Tour de France 2014

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My perfect Cornwall day

Standing on the beach together,
Sand between our toes,
Watching the Cornish sun slip below the horizon,
Glass of champagne in hand,
Sublime.

 

 

As part of a work project we were asked to think about where we’ve had the most perfect time ever, anywhere in the UK.

We had to select the perfect place, hotel and restaurant. I chose Cornwall as we’ve enjoyed so many amazing experiences there.

What would be your favourite place, hotel and restaurant?

 

The Place: Porthtowan Beach at sunset

The Hotel: The Scarlet Hotel, Mawgan Porth

The Restaurant: Rick Stein’s The Seafood Restaurant, Padstow

Dolmen and Standing Stones

 

 

There was much to be had on our recent holiday in Brittany – food, drink, sunshine and echoes of the second world war. But one of the most unexpectedly delightful discoveries had to be the many megalithic monuments dotted around the countryside.

For those of you interested in these bizarre reminders of our ancient past, Brittany is a litany (sorry) of these sites and it’s very easy to holiday there and do a bit of stone chasing at the same time. It’s a widely held belief in stone circle circles that the same people who built these ancient monuments then came over to Britain and got it going over here. Nobody’s really sure and that’s the lovely thing for me. Either way, they are still here, thousands of years later and they are still a joy for the modern antiquarians amongst us.

The French seem to delight in their megaliths as much as we do with well-signposted sites all of which were well respected and looked after. What I did find particularly hilarious however was that the two sites I visited did not deliver the trippy, tranquil experience I sought but exactly the opposite.

The first stone circle was slap bang in the middle of a village (not unlike Avebury) and the week before the annual ‘Festival of the Megaliths’ had taken place. I absolutely love the fact that these stone still inspire folk to gather and have a good time, whilst we still don’t know exactly what these stones were for, this was surely part of the deal. On the day we visited, the stones were occupied by a band of intrepid free running teenagers which at first appalled me but on reflection what better respect to show these old megaliths, still relevant and inspiring congregation albeit 2012 style.

The second site was a Dolmen which is essentially a tomb monument that would have been originally covered in soil. The millennia has seen it stripped of its outer clothing and the stones still stand. It looks like a tunnel created and the ‘creep’ – where the bodies or whatever they put in there – still creates a sense of awe when one crawls inside it.

This time, there were no free running teenagers in the ancient forest where the dolmen was situated. Instead there were fifty local primary school children using the location as a base for a day trip. Again, the site is still a place where people congregate and their noise was joyful and added to the atmosphere.

Brittany is home also to Carnac in the South which is the largest concentration of standing stones in the world. We didn’t go there as it was a 3 hour drive – but that’s a definite for next time.

 

Ten reasons to LOVE Leeds Fest

1. Pulp

The standout band of the weekend for me. Jarvis and co rolled back the years and delivered a set of poise and wit that was unmatched across the entire weekend. It seemed like they’d never been away and closing the set with ‘Common People’ was pure genius. Oh, and Richard Hawley played with them too. Marvellous.

 

2. Endurance

It takes a lot of effort to get through a festival. Especially in the rain and the mud. Then there’s the lack of sleep, proper food and too much alcohol. At times it feels like an endurance test and by Sunday, there’s definitely less enthusiasm for the hardcore dance band in the Lockdown tent when you’re at the opposite end of the site. The wristband for the festival becomes a badge of honour, proudly worn and reluctantly discarded.

 

3. Madness

On a sunny Sunday afternoon after a relentlessly wet weekend, the nutty boys delivered a nostalgic set of danceable tunes that had us older types dancing like it was 1980 again. All the tunes were there and it was a joy to behold the befuddled faces of the teenagers around us – old folk, dancing? And what’s that crazy jogging dance they’re doing? Priceless.

 

4. Young bands with nothing to lose

These guys are usually to be found in the smaller tents in the early afternoon. They have nothing to lose and take their opportunity lustily to impress. There’s real joy in these performances and often there’s a knot of loyal fans at the barrier, singing along. It’s not often bands graduate from these stages to the main stages but when you do see it, it’s special. Special mention this year goes to The Computers with their all white attire and crowd-based singing.

 

5. Elbow

Is there a better band to draw the afternoon to a close the afternoon and herald in the headliner? I don’t think so. Elbow is the consummate festival band – warm and considerate, worried that the audience might be too cold and wet and getting the crowd engaged. It was a shame it wasn’t a beautiful evening as that would have been a perfect combination: sunset and Elbow.

 

6. Disappointing headliners

I’ve lost count over the years how many headline acts have been disappointing. Other than Pulp, it was the same again this year. I think it must be me but the headliners just don’t excite the way that the smaller acts do in the more intimate stages. It’s a really difficult task pulling off a headline spot at any Festival and especially at Leeds where it’s usually cold, windy and wet.

 

7. Festival Goers

Going about their business in the most extreme of circumstances and always a smile on the face. Admittedly this is usually assisted in some way by alcohol or other substances, but nonetheless they’re a rare breed in this day and age. If it’s not trench foot, it’s sunstroke and if it’s not frostbite, it’s windburn – and that’s just on the Friday. And on top of all that, there’s the state of the toilets.

 

8. Organisers

I happen to believe that Leeds is a particularly well-organised festival. Admittedly in the early days they had their teething problems, but they seem to have ironed all of this out and it is pretty good. The staff are friendly and helpful in the gruff Yorkshire fashion and everything from the signposting to helping people to put up their tents points to good recruitment and training.

 

9. Ridiculous band names

This year’s winner: Cerebral Ballzy

 

10. The first hot shower when you get home

Some people choose to shower at the festival, patiently queuing with a towel and wash bag for hours on end. Not me. I like to get the full festival experience by building up the outdoor grime over three days to wash it all away with a piping hot shower. Delicious.

Jodrell Bank Live

 

 

Jodrell Bank Live is the very first live outdoor gig set amidst the Jodrell bank Observatory  in leafy Cheshire about 20 miles from Manchester.

The jewel in the crown of this centre for studying deep space pulsar activity is the humongous Lovell telescope, the third largest steerable telescope in the world. And what a sight it is.

Hearing that British Sea Power were supporting Flaming Lips, I simply had to chalk this one up as another odd venue to see what I think is probably the best band in Britain today (BSP, not FL). Having talked about BSP on numerous occasions, there’s not much point in discussing them further in this post, but I simply had to share some of the stunning images from the evening courtesy of the Jodrell Bank Live website.

To be honest although the venue and the bands were awesome, the organisation left a lot to be desired with not enough toilets, inadequate food provision and a quite frankly laughable car park set up. I realise this is the first year and accept there’s room for improvement but for me it spoiled the wonderful evening in the sunshine.

We missed Flaming Lips and opted to scarper before the car park imploded after the headliners and were quite pleased with ourselves as we hared back across the M62 but looking at dome of the later images, we missed out I think. Fab to see BSP resurrecting Ursa major (the bear) and Paul the roadie dressed up as a ‘futuristic’ tin foil robot with plastic plates for breasts. Another  nice touch from them was to enter the stage to fifties classic Telstar.

All in all a fabulous evening of firsts for me only slightly tarnished by the poor organisation on the day.

 

 

Thought for the day

Towpath

I’ve been quite taken with seeing things differently over the last few weeks.

Everyday objects or scenery viewed in a different way has caught my attention and inspired me to see and do things differently. A walk from the centre of Leeds along the towpath towards Liverpool turned into a fascinating insight into the city I live in and helped me to get a handle on the way the city had developed over the centuries, in a way I’d not expected.

A rather splendid lunch at the Cross Keys was the starting point for the journey, a warm spring day was the backdrop for a mini journey of discovery. I am aware that hundreds of people make this journey all the time, day in day out and if you are on of these people, I apologise. But if, like me, you’ve never taken this journey by foot along the canal then it’s definitely worth a few hours.You won’t regret it, unless you get accosted by booze-fuelled students or track suited numpties on stolen bikes.

A walk along the canal really is a glimpse into the story of Leeds and how water was crucial to the growth and success of the city in the muscular industrial revolution. The banks of the canal are full of mills and warehouses all jostling for prime position and starting in the centre of the city, the wall of brick is testament to the importance of water in Leeds’ history. Next to the canal is the Aire of course and that tells another, earlier story.

But the canal is impressive.

Much of the original canal furniture still sits there, working. Implacably doing its job and hugely over engineered for today’s leisure users, the locks were built to last continue to do their jobs to this day, simple and effective engineering that will never wear out. Wood blocks hewn from gigantic oak trees are pushed in time-honoured fashion by the arse of a narrow boat captain whilst his wife asks him about a sofa he needs to take to the tip.

Snapshots of life on the canal. A world most of us don’t even know exists.

What impressed me the most was the journey I took underneath the main arterial routes I traverse every day in my car. Wellington Road to the Armley gyratory is a road I must have taken thousands of time in my lifetime, but underneath it is the die-straight canal heading west out to Kirkstall and beyond to the infamous Bingley five rise locks and beyond. Travelling by road you miss all the timeless scenery of the canal banks – even in the centre of the city, there is peace and beauty to be had alongside the harsh industrial landscape of the thrusting Victorian powerhouse of Leeds.

After a few miles, the journey settles and becomes quite beautiful. Fellow travellers include walkers, runners, cyclists, families, foreigners, students,  eccentrics – it seems that the canal attracts them all. The remarkably direct design of the waterway soon delivers the traveller to Kirkstall and oddly there’s something quite poetic about walking alongside a canal. It’s fit for purpose and miles are soon consumed, but it’s more than a motorway designed to destroy distance. Travellers stay in touch with both the journey and the place and that’s unique to walking I think.

Perhaps all of this has a lot to do with the last book we read in book club ‘As I walked out one midsummer morning‘ by Laurie Lee. A tale of random walking from Wiltshire to Southern Spain readily inspired me to shake off the ordered world and walk, see things differently.

I know that walking along the canal from Leeds is hardly that, but it certainly felt like the first steps.