Monday, 31 December 2012

Christmas Party

Our last gig of the year was a house party where the night started with an apology from the hosts. This is where we did the summer garden party when the dreaded midges struck! It wasn't the fault of the hosts of course. It was that over-excited singer I hang about with, who refused to listen when I said I was being bitten and just said "One more!", meaning half a dozen more...

This time there were no midges. We were indoors. And Miss Franny was keeping a close eye to make sure I got no little nibbles anyway... spoil-sport!

We played to a full house, literally! Thanks once again Christine and Brian! We got some great comments and there were lots of people singing and tapping feet!

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

364 Days to Christmas

Never mind - it's only 364 days to Christmas...

A couple of days ago Miss Franny disappeared into the kitchen, muttering something about "I may be some time...". The result was a pile of mince pies too big to shake a stick at! (I nearly wrote "mice pies" - I would have been in trouble then!!!)

Whilst my tum started to make appreciative noises even in advance of eating, she announced that the majority were destined for other homes and families and started to tick off the lucky recipients on her fingers. I was beginning to wonder if there would be a finger left for me but, phew, there was! They are a bit yummy are Miss Franny's mince pies!

Then on the shortest day (has anyone noticed the nights getting lighter?) the Mayan long calendar came to an end.

Now there may be several explanations for the somewhat total lack of world destruction that went on.

  1. 21 Dec 2012 just happened to be the point at which the chunk of stone got filled up. "You fool! I told you to carve smaller!"
  2. The humongous Mayan calendar got lost somewhere around 13 April 1461...
  3. The tiny, seemingly insignificant, act that occurred deep within the bowels of the earth will lead eventually, as the Mayans knew only too well, to the inevitable blow-out...

I can't help thinking that it would have been far more sinister if half of the Mayan calendar stone had been left blank...

And so Christmas Day arrived!

My most-likely-to-lead-to-disaster present... I once shook a bottle of tomato sauce without checking that the lid had been screwed on properly. The resulting red streak came down one wall, crossed the freezer top and front, led across the floor with a gap where my front got in the way and then up the cooker and wall on the opposite side. Unfortunately one of our cats had been sitting on the freezer top and was so appreciative of his new red coat that he sped off, scraping against the living room door, his sister and then the curtains in the front room before we managed to get to him with warm water and cloths...

So the family have never let me forget that little episode. Thanks to other members of my family (who live at a safe distance) for this chance to repeat this event...

But call me a big softy or whatever - my best Christmas present was when my darling Grace came with her Mum and Dad to share the day with us. Gangan loves you Sweetheart!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Andre Rieu in Newcastle

I can't believe this is a whole week since! But it is... Last Saturday we went over to Newcastle to see violinist Andre Rieu with his fabulous Johann Strauss Orchestra.

We really only came across him a year ago when there was a Christmas concert on TV and we enjoyed the mix of classical and easy listening music and the humour that is displayed throughout.

Then Sky Arts has shown a whole series of concerts during the year and we have supplemented them with a few DVDs and almost every week now seems to include an Andre night!

I think it was somewhere around September by the time I realised he was doing a UK tour and by then most tickets had long gone. It was a toss up between heading over to Newcastle or down to Birmingham, but I managed to get two tickets facing the stage but up in the gods, on the third tier right at the back of Newcastle's Metro Radio Arena, but they were on the front row of the tier.

The above photo gives some idea of how far back we were, but I've included it also for a lovely bit of humour that it shows. Whilst the orchestra were playing White Christmas, way above the second block on the main floor a snow machine is at work, dumping an inch or two of snow on top of the audience in that block. TV cameras picked out some of the more hilarious reactions onto the big screens at each side of the stage and at the end of the song the machine let fall an absolute avalanche!

It was the orchestra's twenty fifth anniversary Andre explained and he had brought with him some guests that we have seen on the DVD and Sky concerts. Frédéric Jenniges was there with his zither to play the Tales from Vienna Woods and of course the theme from The Third Man and to entertain us by puffing and blowing with boredom whilst waiting for the orchestra to get round to his bit! Hilarious!

There was also the St Petersburg Trio, a threesome of Russian musicians with a mandolin, accordion and the biggest bass balalaika you've ever seen!

But on the photo above I've chosen one of the regular soloists, the gorgeously scrumptious Carmen Monarcha. Andre jokes that wherever the orchestra go she leaves a trail of devastation amongst the hearts of men! I can well understand it!

And so I'll include another photo of her with the other regular soloists, Kimmi Skota and Carla Maffioletti with the Platin Tenors. The Platins are always a high spot when watching an Andre Rieu concert though it may seem an unlikely combination of Hungarian, Australian and German singers. For me Thomas Greuel, the German singer, has the best tenor voice but together they project such power and jollity into their music that my face must light up whenever they walk on stage!

We had a fabulous night and, I've no doubt, will have many Andre Rieu nights to come in 2013!

Large versions of the photos: All the photos we took are in this set at Flickr.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Blackpool Then And Now

Well it wasn't due out until the first of January, but the printers must have made special efforts because I received several copies of my new book this week through the post and today a friend has commented on my Facebook account that they have seen it in our local Waterstones.

This is a pictorial book contrasting old postcards of Blackpool with modern shots taken last year from as near the same spot as I could get.

Given that many old postcards were taken from low flying biplanes and they don't allow you to do that sort of thing any more; and given that the shape of Blackpool's seafront has changed considerably over the last few years, this gave me a few challenges during the making of the book!

This is just one book in a series of Then and Now books published by The History Press.

Whilst it is to be found in the bookshops in the Blackpool district, it is also available to order in other places and is available online either direct from the publishers using the above link or from online book sellers.

For anyone in the Blackpool region, I will be doing a book signing between 12:00 noon and 3:00pm on Saturday 2 February 2013 in Blackpool Waterstones on Bank Hey Street.

Poulton Gig for Car Club

Saturday 8 December saw us out at Poulton Golf Club to play for the Christmas "do" of a local car club.

It was a superb night, the audience were cracking jokes with us and we got a lot of good feedback at the end of the night and afterwards. Miss Jeannie reached down to the bottom of the costume box to find the old Mexican sombreros we used to wear when playing "Dance the Night Away". So they made a reappearance!

Another surprise was bumping into an old friend from school! Janet Astley was one of the bunch of close friends from sixth form days. There was even a song or two she remembered from the old days when I was in a band called "Anacreon" and before that in the rather less nattily named "Heywood Senior High School Folk Group"...

David took this one of Jan and I behind Miss Franny and Miss Jeannie before we started playing. that is before the band started playing... Just so there's no confusion...!

Monday, 17 December 2012

Dodging the Waves at Blackpool

March 1977, the year of the Queen's Silver Jubilee. We had moved to live in Blackpool the previous year and were getting used to living at the seaside.

We were expecting our first child in a month's time and were living with my parents who had a guest house on Trafalgar Road, just off the Promenade. One night at around 11:30pm I looked out of the window to see that the sea was flowing up the road! Waves and everything!

Luckily we fared better than we had feared. The cellar bar was flooded a bit and needed a lot of work, but the guest house was closed to visitors at the time so we had time to put it right. Others nearby were not so lucky and cellars were filled and adjoining walls were knocked down with the weight of the water.

This photo was taken the morning after and the sea wall had taken a bit of a battering from waves such as the one shown. In the photo you can clearly see bricks and chunks of stone and concrete torn from the Promenade, tramway and sea wall. I was unfortunate enough to be standing where one of these huge waves crashed over. It was like standing under a waterfall for a full five seconds. The weight almost knocked me off my feet. I realised then just how easy it would be for the sea to drag someone off their feet and through the railings that, at that time, lined the seafront from the South Pier all the way to the North Pier and a little way beyond.

The tide had gone down by now. But even so, the evidence of its power and surge were only too obvious. At the open air baths the car park was invisible due to the sea water having created a lake. At the entrance to the baths it was nine feet deep - the car park occupied a dip of land and the height of the bridge to the entrance was eight feet and ten inches. It now just appeared to be a path through the water.

Further south, some of the illuminations tableaux had not survived the night. Torn down by the splashing waves from the sea, they were pushed over to the wall by the side of the tram tracks.

The sea had crossed the road and flooded the Pleasure Beach lake almost to the height of the Log Flume aqueducts.

Up to the north of Blackpool, at Bispham, the sea had torn huge chunks out of the sea wall concrete. From that day, playing dodge the waves ceased to be fun for me. Water is heavy. In the thirty five years since I moved to Blackpool there have been far too many drownings. Treat the sea with respect. It will show you none...

Return to Blackpool Promenade and Beach Index Page

Friday, 7 December 2012

Cardington Hangars

I've been out and about on my travels this week. Yesterday I started with a trip over to Leeds where I ran an online conference session with the help of the wonderful Kathy Boyer of JISC Regional Support Centre for the Yorkshire and Humber region.

Then a somewhat fractured train journey down to Bedford with one out of three trains cancelled, but an alternative only eight minutes later. Enough to miss my connection though!

Then this morning a taxi ride through the beautiful countryside between Bedford and Biggleswade to get me to the Shuttleworth campus of Bedford College where I spent the day as part of the steering group of a large project led by Bedford College involving partners from colleges all over the UK.

From the taxi I caught sight of a couple of strange buildings. At first I took them for aircraft hangars, but as we got closer I realised that these were of huge size. Fully five storeys tall.

All was revealed as we passed them later in the day as Bedford's Roy Currie very kindly drove me back to the station at Bedford.

"In a moment we'll be passing the famous Cardington Hangars," he said as a familiar shape appeared over the fields before us.

But Roy was able to tell me what the taxi driver hadn't! These were Britain's airship base. Built during World War One, No.1 Shed (to the rear) was 700 feet long and the R-31 and R-32 airships were built there in answer to the German Zeppelins.

Between 1924 and 1926 the hangar was extended by another 120 feet with 35 feet extra height prior to the building of the R-101 airship. At the time it was the world's largest airship until the Hindenburg came along. Sadly both airships suffered the same ultimate fate.

The R-101 crashed on its maiden voyage in France on October 4th, 1930 with a loss of life greater than the Hindenburg disaster that was to follow. It was the end of the British airship industry.

The two hangars (No.2 shed had been built elsewhere and then moved here later) were used to build barrage balloons during World War Two and ceased to be an RAF site in the late 1940s.

Hangar No.2 Shed has been used for fire fighting training and experiments whilst Hangar No.1 has been used for stage construction and rehearsal space for several A-list bands and solo artists as well as being used as a film set.

Return to Curiosities: Buildings and Infrastructure Index Page

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Old Blackpool Postcards

I was in town this morning as the ladies of the Little Egg Graft Company - Fran and daughter Gill - are doing a craft fair at the Winter Gardens.

I was drafted in to convey them and their goods to the Winter Gardens where they are sharing a stand with Jeannie who is selling her hand-made greetings cards. David and I went off to Quilligan's for some breakfast and then took back bacon and sausage barms for the ladies.

Then I mooched around the Dealers' Den stalls for a bit and found a few old postcards to share.

This one caught my eye first - Blackpool from an aeroplane. It shows the Tower with the Alhambra next door to the north and the Big Wheel at the Winter Gardens. The Big Wheel was demolished in 1928 but this is an earlier view - the card was posted in July 1922, postage costing one old penny.

The second shows the wrecked ship of the line HMS Foudroyant which was displayed off Blackpool's seafront as part of a fund-raising tour. Blackpool's weather did it no good at all. On 16 June 1897 a cable parted in hurricane strong winds and she dragged her remaining anchor, clipped the North Pier and beached herself to the north of the pier opposite Cocker Square.

She had acted as flagship to a number of admirals including Nelson, whose captain for a while was Thomas Hardy, destined to be Nelson's captain later on HMS Victory.

She remained on the beach for several months and was finally broken up at the end of 1897.

Regular readers will know I love these little fantasy "night" shots. Taken in broad daylight - as witness all the people on the beach - and darkened at the photographic printing stage with lights and windows painted in and a sky with a full moon - probably a coin placed on the photographic paper that became the master - added at the printing stage. For a while the Tower really did have a very strong searchlight which played over the sands and the Promenade, but the moon has never been seen so far north... Indeed the only message written on the postcard is "? moon in north"

Friday, 30 November 2012

The Reel, Blackpool Pleasure Beach

The other day I mentioned the Reel ride at Blackpool Pleasure Beach and it opened the floodgates to emails asking for photos of it.

And would you believe I only have one and arguably not the best shot of the ride that I could have taken...

Even worse - I took it on colour negative film around 1976 or 77 and I can't find the negatives from that film! I very rarely threw negatives away, but this film must have been in the wrong place at the wrong time and either got lost or I threw it, believing I had removed the negatives from the D+P folder.

Here's a link to a wonderful article about the Reel on Gary Radice's web site The Magic Eye. It is well worth a read!

Return to Blackpool Pleasure Beach Index Page

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Monorail, Blackpool Pleasure Beach

Rumours that the Monorail has run its last trip around the Pleasure Beach are reaching my ears.

The Monorail opened in 1966 and was 11 years old when this photograph was taken in 1977. Having seen film and TV images of the sleek, fast monorails at Disney parks in America the appearance of this train - which appeared to have been designed using Lego bricks and which crawled round the track - was an initial let-down.

There were a couple of trains and the rather strange design was made even more striking when they were joined later by a sleek futuristic tube of a train which was what everyone had been expecting in the first place.

The one disadvantage of the more modern monorail train was that it was enclosed. Whilst this certainly kept visitors dry on wet days, with the doors shut the atmosphere soon got rather stuffy inside. The doors were highly sprung to keep them closed and keeping the door open with your foot to allow a bit of fresh air in soon meant an aching foot...

Blackpool almost caught "monorail fever". There was a scheme reported in the local paper to replace the trams with a monorail service along the Promenade. Thankfully the trams remain!

The ride was a staple favourite though with older visitors and young mothers as there were no height restrictions so young children could ride. A highlight came when the train entered the old Fun House at the back and ran the full width of the building before leaving to pass over the maze and on into the southern half of the park.

Change on a park of this kind is inevitable if the park is to survive. The Monorail will join other rides remembered with rosy tints - the Virginia Reel and the Log Flume.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Party at Garstang Golf Club

Last weekend the band were out at Garstang Golf Club to play at a birthday party. It was a big affair, formal dress and a sit down buffet for guests.

There were lots of people there too. We are there at the back of the dance floor, honest!

Once we got going it didn't take long before the dance floor filled up and we stuck mainly to our tried and tested dance stuff. Though there was time and chance to throw in a version of Billy J Kramer's From a Window from the 60s and the Bellamy Brothers' disco hit, Let Your Love Flow.

The big crowd pleasers gained their usual increased roars of applause. They include Elvis's It's Now Or Never and Burning Love, The Righteous Brothers' You've Lost That Loving Feeling and Take That's The Flood - which no one expects two old geezers like us to attempt full stop, never mind attempt to ramp up on the original by adding drama and a blistering guitar solo towards the end. Lifted? Yes we were! Thanks to the hosts for booking us and to the audience for their support and for spending the night dancing!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Barlow Institute, Edgeworth

Last night Creeping Bentgrass were on stage at the Barlow Institute in Edgeworth near Bolton.

It was an exciting ride over the Lancashire moors to get there but we came to a signpost for the institute eventually, which sent us straight past it - it wasn't so much a signpost as a "you are here"...

We ended up asking for directions in the nearby pub.
"Why? What's happening there?" asked one of the small group of locals at the bar.
"Nothing unless we get there..." I said, "We're the band...!"

But we found it and had a great night! We hadn't had a gig through October and so were a little on edge which meant we were on top form and even brand new songs came out as though we had been doing them for years.

The night was a charity night organised by the Friends of Turton Tower. I think they had a good time!

Friday, 26 October 2012

Large Format Slides

I recently came across a few boxes of large format colour transparencies, shot on 120 film (6x6cm or 2.25x2.25inches). They were shot on a Mamiya C330 twin lens reflex camera that I bought in the early 1970s mainly to take wedding photos with, that being my job at the time.

But I also shot lots of stock photos for magazines etc. The film I used for colour slides was Ektachrome64, rated at 64 ASA or ISO as we would say now. I used to process this myself using Barfen chemicals, which had to be kept at a constant temperature around 40 degrees centigrade, which was achieved by filling the bath with hot water and floating the tank containing the film...

The slides have not fared well. The containers are not airtight and they are heavily contaminated with 30 years worth of dust. I've removed the worst of it but the photos are still not exactly best quality. Short of spending hours on each, they are going to stay that way I'm afraid!

St Annes Road West, the main shopping street of St Annes on Sea just south of Blackpool. When the Lancashire mill workers flocked to Blackpool, the mill owners took their holidays in St Annes and Lytham. So much more refined you know...

Lytham Windmill in snow. We don't see a lot of snow on the Lancashire coast so shots like these were quite saleable to magazines and I used to make the most of any snowfall we might get, often driving out before the snowploughs had been out.

The impressive front of the Harris Library and Museum in Preston. Shots like this often find themselves on the front covers of local magazines, though on this one I haven't left enough space for text to be added without obscuring the columns.

More to come!

Large versions of the photos: st annes, windmill, harris library

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Caister Roman Fort

Monday 1 October 2012. After leaving Sheringham we drove around the coast back to Great Yarmouth for our final evening before heading back to Blackpool on Tuesday.

On the way out I had taken a wrong turn and ended driving through the town of Caister instead of using the bypass which affords a view of the castle, which we have visited many times, but which closed for the winter season the day before we came down to Norfolk!

I was intrigued to see a brown sign for "Roman Fort" and glimpsed some low walls of a familiar type behind the hedge. So on our way back we passed through the town again and stopped in the lay-by at the side of the site.

The fort was built around 200AD to the Roman standard plan. It defended the huge estuary of four rivers, the Ant, Bure, Yare and Waveney. The land it stood on was a small island at the time to the north of the estuary which covered a large area to the south now covered by land. In fact, now covered by Great Yarmouth...

We are looking at the foundations for one of the gate towers. We are inside the fort and the gate was to the left of the structure with a similar but mirrored tower on the other side. The line of the wall runs off to the right and beyond is a ditch with a deeper ditch which has been filled in and would have been under the modern roadway.

Some of the building foundations from inside the fort. After about 60 years another fort was built on the opposite shore of the estuary at Burgh. This has also been partially excavated and can be visited or seen from the many cruises up the River Yare from Great Yarmouth's dosckside area.

The site is owned or managed by English Heritage and there is a page with a map of the area at the time and a reconstruction of how the fort might have appeared from the air as sketched from an original roman Tigus Moth... Go to the link I have provided then search for "Caister roman fort"

Well, that concludes the entries about this holiday weekend - I'm going to have to go somewhere else now!

Return to Norfolk Transport Weekend index page

Saturday, 20 October 2012

The Nottiff of Sheringham

Monday 1 October 2012. We have finished journeying up and down the North Norfolk Railway and decided to have a look at what else Sheringham has to offer.

I was a touch surprised to see a pub called the Robin Hood. I didn't actually go in to see whether there was any claim to connection with the famous outlaw of Sherwood Forest, but perhaps it was a drunken mistake as per my title at the top!

The town clock has been built onto a shelter with a sign that says it was once the site of the town's water supply and possibly the stocks and pillory.

By water supply, this means a well. Few town wells were what most people would think of with a handle to winch down a bucket. They were mostly puddles some of which were defined by stone or brickwork but at which you would normally stoop to fill your bucket or whatever you had brought.

Some delivered clear water, others brackish green or brown water with a generous share of pond life. Tadpoles are easy to fish out, microscopic life forms including bacteria are not... The word "possibly" is fun as well isn't it? As in "possibly the site of the stocks and pillory... but possibly not..."

Down the main street towards the seafront, the Lobster seemed to have been in the wars. Covered with bullet holes and a shell hole, it turned out that these had been painted on in honour of a 1940s night!

At first glance though it did seem particularly appropriate that the pub was on the corner of Gun Street!

Joyful West's Seafood Bar stands on the other corner. Now I have never been a fan of seafood I'm afraid. Raised some 50 miles from the coast in Rochdale, seafood was not a family staple foodstuff in the 1950s and 60s of my childhood. Fish came from the chippy and was cod, hake or haddock and if we ate fish in a "posh" restaurant it would be plaice. Salmon came from a tin and I never even tasted tuna until I was 30. Shrimps, prawns and most definitely things like mussels, crab, lobster, oysters, squid, and scallops mostly remain (the exception is prawns) if not downright poison at least under the mental heading of probably-tastes-so-putrid-I'd-puke!

At the end of the street right on the seafront is The Two Lifeboats pub. The beach is one of those where tons of huge rocks have been spilled to protect the coastal area from the sea. Practical and comparatively cheap I suppose, but looks bloody awful. But it seems to be getting increasingly common more's the pity. Perhaps they will look ok in a few thousand years when the rocks have worn smooth by the sea?

Return to Norfolk Transport Weekend index page

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Have you ever....

I always appreciate it when someone starts to "follow" my blog and a very warm welcome to Dorothy who added herself recently.

It's nice to reciprocate and see whether followers have a blog of their own and yes she has, but not a regular updater are you Dorothy? Not to worry - that pumpkin pie looked a bit of alright and I also found this list.

It looks a bit American, given some of the entries on the list but the idea is to see how many of these you have done! Those you have, you make bold and those you haven't you leave alone. I'm going to be complicated and use italics for some I've gone close to! So...

1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band - a few in my time...
4. Visited Hawaii and danced on a lava cliff with the roar of the Pacific below - it's not enough just to have visited Hawaii???
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland - Florida and Paris
8. Climbed a mountain - to be honest, I was in motorised transport...
9. Held a praying mantis - you must be joking!!! Yuck!
10. Sang a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning - not quite as much an achievement this one...!
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill - not for a very long time, I hasten to assure my employer!
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb - ah... Lambie was the "pet" of Jackie when we were 17. We went round one week and it had been eaten...
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse (lunar)
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language - perhaps the natives in Germany, Spain and Italy might not agree. The most humiliating comeback from a waiter was "Which language are you trying to speak?" delivered in faultless English...
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied - comes with age perhaps. I don't need as much to be satisfied these days. I've more age than I need to be satisfied too, come to think of it...
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David - I've seen the replacement at Florence. The original one now is in a museum and we didn't go in.
41. Sung karaoke - yeuch no! But playing my own accompaniment yes!
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted - a pen, not paints but twice!
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris - the top was shut but we got to the second platform
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving - cor I'm not doing so well for a while huh?
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check - another achievement!
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle - blame someone else though. I was the one screaming on the back...
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican - drove past it on a coach...?
82. Bought a brand new car - an ex-demo model
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper - several times, not for court appearances either!
85. Kissed a stranger at midnight on New Year's Eve
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury - Never got on a case but wasted several days in a small room with lots of other people...
91. Met someone famous - lots in fact :-)
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby - well Miss Franny had one... I can't bear children...
95. Seen the Alamo in person - the John Wayne film...?
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone - ooh this is an old list!
99. Been stung by a bee

Your turn! Enjoy!!!

Merlin's Cave

Tintagel is now forever linked with the legend of King Arthur. In the stories it is to the castle on top of the cliff that Merlin smuggles King Uther, disguised as the husband of Igraine so that Arthur can be conceived. And it is from here that the infant Arthur is delivered into Merlin's hands to be brought up away from the court, unknowing of his parentage until Uther's death is near.

So in 1987 when we visited I had to see the place.

The part of the legend that places these events at Tintagel Castle ignores the fact that at the time of Arthur (if he indeed ever existed) was the early 6th century. No Norman castle existed at the time because the Normans would not invade for another 500 years.

Anyway, the legend is now deep rooted. So in September 1987 when I was writing my own fantasy novel about Arthur, King And King To Be, (UK link / America/Canada link) I knew I had to include Tintagel.

There is a cave called Merlin's Cave here. On the opposite side of the bay to the castle. It fit my story better to use the smaller of the two caves shown above, just to the left of the water line.

In this case "small" is relative! The cave is huge! I've heard lots of reports over the years that this was in danger of collapse. In fact it does collapse in the book!

So I'm not sure if you can still go into the cave or not. In the book it's an entrance to the fairyland of Merlin and his elven daughter, Merienne.

In 1987 you could walk right through almost to the other side of the cliff. Perhaps you could walk through at low tide. When I visited the sea was already coming in from what was the rear of the cave for me. But what an atmosphere to the place! It inspired chapter four of my book.

I did not try to put a castle into Tintagel's part of my story though. There has been evidence found of a very early Christian settlement on the site, so I used that instead. And that's the end of any spoilers!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

King And King To Be - Free Promotion


King And King To Be will be on a FREE promotion Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 12-14 October 2012. You can download it for free during these three days. (Based on Pacific Standard Time so may be a few hours delay in UK of both start and end)

Product Description:

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.

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Wednesday, 10 October 2012

North Norfolk Railway

Monday 1 October. We'd seen aeroplanes, we'd seen trolleybuses. We had even seen trams. So in the midst of the Norfolk Broads, what form of transport have we still to see? Right! Steam trains!

We drove to Sheringham along the Norfolk coast and by the time we got to the lovely little station we were a bit late to catch the train we wanted to catch. However by lucky chance they had been having a small technical hitch and we arrived in time to dash onto the train literally seconds before it went!

We wandered through a couple of carriages and came to an old one with compartments and a corridor - very Harry Potter! We settled ourselves down and waited patiently for the witch with the sweets trolley. When she came she looked just like a male ticket inspector who, when asked where the chocolate frogs were, obviously thought he had misheard and ignored the question altogether... Not an HP fan then...

This was another place where the area's retired folks were having the time of their lives! Why are they all in Norfolk, these places? Pensioners really have it made down there! I think I'm going to have to move there. They were driving steam trains for Heaven's sake!!! One was selling souvenir booklets and popped his head into our compartment every ten minutes to say "Have I seen you before?" On receiving the nod, he'd say cheerfully, "Ah well, I'll leave you alone next time then!" Ten minutes later he'd pop his head round the door and say "Have I seen you before?"

The track runs ten miles from Sheringham to Holt with a stop at Weybourne along the way. At either end the locomotive has to be decoupled and then runs to some points and then trundles past the train of coaches to couple onto the other end to draw the train back again.

At these points we all jump off and take lots of photos of superheated water shooting out of safety valves and generally get in each other's way before jumping back onto the train once the locomotive is ready.

A group of children dressed as wartime refugees with little square boxes for a gas mask have got off at Holt and lined up. The teacher is dividing them up into three groups. "In line I want you to count to three," he says. Dutifully the first child shouts "One!", the second shouts "Two!", the third shouts "Three!" and the fourth shouts "One!" to start the sequence again. By the time it gets to child twenty the system has fallen down and another teacher is saying crossly to him "You haven't the foggiest idea of what you are supposed to be doing have you?" Upon which he turns a bewildered face to his equally bewildered neighbours who all shrug their shoulders and look mutinous along with him.

It takes around 40 minutes to do the ten miles and switch the locomotive to the other end so a full return journey takes an hour and a half. Back at Sheringham we get off the train and decide to go and find something to eat in the town. Sheringham looks extremely pretty so we decide that we will have another ride on the train (as our ticket lasts all day) and then will have a walk through the town later in the day.

We find a cafe at the end of the street and have a toastie and a coke (the drink that is... I was never a one for chemical pleasures... I did get confused once and snort a line of Pepsi...)

When we got back to the station a huge chunk of locomotive called Ayrshire Yeomanry (No.45156 for the enthusiasts) was swapping ends of a single coach which was filled with excited men and somewhat resigned but determined women.

The men had all paid around £400 for a day's footplate experience. Each of them got to drive the locomotive for the full ten mile stretch of track under the close supervision of a Norfolk pensioner who knew what he was doing. And more importantly knew what they might do before they actually did it, so that he could warn them about it before they smashed through the level crossing gates and gouged two deep lines across the main road...

The journey was remarkably similar to the one we did in the morning, but was no less enjoyable for that. We sat in the very same compartment and found a packet of tissues that must have fallen out of my pocket in the morning's excitement. Whilst we had lunch those tissues went on a 20 mile journey without us but now we were happily reunited!

We waved to the old chap in his conservatory at the back of his house, jutting into a garden that bordered the railway line. We watched as the windmill went by on the horizon and at Holt when we got off the train I looked at the small museum and the model railway for ten minutes whilst the locomotive did its swap-ends thing.

Then we sat in our compartment again and watched the crocodile of wartime refugees make their way back to the train. I think most of them had survived the war...

The sweets trolley never came round though...

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