Monday, 7 February 2011

A Weekend Less Ordinary (Flocks of starlings and a Band of Horses)

"A Holiday, A Holiday, the first one of the year"

Well, the first long weekend since New Year anyway.

Friday started like most days, with me shouting at a computer for being slow.  But instead of the usual info loading onto a database, it was me trying to book Fleet Foxes tickets.  Just my luck that the only UK show announced so far sold out in seven minutes.  Fortunately, a second show was added and we have tickets for that.

Now I don't get out as much as in the days of wild old Camden Town, so dragging myself out to see a band now is a Big Deal.  Friday was the biggest deal possible - the exquisite Band of Horses playing the De La Warr Pavillion in Bexhill-on-Sea.  I could have gone to see them in Brixton the night before, but getting south of the River and back on a work night was logistically draining.  Anyway, the prospect of a drive out to see a band I love at a building I admire was way too tempting.

The journey down was far better than it could have been.  The weather was unpromising - showers and high winds, and the prospect of getting caught in roadworks on the M25 was ever present.  But we got lucky.  There was in fact an accident on the M25 near a junction in the section where widening work is taking place, but we had driven down the through traffic lane and sailed past several miles of stationary traffic, mostly made up of lorry drivers on tight schedules to meet up with ferries, a few families starting their picnics early, and what looked like a troupe of acrobats, dressed in yellow blond wigs and sequins.

Left the motorway and continued down the A21, a regular route for us.  Stopped for lunch at Merriments, though weather prevented a stroll round the garden.  Instead concentrated on tea & cakes and the contents of the garden centre.  Stocked up on onion & shallot sets, purple asparagus crowns (for which I have a plan involving an Ikea carrier bag and the rakings from the hens' runs), a Mahonia and some dahlia tubers.  Maybe this year the slugs won't beat me.

Drove on through the Sussex woodlands, with Fleet Foxes as our soundtrack - a perfect combination.  We reached Bexhill around 5pm, just as everything was closing up.  High winds and construction work prevented a walk along the sea front, so we walked up the high street in search of life and a place for dinner.  As it was now dusk, a huge flock a starlings was wheeling around, forming breathtaking shapes and patterns - imploding ovals and rollercoasters above the charity shops.  When I was a child, this was a commonplace sight in every town.  They used to wheel around above the railway arches before roosting on South Harrow gas holder.  But now it's so scarce it is treated as something on a par with the herds of the Serengeti or the like.  In truth, it probably is, but to most people they're just screechy scruffy Starlings, not wild formation flying acrobats with sequinned feathers.

Scoured the street for suitable dinner venues.  Tonight wasn't the weather for fish & chips on the sea front, and there were several other "possibles" that didn't fit the bill.  The we happened upon a clean, unpretentious Italian restaurant, which seemed just right.  As we settled down to our meal, it was apparent we weren't the only people with the same idea - the place rapidly filled up, mostly with slightly unconventional fortysomethings starting a night out.  My suspicions were confirmed when we entered the venue, and I noticed quite a few fellow diners. We got chatting to one couple, who were in fact fairly local, and proud that the De La Warr was once again fulfilling its purpose as a quality leisure venue for all the people of Bexhill.

Support act, Goldheart Assembly, were pretty good.   Extra marks for using an autoharp on a song or two, though the singer played it flat like a keyboard rather than haring around the stage clasping it, Zal Yanovsky style.  Not so sure about the oil can as drum set up though.

I'd been wanting to see Band of Horses for a few years, but never quite managed to.  This was in fact the first time we'd been to see a band for a couple of years.  I was diagnosed with a mild form of epilepsy some years ago, and flashing lights can cause me to lose my balance at inopportune moments.  But I've resolved to stop dwelling on that and make the most of my remaining middle youth.  From the look of the audience, that was true of much of the crowd, plus the more discerning youth of the Bexhill and Hastings hinterland.  I managed to get fairly near the front, and with this not being a crowd for wild dancing (more like swaying gently and singing along), I got to keep a decent spot the whole night.

The band were excellent, as would be expected.  There's a warmth to them that is often a stranger to band dynamics, and it spills out to the audience.  You get the impression that they're sharing as much as performing their music.

It's hard to single out anything in the main set - all was wonderful, but the encore started with a very special moment - Evening Kitchen.  Just singer Ben Bridwell and guitarist Tyler Ramsey and an acoustic guitar.  Tyler Ramsey is tall & lanky, Ben Bridwell small & wiry - singing into the same mike must be something they've done countless times over the years, but still can't be easy.  At one point Ben stepped away from the mike but continued singing.  The hall was so quiet that he could still be heard perfectly.  It was as if time had stopped for the duration of the song - a moment that summed up a special night.

We drove home, the same route we'd taken down, now near deserted.  We kept and eye out for deer and badgers, but no sightings and we were home before 1am.

Saturday and Sunday were back to the usual routine - getting chicken and garden supplies, then to the allotment, but I felt more positive about things.  All helped by the news that Howard's mum seems to have made a slight improvement - he was able to talk to her on the phone.  Still a long way to go, but a start.

Also, my Welsummer hen has started laying, and in a matter of a week or two has gone from a nervous bird who picked at her food to a fine healthy bird, hell bent on tunnelling out of her run!

Sunday was the first chance I'd had to get over the allotment since the New Year.  That day we'd been confronted by the disappointment of a stray act of vandalism - our shed window broken, and the cloches over my winter crops flattened.  This Sunday, whilst not the most industrious, made up for it.

The sheer abundance of life at the allotment showed that the wheel was turning towards Spring.  I saw most of the usual birds that populate the site, including countless woodpeckers, both Green and Great Spotted.  I even saw ladybirds and a honey bee.  A heron flew over, diverted from its planned course by the high winds, and I even saw a Little Egret fly low overhead.  When you consider this was a species that not long ago was a twitcher's dream on the south coast in the Summer, and this was one which must have spent the winter near London, it shows how the climate must be changing.

Well, it's Monday and I've been at work all day, so back to normal.  But I 'm already counting the hours until this weekend, counting the days until our next trip out of town, and counting the weeks until the start of the many events of this spring and summer.

1 comment:

John Gray said...

dont get me started on soddin starlings