P & D

Lots of people have been asking me for details of the colour scheme used in my recent refurbishment. First of all, let me reassure you; the kitchen hasn't been touched, so my Mariscal-inspired mural is still there. I had my living room, dining room, master bedroom and stairs done by my good friend Rob in the following colours:

Front room: Dulux Cornish Dawn (turquoise) with Dulux Jazz Blue woodwork
Hall, stairs and dining room: Dulux Lemon Pie above the dado, Baufix Terracotta (from Lidl) below,  with Jazz Blue woodwork
Front bedroom: Dulux Wellbeing (light green)  with Jazz Blue woodwork

The carpets, by Cormar of Bury (my home town) were expertly laid by Kemp Town Flooring in just one day! Apollo Twine (100% Excellon stain-resistant polypropylene) was used in all the rooms except the bedroom, where the colour was Primo Plus Spearmint.

While this was going on most of my stuff was taken away to storage by Mills Removals and returned three weeks later. Meanwhile, I was camping out in the spare room, surrounded by boxes full of my most precious things.


At last, some new weird cycle lanes

Kemp Street
Kensington Place, looking south. A tight squeeze!

Tidy Street
Tidy Street, looking north. Turn right at the motorcycle park?

Robert Street
Robert Street, looking north. Cycle lanes make great parking spaces for vans.

At last, some weirdness has returned to Brighton streets! New contra-flow cycle lanes have been installed in most, but not all, the streets of the North Laine. Notably not Sydney Street or Gardner Street. They are mainly short abbreviated ones that indicate that the whole road is contra-flow for bikes. More photos on Flickr.

This is the official Council line.

You can see more Weird Cycle Lanes of Brighton on the ancient eponymous website www.weirdcyclelanes.co.uk.


Marching with the NUJ on the TUC anti-austerity march

Tories out!

On Saturday 20 October, Brighton Trades Council chartered a train up to London for the TUC's 'A future that works' demo and the NUJ Brighton Branch reserved a part of a carriage. We were meeting up at 9am, which is early for me, but I made the rendezvous, with my folding bike, and we marched through the gates of Brighton station onto the platform where a former Gatwick Express was awaiting. Bum, I thought, no bike provision! So we piled in a first-class carriage and I folded the bike up. There was a jolly atmosphere on the train, with people handing out leaflets, whistles and newspapers. When we arrived at Victoria, it was a longish walk to the Embankment where the march was to start. We'd been advised to join from the back (the NUJ was with the 'entertainment unions' nearly at the end) and it was a shame the train hadn't dropped us off at Blackfriars.

Nick, Tamsin and Melita on Parliament Square

Ah well, the roads were deserted and I was able to cycle. Victoria Street, Parliament Square and Whitehall were all devoid of traffic in readiness for the march. Soon all the other Brightonians had disappeared (down the Strand?), and I was left with Nick - we made the mistake of heading down to the Embankment! There was the head of the march taking up both lanes of the road and the pavements! Nick headed up onto the bridge to take some snaps and I tried to push my way to the back of the march to join our group. To no avail. I had to settle for hiding behind a tree and watching the march go by - but I was able to see it all and take some photos. The noise was unbearable - horrid plastic vuvuzelas and whistles mainly, with the odd brass band, samba drummers and jazz combos thrown in.

ASLEF banner

I'd filled my flask with miso soup, so took the opportunity to take lunch as the march unfolded: the red of Unite, the purple of Unison, the great banners of the railway unions, and spotted some great placards and slogans, 'pleb' being the word of the day. I was also intrigued to see an artwork by Bob and Roberta Smith being carried along. There's some more info about it here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2012/oct/19/bob-roberta-smith-art-michael-gove. There is also a competition for the best banner or slogan here: http://makethemarch.org.uk.

Bob and Roberta Smith banner

Over an hour after the start time of 12 noon, I saw some green NUJ flags and joined in, on up to Parliament Square, right into Whitehall, past Downing Street and Horseguard's Parade, past Trafalgar Square, left up to Piccadilly Circus and along Piccadilly to Hyde Park.

NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet.

The speeches had been going for a while, I'd missed Ed Miliband being booed, the ground was soggy, so after a couple of text messages I met up with Nick and headed to the Serpentine Cafe to join some Clarionettes who'd been marching behind a brass band. After a strange cup of tea with extra large teabag (I decanted half of it into my flask for later), I got on my bike and cycled to Victoria through London traffic with my rescued Unison flag, to catch the 17.08 back to Brighton. This time I found a disabled space for my bike and didn't see any of my chums until we got to Brighton station, where it was raining on the way home. More photos on Flickr.

 Clarionettes at tea


Great Central Railway

925 Cheltenham on the Quorn turntable

They all laughed when I said I was going on a city break to Loughborough, but it was true. I've mopped up most of the attractive coastal heritage railways, so it was time to go inland and the Great Central Railway boasts the only mainline double track stretch of rail in the UK. The journey there was quite spectacular too, from upstairs at St Pancras on the East Midlands line. I was going to be a delegate at the NUJ conference in Newcastle so took the opportunity to spend a day at their Autumn Steam Gala, on the Thursday. I wouldn't see all the locos in steam, but there again it wouldn't be as crowded as the weekend.

Pannier tank 9466 at Rothley

I spent the Wednesday night at the Premier Inn on a £29 deal (no breakfast), which was fine, with a meal and a couple of pints at the Moon & Bell, a Wetherspoons pub, then on Thursday morning set off for Loughborough GCR station (the mainline station is a way out of town and had to take a bus to the town centre). A kind porter let me leave my case in the porters' room (he also gave me a lift to the main station later) so I had a cup of tea in the buffet while I was waiting for the first train out at 10.30, pulled by GWR pannier tank 9466 in black BR livery. I went all the way to Leicester North then back to Rothley, where I alighted to await the 4-4-0 Schools Class 925 Cheltenham, painted in malachite green, heading back to Leicester.  I travelled on to Quorn and Woodlouse (sorry, Woodhouse) this time and went to look at the cosy NAAFI tea room and the new Butler-Henderson Bistro, but there were no Quorn pies to be had anywhere!

925 Cheltenham on the Quorn turntable

Then an unexpected treat. There was announcement that there'd be a demonstration of the new turntable. And which loco should turn up, but Cheltenham. The demo was not without mishap, with lots of precise movements back and forth to get the balance right, but it was eventually turned round by manpower and chuffed back to Loughborough. By now the timetable was about half an hour behind, so jumped on the pannier-hauled 1.36 and had a cup of tea and a toasted teacake in the buffet car.

LMS 8F 48624

Back at Loughborough I had a wander down to the shed, where a diesel was shuffling four steam locos: the fictional crimson 8F 48624, the twins 78019 and 46521 and a jinty 47406. Just outside the shed was 777 Sir Lamiel in steam. Also parked up outside were the blue King Edward II and GNR tank 1744. Now the GCR let you wander into the shed, subject to a small donation, and there I could see various locos in various states of restoration, but didn't want to delve too deep as there were lots of scary oily pits around. I went back to the station to watch Cheltenham run around the train and eventually take it out heading for Leicester. Strange to see so many Southern locos in the midlands. Coincidentally, on the way back from Newcastle I spotted the GCR black 5 45305 outside York railway museum.

777 (30777) Sir Lamiel

And what of Loughborough itself? Well, it has some fine Art Deco buildings and two Wetherspoon pubs, so what more could you ask, and the weather was too good, the sun getting in the way of better photographs! More on Flickr.

  Odeon at Loughborough


Old photos

Victorian woman (Hoad family?)

Inspired by David Simkin's talk at the Regency Town House on dating old photographs, particularly the one of Brighton Swimming Club wearing swimming drawers and top hats, I thought I'd dig out some of mine and scan them. A couple of them are of family, the rest I've picked up at jumble sales etc over the years, the most notable being one of Lewis Carroll, who lived in Guildford for a time. The glass photo above was given to me by my mother-in-law and I assumed it was one of her ancestors, but when my son took it to show her, she had no idea who it was!

Lewis Carroll

I expect all of them tell a story. The Bleakleys, for example were a family of papermakers who travelled all over the place, especially where it was damp. Everywhere they stopped they had a child, then moved on. They even got as far as the USA! My grandmother, Marie (Molly) Bleakley, was born in Larne, Northern Ireland.


This is the only photo not in my possession - it was loaned to me, to scan, by my father's cousin Blanche. More photos can be seen in my Flickr group.


A day at the Paralympics

Thanks to my London chum Rob Hingley, I had a day pass (Monday 3 September) to the Paralympics in Stratford and I was fully expecting just to have a wander round looking at the architecture and art installations, but I was wrong! After a false start that I won't go into, I was an hour and half behind schedule. The £10 day ticket included a free Zone 9 Travelcard so I only had to buy a ticket to East Croydon. At St Pancras I grabbed (and paid for) a beany scotch egg and boarded the Javelin, basically the high-speed train to Kent - mine was going to Margate. A few minutes later, we were off at Stratford International and up a tall escalator, I was on the look-out for Rob, who apparently was at the other tube station!

 Performance art ladies

We met up though and got through the security quickly. It was a hot day and I was dressed for a Brighton autumn (it was chilly on the Shoreham riverbank for the air show on Saturday, when I'd been waiting for the mighty Vulcan). After a circuit of the Orbit and a meandering riverbank stroll that took us not very far, we ended up at the Riverbank Arena, after queuing to fill up our water bottles (you're not allowed to bring any in!). A 7-a-side football match had just started and we were right behind the goal. It was Russia v Netherlands and the dutch team lost 8-0, the Russian goalie never even touching the ball.

 Riverbank Arena

We then strolled over to the Basketball arena where a match was about to begin - in 30 minutes time. It was Netherlands again, but this time against Brazil. We left after the first quarter to get some fish and chips (£8.50 + £4.30 for a 330ml Heneken) and then headed for the Copper Box. Eton Manor with its wheelchair tennis was a bridge too far.

 Basketball Arena

All the 'free' venues (and the velodrome) are at the far end of the park, so there was a great deal of walking involved. My improvement would be the provision of Boris bikes to get around on, or maybe more mobility 'trains' - but for more able-bodied people - or even a shuttle bus going from one end of the site to the other.

 Stern Gamesmaker

It was getting dark and the Olympic Stadium, Anish Kapoor's  Orbit and other attractions were lighting up, looking spectacular. At the Copper Box we got in to see the last goalball of the day, not exactly the most riveting spectator experience, with only one goal being scored in the match between Canada and Japan, and that from a 'penalty'. The DJ was pretty good tho, as they were in all the venues.

The main stadium, at night

Then it was a schlepp back to the tube station, listening to all the cheering coming from the Olympic Stadium and the Aquatics centre, where more medals were being won. I thought I'd try the Jubilee line back to London Bridge but it was a bad choice: the tube was packed and hot and at London Bridge had to walk all round the houses to find the Brighton platform. Home about 11.30, completely exhausted and with aching feet. But what a memorable day out.

 Orbit by night

More photos on Flickr.


Edinburgh 2012

Scottish National Monument

Before I file away all my ephemera, I'll just list the shows I managed to see at this year's Edinburgh festival - you could hardly call it a review! It was just a week: Saturday 11 - Saturday 18 August, with a stop-off at Bury on the way back for my sister's birthday and a spot of trainspotting.

No shows Saturday and Sunday, just lazy days hanging out in various bars, including George Square Gardens and the new venue Summerhall, a former vet school and hospital - The Royal Dick - and it's huge (we came back on the Friday for a proper look round). They make their own beer there - Barney's - and I had a couple of pints of the Red Rye on Sunday in the courtyard.

Dieter Roth: Diaries

Monday 13 August: took in some art shows, including Dieter Roth: Diaries at the Fruitmarket, an underwhelming  collection of rubbish, flattened and put in folders for a year! Much more interesting were Harry Hill's paintings, upstairs at White Stuff, including some pop stars painted on coconuts. Saw the ever entertaining Robin Ince at The Jam House, a free gig, but I put a fiver in the bucket, and popped along to the book festival to meet up with Sam and his friends.

Harry Hill coconuts

 Tuesday 14 August: got a bus to the Mound (my bus pass doesn't work in Scotland so it was a £3.50 day ticket) to check out the Symbolist Landscape exhibition. It was better that expected; but the subtitle Van Gogh to Kandinsky let it down. There was so much more, including Whistler, GF Watts, Lord Leighton, James Ensor and Monet, plus lots of German and Scandanavian painters such as Franz von Stuck and Villhelm Hammershoi and Akseli Gallen-Kallela - and a couple of dreadfuls by Munch. What was fascinating was that so many of the conventional paintings were contemporary with the more avant-garde pictures, such as by Mondrian, collected together towards the end of the exhibition. Thanks to The Scotsman I got a half-price ticket to Formby, a play written and performed by Ewan Wardop, and smashing it was too - he can really play the banjolele, and we had a good old sing song at the end of the two songs audiences never let George leave the stage before he did - can you guess them? I met up with Sam to go see Paul Foot (not the politician) at the Underbelly and funny he was too, without ever finishing a joke - don't sit on the front row though! It was another late night as well, to see Humphrey Kerr as Dymock Watson: Nazi Smasher. It was the sort of tall tale that your grandad might tell you about his role in the downfall of Hitler, and hugely entertaining. It was the last night of the run and the props dept had put some extra bang in the explosion, making the actor jump out of his skin (and the audience too).

Golden double for Chris Hoy

Wednesday 15 August: to the Stand for another Edinburgh stalwart, Simon Munnery, who conducted the whole show - Fylm Makker - from the middle of the audience as a video link. It was a virtuoso performance involving half-silvered mirrors, foot pedals and cardboard animations, and of course Venn diagrams. After a pint across the road we were in the other Stand for Gavin Webster, an old-skool geordie comic, who was nevertheless extremely likeable and shook everyone's hand on the way out. After a Yo! Sushi meal at the top of Harvey Nick's I baled out and let the youngsters go oot on the toon.

Scottish singers plaque

Thursday 16 August: I had a mission, to discover Sally Kennedy's singing ancestor's plaque at the bottom of Calton Hill steps. I was also looking for the Ingleby Gallery, so I got off the bus at the top of the High Street and walked down the Royal Mile through all the buskers and flyerers , checked out the golden pillar box on Hunter Square, looked in at the Collective gallery and made for the Trainspotting steps. Lo and behold! there was the gallery: two floors of lovely Ian Hamilton Finlay stuff, including a film of aircraft taking off from an ironing board and a set of wooden models of Japanese warship chimneys. Back up to Waterloo Place and across a bridge over where I'd just been (Edinburgh is like that) and it was onward to the steps. Found the plaque just past the steps and decided to do something I'd never done before: go up to the top of Calton Hill! It wasn't that bad and ate my sandwiches overlooking a stunning view of Leith. Walked down to the Mound and got the Art Bus (yes, it's back, as a luxury coach) to the modern art gallery for the Picasso and Modern British Art exhibition. Now I've never been too fond of Pablo, but the Wyndham Lewis paintings downstairs and the Hockney room upstairs were worth the admission price on their own. There is some local interest too, with photos by Lee Miller and collages by Roland Penrose. Didn't bother with the Munch at the former Dean gallery, now Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art 2. Back to the old Assembly for Stewart Lee (who flyered me on the way in!) and his very-post-modern show Carpet Remnant World. Then another late-night show - John Shuttleworth at the Ace Dome. It was quite a rushed performance, with only an abbreviated I can't go back to savoury now as an encore. I look forward to a good two hours at the Theatre Royal in November.

Art bus

Friday 17 August: spent most of the day at Summerhall looking at the many art exhibitions on show. It's like a college degree show with so many rooms to explore and only a badly photocopied map to guide you. Liked the Demarco Foundation rooms, with more Ian Hamilton Finlay, and the Phenotype Genotype ephemera. Then it was a walk to the Pleasance Courtyard, thence to the Brewdog Bar in Cowgate, and a farewell meal at Absolute Thai.

Cages for art

On Saturday it was down the west coast on Virgin to Manchester and the tram to Bury, and on Sunday I made use of one of my free member's tickets on the East Lancs Railway, where steam locos 80080 (made in Brighton) and Jinty 47324 pulled me to Heywood and Rawtenstall and back. Stopped off at Ramsbottom for some black peas, but the stall had gone, its pitch taken over by a Tesco carpark!

80080 tank at Ramsbottom


Bauhaus at the Barbican

Can someone explain to me how you can buy a Travelcard (from Brighton) online? As it happened, the ticket office at London Road beat the online best, coming in at £13.80 (with senior railcard), but it meant I missed a train! Also, on the Barbican website, I could have saved a quid by booking online, but I'd have to specify a time! Ah well, swings and roundabouts.

I was off to see the Bauhaus: Art as Life exhibition at the Barbican, not a venue I relish, so it's London Road > Brighton > East Croydon > Farringdon (spanky new station) > Barbican tube, then follow the yellow line to the Art. it's £8 to get in and it starts upstairs on the balcony. Now I love the Bauhaus, I've been to the Bauhaus Archiv in Berlin and have fond memories of the Modernism exhibition at the V&A back in 2006, but I'd heard it's not that good - a Torygraph writer was particularly disappointed, so, I treated it as work (I have a book to write on graphic design) and dived in.

From the outset, however,  I was impressed, and over the edge of the bacony got a preview of the treasures to come, downstairs. It's just so good to see real artwork - the holes where Kandinsky put his compass to draw less-than-perfect circles, the postcards they loved sending each other, the home-made diplomas. They must have had so much fun - they were just so MODERN, doing the 60s in the 1920s, with their jazz bands, miniskirts and geometric hairstyles. And I'm delighted by the odd anachronism that crept in, like on Peter Keler's design for Moholy-Nagy's studio: just a bare room painted in three shades of grey with a one-legged table in the corner holding a slim record player, but with the curved trumpet form of a gramophone arm upsetting the perfect rectilinearity of it all. I couldn't find an image of it, but here's another from the same series.

There was no photography allowed and of course that particular gouache was neither in the £32.95 catalogue nor available as a £1 postcard (the postcards were from the Bauhaus-archiv) so you'll have to take my word for it. There was lots lots more to love: all the famous chairs (and you can even see them in a catalogue where you could actually order and buy a Mies van de Rohe tubular steel job, brand new), the lamps, the teapots, the textiles. Then there were the toys, the very weird puppets, sculpture, woodcuts, typography, colour wheels and exercises, Petshop Boys-style dance costumes, experimental photography, adverts for Nivea creme... but most of all it's the personal stuff, the questionnaires, the letters, the photos of teachers and students having a wild time before the killjoy Nazis put a stop to it. It's not really about the artists, though, but there are enough Paul Klees, Kandinskys, van Doesburgs, Feiningers on show to satisfy anyone. If you ever went to art school, you owe them all a huge debt; if you didn't, like me, you'll wish you were around between the wars when there was everything to live for. It's on until 12 August.


Sea shanties in Hastings

I love a sing song, and sea shanties make the best sing-along songs - with simple melodies and repetitive choruses to go with the kind of nautical heave-ho work they accompanied. So, when I heard there was a Sea Shanty Festival in nearby Hastings, I got my bike up to London Road station (taking my folder as it's lighter, knowing there'd be steps to negotiate) and headed east. At Lewes, I changed for the fast Ashford diesel, which is only two carriages so it was a bit of a squash, what with all the pushchairs. I'd arranged to meet Erica Smith, so I got off at St Leonards Warrior Square (and yes, there was a footbridge with steps) and we cycled along the seafront to Rock-a-Nore.

  Erica at the Jerwood gallery

First, we popped into the new Jerwood Gallery, tucked in amongst the black fishermen's huts. Erica had a magic ticket, so I got in free. The latest exhibition was the painter Gary Hume. I do like his stuff, and own a print and drawing of his. He paints on aluminium sheets using household gloss paint. But why? You'd think it was to get a perfectly flat finish, like on his sculptures, but no you can see the hand of the artist, and things not clear in reproduction, like toes, that transform what looks like an abstract into a figurative painting.

  Jerwood cafe

The permanent collection is pretty impressive too, mainly smallish paintings from between the wars and after. There's a nice LS Lowry of a bridge and chimney, a Ruskin Spear (Roger's dad), William Roberts, Frank Brangwyn, Dod and Ernest Proctor, John Piper - everyone except Ravilious and Bawden... plus several winners of the Jerwood Painting Prize such as Craigie Aitchison and Maggi Hambling. It's also got a cafe with balcony, and great unisex toilets. The windows are spectacular too, going right down to floor level so you imagine you might fall onto the shingle outside.

  Jerwood window

Dodging the miniature railway, we collected our bikes and trudged over the pebbles to the sea shanty 'stage' - a fishing boat, where we caught the end of a Polish group of unaccompanied singers. There then followed Graeme Knights, who did a solo set, and then The Hastings Shanty Singers, who after a rousing sing-along of 'What shall we do with the drunken sailor' were joined by the ensemble cast for the final couple of songs. The event was to be repeated on a proper stage, that evening. And Sunday was going to be Pirate day!

  The cast finale

I grabbed a Fishermen's roll from Tush and Pat's stall - two fillets of fried plaice on a bun, fresh and straight from the sea, for £2.50. Heading back to Brighton, the train was packed to the gills, but had thinned out by Eastbourne. It was home to watch history being made at the Tour de France final time trial, as Wiggo and Froome came in one and two, like Le Tour itself, and then it was out to see Anal Beard at the Albert to round off the perfect day.

  Tush and Pat's stall


SEO: how to get into Google's good books

SEO (search engine optimisation) is the art of getting Google to like you and approve of your website. I learnt all about it on a day course at Silicon Beach Training in Brighton by the personable Pat Kelly that I won in a competition. I thought I'd won some Top Trumps cards (and I did) but also won a course of my choice, so I chose SEO, something I knew little about except perhaps for the myths everyone knows, such as it's all down to the number of other sites linking to yours that will put you on the desirable page one of the search engine's results.

Before the course, I would have started this blog with something like 'Can you teach an old dog new tricks?' But one of the secrets I learnt was to put your primary keyword (in this case SEO) first both in your postings title and in the first paragraph of your body text - and preferably in your URL, file name of any image and its alt text too. But don't overdo it! Too many mentions of a keyword will alert Google's penguin and you'll be penalised if not blacklisted for daring to use cheating 'black hat' techniques. The idea is that you become not only popular but also authoritative. I won't give away any more secrets!

It's all common sense really. You need a well stuctured, W3-validating site, with compelling content! Publicise it on your Google+ page so it'll get indexed sharpish and Bob's your Uncle. One thing I need to sort out is that because I use masked web forwarding from my domains to my free hosting service, the tools Pat showed us how to use don't go directly to my sites. Not such an urgent problem in that they're so specialised I've never really had to think about SEO before, but that's a job for the future, as well as keeping my Google+ profile up-to-date. This blog covers all kinds of topics, so choosing the primary keyword is always going to be difficult.

I did get my compo Top Trumps cards in the end, and countless cups of tea, and whilst dreading going back to school at my age - and initially forgetting to bring my reading glasses - I thoroughly enjoyed it, as did I think the other seven participants. The last time I was in those offices on Gloucester Road, by the way, it was Joti's DTP bureau, where you could use a cutting-edge Mac SE to type up your CV and get it printed out pristinely by a laser printer - no internet back then, just expensive computers for hire. Seems so long ago!


My Brighton Festival so far

2 May: Cheeky Walks book launch at the Blind Tiger Club, with added quiz
6 May: Invigilating at Curt's Open House, 17 Clyde Road
Lucky Jim at the Battle of Trafalgar
7 May: Kissing the gunner's daughter outside the Fishing Museum, rainy day, not the best for peering through small holes in bathing machines
8 May: Hangover Square installation at the art school, inc 20 minute reading, go alone!
9 May: 17 Clyde Road PV with Mark Little and Monty Oxy-Moron, the best PV of the festival, always!
10 May In/visible city: multicultural ride on a Big Lemon bus to Falmer and back. http://in-visible-city.com/o_eng.html
12 May: invigilating at 99 Clyde Road Open House
Open day at Brighton National Spiritualist Church, with a talk and 'dem' - always wanted to see what it was like on the inside.
13 May: Invigilating at Curt's Open House, 17 Clyde Road
The Return of Adam Acidophilus the Fable Man at the Rock
14 May: Jeremy Deller, Playing Silly Buggers - The Life and Times of Bruce Lacey at the Dome, film followed by a useless Q&A enlivened by Bruce Lacey himself having a go at Deller for cutting things out
15 May: Spymonkey, Oedipussy at the Theatre Royal, post-modern pantomime by a quartet of extremely fit actors, best in show so far
17 May: And No Birds Sing at the Booth Museum, eerie promenade night at the stuffed birds museum with poems and zombie women, based on the life of Lizzie Siddal
18 May: Bootworks (Andy Roberts, no not the Andy Roberts (see below)) Predator at the Basement, the Arnie scifi film re-enacted using toys and members of the audience with great gusto, 2nd best in show so far
19 May: Phoenix Gallery Open Studios
20 May: Invigilating at Curt's Open House, 17 Clyde Road
Trumpton comes Alive at the Latest, delightful concert of Trumpton music played by Glen Richardson (vocals), Adrian Oxaal and Stephen Wrigley (guitars) and Tom Arnold (percussion). Some videos wot I made:

Plus a few other Open Houses, documented here:

Still to come:

23 May: Wellsbourne Society at Bom-Banes
24 May: The sound of the wind in the trees at the Nightingale, with live music, starring me (on film)!
27 May: Invigilating at Curt's Open House, 17 Clyde Road
Three Bonzos and a Piano at the Komedia, with the one and only Andy Roberts


Pensioners love compos

I recently entered a competition on Twitter to name an exhibition I might have, based on Jeremy Deller's Joy in People. The prize was a load of Deller / David Shrigley goodies from the Hayward Gallery shop.

My spur-of-the-moment entry was:

 No interventions or paradigm shifts here, mate, just my paintings 

To my surprise I won, and in due course a Jeremy Deller 'Bless this Acid House' poster arrived in a tube, followed by the box of goodies shown above: a catalogue of each exhibition, a set of 25 Shrigley postcards, a Deller mug 'My Booze Hell', and a couple of badges, worth around £70 the lot! Wow! Well worth entering. Now I've heard I've won another Twitter compo, from Silicon Beach Training, for writing this sycophantic blog entry on my Tumblr site.

Pensioners love compos. Not only do they pass the time, but you may win stuff. I'm not as fanatical as some internet compers, but I used to enter quite a few back in the 70s, mainly from the Sun newspaper (don't ask!). My best prize was a gold-plated Levis belt which I still have (any offers?). I also won a signed Roger Daltrey LP, the one with the centaur on the front (long gone!) and many other albums, including John Lennon's Sometime in New York City. If I see one that's easy to enter and I can be bothered, I'll have a go. You never know!


Bristol steam

Diesel weekend at the Avon Valley Railway

I wasn't expecting to see any steam on our Clarion Cycling Club weekend in Bath (full report here), as I knew there was a diesel event on at the Avon Valley Railway. We did however spot the diesel, pulling some coaches that included Angela, which amused at least one of our riders, and I did spot a couple of cold steam locos in the shed at Bitton. Imagine my surprise therefore when we arrived at the Arnolfini gallery in Bristol for lunch, to see a plume of smoke coming from across the harbour. Last time I was in Bristol, it wasn't running, but today my luck was in. After a great lunch of pea soup and a glass of Bristol Exhibition ale, Jim and I wandered over the bridge just as the train was leaving. In the 20 minutes or so it took to return, we chatted to one of the volunteers who was from Bolton and recognised my Clarion badge. Henbury returned and we got into the guard's van (which had a fire going).

  Henbury in steam

Jim was going to see SS Great Britain so he and I bought return tickets (£2). I discovered however that the route to Create was longer and more interesting, so upgraded (another £2), and on the next run by the river was joined by Angela and Anne who'd been strolling along the docks.

  Clarion Bath weekend

Henbury never actually faced forward on any part of the journey, because there were no turning loops and it was paramount to have good visibility because of tourists wandering across the line. The other loco was away for repairs.

  Clarion Bath weekend


London Road is finished and will be an eyesore for years (From The Argus)

London Road is finished and will be an eyesore for years (From The Argus) Selma Montford replies to my letter (never published on the Argus website) suggesting the council sells King's House and relocates to the old Co-op building. It ran along the lines:

Does the Council really need to be in such a desirable prime location as King's House on Hove seafront? Why not sell it off for luxury apartments and move the offices to somewhere like the old Co-op building on London Road, with its imposing Neo-Classical facade, and help regenerate the area? Kill two birds with one stone: make money to offset our council tax rises and bring badly needed jobs to the 'gateway to Brighton'.

Today's letter answers Selma Montford's objections to my idea.


Norfolk steam gala at Sheringham

8572 B12

Spent a very enjoyable weekend in Sheringham for the North Norfolk Railway Steam Gala. The journey up on Saturday was long but interesting. The computer told me to take the Jubilee Line from London Bridge to Stratford, which meant I saw some of the Olympics construction, including Anish Kapoor's tower, but also meant a half-hour wait on a platform with no buffet. The two-hour journey went through Chelmsford, Colchester and Ipswich and crossed a few estuaries. At Norwich I changed onto the Bittern Line train for an hour's trip to Sheringham, via Cromer and an enormous field full of photovoltaic panels near North Walsham.

92203 Black Prince

The line ends at Sheringham, but the other side of the road it continues as the Poppy Line, and I could see steam. Closer inspection (I didn't need a platform ticket) revealed a double header of the mighty 92203, named Black Prince by its owner David Shepherd, and a Micky (Black 5) from ELR Bury: No. 45337! What a noise when they set off for Holt! Magnificent. Also in the station was LNER J15 7564 and 4936 Kinlet Hall. I must confess it's a bit odd to see a GWR engine so far east! After a cappuccino, I set off for my digs, Camberley House, up Cliff Road. The name of the street was a bit of a give-away... yes, it was a bit of a schlep up one of Norfolk's only hills. Bags dumped, I walked down to the prom and along to the harbour and a pint of Woodforde's Nog at the Camra Best Pub in Norfolk, the Windham Arms (on Wyndham Street!). The Robin Hood, up the road had a more limited selection of ales (I had a pint of Abbot) but the three-bean chilli was surprisingly good, with the accompanying veg cooked perfectly.

Pint of Nog

After a great veggie beakfast (including the best poached egg in North Norfolk) on a glorious Sunday morning, I breezed down to the station and caught the 9.46 to Holt, pulled by the J15 7564, built in 1912 at Stratford. On the way back, being pulled by Kinlet Hall, I alighted at Weybourne and waited for the beautifully restored B12 8572, hauling the 1924 LNER Quad-Art set that once carried commuters from King's Cross to the suburbs. Quad-Art? It's a four-carriage set with each carriage sharing a bogey with the next, making the whole train much lighter. I took the Black Prince train back to Holt, where it was left and we came back with Kinlet Hall. At Holt is a 2-10-0 Dub-Dee 90775, out of service. After a cappuccino and toasted teacake break, I caught Black Prince again back to Holt and returned to Sheringham with the 5MT 45337. Also on duty was a GWR tank 5619, which I kept missing. The bummer of the day was the on-off switch of my Flip Ultra II breaking, so no videos!

LNER Quad-Art set

On the way back to the B&B I called in to the Lobster for a pint of Woodforde's Wherry, thence to the Windham Arms for some Elmtree Dark Horse stout. Monday morning, after another great breakfast, headed back the way I came, except to Liverpool Street (at Norwich you can get a train to either Liverpool Lime Street or Liverpool Street London, which could be confusing to a foreign visitor!), tube to the being refurbished Farrington and back over the river to bonny Brighton.

More photos on Flickr.


Things they don't tell you about getting old

You may not know, but I'm a terrible hypochondriac. Anything remotely worrying or out of the ordinary in the health department sends my anxiety levels sky high, resulting in tense neck and shoulders and then headaches, making me feel a whole lot worse. Yes, we all know that as we get older, we're more likely to get ill, and then eventually die. But I'm not ready for that yet. After spending most of my youth in hospitals, I've managed to avoid them in my adulthood. I think in a way I fear any cures more than the ailments itself. So, it was with trepidation that I visited my doc on Tuesday - the first appointment I could get after experiencing a surprise big black floater in my right eye, followed by flashing lights on the very edge of my vision, especially in dim light, the previous Friday afternoon.

Of course, I did a Google search, but as with almost any symptoms, the bottom line is always get checked out by your doctor! Could be anything. What I didn't want it to be was a detached retina. A friend, Stephen R, had told me on the trip back from Holyhead last year of his brother who got that and had to have emergency treatment in Liverpool, involving lasers and needles in the eye. Not nice! When I told the doc my symptoms, he immediately wrote me a note for the eye hospital A&E - yes, they have their own. So after charging up the mobile and packing some dark glasses (I knew they would dilate my pupil) I set off on the bus. He recommended getting there around 2pm.

Brighton's eye hospital is an Art Deco building (the foundation stone says 1933) and the ED is down some stairs. I showed the triage nurse my note and she directed me to sit down in a transit waiting area. Eventually I was summoned by another desk person to give some details, next of kin etc and then directed to another area of seating. After a while I was called by a rather laconic and brusk male nurse who put three lots of drops in my eyes and told me to save my story for the doctor. After another wait, me and an elderly lady from Newick with ingrowing eyelashes were led to a bench in a corrider opposite a rack of leaflets from the RNIB. She went in to see the doc and I waited again, later joined by another couple of women. Apparently there was an emergency involving a young lad, who needed a brain scan.

So I got to see the doc who took a good look in my eye and said (not in so many words) that it was posterior vitreous detachment. He could see that big black floater fluttering round like a moth, but said that it would either sink or my brain would get used to it eventually. Although the symptoms do incude the flashing lights as the vitreous tugs on the retina, he seemed to think it was an ocular migraine. Hmm, not so sure, I've been getting them for a week now, but as I said only in dim light, when I get up in the morning and in the evening.

Anyhow, the good news is that it wasn't retinal detachment, so no lasers and needles. But... I now have to live with this black moth fluttering around inside my eye... and being short-sighted, I was always going to be more prone to it. We are lucky in Brighton to have an eye hospital and yes, I know the dear old NHS is stretched but I can't help feeing the whole visit could have been made more pleasant and reassuring (I'm a big fan of Holby City and Casualty, y'know). Not being aware of the modus operandi and procedure does make you feel a little bit you are wasting their time and cluttering up their department (although there was a wall chart aimed at kids which went some way to explaining the sequence of events). And it was an eye opener to see people worse off than you (the lady from Newick had already had several operations and only had one good eye). Here's to life's little surprises, and let's hope it'll be a while before I have to enter a hospital again.

Here's a bit of weirdness: the other morning I was having a shave and when I reached for the towel a moth flew out. I thought it had come from my eye, but it was a real one and the floater is still there buzzing around.

If you've read this far, thanks for indulging me. I find writing about these things quite therapeutic. Got a train-spotting weekend in store in Sheringham, so come back and read my write-up.


Why are Open Houses on in May?

Delving about in my ephemera, for my last post about the Two Fringes, I came across a couple of brochures of alternative Open House events. Around the time of the split from the Festival and then the Fringe, some AOHers, notably from the Fiveways trail, proposed moving the Open Houses Festival away from the 'umbrella' of the May Festival to other parts of the year.

This was trialed by a Council-backed (City of Culture/Where Else Campaign) initiative called Manifest, which took place in October 2002, for three weekends. Various talks/workshops/exhibitions/open houses took place, from Portslade to Rottingdean. But it never happened again.

Then, of course, came the Christmas Open Houses, still going strong. In its first year, 2003, there were just 16 venues; last year there were 65. The brochures are designed by AOH's Chris Lord, with woodcut illustrations on the cover by Judy Stevens, always on the theme of The Twelve days of Christmas. We look forward to its 13th year to see how she will illustrate that one!

In 2006, 11 Open Houses had a July opening for two weekends, as part of the Celebrating Age festival, featuring more mature artists, i.e. those over 50! The participating venues (I was in Jackie Jones' house at 51 Upper Lewes Road) were not impressed by the level of publicity it got, attendances were poor and it was never repeated. The consensus is that May is best!

Incidentally, almost all these events had websites, now gone to the great digital graveyard in the sky...