‘Dogging’ developments


Local government in Peterborough
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Peterborough City Council is digging into its coffers to provide road surface improvements for Splash Lane. According to natural networks project officer James Fisher the Council has received various complaints about the current state of the road surface down there. 

The Council plans to level the surface of the byway and tarmac it from the Woodlands entrance to the Nene Park Trust car park. Apparently, the Nene Park Trust has plans of its own to improve the surface of the car park – possibly tarmacing it, erecting a gate and height barrier and hedgerow management. 

A height barrier will be needed because the suggested improvements will make this an ideal location for travellers, who will not be able to access the Ferry Hill car park once a height barrier and gates are erected there, to pitch-up in their vans and turn it into the usual shit hole, which will cost the City Council even more cash to clean up when they are finally moved on. At least the travellers will keep the doggers away. 

Well known locally as a spot for dogging, a nice new surface on the car park will mean that exhibitionists won’t get their high heels and brothel creepers muddy. And neatly trimmed bushes will give voyeurs a better view. However, the Trust is monitoring the use of the car park and considering its long-term future. There are of course other people who use the car park – ramblers, anglers and so on and their wishes should be considered. 

This is a country by-way. The volume of traffic using it and consequently the number of complaints regarding the state of the road surface must be small. Save on our council tax by filling in the potholes and re-surfacing the lane with crushed stone – the suggested treatment for the lane beyond the car park – and ensure that it retains the character of a country lane not a city centre car park. 

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Morris dancers keep it real


Watching Chels get beaten by Man City I thought I was going deaf; or at least suffering from a bad case of tinnitus. All I could hear was a strange ringing in my ears.

Then I realised that the pub was hosting the Peterborough Morris Dancers Day of Dance. Far more entertaining than a lack lustre Chelsea performance.

Peterborough Morris, The Kings Men, The Foresters Morris Men and The Heganeth Morris Men were all in attendance.

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Shine on Harvest Moon


An 18th century engraving of a Celtic wicker man.
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It’s the autumnal equinox, when the sun rises directly in the east and sets directly in the West. The hours of daylight and darkness are almost equal. This year it’s a special one because the Harvest Moon, the full moon closest to the equinox, coincides with it for the first time in 19 years – and it won’t happen again until 2029.  

The harvest moon is so-called because it gives a longer run of moonlight than usual, lengthening the time farmers had to get their harvests in during successive days of the full moon. It also appears larger in the sky than full moons at other times of the year because it hangs lower in the sky due to the Earth’s tilt.  

Legends and customs surrounding the equinox and the harvest moon abound. It has its roots in the druidic lore of the Celts. This was the time of year they celebrated in honour The Green Man, the God of the Forest, by offering libations to the trees. Following the equinox the descent into winter brings hours of increasing darkness and chill temperatures as night conquers day.  It’s also a period of balanced day and night of the equinox.  

Harvest Home was a time to reflect on the past season and celebrate nature’s bounty and accept the end of summer. It marked a time of rest after hard work, and a ritual of thanksgiving for the fruits of nature – a time to look back on the achievements of the past year and to plan for the future. The last load of corn would be brought home as the harvesters sang the harvest home song. The farmer would provide a supper for the labourers.  

In some areas Crying the Neck would take place. The last sheaf of corn – the neck – was held up by the ‘harvest lord’ who would shout ‘I have it, I have it, I have it.’ The harvesters would ask: ‘What have ee? what have ee? what have ee?’ The harvest leader’s reply was ‘The neck, the neck, the neck,’ so making it clear that the farm had its harvest home.  

Another custom was to make corn dollies from the last sheaf. A female symbol of the Corn Spirit these would be carried atop the final load and kept in the house to protect the inhabitants from bad spirits during the long winter. There used to be a few hanging up in the Royal Oak – made by a local farmer – now long gone.  

The Celts believed the sun or the corn spirit was trapped in the corn and needed to be set free. The corn dolly or ‘wicker man’ effigy was usually burned in celebration of the harvest and the ashes would be spread on the fields. This annual sacrifice of a large wicker man (representing the corn spirit) is thought by many to have been the origin of the misconception that Druids made human sacrifices. We all know what happened to Edward Woodward in the cult chiller The Wicker Man though.  

The Christian Church replaced Pagan equinox and solstice celebrations with Christianised ones such as Michaelmas and Christmas. The harvest festival as we know it originated in Cornwall when, in October 1843 the Rev R S Hawker set aside a day to thank God for the harvest.  

It’ll be too cloudy to see the moon tonight but have look out anyway, you might be lucky.  

Digital radio – Pure magic


DAB RADIO 2008
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Digital radios are smart aren’t they? I should have bought one ages ago. BBC 6 Music is a revelation in music radio and Planet Rock – well rocks. I can’t imagine what Auntie was thinking when she thought about cutting 6 music and other digital offerings loose, particularly when Radio 1 and 2 are so patchy at the moment. And the sports commentary is more accessible, particularly for those of us with ‘council house telly’ who still think that broadcasting should be generally available to everyone, not just to those who can afford Sky.

The Pure One Classic is a neat little radio. Tuning is easy, no more hunting through the static looking for Atlantic 558 or Caroline. Nice design, reasonable sound for a kitchen radio and easy to use.

Of course, there is a downside. interference. The digital signal, particularly in my area, is constantly breaking up and I find that I have to re-tune to FM. Back to the old days. Let’s hope this little problem is resolved before the switch over and we lose analogue broadcasting for good.

And digital does offer scope for manufacturers like Pure and Roberts to bring back some of those wonderful Art Deco Bakelite designs. Life seems to have been sucked out of design lately. A visit to an unlikely museum in Spain recently revealed a fascinating world of designs which could easily make a comeback.

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Shoot day


A Red Kite (Milvus milvus).
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Saturday dawned clear and cool on the first shoot of the partridge season. Hurriedly making sandwiches and coffee to take for the day and gathering gear I realise that all those things I meant to do over the summer have been left undone. 

Wax cotton leggings are still hanging in the shed, bearing the mud of last season like a badge of honour. The Barbour jacket still needs a waxing, sticks and flags are unmade and wellies could do with a clean. No time to worry about that now – it’s time to get going. 

Arriving in good time the teams of beaters and pickers up wait for the brief on the days drives from the gamekeeper. Mates catch up on the gossip since last January and beaters’ day . 

The hedgerows are laden with fruit – sloes, blackberries, hips, haws and cob nuts ripening in the sun. Conversation turns to the weather. The warmth of the morning could turn chilly later. What to wear? Mostly we settle for shirts and jumpers. The abundance of fruit suggests a hard winter to come though. And rumours of snow by end of September abound – an unlikely prospect as the sun stirs up the air above the fields into heat waves.  

Standing now on Denton Hill and looking out across fields rolling down to the fen – the lowest point in the UK – with the drone of the traffic on the Great North Road in the background it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful spot. In the distance over the birch woods of Holme Fen wind turbines revolve lazily in the stiffening breeze. Smoke rises into the distant haze from the  chimneys of London Brick at King’s Dyke. 

Four juvenile buzzards and a red kite slowly circle on the thermals above the shimmering stubble. Cotton cumulus ranks advance south eastwards through the pale blue sky, a sign of rain to come.  But for now the late summer sun shines and warms us as we wait in line for the gamekeeper to call us up to the maize covers. 

With a wave the line of beaters is called forward and we begin to walk slowly through the maize, pushing any birds in the cover forward. Steadily coveys of partridges burst from the tall maize, over the hedgerow and the waiting line of guns beyond. Shots ring out intermittently until we reach the end of the maize cover and the gamekeeper blows his whistle, signalling the end of the drive. 

Emerging from the maize and through the hedgerow we can see the pickers up working their dogs. Spaniels and labradors quarter the stubble, collecting up the shot partridges and take them to their handlers. The beaters move on to the next drive. 

After five more similar drives around the countryside punctuated by lunch, the day is over. The bag is around 200 birds. A game dealer arrives to take the shot birds away to sell to butchers. They will appear on the seasonal menus of various restaurants in the area. I’m with Valentine Warner when he says in What to Eat Now:  “Partridge is a plump and tasty bird and, when hung properly, meltingly tender. Whether simply roasted with butter or braised with lentils, partridges are eye-rollingly delicious…” 

At the end of the day I and the other beaters will take home a brace of birds for the pot. 

These scenes will be repeated up and down the country throughout the winter, from now until the end of February, contributing millions of pounds to the rural economy and ensuring the conservation of valuable wildlife habitats. But above all, it’s fun. 

Secrets of London


Got a weekend in London planned but not sure what to do. The usual sightseeing staples seem tired. Couldn’t get a ticket for the match or the show? Want something unusual to do?

Then why not get yourself a copy of Secret London . Have a look at an excerpt. It’s an interesting read.

To find out what other people think about it have a look on Facebook.

Personally, I think a visit to The Handlebar Club might be in order.

What’s in a name?


Quite a lot apparently. Stamford Homes, the developer of the new housing site off Clay Lane decided to call it Drover’s Mead – a suggestion that stirred up a hornet’s nest of consternation.

It has now caved in to pressure from the Parish Council, renaming the site with a moniker more historically and culturally significant to the village.

Instead of twee generic pap they have opted instead for ‘Berrystead,’ which has now received approval from the City Council. A quick look on Facebook could have helped them gauge the feelings about the original suggestion:

“…this lane was always meant for Fred Green, taking the cows back to the field after milking. These “newbies” will never know it as it was.”

or

“Who came up with that stupid name Drovers Mead? Let’s hope the Parish Council soon kick that into touch and give it a name that has some meaning to the village. DROVERS MEAD MY ARSE !!”

and

“Probably some marketing bloke who’s never been to the village!  Wouldn’t have been difficult to do a nice bit of local PR and asked for suggestions from the village.”

So, with a long list of suggestions including The Spinny, Todd’s Piece and so on why has the developer gone for Berrystead? A poll of possible names was carried out by the Parish Council and the list of suggestions – including Berrystead – was sent to the Council and the developer. After consideration they plumped for Berrystead.

The name Berrystead dates back to the 11th century when the abbot of Peterborough held a manor in Castor known as the Castor or the Berrystead Manor. In 1321 it included a manor-house with garden, dovecote, woodland and fisheries in the Nene, which remained a church manor until the 20th century. 

In the survey of the ‘Manor of Castor or Berrystead’ carried out by the Parliamentary Commissioners in 1649 it was described as ‘consisting of one Hall, one Parlour wainscoted, one Kitchen, one Buttery with a little parlour adjoining, one Larder, one dairy, one Chamber over the Parlour, three other chambers, one little Chamber over the Porch, one gate entering into the Courtyard Chamber over, one Stable with Outhouses with eight small bays, one great barn of six bays besides the Berrystead, all built of stone and slated, one Kiln House, the yard and garden being three acres’ – a substantial farmstead for the period. The important manor also included fields including the site of the Stamford Homes development at the end of Clay Lane – hence the name Berrystead. 

For a full description check out the archive.

They’ve still gone for something generic and safe but it’s relevant. But, given that the area just up the lane is known locally as The Spinny perhaps that might have been a more appropriate name. But at least they’ve compromised.

Band of Joy is a joy


Robert Plant performing with Alison Krauss at ...
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That well-known Wolves fan and  erstwhile leonine Led Zep frontman, Robert Plant CBE, has a new album out today. The long-anticipated Band of Joy – named after his first band spookily monikered er… Band of Joy – follows his acclaimed collaboration with Alison Krauss, Raising Sand. And it’s a complete departure, and probably a disappointment to those who were expecting ‘Raising Sand 2.’ Robert Plant has reinvented himself again with a wry nod to his pre-New Yardbirds/Led Zep roots.

Here is a beautifully crafted collection of Americana, folk, country, roots and trad blues standards. Plant is acknowledging his musical roots, something he failed to do with Led Zeppelin and its unashamed ‘borrowing’ of classic blues.

There’s a hint of Zep’s folkie third album with powerful percussion and mandolins on the opening track ‘Angel Dance.’ But there the similarities end.

The Los Lobos track ‘Angel Dance’ has already received a lot of play on BBC Radio 2 and won praise from Chris Evans, who called it a ‘mighty song’ and which in itself might count against it but persevere.

‘You Can’t Buy my Love’  is  an up-tempo rocker sandwiched between the six-minute plus epic  ‘Silver Rider’ and the slow country harmonies and steel guitar on ‘Falling in Love Again.’

The down home finger picked banjo of traditional ‘Cindy’  and ‘Satan Your Kingdom must come Down’ rub shoulders with a well produced cover of country-folk legend Townes Van Zandt’s  ‘Harm’s Swift Way’ and the closing track ‘Even This Shall Pass Away.’

Plant is mature and at the top of his game here and the band – Marco Giovino (percussion), Patty Griffin (vocals), Byron House (bass), Buddy Miller (guitar, baritone and 6-string bass) and Darrell Scott (acoustic guitar and mandolins) – consummate professionals having fun. And it shows in the quality of these songs.

Plant shared production duties with Buddy Miller. And Percy even designed the cover artwork. Does that wrinkled and stained parcel paper background  and the feather symbol on the back hint at Led Zep’s last proper studio album – the brown paper bag covered In Through the Out Door and closure? Who knows?

Full track listing:

1. Angel Dance
2. House Of Cards
3. Central Two-O-Nine
4. Silver Rider
5. You Can’t Buy My Love
6. Falling in Love Again
7. The Only Sound That Matters
8. Monkey
9. Cindy, I’ll Marry You Someday
10. Harm’s Swift Way
11. Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down
12. Even This Shall Pass Away

 

Wild swimming


Looking over Windermere
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Wild swimming is becoming increasingly popular. Alice Roberts presented a series of programmes on BBC Four about it. We all enjoyed it as kids. The backwater was as busy as the Costa Brava on sunny summer afternoons back in the 1970s.

But here is a cautionary tale about the potential dangers lurking along the river for the unwary wild swimmer.

A friend was recently training for a gruelling 10 mile swim along Lake Windermere to raise money for Help for Heroes. He had swum several miles up the Nene against the current when he decided to rest. Rolling onto his back he let the river take him along. He floated, suspended dreamlike in the swirling water, contemplating the sky, the passing clouds overhead and the trees – getting at one with nature you might say.

Ears submerged just beneath the surface the only sound to reach him was the gentle gurgling flow of the river. But his reveries didn’t last long. He was hit suddenly by a passerby who, thinking that our wild swimmer was drowning, had flung himself into the river to save him. The only problem was that as our swimmer surfaced after the shock of being half drowned he quickly realised that the Good Samaritan couldn’t swim and was urgently in need of rescue himself.

Dragging him to the bank and swiftly administering CPR he revived the would-be rescuer. Meanwhile, an ambulance had been called. Our hero then betook himself to the nearest hostelry for a pint to recover from the shock.

Which reminds me. Visit this website to find out a bit more about the Lake Windermere swim and to make a donation to Help for Heroes.

Babylon was burning for Alan Davies


Alan Davies, star of Jonathan Creek. Cropped f...
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You know how it is. Reading the books pages you see a book that interests you and you really want to read. Potless, you make a mental note to buy it the next time you have enough cash and then forget all about it for months. 

 This is how it was when I came across My Favourite People and Me – 1978-1988 by Alan Davies. I saw him talking about it in an interview somewhere and thought that it reflected some of my experiences and I wanted to get it to compare notes. By payday I had  forgotten all about it. 

That is until I saw Channel 4’s Teenage Revolution on Thursday night. Alan was there in suburban Essex telling me all about his middle class teenage frustrations and clashes with the local skins. Some of this resonated with me. A particularly poignant meeting with the leader of the Debden Skins, who had terrorised Davies and his mates during their youth,  highlighted the social juxtaposition between the working (shirking) and middle classes during the 1980s. 

The programme nicely portrayed the social and racial tensions that were more than just an undercurrent of the 80s. Real life wasn’t all about shoulder pads and gender bending New Romantics. For blokes over 40 – this was a great nostalgia trip. I went straight to YouTube afterwards to download the Punk and New Wave tracks of my youth like Babylon is Burning and Eton Rifles. For girls and anyone under 40, including our kids, it makes an interesting social and historical document. 

This was brought home by Lucy Mangan’s review in yesterday’s Guardian. She found it ‘so extremely boring.’ That’s because Ms Mangan is a girl and under 40 (probably). 

But I digress. I went out and bought the Penguin paperback by Alan Davies – Teenage Revolution: Growing up in the 80s. It is in fact the TV tie-in edition of the afore-mentioned and forgotten tome . Excellent marketing. But I’m really looking forward to reading the book and watching the remaining episodes of the programme.