a space for all those thoughts and ramblings that have nowhere else to go

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Chatsworth Christmas - The Nutcracker

I'm always slow at starting the build up to Christmas. I don't stock up on presents in the January sales, or buy cards the minute they hit the shops in September. I like to ease myself into it all - and this year, as usual, the first step is a visit to Chatsworth House for its wonderful seasonal decorations.

This year the theme is The Nutcracker - with plenty of opportunities for snowy outdoors scenes and snug interiors, toys from Herr Drosselmeyer's workshop, backstage ballet settings and sugar plums.

Of course, there are Christmas trees - real pine ones, decorated with sparkling baubles. wooden toys or traditional sweets, and two unusual trees made of ballet shoes and tutus.

Flower fairies dance on the tree, while a real live ballerina performs

I loved these twirling snowflakes hanging in the chapel - and even wondered if I could try a smaller-scale display at home

and this dancing fairy who looks like she may have eaten too many sugar plums

A Sugar Plum Fairy could only live in The Land of Sweets!

There's a castle on the hill, houses and candy trees ....

....and even a train made of sweets!

These shadow dancers projected on to the walls of the Marble Hall made a lovely finale to the display

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Armchair Travelling with Google Streetview

Old Town, Edinburgh
Last weekend I was out and about in real life - to Cromford for a short walk along the canal - but the rest of the week I've sat in my armchair (well, technically, at my pc) and travelled much further with the help of Google Streetview.

To my mind, Streetview is one of the most exciting things on the web - far better than cute cats! I've always found maps fascinating but actually being able to see that map come to life, to walk down a street, climb a mountain or stroll by the sea is wonderful.

St Davids
When Streetview first launched in the UK, I used it to look at our house and road, have a peep at friends' houses maybe, or check out directions, but I soon expanded my horizons to include places I'd been, or was thinking of going, on holiday (It's excellent for checking if your hotel really does have a sea-view). So I spent a lot of time wandering round, say Edinburgh or St David's, places I'd already visited. At first it was only possible to move around on actual roads but now in some areas, you can follow footpaths, catch a boat trip or maybe just check out an out-of-the-way viewpoint through a 360 degree 'photo-sphere' image. Through a combination of these I've dropped in on the summits of Ben Nevis and Snowdon, not quite managed to climb Everest but did walk up a Himalayan valley to a glacier, ambled along a coastal path carved into the cliffs in Italy's Cinque Terre region, taken a gondola trip through Venice, a boat up Loch Ness ... as you can tell, I spend quite a lot of time 'travelling' in the virtual world.
North Norfolk marshes

My most recent 'adventures' have been inspired by books I've read.
I've explored the North Norfolk coast, setting for Elly Griffiths's forensic crime series 'starring' Ruth Galloway, and then, while reading Anne Enright's The Green Road, explored the Burren National Park, Eire, with a slight side-track when I discovered the 'Father Ted Parochial House' marked on the map.

My most exciting 'trip' though was trying to follow the journey described in Dan Simmon's The Terror following an ill-fated expedition searching for the North-West passage through the Canadian Arctic. - so I had to go and investigate! The weather was a lot sunnier than I expected with hardly any snow and ice (Google does seem to send photographers out only in summer, though) and the landscape far more varied - I found deep river gorges, waterfalls, chains of islands forming lagoons along the coast, as well as the flatter ice-worn aspect I'd expected. I took a boat trip round Pingo National Park (find it at Pingo Canadian Landmark) and, as some photo-spheres are taken inside buildings, I ended up inside an airport reception area, and a store selling everything from bananas and Cadbury's chocolate to bikes and guitars! I then headed back to Greenland, a stopping off point for Arctic exploration ships, and a boat trip round Disko Bay, followed by a walk near Ilulissat to see a glacier breaking off into the sea. There's no way I'd do any of this in real life!

Now I'm wondering where to travel to next ... I've been watching Planet Earth 2 so I might try and track down some of the locations...

All the photos here are my own but Google will take you to almost the exact location

Monday, 14 November 2016

Late Autumn Walk by Cromford Canal

With a comparatively warm day (for the time of year) we decided to head out to Derbyshire for a short walk - flat, undemanding and dry underfoot. There's a variety to choose from with various old railway lines but alongside Cromford Canal is one of our favourites.

Despite the flaming orange leaves of a few beech trees, the overall feel was monochrome. It's a time of year to admire the texture of tree bark, and gaze at reflections in the still water.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Life on the Road - Joe McCorriston

Over the past year, through the touring musicians that have come to stay, I've grown to realise that their lives have very little in common with the pop stars we see on TV or in the tabloids. Joe McCorriston has become one of our most frequent visitors, stopping off for the night after playing in local pubs, before heading off somewhere new the next day, so when he was last passing through I decided to ask a few questions ...

Firstly, could you briefly introduce yourself ... 
I’m Joe McCorriston, a Singer/Songwriter, most of the time armed with an acoustic guitar. I’m completely independent and I spend the majority of my time travelling around the UK & Europe playing gigs to strangers and sleeping on friends floors (and a bed now and then).

I think the image that most of us have of pop stars is of partying and clubbing all night, travelling everywhere in limos and jet-setting off to exotic holiday locations. I’ve found out over the past year that that’s far from the reality of most musicians ...  What’s it really like?
Haha, what you just described is pretty much the complete opposite of the reality. Maybe that is the case for famous, rich, pop stars. But no, for people like me who are without a record label and any real backing, we have to work as hard as we possibly can to play as many shows as possible, despite barely getting paid. I have recently learned that it really is an important factor to take care of yourself and your body when on tour, or else you will burn out and your performance won’t be as strong as it could be. I limit myself to 1 or 2 “mad” nights on a normal length tour now, I make it a special occasion. Then I still regret it the next morning when I’m hungover on a packed train!

As a professional musician you seem to be on tour almost permanently. What’s been your longest tour?
My longest tour in terms of days, was 18 straight days without a day off, on a tour I did with a guy called Gaz Brookfield in November 2013. In terms of distance, it has to be the European tour I did with David Kay in May of this year (2016). I have no idea how many miles we did, but we did a lot of travelling. A lot of the time we had 4 to 5 hour train rides every day, I booked the tour and I was really struggling to book the gigs, so I was in the frame of mind to just take any gig we could possibly get. This resulted in the tour routing being rubbish. So much travelling! It was a great tour, but it really burned us out.

Do you have favourite places to play?
I have a few, I really really love playing in Hanover, Germany. There is just something about that city. I also love playing in Nottingham, it seems to be a great show every time I play there. Where else? Lancaster, my hometown of course. Glasgow is also special to me.

What do you enjoy most about touring?
I love being able to play my songs every night for a period of time, it really is a crazy thing to do and it makes me happy. Touring is also a great way of catching up with friends around the country who I wouldn’t see very often otherwise. When I’m touring, I see them 4 or 5 times a year. If I didn’t tour, I’d be lucky to see these particular friends once in a year.

And the worst bits?
Empty rooms, unpaid gigs, loneliness, self deprecation when no one comes to watch you. The feeling of pure emptiness (it happens!), and feeling like everything you are doing is pointless. “I’m literally travelling around, making some noise in to a microphone every night, why would anyone care about that?!”

What can venues, promoters, and fans do to help and encourage independent musicians such as yourself?
It’s a tough one. I’m not sure what more, venues and promoters can do. They are always getting a bad name for exploiting acts and not paying them enough, but the reality is that promoters aren’t exactly rolling in the money either. Promoters and musicians are very often in the same boat. Obviously you do get some bad eggs (pay to play kind of promoters), but people do need to think about the reality of the job a bit more.
Fans, and punters in general could do a lot more. It’s plain and simple, more people need to go out and enjoy live, original music. But people are scared, they just won’t do it. They are afraid of something they don’t know. They want cover bands and tribute bands, because it’s a guaranteed night of something they are familiar with. I’m not sure why, because every time I’m sat there watching a new original act, it excites me. Who knows what you are about to hear? It is so exciting, there are endless possibilities. Sometimes I drag friends to come and watch an original act that they don’t know, and they leave delighted that they came, even with some of the acts merch sometimes. But then, they won’t go again until I have to drag them out again! It’s some sort of mentality that people, and the UK crowds in particular, have. If they haven’t heard of it, if it’s not on the radio or the telly, then they are sceptical and they won’t want to waste one night of their precious lives, taking a chance on an unknown act, that might just well change their lives.

What are your immediate plans? Some quiet down time or back out on tour?
I’m at home for a few weeks then I have a small run of dates, then home for a few weeks again then another small run in December. But nothing much until the end of the year. Once 2017 hits I will be on tour more often than not for the whole year. It’s going to be heavy and I can’t wait to tour my new album.

That album will be out in December, but meanwhile you can find Joe in all the usual places - Facebook  Twitter  Bandcamp, and Spotify. Have listen to him, and maybe next time he's in your town go and see him perform!

Monday, 31 October 2016

Halloween Reads - Top Ten, or so ...

I've said frequently on social media that many supposedly chilling ghost or horror stories don't get the whole spine-tingling vibe going for me. Too long is spent setting the scene, then there's a couple of short, sharp shocks, and a quick resolution. For me, a spooky novel must have a good but rapid build up of atmosphere, sustained menace, and proper characters that it's possible to care about.

Having asked around for suggestions, I've been reading MR James, Stephen King, Wilkie Collins, and many other authors; short stories and novels, books that have turned up for review, some that have been waiting for ages on my book shelves, quickly downloaded e-books, library books. I still have a list of 'those I didn't get round to' so maybe they'll be here next year.

Anyway, here are my Top Ten Halloween reads, and a short story collection ..or four. Some of these are stories with very definite ghostly presences, some just exude a feeling of dread, some hint at a world beyond our own which slips past the veil from time to time .... and some aren't scary at all ...

First, proper ghostly, scary stuff ... where better to start than Sugar Hall with its slave boy returned to haunt the descendants of the family which once owned him ... I've read and re-read this, and it doesn't fail to chill.

Another mysterious house, David Mitchell's  Slade House lies hidden up a narrow alleyway, but every nine years it entices someone inside its walls - and they're never seen again... need I say more?

Marcus Sedgwick is best known for his gothic thrillers for children and teens (though many of those, especially  My Swordhand Is Singing , could have made it onto this list) but A Love Like Blood  is an adult read, a tale of vampires and obsession, exploring the depths that love, fear and revenge may drag us into.

It's back to the haunted house theme with Chris Priestley's The Dead of Winter - although a teen/YA read, the only things that mark this as such are the main character's age, and a lack of gratuitous violence. It ticks all the boxes for a chilling ghostly read - a lonely house, secret rooms, noises in the night, and a growing sense of something evil waiting for the unwary. I definitely felt a chill crawling up my spine as I read it!
Another book for teens but quite scary enough for me! The Creeper Man by Dawn Kurtagich - nearer to 'horror' than a 'ghost story' it tells of two sisters who seek refuge in their aunt's country manor, another isolated house, this time surrounded by impenetrable woods, where The Creeper Man lurks and bides his time. The trees begin to creep nearer, the sense of claustrophobia builds and the horrors outside start to work their way in ...

Not all ghosts have to be scary and/or evil - so two 'different' ghostly tales

In A Ghost's Story Lorna Gibb brings back to life 'superstar' spirit Katie King, star of Victorian seances. Told from Katie's point of view, this is actually a very human story of a search for companionship and even love.

Lucy Wood's Weathering is a story of mothers and daughters, about home and belonging - told through the relationship between three generations of women, it just happens that one, Pearl, is a ghost. Poetic prose, close observation, a stream-of-consciousness style, all make this a delight to read.

Vampires, zombies and flesh-eaters - well, Halloween wouldn't be the same without them ...

The Radleys are nice, middle-class suburban vampires hiding in plain sight. Acting the part of a normal couple, they share many of the problems that normal couples have - getting middle-aged, looking back with nostalgia to their long lost youth, and coping with their teenage children. Yes, it's about vampires but also about that average family that they're trying so hard to be.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - to be honest the title says it all. Seth Grahame-Smith takes Jane Austen's original, works in some extra zombie-killing action, and there you are! One for if you don't mind classic literature being taken a little less than seriously.

Sweeny Todd meets Desperate Housewives in Natalie Young's tale of middle-aged, Volvo driving Lizzie Prain, who murders her husband and then is needs to dispose of the body - again, it's all in the title!  Season To Taste, or How To Eat Your Husband

So, I've managed to whittle it down to ten top novels, but there's still space for some otherworldly story collections. I've always loved Mrs Gaskell's Curious, If True collection and these all share that ambivalence about what is real, and what imagined...

Sing Sorrow, Sorrow - a chilling collection from Seren Books, drawing on the darker side of folk tales.

 The Woman Under the Ground, and other stories - dark, disturbing, don't read in the dark tales by Megan Taylor

The Other World, It Whispers by Stephanie Victoire - a bit of a cheat, as this isn't published till mid-November. Maybe a little less scary than some, these nine spine-tingling stories tread the fine line between this world and the other.

And last, and by no means least, I had to include this  - The Penguin Book of Classic Fantasy by Women. It includes ghostly stories from Mary Shelly, George Eliot, Edith Nesbit, Virginia Woolfe, Isak Dinesen, and, my favourite, Katherine Mansfield's parable-style story, A Suburban Fairy Tale; it's not so spooky as some, but carries a message as important today as in 1917 when it was first published.

Now .., what do you think I should have read?

Sunday, 30 October 2016


Maybe it's the clear blue skies and sunshine, maybe something in the sap, but Autumn seems to have put an an extra brilliant display this year.

Almost everywhere I've been - round about our housing estate, down in the city centre or driving to the supermarket - roads and pavements are edged with the most wonderful reds and yellows.

And, of course, with a phone in my pocket I haven't stopped taking photographs. They aren't such brilliant photos as many are taken from the car, and some have odd markings on them - sorry, that's the dirt on the front window but I think the brilliance of autumn's colours shines through it!

It just shows you don't need to go anywhere 'special' like planned gardens or arboretums - this beauty is sitting there right on your doorstep or daily commute just waiting to be noticed (just don't get distracted if you are the driver!)

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