Thursday, August 13, 2009

Happy Days

It has been a happy time in my life, despite the wider chaos in Britain. For months I suffered from blogger's block, feeling too down at heart over the moral state of the nation to publish anything. View in British Lake District near Windermere

In fact, I wrote several blogs but, unusually, could not bring myself to finish or post them in cyberspace. It seemed to me as if I would be saying nothing that had not been already said better by others.

Now, however, my mood is a lot sunnier. I had a great time on holiday in the Lake District, enjoyed a wonderful reunion of old friends in Hull in East Yorkshire - and the Mighty Rooks (Lewes Football Club) have returned, fitter and stronger, to the Dripping Pan for a new season.

Firstly, I drove up to Cumbria in my Volkswagen camper van and spent five nights on a National Trust campsite near the edge of Lake Windermere.

The weather of course was mixed. It lasted and ended gloriously with a monsoon in the middle of the week.

But such is the flipside of global warming.

The locals told me they’d come to expect wet August, with June and September the months now considered most likely to be dry.

Despite the odd deluge, it was great taking out a rowing boat on Lake Windermere with my elder daughter, and cruising Lake Coniston on a rebuilt Victoria steamer.

Ambleside quay was also really good, especially early in the morning. River near Ambleside in British Lake District

I did not do a lot of fell walking, although I hitch-hiked around one day when the VW was playing up, which entailed blistering long walks between lifts.

Much of my time was spent at the campsite - just living.

My neighbours, the Dutch family Brom, had a Landrover and a South African Bushwakka trailer, with the capacity of Dr Who's Tardis.

I have never known a family camp with so much clobber – everything including the kitchen sink! Serge and Micky were a very pleasant couple and several jolly evenings were spent drinking wine and beers beside their campfire. Serge Brom at camp fire in British Lake District

The only real downside of the holiday was the journey home. I set off at 2pm on the Thursday night to drive the 350 miles to Lewes, but did not arrive until 3.30pm on Friday – having broken down three miles down the M6 and subsequently been moved on four separate AA transporters over a period of 25 hours. Volkswagen camper van on AA trailer

Parts of it were fun but - by the end of my unexpected odyssey - I have rarely felt so jaded!

Not to mention the cost of replacing the VW engine which, for reasons that fail me, was destroyed beyond repair. It was a good holiday, although - taking into account the van (what's two grand!) - it would have been cheaper for me to have flown to New York, stayed in a luxury hotel, and quaffed vintage Champagne and scoffed caviar for the week!

C’est la vie!

Talking of partying, I had a great time at the Hull Daily Mail Class of ’84 in Hull in early July.

The reunion came out of a chance remark by Tim Cornwell, who started as a trainee reporter on the Hull Daily Mail in July 1984 as I did. I bumped into Tim in the artistes’ bar in the Assembly Rooms at the Edinburgh Fringe two years ago. Hull Daily Mail reunion in Black Boy pub, Hull

He pointed out that summer 2009 would mark 25 years since we had started work together at Hull. I contacted the other former trainee reporter of that time, Ian Cross, and we put the reunion together.

It was a great weekend of revelry, in Hull and at Beverley Races. Hull Daily Mail reunion at Beverley Races

I doubt I would go to a school reunion or one from my university physics course. I would have little in common with the others present. But the dozen or so who gathered in Hull are all still working in the media, and got on like a house on fire.

Many I had not seen for 23 years! It reminded me of what an untroubled, carefree time my years on the Hull Daily Mail (1984-86) were. The reporters were young, single and living out of each other’s pockets on a continual pub crawl that only took a breather for brief but frenetic periods of work.

It was the epoch of smoky newsrooms, frosted glass windows, ancient typewriters, epic drink sessions and blithely lost youth.

I remember getting drunk with a legendary photographer, Reg Lucey, on the lunchtime of my first day at work, and staggering across the newsroom to reach my desk.

No one said a dickie bird about it and, in that vein, life continued for the next two and a bit years.

On the weekend of July 3-5 2009, we remembered those times. Deb, Crossy, Ian, Tim, Pete, Dave, Brian, Phil, Steve, Belinda, Jan, Ian and Paul descended on Hull for the weekend of our lives.

Revisiting haunts like the Adelphi Club, the White Hart, the George, the Black Boy and Nelly's in Beverley was remarkable, especially for the small degree to which they had changed over the 25 years. Ian Cross in White Hart in Hull

Those places, that time and our crowd then (and now) will always have a place in my heart. Reunion pictures. Beverley Races fillies

It has been an interesting time in many ways.

As in the Lakes, the weather in the south of England has been all over the place.

Rain pouring through the roof at Victoria Station, London

One night I was returning from the last Royal Show at Stoneleigh and emerged from the Tube at Victoria Station to find rain coming down, making a racket like machine gun fire.

It was so heavy, the roof at Victoria Station started to collapse. The station had to be closed. I was lucky to get the last train out of there.

Grange Gardens Shakespeare Lewes

Yet, the following night, it was balmy and hot, and I was watching a Shakespearean production outside in Grange Gardens, Lewes.

Andy Murray

And the rain brought on the first use of the roof at Wimbledon and the first really late match, when I was lucky to be there to see the great Andy Murray battle through to the quarter finals.

* The end of the second season at Lewes Poetry went well.

The May gig starred the rapper MC Elemental who put in a sterling performance as himself and the Mad Professor (see the excellent Cold Cup of Tea video on YouTube).

In June Simon Welsh, a most imaginative poet and storyteller from Brighton, performed, and in July we staged the annual Lewes Poetry Summer Party with eight poets giving it their all. poet Simon Welsh at Lewes Poetry in June 2009

It is very good that the club has found its feet and is offering such a tremendous variety of poetic entertainment as well as the Prize Limerick Competition which is very much played for laughs.

One week's holiday - and it feels like the summer has gone and autumn has started early!

Even the Mighty Rooks are back in action at the Dripping Pan. I went to see Lewes FC’s first proper match of the season, against Weymouth, commonly known as the Mighty Sandcastles.

It was an encouraging performance. Lewes played well, although they went a goal down in the second half after a rare flash of inspiration from the Mighty Sandies.

Remarkably, rather than capitulating, as they would have done under their disastrous former boss Kevin Keehan, the Mighty Rooks immediately equalised, ending the match heroes for the vocal home crowd. kick on goal at Dripping Pan, Lewes

The crucial difference was the re-opening of the bar during the match. It was closed for all of last season, cutting off the lifeline of beer that enabled the Lewes fans to egg their side on to a glorious draw.

And credit also to the new manager, Ibbo (Steve Ibbotson), a kind of Bobby Robson of the South Downs. His target this season must be to finish in the top half of our league, while staying well out of the “danger zone” that leads to promotion and renewed financial disaster for the club. So, starting with a draw was just the ticket!

Mind you, the Mighty Rooks could do with some new kit.

I'm told the sponsor has withdrawn but his company's name is still on the shirts, because they cannot afford new ones.

Moreover, the Number Eight has gone missing. So the Number Eight player has to wear a Number 18 shirt, with '1' none too skilfully removed (and still highly visible).

I shall be writing a full report for the Mighty Rooks' unofficial fanzine, Ten Worthing Bombers, in my regular column, High on Spring Water, which is being renamed High on Cooking Lager, in honour of re-opening of the Dripping Pan bar.

action at the Dripping Pan, Lewes

Well, that's it. I hope this long blog makes up for my lack of work over the past few months.

Lewes Poetry is back on September 17, with a line-up including Jeremy Stockwell, Vic Elsey, Felix Beacher, and, if he confirms, John Agard.

If you’re in the area, I may well see you then.