Wednesday 29 June 2022

butter wouldn't melt

Eleven weeks old as of yesterday. And by way of correction to my last post, I've just realised that it's the 29th June today, not the 29th July, so we're actually a month short of the 1226th anniversary of King Offa's demise.

Which, funny enough, will therefore fall on my Dad's birthday; his 76th I think, although I'm not absolutely certain he isn't a little older. I can't remember if he was born in '46 or '44, although I suspect Grandad was a little bit busy elsewhere at the end of '43. 

And it's also the day before my daughter gets married.

Tuesday 28 June 2022

Offa's Dyke

There was this chap called Offa who was king of Mercia from 757 AD through to his death on 29th July 796 AD. Which seems a very precise date, given that it was the middle of the dark ages, and will be exactly 1226 years ago tomorrow.

Given that it must've been a pre-requisite for royalty back then, it comes as no surprise to read that the guy was a bit of a bruiser. England wasn't yet a thing, but a collection of often warring Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. And, according to the wiki I'm reading right now, King Offa was generally considered to be one of the most powerful Anglo-Saxon kings to proceed Alfred the Great.

Whereas Alfred began what was to become the unification of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms into England however, Offa was a different kind of character. Again, lifted directly from the wiki: in the words of historian Simon Keynes, "Offa was driven by a lust for power, not a vision of English unity; and what he left was a reputation, not a legacy."

Aside from topping off east Anglian kings and generally throwing his weight around amongst the neighbouring Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, the Mercians had a penchant for squabbling with the Welsh. Or maybe the Welsh just had a thing for squabbling with the Anglo-Saxons, and from the Welsh perspective, the whole of their land border with the Anglo-Saxons back then just happened to be Mercia.

In any case, in a feat of engineering that must've been impressive for it's time, Offa built a ditch and rampart along the border facing into Wales, called Offa's Dyke. The monk Asser, again lifted shamelessly from the wiki, wrote that "a certain vigorous king called Offa . . . had a great dyke built between Wales and Mercia from sea to sea" although in actual fact it seems the structure ran from Llanfynydd in Wrexham, some five miles short of the north coast, to Rushock Hill near Kington, some fifty miles short of the Bristol Channel.

Still, that's a ditch and a wall some 64 miles in length, which is still a pretty impressive undertaking for its time and place.

The National Trails are a set of long distance walks in the UK. There are, apparently,15 designated trails and 5 coastal paths, and one of them is the Offa's Dyke Path, which covers the probable route of the medieval rampart. Whether the wall was ever completed, built all at once, stretched from sea to sea, or even built by Offa at all is apparently disputed, but this was the dark ages after all, so some licence needs to be allowed.

In any case, the designated National Trail for Offa's Dyke runs for 177 miles from Sedbury Cliffs near Chepstow, along the English Welsh border to the seaside town of Prestatyn on Wales' north coast.

My friend Cathy has a thing for walking. Last year she attempted Offa's Dyke, but the heat of the summer beat her, and she had to abandon the section between Chepstow and Monmouth. Last weekend, she decided to return to finish it.

Cathy and I grew up together out in Kuwait. We keep in touch but rarely get to see each other these days, life and geography being what it is. However, Monmouth being all but next door to where I live, it seemed rude not to meet up to accompany her for at least some of the last stretch.

I had training Saturday morning followed by a gig Saturday night, so I couldn't join her for the first leg out of Chepstow on Saturday but, courtesy of a lift from Dad, I met up with her in the village of Llandogo at 0830 Sunday morning, somewhat bleary eyed but willing, and we walked the last 15km of the Offa's Dyke Path into Monmouth together.

We were lucky with the weather, enjoying warm sun and a cooling breeze for the whole distance, and dodging the showers that had been forecast. Despite only having had about three hours sleep following the gig the night before, it was really lovely catching up with an old friend, and the walk was a reminder of what gorgeous countryside we have right on our doorstep.

Friday 24 June 2022

FOSSC: back under the blue

Spent a very pleasant evening catching up with old friends at Frampton on Wednesday; my friend Geoff had asked me to crew for him in his Enterprise again.

photo: sam wells

Blue skies and blue sails, it was shorts and tee-shirt sailing weather. Actually, sailing might've been too optimistic a term, as the wind was exceptionally light so it was more of a controlled drift.

But the sun was shining and we were afloat, so I had no cause for complaint.

I find myself alone and unsupervised this weekend. Nik's away with our daughter Tasha. So I'm out with Dad to watch a friend's gig at a local pub, then have my own gig at another pub, just as local, tomorrow night. My youngest son Sam has puppy duty.

On Sunday I'm up early to meet another old friend in a little village called Llandogo, and walk with her the 7.5 statute miles to Monmouth. Cathy has, in stages, been walking the Offa's Dyke Trail and as this late stage of her route is somewhere close to my own home (sort of) I figured it would be rude not to join her for it. Sam, again, will have Sunday morning puppy duty.

It's been a while since I've (intentionally) walked that far. I'm sure I'll manage.

Wednesday 22 June 2022

Lottie & Jack

I'm just going to leave this here for me to pick up again in a year or so's time, when she isn't quite so small and fluffy and so utterly precocious.

Lottie was 10 weeks old today. How time flies. The weather is lovely, albeit it would be nice to have a little more wind for tomorrow. But in the meantime I shall be happy to soak up the warmth of the sun and just drift, if I must.

Had a great morning's sailing with the Laser on Sunday. Two races, was beaten into 2nd place by Burt and his OK in both. 

The first one was a clean win on his part, so can't begrudge it. For the second race however, I stayed hot on his tail right the way through and then, as a big gust came through, tore passed him on the last lap. The Laser hit 12.2 knots as I did. 

Survived the gybe at the bottom of the reach with style, but, totally overpowered on the approach to the final mark completely screwed up hardening up into the last beat, which let him claw back a bit of the space I'd managed to put between us.

I still beat him over the line, but once the times were adjusted for our respective handicaps, he had me by a mere three seconds of adjusted time.

He both earned it and deserved it. But still. Frustrating. Losing by a mere three seconds after an hour of racing.

But it was stupidly good fun.

Friday 17 June 2022

end of week

The week is almost done. The forecast has modified a little from when I last checked. Today is still, as promised, deliciously warm, but the rain that was threatening for Sunday looks now set to fall all at once on Saturday night.

I have no plans for Saturday night, which feels strangely odd. Sunday looks like a promising day for playing with the Laser down at the Lake, however. I'm looking forward to that.

The car went cleanly though its annual MOT yesterday, which was a very nice surprise. So nice, that on the way home I stopped off at the local car wash to have it cleaned. I don't know where these guys come from, but they're all clearly immigrants, and some of them don't have a very good grasp of English. But they work like Trojans, and within twenty minutes had reverted my car to pristine condition, bereft of the slightest hint of dog hair.

It would have taken me half a day to have achieved anything close to the same.

Talking of dog hair, Lottie has mastered the stairs. The going up them at least, if not the coming down. So I've barricaded the foot of the stairs with flight cases; Boo is going to have to get used to having her around, but I want it to be under supervision. It'll be much easier once she's allowed out for a walk, but that's not for another ten days.

Tonight, we're all going out to dinner with my eldest son Ben and his partner Hannah. Which means the pup will be left on her own for a few hours, her longest stint without us yet.

Of course, she'll still have Jack for company. So I'm not actually sure she'll notice us missing.

Wednesday 15 June 2022

transient hiding places

I'm looking forward to sailing this evening. The forecast is 7 to 11 knots from the west, so hardly that inspiring, but with the temperature in the low 20's it should be a pleasant enough evening for chasing people around the cans in the Laser.

Or making them chase me. 

I note the forecast is supposed to hit the high 20's by Friday. Then the weather turns mucky in time for the weekend. As long as the rain holds off till Sunday I'm fine with that. I don't mind sailing in the rain, but I have a hedge to trim and a garden to tidy up after training on Saturday.

The latter currently looks like a bomb hit it. A small, fluffy, black and tan bomb, that is.

Silence is golden. Except when you have a puppy in the house. Then it becomes deeply, deeply suspicious. Although nine times out of ten, when it all goes quiet, I'll find her asleep under Nikki's sewing box, which has become her favourite dark corner to hide and snooze and recharge her puppy-mayhem batteries.

It won't be long now before she's too big to fit under there. She has no idea.

She almost made it to the top of the stairs yesterday. Which, of course, is where Boo hides from her. A few more days and I expect she'll manage them easily. At which point, his hiding place will become null and void. He has no idea. But it's fine, we'll manage her and take care of him.

Meanwhile, she remains inseparable from Jack. Forgive the state of the door-post in the picture above. Between a houseful of dogs and a hatful of other distractions for my spare time, the painting and decorating around here takes a low priority.

I've found a local dog training club that runs sessions on a Friday evening, which is one of the few nights of the week I usually have free, but they also run on Tuesdays and Thursdays if gigs or sailing get in the way. Lottie and have enrolled from the beginning of July. I figure she's going to need help training her human.

Tuesday 14 June 2022

intemperance of the young

I always used to think the sign of a good weekend was when you sat back on Monday morning and thought "What was I up to Friday night" and found you genuinely couldn't remember.

Looking back on the weekend just gone, Saturday is easier to place. I skipped training Saturday morning; I pulled something painful in my calf muscle whilst sparring in Cinderford on Thursday evening, so figured, given that I was having trouble just getting up and down the stairs at home as a result, I ought to give the injury a little time to rest.

Had lunch in town with Nikki, bought some strings and a couple of microphone cables, took Nik home, and with my two lads, Ben and Sam, headed back into town on the bus to meet up with my future son-in-law Dan for his stag night. 

At least that's what we used to called it. As it started at 2pm in the afternoon it wasn't just a night but most of the whole damned day. I'm certain we were far more temperate when I was young. However, starting in Gloucester, a series of busses and pubs saw us end up somewhere in Cheltenham by the evening. Not entirely sure where. At some point Ben had decided his little brother Sam had had enough to drink, so we made our good night's, abandoned proceedings, and caught the bus home.

I think it was one of Ben's more sensible decisions.

Sunday, shockingly perhaps, I awoke fresh enough and early enough to keep a previous promise to meet up with a friend at my old sailing club in Frampton-on-Severn and spent the day crewing for him as we raced his Enterprise. A blustery, shifty westerly with gusts hitting the low 20's made for some challenging racing and some entertaining moments, but despite the occasional close call we kept the boat upright. 

Which was as well, as it was shorts and tee-shirt sailing weather, which is so much better enjoyed if you can stay dry. Over three races across the day, we took fourth place overall. It was a good day, and great to catch up with some old friends.

On the home front, Lottie remains gorgeous and irrepressible; she has become inseparable from Jack, who exhibits a saintly volume of patience in dealing gently with her puppy play as the weaves about his legs, nipping his ankles, pulling at his shoulders and hanging off his neck; her head is still small enough to fit in his mouth, and it often does.

These spates of frenetic energy and play are interspaced with long dozes though-out the day and night. She's due her second vaccination next Tuesday, and then a week after that she's finally allowed out the house, so we can start to walk some of that mad energy off.

If Jack has become inseparable from this fluffy little usurper of affection and attention, Boo has made every effort to separate himself entirely. She's presently too much for the poor lad, so he spends the time when he's not out in the garden, walking with Sam or snoozing in the hall by the front door, hiding from her in our bedroom.

Which is fine, for the moment, as she's too small to climb the stairs. Give it another week or two, however.

Saturday 11 June 2022

acoustic: house of the rising sun

It's Loki's fault. Loki being a mate of mine I met at the Open Mic in Cheltenham. He's a brilliant guitarist, a great voice, a keen ear for a tune and has a killer claw-hammer technique that I can only envy. He's also a pleasure to play with, whether it's the same song, or just sharing a stage, because he's an absolute gent to work with.

He lent me a pedal last Saturday. A TC Helicon Harmony Singer 2. Not a guitar pedal, but a vocal effect. Basically a choir of "screaming tarts", as a friend in a blues band once described the backing vocals, in a little blue stomp box. Backing vocals on a foot-switch, basically.

Loved it, so I had to find me one. Turns out finding one in stock with your usual retailers, for whatever reason, well, wasn't happening. So resorted to eBay, paid a little over the retail price, but it turned up this morning. And I'm very happy with it.

One of the first songs my Mum taught me on the guitar was Scarborough Fair. The other was House of the Rising Sun. Both remain favourites of mine, though I rarely play either these days in anything but my own company.

The clip above is a version of the latter, recorded earlier this evening.

Tuesday 7 June 2022

bank holiday recap

So, last Wednesday was, briefly, the new virtual Friday and so that was a four day weekend just done. Something about a queen's birthday? I tried my best to avoid the news, so I'm just guessing here. I actually met her once when she paid a visit to Kuwait back in the 70's, though my recollection is dim as I must've been about seven or eight years old. I recall meeting her son Charles and his then wife Diana much better. But I was about ten years older by then. 

Despite my determination to remain unimpressed, I have to admit he was utterly charming and it was impossible not to stand there grinning with the rest of my school band as he made his way down the line-up, chatting and shaking hands and generally acting like there was nowhere else he'd rather be in the world in that moment than right there with us. Diana was a different matter though, and looked like she'd much rather be anywhere but.

Despite the obvious, easy charm of Charles, and the indulgence of a four day weekend just gone however, I retain most definite republican sympathies. Aside from anything else, the royal family costs the country at least £345,000,000 a year (at least according the campaign group Republic). There are so many better uses that money could be put to.

But a four day weekend, however? I'm totally sold on that idea. We should do it again soon. 

And it was a busy one. 

Thursday, of course, we picked up Lottie. I was briefly baffled to see that my last post stating "We picked her up at 1216 today" was dated Friday 3rd June, but it turns out I'd actually posted it at 0010hrs Friday morning. In my head it was still Thursday.

Needless to say, Lottie is settling in famously. She's totally besotted with Jack, following him around the house everywhere, and Jack's quite taken with her, patiently and graciously putting up with her endless attention.

Not so much Boo. She's just a little bit too much of a livewire for him, so he's taken to putting himself anywhere she is not, for the moment.

On Friday the band had a wedding down in Bristol. It was a lovely night. The groom is a long standing friend of ours. We've played any number of gigs at his rugby club, so every other person in the crowd seemed to be a friendly, familiar face from WRFC or the many gigs we've played around the area. I love playing weddings anyway, but it's a particular treat when the occasion is a mate's wedding.

Saturday morning was the usual hour's training in the morning; with a grading coming up in July things are beginning to get a little tense, so I'm trying my hardest not to miss any sessions. Then it was home for a shower then straight back out for a couple of gigs. 

But solo, for a change. Actually, I say "for a change" but, aside from open mic nights (which really don't count, not least because I don't get paid for them) I've only actually ever done one (paid) solo gig before, about eighteen years ago, when the bass player couldn't join me for what was supposed to be a duo gig. 

This Saturday, both were fairly local, in a village called Shurdington, just outside the neighbouring town of Cheltenham. The first was a single set at, of all things, the village fete in the afternoon, followed by a couple of hours in the evening at one of the local pubs, The Bell Inn.

The clip above is of a Greenday cover I played in the afternoon, called "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)". I very, very rarely get to play that one with the band.

So I enjoyed myself. There's a certain pleasure found in the freedom of being able to decide your own set without criticism from the bass player on the song choice, or "input" from the drummer on the order. But it's hard work. Much harder than playing with the band. And whilst it's a nice change to have a bit of independence, I really missed the support and camaraderie of having the other three guys along with me. 

Which, I guess, is why I don't moonlight as a solo act very often. Which is not to say I won't do it again, however. In fact, I've got a couple of others booked for August and September, respectively.

Finally, I dragged myself out of bed Sunday morning, braved the storm of puppy teeth swirling about my feet and, careful not to trip, loaded my sailing gear into the back of my car and headed down to the lake to sail.

Two races. It had rained heavily overnight, but eased by the time we were rigging on the foreshore the following morning. The temperature had dropped however, and the wind had become light and shifty. There were nine boats for the first race, dropping to eight for the second. 

I completely misjudged the start of the first race, tried to reposition, but had left it too late. The result was a disastrous first beat that saw everybody else beat me to the windward mark. I spent the rest of the race slowly crawling my way back through the fleet to finally salvage a 3rd place out of it.

The gap between the two back to back races was longer than usual as the race officer repositioned and reset the course to accommodate the veering wind. I managed a much better start this time, followed by a good beat that saw me first to the windward mark. The rest of the hour was a continuous tussle between myself, Burt in his OK, Jonny and Emily in their GP14 and Monty and his crew in an RS200.

The OK and RS200 both slipped past me but I got back past the OK again and stayed close enough to the RS200 for the rest of the race to beat them, after adjustment for handicap, and take 1st. There were only 11 seconds of adjusted time separating the front three boats however, so it was a near thing and far from a comfortable win. Which is my favourite kind of race.

So it was a great day's sailing, despite my shambles of a first race. The day was only tarnished by the small matter of me misplacing my car keys. They have a Bluetooth tag attached to them, so should be easy enough to find (you can guess from that this is not the first time it's happened), however the tag proved to be a waste of time.

I spent the best part of an hour after the racing trawling through my bag and my pockets, retracing my steps to and from the beach, checking my pocket again, my bag again, and generally trying not to work myself up in to a state. 

In the end, I stripped my wetsuit off and hit the showers, thinking that once I'd gotten dry and dressed I'd call dad and ask him to pick up my spare key from home and drive it out to me.

I don't actually know how many times I'd checked and rechecked the front pockets of my jeans over the course of that hour as they'd hung, forlorn, on the hook in the changing rooms. But it was as I was pulling my jeans on after the shower, resigned to the indignity of having to admit to Dad that I'd lost them and the inconvenience to both him and me of having to wait for him to bring a spare set out to me, that I found them.

Snug and secure in one of the back pockets. 

Sometimes I despair of myself.

Friday 3 June 2022


We picked her up at 1216 today and brought her home to join the family. So, unadulterated puppy-spam, and no apologies. I remain totally besotted.