Thursday, 29 August 2013

A little jaunt to Bath

The Royal Crescent
Historic Bath.
Home to the Royal crescent and the world famous circus.
Beautiful Georgian architecture fills the city and it boats some wonderful drinking establishments that you can wander into from quaint alleys and cobbled streets.
Bath is possibly on eof the prettiest cities you will ever encounter.
The river flows alongside the Recreation ground. The home of Bath rugby club; where they take down one temporary stand each pre-season that enables the local cricket team to play and the locals to wander on the pitch.
Getting wet at the Rec.
This is where I found myself one very raining Saturday in August.
The rain pelted us drenching us through our jackets and making our jeans soggy. Later in a pub we would literally steam from the heat of the cosy bar.
I was standing drink in hand on the grass of the rec watching Bath demolish Bristol in a pre-season friendly and highly anticipated sold out local derby.
We stood next to the bar and watched as try after try was bulldozed in with Bristol offering little defence.
We asked a well-dressed man to take our group photo and low and behold he said he was the chief executive of the club. I didn’t really believe him until I saw him up in the gantry with the TV cameras chatting away. Access all; therefore I googled him and low and behold he was who he said he was.
I went to the bar and came out not only holding pints in a cardboard drinks holder but the match ball.
It has been kicked into touch and landed in my arms. When I wandered out everyone laughed at how I had caught it with the drinks and not split them.
With the match over and the rain coming down even heavier it was time to explore through drinking establishments.
We sampled the delights of the pig and fiddle which I highly recommend, the Saracens head; and a large pub right on Pultenay Bridge where you go underneath to follow the Avon path to the rugby club and many others.
All were fantastic except the Irish bar Molloys where the serving staff were so slow and useless that I wanted to throttle them. Never have I seen a barmaid who had no idea how to pull a pint or serve a mixer! It was painful!
The night became darker and the drinks flowed. Soon it was silly o’clock in the morning and we caught a cab back to the university where we were staying.
Bath uni becomes a giant Travelodge style hotel that offers an on campus breakfast and a good bar for very reasonable prices.
The next day the rains had abated and the sun shone. The day was hot and the shorts were out.
Today was dedicated to exploring and seeing the beautiful sights of Bath.
I have been to this UNESCO world heritage city before many times. But every time I come I have to see more and sample things over again.
The Royal Crescent in the sun looks terrific, resplendent and majestic.
It was designed and built between 1767 and 1774 by the architect John Wood the Younger. It was Grade I listed and is possibly the finest example of Georgian architecture in the UK,
The Circus which you access down Gay Street enchants you with terrific Georgian architecture and the Roman Baths offer a glimpse into the past.
The Roman Baths in my opinion are a little on the steep side price wise. BUt you cannot come all this way and not sample the waters in the reastaurant and discuss the taste.
The Baths are now more interactive with video displays, audio guides and actors in costume wandering around. We were lucky and went in early as when we came out the queue went around the building and past the cathedral.
The cathedral towers down on you and I always find myself staring at the wooden carved door for ages. Taking in the embellishment and wooden wonderment for an age.
Walking along three Avon eating an ice cream or taking a stroll down onto the pitch and walking through the tunnel at Bath rugby club.
To be honest you can walk all through Bath and see so much.
Antique maps shops, arcades, parks, gardens, statues and sculptures. They are all there. There is also not a high number of annoying street performers or human statues.
The sun dropped below the horizon and the city glowed in the evening light. We must move on and leave these treasures behind for another day.
I know I will come back. Especially to watch the rugby.
Sadly our time in Bath came to an end and we hit the road.
Next stop we would be travelling back in time even further than the Romans of the baths!

Friday, 23 August 2013

Coming home to find men in thongs and dresses in my garden

The traffic home from work was almost non-existent and somehow I whizzed home in a matter of minutes unlike my usual slog in the car.
I parked up and wandered to my front door shuffling my keys in my hand.
Opening the door and heaving my bags over the freehold everything seemed normal.
Well everything was normal until I looked up and there was my mate Dave in a dress on my stairs.
To be honest I thought 'he is just being silly' as he and his wife and kids were coming round for a BBQ that night anyway and they have a key to my house.
I said my hellos to everyone and  the kids attacked me; then the doorbell went.
Wandering out of the kitchen my friend Jason had arrived. I was a little confused but thought he was just randomly popping over until I noticed that another friend Jeddy had snuck in too and was wearing a cowboy hat and pink leggings.

This was all a little confusing and when Jason disappeared upstairs as he said he was getting changed I started to think I was missing out on something.
Now this was very odd and I looked around for some sort of massive surprise.
Taking the stairs I opened the door to see Jason putting on a costume from an electric six video and then I got the shock of my life.
For behind the door dressed in nothing but a thong was my mate Wings who had been telling me all along that he was not back from Spain until the following day.
I let out a yelp of shock and was stunned.
'You came home early and ruined it', Dave exclaimed.
He then told me how they were going to try and get my sofa in the garden and do a dance routine for when I got home.

This made my day and I am sure the neighbours saw all this man flesh and fancy dress through the trellis fence and must have wondered who their relatively new neighbour actually was. Was he a member of some crazed fancy dress sex club that randomly had kids in the garden splashing their feet in a paddling pool!

There was nothing for it. I donned some Arabic attire to blend in and joined in the drinking.

Friends are the best thing in the world; especially when they are full of surprises.

That is not his cock, it is a novelty bottle opener peeping out!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

I am a world champion!

I have always dreamed of being a world champion.

Being the only person on the entire Earth that can boast one such accolade.

Never did I think that it may happen; and happen it did.

Every August the Devon town of Totnes holds a unique one off event. a de-facto world championship as it is the only one of its kind.

Namely the Totnes Orange races. This race dates back 500 years to the time of Sir Francis Drake.

Legend has it that one of Drake's crewmen dropped a box of oranges and as the rolled down the sloped high street the Elizabethan towns folk chased them.

Therefore the Totnes Elizabethan society hold annual races in different age categories down the high street.

One look at the high street and you suddenly realise just how steep it is. You have to navigate a bend, an archway, potholes, manhole covers and cubs en route to the finish line.

The course is 850 meters for adults and you can pick up quite a speed on the way down. It does become a full blown sprint.

The rules are simple. You start up by the market square and when the whistle sounds throw, roll or kick your orange as far as you ca and then run after it.

Once catching it up you either kick, roll or throw it again and keep it under control until you reach the finish line. You cannot pick it up and run with it and you have to be in control of it when you cross the finish line.
Run as fast as you can!

Simple really!

The town was awash with bunting and the sun was high and hot. Totnes is a historic town boating a castle, river, island and beautiful architecture and today it was full to the brim with people. Many of which were in full Elizabethan attire complete with ruffs around their necks.

The children's races started first and there were a few of them. They do a simpler, smaller and flat course.
The the real action starts the 17-26 age group raced the full length and was won by a local who had done it the previous year and knew how to control his orange.

Finally the time came for my race. The 26-39 age category.

There were quite a few of us; mostly non locals and we all jostled on the start line while the health and safety notice was read out.

A lady i full Tudor get up sounded and whistle and we were off.
After the race with my trophy

I chucked my orange into the air down the road as the others rolled it and that way could get up to full speed as I passed them trying to kick it.
I caught it up and collected it and rolled it with full force down the road.

Ii was now in a four person race and shoulders began to bump against each other and as to whose orange was whose became a blur.

The course became steeper and my pace quickened. My legs pounded the street and I ran as fast as they would allow me to travel.

My arms umped and my cheeks pushed out the exhaled air.

I was flying.

Somehow after an orange smash up I was in front and the finish line was only 100 or so meters ahead.
I caught my orange and rolled it was fast as I could while I caught a second wind and pumped my arms and legs to propel me onward to victory.

Running full hurdle with an orange
Somehow I crossed the line first and was greeted by cheers from the gathering locals.

A man in Tudor smock gave me a sign sating '1' on it and they took my name and where I was from.

After my race I had to hang around and watched the over 40s race and then the 3 doddery old biddie in the over 60s race. Finally the police race was utter tosh as they were so unfit that they could not complete the course and had to stop for a breather and walked the rest of the way. So much for Her Majesty's constabularies fitness!

The presentations were made and I was called out and presented with a silver engraved ashtray/plate by the mayor. Sadly there was such a bundle of bodies that the only photo of me has peoples shoulders and heads in it.

Then that was it. No fanfare, no lap of honour, nothing.

I was a world champion in my age group for a bizarre minority once a year event in a small Devon town.

The smile was huge on my face and I felt great; this was definitely something silly to tell the grand kids.

A bad photo but here I am receiving my trophy from the Mayor
Sadly I do not think I will be back to defend my title; but who knows. Life is a funny old thing!

Running down the high street with a man in fancy dress in front
Proudly displaying the Number 1 sign after the race

A different side to London town

Recently I met up with a friend who suggested that we embark on an alternative London street art walking tour.

At first I though this was a quaint idea and a chance to discover more of the city I love.

London changes everyday and street art changes all the time.

Why not have a wonder and see London through the eyes of a street artist and try and understand it some more.

Alternative London offer walking tours for which you make a donation depending on what you get from it.

They start at Spittlefields market near Liverpool street and wander along all over East London and the city.

You will discover all the streets off Brick Lane and see such a diverse array of street art that sometimes you would think that they should be in museums and galleries.

To be fair I knew very little when we set out. I of course knew of Banksy and that was about it. To me he is an artist but many just scribble rude words on walls.

During this walk I would see the development of scribble and taggers to full on artist and be told which art works were legal and which were illegal.

Street art is not just spray paint; oh no. On this tour I saw tile work, plaster that had been chipped and blasted away, stencils, freehand and sculpture.

Even in the most inconspicuous places available a piece of artwork would pop up and hold a hidden meaning.

Adorning the top of street signs are bronze casts with environmental messages. These can be found all over London and are by the Welsh 60 odd year old artist Jonesy. They are blink and you will miss them item which have to be pointed out to you.

Other art works are less subtle. The giant Roa artworks of a crane and a hedgehog fill an entire wall of a private property making them totally legal and quite a tourist attraction.

One such art work was is near Shoreditch station and is a giant tiled piece where Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker battle it our with lightsabres.
This piece is totally illegal and brilliant. The shear audacity to do this at night in a cherry picker with all the lights on in hi-viz jackets and a look out with a clipboard pretending to do routine maintenance. This happened even though the police drove up and had a chat.

This star wars piece really impressed me as sometimes real art can be spontaneous and naughty at the same time.

The further we wondered the more I saw and took in and the more I realised that I had only seen a tiny little part of the East London street art scene.

There were roads galore, alleyways and walkways with loads of art in them that we did not have chance to see. It is a good thing that as the art changes the tours change to suit them. They adapt overtime and develop and therefore no tour is ever the same.

My friend recommended doing one every 3 months as that gives you a chance to see different pieces of street art that replace the old. Almost like a snake shedding its skin for a new colour or a moth becoming a butterfly.

This little tour just goes to prove that no matter how much you think you know a place; it will and can always surprise you.

Try it yourself. Next time I may do the cycle tour to get further afield!

This artwork was done by plastering a wall and chipping it away.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

A massive slong on the hillside

Penis jokes are silly, juvenile and puerile. You should have grown up by now. Stop sniggering at a picture daubed on a wall of a cock!

Well I am sorry I will never grow up and I will always giggle at a penis.

Especially when that said penis is massive and made in chalk for all to see on a hillside.

This is of course one of the three chalk figures in the UK. The others being the Uffington horse (Which I have seen) and the other being the Long man of Wilmington (which I have not yet seen).

Today I had the great fortune to drive to Cerne Abbas and see their giant.

Famous for his fabled fertility where couples copulate at night on his member.
But who is he really and why is he here.
To be honest no one actually knows and the first record of him in the parish records dates from 1694.

Many think he is Hercules and therefore thousands of years olf. Or is he even older then the Roman conquest of Britannia?
Others believe him to be an early form of political satire and that he is supposed to be Oliver Cromwell.

Scholars and academics and archaeologists will debate this for many years to come; in truth it does not matter as he looks brilliant on that hill top gazing down on you ever erect.

The Victorians sold postcards without his member present because they were a prudish bunch; while here in 2013 we all don't really care about nudity and gaze at his giant slong while the corners of our mouth curl into a smile.
There will always be something silly about a penis. As I stood gazing at him a a police car pulled up and all the coppers got out to take photos of him on their phones. Four  in a car and each one giggled like a tickled child at the sight in front of them.
Kids gazed at him and not one of them asked their mumif that was his willy. Tthey all accepted it, unlike our Victorian ancestors.
There is a legend that the giant is actually the outline of a real giant who was buries in the hill. He was killed by the locals as he slept and forever lies within the hillside.
A nice story but it does not stop there. Apparently the giant also came from Denmark!
Last year his club was turned into an Olympic torch which I though was a cool touch.
So no matter how old he is or who made him and for what reason I hope he stays there forevermore looking out into the horizon club wielded and cock ready to erupt.
It s also free to visit him which is a bonus.

Underneath Exeter

Underneath the stylist modern city of Exeter lurks a dark, dank hidden world. A world where medieval workmen slaved to bring fresh water to the people of the city. A world where many sheltered during the blitz and a world that has mostly been lost after the extensive bombings of the Second World War and the Baedeker raids.

Exeter along with other cathedral cities such as Bath and York was targeted during the war as a reprisals raid. The allies had bombed the wooden city of Lurbeck and the damage was tremendous as th fires raged through the wooden buildings.

Therefore revenge attacks on British cities were organsied and Exeter took the brunt of one such raid in 1942.

Many of the cities historic buildings were lost forever as the bombs fell.

While the bombs reverberated around smashing buildings to rubble above ground, below ground many people sheltered in the medieval tunnels that crisscrossed the city.

Built during the medieval times by cathedral masons the tunnels housed pipes that brought drinking water into the city from surrounding springs. This was the only source of freshwater in those days and the lead pipes were at the time unknown to carry health implications.

Many of the tunnels collapsed during the air raids and are now lost, deep underground and full of rubble, dirt and bricks.

However you can still visit a part which is open and lit and in fact is the only one of its kind in Britain.

On a muggy day four of us decided to do such a visit and we were shocked that to enter a medieval underworld you descended through a modern glass fronted building and down a flight of stairs.

Hard hats on and we were now below John Lewis and a chocolate shop. But all was silent apart from a  faint drip drip in the distance.
The walls were cool and damp to touch and smelt of wet human on a train after a heavy rain fall.

You could not go too far and in fact probably walked, crawled and stooped for only 300 yards. All the while bumping your hard hat on the roof of the vaulted brick tunnels.

At one point you could hear the rumble of traffic above and the occasional bang of a loose man hole cover where a car wheel hit it just right. Apart from that all was quiet and it was rather chilled to be in such a calm atmosphere under the hustle of a major city.

Sadly we were underground for only half an hour and after a potted history video on loop it was time to emerge into the bright lights of Exeter.

The site of the last exection for witchcraft in England
I would thoroughly recommend this little excursion if you are in Exeter and need half an hour of escapism. Also you must do the narrow parts that the girls opted out of for fear of getting 'dirty'.

Exeter itself has loads more to offer. A trip around the Cathedral (at time of writing was undergoing renovations that ruin a lot of pictures). Walk down to the quay and look through the antiques shops and cross the water by chain boat for 30 pence an adult.

Or simply walk around and see where the last women in England were executed for witchcraft.
All in all it is a lovely city. They don't have a half bad rugby team either!

An old chain ferry across the quay
You can follow the gorilla trail all the way to Exeter quay

Bronze plaque commemorating the 1942 bombing raids

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

This cycling craze

Where did this sudden craze for cycling come from?
My Dawes Clubman
Everyone seems to be clad in lycra and donning full Team Sky garb as they pant their way along the road congesting traffic at 5 miles an hour.
The entire country has gone cycling mad.
Last weekend Ride London took the capital by storm as 80,000 people cycled 100 miles in the sun on bikes that many had barely broken in.
Now there is a mad scramble for tickets for next year’s event where thousands of people have registered for the limited number available and will not find out if they are lucky until February. This of course includes myself.
I used to look at cyclists as pests. Hogging the road two a breast causing traffic jams and looking like right pillocks in lycra.
Then something happened, I changed. I didn’t hate them anymore. I could sympathise with them and understand their road frustrations, angers, fears and joys.
The reason I changed my opinions? Simply I became a cyclist.
Yes I got myself a road bike and try and commute the 16 miles to work as many times as possible.
I wear tight lycra shorts and fluorescent tops with a helmet that has a back flashing light and cycle by legs off along country roads.
However I am not a full blown cycle gimp and will not wear branded team attire or own a super duper top of the range ‘look at me because I am a tosser’ bike.
Instead I got myself a stylist Dawes Clubman. Modelled on a 1960s style club bike. Retro, stylist, vintage and classic all in one. Not to mention it looks bloody cool.
How did I become a cyclist though and why has everyone else suddenly taken to the roads?
Was it Sir Chris Hoy and his mammoth legs back in 2008 when he stormed to three Gold medals at the Beijing Olympics? Was it even further back in 1992 when Chris Boardman wore that funky spiked helmet?
I am not sure, but recently Sir Bradley Wiggo and Chris ‘no arms’ Froome have shown the world that cycling is cool and that the Tour De France which introduced words such as ‘Peloton’ into our vocabulary is uber cool.
The Olympics on home soil was also a major factor.
I could never be as skinny as many cyclist. I like the gym too much!
I went to see the very first event of London 2012; the cycling road race. We climbed trees on the mall for a better view and suddenly in a flash of colour and blur they shot past faster than I ever could have imagined.
Sadly Cavendish came nowhere near the podium but the biggest cheer of the day was a man on a Boris bike who cycled down after everyone had finished and was waving the crowd into a frenzy.
Has all this cycling televisual and sporting smorgasbord of spokes suddenly got the average Joe on their bike?
For me it was a combination of all of the above. Also the fact that I could get a bike on the cycle to work scheme and that I inherited an old 1970s Puch Pursuit.
This rustic looking bike gas the gears on the frame and looks so retro that it should have a moustache.
Sadly it has seen better days and is awaiting some loving care hidden away in the garage.
When I saw that bike I fell in love with it. Therefore I needed to find something modern but retro looking. I searched high and low until I fell in love with my Dawes Clubman.
So many people ask me where I got it and so on.
It truly is a nice bike and has turned me into a cyclist.
Although I have not gone down the clip in shoes road yet.
The more I ride the more I like it. The longer I ride the more de-tours I take to stay on it longer.
Slowly day by day and ride by ride I am becoming more cyclist.
How far will I travel down the lycra road though?
Only time will tell?

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Reunions are best when they are messy

I opened my eyes and let them adjust to the glare of the morning light.

My head throbbed and my mouth was dry. I was stiff from the hard wooden floor which I had passed out on and my neck was sore from using my boots as a pillow.

I looked around the room and when I moved I noticed a large bump on my head and saw that my mate Chris had a black eye.

All in all a rather good night out even if we had woken up in a strange flat in Tooting the wrong side of London.

This all started out as a quiet knees up where a group of people all connected by their experiences in Spain at the festival of San Fermin.

The bull runners reunion started brightly and then became very messy. A combination of British, Australian and South African souls all brought together to drink and chat.

Meeting at the weatherspoons at Liverpool street station and moving onwards via the Mayor of scardy cat town we entered Alex's place of work. Amber bar.

Our South African friendly barman of bull running cut knees fame greeted us warmly and suddenly out of nowhere a large metal bowl full of ice and wife beater Stella Artois appeared on the table.

I have no idea if anyone paid for it but we duly consumed the ot before moving onwards again and then somehow ending up in a club/bar in Clapham.

By this time Chris and I were trying to push ourselves into bushes, bins and lampposts which is how he managed to get a shiner on his right eye.

All these images came flooding back to me through wisps of headache and dry mouth gasps.

Laughs, tears, drinks galore and silly antics all came flooding back to me as I sat up on the floor and checked my pockets for receipts and any change.

Jeddy wandered in looking sweaty and even paler than normal and my mate Wings had already done a runner in the morning to get back for cricket.

This left us with a journey home that took 2 hours and 20 minutes.

 It was the longest journey of my life as we sat on a rain stinking of booze, looking dishevelled with ruffled and  creased shirts and sleep in our eyes.

When we got to Shenfield station the cabbie took one look at us and said 'Just coming home from a night out are we lads', with a knowing wink.

I slumped into bed and slept for two long hours undisturbed.

Reunions are brilliant things, and even better when they have random endings. Minus the wooden floor bed of course.