Archive for the ‘Places’ Category

I won The grandparent (Michael Joseph, 2016) at our annual street barbecue raffle.  Chose it, even, from the prize table loaded with various smellies and assorted other passed on ex-presents.  I guess the first couple of these Ladybird Books for grown-ups were a good joke, had something about them – contemporary situations wed, or rather mis-matched, to that original period Ladybird art that it is hard not to fondly recall – but, hey.

Now I’m a grandparent, and, yeah, some of it hits (the all-purpose child-minding), but there’s no consistency here as to the generations.  Sure, probably my parents had a kettle like that, that you heated on the stove I vaguely remember, but so what?  (And it was never that clean).  Not sure what “Janet is always popular with her rotarian [sic] friends because she has gin stashed all over town” – pictured at a naming ceremony for a boat – is doing here, especially when you turn the page and some old duffer in a sports jacket, apparently called Bill, “is telling his grandchildren about the time his band opened for The Sex Pistols.”

Glad it wasn’t a present, then.  Kids, do not let your parents persuade you to give this to a grandparent this Christmas.  It has a price tag of £6.99, which more than 10p a page, though Amazon are selling it at half-price.  I noted it was listed as being the No.1 bestseller in their ‘Grandparent’ book category.  That’s a link as a grandparent you have to follow, right?  No.2 is the Kindle edition of My grandpa is NOT grumpy; no comment.  No.3 is the Kindle edition of The incest diary (the physical book is there at No.7).  Don’t you just love unedited computer listings?

MK: a living landscape

Glad I managed to catch this beautifully presented exhibition at Central Library.  You wound your way round the organised space, high quality photos on boards – and on the floor (a grass snake!), on the ceiling – augmented with greenery.  Hardly a pioneer, but I’ve lived in Milton Keynes for 34 years now, and I’ve never understood the comic status, now thankfully receding, it was landed with for a long time (you know, like that British Rail sandwich joke).

MK was/is a more than decent bash at Ebenezer Howard’s idealistic garden city concept, delivered with style, ingenuity and wit.  Most of us love our concrete cows.  Shame the city centre resembles and out-of-town shopping mall and mammon threatens further, but all is not lost.  The struggle is to maintain the vision, which is where  the Fred Roche Foundation (http://fredroche.org/), the exhibition’s organisers, come in; Fred was a main man at the Development Corporation (the semi-legendary MKDC) that set the ball rolling.  The exhibition quotes John Ruskin, a man whose progressive thinking, I would say, while I’m here, is long overdue a major revival.  There’s a decent short summary of his thoughts here: http://www.ruskinmuseum.com/content/john-ruskin/who-was-john-ruskin.php.

Why you should trust Alison Graham …

… at least as far as tv crime thrillers and drama go.  From this week’s Radio Times:

The Loch; ITV 9 0’clock Sunday, July 9

It’s the penultimate episode and I’m still no wiser than I was at the start of this convoluted, baffling, messy thriller.  Just a tiny clue as to what might be going on in the little Scottish town would be most welcome.
Instead we get bluster, lumpen dialogue and a tone that veers alarmingly.  Is The Loch cosy crime, like Hamish Macbeth?  Or is it Reservoir Dogs in the Highlands?  Who knows.  The writing is all over the place and none of the characters convinces, notably that flipping maverick forensic psychologist.  “Go way, Blake,” a police chief yells at him.  Yes,  Blake.  GO AWAY.
It’s a great backdrop, but viewers cannot live by scenery alone.  Sometimes we need a plot.

Fearless: ITV 9 0’clock Monday, July 10

For some reason the Americans let campaigning human rights lawyer Emma into the US, though they wised up quickly and threw her into detention.  But not for long.  She’s back and she’s very annoyed.  Of course, she has uncovered a conspiracy at the highest levels of the British and US governments that reaches right back to the second Iraq War.  Blimey!
But Emma still wants a child and a stable boyfriend ….


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Not last week, but the week before …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wind farm at sea

Promenading with the Hatter in Llandudno.

Promenading with the Hatter in Llandudno.

Old and new in Llandudno

Old and new in Llandudno

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

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

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

Llanberis Lake Railway

Coal, water & steam – the works

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

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

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

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

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

Blue house from llechwedd Slate Caverns car park
Llangollen Railway 2

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

Love locks on Pero's Bridge

Love locks on Pero’s Bridge

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

Let us now praise the inventors of durable exterior housepaint

Let us now praise the inventors of durable exterior housepaint

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

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

Here some views of the hull’s massive texture:

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

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

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

SSGB Horn of Plenty

The Horn of plenty

Continuing adventures

Woolly BristolBristol in wool

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

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

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

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

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

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Back online after a hiatus of a week and a day off after a cowboy contractor working for BT managed to cut through a cable and then concrete and tarmac over it again, so disconnecting half our side of the street in the process of progress.  It’s been interesting, not having the opportunity to waste time with FaceBook, print off the Guardian cryptic crossword (how can anyone do it online?) and other such pursuits.  Anyway, it’s good to be back.

Ellen Altfest - The handI’ve had the exhibition guide to Ellen Altfest‘s survey exhibition at MK Gallery staring accusingly at me from a pile of stuff to be dealt with for a while now.  It’s now well over a month since I went.  I had an absorbing time there – I might well go again before it closes – but I’m at a bit of a loss what to say.  That picture on the cover – The hand (2011) – I keep seeing as a landscape (that’s my red wine stain, that semi-circle, I hasten to add).  I think that’s probably OK, given the Guardian’s short preview mentioning ‘mind-altering drugs’ – the paintings’ intensity, that is, not the artist’s life style – and the guide mentions ‘wordplay, innuendo and psychological impact‘. Anyway, 22 life-size oil paintings, 15 years, painstakingly incredible life-size detail in the realist tradition, yet, to quote the guide again, pushing ‘realism to the edge of abstraction‘; I can’t say anything meaningful about its relation to the photographic, except that it’s interesting

Ellen Altfest - Log 2001

Ellen Altfest: Log (2001). Picture taken from MK Gallery’s website at http://www.mkgallery.org/exhibitions/ellen_altfest/

The paintings are presented roughly chronologically, diminishing in canvas size if not fascination, with the subject shifting from the natural world towards intimate male body parts. If it is reasonable to expect of a gallery show that you come out – at least temporarily – with new eyes, then Ellen Altfest’s show certainly passed that test for me; my walks in the local nature reserve were refreshed by her early work like Log (2001).  I’ll say nothing further about studying my body parts anew, though, but I would venture it’s a sign of the times in a good way that her The penis (2006) did not – as far as I’m aware, anyway – give cause for any shock horror scandal in the local free sheets.

All that I am

Funder 2Funder 1Funder 3 Harper US

I recall a time when the phrase ‘Heavy, man’ actually meant something, before it was hi-jacked by certain forms of rock music, and then dealt a death-blow by Neil in The Young Ones. Anna Funder‘s All that I am: a novel (Viking, 2011) is heavy, man. I think it’s that the bravery (and ultimate betrayal) of a small group of friends is set so vividly in the context of their ordinary existence; I was living in that Bloomsbury attic with Dora, Ruth and Hans. Ruth’s deceptively light opening words of the novel set the tone: “When Hitler came to power I was in the bath.”

All that I am the latest book group book – is a fictional reconstruction of real events – not quite a faction. It tells the tale of a small group of friends exiled from Germany for their opposition to the rise of Hitler, and their continued endangered resistance from abroad. Two alternating voices do the telling: Ruth, the survivor, a feisty old woman in her 80s, reminiscing in her home, and then from her hospital bed, in Australia, where Funder, who was brought up there, knew her, about her exile in London in the 1930s; and the playwright Ernst Toller, dictating material for a new expanded edition of his autobiography, in New York, in 1939. Toller had been the reluctant President of the short-lived Communist Republic of Bavaria, at the end of the First World War, a position that was immediately rewarded with 5 years in prison; he also spent time in London with the others before crossing the Atlantic. Both narrators are in awe of the charismatic, committed and free-spirited Dora (Dora Fabian in real life).

It’s a staggeringly good novel. The historical situation is vividly spelt out – no mere box-ticking background is rolled out here: “Reality was becoming so silly, we thought, that intelligent people could no longer tell the difference between a report and a satire,” says Ruth, and her husband, Hans, a satirist, is all at sea in London. What appalls – what I never realised – is the level of appeasement maintained by the British government during Hitler’s first years in power: if these exiles were found to be politically active they risked the British – us – sending them back to Nazi Germany and certain death.

Toller I was a GermanAnna Funder takes you there, to the midst of the group, how it felt.  “Half our energy came from the cause, the other half from each other,” says Ruth.  It’s bracing.  But the human cost, particularly on Teller, the international figure: “After a time I learned to be the person they thought I was. I was needed everywhere … I knew there were two parts of me, the public man and the private being, and they would not, ever, quite fit back together.” All he can do in New York is write letters to the papers and important people. “Do you think letters can make a difference?” his secretary asks. “I pull as much power as I can from somewhere inside me, from the actor, the orator, the hope-pedlar and the charlatan. ‘Yes,’ I say. ‘Yes, I do.’“  His friend Auden is not much help either: “Poetry makes nothing happen.” It’s a matter of record what Toller does but I’ll not say what here.

There is so much going on in All that I am: friendship, political commitment, philosophy, literature, perseverance, espionage, betrayal, food, the English, love, sex. It is exciting, emotional and profoundly satisfying. For all its despair … here’s Ruth, run into by a boy on roller skates in Paris: “ ‘Pardon, Madame, je suis desolée. Desolée.’ We are all desolated here.” And poor old faithful-to-his wife Toller: “Sometimes your life feels like a pile of wrong decisions.” For all that, Ruth in Oz at 80, remains life affirming.

I had hoped good things of a book kicking off with quotations from W.H.Auden and Nick Cave. That’s setting the bar high, I thought. I was not disappointed.

A brief word about the book covers. From left to right: the UK hardback tastefully saying nothing, the pathetically misleading UK paperback (was there any snow? – even so, so what? – and what sort of a pose is that anyway?), and the tasty evocative American hardback with the red flag flying on a German strasse (which is a big deal in the book).  As my sons used to say, I don’t know what to tell you.


A day in Worcester (whisper it, an Age UK coach trip; we were not the youngest there). The weather held. A fine cathedral, the spectacular The Hive (an innovatory central library, shared with the university, and so much more), the rather special Karmic Café and a stroll by the river. Reminders too of just how awful ’60s architecture is in historic town centres.  Click and click again to enlarge the photos, all mine own).

Something there is about modern cathedral altar decorations.

Something there is about modern cathedral altar decorations.

Worc mirror

Worcester cathedral window

In the cathedral a grand memorial “Sacred to the memory to Mary [d.1794], the truly regretted wife of WILLIAM HALL Esq of the island of Jamaica …” making you wonder if here was the origins of the story of Rochester’s wife in Jane Eyre. Elsewhere a poetical tribute to Bishop Nicholas Wighorn (d.1576) as “ a painful preacher” (albeit, it must be added, “of the truthe”). Every hour a voice comes over the PA reminding us that we’re in a place of quiet and prayer and inviting us to join with them by stopping what we’re doing to be still for a minute. About half the visitors do, including atheist me, and it was moving to be urged to think of … well, pretty much a full litany of “every hung-up person in the whole wide universe,” with specific mention being made of the Mediterranean boat refugees. Powerful stuff, communal stillness.

Odds and sods in the cathedral yard.

Odds and sods in the cathedral yard.

Karmic Cafe Worcester

Every town should have one – see for yourself at www.thekarmiccafe.co.uk/index.php

And in the very wonderful Karmic Café – a smart but unpretentious and eminently reasonable tasty vegetarian caff (every town should have one) – a poster of a package tour I went to in the Slough Adelphi over half a century ago.

I can’t remember much about the Beatles‘ performance (I suppose Beatles posterthere was screaming) but bizarrely what has stuck was the Pacemakers’ drummer (Gerry’s brother, I seem to recall) doing that thing whereby he hits his cymbal and looks up and moves his head from left to right then down again, so as to appear to be following the arc of the cymbal’s tshhh with his eyes.  And Roy Orbison, so impressive, standing there immaculately dressed – is that bootlace tie a false memory? – with guitar and dark glasses, sounding – hitting all those high notes – just like the records.

Finally, one for the archives. Your humble blogger, part-time poet and poster boy.
Vaultage late May 2015

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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:


 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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… even if the rose at its centre is black and not exactly a Gertrude Jekyll, or a Dusty Springfield (no – really) or Peace rose.  Though peace is one of the concepts at the heart of the project.  And, come to think of it, more than a fair few of Dusty’s songs apply too.

MK Rose opening 2013

So inevitably it rained for the official opening of the MK Rose on Saturday, November 9.  But were the spirits of those attending dampened?  Maybe a little, though the idealism still shone through – as, inevitably, did the sun as proceedings drew to a close – and hearts were gladdened.  It’s worth mentioning Mayor Brian White’s speech was especially worthy of the occasion.  There were a lot more people there for that than the photo suggests.  Forget all the jokes, there’s a pride to be had in being a citizen of Milton Keynes.  Here at Lillabullero we have got somewhat behind in our chronicling labours of late so (reproduced here with his permission) I think I’ll leave it to the capable hands and fine words of MK’s Poet Laureate Mark Niel to tell what it’s all about:

A Place To Be: for the opening of the MK Rose
by Mark Niel

And so we are gifted a Rose
that speaks of love
and so much more.

A unique space:
from amazing grace
to Olympic gold,

where tales
of triumph and tragedy
are simply, honestly told.

A place to grieve
in that sea of liquid loss
only true love knows,

A place to count the cost
paid too many times
in war’s countless bitter blows.

A place to think
and be inspired
by giants that have gone before;

the inventors and pioneers
that helped unpick the
locks of once closed doors.

A place to be proud
of our citizens
like Jim Marshall, our Father of Loud;

Doreen Adcock, who taught us to swim;
John Newton, a turned round life
captured in his famous hymn.

A place where pillars teach us;
lessons etched
in marble letters,

and whether your faith is in
higher or human beings,
a place to decide “I will be better”.

A place for kisses on Valentine’s day,
for Patron Saints and
festivals of light,

for thanks and tears on Armistice Day,
honouring those who fought and
lost their fight.

A place that will shape
how the world sees us
and how we see the world,

A place for the unexpected;
for May Day dance and
wisdom’s greatest pearls.

Let the MK Rose be
a new member of your family.
There’s only one in the world and it’s ours!

So use it, visit on days
that are special to you
to remember or simply lay flowers.

The city has been gifted a Rose,
a place of reflection and grace.
Let us now own it, make it our space.

If you want more on the background to the project, including some fascinating illustrative material from artist Gordon Young‘s pictorial research prior to producing the designs for his impressive creation (along with some future developments in Campbell Park) then the official website is the place to go:  http://www.mkrose.co.uk/index.html.  You can also find more of Mark’s poems there.  Most of the marble pillars bear an inscription and a date – the blanks are built-in future-proofing – many of local relevance.  It’s a shame they haven’t (as of 18.11.13) kept up with the pillars now actually there on The Rose on the website – for there are more installed now than listed.

JTS 1One I personally was particularly pleased to see included in the quirky pantheon was writer Jack Trevor Story‘s (Click on the picture to enlarge if you can’t read the inscription).  I’ve blogged about his work here on Lillabullero and intend to do more.  Completely in the spirit of the Rose is the text that continues out of sight: JTS 2

In the same vein the pillar for another local writer from another century, William Cowper, gives the full text of his To the Immortal Memory of the Halibut, on which I Dined This Day, Monday April 26, 1784.

Some, including a few local British Legion branches, have objected to the Rose in principle – saying an Armistice Day commemoration has no place being anywhere near a pillar for National Joke Day (as it happens, July IJD1) – but there was a dignified non-religious civic ceremony there on Monday, 11th November, at which the British Legion was represented.  The joke about the International Joke Day pillar is that … well look at the picture (and some very bad jokes were made as part of the opening ceremony).  The point of the MK Rose is to echo what used to be the News of the World‘s motto – “All human life is there” – without the prurience and the paper’s dark side.

Father of Loud & Bernie MarsdenI bet gigging with Whitesnake back in the day (1978, as it happens) rock guitarist Bernie Marsden could never have imagined a day like this (that’s Mark Niel at the back in the photo, him with the poppy).  Jim Marshall‘The Father of Loud’ – was a big benefactor and sponsor to various causes in MK, including the MK Dons, as his business blossomed in Bletchley.  Jim Marshall’s pillar has an electricity plug wired in.  I shall now commit an incredibly corny bit of rhetoric as I tell you that Whitesnake‘s first UK hit was a cover of Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s Aint no love in the heart of the city.  Cue pantomime response please.

The Wolverton Silver Band were part of the celebrations – of course.  The melancholy of a decent silver band’s sound never ceases to get to me.  Playing in a marquee because of the rain, some of their instruments added a neat parallel bit of found geometrical art and design to proceedings:

Bradwell Silver Band MK Rose Nov 2013



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A few days in Lyme

Lyme Regis - view to Gold Cap

Golden Cap, the highest point on the Jurassic Coast (to the far right of the photo) seen from Lyme Regis. I can recommend the Golden Cap bitter from Lyme’s Mighty Hop Brewery too.

Blue sea, blue skies in Lyme Regis last week.  Classic seaside, a wee bit of science, the odd decent repast, a few local beers.  We were lucky with the weather for lazing if not looking for fossils – hunting would be too grand a word – which apparently needs a bit of recent bad weather to shake things up (or to be more accurate, down from the cliffs).

Lyme Regis - from the ammonite graveyardWe went on one of the Museum’s informal and informative Fossil Walks, a neat double act from a couple of experts who each had a nice line in pretending the other was going to bore when he handed over to the other.  All we found was a little bit of belemnite – we’d found bigger on building site leftovers in MK – but the ammonite graveyard a way along the Undercliff was impressive.

Mary Anning‘s tale was told, of her local finds in the first half of the nineteenth century that confounded ‘experts’ and contributed to a paradigm shift in scientific thinking about the Earth’s history and the development of life, overthrowing Bishop Ussher’s biblical calculation of the date of the planet’s creation as a mere 4004 BC.  Poor and initially uneducated, Mary earned the respect of contemporary experts and professors of geology  for her knowledge and skill, but was denied membership of the Geological Society.  Our guides challenged the handful of boys and girls on the walk as to the reason for her exclusion and the best they could come up with was social class and education, which I take to be real progress – it never occurred to them that being a woman was a disqualifier.

Lyme Regis - wheel chairUplyme - He made the people gladSaw a kingfisher near the Old Mill, by the Lepers’ Well, and dippers and grey wagtails a bit further up the River Lym.  A wander further up that river to Uplyme proved to be a pleasant morning’s stroll, with plenty of minor diversions – like the ‘wheelchair’ in a cottage garden in the photo on the left – to catch the eye.  In Uplyme’s churchyard a nice epitaph for one Hugh Kenneth Morrish – “He made the people glad”.  It made you want to know what it was he did to so gladden hearts back in the day, an echo from some not so distant mirage of a golden age.

In Uplyme’s Talbot Arms the landlord must have been of a Geordie persuasion.  On the stairs three Newcastle United shirts, season 2004/5’s in classic black and white stripes, autographed by the squad, but the only signature legible was that of the manager, Bobby Robson, another man who gladdened the people, with his simple love of the game of football.

An interesting few days gastronomically:

  • scampi and chips on the seafront, the scampi  actually tasting of the sea
  • the de rigueur local crab sandwiches didn’t disappoint either
  • a chocolate, chili and beetroot cake in Aroma
  • a mushroom, brie and cranberry wellington – now there’s a proper vegetarian alternative – in the Pilot Boat Inn
  • as tasty a meal as I’ve ever had (no, really) from the wonderful Tierra Kitchen.  How about “Camelot Cheddar, Fig and Almond Tart Tatin, all butter puff pastry with char grilled courgettes, roast red pepper, basil and sumac pesto” no less? – bursting with flavours.  If only every small town could have a vegetarian restaurant like this!  So good here’s their website http://www.tierrakitchen.co.uk/ complete with recipes to salivate over.
Lyme Regis - early plumbing - jacuzzi

Early prototype jacuzzi, installed 1768

Lyme Regis - early plumbingSaw some interesting plumbing on the sea front in Lyme, which, entirely tangentially, got the royal nod well before the Civil War, in which its citizens were staunchly republican, so good for them.  A splendid irony.

Lyme Regis - seagull with lampAnd we leave Lyme with this observation:
what a difference a little bit of investment
in design can make.

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