Friday, 29 November 2019

Irish Peregrinations

Here's a wonky image of our baby, being loaded onto a lorry; for its journey to Ireland.

It's nearly the end of November (2019), and Moonstone is now moored in a lovely little marina on the River Shannon. Viz:

That location and the current sociopolitical situation are not unconnected ... the prospect of living in a United Kingdom which returns Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, is a prospect just too depressing to contemplate. The societal consequences released by the referendum - initiated by 'call me Dave' Cameron; purely for reasons of internal Tory Party stresses - may have irrevocably changed the way people of this country treat each other ... it's not a pretty sight! That is, of course, a generality but; nonetheless undeniable, for all that. (The voice in my head sounds almost like Donald Trump ... "So sad!"

Lyn and I are hoping (against hope) for an election result which denies Boris Johnson his heart's desire but, realistically, we are preparing for disappointment ... whilst working for our local Labour Party candidate! However; the overwhelming forces of the mainstream media, established financial superstructures, and various international vested-interests, ranged against radical change to deliver social justice, are probably too great to withstand. I am old enough to remember what happened to Clement Attlee's government, in 1951. It appears that, now; as then; the turkeys will vote for Christmas. "So sad!"

Those of you who receive e-mails from me, will be aware that each one is signed-off with a quote from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt 's second Inaugural address (1937): "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." That statement is, for me, the epitome of social justice; and a tenet to which I shall cling, until I depart this world. Enough!

Ceasing, herewith, all polemic; I will try to devote my time on this medium to commentary on the Watery Peregrinations, which Lyn and I are undertaking. We have made arrangements to be on the boat over Christmas. The marina will be to all intents, bereft of humanity, saving only ourselves! We are hoping for a day or two (or 3 or 4?) of clement weather, so that we might have our inaugural cruise on the River Shannon. Just a scant ten (or so) miles away, is Carrick-on-Sahnnon. Surely even inclement weather will allow us to get as far as that?

Carrick-on-Shannon is a pretty, small town; on both sides of the river; in the counties of Roscommon and Leitrim. Though of no great size, it has all the amenities necessary for a comfortable life and, at just 14 kilometres remove (by road) from Tara Marina, is a not too onerous bicycle ride.

 ... and here is Moonstone, doing 55mph. on the M62, heading for Holyhead, and the Dublin ferry.

That's enough for now. If we don't chat beforehand ... all felicitations for the Festive Season.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Aegean Peregrinations.

Hello! It's been a while since I added anything to this (sort of) blog ... but here I am again.

It has been a year - almost to the day - since Lyn and I moved 'onto the bank'. During that time our life has proceeded, gently and pleasantly, in the wise of the broad mass of landlubbers. We've visited - for gigs - Poland, Spain and Ireland; and toured around England, wherever engagements demanded my presence.

The visit to The English Folk Music Club, on the Costa Blanca; and staying with our old friends Carol and Ian Smith; reignited our (mild) passion for snorkelling. That engendered a search for an affordable sea-going adventure: which led us to joining a cruise on a Turkish 'gulet' (pronounded: 'goolett'), around Gokova Bay, in South-West Turkey.

Our craft was NAVIGA 1, a beautifully outfitted (motorised) two-masted, wooden sailing vessel, about 28 metres long with a beam of about 6 metres.

It has 8 en-suite cabins, plus a cabin for the captain, and quarters (not quite so salubrious) for the (3) crew-members. Life was lived 'on deck', as the weather was gorgeous enough for us never to need to resort to the 'lounge'; so all meals - delicious, and heavy with fresh fruit and vegetables - were served on the after-deck.

Anyway ... we departed Leeds/Bradford airport on the afternoon of Friday, Oct. 12; setting down on Kos around 9pm. and by 10:30 we were seated in a lovely open-to-the-pavement restaurant in Kos Town; listening to three elderly (sort of MY age 😉 ) Greek musicians, and watching the locals dance. The food and wine were delicious!

The following morning we took the ferry to Bodrum, in Turkey; about a 50 minute trip.

Whilst the population of Bodrum is about 43,000; compared with about 23,00 for Kos; the harbour of Bodrum is only a little larger than Kos, but much more crowded due to the thriving holiday sailing industry based there. Once through Turkish customs and immigration formalities, Naviga 1 was mere steps (about 50 mtrs) away and, within minutes we were comfortably ensconced in our cabin. Not all our shipmates (read: fellow-passengers) had arrived, so there were just three of us for a delicious and casual dinner; we two being joined by Suzanne: who was 'an army brat' all around the world, now a Belgian citizen, currently residing in France! Nowhere near as cosmopolitan as the rest of our shipmates, though ... read on.

Whilst our cabin was well outfitted and very comfortable, a restful night's sleep was not to be. In the season: Bodrum is a 'party town', and very loud. That cacophony had not long died down when the muezzin called the faithful to prayer ... at 5:30am. ... 3:30 UK time ... and the 'sound guy' had the sliders set at eleven!!!

At breakfast (the last time I'll wax rhapsodic about the lovely eating options of coffee, fruits and copious deli choices) our complement was fully assembled. Joining Lyn, Suzanne and me were ... 
Srinivas (from India), Ahmed, Adel and Ali (from Egypt); all employees of the Carrier air-conditioning company, in Dubai; on a company funded jolly ... 
Ayesha and Hussain (from Istanbul) ... 
Paola and Gerardo (from Naples) ... 
 ... thankfully our (shameful) deficiencies in Hindu, Arabic, Turkish and Italian were deferred to; and English became the 'lingua franca'. Even the young Turkish captain and his (3) crewmen all spoke English.

Raising anchor (literally) after only one more blast from the speakers on the mosque, we set sail (not literally) from Bodrum and 'pointed her nose', westward, into Gokova Bay.
Break here so that you can make up substitute lyrics, and hum the melody of Otis Redding's: (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay. My version starts: 'Cruisin' on the Gokova Bay, Ain't no clouds to get in the way-a-a-y. Cruisin' on the Gokova Bay, Wastin' ti-ime.


In what was to become the pattern of our cruising; after less than two hours we dropped anchor in a deserted cove and went swimming and snorkelling whilst lunch was being prepared. In the afternoon, once everyone was done playing in the water, we would cruise to another bay for swimming, supper and our overnight mooring. Occasionally we went ashore into small villages (to which we could swim or take the small outboard boat); and we spent a few hours at an archaeological site known as Cleopatra's Island - which has the bluest water I have ever seen. Legend has it that the sand on the beach, which doesn't match anything found in that area, was imported for Cleopatra by a besotted Mark Anthony. 

For the whole week's duration of our cruise the (daytime) air temperature hovered around 23-25°C, with water temperatures maintaining 22-23 °C ... gorgeous! At this point I find myself with very little to add. We came seeking relaxing indolence and, having achieved that, I find descriptions of it to be decidedly prosaic. We spent a full week enjoying the company of our shipmates - each of whom proved to be delightful and interesting - sleeping, reading, conversing, swimming, lazing; accompanied by an occasional glass of beer or wine. As the weather had just taken a turn for the worse; when we were in our cab to Leeds/Bradford; we worked very hard to avoid any sense of schadenfreude . really!

We can't claim that the skies were always cloudless. Look ... there are some clouds!

At the half-way point of the trip, Our 'Gulf' contingent, along with Ayisha and Hussain, left us; so we had a small party to wish them all bon-voyage; enabling them to proffer their gratitude to our crewmen ... 

Our skipper - stage right - is looking suitably serious and responsible, but I must mention Servet: standing next to him. Servet was the gulet's  second in command/cook. He was unfailingly cheerful, helpful. and proficient. He is working towards his command qualification, and we can truthfully say that we would be very happy to sail with Servet, at any time.
We were concerned that, with our complement reduced to a mere quintet, we might lose our 'critical mass'. Happily; Veronika and Martin - from exotic Slovikia - replaced our deserters! Their arrival reduced the average age of souls-on-board by several years.

We've sacked the official photographer. We can't find Martin anywhere, but here's Veronika!

I've used the terms: 'sail' and 'sailing'; which were appearing to be redundant, until I led a mutiny and several of us nagged our skipper, until he relented and, eventually, raised the sails so that we were wind-driven for two or three hours ... blissful, and better than nothing.

Every night; excepting only the first and last nights, in Bodrum harbour; we spent anchored in small, deserted coves ... very quiet and peaceful. Often there would be one or two other boats moored nearby; but they were as quiescent we; so we were never disturbed. We did drop in, for water, bread and a few other supplies, to one (nameless) little community. We contributed to the local economy by purchasing, and drinking, beer ... but within an hour or so, we were back aboard Naviga 1.

 ... and so; after a week of near-perfect indolence; our bowsprit was pointed back towards Bodrum: that port of noisy tourist bars and minaret loudspeakers. We made poignant farewells to our shipmates and took the ferry back to Kos.

We spent an almost prosaic six days - after our cruising idylls - in a quiet, comfortable hotel; as a base for exploring the town and island ... but that was not a watery peregrination; so any description has no place in this journal. We drank lots of wonderful coffee - made by Nikolas - in The Coffee House; and imbibing some of the finest I.P.A. which has ever passed my lips! REALLY ... and in Greece too! Who'd have thought it? That was in Cafe Zero; where we jammed with Kostas and Tom ... lovely fellows ... for metalheads!!!

I've already taken up too much of your time. If you want any information about how we booked this (fabulous value) trip, just drop me a line. For now ... stay well. Tom.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

DUNPEREGRINATING ... for a while, anyway.

That's us, tied up at the back of our house
 ... yes ... OUR HOUSE!

This is what the old-timers would call:
"Moving onto the bank".

Since we set out from Devizes, at the beginning of May, 2015; we've cruised over two thousand, two hundred miles. We've operated (at least) one thousand, three hundred and thirty locks;. tunnelled under at least twenty five miles of England and Wales; braved the River Thames, under Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Westminster Bridge (past the Houses of Parliament, H.M.S. Belfast, the London Eye and Kew Gardens), Waterloo Bridge, etc., etc.; twenty three in all; and we've even been out to sea - sort of - across The Wash, out of sight of land for three hours!!!

So here we are in Shipley; in the People's Republic of West Yorkshire, having enjoyed the adventure of our lifetime ... and it isn't over yet.

We're in the throes of falling in love with our new home. We've owned it for four years, but this is our first opportunity to live in it. We're beavering away: reorganizing the kitchen, changing the smallest bedroom into a luxurious bathroom, installing walk-in closets, instigating a utility-room, affixing louvre-blinds, putting up shelves, mirrors and cabinets, and lots more. I’ll even have a workshop! Lyn is buying me a shipping-container for an early Christmas present!

We haven’t ended our watery peregrinations; there are still unexplored (by us) waterways to visit. We’ve not yet crossed the Pennines (locally these are categorised as ‘mountains’), nor visited Liverpool, nor Lancaster; so those are on the horizon for 2018. Of course, Moonstone has been promised a spiffy new paint-job. The poor dear is showing quite a few ‘battle scars’; so that must be arranged for early next year. Images of her newly painted livery will probably feature in next year’s first edition of Watery Peregrinations.

If ‘Brexit Britain’ is too unbearable, you might even find yourselves reading: ‘Irish Peregrinations’. There are plenty of lovely waterways; beckoning alluringly; across the Irish Sea. They, at least, will still be in the European Union!

For now; Lyn and I are practicing being landlubbers and - with the availability of a central base and a car - next year has plenty of touring scheduled. Check this out here.

With the Festive Season, discernibly, hull-down-on-the-horizon (I'm writing this on the U.S.'s Thanksgiving Day); Lyn and I wish you all 'Health, Peace, and Happiness'; and invite you to come 'peregrinating' again, next year.

Love to all, Tom.

ps. Did you notice??? Nothing even vaguely political!!! Not like me at all.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

To York ... and beyond!

The River Trent is - by British standards, at least - a pretty major waterway. I realise that by North American (and world) standards, it is not outstanding: at a mere 186 miles (300 Kms.) However; we can now report that we've been on the FOUR longest rivers in the U.K. Viz:

Severn - 220 miles / 354 kms.
Thames - 215 miles / 346 kms.
Trent - 185 miles / 298 kms.
Great Ouse - 143 miles / 320 kms.

Now; we cannot - of course - claim to have cruised the complete length of any of these; so we don't expect you to be awed by our achievements. We mention rivers – rather than canals – solely because the majority of the past couple of weeks have been spent on rivers.
The Trent can be quite intimidating; on its tidal stretches; after the comfortable familiarity of (relatively) small canals. Times of entering and leaving these tidal stretches are strictly regulated – by lock-keepers – and the right-angle turn; against the flow; into a lock is always fraught, to a greater or lesser degree; (making us aware of why we always wear life-jackets whilst cruising on rivers). Leaving locks, to enter rivers, is considerable less fraught; nevertheless, at such times we’re always too busy to take photographs, but here are a few pictures of the River Trent, which – in its heyday was a very busy commercial highway.

Heading down the Trent with both flow and tide in our favour, we were making almost 9 mph (over 14 Kms/hr.!!!) The manoeuvre to enter the lock at Keadby involved allowing ourselves to be swept downstream of the lock and using the engine to bring us slowly back to the mouth of the lock ... almost past it. By putting the tiller over and then, at the opportune moment, increasing power; we managed to slide into the lock – this time without the necessity of a second attempt and the associated bumping and banging, which had accompanied our previous exit from the Trent, into the Chesterfield Canal at the West Stockwith lock!

Once into the Sheffield and West Yorkshire Navigation, we found pleasant moorings, and a nearby convenience store. (Such is always on my radar, as I invariably purchase a daily paper; the better to service my addiction for political news.) With no schedule in mind, we started our Northwards journey; though that has involved much Eastward and Westward meandering. We moored-up in Thorne (South Yorkshire) for a weekend; where our friend Hazel Richings collected us and drove us to The Folk Gathering, in the very pretty village of Alstonfield, in the Peak District National Park, in Staffordshire, near to the border of Derbyshire. Many songs were sung; old acquaintances remembered, several new ones made, and much ale quaffed. After being delivered back to our floating, peregrinating home; we continued on our gentle way towards York, and thence to Ripon. (With a solitary ‘p’, not two ... mea culpa!) The zig-zag route took us onto the New Junction Canal – as straight as a die for nearly six miles, to the junction of The Nottingly and Goole Canal (Aire and Calder Navigation) and thence onto a non-tidal stretch of the River Aire. We entered the beautifully quiet Selby Canal; which, six miles further on, terminates in ... Selby!!! We shall see these again in a few weeks; on our return, towards the Leeds and Liverpool Canal; a jurisdiction which is to become our home, in a scant four or five weeks.

At Selby the lock-keeper waved farewell as we proceeded up river, on the incoming tide, which supplemented our velocity, by a couple of mph, for the majority of our travel upstream on the River Ouse, up to York; about 20 miles. York is, of course, York! (It should be the capital of the U.K. (and the House of York ought to be the rulers of England, not the usurping: House of Lancaster; and it WAS the capital of ‘Viking England’. (At this point I start singing the Kipling/Bellamy piece: ‘The Land’!) A wonderful place to just wander ... or it would be, were it not overrun by tourists. (At this point I’m striving manfully to avoid ‘grumpy old codger’ mode.) Anyway; we had visitors to our York mooring, for a couple of nights – Janie Meneely and Rob van Sante – and we’ll be back in just over a week to host my daughter and son-in-law – Jane and Max; as Jane has never visited this historic, medieval  metropolis.

As we arrive in York, note the shield, on the left, with the Cross of St. George and the White Rose of York.
The journey up to Ripon proceeded pleasantly and uneventfully; though the locks on this section are barely long enough to accommodate Moonstone. However; they are nearly 15 ft. wide; so we fit quite handily on the diagonal! For some unfathomable reason; within about 10 miles of Ripon, the River Ouse (pronounced: 'ooze') changes its name to the River Ure (pronounced: 'your'). I doubt there is any connection between the name change and the plethora (sort of plethora) of Great Blue Herons on that stretch ... but who knows?

Ripon is lovely! Quite a small city, with a spectacular cathedral, very interesting museums, excellent restaurants, and a good selection of charming and interesting pubs. What’s not to like? Our mooring; only a 10 minute walk from the Market Square; was quiet and unsullied by other visitors ... so we have stayed five days!

The Cathedral Church of St Peter and St Wilfrid overlooking all.

Remains of St Anne's Hospital chapel.
In terms of the Middle ages; a 'hospital' was a place to
charitably welcome itinerants and those in need of assistance.

The name was enough to rouse our interest. When we found that there is no juke-box nor piped-music; no one-armed-bandits, but a gentleman who occasionally dropped by to play the pub piano; we were hooked. A great range of very palatable ales - including some local brews I've never before tried - I tried a few. Lyn tried the single-malt whiskies!

Now it is time to take on fresh-water, beverages and comestibles; and head for York and a rendezvous with Max and Jane Bennett. À Bientôt, mes amis!

Thursday, 31 August 2017

... because it's there ... the Chesterfield Canal, that is!

We've got several weeks to while away before the next gig, and that's THE FOLK GATHERING, in Alstonefield, in The Peak District National Park. I'll give a synopsis of the event in an upcoming edition of this blog. For now; suffice it to say that this is a 'singers and song aficionados' happening. With a maximum number of tickets set at one hundred and seventy, it's certainly not 'folk-festival sized'; (though the PSG's  GottaGetGon - in Upstate New York - isn't much bigger!)

Anyway: having a few weeks in hand; we decided to explore the Chesterfield Canal ... which doesn't, actually, get to Chesterfield. The canal IS in Chesterfield, but it is interrupted - for lack of any waterway - for a seven mile stretch, about two-thirds of the way along between the River Trent and the (small) city of Chesterfield ... famous for the twisted spire of St. Mary's church.

Having visited Chesterfield some years previously, we declined the necessary 15-mile bicycle ride, from the nearest point of navigation to St. Mary's Church. There are a few boring, and probably correct, explanations given for the contortions of the 14th, century construction (it wasn't built this way), but I like the story told to me by a local chap. Viz ... The first time an actual virgin arrived to be married at the church, the spire leaned over to take a look. The story then elucidates that the NEXT time a virgin bride arrives, the spire will straighten itself!

So ... we departed the environs of Newark, down the Trent, through the last lock on the river: Cromwell Lock. At this point the river becomes tidal, and a little trickier to navigate. Twenty miles downstream we arrived at the tiny hamlet of West Stockwith; the mouth of the canal, with a somewhat problematic entrance to the lock; in consideration of the 4MPH current flowing across it. After a bit of banging, bumping, cursing and general good-fun (for the onlookers) we were in.

The Chesterfield Canal was opened on 1777, and transported all sorts of raw materials (iron, coal, lead, stone, timber, et al) down to the River Trent, for onward shipping around Britain and Europe. In 1834 the previous Houses of Parliament were destroyed in a fire.

The inspiring building we all recognize today - including the clock-tower housing Big Ben - was completely constructed of stone (250,000 tons) quarried near Kiveton; where we are currently moored. Luckily; we took a photo whilst Moonstone was cruising by;

so this image is from June, 2015.

This has been a quiet and mostly rural waterway ... very relaxing. Now we are ready to retrace out route, back to the river where - we are assured - exiting the lock is considerably easier than entering it! Now 'relaxing' is; in this instance; relative. The upper reaches hereabouts involved the working of THIRTY TWO LOCKS; over a distance of barely 5 miles.

Whilst any plan is liable to change, at the moment we're thinking our ultimate destination - before Shipley, that is - this summer, will be Rippon, in North Yorkshire. That's; just about; the most Northerly place on the canal system ... though the top of the Lancaster Canal might be vying for that title. One of these days I'll find out. Catch you later. Tom.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Mid-summer peregrinations.

Mid-summer??? Well; it's almost the ides of August and, 'though it has been quite a rainy few weeks since we returned from the USA, the weather hasn't prevented us from cruising along. When it gets unconscionable, we find a salubrious spot to moor-up, and declare ‘the bar is open!’

As I write, we’re taking a break in Newark-on-Trent; the last large community in the next few score of miles; thus providing a boatyard/marina in which we may securely leave Moonstone, whilst we pop down to Bath (for the grandson’s parachute jump, which is his 18th. birthday gift from us) and Grove (for the FINAL White Horse Folk Festival).

When last you heard from us, we were heading for some of the lesser-travelled backwaters of the Birmingham Canal Navigations. This involved almost a week on the ‘Curly Whyrley’ (the Wyrley & Essington Canal); nicknamed for its wandering – but mostly lock-free – route, around the North-Eastern environs of Birmingham. During our meanderings thereon, we saw only two other moving boats, and hardly any boats moored along the cut! We did, however, find a large duvet – plus its cover – which; having wrapped itself around our propeller – took almost two hours to cut free. I spent so long, pulling so energetically, that the next few days had me enduring some painful muscles around my ribs! No damage to the boat, however. Sadly; probably due to lack of use; this is one of the canals which is infested with copious amounts of household garbage ... with the plethora of plastic bags mandating an almost hourly (occasionally, even more frequent) stop to clear the propeller. Thankfully, the joyous moments far outnumber the depressing ones; delightful interactions with folks on the towpath, inspiring post-industrial views, and tranquil evenings supping ale or wine, and doing crosswords.

Each day we ensure that we get some physical exercise. If we’re not working the boat through locks, we find an agreeable route for a walk, or we unfold our bicycles and ride a few miles for groceries, a newspaper, whatever. Occasionally; when passing an interesting pub; we drop in and sample the wares. Since returning the U.K., my philosophy for choosing an ale is to try something which has not, previously, passed my lips. There are now so many independent breweries around, that few are the hostelries in which I cannot find a novel brew to sample.

With my engagement at the Warwick Folk Festival in view, we booked some mooring space at Fazely Mill Marina. Getting there entailed a journey through the heart of Birmingham, and the famous Gas Street Basin, now a tourist attraction and a social recreational facility right in the center of major city. Some of the original (200 - 300 years vintage) architecture has been maintained, and much of the rebuilding involves painstaking recreations, from old photographs; amidst plenty of modern structural design. The best patronised establishments, though, are in older buildings, with a character reminiscent of yesteryear. In order to get to our next, intermediate, destination; we had a couple of flights of locks in prospect: the Famers Bridge (13 locks) and Aston (13 lock) flights. The weather forecast predicted a window of several hours, so off we set.

Just completing the first thirteen we were pleasantly astonished to find our friends: Margaret and Angus; aboard their narrowboat BETTY D; approaching the lock we had only momentarily vacated. Finding some handy bollards, we tied up, grabbed our windlass handles, and set-to in assisting them up to Gas Street; eventually ensconcing them in the very mooring we, ourselves, had vacated less than two hours previously! Once they had walked their pair of greyhounds, we repaired to the Tap and Spile (hard by the boat you see here) for a late lunch and a few pints of ale. Our duty done, we returned to Moonstone and negotiated the Aston locks in fine style!

Before departing Birmingham proper, the canal winds under Spaghetti Junction; a confluence of a small river, four railway lines, two roads, multifarious motorway ramps and two canals. At times, the traffic above us was thundering along at seventy plus miles per hour. Within seconds - so it seemed - motorway traffic was stopped in gridlock. Trains hurried by and desultory groups of youths lurked aimlessly. We; in our own insulated world; continued without fuss, but inexorably, on our way ... until the heavens opened ... calling an end to the day.

Despite frequent deluges, Warwick was the world-class event we've come to revere.

A few days later; moored overnight at Fradley, on the junction of the Coventry Canal and the Trent & Mersey Canal, we dropped in to the White Swan for a glass ... and found a great music and song session happening in the cellar ... 

We even reconnected with some musical/narrowboat friends we have last seen ten years ago. Such serendipity!

Next day ... onward ... onto the Trent and Mersey Canal - travelled just over twenty months ago - we came to Nottingham, (see Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem - above)

with the statue of Robin Hood so unlike Errol Flynn ... or even Kevin Costner!

By dint of delicate manoeuvring we can access the ripest blackberries; unavailable to non-floating pickers; and Lyn has inherited her Mother's wonderful facility for pastry-making. The pie was so delicious, I neglected to take a photograph ... sorry!

Which brings us, here, to Newark on Trent ... a much underrated town. It has a great history around the English Civil War (1642 - 1646). Newark proved to have chosen to support the losing (Royalist) side but; following the reintroduction of the monarchy; survives with its architecture barely disturbed since that time. A real 'market square' with a daily market; and numerous small alleyways and winding side-streets provide much to engage visitors. Tomorrow we'll browse the National Civil War Centre. For now, we're tied-up - as we have previously been - right under (what remains of) the walls of Newark Castle.

Apologies for such long-windedness. Next time, I'll try to practice brevity

Cheers, Tom.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

American Peregrinations.

Hello again ... rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. Although visiting President Trump's United States might be considered somewhat foolhardy, it is hardly (yet) a death-defying action. However; Lyn and I have, indeed, just returned from a 6-week peregrination on the North East part of that country. I failed to be in contact with anyone who professed to be a supporter of the current president; and certainly did not meet anyone who confessed to actually casting a ballot in his favour. But; enough of mundanities ... "What of your tour?" I hear you enquire, with bated breath. (That's your breath being bated, not mine.) Well ... the whole trip went swimmingly, and both Lyn and I believe it to have been a resounding success. Audiences were pleasingly enthusiastic. CD and songbook sales were satisfying by the sheer volume of such. Best of all were the numbers of wonderful friends with whom we reconnected ... that was really great! One overarching downside of the trip was our camera. It probably didn't enjoy the experience as much as we did ... it was never allowed out of the suitcase in which it travelled!!! (At this point you may feel that there is a distinct lack of visuals upcoming in this issue of 'Peregrinations'. Well ... yes ... that's probably going to be the case.)

We commenced by taking a National Express coach (that’s a bus; to non-Brits) from Warwick to Heathrow airport, and Virgin Atlantic to Newark (New Jersey) LIBERTY Airport. Concealing from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent that we were transporting an accordion, we gained entry into the (soon to be great again) USA. Our good friends, and Float to the Festival alumni (henceforth, I shall refer to such folks, generically, as ‘canallees’) Ann Gribbon and Pat McDonnell collected us and whisked us to their home near Princeton, N.J. Wonderful, relaxing hosts for a couple of jet-lagged travellers! 48 hours later the performing part of the tour commenced – in 92 degree heat – with the Princeton Folk Music Society ... just me and the bat flitting around the church. I was not flitting, you understand?

The next morning (Saturday) we were off – driving our Hertz rental car – 135 miles N.E. to Branford. CT. On our very first professional tour, it was the Branford Folk Music Society which reversed our depression and gave us the confidence to make this folk-singing sort of life, work. Thanks Willa. Thanks Marc. (Both canallees!) In this case they turned up trumps (no political connotation intended) again.

Next morning, we were on the road, 273 miles S.W., to Baltimore, MD. and a concert for the Baltimore Folk Music Society. This was in the aptly named: Lovely Lane Church; scene of a previous concert triumph! On that occasion, the huge audience came – I feel – more for the opening act: The Seldom Scene; than for me. This time the audience was appreciably smaller, but my reception was just as warm and enthusiastic as that of many years ago. Indeed; quite a few professed to have been in that audience. Our lodgings that night were with Susan Greshens and Mark Wolfire. Not – for a wonder – canallees, but gracious hosts, for all that.

For the fourth morning in a row (Monday), we headed out. This time a mere 80 miles South, to the Calvert Marine Museum, on Solomons Island, MD. ... a lovely place to play.

Image result for Calvert Marine Museum

Many old friends; and quite a few new ones; turned out, so we felt that the tour was off to an auspicious – if slightly tiring – start.

The next day found us in the home of our friend - and sort of booking agent – Janie Meneeley; in Silver Springs, MD.; barely a few yards north of Washington, DC. Incidentally; Janie has now purchased a home in Whitby (yes, the Yorkshire, Whitby); wherein she is cosying up with Rob van Sante, of Battlefield Band fame. (You heard it first here, folks!)

With still three festivals and five more concerts on which to report, I can sense that I could easily bore you; so at this point, I’ll engage the ‘précis drive’.

Gottagetgon is a small, relaxed festival; organised by the Albany, NY. group: The Pick'n' ‘n Sing'n' Gather'n'; most of whom are old, treasured friends ... like Rosalie and Greg Clarke. Of course, quite a few are also – you’ve guessed it – canallees! It was old home week; as we’ve not seen many of those folks for far too long.

The (38th.) annual Sea Music Festival, at Mystic Seaport, CT. assembled a stellar cast of musicians of the maritime genre, including my old friends from Australia: the Roaring Forties.

The final festival, in Altamont, NY., is the long-running: Old Songs festival, the biggest in North America still paying attention to 'traditionally oriented music and song', and had lots of performers; including Archie Fisher.

It also had an inordinate number of canallees ... FOURTEEN in all!


Add to all the above, concerts in Boston, MA, Yorktown, VA. (with Bob Zentz ,,, HOORAY!), Washington, DC., Philadelphia, PA. and Havre-de-Grace, MD.; and we saw a lot of American freeways before we made the return flight to the U.K. Successful? Certainly ... but poignant too. Who knows when we’ll do it again? Never say never!

We’re off on the cut again - to do some exploring in the more obscure backwaters of the Birmingham Canal Navigations - but we’ll get the camera out; so the next issue of ‘Peregrinations’ will – I promise – have more pictures! Cheers.