Monday, 23 December 2013

‘Burning the Clocks’ at Brighton

Like every other date that passes in the calendar, the Winter Solstice leaves no physical evidence in its wake that anything is any different than it was on the day before. The weather remains just as wet and blustery on the twenty second as the twenty first and there is very little light to share throughout the daylight period on either day.

But psychologically, of course everything is different because the mere passing of the day signifies that Spring is on the way with the evenings due to get lighter marginally as each one passes. Time passes so quickly; only a moment ago it seems we were mourning the loss of Summer as the leaves began to fall. But now the bare sticks of Winter bud, indicating a natural productivity that is to come. Nothing ever dies; energy is just transferred.

So it was with a particularly optimistic heart that I journeyed to Brighton by train on that special day. It was a long way but I was warm both physically as well as spiritually as I sped across southern England in the bosom of my overcrowded railway carriage.

Arriving at Brighton I needed to wait for only a few minutes before my son Rupert’s train arrived. Here on the top of the hill, it was blowing a strong gale and we could see that the seas beneath us were blown completely white with spume, while the flying spray reduced visibility at the surface to nothing.

At the station since the rain was beating down with a distinctive taste of salt mixed in it, Rupert and I caught a taxi down the steep hill into the valley then up the other side to the little terraced house of Millie and my granddaughter Delilah-Rose.



Rupert, Delilah-Rose and Millie awaiting the procession


Later on the weather had eased slightly as we walked down the hill, past the brightly illuminated Pavilion to watch an event that in spite of its leanings towards ancient folklore, was first instituted only as long ago as 1993. Because of the atrocious weather not as many people as usual had turned out to watch the parade of paper and willow artwork carried in procession by very valiant volunteers through the city.

The festival of ‘Burning the Clocks’ is to celebrate the passing of the Solstice and when the army of illuminated paper statues and masques have arrived at the beach they are burnt ceremoniously on a bonfire, while there is a celebration of fireworks, lots of music and dancing. A carnival atmosphere ensues and everybody has great fun.

Last Saturday however, because of the rotten weather conditions, for the sake of safety, the latter part of the programme had to be cancelled, so when the procession arrived at the beach destination, though the massed drummers did their utmost to send out a heady beat most enthusiastically for sometime to accompany the pretty dancing girls, who despite the wearing of ample body stockings beneath their skimpy costumes, must have been very cold and though the dragon on the prom did his best to warm us all up by breathing lots of fire, the event fizzled out in the end rather like a wet squib and everybody quickly went home.



Fire breathing Dragon on Brighton Promenade


However my stay there overnight was wonderful and it was lovely to see Millie and Delilah-Rose again as well as Rupert of course. He and I travelled back to London on the same train on Sunday before shooting off home in our different directions; he to Bristol and I to Warwick.

Sociably this last week has been busy for me right through, for last Tuesday I caught another train, this time to Swindon and from there I caught a bus to Cricklade where my other son Alex lives with his wife Catherine and daughter Penny. My granddaughter is nineteen months old so it was particularly lovely for me to see how much she had grown up in every way since I last saw her. She is a beautiful little girl and though every grandparent must use the same cliché; she seems to be so advanced for her age.

She was a delight to see anyway as were her parents who made me feel very welcome while I stayed with them till Thursday.

And tomorrow is Christmas Eve; in the morning I go by bus to my brother’s house for another few days to enjoy good company and celebrate the season enthusiastically.

Friday, 13 December 2013

St Agnes Fountain

Christmas draws closer and then the New Year and once more it appears that the whole world is commercially bewitched by it all. Sales assistants dressed in a variety of odd looking and shabby Santa Claus outfits, with the doubtful help of ancient Noddy Holder pop songs, entice the people inside their garishly lighted and decorated temples in an endeavour to persuade them to spend all, if possible, their hard earned cash. Children too at a very early age are sucked into the maelstrom, which late December brings and many a noisy tantrum occurs that otherwise might have been avoided …. The children’s too!

To some degree thankfully, people who live on a canal boat are shielded from all this hysteria; often they do not live near shopping areas and not owning a car makes it easier to avoid them. The expedition would normally involve a long walk and the need to carry home heavy loads. The boatman is happy, as he is all the year round, so long as he’s not too far from a pub and a little shop that can provide his other basic necessities. He’s had his fill of frantic Christmas’ past and is quite happy that the seasons come around in their usual sequence.



Christmas lights at Banbury



However I was down at Tesco (currently my nearest ‘little shop’ ugh!) this afternoon and having completed buying my necessities, I was sitting in the café enjoying a pot of tea to enliven me for the walk home when a group of little children from an infant school dressed in their tinselly Santa outfits were herded together opposite the café by their conscientious teacher and began to sing carols.

They sang confidently, with great concentration and most diligently pronounced the words that their teacher mouthed so carefully at them. They did very well and after they had finished I felt the need to join the applause because of their effort alone.

The Christmas songs were not momentous particularly in their religious content but a man, about my own age, sat at the next table felt the need to expound his unsolicited philosophy at me. “It’s terrible the way kids are filled with religious fervour at such a young age.” he said and with that he huffed and puffed and left the shop, waddling out next to his fat lady.

I’m boat sitting again as Janis on Thursday morning caught the train to Newark via Birmingham and Leicester. She remains there till after the New Year visiting her old friends. It means that we can both follow our own plans during the holiday period which is no bad thing.

But on Wednesday evening, prior to the parting we journeyed to Banbury on the train to see at The Mill Theatre ‘Christmas music’ performed by the folk group ‘St Agnes Fountain’.

I had never heard of them before let alone experienced one of their gigs but I was encouraged to go as my good friend Chris Leslie, more recently of Fairport Convention fame, was performing with his multi stringed virtuosity. David Hughes on guitars was the other male member of the group and the men were joined by two ladies Chris While and Julie Matthews, who won the Best Duo at the BBC Folk Awards in 2009. They were all brilliant and the whole show was amazing. It was one of those occasions when I didn’t want it to end.

Janis and I managed to catch the late train to Warwick and arrived back aboard towards midnight. Though the weather was warm and clear here in Warwick, Banbury was clothed in a cold fog which lingered for the whole time we were there.

As I write now I hear the friendly staccato of rain on the roof, not often heard these days. But generally the weather remains so mild. My fire is out and I shall have a surfeit of coal when it is time to leave if the temperature remains so balmy.

Sunday, 8 December 2013


On Friday Janis and I returned from a marvellous few days in Scotland. She had been to Edinburgh before but it was my first visit to this cherished capital of the north.

Altogether we visited two capitals on Monday as the fare to Edinburgh was far cheaper travelling by train via London from Warwick instead of the more logical direct route north.

So we left the ships early and caught the little diesel down to Marylebone in order to catch the fast electric train north from Kings Cross. However it was a long three hour journey to Edinburgh and we were glad to be able to stretch our legs as we strode from the Waverley Station to our Travelodge Hotel up over the hill in Queens Street.


IMG_0946  Looking up Princes Street

Looking up Princes Street towards the Scott Memorial


The hotel, in a terrace of grand Eighteenth Century architecture designed by James Craig, who rebuilt at that time the whole of the medieval city, had been quite recently refurbished and was the modern sort of Travelodge that hires a luxury bed and bathroom only, leaving the customer to buy all their meals elsewhere.


IMG_0945  The Castle

The Castle from Princes Street

I slept most comfortably enjoying the endless hot water from the shower whenever I felt like it and then Janis and I crunched through toast, marmalade and coffee every morning at the nearby palatial-like Wetherspoons, designed by the same man.


IMG_0948  Towards the Scott Memorial and Waverley Station and Bridge

Looking towards Waverley Bridge and the Scott Memorial


Since we were travelling for most of the day on Monday and then again on Friday to return home, we walked mostly on the other three days visiting the castle on its high crag via the cobbled Royal Mile, calling on the way at St Giles’ Cathedral and numerous little souvenir shops down many narrow dark alleyways. We went to the Museum of Scotland and the Scottish National Gallery as well as the Writer’s Museum situated in what was Lady Stair’s House on the steep side of the hill.


Perspective in Monochrome


On Wednesday afternoon we were entertained with lots of other families by the Pantomime at The King’s Theatre and were thrilled by the camp-ish fierceness of Captain Hook and a large hologrammed three dimensional head of a hungry roaring crocodile but were enchanted nonetheless by the voices of Wendy and the fairy Tinkerbelle as they sang delightfully, together and as soloists. But though the dame was played excellently by a man, I was disappointed that Peter Pan turned out to be a fellah rather than a long legged girl, as I have always been used to. It is some time since I saw my last pantomime so maybe this tradition has sadly lapsed.


IMG_0959  The ornate Thistle Chapel in St Gile's

The ornate Thistle Chapel at St Giles’ Cathedral


The weather was mild and wonderful and even during the storm that effected the east coast, Edinburgh escaped with just a few flurries of sleet flakes. Other wise the temperature varied by about one degree day and night and was close to double figures in the Sun, which we had plenty of. However daylight arrived much later than in Warwick and disappeared much sooner. But that was okay as the Christmas lights everywhere were wonderful.



Christmas Lights at the Dome Restaurant

But now we are back at Warwick and it’s so good to be home.