The Gardens – Spalding’s Ayscoughfee Hall No.3

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View of the water features and Spalding Parish Church spire from Ayscoughfee Hall.

So much to appreciate in Ayscoughfee Hall.

It’s a very pleasant experience to wander around the grounds of Ayscoughfee Hall in Spalding,  Lincolnshire.

The water features are particularly enjoyable for all ages – and especially the ducks!

And there’s a nice cafe nearby too.

Fabulous Fairport Convention – Folk Rock at its Best

An Evening of Brilliant Music, Humour and Poignancy in Spalding.

On the Saturday evening of May 11, ‘folk rock’ band Fairport Convention once more graced the stage at Spalding’s Civic Centre.

Although the auditorium was not quite full, there was a good, convivial atmosphere, helped by the band members’ laid back approach, great sense of humour and also by the timeless quality of the music aided by a back catalogue of over fifty years, even though the subject matter of these songs is often anything but genteel.

Take the song ‘Matty Groves’, described by founder member Simon Nicol as having two chords and nineteen verses. The song itself is a traditional, lascivious and violent tale, originally adapted for Fairport’s landmark album, ‘Liege and Lief’ in 1969, and is delivered with a rocky, cutting edge, one of the best examples of ‘folk rock’ in my opinion.

Cutting Edge Rhythm Section

Throughout the performance, that cutting edge was amply provided by the deft skills of the highly experienced rhythm section, namely Gerry Conway on percussion and Dave Pegg, the latter’s dexterous familiarity with all of the neck of his bass guitar being a wonder to behold, as was the light hearted attitude he exuded. I have seldom seen a more lyrical example of great bass playing.

Not to be outdone, however, Gerry gave a stunning, virtuoso percussive performance which combined his conventional, rather minimal electronic set with what I understand to be a traditional Peruvian drum called a Cajon (Spanish for box) on which he actually sat all night. Simply remarkable.

And the evening was not all about the band’s older back catalogue either. For example, there were lovely performances of songs written more recently by multi-instrumentalist Chris Leslie, whose easy transition from fiddle to mandolin to guitar to tin whistle… was amazing.

Conversely, yet equally impressive, was the fiddle-dedicated Ric Sanders, whose unconventional, at times jazz influenced, reverb infused playing style, perfectly complemented the rest of the band.

What is more, there were the fantastic vocal harmonies too, adding to the overall richness and quality of the sound.

Leader of the Band

However, the undoubted leader of the band is founder member Simon Nicol, whose precise, often understated guitar playing could not be overlooked, especially by amateur guitarists like myself who appreciate exactly how well he does it.

Furthermore it was Simon who provided the most poignant parts of the evening. The band’s rendition of Sandy Denny’s ‘Fotheringay’ was a particular highlight, sung with deep feeling by Simon, the story of Mary Queen of Scots final hours in 1587.

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‘The Hiring’. Statue recently erected in Hall Place, Spalding

Equally moving and with some local interest too, was Ralph McTell’s beautiful song ‘The Hiring Fair’. Simon had clearly seen the statue ‘The Hiring’ recently erected in Hall Place in the town centre, giving a precis of how hiring fairs used to work throughout the country.

And so to the encore, which had to be the anthemic ‘Meet on the Ledge’, one of the band’s best known songs. It’s exactly fifty years since the tragic road accident which took the life of drummer Martin Lamble and Jeannie Franklyn, who was Richard Thompson’s girlfriend.

In the aftermath of the tragedy the band nearly split up. Thankfully for us and to continually honour those who died, they decided to carry on, though it was clear that the anniversary of the event was leaving its mark on what was a very enjoyable evening.

Finally, there is the Cropredy Convention which takes part every year in August over three days. If you missed them this year on their spring tour, why not try to catch them at Cropredy? There are many other bands and musicians to see and a good time will be had by all, that’s for sure.

A Bull Market for Taurus?

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Ironically, Uranus in Taurus could be like ‘a bull in china shop’.

Where will we be by 2026?

It has often mystified me how the second sign of the zodiac, that particular 30 degree division of the ecliptic, got associated with the bull – Latin name Taurus. I’ve read theories but I guess the real truth is lost to time somewhere in ancient Mesopotamia and Greece.

Taurus in pure astrological terms is the fixed earth sign. Earth is pretty fixed as it is but add the ‘fixed’ condition to it as well..? From this it gets its traits of solidity and dependability. OK, a bull is solid – but is it dependable?

Taurus is ruled by Venus, some say the more negative side of the lesser benefic planet. From this Taurus is also associated with beauty, but perhaps a more particularly sensuous, earthy type of good looking things. In the human anatomy the sign is said to rule the neck, that natives may have weak spot in this part of the body, especially if the Sun or planet in the sign is ‘afflicted’ by negative aspects.

The sign is also associated to the second house in birth charts, which is all to do with our personal security and money, basically the Taurean traits applied our personal world. In mundane terms too, Taurus rules money, finance and securities. Aries is said to plough the first furrow, it initiates. Taurus is all about consolidation, big time.

However, last year the ‘outer planet’ Uranus entered Taurus for the first time since the early 1940s, which ended a tenure spanning back to 1934. Naturally, you don’t have to be a brilliant student of history to know what was happening in the world then.

But let’s not be alarmist. What does it all mean? Taurus is money, Uranus breaks up. It could be that by 2026 when this shaker-upper of a ‘planet’ leaves Taurus, our views on money, what it is, how we use it – might be radically different from what they are now. We should also remember that Pluto remains in Capricorn until 2023. Capricorn is the cardinal earth sign and is politics, the establishment, big business. This combination may represent a double whammy for the way things are at present.

My prediction (I know many would say that it’s an easy prediction to make) is that the world of 2019 compared to 2026 will have radically changed. We might see digital currencies running the world by then, which would entail along with it drastic changes in lifestyle.

And there’s no reason why it shouldn’t actually change for the better, for once. That goes for you too, Taurus.

What Goes Around

roundhouse3Providence recently took me to Flag Fen, a three and half thousand year old Bronze Age site in eastern England. What began in a field several decades ago with the discovery of timbers from an ancient causeway, has now transformed into one of the most significant archaeological sites of its kind in Europe.

Flag Fen lies at the fen edge, where the flat lands of the south and east meet with the higher ground to the west. It would have been a rich, much sought after environment then, one the most abundant in Britain at the time.

In those days the fenlands afforded a welcome bounty, an alternative to the interminable forests which had still not been extensively cleared. There would be fishing and fowling in the winter; in the summer as the water levels dropped, massive areas of pasture became available for sheep and cattle to graze on.

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I’d been to Flag Fen before maybe a couple of times, though certainly not in the past fifteen years. It has changed of course, there is more to see and do. It even has some of its own Soay sheep to give it that authentic Bronze Age feel. But can we truly feel it?

What I enjoyed the most was the roundhouse reconstruction. That probably goes for a lot of the visitors, too. Yes, it’s only a reconstruction, but common sense tells you that it’s probably pretty accurate. Less accurate were my initial feelings towards these ‘primitive’ people who had to live in such dwellings. Standing before it, there was an odd sense of familiarity about the building. The roundness is, well, homely. It’s dark inside but not depressing, nor suffocating. In the summer it would be a welcome shelter from the sun and the heat. In the winter it would be a shelter from the cold with its wattle and daub walls, turf roof and warming fire. All year round it would simply be a welcoming family home. This would be one of the best alternatives to caves, which offer the same benefits of cool summer shade and warm winter shelter, a more organic and equable way of living through the seasons. It was natural, more efficiently heated than any modern house, even with the earth floors. And by the way, organic was the rule then, not the expensive exception of today.

roundhouse2But ok, so none of these people who lived at Flag Fen were literate. Yet they had a sophisticated working language, intimate knowledge of the seasons and the sky at night. Yes, life was very hard, brutal at times, and most often quite short. However, there was clearly a meaning to their existence. How many of us can say that about ourselves? The wooden causeways they built, the votive offerings of broken knives, swords, spears and other valuable items, they cast into the water either side: They genuinely believed a different dimension lay through and beyond that water. A dimension they inhabited after their death.

And who’s to say they are not right?

They experienced life directly, first hand. There was no TV: They had no news to listen to, no game shows or soap operas to watch, no video games to inure them to life’s crazy extremes. There were few distractions to prevent them from contemplation, the storytelling during the long winter nights. We can only guess who their heroes were. It was a harsh world, a verbal world. A real world. Do we live in a real world, or is it just different?

Neither was there any excuse not to pull your weight during the seasons: You either harvested, pulling together, or you starved. Everyone was involved, you invested your energy into your own community. You depended on your family, your community and vice versa.

roundhouse1So, would I swap my existence for one three thousand five hundred years ago on this piece of fen edge? Probably not, but I came away thinking that these people, invisible now, yet tantalisingly close at hand, were more than my equal. I feel I could learn a lot from them, discover something more meaningful in my own life, something better than merely typing these vain words, casting them into the ether. At least that Flag Fen farmer cast seeds that grew, caught fish to eat, slaughtered his own livestock. By comparison I feel almost like a pale shadow, whilst he positively interacts with his environment. So is there anything worthwhile I could teach him? I can’t think of a thing.

Perhaps we should reclaim (while we can, if we can) some of the practical, timeless knowledge we have lost, effectively go one step back to go two forward. It’s certainly foolish, arrogant of us to believe that Bronze Age men were in any way inferior to ourselves.

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© words and pictures copyright rp 2016