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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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Wild Wales… by George Borrow, was one of those books I bought and kept for a couple of decades and never got round to reading.  It made the charity shop pile the last time we moved.  The book had appealed to the younger romantic in me when we’d visited and holidayed in the Principality regularly – my wife was born 4th generation Cardiff, so we had family there – but over time the active Welsh connection has dwindled, and save for the odd fleeting visit we hadn’t spent any time there for years.  Two weeks ago we returned for a few days, staying with friends and relations in Ceredigion – in Aberystwyth and then down the coast a bit, in New Quay, to be precise.  So, a few impressions of mild Wales (with Aber mostly mended from those storms).

  • the revolution in durable outdoor house paints of many colours has certainly brightened the place up.  That depressingly monotonous (rain-dampened) grey vernacular architecture is mostly, now, on its way out.
  • approaching Aber, flying overhead more red kites than I’d previously seen in a lifetime. A magnificent sight.  Can’t find a collective noun, but there were enough for one.
  • Stuffed toysthis fine collection of stuffed toys the sort of thing that no longer surprises, staying with friends whose grown-up children have fled the coop; not in our house, but not unusual
  • Aberystwyth very much a student town now, but it’s falling down the league tables and the locals are worried, with the newish unpopular Vice-Chancellor getting the blame.  Unprecedented (we were told) ads in windows in town offering cheap accommodation.  Impressive Arts Centre complex half way up the hill out of town.
  • Aber follyin Aber, one of those delightful second-hand bookshops it’s so absorbing to spend time in – two floors, cramped honeycomb of rooms – so full they can’t possibly get more books in, can they?:  Ystwyth Books.  (On Abe he trades as Martin’s Books).  Bought selections of Donne and e e cummings.
  • that was after a civilized picnic – if I could remember the friendly caff we got it from I’d say because it was delicious – in the no-charge castle grounds just off the sea front.  Nearby, in full view, a striking Victorian white elephant of a building that they still haven’t decided what to do with
  • Osprey signageit only rained one morning, stayed damp for the afternoon, which was just right for the walk along the boardwalk on the wetlands of the – again – wonderfully friendly Dyfi Osprey Project.  Timed it just right to see Monty, their returning osprey, fly back to the nest – after his me-time – and his this year’s mate, feeding the nestlings.  My luck to be on one of the telescopes in the beautifully constructed wood observation lodge when that happened.  Some fine specimens around the seed feeders at the project entrance too – bullfinches a particular treat for us.  And again, one wonders about what I have to call the myth of finches and expensive nijer seed – the sunflower feeder was by far the busiest.

And so down the coast a bit for a couple of nights just outside New Quay: guitars, dolphins, feasts, gardens and faeries: Face Sculpture heaven

  • had a lovely afternoon at Sculptureheaven, two and a half acres of themed gardens in a rural setting  with integral gallery, workshop and tea room.  There’s a Gothic Garden (goth sculptures with purple and black plants), a Planetary Herb Garden (I know, I know, but it’s beautifully presented), a zen garden, an Angel House (a bit spooky, actually), a faery dell, a rowan grove with hare sculptures dotted around and a whole lot more.  Friendly and welcoming, it’s Green Man notebookenchanting and peaceful (and collectively not as twee as a cynic like me might think), a hands-on family’s labour of love, created from scratch over a decade, with wit and spirit (they’ll show you the photos from when they acquired the place).  There’s a green earth goddess, like the ones at Heligon, but, they say, she’s high maintenance; a photo brings up the rear of this post.  If you’re thinking of going, make sure of the opening hours and be prepared (absolutely no pressure, of your own volition, but still) to spend some money.  More Green Men are not to be seen in one place outside of the pages of a book.
  • the tea room at Sculptureheaven deserves a bullet point all of its own.  Tea and miniature cakes are to be had for a suggested donation to The Halo Trust (a landmines charity).  All were tasty but the lemon drizzle cupcake was divine (the secret being a touch of lime, said the baker and co-proprietor).
  • Whatever it ismore charity with the evening open gardens at Llanerchaeron gives a completely different feel to a routine NT day house visit.  Shadows have more to play with, it’s cooler.  Folk trio fiddling away on the lawn on the way in to the extensive walled garden and wooded lake.  Really pleased with this photo of whatever it is (to enlarge – like all the other photos – click, then click again on that page).
  • the best trifle tart I’ve ever had at The Hungry Trout – what does that mean in the context of humans stuffing themselves? – in New Quay.
  • New Quay dolphinthat came after we’d had the luck to see the dolphins frolicking at second attempt.  Note to self: get a proper camera. That black dot is one of a family of five …
  • inserted at this juncture to give the pics some room, where we stayed one of our hosts dealt occasionally, as a sideline, in Fender guitars, so, I got to play – never done it before! – 5 Strats (one with an absolute dream of a neck) and a Telecaster through a small Marshall amp.  Phew, rock and roll … Now know I’m a Telecaster man.
  • New Quay 2and down on the quay in New Quay, a bus shelter proudly sporting the town’s youth’s talents or something.  Two of five – the other three are New Quay 1monochrome – are pictured here.  Not quite sure why, really. I’m intrigued as much as anything.
  • as promised:
The earth goddess at Sculptureheaven; she's high-maintenance.

The earth goddess at Sculptureheaven; she’s a high-maintenance gardening project.

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Harpole ReportThe Harpole Report

Delighted to find this at the back of a shelf when looking for something else, whatever that was instantly forgotten.  Long ago had convinced myself I’d loaned it out and (understandably) never got it back.  J.L.Carr‘s The Harpole report (1972) is one of those books, one of those timeless you-must-read (especially if you’re a teacher) comic novels of English life that stay laugh-aloud funny no matter how much actual circumstances have changed.  Set in a primary school in a small town, circa 1970, it is presented in the form of a report, from the introduction of which I now quote:

And remember this.  A school is a most complex institution.  Children and teachers, administrators and their minor officials, caretakers, cooks, medical officers, government inspectors, governors.  And parents.  All these grinding away, in and out of mesh.  Is there any wonder then that sometimes – as in the case of Harpole – there is a terrifying jarring of gears, or, worse still, that unforgettable coffin-thump of a big-end gone.

I realise that there is at least one generation of drivers out there for whom that last experience is  something of a mystery, but you still laugh, right?

Harpole takes on a temporary headship and inherits a mixed bag of staff, all with agendas of their own.  What happens to him is recorded in a wonderful chronological collage – delivered with a delightful lightness of touch – of excerpts from the school’s Official Log-book, Harpole’s private journal, a selection of all manner of internal and external communications and memos illuminating his battle with local bureaucrats and politicians alike, supplemented by examples of the children’s work, along with further excerpts from letters from Harpole to his fiancée, and those of Emma Foxberrow – a determined and idealistic progressive young teacher – to her sisterEvents unfold entertainingly.

As a footnote, some nice intertextualities.  The Harpole Report is set in Melchestershire (who did Roy of the Rovers play for?) and the problem kids from the lower-class family are called the Widmerpools (you know, that bastard who climbs the greasy pole in Anthony Powell’s A dance to the music of time).  There are probably more.

Yesterday's papersYesterday’s Papers

No disrespect at all to Martin Edwards, but I can’t help feeling that Mastermind has rather lost its way these days when something like Martin’s Harry Devlin novels are one of the specialist subjects allowed to be offered up by one of the contestants this week.  Especially when the first question has to spend time briefly explaining to viewers who Harry Devlin is.  (“I even forget whodunnit in some of those books!” the man himself said on his FaceBook page.)

Yesterday’s papers (1994) is the fourth in this particular sequence of novels, all sporting titles borrowed from the annals of rock music.  He’s a Liverpool solicitor who gets easily bored with the day job and who is fully equipped with that attractive crime fiction pre-requisite, of resenting “the failure of the world to match his more romantic notions of what was right and what was wrong.”

This time it’s a miscarriage of justice  – the murder of a young girl, daughter of a rising left-wing academic – dating back 30 years to the heady days of the ’60s Liverpool beat group boom and Harold Wilson’s ‘White heat of technology’.   There’s an interesting set of characters dead and alive (some both in the course of the book).  Faded glories, wasted lives, grudges held and secrets maintained, the broad consequences of a crime; with twists and violent turns, the truth finally teased out:

He had so desperately wanted to know who had strangled her, and why, and now that he had his answers, his principal emotion was sadness rather than satisfaction.  With murder, he reminded himself, there were no slick solutions, just the desolate reality of human behaviour as weak as it was wicked.

Nicely put.  There are plenty of neat touches too.  Harry’s receptionist doing her best to keep his eyes on the jobs that bring the money in  (“… she was a mistress of all the receptionist’s black arts and knew instinctively when he was within reach“), a scene at a record fair (“… and two men in their forties were recalling the merits of Northern Soul with the nostalgic exaggeration of old buffers harping on about the Dunkirk Spirit“), nods to the Golden Age of crime writing (“a time of innocence and charm“), on which subject Martin Edwards is an acknowledged expert.  I’ve read and would recommend all his Lake District Mysteries; another Liverpool novel, Waterloo sunset, is featured here at Lillabullero in The Kinks in literature section, and I am inclined now to catch up with the rest of Harry too.

Further musical adventures

VRW25BRS10456101_791331764280933_5682092596533613996_nScribal Mar 15
Plenty going on.  At the Scribal Sunday session there had been a cello and guitar duo singing the blues quite effectively (lovely instrument, the cello) and lo and behold, there was another one at the Vaultage Re-wired the following Thursday.  Or it might have been the same duo (never caught the names) with added blues harp thing around the guitarists’ neck.  Again worked well.  This Vaultage was a belter – great job, Bard Pat and Lois – relaxed and full of good music, the evening finishing magnificently by The Scrumpy Bastards, a highly accomplished fiddle and guitar duo, who had fun, as did we, and were a joy to watch.

We have lift off! LtoR: Neil Mercer, Michele Welborn, Clive Barrett and, blending in with his surroundings, Andy Powell. Phot c/o whoever took it, treated by me in PSP.

The Beechey Room sessions: We have lift off! LtoR: Neil Mercer, Michele Welborn, Clive Barrett and, blending in with his surroundings, Andy Powell. Photo c/o whoever took it, treated by me in PSP.

 Come Saturday afternoon and – hey – forget the goals going in on the Red Button: music is being made in the cosy new Beechey Room in York House.   Solo and ensemble.  Long may they continue in this vein.

Tuesday and the March Scribal Gathering at The Crown, singer-songwriter Rob Bray a last-minute replacement as featured performer.  Sparkling guitar, great wit.  Demystified open tuning: a decent noise possible “If you can open a crisp packet …”  Finished movingly with a serious song.  Stephen Hobbs played a blinder with his account (financial and narrative) of his lousy week: car serviced at great expense, shit gig at The Stables with an audience of 8 (and one of those 8 cried out for ‘More!’), buying Dylan’s Shadows in the night album; cut to the first time he heard Nick Drake and was not impressed and how 20 years later he saw the light; how he expects similar to happen to him with the Dylan 20 years hence, on his hospice deathbed.  Earlier Monty Lynch got an unexpected cheer introducing his song about the gods of the Zambesi River – Zimbabweans in the house!

StonyFolks2: photo (c) Nick Gordon - not just a bluesman with bottleneck and a Robert Johnson t-shirt.

StonyFolks2: photo (c) Nick Gordon – not just a bluesman with a bottleneck and a Robert Johnson t-shirt.

Another Saturday night and back to York House for StonyFolks:2 and another grand evening’s music-making.  I was going to say ‘All the usual suspects’, but thought the better of it (not all of ’em, anyway).  Broadest of definitions of folk (Louis Armstrong: “I aint never heard a horse sing a song.”) and none the worse for that.  Taken aback, on the 50th birthday of its release (give or take a day), by a confident and committed cover of Donovan’s Catch the wind from a young girl whose name I didn’t catch.  Those ’60s obviously just a passing fad, as the old folks used to say.  Think I’ll be OK joining in with Cotton Mill Girls in the future.

And so to the Aortas session in the George on Sunday.  Dan had his new toy, a – if I understand this right – touch screen wireless tablet digital mixer that meant he could play with the sound by touching the pretty graphs, and also do it standing at the back of the room.  It all sounded fine, better than ever.  There was cake (happy birthday Naomi, who ended with a new miserable song) and for the third time of gigging in the space of this single blog, Mark Owen‘s relentless (in the best possible sense of the word) Getting away with something, his toe-tapping take on the phone-tapping scandal.  It can stand it.

And then there was the murmuration …

… just a couple of miles down the road.  How lucky are we?  Not the greatest of photos, I’m afraid, but tis mine own.
Murmuration

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New Year’s Eve I was Trotsky’s cousin
on a boat to England
in the company of Russian aristos
a proto-capitalist & a journo,
escaping the Revolution.
Spoiler alert:
it was not me what done it.
Funny how
with each murder mystery party
you’re a part of
you hanker to be the one that did the deed;
I was not alone in this thought.

Nostalgic for a touch of Andy Stewart
or Jimmy Shand in that night,
for Kenneth McKellar taking
the low road,
Chick Murray’s drollery.

Austin 6Morris Major
New Year’s Day
and the motors are out
in Market Square,
ancient and not so modern.
Lucky with the weather this time:
an Austin 6 and a Morris Major,
my pick this year
another so cool
blue Citroen.

Citroen

In the first few days of 2015
Cinderella, an hour in the dentist’s chair,
a downbeat movie,
misunderstood hilarity at an open mic,
a funeral and
Je suis Charlie.

15209_10154947389425500_1811519934788905596_nFirst panto for me in decades
but this was Stony’s own
So, hi Danni, hi you two,
great job Caz, everyone;
Buttons’ pissed off at being called
Zipper and Velcro fresh jokery to me,
the Ugly Sisters
metaphorical (rhyming) blisters.
Had a great time.  Oh yes I did.

Out of the Cock and the engrossing gloom
of
Inside Llewyn Davies
– “a study in failure” –
into the Old George,
guffawing, trying to remember
where we’d seen a young man
with ‘TWAT’ written on his forehead
looking into the mirror
puzzled: what was ‘TAWT’ was supposed to mean?
No, sorry Plucky, we weren’t laughing
at you singing Dolly’s Jolene.
(Benidorm, as it happens).

At the funeral
nearly blubbing to the Beatles,
Lennon’s In my life.
Cliff was our Ringo,
our goalie, a fast bowler supreme.
Charming, handsome: a gentleman.
Different paths taken
from school, so seldom seen.
Shame; no blame.

Scribal Jan 2015Another cracker of a January Scribal Gathering:
A fine energised set
from Mark ‘slow hand’ Owen.
Standing up, belting out
a hard-driving new song to finish.
The dapper (I want that jacket) Alan Wolfson:
cultured bewhiskeredly, a delight.
No stranger to rhyme or dirt, adroit.
Delivered this little gem
(lifted here verbatim from his FB ©AW):

Je suis Charlie Hebdo, tu es Charlie Hebdo, il est Charlie Hebdo, elle est Charlie Hebdo, nous sommes Charlie Hebdo, vous êtes Charlie Hebdo,
ils sont Charlie Hebdo. elles sont Charlie Hebdo.
The sound of a million people conjugating in the centre of Paris.

Great and lesser spotted
woodpeckers in the singular
on different days
in the local nature reserve.
An hour in the dentist’s chair
and a brand new tooth.
Biting the Nutribullet,
supping green goo
from a red wine glass.

And now we can say something
if there’s talk of
Breaking bad;
yup, good as everybody said.
But
Broadchurch is losing me,
and the
Big Bang Theory a series too far,
whimpering; Penny,
grow back your hair.

Old for new metal
Saw rats
and cats
at the MK Materials Recycling Facility,
an interesting time to be had.
Heath Robinson lives!
State-of-the-art, proud
and getting prouder:
Oh, the excitement building over the road
– we’re in a race with Edinburgh –
the sheer poetry of the
Residual Waste Treatment Facility
“Diverting black bag waste from landfill.”

Sipped spiced cider
wassailing the apple trees at York House
on Saturday, turning back time with
the Julian calendar and the Turning Wheel.

Linford Wood 1Linford Wood 2
Meeting
up with old friends again
in Linford Wood, and finding
some new ones too.

Can’t not but mention
“Manchester City 0, Arsenal 2”
on Sunday; celebrating inside
at The Old George
with The Outside This
tick-tocking,
The Last Quarter
& the lovely Ugly beauty
at Aortas.

The annual January jigsaw
nearly done, but …
Jigsaw 2015

And so it’s adieu for now with a couple of January songs, subtly chosen because they have the month in the title.  No, not that one; apology due if that released an earworm, and duly given.  Maybe this one of these will banish it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uH4pXuUIhko

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqDlTKqxu2w

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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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GoldfinchI started Donna Tartt‘s The goldfinch (2013) towards the end of June, on holiday.  There was a hardback there where we were staying and it was urged on me.  I got over half way but it was too big – 784 pages – for the suitcase so I didn’t bring it back with me.  I bought the paperback – now ‘grown’ to 864 pages – but it just lay there on the Welsh dresser gathering dust while I caught up with other stuff (a book from a library waiting list, book group, real life).  But when I picked it up again a couple of weeks ago it was like I’d never been away.  Donna Tartt is one vivid writer.  People, places and emotional spaces.  I sped through.  Fantastic book, glorious ending.  Do not hesitate.

Terrorist bombing in a New York art gallery.  13-year-old Theo Decker’s bohemian single mum is killed, he gets out with a unique painting – the Dutch Master goldfinch of the title.  He spends time with rich school buddy’s folks and meets an antique shop restorer and owner.  I’ve already left one crucial romantic thread out.  Legal stuff because of his age means he ends up with estranged father and moll on the desert fringes of a failed real estate venture on the outskirts of Vegas.  Meets up with Russian kid Boris for a couple of years of slacker delinquency.  Epic solo Greyhound bus ride back to NY with hidden dog.  Makes a go of it with the antique dealer and meets up with the tragic rich kids’ family again.  Dodgy antiques dealings, meets up with Boris again, now an international criminal.  Mechanics of the stolen art market, In Bruges sort of happenings in Amsterdam.  Back to NY eventually, surprise denouement, and aforementioned glorious soaring ending.  By that time I think he’s reached his late 20s.  Phew.  And a whole lot more.

Dickensian for sure, but without the complex sentence structure, and cut with, I think it’s fair to say, a dash of modern world Ripley mode Patricia Highsmith.  Great dialogue and, as I’ve said, incredibly vivid prose.  The description of what happens in the explosion in the art gallery is just stunning.  Here’s how vivid: there’s a passage where Theo tries to end it all (no great spoiler here, given he’s the narrator and there’s a way to go yet) with a combination of booze and drugs; while reading this I dozed off and spilt a cup of coffee in my lap.  OK, I’d woken up way too early that day.  But, trust me: she takes you there.  Dramatic and contemplative, always a page turner, but still concerned with – well, basically – the human condition, the ambiguities of morality.  Discussing events: “I think this goes more to the idea of ‘relentless irony’ than ‘divine providence’.”  Relentless irony!

FreewheelinAs regular readers here at Lillabullero will know, I’m likely to pepper you with quotes, tasters.  I usually take the odd note as I read a book, but I soon realised with one like this life was too short.  But as it happened I’d spent some time with a friend who had a black and white art print of an outtake from the photo sessions for the Freewheelin‘ cover about to go up on his wall and the fine passage that follows was on pretty much the first page I read in The goldfinch when I got back.  Jungians like to call this sort of thing synchronicity though I’ll stick with happy coincidence.  This is how Theo Decker was feeling one day as he walked the narrow streets of Greenwich Village:

… more than perfect [ …] the kind of winter where you want to be walking down a city street with your arm around a girl like on the old record cover – because Pippa was exactly that girl, not the prettiest but the no-makeup and kind of ordinary looking girl he’d chosen to be happy with, and in fact that picture was an ideal of happiness in its way, the hike of his shoulders and the slightly embarrassed quality of her smile, that open-ended look like they might just wander off anywhere they wanted together…

Frozen shroudThe frozen shroud

Closer to home, I’ve been reading another of Martin Edwards‘ always welcome Lake District Mysteries featuring retired tv historian Daniel Kind and DCI Hannah Scarlett, who started her police career with his father as her boss, in charge of the Cold Case Team.  A satisfying mix of the modern cozy and police procedural set in one of my favourite places, The frozen shroud (Allison & Busby, 2013), the 6th in the series, didn’t disappoint.  Two murders in the same place nearly a century apart, then another one and several plot twists, including a diversion I fell for, carry us along nicely, while the soap opera elements that are inevitable in a long running series continue to entertain.  I think Edwards does this better than any of the crime novelists I regularly read, including bigger names, but please Martin – don’t let them get together long-term.  Beware resolving the sexual tension; it has destroyed, for example, obscure tv humourous crime show (Freeview channel 61)  Castle, I’d say.

As usual
, Edwards provides some neat touches, using ex-Lakes dweller Thomas de Quincey’s On murder considered as one of the fine arts as a prop, having Hannah’s mate Terri call her cat Morrissey, Hannah’s boss issuing “a suitably bland, reassuring and mendacious news release” to counter a rumour.  I’ll give a hurrah, too, for Daniel’s visit to Keswick Museum & Art Gallery, too, with its musical stones; I hadn’t realised it had been closed for improvements and am delighted to learn it hasn’t lost its quirky old chamber of curiosities ambience.  I suppose it is inevitable, more’s the pity, that police reorganisation is now pretty much a staple of British crime fiction.  Nevertheless, I look forward to the next one with relish.

The Goldfinch: a slight return

Fabritius - Goldfinch

‘The goldfinch’ by Carel Fabritius.

This is not the first time goldfinches have featured here on Lillabullero.  We’ve had plenty in our garden over the years – a ‘charm’ of goldfinches is the collective noun, and rightly so – and it’s good to know they are on the increase in the UK, one of the great recoveries.  To think they used to be caught and caged.  I was half expecting Donna Tartt to make a reference at some stage to Thomas Hardy‘s poem, A caged goldfinch, given her erudition, but no.  Not that that’s a problem.  Anyway, it’s a poem with an afterlife, a tale with a bite in its tail, that takes me back to a lecture theatre and the eccentric Englit scholar Roma Gill, when I was 18.

It refers back to a scene in one of his most miserable novels. The Mayor of Casterbridge I think.  Here’s the poem as it first when first published.  Just put ‘Hardy goldfinch’ into a search engine and more often than not it only has two verses:

Within a churchyard, on a recent grave, 
I saw a little cage 
That jailed a goldfinch. All was silence, save 
Its hops from stage to stage. 

There was inquiry in its wistful eye. 
And once it tried to sing; 
Of him or her who placed it there, and why. 
No one knew anything. 

True, a woman was found drowned the day ensuing. 
And some at times averred 
The grave to be her false one's, who when wooing 
Gave her the bird.
Later editions of his poetry – issued while he was still alive, by his own hand, after someone had explained negative music hall audience feedback to him – appeared without that final verse.

StablestockStablestock

For the second time this year a gig in the stables yard at The Bull in Stony survived virtually unscathed in the face of the previous day’s doom laden weather forecasts.  I have to admit partaking of 5 of the 6 beers available for the occasion meant I missed the last two bands; no stamina these days.  Particularly liked the 3 Tuns’ 1642 and Liverpool Craft’s American Red, which exploded with flavours; chickened out of Crazy Days.  Music was all good and strong too.  Palmerston‘s original country rock material impressed again,while Glass Tears‘ take on Phil Collins’ In the air tonight (no, really) never ceases to move me, and there was a lot of fun and fine voice to be had from the Vaults mob one way or another, earlier.

Palmerston strung out

Palmerston strung out

The mighty Antipoet strung things together with their usual charm and wit, and peppered the day with a few of their own classic compositions (there’s plenty of examples in YouTube); with them there’s no danger of familiarity staling the palate. (And here’s a local nod to organiser Terri; Oakham’s Scarlet Macaw may have been on tap, but Red Phoenix was on the ball ‘backstage’).

Appropos of nothing

And just for the sake of it, here’s a supermoon pic.  Not great, I know, but I was pleased to catch some of the brown in the clouds:
Supermoon

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Spent a couple of weeks in the Algarve.  Liked what I saw of Portugal.  Got back a week ago.  Stayed in Alvor, what was once a small fishing village and is now a small but not overwhelming tourist town.  Had a great time – brilliant beaches, vino verde, et al – but never mind that.  Here, in no particular order, are a few things that struck me (click on the pictures, and click again to enlarge):

  • Teresa Paulino - The plane watchersOn the main roundabout in or out of Faro Airport this wonderful set of figures by sculptor Teresa Sofia Paulino.  It’s called Os Observadores, or The plane watchers.  Nice idea, beautifully executed.  (Not sure calling it ‘The plane spotters’ really does it justice, Val.)  Didn’t have a chance to take a photograph myself but it would have been hard to do justice to them all in one shot; the image used here is the cover photo of the sculptor’s Facebook page.  Her website (click here) has a homepage of exquisite simplicity (at time of writing, of course).
  • FishermanAnother intriguing work was João Cutileiro‘s Homenagem ao Pescador, or Homage to the (well endowed) fisherman, in the harbour area at Alvor.  No, we couldn’t work out what the head was all about either, but it’s a striking piece.  This was close to a restaurante called O Navegador (The Navigator – see, I’m practically bi-lingual already on the page) where I had a taste of the Algarvian Trilogy – a tart made using figs, almonds and carob – and had the most flavoursome boiled potato I can recall, ever; I do not have the words.  Divine is not one you would normally use in conjunction with boiled potatoes, but it wasn’t just me, either.  On the subject of eating out, as a piscatorian with a paranoia of fish bones, let us hail the monkfish.  Had a fine time in the Adega d’Alvor restaurante – brilliant welcome and friendly service, lovely food (monkfish again) – only let down by them having run out of the Algarvian Trilogy.
  • The statues and tile work in Monchique are worth a nod here too.  Someone has cared, the town has lots of nice touches.Monchique mural
  • Alvor Praia dos Três IrmãosGot to mention all the textures and colours, the naturally sculpted cliffs, all those varying strata, the reds in the sunshine.  Seems once an A level Geography student always an A Level Geography student; I’m not ungrateful.  The photo is from but a small part of the spectacular structures at Praia dos Três Irmãos, or Three Brothers Beach, the Three Brothers being the survivors of a promontory, like The Needles on the Isle of Wight but more colourful.  Good swimming water for those up for a sea dip I am assured.Boardwalk
  • The western side of the Rio Alvor estuary has been generously graced with a European Community funded boardwalk over the tidal shallows and vegetation down to the beach; money well spent, I’d say.  Mies van der Rohe (“God is in the details”) would be pleased with the rusted  structures that occur – satisfyingly to my eye – at intervals and junctions along the boardwalk’s length.
  • Iberian barcodesThe local supermarket was part of the Pingo Dolce chain; hard not to succomb to calling it Pingu.  In translation ‘Sweet Price’ doesn’t have the same ring to it, removes an element of mystery, suggests less than the tremendous bread and fish counters.  Leaving the bird life for a while yet, I will venture that while the Iberian Magpie is a slimmer, more graceful and nuanced creature than we are used to back in the UK, the same cannot be said for the Iberian Bar Code.  As it happened one of our happy band had packed a DVD of Fellini’s 1960 black and white movie La Dolce Vita, which some might call synchronicity, others coincidence.  Whichever way, ‘dolce’ losses something in translation.  As it happened I kept nodding off (I was tired – we were sampling our own sweet life) for its duration and missed the – I’m told – iconic fountains of Rome scene altogether.  Film seemed to go on for a long time but the bits I saw mean I may return.
  • Ilha ecologicaA different model of household waste recycling: no house by house collections.  Instead we have the Ilha Ecologica, spread at frequent intervals around the town.  Under the pods – specific to bottles, cardboard, plastic and metal – are removable tanks that are replaced by empty ones every day.  Bottles descend into a cavernous echo chamber; the clatter of a single bottle is an experience, the depositing of a party-load spectacular (and possibly fatal with a hangover).  Hard not to refer to them as Illogical Islands (though they seem to work well enough) the Ilha Ecologica would appear to be an absolute gift to crime fiction.
  • FrogAnd speaking of echo chambers, the local marsh frogs, hanging around by the pipes taking the occasional streams under the back lanes make a remarkable noise of a summer evening.
  • Didn’t see a lot of the World Cup, and, Portugal’s matches aside, what was available to us in the villa was fairly random, so I missed England’s last two matches altogether, which was probably a bonus.  With commentary in Portuguese it was refreshing not having to – with the odd honourable exception – put up with the usual witterings that I returned to for the quarter finals in the UK.  What sort of a life has Rio Ferdinand had that so much of what he sees happening on the pitch is “unbelievable”?   My knowledge of the Portuguese language was essentially nil as far as the spoken word went so it was football all the way.  When Portugal were knocked out at the group stage all the shops were suddenly promoting Brazil tat.  At least Portugal won a game.  I find it hard to remember an English player displaying any of the real football passion seen in this World Cup from the likes of the USA (as opposed to John Terry being ‘patriotic’ aka thuggish) since that Beckham performance against Greece back whenever.
  • FrameMarshall amp framedMarshall amp situ 2Abandoned buildings off the beaten track intrigued and provided interest both as supporting frames for the local flora and platforms for some unlikely graffiti.  That’s a life-size Marshall amp and the poem on the other side of the same cottage reads, “Her eyes pierce the void / Cr??? (cross?) deep dreams of chaos / He whispers Meerkat” and it’s signed Meerkat.  Google gives up no source.  There’s a story there – a band not getting it together in the country?
  • SwallowSwallows had chosen to build a nest on top of the villa’s patio floodlight.  They work so hard.  It was decided to not use the light for the duration (so no midnight swimming in the pool) and there was definite feeding but no fledging before we left.  Would love to know how it turned out.  As a result of all that and plentiful other swallow activity  and some undeniable swifts at the airport I’m hazarding a boast that I can now tell the difference.  Lots of other bird interest.  The aforementioned Iberian magpies, black winged stilts, a flamboyance of flamingos, the storks nesting on turrets and chimney pots in Silves, a good look at some resplendent bee eaters (kingfishers of the air in their iridescence) and, hey! – a fleeting glance (for some of us) of a hoopoe.
  • Oh wotthehell, here’s a photo of a beach:Fishing
  • The ladyPedestrian crossingSo I leave you with an image of the Lady who graced (or was it haunted) the villa hall.  And another survival from a back road in Monchique.  Never mind Abbey Road, I need to get a bowler hat.

Big thanks to V & P, ta to A, R & J.
Not forgetting other A, of course.
And Jess: how can I throw it
if you won’t let go of the ball?

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