLit intro until he has a classroom revelation and devotes the rest of his life to medieval and renaissance literature there.  His dissertation? – “The influence of the Classical Tradition upon the Medieval Lyric.” But you don’t hear much specifically about that.

He’s not that great a teacher, though he gets a bit of a mojo in that regard after a personal tragedy brought on by backstabbing spirit-destroying departmental politics.  It’s the story of a decent man’s life, how he copes with its slings and unreasonable arrows (“…the density of accident and circumstance”), related in an even-toned unspectacular yet haunting prose, and it is absolutely thrilling.  Incredibly sad and yet so life-affirming.

Reading it the second time round I was struck by how vivid the supporting cast are; the slow tragedy of his mentor’s despair as he sees how others react to the Great War (“There are wars and defeats and victories of the human race that are not military and that are not recorded in the annals of history”), seeing his mate Finch as less of the uncaring careerist I’d thought, and further ruing the loss in that war of the third of that Friday night drinks trio, who, for all that he “gave him a glimpse of the corrosive and unspoiled bitterness of youth”, might have given Stoner the odd useful kick or pointer when he needed it: “Dave Masters, the defiant boy they both had loved, whose ghost had held them, all these years, in a friendship whose depth they had never quite realised.”

And then there’s his wife …  Now I wasn’t the only one – and I’m the only male in the group – who’d wanted to strangle the bitch (sorry, it just slipped out, but it’s visceral in the book), but discussion had us wondering how damaged she was even before she met Stoner: when her father dies she comprehensively destroys all her stuff with any connection to him, and cruelly reclaims their daughter, the saving grace of the marriage for him – is it more than jealousy and bloody-mindedness?  If I ever read it again – not out of the question, it’s a great book – it’s something to look out for.  Again, on second reading, the hope and excitement of his compensating affair seemed even more vivid: “after a while, the outer world where people walked and spoke, where there was change and continual movement, seemed to them false and unreal.”

He was forty-two years old, and he could see nothing before him that he wished to enjoy and little behind him that he cared to remember. (p181) [that number again!]

He had dreamed of a kind of integrity, of a kind of purity that was entire; he had found compromise and the assaulting diversion of triviality. He had conceived wisdom, and at the end of the long years he had found ignorance. (p275)

Thrilling? Life affirming?  A life worth living?  A book worth reading.  You betcha. 

Here’s the link to what I said at first reading a couple of years ago: https://quavid.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/this-is-your-life/

Vaultage late May 2016A Vaultage that was a bit special

And not just for the launch of the T-shirts (see photo below).  Two very fine guest acts who formed a mutual admiration society while being quite different in their subtle offerings.  First up were hazeyjane – one word, no spaces – two blokes with no qualms about bravely wearing the Nick Drake influence on their sleeves, but doing their own nicely crafted material.  Was that a five-string bass?  Indeed it was, being mellifluously played behind some accomplished singing and guitar from the writer.  Only thing I would say, is you probably need to dig a bit deeper in the Drake oeuvre to find another name, not because of gender confusion but because it’s already quite a well used web identity.  There’s even a US ‘saison’ beer (whatever that means) from the Mystic Brewery.

Then we had Wednesday’s Wolves – that’s them on the poster – two young women who describe themselves on their worth a visit website as doing ‘contemporary folk’, again doing their own stuff.  Enchanting vocals, some aetherial harmonies, engaging songs, the one who didn’t play guitar getting away with playing glockenspiel on a couple of songs in an often noisy pub.  As Lois, who had got these two duos to come along, said: a magical evening.  (Not forgetting the open mic-ers too, he added, of course).

Dynamic duo

Now seems a good time for a photo of Pat Nicholson and Lois Barrett, two fine performers and writers in, um, their own right, who host Vaultage, sporting the aforementioned t-shirts. And a nod to the Vaults Bar in the Bull Hotel, Stony Stratford for this and many other things.

 

Sojourning in Bristol a week or so ago we wandered by the river with no great plan and crossed the modern pedestrian bridge spanning the floating harbour.  Pero’s Bridge is named, in reparation, for Pero Jones – an African slave brought back from the West Indies by a local merchant – who lived and died in Bristol in the late eighteenth century.

Love locks on Pero's Bridge

Love locks on Pero’s Bridge

The length of the bridge was decorated with padlocks, attached and inscribed as tokens of love (or memory) in an urban metal update of the old custom of tree dressing.  I was much taken with this, hadn’t encountered its like before; a woman called Jenny even had 5 locks in a column spelling out her name.  Seems it is not unique to Bristol, and that a bridge in Paris actually collapsed under the weight of all the love.  I’m curious as to the etiquette – do you throw the key into the River Frome as a gesture of eternal love (or til rust do us part)?  Do you surreptitiously keep the spare just in case?

Let us now praise the inventors of durable exterior housepaint

Let us now praise the inventors of durable exterior housepaint

Thought we’d at least have a look at Brunel’s Great Britain and couldn’t resist going in.  Big fan of old Isambard for the GWR, but I had no idea of what a big deal this was.  Built in Bristol, it was the first propeller-driven iron-hulled ocean liner, launched 1843, the first Atlantic crossing you could set a reasonably accurate timetable for.  Used as a troop ship in the Crimean War, then for the emigrant passage for Australia and in its old age used to carry bulk cargo.  Holed up in the Falkland Islands in 1886, beyond economic repair, it still had a contribution to make, some of its structure being cannibalised to patch up HMS Exeter, damaged in the action that saw off the German battleship Admiral Graf Spee in the Second World War.  It was somehow returned to Bristol in 1970.

Great Britain ticketIt’s a class act, this dockyard museum and ship restoration (http://www.ssgreatbritain.org/).  Your entrance ticket is a reproduction of  the Passengers’ Contract Ticket to Australia (click on the picture, then click again), and the trip through the dockyard, the museum, the dry dock (over your head a rippling water-filled glass ceiling) where you can walk round the tired old iron hull, and of course on board the ship itself, is full of nice touches.  The interior has been restored; as you wander the sumptuous first class dining saloon you get snatches in a babble of mealtime conversations wafting in and out; in the kitchens a back projection of a rat moving across the back of the shelves, the cook cursing the lazy cat, a ship’s doctor tending a bloody wound, and various other scenarios.  Horse smells from the hold, even, it threatened in the guide, though we didn’t encounter it, a whiff of seasickness.

Here some views of the hull’s massive texture:

20160523_5220160523_4620160523_45Sorry, but like my 8 month old grandson, I’m fascinated by texture, though with me it’s more visual than the relentless touching.  It’s an extraordinary feeling to walk round this awesome structure and think of the decades of oceans’ wear and tear; I know it’s simple eureka! physics but the idea of all that iron floating still seems magical.

Barber and poetPretty sure this is not an original piece of what library cataloguers have cause to call realia, but I’d hope he has to be fact-based.  You couldn’t make it up.  I’d love to find some of his stuff.  I like the idea of a barber-poet shaving a beard and staunching the bleeding to the accompaniment of the sound of soothing stanzas recited.  Beats “Where you going on your holidays? – Oh, hang on.”  (Sadly the nearest I’ve found to any such poetry was tucked away on the .org website, where you’ll find a poem by Joseph Earl James, written and poignantly submitted from Islington Workhouse, celebrating Great Britain’s predecessor, the steam paddle liner, Great Eastern, including the lines: “Brunel thy mind so great with power at will / Subdues the toughened Iron to thy learned skill.”)

First class on deckMusicians stuck in the cornerWhile the dining saloon was a bit special, the actual First Class accommodation was nothing special, especially by today’s standards (or at least what I’ve seen on telly).  The bunks were slim and with a raised edge (anti-rolling out of bed presumably) and not that much of an upgrade from those in steerage, except those had zero privacy and were housed like shelves in a corridor with the odd little space for belongings.  Apparently those in steerage mainly banqueted on ship’s biscuit.  And had no music other than what they made for themselves.  Leaving you see the grandly decorated stern – for the first modern liner, definitely olde school.

SSGB Horn of Plenty

The Horn of plenty

Continuing adventures

Woolly BristolBristol in wool

Back on shore again we retraced our steps, this time to enter the splendid Mshed, Bristol’s history museum, there to climb the stairs and get a great Tate Modern-like view across the city and see a fabulous knitted representation of it.  Note those multi-coloured houses as featured above in my second photo here.  How about that as an idea for the MK50 celebrations?

I’d hoped (the sadness of the sojourning ex-librarian) to get a good look inside Bristol Central Library – a classic old municipal showpiece library building of renown, Grade I listed even – but unbelievably in a city of well over 400,000 souls, being a Wednesday it was … CLOSED (capitalised in disgust at austerity politics).

20160523_115Wandered around the new bit, where we said hello to a statue of Cary Grant (Bristol’s most famous? – still called Archibald Leach as all pub quizzers know, when he left in 1920, aged 16) and encountered again the group of young French students we’d just thankfully missed on the SS GB.  Nothing against the French; just seems in my experience they can be the noisiest school groups going, which is some feat.  That’s them reflected in the enormous static disco mirror ball behind the energy tree in the photo.  Should have found out what goes in inside really.

Another thing I should have done – and this not for the first time – was consulted Simon Jenkins’ trusty England’s thousand best churches before we went rather than after the event.  Godless, I still like a good church.  And so it was we missed 4- and 5-starr-ers in favour of the Cathedral.  Which is a Weird windowperfectly good cathedral – Gothic Revival and all that – but without any special wow factors.  Indeed, deja vu of Worcester in finding the caff and the bogs – even men and women’s – in the same niches,  on the same corridor with stained glass decorated windows from which you can see the cloisters.  One of said windows boasted these weird creatures.  Undersea? Cute aliens?

By which time we were knackered and went home.  Or at least where we were staying.

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