What the Romans (and Victorians) did for us

DSC_0160 by WJCruttenden
DSC_0160, a photo by WJCruttenden on Flickr.
Last year my daughter, Freya, won tickets to the Festival of History. This was a fabulous two day event featuring all kinds of historical recreations, exhibitions, talks and shows. Unfortunately, we drove the two and a half hours to get to the festival only to find it had been rained off.
This year the people who Freya had won the tickets from sent us a fresh set, so we could (try to) go again.

After weeks of blistering heat the UK summer abruptly stopped to allow us a day in the relative cold. But it didn’t rain. Freya, who has just started reading the Asterix books enjoyed seeing Roman legionaries in action, while her younger brother got very excited at the sight of people learning to fight with swords and shields.

We all sat down to the thrills of ‘What a Palaver’ and their bed of nails routine, even if the Elizabethan/Victorian costuming was a bit random. After that there was wild boar (burgers) to eat, another nod to Asterix, and the Battle of Hasting recreated with a wonderfully awkward moment at the end when the ‘dead’ had to get up to leave the field.

All this and a chance to play hnefatafl. We’ll be back next year.


Good Day

Last week I took a day off work and went to London on the train. I met up with my great pal and bandmate, Richard. We had come to see Tribal Tech play at Ronnie Scott’s club.

Tribal Tech are a band who play, as they describe it, progressive fusion. That’s to say it’s somewhere between jazz, rock, funk and blues, although it doesn’t sound like any of those genres. The music is full of emotion, virtuosity and fun. Despite this, and despite finding myself belonging to a large group of online fans, I’ve only one offline friend who knows the band. Goodness knows I’ve made enough people listen to them, but never with positive results.

So, the two of us made it to Frith Street, had a few beers and put certain, music related sections of the world to rights.

Ronnie Scott’s is a place I’ve been visiting for a long time now. When I first went the food was bad and the place stunk of smoke or had a typical jazz club atmosphere, depending on how you look at these things. In 2013 it retains the intimate staging but let’s you enjoy seriously good food in a clean, air-conditioned atmosphere. Did this detract from the feel of the place? Not at all.

When Tribal Tech came on they tore the place up. Thundering drums, bubbling bass, keyboard and guitar lines weaving around each other with breathtaking virtuosity. The amazing thing, which I only noticed in retrospect, was how, despite being a fully amped, electric band in a small space, they weren’t too loud. At the end of the second set my ears weren’t ringing. The music did feel loud though, in a really good way.

Scott Henderson, the band’s guitarist, usually relies heavily on his whammy bar but this night it snapped off and he had to adapt his playing all though the second set to compensate. Gary Willis, one of the most original and enjoyable bass players was the star of the evening for me though. I’ve been a fan of the sound of a fretless bass since hearing Weather report’s 8;30 album. When I bought my first bass guitar (fretted) it took me a matter of weeks before I was back in the shop ordering a fretless version. Watching Gary Willis play is like reading a book on your favourite subject and discovering something new on every page.

Richard and I had decided against leaving the club late at night to schlep all the way back to our respective homes in the early hours. Instead we walked a few minutes from the club to a hotel and got some comfortable, air-conditioned sleep before getting up the morning for a tasty breakfast in a place off Oxford Street. He headed home while I spent a little more time in the music shops of Denmark Street and the bookshops around Charing Cross Road.

A good day.


A Simple Camping Trip (Part3)

After a day in a tent and another in a static caravan, a bruised boy, a scraped girl and a wife with a swollen ankle we were due an easier time.

I called my dayjob and booked an extra day off work (it was now Monday) then called my daughter’s school and explained why she wouldn’t be in.

The previous night, after finding the caravan’s door had broken, we had been given a lodge to stay in. this was essentially a nicely appointed log cabin with proper kitchen and bathroom and walls that wouldn’t wobble about if you coughed near them (cp previous posts). I was very happy.

In the morning, after a civilised breakfast, we packed the car up again and drove off to enjoy more of the New Forest. Along the way we managed to annoy a lady working in Exbury Garden gift shop by pointing out half her stock was dirty (she retaliated by being horrid to the children), Freya’s tenacious  front tooth finally fell out and she lost the birthday present she had bought for herself.

The next time we go on holiday, we’ll try for something complicated instead. What could possibly go wrong?


A Simple Camping Trip (Part 2)

On day two of our trip I got to enjoy the camping lifestyle fully. I had to get dressed so I could go to the toilet and have a shower so I could get dressed. Luckily my good mood I’d fought so hard to hang onto, was still in place.

After we all had breakfast we decided that I would go to the campsite’s HQ to find how we could avoid more thumping music this evening (actually it was still playing as we ate) while J and the children would go to the nearby playground.

I had a good response from the campsite people who, after some heavy hinting from me, moved us into a static caravan instead of another tent. Given that tent walls are not well designed at keeping out noise this seemed like a reasonable request. I was given a key and shown where the caravan was.

I went to pick up the others, only to find the girl had fallen off her scooter and badly grazed her arm, while the boy had fallen from a climbing frame. He was fine but we all agreed a wooden adventure playground after heavy rain was not the best place to be.

So, we went back to the tent and happily packed everything up to move to our new home. I’ve only stayed in a static caravan once before and it was pretty much the same experience, only this time with small, high velocity people running around. It is unnerving to pull an electric plug out of the wall and feel the wall coming with it, but you soon get used to this.

Things were much better. Walls, although flimsy, were not made of fabric, we had a toilet and shower and a kitchen that didn’t involve turning on gas tanks and lighting matches in order to cook anything. I felt much better.

We did many holiday/birthday things and enjoyed the beauty of the forest. Then J’s trick ankle gave way while she was carrying the boy. I caught him and found a bag of ice to help with the terrible swelling J was undergoing. We limped back to the caravan and began packing for the journey home.

Then, as I was trying to take some bags to the car, I found the caravan’s door was stuck. We tried twiddling the key in various ways but with no success. I tried pushing the door out, in case it was just stuck, but the whole wall moved outward too and I had visions of major damage. It made perfect sense to leap out of the bedroom window and try the door from the outside. I did this without injury but still couldn’t get the door open.

A short time later I had the warden back (he was starting to give us funny looks) and he had to disassemble the lock mechanism before we could get out. Since J’s ankle needed to be elevated we decided to stay another night rather than put her through lots of pain on the drive home.

We needed somewhere to stay.

“I’ve got an idea.” Said the warden.

[to be continued, again]


A Simple Camping trip (Part 1)

A few weekends ago we attempted to celebrate our daughter’s sixth birthday by having a ‘simple camping trip.’ Given that I’m not a huge fan of camping (my natural habitat is in a cafĂ©) I don’t think anyone was expecting me to agree to the idea. But I did. Time is moving on, I’ve never really been on a camping trip and, who knows, it might be fun. So I said yes and the wheels turned up to the point where we were, typically, squashed into a car, running late and in need of sleeping bags. I bought four of them at a quick stop-off on our journey to the New Forest and gazed at them for the rest of the journey with a feeling of adventure and excitement. Cool new gear does that to me.

When we got to the camp site there was enough time to move all our stuff in from the car and have something to eat before it started raining. As the rain continued I began to take more note of the tent.  We had been supplied with a small fridge and an electric light, along with a dangerous looking indoor gas stove which I wanted nothing to do with.

Going to the toilet, or having a shower, or washing your hands meant getting dressed in outdoor gear and walking down the road. Like I said, I’m not a natural at this. My first day of any holiday usually involves me re-calibrating myself to a new building, or lack of facilities, or too much sunshine – so basically, I’m no fun until day two. On this trip, for once, I was determined not to be grumpy. I held it together and we put out our new sleeping bags, getting ready for sleep.

Then the music started. A row of nearby tents had been filled by what sounded like a street party from Essex and they pumped out party music for hours. We’ve had some very bad times with noisy neighbours and so this wasn’t welcome. There seemed to be an attitude of, ‘oh well, that’s the way people are these days’ from others so we decided to put up with it for this night then sort things out in the morning. We all tried to get to sleep, hampered only by the boy getting up every hour to change where he was sleeping, raid the fridge or try to go outside. Oh, and it rained so heavily I was woken three times by the noise.

Luckily, I held on to my good mood.


[to be continued]