Monday, September 26, 2016

Off the rails in Blackpool

When I was a wee boy, the highlight of family holidays at the seaside was always a donkey ride on the beach! But this was not what took me to Blackpool yesterday.

I made an early start and was in Blackpool by 09.00 to be part of the second day of the Anniversary Weekend, celebrating 131 years of the Blackpool Tramway. And what a 'Tram Fest' it was.

On the right is Open Boat No 600, see here, which was to play a starring role later in my day! No 685 is part of a 'twin', being powered by No 675 behind, see here.

Balloon car 717 running south towards Starr Gate. This tram's story is here.

Most trips started out from the Pleasure Beach loop, with trams running to Little Bispham, and occasionally further to Fleetwood. Here Open Boat 227 heads out of the loop to run north along the promenade. Read about this tram here.

Full marks to all the hardworking volunteer drivers and conductors on the day.

By far the most comfortable ride of my day was on modernised balloon No 711. This tram supplements the new Flexity trams as part of the 'B' fleet.

I enjoyed this article which shows how trams can be moved across the country, when 711 was loaned recently to the National Tramway Museum at Crich.

Here it gets a new eye!

No 711's colour scheme matches that of the new Flexity trams.

My next ride arrives at North Pier, flat fronted Balloon 718, here nicknamed the 'Ghost Tram'.

It was simply remarkable how many of the heritage trams were running yesterday. No 40's history is here.

Bolton 66, on the left, joins the loop, awaiting its turn. Having missed a ride on this tram on my last visit to Blackpool in July, see here, I was determined to make sure of the experience yesterday. It dates from 1901, see here.

On the right is Balloon 701, see here.

Here's the view from the top deck of No 66 as we head towards the Golden Mile. Are the wooden seats comfortable? Not so much! But a wonderful experience.

And here's No 66 passing Blackpool's Wedding Chapel.

I am sure this is even more spectacular in 'illumination mode'. Story here.

No 736, HMS Blackpool, see here.

But what's this? I arrived back at the Peasure Beach loop mid-afternoon in anticipation of yet another trip along the prom, only to find nothing moving, and a crowd around No 600.

As it pulled out of the loop onto the main line, the rear bogie had jumped the tracks. The driver must have been on the ball to have stopped the car so quickly. However, that was the line blocked, and my enjoyment of the day riding up and down the promenade prematurely ended.

The men with the big spanners were on site quickly, and after a period of recording distances and taking photos, making phone calls, the 'man in charge' (on the right) gave the OK for the tram to be put back on the track. This was accomplished efficiently, which makes me think that this was not a unique occurrence. In any case No 600 was driven off back to the depot, and normal service was resumed.

My day at the seaside was over though, and it was time to head back home. I had really enjoyed being part of the celebrations.

Photos © Skip Cottage

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Vintage Excavators at Threlkeld

I visited Threlkeld Quarry in August for the 2016 steam gala (see here), and resolved then to come back this month for the Vintage Excavator Trust 'working weekend'.

Weather-wise, Saturday could not have been a better day for the event. It was a thrill to see these old excavators in action.

Not everything at Threlkeld moves! These Priestman excavators sit near the site entrance.

One has to make a special effort to visit the largest excavator on site - a Ruston Bucyrus 110-RB, weighing 150 tons. It really is massive, and was a donation to the Vintage Excavator Trust from Castle Cement. Whether it will ever see action again is uncertain.

When posting this photo, I realised that there is nothing to show scale.

This is better, with other visitors giving scale to the pic of 'King-Kong'!

Various other examples of industrial heritage caught my eye, such as this 'Brown Glutton' Primary Stonebreaker. I wonder how this worked?

I enjoyed the chance to get close up to this Barford Perkins SD9 'Pioneer' road roller from 1932. Did you know there is a Road Roller Association? Website is here.

Various sizes of Ruston-Bucyrus excavators in action.

The star of the show was the Ruston Proctor 12 ton steam crane navvy, dating from 1909. It was fascinating to watch it working away!

Aside from the excavators, Sir Tom was in steam too, providing short rides up into the heart of the quarry, and that was an added attraction on my day out!

The 0-4-0 saddle tank narrow gauge loco, Sir Tom, was built by Bagnall of Stafford in 1926 and is named after Sir Tom Callender of British Insulated Callender Cables.

Here he is getting his joints lubricated!

Heading up into the quarry, proudly displaying the Vintage Excavators Trust Quarry Express headboard.

It's such a beautiful setting in which to see a heritage locomotive in action.

I walked up to the top of the quarry to have this unusual view down at the loco and carriages arriving at the end of the short line.

Photos © Skip Cottage

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Open Doors in Fife

I was grateful when an old friend pointed out this opportunity in the Fife 'Doors Open Day' programme. I spend a lot of time these days in the study of curling's history, so Sunday was marked out as an 'away day' in search of curling knowledge!

I made the drive up to the north east corner of Fife, near Newburgh. It was a lovely day for a drive, with interesting skies.

The little building with the green roof was where I was headed. What I found, and learned, on my visit is described on the Curling History blog here.

Lindores Loch, a peaceful scene on Sunday. What a great day!

Photos © Skip Cottage

Monday, August 29, 2016

'And the award goes to ...'

I had such a good time at the Edinburgh Fringe this year. On some late night drives back to Wamphray, I took to wondering just why? In previous years my experiences haven't always been so positive. I started to blog about all the good shows I saw, but as the month progressed that idea became just too difficult as I found so many performances I enjoyed.

The reasons for my enjoyment might have been because I employed something of a 'strategy' this year in deciding what to go to. To be honest, I don't think that browsing the official Fringe programme is the best way to decide which of more than 3000 possible shows to spend the pension on! So what did I do?

This year I concentrated mostly on two groups of venues: the Assembly venues, and theSpaceUK performances. The latter places all had tables of flyers, and it was easy from these to identify performances that might appeal. I spread my shows throughout a day, with time to 'recover' after each. Four shows a day was the average. I talked to people and got recommendations too. I paid no attention to printed reviews.

And I prescribed myself one taiko drum performance each day!

My best experiences are summed up in the 'Skip Cottage Awards'! Here we go ...

1. Best drums? It is to experience the drums that has been my main reason for heading for Edinburgh this past few years. This year I saw four Japanese taiko shows, and one from South Korea, some more than once! All were different, and all were enjoyable experiences. I could go on, but Hibiki are now friends and my favourites, see previous blog posts.

2. Best music? The 'Skip Cottage Award' goes to Bookends' tribute to Simon and Garfunkel. Close call this one, as Elsa Jean McTaggart's two shows were just lovely.

3. Most persistent earworm? Elsa's rendition of Macpherson's Rant.

4. Best 'nostalgia moment'? See 3.

5. Best a capella. No question about this one - the Toronto group 'Countermeasure'. So good, I went twice. (And I made my Fringe debut on stage, fortunately not singing!)

6. Best family show? 'Chef' in the Korean season wins this one, with 'The Mystery of Ginger Creek' a close runner up. Great fun.

7. Best theatre? Fourth Monkey's production of 'The Ark'. Powerful. Simply outstanding!

8. Best dance performance? Leaving aside Natalia Osipova and Friends, as that was an International Festival show (and was excellent), of the various Fringe dance productions I saw, I would have to go for the Bhumi Collective's 'Bhumi' (meaning 'earth' or 'soil'). The photo above is of members of the group out on the Royal Mile trying to attract interest in their performance. They are multidisciplinary artists with Singaporean and British roots based in London. Their actual show was nothing like I expected, and the performance was all the more enjoyable for that!

9. Best contemporary dance score? No doubt on this, it would be the accompaniment to the Parachute Dance production of 'Entrails'. There's a section which recreates the noise of a steam locomotive! How could I not like this. And the actual dance was pretty good too! There's a short video with background to the group and performance here.

10. Best musical theatre? Techies the Musical was really great, with live music, an appreciative audience (a full house), and it was very, very funny.

11. Best standup comedy. No award.

12. Best comedy improv? I was determined to see at least one improv show, and was only able to fit this one in. But I chose well. The TBC Improv Players were excellent. Website is here. Fond memories of 'Whose line is it anyway'. Can't believe that last aired on the box in the UK in 1999.

13. Most fun show? Shakespeare for Breakfast. And this judge was not at all influenced by the free coffee and croissant, although I did not have to pay for my ticket, see here!

14. Best writer, director and actor, in a show I was looking forward to seeing since being 'flyered' when having a coffee on a rainy day early on in my Edinburgh adventures. And the award goes to ... Becky Cooper in 'Making Monsters'. We are in Geneva 1816 with Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, Claire Clairmont and Lord Byron, when Mary begins writing a ghost story to 'curdle the blood and quicken the beatings of the heart'! I loved it! Read an interview with Becky here.

15. Most life enhancing show? Dr Phil's 'Life and Death (But Mainly Death)'. What a brilliant communicator he is.

16. Best physical theatre? Pharmacy's production of 'The Enchanted'. Harrowing subject matter, but fabulous acting and movement! Based on Rene Denfeld's novel, here.

17. Most persuasive flyerer? This was the performer who persuaded me I should go to see 'The Enchanted', above. It would not have been my natural choice to go to watch a performance that involves death row, mental illness, venereal disease, and child abuse. But I'm glad I was persuaded. It was an experience not to be forgotten. Well done to all involved! Interview is here.

18. Best free show? Audrey - the last remaining mobile vintage cinema. We got a history of the vehicle and some clips of British Pathe's coverage of the Edinburgh Festival over the years! It had not dawned on me before that the Festival and Fringe are the same age as I am!

19. Most frustrating experience? Realising that a show I had wanted to see had already finished its run!

20. Worst 'senior moment'? Turning up to buy a ticket for a show whose run had finished the day before.

21. Biggest disappointment? I had been looking forward to seeing the Havana Ballet, but they failed to make it to Edinburgh.

22. Worst show? Email me if you want to know. But really, there were very few I would say were awful, the worst actually not at the Fringe, but at the International Festival. Enough, I feel a rant coming on!

23. Best venue? No doubt about this category. Venue 43, theSpace@Symposium Hall has the most comfortable seats, in tiered rows, and great acoustics. 

24. Best food? The Mosque Kitchen.

25. Best Art? Visiting galleries between shows is a great way to pace one's day. The exhibition in the National Portrait Gallery of the shortlisted photographs from last year's Taylor Wessing prize is wonderful. I didn't look to see what the prizewinners were before going round and wondering what would have got my vote. Would you believe it, I actually picked the winning photograph. If you've ever pointed a camera lens at anyone, do go and see this exhibition! It's on until October. And it's free.

26. Best photo that I took myself? I like this one of a member of UTO drummers 'in the mood' when performing on the Royal Mile.

27. Best advice I received? To talk to people. I did this, in queues especially, and met lots of interesting people, from all over the world. I talked to many of those out on the street promoting their shows, and that way met many performers - hard work for them. It was also interesting to talk to those working at the Fringe, for example, selling tickets, and finding out if they had had a chance to see any of the shows.

28. Biggest regrets? Having identified quite a number of shows that I would have liked to see, the Fringe has finished without my getting a chance to see them. It's all over for this year.

Culture interlude over, it's back to living a quiet life at Skip! But how am I going to survive a winter without drums!

Note: Skip Cottage Awards have no tangible value, other than to remind myself of good times in August 2016.

Actual photos © Skip Cottage, otherwise images are from flyers.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Final Fling

I went up to Edinburgh yesterday for a final fling at the Fringe, and to say goodbye to my Japanese friends who are now heading home.

I had the opportunity yesterday to take some photos of Hibiki's final performance at the Fringe, flash not allowed of course. It was the first time I've ever tried to capture live performance, and it's a skill that will need to be honed! But here is one taiko moment in time.

Natsuko even gave me a lesson in handling the bat bachi - the drumstick that looks like a baseball bat. My wrist will never be the same again! Great fun.

Thanks everyone! Lovely people, and such talented performers. Safe travels and 'Haste ye back'!

Coming soon .... the Skip Cottage Edinburgh Fringe Awards!

Pics © Skip Cottage 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A Wild West Murder Mystery

One of the best bits of advice to Fringe goers, see here, is to talk to people around you as you queue for various performances. Now, I've never been slow in coming forward in this regard anyway, but when the woman standing in front of me in a queue a few days ago had a big button on her rucksack which said, "Ask me about Ginger Creek," I did just that.

To cut a long story short, she was from New York and the director of a 'family show', called 'Mystery at Ginger Creek'. Good salesman too, of a performance suitable for 7 years of age and up, and I (big kid that I am) duly turned up at the show. Lots of interaction with the audience. Which was just great fun.

Personally I thought Sally Silver Gunz was the murderer, but it seems I'm not much of a detective!

Mystery at Ginger Creek is produced by the Panto-WHAT?! Theatre Company, see here, and was written by Michael Curtin and Ruthie Scarpino, who was also on the stage.

Here are the main protagonists. Left is Emilie Deschamps - the director and 'lighting guru'. Centre is Gabriel Spector who played Hank, the Colonel and Drusilla. Right is Ruthie Scarpino who played Sally, Ms Ketch and Igor (you had to be there!). Great talent, and the two actors were just wonderful with the kids, two of whom, sisters, in the audience were the stars of the show too!

The whole idea of family shows at the Fringe is something I had not considered before, but 'Mystery at Ginger Creek' shows that great family entertainment is available if you know where to look. 

Serious drums today! Kensaku Satu is considered one of the greatest exponents of Japanese drumming, and his show was a solo masterclass. It was wonderful to experience - from Sakiwai (meaning felicity) played on the O'Daiko (the big drum) with a tree trunk (!), through a variety of different drums and styles, finishing again on the O'Daiko in a performance which, if you shut your eyes, you would think that there were rather more than one artist on stage!

Definitely an hour for the taiko fan, although I suspect that others might find a group show (such as Hibiki, my personal favourites) more accessible.

Kensaku Satou says, "The beat of Japanese drums unites the people in the world beyond the language communication." True, so true!

This all male a cappella group from Exeter University was my 'an hour to spare, what's on' pick, and was a brilliant choice. I sometimes miss my students - young people have such enthusiasm. And talent. Exeter doesn't do music degrees, so Semi-Toned are all students of different things - I talked to a student of archaeology, a biologist and a mathematician. The twelve guys provided great entertainment as they spanned the decades with their choice of music to sing.

Their version of Fleetwood Mac's 'The Chain' was a masterpiece! And what good ambassadors for the University.

I don't want this year's Fringe to finish!

More to come ......