Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Capri Meanderings

Saturday 20 August 2005. Our free time in the town of Capri, on the island of Capri, but not driving round in a Capri, is coming to an end and we meet up again with the rest of the excursionists under the clock tower.

There are masses of people wandering about - it's a wonder the island doesn't sink every summer and bob up again when the tourists have gone. Jennifer Lopez was peeping out of her hotel window and thinking "Bugger that, I'm not going out there with all that lot wandering about..."

We were shepherded onto a coach - "Hey-a Shepino, come-a by-a!" and off we went to a marvellous viewpoint that included the very thing Mum had come to see.

One of those white roofs down there below us was Gracie Fields' villa. I've no idea which one... Gracie was of course something of a legend. A brilliant singer - though this might be disputed by any modern ear that listens to "Sally, Salleeeeeeee! Don't ever wander..."

"Hey-a you! You with-a da hat! You-a stop-a da woman-a screeching-a hey?" Look, easier said than done, pal. She's my Mum, I've known her all my life and she's never been shy. She single-handedly saved 120 sailors once at Dover in a thick fog when the fog horn broke and she stood on the rocks bellowing "F-o-g-g-g-g-g! F-o-g-g-g-g-g!" Strangely enough at the same time three ships were run aground at Calais, thinking they were perilously close to the White Cliffs...

Anyway we came originally from Rochdale so Gracie was almost family in my mother's eyes. When she was still alive (I'm back talking about Gracie now by the way) she used to invite any Britishers with the stomach to listen for a cup of tea and an arpeggio or two. I think "arpeggios" are those rather dry biscuits that you can dunk...

So we have a communal picture taken, mainly because if I'd taken one of Mum on her own she'd have backed herself over the cliff edge... "Sally, Salleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!" Now the keen-eyed and faithful followers amongst you may have noticed that this photo was included on the last page about Capri... If not - then please pay more attention.

And yes, at this point I'll apologise now for the hat. After the first splash of sea spray after getting on the boat to come to Capri, it just sort of flopped. However I grew quite attached to it and was almost inconsolable when, on our way home, I put it in the X-ray machine at the airport and it didn't come out the other side. I'd grabbed all my bags and bits and bobs (Well I didn't want X-rays getting at them...!) and I was sitting on the plane and fastening my seat belt when I suddenly said in an anguished voice "Where's me hat?!?"

Meanwhile half a dozen security guards were trying it on and saying to each other "Hey-a, whaddaya think-a, pretty damn-a chica no?"
"Hey-a is-a mine-a!"
"No-a mine-a!"
"Is-a okay-dokay-a you-a can have-a the cruddy thing-a!"

The coach takes us round to the town of Anacapri where we have some free time to look around the shops and street market.

The ladies are suitably impressed with this and with a cursory glance at the perfume bottles, liqueur bottles and shampoo bottles, they make a bee-line for the inevitable fridge magnets stall.

Meanwhile, I - and my hat - are quite content...

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Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Newcastle Night Out

I'm back in Newcastle again for a 2-day meeting and went out for a meal with my colleagues last night at the Baltic Restaurant. This huge art gallery was converted from a flour mill, which presumably explains why there are lots of short people in bowler hats with white faces in the area... (You have to be a certain age and have lived in UK probably to get that...)

Anyway it was a rather posh menu. Which is another way of saying "disguised". What on earth is "ratte potato" for Heaven's sake? Anyway we figured "potato" meant "on a stick" and gave that dish a wide berth...

A very nice meal though - I had duck breast in a jus - another posh way of saying "watery gravy" I usually think! All the old values are going you know - where can you get a decent cup of Nescafe these days?

Anyway it was very pleasant to sit several storeys up and watch the colours of the Millenium Bridge change in the spotlights. We crossed it later on and then the fit young things I work with decided to take a short cut up several hundred steps to a pub near the castle and I got there in sprightly fashion with only a mild heart attack and a period of a mere two hours before I could bring myself to speak again...

Hmmm - could have been why they chose that route perhaps...

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Northleach Museum of Mechanical Music

Saturday 4 June 1994. It was still raining as we returned towards Bourton-On-The-Water and our hotel from Cheltenham and Gloucester, but before we arrived back at the hotel we had noticed another mention of a museum on the map.

At the village of Northleach we found Keith Harding's World of Mechanical Music.

If ever you find yourself with a couple of hours to spare, pay it a visit. The small room was packed with people. The guide (who it turned out was Keith Harding himself) welcomed us and then asked an unexpected question.

"Before we start, would you like to see the collection of clocks?"
Somewhat bemused we glanced around at each other. Someone nodded and it became infectious. Yes we would like to see the clocks! "Come through, it may be a little squashed!" he apologised, leading us from the museum room into the hallway of his living quarters. A small collection of clocks stood in the hallway - every size of clock you could imagine, from a mantleshelf clock to one that belonged in a clock tower (albeit fitted with a more modest face!)

He proceeded to talk about the clocks, about how, when and where they were made, the type of people who would have had a clock like that and the way in which they were wound. In the middle of his talk a small terrier came down the stairs and launched into a frenzy of friendly leg licking.

We patted it dutifully and then with enthusiasm, for as his tale of the clocks went on we became fascinated until he finished with the church clock, demonstrating how the clock in the Tower of Westminster was wound each day.

And then, spellbound we were led back into the museum where he played a piece of music on each of the instruments in the place - polyphons, beautiful music boxes with automated figures and birds, player pianos, wax cylinder phonographs (Come Into The Garden, Maude) and finally the horn gramophone (Teddy Bears' Picnic).

The horn (he explained) was made of papier mache, and all horned gramophones had a horn no bigger than (now how large was it? No matter!). He smiled at us. "Can anyone think why?" he asked gently. There was silence. His smile became broader. "Come now," he chided, "no one with a practical mind?" The answer hit me and I laughed out loud.
"So they could get through the door!" I said and his smile became even broader, nodding his delight that he hadn't had to say it himself.

We left the museum, agreeing with the other visitors how pleasant a place it was and what a good time we had had. The guide had worked his magic so well we were all friends by now, even without knowing names! We decided there and then that we would revisit the museum some day.

The rain had stopped. In fact, by the time we had driven up to Bourton-On-The-Water, the sun had decided to come out and it was a lovely evening.

Looking through the trees over the River Windrush with its wonderful little bridges, you see the group of buildings where our hotel was.

Apparently on the Friday night someone had tried to ram-raid the shop underneath our hotel room in a car. He forgot about the concrete flower pots (trenches more like!) and only succeeded in wrecking the car and had fled, leaving blood in the car. We had slept blissfully through it all! Serves the dipstick right!

Large versions of the photos: Northleach Union Hotel, Northleach Cross, Bourton-On-The-Water, Bourton-On-The-Water 2

Saturday, 25 April 2009

More Blackpool Town Centre News

Following on from the entry posted on 11 April, I took the camera back into town this morning.

It was reported in the Evening Gazette that Yates's Wine Lodge had been further demolished as the rotunda had been in danger of collapse. There's not a lot of the old place left now.

Yet another incidence of arson has hit Talbot Road, this time further away from the seafront, beyond the train station where the construction site of some new apartments was razed to the ground on Thursday night, causing the evacuation of 160 people from their homes, at least one of which lost its roof in the blaze.

Birley Street meanwhile is looking particularly hideous with these ugly gantries for the "sound and light system" (it's what every town centre street really needs...)

On a much more positive front though, the area in front of St John's Church on Church Street is showing some real promise as the paving starts to be laid. It really does look as though it will be a stunning space if it matches the artists' impressions that have appeared on hoardings.

And it crossed my mind whilst I was taking photos of Yates's - or the remains of Yates's, I should say - that I have never photographed the Town Hall, so today I rectified that oversight. To the right, on the corner of Talbot Road and the Promenade the old Clifton Hotel has been taken over and refurbished by Travelodge and now sports their logo.

Return to Blackpool Town Index Page

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Rainy Day in Cheltenham

Saturday 4 June 1994. A disappointment - it threw it down raining nearly all day. The Cotswolds are lovely on a nice sunny day but there's not a lot of shelter apart from tea shops and cafes so with a view to making the best of it, we went to Cheltenham.

Walking about in a city gets you just as wet as walking about in a small village, so we looked for somewhere to go and I snatched photos as we flitted from car park to shopping centre!

I saw a sign for a record fair and left the ladies to visit the shopping centre whilst I went for a mooch round the singles and LPs (remember them?) in a hall. I even made a purchase or two. One of them was Curved Air, being the second album from the band whose name was the title of the album. I used to see them live every time they came to Manchester when I was a teenager - brilliant band!

A few singles were bought as well - destined for the jukebox! The record fair whittled away a happy hour or more.

Then back to the car and a drip over the map and we decided to drive a bit more and visit Gloucester.

We parked near the canal. This is the National Waterways Museum. But that wasn't what we had come to see. We went into the Robert Opie Museum of Packaging and wallowed in a rosy-tinted nostalgia of boxes of Omo and Acdo, packets of Spangles and all sorts of things that get thrown away in their thousands every day. Brilliant! I think the museum has moved now - a quick look on Google confirms it. The Gloucester museum is now closed but a lot of the collection is on display in Notting Hill in London. It was well worth seeing.

It's still raining. But I've spotted another museum reference on the map back in the Cotswolds so we'll go to check that out on our way back to Bourton-On-The-Water!

Large versions of the photos: curved terrace, city building, National Waterways Museum

Monday, 20 April 2009

Wet Bottom? Make A Wish!

Saturday 20 August 2005. We have landed on the island of Capri, in the town of Capri, having sailed from Sorrento where we are staying for a week.

Following Gino, our guide for the day, we trundled up the funicular railway up the hill to the town of Capri. Hang on... what was that bit with the harbour at the bottom then? On the summit is this magnificent view.

The colour of the sea is a wonderful mix of deep blues and turquoise. Looking one way we can see the luxury yachts that tell us this place is a magnet for the well-off set.

Looking the other way we can see the imposing Faglieri Rocks. We'll get a closer look - a much closer look(!) - this afternoon.

The town of Capri attracts a rather rich clientele. In fact, a rich and famous clientele. Gino was saying that Jennifer Lopez had spent some time there not long previously. Given that such people tend to enjoy the night life and that it was only around 11:00am, I don't think we were likely to run into anyone famous and indeed we didn't. Happen as well, given what is to come later. But all in good time!

Gino led us as a group to a park with a fabulous view of the interior of the island, as seen above. There he left us for an hour or hour and a half's free time. It was boiling hot. We weren't going to start dashing round anywhere and in any case we had already walked through the shopping streets, which tended to reflect the anticipated spending power of Jennifer Lopez and chums

It was in the park that we spied a raised pond, a bit like a wishing well, but filled to the very brim. It made a nice picture and we suggested to Mum she perch on the edge for a photo. WRONG!!! She sat well back as though it was a settee... So far back in fact that I dropped the camera on its strap round my neck in preparation for dashing forward to save her, thinking she would fall in backwards.

Amazingly she sat there smiling away, totally oblivious to the water lapping at her rear end which was of course an inch or three underwater. It took us a while to even convince her that she had sat in the water... "Ah, well it'll dry in this sun..." was all she said as we walked down the path, leaving a trail of drops behind us like breadcrumbs for anyone to follow our path. We tried for a while to block anyone's view of what looked like an even more unfortunate incident than it really was!

It did dry quickly however and thankfully left no mark so we made our way back through the shopping streets and found a little cafe bar.

And there we'll stay enjoying ourselves until the next instalment - in which we get a look at Gracie Fields' villa! Oh no, don't start again, Mother! "Sally, Salleeeee! Pride of our alley..." Never mind singing about back passages... Just squirm about on the cushion until you're certain yours is dry...

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Rehearsal Time

I know...! Us?!? Rehearse?!? But once again we found ourselves trying out new stuff.

Last week we finally got round to going out for a "band meal", that is all three band members with wives. We had a wonderful meal at the Italian Orchard in Broughton, near the M6 motorway bridge on the Longridge Road and whilst we were merrily ruminating (or whatever we were doing) Bob suggested we ought to do The Hollies number Just One Look.

So on Saturday I got the keyboard out and had a listen to the original and dashed off a backing onto the keyboard. Dashed a bit too quick actually as I left a verse out... darn it! But it wasn't all a waste as I'd also had a go at another great hit from the same group, I'm Alive and that proved an instant hit with the other guys once David discovered he really could sing that low!

We'll be trying it out in a few weeks at our annual spot in the courtyard at Blackburn's Witton Park (see column at left on the band's blog for full details of public gigs).

Sunday, 19 April 2009

The Rollright Stones

Friday 3 June 1994. We left Stow-On-The-Wold having booked a guest house in nearby Bourton-On-The-Water and decided that instead of going straight there we would do a bit of a detour and try to find The Rollright Stones.

I've got a bit of a thing for stone circles and henges and hillforts and I'd never been to the Rollrights.

I had an Ordnance Survey map and by following that we easily found this. The King Stone, part of the Rollright group. No chunk of hard granite like you find in Cornwall but a more porous type of rock, weathered and eaten by acids in rain.

Apparently though, the strange shape of this rock has more to do with passing tradesmen battering chunks off it to use as lucky charms against the evil of the Devil.

We spotted what we thought were the Rollrights on the other side of the road and on reaching the road, turned to our left until we reached a well-formed track that took us to the next group.

This group was obviously too small to be the Rollrights and in any case reminded me more of a cromlech or tomb. And so it turned out to be when I researched it much later.

These are The Whispering Knights, so called because the way that the five stones lean in towards one another suggest a whispered consipracy, the knights plotting against their king. They were probably covered by earth originally, one of several tumuli in the area. Why was this one uncovered? It had to be the tomb of someone important - lesser folk didn't move people to hump gigantic stones to build a large monument to them. Perhaps it was simple grave robbery or attempted grave robbery that caused the destruction of the earthworks.

So where were the Rollrights themselves? On the Rollright Stones website there is a simple map showing how we turned the wrong way from the King Stone. It looks obvious on the map but the main circle is screened by trees and it simply wasn't visible to us. The scale of the Ordnance Survey map we had with us didn't help as the entire group was just shown under one symbol.

In the event, we decided they must be further down the path from the Whispering Knights and after a long walk we had to admit defeat and head back to the car.

We wouldn't find the Rollright Stones and take the photograph seen above until Thursday 30 May 1998, almost four years later.

Large versions of the photos: King Stone, Whispering Knights, Rollright Stones - not yet scanned at large size.

Marton Mere

As you drive into Blackpool on the main road from Preston, or if you leave the M55 motorway at the first Blackpool junction and turn right, you pass a windmill on a green on your left. On the right, not long afterwards are the building that housed ERNIE, the Premium Bonds winning number selector. Behind that building there used to be a large lake called Marton Mere.

It still exists, although thanks to the Victorian engineers who drained much of the Marton Moss area, the lake is now considerably smaller. It is a peaceful nature reserve, close enough to see Blackpool Tower! The brackish waters that seeped out of the mere, eventually draining into the sea gave Blackpool it's name. Today Marton Moss is home to hundreds of glasshouses and more modern lightweight frames, holding up sheet polythene, beneath which grow tomatoes, lettuce and all sorts of other produce that finds its way to the supermarkets of Britain.

It stretches around the back of the town and to the south to the rear of the airport runway. Many of the original cottages of the Moss still stand, built of duck-stone, named because their shape resembles the body of a duck. The stones were taken from the beach and piled up into walls, mortar and plaster and straw being used to keep them upright. A lot of the roads these cottages stand on are narrow, single-track roads with deep dykes and drainage ditches to either side, better suited to horse-drawn traffic than cars. Standing by the mere on a summer's day is a rewarding experience for nature lovers. There is a vast abundance of tiny moss-flowers that I wouldn't presume to know the names of, and birds wheel and dart, catching the midges and flies hanging in clouds above the water.

Time your visit well and you may be rewarded by seeing the swarms of fish fry. Only a small percentage will survive to spawn themselves. Marton Mere is a little haven of countryside close to the biggest seaside resort in the UK. If you visit, leave it as peaceful and tranquil as you find it. The photos were taken in 1982.

Return to Blackpool Town Index Page

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Arriving at Capri

Saturday 20 August 2005. It's been a fun journey from Sorrento to the Isle of Capri.

From the moment we rounded the headland and saw Capri in the distance, Mum broke into every Gracie Fields song she could remember... "Sally, Salleeeeeee, pride of our alley!" followed by Sing As We Go and then Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye!

"Goodbye!" [SPLASH]

Now, where were we? Ah yes, Gino, our guide for the day has handed out little round stickers with his name on. "Today you can all-a be-a Gino! Is a great honour, yes?" A little light banter may have followed at this point... "Hey-a, you just keep your Mama quiet, ok?"

We learn that the Capri has two large towns, one called Capri ("That'll confuse the buggers!" the town planners chortled...) and the other called... er... Anacapri ("Hey-a, Anna is-a my-a signora! I no call it after her, I-a get-a no nookie!")

We land at Capri. Both of them. At the same time.

We will visit Anacapri later but first the plan is to have a ride up a funicular railway into the centre of Capri - the town - and then will split up to explore on our own for a bit!

Right our gang! Are you ready, Mother? What? The biggest aspidistra in the world??? Ohhhh...

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Friday, 17 April 2009


Ok, so the Sidmouth holiday is temporarily halted, pending finding the rest of the photos and Sorrento is underway and due a reprise so let's dip into 1994 and a weekend trip to the Cotswolds.

It's 3 June 1994 and the trip starts, as any self-respecting trip to the Cotswolds starts, at Stow-On-The-Wold.

Lots of villages in the Cotswolds have a string of hyphenated words as a name. Apart from Stow-On-The-Wold, there's Moreton-On-The-Marsh, Foot-In-The-Cowplat, Nettle-Sting-Behind-The-Knee and of course, Bourton-On-The-Water. At least one of those actually exists and we'll end up there later because Stow-On-The-Wold has no Guest-Houses-With-Vacancies...

So, the Cotswolds then... An area of outstanding beauty and lots of quaint little villages whose buildings are almost all unique rather than a collection of the same design. Lots of them have given firms of modellers and ceramics like Lilliput Lane a rich source for their catalogue and Fran has at least half of the Cotswolds, modelled in miniature, taking up 53 display cabinets, friends' lofts and stuck upside down on the ceiling as we got ever more desperate for space to put them!

However, back then in 1994 she didn't have any and holidays and shopping trips were spent trying to drag her away from shop window displays, bottom lip stuck out and an accusatory finger pointing at the examples in the shop with the words "Want to start collecting them!" ringing in my ears. Yes dear, of course... wouldn't you rather have another guitar? No? Why not try one to make sure?

Ah thank you lads - see I knew if I waited long enough you'd get fed up of making V-signs...

The market cross was minus its cross from the top of the post that weekend. Must have been being cleaned or something...

Large versions of the photos: market square, hotel terrace, cross and Kings Arms

Morwellham Quay 2

Ooh, now there's a thing! I've been happily scanning the photos of our Sidmouth-based holiday and they suddenly run out! So I must have cocked up my filing system some time in 1993! Which means that, unless this series of entries comes to an abrupt halt with this one, I've got to go searching for the rest of the negatives from that holiday which has yet to take in Torquay, Paignton and Beer. No... the town, not the drink! The drink is involved of course in every holiday at one point or another... but I meant Beer, the south coast olde-worlde village.

This is the River Tamar, the border between Devon and Cornwall and is seen during the walk from Morwellham to the George and Charlotte copper mine, down which you can ride on a narrow guage railway. The mine trip is well worth doing. You get a true feel for the conditions the miners endured. Personally it would be my worst nightmare. But would I rather starve? Probably not. People without work did starve in those days. It wasn't an option to have a brood of kids knowing the council would give you a luxurious home. Even those in work lived a dozen to a small cottage with extended families living together, their own personal manure pile at the back of the house. Ah, the good old days...

The water wheel has been moved out into the open in the village and is an over rather than under flow water wheel. Which means it wasn't the stream flowing underneath that turned it but the diverted flow of water spilling over the top of it, the weight of the water then turning the wheel in the direction of the flow from the top rather than the bottom.

The cart stands outside a row of workshops each depicting a different craft. There was a smithy, a cooper's workshop (a cooper made barrels - so if your name is Cooper, you now know what your ancestor did for a living), a carpenter's workshop and so on.

So now I must find my other negatives or carry on with my previous scans of the photo prints. Ho hum, I do enjoy a good rummage in the attic...

Large versions of the photos: river, water wheel, cart

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Morwellham Quay

Morwellham was a village on the north side of the River Tamar, which places it in Devon not far from the town of Tavistock.

Its livelihood and the reason for its existence was a copper mine, The George and Charlotte, named after the King and Queen who were on the throne at the time of its sinking. Er... that's the sinking of the mine shaft, meaning the digging of it, not that it sunk into the river...

Anyway at some point the copper in the mine ran out and the villagers ran out not long afterwards. Morwellham became a ghost town and the weeds took over until they in turn were taken over by thicker shrubbery and bracken. And that's how it stayed until the 1970s when the village was rediscovered and cleaned up. It became a living museum with actors and staff in period costume and a narrow-guage train ride down into the copper mine and with a historic ship in the Great Dock and nature trails around the countryside.

The village was on the doorstep of the estate of the Duke of Bedford who, being fond of a turn in his horse-drawn carriage, had a carriage ride built through the countryside close to Morwellham.

We travelled from Sidmouth to visit the museum and found ourselves on the carriage ride being driven by a young lady with a quoite gaaargeous aahccent!

We went down the mine and on the boat and had a peek in all the tradesmen workshops and all in all had a great day out!

And, having found a quiet spot where not many people were going to be looking over my shoulder, I had a go at sketching the Garlandstone in the Great Dock.

Large versions of the photos: costumed staff, carriage, inside the carriage, sketch

Monday, 13 April 2009

Sorrento Harbour

Saturday 20 August 2005. We walk from our hotel in St Agnello into Sorrento as we have booked a boat trip to the Isle of Capri.

The first sight of the harbour makes us blink a bit as it is a long way down a very steep street, that has to double back on itself a couple of times in order to get down the cliff. Our guide meets us at the bottom and ushers us onto a boat, sticking a small badge onto everybody. His name his Gino. The badges say Gino. "Hey-a you are all-a Gino today, yes?" he laughs.

The view from the water gives the best idea of the height of the cliffs. But more than that, it gives some idea of the sheer (whoops was that a pun?) beauty of the place. Before we arrived we had no idea of what Sorrento was like apart from it being where it was, on the Bay of Naples. Had it been the most horrendous place on earth, it would still have been a great location as a base for exploring the region.

To come, during this week are trips to Capri, which we are now setting off towards, to the Roman ruins of Pompeii and Vesuvius, a wild careening bus ride to Positano along the mountainous and beautiful Amalfi Drive, and Amalfi itself.

But for now, aaaay... it's-a Gino, introducing himself as our guide for the day's trip to Capri. Mum's already singing Gracie Fields songs and wallowing in nostalgia of "Ow-er Gracie" and already our fellow passengers are starting to edge away from us... Surreptitiously I hear the French girl next to me ask Gino whether the Captain has a plank that he could run out from the side... but there is no time, Toulouse, we are on our way out of the harbour!

The lazy beggars on the tall ship haven't even got the sails up yet as we round the harbour wall and sail down past a more romantic way of sailing. Ok... Capri, here we come...

We settle down to enjoy the trip with the sun beating down on us and my new trusty hat adorning my noble brow. "Are you going to wear that all week?" asks Fran worriedly...

Once clear of the harbour we turn along the Sorrento peninsula and towards Capri which can be seen, four miles from the mainland. Mum was humming Gracie Fields songs already. It's going to be a long day... Join us for the next exciting episode to see if she survives.

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