Monthly Archives: August 2020

The Princess Royal, Cocaine & Look What The Cat Dragged in – Week 35 : 2020

I’ve railed elsewhere on the website about the bias and pre-occupations of the media but the following BBC caption truly irritated me. There were quite a few pieces covering Princess Anne’s 70th birthday and some ‘official photographs’ were published. Why would you notate the size of her land holding? Clearly it’s to cast an aspersion? The Royal Family have a lot of land and money; it’s not news but it does feed into the negative mind set of those who might want reminding in order to meet their daily ‘outraged’ quota.

I’m not much of a Royalist (and don’t get me started on the Honours system) but I do think that the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh and their two elder children work or worked very hard. They bring a lot of pleasure to the people who’s lives they touch. When the Queen passes I think a number of things will change about how we view the monarchy as an important influence in our lives.

I helped a neighbour pull out a quantity of bull rushes out from in front of his property. They are attractive but soon take over the lake and are difficult to remove. Happiness is a morning in a deep boggy lake up to your knees in mud. I thought he’d found a neat solution to keep the wildlife off his jetty: he built a fence around it. Around here the ducks sit on the jetties. Unless they’re controlled they leave a foul (as opposed to fowl) mess.

So I girded my loins and made a trip to B&Q to get timber, screws and a saw. (You may have read about my procurement of fishing line to put along the top of the fence in another blog).

The present Mrs Ives has captured me in the water playing at being a carpenter. I’m now hoping I have accumulated a number of domestic house ‘points’ this summer (around the garden) to sustain her tolerance of idleness during the winter.

This leisure might include completing more box sets. I often look around Netflix wondering what to watch. Currently it’s Narcos. This has been out for a while but it had been recommended and so I had a look. Based on the fictionalised account of a true story it follows Pablo Escobar’s drug and murder career in Colombia. It’s terrific. The body count is such that you wonder who’s left in Colombia and is there enough global lead to make all the bullets. Anyway I’m into Season 2 and still horrified at the worldwide misery that drugs bring the countries that produce them and the users who fund this mayhem.

Who said community Facebook pages aren’t interesting? Naughty Tiddles!

I popped up to Northallerton in North Yorkshire with my sister, Ann-Marie, on an errand and ended up watching my nephew’s son playing football. Back in the day I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed watching Sophie (Favourite Youngest Daughter) play netball when she played for the mighty Rufforth. I remember my father coming to watch me play rugby at school. (He would have been 100 years old this week had he lived). Being a dad on the touchline is a complete delight.  Ted’s a true star and scored six of the eight goals that won the five-a-side contest. 

Ted heading for another goal

He’s got his father’s sporting gift and at seven he’s a wonderful time ahead. Due to the age group the team was mixed. At this age the girls have all the physicality that’s needed to compete. I was staggered by how fearless a couple of them were. Maybe there’s something in this women’s football?

Elsie…. don’t mess with her

Eventually the virus put paid to our Singapore, Vietnam and Cambodia jaunt in October. We thought it was coming and it has. We book our stuff with Trailfinders and they are very good to deal with. We received all the money back within a couple of days of the cancellation. The holiday couldn’t take place because of lockdowns but they didn’t get tearful when we rejected rescheduling for 2021. They had no other international holiday destinations available either. If there was anything like a silver lining for them then customers who’ve had all the problems with the advent of the virus have had a magnificent partner to help sort out these complications; not least finding me a flight to escape Australia in March. I know this news will crush you, on my behalf. I can console you by telling you that we have a couple of nights in Bakewell, Derbyshire booked as the consolation. It’s always warm and sunny there and it never rains I’m told (cough).

Record Store Day is usually an annual event (this year it’s three) and some special edition records are released in limited quantities. The records can be vinyl LP’s or singles but there’s a scattering of CD’s. The artists are usually legacy acts and many of the releases are of music that resided in a vault somewhere as an outtake or a live concert and this is their first release. Where it’s not the first time the music has been released you may also get coloured vinyl and fancy packaging. Needless to say this drags out the grey market (!) and I joined early last Saturday. Bliss.

Lastly, I was out on my bike yesterday and was struggling up a hill for over a mile leaving the Yorkshire Wolds village of Bishop Wilton. (This 50 mile circuit brought up 4,500 miles for the year). It hits 15% but averages 8%: I wasn’t cycling very fast. I heard some metallic sounds and feared for my gears when I realised it was horses hooves on the tarmac behind me. Slowly but surely they advanced to draw level. Ahead of us both was a lady with a pram and a horse baulked. Riding at 6mph up a hill is not easy at the best of times for balance but having Trigger towering over you is a further challenge. Slowly but surely the recalcitrant nag was persuaded to go past only to start projecting great clumps of dung in my direction on the road. I usually don’t need a reason to weave on a gradient but I had even more incentive at this point. The rider cheerfully commented that the horse obviously didn’t like me. I had worked that out.

Record Of The Week # 97

Moe Bandy – A Love Like That

Bandy has teamed up with Jimmy Capps to release an album of top-drawer traditional country songs. Sadly Capps has passed since the album’s completion, however, it’s a fine testament to how well they worked together. Bandy has a vast catalogue and his songs are often synonymous lyrically with the fertile traditional country landscape of dissolute lifestyles, stolen loves and fragmented lives held together by a glass of something dark and strong. 

From start to finish it’s a master class that demands your attention. Each song has a beautiful melody and Bandy’s expressive voice delivers the requisite emotional punch. There are a hatful of songs about cheating, getting old, returning home after a long absence, cherishing a long time partner and learning the lessons of life. There is a warm glow surrounding the album making it one with a heartfelt welcoming sound that is completely ‘feel good’. Lyrically it’s the language of an earlier generation, unashamedly, we get references to running with the devil, rodeo cowboys, cherry wine, sweet tea and people having a gay time.

Over the eleven songs Bandy’s rich baritone draws you into his three minute soap operas. The instrumentation and arrangements are pure 1970s with harmony choruses, harmonica serenades and shuffling dance rhythms delivered by acoustic backing. Some old time song writing royalty was hired to provide songs or co-write the album cuts including Bill Anderson, Jeannie Seely, Eddie Raven and Bobby Tomberlin. Bandy’s into his sixth decade of releasing records and judging by his tour schedule and profile he’s working hard and still enjoying being on stage.

I loved all the songs but Tonight Was Made For The Two Of Us, Heartache Doesn’t Have A Closin’ Time and You Can’t Stop A Heart From Breaking were my pick and have been on repeat. Such is his stature, with an important catalogue of accessible music, that former First Lady, Barbara Bush, wrote the introduction to his autobiography. I reckon she doesn’t put herself out unless that person is very special. Bandy is. 

Katrina & Matt’s Wedding – August 8th 2020

It seems like only yesterday that we were at York District Hospital and Katrina was making an appearance. That was 1991. So fast forward 29 years and Katrina was marrying.

Favourite Eldest Daughter

Just thinking about the intervening years makes my head spin. The mental montage includes crawling along on my hands and knees with her on my back when she fell off and broke her arm (she loved the Barbie pink plaster cast), the ridiculous happiness of her visit to Legoland in Denmark, a time when no upset couldn’t be solved with ice cream (orange), my discovering late on Christmas Eve that Santa’s Barbie Camper Van was a two hour assembly kit job, her watching ‘Dumbo’ so many times, many birthday parties with all her school friends at our house, always happy with a book and her own company, being a Brownie, cricket in the back garden, taking her to accompany me to Blues or Country concerts, her school concerts, being Deputy Head Girl, her first student vacation job in France as a cleaner on a large campsite where she managed to drop her mobile into a WC and living in an awful tent that would have been rejected by migrants in Calais, the stressful task of finding accommodation in Berlin with her mother for her university year out, graduation from Manchester University on a sweltering hot day, a variety of jobs in London (NHS, NBC and NSL)  culminating in being the HR Officer for a multi ethnic selection of parking wardens in Westminster City Council, who gave her a parking ticket when she resigned! (and lots of money as a gift), arguing a different point of view to her father’s politics, finding Matt, her now husband, and then moving to Manchester as her career developed with a design engineering consultancy still in HR.

And ultimately becoming a very impressive woman who was a fully fledged adult. Where did the time go?

Anna and I are so proud of our daughters and each of their milestones is imprinted in our heads and hearts. I feel the girls are the best of me or, in other words, me at my best. How could anything feel better than that? Not that I claim much credit for their talent, beauty and personalities but I was around for the journey. So onto Manchester during a further localised Covid-19 lockdown for the nuptials.

Beautiful cake made by Sophie

The party allowed to go to the civil ceremony at the Registry Office and the Wedding Breakfast was limited to 11 people. However the happy couple got their certificate and seemed over the moon and so happy, which is really the important thing. After the ceremony we reconvened to dine outside on the top of Hotel Gotham in Manchester. The weather was very kind as we ate in the sunshine.

Speeches were brief and I welcomed Matt to the family: we’ve known him for several years and I’m sure he has the measure of us all now. From his memory, he recited a poem he’d written for Katrina, which was a very romantic thing to do. They sent their love to all the absent relatives and gratitude for lots of presents. We hope to make good the absence of family in due course, because of the virus, and bring the family together and drink a toast to their health and happiness.

The lights of our lives
Matt, Katrina and Matt’s mum, Anne
Sophie and her aunt, Catherine
George, Jeff and Harry

A Weekend on Hadrian’s Wall & the Scottish Borders

On the drive north from York we spoke to a very old friend on the car phone. We said we were going up to Hadrian’s Wall and then onto Scotland. When we threw in that we were both taking bicycles there was a short silence when he contemplated Anna dealing with inclement weather and lots of hills. When we added that we were staying at a Youth Hostel he gasped and we had a longer silence! I wondered whether he thought we were broke or had lost our minds.

We went up to Hadrian’s Wall in January and stayed at a plush B&B. It was part of a trip that saw us on the guest list at The Sage in Gateshead for Brandy Clark, who’s concert I reviewed for Country Music People. However over and above our time in the city we’d enjoyed our walk along the wall and made a decision to return.

Hadrian was the Roman Emperor at the time the wall was built AD 122 to AD 128. This 73 mile construction stretched along the top of England to ostensibly control or keep out the Ancient Britons (Scots to you and me) on the north side of the wall. This 10 foot wide by 15 foot high wall was built of stone apart from the western end which was turf. The Roman soldiers, all 15,000 of them built it. Along its length were stationed garrisons of French, Belgian, Spanish or Dutch ‘Roman’ soldiers. The wall was a partial barrier that controlled immigration, implemented customs and stopped the Picts stealing cattle.

Today the wall is more of an outline. Over the years the stone was taken by farmers, house builders etc and little remains today.

You can tell this was taken from a library as it is sunny in this image

However there is an industry today in restoring the sites and archaeological digs. This has proved vital for understanding British history and for tourism in Northumberland. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site not least because it was the most northerly border in the Roman Empire. In January we walked on the wall but longed for accommodation not so isolated. The Youth Hostel offered a great cafe, a pub next door and modern accommodation.

The Sill – Bardon Mill

The hostel had become a victim to Covid-19 and so there was no communal sitting area inside the building, no access to the kitchen and no furniture in the room other than the bed!

Guess who was told to get comfy upstairs? You’ll note, on the right, that the present Mrs Ives had brought a bottle of white wine just nicely within reach!

Fortunately there were few problems with the pub next door and I made sure Anna ate heartily to build up her energy for tomorrow’s velo expedition to Hexham.

Anna deftly sidesteps the USB socket to plug in an adaptor to take a USB plug….

The next day there was a difficult conversation that started with the declaration that she wasn’t going outside to ride her bike because she didn’t have any leggings. With the promise of several mintoes and chocolate limes she was lured out of the room and onto her bicycle. (I did point out later that we never met another cyclist wearing leggings).

Grey skies but not raining
First short sharp climb of the day with an appreciate audience monitoring Anna’s progress

The ride to Hexham was lovely: little traffic, splendid vistas of lakes, rivers, forests, gardens and small settlements. Anna was exceptional applying herself to the job in hand and the promise of lunch in the bustling market town of Hexham.

River Tyne

As tour leader I rewarded myself in Hexham with some Sticky Toffee pudding.

By the time we got back to the hostel we’d ridden 32 miles and climbed 704m (2,300 feet), which by any standards is a brilliant effort by Anna. It was a quick turn round at the hostel with a shower and then out to the world class museum a mile away at Vindolanda. This was a fort at the time of the Wall. The settlement was for soldiers but also many Britons who lived outside the fortress walls and provided the many services the soldiers needed. Nowadays it’s a fabulous museum. Much of our ancient history is deduced by studying what archaeologists can excavate. This is mainly items that can survive the centuries under the soil. Written history is very scarce and the earliest writing isn’t a reliable guide to the facts! (Often the early writing are accounts of events commissioned by important people. As they say ‘the victors get to write history’ even though it may not be true).

At Vindolanda there are discoveries of written remnants, not of history but mundane instructions or communications that show how the Romans conducted themselves. The writing is in Latin. These are amongst the first known pieces of writing in the country. (There were discoveries recently in London dated back to AD 43).

Layout of the building outside the fort at Vindolanda
Live exhibits
A reproduction of what the fort looked like

Later that evening we drove out to Corbridge for a meal. The next morning we were heading to Kelso in the Scottish borders. As we had time on our hands we visited Kielder Water. This is a man made reservoir opened in 1981. Around the reservoir are some holiday cabins along with some great walks and bike rides. The road to and from the estate seemed empty with the occasional holiday maker.

Kielder Water
We prepared for missionary work…

The roads through the Borders to the settlements was winding and empty. Much to my frustration the most direct route was closed for road works and we detoured westward. These empty roads are attractive to motorbikes and the occasional convoy of fast cars. We eventually arrived at Hawick and found a larger road to Kelso.

Here we met up with Peter and Jude who’d cycled down from Dalkeith to join us for a spot of lunch. They were on a tandem! Peter is an old friend, he introduced me to cycle touring. We did our first trip in 1994 from St Malo to Bordeaux. I forgot to take a photo of them on the bike but I did take the camera into the Gents…

Welcome to Kelso

After our lunch and their departure (to find a train station to get back to Edinburgh) we visited Flowers Castle, the home of the Duke of Roxburgh. This is within Kelso.

The walled gardens
That’s the Head Gardener’s house. Once upon a time there were 40 gardeners looking after the estate. Today there’s five.
A wonderful castle but I cannot imagine how much it costs to keep it waterproof and heated.

In Kelso we checked into our B&B. Sadly there were no bunks this time as it would have been Anna’s turn to be close to the ceiling. As the day ended we went for a stroll.

From the banks of the Tweed river in the town this is the view toward Flowers Castle

The host at the B&B didn’t look like a David Bowie fan but had several books on the man. A conversation started over breakfast and it turned out that Robin was a fanatic. He had all the biographies and albums. He also had all the boxsets, out takes and knew the minute details on the Thin White Duke’s life. Very impressive. His other “Mastermind’ specialist subjects would have included Cockney Rebel and Mott The Hoople. Needless to say breakfast lasted an hour and half as we also ruminated on the merits of spam, Sigue Sigue Sputnik and his succession of American guests. He was a wonderful mimic to add to his stories. You’re thinking that he’ll be talking about me to other guests, I doubt it. We sat there quietly enjoying the ‘show’.

When we departed he gave me an alternative version to the released ‘Young Americans’ by Bowie on CD. If it’s as good as I hope then it may end up as a ‘Record Of The Week’ elsewhere on the site.

The next day despite some half hearted protests we found our way back to Hawick for a little retail therapy at one of the cashmere mill shops. We spent £194 and I’d like to declare that I got a lambs wool hat for £9.99 to keep me quiet (fat chance of that).

Returning via Melrose we had a splendid lunch of halibut sat on samphire and peas with tortellini filled with crab meat and took some photos of the abbey.

The abbey in Melrose
First World problems

So back in Kelso a man walks into a fishing tackle store to discuss a problem with his jetty and crapping ducks. In fairness the staff were very obliging and didn’t flinch when I asked them for their cheapest fishing line to string along the top of the fence to stop ducks perching. The little blighters are very dirty and the jetty looks appalling unless you can deter them from visiting.

On our last day there were a few more photos of Kelso:

Part of the abbey at Kelso
A not untypical sky.

We had wandered around the town trying to find a pub for a drink: it was not easy. The pubs only had space outside for drinkers whilst any available space inside was reserved for diners. You’ll be relieved to know we did find one in the end that was empty; there was good reason for that if you saw the decor but the pint of Belhaven slipped down lovely.

The town centre in Kelso – memorable cobbles

Our drive back to York was via Alnwick. At the old railway station there is a famous second hand book shop called ‘Barter Books’ we popped in to buy some treasure before heading home to York.

Alnwick, back in England was busy with tourists. In contrast our time in Scotland had been one where tourists were a lot thinner on the ground. The Scottish lockdown has been more severe. It has had a profound affect on the local economy. I hope it hasn’t permanently damaged the businesses affected.

Record Of The Week # 96

Courtney Marie Andrews – Old Flowers

It’s hard to believe that this is her fifth solo album; her recent output has been prolific. This Arizonan has now got a wide following in the UK. Touring, mainstream radio and broadsheet exposure has ensured she’s on the way to becoming a major act. Her talents lie in a blissful mellifluous voice and a singer songwriter approach to song composition, no holds barred personal stories and observational pieces that set the scene perfectly before diving in on the target. I cannot distance her from an early Joni Mitchell in sound, song structure and lyrical content. It’s intimidating company but I’m certain she’s worthy of this comparison.

She’s a fine acoustic guitarist and it’s over this instrument she sings 10 songs about her fractured relationship with a former beau. Miserable artists make some great records and in this raw, painful and dislocating setting she reveals the relationship over its nine years with little regard for discretion. 

She works with two other musicians  – multi instrumentalist Matthew Davidson and James Krivchenia on drums. Andrew Sarlo’s spacious yet, on occasion, atmospheric production helps the vocals whether single or double tracked to draw you in. “Burlap String” starts the album and we’re straight into the melancholy – “Some days are good, some are bad / Some days I want what we had / Some days I talk myself into a lie / I’ve grown cautious, I’ve grown up / I’m a skeptic of love / Don’t wanna lose what I might find”. “If I Told” has the intriguing pump organ: it’s an eerie yet elevating sound. Throughout the album the instrumentation never takes the melody: it’s Andrews’ voice that swoops and soars, and as if in a world of her own, she thinks out aloud. 

Whilst the accompaniment can be sparse the touches are memorable, such as the dashes of drum roll on “Carnival Dreams”. Andrews says the title track “Old Flowers” takes its sentiment from the fact that old flowers are beautiful but they’re dead and irretrievable. She ends with acceptance and affection on “Ships In The Night” – “I am sending you a postcard… may it leave you with closure and a little less doubt”. Tellingly she acknowledges many people on the album sleeve including “every friend who let me cry on their shoulder whilst writing these songs.”

I’m so often disappointed when an artist moves on to explore new sounds at the expense of discarding a winning formula. Fortunately Andrews hasn’t; this is ravishing listening.

BMW, Trouser legs & Wedding blues – Week 31 : 2020

After my dash through France it’s been back to Acaster Malbis hoping to repel that restless feeling for a little while. As I put away my cycle touring kit and noted how the stairs were making my aching muscles complain I mentally noted that it would be a while before the road beckoned. Now after the discomfort has eased I’ll be peering at Google Maps thinking about the next trip in the near future! My addiction.

However, all the focus was on the wedding of Katrina and Matt. Clearly these are difficult times for mixing and movement of people with the pandemic. Despite a few casualties on the guest list we were looking forward to August 8th. And then Boris stepped in and made the wedding breakfast verboten in Manchester. As you can imagine such a decision means numerous communications from the couple to let folk know about the cancellation as well as the venue, flowers etc. The bride seems to be stoic and maybe when we reschedule some of the ‘casualties’ can join us. The marriage will proceed but even that has limits on the numbers who can attend. Poor Katrina and Matt.

I used to be a vision of sartorial elegance about 30 years ago. The work place was a venue to attend in expensive suits and crisply ironed cotton shirts. The thought of having stubble would have affected my health. Today I am forever in Levis and some form of T shirt and Craghopper. In fact I have several colours of the latter but haute couture they ain’t. I have a couple of suits in the wardrobe but I cannot remember when I last wore them: the daughter’s graduations? As the wedding countdown commenced the ‘outfit’ needed pulling together. The good news was that the suit fitted but the trousers were so wide, at the leg, that I contemplated using them as an awning for my tent.

A trip into town to a tailor saw him suggesting taking an inch off. It was agreed. I also bought another suit. There was 25% off at M&S and with another daughter likely to pledge her troth I thought this reckless outlay may get some further wear. Another feature of my current daily uniform are trainers. I don’t wear proper leather shoes. In fact I had two old pairs in my drawer where the soles of rubber perished! I kid you not. Anyway that was another investment!

I’ve been quite successful with the hair clippers and it looked tolerable. As you might pointedly observe then I don’t have a lot to manage. Anyway I thought for the wedding I should have someone who knows what they’re doing tidy my barnet up. Wonderfully it was Jessica behind the clippers. Her cutting is good but her banter is world class – I wrote a blog on one sitting that may engage you. The word ‘blog’ is a link. Anyway her ‘news’ from the lockdown included the story of the unfortunate man who staggered in with half a haircut. His wife had set about the project but abandoned the cut halfway through after being disappointed with her work.

Another was about a close relative who’s a hairdresser. Despite the lockdown he’d set up a hairdressing salon in his garage for the local ladies to surreptitiously attend. One older woman did express some anxiety that her daughter was unhappy she was having her hairdressing appointments in lockdown and would report her. The hairdresser shrugged this off laughing and told her not to worry until she added that she was a police officer! So as I stopped laughing and we moved onto other topics she calmly advised that she now had an allotment and was growing strawberries and carrots. You have never met a young millennial who seems less likely to be living the ‘good life’. How she doesn’t have a Channel 4 slot is beyond me.

Time to get out all those old Leeds United Premiership shirts

I feel that as you get older then little surprises you. You clearly identify all challenges ahead. My car is nearly 6 years old. It’s fine, however, if I don’t replace it then the car will depreciate to be worth pennies and the next car will cost a fortune as we’re starting from scratch. (Yes, there are many way to finance a car but part-ex and cash works for me). So I girded my loins to visit the BMW dealership. I had a gloomy feeling that despite the plush surroundings and supposed professionalism I wouldn’t buy a car: the deal wouldn’t be right. Some backroom operative who operates the salesman like a puppet would scupper things. Also I felt that the market hasn’t got a lot of product floating around to make them anxious to move cars.

A man looking pathetically happy with a home grown courgette/zucchini

Needless to say lots of attentive care by the salesman was evident. We looked at his group’s database and found a couple of cars that worked as the correct spec and price. I was looking at ‘nearly new’ as the difference over the new price was nearly 30%. The next task was to test drive the models. I later returned to do this. All was good and I found a car I liked, a 3 series. So we went back to the database. The car from yesterday mysteriously had another 5,000 miles on it? We found another, all good.

In my research on the part-ex I’d checked a guide and also we’d posted the car into the ‘We Buy Any Car’ website. It said £11,610, which was lower than the guide but fair enough. This is the least best way to dispose of a car in terms of return but I was reconciled. The dealership managed to offer £10,500. There was no review of their offer or particular interest. I walked. Of course I could cash the car at ‘We Buy Any Car’ and return laden with money but I doubt I will. They’ve had their chance. No doubt I’ll regroup and eventually sort something out.

There are events when you receive information where afterwards you can recollect where you heard the news. This came to pass on my bike ride in France. Tragically a family friend and lifelong close friend of my wife’s reported some frightening developments as regards her health. In a short number of weeks she’d died of cancer. When this happens to someone quite young you prospect around for explanations of genes, weight, lifestyle or an unfortunate life changing event. There was no such comforting explanation for such an honest, energetic, hard working, bright and cheerful lady. We’re dealing with quite a shocking hole suddenly appearing in our lives.

Life’s not a rehearsal, dust off that bucket list and start ticking them off.