Plans to demolish Astoria in Brighton

Plans to demolish Astoria in Brighton (From The Argus): Oh no! what will happen to my murals?? We can't let this happen...

L'illusionniste at the Cameo

Cameo cinema
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
There's a scene in Sylvain Chomet's beathtakingly beautiful L'illusionniste (The Illusionist) in which the Jacques Tati character stumbles into the Cameo cinema, in which Mon Oncle is playing (there's also a poster for Belleville Rendez-vous outside!). We see the interior with a few rows of seats dotted here and there with people, and its classical columns and arches either side. And I'm watching the film in that very same cinema - how cool is that?

An animated cartoon film about a conjurer? That's about as daft as putting a ventriloquist on radio - but it works, the tricks are just as beguiling! It's also about the death of variety, which is pretty ironic as here we are 50 years later and all around all manner of live acts are entertaining the punters in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Some people have said the film is slow moving, but the pace is about what you'd expect in a Tati film - it's based on an unpublished script of his, written in 1956. Its glory is in the gorgeous drawing and attention to detail - from the awesome panoramas of the Western Isles (it has to be seen on the big screen) and the aerial tracking shots of 1959 Edinburgh to the chip shop menu, the cars and buses and the many steam trains (I spotted 4472 Flying Scotsman near the end and the others depicted looked spot on). The sound effects are also remarkable. Wet and hilly Edinburgh has never looked so beautiful. If you do go, take some tissues - it's ultimately a sad and moving story - and don't leave before the credits have rolled - there's a bonus bit at the end!


Westward Ho! to Wales

Worm's Head Ale
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
Continuing my exploration of Britain's extremities, I left Bristol on Monday 26 July and crossed the border under the tunnel into Wales. The objective was the smallest city in the world - St David's, a name that often appears on BBC weather maps. But first I had to visit that mini-extremity the Gower Peninsular, a district made famous by map-drawer Neil Gower (I wish I could find that postcard he drew!). I headed for Swansea, Freedom of South of Wales Flexi-Rover in my hand (but see my rant about it), and stopped off at Swansea Market for some laverbread and cockles to sustain me. Hmm, I love seaweed but the small 'teb' at £2 was far too much for me. The-hot-off-the-griddle Welsh cakes however were yummy. I only had time to pop my head into the famous Kardomah cafe, before catching the 118 bus to Rhossili. The bus journey wasn't as scenic as I'd hoped, with just tantalising glimpses of far-off bays through hedges, and it didn't go to Port Eynon either. When we arrived at the extremity, my heart sank, seeing a long long walk downhill ahead of me (and the corresponding long walk uphill back). However, an unprepossessing pub beckoned and with a pint of Tomos Watkin's Worm's Head Ale in my hand I went out into the beer garden at the back to be presented with the most amazing sight! Bar Helvetia (named after the 1887 wreck on the beach) of the Worm's Head Hotel must have one of the world's most outstanding views.

After an unsuccessful trip to find the Mumbles and a night at the excellent Alexander Hotel in Uplands (£35 a night), I set out west again (a train ride with wonderful views of the coastline) to the ancient city of Carmarthen, my base camp for St David's. But first, to get my steam railway fix, I made a bus detour to Bronwydd Arms - no not a pub, but the station for the Gwili Steam railway. As I puffed down the 1/4 mile hill from the bus stop, the train was just about to leave, but a chap in a hi-vis very kindly made it wait until I'd bought my ticket (£4 with senior and Rover discounts). The train was in two halves: the front were all having an optional cream tea; the rest were in the back two carriages. At the end of the line at Danycoed I discovered we were being hauled by Haulwen, a Vulcan Foundry 0-6-0ST, and there were several other industrial locos dotted about in various states of repair. After an apple slice in the cafe and a tour of the signal box, I headed back to the smart Spilman Hotel (£54 a night).

Wednesday 28 July was St David's day, so I got a train to Haverfordwest (which had another castle and looked like a nice place to visit) and the 411 bus to St David's. After a near miss head-on with a white van on the narrow roads and some spectacular views at Newgale, we arrived at the village. I was expecting a mini-cathedral like the one in Kirkwall, Orkney, but just down a lane, in a dip was the full-size deal! Plus a ruined Bishop's Palace behind. I had a very nice bowl of tomato and basil soup in the refectory and a walk round - the misericords and roof caught my eye. The real extremity on the coast looked like a long walk away, so as I had a while to wait for the bus back, had a pint in the only pub in the city, The Bishop's.

Thursday I was heading back to Swansea to stay with my friend from late-1960s Guildford, Loppy, but for a bonus trip decided to head to Tenby, a place I'd seen on the tv programme Coast, and the most popular place in the whole of Wales, judging by how ramjam packed with kids the two-carriage diesel was! At Tenby I discovered a cafe with a fabulous view, appropriately called Caffe Vista, had a quick whizz round the town and back onto the train for Swansea and a coffee with Loppy and her friend Julie in The Mumbles. And Friday it was the long journey home, changing at Cardiff and Bristol. Job done! Some great views and a steam train.

Other extremities:

John O'Groats and Orkney

Margate and Ramsgate


PS. Obviously, I didn't set out from Westward Ho! This Devonshire village has the only place name in the UK with an exclamation mark. Unfortunately, the Transport font, designed by Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert between 1957 and 1963, used for all UK road signs, doesn't have an exclamation mark!


Bristol: Thekla and Brunel

The real Mr Brunel
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
When I was thinking of relocating from Guildford back in 1987, Bristol was on the list. It's arty, what with the Watershed and Arnolfini, near water and has that industrial chic. Brighton won out, however, but I was back in Bristol on Saturday 24 July to see a performance of Viv Stanshall's Stinkfoot at the Thekla, the ship he called 'The Old Profanity Showboat', where it was first performed in 1985. I knew nothing about Stinkfoot or what to expect, so in a moment of madness booked two nights at the YHA, based on price and its fabulous location right on the dockside. The downside was that I had to bunk up with snoring strangers and brave its ferocious showers!

Originally co-written with his wife Pamela Ki Longfellow and based on a children's book she'd written, this production was more of a promenade showcase, with songs belted out by many of the original performers (including Nikki 'B' Lamborn, Jon Beedell, and Pete Coggins), narrated splendidly by a stubbly Tony Slatterly, with Pete Moss conducting an amazing band squashed into the right hand of the stage and auditorium, and Viv and Ki's daughter Silky Longfellow-Stanshall taking centre stage as Elma the Electrifying Elver. Cats it wasn't, but I must confess that in the first half it was sounding like Meatloaf meets Tina Turner (or Janis Joplin?), what with all the big voices, but it got better in the second half, the highlight of which was the appearance of Viv's ukulele! To my shame, the only songs I recognised were the lament 'I'd rather cut my hands' and the show-stopper 'No time like the future' but we joined in where we could - others had a Brechtian/ Tiger Lillies / Nigel Burch / Foster & Gilvan feel to them - must investigate them further (listening to 'Dog Howl in Tune' now). See some of Mark Garland's photos of the show here.

So, Stinkfoot over and a sleepless night in a top bunk, it was Sunday 25 July and time to explore Brunel's Bristol. After a pleasant walk by the 'floating harbour' (shame the steam harbour railway wasn't operating), I was first visitor into SS Great Britain. This attraction must get a prize for best ticket (and for the £9.50 you can revisit for a year) and the ship itself is fabulous! First you get to go 'underwater' to visit the hot dry dock in which it was built, with a close up view of the revolutionary propeller and balanced rudder - and all the holes in the iron hull!) then through an exhibition (where you get the opportunity to stamp your ticket!) and finally onto the weather deck (curiously low and flat, compared with modern day cruise liners!) - and then below! There's a lot to see, from the cramped berths, even in 1st Class, to the steam engine, only ever meant to spring into action when the wind dropped, the promenade deck full of light and where they stabled the horses in the bow. As I was leaving, I chanced upon Mr Brunel himself strolling about and took a photo. As I left, a huge queue was getting longer, so get there early!

I took the 60p ferry across the water and met my IllustratorsUK friend June Goulding, for a soup in the Museum and Art Gallery and a bus trip to Clifton to see Brunel's Suspension Bridge. Now, I have a bit of a phobia about bridges, and this is a bit of a tall one! We joined the 3pm tour, but soon got bored and decided to go it alone. Phew! Don't look down! Well, I made it across, and after a visit to the shop, we came back along the opposite side, with a view of the Giant's cave where Brunel's original scheme would have terminated and the sight of a couple of brave chaps clambering up the cliffs on ropes. Then it was back to the YHA to grab a better bed, a pint at the Llandoger Trow (I preferred the Bath Ale at the YHA to be honest), and - tired and aching - to bed before heading off to South Wales the following morning.

PS. At breakfast at the YHA, I made a piece of toast and presented it on a plate to the counter assistant, asking for baked beans and scrambled egg to be placed on top. She arranged the cooked food neatly around the toast! This revelation started quite an interesting thread on Facebook, some people asserting that beans would make the toast soggy. I say that's the whole point! The clue is in the name: beans on toast.

PPS. Another treat was to see 71000 Duke of Gloucester in the sidings just outside Bristol, ready to haul the Torbay Express.