Mr Solo in Margate

Margate has long been on my list of British sticky-out places to visit, so when I heard that Mr Solo was playing with This Happy Band at the Dead Season Live Art festival, I was straight on the train to Victoria (I could have gone via Ashford but figured it may have taken longer). The trip down to Thanet wasn't that interesting, apart from the bit around Rochester and where the line hugs the coast near Whitstable, and I couldn't work out why it took twice as long as the journey from London to Brighton.

Exiting the rather splendid station (Edwin Maxwell Fry, 1926), first stop was Arlington Square, by Dreamland, a place so mysterious it doesn't appear on Google maps. This Happy Band were warming up, but unfortunately there was a quad bike race taking place on the sands opposite, so were drowned out! Then it was on to Marine Drive Shelter where a slightly quieter funfair was in full swing. I nipped off to bag Ramsgate, seeing I was here. I caught the 34, rather than the Loop, which took me a circuitous and not very scenic route, via a shopping village at Westwood. Arriving eventually at Ramsgate harbour (very scenic), I popped into the splendidly tiled Queen's Head for a pint of London Pride (£2) and use of their facilities, then to Peter's Fish Factory. On special offer was saithe and chips for £1.90. I must confess I'd never heard of saithe, but it was very tasty and the chips were nice and brown, unlike the white soggy ones you get in lots of chippies, and I ate them on the sands watching the sea crash into the harbour breakwater. (I found out later that saithe is another name for pollock!).

So it was back on the Loop to Margate via Broadstairs (tho we didn't see much of that because of a diversion) and thence to the Substation, behind Burtons on the High Street. I thought I'd missed it all, but just caught the end of the Mr Solo set. Then it was free curry and macaroni cheese, an exhibition of Cabinets of Curiosity, a game of catch the rubber duck, and another song by Mr Solo (video on YouTube) to preface Daniel Lehan's artistic tour of Margate entitled 'Shine The Light'. Then it was back through the cold wind to the station and the long trip back to London.

As a bonus, on the way home I spotted Britannia pacific 70013 'Oliver Cromwell' at Haywards Heath, on its way back from Bristol and Bath.


Ukes in Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Tyne ferry
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
Not a single steam train in sight on this particular trip. Even though the East Coast train passed the Nene Valley Railway at Peterborough and York Railway Museum. I was up in Newcastle for Ukelear Meltdown III and staying at a lovely B&B with en suite real ale pub, The Cumberland Arms. I'd got ridiculously cheap tickets for Saturday 27 February: £2 Brighton to London Victoria and £9.50 Kings X to Newcastle, but thought I'd miss my connection when I discovered the Victoria and Circle lines were down. Just made the train with minutes to spare, however, going west to South Ken and getting the Piccadilly.

At Newcastle I had a sandwich and coffee at the excellent Centurian Cafe on the station, before walking to the Tourist Info and using my bus pass to get the 22 to Byker. The pub was in a very strange place, overlooking the Ouseburn valley but found it in the end. Met Sam and his friends in the Cluny, down the valley and up again, and after a meal and pint, climbed the other side to the Star and Shadow. I was expecting an old cinema, maybe like the Duke of York's but this was a caverous industrial building, tonight full of uke enthusiasts. Accompanied by more cheap beer, we enjoyed the Dirty Diamonds (their Stylophone encore is on YouTube) and Ukelilli, and some other bands that only seemed to have the token uke, all compered by Eilidh Macaskill. Then it was a walk back over Byker Bridge to the digs.

Sunday, after a disappointing breakfast (cold croissant and roll), I set off for the coast, catching a 2 to Tynemouth and Whitely Bay. I should have got off at Tynemouth, but got the bus back to North Shields, where after a pee and half pint at a pub, crossed the Tyne on the ferry (I bought a day Metro ticket for £3.90, which included the ferry). Spotted HMS Ark Royal at Northumbria Quay. On the other side I went to find the prize-winning chippy, but there was a queue so headed back to the Metro and on to the Star for the afternoon uke session, just as it started to rain.

The Sunday bands in the cinema were much more pro and I enjoyed Unsung National Heroes (jazzy double bass and uke combo), Lady K and her Kooky Kitchen (three-piece doing 30s numbers to slide show) and Williwaw, who improvised to a Laurel and Hardy film (last five minutes on YouTube). I was joined by old friend Yvette for the film The Mighty Uke, a great movie, but with not much UK content - where were the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, for example? Eilidh closed the festival with a short set and it was back over the bridge to Byker for a couple more pints at the Cumby.

Sunny Monday, it was into Newcastle on the Q2, via the Quayside, to the lovely Laing art gallery for a dose of Victorian art, 60s pop photos and lunch with Yvette, then the train to London, a 73 bus to Victoria and a pint at Wetherspoons whilst waiting for my £2 train home (via Lewes).