Our Travel blog
At the time of writing we are in Leek, taking time to relax, explore and plan ahead, although frankly that last one is just vague ideas more than anything remotely like a strategy. In our original plans 31st August was going to be our last day on Mull. However we’ve made the decision to return there after we have taken care of business and pleasure here and we will work at the castle until the end of the season in mid-October. When we were considering staying on we had one of those passive conversations where both parties skirt around the issue while hoping the other declares their hand first. Eventually one of us, I don’t recall who, came out and said they’d like to stay on if the opportunity arose. Ice broken we made arrangements and sorted everything out, right up to the point when we remembered that we hadn’t actually confirmed with work that there would indeed be positions to stay on for. Fortunately there were and thus we’re enjoying a bit of a break before going back to finish the season.
We left Mull on a damp Wednesday morning, arriving by ferry into Oban under a magnificent rainbow, an omen of things to come as we headed into torrential rain for the otherwise scenic journey towards Glasgow. We lost the rain along with the rugged and untamed peaks of Scotland somewhere around Loch Lomond, met what passes for civilisation at Dumbarton, crossed the Erskine Bridge into the urban sprawl of Glasgow and drifted down the motorway network as the hills became rounder, the land rolling and tamed into a neat patchwork of fields. Towards Leek we could see the green hills of The Peak District, autumnal colours beginning to sneak into the trees and the tang of a chill in the air. We stayed a couple of nights in our house before heading to Cambridge and then on to a fun-filled camping weekend with a group of friends and family in the wild backwaters of Suffolk. Afterwards and in need of several showers we managed a day of visiting and a drive back to Staffordshire via Cambridge. We almost didn’t make it to Cambridge though…
It was my fault. I realise that now. It was me who had his hat and coat on 30 minutes before we were due to leave. It was me who loaded the car as Alison was still packing bags. It was me who double checked every door was locked, curtains shut, security light on, TV off and who sat tapping his feet while the breakfast crockery was dried and put away. Finally it was me who confidently declared “hey, it looks like we’ll be early…” as we stepped out of the house. And that is why we were in fact nearly 2 hours late arriving at Alison’s parents’ house because our ever reliable car wouldn’t start. I won’t bore you with the details but we have learned that moving a car with an automatic choke only four yards floods the engine.
The whole being late/early thing is one of those couples' tension points. I’m habitually an early person: I will sit in car parks for 30 minutes before a meeting rather than risk being late. I used to build so many scenarios into journey planning that if I followed them to the letter I’d have to leave a day early just to get to a meeting 45 minutes away. I have reined this in but I still feel a mounting sense of unease if we aren’t sitting in the car at least an hour before a sensible person would be thinking of maybe finishing their coffee and popping to the loo before setting off.
By contrast Alison tends to leave at the exact moment that will afford her the prescribed journey time to reach her destination with maybe 30 seconds to spare for contingencies. Since leaving office work I’m much more relaxed but occasionally Alison will wander down in her dressing gown, rubbing sleep from her eyes and discover me showered and dressed sitting on the sofa like a restless puppy and surrounded by packed bags. “Morning sweetness,” I’ll say while looking pointedly at my watch. “It’s 5 am and we need to be there at 11:00. Shall I run you a shower?” I add, in the pointed tones of one who knows that they are skirting with marital discord but can’t help themselves. Generally Alison will point out that we’re only going to the opticians 15 minutes away and that nothing short of a direct nuclear missile strike would prevent us from being on time. Left to my own devices I’d be sitting on the uncomfortable chair outside the examination room at least 30 minutes early, giving me ample time to read those framed certificates they display to try and impress you.
This is in fact what I did at my last opticians’ appointment, which happened to be in a supermarket. They looked very official, neat calligraphy, impressive seal and fancy crest. Only on closer inspection did I discover that Wayne had apparently earned a level 2 certificate in eyeology from Asda University and Lynne had gained a merit in level 1 punctuality. They appeared to be the equivalent of parents sticking young Wayne’s 5 metre swimming certificate on the fridge next to the macaroni dinosaur and the sticky fridge magnet proclaiming Worlds Best Mum. I wonder if people (normal people I mean, not me) read these things. I assume they are designed to impress at first glance so that you think the spotty teenager entrusted with the future of your eyesight has completed a 4 year post graduate degree and is now a registered Master of Optometry.
I suppose that’s the price one pays for getting health care from the same place you buy broccoli and crisps. But then I went to a proper optician once and the eventual bill for a single pair of spectacles was more than I’d normally spend buying a car…and that was without all the add-on’s, tinting, anti-glare, scratch resistant coating, frames etc. Since then I’ve trusted my vision to whatever wisdom Wayne and Lynne managed to accumulate on their lunch time seminar. I may go blind but at least I’ll be able to afford a white cane.
 I do really but I’m not telling.
 For the record I do know that the people who work in supermarket opticians are properly qualified and have studied hard.
In last year’s blog I wrote extensively about music. We were working at a lot of festivals so it was natural the subject would come up. This year we’ve been rather quiet on the music front but we’re listening to a rather splendid CD that’s really bewitched us. It’s rare these days to discover an album that could take its rightful place on the shelf reserved for classic albums to be played when nothing else will do, sandwiched somewhere between Blood on the Tracks, Nixon and Raindogs. Songdog have just delivered such an album with Joy Street . If I was a modest man I’d now be saying things like ‘in my humble opinion …’ but I’m not, not where good music is concerned anyway. Joy Street is a triumph and I’ll cheerfully challenge anyone who thinks otherwise because, and I hate to labour the point, but because they’d be wrong. The group sound much more cohesive on Joy Street, more confident than on previous releases, but it’s the music that is a real revelation to me. For example ‘It’s Not a Love Thing’ sparkles with wit and energy, the music invigorating Lyndon Morgan’s words but never overwhelming them. Later on ‘Raise Your Glass in Praise’ is positively jaunty, a word not usually associated with Songdog. It’s an album full of catchy tunes and thoughtful evocative words that perfectly capture a mood or a place better than any picture. You can almost taste the odour of stale bodies, damp bedsits and the lingering fumes of cheap brandy and cigarettes in the track ‘Amen, Baby Amen.’ Above all else, on this album Songdog seem to be enjoying themselves. Make no mistake it’s not frivolous throwaway pop, but self-assured intelligent folk for people who still take time to listen properly and engage with music.
One of the plus points of being in Leek is that I have access to a record player, meaning that we've finally been able to listen to my beautiful bronze vinyl copy of Cherry Blossom Life by The Domestics. They deliver hard and fast hardcore punk with aplomb. The attention to detail on Cherry Blossom Life is striking; from the opening bars of the first track ‘Dead in the Dirt’ where the bass and drums tease before it explodes into life, to the righteous anger of ‘Homegrown Violence’, not just an empty protest song but one with lyrics that convey knowledge and empathy and music that captures the turmoil of an abusive relationship; and just when you expect something brutal, loud and predictable we are given the spoken word track ‘Human Ikizukuri’.
In many ways I couldn’t have chosen 2 more contrasting records to recommend to you, but what Joy Street and Cherry Blossom Life have in common is that they are both meticulous in their execution. They’ve been crafted, thought has been put into the production, into the sequencing of tracks, the cover art and the presentation. They both have intelligent thought provoking lyrics and both are led by singer-songwriters who are secure and confident enough to surround themselves with equally talented musicians to bring their vision to life. Should you want to investigate further you can follow the links to purchase them Joy Street, Cherry Blossom Life or have a bit of a Google.
One note of caution, The Domestics do like a bit of a swear. Which is an obvious and rather lame segue into a brief note about bad language. Regular readers of the blog will know I occasionally use naughty words for emphasis or comic effect. I’m not proud. But then again I’m not embarrassed either. A piece on the local news about enforcing train by-laws and how ‘bad language’ was one that could incur a fine got me wondering about how we see the world and our priorities. For example you can open your daily paper on the 7:15 into Kings Cross and read about famine, genocide, rape, torture, domestic violence, nuclear missile tests, all manner of political shenanigans and if, in response to such horrors, you mutter a horrified swearword you are liable to a penalty because you may upset someone. If you choose to be more offended by a four letter word than you are about famine, genocide, rape, torture, domestic violence, nuclear missile tests and political shenanigans then I cannot help but think you may have your priorities wrong. Sure it is easier to stop someone uttering a profanity than to end domestic violence but I know which one offends me more.
And then fate played a winning hand. On our way back from a trip to London on Friday we travelled First Class thanks to Virgin Rail only charging £2:00 extra per ticket. Just as we were deliberating the complimentary drinks a couple of complete tossers sat down immediately behind us. Well dressed, well-spoken tossers who were drunk to point of being loud and obnoxious but sadly not comatose, and even more sadly not dead. They made the whole carriage a miserable playground for their childish banter. A couple of women walking passed were treated to howling and called dogs, when a guard asked them to refrain from swearing they were almost polite until he was out of earshot when one declared “you don’t get that in cattle class”. On and on it went in a haze of alcohol laced swearing, homophobic and sexist mockery and general boorish boasting. While one went to the toilet the other watched hardcore porn on his phone at full volume. We complained to the attendant and were given a bottle of white wine in recompense but on close inspection it turned out to be made of plastic and thus useless as a bludgeon. We left them arguing loudly about an employee called Peter who is ‘on the make’ and taking backhanders from contractors and who wasn’t fired after his disciplinary hearing, which was the subject of their disagreement. So well played fate, I feel contrite and now believe that the occasional swear is fine if it’s in a good cause so long as it’s not accompanied by a prolonged bout of boorish, sexist drivel spouting from a spoilt, indiscreet fuckwit.
 Bob Dylan, Lambchop and Tom Waits respectively.
 Ikizukuri is the Japanese culinary technique of serving seafood alive.
Now that’s off my chest…we have been able to take advantage of our time in Leek to explore a bit. We’ve walked to the nearby village of Rudyard, which boasts an impressive reservoir built to feed the local canal and was where Rudyard Kipling’s parents met, hence his unusual first name. I guess he was lucky that they didn’t meet at nearby Tittesworth Reservoir. It’s all very nice as a touristy destination. There is a miniature railway that runs along one bank which I later found out had come from Mull where it once ran visitors from the ferry terminal to Tororsay Castle across the bay from Duart. At the reservoir itself there are myriad splashy pursuits involving boats and other buoyant contraptions and a circular walk of, and here I am quoting the official information board “about 4 or 5 miles,” which seems curiously vague for such a short path. We can measure the distance to the moon and be out by fractions of a millimetre so being so imprecise about a walk is either charmingly endearing or bloody irresponsible. I’m drawn towards the latter.
Alison treated me to tea and a scone in a vain effort to stop me grumbling about the sign, following which we watched a squirrel eating a sandwich, which turned out to be remarkably entertaining and put a spring in our step as we wandered back through Rudyard. The village is most comely, set on a wooded hillside overlooking the reservoir and Churnet valley. There is a smattering of newish bungalows and plenty of older cottages, all strung out along quiet streets. It’s all very tidy and quintessentially English and smelled faintly of sewage. We returned to Leek via the old railway line that has become a public footpath sometime since my map was published. It appears to have been the subject of some deliberation when it was opened, judging by the sign emphatically declaring that the council accepts absolutely no responsibility whatsoever for anyone foolish enough to venture onto it through the gates that they had erected for that very purpose.
We managed a scramble up Hen Cloud too, an outcrop of The Roaches that I wrote about at some length last year. It was a delightful climb, just difficult enough to tax us while requiring nothing more technical than grabbing at heather to pull ourselves up. The views from the top were amazing, waves of heather away to the north, green hills to the south divided into uneven fields by hedges and stone walls and beyond the shimmering Tittesworth Reservoir nestled the red bricks of Leek. The walk down was more gentle and led us passed tall fingers of rock into dank woodland and out onto a track leading back to the starting point. Despite the aches and pains, being grubby from the climb and sweating despite the breeze it felt good to be home.
Finally some book news. It’s been a while and literary agents haven’t exactly been beating a path to our door in an effort to publish our exploits from last year. Rather than keep persevering and risk losing the impetus we have come to a decision to self-publish. This means a bit more time in preparation and we’ll be appealing to a couple of people to read the manuscript. Not for proof reading, we will be paying someone to do that, but to ‘give it the once over’ and let us know what works and, more importantly what doesn’t. To make it all seem worthwhile we have decided upon a cause to support but more about that at a later date. If you’d like to volunteer or share any opinions (remember it is all based on last years blog) then do please get in touch.
Thank you for stopping by and reading our blog. If you don’t know who we are, what we are doing and you're wondering what this is all about you can read up on our project here.