Friday, August 28, 2015

So ...

A certain religious organization that objects to anyone writing about them visits my blog regularly on an anonymizer. They think it can't be traced back to them. They're wrong. The purpose of their visits is two fold. They want to monitor what I write. In face to face dealings with them, I've even had them try to change my lesson plans for my school classes. I'm not a member of that organization, and I never have been. My mother was up to her death, and other relatives are. There are many worthwhile people associated with that religion. But their hierarchy is as obsessive and as abusive as Scientology.

They fear what I may write about them in volume 2 of Separate Identity. Yet, Mr. Schulz who is the series editor is one of their number, and exchanges emails with two of their "governing body helpers." That makes their behavior on my blog confusing, but not out of the ordinary. Their harassment changes nothing. I write solidly researched history. I don't gloss over anything, but I don't base what I write on controversialist, one-sided sources either. We draw our history from original sources.

Compared to their two principal, self-produced history books, ours is a paragon of historian's virtue. But because we do not buy into their myths, but seek the facts, we make them uncomfortable. They'll never quote from our work. They will pretend it does not exist. Even though we do not hurt them and have no anti-Watchtower agenda, they troll our web pages seeking some crumb of useful information to use against us, me in particular. This is wrong.

The Watchtower organization is plagued by a decades-long mythology. They support it in print by misstating events, attributing to their past leaders insights and conclusions borrowed from others, and by omitting facts that change the color of events. This is wrong.

I have great sympathy for many members of this organization. Some I know and love, and it is their faith that makes them lovable. But the behavior of a self-appointed hierarchy is not endearing. The immediate cause of their last visit - one that recorded from their organizational isp - was tweeting a snippet of a nice review of our profile of Nelson Barbour and his group. M. James Penton wrote it. Penton is a historian and former adherent. Because the review was by Penton, a Watchtower troll forgot to use his anonymizer and came to this blog through the Watchtower page, leaving behind a clear record of his visit.

Let me address myself directly to him. (It's always a him.) Your visits here are taken as harassment. You mean them to be such. And that's what they are. You've tried this before. It didn't work then, and it won't work now. Stop coming here; stop visiting any of my blogs. I've left out all sorts of details, but I'll gladly tell more of this story if you continue to come here.

Harassing me over a review simply because you do not like the reviewer is wrong. It's a sin, and you're a sinner.

For those who haven't seen Penton's comment, I've pasted it below, including the bit about publication formatting, something we agree with and repaired with Separate Identity:

Mystery Photo

I have no clue where this photo was taken, but I would like to know. Can you help me solve the puzzle?

We reached an agreement. You broke it.

A few years ago, you promised to stay off this blog and our history blog, Other than a foolish young man or two, you've done as you said. Until today. I told you then that if you returned, I'd put up the details and leave them up.

You simply can't refrain from harassment. Why is that? You come here  hoping for what? You broke your word to me.

Frankly, I'm not surprised. More to follow. ...

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

From Amy Goddard!


Gladdie is the only song of mine that I had to really work at to be able to sing it without bursting into tears. I had visions of reviews that said: “being so moved by your own song is more than a little self indulgent and is not what the average audience wants to see”. Maybe I was just feeling a bit tearful and vulnerable at this precise point or maybe it's the background of the song. Not least the fact that if this young man hadn't died in such tragic circumstances then I, and much of my family would not be here.

Either way, I thought I'd write a little bit about the song to explain what inspired it.

Playing and singing in folk clubs during 2014 naturally meant I heard a lot of songs about World War 1. There was also a lot of media coverage of events to mark the centenary of the start of the 1914-1918 conflict. That got me thinking about my own family history. I knew of the existence of some letters from the trenches that had been received by my Great-Grandmother, Gladys. She had kept these until her death at 93 years old in 1985 so they obviously meant a great deal to her. I'd seen the letters before; I even took copies into school when we studied the subject of trench warfare in history. This time I re-read them specifically with the idea that they might just spark an idea for a song.

Album Cover

The thing that particularly struck me about letters sent by the young man, Leslie, from the front was that he told absolutely nothing about what was going on. This will of course been partly to do with the censorship of letters, but even the tone was quite bright although nostalgic. He said he wished that it would soon all be over and that they would walk in the park again and down City Road.

We also have a letter that was written by Gladys to him. This is most strange as I'm sure the letter would not have been returned to her after his death as they weren't yet married. The conclusion I came to was that it was likely written but that she heard the news before it could be posted. Somehow this thought made it all the more poignant. She did actually ask him why he didn't tell her what they were all doing out there. Gladys heard of Leslie's death in 1917 through a note sent to her by his sister.

It is, of course, a familiar story of lost love in a time of war. There must be countless similar tales. The difference for me is not just that Gladys was my Great-Grandmother but that I actually remember her. She lived with us for the last year of her life when I was 4 or 5. I remember she could peel an apple in one long continuous strip and she would have white bread toast with butter and Bovril, a real treat that I could have too. (Usually we had wholemeal [Whole Wheat for you Americans] bread with sunflower margerine.) I also remember that she would forget that she was completely deaf and turn the television up really loud. My parents had installed a bell so she could call them if she was ill in the night. The one time she used it was to tell us that my hamster had escaped. The enterprising creature had got out of his cage and traveled the length of the house to the kitchen where he gnawed through the middle of a carrot so he could carry it back to his cage. We found him outside the cage with his trophy, I seem to remember he was allowed to keep the carrot for effort. But I digress...

Gladys later married a Canadian officer named Jesse Lenicar Moss and they had one daughter before he died of pernicious anaemia as a result of an infection he picked up in the trenches. Gladys lived for another 60 years after he died.

It gives me such a funny feeling to think that had Leslie lived she would probably have married him and the family she went on to have would have been entirely different. I suppose it's the same with all aspects of life.

Chance meetings forge the identity of future generations.

So I have worked hard to sing the song with enough feeling to make it meaningful but without actually sobbing. The rest of my family are a different story. I've had emails from cousins who said it made them cry. I have accepted that making someone cry with a song is acceptable. The first time it happened I was mortified!

The digital single will be released through iTunes on 28th September. It features the beautiful violin playing of my old school teacher Naomi Hitchings. The video version is from a live performance and also includes a slideshow of relevant photographs and letters expertly put together by Brian Kutscher who is also producing my second album.

 Amy's Note Book.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Bletchley Park and Mother as a Spy!

Bletchley Park

Mrs O’s mother died over 30 years ago - much younger than both of us are now. We looked after her in her final years, and also her mother, who died in her 90s.

A standard question talking to people of her generation was - what did you do in the war? Well, the mother-in-law worked at Bletchley Park. It has come back into the news as the world has learned more about the code breakers in World War 2, especially those who cracked the Enigma codes used by the Germans. So as part of a recent vacation we decided to visit Bletchley Park where the whole site has been turned into a working museum.

Having signed the official secrets act, Mrs O’s mother always remained reticent about her activities, but we are pretty sure that she was one of thousands who spent their days as Morse code experts, noting down the stream of apparent gibberish that came through the airwaves. Most were billeted in sub-stations outside Bletchley, and dispatch riders would take their paperwork to Bletchley itself where the code breakers would work on it. As well as claiming to shorten the war by about two years, the work done there provided the foundation for modern computers.

So the Bletchley Park site had exhibitions, films and artefacts, including original huts that have remarkably survived, although were only rescued just in time before they keeled over for good. Prize exhibits included scraps of coding work sheets that should have been destroyed. They only survived because the huts were so draughty that - disobeying orders - the girls used to screw them up and stuff them into holes in the walls and ceilings. When it came to the restoration, there they were.

Apparently around nine thousand people worked at Bletchley Park by the end of the war, and there were many more thousands who came and went over the war years.

There have been some good documentaries about the work that went on there, and two mainstream feature films. The most recent is The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the tortured soul of Alan Turing. Of course, as always, films simplify things. It would appear from The Imitation Game that four or five men did it all - a bit like Jerry Orbach and sidekick solve all the crimes in New York in Law and Order. But the real story would be hard to follow. And of course it is all put down to Bletchley in the UK - to the exclusion of other locations; also the pioneering work of the Poles in cracking codes is only presented in passing.

Perhaps the more entertaining film - although this time almost total fiction is Enigma. I really enjoyed that. It trundles along at a good pace, and keeps you guessing. And there are extra delights for those with quirky minds. Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones was the producer - see if you can spot him as an extra. He’s there with a decidedly un-40s face. And then the main female lead, Kate Winslet, was expecting at the time, so you can have fun watching the careful camera angles and clothes to disguise the fact until the very end, when being pregnant was part of the story, and no padding was required.

It reminds me of a generally forgotten singer named Nancy Whiskey. She sang briefly with the Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group, and they recorded the Elizabeth Cotton folk song Freight Train - and copyrighted it in their own name until events and law suits caught up with them. It was a huge skiffle hit in 1957, and they did the Ed Sullivan Show in America on the back of it and sold a million. To cash in back home, Nancy was booked to sing in a dreadful 1958 British B picture called The Golden Disc, which was smuggled into America as The In-Between Age - a cringe-making title if ever there was one. (The lead actor was one of my favorites, Lee Patterson, a Canadian doomed to play Americans in nearly every British B picture of the fifties - motto - never turn down a part, no matter how bad it is...)

But there were several problems for Nancy. One was that the song was rubbish, a sort of poor man’s Freight Train mark 2. But the bigger problem - literally - was that by the time they came to shoot her sequence, Nancy was enormously pregnant; I would guess about eight months gone. The even bigger problem at the time was that she wasn’t married. The prospective father WAS married, but to someone else... In those 1950s days this was not the thing. So they stuck Nancy behind a mike and put a HUGE music stand in front of her - a bit like those old pictures of heavily pregnant brides resplendent in white at shot-gun weddings with the largest bouquet imaginable suitably positioned. In my own family history when I researched my grandfather I discovered he’d married my grandmother when she was “heavy with child,” and the certificate showed that the two witnesses at the wedding were her parents. I could never tell my ultra-“respectable” father this, although I confess I was sorely tempted at times. Anyway, back to Nancy - her career, from appearing on the Ed Sullivan show, then took a nosedive and she disappeared into domestic obscurity.

But it is scenes like Nancy and her music stand that really make my day in bad movies. I can sit on the sofa with my can of lager and laugh and laugh. Mrs O shakes her head sadly. She doesn’t understand.

But anyhow, what was I writing about? Oh yes, I remember - Bletchley Park. Yes, an interesting subject for an article, Bletchley Park. Someone might write a really instructive piece on Bletchley Park. I must have a try at it one of these days.

Monday, August 17, 2015

New Email

I'm transitioning to my new email starting today. I'll continue to check the yahoo email for a while. If you haven't contacted me for the new mail address, now is the time to do it.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Typical Muslims, or the religion of peace.

From the BBC

A leading figure in Bristol's Muslim community has appeared in court charged with three counts of rape and one charge of making a threat to kill. 

Farooq Siddique, 46, of Moorhill Street, Easton, appeared before Bristol Magistrates' Court where he was also charged with two counts of assault causing actual bodily harm.

Mr Siddique is a former government adviser on tackling radicalisation.

He was released on bail to appear at Bristol Crown Court on 18 August.

From CP Post

A young Pakistani Christian mother of three has been abducted and raped by her 55-year-old Muslim landlord who forced her to convert to Islam and enter into Islamic marriage. Her family has demanded her return.

Fouzia Sadiq, a Christian woman who is believed to be in her mid-20s, was kidnapped last Thursday from a field located in the Pakistani town of Burj Mahalam in the Punjab province by a Muslim landlord named Muhammed Nazir. Nazir tricked Sadiq's father into agreeing to have his family work as bonded labourers on his land with no pay and only the provision of a run-down housing accommodation.

Although details of the abduction have not been made public, early reports state that Sadiq's family was told by Nazir's brother on the day of the abduction that their daughter would be returned.

As their daughter was not returned the next day, the family went to the landlord's house and demanded the return of Sadiq, but were told by Nazir that Sadiq had converted to Islam and entered into a marriage with him.

From PBS

ISIS had recently taken the city of Mosul. And they then set their sights on Mount Sinjar, which is just to the north. They invaded Mount Sinjar. And people assumed that — initially that it was just another part of their expansion strategy.

But from the very beginning, it was clear that there was something else going on. Survivors tell us that men and women were immediately separated within the first hour, and that the fighters arrived with fleets of buses and empty trucks, and that those were used to herd the women away.

So they came with a plan to take the women and girls for the sexual conquest that then followed.

From Financiabio we find they prefer children as sex slaves

A senior United Nations official says Islamic State is circulating a slave price list for captured women and children, and that the group’s ongoing appeal and barbarity pose an unprecedented challenge.
The official, Zainab Bangura, said that on a trip to Iraq in April she was given a copy of an Islamic State pamphlet, which included the list, showing that captured children as young as one fetch the highest price. The bidders include both the group’s own fighters and wealthy Middle Easterners.

The list shows the group’s view of the value of those it captures and surfaced some eight months ago, though its authenticity came under question. Bangura, who is the UN special envoy on sexual violence in conflict and was also in Jordan and Turkey, said she has verified that the document came from Islamic State and reflects real transactions.

“The girls get peddled like barrels of petrol,” she said in an interview last week in New York. “One girl can be sold and bought by five or six different men. Sometimes these fighters sell the girls back to their families for thousands of dollars of ransom.”

For Islamic State fighters, the prices in Iraqi dinars for boys and girls aged 1 to 9 are equal to about $165, Bangura said. Prices for adolescent girls are $124 and it’s less for women over 20.

Hopefully this works ...

Pinterest steals images from my blog. I've added code to block that. We'll see if it works.

Also, Yahoo mail is a virus laden, beacon-sending program. Yahoo has no customer service that matters. While I'm keeping my yahoo mail account because the mail archive is not savable, I'm reverting to a disused email starting next week. If you email me, send it to the Yahoo mail, and I'll give you the new email address.

Yahoo has turned to trash in the last three years. Each day is worse than the one before. The company is troubled, run by incompetent managers. It posts propaganda as news, fixates on the Kardasians, sells advertising to companies offering marginally legal financial services, and it needs to go.

-The Pixie

Bretagne (Brittany for the non-French) Children dancing the Gavotte

Scottish Soldier - About 1870

With three-band .577 Snider-Enfield

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

World War One - American Propaganda

Just an ordinary day in paradise

Life with the insane:

0430 Arrive home. Find milk carton left on counter. Sniff it. Seems okay. Return it to frig.

0440 Read emails, sip cold water. Answer one email.

0447 In bed beating pillow into submission. Pet Scot opens one eye. “You smell nice,” he says.

0540 or so. Finally off to sleep

0830 Awakened by loud chatter. Open eyes reluctantly. Pet Scot is frowning at his pants.

“Don’t wear those,” I say. “I haven’t hemmed them.”

“I don’t remember these at all,” he says.

“Of course you don’t. I just bought them.”

They’re too long in the leg by maybe an inch and a half.

“It’s too late to change. I’ll be late. Do you think anyone will notice?”

“Wear them and see,” I say, plopping my head back onto the pillow.

1130 Stagger to the kitchen to make coffee. While coffee is brewing, head to potty. House is empty. Find notes stuck to front door reminding me where everyone is.

1140 Sitting at computer eating soft Swiss, a hard roll, and sipping coffee.

1141 Instant message from Pet Scotsman. “My secretary noticed.”

I answer: Noticed what?

He: My pants

Me: What’s she doing noticing your pants

He: remember this morning?

Me: Yes, it was nice. But what about your pants?

He: Not that. My pants from this morning.

Me: Tell her to keep her eyes where they belong. You should listen to me more often.

He: I always listen to you.

0012: Call from Isabella. Iz, Kat, and Annie are off to mall with grandmother.

0015: Decide I didn’t get enough sleep; head for bed.

0230: Reading email from Human Resources manager. No, I do not think we should hire candidate number two. Reason given: He’s vain, does not play well with others, has a history of insulting others. Actual reason: When I was a PhD candidate and working as a part-time custodian where he was a teacher, experienced his abuse first hand. He will never have a job in this school district as long as I’m on the interview committee.

0240: Writing this. Listening to Liz as I do. Liz wants to know what to do with neighbor boy who’s 1. A pest and 2. Thinks he’s God’s gift to woman-kind. We have dealt with this before. I will escalate.

0257: Find boy outside. Tell him what’s what. Scoffs at me. I reply with calm but firm words to which he says, “You can’t do that.” To which I reply, “Watch me.” I summon his father. Father is as brash as son but has much more sense. Tells son to keep his distance. They’re Jamaican and run a house church. Remind father what a public-record restraining order will do to his church. I hate religious hypocrites.

0325 Text message from husband. “I forgot. Do you work tonight?” I answer same.

So how was your day?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Taymouth Castle - Early 20th Century Photo

For Harry: The Nolands

Funny Stuff ...

In a prior post I included the Nolans singing "I'm in the Mood for Dancing." It never occurred to me that my kids had never heard this. It's caused a minor upheaval. My nice quiet time has turned into four of them (the fifth thinks she has better things to do ...) singing the song over and over.

One or the other of them interrupts and says something like, "No, that's not right" or some such thing. At this point they're sounding good ...

Falling in love. Dancing. Making Babies

            In the fall of 1989, when I was weeks away from turning twelve, my parents hauled me off to Europe to see the sights and to see relatives. It was a fun trip, though my dad got us lost in France. We visited one of my grand aunts who lived in Strasburg. We wandered off into Germany to visit my mom’s cousin, a kindly man. He was old enough that we called him Uncle though there wasn’t that relationship.
            He was a crafty politician who respected tradition. He taught me how to waltz, whirling me around the floor in time to Strauss’s Blue Danube. He was seventy-seven then. He was sweet to me. And I treasure the memory.
            Knowing how to waltz proved useful.
The next year I was moved ahead several grades. And I met a boy. My sister found him annoying (though she likes him now.) And she was right. He was annoying. But I liked him. He was tall and lanky, blue eyed and sandy haired. He talked with a funny accent, though today it’s very muted unless he wishes to put it back into his voice.
There was an age difference. Five years worth. But we grew fond of each other. He liked my mom. She was his English teacher, and he chatted her up. She was a good listener; many students did that. He didn’t know she was my mom, and told her that he liked me but that he thought I was maybe young. Maybe! Ha. Mother told him who I was and exactly how old I was. …

            But come time for the school’s formal dance, he asked my mother if he could take me. She was one of the chaperones. She said yes but added daunting restrictions. Would you ride to a dance with your date’s mother? (Insert snicker here.) All the chaperones (Teachers and Principal, all of whom I knew since I was a toddler) watched us like hawks. And a few students tormented this young man for dating the ‘little girl.’ (I was. I’d reached my full height of four feet, ten inches that year. And though I’ve changed shape, adding some bumps and curves, I’ve never grown higher.)
            So, with me in my blue gown and he in his yellow tux, we danced to Blue Danube. There is a video of that locked away in my mother’s old cedar chest. No you can’t see it! But in the video you can see people giving us the floor and watching. I fell in love to the Blue Danube. Like turned to something more. Eventually we married and made babies. I still like him. I love him still. And, yes, he’s still annoying.

Just so ...

Husband via phone: Hi, you busy?

Me: I'm dancing naked on my desk.

Husb: ?? .... no you're not.

Me: How do you know?

Husb: You hate heights.

Goat Girl Kissing her Pet Whatsit

Sticky Kissing.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

2:28 PM

            I’m stressed today. Bad day in a dozen respects, mostly because I’m sickish. I have the curtains pulled and the lights off. The house is quiet, and my mind is melting. I came home from work sick.
            We hosted a charity event last night, donating the space and security to the charity. They had a live auction, a silent auction, and a raffle to raise money. It went well, but their music was too loud and I had to tell them to lower the volume. Understand this was a bunch of rich folks feeling good about themselves for giving money. I have no problem with that. I approved the donation of space and employee time.
            I do have a problem with people showing up in skimpy dresses that are more appropriate on the corner of Fourth and Pine where the whores hang out. But we see that here often enough, though the whore-dresses worn last night prolly cost 100 times those on Fourth Avenue. Squeezing your girlfriend’s butt in the lobby is probably not too civilized either. But by that time everyone was pretty much drunk.
            We had a dedicated table. All the big donors did. So three of my staff and myself had a nice dinner (cooked by our chefs) and listened to the loud noise and ate pastry donated by a local specialty bakery. The most positive thing was a conversation with the bakery owner. We may do business.
            The noise made me ill. Noise tends to do that. I like quiet. The explanations are long and complex and related to my health history. So, I won’t elaborate.
            I had to shuffle schedules and worked part of the previous shift and part of my own. But at least I got to bed earlier than usual. (The sun wasn’t coming up.)
            Annie seems to have discovered that boys aren’t always icky. I’ll have to keep an eye on that. The boy in question belongs to my mother-in-law’s new neighbors. Annie doodles on sticky notes; some of the drawing are quite good. Liz bought her a sketch book. I hope she keeps at this. One of my cousins is a talented artist who simply gave it up. She lost interest in it, which seems a great shame.
            My artist friend illustrator person sent me a file full of anthropomorphic art. Some of it is excellent. I can’t post any of it that matters. This is a mostly PG blog. I may selectively edit one picture and label it as “goat girl and her pet.” We’ll see.
            Now, at 2:28 pm, I’m putting my cell phone on charge and going to bed until near time for work.

What to do if you've suddenly grown a tail ....

World War I - American Photos

 Three Soldiers from the 369th "Harlem Hellfighters."

 "Roll of Honor" on Saloon Mirror listing names of Local Soldiers

American YWCA in Paris

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Sometimes things go well ....

Illustration by Setouchi Kurage

            I’ve been stuck on a research point for a week. This has put me even more behind schedule than I was. Uncle B sent me pages from Eggleston’s Beginning of a Nation that solved the problem. Eggleston’s book is hard to find. I didn’t know he had a copy.
Much of what we're writing comes from our class lecture notes. But I’m fact checking everything as we go. So we’re behind. I’m taking what we have to the district print shop tomorrow to discuss formatting and such. We’ll issue it in parts, printing only enough for our two classes. When it’s done it can go to regular publication.
That means we get to experiment on this semester’s students, which is probably a good thing. We can fix the puzzling bits before it becomes a finished book.
Chapter one isn’t written. Uncle B said he’d write it sometime this week. But his health is so fragile, that’s iffy.
I saw photos of their new building and his new classroom. We both get new. Okay so I get mostly remolded, but it doesn’t look much like our old building. He gets totally new from the ground up. I’m only a little jealous. They built bookshelves and cupboards into my remodeled classroom. Lovely.

Romania - World War I

 Field Telephone and Telegraph Operator
Soldiers. Names Unknown.

World War I Photos

 Two Above are Views of Ypres.

Bulgarian Soldiers. Most Look like Children to Me.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Lady Liberty

Sent by Roberto, this photo was taken by a friend of his traveling in the United States ....

Goat's Milk Soap

Crazy K Bath and Body makes this soap.

By Xhu on Devient Art

The Old Warrior and the Young.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

The Cambridge Folk Festival

The Cambridge Folk Festival
So the extended Occasional family went to the Cambridge Folk festival last week - four days of an eclectic mix of music, and still the most prestigious folk event in the UK, running now for over fifty years.

In America the quintessential folk event was the Newport folk festival, where Bob Dylan horrified purists by playing an electric guitar in 1965, and “folk” started to embrace a lot more than nasal protest. It led on to events like Woodstock. You may remember the film of Woodstock. What sticks in my mind from that movie are the performances by heavily pregnant Joan Baez looking radiant, and Richie Havens and Joe Cocker both stoned out of their minds. And the mud. And the “state of emergency”. (It rained.) It didn’t of course change the world, and the next major festival had a member of the audience killed by Hells Angels in front of the stage while the Rolling Stones were performing. That was sort of goodbye to the 60s – peace and love and all that - and a dubious hello to the 70s.

For all its pretentions, folk music of course changes very little. It makes some of us feel good temporarily, and on occasion it makes people think. Nationalistic and religious music probably has a far greater effect on those with a predisposition. But that is about the limit of its influence. But feeling good temporarily is OK with me.

But I have to say that Cambridge this year made us feel good.

Just the look of the place made you feel good. There were about ten thousand visitors, and most of them were there for the long haul. In the circumstances, the venue was extremely clean. Now festivals aren’t exactly known for this, but folk sort of blends with a “friends of the earth” mentality, so it is all pick up trash and recycle and save the planet while you are about it.

Perhaps one look has changed a bit since my last major festival a few years ago. Fashions change. A few years ago it was all portly men with bad cases of slipped chest or brewer's goiter - with bald heads and incongruous pony-tails as compensation, and women of a certain earth-mother shape wearing tents. (I am reliably informed that that should read Kaftan.) But now there are lots of younger people, sporting wispy facial hair, bowler hats, midi-shorts and snake tattoos on lower legs. And that's just the women...

Even with my T-shirt showing me to be a self-conscious child of the 60s, I felt somewhat improperly dressed. But of course no-body noticed.

And of course we camped. Normally we are used to luxury glamour camping (known as glamping) but this time managed with borrowed tents that were small but at least you could stand up in them. We had airbeds that gently settled down flat, battery lights, blankets, our trusty eReaders and an interesting contraption that Mrs O in a misguided moment bought online called a bog in a bag. No - don't ask.

We also brought away with us some strange little festival seats that we also bought online. Basically these are seats without legs or feet. You lay them on the floor and with straps holding the seat and back together you just sit down and lean back… As I surveyed the stars with my legs in the air, I was somewhat relieved that my glass of red had not been in my hand at the time. Mrs O gave up immediately, and trotted off to the campsite shop for a luxury (i.e. extremely expensive) proper folding recliner. I didn't need it, I was fit, I was able, lot of fuss about nothing...  I lasted another half hour and trotted off to buy one myself. We have loads of the things at home, but home was over two hundred miles away - the need was NOW. The youngsters - daughter and son in law - borrowed our original seats and managed a lot better than we did with them.

And I have to say it made a great difference. We couldn't sit inside the huge marquees, but could sit on the grass outside and watch a little figure in the distance, or see the action close-up on video screens. I have reached the age when this is fine. I haven't QUITE reached the stage when staying home watching it on TV is preferable - but I'm getting there...

As with most festivals there were workshops for juggling, face painting, willow weaving, mysterious healing rituals, unicycle riding, and playing obscure musical instruments. There were numerous outlets for clothes I wouldn't be seen dead in, strange jewelry, esoteric fast food for the pretentious palate, said obscure musical instruments, and even one stall doing a roaring trade in ear protectors. Pardon? I said DOING A ROARING TRADE IN EAR PROTECTORS! There were CDs galore, a vinyl resurgence, and musically, four tents with stuff going on in all of them most of the time. So you had to switch around to see who you wanted to see.

So what stays in the memory now we are back at my daughter's and have had much-needed showers? Well, there was a young lady named Amy Goddard there who we have bumped into before. A late night sing around hosted by a local school teacher, some of whose former students were in the audience, which led to some interesting moments. Then there was sitting in the sun listening vaguely to new wave folk hopefuls, while wrestling with the intricacies of Pittsburgh cemetery burial registers. As you do. And funny little things like one singer having an extra couple of minutes and doing Stand by Me, and the whole audience joining in. In case you wonder what on earth a Ben E King song has to do with folk music it can be traced back to a hymn written by Charles Albert Tindley, the son of a slave who became a Methodist minister. Another of his hymns evolved into the civil rights anthem We Shall Overcome. (Pass the Trivial Pursuit board please, that’s surely worth a plastic wedge - or cheesecake as we call them here.)

I am not going to trot out a review of all the performers, many from America, who appeared; but there are two I must mention.

The headliner on the Saturday was Joan Baez. Her heyday was when American teenagers and college students suddenly “discovered” folk music in the early 60s. It had been there all the time, but its general left-wing sentiments didn’t sit too well with mainstream America in the 50s. But suddenly there was Bob Dylan, impersonating Rambling Jack Elliott’s voice, and putting new words to old tunes, just as Woody Guthrie had done before him, and a number of female singers. My favorite at the time was Caroline Hester. She had been a friend of Buddy Holly – she went back THAT FAR – and sang in a Texas twang with a huge vocal range. She sometimes went off-key, but her music was REAL. Joan Baez had a voice that was very pretty; too pretty for me. (I felt I wanted to throw a custard pie at her at times.) But as she got older and her voice got more “lived in” she got more interesting. And I have to say that her one hour set was good - very good. In her mid-70s she can still hit the notes. I have heard some folk icons from her era that really shouldn’t be let out of doors nowadays, but Mrs O felt she had been magically transported back to the 60s.

And a bonus for me, she actually sang a John Stewart song “Strange Rivers.” Her recorded version from 20 odd years back changed the last line and messed up the point of the song, but how many people really listen to lyrics anyway? And as Stewart said in one interview, the royalties helped him pay his gas bill.

The second highlight was an old favorite of mine, The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. A troupe of men and women all playing ukuleles of different sizes, in ultra-respectable evening dress – doing classical, rock, punk, grunge, as well as folk – you name it. All with a completely straight face, but amusing patter in between. For me this time the highlight was The Who’s Pinball Wizard done in the style of a British Sea Shanty - complete with the obligatory finger in one ear.

I am a great fan of bonsai guitars - it's the not having to struggle with more than four strings that does it for me - but they make real music out of it. So I live in hope. I sometimes do a parody of Old Time Religion. My uke verses go something like:

You learn music now in layers
Even ukulele players
I’m a ukey player slayer
And that’s good enough for me

This song is three chords heaven
Try out G and then D7
Throw in C and G again then
And that’s good enough for me

Gimme that old time religion...etc.

But I digress.

But the less than burning question is - did Occasional sing? Well, yes, in a late night club tent, and suitably mellow he was manoeuvred into an offer he couldn't refuse by his daughter, and sang twice. Both were John Stewart numbers. A couple of years ago now, my daughter recorded me on one of them and made up a slide show, and posted it to YouTube. Fortunately without my real name, I remain generally anonymous. Although at the time, news got out locally.

I have probably told this anecdote before, but you have to remember that old people repeat themselves - so get used to it - I had been booked for a few days' official visit to a congregation to give talks and the like. I turned up at the Hall on the first night, resplendent in smart suit, collar and tie, orthodontist smile, and briefcase of necessary equipment. I was greeted by someone who I have known for rather a long time. He pointed and said LOUDLY - "Hey - I heard you on YouTube..."

All heads turned.

There followed a pause and the best of all put-downs...

"The pictures were good..."

Saturday, August 01, 2015