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Archive for the ‘Beer’ Category

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.

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I only ask because I think it’s a good question, one of the best.  In the Great British Grammar School of life both Tony Broadbent and I are Class of ’66, while Jeremy Corbyn will have left his alma mater a year later.  So we are very much of a generation, and Jeremy: my, how knackered you must be feeling after the last couple of months.  I wish you all the luck you deserve in the years to come, which is, I hasten to add, removing all hint of ambiguity, quite a lot, but you’ll probably need some that you don’t as well (I remember the ’80s and your Trot mates).

1-909OK, blogger‘s etiquette.  Tony Broadbent is an old mate – we were in one another’s first beat combo at school – and he sent me an e-copy of The one after 9:09: a mystery with a backbeat (Plain Sight Press, 2015) gratis.  I get an acknowledgment in the acknowledgments and the Persuaders, the band Spike, the lead character in the book plays in, was the name of our group.  The impact the Beatles had on us was huge; this book is a labour of love.  Cliché time: I remember hearing Love me do under the bed sheets on Radio Luxemburg (208 metres medium wave) and feeling a tingle,  thinking – I was a big Everly Brothers fan at the time – hey, these guys are English and this is the real thing.  Tony, as he admits in his afterword to The one after Goldie and the Gingerbreads gig9:09, reverted for a while to using Paul, the first name on his birth certificate, and started speaking with a scouse accent.  Musical differences subsequently arose and Tony graduated to a band that reached the heights of supporting Goldie & the Gingerbreads – Can’t you hear my heartbeat? – at the local Ricky Tick Club.

The mystery in the sub-title concerns the story related in Beatles-manager-to-be Brian Epstein’s autobiography A cellarful of noise about how he was first alerted to the Beatles existence by one Raymond Jones coming into the record department of his family’s furniture store and asking for My bonnie, the record they made in Germany with singer Tony Sheridan.  Tony Broadbent has been working on this novel for a decade and when he started it, it was widely thought that this Jones feller was a fiction.  The surmise of The one after 9:09 is that Raymond Jones got his historically significant namecheck in A cellarful of noise because of services rendered in other circumstances in the Beatles and Brian’s rise to world domination, and the novel, among many other happenings along the way, gives one fictional explanation of what might have occurred.  Subsequently a perfectly real (and more mundane – no offence intended), a reasonable actual Raymond Jones has been found (see The Beatles Bible) but that should in no way take away from the invention of Tony Broadbent‘s weaving of what is real and what is not in the early Beatles/Epstein tale.

So, 1961, Beatles established as Liverpool’s top group, excess in Hamburg, Pete Best on drums, groups a-plenty, Teddy Boy gangs, promoters’ fierce rivalries, Brian Epstein’s paranoid homosexual misadventures, his ‘bigger than Elvis’ vision, the fight to manage ‘the boys’, the struggle to get a recording contract, enter George Martin, enter Ringo.  All pretty much as reported in the sources Tony Broadbent extensively acknowledges.  It’s weird: early on Tony pitches a fixer called Terry McCann straight into action, which I thought was an unfortunate coincidence – Minder and all that.  So I check him out and first mention in the search engine is him attending Cilla Black’s funeral; and he’s not the only one prominent in the story was there.  (Fortunately, keeping the corn at bay, Cilla does not appear in the book.)

51pqM27dAhLIf you want a lively dramatised potted history up to the recording of Please, please me, and how it all felt, then The one after 9:09 is not a bad place to start.  Into all this enter invented teenager Raymond ‘Spike’ Jones – ‘Spike’ from Milligan in The Goons – art school drop-out (same place as Lennon), sometime muscle, admin assistant (bill sticker et al), private eye’s camouflage stand-in at The Cavern (looking out for Epstein), bass guitarist, friend of the Beatles, general man on the scene, and romantic seeker and finder of true love with his judy (not her name).  The several narratives are delivered patchwork as events enticingly unfold, split-screen fashion.  The coffee bars, the pubs, the clubs, the backstreets of Liverpool the backdrop to the action with scousisms and period vernacular aplenty, and lines and phrases from Beatles lyrics worked, with a nod and a wink, into the prose – the actual One after 9:09 quote is a beaut.  Some of the Beatles’ wit could have come out of Hard day’s night, and though some of the fuller passages of dialogue – spelling out dilemmas and options – are a bit strained, I think Lennon’s character, his edginess, is particularly well done.  Raymond Chandler’s advice to writers hitting a plot wall – have a man enter the room with a gun in his hand – might be at play with the appearance of a gang of tooled up red bandana’d Teds more than once.

I’m not going to say it’s a great book – I think Tony’s Creeping narratives, crime thrillers set in post-war and ’50s London, featuring cat burglar Jethro, The Smoke and its successors, are more satisfying conventional genre novels – but it’s an intriguing and entertaining one, the mix of fact and fiction a fascinating exercise.  There were times when reading I forgot it was written by an old mate.  It had me eagerly reading on – even when I knew the score as far as the Beatles story went, tension even in those first meetings with George Martin.  That One after 9:09 is a labour of love, gratitude and affection is evident throughout.

A specific afterthought, one that keeps cropping up generally in all sorts of contexts lately: what if homosexuality had not been illegal when Brian Epstein was a young man?  How might popular music history then have been changed?

InfographicInfographics

As should be obvious from the above I am interested in music.  I am also a big fan of charts and infographics.  So if a picture paints a thousand words and infographics is meant to be a way of displaying information clearly then how come I got so little from Infographic guide to music, as compiled by Graham Betts (Hachette, 2014)?  There are many reasons, not all of which apply to every page:

  • as someone who worked on a student magazine under the influence of Oz magazine I know only too well the problem of reading text (coloured or not) printed on colour; though occasionally decent examples of geometric art emerge, clarification of the issues they are not.
  • even where it’s just about readable and you can make sense of what’s there on the page, a simple list would have been more efficient and much less of an effort to read eg.  It’s your funeral (popular songs chosen for funerals – depressingly Frank Sinatra’s My way)
  • I could care less eg. Radiohead songs by genre; The 360 degrees of Jay-Z (hey, an incomprehensible pie-chart!)

I was going to say at least I got a certain sizeist satisfaction from The height of pop success when it said that the average height of The Beatles was only 5’8″, but on checking who was the short arse I discover that that’s not right.  With Lennon and McCartney at 5’11” and George at 5’10” not even Ringo coming in at 5’6″ can bring them down to that.  Another couple of small saving graces: an analysis of opera endings, Is it over when the fat lady sings? – no, it isn’t; the wit of selecting (of which there was not enough) as a topic What’s on ZZ Top’s mind? (women and/or sex 46%), even if it was actually a list with a pop art illustration.  A random pick-up at the library; at least it adds to their issue statistics.

11949477_10153176884968525_4198881650354426198_nOut and about

Back after its summer break Scribal Gathering picked up where it had left off and hit the eclectic ground running in a half redecorated upstairs at The Crown.  Featured musical ensemble The Outside This (outside the Box?) with the unusual line-up of guitar, drums and three female vocalists (one with added violin for lilt and lyricism) entertained with an energetic and varied set of catchy original material.   They deliver what must be more demanding arrangements than they end up sounding.  Intriguing, and getting better all the time.  Elsewhere a distinct touch of the Brecht/Weil’s from Mitchell Taylor with his jaunty (and now vindicated at least for now) hymn to Jezza, Leaders, and Sian Magill’s ditty, complete with controlled angry rapid recitation, about a friend being made redundant.  Prize for what is Scribal’s loudest spontaneous singalong must surely go to experienced but Scribal first timer, musician to the Brackley Morris, Stephen Ferneyhough, accompanying himself on Anglo-German concertina, with a delightful rendition of the KinksDedicated follower of fashion.  Oh, yes he is: a perfect match.  Some may even call it folk music.

Shakespeare at WestburyGreat little show of snippets from Shakespeare, part of the open weekend at Westbury Arts Centre, a fine old 17th century farm building with extensions in the attractive setting of Shenley Wood, in Milton Keynes.  Should have taken my camera, just for the splendid old wooden doors, never mind the sculptures in the grounds (including a couple of rusted and artistically arranged Austin mini-Metros).  We were treated to extracts from five (or was it six) of the Bard’s comedies (they all tend to jumble up in the memory) on the theme of revenge, delivered in unorthodox style by (it says here) “local Westbury ACprofessional and amateur actors” though you couldn’t really see the join.  Should it be surprising that the Bard’s sharp comic dialogue came over, in one instance, so well as an exchange of text messages?  Beautifully done.  Most inventive of all was that Shylock speech from The Merchant of Venice – “If you prick us do we not bleed?” –  delivered as a slow and meditative monologue by a woman artist who spent plenty of time setting herself up and making herself comfortable in order to sketch us, the audience, before thinking out loud in between further bouts of sketching; tremendously effective.  The joshing of Falstaff in The merry wives of Windsor was another piece that has stayed with me.  Thanks too, to the artists who opened their studios to us.

Walter-Tull-Flattened-239x300Oh, and I put in a stint at the latest Cock & Bull Beer Festival at York House, Friday Night.  Reminded me a bit of being on the enquiry desk at the Central Library – great fun once you’d worked out which way the beer was going to come out at (some down, some sideways).  Didn’t drink much either side of the bar, but I will mention the delicious aroma of elderflower that greets the drinker from Buntingford‘s Sun Star (and very nicely floral it tasted too), and the vibrant ruby delight of the Magpie brewery’s Angry bird (oh yes).  Great Oakley scored well as usual in my book, with their Welland Valley (practically a mild, hurrah!) and Walter Tull, their tribute to a great man and no longer forgotten local hero, the first black outfield professional footballer (Northampton Town and Spurs), the first black British army officer, who died leading his men out of the trenches in the Great War.

 

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20150815-KFK-unplugged-posterClissoldNo, it’s all good …

Standout performance for me at Kinks Night at The Clissold Arms “unplugged” session was a storming Twentieth century man.  When Geoff nailed the bit where the organ sweeps in two young men next to me – mid-20s? I’m not good at this – punched the air and cheered.  (Take a bow, Geoff Lewis).  I’d been talking to them earlier – favourite album Muswell Hillbillies (so men of taste) – and they got no kicks from modern groups at all.  With audience participation expected, these young lads knew all the words, on some songs better than the performers.

It’s a fascinating phenomenon, the way the musical generation boundary lines have faded.  At the annual Official Kinks Fan Club Konvention in November – a shindig graced on stage by a full cast of the Kast Off Kinks, with sometimes brief appearances from Ray Davies (though never Dave) – attendees’ ages range from teens to late seventies at least.

The Clissold Arms in Muswell Hill is where the Davies brothers had their first public performance, in late 1960, over the road from where they lived.  It now houses a room dedicated to The Kinks and their works.  The Kinksfan Kollektiv‘s Clissold sessions had their origins in an evening before the Konvention singalong and grew in scope from that to almost a military operation.  This summer special, outside the usual season, came about because of the vacation arrangements of Jim Smart, over from Hawaii, one of the original movers and performers of the fan sessions.  Was a good evening, heartening to talk to someone you’ve only previously known over the internet (hi Jim).  But … London prices: £4.40 a pint!

Cloud atlasCloud Atlas

Book Group book for August was David Mitchell‘s Cloud Atlas (2004).  I’d read it when it first came out and been impressed enough to give it a re-read.  I wasn’t the only one in the group, this time around, to subvert the subversion of the novel’s original unorthodox format.  It consists of six novellas, all relating to one another by various gestures, arranged like an onion with its layers, as if you were boring through to the earth’s core and then out again on the other side.

The initial nineteenth century diary of an eventful Pacific voyage cuts off suddenly and we’re into an epistolary account of an entertaining scoundrel of an English composer on the run in Belgium in the 1930s, wherein a purloined first (and only) edition copy of that diary figures in one of his personal fundraising schemes.  We move from there to a stylish fictional thriller novel set in post-Three Mile Island America, which breaks off at a genuine cliffhanger, into a very funny comic novel concerning an English publisher, whose experience publishing true crime has him on the run too, set in the present.  Then we move into the future, for a future archive interview concerning the development of artificial intelligence in cyborgs until we hit the core of the book, another kind of science fiction, a (not too difficult) dialect record of life when hi-tech civilisation has collapsed, into which an anthropologist from a surviving remnant of civilisation is allowed to stay for study purposes.  And then we are out the other side, in reverse order, with more links between them floated as the narratives develop, and the eighteenth century diary entries constitute the final part of Cloud Atlas.

But, as I say, this time I ignored the splits in the individual narratives and read each one straight through.  And the links between them became more obvious.  All are fascinating in their own right; he takes you into the working mind of a composer of music, for instance.  And it’s a lot funnier than I remembered and – definite shades of Thomas Pynchon – still just as seriously prescient a decade later.  Beautifully written too, an impressive fluidity of style.  It’s a meditation on human nature, really.  What drives us, makes us great, is what is also likely to be our undoing: “human hunger birthed the Civ’lize, but human hunger killed it too“.  Simple yes, but ultimately there is hope.  Near the end, our voyager comes out of his shattering experience, vowing, “A life spent shaping a world I want Jackson to inherit, not one I fear Jackson will inherit, this strikes me as a life worth the living.”  So over to us.  I thought the notion of a ‘cloud atlas’ was very Yoko Ono, and it turns out Mitchell got it from an actual piece of music composed by her first husband.

Vaultage late Aug 2015Music closer to home

No August open mic hiatus for Vaultage nights in the Vaults, which Pat and Lois have established as a more than dependable full music night out these past few months.  Featured act at the last Vaultage were VHS Pirates,  who describe themselves on FaceBook as, “a new uplifting exciting band from Northampton who play a mix of frenetic Folk Ska with a sensitive sprinkle of 80’s pop.”  Not to mention the unlikely sight of a banjoist supplying the rhythm on the up beat, the owner of one of two fine voices, a subtle keyboardist (the sprinkle) and original material of wit and no little invention.

Meanwhile, over at Aortas in the Old George a sparsity of performers on Sunday gave the bonus of what turned into featured sets from Dan Plews, Naomi Rose, an angry Mark Owen (his driven Getting away with it, a take on the Rebekah Brooks saga, given fresh venom with the news earlier in the day she was getting her job back), and comic verse from the poet Hobbs.  Would have happily paid to see that.  Earlier in the month stand-in host Pete Morton had led what turned out to be a decent night with his own songs and some well-chosen covers, in an evening also notable for an older couple leaving the pub muttering ‘Shouldn’t be allowed’ at Naomi’s most miserable song, Permanent blue.

MK-Calling-11

Keelertornero: Heads of assembly at MKG

MK Calling 2015

This summer‘s exhibition at MK Gallery featured selections from an Open Call for work from local artists, amateur, student and professional.  I went along with someone whose default position on a lot of contemporary art is disparagement, but she stayed the course well enough.  It’s a varied and interesting exhibition.  My favourite piece was Head-of-Assembly-KEELERTORNERO-2014-Vinyl-records1Chin Keeler and Emma Tornero’s Heads of assembly (2014), hanging from the ceiling of the Cube Gallery.  You have to be there: these are heads made from moulding vinyl records over mannequins’ heads, with the labels still in place.  The programme notes suggest the artists deal, among other things, with ‘unkempt fantasy‘.  Here’s an individual head, image filched from the internet (probably their website); click and click again for an enlargement.

Crossword clues I have loved

Can’t do cryptic crosswords but can appreciate a bad pun when you hear or see it?  Then you’re in with a shout.  Some favourites of old from the Guardian – an occasional series here at Lillabullero – with the compilers credited.  Zen punnery & thinking out(or well in)side the box.  (Crosswords are printable for free from the Guardian website.)

  • From Rufus: Space for army manoeuvres (5,4)
  • From Paul: One’s days are numbered (8)
  • From Pasquale: Call at table, suggesting preference for sirloin or T-bone? (2,5)
  • Paul again: Most adventurous combination of underclothes (7)
  • A favourite of mine, from Paul: Bad quality expensive jewellery? That’s clumsy (8)
  • More from Rufus: No beer left? That’s the limit! (6,3)
  • Arachne spinning: She’s over-groomed (8)
  • From Picaroon: Celebs ill-equipped for dinner parties (8)
  • From Chifonie: Space traveller posed on vessel (6)
  • One more time from Rufus: A loaded statement (8)

Solutions under this picture of some frogs ©moi:

Frogs

  • Rufus: Space for army manoeuvres (5,4) Elbow room [arm-y]
  • Paul: One’s days are numbered (8) Calendar
  • Pasquale: Call at table, suggesting preference for sirloin or T-bone? (2,5) No trump [not rump][a bid in the game of bridge][a US election slogan?]
  • Paul: Most adventurous combination of underclothes (7) Bravest [Bra vest]
  • Paul: Bad quality expensive jewellery? That’s clumsy (8) Bumbling [Bum bling]
  • Rufus: No beer left? That’s the limit! (6,3) Bitter end
  • Arachne: She’s over-groomed (8) Bigamist [women can’t do it too?]
  • Picaroon: Celebs ill-equipped for dinner parties (8) Notables [No tables]
  • Chifonie: Space traveller posed on vessel (6) Saturn [Sat on urn]
  • Rufus: A loaded statement (8) Bulletin [Bullet in]

Sorry.

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HeightsPoop, poop!  The open road.  Or at least, the M6 Toll.  The heart begins to lift at the sign for the Kirkby Lonsdale turn-off, the tension to fall from the shoulders past the exit for Kendal.  Bit of a ritual now.  Check in, unload, cup of tea, then go and see if the stones are still there.

Yup - stil there: Castlerigg Stone Circle

Yup – still there: Castlerigg Stone Circle

The way we go, you don’t see them until you’ve climbed the steps built into the wall, but once in among the stones it makes perfect sense why they’re where they are, seeming to be at the centre of something.  No astro-science, ancient science or pseudo-science necessary to appreciate that.

Trees and shadowsIn The Lakes the sun plays shadow games with the clouds and the land, painting constantly shifting shades of hill and fell.  We’re just looking, not striding up and down them.

Wednesday is the hottest day of the year so far.  We choose to do Walla Crag, which overlooks the north half of Derwent Water and, in the distance, Bassenthwaite (what’s the only Lake in the Lake District?) Lake.  And, of course, a whole lot more of the solid stuff.  Northern or oak eggar mothFortunately the higher we get the stronger the breeze, which is a wind by the time we reach the top and laze for a bit.  Photographs (or at least mine), especially in summer, never get anywhere near the magnificence of the view, so here’s one of a northern (or oak) eggar moth, trying not to get blown away.

Today we make the descent (probably too grand a term, even though the walk leaflet calls it strenuous and steep, and the worst bit involves dropping from a seated position) lakewards down the other side.  To our left Cat Gill, and after the aforementioned worst bit, the gill briefly flattens out so I have the brilliant idea of stepping down and bathing my sweltering salt-strewn face in the cool clear waters.  It is here that I learn the aptness of the ancient wisdom enshrined in the old adage, “Slippery when wet”, even when there are no warning signs.  Twelve days on I still bear the residual signs of what proved to be a truly psychedelic bruise on my thigh; nor can I yet grip a pen as tightly as I am wont to.  No matter.  Onwards to a fine lunch on the veranda of the all-welcoming Mary Mount Hotel, bestrewn as it is with busy bird feeders – chaffinches and great tits so fine and handsome we had to do a double-take.

Musical stonesThursday to town, and my favourite little museum: The Keswick Museum and Art Gallery.  Where I play Louie, Louie and From me to you on the musical stones – 3 sets thereof, stacked like they’re waiting for Keith Emerson to come and climb all over them. It’s a fascinating piece of rock music history.  In the gallery a major exhibition celebrating Alfred Wainwright – Wainwright: a love letter to the Lakeland Fells.  Along with his tweed jackets (pipe sticking out of the pocket of one), his ‘best’ (for council meetings) and his first boots, and all the obvious stuff, we get to see memorabilia from his life as an active Blackburn Rovers supporters: a cartoon of his of fans at the 1922 Boxing Day match with the legend “Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching”, his ‘motor coach excursion ticket’ to the 1940 (wartime) Cup Final.  At one end of the gallery, a one-piece vinyl floor covering, maybe 15 foot square, printed with an old style OS map of the Lakes; Isobel stood on top of Helvellyn, no probs.  And with one bound …

Dog & GunDog & Gun veggie goulashAnd so to The Dog & Gun, there to partake of their vegetarian goulash, a disappointment last year because we only discovered its very existence after we’d eaten elsewhere.  It was worth the wait.  Pictured is what they call a small portion – it comes with garlic bread too – and I couldn’t have eaten anymore.  I was drinking a pint of Ruskin’s, pretty much the most cultural it got this time around, and – goodness! – taste buds now fully engaged, it had twice the flavour after the meal.  A splendid array of ales, imaginatively and helpfully presented with a colour sample in a jar beside each pump (click on the image for an enlargement, and once more if that’s not good enough to whet your taste buds, beear drinkers) :

Pumps 01Pumps 2Pumps 3

In the afternoon, the gentle railway walk out of Keswick, the river winding, wildly here, wandering there, under the permanent … walk-way.  Such sights, such engineering.  The tallest foxgloves everywhere.  For fans of ironworks, rust and greenery:

Iron & greenBridge

On Friday we sample a live railway.  Eighteen minutes there and eighteen minutes back behind ‘Victor’ on the restored Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway – the lake being Windermere – and in between a look around the Lakes Aquarium, stocked with a lot more than fishes.  We saw voracious mean-looking ‘baby’ crocodiles included being fed.; lots of potential ouch there.

Train coming

D8000 classIn the locoshed at Haverthwaite I discover I am older than all the engines in the shed – including four steam locomotives of varying size – except for a diesel shunter.  There are a couple of older engines outside, but I wasn’t expecting that: to feel that old, even pursuing memories of a childhood and early-teen pursuit.  As it happens, the photo is one of the class of locos mentioned in a poem of mine some readers might remember having heard Lion & wheel logoperformed, called The lamb’s last gambol: “I sold my stamp collection for a train set / a Hornby freight diesel / Lion and wheel logo / painted grey and green“.  Except this one was missing a lion and wheel logo, though one of the other young locos proudly displayed one (compare and contrast with, say, Virgin, or any of the other railway companies now).

Saturday to the seaside and a bracing sea breeze at Alonby on the Solway Firth, which could be a very forlorn place on the wrong day.  When the interesting clouds lifted we could see the green fields of Dumfries under a blue sky.  Stony beach, true, but with plenty of delightful pebbles to peruse.  Borrowdale’s Great Wood again in the pm, finally making geographical sense to us in the scheme of things fitting together.  And the next day home again, home again, jiggety jog, fortified midway with Waitrose sandwiches at Keele services – the high life! – even if we did have to walk over the Keele services bridge and through Burger King to get them.

RevealSoundtrack of the sojourn in the car proved to be REM’s gorgeous masterpiece Reveal.  Hardly a rock album at all, but there’s certainly a lot of roll, and some floating.  Song soundscapes.  Anticipation, sympathy, self-doubt overcome, with a nod to science while not letting that take away the poetry.  Beguiling, sinuous melodies that don’t hit at first but once they catch you’re waiting for them eagerly the next time.  To sing along to.  A sadness that glows, with a bit of Beach Boys in there too.  Lovely.

Oh, and I forgot to mention in chronicling the Welsh trip how my breakfast Marmite habit had been broken, it being overtaken on the toast by Rose’s pleasurably sweet and sour Lemon & Lime Marmalade, but I’m over that now.

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Colne guitarWallace HartleyColne

Now where was I?  Oh, yes.  Coming back from the Lakes a while ago now, stayed over with a friend in Colne, Lancashire, in the Borough of Pendle.  Interesting town, feels like it’s built on a ridge, scarily steep roads leading off down at various intervals from either side of the main drag – population circa 19,00, over twice as big as Stony – and another music town.  That guitar in the photo is part of a floral bed which is (it says) “a tribute to The Great Bristish [sic] Rhythm & Blues Festival held in Colne every August.”  After a few ales maybe.  Close by is a bust celebrating Colne’s most famous son: Wallace Hartley – violinist and bandmaster on the RMS Titanic, who famously played on as the unsinkable ship sank.

I still think it’s a coincidence, though, that we sat through the whole of Tempest, the 14 minute ‘epic’ title track from Bob Dylan’s last album, while eating in Jim’s Acoustic Cafe & Vegetarian Restaurant … and it sounded better there – took me a while to realise what it was, intrigued by the rhythm of the vocal, not listening to the lyric – than I’ve ever heard its tedious drone in my own home.  Put it down to Jim’s more than decent sound system.  The food is great too, always interesting (from a choice of three mains a day) and really reasonably priced – I should have nicked a menu to show you.   The music a fascinating and varied mix – as well as the Dylan I remember Howlin’ Wolf, some African funk, Joni Mitchell, Hendrix – and what I didn’t recognise was always interesting;  the man has taste to match his culinary skills.  Comfortable, relaxed, ramshackle (in the best sense of the word) decor with an eclectic collection of pictures to have you out of your seat for a closer look.  Oh for anything like it locally!  Apparently ‘Jim’s’ is the small Festival venue; Jackie Leven used to play there.

I used to think of places like Blackburn and Burnley as post-industrial waste lands, but Colne seems to be doing OK, and the towns were always never far from the hilly Pendle countryside, which, though never as dramatic as The Lakes or as wild as the North Yorkshire Moors, has plenty going for it (and there is plenty of it).  You can walk into Bronte country from Colne; Yorkshire spreads further west than many would think.

BRCBuckinghamshire Railway Centre

Springing forward three weeks, spent some time at the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre at Quainton the weekend just passed.  Blimey, it’s changed a bit since I was there last.  Like there’s a swishy visitor centre now (went up 12 years ago, I was told) and there’s so much more to see.  Hadn’t done any research prior to the visit so it was a nice surprise to be met on entering with an example of a GWR Castle class, that most handsome and exquisitely proportioned class of express steam locomotives, resplendent in British railways colours, in the entrance hall. (Photos © Lillabullero)

Castle 5080 'Defiant'.  But what if one were in a more compliant mood?

Castle 5080 ‘Defiant’. ‘Climb aboard Defiant’ the sign says, but what if one were in a more compliant mood? (To be fair, the sign does have the loco name in inverted commas.

In deepest Buckinghamshire

In deepest Buckinghamshire

Janice

A beast of a locomotive named ‘Janice’; South African, 3’6″ gauge but still enormous.

Lots more oddness in evidence, along with resplendent resident Metropolitan 1 – click on the photos to enlarge:

BrooklynOddnessInteresting

Metropolitan No 1BeggarsAnd as you’d expect these days, loads of social history in the museum and the lovingly restored 1890s Quainton Road station, where you’ll find this reminder that the ‘deserving poor’ are always with us.  It’s like something out of a Thomas Hardy novel if he hadn’t stopped writing novels about that time.  ‘Wayfarer’ – does that not have an adventurous dignity about it? The honest wayfarer – a folk song waiting to be written.

Castle chimneyFurther on down the line

So … between Colne and Quainton a fair few events and happenings.  Staying with the railway theme briefly, a beer promisingly named Smokestack Lightnin‘ supped in the Vaults  at the Vaultage Re-Charged, pleasant enough, but without the bite of Howlin’ Wolf’s record of the same name …  a couple of AORTAS open mics, the first where landlord Andy required of Dan, the paid piper, that he deliver an evening of happy songs, which was enough to keep at least one songsmith away, only for Andy then to go on holiday himself … the second distinguished by the usual good (musically miserable) times, Mark Owen (one half of The Last Quarter) playing solo, being introduced as The Last Eighth, and Pat’s dog farting; eyes raised approvingly at the previously unnoticed appearance at the word ‘acrimony’ in Dan Plews‘ fine rendition of The Sailor’s Rest … down the road in the bar of The Crauford Arms in Wolverton another day, Tom George, going out as The Lion & the Wolf, warned the nevertheless appreciative audience to prepare themselves for “the miserable-ist 20 minutes of your lives”; interesting songs played and sung strongly, in not ideal circumstances, which was a relief given he’s the son of an old mate – fine young man, chip off the block, even – who could remember playing in our back garden when he was 8 … and music back at the Shoulder of Mutton hopefully on a regular basis, courtesy of the Hoodwink Elixir; the ever excellent Zeroes covering Kim Wilde’s Kids in America to good effect, Second Hand Grenade funking away (Emmazing Emma getting better all the time), teenage openers Ali in the Jungle displaying accomplished musicianship for their tender years.

Was good to see John Cooper Clarke at the Stables.  He may have slowed down a bit, but he’s still got it, and good to hear new material.  Neat update of Beasley Street into Beasley Boulevard reflecting the embourgeoisement of Salford with its Media City.  Quite a phenomenon, very English I’d say, the general warmth of the affection in which JCC is held.  Not that he’s exactly cruising behind it.  His support acts would have been worth seeing on their own, hard acts to follow.  I think there’s fair chance they schooled themselves word-perfect on the man himself’s records as young teens, but they certainly proved that’s no bad thing as a starting point.  Mike Garry went out of his way to stress Johnny’s Salford, I’m Manchester, and took us down the streets the inhabitants or descendants of Beasley Street have moved to.  it was a hell of a dramatic performance – theatre, poetry, comedy.  Luke Wright, who introduced himself as ‘the token southerner’ was no slouch either; particularly strong JCC-isms in his dream woman piece (was her name Barbara?).  Discussion over the interval in certain quarters as to the shortcomings of the hair care products Luke was using, with recommendations offered.  Shall we call his barnet the sculptured bastard love child of extreme early Phil Oakey and a wind machine?

Life goes on

Went to the funeral – a real celebration of a life – of a good man.  Intro music Rage Against the Machine’s Wake up!; outro Woody Guthrie’s So long, it’s been good to know you.

Dick Apr 2013x

Dick Skellington at Scribal Gathering, April 2013. (c) Jonathan JT Taylor

HellWent to the wake of another good man who I wish I’d known longer than just the last couple of years on the poetry – the multi-faceted polymath Dick Skellington.  Much-loved scholar, poet, actor and director, raconteur, traveller and keen “agricultural” footballer (Stuart Pearce was mentioned) and team manager; I never knew about the football.  I’ve heard the word ‘curmudgeonly’ applied reverently lately too.  It was Dick who had devised The hell where youth and laughter go, a reading of a set of poems commemorating the start of the First World War, at Stony Stratford Library last week.  It kicked off with Siegfried Sassoon’s Suicide in the trenches and ended with Carol Ann Duffy’s moving Last post, and in between featured an inventive variety of verse including material taken from the Wipers Times.  I think everyone in the audience who knew Dick heard the glee, passion and gusto of Dick’s voice in the rendition, by a friend, of A.P.Herbert‘s poem about an un-loved Major General, That shit Shute:

The General inspecting the trenches
Exclaimed with a horrified shout
‘I refuse to command a division
Which leaves its excreta about.’

But nobody took any notice
No one was prepared to refute,
That the presence of shit was congenial
Compared to the presence of Shute.

And certain responsible critics
Made haste to reply to his words
Observing that his staff advisors
Consisted entirely of turds.

For shit may be shot at odd corners
And paper supplied there to suit,
But a shit would be shot without mourners
If somebody shot that shit Shute.

The Carabosse Theatre Company dedicated their run of their adaptation of Gormenghast at the Chrysalis Theatre to Dick, and there were tributes too at the October Scribal Gathering, where, with much characteristic shuffling of paper, some of his poems were given another outing.

GormenghastThat Carabosse adaptation of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy into nearly 3 hours of full-on theatre was simply stunning.  To say it was ambitious – it was – is in no way to imply they were over-reaching themselves.  The set and atmospherics were  stunning; 4 immaculately dressed and lighted acting areas – 2 up, 2 down – constructed using scaffolding, plus the fore-stage, more than enhanced by some brilliant projection work.  Fantastic costumes, great cast, some wonderful individual performances (dual in the case of the twins) – a tremendous theatrical experience.  Never managed to get into the books, but that didn’t matter one bit here – total absorption.  Bravo!

And somewhere in there the longest (if not the nearest) sighting of a kingfisher resting on a branch, flying away, returning, resting some more.  Always special.  From the older bird hide on the edge of Stony Nature Reserve.

Shoulder HoodwinkScribal Oct 2014

Bristish - to prove it was there.

Bristish – to prove it was there.

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Castlerigg

Castlerigg model

The shadows on the on-site model replicate what’s happening with the real thing.

Was it really nearly a fortnight ago to the day we made it up to the Lake District, heart lifting again at the sight of the Kirkby Lonsdale M6 turn-off?  Checked in to where we were staying and made the ritual visit to Castlerigg Stone Circle?  Not for an actual ritual, you understand, but because it’s such a great place to be.  You can see and feel why they built it here.  And for once hardly anyone else around.  Had never quite seen it in this light before.  Is why I love the Lake District.  Things can change, the landscape shifts within a hundred paces, in the passing of a cloud.  And again on the way back.

And on the way back, as it happens, was lucky to catch this colourful little scene:

Cows

 The Lake District you say?  OK, here’s a sunset over Derwent Water, after which a decent pint of Keswick Brewing Company’s basic bitter:

Another sunset

Road to nowhere

Could this be the road that David Byrne used to sing about? One of Skiddaw’s shorter sisters.

Having learnt the lesson of previous visits – not to hammer one’s body on the first full day’s outing – we settle for an ascent of Latrigg, an outlying foothill of Skiddaw, the peak we never quite managed a previous time, when we might have been able to, because of the cloud which engulfed us.  Half-way up Latrigg, painfully mounting a stile watched by a large walking group having a rest, Andy says, We’re not what we used to be.  If we ever were, say I.  It’s a decent view from the top over the north end of Derwent Water though, with a sight too of Bassenthwaite Lake; which is – as seasoned pub quizzers will well know – the only lake in the Lake District.  And in the evening we go to the theatre, of which more later.

Next day we perambulate the peaceful Buttermere, which the guide books say is a gentle introduction to Lake District walking.  Not that we’ve ever been the hardiest of the breed, you understand, but even this is more strenuous than the amble we remember.  The view beyond the south end of the lake is deeply satisfying but pretty much impossible to get a decent photo of at the time of year and day we’ve ever managed because of either haze or drizzle.  But anyway:

Buttermere 2

For this relief, much thanks (that’s not me; the drying would have been too much bother).  I shared the thought and visualised:

Feet's relief

And so back to where we started that fine day, at The Fish Inn, where there are splendidly 8 (eight!) local real ales to choose from, 4 of them from Jennings.  I opt for Hesket Newmarket’s ruby Red Pike, because it’s named for a nearby Pike that nearly finished us on a previous visit (map-reading fail, a joint-jangling descent as darkness encroached, what a day to forget one’s blue puffers), about which – the beer – I have nothing to say.  Only a half because I’ve got to negotiate the scary Honister Pass back.

Next day – another fine day: 5 days in The Lakes, staying on the edge of Borrowdale, the wettest place in the land, and we had 2 whole minutes of the lightest drizzle; the rain gear and heavy-duty walking boots stay in the car boot for the duration.  And so to the sea, the sea, and new territory for us – the Solway Coast, heading north of Maryport.  Long empty stretches of beach to ourselves.  Jack’s Surf Bar on the edge of Allanby suggests it’s different in season, though the two old men sitting on the bench outside looked to be supping the same pints they’d always supped in days of yore, when it was just another pub.  Maryport itself yielded an enormous prawn baguette and chips in a pub with a Bob Dylan soundtrack, and walking through poetry on the promenade, an imaginative project built into the upping of the sea defences’ capabilities:

 Blown awayFrench kissesDead crabsMP Stephanie laughsJust some of the phrases selected from the work of local children writing about their town and the sea front.  Can’t resist playing fridge poetry here.  Clicking on the images will enlarge them, but reading left to right that’s Blown away; French kisses & dead soldiers (there is a Great War memorial nearby); Dead crabs stare at passing cars; Stephanie laughs.

Saturday it feels like we’re in a book, following in the footsteps of historian turned sleuth Daniel Kind in Martin Edwards’ latest Lake District Mystery, to be precise.  Renovation has not dimmed the charm and fascination of the Keswick Museum & Art Gallery, which retains its Victorian chamber of curiosities ambience.  I had feared the fossilised cat would be behind glass, but no – it’s still in its trunk and you can still lift the lid.  There’s now a small room dedicated to the early rock climbers that’s a bit of an eye opener too, what with the gear (think old leather football boots), the enormous cameras, the pipe smoking.  I played a bit of Louie Louie and Please don’t let me be misunderstood on the enormous xylophone made of local stone – the rock music of its day.

Theatre by the Lake sunsetStaying in the book, in the evening went to the great little Theatre by the Lake.  Or should that be impressive.  Proper theatre with a rep of real plays and proper actors, not the corny musicals and crap comedies we seem to be stuck with in MK these days.  Could have gone to six different plays in the week  if we’d wanted (and people do, apparently) – ‘Fun, frolics, menace and mystery’ as it says on the brochure, including a Shakespeare and a Harold Pinter.  Earlier in the week, in the main theatre, we’d seen a stunning production of Liz Lochhead’s adaption of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, sparely but imaginatively staged with some outstanding performances.  And some great music – Wim Mertens? Shoulda brought a programme – before things started and carried through into the action.  This company of actors really earn their crust – incredible energy and stamina.  And some familiar faces in Jez Butterworth’s The winterling in the small studio, which was an experience in itself.  We entered under some scaffolding that was part of the set with the small stage area in the centre with banks of seating either side.  Talk about the whites of their eyes.  I’ll let the Independent’s theatre critic do the talking: “Like Harold Pinter crossed with Guy Ritchie plus Withnail and I.”  Two splendid evenings’ entertainments with the added bonus if you arrive in good time of – this time of the year – it being The Theatre by the Lake, of the sun setting behind the mountains the other side of the lake.

Stepping out of the places visited in Martin Edwards’ book, in between the above, the discovery of the great Dog and Gun pub too late because we’d already eaten, so their famous vegetarian goulash will have to wait for next time.  And a walk along and over the bridges over the bubbling river of the old railway line, which must have been a spectacular  journey in its time.  Then a divert up the hill back via the Stone Circle again.  On which walk we did espy:

Cow and mountains

Stayed overnight in Colne coming back to the flatlands, but later for that.

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… though not necessarily in that order.  On the other hand, it might as well be.

Sept Scribal 2014September Scribal Gathering was different.  Trepidation from some regulars about the concept of a covers night but it worked really well, jollied along by the golden larynx of Peter Ball.  Surprise at how few musicians turned up to perform but that just meant all the more poetry, which was wide-ranging and far from predictable.  Frost did Hobbs and Hobbs did Frost – a score draw.  The Zeroes – MK’s own accomplished latino punk band (Trade Description Act, anybody?) – saw out the evening in style.  Exciting and loud but you could hear every word; they finished with a great Atomic.  A fine night’s entertainment, and, like the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition (and duly acknowledging the hostage to fortune I’m setting up here) I rather hope a Scribal covers night can become an annual institution.

For my contribution I delved back into the first time I used to, as the mighty Antipoet put it, “hang with poets”, to late ’60s Sheffield.  So here, entirely without their permission, never mind the defunct uni literary magazine Arrows in which they first appeared, and probably for the first time ever on the interweb, are some samples of their work.  First off, a couple from Geoff Hill, who is not to be confused with the fuller-named prize-winning poet – Geoffrey Hill – who, to tell the truth, I’ve never really ‘got’.  here’s Geoff:

friday

went to a
poetry meeting

afterwards
saw some idiot
walking down
the street

wearing
a pointed hat
for god’s sake

he said it was
a megaphone
for crying out loud

The second one from Geoff goes under a title that means nothing to me.  Presumably he doesn’t mean the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.  Not that it matters much now, I suppose:

PRB – Careful now

I wish I’d been a plumber’s mate
said Einstein going green
It’s not so much the stars he said
as the              in between.

The             in between!  I said
falling headlong from my bike –
Ignore what I said & just mind your head
said the sage & then do what you like.

I picked up my velocipede
for my wheels were fast getting blunt
and I pulled my third way of thinking
and fitted it on the front.

(I secretly suspected my saddlebag
but not liking to think it showed)
I got back on my bike & did what I like
existentially down the road.

Here’s one of John Brown‘s shorter pieces:

Violation

Yesterday the police penetrated my inner sanctum
They found traces of Thursday all over the room
One of them bought me a strawberry milk shake
I am not sure yet what the charges will be
in the meantime
Do nothing till you hear from me.

The quartet of Anti-poems from Pete Roche got a mixed reception, especially the fourth one, the one I consider the best, in as much as the mostly younger members of the audience didn’t seem to know much about the French Revolution.  Anyway, here they are, in their entirety, again:

Anti-poems

I.  Now remember, men, cried Harold
rallying his forces,
keep an eye out for
Norman arrows.

II.  On the other hand,
said Esau,
licking his lips,
It was an extremely tasty
mess of pottage
and a fairly crummy
birthright.

III.  So I said to Newton,
See here, Isaac, I said,
You don’t seem to appreciate
the gravity of the situation.
Just a minute, he said, let me
write that down.

IV.  If I told Marat once,
I told him a hundred times
not to leave
his bathroom door
unlocked.

And finally, another short one, this time from Neil Spencer.  The new library overlooked a lake if you sat in the right seat.  Younger readers may like to know that in olden days ‘bread’ was a street synonym for money.  If someone said, ‘I’m clean out of bread, man,’ it meant the sayer did not have the wherewithal to purchase a loaf.  This poem displays one of William Empson’s Seven types of ambiguity:

Library poem

On the lake there’s a duck
who doesn’t give a fuck.
I feel at least
I have some affinity with this beast.
His main concern is bread –
mine too.  And my head
is beginning to feel like a beak.

I also did a couple of poems from a National Union of Railwaymen sponsored volume of poetry (oh yes!) by Joe Smythe – The people’s road – that I’ll be returning to in another post when the time comes.

Later that same week

 10609573_1569574763266157_8340443137440789755_nCock & Bull 12And so to the twelfth Cock & Bull Beer Festival in York House.   And another splendid selection of ales to imbibe in good company.  Wasn’t expecting to come away singing the praises of two dark beers, but Banks & Taylor’s Plum Mild did indeed have a plum aroma and all sorts of flavours on the palate – like an interesting Mackeson, while Nethergate’s Umbel Magna – “a 1750’s porter containing coriander in the 20th century” it says here – was interesting and a lot stronger at 5%; I chickened out of the 6% Nelson’s Blood.  At the hoppier end, where I usually linger, nothing threatened to challenge and old favourite, retained from previous fests, Great Oakley’s Tiffield Thunderbolt.

Some decent word- and tune-smithery too in the bill put together by The Hoodwink Elixir in the performance room.  Headliner Ash Dickinson – introducing himself as “the Axl Rose of [something or other (I didn’t catch the full version)]” – closed the night with a storming set.  If you want a taste try this link (click on the underlining) for his 3-minute distillation of the original Star Wars movie (which I think I might have seen once on telly a few years ago, but you only need the vaguest of ideas to pick up on it).  Great performance poetry from a very funny man who gives twisted motor-mouthery a good name.  Nor can there be a more homely workout on the ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’ riff.  Here’s a link to his website.

And on the Sunday

10689790_742737892472277_2337618451845514934_nA good crowd and some fine music at the AORTAS open mic at The Old George, distinguished this time around by a rare outing for a diminished (in number, if not invention) Sucettes and an energetic solo set from Mark Owen as well as the usual excellences. (I know, how can I possibly take Naomi Rose for granted?).  Heated discussion with Mr Hobbs as to how many Abba songs were worth a single Beatles one; not helped as far as Mark and I were concerned by his plucking Hey Jude out of the air as an example.  Apples and oranges, but still, how can you deny the merits of Dancing queen or Fernando.  Something I never dreamed I would be saying thirty years ago.

Not forgetting a book

If it wasn’t for the Book Group I would hardly have looked at Roma Tearne‘s Bone china (Harper, 2008) because it’s just not my kind of book.  But I gave it a go because of the Group.  I should have given it up when it is revealed jealous sister Myrtle used magic to do bad things to her sister’s family and no-one says it’s just a coincidence when bad things do indeed happen.  Karma gets a few un-ironic mentions too.  But I have to admit I was just about curious enough to see how things transpired and in the end I got so far I thought I might as well finish it.  It was easy enough to read.

Bone china is the tale of the decline and dispersal of three generations of a once privileged Tamil family in the wake of Ceylon becoming independent Sri Lanka.  As such I learnt something about that country’s history, but as a novel it’s all over the place.  The title comes from a family heirloom that makes it over to Brixton when three brothers (generation 2 – a drudge, a wannabe poet who turns into a drudge, a communist) all make their ways to the UK in the ’60s (they drink Guinness), where Anna-Meeka (generation 3) eventually achieves something, makes some sort of sense of it all, by composing a piece of classical music.  As a family chronicle of troubled times, of civil unrest, of emigration, it ticks all the thematic boxes – Romeo & Juliet episodes, betrayed optimism, being in the wrong place at the wrong time in a riot, all sorts of injustice, family tensions, the half-caste narrative card is played – it’s all a bit melodramatic, precious and, at times, creakingly laboured.  That Meeka as teenage rebel appears to be untouched by the Beatles and popular culture at school, while adopting the local English patois that so pisses off her parents, seems unlikely.  The author has some fun (at least I hope it’s fun) at middle son’s youthful poetic ambitions and younger son’s political engagement in the UK, while the women are the strongest characters – matriarch Grace, who stays in Sri Lanka, and Meeka’s mum in particular – but the grief of tragic concert pianist Alicia just seems to go pathologically on forever.  It’s all very sad.  As I said, it’s not my kind of book at the best of times, so I’ll leave it at that.  Jasper – the talking mynah bird in Sri Lanka – is my favourite, though he too comes to a wretched end.

Dr Who

Liking Capaldi a lot, but that’s almost a side issue.  I think I’m falling in love with Genna Coleman.

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