Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Winged Messenger

Mission to Mercury
by Hugh Walters

Mission to Mercury is essentially the same book as Journey to Jupiter. The heroes travel to an alien planet; they meet with a terrible disaster and certain death; and they return to earth again.
But this time, they encounter a strange new life-form -- more terrifying than Venusian goo or psychic Martian ghosts. More uncanny even than East End teddy boys.

They are going have to share their adventure with....a girl.

Actually, there was a "girl" in the last book. She was a PhD student at Jodrell Bank, who happened to be on duty when one of the boys' distress messages came through. Quite a canny little interlude on Mr Walters part, actually: take us away from the space-ship mid-crisis, and introduce a completely new character who we'll never hear from again, simply so we can see what urgent distress messages are like from the boffin's point of view. Neatly gets the point across that picking ups transmissions from a gadzillion miles away is harder than just clicking Receive on a walkie talkie, and it also generates a bit of suspense. And Janet is not a stereotype or anything. She keeps some knitting in her hold-all to pass the time when on a routine watch. (As opposed to, say, for example, some text-books.) Her boss, Sir William Evans is definitely a bloke. I bet he doesn't refer to the male interns as "Boy" and "Young Man". Or maybe he does. But at least there is a female speaking part when there didn't have to be. Contemporary reviewers had criticised Walters for not having any female characters, so this might have been a kind of apology.

So, anyway: Mercury. Closest planet to the Sun. Very hot on one side. Very cold on the other. And a really, really, really long way away.

A few years down the line, Douglas Adams would tell us that space is "really big" and we would all think he was terribly funny and terribly wise. But I do wonder, re-reading these books, whether the extreme bigness of space is one of the things which made the idea of astronauts so compelling. Why, after all, are stories about people spending days and days in cramped spaces en route to the Moon so much more exciting that stories about people stuck in similar tin cans several hundred leagues under the sea?

Not that stories about submarines aren't also cool. There is an intrinsic thrill in big cardboard boxes, dens and bunk-beds. The bottom of the ocean is as good a place as any to hide from homework and PE and tidying your bedroom. But there is a unique tingling-in-the-tummy sub-sexual thrill in the idea of being all alone in the vast immensity of dark blackness. A bit like that sensation when you come back to school in the evening for chess club and it is dark and empty and silent and all the lights are out and there is no-one there except maybe the caretaker.

Joseph Campbell said that the Immensity of Space was signifier for the Unconscious or the Final Incomprehensible Mystery or The Force. And Hugh Walters occasionally seems to have something like this in mind.

"For her own part she was still excited by the vision of the heavens that had been revealed to her. Now she was beginning to feel some of that mysterious attraction which starts and planets have for adventurers in space. Often she'd heard tell that once a person had journeyed across the threshold of space there was not turning back. The magic of the vast, empty silence acted as magic, drawing back all who ventured into those strange regions. No astronaut ever retired willingly. They were all hopeless addicted to the fascination, the excitement, the wonder of this new environment."

Space as a symbol of God would fit in well with his Church of England pieties and the idea that space travel as a form of human sacrifice.

Being in space is the exciting thing. Alien planets are pretty much all just cold lumps of rock.

But what with one thing and another and space being the size it is, communication with the home-world is a bit of a problem. In Journey to Jupiter we were told that it took thirteen minutes for a radio transmission to base, and thirteen minutes for base to reply. Moderate kudos to the author for making that difficulty the main plot engine of this eighth volume. I imagine it is coincidence that a story so concerned with the problems of sending and receiving messages is named after, er, the messenger of the gods. There was nothing very jovial in the last one, and the next one won't be any more deathly that usual. I suppose it is possible that the lack of any clear astrological symbolism is evidence that Walters disguised it in order to make a point about secrecy.

Sending messages to earth from space is difficult. The further away you are the longer it takes. Mercury is very far away indeed. And the solution proposed in these very-scientific and not-at-all pulpy stories is (drum-roll)...


The Boffins introduce Chris and his pals to Gail and Gill, a pair of twins who can infallibly communicate by thought-transference. He has quite a lot of fun demonstrating how the power works, and everyone is just skeptical enough to convince us that it really does. I do think that Walters attention to trivial detail is what made the stories so engrossing. Gail goes to the bottom of the garden with Serge and Morrey and Chris asks Gill to ask Gail to ask them what was in the green box they took to Jupiter, (something she couldn't possibly know) and Gail telepaths the answer back to Gill. (It was a dentistry kit; a cute detail that stuck in my mind when I first read it.) There was less sci-fi around in 1965, so maybe he thought school kids would need the idea of telepathy spelled out to them.

I, of course, took one look and said "Oh, just like in the Tomorrow People." I may even have created a mash-up in my little head.

Walters does attempt any scientific rationale. Radio waves take time to travel through space because they are limited to the speed of light; but telepathy is instantaneous. Which suggests that thought waves are not subject to special relativity. Or that they work by magic which would be prima facie evidence of an immortal soul...

But as a plot device, it's relatively neat.

What the crew find it hard to get their head rounds is not so much thought transference, but the existence of females. This is so over-done it's comical. Everyone pointedly spends a chapter wondering what the "two miracle men" will be like and hoping that the "new chap isn't a weirdy". The gender-reveal is an end-of-chapter cliffhanger:

"There was a new recruit all right...but it was a girl!"

"A girl! The gasp came from all four astronauts as they stared at their companion to be. A girl she certainly was, and quite a nice one at that..."

Now: there are lots of way this plot-line might have developed. You've introduced a fifth member into a tight-knit group who would happily lay down their lives for each other (if only the others would let them). And, worse the fifth member is one of a pair of twins, with a huge emotional bond to someone outside the group. Does the new member spoil the alls-boys-together space den? Are there new friendships and new jealousies? What about, you know, love? The obvious thing would be for Tony (who is around twenty four years old according to internal chronology) to develop a crush on one of the ladies. But in fact, his attitude is roughly that of Calvin to Suzie. When Gail exhibits some nervousness he thinks "maybe girls are always a bit scared". The twins are nice "even though they are girls".  If only Walters could have remembered that Serge was a Russian long enough for there to be an argument about the greater degree of Women's Liberation in the Soviet Union.

And of course, any practical issue arising from a lady-person spending weeks in a tin can with four persons of the masculine persuasion can't be mentioned at all. There is in fact the barest, tiniest, demurest, almost homeopathic suggestion that the situation has the potential for awkwardness:

"We've, er, rigged up a special compartment for Gail" Mr Gilanders said, a little awkwardly, nodding towards one side of the cabin.

But the head of the space programme immediately shuts the conversation down.

"Just in case you get tired of this lot" Sir George smiled. "At least you can get some privacy whenever you want it."

The actual reason is obviously completely unspeakable.

I recall a scene in one of Willard Price's unreconstructed Adventure books in which the the young hero, Roger, takes a shower on the deck of a sailing ship and is tricked into thinking that a female woman of the opposite sex has come on board, to his acute comic embarrassment. Characters in children's fiction don't necessarily have to be entirely bodiless.

For a brief while, it looks as if there is going to be some characterisation: Tony is cross with Gail for being a girl and Morey is cross with Tony for being cross with Gail and Tony is cross with Morey for taking Gail's side and Chris is cross with them for being cross with each other. And then it turns out that cosmic rays from the sun are affecting their minds and it isn't really their fault at all.

The not entirely un-clever solution is to park the ship on the dark side of Mercury, where they are protected from the Sun's radiation, and sit it out until the sun-spot activity dies down. It is absolutely essential that they launch the ship at precisely the right moment, which would be impossible using time-lagged radio communication with earth: Gail's telepathic presence on the ship saves the day: but her flakiness is a major source of jeopardy. The dark side of Mercury faces away from the sun, so temperatures go right down to absolute zero, which is about as cold as it is possible to get. Everyone shivers and struggles and Gail falls into a coma. No-one actually threatens to kill themselves, but it is touch and go right up to the last moment...

But the main question the story has to answer is -- are boys better than girls? Better at being astronauts, at any rate? And, in fairness, Walters comes down heavy handedly on the correct side of the argument. In Moonbase One, Chris had a last-minute epiphany that Secondary Modern boys from the North who are good with their hands are just as worthwhile as Public School boys with proper brains. Mission to Mercury ends with the sudden insight that he's been unfair to the fair sex. It is even possible that all the "you're doing quite well -- for a girl!" stuff is deliberately overdone. Maybe Walters is trying to provoke his readers into yelling "Of course girls can be spacemen, you silly old duffer!" in Chris and Tony's patronising faces.

But dear oh dear oh dear in order to get to the punch line we have to be subjected to the most agonisingly transparent plot device ever. It infuriated me when I was a kid and it infuriates me now. Gail and Gill are identical twins; Gail is the more identical of the two. When they go on a double date with the boys they even switch ID broaches, just to make the point about how identical they are. (One of my most bestest friends has a twin brother. Whatever Shakespeare might have told you, they aren't that difficult to tell part.)

The plan is that Gill will stay on earth and act as a receiver, while Gail travels with the boys and acts as a transmitter. So Gail, but only Gail, goes through the training regime, gets spun around in centrifuges and locked in isolation simulators and briefed about how to suck space food out of a space food tube. She copes pretty well with the training, for a girl. Just before take off, there is a near disaster -- Gill is involved in a car accident, breaking her leg. Fortunately, she's deemed well enough to fulfil her part of the mission from her hospital bed, with her leg in plaster, and the mission goes ahead. But Gail find it very difficult to withstand the high g-force blast off, despite all her training. She doesn't understand that she is meant to drink liquids through plastic tubes in zero-g, despite all her training. This surprises Chris a great deal. "Had something happened to her memory?....Why had Gail forgotten this when she'd already drunk from plastic tubes during training?" She falls asleep when an essential telepathic message is on it's way from earth, and Chris is as chivalrous as you'd expect.

"Gosh! What shall we do?" asked Tony.

Chris didn't reply. He was too busy slapping the girl's face.

Gail does haul herself back into consciousness long enough to send the crucial messages to set up the trip home. And the telepathic system of communication is deemed a roaring success. But Chris has to conclude that sending girls into space was a terrible mistake: "Although she seemed to have been well prepared....she has, in fact, lost the physical tone that had been built up. Indeed at I times I have wondered if her pre-flight training hasn't been completely wasted" he writes in the Captain's Log. "It just means you can't prepare and train girls as you can men." he tells Tony.

And then, when they get back to earth, there is a completely unexpected twist. In an entirely surprising and not at all telegraphed development. 

Go on. See if you can guess. 

As ever: I am trying to make part of my living writing niche stuff which interests me, and if you think it is worth reading, it would be incredibly cool if you either subscribed to my Patreon (pledging $1 per short article) or bought me a metaphorical cup of coffee on Ko-Fi.

With the effective demise of Twitter, it's increasingly difficult for micro-journalists to promote their work, so if you have found this, or any of my other material, in anyway interesting, please do mention it to your online communities. 

Arts Diary: Das Rheingold

Arts Diary: Das Rheingold:  Royal Opera House /  Everyman.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Slightly Important Message

 I will not pay money to Elon Musk under any circumstances.

Twitter has been quite a useful way of reaching out to people who don't know me but might be interested in some of the subjects I write about. 

If you think my writing is worthwhile, please consider plugging me on any social media platform or your own website. 

Andrew Rilstone is an interesting blogger who writes about comic books, fantasy and science fiction, theatre, movies, folk music, Christianity and sometimes politics. 

Why not have a look at his blog [] or think about supporting him on Patreon []

I am doing three more essays on the children's sci fi books, and then start thinking about the Key To Time. Unless something else catches my eye...

Sunday, September 17, 2023

The Bringer of Jollity

Journey to Jupiter
by Hugh Walters

When we left Chris Godfrey and his chums, a psychotic scientist was threatening the earth with an orbital death ray. The series started out in 1957 as a "realistic" yarn about a boy astronaut; but it seemed to have morphed into a collection of standard-issue space-opera tropes.

This eighth volume (only twelve more to go!) takes the series back to its roots. It's about a group of space-men going into space on a space rocket. Volume nine is going to involve a mission to Mercury. Volume ten will concern a spaceship to Saturn; but this time we are on a journey to Jupiter. Alliterative determinism will require that the Neptune expedition be a marginal failure.

Up to now, the lads have been shot into space for specific reasons -- to investigate possible extraterrestrial artefacts on the Moon; or to counter a terrible grey ooze from Venus -- but this time, they are off on a jaunt to Jupiter because that's the kind of thing chaps like them do.

Where previous volumes have taken us meticulously through the training process, this one cuts right to the chase. Everyone is on their launch couches; the countdown is underway, and the very first line of the book is "Jupiter, here we come!"

Modern screen-writers might call it a "bottle episode": a group of characters stuck in very close proximity, so their personalities can come into sharp focus. But Walters' heroes don't really have personalities. They are just astronauts. Chris is the leader-astronaut. The point of him used to be that he was a young schoolboy, but now he's the boring grown up one. Morrey is the American-astronaut, but Walters no longer remembers to make him say "Gee whiz!" and "Sure!". Serge is the Russian astronaut but he has no discernible Soviet characteristics. Tony is the working-class-good-with-his-hands-chirpy-astronaut. Despite internal chronology placing him in his early twenties, he knows less science than the average eleven year old. But he can whistle really well, which comes in handy when they need to send a message by Morse code.

The four of them are "the closest possible friends". Not only that, but there is also an "an inseparable bond between them". And they are very brave. "Each had given up counting the number of times his life had been saved by one or other of his companions", Walters tells us. And furthermore "Each of them had saved the lives of the others on many occasions". And in case you haven't got the point yet. "Each knew that he would gladly give his own life to save that of a friend."

The book isn't as pious as the previous volumes. But Walters has a very specific moral compass. Heroism always comes down to conscious self-sacrifice. Greater love hath no man, as the fellow said.

Walters is still fairly interested in keeping his internal chronology straight. Morrey mentions that it is eleven or twelve years since he first met Chris. Well: the books have been published annually since 1957, and Morrey first appeared in Operation: Columbus which came out in 1959. There's a six-year story-internal gap between Moonbase One and Expedition Venus (to give Tony a chance to grow up) which places Journey to Jupiter in or about 1971 -- which is indeed eleven or twelve years after 1959.

There is also some suggestion that the author is doing some minimal world-building. Three volumes ago, our heroes discovered the remains of a lost civilisation on Mars. In this volume, a consignment of scientists and archaeologists are on their way to investigate the ruins in more detail. And this is said to be the third expedition: Walters is imagining multiple interplanetary missions each year. The Captain of the Mars mission speaks of a "brotherhood" of astronauts: we are no longer talking about a minuscule number of test-pilots, but a fairly large professional body. The fraternity has an "unwritten law" that "one astronaut should sacrifice all -- even life itself -- to succour another." 

I summarised the plot of volume one (Blast Off At Woomera!) as "Boy goes up in rocket; boy comes down in rocket". Journey to Jupiter establishes a definite formula for the next few books. "Chaps go to to alien planet. Chaps meet with catastrophic disaster. Chaps face certain death. Chaps come back from alien planet."

I don't mean to knock it. Well, I do mean to knock it, but not too hard. Walters is not very good at writing. He can never resist reaching for a cliche. Rockets "raise themselves on deafening tails of fire." Stars look like "countless points of light shining brilliantly against a black velvet backcloth." When our heroes receive a hopeful message from earth it "brings forth peals of laughter" until "tears were coursing down their cheeks." And, of course, people "announce", "muse", "grumble", "laugh" and "point out" things that they could perfectly well have just "said".

He doesn't have much of an imagination. You might think that the point of sending your heroes on a journey to Jupiter is to imagine what Jupiter would look like close up; or else to engage in scientific conjecture about what one might discover if one dived into that stripy atmosphere. But Walters' knowledge of and interest in the planet doesn't extend far beyond the Ladybird Book of the Solar System which the heroes dutifully recite to each other in the opening pages. ("Jupiter takes nearly twelve years to travel round the Sun but it spins round on its axis faster than any other planet.") He seems reluctant to send his heroes into the atmosphere of Jupiter because no-one knows what they would really find there and he doesn't want to be caught making stuff up. No giant floating jelly fish; no sword-wielding skeleton men. The pals end up merely landing on Io. Which turns out to be just like the Moon, only spikier. 

So, the plot amounts to a series of set-backs. And it has to be admitted that what Walters is really genuinely good at putting our heroes in danger and just barely getting them out of it again.

They are now using an Ion Engine, which can exert continuous low level acceleration on the ship and build it it up to very high speeds. The crew haven't been told in advance that this is what is happening, because UNEXA wants to find out what effect near light-speed has on astronauts "without any preconceptions". Chris started out one rung up from being an experimental chimp, and it seems that the boffins still think of the astronauts in those terms. Serge helpfully explains the doppler effect to Tony; but relativity is regarded primarily as an engineering problem. "Someday someone will break through the light barrier, just as many years ago they crashed through the sound barrier." On this trip, they are only going to get up to three million miles per hour, which is still quite fast. As a result, they find that everything on the ship goes blurry because "human eyes were never designed to look at anything travelling at that speed."

"At a rough guess, looking at something across the cabin, it will have moved almost half an inch by the time light from it has reached our eyes."

I only have O level science, but this sounds to me a lot like bollocks: on a level with the idea that if you throw a ball on the plane, it will fly over your head through the back window. The crew have to blindfold themselves to operate the ship, and Chris very nearly makes a joke.

"Think you can call the Cape without looking."

"Do it with my eyes shut!"

But then they run into more serious problems.

Unfortunately the ship does not decelerate as it is supposed to. This means that it will overshoot Jupiter, or else crash into it, quite definitely killing everyone on board. It does not, I am happy to say, turn out that the Boffins on earth forgot to take the gravitational pull of Jupiter into account when they made their calculations. Indeed, it is never made particularly clear what does cause the disaster. 

Fortunately Chris comes up with a brilliant scheme whereby the ship matches orbital velocity with the Jovian Moon Io, and then, when the moon reaches a suitable point in its own orbit, launches themselves back to earth.

Unfortunately Chris spots that even if this scheme works there wouldn't be enough oxygen for the crew to survive the return trip. 

Fortunately, he realises that there would be enough oxygen for three people to survive. So naturally he decides to do his Col. Oates routine again, deliberately marooning himself on Io to give the other three a fighting chance. 

Unfortunately the other three guess what he is doing, and forcibly drag him back onto the rocket, meaning that everyone is quite definitely going to die (again). But at least they will all go together when they go.

Doesn't this go against the code of the brotherhood of astronauts? If space-men have to lay-down their lives for each other, oughtn't other space-men allow them too? And wouldn't there be protocols for this situation? Couldn't they at least have drawn lots, like marooned sailors deciding who is going to be lunch? 

 Initially, Chris is quite cross, but Morrey talks him round:

"Answer me this question. If I'd planned to make you leave me behind, what would you have done?"

Fortunately there is already another spaceship on it's way to Mars (as foreshadowed in the opening chapter) and "Uncle" George is able to persuade the earth-bound boffins to divert the Martian expedition to rescue the Jovian one. So everyone lives to face certain death in the next volume.

Walters does suspense really, really well. I spent the first fifty pages grinning patronisingly at the at the decent-chaps-got-do-what-a-decent-chaps-gotta-do heroics; and the remaining hundred turning the pages fairly quickly because I actually wanted to know what happens next. Sometimes the audience knows the crew are Doomed before the crew does; but sometimes characters know things that they don't vouchsafe to us readers. We are told early on that Chris has made a Terrible Decision; but there are fifty or sixty pages of gathering doom before we find out about the air-situation and his plan to nobly lay down his life. And the final rescue by the Mars ship goes right up to the wire. There's only sixty minutes of oxygen left, and they can't possibly dock the two ships in that time, but the Captain brilliantly realises that the rocket blaster they were going to use to drill holes in the Martian surface could be used as a shuttle to ferry the crew between the two ships. (In a nice bit of continuity, Chris had the idea of using rockets to dig holes a couple of volumes ago.) The astronauts have to sit astride the rocket while it zooms between ships, and  Walters immediately grabs the obvious comparison:

"Then he calmly jumped off it and tethered it to Jupiter 1 just as if it were a horse in a western film."

But fortunately he doesn't milk the metaphor.

"With a cylinder of tapes clasped tightly to him, he jointed Captain Yull on his fiery charger and together they rode across the plains of space..."

I think we could file that last metaphor under "so dreadful it's brilliant", actually.

When Chris first tells his crew that they are quite definitely going to die, everything turns very morbid:

"What would the end be like. If they crashed into the giant planet, it would be swift and merciful. If they shot past an wandered off into space it might be slow and agonizing. There would be a gradual exhaustion of both oxygen and food. One by one they would die. Who would be first and who would be last."

When it looks like the rescue mission is going to fail, the Martian crew think along the same cheerful lines.

"What would their last hours be like when, one after another, they expired through lack of oxygen... The scientist wondered whether, in the same circumstances, they would have had the courage to meet their own end?"

At first the crew are in denial -- obsessing about trivial jobs and engaging in light hearted chit-chat. "It was as if each of the quartet was determined to shut out of his mind for as long as possible the awful thoughts that had come crowding into it." Chris suggests that this isn't healthy, and that if they "accept their fate and discuss it dispassionately" and it indeed "get used to talking about it freely" it would "come to seem natural and lose its terrors." This seems to be relatively good psychology on the author's part, although we could have done with more showing and less telling. I think this how terminally ill patients are encouraged to deal with mortality. Weren't fighter pilots encouraged to assume that they were already dead and enjoy themselves as much as possible in the meantime? There might also be a good message for those of us who are not on doomed spaceships: come to terms with the fact that you are going to die some day and it will be easier to cope with the idea. Chris may be old-fashioned enough to say his prayers; but at no point does he mention Heaven or suggest that his companions ought to make their peace with the Creator.

The big thing, of course, is to not make a fuss. Chris warns them that bad news is on the way "to make sure that they pass their last few days of life in calmness and dignity". They decide to tell the boffins on earth that they have worked out what is going to happen because they know it will be a great relief "if we can let them know we're facing things calmly." So they send a message, reassuring them that "we've talked it over and we've decided to take things calmly." "Uncle" George complements them on the "courage and calmness" with which they've accepted the situation. Later, when Chris decides to sacrifice himself for his crew, his main concern is that they should be "sensible" and that they should "let him make his sacrifice without any painful scenes". Chris's decision, we are told several times was "cold and deliberate": his friends decision to save him was emotional. 

It's admirable that Chris would sacrifice himself to save his crew; but it's also admirable that his crew would save him; even though they are effectively choosing to end their own lives. Suicide seems to be the main way chaps show affection.

Heroes have to be in danger, of course, and they can't always be saving the world from brown streaks. Hugh Walters astronauts are rarely leaping across canyons or sprinting through shark infested waters. But the focus on noble suicide and calmness in the face of death; and questions about who is going to die first and whether it would be better to go out with a bang or suffocate slowly is a heavy trip to lay on a ten-year old.

At risk of dialling the morbidity up to eleven: this book was published in 1965. In August 1964, the British government had hanged two small-time burglars for a stabbing a man during a bungled robbery; the last executions committed in this country. Perhaps "What would be like to know you are going to die and would I be able to face it calmly, sensibly, and without making a scene?" was a question on lot of people's minds.

As ever: I am trying to make part of my living writing niche stuff which interests me, and if you think it is worth reading, it would be incredibly cool if you either subscribed to my Patreon (pledging $1 per short article) or bought me a metaphorical cup of coffee on Ko-Fi.

With the effective demise of Twitter, it's increasingly difficult for micro-journalists to promote their work, so if you have found this, or any of my other material, in anyway interesting, please do mention it to your online communities. 

Friday, September 01, 2023

Would the person who is banned from this forum please stop sending comments to save me the trouble of deleting them. Thanks. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

1: Because it is wrong 

2: Because it does no good. 

3: Because all murderers are "definitely guilty". (The legal term for someone who is "probably guilty" or "almost certainly guilty" is "innocent".)

4: Because Paul Hill, Gerry Conlon, Paddy Armstrong, Carole Richardson and Andrew Malkinson were definitely guilty.

5: Because it would involve keeping the story, and the criminal's face, on the front page of the newspapers, possibly for decades to come. (This is also why the tabloids are in favour of it.)

6: Because the Daily Mail would claim that defence lawyers and appeal judges were enemies of the people.

7: Because the Sun would run morbid, comedic, punning headlines ("Hang To Rights" "Swing Voters" etc etc etc.)

8: Because it would not satisfy the mob, who would call for more tortuous killings and a greater degree of public spectacle. 

9: Because in 1950s crowds used to gather outside prisons to see legal documents being pinned to doors

10: Because in the 1950s the Home Secretary used to receive several letters a week from people who wanted the job of executioner.

11: Because in 1955 the children in the school near Holloway prison were well aware of what was being done to Ruth Ellis and were ghoulishly excited by it.

12: Because it was wrong for Tony Blair to exploit the murder of a small child for political gain in 1997; and it would be equally wrong for the Tories to exploit the murder of several infants for electoral advantage in 2024.

13: Because I literally don't know what you mean by "evil". 

14: Because almost every nurse who has ever lived has not been a serial killer.

15: Because of the smirk on some Tories faces when they talk about this stuff.

16: Because of that Dave Allen story about the time he lost his temper with one of his kids and thumped them while chanting "Never! Hit! Anyone! Smaller! Than! Yourself!"

17: I object to the damage it does to my spirit for my government to kill people, because my government is supposed to be me and I object to me killing people. It's really simple. - Steve Earle

18: A community is infinitely more brutalised by the habitual employment of punishment than it is by the occasional occurrence of crime. - Oscar Wilde

19: Making life means making trouble. There's only one way of escaping trouble; and that's killing things. Cowards, you notice, are always shrieking to have troublesome people killed. - Bernard Shaw.

20: I do not now believe that any one of the hundreds of executions I carried out has in any way acted as a deterrent against future murder. Capital punishment, in my view, achieved nothing except revenge. - Albert Pierrepoint. 

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Sidmouth Folk Festival Diary: Friday


You kind of have to go with the flow. Let the festival develop its own narrative. Which isn’t always easy for those of us with chronic FOMO. If I go to the sing-around, I am not listening to the very famous person who's concert I have paid money for. If I go to the big gig I may miss out one of those moments when an old Irish lady sings a version of the Golden Vanity you have never heard before. It’s kind of like a series of coin flips. Heads, you find a session, make a new friend, hang out with an old one. Tails, you are in a pub where one man is going diddly dee on a fiddle and there’s no one you know. 

This may also be true of life. 

Flip: Relaxed coffee and bacon sarnie in the Rincon and catch up with today diary entries. (Decided I could probably survive without hearing a lecture on folk-collectors.)

Flip: To arts centre where the Sartin brothers, Joe and Will, are doing a duo gig. If I was in mood to appraise, I would say they are already a very good celidah type band, and Joe is a very decent singer of folk songs with bags of stage presence and personality. But that is not currently quite the point. Their younger brother [I think] Thomas (around ten) won a school singing prize for Sometime I Do Reap, and they invited him to join them for the first verse. Oh, man..,,

Flip: To Anchor where the informal singing group is still happening. They pass a twig round and when it comes to you you get to sing, if you want to. I had a go at The Great Big Ship (which, it will be recalled went down to the bottom of the sea) which didn’t quite work, but when it came round to me again I did a certain song about a certain grey mare, a certain fair, and a long list of travellers, which seemed to go down a storm. The elderly sailor-looking fellow with a white beard objected to my pronunciation of 'Arry 'Ill, and I did my “dad was Cornish, mum was a cockney” routine.

Flip: To Han for the Magpie Arc, which is Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr, Findlay Napier, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and All. (Do you see what I did there?) Simpson always gives good value: fabulous guitarist, of course, he almost speak-sang the wonderful What You Do With What You’ve Got to the bands rocky arrangements. But I can’t quite see the point of Nancy Kerr introducing a long ballad if the drums and guitars are going to drown out the words, 

Flip: Didn’t bother with the last ballad session. Had a last look round town and walked to the far end of the beach. Bumped into two people from the Anchor who asked if I would be singing with them this evening. Tempting....

Flip: Final big gig. The Young Uns have gone beyond being a very good close harmony trio and become a Phenomenon. They can go from jerking tears (sounds about suicide, Lokerbie and the Troubles) to vaudeville farce on the head of a pin. David Eagle, who's a stand up comic when he's not a folk singer,  seems to be an intrinsically funny man. Told that the gig was sponsored by Exeter Brewery he improvised a song on the spot. (“I may not be a scientist, like Marie Currie…”)

Gig finishes at 10. 

Do I... 

a: go to Dukes where I believe a decent band possibly called the Dillymops are playing?

b: watch the parade and the fireworks?

c: head back for the last hour in the Anchor?


A lady is singing Stan Rogers Field Behind the Plough. I have it in my head to do By Jingo If We Do if I get the twig. It's funny and I can get away with funny. There was apparently time for three more songs, before the group leaders did their farewell numbers. They offered me the Twig because I hadn’t had a go yet, and on a whim I did a certain other Stan Rogers number about some unsuccessful Canadian pirates. God damn them all. Apparently I sang with “great feeling” and “obvious love for the song”. Which is main thing which matters. As opposed to tune, metre or key. 


Do I 

1: head back to campsite , or 

2: See if there is life in the Bedford (another hotel.)

So. After a long chat with some Folkie Friends (one of whom is the nicest Oscar nominated animator in the folk world)  I head to the bar for the second pint. The Session musicians have degenerated into Dirty Old Town and Leaving of Liverpool. The man with the banjo keeps getting up to leave and keeps being prevailed on for another song. There are several drunken nights, appropriately, and the folkiest man I have met all week does Fields of Athenray. 

Jamie the Pirate finally manages to get the Rattling Bog, The Bog Down In the Valley, Ho going, although we get confused about what precisely is on what and in what order. The landlord calls time at midnight and politely wonders if we have homes to go to about an hour later. 

Not every night at a festival is like this. 

But some days you luck out. 

I don’t think I  missed anything by not seeing the fireworks.

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Friday, August 11, 2023

Sidmouth Folk Festival Diary: Thursday


It could be argued that I just listened to folk songs for thirteen hours without a break. 

— Talk about Ozark ballads. 

Ozark is a region in the USA, North Arkansas and South Missouri, possibly. Their ballads are wonderful rough mutations of the classic English and Scottish tradition. The Dowie Dens of Yarrow is now about seven cowboys who killed on the plains of Arrow. The Spanish Galilee in the lowlands low is now an English Robbery, and the crew try to bail it out with their hats. Lord Barnet kills his wife with a gun when he catches her with little Matty Groves. The little foot-page who betrays them is called Robert Ford. I find this stuff fascinating.

— Maddie Morris is literally the best thing there is. She has a perfect folkie voice and sings raw, honest songs about her own experience. The confessional/anthemic piece about the school teacher who called her an abomination is the best new song I heard all week. (“the girl with false eyelashes said he’s entitled to his opinion, you shouldn’t take offence.) She is paired with Frankie Archer, who reworks mostly traditional songs using a lot of electronic sampling and synth. Close the Coal House door is chilling and stark. Lucy Wan comes back and haunts her brother. 

— More Maddie at the Woodlands hotel as part of Sandra Kerr’s “Tradition Reclaimed”, a (not at all in-yer-face) programme of women-in-folk-song. Everyone does the actions for Grace Darling, who rowed away on  the rolling sea, over the ocean blue. (Help, help, she could hear the cries of the shipwrecked crew.) Sandra has decided “Grace had a woman’s heart” is nicer than “Grace had an English heart”

— Cohen Braithwait-Kilcoyne is the best thing in traditional music right now (not my words, Martin Carthy’s). He doesn’t only do his folkie stuff and his music hall stuff but has introduced several Caribbean tunes (he’s of mixed heritage) into the set. The Barbados version of “Keys of Canterbury” is completely joyous. The show is supposed to be an “hour in the company of” but we won’t let him leave  the stage without an encore of “Rattling Old Grey Mayor.”

—…which means that the ballad session starts late, of course. It's still terrific. 

-- And back to the Ham for the main headline concert, Cara Dillon singing Irish songs (and doing some rather good self-written poetry with musical accompaniment). He stories about her Very Irish Mother (Jesus Mary and Joseph what have I raised?) are glorious. Sam Lakeman is her partner and guitarist. Seth Lakeman is playing on the other stage, so they miss each other.

Drinks may then have been consumed in the Swan or the Bedford. It is hard to remember.

Possibly this may amount to Overdoing It. I will be a little more chilled on the final day.

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Sidmouth Folk Festival Diary: Wednesday


The Bellowhead reunion literally no-one wanted. We are a little overwhelmed. 

The day started with the aforementioned John Wilks doing an “in conversation” with the aforementioned Martin Carthy. John said it takes three times as long to walk through Sidmouth with Martin because people keep stopping him in the street to say how much they love his work. To which your blogger can only say “guilty”.Wilks is a stunningly good interviewer: he lets Martin chat around his huge range of stories, just occasionally jumping in and saying “What year would  this have been?” or “Could I bring you back to Bob Dylan.”

Best moment: Martin Carthy remained, and remains, friends with Dylan. He would sometimes be invited to Bob’s hotel room during tours. So he met whichever celebrities Dylan was hanging out with. 

“Can you think of any examples?” 

“Well, John and Paul…”

He has forgiven Paul Simon (“the trudge through the grudge”) but now sings a different version of Scarborough Fair. Asked to comment on Eliza’s band, he whirls off on how much great folk there is in the world. He refers to a London group called Goblin Folk who no one has heard of as doing for English folk what Lankum did for Irish. And also mentions Granny’s Attic. Cohen Braithwait-Kilcoyne is in  the audience.

Martin is in the audience for the extended tribute to Paul Sartin. The MC is story teller Matthew Crampton. He mentions that Paul had wanted to do a duo with the veteran so it could call it Sartin/Carthy. Carthy would have been up for it. It is one thing to go to a tribute for someone like Norma Watterson or Roy Bailey who have died at an an advanced age after illustrious career: but Paul died suddenly a few weeks after lasy year's festival, and this is very hard to treat as a celebration. Paul Hutchinson did a tune with Sam Sweeney. Matthew Crampton did a very creditable coverage of "My Cockadoodledoo" (it's a very fine cock, it's all I've got) which Paul often sang at Bellowhead after-show parties. Paul's sons, Joe and Will who are now a folk duo in their own right, did a set. And then Saul Rose and Benji Kirkpatrick (the two surviving members of Faustus) asked Joe back onto the stage to do his dad's part in I Am A Brisk Lad, and it completely broke me. 

Joe came back onto the stage along with Benji, Paul, John Spires, Sam Sweeney, Pete Flood and other representatives of Bellowhead to sing London Town, which I think was a Paul Sartin arrangement. Such a funny, happy song. So many Bellowhead gigs. The audience dancing. 

I am almost inclined to say that it was "too soon" to do this kind of tribute. For the finale they brought one of Paul's many folk choirs onto the stage, along with other members of his family and folkies who he'd work with (which is basically all of them) to do If I Were a Blackbird. It was clear that some of the performers weren't coping at all.  

In the evening I head an Scottish folk punk band called Peat and Diesel. They did exactly what you would expect them to do.

Wednesday, August 09, 2023

Sidmouth Folk Festival: Tuesday

Undoubtedly the entire highlight of the festival so far was a man in a  yellow and red striped waistcoat and hat singing The Rochester Recruiting Sergeant slightly off key upstairs in the Anchor Bar. 

There are rumours that he may bellow Tom Pearse’s Old Mare later in the week. 

The Anchor Bar isn’t quite part of the festival, but a singing group does an open sing around most days. There is a genre of comedy song, possibly northern, possibly music hall inspired that only surface at these events. And also Streets of London. 

Someone sang A Miners Life is Like a Sailor, and many clenched fists were raised. An old man sang a funny song about how They control they media and academia and how germ theory and global warming is possibly a scam and everyone is forced to think the same way. An old Quaker lady said a few words about war (she was against it) and read out a short poem by Kipling. 

I don’t know what this said about the Left Wing or Right Wing qualities of folk music. 

Having been excessively snarky about the YMCA  man asking silly questions yesterday, I ought to mention that the group of church ladies singing Shine, Jesus Shine in the busking spot in town with actual tambourines were rather adorable. And the product of a sensible “how can we use folk week for outreach” meeting, I shouldn’t wonder.

Clearly it is better to be patronising than snarky. 

Also went to a sing-around in one of  the sea front hotels. It fell out as a day to go to the smaller events. Someone did a very good job with Stan Rogers White Squall. Someone else did the parody (I cannot remember if it is Kipper or Barker) in which the story of the Three Bears is set to the old Yorkshire tune about the lady with the impotent husband. The room was quite large and not everyone can hear the words, so charmingly, one half was singing “My husbands got no courage in him” and the other half were singing “My husbands got no porridge in him.”

George Samson (Granny’s Attic) and  Matt Quinn (Dovetail Trio et al) are a post lockdown duo, and it is an inspired pairing. The most interesting thing happening in the world of Trad. I mean, it isn’t everyone who would name an album after a fairly obscure ballad called Sheffield Park. They did a chat with John Wilkes (old songs podcast) in the morning and opened for Eliza in the afternoon, 

Eliza on absolute top form. (Her dad was two rows in front of me.). I don’t like every configuration she appears in, but this Trio is is on exactly the right side of the Folk/Not Folk line. Specially love Valiant Turpin. Highwaymen are basically land pirates after all.

Decided Salt-lines, while doubtless edifying, would have had Too Many Notes so went to the Traditional Night Out at the Arts Center, at which a number of trad adjacent performers take it in turns to do their thing. A round robin gig, some people call it. An Irish academic told a long story about a fairy horse. He thinks he has evidence that silent film star Mary Pickford was an Irish story teller and this was one of hers. Sandra Kerr did a charming lullaby she wrote for Nancy. The aforementioned George and Matt did one of those eight minute, hundred and twenty verse ballads. (It stared off like the one about the Knight who hath drowned seven fair ladies here, but then went off in its own direction.) Hardly anyone else could have carried it off.

Despite several valiant attempts the nice pirate (Jamie) I met at the Blackbeards Tea Party gig failed to get a chorus of The Rattling Bog The Bog Down In the Valley Oh going in the Bedford afterwards, but the session people were singing County Road, along with much diddling and some deeing. 

My trademark Superman shoulder bag has disintegrated. 

I am sitting on a bench by the sea front. A choir is singing Ghost Riders In the Sky. There are seagulls. The scene could hardly be more English.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2023

Sidmouth Folk Festival : Monday



John Tams, that John Tams in the big tent. Yes, he did sing Over The Hills And Far Away. Yes, he did sing When We Go Rolling Home. Yes, we did all shout out Free Toast. Yes, your blogger did find that he had something in his eye, in a very gruff manly way. He was joined by the English Fiddle Ensemble, who are four  English people who play fiddles, all together. One of their tunes went dum de da da, dum de da da, tra la la la la. Another one went tiddly tiddly tiddly, la la la, tiddly tiddly tom.


Harp and Monkey did a programme of songs themed around the Victorians. Some original and some original. I have heard the story of Bendigo the Boxer in another song, but never knew he became a methodist preacher. When he was heckled by a previous opponent he came down from the pulpit and punched them. I enjoyed the one about all the people who lived in a long terraced road in Manchester, which may have inspired a long running soap opera.

5 ish: 

Standing room only for a  talk on the history of Morris dancing. As you would expect. I now know a lot more than I did before. It is definitely not a pagan fertility rite and definitely not a war dance and blackface only came in a a result of American Minstrels. In the English Civil War it became a symbol of the royalists, so Cromwell suppressed it pretty throughly, and there was a big revival after the Restoration. The side Cecil Sharp saw had been founded by a revivalist only nine months earlier. My feet were sore by the end of the talk.


Last night I had my annual half a glass of cider to make sure I still don’t like it. In the same spirit I went to hear the Unthanks on the big stage. It’s an odd act: the sisters singing is understated, ethereal...I am definitely not going to use the word fey....but on occasions like this they have an eleven piece band behind them, with drums and brass and a grand piano airlifted in specially. Some of it works. The Copper family standard Thousand Or  More / Sorrows Away mashed-up with a sea shanty, with endless repeats and audience participation is great. One For Sorrow, reworked so it is about crows, I believe for a TV show about a scarecrow, is excellent and atmospheric. But sometimes it doesn’t. I really don’t think that layered, produced, theatrical arrangement does King of Rome any favours. The overall sense is of a smoother, less raucous and less improvisational Bellowhead. I enjoyed the show but felt I was watching it at arms length. 

I still don’t like cider.

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Monday, August 07, 2023

Sidmouth Folk Festival: Sunday

I had forgotten what the C stands for in YMCA, I suppose, and thought that the man who wanted to ask me some questions was trying to find out what my favourite Village People record was.

He actually wanted to give me his "testimony. I doubt that it was exactly like as if Jesus had been standing right next to him, but I shall not press the point. 

I have since thought up several clever answers to his question. “If you could ask God one question, what would it be?” 

“How do you feel about your followers pretending they are doing questionnaires when they really want to give strangers their Testimony?” might be one possibility.

In fairness, it was Sunday.

There has already been a certain amount of hymn singing in the Ham in the form of a rather clever show about Ralph Vaughan Williams. A choir sang some of the folk songs which Vaughan Williams collected and an instrumental  group did a kind of improvisation around them and then the audience were invited to sing the hymns which he appropriated the tunes for. “I heard the voice of Jesus say come unto me and rest” is based on a song called The Red Barn Murder, which has the same tune as Dives and Lazarus. (It came full circle when one of the hobo singers, maybe even Joe Hill, turned the hymn into I Heard the Voice of a Pork Chop Say Come Unto Me An Eat.)  I don't think I knew that “He who would valiant be 'gainst all disaster” is one of Williams’s. It is everyone’s favourite hymn at school, although I preferred the original version with hobgoblins and foul fiends. But I am damned if I can see how it is the same tune as Our Captain Calls All Hands. I can see that you sing the one to the tune of the other if you so desired. You don’t think Ralph was making up tunes and attributing them to Trad, do you?

Due to last night's incident with a tent, a storm and a lot of dark stouts, I may not have given the recital by a very eminent and excellent traditional Irish band, the Mcarthy Family the attention it undoubtedly deserved. What made this worse is that Sandra Kerr (!!!Madeleine the Rag Doll!!!) was sitting next to me. If she noticed me dropping off I would of course have to shoot myself.

And then it was time for Show of Hands. The queue stretched all round around the marquee back to where it started, but the steward pointed me to a single vacant seat for one person at the very front. I kicked over the person next to me’s drink, but they were very nice about it.  (I bought them another one.)

Show of Hand did a pretty standard Show of Hands pretty much covering the greatest hits, which makes sense because they are going to stop touring for the foreseeable future. (I could not help noticing that Phil had to sit down to play his fiddle.) And they pretty much did them straight. Steve has been doing slightly experimental versions in his solo shows but there was none of that tonight, although the man with the beard and the hat from Track Dogs assisted on the Cajon. We all joined in with Country Life and Cousin Jack and Galway Farmer and ....everything else.

I bumped into Olivia from the Brizzle Shanty session in the Bedford Bar.

Steve Knightley is standing there, I said, but it would be too sad to go over and tell him how much his music means to me. 

Of course you should, she said, he’s a performer and he will be pleased. 

So I did.  

I don’t want to come across as a drunk fan, I said, but your music is very special to me and it’s the main reason I got into folk music. 

I told him the story of hearing Roots on Folkwaves on St George’s day and realising that folk music was where I wanted to be.

He was of course entirely charming. He said he remembered the episode and apologised for not playing Roots in the concert. 

It occurs to me that I had effectively just given my Testimony.

What was it Bob said about it God and Woody Guthrie?

Sunday, August 06, 2023

Sidmouth Folk Festival: Saturday

It was in another life time, one of toil and blood.


Talk about Cecil Sharp by man who is writing new biography. Astonishingly there has only ever been one other full biography. This man's book aimed to cover his whole life: he believed in “progressive” education and was a Fabian, which doesn’t fit in so well with the image of a dotty victorian in a hat. There was a slightly defensive tone to some of the talk. He couldn’t have been a misogynist because he worked with eminent women. I learned a lot. I will read the book.

When blackness was a virtue the world was full of mud. 


Randomly go to Small Stage where the programme says there are two acts singing folk songs. Turned out to be a very good call. 

Jennie Higgins does excellent takes on trad songs, emphasising ones where women have some agency. Ben and Dom are two guys who obviously like the Young Uns a great deal, doing close harmony mostly self written songs, on Subjects, like friendship and how it’s okay not to be okay. Consistently good and with a nice self effacing stage presence, especially when Dom or possibly Ben opened the act by saying how pleased he was to be in Cambridge.

I came in from the wilderness a creature void of form


We have moved on from the year when acts said it is wonderful to be performing in front of a live audience again, and are now into the era when During The Pandemic is a formative life event. Riley Bungus, the highlight of the week so far, plays old time claw hammer banjo and refers to covid as “the great unpleasantness” which he distinguishes from “the other great unpleasantness” who is standing for re-election in his home country. He plays a wonderfully raw American mountains church song, definitely the only hymn I have ever heard which specifically name checks Hezekiah, and then makes us sing Amazing Grace church style. I have got to Day Two without using the phrase “drips authenticity”.


Ballad session in Woodlands Hotel, during which a young man rapes his sister and sets off in a bottomless boat; another man shoots his true love in mistake for a swan; several youths are interrogated about blood on their shirtsleeves; and someone else gets entangled in a prickle holly bush. These sessions are kind of the best thing at the festival. 


The Bulverton marquee is at the top of the hill. A fellow inmate of the Bristol Sea Shanty sessions  recognises my hat, and we talk about folk for the evening. He joins  in the kailley (pronounced "sellidar") with some enthusiasm but I decline. There are limits. Dances are now gender neutral and there was a guy dancing impressively in a wheelchair. 

Good Habits do their dotty skilful funny up tempo klezmerish thing; they’ve made their encore audience participation, with one half us singing Those Were The Days and the other half singing I Will Survive. 

Blackbeards Tea Party are loud. There is a man in the audience with a beard, sunglasses and a tricorn, exactly like the logo. Stuart makes the audience shout “festival” every time he says “folk” and also "Macintyre" when the Old Dun Cow burns down. The new band members fit right in, and if anything, the theatricality has been dialled up a notch. Their arrangement of Jim Jones, the first folk song I ever loved, finally seems to have clicked for me. The sound engineer means you can hear every word of Stuart's vocal. There are flowing bowls, chickens on rafts, rollicking randy dandies and pig tailed sailors hanging on behind us. I may have mentioned that they are loud. But it never stops being folk music. They are basically the best thing there is,

Antoni arrived in the middle of the night. A tree fell down blocking entrance to the Bulverton for cars. My tent went full Chumbawamba in the 20 mph gusts, and a forecast suggested it was going all the way up to 50. I decided the best advice was to dismantle it, since broken tent poles are not what we need on the second night. I did not plan to leave Blackbeard at midnight, having possibly encountered Darkness My Old Friend again and spend forty five minutes putting my tent back together but needs must when the devil etc etc. 

Failed to take into account that removing tent pegs in the dark was easier than finding them again in the dark, but people in next tent have lent me some of theirs. Remind me to buy them some Fudge. Someone else had offered me a sofa in their Air BnB if it came to it. 

Come in she said, I'll give you, shelter from the storm. 

It really is a very friendly carnival 

Saturday, August 05, 2023

Sidmouth Folk Festival: Friday

Midnight. Young people in the Town Square, setting up a karaoke machine and singing “Take Me Home Country Road To The Place I Belong”. 

If you want to know why Sidmouth is the best festival in the world that's why. I don't know if the youths had anything to do with the festival. For all I know they may have impromptu alfresco karaoke every night or every weekend. It’s still what makes Sidmouth the best festival in the world. I forget which of the Communist literary critics who I was supposed to read at college talked about Carnival as a time when normal beliefs and systems are turned backwards, but quite clearly Sidmouth Folk Week should be called Sidmouth Folk Carnival.

I arrived in the Swan (a pub) after the evening gig and a complete stranger came up to me and congratulated me on my clothes. For the first 45 years of my life. I assumed that if anyone commented on my clothes they were taking the piss out of me. Because usually they were. But nowadays it’s seems they are mostly being kind. So we talked about folk music. I don’t specially like folk music he said, as a newbie what should I listen to? I said Jim Moray off the top of my head. He said he likef sea shanties. I said I liked sea shanties. He asked what my favourites sea shanty was and I butchered a verse of Barracks Privateers. Then the Morris dancers in the other bar statutes singing Ben Kenobi-nobi Too Ray Eh and I went and talked to them and we bonded over Les Barker. They hadn’t heard the last verse, so I shared it with them. 

Who's not with us any more 
Ben Kenobi-nob too-ri-ay
Cos he got killed in episode four
Ben Kenobi-nobi-too-ri-ay

Then I went to the Bulverton which is the all night marquee by the camp site. There were Morris dancers actually Morris dancing and some people doing a square dance, (pronounced 'ceilidh') and a campfire session with an actual campfire.

There is a local beer called Darkness which is a good name for a stout. I had already had two porters in the Swan so I just wanted a small one. I pointed out to the bar staff that "half of Darkness" is the novel by Joseph Conrad on which Apocalypse Now is based. 

I have a horrible feeling I actually did.

There must have been some gigs as well? Does it date me terribly to say that hearing Barbara Dickson singing Another Suitcase In Another Hall makes me anticipate a sketch about a man who wants to buy four candles? She has an astonishing voice and an eclectic repertoire. She sang The Times They Are A Changing and a Christian Viking hymn (“hear me smith of the heavens”) and an out-there dark reworking of Young Willie Has Drowned In the Yarrow. Everyone went nuts for the one from Blood Brothers. I have never seen Blood Brothers but they have probably never seen the Two Ronnies.

In the evening I had an interesting chat with a nice Australian lady who does a community radio folk show and had really wanted to hear Kathryn Tickell, who was actually in the the other tent. (I recommended Luke Jackson and Gaz Brookfield and Chris Wood for her show.) 

The first act in the tent we were were actually in was a young woman called Lizzie Hardingham who sang an unexpected Calyspo tinged Rolling Down to Old Maui. The second act were a band called Banter who did electric reverb twinkly takes on mostly classic folk songs. They did Some Time I Do Reap And Some Times I Do Sow with all the verses. They did quite a dark version of the Mermaid ("and we jolly sailor lads are climbing up aloft"), and a Golden Vanity in which the cabin boy turns round and sinks his own ship as well, which is something it has often occurred to me he ought to do. In the lowlands low, obviously. I kept thinking they sounded undefinably like Home Service, and then they mentioned that John Tams is one of their heroes.

Having had too much porter and stout it now occurs to me that there is talk about Cecil Sharp (the man with the house) that I really want to listen to at nine o clock tomorrow. .