Castles and Dreams

Posted on 29th September 2008

Discovering local history can be quite fun at times. I've lived in and around Birmingham for the past 12 years, and there is certainly a lot history I've discovered already. However, there has been one part I never knew existed until recently. While planning the trip to Ludlow Castle and Richards Castle last weekend with DanDan, I came across a page listing Weoley Castle. Now Weoley Castle is an area of South Birmingham, that is slightly North of where I live now, and slightly south of where I used to live when I first moved to Birmingham. I've driven through the area many times between Northfield and Harborne, but never knew that the remains of the castle ruins still existed. Although to be fair it isn't a castle in the grand sense, but a fortified manor house. Not that that should deter you from visiting it.

So on Saturday, DanDan and I took a drive over to the Weoley Castle Ruins. Having read the web page, we were prepared to only see the ruins from the viewing area. But seeing as it's a bit of local history I wasn't too bothered about that. As it turned out, our arrival at the site couldn't have been better timed. We'd just started taking pictures, when a woman walked passed the other side of fence, in medieval attire befitting of the lady of the house. She and the guy walking with her, walked up on to the ruins, where she posed for a photo. As they walked back, the woman paused and told us that if we wanted to come back later at either 2pm or 3pm, there would be a storytelling and we would be allowed into the ruins to have a look round. Not wanting to miss a golden opportunity, DanDan and I headed home for lunch and picked up Nicole and Ethne.

We arrived in time for the 3pm event, and walked with about 40 others up into the ruins by the last surviving apple tree, of those that had originally stood there. Then the show began. The woman we had seen earlier announced herself as Joan de Botetourt, lady of the castle. Over the course of about half an hour or more, she took us around the rooms of the castle, telling us about each room, the history of the castle and the de Botetourt family history. All completely in character. The show and storytelling were fantastic and I was so glad we had happened to come and visit the ruins in the morning. The storyteller turned out to be Anna O'Brien of Annamation, one of a troupe who frequently do this kind of storytelling, particularly at the Barber Institute by Birmingham University, where they re-enact paintings.

I took the opportunity to take LOTS of photos, and it was a wonderful day to take them too. I spoke with one of the organisers, who had come over to ask if I was a professional photographer or did it as a hobby. Reassuring her I was most definbitely an amateur, she told me about their plans for the site. Unfortunately they had been turned down to open a visitors centre, but they now have plans to open a school room. Although some local schools do take advantage of the opportunities to have the children taken around the ruins, not too many do, and occasionally rain means tours get cancelled. A dedicated school room means more schools can plan visits regardless of the weather, and much more planned activities.

It was a brilliant afternoon, and I'm so glad that Birmingham Museums And Galleries put on these sorts of events every so often. If you ever spot the chance to go and tour the ruins, especially if Annamation are doing the storytelling, then go. You will be thoroughly entertained.

File Under: birmingham / castles / museum / photography / sightseeing

Here Comes the Night

Posted on 29th September 2008

Sunday afternoon I settled down to watch a bit of history. The first Formula 1 night race in Singapore. I wasn't expecting much from the race much beyond a parade lap, and a few place swaps thanks to well timed pit stops. However, as I predicted last week, the main reason the finishing order was different from the starting grid was down to accidents. Personally I don't find those kinds of accidents fun, as the driver is already being tested to the limit and driving a millimeter over the edge sends you crashing into the wall.

Ferrari cocked things up good and proper for themselves, and regardless of who is to blame, something more than a slap on the wrist should be done about releasing drivers into the path of other cars. Adrian Sutil must be about ready to take a hammer to Massa's car. After the incident in Valcencia, for Massa to pull out again in front of Sutil and almost collide with him, is really too much. For the first incident, Mass received a €10,000 fine. and yesterday he was given a drive through penalty. Thankfully Massa seemed to completely lose any desire to compete for the rest of the race. Ferrari, however, should have their whole pit and garage communication abilities investigated. If any team repeatedly releases their driver into the path of another, then there should be some heavy penalty (deduction of constructors points or hefty fine) to deter anyone doing it again. I did feel for Sutil later in the race as he pretty much had nowhere to go but the wall, after Massa spun into the wall ahead of him, then pulled forward to rejoin the race. Again a decent run off area would have avoided that.

I suspect that Massa's release from the pits will be heavily investigated anyway, as driving off down the pit with a fuel hose attached to you shouldn't happen. David Coulthard almost got caught out with that too in the final stages of the race. After the 1994 incident with Jos Verstappen, who was racing for Benetton (who are now owned by Renault) at the time, it always make me really nervous to see those kinds of accidents.

I was pleased for Hamilton taking away championship points, but it did seem like he was struggling to race, getting continually caught up behind cars and finding it extremely difficult to pass. It's the latter I really don't like about street racing. Although the Singapore track was wide enough to pass in places, if you looked closely the amount of debris off the racing line would have been like racing over cobblestones for a forumla 1 car. In fact at the end of the race you could see the tyres of the cars as they came into Park Firma, as they looked they were about to disintegrate. On a traditional racing circuit the debris is considerably reduced as only racing cars are driving on it, and with the additional grass borders around the track, catching a bit of gravel or driving slightly on the kerb, only means you run on the grass for a bit and lose pace. Being taken out the race just causes far too many other problems. Safety cars seem to have featured rather too much in recent times.

The idea of a night race isn't bad, and the track was well light. However, as one commentator said, having Singapore as a night race every year could get rather boring. For me, without the accidents the race would have been very boring indeed. I hope that Japan in two weeks time sees the end of the unwanted incidents that have plague the rest of the season.

File Under: formula1 / motorsport / racing

Four Sticks

Posted on 25th September 2008

As with most people of my generation, my first exposure to Led Zeppelin was via C.C.S.'s cover of Whole Lotta Love. It was the theme tune for Top Of The Pops throughout most the 70s, and identified the TV show for many years. It was only when I started listening to the evening radio shows on BBC Radio One, that I discovered that the song was originally by Led Zeppelin. It did seem a bit odd to me at the time, as to why the theme tune was a cover and not the original. As I also discovered much later, Led Zeppelin never got to perform on the show due to their rigid stance of refusing to release a single in the UK. They felt that their albums didn't need the promotion that singles would have given them and considering how many number ones and multi-platinum discs they got, I think they were right.

It wasn't really until around 1977 that I started to discover more of Led Zeppelin. Listening to John Peel and Tommy Vance, they both played a variety of tracks that I perhaps wouldn't otherwise have heard on daytime radio, Babe I'm Ganna Leave You and No Quarter being among them. On hearing Rock And Roll, Kashmir, the magestic Immigrant Song and of course Stairway To Heaven, I was quickly taken by the power of the music. It was around 1977/1978 that I started to buy records for myself, perviously they were bought for me as birthday or Christmas presents. I do remember walking into Crewe town centre one day and taking my saved up pocket money and buying Presence. It wasn't the first Led Zeppelin album I owned, as my record buying had started in second hand shops, but this was the first I bought brand new. I'd heard a couple of the tracks already, but it was the amazing Achilles Last Stand that I had bought the album for. To this day it is still my favourite Led Zeppelin track, and one my favourite songs of all time.

In 1979 a friend of mine went with his older brother to see them play at Knebworth. I was quite jealous at the time and wished I was old enough, or had an older brother too, so I could have gone as well. His report the following week, only made me yearn to be old enough to see them in a few years time. On 25th September 1980, John Bonham was found dead. After several weeks of uncertainty, the remaining band members made an official announcement that they were to disband. I was never going to be fortunate enough to see a Led Zeppelin live gig, at least not with the original members.

With Ian Curtis committing suicide in May and John Lennon being shot in December, 1980 was a rather troubled year for music fans of several generations.

The bizarre part of this story is that John Bonham is the only member of Led Zeppelin that I've met. Well perhaps met is too strong, but I did say hello. He had brought his son Jason up to race at North-West Scamble Bike meeting in Cheshire. It just so happened that it was the same club that my next door neighbours also used to race at. He was the first really famous person I'd ever met in real life, so it made quite an impression on this young music fan.

Last weekend I took DanDan to the parish church in Rushock where John is buried. We live only a few minutes drive away from the village, and the farm where his family still live, and I have been meaning to visit the grave for some time. Last Sunday was a nice a day for a change, and DanDan and I had spent a great day out visiting castles. Seeing as we were on the way home, it seemed an ideal time to pay my respects. The village is quite small and the cemetary is really peaceful, looking out on the fields and hills of Worcestershire. DanDan was quite taken by all the drumsticks, and took several photographs. I might get around to putting some of them online at some point, but for now you can see mine here.

Today is the 28th annivesary of John's death. He would have been celebrating his 60th birthday on 31st May 2008. Rock And Roll.

File Under: ledzeppelin / music

Chasing Cars

Posted on 23rd September 2008

The Ferrari boss, Luca di Montezemolo, has said that the increasing number of street circuits in Formula 1 is bad for the future of the sport. I can only agree with him. Monaco is perhaps a bit special for all sorts of reasons, but the other street tracks have mostly ended in very uninspired racing. With all the accidents and resulting debris, it makes for a very messy race and ultimately a race that ends mostly in the order that the cars line up on the starting grid, minus those cars that crash out. Driver skill is more about not getting hit rather than using their talents to break, pass and manoeuvre round the track and their competitors.

Singapore's night street race is going to attract a lot of interest, mostly because a night race has never been done before. I can see why they're trying it, as the majority of fans, constructors, sponsors, etc are based in Europe and it makes it easier for them to watch it just after lunch rather than in the early hours of the morning. I think a night race would be worthwhile on a proper track, as it would likely have the same kind of visibility (if not better) than some of the races in torrential rain that we've had recently. However, on a street track I can't see it having anything but a negative effect on the racing. I hope to be able to watch the next race and will be intrigued to see whether I'm proved wrong.

In other news Hamilton & McClaren have lost their appeal over the incident in Spa. The BBC News piece picks up on a few areas of concern that do need clear and decisive resolutions by FIA. At Monza there were several cars that cut chicanes and no-one got penalised in anyway. The drivers took the decision not to overtake until after the succeeding corner, but that's not what the rules say. The various decisions being made in recent times have definitely gone in Ferrari's favour. Now while I doubt there is any conspiracy, it has damaged the public face of motor racing. Aside from fans, those who having a passing interest in the sport, are reading and hearing all these news reports and getting the message that Ferrari and being engineered to be the winners, as the FIA can't accept Hamilton winning. That may not be reality, but that matters little when the media are only showing the sensational parts of the stories. It bad for Forumla One, certainly in the UK, as if the sport gets much more bad press, I wouldn't be surprised to see sponsors starting to not renew contracts and opt for other sports with more good publicity.

The responsibility and heirarchy within the sport and espcially on track day is dreadful. What is the point of having a Race Director?  If the Race Stewards out-rank him, why bother even having him there if any advice he gives is a complete waste of time. Then there is the heirarchy between Forumala One and the FIA. Seeing as Bernie Ecclestone is consided to be the one running the show, and with Max Moseley being largely just a big embarrassment, isn't it about time there was some sort of clear cut management structure? Maybe there is, but it is not being made very clear. The F1 racing rules are in dire need of a review by race officials, constructors and drivers. With all the uncertainty over ambiguous or remarkably unfair penalites being awarded at a very descretionary level, some clear unarguable rules need to defined, with a level of penalty attributed much more suitable to the incident.

This weekend is going to be crucial for Hamilton, as with only 4 races left, it doesn't leave much margin for error. I hope he wins, as he has injected a lot of interest in the sport, and his racing style has ignited enthusiasm within fans of the sport. Whether he wins the championship or not this year, I have no doubt that he is still a future world champion. I just hope FIA get their act together and provide him a sport worth competing in.

File Under: formula1 / motorsport / racing

Dans Le Parc Du Chateau Noir

Posted on 21st September 2008

Today DanDan and I went to visit Ludlow Castle for the day. It was a nice sunny day and we had a great time walking round, and there'll be photos of that later. However, afterwards, seeing as it was only a few miles from Ludlow, we headed off to find the ruins of Richard's Castle. It proved rather tricky, and had I done my homework better beforehand we might have been a bit more successful. Our first hitch was getting confused by the two Richards Castle village within a short distance of each other, one in Shropshire the other in Hereford. The one in Hereford is where the ruins are. All I knew was that the ruins were near St Bartholomew's Church.

Heading towards the Hereford village, having just gone through the Shropshire one, I spotted a small signpost heading off down a one-track road. After about a mile we saw a church, and then a hand painted sign saying "TO THE CASTLE AND CHURCH". Great, we found it ... or so we thought. We walked up to the church, and indeed it was St Bartholomew's. But we couldn't spot any earthworks or walls as I'd seen one website. There was a large sign showing how the castle had once looked and the history of it, but no further signs as to where any of the actual castle stood. We walked around the church and apart from the gravestones, drew a blank. We ended up heading back and never got to see the parts of the castle that are still visible. It was only after getting home and reading several other pages on the internet, that I suddenly discovered that we had to follow the path down through the lower cemetary into the woods. We were in spitting distance of the wall ... just the wrong side to be able to see it!

The moral of this story is that if you are planning to visit somewhere that is likely to be well hidden, get as much background as possible. It would have been nice for someone to have added another sign from the church pointing us in the right direction, but at least we know next time we go. Seeing as it's only 30 miles away, it isn't that far. For anyone finding this post who is planning to find the place as well, here are some help hints, so you don't miss out like we did. Here is a map link you might want to open in another browser window first. The church should be in the centre of the map, with a square tower (the bell tower) to the right. On the left, to the upper left and lower left you will see gravestones. Between the gravestones in the lower left part of the cemetary is a path. Walk along this to the woods. Look to your right and the wall should be there.

Further links for the castle history itself are on the Castle Wales site and the Hereford Council site. Even if you don't find it, there are some lovely views along the way. We had a nice drive anyway, and it was still a lovely day out. More on the rest of our adventures later :)

File Under: castles / sightseeing

I Dream Of Wires

Posted on 16th September 2008

The following has recently entered my inbox; body copied verbatim:

"Your internet access is going to get suspended

The Internet Service Provider Consorcium was made to protect the rights of software authors, artists. We conduct regular wiretapping on our networks, to monitor criminal acts.

We are aware of your illegal activities on the internet wich were originating from

You can check the report of your activities in the past 6 month that we have attached. We strongly advise you to stop your activities regarding the illegal downloading of copyrighted material of your internet access will be suspended.

ICS Monitoring Team"

Those who receive this, and the attached file, may well be duped into believing that they have been caught out and consequently open the attachement to discover they have now install a dubious artifact on their machine. The Winlogon trojan, which is then installed, may not be want you want hanging around on your system.

I did find it amusing that the creators, working with the scare tactics of the major music industry companies I've previously spoken of, have crafted this social engineering attack to dupe unsuspecting recipients. It effectively means, once people do educate their spam filters, that any future emails from music industry henchmen threatening fines, court appearances and cutting your internet will most likely end up being deleted :) 

As a result it may just mean the dubious threats might finally go away. Mind you with the stocks and share around the world looking rather shaky, I can imagine the media moguls have better things to worry about than those downloading dubious files over BitTorrent.

File Under: humour / internet / music / spam

Great Gig In The Sky

Posted on 15th September 2008

As heard on the radio driving home tonight, Rick Wright has died of cancer. I was quite fortunate to have seen him play with Pink Floyd several times, and only wish I had been old enough to have seen them back in the 70s. Having been a key member of the band it'll be strange to have them bring in anyone else to carry on the keyboard parts. With Dave Gilmour and Nick Mason having had their own projects away from the band for several years, I suspect this will be the end of the band. Rick has left quite a legacy and will be missed by many fans.

File Under: music

I Can See For Miles

Posted on 1st September 2008

Idiocy At Work, #1 in a possible series.

In July 2008 I received a letter from my opticians (Dollond & Aitchison), which I've only just got around to reading, and basically proclaims I am breaking the law for doing nothing! Apparently it regards a bit of new legislation that I've never heard of and which they fail to back up with any reference to the actual legislation. The actual quote is:

"Legislation designed to protect the health of your eyes means you are required to have a regular check to ensure that we can continue to supply you with contact lenses."

Further into the letter they also say:

"You must act before 21/07/2008 otherwise we cannot supply you with any more lenses."

So now I'm a criminal and blacklisted by D&A from them ever supplying me any contacts lenses ever again! WTF! How to drive away business in a nutshell. I have tried to phone their office, but keep getting an answer phone, so will have to wait to attempt to follow this up. However, I cannot believe a company would be so stupid as to commit commercial suicide by selling their customers this kind of rubbish.

There is no law that I am aware of that has ever been drawn up, that now means several million people in the UK are now criminals for never had their eyes checked in the last year. Or is it just contact lens wearers? On top of that, that any previous supplier to that (now branded) criminal is now banned for life from ever supplying contact lenses to that criminal. Now I am willing to be educated, so I'll pursue this as I don't believe that the message they are selling is the correct one. If it is then this country is in an even bigger quagmire than I thought, and if it isn't then I'd like to know why they think it's a good sales initiative to use scare tactics to frighten their customers into getting a contact lens check.

To be continued....

If anyone out there in webland is aware of the appropriate legislation and can point me at an online version, I'd be very grateful. If anyone from D&A reads this, then feel free to contact me to explain why you think threatening your customers is a good sales tactic.

File Under: health / law / life

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