Friday, 24 July 2020

Daily Photos no. 81 - Pedal power

These are from a circuit race round Stoke-on-Trent one evening in Spring 2014 - a women's and a men's competition round a street route, one of the ways the city tried to regenerate back when that was thought possible. There's quite a cycling tradition in the Potteries, back to the days of the CTC, the Clarion Clubs and the temperance movement, and the city sustains two very high-end bike shops, Swnnerton's (my favourite) and Brian Rourke Cycles. The crowds were pretty sparse that day though.

blurred background - I was shooting handheld. 


Thursday, 23 July 2020

Daily photos no. 80: Making Hay

Daily Photos is going to become Regular Photos next week for operational reasons. I hope you've enjoyed them. I'm looking forward to actually taking more pictures rather than reminiscing about old ones, but work is intervening as it so often does. But apparently if I stop working, they stop paying me.

Anyway, these were from a  long weekend in Y Gelli / Hay-on-Wye, one of my favourite places. I've never actually been to the Festival due to a long-standing allergy to red trousers, but I've long loved the town, the bookshops and the Welsh and nearby Herefordshire countryside. On this particular visit I asked the Cinema Bookshop manager if they had a Welsh section. 'Nobody's ever asked that', he said, and took me upstairs to an enormous room containing the entire library of a former Archdruid that he'd just bought (the library, not the Archdruid) – an amazing collection which I did my best to deplete.

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Daily photos no. 79: in the mosh pit with the Nightingales

I vaguely remember hearing critics' favourites The Nightingales and/or their predecessors The Prefects on John Peel's show in the 1990s, and liking their rough, caustic commentary on contemporary life. Like a punk Half Man Half Biscuit, I'm sure they wouldn't like me to say. Years later, I found myself sharing an office with their suave and talented guitarist, Alan Apperley and ended up going to more Gales gigs than any other band. Some were brilliant, some were awful, as to be expected for a band with a regular habit of producing ever-better music and then sabotaging their careers – coronavirus has put paid at least temporarily to Stewart Lee's film about Robert Lloyd the lead singer: merely the latest entry to a catalogue of stumbling blocks on the road to the Hall of Fame.

'Gales gigs are amazing though. They're not a heritage band - they've consistently produced new and better albums since they reformed, with an evolving sound. The crowds (ahem) are interesting - there's a core of devoted fans who follow them everywhere, then a group of post-punk fans, and always a floating pool of ex-members, of which there are many. It's multi-generational too - they've been going long enough to have fans ranging from their 60s to their 20s (not many kids have arrived yet though).

This gig was in 2013.

Ted Chippington, the anti-comedian!

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Daily photos no. 78: Lud's Church

The high moorland between Leek and Buxton is so under-rated: wild, cold and dramatic. It's also full of surprises, like Lud's Church, a hidden cleft in the ground frequented – allegedly – by the Green Knight and the Lollards.

“a mound as it might be near the marge of a green, a worn barrow on a brae [slope] by the brink of a water, beside falls in a flood that was flowing down; the burn [fast stream] bubbled therein, as if boiling it were. He urged on his horse then, and came up to the mound, there lightly alit, and lashed to a tree his reins, with a rough branch rightly secured them. Then he went to the barrow and about it he walked, debating in his mind what might the thing be. It had a hole at the end and at either side, and with grass in green patches was grown all over, and was all hollow within: nought but an old cavern, or a cleft in an old crag; he could not it name aright. … Then he heard from the high hill, in a hard rock-wall beyond the stream on a steep, a sudden startling noise. How it clattered in the cliff, as if to cleave it asunder” and occupied by “the worst wight in the world…for he is stout and stern, and to strike he delights, and he mightier than any man upon middle-earth is, and his body is bigger than the four best men” 
(Tolkien's translation of Gawain and the Green Knight, which was written in the local dialect). 

You slip between some rocks and down a slight slope, pass a sharp corner and the ravine opens out in front of you, which features a log into which people still press devotional offerings in the form of coins: the exit brings you out at the top through a gap hidden in whinberry bushes as thought you'd stepped out of an Alan Garner portal fantasy.

Monday, 20 July 2020

Daily photos no. 77: a winter's weekend in York

It's hard to take non-clichéd pictures of one of the most historical cities in Europe, and I'm not sure I succeeded, but here are the fruits of a very relaxed wander around York one wet winter.

Stained-glass snark

My lecture was not well-received

A triptych of exposures - chapter house ceiling

Clifford's Tower - site of an early massacre of Jews
In other news, I've just finished reading comedian Robert Webb's first novel, Come Again. Swayed by highly positive reviews of this story about a bereaved widow travelling back in time to university days (1992, the year before I commenced Higher Education) to save her husband from a brain tumour, and feeling the need for some light summer reading, I was expecting a cross between David Nichols and Audrey Niffeneger, which I'm pretty sure was the original agent's pitch. That and 'He's Robert Webb, off the telly'.

Dave and Audrey would be within their rights to entice Mr Webb down a dark alley to administer some swift literary justice. Yes, the 'plot' is a mix of their trademark bourgeois nostalgia/romance/twist and a smattering of wit smeared over the most ridiculous events meant to be taken seriously, but by god it's a tedious read, aiming for middle-brow tragic-comedy and achieving Centrist Dad Solving Your Problems. I'm not sure how, but it feels both slapdash and overly-laboured: it tries to be good fun with a dash of bathos but feels inescapably formulaic.

Webb wants you to recognise certain things by the end of this novel:

  • New Labour was good. 
  • People remember the clothes they once wore with a degree of embarrassment.
  • Young people say silly things but can be forgiven because they're young and silly.
  • He would like to reassure lesbians that it's OK to be lesbian and female practitioners of karate that it's ok not to be lesbians. 
  • Too much drinking is bad. 
  • Grief can be assuaged by the love of another good man. 
  • People get fatter as they get older. 
  • Russians don't have to have character but rich ones are probably bad. 
  • Some posh people are utter shits and others are good eggs. 
  • Poor people are generally good eggs except the bad ones. 
  • Not having mobile phones was quite inconvenient. 
  • Boris Johnson, Brexit and intolerance are, on balance, bad ideas. 
  • Regional gays are hilarious
  • 'Boobs' are a thing and definitely the habitual term used by bereaved women.
  • Britain is in a bit of a mess. 

Still, it deserves some credit for ambition: not many first-time novelists would make the central dead character a terrible novelist, nor provide several Martin Amis-esque paragraphs to prove it. That's asking for trouble.