OK, OK I know, it has been a while and quite a long while in fact since I posted anything here on the contemporary entries although I have been posting certain historical posts regarding a 2013 trip to Malta which you can read about here. Again, I like to be honest in my reporting here and I must admit that even this has tailed off recently. I fully appreciate that this is no big deal as I have such a limited readership but to those who do keep up with my meagre scribblings I apologise.
In my last entry I mentioned that I was going to try to get to Sri Lanka last November to see my friend and catch some of the cricket series with England as the visitors. For reasons far too mundane to bore you with, that did not happen and the date got pushed back to Xmas, then the New Year and still awaits although it is the wrong time of year to visit now so that looks like another few months before that may become reality.
Unusually for an inveterate traveller like me I had been nowhere since last November until last weekend when I returned to Northern Ireland and hence the slightly odd title of this entry and accompanying image. Those of you who have read my previous entries will know that when I am in the Province I stay in my Father’s house in Tandragee, Co. Armagh and tend to have a daily “Ulster Fry” which is near enough the national dish and which I love. I hope I do not sound conceited but I reckon I make a fairly reasonable version a “fry up” and I have not poisoned anyone with my cooking yet to the best of my knowledge. The offering pictured above is from Sunday, 7th July and it was very tasty if I do say so myself.
So what am I doing back home in the land of my birth? A couple of reasons actually. I had been invited to my cousin’s wedding (of which more in a moment) and also I wanted to come home to see my Father who sadly had a bit of a tumble a while ago and spent some time in hospital with a broken leg which has now thankfully healed nicely but he is still not able to look after himself at home and is in a nursing home at present and so I had decided to spend a few weeks at home. Here is a quick precis of what has happened so far.
I left home on Friday, 28th June to make it to the wedding on the Saturday. As is my wont I had decided to go train and ferry via Holyhead and Dublin which would have got me home at about 2200 that evening and I knew my brother and sister-in-law would give me a lift to the wedding the next day. Those who have followed this blog from the beginning will know that last year the ferry company let me down badly by sailing 90 minutes late which caused me to miss the last train to Northern Ireland from Dublin and led to an enforced night in the Irish capital after having trudged round several establishments trying to find a bed. I must be jinxed on this route now although this time the railway / ferry company were not to blame but rather a taxi firm which I have been using for over 30 years with excellent results. I really did not fancy lugging a suitcase on the Tube (Underground / Metro) and so I had ordered a minicab in plenty of time to get me to Euston for a train which would be the first leg of a journey getting me back to Tandragee that night.
The appointed hour arrived and no sign of the minicab. I told you I must be jinxed on this route and I must be as my mobile (cell) ‘phone had died and, indeed, I have had to replace it now so I could not call the cab office. I left it for a while and then bit the bullet and dragged my kit up to the cab office where they denied any knowledge of my booking which is very unusual as thy have never failed me before. I was still in good time and asked if they could get me a cab then but “no can do” and it would be up to a couple of hours as they were busy with contract jobs and were short-staffed. They told me I would be quicker getting the Tube which I did, arriving at Euston in time to narrowly miss my train. That train was my last chance to get back to Northern Ireland that night and it was now rattling North through Watford Junction with me standing on the concourse in London. Brilliant but not disastrous as I knew I would have to spend the night in Dublin but I could get an early train to Belfast and go straight to the wedding, luggage and all.
The journey was totally uneventful and, despite my logistical problems I still prefer this to the hassle of flying short haul nowadays. I got as far as Dublin and headed straight for the hostel I had stayed in last year which is near Connolly Station where I would depart from and which I had found perfectly comfortable on my previous visit. It is called Jacob’s Inn and you can check it out here. I was a little concerned about the availability of beds as it was the day before the Dublin Pride march and I knew that large crowds were expected. I had no problem thankfully and I scored a “pod” (for which read coffin) in a 10 person room which cost me over €40. I honestly believe that Dublin is far more expensive than London which is historically supposed to be one of the dearest cities in the world. I didn’t sleep much but that is just down to my slightly crazy sleep patterns and nothing to do with the surroundings.
Come the Saturday morning and I was up early, scrubbed and dressed in my finery and in good time for the Enterprise train to Belfast where I arrived several hours before the festivities were due to begin. It was way too early to go to the hotel where the wedding was scheduled for 1500 so I mooched about drinking coffee and checking e-mails before grabbing a cab to the venue for about 1300. I went to the reception, named my cousin the groom and asked where the ceremony would be. She gave me directions to a suite and I said I would wait in the bar where I unusually only had a soft drink as I didn’t really feel like a pint, strange times indeed! About ten minutes later, another lady from the reception desk approached me and asked me if I was there for the X wedding to which I replied in the affirmative. Looking slightly embarrassed she dropped the bombshell that it had been the previous day! What? I pulled the invite out of my pocket and indeed it had been on the Friday. I still do not realise how the lady on the reception had made the same mistake as me and not spotted that the wedding had been and gone. How I had managed to do this I have no idea as I must have looked at the thing dozens of times but I had presumably established some mental block and was aiming all along for the Saturday.
It was a strange sensation, a mixture of feeling extremely stupid, very regretful I had missed the event and slightly terrified of my Aunt’s reaction after I had promised her faithfully I would be there “come Hell or high water” to use the exact phrase I used in my reply to her e-mail. The gates of Hell had not opened, there was no Biblical flood and it was merely my total stupidity that had tripped me up. I felt awful but was cheered up slightly when I was approached by a middle aged man who introduced himself as the father of the bride and was charm itself and not in the least reproachful about my “no show”. I was later to discover that he is a minister of religion and had actually conducted the wedding service himself. He took his leave and I was not feeling quite so bad when I was approached by my cousin who I took a moment to recognise as I have not seen him for many, many years. With him was his new bride, an utterly charming young lady whom I had never met before and a young girl who is her daughter from a previous relationship. The child was terribly well behaved and polite and we got on like a house on fire. There is also apparently a younger child but I did not get to meet him. It is a source of constant amazement to me that people tell me I am really good with children and I suspect that it is a fair assessment although I cannot for the life of me work out why as I have no offspring of my own. Perhaps they sense a similar type of mind, who knows?
We chatted away for a while and they were most graceful about my failure to appear, correctly ascribing it to the genuine error it was. I would hardly have turned up in all my finery a day late had I just wanted to avoid the entire event. At least I had the opportunity to give them my gift which was much better than having to post it. I still had to face the potential wrath of my Aunt but at least the main protagonists did not seem to bear a grudge towards me. There was not much point in me staying there any longer so I made my way back to Tandragee and went to my brother’s house but he was not in so I went to my Dad’s, let myself in, got changed into some half sensible clothes and settled down for the evening.
What happened next was that life quickly moved into a very quiet and domesticated routine that actually suits me very well as it did last year. For some reason, I manage to sleep at vaguely civilised hours and I eat much more regularly than I do in my own place. I have no explanation for this but it seems to be a fact. Every day my brother and sister-in-law pick me up in the afternoon and we go to the Nursing Home to visit Father. The weather has been normal Northern Ireland standard i.e. rubbish and not at all like the unseasonal but very welcome heatwave I enjoyed at this time last year but Sunday was a reasonable day between the showers and we took Father for a walk in the fresh air in his wheelchair to the end of the drive (the Nursing Home was formerly a large country mansion complete with mews) to see the horse which is there. Sadly you can no longer feed the animal as it has laminitis and is on limited grass but my Father seemed to enjoy petting him as he was quite a good horseman in his younger days.
I realise it will be of very limited interest to most readers but I am back to my earlier principle that this is as much for my remembrance as it is hopefully a valid travel entity and so you will see above (l. to r.) your humble narrator, my new best friend the very placid horse, my Father and my younger brother. Thanks to my sister-in-law for doing the needfuls with the camera.
Other than these daily excursions I have done very little and have not even been going to the pub which is my usual habit when at home. Those that know me well will find the next statement surprising to say the least but I didn’t have a drink for over a week and one packet of cigarettes lasted me four days, both of which are unheard of situations. I popped into my local pub on Saturday for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to catch up with my friends round the town, having been home for a week and not spoken to any of them and also because I have no internet at home and need to go to the wonderful Montague Arms to do what I need to do, including posting this. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Other than that I had a quick run into Portadown and a couple of hours in Armagh, both of which were quick trips down memory lane as I had lived in both places many years ago.
The day I went to Portadown, I had arranged to meet my brother at the train station as he was collecting my Auntie (mother of the groom at the missed wedding) to take her down to see my Father. I was dreading it but I need not have worried. My Aunt appeared with her friend in tow who she grew up with in the ’50’s and who has lived in Canada for decades, returning for one of her infrequent visits. Again I was reduced to grovelling apology for my total stupidity but I need not have worried. I have no idea why but I suspect I have always been a bit of a favourite of this particular Auntie and she seemed rather more concerned that I had missed out on what was by all accounts a great day rather than castigating me for my absence. Phew!
I think that is me fairly well up to date here now so what does the immediate future hold for me and this site? The simple truth is that I do not know. Being at home undoubtedly does me good and I do actually enjoy it here albeit I do nothing of note except my daily visits to visit my Father. I have a dental appointment in London towards the end of the month which I can alter but the big kicker in the whole affair is the Broadstairs Folk Week (BFW) which I have played for 29 of the last 30 years, only missing 2016 as I was travelling and playing occasionally in Canada. Eventually, this will form the basis of another travelogue when I ever get round to it but I have ruled myself out of being formally booked now for that gig as my fairly unconventional lifestyle means I am never sure where I might be come the second week in August.
I really should explain the situation regarding my position with BFW as it may appear a little confusing. Over the 30 year period mentioned I have attended in various guises from roadie through troubadour (one man and his guitar) to duos, trios and full bands. I will bore you some other time about me sitting in a bar 40 minutes before a gig making ‘phone calls to try to find someone to play with me or being dragged (physically by the arm!) by the Artistic Director to play a gig when I had never even met my fellow musician before to cover a band who had broken down on the motorway. Tony Brown, take a bow here.
I suspect that this is why they tolerate me as I am certainly no great shakes as a musician but I would like to think I am a fairly steady accompanist and can manage to follow most things even if I have not heard them. In one very “honest debrief” the aforementioned Artistic Director (now retired after 18 years of very hard work) I asked her why the Hell she ever booked me as I personally knew at least a dozen guitar / vocal “sidemen” that were far better than me. Kim looked me straight in the eye which was only possible as we were both sitting as I am 6’5″ and she is about 5’4″ and said, in all sincerity, “I like having you round Fergy as I know you are always here, I can get the crew to find you by trawling the pubs and I know you’ll just step in and do anything. I have any amount of brilliant musicians here (she did book some great acts) and you are not one of them (I told you it was an honest debrief) but you are my insurance policy. You are a showman and you’ll either do it yourself or get someone with you because you know everybody. I know when you are here, I’m covered”. The reader might consider this to be somewhat of a backhanded compliment but it is absolutely true and I was so chuffed when she said it. It was one of the nicest htings anyone has ever said to me.
My main thing at BFW however, when not playing my own gigs is the daily playaround currently being held in fantastic George pub, a mere 120 yards door to door from where I stay with my friends which is handy. For those of you not aware of the nuances of the folk music world and, let’s be honest in saying that, for most people it ranks somewhere between alchemy and necromancy a playaround is an open music session where anyone of any musical ability can turn up and join in and I love them. Singarounds are the same for songs rather than tunes. For playarounds there are usually one or more “leaders” to keep the thing from degenerating into mayhem which it can do. The leader goes round the room in order and calls upon everyone to “lead” a tune although there is no stigma attached if you do not feel confident enough, the baton passes to the next player. I’ll tell you about the specifics of the BFW playaround now.
Any good playaround depends completely upon a good “leader” and in Paul Lucas we have one of the best in the business. I have been playing with the guy for 30 years now and he is a genius. He plays banjo (very occasionally other instruments) and has a great singing voice. He has a repertiore of songs and tunes that must easily reach four figures and can follow just about anything he has never even heard before. They guy was well-established through his lovely wife Sue who had something to do with organising the Folk Week in times that mostof the current crop of artists would consider to be pre-history but we have had some wonderful sessions over the years. When we are finished there, he normally has something else set up for the afternoon, quite often in the excellent 39 Steps micropub where we are not even officially booked but we drag a few mates up and play and they look after us very well there. That is the joy of what we do, we just hang out and play and, thankfully, people seem to enjoy it.
The other main featrure of the BFW playaround is that one of the booked “proper” artists turns up every day as advertised in the programme and sits at Paul’s left side, I have possibly ridiculously done it myself in my heyday there. Last year (2018) for some reason the Thursday was still TBC (to be confirmed) and Paul asked me if I’d cover it. Of course I would and be happy to do so and so for that day I had to shift seats to Paul’s left side and do effectively what I had been doing on his right side all week although my newly conferred status as “booked guest” (albeit I was not even on the programme anywhere else) meant that I had to sing a couple of songs. Whilst it is very predominantly tunes, “booked guests” like me who are primarily accompanists are allowed to sing so I knocked out a few of my old standards which seemed to go down well.
Oh dear, it has happened again. I only intended a brief diversion into why I might be going back to mainland UK and ended up in a dissertation about the organisation and musical etiquette of Folk Festivals. I do hope I have not bored the reader too much. It is getting about time I was getting back home to make my dinner as I do not want to sit here all night drinking can you believe I just said that?). I’ll get this posted now with appropriate links hopefully and do a bit more offline tonight in relation to my Malta trip although I am totally reliant on having properly researched it all first time around but I shall still check all the links etc.
One way or another it seems like I shall be going back to mainland UK in a couple of weeks to start another little adventure, it has been far too long and I miss being on the road.
There is much more to come and I have a little time to write it up now, albeit under internet zero conditions but I’ll try to get my Malta trip finished asap so stay tuned and spread the word.