Retrospective 2018

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Executive Summary

Mary is still teaching conversational English to elderly Asian women for the WEA, doing volunteer work for Age UK and playing her part as a governor at the local primary school. Phil is enjoying his retirement to the full, writing his music blog, strumming his guitar and pointing his camera at anything that tickles his fancy. He has also got involved with a group looking to establish a deli and coffee shop here in Wymeswold.

This year has been a fairly healthy one for Mary and myself. Things were not so good for Mary’s brother, Richard, who was diagnosed with myeloma in March. A course of chemotherapy has put the cancer into remission but it has also caused some peripheral nerve damage and its debilitating effects have meant he has had to give up work. On a brighter note, my dad started to see a chiropractor in January, which brought a dramatic improvement in his mobility.

We are a two-car family again. In March, Mary saw an advertisement for an old Ford Ka with very low mileage and a bargain basement price. It had probably been sitting largely unused on someone’s driveway for the last 10 years. After giving it a quick look over we bought it and it has served us faithfully as our second car ever since.

Our social life continues to revolve around the Charnwood U3A and Trent 36 groups. The highlights of the year, though, were two concerts only loosely connected with those organisations. The first was a performance by King Crimson at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham and the second was by a new band called Loose Ends in which Phil was the bass player. Read on for further details.

Social Life

Charnwood U3A

Photography Group

The photography group normally meets twice a month: one indoor meeting in Loughborough and one trip out. The days out are often in picturesque Derbyshire but we are renowned for being unlucky with the weather and that part of the world seems so far away when the forecast is borderline. Consequently, some trips were cancelled and I chose not to go on one or two of the others, so this record is rather incomplete.

Needless to say the best way to appreciate my trips with the U3A photography group is to look at the photos. The links in this sub-section are to the corresponding albums on Flickr. Note, however, that Flickr will be limiting my free account to 1000 photos from January 2019 so if you come back to this post in years to come you may not find them.

Pleasley Colliery, 16th Feb

Pleasley Colliery was closed in 1986; it is now a mining heritage centre and country park. The two headstocks and the engine-house buildings remain and form a striking skyline. Former miners will take visitors around the site, giving historical information and telling their own personal stories. When we went in the middle of February it was a cold, clear, crisp day.

On arrival we headed for the café for a hot drink and a bite to eat. The menu was basic but wholesome. More than one dog walker had ordered freshly fried sausages for their canine companions. And we needed something to stoke our inner fires because the windows in the portacabin café had no glass, just a green plastic net curtain to keep out the worst of the wind.

Blue Tit, 19th March

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Every year, in early Spring, a pair of blue tits takes possession of the nesting box high on our garage wall and a few weeks later we start to hear tapping on our kitchen and living room windows. One of the little birds keeps trying to fly through the window glass. It doesn’t seem to understand why the air is so hard just there but it’s determined not to be prevented from exploring the inside of the house.

This year, after every few beak shuddering impacts, this little critter would perch on the patio door handle and ponder for a second or two. Then it seemed to remember the old proverb, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again”, and launch another futile attack on the window.

The “photo opportunity” lightbulb lit up in my head. Setting up the camera on a tripod in the living room I waited for the bird to repeat its aerial dance routine. But it seemed to have become suddenly camera shy. There was that unmistakeable tap, tap, tap once more but it was coming from the kitchen.

The two of us then participated in a comic pas de deux. When I heard tapping in the living room I sat poised behind the camera and the bird attacked the kitchen window; when I moved away from the camera the bird returned to taunt me at the living room window. Clearly, a different strategy was required on the part of the photographer.

Attaching the remote release cable to the camera and perching uncomfortably on the arm of the sofa, half obscured by the curtain, I waited. After an achingly long time the blue tit eventually returned to the patio doors and performed its fluttering pecking sequence in front of the camera. I fired the shutter a dozen times but the bird was still teasing me. It paused on the handle only for a split second and my shutter release finger just wasn’t fast enough to catch it before it was pounding at the window again.

Eventually, as you can see, I managed to catch the shot but I can now see why they say that patience is a virtue, especially if you’re a photographer.

Crich Tramway Village, 20th April

The group had been to the Crich Tramway Village last year but 15 minutes after we arrived the whole site was closed for safety reasons – an empty tram had run out of control and crashed into an embankment. This time everything went smoothly and, although it was only April, we enjoyed a very warm and summery day.

Stamford, 15th June

It was another fine sunny day when the group visited the charming market town of Stamford. On arrival our leader gave us a theme to guide our compositions; we were to seek out and photograph circles. For the rest of the day, with one or two exceptions, the only circles in Stamford seemed to be the letter ‘O’s in shop signs and notices. So the album linked here contains a mixture of general shots of Stamford and miscellaneous circular items.

On returning to Wymeswold, as I was dropping off another member of the photography group, we could see a yellow helicopter in a field opposite. Parked by the side of the road there was a small truck, a damaged Fiat 500 and a police car. There was no debris on the road or any other sign of a serious accident, but as we watched it became clear that the helicopter was, as we suspected, an air ambulance. The last shot in this album shows it taking off.

Watermead Country Park, 19th October

The October meeting of the photography group could have been designed specifically for this fair-weather photographer. It was a glorious autumn day and Watermead Country Park is just a few miles from here. This time we were given five topics to shoot: blue, leaf, pet, splash, wood. Follow the link for my responses to this challenge.

Red Phone Boxes

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At the start of 2018 the photography group was given two optional projects for the next 12 months: weather and red phone boxes. I had those topics in mind for the first few months of the year but the ‘weather’ subject soon faded away. Interesting weather is usually not good weather for going out, you see.

Red phone boxes turned up more often than I had expected and in some unusual places, too. I took a dozen or so pictures of them throughout the year. But it’s not easy finding an original approach to images of objects that are all supposed to look the same. In the end the one I liked best was the first one I took on a freezing cold night in Wymeswold with the church in the background and the moon glowing through hazy clouds.

Other U3A Activities

The Charnwood U3A Philosophy Group has been tackling some of the deep questions of life, the universe and everything. Mary led two sessions on consciousness: “What is it?” and “Can Machines Ever Be Conscious?”. The answer is, as always, “it depends …”.

Back in the real world Phil contributes a hesitant rhythm guitar to the expanding repertoire of the Making Music Group and offers a little expertise to the iMac Users Group.

Trent 36

Fimber, Computer Museum, 7th April

On a chilly Saturday in early April half a dozen members of Trent 36 drove up to Fimber, an out of the way village in East Yorkshire, to see Jim Austin’s computer museum. The exhibits are housed in two large old and unheated pig sheds. The sheer quantity of kit there is astounding. Jim has collected everything from the very earliest microprocessors to what was until quite recently Steven Hawking’s supercomputer (pictured, running, above).

The collection includes “over 1500 computers and many thousands of other artifacts such as books, calculators, spares, test equipment as well as a fine collection of Radios and Valves”. If you’re at all interested in the history of computers large and small I can thoroughly recommend a visit. But pick a warm day or wrap up for the outdoors.

Holme Pierrepont, 27th June

The National Water Sports Centre is at Holme Pierrepont on the outskirts of Nottingham. There’s a long man-made lake used for international rowing competitions, a white water kayaking course, a gym and other sports facilities, all surrounded by a country park. Trent 36 organised a not too strenuous evening walk around the lake and through the park in June. It was perfect weather and I managed to catch some of the drama of the white water run in the setting sun.

Whatton Gardens, 22nd August

It was another lovely summer’s day when Mary and I led a T36 trip to Whatton Gardens followed by refreshments at a nearby farm shop with an excellent deli/café. The gardens cover 15 acres and feature a herbaceous border, an orchard, a rose garden, an arboretum, rockeries with winding paths, a pet cemetery and a Chinese garden. You can see all this in the photos.

Other Trent 36 Events

It’s always summer weather when Richard and Sarah have their barbecue and this July was no exception. The grass was suffering from some brown patches but it was in surprisingly good condition considering the prolonged heatwave and that wasn’t going to stop us from enjoying their steak and sausages, their wine and soft drinks and, of course, their warm hospitality.

To round off the long hot summer there was a trip to the Sealwood Cottage vineyard near Swadlincote, Derbyshire, where we saw more than 4000 vines and tasted five different wines.

Short Breaks and Day Trips

Most of our short breaks and day trips this year were repeat visits to places I’ve written about before so, with a couple of exceptions, I won’t go into any details. Here, though, is a list of where we’ve been during 2018. Links are, once again, to photo albums on Flickr.

Mary had a long weekend in Florence with her friend, Sue, in the Spring and she returned to Devon for her annual health farm pampering in October.

While visiting Dad in June we explored his nearest National Trust property, Ascott, where the lawn by the pond was so full of tiny frogs that it was hard to avoid stepping on them. And, visiting Dad again on a sizzling hot July day, we ambled gently round the grounds of Woburn Abbey.

The Swadlincote Art Trail was an excuse to see our friend, Linda, who had recently moved to a village near there. This was its first year, I believe, and the visitor numbers were rather low, but it was a pleasant day out and I’m sure it will be more popular next year.

A new couple moved in to our street this year and they organised a barbecue on the communal patch of grass at the entrance to our little estate. The whole street contributed to the event and we were able to chat to some of our neighbours that we rarely bump into. So we thank Innocent and Claire for getting us all together.

Last year we had arranged to take Dad to photograph the big cats at Woburn Safari Park but he had to pull out because he had damaged his back. So, when his back problem improved, we booked again and the two of us toured the park in a Land Rover snapping lions, tigers, giraffes (including a baby only one week old), monkeys, bears, wolves, rhinos, wildebeest and other African ruminants.

Theatre and Concerts

The series of light-hearted summer plays at the Nottingham Playhouse returned to their usual format after the theatre’s refurbishment last year.

The first was called Sleighed to Death which was a rip-roaring comedy about a bumbling police sergeant who, while collecting for a local charity dressed as Father Christmas, stumbles upon a murder. He misses all the clues that the audience finds glaringly obvious and is rescued time and again by the much younger woman constable who would rather be at home with her family on Christmas Eve.

Over the next three weeks they gave us A Touch of Danger, The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Nightmare Room. The first was a Francis Durbridge whodunnit in which you could never be sure if anyone was who they claimed to be. The Pimpernel was a straightforward stage version of the well-known novel, entertaining but not particularly memorable. And the last play was a psychological thriller with a cast of two set in a stark white room. This one didn’t quite work for me but it did keep us all on the edge of our seats.

Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita, 25th May

Having heard an enchanting track called Future Strings by Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita and seeing that this duo would be giving a concert in Derby, I invited a few friends to go and see them. It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable events of the year. Catrin’s harp and Seckou’s kora fused Celtic melodies and African rhythms to create scintillating music. For further details see my review of the concert on my music blog.

King Crimson, 7th November

KC Nottingham

On 5th July 1969 I was blown away by King Crimson’s set at the free, open air concert in Hyde Park, London. Nearly 50 years have gone by since then but their performance just a few weeks ago at the Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham was every bit as impressive.

The band has had numerous changes of personnel since that first public performance in Hyde Park – Robert Fripp is the only remaining member of the original line-up – but the eight-piece group sounded as fresh and exciting as it did back in 1969. And powerful, too. Although you might expect that from a band with three drummers.

As I said in the introduction, this was one of the two outstanding events of the year and one whose memory I shall treasure for many years to come.

Focus, 24 November

Another outfit with a long and illustrious history is the Dutch band, Focus. They had chart hits in the seventies with Sylvia and Hocus Pocus and they are still playing those tunes for their fans. Don’t think, though, that Focus is stuck in the past. They have a new album out now, with new material; it is available now as a CD and in January on vinyl. There’s a short review here.

Deli and Coffee Shop

Shortly before Christmas last year a small group of friends was bemoaning the lack of a convivial place to meet in Wymeswold. The two pubs are nice but not everyone wants to go to a pub and, anyway, they are not open in the mornings. This prompted someone to say, “If only Wymeswold had its own deli and coffee shop …” and that chance remark sparked the formation of a group of Wymeswold residents who hope to make that vision a reality.

The idea was first advertised in the Spring and soon over 160 people had joined the Facebook Group set up to discuss the project. It was a very promising start. An open meeting was held in June and around a dozen Wymeswold residents signed up to form a Working Group tasked with assessing the feasibility of establishing a community run deli and coffee shop in the village.

Since then the Working Group has run a market research survey, looked at potential sites and discussed a number of options for funding. As part of my contribution I set up a website that we use to keep the local community informed and engaged with the project. I also sat in on a couple of Parish Council meetings, which turned out to be interesting for reasons not connected with the deli …

Forbidden Forest

At the first Parish Council meeting I attended, we were given details of a music event that would be taking place on the edge of the village over the coming weekend. The villages of Hoton, Prestwold, Burton-on-the-Wolds and Wymeswold occupy a roughly triangular patch of land. A large chunk of it is owned by the Prestwold Estate, including the Wymeswold Industrial Park on a slight rise above the village to the south west, where the event would be held. The manager of the Prestwold Estate and someone from the events organising company were there to reassure us that the music festival would be well managed and would not cause any problems for the surrounding villages.

When the weekend arrived a loud thump, thump thump assaulted our ears from across the valley. The Forbidden Forest rave was pounding out rap and dance music as if to oust General Noriega from his Embassy refuge. Down in the village the noise wasn’t so bad; the sound must have been carried over the rooftops on the prevailing south westerly winds. But where we live, on the hill in the north eastern corner of the village, it was far more intrusive than the even nearer Glastonbudget festival has ever been.

After the rave the grapevine was full of disturbing stories. Festival goers waiting for hours in sizzling temperatures with no water and no toilets. Traffic jams miles long, drugs and rowdy behaviour. And, of course, the noise.

At the next Parish Council meeting the two Prestwold Estate representatives bravely sat through an icy barrage of complaints from the councillors. Several petitions were started in the surrounding villages calling for the event not to be repeated and the Prestwold Estate’s events licence was called in for review. The review imposed further restrictions on the events that can be held on that site, restrictions that should prevent a similar event occurring next year. That doesn’t seem to have deterred the organisers, though. As I write, the next Forbidden Forest “underground music festival” is scheduled for 5th May 2019 and tickets are currently available at £29.95 + £3.10 booking fee.

Abbey Road Army

Readers of this blog will, no doubt, remember that I bought an electro-acoustic guitar in the Spring of last year and play it for the U3A Making Music Group. The guitar came from a shop called Abbey Road Music which, in June of this year, announced a project they called the Abbey Road Army. The organisers were looking for mature musicians who had stashed their instruments away for years and now wanted to play in a band again. To encourage people to sign up they offered to book a series of rehearsal studio sessions, arrange a gig and provide a £50 voucher to spend in the shop.

Some 25 would-be players, including yours truly, joined the scheme and we were arbitrarily assigned to five bands. The shop owners also run a music school and I thought I’d benefit from some lessons in rock rhythm guitar. So, in July and August, I had four guitar lessons. Actually, that’s a bit of an exaggeration; most of the time was spent with my tutor creating scores of songs that I thought might work well for the Army project. I didn’t really learn much.

I had put myself down as a rhythm guitarist, with bass guitar as a possible secondary instrument if required. At the launch meeting I found myself in a band with a lead guitarist three rhythm guitarists, and a drummer. We had no vocalist and no bass player. One of the rhythm guitarists never showed up, so a late entrant was drafted into our band on the launch night, giving us a vocalist and yet another rhythm guitarist.

It soon became obvious that some of us would have to play our second-string instruments. I managed to borrow a bass guitar and one of the other guitarists opted for keyboards. The vocalist had to pull out due to work commitments a couple of days before rehearsals started so the lead guitarist, reluctantly, had to sing as well. But we had a band: Peter (lead guitar, vocals), Jeremy (keyboards), Phil (bass) and Mark (drums).

We spent the time before the first rehearsal on 9th October discussing which songs to perform. We’d have 25 minutes for 5 or 6 songs and it didn’t take us too long to come up with a list we all liked. The shop had booked 10 studio sessions over five weeks on Tuesday and Thursday evenings; we booked another two for the week before the gig. Over those six weeks we progressed from horrible mistakes in every song to very nearly gig-worthy performances. We wouldn’t take the place by storm but, if we could hold our nerve, we wouldn’t disgrace ourselves, either.

The gig itself was on 18th November at the Boat Club next door to the Nottingham Forest football ground. The Abbey Road Army bands were following in the footsteps of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and The Sex Pistols, who had all played there in the past. We chose to call ourselves Loose Ends, had some T-shirts printed and tried to prepare mentally for our big moment.

Although all five of the Army bands had been rehearsing at Pirate Studios in Nottingham it was impossible to know how our crew compared with the others. Nervousness within our band had prompted us to suggest that we should go on first; we didn’t want the responsibility of being the headline act and we didn’t fancy sitting through the other acts with mounting apprehension. But when the running order was announced our plea had been ignored. We were on last.

The first band was pretty good, the next three had some obvious rough edges. Then it was our turn. “Just pretend this is another ordinary rehearsal and we’ll be OK”, we told ourselves as we stepped up onto the stage. We kicked off with Fleetwood Mac‘s version of Black Magic Woman. There were no mistakes and the audience enjoyed it. The rest of the set went smoothly, too, and we finished with Whiskey in the Jar which Mary recorded on her phone.

To our astonishment the audience clapped and cheered and called enthusiastically for an encore. We’d had our 25 minutes of fame but there was still time for one more song so we played one we had in reserve, thanked the crowd for their appreciation and said goodnight. As we came off the stage one or two people asked us for photographs and we were happy to bask in the glory for a few more minutes.

The following day all the band’s email conversations asked the same stunned question: “What just happened?”. None of us had an answer; it must have been some sort of heavenly magic. It took us several days to come down from that high. And then it was time to think about the future for Loose Ends.

There had been no time to think about what might happen after the gig; we had been too busy learning, practising and rehearsing the songs. After a while a consensus formed within the band – we would continue to play together. But that presented a few problems. I could hardly extend the loan of the bass guitar indefinitely. The keyboard player was happy to stay with us in principle but he wanted to concentrate on his guitar for the next few months. And none of us would be able to devote as much time to the band as we had done for the Army project.

Having decided to keep Loose Ends going I went out and bought a brand new Ibanez bass guitar. I’d have got it from the Abbey Road Music shop but they were unable to supply the one I wanted. Then, during discussions about how often we should get together, Peter (lead guitar, vocals and de facto artistic director) announced that, for personal reasons, he would have to pull out.

The rest of us agreed that it would be a different band without Peter; Loose Ends was dead. With Jeremy taking a sabbatical from the band that left just Mark and myself to mourn its passing and consider whether to look for other musicians to form a completely new band. Mark was keen to keep playing and it would be a shame if my bass was left festering in its case so we contacted one of Peter’s friends, a keyboards/guitar/vocals one-man-band called Mike. The three of us are going to get together in the new year and we’ll see where that takes us.

That’s All, Folks!

That’s about it for 2018. All that remains is for me to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous new year.

About stoneyfish

Humanist and retired software engineer with a love of music.
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