Musical world tour

Kabantu-webLast night we went on a musical journey around the world, courtesy of the Lake District summer music festival in general, and Kabantu in particular.

Kabantu isn’t the latest operating system from Linux, it’s a talented five-piece music group which specialises in genre-defying fusion sounds from around the world.  They play everything from South African funeral songs to Norwegian lullabies, taking in Scotland, south America, eastern Europe and even a Texan hoe-down on the way.

The evening, in the atmospheric setting of Windermere’s Carver church, was lively, entertaining and above all, tremendous fun.  The group interspersed the music with brief snippets of information and funny stories (like the Czech drinking song which was allegedly about embroidery!) before launching into yet more samples of their impressive, multi-instrumental skills.

I think my own favourite piece was the Norwegian one, with lyrical string harmonies reminiscent of Grieg, but there’s something here for everyone and the sell-out audience was captivated from the first few bars, clapping, foot-stomping, and even singing along to many of the numbers.  All except the Bulgarian wedding dance.  In a weird mix of 13 and 11 time, that defeated everyone except the players themselves.

As for us, we’ll be keeping our eyes open for more concerts by these musicians, and can warmly recommend them to anyone else who enjoys world music, great tunes, and a lot of fun.  You can find more information about them, their music, and their tours, on their website.

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Two go exploring in Coniston

For the last week or so I’ve had a heavy cold, and been viewing the world from the sofa, and the wrong side of a box of tissues.  Yesterday I finally felt well enough to venture outdoors, so we set off for Coniston, early enough to avoid the summer crowds.  Actually we arrived so early none of the coffee shops were open, so we headed off up the back lanes, to an area we’d never really explored before.  This involved a lane past the Sun Hotel, and then a track which led off past the old farm of Dixon Ground (which apparently dates back to the 1760s) towards Church Beck and the fells.

The whole area was fascinating.  There were old wells, vast stone barns, strange architectural features, a footbridge over the beck that we’d never seen before, and piled everywhere, bits of industrial salvage from chimney pots to digger buckets – possibly, in many cases, left over from the local mining industry.

It made for an enjoyable potter about – and some spectacular photographs.  Sadly my legs were still too jelly-like to do a proper walk, but we’ve bagged and tagged the route for another time and will be seeing if we can use it to get as far as Levers Water and Low Water, the two tarns on the slopes of Coniston Old Man.

By the time we got back down to the village the cafes had opened so we could dart in for a cuppa.  And after that we discovered a huge vintage ‘shop’ (really more of a market) in Coniston village hall, simply bursting with goodies at amazingly sensible prices, and I treated myself to a trio (cup saucer and plate) and a pretty little perfume bottle.

Here are some of the pictures showing the farm itself, various outbuildings, a strange low door with a sign that says ‘Bend or Bump’, and some of the weird industrial bits and bobs.

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Noises Off

chairThis is the title of my latest short story, a spooky little tale told in exactly 75 words, which is appearing at Paragraph Planet today.

Telling a whole story in so few words isn’t easy – I often find that even when I think I’ve achieved the target I’m actually two words short, or three over.  After much fiddling, pen-sucking and head-scratching (not to mention swearing and banging of head against the nearest wall), I managed to convince this story that it really, really wanted to be told in those 75 words, and ‘Noises Off’ is the result.

It’s available to read free at Paragraph Planet today so head on over and check it out. And don’t forget the magazine is always open to submissions if you want to have a go at your own tiny tale.

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Going crazy about paving

When we first moved into this house we didn’t really have a front garden – just some slate crazy paving that covered the whole area, plus one small laurel bush in a little bed of its own in the middle.

The bush died in our first, very harsh, winter, when temperatures got as low as -18c, and stayed below freezing for well over a week.  I can’t really blame it – I was keeling over too and I had the benefit of central heating – but it left the space looking very empty.  Over the next few years I’ve done my best to fill it, planting up the bed with a couple of conifers and some other bits and bobs, and putting out various pots.

Earlier this year, though, we felt the whole thing was looking scruffy and depressing.  It didn’t help that one of the bits/bobs I’d planted was alchemilla, which has put runners out underneath the paving slabs and was coming up merrily all over the garden, even in the middle of the path.  We tried weeding it out but it’s incredibly tough stuff and defeated both of us, so we resorted to weedkiller (always my least favourite option) and were left with scruffy brown patches instead of scruffy green.  Sigh.

Time to call in the experts.  I had a few ideas on what to do with the space, but nothing very unusual or imaginative.  I was sure a professional designer would do better, and that with a bit of mud, hard work (theirs), and money, it would be transformed.  Ha.  Big mistake.  Two designers came out.  One, a local chap from a few streets away, never bothered to send us a design; the other, from the local garden centre, did.  But what a disappointment.  It was incredibly dull – just the same crazy paving, re-laid, with one flower bed at the front, one running down the side wall, and an even smaller bed in the centre, filled with – of all the dull things – heather.  How that fulfilled our brief of “brightening the place up” I have no idea, but they wanted £5,000 up front, just for doing that.  We haven’t got back to them.

Instead, we’re having a go ourselves.  We’ve bought a few more pots and filled those, and I repainted a metal obelisk thingy we’d inherited and have stuck that out there with a bowl of sweet peas to hopefully climb up it.  We’ve bought bags of gravel, to replace the rather horrible mortar in between the crazy paving slabs, and plum slate and cobbles, to strew around in the corners.  And *insert drum roll please* I’ve created a pond.  Well, a “water feature” at any rate – a cheap plastic tub filled with some cobbles we acquired on our honeymoon, a couple of water plants, and topped up with water.  It’s my first ever attempt at anything like that and I’m oddly proud of the result:

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The garden is very much still a work in progress while we hack out the rest of the alchemilla, and the mortar, and get the gravel in place.  After that, I’m hoping we’ll have a front garden instead of a morass of crazy paving.  And the birds already seem to love the result.

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Got Ghosts? You will have!

Terrific news in the last few days – my new book ‘Got Ghosts?’ is due out from Fox Spirit in October, all set to coincide with Halloween!

The book is a complete romp, very loosely based on the hit TV show ‘Most Haunted’, and features a haunted English manor house, and all the things that go wrong when the film crew of (entirely fictional) television series ‘Got Ghosts?’ come for a weekend to make a programme there.

Greystone Hall’s owner Emily has far too much to deal with, including a plethora of ghosts, an arrogant producer, happy and unhappy mediums, a set of missing paintings, and yet more ghosts, not to mention a burgeoning romance with someone she doesn’t expect.

More details to come, but then if you’re good psychics you’ll know that already…

 

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Four seasons in a day at Peterhead

Okay, I’m exaggerating a little there – we didn’t get snow and we didn’t get a heatwave.  But we did get pretty much everything else, from flat grey skies to pouring rain, and then when that cleared, sunshine and a gale force wind.

Interestingly, it was quite a choppy trip down from Lerwick overnight but this time the ship behaved itself.  Given that we saw open hatches in the hull during our stop the previous day, we’re thinking the crew took the opportunity to make some fairly hefty mechanical repairs to the ship, the thrusters, the stabilisers, and possibly even the heating/air conditioning, which didn’t seem to have been working properly before that.  Thank heavens for a much more comfortable night’s sailing; what a pity they left it to almost the end of the holiday before fixing things.

Peterhead is a nice old fishing town with impressive docks, some interesting old harbour buildings, and quite possibly the world’s smallest museum!  The ship moored up at an industrial harbour just outside the town, but there was a regular shuttle bus service back and forth to the centre which avoided a two-mile hike.

First stop was a café for coffee; the ship was devoid of decaff so I’d been drinking tea all week and was desperate for a coffee… any coffee…  and very nice it was too.  I felt rather like the old adverts for the Bisto kids.  Aaaah!

By the time we’d emerged again the rain had arrived so we had a quick wander round then headed for the Arbuthnot Museum.  Our cruise literature had mentioned this as being a fascinating, in-depth look at the town’s history, the fishing trade, whaling, and goodness knows what else, so we were expecting something at least the same size as Lerwick.  What a difference!  For starters it was balanced above the town’s library.  Then it turned out to be not much more than one room, with a gallery of paintings to one side.  It was interesting, with some unusual exhibits (pretty Inuit whalebone carvings, a stuffed musk ox…) but it was very, very small and even poring over the displays only took us around fifteen minutes.  So we headed back outdoors again.

By now it wasn’t just pouring, it was absolutely hammering down, with the sort of rain that bounces six inches off the pavements and soaks you to the skin.  And the wind was getting up.  We mooched around some more, explored the main harbour/fishing port area (neatly avoiding two huge seagulls fighting over a dead frog), and then found a Wetherspoons pub where we dripped, squelched, and wrapped ourselves around a chilli nachos platter to share.  And it just shows how poor the food on the ship was when I say that that was easily the best meal we’d had all week.

The rain gradually eased off and the skies brightened, but by now the wind was so strong it was blowing the camera off the level in my hand, so I couldn’t take as many photos as I’d have liked.  We tramped over to the bay on the other side of the spit that Peterhead is situated on, stared at the lashing waves, and then caught the shuttle bus back to the ship to start our packing.

Overall, the cruise was a disappointment, especially given how much we’d paid for it.  Locations, excursions and on-board lectures got a nine out of ten.  The ship, about two.  We’d happily travel with National Trust for Scotland again sometime, but we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled and won’t be setting foot on the MV Berlin.

Pictures this time include a couple of nice statues hidden around the town, and an amusing cake in the local baker’s front window!

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A Wet Friday in Lerwick

A quick bounce down the coast saw us moored up in Lerwick, capital of the Shetland Islands, on Friday morning.  We grabbed a quick breakfast, donned boots and waterproofs and set off to explore.

The weather wasn’t particularly kind – pouring with rain and blowing what I believe is known as a ‘hoolie’ north of the border.  Amusingly, when we popped into a café to dry out and wrap ourselves round a coffee, a friendly local told us that “at least it wasn’t windy”.  Well, if that’s flat calm, I’d hate to see the place in a gale!  Damp feet and inside-out brollies notwithstanding, we had a really good mooch round the town, discovering some old fishing cottages and warehouses, the Napoleonic fort (later used during both World Wars), and the dry and fascinating haven of the town’s museum.

This was an absolute revelation – quite possibly the best small museum we’ve ever been in.  It told the story of Shetland from its geological beginnings, through early man, and into the modern age of fishing and, eventually, the discovery of oil.  Laid out in a series of rooms with things to look at, listen to, and prod, it was a fascinating journey both literally and figuratively, with some memorable exhibits: the reconstructed face of a Stone Age woman which looked startlingly modern; another reconstruction of an 18th or 19th century crofter’s house which didn’t seem to have changed much from the days of Skara Brae on Orkney.  And after a nice lunch (in the next-door arts centre, since the museum restaurant was bursting at the seams) we returned to explore the boat sheds, where experts are currently conserving one of the lifeboats from HMS Oceanic, one of the White Star line ships (think Titanic).

All in all Lerwick seems like a lovely little town and we really enjoyed poking about, and would love to come back some day for a slightly longer call.  Of course, the minute our ship set sail the rain stopped, the clouds rolled away, and the sun came out – but at least that gave us a taste of what the place could look like on a decent day.

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