Dennis Potter Must be Having the Last Laugh

Events this week are a timely reminder of the ever astute words of Dennis Potter in 1993:

“I’m going to get down there in the gutter where so many journalists crawl… what I’m about to do is to make a provenly vindictive and extremely powerful enemy… the enemy in question is that drivel-merchant, global huckster and so-to-speak media psychopath, Rupert Murdoch… Hannibal the Cannibal.”

and the famous interview just before his death

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Photographing Puffins on Skomer Island

The weather recently has not been fantastic so we had been waiting for a pleasant interlude to make the trip over to Skomer Island. Skomer Island lies just off the west coast of Wales near Marloes (although the boat departs from Martin’s Haven which is too small for our Sat Nav) and is a sanctuary for birds. It is home to the largest number of Manx Shearwaters in the world and has a substantial colony of Puffins. It is the latter that many photographers go to photograph as the puffins are quite oblivious to humans (probably far more worried about those vicious gulls catching them).

Puffin With Fish For Young
Puffin With Fish For Young

Puffins start feeding their chicks around the end of May so we wanted to try to get there in June to see this.

A visit to Skomer needs a bit of planning because the boat to the island can’t sail in bad weather (particularly a strong northerly wind) and tickets are allocated on a first come, first served basis. So after a quick review of the weather forecast we got up at 6.00 a.m. for breakfast and a shower etc. before heading off to arrive at Martins Haven about 8.30 a.m. where we managed to get tickets for the first boat at 9.30 a.m.

We then headed up to ‘The Wick’ where it is one of the best places to photograph the Puffins returning with food for their chicks. Photographing them in flight is extremely difficult as they can fly very fast; they also fly very low and straight to their burrows so as to avoid the marauding gulls. This area can get quite busy with visitors to the island.

Puffin in Burrow
Puffin in Burrow

Lots of photographers there with huge long lenses, which to be honest you don’t need in most cases. You can easily photograph these Puffins here with a compact camera or a standard lens. Liz’s photo above is taken with an 85mm lens on a crop sensor SLR. The photo below was taken by John with a 300mm lens on a full frame camera. The longer lens and choice of a wider aperture gives a nice diffuse background but often I felt I needed a shorter lens and did indeed switch to my 100mm lens for some of the time as it was far more useful generally. However, you definitely do not need fancy kit to take good photos of Puffins here. Although you may need to be quick!

The next challenge is to get back and get a good shot in flight. But my goodness it’s hard (rather like trying to photograph someone throwing a cricket ball towards you!) as they travel at up to 70 m.p.h. and are not very big birds. Shooting large birds of prey in flight is a ‘doddle’ by comparison!

Puffin
Puffin on Skomer Island

As well as all the other amazing bird life here the island makes a great place for a walk (approx 4 miles round). But be aware that there is no shade on the island and that there are no provisions there other than bottled water.

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A ‘Real’ Sunday Morning

Got back late last night from a wedding in Bristol. This was our second foray into the big metropolis in three days having driven to Bath a day or so earlier to see Martin and Dennis in concert at the Assembly Rooms. So this was a chance to have a ‘real’ Sunday morning. By that I mean we could get up late and do absolutely nothing. ‘Absolutely nothing’ is of course a comparative term because even in doing absolutely nothing one still has to make breakfast or wash up etc. most of which usually falls to Liz (sorry).

This morning is dull and rainy; but I don’t care I never fail to wonder at how lucky we are to live here as I look out of our bedroom window.

From our Bedroom Window
The View From Our Bedroom Window on a Wet Sunday Morning

The recent trips to ‘civilisation’ just reinforce how depressing I find our culture (I’m not sure that we really have a culture here in the UK) ; shops selling the same crap and people putting up with the same old crap. On the trip to Bath I’d bought a copy of John Peel’s Autobiography/biography Margrave Of The Marshes, in a charity shop, which I’ve just finished reading this morning over my second cup of coffee. It’s great in places, weak in others but did have me laughing in fits and is a refreshing antidote to the usual famous person who is  ‘up their own backside’. Not that I’ve met many famous people or indeed read any of their autobiographies. There would seem to be little point in Super Injunctions as far as I’m concerned because I don’t even know who these people are, what they do or what they look like. Then again I could probably tell you who the original members of the Irish group Planxty were.

I wish that people would wake up. I’m sure that I’m over generalising but people seem to be content to be led like lambs to the slaughter through life. How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world! That has such people in it! How scary it was to reread Brave New world a few months back. At least in the late 60’s and 70’s youngsters would rant against injustice and the Vietnam war. Now they are more likely to need counselling because they’ve lost their mobile phone or because Primark doesn’t have their ‘must have’ item of consumer fashion in stock.

Most times I just feel like a fish out of water when I visit the big city. Don’t get me wrong I love some cities but I can’t see the point of shopping malls that all look the same where dazed consumers add more debt to their credit cards for the short term buzz they get to escape from their day to day lives working in jobs they hate, to pay off the same credit card bill plus interest.

I can’t see the point of celebrity magazines or Big Brother or any other ‘reality TV’ (What the f**k is all that about, I just don’t get it – some misfits in a house! Why would anyone waste their time even turning it on?). I can’t understand why footballers earn more in a couple of days for kicking a pig’s bladder full of air around a grass field than a nurse gets in a year. I don’t understand why anyone (almost everyone) moans about their lot in the west and look glum when the people I meet in the ‘third world’ have virtually nothing, no running water, no health care, no job and smile all day long. Why on earth is someone now a ‘celebrity’ just because they have appeared on TV? Someone should slap these morons around the head (and the people who watch said TV) and tell them straight ‘Look love just because you’ve got big hooters and appear on TV doesn’t make you a star – it just means you’re a vacuous twat with big hooters’.

Ah well, just the rant of a grumpy old git you are no doubt thinking? You’re probably correct.

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Almost Banned from B&Q

One of my (John’s) unusual traits (some would use the word puerile) is my complete hatred of corporate business and multinationals. I have on many occasions been known to take direct action in the supermarket by ‘accidentally’ knocking over some display of consumer goods that I find annoyingly blocking my genial saunter up their crappy aisles (I digress). Indeed my eldest son was particularly aghast when at a dreadful and expensive motorway service station (the type where they extort vast sums of money because there is nowhere else to go to have a leak and take a break) I pocketed an unopened bottle of tomato ketchup to use later at home because the menu helpfully exclaimed ‘free sauce’. Without any mention of a limit to this offer I felt it only fair to take them up on their largesse and get back some of the cash that they had previously extorted.

However, being a hypocrite, I do occasionally find myself ensnared in their evil clutches. So it came to pass today, when Liz and I  decided to set about building a log shelter to keep our ever increasing stack of wood from fallen branches dry for the winter. Being somewhat surprised by a pleasant sunny day (after several days of soggy rain) we set about the task only to realise that in our unpreparedness we were lacking some essentials.

Firing up the Landrover I took off to B&Q to get the missing bits and pieces. Grabbing one of those large trolleys I set off to the rear of the store only to find the aisle fairly well blocked by other trolleys of stock that the poor inmates were obviously trying to find space for in the helter skelter of having to meet the corporate sales targets handed down from ‘on high’. As I wheeled past bits of overhanging stock flew off and the staff looked on aghast particularly when I exclaimed ‘for feck’s sake’ (or words to that effect). One female inmate did start to remonstrate with me and I did, in a somewhat firm but not rude (I hasten to add), manner, inform her that they were clearly failing in their obligations under the The Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act 1974 – the poor woman was somewhat taken aback to find out that the Troglodyte personage in front of her had been, in another life, an Environmental Health Officer (who had seen the light and decided any life was better than watching the clock tick by in local government – I’m digressing again) who clearly knew his stuff (even barristers do not know that The Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act 1974 has an etc. at the end).

Anyway I was happily (that’s a lie I’m never happy spending my dosh in such places) collecting the things I needed when the manager appeared and asked if he could help. Luckily I refrained from one of my more obtuse replies (like could he lend me 20 quid?) as he continued to inform me that one of his female employees had been reduced to tears by my actions and that if there was any further trouble he’d have to ask me to leave the store. This left me with at least a couple of dilemmas (is that a dichotomy?); firstly should I have felt amazed that someone who deals with Joe Public all day has to go off for a cry (and probably a week’s sick leave) when they meet someone who doesn’t conform to the usual show of devotion in the temple of commerce or secondly should I just tell him that being banned from B&Q would not actually affect my life too much and I think I could exist without going there again (not to mention the revenge I could cause in other stores by ‘accidentally’ knocking over the annoying displays of consumer goods – sorry if you’re having deja vu). Anyway after I’d given him a full run down of his responsibilities, particularly the bit about safe access and egress (great word to bamboozle) under the aforementioned HASAWA (notice the sophisticated use of jargon to help confuse) he sheepishly backed down and offered me a 10 percent discount for my trouble.

After such an exciting start to the day the log shelter construction was a bit of an anti climax but it does look rather functional even if I say so myself.

Log Store
The Log Store (almost finished and sans logs)
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Martin Hayes – Shores of Lough Graney now on CD

We headed off to Ireland, staying with our friend Dorothy who is great fun and who we feel runs the best B&B in East Clare (and who will always guide us to the best music) to

a) Make sure that we were out of the UK for the Royal Wedding as there was no way we could put up with all that crap about the spoilt kid of some rich old woman living in a big house getting hitched at our expense

and

b) much more importantly to coincide with fiddle player Martin Hayes being back in his home village for the 10 year anniversary of the death of his father P. Joe Hayes.

The latter turned out to be very special as Martin has decided to re-release (at long last) his original debut recording that he made with his father. This was originally released only on a cassette tape (which was recorded on a four track cassette recorder at the house of Pat Talty and was not very long because Martin’s father had to leave to play in a ceilidh with the Tulla Ceilidh Band).

It took me many years to find an original copy and they are as rare as ‘hen’s teeth’!

Mary MacNamara, Martin Hayes and Steeve Cooney
Mary MacNamara, Martin Hayes and Steeve Cooney

So on Friday 6th May on the 10th anniversary of P. Joe’s death a few of us were lucky enough to find ourselves in Bohan’s pub where Martin launched the CD  and played for us with friends such as Mary MacNamara, Steve Cooney, John Canney and Mark Donnellan (whose father played with Martin’s father in the Tulla Ceilidh Band). The music went on into the small hours and it was a privilege to be here listening to these great players playing in the back room. It is always a special treat to hear Martin and Mark together as they clearly love playing together and Mark is such a talented and unassuming player himself.

Martin Hayes, Mark Donellan and Pat O'Connor
Martin Hayes, Mark Donnellan and Pat O'Connor

The CD is released on a small label (Quillan Records CD 001) not Green Linnet; and I’m not sure of it’s distribution. I do know that Custys of Ennis will be stocking copies. However, the initial pressing is only 2000 copies (and you’re not having ours!). The CD contains 3 extra tracks recorded with Dennis Cahill on guitar in addition to the original recording. This was really a bit of history in the making.

This was of course only the start of a great weekend with Martin playing with the Tulla Ceilidh band on Saturday night and playing in a 3 hour session in Peppers on Sunday. For someone who would happily sit and listen to Martin tune his fiddle this was of course a fabulous weekend for us.

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Then Dies Having Never Really Lived

The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered

“Man…. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

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Chasing the Light

One of the great things about retirement is the ability to devote more time to other things; particularly photography. I’ve been trying to get some decent landscapes (and I’ve never considered myself too much of a landscape photographer) for a while now that we live in such a beautiful area. However, landscape photography is all about the light (usually early in the morning or in the evening). So with Derek, the BBC Wales weatherman, forecasting a misty start followed by a sunny day we set the alarm for 5.30 and set off into the Breacon Beacons.

Brecon Beacons
The Breacon Beacons on a glorious April morning © John Burton

We were rewarded with some lovely cloud and light for about 20 minutes or so. I got one or two good shots. I’ve been trying to photograph Carreg Cennen for a while now and this is probably as good as I’ve got so far.

Castle Cennen
Carreg Cennen © John Burton

In any event it was a glorious morning to be up on the Brecon Beacons. A full English breakfast when we got home would have been heaven but Liz doesn’t allow those on health grounds!!

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Ino Flail Mower Arrives

Having bought the right tractor (AGT 850) to work on our steep slopes it was necessary to get a mower/topper to deal with the overgrown grass, bracken and rushes on the land. At this stage things are not too bad, but the land has been let go for a while and if not tackled soon the pasture will start reverting to being overgrown with bracken and scrub etc..

Flail mower
John with the INO MMT Flail Mower on the AGT 850 Tractor

First decision was whether to get a rotary mower (less expensive) or a flail mower. The former is more usually used for simple pasture topping the later for ‘chewing’ up scrub and bracken. The former is generally much cheaper (and uses less fuel). However, the need to deal with some bracken and thick grass meant that I thought the later would be more suited (and also have better weight distribution when attached to the tractor on the steep land). The next question was what make to buy? There are numerous models out there; many now made in China some with what can only be described as ‘chocolate’ gearboxes. Good second hand flail mowers rarely come on the market and often the bearings and gearboxes have had a thrashing; hence it was a case of buying new again for this key bit of equipment

I settled on an INO flail mower which are made in Slovenia by a company that has been going for 20 years or so (they are also rebadged by other manufacturers in the UK and sold under their own trade names).

I purchased it directly from the importers (Willow Farm Machinery) who shipped it by carrier. Unfortunately the carrier’s lorry was too large to get down our lane! After some lateral thinking the driver delivered to a nearby agricultural dealer who kindly brought it here on a trailer for a small reward (drink!).

After hitching up to the AGT I had to cut down the PTO shaft which was too long; greased the bearings and off I went. We have had a particularly dry spell which is ideal (as working on our slopes in the wet could be suicidal!). The tractor and mower coped admirably on even the steepest bits. However, turning at the top of the steepest slopes looked a tad dangerous – so I dealt with these by reversing up and then mowing coming down. I did notice one or two local farmers slowing down on the road below to see what I was up to; most seem quite intrigued to see an Alpine tractor rather than a traditional tractor!

Once all the land has been topped (I didn’t get it all finished due to it turning wet) I shall use some Asulox spray to treat the worst areas of bracken as they start to regrow and probably also spray some of the rushes with Headland Polo. Once this has been done (perhaps a couple of times) I should not need to use chemicals much with an annual top with the flail keeping things under control.

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Alpine Tractor AGT 850

When we moved here we were hoping that we could use a normal second hand tractor like an old Massey Ferguson 35 or 135. Failing that a small 4 wheel drive might have been suitable. However, our land (17 acres of pasture and 6 acres of wood) really is very steep. The farmer who used to own it told us that he had had a few ‘incidents’ with a tractor on the land! John thus decided that buying the special tool for the job (even with the extra cost) was the better part of valour! Working a tractor on steep hills is one of the biggest causes of fatalities on the land and he has no plans to shorten his retirement unnecessarily.

AGT 850
At least the brakes work!

This led us to undertake a lot of research an eventually we settled on buying an ‘Alpine tractor’. This type of tractor with it’s low centre of gravity and with the engine weight over the front axle is very popular on small hilly family farms in Italy and Switzerland. They are not used much in the UK and indeed many farmers have advised us not to buy one as ‘they are an unknown quantity’. Actually their mechanical simplicity was a plus point for us in that any decent mechanic should be able to repair it without needing to plug his computer in or have access to the service error codes.

The downside is that they are very expensive (for what they are) and second hand ones do not come on the market very often. Thus our new AGT 850T was delivered today. This is the ‘non articulated’ version of the tractor; i.e. it does not bend in the middle (although the two axles can pivot in the horizontal plane for better traction). We’ve also specified wider and lower tyres and set them as wide as possible to give maximum stability. The engine is a 48 hp Lombardini engine. It has 12 gears and a shuttle box. The driving position is reversible so that you can swing the seat and controls round to face the other direction. This means that you can face forward with some implements. It has a single and a double spool valve on the hydraulic side of things.

As there is not much user information on the internet we are hoping that this blog will become a little review over time. As we use it more we will add information and give details of it’s performance and reliability etc.

Anyway we unloaded the red tractor today and  after filling it up with red diesel John took it for a spin up some of our ‘lesser’ slopes. It seemed to cope with things pretty well. We’re hoping to get a pasture topper, transport box and set of chain harrows in due course.

Another reason for choosing this tractor is that we will need to get up into our wood to start pulling out fallen trees. This tractor will hopefully be ideal for working in such an environment on the side of a slope. A number of people use them with a forwarding winch for extracting wood out of forestry land.

As said we’ll keep the blog updated with how we get on with this machine.

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Corofin Festival 2011

After our trip to London to Ecobuild the day before we set off for Ireland. The Stena ferry for Rosslare left at 2.30pm so we had to leave at about 11 am as we needed to pick up some food for the journey as we did not want to pay ferry prices. The drive to Fishguard only takes about one hour and a half as the roads are pretty good. We were quite surprised how pretty Fishguard is. Stena actually own the ferry terminal the rest of the harbour is a small fishing port surrounded by a small picturesque town and beautiful coast. The railway station stops quite close to the ferry terminal making it convenient for foot passengers. We  met some people who had travelled from Bath with only one change at Cardiff.

The journey to Ireland is about three and a half hours. The England v Ireland cricket world cup was on live so that passed the time. Ireland won!

The drive the other side to County Clare is about three hours. We got off the ferry at about 6.20pm and were in Peppers Bar by about 10pm. Peppers is a famous music pub in Feakle. As it was a Wednesday evening we were expecting a session but it was very quiet as everybody was at the festival in Corofin. We went on to our friend’s B+B Clondanagh Cottage near to Tulla. Clondanagh cottage is situated in peaceful countryside on a donkey farm and overlooks Clondanagh Lake. Dorothy is an amazing hostess and she and her husband Michael and their two children make you feel very welcome. The B+B is very cosy with lovely bright rooms and super ambience.

Dorothy certainly spoils you with her lovely breakfasts which set you up for the day.

Irish Breakfast
Full Irish Breakfast at Clondanagh Cottage

The area is famous for the fishing being in the East Clare Lakelands. Dorothy, who herself is a keen fisherwoman, can give advice and hire out tackle and provide a boat for Clondanagh lake where there is private lake frontage.

McGlynn
Arty McGlynn one of the Best Guitarists in Trad Music Playing at Corofin

This area is also very famous for Traditional Irish music which is the reason we started to visit. We decided to go to Corofin festival this year as this is the first opportunity we have had (a big advantage of being retired). Corofin is a small village just on the Burren only about a 45 minute drive from Clondanagh Cottage. Corofin together with Tulla and Feakle are hugely important in the traditional music of Clare (and Irish music in general). If you want to hear the ‘real thing’ as opposed to a tourist pastiche this is the area to come.

Mick Leahy
Mick Leahy Playing with John Blake and Lamond Gillespie at Corofin 2011

The festival itself was excellent. It is quite small but very well organised. We had specifically gone to see Lamond Gillespie, John Blake and Mick Leahy of Traditional Irish music of London and Humours of Highgate fame. They rarely play together and were brilliant giving a lesson in how to play traditional music – perfectly together without being over the top – letting the music speak for itself. True masters.

In fact there was excellent music the whole weekend. We will certainly go next year as well if we are not travelling.

The Burren is  a karst landscape area in Northwest Clare and is famous for its biodiversity and it’s archeological sites. As we were exceptionally lucky with the weather, dry sunny and quite mild for the time of year, we decided to explore a bit more of this beautiful area and take a few photographs. We eventually found, the very well preserved dolmen, Poulnabrone (well we didn’t have a map!). The name means the hole of sorrows. John managed to take some good photographs at sunset.

Dolmen
Poulnabrone Dolmen © John Burton

We had a quiet day on the Saturday, when John helped Michael building some sheds that Dorothy is going to use for fishing tackle and then went to at Macks Bar with the Healy brothers later that evening. They were brilliant as usual.

On Sunday we had to come home as there is a lot of sorting out to do  with the house alterations. The journey back was all right. We managed to find a 24 hour Tesco in Clonmel which is useful to know about for a break, especially if we ever used the late ferry. The ferry arrived on time, in fact, it may have been early.  We arrived home at about 1-30am.

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