Hello again, dear readers and welcome back to the diaries. This one is nominally dated 25th May, 2020 although, based on the admittedly small control sample so far published, it will probably see the light of day about July!
You may remember that these entries are intended as a bit of light relief for the reader and a means of preserving my rapidly diminishing sanity whilst incarcerated in my flat as the weather gets better and the days longer. These are ideal walking conditions and I really want to get back on the trail again. If you want to see what idiocies I come up with today then please press the “read more” button and we’ll have a bit of a peregrination (I love that word).
Having spoken of words and my love of them, I am going to start this latest offering by introducing a new feature to the diaries. This one is called
Word of the Day.
I love the English language and regularly lament it’s rapid demise due, in great part, to technology, the use of “textspeak” and the need to limit yourself to a very limited number of characters to communicate on that accursed Twatter which seems to be the preferred medium of communication for anyone under 50 these days. The most powerful man in the world seems to conduct his foreign policy (if he actually has one) on that medium which probably explains a fair bit.
For reasons which I have never quite understood, I love “Q” words. Perhaps it is their comparative scarcity in my native tongue that attracts me. Today’s word of the day is Quotidien, which is actually yet another French word we have adopted. It means daily and we now even have a pretty upmarket bakery chain in the UK called “Le Pain Quotidien” which translates as daily bread. I am not sure if that is intended as a reference to the Judeo-Christian concept as quoted in the “Lord’s prayer” or not.
The bakery was not actually originally French but was founded in the Francophone portion of Belgium in 1990. In the regrettable way of world globalisation these days, the HQ of the group is now in New York and the current CEO is not a baker but an alumnus of Burger King and Walmart. I shall say no more so let’s pass on to the usual section entitled
On this day.
On this day in 1878 the opera HMS Pinafore by W.S Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan premiered in London at the Opera Comique Theatre which has now long been demolished to make way for the Aldwych and Kingsway but thankfully the opera survives, I saw it years ago and loved it. I know my mate Don, another old Virtual Tourist hand who has lived in Germany for years and is a serious opera buff, reads my ramblings here and I apologise to him now. I don’t get classical opera and doubt I ever will at my age but I do rather like a bit of G&S, sorry it is a bit lowbrow.
Gilbert and Sullivan, whilst collaborating brilliantly on some of the greatest light operas ever which are still regularly performed, had a difficult relationship and that is putting it kindly. Put less kindly, they hated each other to the extent of Gilbert successfully suing Sullivan in Court. Talk about the original “odd couple” but that is not what I want to tell you about here.
When I am not being diverted by these diaries, which I am finding immensely good fun, I am trying to finish off a series of posts about my London LOOP long-distance path exploits of some years ago and, very early in the piece, I walked past the place where Sir William breathed, or more probably gasped and spluttered, his last.
On the second day of my walk I had walked past a fine old country house in Northwest London which was where the 75 year old knight was giving swimming lessons to a young lady in the lake outside the house and died trying to rescue her when she got in difficulties. You can read all about it in the link provided.
This might also be the time to regale you with another school thespian story of mine. You may remember that in the last diary I bored you with the tale of my appearance as de Soto in the “Royal Hunt of the Sun”. OK, that was fine, and I could deliver a line as well as the next terrified teenager, but singing on stage was another gig entirely.
In their very productive collaboration, G&S composed a short one-act operetta called “Trial by Jury” which was premiered in 1875 and which some teacher, probably Billy McKay, chose to put on in 1972 when I was aged 12 and in second form, don’t ask me what “year” that is in modern terminology.
For reasons that are still a mystery to me I was chosen for the minor part of Usher who has to open the whole piece with the chorus before the principals introduce themselves. After that I had my first solo sung line and to this day it is etched in my memory. “Silence in Court! Silence in Court, and all attention lend. Behold your Judge! In due submission bend!”
There was only one problem with the casting. The part is written for a bass singer and my voice hadn’t broken and, believe me, it is difficult to convey the gravitas of a serious Court official when you are still singing treble. I suspect it is sheer terror that makes me remember it so vividly to this day but I can still recall every detail of that appearance. The last note of the solo line is particularly low and so I had to octave it up which probably would have annoyed Messrs. G&S.
The other thing obscure thing I remember distinctly is a part of the costume. I was wearing a gown borrowed from a teacher, as they still wore them at my school in the 70’s, but what sticks in my mind is the wig. It was too expensive to hire theatrical wigs and so the task of creating the necessary headgear was devolved to one of the Domestic Science teachers and a few of the senior girls. I suppose they are called Home Economics Advisors or some similarly PC title now. I cannot remember but I suspect it was probably Hazel Robinson who was young and a bit “modern” in her outlook.
In a piece of utterly brilliant invention they constructed very convincing replica Court cranial attire for myself and the judge from some kind of hairnet to which they had affixed numerous items of female sanitary protection which they had then aged. Yes, I know it is indelicate but I just love that memory. I suspect that is when I learned what a tampon was as I really was an innocent abroad in 1972. It was to be two years later until I did first venture abroad in a physical sense with my temporary one year cardboard passport, but that is another story.
On this day in 1768 Captain James Cook sailed on his first voyage of discovery where he noted various islands, including the Solomons as well as the coasts of New Zealand and Western Australia.
I promise you that I did not have a “sneak peek” of what was to come the next day when I wrote the last diary entry and mentioned that Cook lived just across the road from where I am writing this. I merely gave it as an illustration of the amount of history there is in the area I now call home and I am quite brazenly reproducing the image here again. It took me long enough to straighten and crop it and I know you may find it hard to believe but it was only about a year ago I learned how to do such things. Maybe the old dog can learn new tricks after all.
It is at this point that I wish I had extracted my digit from my orifice yesterday , if you’ll pardon a further indelicacy, as there was much more happening “on this day” on the 24th than today but that merely gives me an opportunity to do something else on this utterly random page.
Yesterday, whilst I was singularly failing to write a diary entry, I was looking through some old images of mine which have been metaphorically gathering dust in my computer and have not been looked at for years. I was actually trying to dig out an old image of another sadly closed pub to send to my mate Glenn at the Lost Pubs website which I regularly contribute to and as I was trawling through I came upon a series of images which I’d like to share with you now after I have bored you with my usual wordy explanation.
If you have read any of my other pages you will know about my love for Broadstairs and specifically it’s Folk Week, sadly cancelled this year for obvious reasons. I have played over 30 of them now and it is still as good as it was in the 80’s. If you have not done so and want to read about my 2019 Folk Week, which turned into quite an adventure, you can do so here.
Just by way of breaking up the look of the page a bit, here is an image of me playing with my dear frond Becky so many years ago that my hair and beard were still vaguely under control. It looks like I am playing an A chord there which means that Becks was probably properly playing a D!
2009 was a particularly good year as I was playing with a great friend called Steve Mulhern who is a brilliant fiddle player and just so happens to be from Belfast although we never met there as we first hooked up at a session in Lewisham in Southeast London and hit it off straight away. Looking back now, it was probably my best ever year playing that wonderful gig as you shall hopefully see. Somehow there isn’t an image of the two of us playing together so here are two images of us on the same stage at the same time but separate!
We played together for years and I loved every moment of it. People ask why we stopped playing together as we so obviously enjoyed it and I like to joke that we stopped because of “musical differences” as the euphemism so often is when bands split because they hate each other. The punchline of the joke is that he was musical and I was different! The truth is much more prosaic in that he re-located to Bulgaria with his lovely lady Catherine (herself a great musician) and we just sort of lost touch.
I am going to indulge myself in a complete orgy of name-dropping here but it is my site, I am bored beyond belief looking at this lovely weather and unable to travel and I just feel like it. Along with a great accordianist / vocalist called Dan Gott and sundry other assorted musos we have included in our audiences Jude Law, Trudi Styler, the late David Gest, Jason Statham, Robert Downey Jr., Guy Ritchie and Madonna. Yes, I can honestly say that I have never been to a Madonna gig (and never will) but she has been to one of mine.
I have included here an image L-R Steve, Dan and his wonderful Father who introduced me to the joys of ferret keeping. Really, they are lovely creatures as long as you don’t put them down your trousers (look that up if you don’t understand).
This was taken on our Easter Tour of Pocklington in 2009 and that is something else you can look up if you don’t know, it is a brilliant place. OK, we played in York one night but everyone knows where that is, Pock is much more mysterious.
I have also included here an image of one of our audiences just to prove that people did really come to see us, we were “big in Pock”. I know it is not the same as being “Big in Japan” as Alphaville sang all those years ago but it never ceases to amaze me how far my half dozen guitar chords have taken me and I am not being falsely modest when I say that, I really don’t get it.
Steve and I had a great ride playing together and I hope we can get it together for another gig at some point, so where was I? Ah yes, Broadstairs 2009 and time for some more shameless plugs. If you want to see what Steve and I got up to when we were “doing our thing you can you can see it here or here.
Not only was I playing official gigs with Steve that year but I also managed a few totally impromptu sessions with my great friend Paul who regular readers will have met on my late 2019 trip to Northumberland. As I am on an unusual and probably regrettable ego trip at the minute you might as well have a look at the two of us making a noise together. I suspect that clip is my favourite of the various videos of me on Youtube, it was just so much fun.
Broadstairs 2009 was brilliant for another reason which is that a dear friend of mine had come down for a few days to see me play and take in the atmosphere. On the Saturday our gig was in the evening and so off my friend and I took off in her hire car for a look round Thanet during the day although we had no idea where we are going, which is the way I like to travel.
First stop was the Sarre windmill which had been lovingly restored to fully working order and which I had never even heard of despite my 20 or so years of visiting the area at that time. It was mightily impressive and gave such a great start to the day.
Not far down the road towards Canterbury we took off on a side road just because neither of us had ever heard of Woodbere before and what a fortuitous decision that turned out to be. I’ll let a couple of lines from my contemporaneous piece on Virtual Tourist tell you what I felt about the place.
“Whilst driving along the A28 and with no particular plan, my friend saw a sign stating something like “13th century coaching inn”. Well, obviously we had to investigate. Not only did we find the wonderful pub, the Yew Tree Inn but also one of the most idyllic villages I have ever seen in England. It really is the stuff of Hollywood films and Tourist Board brochures”.
All right, I was economical with the truth earlier as I had seen a sign for an old pub, the Olde Yew Tree, but we wanted to explore anyway. You see, I always tell you the truth in the end.
To make this already long story short, THE END. No, I’m joking. To make it short, we spent a most wonderful afternoon in Woodbere and Grove Ferry which are more or less the one place but with two different historical names. At the time I had a big old Konica Minolta camera, a lovely DSLR which I had lugged round Southeast Asia and loved.
Looking at it now, it had a big lump of a memory card which, if memory serves, was 2GB, the biggest available then. It did take some lovely images though, including some of my favourites of all my very amateur photographic exploits.
My friend and I spent a wonderful day in a setting that was almost painfully beautiful. If you have read my recent posts about my experiences walking the London LOOP and falling in love (at the age of 60!) with pre-Raphaelite painting you’ll possibly understand what it did to me. Millais, Rosetti (maniac that he was), Hunt and all their kin would have had a field day here, literally! You want Nature in all it’s raw glory as a background for your main subject and equal to it? Go to Woodbere.
For an uncouth Philistine like myself it was literally a revelation and I went on a complete frenzy with my camera. Apart from the almost Disney-like surroundings, the churchyard (I love churchyards) was just a ptoto-op waiting to happen and the icing on the cake were the beautiful butterflies which just seemed to be everywhere and were even so polite as to sit still long enough for me to capture them with my new toy.
With the possible exception of one day out round Hsipaw in Northern Burma, I think it was possibly my best ever day with a lens and it was one that shall live with me until the day I die. A dear friend with me, beautiful weather in an idyllic setting, a couple of much better than decent country pubs, hundreds of images taken and a gig with one of my favourite musicians on the planet to look forward to that night, I was flying very high.
If I have mastered this pesky technology to any degree, you should now have a slideshow of quite a number of these images here as there are far too many to put in a regular stills collection.
I had to have a reality check when I got back to Broadstairs lest I end up like another high-flyer called Icarus. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, I didn’t crash and burn and we ate the Wrotham Arms that night (muso parlance for having a good gig). The Wrotham is another place my regular readers will know of as it is my “home” in Broadstairs and just bringing things full circle it was the first venue I ever played a gig at Folk Week.
Having prostituted myself all over the place in this diary, I might as well do it again and share with you the only small clip I have of that gig. Believe me, it was something special and I’ll never forget it.
I suppose I should end here as it is very likely it is going to be “tomorrow” when I actually get all the technical publishing stuff done which seems to take me forever.
If you want to see what utter idiocy I think up for the next diary, and I warn you that I am disappearing fast down the rabbit hole now, stay tuned and spread the word.e
7 thoughts on “Lock-down Diaries #3.”
I recall being extremely surprised and flattered on receiving my second year secondary school report when I saw that Mr Millar my music teacher included therein the comment ‘A most useful member of the school choir’. Encouraged by this feedback, notwithstanding that I had never been within a hundred metres of the school choir, I turned up to a choir practice at the beginning of the new school year…. Following a 10 second test on my vocal abilities the same Mr Millar advised me not to come back and suggested I try woodwork instead.
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Had he been on the Bush whilst writing the reports or were there two boys with your surname in the same year? Seems a bit if a schoolboy error (pun intended) to me.
I hated singing at school (our Senior Chorus was mandatory) as it was all classical guff. Zadok the bloody priest is engraved on my heart for all the wrong reasons. Add to that the fact that my voice only ever half broke and is still tenor (I can even do falsetto if required) and yet as a 15 year old was supposed to sing bass, don’t ask me why. I could just about get down to the higher notes of the bass part nd had no hope of the low notes. Besides all that, I wanted to sing Rory Gallagher and Cream and Deep Purple and the like.
Did you take up woodwork?
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Not sure why he made the error but it was not due to there being two boys of the same name. I have to say I greatly admire people who can sign and play music … even at an amateur level. I am actually tone deaf so while I greatly enjoy a number of music genres I could never play an instrument. I have few regrets in life but one is not being able to play the piano. In regards to woodwork , yes I did take it up .. but only about 15 years ago. Mr Millar’s assessment of my abilities did indeed come true — albeit nearly 30 years after his assessment.
Better late then never I suppose. You see, I envy you. Certainly I can hold down a tune on the guitar and sing a bit but I could not drive a nail in straight of my life depended on it. My Father is in a nursing home now but he has a garden shed full of tools including a lathe and he used to turn some wonderful pieces, fruit bowls were his speciality. I’d love to be able to do that.
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You brought back good memories of my own school’s G&S productions. We had a teacher who was very enthusiastic about them and he directed several – HMS Pinafore, Trial by Jury and Pirates of Penzance. I wasn’t musical enough to appear in them (I’m not being modest when I say I would have emptied the audience as soon as I opened my mouth!) but I loved seeing them and I helped with the costumes for one. However no ladies’ sanitary products were involved in the latter exercise 😉
At our last meeting before the corona lockdown, my featured guest at Frankfurt OperaTalk was one of the leading British operatic baritones, and he confided to us that when he was a student he was president of his university’s Gilbert & Sullivan society.
Why is there such an appalling snobbery against G&S?
Certainly it is not “high art” (whoever arrogantly finds themselves in a position to judge such things) but it is just great fun.
Surely anything that introduces people to music in whatever form must be deemed as a good thing.
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