Saturday, 30 June 2012

Fylde Vintage Weekend and Farm Show

Last night we were out in the wilderness of the Fylde countryside (a very nice place to be!) We were playing in a huge marquee at the Fylde Vintage Weekend and Farm Show to a packed and very receptive audience who were determined to get the most out of us.

When we got there we found these two gentlemen building a stage for us. "Will it be alright?" we were asked.

"I was thinking about having a curving staircase to come down as we start," I said.

"Aye, keep thinking..." came the answer.

The show hadn't really got going until today, but the marquee filled up and there were several familiar faces who came to see us at the Heskin Hall show. Some indeed said they had come especially to see us again. I love an optimist...

I had had a rather frazzling couple of days fighting the weather to get back from Newcastle in time for the gig (see this blog entry for details) and was running on sheer adrenaline. This led me to make several instant comebacks to a large group by the stage who were quite witty and we built up a fantastic atmosphere during the night.

We started playing around 8:15pm and at 11:45pm I announced the last song but that was just a challenge to them and we played seven or eight encores, finishing well after midnight and eventually getting away sometime after 1:00am!

Now this was a field and not particularly well furnished with street lighting...

Apologies to anyone trying to sleep in the caravans we kept going past and reversing around whilst we tried to find the gate...

Also apologies to the good people of the Fylde who may have been awoken by the raucous and ever so slightly rude roars from the audience as we played "Living Next Door To Alice" as one of those encores. Well really, I was shocked...

To the young lady who kept shouting for us to do a Lady Gaga number... next year...

Photos once again courtesy of Jeannie Lancaster.

Myerscough College Open Day 2012

Apologies - it's taken me a while to get round to writing this entry - the gig was on Sunday 10 June - twenty days ago!!!

But straight after we finished playing I had to dash home, grab a bite to eat and drive down to Bristol for the night before carrying on to Yeovil for work on Monday morning! And somehow life has been a bit like that ever since!

Anyway, the weather was quite kind for a change. We had a good day and a long day and my fingers were a good couple of inches shorter at the end of it after pressing on the guitar neck all day...

As always at Myerscough, there was lots for visitors to see and do so it was nice when people stopped to sit and listen to us for the afternoon! Seeing as we had all the bunting left from the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, we went all patriotic again!

Photos courtesy of Jeannie Lancaster

Noah? Give Us a Lift?

I got caught up in the flooding this week, though not to any great state of discomfort. It did mean I had to spend an extra night away though and poor Fran was left on her own from Monday to Friday.

The week started off ok, with a trip up to Glasgow, which was gloriously sunny on Monday night. The travel agents had put me the far side of town for some reason - the hotel was probably a couple of quid cheaper than the one by the venue which was in the next street to the station I arrived at, but I then paid six pounds odd in taxi fares getting to and from with my bags... This sort of thing happens when the public sector is under close scrutiny to be cost effective - it becomes less so.

Tuesday night saw me on my way to Newcastle where I had another event on Wednesday and then on Thursday I went into the office for my annual appraisal and to wish Doug Belshaw well, as he left to go off doing exciting things with Mozilla (I'm using their Firefox browser right now, Doug!)

So even though I'd been away three nights I stayed for a later train and went out for lunch with the gang, catching the 2:20pm train for Carlisle to pick up the West Coast main line.

All went well for an hour or so. We went through a horrendous rainstorm and I saw a couple of flashes of lightning. Then we reached Haltwhistle. And stayed there.

After a while the conductor came and announced there were floods ahead and we couldn't go on. Also there were floods behind and we couldn't go back. Also the roads were flooded and the bus companies were refusing to come to the rescue...

So as we were at a station, we got off singly, then in groups to gawp up the track. There in the distance was a silver sheen of water and it was coming towards us.

Another 20 minutes or half an hour passed and I looked up from my book and saw a stream passing the train...

So we got out again and trotted to the front of the train.

The water had passed completely under the train and was still flowing under like a fairly fast stream.

Shortly after this we were told they would set off and try to get back to Newcastle. By this time it was gone 4:00pm and we had another hour at least to go before we would get back to where we started from.

We went slowly through the floods, crossed tracks and picked up people moaning at how late we were and a couple of real neanderthals of the type who make railway journeys that much more tedious.

Halfway there we heard that Newcastle station had been closed due to flooding...

Hurrah for Facebook - one of my colleagues had noticed my reports on there and despite the fact that it was gone 5:00pm I got a call asking if I needed a hotel sorting out. Unsure as to whether we would reach Newcastle I opted to stay at the Premier Inn near the Metro Centre and then when I got off there I realised there would be no buses and little chance of a taxi so phoned the hotel for directions to walk it.

The directions started by "Walk through the Metro Centre..." which was impossible as it had been evacuated so I skirted it and came to another precinct of shops who were all ripping carpets up and brushing waves of water out of their front doors. The roof of Ikea had come down. They had brought a new one out of stock but were struggling as some screws were missing or they had one strut too many or something...

Finally getting to the hotel they had a queue of would-be guests who were being turned away. Had I not been booked in by my wonderful team, I'd have been spending the night on a chair somewhere!

I finally got home at lunchtime on Friday after going back to Newcastle and going via York. Even so we got held up at Darlington because of animals on the line... Stranded fish perhaps...

Home felt good.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

King And King To Be Facebook Page

I've created a Facebook page for the book. Today it had climbed from a position in excess of 110,000 to 20,381 in Amazon's bestsellers (paid category) as another couple of copies were sold. A grateful thank you to the two buyers!

The page will feature discussion between readers (though give them a bit of a chance - at time of writing it has only been available for a week!)

Also I hope to put a few extracts on every now and then to give a flavour of the book and also I'll add a few insights as to how the book came to be written and how the plot developed.

Facebook users can "like" the page to feature it on their own timeline. And I'll be very grateful if they do!

The URL address for the page is!/KingAndKingToBe

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Coombe Lodge, Croydon

Every now and then I find myself staying or visiting somewhere a little out of the ordinary and this week included one of those little highlights.

I've been all over the place the last few weeks and this week has been another 4-day trek, starting with a couple of days in Newcastle with my colleagues from JISC infoNet at the University of Northumbria.

I'm not sure that Hadrian House has anything of special architectural merit apart from being one of those fun places where if you stand still long enough the lights go out...

From there I went to Nottingham, staying at the Castle Marina Premier Inn and spending a day at the University's East Midlands Conference Centre. This was for an "eFair" hosted by the JISC Regional Support Centre for the East Midlands region - a celebration of the uses of technology in teaching and learning and a chance for delegates to see what others are doing and to hear from a few experts and pundits.

Despite all the experts who were there, they decided I should run a session and I led my gathering of delegates through a few exercises around the implementation of change in organisations. They were kind in their feedback considering I made them do so much work!

Then from Nottingham I went down to Croydon, staying at another Premier Inn (I haven't quite got the "full set" yet but I must be getting close...) and it was here I came across my architectural highlight.

This was the Beefeater restaurant next to the hotel. Coombe Lodge was built in 1761 (thank you Wikipedia) and was part of a large estate comprising Coombe Lodge, Coombe Farm and Coombe House whch was a somewhat older ediface owned by the brothers of William Harvey who not only was the first man ever to describe how blood circulates, but who dug tunnels all over the grounds so he could sit in the dark and meditate. Wikipedia doesn't record what his brothers - the house owners - thought of this...

As I had my breakfast yesterday morning I found myself in this panelled room with a little gallery of arches and carved panels and little turned finials, some hanging others standing.

Next to my table at the side of the impressive fireplace was a brass bell push for summoning the servants. I toyed with the idea of ordering another fried egg, but when you are in hotels as much as I am, you try to avoid too many huge breakfasts! The fireplace itself had a huge grate and a full set of unspoilt, uncracked blue and white tiles to each side of the opening. A remarkable room that seemed to catch the attention of not another single person in the room... I thought it was wonderful.

The photos were all taken on my phone and wouldn't stand being enlarged any more than this. I'm now back in Blackpool amidst torrential rain and gale force winds. Ahhhhh.... home!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Meandering in Mykonos

27 May 2012 and the Thomson Celebration came into port at Mykonos town on Mykonos Island in Greece.

First impressions were very favourable - there was a topless girl on the beach not far from where we got off the shuttle bus from the ship...

With my usual luck, she was lying face down...

"There's a mosquito on your back!" shouted an old chap behind me hopefully. How childish, I thought, as Fran nudged me as a warning not to join in...

I suspect there's a healthy nightlife on the island. At 10:00am of a morning there's hardly anyone about at all apart from a few shop owners setting stalls and display stands out and a few old men sitting on the harbour wall energetically discussing something with much waving of arms. In other words... absolutely perfect!

The windmills are a major landmark for the town and if you have ever been or seen postcards or photos then this will be a familar sight.

The windmills date back as far as the 15th century and the distinctive thatch thus pre-date The Beatles' mop-tops!

Just down the hill is Zorba's Bar, looking very inviting. We had a wander around the town itself. Many of the streets are extremely narrow. Think of a crazy paving path only two stones wide and that's the street! Others are just about wide enough to accept traffic.

We watched with rising concern as an approaching car caused a van to swerve on a collision course with a line of bollards but with a series of soft THWACK! sounds as he hit them, they folded under the van's body and popped up again once he was past. They were made of rubber!

We suddenly came out onto a path on the edge of a low cliff and the scene was just idyllic. Just look at the colours of the sea. Why don't I live there?!?

We walked through the area known as Little Venice where balconies of buildings overhang the water. The only thing we were disappointed at was that we didn't see the pelican that everyone had told us we would see. Called Perseus, it has been another staple sight of Mykonos for many years. Perhaps he was on holiday that day...

The 1989 film Shirley Valentine was filmed here.

Large versions of the photos: All the photos from this holiday are now available from this set at Flickr.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

A Day in Piraeus

26 May 2012. The Thomson Celebration docks in Piraeus, affording those who wish to go, a chance to visit Athens and the Acropolis.

We visited the Acropolis in 2009 and planned to wander around the dock area for a couple of hours and then spend the afternoon on the ship, relaxing and reading.

Having set off walking and successfully dodging the taxi drivers who watched us refuse their ten predecessors but who clearly thought that was because we were holding out until we reached their cab, we then came across a road train.

It was almost full of passengers already so we took one of the few remaining seats and off it trundled.

Road trains are uncomfortable and they are the bane of motorists, but for the tourist they offer a chance to see the sights at a slow enough pace to take them in. It made a couple of stops at the marina and the museum and then in around half an hour we were back at the place we got on.

The tiny little church was one of the sights on the tour. We carried on walking around the docks area as far as we could get which was another 45 minute's walk and then turned to come back.

Piraeus is one of the many places that use modern trolley buses. When you look at the years of construction and disruption there has been in places like Edinburgh, you have to wonder why we seem to be bringing back tramlines to our cities in the UK instead of using electric power in this way. It doesn't need as much power to move a tram on rails as it does a bus on tyres but all the faff in getting there and the cost of laying rails I suspect leads to a very long payback period!

Once back almost to our ship, we stop for a moment to admire the Star Clipper whose crew are throwing rubbish off into a skip on the dockside.

We have just one day and one port of call left on our holiday. For fans of Shirley Valentine, it's Mykonos.

Large versions of the photos: all of the holiday's photos are held in this set at Flickr.

Friday, 15 June 2012

King And King To Be

Introducing my new baby - my first novel, a fantasy: King And King To Be. It has published today on Amazon for the Kindle and other eReaders.

I wrote this mainly during the 1980s and then it got put aside when I got immersed in computers and learned a new career which has taken me to where I am now.

The book took on the role of "retirement project" but with the advent of ebooks and the ease of self-publishing now I've taken it up again over the past few months and edited and proofed and edited again several times until I'm struggling to find the mistakes that are probably still in there!

The product description reads:

Britain in the Dark Ages. But a Britain that has been forgotten by history. A Britain where elves, fairies and goblins still reside, feared and mistrusted by Men.

As a dark force threatens to conquer the kingdoms of Men they turn to the elves and a wizard for help. Together they seek for the one person who could save the Britain of the sixth century. A man called Arthur. A man who was born and lives in the twentieth century...

A startling first novel by J D Burke combines fantasy with half-familiar legend and a hero who struggles to accept the fate that he once thought was either a story or that belonged to someone else.

A huge thank you goes to my cousin, graphic artist, Catherine Metcalfe, for the fabulous cover. The brief I gave her was "Stonehenge, a sword and some idea of magic"... I cannot fault her interpretation.

To all those who read it years ago and gave me encouragement, a thousand thanks.

To anyone who goes out and buys it (including those who rushed out today on the first day) a thousand more thanks.

Large version of the cover: at Amazon of course! Oh and Flickr also!

Links to buy the book at: or

Friday, 8 June 2012

The Oracle and Temple to Apollo, Didyma

25 May 2012. After we left Miletus we motored for a short while admiring the rain before arriving at Didyma. Here are the remains of a massive Temple to Apollo which, although never fully completed, would have rivalled that of Artemis, not too far away that was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The original temple was run by the Branchidae family claiming descent from Branchos, a youth loved by Apollo. It was the main temple of Miletus and was reached from there via a 17km Sacred Way, which had ritual waystations and statues of the Branchidae family including their animals. They were making sure of their franchise...

The marble has been badly marked by fire - hence the blackened state of the remains. The Persians under Darius invaded in 493 BC and presumably having had unpalatable advice offered by the Oracle promptly threw a wobbly and kicked out the Branchidae family and set fire to the place saying things like "Stuff your Oracle!" and "From now on we'll go to Delphi...!"

Once a visitor had climbed the steps and puffed themselves out, they then found themselves breathing in the heady fumes of incense mixed with certain other additives that left them feeling, shall we say, a touch light-headed...

On a high they were then directed down a narrow steeply sloping passage that was not only dark but narrow, the steep marble flooring requiring them in their befuddled state to reach out to touch both walls in the dark to keep their balance.

Arriving here in an enclosed temple space, but open to the sky, they then had to climb back up the steps shown at the far end.

If they were breathing heavily before, by now they were positively gasping and therefore drawing in yet more of the intoxicating fumes. At the top of these steps they found the room of the Oracle. A High Priestess, also somewhat off her head, wailed and garbled whilst members of the ever accomodating Branchidae family ("An offering? How kind!") translated the utterances of the Oracle out of the goodness of their hearts and to the growth of their purse.

Alexander the Great captured Miletus in 334 BC and began a restoration of the temple and started the tradition of the Oracle again. It was said that the sacred spring which had dried up a couple of hundred years before the Persians burnt the place, started to flow again once Alexander had visited. He probably made sure of it by digging...

There was by now a 160 year gap in the Oracle's tradition. Luckily someone was found who knew how to wail incoherently and someone learned to interpret this. Just over 600 years later, Rome was leaning heavily on the Christians and in 302 AD Galerius urged Diocletian to step it up somewhat.

Uncertain, Diocletian asked the Oracle for guidance. At Didyma the Oracle's utterings were given in written form. At Delphi they were merely spoken. The record shows that the response was interpreted as in favour of the persecution, marking the beginning of what has become known as the Great Persecution of 303, lasting for ten years.

You may get slightly biassed guidance from a High Priestess of one religion if wondering whether to persecute another...

A few people from our party climbed the steps expecting to find themselves able to simply walk down the steps of the temple on the other side. And as the Oracle's rooms are no more they would have been able to do that had they been willing to jump the 12 feet or so to the floor of the first platform.

Instead we had to climb up the steep passage again. I've brightened the photo considerably, it was very dim in there. Miss Franny blinked at the wrong moment - it wasn't so dim that she could see just as well with her eyes shut...

A couple of gorgons' heads sculptures are displayed here but most of the sculpture including some statues from the Sacred Way have been removed to the museum. A few of the Sacred Way statues are apparently to be found in the British Museum in London.

Once back at the ticket office, the current High Priest came looking for an offering...

Large versions of the photos: All photos from the holiday will be found in this set at Flickr.

Kusadasi and Miletus

25 May 2012. We arrived in Kusadasi in Turkey. A place we have visited a number of times already and we looked for a tour that we hadn't done before.

It seemed that we had left the rain of Lesbos behind us, but after this brilliant start the weather turned a little dull through the morning. Not yet though so we can remain optimistic for the moment until we join our bus and the guide says "We had thunder and rain last night - as much rain during the night as we expected all summer..."

Hey, we're British! We can handle rain...

We are to visit a couple of ancient sites, first the trading city of Miletus and then its temple at Didyma which was both temple and oracle - a famous oracle rivalling that of Delphi.

Arriving at Miletus we found the ticket office looking rather like a border post. We still had blue skies but the darker clouds are starting to form now!

Miletus Theatre. Whilst Ephesus is the best known ancient city in this part of Turkey, the city of Miletus was the main trade centre. This was where goods from Asia were bought and from where the great caravans set out south and west across the Holy Land and Greece then west to Italy and Western Europe.

The theatre is not as large as that of Ephesus. This one seats only 15,000 to the Ephesian theatre's 25,000.

The curvature of the surface of the seats that faces the stage creates the perfect sound acoustics. Someone speaking softly from the arena can be heard anywhere in the theatre.

Given that gladiatorial contests were staged here, that must have meant the eager audience could hear every squelch...

The area had already been swamped by the Aegean but after it rose to become Miletus, trade was affected by the silting up of the river and retreat of the sea.

Leaving the area of the theatre and trading centre we approach the bath house. Here are the cubicles where people would be oiled and massaged and have the dirt of the day sweated out and scraped off by their personal body slave or one of the baths attendants.

Earthquakes, centuries of neglect and the taking of dressed stone for new building projects have left the city in a sorry state. The theatre was good though and the bath house had enough left to show us to make the visit worthwhile. The scenery around the site, with grasses and trees with bright red poppies peeping out also contributed to the day.

Large versions of the photos: all the holiday's photos will be posted to this set at Flickr.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

A Rainy Day in Lesbos

24 May 2012. Thomson Celebration arrives off Mytilene on the Greek island of Lesbos. The anchor is dropped in the sea outside the harbour as we are to be tendered in on the ship's boats. As usual those people who have booked excursions will be given priority and we are just intending to get off and have a walk around so there's no particular rush to get up and rush out.

When we do crawl out of the pit and make our way aft for breakfast (how these nautical terms just trip from my fingers!) we notice that the decking is a touch wet. Come to think of it, I did think I'd heard thunder in the early wee hours before daylight and a full bladder roused me fully from sleep...

We ate a leisurely breakfast on deck but underneath the awnings which were doing a good job of keeping what we thought was a bit of rain off us. We went down to Deck 2 and did a double-take at the queue for the tenders. We decided to go back up and try again a bit later in the morning.

We went back up on the deck and immediately did another double-take - this time at the weather. It wasn't just raining, it was absolutely pouring down. I mentioned the fact on Facebook only for lots of our "friends" to remark how nice it was in England. Thanks guys...

The tender operation was suspended once or twice for short periods due to the weather. The small boats were certainly bobbing up and down a bit more than the Celebration was doing!

It scarcely let up all day. At its height, the rain was so dense that all that we could see of the above view was the white bits on the ferry in the harbour. The land was totally hidden from view!

The headland with its picturesque castle was lit up at times by vivid pink flashes of lightning. How appropriate for Lesbos we thought...

I've still not been to Lesbos...

Large versions of the photos: All the photos from the holiday will be stored in Ancient Wonders Cruise folder at my Flickr account.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Scorton Village Jubilee Party

You know, that rain that started last night kept it up all night and into this afternoon. So it was with some relief that we knew there was an alternative to the open-air field for Scorton Village's Diamond Jubilee Party.

We unloaded into the Village Hall and set up in a corner, whilst we waited to see whether anyone would brave the rain to turn up.

By heck they are indeed made of stern stuff in Scorton - the place filled and all the seats were taken and they still came in until there was a whole line of people standing at the far end. A special Jubilee Grace was said and then I got to play the National Anthem on the keyboard. Something I had only played once before and that only half an hour previously as a practice when we first set up before anyone came in! (Sorry, your Majesty...)

Miss Franny and Miss Jeannie had surrounded us with bunting and very pretty we looked too... It did mean that sneaking off stage for a trip to the loo involved ducking and choking or limbo dancing but hey... why not?!?

We kept to the less raucous songs for the afternoon and by the time we got to the end of the afternoon we had clocked up nine hours playing within a period of 21 hours given that we had been playing last night in Chorley. My finger ends are a touch sensitive...

Many thanks to the wonderful people of Scorton for asking us to perform and for all the lovely comments we were given at the end of the afternoon. It was a pleasure to play for you.

Abingdon Street Market 2

Yesterday we met up with David and Jeannie for breakfast at Quilligan's in town and I took the camera down with me to get some shots of a group of buildings that are due for demolition any time.

Whilst we walked towards them I noticed that the front of Abingdon Street Market, mentioned a few entries ago, has now been revealed and what a nice job they have made of it. There was a local Radio Wave van parked outside and vaguely through the window of the market I could see the cheery form of Hayley Kay the DJ who with her partner Ged Mills wakes me up every morning.

I thought I'd nip in to tell her to stop waking me up every morning - sometimes I'm just not ready, you know... She seemed a bit busy so I grabbed a photo and swapped a grin and left her to it.

This was what I'd really wanted to photograph - it wasn't the best day for taking photos yesterday (and is even worse today) but it does look like the work to knock this row down is fairly imminent! If we get a sunny day I'll go and have another look.

This is Talbot Road opposite the railway station. The row has seen better days admittedly and is being demolished to pave the way for part of the town centre refurbishment. A large Sainsburys store is to be built in this area also utilising the space vacated by the indoor bowls arena which was demolished a while ago.

The row has been altered a couple of times in its history. Looking at the few surviving arched windows it must have looked quite spectacular when new. A lot of the brickwork has been covered by stucco towards the right and the car showroom looks like an addition as the flat roof certainly doesn't look "in keeping"!

A shame I didn't go down to take the photo a few months ago whilst shops were still open and before the barricades went around it. But better to take it now than not have a reminder of it at all!

Large versions of the photos: market, Hayley Kay, condemned row

Heskin Hall Steam Fair

Last night saw us at the Heskin Hall Steam Fair once more - we've been playing this event every year since 2006 and it is always a brilliant night for us.

A huge marquee was our venue for the night - half again as big as in previous years and as we set up only a couple of tables had people sitting at them. I needn't have worried though because the place filled to capacity with a considerable number of people standing close to the bar area as well as the seating area.

We were kept busy. In fact we played an incredible four and a half hours, finishing with a version of House of the Rising Sun.

For some reason my guitar effects pedal was giving me palpitations - it cut out once or twice but seemed to come back ok after a vicious kick... Going to have to look at that and hope it behaves itself today!

This afternoon we are playing for the Diamond Jubilee Party at Scorton Village. The weather is a bit wet - it was raining last night as we carried the gear back to the car and from the state of the field had been for some time.

It's not let up since then so I think we're going to be in the Village Hall rather than on the field but we'll do our best to inject a bit of cheer!