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The Parrett Music Festival became a yearly event which brought some welcome cultural events to the region, something we had been missing since leaving Edinburgh.
Concerts were spread around all the villages in the area and we sponsored the ones that were held in Petherton Parish Church.
One was held on a warm summers evening on the lawns in front of Montacute House along the lines of the last night of the proms concerts and we invited all the business association membership along.
We provided a selection of cheeses to accompany the wine. I remember a whole Brie de Meaux was consumed which was perfectly ripened and went down very well.
Another concert in SP featured a quartet which included Barrington Pheloung who composed the Inspector Morse theme. He was a mate of Nigel Kennedy and there was a rumour that Nigel would turn up to play with them but he didn't show. The lady harpist was a bit of a stunner who hitched up her skirt to get astride her harp. Our Vicar (he was actually a prebendary which is a bit of a step up from a mere Vicar) was sitting in the front row and from the glazed look on his face, looked as though he was 'upskirting'!!
Another concert we sponsored was the English Guitar Quartet who played some fantastic arrangements of Spanish and Mexican guitar music but the outstanding concert was at Martock which featured the choir of monks from a Ukranian Orthodox Cathedral who sang liturgical chants. One of them had a bass voice and could certainly sing the E note two octaves below middle C which is reckoned to be the lowest anyone can sing.
The Parrett Music Festival went broke after three or four years by becoming too ambitious when they put on a concert at Westlands canteen in Yeovil with a recital by pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy. What with his fee and expenses and the cost of hiring a Steinway grand piano they had to sell a lot of tickets which for a classical piano recital in Yeovil of all places was an impossibility. We were at the concert and the audience were drinking beer and wandering about while he was playing. It was a wonder he didn't walk off the stage.
Aside from the Parrett Music Festival we had a flourishing art centre in the David Hall, a converted chapel in the village that hosted the Petherton Picture Show which was always well attended. You could put in requests for films you wanted to see and they would do their best to screen them.
There were many plays put on by the local thespians which were always well attended as the actors were all well known locals. The musical offerings were rarely classical and usually folk. Julie Felix appeared there once as did John "Rabbit" Bundrick who lived in Stoke-sub-Hamdon and was a regular customer of ours.
Rabbit Bundrick was an occasonal touring keyboard player with The Who and organised a Blues band line up at the David Hall with some top London session musicians.
He sat with Sue and I in the audience before he performed and told us he had played with The Who at big stadiums in front of tens of thousands but he had never felt so nervous as he did then.
Jazz often featured at the hall and it was here where I first heard Frenchman and jazz pianist Patrice Galas play. He had a little music case which he placed on top of the chair to reach the keyboad as he is only a little bloke but boy could he play.
Here is a link to a CD which I have of an extract of Galas playing a piano duet with Georges Arvanitas back in 1993 and here is one of his latest offerings.
Classical music offerings were few and far between but I do remember playing the piano accompaniment for Provender girl Sue Syred's daughter for the Mozart concerto No1 for tenor horn and piano and for Roz Broad singing Rachmaninoff's Vocalise.
Fruit and Veg.
We really didn't want to sell fruit and veg especially when another shop opened selling it plus two other general stores who sold it but somehow we could not seem to stop and anyway Sue was a fruit bat who could consume a tray of nectarines if they didn't sell.
The problem we discovered with retailing is that if you stopped selling an item which didn't sell very well your turnover suffered. The reason was that for the few customers who bought those items it was the main reason for their custom and of course they purchased other items while they were there. If we stopped selling the item which was their prime reason for their custom we might lose them completely.
As far as we could we tried to concentrate on quality, not being afraid to throw away anything past it's best so that Josie's pigs were fed well on our quality rubbish. That is until the blessed EU banned pig keepers from making their own pig swill and Josie stopped keeping pigs.
Just like other speciality foods we introduced we tried to stock the more unusual fruit and veg which inevitably increased wastage.
Reylands were always on the lookout for unusual stuff and one morning Joe Reyland presented me with a box of what he called open arses. I knew them as Medlars in fact Bill the Shake referred to them in Romeo and Juliet:
" And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
As maids call medlars when they laugh alone
Oh Romeo, that she were, Oh, that she were
An open-arse, thou a poperin pear
Romeo, good night, I'll to my truckle bed
This field-bed is too cold for me to sleep
The poperin pear is an abreviation of the Flemish town of Poperinghe while pop-er-in might be construed in a more sexual way? A 'truckle' bed is a low bed that can be pushed under another when not in use.
It does not take much imagination to see why the Medlar is so called but properly bletted (to soften fruit beyond the ripening stage) it makes an excellent jelly not unlike a cranberry sauce so I bought the box and managed to sell them.
Christmas was the time when people tended to want something different and we stocked more exotic fruit like paw-paw and lychee as well as medlars which Jakie had never even heard of and I had to write down for him to buy for me at Bristol market.
1995 was Pat Palmer's 50th Birthday which was held at the Burcott Inn at Wookey, near Wells.
Now Pat was born with a very rare anatomical condition. She has not two but three kidneys.
This phenomenon enables her to consume Guinness at an alarming rate in prodigous quantities and process the residue much more efficiently that us mere mortals.
Pat's record is I think about 16 pints of Guinness in one session and she is only a small person.
I do not know how many she consumed on her 50th birthday bash but I can remember very little of what happened afterwards though I am told we went back to the Palmer's farmhouse and I played the piano for a sing-song.
Back in my caving days when I played the piano in The Hunters Lodge Inn near Priddy for the cavers sing-song, the Palmers used to drive their car with their two infant girls and park it next to the open window of the room where we used to sing. They therefore know the words of all the rude and naughty songs we used to sing and are not phased by 'they words' in the slightest!
Holidays in Spain and France.
We once made the mistake of accepting a free ticket from friends of the Hockey's for a trip on a P&O ferry from Portsmouth to Santander in Northern Spain in mid winter. They should have paid us to sail through the Bay of Biscay at that time of the year and we all spent the time at sea in bed not feeling very well, all except Sue who for some unknown reason did not suffer her usual 'mal de mer'.
Meals on board were not included, not that we wanted any but an excursion to Bilbao for breakfast including wine tasting was. Who on earth has wine with their breakfast?
The same ferry service in the summertime is more pleasant and next time we took the car and drove South to Burgos. This is a fine city and the birth place of El Cid whose real name was Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar.
El Cid is still a popular folk hero who lived in 1lth century and is famous as a brave and fearless warrior who fought for the Moors who ruled Spain at that time. It was they who named him El Cid which means 'The Lord' in Arabic.
His skills were for hire and as a mecenary he also fought for Lérida and Aragon against the Muslim rulers.
Charlton Heston played him in the film El Cid which is how most people outside of Spain will know of him.
We pressed on South to Zaragoza then over the Pyrenées into France where we had booked an apartment in Agde which is where the Canal du Midi starts at the circular Ecluse (Lock) Ronde and flows into the Hérault river. Well not exactly as it is still called the Canal du Midi when it connects the river to the Étang de Thau which at the NW end is the lovely town of Sète.
Agde made a good base for exploring the region. Within an easy drive was Narbonne, Bezier, Sète,and Montpellier. We were stocking a lot of organic wines by then and the wine growing area of Languedoc was also close at hand so we visited a few organic wineries and bought a few cases for the shop. If we ran out of places to visit there was always the beautiful Cap d' Agde beach so long as you didn't mind a load of naked frogs leaping around. We didn't mind them but kept our gear on.
Agde itself is really old and dates from 525 B.C. which is one of the oldest towns in France. It had quite a lot of good restaurants close to our apartment where we ate outside most nights but our favourite place for eating was the picturesque town of Sète. It's harbour side is full of restaurants and the local fishing fleet keeps them supplied.
It reminded us of some of the little Italian coastal towns. The reason for that is it was populated by Italians during the time of the Roman conquest of Gaul and thoughout the period of the Roman Empire. It's known in France as the French Venice and the seafood dishes have an Italian flavour like macaronade, stuffed squid and mussels, monkfish bourride, cuttlefish in rouille sauce, fish soup, Royal sea bream and shellfish from the Étang de Thau.
We headed back into Spain with a car full of wine to which we added some duty free stuff in Andorra. We had pre-booked a Bodega just south of Burgos which had some rooms but no restaurant and made excellent organic Rioja of which we managed to squeeze a few more cases into the car. We found a nice little pub which the Bodega had recommended and where we ate well, setting off early the next day to Santander for our ferry home.
Another time with the kids in tow we took the ferry to St Malo and drove all the way down to Biaritz then over to border to San Sebastian, Bilbao along the Costa Verde (Green Coast) to Vigo the down the Atlantic coast into Portugal.
Unfortunately the Spanish weather was not very kind to us which is why that coast is very green and it blew a hooley in Portugal as you can see from the sea state in the above photo.
On our return home we discovered there had been a heat wave in the UK and everyone was brown as berries while we who had driven all that way for the sun were pale as pakeha's.
Summer holday's were a regular occasion with the kids but they had turned into teenagers which as most parents will know is another name for animals! We also took my Nephew along which was the first mistake as they ganged up on me.
This was another marathon drive down to Nice where we caught the ferry to Calvi in Corsica. I had rented a big villa with an equally big swimming pool overlooking the port city providing the scenic view you can see in the photo below.
My second mistake was to treat teenagers as adults and I stocked the fridge up with beer and told them to help themselves. They all promptly went off into Calvi the next night, picked up a load of French animals devoid of intercommunication as neither gang spoke the others language and brought them back to the villa.
I was woken in the early hours to the sound of broken glass and went upstairs to the rooftop pool. There were seven drunken animals, although Rebecca still claims she was sober, my beer fridge completely empty with bottles and cans floating around in the pool together with broken glasses and unconcious frogs. "Faire chier toi putain de grenouilles" said I and they did.
This was early summer and the flowers among the dense maquis (aromatic herb and shrub cover) produce a scent that reaches you far out to sea on the ferry from Nice. The Corsicans can't make their mind up what language to speak as it is closer to Italy than France and has a direct ferry service from Bastia on the Eastern side to Livorno and Genoa. Calvi is on the Western side nearer France but also has a ferry link to Genoa and the island was ruled by the Republic of Genoa until 1768 when they sold it to "ces grenouilles sanglantes" . The Corsicans are renowned for their cheese and charcuterie made mainly of goat and sheep milk and many live wild in the mountains (goats and people).
President Macron paid his first visit to Corsica recently and was met by thousands of Nationlists marching to demand the release of political prisoners jailed for violence, equal status for the Corsican language with French and more political automony. They won two thirds of the seats in their regional assembly so it seems France has similar problems as Spain has with Catalonia.
On the return trip Beccy left her new Walkman radio on the back seat of the car when we stopped for lunch and the rear window was broken by whoever stole it. Bound to have been "une grenouille sanglante".
On extended holiday weekends we would often join up with the Hockeys for a few days across in France. It was sometimes difficult to find hotel accommodation at short notice so on one occasion we found ourselves in the town of Berck-sur-Mer just South of Le Touquet in Normandy. It was a bit of a dump but just across the road from our hotel was a Brasserie called La Terrasse.
Chris ordered Bouillabaisse which came in a huge tureen and having tasted it he insisted we each have a taste. It was without doubt the finest Bouillabaisse I have ever tasted before or since. More bowls were ordered and we proceeded to scoff the lot.
The other memorable recollection about Berck was when we knocked on the Hockey's bedroom door the next morning which Carol opened. Perhaps the Bouillabaisse was responsible for the noxious smell that eminated from their room but all Carol could say was "now you know what I have to live with"!
We went golfing in Brittany one weekend and for once I was getting the better of Chris when my straightforward shot from the fairway ended up behind me. It had hit a sapling with a trunk about an inch wide which those daft frogs had planted right in the middle of the fairway. I was still a couple of shots to the good just short of the 18th hole and took out a pitching wedge to a sharp intake of breath from Chris. Gamesmanship is one of his forte's and I should have known better than to change my club to an eight iron, go straight through the green and lose the game.
The BBC Somerset correspondent was Dave Harvey but so was the landlord of the Brewers Arms. He was married to Val Harvey who was also a bit of a character and was banned from the local Safeway Bus Company for brown eyeing out of the coaches rear window at following traffic. Could have easily caused an accident.
Val would greet her male customers by grabbing their genitals while planting a big sloppy kiss which you were in no position to object to.
Dave's business was struggling so in order to help him out, a group of us decided to meet in the Brewers every Friday night at 6pm and it wasn't long before the pub began to fill up. Nobody likes a pub with no customers but to add to Dave's worries he had a heart attack. He recovered well and then decided to do a sponsored walk for cardiac charities the length of the South West Coastal Path, all 630 miles of it.
A group of us from the PPCG joined him on a couple of weekends. The first weekend we planned to accompany Dave from Crackington Haven, known locally as 'Crackin-On' to Boscastle, however, Dave was delayed so we all walked on ahead.
The next weekend I can't remember where we started but we finished at Mevagissey which Sue insisted on calling Megavissey. We stayed in a pub there where Dave had introduced the locals to Cider Vimto. Vimto is a soft drink which when mixed with cider has a lethal effect and gets drinkers pissed out of their minds. The whole pub was completely rat arsed.
With no mountains to climb my only proper excercise was walking and I did manage to drag Sue and the Hockeys out sometimes under protest.
One of the few serious walks I did with Mike Palmer and our shop boy was the Leyland trail which begins at King Alfreds Tower on the Somerset county border in Wiltshire and follows the 28 mile route of John Leyland who was a 16th century Royal Librarian who carried out a survey of Britain's churches and priories.
The trail traverses the Somerset levels through Bruton, Queen Camel, Yeovilton and Montacute, terminating at the top of Ham Hill close to South Petherton.
We did the walk in two days, camping in an orchard in South Cadbury overnight and convenient for the local pub which was eventually bought by the Montgomery family, the makers of the famous Montgomery Cheddar which we sold in the shop. Mrs Montgomery used to visit us regularly to make sure we were keeping her sons cheeses in good condition.
The SW coastal path often featured in addition to the sponsored walks on it that we did for Dave Harvey. But as you can see from the slide show below the Legg's and the Hockey's were a very bad influence on us and prefered to excercise on their bikes as far as one of the village pubs scattered around Petherton.
January 25th is the anniversary of the birth of the Scottish poet Robert Burns and he is remembered all over the world at suppers where a traditional meal of haggis and 'neaps' is eaten and the evening is spent celebrating his works and getting drunk. It was difficult to find haggis in Somerset let alone a Burns Supper so we decided to do something about it.
Ladies should avoid spending time looking at the slide show below as it reveals the long kept sevret of what men wear under their kilts!
I made contact with John Macsween who I knew and whose shop in Bruntsfield, Edinburgh specialised in making the best haggis. He even does a vegetarian haggis which is also very good. I also arranged to sell his mutton pies together with his haggi in Provender.
To me mutton pies are a Scottish delicacy especially with a dollup of baked beans in the concave top but mutton is a rarity now in the UK and what with various EU rules have become uneconomic for butchers to make.
I did a window display featuring his products and made a 'haggis nest' of kiwi fruit which I labled as haggis eggs. Some of the locals actually believed they were haggis eggs but doubted the veracity of my story that I had caught the haggis birds in nets as they flew over my roof.
Never underestimate the gullibility of the general public.
I sold all the first consignment from Macsweens and had to order more so decided we would put on a Burns Supper for our friends.
In Scotland 'neaps' are called turnips whereas in England 'neaps' are called swede so that is something to get right first or wrong if you were to serve turnips in England. 'Champit tatties' are also served which are mashed potato and Sue used to mix some shredded carrots with them.
At our first Burns supper we had Brian-Brian (BB) and Uncle Murdo come down from Scotland while our English friends took the piss, dressing in tartan skirt lengths instead of kilts. We appointed Leggie to say the Selkirk grace who did it with a Brummie accent:
Some hae meat and canna eat
And some would eat that want it:
But we hae meat and we can eat:
And sae the Lord be thankit.
Sue paraded the haggis around the room led by BB on his bagpipes playing Scotland the Brave. I then invited the piper and Sue to 'tak a wee dram' and then it was my turn to recite 'To a Haggis'. After living in Scotland for 20 years I didn't have a bad Scottish accent then and you can find the poem in full here complete with translation. I plunged a dagger into the haggis at the line 'An cut you up wi' ready sleight' and spilt his 'gushing entrails bright
like onie ditch' at which point I was given deserved applause as I had memorised it and in any case 'Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware that jaups in luggies;' then we all tucked in.
Most of our guests had never eaten haggis before but it was all eaten and enjoyed however it must be Macsweens and not something out of a tin from a supermarket. They send it all over the world and one of their biggest customers is the Burns Society in Moscow of all places.
Sue served a dessert of Cranachan which is made with oats, raspberries, cream and whisky. The Immortal Memory Speech should come next which aims to tell something of Burns life and works but by this time I think our guests were beyond absorbing any more culture so we just drank to his immortal memory. We did sing a bit and Chris told his joke about Robbie coming to Petherton and when his girl asked him to kiss her where it smells he took her to Bridgwater. If you knew that town you would know it used to smell of rotton eggs from the British Cellophane works!
Later suppers we held were eventually taken more seriously but always with a sense of fun. Chris Hockey once gave the Immortal Memory speech and talked about George Burns for about five minutes before anyone realsed what he was talking about.
My parents lived in Brecon for many years as did my sister and my niece still does and speaks the lingo. My daughter Beccy did her degree in Cardiff University so as a family we have strong connections with the principality.
Mum and Dad first moved to Brecon after they retired but after a few years there Dad missed Somerset so they moved back and lived in Minehead but then missed Brecon and moved back for a second time before finally moving back yet again to Minehead. Sue and I had invested in their property to help them afford the moves which were bad investments as we lost money each time.
We often visited them and one of the places they introduced us to was Bodnant which is owned by the National Trust. It is situated in North Wales and is famous for its Laburnum arch, its Rhododendrons and Azaleas.
The highest Welsh mountains are located in this region so naturally I would want to scale one or two. I had climbed Snowdon, the highest, by the Watkin path and the Pyg track but the more difficult route is Crib Goch which is a grade 1 'scramble' as opposed to a rock climb but is over 3000 feet high and extremely exposed.
Knowing Sue's dislike of exposure I should really not have taken her with me but she did manage it under protest as you can see from the slide show above.
Many experienced climbers had lost their lives after being caught out in sudden snow and ice conditions on the Arête of Crib Goch but when we climbed it in high summer there was little danger apart from vertigo or high winds.
Regular readers will be aware of my enthusiasm for Bath Rugby since my schooldays or 'Barf' as I prefer to call them. The first half of this decade they were the league champions for four years in a row and half the English team were Barf players. The pinnacle of their achievments was yet to be achived as was their downfall which you can read about on the next page.