HOWZAT!

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The origin of the phrase “Time and tide wait for no man” is attributed to St Marher in 1225 (at least by the internet, that home of resilient research)  through a mistranslation of middle English, and then sideways to Chaucer (equally not a direct quote) and to Shakespeare (he’s in good company, this saint of whom no one has heard nor is possible to track down).  Wherever the phrase first came from, it’s generally means that if you don’t get on with it, then you’re going to get your feet wet.

Never was that truer than on a September weekend, at springs, around low water, somewhere in the middle of the Solent.

The annual Brambles Cricket Match takes place close to equinoctial springs on the sandbank most recently visited by the Hoegh Osaka, right in the middle of the Solent.  Played between the Royal Southern Yacht Club of Hamble, and the Island Sailing Club of Cowes, the match contests once more the legitimate bragging rights over a piece of ground that only appears twice or three times a year (for about 30 minutes). And in true English and gentlemanly fashion, the skirmish is reduced to a (very) limited overs game of cricket.

Approximately half an hour before low water, you would spot a collection of yachts and ribs clustered together close to the Bramble post.  At some point, someone will jump into the water, and you be forgiven for your surprise when he lands (it’s almost always a young bloke) only up to his knees in water.  This year the lifeboatmen were on hand to do the groundsman’s work and map out the space for the crease.  Almost immediately an umpire appears with a set of bails and the teams wade onto the pitch for the match.  Cricket is joined.

The outfield this year was a little bit more undulating than I remember, though no worse for the two to three foot ditches approximately around mid-off.  At one point the only dryish place to stand was in the slips, and that could get a bit hairy when the fluorescent pink cricket ball got whammed towards us.  As always, the Royal Southern’s cricketers were impressive in their ability to make the runs.  But as it was our turn to win, that didn’t really matter.   Anyway, we had more knights of the realm on our team  and at least one MBE (Geoff Holt got a run or two with a little help from his friends) so obviously we deserved it.  Nothing to do of course with the fact it was our turn to host supper.

The Brambles cricket match is one of those completely mad things that we English do – like chasing cheese down a hill and hacking around a football through the streets and rivers of a small town on pancake day.  There were at least 100 people standing in the middle of the Solent yesterday, not troubled by health, safety, risk assessments or the fact that salt water buggers your flipflops.   No morris men this year, sadly.

Maybe next time.

Wild garlic quiche

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You will need:

  • 1 pair stout, ideally waterproof walking boots
  • 1 mobile phone with a downloaded copy of Zelma Barnes’ excellent Bowcombe Down from Carisbrooke walk (no. 3142 in Walking Britain)
  • 1 small plastic bag
  • 2 more plastic bags if it’s going to be muddy (for your boots:  you can put them inside your boots beforehand if they’re not waterproof, or use them after to save your car)
  • £5 in change (for parking and eggs)
  • £5 more if you are partial to Old Rosie and/or cake

Method:

This weekend’s forecast was the sort that makes racing sailors recruit as many lard-arses for the rail as possible and make sure that the guy on the bow and trimming the spinnaker really know what they’re doing.  A sensible crewman packs her neck towel and hopes that the course setter is in a good mood.  

True to form, of course, it’s been pretty nice, sunny and with light winds, which is always a bit of a shame for the beginner sailors as they’re like as not to end up back on the pontoon before they have the chance to set sail, extra weight being more of a problem in light winds.

I didn’t go sailing, however, as due to a long time commitment to a mate and a pair of running shoes, I’m entered in next weekend’s ABP Southampton 10k.  And to say I’m “not race fit” is a bit of an understatement.   I can barely run to the top of the road.  Handily, the Island has a good set of old railway tracks, which Beeching considerately closed down so that we could use them for other types of leisure. In particular, the newly christened “Red Squirrel Trail” (yes I saw one! I saw one!!) is pretty good for pathetic runners such as myself being flat-ish and car free, so on Saturday I tried out my race pace (slow – really slow) for about 8k down the side of the Medina river. Which wiped me out for the rest of the day.

So yesterday, I was planning to go swimming to get my muscles working again, but it was such a lovely morning that a walk seemed like a good idea.

There are loads of footpaths on the Island.  Some of them are ancient roadways that were probably first laid down by neolithic man out for a stroll with his neolithic wolf/dog/thing in order to drop in with the neolithic neighbours over the next tumuli.  Others are more mudpie pits which are entertaining to wade in if your wellies are long enough, but less fun if you have trendy festival-type ankle boots.  Some of the footpaths on the island disappear every year, not because our farmer landowners are antipathetic to walkers (they’re not at all) but because the paths themselves fall off the back of the Wight.  This happens much more often than you might imagine, so if you’re planning a walk on the wild (i.e. south) side, it’s worth checking before you set off that your route doesn’t take you up and down a sheer, clay cliff face.  Yes. Been there, done that, threw the gloves out.

The 4.8 mile round trip I picked takes a circular route up through Carisbrooke past the Waverley Inn, onto the Tennyson trail (fantastic views) and then down and around the Bowcombe valley where the Lukely brook fiddles its way towards Newport.  In late April, the May is budding in the hedgerows, the periwinkles are grabbing their time in the sun before the wheat banishes them to perpetual shade for another year, and if you’re lucky, you may see a wild cowslip or two.  And of course, there’s the wild garlic.

The smell of it hits you as you get into Cow Lane, at the bottom of the shute as you come off Bowcombe Down. Swathes of it carpet the dipping lane at the feet of the trees and in the shade its both fresh and sweet.  Perfect for quiche.  I picked a handful of leaves from a number of plants and stuck them in my backpack.

I’d never been to Bowcombe.  This old manor has a real feel of ancient solidity and the road through it must surely have been there since they built Carisbrooke Castle next door.  It’s a pretty place, beautiful in spring sunshine and the brook gurgles properly through it, just like a country brook should.

Towards the end of the walk is a ford, something thDSC_0025.JPGat as a child always made me feel like the car and the whole family was doing something slightly naughty, and if you take a left at Clatterbrook Shute instead of following the proper route up Miller’s Lane there’s another one.  There were a couple of small children throwing sticks into the water for a very much smaller terrier.  When the dog realised that it was truly out of its depth, and likely to be swept off towards the bright lights of Newport (Bowcombe really is small) then it got onto the footbridge and tried to catch them with its paws. Cute, intelligent, but fundamentally ineffective.

If you’re eager to make your own wild garlic quiche as authentic as possible, then you can slide up Clatterford Shute and a lovely lady in the last house on the left will sell you half a dozen very brown eggs for an excellent price.  Admittedly you’ve deviated from the quiet route, and instead of taking the back lane to the car park you’ll have to walk 100 yards down the busier Bowcombe road.  But at least it takes you past the pub and its excellent cake on the way home.  I had the apricot and pecan.

Very nice.  I’d recommend it.

 

By the way, if you want a recipe try this:

  • Make up enough shortcrust pastry for the tin you’re using.  If you are feeling really Island-ish, use half Garlic Farm Garlic and black pepper butter for the fat (you can buy it in the Co-op in Carisbrooke across the road from the car park).  I had about 2oz Garlic butter, 2oz ordinary butter and about 6oz flour.
  • Separate three of the eggs, and whisk up the 3 whole eggs and 3 egg yolks with about an inch by 3 inches of finely grated cheese.  Chop all your wild garlic with scissors into the mix. Stir well.
  • Grease your flan cases and line with the pastry.  Fill with the quiche mixture and bake in the middle of a pre-heated oven at about 180 / gas mark 4-5 for about twenty minutes or until the pastry is golden and the quiche has set. Cool for a little and eat however you want.  I tend to chop warm bits off the cooling quiche until I get too guilty to have more.

 

 

Isle of Wight Music Festival Part 2

 

Well, my sister would say that pot hunting is an end in itself, but these days she tends to say it somewhat dismissively;  I think it could be likened to entering a Gold Cup winner in the 15:45 at Catterick Bridge on a rainy Saturday in November, though you’d look a bit idiotic if it didn’t win.

I had wondered who would turn up at All Saints, Ryde, on an empty March Wednesday.  The 15:45 class was the chamber music competition which pitched the Jumbelees P against the Jumbelees S group, and music making doesn’t get more joyful than a bunch of six year olds playing the violin in their first ever competitive performance.   The delight of listening to music could be improved upon (although the four seasons played on the piano accompanied by open stringed violins has a certain something)  – but perhaps joy of the music making doesn’t. I know I wasn’t feeling particularly joyful, as my nerves were worse than being on a 40 strong start line in a blow. European championships are easier than this.

The adults classes followed the kids, and in a proper demonstration of really how you should play the piano, a guy called Alan from New Malden played Mendelssohn’s Fantasia in F# minor, in such a way as to make me wish I hadn’t decided to do this in the first place.  Alan won his class, as one might expect.  Unfortunately, he was uncontested as the only other person that would have been competing was not very well.  And as the invalid was my only competition for two of my three classes, I won mine as well.

The trophies – which I still feel I really didn’t earn (the adjudicator described my choice of playing a Bach prelude and fugue as “brave”) were a little cup and a very nice silver gilt rose bowl, both with dire warning attached in the way of huge cards as to what exactly would happen to me if I didn’t return them next year.  The rose bowl might be good for making jelly in, but the cup is one of those things that ends up being filled with padlock keys that you’re not sure actually work. And they don’t really fit in the living room – my house is too small for the kind of china cabinet that I grew up with (“mind the china cabinet” being the continual cry of anyone in our family who spots anyone else being boisterous indoors.  It was even applied to a parental row, though I think it was under our breath).

My sister has recently acquired her own china cabinet for the numerous pots that she has won whilst rowing, and her recent collection of national awards for volunteering will undoubtedly clutter it up even more.  Given that the only thing that I have ever won for sailing was the fancy dress prize for the Bang and Go Back race at the Island Sailing Club (not counting glasses for coming fourth in the second spring series of a leap year which seems to be what you get for turning up in a Dragon you understand) I feel a bit under-cupped compared with the rest of the family.  Actually there’s a certificate for something entrepreneurshippy but that not only spells my name wrong but has the wrong award on it too, so it’s not displayed prominently.

So I feel a bit underwhelmed by my playing, and perhaps my “achievements”. I came away a little chastened: probably because Alan from New Malden really showed how it should be done;  and there’s a bit of me that thinks that if I worked hard, and practised properly, then I’d be able to play like that. But not pedalling the Handel,obviously, like he did.  There are some lines that should not be crossed.

And I feel a little chastened by the festival as well, which is run earnestly and professionally by people who should be rewarded by more entrants and more support across the Island. In South West  London, the Kingston, Richmond and Sutton music festivals are run every year with loads of kids and a good number of adults playing for the love of making music (and the deadline it gives you for learning the stuff).  Ealing has one too, but it’s too far to get to from Kingston – about the same distance as Newport to Bembridge but with Richmond in the way so people don’t travel it.  For the island, it does seem a pity that a man who lives half a mile from my parents on the North Island should be a stalwart of the piano classes in a place which is synonymous with the name of The Music Festival, and that the best under 15s chamber music is presented by enthusiastic first time violinists who have been marshalled by the private school which is across the road.  If music is part of the landscape of the Isle of Wight, is it not an indictment that classical music is the preserve of the moneyed class and the cultural tourist?

And when I can think of a way to change that, then I’ll let you know.

 

 

 

 

The Isle of Wight Music Festival part 1

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This week, I’m playing at the music festival. No.  Not that one.I’m neither a famous pop star or a skinny adolescent boy with long hair and badly fitting jeans (really) – just in case you hadn’t noticed.  I’m talking about the music festival.   The one that you see advertised on small posters in the newsagents and on church noticeboards, and you can buy a programme in the art shop for three quid.

To be honest, the Isle of Wight Music, Dance and Drama Festival (IWMDDF) is the local facsimile of amateur music festivals that are held all over the country in church and community halls and places where there is still a piano that can be played by any seven year old (as long as their piano teacher remembers to enter them).  Back home in Kingston we had our Music Festival (it still has capital letters in my memory) in November, and in the seventies, it was a truly august occasion.  Maybe it wasn’t, but to my eleven-year old self, I remember being awestruck. So the IWMDDF isn’t really an Island-only experience; at least, I don’t think it will be.  I’ll let you know next week once I’ve been.

I’m a newbie entrant.  I’ve never actually been along to any of the festivals while I’ve been on the Island, which is shameful, but I hope it will be something like the familiar format that I remember:  you enter a number of classes (I entered two) and when the programme is published, you find out where and when you are scheduled to perform in front of a professional adjudicator (think “Britain’s got Talent” without the honking buzzers – I hope).  You also get to find out who you are competing against, and also for which prize.  Music Festivals are adorned with silverware and every class has a cup donated in the long lost past by a hallowed benefactor.

So in December, I entered the Bach Class (up to ten minutes) and the Recital Class (15 minutes).  Motivation was simple – it’s about time I did my diploma, the next step up from Grade 8 piano, and I’m useless at learning anything properly, particularly Bach Preludes and Fugues unless I have a deadline.And I could put the Bach in with a couple of other diploma set pieces (I had an eye on a piece of Schoenberg) for the recital.  From December to March was plenty of time to practise.

Well, guess what, I didn’t.  Don’t tell  my old piano teacher, she’d laugh.  A lot.

And then when the programme came through, they’d put me into the Beethoven class as well, and I can’t really pull out because there’s only two entrants in each of the classes and it seems churlish not to give them some competition.  And anyway, the cup for the Senior Beethoven Class was donated by the other entrant and I expect he couldn’t win it without any competition at all. And as all three classes are within 30 minutes of each other,  I don’t think I can duplicate the Bach.

So I’ve got 7 pieces of music to practise before Wednesday.  First kick of, D major Prelude and Fugue (book 2) at 16:15, then the Beethoven (i’m so panicked, I think it will include Fur Elise) and the recital.  But I’ll be saving the Schoenberg for next year.  Probably. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Silent movies

 

buster keaton cops

My friend James was asking about the nature of motivation….  Actually,  my friend James, being a practical man, engineer and the owner of a small yacht that he once used to move house, asked why particularly I thought it was a good idea to go along to a drag act in the first place.

My best answer to that is I’ve never been very good at coming up with an answer to “Why not?”And having been brought up to do the things that I’ve said I’m going to do, and turn up to the things that I’ve said I’d turn up to as a matter of duty, if not of will, then I tend to get a bit stuck with things that last week I thought was a good idea but this week I’m having problems fitting in between well, the other bits of life that get in the way; like the cleaning.

And anyway, most of the time they’re much more fun.

To be honest, I went along to the Freshwater Film Society’s showing of silent movies because I thought it would be interesting to hear the music which the (extremely good) pianist had put together to accompany them, rather than to watch a very early film clown, dressed in fussy Edwardian clothing and with make up that started with the kind of foundation that these days would be embarrassed to be called such (less BB cream, more Dulux matt finish).  Playing non-stop for an hour and keeping up with the film action is a task to be applauded; not least because the combination of Gilbert and Sullivan, Handel, Purcell, Beethoven and bar songs pieced together was impressive in its own right, let alone when the whole of the 1918 LA Police Force looks like it’s going to overrun your piano at any moment.

But I was blown away by the films.   Buster Keaton’s “Cops” and “The Navigator” are not only great examples of period piece silent films, they are great films. The way the narrative is constructed without recourse to anything but the slimmest amount of serif-text dialogue is fantastic, and so much more sophisticated than the obvious structures of modern films.  Seriously, get yourself onto YouTube and watch. I challenge you not to enjoy it.

But the question remains – aside from the expectation of seeing a good film, which was the last thing I anticipated, what is the motivation to actually get up and go ten miles to a cold drill hall to experience something that might or might not be enjoyable (and I don’t mean getting stuck behind some non-driver going at 35 in a 50 speed limit)? Quite apart from the benefit you get from just doing something other than sitting in front of the multi-fuel stove every evening, it’s good just to get out.  (I think my friends believe I’ve invested in a new musky perfume – honest, it’s just wood smoke).  But more than that, if I hadn’t plodded out to Freshwater I wouldn’t have been shown an art form that was both old, and fantastically fresh at the same time, and which will has taught me something new about the nature of storytelling.  Yes, maybe it would have been visit a plushly renovated Victorian cinema where the seats might have been more comfortable but here on the island we take what we get.   And the bar was open. Result

Maybe the motivation is about newness. Perhaps Mallory wouldn’t quite have summed up to watching silent movies in Freshwater with the enthusiasm that he had for Everest. “Because it’s there” is not something that might necessarily enjoin you to visit the Memorial Hall, but there’s something summed up in that spirit of discovery that would get me out in the West Wight on a cold Thursday evening.   That, and that the chances of dying of a cerebral embolism are quite a bit less in Freshwater than they are on a trip up Everest.

Anyway, I’d recommend it. Try something new this week.   You’ll never be quite sure what you’re getting into but I think it’s worth it for the craic.  You might not get to see a gem like Buster Keaton, but at least if it’s a man in drag duetting with a faux fur collar at least you’ll have something new to talk about down the pub.

 

Drag

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So I’m in the brick box of the Island’s main theatre, watching a six foot two man, dressed as a drag queen, dressed as Norma Desmond, singing a duet with hand puppet fox collar.

In February. Sober.

Do you really want me to say any more?

Eey-aaaaaw

DSC_0011Valentine’s Day has always been a bit of a prickly subject for me.  When i have been in a relationship, I’ve generally been out with guys that bemoan the false nature of the “event”, a stance I’m generally sympathetic to if it wasn’t for the fact that they didn’t buy me flowers on any other of the 365 days of the year either. One non-traditionalist did think it important enough to “do valentines”to the extent where we went on a beginners trampolining training in the West Wight, which was perfect. But bless him, he split up me two weeks later, so we obviously weren’t that well suited, and in retrospect I wonder why he bothered (though I am still very pleased that he did).

Luckily, I’ve recently been able to ‘borrow’ my very good friend Sarah  for Valentine’s Day, as her husband has a job which tends to take him away during he week.  This year I thought  I’d  have to relinquish the pleasure – Valentine’s being on a Sunday, and Sarah rightly  being treated to every husband like thoughtfulness possible-breakfast, lunch and dinner in bed (or on demand) and a spotless kitchen to return to, obviously, when man-pampering was over.

But no- Husband is in Toronto at short notice, so my solitary Valentines was postponed for another year.

So what to do?

Leafing through the County Press yesterday in the library (they have one which everyone can read, which is perfect if the only section you want is the “Round the Wight” section 20 pages from the  end).  And there was the perfect day out – a Valentine’s trip to the Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary.

Seriously, these donkeys are awwww-gorgeous. There are miniature donkeys  – three of them had been kept as pets by a lady who spoiled them so much (in a good way) that they used to follow her to the pub.  There’s the Main Herd – some of these were left behind when people died or their paddocks were closed.  Some had been at the sanctuary for over 20 years and had come as foals.  Some had been beach donkeys, or worked in other places, though for some reason the water well donkeys at Carisbrooke Castle are retired to Devon.  Perhaps its good for them all to have a change of scene.

The retired donkeys are kept inside (presumably at their own choice, in the summer) and are over 25.  Donkeys can live until their late 40s – which seems familiar – but only really if they have lived a life of reasonable leisure. The ancient ones are just lovely.  I hope someone looks after me as well when my hair has gone tufty and all I can eat is mash.

We got the chance to pick our own donkey to groom, so – in deference to my cat Dizzy – I chose Dizzle, the grey fluffy one.  He was terribly cute.  And spent the whole of the time with his head in the bucket of special Donkey treats that he got given.

We came away with a Dizzle Mug each, and a car hanging thing (they’ve got their merchandising spot on).  Sarah bought Husband a Donkey hat, with ears and nose and fluff. She said it was a valentines present, but I think she could just be reminiscing about Dizzle when he wears it.   Thanks to the Donkey Sanctuary, I can see what Titania saw in Bottom.

 

The Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary is on the Wroxall Road, just on the north side of the village.   They’ve got loads on for half term, including the specialist farrier visit on Friday 19th Feb.  I would hugely recommend it; and the people were lovely too. 

www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk