First break of the year was a first visit to Harlech, famous for its castle.
Our trip in was quite an adventure- we had to change at Shrewsbury and found the monitor indicated the train to Harlech was cancelled. The service only runs every two hours! It was not long however until the service was reinstated. A little internet research with our Kindle revealed that the train had been cancelled from Birmingham to Shrewsbury due to lack of staff and had just run empty of passengers from Birmingham. Next the train just stood at Shrewbury- we discovered by talking to other passengers who joined the train late that it had been kept back in order to connect with their train in, which had been delayed at a level crossing in Ludlow. So we left Shrewsbury 20 minutes late. At Mach. the train divided with the front half due to go to Aberystwyth. Or not. This railway line (single track, two hourly service, isolated) has been chosen to trial a new European radio signalling system (ERTMS/ETCS) using GSM communications and axle counters instead of visible signalling and track circuits. The front train could not obtain permission to proceed, and so we waited. Finally the front train went on its way. But we couldn't. The single track to Towyn was by now occupied by another train heading our way and we had to wait for it to reach Mach. We finally left Mach 90 minutes late!
Harlech has a train every two hours and a bus at about the same frequency- the bus just runs South to Barmouth, so we did not expect to be travelling around too much. We spent our first three evenings walking along Harlech South beach - after that it got a bit cold and windy in the evenings. We were staying in a lovely modern bungalow immediately under Harlech Castle, which is perched on a large rock. Just by the main road were a handy convenience store, the bus stops, and the station. All very handy. The beach road went past and was about a kilometer walk to the beach. The Southern road to the castle was the easiest, only 25% (about 14 degrees), whilst the Northern road was a remarkably steep 40% (about 22 degrees or one in 2.5)- Ffordd Pen Llech (Slate Top Road?) - slightly steeper than the road near Rosedale Abbey we had previously met with. This twisty Harlech road is no longer available if you wish to drive UP the road and I think a downward drive would be hazardous. The direct pathway to the castle had been closed by CADW, who probably didn't want to employ an additional person to collect castle admission fees, although the sign said "closed for maintenance indefinitely". The current CADW leaflet for the castle fails to indicate when it is open or how much admission is and just says "visit our website" - so all tourists must have a smart phone. In lower Harlech where we were, 3G was not available and The Edge network was barely available. We just about got GPRS coverage. And the CADW web site is and was not fully functional- the details of their opening times and charges seems to have been removed. CADW publicity therefore gets zero out of 100 marks.
On Sunday we had an explore of the upper town, looking where the footpaths and shops were and visiting a lovely two acre hillside garden (Llyn Rhaeadr) open under the National Garden Scheme. In addition to the advertised days this is generally open from 2pm to 5pm, a telephone call will confirm. This represented some 20 years of landscaping work and was quite delightful. It is just beyond the pleasant Parc Bron-y-Graig, and most of the garden seems to have once been part of this long demolished estate. We discovered an ice cream shop - The Castle Creamery- with really good ice cream made on the premises, with such unusual flavours as Sea Buckthorn (very tasty indeed), Elderflower, Rhubarb and Mandarin and so on. There was a remarkable antique shop with some costly items and some real bargains- a Thornton slide rule for a tenner? Or some very good condition early 18th Century law books for only twenty pounds each.
Monday was Castle Day, there really is little more than you can see from outside, it seems that just a minimum of funds are being spent on this castle- it was obvious more had been open in the past from the signs. One of the main gate towers could be climbed for some good views. The adjacent Castle Hotel was closed and boarded. Apparently CADW have recently purchased the hotel, and are to develop the ground floor as a new Castle visitor centre and then (hopefully) spend some funds on the castle itself. The childrens playground where the mill pond used to be seems to have had all the play equipment removed. By comparison the CADW castle at Conway has had some serious conservation work on it, opening it out quite fully.
Tuesday was a long walk to the slate caverns at Cae Gethin, Llanfair - much more than the one mile indicated in their brochure, a full mile of the narrow main A road was without any footpath. Slate was produced for 33 years to 1906. After the caverns we caught the train back from Llandanwg - the platform so small that only the two central doors of the train were on the platform.
Wednesday was a walk along two circular routes- the first up to the fields on the hillside public footpaths, with great views of Portmeirion, and then an inner permissive route through high level woodland. Then on Thursday a walk as far as we could North along the beach, and on Friday, South along the beach. The total length of walkable beach was about a three hour walk, making the whole beach in both directions a gentle six hour walk plus any time for a rest. Typical occupancy of the beach in addition to ourselves was eleven people. Good sandy beach, clean water, but only the part by the one main entry point had any cleaning (classed as a green or rural beach), the Northern part had a remarkable collection of goodies- shells, fishing baskets, sheep skull, bottles, balls, tail end of a large black fish with spinal column, coconut... and there was an awfully large number of jellyfish.
The far South of the beach had a steep zig zag path exit, and there was a fairly hidden exit point between that and the main entry (which was marked with a red and white post), but North of that main entry there was no way on or off the beach. As we walked along in brilliant sunshine on Friday we saw a storm to the North - and later discovered that this had been a SNOW storm on Snowdon. Harlech seemed to escape the daytime storms on the hills, although we did have some heavy overnight rain. Apart from two or three drops we were not rained on at all.
Harlech may be a small town but has at least four times as many public conveniences as the City of Manchester, and unlike Manchester where the one loo closes at 7pm, at least one in Harlech was still open after 9pm. When the Council decided that they could no longer to keep the Swimming Pool open, the townsfolk took it over themselves. The local cinema is at the nearby College- two or three films a month. The older part of the college is an attractive building but it has been framed by quite ugly modern concrete (Harlech Theatre) and 60's high rise (halls of residence), with next door a large wreck of a hotel (St Davids - closed 2008) which had many window panes missing and in places seemed unstable.
Unfortunately eating out was not really a possibility unless you liked pizza or burgers or fancied paying a ransom (nearly forty pounds each) to eat at an odd establishment which served a set meal at a prescribed set time only - so the convenience store was a life saver. We had three bottles of local ale from the Purple Moose Brewery just up the road at Porthmadog (Snowdon Ale and Glaslyn Ale)- probably the best Welsh beer. Despite the hills we managed to put on a little weight. Freeview television did not seem to have many channels and I suspect we were not getting them all- all radio on Freeview was unusable.
Eating out at lunch time was easy and again we regularly ate at the Olive Branch, with a wide range of vegetarian foods and a couple of meat dishes for those unable to make it. Although they offer vegan dishes including a nice vegan ploughmans lunch!), they don't exactly think vegan as the vegan lunch is served with small containers of butter. Nice try though. None of their alcoholic drinks were vegetarian.
A typical days menu included Cream of carrot and sweetcorn soup, for meat eaters: Persian chicken with cashewnuts or Sausange cranberry and hazelnut pie. Vegetarian dishes were Leek and parsnip nut crumble, broccoli and mushroom cheese, butternut squash hotpot, Ratatooey with goats cheese, spicy chili beans; the quiche option was brie, sweetcorn and peppers. Then there were toasties, jacket potatoes, six salads, ploughmans lunch - and some very rich cakes and puddings. Plenty of gluten free options.
Pure Spirit on Old Street have a significant range of bottled beers and whiskies. They sell limited edition whiskies of great age, and even ice cider, which was new to me. Ludlow has its own distillery and you can buy local (and legal) brandy and eau de vie - as well as wine made with Ludlow grown grapes. Beer from both Hobsons and Ludlow Brewery is made with locally grown barley and hops (and both breweries beers all taste great).
We were staying in a fairly modern detached house this time round, right by the horseshoe weir on the River Teme (and next to a small industrial park with DIY store). Views from the bedrooms included the weir with swans, ducks and grey herons with Ludford Mill to the left and Ludford Bridge to the right. No DAB radio reception and fairly dodgy freeview reception- digital is just so unusable and lower reliability and quality than analog. This house came with a piano and a lovely grandfather clock. We could eat in the dining room, the kitchen, the back garden (totally enclosed and not overlooked), or the front balcony.
On Sunday we paid a return visit to Castle Lodge, a lovely old building which is almost ignored next to the castle, and seems to receive very few visitors even at three pounds a head. The future for this Grade II* mediaeval building is as ever precarious and a white knight is required to ensure its future preservation. We were very sad to find that severe illness had hit the household. If you are in town and the Open sign is on the door, be bold and take a look. And if you can think of a use for such a large old building that leaves the internal plaster, panelling and windows unchanged, take a look.
Sunday evening was the final day of the Ludlow Festival which involved a very very noisy concert in the Castle grounds- we did hear people who had been there complaining of buzzing in their ears afterwards, which represents damaged hearing. One reason we go to few entertainment venues these days, as health and safety is widely disregared with volume levels at levels to cause hearing loss. The grand finale fireworks seemed a little small but the grand finale burst was quite spectacular. Why do you need loud driving music when setting fireworks off???
On Monday we did the brewery tour, looking in on Ludlow Brewery, now located (for the last two months!) in the old railway goods shed, lovingly restored. They have a mash, a copper and three fermentation vessels (a 20 barrel brewing system), and currently produce five beers. They are very welcoming, open to sell beers, bags and mugs, and offer a cask and hand pump service for parties. From there we went back to Dinham Weir to look at the now completed "Mill on the Green" located in the old corn mill. The old iron foundry is now a large restaurant. And we may have located the site of a cottage where Shaw family ancestors lived, as we found an old photo showing three cottages to the right of the flour mill. This site was later occupied by a smimming baths but is now an open green. The corn mill sluices have been enabled again and a small electric generator is driven by the River Teme.
Walking around Ludlow should be easier, there is a lot of countryside, but major parts of it lack footpaths! We did find a walking book that headlined "ten walks from the town centre" but immediately came across "drive to the car park at xxx" which seemed to be cheating. We did manage to find our own circular walk from town, from Burway Bridge, first passing over a second bridge over a dried pond, this was the "boiling well" which gave its name to one of Ludlow Brewings beers. Rising water after rain gives an impression of boiling.
Then along Burway Lane, heading North West almost parallel to the A49. When Burway Lane turns North East there is a bridleway heading North West. The waymarking is pretty good in most parts and the path quite clear- but vegetation hides a few waymarks. Heading past Burway Farm on a bridleway (with a padlocked gate, tut tut) the Ordnance Survey list this as the Shropshire Way, but Shropshire think the return path to the South should be called that! After a while the path goes along a field boundary, taking a sharp right towards the A49 and then parallels the busy road in a strangely secluded green lane, joining the road near to Ludlow Food Centre (three kilometers from Ludlow, and really in Bromfield, but in these days of cars town names are applied without much care). The road passes over the River Onny on its way to join the Teme, and then passes to the left towards Oakley Park. Odd little church- let's look inside... jaws drop.
Every now and then you can be amazed by a building you stumble upon. Bromfield Parish Church is one to relish. The remnants of an 11th Century Religious House form the basis of the church, and the East end retains an 11th Century archway. The current tower (is it leaning?) dates to about 1200AD. Henry VIII had his tantrum, and the Priory was closed (1538) but the property became a great house which prevented its ruination. The chancel reverted to Parish Church use a century later. The nave roof was replaced in 1577, the oak looks so fresh and new that the date has been checked against the tree growth rings in the timber. A nave roof truss is dated 1658 which may refer to the reversion to the Parish of the chancel following fire damage to the domestic dwelling. In 1672 the chancel was painted all over- the ceiling painting remains and is quite astonishing. A Victorian restoration in 1890 saw the old dwelling house window in the chancel hidden with a rather Victorian-bling tryptych. Outside the remains of the property that kept the church intact seems to be in use as estate offices, whilst the Priory Gatehouse is a magnificant structure now used for holiday lets.
The weir on the Teme at Bromfield was under significant repair, this originally provided power for the Priory mills - could it be a water turbine is going in here? Down the estate road towards Priors Halton, taking the field path to the left before the farm. Diagonally across fields (well walked path through the crops) towards the wooded boundary then alongside the woodland edge (small detours into the woods to go over two bridges over streams) moving away from the woodland for the final downhill stretch to Dinham Bridge. Our only walk in the long grass and just those few minutes it rained!
We were only 18 miles from the home of the modern Olympic Movement, Much Wenlock, which has this year celebrated its 125th Games - slightly older than the other modern lot (who are celebrating something next year, and who are making our Government do sensible things like issuing coins weighing a kilogram and other nonsense).
Thursday was the local farm market in market square, and we really looked forward to purchasing goods from an advertised vegetarian stall, but they were not there. So we went to church and climbed the many stairs up the tower to see the significant views over Ludlow and surrounds. I had thought the church bells sounded different since our last visit (at that time a number of bells did not seem to be striking and were in need of attention) - yep. The original tenor bell has gone completely, several bells have been recast lighter, and three higher bells added, giving a ring of ten bells and a 13 bell carillon. The overall effect is of a less sonorous and higher pitched ring. The church organist advised that the bells were in absolute perfect pitch to the fifth harmonic. I'm not sure I like 100% perfect pitch in all harmonics, it isn't natural. A carillon may be best with equal temperament but bell ringing is much improved with unequal temperament (eg the bells can be up to 15 cycles off equal temperament frequency). The carillon keyboard we saw last time had gone- now replaced with a modern digital midi socket which any midi keyboard can be plugged into either to input a new tune for the carillon to play, or to play the carillon "live". The newly hung carillon is now remarkably quiet. We also had early warning that this fine old church is to be "re-ordered" which is church-speak for turning a traditional looking church into a barren cafe-lookalike to "make its space more flexible and friendly" (compare Manchester Cathedral to St Anns Church Manchester to see the difference. The Cathedral is re-ordered). Get to St Lawrence Ludlow now while it still looks like a church!
Friday was our return visit to the Castle at Ludlow, still privately owned and remarkably whole and intact - it feels that it would take very little work (like a few new floors and ceilings, some furnishings, electric??) and the castle could become a huge bustling home/estate again. The garderobes (old style waste disposal system!) were built with nice windows for you to look at the river from. Trifle cold in Winter of course. Lots of history at this site, and climb the Gatehouse Tower for great views. Hmm- that caravan park near Dinham wasn't there last time. What is Ludlow coming to?
The Costa Coffee on King Street was fought against and was still put there, and adds nothing at all to the town with its inappropriate use of colour and modern design right in the heart of the old town. The plans for an upward and outward extension to the building with five new apartments having access only by the footpath alongside the ancient church was fought- and Government over-riding order approved it. Building materials to be taken in and out of the building site BY HAND. Five new flats having an only exit onto a narrow constrained footpath and no parking. Planning rules? Ludlow may not want to be (or can afford to be) a living museum, but they are destroying national heritage.
===End of Holiday Section===
We start the year moving our active web site to a new ISP, who is supplying us with broadband - more costly than our previous ISP offered, but a much superior service and worth every penny. The move went much better than I had thought, and within a week or so our new pages were ranking highly on Google. Getting all the web sites that referred to us to amend their links was much harder, especially DMOZ (now ODP). In one category an email to the ODP category editor yielded some movement, but there is nothing you can do with a category where there is no longer an editor (except volunteer...).
Our first connection with the Moomins was a BBC TV childrens program, followed by reading the books. Although shown as a childrens tv program, some episodes are quite dark and anarchic. The books even more so, with some of them more suitable for older folk. In January I just managed to get in a visit to Bury Art Gallery for an exhibition about to finish, of original art work by the Moomin creator. Splendid. And I saw some books of the cartoon strip series which had been written for an English newspaper- and have now bought a couple of those.
January seen off in fine style with a couple of concerts- on Sunday 30th, a 2.30pm concert in Manchester by the Venezuelan Brass Ensemble, a sixty strong group. Every seat of the large Bridgewater Hall was sold. Great concert with the major works being the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and Mussourgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, each preceded by a minor work. Then four encores - they could possibly have been more but the hall management had put the house lights up and had started removing instruments from the stage while the band played! Recorded by the BBC and for some reason not broadcast as a concert but split up over two days on Radio 3 and another day on Radio 2. One of the best concerts of the year perhaps.
The following day - 31st January- off to Stockport Town Hall for an hour with Nigel Ogden playing the Wurlitzer. While he was driving to Stockport, Nigel heard on the radio that composer John Barry had died the previous day - and he gave probaby the first memorial live recital of Barry's music, without any sheet music, just from memory.
February saw the first beer festival of the year, at the lovely Railway on Portwood in Stockport. Our local council seem to have agreed to CPO the pub for demolition for a new Sainsburies- stopped shopping there- although no planning permission seems to have been applied for yet. The pub is an excellent one with a bar billiards table (played from one side, closer to bagatelle than snooker), accoustic guitars to strum, an excellent collection of whiskies (Scots and Irish), a book corner - and some delightful beers. The weekend had beer festivals also at Chinley and Derby, but we missed those.
Our Canon colour printer died, not due to mechanical malfunction, but because Canon had stopped making ink cartridges for it, and whilst we could still buy expensive original ink cartidges for the printer, these were so old they did not work at all. So back to our original printer- an Epson FX-80 dot matrix, now 26 years old and unused for some years. It printed perfectly immediately. And we can still buy ribbons for it. As we can no longer buy printers for our relic W98 PC nor for our TI99/4A computer, the longevity of this Epson workhorse is much appreciated. The problem lies with our Linux installations, as Linux applications output to printer in PostScript format. You can print to an FX-80 in the much slower graphics mode from Linux applications, but printing as text to a text printer requires a console based routine.
March and we are missing the black pea stall at Ashton Market, not there in January or February - so a train ride to Stalybridge Station Buffet for a bowl of black peas. And some real ales. Stalybridge station is not close to the town, and now has a very limited train service, just three trains an hour, two from Manchester Victoria and one from Manchester Piccadilly. Each time a train pulled in, scores of people flooded into the buffet - they could have bought their keg lager anywhere, but the black peas were a clear draw. A very busy pub.
An early March piano recital in Stockport by our local composer / arranger / pianist / organist, Christopher Cotton, at St Peters Church in Stockport. I recorded the recital for Chris, and got a pretty good recording - the piano was basically a good 2/3 grand, but there were mechanical problems which Chris had to fight.
A subsequent piano recital at St Anns in Manchester by RNCM students reminded me why we had stopped going to these. Bach at ffff (thump thump thump) is not to my taste- apparently modern pianos have quite a resistant keyboard requiring heavy playing, compared to older well maintained concert pianos which would yield a gentle sound when you caressed the keys (but possibly required more maintenance??). Today's students have no opportunity to learn to play the piano gently. Modern trends in most musical instruments appear to be towards more volume and less subtlety. This provides a good incentive to seek out the older recordings from the 40s and 50s.
Mid march for a service at Manchester Cathedral at which organist Ronald Frost was installed as Lay Canon to serve the Greater Chapter. He was shown his allocated stall (eg installed) in the Quire (where the Choir may sing) in the Cathedral. One of those administrative legal services that Cathedrals seem to do so well.
We still go as often as we can to the lunchtime recitals at St Anns, usually given by Canon Frost. The Milapfest series of Indian music concerts recommenced with an interesting percussion special- a classical solo on the clay pot for example, and also our first classical solo on the mersing - the Indian form of the Jaw harp. We have discovered - at the end of the season- a season of concerts given by Salford University at the Salford church of St Philip. We immediately identified this as a twin of Stockport St Thomas, both being paid for from the same grant at the same period. St Philip still has an attractive tracker action organ, with a fine champion in organist Jonathan Scott. We popped into nearby Salford Cathedral- very white, rather bereft, not my style at all. And found a remarkable pub near the (soon to be closed?) Salford Magistrates Courts with some interesting beer.
March was another Memorabilia meet at Birmingham's NEC. Discovered that one of the organisors was the man behind Wolf 359's Babylon 5 conventions in 1995-1997. Quite a legend to the UK fans and the whole cast of B5. Met with Ron Moody, a real gentleman, who did a sketch style autograph for me. Also Sheila Steafel, there with her son who has quite a resemblance. Bought her autobiography. John Carson and Linda Hayden were there- John and Linda were together in the Blood of Dracula but did not share a scene together. John volunteered a story from the film set regarding Madeline Smith. Sheila Steafel and Linda were together in Linda's first movie, but current UK law made it difficult to take a still from that film for Linda to sign without a serious risk of trouble, due to Linda's age at the time. That's why I went for her second film! I did get a joint autograph from John Carson and Jennie Lindon who were together in an episode of The Champions. No DVDs to buy anymore, but I did get a small number of books including two by (and from) Robin Price - publisher is Mogzilla Books. He insisted he wasn't left of centre (politically) but I disagree. Our political graduate friends have concluded that the UK government since 1979 has successfully rewritten the language so that no-one is working class or socialist anymore, whatever they believe in.
The end of March saw the annual open brass contest at Dukinfield with many bands playing many numbers - nothing played perfectly this time, and rather too much emphasis on pure noise rather than subtlety. I can do without hearing again mass cornets having the valves rapidly fanned at full volume. Still an interesting days music.
A lovely concert of music on the harp and flute and then following that on another day, an unusual concert on an electronic accordion - an ordinary instrument with the reed sound extended with electronic voices. Different. A new season of Brass Band concerts in the bandstand at Buxton. Other towns (eg Stockport) have spent a fortune rebuilding bandstands but then do nothing with them. Buxton park is always well used in dry weather and the brass bands are somehow a very English entertainment.
Our first beer festival of the year, a new one at New Mills, very civilised and appreciated, although they could have done with a few more visitors. There were some very nice beers on offer.
At last in April the Bury Black Pudding stall reappears at Ashton market- the reason it was not there was the couple who ran it have moved to Australia. The young man who has taken it on is doing his best to offer the traditional black peas, but he had not met with them before buying the stall- there is no on-going tradition. We tried them again in May- and learned they were using pigeon peas from a pet shop - not necesarily food grade peas. Also black peas should not actively froth up when served, like ice cream soda, therefore they went into the waste bin and we won't be buying them there again. Another local tradition dies. That just leaves Staleybridge Station Buffet to buy good black peas.
A new stall this month, a vegetarian stall which is part of a collective- with related stalls at many other farmers markets. The cook is hoping to run a vegetarian festival in Chorlton in October which will be good if it goes ahead. Nice vege food on sale too.
Good Friday saw some lovely weather, unlike last year, and we were able to make our pilgrimage to Ramsbottom, travelling there by bus, modern tram, and steam engine (on the East Lancashire Railway). After a period of dry weather, this year we were able to make our way to the cairn on the little hill on the track to the Pilgrims Cross which was farther on. This cross has long since gone but there is an obelisk there now still awaiting our first visit. The site of the cross goes back farther than the 12th Century and probably marks a route to Whalley Abbey. We did discover and enjoy a nice bottle conditioned beer brewed by Outstanding, and exclusively on sale on the trains, called East Lancashire Railway Ale.
The much looked forward to 2011 Buxton Brass Festival never happened. Cancelled with just six working days notice. Apparently less than 20 bands entered and then some who had, dropped out. A sorry follow on to 2010 when there were 33 bands. Contesting seems to be suffering from lack of funds. So much harder to have another contest in 2012, although they have bravely booked a date for it.
We managed to time a Spring visit to Etherow Park at absolutely the best time to see the carpets of bluebells, a purply blue shimmer over vast areas. Cameras - film or digital- simply cannot pick up the colour that our eyes see, stretching far beyond blue into the UV range. Unfortunately the park cafe is operated by the same organisation that runs all Stockports museum and park cafes (and an incredibly loud music stand wherever they can), with a service best described as inadequate. All large museums and art galleries everywhere seem to cater very badly for their visitors. We called in for a cup of tea but given the slow service and the use of paper cups for costly hot water and a tea bag instead went to a local pub where the beer was well chilled (most American and not at all to our taste).
A local election is coming up - and a standing councilor seems to be proud to have the area full of drunkards, indicating pleasure at the number of rowdy venues selling alcohol. Very strange. Although there seems to be a chance that they could lose their seat this time, the opposition is simply not trying, we have heard nothing from them at all. With a chance the town hall could be ruled by a different party next week- and biting local service cuts- no-one seems interested. Result - A low turn out- and the councilor proud of alcohol is out of office, and the town hall is now led by a minority party. Based on who couldn't be bothered getting out of the house to vote.
We have taken our boom-box style CD-radio-tape players out of use in favour of new smaller DAB+FM radios which have an auxiliary input socket for eg mp3 players or portable CD players. The cheapest is a Denver from Ohlson, which has a headphone socket that is too noisy to use (extreme processor noise) but has an alarm function - but failed completely after just three weeks. No problem obtaining a refund. The other is a Roberts solar - the solar panel won't run the radio but in direct sunlight can recharge the batteries. Both use AA batteries which are inexpensive and easily recharged. We even bought some of the latest AA nimh batteries from a supermarket at 80% off. I didn't fancy one brand of fancy expensive DAB radio with a specialist battery which would cost GBP 25 to replace, and was unlikely to last as long (in lifetime) as a new-style nimh battery - assuming a replacement was available when you needed it.
Another beer festival- at Barrow Hill Roundhouse. Lots of beers, ride a steam hauled train all day, listen to the brass band (Ashover) - very civilised. No outstanding beers (but one I couldn't drink!). But plenty of drinkable beers, and a rare ginger ale in cask (Teacup at ABV 4 percent)).
Back at the Bridgewater Hall, a very pleasant wind quintet - Dolce Cinque, playing a lovely range of music very well. Recommended. Then another smaller beer festival at the local, The Nursery Inn, with just 15 beers to choose from. Very well kept and all drinkable, just nothing at championship level. The one we had twice was Goldblade. Indian music at Milapfest- Sitar and Sarod - the sarod player was very into his music, highly amplified, played quickly- not unlike heavy metal rock...
Something different, Robert Suddall at the Wurlitzer playing the music he likes best- light jazz, some Turkish pop, and a light piece he wrote himself. Another unusual concert, extremely pleasant, a duet of accorion and clarinet by David Vernon and Dick Lee at Stockport Accordion Club, really lovely music. Another beer festival! The 25th at Stockport, where you can buy beers in 1/3 pint measures, allowing you to try many more. Nothing extra special - the ones we REALLY wanted to try weren't available of course. Then a break in Harlech - see top of page.
Social comment- in Manchester the men seem to be leaving urinals unused and queue to stand up in cubicles. This seems fairly new, and not seen anywhere else.
Bad weather caused us to miss the appearance of the Fairey brass band at a Marple pub, the Ring O Bells.
Whit Friday, North Western brass band red letter day- contests all around Tameside and Oldham areas, with torrential rain forecast from 4pm to 4am, it turned out to be merely drizzle, but enough to keep us back from the bands. Still we returned to Dukinfield and enjoyed 43 out of the 49 bands who played there- we missed the others by having to catch a bus home. And again we missed the Northop band who seem to leave it til last. We also missed the one overseas band at Dukinfield (from Norway) - no purely for fun bands at Dukinfield this year- many major bands were enticed by the higher prize money in Saddleworth, and were happy to wait around for an hour or so at each venue, instead of coming to Dukinfield where I think the largest number of waiting bands at one time was three.
For comparison, Tameside had 76 bands in total, the busiest venue was Dukinfield with 49 bands. Sadleworth area had 115 bands, with 82 bands at Delph- how did they do it? Thats about 5 minutes per band including getting in and out (assuming playing from start to last sign in, but once signed in bands could play later : there is no record of last playing time but there WAS music at 11.45pm!) - Delph has both marching AND static elements.
At Tameside it was a head to head between Fairey and Foden- and this year Foden won Tameside for the 9th time out of ten, by just one point. Fairey did not play Dukinfield until about 8pm and were possibly a little played out by then. Foden somewhat barged into Dukinfield and played before the start time and the traditional first band (Ashton) and were not placed in Dukinfield where the first band was an upcoming Jaguar Landrover Band.
The Reddish Prize Band appeared with an odd name on the board- researching this has led us to discover that they have a concert at the end of July. They are now the Reddish Safestore Band.
This was a busy musical weekend, as on Saturday morning we went to the Plaza for some music on their lovely Compton Theatre organ, which sounded better than ever, a lovely sound, and some excellent organists. Then a dash for an afternoon concert in Manchester on the santoor (a 100 string form of the hammered dulcimer) which was on the short side (and curiously lacking in Indians in the audience - it is an Indian instrument) but involved intensive and excellent playing.
Sunday was a brass band concert at the Ring o Bells in Marple- listed at Glossop Old Band, who we had seen playing at Dukinfield on the Friday, and there learned that they were not able to play Marple and Tintwistle would be standing in for them. And so they were, and very pleasant brass band music too. And Fairey had left some 2011 calendars behind when they were there the previous week, so we now have a set of prints of the photographs taken in our presence at the Plaza Theatre in Stockport last year (without the use of flash).
On Monday the pupils of Chethams School of Music had a short recital at Manchester Cathedral, which was very pleasant- three soloists, violin, cello and flute. The violinist is co-principal of the Childrens Youth Orchestra and has a long performing history behind her and probably one ahead too. Tuesday was our usual organ recital at St Ann's Church and then I went to the Cathedral again Wednesday- this time there was only one recitalist who did something with a piano.
I have already noted the style of piano playing taught at the RNCM, it appears that Chethams follow the same route, treating the piano as an instrument of torture, to be approached with extreme brutality and violence, using maximum percussive force. I think of the horrible damage jazz pianist Keith Emmerson did to his hands and then see a 14 year old using far more violence on a piano, and wonder. It seems more self harm than music. I had to leave half way into the first number and won't be going to any recitals of pianists taught in Manchester. Perhaps it is the local culture?
A few months back I found that a book I treasure, that is out of copyright, was not on the internet and started to scan it and put it online. Wondering at the total lack of visitors I find another web site is now putting the same content online (fair enough) but without acknowledging the original source, claiming original copyright to themselves, rearranging paragraphs, putting a couple of paragraphs on each web page without a linked context. The same content on multiple pages, poor layout and some bad transcribing errors. Desperately misusing Google's algorithms to obtain visitors. Guess I needn't bother proceeding as no-one will ever visit my efforts now. I won't cheat.
And so we come to the 30th anniversary of the death of a British author, Frances George Rayer, unmarked and with little of his work now in print- just some second hand copies around. His writings deserve collection and republication. I did try to negotiate to put his work online to mark the anniversary, but although contact was made, there was no negotiation, no interest. Copyright will subsist for another 20 years by which time the works available will have dwindled even more. Copyright is not always in the interests of creative works.
Still in June, a brief visit to the Star Inn in Glossop for a minor beer festival, lovely local pub just a few seconds from the railway station. Then we enjoyed a concert by Poynton Band at Woodley Methodist Church - it has been some years since we last heard this band. They were not able to play on Whit Friday due to not having enough players available- but the player we spoke to had helped out with another band and so had not missed the event. Before month end we had a concert by the SSO (rather a restless audience tnight, but then again Mahler is not for everyone) and a lunchtime Wurlitzer organ recital at Stockport Town Hall - lovely music but the audience was a bit too lively, lots of heavy foot tapping on a suspended ballroom floor can be very distracting.
For July, we took advantage of a special one-off that we discovered whilst visiting the Ring O Bells the previous week. Normally you could easily spend ten pounds on a two and a half hour canal cruise. For the first weekend in July, the Ring O Bells narrow boat was taking a long cruise, seven and a half hours, including three half hour stops for a mere eight pounds, far too good to miss. So off we went, stopping off at Poynton, Adlington Basin (actually at Wood Ends and not especially close to Adlington), and Bollington, on the longest boat on the system, a 72 footer (the locks are only 75 feet long) previously used at Llangollen and Lancaster canals. On the outward journey there were just ten of us, so plenty of room, and especially for the return party (who had chartered the boat) there were two polypins of bottle conditioned Buxton Brewery beer which we enjoyed- normally the boat bar only has smooth flow keg beer.
The following day it was back to the canals for the Marple Locks Canal Festival, with activities mostly between locks 1 and 4, and stands in the canal-side Memorial Park. There was a horse drawn 200 year old wooden hulled boat, plus the Ring o Bells boat took passengers from lock 1 to lock 4 and then from lock 4 to lock 8 (that's one hour to go through 4 locks). Robinsons Brewery (who supply the Ring o Bells pub) had a trainee dray horses present- the current active horse had been out the day before and as he is getting on a bit was taking a rest. This was the first public event for this young horse, not yet topping 18 hands, who at age three was not considered fully broken. He still had another two years training before he could pull the brewery dray (no longer used for deliveries but for show only - however the brewery takes its heritage seriously and is building new stables). After four hours of brushing his coat looked magnificent.
We walked down to lock 4 and then back up to lock top lock, 16, for another Sunday brass band concert at the Ring o Bells. We had a pleasant meal at the pub. With the canalside event and a lovely sunny day, the beer garden was extremely full. The band was Marple Band, a local band of great merit, who played very well, with our landlord playing trombone- indeed today Mark had four or five jobs- accredited boatmaster for the boat, freehouse landlord (the boat), barman at tied pub(serving at the pub, I think his wife is technically the landlord), concert organiser, and trombone player. In one day. Phew. Makes me feel guilty.
In July we have enjoyed a recital by the Scott brothers on piano, a look around St Elisabeths Church in Reddish, which remains something of a one off architecturally; organ recitals at St Ann's Manchester; and a return to St Elisabeths Reddish for a rare brass band concert.
The Reddish Safestore Band (Reddish Prize Band) gave one of their quite rare concerts- their first return to this church of their birth for 20 years. A superb concert in a building with good accoustics. The band was helped out by brass players from a number of bands (Fodens, Pemberton, Oughtibridge, Stockport Silver, Poynton and others). The fairly new MD Michael Edge was a former brass band percussionist who is working on bringing the band back up to the numbers and playing levels of the past. His brother in law had played with the band on Whit Friday, Darroll Barry who has composed or arranged hundreds of pieces of brass band music. His father (in law?) Peter Edge (was he at the concert on cornet?) has a place in history which seems almost unknown.
There is one piece of brass music which is quite well known now- thanks to a little film called Brassed Off, made in 1996. Somewhat before that a nice piece of classical music was transcribed and arranged for flugel horn specifically for Peter Edge by the conductor of the band he was then with, and the piece was recorded by the band. Unfortunately it was an arrangement of music which was still in copyright and the original composer was not approached (and would probably not have consented anyway) so the arrangement has never been published and exists only in manuscript (probably by now computer owning brass players have made their own nicely printed copies). The work has widely been considered (wrongly) to be an old out of copyright one, and the arranger Kevin Bolton was by no means alone in making this erroneous assumption. He is a reputable bandsman. The film makers came to an arrangement with the original composer which covered Brassed Off so that Gloria could have her triumph in the band room (with convincing fingering by Tara Fitzgerald). The arranger probably never received a penny. Such are the complexities and injustices of copyright.
The following day back to the Ring o Bells in Marple for a concert by the Hazel Grove Band - fourth section champions. They played a Beatles number (Something) arranged by Darroll Barry (see above!). Keeping the link to Saturdays concert, Hazel Grove also played a piece by Dennis Wilby- his portrait was seen in the film Brassed Off hanging in the bandroom. He was formerly a Grimethorpe (=Grimley) Band conductor. Hazel Grove also had some guest players- one from Stavanger in Norway, and one from a Swiss village whose name I didn't catch. We saw a Fairey tie in there, and another band tie we didnt identify.
On 9th August we had a concert in Manchester at St Anns Church, and caught the bus at 5.40pm, with no indications that there were any problems in town.
Purely by accident we were at the centre of riotous behaviour.
We got into Manchester at 6.15pm to find uncountable numbers of police in full Robocop riot gear watching a growing number of young people, took advice and left Manchester.
Cathy was not intimidated by the crowds- it was the police. (As intended of course, but the massing mob just ignored them).
As we left Manchester, it was clear that the bus services had just been shut down - we caught the 6.38 train out. By 7pm it was announced by Stagecoach that there were no buses or trams in the City centre, long distance coaches were not stopping at Manchester and by 9pm the entire tram service had been closed down.
The Manchester rioters comprised two groups- some came to cause damage, most others took advantage of the damage to take goods. The damage was probably more than twice the value of the goods taken - in the major shops the glass was smashed but held and entry was not possible. Why risk a criminal record and prison to loot sandwich shops, doughnut shops, newsagents, pound bargain stores, health food shops? Manchester had some very young looters - youngest identified being just nine.
Some were well brought up and should have known better - two undergraduates now in prison. Complete lack of consequential thinking and lack of personal responsibility.
A lot of people rushing around and looking for an opportunity to take something. Anything. Most of the court cases involve low value goods.
The biggest store (Foot Asylum) had its glass smashed by a 19 year old who took nothing (now doing time)- unlike the 100 looters who used the opening.
There was a graphic image of a big name boutique store having clothes taken off mannequins by easily identified girls- who had previously posed party fashion- the girls were 13 and 14 and now have referral orders.
Teens and twenties had great fun in trashing the shops and looting them. Their faces said it all- it was a party. It was rather a slow and wide spread riot (eg not organised). First time I've seen police horses with riot shields for their eyes. Subsequent comment has been on those brought before the courts, and has largely ignored the fact that the police picked up the easy targets- the known minor criminals, and the ignorant first time offending youth. Analysis of court cases was not appropriate to make decisions on which sections of the community had been on the streets - it was only a measure of the easy cases.
There is a growing urban myth, supported by politicians, that the rioters were young repeat offenders. Thankfuly the initital racist element of blame has quickly faded. The myth is based upon the court appearances. The court appearances are based upon how easy it was to identify these groups- youngsters handed in by their parents; and people the police knew well. The other 85% are not in the statistics as the police have not done so well outside the easy categories. But our politicians are basing their simple thoughts on the 15% of easy catches. Hmmm.
This was the anniversary date of the Peterloo Massacre. On the way we were stopped for a vox pop interview by Peoples Voice Media (a Manchester charity) - the interviewer (Keith Dewsnup) was surprised at our knowledge of Peterloo - as he was demonstrating the LACK of public knowledge of Peterloo I don't expect the clip to appear anywhere.
We are still enjoying our beer. Robinsons seem to be varying the recipe for their Mild, but in a direction we approve of. Hydes stopped making their Mild in Spring, although all their beers are relatively mild- their 1863 bitter used to be called Best Mild. Hydes Original Bitter was on top form recently, hints of apples and pears. We now have a bottle shop in Stockport Market- recent purchases include a recreation of the ale from Northgate Brewery - I recall the smell of the mash from there when they were brewing as we visited Grosvenor Park some decades ago. We also bought some beer at Ashton Market from a new brewery in Barnsley (Two Roses). Their Stout was very pleasant. We don't entirely support the current fashion against "boring brown beers" in favour of either blonde citrussy beer OR artificially darkened dark black coffee hop and added-caramel beers.
Another concert at the Ring O Bells in Marple, the last this season, was by Besses O Th Barn - they had badges, pens, books and mugs for sale but no CDs. My last recording by them is on vinyl.
Another small pub beer festival, at the White Lion in Disley- I really do not like beer in a plastic glass, so we mostly drank the excellent beer on the handpumps in the bar, from glass glasses. They keep their beer in excellent form, so no real excuse for using plastic glasses for the festival beer. Go and drink in the bar and avoid the beer festivals.
A new stall in Stockport covered market has a large range of bottled beer- first major bottled beer supplier in the town centre so we wish him well. The covered market is not open daily which allows a one man operation time to tour the breweries to find new beers.
Pretty wet and cold weather this year has caused us to avoid most of the brass band events held outdoors. Not a good year for brass bands at all. Heritage Weekend in Greater Manchester was a demonstration that the heritage concept is dead, or Greater Manchester is doing a great job of pretending to have no history and no heritage. Of course it does! But secretly. On the Saturday the best we could manage was three churches in Ashton - and one of those was not really qualified for its listing.
Ashton Parish Church was well worth a visit, for the unusual pulpit in the centre of the nave (unfortunately hardly used now- they have moved with the times and also moved the altar away from the East wall), and a lovely organ recital - the organ - frequently badly neglected in the past- may still have some 16th century pipework. The Parish Church also has fine glass from around 1500 (1460-1517), saved from destruction during the Commonwealth by someone called Fairfax, but reduced by fire and subsequent dereliction.
One prize set of 16th century glass celebrates the local Assheton family - possibly the only church window to celebrate alchemy, whilst another set of glass about Saint Helen celebrates not merely miracles but also magic. One scene shows the council at Nicaea - about 324. The creed produced there (The Creed if Nicaea) introduced the "being of one substance" wording, contained some hefty curses- and was the source of the Nicene Creed (in amended form around 450) which virtually defines the majority of Christian belief. The council of 324 seems not to have been a real meeting of minds (and had a low turnout from the Western arm of the Church), but was rather the forced imposition of a statement, apparently put together by Constantine for political reasons; he was a British warrior born in York, who saw the sword as the tool of choice. Anyone daft enough to disagree was not well treated and the victor wrote the history. Only very recently have older alternative records been uncovered.
Then across the huge roundabout to Albion URC, a very large former Congregational church where we also heard good organ music on a rare Lewis organ. They have an immense pre-raphaelite East window and lots and lots of William Morris glass by Edward Burne-Jones. It is odd to see the male saints who seem to have been modelled by the well known pre-raphaelite female models.
The changes in the Church of England at the reformation are quickly and widely being undone- communion tables were ordered to be placed alongside the East wall and are now being moved out, sometimes to the centre of the chancel, sometimes to the nave. It was ordered that churches have pulpits, these are beginning to disappear. The simple cassock and surplice are being replaced with fancier dress. Internally coloured statues, service bells, candles, and images are multiplying. Often your only choice of service is now communion, quite often called Mass. One church has had a Latin mass. One has a modern plaque enjoining "pray for the soul of" a benefactor. And churches are closing.
Sunday we returned to Victoria Baths and the Gaskell House. Probably worth leaving it a few years before returning to either again as lack of funding means renovation progress is painfully slow. Just as the Gaskell House finished 750k work on the outside, vandals struck and removed the roofing, with heavy rain then damaging the ceilings and giving rise to anxiety regarding a return of the wood rot which had just been dealt with. The additional roof work and inside work is well over the 2M mark.
We hardly use our telephone landline at all, but we regularly receive marketing calls from companies acting as agents for companies we have dealt with in the past. We are registered with TPS and now don't give our number out- our details have been abused by financial companies who were told we did not want marketing calls. We get about twenty marketing calls for each genuine call, so now don't answer at all. Ofcom are supposed to deal with this anti-social abuse but have no real interest. The biggest abusers are the telecommunications companies themselves, encouraging people to stop giving out contact details to any company. None can be trusted.
The first concert of the Milapfest season of Indian music in Manchester was the Indian classical ensemble Tarang. The concert was mentioned on over thirty web sites, and attracted an audience of under thirty. Ensemble playing is not common in Indian music - and in actuality, the seven musicians (sitar, veena, vocalist, two violins, two tabla) were playing rather more in duets than the ensemble form known in the west. Most of Manchester missed some good music. As Milapfest receive funding for their Liverpool concerts (which are consequently free) but not for Manchester, their future in Manchester must be in doubt unless they start to receive more support.
We enjoyed a good piano duet recital by the Scott Brothers- playing two giant pianos. Then on to - another beer festival held in a pub, this time the Old Hall Inn in Chinley- 16th Century core, they have just bought the pub across the road in order to extend their kitchen, but will retain the pub as a pub. We would have liked one of their splendid sounding meals, but those were off for the beer festival and we had to settle for a barbecue. The beer was lovely, even though much of it was entirely uncooled (I do not like cold beer). Public transport to Chinley is limited, but it looked like a credible walk from Whaley Bridge along the canal towpath and then continuing up the old wagon way that was used to bring stone to the canal. The staff at the Old Hall were very pleasant and the four rooms available certainly tempted!
We did not go to the North West Fairground Organ Preservaiton Society (FOPS) in 2010, so we returned this year. Oh dear. Their members managed to turn out just three large organs and seven medium/small organs. Not worth the train fair. Meanwhile the borough council put on a beer tent (keg only), a loud fun fair, brass bands in the band stand next to the loud funfair, bird of prey flying, log carving with a chainsaw, and a free circus. There were a number of tiny buskers organs but too close to the very noisy fairground. No full size traction engines and only one small model engine. I suspect this will be our last visit. We did buy some cheap cotton jackets (three for a fiver!).
So along somes our 39th wedding anniversary so off to the Ardern Arms for a very nice lunch and a rare drink of Robinson's Double Hop - lovely and unusual beer that is hard to find.
In the good old days you would sleep on a bed with a woolen blanket over the mattress then a sheet, then you, another sheet and a woollen blanket. Wool and blankets have fallen out of favour, with the boom in duvets. Feather or down fill which attracts dust, sometimes sheds feathers, and unfortunately involves rather cruel factory farming. Or artificial fibres, light but loved by dust mites. So I now have a Welsh woollen mattress topper with the wool between cotton cambric, then a sheet. Then me, then a duvet cover with an organic wool filling between quilted organic cotton cambric covers. Mmmm. The wool has been washed but not chemically trated so it retains most of the authentic loft and heat transfer properties, and the retained lanolin is not popular with dust mites. Not everyone may like the aroma of lanolin (think clean cuddly lamb) but I rather like it. Available online from Baavet in Harlech, and they are happy to discuss alternative deliveries and payment methods if like me you can't use P**P**.
The cracked tyrolean render on our walls has been showing cracks after the work we had done on it a few years back - there are two layers of mortar render then a very thin coat of pure concrete. It is the final thin coat that is giving way as the brick and mortar flex and the eggshell coating, and the initial thin fill didn't hold. Now the cracks have been opened up a little, wider and deeper, and a new filler with high stick and ease of stretch inserted. This was by Tectonic Developments, who carried out the work under guarantee, so no additional charge. A remarkable service three years on and much appreciated.
We have three sample albums and a box of loose prints, negatives and positive film from my late father in law, who was a commercial photographer. Thanks to a statutory instrument signed off in the 1990's without parliamentary discussion, which completely rewrote our copyright laws, we will never be able to use any of these photographs, taken under the 1911 and 1956 copyright acts, as the copyright belongs to the commisioner, and will continue to do so now under the 1990 instrument, for a further 70 years. Most of these companies disappeared many years ago. We did track down one copyright owner, where the company had apparently been dissolved in 1966 - in fact they were still listed. The current copyright owner chose to retain full copyright on the image so we could do nothing with it. We have been scanning the images for the family- in breach of copyright but we are not going to publish any of them. Some of them are particularly historic (he specialised in heavy industry) so we are cataloguing them with the intent of depositing them with Manchester Museum of Science and Industry (now madly called MOSI which sounds like an insect and means nothing) later on as they advised of their interest. The internet has been a wonderful research tool in identifying what some of them are. (In 2012 the Museum's trustees advised they did not want the images which will probably now be pulped).
As examples of his earlier engineering work, we have a photo of a Beyer Peacock articulated engine in Gorton; a GEC grain dryer at a farm; a heavy press for making ash brick which was of value in making gas masks and artificial formed coal; some rare railway goods wagons and so on. Later advertising work includes a picture of York, together with a photo of the poster it appeared on taken on London Underground, and a smaller replica poster. We have a model boat catalogue and also an image of the photographer taking the picture of the model boat (in a local stream).
I have also been scanning some of my old family photographs- and the internet has been a great tool for identifying locations. Images which were formerly mysteries from 1930 and 1949 have now been located to the centimeter - but there remain puzzles too.
These are difficult financial times, but I am at a loss to understand the universal political ethos that an ailing economy is aided by reducing the funding to people who spend every penny they get (the poor) and doubling the income of people who take their money abroad and pay no taxes (the extravagently rich). To me the best thing for the economy is to get the money moving by increasing supply to people who will spend it and thereby support employment and further economic gain. How anyone can support what is called (wrongly) a market economy beats me- trouble is we do not have a market economy, we have a monopoly economy where the rich and powerful rule and get even more rich and powerful. Aaaagh.
After many years a rare return visit to hear the lovely organ at Manchester Cathedral, played four handed, it has a lovely sound but there are no recordings available. And a new season of the lovely Renn organ in Salford has started. Then a beautiful concert at Stockport Accordian Club by Oleg Sharov who had brought his grand daughter Annastasia Sharova along, they played separately and together, including a beautiful duet of Boellmanns Suite Gothique Toccata - possibly my favourite work on accordion. The penultimate piece was an exhausting Sabre Dance. Much appreciated.
Another lovely Milapfest concert with an unusual combination of piano and veena. This year has seen quite an experimental move by Milapfest, which in Manchester at least seems to be at the expense of reduced audiences. Despite its originality the music is very pleasant.
Another Beer Festival, the SIBA (Small Independent Brewers Association) 2nd beer festival in Manchester, at the newly changed hands Mercure Hotel (formerly Jarvis). Well administered, lovely food, beer at around two pounds a pint - but no beers that really appealed. Just drinkable. And the event was really crowded.
Speaking of beer prices- there are many pubs in the area that sell beer at around the two pounds a pint level, generally around 2.20 so SIBA was selling beer at around the lowest pub prices. The Chinley beer festival was selling beer at three pounds a pint. However at Manchester Food and Drink festival, beer served outside in plastic glasses in very short measure (30% below the pint!) was over four pounds a pint. Moral: Never buy beer at a Manchester Council organised outdoor event.
Two more beer festivals, this time held in pubs- one which is usually very good was uncharacteristically poor so I won't name them, but the extra guest beers were so boring we just had the house bitter. Then a new one for us, the New Oxford in Salford, which had daytime cellar runs in addition to the pumps on the bar- that is, casks were broached in the cellar and the bar man had to leave the building to go down to the cellar to get you a glass. Some remarkable beers- the Irwell Vale Dark Satanic Mills was the talking point (due to its colour). We enjoyed the Blackwater PreRaphaelite, but the gold star for possibly the best beer we have had this year to Rat Rattus Rattus from the Rat and Ratchet, a remarkable wheat beer. We don't drink THAT much but beer is cheap enough to really tickle your taste buds with a wide range of flavours. The rattus rattus had a great aroma, a flavour that slowly developed in your mouth, hitting each taste bud in turn, and unusually a long lasting linger that also developed. Complex and pleasant. And very new- a notice from the small brewery on Oct 26th indicated the beer would be available "in the next week".
A lovely concert at St Anns by the RNCM Jazz Collective who played amongst other things Peer Gynt- the Ellington/Strayhorn version. Very nice, encouraged me to go looking for the original- distributed by masters (not) of the CD world and distribution (not), Sony, so obviously not available in the UK. I could take an expensive import from the USA, but in the end went for a dirt cheap import from Germany, who in turn had imported it from France. Go figure. Efficient distribution. Thanks (not) Sony. Some companies seem to go out of their way to be disliked! Our 8 year old led monitor stopped functioning- our first flat screen and the first to fail. Buying a new one is remarkably hard if you want a 4:3 17" but I think I bought the last one in Manchester, and now know of a web site to buy them. This time we were not as lucky as previously and there is one sub pixel stuck on- well within the standards for a computer monitor though.
The apple crop this year has been even more remarkable than last year and we have been enjoying a wide range of flavours from the Brogdale collection- a couple of pounds with every apple a different flavour. Also this year we have enjoyed some fresh Tiptree damsons and greengauges. The garden flowers don't know what season it is and we have flowers from all seasons open - one in particular has masses of small yellow flowers and has been flowering none stop for eight months- pity we don't know its name as it looks like an annual, and no seed has been set.
Having discovered that Bury Parish Church had lunch time concerts we decided to give it a go. The journey by 4th class cattle truck (oops, sorry, I meant Manchester Metrolink tram...) was standing all the way. Outside the church a pneumatic hammer was in full throat, not a good sign but we went in anyway. We were not welcomed, far from it. Meeting with the most negative reaction in a church anywhere, anytime, despite having travelled from Stockport to Bury for a concert, we left. And as Bury Parish Church fail to practice the faith they proclaim we shall be sure not to think of supporting them in future.
We took a look into Bury Wetherspoons but as they had no beer of interest on we went on to the little pub on the platform of the East Lancashire Railway. There we each had a lovely rag pudding, and some really nice beers- their own house beer brewed by Outstanding, and another beer from the Rat Brewery, this time their Dark Rat, a low ABV dark mild, with a sweet liquorishy taste which lingered. No trains were scheduled for the day but as we were eating a little green saddle tank went past, and also black tank engine 80080. We could not face the terrible conditions imposed by Manchester Metrolink and instead travelled home by the slower but significantly more civilised bus service.
And so another Memorabilia comes along at the NEC, Birmingham. With seven shows at the centre (one of them occupying five halls!) it was quite busy and the trains absolutely packed (no chance of extra or longer trains with todays railway organisation). Getting into Hall 12 was the usual problematic dance- the corner site at the end of the escalator is not a good location for a show that offers expensive tickets for early comers, and has hundreds of people wanting to pay the reduced fee from 11am.
Far fewer trade stalls than ever with narrow stalls and narrow walkways, leading to the popular stalls being too busy to see what they were selling and the unpopular stalls looking if anything more deserted. No anime or manga this time. Smaller comics section and apparently several didn't turn up. At least 11 actors listed were not present, and by 2pm the organisers still had no idea where some of them were of if they would turn up later. Three of these were actors I would have bought autographs from. One or two no-shows are to be expected, but at least eleven is a trifle clumsy. Electronc Arts had a huge closed area with no indication of what was in it, if you could get in it, or why you would want to go in it. At least their funds may have paid something towards the hall but I'm not clear what EAs marketing concept was here.
The Cystic Fibrosis Trust had an unannounced "film set" from Star Wars where you could have your photo taken, very nicely done- were the props from the film company? Very high quality. A carbonite Han Solo and a nicely spray-tanned Leia actress/model and a large grumpy Chewbaka and a huge very well done Jabba the Hutt.
What did I get from Memorabilia this time round? Amongst several autographs, nice chats with Derek Jacobi (a real gent), Susan Jameson, Philip Madoc, and Barbara Shelley. Two sets of comics including the very well drawn Vampire Free Style, and I got to meet the artist Jenika Ioffreda who drew for me my very own little Micia Ithat's a popular Italian cats name by the way).
After the last two very harsh Winters, we have decided to feed the smaller birds and have put out some seeds, mealworm, and fatballs- two feeders are in squirrel proof cages- to protect the third we have put some freely rotating sections around the tree branch, and all these seem to work well. We have at least three squirrels, and we do not begrudge them what they pick up from the food the birds drop, but their habit of taking everything and burying it was just wasteful. So far we have a robin, a bluetit and a coaltit - and many chirpy sparrows, some looking quite young.
When George had a day off work we took a trip to Stalybridge Station Buffet to enjoy their renowned black peas - and when we got there found that they had sold out. Urgh. Still they are also famous for their well kept real ale, and we enjoyed an unusual seasonal offering from the Coach House Brewery, Xmas Pud, which most remarkably tasted just like its name.
Back in 2002 we bought our first mobile phone, a Nokia 3310, tied to Vodaphone. By 2005 our Vodaphone service had disappeared- walking around the area and mapping the area with no coverage we identified the faulty mast and reported it to Vodaphone, who insisted that there were no problems with their network. As this failure meant that Cathy had no mobile phone service available at home or at work, we had to buy a new phone, and it was not on the Vodaphone network. Many people in our cell were forced onto other networks.
We went to Orange, and whilst Cathy bought another Nokia, when Orange offered an Alcatel phone for under a fiver, I bought that. At that price something had to be reduced and it was the battery. By 2011 the battery had a standby time of about a day and enough juice fully charged for two short calls or texts. So- we still had the old Nokia, now unused for six years and never charged in that period. It could still be charged and held its charge on standby for ten days, so we removed the Vodaphone network lock (on PAYG you now have a right (for a fee if you don't do it yourself) to have the lock removed, quite different to the position in 2005) and put the Orange sim in. Result- ancient phone fully working. Rediscover the Nokia 33xx mancala game (bantumi).
And Christmas approaches, as we head off for a busy round of seasonal brass, beginning with Reddish Safestore Band at St Elisabeths- sadly lacking a conductor as well as many musicians these days, they borrowed the conductor of Stockport Silver Band. Next stop is a December concert by Stockport Silver Band (kindly sponsored by the Co-Operative Group). Their conductor Jim Hunter wouldn't mind retiring from banding but their is a conspicuous lack of youngsters to come in to take his place. Jim played with the Fairey band, with Harry Mortimer's Men O Brass, and has played in several bands since, as well as working for the Northern College of Music (which received an added Royal to its name after he left) and the Scottish National Orchestra (which also received a Royal after he left). He was telling us of his days with Fairey when the 1812 Overture explosives set fire to the curtains at Buxton.
Jim played with Fairey in 1972. By looking around the internet I have found him with Denton Original (1973-4 and 1986); Lees and Glodwick (1984-5); Farnworth Old (1987); Uppermill (1993-2003); Carrbrook (2004-5), Linthwaite (2007); Lydgate (2009-2010).
And then to the local pub for some real ale, and a dozen brass band players from our local Championship brass band, the Fairey Band. These days none of the band work for Fairey Engineering as they used to forty years ago, but then there is now no Fairey Engineering either. They played for us about two hours of Championship brass band Christmas music. Unfortunately they had not brought along any of their CDs to sell- I shall continue to await their new Acid Brass 2 follow up CD. The new one is a studio mix, not a live performance as was the original version (to confuse matters, the generally now available Acid Brass CD is also a studio mix). They didn't play any house music in the pub.
Christmas comes and goes, and as the New Year approaches we head again to Stalybridge Station Buffet, this time to enjoy two bowls of fresh black peas each - and some nice beer. They had on the SIBA prize winning beer, and it was as bland as everything we tried at SIBA, a worthy comment on the beers at SIBA, session ales but nothing special. Then we had an interesting beer from Summer Wine Brewery, quite complex and pleasant.
On our 2003 computer the Samsung CD drive had ceased functioning some time ago, but now the Sony DVD drive is down to reading CDs only, time for a new one. With little to chose from in terms of manufacturers we have returned to Sony. But now we have to go to a SATA drive and find our internal SATA power cable is too short to reach, so we await a bit of extra wiring to connect the power to our new drive.
We have downloaded Linux openSuse 12.1 for our three machines- it was not easy getting it onto an old 486 with 128MB of ram but it is in, and in forcing it in we delved deep and discovered many hacks and errors, some quite silly, and suggestive of undue rush, lack of care- and perhaps too little release control.
Six weeks after release of the "final" build Opensuse 12.1 retains critical errors- for example Gnucash will not run as Opensuse have, for no apparent reason, moved to a really poor build of Guile2, and made a terrible job of it- the guile2 package is rushed and unfinished as is so much of 12.1. SystemD the boot mechanism has so many errors and design faults - the concept is good but it has been released with inadequate testing and too little oversite by anyone other than the developer. Opensuse 12.1 is not a stable release by any means and anyone installing it can expect to have to fight to get it to do what they want- including they should refuse to install some none-functional packages and instead take them from version 11.4 which was comparatively easy to use.
And as at year end we had used up all but 45MB of our broadband limit- is that close or what!