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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A different Christmas this year and maybe a sign of things to come. After decades of hosting we were invited by our Favourite Eldest Daughter and Matt (on the wrong side of the Pennines in Reddish.) Needless to say I understandably had anxiety about the meal in terms of the sprouts, bread sauce and other vital details. In the end my sleepless nights were not necessary as they knocked it out of the park. The Favourite Youngest Daughter and partner, Harry, did put in a brief appearance and we saw them the next day.
It did seem we spent a lot of the Christmas period at various traffic lights in Stockport. However, in between seeing relatives we took in the Spielberg remake of West Side Story. It has a magnificent soundtrack, captivating actors and is energetically portrayed and faithful, to a large extent, to the 1960s film original. It’s sensational and I can’t recommend it enough. By all accounts it’ll go big with the gongs when the luvvies hand them out to each other later in the year.
Another masterpiece I devoured was Disney Plus’Get Back documentary on The Beatles. In 1969 they were recording tracks for the Let It Be album. For the month that they sat down to do this it involved a lot of fooling around, the weird sight of Yoko Ono never more than one foot away from John Lennon’s side, the dominance in terms of authority and creativity of Paul McCartney, the close and informal involvement of many others such as producer, engineers, roadies and WAGs, the continual smoking of cigarettes and, oh yes, George Harrison temporarily leaving the band. It was engrossing and better than any biography you might read about the individuals and the dynamics between them all. For musicologists or fans of the Fab Four it was compelling.
Wildlife Update: two new residents, four legged, appeared on our lake at the estate. I shoo away most four legged beasts but these were welcome. Even to the extent that a professional photographer turned up; here is a collage of the otter snaps.
Sport remains important, either doing it or following it. Leeds United are truly in the doldrums but a victory just after the New Year was hailed by the faithful as a great relief. Usually after this the fans start to lose any grip on reality and predict the possibility of great things. I’ll be happy with surviving in the Premiership. One ‘bucket list’ item is to watch England play cricket in Australia. However, it wouldn’t have been this year as we are embarrassed by their inept performance: lambs to the slaughter. I think the Aussies who relish the fight are disappointed that it’s not really a contest. From this follows all the hand wringing about what we’ve got wrong as a team. It seems to me that the players are simply exhausted and befuddled by playing so many different formats. Maybe Test cricket is irretrievably lost as the other more lucrative formats take over?
My sport had a painful moment. At the weekend, on my bicycle, I turned a corner on a road near Full Sutton and all of a sudden I’m was on the tarmac. Black ice. Given that I rode well over 5,300 miles last year riding in most weathers in every month it’s surprising that more accidents didn’t occur. The present Mrs Ives was in North Finland, with the Favourite Youngest Daughter, at the time seeking the Northern Lights (see below). By way of an evening chat I mentioned my fall and that afterwards I had picked myself up and ridden the 25 miles home. Anna told her father, Eric (incarcerated in his care home.) He reflected on my mishap and was worried as to whether I was in hospital. He rang another daughter in London who knew nothing of my tumble. She rang me in the middle of a pilates class (with 10 other folk) to pass on his concern! My wife’s movements will be more closely managed to control her use of the phone in future.
So how long will it take you to stop writing out the date as 2021 before twigging you’re a year out?
I’d never heard of this Tennessean Country music singer songwriter until his latest album arrived in my inbox from Country Music People. I was blown away. The songs wrap around the sad reality that his partner, in life and song, Joey, died of cervical cancer in 2016. After a hiatus he recorded this album; a galaxy of Country stars all turned up to sing on the album, Lee Ann Womack, Vince Gill, Trisha Yearwood, Alison Krauss and Dolly Parton: probably because his loss had touched everyone. The sentimentality is remarkable. It’s traditional Country with stories of everyday rural American folk. The duet with Dolly of One Angel is literally a tearjerker. Bliss.
Tylor & The Bank Robbers – Non-Typical Find
Not much Americana comes out of Idaho but when it does then it can be remarkable. I’ve loved both their recent albums of Country Rock with a terrific acoustic rock vibe and engaging lyrics.
Jacob Tovar – Another Time, Another Place
This is an artist who makes a modest living around Tulsa, Oklahoma. He’s not fêted on a big label. Tovar possesses a classic Country sound and this album of originals and covers hits the spot.
Ashland Craft – Travellin’ Kind
A winner of a US TV talent show. She has a voice that could break your heart whatever genre she sings. Here she’s got great Country pop songs with sublime tunes and a great band. She’s going to be stellar.
5. Emily Scott Robinson – American Siren
In the 70s she’d be called a ‘Singer Songwriter’ like Carole King or Joni Mitchell. In addition to great songs she has a distinct crystal clear beautiful voice. Again, this is the start of something special.
Brandi Carlile – In These Silent Days
An enormously talented woman. Her latest was a another highlight of this year’s Americana where the arrangements, compositions and that pure, soaring and occasionally achy voice drew you in.
Altered Five Blues Band – Holler If You Hear Me
Blues Rock is a timeless genre. Take a mean electric guitar that can squeal, a solid rhythm section and some B3 organ; you’re nearly there. Next add Jeff Taylor’s voice and you have heaven
8 James McMurtry – The Horses and the Hounds
McMurtry inhabits a world of unvarnished Ameriocana takes on rural USA with the struggles and little victories told to you as if he was further along the counter sharing a beer. A complete master.
Blackberry Smoke – You Hear Georgia
A pastiche of 1970s Southern Rock that mines the sound of Little Feat, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allmans with a soupçon of Country. A wonderful album that shows there’s a market for this stuff.
Thorbjørn Risager & Emil Balsgaard – Taking The Good With The Bad
This Danish duo have been important international blues artists for a couple of decades. Usually part of a larger band here they’ve delivered a sensational traditional New Orleans fused piano driven gem.
Anna lost her landmark birthday celebration of 60 in 2020. A trip away was cancelled. However we eventually got away to Bakewell to rent a property avec les enfants et hommes. We had a splendid weekend eating and drinking. I managed to drag Harry out on his bike around the Peak District, which is not an easy bike ride for someone not expecting the odd hill or two!
A small stream that runs past the end of my sister’s little Welsh garden. It switches between a summer trickle or a winter torrent. It’s been eroding the bottom of her garden in an alarming fashion. We needed a strong barrier to stop the erosion. It was difficult to find a contractor for a residential project. After a few false starts, mainly to do with the weather, it was started and finished in July. Ann Marie is now looking forward to heavy rainfall to maximise the return on her investment!
Much to our dismay we woke up earlier in the year to find the lawn was ripped up. After more visits and damage it was shortly tracked down to hungry badgers that were searching beneath the turf for chafer bugs. The solutions to eliminating the desirable bug or deterring badgers were bordering on comical and old wives tales. We did consulted far and wide and then decided to build a fence around the garden to stop access. It’s worked so far!
Alongside Matt (son-in-law) we managed to do a decent job of sanding his dining room floor. Other DIY at their house involved some pointing of their long brick wall. Back in Acaster Malbis I did some fencing and fence painting at the front of the house to keep out the pesky badger. After all this I decided to retire for the year and bask in the glory knowing that next year had a long list of jobs.
A difficult time for my father-in-law was made easier as lockdown easing meant there was access for relatives into his care home. More importantly his three daughters could make pre-arranged vsits to sit with him. For them it was a great relief to be able to get into his company. He’s remained in terrific spirits and it was super when we could take him out the home and bring him to York to join in Katrina and Matt’s wedding celebrations. For those in homes this pandemic has and continues to be awful.
Our one escape abroad was to Portugal. This was initially delayed from October to November, when I caught Covid. We stayed on the Algarve toward the west just outside Portimāo at Ferragudo in an apartment. With a car we drove around including a memorable lunch at Salema and popping along to Quinta do Lago to meet a friend who was also over there on holiday. Some warmer weather was a delight and taking my bike enabled me to get out and see around us whist Anna when running. We also found some lovely sunsets.
A trip to Dumfries & Galloway was one of our staycations. We took a house on an estuary near Kirkcudbright and either cycled or drove around. This part of Scotland is beautiful, green (wet) and dramatic. Despoite the vistas the level of tourism is restricted to a few caravan parks. As a complete pleb I did eventually yearn for a bakery with sourdough and maybe a deli.
After being prodded by sister I had converted to a digital format cine films and photograph negatives from the late 1940s and early 1950s. This revealed people at times in their early lives that I saw in a different light. The quality of my grandfather’s photography was exceptional in composition and inclusion. We now have an easily accessible treasure trove.
Jurassic Coast by Bicycle
A cycle ride along the UK’s southern Jurassic coastline took place in September. The expedition started in Devon and then climbed and climbed to Dorset. I cycle every year for a few nights with a pal from my University days, Tony. Along for the ride this year was Martin, an old work colleague. I chose the coastline from Plymouth to Southampton (and then onto Abingdon with Martin).) It was possibly a mistake! The coastline is terribly hilly and the traffic can be busy. Martin cycled with the wrong set of gears and Tony, an irregular cyclist, manfully went about every day but finished in darkness twice. I worry they’re daft enough to be back for more next year.
Katrina & Matt
In 2020 the Favourite Eldest Daughter, Katrina, married Matt. Due to Covid restrictions we couldn’t bring all the family together. Eventually in our garden the weather held up and we brought everyone together for a belated celebration. It was a lovely day that will be remembered for a long time for the great company and not least for the egg and spoon race!
Lands End to John O’Groats by Bicycle
Bicycles feature in my life and with no long overseas bike ride in prospect I decided to do the iconic British ride: Lands End to John O’Groats. That is, from the tip of Cornwall to the far top of the island in the Scottish Highlands. It was a hard ride of 1,000 miles riding with Peter, an old friend. It has a memorably brutal start but eventually things got easier. The weather was kind until the last day. The last night of the trip we celebrated with malt whiskey and the day after was a groggy and leaden affair getting back by train to York! I blogged everyday.
The lockdowns meant lots of time for walking around the local area drinking in the scenery and seasons. We’re blessed with lots of fields and leafy paths. This was a great opportunity to have my headphones plugged in to listen to new albums or podcasts. After all these years I started to notice how transitory nature is. Other regimes to keep fit included pilates every week and occasional trips to the gym. When added to the 5,200 miles of cycling then I think I did a good job on trying to keep fit.
The holidays this year were mainly short breaks and we went down to Walsingham. Here we stayed in a property near the coastal harbour town of Wells-Next-The-Sea. It was wet but very delightful. Further east is the splendid Royal Palace at Sandringham. The house is set in beautiful grounds and after visiting here we went for lunch in nearby Hunstanton with some local friends. Norfolk could do with a road system to get to it but it is truly a lovely part of England.
I think we all became more social as lockdowns became part of our lives. I certainly put quite a bit of time into seeing friends. Some of these I had known for over 50 years. A special night was organised with old work colleagues, many I hadn’t seen for over 10 years. The list of old pals included Tim J, Mark D, Lyndon B, Tony, F, Brian E, Tim S, Mark G, Andy W, Tim M, Martin A, John V, Jim B, Steve & Sharon J, Mark S, Greg S, David C and Robert H.
Despite having not worked for a long time my state of antiquity was finally confirmed when I started to receive my State pension every four weeks plus a free bus pass and my Winter Fuel Allowance (£200.) What a time to be alive! Despite my excellent environmental cycling credentials I’ve not managed to use the bus pass yet and also slightly embarrassed by the Winter Fuel Allowance I have donated that to a more worthy cause.
The Queen has had a rough year (in fact it’s one the Royal Family will want to forget.) I came to respect and like the Duke of Edinburgh more as I got to know more about him. I think his past had its blemishes, some of his comments are quite rightly unacceptable today, but there was a gritty self sacrifice that garnered him a lot of respect and his departure was the first tangible sign that the old order was moving on. I hope Her Majesty has a lot more years in her.
I subscribe to a Morgan car magazine, plus MoJo, Record Collector and Country Music People. My consumption of books is modest . This year I mainly read history ‘The Mallon Crew’ (WW2 Bomber crew), ‘Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee’ (the demise of Native Americans at the hands of the US Cavalry), “Fatal Colours’ (The War of The Roses machinations leading up to the Battle of Towton) or biographies about Martin Luther King, Reggie Maudling or Tammy Wynette. I’m currently reading a book about the war in East Africa in WW1. It’s always non-fiction for me.
A Life in the Age of Steam
I embarked on what I thought was a simple bit of typing but it turned out to be a massive document of 166,000 words telling the early life of Eric Blackburn. A lad who left school at the age of 13 during war torn Hull and found his way onto the locomotive footplate. An interlude of National Service took place before he moved to then Tanganyika to work on the East African Railway. It’s a wonderful, event strewn, story and hopefully it will make it into published print.
In December Anna found a property back in the Peak District at Tideswell. With our daughters and Sophie’s partner’s mother, Tracey and sister, Annabelle. We spent a couple of nights walking and seeing the sights. The ladies went to look around Chatsworth House decorated for Christmas, it looked magnificent. I popped to Bakewell to look around a record shop; then on the Sunday managed to get out on my bike. Log fires, hot soup and umbrellas were de rigeur.
In 2019 we had some flights booked to Singapore (and back from Cambodia) in 2020. This quickly got shelved as the Far East went and stayed in lockdown. Next we used a voucher to fly to Miami for next February. This was weirdly compromised when British Airways cancelled some connecting flights with no solutions offered. So yet again we took a voucher. We still plan to get over to the USA in 2022. The thought of all those wide open spaces, eggs over easy and amazing parks call us. However, we’re not counting any chickens yet.
My journalism continued with mainly scribing for Country Music People. A selection of Country or Americana music was sent to me to listen to and then I had to pen 3/400 words and send back to the editor. As if by magic I was then in print every month. My blogs continued albeit they were a bit spasmodic. I blame the pandemic for limiting my ability to write something interesting or ridiculous! Added to this was Eric’s journal that saw my often looking through Google Maps to find the spelling of a remote railway station in 1960s Tanganyika.
It was an unlikely pairing of bluegrass country/folk singer Alison Krauss with her ethereal and crystal clear voice and 70s rock icon Robert Plant with his remarkable range and phrasing for their award winning 2007 collaboration Raising Sand. The album’s success was likely built on their respective followings and a varied selection of accessible americana. This showcased their vocals with T Bone Burnett’s excellent song curation and production. In 2021 this team is back.
Plant’s seems to have spent 40 years (and 16 albums) attempting to distance himself from Led Zeppelin; his subsequent record sales are impressive but it’s that legacy that excites new and old listeners. He’s latterly ploughed an Americana roots furrow with world music rhythms. Krauss hasn’t been prolific and 2017’s delightful Windy City was her last album. Krauss has her roots in bluegrass but aside from the Union Station work I think of her songs as being country folk ballads where smooth heartfelt melancholy seems to be her signature.
Like Raising Sand here are a selection of covers from the likes of the Everly Brothers, Allen Toussaint, Hank Williams and Lucinda Williams. The album often has rhythms that find their origin in world music and it certainly gives the sound a greater vigour. There are a breadth of songs from different genres ghostly reimagined whether 1960s pop, folk, country, rock and rockabilly. Both take various lead vocals with the other picking up the chorus. The duets are few and far between. Plant’s leads are strident yet flexible, yet when he joins on the chorus he croons sympathetically in the background. Krauss takes the lead on songs that are quite similar to her existing catalogue and otherwise it is always the second voice you hear on a duet.
After considerable critical acclaim for his 2019 release Seneca could Godwin come up with the goods again? The news is affirmative. Charles Wesley Godwin has a distinct voice that holds a tune with a a slightly tremulous effect adding warmth and expressiveness, some interesting story telling and melodies that he describes as Appalachian country/Americana. Godwin hails from West Virginia: a relatively poor and rural part of the eastern USA and the striving and rustic settings abound.
“Jesse” was inspired from some graffiti he saw whilst out for a jog. On a bridge support he read “Are you thinking of me like I’m thinking of you?” This stimulated his imagination to create a character who’s regretting their parting knowing the other’s moved on. Starting with acoustic guitar chords a picked banjo joins and it builds with pedal steel, strings and eventually the band. This is a voice that can carry the melody by itself but a restrained, yet full arrangement, makes this memorable and beautiful.
Expeditions along the coast have been the order of the afternoons and the first trip was to Carvoeiro, five miles east from Ferragudo. This is an old established small resort popular with the British, Germans, French etc judging by the languages you hear as you perambulate along it’s narrow streets (and the range of sports being shown on the bar TV’s.) It also has a wealth of restaurants with photographs of the food they serve. Who doesn’t know what a burger in a bun looks like? If there was ever a signal not eat at a restaurant then photos of its dishes is it.
I can imagine at the height of the season it’s prettiest hellish although I note above the town just to the west the villas and settlement in general are a lot more luxurious and well healed.
A longer drive to the west brought us to Salema which we last visited some time in the last century. Anna reckons it was the in mid 1990s. It’s proverbially off the beaten track with a wonderful beach and the restaurant we fondly remembered is still there. We revisited and the lunch was as good as my memory recollects.
You could tell everyone had been up early judging by the grumpiness of the passenger behind me as we taxied for seemingly miles along the runway before we took off – “What’s he doing? Warming the tyres up?” Otherwise our Jet2holidays flight to Faro, Portugal was thankfully uneventful. However less happily the car rental centre at Faro Airport was some way from the terminal and whilst there were trolleys, for a reason I can’t remember, we dropped ours at the terminal building and I lugged my heavy bike case over my shoulder several hundred yards.
Despite a prior internet booking I spent about 15 minutes in the rental cabin poking buttons on a screen to enable me to wrestle the car off them. As I’m providing lots of meaningless information such as ‘What’s you favourite food?’ ‘What colour underpants are you wearing?’ and ‘Who will win next year’s Eurovision Song Contest?’ a bloke from the rental company ambled across to ask how I was getting on? Error.
Languishing in the loft of several houses for over 70 years were a selection of cine films my grandfather and father shot. The films’ survival was probably down to being allowed to grow dusty in the recesses of these dark spaces rather than being repeatedly moved and their worth of retention debated. In fact I probably have the projector that can show these films but the wiring is also at least 70 years old and may make it a safety hazard.
Of the 52 cine films we found then 36 date back to the late 1940s and early 1950s. I was amazed by the quality and the fact my grandfather was an early adopter of technology. Some of the quality as well as composition are better than my father’s Super 8 cine films and I cringe to think of the several days of camcorder footage I took mainly of the daughters in the late 1990s and early Naughties. (Never let a man get on a steam train with a camcorder and an hour to kill is sound advice.)
My grandfather shot 16mm wide cine film and to get this converted to a digital format meant some hunting around to find a company to convert it. I found a one man band (plus part time assistant) operation in a three story one room per floor building in the market town of Otley. I never met the owner but rumour has it that he now frequently jets to Hawaii on what he charged for the work.
The whole exercise was in someways a leap into the dark as to what we’d find or if the films were even intact. What I got was moving footage of my parents as millennials, a lot of relatives I never knew or could recognise, wonderful old pre and post war cars all painted black, street scenes of places that seemed so empty and sedate by today’s standards and a level of dress that was so formal and smart (!) compared to how we all slob about today.
However, more illuminating and emotional was an insight into the lives lived. The looks people gave each other, the fun shared, the mutual affection or hierarchy. Who always took the lead when walking or came across as bossy, even without audio? The way they handled a toddler with affection and delight, the deference to the old and the emergence of the best china even for a cup of tea. I learned of my grand parents surprising devotion to Catholicism with the local priest going from Leeds to Bournemouth on holiday with them (and countless other photos). Any fervour for religion was never passed down the family and we have no connection today. The Christmas lunch setting that now seemed so sparing compared to how our tables groan with food and decorations nowadays. The number of folk who smoked: a classic way to relax and often a shared pleasure between members of the family. Lastly my thoughts migrating from how they all appeared here to how they eventually became when I knew them and, in the case of my grandparents, I only knew them as old people with much of that mobility and energy gone.
One of the major projects now is to identify all the people in the cine films. There’s no audio and neither is there a lot of identification of people and places on the boxes or tins. Some, I or my sister Ann Marie, know. Some seem obvious when say, you have a mother with a child ie. the child belongs to her and it’s male etc. A lot has been found by Anna, the Queen of ancestry.com, who has followed lineages to build a magnificent ‘tree’ of both sides of my family. In the cines you can eliminate people by the date of the cine film and what age people were or, sadly dead, by then.
In addition to the cine footage was the small matter of 1,500 still photographs. All black and white and many featuring the people in the cine films. These are the images in this blog. Most are family scenes but there are many holiday snaps including the beach hut on the front at Bournemouth. I actually cycled within feet of this on my saunter along the front with Martin and Tony in early September on our bicycles. How lovely it would have been to stop at the hut and talk with the current occupants about it’s history of 70 years ago.
Some of the shots are of dramatic ships and aeroplanes.
We have an ambition is to try and contact some of the relatives of these people to share these films. I expect many are scattered across the globe and have tenuous connections to my family. However, this is a history that is unrepeatable and a wonderful insight.
Robinson’s back story is one of a talented multi instrumentalist and singer who’s moved from North Carolina to Colorado. Here she was employed in social services whilst playing and further studying song writing. Eventually her breaks came and this is her second album, and her first, on a major label, it’s a joy. It’d be enough to talk about her voice: pure, crystal clear and mellifluous. However there’s considerable craft in her song writing and lyrics. She writes stories about classic country music themes such as cheating, missteps, unfilled ambitions and the military and it’s saddest days. She’s sympathetic and never judging but profound and engaging.
Jason Richmond produces (The Avett Brothers and The Steep Canyon Rangers), he ensures the mainly stripped back country arrangements are empathetic throughout. The backing to this divine voice varies between acoustic, electric and atmospheric. Richmond complements the songs with percussion, organ, bass lines, dabbles of electric guitar or sweeping runs of fiddle. “Let ‘Em Burn” is just Robinson on piano singing a delicate ballad. She says it’s “for anyone who thinks they’ve built a cage they’ve learned to hate and wondering if they have the courage to ask for what they really want.” A sad but captivating listen.
“Every Day In Faith” is haunting and heartfelt, a hymn to seeing it through. Writing “Things You Learn The Hard Way” was novel. Robinson says she found the song title and chorus and then had to find the verses. In this case it was a list of things you learn the hard way (obvs). A bit stumped she asked her followers on Facebook and the illustrations tumbled in. From this assortment she selected the ones she liked most along with her own mistakes such as not avoiding talking politics with her grandfather!
This may be the most productive and commercially successful period in Brandi Carlile’s career. Her ascension to be the ‘Queen of Americana’ has not been an easy or quick climb, this is her seventh album. If pulling together the songs, the band and the producers isn’t a considerable task, in the meantime she’s been collaborating or producing other, much commended, country music masterworks with the Highwomen and Tania Tucker. Much of what she touches turns to gold and her 2019 By The Way, I Forgive You was worth all the Grammys and still remains one of my personal favourites.
Her voice is an incredible instrument with its range. She’s comfortable fronting an Elton John pastiche rock anthem (Sinners Saints And Fools) or cooing the whimsical lullaby of Stay Gentle. She’s expressive with exceptional poise, phrasing and occasional volume while admitting to relationship failures or continually self appraising her life and behaviour. Lyrically much of it is confessional and intimate and this is where comparisons to her idol and friend, Joni Mitchell, are worth dwelling on. The opener and album highlight, Right This Time, speaks of a contretemps with someone close and the song builds slowly to a dramatic finale. Mama Werewolf again dismantles her own, on occasion, bad tempered behaviour with her young children. She’d have you believe she’s not easy to live with but her insecurities and frankness are disarming along with her passion and selfless sharing. The boldness and directness of Mitchell’s lyrics are a brave template to follow. However, there’s little here that replicates Mitchell’s sound apart from the acoustic guitar and rhythm from Big Yellow Taxi on You And Me On The Rock. It’s an attractive appropriation or tribute.
Carlile has worked with the Hanseroth brothers, who are part of her band and understand her well, not least by being very close neighbours in Seattle; this is an exceptional partnership. They collaborate on song composition and provide accompaniment on guitars, bass and harmonies. Like her previous album Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings produce and play. This results in sympathetic arrangements that give her space and ensure each track has a different sound depending on the needs of the song. I’d have liked more strings (only two tracks), I thought this added to the drama and emotion of the last album. They created an epic sweep to songs such as The Joke elevating them from good to instant classics.
I’m a couple of weeks past Covid-19 and pleased to have emerged feeling fine albeit with a bit of a cough. With the double vaccination I never felt that I wouldn’t be well afterwards. If I learned anything then this virus is very easy to catch and quite indiscriminate. I was amongst family who had the same exposure to the infected strangers I was with yet they were unaffected. No one knows why this is the case. I assume I’ll get called for the third jab soon along with the flu jab. I’ll happily be in the queue.
At long last Anna and I attended our first concert since the pandemic started. It was in Salford at The Lowry where we saw The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (check out this clip, beyond epic). Seven very talented ukulele players played a selection of modern covers by AC/DC, ZZ Top, Wheatus, The Cranberries, Willie Nelson, Pharrell Williams, Lady GaGa, Kraftwerk, Jackie Wilson, George Formby, Ian Dury & The Blockheads and, my favourite, Hawkwind. The renditions are brilliantly played but there’s lots of humour interspersed. For example the Blockheads lyric migrated from ‘Sex and Drugs and Rock n’ Roll’ to ‘Cakes and buns and sausage rolls’.
We stayed over near the venue and the next morning went to put some luggage in the car before going into Manchester for the day. At the car park pay machine we identified two members of the band who I gushed over. One of the chaps was inserting his parking ticket into the machine followed by his debit card. I always find this needs the closest attention and concentration so I can well imagine, in retrospect, what he thought about some garrulous bloke gibbering on about the set they played and where were they playing next etc. Rock stars eh? It’s a hard life.
As we were in the locality where the eldest daughter and husband live I continued a job that reminds me of painting the Forth Road Bridge. The property is surrounded by a very high brick wall and as it was first built in the 19th Century the mortar between the bricks is of variable condition, but mainly bad, around the house and yard. Applying replacement mortar to a vertical surface is not easy but it kept me out of harm’s way for a few hours and will for many more to come.
So I was barrelling into Barwick-in-Elmet on my bike when I saw a phone fall from a passing car. I was on a 40 mile circuit from home and had found a delicious tailwind. I reckon the driver had set off from home with the phone on the roof and when traversing a speed bump it fell to the ground. With the car long gone I stopped and picked it up hoping to stop a car driving over it and to find details about the owner. I found his name as well as his Driving Licence, credit and debit cards, Leeds United season ticket and other membership cards. I was surprised that someone carries so many important items in one wallet.
Anyway I found someone with the man’s surname in his phone directory and rang them. It was his brother. I obtained his home address, which was about half a mile from where the phone was found. When I got there I checked again with his brother that this was his house. He wanted my personal details to allow his brother to thank me but whilst not being evasive I gave him only my name and the fact I lived in York. I was happy just to complete the task without any thanks. I posted the phone through his letter box and got on with the remaining 25 miles to home.
I bring you news about Christmas. The last 20 years have seen the festivities at our house. This year it has been out sourced and the Favourite Eldest Daughter and Matt are hosting the feast and present swapping in North West England. (Note, she would give me a reprimand over a GDPR compliance breach if the disclosure identified the town she lives in.) To take over this responsibility brings several critical considerations that mustn’t be overlooked. This includes the starter (The Favourite Youngest is insisting on Yorkshire puddings with cauliflower cheese: I like the way she’s thinking), what type of Christmas crackers? (Oh no not the usual detritus of key fobs, miniature packs of cards and bottle openers?), the appropriate vegetables (carrots, sprouts, parsnips and maybe peas…obvs) and lastly the ‘lubrication’ for the Christmas Pudding (call me revolutionary but I’m a thick double cream type of boy.) This serious project has merited a PowerPoint and (without fouling GDPR) here are a few slides…
Lastly on ‘Morrisons Watch” apart from their disposal for £6.3 billion I note the students are back in earnest. As I was cruising the aisles in central York a badly dressed oik approached a member of staff and enquired as to where the hot dogs were? After grabbing a large glass full of them he headed for the checkout. I used to eat this stuff when I was 19, maybe some things don’t change?
Pinnell’s a care worn tattooed troubadour from just south of the Ohio River near Cincinnati. He’s accumulated a loyal following in the USA and UK by constant touring. The sound is electric with a groove and includes excursions into honky tonk, various styles of rock and the Country sound also inhabited by artists like Reckless Kelly (Cody Braun contributes fiddle here) and Boo Ray.
The songs, he says, in an interview with Country Music People’s Chris Smith last month, are about relationships and travelling, which inevitably impacts on everyone’s life. From his lyrics you’ll have no doubt he’s lived every moment. With a tight band he delivers ten songs of personal observations with an insouciance that suggests he’s learned to live with the scars he’s collected along the way.
Pinnell’s musical charms fall into a number of areas; a lilt and groove that grabs you from the get go, the varied propulsions of Chris Alley on drums, the beautiful electric guitar leads of Junior Tutwiler and Jonathan Tyler that light up the songs between choruses, a fine ear for a hook and, lastly, his off the cuff words. Doing My Best tackles the problem of a musician trying to make a living and ploughing on regardless of the realities – “I ain’t doing no good, I’m just doing my best.” Amen to that.
So there was I looking for something to write about in a blog when I struck unlucky: I got Coronavirus.
As a man who spends a lot of time avoiding people by riding a bike or hiding in a back bedroom writing about Country music I can count myself unlucky to cop for this. On Friday after about three hours outside power washing the drive (living the dream) I was knackered. I felt truly zonked and I wondered why but put it down to the tasks I’d be doing. Later I slumped to bed with a few snuffles. I’d be all right in the morning I thought.
A restless night saw me wake up to a full blown heavy cold. ‘Quelle surprise’ I thought, who did I know had a cold that I could have caught it off? No one. A bike ride was out of the question (highlighting the severity of my lethargy) and eventually the household sleuth, the present Mrs Ives, suspected foul play and that I should take a lateral flow test. It was positive. Oh no. Next I made an appointment at a York Testing Centre for a PCR test. So what does PCR stand for? Polymerase Chain Reaction (obvs stupid.) It also stands for a git, dressed as if he’s about to walk into the ruptured Chernobyl reactor building, sticking a swab stick into the back of my throat in three places; stopping when I’m convulsing and about to gag on each occasion. Warming to the abuse at hand he then, with undisguised delight, asks which nostril I wanted him to stick the swab up for 10 seconds? Still gasping for air I had thoughts of telling him to stick it up his fundament but then volunteered the nearest nostril to the car window, By way of small consolation I had the car door handle to hold onto as I endured this attack. If there’s an incentive not to get Covid then this regime should be implemented at every nightclub and football ground.
Which brings me to where I thought I got it. The Favourite Youngest Daughter had arranged a brilliant day out with epic hospitality and a top class football match at Leeds United. I was sat next to a stranger at the lunch table and the staff fussed closely over us with food and drinks. I think this was my downfall and don’t mention the football, we were annihilated 0-3. Needless to say companions, Anna, Sophie and Harry have not caught the virus as I write. My father-in-law volunteered my frailty lay in have having depleted reserves due to the cycling. This appeals to my ego that as a finely tuned athlete, in peak condition, I have fallen prey to this misfortune as opposed to being a vulnerable and decrepit old sod. Whichever way then the Delta variant is a highly contagious phenomena and not to be treated with anything other than the utmost respect.
Given my lack of a social whirl meant that I inflicted myself on few people between the date of catching it and having it confirmed. However Steve (he of Vixen 101) and Sharon laid on a marvellous afternoon involving a grand stroll, a visit to the pub and then an early evening tea with lots of care and thought in splendid weather. My unhappy task was to text Steve on the Saturday advising I may be the carrier of the plague. I hope they continue to avoid my gift.
As I write then I am still drained and heady. My sense of taste dropped off this morning. Quite strange to all of a sudden find a cup of tea tastes like someone’s using old cardboard as flavouring. The family has rallied: Mrs Ives brought breakfast in bed, something she’s scheduled to repeat, if it follows a pattern, after Prince William accedes to the throne. The Favourite Eldest Daughter made herself available to facilitate her aunt mastering her iMac to load the Zoom meeting software. Not a task I was up to, Covid or no Covid. After showing such patience and skill I think Katrina could now be hired by Chester Zoo to teach primates to save the nation by obtaining HGV licences.
So I’ve only 6 days to go. I’ve had a couple of official calls, one to check I’m staying put and the other to ask if we need any shopping. I did establish that I will still be positive after 10 days but not infectious. A troubling question is how long do you remain infectious? I think it could be over a month which means our pre-holiday PCR Test for Portugal in October would show me up as being positive and initiate another lock down period as well as excluding me from travelling. Clearly another PCR Test is something to therefore avoid. Anna, as I write, is on hold with Jet2 trying to reschedule the holiday.
I must have a word with myself. When I read that an artist has released an album after coming 9th on the US edition of The Voice I worry about their credentials and authenticity. Where are the lonely nights playing to 14 people in bars between Nashville and Chattanooga or the endless poring through their father’s Randy Travis LPs? However, for Ashland Craft it doesn’t matter: she is the real thing.
Snapped up by a major independent label, they’ve pulled together eleven songs of which she’s co-written nine and put her with producer Jonathan Singleton, maybe better known for his song compositions rather than twiddling the knobs. The project has worked fabulously and this is a terrific album. The success is mainly attributable to her complete command of the songs with a confident, ballsy and effortless delivery. It’s a voice that could deliver rock, soul or blues: it’s a force of nature.
The title track kicks off the album with a southern rock vibe. Guitar solos are way behind the beat whilst a harmonica wails throughout. Her slightly rasping voice extracts all you could hope for out of the tune: a paean to movin’ on and no backward glances. Maybe one downside of making your career out of covers is shown on Make It Past Georgia where the vocalisation is pure Billy Currington on People Are Crazy. Pedal steel and a fiddle take it down with Highway Like Me: a beautiful ballad and tune where young bluesman, Marcus King, plays some delicious and very fluid licks in the background. Mimosas In The Morning has a chorus for the radio where she belts out the observation that ‘this ain’t no whiskey conversation.’ Letcha Fly sails along over a fiddle foundation and a snappy snare rhythm before exiting with a picked banjo. Her vocal is pure Jack Daniels and cream in its taste and texture.
What the hell was I thinking? The first two days of the LEJOG in July, over a similar brutal terrain, in the West Country were memorably difficult by any measure I can think of. So would you schedule a bike ride on similar roads and climbs? It should have been the last thing on my mind, surely? It seems that when the legs recover and the excitement of an adventure lies ahead intelligence takes a back seat. I had put together a ride for two friends who despite advance warning of the severity both still turned up.
Martin Appleyard was certainly my peer on two wheels but set off with a ticking bomb of a problem that eventually came to be a considerable handicap and burden. He needs considerable praise for coping with this problem, albeit he’ll not receive it in this blog as I have a reputation to maintain!
Tony Franco or ‘Franco/Frankie’ as he eventually got called throughout (even by Martin!) had passed his ‘physical’ up in Yorkshire in July when he was assessed for this ride by a saunter around the North Yorks hills. We’d toured in England and France before and knew the routine of my planning, grumpiness and desire to move along. However, whilst surviving this ride up until Bournemouth he had an overall experience that seems about as draining and pleasurable as chemotherapy. It’s only his grit and indomitable personality that overcame the challenges of hills and a bike that weighed about the same as an Aga range cooker. His bike is a top of the range US touring bike by Surly but something lighter was compelling for this jaunt. Given he was the youngest member of the expedition I think it safe to say that on his end of trip feedback form he’ll report that his tender years were noted ie. the elders provided all navigation of the route, food stop decisions, accommodation choices, most cultural exchanges and provision of nutrition. Granted, not all of this came with an equitable and friendly delivery…