I hope you won’t mind but I have a suggestion for you. You don’t have to take it, but if I know my readers I think you may have it in your hearts.
At this time of year, we’re always reminded to keep an eye on those around us who live on their own. And I’m sure if that’s at all possible you’ll be doing that.
But I’d like you to consider taking that a step further.
There are those among us who won’t be on their own. They will be looked after, as they are looked after for the rest of the year by their carers. And it’s these carers I’d like you to think about.
Now, not everyone’s circumstances are the same. People’s needs differ. But I’m thinking about those who through love alone put their lives aside to provide for others. It could be caring for a parent, spouse, partner or child, bonded together.
So, why not take the time to visit them? Are they good for shopping and so forth. And depending on your relationship with the carer and their loved one – Could you use a break, stretch your legs, get a breath of fresh air?
Perhaps the answer will be no. Don’t force the issue.
But say it’s yes. As long as this kind act is coming from your heart and not for some material gain, then consider the joy it will bring.
Just an idea then.
Compliments of the season to you all.
So how can we get him back to the Isle of Wight, they thought…
Well he likes – in no particular order – country walks, real ale & old public transport.
The 3rd annual Isle of Wight Classic Buses, Beer & Walks Weekend probably wasn’t put on for my sole benefit. To be honest I did precious little walking.
But I hope this little gallery gives you some idea of how it was, although lacking the smell of diesel & the taste of hops.
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I decided this was the year to make that great comedic pilgrimage. Inspired by my brave friend, Jen ‘The Muse’ Bird and her stint busking there last year, I decided now was the time for me to head to one of my favourite cities, Edinburgh in Scotland. The reason?
The annual Festival Fringe.
I trust that you’ve heard of it. Each August, the worlds of comedy, theatre and street performance converge on the Scottish Capital for the Fringe. A chance for new stars to emerge and for existing ones to get up close to their audience.
Now, with its global reputation a huge body of humanity hits town and wants a bit of a lie-down. So much so that I had difficulty finding a reasonably priced habitable room in town. You’ll find some at luxury prices if you have the benefit, and lots of dormitory rooms in hostels for the young and adventurous among you. Me? I decided to hang back over the English border in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. A splendid few nights in the new Tune Hotel there. I needed somewhere near the central railway station as I’d be commuting to Edinburgh Waverley.
And so last Wednesday morning I boarded the 0935 CrossCountry service alongside many other like-minded punters, a quick jaunt up the north-east coast (memo to self : must stop in Berwick on Tweed eventually, lovely looking), we pulled in around 1105.
The days adventure begins – what could I pack into my ten-hour stay? Well I had taken the precaution of booking a couple of shows in advance, more of which anon. So off the train, up what was once the daunting Waverley Steps (now subdued and flanked by escalators) and left through Princes Street Gardens, and there you’ll find a hub in front of the Scottish National Gallery. This is where the good people of Fringe sponsors Virgin Money have set up a box office offering discounted tickets. This is where I picked up my free programme. With every scheduled performance being given a few square inches in print along with city maps this runs to over four hundred pages. Bring a spare backpack if you don’t have a photographic memory.
This was also where I found my first entertainment of the day. Alongside a craft fair you’ll find two performance area and a space for musicians. Roll up roll up. Don’t be shy, make room for everyone to see, up the front kids. I started by watching a swedish knife thrower, but his style in delaying the inevitable for his volunteer/victim wore a little. So I moved across to the other stage. Here was a very chirpy and cheeky chap twirling with fire, performing ball skills, with a crystal ball no less. For his finale he asked a willing and sporting volunteer to lay down whilst he crawled across him, fire stick in mouth. A good funny turn. But here’s the rub. This is street theatre & the talent is looking to eat something other than fire and stop in one the aforementioned hostels. So the hat gets passed round. If you’ve enjoyed the performance give accordingly. If you haven’t, feel free to move away, but bear in mind the eating & sleeping needs of the artistes. Be kind. Be generous.
At this point I stepped away from the Fringe and into the Scottish National Gallery. To be honest I popped into use the washroom (clean & luxurious), but I was lured in further by all the naked ladies… immortalized on canvas. I’m glad I stopped and went down to the basement where the important Scottish art is held. I hadn’t realized one of my favorite paintings was there – The Skating Minister attributed to Henry Raeburn.
By now it was lunchtime, and following a trip on the new white elephant that is Edinburgh’s tramway I feast on saveloy & chips from a fine Italian-Scottish chippy. Yes, it’s true they will put batter on the un-batterable but I wasn’t that brave.
This brings us to be first paid for show. As a fan of TV sitcoms, and in particular the great BBC sitcoms of the 1970’s, it was a joy to have an audience with Mr Rodney Bewes, star of The Likely Lads & its sequel Whatever happened to The Likely Lads. Rodney took us back to the golden age of television. When series were booked over a good lunch and an even better idea. No focus groups, no go and develop this for the next three years. Just, we’ve this sketch about two teenage boys trying to impress lasses down the pub, we’ve made a ciné film, we hope you enjoy it as much as us…
And now, as I forewarned, a few of my bugbears. Expect to be overwhelmed by well-meaning people bearing flyers. Bless’em all for what they’re trying to do to promote the many many experiences. But when you surrounded by four of them barking up when you’re in a hurry trying to get somewhere you’ve paid for…
My main cause of sourpuss-ness was this though. Perhaps you’ve walked down your local high street and seen a busker with a violin. And then they switch on a CD of “Spring” from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”. They play the opening phrase, and then let the audio do the hard work for the next thirty-six bars or so… Not on, eh?
And yet on The Royal Mile I saw a crooner on one of the main podiums singing over a big band backing tape. Damn Karaoke. Young man, take that tux back to the rental, find a few friends with a bass, some brass, a keyboard & a couple of drums, and come back next year to do it properly…
Onwards and upwards to my second paid performance. You’ve probably seen Lucy Porter on TV’s Mock the Week or heard her on the venerable Just a Minute. Petite with raven hair, full of angst about being thirty-something, single & childless. Nowadays, Lucy is just over 40 (she mentioned it), joyfully married to an actor and mum to two. And blonde. Utterly charming, especially to that man who got lost in the labyrinth of the Pleasance Courtyard with its multiple stages & who arrived five minutes into the set. Sorry Lucy!
So that was the end of my schedule entertainment for the day and the choice of either of going somewhere for a sit down meal or seeing what else was on offer and grabbing a burger before catching the train south at 9.
I’m glad I chose the latter, for on The Mound, I chanced across a young escapologist Tianna the Traveller. A very clever act, utilising the baggage straps & locks from her luggage as her tools of self-imprisonment. What was particularly sweet was her talking to the young girls in the audience telling them there is such a big world they can find out there for themselves one day. Oh, and Tianna was dressed in the style of Lara Croft…
In retrospect, I wish I’d bumped up my contribution with the money I went on to waste on the burger. Next time our paths cross…
And so my first trip to the Edinburgh Fringe was complete.
Will I go again? Yes.
What will I do differently – book early enough to stay in Lothian so I can stay later. And to take advantage of the fact that most venues have more than one stage or more than one show a day (The Courtyard for example, serves up show after show after show).
My main regret – that I don’t have the courage or talent to get up there myself.
So here’s to The Edinburgh Fringe Festival… never boring.
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I love folk music. I know nothing about folk music.
I love real ale. I know nothing about real ale.
I love women. But apparently…
Let’s talk about the first two. Last week I had two special occasions – the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards at London’s Royal Albert Hall and here in Reading our annual Beer & Cider Festival at its new home on Christchurch Meadows.
Now I’ve been meaning to go to the folk awards for years, and so with them being in London the opportunity finally arose. So off I went to the RAH (sadly not sold out – shame on you Southern England). This was an interesting time for folk – some of the old guard have taken five, at least for a while, leaving the field open for a new breed of singers and group to take the limelight. I do listen frequently to the Folk Show of a Wednesday evening – but I tend to listen & enjoy the tunes without finding out who’s performing them. Therefore, upon picking up my programme I was confronted with a double page spread of people I’d probably heard from but not of (although there were the familiar names of Joan Armatrading, Mark Knopfler, and performing a heartfelt tribute to the legendary Sandy Denny, Rufus Wainwright).
And yet, I politely clapped every nominee on announcement and then cheered enthusiastically as the winners picked up their prizes, nodding sagely to those sat seated around me.
Ladies & Gentlemen – please join me as we enter the world of the bluffer.
It was an exhilarating event. It’s moved around the country, so book up if it comes to a city near you. I certainly will when it next comes south. But the fact is I pretended for three hours that I knew every note, every strum, every peep of what was presented to me. I got by and had a great evening.
You go to the pub, which I honestly do rarely. And if I wasn’t following the local folk-rock scene I wouldn’t do at all in Reading. There you’re faced (hopefully) with a cornucopia at the bar. You panic. You end up ordering the fizz they advertise on TV. Which is always a mistake. Then imagine going to the beer festival and you’re confronted with half a thousand beers, porters, ciders and ales from across the UK. You can’t fall back on the fizz for this is the beer festival.
Fortunately, along with your complimentary souvenir pint glass you get a programme listing all the beverages on offer with their strengths and tasting notes. You can then circle potential purchases and then pretend like you know what you’re doing. The bluff…
- So how did I choose the four half pints I took on the Friday afternoon? Well, Gary Shaw of the Resident Weeble blog asked my opinion and I told him:
I looked at the coconut matting under the kegs and saw which one had the largest damp patch.
Something local (from the West Berkshire Brewery)
Something very un-local (from the Orkneys – didn’t want it to have a wasted journey).
Something where the name of the brewer or the brew contained the word “cat”.
I think I got away with it…
In the end – if you enjoy something there’s no need to become an expert in it.
But you will find that you’ll enhance your enjoyment of it if you do look into things a lil’ closer.
I’ll continue to enjoy folk music, drink in moderation, but women will remain outside of my full understanding in perpetuity…
I was born on Wednesday 15 February 1967.
Thank you, but it wasn’t my idea…
Anyhow, there are certain pieces of information I think we all need to know about the day we were born.
Harold Wilson was in his first full term as Prime Minister in the UK. Elizabeth II was in the fifteenth year of her reign. In the US, Johnson too was in his first and only elected term in office. England held the football World Cup having won it the previous summer. The space race was on hold following the death of the crew of Apollo 1.
We still only had three TV stations in the UK but BBC2 was about to switch to colour transmissions. On radio, the offshore pirate stations were enjoying their last heady days on air.
And number one in the UK Top 30 – well it was those American (OK part British) multi-media sensations The Monkees with their upbeat version of Neil Diamond’s “I’m a Believer”. What a record to come into the world to.
Except it wasn’t.
And so I owe an apology to anyone I ever told it was.
According to all reliable sources, for the week ending February 16 1967, Mickey, Mike, Davy and Peter were replaced at the Top of the Pops by Petula Clark with “This is my song”.
So, why do I defer to the previous chart-topper?
Well. ‘Believer’, despite mainly being performed by session players, is a cool record. Well performed, well written, well performed.
‘Song’ is a rotten record. In my honest opinion.
And this is not a slur on Petula Clark who was a fantastic pop singer – Downtown. Don’t sleep in the subway. I know a place. All wonderful singles. Oh, and when she was a film starlet back in the early 1950s my dad won a date with her at his local cinéma. Which we heard often about in later years much to mum’s chagrin!
Anyway back to This is my song. It was written by none other than Charlie Chaplin. He wrote it for his film “A Countess from Hong Kong”, a rom-com with Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando – not a box office success. Now, Chaplin had intended this song to be sung by Al Jolson – quite the gesture as the first star of the talkies nearly put the king of silent comedy out of business. Sadly, Chaplin wasn’t aware that Jolson had passed on over a decade and a half earlier.
And so, Chaplin offered the song to Clark – they were neighbours in Switzerland. Despite the concerns of her usual collaborators such as Tony Hatch, Clark recorded the song.
Now, Charlie Chaplin was capable of writing a good song. Please listen to Nat King Cole’s rendition of “Smile”. Contrary to the words of that song, it will break your heart. But ‘Song’ is no smile. It’s all over the place. It’s drowning in strings. The lyrics are cheesy. Clark didn’t want to record it in English as a consequence. When Harry Secombe recorded a cover version (a no.2 hit by the way), he struggles to sing without breaking into Goonish laughter!
So how did it get to number one? Well perhaps you think that the pop charts in those days were a constant wrestle for the top spot between The Beatles and The Stones. But this was not the case. There wasn’t a pop culture in the media. The BBC’s Top of the Pops was billed as light entertainment so you were as likely to see a cabaret singer on there as a pop band. ITVs legendary show Ready Steady Go ended in 1965, you may be surprised to hear. As for radio? We’ll there may be a little pop on the Light Programme at the weekend but again it was a general entertainment station (even when BBC Radio 1 opened later in 1967 it was a general music station, not just pop & rock). Sure, the pirate stations were still on air, as was Radio Luxembourg, but this was mainly of benefit to those on the coast.
Perhaps that explains This is my Song’s rise to the top, the charts were for all comers both artistes and customers. That’s why tracks like Something Stupid, Cinderella Rockafella and Wandering Star would reach the summit too. Oh, and we have to factor in Petula Clark’s popularity too. Good faithful fans put up with record even if the chanteuse and her people didn’t.
But I’ll beg her forgiveness, and that of the Little Tramp Sir Charles, if I defer from naming this piece as my number one. Disappointment may haunt all my dreams to this day, but I’m a Believer is MY song.
So, I realise I haven’t told you how I’m getting on.
Well, I went to my GP and I found the discussion a lot easier than I’d been anticipating. Without giving too much away, being our family doctor she knew of the stresses I’d been having at home – I filled her in with what’s one down at work.
And so I found myself prescribed initially with a 10mg dose of Citalopram, every night on retiring. That way most of the “repair work” can take place when I’m asleep.
You should see the list of potential side effects inside the box of tablets… Fortunately, apart from an unsettled stomach at first and a need to keep myself hydrated I seem to have got off lightly. Because of this I’m also having to brush my teeth more than twice a day to make up for the lack of saliva taking care of things.
And so, a month on I returned to my GP and we decided it would be best to increase the dose to 20mg and look how things are going in a couple of months time.
How am I feeling? Well I still have episodes when things get too much for me. But I don’t have the really dark times like I had. You have to help the pills by looking for the positives. My best friends know what’s going and they are so supportive. My close family help. Keep talking. Although, I still haven’t gotten to setting up those counseling sessions…
So, I’ll keep you in the know – but if you think you might be undergoing the same trauma, please don’t keep it to yourself. Promise?
I’m writing this just before setting off for a rare visit to the surgery.
I’m off to talk to my doctor about “The Big D”.
No, not diarrhea.
I mean depression.
Good, you’re still reading.
For now, I’ll spare you how this has all occurred.
I just wanted to tell someone that I’m scared about what happens now.
If it’s medicine, we’ll take our medicine. There will be side effects I know, but you have to think about the greater good.
But what if they suggest therapy? I struggle to express myself verbally, hence all this typing. How would I cope with that?
What if they don’t think there’s anything wrong with me. Question mark? Exclamation mark!
I hope you’ll bear with me.
I want to write about this so if someone finds themselves similarly entrenched, well we can scramble out together.
Thanks for reading.