Sunday, April 30, 2006

Jose Gonzalez (and friends) in Newcastle

We went to see Jose Gonzalez last night at Newcastle City Hall.

Doors said open at 7.30 and we arrived just after that, and it was filling up fast. Our seats were on the front row of the circle but when we arrived there was already a performer on stage, the lighting was dim so we waited at the back for a while. There was one person on stage, a blonde in a pale gold outfit, singing at the top of her lungs and playing an electric piano. At the end of the first song she asked why it was that grapefruit were called that when they were nothing like grapes. She had a bunch of red grapes at her side, eating the odd one between songs. We quickly worked out that she had an accent - presumably Swedish. We had no idea who she was - found out through a little searching she is Frida Hyvonen.

A Wonderfully Mad Woman!

Her strong voice quickly caught our attention, and although she was alone she filled the room and captured her audience. She was pleasantly eccentric; I like that.
After her last song she stood up for her ovation and revealed a dress that Krystle Carrington would have been proud of.

I must say that we weren't expecting a support act, but it's always nice to see something new. I'm glad I saw Frida, I'd certainly pay money to see her again.

Next, we were obviously expecting Jose. Wrong! After a brief break for some technology to be brought onstage, the place suddenly darkened and ultra-violet light revealed three blonde girls walking onstage, dressed in ballgowns that were glowing green in this special light. Has Jose got a backing band? No, it's Midaircondo.

They took their positions and started the sequencers off, making vocal noices and coughs which got repeated and swirled together with other sounds, building to a crescendo and then fading out one by one after about 4 minutes. Trickling marbles, whizzling of flute and saxaphone, etc. This repeated about another 6 times. Some nice background film of plankton that looked like something between a humbug and a marrow entertained me while they made their noises. Don't get me wrong, it was great background music, perhaps for a film soundtrack or arty installation, but it wasn't really doing anything for me watching them perform it in the flesh (other than some Björk-like vocals, which I love). Not enough rhythm for me. There was a couple of moments when I couldn't help but giggle - maybe this was deliberate, I can't say. I know plenty of people who would wet their pants in adoration, though.

After they'd finished it was after 9pm. Now bear in mind that we'd stupidly only paid for parking until 10pm... blokey volunteered to put some more money in and race back before Jose. It was actually about 9.25 when he arrived onstage, to much cheering.

This is the first time I've been to a concert by someone who has been hyped by an advert and much publicity. I think it was unfair on Jose, to be honest; the audience didn't strike me as the type to normally go to see an acoustic guitar player. The drunken cheers and occasional "whoop" seemed to embarrass him a wee bit. But they certainly appreciated him.

Anyway, he played marvellously and proficiently, running through songs from the album (thankfully not in the same order) and some I didn't know, but loved all the same. A couple of guys came on to help, bongoed and rattled up, but didn't do anything amazing with them. Annoyingly the guy stage right of Jose (the one we had the best view of) didn't bongo his bongos once. He hit the side with a small drumstick, and sometimes tapped his fingers on the sides of it like a bloke beating of a rhythm on his dashboard. No skill involved, frankly.

Jose & co did a brilliant cover version of Kylie Minogue's Hand on My Heart, worked really well. Next was a Massive Attack cover, Teardrop. Lovely!

Anyway after about 50 minutes it was over, but not over. The "famous song" hadn't been "done" yet so we all knew it was a faux finish and dutifully cheered until the inevitable encore (I hate that!). So he did Heartbeats, and another cover - Joy Division's Love will Tear us Apart. Wonderful! Another encore for Crosses and that was that. Fantastic!

It was all over by 10.30, far too short a set really. Back to the car and a guilty McD's on the way home.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Mobile phone masts disguised as trees

These cheeky buggers make me smile.

I enjoy imagining the meeting where, during a brainstorming session at Norwegian Telecom (or wherever), a keen young fledgling advertising exec made a bold suggestion and the idea actually got taken up… it works quite well in that most people don't notice them – which is obviously the point – but in actual fact no-one really notices the original metallic variety either these days.

I passed one of these fake plastic trees recently alongside the A27 near Brighton. Thankfully, they'd placed it amongst some suitable piny-looking trees. One I see regularly is just north of the A9 roundabout near Bridge of Allan. It's bold as brass, sitting quite separately to the other trees it's supposed to be mimicking, hence missing the whole point of camouflage!

In the north of England, there's one at the east end of Haltwistle, above the A69.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Southern Upland Way - Part 1 ...

Yesterday we did this walk on part of the Southern Upland Way.

Started at NX261736, the walk was about 7.5 miles and included some stunning views, particularly from Craig Airie Fell, 320 metres high could see for miles and miles!



Visible windfarm on Artfield Fell to the south, with an excellent view behind, all the way to the Mull of Galloway and Luce Bay (if you squint... it was a bit hazy).


Searched about on the hillsides for possible rock art and saw lots of possible cup-marks, although it could have been natural and without pack-marks or rings I'm not too confident about them.



Investigated the Wells of the Rees, but not much to see.

On to the Laggangarn Standing Stones. Nice but Christianised. Gleaned 9p!

On the way back, spotted a lizard sunbathing on a drystone wall


It was a warm, sunny day with no wind. Perfect weather!

Took us about 4.5 hours and we by-passed Craig Airie on the way back ;)

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Coggeshall - A hidden gem!

I had another swift trip down the the southern counties this week, early-morning Newcastle-Southampton with Eastern Airways, on a cute Saab plane with rotors and leather seats (had a monster under the bonnet though, hidden jets!) Very good service, lovely flight and they gave me a nice breakfast! My workmate collected me and we went off to a couple of local hospitals to sell our stuff.

Afterwards along the south coast on the A27 he pointed out some local landmarks, Arundel Castle (wow!) and I spotted Lancing College Chapel (also Wow!), which he'd not noticed before!

On past the fake plastic trees and up into south London, he dropped me off at the Travelodge. I then had a half-hour wait while some builders argued with the receptionist, so I didn't feel much like going to the pub next door for food. Ordered a huge pizza (eventually, after I didn't have the postcode and the guy on the phone didn't understand the word "travelodge") and they gave me a big tub of Haagen-Dazs, which was surely a mistake but I wan't too upset.

Next morning we went up to Ipswich on a similar mission, timing it just right traffic-wise we then had some time afterwards for some actual real lunch.

Just off the A12 on the A120 en-route to Stansted airport, I instructed my driver (!) to just see if there was anywhere nice to eat in Coggeshall. Found the marvellous White Hart Hotel and has a delicious cheese omelette, presented by the resident Italian chef who after we'd eaten could be seen jumping into his Fiat wearing a red Lamborghini leather jacket. I can't exaggerate how impressive this little village was, with it's embossed Essex plasterwork and it's painted houses, some of them were so special they were owned by the National Trust!

Onward to the airport and back on Squeezy-jet to Newcastle, with a plane-load of noisy kids who treated the flight as a rollercoaster ride, even did the hands-in-the-air bit.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Flowers by the Roadside OR "I blame Diana"

One thing that I see a lot of while driving is floral litter. It catches my eye, waking me from my automaticpilotness and reminding me of my mortality. I suppose that's one good thing that comes of it, but I doubt that was the primary intention of those that left it there. Obviously it's a memorial, and I can understand that. But after the initial jolt of responsibility, the next feeling I get is one of wastefulness, and filth.

I'm not denying the expression of grief, but I would doubt that the people being remembered would appreciate the pieces of dirty plastic sheeting containing rotting plant material, which is all that will remain in a few days' time.

Of course this is also a popular act in cemeteries, and to a lesser degree at prehistoric sites. If the flowers etc are unwrapped it's not so bad…

I don't disapprove of all "offerings" though, because some kind person left me a collection of treasures at Duddo last weekend, including some coins (=26p), and a small polished pink quartz crystal (thanks).

Monday, April 17, 2006

Northumberland Odyssey (Weetwood Walk)

As an early teaser, we visited the Matfen stone, pocked and proud, positioned in front of a lovely farmhouse named after the stone.

The target was further north, parking at Coldmartin mast reached via Wooler's Brewery Road. The strong wind was in evidence as soon as we opened the car doors!

Walking up past the mast and on a small raise to the north we found the first panel of rock art, sadly choked by lichen growth. Between gusts of wind I could hear the occasional skylark, making the day feel a bit warmer. Onward on the gorgeously soft and black peaty path (thankfully very dry today) between the heather, we walked on up to the area known as Whitsunbank. Again the lichen had taken a good root and much of the detail of the rock art is hidden. Continuing the route past the trig point and the gate to Fowberry, once more we were at Weetwood, my most frequently visited rock art site! On the return journey we took in a couple we'd missed on the way down.

Holy Island, and the Northumberland coast in general, is breezy at the best of times… but today has got to be one of the gustiest I've witnessed! And being Easter Monday the place was mobbed with tourists, some mistakenly dressed for a warm spring day, not the remnants of winter we had today. I finally got to go inside the castle, which I can now confirm is tiny compared to the hulking great lump as viewed from outside. The beach pebble hunt was an essential part of the day, producing some fine holey holy specimens.

On to Duddo stone circle… it's impossible to take a bad photograph of this place! It totally oozes art. The setting isn't too pretentious, the view is wide-open and it's accessible without being easy (perhaps summing up the rest of the local landscape). Fab! And the little pressies were a bonus.

On the way home we aimed for the Warrier Stone, which is very close to Matfen where we started the day before. They are very similar, cut from the same cloth as Duddo and even the Devil's Arrows in North Yorkshire, all made of sandstone placed up on end and sculpted by rain.

The presumed landowner of the Warrier Stone told us of the rock art at his front gate (bonus!) – the sun went down as we took the final snaps of the weekend. The wind was dying down and it still hadn't warmed up but somehow we managed to catch the sun on our faces for the first time this year.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Shap in Spring

We went to Shap today, it's somewhere I've driven past hundreds of times and never actually stopped (unless you count one bar meal!). It's got a reputation for being peppered with prehistoric sites; a fact I only became aware of in the last few years.

We started off at Gunnerkeld, which is so close to the M6 it's scary! We parked & asked at the farmhouse and walked down past sheep and through mud. It was here that I decided it was freeeeeeeeeezing...

Next we went to Shap proper - starting at the Thunderstone - in a field next to a farmhouse with an extremely noisy cat. Photographs not to scale ;)




We then visited a few other stones in the area, part of the route included a spooky lane between two walls, I could imagine it being the same since ancient times... also a nice view of Helvellyn covered in snow.

While visiting our next stone much nearer the village, the sky started to turn darker (the other reputation Shap has is for wintry weather!) so we started to head for the car. There was one more essential visit to make before we headed home: Kemp Howe stone circle. This has a sad story attached to it - it was victim to enthusiastic Victorian railway engineers who decided it was in the way. What remains is a fraction of the circle, immediately adjacent to Network Rail's fence. To add insult to injury, humans later built an enormous cement works.

This site has the interesting story of Shap (complete with overhead shots): Visit Cumbria - Shap

For more information on the prehistory of the Shap area, read this excellent Modern Antiquarian blog by fitzcoraldo

Friday, April 07, 2006

Dropping to Bits!!

I woke up this morning (durder-durder-RER!) to a knacked knee. Couldn't walk! It's been clicking for ages but otherwise I don't think there was one single action that caused it.

Anyway in the space of about 20 seconds I'd gone from "ouch" to "I'm not going anywhere today" then "yeah! day at home!" but then "oh no it's Friday, what about the weekend" and "I can't even do any gardening" finally "bugger!"

It's things like this that make me have the utmost respect for folk who have problems like this all the time. I am not one of those people who takes fitness for granted, oh no! If I'm at the top of a hill I take a moment to appreciate the view, and tell myself it might be the last time I see this... not in a morbid way; it's just one of the thoughts I have whilst contemplating life, which is something I do constantly!

Hurrah for life! And three cheers for bits that work properly!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Race for Life 2006

I just registered!

My online Race For Life Sponsorship Form

Postcard from the Borders

Yesterday we ventured into the Borders, up the A7 and off up into the wilds. Driving up past Langholm towards Eskdalemuir, our first stop was the Girdle Stanes & Loupin Stanes... two stone circles quite close to each other. They are linked by a possible avenue... there are certainly a few stragegically-placed boulders dotting the route between. A few of the Girdle stones have been chopped off by the river.

The weather was not kind. As we got out of the car it started spitting and then by the time we got to the Loupins it was bucketing!! A quick retreat meant that these are now on our list for return visits, together with the Buddhist monastery a bit further up the road.

Back down to Langholm for a visit to Pelosi's for a takeaway baked tattie (too cold for icecream yet), consumed in the little carpark near the river, complete with ducks and oystercatcher audience (until a mad woman let her weimaraner chase them all off)






Up the A7 again, past the Celtic Goldsmith (drool) off right towards Cashmere land. It was very odd seeing the Cashmere (from Kashmir!) goats - one in particular was stark black against the landscape and really stood out.

Through another downpour we climbed up a lungbustingly steep hill to see another circle - the circle itself was a bit waterlogged but the view was brilliant! So was the rainbow.

There are lots of settlements and forts in this area. Lots of reasons to come back.

Next was the very impressive Hermitage Castle - one of my favourites.

Wolfy got a chance to try his smart new camera with some sepia trickery.

They're doing some work on the castle at the moment, so some was cordoned off. We went to see the Chapel to compensate.

 
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