Monday, February 28, 2005

A Parrot in the Pepper Tree by Chris Stewart

Cover image © Sort of Books.
After reading the first book about Chris Stewart's life on his Andalucían farm, Driving Over Lemons, I couldn't resist going and buying the 'sort of' sequel. The first book had been about the establishment of Chris and his wife Ana in there new farm El Valero and the trials of becoming self-sufficient.

This book pretty much carries on where the last left off. The subtle differences being that they are older and wiser (in terms of their Andalucian adventure), their young daughter is older and wiser and a parrot turns up in the pepper tree - although we later learn that the parrot is in fact a parakeet and the pepper tree isn't even a pepper tree.

This aside, the book has all the same charm as the first installment and just like the first installment leaves you wanting more. Damn you Chris Stewart write another book!

The book tells of Chris' time in Sweden sheep shearing, of being in the original line-up of Genesis, of the 'trials' of becoming a writer, of the arrival of Porca (the 'parrot) and of the dam that threatens their Spanish paradise.

This set-up is just like 'The Good Life', without that annoying Penelope Keith character, only in a different setting - much warmer climes - and is well worth a read if you have read the first book.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

St. Michael's Mount

This picture was taken on the same holiday as the picture called 'St. Ives Doorway'. It is a picture taken using black and white film and is of the eastern tip of St. Michael's Mount in Cornwall. The mount is a strange outcrop of rock in the sea opposite Marazion. Unlike all the other pictures I took here, this isn't of the entire rock, with its castle et cetera, but of the seaweed and the sea visible on the walk to the island at low tide. This picture was that bit more interesting than the others so i had it enlarged and framed for my mother's Christmas present.

Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart

Cover image © Sort of Books
Yes! I have just completed some of the most intense reading that I have ever done. Having completed reading William Dalrymple's In Xanadu, I immediately set about reading another piece of contemporary travel writing, Chris Stewart's Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucía. This book is also a constituent part of my dissertation and will help me to draw my comparisons between 18th Century travel writing and late 20th/early 21st Century travel writing.

The book is focused on Chris and his wife, Ana, as they uproot themselves from their British home and move to a remote farm in Andalucía, a area of southern Spain near Gibraltar.

Their encounters with the locals, friends they make, animals on the farm and indeed the arrival of a baby daughter, all make for heart-warming reading and an interesting traveller's tale.

Interestingly, unlike a lot of travel writing Chris, Ana and baby Chloë have no intentions of leaving their valley farm and so as we read it is almost as if we are settling in to living in Andalucía too. This is something I wouldn't complain about!

As with Dalrymple's offering, I highly recommend this book. Although you don't get the same sense of actual travel with Stewart's book you still get a strong sense of adventure. This is the story of a man and his family spending their last pennies leaving Britain and buying a house in Spain to try and be self-sufficient - risking financial security for a new life.

Having read this book in what is for me record time, I have gone out and bought the 'sort of sequel,' A Parrot in the Pepper Tree. I only hope that all the same sense of embarking upon an adventure and the feeling that you are seeing the evolution of the farm continues.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Rude Mechanicals @ APU Student Union

Well what can I say? Well, imagine if the Doors crossed there sound with that of Velvet Underground and then replaced Jim Morrison's poetic prowess (some say lunacy) with that of a theatrical female, going by the name Miss Roberts, wearing a large blonde wig, with a painted face and also wearing an elegant white dress... If you think you can do this then you may have some semblance of what the Rude Mechanicals look and sound like.

They are undoubtedly the best band I have seen in Cambridge for a good while. They were a completely original sound and had a unique approach to performance. What unfolded in the APU Student Union wasn't just another band doing a gig, it was a band that was theatrically performing their music. The lead singer, Miss Roberts, stole the show with her strange antics which included getting the crowd to shout 'hurrah' after each song and getting the crowd to suck marshmallows during one particular song.

On the Live Experimental Arts Performance Society (LEAPS) website its says of the bands origins and style:
The Rude Mechanicals started out playing as a scratch band at LEAPS events in Cambridge. It is through LEAPS that the other members came across Miss Roberts performing her surreal and absurd poetry/performance art. They describe their music as Absurd Rock and their performances are often very theatrical having included such things as lessons in toe sucking, the mythology of Derek: the man
who lives in the loft, and instructions on DIY flying.
The band well and truly split the audience down the middle and that even included the group of people I was there with. After not very long of the performance the notion of giving up on 'this strange shit' and going on to the Kambar (an alternative/rock night club) was raised. I decided to stay put and see the evening out. I loved this band and will be endevouring to go and see them again although I am unlikely to get much support from my friends in this venture. I will try and get some pictures of the band next time I see them.

The best song of the set was 'Big Red House' which wouldn't have been out of place on The Doors' album 'Waiting For The Sun'. I recommend the more strong-minded and the more musically-liberated give it a listen on the bands website.

If my rating of a gig is worth anything I'd give this band a 4/5 for sound (the vocals weren't loud enough at some points) and 5/5 for stage presence.

Friday, February 18, 2005

St. Ives Doorway

This is a picture taken on a very dull, rainy day in St Ives. I was on holiday here after finishing my first year at university. The doorway struck my attention due to the fact it seemed so full of character in that it was surrounded with plant life and yet the door itself was most likely rotting. It made me think of something one would expect to find in a quiet little French village. Not the best picture in technical terms but an interesting and curious little scene nonetheless.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Mill Garden


This picture is of the Mill Gardens at the bottom of Mill Road, Warwick. This is an old picture and was taken whilst doing a history project in 2000 for GCSE History. If my memory serves me well then Richard Charlton was there too, thankfully out of the camera's lens! This scene struck me as I walked into the garden as it consisted almost entirely of green; even the water seems a little green due to the reflection of the trees. The ruined bridge is that of the old river crossing on the Avon by the Castle. The Garden is free to get into and they ask only for a voluntary contribution.

In Xanadu: A Quest by William Dalrymple

Cover image © Flamingo.
Well I had been staring at this book for the best part of six months before finally deciding that I must, at last, start to read it. The hour is getting late and the time when I should be handing in my dissertation ever nearer.

In Xanadu: A Quest was written in the late 1980s by a William Dalrymple, a student of Trinity College, Cambridge. It is also one of five books that I have chosen to base my dissertation on.

The title as it stands is: How far has the travel writing of the 18th Century influenced the travel writing of William Dalrymple and Chris Stewart?

If you're thinking 'what the hell', then fear not. It is me who needs to know and understand what I'm writing about - not you! For some reason, out of all the subjects I have studied in English Literature, the stuff that struck a chord with me most is 'the old stuff' and in particular 18th Century traveller's tales (mainly thanks to the great John Gilroy).

Anyway, the book. It is a piece of classic travel writing. There are run-ins with authorities, crossing unsafe territories, mad Pakistanis, avoiding the Mujahadeen and Soviets and a Singaporean man obsessed with 'fly chikky' (Fried Chickens).

In amongst all of the obvious culture changes, and shock that this entails, there are moments of picturesque beauty in the descriptions of landscapes and the people that he and his travelling partners (they change during the book) encounter. What makes this book's content all the more better is the fact that it is real.

The journey mirrors that of the Venetian merchant traveller Marco Polo along various trade routes from the Holy Land to Xanadu, the summer palace of the Mongolian Emperor, Kublai Khan. Those of you who have studied Romanticism or read Samuel Taylor Coleridge's work will recognise that he wrote a poem called Kubla Khan whilst waking up from an opium-induced dream.

Anyway it's worthless me explaining any further. I will have, after all, studied this book to death by the time my dissertation is written. All I can say is that if you feel like reading because you haven't done so for a while, or, like me, you have a passion for travellers' tales, then pick up a copy of this book (or borrow my copy if you ever see me around). I guarantee it will inspire even the most uninspired to go on a journey of their own.

Damn You Prendergast!!!

Mark Prendergast is possibly the most annoying person imaginable when it comes to playing golf. Why is it that someone with so little belief in his own sporting ability somehow manages to pull off the most dramatic golfing upset so far. The last time we played at the Cambridge Lakes he had pushed both myself and Jonesy for the first half of the course before trailing off when coming into contact with lakes and their inhabitants.

My luck was out this time though. After the pair of us drawing the first hole with 'double-bogies' he set about scoring some good holes when I only could manage putting my ball into the hedges. Luckily for me I managed to stabilise my scoring when once more Prendy's game wobbled a little around the lakes. Luckily the ducks and coots weren't anywhere nearby when he pumped two drives into the water. On the ninth my moment of triumph came when I finally scored a 'bogey' when Prendy could only manage a 'triple-bogey'.

In the end he still won. My small moment of glory, in a game which was possible one of my worst ever, proved too little, far too late. For the benefit of Mr Jones, who couldn't be present but was sorely missed, above is the scorecard. Damn you Prendergast.

Dyffryn Sunset


This is a picture I took whilst in Dyffryn Ardudwy, North Wales, during the summer holidays when camping with friends. It captures a rare moment when the sun was setting over the Irish Sea beneath the level of the clouds. The clouds had been a solid stoney grey all day long and had been covering the tops of all mountains visible from our beachside campsite. This was the first sun we'd seen all day long.
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