“Oi’ll give it foive”

coat_of_arms_of_birmingham-svgBirmingham lies at the heart of England. It is the UK’s second city.

I first visited Birmingham in the 1960s. At that time I was living in Leek, just under 60 miles to the north in North Staffordshire. I moved to Birmingham in September 1970 when I began my graduate studies in the Department of Botany at The University of Birmingham, never envisaging that I would return a decade later to join the staff of the same department. Since 1981, my wife and I have lived in Bromsgrove, some 13 miles south of Birmingham in northeast Worcestershire (with a 19 year break while I worked in the Philippines).

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Birmingham city center, overlooking New Street Station, the Bull Ring Shopping Centre and Rotunda, and the BT Tower, and looking towards the Black Country further on.

Birmingham is one of seven metropolitan boroughs that make up the County of  West Midlands, from Wolverhampton in the northwest to Solihull and Coventry in the southeast, and encompassing the area known as the Black Country lying to the west of Birmingham proper.

To the ears of someone from outside the region, everyone in the West Midlands speaks with the same ‘Brummie‘ accent, rated the least appealing in the nation. Shame! There are subtle differences across the region, but I can understand why most outsiders maybe hear just a single accent. You can read (and hear) what one American writer has to say about ‘Brummie’ here.

It is rather interesting to note that one Brummie, accent and all, has made it big on US television. Comedian John Oliver came to the fore on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and now in his own Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Here’s a classic Oliver monologue about Donald Trump.

And there have now been three series of the cult drama Peaky Blinders about a gangster family in Birmingham just after the ending of the First World War. Again, it’s amazing that this became so popular on the other side of The Pond, given the strong Brummie accents, strong language, and explicit sexual content.

So what has me waxing lyrical this morning about all things Brummie? Well, last night, Heavy Metal band Black Sabbath (of Ozzy Osbourne fame) performed the second of two concerts in Birmingham at the end of an 81-date tour that began in January last year. After 50 years, Black Sabbath have hung up their guitars and microphones. Yesterday’s concert was the final one.

Birmingham is the birthplace of Heavy Metal, but it’s not a genre I appreciate. Nevertheless, this story about Black Sabbath got me thinking.

The ‘Merseyside Sound’ of the 1960s, 1970s is rightly renowned worldwide for The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Cilla Black, just to mention three of a very long list.

However, there was—and is—a vibrant ‘Birmingham Sound‘, with musicians and bands having an enormous impact everywhere. Do any come immediately to mind? No? Well, among the most famous are: Jeff Lynne and ELO, Roy Wood (in The Move and Wizzard), The Moody Blues, Duran DuranUB40, Dexys Midnight Runners, Slade, even Musical Youth. As anyone who follows my blog will know, I’m a great Jeff Lynne-ELO-Traveling Wilburys fan.

Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie was born in Lancashire, but from early childhood was raised in Birmingham. Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant was born in West Bromwich in the Black Country, but grew up in Kidderminster, nine miles west of Bromsgrove.

So let’s enjoy some of the Brummie talent.

Flowers in the Rain was the first record to be played at the launch of BBC Radio 1 by DJ Tony Blackburn in 1967.

So what’s this Oi’ll give it foive business?

In the early to mid 1960s, there was a TV series, Thank Your Lucky Stars produced by the Birmingham-based commercial channel, ATV, and broadcast nationwide. In the show’s Wikipedia page it states: Audience participation was a strong feature of Thank Your Lucky Stars, and the Spin-a-Disc section, where a guest DJ and three teenagers reviewed three singles, is a very well remembered feature of the show. Generally American singles were reviewed. It was on this section that Janice Nicholls appeared. She was a former office clerk from the English Midlands who became famous for the catchphrase “Oi’ll give it foive” which she said with a strong Black Country accent.

Janice Nicholls released this dreadful single in 1963, but at least you can hear her say Oi’ll give it foive.

Among the notable comedians and actors proudly from the region are Sir Lenny Henry (who hails from Dudley in the Black Country), and Jasper Carrott and Julie Walters, who are true Brummies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please don’t mock The Donald – he’s such a sensitive boy

Just 18 days. It’s hard to imagine. In a little over two weeks someone who has demonstrated, by his own actions, that he is emotionally unstable and intellectually unfit will be sworn in as the 45th POTUS. And this following a general election that he won by a landslide . . . loss of almost 3 million votes.

I can’t remember anyone being elected to high office in recent decades who is as thin-skinned as President-elect Donald Trump who takes offence at any and all unfavourable commentaries as personal attacks.

I hope it intensifies, as it inevitably must.

The problem (or saving grace for the rest of us) is that The Donald is his own caricature: the hair, the hand gestures, the curl of the lip, the snarl. His inability to put more than a few coherent words together. Certainly I couldn’t say that I’ve ever heard him give a speech, as such. PEOTUS is not one of the 21st century’s orators. He’s obviously more comfortable on Twitter.

He’s not an attractive politician—the term ‘politician’ is a misrepresentation. As if the term ‘businessman’ better describes him, given what appears to have been a rather chequered life in business.

He’s not an attractive human being. Period.

I came across a link earlier to an article that one of my friends and former IRRI colleagues Ken McNally had posted on his Facebook page. A story on the Politicususa website reported an interview with incoming White House Press Secretary and Communications Director, Sean Spicer, who implored the American people not to mock Donald Trump.

There’s more of that to come, particularly from the political cartoonists, who are already having a Trump field day. You only have to type ‘Trump cartoons‘ in Google to find this wealth of criticism and ridicule that The Donald and his cohorts must be finding rather uncomfortable right now. Just look at what the cartoonists did to Richard Nixon before and after the Watergate scandal was revealed, as I blogged about in 2013.

And it doesn’t take much to ridicule The Donald. Just listen to the Dalai Lama of all people putting in his two cents worth.

 

Trump is a typical bully – ever ready to attack his so-called ‘enemies’. But he doesn’t like it when the tables are turned.

Does Trump have small fingers? He was particularly sensitive about this during the election campaign. Small or big fingers, it doesn’t really matter when that finger is on the nuclear button. That’s not something to laugh about.

After 157 years, Dickens’s words still ring true

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Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

These are the opening lines to Charles Dickens’ 12th novel, A Tale of Two Cities, published in 1859.

These words could also be an accurate description of the past year. What a year 2016 has turned out to be, for so many reasons. I guess we can also now say that we live in the post-truth age.

The best (and worst) for me . . .
Personally, 2016 was the best of times and the worst.

In July, our family got together for the first time. Hannah Michael with Callum and Zoë came over to the UK from Minnesota; Philippa and Andi with Elvis and Felix came down from Newcastle upon Tyne, and we all met up for two weeks’ holiday in the New Forest in Hampshire. A splendid time was had by all!

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In February, I was invited to lead a team of three genetic resources experts to evaluate a multi-center program of the CGIAR genebanks.

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L to R: Jenin Assaf (of the CGIAR’s Independent Evaluation Arrangement, based at FAO in Rome), Marise Borja and Brian Ford-Lloyd (team members), and me.

That evaluation took me to Germany, France, Italy (twice), Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Kenya, Ethiopia and Australia. As I write this article the team is writing first drafts of its assessment of the program, and we hope to have everything wrapped up by early February. I’ll be glad when it’s done and dusted. I’ve thought about genetic resources and genebanks almost every waking hour since I was first invited to join the evaluation.

Besides our break with the family in the New Forest, Steph and I also managed our ‘annual’ vacation in Minnesota with Hannah and family. We took the opportunity of exploring Minnesota some more, and ‘trekking’ to find the source of the mighty Mississippi River. Actually trekking is rather an exaggeration and there were plenty of signposts showing where we’d encounter the Mississippi as it dribbled, so to speak, out of Lake Itasca at the beginning of its 2000 plus mile journey south to the Gulf of Mexico.

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Personally, 2016 was also the worst of times for me following an accident at the beginning of January when I slipped on black ice, dislocating my right foot and snapping the fibula. As a consequence I am now the proud owner of a long metal plate holding the bones in my right leg together. Once I was allowed to become mobile, I used crutches then a stick for many months. I only gave up using my stick about four weeks ago. I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made, but I’m in for the long haul. My ankle and leg still give me pain, and whereas in the past I might often cover three to five miles on my daily walk, I can still only comfortably cover about two miles. I’m sure this will get better.

And, worldwide, among the worst . . .
But my paltry troubles fade into insignificance compared to what has been played out on the international stage.

The suffering of Syrians in Aleppo (well, in Syria in general and throughout other countries of the Middle East terrorised by Daesh) seems never-ending. Talk about political spin! I have visited Aleppo two (maybe three) times. I was once a candidate for a senior position at ICARDA, one of the centers of the CGIAR, and I guess I would have accepted it had it been offered. Syria looked like an interesting country, and everyone I spoke with at ICARDA told me what a safe place Aleppo was. How times change! Will that seemingly interminable civil war come to an end? As we approach the close of 2016, the battle for Aleppo has ended (more or less), but Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers are not going to rest until they have turned the rest of Syria into a pile of rubble. Victory, it seems, comes at any price. Shame on them! The fate of civilians is not part of the security equation.

And there have been political earthquakes in the USA, in the UK (and Europe), and in the Philippines.

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PEOTUS – heaven help us!

The Donald . . . what more can I say?
Who would have believed that His Orangeness, The Donald, Mr Drumpf would secure the American presidency, albeit on a minority popular vote; 2.8 million votes more for Hillary Clinton is quite a margin, even though The Donald still claims he won by a landslide. But then again, his whole campaign was built on mis-truths (aka LIES), denials of comments he made in earlier interviews, lack of policy, a lack of any ability, it seems, to string two coherent words together, although they were, of course, the ‘best words’.

From what little he contributed to the first presidential debate, and in various speeches reported in the news, it’s hard to understand what he really means to Make America Great Again. Based on his choices for cabinet positions, his equivocation over continued links to all his nefarious business interests, and what seems like his complete lack of attention to the things you might expect PEOTUS to take notice of, the USA must be in for a bumpy ride over the next months. Trump scares the s**t out of me. He’s only predictable by his unpredictability, and in a fragile world, I am concerned that such a maverick (and moron) should occupy the most powerful political position in any country.

Brexit (and the clowns who are  taking us out of the EU) . . .
Nifa (Nigel Farage), BoJo (Boris Johnson) and MiGo (Michael Gove. Arch clowns among many.

We’ve certainly had to put up with our fair share of bozos in UK politics these past months. I voted Remain in last June’s referendum on continuing membership of the European Union. I was one of the 48% who voted. We’re not out of the EU yet, so we’ve not seen the full effect of what might happen. I’m not optimistic, although I’d like to be. Those who supported Leave seem to believe that the other 27 countries will simply roll over and give the UK (or will that be ‘UK lite’, i.e. minus Scotland?) whatever it wants. I fear not. So many benefits were touted if we voted Leave.

I think that worse is yet to come, and it will be years before everything has been sorted out or regularised. It’s not my generation that will suffer. But those who come after us. I feel the Leavers were sold a pony by the likes of Farage, Johnson and Gove. And on the day after the referendum it was clear they had no idea of what to do next. And the government still has no idea what to do. But ‘Brexit means Brexit‘. Time to apply for an Irish passport perhaps – I’m eligible.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and Laotian President Bounnhang Vorachith pose for a photograph during a courtesy visit at the Presidential Palace in Vientiane, Laos on September 7. TOTO LOZANO/PPD

President of the Philippines Rodrigo Roa Duterte

A psychopath at the helm in the Philippines . . .
Du30. Rodrigo Duterte, 16th President, ex-Mayor of Davao City in the southern island of Mindanao. He won last May’s general election by a landslide. He’s very popular.

He’s also very outspoken, crude, and—by his own admission—a murderer. An avowed strongman, perhaps he was the man of the moment needed to bring some discipline to day-to-day life in the Philippines, with its political dynasties and celebrity status among politicians. He had the opportunity to make a great difference to the lives of many impoverished Filipinos. Maybe he still can.

He declared war on drug pushers and users, and there have been thousands of extrajudicial killings in the few months since he was inaugurated. It’s clear that his election has split public opinion in the Philippines. It’s sad for me to see how, among many of my friends, there is such a lack of hope for the future under this president.

I know that many of my Filipino friends will not appreciate my candour concerning their country. It’s hard to see how someone as crude as Duterte could be elected president. He hasn’t made friends among the international community. As leader of a country of 100 million you don’t go around calling the President of your principal ally, the USA (or used to be) a ‘son of a whore‘.

Then again, did we expect Trump to be elected in the US general election? Hardly. May we live in interesting times!

2016 is not killing people . . . 
Over the past few days there have been several reported celebrity deaths:  guitarist Rick Parfitt (68, Status Quo), singer/songwriter George Michael (53), Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher (60), author Richard Adams (96, author of Watership Down), and actress Liz Smith (95, the Royle Family). But this follows many others throughout the year: musicians David Bowie (69) and Prince (57), TV legend Sir Terry Wogan (77), and actor Gene Wilder (83). But has 2016 been unusual?

Any death is a cause for sadness among family and friends, and fans. For an elderly person we shouldn’t be so surprised. It’s always a shock, however, when sudden illness robs us of one of our icons. I was only saying to my wife early this morning that perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised that some celebrities have passed away at a relatively young age. After all, several of them must have been carrying quite a ‘substance abuse and lifestyle’ load that affected their chances of long life.

Four seasons in one day . . . and white asparagus

I’ve just returned from a week-long trip to Bonn, the former capital of West Germany. And on two of the days, our meetings were held in the former Bundestag (the German parliament building) in United Nations Plaza, just south of the city center, and close to the south/ west bank of the mighty River Rhine. It’s now home to the Crop Trust.

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The River Rhine, looking southeast from the Kennedy Bridge (Kennedybrücke).

CGIARI am leading the evaluation of an international genebanks program, part of the portfolio of the CGIAR (now the CGIAR Consortium). The evaluation has been commissioned by the Independent Evaluation Arrangement (IEA, an independent unit that supports the CGIAR Consortium) whose offices are hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome. Regular readers of my blog will know that for almost nine years from 1973 and 19 years from 1991, I worked for two international agricultural research centers, CIP and IRRI respectively. This evaluation of the CGIAR Research Program (CRP) on Managing and Sustaining Crop Collections (also known as the Genebanks CRP) focuses on 11 (of 15) CGIAR centers with genebanks.

Joining me in Bonn were two other team members: Dr Marisé Borja (from Spain) and Professor Brian Ford-Lloyd (from the UK). Our meeting was managed by IEA staff member Ms Jenin Assaf. Dr Sirkka Immonen, the IEA Senior Evaluation Officer was unable to travel at the last moment, but we did ‘meet’ with her online at various times during the four days of our meetings.

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On our way to dinner last Thursday evening. L to R: Jenin Assaf, Marisé Borja, Brian Ford-Lloyd, and yours truly.

Brian and I traveled together from Birmingham, flying from BHX to Frankfurt, and catching the fast train from there to Siegburg/Bonn, a 20 minute taxi ride into the center of the city. The weather on arrival in Frankfurt was quite bright and sunny. By the time we reached Bonn it was raining very heavily indeed. In fact over the course of the next few days we experienced everything that a northern European Spring can throw at you (as in the Crowded House song, Four Seasons in One Day).

Now you can see from the photo above, I’m still using a walking stick¹, and expect to do so for several months more. While walking is definitely becoming easier, my lower leg and ankle do swell up quite badly by the end of the day. I therefore decided to wear ‘flight socks’ for travel. Even so, I had not anticipated the long walk we’d have in Frankfurt Airport. We arrived to a C pier, and it must have been at least a mile by the time we were on the platform waiting for our intercity express (ICE) to Bonn. Now that 40 minute journey was interesting, reaching over 300 kph on several occasions!

We stayed at the Stern Hotel in the central market square in Bonn, which is dominated at the northern end by the Bundesstadt Bonn – Altes Rathaus, the city’s municipal headquarters (it’s the building at the far end of the square in the image below).

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On the first night, last Monday, we met with an old friend and colleague, Dr Marlene Diekmann, and her husband Jürgen. Marlene works for the German development aid agency, GIZ, and was one of my main contacts whenever I had to visit Germany while working for IRRI. Jürgen was the Experiment Station manager for ICARDA based in Aleppo for many years before the Syrian civil war forced the closure of the center there and evacuation of personnel. South of Bonn is the Ahr Valley, a small red wine growing area where Marlene and I have walked through the vineyards in all weathers. It’s amazing how the vines are cultivated on the steep slopes of the valley.

Arriving at the end of April, and with the weather so unpredictable, and unseasonably cold, we missed the cherry blossom festival in Bonn a week earlier. In fact, I don’t recall seeing any cherry blossom anywhere in the city.

Cherry blossom in the streets of Bonn, mid-April 2016. (Photo courtesy of Luigi Guarino).

But there was another delight – culinary – that we did experience, having arrived just as Spargelzeit or ‘asparagus time’ began.

With so many food options to choose from in Bonn, Marlene suggested that we should try the Gaststätte Em Höttche, a traditional German restaurant right next door to the Stern Hotel. That was fine by me as I didn’t fancy a long walk in any case. The food was good (as was the weissbier or wheat beer), and we ate there the following night as well.

And since it was Spargelzeit, it wasn’t just any old asparagus. But white asparagus! Big, white, succulent spears of heaven. Just click on the image below for a more detailed explanation. Enjoyed on their own with a butter sauce, or with ham, schnitzel or fish (halibut was my particular favorite), white asparagus is offered on most menus from the end of April to June. The Germans just go crazy for it.

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On the final evening, we had dinner with a number of colleagues from the Crop Trust, at the Restaurant Oliveto in Adenauerallee, less than half a kilometer from the hotel, on the bank of the Rhine.

After a wrap-up meeting on the Friday morning, Brian and I returned to Frankfurt by train, and caught the late afternoon Lufthansa flight back to BHX. Where the weather was equally unpredictable – and cold!

As far as the program evaluation is concerned, the hard work is just beginning, with genebank site visits planned (but not yet confirmed) to Peru (CIP), Colombia (CIAT), and Mexico (CIMMYT) in July/August, to Ethiopia (ILRI) and Kenya (ICRAF) in October, as well as the CGIAR Consortium Office in Montpellier before the end of May, and FAO in Rome by mid-June. We’ll be back in Rome to draft our report in mid-November. Before that, there will be lots of documents to review, and interviews over Skype. No peace for the wicked!

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¹ The walking stick came in handy on the return journey. Waiting in line at Frankfurt Airport to board our flight to Birmingham, one of the Lufthansa ground staff pulled me and Brian out of the queue and took us first through the boarding gate, even offered me a seat until the door to the air-bridge was opened. And we boarded the plane first.

 

 

 

On political campaigns . . .

ballotbox copyI’m a bit of a news junkie, so I’ve been avidly following presidential election campaigns in three countries in online newspapers and on social media.

News from the US presidential election is never absent from the daily headlines, mainly because the two principal contenders on the Republican side, billionaire Donald Trump (or is that Donald Drumpf)¹ and evangelical Senator Ted Cruz, battling it out to win the nomination, increasingly descend to ever lower levels of political debate. Political debate? Their exchanges are not worthy of that epithet. Trump is hardly running an election campaign. I think it would be better to describe it as an election ego-trip.

You would hardly know there’s also an interesting contest on the Democrat side between former First Lady, New York Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. At least they seem to be having a sensible debate.

The other campaigns that interest me are taking place in Peru in April, and in the Philippines in May. Why? Because I have lived and worked in both those countries.

Reading about the three campaigns, two quotations come to mind:

  • Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite (Every nation gets the government it deserves) — attributed to Joseph de Maistre (1753 – 1821)
  • Democracy is being allowed to vote for the candidate you dislike least — Robert Byrne

Goodness knows what sort of campaign there will be in the US after the party conventions if Trump really does become the Republican candidate. He’s both scary and a worry. What will happen if he is ‘denied’ the nomination, and how will his supporters react. The violence we have seen so far directed by these folks against anti-Trump protesters does not bode well for the future.

But there are scary things going on in the Cruz camp as well. He is a right-wing evangelical Christian. And I’ve recently seen footage of him sharing the stage with a fundamentalist Christian preacher who, through his language was inciting Christians to violence, death even, against homosexuals. Because it says so in the Bible.

On the Democrat side, I’m actually surprised how well Bernie Sanders is doing, although I can’t believe he can win the nomination. Nor can I see a 74 year old candidate moving on to be a successful president.

In Peru and the Philippines, some of the candidates are as old as Sanders, but the political situation there is very different from the USA.

The polls in Peru seem to be dominated by Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the disgraced and gaoled former President Alberto Fujimori (who I met in the Philippines during his visit to IRRI). But Fujimori – daughter is also a controversial politician, believed to have benefited personally from her father’s corrupt government. Nevertheless, she is predicted to win the first round of voting. Another discredited candidate is the APRA former president Alan García who served two terms already (1985-1990, 2006-2011).

In the Philippines, which has a party system even weaker than that in Peru, the lists of candidates for both president and vice-president are filled with controversial characters. The posts of President and Vice-President are voted for separately (not as a single ticket in the USA), and it’s often the case that elected candidates come from different political persuasions and diametrically-opposed political platforms.

The current Vice-President Jejomar Binay heads yet another political dynasty, and has been accused of overwhelming corruption. The Mayor of Davao City (in Mindanao) Rodrigo Duterte has served his city for more than two decades, successfully apparently, and regarded as a political ‘hard man’. How a Duterte Administration would pan out nationally is anyone’s guess. Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago is an outspoken – and (formerly) popular – international lawyer who, once she had declared her candidacy (despite being near death’s door from Stage 4 lung cancer only a short time before), was thought to be well placed to win the presidency. Until, that is, she chose Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. (aka ‘Bongbong’) as her running mate for vice-president. Son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos (ousted in a popular uprising in 1986), Bongbong is widely regarded as corrupt and implicated in many of the worst human rights excesses of his father’s regime. Another, Senator Grace Poe, has had her candidacy questioned because of her nationality, having taken US citizenship at one time, which she has now renounced. Which leaves us with the ‘administration’ candidate and Secretary of the Interior and Local Government, Mar Roxas (a scion of yet another political dynasty). Is his wife Korina Sanchez a political liability??

So, in all three countries, the electorates are faced with choosing Presidents or Vice-Presidents from lists of some unsavory candidates, several of whom do not qualify (in my opinion) on ethical or moral grounds to ask for anyone’s vote, never mind political acumen or leadership potential, not even for the most humble elected post.

There will be bumpy political times and roads ahead in all three countries, whatever the election outcomes. Although not a General Election, we face an uncertain political (and economic) future here in the UK with the referendum on continuing membership of the European Union being held on 23 June. Political campaigning and false arguments have not brought out the best on either side of the referendum debate.

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¹ See the full 22 minute video here.

Music can stir such improbable memories . . .

It was a Saturday afternoon in September 1970. I’d arrived in Birmingham less than two weeks before to start an MSc degree on plant genetic resources at the university. However, I’d spent the first week of classes holed up in the university medical centre where I’d had two impacted wisdom teeth extracted under general anaesthetic.

SteeleyeSpan-frontBack home in my digs¹, I was taking it easy, feeling sorry for myself, with a very sore mouth indeed. I’d been listening to a folk music program on the radio. I don’t remember the actual details. What I do remember very clearly about that afternoon, however, was listening to what must have been a pre-release of a beautiful track, Lovely on the water, from the second album (Please to see the king²) of the electro-folk group Steeleye Span. And I’ve been a fan ever since. I saw them in concert twice in Birmingham before I moved to South America in January 1973. The first concert, held in one of the university halls of residence was brilliant. Peter Knight on the fiddle was clearly inebriated, but his playing was unbelievable. The sound balance and level for the relatively small hall was just right. The second concert was at Birmingham Town Hall, a much bigger venue. By then the group had become more rock focused, the sound level was too high and almost painful. Not such an enjoyable experience.

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Rear row ( L to R): Rick Kemp, Nigel Pegrum, Bob Johnson; front row (L to R): Tim Hart, Maddy Prior, Peter Knight

But there are some twists to this story, as I’ll explain below after you’ve had chance to listen to Lovely on the Water.

After the radio program was over, I decided to take a brief nap. I’d planned to meet an old friend, Allan Mackie, from my undergraduate days in Southampton, for a pint at a pub in the city centre later that evening. We would meet there from time-to-time.

I woke up more than an hour later. It was already dark. I quickly realized that my mouth was full of blood, and the pillow was stained a rather bright red. I’d haemorrhaged while asleep. I dialled 999 for assistance, and very soon afterwards an ambulance turned up outside, blue lights flashing, and I was rushed into the Dental Hospital (part of the University of Birmingham) in the city centre. The medical staff stanched the haemorrhage after about an hour, when they felt I was safe to be discharged. The problem was that I’d left home without my wallet. I didn’t have any money on me whatsoever.

Fortuitously, the pub where I was due to meet Allan was just around the corner from the Dental Hospital, so I set off there to see if he had hung around, even though I was late (no mobile phones 45 years ago). I was very relieved to see that he’d not gone home, and he was propping up the bar, pint in hand. Once I’d downed a couple of pints of Ind Coope Double Diamond, he lent me a couple of pounds, and I made my way home by bus.

Now the reason all this has come to mind right now is that I have been listening to a lot of music in recent days, since I had my mishap and am unable to do much but sit in a chair all day with my broken leg in the air.

I was working my way through all the Steeleye Span CDs I have. And that brought back memories of when I first joined the University of Southampton as an undergraduate in October 1967. Having an interest in folk music, a Sunday evening spent in the Students’ Union at the weekly Folk Club became a regular fixture on my list of entertainments.

folksongsofoldengland_1_tepeeNow Steeleye Span only formed in 1969, but two of the members were Tim Hart and Maddy Prior who sang at the Folk Club quite frequently over the three years I was in Southampton. They were quite popular on the folk circuit, and had released two well-received LPs of traditional folk songs. In 1971 they released their widely-acclaimed LP Summer Solstice. Click on the album cover below to listen.

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That’s me on tea-chest bass.

My continuing interest in folk music had grown out of an earlier 1950s interest in skiffle music, which I’ve blogged about elsewhere.

But in the early 1960s, it was The Beatles, The Hollies, Herman’s Hermits and a host of other rock and pop groups that took my fancy. I’ve never been a Rolling Stones fan. However, I always returned to my folk music roots: The Ian Campbell Folk Group (with the inimitable fiddler Dave Swarbrick who later formed a duo with Martin Carthy [an early member of Steeleye Span], and was a member of Fairport Conventionn), The Dubliners, The Corries, Robin Hall & Jimmy Macgregor, among others.

Here are The Corries with Flower of Scotland (recorded in 1968 ), that has—to all intents and purposes—become the unofficial national anthem of Scotland.

All these memories came flooding back, just because I’m sat here with time on my hands. And while researching snippets of information for this blog post, I also unearthed another jewel.

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Bob Davenport (born in 1932)

In 1965, a Geordie singer, Bob Davenport released an LP, Bob Davenport & The Rakes, which my elder brother Ed bought, and it quickly became a favourite of mine. I’m not sure how, but I inherited it from Ed, although it was lost in Turrialba, Costa Rica following a burglary in my house.

Now this Bob Davenport & The Rakes LP had never been released as a CD.

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Until now. And last week, as I was surfing through various Google searches, I discovered that it, and other recordings by Donovan, Mick Softley, and Vernon Haddock’s Jubilee Lovelies had been released in 2014 as The Eve Folk Recordings (RETRO D957). There’s an interesting review here.

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I did a bit of folk singing myself, and a few of the tracks on the Bob Davenport LP became part of my repertoire. I even sang this song, Old Johnny Booker at a folk evening jointly held with the local girls’ convent school, St. Dominic’s when I was in high school in Stoke-on-Trent.

One Folk Club evening in Southampton, Bob Davenport was the guest singer, and I asked him if I he would mind if I sang Old Johnny Booker. He was most gracious and supportive.

So, there you have it. Just listening to a single track, and all these other stories began to take shape. So, to end, here is another classic song, William Brown from that Bob Davenport album, accompanied by The Rakes.

 

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¹ Digs: an informal term for lodgings, actually a bedsit.

² Released in March 1971.

Gardens, apples and pumpkins

For one weekend last September, I almost felt like a ‘latter-day Johnny Appleseed‘. I hadn’t seen so many apples in a long time, nor been apple picking before. Seems it’s quite a family outing sort of thing in Minnesota, towards the end of September, and especially if the weather is fine—maybe an Indian Summer day even.

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

Steph and I flew to the USA on 10 September to spend almost three weeks with our daughter Hannah, son-in-law Michael, and grandchildren Callum and Zoë in St Paul, Minnesota. And we still can’t believe how lucky we were with the weather this vacation. Almost every day for the entirety of our stay (including a side trip to Chicago), the weather was bright and sunny, hot even with days often in the low 80sF.

The first weekend in St Paul, Hannah and Michael took us to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (part of the University of Minnesota), around 23 miles due east of Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport, along I-494 W and MN-5 W. There are miles and miles of roads and trails to explore, but with two small children of 5 and 3 in tow, we limited our visit to a walk through the various glades and gardens close to the arboretum’s Oswald Visitor Center (map).

Hannah and Michael had taken Callum and Zoë to the arboretum on 4 July, when there was an impressive display of Lego sculptures around the gardens.

On the Sunday of our second weekend in St Paul, we met up with Hannah and Michael’s lovely friends, Katie and Chris and their daughters Nora and Annie, to go apple picking at a farm in the valley of the St Croix River (that joins the mighty Mississippi just five miles south), about 30 miles southeast from their home in the Highland district of St Paul. Thanks to Katie for several of the photos below.

The Whistling Well Farm offers several apple varieties for picking, as well as pumpkins and pot chrysanthemums for sale, and chickens to feed.

It’s a great place for the children to explore, and to get thoroughly wet. There was a heavy dew!

Having ‘exhausted’ possibilities at Whistling Well Farms, we journeyed just a couple of miles west to Afton Apple Orchard, to take a trailer ride around the orchards and pumpkin fields.

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What a lovely way to enjoy the company of family, especially grandchildren.

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L to R: Hannah, Zoë, Michael, Callum, Steph and me.