June 04, 2013 GMT
Melbourne To Donington Bicycle Epic

It's been a while since the previous entry.
Well, Melbourne to Donington is a long way.
There may be a glut of postings now, playing catch-up.
(You wait weeks for a bus then four hundred and seven arrive at once.

That is - the 407 bus, it takes me to Caterham or Croydon whenever I fancy using my bus pass).

Back to business - a couple of weeks ago I was juggling motorbike, bicycle, car and train. All possibilities for a big adventure travel event.
For a fleeting moment of madness, airplanes also featured.
So what was this 'Epic' with the array of transport possibilities?

It was this:

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(from the HU advert)

It's at the Donington Park campgrounds, which are next to the Donington GP racetrack, next to East Midlands Airport, next to East Midlands station, next to the M1.
There's probably a canal thereabouts too.

Back in 2009, when Caroline, Beau and I used this annual event as a dummy run of sorts for Africa, it was in Ripley, Derbyshire. That venue was becoming too small so this year it moved lock, stock and barrel to the big campsite at Donington Park.

But right now I don't have a motorbike on the road that can carry camping gear. The Yamaha awaits an MOT - soon I hope, soon. (See later posts for where all the time has gone - am hoping to have a bit of time to blog about it all).
And the Aprilia, which is gloriously on the road, can only carry me, my door keys, and a newspaper - just about.
So I had the idea to cycle there. It's very much a bicycle event as well.
And I can carry full camping gear on my Marinoni bicycle.
The last time was from Canada to Mexico in 2001, so it's about time I did it again.

Now, the British weather in May ("Farmers fear unkindly May, Frost by night and hail by day" - no bicycles there then) isn't really conducive to pedalling comfortably from Whyteleafe to Donington, particularly with a wet long-range forecast, so I needed a plan to minimise the drenchings.
Perm any 1 from train, car, airplane.
"Train!" I thought, with easy access to St. Pancras and the line which stops at all sorts of places approaching East Midlands Airport. But sadly, a bicycle on a regional line isn't an easy, convenient and carefree proposition, even with my OldCodger's Rail Card.

So I toddled off with bicycle inside car, arriving at the Donington Hotel on the Monday before, planning to pedal away to Rutlandshire and beyond and return for the first day of the HUBB UK on the Thursday. (Car left at hotel).
But rain - lots of it - interrupted play.

I set off dodging downpours and headed along the nearby Sustrans cycle network, only to find the first section is called The Cloud Trail.
Not an auspicious name for the first miles of cycling during a rainy week.

The trail stretches out ahead towards Loughborough.

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Here, it's a disused railway line.

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With strange and ethnic signposts along the way.

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Black clouds hang over the Cloud Trail.

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Beyond the disused railway, it gets hilly.

On the far side of Loughborough towards Rutland Water (which I had hoped to reach), the clouds formed up and the rain fell, right outside the Farmers Den Teashop. A pretty good oasis for the hours and hours of wet rain that ensued.
Specially as there was this amazing private museum full of old preserved vehicles, fascinating gems and a few - err - 'collectibles'.
In the workshop a big old Austin was in the process of restoration, and these - sidecars are always a curiosity:

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A Sunbeam.

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A BSA V-twin.

It was a handy touch of serendipity as the rain went on and on, and the tea flowed. Ditto for another customer and his mum who took refuge at the same table as me, solely because he was hopelessly lost.
"We don't know this area and I set my sat-nav to find a supermarket. But it sent us down a dead-end road that ended in someone's muddy yard. Then I saw this place."
He turned out to be quite a serious cyclist so we swapped a few tales.

A reader used to be a repairer and builder of industrial lawn mowers (now retired). So here's a photo for him.

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Outside, a good splashing of puddles, and a Gilbert Scott red telephone kiosk. Yep, I worked inside those a few times.

What's more (unashamed reminiscence here), back in 1965 I spent about 3 days in the Duroglass factory in Blackhorse Lane Walthamstow (anyone remember that?) watching with great amazement the Polish glassblowers making the globes seen here atop the petrol pumps. With my supervisor we were supposed to be moving a telephone between offices, a 3-hour job in those old-technology days. But we were kept mesmerised for day after day by the huge oil-fired furnace operation (three 8-pot different colours, one 2-pot, one day tank, 3 continuous tanks), on a massive stage from which the six glassblowers would dangle their steel tubes with the heavy molten glass globes spinning on the end, to achieve the right shape. It was a furious rage of fire, colour and acrobatic whirling of hot glass.
The factory also made oven glass. So proud were the glassblowers of their work, and the fact that they had entertained us for all that time, that they boxed up a huge array of dishes, pans and casseroles for each of us to cart away home.
I think the main thing I learnt there was not so much about how to shift a telephone extension, but how to fill out the timesheet so a job of 3 hours took 3 days. I think it was just a matter of the spelling.

So the Farmers Den Teashop was a pretty good place to spend a rainy afternoon

The rain eased up about closing time enough to go looking for a B&B.

Which was here, right next to the Grand Union Canal and River Soar.

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There - I said there'd be a canal somewhere....

Dodging the showers the next day, aiming to arrive at the campsite for the start of the HUBB show, I found Belton Church coming into scenic view from a leafy lane somewhere north-west of Loughborough.

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And somewhere along the disused railway part of the Cloud Trail, it's only 10 miles to Derby. There's a thought.....

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But the HUBB called, and we arrive for registration,
handing over a couple of bottles of bubbly for the Prostate Cancer UK Grand Raffle.

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The tent is pitched, the sun appears, the tea is on and the campground fills up.

But not with bicycles - see later.

Now, the title of this roving and rambling essay needs explaining a bit. I did indeed complete a 'Melbourne To Donington Bicycle Epic'.
Here's the Melbourne-Donington road, with Breedon-on-the-Hill Church in the distance.

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It's two miles long, and I cycled there and back, to visit amongst other places, Melbourne Hall and its ancient mill pond.

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And the animals gazing over the wall watching the geese.

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And the church from an inner courtyard.

And an ATM but you know what they look like.

Back at the HUBB campground, the Expedition Vehicle Show was in full swing on the Saturday. The categories were 'Most Travelled', 'Best Modifications', and 'On A Tight Budget'.

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'MyMarinoni' pokes a front wheel just ahead of a line of motorbikes in the show.

Well, the judges had a hell of a job selecting the winners.
Some of these bikes had been right around the world, some many times, on the road for as long as 14 years. How do they rank such a distinguished field?

At the other extreme there was difficulty in the bicycle class.
Only one bicycle was entered......
In the categories of 'Most Travelled' and 'On A Tight Budget'.

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I won both.....

Not a proper competition really. The next morning I met a cyclist in amongst the trade tents.
"Why didn't you enter the show yesterday?" I enquired.
"I was one of the judges....."
Oh dear.
It turned out that 3 or 4 other cyclists arrived on Thursday. I had chatted to one of them. But they all left on Saturday morning, squeezing in another mission somewhere.
My two prizes were very nice, and the Prostate Cancer UK charity, beneficiaries of this HUBB event, have a big cycling event in Exeter soon.
So those goodies are now added to the prizes for that event where there should be more than one competitor in the field.

A couple of entries in the motorbike class:

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The Honda Africa Twin of Ian Coates

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I'll invite you to do what it says on his right hand pannier....

You should find this amongst tons of other stuff.

And this

I was selling raffle tickets on Friday and Saturday and it was an honour to have Ian buy his from me. As far as I know, he didn't win anything, but I somehow think that's not a problem for him.....
Specially as he was the outright winner of the 'Most Travelled' motorcycle category.
He's off to the Isle of Man TT now, and then riding to Mongolia, and then..... he doesn't know.

Another entry was this

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Ed March's Honda C90 right next to my Marinoni.

This is Ed's overland ride back from Malaysia last year, on the bike above.

He had the audience in tears and stitches during his presentation about his recent Germany to North Cape trip on the same bike, camping, in February.
Watch out for the Youtube when it appears, specially his little adventure in Northern Norway involving the steel pole of a roadsign, a tongue, and about 20 degrees of frost.....

Here's the big group photo

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Which only leaves a couple of photos from the end of the event, the Grand Sending Off of four adventurers, two on their round-the-world trip, and two on their trip to Mongolia.

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What a Great Weekend!!

Posted by Ken Thomas at 03:56 PM GMT
June 06, 2013 GMT
Piano Rag

Did anyone see this back in February?


Learn To Play Day, every March.
I had never heard of it.

But there was an advert for it shining out of the local free paper, like a beacon.
A message.
"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."
Probably the 3rd or 4th time I've used those words in this blog.
It'll appear again I'm sure.

Since the early 80s I've had an electric piano.
And an electric piano designed in the late 70s, appearing in Practical Electronics as a kit of parts, is a very crude device indeed by today's standards.
(As an aside, for a year or more before that, I had an ordinary upright piano, which by dint of incredible age (1800s) and worse condition, was even cruder. Hence I swapped it for an electric version, with the added advantage of headphones and undisturbed neighbours).

I'm sure any competent and accomplished pianist could have produced magnificent renditions on both instruments - but I couldn't. And doubt I ever will...... but you never know.....

For the last 10 years or so I've fancied an upgrade. Something 'digital' as they say now.
Up in Manchester last year I wandered into the big Yamaha showroom - pianos not motorbikes - (something's gone a bit awry with the topic of this blog). I was amazed at the quality and specifications of modern digital pianos, and the prices in comparison with what I paid back in 1982.
I used to glance in the window of the local piano shop now and again whilst walking from the bakers to the hardware shop. "Just looking."

Then in February that same local shop placed this advert.

A personal message aimed directly at me!

So it had to be done. Straightaway. I booked my first ever piano lesson, 15 minutes for free.

On the evening before 'Learn to Play Day' my head was full of anticipation, but it relented for a moment just enough to allow a much more useful thought to come rushing in like a steam train.
It's in the next town, where I bought a beginner's guitar for my son Richard about 25 years ago.
It never took off, but I still have that guitar.
I phoned first thing the next morning. Did they have any guitar lessons left?
"What about violin?" I asked.
I'd never even touched a violin let alone put bow to string.
But the student was ready, the advert had appeared, and the answer down the phone line was, "How about 3pm, or 3:30?"
So I nipped over there after the piano lesson at Vivace.

Within a week I had a magnificent digital piano installed in my front room,


incorporating all the latest mechanical as well as electronic technology.
Being an octave-and-a-half wider than my old one, a well-worn armchair had to go to make room.

And I now have to own up to having chucked two pianos, over the years, in the skip.
That's one more than the score for motorbikes.

Here's an old photo of the old one, with the guitar purchased from Potters all those years ago.


And a peek at the 1970s circuitry and crude mechanical key mechanism. Just for those interested, you understand.


A close-up of the out-in-the-open-air switch system. An early attempt at some sort of touch-sensitivity, with silver contact springs that tarnished black instantly (vertical in centre of pic), ruining any effect that the designer may have attempted to create.


Now, somehow, weekly lessons and daily practice have been stuffed into life's rich tapestry.
So that old adage that I heard many times at work in the 1990s, is truer now than ever.
"When you retire, you'll never ever know how on earth you ever had the time to go to work. Ever."

And don't even mention the violin....
In 15 minutes from absolute scratch, the excellent teacher at Potter's had me playing a 4-note scale and able to hear if a note was out, although not yet the ability to correct it - probably lots of years to do that.

This time of year Caterham is a real buzzing place. You don't have to go up to town for the best entertainment (even though, down here in Whyteleafe, we allow people from up the hill to use our three railway stations).
No, we have our own 'Street Pianos' right here, on the street.

Here's one Vivace put out earlier, right opposite the library.

I hope neither piano nor Aprilia end up in the skip.....

And I take my hat off to Vivace (as you can see in the pic) for this great community spirit.
Just after the photo was taken, a mum and two small daughters had an impromptu open-air piano practice. In fact, it was the mum who took the photo.

So now I'm planning next year's Learn To Play Day.
"Up in London," the proprietor of Vivace told me, "they take it really seriously. People plan and phone around as soon as the date is announced, squeezing in as many bookings for 15-minute lessons as they can."
That's me! Violin, saxophone, guitar, banjo, xylophone, bass, accordion, bandoneón, flute....

Can we get more days in the week please?

Posted by Ken Thomas at 07:30 PM GMT
June 08, 2013 GMT
Hanging Around Again

Like a lot of good things, the wonderful art class at the Fountain Centre in Guildford came to an end at Easter. The teacher had done a great job not only of guiding us over a year or more in producing pieces both amazing and strange, but also in having our work exhibited in a small art show in Guildford's Royal Surrey Hospital.
But as one door closes another opens.

I found another art class at a support centre much closer to home, the South East Cancer Help Centre in Purley. A short bicycle ride from home.
And what an art class it is!!
Diametrically opposite to the class at the Fountain Centre, but equally as inspirational and supportive. I think you'd have to attend both to understand how.

Malcolm is one of the students.
"I'm looking for a bike I can ride on the roads," he told me. "I've one in the garage but it's an old collector's classic, pre-War French and not registered for the roads here."
"What do you fancy?" I asked.
"A good BSA Bantam. I used to race those."
"You raced Bantams!" say I. "With the Bantam Racing Club?"
"That's right," says Malcolm.
"And the British Formula Club?" I enquire.
"Yep, back in the 1960s to early 70s."
"Well! Me too. On a Honda, then a Norton Commando. Do you remember at Snetterton when ....??"
"I certainly do, then at Lydden there was ....." replied Malcolm.
".............. .........?"
".......... ......... ......!"
From then on, not much art has been done .........
But so what??

This support centre runs a lot of local visits and outside activities. Those that I've tried have been pretty entertaining.

An old bluebell wood on the way to Edenbridge, that kept us busy for an afternoon before retiring to a hostelry in Oxted.





About eight cars set off from Purley, not all being very sure of exactly where the obscure carpark was.
Six arrived more-or-less together. The seventh some time later, they'd been looking for the eighth, which never arrived. Various mobile phones were used to try to make contact, but out in the country there was hardly any service. It sounded, through the breaks and crackles, like they were halfway to Dover...
Malcolm was in that car - he assured us later that they did arrive and explored the carpets of blue a short while after the rest of us.

The S.E. Cancer Help Centre celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. One of the many events to mark it is the "String Of Pearls" arts and crafts exhibition in the Fairfield Halls in Croydon.

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Well, four of my pieces were accepted for hanging.
Two just happened to be hung under the watchful eyes of a very young H.M. Queen Mum.

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(The two large and strange items in wide white borders)

And one at the right of the stairs.

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(Top right-hand corner - it's been in this blog before - my take on the London 2012 stadium)

And display boards showing some of the dozens of projects and activities undertaken by volunteers and members.

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From drama, choir and Christmas events with the Mayor of Croydon, to the visit of Prince Charles a few years ago.

Now, must see if I can find a BSA Bantam somewhere so Malcolm can ride to next year's HUBB UK meeting....

Posted by Ken Thomas at 10:06 PM GMT
June 10, 2013 GMT
Men Wanted For Hazardous Journey

"Low wages, bitter cold,
long hours of complete darkness.
Safe return doubtful.
Honour and recognition in event of success."

That advert, according to polar folklore, was placed in The Times newspaper by Shackleton for his 1914 Trans-Antarctic expedition.
Despite the $100 prize still being offered today for anyone able to prove this advert's existence, no one's ever found it.

But I can vouch for the truth of at least the headline, the title of this maddest of entries.

For at the Fountain Centre a few months ago, Maria, who works there, bellowed in my ear those fateful words,
"Ken! Men wanted for hazardous journey!"
She was helping organise the 2013 fund-raising Grand Fashion Show. The hazardous journey was the voyage, on two feet, down the ballroom catwalk of the Mandolay Hotel Guildford in front of over 500 paying guests.
A journey that was indeed more hazardous than anything I've ever done on two wheels.

For instance, this journey the other day, by Aprilia, was far less hazardous.

The Fountain Centre is part of St Lukes Cancer Centre. Always nice to visit, often there're a few other riders there.

This is where the name comes from - there's a fountain in the very pleasant gardens round the back.

And another, a bit small to see, in another corner of the gardens.

A huge number of volunteers put a huge amount of work into this show, as do the men's and ladies' fashion departments of Debenhams, whose gear we all wore on the Hazardous Journey.

It's a major annual fund-raiser for the Fountain Centre, and all the models are patients who enjoy its facilities.
And Maria had pressganged me into the catwalk troop.

What an evening it was!

The rough idea is that a dozen women and four men - or however many Maria has managed to rope in - wander up and down the catwalk showing off the new fashions. The women have three or so changes of outfit, so about 36 ladies' outfits are paraded.
Us men have just the one outfit each. Well, the whole evening is really a big hen party. Not much demand for us....

It starts with a visit to Debenhams for measuring up. Where I find that the outfit will include a waistcoat, because they measure specially for that.
Other than that, we don't know what the garb is going to be. There's a degree of secrecy surrounding this...
"It'll be formal," I thought. "It'd be handy to have a prop of some sort, a fancy cane, say."
That idea sprang to mind the morning of the event, so no chance of finding one of those. But better still, I found a fancy artificial buttonhole flower. "That'll do nicely," I predicted.

Arriving at the hotel, there's surprise No.1.
Not everyone is wearing Debenham's stuff.
Guildford Fire Brigade are in attendance, in full protective gear including helmets.
"WHAT are they expecting to happen?" us men wondered, sharing the changing room with them.
All we can find out is that they've done it before, last year and the year before.
OK, so now we know that the "Hazardous" is REAL!

Four men's outfits arrive, all formal morning suits with white or glittery waistcoats.
Ideal, I thought, for the buttonhole I've got in my pocket. That's one secret the firemen don't know about....

Surprise No.2.
The women are all ready, the audience full of anticipation and warmed up nicely with some pretty bouncy music from the first-rate DJ, and the first lady onto the catwalk steps up.
She's on the arm of one of the firemen. Well, the crowd gives a big cheer, the fireman sends her off down the catwalk and collects her when she returns.
Ditto the second model. The firemen form an orderly line to escort each model in turn onto the catwalk and back off afterwards.
OK, but what happens when it's our turn? Us men?

Surprise No.3.
After about six parades by the ladies, the seventh saunters down the catwalk. The fireman escort waiting at the end sways to the music - and unbuttons his heavy protective jacket. Straightaway it looks like the women weren't expecting this but quickly get into the act.
By the time a few more models have paraded down the catwalk, the firemen don't have to do the unbuttoning any more, the models take care of that and the removal of the jacket at the end of each walk, revealing nothing but braces underneath.
So the audience goes slightly the insane side of crazy....
OK, but what happens when it's our turn? Us men?

Surprise No.4.
There have been about 20 women's outfits modelled now, discarded firemen's jackets are lying all over the place, and someone backstage calls out, "Men in two minutes please!"
OK, but what happens now it's our turn??

Surprise No.5.
The last woman reaches the end of the catwalk, to be scooped up into the air in the arms of a topless Guildford fireman and carried off past us four male models waiting expectantly in line. It's our turn now. So there'll be Guildford nurses - in uniform - as escorts - right?
The audience have gone the insane side of crazy. It's deafening.
The first man is ushered to the end of the catwalk, ready.

Surprise No.6.
There are no nurses.
The first Fountain Centre patient of the male gender mounts the catwalk alone. But no matter, the audience are wild, you can do anything. Just open the morning suit jacket wide as the Debenhams staff demonstrated earlier, to show off the fancy lining and glittery waistcoat. No fireman can match that!
He returns and it's my turn.
Wander jauntily, sort of, along the catwalk, turn around here and there. Every movement brings shrieks and screams from the audience. Open the jacket to display the waistcoat, I'm deafened by the noise.
Arrive at the top of the catwalk, the guests of honour are there, the Mayor and Lady Mayoress and entourage, showing no decorum whatsoever. Clapping and cheering with encouragement!
Open the jacket again, and what's this I spy??

Surprise No.7.
There's a huge great orange buttonhole in my inside pocket!
Pluck it out, wave it around and put it in its proper place in my lapel.
Job done!
The overpowering volume of the noise worries me now, the ceiling might fall in.

..... The other two members of our merry band of male models parade their outfits, and that's the first half done. Alvin Stardust entertains during the interval.

The second half - similar. The women are in 'Ascot' type day outfits, firemen in best parade uniforms with all polished buttons, becoming topless as before, visibility good.
Then a model appears in bridal gear, plus bridesmaids. Us four make up bridegroom, best man, father of the bride (me), father of the groom.
The DJ ramps the music up, the firemen make up the rest of the male wedding guests, the whole shebang fills the catwalk, the roof gets raised....

I'm glad I stayed in the hotel overnight - the party was still going on at breakfast the next morning!
The evening raised about £13,000 for the Fountain Centre. Well, what can you say?

Just this - with minimal further comment - some photos. (By photographers at the event)








"Safe return doubtful."

Huge thanks to the Guildford Fire Station Blue and White watches for getting us out alive.

Posted by Ken Thomas at 12:10 PM GMT
June 24, 2013 GMT
Africa, Antarctica, Ireland

A bit of a bagatelle from the Emerald Isle. My visit over the last couple of weeks.
I never expected to find an elephant in the bush in southern Ireland. But they're there if you look.
Some photos from Jungle City Clonakilty

This one was on Inchydoney Island, a short walk from Clonakilty.


Inchydoney = doughnut with a one-inch hole. So they look after their inches and miles here.
The speed limit may be 60km/h, but you should co-operate by not parking for one mile.


Returning along the causeway from Inchydoney to Clonakilty, I decided to snap this photo.
It's what greeted my eyes as I glanced downwards over a disused slipway, right at the water's edge.
Gazing serenely up at me and straight through me to the blue sky beyond, this bright-eyed doll seemed to be strangely bursting with spirit after some eventful journey. Who knows where, how or why?

Just made of plastic, yet with smiley expression that reached beyond the blue of the sky and embraced the whole Universe above. The look of a being, plastic or no, that had found peaceful wide-eyed enlightenment, stranded and broken on an estuary tide-line here in Inchydoney, the doughnut with the one-inch hole.

"I have journeyed through the galaxies. I have traversed the heavens. I have seen the wonders of the universe. But TELL me, what is this THING you call Spirit?"

Perhaps the surfer riding a wave under the same blue sky, a little along the beach from the causeway, would know the answer to 'the question at the end of the Universe'.


Or Professor Orangutan who I met as he reposed on a wall to watch life go by, across from An Teach Beag in Jungle City Clonakilty.


Or Precious Tears the tiger, window shopping along Spillers Lane.


Or maybe Madame Braque the crocodile might know the answer, lurking in the garden of Harte's Courtyard.


Or the mother and baby elephants keeping a wary eye on Precious Tears in Spillers Lane.



Or the big cat guarding 'jagged edge'. (Should be 'jagged teeth' I think).


Or the cheeky monkey sitting on an airplane's steering yoke in Recorder's Alley.


All inanimate beings, like the all-seeing doll on the Inchydoney slipway. But, gazing blissfully straight through all the onlookers, to wherever it is they gaze, maybe they can answer, "what is this THING you call Spirit?"

After a couple of days the wild animals chased me off to Anascaul via Skibbereen.
The Irish Potato Famine hit Skibbereen harder than just about any other Irish town.
A folksong here

In Anascaul it's the time of the -


Even in nearby Dingle the sausages are ready.


Three days of Irish Ice Adventure and Celebration.

From West & Mid Kerry Live

All revolving, like the rest of the world, around the South Pole.
Music, dance, drama, treks, storytelling and more.

The Grand Welcoming Parade kicked things off on Saturday.
And it rained on the parade....

The Endurance battles through an Irish Atlantic storm.

One of Tom Crean's puppies gets a lift.

And 'Tom the Pole' watches over it all as the bow of the Endurance hoves into view.

A special riot of dance, drama, music and comedy entertained all us visitors that evening.


Followed by dinner and Guinness in the South Pole Inn.

Next day was a hike in the footsteps of Tom Crean, from the South Pole Inn to Minard Castle in Dingle Bay. Where in July 1893 he signed up for the Royal Navy at the Coast Guard station that used to be there.


Singer songwriter Cliff Wedgbury (on right) sings 'The Ballad of Tom Crean' on the slipway.

And Michael Smith, the biographer of Tom Crean, relates anecdotes from the explorer's life.

Perhaps this happened to Tom Crean - the lane blocked by cows on the way to milking.

After embarking at Minard, Crean was carried by his navy postings to New Zealand where he signed up for Scott's ship Discovery bound for Antarctica.
After departing Minard, we were carried by our feet to Tom Crean's childhood house, and thence to the place of his burial.

Well, as we approached the cemetary a strange rainbow appeared - there was a lot of rain. It was strange because it was so low to the ground, just skimmimg above it.


And a little way further on, down a path off of the road, was our destination. Which made the rainbow even stranger, because there was no doubt that the left hand end of it must have been over the graveyard.
This was the first time I had been here.

Crean family tomb, built by Tom while he was landlord of the South Pole Inn.

The porcelain floral tribute set in a glass dome was placed on the tomb by Admiral Teddy Evans in 1938, at the time of Tom Crean's funeral.

Crean saved Evans' life in February 1912 by treking solo across 35 miles of featureless ice and deep snow, to raise the alarm.

On our little trek a distant relative of Crean placed a new wreath to mark the occasion.


That evening we were all entertained by Aidan Dooley performing his award-winning one-man stage dramatisation, Tom Crean - Antarctic Explorer.

Followed by dinner and Guinness in the South Pole Inn.

The final day started at the South Pole Inn, to collect our magnificent certificates to mark the occasion of the Annascaul Tom Crean Trail.

'One for the sideboard'

Followed by a rivetting presentation by Frank Nugent entitled 'In the footsteps of Howard-Bury, Shackleton and Crozier'. Title almost self-explanatory, three Irish explorers who tackled Everest, Antarctica and both Polar Circles. Frank's story covered his own amazing escapades in following the footsteps of all three. But in particular his attempt on Everest, and later sailing a replica of Shackleton's lifeboat James Caird, named Tom Crean, the 800 miles from Elephant Island to South Georgia. A voyage that saw the replica boat capsize three times in mountains of waves, with all the crew surviving.
Frank's photos of both his Everest ascent, and his crossing of the Southern Ocean, were stunning.

This eye-opening account, along with more music and children's shows, marked the end of the festival.
Followed by dinner and Guinness in the South Pole Inn.

Where it was then time to contemplate an unexpectedly rivetting part of Frank's presentation.
He had described the design of the replica boat. And his visit to Dulwich College to take exhaustive measurements and photos of the real James Caird. (It's on permanent display there).
Frank then explained that he gave the job of construction to Ireland's best boat builder,
"A superb carpenter by the name of Jarlath C'nnahn."
My head spun..... "Jarlath Who??"
"Rewind a bit there! That was definitely the Dublin pronunciation of C'nyon!"
"Press the pause button please.... I've got a question there.... What name did you say???"

Not nine months ago I'd discovered that a branch of the Cunnane family had become carpenters in Knock, in 1895. And that the pews in Bekan church were made by W Cunnane and Sons, telephone Knock 9.
"What was that name he said??" I had asked myself earlier, as Frank was explaining the finer points of the construction of the Tom Crean. The boat that he would sail across the roughest seas in the world. "Err... can you repeat that earlier bit?"

As soon as Frank finished his presentation I nipped down to the front. I had a slight advantage, as Frank, Aidan Dooley and I all took breakfast together that morning. We were in the same B&B. Where visitors find this reassuring view of the place of pilgrimage, right across the road.


"Frank, can you tell me the name of the constructor again. How do you spell the first name?
.... and the last name? .... C-u-n-n-a-n-e..... Right!
Where's he from, Frank?
Oh, Knock! You don't say!"

I never expected to find another line of my ancestor's family here at the Tom Crean Festival in tiny Anascaul. But that's life I suppose!

I wonder what I'll find in the Shackleton Heritage Centre in Athy, my next stop. Or in O'Brien's Grocery and Bar across the road?

Posted by Ken Thomas at 02:21 PM GMT
June 28, 2013 GMT
Shopfronts And A Far-Flung Town

From bagatelle to picture book.
In Kilkenny, on the way to Athy, tea was called for.
Something else was calling me as well, not sure what.


Maybe it was just a postcard in the newsagent's shop.

Bridge over the River Nore.


Then on to Athy.
Like a lot of Irish towns, it's having a hard time at the moment. Sadly, there are boarded-up shops and bars dotted around the streets.
A local photographer had an idea to improve and brighten the image of closed-down business premises, by putting up photographs of Athy people instead of blank and foreboding boards in the windows and doors.
The Canal Side Inn has a lot of windows and doors, so a lot of photos are there. The whole set-up around the town is known as The Athy Expo.




There was a lot of noise coming from the other side of the canal. Over there was a place that's definitely not shuttered up. The grain depot. It seemed as lively as it's probably ever been. A huge lorry was unloading at the base of the grain elevator which blows the crop high up into the silos. It all looked rather dramatic with towering angles and acres of steel work.


The canal here is the Grand Canal from Athy to Dublin. Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh, when describing barges arriving in Dublin with their cargoes bound for the Guinness brewery, said they came from 'a far-flung town'. That'll do for a title.
Here's the Athy Lock.


The moored barge '113B Athy' is overtaken by a form of transport still seen on the streets in town.

Here, the Barrow River flows under the Crom-a-Boo Bridge past White's Castle in the centre of town. The Grand Canal joins the river nearby.


So on to the shopfronts. There are still a lot of bustling businesses with colourful frontages giving Irish towns lots of character. It must take a typographer with special skills to lay out the multi-coloured Gaelic script a foot or more tall.

This has been done before on postcards and in books, but here's a gallery of Irish colour. First, in Clonakilty.





(Photo from The Little Room)


The Guinness vans over here are the purest black possible, with the deepest of shines. Absolutely sparkling like mirrors.








And in Athy.







The 'bar' inside Kanes Bar where I learned about Culnacleha.



Not a Sainsburys nor Boots amongst them.

And now in Mountshannon on the shores of Lough Derg.

Also known as 'Spud's Place'


"Hold on.... How did this dull old frontage get in on the act?"

"Look at the next photo. This is a true Heritage Building!"

The last stronghold in Ireland of the long-lost art of telephone cord repairing.... "Number please?"

Must be worth a mention, no?

Let's move on quickly, a hundred yards down the road.


The modern version of the Mountshannon Telephone Exchange would easily fit into the jacket pocket of whoever lives here.

In the harbour, someone's been reading 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance'.
Phaedrus is here.
There'd always be someone to talk to on that boat.

(OK, tenuous link there, but I need to get a motorbike in somewhere.
Both names come from the Greek for 'bright' - one f the other m).


Sculpture entitled White-tailed Eagle.
They're establishing themselves on one of the islands here.

In the Dingle Book Shop was a glossy volume of outdoor photography entitled something like 'Irish Light'.
This is my attempt....


Still in Mountshannon, this signpost was a bit perplexing for a moment or two.

Until I discovered it was pointing the way to Holy Island. Not the one off of the Isle of Arran but here on Lough Derg near the Mountshannon jetty. And I learnt that the distance indicated is miles, not that other measure people seem to use when the fancy takes.

Returning to Athy for a moment, and wondering last weekend what I might find in O'Brien's Bar, well, I found out.
Frank O'Brien was behind the bar and got straight into showing me postcards and letters he'd received from visitors to last year's Shackleton Autumn School. They were from travellers and researchers working in Antarctic islands like South Georgia, and bases on the peninsular.
He'd met the Irish explorer Frank Nugent a few times. So I mentioned how, during his talk in Anascaul, the name of his boat-builder had caught my attention.
"So you're a C'nyon!" said Frank.
"Well, my wife's family is too," he continued. "I've been to those same churches, Bekan, Logboys and around. She had family from those villages.
You must be a distant cousin of my son! I always say, you don't have to look far for your own relatives! Except my son's in Japan just now."

I had a feeling I'd learn something unexpected in O'Briens, but didn't imagine that.
Just to round things off, in Kanes Bar the landlady told me that Culnacleha is Gaelic for cornerstone.
So that's why the little cluster of cottages at a corner on the Claremorris road is called Culnacleha.

And this might be the answer to another of those 'questions at the end of the Universe'.
"What is time?"
Here's the answer. Time is an Inch. Or a few of them.

QED - (A book in the lounge of the Anascaul B&B)

Must get back home now to some piano lessons....

Posted by Ken Thomas at 08:16 PM GMT

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