Posted by: Michael Holliday | October 22, 2021

What I did on my holiday

The long-extended birthday staycation came to an end last Sunday afternoon as we drove back from a sunny Plymouth; it had been a good three weeks.

High Wycombe isn’t the country’s most interesting town, but it proved just fine for our boys’ beer & brag weekend. Five of us Companions checked into an Airbnb just outside the town and immediately set off, via the park and the River Wye, a small chalk stream, to explore. The park and river soon ran out as we trudged through the town’s outskirts. There’s not that many good pubs, but the first one that we went into, the Rose & Crown, proved friendly enough – a proper backstreet boozer, average beers, but lively and local and, on the proviso that we didn’t flash too much cash on the table, the landlord allowed us to play cards, which is still illegal in our pubs. We bragged all Friday afternoon/evening/night and again on the Saturday evening/night enjoying tall tales and many laughs; nobody lost a fortune and I won a few bob – job done.

After a Wetherspoons’ breakfast on the sunny Saturday, I went solo exploring and was delighted to find the local museum situated in a beautiful park overlooking the town, sadly it didn’t open on Saturdays, so I did the church and shops instead. Later I enjoyed a few peaceful hours with my Guardian in the Mad Squirrel Tap & Bottle Shop, which offered a full range of the brewery’s tasty beers – heaven, before returning to the Rose & Crown, average beer, and more cards. And on Sunday morning, we all caught the train back home; me to a sunny afternoon drinking Fallen Angel outside the George & Dragon in Stoke Golding. An excellent weekend, it’s my turn to organise next year’s Companions’ jaunt – where shall I choose?

And of last weekend’s trip to the west country? Miss A. and I drove down the M5, stopping off to explore Taunton, the county town of Somerset. There’s not too much to see and, as we didn’t have much time, we didn’t get to the County Museum, but did have a good mooch around and one of us bought some fancy drinking chocolate: the other, bought second hand books. For a highly convoluted reason, we’d booked into a pub: the Hatch Inn, in nearby village of Hatch Beauchamp. There was nothing in the village but it was pizza night in the pub, which sold excellent beer, and we stayed in one of the fanciest rooms I’d had in ages, thank you Boy number 3.

From there it was only a short drive down to Plymouth and our regular hotel on the Hoe, we dumped the car and set off downtown to make our first visit to The Box, the city’s museum & art gallery which had been closed for several years to allow for a major (£46 million) extension and refurb. It may have been the lack of their permanent art collection, still in storage apparently, but I was a little disappointed. Admittedly the extension works well providing much light and space, but the space appears poorly used; the collection of magnificent restored ships’ figureheads suspended from above is impressive, but the rest of the space is given over to the gift shop, café and local archives section. Nevertheless, we spent two hours in there and, watching a collection of old South West TV newsclips, I learned much about the city. There were two temporary exhibitions: Mayflower 400, a celebration of the sailing of the ship, from the Barbican, in 1620, which I didn’t fancy and Songlines – Tracking The Seven Sisters, a look at the ancient creation sagas of the indigenous Australian people, which looked interesting but didn’t open till yesterday. A lively Friday night was spent eating & drinking in and around the Barbican.

Saturday saw us taking a sunny stroll along the south west coast path. OK, probably only two or three miles of it and mostly along busy roads, but it all counts – only 627 miles to go. This isn’t true, I’ve walked other, longer sections of the path but… We ended up in Devonport and at Brickfields, home of Plymouth Albion Rugby. It was a disappointing turn out both from the team, who arrived late, and the supporters – twenty at most? But we met up with friends and did our best to make ourselves heard amongst the 1300 home fans. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot to shout about as we played poorly and were stuffed 35-12 – hey ho. Later we kept a date with a couple of Plymouth friends who we meet each year for a chat and a few excellent pints in the Lord High Admiral, a wonderful pub hidden up a backstreet; it was our first reunion since November 2019 and good to catch up.

After, we four walked back into town down Union Street, initially laid out as a grand thoroughfare in the early 19th century with its amazing buildings (especially the Palace Theatre, which originally opened, as a music hall, in 1898) which are now sadly falling down. Union Street, known as the south west’s most infamous street, had a long history as a red light district and was long the haunt of matelots enjoying a beer and a fight or two on their shore leave, military police would regularly patrol to maintain order. ‘Tis pity, for now it’s just the most direct, if ugliest, route into town. In town, we went our separate ways, they home: us back down the Barbican, to my favourite and the city’s most interesting pub: the Dolphin, where we met up with the remnants of the Moseley faithful – just three others, to moan about the game and talk about our glory days of old at the Reddings[1].

We had planned to return home on Sunday morning but it was such a lovely day (I’d been in shorts and T-shirt all weekend) that we mooched around the Hoe for a bit and watched the many, pink-clad, Race for Life runners ending their run/walk, before sitting on the seaside terrace outside the Waterfront Inn where we came across a new Gormley: Land II, a 12 foot iron-blocked man, which had recently been installed as part of The Box’s relaunch, apparently many locals are not happy with it. Incidentally, in 1993 when IRON:MAN was first installed in Birmingham, the locals didn’t like him either. Now a loved celebrity, I hear that IRON:MAN ‘s soon to return to a new spot in Broad Street; I digress. Anyway, I enjoyed the sea, the sun and a couple of pints of Proper Job and a record, four hour, trip back home. And that’s what I did on my holiday.

Truth be told, neither of us were feeling great on our return – cough/snot/splutter/sneeze/cough; concerned, we both took a Covid lateral flow test, indicating a negative result. Unconvinced, it was a Bad Cough, on Monday morning we went for PCR tests, which again returned negative so, just a little sniffle for Miss A. and serious manflu for me? The weather being shite, we decided to self-isolate anyway – to read, watch TV and self-medicate, popping out only for a visit to the docs and a, too-late, flu jab. And that was this week – cough/snot/splutter/sneeze/cough.

Anyway, gotta’ go – half recovered, off to early doors at the ER for the first time in an age.


[1] The Reddings, Moseley (1883-2000). An historic rugby ground and the oldest in the Union until it’s demolition in 2001, it’s now a fancy housing estate smack bang in the middle of Moseley. A homeless Moseley played at the University until the new ground at Billesley Common was opened for the start of the 2005/06 season.

Posted by: Michael Holliday | October 8, 2021

Now I’m sixty-four

Now that I’m older, lost half me hair, many years have gone

It’s lovely you’re still sending me a Valentine, birthday greeting, bottle of wine.

When I’ve been out till quarter to three, you don’t lock the door.

Guess you still need me, sometimes you feed me, now I’m sixty-four

Complete version below

Admittedly, played in some of the nastiest conditions possible: driving rain in a constant gale, Moseley’s performance at Cambridge the other Saturday was the worst that I’d seen in a long time. First half, playing into the wind they decided to kick and throw and, consequently, lost the ball every time to end up 25-0 down; it didn’t get much better in the second half, we lost 32-7 – an abysmal show, watched by Miss A. & I, a coachload of the Moseley faithful and not many Cambridge supporters – a total attendance of 339.

We’d caught the train down the previous day and booked into a Travelodge near the station; Cambridge being full of mummies & daddies escorting their talented offspring to college, there was little else available for the weekend. It was a twenty minute stroll into town, so we stopped off at the Flying Pig, a proper pub nearby, where we chatted to a friendly guy who gave us the lowdown on the town’s pubs and beer scene. And off we went to explore, it was busy – pedestrians, cyclists and too many cars, but vibrant, full of mostly young people of all nationalities. I had a pint in the town’s oldest pub: the Pickerel, opposite Magdalene College; tried my first grub at Bryon and, despite it being minimal and very expensive (£6 for a can of beer) it was fine; found the Mill pub down by the river and failed to find the interesting bars. Town was busy and we were tired, so returned to the Flying Pig, our new local, for a nightcap and another chat; this time with a travelling octogenarian from Coventry.

The next morning, we visited the Fitzwilliam, the university’s art & antiquities museum. It’s a large impressive place comprising two floors full of stuff: mostly Egyptian & Greco-Roman and pottery & porcelain on the ground floor, with an expansive art collection on the second. Having been starved of all art, it was good to be back in a proper gallery, but for me, it was mostly pretty dull – lotsa’ early stuff with just a handful of late 19th and 20th Century works, including Millais’s Twins; a sleazy Sickert: Mornington Crescent Nude; and half a Seurat: a study for La Grand Jatte, a painting that forever makes me smile. From there it was a few pints in the Mill, by the river before walking, accompanied by cows, across the soggy Grantchester Meadows to the awful game at Volac Park and a taxi back to dry out.

Fortunately, Sunday dawned dry and bright and we made our way back to town and Kettle’s Yard, the town’s other main gallery, to visit their exhibition: Untitled: Art on the conditions of our time, comprising mixed media ‘… works by ten British African diaspora artists with a focus on how their innovative practices ask important questions about some of the most important cultural and political issues of our turbulent times.’ My favourite was Harold Offeh’s, Down at The Twilight Zone, a colourful history of the LGBTQ2S+[1] experience in Toronto, which reminded me of my first visit to my friends in Toronto, one of the world’s most ‘gay-friendly’ cities, back in 1999. Unfortunately, we were unable to visit the house next door, famed for its collection of early 20th century paintings and sculpture – next time?

We left to enjoy a couple of sunny pints outside the Mitre, opposite St John’s College, and watch Cambridge life pass by, before doing the busy market and the shops and finding a few of the hipster bars, including the Pint Shop and the Smokehouse Tap, that I’d been searching for on Friday night.

Although the last one that I saw at the cinema probably starred Sean Connery, I’ve nothing against James Bond films; I’m not a great cinema goer. But I was on holiday and, having managed to secure a ticket, watched No Time for a Kill, at the Arts Picturehouse in the evening. Almost three hours of bladder-busting, action-heavy, entertainment with a Shocking ending – I wasn’t expecting that. And on Monday morning, we caught the train back home – an excellent birthday weekend now I’m sixty-four, thank you Miss A. for your company.

This week’s also been busy with my first post-Covid pub quiz which was held in support of a friend’s charity fundraiser at the ER on Tuesday evening – an informal affair with some 150 quickfire random questions. We won on a tie break: which company produces the greatest number of tyres? But it was a hollow victory as our main rivals, a father and son duo, had taken it all most seriously – we were taking our answers wherever we could find them. A fun evening which raised a few bob, thanks all.

And last night, we popped over to Warwick Arts Centre, newly refurbished after a four year closure but not fully open, to see Russell Brand, another birthday present. I like Russell Brand – his heart’s in the right place; he’s funny, informative & entertaining; he writes extremely well; and is extremely passionate; sometimes he talks a load of shite, but hey, don’t we all? It was a good show, but why did it have to start at 6 o’clock when everybody was sober?

Anyway, gotta’ go – got a train to High Wycombe to catch for a boys’ beer and cards weekend, my holiday continues.

Now I’m sixty-four

Now that I’m older, lost half me hair

Many years have gone.

It’s great that you’re still sending me a Valentine,

Birthday greeting, bottle of wine.

When I’ve been out till quarter to three

You don’t lock the door.

Guess you still need me, sometimes you feed me

Now I’m sixty-four

You’ll be older too
And as you say the word
I will stay with you

I know I’m not handy, but can mend a fuse
When your lights have gone
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings, I’ll go for my ride.
Doing the garden, digging the weeds
Who could ask for more?
Guess you still need me, sometimes you feed me
Now I’m sixty-four

Every autumn we can rent a beach hut

On the south west coast,

As it’s not too dear.

We’ve saved a little dosh
Grandchildren on your knee Caden, Kameron and Josh

Send me an email, drop me a post
Stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely wasting away.
Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore?
Do you still need me, sometimes you feed me
Now I’m sixty-four?


[1] New to me, LGBTQ2S+ – is an acronym that stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Two-Spirit and additional sexual orientations and gender identities.’

kidshelpphone.ca/get-info/lgbtq2s-what-does-it-mean

Posted by: Michael Holliday | October 1, 2021

Stockport on a Wednesday night

Tamworth’s an interesting town, half of the centre is run down empty shop fronts, but walk through the Ankerside shopping centre and you emerge into a wonderful world of magnificent greenery, grounds and gardens, overlooking the riverside, and overlooked by the Grade 1 Norman castle, which we’ve yet to visit. Two Fridays back, we caught the train over for the beer festival, held in the, newly refurbed, Assembly Rooms. A post-Covid first, it was a pleasant experience – sitting in the sun, sampling a few of the 75 available beers (though not the Marzipan Mild) along with a couple of large, filling sandwiches. We chatted to several locals and were given a rundown of the town’s best pubs to visit. We left to start at the nearby Tamworth Tap, home of the local brewery; in recognition of the festival just up the road they were offering a special selection of 16 beers – we didn’t make it to any of the other recommended pubs. A grand day out, marred only by a 45 minute wait at Nuneaton for the four minute train ride back to Hinckley; Nuneaton’s railway pubs have long gone, so we settled for chips on a lonely platform bench.

Last Friday, accompanied by a couple of non-binary, currently identifying as pansexual, teenagers we popped over to the Curve in Leicester to enjoy another post-Covid first: Everybody’s talking about Jamie, a coming out tale, based on the true story of a Sheffield wannabe drag queen[1]. We started out with Thalis and a pint of, a first for me, Malabar (Cobra’s latest IPA) in Herb, a new Keralan veggie restaurant on Granby Street, and very tasty it was too. The musical was fine – simple, lively, bright ‘n brash, a little contrived and worthy, but entertaining with a couple of good numbers; the merch stall made good business from our young charges. A great evening, but for another bloody 45 minute wait to exit the car park post-show.

I still do newspapers, don’t you? And, despite having digital access (via PressReader, courtesy of Leicestershire Libraries) to all of the world’s newspapers & magazines, still buy and read a hard copy everyday – on weekdays, The i, a thirty minute read offering an ideal summary of the news, a little commentary and a challenging crossword; on Saturday’s it’s both The i and The Guardian; the following day it’s usually The Sunday Times – but for its great culture mag, a distress purchase that takes me out of my echo chamber. My favourite paper by far is Saturday’s Guardian which will last me all weekend. Every few years they have a complete revamp of the paper, last Saturday saw the latest – gone were the four mags (A comprehensive book review, a listings guide, a food mag, and a general mag.) that accompanied the two section paper, featuring regular articles and columnists, to be replaced by one large 150+ page mag containing most of the above and more, I thought that I’d be disappointed and enjoy a good moan, but it’s ok – an improvement?

Back in October 2005, I wrote one of my occasional articles: Wot no Biff? Detailing my love of newspapers and bemoaning a major change to The Guardian, from broadsheet to Berliner[2], and the loss of its regular cartoon strip by Biff, a combo of Chris Garrett & Mick Kidd. I’ve appended the article below should you wish to read it.

We didn’t make it to Caldy to see Moseley achieve their third win; sadly, last week at Billesley they lost their unbeaten record with a shocking performance to find themselves 3-29 down after an hour. They picked up in the final twenty minutes to end up 22-29 and gain a losing bonus point, had the match lasted a little longer they could have made the draw and gained three points – c’est ça, heads still up, Moseley remain in fourth place and play Cambridge tomorrow. And Brighton? Had they won at Crystal Palace on Monday night, they’d have gone to the top of the charts; unfortunately, they just scraped the draw and are now sixth, or joint second depending – not bad though.

And of the petrol chaos/crisis, just another aspect of the latest omnishitshow facing our nation? In every instance, this government was warned of the likelihood of such events; in every instance it chose to ignore specialist advice and do little, nothing, or worse. Mr. Johnson has an annoying habit of addressing the, admittedly lack-lustre, leader of the opposition as ‘Captain Hindsight’, ‘tis pity that ‘Captain Lack of Foresight’ is not such a snappy soundbite, otherwise it would be a wonderful riposte from Mr. Starmer.

The last (and only) time that I’d been to Stockport was to their beer festival, held at the local football stadium: Edgeley Park, as a guest of Worcester Camra, a few years ago. I did the beer fest and made a very swift recce of the town before catching the coach back to Worcester. The town looked fine and I vowed to return, on Wednesday I fulfilled that vow. Three of us ER regulars scraped together some petrol and drove up to there, to be treated to a most excellent night out.

We went the scenic route, up through the Peak District, stopping off at a Wetherspoons in Macclesfield’s for a pee, some grub and our first pint of the day, to arrive in Stockport threeish to meet up with our friend from the north who was waiting for us outside our Airbnb, situated above a tattoo parlour on Petersgate, smack bang in the middle of the town’s boho/hipster quarter. We were then taken on one of the best pub crawls I’d ever done – eight excellent pubs, all within 500 yards of our base.

We started at the Petersgate Tap a mere 20 yards from our door, the only pub that I recall from my previous visit and one of the town’s finest ; a choice of 6 beers and all at £3 a pint, a special promotion in support of Stockport beer week which we happened to find ourselves in the middle of – bonus. From there we crossed the bridge and down the steps to the Underbank, an old part of town retaining much of its Victorian splendour; indeed, we bumped into a crew filming a new television series: Dodger, complete with two top hatted, blue serged, Victorian coppers. We stopped off at the Cracked Actor, a quirky micro pub, where I enjoyed the best and most expensive beer (£5.50) of the night.

A stroll back up the hill took us to the Angel Inn, a more traditional pub but still serving new and interesting beers, here we got our first real fine of the winter.  Then it was off to next door Project 53, a new bar and home to the Mobberly Brewery with a full selection of their cask & keg ales. It was time to visit the Glass Spider, yet another new micropub/bar with an excellent selection but, with its open-door policy, bloody freezing – it’s cold up north. So, we moved on the Boar’s Head, a traditional Sam Smith’s pub where we enjoyed the best company of the evening whilst enduring the worst beer, but it was Sam Smiths – we knew what we were letting ourselves in for. Strangely hungry, we ate at the Produce Hall, an old Victorian market that had been recently renovated into a large open-plan food & drink hall, offering another wide range of cask & keg beers, with street food from India, Spain, Italy and Cambodia. I had a Vegan Tiffin – tasty and filling, the others also enjoyed their grub.

From here it becomes a little vague; we tried to get into the, newly opened, Dr Feelgood, a music and comedy venue, but failed to notice the £5 entry charge and were asked to leave, and politely did so to Wetherspoons, which was a Wetherspoons, but with excellent beer. Here we said good to our friend to from the north and returned home via the Petersgate Tap and playing spoof for who was to buy the nightcap – I lost.

We met up again yesterday morning for a tour of the impressive town which, apart from the usual shit shopping centre, remains much of its original architecture. We stole a peep at the river Mersey and had a nose around the splendid market hall – an interesting variety of stalls, leaning on the hippish side, from a Champagne bar to an ironmongers and everything in between. The shitty weather foreshortened our tour and we stopped at a nearby café, where I got me a large vegan breakfast with my first ever taste of vegan black pudding. And so, to farewells and another rural cross country drive back home. Many thanks to the driver, the tour operator and Mr C, our friend from the north, for a most excellent 24 hours or so. Stockport’s a wonderful town, I’ll be back.

Finally, goodbye to Jimmy Greaves who died on September 19th, aged 81; I’ve never been a great fan of soccer, nor its players but, for strange reasons, Jimmy Greaves was my idol for several years after I’d seen him play for Spurs against Stoke at their Victoria ground (a school treat) in the mid-sixties – I wrote to him, at the club, asking if I could be a penpal to his daughter, I never received a reply, but Spurs sent me a large envelope of club souvenirs and I became a Spurs supporter for a couple of years.

Anyway, gotta’ go – got a train to catch, off to my birthday weekend in Cambridge.

Wot no Biff?

In most instances I’m inclined to agree with Camus, I count him one of my heroes; which may explain why I’m mostly such a miserable bastard. But, on one major point I’m disagreeing. You remember his argument, in The Fall I think it was, regarding the main interests of modern man – fucking and reading the papers, or something along those lines?

‘A single sentence will suffice for modern man: he fornicated and he read the papers. After that vigorous definition, the subject will be, if I may say so, exhausted.’

Well, I can’t disagree with the latter– I’ve always been a paper reader. But regarding the former, whilst I’ve nothing against fucking, I’ve been doing it rather a lot for rather a long time, these days I’m often more interested in sitting in the pub – with the paper, or better still, several papers. I’m a paper reader me, addicted you might say. I’ll read, or at least scan, and enjoy them all: The Mail & Express make me pleased I don’t live in their nasty world; the redtops are fine when I don’t have any specs with me; local freebies keep me updated with ads and gossip; and the foreign press, even if I can’t usually understand more than a few words, keep me satiated when abroad and in need of a newsprint fix. But best of all is my paper.

My paper has changed over the years; at first there wasn’t a particular one, I’d pick up whatever was at home or school and, regardless of currency, read through them – a fairly catholic experience in more ways than one. My first real paper was (come on boy spit it out) The Telegraph. It was big, it was posh and I could do the crossword. Soon I needed more and moved onto The Times; the crossword was a little harder but the viewpoint, a little more me. I was happy with The Times until the day Mr. Murdoch acquired it. Fortunately, a new paper: The Independent, had just been launched and my transfer was pretty painless. The Inde. my kind of paper – in content, in style and in spirit, kept me informed, entertained and happy for years and then I got into education and The Guardian became compulsory and kept me informed, entertained and happy for years.

Over recent years, in an unashamed attempt to increase readership and reduce costs, the nation’s broadsheets have been shrinking into tabloid format. A development that upsets me greatly. I know that broadsheets can be cumbersome but a tabloid is a tabloid is a tabloid and therefore, think of me as you will, inappropriate as my paper. First to go was The Times, who cared? The Inde. soon followed, I cared a little; it had been a fine paper. A few weeks ago, my Guardian shrank, not quite to tabloid but to a size favoured by the European press: Berliner, a halfway house between broadsheet and tabloid. So, what do I do? The only daily broadsheet now left is The Telegraph – right back where I started from, that fascist rag? No thanks, my views have moved ever leftwards and are now slightly to the libertarian left of Mahatma Ghandi, according to Political Compass. Put up with it? Uhm.

I confess that on a few days (especially Friday – excellent arts and books section) I’ve reverted to The Inde. apart from being too small, it’s still fine but not my paper. Last Saturday, I’m sitting in the pub with my reduced Guardian, from which my old mate Biff has been disappeared – prompting an email to and a prompt, if glib: ‘tough’, reply from the editor, and I’m thinking: bloody Berliner. And then I start reading the review, oddly now increased in size, and I’m fixed. A few pints later and I’ve read a Neil Bartlett page on Simeon Solomon, who ‘…drew things others hardly dared envisage; he made the act of making an image personal, and dangerous and honest.’, cottaging much earlier and in areas far riskier than Oscar; half a Jonathan Bate page on Sinclair: ‘a walker, a watcher, a marginal man’; and a quarter page on the use, or non-use, of the semi colon and I’m happy again. Sometimes, size isn’t everything. Is it?

[1] Based on a 2011 documentary: Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 by Jenny Popplewell, a film of the musical has just been released on Netflix, no doubt we’ll be watching it

[2] Broadsheet is the large format traditional newspaper, only The Daily Telegraph & Sunday Times remain; Berliner was a stage between Broadsheet and Tabloid format and became my choice on The Guardian’s launch in September 2005. Sadly, the paper was reduced to a tabloid in January 2018. The i, a smaller sister paper to The Independent was founded in October 2010; the final print edition of The Independent was published March 2016, it’s still available on-line.

Posted by: Michael Holliday | September 17, 2021

(When we go) rolling home

As part of the nation’s annual Heritage Week, last Friday I got to climb the narrow spiral stone staircase of St Mary’s 13th century, Grade 2* listed, church to see the workings of both the clock (1876) and the adjoining carillon (1792), housed just below the eight bells tower – two mechanical marvels that appear to have been designed by Heath Robinson[1] or, perhaps, Nick Parks’ Wallace. We were shown round by two volunteers who had been directly involved in the recent restorations and who are now responsible for the maintenance of both. A fascinating hour or so which reminded me of a visit to Birmingham’s main town clock: Big Brum, situated above BMAG, some 20 years back, again as part of a Heritage Week. On the same weekend, the city would also hold its annual Artsfest – a magnificent weekend of free events encompassing all the arts and more.

Artsfest was launched in 1998 and ran until 2012, by which time, owing to council cutbacks, it had been greatly reduced in size and scope. At its peak in the early 2000s, it was the nation’s largest free arts festival, staging over 350 events, each lasting 30 minutes, in over forty venues all around the city. I attended most years and got to see (along with over 100.000 others) numerous stuff from the Royal Opera, the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the RSC at Symphony Hall to a fresh-faced Alan Carr in a pub basement and, most memorable, a Busby Berkley/Esther Williams style aquatic performance from a gang of young pretty swimming girls in Langley Baths. 

Of music and dance, I recently attended my first green funeral- at the natural burial ground in Markfield, a tranquil site set in a woodland nature reserve. We joined with family, the landlord & a few other ER regulars, several Camra members, around 20 folk musicians and 60 or so Morris Men who’d come from all over the country to say goodbye to Tony Ashton. Both moving and joyful, it was one of the most memorable funerals that I’d ever attended; everyone was dressed in either full Morris regalia or bright colours; the wicker coffin was led by the family & musicians and followed by the dancers; the eulogy was delivered; poems recited; folksongs sang; and a Morris Man (one of Tony’s proteges) danced as Tony was laid to rest by his family and friends. Later we all enjoyed a picnic at the site, drank Goat’s Milk, a great beer from Tony’s favourite brewery: Church End, and watched as dancers jingled and jangled the afternoon way. A few days later, many of us raised another glass to Tony as a memorial plaque was unveiled at the ER and we sang again, his favourite song: Rolling home, when we go rolling home. When we go rolling, rolling, when we go rolling home – Goodbye Tony, you will be missed by all.

And of the Mighty Mose? Two sunny Saturday afternoons at breezy Billesley witnessed two nerve wracking, last minute victories against Darlington Mowden Park 23-22 and Blackheath 22-20. It was great to be back alongside the Moseley faithful and to see two full on 80 minute performances from a mostly young new squad giving it their all throughout; though our recently signed player/coach, rugby legend, Ashley Johnson has upped both the squad’s average age and weight. The only downer was that, last Saturday, we lost three players, carried from the pitch – two of them look to be incapacitated for some time. Incidentally, Moseley are now at number five in their league, the same position as Brighton in soccer’s Premiership – long may we both remain there. We’ve Caldy away tomorrow, unfortunately circumstances disallow my attendance; I may pop down and watch National League 2, Hinckley Rugby, play instead.

It was great to see summer return last week after one of the most dismal Augusts ever, I managed to have a few days catching the sun, recharging my solar cells for the long winter ahead – I doubt that Covid travel restrictions and limitations will see me sunning myself abroad any time soon, despite what Mr Johnson might say. Autumn is coming, accompanied by early onset autumnal tristesse, so it’s back to books.

You know that I’m a voracious reader and will read anything from classics to trash, but I’ve never gone for historical fiction, dunno’ why. That’s why I didn’t get too excited by Hilary Mantell’s multi-prize winning Cromwell trilogy: Wolf Hall (2009), Bring up the Bodies (2012) & The Mirror and the Light (2020); for a start it’s 2.000 pages long and I know all about Henry VIII & Cromwell and their appalling behaviour and I know how it all ends. I know this ‘cause I was told by Sister Mary Philomena back in the mid-sixties and what she said was TRUE. But, for want of much other choice, I decided to give it a listen on my routine walks. I’ve now completed the first two volumes and well… It’s perfectly written (The execution of Anne Boleyn had me spellbound) and gripping – excellent; the only problem is that Mantell is telling me a totally different story to the one that my Catholic mentor impressed on me – one of them must be wrong, surely something that a Sister of Mercy could never be? Returning to historical fiction, I’ve just read Robert Harris’s Pompeii, it’s a slightly less frantic Dan Brown and none the less entertaining for that.

Congratulations and good luck to the nation’s new national hero: Emma Radacanu who, last Saturday, became the first Brit to win a tennis Grand Slam in a million years. I don’t usually watch tennis but, along with the rest of the nation, made a point of watching the match and was delighted with her performance, even if it did mean that I had to ‘tape’ the News & MOTD. Eighteen year old Emma is talented, pretty, and highly marketable; best of all she’s a mixed heritage (Chinese/Romanian) immigrant, born in Canada – take that, Mr Farage and Co.

Finally, a Friday thought – what’s the use of shuffling, or reshuffling, a deck of cards if it comprises 54 Jokers?

Anyway, gotta’ go – off to Tamworth for my first post-lockdown beer festival.


[1] William Heath Robinson (1872-1944), English artist/illustrator famed for his greatly over-engineered elaborate, usually steam-powered, mechanical contraptions. The crazy inventions of Nick Park’s Wallace are direct homage to Heath Robinson.

Posted by: Michael Holliday | September 3, 2021

Teenage rampage

Though being an ever-present soundtrack to my teenage years, I was never a great lover of Glam Rock. I was far too cool for the androgynous, retro-futuristic, stomping boogie that dominated the charts during the early seventies; I was into Reggae, James Brown & Motown uptown tonight. Some Glam (Bowie & Roxy) was excellent, some was fine (Cockney Rebel & Sweet) but much of it was opportunistic, formulaic toss made by old farts who should have known better. But many, mainly kids, loved the whole package and some, mainly managers and producers, made a lot of money from it. In hindsight, Glam left us with Bowie, who changed againandagainandagain to become a man who changed the world and who provided me (and many others) with a lifelong cultural compass. And Eno, who changed music forever, to become the godfather of electronica. And Ferry, who shook off his lowly-born tags to reinvent the Lounge Lizard and to become a bit of a twat.

I’ve just been reading Simon Reynolds’ Shock and Awe – Glam Rock and its Legacy (2016) and was reminded of Glam in all its tinselled tacky glory, both the shocking and the awful. It’s a well written, near academic, 650 page encyclopaedic look at the whole of the loose genre that gave me many happy memories and even provided a few interesting snippets that I’d never known – highly recommended. I’d also recommend reading it with Spotify (or similar) at your side to provide a real time soundtrack.

Now there’s only so much misery that a boy can enjoy, which is why I was rather hoping that the final episode of the current series (no. 4) of The Handmaid’s Tale would be the last – alas, a fifth and final series is in the making. But there was an ending, of a sort, as a very bad man got his just desserts and is no more – Lesley Gore’s You Don’t Own Me (1963) will never sound the same again. I’ll now have to endure a further ten hours of riveting misery to see how it will all end up. Congratulations to Elizabeth Moss for coping with the difficulties of her part as lead character, June. I understand that Margaret Atwood’s 2018 sequel to her original book (The Testaments) is also to be adapted for television. Let’s hope that they wrap that one up in a single series – it’s a wonderful book with a definite, and highly satisfactory ending.

In complete contrast to the above, I enjoyed Channel 4’s recent Write Around the World with Richard E Grant, this three part series saw Grant ‘travelling in the footsteps’ of a variety of writers around southern Italy, Andalucía and the south of France. Appearing constantly delighted and never without that toothy grin, Grant meets numerous happy people that tell us about the lives and work of the many writers he addresses – informative, educational and entertaining. Of TV and Europe, I also enjoyed Cliff Richards and co in the 1963 film Summer Holiday which was shown the other week in memory of, recently deceased, Una Stubbs. A poor Englishman’s West Side Story, without the violence; it was of its time – still highly entertaining if neither informative nor educational.

Back in the real world, and despite two weeks of unseasonable dismal weather, I’ve been out and about a bit including an afternoon at Calke Abbey on the nearby Derby/Leicestershire border. It’s a strange place with no sign of an abbey, instead a large, apparently decrepit, 18th century mansion set in 600 acres of grounds complete with gardens, hot houses, orchards, secret tunnels, a deer park, a lake, and a café – exit via the gift shop. A pleasant old fashioned experience that reminded me of Alton Towers in the 1960s, before it became a world renowned theme park. On the way home we stopped off in Ashby de la Zouche, not for its castle (which we’ve yet to do) but for its two splendid micropubs: Brew, craft beer bottle shop & tap room, and Tap at no. 76, home of the Tollgate brewery, both always worth a visit.

Last Friday, I took the bus to Leicester for its first craft beer festival: Brew Beat; unusually, not a Camra supported festival and, more unusually, with no entrance charge.

‘… a selection of over 100 curated beers as well as over 40 live musicians and DJs taking to Green Dragon Square, Leicester’s vibrant music scene goes absolutely perfectly with a swift half, crafty pint or as much beer as you can carry. In celebration of the festival, pubs and bars from across the city centre will be taking part in the Brew Beat Craft Beer Trail. There’s plenty to choose from – so whether you like it sweeter than a honey bee’s love letter, creamier than a bucket of Ambrosia or as smoky as a hippy’s jacket – you’ll find something you love. Not bad for the biggest beer and music festival this side of Oktoberfest. And not an Oompah Band in sight.’

And it all looked highly impressive with possibly the best beer list that I ever did see; the only problem was that it didn’t open until the following day and, truth be told, I wasn’t up to yet another trip to Leicester, next year perhaps?

Several of us ER buddies enjoyed yet another (3rd or 4th?) raucous leaving do for our friend from the north, I woke the following morning with my greatest post-Covid hangover; not exclusively his fault, as earlier I’d popped up the Pestle & Mortar (Hinckley’s other micropub) to help celebrate their 6th anniversary with a few pints of Abbeydale Absolution, one of my fave beers, but at 5.3%, a little strong to start a long session. We’re  soon up for a Stockport night out to persuade him to make an early return. And then one of us had a garden birthday bash – excellent Indian grub, good beer and great company – thanks all. Oh, and I went to a Christening in Longthorpe – out and about a bit indeed.

Anyway, gotta’ go – gotta’ celebrate the life of, and say goodbye to, an old ER friend and regular who died recently, just short of his 80th birthday. Requiescat in Pace Tony Ashton (19.09.1951 – 07.08.2021). Morris Man and Gentleman.

Tomorrow it’s back to Billesley for our first game proper in 18 months.

Posted by: Michael Holliday | August 20, 2021

Henley revisited

The other week, eleven years after last walking out, I returned to Henley College for my first and final time. Staff, ancient and modern, had been invited along to say farewell to the place which is now closed, mostly stripped, and due for demolition – a sad end to a perfectly functionable building that had only recently benefited from a £7m extension and face lift. There had been much uproar as, apparently, there being little educational justification, it was largely the fault of mismanagement, finance and local politics. I caught up with several old friends; had a mooch round; sat in my old desk and got locked in the sports hall corridor – such larks.

I’d spent over twenty, often happy, years there and, understandably, was fairly quiet/reflective on leaving. But, by happy coincidence, the following night a gang of close ex-colleagues met up in Earlsdon for our first Development Unit reunion since this Covid pandemic began and enjoyed a good chat over a few beers and an excellent meal (high quality, high quantity) at Anatolia, a new Turkish restaurant on the High Street – strongly recommended.

It was exciting to return, along with around 400 eager others, to Billesley Common for our first game in 18 months – a friendly of four quarters, involving some thirty Moseley boys (mostly new faces) against Cinderford. In all honesty, being far too busy chatting to friends, I didn’t concentrate that much on the game, which we lost (17-21); but a splendid time was had by all, including the three ER friends that we’d dragged along for their first Moseley experience. We’d intended to stay behind to watch the final Lions match in the Reddings Suite but it didn’t open and the clubhouse was packed; instead, we zoomed back to the Winchester intime for the second half of a disappointing game that saw us lose the series to the Springboks. In small compensation, two minutes later, Leicester City beat Manchester City at Wembley to gain the Community Shield.

Yes, rugby is back, the season proper starting on September 4th with a home game against Darlington. We were back at Billesley again this Monday for the AGM and sat through a series of progress inputs from the various sections of the club:  the 1st XV; Moseley Oak; Youth; Women; Minis & Juniors; the Players’ Association and the Supporters’ Association – all agreed that, whilst they’d nothing to report on the 2020-21 season, things were looking great for the coming season; a recurring joke was teams didn’t lose a game all last season. There was a general plea for more financial and practical support with the recurring intention of becoming fully self-funded.

In total contrast, last Saturday, I joined four ER mates along with 31.979 other spectators to watch Leicester beat Wolves (1-0) at the King Power Stadium. Also the first ‘real life’ game that most of the crowd had watched in 18 months, it was a chaotic, deafening experience – true theatre with us sitting up in the gods miles away from the stage before ending up, after the drinks interval, in the stalls with a closeup view. A special mention is due to local hero Jamie Vardy who scored the goal and to the 3.000 Wolves supporters who chanted loudly throughout the ninety minutes, it’s just a shame I couldn’t hear what they were singing, it sounded amusing. We enjoyed pre, mid and post-match beers before ending up, exactly one over the eight, back in the ER – a splendid day, my thanks to the organiser/ticket provider. Of the soccer, I was pleased to see Brighton winning their opening game; ideally, we’ll have a much easier time of it this season.

A lifelong admirer of Saint Exupéry’s The Little Prince, I was delighted to discover, by chance, a well presented book: The Return of The Young Prince, by A. G. Roemmers. Published in 2016, the book describes itself as ‘A beautiful tribute to the international bestseller The Little Prince, with specially commissioned illustrations by the award winning artist Pietra Posti.’ and comes with a supporting blurb from Bruno d’Agay ‘a member of the Saint Exupéry family’. In it we see the Prince, little changed but a few years older, returned to Earth and advocating his same message: look beyond and be kind. It was a pleasant enough read, echoing much of the original, but it wasn’t my Petit Prince; I wonder just how official a sequel it is. I also read A.S. Byatt’s The Matisse Stories, (1993)which comprised three short stories, inspired by a Matisse work, based around art – seeing, feeling and connecting, another thought provoking and beautifully presented book. And I listened to Emma Carrol’s The Somerset Tsunami (2019) – an unlikely tale of derring-do, floods, witch hunters and King James 1st – entertaining toss.

I’m not wishing the summer away, but there’s been a touch of autumn in the air over the past few days. I’ve started adjusting the automatic timers on the lights, I’ve tasted my first corns of the year (butter, salt & pepper – perfect) and we’ve been harvesting the fruits of the garden – apples, tomatoes and a bunch of nature’s finest. The magnolia and conifers have had a necessary haircut and I’ve installed double glazing in the lady shed, two purely decorative old stained-glass panels that a friend was dumping in the skip – classy indeed.

Finally, it would be remiss of me to fail to mention the shameless shitshow that the nice Mr Biden has unleashed in Afghanistan and the wholly impotent, shameful, response of our ‘Global British’ (Or should that be Little British?) government. Good luck Afghans, but I won’t blame you for never trusting western democracy again.

Anyway, gotta’ go – off to visit Calke Abbey and the surrounding villages.

Posted by: Michael Holliday | August 6, 2021

Of Culture, Covid and Coventry

When was the last time that you were in a house of god and were greeted by a scruffy, loud mouthed, Scot screaming from the pulpit ‘Fucking hell, we’re in a fucking church on a Sunday morning’? Last Sunday, we’d driven over to Coventry and strolled up to the cathedral to see a Bill Drummond event, his mate Tam Dean Burn introduced him. Knowing Bill, I didn’t know what to expect and deliberately hadn’t done any research. Referencing the cathedral’s massive Michael & Lucifer sculpture (Jacob Epstein, 1959) one of my favourite works, Bill delivered a sermon on good and evil and the difference. He then took off his clothes, Tam put them on to become Bill and performed half of a new short play: White Saviour Complex whilst the ‘real’ Bill lay quietly on the altar steps in his knickers. There followed a screening of Paul Duane’s documentary of Bill’s 12 year world art tour: Best Before Death, which was fascinating, if a tad overlong. Finally, the two Bills performed the second half of the play and went out onto the cathedral steps to jointly sign copies of their latest book. It was then I realised that we’d spent over three hours in the place – the longest I’d been in a church since the Good Friday mega-sessions of my Catholic childhood.

My book signed (Bill signed Tam’s signature: Tam signed Bill’s) we went and brunched up on the balcony of the Cosy Club, overlooking Lady Godiva, then had a mooch round town before ending up for a swift half in the Twisted Spire Brewery in the Fargo Village. Bill’s appearance was part of Coventry’s UK City of Culture 2021 programme which, having been Covid delayed, was officially launched in June; it was my first visit. I’ll be back for more, I’ve a soft spot for Coventry (I worked there for over twenty years) and its cathedral and recall my greatest gigs there – in front of packed congregations, fully robed up, doing a stint on our annual degree ceremonies.

I’ve been watching a lot of the Olympics and particularly enjoyed the Rugby Sevens, despite the disappointing, losing semi-finalists, results of both GB squads. It was good to see the Women’s head coach: 2016 Olympic Silver medallist, James Rodwell – a true Moseley man[1], on the television. Two of the new mixed relay events: short Triathlon and 4 x 100 swim medley, provided great entertainment and two Golds for Team GB. I’ve watched lotsa’ bits of lotsa’ other events and enjoyed them all, apart from (sorry, Team GB’s Sky Brown [2]) the Skateboarding which looked neither exciting nor impressive, but isn’t Badders fast? It was a shame to see empty stadia; nevertheless, congratulations to Team GB on their performance[3] and to Japan for a great Games, despite all of the pandemic restrictions.

I also binge watched Sky Atlantic’s Chernobyl, five hours of gripping, if thoroughly depressing, television. Despite being almost thirty at the time (1986), I didn’t realise just how dangerous the incident was – much information was kept from us. The truly ‘unprecedented’ event resulting in multiple deaths, blind panic, state ignorance, blame and back-covering reminded me of many countries’ response to our current pandemic, will we ever learn?

Last Friday it rained, all day, and we decided to revisit those lazy days of the first lockdown – apart from me running up the road for the paper, we stayed in all day and did nothing. I watched three films: The Girl Can’t Help It (1956), starring Jayne Mansfield, various rock, rollers & doo woppers of the day and featuring a cameo appearance from the wonderful Julie London, what wasn’t to like? And two recent Netflix offerings: a bio-pic of singer Paul Potts and another film about a woman acquiring a derelict hotel in New Zealand, I can’t remember (never knew?) the titles, both were romantic, slushy toss – perfect timefillers, as devised by algorithm. Add in Corry & Gogglebox, a bit of space, a few beers, some nibbles & good grub for a splendid nostalgic day in remembrance of Covid times past.

Of Covid, by now we should, having driven through France, been holidaying in Lauterbrunnen but, in the light of the various travel restrictions, we had to cancel for the second year. To assuage the disappointment, last Saturday, several ER friends arranged une nuit français pour nous – merci à tous, enjoyed by all but for Dylan the cockapoo who, ‘cause we had to dogsit, was horrified to be sharing his home with Rolo, Boy number 2’s big black lab. We’ll take a British holiday in the autumn and save any foreign adventures for next year.

Finally, I was delighted to receive copies of the latest collation of my blog: Into Uncharted Waters, volume III covers from June 2018 to the end of last month – vanity publishing or what?

Anyway, gotta’ go – gotta’dunno’ what, but tomorrow it’s back to Billesley for our first real game[4] since March 2019 and, after that, the final Lions game of the tour – a win will give them the series, as it will the Springboks.

[1] Until he gave up the real game to concentrate on Sevens

[2] Bronze medal Skateboarder who, at just 13, became the youngest ever Olympic medallist

[3] As of 10 o’clock this morning – 6th place, with 16 Golds, 18 Silver and 18 Bronze. Two days later, at the end of the Games, they ended up in 4th place after The USA, China and Japan with 22 Golds, 21 Silver and 22 Bronze medals

[4] A pre-season friendly against Cinderford and fund raiser for ex-Moseley Man Jack Adams who recently died, aged 36

Posted by: Michael Holliday | July 23, 2021

Just like being abroad

Sunday afternoon chilling, drinking cold, fizzy beer (Punk IPA) whilst sitting outside on a roof terrace overlooking the canal in Brindley Place on the hottest day of the year (30°), it was easy to think that we were abroad and not in the centre of Birmingham; infact, our whole day had that continental feel – the sun shone, living was laid back and easy.

We’d caught the train over on Saturday and enjoyed an evening out with a friend and some of his old mates, it was supposed to have been a big birthday party but extended Covid restrictions meant that just five of us caught up for a pleasant evening in the Bull, Price Street. We stayed over at, what seems to becoming our regular pied à terre, the Clayton which is neat, convenient, a bargain when on special offer, and offers views of the building site that will be the HS2 Curzon Street station by 2026 (?). It was interesting to see that Selfridges had been completely covered up – an art project like a Christo? Or a repair job on its 15.000 silver discs? Both apparently, as it’s to be tarted up in time for next year’s Commonwealth Games. In partnership with the Ikon, local boy, artist and designer Osman Yousefzada has created a CGI concept design consisting of shocking pink and black dogtooth cladding and called it The Dogtooth Flower, so there.

After Sunday breakfast we strolled the back way down to Digbeth and the Custard Factory, with all the HS2 diversions it wasn’t easy to find the way and I was surprised at just how much development is yet to take place. The Custard Factory was pretty quiet with many of its quirky shops closed, but it’s good to see this hipster bit of town surviving; I’m sure things will improve now that Covid restrictions are lifted. We walked up to the Bullring and popped into Selfridges, where I was amused to spot a Givenchy T-shirt reduced from £450 to a mere £225 – bargain eh? And then up to Victoria Square where another new piece of public art awaited us: Luke Perry’s Forward Together, a large black steel installation reimagining Birmingham’s crest being raised by a line of 25 silhouettes. Echoing Raymond Mason’s 1991 Forward artwork, which was regrettably destroyed in 2003, and inspired by the City’s motto Forward, it features local people and looks pretty good but, of public art – where’s Ironman?

We carried on up to the Ikon and were delighted to see loadsa kids splashing in and out of the new fountains in Centennial Square – it was a boiling day. The gallery was holding its first real post-lockdown exhibition: A Very Special Place: IKON in the 1990s‘The fourth in a series of surveys of Ikon’s artistic programme, this exhibition is a review of the 1990s. It comprises work by 40 artists who featured in exhibitions at our venue in John Bright Street during 1990-1997, and at Ikon’s current premises in Brindleyplace until 1999.’ I probably visited every one of their exhibitions in the nineties and really enjoyed most of them – this wasn’t its greatest hits. We paid nothing: we can’t complain and one exhibit comprised thirty working desk fans, just right for the tropical day. We left to sit outside the Cosy Club and watch the world go by, before a 99 and the train back, in time for Sunday school at the ER, just like being abroad – a great weekend.

The previous weekend had seen a gang of us in the Winchester watching Italy beat England with the last kick of the Euro final – heartbreak for many as they left the Wembley boulevard of shattered glass and broken dreams[1]. But the boys dun good and it wasn’t all bad news. It puts them in a great place to challenge for next year’s World Cup; it stopped Mr Johnson crowing of his great personal success in helping the team achieve such a victory; it highlighted the fact that, despite repeated Government denials, racism is still a major problem in this country; I won £100 on Italy; and Miss A won £30 on the, guess the time of the first goal, book.

Even on the new flash TV via the new flash SkyQ box, the latest series of The Handmaid’s Tale is proving just as bleak, dark and compulsive as the other three. I’ve read Atwood’s The Testaments so know what happens to Gilead in the end, but it doesn’t make viewing misery on misery any easier. To cheer myself up, I watched the 2016 film version of The Young Offenders; I loved the BBC’s series (2018-2020) and happily binged all 19 episodes. The film was a brilliant summary and claims to be based on a true story, I didn’t even know that there was a film – great stuff. Now all we need is for Connor and Jock to move from Cork, up over the border, to join the Derry Girls in the promotion of a united Ireland.

I read Ulrich Boschwitz’s The Passenger, just published, though originally written in a hurry (you can tell) days after Kristallnacht in 1938, the novel tells of a wealthy Jew’s desperate attempts to escape Nazi Germany. It’s a grim, fascinating and wholly depressing journey, not into paranoia (everybody was trying to get him) but madness. But I found it a real reminder of the effects of the ultimate exercise in, ethically bereft, autocracies promoting divisive politics: Endöslung, the Final Solution, resulting in the deaths of over six million Jews, together with countless Roma, disabled, LGBTQ+ people, and any ‘others’ identified as ‘enemies of the state’. This happened less than eighty years back, all those ethically bereft, autocracies currently promoting divisive politics, including our own deliberately divisive Government should take a lesson from history. I also read Tom Vernon’s Fat Man on a Roman Road (1983) which told of his cycle up the Fosse Way from start, near Exeter, to finish in Edinburgh, it was amusing and brought back memories of those bits of the road that I’ve done over the years; incidentally, I now live just a few miles from High Cross, where the Fosse Way is crossed by Watling Street.

And of Monday’s ‘Freedom Day’ – a chaotic damp squib I reckon, with Messrs Johnson; Sunak; Starmer and half the country being NHS app. pinged into self-isolation, and with Mr Javid lurgied, it’s all a bit farcical. The majority of the country feel it’s too early to completely lift all lockdown restrictions and it seems, by the lack of face coverings on the weekend trains and in the shops in town, those that don’t, appear to have given up much earlier. Along with the current heatwave (30°+) I’ll enjoy my new freedoms while I can, I don’t think that either will be lasting long.

Anyway, gotta’ go – off to watch Tokyo’s Olympic opening ceremony. Good luck to all the athletes; unfortunately, I’ve a feeling that these won’t be the most successful games for anyone.


[1] I pinched this from the following day’s I

Posted by: Michael Holliday | July 9, 2021

Coming home? Or going to Rome?

For a change, it’s been a bit busy – a lot going on, I’ve been out and about a bit, drinking a bit and watching footy at the Winchester. Last Friday, we took a trip to Everards Meadows, a new development by Everards Brewery. The brewery had previously vacated their old premises on the Fosse Park shopping centre to move into a purpose built complex just over the road. The Everards section comprises a shiny new brewery and a beer hall, together with a brewery shop; fair enough. But then there’s the Meadows, or park bit: ‘…over 70 acres of green space with pedestrian and cycle paths linking to Soar Valley. Visitors can hire bikes at the award-winning Rutland Cycling and relax with refreshments at Jenno’s Coffee House.’ It all looked pretty neat. I’m not a great fan of Everards’ ales – too traditional for me, but assumed that the new brewery would produce some new tastier ones and was looking forward to paying a visit to their large beer hall; sadly, staff members having tested positive for Covid, it was closed so I just had a look through the windows – most impressive.

Disappointed, we moved on to Croft Hill: a previously unvisited landmark and SSSI in the nearby village of Croft. At a mere 128m it’s not much of a hill but, standing tall in the mostly flat countryside, it warrants a triangulation stone and offers 360° views; on a clear day I’m told that you can see forever, it was a misty day but worth the small effort.  To one side, there’s an enormous working quarry and we got to hear blasting – an audio-visual extravaganza, eh?  We carried on a few miles down the road to Thurlastone and stopped off at the Elephant & Castle, a pretty neat Everards’ pub, to see if, with the new brewery and a recent total rebranding, they had any new beers on offer. And they did, two small batch, limited edition brews; I tried the session IPA and it was fine.

Coincidentally, the next day we caught the bus into Leicester and ended up in another Everards’ house: the Globe, supping another perfectly acceptable new beer: Golden Hop. I’d gone over to have a look at the museum & gallery; it’s not the most exciting venue in the world but, lieu of anything else recently, I’ll take what I can get. Nothing new but for a small history of Thomas Cook section, where I learned a little about the man[1] and the history of the tourism industry. Incidentally, on Monday it was 180 years to the day since the creation of the company that, prior to its collapse in 2019, would become the largest tour operator in the world. I bet you didn’t know that it was nationalised, as part of the railways, during the war and remained in public ownership until 1972. I also had a look at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, colourful and interesting – I’m sure that I’ve seen it before and I finished off with the German Expressionists which are always worth exploring.

On Sunday, we braved the storms and drove over to Coalbrookdale to celebrate the first birthday of Girl number 5[2]. Masses of presents, masses of food and masses of drink, including a barrel of Bewdley Brewery’s, Worcestershire Sway – excess all round, great fun; many thanks to Girl & Boy number 1 for the hospitality. It was there that I was introduced to Fortnite which I’d thought was a nice ‘build it up, knock it down’ game, well … Kill Kill Kill Kill, I can understand why kids become so addicted but, without wishing to sound like the boring old curmudgeon that I am, I’m not sure that it’s the best way for them to be developing such passions and skills – why not try rugby? Or, going with the zeitgeist, soccer?

On Monday (Keeping up?), I had one of my, very occasional, days of work and spent a few social hours helping a friend move house, from a mile down the road to just opposite Hays Lane, to further expand Hinckley’s nascent Bohemian Quarter. Four full vanloads, it was fortunate that one person (not I) had a fully functioning body, excellent spatial awareness and could drive the van competently. We were fed and watered throughout the day and ended up being treated to beer and pizza in the ER later – a fair evening’s pay for a fun day’s work, cheers all.

Sealions on a shirt and all that, I’ve got into it this year and enjoyed some excellent soccer; Italy’s semi-final win against Spain was possibly the best game of the tournament so far. And England’s Wednesday night performance was exciting, but that penalty? So, what of Sunday’s final? The nation will be much happier should Ingerlund win: I’ll be £100 richer should they lose[3], e mea madre era Italiana. Tricky question, eh? Personal gain or the greater good? Dunno’. Coming home or going to Rome? I can’t lose either way.

Yet another tory cabinet minister is exposed as a lying, rule-breaking, cheat, shocking – what’s all the fuss about? Following naughty Mr Hancock’s belated ‘resignation’ as Health Secretary and the swift appointment of his successor, former Chancellor, Mr Javid; it comes as little surprise that the Government is changing tack on its approach to Covid restrictions and is, from July 19th, to follow the economists over the scientists. I’m happy with the near total removal of restrictions, but can’t help but wonder what the implications of a possible rise of cases to 100.000 a day[4] will be – a related rise in hospitalisations? In ICU cases? In cases of long Covid? And in self-isolations? But don’t worry, Mr Johnson[5] has stated confidently, that the link between infection, serious disease and death has, by the NHS’s effective vaccination programme, been severed – we’ll see. Perhaps the mandatory wearing of masks in crowded spaces for another few weeks may be advisable.

Finally, eleven years ago last Thursday, I said goodbye to gainful employment and Henley colleagues and became the idler – time passes quickly. So, 11 years of this blog (313 posts, over 300.000 words) means it’s time to collate it all and prepare Into Uncharted Water, Volume III. I’ll let you know when it’s ready. Incidentally, of Henley, this afternoon, the college will close its doors for the last time – many people, including I, will have happy memories of the place.

Anyway, gotta’ go – got a new television to play with. Forza Azzuri.

[1] A local lad (1808 – 1892) who, in 1841, organised the first large excursion: a train trip from Leicester to Loughborough for 500 members of the local Temprance Society

[2] The position of Girl number 3 is currently vacant

[3] As well as my bet on Italy to win the tournament, I had a £10 side bet on Italy to beat Spain the other night

[4] As suggested by Mr Javid on Tuesday, July 6th

[4]  To Parliament on Wednesday July 7th

 

Posted by: Michael Holliday | June 25, 2021

Gone West

The Dorset holiday, of a few weeks back, went well. We spent a couple of nights in a very friendly B&B, just off Weymouth Sea front; our landlord, a classically trained pianist, playing for us over breakfast each morning – highly civilised. The town hadn’t much improved since my last visit in 2019, but it was fine to stroll in and out of a variety of junk/antique/charity shops, picking up a few bits & pieces, including some Siamese brass finger extensions, along the way. The weather, if not glorious, wasn’t unkind and I enjoyed my first sea dip since last October. The sea was chilly, but warmer than expected, probably ‘cause Weymouth Bay is so shallow or, possibly, ‘cause the six cruise ships hanging around were warming it up – and I stayed in longer than expected, possibly due to the presence of some young pretty girl in full bridal kit being Instagrammed, paddling in the water – I maintain that I was on Lifeguard duty.

Evenings were spent mostly in the Doghouse, Weymouth’s micropub, chatting to an assortment of visitors, many of them sailors moaning about adverse sea conditions foreshortening their trips. One particular foursome (a couple of stroke sufferers, a blind guy and a deaf lady) were from Sailability, a charity offering disadvantaged groups sailing opportunities; reluctant to leave, they were having a whale of a time – great to see.

Unusually, food was miss and miss: we ended up with sandwiches one night and a bag of chips in a beach shelter the other, staring out at a damp foggy sea/sky in near nil visibility; we’d intended to eat at a place that advertised itself open till 10.30, but when we arrived at 8.45, they’d stopped serving, as had all other places in the town; fortunately, the chipshop was just closing and we got the last piece of fish and a load of chips with some mushy peas thrown in for free – bonus eh?

We moved on and I visited Swanage for the first time; smaller and more prosperous than Weymouth, it had some interesting places but no micropub that I could find. We enjoyed a stroll along a sunny prom and a swift half before carrying on to Poole and our room at the RNLI College for the night. There we met up with a dear friend, had a few beers in the Brewhouse & Kitchen and went to Rosso’s, on the Quay overlooking Brownsea Island, for a bellyful of fancy Italian grub.  The following morning, we had a mooch around the town which appears to have improved immensely since my visit last October. And then it was time for the long journey back to the Midlands; for a change, we drove via the New Forest, Oxford and the A5 – a more scenic route? And that’s probably as close to a holiday that we’ll be getting till September when, ideally, everything will be back to ‘normal’ and the kids will be back in school.

Last week we nipped over to Leamington to say our final goodbye to Mam as her ashes were interred in the peaceful leafy cemetery of St Mary’s, Lillington. Marie Louise McNally, 12th May 1924 – 17th May 2021. Requiescat in Pace. Afterwards we retired to the Hope & Anchor and commemorated her life with rather too many pints of Bass.

Later that week five of us Elbow Roomers enjoyed a grand day out in Lichfield as a splendid time was had by all on an unexpectedly warm, sunny day. First, we sat outside the Pig, a Derby Brewery alehouse and had to send two different duff pints back before enjoying a pint of their keg beer. Then, straight over the road to the Whippet Inn, it was closed but immediately next door was Beerbohm’s, another micropub, so fine; before sitting outside Lichfield’s Brewhouse & Kitchen[1] for a couple of sunny chilled pints; and finally stopping off at the Angel, a Joules’ house, where more keg beers were drunk alongside a tasty cheeseboard and, for some, a massive pork pie. Many thanks to our chauffeur who drove us back to the ER where, well-deserved, he enjoyed his first drop of the day. An excellent day, marred only by some fool turning his ankle on a kerb – I spent the weekend resting my iced and elevated foot.

And of the European soccer? Before the start of the tournament, I got me 9-1 on Italy: Miss A had 9-2 on France, so far so good for both of us. I’ve watched a few of the games, including England’s poor performance against Scotland the brave last Friday night and had a side bet (£5 on Scotland, also @ 9-1), a win for either side would have suited me – uhm… And on we went to the Winchester (Hinckley’s premier private members club, remember?) on Tuesday to watch another lacklustre performance by England, but they progressed to the knock-outs which is, sadly, more than Scotland managed. Incidentally, did I tell you that ‘Kickball ball Mike’ had a most successful last couple of Premiership games and ended up, against all odds, winning the Campions’ Crystal League for the second time? I’m due to be presented with my Trophy tonight at the Hope & Anchor. Good, eh? And good luck to England for their game against arch rivals Germany next Tuesday, I’ve a feeling that they’ll need it.

Finally, of ‘Freedom Day’ scheduled for last Monday, June 21st, it came as no surprize that Mr Johnson followed the polls and postponed the final easing of restrictions for another month, much to the distress of industry (especially the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors) and the anger of many of his own backbenchers. For once, I’m in agreement as Covid cases, largely of the Delta variant, continue to rise, though, owing to the incredible ongoing effort by the NHS, vaccination rates are increasing rapidly and death rates remain relatively low[2] – let’s see what happens next.

Anyway, gotta’ go – off to Leamington to receive my Trophy and play a few cards.


[1] The Brewhouse & Kitchen is a small chain of 20 or so microbreweries/pubs selling a range of their tasty home brews; so far, I only visited the two – both were excellent

M[2] As of Thursday June 24th – 16.703 new cases, leading to a weekly daily average of 12.000 cases; some 43.5 million 1st adult vaccinations (83%) and 32 million second doses (60%); and 21 new deaths, a weekly daily average of 12

Posted by: Michael Holliday | June 8, 2021

Happy days are here again

Life looks to be returning to near normal as much fun (Surely the ham, via Cubbington Woods, we were dismayed to find the public right of way now completely blocked by HS2 developments and had to retrace our steps to end up in Offchurch instead – Bastards. That evening, after good grub (Sadly, without Mam), five of us Companions played brag in our busy local, little had changed and, despite an appalling error, I didn’t lose any money; and I had my first Leamington sleepover in a year.

The Bank Holiday weekend was spent largely in and out of the sun, in and out of the garden, and in and out of the Elbow Room. Friends were met, grub was eaten, laughs were had, and beer was drunk – happy days are here again. On Sunday night, we hosted our first garden party this year and ended up at midnight dancing, as rotational DJs played their favourite choons, from Gilbert O’ Sullivan to Faithless and all in between. Somebody sang Silly Games; two had an oldtime bump ‘n grind smooch to Lonely Girl; and some were initiated into Brandy & Port as a serious drink. But a splendid time was had by all – such larks indeed. On the Monday, we enjoyed an al fresco lunch, comprising mainly last night’s leftovers, in different company.

There followed a couple of days of sensible living and chores in the garden, the shed and the garage; the latter deemed essential as, on Thursday, Miss A bought herself an MX5. She’s had her eyes set on a little sporty number for a few years (one of the reasons I sold my Mini – three cars would just be greedy and, environmentally, wholly unforgivable) ideally another Z3 or, more likely a Z4, but nothing had turned up. One of our, in the motor trade, ER friends had spotted the MX5 locally in excellent condition and at a most reasonable price. He came round on Thursday morning and assisted Miss A in her purchase, checking first that it would fit in the newly cleared garage – thanks Charlie. Later we drove up to the Dog & Hedgehog in Dadlington, the ideal place to show off a flash new sports car, before showing it off again to all outside the ER and, carefully, putting it away for a while. I say we; I mean she – I daren’t drive the bloody thing.

On Friday we drove down to see the Oxford outlaws in Eynsham. After a quick cup of tea, we did the traditional gender split, the girls enjoying tea and cakes with their girlfriends: The Pamper Girls; us boys buggering off on our bicycles. We did a nippy 45 mile figure of eight around leafy lanes and quaint little villages here and there as far as Lechlade (highest navigable point of the Thames, remember?) before stopping at a garden centre in Bampton, on the returning intersect. There we met up with the girls for a lazy lunch, a highly civilised thing methought (I never stop on my bike rides) before finishing back in Eynsham four hours later. An enjoyable ride, the route as flat as a warm Wetherspoons’ Worthington but the road surfaces, pitted, potted and gravelled were in a terrible state, surprising in such a posh area, Leicestershire’s, with the obvious exception of our lane, are far better. Later, I had my first meal in a real restaurant since lockdown began and very enjoyable it was too.

On Saturday morning, as the sun continued to shine, more family came round for brunch and a few hours playing bubbles in the garden. Unfortunately, we had to shoot off in the afternoon to be home in time to welcome a few neighbours round for long promised, post-pandemic, drinkies. Fortunately, there was a note through our letter box sending their apologies, and, knackered, we enjoyed a lazy Saturday evening in our peaceful garden. Which was just as well, for on Sunday we had a birthday party for one of our ER gang. Another first, the first time we’d been part of such a large gang (up to 17 of us) since March last year. Party hats, birthday cake & candles, fancy cheese & biscuits – Happy Birthday Chris.

Monday and Tuesday were spent back in the real world, ‘cause on Wednesday morning we drove, still in the Lexus (not yet trusting the MX5) down to Weymouth for a few nights. I’ll tell you all about that next time, by when we’ll know about the total easing of lockdown rules, ideally due on June 21st but now looking increasingly unlikely, as Covid cases are again rising.

In between, I’ve watched a bit of television and have been loving Motherland, especially Lucy Punch’s gorgeously nasty/nastily gorgeous Amanda and Inside No 9, which increasingly reminds me of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected books and TV series of the seventies; Corry remains essential viewing and I enjoyed Lily James’s having fun as, bolter in waiting, Linda in the BBC’s recent production of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love – such jolly japes. I’ve done a few books, including Elena Ferrante’s latest: The Lying Life of Adults, which is essentially more of her Neapolitan Quartet, without Lila and Lenù; but none the worse for that and, in total contrast, I read Jamie Haskell’s What a Flanker, boys with balls behaving badly, but it raised a smile.

Anyway, gotta’ go – off to Poole to catch up with one of my dearest friends.

Posted by: Michael Holliday | May 28, 2021

Downtown

Almost two weeks into lockdown easing and we’ve been out and about a bit, it’s been fun.

Mid afternoon, Monday 17th May and, after the day’s easing of lockdown rules, I was shocked to find that many of Hinckley’s pubs had decided not to open; perhaps it was to do with a lack of staff – as many had been sacked at the start of lockdown and many of our European hospitality workers had cleared off back home – unintended consequences? Luckily the Pestle & Mortar was welcoming customers back for the first time in six months and the ER opened indoors, both sets of staff having been furloughed. It was great to be sitting back inside but surprisingly quiet; luckily, business picked up over the next few days.

Last weekend we returned to Broseley and spent another two solid days labouring on the boy’s, soon to be, holiday let – it’s looking good, but we were knackered and were rewarded with our first meal out in six months. On Sunday, we enjoyed a boys’ (Numbers 2, 3 & 6) triple birthday bash in Number 2’s garden, unfortunately the weather, as it has been so often of late in this coldest and wettest May in years, was atrocious, but a splendid time was had by all – many thanks. We interrupted proceedings to watch Leicester lose their place in the Champions League to Chelsea, having beaten them the previous week to win the FA cup – swings and roundabouts.

On Monday we caught the train over to Birmingham for a few nights at the Clayton Hotel; being situated right next to the new Curson Street HS2 terminal, we were treated to magnificent views of the desolation/work in progress. Town was still very quiet and really quite sad, many shops boarded up: several pubs not reopened – coming like a ghost town? I was surprised to see Rackhams still trading, but, wandering around their empty floors selling odd bits of tat, I was reminded of USSR shops of old – again very sad. To cheer myself up, I popped into the Joint Stock and paid £6.40 for a pint of Neck Oil, uhm…

As ever, the city remains a building site with road closures and diversions all over the place. As a consequence, I had no idea of how the number 23 bus would get to Harborne and was intrigued to find us travelling there via Ladywood and making the return journey via Lea Bank – memories all round. In the 60s and 70s, I lived in Harborne, long recognised as one of Birmingham’s more prosperous areas, and last paid a visit six years back when it had been looking fine. There were a few new bars/restaurants but several boarded-up shop fronts; sadly, it hadn’t improved any. To cheer myself up I popped into my old local: the White Horse and was delighted to find that not only had it not substantially changed, but also that it was now home to the Ostler’s micro-brewery. I paid £3.40 for a pint of their key keg Terry’s Chilled, it was superior to my, previous day’s, Neck Oil.

We had planned a night down the Jewellery Quarter, I’d fancied trying out the new tram system, and another night at the Barton’s Arms, possibly Birmingham’s most splendid pub architecture wise. In fact, evenings were spent with the Worcester outlaws (who’d joined us at the hotel) and a few old friends, mostly in the Wellington, which doesn’t change. We made forays to Wetherspoons for grub, the Woodman for beer and to the, incredibly hard to find, Bull in Price Street for the memories – I hadn’t been there in over thirty years. Little had changed but for the owner who, to great surprise, turned out to be a landlord that I’ve known for over twenty years, having spent much time in and out of his three (soon to be four) other pubs in town.

Back in town, I knew that BMAG was closed for a major refurb, and the IKON’s website said that it was closed but we strolled up there anyway ‘cause I wanted to look at how the new Paradise development was getting on – very well by the look of it; but there’s still plenty to do – opening Broad Street will be a start and where is IRONMAN? I was particularly impressed by, almost finished, Chamberlain Square and the new fountain/pool in Centenary Square – it’s all very flash, but where have all the people gone? In between moaning about the council, the congestion and congestion charges[1], several of my old townie mates were not optimistic about the City’s future; sadly, for the first time, I’m starting to agree with them. But it was great to be back in town and catch up; we’ll soon be returning for a birthday party in the Jewellery Quarter. Incidentally, the IKON was open and we wandered around two floors of Ikon for Artists: Art Sale; nothing brilliant but the first gallery I’d been to since October.

Finally, a fond goodbye to Marie Louise; Mam was a wonderful ever-cheerful, ever-generous lady who spent much of her early life working on the family travel business and looking after her three boys and any other waifs and strays that came her way; luckily, I was one of the latter. Mam died peacefully, aged 97, in her own bed on May 17th, she will be missed by all those that had the pleasure to know her.

Anyway, gotta’ go – off for my first Warwickshire walkies in ages and to check out the latest HS2 devastation around the area; later, I’ll be playing brag again.

[1] An £8 daily charge is to be introduced within the inner ring road on June 1st

 

Posted by: Michael Holliday | May 14, 2021

All vaxxed up, waiting to go

Just three more days to go until the next easing of lockdown and the new normal becoming closer to the old normal. It’s not been a bad couple of weeks. I had my second vaccination and enjoyed our first break of the year – a weekend in Coalbrookdale with Boy & Girl number 1 and their crew. We drove over the other Friday and I spent a few hours razorblading paint off the window glass in their, soon to be Airbnb, Pump House in nearby Broseley. The boy has spent much time/effort/cash in readying it into a smart, industrial-chic, holiday let and it’s looking good; ideally, it’ll be completed and cash productive for June. Later, we enjoyed a few evening beers outside the Black Swan in Jackfield, overlooking the river from the ‘other’ side. Declining the offer of further work, exhausted from our labours, we spent the next day exploring Broseley – a small market town, with many fancy 19th century houses evidencing the great wealth that was generated in the area, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. Afterwards, we got lost strolling down to the river and across the, recently restored, Iron Bridge (1781) before ending up sitting outside in the sun in the backyard of the Coracle, one of my favourite micropubs. On Sunday morning we mooched around Ironbridge, now a thriving tourist trap, and avoided buying too much crap, before getting back in time for a few beers outside the ER – a grand break.

Avoiding the incessant rain, or craving the nostalgic comfort of the old lockdown? Dunno’, but in total contrast, we spent last Saturday housebound in voluntary self-isolation, watching television all day. I last saw Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941) years back and remember it being nothing special, but the film seems to grow in its importance and is regularly cited by buffs and critics as the greatest film ever made. So, I gave it another go; influenced by the German Expressionists, there’s no doubting that it’s beautifully shot using a variety of imaginative techniques – 10/10 for cinematography, but plotwise it was dull. To brighten things up, we followed it with a Netflix offering: Blinded by the Light (2019, Gurinder Charda) which was colourful trashy fun. Based on a real story, the film follows the life of a young Pakistani would-be writer as he struggles to come to terms with his shitty situation – living in the Luton of 1986/87, complete with the NF racism of the time, trying to break away from an overpowering father. With the help of an Indian mate, he discovers salvation through the songs of Bruce Springsteen and everything turns out alright in the end – Born to Run indeed, heart-warming stuff. Incidentally, I’m no great fan of the Boss but think that his cover of Tom Waits’ Jersey Girl is superior to Tom’s.

Although, I’m not sure what spectator arrangements will be in place, I was delighted to receive the Moseley fixture list for next season. We start on September 4th playing Mowden Park at home and have four new grounds to visit – promoted Caldy (on the Wirral), Tonbridge, Taunton and relegated Leeds, who no longer play at Headingly. Here’s to a great season, anticipated most is Plymouth on 16th October, currently my favourite away weekend; sadly, we no longer play Penzance or Jersey. And congratulations to Brighton who, thanks to Fulham losing on Monday night, have been guaranteed their place in the Premiership for a record 5th season– but why is it always so tight?

Congratulations also to The Guardian who, on Wednesday 5th May, celebrated 200 years of publication, it’s important to have a wholly independent, alternative to the right-wing bollocks promulgated by the majority of our press. The Guardian has been my Saturday read of choice for as long as I can remember, always informative: always entertaining, though I was disappointed when it shrank from Berliner format to a tabloid in 2018 – here’s to its next 200 years.

And of last Thursday’s round of elections? Uhm, only a cynic would suggest that Mr Johnson sent gunboats, a few hours before the polls opened, solely to protect the good fishers of Jersey and I’m not sure that such blatant sabre rattling[1] made much difference. For the lack of any opposition, the tories got the results they wanted as many poor people voted for yet more of the same self-serving shit – I’ve no longer sympathy for them.  Some good news though, whilst Leicestershire is predominately a sea of blue, the Lib Dems took back control of Hinckley & Bosworth; for the first time in years, I voted a winner. Swiftly discarding the results, I was more interested in the reportage over the following few days and particularly enjoyed, recent tory MP Anna Soubry’s, insight: ‘We need a strong opposition to have a healthy democracy and especially given the blatant populism, cronyism and corruption of the current Government… I’m appalled at what is happening in our country. We have in our Prime Minister not just the most incompetent and lazy incumbent of the greatest office of state but someone who lies as easily as he takes breath. Johnson’s Cabinet is, with few exceptions a rag, tag and bobtail of sycophants, chancers and second raters.’[2] Tell it as it is Anna. The only problem is that most of the electorate know this and don’t seem to care.

And of the house? With the addition of a purpose-built storage/display thingy (Cheers Dan), the bathroom is now complete. I found out my collection of old council baths junk and shared a photo of a (1950s?) towel and trunks[3] combo on the ‘photos of old Birmingham’ Facebook page to many great memories and delight, most kids of Brum went swimming in those days – t’was good to see people smile.

Finally, the Hail Mary (Ave Maria) is, arguably, the most sacred prayer of the Catholic faith and was set to music by most of the great Classical composers; Schubert’s seems to have best stood the test of time and the most recognisable. I’ve memories of singing it as a cherubic choir boy and it remains an alltime favourite of mine, so imagine my indignation as I’m now hear it on the radio and television being used in an advert for bread. Surely the Lord’s Prayer would have been more appropriate? Incidentally, the wonderful Nina Hagen did a glorious version of Ave Maria back in 1989 and her mate Siouxsie did a cacophonous 15 minute live version of the Lord’s Prayer ten years earlier.

Anyway, gotta go – off for a mooch round town before a few final outdoor pints; Leicester’s FA Cup final tomorrow and a Sunday day of rest, ready for Monday’s grand societal reopening.

[1] I’m mixing me metaphors, so?

[2] The i, Saturday 8th May

[3] These were made of tea towelling and were available for hire for a few pennies

Posted by: Michael Holliday | April 30, 2021

Of acclimatisation, aprication and a touch of sleaze

Almost three weeks into the ‘new normal’ and things are settling down. A week last Saturday, we drove over to Billesley for a ‘Welcome Back’ day and caught up with many of the Moseley faithful over a few beers (Pure Gold, a bonus) in glorious sunshine, whilst half watching a very fast junior touch Sevens tournament – it was good to be back, though we’ve no idea when we’ll get to play a proper game. The following morning, I was out on my bike and, having trouble breathing, made hard work of climbing a steep hill. Shit, I thought, have I got Covid? Then I realised that it was probably the result of my staycation holiday and my first week of bad living/serious drinking in ages. I’m now back to good living and feeling much better.

It’s been a pleasant few weeks, enormously helped by the splendid weather – sitting outside and apricating by day, enjoying the driest and sunniest April in ages. At night, in the frostiest April in ages, it’s been a different story as weekend evenings have been spent sitting, as seaside pensioners, outside the ER wrapped up in blankets with a plentiful supply of handwarmers (my thanks to the donor) moaning about the cold, especially the wind. I’m back swimming as normal and am now really looking forward to the next stage of lockdown easing (May 17th) when we’ll be able to stay in an hotel, visit a gallery and sit inside the pub once more.

Usually after a bad election result, and haven’t they all been bad of late? I claim that I’m shutting up about all things political; but, as with our present government, I’m thoroughly inconsistent and careless with the truth. So. Haven’t the past two weeks been fascinating politics wise? I’ve been watching Mr Johnson becoming mired in an ever-expanding midden of his own making; he seems to be taking a page out of the Trump book, making it up as he goes along, constantly denying all culpability for any of his recent misdemeanours, forever obscurating off the subject and blustering that it’s all for our own good.

Think of the failed Greensill bank affair with Dave C, his old Bullingdon mate, personally and repeatedly lobbying to blag government cash; of James Dyson’s personal offer of ventilators, at a price; and of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recent personal lobbying for his Newcastle United bid. I particularly admired Mr (football crazy, football mad) Johnson’s deep new found love of the great working-class game of soccer and his threat of ‘immediate legal action’ to personally sort out the recent furore surrounding the short-lived European Super League whilst, at the same time, being far too busy to hold an inquiry into the Covid pandemic – as to why the country has one of the world’s highest death rates? Why we delayed locking down and closing our borders? And how much cash was given to his various mates in return for duff overpriced products and services? Incidentally, I wonder which team Mr Johnson supports – Villa, or was it West Ham? like his school chum Dave[1].

And then there’s the latest Cummings debacle, but what did Mr Johnson expect from such a man scorned? As Robert Colevile wrote in last week’s Sunday Times, ‘… he was starting a petrol fight with an arsonist and is now paying the price.’ I don’t care who paid for the Downing Street renovations and I’m not surprised that Downing Street won’t deny saying Johnson was prepared to ‘let Covid rip’ and would ‘rather see the bodies pile high in their thousands’ than a second lockdown. But there must come a time when the electorate come to understand what Johnson’s old boss at The Daily Telegraph, life-long tory Max Hastings predicted a few years back:  ‘… he is unfit for national office because it seems he cares for no interest save his own fame and gratification….his premiership will almost certainly reveal a contempt for rules, precedent, order and stability.’[2] Hastings repeated similar on Tuesday’s The World at One programme. Remember to cast your vote wisely in next Thursday’s local election.

Earlier this week, I was moved by Julien Temple’s latest film: A Crock of Gold – a few rounds with Shane McGowan. It comprised a series of interviews with Shane from the young punk gunslinger of the 70s to the sad, broken but unrepentant, old man of today. The film featured lots of old footage and a series of well-drawn (Ralph Steadman) animations together with some, occasionally misleading, vintage stock footage. It culminated in clips from Shane’s 60th birthday celebration concert at Dublin’s National Concert Hall featuring, amongst many others, Nick Cave, Camille O’Sullivan, Johnny Depp and Bonio – great stuff. It made me realise just how many good songs McGowan had written from the chaotic Sally MacLennane to the melodic Pair of Brown Eyes, and then there was that Christmas tune.

Of television, after 40 hours of viewing[3], I eventually got to the end of Ashes to Ashes where all was revealed – a spine-tingling, supernatural, finale highlighting the eternal struggle between good and evil. Excellent, as was the Supermoon of Monday night – a great view from my window and an even better from Glastonbury Tor – I wish that I’d been there.

As a literary snob, I’m no great fan of Robert Harris. But I enjoyed his ‘what if Nazi Germany had won the war?’ book Fatherland (1992) and recently came across another of his alternative histories/futures: The Second Sleep (2019) which is set in a post-apocalyptic future resembling our middle ages; all technology is forbidden, religion is all. It was an interesting read, raising some important questions about the state of our nation – zealotry and the promotion of ideology over reason. Unfortunately, the ending was disappointing.

And finally, congratulations to the England Women’s Rugby team who, last week beat France (10-6) in the Six Nations final to gain the title for the third successive year. Congratulations and many thanks also to the road menders who, whilst resurfacing the main road, woke us all up at 3 am by filling in a few of the many craters in our unadopted lane – successive residents have been trying to get something done for the past hundred years or more; unfortunately, the lane is still near unpassable.

Anyway, gotta’ go – off to Coalbrookdale for my first night away from home this year.


[1]  On 30th April 2015, Cameron got his favourite team: Aston Villa, mixed up with West Ham – you would, wouldn’t you?

[2] The Guardian, June 24th 2019

[3] Two series (of 8 episodes) of Life on Mars and three series of Ashes to Ashes

Posted by: Michael Holliday | April 16, 2021

A cautious easing of lockdown

I decided that, as nothing out of the new normal had happened (and that if Japan could postpone the Olympic Games for a year owing to Covid), I was allowed to delay my blog for a week. So, without apology, I did.

One of my few weekly lockdown differentiators was Jay’s Thursday Pub Quiz. Miss A and I played every week, occasionally with assistance from young people – a great asset in any recent pop culture questions. We played remotely ‘against’ a few groups of friends and, occasionally, won; it passed a dull Thursday evening and provided an excuse for a few naughty beers – it was a pub quiz after all. In any quiz we would normally expect to get around 75% and we were quite happy with our overall performance since January – played 14, top score 47/50 (94%), lowest score 39 (78%), average score 42.67 (85%) – writing this, I realised that I needed to get out.

Consequently, in celebration of our glorious leader’s mighty personal success in leading the country’s impressive vaccine delivery rates that enabled Monday’s, ‘cautious but irreversible’, lockdown easing[1], I declared this week to be a holiday, freeing me of all mundane obligations and allowing me carte blanc beerwise; it’s an easy thing for an idler to declare. It was to be the first holiday that I’d had since my birthday break to Lyme back in October and, with many activities and any meaningful travel still verboten, I wasn’t too sure how it would turn out.

Fortunately, the weather on Monday morning, as for the rest of this week, was kind to we outdoor drinkers – sunny and fresh, about 10°. To guarantee my seat, I arrived at the ER for 11.40 and 20 minutes later was enjoying my first proper pint (Two by Two 4% session pale) since November 4th. For want of any other outside area, the pavement soon filled up and within an hour the place was heaving, with all of the benches being brought outside, and the staff were doing an excellent job of keeping us thirsty punters happy. The one downside to the ER pavement is that after about 2 o’clock, the sun disappears from view for the rest of the day and, having been previously happy in short sleeves and sunnies, soon we were all getting wrapped up in Puffa jackets and gloves – hey ho. It was good to catch up with friends again, including a surprise visitor down from up north just for the occasion, as a wonderful, possibly not so cautious, party atmosphere ensued.

Out of drinking practice, around 8ish I’d probably had enough so wandered home, popping into TK Maxx on the way, a dangerous thing to do after a bellyful of beer? No, we didn’t buy too much rubbish, just a new knife, a bog brush and some outdoor cushions, and it was in to a Corry catch up and fall asleep to the news – a splendid day out and all legal. On Tuesday, we were back down the ER at midday and enjoyed another two hours in the sun, before being given a lift to the Lime Kilns (our local canal-side pub with a large garden that enjoys the sun all day long) for a lazy beery sunny afternoon and, as a bonus, a chip butty. And an evening stroll back to the ER for a swift half before home and in for 8, more Corry[2] and another early night.

On Wednesday, I’d thought of catching the bus to Leicester for a change of scene – a few more shops and a few more pub gardens, unfortunately the art gallery doesn’t open till June 21st; but ended up giving my liver a rest and avoiding all temptation. Yesterday morning, I had my first post-lockdown swim, having been out of the water for almost six months (My longest ever?) it was much easier than anticipated. In the afternoon, I’d intended strolling to a few country pubs but most were yet to open and I ended up enjoying another sunny afternoon back outside the Lime Kilns where I promised my hops to the landlord come September in exchange for a personally branded beer – what shall we call it, Hays Hops? On the way home, I popped into the ER for a swift half and to catch up with a friend; I remember little else. I woke this morning with a mega hangover, my first in ages, and still little recollection of last night – I should find out later.

I’ve also been doing all the usual stuff – books, bikes and walkies and television, including lots of old B&W films, a special mention for Powell & Pressburger’s A Canterbury Tale, 1944 – a very strange piece of wartime propaganda that depicts an unlikely ‘This England’. And then there’s cultivating (digging and chopping) the garden – have I told you about my aches and pains? But it’s good to feel proper normality nearing, we’ve even got a few short breaks planned.

Finally, last week, more in hope than anticipation, my EHIC card having just expired, I applied for a new UK Global Health Insurance Card and was surprised to find it on my doorstep yesterday – flashily patriotic, n’est pas? I wonder when I’ll get next the chance to travel and possibly (ideally, not) use it, I never needed my old ones.

Anyway, gotta’ go – got a hangover to cure, a garden party to attend later and, tomorrow, it’s off to Billesley for a catch up with the Moseley Faithful for the first time since the AGM in June – such larks, eh? Let’s hope the sun keeps shining.


[1] Non-essential shops can reopen, along with pubs but outside table service only allowed.

[2] Owing to the, hardly unexpected, death of a 99 year old richman, most terrestrial television was cancelled last Friday & Saturday – so no Corry. Much radio was also cancelled and replaced with non-stop inoffensive mushy tunes.

Posted by: Michael Holliday | March 26, 2021

Of Books vexiollogy and the Blitz

Who’d have thought it? A year after the first lockdown, which Mr Johnson told us would be all over in 12 weeks, and we’re still locked down. But, as all data are pointing in the right direction[1], it looks as if I’ll be sitting outside the pub in a couple of weeks (I hope that it’s not raining, or worse…) considering what non-essential shopping I fancy doing and how I’ll get on when I go swimming again – things can only get better. Meanwhile, it’s been more of the usual, busy doing nothing – another two weeks with only fresh air, books, television, an essential kitchen haircut (my hair being the longest it’d been since 1973?) and a few games of naughty pool to differentiate the days.

The television? I got through both series of Life on Mars and immediately started on the follow up: Ashes to Ashes – more excellent, tongue in cheek stuff, with three series to anticipate. Now London based, a decade later, set in 1981 and starring Keeley Hawes instead of John Simm, as the out of time and place DI. The first episode featured a scene that recreated a night at the Blitz – the legendary Covent Garden club that introduced the ‘New Romantics’ to the world and launched a thousand poseurs; I’ve told you about those happy days previously[2]. Last week, Sky Arts premiered a new film: Blitzed, the 80’s Blitz Kids’ Story which featured mainly talking heads – George, Marylyn (still looking gorgeous), Bob Elms, Rusty Egan, Princess Julia, Chris Sullivan et al. telling us it how they experienced it all. Great fun, but full of semi-relevant stock film footage, distorted time lines and inconsistencies; it told a truth, of sorts.

Watching it reminded me that I’d recently been sent a copy of Chris Sullivan’s (Founder of Blue Rondo à La Turk, one of the more exciting bands to emerge from the scene and Steve Strange’s best mate) latest book: Rebel Rebel – Mavericks who made our modern world, this week read it. The book comprises a series of 35 essays on all things interesting culturewise and forms a basic primer for all those interested in alternative, life as art, perspectives. Opening with the Aesthetic Movement, Chris takes us through the Viennese Secession, 1920s Paris and Weimar Berlin before ending up in a discussion with Daniel Day Lewis; he introduces us to many of his heroes along the way. Highly recommended for younger readers who will be informed of, and ideally be inspired by, what the old folk got up to in those good old days, I especially enjoyed the piece on Siouxsie Sioux[3].

The best book that I’ve read recently has to be Jenni Fagan’s, just published, Luckenbooth, set in a large Edinburgh tenement over a hundred years or so, it’s a fascinating slice of magic realism that introduces us to a series of strange characters and their stranger fates. Ishiguro’s latest book: Klara and the Sun, is another AI (Artificial Intelligence) novel, the third that I’ve recently read; it’s neither as good as Winterson’s (Frankisstein, 2019) nor McEwan’s (Machines Like Me, 2019) but it was worth the half price £10 that I paid for it. Darryl Bullock’s David Bowie Made Me Gay (2017) is a packed book that details the massive influences that LGBTQ+ performers have had on the popular music scene. It’s a fairly academic read, but provides a decent 100 year history of LGBTQ+ life and, of course, features the work of many of the Blitz Kids.

And I read Peter Ackroyd’s latest (his 18th) novel: Mr Cadmus, Ackroyd has long been one of my favourite writers, this is not one of his best but was more fun that Zadie Smith’s The Autograph Man (2002) which was disappointing. I listened to Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm (1932) which tells the tale of a grownup Pollyanna[4] figure impacting on the lives of a bunch of unlikely country characters. It was an awful hoot, parodying many of the grossly overwritten novels of its time including my mate John Cowper Powys’s Wolf Solent (1929) – one of my favourite books and one of JCP’s easier reads. Highly recommended, even if you’ll never find out what the ‘something nasty in the woodshed’ was.

Last Saturday was spent in front of the television watching, what should have been, the final day of this years’ Six Nations. You have to admire Italy’s determination and perseverance, this time losing 10-52 to Scotland and ending up, as usual, bottom of the table having lost all five games and amassing a negative points difference of 184. It’s a good job that Italy are in the competition, for England’s abysmal performance in the afternoon’s second game, their worst in almost 50 years, losing 32-18 to Ireland, placed them second bottom. In the best game of the competition so far, France beat Wales in the 81st minute 32-30, thus denying Wales the Grand Slam – quelle dommage. In tonight’s, Covid-rearranged, final fixture, France must score 5 tries and beat Scotland by 21 points to deny Wales the trophy. England, bah… Let’s hope that our women’s team do better in the, Covid-delayed, Six Nations which kicks off, with England V Scotland at 4 o’clock next Saturday.

And finally, it’s often been claimed that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel[5]. I’ve nothing against a bit of flag waving on occasion – it can send a positive message and help instil a sense of pride and dignity in a nation and/or cause. But I think that our government’s latest decree: that the Union flag must now be flown on all government at at all times, is a bit excessive. On the subject of flags, I do wish that the British media would name our flag correctly – as any vexiollogist will tell you, it’s only the Union Jack when flown on a ship.

Anyway, gotta’ go – off to get some refreshments in for tonight’s game. Allez les Bleus, Welsh supporters have enough to crow about.


[1] As of yesterday, April 2nd –  total deaths = 126.500, now down to a daily average of 74; around 5.500 new cases daily and just over 5.000 hospitalisations; 29 million first and 3 million second vaccinations

[2] In a post of November 2020, Reasons to be Cheerful?

[3] ‘Er of the Banshees that so inspired boys & girls to gothdom glory

[4] The lead character in Pollyanna, a novel of 1913 by Eleanor H Porter; several film versions were made, Walt Disney’s 1960 version, starring Haley Mills is my choice

[5] Samuel Johnson, 1775

Posted by: Michael Holliday | March 12, 2021

The Kailash kora

It’s been yet another two weeks of the new normal – more real books & biking; audio books & walkies; classy & trashy television; Spotify & the papers and an occasional weekend beer or two. It’s all merging into meaningless, with only a few weekly ‘treats’ – Wednesday morning trips to Sainsburys; Jay’s Thursday night pub quizzes; Friday night chips; and Brighton’s Saturday soccer games distinguishing different days. I’m aware that things can only get better, but I do wish they’d hurry up and do so. ‘To be fair’ and ‘to be perfectly honest’, other than this week’s highlight (contemplating my census form) I’ve nothing of any interest to write about. I could stop here and place the blog back into furlough; I could make something up – my recent adventures, battling rebel forces, to reach Tombouctou for example; or I could recycle some of my earlier work. So here we go, as Wednesday (10th March) marked the 62nd anniversary of the uprising against China’s annexation of Tibet, I thought I’d introduce you to Mount Kailash. I wrote the following, unpublished article, in 2015 after I’d returned from another Chinese/Tibetan/Nepali adventure…

Mount Kailash, in western Tibet, is arguably the world’s most sacred spot. On its peak dwell the gods of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and the Bon Po; this is why Kailash, at 6.638m may not be summited. Each year thousands of faithful make the 32 mile pilgrimage (kora) around the holy mountain, this year I joined them.

After arrival, I spent a few days mooching around Beijing trying to get me a Tibetan permit, before the two day Skytrain trip to Lhasa and the bureaucratic hassle entering Tibet. From there, it was another few days overlanding to Darchen. A short couple of hours walk took us to the kora’s starting point where we (I’d joined up with six others in Lhasa) witnessed the Saga Dawa festival. Celebrating Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death, it’s the most important festival in the Buddhist year involving three hours of religious rites & prayers and culminating in the raising of a giant prayer flag strewn pole before setting off on the kora, pilgrimage, around the mountain.

I thought that the walk would be easy and day one proved me right. After three happy hours strolling up a gentle slope packed with smiling pilgrims, most on foot, some with yaks & horses, and some prostrate, or on their knees. The majority were Tibetan, dressed in colourful traditional kit and wearing basic shoes, they usually travelled as a family with babes on backs accompanied by bent-over grandparents. The remaining were mostly Indian who would make it to the first night’s camp and return back to Darchen the following morning. Us five westerners, all in fancy trekking gear and expensive boots, attempting to complete the kora in three days.

We stayed that night in a, recently erected, portacabin dorm in the midst of a busy medieval campsite overlooked by the mountain. No electricity or running water, but no worries and an amazing sunset on the mountain. It was an early, sleepless, night at an altitude of 5.000m, before up at five the following morning for the torchlit start to a difficult full day’s hike, with the 5.648m Dolma-La pass to scale ahead.

We set off crossing a semi-frozen river, from then it was up and up. After an hour it became hard, after two hours we hit serious ice and snow and it became harder. The fourth hour was the most unpleasant of my life – my body wouldn’t work properly and I couldn’t breathe, reduced to ten steps forward: thirty seconds rest, repeat for an hour – steps becoming fewer, rests longer. I wondered if I would make it? Turning back wasn’t a possibility. So, five steps forward: a minute rest etc. Meanwhile, the Tibetans, old and young, were skittering past me up the slope: the westerners were strung out in a line all struggling the same as me. Eventually, I crawled over the prayerflag strewn top of the pass.

On the plateau I rested, but was too exhausted to contemplate the top of the world celebration that I’d been planning – a can of Lhasa beer (from the roof of the world). I was dead and felt neither enlightenment nor any great achievement – just relief that the worst was over. There followed two hours of a dangerously dodgy, difficult descent in and out of iced/snowed river beds. Over six hours after having set out, I made it to the bottom and a lunchtime halt. Dead. After that it was an easy three hours to base for the night – another brand new portacabin dorm in the middle of nowhere, serviced by a field kitchen. It was fine. I was knackered and fell asleep over a bottle of Lhasa beer.

The third and final day was a doddle, a few hours gentle walk in glorious scenery: a Sunday morning stroll on a Monday morning, to arrive back whence we started. The Kailash kora, half of my remaining objectives[1], achieved – I’m not certain that I’ll ever make it Tombouctou.

Anyway, gotta go – off to more meaningless merging followed by a bag of chips. But hey, ideally, I’ll be back, beer in hand, sitting outside the ER in 30 days time and then off on, for now, a few more, less adventurous, adventures.

[1] Several years ago, I wrote one of my greatest poems: ‘I have never koraed Kailash, nor been to Tombouctou as one would do, under different circumstances.’

Posted by: Michael Holliday | February 26, 2021

Of jabs and jigsaws and Joy Division

The nights get lighter, the Covid data continues to improve, and life begins to look a little better – an end in sight? And a lockdown upside? This year, I can safely claim that I’ll achieve a long held ambition of giving up visiting pubs for Lent – bonus. Of Mr Johnson’s long-awaited Monday night address to the nation outlining his ‘cautious’ plan (sorry, roadmap) to free us all from our lockdown lethargy? Mostly as expected, but I do like the idea of (ideally) it all being over on Midsummer’s day. It’s a shame that the ER hasn’t more outside seating, but I’m sure that the landlord is working on a cunning plan to slake the thirsts of his regulars come April 12th when pubs can start to serve outside; we return inside on May 17th and hopefully will start enjoying a few days out and about again.

Continued lockdown must be getting to me for, last Saturday afternoon, I unintentionally found myself engrossed in a jigsaw whilst listening to Joy Division – I’m a fan of neither. The Jigsaw, a 1000 piece 50th Corry anniversary jobbie, turned up after a wardrobe sort out; Joy Division turned up randomly on Spotify. I hear that I’m not alone in jigsawing, consequently, prices have shot up as puzzles become rarer than good sense. It was totally compulsive and I treated it far too competitively/seriously, ignoring essential stuff to complete the bloody thing and giving myself a sore back in the process. It was an excellent time waster, but do I have time to waste? Probably ‘cause I’m still watching far too much unessential television.

As an apostate, I used to think that the term guilty pleasures referred to simple everyday, but naughty, pastimes such as the use of recreational drugs and immoral thoughts accompanied by acts of self-love – Three Hail Marys and an Our Father:  Ego te absolvo. Now, having wasted the rest of the last two weeks watching hours of gratuitous relationship porn, I’m not so certain. E4’s, highly repetitive, Married at First Sight, Australia has been addictive for the two of us. Most of the couples appeared normal pleasant folk looking for love, and their 15 minutes of fame. But two participants ripped up the rule book, behaved appallingly to their fellow participants and did a wifeswap – thanks Dan and Jess, total repetitive entertainment, another excellent time waster. I will not be watching the next series.

Since I mentioned Birmingham’s King Kong statue last time, I’ve been inundated with requests for further information. In response: in 1972, a giant, 18 foot, King Kong turned up, in the City’s Manzoni Gardens[1], on a six month loan; created by Nicholas Munro, Kong had been commissioned as part of a nationwide city sculpture scheme. Like Mason’s Forward (1990), Gormley’s Iron:Man, aka the Ironman (1993) & Mistry’s The River, aka the Floozie in the Jacuzzi (1994) that followed it, Kong immediately aroused much public derision and hostility – what is it with the good citizens of Brum and their statuary? Back to Kong, in 1973, he was offered to the City for £2k but they turned it down and he was sold to a local used car dealer for £3k. After time spent advertising the dealership, he travelled around the country a bit (Edinburgh, Penrith & Leeds) and was reported variously as destroyed, irretrievably damaged, and left lying for dead on waste ground, forlorn. That’s why I was delighted to see Kong resplendent, in all his former glory, happily alive and well, living in a private garden in Cumbria and the star of Michael Cummins’ film King Rocker (2021).

Incidentally, Forward was burned down in 2003; Centenary Square has since been totally redeveloped. In 2017, Ironman was put in storage to make way for the City’s new tram system; he was due to return to Victoria Square the following year, I haven’t seen him since. The River, soon developed a leak, stopped flowing, fell into disrepair and was filled in; it’s due to be renovated in time for the City’s Commonwealth Games celebration, next year. Ironman aside, my favourite Birmingham statue has to be Robert Thomas’s Hebe (1966) which was originally situated in Holloway Circus; repeatedly vandalised, Hebe now lives in relative peace at the end of Corporation Street by the Children’s hospital.

I was lucky to get an early vaccination (My age or my vulnerability?) and am awaiting my covid protection to kick in; Miss A got hers on Monday. After my jab, I bumped into a friend who told me that she had just been reading of the dangers of Covid vaxxs in a new paper: The Light. I’d never heard of this and was surprised to find a copy in a bus shelter an hour later; naturally, I took it home and read it. Uhm… The Light, claiming itself ‘A Truthpaper’, is 18 pages of, poorly written, mostly covid-related, conspiracy stuff making several claims and providing little reputable evidence in support. A fascinating read with a few interesting insights and ads, but not helpful. I like the idea of conspiracy theories as a bit of fun, but can’t believe in any of them – that includes yours Mr Icke. My view is that they are usually far too sophisticated to have been wilfully enacted, the world runs on cock ups not conspiracy. If in doubt, ask, who benefits from such conspiracies and why do they bother?

Anyway, gotta’ go – got my first virtual funeral to attend. Goodnight Angela, God Bless.


[1] Now occupied by the Bullring

Posted by: Michael Holliday | February 12, 2021

Andsoitgoesonandon

Andsoitgoesonandon and on, another two weeks of lockdown and still no end in sight – schools returning in March and me back in the pub by May? Still possible. On a positive note, along with the snowdrops and croci, vaccine numbers are ever-rising as Covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths continue to fall (1). Unfortunately, new variants are proving to be a new unknown and, potentially, vaccine resistant. In the meantime, I’ve been busy doing all that idlers, under lockdown, can do – lots of television, including football of both kinds; books; daily exercise and waiting for the new normal.

I was looking forward to the Six Nations and, last weekend, watched all three opening matches live on television. France thrashed Italy (10–50), as expected; increasingly questioning Italy’s continuing presence in the competition – they haven’t won a Six Nations game since 2015. I was expecting England to beat Scotland in the 150th Calcutta Cup game and was shocked to see that the Scots wouldn’t allow us to play; too many Saracens if you ask me – congratulations Scotland on the 6-11 victory, a score that seriously flattered England. Wales were expected to beat Ireland on Sunday and did so – just (21-16), it may have been a different story had not Ireland had a man red-carded after 14 minutes. So, France on top and now firm favourites – come on England. In the absence of any club rugby, I’ve been watching more soccer and was delighted to see Brighton unexpectedly beat both Tottenham & Liverpool and gain 7, much needed, points from their last three league games. Wednesday night’s 5th round FA Cup game was a different matter; to think that, just to annoy my Foxy mate, I’d worn my, Christmas present, Seagulls shirt for 94 minutes of goalless tedium before Leicester scored with the last play of the game – huh.

Having taken over tea time television, Richard Osman is well on the way to conquering the literary world. His first novel The Thursday Murder Club was published last September and has been top of worldwide best seller charts eversince. As Miss A, along with half the country, had received a copy for Christmas, I thought that I’d give it a read. Straightforwardly written, with a reasonable plot, it was alright though I doubt that I’ll be reading the follow ups, the first of which is due this September. As a snidey aside, I wonder how many virgin copies I’ll find in the charity shops when they eventually reopen?

On a totally different level, the Black Country poet and member of Poets, Prattlers and Pandemonialists, Emma Purshouse has just published her first novel (2). Dogged, is a tale of poor working-class Black Country lives and features an old lady with a useless junkie bastard son, an old lady with a useless lazy bastard husband, and a tripaw dog – bleak, yet uplifting, with a touch of Thelma & Louise, a bostin read. With all dialogue written in broad vernacular, it’s not such an easy read as Osman’s book but yoe carr cumplaine.

I last read Huxley’s Brave New World at school and remember it largely for the excessive consumption of Soma, a spacey drug, to satisfy/reward/control the population. I’d forgotten much/most of the book and it came as a surprise when I re-read it last week. We find ourselves in a future ‘brave new world’, based on super-efficient technology, where poverty and pain have been all but eliminated by the total control of a highly structured, physically and socially engineered society, based around obedient mass consumption. Conformity is paramount, dare to be different and? Clever stuff for 1932, much of the philosophical discussion is remains relevant today.

Whilst I’m no great fan of Radio 2, I’ll happily admit to being a lover of musical theatre (mainly for its blatant emotional manipulation – tears or laughter, occasionally both). I really enjoyed Radio 2’s ‘Musicals’ weekend of a few weeks back – all the regular programmes broadcast featured backtoback greatest show hits. The weekend culminated in Elaine Paige (No, I can’t stand her forced laugh either, but it’s her USP and I’ll forgive it) presenting a top 20 musical numbers of all time, with the Glum’s: One Day More voted in top place. Last Sunday, Sheridan Smith hosted a linked concert ‘live’ from the Palladium, featuring West End stars performing renditions of some of the hits with the BBC symphony orchestra – great stuff. Incidentally, my fave musical has to be Cabaret, closely followed by The Rocky Horror Show – both offering life changing advice, remember: ‘I’m going like Elsie’ & ‘Don’t dream it, be it.’? Sadly, neither featured in EP’s top 20.

And of television? I’ve seen so much lately, so just a few recommendations: The Dig & Queen’s Gambit, starring two excellent leads: Carey Mulligan & Anya Taylor-Joy in Netflix latest offerings. The Lone Ranger film – overlong, but a rip-roaring, Saturday morning, climax. Best of all – King Rocker (Sky Arts) an anti-rockumentary film about Robert Lloyd, founder of, highly unsuccessful, Birmingham punk legends The Prefects & The Nightingales. The film is essentially Rob having a laugh and chewing the fat with Stewart Lee in various settings, mainly pubs. It goes back to the 70’s and takes us up to date, featuring plenty of Birmingham’s alternative finest along the way – special mention to Vix of Fuzzbox (3). Birmingham’s old and controversial King Kong statue stars as liet motiv – many happy memories for us punks on the streets of Brum.

Finally, news of the coming demolition of Henley College provoked a wave of nostalgia amongst staff, past and present, and social media was awash with memories and negative comment. The best thing that cropped up was a copy of a (forgotten by me) video that we made to celebrate the College’s 40th anniversary in 2004. It was a clever rehash of the Beatles’ 1969 rooftop farewell appearance – click to view: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10159016005206358&id=721911357 . Dr Clements (the talent) had written a new version of Get Back and he, together with the Principal, (Ray) and the Finance Director (Richard) playing the parts of John, Paul and George, and me, with a few dustbins & traffic cones in lieu of a drum set, excelling as Ringo. Our College rooftop performance was intercut with real footage from the original concert and was premiered at an all-staff Christmas celebration party at a nearby hotel. Such larks, workplace fun was permitted back then.

Anyway, gotta’ go – off to?

1.As of February 11th – over 13 million Covid vaccinations delivered; 13.000 new cases daily, down from a peak of 60.000; some 2.000 new daily hospitalisations, down from a peak of over 4.000; and total of 115.529 deaths, within 28 days of testing positive
2.Emma has already published several volumes of poetry, her latest: Close, Offa’s Press, 2018 3.Victoria Perks, vocalist with Brum’ best band: We’ve got a Fuzzbox and we know how to use it who featured in one of my earliest blogs: Oh, my Vix, how I do swoon, September 2010

Posted by: Michael Holliday | January 29, 2021

Time passing in a time of plague


Andso it goes, onandon, another two weeks of lockdown and still no definite end in sight – schools returning in March and me back in the pub by May? Possibly. Vaccinations are in full swing, infection rates are stabilising, but hospitalisations continue to rise (soon beyond capacity) and death rates remain ‘world-beatingly’ high(1). Like you (I hope) I’ve not been up to much.

As a deliberate distraction from all the Covid news, I’ve been keeping abreast of the political developments in the US and was delighted to witness the ignominious downfall of Donald Trump; I just hope that he stays down. Mr Biden appears to be a reasonable guy with some good ideas and will, hopefully, give his country the stability it needs and go some way to healing its massive left/right divide. It was interesting to see our, newly contrite, Mr Johnson kowtowing to the new president and calling for British politics to be ‘civil and kind’ – a major U-turn from the leader of the ‘nasty party’ and stoker of our own culture war, who has been sewing division for years. Fortunately, Biden seems to have our PM sussed, referring to Johnson as ‘… kind of a physical and emotional clone of the (then) President.’ Of Mr Trump, in a fitting finale, The Washington Post’s fact checker states that he made 30.573 false or misleading claims during the 4 years of his presidency – uhm, I wonder how many similar claims our Prime Minister will have made by the end of his stint, which I doubt will last to the end of this Parliament.

With no real off switch, I often do excess. I’m a binge drinker, reader, walker etc, but have refrained from television binging until now; continuing lockdown has worn me down – my name is Michael and I’m a binge watcher. It began with a few nightly episodes of Schitt’s Creek – short, simple and amusing before I got into Bridgerton – Jane Austen, omitting all the boring bits in favour of sex scenes. I moved onto the hard stuff and, in one evening, did all 10 episodes of Emily in Paris – sweet and silly, Richard Curtis-type fare in high-end, pretty dresses. Last weekend (for this must only be a weekend habit) I watched all of It’s a Sin, Russell T Davies’ portrayal of the gay scene in the early eighties, sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll and the devastation of AIDS – gloriously uplifting and tearmaking in equal parts, and all to a disco beat. I’m late in coming to Life on Mars, a series from 2005 which sees a ‘good copper’ of the time finding himself back in 1973 and working with all the traditional ‘bad coppers’ – amusing in a cringeworthy manner and great soundtrack. I’m now half way through the 16 episodes in total – great stuff, why didn’t I catch this 16 years ago.

Quite by chance, I came across Ian McEwan’s recent novella: Cockroach, an amusing satire echoing Kafka’s Metamorphosis in reverse. A cockroach wakes up one morning to find himself not only in human form but also the PM of the UK. His Cabinet are also transformed roaches and have one ambition – to damage UK civilisation to the benefit of all insect life. By highly dubious means and with the stoking of popularist nationalism, and to the disbelief of the rest of the world, they enact a highly irrational and self-damaging policy of ‘economic reversalism’ before transforming back to roaches to enjoy a country left in ruin. Fun and thought provoking, outlining just how easy it is to get turkeys to vote for Christmas. I also read Viv Albertine’s To Throw Away Unopened and Caitlin Moran’s More than a Woman, two autobiographical pieces detailing the experiences of the middle aged/older woman. Viv’s, based around the death of her mother, is heart-breaking: Caitlin’s, more polemical, is both funny and heart-breaking. Neither make me envy the life of the older woman, but then the life of the older bloke ‘aint all a bed of roses either. So, I read my new Oor Wullie annual and cheered myself up.

Fortunately, we avoided most of the nationwide damage caused by the recent storm Christoph and were rewarded with a decent dollop of snow last Sunday. The first snow we’d seen in ages, it proved a further pleasant distraction to Covid woes and was especially welcome after a few days of constant deluge. We enjoyed a bumper crop of snow families, including a marvellous snowcat – snow, a bringer of happiness in these unfortunate times.

Last week, it was announced that there would be no competitive rugby for Moseley, nor any other club from National League 1 and below. We might get to play a few friendlies, but no serious games. A shorter, smaller, local competition had been mooted and we’d been lined up with return fixtures against lower league Hinckley Rugby – this could have proved embarrassing had we lost either game, but it would have been good for Hinckley supporters to see Billesley in all its glory and better for the Moseley committee to experience Hinckley’s hospitality, which is twice as good as Moseley’s, at half the price. I’ve missed my rugby this year, but won’t have to suffer those usual end of season relegation fears. Incidentally, it was on the day of the announcement that I received my, fittingly in NHS colours this year, 2020-2021 MSA badge – a little souvenir of the season that never was.

Finally, last week I also heard the news that Henley College, which opened in 1964, was to close at the end of the academic year and the site be demolished for housing. I spent many years working at Henley, most of them happy. I met loadsa’ interesting people, made good friends and still keep in touch with a few of them, including Miss A. I was given many great opportunities and got to enjoy many wonderful experiences, both at home and overseas. Larks were had and memories made. So, goodbye Henley College – no regrets are worth a tear.

Anyway, gotta’ go – gotta wash my hair or something.

[1] 103.000+ as of yesterday, 28th January, one of the highest per capita rate in the world, with 37.000 hospitalisations. A record 7 and a half million first vaccination doses have been administered

[2] Biden on hearing of Johnson’s election victory, December 12th 2019


Posted by: Michael Holliday | January 15, 2021

Passing time in a time of plague

This time last year, I was enjoying a few weeks travelling around Poland and was delighted to find that everybody kept their Christmas lights/decorations up until the end of January. Even in normal times, January’s a dark, dismal, shitty month – why not? This year, along with many other households, it’s been decided that we’d follow this old Catholic tradition and keep the lights on till Candlemas: February 2nd – a little brightness in the darkness of everybody’s life, just what’s needed right now.

I’d been to Crosby a few times, just to have a chat with the Gormleys on the beach – one of my favourite works of art [1]. But have to admit to never having heard of Crosby’s soccer club: Marine AFC, an 8th tier side and 160 places below, had drawn Tottenham in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. Splashed over all the papers, it was the tie of the weekend and, along with many others (the vast majority hoping for Spurs to lose, I assume) I enjoyed the Sunday afternoon game on BBC. Despite losing 5-0, Marine didn’t play too badly and it was warming to see how everyone in the town had come together in support of their team; it was a shame that no spectators were allowed but many locals had a grandstand view from their garden and were having a party – heart-warming stuff and, owing to generous donations from footie fans nationally, pretty lucrative [2] . Later I watched Brighton snatch a penalty shootout win against 4th tier Newport – not so heart-warming. Football Mike indeed. And of the mighty Moseley Rugby? Nothing.

Has it really been five years since the death of Bowie? Tempus fugiting too fugging fast. Whilst the press did little to mark last Sunday’s: 10th January, anniversary; the BBC devoted Friday on BBC4 to his work and legacy and there were several radio programmes broadcast over the weekend, including Dancing Out in Space, a 2 hour collaboration between 6 Music & Radio 4, looking at the many and varied cultural influences Bowie has had and Five Years On, another excellent 2 hours of artists performing less familiar Bowie covers, including some totally new to me. Great stuff to accompany me on winter walks.

Five years ago, I wrote ‘…it’s difficult to explain just how important Bowie was to me throughout my teenage wildlife. Bowie was my idol, my mentor – Bowie gave me permission to be what I wanted to be, to do anything and not to have to ask permission. Bowie introduced me to all sorts of interesting stuff: real music, art, film, fashion, literature, lifestyle and hairstyle – Bowie was God and stayed that way till the early 80s. I maintained an interest over the years (A few dodgy albums along the way – Tin Machine? Really?) and, indeed, spent last weekend listening to Blackstar, which was released on the Friday. On Monday morning I heard that Bowie had died and, reduced to tears, understood how some people felt on the death of Elvis or Princess Diana. I’ve felt empty and occasionally tearful since. I could write much more and probably will do but, for now, goodbye Mr Bowie, thank you.’ My thoughts haven’t changed since then. Of Bowie, I watched The Man who Fell to Earth on Tuesday evening. It was the first time that I’d seen the film in 40 years, apart from being a little slow, it had aged well and appears now, in this world of global corporations, strangely prescient.

Last week, I was out strolling through my permitted daily exercise when I came across something that I’d never seen before – a snow white squirrel. Honestly. I quickly snapped two photos, which I’ve had to blow up a bit too much. I assumed it to be an albino squirrel and later checked it out on http://www.whitesquirrel.co.uk which states: ‘Online media searches throughout the UK claim that they are very rare, with statements such as ‘wildlife experts estimate that there are just 50 in the UK’ or ‘the odds of seeing an albino squirrel is 1 in 100,000’. In fact, using the wildlife experts’ ratio of 1:100,000 for a mammal giving birth to an albino, and the 2.4 million estimate of grey squirrels living in the UK, this would actually equate to just 24 albino squirrels in the UK.’ Who’s a lucky boy?

The Covid plague doesn’t seem to be going away [3] and, last Tuesday, we found ourselves in, more or less, total lockdown for the third time – life is again restricted to a bit of fresh air, papers, books, canned craft beer and television. As a distraction, I’m increasingly enthralled by the reality drama featuring Mr Trump and his chums currently playing out in Washington; despite the positive vaccine roll out bit, it’s made a change from the rest of the ever-worsening Covid news. Where will at all end?

I also decided that it’s time to improve my art history knowledge and have just completed a
Goya module on the OU’s OpenLearn programme; it wasn’t especially challenging and I didn’t learn that much – but what can you expect for a free short course? I’m going to work on a longer Caravaggio module next. I don’t want to fork out for another Masters, nor waste time and 40.000 words arguing with examiners about comma, semi-colons, colons and angels on pinheads; but, I’ve a feeling that, with no qualification to aim for, continued motivation might be difficult.

In my last post, on New Year’s Day, I told you of how I’d stayed in on New Year’s Eve for the first time in ages (since 1995, I see) – bloody Covid again, and that I’d drifted off to sleeps in memories of New Year’s past. With little more pressing to do on a miserable January lockdown afternoon, I thought that I’d go through old diaries and see how many of those memories were real and how many had been embellished over the years into fantasy. As it was, most were accurate and I’ve appended the summary below [4]. It’s probably pretty meaningless to most, but was a great exercise for me and a means of clarifying a few questions. Yep, I’ve had some great New Years – most of them in fact, though the last Hinckley one (2015) was too quiet.

Anyway, gotta go – dunno’ why, cause not much to do other than look forward to a bag of chips, a few cans and Gogglebox, but gotta’ go.

[1] Another Time (1997) – comprising 100 cast iron, life size Gormleys on Crosby beach all looking out to sea

[2] They sold over 30.000 virtual tickets at £10 a pop

[3] Total deaths currently standing around 85.000 or over 100.000, depending, with hospitals overwhelmed and morgues filling up

[4] New Year’s Eves
1977 – Stirchley pub crawl with friends, crashed house party till 2ish, overnight at friends in Cotteridge
1978 – Dunno’
1979 & 1980 – local pub, M&I – 1.30
1981 & 82 – Rum Runner club with gang – taxi 7ish
1983 & 84 – Tin Can club with gang – lift/taxi 6ish
1985 & 86 – London pubs/clubs with gang – 6ish, wander round town/ 3, bus to Shepherds Bush
1987 – Salvation club, bus to Becki’s houseparty Balsall Heath – 5ish walk
1988 – Moseley Dance Centre with gang – 3ish walk
1989 – Warehouse Do, Ladywood, B & I – 3 bus
1990 – Fountain pub, Hurst Street with gang – 3ish walk
1991 – Crawl and G&W’s houseparty – 4ish taxi
1992 – Moseley Dance Centre, Balti, B&I – 4ish walk
1993 – Crawl and Becki’s houseparty, Moseley – 3ish walk
1994 – Anchor, Digbeth with gang – 2 bus
1995 – Early doors and stayed in
1996 – Castle Cary crawl, B&I – 2ish walk
1997 – Tallin pubs & square – 4ish taxi
1988 – Reykjavik peak & town – 6ish walk
1999 – Early doors, hide under table for Millennium, Hare & Hounds, B&I – 2ish walk
2000 & 01 – Pavilion, new local, with friends – 2ish walk
2002 – Leamington crawl, first footing in Tatchbrook – 3ish, overnight
2003 & 04 – Burbage, J & I and others – 2/3 walk
2005 – Hinckley crawl, Debbie’s party with Companions – 2ish walk
2006 – Burbage crawl with Companions – 2ish taxi
2007-11 – Hinckley crawls, mostly J&I and others – 2ish walk
2012 – Malvern crawl, Foley Arms Hotel with S&R – 1ish
2013 & 14 – Weymouth crawl, J&I – 2ish walk, seaside apartment
2015 – Hinckley crawl, Union, J&I – 2ish walk
2016 & 17 – Eynsham crawls with M&I – 2.30/1ish
2018 – Stafford crawl, Vine Hotel with S&R – 1ish
2019 – In transit, Montego Bay to Gatwick
2020 – Covid lockdown, Jools Holland – 1.30

Posted by: Michael Holliday | January 1, 2021

Bed before midnight?

Happy New Year. There you go, wished before midday and with bright eyes and a clear head for once; you can tell that last night’s New Year’s Eve celebrations were muted, the quietest ever? Dinner for One, a family Zoom quiz, a few beers, a bottle of pop and Hogmanay on the sofa a deux; instead of Andy Stewart and his White Heather Club, we got Jools Holland’s Hootenany and watched/listened to fireworks from the window – this Covid lark has a lot to answer for. It was bed long after midnight in thoughts of many splendid New Year’s past.

Christmas and New Year are all about tradition and routine, obviously. And, obviously, many (All?) of mine, and most other peoples’ have been seriously tested this Covid Christmas. So, no Christmas Eve all-day tour of local pubs before a sleepy Midnight Mass. I had every intention of going to Midnight Mass, but the idea of walking up to church at 11.30 to attend a Covid-restricted service grew less attractive the longer the evening wore on and the cosier I got in front of the fire, lost in a fug of canned craft beers and inane television – ‘t’was bed before midnight for Michael.

As tradition dictates, Christmas Day started with pop and scrambled eggs & ‘rooms for breakfast and diverted into a surprisingly pleasant day: no mass meeting of the clan in the local pub before Christmas dinner amidst the cacophonic chaos of the Boys & Girls and their, ever-increasing, number of boys & girls opening and discarding an embarrassment of present piles, prior to me finding a quiet corner to hide and, along with the puss, fall asleep. Half aware of the, one day only, Covid dispensation, we did the family tour. Off first to Burbage to see Boy Number 2 and his gang, we had a drink, shared presents and were off within the hour. Next, the short drive to Stoney Stanton and Boy Number 3 and his Girl, we had a drink and a nibble, shared presents and were off within the hour. Finally, the longer drive to Coalbrookdale and Boy Number 3 and his gang, we had a few drinks and a full Christmas Dinner, starters & desserts (many thanks), shared presents, played games including Guess Who? and Mousetrap (which I’m sure has been much simplified since I last played it many years ago) and were off, several hours later, home to bed before midnight again. Accompanied by all day/night Christmas tunes on the radio and MTV, it had been a memorable Christmas day, and probably more festive than last year’s which we spent floating in the Caribbean.

But for the lack of an obligatory hangover and restorative pub visit, Boxing Day was as per tradition – a leisurely breakfast followed by the opening of our presents, with the rest of the day spent slobbing out in front of the fire & television and bed before midnight once more. I got me some excellent presents including an enormous assortment of craft cans, most of them highly unusual and a few highly strong, including a Vocation 12.5% Imperial Mocha – will that ever get drunk? Several books, including my Oor Wullie (My oldest Christmas tradition?) and the latest Jon Coe & Stephen Fry; a posh hot chocolate maker (I’ve an idea this wasn’t primarily for me); a Seagulls soccer shirt (Just call me kickball Mike); some herbal relaxant; many and varied quirky bits & pieces and, best of all, a hand painted picture of Le Petit Prince – thank you one and all.

Some may say that Mr Johnson’s, expertly timed, Christmas Eve announcement crowing of his great Brexit deal was another present for all in the UK. I, alongside many others, suggest otherwise[1]. Yep, it’s certainly better than no deal, but it’s nowhere near as good as the deal that we already had. Yep, the Nationalists have regained some of the ‘sovereignty’ that we had left; but, the majority of the country will be paying the price practically, economically and culturally for years to come. There’ll be a smaller, less wholesome, cake and we’ll be eating less of it. Anyway, that’s it from me on Brexit – Au Revoir et Merci EU. Ciao, Do Widzenia, Auf Wiedersehen usw… I can no longer care; I’m old and relatively privileged, like Mr Johnson and his cronies, I’m alright Jack – others suffer much more.

And of the too much television I’ve been watching? I won’t bore you by appending my heavily annotated two-week TV guide, but will highlight the following: two versions of Cinderella, The, 2015, film starring a gorgeously sweet Lily James and the Comic Relief, Zoom-style, Covid Christmas Panto with Olivia Coleman and Helena Bonham Carter, who also featured (as the Fairy Godmother) in the film; Quinten Blake’s Clown, narrated by Helena BC, again; the Motherland Christmas special – the funniest thing on television this year? Gemma Arterton in Black Narcissus, also starring Diana Rigg in her final appearance; seasonal University Challenge & Only Connect; regular Covid & Brexit news updates & Corry, and the climax (for now) of His Dark Materials. Some Two Ronnies and Morecombe & Wise, the latter ageing far better than Messrs Corbett & Barker; and lotsa’ films, worthy of a special mention: On the Busses (1972), which, was cringeworthy in all aspects, of particular interest was the total lack of any black faces – on a double decker London bus in 1972, really? Thankfully, things have moved on.

And that, alongside an exciting dusting of snow on Tuesday, was Christmas 2020, living in a Tier 3 lockdown. To nobody’s surprise, on Wednesday it was announced that, along with most of the rest of the country[2], Hinckley & Bosworth would be going into Tier 4 at midnight. ‘Suppose it could be worse for, other than no swimming and no TK Maxx, I’m not sure that it’s much different from Tier 3. So, I won’t moan, but will look forward to 2021 and, ideally, a return to normality within a few months, when once again I’ll have something interesting to write.

Gotta’ go, gotta wash me hair. Happy New Year. 


[1] ‘Boris Johnson’s extreme Tory Brexit is an unforgivable act of economic vandalism and gross stupidity, which will cause lasting damage to the economy and leave the UK worse off in the worst possible time – during a pandemic and economic recession.’ Ian Blackford, leader of the SNP at Westminster, December 27th

[2] With latest daily infections topping 50.000 and death rates of almost 1.000, 78% of the country are now in Tier 4, with the remainder (but for the Scilly Isles) in Tier 3

Posted by: Michael Holliday | December 18, 2020

Have yourselves a merry LITTLE Christmas

It was wonderful to be able to get away for a few days and enjoy Miss A’s birthday in Paris, a pleasant surprise in the midst of these troubling times. We had an easy trip down to Euston and strolled over to St Pancras and, a few minutes later, were enjoying a few decent pints before catching the Eurostar to Gare du Nord – a most civilised experience, with no customs/passport bureaucracy/idiocy. We enjoyed a few more beers in a little craft bar that I know, just down from the station, and then walked the half a mile up to our small hotel on the fringes of Montmartre; later, we dined well in Le Bouillon Chartier, an historic restaurant based in the old Belle Epoque library off Faubourg, which now caters admirably for veggies and carnies alike, and had an early night – it had been a long day.

We were up early the following morning and caught the metro down to Musée D’Orsay, one of my faves, housed in the old Gare d’Orsay station a magnificent building you’ve probably seen in a film or two – it starred heavily in Hugo[1]. It offers, mostly French, works from the 1850s up to the Great War and contains, probably, the best collection of Impressionism in the world – a bit chocolate boxy for me, but it wasn’t my birthday. Lunch on the run and back across the river, via Notre Dame (good to see the post-fire reconstruction progressing well) up to Les Halles and the Pompidou Centre, Richard Rodgers’ Modernist marvel or monstrosity, as you will, home to Musée National d’art Moderne, another one of my faves. A challenging permanent collection and, often, a splendid visiting exhibition – currently Matisse. We spent the evening mooching round, a remarkably tourist-free, Montmartre and took in the Christmas lit views over this wildly romantic city celebrating the birthday with vin rouge.

The next morning, we strolled down through Pigalle to the, well-hidden, Musée Gustave Moreau in the 9th Arrondissement. It’s based in Moreau’s (1826–98) old home and studio and, jam-packed with his works – over 1.000 paintings and over 5.000 drawings, can be a bit overwhelming; it’s not the most visited gallery in Paris but, with my soft spot for slushy Symbolism, I like it. The afternoon was spent mooching around Left Bank shops, in search of quirky presents, before catching an evening Eurostar under the channel, back to St Pancras. On the train I got chatting to a couple of German guys who were full of admiration for our Prime Minister and wished that their Mrs Merkel could show such dignity, integrity, decisiveness, clarity, style and statesmanship in her dealings with the German people. And then I awoke and looked around me, at four Covid walls that surround me. And I realised, yes…

So, the quietest birthday ever wasn’t a total disaster – a bottle of birthday breakfast pop, lotsa’ cards and presents and a posh(ish) Indian in front of the fire with wine and chocolates. But that, alongside a small joint birthday celebration last night and England’s winning of the Autumn Nations’ Cup have been the highlights of the past two weeks, still locked in this limbo, known as Tier 3[2]. Books have been read – Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain[3], bleakly excellent: films have been watched – The Shape of Water[4], charmingly excellent. Miles have been cycled, walked and swam, and non-essential local shops have been patronised; life carries on, and on. I just wish that I could get out a bit more – people & places to see, things to do, beers to be drunk.

Anyway, gotta’ go – might have a wet & windy mooch round town before yet another Friday night in – spoilt for choice, there’s an Ocsar Wilde night on BBC2, and my Marianne in Girl on a Motorcycle on TPTV. Enjoy your Covid Christmas, as best you can; note the five day rule relaxation, but remember: ‘Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’[5]. I’ll be back in the new year, hopefully with something real to tell you about – my ‘smaller, shorter, safer’ Christmas and a satisfactory Brexit resolution perhaps? Or does this government really want to crucify its economy and culture on a cross of fish and sovereignty[6], whatever that may mean?


[1] Martin Scorsese, 2011

[2] As confirmed yesterday

[3] This year’s Booker Prize winner

[4] Guillermo del Toro, 2017

[5] Chris Whitty, BBC 16th December 2020

[6] I adapted this idea from Ed Conway, writing in The Sunday Times, 13th December

Posted by: Michael Holliday | December 4, 2020

Lockdown has broken?

Mostly in lockdown, apart from the odd bit of fresh air and a naughty (but socially distanced evening out) there’s not a lot going on, so it’s been more books and television for me. I’ve been captivated by the regency romp, Harlots and will be disappointed when the third and final series ends next Wednesday, no more inspiration for gaudy decoration Miss A? I’ve also been enjoying the second series of His Dark Materials, The Subtle Knife, unusually, preferring it to Pullman’s books which I never totally ‘got’. Best television of all, if not the most comfortable of viewing, is Steve Mc Queen’s Small Axe, a series of 5 films looking at the experience of the black community in late 20th Britain. The second film, Lover’s Rock recreated a blues party in all its smoky glory and took me right back to Moseley/Balsall Heath nights 40 years ago – £1 entry; £1 a can of Tennant’s Extra; £1 a sizeable spliff; skanking and a little frisson[1], free – that was Entertainment[2], as Triston Palmer would sing. Check out the soundtrack on Spotify; the Revolutionaries’ Kunta Kinte Dub stands up particularly well. For light relief, I’ve been watching Netflix’s Schitt’s Creek. And then there’s Corry, celebrating its 60th anniversary next week, they did have a major headline story planned, but were unable to film it due to Covid restrictions and will be concluding some long running story lines instead – will Geoff, the bastard, get his long-deserved come uppance?

In 2013 the Hogarth Press began an ambitious project to publish modernised imaginings of many of Shakespeare’s plays, commissioning a number of well-known authors to present their versions of his greatest hits such as The Winter’s Tale (The Gap of Time, Jeanette Winterson); The Taming of the Shrew (Vinegar Girl, Ann Tyler); and Hamlet (New Boy, Tracey Chevalier). I’ve just listened to Margaret Atwood’s retelling of The Tempest: Hag-Seed, a tale of lovvie ambition, treachery and vengeance set in a modern-day Canadian prison – wonderful stuff. It made me revisit Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) to see how it matches up to the recent television adaptations – it excels; I’d also recommend The Testaments, her follow up published last year. And I found time for Alex Phelby’s Mordew, a book I’d requested on the basis of one review and its cover only and was happy to find it a murky Gormenghast[3] with some interesting ideas (Mort Dieu, get it?) a chunky relaxing read (with 100 pages of glossary) very well presented, but possibly a bit too clever for me (And its own good?) and annoyingly open-ended – a follow-up dependent on sales, I suppose.

I was delighted when the bathroom (Should it now be called the shower room?) got finished and I was able to have a proper wash at last. It all works and looks pretty good too – function and form, I’m especially happy with my diver door hook. The tiny downstairs bog also ended up being totally revamped and now wouldn’t look out of place in a whorehouse from Harlots – I should rococo. And of decorating, the house has suddenly transformed into Santa’s grotto, it runs in the Allman family, rather earlier than usual – brightness in the face of Covid restrictions?

Of which, expectations for Wednesday’s end of lockdown weren’t great and I wasn’t surprised to find that, despite being well below the average national Covid infection rate and having the lowest rate in all of Leicestershire (currently 122 per 100.000), Hinckley & Bosworth was to be promoted to tier 3, thus ending in a far worse position than when we started. Michael can no more go a-pubbing for some time yet, but I’m able to swim and can get my TK Maxx fix again. On reflection, being in the top tier is probably better than being in tier 2, for who wants to sit in a pub with no socialising allowed and being forced to eat shit fried food whilst drinking, at best, average beer? No wet-led, micropub can afford to operate under such conditions. So that’s it, till December 16th at least, and guess whose birthday it is on the 15th? And, of pubs, why has the hospitality industry been so targeted when, my understanding is that, only 2-3% of infections have been caught on licensed premises? Still, thanks to Mr Johnson, we can all enjoy our 5 days of Covid Christmas jollity and, as a result, look forward to lockdown #3 in the new year. Good news on the vaccines though.

Anyway, gotta’ go – might have a mooch round town before yet another Friday night in, Gogglebox lightens the winter gloom. And on Sunday, England should win the inaugural (probably final) Autumn Nation’s Cup when they beat France at Twickenham. And next week we should finally find out about Brexit – deal or no deal? May I remind Mr Johnson of  that which he promised back in July 2017: ‘There is no plan for no deal because we are going to get a great deal’ and, more recently in October last year: We’ve just got to put it in at gas mark four, give it 20 minutes and Bob’s your uncle.’ and a few days after that: ‘We have a deal with the EU that is ready to go, it is oven ready… you just put it in the microwave and there it is.’


[1] Understandably, white guys at such parties would often arouse some suspicion and, occasionally, resentment

[2] One the best Dub tracks of 1981

[3] Gormenghast, a fantastic fantasy trilogy written by Mervyn Peake, received to much acclaim and one of my faves – Titus Groan, 1946; Gormenghast, 1950; and Titus Alone, 1950

Posted by: Michael Holliday | November 20, 2020

Reasons to be cheerful?

Despite repeated promises to give it up completely, I’m still addicted to the news – particularly the political stuff. Newswise, the past five years have proved to be the most ‘interesting’ in my lifetime; sadly, from my perspective, it’s been nothing but bad news, nothing at all positive, which is why I ought to go cold turkey. But, in the middle of lockdown#2 and all the depressing stuff, I’ve been cheered by the announcement of four, possibly, great newstories – the first really good news of the last five years.

  • The, hopeful, demise of Mr Trump, who is proving to be a very poor loser and refusing to concede the election. Ideally, he will go; this may prove a harbinger to the decline of autocratic popularism across the world.
  • The, hopeful, demise of Mr Cummings and his ‘oppo Mr Cain who between them have overseen a restrictive and opaque centralisation of power and showed a total lack of respect for our parliamentary processes and international law. Ideally, Mr Johnson will now see sense and return to an open, non-combative form of government.
  • The, hopeful, promise of an effective Covid vaccination programme with a means of successful mass delivery. Ideally, this will lead to a return to normality by the summer. As for any anti-vaxxers out there – get real.
  • The, hopeful, notion that this government is finally addressing the climate emergency. Ideally, it’s just a start. Mr Johnson, people are expecting more – £12b, most of it not ‘new money’, is a third of what Germany has allocated and half of the French response.

Whilst all of this has been going on, we’ve been exchanging our inherited and perfectly functional, if slightly jaded, bathroom for a new look. Along with the extravagant bath, the pine, orange paint and gold plate fittings have gone and been replaced with a chrome shower suite, paprika paint and, as a sweetener, I’ve got me bidet at last. It’s been a bit of a stressor, especially when the floor was revealed to be rotten and a few damp patches appeared in the, recently decorated, living room ceiling below; and walls are askew making fitting difficult – it’s an old house. But over a week later, it’s mostly sorted and it’s time to decorate; the downstairs bog also got tidied up, with a sink installed. Other than that, lockdown has prevented much else and it’s been quiet, so it’s back to books, films old and new on television and Jay’s virtual quiz with the ER gang.

First published in 1942, though unavailable in France until after the war, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s, self-illustrated, Le Petit Prince (the second-best book ever written) has long been one of my favourite reads and one that I return to regularly. Other than the Bible, it’s the world’s most widely translated book and available in over 300 languages; it’s essential reading for European children and adults alike. It’s never been that popular in England, dunno’ why, give it a go – On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux. In 2018, Michael Morpurgo made a revised translation, complete with new illustrations. Last week I listened to it, read by Richard E Grant; it was ok, but it wasn’t my Little Prince.

I also listened to Sarah Perry’s Melmoth (2018), a spooky Gothic novel telling of Melmoth, a mythical female[1] figure who, as penance for her denial of Christ’s resurrection, is condemned to wander the world forever, bearing witness to man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, together with the guilt of the silent/passive onlooker – whose is the greater sin? Based largely in a past Mitteleuropa, it was uncomfortable but informative and I learnt much of ‘forgotten’ atrocities.

To cheer me up, I relived the best years of my clubbing days in Dylan Jones’, recently published, Sweet Dreams, it’s a history of alternative nightlife, 1974 -1985. It’s a well written, deeply researched, 700 pages centring on the voices of those that were involved. It features all the major movements from Art School Punk to ‘New Romantic’[2] through to Hard Times and Electro Disco, ending with the birth of Acid & Rave and the demise of small, independent/interesting places. Whilst concentrating on London clubs, Birmingham’s Rum Runner plays a starring role. Happy nights – life was good down the Rum Runner and the city’s many other strange nightspots including Blues, warehouse parties and one nighters where we’d party till dawn. I carried on clubbing for many years after, but eventually it lost its lustre, becoming too commercial and law abiding.

The new Premiership Rugby starts tonight, but sadly not on my television. And I was disappointed not to be able to watch England’s first game of the new Autumn Nation’s Cup[3], essentially the Six Nations with the addition of Georgia and Fiji [4]. Along with most of the other games, it was only being shown on Amazon Prime. I try to avoid Amazon, virtue signalling or for fear of Melmoth? Fortunately, a friend has provided me with a password and I can watch all games from now on, starting with England/Ireland tomorrow afternoon, will Melmoth bear witness?

Anyway, gotta’ go. Not sure to what, I’ll find something – the new normal weekend starts here.


[1] Most tales tell of Melmoth as male

[2] A terrible name, but the one that stuck; I prefer ‘the cult with no name’, but it was a bit of a mouthful

[3] Unsurprisingly, they beat Georgia 40-0

[4] Sadly, due to Covid infection in the camp, Fiji now look unable to take part in the competition

Posted by: Michael Holliday | November 6, 2020

‘Twas if Covid had never happened

Here we are again, stuck back in lockdown for at least another month; still, despite having to hang up me Speedos, it’ll be good for my liver and good for my pocket. But winter lockdown doesn’t feel as easy as the spring one, so not good for my head – swings and roundabouts; tough on businesses though. Fortunately, it wasn’t unexpected and I’d been getting out and about a bit before the new lockdown began yesterday. This week was spent doing the Hinckley doss and helping the Elbow Room empty its barrels, we did a particularly good job of that on Wednesday making the most of our final night out. Yesterday, I watched Casablanca, perfect winter lockdown viewing.

Walking home late one night last week, I was joined by two Russian (?) lads. Having just been dropped off from an ER outing to the Boiler Room in Leamington – taxied to and fro’, great beer, company and pizza, many thanks to the organizer, I’d enjoyed a bellyful and wasn’t sober but, in comparison to Grigori and his mate, I was aware and coherent. They insisted that I drink one of the many cans of Heineken they were carrying and kept me entertained with their broken English and more physical contact than is currently advised as they escorted me home. Nostrovia. A splendid way to end a splendid evening, ‘twas as if Covid had never happened.

Friends came over last Friday and we took a trip out to local beauty spot: Bradgate Park, which is home to hundreds of deer who are currently enjoying their rutting season. We saw loadsa’ deer but no rutting. After a short stroll, we enjoyed the afternoon/evening in the Shilton Vaults (A micropub in Earl Shilton, where my mate had once lived, and sister pub to Hinckley’s Pestle & Mortar) and wondered for how much longer we would be allowed to continue such conviviality.

On Saturday morning I woke to the answer to the above and even worse news: the RFU have cancelled all competitive rugby from tier 3 down, meaning that National League 1 Moseley will not play at all this season. This has serious financial and physical implications for us and all other clubs affected, many are unlikely to survive.  Owing to the latest lockdown, there’s a lack of any income at the moment so the mighty Mose can keep my season ticket money, but it won’t keep them afloat for long.

On a brighter note, Saturday was ‘Super Saturday’, the day that this year’s Six Nations would be eventually decided and I spent the day watching all three games, with a break for Mr. Johnson’s ‘We’re fucked’ speech and a brief visit to the ER. The outcome of the Wales/Scotland game was of little importance, but I was happy to see the underdog Scots gain their first victory in Wales in 18 years. England had to stuff Italy in Rome, they did ok by winning with the necessary bonus point and a 29 points difference. So, it was all down to the final, night, game; a bonus point win for Ireland would earn them the Championship, a victory by 32 points would see France lift the cup. Happily, France won by just 8 points and that was that. Congratulations to our women’s team who thrashed Italy 54-0, gaining them their second successive Grand Slam. There’s a revised, expanded competition: The Autumn Nations Cup, coming up in two weeks, it’s likely to be the only rugby that I get to see for the rest of the season.

And I’ve been reading. Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Spain’s most read author since Cervantes, died in June of this year, aged 55. Last week I read the final part of his Cemetery of Forgotten Books tetralogy[1]: The Labyrinth of Spirits and enjoyed immensely, as I did the previous three books. It’s a long, 800 page, Gothic jobbie, set in Franco’s Barcelona which took up half of my week. Here’s what Zafón had to say about his intentions for his project on the launch of the first book: The Shadow of the Wind

So what I did was take what for me is very important, which is take all the great ambition in all those 19th-century novels, but try to reconstruct those big novels – the Tolstoy, the Dickens, the Wilkie Collins – but try to reconstruct all of that with all the narrative elements that the 20th century has given us, from the grammar of cinema, from multimedia, from general fiction, from everything that is out there, to create a much more intense reading experience for the readers.

Occasionally, a little Dan Brownish, but excellent stuff nevertheless.

Earlier, I’d read Ali Smith’s Summer, the final part of her seasonal quartet[2]. For the past four years, Smith has written and published a book addressing the state of the (divided) nation in real time and does she have material – Trump and his Poundland British counterpart: Johnson, Corbyn, Brexit, racism, terrorism, general intolerance of, and nastiness to, ‘The Other’, and now, Coronavirus. The books are beautifully produced, with David Hockney providing the dust jackets, and combine to form a true treasure. I’ve always loved her work; this is her masterpiece. I also listened to Pat Barker’s Regeneration (1991), an interesting, well written concept, part history/part fiction, set in a mental hospital in First World War Britain and featuring the war poets; honestly bleak, it’s a timely reminder of the horrors of war. It’s the first in a trilogy, I’m not sure if I’ll get round to the other two.

Anyway, gotta go – off to what? I’m not sure, a chilly bike ride perhaps and to wonder if the good folk of the USA could have possibly voted for 4 more years of their bigoted oaf? Still, it’ll be over by tomorrow and Covid will all be over by Christmas, just like the Great War, or so we’re told. Uhm…


[1] The Shadow of the Wind (2009), The Angel’s Game (2009), The Prisoner of Heaven (2012) & The Labyrinth of Spirits (2018)

[2] Autumn (2017), Winter (2018), Spring (2019) and Summer (2020)

Posted by: Michael Holliday | October 23, 2020

Of cards and cash

Since the beginning of this corona crisis, few businesses seem interested in accepting cash money, consequently it’d been a long time since I’d taken any out of the bank[1]; but you can’t play cards with a credit card and, the other week I hit the ATM, just before five of us Companions headed to Stoke on Trent for a boy’s weekend away. We stayed a few nights in a, newly-renovated, large terraced house in Hanley, which is really the town centre, a short bus ride away from Stoke station. This is why last time we visited Stoke (Which is an amalgam of 6 towns[2], although it’s known as the five towns?) several years ago, we couldn’t find the place and spent the whole day complaining about the lack of pubs. Hanley has over 15 pubs. We only did three: Wetherspoons: the Reginald Mitchell[3] a functional old large market hall, with incredibly cheap beer (£1 a pint, or £1.69 for the good stuff), it did a job and fed us a few times. We spent much time in the Auctioneer, where they allowed us to play cards all afternoon; illegal but, as long as we bought a lot of beer (at under £12 for five pints, it would have been impolite not to) and kept the notes off of the table, nobody seemed to mind.

Each evening we had OK grub and our final beers in the Birches Head, just opposite our house, before getting kicked out early, in compliance with the covid curfew. This didn’t matter too much as we carried on playing cards back home; in fact, we played cards most of the weekend – three card brag, our favourite (only?) game. In the pub we realised that we’d got a short deck, only 38 cards, surprisingly it made no difference. Back at the house we played with a full Belgian deck which made no difference either. Over the weekend, two of the Companions lost a fortune and the rest of us did very well; I was delighted to win on both a 5 and a 6 high, together with many other marvellous hands and go home with a bag full of cash – I won’t be needing the ATM again for some time.

Hanley itself has, as most other town centres these days, seen far better days; much of it, including the once-renowned Theatre Royal, now closed down. Did I ever tell you that I first trod the boards at the Theatre Royal? Probably not, it’s a very old story and it wasn’t my finest moment. I digress. Yep, Hanley’s a bit of a dump, but it’s got a new INTU shopping centre, a TK Maxx, a felafel shop, and the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in which I spent a few fascinating hours on the Saturday morning. It’s a large place stuffed with unimaginable amounts of pottery, including world-beating collections of cow cream jugs, frog mugs, highly ornate traditional China and some interesting Avant Garde stuff. There’s also a presentable gallery: loadsa’ late 19th/early 20th century work, including a wall of Lowrys and an unusual John Collier (a group of Anarchists discussing a bomb plot, complete with a cartoon-style round bomb), together with the usual local historical & geographical stuff and, as with all municipal galleries, its stuffed animal collection is now tastefully displayed in informative tableaux; it also has an original Spitfire, which was off for a clean and polish. Overall, worth the time, especially as, once booked, it was free.

So, against any expectation, our first boy’s weekend away in ages was just fine, many thanks to the organiser. I’m not sure when/if, the ever-increasing, covid restrictions will allow us away again.

Other than that, here in a Tier 1 region[4], it’s been quiet; all the larger places around us (Leicester, Birmingham, Nottingham and, from tonight, Coventry & Stoke too) have been designated as Tier 2 – how long do we have left?

Last Friday, we enjoyed a day out in nearby Market Harborough, which is always worth the occasional visit, and the following day was devoted to rugby on TV. I saw the first full games that I’d seen since March. Firstly, the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final: favourites Leeds Rhinos against Salford Red Devils, it was the first League game that I’d seen in many years and, despite being unsure of the laws, especially as new covid ones had been introduced, I enjoyed 80 minutes of non-stop end to end stuff. Unfortunately, Salford lost (17-16) to a drop goal in the final minutes but it was exciting viewing. After a break for beers and a Chinese meal in the Sharnford Arms with Boy number 3 and his girlfriend, I went back home to watch the proper game: Exeter narrowly defeating (31-27) Racing 92 in the European Champions Cup final, another 80 minutes of non-stop action. It was a shame that both games were played in empty stadia (Wembley & Bristol’s Ashton Gate), that the victors had to pick up their own medals, and that celebrations had to be muted.

And I’ve been doing a few books. Paul Murray’s The Mark and The Void (2015) tells of the lives of a group of merchant bankers in Dublin at the time of the collapse of the Celtic Tiger. Overlong and overcomplicated, I found it disappointing, especially after I’d enjoyed his Skippy Dies (2010) so much. But it was informative as to how silly money is ‘created’ and ‘lost’. I did like the feeling of horror a, would-be, safe breaker had when he discovered that there were no safes in these banks, in fact there was no money. Uhm…

Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea (2019), the follow up to her first novel, The Night Circus, was eight years in the writing and worth the wait. It’s an abstract, magical and puzzling book about magic, puzzles, books and storytelling; and is packed with over 1001, often obscure, literary references. I was intrigued from start to end, that’s if it has ended. Highly recommended, I won’t tell you any more about it – find out for yourself. Dostoevsky’s The Idiot (1868) has been on my list for many years and, last week, I gave it a go. It tells of a tragic love triangle and, whilst much happens in the book, the far too many characters with far too many similar names, each name with far too many syllables, meant that I got a bit lost in it – I can’t tell you who did what to whom. Needless to say, as with many of the Russian classics, it’s long, deep and ends in tears. Now I can make a start on my birthday books.

Anyway, gotta’ go – off for a day exploring Leicestershire’s antique/junk places, en route, I may stop off at a country pub.

[1] March 13th to be exact

[2] Stoke, Burslem, Fenton, Hanley, Longton & Tunstall

[3] Named after local lad, R.J. Mitchell who invented the Spitfire fighter plane

[4] In years to come this will be forgotten so, for posterity…..

Posted by: Michael Holliday | October 9, 2020

Birthday boy on the beach

It’s been a pretty good couple of weeks. To begin, a straightforward five hour (mostly motorway) drive saw us down in Lyme and in our, beach hut, holiday home for the week, it was good to be back. Despite storms elsewhere, for the most part, the weather was unexpectedly kind and we enjoyed a relaxing time doing very little. Only on one day was it totally foul, we’d driven over to Sidmouth when the storm hit us; we came home early, dried off and hunkered down watching the waves and the wind and the rain, with a bottle of wine, a new book and iPod sounds – no wi-fi on the beach. The sea was chilly, but it was pleasant mooching round and about (Lyme itself, together with nearby Seaton & Beer) usually in the sun. Unfortunately, one of Lyme’s micro-pubs: Gyle @ 59, had closed down[1], but the Lyme Bay Brewery Tap, provided us with much good beer and very friendly, pretty bar staff. The town’s other pubs sell average, over-priced beer and are touristy; but for the Volunteers’ Arms, now probably the only real pub left in the town, but again offering average beer only.

The one downer on the whole holiday was adhering to the covid restrictions – incessant hand sanitising, on/off face masking, NHS apping and early closing; they were taking it very seriously down there. Half empty pubs were mostly ‘full’ and it was near impossible to get a seat anywhere without pre-booking, but we managed and enjoyed 10pm moonlit strolls along Monmouth’s pebbly beach back to the hut and would spend a happy hour or so with a few drinks and tunes of old, before climbing up the ladder to bed and sleeps, with stars overhead and the sounds of the sea all night long.

My birthday was on the Friday, we checked out early and drove eastwards along the coast to spend a day in Bridport. I like Bridport, there’s a laid back, leftfield vibe about the place and it’s got lotsa’ interesting antique/junk/charity shops. Whilst most of its pubs are ok, they’re usually tied to Palmers (the town brewery) their beers are indifferent [2]. Consequently, I was delighted to discover the Pursuit of Hoppiness, a micro-pub on the High Street. It was here that I enjoyed some Tiny Rebel and my best pint of the holiday: Brew York’s Juicy Pale, and then it was time to head off to Poole for the evening.

We’d booked a room in the RNLI’s training college on the harbour, I’ve told you about this before – good rooms, spectacular sea/harbour views and with all profits going to the RNLI. Having checked in, I got to see my first TV news of the week (Mr Trump and his chums’ catching of covid – poetic justice?) before heading out to the nearby Brewhouse & Kitchen to share a birthday meal (macaroni cheese and chunky chips for me please, it’s my birthday) and a few drinks with one of my oldest friends – it’s good to catch up. Again, the only problem was that by 9.15 they were chivvying us out – bloody covid.

We intended to meet up again on the Saturday morning, but it was such a shitty day, (Storm Alex) and we didn’t fancy the long drive home in soaking wet kit, that we drove straight back after a decent breakfast. Road conditions were atrocious, so we avoided the motorway and stuck to the Roman Road (Fosse Way) all the way home, stopping off for a break at the Fossebridge Inn along the way, but it was a nasty day/drive. We were pleased to arrive home in one piece, say hello to Eddie, have a bit of grub and a Corry catch-up fest in front of the fire – winter is coming.

After a lazy morning, I was happy to spend Sunday late afternoon/evening in the Elbow Room – convivial company, a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday and lotsa’ free beer, thank you all. We managed to maintain covid compliance by sitting on several, socially distanced tables outside underneath their new heated canopy. And that was my birthday week. I also received many birthday wishes, cards, and presents (a pile of books: the latest Ali Smith and David Mitchell novels; Ruiz Zafón’s final volume of The Cemetery of Forgotten Books[3]; a massive Malcolm McLaren biography; Viv Albertine’s and Richard Dawkins’ latest offerings; a Mindfulness book (?); a photo book of Michael (from earliest days to the end of a life in specs); a new Bianchi speedo for my bike, an old man’s crocheted blanket and a USB charger pack – not bad eh? Thanks again all.

And then it was Monday morning, raining and back to a reality of sorts. This week has been wet and fairly quiet but hey, I don’t care ‘cause I’m off with a few of the Companions, on a boys’ weekend away. Gotta’ go – off to catch a train; I’ll tell you all about Stoke on Trent (it wasn’t my choice; you take what you can get these strange covid days) next time.

[1] Many of the nation’s pubs failed to reopen after lockdown was lifted, many more are not expected to survive the latest restrictions

[2] It’s often hard to find a decent pint in the south west

[3] A marvellous tetralogy, check it out

Posted by: Michael Holliday | September 25, 2020

Six months later

117444417_185657802924272_7071145177592223478_nSix months after this covid crisis began, I was anticipating our illustrious leader’s Tuesday night address to the nation in a state of selfish foreboding – what if Mr Johnson[1] were to announce an immediate return to full lockdown? Whappen’ my birthday holiday next week?  As it turned out, I’d little to fear; calling for discipline and national sacrifice, he smirked his way through a sub-Churchillian ramble of our war against the invisible enemy, told us that  we had to be out of the pub by 10pm (and you know I’m an early doors man me), imposed on us a few more minor inconveniences, and reassured us that we’d have the army for added protection. I’m not alone in thinking that his pronouncements probably didn’t go far enough and that there’ll be more serious shit later in the year – bet hey, I’m off to Lyme on Monday. Sadly, it looks as if there won’t be any rugby for us at Moseley till the spring or later. But six months down, six to go? Half way through? We can not know.

OIP (7)rbWith corona cases consistently rising, we were expecting a sooncome lockdown and have been trying to get out a bit and do stuff we whilst could. We’ve spent the last two Friday afternoons in exotic climes. Firstly, in nearby Rugby – a town that’s seen far better days. But it made for a change as we stopped off at the Rugby Tap (micro-pub) and the Merchant’s Inn (macro-pub, with the largest collection of old beer/brewery signs that you ever did see – a veritable museum of breweriana), the beer was alright too.

OIP (6)Last Friday, we nipped over to Leamington, which retains its prosperity, and enjoyed a sunny stroll down the (traffic free to aid social distancing) Parade and through Victoria Park, along the River Leam, to Jephson Gardens – a pleasant afternoon. Having pre-booked a slot, we popped in the art gallery/museum and had a mooch round – nothing amazing but good to see some real, as opposed to virtual, art and I like the spa/baths memorabilia; the gallery was built in the old Spa Baths/Pump Rooms and retains several original features, including a very splendid Hamman from the original Turkish Baths suite. Worth a look and free to all.

Later we went to the, recently opened, Boiler Room – the town’s first micro pub and the brainchild of Elbow Room regulars. It’s larger than the ER, with a similar look and feel, but presently a smaller keg/cask beer offer which I’m sure will expand once the students are back at Warwick, if they are allowed out. There, we met up with friends for a few pints, followed by a few more at the Old Library opposite, before grabbing a bag of chips and an early night. You take what you can get in theses strange covid days.

118458932_3326746080696681_4029571023688357134_nLikewise, we spent the two Saturday afternoons sitting on the grass in Argents Mead (the town centre park) listening to live acts from the bandstand, courtesy of the local council. The sun shone throughout both afternoons as hundreds took advantage of the free concerts. The first afternoon featured WMD, a trio of old guys doing passable covers of well-known hits of the last 50 years. Last Saturday, it was the turn of local boy and ex Hinckley Town FC manager, Dean Thomas doing his best interpretations of Sinatra and other swinging crooners. Neither act was brilliant, but it was the first live music that most of us had heard in months and provided a few hours of R&R in the sun, before spending both Saturday evenings at the ER running up a high bar tab. You take what you can get in these strange covid days.

Last Sunday evening, I enjoyed a covid-compliant (maintaining the, highly specific, scientifically proven, ‘rule of six’) private party at the Winchester club and got to watch Leicester rise to the top of the soccer charts, Brighton had won earlier in the day – double bonus. And on Tuesday a few friends came over to join me in a long country walk to Dadlington (a pint of Frothblowers at the Dog & Hedgehog); Stoke Golding, birthplace of the Tudor dynasty, remember? (a pint of Fallen Angel at the George & Dragon) and back home through the Hollycroft Estate (a pint of Pedigree at the Flintlock). People were out in their droves, enjoying the dying days of our wonderful summer: azure skies and eternal sunshine – a real holiday feel. But, sitting outside the Flintlock, those skies darkened as the wind got up and everybody knew that their summer was over, time to go home. On Wednesday it rained, all day.

OIP (8)And that was that, nothing much else to report, although I did read Ian Mc Ewan’s latest book: Machines Like Me and thought it his best since Atonement (2001). Without giving too much away, it’s set in an alternative Britain of the early 1980’s, yet with technology far in advance of todays – the internet, self-driving cars and ‘Synths’ already in existence. Margaret Thatcher has just lost the Falklands War and Tony Benn has been elected in response – cue all sorts of mischievous antics. Alan Turing plays a major role in what is essentially a discussion about AI and what it is to be human – if and when does sentience begin in a synthetic creation? A good pub conversation.

Anyway, gotta’ go – off to sort out my bucket and spade for next week, my holiday starts here.

[1] Formally known as the nation’s Poundland Trump, hereafter to be known as our Poundland Churchill

Posted by: Michael Holliday | September 11, 2020

Check your privilege

And so it continues, a limboland of nothing much other than the odd day out to break the routine of cycling; walking; swimming; reading; watching TV, including Films, Corry, Uni C., Harlots and BBC News; doing me chores; and paying occasional visits to the Elbow Room, including a fun birthday party the other Sunday – thank you both. It’s not a bad life, merely mundane and now that the nights are growing longer and with corona cases rising daily, I just hope that we don’t all have to return to lockdown – it’ll be much harder to tolerate in winter.

msa

Anyway, last Saturday we drove over to Billesley for the MSA’s AGM, the sun shone so the meeting was held outside. I was hoping to find out when we’d resume playing and how/if spectating would work. Alas, there was nothing to tell – nobody has any idea, possibly November? Possibly December? It’s a pain. But it was good to have a beer and catch up with some of the Moseley faithful again, it had been a long time; not surprisingly, the pitch was looking perfect. Afterwards, I rather fancied doing the Kings Heath/Moseley doss with its Golden Mile of charity shops, but ended up sitting in the sun outside the Coach & Horses in Weatheroak, one of my long-favourite pubs (that brews its own beer and does the second best cheese and onion rolls ever) instead – it made for a pleasant, lazy afternoon.

tttThe previous Saturday, we’d caught the bus over to Leicester for a mooch round. The town was fairly busy, the streets looking much healthier than those of Birmingham of a few weeks back, but the only shop queues were outside the Apple Store and Sports Direct – an unlikely pairing. I bought nothing, but visited three pubs: the Salmon, a CAMRA award winning, traditional backstreet boozer; the Blue Boar, ditto, but with the best cheese & onion rolls ever; and the Two-Tailed Lion, a small upmarket hipster place offering the best beer of the day. It was a long, pained bladder, bus journey back home.

qyCall it susceptibility to publishers’ marketing[1], surfing the zeitgeist, or mere chance; whatever the reason, the last three books that I’ve read have all been written recently by black writers detailing the experiences of black people living in Britain today. Candice Carty-Williams’ Queenie, starts out as a modern-day Bridget Jones, but ends up with protagonist, Queenie Jenkins, suffering a mental breakdown along the way – sometimes funny, othertimes a difficult read. Girl Woman Other by Bernadine Evaristo, a rightful joint winner[2]gwo of last year’s Booker prize, introduces us to twelve vaguely linked, often, gay characters (the vast majority female, with a couple of trans/binary – it’s complicated) whose stories merge to offer a picture of black British lives over several generations. The book has no real plot, but ends with a warm and comforting coda; sometimes funny, othertimes a difficult read – highly recommended.

The Life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah[3] is our own Renaissance Rastaman’s autobiography and tells of his badboy life in Birmingham, Liverpool & London, by way of Jamaica, and ending up in rural Lincolnshire, respectable and mostly respected/accepted. I enjoyed this book the most as it took me back to Birmingham (Lower Moseley and Balsall Heath) in the seventies when, as an honorary blackman/token whiteman, I’d hang out in late-night, interesting clubs and blues parties andbz lose myself in heavy, heavy dub & bass, Red Stripe and too much smoke; it also confirmed that strong bond between punks and Rastas – though cheap speed was our preferred high at the time.

Reading the three books in such a short space of time proved a little overwhelming as I was being bombarded with reminders of the racism (both direct & indirect) and ensuing problems faced by black people today; together with the ways in which we all often mistreat each other, especially women, and how fortunate I was to have be born into a relatively entitled life. It made me uncomfortable and forced me to stop and think – check your privilege boy. Or should I just start believing the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail or Daily Express, stop worrying about my woke concerns and blame all our current woe on ‘the other’, as directed?

pppLast Sunday, I got a message asking me to check out episode 4 of Tongue and Talk: The Dialect Poets on Radio 4 later that afternoon. New to me, I listened and was surprised and delighted to hear a friend: Emma Pursehouse presenting the programme, which was dedicated to Black Country poets, of which she, as a member of the Poets, Prattlers & Pandemonialists collective, is one of the best. I remember well the time that I first heard her perform Put a Penny in my Slot, a fave poem of mine eversince she delivered it loudly and directly into my face; catch up with Emma and her friends on BBC Sounds, or take a look on YouTube where you can find several of her performances.

epFinally, goodbye and thank you to Diana Rigg who, as Emma Peel, provided pre-pubescent Michael with his first naughty fantasies and later could  always be relied on to play any role expertly – requiescat in pace.

Anyway, gotta go – the weekend starts here. I’m off for a sunny stroll, before taking a trip to Rugby (the Town, not a game) to pick up some bathroom paint – rock ‘n roll eh?

[1] Though I had all three on a free loan

[2] The 2019 Booker Prize was shared for the first time; Margaret Atwood was the other recipient for her book The Testaments, a follow up to The Handmaid’s Tale of 1985

[3] Lately of Peaky Blinders fame

Posted by: Michael Holliday | August 28, 2020

Bath time again

I first visited Bath in 1975 when I spent a few months working for Jean Jeanie/Chelsea in their Westgate Street branch. I continued to regularly visit till the early 80s, having decided that I was to live in Bath – on Great Pultney Street to be precise. That I had a small salary only and no savings, soon put paid to that idea and, apart from an educational conference in 1997[1], I hadn’t returned. So, I was delighted to take my first post-lockdown holiday in the city last week. We stayed at the central, comfortable (despite covid-precautions) Francis Hotel and did the sights and shops. Unfortunately, the rooftop baths had yet to reopen as had the Victoria Gallery and I was unable to have a dip or visit the much-anticipated Toulouse Lautrec and The Masters of Montmartre exhibition[2].  Though I did get to make my first gallery visit in six months; I went to see Grayson Perry’s The Pre-therapy Years exhibition at the Holburne, largely colourful (often naughty) plates and vases, it was OK, but the one-way system in a face mask prevented any lingering.

The pubs were fine, beer good if expensive, and generally with far fewer covid restrictions than back at home and very little evidence of track and trace systems in place, but for at the Bath Ale House – no fun with its 100% app-based system. We ‘Ate Out to Help Out’ on two evenings; due to the 50% discounts, food pubs were very busy, whilst some tourists had returned, the town remained quiet, yet it was still the liveliest place that I’d seen since the middle of March.

On our final day it rained continuously, real rain – most unpleasant and we left early, stopping off in Worcester to exchange presents with the outlaws. Along with some new prayer flags, I received a hand-decorated Staffordshire Knot belt, but not the one that I was expecting, cue much merriment. It was good to catch up.

On our return, much to (already neglected) Eddie’s dismay, we did a few days dogsitting: Rolo the big black lab – it made a change. I used to have dogs in a previous life and thought that on retirement I’d have another, but with such responsibility (and such quantity of poo) – I’m too selfish for the life change. And this week, again to Eddie’s dismay, we’ve been babysitting: Boy number 6 (aged 7¼) – Eddie and I have been keeping out of the way where possible. Midweek, we returned him to Coalbrookdale and enjoyed a sunny stroll to Ironbridge and back, stopping off for a swift half at the Coracle, and returned that night for a 50% off meal at the Ye Old Robin Hood by the river. We drove back yesterday in the rain – a truly miserable day.

A friend gave us the loan of Rachel Johnson’s Rake’s Progress, which I picked up and read through, short and simple. It wasn’t the autobiography that I’d been expecting, but an account of her role in the short-lived, Anti-Brexit, CHANGE UK party and their disastrous failing in last year’s election. Interesting stuff, with a bit of an insight into her brother Al (Boris to the right-wing media and his electorate). I particularly liked her thoughts on his achieving his prime ambition:

I have no Agenda other than what’s best for our country’, the PM stormed at the dispatch box.

I thought that my brother’s judgement had failed him on this basis. There was no deal that we could ever do with the EU that would be better than the one that we already had. I felt that he had backed the wrong side, quite possibly not for selfless reasons. But his rat-like nose for power – and channelling the sublime instincts and soaring desires of the British people – could not ever be doubted.’

She also reminds us of Dave Cameron’s dictum, which becomes increasingly apparent daily: ‘Logical argument verses emotional argument equals political defeat’ and came up with a new term: catastrofuck, to describe it all. I like Rachel Johnson.

Other than that, life continues and, hopefully, avoiding any further lockdown, will continue to improve. Premiership Rugby restarted two weeks ago (albeit behind closed doors) and Moseley have begun training, but we’ve still no idea of when we’ll play our first game and if spectators will be allowed – ideally, I’ll find out more next Saturday when we pop over to Billesley for the MSA’s AGM.

Anyway, gotta’ go – gotta’ nip to Leicester, on a quick mission.

À la recherche du temps perdu

It was early evening, a fine June evening. The restuarant was mock Italian, mock arty and, but for a pair of middle-aged diners, empty. It was just up from the Theatre Royal and the adjoining Garrick’s Head – happy memories: playing with the thespians. Outside the blackboard was clear, the food sounded interesting and edible. So, in I went. I sat at the nearest table, for two.

‘Will anyone be joining you tonight?’ the waitress asked cheerfully.

‘Sadly, no’ I replied sadly.

White candles, blue flowers, red wine and Ella getting misty in the background. The food came quickly – microwaved job, disappointingly minimal and expensive. No matter, last time I was in Bath all that I could afford was chips. Now that it was on expenses, I could have what I liked. I wish that I’d had chips. Anyway…

Bath. Once, and for a long time, my favourite city. A place of memories, dreams and aspiration. B. and I would live here. Great Pultney Street would do. We were young, naive and in love.

I first came in 1974. I managed the shop on Westgate Street, Chelsea as it was. The old manager sacked on Saturday night; I took over on Monday morning. Good shop, good position, good takings, staff fine and mice in the Afghan coats. Wish you were here.

I stayed a month or so that first time, nipping home at weekends. I proudly opened my first bank account – Pump Room branch, and never looked back. I stayed mostly in the Edgar, Great Pultney Street; once in the Royal Crescent itself – Bath was cheaper then. Despite occasionally being lonely in the evenings, I had fun and a series of adventures typical to those days when both times and I were more liberated and exciting.

The Royal Crescent, 1980

There was Amy, shortly to die, living for the moment determined to enjoy every last minute. Her friends and new experiences: one big happy, incestuous, family. Sometimes I wonder about Amy – did she die?

There was my 17th birthday celebrated with friends in Bristol – I’d told all that it was my 21st. Drinking Noilly Prat all day and Pernod all night, I got totally pissed, missed the last train, and had to give an angel passing by a fiver to sort out a taxi to take me back. I’d phoned my mother that night, first time I’d spoken to her in years, I don’t know what I said.

There was Marly, half Maori, and her two friends – total liberation. An evening on the town and a night never to be forgotten. Why did they have to continue around Europe the next day?

There was the party in the flat above the shop. There were the mice; the Laurel & Hardy pinball; Coke machines and Le Monde – ever the pretentious bugger. And then there was the thespians of Godspell. A week of playing the lovvie groupie. And darling I loved it.  And then there was…

Royal Crescent 2020

I was 17 and life was good and I was happy, and I was sad when, for the last time, I left. Sad goodbyes and Wish you were Here the latest Floyd album, my parting present from the shop staff. For a long time, Bath was on my mind.

A few years later I met B., having lived in Somerset she too knew Bath. We came down occasionally. The first time that I met her mother was in Bath, she in her Bath suit: me in tight pink sweater and dangling earrings. We met in the Roundhouse or the keys pub as we knew it – the keys are now gone. The meeting was not a success…

The years passed and B. and I occasionally returned. But things were changing as they do. The pinball machines went, the baths closed and designer shops opened. Even more Americans abounded. Slowly, sadly, Bath lost its appeal to places more real.

And here I am now back, alone, as occasionally in the old days. Sitting in this Italian place, wondering (half wishing?) if tonight I’ll find adventure as I did in those days. An evening starting alone and ending in passion, never to be forgotten.

As to why I’m here? International conference circuit my dear. On the outside things may have changed. I try to talk the talk: walk the walk. But in reality, I’m no more than I was then: a little boy lost in a wondrous world, alone, lonely and looking for adventure and what ever comes my way.

Later that night and still alone. I had to resort to the football – life and death for all the pub and most of the world. England lost. So. And now what? In search of lost memories; but the town is not the same, but there’s always tomorrow night.


[1] I wrote about this back in 1997: Bath Alone, as part of For Jo Grand, I’ve appended it below should you wish to read it

[2] I did view the virtual exhibition on line, but it was difficult to get a feel of the size of some of those posters

Posted by: Michael Holliday | August 14, 2020

Enjoying Summer Safely?

article-2350232-1A8BE6DB000005DC-316_634x555Last weekend, I made my first post-lockdown trip to Leamington and enjoyed a very sunny, sweaty stroll round the Warwickshire villages. I was dismayed to see just how far and how fast the HS2 development (destruction?) works had advanced in the six months that I’d been away. Large swathes of land flattened and fenced, previously accessible ancient woodlands near Cubbington and Offchurch barbed-wired off and now (in an effort to dissuade protesters) heavily patrolled; and centuries old rights of way diverted, adding miles to several routes. On the upside, they’re planting thousands of new trees and several posh new, if rather sterile, footpaths have been constructed – nobody can get lost and, for a few years, the paths won’t turn into a quagmire in the winter. But, if that’s what HS2 is doing to a small section of the country, what will be the overall effect on our environment when works are eventually completed?woodland-trust-map-1_3504023

Back in Leamington, after a wash and some excellent grub (mushroom pasanda, thank you) we strolled down to The Hope & Anchor, which had only re-opened the previous week, for our first Companions’ card game since this covid crisis started. Convivial company, competitively-priced Adnams’ bitter and all night 3 card brag provided excellent entertainment, and the satisfaction of winning on a 5 high[1] more than made up for the money that I lost overall; a moonlit stroll up the lane home to bed by 1 – what wasn’t to like? It was good to be back. I realised that this was my first night away from Hinckley in over five months and that had, probably, been the longest that I’d ever gone in my life continuously sleeping in the same bed. Strange times.

A psychiatrist might suggest that it’s something to do with a sob-inducing backstory, or it may be that I’m just a miserable bugger – I dunno’ but, whatever the reason, I’ve never had any great innate love of family. The one I’ve found myself in, seems enamoured with the whole family lark to the extent the materfamilias was delighted to welcome the whole, ever-expanding, tribe (currently comprising: boys 1 – 6, girls 1 – 5 & Rolo, the black Lab) over for a garden party a couple of weeks back. Beer/pop was drunk, grub eaten, games played, the new baby toasted and a small scrap ensued, but I survived as did tri-pawed Eddie, who wasn’t too happy with Rolo and the rest. And on Sunday, we’re doing it all again round at boy number 2’s – families eh, who’d have ‘em?

harlotsAlong with the rest of the nation, I’m still watching far too much television and am loving Harlots, a naughty, colourful romp around regency London’s whorehouses, which seemed to owe half of its plot to Imogen Hermes Gower’s Mrs Hancock and The Mermaid (2018), but then I found out that Harlots was first broadcast, on ITV Encore, in 2017 – well. And I’ve been enjoying Little Birds, a new series on Sky Atlantic, based on Anaïs Nin’s posthumous (1989) but first written much earlier when she was working for a cheap pornography publisher, book of the same name; it tells of a pretty American ingenue’s sexual awakening in a decadent 1950’s Tangiers; it started out a little slow but it’s beautifully shot and is proving fresh and funny.OIP 8

I’ve also continued getting through books, both real and audio, and thought Evie Wylde’s The Bass Rock, one of the best I’ve come across in ages. It tells three tales of three women in three different time periods and the ways in which they are repeatedly mistreated by men; it was a hard hitting, unpleasant experience but… Stephen Fry’s Mythos (2017) a retelling of the Greek myths, was entertaining and educational, but with far too many similar sounding gods and monsters and the like, I found it a bit confusing. For light relief, I did a quick PG Wodehouse: Summer Lightening (1929); my most enjoyable recent book has to be Elena Ferrante’s third Neapolitan novel: Those who Leave and Those who Stay. It continues the diverging stories of Lenù and Lila, now aged around 30, it’s a warming comfort read and I’m saving the final book for the winter.br

Considering that this has been the longest that I’ve been without a dip since I started working on the baths in 1978, my swim on Wednesday morning wasn’t too bad. I strolled up to the pool to see if I could remember how to do it – a totally different experience: pre-book via an app, queue outside to be allocated a changing cubicle, change, leave your kit on the poolside, get in and swim in one of six free-for-all lanes, 45 minutes later be whistled out, dress and go home. No shower, no shave, no blow dry, no mirrors and no social chitchat either. I did a similar thing this morning. I miss, the guaranteed wash, the post- swim preening and the time saved at home – no doubt I’ll get used to it.

OIP (3)Other than that, life carried on through the hottest period in over 60 years – sunny/stormy walks and bike rides, local pubs visited (though mainly The ER) and I’ve Eaten out to Help Out. I think that I’m Enjoying Summer Safely, but I’m not sure just how well I’m abiding by the government’s increasing and ever-vague social distancing/safety guidelines, especially as every place I’ve visited has a different approach and systems, though I’m wearing my mask as required. We’ll see how things are next week, when we’re off to Bath for a few days on our first post-lockdown holiday.

Finally, respect to Nicola Sturgeon for having the decency to admit to her government’s cock up[2] and her immediate sincere apology, together with a swift resolution to the issue. It’s such a shame that her ‘world beating’, weasel-mouthed counterpart in Westminster can neither accept responsibility for any of his government’s many recent cock ups; nor, under any circumstances/fashion, apologise for any of those blatant failures. Never Apologise: Never Explain eh?

Anyway, gotta’ go – got a busy weekend to prepare for.

[1] A 5 high remember is the lowest possible hand that you can get in brag, any other hand is better than that – you can only win by bluffing

[2] The awarding of disappointing and often unfair grades to this year’s exam candidates in Scotland

Posted by: Michael Holliday | July 31, 2020

Ghost Town

113571425_2963065017135292_330043728461594979_nSo, I said to my dog ‘How do you feel?’ ‘Wruff’ he replied, which is exactly how I feel this morning. Many thanks to my pie eating mate who plied several of the ER crew with copious quantities of lovely beer and such last night on a grand farewell, hic. We’ll miss you, but hopefully meet up again – Wigan or Stockport on a Friday night?

My first, post-lockdown, venture into town the other week was surreal from beginning to end: masking-up to catch an empty train, arriving at an empty station (most shops etc. closed) and strolling around a deserted city, again with most shops closed. Wandering down Corporation Street, I saw more police than pedestrians or shoppers – this town really was becoming a ghost town (made me wonder what Coventry’s like) something from a post-apocalypse sci-fi film. I was disappointed to find both Waterstones and Foyles closed, I’m missing musing over new books. But I did get to TK Maxx, which seemed to be giving stuff away; for I bought two merino wool sweaters and a CCC T-shirt for £16; somebody else snapped up a £450 Moschino dress for £50 – bargains eh?colmore 1

I visited three pubs: The Wellington, The Good Intent and, a new one for me, The Colmore Tap (formerly the old {memory heavy} Standard Chartered Bank on Colmore Row) a Thornbridge Brewery house, which I’m sure under pre-covid circumstances would be a welcome addition to the city’s drinking dens. We met up with a friend, enjoyed chats, a few beers and a mini pizza each, before catching another empty train home – a strange day, but it was good to get out.

In another step towards new normality, I got me a hairtrim. A fairly simple process, involving on-line booking, a temperature check, near full PPE and a 50% price increase. But I’m worth it. It’s been the longest that I’ve been without a swim in many years (Ever?) and booking a slot for when the baths open again (August 10th) was far from easy, involving various apps and buying a membership; it took me 4 or 5 hours over a few days and a load of stress, but eventually I got there, with a little help from my friend, and I’ll be back in the water at 7.45 on August 12th. At 11.45 on Tuesday night, I tried signing up for a, tax-payer funded, £50 ‘fix my bike’ voucher (which would have got me a new tyre and tube, or lighting) but wasn’t surprised to find it crashed. But, two out of three ‘aint bad.

final-tableIn lieu of any real sport, I took an unusual (unnatural?) interest in the final few matches of the season’s soccer. By chance, I caught Brighton’s penultimate game, they needed one point to guarantee their Premiership survival and fortunately drew against Newcastle – Yo Seagulls. This meant that last Super Sunday’s games weren’t that important to me, but I spent the day avoiding the scores so that I could watch Match of the Day and see the final league table. With two out of three teams facing relegation, it was exciting down the bottom and I felt sorry for both Bournemouth and Watford but… The most interesting game was Leicester’s against Manchester United, many people round here are Foxes fans and would have loved a victory which would have given them a place in the Champions league, which guarantees a shedload of money, unfortunately it wasn’t to be; but Brighton actually won their game, which, for once, counted for little.

Of the footie, unfortunately I had to return my Campion Companion’s Crystal League trophy, back to its rightful owner, but I finished in a credible third place. Bring back rugby I say – Moseley’s first fixture is scheduled, against Rams, for September 5th at Billesley but I doubt we’ll start by then. Which is a great shame, ‘cause we’ve a game in Plymouth on the 12th and life on the Hoe is lovely in September.IMG_0865[1596]

 

With the easing of lockdown, I’ve now been to over ten different pubs, all of which have been following the government’s 48 page of guidelines on reopening, and have been surprised by the difference in their interpretation of those clear guidelines. At one end of the continuum, I’ve been made to wait to sign in, to be allocated a table and to order beer via an app; at the other end, I walked in, ordered from the bar and sat wherever I wanted, returning to the bar as I liked. And don’t get me going on the variations in hand gels, but it seems to be working – I’ve never had to wait too long and I’ve always had drinkable beer. Next week, I’ll probably be going out a bit more in the mid-week to take advantage of Mr Sunak’s, tax-payer funded, 50% dining discounts.

hhOther than that, life carries on, I’ve been back to Coalbrookdale and enjoyed a Sunday lunch en famille at The Hundred House, an over the top, historic posh pricey pub in the nearby village of Norton. We were given plenty of space in an airy marquee, good grub and acceptable beer. Best of all, were their wonderful, free to roam, enchanted gardens – a mini Portmeirion complete with more statuary than the Louvre, Rococo swings and its own Stonehenge – an excellent place to visit.

I was watching Corry the other night and was surprised to see that coronavirus had caught up with Weatherfield at last, adherence to any guidelines/restrictions seem terribly lax but there are a few, together with social distancing, in place. On a similar theme, I’ve mostly given up on The Archers, for it’s been reduced to naught but a series of dull, introspective, sub-Bennett, monologues on village life. Surely it can’t be too hard to record a real bit of Ambridge life?

Anyway, gotta’ go – off to sober up and enjoy the warmest day of the year so far, really appreciated as the weather’s been pretty shitty of late.

Posted by: Michael Holliday | July 17, 2020

Go. Check. Change.

OIP (1)Fortunately living in LE10, we were not included in the extended Leicester lockdown and were able to fully experience of easing of lockdown to ‘new normal’ from July 4th. So, by 11.59 am I was sitting outside The Elbow Room, in good company, with my first proper pint (Tiny Rebel, Fists of Fury) in 105 days – it was good to be back. On Sunday morning I had my first proper hangover in ages.

It had been a peculiar, unprecedented (as everything must be these days) lockdown and, on reflection, I can see that I did nothing of great importance or any value over that 105 days. But personally, slightly inconvenienced and physically unaffected, life wasn’t too bad for me – skies were bluer, pollutants fewer, my blood pressure dropped to its lowest level ever and my weight’s the least it’s been in twenty years. I’ve walked and cycled more, eaten well, drank considerably less and probably saved a fortune along the way – lockdown’s done me no harm.

OIP (2)In lieu of going out, I watched television – over forty films from Ealing comedies to Almodóvar and Tarantino by way of Romcom slush and Arthouse stuff. Of Particular note: Ken Russell’s Aria (1987), Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers (1997) and Karel Reiz’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981). I’ve played along with countless Pointless & Eggheads, after the Government’s daily Covid briefings and joined in numerous Zoom/YouTube quizzes. I’ve watched over twenty series, best of all, the second series of My Brilliant Friend closely followed by Brassic, Gangs of London, Staged and The Luminaries was gripping, if dark and confusing – and not as flowing as Eleanor Catton’s doorstep novel (2013). I’ve also seen numerous recent ‘live’ performances, NTL’s Frankenstein and Small World the best, and the BBC’s coverage of Glastonburys gone by excellent, cutting out all the crap and crowds, though two hours of an overdressed Bowie doing his old Anthony Newley impressions, back in 2000, was a little overlong.

Quichotte_(Rushdie_novel)I’ve usually been accompanied on my walks by an audiobook and, despite their length (up to 16 hours) got through 7 of them, including Salman Rushdie’s latest: Quichotte – a cross between Don Quixote and Pinocchio, stuffed with more cultural references than the V&A; and Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), which included an hour-long sermon (Diatribe?) on the wages of sin being eternal hellfire and damnation – they had a proper Vengeful God in Ireland back in the early days of the 20th century. I also read 9 real books, my favourite being Eleanor Ferrante’s The Story of a New Name, the second in her Neapolitan quartet, which I enjoyed a few weeks before I watched it on television. And that, with my weekly trip to Sainsbury’s and  a few garden parties thrown in, was all there was to the 105 days.

IMG_0862In celebration of lockdown easing, I declared the following week a holiday which meant little, other than it was acceptable to drink every day. On Wednesday, we took a trip to Burton with the intention of part-exchanging my 2009 Mini (The Moseley Minx) for an older ZX3, but decided against it and swiftly sold the Mini to a friend last Sunday – the speedstress is now looking for another sporty soft top. On Thursday, we went over to Coalbrookdale to say hello to Boy number 1’s new baby (Girl number 5), both mother and daughter looking good – congratulations all. We nipped into the next door Coalbrookdale Inn, one of my fave pubs, and was most disappointed by the double dearth of décor and decent beer. Many pubs are currently unable (Some unwilling?) to offer their usual range of beers – things can only get better.

This week has been quieter, more like lockdown, but I’m looking forward to going over to Birmingham later on for a first grand day out since this coronavirus crisis began. Other than meeting up with a mate, I’m not too sure what to expect, I know that BMAG and The Ikon are closed, but we’ll see what happens – I’ll let you know next time.

OIFFinally, it’s good to see that the, previously Government denied, magic money tree has flourished into a well-stocked forest and that the Chancellor is giving cash away in big billions – great stuff Mr Sunak. My only worry is that much of it will immediately end up in the pockets of the rich, but that’s the tories for you. And now they’re spending millions on an advertising campaign: UK’s New Start. Let’s Get Going and a traffic light – Check. Change. Go., to convince you that, the most-likely no deal Brexit, will be a piece of cake and that our nation will prosper once again in splendid isolation. Make Britain great again, simple as that – no sweat. On second thoughts, I think they should alter the message to read Go. Check. Change. for Brexit will leave us all, both financially and culturally poorer. 

Anyway, gotta’ go – got to contemplate Moseley’s (just released and subject to confirmation) fixture list for next season, before catching a train for the first time in several months, must sort out my face mask.

Posted by: Michael Holliday | July 3, 2020

In unprecedented anticipation of the ‘new normal’

Given that he’s the nation’s top tory, it’s no surprise that Mr. Johnson followed the advice of his economists over that of the epidemiologists and is allowing, indeed encouraging, us to exploit the next stage in the easing of lockdown, whilst still remaining alert. From tomorrow, July 4th, pubs, restaurants and many other hospitality/leisure venues will be reopening, but under restrictive covid rules. I’ll probably be able to get my hair trimmed but still no swimming, though I did try ‘static’ swimming, with a bungee-cord, in Boy number 2’s new larger pool – it wasn’t a great success.

All of this this is all dependent on how the authorities define Leicester, for you’ll have seen that earlier in the week, the lockdown was reintroduced in the city and several surrounding areas; I live in Hinckley, LE10 Leicestershire, currently outside of the lockdown area – official guidance is, as usual, vague.

So, I’ll find out at noon tomorrow how the town is responding to this new form of freedom. Ideally, we’ll be able to share a proper pint or two for the first time in 15 weeks, but I’m not sure if the additional restrictions will make the pub experience worthwhile. I’ll be waiting at the door at opening time tomorrow, unsure of what to expect – I’ll let you know next time, when hopefully the ‘new normal’ will have been established and I’ll have something of interest to write about. This suggests that I’m unlikely to be sharing repeat posts again.

In the meantime, here’s a final repeat which tells of an important anniversary: ten years ago, last Tuesday, I left the real world to begin my life as an idler, it began with my final e-mail to ‘all staff” at Henley:

It is not without regret that today, I say farewell to friends, colleagues, Henley and the greenery of the Sowe Valley; I’m off in search of art and poetry and rainbows and whatever. In the meantime, I’m available on m_addlestone@hotmail.com and I’ll soon be starting a new blog – www.michaelholliday.me.uk detailing an alternative life.

So, thanks for everything and hopefully I’ll see many of you on Friday afternoon at the Red Lion. Take care. Have Fun.

Mike

Mike Holliday, Director of Curriculum & Quality Assurance, Henley College Coventry

I then turned off my computer, walked out of the back door and have yet to return; apart from a few friends, and the salary, I’ve missed nothing of that former life. On reflection, the e-mail was a bit sickly and pretentious but I meant it – incidentally the Red Lion was packed.

A week later, on July 7th 2010, I published the first post of this Into Uncharted Waters blog: Work’s out. Let’s go, it began…

‘So, is that all there is to redundancy? Quite sharp and clinical, obviously neither totally unexpected nor wholly unwelcome and fairly liberating, if not a little frightening – all alone the great wide world with a future of possibilities unlimited. Work’s out. Let’s go.

It all started some time ago but only really got going at the end of May, a couple of formal meetings followed by two letters, a cheque, a handshake, my P45, and goodbye. So, I officially finished on Wednesday 30th June 2010 and was more moved than I thought I’d be on leaving, well it’d been over twenty years and, despite that I’d long had enough, no regrets are worth a tear. And that was the end of the tie.

‘What’ll you do?’ they all said and I replied that I’d a number of projects that needed attention, not least the exploration of the world of life as an Idler – that’s what this blog’s intended to be. Then there’s the Chatterton thingy; Mrs. Lagorio’s Diaries; a new Mr. Polly for our times; a photo project; the Compostela book; crap clearing and a bit more e-Baying; the garden; a minimum of a book a week read; my running, swimming, cycling and walking; the garden; a holiday or two; adventures and a few beers – will I ever find the time?

And now, ten years on? The art? The poetry? The rainbows and whatever? Dunno’, I can’t complain but, I feel that, whilst I’ve kept myself mostly happy and busy, I’ve not achieved as much as I ought to have done – should I be concerned? Looking back, it’s been an interesting, excellent, ten years and far more productive than sitting in tedious meetings or at a computer all day, so probably not.

Finally, if you’re interested in what happened after escaping Tibet, we had an exhilarating descent into Kathmandu, Nepal, where most of us stayed together as a group for a few weeks before moving to Pokhara for a trek round the mountains (including Annapurna base camp and Sanctuary), followed by a lakeside holiday; we then went our separate ways – me back home, in time for Christmas, via Delhi.

Anyway, gotta go and prepare for my ‘new normal’ life which begins tomorrow, possibly.

Posted by: Michael Holliday | June 19, 2020

A bit fed up, so back to Tibet

Another two weeks on and, other than a few meet ups with friends, I’ve still nothing much to report. I know that I’m now allowed to do ‘non-essential’ shopping, but don’t fancy queuing and the accompanying hassle; I want to go places, to see and do things, and enjoy a relaxing pint in the pub, but… I’m beginning to get fed up with being alert, all this lockdown lark and the current state of the world. For coronavirus aside, there’s our nation’s present and past racism to confront or deny; the reality of the greatest ever recession looming, and the ever-increasing likelihood of a highly damaging no-deal Brexit. Worse, daily it becomes increasingly apparent that Johnson, his aides and the nodding dog cabinet have no idea how to respond to any of this. Yes, I’m fed up. So, in lieu of nothing new and to cheer me up, I’m heading back to late 2007 with another two, abridged, old blog posts.

When I left off last time, I was on a slow boat to China where, on arrival, I enjoyed a few days revisiting Shanghai, which had developed dramatically since I was last there ten years? previously. I managed to obtain a, three-day maximum, Tibetan permit and sign the life disclaimer for my two day/night journey on the world’s highest train: the Skytrain to Lhasa. Here I managed to slip my mandatory guide, overstay my permit, enjoy a splendid time, meet up with several other Westerners, and find a way out of the place.

17 & 18           Lhasa & Seven Layers in Tibet (combined and abridged)

Apart from the farcical, expensive and time-consuming officialdom, Lhasa life was great – the sun shone most the time and the feeling was laid back. I was on holiday. The Tibetans are wonderful, the kids just like the ones I told you about in Shanghai of old – all smiles and giggles: ‘Nihow’, ‘Hello’. The younger, trendy ones insisted that we drink, heavily, with them; the older ones, in full national dusty and colourful kit, continually smiled. There were a few hawkers and beggars but it was all low key, no hassle. Even the Chinese wanted to be our friends, buy us beers and have their photos taken with us.

Many of the remaining Westerners got to know each other, it’s a small place. It was temples and chilling by day: party time by night. I drank far too much Lhasa beer (to the disgust of the locals who insisted on Budweiser and couldn’t understand why we drank cheap, local stuff) 3 o’ clock seemed to be official bedtime – and you know me. I didn’t really do that much apart from dark, smelly (yak butter candles), colourful temples, including:

  • Ganden, at 4.500m which really did take my breath away. It may have been the 7.30 start after a heavy night, it may have been the altitude (you have to do the pilgrim’s kora – a scary circular ninety-minute scramble around the mountainside) but I really felt quite ill.
  • Jokhang, the true home of Tibetan Buddhism, 1.300 years old with the only remaining (of the original four) golden Buddha, twice that age. And big roof top views of town and mountains.
  • Sema, where Buddhist monks carry out ritual debates, which look terribly aggressive (lotsa’ hand/knee slapping and shouting) and provide a great spectacle. And
  • Potala Palace, the massive red, white and yellow building that you see in all the books on Tibet which, like the Summer Palace, is now little more than a museum. One million and one Buddhas and Lamas, it’s all impressive stuff.

One day I had a brilliant bike ride with Tanja; we were out for over six hours in the sun and wind (my face got a bit burnt) and, without really knowing where we were going, did a circular (60 km?) trip. Lhasa’s in a plateau with mountains all around, we got out of town and followed the river along country lanes – peaceful with pigs, cows, sheep, hens and I spotted a hare for the first time in ages. The sparse traffic was considerate and all the locals shouted out to us: ‘Hello’. After about two hours we got to a prayer flag strewn, dodgy metal bridge and had a lunch of loadsa’ fruit that we’d got for 50p at the roadside. We then crossed the bridge. The roads got quieter and we seemed to be heading away from the river, I shouted to a farmer ‘Lhasa???’, he nodded, so we carried on. And up ahead, oh dear, we were going to have to cross over a mountain pass. Six hairpin bends, a fair bit of walking, and about 500m higher we reached the summit. Great views, exhilarating stuff, but we had to cycle down. Argh…

A gang of ten of us eventually got our Nepal visas (three separate trips to the Consulate and over six miserable hours of waiting in the road) and awaited our Tibetan exit permits (a real farce which I’ll tell of later in another story: Permits and Patience, which will have to be written elsewhere). All being well, we were due set off early Sunday morning and would be on the road for a week. We were going through pretty remote areas. Martina, young confident big drinking posh mockney; Dan, the Aussie who’s a fervent Jewish atheist; Shomie, a non-practicing Jew who feels that Dan shouldn’t deny his faith; my cycling partner, Tanja a pretty Deutsche blonde; Lotte, Dutch and, at 22, the youngest in the group (average age is around thirty, I’m the oldest by far); Jordie & Joan, two Spaniards with little English; and Peder, a Swede who joined us at the last minute, booked two jeeps to take us to the Nepal border, with a bit of sightseeing along the way. We got on fine, it looked a good group, most had been travelling for around three months and the average trip was about a year, the Spanish guys were away for three.

China had recently opened The Friendship Highway, 5.000km or so of road from Beijing (or was it Shanghai?) to the Nepal border via Lhasa. But for the last 150km, it’s a fast, well surfaced road and, we’re told, you can get from Lhasa to the border easily in two days. We took the scenic route and six days – the only bit of the Friendship Highway, the last 150km. What a journey, 5.000+ m passes were common and the views indescribable; lakes, mountains, glaciers and ‘Oh look, there’s Everest.’ Photo stops were many and, at times, I wished that I’d still got the camera; but I’ve a feeling that I’ll end up with the best photos.


En route we passed through many small settlements – white washed houses built of blocks and yak shit, one common tap and no electricity – it looked a hard life, also a dirty life. Roads and settlements were full of small shaggy animals – sheep, pygmy goats, cows and dogs (and then there’s the yaks) all oblivious to traffic. Such traffic was sparse: the occasional four-wheel drive, more usual, overladen carts being driven by mules, tractors, motorbikes and other strange contraptions. Each day we passed a few cyclists – how did they manage it? Sometimes 20 km of hairpin bends over 5.000m and straight back down again, these were dodgy roads – rutted, bouldered, dusty and holed, it was bad enough in our Jeeps. Often, we were dirt tracking and reaching frightening heights with shear drops along narrow ledges – help. We drove through many river beds: sometimes dry, sometimes frozen, often neither. The last 100km to the border involved an, often blind bend, 2.500m descent on a narrow road which was still under construction, despite a landslip, road blocks, oncoming traffic and a puncture we survived. Our driver was good and even seemed to enjoy it all, it was exciting stuff but I don’t even like fairground rides.


‘Are you sure I’m a polar bear?’ I was bloody freezing at night and at the top of the windy passes. We left Lhasa early Sunday morning and the higher and further south we went the colder it got. Generally, I like the cold but this was silly, it culminated in a night of minus 15° in our room at the monastery hostel some five miles from Everest Base Camp. There’s no central heating in Tibet, no double glazing (though plenty of broken windows) and no draft proofing (despite drafts); here people wear more clothes – I got up to seven layers, and slept in most of them. In each place we stayed there was a communal room (where we ate and drank) with a sheep and yak shit fueled range as its focal point and only heat provider. The rooms got quite cozy but for the fumes of the range and the fug of the smokers (Everybody in Tibet smokes, fags are 20p a pack – a Chinese ploy to get rid of the Tibetans more swiftly?). It got most uncomfortable and, at times caused headaches for all. But it was the only warmth available and we were all grateful.


We clambered the five miles up the mostly dry river bed to the Base Camp – hard work in the altitude of over 5.000m, where the oxygen was less than 50% of what we’re used to. I’d heard stories of how touristy the Base Camp had become and half expected post cards, keychains, snowstorms and a beer at the top of the world. Don’t worry, there was nothing there but for a few Chinese guards hassling us for permits etc. Spectacular views and 32° in the sun (minus 1° in the shade) and a sense of something else (Piper at the Gates of Dawn?). We stumbled down the path and were all totally knackered by the time we reached the hostel. But we saw the sun set and rise over Everest and, in between, the best stars Ever – black sky, no light pollution, 360° visibility and the Milky Way on the roof of the world – it’s unlikely to be bettered.


Sleeping was strange in this atmosphere/environment and many of us complained of awakening in the night with a most unpleasant sensation (a curious combination of claustrophobia, asphyxia, and cannabis-induced psychosis) which lasted an hour or more. Dreams were many, vivid and kaleidoscopic: an amalgam of everybody and everything of the past thirty years (Why no earlier?) – sometimes funny, sometimes nasty, othertimes sad but all very real. Perhaps it was the disturbed nights, the lack of air, or the lack of anything else to worry about. All that concerned me was getting enough food by day and keeping warm at night. The further south we went the more meagre and basic the grub got (which was probably just as well as the squatpit bogs {when available} also got worse – most foul and retch inducing). We gave up on keeping clean, for five days without water made it impossible. The morning before we reached the border town we came on some filthy hot springs and, much to the surprise of the locals (who all gathered round to watch the western idiots, or to ogle at bit of bare flesh?) I got to wear my Speedos and most of us got in and got warm ‘n washed – exhilarating stuff, and we dried off in the sun.


The gang got on fine. Dan wasn’t too well but, as a trainee doctor, healed himself and provided advice to others. Martina was Martina, but a bit quieter – I think that she was missing Ed. Tanja had a story of heartbreak and had been working eighty hours a week to make this distraction a reality. Sad eyed Lotte had been dreadfully ill before we set off (we feared that she’d be unable to make the journey) and was most subdued throughout as a result. Peder was busy snapping everything and showed that even Swedes can dance – as long as it’s to Abba. Similarly, Joan was busy snapping and I’ll provide a link to his website later – he’s pretty good. Jordi appeared to be shagging his way around the world and has had a girl at every port. And Shomie? Shomie was Shomie, the night before the Nepali border was Shomie’s birthday and the, now, 13 of us drank loadsa’ Lhasa beer, played silly games (with 52% rice wine shots as a forfeit – as most of them were coordination based, I got pretty drunk) including Tibetan Whispers – great fun in so many different languages. Sadly (or fortunately?) the Tibetans go to bed early and we were sent to bed. But it was all fine really.


After a week on the road we reached the border – a once in a lifetime experience and I’ve only provided a taste of it, I’ve still fully to take it all in…

Posted by: Michael Holliday | June 5, 2020

Lockdown – 3 months on

OIP (8)Three months into lockdown and, with the world’s second highest death rate: 40.000, 50.000 or 60.000 (depending on how you count) to date, our English government is easing up a little as it attempts to lift the economy. Fine by me, but many are worried and think the easing to be premature and cavalier. We’ve recently been treated to mass entertainment in the form of Dominic Cummings’ (Mr Johnson supported) lies and I still think that the government are desperately blagging it, according to ‘The Science’ of their choice. But I’m alright Jack, as I happily continue in my bubble – cycling, walking, sunbathing, reading, listening to audiobooks, watching films, quizzing, and at the weekends, drinking real beer, now on takeaway from The Elbow Room. That those same gods who sent us this plague followed up with the balm of the warmest, driest, sunniest Spring since records began has helped enormously.

I’m looking forward to exploring our new found freedom this weekend, with (weather permitting) friends coming round for drinks tomorrow and a birthday barbie on Sunday; but there’s still not much to report, so I’m filling with two more posts from the past. We’re back in October 2007, after a few days in Irkutsk, I endured another four nights on the Trans-Siberian Express (another post, best forgotten) before arriving and spending a few days in Vladivostok…

Dasvayenka Россия

download (1)

Some 15 years ago I was on an Aeroflot flight leaving Moscow, on take-off I opened a bottle of Russian fizz to celebrate departure, I’d had enough. It had been a fascinating, yet depressing, experience: the economy had just collapsed, the country was in turmoil and the people shell-shocked. Now in 2007, there’s a certain stability, but it remains depressing – the rich get richer and consume conspicuously: the poor stay poor and wonder how to cope with ever increasing western prices and the officialdom is menacingly oppressive. Impatiently waiting in the boat terminal at Vladivostok, I was again pleased to be leaving. I’d had enough.

Siberian man excepted, the Russians were great – friendly, warm, generous and anxious to try and communicate, yet they seldom smiled. I asked a few why they appeared so glum – why no smiles? And was told that only idiots, drunks, children and those bad people, intent on deception, smile in public. At work, no one should smile, official stone faces left over from the Communist days? Tak. And an apology, previously I’d moaned about the provodnistas on the trains, I was too harsh. They work hard and long and keep the trains (and bogs) really clean. One came to my rescue in time of great need, later she returned my smile. Spasiba.

downloadI spent the weekend trying to buy a  ticket for the twice weekly boat to Shanghai and on Monday morning managed to get a, bloody expensive, ticket for that evening’s sailing. I spent the rest of the morning at the seaside – sunshine, pretty girls, ice cream and beer. Later, I took the funicular to the top of the end of the world – great views in the snow, Vostok’s a fine place. The boat, due to sail at 6pm, eventually got off around midnight – more petty bureaucracy getting in the way; eventually we escaped – dasvayenka Russia.

The boat? An old tub (P&O circa early ‘70s?) including, one sitting, factory catering (all in the ticket price, and they looked after me well) three times a day and a real seventies bar and lounge – great fun. Fellow passengers were 95% Russian, the 8 of us ‘foreigners’ had been put together and, all starved of recent conversation, had a very chatty time. John, a never-stopped travelling old hippy and strident libertarian, from Derby via London. Mr Fushi, a Japanese gentleman with a reluctance to use his excellent English. Jesus, from Barcelona, who’d spent the past two years cycling across Europe to end up in Vostok and hoped to be back home by 2010. And Gerry & Jim, two young adventurous Brits. Later, we were joined by Will & Margaret, long term travellers from Toronto – happy times, I’ll let you know more later. I’m off with just two days to explore Japan.

WOW

OIP (6)Nosexnodrugsnowinenowomennosinnofunnoyounowonderit’sdark, notwithstanding, I think I’m turning Japanese. Japan’s real cool.

I had a splendid time on the boat over from Vostok – a bit of sunbathing and a 90 second sunset over the sea, again glorious; games of chess and poker; lotsa’ stodgy grub (creamy mash & sauerkraut my fave); lotsa’ drink (beer, champagne and vodka); and good company. Travellers’ tales again, Jesus’ was best – crossing Siberia on his old bicycle with no Russian and no tent, he’d survived. We heard of troubles and thefts across Russia, which made my stolen camera seem no great deal, and listened of plans for the future – separate ways, all over the world. It’s good to talk and, all us foreigners pleased at having escaped Russia, enjoyed a great couple of days and nights en route to Japan.

 
OIP (5)I disembarked at Fushiki; found the station; negotiated a ticket; jumped on a local train and soon changed to a clean, fast (three hours), and cheap train to Osaka, which was buzzing in the rush hour. With much gracious help, I managed to find my hostel, 20 minutes on the loop train – it’s Bladerunner here, and then some, and then a bit more. The hostel was in a dodgy looking, noisy area next door to the Christian mission, the loop, a few love hotels (rooms by the hour), and hundreds of Pachinko parlours (I can’t even begin to explain). Fine. My single room (Japanese style, i.e. no bed) was great and there was a Japanese washhouse and hot tub next door – excellent, and then there were the bogs – with their heated seats, inbuilt bidets and dryers, all for under £10 a night.
Osaka, is a second city and, just as Birmingham and Chicago, my kinda’ town. The people were wonderful, so helpful and polite, bowing and smiling. It’s big and noisy and I was enjoying sensory overload, so wandered/wondered around in a daze: wow this, wow that. In places it was far tackier than Blackpool, so many slots and crap u likes; in other places it made Bond Street look cheap, Hermes, Vuitton, Tiffany etc; and in others it was downtown noodle bars and 100 ¥ shops. In view of all the available technology, I was going to buy a new flash camera, but how would I choose? I wasn’t going to waste my day in and out of 10.001 camera shops, so ended up buying a £2 disposable one.OIP (9)

So much grub to choose from, made me wish I wasn’t so fussy – not a lot of bars though and I ended up on my feet all day and knackered before a swift half or seven at an English pub, most amusing. Osaka, it’s a brilliant place and it was a great shame I had to leave the next day, but there was only one slow trawler boat to China every two weeks and I had to be on it…

 

Posted by: Michael Holliday | May 22, 2020

In Siberia

Two weeks into furlough and I’ve been swamped by readers begging me to reconsider the decision to pause my blog – ‘Michael, we need it, what else do have we left in such shit times?’ Or something like that, they all say. Yet, I’m still doing nothing of real interest, unless watching three original black & white Saint Trinian’s films counts; of what can I write? And then I thought repeats, why not? If it’s good enough for The Archers, it’s good enough for me. Once again, by providing inspiration, the BBC comes to our rescue. So, my next few posts will be selected highlights from a previous travel blog, which is no longer available on line. I’ll start with a post from October 2007 which sees me a week into a long overland journey having  just arrived (via Brussels, Berlin, Warsaw and Minsk) in Moscow, unfortunately I’ve no photos as my camera was stolen a few days later, just before arriving in Vladivostok.

 In SiberiaOIP (1)

 ….. Last time I was in Russia (late 80s?) Cyrillic script proved the hardest thing to deal with, nothing had changed. At least I managed to get to the hostel (two Metro changes) without resorting to a taxi, I doubt that Marlboro was any longer preferred currency. I’d hoped to buy some  cheap shorts and flipflops for comfort on the long train journey ahead, no luck – Moscow’s moved on and GUM is now overrun by Gucci, Vuitton and their mates. Lenin was having a nap so I revisited St Basil’s and thought of Eisenstein and that naughty Ivan chappie.

 
OIPI spent a couple of nights at a central hostel, where lotsa’ English speakers told travellers tales, tall and possibly true, that my made story sound short and safe. But, good company, lotsa’ cheap beer and late nights and mornings. Did you know that Moscow has nine train stations? Time to move on, I had to find one of them and was lucky hitting the right Metro stop first time, but there were three stations in the same square – all signed in that bloody Cyrillic script – I’d neither a clue nor a translation. Eventually I found train number 340, the 13.35 Trans Siberian Express and off we sped eastwards. Four nights and 5185 km ahead before my next stop: Irkutsk.

 
An overheated four berth cabin in which to live, fortunately I’d got a bottom berth and was joined by Myeah – a Kosovan Judi Dench who soon slipped into her turquoise PJs, applied scarlet lippy and made herself at home. I followed her example, zipping off my pant legs (I never did find any shorts) and slipping into a pair of cheap furry flip flops that I’d found at the station – very smart. I stayed in this for the four nights, but did manage a change of knickers or two. We were soon joined by a pair of Checnean brothers and spent the evening going through the three page phrase section of my guide book – stradsoovitch. Later in the bar I was adopted by a group of ten Spaniards whose English was as good as mine.

 
OIP (4)In the middle of the night the Checneans left, to be replaced by a sullen sixteen year old Goth and her father in the top bunks. And then it’s morning and sleeting. That whole day was spent chatting to a, no longer sullen, Enya. Enya needed to know everything about me and English boys. Trouble was she spoke vvv little English and my Russian hadn’t improved. ‘Michael’ she’d say ‘tak…. uhm… do you like….’ and we went through Goth, Emo, Punk, my salary (I fibbed), favourite colours, English boys, Angelina Jolie (to whom she bore a great resemblance), teddy bears and 1,001 other things. I saw photos of all her mates and listened to her fave English tunes on her mobile – translating when I could. I made up a few stories of my own re. family, it’s not done to be childless round here. Tak.
At nine I went to the bar. I’d been looking forward to this all day – I’m being careful not to overdo it. ‘Ola’ and a few more new faces. When I got back a few hours later Enya and her dad had gone, so I got to finish Wolf Solent (second best book ever written) and Myeah (who’d by now had become my mother) and I went to sleeps – she snoring, but only when the train stopped. At three in the morning we were woken by half the Russian army clambering on board, Serge and his mate Genghis took the top bunks and soon disappeared down the corridor.

tsexThe next day’s spent with M. Proust (Pretentious, nous? But I’ll never get lost time such as this again.) which, whilst extremely well written, ‘aint exactly Dan Brown. It’s a bit like a jig-saw: pick it up/ put it down/ have a snooze, a most pleasant way to while away a day (or a year?) or two. Serge does his best English and Genghis sleeps off his hangover. Before I got on the train I’d loaded up with supplies, so was surprised to find that I was being provided with two airline style meals each day. Every effort was made to feed the weggie and I was given bread, fruit, mashed potato, rice, peas, gherkins, biscuits etc. Every few hours we’d stop and get off for a stretch, breath of fresh air and more supplies. To cool off, I had ice cream. Picture – Michael in the middle of Siberia, shorts and furry flipflops and ice cream.

The third evening in the bar, I met up with the Ruskie fire fighters, footy fan loud and extremely drunk; three chatty Finns with excellent English; a Pole and my Spanish campadres. A raucous evening followed – toasts to all men and all nations. Fortunately? the bar closed early. Talking of time, it was all a bit surreal: the trains run to Moscow time, but we’d passed through five time zones in a few days. Worse, the bar ran to local time (or the whim of the staff) and had a rigid 11 o’clock close. So I’ve no idea what time it was till I got thrown out. Later that night, obviously past eleven, I helped Myeah from the train: ‘Dasverdanyah Myeah. Spasiba.’

And in walked Olga who, despite all and best attempts, said nothing to me for the rest of her journey. Serge remained awfully polite and helpful: Genghis remained at the bar or in his bed. ‘He is no gentleman, he is a drunk.’ as Serge remarked. This meant that the next day was spent drifting in and out of Proust and sleeps with the occasional glance at my fascinating Trans S Ex guide book trying to work out where we were – bloody Cyrillic script again, but I’m getting better. The tannoy crackled a loop of some Siberian cabaret circuit band playing Abba and the PSBs greatest hits, Ruskie Napoli-type ballads (Natalie) and a few popular classics (Tchaikovsky and Khachaturian?); nothing too abrasive or offensive.

I haven’t told you of the wicked witches that run this train: Provodnista, concrete-faced women who take great delight in locking lavatory doors at every opportunity/whim and blanking you (it’s not only me, neither a new born babe nor a pneumatic drill would crack those faces) when you appeal to any better nature. Good job I’m not drinking a lot. Once you’ve worked out how to use the taps, it’s not too hard to keep fairly clean, but I hadn’t washed my hair since Moscow and was feeling pretty grubby.

ytr

Sometimes I strolled up and down the corridors to take some exercise and the view. God this place is desolate, concrete blocks in the cities: wooden shacks in the villages and totally bleak in between. Look up vast, barren, desolate, wasteland etc in your thesaurus and then make up a few words of your own, it’s that bad. It makes Freidrich’s work look warm; few ever chose to live here: now I know why.

Five days after leaving Moscow, we arrived in Irkutsk – the Paris of the East?

Posted by: Michael Holliday | May 8, 2020

Unprecedented times – blog enters furlough

ntlWhen I started writing this blog, ten years ago, I intended it to be a 12 month investigation into my, long anticipated, new life as an idler. I thought that one year would be sufficient, for life is cyclic and often repetitive and I didn’t want was to be writing the same, slightly updated, piece every year to suit the season, as you often find in specialist magazines. But the idling lark turned out to be more varied than I’d expected and, after a year, I decided to carry on; hence the 284, fairly regular, posts to date.

vpThings have changed, for other than the coronavirus pandemic and its impact, nothing else is happening in the world right now. Along with most others, my life is mundanely, repetitively, repetitive. Admitted, this week we eventually got to go to Leicester Royal for a long-waited x-ray, but other than the weekly trip to Sainsbury’s and Thursday night’s NHS display of support, any life variances are virtual – attendance at theatres (thank you and congratulations to The National Theatre Live for their free screenings of Frankenstein), exhibitions, films etc. are via the television; pub quizzes and chats to friends are via my iPad, and I’m listening to digital books. Real life is on hold.

I’m not complaining, I’ve sufficient food, fresh air, company, books & beer and am probably more comfortable than most, but I’ve been thinking that biweekly blog posts containing naught but virtual experiences are as interesting to read as they are to live and write. Scraping around for this week’s post, I ended up compiling a list of my favourite films (appended below) to present to you. It is for this unexpected and unprecedented reason, that I’ve decided to furlough the blog for the time being[1].

So farewell, adieu, auf wiedersehen, goodbyee. ‘New normal’ service will be resumed as soon as ‘new normal’ is defined and real life, of a sort, can recommence. Ideally, our heroic Supreme (ly successful) Leader and general all-round spiffing chap, Mr Johnson and his hapless band of highly scrupulous chums will offer us some indication when he addresses the nation on Sunday – don’t hold your breath. Enjoy your summer. Keep safe. I’ll be back.

[1] Competition time – identify the two, previously seldom uttered, words currently in vogue and pinched from Hancock’s Half Hour on the BBC every evening at 5.30

 

My Favourite Films

Initially, I’d thought to list my Top 50 films, but when, with the aid of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, I started to compile the list, I realised that this would be impossible and decided to do my Top 100 and divide it in two: early 20th century to 1979 & 1979 to present. I’ll compile the second list later, although I doubt there’ll be many of the most recent releases, time needs to pass before any film may be judged a classic.

  • SexMetropolis, 1927
  • Napoleon, 1927
  • The Blue Angel, 1930
  • Dracula, 1931
  • Shanghai Express, 1932
  • 42nd Street, 1933
  • Gold Diggers of 33, 1933
  • A Night at the Opera, 1933
  • Captain Courageous, 1937
  • Angels with Dirty Faces, 1938
  • Olympia, 1938
  • The Wizard of Oz, 1939
  • The Thief of Baghdad, 1940
  • Faolympiantasia, 1940
  • Pinocchio, 1940
  • Sullivan’s Travels, 1941
  • Casablanca, 1942
  • Ivan the Terrible, 1944
  • It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946
  • The Big Sleep, 1946
  • Great Expectations, 1946
  • A Matter of Life and Death, 1946
  • Brighton Rock, 1947
  • The Red Shoes, 1948
  • The Third Man, 1949
  • An American in Paris, 1951
  • Rebel Without a Cause, 1955
  • The Seventh Seal, 1957
  • Wild Strifawberries, 1957
  • La Dolce Vita, 1960
  • The Hustler, 1961
  • Last Year in Marienbad, 1961
  • The Exterminating Angel, 1962
  • Jules et Jim, 1962
  • My Fair Lady, 1964
  • The Masque of the Red Death, 1964
  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966
  • Planet of the Apes, 1968
  • If…., 1968
  • The Producers, 1968
  • Midnight Cowboy, 1969
  • Deep End, 1970
  • WaOIP (1)lkabout, 1971
  • Shaft, 1971
  • Cabaret, 1972
  • American Graffiti, 1973
  • Don’t Look Now, 1973
  • The Harder They Come, 1973
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show, 1975
  • All That Jazz, 1979
  • Mad Max, 1979

 

 

Posted by: Michael Holliday | April 24, 2020

Groundhog Day

OIPI’m aware that, currently, many people are losing their lives and that many others are losing their livelihoods – times are hard; but, from my selfish perspective, life under coronavirus carries on in mundane relative comfort. I’m lucky, I’ve a decent garden and the sun is shining; I’ve a steady income; sufficient essential supplies; mostly agreeable company; and I’m getting out on my bike and walks. But, with every day a repetitive Groundhog Day, I’m missing my weekends, and I’m missing looking forward to my weekends, which were mostly spent in pubs, in town and country, watching Moseley or all three.

abBut I’m learning new stuff, I’ve discovered that my smart TV is much smarter than I and I’ve been playing with, amongst other things, YouTube & Netflix. In fact, there’s now far too much viewing available to me and I’ve been watching a wealth of entertainment including Julien Temple’s Absolute Beginners, which I hadn’t seen since its release in 1986 when it received terrible reviews and flopped, now 34 years later, I can’t understand why. OK, it’s flash trash, a poor man’s West Side Story, bearing little relationship to Colin MacInnes’ 1959 book on which it was based. But it’s great fun and lovely to see gorgeous Patsy Kensit, pouting as gorgeous ingenue Crepe Suzette, and Bowie being Bowie – it looked as if everybody was having a splendid time. I was a little disappointed with Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, too many swans swanning about for far too long, but the 20-minute scene in the sleazy Swank Bar with ‘guest appearances’ from Quinten Crisp and Joe Orton, provided more flash trash fun, Bourne displaying his art on his sleeve? OIPAGUSVQ9Q

I was also a tad disappointed with the National Theatre Live’s recent offerings: One Man, Two Governors, and Treasure Island – both far too farcical with too much shouting for these peaceful times. But, loved Danny Boyle’s film, Yesterday – a piece of feelgood sentimental toss (written by Richard Curtis) that imagined a world in which a young would-be musician wakes up, after an accident, to find that The Beatles had never existed, yet he knows all their tunes and exploits this gainfully, perfect rainy Saturday afternoon viewing. And later I participated in my first virtual pub quiz, it was a bit slow and chaotic and I didn’t like the questions (‘cause I didn’t win?) but I’ll probably be back tomorrow night and hopefully score more than my initial 60%.

untitledOn my daily walks I usually listen to the radio but, in an increased embracing of technology, I’ve just finished listening to my first audiobook, Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel: City of Girls – the fascinating life story of an independent woman growing up in theatreland New York, beginning in 1940. It’s an excellent way to pass an often, tediously familiar, walk but at 15 hours (about 50 miles of walking) I found it overlong. The physical book runs to just 500 pages, I reckon that I’d have read it in 7 or 8 hours. Not daunted, I’ve just started listening to Imogen Hermes Gowar’s The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock – it’s over 17 hours long. And I actually ‘really read’ Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem, a much-lauded Sci-fi book from 2008 and remembered why I no longer read sci-fi.

OIPUVELSV0BAnd, as a bonus, last week I had a couple of pleasant surprises: on Thursday, the Landlord of The Elbow Room turned up with a small keg of Jaipur IPA, one of my favourite beers, if a bit strong at 5.9% – cheers Tim. Then on Saturday afternoon, a box of 16 different craft ales were left on the doorstep, apparently a present for being such a wonderfully caring carer – thank you J, whose arm continues to slowly improve (still no confirmatory Xray though). Despite this, my drinking has been significantly less than pre-corona days and I haven’t woken up with a hangover in ages. Whilst I really look forward to a weekend drink at home, I much prefer drinking in pubs – all of which are currently denied to me and all us other bar flies; but we’re probably saving a fortune. Incidentally, I’ve just submitted my entry to the ER’s pastime competition (submit a small piece about the place); should you be interested, I’ve appended it below.

Anyway gotta’ go – off for a sunny bike ride and later a bag of chips and a few cans of craft ale in front of Have I Got News For You, which in its virtual form lacks spontaneity, but it’s still good to see our politicians being brought down to earth. Keep Safe.

Home thoughts from up the road, or
life’s good down at The Elbow Room

A is for Arnolds, it’s a family affair
B is for Bodgers Mate, that’s them in the corner strummin’ away
C is for Chris, Charlie and a couple of other C’s on table 1
D is for Debbie Harry, overseeing we gents peeing
E is for Early doors, best time to guarantee a seat for…
Friday night fun & frivolities
G is for Gabby & George, slaking the thirst of Hinckley’s discerning drinkers
H is for Harry ditto, and occasionally replenishing Sunday’s cheese supplies
I is for me, myself, Michael
J is for Jamie, plus Charlie, Stevo & Callum completing the team
K is for Key keg beers, often at enormous expense and/or strength
L is for Lager, Shiny pop now available permanently
M is for MeJoy, I’d be in trouble not mentioning ‘er
N is for No slots, no television, no juke box, and no sticky carpet
O is for Other ER friends and regulars, too numerous to name
P is for Posh pork pies & posh gins
Q is for Cwtch, Tiny Rebel’s prize winner; some may prefer Clwb Tropicana
R is for Red-faced Ben, unofficial entertainer and go between
S is for Scotch Eggs, the house speciality
T is for Tim, the big boss man
U is for Umbrella stand, now that’s a classy joint
V is for Virus, of the corona kind, currently curtailing our ER drinking
W is for Wendi, for behind every big boss man is….
X is for eXistentialism, top Friday night table talk
Y and ‘Why not?’ ‘OK Just one more’
Zzzz, it’s time to go home – thank you and goodnight.

Posted by: Michael Holliday | April 10, 2020

21 days later

pp 2015Week three of lockdown and little has changed; ok, more people are dying, but the sun’s still shining and, be it cycling or walking, I’m still getting my daily exercise and still sourcing most of the essentials on my, fairly civilised, weekly shopping trips to Sainsbury’s. Indeed everybody/thing seems fairly civilised, although facemasks and gloves abound and I notice that people are taking their ‘social distancing’ more seriously/anxiously. Reluctantly, increasingly tech-savvy, I’m slowly overcoming my phone phobia and am keeping up with friends virtually, via HouseParty & Zoom – our regular Elbow Room early doors sessions are proving particularly popular. But I’m missing real people, and my swimming, my pubs, my town visits, galleries, aimless urban wandering and TK Maxx. J’s broken arm continues to improve; whilst the coronavirus crisis disallows any hospital visits/X-rays, yesterday’s phone consultation suggested slinging the sling and to start moving the arm, slowly; a physio programme is to be organised – by whom, where and when?

 
OIPoDespite corona-curtailed Corry and giving up on Question Time (it’s currently just the one subject and all far too polite), I’m still watching too much television: specially released films, shows & plays; and Berlin Babylon, Westworld, the former slightly less dark and confusing than the latter, and Malory Towers – light and easy. And I’m enjoying BBC 2’s Race Across the World, as contestants compete to get down from Mexico to Ushuaia on a shoestring, using neither flights nor technology. A few years ago, I did a similar, if lesser trip, from Lima to Ushuaia, but I did have a bit more cash and no need to make the unnecessary 3.000mile, time/money sapping, detour to Rio. I flew to Lima in August, headed south and flew home from Ushuaia, via Buenos Aires, some three months later.

 
En route, I had a marvellous time; I visited all the sites – Peru’s Nazca Lines; Colca Canyon; Machu Picchu & Lake Titicaca. Bolivia’s La Paz and the Salt Flats of Uyuni. Chile/Argentina’s Mendoza, Santiago & Bariloche, before reaching Patagonia and El Chálten, El Calfate & Torres Del Paine National Park; and ferrying across the Straits of Magellan (a lifetime ambition) to arrive in Tierra del Fueguo (ditto) and, finally, Ushuaia (double ditto). Travelling largely by truck, I enjoyed innumerable new experiences and met dozens of interesting and, mostly, friendly people. I saw magnificent deserts, glaciers & mountains; swam in strange settings; danced on bars and watched a Bolivian ladies’ (Flying Cholitas) wresting match. I slept on beaches; by desert camp fires; in hostels; in fancy hotels; in a dogshit strewn Patagonian lorry park and, most memorably, on the boiler room floor of a, snowed-in, mountain top border crossing. I drank a lot of wine, took 1.001 photos and, crossing borders 000’s of times, mainly back & forth between Chile &Argentina, filled up my passport. What larks, scroll back long enough and you can read all about it – Into uncharted Waters, August to October, 2015. P1140682 (2)

 
Like Dorothy finding herself in Oz, I arrived back to a Hinckley that had changed beyond recognition during my short absence. Wow, now in technicolour with a posh new leisure centre and a much larger pool; a new cinema and fancy shopping area, with a TK Maxx. And the Pubs? My local, The Prince, transformed into an independent real/craft ale pub; two other former Marston’s pubs now Steaming Billy independents; and, best of all, the town’s first two micropubs: The Pestle & Mortar and The Elbow Room just opened. These improvements meant that Christmas came early that year and put paid to my idea of leaving old Hinckley town.

 
OIP6XOEKUGFIt was on June 9th 1977 that I first saw Blondie, at Rebecca’s, a small club in Birmingham – there were about 30 or 40 of us there, the same crowd that would turn up at Rebecca’s every Thursday (Punk) night, pay their 50p and watch whoever turned up – and many great bands did; that year I saw Siouxsie, Jonny Thunders, Ultravox, The Dammed, The Vibrators and many others; the Jam were booked to play, but walked out when they saw how shitty the place was, true Punk eh? I saw Blondie again later that year in November at Barbarella’s, Rebecca’s much larger sister club, it was packed; for Blondie had appeared on Top of The Pops the previous evening and had become instant popstars. I last saw Blondie in 1999 at Glastonbury. Along with half the male population of my age, I’ve always had a soft spot for Debbie Harry – she was gorgeous and I was looking forward to reading all about her rock ‘n roll life in her, recently published, autobiography: Face It. Although it’s a beautifully produced book, I was disappointed, for it’s not that interesting, nor is it well written – but Debbie, I’ll forgive you anything.

 
beardsleyI’ve also just finished Donald Olsen’s biographical novel: The Confessions of Aubrey Beardsley. With his first major exhibition in almost 60 years just readied at The Tate, prompting numerous articles, and Mark Gatiss’s recent BBC 4 documentary: Scandal & Beauty, Beardsley’s big at the moment. A large poster of Beardsley’s Isolde took pride of place in my first real house back in 1976 and I’ve had at least one Beardsley on my wall eversince, including the ever-present Salome with the head of John the Baptist, which is my oldest extant picture. It’s a pity that, owing to coronavirus closures, I’m unlikely get to see the Tate’s Beardsley exhibition, but a preview is available on line: https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/aubrey-beardsley take a look. It’s a further pity that I’m unlikely to get to visit The National Gallery’s Artemisia Gentileschi exhibition, I’ve told you of my admiration for Artemisia before, again you can have a preview: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/artemisia.

artemisia_desktopbanner
I imagine that last Friday the whole world was waiting with breath bated for the RFU to announce the outcomes of their deliberations as to the final positions of all of the nation’s rugby clubs, other than those in the Premiership. The RFU calculated all placings on a vague equation, based on previous form; for National League 1 and the Mighty Mose, they arrived at –
1. Richmond 116.44, promoted
2. Rams 107.79
3. Rosslyn Park 107.21
4. Chinnor 102.60
5. Blackheath 98.17
6. Plymouth Albion 89.13
7. Darlington M. Park 89.04
8. Cinderford 84.32
9. Old Elthamians 82.21
10. Cambridge 80.29
11. Bishop’s Stortford 77.52
12. Sale FC 75.48
13. Birmingham Moseley 52.02
14. Rotherham 48.85, relegated
15. Canterbury 18.85, relegated
16. Hull Ionians 13.75, relegated.
Phew… We survive to struggle on next season, but it’s a shame for Rotherham. I’m also disappointed that we never got to revisit Hull for our last game of the season, it’s a great city and we were looking forward to a long weekend away. But, would my poor heart have coped with the stress had, as most likely, relegation depended on the outcome of that game? Perhaps it’s for the best.

IMG_0721[945]Anyway gotta’ go – off for a sunny bike ride, and after that? As with most of us, I ‘aint gotta’ do anything much in this, fast becoming, month of Sundays.

Respect the day and remember Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.

Keep your distance, keep safe and enjoy your eggs and bunnies on Sunday.

Posted by: Michael Holliday | March 27, 2020

Everyday is like Sunday

poolFriday 20th March 2020.
0.6.30 – alarm goes off, out of bed, cup of tea and sunrise stroll up road to baths.
07.30 – slip into near empty pool for good, long swim. Shower, shave & inconsequential chats to the few other swimmers, it’s very quiet. Home via, empty-shelved, Sainsbury’s, notice TK Maxx and many other shops are now closed, coffee shops are doing take-away only. Breakfast, chores and post latest blog: What did we speak of before we spoke of corona virus? Lazy morning – busy doing nothing.
13.45 – receive distressing message from Boy number 2, Elbow Room is closing at 4 o’clock.
14.00 – J (on her first post-armbreak visit out) and I arrive at Elbow Room, just 7 or 8 customers, and join good friend; soon joined by a couple of other friends. Talk is of the inevitable – all pubs, clubs, leisure centres etc. now to close indefinitely? Shit. Implications?
17.00 – arrive home with friends, share laughs and drinks. Later, Corry, chips and the news confirming the above – country is now mainly closed, further unprecedented steps towards total lockdown to follow.
And that was the day that life changed for us all, but the sunny weekend passed pleasantly with papers, films (The Green Book, entertaining & informative; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, entertaining slush; Shazam, entertaining kiddy toss and Paddington 2, ditto) and a few bottles of beer.
cvAt 8.30 on Monday evening, the Prime Minister announced those further unprecedented steps which told us to ‘Stay At Home. Save Lives. Not to meet others, even friends or family’ limiting our outings to:
• Shopping for basic necessities & collecting medicines
• Travelling to work, but only if absolutely essential
• Exercising once a day,

essentially putting the country into lockdown,

Phew, it coulda’ been far worse; at least I can still get out on my bike or into my boots, for the time being, I won’t get cabin fever – yet.

J’s in arm-related lockdown anyway and I’m still playing at nurse Michael; so far for virus free me, it’s all been fine. The glorious weather has been helping, I’ve been doing my once a day exercise and spending much time cultivating the garden, though some might dispute the gardening bit. Reverting to hunter-gather mode, I’ve been relishing the challenge of obtaining basic necessities, you never know what you’re going to get, and am delighted with whatever I may bring home, be it a loaf of bread, a bottle of beer or, on an exceptionally lucky day, a few pieces of bog roll; I’ve been keeping my two yards social distance at all times. And I’ve been reading and watching a bit of television, Berlin Babylon’s back and I’m liking Race across the World.

The period from September 1939 to the following Spring, was known as ‘the phoney war’ when the country, having declared war on Germany, was expecting all sorts of terrible repercussions and fighting and nothing much actually happened – the sun shone and life carried on as normal. This is what life currently feels like, I know that Corona cases are increasing exponentially, that people are dying and that the, under-resourced, NHS is struggling to cope, but from a selfish point of view?

thQCH0097WIgnoring all the serious shit, from a Pollyanna perspective one could argue that the whole outbreak is making the world a better place; the environment, for example, is improving dramatically – less traffic has resulted in far cleaner air, you can hear the birds and smell the countryside, not always for the best. Whilst maintaining their two yards’ distance, most people seem to be far friendlier and indeed are being kinder to each other, and spontaneous displays of appreciation for the NHS and other support workers abound – we’re all in this together. Economically, the Chancellor appears to have stumbled into a forest of magic money trees and is dispensing cash in a manner alien to tories, what’s not to like?

Anyway, gotta’ go, daily exercise and vital supplies to get. Keep safe, stay positive, remember, ‘statistically it is not likely to be you’.

Posted by: Michael Holliday | March 20, 2020

Of what did we speak before we spoke of coronavirus?

OIP01ZATYNPI doubt that any species, other than our own, spends much of its time worrying about when the world will end. It seems that since we first developed philosophical minds we’ve been over-concentrating on, and often predicting, the end of days – a few, mainly members of cults/religions, are looking forward to it, the rapture: most are terrified. So, this coming apocalypse with all associated plague & pestilence; floods, fire & famine; wars and the arrival of the anti-christ (insert the name of a current tin-pot dictator of your choice) & the creature from the black lagoon is nothing new. But, the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) seems to be impacting globally in a combination of ways previously unknown: economic meltdown; closed borders & travel bans; social lockdowns & isolation; school closures; cancellation of many (And soon all?) fixtures/events/activities; panic buying & stockpiling resulting in food & supply shortages; the, most likely, imminent closure of all entertainment venues, pubs & most shops; job layoffs and the buggering up of Question Time – it’s (possibly) the end of the world as we know it.
jojoOn a more positive note the, now three-week, self-isolating invalid is becoming, everyday in every way, increasingly valid as the pain in her arm lessens and J becomes slightly more mobile; we’re hoping to make our first foray into civilisation this afternoon with a visit to The Elbow Room, if it’s still open. The house is filled with the colours and smells of flower bunches and we’ve a stock of cakes and chocolates (’tis pity it’s Lent and I’ve given up such delights) to see us through any imposed isolation – thank you to all friends and visitors who’ve donated, visited and been kind in J’s time of need. And, we’ve been given the loan of a hard-drive containing hundreds of films, both old and new; I’ve watched a few including Parasite, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Ladybird & Fisherman’s Friends and enjoyed them all, even if the first three were hardly relaxing afternoon viewing; FF, a charming romcom of slushy toss, really did the job.
OIPBAVPLO44

And today is the first day of spring; storms have abated, skies are often Simpsons blue with fluffy white clouds once again, hosts of daffodils are glowing in all their splendour, blossom is coming out and lambs are frolicking in the fields. I’ve managed to escape for a few hours most everyday and get out on my bike, in the pool, or into my muddy boots, and I’ve made occasional brief visits to the pub – I feel no immediate need for self-isolation and, ignoring Government advice, am continuing to support the local economy. I’ve also been reading including:
• Patrick Deadman’s Full Circle, which tells of his fascinating life, his development as a psychic and ends in a plea for tolerance and understanding, else we all will soon arrive at Armageddon. Incidentally, Patrick says that J will eventually recover fully and that the ER crowd will all be fine.
• Carl Chinn’s Peaky Blinders – The Real Story, Carl is a professional Brummie and chatty social historian often found in the city’s local pubs. In this book he debunks the myth of the Peaky Blinders as depicted in the BBC TV series; explaining in rather too much detail, how whilst gangs of thugs have long existed in the area, none of them ever looked like Cillian Murphy, none ever had razor blades in their caps and most gangs disappeared with the onset of World War 1.
• Mike Carter’s One Man and His Bike, finds him cycling some 5.000 miles round the entire British coastline. Congratulations Mike – you haven’t convinced me it was fun. And I looked at the pictures in
OIPCharlie Mackesy’s The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse, the pleasant inspirational current best seller, simply advocating that we be kind to each other – highly apposite for these times. It’s a very ‘nice’ pretty book, I trust that he’s checked that E.H. Shepard’s illustrations for A.A Milne’s Pooh books are out of copywrite.

 

 

And I’ve a houseful of  more books to read. For me, life ‘aint too bad yet. J continues to recover. I just hope that government restrictions don’t get much tighter, which I fear they may, and that I’m free to keep calm and carry on regardless.

 

Of the not so mighty Mose? Not so good – we continued to lose and are just maintaining our place outside of the relegation zone. A few hours ago, the RFU announced the end of the rugby season for 2019/20, they’ve yet to say what happens – a possible reprieve? And what of Brighton, they’re not looking too secure either? That seems to be the trouble – so many questions: so few answers.

 

Anyway, gotta’ go – got to get the, greatly improved, invalid dressed and ready for her reintroduction into the world, which has changed considerably in the last three weeks.
Keep safe, as my mate Peter Potter reminded us in the closing lines of his 1962 poem referring to another possible (nuclear, this time) Armageddon, Your Attention Please:

 

Some of us may die.
Remember, statistically it is not likely to be you.
All the flags are flying fully dressed on Government buildings – the sun is shining.
Death is the least we have to fear.
We are in the hands of God, whatever happens happens by His Will.
Now go quickly to your shelters.

Posted by: Michael Holliday | March 6, 2020

A week of unfortunate events

IMG_0704[756]It had been an age since I was last at Waterloo, on arrival on Sunday morning, I was delighted to see a sign directing me to The Beer Shed, a new microbar, that would provide me with refreshment during the 45-minute wait for my next train. Sadly, it was closed (and looked to be permanently so) so I had an acceptable pint of Meantime London IPA in a trendy bar and was in good time for the 13.04 to Poole, or POO as stated on the ticket.
It had been a strange weekend that had started out pleasantly with Friday early doors at The Elbow Room and, after a few good beers in good company, we made our way home via the chip shop. I was just sorting out a Corry catch-up on the TV when I heard a frightening wail coming from the hall and rushed out to find J in agony in a heap on the floor unable to move the arm onto which she’d fallen – oh shit. Keep calm, don’t panic – I’m a trained First Aider, I thought as I carefully dragged her onto the living room carpet, a few cushions and, hopefully into slightly less pain. It was obvious that this needed more than a kiss better and I was astonished & delighted when, ten minutes later, an ambulance turned up and three paramedics stormed in, cut off J’s fancy top (1), assessed the situation, agreed it was Serious, immobilised the arm, administered gas & air (to little effect) and pumped in morphine. Oh dear.
OIPGG4MRV9JGiven the choice of Leicester or Nuneaton A&E, which one would you choose? A fast drive up the M69 found us at Leicester Royal Infirmary where handover (accompanied by a pile of paperwork) was eventually completed and J was admitted, ahead of hundreds of waiting wounded, to a cubicle where, she was reassessed and, still in great pain, given more morphine, an Xray, and a diagnosis – a large fracture at the top of her left  humerus, and dangerously low BP. A bed for the night was offered, but none were available, and we were left in the cubicle and given occasional attention and reassurance by highly apologetic and seriously overworked staff. Come 6 on Saturday morning, BP had dropped to a just acceptable figure and it became clear that a bed wasn’t worth the wait, so we got a taxi home and J, most uncomfortably, to bed by 7.
And that was why I didn’t get to watch Moseley lose another winnable game: Rotherham 16-24, at stormy (Jorge this week) Billesley and edge closer to relegation. Instead the day was spent in a mind-numbing (and, hopefully humerus-numbing) fug of daytime television, papers and playing Nurse Michael – a role to which I’m definitely not suited. I had to be in Poole on Sunday evening and didn’t fancy the long drive solo, so got up early, made preparations, as best I could, for my absence, said a guilty goodbye and caught the train (change at Nuneaton & Waterloo) feeling bad about my abandonment of the incapacitated invalid.
IMG_0706[758]I was in Poole for the funeral of David Alfred James Evans (1949-2020) who had died on February 2nd. Memories are unreliable, but I think that I first met Dave some 40 years ago when he turned up in black bike leathers to a group meeting of smarty pants in a pub in Colchester; a few years later he married my good friend and we’ve been in occasional touch eversince. Dave was most renowned for his jigsawing – the fastest cutter in the country (World?) and still with all fingertips complete; in 2013 Dave claimed the Guinness world record for hand-cutting the world’s largest jigsaw – measuring 20 foot by 8 foot and comprising over 40.000 pieces. Monday’s funeral was held at The Bournemouth Oratory, a splendid late 19th century Bath Stone/white brick building, which was purple clad for the Lenten period. The service, a full requiem, was followed by the committal at Poole cemetery with Dave being laid to rest in the sunshine – a splash of holy water and a handful of dust. Goodbye Dave – Requiescat in pace. Afterwards, we retired to a nearby pub and talked about him, fondly.
rnliIt was late by the time I got back to my room at the RNLI College on the harbour front – an excellent base with 360° sea views, comfy rooms, a good breakfast, a reasonable price, and all profits going straight to the Lifeboats. I’ll be back. And on Tuesday morning, I was on the train again (via Winchester & Birmingham) back to the incapacitated invalid, who with the help of family and friends had survived, but was still in great pain awaiting a date with the fracture clinic.
Yesterday, we returned to the Leicester Royal where the arm was X-rayed again and the severity of the fracture confirmed; the greatest concern being the head breaking in two, leaving a piece attached to the tendon – ouch. Other than continued complete immobilisation, nothing can be done other than weekly X-rays, full recovery could take six months. Serious shit with serious implications – hey ho.
On a happier note, the previous weekend I’d been to my first ever Premiership soccer game: Leicester versus Manchester City, clubs three and two respectively, at the King Power Stadium. An exciting experience, thank you Mr Swift, and not as nasty as expected. Sadly, the Foxes lost – 0-1. But I did get to have a drink with a couple of most interesting people, a psychic Romany Gypsy and a heart surgeon, both mates of the above – all proved great company. I’ll be reading Patrick Deadman’s Full Circle, Reflections of a Romany psychic next week, hopefully I won’t be needing the services of Victor.
Anyway, gotta’ go – off to the ER for a Joyless beer, a boy can only compassionately care for so long without a pint.

(1) Now perfect, with the addition of lotsa’ safety pins, for a remake of an early Viv Westwood top

OIPW2M7LQ1N

Posted by: Michael Holliday | February 21, 2020

Parlour pubbing

OIPS7A91WCZTwo of my earliest memories are centered around Ludlow: my chewing a glass in the Bull Hotel, then owned by an uncle, and unfairly getting bollocked by my mother for doing so, and being swung from the castle’s battlements by my ankle, this probably isn’t 100% true but t’would explain a fear of heights. Ludlow has long since been one of my favourite towns; often visited, I was delighted to be invited to stay in The Church Inn for a few nights in the congenial company of the Worcester outlaws. Grade 2 listed, the pub dates from the 14th century, as the name suggests, it’s right next to the church (1), on top of the hill, smack bang in the centre of the historic town – a great base.

chuFrom a drinkers’ perspective, Ludlow’s improved greatly since my last visit, with the introduction of four micro, sorry parlour, pubs and The Ludlow Brewing Company’s tap = five new drinking establishments, all of which needed investigation.

 
1. Artisan Ales (Old Street): a tiny, one up/one down place serving two average draught beers: Three Tuns, light or dark, plus bottles and other stuff, with a chatty landlord – worth a look.

2. The Wicked Grin (Fish Street), a bit harder to find: a slightly larger, one up/one down place serving three or four better draught beers, plus bottles and other stuff, with a chatty landlord – worth a second, or a third, look.

OIPDSPJDA3U3. The Blood Bay (High Street): an even larger, two up/two down ‘Victorian Beerhouse’ (an accurate recreation in a mostly intact, 19th century shop, using original fixtures & fittings), serving three average draught beers: Ludlow & Craven Arms, light, dark or best, straight from the wood (2), plus bottles and other stuff, with chatty staff – worth a visit, if just for the experience.

 

OIP6YWL35B94. The Dog Hangs Well (Corfe Street): ‘For most of the week No 14 is the publishing office of Son of Saxon – publisher of Doghouse and Ludlow Ledger. Once the weekly office duties are concluded (between Thursday and Saturday) the front door is opened, whilst the tavern lamp is lit … transforming an aspect of this Georgian home and office into a Beerhouse…’ Again, three beers, yep – light or dark and another, but from changing breweries, I didn’t know what beer I was drinking, but it was fine. Definitely worth a visit (especially for the log-burners) if you can A. find it, and B. it’s open.

I’m not a great fan of any of The Ludlow Brewing Company’s six or seven beers, but checked out the brewery tap (Station Drive) anyway and was delighted to find myself in the middle of a beer festival, with an additional 20 or so handpulls and 5 keg taps, offering a variety of tasty beers from around the country – shame I had to rush my visit and be back at The Church in time for our Valentine’s meal a quatre.

All that without mentioning the town’s many other, perfectly reasonable, traditional pubs including The Blue Boar for its grub and set of Shakespeare Festival posters. The Church, for its balconied bedrooms, good grub & beer (3) and friendly staff. The Bullring Tavern, for being there and The Bull Hotel, for the memories.

On Saturday morning, we were chased out of town by the arrival of Storm Dennis and were pleased that we’d followed all advice to scarper, for on Sunday Ludlow was underwater together with many other nearby towns along the Teme and Severn valleys and, by Monday many were experiencing the worst floods in their histories; many are still underwater.

This week, but for two pints at The Elbow Room’s Monday night quiz (4), I’ve been drying out. Playing Michael the librarian (5), I bought a new, definitely needed, bookcase and rearranged all the books in the house ‘cause Books do Furnish a Room. I also finished my ongoing Christmas reading.

  • rcAdam Kay’s T’was the nightshift before Christmas (2019), was equally as amusing and depressing as his previous This is Going to Hurt and tells of his Christmas stints at several hospitals over seven festive periods. It was a bestseller over Christmas and, at under 150 pages, proved the perfect stocking filler – 7/10.
  • Essentially a biography of Samuel Jean de Pozzi (as portrayed in John Singer Sargent’s spectacular 1891 full-length painting) and featuring all of my French Decadent mates, Julian Barnes’s The Man in The Red Coat (2019), provided a clear insight into arty farty fin de siècle Paris. La Belle Epoch’s art and literature, rigid class structures and pioneering gynaecology, for, in addition to being a Dandy round town, our Sam was France’s top surgeon. An excellent read to while away a few winter hours, and educational with it – 8/10.
  • Thom Madley’s Marco’s Pendulum (2006) is a young adult’s novel based around the town and myths of Glastonbury and the ongoing conflict between the locals trying to make a living and the incomers and visitors only there for the vibes. Trashy fun but explained clearly the difference between Paganism and Satanism, apparently there’s to be a follow up which I’ll probably read – 7/10
  • And Madeline Miller’s Circe (2018) is a retelling of the myth of Circe, that ‘evil’ nymph/witch/enchantress/ temptress of Homer’s Odyssey, from a female perspective and again was an excellent read – 8/10. Also recommended is her (2009) feminist take on the Trojan Wars, The Song of Achilles.

Anyway, gotta’ go – off for a little aimless urban wandering.OIPXKRN6V2T

  1. St Laurence’s, the largest parish church in Shropshire, founded in the 11th century and famed for its marvellous misericords and the 360° views from the tower
  2. Served directly from Oak casks
  3. Salopian Paper Plane, the best beer of our visit
  4. We, a depleted team of two, won
  5. I missed my vocation

 

Posted by: Michael Holliday | February 13, 2020

Out and about a bit more, far more than anticipated

The unplanned wet January seems to be lengthening into an unplanned wet February, for circumstance has seen me out and about a bit more, far more than anticipated and, as a consequence, drinking rather more than I should. I left you on Friday morning two weeks ago…

 
OIPDM5ELYLSThat afternoon I had one of the muddiest Warwickshire walkies ever – blame it on HS2, they’re really buggering up the countryside round Cubbington way, especially the ‘protected’ woods. I spent the evening not losing at cards in my Leamington local. I was dreading the occasion for, with the landlord being a staunch Brexiteer, I was expecting a party night of land of hops and gory with all the accompanying flag waving, gloating etc. Fortunately, it was all most understated and at 11 o’clock we were all far more concerned with the cards in our hands than the muted celebrations in the pub and on the television. And, c’est ça, sadly we’re no longer Europeans – est-ce tout ce qu’il y avait? Adieu EU, I’ll miss you.

Fittingly, in the spirit of national competition, Saturday saw the kick off of the Six Nations and I enjoyed the first two games: Wales bullying Italy and Ireland scraping a win against Scotland. After, it was off to a surprise 50th birthday party at Hinckley’s finest (only?) private members club: The Winchester, where a splendid time was had by all of us – Happy Birthday Ms. Bond.

On Sunday, I watched England play the worst forty minutes of rugby I’d ever seen, an improvement in the second half resulted in a 24-17 loss at the Stade de France. Had things been otherwise, I shoulda’ been there; I was pleased that I’d saved myself the journey and a few Euros (1). Later, back in the Elbow Room, we discussed our hangovers and England’s dismal performance. On Monday, I went out on my bike.

rv1Tuesday night, it was off to the Old Rep in Birmingham for A Rendezvous with Marlene, Ute Lemper’s one woman show telling Ms. Dietrich’s life story through her songs. Excellent tear-jerking stuff: Sagt Mir wo die Blumen sind – ouch. At times I was confused as to who was Marlene and who was Ute, but a wonderful evening with pleas for remembrance, open borders and tolerance. Did I ever tell you that I was in love with Marlene? And Ute?getimageIt was up early on Wednesday for a, swiftly organised, five-hour train journey to Poole (2); simple, two changes and not too expensive. Here I met up with one of my best and most longstanding friends. We spent the afternoon/evening catching up – drinking too much and talking trash. It’s good to talk. The next morning, we did the historic harbour town, rather rundown, its museum and a pop-up gallery with a confrontational exhibition by Jayne Jackson: ‘asking for it’, a series of mugshot photos requiring our judgements on instances of abuse to women – heavy and challenging. So, we had a sunny stroll along the quay and a beer in The Brewhouse & Kitchen before I made the five-hour journey back to Hinckley, in time for the last hour of Open Mic night at The Elbow Room.

sappOn Friday, I went to see, what I thought was going to be, a one woman show at The Concordia by Barbara Nice, a comedian who used to live down the road from me when I was in Kings Heath. It turned out that, as part of Leicester’s Comedy Festival, she was compering The Hinckley Chuckle which featured five other comedians, all of whom were great (and funnier than Ms. ‘piggin’ Nice, if you ask me) and an unannounced appearance by Shappi Korsandi. Rock & Roll for Hinckley – who could ask for anything more?

Saturday, it was off to Moseley for the game against Rosslyn Park; having won away the previous weekend, confidence was high, but we didn’t account for the ‘storm of the century’: Ciara, hitting Billesley. Playing up the slope with the hurricane in our faces, we went in at half time 0-31 down and, sadly, couldn’t make it up in the second half; ending up, denied two last minute bonus points, at 19-31. Fortunately, our rivals in relegation: Rotherham, also lost. We stopped in the clubhouse to watch the match at Murrayfield, played in even worse Ciara conspired conditions, but England managed the win in a game in which it was impossible to throw, kick, or catch. Earlier, it had been announced that one of our stalwart (and, many would say, most attractive) players was leaving us, so we got to say goodbye to Jacques, and somebody got a farewell kiss, and hello again to Chris Brightwell, our recently retired captain (and second most attractive player).

83856551_10220293684279760_7976953466490716160_nBut who are the Moseley pinup boys now?

ken

Sunday was spent hiding from Ciara – reading the papers and catching up with Corry, celebrating its 10.000th episode with its usual mixture of tears and laughter – but who’s leaving the street? Ken or Rita? Or both?

 
On Monday, we said goodbye to Ann, one of the first friends that I’d met in my early days of local pubbing. The packed funeral was held at the local, St Mary’s church. Ann’s coffin was carried in to Chris de Burgh’s The Lady in Red and carried out to Lionel’s Three Times A Lady, with a deep-felt eulogy in between. It was fitting that the landladies/lords of our four best pubs were in attendance, for Ann, Apple (the beagle) and her husband were regulars at our favourite pubs. Later we all remembered, and spoke fondly of Ann at her wake held in The Lime Kilns. Goodnight Ann.

OIP40YMNWZGOn Tuesday, I took a sleety, sunny stroll to survey the damage left behind in the wake of Ciara. And on Wednesday morning, I had a Wetherspoons’ beer & breakfast before the 8 o’clock plane from Birmingham for a boys’ day out in Dublin. It was good to be back in EU. Four of us enjoyed a splendid time in and out of the city’s finest pubs and, unlike my last visit many years ago, there were plenty of drinkable alternatives available, so I only had one Guinness. Another grand day out, and we made in back in time for a swift half at The Elbow Room.

 

Anyway, gotta’ go – off for a few days in one of my favourite towns: Ludlow, to meet up with the Worcester outlaws; I’ll tell you about it next time.

 

1.The whole package was about £700 each, for two nights.
2. Amusingly POO, in train ticket speech

Posted by: Michael Holliday | January 31, 2020

Farewell, Adieu, Auf Wiedersehen, Do Widzenia.

zkWe arrived at the station in Łódź (pronounced Wutch) in good time for the midnight train to Zakopane only to find that it had been delayed for three hours and that there was little in the way of refreshment or comfort available – most passengers were already huddled in groups on the floor. Oh dear. This was why two of us escaped to a nearby forest to drink the beer we’d bought with us and to have a wee. I got told off by a policeman for attempting one of the two, you guess, fortunately I wasn’t penalized for such (as both public drinking & peeing are illegal), unlike Boy number 1 who, a few days earlier had received an on the spot 100-zloty (about £20) fine for jaywalking. At 3.30 the train pulled up and five of us, plus luggage, squeezed into our six-berth sleeper, trying not to disturb the lady who was already asleep on one of the bottom bunks. It wasn’t the best night I’d ever spent on a train, but we safely arrived in snowy Zakopane around 11 the following morning and soon checked into our cosy, Alpine lodge style, hotel.

babA few days earlier, my travelling companion and I had flown from a most civilised EMA to Łódź, to meet up with Boys number 1 & 6 and Girl number 1 in a large browar (brewpub) for some grub, drink and a catch up before walking down one of the architecturally smartest and longest high streets in the world(1) and catching a tram & busses to Girl number 1’s home town of Pabiance; less than 10 miles away, but owing to roadworks, necessitating three changes. Interesting as you pay about 50p for every 20 minutes on board – who thought that one up? We spent a day in town, which was pretty large but very quiet with little to do, before going to Babcia’s (2) 85th birthday party. So much wódka, so much toasting, so much food, so much silly snakey dancing with a bit of birdy dancing, and more wódka. Great fun – a splendid time was had by the twenty or so guests, average age (including Boy number 6, now aged 6) around 70? Sto lat Babchi, dziękuję yo. And hangovers for most on Sunday morning meant another lazy day round town before the midnight train to Zakopane.

zk2I enjoyed the sunny, snowy, slippy weather in Zakopane, a tourist town on the Tatra mountains close to the Slovakian border, which was preparing for the FSI World Ski Jumping World Cup a week later. We did lotsa’ touristy things including the funicular up the mountain, snow-tubing, and falling over – badly bruising my elbow. I found several browars with a variety of tasty IPAs & APAs at reasonable prices, the grub was good as were the night skies – a great base for a winter break. Unfortunately, we’d only a few days there before catching another train back up to Kraków, where we said goodbye to the others and enjoyed a few days exploring Poland’s former capital, now second city and cultural capital.

krakWe wandered around the city’s streets visiting the cathedral and castle but, owing to limited opening times, only one of its many galleries/museums: The, newly renovated, Czartoryski, famed for its Leonardo’s Girl with Ermine – a worthy gallery which was interesting in places. My most interesting find in town was The Pinball Museum with its collection of over 60 old machines, including some from the 60s &70s, together with some 30 vintage arcade games. Unfortunately, I didn’t play as not only do I have a knackered elbow, my shoulder and hips are buggered too – aching in all the places that I used to play? I found good veggie/vegan places and several browars, including the country’s first real ale brewpub, and some excellent micro-pubs with dozens of craft ales of all varieties.pb2

Apparently, there are three ‘must do’ daytrips in town:
1. Auschwitz-Birkenau in nearby Oswiecim – no thank you. I know that it was a special      Holocaust Memorial week(3), but I’m a believer; I neither want nor need to see the proof of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man
2. Zakopane – no thanx. Been there, done that, and
3. The Salt Mines at nearby Wieliczka.

smWhen was the last time that you spent a morning underground exploring massive salt mines? Highly impressive – over 300m deep in parts, with almost 300k of tunnels and gigantic caverns. Mining began in the 13th century and carried on till 2007, it’s now a World Heritage site. ‘… attractions include the shafts and labyrinthine passageways, displays of historic salt-mining technology, an underground lake, four chapels and numerous statues carved by miners out of the rock salt, and more recent sculptures by contemporary artists’. For obvious reasons, it was guided tours only; but I was fascinated, as have been great, the good and the rich who’d visited over the years, including Copernicus, Goethe and Tolkien, who’d obviously taken inspiration from his visit to create the mines of Moria in his Lords of the Ring trilogy.

kkA taste south Poland in nine days – great people, places, food (but for the Pierogi), beer and prices, all excellent. Especially at this time of year, as I was delighted to find that everywhere keeps their marvellous Christmas lights and decorations up until the end of January – what a great idea to brighten up our darkest and most miserable month. We must do the north next time, Gdańsk and the Baltic.

We arrived back to a gloomy Britain last Saturday evening to news of yet more misery for Moseley (we’d missed two of the narrowest defeats, 22-23 both games) and a swift catch up at The Elbow Room. This week, it’s been sorting, catching up and looking out for snowdrops & crocus whilst trying to regain a little fitness – it’s been a very wet January for Michael.

Bell-Brexit-Print-2020.500Anyway, gotta’ go – off to drown my sorrows in the knowledge that I, together with almost 70 million other UK citizens, will wake up tomorrow morning significantly poorer in terms of the many social, cultural, political and economic advantages, together with the peace dividend, that are no longer available to me as an ex-member of the European Union. Farewell, Adieu, Auf Wiedersehen, Do Widzenia.

 

OIP0FGMRM081.Piotrskowsa, at over 5k long with most of its 19th century facades having been recently renovated

2. Babcia – Polish Grandmother

3. Marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the death camps

 

Posted by: Michael Holliday | January 17, 2020

Drac’s back and still undead

OIP7ZYKCKSRIt’s been a bit busy since our return on New Year’s Day; the first thing we had to do was empty the living room (mainly of books & pictures) ready for our long-booked painterman who turned up at 8.30 on Monday morning. Over two days, the decorator did a marvellous job and I can now say that, a full year after I started this new fire saga, everything is complete and we’ve a cozy room once again. I then had to sort all my end of year stuff – finances, statistics, diaries etc. and read my Broons annual, I also got a Beano annual for Christmas (thanks Boy number 3), the first I’ve read in over twenty years?

Now that I’m no longer a political junkie, I didn’t spend too much time pouring over old news, although the fires in Australia look terrible and there’s some serious shit going down in the Middle East. I did do a bit of Christmas TV catching up – the finale to His Dark Materials was dracdisappointing; Doctor Who was good as was the BBC’s latest Dracula, featuring Claes Bang as the campest, goriest and most amusing Count since Bela Lugosi(1); I got the gist of Corry’s Christmas capers; and caught up with Joleen at the Bull, sorry The B @ Ambridge. And there was the spending of my Elbow Room vouchers (thanks Boy number 2) and meeting up with friends, no Dry January for Michael – pubs need our business, especially at this time of year. And then there’s an attempt to shed some of the half a stone (in my new There’s No Planet B T-shirt, thanks Boy number 1), that I put on during our cruise, but the weather’s been atrocious.

b2Last week we caught the train over to Nottingham for the last day of the Still Undead: Popular Culture in Britain Beyond the Bauhaus exhibition at The Contemporary:
‘Still Undead explores how Bauhaus ideas and teaching lived on in Britain, via pop culture and art schools. This exhibition coincides with the centenary of the pioneering art and design school’s founding in Weimar. Spanning the 1920s to the 90s, and including works by some 50 artists, designers and musicians, Still Undead narrates the eclectic and fragmented ways that the Bauhaus’s legacy has been transmitted and transformed. It is structured around six loosely chronological groupings, which move from the Bauhaus to British art schools, from the high street to the nightclub and beyond.’ So there.
It was OK, but I was expecting to see more of the Bauhaus influence on seventies/eighties nightlife and the alternative club scene of those times. But we did get Bela Lugosi’s Dead – Still Undead. Undead. B1

Afterwards, we went to The Bell Inn (c. 1420, claiming amongst several others to be, Nottingham’s oldest pub) and a couple of brand new bars. First, The Six Barrel Draught House with a great selection of cask & craft beers and an interesting menu – I had a vegan dog with pulled jackfruit, interesting and edible. And then, The Tap House, once Paul Smith’s first shop and now the first ‘pour it yourself’ bar in the country, I’m told. You turn up and are given your own personal tab card and a choice of 24 self-service taps, beers are available in a number of measures up to 2/3 of a pint (2), seemingly the preferred measure for craft beers, and there was a good, if expensive choice. On leaving, you give the card back to a staff member and pay your bill with you own card, no cash in this new world – efficient and easy. A wonderfully novel experience and quite frightening in its implications, so many unanswered questions – will such bars take off? I hope not, I know a lot of bartenders, many of whom enjoy their job.tas

Unfortunately, there was a bit of a cock-up on the way back: street closures round city centre redevelopments blocking our way to the station and no signed diversions, consequently, we missed our train and arrived back in Hinckley an hour and a half late. Nevertheless, another grand day out; ideally, the first of many this year.

And of the Mighty Moseley? Last Saturday, I went over to a very blustery Billesley to watch my first game in ages and what a game. After losing eight games on the trot, we put in a convincing performance to beat Cinderford 35 – 15, maintaining our 4th from bottom position; remember, in National League 1, three clubs are relegated. Tomorrow Mose are at Rotherham (3rd from bottom) one of my favourite away games; sadly, I’ll have to miss it – we’re off to Poland for a week or so as soon as I post this. Another win is essential to our survival…IMG_0680[603]


Anyway, as I say, gotta’ go – off to East Midlands airport for an 11.30 flight to Lodz and then to a tram & bus and to find Pabiance. No, I don’t know either, I’ll let you know next time, when normal service will be resumed.

  1. Star of Tod Browning’s 1931 classic film
  2. A schooner
Posted by: Michael Holliday | January 10, 2020

Hi-di-hi! On the high seas

mb…Christmas day was spent at sea, sailing south to Honduras, I lazed the morning away reading on deck in 30° sunshine and the afternoon away sheltering from tropical rain in a quiet bar, with bottles of Red Stripe and one of Jamaica’s finest brownies for company. Christmas night was a formal dining affair and the only time that I felt I ought to wear the jacket I’d so carefully packed, consequently I fitted in with all the other guests who’d dressed most glamourously, as if for Abigail’s Party. I enjoyed some good grub, good wine and interesting company (Are there really as many as six degrees of separation?), before watching a Bob Fosse’s greatest hits show in the theatre and, afterwards, a Mr. & Mrs. game show thingy – well, I was a bit spaced. Before bed, I went out on deck to have a dekko at the black skies; surprisingly/disappointingly, I never got to see really amazing stars over the entire trip.

 
guatOn Boxing day morning, we docked in Roatan, a small Honduran island, and found ourselves a short walk away from Mahogany Bay, a smaller purpose-built tourist island – shaded bars and sunbeds on sandy beaches. With two cruise liners in port, it was terribly busy, but fine for another Caribbean dip, my first draught cerveza artesanal and the free wi-fi. Back on board, that evening, I enjoyed an open air showing of the new Mary Poppins film. The following day saw us in St Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala, a much poorer and more industrial port, where we eventually found a local’s beach, cheap beer and peace – not much else required.

bzWe arrived in Belize City the next day (Saturday 28th, keeping up with me?) via a park and ride system (1), you’d better Belize it, and had a mooch round the small city – several shops and an interesting museum, detailing the country’s past from its Mayan roots (c.1500 BCE) to recentish independence and name change (2). And then it was Sunday, time to head up Mexico way to Costa Maya – another tourist port area avoided, another sandy beach: another bar, beer and wi-fi. It was here that I received a message from a good friend of mine telling me that Alasdair Gray (3), my favourite male author and much more, had died; this put a bit of a downer on things for a moment, but Alasdair leaves behind a magnificent legacy and the second best book ever written: Lanark.

When was the last time that you were cruising in the Gulf of Mexico and your ship was suddenly diverted to the nearest port on a medical emergency? One minute we’re slowly drifting northwards to Jamaica, the next we’re pushing full steam ahead to the Cayman Islands. Apparently, a passenger had fallen seriously ill necessitating the detour, the second such emergency of our trip – exciting journey eh? OIP6IUC4YTRWe were met by a transfer boat that took the passenger to hospital on Grand Cayman and sailed off again, south east to MoBay and the airport.

Of life on board? The living was easy – there were over 700 staff, comprising over sixty nationalities; all of the many that I came into contact with, were excellent – helpful, professional, enthusiastic and friendly. The entertainment teams, especially the show team & dancers, were the best I’ve ever come across. I couldn’t fault the extent, variety and usual quality of the all day/night entertainment available – Glastonbury on sea for the old folk, with a bit of Ed Sheeran thrown in for the youngsters? Or hi-di-hi! On the high seas? I enjoyed much of it – best of all were the musicals, 45-minute abridgements of popular shows: Bat out of Hell; Bob Fosse; Nashville; Starry Starry Night; Homeward Bound; Putting on the Glitz; Bohemian Rhapsody (featuring a real live Freddie M (4) and special guest appearances by Steve V King, billed as ‘one of the original Drifters’ – knowing that they were formed in the early fifties, I was a little sceptical of this at first, but Steve V (a real laydeees man) explained, in his fascinating history of the band, that he was Drifter number 48 (from 73 to date) and gave two different, splendid sets both earning him standing ovations. sv

There were plenty of other entertainments/activities happening all around the ship – I never did get to go to the nightly bingo session, far too busy, but I managed to win the much-coveted prize of a set of Morella reusable straws in one of the quizzes. I also got to assist, the big black guy from The Chase with his quizzing. Many thanks to all the staff. My worries about the dress code? No problem – shorts & flip flops 95% of the time, pants & shoes for three posh evening meals and the jacket for Christmas dinner only.

And of the  Christmas at sea experience? Gently piped Christmas sounds abounded, but thankfully neither too much Noddy nor Roy. Numerous splendid Christmas trees, lights and decorations, including marvellous gingerbread villages. A couple of fun pantomimes; a semi-Christian show on Christmas Eve; a special Christmas Day dinner, crackers & hats, and a Christmas stocking left in our cabin, most thoughtful. Not the best Christmas ever, but certainly not the worst.

Plentiful food was available all the time and, as expected, I pigged out – breakfasts, breads and salads mainly. Veggie mains were hit and miss, but one stood out – Linguine tossed in a massive Parmesan wheel in front of your very eyes (£5 supplement), I’d never tried it before; excellent, but so quanteous that I had to leave half of it. Plentiful drink was available from 10am till 2 the following morning and was OK – for me ? Guinness, Red Stripe, passable house red, G&Ts and the occasional Campari; ‘superior alcohols’ were available at a supplement, but there was nothing I fancied – Speckled Hen, Heineken or John Smith’s Smooth? No thank you, the advertised Meantime IPA  (£3 a pint) wasn’t available, so I saved myself a few bob. I did manage to get a different beer, mostly fizzy pop, in each of the eight countries that I visited, so didn’t go thirsty. And I reckon that I put on over half a stone over the two weeks.

We arrived back in Mobay on New Year’s Eve morning, I woke at 8 o’ clock. Zapping through the TV channels, I got to see the celebration firework display live from Sydney, before a final breakfast, and spent the morning enjoying the last hot sun that I’d see for a few months. That afternoon, 1500 of us were bussed to the airport for hours of total chaos before boarding flights home, most an hour or so late. I played some in-air poker and watched a couple of films (Bohemian Rhapsody & the latest Tomb Raider) ate a bit, and snoozed a bit. I was disappointed that no New Year celebrations were officially announced so, at midnight Jamaican time (5am GMT?), woke my travelling companion and wished her my compliments. We arrived in Gatwick a few hours later, picked up the car and, eventually, arrived back home safely and knackered. And that’s all there is to a Caribbean Christmas cruise. Happy New Year all.

ag

  1. Officially known as tendering
  2. Formally known as British Honduras, Belize became independent in 1973
  3. Alasdair Gray (1934-2019), Scottish writer (Lanark is his greatest work), artist and polymath – look him up
  4. Well a hologram actually and far from perfect, but the technology can only improve – scary stuff
Posted by: Michael Holliday | January 3, 2020

Caribbean Christmas cruising

map 1Keeping in mind that flying has been identified as the major contributor to our climate crisis, I have to admit to having flown more than many – I’m flight ashamed. In my weak defence, I’ve never had kids (the second highest contributor), nor have I eaten meat in over forty years (the third), I’ve just given away my car, I cycle and recycle; whilst my conscious is not wholly clear, it could be much worse. I digress, back to my years of flying, it was on the recent flight to Jamaica that, for the first time, I heard the captain ask: ‘Is there a medical doctor on board?’ Apparently, one of my fellow travellers had fallen ill and, despite the attention of several nurses, it was decided that an emergency detour was required. And that’s why the plane was diverted to St John, Newfoundland, where it was met by a team of paramedics who, just like the films, stormed on board. After a bit of a fuss, it was agreed that the passenger must be ‘de-planed’ for further medical assistance; surprisingly, she walked off, chuntering.

After the necessary refuel, we took off again and headed straight into the strongest turbulence that I’d ever experienced which resulted in a full glass of red ending up on my cream Levis – oh dear. But it wasn’t all disaster as I watched four films: Rocket Man – 8/10; the latest X Men – 7/10; the latest Grindelwald installment – 7/10 and Hampstead, a pleasant piece of sloppy toss for those of a certain age – 6/10.I also got to play an hour or so of on-screen poker – good job it wasn’t real money. Eventually, we landed in Montego Bay only to be faced with another 40-minute wait to get off, the airwalk mechanism had broken down with half of us still on board.
Eventually, we managed to leave the plane and, with far fewer formalities than anticipated, were bussed through downtown rush hour traffic to the cruise terminal and straight onto the boat at 7.30, local time, for its 8 o’clock sailing – phew; and only 19 hours after we’d Wetherspoon breakfasted at Gatwick. I wonder what happened to the lady who got off in St John, and her luggage? I hope that she was insured. We quickly hit the buffet, lots of acceptable grub, and had a couple of G&Ts in a quiet 11th floor bar before crashing out at 10 – 3am our time. And that was the beginning of J’s big birthday cruise (1).

ship 1The boat: Marella Discovery 2, is by far the largest that I’ve ever been on and was crammed with some 2000 passengers – the great majority Brits, largely from the south-east, gangs of Jamaicans, Canadians & Chinese, together with a sprinkling of other nationalities; there’s 200 ‘junior cruisers’ (i.e. kids) on board and a crew of almost 800. The boat has several restaurants & bars; a couple of theatre type places; two small pools (indoor & out); a casino and several shops, all based around an amazing central atrium, fed by a grandiose staircase (currently home to a splendid Christmas tree and consequently out of bounds) and two magnificent glass elevators. Michael is impressed.

ship 3The first day was spent at sea, blown by high winds from Jamaica, as we sailed south east. The outside decks/pools were packed and incredibly noisy, it was hot: 30°+ and too blustery to relax. Michael was not a happy boy – no exit and nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide. Things got better than next day when we arrived in Santa Marta, a shabby port in north Columbia. With its heat, dust, rubble and dogshit, the town was disappointing. But an afternoon on the town’s beach, in and out of the Caribbean Sea, brightened up my day, as did finding some local proper beer (Cerveza Artesanal) craft beer to you and me) unavailable on their boat.

Overnight, we sailed the few miles up the coast to Cartagena, a much larger port and the most touristy place I’d ever visited in South America. We did the cathedral, several colonial buildings & squares, and the gold museum. Time limited, I know that we missed more than we saw, but we made time for a bit more Cerveza Artesanal before a taxi, when we chatted to the driver via a translation app – it worked well, but I was terrified with the constant passing of his phone to and fro’ in the chaotic Latino traffic, back to the ship. We survived and stopped off at the port’s small tourist zoo for a peep at the local fauna & flora, including monkeys, sloths, noisy colourful birds etc.

canalWhen was the last time that you travelled ocean to ocean, crossing a continent in fewer than fifty miles? We did it that week in our next country: Panama. We docked in Colon, a rundown port/city which is currently being cleared to make way for the more prosperous, and were bussed, along with 200 others, via green rain forests, to the canal where we crushed on board a ferry that took us down the canal all the way to the Pacific. A fascinating journey, especially the being dwarfed by Massive container ships going down even more Massive locks – fun but time consuming. En route we were fed constant information, unfortunately so much that little was retained, but I remember some of the heavy political stuff and that the average cost to make the transit, per vessel, is $250.000. Five hours later we arrived to the amazing high-rise seafront skyline of Panama City – an ultra-modern, moneyed metropolis, recently grown incredibly rich on the proceeds of the canal. Sadly, we drove straight back along the toll highway to Colon and the ship. And that was Panama – a grand day out, and they gave us a transit certificate.OIP 3

Day 6, Sunday, saw us dock in Puerto Limon, a small port/town in north Costa Rica. We had a peep around the town, a real town, which was interesting, stopping off for proper coffee and local beers. The sea was rough, too rough, the beach non-existent and it started to rain, real tropical rain. So, we returned early to the ship where I found a bottle of Red Stripe and peaceful spot to start writing, and my travelling companion enjoyed a rainy Sunday afternoon snooze. Monday was spent at sea, returning to MoBay. We arrived on Tuesday morning (Christmas Eve), said goodbye to 1500 passengers, including a company of highly-synchronised Chinese ladies, and set out to explore – all red, green & gold and very touristy; but with a good local museum (histories of Jamaica, slavery and Rastafarianism) and gallery (local pretty pictures) and I was happy to get sorted with some of the land’s finest product to see me peacefully through the next part of our trip.

That evening, we arrived back on board to find a new 1500 passengers – the great majority Brits, largely from the north west, gangs of Jamaicans & Canadians and a sprinkling of other nationalities, all more family based than the previous lot and all ready for Christmas day at sea and the second stage of our journey. Merry Christmas Everybody.
To be continued.

1 – The Big Birthday party weekend went swimmingly, if you were wondering, best of all was the 50 odd friends & relatives at The Elbow Room on the Sunday night/Monday morning

Older Posts »

Categories