“Oh God!” you say, “Not folk music?”

“I like Bellowhead”.

“Who?” you ask.

“Bellowhead” I say “a contemporary English folk group”.

“Oh God!” you say, “Not folk music?”.

Or at least that is how I imagine most conversations with the uninitiated would pass on the subject. But Bellowhead is not your average folk group. Oh no. It is an 11 piece folk ‘big-band’ that has headlined concerts for a dozen years and is now, sadly, towards the end of its farewell tour. It is also a band about which The Independent said: “With the exception of The Who, Bellowhead are surely the best live act in the country”.

One of the group, Paul Sartin, has described them thus: “We’re not a period piece band. To be a party band, the music has to be accessible, and therefore contemporary … we use the songs as a template, chuck everything into the mix and see what comes out”. They certainly do and it ticks the “contemporary take on tradition” box that brings both relevance and a wider audience to a sometimes staid cultural heritage.

I mentioned to an acquaintance that is ‘in’ to folk music that I was going to see Bellowhead at the London Palladium. A fairly dismissive reply (“I saw them, they’re just noisy”) immediately identified him as a straw-sucking, acoustic-only, 1960s traditionalist who would gaze softly into the distance whilst listening to the semi-strangulated vibrato of a nasally-congested singer seeking to remove earwax at the same time as spitting out more words than the phrasing within a melody could possibly dictate. Personally, I would rather have a good night out.

And that is why I travelled with ‘Management’ from Aberdeen to the London Palladium where we took part in a shindig of the first order. I won’t go into detail because it was one of those occasions that you had to experience; words alone could not sum it up. Two quick points though: thankfully, the audience appeared very ordinary when contrasted against the imagery of shirtless collars, waistcoats and neck-wringing bandanas that normally conjures up the attire of a stereotypical traditionalist, but more importantly, much more importantly, everyone left grinning widely.

Ready to go ...
Ready to go …

It was terrific. You can get a taste of them here, read about the Palladium concert here  and find out more about the band here.

Saturday Night at the Palladium!
Saturday Night at the Palladium!

“I thought Coq au Vin was love in a lorry”

… and now Victoria Wood has gone too; the comedian that penned the one-liner that passes for the title of this posting has died. There has been a heavy toll taken of performers recently, but, for me, hers is the most egregious loss. Too soon and too young. A genuine laugh-out-loud writer and a comedian that could turn her hand to serious drama. I would rank her wordsmithing, her comedic delivery and her characterisations (both serious and humorous) alongside that of Ronnie Barker. I don’t often rate the Daily Telegraph’s opinion highly, but it got it right in her case, “She made the mundane seem magical”.

Sometimes I’ll write a limerick in my own trivial way to mark the passing of a celebrity, just to amuse myself, but not on this occasion. Instead, I’ll be amused by a few phrases of hers taken from ‘The ballad of Barry and Freda’ (aka ‘Just do it’) on the unsated desires of a late-middle-age, libidinous housewife:

Some lines from Freda:

I’m on fire, with desire — I could handle half the tenors in a male voice choir

This folly is jolly; bend me over backwards on me hostess trolley!

Get drastic, gymnastic — wear your baggy Y-fronts with the loose elastic

No cautions, just contortions: smear an avocado on my lower portions!

Be mighty, be flighty, come and melt the buttons on my flame-proof nightie!

Not bleakly, not meekly — beat me on the bottom with the Woman’s Weekly

And some replies from a very reluctant Barry:

No derision, my decision: I’d rather watch the Spinners on the television.

I’m imploring — I’m boring — let me read this catalogue on vinyl flooring!

Stop stewing — Pooh-poohing — I’ve had a good look down there and there’s nothing doing.

Stop pouting! Stop shouting — you know I pulled a muscle when I did that grouting.

Stop nagging! I’m flagging; you know as well as I do that the pipes want lagging.

Don’t choose me, don’t use me, my mother sent a note to say you must excuse me.

Better still, see it all here.

The sun at last!

Well, after what seemed to be a dismal and eternally dreich Spring, today the sun finally shone again on Aberdeen and the Shire! And that is reason enough to post a snapshot of our stunning scenery. This one is not the most dramatic Deeside view, but a favourite of mine looking downstream from the Brig o’ Feugh towards the confluence of the rivers Feugh and Dee. Nestling distantly in the background is the Banchory Lodge Hotel whose gardens sit where the rivers join. The hotel’s magnificent situation simply beckons you towards afternoon tea on its lawns!

A downstream view towards the confluence of the River Dee and the River Feugh
A downstream view towards the confluence of the River Dee and the River Feugh

Credit where credit is due

‘Firstborn’ was recently exclaiming about the apparent necessity for all sorts of projects and activities to have not just a name but one that lends itself to a clever acronym that is, more often than not, a bit forced. The example she gave was of some draft American legislation entitled Repeated Objectionable Bothering Of Consumers On Phones, or ROBOCOP. Now, one cannot belittle the aims of the bill if it does stop unwanted marketing or sales calls, but wouldn’t it be better to put time and effort into ensuring the legislation is well drafted rather than to create a laboured acronym that has little relevance to the subject, or is it just de rigueur to show that your a**e is as smart as that of your neighbour?

Anyway, the reason to touch on Firstborn’s minor rant is to highlight one of my favourite anti-smart-a**e acronyms and, in doing so, to acknowledge the person that first coined the sub-heading of the ‘A View From The Lanterne Rouge’ blog.

John Pope, a mildly eccentric fisheries scientist with an erudite quote for every occasion, once published a paper in the so-called ‘grey’ literature in which he developed a hybrid means of estimating fish population size and the associated mortality rates. In this case ‘hybrid’ refers to a mix of statistical rigour and some ‘chuck it out if you don’t like it’ ad hockery. I can’t remember many details of the method, but it was named ‘If thy cumulative-Z offendeth thee, then cast it out’ or, more catchily: ITCOTTCIO. An antidote to wise-guy acronyms! (For the uninitiated, cumulative-Z is a term that refers to the accumulated mortality of fish spawned in a given year as they pass through their different age groups in successive years).

John’s Biblical reference to ‘casting it out’ originates in the gospel according to Matthew chapter 18 verse 9: “And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee” and it indulged his whimsical use of scriptural and canonical references linked to his surname (see: John Pope. Response to the Note by M.S.M Siddeek . J. Cons. int. Explor. Mer (1982) 40 (3): 306 for the all-time classic example). But, as Ronnie Corbett would have said, “I digress”. The purpose of this post is to point out that John described his new method as ‘artless but enticing’, an epithet that I have commandeered to describe any of my attempts to be creative, including this blog.

My place in the team

You don’t have to watch too many highlights of cycling’s Tour de France to know that road racing is a specialist, highly technical and physically gruelling sport that has evolved its own universe of tactics, machinery, nutrition, training regimes and, of course, pharmaceutical aids. Specialism also means jargon and in a world of élites such jargon can also be used to confuse the less-than-élite. And, as French is also the lingua franca of road racing, so it can become even more confusing to a non-Francophone, monolingual, cycle-recreationalist like me. Even the English-orientated terminology can be confusing; after all, who would have thought that it is possible to ride a bike at the same time as bonking?

All of this can be problematic when trying to define the cyclist in you. So, leaving aside any consideration of fitness levels or ability and, given my body type, aptitude, technical skills and doping nutrition preference, what rôle would be mine?

Rouleur: A rouleur is a bit of an all-rounder and capable, perhaps, of managing to win the occasional race or race stage. By definition, an all-rounder must manage hills quite well and I don’t and never did, even when I was younger and quite fit.

Puncheur: These riders thrive in races that combine relative short, steep climbs over an undulating route, but lack the extreme uphill endurance of the specialist climbers that excel on truly alpine ascents; however, the very mention of hills, short or not, counts me out as a puncheur.

Climber: Climbers are petite, lightweight riders that seem able to ‘dance’ on their pedals as they climb ridiculously steep hills at a ridiculously fast pace. I am neither petite nor lightweight and I certainly can’t dance!

Sprinter: Sprinters do what it says on the tin. In a mass finish these are the really big-thighed riders that can summon the strength to outpace all others in what can be an extremely reckless pursuit of victory. They are, by way of compensation, hopeless on the big hills, but that doesn’t help me as sprinters can be foolhardy in the extreme and can get badly hurt in the mêlée of a bunch sprint. I have no stomach for that (or perhaps too much stomach these days 😢)

Time trialist: Individual time trials set the rider against the clock; there are no team-mates to pull you along. It is just you trying to keep your power output high as the pain levels go even higher. This is the one where everybody suffers – really suffers – which counts me out.

So, that all draws a blank, but even though it looks as if I would be a nondescript member of a racing team (in more senses than one) not all is lost. Although I don’t race or ride the vast distances of the audax, sportive or cycle-touring communities, road cycling is my pursuit of choice. My drug of choice is caffeine and, nutritionally, I am all for a nice bit of cake. As an internationalist I am happy to acknowledge French or faux-French as the patois of the road, and this makes me deeply indebted to the Pâtisserie Cyclisme website and to one essayist in particular that has helped me to find my true cycling identity:

“The trundleur is a cyclist who enjoys riding any kind of bicycle, at their own pace for the sheer enjoyment of it. They frequent cafés, stopping to enjoy the view, converse with friends or simply sit and reflect. The trundleur does not care for recording their rides obsessively, nor do they obsess about their speed or beating their fellow cyclists.

The trundleur finds a simple joy in the act of riding a bicycle.”

Mesdames et messieurs, je suis un TRUNDLEUR!

Postscript: Sadly, the Pâtisserie Cyclisme website appears to have been taken down.

Soft soaping a cyclist. Not!

Sometimes one’s loving family may not be quite so loving as one thinks. Take for example the gift of a simple bar of soap. This one, a Christmas present, panders well to the cyclist, but the subtle ‘sting in the tail’ that it advertises is revealed to be an embedded exfoliant of ground walnuts; extremely coarse ground nuts (and that’s before a long day in the saddle)  🙁

Ground nuts, anyone
Ground nuts, anyone?

Another one bites the dust

I wonder if there is a collective noun for a spate of deaths of the performers that comprised the theatrical and musical milieu of a chap’s childhood and teenage years. Of course it’s no surprise that a clutch of the memorable stars of one’s youth begins to fall off their perch when youth itself progresses to middle-age or beyond, but it does become a bit alarming when so many seem to expire in relatively quick succession. Warren Mitchell, the Alans Howard and Rickman, David Bowie, Val Doonican, Glenn Frey, Cilla Black (although I was not a fan), Andy M Stewart (“Who?” you ask) and now, at a grand old age, Ronnie Corbett. There have been tributes a-plenty to him so I’ll not reference them here other than to add my own small contribution:

The stage lights have finally gone dim
On a life that was full to the brim
Of mirth a propos
The Two Ronnies Show,
So now, it is “Goodnight from him”.

Ronnie C in one of his best-known guises, the meandering and tangential story-teller
Ronnie C in one of his best-known guises, the meandering and tangential story-teller