Wednesday, 28 October 2020

wall to wall

At the beginning of last week, I knew of just four murals in the Tam Mei valley, photos of two of which I included in Fish Out of Water. I wrote about a third in An Odd Coincidence, posted a couple of days ago, and I included this one in Photographic Highlights: 2019–20 (Part 2):

However, I discovered a fifth, the ‘fish out of water’ mural, on Monday. And I was back in the area on Wednesday to show Paula what I’d discovered, although I also wanted to check out a detour that I’d spotted on Google Maps that led to the Yiu Shing Mo Temple.

The temple was a disappointment—it is little more than a village shrine—even though it is signposted from some distance away, but on our way back to the main road through the valley, our route took us past another mural. It is extremely crude, appearing to have been painted by children, but I thought that it was worth recording nevertheless:
This photo was taken looking along our direction of travel, and I’ve included it partly because the route past the mural is marked on Google Maps as a road! Regular readers will already be aware that I have a poor opinion of the accuracy of these maps, which frequently identify footpaths and alleyways as roads. Does it look like a road?

These photos provide more detail of the various sections:
As you can see, this is yet another mural with a farming theme.

We were back in the area on Saturday, not specifically to explore any further, because I didn’t think there was much else to discover. Unbelievably, however, we found two more murals, both of which I will have cycled past last winter after I devised a new start to the loop around the valley but which are located on a short section that was omitted on both Monday and Wednesday.

The only reason I spotted this mural, which is located a short distance from the road next to a minibus terminus, is that we stopped for a water break:
I particularly like the notion that it was painted by a cat! I can’t explain the significance of the railway lines, although I suspect that they may be a reference to Hong Kong’s connection to China’s high-speed rail network, which I believe runs through a tunnel underneath this area. This mural, like that shown in the first photo above, includes the names of the artists responsible.

The mural is on the side wall of what appears to have once been a gatehouse, although this implies that there were once walls or other defensive structures here, and there is no longer any trace of them:
We cycled past the second mural without noticing it, because the road is narrow, and there was a minibus coming towards us, but after photographing the gatehouse, I noticed that there was a path leading away from the road, which of course I wanted to check out. It led to a road that I’d explored on Monday (another dead end), but we followed it backwards and looped around to pass the mural again. And this time I did see it:
This is the only overtly political mural that I’ve found in the valley. The rampaging monsters at the top are wearing bow-ties, which is a clear reference to former Hong Kong chief executive Donald Tsang, who was never seen in public without one (this image was painted when he was still in office, and presumably he would have been the one to approve the high-speed rail link). And the fish being squeezed by a woman’s hand is regurgitating a high-speed train. As far as I’m aware, this rail link has never been popular in Hong Kong, and I take this painting, which is on the wall of an abandoned tin shack and is not likely to survive for long, to be a protest.

I don’t expect to find any more wall art in the Tam Mei valley, but I do enjoy being proved wrong in situations like this, and I will certainly continue to look.

Sunday, 25 October 2020

an odd coincidence

In describing a newly discovered mural in my last post, I included photographs of two other murals nearby to suggest that such displays weren’t that unusual, but I omitted any mention of yet another mural that is passed near the head of the valley on the ‘Tam Mei loop’. In part, this was because although I knew I’d taken photos of it, I couldn’t remember when I’d done so and therefore didn’t know where to look for them. In fact, I took the relevant photos last November, and here they are:
You will see that the theme of this mural is similar to that of the ‘fish out of water’ mural that I featured in my previous post: farming on the right-hand section and fish on the left, although there is no writing to provide a detailed interpretation. When I first saw this mural, I noted the enigmatic figures on the right and tacitly assumed that they were representations of a farmer and some kind of tutelary deity overlooking the bucolic serenity of the scene. However, we stopped here again yesterday, partly because I wanted to take more photos and partly because Paula had never noticed this mural before. And I quickly noticed that the figure on the right had a tail:
It’s actually an ox, and what I’d taken to be a strange hat was merely the animal’s ears and horns!

The farmers around here also kept pigs and chickens. I’ve spotted one or two piggeries in this part of the valley, but they’ve now been abandoned and are derelict. However, I can’t say for certain that chickens aren’t still being reared, although I definitely haven’t seen any:
It isn’t possible to take a good photo of the fish section of the mural, which is obscured by two bench seats—this is the terminus of a minibus route, presumably from Yuen Long, and the seats are there for the benefit of prospective passengers—but in addition to fish, there are several dragonflies and even a lotus flower (lotus roots are a popular vegetable in Cantonese cuisine).

I particularly wanted to take closer photos of two sections at the left-hand end of the mural, which don’t show up well in my original photos. This is a representation of the ingredients of a traditional Chinese hotpot, a communal dish that is popular during the winter months:
There are prawns—even though this location is some distance from the sea—a chili, some Chinese mushrooms, eggs and green vegetables. A hotpot would invariably have more ingredients than this.

The traditional Chinese building at the very end of the mural, which is entirely fictitious as far as I’m aware, has been styled ‘tower of happiness’:
The amorphous grey shapes at the bottom are probably bone jars, earthenware jars 75–85cm in height that are used to contain dismantled human skeletons and are usually collected together in formal ossuaries. You can see these everywhere in the countryside.

And the coincidence? We shot a video of the Tam Mei loop in April 2018, and although I’ve probably watched this video several times, I’d never noticed anything unusual until I was scrolling through the stills a few days ago:
The mural was in the process of being created when we shot the video! In addition to the man crouching, who was clearly in the process of doing something to the wall, the woman behind him seems to be acting as some kind of assistant, and someone appears to be placing covers on the seats in the bus shelter, presumably in preparation for painting the wall behind the seats. As you can see, the mural was only partly finished, and I’ve no idea how long it will have taken to complete.

Thursday, 22 October 2020

fish out of water

The thing that I like most about cycling around the New Territories is that I never know, when I venture down an unfamiliar path, alleyway or track, what I might discover. Most of the time, all I do find is yet another dead end—I lost count long ago of how many of these ventures lead nowhere—but sometimes I discover a through route, which can then be incorporated into the ride I previously followed through that area. Just occasionally, I come across something that is totally unexpected, and that happened on Monday.

I already knew that the Civil Engineering Development Department planned to construct a cycle track linking the new towns in the central part of the New Territories (Shatin, Ma On Shan, Taipo, Fanling/Sheung Shui) with those in the west (Yuen Long, Tuen Mun). And I also knew that construction of the section starting in Sheung Shui was almost complete, but from the end of the section running alongside the Drainage Services (DSD) access road that follows the Sheung Yue River, I could see no sign of a continuation.

However, my friend Vlad had told me that the entire route is now complete, and with Paula preoccupied with an all-day online conference, I thought that I might check it out. My first impression was that it is extremely disjointed, with several significant gaps in the first section beyond the DSD access road. And I had to wait five minutes to cross Ho Sheung Heung Road, which provides access to a large number of quasi-industrial sites and therefore carries a lot of heavy goods traffic.

Things did improve as I cycled further west, although there are many other places where the new cycle track crosses a busy road, and by the time I’d reached Yuen Long, I’d decided that I didn’t want to return the way I’d just come. Naturally, I already knew how to do this, having first reached Yuen Long by bike back in 2013 by following back roads (Journey to the West), the main roads being far too dangerous for cyclists.

The section of the new cycle track that runs in parallel with the DSD access roads along the Kam Tin River and an unnamed tributary that passes Fairview Park isn’t a problem, because the original journey to the west followed these access roads anyway, but once the cycle track reaches Castle Peak Road on the way back to Fanling, I decided that I would cross this road to pass underneath the expressway with the intention of following ‘the Tam Mei loop’, a detour that I originally described in Journey to the West: Part 5. This detour illustrates my philosophy when constructing a bike ride: I’m not interested in following the shortest distance between two points but rather the most interesting, even if that makes the ride much longer. The original journey to the west was about 60km, but it is now more than 80km as a result of this philosophy.

Incidentally, not for the first time, I encountered a man playing a tenor saxophone in the underpass, presumably because the acoustics in what is effectively an echo chamber add something magical to his playing. Having exited the underpass, I decided to check out a few paths and alleyways that I’d noticed previously but never investigated. This included crossing a footbridge over the river, which landed me in a network of paths and narrow lanes, and it was along one of these lanes that I made an unexpected discovery:
Because the lane here is so narrow, it isn’t possible to take a frontal photo of the entire mural, but here are two images that provide more detail:
The writing on the left indicates that this mural is the work of pupils from a middle school in Tuen Mun, almost 20km to the southwest, so I wonder why they came so far merely to paint a wall. There is also a date (16th December 2018), although this is probably when the work was completed, because I cannot imagine it all being done in a single day. The calligraphy that overwrites part of the image is a nostalgic assessment of what life would once have been like in this valley, growing crops and catching carp in the nearby river, neither of which take place nowadays.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been quite so surprised to come across this mural though, because I already knew of two other murals nearby that the original ‘loop’, which follows proper roads, passes on its way to rejoining the original journey to the west. They are located where the continuation of the lane containing the ‘fish out of water’ mural joins the loop, and I know that they are also quite recent, because when I shot a video of the loop in April 2018, there was no sign of them:

These two murals are separated only by the stainless steel gate that you can see on the right in the first photo.

I came back this way again yesterday to show Paula these murals, and she concurred with my assessment of the new cycle track: boring and pointless. Actually, my opinion is that it’s a dog’s breakfast, with several design features that I consider to be dangerous. It seems likely that whoever was responsible is not a cyclist!

Saturday, 17 October 2020

autumn flowers

Since completing my 14 days of home quarantine at midnight on Tuesday, I’ve been out for a long walk each day, partly because I needed the exercise after being cooped up for so long and partly to see what, if anything, had changed in the more than four months I’ve been away.

Naturally, I took quite a lot of photos, particularly of flowers, because, unlike in the UK, flowers appear all year round in the Hong Kong countryside. I can’t provide any specific identifications. I just like to see them. Some of the following photos are of species that I see all the time, while others, like the first photo, are of species that I was seeing for the first time ever:
The next photo was taken alongside our local river, which you can just make out in the background. This shrub is extremely common, although this is the only example that I’ve seen in the past few days:
The next two photos were taken in a public garden in Sheung Shui, which we just happened to pass through on our walk to North District Hospital, where Paula had a physiotherapy appointment:
I actually caught a small white butterfly in the act of slurping nectar from a flower that I think is a hibiscus:
The next photo was taken in the village of Ping Kong, which I decided to take a look around while Paula was in the hospital because, as a non-patient, I wasn’t allowed to accompany her inside due to covid restrictions:
I’d never seen any examples of the next flower before, although that is probably because I spotted it alongside a path that I’d only ever cycled along previously, and like many of the paths that I follow on a bike, you cannot afford to allow your attention to wander or you are likely to disappear off the edge:
However, I will keep an eye out for it in the future, because as this photo illustrates, there are more buds to burst out.

The next three photos were taken on the path that we follow when walking from our village into Fanling:
The next photo was taken in the village of Fu Tei Pai, a few kilometres east of Fanling. Paula thought that it must be related to morning glory, because the shapes of the flowers are similar. However, I think she’s wrong, because although both are creepers, the shape of the leaves is strikingly different:
The final photo was taken alongside ‘the eastern descent’, which is the most direct route from the walled village of Tung Kok Wai to the major traffic artery of Sha Tau Kok Road, which we need to cross on our way back home:
I certainly expect to take more photos of flowers in the coming months, but if I think they’re any good, I will probably include them in my next photographic highlights collection (see below).

more autumn flowers
Autumn Flowers #2
Autumn Flowers #3
Autumn Flowers #4

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

sixties music: the bottom ten

Ten years ago, I published a list of tracks from the 1960s under the title ‘Sixties Music: the Top Ten’. This wasn’t a list of what I considered the best songs of the decade; it was a compilation of what I regarded as the most significant. For example, I included the Beatles’ Please, Please Me rather than a track from their later catalogue; Hendrix’s Hey Joe rather than All Along the Watchtower (a rare example of a cover version that improved on the original); and Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues rather than, for example, Like a Rolling Stone.

If you were around in the 1960s, you may still be telling people how great the music was back then, but that’s the result of more than half a century of hindsight. I would wager that you’ve already forgotten most, if not all, the songs that I’m about to list. The only criterion, other than their sheer awfulness, that qualifies a song for inclusion in this list is that it had to have reached #1 in the UK singles chart. Prepare to be horrified!

1. Elvis Presley — Are You Lonesome Tonight? (1961)
Presley had been on a downward musical trajectory for several years by the time this record was released, but this is the nadir. However, it could almost be considered bearable if you treat it as a comedy record, with its earnestly recited—and embarrassingly silly—middle eight.

2.  Cliff Richard — The Next Time / Bachelor Boy (1963)
Cliff did record a few half-decent songs in the early years of his career (e.g. Move It!, Dynamite), but this was a double horror. The people who bought this record clearly didn’t notice that the musical scene was changing.

3. The Dave Clark Five — Glad All Over (1963)
This song’s claim to fame—or notoriety if you prefer—is that it replaced the Beatles at #1 in the UK charts at a time when Beatlemania in the UK was at its peak. It may be that the mainstream media emphasized this fact because the record itself is so awful. By the way, I single out the Honeycombs (#5 below) for its poor drumming, but Dave Clark couldn’t play the drums either.

4.  The Four Pennies — Juliet (1964)
I imagine that this ‘band’ secured a recording contract as a result of the rush to sign up any guitar-based outfit in the immediate aftermath of the appearance on the scene of the Beatles in the hope that they would emulate their success. Unsurprisingly, the Four Pennies were a one-hit wonder that quickly disappeared from view. Thankfully.

5.  The Honeycombs — Have I the Right? (1964)
I remember the main selling point of this ‘band’ being that it had a female drummer. It is not my intention to suggest that women can’t play the drums, but this one certainly couldn’t.

6.  Tom Jones — Green, Green Grass of Home (1966)
My abiding memory of this song is of a fellow student in Manchester asking to borrow my copy of Melody Maker, opening it at the charts page and collapsing in a fit of hysterical laughter when he saw that this record was #1. Say no more.

7.  Scott McKenzie — San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair) (1967)
Although this song acquired the status of an anthem for the so-called ‘summer of love’, I regarded that movement then—and still do—as bullshit, with its rallying cry of ‘flower power’. The song doesn’t get any better with age.

8.  Engelbert Humperdinck — Release Me (1967)
It beggars belief that this song broke the Beatles’ run of #1 hits, especially as the record it kept off the top spot, the double A-side Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever, was arguably the band’s best single. ‘Sentimental garbage’ is my opinion of this vomit-inducing song. I wonder who bought it.

9.  Peter Sarstedt — Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)? (1969)
Pretentious. That was my verdict when this song was released, and it would probably be my reaction now if I heard it again (I’m not about to test this assertion).

10.  The Archies — Sugar, Sugar (1969)
‘Bubblegum’ music had a brief period in the spotlight in the late sixties, and I suspect that this song—and Simon Says by the 1910 Fruitgum Company, also a #1—was bought by the parents of very young children to keep them amused. It certainly didn’t amuse me.

11.  Rolf Harris — Two Little Boys (1969)
The only comment that I can make about this execrable rubbish is that it had a remarkably prescient title.
*  *  *
It will not have escaped the notice of alert readers that I failed to keep my list down to the advertised number of ten. I was reading through the comments on Black Music of the 1960s (link below), where I’d proposed Herman’s Hermits as an example of the kind of garbage that was being promoted at that time. One of my readers countered with the Dave Clark Five, and I realized that I’d completely forgotten what may well be the single most overrated outfit of all time—it has been inducted into the so-called ‘Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame’! The Rock ’n’ Roll Dustbin of History would have been a more appropriate repository.

the more positive side of sixties music
Black Music of the 1960s
Alternative Sixties: Part 1
Alternative Sixties: Part 2

These posts include YouTube links, so you can check out tracks with which you’re unfamiliar. For obvious reasons, I’ve not done this with the main list.

Friday, 9 October 2020

god save the queen?

Between January 1974 and January 1978, I worked as a senior instructor at the Hong Kong Outward Bound School. During the last year of this period, I also moonlighted as the television critic for TV & Entertainment Times, a local listings magazine. Around the time I left Hong Kong in 1978, this magazine published an essay that I’d written about Queen, the third of my all-time favourite bands (and the only one I ever saw live). While I begin to refocus on writing after a barren summer in the UK, I thought that I would republish that essay here.
*  *  *
The problem faced by singers and bands that parody rock music is that no one takes them seriously. People do listen to them, it’s true, but only in a vague, slightly amused fashion. However, the best satirists, like the best practical jokers, are taken seriously—the reason being that their particular audience does not recognize the humorous intent.

The band I’m referring to here is Queen. They are possibly the most original band to appear since the Beatles, but the practical joker side of their music is rarely far below the surface. Yet they have reached their present pre-eminence in Britain purely because their audience takes them seriously.

As Perry Martin [a professional musician working in Hong Kong whom I knew at the time] told me: “They’ve made progressive rock into a saleable commodity.” Of course, this is an oversimplification. What they have actually done is to parody rock music in the most effective way: by the best possible use of existing techniques and by the invention of new ones when necessary. In effect, this means that their performance is often far better than that of the band they are allegedly mimicking.

The first clues that the band wasn’t entirely straight appeared on their third album, Sheer Heart Attack. Killer Queen [the first ever track by the band that I heard] is an apparent dig at the female equivalent of Ray Davies’ Dedicated Follower of Fashion, but whereas the Kinks’ ‘hero’ was a feckless, working-class type, Queen’s ‘heroine’ is an altogether more sophisticated character:
Well-versed in etiquette,
Extraordinarily nice, etc.
As for Flick of the Wrist, it could have come straight out of a Victorian melodrama, complete with moustachioed villain (the butt of the humour). Lap of the Gods is more than a little reminiscent of Bryan Ferry’s Roxy Music, while Bring Back That Leroy Brown is a take-off of a traditional jazz band. Dear Friends is only slightly removed from:
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares,
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.
How can a band that does this kind of thing be on the level?

It is yet another attempt to introduce ‘theatre’ into rock music. David Bowie was probably the first to try this, but his music was little more than unimaginative science fiction, and he was obliged to resort to glitter and greasepaint to disguise his limitations. In the same vein, Alice Cooper has all but left the music behind, with the result that his act is entirely theatrical. At the other end of the scale, bands such as Jethro Tull and Genesis have a strong theatrical element in their music, but it is implicit (cf. Thick as a Brick, A Passion Play, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway). The main weakness here is that the intrinsic ‘plots’ are either too convoluted or else too surreal for a wide audience to want to identify with them.

With Queen, the opposite is true. The fun-poking is so outrageously explicit that no one can believe they really mean it. However, they are merely preying on an age-old human weakness, the inability to believe what is right under one’s nose. And in doing so, they have resurrected music hall (US: ‘vaudeville’), updating it for the 1970s. The clue is in the band’s use of ‘barber-shop quartet’ harmonies, even in the most incongruous places. A song that would otherwise be a straight copy of a rock sausage machine such as Led Zeppelin is turned into near farce by the introduction of beautiful harmonizing voices.

Now listen to A Night at the Opera, which, not coincidentally, is also the title of a Marx Brothers film. The album opens with Death on Two Legs, a song ostensibly directed against loan sharks [I learned subsequently that the target of this song was the band’s former manager, who had ripped them off]. Freddie Mercury is a master of the pointed insult:
Insane! You should be put inside.
You’re a sewer rat decaying in a cesspool of pride.
However, the song has been left subtly ambiguous. It could easily refer to a big-shot businessman—after all, how much difference is there between the two types? It just happens that the businessman has his reinforcements more efficiently marshalled, but the ordinary man in the street supports neither type. He simply accepts the status quo, believing that he can do nothing to alter the situation.

The indignant mood of the first song is immediately punctured by Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon, which turns the spotlight on the so-called ‘idle rich’:
I come from London town, I’m just an ordinary guy.
Fridays I go painting in the Louvre.
…the type whose pictures you can look at in the social pages of various magazines—always assuming that you want to in the first place.

Seaside Rendezvous also has a touch of this atmosphere, although the target here is the Charley’s Aunt brand of more or less decorous courtship, from the angle of ‘but who needs a chaperone anyway?’

It will be seen that the satirical element in the band’s work has extended far beyond the boundaries of rock music. The limited credence given to prophets of doom is picked out in The Prophet’s Song. No matter that the prophet of doom is always right. For ordinary people, Noah’s flood never happened, and Armageddon is merely a fond hope in the teachings of fundamentalist Christian sects. And it is all summarized in one line:
Listen to the madman!
Good Company, another song with a quasi-jazz motif, highlights the folly of the man who spends a lifetime building a wall around himself, using people for as long as they serve his purpose, then discarding them. This song also spotlights the technical wizardry of Brian May, who makes his guitar sound like, in turn, a cornet, an alto saxophone and a clarinet.

Love of My Life has to be a jibe at the Happy Days adolescent sexuality of the 1950s, the
Each night I ask the stars up above:
Why must I be a teenager in love?
mentality, complete with hyperbole and mock pathos. It is in a song like this that the true artistry of the band can be seen: the words are straight, almost banal, but the hyperbole comes in the delivery—it is a slow ballad, sung with earnest intensity. However, the illusion of seriousness is dispelled by the ubiquitous harmonizing voices, echoing the lead singer’s words like an unasked-for conscience.

The entire charade is topped off by a poker-faced rendition of God Save the Queen. It’s only as the final note is struck that the listener is treated to a little flourish in the form of a few extra bars—an embellishment that fits beautifully. Again, the subtlety of the band’s art is evident; a heavier-handed band would have ‘jazzed it up’, that is, if they had had the audacity to play the anthem in the first place.

How do they do it? How do they get away with it? The first is the easier question to answer. Broadly speaking, they use a mixture of farce and melodrama, in proportions that vary from song to song but that are selected with an unerring sense of timing. The guitar solo in Millionaire’s Waltz, albeit in waltz time, would be fairly ordinary, were it not punctuated by an absurd single note struck on a triangle.

As for Somebody to Love: how dare they apply such impeccable musical styling to such a trivial subject? But this is the key to Queen’s success. They do have the nerve to do what they do—and they do it so well!

Just listen to Teo Torriate (this, like the last two songs mentioned, is from the band’s latest album, A Day at the Races, another title borrowed from the Marx Brothers). The resemblance to a school choir performing at some inconsequential concert is uncanny, even down to the school music master pounding away at the piano, at the same time doing his best to conduct his proteges with his head.

It would seem that I’m implying that Queen are an eclectic band. This is not strictly true. Admittedly, they do borrow musical ideas, and from the most unlikely places, but these are blended together in a style that is both unique and instantly recognizable. Rock music has come a long way since Bill Haley and Elvis Presley, even since the Beatles, and the post-Beatles era has been one of diversification—there are almost as many ‘categories’ within the genre as there are bands.

However, the 1970s has seen two main trends: mainstream pop music and ‘underground’ rock, the latter originating in the late 1960s with the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and the Velvet Underground in America, and with Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin in Britain. The factor that distinguishes the two streams is that ‘pop’ music is just that—a barometer of popular tastes at any given time—while what I’ve identified as underground music is music for those listeners who are turned off by the banalities of the former. Being freed from considerations of commercialism, it is invariably more adventurous.

Inevitably, this has meant that over the past decade, the two trends have steadily diverged. Music that attempts to bridge the gap, appearing at a time when pop is becoming increasingly elementary in structure, when talent is no longer a necessary prerequisite for achieving popular acclaim, must be either a tedious preciosity or something very unusual. Most people who have listened to Queen would probably agree that they are not the former.

In fact, if it is time for a major new influence to supersede the Beatles, then Queen are a likely candidate. If this is objected to as an overstatement, it must be conceded that they represent an unexpected swing of the pendulum. Nevertheless, it is important not to underrate the Beatles merely because they were overrated 14 years ago. The hysteria provoked by the Beatles in the period 1963–64 is no longer easy to understand, and it is for this reason that it is extremely difficult to envisage a repeat performance by another band.

The Beatles were technically little better than their contemporaries, but they had the good fortune to be assigned a producer who was sympathetic to their musical ideas. Had they not failed their Decca audition, this would never have happened. Also, nowadays, there are just too many bands of comparable technical ability. However, as I’ve attempted to point out, Queen’s style is unique. Someday, another type of music will supersede rock, yet when today’s leading lights are barely remembered, even as names, I would wager that much of Queen’s music will still be around, valued for its creative genius.

A comparison with the Beatles is not completely fatuous. Admittedly, Queen do have a long way to go to emulate the Beatles’ spectacular chart success on both sides of the Atlantic. On the other hand, it is highly unlikely that anyone will ever do so. However, Bohemian Rhapsody, arguably the finest track ever to be released as a single, did hold the #1 chart position for a record number of weeks. Also, Queen share with the Beatles the rare ability to appeal to all age groups.

The only missing ingredient, if it can be so described, is the USA. It was acceptance in America that transformed the Beatles from just another rock ’n’ roll band into a global phenomenon. Yet this is the principal stumbling block. America still gives its allegiance to bands such as Jefferson Starship, Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac, all of which play music that is ten years out of date, or even to such anachronisms as the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. It is the inevitable result of having an ‘awards’ system, with its unavoidable emphasis on the mainstream and consequent inhibition of innovation.

If you have not heard Queen, I strongly urge that you give them a listen, especially on A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races. You will not be disappointed. Queen are not merely brilliant; they are a revelation. Queen are not just a rock band; they are a window on life in Britain in the 1970s.

Saturday, 3 October 2020

water from the mountains

Although we had been out cycling on the previous two days, we still planned to go out for another ride on the third day. However, there was a slight problem: when I’d looked at the weather forecast the previous evening, there was a lightning symbol in the forecast for noon, which meant that we would have to go out early. Unfortunately, when I checked the forecast again the following morning, I noticed that a rain symbol had been added for 11am. It seemed prudent to eschew the cycling and go for a walk instead.

Because we live close to the northwestern edge of Penrith, when going for a walk we will always head north to begin with. This takes us through the Thacka Beck Nature Reserve, after which, on this occasion, we followed the eastern edge of town, which is also the highest, southwards until we reached the small hamlet of Carleton.

Sixty years ago, Carleton had been located at the junction of the A66, a major road connecting Penrith to Scotch Corner, a major junction on the A1, and the A686, which leads over the Pennines to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. However, the A66 was rerouted in the late 1960s as part of the infrastructure associated with the construction of the Penrith bypass, now part of the M6 motorway. It is no longer possible to follow the original route of the A66 south from Carleton in a motor vehicle, although it is still possible on foot. Incidentally, ‘Carleton’ is of Old English (Anglo-Saxon) origin. The suffix –ton indicates a farm, while carle means ‘serf’ or ‘peasant’. Carleton was separated from Penrith sixty years ago by an extensive area of fields, but during the intervening years, residential development has meant that the two are now contiguous.

The River Eamont runs from west to east a short distance south of Carleton and can be reached by following the old route of the A66. While most of the rivers in Cumbria have names that are Cumbric in origin (Cumbric was the language spoken by the original inhabitants of the region but became extinct in the 11th century), ‘Eamont’ is purported to be of Old English origin. The first element, ea–, means ‘water’, while the meaning of the second element should be obvious. The most likely meaning of these juxtaposed elements is ‘water from the mountains’.

This is not a fanciful interpretation. The source of the Eamont is Ullswater, the second-largest of the lakes in the district. Ullswater is a narrow ribbon lake about nine miles long that is surrounded by mountains, which provide a considerable catchment area during periods of heavy rain. All this runs off into the lake and thence into the Eamont.

The straight-line distance between the outflow from Ullswater and the Eamont’s confluence with the River Eden is no more than about 12 miles, but the actual length of the river is more than twice this because it meanders all over the place. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the Eamont is prone to catastrophic flooding following winter storms, which dump considerable amounts of rain on the mountains. In one such storm a few years ago, the bridge at Pooley Bridge, the first to be encountered from the river’s source, was swept away, and houses close to the river are often overwhelmed by floodwater.

Our objective on this occasion was the footpath along the north bank of the Eamont from Brougham upstream to Eamont Bridge, which has always been the most important crossing point over the river. Here are a few photographs that I took along the way:

It was quite a warm day, and most of the sheep in the first field were sheltering from the sun in the shade of a large tree:
This is a general view of the river, looking upstream:
I hadn’t expected to see a grey heron here.

Lone trees in the middle of fields are a common sight. I sometimes wonder whether they have been left by the farmer simply to provide shelter for his livestock:
I simply had to include the following photos of a spectacular bracket fungus growing on a sycamore:
One of Paula’s colleagues is a mycologist, so I might be able to find out the species.

I hadn’t been along this path for several years, but I felt sure that at one point close to Eamont Bridge there had been a footbridge across the river. If I’m correct, then that footbridge has also fallen victim to the rapacity of the river:
To end on a lighter note, here is a photo of a wild rose that I took just before reaching Eamont Bridge: