A Yorkshireman of a certain age who likes most genres of music and most makes of old car. Travel is a joy, not least to escape the British winter. Travel by bicycle is bliss and if I’m not lost in music then I’m lost in a daydream about a hot day, tens of miles to cover and the promise of a great campsite and a beer. I like to think I’m always learning and becoming wiser. On the latter point then evidence is in short supply.
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Jenny Pape leads a five-piece band from Carbondale. Where? This small town is in southern Illinois; I once spent a couple of days passing through on a bicycle. As I did my laundry and got my steed serviced it didn’t seem like a hot bed of roots music, maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough or simply dazed from dodging 18 wheeled coal trucks. Miss Jenny and pedal steel player, Dakota Holden, wrote or co-wrote the 12 tracks on this country americana album. Fortunately the use of the genre ‘americana’ is the ‘get out of jail card’ that covers the fact that you’ll find some tracks of soul, rock and western swing here.
Pape has a clear, characterful and mellifluous voice that lights up the album; whilst she’s handy on acoustic guitar she’s expertly backed up by a band that includes an upright bass, electric guitar, drums and the afore mentioned pedal steel. We start with I Used To Call You Mine,a country two-step with flashes of pedal steel and a solid rhythm of bass and drums before an easy paced guitar solo by Kyle Triplett complement Pape’s vocals. Years From Now continues the country genre with Triplett gently picking the banjo as the rest of the band play softly in the background while Pape laments her love life. Superb.
Eventually we get to What Makes You A Fool, a foot tapping western swing tour de force. You’ll imagine a heaving dance floor under the steady gaze of the band on a raised platform. With such a set of splendid tubes it is no surprise when Pape delivers a 60s soul ballad What Took Me So Long. Her heartfelt and passionate vocals are pure Dusty Springfield in their intent as she opens her heart backed by a female chorus. Sweet Release shows they can do something a little edgier as a twangy guitar casts dark shadows over a mysterious voodoo infused rhythm.
This is a beautifully crafted album where the arrangements, playing and vocals are spot on. It’s hard to place them as regards other acts but Eilen Jewell comes to mind as they cover all bases of roots music perfectly with an emphasis on country. Highly recommended.
My Favourite Eldest daughter was instructing me how to prepare dan dan noodles when I, also thinking I was on a roll and might impress Ancoats’ answer to Nigella Lawson, added the weekend might also see me stretching to prepare chicken chasseur. The response started with her expressing incredulity at my developing culinary prowess and then recalling that she thought I survived on Birds Eye chicken pies and peas? (There is some truth in this). As an after thought she lamented that she personally hated chicken chasseur because it was always served at school. I’m now planning my next blog to be called ‘First World Problems with Private Education Menus’ with a foreword by Marcus Rashford.
The badger has returned with more lawn digging. Anna sought neighbourly advice and was advised that one villager had erected an electric fence around their lawn. This runs off a car battery, which I suspect nullifies the added benefit of converting the stout carnivore to a crisp. However, further solutions, literally, were promoted such as liberally covering the ground in male urine. This apparently isn’t Bertie the Badger’s favourite tipple. Given their nocturnal raids and my trips through the night this might not be an impractical arrangement.
I was discussing Sledmere House with Shirley. This stately home was out her way, eight miles north east of Driffield. It is a truly spectacular property not least for the first floor library that looks out on to magnificent sculptured grounds. The house and grounds and stables had a Downton Abbey feel. No sooner had I opened my big mouth than I was being handed across a c400 page book “that I might like to read”. Oh no! Anyway I thought, out of a basic courtesy I should have a look, not least so I could spout something from it (if not necessarily plough my way through it) when I handed it back. Well, what a page turner! The house was built, the first time in the 18th Century and the family and occupants led remarkable if not commendable lives. The family fortune came from originally being merchants in Hull and then it seems from being landlords over vast areas of East Yorkshire and the nice little earner of breeding champion race horses. Along the way we had periods in Parliament, illegitimate children, international travel, alcoholism, military service, prodigious production of children, a world class library, adultery, Spanish flu and entertaining Royals whether the Prince of Wales (Edward VII) or the last Queen Mother. Most of this before it burnt down. Not what I expected. You must go and see this palace, grounds and various buildings, including a chapel and stables, when the virus departs and maybe beg, borrow or preferably steal the book.
As a man with a PhD in procrastination then this gift can be balanced by suffering from that other male condition: hoarding. Lurking in the loft awaiting a day when I could be bothered to sort things out are a vast collection of old 16mm and 9mm cine films. These are mainly my grandfather’s from the late 1940s and early 1950s. The plan is to have them converted to a digital format for viewing.
There are also some Super 8 cine taken by my father that include hours of Valetta harbour wall from a boat trip when holidaying in Malta. Funnily enough he found it difficult to corral an audience to view his latest picture show after this epic. The intriguing/difficult part of viewing my grandfather’s cine film will be trying to recognise my long departed forebears. Hopefully my sister will have a clue; even Anna may be able to help. She’s been hard at work on ancestry.com putting together her (Pettersen) and the Ives family trees. Who knew I was able to trace Irish and Russian antecedents? I’m actually part Polish but the place they descended from was occupied by Russia at the time! (Old habits still die hard). On the cine boxes is the home address of my grandparents at this time in Leeds. How amazed they would be that I could sit at my desk and simply go to Google Street View and look at their old property today.
So more lockdown. We’ve cancelled exotic holidays, done the garden, spent £000’s on the house and even done some of those wearying chores that always remained on the ‘To Do List.’ Now excitement centres around trying to get to 10,000 steps or whether it’s ‘Alcohol Night’. The latter is a joyous event that comes around every other night in Acaster Malbis. We thought it unwise to allow a looser regime to help us through the incarceration. Fortunately I can ride my bike but the weather is increasingly wet, cold and dark. How long until spring and the vaccine? Pray for me.
James Ellis appears to have had a Damascene conversion in Austin, Texas. Whilst spending a month in the USA, four years ago, he was seduced by the siren sounds of honky tonk music (and the two-step dancing he saw). Returning to his native Melbourne he wrote and released his first album, It Ain’t Texas (But It Ain’t Bad) and two years on he releases Country Lion. The album title comes from a sobriquet bestowed on him by BR5-49’s Chuck Mead. Ellis has no idea where the name came from but judging by his prodigious thatch there may be a clue in his appearance.
Teaming up with Nashville’s Alex Munoz and Micah Hulscher, late of working with Margo Price and Jim Lauderdale, they produce and play various instruments throughout. This is a fine traditional country album that engages you with the quality of the eleven self penned songs and lyrics. We open with, “Sixteen Hours”, and as the pedal steel lights the way you know you’re going to be amongst friends while he tells you of his broken heart. In fact he’s a boy with the world on his shoulders judging by all break up and loneliness themed songs. Despite being a path well trodden by country artists he’s way more articulate than most. On the gently rolling “A Little Soul” he opines – “Through the day horizons pass / In the evening, clouds amass / Tis the season for a cold precipitation / And now sodden underfoot / I’ll take my heaving heart to nowhere / Fare thee well my old preoccupation” Eat your heart Luke Bryan, not a pick up or ‘cold one’ in sight.
“Take Me Back In Time” is a beautiful slow ballad with a delicious piano introduction from Micah Hulscher. Over flourishes from Steve Veale’s gentle pedal steel with the brush strokes of Daniel Brates’ drums we hear Ellis’ compelling but hard edged, slightly off kilter, vocals (Gram Parsons meets Robyn Hitchcock) with his Australian pronunciation. This track is one of the nicest things to accost my ears in 2020. With “Forever Close” we pick up the pace and a sound, and rhythm, reminiscent of the rockabilly of Dave Edmunds. It jives along with Tim Baker stepping into the spotlight to demonstrate his guitar chops. “Records In The Summer” is my favourite lockdown lament. Ellis longs for the days when he can resume the very pleasant pastime of meeting with friends and spinning some vinyl. Amen to that.
There’s a lot here that elevates this honky tonker from an also ran into a contender. Check it out, you will not be disappointed.
Released in 1984 this undoubted classic has come my way thanks to a neighbour. Karl had some vinyl LP’s he was happy to divest himself of for ‘folding’ and I checked out what his selection included. Amongst some lapses in taste this gem turned up in. Of course I knew this album, I had it on a long lost cassette. I now had to do with a ‘Best of’ CD. Whilst compilations are great for the hits you miss out on the original album’s feel and what the artists were trying to achieve at the time.
The first thing to note is that this came at a time when synthesiser sounds were substituting for conventional rock n’ roll guitar bands. This album floats along on such a foundation with conventional instruments filling in. Padded shoulder fashions, eccentric hairstyles with cool posturing were all the rage. Enter Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark, A Flock Of Seagulls, Visage and Tubeway Army amongst others. Talk Talk were hardly New Romantics and with this album only had minor commercial success as it grazed the charts at No 35. Because of this it probably was seen as more credible for music collectors, like me, with their disdain for the superficiality of chart success.
There is something immediately compelling about the music. Mark Hollis was the voice and a haunting one it is: imposing, sonorous, soaring, melancholy and haunting as he extracts the maximum emotion of out of lyrics often comprising of distracted philosophy – “Such a shame to believe in an escape / A life on every face and that’s a change / Till I’m finally left with an eight.” Err, yes well…
The music drives along with tunes that become earworm hooks; many of them danceable. In this three-piece band Hollis wrote or co-wrote all the songs. The other members are Lee Harris on thumb stroked bass and Paul Webb on drums. The latter two drive the album along with a literal hypnotic insistence. However I cannot imagine that the magic wouldn’t have been as arresting if it were not for the keyboards and production of Tim Friese-Greene. Strangely he decided not to allow his picture on the sleeve and be considered a member of the band. (On other subsequent albums he continues to play keyboards and produce). His keyboards provide repeated signatures or alluring melodies. Production is crisp and is still a contemporary sound; 36 years later it really jumps out of my speakers. The separation of all the instruments is complete and that clarity highlights each solo whether electric guitar or a passing jazz trumpet on one of the nine tracks.
Such was the unique sound that the band are often cited as influences by such luminaries as Radiohead, Tears For Fears, Elbow and Steve Wilson from Porcupine Tree. I’m so glad to reacquaint myself with the album, now I just need the red XR3i I owned to transport me back to the mid Eighties.
I’ve accumulated 5,300 miles on my bike. This is the total distance I’ve cycled this year; it’s probably further than I’ve driven in a car. For a year blighted by the restrictions of Covid-19 it’s worth noting that my miles have been achieved in Yorkshire, East Anglia, Northumberland, Scotland, Australia, France, Belgium and Holland. As it’s October (just) then I’ve more tarmac to cover for the rest of the year but it won’t reach my biggest total, in 2014, of 6,775 miles.
One of the ‘new norms’ is talking to my father-in-law, Eric, through his room window. The care home does have a ‘pod’, which is a relatively recent new construction for meeting relatives, but that’s often booked up. So it’s back to talking to him through the window. In cold or wet weather the window is shut and the parties speak to each other on the phone whilst looking at each other, either side of the pane. With autumn here and winter coming then it will be the modus operandi for the next few months. The only hope of getting in the same room is a vaccine. Not easy for families is it?
Talking of inoculations then I’ve tried to spend a lifetime avoiding injections. It’s not natural to stick metal in your arm. My terror started when at lunch in the Ford canteen in the early 80s I was canvassed to see if I’d like to give blood? The very thought of it had me feeling faint and I ended up in the company sanatorium lying down. As you get older then the damn things are harder to avoid and two DVT’s meant a grim regime of daily blood taking etc. Despite my intensive period of being stabbed, I have never got over the phobia. So when the local doctor’s surgery emailed about a flu jab I ‘parked’ this opportunity for more metal to be stuck in my arm. At the same time one of Anna’s elderly gentlemen (yes, even older than me) accosted us as we walked down the street very agitated. He couldn’t get on the NHS website to let him book a flu jab appointment. So step forward ‘Mr IT’. Our friend came round and he was correct; the website link was awful with the necessity to click one calendar nearly 1,000 times for him to put in his date of birth: not easy on a smart phone.
As I’m sorting out the NHS website challenges it did seem timely/manly to book my own appointment. I did. You’ll note by this later communication that I did survive after the stabbing. At the drive-in centre I was asked if I was allergic to eggs? I replied in the negative and was then asked if I had any other allergies? “Only needles”, I honestly replied.
I must be a nice guy or have a Retail Fairy God Mother. I turned up at a cycle shop to try on and collect some cycle shoes. They’d had to order my size in and then forgot to do so, however, they did eventually arrive. (No wonder the internet is viewed as a cost effective place to buy stuff with few stock out issues and easy return procedures). Anyway, they fitted like the proverbial glove and I made my way to the counter to pay. “You’ve got £25 credit on your account”. This was news but in fairness this year I must have spent something toward £5,000 at this establishment. I was happy to forget this credit until another day and pay the required price (higher than the internet!). This couldn’t be done – ’the computer says no’. So instead of paying £74, I paid £25. I came away thinking I must return and pay something extras on another visit. The dentist had made me two mouth guards. This dentist I’ve been frequenting for, probably over 20 years. The guards came to £170. I was staggered and challenged the receptionist, on the phone, in a gentle way. In gentle Yorkshire I said “How much?” They are basically two pieces of moulded plastic I wear when sleeping. (I needed some new ones because I left my last good one in the washroom of a campsite outside Sedan in Northern France. How that discovery must have delighted the cleaners). So I turned up with my debit card to collect and pay. The dentist appeared anxious I was unhappy on the phone. I explained I had been a little shocked but after a long cry and a bottle of Scotch I’d moved on. “We don’t want to leave you unhappy and you’re a long time patient.” No, I was good, here’s the debit card, do your worst. “Well how about £150?” In my mind it costs what it costs but rather than risk an arm lock on needing his services to restore a broken incisor we agreed at £160.
As the lockdown continues then smaller matters are elevated to topics of conversation. The current ‘house rules’ are that we don’t drink everyday or night but alternate nights starting at 6pm earliest. This does mean you wake up with a childish delight realising that the day is ‘alcohol day’. Such are Anna’s cravings she did ponder aloud whether as October 25th would mean the clocks going forward then was 5pm the same as 6pm? We agreed it was.
Other wifely developments include watching the Giro d’Italia and La Vuelta a España on TV. To the less aware these are the two major three week professional cycle road races. Coverage is daily either live or as ‘highlight’ programmes. In fairness she has seen the Tour de France in the UK and France but to find that we’re not fighting over the remote control goes to show I was right all along and she should have picked up on this great sport three decades ago (no, I haven’t said this to her). Rumours abound about her migration to clipless pedals: I’ll keep you posted.
In my September blog I mentioned my job of transcribing Eric’s journal. This is a work of many pages where he’s written up his life, it started in 1928. When I last wrote he was a schoolboy on the outskirts of Hull. As I’ve typed more he’s now had a stint as a farmhand working 15 hour days that seems literally barbaric for a young teenager. Now he’s working at the local railway station as a porter. This entails many jobs and in wartime it is quite exotic on occasions with the African American GI’s, ‘ladies of the night’ going about their work and assorted drunks on the track. It is a page turner. Here is an excerpt:
“At times the back shift provided more than its fair share of unwelcome frights and alarms. At ease, seated comfortably, one dark and gloomy night, we were startled by a woman running the length of the deserted platform in high heels, before hammering frantically on the office door. The sound of her hard to come by high heels alerting us to this being something out of the ordinary. In a refined and educated voice, she sobbed “there’s a man laid on the line”. The senior porter, having survived the horrors of WW1, appeared unmoved by this tearful announcement. “Whereabouts is he?” He cheerfully enquired. “Near the Station Master’s house” the woman whimpered. Turning to me, he ordered “get your lamp, we’ll go and see”. What for me had, until then been a quiet evening turned quickly into a nightmare. Dropping into the ‘four foot’, visions of a ghastly mangled body struck me with the force of thunderbolt. In the dark, frightened by what I had to face I hung back, as the senior porter, his headlamp flashing around, strode on purposefully, between the tracks. “Here he is” he announced. Petrified and shaking, not wanting be any part of it, I kept my distance as the body was examined and rolled over. “He’s dead alright.” I was solemnly informed “Dead drunk I reckon. Let’s get him up on to the platform before the next train hits him.” Between us we manoeuvred the man onto the platform and into the nearest waiting room, where we left him, in the tender care of the lady in the high heels.”
I have to advise that the household has increased to three. We have had two visits by a badger who has set (geddit?) about ripping chunks out of the lawn in search of larvae and insects. Frankly it would avoid a lot of damage if he or she laid out their demands in a note at our front door and I’d find a fishing tackle shop for maggots or some such delicacy. As the Favourite Youngest Daughter commented on a WhatsApp post about this problem – ”bastard”. Quite.
Lastly I leave you with an observation that you will now be struck by. Why are there a lot of men over 50 years old wandering around in shorts. If you go to a supermarket or busy town area there will be someone, usually, overweight disporting these trousers. I wonder whether the cold has disorientated them when selecting their clothes for the day? Sightings will abound now I’ve told you this. No, please don’t thank me.
It stands to reason that if your last album was called F*** With Sad Girls you’ve got a point of view. Whitmore’s latest release tackles issues that have been on her mind such as suicide, rape culture and pulling together America in these times. She goes on to say “My goal for this record is to inspire people to have hard conversations”. Frankly, I don’t know a popular music record that’s ever changed much but I imagine that if you’re seeking some inspiration for a song then these profound issues are a place to start. Whitmore’s played bass and/or toured with some Americana luminaries such as James McMurtry, John Moreland, Hayes Carll and Sunny Sweeney yet her own music is nothing like theirs but more of a pop rock sound: it’s terrific.
“The Last Will & Testament” starts the album with a thumping electronica bass line and soon we’re deluged with strings and horns as her delightful mellifluous voice adds to the cavalry charge whilst Scott Davis’ electric guitar adds an edge. Some beginning. Whitmore’s written or co-written nine of the ten songs here. All are swamped in melody; the arrangements give an exceptional breadth of sound. It helps if your voice is such a captivating instrument that when you apply it to any tune it holds your attention. “Right/Wrong” attempts to offer a way forward on the conflict that leads to divides in society. If that sounds a bit too serious the song is pop and propelled by horns and spirited drums. Fine is a love song with the same pop sensibilities with a dance rhythm, and an absolute ear worm of a hook – “Would I rather be lonely and change my mind a thousand times? / If you could just hold me, maybe that’d be just fine”.
After this levity we’re back to the dark and troubling “Ask For It” – “So go on and blame the victim! / Why should violence have consequence? / And each time you silence them /Recreates the same event”. The words are delivered over a driving rock beat with occasional frenzied guitars in the background. The profundity of the message contrasts memorably with the light tune emphasising how such violence may not always be taken seriously. “Love Worth Remembering” is a stand out with a 70s ‘blue eyed soul’ feel. This slowed funk ballad has a rumbling base line with short sharp hits of the snare as Whitmore croons sweetly over the top. A heartfelt message of comforting love – just magnificent.
This is such a crafted piece of work where interesting words have been bolted to memorable tunes. After that foundation is laid the work really started in the creation of complex and sophisticated arrangements for their showcasing. A very impressive release.
We all go a long way back with Reginald Kenneth Dwight. This second release saw the light in 1970. This was his first release in the USA. For an artist I now wouldn’t pretend to carry much of a torch for I’ve got 19 of his albums! My interest started with 1973’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and probably finished with 1983’s I’m Still Standing. Now well into his 70s he’s still touring, Covid allowing, but from what I’ve heard the voice has developed a ‘shout’ quality that takes away much of the sweetness and melody that made so many of his songs compelling. I saw him live once, at Manchester’s MEN Arena. It was November 1998. We’d driven across from Yorkshire and shelled out for expensive tickets. He strode on stage uttered something about never playing Manchester again because of something that had happened. He then proceeded to bash through a set without any breaks or talking to the crowd and then stormed off. Lovely.
Inevitably he’s scheduled to be there again in 2021. So he’s a man prone to tantrums and rudeness but a man who has been awarded a Knighthood for his services to charity and music. However, to complain he has one would necessitate dragging others into the conversation such as Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, Ringo Starr, Van Morrison and Ray Davies of The Kinks: all of whom mystify me with their eligibility (and why not Mick Fleetwood?) But back to the plot there’s no doubt that he had a brilliant decade where the quality of tunes and Bernie Taupin’s words made for a staggering body of work. Out of his early catalogue I didn’t own this until 2020’s Record Store Day. The special release was a double with the second disc being of unimpressive and disposable outtakes. However the first album makes it worth the purchase. When you add, for the collector, transparent purple vinyl what’s not to like?
It starts with “Your Song” and it is one of the most attractive and sincere love songs I know. A self-deprecating reflection on a girl he’s besotted with. For one of Taupin’s earliest classics there are some dodgy lyrics that you’ve all sang a thousand times but never thought about: “If I was a sculptor, but then again no / Or a man who makes potions in a travelling show”.
The whole album is driven by John’s piano. The arrangements sound dated now. It’s drenched in strings and even a harpsichord gets an outing on “I Need You To Turn To”. “Take Me To The Pilot” borders on doggerel as a lyric – “Through a glass eye, your throne / Is the one danger zone” but the honky tonk piano that drives the song is perfectly complimented by the insistent message of ‘take me to your leader’. On later versions not least his live album recorded later in the year in New York (Elton John Live 17:11:70) he really rocks this and ditches the saccharine strings.
In an era when the genre of ‘singer songwriter’ was originated with the likes of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Jim Croce et al this has many heartfelt simply accompanied songs such as “First Episode at Hienton”. (A quick Google Maps search finds nowhere in the world named Hienton!) A love song about a relationship that started in childhood but failed as she grew to be a woman. Seems perfect ‘bedsit’ material for fellow miserablists Cat Stevens or James Taylor.
“Sixty Years On” is a classic but the album standout where the strings and choral backing works to perfection is “Border Song”. A killer tune drive by his large and hard played chords and that is tinged by gospel. It therefore comes as little of a surprise that Aretha Franklin covered this in 1972. This must have been a significant boost to help John get a wider audience so early in his career. “The Cage’ keeps up the soul with a heavy dose of pop. For consistency the album is solid and provided a wonderful foundation for the next gems of Tumbleweed Connection, Madman Across The Water and Honky Château.
I was musing with the Mighty Jessney about how we couldn’t drive anywhere nowadays without relying on Satellite Navigation. He countered about the astonishing emergence of the ‘miracle’ website back in the day where you could type in an address and get a route to it. From here you’d print it off as a map to help you. I think back to some of the car journeys I made shortly after learning to drive in the 70s, how the hell did I find places in Cornwall and London?
Similarly the resolution of small technical matters can now can be resolved easily. I was sat in Halford’s car park wondering about, the mystery liquid, AdBlue. I only took an interest in the stuff when the warning message came up on the dashboard. A quick Google answered all questions of what it is (a mix of urea and deionised water), what it does (reduces diesel engine nitrous oxide emissions), how much to buy, how to pour it in and a video providing advice on when the warning message would switch off. Frankly any hostile nation could bring the world to a grinding halt by switching off the internet: forget bombs, tanks or a virus.
On the subject of bringing the world to a grinding halt earlier this week I was out on an autumnal evening at a Chinese restaurant near Pocklington. I’d often driven past the Plough Inn but never realised it contained a delicious restaurant. The food and service were exceptional. This large establishment had many ‘covers’ but only five customers. I was glad to discover this place but I genuinely wonder whether I’ll go again. It surely cannot survive on such poor patronage? Its fate is simply a function of folk staying at home due to the pandemic.
Whenever I discuss Covid-19 then nobody’s complacent about the virus. They’re befuddled by what you can or cannot do but are all minded to respect the restrictions. However, like me they ruminate whether the tighter restrictions and the fatal damage to so many businesses, the elevation of mental health issues and the lack treatment for those with other chronic conditions is a price worth paying for the not inconsiderable risk of certain groups of people dying from the virus.
Maybe it’s easy for me to say that as I’m not ill with the virus or haven’t lost a loved one. But if I were to have any ‘skin in the game’ then I’d comment that I lost a hugely enjoyable job and impressive pay cheque when the 2008 Financial Crisis came around. Work wise my life never recovered. One might suggest that I was near enough to retirement and had so many other plans for the future that it didn’t work out too badly. That will not be the case with the many ‘casualties’ of closing down our economy again.
As a consolation it does provide moments of levity. BBC’s Charlie Stayt’s incredulity when interviewing Matt Hancock that the latest NHS App wouldn’t be available to people without smart phones! (No shit Charlie…) Also the ‘comedian’ who suggested that students wouldn’t be allowed to go home for Christmas.
With Anna we visited one of her ‘aunts’ in East Yorkshire. The lady and her husband are 87 and 92 years old respectively. Eric is writing up his life story by hand. Before I’d seen the hundreds of pages he’d already written I volunteered to type it all up. Maybe an error! However I’m currently engrossed in the life of a Cottingham schoolboy and his wartime experiences. During the war Hull experienced 1,200 deaths and around 3,000 casualties. On two nights alone in May 1941 around 400 perished. As a consequence 95% of the housing was damaged and 152,000 people made homeless. Obviously not a place for an eleven year old you’d think. In between the air raid terror he collected, during daylight, razor sharp shrapnel from all the bombs and shells that rained down on the city. These were taken to school for swapping purposes. Land mine craters became play areas and the procession of bomb disposal soldiers provided entertainment from the kerbside as they stacked unexploded ordnance near to his home. What’s clear is that today the government would be under immense pressure to pursue unconditional surrender from everyone on social media rather than experience one day of this hell.
We had a ‘staycation’ in East Anglia for a few days. Suffolk is largely a very attractive and unspoilt county. Lavenham was a great and unique place to stay with its ancient preserved houses. From this base we explored the coast and did this in the finest way: on bike. Anna rode the 55 miles brilliantly from Framlingham to Aldeburgh and then to Southwold before back to the start. It wasn’t very flat and she certainly gained her climbing legs. From here we relocated to North Walsham in Norfolk and cycled out to Mundesley, Cromer and Sheringham. This cycling trip was again in brilliant weather but the traffic and folk out and about was immense for a Monday. We know more about a part of the country I’d never properly spent any time in before.
Continuing with cycling I had a blissful three weeks watching the Tour de France. It was run later this year because of you know what. The scenery as it wended its way through France remained captivating.
As usual the weather was hot and sunny. I was lucky to spend nearly two weeks cycling up the country in July and it is a fine place to be whenever. My schedule was to watch the race live for a little while in the afternoon or watch the highlights in the evening with Anna. It was a terrific race ultimately between two Slovenians with the dead cert favourite, Primož Roglič, losing the race on the penultimate stage. I cannot imagine how crushed he must have been to have got so close but lost it. He had the best team and the man he lost to had no team! The way this works is that despite the individual’s talent they need a team to support them if they stand a chance of winning. Tadej Pogačar ripped up the rule book at the tender age of twenty one. There’s still the Grand Tours of Spain and Italy to watch next. Bring them on.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.