Category Archives: Events

Verbalising at Verbalise

Last night I took my courage in both hands and went along to Verbalise, an open-mic night at the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal. It seemed daft not to. One, they encourage new people to attend and read; two, this one had a Halloween theme; and three, it was only 4 days after I’d had a ghost book published!

I was incredibly nervous, because although I’ve done open-mic stuff before, it’s mostly been to a room full of friends. This was the first time I was doing it in front of a bunch of complete strangers. The only people I knew were Dave, who came along for the moral support, and my writers’ group friend Julie, who turns out to be a regular. Other than that, I didn’t know a soul.

I needn’t have worried, though, because the organiser/compere was incredibly welcoming, the rest of the audience were friendly and open to newcomers, and I managed to read a brief excerpt from Got Ghosts? (“I’m an Important Television Producer, remember? I don’t do floors.”) with barely a hiccup… apart from juggling one too many pairs of spectacles.

In fact I could have done to read a bit more. Everything I’d seen about the event suggested that performers got a limited time-frame of exactly three minutes, after which someone blew a whistle and that was that. But it didn’t happen like that at all. The official time-frame was four minutes (which at least gave me an extra few seconds to introduce myself) but in reality people spoke for longer than that. I’ll know for next time. At least the snippet I read went down well and raised a few laughs in the right places; even if one chap did snore his way right through!

Pic here. The small dot on the horizon is me.

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The standard of performance was really, really high. There was everything from avant-garde poetry to stand-up comedy, with a smattering of ghoulish tales and comedy verse in between. And after all the open-mic slots had been filled the microphone was cleared away and the headline event came on. This month, in a tribute to Halloween, it was an act called Tallow Tales, who told tall tales of candlelight about local places and events. And boy, were they good. Between the Director and the Grey Lady, they held the entire room spellbound with tales of the Screaming Skulls of Calthorpe Hall, and the strange fates of the Windermere ferrymen. I’ve seen less entertaining turns at expensive murder mystery nights. It was all great fun.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and will definitely be going back for more. If anyone is interested, Verbalise is on the last Saturday of the month, and has a different guest speaker/performer every time. It only costs £5. And it’s worth every penny of that.

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Mr Pepys is pleased

pepysYesterday afternoon I trotted along to Windermere library to hear a talk by local author Deborah Swift about her new book, Pleasing Mr Pepys. You may remember that I was hoping to attend the launch for this book a couple of weeks ago, only to be driven back by flash floods. This time, in spite of ex-Hurricane Ophelia bearing down on the town, I prevailed, and I’m really glad I did.

The talk was great fun. Deborah spent a good twenty minutes giving us some background on Samuel Pepys (pronounced ‘peeps’) – a seventeenth century bigwig in the English Admiralty who kept a series of diaries which are both entertaining and exceptionally useful for historical research. The diaries depict him as something of a loveable rogue but he was also a serial womaniser who seems to have chased after anything in skirts!

Three of the women in his life feature in Pleasing Mr Pepys – his French wife Elizabeth, a rather superior maid-cum-companion called Deb, and an actress who was also a spy. Deborah weaves a plot full of intrigue and excitement around these three women and Samuel himself, and cleverly, she does it within the confines of events and descriptions from his own diaries.

The book sounds like an absolute blast. Deborah read out an excerpt from the first chapter which had us all on the edge of our seats – and by way of contrast, also read a couple of brief extracts of Samuel Pepys’s own diaries to show us the language, style and sheer detail of his entries.

And on top of that, we had tea, cake and a chance for a good natter afterwards. Not bad value for the princely sum of £1!

Mr Pepys is set to appear in two follow-up volumes, including A Plague on Mr Pepys. So if 17th century intrigue and naughtiness is your thing, grab this one and make sure you look out for that, too.

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Book launches, biblical floods, and best endeavours!

I was really looking forward to this weekend.  Two of my writer friends have new historical novels out (‘The Blood of Kings’ by Angela King, and ‘Pleasing Mr Pepys’ by Deborah Swift), and both had launch parties in the space of three days.

First was Angela’s, which she held on Thursday at the Quarter Lounge in Carlisle. I bowled up on the train, quietly boiling as it was a surprisingly warm sunny day, and had a nice meal at the venue with several writer friends. Then came the launch itself, which included Angela being interviewed by fellow writer LP Mennock, and reading from both ‘The Blood of Kings’ and its sequel, ‘To Kill a Queen’. Both books are set, rather unusually, against the backdrop of the earliest years of Elizabeth I’s reign, a turbulent period during which she survived umpteen attempts on her life, and it was fascinating to hear Angela speak about this. And the venue had done her proud, with lots of decorations including metal crowns over all the candles!

Saturday brought Deborah’s launch at the bookshop in Carnforth, a small market town on the Lancashire/Cumbria border. The weather locally had been diabolical overnight and throughout the morning, and we knew some of the roads had been affected by flash flooding. So we got the car out early, and headed for our ‘last resort’, a narrow lane which clambers over the fells at the back of Windermere and links up with the road to Kendal. It’s narrow, steep, and twisting, but hardly anyone apart from the locals knows about it and it’s been something of a life-saver in the past. This time, we got up the steep slope to the first bend to be met by a wall of red brake lights, and had the tricky task of turning round in a road barely six feet wide, whilst braving traffic rushing at us from all directions at once. We managed it eventually, and got ourselves back home. We’d driven the impressive distance of 1.3 miles, and it had taken us over twenty minutes. But all other routes out of Windermere were blocked; the trains stopped running; and the town was effectively cut off for several hours. And in those circumstances, there’s not much else you can do.

It was a real shame to miss Deborah’s event as I’ve been to several of hers in the past and they’re always great fun. This book is an amusing romp involving Samuel Pepys and a fictional maid-servant, skilfully written to include events that we know about from Pepys’s own diaries. I’m hoping to meet up with Deborah for coffee soon, and hear all about both the launch and the book in much more detail.

In the meantime, the floods soon cleared, and we escaped without wet feet (or a wet floor) this time round. But other properties around town weren’t so lucky, and it was quite dramatic while it lasted. As you can see from this photo, which I took just a few hundred yards from our house.

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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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Birmingham Blues

crayLast weekend we dashed down to Birmingham for a very last-minute treat – a concert by the Robert Cray Band.

I’ve been a fan of Cray for years, ever since I heard his famous track ‘Right Next Door’ on a compilation Blues album.  I shouldn’t like it really since it’s borderline soul which I’m less keen on, but the catchy tune and poignant lyrics have stayed with me and it’s still one of my favourites.  So I was delighted when he turned up on Later With Jools Holland the other week, and even more delighted when Dave suddenly said, “He’s touring.  He’s coming to Birmingham!”

Cue a mad scramble for tickets, not helped by falling foul of Viagogo (overpriced and under-ethical, but more on that later).  But two days before the event, the tickets arrived and off we went.  And the concert was worth every penny.  The first half hour was filled with a back-up act, Jeb Loy Nichols, who sang southern US blues/folk, accompanied only by his own guitar, and quipped about his recent move to Wales.  He was surprisingly good and an excellent choice, but paled by comparison when the lights darkened again and Cray and his band came on.

Like so many legends, the difference was striking and immediate.  The sheer professionalism, the passion, shone through.  His guitar playing is every bit as skilled in real life as it is on his recordings (so no tweaking by the production team) and his voice is as smooth as molten molasses, if you’ll pardon the cliché.  What I wasn’t expecting, but loved, was the sense of mischief as he pretended to grumble at his roadie, told the audience “We not so bad after all” and teased his band by keeping them in suspense at the end of some of the tracks.

We got an hour and a half of great music and entertainment.  Not much of a light-show, perhaps, but then he really didn’t need any gimmicks or extras – the power of his music alone carried the event.  I loved every minute and would happily go and see him again.  Just not using Viagogo for the tickets.

A word of warning – Viagogo aren’t an official seller, they purely act as brokers for people trying to re-sell unwanted tickets for a range of music and sporting events.  And they’re not particularly honest.  They add vast amounts to the face value of the tickets in the shape of tax, handling fees and postage (even for e-tickets!), which can bump the cost up by three or even four times.  They don’t make this clear during the purchasing process; the price you see when you click ‘confirm’ is nowhere near the price you end up paying.  And there is no way, at all, of cancelling the transaction or getting a refund.  All you can do is sell the tickets back to them, presumably at considerable loss to yourself.  In the end, we were ‘lucky’.  The tickets arrived in time (some don’t).  They were legit (some aren’t).  And we only paid three times face value (some cost even more).

But I’d never, ever use the company again, and strongly recommend that nobody else does either.  Over two hundred quid for a concert that should have cost sixty?  Now that really is the Blues.

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Damson Day fun

P1020621The Damson Day festival is yet another event we’ve kept missing, not helped by the fact that the last two years it’s been cancelled due to bad weather and the after-effects of the Storm Desmond flooding.

The festival is held at one of the historic farms in the Lyth (pronounced ‘lithe’) Valley just south of Bowness-on-Windermere, a lovely area famous for its damson orchards.  I can remember my parents stopping off at the farm years ago for Mum to buy ten pounds of the fruit to make jam, and unlike many other local products, this one has not only survived but is now celebrated with the annual festival.

This year, it was back, and the weather was great, and we were determined to go.  And it was lovely.  Quite a small event but packed with entertainments, stalls, goodies damson-related and not, orchard walks, and a really nice, relaxed atmosphere.

We mooched around the various tents, marquees and stalls, had a coffee, listened to a local band (Jim Beans, surprisingly good), watching a hilarious dog agility display, tried one of the walks only to be beaten back by a vicious stile, mooched some more, had some delicious locally-made snacks for lunch, and even tried our hand at the archery.  This was a first for both of us and something I’ve long wanted to try but been nervous about given my bad wrist.  However, with some assistance and tuition I managed to hit the target with one out of my three arrows and felt quite proud of myself!

Pretty much the only thing the Damson Day didn’t have was… damsons, but they come later, in the autumn.  This event is very much about celebrating their birth – the blossom, the pollination, the crop to come.  It was a revelation.  We came home in the afternoon sun-burned and armed with damson pork pies and damson beer, and determined to go again next year.

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Ja Windermere!

Dave and I haven’t been particularly well lately – all kinds of winter bugs at work – but last Saturday we shuffled up the hill to Windermere town centre to see the “German” Christmas market.

Ja Windermere is a brand new venture which has never been run before.  And it was very sweet.  Hardly in the same league as Birmingham’s famous Frankfurt Christmas Market, but it featured around 40 stalls selling food, drink and gifts, and was large enough to have closed two of the roads in the town centre (with parking for reindeer behind the Tourist Information Centre!).

The main difference to other Christmas markets is that it was only German in name and style, not in content.  There were a couple of stalls selling gluhwein, and one doing Frankfurters and German sausages, but apart from that all the produce was local, and the whole event was sponsored by Made In Cumbria, a local trade cooperative organisation.

Even so, it was great fun and had really drawn in the crowds.  We spent an enjoyable 20 minutes strolling round the stalls, bought a handful of bits and bobs (including some Herdwick cards to frame) and then shuffled home again.

I’ve since read in the local papers that it was a roaring success, so hopefully we can expect a bigger and better Ja Windermere here next year.

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