Hallowe’en with a hearty breakfast, a decent walk and a great gig.

It’s almost winter.

Fair warning first, this is another one of my rambles, both literally and in it’s writing form so you might want to grab a drink and make yourself comfy if you feel like doing it all in one hit.  OK, if you’re sorted, let’s get to it.

After the somewhat packed day on the Wednesday, which I hope you have read about in my previous post, there wasn’t too much planned for the Thursday the 31st of October. Hallowe’en, All Hallows Eve if you subscribe to Judeo – Christian mythology or the Eve of Samhain and the last day of Summer if you are a pagan. Given my experience in the raw conditions of North Shields the previous evening Summer was far from my thoughts but it was a clear, bright day if still very cold.

I am actually composing this three days before Xmas 2019 and am once again amazed at the blatant hijacking of a long-standing belief system based on Nature, crops, the seasons and all things natural. I mention Xmas as I had long known that it was merely a means of imposing Christian beliefs onto non-believers by declaring Christ’s birth as the 25th December even though there is absolutely no historical evidence to support this. With my innate curiosity I had to look up the pagan calendar, which has taken a couple of hours and has proved fascinating not to mention explaining to some degree why I m always so far behind in my blog entries!

The first mention of a Christian celebration in late December does not come until 336 AD. Similarly, it was not until 1000 AD that the 2nd of November (not the 1st as it is now) was declared All Souls or All Saints (hallows being an old word for saints) Day was superimposed on the older Samhain festival and mimicked many of the rituals associated with it, especially bonfires.#

Just to add some further confusion to the whole matter, the Romans had not one but two festivals in late October / early November. One was Feralia which commemorates the passing of the dead and the second is the Feast of Pomona, goddess of fruit and trees. Obviously the Romans controlled most of Western Europe for about four centuries and so the Christian Church was effectively tacking on a totally invented festival onto not one but two much older celebrations from different, and often warring, cultures. As final proof of this, All Saints Day was originally on May 13th and not in Northern Hemisphere autumn at all. QED. Right, enough of the history lesson, interesting though it was to research, and back to Fergy in Northumberland.

We had another Working Man’s Club gig in the evening but, with Sue volunteering at the shop again and Paul up to his eyes in work, I was going to be fairly much left to my own devices all day which suited nicely. A bit more looking round Jesmond and maybe a wander into the centre of town would fill the time nicely but Paul had something to show me first. He had mentioned a cafe nearby which he raved about and we took off there for breakfast.

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A great place for breakfast.

cafébar one (no, neither word is capitalised) was small and seemed terribly trendy probably because Jesmond is terribly trendy. It also gets extremely busy and we were lucky to get a recently vacated table on a late November Thursday morning. At one point there were actually people queuing for tables not to mention those sitting outside which I would not have fancied in that freezing cold. The menu is extensive to say the least and bang up to date with all the latest eating fads. There are options for just about every food allergy, intolerance and preference with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free offerings much to the fore. The selection of teas, coffees, herbal infusions and the like made my head swim.

I had a bit of a double take moment when, in the middle of all the superfood porridge and warm rice salads etc. I spied poutine. What, in Jesmond? If you do not know what it is, poutine is the unofficial national dish of Canada and I had sampled a few plates of it on my travels there. It is basically sautéed potatoes topped with cheese and sometimes bacon and then drowned in a homemade gravy. My friend Lynne’s father Ron, a fine cook from Nova Scotia, does a particularly toothsome version.

 

Paul and I are both of a certain age and so a nice, simple full English breakfast each was called for and quickly served up by the very friendly waitress along with the coffee you can see which was effectively a minor work of art. I have long wondered a) how people do this and, more importantly, b) why do they do it? It is very pretty but a bit pointless really. The breakfast, as you can see, was nice and simple as required and also extremely tasty. Paul really was giving me the full culinary tour of Tyneside. Again, it was only whilst I was researching this post today that I found out that they source all their food locally and even name all the suppliers on their website as provided above. Special mention needs to be made of the sausages which were the tastiest I have tasted in many a long year of eating fry-ups so credit to the Amble Butchers in Morpeth, a few miles to the North.

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Aptly named, I thought.

Duly fortified we headed off on our separate missions, Paul to slave over a hot keyboard and I to, well, I wasn’t quite sure. I knew I wanted to have a look round the two large cemeteries a short distance down the road but other than that I had little idea. All I knew was that I would find something to interest me and the first such item was the charming planter you see in the image above.

As you can see, this is the Cradle Well, so named because………. Go on, take a wild guess. Actually, it has given it’s name to this whole part of Jesmond and the frighteningly busy A1058 Coast Road is called the Cradlewell bypass along this section of it’s length. The well is long gone and I am guessing this was once a water trough for animals although it is rather pleasant in it’s present state.

With the images of the well duly captured I headed off at a brisk pace towards the cemeteries and City respectively. It was no day for dawdling and the dubious delights of the bypass certainly didn’t inspire stopping to take in the view.

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Not as bad as it might have been.

The next place of interest I came to was a sight that would normally have depressed me greatly and did at the time although subsequent research has lessened that blow somewhat. It was the remains of the Cradlewell Hotel which looked like it had been closed for quite some time, 2012 to be precise. Since then, plans to turn the upstairs into a bona fide hotel (the premises had been merely a bar for many years) were scuppered by local objections, mainly about parking which is ridiculous in that area. Later plans to convert the building into flats in 2016 foundered on the same rock.

The hotel was opened on the site of an earlier pub of the same name dating to 1833 by Robert Deuchar in 1904 and he is an interesting character with strong local ties. Originally from Scotland, he and his three younger brothers moved to Tyneside in 1861 and opened a pub, the Chancellor’s Head in Newgate Street which is sadly now demolished. They must have been good at the pub game as they went on to own forty of them and breweries in Edinburgh and Newcastle. The side street beside the hotel is even called Deuchar Street! Their Duechars beer, unlike their first pub, exists to this day under the umbrella of the Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh (now part of the Heineken attempt at world domination) and I even have one of their T-shirts in my vast collection.

The reason I was marginally less saddened than I might have been is that Paul and Sue told me that the Cradlewell was well-known as the meeting place for all the gangsters in the City and not at all a good place to visit although I do have a vaguely suicidal tendency to seek out the roughest bars I can find so no doubt curiosity would have got the better of me. I do wish they would do something with it as it really is a bit of an eyesore in an otherwise very attractive area.

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A very fine establishment indeed.

Not 100 yards further on I came upon another “hotel” which could not have been in more direct contrast to the Cradlewell. This is the Punch Bowl Hotel and it is odd! I am not sure how to begin describing it to you so I shall let them do the work themselves with a quote from their excellent website. “Three rooms, specialising in records, doggos, vermouth, craft beers, absinthe, live bands, cinema screenings, theatre, delicious plates of scran, stand up comedy and everything in-between”, and that is just the start as you shall see.

The Hotel has been there even longer than the Cradlewell and dates from the 1870’s although there was an earlier hostelry here. I liked the look of it externally and discovered later that it is Scottish Baronial style. Every day’s a schoolday. I also noted the distinctive blue star device above the door which I instantly recognised as the Scottish and Newcastle Brewery logo, brewers of the world famous Newcastle Brown Ale and now another minor cog in the Heineken machine. Sorry about the age gate on the website, it is a legal requirement by our nanny state.  It’s not as if under 18’s aren’t just going to lie about their age anyway.

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A brand new “old” bar.

I went in to one of the two bars, which is typical of old British pubs and it was very pleasant as it should have been having only very recently been refurbished to the tune of £1 million. Like it’s now decaying companion up the road, the Punch Bowl had lain empty for a few years, 2015 to be precise, until it was bought over by a company called Frank and Bird who had re-opened it in April 2019. F&B, as they style themselves, had performed a similar trick at the Brandling Villa in nearby South Gosford which they took on as a failing / failed venture and which is now one of the top venues in the area.

I said it was odd and it is. Many places try for an eccentric / quirky feel and most don’t manage to pull it off but this place does somehow. I ordered my pint of cider spritzer with an accompanying chat to the very friendly barman who was decent enough to sympathise with my alcohol predicament when I explained about the odd mixture. That was one plus point, friendly staff and on subsequent visits he was not a one off.
The place was pretty quiet at that hour so I had plenty of choice of seats in what is a fairly sizeable room and I naturally plumped for comfy looking Chesterfield sofa beside the real (enclosed) fire which was sadly not alight but the place was certainly warm enough. Chalk up plus points two and three for the seating and heating arrangements.

 

My “table” was, at best guess, made from a goods trolley, possibly at a railway station, with a Monopoly board inlaid, but not just any Monopoly board, it was Russian! Although I have visited the place where Cyrillic script allegedly originated (it is near Ohrid on Macedonia) I do not know the alphabet properly although I find it very similar to the Greek alphabet which I can get by with. Even I know that Mockba translates as Moscow which is where the board represented and I spent some time trying to translate the various locations with limited success as I do not know Moscow at all.
I thought this was just a little curiosity but not so. When I went to the Gents later, the signs for the toilets are in Russian as well. I found out that the upstairs concert area, which features music, poetry, comedy and cinema showings amongst other things is called Bobik which meant nothing to me at the time but which I have now discovered was the name of a dog in the Russian space programme who managed to escape before being blasted into space and certain death. Poor old Laika would have done well to follow Bobik’s lead. There are a few more nods to Russian culture around the place although I still cannot find out what, if any, the connection is to Tyneside.

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I really was not expecting this.

Speaking of the toilets, they are strange as well and I have to preface this paragraph by stating that I am not in the habit of taking pictures in public house toilets but I had to do this and there was nobody else there obviously. The facilities are spotless and rather retro as the cistern of the toilet suggests but what is below the cistern is anything but retro. It is a fully electronically controlled bidet complete with heated seat and inspired, apparently, by the toilets in a Tokyo McDonalds of all things. A bidet in a Gents in a Newcastle boozer? I don’t know what Alan Hull (RIP) would have made of it all.

I know I labour the point but travelling and even moreso writing about it both here and previously elsewhere really does teach me so much. Who would have thought that a simple lunchtime pint in a Geordie boozer would have taught me all about the Russian space programme’s use of dogs (and rabbits) or the sanitary arrangements in Japanese fast food outlets?


The Russian theme is continued on the cover of the menu which depicts a Soviet cosmonaut and it is also a bit zany with liberal use of Geordie vernacular. It is not entitled menu or food but scran which is a local word for grub and has passed into wide use in the armed forces, I use it frequently myself although some visitors might struggle with it. The vegetarian / vegan section is entitled Vegan Arseholes and the children’s menu goes under Your Little Shites. I kid you not (pun intended).

Perhaps the most unusual section of the menu, and one which I have never seen before is the one for Doggos. Yes, they have a dedicated menu for our canine friends and this is in keeping with the pub’s policy of dog-friendliness which I was to witness on a future visit. I had never heard of dog popcorn or ice-cream and how dog beer differs from the human variety is anyone’s guess but they are all on offer, at a price.

 

Hanging from the roof I spied a lovely little model railway set-up which, like the fire, was not in operation that lunchtime. Hopefully, this will give you an idea of what the Punchbowl is like and there was much more to be discovered in the other bar which I was to visit later on in the trip but I shall save that for then and for now we shall head back out into the cold and the noise of the bypass and make for the cemetery.

I love old burial places and the older the better as far as I am concerned but I knew before I went that the two cemeteries on opposite sides of the road were not going to be that old. The history of the area told me as much as virtually nobody had lived here until the middle of the 19th century. Judging by the size of the two graveyards many people not only lived but also died hereabouts in the intervening period. They were both well-tended and I had a bit of a chat with one of the chaps responsible for that as he was doing his sweeping. The memorials were pretty much what I would have expected from the Victorian period onwards and I only had a brief look round and the obligatory image or two.

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Something else I was not expecting.

About the only thing of real interest I discovered was that the little chapel in All Saints cemetery appears to be the meeting place for the local Russian Orthodox congregation of the Parish of St. George, hence the image of the eponymous holy man and his unfortunate draconine victim as pictured above. It always amuses me that George is the patron saint of England, amongst many other places, when he was from modern day Turkey and never actually set foot on the “green and pleasant land”.

Of course I had never previously considered the presence of an Orthodox Christian community in Newcastle but it appears there is one and it is fairly active if it’s Facebook page is to be believed. It seems like everyone has one now.

 

I crossed the road at the pedestrian crossing as doing otherwise would have been exhibiting a death wish which I really do not have, contrary to some people’s belief. The Old Cemetery there was not really that old, dating only to 1836 and so is much similar in it’s appearance to it’s fellow across the road. What is undeniably impressive is the entrance which is to the design of John Dobson who I have mentioned before. He was the man who seems to have virtually single-handedly designed Newcastle, including the wonderful railway station and is fittingly buried here as are other notables like Robert Deuchars who I mentioned earlier and the father of Lord Armstrong of Jesmond Dene fame, himself a noted engineer.

The list of those who have their final resting place here is long, about 25,000 or so and includes the man who invented the clear sticking plaster, the founder of Fenwicks department store which still trades in the city and Miss Muriel Evelyn Robb, the 1902 Wimbledon Ladies Singles Champion. Sadly, Miss Robb did not live long to enjoy her achievement as she died tragically young five years later.
What I found rather sad during my research was that the first interment here on 9th December of that year was Margaret Redford Hoy, the 14-year-old daughter of a Newcastle grocer and her grave was unmarked. I have long thought that all are equal in death and here is a prime example of this poor young lass whose kin could not even afford a headstone lying alongside the great and the good of the City.  OK Fergy, pull yourself together and don’t get maudlin because you still have a lot more places to show your good readers.
I knew that the bypass would lead me right into the centre of the city but I had had about enough of it by then and so I took off on another one of my *happily getting lost” treks. I had seen that there was a rear entrance, considerably less grand than the front and so I headed for that. On the way, I passed the South Lodge which I did not know at the time is a listed building and was originally home to the Superintendent of the Cemetery. I came out directly opposite the Sandyford Social Cluband idly wondered if Paul had sought gigs in there, it would have been walking distance from home for him.
I was working on the not unreasonable assumption that if I kept going downhill I would eventually end up at the river and hence the centre of town eventually so I took a completely random route along back streets which is a favourite pastime of mine. In total contradiction of the old cliche “onward and upward” I was heading very deliberately onward and downward and thoroughly enjoying it. I do hope that is not reflective of my life in general. People think I am crazy for taking pleasure in wandering unremarkable residential streets but I find it invaluable in getting feel for a place and I had not a care in the world, let alone the faintest idea where I was.

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It had to be worth a look.

Eventually I came to a main road which my map now tells me was the A193 if you are interested. I wasn’t then but I was interested in the New Bridge pub across the road which styled itself as a neighbourhood bar which sounded great to me. I have to say it was not what my pre-conceived idea of a Newcastle neighbourhood bar might have been but, then again, what exactly is a neighbourhood bar? Surely by definition surely every urban pub must be in a neighbourhood. Yes, I am rambling again and I shall stop. #

 

The bar was sizeable, modern and empty. I would not have expected much lunchtime trade round here and it looked much more like an evening sort of place with the big screen TVs, pool table and apparently occasional live music. What it also had was something I had never seen in a bar was the huge item you can see in the image which is apparently a shuffleboard. I thought shuffleboard was a game played on the decks of cruise ships but apparently it is becoming popular in bars if you have the room as I have since seen one in newly opened hotel / bar not five minutes walk from my home. I had a bit of a look at the rules and it looks a bit like shove ha’penny on steroids to me.

As I was getting used to in this part of the world, the welcome was very warm and I had a good chat with the two young ladies serving before having a seat and catching up on the sports news on the TV. Pleasant as it was, I knew I still had plenty to see and I was rationing my drinks so I could potentially visit more pubs and there was still a gig in the evening to consider.


Back out the door and a right turn as that was very clearly downhill and fairly steep to boot so I reckoned the Tyne was getting close as indeed it turned out to be. A couple more images here which may appear random but were taken for a reason. The first shows exactly how down I mean by downhill, I wouldn’t like to tackle this in the snow. It serves a double purpose as the buildings on the right, which look to me like a five year old’s attempt at a colouring-in book, are student accommodation. Maybe the bright colours are some sort of homing mechanism for when they roll out of the Student’s Union drunk.

The second image is of a gateway in the same building and shows why it is a student residence. If you look through the gates you see what looks a bit like an advertising hoarding with the logo GBRf on it but is actually part of a rather long freight train which was rumbling past literally feet away from the back wall of the building. Nobody but students would have lived there!
Following my downhill route to it’s logical conclusion I emerged onto the Quayside and the image above is the first of a rather large amount I took featuring the various bridge

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The first of many.

s over the Tyne from every conceivable angle. To avoid the blog turning into Bridge Enthusiasts Monthly I shall post a separate page of nothing but these images which you can skip if cantilever, suspension and cable stayed leave you cold (they are all types of bridges).  OK, I admit I slipped one of the Tyne Bridge in as the header for this page which was taken from about the same spot and I am very fond of because it of the lowering sun.  I work on the principle that if I take enough images I might get one I like every once in a while.

The Quayside has obviously had a few quid spent on it recently like nearby North Shields and it’s Fish Quay which featured in my last post and it is now crammed with upmarket eateries and watering holes. Don’t get me wrong, I am not knocking it but again I couldn’t help thinking how different it must be from when it was a busy working quay with it’s attendant bustle, smells and noise.

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A fine old building.

There are still a few old buildings in more or less their original state and I was particularly taken by the old Custom House you can see above which dates to 1766 although it was altered considerably in 1833. Unsurprisingly it is a listed building now in use as barristers chambers. After a bit more Quayside and a lot more bridge imagery I decided to get away from the river again as there was a wind blowing up it that would have cut corn as they so delightfully put it in Northern Ireland.

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An unusual name for a steep climb.

A bit more random wandering and I came upon the wonderfully named Dog Leap Stairs which I decided to climb even though they looked a bit steep. Why? Because they were there, to paraphrase Sir Edmund Hillary. Up I went, blowing a bit as I was still not back to what passes for full fitness even at my age. The stairs themselves are fairly unremarkble and the I have since discovered that even the name is not as exciting as it might have been. I had vague notions of a brave canine having to jump down off them in the course of some heroic act or other but they are merely named for the dogleg in them.  They so get a mention in Dire Straits’ 1978 song ‘Down to the Waterline’ but thn again Mark Knopfler was brought up on Tyneside.

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It doesn’t look like much now.

As is so often the way I found an interesting if visually unimpressive item as I was pausing to catch my breath. The rather forlorn looking stone square is all that remains of the original Anglo-Saxon church which once stood on this site and long predates the nearby Castle. Equally interesting was that neither Paul nor Sue, who are both very well up on local history knew of it’s existence which only goes to prove how easy it is to miss things on your own doorstep. I know I am never done finding things in London in places I have been frequenting for over 30 years.

I had managed to get myself into the road called Black Gate which was rather unimaginatively named for the Black Gate of the Castle which gives the city it’s name. It was built between 1247 and 1250 which is Henry III vintage so it is going back a bit although there have been numerous additions over the centuries from the original functional defensive structure. You can visit the Castle but I didn’t bother as, to be honest, I fancied a bit more exploring.

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I’ll get there later on.

I didn’t have far to go for my next “find” although you could hardly describe it as such for it is hard to miss a bloody great bridge, in this case the High Level Bridge. With a great effort of will I took a quick snap of the lovely looking Bridge Hotel and didn’t go in! That situation was to be rectified later in the trip so I’ll leave the history of the place until then.

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More bridges!

If my walking past an open pub was a demonstration of willpower it was nothing to that I had to exhibit next. It is not called the High Level Bridge for nothing, it is a very long way down and I really do not like heights. What persuaded me was that I knew if I braved it that I could probably get some decent images of the other bridges. Again, I am only going to bore you with one of the images and put the rest in the gallery I shall post later. Despite my absolute terror, I think they were worth it, the sun was more or less shining, the river was flat calm giving some lovely reflections and whilst they were not Terence Donovan I was happy with them.

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A Geordie pub shut in the daytime?

Retreating sharply from the bridge I retraced my steps past the Castle Keep and Castle Garth, again resisting the temptation to go in for a look. I really must do that next time. I was just about ready for another drink now and the Empress Bar came in sight but it was surprisingly not open until the evening. Paul later told me that it wasn’t much of a boozer anyway so it probably wasn’t too much of a loss and investigating it led me to the next point of interest which, as the image shows, is the oddly named Amen Corner.

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I know a band of that name.

Readers of a certain age will immediately associate this with a moderately successful 1960’s pop group featuring Andy Fairweather Low, who is till touring at the age of 71 and Blue Weaver, also still active in the music business at 72 after stints with Strawbs, the Bee Gees and Mott the Hoople amongst others. I wondered if the band were from here but a quick bit of research gave the lie to that notion as the band was named after an event in a Cardiff night club. It also led me to discover that there are Amen Corners all over the place including the City of London which I thought I knew pretty well and lying off a street I know for a fact I have walked along often. I have never seen Amen Corner on that street but I’ll be looking for it now. The name itself and the fact that the two locations in Newcastle and London are close to St.Nicholas’ and St. Paul’s Cathedrals respectively, might explain it. It appears the clergy in nearby St.Nicholas Church were in the habit of processing round the grounds praying and this is where they finished up, hence the Amen.

With that piece of pop nostalgia and clerical trivia more or less sorted out, let’s carry on. I walked up past the Cathedral Church of St. Nicholas which dates originally to 1080 although most of the building is 14th century and the tower 15th. It is the most Northerly cathedral in England and I would have liked to visit but kept on walking in search of that elusive pint. Just beside the cathedral is the rather fine statue of Queen Victoria and it is interesting that I took both the images above with my back to a revolting looking 1970’s office block called “One Cathedral Square” which houses the Department of Work and Pensions amongst other things. I have mentioned the appalling T. Dan Smith, corrupt politician (is there any other sort?), convicted criminal and architectural vandal and I would love to blame him for this eyesore but I can’t as it post-dates his destructive time in office. Ir is just another example of the blindness of town planners in the latter half of the last century.


Walking a mere 100 yards or so, I turned into Cloth Market and things were not going to get any better as about half of the lower end seemed to consist of long boarded up premises. I don’t know if this is the result of economic malaise or it is part of a planned redevelopment. I found one particularly poignant example of such a building, not only because it was a closed down pub but also because of an important local musical connection. The image above shows Balmbra’s in it’s last incarnation as a Motown Bar, whatever that might be. I had a look in the rather grimy windows and saw that the place was completely gutted although there was some wonderful tile work still visible on the walls which were totally in keeping with the 1902 date of construction but there had been pub on this site called the Wheatsheaf long before and it is this which has the musical association mentioned for it was here that George Ridley first performed “The Blaydon Races”.
If you have never heard the song, it is a sort of unofficial “national anthem” for Newcastle and the Northeast, supplanted only much later to a degree by Lindisfarne’s “Fog on the Tyne” in the early 1970’s. Much more of them later. Blaydon Races is one of those songs that tests the memory as it has about 108 verses (OK, it has six really) and it always reminds me of “The Rocky Road to Dublin” in the Irish canon, neither of which I can remember in full. Paul does a great rendition of the former and I do try and assist on the chorus which I have mastered. The pub is mentioned in the couplet, “Ah tyuk the ‘bus frae Balmbra’s, an’ she wis heavy laden, away we went alang Collingwood Street, that’s on the road to Blaydon”. Yes, it is in dialect! I wonder what the riders on the horse drawn omnibus would have made of Collingwood Street or the A186 as it is less pleasingly named now.

Yes, I know I am rambling again and I am going to do some more right now. One of the images above shows the sadly padlocked and graffitied door which was taken primarily to illustrate the demise of this once popular establishment but I didn’t pay much attention to the graffiti at the time as I just put it down to the usual mindless vandalism that is endemic just about everywhere in the so-called developed world today.

Amongst what are presumably the initials and barely legible “tags” of the idiots that do this you will see the numbers 420-710, so what is all that about? My readership is small, although I like to think they are an exclusive group, and I know many of them personally. They are fine, upstanding people to a man and woman which is why I am providing this little explanation. For reasons which I can explain but won’t bore you with the term 420 refers to smoking cannabis and 710 refers to cannabis oil which is one of the ways it is taken. Why 710? Turn it upside down and read it. So now you know, every day’s a schoolday, just don’t ask me how I know all this.


Balmbra’s was interesting in it’s way but not much use to me so I kept on walking and luckily didn’t have to go far until I was at the door to Pumphrey’s Bar although I wasn’t there long. I was straight through it and up to the bar to go through the rigmarole of explaining the cider spritzer again. This was a bit more embarrassing here than in some other establishments as it was clearly a “proper pub”. It was full of men (very few women) who were mostly intent on watching the various horse racing meets on the different big screens and constantly checking the Sporting Life and Racing Post and whatever other publications gamblers favour. I know nothing about it as I never gamble and would not even know how to fill out a bookies docket. I can only imagine that in more tolerant times the air would have been blue with cigarette smoke. I managed to find a seat and had a look round what was obviously a fairly old establishment.

Again, it was only subsequent research that unearthed all the secrets of the place and, you’ve guessed it, another interesting story. Pumphrey’s is named for Thomas Pumphrey and, as you can see, it is a very impressive hostelry indeed. This is hardly surprising as it had a £100,000 makeover in 2018 courtesy of the Heritage Lottery Fund and it appears to have been money well spent.

All is not, however, as it appears as the premises here was not the original Pumphrey’s which was elsewhere and it was most certainly not a pub as the business was originally a grocers and coffee and tea dealers founded by George Richardson who was a Quaker and abhorred alcohol. Pumphrey was his nephew and of similar ideas regarding the demon drink and it is only in 1974 that the former grocers, coffee roasters and popular coffee house was converted into a bar.  I do wonder what Messrs. Richardson and Pumphrey’s would make of the “Devil’s buttermilk” being sold in their fine, now listed premises.

The coffee side of the company flourishes with several branches and even a training establishment so, if you do not fancy a pint you can get a decent cup of Java in the coffee shop next door.

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Time to get back to base.

A quick stop into the excellent Army surplus store yielded a DPM (camo) headover which I use as a bandana and that pleased me greatly as I had been looking for one for ages. It is amazing how difficult those things are to find and my previous one was just about on it’s last legs. After that it was back to the Metro and the quick journey to Jesmond because I still had things to do.

As had been the case the previous day, I could have sat indoors that evening and been well content with an interesting and enjoyable day but I was here for a reason and we had another gig that night and so it was a bite to eat and then back to the Tube for the journey to Jarrow and the Alberta Club. As we were approaching Jarrow station I asked Paul if it was far to the venue and he smiled, pointed out the window and said, That’s it”. The club was literally across the road and it’s postal address is Railway Street which gives you an idea.

30 seconds brought us to the club and again I was amazed at how big and well-equipped it was. I wouldn’t like to say which was the larger between it and the Iona we had previously played in, there is not much on it. The Alberta has two bars, one much larger than the other and equipped with pool tables, dartboards and the like and then, to the rear, a sizeable function hall where we were going to do our thing. Honestly, the social clubs round Newcastle really are impressive. I have played in such establishments before but never anything on the sheer physical scale of these.

Here I was in a working man’s club in Jarrow and I could not help but think about the history of the area a bit, as I had been doing since Paul had told me we were playing there. Jarrow sits on the Tyne in Co. Durham and is effectively now part of Newcastle but in years past it was a separate community and is probably famous in most people’s minds for one thing – the Jarrow March.

The March, officially called the Jarrow Crusade, happened in October 1936 and was born out of the massive unemployment in the town (and the region and country generally) which had been caused by the closure of the local Palmer’s Shipyard in 1934. As it was effectively the only local employer of note this was a devastating blow and unemployment peaked in NE England in 1932 at a staggering 28.5%. Even by the time of the march it was 16.8% and unemployment nationally in the ship building industry was 33.3% so it is easy to appreciate the problem. The marchers, or Crusaders as they liked to be known, carried a petition all the way to London for presentation to Parliament asking for the establishment of some form of industry in the town to relieve the situation.

For much of the way, the march was led by Ellen Wilkinson, the firebrand one-time Communist and then Labour MP for Jarrow. She is very well remembered and there is an Ellen Wilkinson House a block of flats) not 20 minutes walk from my home as well as a primary school named for her a little further away in Beckton and a secondary school for girls, also named for her, in West London.

The March / Crusade made it to London, Wilkinson presented the petition, they went back home by train and that was that. They had achieved absolutely nothing but the endeavour is well remembered to this day as a symbol of the hardship of the times.  Coincidentally, in the interim period since I played there and writing this in January 2020 I watched an episode of the excellent Great British Railway Journeys series presented on the BBC by the former Conservative politician Michael Portillo which spent some time dealing with the march and I do recommend it if you can find it online.
When we walked in, we were greeted by a couple of people who had been at the “Fireside” gig in the Iona, it appears the band have a bit of a following. More were to arrive nearer gig time and I was surprised and extremely flattered that several people said hello and called me by name. It was certainly not an arduous gig as a couple of the “turns” were guitarists themselves, and far better than me, so I let them get on with it. There were several of the performers from the previous gig amongst the Iona contingent including Angelina who you see in the image above along with half of me and half of Paul which I should explain.

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Honestly, I did play and I can prove it!

Martin the percussionist wasn’t required for Angelina’s set as she sings mostly slow ballads and so he was sitting out and took a few images on his ‘phone. Why he used monochrome I don’t know but I think it makes a pleasant change and he was concentrating on the main event i.e. the lovely lady singer and so didn’t frame it with my ugly mug fully captured. Frankly, I don’t blame him for that but I have included this as it is probably the only image I have of me playing on the whole trip and it proves that I did knock out a few chords lest you think I am making it all up.

With the gig safely under our belts and the audience apparently well satisfied judging by the comments it was time for the Metro home, a quick brew and off to bed. This really was turning into a brilliant trip and I was loving it.

Just a final word before I sign off. Right at the top of this post I mentioned that it was three days before Xmas as I was composing this and that was indeed true. How I am now looking to publish it on the 18th of January is testament to a) the fact that I have been quite busy, mostly doing things I will eventually have to write about here and b) the grave failing that I have of being able to put things off almost indefinitely. I shall never get caught up at this rate but I’ll try.

In the next post I do something that I normally don’t do and have not done for years plus I have the most amazing tea so stay tuned and spread the word.

I “discover” Jesmond and “rock” North Shields.

I awoke on the Wednesday morning after a great night’s sleep in total silence which I was now becoming used to with my recent stay in Broadstairs. Where I live in London it is a constant cacophany of sirens (I live just off a main road and have a main police station, two fire stations and a major hospital all close to me), road noise, shouting youths and all the other nuisances of urban life but I am so used to it all now that I do not even register it. When I go somewhere quiet I find it very strange for a night or two.
I knew I was going to be left to my own devices most of the day as Paul works from home and was in the middle of a major time-critical project and Sue was going to be working in a local charity shop that afternoon. Well, I am used to looking after myself so that was never going to present problems. I had the Metro system sussed and the world, well Newcastle city and environs, was fairly much my oyster. I wasn’t going to venture too far as I was under orders to be back at 1600 as Paul was planning a trip to North Shields to sort out some details of a forthcoming gig and he was also throwing about the possibility of “a few tunes” somewhere which, with Paul, can mean just about anything but is invariably great fun.

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It never really works, does it?

When I ventured outside for my morning smoke (did I mention before that I am down from 30 a day to three and feeling pretty smug about it?) I decided to try to get bit arty with the camera which I do from time to time and the result is one of the images you see above. They never actually amount to much but I have fun taking them. I was shuffling back and forth trying to line up my shadow dead centre and did not notice a young couple coming up behind me who offered a friendly greeting and a slightly puzzled look. I muttered something about trying to capture shadows and felt like a right idiot. David Bailey I am not.

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A cracking read.

Sue had very kindly given me the run of her extensive library, much of which was devoted to local and regional titles and I seized upon an excellent book called “Jesmond from mines to mansions” by a local historian called Alan Morgan and published by Newcastle City Libraries. OK, it is a pretty niche work and never going to be in the bestsellers list but I do like reading about places whilst I am there and this was perfect. In truth I could happily have sat in the living room wading my way through that library and never gone out of the door but I resisted that temptation. After a bite to eat Sue offered to show me another route up to Jesmond if I wanted a look round and I happily took her up on her offer.

Jesmond is a charming leafy suburb having sprung up on previously agricultural and mining land in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, hence the title of the book I was by now avidly devouring, and we began our walk along Jesmond Dene Road with the Dene on one side and very nice houses on the other. This was the area where the industrial magnates of the Northeast had large estates and where the emerging upper middle class moved out to the suburbs. The process was facilitated by the coming of the railway which now forms part of the Metro system I had ridden the previous day. In many ways I found it reminiscent of Betjeman’s “Metroland”, the suburbs to the North and West of London which were built about the same time and for the same reasons. They were named after the Metropolitan railway which itself has now been incorporated into the London Underground system in much the same way as the railway here has.

On the way we passed by St. Mary’s Chapel but we did so at a rate of knots as Sue is a keen walker and doesn’t hang about when she wants to get somewhere. I marked the spot mentally and shall tell you all about it in a moment. The imposing St. George’s church was another landmark on the route filed for further investigation. We arrived at the charity shop where I was introduced to Sue’s colleague and then had a quick look round. I have rarely seen charity shop like it and I spend a lot of time visiting them. The only other area that I know of which comes close in terms of charity shops is Chelsea, a very posh area in London, where I used to pick up some great bargains. All the clothes in this shop were flash designer labels, looked like they had been worn once if at all and had price tags to match. Fair enough, I am no fashionista but I’ll bet they were still priced at a fraction of what they cost new. I don’t mind that as it is all in aid of St. Oswald’s Hospice, an excellent local charity. Most of the kit here was far flasher than I could ever carry off and there were no books that I fancied so I took off for a look round Jesmond.

I was fairly well orientated by now and made my way easily to the Station or more precisely the Lonsdale Hotel directly beside it and which I had noted the previous day. On the way I passed the Royal British Legion Club where, in addition to the memorial “Lest we forget” bench which are becoming very popular now, there was the excellent carving of a “squaddie” of what I believe is World War Two vintage and apparently carved out of a single tree trunk. I thought it was an excellent piece of work, I wonder how long it took to complete.

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The Lonsdale.

Paul had told me that the Lonsdale was a good place to watch sport and it seemed to be that way inclined with lots of large screens about the place tuned into a sports channel even in the early afternoon. The Lonsdale is part of the Greene King hospitality chain (the largest in the UK) which originated with a brewery in Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk and which I had read recently was being taken over by Hong Kong’s richest family. The deal was actually finalised the day after I was there and I could not help but muse on how many long-established British business are now under foreign control but that is a subject for another time.

 

I noticed that they had a Seniors Menu here which was a concept I found very popular all over this area. Perhaps I just didn’t look for it before but it does not seem to be as prevalent around London and, having recently joined that illustrious band, I am all in favour of the idea. It was the usual pub grub suspects when I checked the menu even though I wasn’t going to eat there. The pub was virtually empty as you would expect on a chilly November Wednesday afternoon but the welcome was warm enough and the lady behind the bar never batted an eyelid when I asked for my odd cider spritzer concoction.
With the pub duly reconnoitred, it was time to go for a mooch round and I could not resist taking the image you see above which quite tickled me. I am guessing the vehicle belongs to a newlywed couple starting off their married life in Jesmond and I can think of a lot worse places to do it.

One thing that struck me very forcefully about Jesmond was the amount of student accommodation hereabouts and Paul and Sue confirmed that it was very popular for that. I suppose the large old dwellings lend themselves to loft conversions and splitting up into multi-occupancy dwellings and I believe it became so prevalent a few year back that it got out of control and the local Council had to introduce all sorts of bylaws regulating parking, loft conversions, landlords and the like. I saw several very large old buildings along Jesmond Road with signs earmarking them for development as student residences. I suspect some property developers are making an absolute killing here. Other large old residences are now serving as hotels, guesthouses and private residential homes for the elderly.

It is strange how things change over time. I read in the book I mentioned above that initially there were no pubs allowed in Jesmond due to the religious and social sensibilities of the landed gentry whose land was sold off at a good price for the development of the area. Presumably they didn’t want the “commoners” rolling round the place drunk and offending their finer feelings. Nowadays Osborne Road is renowned amongst the hipsters of “the Toon” for it’s watering holes and partying. With all the students in the area, there were certainly some sights to be seen the next night on Hallowe’en but that is to get ahead of myself.

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Best of luck to them!

I just had the one pint and then headed back in vaguely the direction I had come to have a closer look round and I hadn’t gone far when I chanced upon the car in the image above and couldn’t resist an image. I am guessing that Mr. and Mrs. Davey are fairly newly-wed and starting married life in Jesmond. It is certainly a fine place to do it and good luck to them.

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Walking back along the aptly named St. George’s Terrace I retraced my steps to the imposing church of the same name, the spire of which dominates the skyline hereabouts. Regrettably, like so many other places of worship it was closed up and I had to content myself with some exterior images which you can see below.

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St. George’s Church, Jesmond.

Like all of Jesmond it is relatively modern, dating to 1888 when it was dedicated and, also like most of Jesmond, it was funded by an industrialist, in this case Charles Mitchell, the business partner of Lord Armstrong who figures so prominently in the story of the area. It was built to the design of one T.R. Spence and unusually for a relatively little known architect it has the distinction of being Grade I listed. This is the highest level of legal architectural protection available to a building and granted only to “buildings of exceptional interest”. Not only did Spence design the building but also much of the stained glass and metalwork. He was involved in the Art Workers’ Guild, was a founder member of the Society of Designers and evidently a very talented man all round.

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St. George’s Church Hall, Jesmond.

The beautiful Church Hall, also by Spence and pictured above, is Grade II listed and I found it very pleasing on the eye. I really would love to go back and have a good look inside.

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A pleasant place to live.

After the Church I deliberately deviated from the route Sue had brought me so I could have a bit more of a look around and after negotiating a few fairly affluent looking residential streets I found myself back on Jesmond Dene Road and approaching the building you can see below which was to both delight and sadden me. As the images show it was the banqueting hall for Sir William (later Lord) Armstrong as the huge house he had nearby was not big enough for the lavish functions he organised. It was built in 1860 – 1862 to the design of John Dobson who basically designed most of central Newcastle including St. Thomas the Martyr Church and the wonderful railway station I have mentioned before. As if that wasn’t enough quality architectural input, additions and a lodge were added in 1869 – 1870 to the design of Norman Shaw, another notable practitioner of the time. Amongst many other buildings he designed the old New Scotland Yard (if that makes sense) for the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in central London and which remained police HQ until 1967 when it moved to Broadway. The Broadway building has now been demolished to make way for expensive residential development and the Met police have moved yet again.

 
With this beautiful building in front of me you may well ask why I was saddened and actually this only came later when I started to look into the history of it. Armstrong gifted it to the people of Newcastle in 1883 to be “used for lectures, recitals, concerts, banquets and meetings under the themes of the arts, literature, science or education”. All well and good and relatively recently it served as a temporary home for the Northern Sinfonia until they relocated to the Sage arts centre in Gateshead but it more recently srtill has been left unoccupied and I did read somewhere that it is now a “controlled ruin” whatever that might be. I also read that the Council have applied to the charity Commissioners to change the terms of the original bequest, presumably to allow them to make money by selling it off for development. It appears that local government in Newcastle is still as bad as in the days of T. Dan Smith. Go on, I’ll bet you look him up now if you don’t already know of him, a terrible man. That is what saddens me.

I was heading in the general direction of St. Mary’s, the small ruined chapel we had passed earlier and it was not difficult to find being up a little side road which has, like many other roads here, been thankfully closed to through traffic thereby preventing them from being “rat runs”.

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St. Mary’s chapel, Jesmond.

No, is is not a grand ruin like Rievaulx Abbey in the nearby North York Moors but I found it rather appealing and, as always, found out some interesting facts whilst researching it, like the origin of the name Jesmond for a start. In common with many other places of pilgrimage St. Mary’s is there due to an alleged sighting of the Vrigin Mary, presumably holding the infant Jesus, as the name Jesmond literally means Jesus Mound so now you know as well! The visitation was allegedly in the late 11th century but I am always rather dubious about such “sightings” as it is no coincidence that pilgrims meant money for the local clerics and I am by nature a cynic., especially in matters of religion.

Whatever the truth of the matter many people visited the shrine and a small chapel was erected. At one time it housed religious relics, another aspect of the Judeo-Christian mythology I am very dubious about. If all the claims are to be believed some saints must have been biological freaks judging by the number of alleged body parts that are venerated worldwide. What is not in doubt is that the Church made money and St. Mary’s was once ranked alongside Canterbury and St. Paul’s cathedrals. Pilgrim Street in central Newcastle which just about exists still having been swallowed up by the A186 was where the faithful stayed before trekking up to the chapel. There is also a “holy well” nearby but my attempt to visit that later on was thwarted by a very muddy path and my pristine white training shoes. In fairness, I did not envisage offroad walking when I went to Newcastle.

 

The chapel was naturally deserted and it was very quiet on this autumnal morning which gave the place something or an air of serenity. As the images show, it is obviously still used as a place of religious significance for people although I am sure it has long since been deconsecrated. I found several small makeshift shrines in niches in the walls and, although they were open to the elements and therefore slightly weatherbeaten, I found them somehow quit touching.

The chapel was first documented in 1272 so it was obviously fully functional by then and, whilst it now appears quite inconsequential, it was once part of a much larger complex. As recently as 1896 the Ordnance Survey map shows the remains of a hospital complex about 50 yards away which was initially there to attend to the needs of the many sick pilgrims who visited. Like much else in the area the hospital was obliterated in the housing boom of the late 19th and early 20th century and no trace of it remains.

In the interest of fair reporting I should point out that whilst the site is dated back to shortly after the Norman Conquest, the remains you see today are what is left of the side chapel which dates to the 15th century which is still fairly ancient. In talking to my many North American friends I find this to be something that they invariably remark upon when speaking of Europe in general and the UK in particular. There are literally tens of thousands of such places just waiting to be stumbled upon and all dating to centuries before North America was officially “discovered” even though it is now archaeologically proven that the Vikings were on that continent from the late 10th century. Sorry, Columbus.

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Beautiful but difficult to attribute.

I am a great lover of stained glass and I was rather surprised to find a good example here although it was obvious from the condition of the rest of the remains that it could not possibly be original as a closer examination was to prove. An exhaustive search of the internet, normally reasonably productive, has completely failed to yield any information as to the provenance of this rather attractive piece. I must ask Sue about it as she is bound to know and I shall then amend this post accordingly.

I could happily have wandered aimlessly around Jesmond all day and would have discovered all sorts of things as I did on another walk a few days later but at that time of year there was not much light left and, as I mentioned above, I was on a deadline to get home so I strode out arriving bang on time.

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Not the prettiest building in Jesmond.

After a quick coffee Paul and I grabbed the instruments and saddled up for our trip to North Shields. In Paul’s case the case (I did that on purpose – honestly) was his mandolin case as his banjo weighs a ton.  I know this from personal experience of having lifted it. This is not a problem in the car but we were heading back onto the Metro and the image above shows the functional and not particularly attractive Jesmond Station in the gathering gloom.

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A distinctly chilly Tyneside scene.

About 45 minutes later we emerged at North Shields Metro and it was cold. When I say cold I mean it was Arctic, with biting wind coming in straight off the North Sea. When I played in Sweden and Finland some years ago it was February and March with -26 degrees in Vaasa but it did not feel as cold as it did in Northumberland in early November. We didn’t hang about and strode out for the mercifully short walk to the wonderfully named Magnesia Bank pub.

I was glad to get in out of the cold, especially as we had already passed a couple of decent looking pubs on the way and we entered what was like something out of the twilight zone! It is a huge place, having formerly been a bank as the name suggests, then a social club before being converted to a pub and with only two blokes at the bar and the young barmaid it felt very, very empty. If you are wondering about the Magnesia part of the name, it refers to the nearby Magnesia Stairs and I’ll tell you all about “stairs” in a moment. As well as being very, very empty it was very, very dark.

There were lights on behind the bar and damn few on elsewhere, it really was a bit strange but not unfriendly. One of the guys at the bar left as soon as we came in and the other a short while later. I do hope these facts are not related. Before he went, I had a chat with the second guy who turned out to be from Kilkeel in Northern Ireland and not too far from where my family live. Kilkeel was formerly a thriving fishing port but like so much of the British fishing industry it is now all but finished, primarily due to EU interference. There is still an active fleet in North Shields and this chap “commuted” back and forth to Co. Down to work on the boats here.

With the only other patrons departed the barmaid came over and sat with us for a chat. Well, she had nothing else to do. The reason we were there was that Paul was trying to sort out details of a gig he was playing there the next month but the manageress was not there and, despite a few ‘phone calls from our new friend we didn’t actully get to meet her. It is not surprising Paul was organising a gig there as it seems to be a very music orientated venue if the numerous posters and the online presence are anything to go by. Apparently Liam Fender, brother of the more famous Sam and a musician in his own right, is a regular here and plays gigs in the Maggy Bank as it is apparently known to the locals.

After a couple of drinks we took off from this rather odd place and back into an early evening that seemed to be getting colder if such a thing was possible. I suppose the reason was that we were making our way down to the water’s edge and the wind was coming at us straight off the river, having originated in the Arctic it seemed. There were a few decent sized trawlers alongside although they seemed deserted and I didn’t even take an image which I suppose I should have but I just didn’t want to take my hands out of my pockets!

I did, however, expose my digits to potential frostbite to capture the image above, which is of one of the many “stairs” I mentioned above and which seem prevalent right along the banks of the Tyne. It seems you cannot get to or from the river without either descending or ascending a fairly steep gradient. If I had paid more attention in Geography class in school I could probably tell you about erosion and geological formations and the like which would explain why it is like that here and not in somewhere like London where there isn’t a hill worthy of the name anywhere near the river. I didn’t so I can’t but, take it from me, Newcastle is steep and would certainly keep you fit if you walked a lot there. I thought this image was quite atmospheric for some reason and, by way of context, I have included another image taken the next day of a “stair” in Central Newcastle in daylight.

Like so many other waterfronts, North Shields is getting a bit trendy from what I imagine it was like years ago as a bustling fishing port with all the rough edges that entails. Nowadays it seems to be one cocktail bar / bistro / restaurant after another and in many ways it reminded me of Leith, the port for Edinburgh which is very similar. The fish and chip shop Paul was heading for was a bit further on from the stairs so we moved briskly until we came to the very welcoming (i.e. warm) looking Waterfront “chippy” and what a place that turned out to be. It was ever spotless with the unique smell of a proper fish and chip shop and ever so slightly upmarket but none the worse for that so time for a look at the menu.

The plan was fish and chips. We had just walked past a trawler so no doubt the fish was as fresh as it could be and I do love locally sourced produce, low food miles etc., it was obviously the local delicacy so, almost inevitably, I did not order it! I really am perverse some times, OK most of the time, but I had seen an item on the menu and could not “unsee” it to use a word I do not particularly like as I do not think it is a proper word but it fits the bill here. OK, we were up North but not quite in Scotland but I had spied an item on the menu that I just cannot resist – haggis.

Haggis is one of those things like tripe, liver and Marmite that divides opinion sharply but I absolutely adore it. I know that many of my readers will be aware of it but I am constantly amazed to find that I have readers on this site from places like India, Malaysia, China and all over the place which I find very gratifying and I thank those people. For the benefit of those who may not know, haggis is a traditional Scottish dish made of minced sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, oatmeal, spices and suet and the whole thing encased in the sheep’s stomach lining.  I know it does not sound particularly appetising but believe me it is. The Americans do not agree and it is actually banned there on health grounds – their loss. Whilst I have described the traditional version, there is another type specifically designed for deep frying and it is essentially a long sausage shaped haggis battered and put in the hot oil. You can see what it looks like in the image above.

The lovely waitress told me that it would take about 15 minutes to prepare so it was obviously cooked to order which suits me. I have to apologise to Paul here as he had to sit about waiting for his logical fish and chips and which you can see in the other image above. What can I tell you about the food? I have been lucky enough to have eaten in some very fine restaurants and this, in it’s way, was every bit as satisfying as any of them. It was just delicious and a portion size to satisfy the stoutest (in any sense of the word) trencherman. If I was still writing travel reviews for Virtual Tourist I would be recommending this place highly. Sadly, that is not an option open to me any more but I shall pass this on as a tip if you should ever happen to be in North Shields.

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What a pub.

Had we gone home at that point I would have said I had had a brilliant and interesting day and been very content with it but the travel Gods that I firmly believe in, and who I have mentioned before, were saving the best until last as they often do. Another short walk took us to the Low Lights Tavern on the very appropriately named Brewhouse Bank which looked great from the outside and I instantly fell in love with when we walked in the door.

In case you are wondering about the name, it is nothing theatrical, it refers to one of the two lighthouses along the shore, the Low Light and the High Light which date back to 1727. If I may risk a fairly obvious and pretty poor wordplay here, the Low Lights was to prove to be an absolute highlight of my trip and no mistake.

The Low Lights is the oldest pub in North Shields and, whilst it is only documented as far back as 1836 it is generally reckoned there has been a tavern there for at least 350 years. It is a proper old building and I had to duck to get in the door to access main bar which you can see and two side rooms, both of which have proper open fires, another plus. A quick glance at the blackboard showed the daily specials and by all accounts the food here is excellent. I know they source all their veg from a local farm shop and the fish is straight off the Quay 100 yards away. There are all sorts of curiosities about the place including a poster stating that “Even the Luftwaffe couldn’t close us” which refers to a bombing raid in May 1940. The pub was thankfully unscathed and the bombs fell in the Tyne. I highly doubt the pub was the intended target but it is a nice story.

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I just love an open fire in a pub.

Whilst the fabric of the pub is wonderful, it is not that which makes the Low Light so very special. As always it is the people.  Paul introduced me to the two guys who run the place who were both utterly charming and decent singers when they were finally persuaded! By the time I had got the drinks in, served by wonderfully friendly staff who took my strange cider concoction in their stride admirably, Paul had arranged for us to play and told me to break out the guitar. I should point out that the owners had no idea we were turning up. They knew Paul from previous sessions but had obviously never seen me before. No problem, it was the work of moments to loose the beast and tune it and off we went.

There was no plan and we didn’t have a set idea of how long we would play for or even if we would be thrown out for annoying the locals but no danger of that. We started off with a few of the Irish standard tunes and songs and then it just went into overdrive as one of the owners harangued people into singing so we were effectively the “human jukebox” again. All types of songs, some sung in keys unknown to musicology and a few of which I had never heard before but, as we have done so often before, we managed to cobble some sort of accompaniment together. Naturally, Paul and I were hit with numerous requests and we had a stab at most of them with the Eagles seeming to be particularly popular.

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They even have their own beer.

We had numerous offers of drink from both the owners and the punters and Paul seemed to be enjoying his bitter so I was a bit miffed to be on “short rations” and having to explain to people why I had to decline their wonderful hospitality lest they get offended. I don’t remember what particular bitter Paul was drinking and there was an excellent selection and they even have their own house bitter brewed locally for them. Ridiculous as it sounds, I was still finding playing without drinking a bit of a challenge. I know it is purely in my head but I still feel odd performing without a few pints in me. I’m sure I’ll get over it as I don’t have much option really.

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Paul in full flow.

We met some fantastic people there and there was no shortage of musical talent despite my earlier comment. I lent the guitar a couple of times to several people who all made a very good fist of their chosen numbers. I have included an image of one of them and also the couple who were sitting beside us and who asked us to come and play at their wedding nearby that Saturday. Honestly, I m not making this up, why would I? The groom’s family were all coming over from Ireland and they thought it would be great to have a bit of session before the proper musicians turned up in the evening. We had to regretfully decline as we had other plans made but it was just indicative of the type of evening it was. I just adore gigs like this and I know Paul was loving it as well.

There was one member of the audience who didn’t ask to borrow my guitar although in hindsight I rather wish he had. I somewhat cryptically alluded in my last post to crossing paths with a proper pop star so here is the story. I mentioned Sam Fender earlier in this post and the reason I know he is a bona fide celebrity is that I have not followed popular music since the 1980’s and even I have heard of him, apparently he is hugely popular and winning awards hand over fist. Sadly, I read a few days ago (December 2019) that he had to cancel part of his UK tour due to a throat problem, so get well soon Sam. It was only much later on that Paul told me he had been in the bar and sitting about four feet from me when we were playing.

Whilst I was researching this post some time after the event I was looking for an internet link for the pub and found their facebook page so I just skimmed it to see if there was any mention of us playing. There was no mention as such but merely a couple of “live” clips which I think the owner must have taken and streamed on his ‘phone. One of them has 1,400 views which is far more than I have for anything on my own Youtube channel! Towards the end of the second clip which is not my finest musical moment as I didn’t know what tune Paul was going into (I suspect neither did he when he started the set) I was vamping like Hell to find the key which I eventually did. If you look just beside me towards the door, I believe that is Mr. Fender sitting down but of course I could be wrong, it has been known.

At this point I shall resist the temptation to start name-dropping some of the rich and famous people I have played for and I should hasten to point out that it is nothing to do with any musical talent on my part but by being lucky enough to have played with those that have. If you are really interested, get in touch and I’ll bore you with some stories. Ask me the one about playing for the Russian mafia or the one about the 500 Philippino bikers and the local Governor. Stop it now, Fergy!

I said we had no plan when we went out and we didn’t really but I am quite sure that whatever we had envisaged when we started playing at about 1930 wouldn’t involve playing solid until midnight and thereby missing the last Metro back to Jesmond, which is a bit of a trek, but that is what happened.  With many fond farewells and promises to return and play again some time (we mustn’t have messed up too badly to be asked back) we poured ourselves and the instruments into a cab for home and bed.

This trip had been a complete whirlwind already. I had set foot on the train in London about 36 hours earlier and had seen and done so much already with a lot more planned including two more booked gigs which I was really looking forward to. In the next post I unleash myself on Newcastle, get up close and personal with the many bridges over the Tyne and try to learn Russian from a Monopoly board so stay tuned and spread the word.

Bye bye Broadstairs (for the moment).

As promised in the last post here this one is going to be quite a number of days all rolled into one, not because I am getting lazy or rushing to the end of this particular trip, which it will be but because I slipped into somewhat of a routine which probably would not interest the reader. I do, however, urge you not to skip to the next page just yet. The one thing I did manage to do was to get to see some excellent gigs and was getting confident enough with my newish camera to record some footage. This post will contain links to my YouTube page where I tend to post all my videos and I hope you enjoy them. I shall also write briefly about the one or two other things that I did but that will be brief, I promise.

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An autumnal Viking Bay.

Saturday the 19th was a pretty bleak day, not in terms of the weather was still pleasantly bright if chilly but in terms of the Rugby World Cup where Ireland still had an interest but not much hope. Having failed to beat Japan in the group stage we were destined to face the mighty All Blacks (New Zealand) who were two time defending champions and my pre-tournament pick to win. I have no complaints about the Japan result as they simply outplayed us with superb discipline, fitness levels and adherence to a clever strategy that suited them very well. Of course, losing to them meant the Blacks as everyone knew and I didn’t hold out a lot of hope. Dave had very decently opened the pub early again for the minor undercard on the bill which was England vs. Australia. OK, Poms and Aussies, I am joking – honestly.

I had arrived at the pub bang on opening time as I knew there would be good crowd for the England game which there proved to be although I bagged a good seat with a clear view of one of the big screens. One of the images above demonstrates how early I got there.

Whilst I had picked NZ to win I also thought that England stood as good a chance as they had had since they won it all those years ago. I know that might sound contradictory but they went in with a superb squad and had demolished Ireland (then ranked #1 in the world) not long before. All it would take was for them to play as they were capable of and a bit of that most elusive sporting requirement, luck, and they were in with a shout. In the event they totally dismantled Australia 40 – 16 and looked nigh on unbeatable.
Somewhere in the middle of this Dave did his usual and produced tray upon tray of tasty bacon rolls to feed the masses.

I know there is no shortage of venues to watch sporting events in Broadstairs but I do like the George. Dave runs it brilliantly and there is usually a good friendly crowd for just about any sporting event. On many occasions I have seen three different sports being watched on the various screens simultaneously.

With the first game out of the way it was on to the main event and a few people left but not many so it was still a good atmosphere. I really do not wish to dwell on it but NZ did to us what England had done to the Aussies and we were turned over 46 – 14. I expected to lose but it was the manner of the defeat that rankled. We just did not turn up and you cannot do that against the All Blacks. Ah well, I certainly did not expect us to win it despite the world rankings which I have little faith in anyway. The images above tell the story of the day really.

Sunday 20th and it was back to the pub early for the other two rugby matches. In the first, Wales scraped a one point win over France and were lucky to do so  with French indiscipline gtelling again.  Sebastien Vahaamahina was sent off for a nasty elbowing offence which effectively ended his career early as he at least had the decency to retire early shortly thereafter.  As always, there were breakfast rolls for all before South Africa basically bullied a gallant Japan into a 26- 3 result. Japan had impressed me greatly and also others who actually know something about the game. Even allowing for home advantage they punched well above their weight and must be considered for inclusion in the Southern hemisphere main competition of Australia, NZ, RSA and Argentina but I cannot see the Old Boys network allowing it as they do not want the very lucrative pie sliced up five ways instead of four.

The three images I want to share with you here are nothing to do with the rugby but serve to illustrate various points.

The first is not to showcase the Victorian promenade shelters, attractive as they are, but to show you two of the ever-increasing street sleepers / beggars that seem to be in ever greater numbers every time I visit the town. The second shows the mess in Victoria Gardens after the mini hurricane during the Food Festival which I mentioned in another post. The third is included primarily because I rather like these attractive houses in Wrotham Road but also to show you what is happening in Thanet as these dwellings are relatively new and there are plenty more springing up. There was another new development in Alexandra Road under construction since my last visit.

Nothing until the Wednesday when it was Folk Club night again in the Tartar Frigate which I go to sometimes and am always made very welcome, probably because I know just bout everyone there. Here are a couple of images to give you an idea.

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This used to be a Post Office.

Only one image for Thursday the 24th October whilst coming back from my Beano’s “breakfast” at 1400 and it once again shows what is happening in smaller communities in UK. This building, until recently was the Post Office for the town but that function has now been devolved to retail premises although they do retain the rear of the premises as a sorting office. I think it is disgraceful.

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Folk week commemorative marker.

Not much on the Friday except that I finally got round to taking images of a couple of things I had been meaning to for ages as I knew I had only a few days left. The first is the rather wonderful sign commemorating 50 years of Folk Week in 2015, the Festival is nearly as old as me! The piece was made by Mark Howe of Broadstairs Metal Craft and I think it is very well done. Hopefully both it and the Festival will still be in place for the centenary although I doubt I shall be around to see it!

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Memorial plaque to Ted Heath.

The second is of a plaque on the side wall of the Sailing Club commemorating it’s most famous member, the former Prime Minister Sir Edward (Ted) Heath who I have mentioned before in these posts.

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Jez Hellard and the Djukella Orchestra in the Wrotham.

The final image is of Jez Hellard and the Djukella Orchestra who played in the Wrotham that night. These guys are regularly booked for Folk Week although I had never seen them. To be honest, I do not get to see too many acts as I am usually too busy making a noise myself. somewhere. Once again Jackie had booked well and they were yet another of the excellent acts I saw in the pub, I really cannot speak highly enough of either her or the Wrotham generally. As promised at the start of this piece you can check out some clips of the band on my Youtube channel here, here, here and here.   Four videos, I am spoiling you, dear readers.  Of course the added bonus was that I only had to wander upstairs to my bed again but not too late as I had an early start on the Saturday.

Saturday was rugby day again and so I was up with the lark and off to the George once again. I knew I needed to be early as it was the first semi-final with England taking on New Zealand so one of my hunches about the eventual winner was going to come a cropper. As you might imagine, the place was packed to the rafters although again I had a good seat (and the obligatory decent breakfast offerings from Dave) to watch an excellent game. England turned over the much-fancied All Blacks 19 – 7 and played extremely well. I knew they were good but I did not expect them to win as impressively as they did nor restrict the Antipodean side to a mere seven points. Needless to say it developed into a bit of a party helped along the way by the usual football offerings on TV. I had a reasonably quiet evening and headed to bed early as I knew the next day was to be another early rugby start.

Up on Sunday and straight to a much quieter George Inn for Wales vs. South Africa in what promised to be a good game and certainly lived up to the billing. There were a few Welsh supporters in but it was by no means busy. I knew it had been a bit lively in there on the previous night so perhaps there were a few delicate heads and stomachs being nursed at home. Another 0900 kick off may just have been a step too far despite the extra hour in bed afforded by the change from BST to GMT. As I expected, RSA depended on the sheer physicality of their monstrous pack and edged a narrow 19 – 16 victory to set up a final against England the next Saturday. I was looking forward to that although I knew I was going to be watching it many many miles from the George.

I was leaving on the Monday which, even allowing for my hospital sojourn, is earlier than I normally go. I usually hang around until a day or two before Remembrance Sunday as I like to attend the Act of Remembrance in central London but before that I had another little jaunt to undertake.

You may remember my mate Paul from these posts, he is the banjo player I had played Folk Week with. He and his lovely wife Sue live in Newcastle in the Northeast of England and for years I had been promising to go up and visit him and “play a few tunes” as we refer to it. Whilst I had been in Broadstairs he had been messaging me from his hotel in Crete asking me to come up in early November. I couldn’t help but think how much things have changed in my lifetime. I remember a time when computers took up a warehouse and a mobile (cell) ‘phone was science fiction and yet he was sending me instant messages from over two thousand miles away arranging gigs a mere 350 miles away. There was a gig on the Tuesday night so my plan was to get an evening train to London on the Monday after saying my farewells and then a quick turnaround and on another train North on Tuesday lunchtime but all that is for future posts.

For now I still had one last treat in store, the Sunday early evening gig in the Wrotham which I was looking forward to as it was Snake Oil Trading Company which includes my mates Griff and Brian who I have mentioned often here before. They are the two sound engineers / multi-instrumentalists that seem to rig just about every gig in Thanet that my other mate Chris doesn’t put together. I reckon Broadstairs must have more soundmen per capita than anywhere else in the UK and they can even make me sound marginally less awful than I usually do! The other two members of the group are Ray on guitar and vocals and Jacks on drums / percussion and vocals. They perform what is known these days as Americana and they do it very well as I hope the clip shows.

During the interval my mate Nigel Feist  and Ben Mills  got up and did a couple of numbers which was a commendable effort as they were both still hanging out rather following Nigel’s birthday party the night before.  Nigel is an excellent blues harp player whom I have known for years and Ben is quite a celebrity around Thanet following his getting into the finals of a national TV talent show a few years ago.  In a perhaps unusual choice of number they did a rather bluesy version of “Ode to Billie Jo” by Bobbie Gentry which I rather liked and which you can see here.

It was great fun, well attended and I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially heckling the band (in a friendly manner obviously). Another quiet evening in the pub with a few great friends completed the day before retiring to my comfy room for the last time this trip. I felt quite sad about that.

Monday morning and a beginning and an end. The beginning of a new week which was hopefully going to end miles away and the end of another Broadstairs trip which had proved to be memorable for all sorts of reasons.

Just a few random images of the day here, firstly the William Hill bookmakers which had closed down when I was here and mirrors the fate of it’s sister shop not three hundred yards from my home. I was told that the rise of online gambling and new regulations on gaming machines where people could lose ludicrous amounts of money in a very short period of time, were making them no longer viable for the operators. Apparently they had all opened up huge numbers of outlets a few years ago where betting on sports events was the least part of the business, all the money was coming from the machines. Now this is no longer possible they are just closing them all down again. It is no loss to me as I find gambling the height of stupidity, I do not even buy lottery ticket.

The second image is of the pier, a view I must have literally hundreds of images of but. like the Royal Harbour in Ramsgate, I can never get enough and it serves to show that even at the end of October there were still people enjoying the Viking Bay beach. The final image is of my “last supper” in town, delivered to the pub as usual and delicious as usual. There had been a few farewells during the day and I still had one more lot to do so I headed off back to the Wrotham.

When I got back, the “choir” were in full flow. They are not a proper choir but rather a group of people who get together to sing, accompanied by two guitars, and with the emphasis very much on harmonies. They do stop and work these out so I do not know if the ultimate aim is to perform live or whether indeed they already have. It certainly seemed much more like a rehearsal / workshop than a singaround and it was rather an appropriate finish to my stay. I was half-tempted to break out the guitar which I had sitting beside me but I had a train to catch which I did in good time as the image below shows.

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On the move again.

It would be tempting to say I was thinking about things in general on the train and were I a cinematographer it would be great, interspersing “flashbacks” with my reflection in the window of a speeding train with lights flashing but it didn’t happen that way. Yes, there was the general deflation I always feel leaving Broadstairs but I spent my time reading my book and dozing on the mercifully empty train. The introspection had been taking place before I left and much more since, especially whilst reliving it all here.
It had been an even more eventful trip than usual on my annual pilgrimage to the Folk Week and there have been some pretty eventful times there in the past. It had reminded me of my own mortality and approaching official “old” status not that I was ever living in a state of ignorance (blissful or otherwise) of either and caused a fairly serious lifestyle change as a result. I am very pleased I “quit” smoking to the extent I did. Apart from anything else it is saving me a fortune in tandem with the new drinking regime which I am still not particularly fond of snd doubt I ever will be. What is it they say about never missing your water till the well runs dry?

I always knew I had a lot of friends in and around Broadstairs but this really drove the message home. The amount of support and concern I received both amazed and humbled me. Cliched as it is, the people involved are too numerous to mention but they know who they are and some of them actually read this nonsense so my heartfelt thanks to them all.

I got to see the National Health Service “up close and personal” and I have to say that for all the much publicised failures that the media revel in, my experience was 100% positive. Again, I believe one or two of the people in the QEQM read this and so more heartfelt thanks are in order. You are lifesavers, literally, and you should be immensely proud of what you do. Heaven knows, you can’t be in it for the money!

As for the Festival itself, yes, there were a few problems this year, many of them climatic but there is nothing you can do about that, it is just the British “summer”. The other issues will undoubtedly resolve themselves to a greater or lesser degree but the enthusiasm for Folk Week seems to be undiminished by those present. The standard of musicianship (not to mention dancing, poetry, juggling and a host of other artistic activities) seems to be as high as ever and yet further thanks to everyone who put up with me making a noise alongside them both during the event itself and subsequently.
I could really go on and on here but I’ll rein it in as it will become terminally boring for the reader but back when I started this blog I did say that I was going to be completely honest in it and that is what you are getting here, folks.

Now that I have got my thoughts on life, the Universe and everything (to quote the late Douglas Adams) out of the way you’ll be glad to know there is more travel in the next post which is presumably why you dropped in here in the first place so stay tuned and spread the word.

Another bumper Broadstairs bonanza.

Sunday 6th October.
Not Hagibis but pretty hurricane like.

As I mentioned in my last post I am going to quickly run a few days together on one post here as not very much of interest actually happened. I was doing much the same things every day and slowly regaining what health and vitality I may have once possessed and, apart from the inconvenience of self-injecting an anti-coagulant subcutaneously into my abdomen twice daily, my recovery was coming along nicely.

A quick glance out the window on Sunday morning showed that it was a pretty miserable day and I was glad I had visited the Food Festival the previous day when it was not exactly tropical but not too bad but all that was to change. I decided I might as well get the most out of my rover ticket on the bus and took myself off for a day in the Royal Victoria Pavilion in Ramsgate again. My day is effectively summed up in the three images above – excellent breakfast, awful weather and then an evening meal of a small Hawaiian pizza. I am so glad Wetherspoons have introduced this 8″ pizza as even with my recovered appetite a full sized offering after a large breakfast would still make me struggle, I reckon.

I decided on a quiet night in the Wrotham and was regaled with tales of how a mini hurricane had just about obliterated the Food Festival, blowing down tents, reducing the ground underfoot to a quagmire and generally wreaking havoc. It was so bad that the Festival had to close early which is a shame. During a later conversation with one of the Directors I found out that they had no option as, apart form their own safety consciousness, they were not insured for winds of the strengths being recorded. I was a mere four miles along the coast and whilst the weather was bad it was nowhere like as severe as Broadstairs which only reinforces my point form a few posts ago that Broadstairs really does have it’s own microclimate.

At the same time as this was going on, Typhoon Hagibis was creating complete devastation in Eastern Asia, disrupting the Rugby World Cup although that is unimportantin view of the 86 lives lost which somewhat puts a sporting contest into context. It also demonstrated the fundamental goodness of rugby people as both the Canadian and Namibian squads were out helping with the cleanup operation. One of the Canadian players said that they had been hosted so wonderfully that it was the least they could do to lend a hand. Well played, lads.

7th October
Laundry, ladybirds and a late lunch.

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Well it was about time.

Monday came around to start yet another week in Thanet and I decided to do some laundry or rather it decided for itself as it was approaching the critical and so off I trotted to Ramsgate again to the laundrette. Like the A&E (ER) or outpatients at the local hospital, I always take a book with me as it can be mind-numbingly boring otherwise. I was reading said book (a Simon Scarrow if memory serves) and breathing deeply as I love the smell of laundrettes, when I felt something on the back of my right hand. Looking down, I saw the tiniest ladybird I have ever seen quite happily doing whatever it was doing. I knew I had to take a picture but that was to prove to be easier said than done.

 

I did not want to move my right hand at all lest the fragile little critter took off. My camera was in the front right hand pocket of my jeans and so it was a bit of a feat of dexterity to get it out, turn it on, adjust the zoom and take the images whilst trying to remain perfectly still but I managed it. Above you can see the shot “as is” to give an idea of just how tiny the little insect was and also with a bit of cropping to give you a better look. It even went for a bit of a wander round my hand before taking off. I have often heard that a ladybird landing on you is lucky and although I am not superstitious I must confess I felt very happy and probably had a big soppy grin all over my ugly mug.

Having missed my now customary breakfast I was getting a bit “esuriant” to use that lovely word as featured in the wonderful Monty Python cheese shop sketch and I fancied a bite to eat so back to the Pavilion where the grub is always good, served quickly and not expensive. Although I would eat breakfast at any hour they only serve an all day brunch which I didn’t really fancy but a look at the menu suggested a beauty of an option, namely steak and kidney pudding. This is not to be confused with steak and kidney pie, which is fine, but there is not much to beat a proper suet pudding. That was decided then and I was promptly presented with the very tasty looking offering you see below.

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Proper grub – steak and kidney pud.

I have a bit of a problem with this dish as it is served here, however. I am not a huge fan of gravy at the best of times but with chips (fries for my American friends) it is just wrong. OK, I have had poutine in Canada as it is virtually impossible to visit there and not sample what is effectively their national dish and I quite enjoyed it. At least JDW have the decency to serve it in a proper boat and so a small amount on the pudding and the whole lot disappeared p.d.q.

I spent the rest of the evening in there trying manfully and failing miserably to get this blog up to date (I swear it will never happen) and by the time I got back to my digs you wouldn’t believe it but that appetite of mine had kicked in again. Much as I love staying in the Wrotham, and I do, my cooking facilities are limited to a kettle so I have to box a bit clever in that respect and frankly I am getting a little tired of pot noodles! However, I had been to the Food Festival and laid in supplies as you will know if you read the last entry here and after the idiotic attempt at an arty image you can see with me “posing” the tomatoes, I did knock up quite a pleasant feed. A scrubbed out pot noodle container served as a small mixing bowl and some halved vine cherry tomatoes with balsamic vinegar accompanied by two wonderful Ashmore cheeses (chilli and mustard) was a decent enough supper for me prior to sticking yet another damned needle into my abdomen then having a few chapters of my book and off to sleep.

8th October.
Not a lot to read about really.

According to my images, what happened today was not a thing
Not a single thing, nothing at all, nil, zero, nowt, zilch, you get the picture and so we shall pass swiftly on to……………..

9th October.
Were did the summer go?

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Another fine brekkie.

OK, I know I spent mid August to mid September in hospital but the autumn seemed to have set in quickly and severely as one of the images above shows. It was an overcast horrible day and I didn’t much fancy doing anything until the evening when I had promised to be at the Wrotham again for Griff’s open Mic Night. I enclose the obligatory breakfast image above with the comment that the black pudding Wetherspoons use is very tasty, I wonder where they source it.

 

Nothing much more to report until the evening when I duly turned up for Griff’s do which is held once a month and which I really enjoyed. Griff is one of three excellent resident sound engineers who all hang out in the Wrotham, it really is that sort of a place. They all drink there even when they aren’t working. In addition, Griff and Brian are both excellent musicians and, amongst other projects, are half of a band called Snake Oil Trading Company who I look forward to seeing tomorrow afternoon as I write this in late October 2019.

I was offered an opportunity to do a few numbers but the truth is that I was pretty exhausted albeit I had done nothing much all day. I am not sure if it is the effects of my illness, the sea air, advancing old age or a combination of any or all of them but I do feel tired quite a lot and regularly take an afternoon doze. I did not actually need to do anything as there were plenty of willing volunteers including a drummer who can have been no more than about 12 sitting in with the house band and a very talented young lad singing and accompanying himself on keyboards who was not much older. I am constantly amazed at the quality and quantity of musical talent in this fairly small area and long may it continue. Obviously I did not have far to go to crash out and so ended another fairly quiet but very enjoyable day.

10th October.
Still not hot enough.

Again, very little to report on the 10th of the month which was another day in the Royal Pavilion in Ramsgate vainly trying to get this blog somewhere under a month in arrears. Yes, I was in a rut, yes, it is very boring reading which is why I am whizzing through it as quickly as I can and yes, it seemed to be doing me good or at least it wasn’t doing me any harm. The number of people that were telling me by then that I was looking so much better surprised me even though very few had thought to tell me I was looking awful when apparently I was. I suppose they were just being polite.

As to the tagline at the heading of this section, it is something of a double entendre in the proper and non smutty sense of the phrase. Firstly, the weather was certainly not hot enough for my liking and I was increasingly trying to work out how to get somewhere warmer that did not involve flying as the thrombosis ruled that out completely. Morocco and Turkey overland were both suggesting themselves and still are and the Lebanon has been a place I have wanted to visit for as long as I can remember but getting there overland at present might be difficult unless I go through Cyprus on ferries. I must look into that.

My usual Southerly migration to Asia is feasible at ground level but I’d like to leave such a major undertaking until I am in a more settled situation healthwise. By that I do not mean physically stronger although that is a consideration but moreso logistical matters like sourcing my medication, some of which I shall be taking for life, in far flung places. I am definitely not contemplating leaving UK until I am finished with the injections as the thought of taking relatively bulky syringes and sharps boxes through borders does not really appeal although I know it can be done. These are all things to be looked into and I have plenty of time.

Apart from the weather, the “before and after” images above should give you a clue as to the second part of the double entendre and that was a good old Ruby. UK readers will probably know what a Ruby is in this context but for others I should explain that a Ruby is rhyming slang for a curry deriving from Ruby Murray = curry. Ruby Murray was a famous singer and actress from the place of my birth and adolescence – Belfast. I am amazed and humbled when I occasionally check my stats page here and discover I have readers all over the world so thank you all so much and I shall attempt to explain any British colloquialisms as I go along but back to the Pavilion and my Ruby.

Every Wetherspoons in the country, which is over 1,000 outlets and increasing, has a “Curry Club” on a Thursday night and they boast in their promotional material that they are Britain’s biggest curry house that night of the week. Frankly, I can believe it. They have even gone so far as to have their own branded mango chutney produced for them which I do like as it is a little spicy and certainly stands comparison with any of the popular branded products. They rate their curries with chilli symbols from one chilli (mild) to five chillies (extremely hot) and I opted for the lamb madras which is the sole four chilli (very hot) offering and which I have enjoyed greatly before. As the image shows, each curry is served with naan bread, basmati rice and poppodum and I have tried most of the range which have all been very good. You can also add samosas and / or onion bhaji if this is not enough for you.

I like a fairly well spiced curry and even the milder ones are tasty without being volcanically hot although I have had some fairly lively offerings, specifically in Northeast Thailand and in my friend’s home in Sri Lanka. I will accept no argument, my dear friend Treshi makes the best curries on the planet bar none.
My beef madras is described on the menu and the attached website as “Tender pieces of diced beef, in a spiced tomato sauce, with onion, coconut, mustard seeds and chilli” and damned tasty it is too but what it is not is “hot, hot, hot” and I now have that irritating 1980’s disco song in my head having written that! I am in no way Mr. Asbestos Mouth as some of my mates seem to be, ordering ridiculous things like vindaloos and phalls in proper Asian restaurants where they really do mean hot when they say it but whilst this had a pleasant “afterburn” it was nothing like as hot as I can eat enjoyably. I certainly would not have put it at four on a five chilli scale. I think the “after image above says it all really.

I’ll take a break here as this post is getting a bit long and the next one will be another multiple where I take a trip to Canterbury and don’t do a single piece of sightseeing. If you want to find out what exactly I was doing, stay tuned and spread the word.

I can’t keep away – QEQM hospital again.

Entrance, QEQM hospital, Margate.
I know this door better than I know my own front door.

On the 17th September, I awoke after another excellent night’s sleep in my comfy bed in my quiet cosy room and I felt good. I knew I wanted to stay round Broadstairs and Thanet for a while as a) even getting a cab to and from the train stations at either end I was not sure if I was physically strong enough to hump all that luggage back to London and b) it is so much better an environment to aid recuperation. I was still a bit surprised as to how weak I felt but I suppose it is natural. Jackie was happy for me to stay more or less as long as I wanted so everything was set fair.

Unfortunately, there was still the problem of getting registered with a Doctor locally and getting repeat prescriptions etc. If you have not read the previous post here, I had been turned away from the local health centre despite several hospital Doctors telling me they were legally obliged to take me on. The simple fact of the matter was that I needed medication and my only option was to go back to A&E (ER) at the hospital albeit that I knew it was a ridiculous waste of the time of a Doctor already busy in an already over-stretched department. I queued up again, checked in and then sat down for the long wait with another large, good book. I was not too bothered by that as there were other people there obviously in need of much more urgent attention than me.

I was finally shown through to a small room to speak with the lovely Dr. de Giorgio who quizzed me about my current condition and wrote the script out in the matter of a few minutes. She also checked across the corridor where the door to the opposite consulting room was open and asked me if I could just say hello to her colleague, the Doctor who had initially admitted me what seemed like half a lifetime ago. Sure that was no problem until the Doctor explained that her colleague (whose name I still do not know) had spoken of me when I was admitted and said that it was a long time since she had seen anyone looking as ill as I had. I have a mirror in my room and I didn’t think I looked that bad but obviously so.

The Doctor also told me that her colleague had checked with my ward later the next day to check that the surgery had gone OK, just to be sure. I wonder if she does that for every patient she admits. Somehow I doubt it and it was a bit worrying albeit I only found after everything was sorted. Naturally I went to see the other Doctor and cracked a joke about rumours of my demise being greatly exaggerated. She said I was looking a lot better than I had been before and wished me well. Nice lady.

I know of a couple of pharmacists in Broadstairs but my friend had been telling me before how poor even the largest one was when she was trying to fill prescriptions and so I jumped on the Loop bus as I had topped up my weekly card. I reckoned that as Ramsgate was a larger place than Broadstairs I might have had a better chance of success. As it turned out that was a false hope and it was the Enaxoparin sodium syringes that were causing the problem. The first pharmacy did not have them and the second one which was the biggest in the town could only give me 20 of the 30 prescribed which would have meant a return trip so I did not bother as I had enough for the night and thought I might go to Margate the following day.

I was in Ramsgate and waiting for a bus back to Broadstairs and took a couple of images of the harbour although I do not really know why as I already have dozens from every angle and in every weather condition you can imagine. I just love the place and, as is my way, I am going to share a little factoid with you about it. It is the only Royal Harbour in the UK and received the designation in 1821 from King George IV, a German who used to embark here en route to Hanover. He was so pleased with the rapturous welcome he got from the townspeople that he granted the title and allowed his Royal Standard to be flown three times a year, a tradition that continues to this day.

Old Rover car seein in Ramsgate.
What a beauty.

I also took a quick image of the lovely Rover you can see above. I do not know if it is my imagination but there seem to be an awful lot of wonderful old cars around Thanet, I seem to see them everywhere. From the number plate I reckon this was registered in 1970.

I got the bus back to Broadstairs and, more in hope than in expectation, went into the local chemist clutching my prescription. A quick check and the young lady told me I was in luck and that they had everything I needed. Happy days.

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Yes, this is all for me!

I could not resist taking the image above which is my personal “medicine cabinet” on the mantlepiece in my room. Terrifying, isn’t it?

Cinelli Brothers Band at the Wrotham Arms, Broadstairs.
The Cinelli Brothers taken without flash! Honestly, you could see them.

The evening was taken up in the Wrotham where the excellent Cinelli Brothers Band were playing. The brothers are the drummer and the frontman with the hat who are London based Italians and the other two guys are British. They play really good basic blues and do it very well. You can have a look here to get an idea. They are also very friendly guys and I had a chat with a couple of them. Definitely recommended if you get chance to see them. I d not know how she does it but Jackie punches well above her weight with the quality of the music she puts on in what is a pretty small pub.

Having jabbed myself, filled up on various medications and dressed wounds I turned in for a few chapters of my book and another nights sleep.

I am still in Broadstairs writing this in October so if you want to know what I got up to whilst recovering please stay tuned and spread the word.

Vincent, half a breakfast, two gigs and back to bed.

I woke up well rested again early on the morning of Thursday 15th August and due to my late arrival from London it was already the penultimate day of the Festival and I felt as if I had barely started. I had a bit of time to spare so I decided to go for a look round Spencer Square where the hotel was as someone had told me that Vincent van Gogh once lived there. It did not take me long to find the appropriate blue plaque commemorating the fact on the wall of number 11 on the opposite side of the square. I love blue plaques as I find them are endlessly interesting.

A few doors along there was another blue plaque, this time erected by the Ramsgate Society commemorating the residence of one John Gibson Lockhart (1794-1854) who I had never heard of but was apparently editor of the Quarterly Review which I had similarly never heard of although internet research shows it was a journal published from 1809 -1967. It appears that Lockhart was more famous for being the son-in-law of the writer Sir Walter Scott. Not much of a claim to fame really and I think I may have an answer to why about every third building in Ramsgate “boasts” a local plaque and that is that Margate, just along the coast is exactly the same. Ramsgate and Margate have traditionally been rivals and are now competing for the tourist second home and retirement home markets amongst others and I think there is some one upmanship going on. Of course, I could be wrong and it would not be the first time.

I had not really eaten for a couple of days and so I took myself to the huge Royal Victoria Pavilion, a fairly new J.D. Wetherspoons venue (OPENED 2018) on the seafront adjacent to the Royal Harbour. It is their largest outlet by far and was the largest pub in the UK when it opened. Despite this, it has some very strange menu / drink choices and one of them impacted on me here. JDW do a number of variations on the theme of Eggs Benedict of which my favourite is Eggs Royale which substitutes salmon for the traditional ham yet this is the only Wetherspoons I know that does not offer it. Nor does it offer Strongbow cider although it is on the tabletop advertising blurb. I noticed another omission from the normal menu but I cannot recall what it is just now. I really do not understand the thinking.

Eggs Benedict it was then, beautifully cooked and served promptly and yet my ever-decreasing appetite did not even allow me to finish it, tasty as it was but at least it was some food in me and I took what was supposed to be a bit of an arty image of the beach through the window from where I was sitting. I have to say that the views from the Pavilion are stunning and there will be more in further posts in this series.

It is only a short walk to the bus and another one at the far end in Broadstairs and I was once again setting up with Paul for yet another playaround. Happy days and again there was a reasonable crowd for this late in the week. When this was over, Paul and Sue again took off somewhere and I decided to sit tight again as the afternoon act was another guy I know called Gabe so I settled in for that, again drinking little and still not feeling quite up to par.

Gabe often plays troubadour but on this occasion was backed by another guy I know and have jammed with called Jeff on bass and another couple of musos who I did not know. Gabe does a few of his own but predominantly covers and he does love James Taylor (who doesn’t?) so that got a good outing. For me, the highlight was when he got Bessie from the Dealers band up for a number, which you can see here. I am not sure if the Dealers are actually still a functioning unit but it was Bessie and a guy called Pierre and they were very, very good. I discovered them at Folk Week years ago. Don’t worry about the name, it is nothing to do with drug dealing but rather that they come from the town of Deal in Kent, simple as that!

Not long after the band had finished my ‘phone went and it was Paul asking me if I fancied joining him and Sue for a pint in the Magnet, another of the numerous micropubs in the area. As it is literally 50 yards up the road and in the direction I would eventually be going anyway, that seemed like a plan and so I said my goodbyes at the bar, picked up my guitar and moved onwards, ever onwards.

When I went into the Magnet I met quite a few people I knew as well as Sue and Paul so it was another round of handshakes and hugs all round. I suppose I should give you a quick rundown on the place which I first encountered many years ago as the Fish and Beer bar which was exactly what it was, a Belgian themed establishment with an open kitchen, limited but tasty menu and a great selection of great if expensive beers. It was owned by a guy who owned a quite upmarket fish restaurant in Ramsgate and he really did not have time to keep both projects going so he put it on the market and it was bought by my great friends John and Jo who I have known for years. They changed the name to Reef and carried on much in the same vein as before although over the several years they had it the food took a gradually less forward role but there was still a superb selection of interesting beers. In 2018 they were forced to close for a while as the cellar was flooded by a mains leak in the road outside and I was asked to play the re-opening night which I did with my dear friend Noel McAuley and we had a great night. Well, it was a great night until the point right at the end where I misjudged the relative positions of the bar stool I was playing on and the wall behind and with my final, “Thank you, goodnight” ringing in their ears the crowd were treated to me doing a not very graceful dying swan off the back of the stool, cracking my head on the wall and ending up with my legs in the air in an undignified heap but still clutching the miraculously undamaged guitar.

Thankfully there was no harm done except to my pride and I will eventually get round to writing up when I put together Broadstairs 2018 as a project here! Don’t hold your breath though.

I was introduced to Will, the new landlord, and his good lady, was made to feel most welcome and sat down for a bit of a chat and a catch up. I really had no intention of playing any more that day but, as my dear friend Suzi once remarked to me, “You are just a party waiting to happen”. There is undoubtedly more than a grain of truth in this as there is with most things she says and never moreso than when I am with Paul as we just seem to egg each other on.

Paul Lucas and Fergy Campbell at the Magnet micropub Broadstairs.
Paul and I doing what we love to do.

The original plan was that we would just go and sit in the “Musicians Corner” and play a few tunes and songs acoustically. Well, that was the plan anyway. Somehow it escalated into having one ambient mic just for a bit of poke although between my voice and Paul’s banjo we could fill that space three times over, it really is a micro micropub. As well as being a purveyor of fine alcoholic refreshment, Will is a card-carrying sound engineer and a very good one at that. His argument was why bother with one ambient when he had the full PA rig already deployed and ready to go and so we ended up as you see us above, fully stage rigged as we would be for a proper paid gig. Why not as I was still playing catch up to a degree and was relatively fresh despite my illness? Paul is just like the Duracell bunny, he never knows when to quit.

To make a long story short, we must have played another two hours and had a jolly old time. I know we attracted a bit of passing trade as people told us so later and were asking what our band name was etc. (we have never had one in all these years although Paul is currently in Shamrock Street and I played for years with the Northern Celts until the travelling made it impossible) and so everyone was happy. Will was getting a few £££ over the bar, we were having a ball and getting a few pints for our trouble and the punters seemed to enjoy it from their reaction and kind applause and the fact that they didn’t just walk out. What’s not to like?

I suppose we probably finished about 2100 and again I was feeling the pace so off for yet another early bed. This really was getting ridiculous.

Last day of Folk Week in the next post so stay tuned and spread the word.

First full day at Folk Week.

Wednesday 14th August arrived with reasonable weather but look at the skies told me that it was very possibly not going to remain that way, which indeed proved to be the case later on.

The very first thing I needed to do was to get one of these microcard things for my new camera as it was about as much use as a lawnmower on a submarine without it and so time to check the internet for a suitable outlet and here I encountered another small problem with the guesthouse that could have been solved so easily with a little thought. Spencer Court boasts wifi and it may well have it but it is password protected and the only place the lengthy alphanumeric password is displayed is in the entrance hall which meant I was either going to have to run downstairs, write it down and then go back up to my room or else lug my laptop downstairs and input it there. Not a major problem certainly but it surely would not be beyond the wit of man to put a simple notice somewhere in every room. Again, it is just indicative of how they could improve the guesthouse considerably with just a little thought and without spending too much money. I took the lazy way out used my ‘phone instead.

CeX entertainment exchange Ramsgate.
My technological saviour – at a price!

I discovered a place called CeX which was right in the middle of town and not far from where I had to catch my bus to Broadstairs and wandered along to the shop where I spoke to a very helpful young lady who produced a 64GB SDXC cartridge which is apparently what I needed for £12 as it was second hand. I suppose the name of the business, which is presumably a contraction of Computer Exchange or something, should have given me a clue. It didn’t bother me in the slightest and a subsequent check slightly annoyed me as apparently I could have got the exact one I was sold for £9:99 online or in a Curry’s store that actually stocks them! Slightly irritating but at least I was good to go then.

A quick bus journey and I was back in the George Inn and setting up with Paul for the day’s session which turned out to be another good one with a decent crowd. The numbers of players generally tend to decrease as the week progresses when people who cannot stay the whole week drift off home but it was pretty consistent this year so in the very unlikely event that any of you may read this blog at some point, thank you all so much for coming as there is not much point in having a playaround if there is nobody there to play around!

We played away as happy as sandboys and it was getting darker and darker outside which convinced me that my earlier weather forecast was going to prove to be correct as it began to pour and when I say pour I mean it, it was positively monsoonal. Regrettably for an event that is so weather dependent Folk Week seems to suffer more than it’s fair share of appalling weather and I have been there, sometimes camping which was no fun, in conditions that would not have disgraced SE Asia in the wet season. I had been told that on the Sunday night / Monday morning there had been heavy rains and winds approaching hurricane strengths. There had been weather warnings issued by the Met Office and I have it on good authority that 33 tents were completely wiped out on the official campsite.

Amongst the victims under canvas was my mate Ted Handley from the excellent folk band Triality who are three brothers featuring a slightly unusual line-up of bass, accordian and trumpet, work that one out if you can. They are all great friends of mine and have been playing Broadstairs even longer than I have! Ted had one of these huge family marquee affairs that you need a map and compass to navigate round and he was camping with the whole family and enough kit to service a battalion but when the portable palace blew down he had to borrow his brother’s much more modest four man tent which put somewhat of a damper on things.

I’ll let the images speak for themselves regarding the weather and it was partly because of this that I didn’t fancy moving far after we had finished but the main reason I wanted to stay was that the afternoon act was the Baggy Boys who I love. If you have never experienced the Baggies, as they are known to their fanatical following, it is going to be extremely hard to describe what they are as they defy all conventional band knowledge.

The Baggies official website lists eight members although at the gig I am reporting on here they were apologising profusely that one of the band had had to return home early and there were still eight of them. I’ll swear I have seen them playing with about 14 members although it was at a previous Folk Week and in the evening of a hard day so I may conceivably have been seeing double by then. Looking at the band onstage it appears that about half the band play electro-acoustic guitars and all playing the same chords (no Eagles style duetting here), there is a decent lead guitarist and the rhythm section consists of electric bass and a cajon drum in place of the conventional kit. Various other percussive instruments are swapped around within the band and often the audience as well.

All this sounds as if it must be total chaos and it can indeed get quite hilariously disorganised onstage occasionally but the cleverly thought out repertoire of crowd-pleasing singalong numbers, hugely amusing banter between numbers and a very obvious delight in what they are doing makes this one of the most unfailingly good time pub bands I have ever seen, if you ever get a chance you should really go and check them out.

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Dave getting down with the Baggy Boys.

You might wonder how such an unusual outfit came into being and, frankly, so am I. Every time you ask one of them, or indeed anyone who has ever been associated with them in any capacity, you will get a different answer. Either they do it deliberately to build up a bit of mystique or they genuinely cannot remember themselves. Having met them many times I reckon either hypothesis is equally likely. The lads played to a hugely appreciative audience including Dave, the pub “guv’nor”, who you can see above strutting his stuff on the tambourine behind the bar. Like every other landlord in town he loves them and they are never short of bookings during Folk Week. Like myself, they usually manage to blag a couple more impromptu ones when they are here just for the love of the thing and they really are the Martini band – “Anytime, any place, anywhere”.

If the origins of the band itself are somewhat shrouded in mystery there is a little less controversy about how they came to be playing at Folk Week. I have it on good authority that a few of the guys were down for the Festival purely as punters and obviously had their instruments with them. Fancying a bit of a jam (I know that feeling well) they approached Chrissy, the landlady of the Prince Albert pub, and asked if they could play a few tunes. Of course they could as Chrissy is a great one for live music and was a great supporter of Folk Week and it was full steam ahead. She enjoyed them so much she booked them on the spot for the next year with the full band. As always, in the interest of fair reporting, I should say that Chrissy and her partner are great friends of mine, I still see them regularly although not in the P.A. which was taken over by an outfit called the Craft Union Pub Company and got rid of my friends. They replaced them with a manageress who quickly alienated all the regulars, most of whom left and have not returned, and turned the upstairs manager’s accommodation into a clubhouse for a local outlaw motorcycle club! Unbelievable but true. She is gone now and apparently there was a decent couple in there next whose daughter now runs it well but I will never be across the door of it again. As for the Baggies, they played the next year, ate the place and the rest, as they say, is history.

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Paul One Love doing his thing in the George Inn, Broadstairs.

By early evening the weather was not as bad as it had been but still not great and I didn’t fancy trekking all the way up to St. Peter’s where Paul was trying to get some sort of a session together. I still was not feeling great, nothing I could put my finger on but just a general malaise and I certainly was not drinking a whole lot so I decided to stay put in the George as the evening act was anther guy I know called Paul Messenger. Paul’s stage name Paul One Love, which probably gives you an idea as to what kind of stuff he plays. Paul is a troubadour i.e. one man and his guitar and plays to backing tracks from a seriously state of the art backing track machine. I’ll swear NASA could launch rockets with that piece of kit. His set is all covers with a heavy emphasis on reggae and ska, particularly UB40 and Bob Marley. He is very good and has a large local following wherever he plays. Rumour has it that he is also an excellent cook but I have never been invited to dinner yet!

Paul is one of the hardest working musicians I know and he will do a three or three and a half hour set with one very short break, he really does give value for money. I watched most of it until it was time to go and get the last bus home as taxis are like hen’s teeth during the Festival. A couple more chapters of my book and it was sleepy time again in that rather comfortable bed.

Still another couple of days of the Festival to go and a bit of an adventure thereafter so stay tuned and spread the word.