Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Solfest 2007

Yay! The weather held out so we camped for only the second time this year. We arrived on Friday afternoon and already the main campsite had overflowed to the opposite side of the road; but the Solfest area isn't very big anyway so it wasn't much further away.

I like Solfest. As last year, there was a fancy dress theme on Saturday night, but this time it was freeform, so there were lots of wacky outfits. Mine was almost identical to last year, apart from this year I wore a lime-green silk dress that I picked up for £4 from a TK Maxx. Somewhere in this house are the glowsticks I bought last year but could I find them?!

This year, B went as a Mexican, and there were quite a few others. Like a numpty, I completely forgot to take any pictures of our own costumes...!

For me, the food at a festival is almost more important than the music! And having been disappointed at Wickerman that there was no Burrito stall, it was the first place we looked for when arriving at Solfest. Yes! The Mexican Food stall was there as last year, worth the queue for the bulging Buffalo Burrito.... yum. the Stoat's Porridge stall was there again too - but we were disappointed to find it closed on Saturday morning - but we were soon comforted by turning round to find the Mexican place open already. Breakfast Burritos - woohoo!

So the stalls as always were also worth a good trawl - seemed like after a while they all started to merge into one large Indian bazaar. The workshops, the peoplewatching, the friendliness, the comfortable atmosphere.. and this year one of the main attractions was the alcohol rub in the toilets! Why has no-one thought of that before?! Brilliant!

So the music we saw was: Bens Brother, Moss Troopers (rehearsing and the real thing), Neck, Chumbawumba, Alison Dewar, Badly Drawn Boy, The Undertones, Lucy & the Caterpillar, Gaurav Mazunder, Thea Gilmore, Louise Mary Martin, KTB, Bex Marshall. Phew... Quite a lot actually!

Bens Brother were good, they are the next tip to be famous...perhaps a bit James Blunty though. Moss Troopers were great, numbered about 15 traditional musicians - would see them again. Can't remember much about Neck, Chumba, Alison Dewar. I think I might have been asleep. Badly Drawn Boy suffered from muffly sound from the main stage - in fact, most of the acts there did. The Bar Stage opposite was in constant competition - I think they should try and stagger it better. The Undertones had the crowd bouncing!

Lucy & the Caterpillar was bloody wonderful (dispite the poor sound quality). I would certainly go out of my way see her again - she was an acoustic guitarist with a voice similar to Joanna Newsome / slightly Bjorkish. One to watch!

Gaurav was a real-life sitar player and I've not witnessed one in the flesh before, he was good and drew quite a crowd, but to be honest we got a bit bored (too sober). It did make me wonder though how Indian classical music was acceptable but no European stuff... hmmm somehow can't imagine that at Solfest though.

Enjoyed Thea Gilmore. Louise Mary Martin was wonderful - did a great version of a Bjork song, Joga, which was nice! (Really looking forward to seeing Bjork perform in the flesh next weekend now!)

KTB was good, another acoustic girl singer - I could easily get mixed up! this girl is part of "Little Sister" who had been on earlier but we'd missed. She taught the crowd a simple song and organised a short round.

Bex Marshall was powerful - more rock chick twanging attitude than the tinkly picking which went before. Her voice sounded a bit too Bonnie Tyler for me but B liked her. She pulled off quite a successful "Purple Haze" including the fancy fingerwork. It's on her myspace page.

So that was it!

Photos now on Flickr

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Best Motorway View

I had to say something about this news item.

What a load of pants!

Everyone knows that the best view from any motorway in the UK is the one of the Howgills, heading up the M6 just before Tebay. I can't find a damn picture of it, there must be one online... visitcumbria has one of the Howgills but not as viewed from the M6.

The RAC survey seems very Midlands-centric - it's almost as if the staff in the big glassy RAC call centre were the only ones who knew about the survey. hmmm.... funny that...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Silent Wispa

I read today that Cadbury's (of salmonella outbreak fame) is bringing back Wispa, after an internet campaign including 93 groups on Facebook.


1. I'm on Facebook and I've never seen these mythical groups (but admittedly only have 12 contacts). Just checked and the number has increased to 102 groups. Makes me wonder what other essential groups I am missing out on.

2. I hadn't even noticed Wispa wasn't around any more... it's bit like finding out someone that used to be famous has died

3. Doesn't this smack of desperation to you? A PR stunt to be seen to have the customers' interests at heart, rather than the reality of taking the money and running...

And it's gonna be called Wispa Classic. Yawn! Bad move! That sounds like they will accompany it with the other varieties that killed its popularity in the first place, like the version with caramel on the bottom which just Didn't Work.

I might try one for old times' sake - I liked them in their own way. As everyone knows, the only decent way to eat a Wispa is to dunk it in warm tea - not hot as it'll just disintegrate. Or, nibbling the outer layer to reveal something that resembles a big turd. Ah! What fun.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Save Our (Red) Squirrels

Remember this guy? If you're British and of a certain age, this was the star of the road safety campaign for kids - where Willy Weasel comes a cropper.

Anyhoo - Tufty was a red squirrel. Not a grey. The red squirrel was the variety that during the 1970's was familiar to people across Britain - but it is extinct in most areas now, save for a few pockets.

This is a shocking fact. The reason for this is that not only is the beefier, foreign grey squirrel muscling in on the reds' patch, it's bringing with it a deadly disease, Squirrel Pox, which is officially Not Very Nice.

Oh, and how could I forget - Beatrix Potter's Squirrel Nutkin is also a red!

The red squirrel has got to be one of the most endearing creatures, and not just because they are in childrens' stories. If you've ever met one while out and about, you'll know that this can be the highlight of the day - a smiley moment to savour. We met one near the Cree - it ran in front of us and scooted up a tree and I'll never forget it staring back with those beady black eyes, while furiously nibbling on a pine cone.

So, one of the ways we can save the red is to not run over them in cars... The other, is to try to protect it from the pox. This can be by keeping a barrier between the two species, or by vaccination. A vaccine hasn't yet been developed, so we are left with the horrifying fact that if we want to save the reds, we must cull the greys. See? I can't even say kill.

A few goodly people are organising themselves to try and save the red squirrel. They are extremely noble in my opinion and so I decided to do my bit here, and also donate some hard cash to the cause, so that they can do the deed and I can sleep a bit sounder knowing someone vastly more dedicated than me is making it their passion.

So please please, with tufty red ears on top, donate some money after reading all about these gorgeous creatures and all about the projects being organised.

And if you see one, alive or dead, anywhere in the areas listed (or anywhere else) - or indeed if you see a grey (bloody well hope not) - then report it to one of these guys who need the information to help with their surveys.

Thanks, from Sammy.

Northumberland Red Squirrel Partnership

Red Squirrels in Southern Scotland

The Anglesey Red Squirrel Project

More information:

Great story of the squirrel foster mum

Red Squirrel Week

Squirrel News on BBC

Red Squirrel factsheet (pdf)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Rock Art Hunt - St John Lee, Corbridge Roman Site and Wallington

Yesterday we ventured out to find three pieces of Rock Art in three very different and unusual settings.

The first was to be found just inside the door of the parish church of St. John of Beverley, St. John Lee, near Hexham in Northumberland. The church is easy to find, just off the roundabout on the main A69 road.

The outside of the church is quite plain and Victorian in style, although its origins are in the 14th century. There are some carved gargoyles, a war memorial, and pretty standardised gravestones towards the front. So far, so normal. Inside however, the ceiling has some impressive wooden carved features and its obvious that there has been some serious money poured into it over the last 150 years. One of the most interesting things to me was the marble-carved tomb of a dead Great War soldier, his head lying on a saddle and his hat at his feet. The stained glass windows were OK, again mostly dedicated as memorials, from the Victorian era to the 1940's. I learned all about hatchments, heraldic wooden plaques made in memory of the dead, while waiting patiently for B to take photographs of the rock art!

Outside, we explored the churchyard in search of possible older gravestones, because there must be some if the place is so much older than the architecture... sure enough, I quickly found some old 18th century gravestones, placed against the wall of the church; probably unlikely to be in their original position. My eye was drawn to one for Robert Forester, complete with winged and wigged angel. The graveyard was quite overgrown and my explorations were hampered by possible bare ankle / nettle contact!

Then - bingo! "Memento Mori" (Remember you must die) - a gorgeous stone with skull and crossbones (the skull had a tooth missing)- I set B on the case immediately with tripod and flash to get the best from it. The other side of the stone was carved with wonderful 18thC lettering, as follows:

In memory
of Robert dixon
who died the 26th
may 1761 aged 32
Confide not reader in thy
youth or strength
But more than both thy
present moment prize
Graves here surround the
of each breadth and length
And thou may be perhaps
the next that dies

I loved this!

There was quite a few more similar-aged stones, most had the angel (with various hairstyles) and sometimes egg-timers, snakes eating their own tails, bones and books - all symbols of course representing either everlasting life, or death.

After we left here we drove the short distance to Corbridge Roman site - again just off the A69/A68 and well sign-posted (as with all things Roman around here). We flashed our English Heritage members cards and onwards, to find the Rock Art boulder sat on a wall here.

The site is quite impressive - bigger than I was expecting. The squared grid layout undulates pleasantly, thanks to subsidence into an earlier fort! (I thought this may have been iron-aged but apparently it was a turfed Roman affair). Again, B took pics of the single rock while I wandered about.

The weather was starting too a little bit ropey and during our drive to Wallington, the were a few spits but nothing to get wet about. We'd been to Wallington before, a couple of years ago before I started this blog.

We had a poke about the farm shop and had a cuppa and scone, then headed down to the walled garden. The interior of the house will have to wait to another visit; we'd been before and it would be closed by the time we got back up hill anyway.

We followed the path down the eastern side of the site, across the stepping stones and past the fat couple fondling on the riverbank, up through the trees and back towards the road. The bridge was our target - there is a small "portable" rock art boulder concreted into the inside of the bridge's legs - rendering it not portable anymore. We missed it the first time so crossed over and no it wasn't there - started to panic but found it when returning to the first, southern side of the river.

B took some pics while I listened to the cars honking their various horns (there's a roadsign which commands it!) and watched a strange bob-tailed yellow-blobbed bird pecking amongst the reeds (since identified as a grey wagtail)

Then, back up the hill to the car, stopping to take pics of the Griffin Heads (it's the law).

On the way home, saw a hot air balloon taking off at Chollerford, before following the Hadrian's Wall route towards home.

B's photos of St Johns Lee on Flickr

Overhead view of St Johns Lee on googlemaps

St John's Lee Rock Art on themodernantiquarian

Beckinsall Archive details for St John Lee Rock Art

St John Lee website

Corbridge Roman Site overhead view on googlemaps

Corbridge Roman Site on English Heritage site

Wallington overhead view on googlemaps

Wallington National Trust site

St Johns Lee:

Corbridge Roman Site:


Friday, August 10, 2007

Space chasing - wooooooo

Last night, I had a tip-off about the overhead pass of the space station and shuttle, at about 10.30 pm.

I stood out in the back garden with a compass ("they" said it should be seen moving west to east at about 77 degrees), wondering if I would be able to see anything in the still-a-bit-light sky, and with the orange streetlights glaring. The sky was incredibly clear though, amazing considering our pathetic summer weather.

After a while in the back garden, I realised that the house was in the way - doh! So I went to the front and stood leaning against the front of the house, watching the skies.

(Was that it? No it's flashing and slow, it's a plane. They said it would only take at most 7 minutes to totally cross the sky so it'll be quite fast. )

Then, wow! A bright light, like someone running across the sky with a torch! No flickering, coming from the south west and not too high up to have to crane my neck. I shouted for B but he was unimpressed and obviously immersed in something more fascinating and rare (!)

The first, brighter object was the Space Station. B made it downstairs for the last few moments of it's passby. Then, when I was alone again, another light appeared, in the same pathway... meanwhile B had phoned his Dad, who was now outside in Dumfries watching it!

I tried to watch through my little binoculars but 1. they were too crappy (no surprise) and 2. these things really scoot, so I couldn't follow it quick enough!


It was all made a little bit more exciting because I accidentally watched the space shuttle launch last night; I found it while flicking through channels at about 6.30pm. The shuttle's on its way to dock with the station. I suppose this spectacle happened quite often, the difference being that it would be only the station not the shuttle. I will have to keep an eye out for it in future!

bbc webpage

heavens above website, from whence came the diagram above

nasa space station website

nasa shuttle website

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Talkin Tarn - in better weather

We made a return trip to Talkin Tarn yesterday, to make the most of it before the parking charges are introduced (as it turns out, the first 2 hours are free anyway)

Last time we were here in March, the weather was obviously quite a bit different and the trees were appropriately bare, allowing us to see the red squirrels clearly.

This time, we had more leaves and no squirrels (that we saw) but had people in boats and plentiful ducks, but best of all loads and loads of lovely little blue Damselflies!

Not sure what the spikey thing was though - best guess was some sort of hornet with a big spikey bit coming up from it - it was moving (by flapping the water) towards us so couldn't get another perspective... mysterious, whatever it was!

Wolfy's Talkin pics on flickr

Talkin Tarn on BBC website

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