Men In Hope

“Muzi V Nadeji”, which translates as “Men In Hope”, is a Czech film written and directed by Jirí Vejdelek, and seems to be a sort of sequel to his earlier film, “Women In Temptation”.

Muzi V Nadeji (Men In Hope)

The film is a romantic comedy, with an interesting idea – that a husband having an extra-marital affair can actually make his wife happier as a result.

Rudolf (played by Boleslav Polívka), a 60-something semi-retired taxi driver, is a serial adulterer, and is convinced that his wife is happier as a result. He perceives that his son-in-law, Ondřej (Jiří Macháček), who is under some pressure from his wife Alice (Petra Hřebíčková) to conceive a baby, is unhappy with life and was therefore making Alice unhappy too.

Petra Hrebickova and Jiri Machacek
Petra Hrebickova and Jiri Machacek

The solution, according to Rudolf, is for Ondřej to cheat on Alice. He tells Ondřej that “…women like a challenge.  So for the sake of your marriage you’re going to have to cheat on your wife…”.

When he is asked if his wife, Marta, knows that Rudolf cheats on her regularly, he replies that “…whether she does or not, it does not matter. It’s not who one’s with but who one comes back to. And Alice’s mom knows that I always come back to her, that I make her happy, that I keep things interesting with her both in and out of the sack, that I always keep her guessing and always, always leave her with a smile on her face…” That’s unusual advice from a father-in-law for sure!

This advice is imparted one night at a pool hall, when Ondřej turns up for a pool game that Rudolf had organised with him, not realising that Rudolf was actually just wanting an alibi for meeting yet another woman himself that night.

Vica Kerekes and Bolek Polivka
Vica Kerekes and Bolek Polivka

The woman in question is Šarlota, a young dancer, played by Vica Kerekes. Vica strikes me as a hybrid physically between Christina Hendricks and Kelly Reilly, and is stunning in this movie.

Indeed, if any woman were to tempt me to follow Rudolph’s advice, Vica would certainly give me pause for thought!

Vica Kerekes
Vica Kerekes

The arrival of Šarlota at the pool table brings with it the sexiest scene in the movie as, when she struggles to play the game because her hair falls in her eyes, she removes her thong to tie her hair back with, much to the obvious delight of both Rudolf and Ondřej.

It later becomes clear that although Šarlota had arranged to meet Rudolf, she had taken a shine to Ondřej. They begin an affair, which has the effect of rejuvenating Ondřej and giving him more confidence. Then Šarlota moves in next door, and things become gradually even more complicated from there on in!

Bolek Polivka, Vica Kerekes and Jiri Machacek
Bolek Polivka, Vica Kerekes and Jiri Machacek

There are some very funny moments indeed in this movie, and some rather touching and thoughtful ones too. I will not divulge any more with regards to the plot, suffice it to say that there are a few twists and turns, and overall this is a fun and entertaining movie well worth a viewing.

Aquostic… Stripped Bare

Status Quo Aquostic BannerI’ve been a fan of Status Quo since “Something ‘Bout You Baby I Like” became a hit way back in February 1981, and received my first Quo album, “Never Too Late”, as an Easter present soon after.

I immersed myself in their already impressive back catalogue as quickly as I was able, bringing my collection to 14 studio albums plus the classic “Live!” double album and a fair number of 7″ singles as well.

Along the way since then there have been a further 17 studio albums, including the latest – “Aquostic – Stripped Bare”, a collection of 25 classic Quo tracks re-recorded with acoustic guitars rather than the trusty Telecasters.

So, how does this album stack up against the legacy? Perhaps that depends which type of Quo fan you are. There are those who dismiss anything the band has done since the departure of 1970s rhythm section – drummer John Coghlan left during recording sessions in 1982 and bassist Alan Lancaster followed in 1985 – and seem to view main man Francis Rossi in a very poor light. There are also those who prefer the Quo that has existed since 1986 with bassist John “Rhino” Edwards and  successive drummers Jeff Rich, Matt Letley and latest recruit Leon Cave. Then there are those who love the band regardless of which rhythm section is performing and can appreciate the good, and the bad, in all the band’s recordings. I count myself firmly in the latter camp.

I have to say that, although I can see what they are getting at with the title of the album, arguably this is anything but Quo “stripped bare”, as there are ten additional musicians credited in addition to the five band members, and more instrumentation on the tracks than you would normally find with Quo tracks.

In terms of song selection, I find it slightly odd that we have 22 tracks spanning the 15 year period 1968 – 1983, and just 3 tracks covering the recording career of the “new” band, and then only covering the first 5 years, 1986 – 1991. Will there be a second acoustic album covering material from the past 24 years, I wonder?

The songs are presented chronologically, in terms of when they were originally released, with the exception of “Little Lady” and “Mystery Song”, which although listed as being in that order on the tracklist, and on the band’s website, are actually reversed as one segues into the other. The rest, however, are strictly chronological, which I feel makes the album feel more like a greatest hits type project, whereas had the tracks been mixed up more, as indeed they were when Quo performed them live at London’s Roundhouse for BBC Radio 2, then the flow of the album would have been improved.

Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi At The Roundhouse
Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi At The Roundhouse

In musical terms, the majority of the songs are in their familiar arrangements, with the addition of accordion, string section, extra percussion and backing vocals, which give many of the tracks a folky, cajun, singalong vibe – and are great for strumming along to with your guitar at home. “And It’s Better Now”, the single, is a fabulous version, and a definite highlight of the album.

There are a few more radical renditions though. “Pictures Of Matchstick Men”, although not hugely different in arrangement, has a lovely Beatlesque vibe with prominent string section. “Caroline” begins as a slow 12 bar shuffle, before switching to the more up tempo arrangement that we are used to. “Break The Rules” has a completely different guitar / harmonica solo passage (possibly because Rossi allegedly had problems recreating his original solo when the band added the song to their live set for a while around 2003). I like the quirky ending to “Again And Again”, and “Whatever You Want” has a percussion / strings intro.

The most different version though must be “Don’t Drive My Car”. One of my all time favourite Quo tracks, particularly in concert, this version has a completely different tone, which, although it won’t replace the original version in my affections, does definitely offer something new and unexpected.

Less successful, I feel are “All The Reasons”, which exposes the limitations in Rick Parfitt’s voice these days, and does nothing to improve upon the original recording. “Softer Ride”, which I have always loved, lacks the dynamic range, certainly from the version the band were performing in concert in the late 1990s.

One could argue that it may have been better had Quo approached this project in a similar way to Eric Clapton’s “Unplugged” album, and others like it, which would perhaps have given a more stripped back and bluesy vibe, with slower arrangements, than the cajun idea, and I suspect that there will be a fair number of Quo fans, particularly those of the “Frantic Four” who would have preferred that approach. Overall, though, I would say that this album is a very good addition to the Quo canon, and one that I would recommend without hesitation.

Status Quo At The Roundhouse
Status Quo At The Roundhouse

“Aquostic – Stripped Bare” tracklist:

1. Pictures Of Matchstick Men / 2. Down The Dustpipe / 3. Nanana / 4. Paper Plane / 5. All The Reasons / 6. Reason For Living / 7. And It’s Better Now / 8. Caroline / 9. Softer Ride / 10. Claudie / 11. Break The Rules / 12. Down Down / 13. Mystery Song / 14. Little Lady / 15. Rain / 16. Rockin’ All Over The World / 17. Again And Again / 18. Whatever You Want / 19. What You’re Proposin’ / 20. Rock ‘N’ Roll / 21. Don’t Drive My Car / 22. Marguerita Time / 23. Rollin’ Home / 24. Burning Bridges / 25. Rock ‘Til You Drop

1 originally from “Picturesque Matchstickable Messages From” (1968) / 2 originally a single release (1970) / 3 originally from “Dog Of Two Head” (1971) / 4-5 originally from “Piledriver” (1972) / 6-10 originally from “Hello!” (1973) / 11 originally from “Quo” (1974) / 12 and 14 originally from “On The Level” (1975) / 13 and 15 originally from “Blue For You” (1976) / 16 originally from “Rockin’ All Over The World” (1977) / 17 originally from “If You Can’t Stand The Heat” (1978) / 18 originally from “Whatever You Want” (1979) / 19-21 originally from “Just Supposin'” (1980) / 22 originally from “Back To Back” (1983) / 23 originally from “In The Army Now” (1986) / 24 originally from “Ain’t Complaining” (1988) / 25 originally from “Rock ‘Til You Drop” (1991)

Remember Who To Trust

“Memories define us.

So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep?

Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love – all forgotten overnight.

And the one person you trust may only be telling you half the story.

Welcome to Christine’s life.”

Before I Go To Sleep

I was given “Before I Go To Sleep”, by S.J. Watson, for my birthday, and what a cracking read it has turned out to be!

The synopsis alone was enough to pique my interest, but once I got into the first chapter I was definitely hooked!

Told in first person, the book is told in three parts. Part One, “Today”, is essentially the first chapter, and sets the book up perfectly. Part Two, “The Journal Of Christine Lucas”, takes up the majority of the book, and Part Three, again titled “Today” covers roughly the final quarter of the book.

Christine Lucas, who is 47 years old, is suffering from anterograde amnesia. When she wakes each day she has no idea of what has happened in the previous 20 odd years of her life, to a house and husband that she does not know, and each day has to re-learn these basic facts that we take for granted when we awake.

She has started to write a journal to record the things that she learns, suggested by a doctor that she has been seeing, Dr. Nash, in the hope that it might help her get better, but finds that it reveals some strange and frightening truths that begin to undermine and cast doubt on the very basics that she has been told.

It is through this journal that we gradually learn, as if we are Christine herself, the various events and characters that have shaped and resulted in Christine’s condition.

Is Dr. Nash who he says he is? What is his motivation? What about Christine’s husband Ben? Her friend Claire? Who is telling her the truth? Who can she trust?

This is a brilliantly plotted book, with plenty of twists to keep you guessing, and very well written from Christine’s point of view, especially in emotional terms, particularly given that the author is a man.

Before I Go To Sleep Movie Poster
Before I Go To Sleep Movie Poster

“Before I Go To Sleep” has also been made into a film, directed by Rowan Joffé (whose previous film was “Brighton Rock”) starring Nicole Kidman as Christine, Colin Firth as Ben, Mark Strong as Dr. Nash and Anne-Marie Duff as Claire. Given that the author has stated that “…Rowan has made a stunning thriller, centred on some amazing performances, with a real heart…” I am thoroughly looking forward to checking it out as soon as possible.

Love Hurts Like Hell

“Horns” is a fantasy film directed by Alexandre Aja, based on a novel written by Joe Hill (the son of legendary author Stephen King).

Horns
Horns
Kelly Brook in Piranha 3D
Kelly Brook in Piranha 3D

Aja’s previous directorial movies include horror films “The Hills Have Eyes” and “Mirrors”, as well as comedy horror film “Piranha 3D”. Whilst the latter is perhaps not what one midght call a brilliant film, it certainly ticks the boxes if you’re looking for undemanding entertainment that doesn’t require much thought, makes you chuckle, and has the added bonus of the fabulous Kelly Brook in a rather fetching red bikini…

Back to the movie at hand. “Horns” stars Daniel Radcliffe, still most famous for his portrayal of Harry Potter, as Iggy Perrish. Iggy wakes one morning, a year after his girlfriend, Merrin Williams (played by Juno Temple) was raped and murdered, to find two protrusions growing from his forehead.

Juno Temple as Merrin
Juno Temple as Merrin

The whole town in which he lives believe that Iggy is responsible for Merrin’s death, and that he has got away with it, and even Iggy himself cannot be 100% sure that he didn’t do it during a drunken blackout.

He goes to see a doctor about the horns he is sprouting, and very quickly discovers that everyone has a compulsion to tell him their deepest darkest secrets, and can even influence them to act upon these desires.

As the film progresses, Iggy is able to use the paranormal power of his horns to gradually track down Merrin’s real killer – with devastating results.

Daniel Radcliffe as Iggy
Daniel Radcliffe as Iggy

I have seen reviews of this film that complain of a lack of focus, or that the film doesn’t seem to know if it wants to be a comedy, a paranormal film, a horror film, a murder mystery, etc.

Actually, I felt that this was a positive thing – there are some very funny moments, some that are poignant, tense, violent, tragic, touching. Much like life itself, there are many different moods in this film, but for me, underpinning everything else, it was a love story that showed how deep, passionate, heartbreaking and even brutal that love can be.

“Horns” also stars Max Minghella as Iggy’s friend Lee, Joe Anderson as Iggy’s brother Terry, Kelli Garner as Glenna, and Heather Graham as Veronica.

Recommended viewing!

If He Can’t Have Her, Then Nobody Can…

“Virtual romance becomes a terrifying obsession. 

Single girl, 29, smouldering redhead, love life that’s crashed and burned. Seeks new flame to rekindle her fire. Fun, friendship and – who knows – maybe more?

When Red Westwood meets handsome, charming and rich Bryce Laurent through an online dating agency, there is an instant attraction. But as their love blossoms, the truth about his past, and his dark side, begins to emerge. Everything he has told Red about himself turns out to be a tissue of lies, and her infatuation with him gradually turns to terror.

Within a year, and under police protection, she evicts him from her flat and her life. But Red’s nightmare is only just beginning. For Bryce is obsessed with her, and he intends to destroy everything and everyone she has ever known and loved – and then her too…”

Peter James Want You DeadThat is the synopsis of “Want You Dead”, the tenth novel in a series featuring Detective Superintendant Roy Grace, set in and around Brighton, by author Peter James.

I have now read all ten novels, starting back in 2005 with “Dead Simple” – and all have proved to be superb stories from one of this country’s best crime thriller writers.

We start this book after the relationship between Red Westwood and Bryce Laurent has ended, and only learn what happened previously between them bit-by-bit as the story progresses. This approach works really well, I feel, as we don’t learn all the background etc. to early on. There are lots of secrets in Bryce’s past, which come into play gradually, enhancing his ability to really be the nasty character that makes this such a gripping read.

My only slight reservation with the story is the ongoing saga concerning Sandy, Roy Grace’s long-since missing wife, which still doesn’t seem any closer to resolution than it was back in the first book, even though Roy’s own life is moving along nicely with fiancee Cleo Morey and their new son, Noah.

That aside, there is plenty of action involving Grace, and his main team of Glenn Branson, Bella Moy, and Norman Potting. The attention to detail with regard to police procedure is top class, and the inventiveness and clever plotting mean that you never know quite what’s going to happen – but you know that you can’t wait to find out!!

Peter James
Peter James

Interestingly, this novel, at least, is based in real life – which makes it all the more horrifying.

Peter James wrote an article for The Telegraph on the subject, though it’s probably best not to read it before reading the novel!  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10848780/Peter-James-The-real-life-horrors-behind-my-books.html

Roll on book eleven, due next year, possibly titled “You Are Dead”…

The Eagle Has Landed

Saxon Red On White LogoSunday 26 September 1982 – my very first live concert, aged 14, with a mate from school. We were dropped off by my parents outside the Colston Hall in Bristol and made our way in.

Rock & Roll Women
Rock & Roll Women

Support act Cheetah, a female fronted rock band from Australia,promoting their debut (and only?) album “Rock & Roll Women”. Apart from the minor hit single “Spend The Night”, my abiding memory of them was of the way they looked rather than the music itself – teenage boys eh?!

Wheels Of Steel
Wheels Of Steel

On to the main event, Saxon. By this time the boys from Yorkshire had had four albums in the UK top twenty. “Wheels Of Steel” hit number 5, “Strong Arm Of The Law” made number 11, “Denim And Leather” reached number 9 and the live album “The Eagle Has Landed” also got to number 5.

Strong Arm Of The Law
Strong Arm Of The Law

The band also had a handful of hit singles (together with appearances on BBC’s “Top Of The Pops”), and had recently been third on the bill of the Monsters Of Rock festival at Castle Donington, below Gillan and headliners Status Quo (Saxon had previously played the very first Monsters Of Rock in 1980, fifth on the bill headlined by Rainbow).

Denim And Leather
Denim And Leather

I remember that the band were very loud, and being very impressed by the lighting rigand  pyro – not forgetting drummer Nigel Glockler’s burning drumsticks at one point! Biff Byford’s vocals were powerful and majestic, and the guitar interplay between Paul Quinn and Graham Oliver excellent. Steve Dawson’s bass playing anchoring everything along with the drumming – a band at the top of their game.

The Eagle Has Landed
The Eagle Has Landed

Highlights of the set were “And The Bands Played On”, “Wheels Of Steel”, and “747 (Strangers In The Night)”, but the album tracks “Dallas 1 PM” and the then-unreleased “The Eagle Has Landed” were atmospheric and, if the case of the latter, very heavy. All in all, a brilliant start way to first experience music in the live arena!

Although lost in the mists of time, it seems likely that the setlist ran something like this:

Saxon 1982 Tour Programme
1982 Tour Programme

1. Motorcycle Man / 2. Princess Of The Night / 3.  Never Surrender / 4. Hungry Years / 5. 20,000 Ft. / 6. The Eagle Has Landed / 7. Heavy Metal Thunder / 8. Drum Solo / 9. Strong Arm Of The Law / 10. Guitar Solo / 11. 747 (Strangers In The Night) / 12. Wheels Of Steel / 13. Dallas 1 PM / 14. Suzie Hold On / 15. Denim And Leather/ 16. And The Bands Played On

1, 11, 12 and 14 originally from “Wheels Of Steel” (1980) / 2, 3, 15 and 16 originally from “Denim And Leather” (1981) / 4, 5, 7, 9 and 13 originally from “Strong Arm Of The Law” (1980) / 6 originally from “Power & The Glory” (1983)

Wild Woman

Wild Woman Video
Imelda May – Wild Woman

In November 2008 I attended a concert by the superb blues musician Joe Bonamassa at the Colston Hall in Bristol. The support act that night was the completely unknown (to me at any rate) Imelda May.

imelda-may-2
Imelda Live On Stage

The mate I went with had seen Imelda on “Later… With Jools Holland” prior to the show, but I knew nothing of her at all.

I immediately became a fan – her blend of rockabilly, blues and jazz being simply irresistible (and her being so easy on the eye didn’t hurt either!).

Imelda was born in Dublin during 1974 as Imelda Mary Clabby. Her musical career began at the age of 16 when she began playing the Dublin club circuit. In 1998 she moved to England and began singing with Mike Sanchez and also Blue Harlem. Subsequently, Imelda met and fell for rock ‘n’ roll singer / guitarist Darrel Higham. They married in 2002.

No Turning Back (Original)
No Turning Back (2003 Version)

Imelda’s debut album “No Turning Back” was released in 2003 under her given name of Imelda Clabby. A collection of 14 rock ‘n’ roll tracks, including a duet with husband Darrel, “Till I Kissed You”. The album showed great promise. Standout tracks were “Dealing With The Devil”, “Wild About My Lovin'”, “End Of The World” and “Bring My Cadillac Back”.

Almost Grown
Almost Grown

“Almost Grown” recorded in 2004 with Mike Sanchez and his band featured Imelda on lead / co-lead vocals on half a dozen of the album’s 14 big band rock ‘n’ roll tracks.

The best tracks with Imelda’s vocals were “I’ll Go Crazy” and “Easy Easy”.

Talk To Me
Talk To Me

In 2005 the first of two albums with Blue Harlem surfaced. More of a swinging big band record, the 15 tracks contained some great vocal performances from Imelda – notably “Talk To Me Baby / Long Gone Blues”, a cover of Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want To Make Love To You” and “Drown In My Own Tears”

Jump Jack Jump
Jump Jack Jump

The following years’s “Jump Jack Jump”, a collection of 14 further swinging tracks, contained covers of the classic Peggy Lee number “Fever”, Billie Holliday’s “Stormy Weather” and Nina Simone’s “My Baby Just Cares For Me” amongst other great performances such as “Birthday Blues”

No Turning Back (Re-recording)
No Turning Back (2007 Re-Recorded Version)

2007 saw the release of a new, re-recorded version of “No Turning Back”. There was an extra track not included on the original version, “Y’hoo”, and “What To Do” was lyrically re-worked as “What Am I Gonna Do”. That aside, the main difference was the improved production and better performances from both Imelda and her band.

Love Tattoo
Love Tattoo

“Love Tattoo”, her breakthrough album, hit the shelves in 2008 and spawned the hit singles “Johnny Got A Boom Boom” and “Big Bad Handsome Man” during the following twelve months. Before we married, my wife and I were able to go and see Imelda and her brilliant band in Stratford-upon-Avon in May 2009, where she performed the majority of the new 12 track album, including the evocative “Knock 1-2-3”, “Wild About My Lovin'” (it’s third appearance, having been on both versions of “No Turning Back”), the title track and the fabulous jazzy “Smoker’s Song” as well as non-album track “Go Tell The Devil”. This last track showed up on Sharon Shannon’s “Saints & Scoundrels” album featuring Imelda and her band and is well worth seeking out.

Photo_Mayhem_

In December of that same year, we were again fortunate enough to
see Imelda and her band at the Birmingham Town Hall. The band features Al Gare on bass, Steve Rushton on drums, multi-instrumentalist Dave Priseman, Darrel Higham on guitar as well as, of course, Imelda on vocals . Once again the show was terrific, a memorable moment being when during one song the spotlight operator had remained forcused on Imelda whilst Darrel played one of his amazing rockabilly guitar solos, leaving him in darkness, she purposely went and stood behind her husband so that he would be in the spotlight rather than her.

Mayhem
Mayhem

We had both been big fans for some time by the time that the next album, “Mayhem”, was released in 2010, and were eagerly awaiting a delayed concert at the Bristol Colston Hall that had been postponed from September 2010 to February 2011. Once again, both the concert, and indeed the album, were wellworth the wait. The new album spawned 5 hit singles. “Psycho”, “Kentish Town Waltz”, “Sneaky Freak”, “Inside Out” and “Mayhem”. Other hightlights of this 14 track record were the Darrel Higham penned “Eternity”, “All For You”, a cover of “Tainted Love” and the much anticipated “Proud And Humble” which had been a vocal tour de force in concert for some time already.

wild-target-movie-poster
Wild Target

The album’s title track was used for the credits of the Brit comedy film “Wild Target” starring Emily Blunt, Bill Nighy and Martin Freeman, the soundtrack of which also contained “Johnny Got A Boom Boom” and Imelda’s version of “Going Up Country”.

Imelda May Gold Dress

The most significant track on the “Mayhem” album, from a personal perspective, was “All For You”. A slow and sensual jazzy number, with another of Darrel’s wonderful guitar solos, this proved to be the perfect number, musically and lyrically, for our first dance when my wife and I got married in 2011…

“Watch my lips while I’m telling you this
Yeah, it’s all for you
Every flick of the wrist, every swing of the hips
Yeah, it’s all for you

When I toss my hair, throw my head in the air
Yeah, it’s all for you
Every hook, every clip, every twitch of the zip
Yeah, it’s all for you

I’m spelling it out, it’s not written in code
I want you so much, I think I’m gonna explode
Watch my lips while I’m telling you this
Yeah, it’s all for you, all for you

When I move real slow, babe, I want you to know
Yeah, it’s all for you
Every bump, every grind, oh, I think that you’ll find
Yeah, it’s all for you

I’m spelling it out it’s not written in code
I want you so much, I think I’m gonna explode
Watch my lips while I’m telling you this
Yeah, it’s all for you, all for you”

– Imelda May

More Mayhem
More Mayhem

In late 2011 “Mayhem” was re-released as “More Mayhem”. Containing all 14 of the original release’s tracks, supplemented with a further 6 tracks, which included the single “Road Runner”, 3 other new tracks plus the single version of “Inside Out” and a remix of “Proud And Humble”. This release made the original album somewhat redundant – a favourite ploy of record labels in this day and age – but is still essential even so for the extra material.

Imelda May

Following the announcement of her pregnancy and some time away from the spotlight in 2012 / 2013 to have their daughter, Imelda and Darrel, together with the rest of the band, returned early in 2014 with a new album, titled “Tribal”.

Tribal
Tribal

Featuring 15 new tracks, the album was a welcome return, with no evident diminishment in the quality of either material or performances. Two singles were released, “It’s Good To Be Alive” and “Wild Woman”. Standout tracks on this record included “Hellfire Club”, “Ghost Of Love”, with some menacing sounding rhythmic guitar patterns and sublime solo from Darrel, the ultra sultry “Wicked Way” with sleazy trumpet passages and the humorous “Round The Bend” showcasing yet more of Darrel’s highly melodic soloing. Yet again, Imelda’s vocal performances throughout are outstanding. Another instant classic album.

zz100614imelda4

The Oak…

Oak Tree
Oak Tree

So, as I begin this journey, it seems appropriate to begin with an explanation for the title “In The Shadow Of The Oak”…

About a decade or so ago, my parents moved away from city life to a much more rural location in Devon. On a trip to visit them there, I can recall having a conversation with my Mum, during which she asked me if I could ever see myself living somewhere like that. My reply was a definite no. As far as I was concerned the countryside was quiet, dull, and lacking in facilities and entertainment.

Well, fast forward a few years, and I find myself making the concious decision to move away from city life, both personally and professionally, relocating our home to the Forest of Dean, and now living in a lovely rural area in a very old cottage.

Forest of Dean
Forest of Dean

In addition I have been further developing my interest in the natural world, history and pre-Christian religions. It is these things, together with the area in which we live that have inspired that title of this site.

The oak tree is the national tree of England, and has been important throughout history, not least with regard to religion.

It is generally accepted that England as we know it first started to take shape during Anglo-Saxon times. At that point in history, the population was made up of a mixture of indigenous Romano-Britons and Germanic tribes who had migrated from Continental Europe.

Prior to the Christianisation of England in the 7th century, the Anglo-Saxons were pagans with a polytheistic faith, worshipping many deities.

The most popular god appears to have been Woden, counterpart of the Norse god Odin. Woden was said to have been the leader of the Wild Hunt, as well as a healer.

The second most widespread god was Thunor, whose Norse counterpart is Thor, a hammer-wielding god associated with thunder, lightning, storms, oak trees, strength and the protection of the common man.

Thunor
Thunor

In this period of history the oak tree was regarded as the Tree of Life, as it’s deep roots penetrate the Underworld and it’s branches reach high into the sky.

We also believe it is likely that the oak tree was sacred to the Druids, who have always been associated with sacred groves and particularly oak forests.

More specifically, the Forest of Dean is home to the largest stock of mature oak in the country. This is in part due to the English naval hero, Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson.

Vice Admiral Lord Nelson
Vice Admiral Lord Nelson

Lord Nelson visited the Forest in 1802 looking for shipbuilding timber and became concerned by the diminishing stocks of oak.

As a result, thirty million acorns were planted, although by the time they were sufficiently grown, shipbuilding had moved on to use iron and steel.

Our home lies surrounded in all directions by trees, and not far from here is the site of the Newland Oak.

Newland OakThis remarkable tree is known to have been in place for at least two hundred years, and was recorded as being 46ft in girth before the elements took their toll in the 1950s and 1960s. It is estimated that the tree was around one thousand years old, and has been succeeded by a new oak grown from a cutting of the original that was almost 23ft high and over 2ft in girth when measured in 2000.

It is, therefore, fitting that I offer my thoughts and musings from the idyllic setting that I have found in the Shadow of the Oak.

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