Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

I Can't Believe It

For those who don't live in the UK there is a product here which you may or may not have heard of. It's a margarine called "I can't believe it's not butter". I believe it was originally from the United States but I have no idea if it's available elsewhere in the world under that name. I don't use it myself but I am quite taken with the linguistic aspects of the latest advertising campaign promoting the new improved version.
It uses the slogan "I can't believe 'I can't believe it's not butter' is better" which it subsequently expands into "I can't believe 'I can't believe 'I can't believe it's not butter' is better' is better than 'I can't believe it's not butter'".

Ain't English wonderful?

And for those who would like more on the subject.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Ongoing #42

The next doodle shows a group of people standing around a birthday cake.

The Birthday

He went and bought a birthday card
And sent it to himself
And when the postman brought it,
He put it on the shelf.

He wrapped himself a birthday gift
And tied it with a bow.
He feigned delight on opening
And cried, "How did you know?"

He baked himself a birthday cake,
For each year lit a candle,
And made the wish he always made
To lead a life of scandal.

He sang himself a birthday song
And finished with a cheer.
He opened up the fridge, then sat
And drank a can of beer.

He gave himself the birthday bumps -
The task was rather vexed
But tradition is tradition and
The bumps were what came next.

He allowed himself a birthday treat
And stayed up rather late,
Played Windows hearts and solitaire
And whispered, "Ain't life great!"

Monday, 28 June 2010

No real spoilers here.

Still a bit about the Doctor Who finale though so if you'd rather not take the chance, don't read on.

Just a brief note about a textbook example of how to write well but manage brevity. In a single scene, with entirely convincing dialogue, Steven Moffat managed to establish that we were in a new Universe, describe how the new Universe differed from the old one, explain that there were some people who remembered the old one, briefly give some hints about the social set up in the new UK, show that Amelia's aunt not only considered her to have mental problems but had tried to get them treated AND include a joke about Richard Dawkins.

It's taken almost as many words for me to describe it as he used to do it. If that isn't a model of concise writing, I don't know what is.

Public Service Announcement

On my "Forthcoming Attractions" post my friend David Love has posted a comment. In case you don't read the comments here it is again.

I'll do a deal. I'll let you show me yours on Thursday August 26th if I can show you mine on Thursday July 29th at the Brewood Acoustic Music club. Admission charge likely to be pretty much the same or perhaps one pound more just to keep up the quality threshold. All you've got to do is find Brewood Cricket Club. More info at
 I can't go but if anyone is in the area I'd recommend giving it a look. I've been listening to Dave's music since we were at school, far too many years ago to count, and it always makes me smile. (Sometime's it makes me laugh, but let's not be too critical. :) )

This has been a Public Service Announcement.

Very Much Delicious: Part 4

Here is part 4 of my diaries from 1996 about my trip to Malawi and Zambia. And, by the way, the title of these posts will, I promise, be explained eventually.


A combination of large amounts of alcohol and ears stuffed with cotton wool had failed to overcome the volume of Barry's snoring which was marginally louder than the noise made by the hippopotamus. So when everyone else went for a morning walk around the lake I went back to bed for three hours essential sleep. When I got up Peter was busily setting breakfast on a long wooden table. I sat drinking tea and chatting to him as he worked. He had, he told me, a wife and four children in the north at Nyika where he owned a farm. He had previously worked for one of the national parks but had been poached by the tour company. They had trained him as a cook and he was currently working towards becoming a tour leader. The job had given him a chance to travel not only within Malawi but also into other African countries - Zambia and Zimbabwe. He was cheerful and enthusiastic. In the three weeks that we were there he never stopped smiling and was as full of bounce changing a tyre in the rain as he was preparing breakfast over an open fire.
    Everyone returned at about eight thirty and after breakfast spent the rest of the morning doing nothing. I sat listening to music and intermittently reading. Sheila asked me to investigate a 'big spider' that was occupying their tent's toilet. I investigated and found that while it was unquestionably big and spider-like it was actually only a harmless cricket. Nevertheless I collected it from the wall and released it outside into the grass.
Even though we were resting there were still plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing, albeit on a smaller scale than most people think of when you talk about Safaris.
In the tree outside our tent a bushbaby clambered about trying, or so it seemed, to evade our efforts at photographing him.
Two birds spent such a long time tumbling after each other that even I, with the aid of one of Barry's bird books, managed to identify them as Huegelin's robin.
Buzzing persistently around the tent was a particularly large and annoying wasp.
    In the afternoon we went for another drive. There is only one road through the park so that it was the same route that we had taken yesterday. As we drove under the trees a greyish green adder-like snake was twined around the dead branches at the top of one, too far away for a positive identification.. It slithered away harmlessly at our approach. Several times we sighted antelope, usually the gazelle like bushbuck but also reedbuck and roan and a single distant view of the much larger kudu.
    Our drive back in the dark produced only frogs and birds frozen in the beam of our headlamps and occasionally a fleeting glimpse of small mammals that Geoff would identify as 'four toed elephant shrew' or 'slender mongoose' but which were always too quick for less experienced eyes to identify.
    Back at camp Peter had acceded to our request and prepared us a traditional Malawian meal. The staple of this diet is a thick maize porridge called nsima. This has the consistency of thick and glutinous mashed potato and the taste of wallpaper paste. Alone it is extremely hard to swallow and harder to digest. However if you mash salt into it and then dip it into a flavoured sauce (the one provided being made chiefly from onions) it is relatively palatable and undeniably filling.
    Afterwards most people went back to their tents. I sat for a further half an hour with another beer listening to Geoff and one of the local head men chattering away in Tambuka. Even though I couldn't understand a word it was clear that there was a genuine rapport between them as they traded good natured banter. Eventually I downed the last of my drink and went to bed.

Saturday, 26 June 2010


...unless you have seen the series finale to Doctor Who or don't care about knowing the ending.

Mega-spoilers ahead.

As high concept science fiction goes it doesn't get much better than this. Creating a new and gradually collapsing universe in which there is one sun (which isn't a sun at all) and one planet with a moon and nothing else is just what happened between the end of The Pandorica Opens and the start of Big Bang. Amy/Amelia as everyone has suspected all along turned out to be the key.

The new version of the Universe was established and described, eight year old Amelia was shown as crucial because she could remember the stars, a visit to the museum revealed what appeared to be fossilised Daleks  and the Pandorica, a mysterious unseen figure kept interacting with Amelia, leaving cryptic instructions to follow, Amelia turned out to be able to open the Pandorica by touching it (for reasons explained later) and when she did it was the older Amy inside not the Doctor.
And that was just the pre-credit sequence.
The episode zipped along at an unbelievable pace, throwing in multiple versions of the time-jumping doctor, explaining away apparent continuity errors in earlier episodes, establishing stable time-loops and using a collision between the exploding Tardis and the indestructable Pandorica to reboot the entire Universe.
Oh yes, almost forgot, there was also drama, emotion, a 2000 year vigil by the Auton Rory, the resurrection of the real Rory (and Amy's previously unseen and forgotten parents) and a wedding thrown in.

There were also enough loose ends and hints to set up the new season. All in all quite exceptional.

Forthcoming Attractions

Last night I went to a poetry even organised by Geoff Stevens to celebrate his forty years performing by revisiting the pub where he read for the very first time so long ago. I was happy to go and celebrate with him, he's a poet I admire a lot. It was a great evening with an open mike session for poets so I got to do a set. I enjoyed it immensely, not least because it was a rare chance to perform the stuff that I like most myself rather than the stuff that I think will be popular with the City/Bilston Voices crowds. 
And that brings me to the purpose of this post. Shameless self-promotion. For anybody who is interested and in the vicinity of Bilston, I'll be reading again in the August Bilston Voices. You'll get about fifteen minutes of me and fifteen minutes each from some rather more accomplished writers. The venue is Cafe Metro in Bilston, the date is 26th August, the time is 7:30, the cost is £2.
I've had a request to include some of my poems about the House on the Rock so that will form part of the set. The rest will therefore also need to be poetry rather than prose and I shall probably stick with a travel theme.
August the 26th - be there or be somewhere else!

Bilston Voices: June 2010

I missed last month's Bilston Voices because of a problem with my foot and I'll miss the next one because I'll be away working so I wanted to go to this one. Instead of the usual five performers it had seven performing slightly shorter sets. This was to accommodate a group of sets from members of the City of Wolverhampton College Creative Writing Course.
First, though, we had the briefest of cameo appearances from Geoff Stevens who has performed at the venue before and has been around on the poetry circuit for forty years. That's why he was there, to read only a couple of his poems from his "Islands in the Blood" collection, and to invite us to a poetry event on the following evening at the Villiers Arms, the place where he did his very first reading. His two pieces were from the more serious and evocative end of his range and were very good indeed. The brevity of his appearance meant that we weren't treated to any of his popular Black Country poetry.
He was followed by Yvette Rose who followed a short prose memoir about working in Woolworths' with a group of gentle and wistful poems that were accomplished enough with strong rhythmic structures and good rhyming (both end rhymes and internal rhymes being used effectively.) The subject matter wasn't really to my taste but it was well enough done.
Then we were into the Creative Writing Course sets. The first was from Roxy Lal, a young writer reading for her first time. The works she read were very personal and evocative memoirs that at times clearly affected her emotionally but she completed the set well and has great promise as a writer. 
She was followed by Marion Cockin. She is very good poet that I have seen a few times. As I've said before I don't always like all of her material and this time felt that it wasn't as good as her previous sombre performance at Bilston Voices. It was nevertheless an entertaining and wide ranging set. Works included an amusing piece about choosing paint from the plethora of available shades, a love poem with some word play on multiple meanings and a serious poem inspired by the armistice day two minutes silence.
After the Break Lucy Nickholds, another writer from the Creative Writing Course, read us an interesting and original, if slightly macabre, fantasy story. She was followed by Michelle Moore who started with a short and rather bleak poem describing part of Wolverhampton and went on to a very good monologue in the character of a teaching assistant. It was well-written, well-read and quite accurate about how teaching assistants can often be viewed by teachers.
The evening was rounded out by a set from Jane Seabourne, the organiser of the writing course that had provided so much of our entertainment. Her poems were a mixed bag of styles, some funny and some very serious but all excellent. I was particularly amused by her description of a college open day in which the organisers had tried to make an essentially dull event into something more entertaining. I laughed out loud at the line "It's rumoured there'll be Morris Dancing". It perhaps wasn't the dramatic finale that we've seen at some previous Bilston Voices but it was, in a lower key way, a very satisfying end to the evening.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Ongoing #41

Another doodle that I didn't get round to putting down here shows a soldier standing on a castle wall.

Castle Walls

No matter how strong the castle wall;
How sturdy, thick; how solid, tall;
No matter how strong the castle wall,
Eventually it falls.
And where there once were walls of stone
The remnants become overgrown,
And where there once were walls of stone,
They are overthrown.
The ramparts, now a fallen mass,
The Earth reclaims with soil and grass,
The ramparts now a fallen mass
WHose history must pass.
No matter how strong the castle wall;
How sturdy, thick; how solid, tall;
No matter how strong the castle wall,
Eventually it falls.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

What I want is

There's an advert running on TV at the moment in which a series of over-earnest people make silly pompous statements in parody of the advertising style often adopted by technology companies - statements like, "I want a new type of communication".
At the end an ordinary guy against a blank background says "I want to get a new telephone every year with a simple twelve month contract."

It's a slick enough and clever enough piece of advertising but it makes me wonder about our throw-away, built-in obsolescence world. Once upon a time things were built to last. If you bought a watch, for example, you expected to be able to hand it down to your children and grandchildren. The mark of quality was longevity. Nowadays we have been convinced by the manufacturers and their clever promotion that changing things as frequently as possible is the way to go. The new generations of products are in production before the old ones have hit the shops. Products have briefer and briefer life spans to go with our briefer and briefer attention spans.

I'm sorry but I don't think buying everything again every few months because there's a newer, bigger, brighter, brasher version out is a good thing. In fact I think it's a very bad thing from the customer point of view. Of course from the company point of view the more frequently we buy replacements the more money they make. And money is what matters.

So, what I want is a phone that I buy once and use for the rest of my life.

I doubt that I'll be hearing that on an advert any time soon.

I'll have the cannibal option, please.

It shouldn't really amuse me because it's a perfectly valid construction but I always chuckle at the sign outside a Birmingham Cafe that I pass every day.


served with Rice.

Very Much Delicious: Part 3

Here is part 3 of my diaries from 1996 about my trip to Malawi and Zambia. And, by the way, the title of these posts will, I promise, be explained eventually.


Away on the distant slope across the valley a group of lights marked a town, probably Rumphi. As dawn lightened the sky, they became less prominent, disappearing against the green backdrop of the trees. It was a little after four a.m., it was raining, and I was sitting in my track suit on the wooden table sheltered by the veranda, with my arms wrapped around my knees, watching and listening to Africa waking up. Dozens of bird calls, alien and unfamiliar, pierced the dawn. There was a deep caw-caw-cawwww from somewhere to my left. Another canary like cadence called out 'quick-they're-coming - quick-they're coming'. A group of birds did staccato machine gun impressions in a stand of brachystegia just down the hill.
A group of crickets, large enough to be individually visible even a hundred yards away, took to the air in a flashing cloud of scarlet, their humming underpinning the sharper calls of the birds.
Of course I was out here this early for a reason. My room mate had proven to be another snorer and the echoes of his nasal gymnastics had prevented my sleeping for most of the night. Out here, amid all this noise it was far more relaxing and peaceful. When I found myself dozing I went back inside, stretched out on the sofa in front of the last embers of the fire and fell asleep.
Next time I awoke breakfast was ready and a magnificent feast it was too, bacon, eggs, great fat home made sausages, thick sliced toast made from freshly baked bread, a sweet thick honey and gallons of delicious Malawi coffee. Afterwards, once we had showered and dressed, we piled back into the Land Rover and drove down to Mzuzu where, while Peter went shopping we looked around the PTC supermarket and the town market. Mzuzu is the capital of the Northern Province and has existed as a town for less than fifty years, being a city only since 1991. We stayed only about thirty minutes before moving on.

At the gate of Vwaza Marsh Game Reserve is a large sign that says
It is a thousand square kilometre reserve that runs along the northern section of the Zambian border. The accommodation there is in 'fixed' tents. These are tents that have been pitched onto concrete bases with four wooden poles supporting thatched roofs above them. They are basically but adequately furnished with beds, chairs and a table. The Reserve itself is flat with predominantly brachystegia woodland and, as the name would suggest, substantial wetland habitat. From the tents we could look out across a perfect African vista towards the river, and best of all apart from a few staff we had the place completely to ourselves.
After a brief lunch it was time for our first game drive. As was to become the pattern for the drives we piled mattresses onto the roof of the Land Rover and sat up there, legs dangling over the sides, while Geoff drove us along the dusty dirt roads. Others in the party kept on spotting birds and calling out their names but I found that inevitably by the time I had got my binoculars trained and focused they had already flown away.
In the distance Sarah picked out about a dozen roan antelope. Geoff drove of the road and out through the bush to try to get a closer view, eventually halting on the plain near an enormous dead termite mound. These mounds are one of the startling features of the country's landscape. Some of them are yards high and thousands of years old. Many have trees growing from them, sometimes ancient and gnarled trees which nonetheless the mounds pre-date. We climbed down from the roof and started to follow the roan tracks which were clear and fresh in the soft ground. We found where they had been recently - their fresh droppings were already being parcelled up and rolled away by a horde of bright green dung beetles - but the roan themselves had gone. Reluctantly we went back to the vehicle.
By now sunset was approaching and we drove down towards the river. Across the mud flats there were several dozen hippo in the water. Their booming voices, sounding like someone laughing at the world's dirtiest joke, rang out across the valley. We approached them on foot and with great caution - hippopotamus are responsible for more deaths in Africa than either crocodile or lion. When we had got close enough to satisfy our urge for photographs we turned around and headed back to where we had parked. By the time we reached it the sun was half way down past the horizon and we sat around on the grass drinking bottles of beer and watching the almost archetypal African landscape. It was a wonderful moment that would nevertheless be surpassed over and over by ever more beautiful vistas.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Ongoing 40:Annotated Version

It occured to me this morning that perhaps not everybody is as familiar with the works of the artists mentioned in my last poem as I am. So here is the post again, but this time with some explanatory notes.

It seems I've missed a couple of these out. So here's one I wrote a couple of months ago. The doodle is of a couple of people in an art gallery. It inspired, if that's the best word, a series of short poems - nursery rhymes really - about various modern artists.


Tracy Emin sewed a tent
With every lover's name.
I'm not suspicious minded but
When it went up in flame
I couldn't help but wonder which
Of them should take the blame.

Rachel Whiteread had a house.
She turned it inside out
By filling up with concrete mix -
A prize winner no doubt,
That had the added benifit
Of keeping burglars out.

Paintings made with added dung -
The work of Chris Ofilli,
And some among the critics yawned
Proclaiming it too silly.
But they will burn like billy-o
If the weather should turn chilly.

Damien Hurst displayed a cow
He'd cut up with a knife
And in the world of art today
That kind of thing is rife.
It would have been a better trick
To bring it back to life.

Mark Wallinger, he walked around
A gallery at night.
To make sure he was seen there
He turned on every light
And dressed up as a bear.
Some said, "That bloke's not right."

Martin Creed turned off the lights
And then he turned them on.
Then off, then on, then off, then on.
Some said it was a con.
And when he left them on, at last,
His audience was gone.


Verse 1. Tracy Emin is an artist who is probably best known for the piece "My Bed" in which she recreated an extremely untidy bed and bedroom as an installation piece. It met with howls of derision from the popular press and from people who think that art is "paintings of things". Another of her pieces was a tent on which she put the names of everyone she had ever slept with. This piece, along with others, was destroyed when a fire burnt down the warehouse where it was being stored. Cynics suspected that one of the lovers had done it to get rid of the evidence.

Verse 2. Rachel Whiteread is another controversial winner of the Turner Prize. Her installation was made by filling a house with concrete, letting it set and then removing the house. It was a negative space concept piece and had the usual mixed reaction from the "oh yes it is/oh no it isn't" art critics.

Verse 3. Chris Ofilli does paintings which should endear him to people a little more. What puzzles them are the lumps of elephant dung that he tends to incorporate. At least that's the sole thing that any reports ever mention about his work. Personally I rather like it. But then, I've taken the trouble to form an opinion by looking at it not by reading the newspapers.

Verse 4. Damien Hurst does all sorts of stuff but mention his name and the only reaction you're likely to get is "He's the bloke who cuts up dead animals, isn't he?" Indeed he is but that's hardly a description of all of his work. Nevertheless there are a fair number of his pieces that do involve animals cut up, pickled and reassembled.

Verse 5. Mark Wallinger is another artist with lots of unusual concepts. The one that attracted the most attention on the news was the one where he put on all the lights in an art gallery, dressed up as a bear and spent the night walking round and looking out of the windows. Even I'm not sure what the hell that was all about.

Verse 6. When he was interviewed after winning the Turner Prize, Martin Creed seemed rather bemused (not to mention amused) by it all. Not surprising. His winning piece was an empty gallery where the lights turned on and off at random intervals. Make of it what you will.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

To Put Away Childish Things #16

It's a commonplace enough piece of nostalgia. Lots of people have it. You definitely DIDN'T read it here first, but I am old enough to remember when crisps came in only one flavour* and had a twist of blue paper containing salt that you could add or not add according to your taste.
The plethora of World Cup themed flavours is a far cry from those times. As I sat on a stool in a corner drinking Vimto and eating my crisps (with the salt added) I never dreamed that one day there would be American Cheesburger flavour, Australian BBQ Kangaroo flavour or Italian Spaghetti Bolognese flavour. I never even dreamed of Roast Chicken or Prawn Cocktail flavours. Not even Cheese and Onion or Salt and Vinegar crossed my mind.
It occurs to me that those among my, admittedly limited, readership who call crisps, "chips" might never have had the pleasure of untwisting the blue packet of salt and tipping it into the bag; holding the top tight and shaking to distribute the condiment evenly. I have no idea if such a thing ever existed outside the UK. 
Of course someone from a nation raised on root beer and Coke might also not know what Vimto is.
I'm sure someone will be able to enlighten me.

(*potato flavour, that is.)

Ongoing #40

It seems I've missed a couple of these out. So here's one I wrote a couple of months ago. The doodle is of a couple of people in an art gallery. It inspired, if that's the best word, a series of short poems  - nursery rhymes really - about various modern artists.


Tracy Emin sewed a tent
With every lover's name.
I'm not suspicious minded but
When it went up in flame
I couldn't help but wonder which
Of them should take the blame.

Rachel Whiteread had a house.
She turned it inside out
By filling up with concrete mix -
A prize winner no doubt,
That had the added benifit
Of keeping burglars out.

Paintings made with added dung -
The work of Chris Ofilli,
And some among the critics yawned
Proclaiming it too silly.
But they will burn like billy-o
If the weather should turn chilly.

Damien Hurst displayed a cow
He'd cut up with a knife
And in the world of art today
That kind of thing is rife.
It would have been a better trick
To bring it back to life.

Mark Wallinger, he walked around
A gallery at night.
To make sure he was seen there
He turned on every light
And dressed up as a bear.
Some said, "That bloke's not right."

Martin Creed turned off the lights
And then he turned them on.
Then off, then on, then off, then on.
Some said it was a con.
And when he left them on, at last,
His audience was gone.

Very Much Delicious: Part 2

I have been shockingly lax recently when it comes to posting things here on the subject that the blog was, originally, ostensibly about : travel.
Here then is part 2 of my diaries from 1996 about my trip to Malawi and Zambia. And, by the way, the title of these posts will, I promise, be explained eventually.


I woke early and took my camera for another walk around the area. It proved to be distinctly unphotogenic and after a couple of 'atmospheric' shots I gave up and returned to the hotel. In the grounds of the Golden Cockroach as someone had dubbed our accommodation, was a Korean restaurant - at least that's what it was called but there was nothing noticeably Korean about it. Nor for that matter noticeably Malawian. It was in a building leased from the Hotel but otherwise separate from it. Here we had breakfast, sitting at a table outside eating a plate of bananas, mangoes and fried eggs - a combination a good deal more appetising than it sounds. Barry had a Newman's Guide to the Birds of Southern Africa and at the sight of something colourful in one of the trees quickly consulted it to pronounce 'Redbilled Woodhoopoe' and again a minute later to identify a 'Cutthroat Finch'. 
I groaned inwardly at the prospect of another trip shared with a bird-watcher.

After breakfast the Land Rover arrived with our driver and our cook. The cook, Peter, was a cheerful smiling fellow who clambered on top of the Land Rover and within minutes had all our waiting baggage stowed away under a plastic sheet which was firmly roped down to the roof. Soon we were under way, driving out through the flame trees and coral trees of suburban Lilongwe on our way to Kasito Lodge, our overnight stop for Wednesday.
The Malawi Forestry Department has around the country various lodges for guests. The ones in the Viphya Forest Reserve are called Kasito Lodges One and Two. As you climb towards the Viphya plateau from Mzimba the variegated colours of the brachystegia woodland are replaced by the darker greens of imported Mexican Pine with only smaller patches of indigenous trees remaining. Turning off the main road we approached Kasito Lodge Number One along a succession of sandy tracks. When I had read that we were to be in 'lodge accommodation' I had been a little apprehensive. After all that bland phrase could have meant almost anything. Kasito Lodge exceeded my wildest expectations. It is a sprawling former colonial residence which has magnificent views across the valley. It has half a dozen large bedrooms, a dining room, a large lounge with a wide and welcoming fireplace, extensive kitchens and two bathrooms and a shower. All of it is well maintained and comfortable and we had it all to ourselves.
The grey morning had given way to a glorious afternoon and most of us decided to go for a walk around the hills. Only Barry, who wanted to go walking alone, decided against the idea. The guide, wisely not trusting our sense of direction, suggested that one of the lodge employees should come with us to make sure that we did not get lost. Verten, a thin Malawian in dark blue overalls, led us up the hill through the trees. He was aged 30 and had 3 children but his English was not as good as Peter's and that was all I managed to find out about him before we cleared the trees and arrived at a large open space where a number of charcoal kilns could be found. They occupied a flat area at the top of the hill a little way short of the road. They were also conspicuously not working. While the five of us looked around Verten disappeared, re-appearing a few minutes later with Dervan, a former worker at the site whose English was considerably better. The charcoal kilns had, he explained been closed two years ago by the government but he would happily give us a tour anyway if we wanted one. We all agreed that we did.
There were two types of kiln there, hemispherical one ton kilns and cylindrical three ton kilns. They were all ingeniously constructed using a hinged template with two sliding pieces of wood and a hinged peg. This allowed them to create the circular shapes easily and accurately. The rows of the smaller version were built of diminishing sizes of brick to more easily obtain the correct shape. Once built, complete with a number of air vents and a door for loading they were packed tightly with pine logs and then the door was sealed up. The wood was then ignited via channels in the base and allowed to burn for three hours. The vents were then also sealed to starve the fire of oxygen and the outside of the kiln covered in mud to facilitate cooling. The larger kilns also had run off channels so that the creosote that is released when pine burns could be collected and sold.
He had mixed feelings about the closure. On the one hand he was unhappy to be out of a job when he had a wife and family to support, on the other hand it was an unpleasant and difficult job which he had never liked anyway.
The path led in a rough circle away from the lodge. Verten was guiding us and occasionally Sarah would ask him the name of one of the flowers but as he only ever knew the name in his own language, Tambuka, and invariably picked the flower to give to her she soon stopped bothering. The path continued to bend so that eventually it must lead roughly back towards our Lodge. At one point the ground was covered in hundreds of jet black millipedes emerging from tiny holes in the dirt. At our footfalls some retreated into the holes, others ignored us completely and others curled up into tight spirals, as hard as sea shells. Eventually we dipped down a slight slope and crossed a narrow stream. On the other side we climbed briefly and found ourselves approaching our point of departure.
As we approached another Lodge employee came bustling out with a large pot of tea and a plate of biscuits and we sat at a wooden table on the lawn eating and drinking. A tiny frog, no more than a centimetre long and with bright red feet hopped around in the grass and then posed for photographs before leaving us.
Dinner, the first of many to be cooked for us by Peter was a thick and tasty vegetable soup followed by a gigantic helping of shepherds' pie. It was excellent and afterwards we sat with our drinks in front of a blazing log fire and introduced ourselves 'officially.'
Geoff, the Safari leader, was a former South African lawyer who had decided that the city life was not for him and that this would suit him better. He and his wife had been on their way to visit Kenya when they decided to settle instead on the shore of Lake Malawi.
David and Louise were together. They were both vegetarians and both did some kind of work connected with ecology, the kind of people that can say 'minimum impact tourism' and 'ecologically responsible resource management' with a straight face.
Barry, my room mate, was a lifelong fan of Africa and had travelled in almost every bit of there is to travel in. He was certainly knowledgeable but he had a self-aggrandising attitude that I did not take to. His heart was in the right place but he was rather too smug and pompous for me to find him particularly likable.
Sheila was a teaching sister from an Edinburgh hospital and was about sixty years old. She had taught a number of African students who had gone on to return to their own countries to practise, including some to Malawi.
Sarah, a business analyst, was a thirty-something widow, also from Edinburgh.
And, of course, there was me, a thirty-something systems analyst working for a police authority who likes to travel to as many different places as possible and meet as many different people as possible to which end this was my first visit to Africa apart from a thoroughly unenjoyable week spent in Tunisia some years earlier.
We ate and introduced ourselves and sat in the cooling air of an African evening and everyone agreed that it looked like being a splendid trip.

Monday, 21 June 2010

To Put Away Childish Things #15

I was never what you might call a very practical child. You may be wondering what kind of child I was, given that we have already established that I was never very sporty either. Well, to tell the truth, I was the spotty bespectacled swotty kind who would rather sit in the library and do his homework than hang around in the schoolyard.
Be that as it may, I wasn't practical. There were lots of other things I couldn't do very well either. One of the choices we had to make was between art, music and woodwork. The music teacher didn't want me as I couldn't carry a tune and had never shown any inclination towards learning an instrument. The art teacher didn't want me, presumably because he had seen how badly I drew. (I couldn't draw anything but I was worst at feet. If I had to draw a figure it was always standing behind a rock or a box so that I didn't have to attempt them.) So I ended up in the woodwork class where I was predictably useless. In my time there we made two things. There was a footstool with mortise and tenon joints. Mine fell apart in about a month. It would have been quicker had it not been precariously held together by the raffia-work top. The other project was the subject of a mystery. It was a clock with a wooden case with dovetail joints and when we turned up for the lesson one day mine was missing. I have always suspected that the teacher thought it was so bad that he threw it away.
As you can see, not a practical child at all.
So it's all the more mysterious that I miss making Airfix models. You can still buy them, of course, and I suppose I could if I wanted to but I was just as useless at them as everything else. I think every kid has made them at some time or another, plastic kits that could, with time, patience, glue and paint be assembled into aeroplanes, tanks, battleships, cars and so on. My family used to buy them for me as birthday presents and I would dutifully build them although there would always be bits left over that didn't correspond to the bits that were missing. Moving parts, wheels for example, never moved, and my painting was especially sloppy so that the ones that were supposed to be in camouflage colours would only be adequately hidden if they crashed into an exploding paint factory.
Quite late on I discovered, however, a series of models that even I could handle. The Airfix range of historical figures. There were various kings and queens, famous soldiers and sailors and so on. These had the advantage that there were less of the fiddly little pieces to work with so they could be managed even by someone of my ineptitude.

I had about a dozen of them, though the only ones I can remember now are Henry VIII, Richard I and Oliver Cromwell. I even managed to paint them reasonably well*  and for years they stood on top of the cupboard in our living room. 
Sadly, like much else that I have been nostalgic about, I have no idea what happened to them, no idea if they were thrown away, given away or put away. It would be nice to find them again. I was especially fond of the Richard I which had a removable helmet and sword which I managed NOT to glue permanently in place.

As a brief aside, in the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that I am no more practical now. I expect that given an Airfix model and some glue I would still end up with pieces of it glued to the table and several of my fingers stuck together. Some things never change.

(*reasonably well by my standards of course, which is pretty poor by anyone else's)

Sunday, 20 June 2010


...unless one of the following is true

a) you have already seen the penultimate Doctor Who episode of the season, The Pandorica Opens

b) you haven't seen it but don't care if you find out what happens

The rest of this post contains SPOILERS (and nothing but spoilers).

So, let's see if I can summarise

All the Doctor Who baddies have teamed up
The Doctor is tricked and then imprisoned for eternity.
Rory returns but turns out to be a Auton.
Amy is dead.
River and the Tardis have blown up.
The whole Universe has been destroyed. (Probably destroyed in such a way that it never existed to begin with.)

And, on top of all that, the entire finale, perhaps the entire series, has been constructed out of elements of Amy's childhood fantasies by persons unknown for reasons unknown by methods unknown.

When he writes a cliffhanger, he doesn't mess about, does he?

Can't wait to see what next week's is all about.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Very Much Delicious: Part 1

I have been shockingly lax recently when it comes to posting things here on the subject that the blog was, originally, ostensibly about : travel.
So I've decided that it's time to dust down another of my old travelogues and present it, in sections, for your entertainment. In this, and subsequent, entries, names have been changed but everything else is completely factual.
The meaning of the title for these entries will become clear later.

It's hard to believe that it's only fourteen years since I went on a package holiday in Malawi and Zambia. It feels like it was much longer than that. Still, that's what the dates on the diary say so I suppose it must be true. The first diary entry for the trip is dated 17th December 1996 and I had just arrived in Malawi.


After the dusty downbeat shabbiness of our stopover at Addis Ababa, Lilongwe airport was a haven of calm and tranquillity. It was cool spacious and pleasant. It hardly felt like an airport at all. Our tour leader, Geoff, was waiting for us. Dressed in a jungle green short sleeved shirt and shorts he looked every inch the great white hunter. When he spoke to introduce himself his English had the distinctive sound of a South African. He introduced himself and immediately gained our unending affection by handing out cold beers from back of the Land Rover.
    Outside the airport the day was bright and hot, the air sticky and humid. The airport looked as good from there as from inside, occupying a broad tree lined avenue rather than the usual acres of car filled concrete. We stood around drinking the beer and helping load our luggage onto the roof of the vehicle. There were only six of us. David was a tall thin man with greying hair and a beard. He was there with Louise. Both of them were difficult to place in an age bracket but were probably in their fifties. Barry, who I correctly surmised was to be my room mate was shorter, solidly built and beginning to lose his hair. He was also about the same age. Of the two single women one, Sheila was older - perhaps about sixty - and the other Sarah was younger - probably late thirties.
    After a short drive we arrived at lodging for the night, a relatively shabby resthouse. It had, we were assured, been newly decorated and improved shortly before our arrival. It must have been an interesting place before. The beds were hard and not especially clean. The toilet and shower could best be described as 'basic with an overpowering smell of urine'. The corridors were filled with broken and discarded furniture.
We asked at reception for mosquito nets.
    "No mosquito nets, no mosquitoes." the owner said swatting away the mosquito feeding on his cheek. Back in the room I dug out my own net and set it up. I tried to talk to my room mate. He was a seasoned hand at Africa having visited most of it in the last twenty years or so. He seemed basically decent but a little pompous and self righteous - a 'been there, done that, sponsored the new wing of the orphanage' sort of a guy. Ten minutes in his company and you felt guilty for not selling all of your possessions and donating the proceeds to Somalian refugees. I gave up trying to hold a conversation and went to take a shower.
    A little later, clean and changed and feeling refreshed I went for a walk around the immediate environs. The sounds were different to anywhere I had ever been. My stroll led me down a dusty road, past a school and into what seemed to be a half built shopping area. All the way I was accompanied by the noise of insects and frogs in a perpetually shifting rhythm, magnified by the stillness of the air and sometimes accompanied by the distant wail of an Islamic call to prayer.
    A child sitting in a pile of truck tyres waved at me and I waved back. A man was crouched by the side of the road repairing a bicycle even though it was already becoming dark. A notice proclaimed that the Lilongwe Sewage Recycling Project was co-funded by Japan. This last was the first indication of a theme to be noticed time and again in the country. Everywhere were signs of Japanese investment from the many co-funded projects to the enormous number of Toyota Land Cruisers. Soon it became too dark to sensibly continue and I returned to the hotel ready for my evening meal. This was to be taken at the local golf club.
    The golf club  restaurant was run by an ex-patriot Englishman. He was a fussy host in a maroon shirt who had much to say on the subject of African economics and how the hurdles put in the way of starting businesses made small investment difficult. All the same, he pointed out, there was building and development going on everywhere and that was a sure sign of healthy economic growth. He talked while we ate, keeping up a constant stream of the type of conversation that is probably the staple of every golf club in the world. Outside the sights and sounds of the country might have seemed different but inside, if the conversation could be taken as a guide, we might as well have been in Surrey.
    Of course, the combination of my lack of interest in Malawian business ordeals and my tiredness from the flight guaranteed that I would remember nothing of the meal tomorrow – not even what I had eaten – so his words were largely wasted. They simply made a droning backdrop to the evening as we all focussed on the idea that we could soon go to sleep and be ready for the first proper day of the trip.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Ongoing #39

And you thought I'd forgotten my continuing series of new poems.
No such luck.

Actually I thought hard before posting this one as it could best be characterised as an anti-religion poem and has the potential to offend. It isn't meant to. The cartoon is of a bishop but the impetus for the poem comes from my feeling that atheists are the last persecuted religious minority. I started to believe this when I first encountered Tony Blair's National Prayer Breakfast Speech in February last year. I blogged about it at the time. What worried me most about it was that he bent over backwards to name check every religion he could think of but seemed to be positively aggressive about non-believers, listing them together with terrorists as the cause of evil.
Thus do the extreme believers and the aggressive non-believers come together in unholy alliance.
At best he seemed to see us as doing God's work whether we know it or not, which is patronising to say the least and offensive to me as an atheist to put it more bluntly.
Neither do I decry the work of humanists, who give gladly of themselves for others and who can often shame the avowedly religious. Those who do God’s work are God’s people.
I find this all rather disturbing. My beliefs, which he would probably characterise as my lack of beliefs, should certainly be accorded the same respect that he seemed to accord those who follow a religion different to his. The fact that our country's Prime Minister had secretly held the views expressed in his speech, beliefs he only articulated after leaving office, disturbs me even more but that's a topic for another time.
Anyway, enough of the background. Here's the poem.

Signs and Symbols

They wear their signs and symbols
To witness their belief
In things they cannot evidence
That hold them yet in fief.
They show the signs and symbols
That bind them to their view
And spurn the voice of reason
As they join in retinue.
They have their signs and symbols
Each one a different set
To clearly mark the boundaries
Between spire and minaret.
They flaunt their signs and symbols
Like favours on their sleeve
Pay respect to different symbols
Of others who believe.
But for those who wear no symbols
They reserve their scorn and hate
The agnostic and the atheist
And the vilest apostate.

Monday, 14 June 2010

QES Demolition Derby

I don't usually make posts that just link to other people's blogs but I'm going to make an exception. I was intending to write my own demolition of the arrant nonsense that forms the bulk of the Queen's English Society website but my minimal research has revealed that others have already done a fairly thorough job.

So here are some of them.

We can only hope, as Plain Text suggests, that the whole thing is a spoof. Sadly, I'm pretty sure that it isn't.


On TV at the moment they are talking about people upstaging their friends by turning up as guests at their weddings wearing clothes that are more flamboyant and outrageous than the bride or groom.

It reminded me of my brother's wedding, many years ago. All the family were invited to both the wedding and the reception. One of them, one of my cousins, had a long way to come and didn't make it in time for the wedding or the start of the reception. He arrived part of the way through the reception as my brother was making his groom's speech.
Now, there are two things that you need to know. 
First, my brother is a very down to Earth kind of guy. At the time he was working in a double glazing factory, on the shop floor, and he had a lot of friends who were also quite down to Earth.
The second thing you need to know is that my cousin is gay. Quite flamboyantly gay.

As my brother was beginning his speech, the door to the banquetting hall opened and in walked my cousin. He was wearing white trousers with a thin dark stripe, a salmon pink blazer and a wide brimmed hat. All eyes turned from the stage to look at the newcomer. There was a moment of silence into which a loud voice from the audience dropped the comment
"F**k me, the cabaret's arrived."

My brother coughed to call attention back to the stage and declared, "Hands off him, he's my cousin."

Saturday, 12 June 2010

To Put Away Childish Things #14

For anyone who knows anything at all about me the next sentence will be quite startling.
In World Cup spirit, let's get nostalgic about football.
OK, I'm sorry, I'm misleading you. In my whole life the only thing I've disliked more than watching football is playing football but it is playing - or rather not playing - football that I want to remember right now. Somewhere else in this blog there is a set of three poems about games lessons at school. They accurately reflect my experience of the horror.
Back in my school days I went to Bilston Boys' Grammar School - an establishment that disappeared at around the time I was leaving to be replaced with a Comprehensive School. I was a decent enough student academically but when it came to sports I was about as useless as it's possible to be without  being dead. Put a javelin in my hand and I was as likely to kill someone accidentally as I was to throw it where it was supposed to go. Similarly with the discus, the direction was unpredictable although your safety was more or less guaranteed if you stood more than about ten feet away. I don't think I ever managed to clear the bar in the high jump even if it was lying on the ground. On the long jump I could, when pressed, very nearly reach the start of the sand pit with a massive leap of almost a foot. On cross country runs I was one a select group who jogged the dozen or so yards that got us out of sight of the school then strolled up to sit among the trees until it was time to go back. At a pinch I could play a reasonable game of badminton, but that was the limit of my athletic prowess.
Where I really failed to excel though was in football (for US readers this is of course soccer that I am talking about). We had three football pitches. On the first, and largest, of them the players who were in the school team played against the players who stood a pretty good chance of getting into the school team. On the middle pitch the players who had less skill but great dollops of enthusiasm played.
I played on the little pitch, a corner tucked away at the far end of the playing fields, where those of us who had neither skill nor enthusiasm were sent to while away the games periods. We would stand around, occasionally making a desultory attempt to kick the ball but otherwise not even trying to look as if we were playing. The north end had a grassy bank where sometimes we sunbathed. Once, when we did try, I recall Bhogul, whose athletic skills were every bit the equal of mine, being in goal. He attempted to drop kick the ball, missed it and back-heeled it into his own goal. Not being at the end with a bank, it rolled away rather than bouncing back and none of us had the inclination to fetch it back.
The only times this blissfully incompetent idyll was ever disturbed were the times when someone was send down from the second pitch to join us, which could happen if everybody was present and fit for the lesson. Then, they would inevitably try, unsuccessfully, to whip up some effort but the result was always that whichever team they were on would win about ninety-nil.

All of this may go some way towards explaining away my apathy, make that antipathy, towards the game. Yesterday, at work, I was roundly criticised because I refused to take part in their World Cup sweepstake. I neither know nor care who is in it or who wins it. I can say that it only started yesterday but even before a ball was kicked I was heartily sick of it. It's just about impossible to find anything on television at the moment that isn't either football or connected in some way with football. And, so I am told, it lasts for a month. 
Oh, joy.
I expect that I'm going to be making a dent in the very large pile of unwatched DVDs I have accumulated. Of course when it's all over you can expect me to be expressing similar joy at the prospect of Wimbledon. Or do they overlap? I do hope so. It would at least reduce the duration of the pain.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

An easy mistake

Yesterday in the barber's shop, while I was waiting, my father was getting his hair cut and chatting with the barber.
"My youngest has gone on holiday." he said.
"Where to?" asked the barber.
"Bosnia." said my father.
The puzzled barber looked at me.
"Borneo." I explained.

I suppose it's an easy mistake to make. Even if, only one minute before sitting in the chair, my father had asked me,
"Where's Ray gone again? Is it Bognor?"

To Put Away Childish Things #13

Ambrose Bierce, a man whose cynicism outweighs even my own, defined nostalgia as "fond remembrance of imaginary times past". By that definition this entry fails twice. It isn't really fond and the times weren't imaginary. I'd like to consider Rhyll.
Rhyll was a very popular seaside destination for the Midland working classes going on holiday and my family was keener on it than most. Of course when I say "my family" what I really mean is "my parents".  No one ever asked either my opinion or my brother's opinion. With or without our approval we went year after year to the same holiday camp - in Rhyll - at the same time of year - in September - and had what amounted to the same holiday.
So what were those holidays like?
First of all you need to know something about the place and, for those who live in warmer climes, something about September. Rhyll is a seaside town in North Wales. It's not a big place - though it is bigger than my family's second choice, Borth - and although it was once a popular and elegant Victorian resort it was pretty shabby by the 1960s when we were going. I can't vouch for what it's like now, I haven't been back since I was about twelve. Post-traumatic stress, probably.
Of course September might have something to do with my lifelong antipathy. In September the weather is already turning cold and the Irish Sea is not something you want to be swimming in. We went at that time of year, as did many others, because it was cheaper.
It was also cheaper, and the done thing, to go self-catering. This meant spending the week in a caravan or, when we went to Rhyll, a chalet. The chalets were two-roomed wooden buildings: a bedroom for the parents and a room with a table and a couple of bench seats that metemorphosised into beds for the kids at night. They were draughty, cold and very basic.
Our holiday camp, which may well still be there so I won't name it, was at the cheaper end even of the holiday camp spectrum. There was an open air swimming pool that was, to be kind, of a dubious hygiene standard and that somehow managed to maintain a temperature even lower than that of the sea. There was a scrubby beach that was reached by walking through a row of rusty and disused caravans. There was a club where entertainers who would be rejected nowadays before the televised stages of Britain's Got Talent entertained inebriated adults while the kids sat in a wooden hut watching cartoon films that were so old that the least discerning five-year-old would be bored after two minutes. The same set of cartoons every year in fact.
What else was there in Rhyll at the time?
Well there was the fairground. This consisted of half a dozen dilapidated attractions and a bingo hall where a bored caller shouted out numbers and a lot of equally bored punters slid little plastic covers over the numbers in front of them for hours at a time.
There was the model village were we had an annual visit. Every year it got a little more run down and a few more of the unconvincing model villagers fell over as if some ghastly creeping sleeping sickness was gradually overcoming toytown.
There was a news stand on the camp which had a rack improbably stocked with American DC comics - Superman, the Flash, Justice League and so on.
And there was the rain- and wind-swept promenade where the endless (and I mean that in the eternal damnation sense) days were spent walking from one end of the town to the other and back.
And the only other significant entertainment I remember was Woolworths, where I bought the cheap sci-fi paperbacks that, along with a selection of those comics,  kept me occupied during the tedious hours of the holiday.
When my brother returns from his current holiday in Borneo (he too has never returned to Rhyll) I shall consult him and ask him for further reminiscences and, if I can find them, I shall also post here a remarkable pair of photographs taken on one of those holidays - me and my brother each posing with a parrot on our shoulder. In Ray's, he is leaning away from the parrot looking very wary of the creature. In mine the parrot is leaning away from me.
I'm not sure what that means but it must mean something.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Mixed messages in pedantry

The Times today has a news article and a leader about the Queen's English Society's proposal for an academy to police the English language and guard against its decline. The messages seem a little mixed, though. On the one hand they have given the leader the sub-headline "An academy for the English language is a bad idea" and  describe the suggestion as "forlorn". They point out that an academy would have no actual effect on how people use the language, just as French pedants' criticism has not stopped anyone there using le weekend. But at the same time they suggest that the loss of the "original meaning" of beg the question or protest one's innocence* has been for no good reason

The news item is a little more factual, restricting itself, by and large, to reporting the comments from members of the aforementioned society. These comments also have something of a schizophrenic sound about them. They suggest that "[Language academies] not stop the language changing...but they do provide a measure of linguistic discipline and try to retain valid and useful changes new terms while rejecting passing fads."  They say we "desperately need" such a body because of "the tragic failure" of our education system.
The brains behind the formation of this academy is Martin Estinel who, if the article is accurate, has the usual plethora of personal language foibles. He doesn't like "gay" in its modern sense but accepts that the dictionaries include it. (Good of him to accept such an obviously verifiable fact!). He doesn't like misplaced sentence stress (although it isn't clear what he means by that - perhaps he's objecting to rising intonations in non-questions although that isn't actually a matter of stress at all.) He objects to teenagers using "like", the confusion of "last" and "past", and the tendency to use "if I was" instead of "if I were".

Rhea Williams, described as chairman of the Society, is also quoted. She objects to "we was" instead of "we were" and if she was (sic) talking about in formal writing, I'd agree, but she says "for example, you hear, 'we was' a lot." Indeed you do, and have done for centuries, it depends where you live. It's by far the commonest spoken form in my locality. She also says that there are "mispronunciations and misunderstandings galore" but fails to suggest any. That's probably because there are far fewer than she thinks. Even if people do all the things that she, and so many others, object to, understanding still usually occurs.
The case against an academy is bizarrely presented by Jack Bovill, chairman of the Spelling Society. And I mean "bizarrely presented" as it ignores the issue of an academy more or less entirely to promote his society's view that "awareness of irregularities in spelling" needs to be raised and that while language adapts we should "do it deliberately" rather than "leave it to chance".

My view is that if they want their academy, let them have it. Give them a hall to hold their meetings in. Let them grumble and moan about the declining standards and the end of civilization as we know it. It won't make a blind bit of difference to how real people speak or write.

(* Incidentally I'm not sure what "original meaning" they are talking about in the case of "protest one's innocence".)

Thursday, 3 June 2010

An average understanding of "average"

One of the very dubious advantages of half term is that I get to watch the same daytime TV as my Dad and one of the programs he watches, tutting and grumbling all the time, is The Wright Stuff. He's 86, he's allowed to tut and grumble but his irritation at the program sometimes pales beside mine. Take today for example. One of the discussions was about the use of the word "average" when describing people. Of course the average man probably doesn't give a monkey's but the show's premise was that describing someone, especially in school, as average is demoralising and stops them from acheiving their full potential. The word, they suggested shouldn't be used.* Average is a bad thing. The callers to the program were of one mind. Everyone should strive to be above average. One caller, with an clearly over-competitive nature, seemed to be suggesting that if you didn't want to best at everything you weren't trying hard enough.
Of course you can strive for whatever you like. I could strive to become the world's greatest olympic triathlete but with my age, weight and general fitness it ain't gonna happen, is it?
Absolutely no one seemed to have an idea of what an average is. I've talked about this before with reference to a politician some years ago who said on a TV interview that he would only be happy when everyone was above average. Welcome to a life of misery.
Let me repeat now what I said then - if you have an average then by definition some people will be above and some people will be below it. If everyone below improves to the point that they surpass the previous average then the average moves so that some are still below it.
This talk of averages being good or bad is absurd. The idea that by not telling people that their performance is average then it somehow isn't, is equally absurd. The idea that everyone can be better than average is the most absurd of the lot, it is logically nonsense. The absolute best you could ever hope for would be that everyone would be exactly the same and then they would all be average, no one better and no one worse.

Of course, I may not be the average daytime TV viewer.

*What word should be used instead when describing the kid who is at the "average" position wasn't clear. I can't believe that "mean" would be a preferred choice.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

To Put Away Childish Things #12

I'm not sure that this belongs here.
It's nostalgia all right, but of a rather recent vintage, and it certainly doesn't fall under the heading of "childish things".
Ho hum. Never mind. Let's get all dewy-eyed and tearful about a beer festival. The Midlands is graced with many fine beer festivals - Wolverhampton is in two days. There are many others scattered through the year Stourbridge, Birmingham, Walsall and such, not to mention a host of pub-based festivals including the splendid garden festival at the Black Eagle.
What there isn't, what there hasn't been for ten years, is the beer festival at Dudley Castle which for me was the high point of the season. There have been other Dudley beer festivals but they're not the same. 
Initially it took place in a park in two large tents, with entertainment provided by various bands on a mobile stage. When the weather was poor it was still a great day out; when the sun was shining it was magnificent.
And then they made it better.
Dudley is a town that is fortunate in having a castle. It's ruined now and it is part of the grounds of Dudley Zoo but it is still impressive, perched on the hill, overlooking the town. The beer festival moved into one of the large courtyards for the last few years of its existence.
From that moment as well as great beer, great bands and great organisation it had great surroundings. The ruins of the castle walls towered above the tents and stages, surrounding and protecting them. There can be no finer experience on Earth than holding a pint of frothing ale, brewed as it has been for centuries, standing in the summer sun, surrounde by history, listening to a blues guitarist as the plantive music echoes from the ancient walls.

And then one year it was gone. Aftermath of the foot and mouth outbreak, they said. And then the next year it was still gone. Double booked venue, they said. And it never came back. There were plenty of others, even others in Dudley, but drinking in a hot dark hall simply can't compare. Even drinking the small but carefully chosen selection in the Black Eagle's beer garden, lovely thoug it is, can't compare.

I miss the festivals at the castle. And I don't think they'll ever be coming back.