St Patrick’s Day Manchester visit for YES concert

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Progressive rock band YES embarked on a 50th anniversary tour for March 2018. Subsequent to my booking for one of two shows at London’s hallowed Palladium, a prime seat in C row middle became available for the Bridgewater Hall concert in Manchester, which I found hard-pressed to pass up on. Attending several shows is not an unusual idiosyncrasy amongst the YES fanbase. After a positive AirBnb experience in Berlin, I opted for the same on this occasion, coupled with the decision to travel up by coach Saturday, back on Sunday, in order to keep costs to a minimum. A return of the extreme weather conditions associated with the Arctic Beast lashing the United Kingdom once more in the space of a week, may have resulted in some logistic issues however it all panned out well in the end, despite the early 5 o’clock start Saturday with a 6 a.m. train into the capital.

The Megabus journey from London Victoria to Shudehill coach station takes about 4 and a half hours. The music from the concert I was attending that evening seemed light year away culturally from the conversation taking place amongst a half a dozen or so black guys from south London sitting in close proximity on the bus, who were obviously well versed in the current trends in rap music. I realized I understood little of what they were saying. Blue skies interrupted by spells of light to driving snow persisted throughout the day as I explored the streets of central Manchester. The Greater Manchester Metrolink tram/light rail system snakes its way through the city centre and serves a dual purpose in allowing any visitor to maintain their bearings whilst wandering the streets. The number of homeless on the streets, sleeping in doorways or asking for spare change remains a disconcerting experience which, sadly, plagues most modern cities in the UK and Europe. I stumbled into a pro-Palestinian demonstration on Ann’s Square

which threatened to get out of hand when the activists and and a passerby began trading insults.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover some truly exquisite architecture. The Royal Exchange was one of the world’s centres for cotton trade until the Second World War, when the building took a direct hit during the Manchester blitz. Reduced in size but not stature, the Hall was repaired and saw continued trade until 1968. In the 18th century the trade was part of part the slave trade in which African slaves were transported to America where the cotton was grown and then exported to Liverpool where the raw cotton was sold. The raw cotton was then processed in Manchester and the surrounding the cotton towns and Manchester Royal Exchange traded in spun yarn and finished goods throughout the world. Threatened with demolition, the building remained empty until 1973 when it converted to house a theatre company. It was damaged on 15 June 1996 when an IRA bomb exploded in Corporation Street less than 50 yards away. After repairs taking over two years at a cost of £32 million, the refurbished theatre re-opened on 30 November 1998. The theatre was repaired and provided with a second performance space, the Studio, a bookshop, craft shop, restaurant, bars and rooms for corporate hospitality. One can still however see the original trading board with the day’s closing figures.

Manchester Cathedral is an absolute gem and I spent an inordinate amount of time photographing the nave from various angles. Although there is evidence of an early Saxon church in Manchester in the form of the Angel Stone, dated to around 700, which was discovered embedded in the wall of the original South Porch of the Cathedral in the 19th century. The present church was built beside the manor house – now part of Chetham’s School of Music on the site of Manchester Castle, around 1215. The church became a cathedral in 1847, when the Diocese of Manchester was created. During the Manchester Blitz in 1940, a German bomb severely damaged the cathedral. It took almost 20 years to complete the repairs. All the Victorian stained glass was destroyed but replaced over several decades.

 

The AirBnb I had booked was situated at least 30-40 minutes’ walk south of the city, off Princess Street. The owners being away, I located it before the evening concert, in order to freshen up. The Bridgewater Hall, venue for the concert, cost around £42 million to build and currently hosts over 250 performances a year. The hall is home to The Hallé orchestra, and is the primary concert venue for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. I’m not fully convinced the sound was of the best from my vantage point – Geoff Downes’ keyboards seemed low in the mix. YES played for over two hours and was well received by the enthusiastic audience of die-hards. I particularly enjoyed the second half of the show, which featured two sides of 1974’s controversial Tales From Topographic Oceans. A visit to the merchandise stand at the interval dented my wallet a tad – the 50th anniversary program resembles a book, more than anything. Like most cities in the north of England, the streets come alive at night as the multitude of clubs in the city are besieged by teenage revelers. I’m always astounded as to how scantily clad girls are willing to pay the price in order to withstand the extreme cold, in order to look the part.

It was the final fixture of the Six Nations 2018 rugby season and Ireland, who had already secured the tournament, were playing hosts to England. This being St Patrick’s Day, the city was also crawling with Irish wearing all sorts of green attire commemorating a holiday steeped in tradition, whilst celebrating the fact that they had got one over the English. A huge tent had been erected outside the town hall, where the match was being broadcast.

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Roughing it above Gordon’s Bay to Steenbras Dam – Dec 2017

The Western Cape and in particular the city of Cape Town is currently in the midst of a water crises as a result of the worst drought in decades. Ralph suggested a walk starting in Gordon’s Bay running directly up into the Hottentots Holland mountain range towering above the town, along a fire break. It’s quite steep and not a recognised path. The town lies on False Bay about 50 km from Cape Town.

The first thing anyone approaching Gordon’s Bay sees is the giant anchor of whitewashed stones and the initials GB on the mountainside overlooking the harbour. The rocks that form these were originally painted by students in 1949, a year after the General Botha SA Nautical College was established. The initials therefore do not stand for Gordon’s Bay.
Ralph and I effectively climbed past this landmark and up a gully to the top of the mountainside, an ascent of some 450 metres.

Much of the vegetation had been burnt bare in a recent fire, the landscape resembling a wasteland.
Continuing on we reached a jeep track of cleared fynbos which joins up with the tarred road inside the Steenbras Dam area. Whilst difficult to judge water levels by eye, at the time of writing the lower Steenbras Dam was officially just over 50% full. Low cloud moving in from the north-west, an indication of pending rain for New Years Eve, enveloped the wilderness landscape with an imposing sense of gloom.

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Camping in the Cedarberg – Dec 2017

My annual holidays in South Africa almost always involves extensive hiking activity, often with my friend from school days, Ralph Pina. Despite being married with children with children, Ralph has the luxury and freedom of being able to disappear into the country, whilst also sharing some activities with the family. December 2017 saw us off to the Cedarberg Sandrif and Algeria camp sites for 4-5 days of hiking, which included a possible overnight at the Maltese Cross.

The Cedarberg is a dry wilderness of spectacular beauty. The first night was spent at the beautiful campsite at Sandrif, accessed by road via Ceres and Op die Berg. Early the second day we set off on a walk to the Maltese Cross, having parked at the entrance to the reserve. Once there, we met up with three members of CALDI, a UCT-based group studying African languages and we learnt much as to how their efforts have helped to preserve the cultural heritage and transfer it to written form. We were only able to stay at Algeria for two nights.  The next day we visited the rock paintings and Stadsal caves, where entrance is by permit only. We lunched at Cedarberg Oasis en route to Algeria campsite on the western side of the Cedarberg, which turned out to be somewhat more crowded. Temperatures generally soared well into the 30’s Celsius. No mercy and no respite.

Having transferred from Sandrif to Algeria campsites, we settled on a walk up the valley from Algeria along the Rondegat river, whilst easier than that to Maltese Cross, was nonetheless undertaken in mid-thirty Celsius temperatures, thus presenting something of a challenge.
Such was our thirst that we were prepared to drive the 28 km (in both directions) just to lay our hands on a six pack of Windhoek lagers, post the walk. The extent of the severe drought can be seen everywhere. Whilst revellers are able to bathe in the waters passing by Algeria campsite, the levels in the Clanwilliam Dam show the reality of the Western Cable’s water shortage.

We were lumped with rather interesting campsite neighbours, a collection of families from the Cape Flats. Boisterous to begin with, they did tone noise levels down a tad after a day. This coincided with the subsequent removal of a zip-line which had attracted all the kids in the campsite. Despite having our tranquillity shattered somewhat, the Cedarberg remains a special place of real beauty. A howling southerly wind tore through the campsite on the final evening, threatening to levitate the tent I was sleeping in. Ralph was safe in the camping utility perched on the roof of his bakkie.

A leisurely drive back the following morning  saw us characteristically stop for lunch at Kardoesie, a restaurant on the Piekenierskloof Pass along the N7 outside Citrusdal, West Coast.

Photo Albums:

[Camping in the Cedarberg – a chance encounter with CALDI at the Maltese Cross]

[Camping in the Cedarberg – Rock paintings & Stadsaal caves]

[Camping in the Cedarberg – Algeria & the noisy neighbours]

 

Early morning dip in Kalk Bay’s tidal pool – Dec 2017

Early morning spent with my good friends Ian Forbes and Lily Forbes in the Bohemian Cape Town suburb of Kalk Bay, including an early swim in the Atlantic seaboard tidal pool, popular with the locals brave enough to venture into the chilly waters.
The early start did not sit well with me, unable to come to my senses entirely. After a coffee at a Kalk Bay bistro, then picking up panini at the Olympic Cafe, we returned to Tokai for breakfast on the patio.
Ian and Lily have also created a lovely feinbos garden at their home. Prior to my moving to the United Kingdom I was referred to and effectively still am their “backside” neighbour, a term I have always accepted as one of endearment. I’d been treayed to a lovely fish braai in their company the previous evening, during which time we catch up on events that have consumed our respective livrs in the past year.

[Photo Album]

An array of Table Mountain holiday walks Dec 2017 – Jan 2018

A cloudy start to a walk along the Pipe track, Table Mountain – 6th Jan 2018

Despite feeling queasy the day before due to a stomach virus, I felt the strength to participate in a planned walk along the Pipe Track, Table Mountain below Twelve Apostles, which follows the Atlantic shoreline on Camps Bay. Whilst the path itself does not involve any ascent to the summit of the mountain, access routes en route include Diagonal, Kasteelspoort and Woody Ravine. Contrary to what one might imagine, the path is not entirely flat, rising gradually as on heads towatds Bakoven; nevertheless, it’s pretty straightforward and easy. Ideal conditions greeted us at the outset of the walk, despite the low cloud shrouding much of the landscape.

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Silvermine Nature Reserve – a tale of new and broken boots – 30th Dec 2017

Inspired by our walk via Constantia Nek a few days earlier, my eldest brother, Ed, dispensed with the greenbacks to invest in a new pair of boots for our subsequent outing in Silvermine Nature Reserve. Owing to temperatures expected to be in the 30’s, we agreed to make an earlier start. My usual route for many years was a walk to Elephants Eye below Constantiaberg, on the edge of Silvermine however with this route shut after fires had rendered it potentially dangerous, other options were now on the table. The area is a significant conservation area for the indigenous fynbos vegetation.

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My brothers join me for a jaunt up Table Mountain – 26th Dec 2017

Walks up Table Mountain at the height of summer under the African sun are particularly difficult to pick out when the participants happen to be two of my elder brothers, one in his mid 70’s and the other on the cusp.
It’s not that I think that such walks are beyond them; it’s simply that I have to bear in mind that they are not regular hikers like me. One has had an operation just recently yet I need to pinch myself to remember this. There’s no point dragging them up the most challenging route the mountain has to offer.
It was probably for pragmatic reasons that I chose a path walked just two weeks ago just after my arrival in Cape Town on holiday, along the jeep track from Constantia Nek.
Accompanying me were Edward and John, along with brother-in-law Horst-Werner Boehmcker, recently retired from BMW in Munich. Brother Gordon was not able to join us.
It was perhaps a blessing that a fair wind was up by the time we set off at around 9h00 as this had died down by the time we headed back. I was proud that they both made it to the top, an overall climb of some 800 metres. We reached Woodhead Reservoir where we indulged in the sandwiches I had prepared for the outing. All marvelled at the sheer splendour of the mountain landscape, vegetation and views.
Unwinding with a beer at the Constantia Nek restaurant proved a fitting end to a memorable day.

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Table Mountain via Hout Bay – 22nd Dec 2017

Today’s walk in the Cape Peninsula on Table Mountain, just off the road between Hout Bay and Llandudno, behind the Ruyterwacht Estate. Previously, it’s a route I’ve always descended after first walking up the valley from Hout Bay towards Constantia Mel and then navigating up the Myburgh Ravine waterfall, with a bit of a scramble on the upper section to emerge at the very top into more exposed landscape.
But back to the present. Recent fires higher up the mountain at this corner above the block house and along Twelve Apostles towards Bakoven meant that I couldn’t actually find the route to the very top and had to turn back. Upon returning to my car, I encountered an English couple who had a similar experience. It was a frustrating climb but rewarding nonetheless.

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Rhodes Memorial blockhouse and Contour Path walk – 12th Dec 2017

Another super walk today with an unexpected twist. Set off from Rhodes Memorial car park towards the block house below Devils Peak, a remote spot with a reputation for muggings, if what an elderly hiker said as she passed me by was anything to go by.
As I approached the hill I saw a van parked nearby and three women sitting on camping chairs being served by a guy wearing an apron. “Would you like to try some wine”, he said. “We’ve been waiting for you”, they added, in reference to the possibility of some hiker passing them by. A snack comprising a slice of baguette topped with cheese and biltong was being offered and before I knew it, my glass was being refilled. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I’d unintentionally gate-crashed an official Table Mountain wine tasting safari organisdd by Durbanville Hills. Not wishing to overstay my welcome, I bade the jovial hosts goodbye and set off along the contour path hugging Table Mountain, towards Newlands, where I descended to a lower jeep track back to Rhodes Memorial car park.

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Table Mountain walk via Constantia Nek jeep track – 11th Dec 2017

Gorgeous walk today along the jeep track from Constantia Nek corner to the reservoirs on Table Mountain. Views across the southern suburbs of Cape Town and across False Bay. The Cape Floristic Region is an area of extraordinarily high diversity and is home to over 9,000 vascular plant species, of which 69 percent are endemic.

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24 hours in Hull, city of culture 2017

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The city of Kingston upon Hull, abbreviated to Hull, located in the north-east of the United Kingdom, is basking in its status as the city of culture for 2017. It lies upon the River Hull at its confluence with the Humber estuary, 25 miles inland from the North Sea. The town of Hull was founded late in the 12th century. It was an early theatre of battle in the English Civil Wars. After suffering heavy damage in the Second World War, Hull weathered a period of post-industrial decline. Hull is a city redefining itself as it shakes off its industrial past. The grittiness of that era is however still very much in evidence. The economy of Hull was built on trading and seafaring, firstly whaling and later seafishing.

Renowned American guitarist Pat Metheny had been invited to headline Hull Jazz Festival’s 25th anniversary, so it was for this reason that I journeyed by train from Hertfordshire to attend the concert. The quartet comprised UK pianist Gwilym Simcock joining the brilliant Malaysian-born bassist Linda Oh and long-time Metheny sidekick, drummer Antonio Sanchez. A Romanian jazz band busking in the town centre seemed to set the tone for the friendly atmosphere I experienced from locals proud of its current status. Even the weather, crisp but sunny and dry, decided to play ball, for the time being at least.

The box office at the City Hall doubles as a tourist office, so I decided to explore the historic Old Town, Hull Marina and Museum Quarter along what is known as the Fish Trail Route. Hull boasts a diversity of interesting architecture, in particular along a narrow street at the bottom of Whitefriargate known as The Land of Green Ginger. Hull Minster, which dates back to about 1300, contains what is widely acknowledged to be some of the finest mediaeval brick-work in the country. A truly stunning and beautiful building, it is the largest parish church in England by floor area. I had timed my visit well, as the church was hosting an open day, not only as part of the culture celebrations but also in preparation for the Armistice Day commemorations signalling the end of WWI. In one of the wings of the minster, a kitchen had been set up where tea, coffee, cakes and soup were being sold. In another section, a remembrance sculpture created by Martin Waters, of figures covered in poppies, representing fallen soldiers, took pride of place. Currently, as part of the 2017 celebrations, Trinity Square outside Hull Minster features an art installation comprising 16 six-metre high steel columns clad in galvanised steel mesh, placed in a grid.

Hull is a city renowned for philanthropist William Wilberforce, born in a house on the High Street. He began his political career in 1780, eventually becoming an independent Member of Parliament for Yorkshire (1784–1812). In 1785, he became an Evangelical Christian, which resulted in major changes to his lifestyle and a lifelong concern for reform. Wilberforce was persuaded by a group of anti-slave-trade activists to take on the cause of abolition, and he soon became one of the leading English abolitionists. He headed the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade for twenty years until the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807. Hull’s Museum Quarter, on the High Street in the heart of the Old Town, consists of Wilberforce House, the Arctic Corsair, the Hull and East Riding Museum and the Streetlife Museum of Transport.

My accommodation for the night was the Hull Trinity Backpackers, located on Market Place, just around the corner from Hull Trinity Minster and Square. I secured a bed in a 4-bed dormitory-style room with ensuite bathroom, which I had all to myself, as it transpired. It turned out to be clean, perfectly situated and fantastic value for money. The proprietor, Glen, based in Sheffield although originally from Hull itself, secured the business a year ago. You couldn’t ask for a nicer, friendlier host. Preceding the concert I was attending was a parade of street performers dressed as giant creatures weaving their way through the city early Saturday evening, as part of the City of Culture 2017 arts festival, the procession aptly named The Land of Green Ginger Unleashed.

The colourful facelift of Drypool Bridge, created by artist Sarah Daniels, was inspired by the work of 19th century Hull-born mathematician and philosopher John Venn, to reflect the city’s links with the internationally-renowned Venn Diagram.

Like most cities in the north-east, Hull truly comes alive at night, as locals party the night away in a variety of bars and clubs around the city. Whilst cosmopolitan London and other larger cities has experienced a dilution of its traditional English population, demographically speaking, Hull seems to me like stepping into another world. As one examines the features of many of the locals one might pass by in the street, you could be forgiven for thinking you might be in Scandanavia. There may of course be no substance to this theory.

The Viking kingdom, Danelaw, covered almost the whole of the north and east of England, with three main areas: Northumbria (which included modern-day Yorkshire), East Anglia, and the Five Boroughs of Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Stamford and Lincoln. The most important city in Danelaw was York, or Jorvik.

I was blown away by the mere 24 hours I spent in this north-eastern city. A cultural heritage intertwined with its gritty industrial past, Hull beguiles and charms.

[Photo Album – view a full set of photos here]

 

Pink Floyd V&A Exhibition Oct 2017

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Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains is an exhibition on the history of the British rock band Pink Floyd, which opened on 13 May 2017 at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England, and was originally scheduled to run until 1 October. After high visitor numbers, the exhibition’s run was extended by two weeks, to 15 October 2017. The organisers planned to tour the exhibition internationally, for up to ten years. In November 2017, it was announced that the second venue would be Rome, Italy, opening on 19 January 2018.  I attended the exhibition Saturday, 7th October, 2018.

My first real awareness of Pink Floyd was hearing the track Obscured by Clouds on the radio, around the time I started getting into progressive rock and electronic music. Strangely though, I never actually bought the Dark Side of the Moon album though there was a DJ on SABC radio who had a late night music program and would play the iconic tracks Time or Money with regular monotony. Though Brick in the Wall was first released on vinyl in 1979, I distinctly recall buying it on CD in a record store in Germany whilst backpacking tour across Europe. I used to have a thing about the crackling caused by static when playing vinyl records. It drove me crazy so CDs were like manna from heaven.

It was in the mid nineteen nineties that the big opportunity came, when I got to see them live for the first time, in 1988, at the old Wembley Stadium in London, with all the props on display at the 2018 exhibition. My lasting memory of the audience was someone passing around a joint, making its way down the row of people.

It is clear that a lot of thought and planning has gone into Their Mortal Remains. The amount of music gear on display is quite unbelievable. The elaborate stage designs, lighting and huge visual props synonymous with Pink Floyd’s live shows illustrate the extent to which they pioneered modern popular music. They all met at Cambridge University. His architectural studies clearly influenced the thinking of Rogers Waters in this respect. No stone is left in terms of the historical detail either. On display is the Cambridge school punishment book with the record pencilled in, relating to the caning of Rogers Waters, which emerges as a theme in Brick in the Wall.

I learnt something new at the exhibition. English architect Sir Giles Golbert Scott, known for his work on the Cambridge University Library, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, Battersea Power Station, also designied the iconic red telephone box. Battersea Power Station features on the cover of Pink Floyd’s Animals album, designed by Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis, who was at school with Waters and Syd Barrett. There is a story too behind the huge inflatable pig used on the cover. It had been tied by rope to the roof of the building. A sharp shooter had been hired as an emergency, as fears arose that in event of any problems, it could drift into Heathrow’s flight path. Those fears were realised on a windy day and the balloon was eventually found in a field in Kent. The farmer phoned up claiming it had scared his cows.

Another of Pink Floyd’s iconic cover images is the row of iron hospital beds on A Momentary Lapse of Reason. This was on the days before the advent of Photoshop. Real beds were hired at enormous cost and placed on a beach in Devon. Due to bad weather the photo shoot was postponed to a later date and the process had to be repeated.

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[Official site]

 

 

Canal du Midi, Negra to Argens, 3rd -10th July 2017

Along with my friends Ralph and Marion Pina from Cape Town, the decision had been taken to celebrate our birthday milestones in Europe. Most of planning resulted in two objectives, one, a canal boat trip in southern France and two, a visit to the Pyrenees just across the border in Spain.  The first of these, cruising a section of Canal du Midi, is described here.

[Full Photo Album – click here]

Day One – Negra

A week-long cruise down Canal du Midi from Negra to Argens, with my friends from Cape Town, Ralph and Marion Pina. Met up in downtown Toulouse on the morning of 3rd. The trip thus far has not been without its drama, what with Ralph’s luggage on an international flight going AWOL. Introductions upon arrival by Melanie and Jean-Pierre of Locaboat, including a quick driving lesson to check if we were up to it. First much needed lunch on penichette Gey. A phone call from Toulouse airport and Ralph’s hopes were up again. Miracles do exist, it seems. An hour layer than scheduled at the rendezvous point in Negra, two black dudes pulled up at the base, bringing the unfortunate suitcase saga to a satisfactory conclusion. Hopefully we’ll finally set off tomorrow towards Carcassonne. Finished off the day with a hour-long celebratory cycle at dusk along the canal on 3-speed granny bicycles.

 

Day Two – Negra to Castelnaudary

First lock of the voyage encounterd at Laval, a double lock in fact, proved to be quite a shock to the system, putting us through our paces. Luckily it was manned, the young female lock-keeper empathetic to this being the first challenge faced by novices setting out from Negra.
At Encassan, another double lock, the lock-keeper beckoned on our approach. Normally red or green signals provide a safe and clear indication anyway – trust Ralph to own up at this point to suffering from colour blindness.
This was where we encountered an enterprising Swedish family with young kids, who had funded their own vessel which to navigate streches at a time, as funds and vacation permitted, from Sweden through Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands (Amsterdam), France via Paris all the way down to the South.

Boat roles become defined at an early stage in terms of what each feels comfortable with. Generally Ralph took charge at navigating in and out of locks, Peter operated the locks and Marion handled the ropes.
The canal is the life and soul of this part of the Langudoc region, transforming the landscape. The cycle path adjacent to the canal is chocablock with cyclists young and old. A particularly pretty stretch of waterway shrouded by trees led us into Port Lauragais, an exposed marina, where we stopped for lunch. An attempt to shop and stock up on provisions at a local business well stocked on the ‘haute’ rather than the necessary proved a disaster. Oblivious to the fact that most people passing through want basic essentials like bread, milk and bottled water, somebody needs to do some market research for them. ‘Baguettes? No, not on Tuesdays apparently.

To begin with, my French was a bit rusty however now it’s slowly starting to come back and beginning to pay dividends in some tight situations. Usually useful when asking for help or directions.
By the end of the day with 23-odd km covered and 12 locks navigated, everyone is pretty knackered. All the quayside stations in Castelnaudary were either taken or booked, so we found a shaded possie near the island (Ile de la Cybelle) in the Grand Bassin, comfortable despite not having an electricity connection. For dinner I prepared my customary quick dish of pasta, onions, tuna and pesto. Ralph asked for seconds, so it must have been edible.

Day 3 – Castelnaudary to Villesequelande

In contrast to the tail end of the previous afternoon which had turned out to be quite humid and muggy, the wind having picked up considerably overnight, making navigation interesting. Although the distance covered was only 16 km in total, the locks, all of them manned, are more condensed. The downside being the stations are shut for lunchtime siesta, so at Villepinte lock the only choice was to do as the locals do and park off for a bite. Our target for the day was Bram, just after the lock of the same name. Upon arrival however the shutters at the office had been pulled up entirely, so connecting to facilities was out of the question. At this point my linguistic skills came in useful. As we suspected we might be running low on water in the tank, we decided to press on, after taking advice from a German couple, who spoke of a spot further down the canal “some distance” after the lock at Beteille, with a row of wooden tables on the canal bank.

Reference was made to an English couple in a large boat who had in their possession a suitable connector for the tap. The location was also confirmed by the lock-keeper, though a kilometre or two lapaside I was beginning to think it may all have been lost in translation. After navigating along a beautiful tree-lined stretch of the canal, the spot and the large boat we had all but given up on , came into view immediately after the bridge at Villesequelande. A berth near a tap materialised and the owner of said tap connection located. I felt somewhat vindicated after that. Job done as regards filling the tank and we set off on the granny bicycles into the old town and the village of Caux beyond, where we stopped for a quick beer, before tracing our way back across the countryside courtesy of Google Maps (picture Ralph pedalling with one hand on the handle bars and the other holding a Samsung Galaxy S6).

Day 4 – Villesequelande to Carcassonne

Having exceeded our target distance the night before beyond Bram, the pressure in having to reach Carcassonne was off, so we sauntered down the canal at a leisurely pace, with only a handful of locks to contend with, two of them, Lalande and Herminis, being only 300 metres apart.
The latter also housed a small restaurant which beckoned most invitingly. A chalkboard listed the items available on the lunch menu however it was a second sign sporting the word ‘crepes’ that attracted our attention and got us salivating. Much to our dismay we discovered it could only be ordered in the afternoon. The owner seemed totally unperturbed despite our palpable disappointment, even suggesting that we could try in Carcassonne. I mean, it’s not as if he has the luxury of a significant, endless stream of clientelle passing through that way. We returned to the boat and put the kettle on instead.

That morning the sky was partially overcast to begin with but got warmer as the morning progressed. It was around lunchtime whereupon we eased into Carcassonne marina. The port captain was on lunch so we indulged in a light snack ourselves. Said captain turned out to be a smiling, delightful blond with sparkling eyes and bursting with energy, who directed us to a berth beyond the lock, in a more public area. After locking up the boat we headed off through town, following the path through town leading all the way up to Carcassonne Citadel. Ralph and I opted to go inside, which included watching a short film and a walk along the ramparts, whilst Marion stayed outside. We conveniently stumbled upon a small local pizzeria just across the road from where we were moored which just about hit the spot.
Back on the boat our stern resolve to get to bed earlier failed miserably. The sloping grass embankment appeared to be the gathering place for groups of youngsters partaking in the inhalation of stronger substances until the wee hours, much to the consternation of Marion. We had the option of using the showers at the Carcassonne base, which Ralph and I took advantage of. The availability of washing machines was offset by the fact we didn’t have any washing powder.

Day 5 – Carcassonne to Marseilette

If the revellers of the night before weren’t enough, then the noise from the traffic coupled with local council workers deciding to mow the lawn next to the boat early would undoubtedly wake us from our slumber.
After some quick shopping at the nearest Supermache, whilst able to locate washing gel at another on the way back from buying tarts to enjoy later with our morning tea, we filled up with water and set off. A humid day it turned out to be, as most have been on this trip. We stopped for tea along a tree-lined stretch between Fresquel (triple lock) and l’Eveque, tying to stakes, provided by Locaboat for the purposes of such impromptu, spur of the moment stops.

Unfortunately, berths were in short supply in Trebes so we stopped a bit further on. In the heat of the day with temperatures into the thirties, we had neither the energy nor the appetite to explore the town. Given the longish haul to Homps awaiting us, we reluctantly decided to press on to Marseilette.
A virtual traffic jam evolved at Trebes triple lock, with boats queueing in both directions. The lock-keeper, Christoph, was quite a friendly geezer and we chatted about Johnny Clegg, shortly due to retire due to ill health, doing his last every world tour. I had been told by a French enginèer I once knew that he had been a household name in France in the 80’s and that his songs were sings by kids in schools, even in the remotest villages in France.

Marseilette proved a relatively uninspiring place, however as luck would have it, the locals had decided to paint the town red on a Friday night, directly next to where we had moored. A local disco had been hired to play to an audience on a stage set up for the occasion, like some major rock stars. With no second invitation, we elected to fire up the engine and move on a few hundred yards, out of earshot.
On a positive note, we encountered our Swedish friends once again, husband and wife and three tiny kids, two of them twins, whom we had passed several times en route.
To round off the day, we explored the small town on bicycles, as far afield as the neighbouring Capendu.

Day 6 – Marseillette to Le Redourt

In the middle of the night, the Swedes had moved too, so we exchanged greetings once more as we went by shortly after breakfast, as we headed to the first lock a short distance away, taken from the name of the town. The double lock of Aiguille has been brought alive by its lock-keeper/sculptor Joel Barthe. A series of figures sculpted in wood and metal adorn the area around the lock. Puicheric lock was shut for lunch upon arrival. After reopening, for the first time on this tour, we witnessed four boats crammed inside the lock.

We arrived in La Redorte, a neat little quayside, early to mid afternoon. It was then to my horror I realised that I could not locate my wallet and cards. I searched the boat high and low but realised I must have lost it along the canal bank outside Marseillette. I called the banks to place a blocker on my debit card. After lunch we took a walk into town but my heart wasn’t really in it. Neat shuttered buildings line the high street in La Redorte. The townis built around an attractive chateau. A wedding was about to take place in the town hall. Marion’s umbrella, designed to provide shelter, seemed to attract attention from three women in the midst of a gossip on the roadside bench. The day is not complete without sampling French pastries bought locally in town, enjoyed later on Gey, with Marion’s customary pot of tea.

A small ablution block housed not only a traditional French loo (hole in the ground) but also shower with cold water only, allowing me to simultaneously rinse clothes I’d had soaking on the boat in a bucket. Marion and Ralph pushed off for a cycle down the canal towards Homps while I manned stations.
A large boat had pulled up ahead at the quayside. Not only had we discovered that they were fellow South Africans, but learnt too that Fanie Marais was an estate agent who had sold a house on Welgedacht estate in Cape Town to my eldest brother Edward. A small world indeed. It gave me an opportunity to practice my Afrikaans.

Day 7 – La Redorte to Argens

Ralph and Marion had had a brainwave, suggesting that Ralph and I surface early and cycle the 12 km back to Marseilette, to see if we could locate the missing items that had caused me so much consternation. This we did, setting off into a headwind on the granny bicycles at about 6:30. Ralph got to the canal bank ahead of me and began searching in the thick grass where we had been. All of a sudden he turned and spotted the small Ziploc bag lying in the undergrowth. He stooped down to pick if up and then held it up with a grin on his face. My jaw dropped in astonishment at our sheer good luck. We high-fived. The resolve of both Ralph and I had been put to the test on this trip, having lost personal possessions whilst retrieving them in the end.

Buoyed by the find, we hurried the 12 km back, on average downhill, to La Redorte, with the wind behind us and in our sails too. The neighbours hadn’t yet surfaced. My shirt was drenched from the sweat so another cold shower was in order. After breakfast the assortment of t-shirts and underwear draped across the bicycles to dry came down and we motored into the morning sun.
Jouarres lock, a deep lock, necessitated a long wait for boats scheduled to arrive in the opposite direction. I bought a bottle of Rose so that we could celebrate the uplifting events of that morning. Here we encountered more South Africans, on two of them. Our fellow citizens and we appear to be taking over Canal du Midi in a big way.
It wasn’t long before we ambled into Homps port with the engine purring.
A sheltered spot out of the sun for Lady Marion was duly found as ordered. Tart and ice-cream bought at a patisserie literally five steps across the road was summarily washed down with, yes, that pot of afternoon chai. The town was recennoitered.

Homps lock buildings were probably in a worse condition than any of the other locks on the entire trip, in a word, drab and unkempt. The lock-keeper seemed to reflect the state of the place. He kept us waiting up to 20 minutes until more boats arrived, before we were allowed to proceed. The double locks at Ognon and Pechlaurier however, lush and almost entirely surrounded by trees, provide a stark contrast.
The 14th century chateau on the hill dominates the landscape on the western approach to the town of Argens-Minervois. We seemed to be encountering more and more South Africans and Argens port was no exception. The office was shut by the time we arrived so a final checkout would have to wait until the morning.
The Negra – Argens Canal du Midi cruise had turned out better than I had expected. With 40-odd locks navigated in the space of 6 days, there’s never a dull moment. Only three on board means everyone’s participation is key and any lapse in concentration can potentially be fatal.

 

[Full Photo Album – click here]

An anthology of UK hikes from 2017

Here are some of my UK hikes and activities from 2017, which often end up being walks close to where I live in Hertfordshire, not far from the town of Royston, where I live. Occasionally I do undertake walks further afield, with my good friend Tammy, in her neck of the woods, close to the North or South Downs.

Eastbourne ‘Seven Sisters’ walk Saturday 4th Nov 2017

A walk was arranged by my good friend Zoltan on a weekend trip from the continent, to meet up with old acquaintances Martin and Vanda from the Xerox Hiking Club. Having travelled down to their home in Twickenham at an early hour, we journeyed on to meet up with our Hungarian friend, who had booked into a hotel in the town of Eastbourne. The plan was to leave one car in Eastbourne and rive back to the start at Seven Sisters Country Park near the Cuckmere River, not far from Seaford. The path follows the Eastbourne coastal cliff-tops past Birling Gap and Beachy Head, the highest chalk sea cliff in Great Britain.

[Photo Album]

 

Goudhurst – Cranbrook High Weald circular walk – Aug 2017

The south of England, in particular the North and South Downs and the area in between, known as the Weald, had become an area of particular interest for me, notwithstanding its numerous hiking possibilities. Having stopped off recently in the Kentish village of Goudhurst whilst returning from the 1066 walk, I had paid homage to the family history by visiting the pub once owned by my great grandmother in 1911. This account could arguably be re-titled as ‘Walking into family history in the Kentish countryside’. The word Goudhurst is derived from Goud Hurst, the “Good Hurst” (an opening in a forest) due to the hill’s strategic position within the local landscape.

[Photo Album]

 

1066 Country Walks – Battle to Hastings – August 2017

Southern England boasts some of the finest walking in the United Kingdom. The Weald is an area in South East England situated between the parallel chalk escarpments of the North and the South Downs. The name “Weald” is derived from the Old English weald, meaning “forest” (cognate of German Wald). The High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty lies in the centre and extends across the counties of Surrey, West Sussex, East Sussex and Kent. On the southern edge of High Weald lies the small town of Battle, the site of the Battle of Hastings, where William, Duke of Normandy, defeated King Harold II to become William I in 1066.

[Photo Album]

 

Great & Little Hormead, Furneaux Pelham – Herts Walk August 2017

Much of the hoped-for weather in the month of August in the south-east of the United Kingdom had flattered to deceive, as usually tends to be the case. The summer Bank Holiday weekend however lived up to its name, with record-breaking temperatures having been forecast. Sunday 27th August proved no exception. The route chosen for the day involved setting off from the Three Tuns pub in the charming village of Great Hormead, located near Buntingford, in Hertfordshire. There are two churches in close proximity to one another, and St Nicholas at Great Hormead is the larger one, founded in the early 13th century, and considerably extended in the 14th, including the creation of the tower. It’s also the younger one, as an earlier church had already been founded up the road at Little Hormead.

[Photo Album]

 

Lea River to Epping Forest Walk March 2017

Enjoyed a walk with Tammy in the heart of Essex country near Harlow, just north of the M25 and Epping Forest. Not quite the start of spring. The chosen route necessitated leaving cars left at either end, one at Roydon station on the Lea River canal, the other at the Visitor’s Centre in the heart of Epping Forest. The walk, which followed the Three Forests Way, covered a distance of 11.8 miles over 6 hours or more across a varied landscape of open terrain and harvested farmland, Nazeingwood Common being a good example, as well as the forested areas close to Epping Forest, near the village of Upshire, often muddy underfoot after heavy rains. What with Tammy’s excellent GPS device and my unquestionable map-reading skills as backup, we couldn’t go wrong! As we approached our destination, even a group of Duke of Edinburgh hopefuls trying to find their way around Epping Forest benefited from our experience.

[Photo Album]

 

Barkway circular walk Feb 2017

During a lull in the wake of storm Doris battering the UK shores, the sunshine broke through on the morning of Sunday, 26th February, before the next cold front made its way across the British Isles. Taking advantage of the break, I set off on a four hour circular walk from Barkway via Nuthampstead, Cheapside (near Anstey), across London Road, towards Buckland, before returning to Barkway along Church Lane.

[Photo Album]

 

Walking Rivers Rib and Ash valleys Feb 2017

Bleak skies but mild, rainless conditions, perfect for a walk across along the river valleys of the Rib and Ash, East Herfordshire. It was an occasion to put my Hungarian friend, Zoltan, on a visit from Zurich, through his paces on English soil. He rose to the challenge, though it probably paled in comparison to that offered by the lofty peaks of Switzerland. The walk is a short drive from Royston to Standon, west of Bishop’s Stortford. The path starts on the outskirts of the town, heading due south through the village of Latchford, which lies directly adjacent to the Rib.

[Photo album]

 

A spectator to a Royston winter hill run Feb 2017

Mad dogs and Englishmen, it seems, are more likely to go out in all sorts of weather, fair or foul. Pick a Sunday when you’re out for a walk yourself, with temperatures barely above freezing. The local athletics club, in their wisdom, schedule a 5 mile run across Therfield Heath, on the outskirts of Royston, Hertfordshire. Nothing the elements can throw at them will deter an Englishman or woman, for that matter, from making the most of even the most adverse of weather conditions. A resilient bunch, to say the least.

[Photo Album]

Therfield winter landscapes Jan 2017

On my return from warmer climes during annual holiday to escape the UK mid-winter, a walk his lasting several hours, starting out from the Fox and Duck in the heart of the village of Therfield, North Hertfordshire, not far from Royston, where I live. The circular route, largely flat, trundles on through Reed End towards Buckland, Barkway and Reed, straddling both sides of the A10, once an old Roman Road. Temperatures on this day in early Spring rose to no more than a few degrees above freezing.

[Photo Album]

A frosty start to a Royston walk, Jan 2016

A frosty start to the day with temperatures at 1 degree above freezing, in contrast to the summer temperatures I encounter on my annual holidays in Cape Town. That did not deter me on this occasion. Life goes on despite the inclement weather conditions, something I’ve learnt from the British bulldog spirit. This is a regular walk of mine, starting out directly from my front door. I’ve done it more times than I care to remember. There are some variations to the route but can be narrowed down to one of three possible options, on this occasion a circular walk via Therfield, Thrift Farm and Therfield Heath. Th frost thawed a tad and blue skies put in an appearance but it still felt cold. Folk passing by gazed at my hiking shorts in astonishment. “Didn’t realize it was summer”, said one. Always three hours well spent.

[Photo Album]

 

Chris Squire 1948 – 2015

chris-squire-yesOn Monday morning, 29th June, when I heard the sad news of the passing of YES bass guitarist Chris Squire, having been diagnosed with Acute Erythroid Leukemia, I bawled my eyes out, me, a grown man. The loss of Chris Squire touched me deeply, as if I had lost a family member, a musical family member in this case. I thought I was starting to get over it but every time I read a fresh tribute, like the one from Billy Sherwood, the tears came flooding back. Cringeworthy some may say. I sat there, realizing the significance of it all being that the so-called classic YES line-up would never get together for one more album. He was the only remaining founder member in the current incarnation of the band, the only member of YES to have played on all their albums and in every one of their concerts, having never missed a tour. They had scheduled an August 2015 North American joint tour with Toto  yet despite the news regarding Squire’s illness, the tour would proceed without the legendary bass guitarist. It would have been the first time since the band formed in 1968 that they will have appeared live without him. Chris Squire passed away a month after his illness was made public. Chris Squire. Gone. Forever.

Chris Squire and the triple-neck, during Awaken.

Chris Squire playing the triple-neck during Awaken (Peter Groves).

I have adored YES music passionately for the best part of 40-odd years. I remember when I was just in high school in Cape Town, South Africa and walked into a record bar one day in my local town.  The owner put a vinyl record on the turntable: “I’ve got a new release you’ve got to listen to. I think you’ll like it”, she exclaimed excitedly.  The song was “Roundabout”, the first on the album “Fragile”. The band was YES. The song started with the reverse tape effect of a single minor chord played on a grand piano, following by some gentle acoustic guitar before launching into the first verse of the song, featuring the subtle interplay between jazz-like drums and rumbling bass guitar underpinning the angelic vocals.

That trebly, metallic bass guitar sound emanated from Chris Squire’s 1964 Rickenbacker, a trademark sound that was to become a cornerstone of YES’s music and single out Chris Squire from any other bass guitarist at the time, although it wasn’t the only feature of his distinctive bass style. In the mix were Rick Wakeman’s keyboards, Steve Howe’s “noodly” guitar bits as well as Jon Anderson’s alto voice and strange lyrics. The album was a powerful creative blend of rock, jazz and classical influences. I was blown away from that moment on. Through the medium of vinyl alone I grew to love YES all the way through to the release of “Relayer” or thereabouts, which was probably when I first acquired a compact disc player. The love affair continued as I re-acquired the band’s catalogue on the newer format. It wasn’t the only thing I was listening to at the time. I was into jazz fusion– Return To Forever, Weather Report, Brand X, as well as the chamber-style ECM jazz  however YES was the thing for me.
Chris-Squire-1From this point on in my musical development, I devoured any YES-related articles and news I could find in magazines, hoping that one day I would realize the dream of seeing them live. The closest I came, apart from seeing a South African YES tribute band who were pretty good, was when Rick Wakeman controversially played  in the country in a solo capacity and later with the English Rock Ensemble. I started a YES scrapbook.  I even wrote about the band in my school magazine when “Close To The Edge”, arguably the greatest Prog album ever made, was released. I remember the day I had some school friends around, one a budding young guitarist of note. I played “Tales From Topographic Oceans” on my parent’s old stereo hi-fi system. The family joke to this day, during one of Rick’s monophonic moog synth solos on “The Revealing Science Of God”, was my brother calling out from his bedroom for me “to get my foot off the cat’s tail”.

For a variety of reasons, I wasn’t able to see YES live until the mid-1990’s, during the “Open Your Eyes” tour, in the UK, when the band had changed, not for the first time in its history. The most notable difference in the 70’s was the replacement of drummer Bill Bruford by Allan White. Significantly, and this is the key point, the power of the music alone had sustained itself for all those years and touched me time and time again. Having never seen the band live up to this point, it was excitement and deep love for the music that had kept the interest alive. Every time I play YES music, I get goosebumps, even to this day.

Chris Squire

Chris Squire at the Royal Albert Hall 2014 (Peter Groves)

On that Monday morning, I received an e-mail from an ex-colleague of Iranian descent, now based in South Korea. We had not corresponded for some time. He had stumbled upon a blog post of mine documenting my customary ritualistic practice, whenever my favourite band is in town, that being to attend several concerts on any given tour, 2014 being the last occasion for such hedonistic excess: Newcastle, Birmingham, London and Bratislava.

I was preparing a reply when I stumbled upon the devastating news of Chris’s sudden departure. I had just booked for the band’s next European tour in 2016 and had wondered if Chris would have made a full recovery by then. It is true I had been less than enamoured by the band’s most recent studio offering “Heaven and Earth”, an album which promised so much and yet delivered so little. In the knowledge that these guys won’t be around forever however, I still wanted to attend whatever live shows I could, yet I I continued to long for the return of Jon and Rick to the fold, for the classic line-up to return to the studio to create one final masterpiece. Chris’s sudden demise has put paid to that.

Chris on Stage, Hammersmith, 009 (Peter Groves)

Chris on stage with YES, Hammersmith, 2009 (Peter Groves)

Yes, he has left a tremendous musical legacy and his musical spirit will live on. He has influenced a generation of musicians, as Rick Wakeman put it: “We have now lost, who for me, are the two greatest bass players classic rock has ever known. John Entwistle and now Chris,” Wakeman wrote. “There can hardly be a bass player worth his salt who hasn’t been influenced by one or both of these great players.”. It remains to be seen what transpires with the band, whether the very capable Billy Sherwood (arguably Chris’s protégé) will assume a more permanent role, however there is the nagging thought….of what might have been.

Much has been written about the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame’s reluctance to recognize 70’s prog bands, including YES.  In the face of such bias, it has demonstrated that it is not representative of rock musical culture if it chooses to embrace all forms of musical expression. It therefore renders itself as a body with a meaningless, subjective and largely irrelevant opinion, with no bearing on the world of rock music. Who cares whether they have a problem with 70’s Prog? The music itself has value and whether a band is inducted or not does not enhance or diminish the contribution to the world of music or reputation of any artist whatsoever. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation was created by Atlantic Records founder and chairman, the late Ahmet Ertugan, himself a huge fan of YES. He will be turning in his grave.

ChrisSquireChris wasn’t known for his bass guitar alone. He was a great songwriter. He had a fine voice too, his ability to harmonize honed from his days as a young choirboy. He was a significant part of the YES musical tapestry. Not to diminish his solo work or collaborations with other artists, it’s been said that “YES has always been larger than the sum of its parts. As a founder member of this great band through the ever-changing line-up, Chris Squire was the glue, the linchpin that kept the band together during its most fractious periods. His physical presence as he strutted the stage during live performances notwithstanding, notably during the bass/ drum Whitefish solos, Chris’s stature as de facto band leader has left a huge hole in YES, as well as in rock musical history, one which will be difficult to fill.

Gone. Forever. R.I.P. Chris Squire. 1948-2015.

Related links:

Yesworld – Tributes from family, colleagues, friends and fans

Chris Squire, bass guitarist – obituary (The Telegraph) & Chris Squire obituary (The Guardian)

Chris Squire Tribute & Chris Squire RIP Yes Bassist Dead (YouTube compilations)

Fish Out Of Water & Chris Squire – Inside “Fish Out of Water”

Chris Squire of Yes – Meeting Jimi Hendrix

Chris Squire – Great Rickenbacker Bass Sounds (Whitefish solo)

Yes – Heart of the Sunrise (Live, 2015)

YES – Roundabout (Live, acoustic)

YES- Long Distance Runaround (Live, acoustic)

Chris Squire’s Swiss Choir

Squackett – Can’t Stop the Rain

Chris Squire Alan White – Run With the Fox