Islander by Patrick Barkham

Back on the 11th November I went to Shoreham for the AGM of the Sussex Wildlife Trust, and bought a copy of the guest speaker’s new book – Islander.  In it he tells wildlife, human and literary stories gathered and refined as he planned and visited 11 islands around Britain.  He’s a Guardian journalist and wildlife corespondent, so we are unlikely to disagree about much, and his style is pleasingly gentle – except the description of his children’s projectile vomiting whilst crossing to the Isles of Scilly on the Scillonian.


Right at the end Patrick Barkham draws together what small island life can teach those of us living on the larger central one, and it pleased me enough to offer it to others:

“A small-island manifesto for larger islands might begin with the realisation that we need to treat other people more carefully.  Be open to outsiders and to the world.  Live as generalists, not super-sclerosed specialists.  Spend more time outside.  Reduce our consumption. make our own energy or, at worst, buy it by the sack, and then we will use less. Consider animals and plants as well as people.  Live more intimately with our place, for it is a complex living organism too.”

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Smallest Open House Christmas Show

Up the hill in Powis Square there are two empty Telephone boxes – or they were empty, but currently they host an exhibition of pictures largely of dogs.  Its called Give a Dog a Bone, and is the smallest show I’ve seen since Fred Pipes put on a show in his 1960s Ford Consul Capri – complete with whitewall tyres and rear wings.

P1110604 (600 x 450)

Just beside the phone boxes I spotted two cut through bike D-locks.  Somebody was properly tooled up for bike theft.

P1110603 (600 x 450)

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Clarinet and Trumpet at Smalls Jazz Club

Excellent evening away from the building site that is our sitting room.  Early dinner at Bom-Bane’s in George Street before nipping round the corner to the Verdict in Edward Street for wine and jazz.  Dennis Simpson had to relocate his jazz club away from the Caxton Arms a couple of years ago, but this cafe is a better location entirely.  Or it usually is.  last night Jackie and I arrived just before 8pm and managed to buy the very last red wine they had.  It was an opened bottle – they sell by the glass as well as bottle – but he split it between 2 glasses and charged for 2 large glasses.  We made it last two and a half hours!


But the jazz was great.  Trumpeter Rico Tomass – a big Louis Armstrong fan, who did a fair Armstrong vocal as well – paired with Adrian Cox who excelled on clarinet.  When the two of them pushed it together they were stunning, each swapping from support to lead with telepathic skill.  Rico said that although they had been friends a long time, and had shared many a drink together this was the first time they had performed together – hard to believe.

Sixty people in the room including a group of 17 from the Haywards Heath area.  The chap I spoke to said, ‘we don’t get jazz this good out in the sticks’.

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Butser Ancient Village – a September trip in the rain.

Butser Iron Age Village was an experiment several decades ago, the beginnings of experimental archaeology.  Trying to build, grow and live as ancient folk may have.  It has been on three, perhaps 4 separate sites, and now goes beyond and before (a Yes link there) the Iron Age, so its an Ancient Village now, heavily reliant on school trips to keep it running.  We – the Brighton and Hove Archaeological Society trip – arrived on a chilly wet August morning, with packed lunches in our bags and promises of tea and cake in the afternoon.  The fire in the big round house proved very attractive to me and several others, so lingering there was inevitable.  Gorgeous atmosphere in it as well, not just the smoke.

Big roundhouse

I even discovered a stash of dry logs under the eaves of the roundhouse, so could keep the fire brighter and less smoky, once the bulk of our group had moved on with the guide.  I was obliged to tour the rest of the site where I saw smaller round houses, a Roman Villa which has gone well over completion date and has caused all kinds of trouble because of disagreements between the site folk and the sponsor.  But the latrine at one end of the villa is a big hit with school groups who also delight in the idea of a communal sponge on a stick for post-poo bodily cleanups.

smaller roundhouses

We had tea in a Saxon house recently built.  The main carpenter has space on the site for his green oak commercial business, which makes his time more affordable.  A group of teenagers and young adults with learning difficulties helped put the frames up, which caused a compromise in tools used.  A crane was brought in to aid the heavy lifting, rather than rely on the young people alone, or even kill a couple.

saxon house

The big box in the foreground above is a box full of soil and ash, it contains the fire.  I did not discover whether there was evidence for a fire place like this.


But it seemed to work OK.

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Cardiff Trip

We had cause to visit Cardiff – Jackie had a morning meeting – so we went for five days.  Using this trip to relate miles out and days stayed, if we ever go to New Zealand we’d have to stay about 220 days.

Arrived early afternoon and popped into the Cottage, my favourite Brains pub for a pint of Brains SA (a good beer but not a great beer, but when in Cardiff . . . ).  That duty done we went round the corner to the Tiny Rebel bar for a few halves of excellent beer before walking to The Town House, a delightful B&B, and checking in.

Next day, after Jackie’s meeting, we set out northwards through the extensive network of parks and playing fields beside the river Taff to Llandaff cathedral.

2 Llandaff cath 1 (450 x 600)

It’s a small church in a hollow, but pretty and quirky – note the mismatched towers.  It contains a triptych by Rossetti, but it was closed up and packed away behind screens of polythene because of building works.  Bought a postcard of it and had a baked potato at the nearby Butchers pub, with a couple of pints of a pale ale from Wye Valley Brewery before walking back to town a different way through the parklands.  Spotted a boar-like beast in Bute Park:

1 Bute Park beast (600 x 450)

Speaking of pigs, we had dinner at Y Mochyn Du that evening – The Black Pig.

Day three was Cardiff Bay.  We had to get there by bus because the big riverboat could not beat up the Taff against the heavy flow caused by overnight rain.  The plan was:  wander about a bit, have lunch, wander about a bit more, go to a theatrical event and go back to the Town House.  The sun shone.  Most of the eating places were chains, but we spotted a first floor brasserie with views across the bay.

4 lunch at Bayside Brasserie (600 x 450)

View from our lunch table.  Penarth is the higher land on the right horizon.  The two boats in the centre are the ferries which could not cope with the heavy river flow.  After lunch we walked 20 minutes to IKEA to look at and try out sofa beds.  Passed an interesting sign of the times set in the pavement on our way:

5 anti theft manhole cover (450 x 600)

Not everybody  in Cardiff Bay is living in the new apartment blocks, or converted warehouse homes.  In the evening we gathered with many others to watch a street theatre event.  It was the future, a politician was speaking about the role of robots.  They would make Cardiff great again, but people protested – jobs will go and the wealth won’t be shared fairly.  A robot descended the side of the Millennium Hall (it was a Cyberman borrowed from the Dr Who Experience) and we all followed the action indoors where men in dresses were dancing, trance-like with supermarket trolleys around a wall of brown cardboard boxes (it was called Stepford Wives, which may help).

Further on people in black overalls were mechanically sorting more cardboard boxes, one guy pushing a box with his head as he crawled across the floor.

6 PARADE Millenium Centre (594 x 445)

What did it all mean?  After a few more minutes those of us who had bought tickets were invited to enter the Millennium Theatre proper to watch more brown cardboard boxes being moved, this time to booming music and dramatic lighting effects, culminating with the cyberman announcing that the heart was the link between head and hand.  There was an interval for wine drinking.  We drank wine.  Then there was another dance piece called Tundra.  Eight people danced in a line, moving with extreme synchronisation in many swirling waveforms.  It was very impressive.  We caught a train one stop into Cardiff and walked to the Cricketers for a late pint or two.

Next day was Castell Coch.  A fairy tale thing built by the the third Marquess of Bute who’s grandfather made a fortune from docks, coal and railways.  The grandson saw his job as spending it on craftsmanship of a past or even mythical kind.  A bus took us out of town and a steep uphill walk took us into forest where we found the castle.

11 Castell Coch outside (600 x 450)

The tower on the right is old, part of a pre-existing castle that was in ruins when Lord Bute decided to create another folly. His bedroom is the balconied room over the drawbridge, his wife’s is the top floor of the left hand tower.  The best room is the drawing room, panelling, wall paintings of Aesop’s Fables and the Three Fates over the fireplace – spinning the thread of life, measuring each person’s span, and cutting it to end each life.

7 Castell Coch drawing room (477 x 600)

More theatre in the evening.  The Sherman Theatre this time for a re-working of the Cherry Orchard set in Thatcher’s Britain, in Pembrokeshire.  The Cherry Orchard became an apple orchard planted by grandfather of a upper-middle class family on its uppers.  Felling the orchard to make space for a local aspirational working class lad who had made good as a house builder to erect homes for those who had bought their Council houses for one tenth of their value and were now looking to move off the Council Estate into proper private homes.  This would save the rest of the house and some land for the established owners.  It was very good, often funny and well constructed.  Large glasses of red wine before going in, and at the interval, oiled the process nicely.

Homeward the next day, after a quick look round the art gallery.  Drawn through rooms by the sound of an organ playing the kind of music that would go with a Hammer Horror movie, or a Carry on Ghouls film.  Big Booming Notes of Doom.  I never discovered who the organist was, nor why he was playing.  Quirky though.

18 The organist entertains (600 x 539)

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Straw High-rise in fields

Have you noticed the shift from short cylindrical bales of straw scattered across harvested fields to tall stacks of cuboid bales?  And why do the farmers build them that way?  I met a chap in Hull who watched a tractor and specialised trailer collect one of these high-rise bale heaps in a single smooth action.  And he took pictures – and here they are:

tractor 1 of 5 (600 x 450)

Trailer rising up as tractor reverses towards the high-rise bale stack.

tractor 2 of 5 (600 x 450)

Side arms out to embrace the stack, still reversing.

tractor 3 of 5 (600 x 450)

Lined up, arms on each side begin to close around stack.

tractor 4 of 5 (600 x 450)

Gripped and beginning to lower the whole high-rise.

tractor 5 of 5 (600 x 450)

Tractor moving away before stack fully horizontal.  Who needs people when you have capital?

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More Yorkshire Art

This blog has been going on and on, so this is the last of our August trip to Yorkshire – a little compressed.

After leaving Hull we spent time at Cartwright Hall in Bradford where a new Hockney gallery has opened, but never mind the new gallery, the older parts had a couple of early Hockney paintings, almost his student days.

144. Early Hockney in Cartwright Gallery (600 x 384)

Elsewhere in the gallery there were interesting things to see.  The one below may explain the term “Going for a Burton”.

145. Gents toilet at the Cartwright gallery - the Burton Closet (600 x 517)

We also visited Saltaire where I skipped out of more Hockney and found the nearby Boathouse Inn which offered Rat Brewery’s White Rat – a delicious beer – as well as Saltaire Blond and Blackjack Brewery’s Dead Man’s Hand.  All with a view of the river Aire complete with ducks and geese.  Later wandered about admiring some of Titus Salt’s domestic architecture – taller boarding houses for single workers separated by terraces of overseers’ homes with tiny front gardens (below), and big semi-detached managers’ houses at the west end of Saltaire, with views (then) across open fields as far away from the noise and smells of the mill (at the downstream east end) as possible (further below).

146. Overlookers house in Saltaire 1 (450 x 600)

148. Managers semi at west end saltaire (600 x 400)

Wakefield and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park followed.  Lots of interesting new stuff but I really enjoyed seeing one of the original structures by Andy Goldsworthy – a tree in a drystone lined pit.

160. Goldsworthys tree in enclosure second (487 x 600).jpg

And we found this giant Kangaroo Rat outside a workshop now actually open to the public but mentioned by a member of staff as worth a quick sneek in.

161. Steel Kangaroo rat made at YSP workshops (600 x 584)



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