Monthly Archives: December 2020

2020 – A Summary

As a look back at the year I have extracted the highlights and low points of what will be a year many feel lost to the virus. In reality life went on but it was different. I suffered lockdown less than most mainly due to a bicycle, however, I yearn for the freedom to do more next year.

Anna’s Sight Restored

Lined up from the previous autumn was a trip to the east coast of Australia where I’d cycle from Melbourne to Cairns. A couple of thousand miles trundle in a country I’d never visited. A November 2019 holiday in South Africa enabled me to get fit in the winter and I’d worked closely with Leeds Beckett University on a nutrition regime to propel me more comfortably up the coast. Escaping the British winter was a complete bonus and after I completed the ride Anna would be in Cairns for us to see more of the country but a little more comfortably!

However, Anna whilst riding her bike near Hermanus in South Africa got double vision in one eye. All the medics, in South Africa or York, checked to see if there was anything terribly untoward, there wasn’t, and then said it’ll return to normal sometime in the next six months. In the meanwhile she couldn’t drive and would be ‘land locked’ in Acaster Malbis unless a chauffeur hung around. So goodbye Australia and my January flights.

One of us needs the patch (and the other one thinks they’re being funny)

Then on a frosty February morning she looked casually out of the window and not everything was double. A trip to the Eye Clinic followed and she was declared able to drive. The rescheduling of my trip was allowed but Anna chose not to follow me as Margaret, her mother, was scheduled for an operation and she wanted to be at hand. My adventure was back on albeit seven weeks later but now free of bush fire risks. I booked a flight for late February. What else could possibly go wrong?

Australia

I started my trip cycling up from Melbourne into the Victorian countryside. Melbourne was too cosmopolitan and diverse for my liking or my previous understanding of what Australia was like. I’d come to see the men wearing corks off their wide brimmed hats, drinking a ‘tinny’, obsessing about cricket, using the swear word ‘bloody’ and with a proud history of standing side by side with the Brits in whatever war we were fighting. Victoria was wide open, uninhabited and reminiscent of the US mid-west.

Avenel, Victoria. It wasn’t all tarmac!
Overnight beside an Australian Rules pitch in Walla Walla, NSW

To get north the only option was to ride alongside a highway getting soaked by the spray from 18 wheelers dodging dead kangaroos on the hard shoulder as the skies opened. A bus ride saw me complete the journey to Sydney. This city was a complete treat with world class things to see and do.

Sydney
Happy Birthday! 65 and a well known sight behind me
The Queen Mary in town with a certain bridge behind
On my way up north
I will never forget riding across the Harbour Bridge

So across the harbour bridge I headed north up the coast where adventures included losing my passport, getting stung on my butt maybe 20 times by mosquitos in an hour and seeing so many fabulous beaches that I became blasé. Disappointingly the Australians are a hardy and self contained bunch. A ‘pom’ on a bike is no big deal and conversations or engagement was limited although I did pick up one pearl of wisdom from a camper I approached, after I arrived at a campsite and Reception was shut. I was concerned that I would enrage the owners to set up my tent without their permission. He opined that it was ‘always easier to obtain forgiveness than permission’. Noted!

Beaches to die for
When it rained, it rained!
Australian haut cuisine (I’m not joking)
Apparently there are 47 million of them. I only saw a couple of roadkills…

Brisbane was a sensational looking city on an ox bow river and here I found a friendly face and a enjoyed beer with Karl on St Patrick’s Day. He’s a pal we’d made from a wonderful earlier holiday in Sri Lanka. He proved the exception, as Australians went, and bought me a beer or two! After a brief rest it was continuing up the coast although the road was difficult to travel due to the level of traffic prohibiting bicycles. I was liking Queensland and relishing the next 1,000 miles. However, with Britain planning a pandemic lockdown and flights becoming scarce I was soon back in Brisbane trying to find a box to pack my bike in for the flight back to Blighty.

The view on my run into Queensland
(Refugee Englishman) Karl and yours truly enjoying some St Patrick’s Day libation
Favourite breakfast stop in Kin Kin, Queensland
No option other than to join the other British millennials and get a bus back to Brisbane and a flight home

Such adventures throw up many memories many of which come back to you over time as little things remind you. Eg. I still would like to walk on the beach at Hawks Nest, NSW and then have another fabulous breakfast at The Benchmark on Booner restaurant again. Other moments will enter my head as I search for sleep one night. The full blog is available by clicking this link.

Brilliant Weather and DIY

So back in Britain and confined to barracks I discovered Zoom and Teams and also spent days on my knees repointing the patio. Walking and catching up (digitally) with old friends was a daily task as we endured the isolation. Strict alcohol consumption regimes were enforced as you can enjoy yourself too much. Supermarkets bemused me as they were ‘super spreader’ environments that undermined all the other actions taken to protect us.

Anna went into overdrive befriending folk who were afraid or discouraged from doing essential shopping. She was often collecting shopping lists, and probably more importantly, spending time on doorsteps talking to these elderly folk and giving them some much needed conversation and company. A true angel. Her mileage to and from my father -in-law’s care home must have and is stretching into thousands of miles and usually it was to talk through a window as below.

Not the shabbiest transport for her

His other daughters were as attentive as they could be but living in either Manchester or London meant they were often prohibited from travelling. As her less capable assistant I was recruited to cook a few meals for one neighbour who gamely didn’t object to my chicken chasseur or bolognese sauce. He’s still alive! My other help was selling some stuff on eBay for one neighbour: I was surprised by how much his jigsaw and drill fetched. My other actions to obtain an MBE included two mornings in the lake extracting bullrushes out of thick mud in front of another neighbour’s house who needed some brawn.

The weather made everything tolerable but the virus was a mystery in terms of how it really spread and controlling it; after the Dunkirk spirit the whole pandemic went even more toxic as hounding the Government turned into a blood sport by the media. Literal questions ‘of how do feel about killing so many people Prime Minister?’ This hostility made me want to be abroad even more.

Lockdown DIY

Anna’s Landmark

Plans were made to celebrate Anna’s ‘seventy less ten’ birthday (thank you Favourite Youngest Daughter, Sophie, for this gem) with fine dining and some time away as a family. The virus stopped not only the family decamping to somewhere but also the daughters appearing only by the screen on her iPhone. Rescheduling was made for the autumn (but that booking also got cancelled). Anyway she doesn’t look that old in any case!

If anyone celebrated Anna’s landmark it was me! This milestone kicked in a occupational pension and she kindly used some of the dosh for me to buy a new expensive bike, my first in 12 years. So a top of the range Cannondale with electronic gear change, 28mm wide tyres and disc brakes became my dream ride up and down the country lanes. That takes my collection back up to five bikes. Only five? I hear you say…

Margaret

For the residents of care homes the virus was a danger and social disaster. They were rightly imprisoned and communication was through windows often shut to keep the bad weather out. Meanwhile you tried to eyeball your relatives as you talked to them on mobiles. It had to be thus, but what a regime. For my mother-in-law, the most social of ladies, this was a burden made worse by a delayed operation to alleviate excruciating pain caused by a hip. She had a few days of joy on the announcement that they were now scheduling a date for her to have that operation in late spring.

There were risks known to us all. Due to her other conditions it went wrong and she passed away; it was a terrible shock. For her daughters it was doubly distressing as they hadn’t been in her presence for over three months. The care and attention that would have been lavished on her by the family as she resided in hospital was not possible. It hailed on the day of her sparsely attended funeral. After having been her son-in-law for over 30 years even I was unable to attend the service due to the restriction on numbers attending. Left was a widowed husband not used to being apart from his lifelong companion.

Lockdown One was Over

Many things were relaxed. Trips to the household wastes sites was now possible. After all those weeks of sorting and throwing away I could now deposit it with City of York Council. Deep joy. Shops started to open and money could be spent with organisations other than Amazon. The threat of the second wave was known but in the meanwhile we enjoyed the changes. 

Lodger

Katrina (Favourite Eldest Daughter) was now tired of being cooped up all day and night in a Manchester city centre flat with only two rooms. This, during the lockdown restrictions and working from home, became a prison. So she tripped across the Pennines stayed with us for about a month disappearing into the dining room to don her headset and deal with the rest of Europe (as her job demanded) occasionally popping out for food and drink. However, after 5pm she was then frog marched around the village and the woods to get her daily exercise, pumped for information about her busy working day and then sent into the kitchen to create fine food for her father. It worked for us!

Some chaps in a local wood we spotted on a daily walk
These chaps made it out of ‘lockdown’ and into our garden. On shouting mint sauce they returned whence they came

In fact with all this walking from March until today I became profoundly aware of the seasons. From damp, colourless and gloomy shuffles around the wood albeit with sightings of deer we progressed to lots of newborn lambs, carpets of bluebells, remarkable giant rose coloured flowering rhododendron bushes, hateful horse fly bites in the long grass and birdsong everywhere.

Slowly it changed as the lambs went to the dinner plates of Yorkshire, the flowers died, the heat disappeared and the verdant vegetation started to turn to the colours of autumn. The journey continues.

France and Leeds United

By July I was granted permission by Anna to use a flight that had been booked in February to go to Carcassone in the south of France. On an empty Ryanair flight I flew into the heat with my bicycle and a 1,000 mile ride home. It soon became clear that despite all the reporting in the UK that our handling of the pandemic was a disaster that the French had little or no meaningful control or protocols for social distancing or face masks. They just had a bigger country where there were less people packed together. My ride was hard, much more demanding than Australia, but it was great to be back out there doing what I love.

The route
The Langeudoc
The Auvergne
In Champagne- Ardenne

Even better was not being in England suffering the trauma of the final few games in the Championship following Leeds United’s attempt to get promoted. I was in Bar-le-Duc the night it happened. However I can also tell you where I was in the French wilds when we scraped past Barnsley or when Pablo Hernandez got the winning goal at Swansea. After a couple of weeks I was in Belgium and Holland as they went back into lockdown. 

(Obviously I continued to cycle back in Yorkshire and clocked up over 6,000 miles for the year. That’s the equivalent of York to Beirut and back!) Click here for a trip to the link.

Wedding Bells

If I had frustrations then nothing compared to Katrina and Matt. They’d had written in the diary their wedding for months. It was to be held in Manchester, one of the worst places to be hit in the country. This meant the arrangements had to be changed and generous relatives disappointed by having their invitations revoked. However, on a sunny day in August it took place. A reception on the terrace roof of a multi storey city centre hotel was perfect; speeches were made, glasses raised and cake eaten. The day was a joy and the troths were pledged. One daughter gone.

Katrina & Matt
The sadly small gathering due to Manchester’s lockdown
The toast!

Signs of Mortality

One of truly grim aspects to growing old is that the statistics kick in and people you know pass. They die much younger than is expected and usually with short illnesses. A long time school friend of Anna’s seemed the picture of health by running half marathons and seemed irrepressibly bouncy. From my recollection of Sally being sat on our sofa last Christmas to discussing her quickly failing health whilst sat on a bench whilst taking a break from a long day in the saddle in France. The cancer took her and on another sunny day we were at York Crematorium still wondering what had happened. With these events it always make you remember life is not a rehearsal.

Short Staycations

Buying an affordable bicycle became a challenge as bike shops sold everything they had but simply couldn’t replenish. Anna fortuitously got sorted with a local shop and was now the owner of a racing bike. The world was now her oyster and a few nights away at Hadrian’s Wall and in the Borders saw her ride up and down a few difficult hills. This time in Norfolk it was flatter but she faced a greater distance. We stayed in Lavenham and saw some seaside towns on two wheels. After my overseas adventures then these were her only holidays.

Admiring the flowers near Hexham
Lavenham

Getting a Grip

Eventually it appeared the end might be in sight as vaccines are received and people start to get inoculated. The lockdowns had been partially successful as large groups of people continued to ignore the government’s instructions to wear a mask, keep a social distance and wash their hands. As we emerge from this time what damage has been done to jobs, retail, careers, other aspects of health etc? It will all unfold.

Full Steam Ahead

Anna chose to look up some of Margaret’s old friends. One such couple lived in east Yorkshire and I’d met them once before in 33 years of marriage! Eric is 92 years old and writing up his life story. It’s a hell of a life leaving school in Hull at 13 years old and going to work on a farm. It didn’t help that it was wartime and Hull was being blitzed. From here a career on the railway began in the glorious age of steam with Eric on the footplate where after National Service he found his way to East Africa and Tanganyika . Foolishly I offered to type it up not realising he’s already written 200,000 words! What a story, it’s a compelling journey told in bright technicolour through different times and attitudes when you can only but marvel at the deprivation, dangers and the simpler times. What a joy to stumble on this project.

So with the vaccine being rolled out we can contemplate a return to the new normal, whatever that is. A deal on Brexit was concluded that seems to offer few downsides that I can see for Anna and me. So here’s to 2021, with just the small matter of Premiership survival to trouble my sleep.

Happy New Year.

Records Of The Year 2020

So it’s that time of the year where I submit my Top 10 albums of the year. This year I’ve received the usual 200 plus digital downloads: some of it by famous artists eg. Drive-By Truckers, Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan and Shelby Lynne but most of it by folk you’ve never heard of or I’ve never heard of! The source has been from my man in the USA at The Americana Music Show, Country Music People and my own purchases. I’ve bought about 60 albums during the year. A few were new releases but most were of earlier years. As a consequence my list below includes these.

  1. Joshua Ray Walker – Glad You Came

Enthralling from start to finish. Walker’s comfortable mastery of so many country styles with layered arrangements elevates these fabulous compositions to my No. 1.

2. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Reunions (2020)

My Americana album of the year. Terrific melodies and diverting stories often following his philosophical muse with wry observations. A master at the top of his game. 

3. Will Banister – Everything Burns (2020)

Everything you could hope for in a pure country album. A sonorous baritone linked to a tight band with compelling tunes. Inevitably he was ‘too country’ to dent the US charts.

4. Brandy Clark – Your Life Is A Record (2020)

Humour, philosophy, tearjerkers and love songs. Her lyrics could make a TV box set of every day USA. For me, a journalist highlight was getting complimentary tickets to her Gateshead concert in January to review the gig.

5. Ashley McBryde – Never Will (2020)

Complete ‘ear candy’ as she produces another fabulous set of blue-collar testaments to love, striving and survival over an upbeat contemporary country Nashville soundtrack. 

6. Marshall Chapman – Songs I Can’t Live Without (2020)

Her covers album is an absolute delight with numbers by Leonard Cohen, Elvis, Bob Seger and Carole King. A care worn voice redolent with all life’s experiences and never hurried. Arresting.

7. Public Service Broadcasting – The Race For Space (2015)

After having heard one track off a sample CD I eventually bought the album and was captivated by soundtrack about manned exploration flights into space. They caught the majesty, tension and breath taking bravery of man’s endeavours.

8. Pete Atkin – The Colour Of The Night (2015)

I first discovered Atkin playing Ealing Technical College in 1974. From there I collected all his records until his long hiatus. An internet search threw up this fabulous latter day singer songwriter album with Clive James’ words. For me it was like meeting an old friend.

9. Talk Talk – It’s My Life (1984)

A bit like Martin Peters, Talk Talk or Mark Hollis, were ahead of their time. This is elegant and innovative rock with its rhythms and imposing deep vocals. This band should be more lauded than they are. This turned up from a neighbour’s record collection. Result!

10. Ray LaMontagne – Monovision (2020)

He seldom fails with an album and this is a return to form after Ouroboros. Playing all the instruments his gentle ballads serve up a cathartic, melody fest with that staggering voice that captures you from the first track.

You’ll find album reviews of Joshua Ray Walker, Jason Isbell, Brandy Clark, Marshall Chapman , Public Service Broadcasting and Talk Talk on the website. Just click the links.

Record Of The Week #103

Public Service Broadcasting – The Race For Space

There’s something delightfully quirky and English about Public Service Broadcasting. This three piece band containing two multi instrumentalists and a drummer have embarked on soundtrack albums that use spoken samples from great or profound events over lush and engaging older electronica music somewhere between Jean-Michel Jarre, The War On Drugs and the odd sprinkling of early Pink Floyd. Their last two albums cover the Space race and the demise of the Welsh mining industry.

The album starts with “The Race For Space”. J F Kennedy’s September 1962 speech, in front of 40,000 Texans, is showcased: 

“We choose to go to the moon,” the president said. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

It’s an awe inspiring declaration of intent that eventually came to fruition when Apollo 11 touched down in 1969 (long after JFK’s demise). A male voice choir builds from a single note to becomes several, albeit with the same sanctity should they be taking vespers, his important words are wrapped in this precious sound. The choir builds the drama and tension. Next with ”Sputnik” we start back at the beginning of man’s exploration of Space with the Soviet’s successful launch of a craft into space in October 1957. No wonder the Americans wanted to catch up. The soundtrack now depends on a low fi throbbing beat whilst a simple melody, played on keys, swirls around the sampled speech of reports of that enormous leap in the Space race. After this we have a track about Yuri Gagarin’s achievement of being the first human into Space four years later.

The concept and song writing falls to the enigmatically named ‘J Willgoose’. He also writes copious notes on the album sleeve and signs off with the information that as of November 2014 he was 32½! Despite the atmospheric nature of the music the band can cut a rug and change gear throughout the album with brass, female vocals and near Latin rhythms to give a sense of celebration and overwhelming pride.

Continue reading Record Of The Week #103

Mariah, Fascism & Dairylea -Week 51 : 2020

You’ll be relieved to learn I’ve got into the Christmas spirit. This is evidenced by adding my Crimbo tunes to my iPhone. This decision was taken whilst listening to Mariah Carey in a cafe, it came as a shock! Apparently I’m all she wants for Christmas. It will shortly be the time for lists and before you ask then my favourite Christmas record is “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon. It looks like both sprogs will join the Ives peloton on Christmas Day. However it would be an understatement to say things are a little uncertain at the moment. As regards the virus then the first vaccines have been administered to some folk on the street. I’m glad to say I’m a few age groups behind these octogenarians but I can hear the hooves of the arriving cavalry. 

The badger has been back. We’ve hosted it four times now and an untidy chap/chapess it is. However in the spirit of Christmas I’ve given him a name. Picking up on names like ‘Frosty the Snowman’ or ‘Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer ‘ I’ve called it Bastard – ‘Bastard the Badger’. His fourth trip to our garden resulted in considerable damage and over an hour of attempting to restore the lawn. It’s like a jigsaw of gaps and little pieces of turf.

Anna attempting to repair the lawn

Unfortunately the gaps and the turf don’t match. Bastard has ripped up the lawn in such a way that it’s impossible to repair it properly. I was prepared to forfeit all my Christmas presents to buy a contract for someone to shoot it. Apparently they are a protected species and you need a licence to kill one. Legislation was passed in 1992; clearly the MP’s didn’t have one visiting their gardens overnight as they trooped into the Lobby. I suspect ruining my lawn isn’t a good enough reason to despatch him to that giant sett in the sky. Our particular problem arises with their sense of smell, it’s 800 times more powerful than a human and it’s been detecting delicious chaff bugs beneath the turf. Ridding ourselves of this badger candy is impossible. Fencing or netting seemed the only solution. As a consequence we spent £60 at B&Q to slow his progress. After this investment one neighbour casually asked me how we were getting on with our nocturnal intruder? Repressing my nervous tic I reported the situation. At this point he casually commented he’d seen it departing our garden via the open gate on the drive. So maybe lawn covering strategies are unnecessary and shutting the gate might be an answer? Watch this space, I need to organise psychotherapy shortly.

In my transcribing of Eric’s epic life story (as reported in earlier blogs) I have regularly had to type up the phrase ‘bungy sandwiches’. This delicacy is a cheese sandwich, however, such was the quality of cheese that it led to constipation; hence the name. In researching this further then rationing meant that the production of most varieties of cheese was stopped until 1954. That’s nine years of ‘bungy’ cheddar being the only cheese you could buy. Can you imagine the riots and street protests today if this was the only cheese you could buy? The stoicism of the war generation and its fortitude with rationing was literally heroic. If there was a plus then waistlines were more trim and folk were healthier. 

If there were problems today with cheese I would advocate various cheese Tiers. Tier 1 would be all cheeses banned other than Dairylea. I’ve always been suspicious that this and Babybel aren’t dairy products but petroleum derivatives. Tier 2 would allow production and consumption of all British cheeses. (Maybe not much of a concession I grant you). Tier 3, or ‘Tier Barnier,’ would allow all cheeses other than French or that rubbery smoked German stuff that comes in an orange plastic sheath. Clearly this can be relaxed when they move on the Brexit trade deal.

Talking of the war then I’ve been reading the regular articles in The Driffield and Wolds Weekly newspaper that has been carrying a ‘special feature’ week after week on air crashes during the war. In the area were many RAF airfields, all operational during the war. The loss of life was considerable through bombing raids over continental Europe but the loss of life on training flights over the county are frankly numerous and terrible. There are too many to report here but the inexperience of the crews seems to have been the reason. In November 1943 a Halifax took off for a test flight for an ‘air and gun test’. There were six crew on board plus a female civilian passenger. Miss Dorothy Robson was an expert on bombsights. She instructed crews on their use and worked across Bomber Command. In the test flight the aircraft flew into the ground in East Yorkshire. The crew’s ages were 20, 27, 20, 20, 25 and 25 with four from the UK and one each from Canada and Australia. Dorothy was 23 years old. The aircraft only had had five hours of flying time.

Dorothy Robson

I then got to thinking about the financial cost, let alone the human one. Google tells me that a Halifax bomber cost about £45,000 in 1945. In today’s money that is £1.75m. (As a comparison a much more sophisticated, faster and heavier Boeing 747 costs £65m for the entry level model). Would you then let these raw young men with no real proper flying experience, by today’s standards, and without several years of examination and graduation (through types of aircraft) to fly a 25 ton Halifax plus over 5 tons of bombs on board (and enough fuel to get to Dresden and back)? It’s a considerable gamble and was a sign of the times and desperation to end a hateful war. Today can you imagine a news conference with some sanctimonious journalist, worried about their viewing figures, standing up to berate a politician about the lack of training, management involvement and astronomic cost in such tragedies? We’d have never got a bomber in the sky or defeated fascism.

In my last blog I reported on our every other day alcohol regime. This was to stop us boozing during the boring days of lockdown. Another regime change involves the burning of 300 to 400 calories a day. These are easy to lose calories and the solution is known to you all but I’ve only just quantified it. The plan is to walk 10,000 steps a day, which equates to 400 calories being burned. My ideal calorie intake per day is between 2,000 and 2,500 calories: you can see what a bit of a walk helps you burn. It’s not all great as I’ve found as after walk I like the odd biscuit or two and maybe a mince pie with a cup of tea on my return! In fairness I should put on my coat and do another lap after this snack break! 

However I have been moving this year. I’m 111 miles short of 6,000 miles this year. That is a long way and probably a lot more than I’ve driven. The cycling has taken place in the most different of places: either down wet local muddy lanes in chilly drizzle, up gruelling mountain sides with a heavy touring bike in the Central Massif, France in 35℃ or riding in Victoria, Australia past endless fields seeing only the occasional pick up whilst avoiding stopping and being covered in flies. I’ve loved every mile.

Interesting signage in Victoria

Lastly, it has been a year of watching some TV and it may be interesting to share the highlights. Eurosport and ITV were fabulous on their coverage of the grand cycling tours – Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta e España. I sat and watched hours of it. The countryside was sumptuous and often the racing was exciting. Even the present Mrs Ives was alongside me on the sofa. It’s only taken 26 years for her to catch the bug. Netflix threw up some gems. Call My Agent was a French language drama comedy set in a Parisian actor’s agency. Office politics and wacky actors with their hysterical ways and enormous egos were either calmed or massaged. The principle actors were compelling and over three seasons I got to love them. The Eddy was another Parisienne setting. This time at a jazz club with an American pianist owner who gets caught up in acres of malarky. The soundtrack was fantastic. A further season is in production,  bring it on. The Queen’s Gambit was a very unlikely plot about a child genius and her ascent to the top of the chess world via an orphanage, lots of alcohol, pill dependency and shady Russians.

Predictably I watched the fly on the wall documentary about Leeds United. Take Us Home was wonderful as in season 2 we got promotion! (I couldn’t watch the series until I knew it had a happy ending). In addition I watched quite a few films on the streaming services. This also included inside my little tent before I fell into a deep slumber in a foreign field. Which is where you must be after all this. Hasta la vista (baby).