30 December 2016

tremendous travels, the years best bits

Review of the 2016

Well that's been one heck of a year hasn't it? To be honest, and I'm sure there are many of you who feel the same, its quite nice to say "good riddance" to it. Let's hope that 2017 will be a better year, full of hope, and success. From a Sketches point of view it has been an incredible year. The blog has continued to grow, through your support, and my ideas are flowing, hence we've got plenty in the tank for next year!  For our final post of the year we pick out the best bits, or my favourite articles. There were many I haven't included, such as the interviews with three folk musicians; Alison Reynolds, Matthew Shepherd and Kelly Oliver. My thanks to them for their patience and willingness to be interviewed. Also my new series Beyond the Back Garden, but more of that next year. 

I'd also like to take this opportunity to say, 

"Thank You"

to everyone for their support, wherever you are. From Russia to Brazil, America to Germany, Israel to Japan, I'm eternally grateful for your readership. So in no particular order here are Sketches in Travel's best bits.

From Venice to Vienna - all pictures by the author 

Travel - Europe 

Although our travelling was mainly confined to UK shores, (no bad thing), we did managed to venture into Europe twice, Italy and Austria to be precise. Taking in Venice and the Tuscan capital of Florence (Firenze) and Vienna. Beautiful cities for very different reasons. Each are packed full of history, grand buildings, art and culture. Great coffee, wonderful food and exciting attractions. Click on the links to read more and see why I thought this.

Venice  - Walking the Streets of Venice 
FlorenceFlorence Bound 
ViennaA little Guide to Vienna 

So where we will travel to next year? Who knows but you can be certain that adventures will be had, delicious food eaten and one or two photos taken. 

Exploring England 

Back in the UK three areas featured. London with our Walk the.. series, Swanage and The Cotswolds, in particular Stroud and Gloucester. They were a lot of fun to write and a particular highlight was walking the Laurie Lee Way, near Stroud. The weather was perfect, the scenery stunning, and it brought home the joys of his book and the countryside it was set in. See below the picture for links to those posts. 

looking at london
London - all pictures by the author 

The Walk the series....

London featured prominently in my posts this year. Especially with a new series of posts called Walk the.. I wanted to see London from a different perspective, so what better way than walking it! The three featured to date take in mainly the central district, although the South Bank walk did head down to Greenwich. No better way to see the city in my opinion. Links below. 

Walk the... Circle line 
Walk the... South Bank 
Walk the... Shopping Streets

As mentioned before we headed West and South, taking in some of the very best scenery our fair country has to offer. The weather was fabulous, (we do get good weather sometimes!) Making for wonderful excursions. Trust me by tapping below.

Gloucester... A day out in Gloucester
Stroud... Stroud
Swanage... Why you need to go to Swanage now

The UK has so much to offer, whatever the weather. In 2017 we're going to make sure we continue to discover and enjoy what our own backyard can offer. 

Swanage, Corfe and Gloucester - all photos by the author 

Thank You, Whoever you are 

So that's it for another year. Tremendous travels for sure. I think what this year has demonstrated is that you don't have to visit exotic places and be travelling all the time to have great experiences. Day trips are just as valid as longer vacations. Perhaps we all need to look around our local areas more, see what we have to offer as much as another country? 

Well onto a new year. Arnold will return, as will our new character Sidney. Beyond the Back Garden will develop, and Walk the.. series has some adventures lined up.  Onwards we go...continuing to create Sketches in Travel

Happy traveling everyone and may I wish everyone a great 2017.

22 December 2016

proudly introducing you to next years exciting sketches project

Sidney the Squirrel 

Let me introduce you to someone who is going to become a huge part of my life, and hopefully yours in 2017. Sidney is a new character that takes centre stage in a story that will be released next year. Whether its in book form or another format, Sidney is coming and you'll be able to follow his development here. We have no publisher to date, so its a personal journey, that whatever the outcome, will be a life affirming and enjoyable ride. 


The image (well the sneaky peek at it!) is a glimpse of a rough squirrel sketch that will become Sidney. This is a collaboration with artist Emma Shepherd (she did the artwork for her brother, Matthew Shepherd's By the Sea EP, which I featured in a post in the summer.) She will be bringing the story to life through her wonderful artwork. 

Its a project that is really exciting us both, and we wanted to wet your appetite with a glimpse at the early stages of its development. Then from time to time we're update you on the books progress. The story is written, perhaps needing some more editing and Emma is working her magic on turning this sketch into the first of the many images that will be used in the book. Hopefully we're be able to give you a preview soon. 

Reasons for Sidney

Why am I introducing Sidney to you now? Well we're going to get serious, and personal for a moment. This year has seen a dramatic change in my life, my thoughts and my outlook on life. The way I write too. I had never really suffered from anxiety or depression before, well I didn't think so anyway. Having experienced it now, I can say its truly horrible. Writing has become my release, from trying to improve this blog, and the stories I've been working on. They have helped me through the dark days and the pain. I feel more inspired now than ever before, and Sidney is the next step on that creative path. I wanted to write a story for my son, this will be that story. 

Follow the Journey 

So at various points throughout the creative process we're be giving you snippets of Sidney's development and what is happening with the book, the publishing etc. Call it our version of Pledge Music, without the pledge! We're show you some of the writing, and the artwork. I do hope you're be a part of this process? 

So look out 2017, Sidney is on the way. May I also take this moment to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. You're amazing.


12 December 2016

festive frolics

Beyond the Back Garden 

Welcome to the first in a new series that will run monthly throughout 2017 and beyond? Beyond the Back Garden will take a candid look at life in the rural setting of the Chiltern Hills, an area of outstanding natural beauty that London's outskirts gently touch. I'll be of on adventures, meeting some of the regions characters, exploring its nooks and crannies. So settle back with a glass of pre Christmas sherry, and enjoy the first edition. Which has a distinctly festive feel to it. Although you wouldn't realise that when the first picture is of a sheep! 

live nativity

Ewe do you think you are! 

Its not often that you get the chance to walk a sheep up your local high street! 

Well that's exactly what happened this Saturday, as our local village set about getting into the true spirit of Christmas, by hosting its third 'Live Nativity.' Live because it features all manor of animals including the sheep above, whose name has long since left my memory. Robert? Beatrice? No gone! 

The animals form just a small part of the 'organised mayhem' that is our nativity. Not my words, words from observers. Who thoroughly enjoyed it, I may add. It goes like this; there are scenes of key stages in the nativity story. Mary & Joseph heading to Bethlehem. The Kings setting out to follow the star, and our little moment as the shepherds. Each scene takes place in a different part of the village, and visitors are guided through by a narrator with a sound system. The crowds, and there were many this time, follow the donkey on its journey, dodge cars as they cross roads and enjoy the individual scenes.  St Francis of Assisi back in 1223 created the first nativity scene. I wonder what he'd make of ours?

live nativity

'Catch that sheep!'

I'd like to think that we were the stars, but we weren't. The animals take centre stage. Especially the sheep that decided it had had enough and bolted over the fence! Caught magnificently by one of the support team before it was headed off into the gloom (typically cloudy with some drizzle) or possibly the pub! Lines delivered or should I say 'ad-libbed!' we proceeded or the sheep proceeding to lead us up the high street toward the final, and most significant scene, the nativity. Goats, the donkey (showing its arse!) and an alpaca mingled with the crowds, and a real life, stand in, baby Jesus. Carols were sung, mince pies & tea had as the finale.

On a Serious Note 

A Live Nativity is a wonderful way to get the Christmas story across, in a setting that's not restricted by religious boundaries, i.e. a church. It's in the open air, available for all, young and old. It's great fun, people sing, laugh and it helps bring the community together. So what's not to like about it? 

There are many of these events being held around the UK and the world. The US seems particularly keen. I'd recommend it to everyone. Although having always performed (well tried too!), its hard to tell exactly what the rest of it was like. I hear it goes down a storm each year.  Roll on next year, more ad-libs and escaping sheep and plenty of Christmas cheer! 


Festive Frolics 

The following day our village, which by the way is on the edge of the Chilterns, about an hours train ride from the big city, held its first Christmas street festival. It wasn't that large, so I'm not going to compare it to the larger Christmas markets dotted about our fair land and beyond into Europe. This was our little one and although small it was a great start. It attracted a good crowd, so here's hoping for bigger and better next year. Here in no particular order is what I thought..

Christmas festival

* Stalls - a mix of the tacky, to the handcrafted. Perhaps could have done with a few more European style stalls? 

* Rides - strictly for the little ones. Although if I'd have gone on it I'd probably have been sick! Reminds me of a ride I took at Brighton Pier. I got spun around so much, at the request of those I was with! I spent the next two or three hours lying on Brighton's pebbly beach trying to recover! Never, never again! 

* Warm wine - I didn't have any. £5 for a glass! Shocking. Please, £3 maybe, but £5. Can buy a bottle (just about) for that or gone home made my own and returned to the high street, cup in hand. 

* Extremely loud music - The local Estate Agent decided that the world needed to hear their festive choice of tunes. Some hit, most miss! It was loud. I wouldn't be surprised if passing aircraft, we're on the Heathrow & Luton flight path, didn't divert due to the sound waves or just because the choice in tunes would have ruined their flight!

* Lights - There were lots of lights, hence why I took pictures of them. Lights just add something don't they? Makes everything seem so warming and comforting. 

christmas festivals

Its all about lights isn't it? 

Street festivals are great. That's official. Alright this wasn't Notting Hill Carnival or the Day of the Dead parade. It was our little festival and I was proud of it. Throughout the land, in the cities and towns there will be others taking place. What's not to like about them? They get you out of your chair. They help the local economy, you see your neighbours! Street festivals and events like the Live Nativity help to keep rural communities going, so "All hail" to them and all the others dotted throughout the world. Festive frolics indeed. 

Beyond the Back Garden will return in January. Thanks as always for your support and messages. Here's hoping you all have some festive frolics before the merriment of Christmas really kicks in. 


2 December 2016

arnold 5

arnoldThe Never Ending Bed

"Time for bed young man," Mrs P. stated that evening. 

The events of the day had really taken their toll on young Arnold. Rubbish hippies and teachers with bad teeth were just about all he could handle in 24 hours! Although he was feeling much better, there was still a sense that not all had returned to normal. He felt like he could sleep for a week and mum wasn't best pleased with him!

Arnold opened the bedroom door and looked up at his vast bed. With Arnold being relatively short for a 5-year-old, everything seemed large, including his bed. He would always climb in at the bottom and work his way up to find his comfortable pillow. On this occasion, the bed appeared extra especially large, and as he climbed in he could see many tunnels leading off in different directions ahead, dark and menacing. He had so many choices. He looked left and right, forward and behind. 

"Which tunnel?" he said aloud. 

After some deliberation, he chose to head down the left tunnel. He crawled slowly into the darkness. Wondering what he would find at the end? A monster? A spider? Perhaps even Terry the hippy or Miss Jones's teeth!? He was about to discover. 

He crawled a little further, certain he could see small yellow piercing eyes staring at him. A little shiver went down the back of his spine. He was reluctant to go that way so turned to go back, discovering there were now three new tunnels to head down!

"What now?" Arnold thought. Try one of the three new tunnels? Although where would they lead? Decisions, decisions? He had no option and turned again to head towards the piercing eyes. 

He drew closer and closer, the tunnel becoming brighter as he approached a white screen of light, the eyes had thankfully disappeared. He popped his head out of the hole, discovering that he was halfway up his bed. Far below on the carpet, he could see yesterday's underpants, lying next to a pair of smelly socks, its smell rising to greet him. He then looked left and right, his bedroom door far in the distance. 

Suddenly he felt something brush his toes. He giggled a little but was also a little afraid. Again he felt the tingly feeling on his toes. Arnold had to be brave, so quickly went back under the covers to confront this new foe. He found nothing. Just a number of dark tunnels heading off in all directions. He must have imagined it? 

On he crawled, deeper and deeper into his bed, turning this way and that as each new tunnel came into view. After a short time, he could see light far ahead. This time the light was brighter, and he could see there was a large boulder-like object. Up the tunnel he crawled, suddenly arriving into the light. Ahead the boulder had become his pillow, and on the left his favourite teddy bear. Sitting there, smiling at him. His journey had ended in the never ending bed.

"You've made your bed a complete mess," Mrs P stated as she entered his room. "What have you been doing?" Re-arranging the covers and tucking Arnold in, giving him a big sloppy kiss for good measure. Arnold smiled back, clearly, all had been forgiven, life was back to normal. Or was it!?

Arnold will return in 2017 with the second half of his adventures. So please keep a look out. Until then I hope you have enjoyed these tales? If so, please leave a comment it would be most welcome, oh and thank you as always for your support. You are amazing. 


1 December 2016

arnold 4

Miss Jones


"Arnold are you ready?" Mrs P. called up the stairs.

It was the day after the night before the Terry incident. Arnold woke to a spinning head. He had vague memories of what happened the night before, and he wasn't at all keen on getting ready for school. He weakly got out of bed, and stumbled towards the bathroom. Alan brushed past him heading in the opposite direction, laughing as he shut his bedroom door. Arnold slumped to the bathroom floor, too tired to care. Alan had missed out on the 'Terry Incident' as he was at his friend's house playing X-box games.

"Arnold!" Mrs P. called again. She was still fuming about last night and was in no mood to be messed about. "I'll give you five minutes young man. Now hurry up or you'll be late." With that she slammed the front door and sat in the car waiting for him. 

Arnold was more worried about thinking straight in class than a screaming mum! He changed as quickly as he could, and hurried down the stairs, grabbing his bag on his way out. Alan followed closely behind, still chuckling. 

"How's your head squirt?" Alan asked as they climbed into the car.
"That's enough", Mrs P. replied. The car journey was silent thereafter. 

They approached the school gates. An old man, Mr Hargrove the school caretaker waved them through. When the car pulled to a stop Mrs P turned to Arnold.

"Now listen to me Arnold. You are not in my good books at present, so I don't want you doing anything stupid today. Got me?"
"Yes mum," Arnold replied. Stumbling out of the car. His head still spinning.

He wobbled up to the huge glass doors and walked through. Stairs looked like they reached to the stars, corridors never ending. As he stood there daydreaming, he didn't at first feel the hand that was tapping his shoulder. 

"How is little Arnold today?" a caring voice asked. "You look like you are in a dream world. Come on, time to start class." And he was led towards his classroom by Miss Jones, his primary school teacher. Miss Jones was a kind teacher, slightly rounded but with a heart of gold. She cared deeply for the children, and was loved by all. She had one slight problem, well its not a problem, but it did give the children nightmares! You see Miss Jones had rotten teeth, and big black holes where teeth should have been! The children couldn't get Miss Jones teeth or lack of them out of their minds! 

For the first few hours Arnold sat in the classroom in a trance like state. Even the occasional advances of Tammy, a girl who had a crush on him, couldn't awaken him from his stupor. The effects of last night were having a strange effect on the appearance of Miss Jones teeth! They seemed enhanced and he couldn't get them out of his mind. At one point just before lunch Arnold started to have a good chuckle, a consequence of the evening before. The whole class turned and stared at him. Even Miss Jones's smile and rotting teeth had disappeared briefly. Her face now showing anger. Suddenly the class all jumped from their seats, trying to get a view of a now contorted Arnold, rolling around the floor laughing uncontrollably. He was heard mumbling about bad teeth, and that the teeth were attacking him. Everyone just stared, dumbfounded by the scene before them, entertained nevertheless. 

Miss Jones tried to gain some control of the situation, but the scene had deteriorated. A number of the kids had decided this was the perfect distraction to start a fight, which quickly turned into a brawl. A mix of boys and girls in a heap on the classroom floor. Arnold was still laughing, at everything it seemed. Miss Jones was losing her cool, not helped by Arnold repeatedly mentioning her lack of teeth between laughing fits! 

Outside Mr Hargrove was going about his business emptying the bins, when he heard the noise emanating from Miss Jones's classroom. As fast as his old legs could carry him, he ran across to the open classroom window, poking his broom through to try and stop the fight or at least distract the kids. One bright spark tried to pull it away from him, but he was too quick and had pulled the broom away, already making his way to the nearest door. It called for greater action. 

As he entered the classroom, waving the broom around like a sword. Order was soon restored as Mr Hargrove was rather handy with the broom and the mass of children soon retreated. Miss Jones flopped into her chair, exhausted and shaken. Unable to take in what had just happened. It wasn't long before the headmaster arrived, and after a brief meeting with Miss Jones dragged a still laughing Arnold from the room. 

10 Minutes later 

Sitting in Matron's office, she was flummoxed as to why Arnold was laughing, although the effects of whatever it was, were wearing off. Mrs P. was called and when she arrived Arnold had all but recovered from his laughing fit. Miss Jones however hadn't, and was sent home for the afternoon. As were a number of the children who had cuts and bruises from the brawl. It was all rather perplexing, and the Headmaster no matter how he tried couldn't quite explain what had happened. Mrs. P was all too clear on Arnold's state but wasn't in the mood to divulge the reasons at the moment. She dragged Arnold from the office to the waiting car. Terry had a lot to answer for, and she was going to speak her mind when she next saw him. She turned to talk to Arnold but he was already asleep on the back seat. 


30 November 2016

arnold 3

Terry the Hippy


Every so often Arnold's parents would go for an evening out. Usually to have a break from Arnold's weird and wonderful world,  and his persistent nagging. Terry was their next door neighbour, and was always willing to help out when needed. Terry was a hippy, and he didn't work, so the money came in useful! Money helped him to 'keep up' his hippy ways! Whatever they were. He was in his seventies but the age of the hippy had never deserted him. Terry has long scraggly hear, always wore flared trousers, and beads around his neck. He also played in a pub band called the Parsley Sprigs Progressive Movement. Prog rocks forgotten band! 

"Ok Arnold, Terry is coming to look after you tonight, so be a good boy. Alright?"

"Yes Mum," Arnold replied, anxiety across his face. Arnold thought that whenever Terry babysat, he was always going to turn him into a hippy. Their conversations centred around progressive rock music and other hippy centred themes! Arnold just wanted to talk about cars and trains and other things a five year old would talk about.

The doorbell rang and Arnold, dodging Mr P. took cover behind the sofa. Mr P. stooped his way to the front door and opened it.

"Evening Mr P." Terry said as the door opened, Fingers displaying the peace sign. 
"Thanks Terry, come on in. We'll be back by eleven. If you need anything it all in the kitchen."
"Yeah, peace and love," Terry replied. Mr and Mrs P. hurried out of the door. Arnold was left in the hands of a hippy!

"Right little fella. Where are you? Ready to talk music?" He exclaimed as he threw his plastic bag of old vinyl records on the sofa. "I'll tell you something Arnold. CD's suck. No life in them. LP's are where its at. Rock your socks off boy, yeah, cool."

Arnold had tentatively emerged from behind the sofa. Sitting bravely on the sofa's edge. 

"Now this is an interesting one," Terry stated pulling an old record from the bag. "Emerson, Lake and Palmer, now that's prog!" Arnold sat totally dis-interested. He preferred One Direction. He wanted to talk about his new Thunderbirds toy, but before he could open his mouth Terry was up and in search of the record player. 

"Now kiddo, this is our bands new song. It's only 23 minutes long! Great lyrics man, written by me. "Into the bubble of love / Take the orange sparkling sun to the centre of my heart and kiss the shores of love." Song's called Tales from the Topographic Orange Sun, that lyrics in Part 4 called Shore of Love." Terry said. 

"It's rubbish." Arnold said. 
"Let me explain." Terry continued. And for the next five minutes he read the lyrics. Arnold desperately trying to butt in! 
"You play in a pub band don't you?" He finally managed to say. 
"Pub band it may be Arnold, but we're going places."
"What like the old peoples home." Arnold replied with a chuckle. 
"Yeah well, lets have a listen. Absorb yourself in the sounds of the ocean and that mystical drum beat." 

Suddenly the record kicked in and this awful sound came out of the speakers. Arnold put his fingers to his ears, desperately trying to block out the sounds. Terry was already dancing around the room, doing strange things with his hands and legs. 

Hours seemed to pass by. Arnold sat on the sofa, fingers still in his ears. He wanted to watch TV. 
"Keep it real Arnold." Terry said. ''The bubble of purple love, transcends the barriers to our hearts."' He sang. 'How does it sound?'
"Rubbish," Arnold replied once more. He decided to hide back behind the sofa. Seemed a safer place than in full view of a dancing hippy! 

After the fourth listen, Arnold suddenly started to smell something very strange. It was a unfamiliar smell and as he took a few deep breaths he suddenly felt a little light headed. He peered around the sofa and could see Terry, who was in some kind of trance like state, lying on the floor laughing. Clearly something was wrong. He started to laugh little himself, his head was spinning a little and he started to sing One Direction songs! He laughed and laughed as he sang. Terry sat up at this development and sat watching a 5 year old dancing around the room and singing and laughing at the top of his voice. Terry panicked. He looked at his digital watch. It was nearly 11pm. Mr and Mrs P. would be back soon! What was he thinking. Cursing himself, he tried to stand up, but started laughing and rolled around on the floor. Unbeknown to him Mr and Mrs P. had already returned and as they entered the living room were greeted by a dancing, prancing boy and a rolling hippy in hysterics. 

"Wow Mum, you're groovy." Arnold slurred when he spotted them. 
"ARNOLD!" she screamed.
"Have you heard Terry's latest record. It's rubbish," Arnold said laughing. "Records are the future, yeah cool, man. Hey Dad, you're the funk master!"
'Heavens above, he's turned into Terry!' was all Mr P. could say. 

Arnold was still laughing as he was dragged upstairs to his room. Terry was last seen kneeling, pleading his innocence. Although that seemed to be falling on death ears!

"Terry get out of my house before I ram those records where the sun doesn't shine." Mrs P. shouted as she came down the stairs. Terry, knowing better than to argue, swaggered his way out of the living room and the front door, desperately trying not to chuckle as he did so. 

Arnold on the other hand was asleep, dreaming of dancing hippies and orange gates!? 


29 November 2016

arnold 2

Apple Pie


It was dinner time at Arnold's' house on the corner. He had already munched his way through his mini steak and chips, and was waiting in anticipation for his pudding. Arnold loved his pudding, always gobbling it down, often leaving a mess on the dining table. He was rolling his spoon around on the kitchen table surface, his mind on the pudding to come. Sometimes the puddings he didn't much like (and they were few), would start to taunt him. They would sing and shout, telling him to eat them, even though he didn't like it. This would especially happen with Apple Pie

Arnold hated apple pie. For that reason they were especially nasty to him, unfortunately tonight he was having, apple pie! Mrs P. placed the freshly made pie in front of him, and before he could turn his nose up at them and push the plate away, the apple pie started talking to him. It's lid opening as a mouth.

"Hello Arnold, its pudding time! Eat me, eat me, ha ha ha," it sang. 
"Go away. I don't like you." He whispered. Arnold turned to mum. "Mum I don't like apple pie, its taunting me!"

Mrs P turned from her washing and in her soft patient tone she replied. 'Just eat it!'
"But Mum, I hate apple pie!"
"Eat!" Mum replied, her tone with a hint of anger.
"You will eat me! Mum, mum, Arnold's not eating me, ha, ha."
"Stop it, stop it. I'll never eat you," Arnold whispered in reply. His voice a little louder this time.

"ARNOLD!" Mrs P shouted. "Stop talking to yourself and eat your pie, NOW."
"Ok, Mum," Arnold said meekly.

He was about to put the pie in his mouth when his older brother Alan burst through the kitchen door and plonked himself on a chair. He ran his hands through his greasy hair and noticed that Arnold was whispering to an apple pie. 

"Who are you talking to squirt?" Alan's voice sounded neither high pitched or deep toned. He was heading into his teenage years. 

"Arnold, Arnold. Your brother's voice is breaking. You think it's funny, don't you Arnold." The apple pie sang once more. "Alan", the pie screamed, "Arnold thinks your voice sounds strange, and he thinks you've got a big nose too, ha, ha, ha." 
"Stop it," Arnold screamed.
"Stop what? Squirt," Alan responded.
"The apple pie has been making fun of you. It said that your voice sounds funny and that you have a big nose. It's trying to wind you up and blame me"
"Said what? You're weird Arnold, just weird." Alan exclaimed, his voice more high pitched than normal. "I'm not going to waste my time talking to strange little kids like you. I have a date with Suzie to think about."
"Who's Suzie?" Arnold asked.
"Alan's got a spotty girlfriend," the apple pie sang.
"Mum, please tell this apple pie to stop. He's driving me mad!"

The situation was driving Mrs P. mad. What with a 5 year old boy talking to apple pies and a teenager whose voice was breaking and already thinking about date nights with girls. She turned and gave Arnold a stare, that was clearly implying him to shove the apple pie in his mouth!

'This is fun, isn't it Arnold?' The apple pie screamed in delight. 

Arnold decided that enough was enough. He wasn't going to get the blame or a punch from his brother. So although this was going to be very tough, he closed his eyes, opened his mouth and in one huge gulp he put the pie into his mouth. Down it went, still singing and laughing as Arnold started to chew. Thankfully the ordeal was over, the pie had stopped singing. He jumped down from his chair and was about to go and play when Mrs P, turned to the boys and told them something that was to ruin their day.

"By the way Arnold. Terry will be babysitting you tomorrow night. Your father and I are out at Mavis's for dinner."

Arnold's misery was complete. Having just endured eating the horrible apple pie, now the news that Terry, the hippy who lived next door was going to babysit him. He turned and dragged his feet across the floor. Knowing what impending doom was to greet him when Terry would knock on the door tomorrow evening. Alan turned to Mrs P.

"Whats wrong with him?" Alan asked.
"It's Terry, he'll have to sit and listen to him going on about Prog rock music and such like."
"Ah," Alan replied. "Impending doom indeed!" He stated. 


28 November 2016


The House on the Corner

This is Arnold . He's five and very much like every other five year old boy. For instance, he's always getting his clothes dirty from tripping over things (often his own feet) and playing in the dirt, digging holes! 


He picks his ears for Ear Wax, and when no-ones looking often his nose (eating the Boogies!) He has to wear hand-me-downs from his older brother, Alan, that have holes in them and look like they have seen better days. He doesn't eat Brussel sprouts or cauliflower! Ugh! Always wants sweets, and is forever losing his things, like toys and socks.

Arnold thinks that everything is a game. Well you would if you're five, wouldn't you? He loves playing trains and planes, much to the annoyance of his brother. Occasionally he'll do naughty things like break his mum's favourite ornament or hide Dad's favourite pair of slippers. On one occasion he said dad's slippers in the shed. What he didn't realise was that there was an large gathering of slugs! It had started to rain and well, slugs like to come out when it rains. So they looked for an exit route. Some of these slugs thought that the slippers were such an exit, well it look inviting to them anyway. Although I can't think why? So when Arnold's Dad, that's Mr P. in these tales, found the slippers and put them on his naked toes his feet were greeted with a most unpleasant, slimy feeling! As well as the cries of an angry parent!

"ARNOLD!" Mr P yelled, turning his voice horse!
Arnold didn't dare hide them thereafter! Mr P decided that slippers weren't for him! Sticking to socks. 

So as you can see, life was all it should be for a small boy growing up in a nondescript house, in a nondescript town. So lets enjoy some of his stories. Arnold - the adventures of a five year old.  


There is a house on a corner of a street. It has a front door, one small downstairs window, two above and a small back garden that leads onto a muddy footpath, with a field and woods beyond. This is the house that Arnold lives at with his family; Mr and Mrs P, and his older brother Alan. They live next door to an ageing hippy called Terry. He's in his seventies now, but still thinks its 1970! 

Terry is always playing prog rock records at high volume and trying to convert Arnold to this way of 'Prog'! He sometimes babysits Arnold when Mr and Mrs P need to take a well deserved break. Which is often! 

They are a happy family, enjoying their evenings together, huddled around the TV, watching the latest celebrity reality programme and screaming at who gets voted off. Although Alan being a teenage boy prefers his time trying to chat up the girls, playing games on his phone and pretending to be butch and macho. Secretly though continues to build models and has a teddy bear.  

As we already know Arnold is five, at school he has many friends, oh and some girlfriends too. Although being five he's not so keen on playing with the girls. He'd rather get muddy or kick a football,  pretend to be a Star Wars character and such like. Most of all Arnold loves to use his imagination, which takes him on many strange and wonderful adventures. Some of which you'll about to read. So let's enter his world. A world of babysitting hippies, primary school teachers with bad teeth and talking apple pies! 

5 November 2016

alison reynolds

There is something exciting about discovering new music. Finding new sounds and artists that would never otherwise be on your radar. Well it beats the humdrum, manufactured sounds of modern pop music. Sketches has been fortunate and privileged over the past year to have interviewed a number of upcoming, young British folk artists. All different in their musical approach, all exciting in what message they are conveying. All deserving of success. For our latest interview we've crossed the pond (metaphorically on this occasion) to chat with multi instrumentalist (cello, guitar), singer / songwriter, Alison Reynolds from Canada. It's a candid, inspiring interview, so grab yourself a cuppa and enjoy Alison's story.

folk musician
Photo courtesy of Alison Reynolds

SketchesWhat first made you pick up the cello?
Alison: I started playing cello in grade school. It was 4th grade, I
believe, and in those days, Orchestra classes started in 4th grade (really wish it was still the same way but unfortunately, we don’t hold teaching the arts as a priority.) I have two older sisters who had already started orchestra and they played violin and viola respectively so, they figured I should play cello so we could have a trio!

Well, I didn’t even know what a cello was!! I’m sure my eyes popped out of my head when the teacher brought it out to me. It was bigger than I was! Back then, there was no such thing as ¼, ½ or ¾ sized cellos. I’ll never forget carrying my cello on the bus everyday!

Funny thing is, my sisters both quit playing a few years later but, for some reason, I kept going (and going, and going.)

(S:) Were you ever tempted to try other instruments?
(A:) Oh, yes, indeed! While we still lived in El Paso, Tx., I started playing Baritone Ukulele. I took private lessons while still playing cello in school. Then I went through a clarinet phase when my family lived in Flagstaff Az. Then, when my family and I moved to Canada at the beginning of my High School years, I started playing flute.

If I had gone to High School in the U.S., there would have been several music classes I could choose to take. I’d had 5 years of playing cello by then and I knew music was going to be my future! When we moved to Canada, we lived in North Bay Ont., quite a ways north of Toronto. It was a beautiful small town and I was excited about living in a different country! Then came school. . . there were no choices in music classes, it was either band or orchestra and I discovered that everyone was just starting to play, while I had already had 5 years of playing cello in school plus private lessons!! I was devastated! My only choice was to join band and I decided to pick up flute. I ended up playing flute for quite a while (even after embarking on my professional journey. . .more on that later!) Never stopped playing cello though and while in high school, I traded in my baritone uke for a guitar, started a rather successful Folk Club and did a lot of singing and playing guitar. I remember almost quiting playing cello because it was “nerdy” but, fortunately, my friends talked me out of that idea!

The school put on musicals every year and I badly wanted to be on stage singing but, once my orchestra/band teacher found out I could play cello, I was sent into the orchestra pit. I had such a longing to be on stage!! At least the Folk Club gave me that opportunity!

folk musician
Photo courtesy of Alison Reynolds 

(S:) Tell us a little about your musical journey
(A:) In 1972, my musical life changed forever! The Canadian government sponsored a summer music program called “Summersounds ‘72”. The music directors of that program set off to various towns in Ontario to audition musicians 16-20 years old. North Bay was one town they visited and I auditioned. I won the spot to represent North Bay and that summer, I headed to Niagra on the Lake to rehearse with all the other musicians who won spots. We stayed in the dorms of Niagra Christian College and rehearsed for two weeks. It was a varied program from folk music to rock. This is where I learned how to improvise on cello. After 2 weeks, we hit the road and for about a month, we took our show to many different towns in Ontario, from tiny paper mill towns in Northern Ont. to Ottawa and ending in Toronto. It is a summer I will never forget and it helped shape the music I do now.

I met my first music partner, Patricia Watson, while in that group. She lived in Sudbury (about 80 miles north of North Bay.) After I finished High School, my family moved to Sudbury. Pat and I got together and formed the duo Watson and Reynolds.

Pat played piano, guitar and flute and I played cello, guitar, mandolin, and flute so we had quite a diverse instrumentation going on! We both sang and our voices blended extremely well.  (See below from a TV programme they did)

We became pretty popular fairly quickly and moved to Toronto to further our career. I think the high point came when we were asked to open for Gino Vanelli at the Opera House in Ottawa. We finished our set with a piano/cello version of Desperado which melted into an original song by Pat. When we finished the song, you could have heard a pin drop, then an explosion of clapping. Took my breath away!

Anyway, we met a fellow musician, David James Bowen a few years later and formed a trio called Minstrels of Mirth. That expanded into a 5 piece (shortened to Mirth.) We put out an album called First Borne. . .unfortunately, a few years later we broke up. Too many personality conflicts!

Shortly after that I moved back to El Paso Tx. (my hometown) and went back to school to seriously study cello. I continued playing as a single singer/songwriter as well as a band called Tularosa. I met my husband during that time, married and had 2 beautiful children. My husband’s job was very demanding and playing music was all nights and weekends so I gave up my music career (except for playing in a symphony) to focus on raising my children.

With my kids grown and having time on my hands, I am back at it! I play as much as I can now, I had forgotten how much I loved to perform!! I have 3 CD’s out. Two are from a cello quartet I started up a while back, La Cella Bella. One is my singer/songwriter effort. I am currently working on my second CD as a songwriter. (More of that later)

(S:) What is it about Folk and Rock music that inspires you?
(A:) My love of folk music goes way back (The Weavers, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Limeliters, then, of course Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Simon and Garfunkel, Dylan, Pete Seeger. . .a very long list!)  I think what inspires me are the stories they tell and the message they send in the lyrics. My writing is similar in that most of what I write has a message or a story either social or every day situations. As folk songwriters I think we all have a hope to “change the world” as it were or at least make a difference in someone’s life! Folk music: music of and for people!

Classic Rock is really very similar to folk in that there is sometimes an underlying message in the lyrics and, of course, there is the beat! I love Talking Heads, for example, because I cannot stay still when I listen! Besides that I love their lyrics and I think David Byrne is a genius! My all time favorite rocker is Bonnie Raitt! She sings with so much passion and her lyrics are so relatable! She definitely moves me!

(S:) Tell us about life on the road
(A:) Early in my career, I spent a lot of time on the road. For about a year or so, we were on the road so much that I got rid of my apartment, put my stuff in storage and stayed with friends when I would have a day off! When I was younger, it was very exciting! Going new places, meeting new people, the parties, the performing, it was my dream! Later though, after we became a 5 piece band, life on the road became difficult. We started playing dives and strip clubs. Accommodations were shaky at best, bordering on filthy. Bands had a reputation of trashing rooms so, as a result, venues would put the bands up in the worst rooms! Pat and David were a “couple”(they eventually got married) and I was single. I got to where I was pretty lonely.

There were times that it was still a lot of fun, like when we played in Halifax and met up with Dr. Hook band. Those guys were a ton of fun! Or the time we played in Ottawa, went to a Supertramp concert and got invited to the after concert party. I got a chance to play some cello with Roger Hodgson! And then there were times like when we played in a small town on the St. Laurence Seaway called Rimouski. We were there for 2 weeks and stayed walking distance from the shore of the seaway. I remember watching the tide go in and out many times. It was lovely! Those were the good times!

(S:Who has influenced you in your songwriting?
(A:) That is kind of a tough question! I partly answered that in a previous question but, I think the main influence on writing at this current time is Bob Dylan. This is mostly because of something he said in an article I read. The interviewer asked how he came up with ideas for his songs and, essentially said, “I don’t write about anything new, I just say the same things in a different way.” That really struck me. I started listening to his music again, with different ears, and thinking of my own writing in a totally different way.

Joni Mitchell is a story teller extraordinaire! I listened to her poetry, her crafting. I can’t come close to her as a song writer but, she inspires me to grow and strive for better songs.

Then there is Bonnie Raitt’s passion! One thing I can say for sure, she has brought out the passion in me! The Beatles have also had an influenced me. I think their popularity was largely due to the fact that their songs were about every day situations. Things we can all relate to. I do try to achieve that in my writing.

folk musician
Photo courtesy of Alison Reynolds 

(S:) So are you working on a new album?
(A:) I am currently working on a new album. I haven’t yet decided on a title, but, it looks like there will be quite a few songs on it with social content. “Care” is a song about taking care of our environment, “Listen to Your Heart” is all about finding your path, “Love Makes It True” is about how we are all connected and so on. 

On my “Back to You” CD, I added 3 older songs, Back to You, Please Don’t Tell Me and Childhood’s End, mostly because they were requested by friends from my “Mirth” days. Two of them are on the First Borne album but, I really didn’t like the production on them, so I decided to do them again MY way!

The new CD will have all current songs (I have a TON of new songs! It was tough deciding which ones to record!) The instrumentation will be much the same. I live in a small town without much choice in instrumentation! I will add cello to some but not too much, and have found a good mandolin player to add his touch to some and a few vocalists (I did all the harmonies on the last CD. Not that that’s a bad thing, you just don’t get the different timbres of different voices!)

Anyway, I am rather excited about it and am trying to take my time so as not to make too many mistakes!

(S:What advice would you give a young folk musician?
(A:) In a nutshell. . .Hang in there!! Folk music is NOT dead, there is an audience out there! Also, stay true to yourself and your art, don’t compromise for the sake of popularity. Our art is a noble cause!

We finished are interview with a few less serious questions! To get a flavour of what really rocks or is it folks Alison's musical boat.

(S:Techno or Heavy Metal?
(A:) Oh dear!! I suppose if I had to choose I’d say Heavy Metal. For me, there is a bit more substance to the music although I have heard some decent Techno! Metallica changed my mind about Heavy Metal when I did an arrangement for my cello quartet of Nothing Else Matters. Great song, lots of musicality and content! Then when I heard them do Whiskey in a Jar, which is an old folk song, they totally won me over.

(S:) Cello or Violin?
(A:) That’s a “no brainer” ha ha! Cello of course!! Cello is said to be closest to the human voice of all the stringed instruments, I think that’s one of the reasons I love it so much! I love the mellowness of it’s sound and the huge range it has. . .I’m a mellow kind of gal!

(S:) Folk rock or acoustic folk?
(A:) That one is tough! Guess I am more of an acoustic type, but since I have discovered and learned the art of looping, I love the way I can rock out on some songs! I do tend to lean more towards acoustic though!


My thanks goes to Alison for the time she has given and wish her every success for the future. You can check out her website and youtube channel for all the latest news and tour dates. Details given.

Go on time to try some different music. 

15 October 2016

walk the shopping streets

No shopping on this tour!

These streets attract millions of visitors each year, and are among the UK's most popular and iconic shopping districts. You need a sixth sense to negotiate them, dodging the crowds with their brown paper bags, shopping bag roulette perhaps? The famous streets of Oxford and Regents offer far more than just shopping, as we are about to discover. Having started these walking challenges (Walk the Circle Line & Walk the South Bank), I was looking to try something a little different, and this is what we've come up with. So as the video below clearly shows, Sketches is going to Walk the Shopping Streets. The walking tour with a little bit more. The little bit more being a treasure hunt that you can complete, more of that in a moment.

The Route and the Treasure Hunt 

This walk takes you down Oxford Street, onto Regents Street, back to Oxford street, onto Regents Street again and then for the final stretch back up Oxford street to the finish. Oh, you can also do a detour down Bond Street and at various other stages have the opportunity to head off to interesting spots, if you desire. Although there is no set pattern, by following the route outlined will help with getting the clues for the treasure hunt. So before we get down to details, what about this treasure hunt. 

At the end of the article are ten cryptic clues to various places, street names or buildings along the route. You need to find them and take the first letter of each answer, which will in turn give you an anagram. Unravel the anagram and this is your final destination. The first person(s) to tweet Sketches (@gavdah) a selfie at the final place will get a signed original drawing from an upcoming post. So good luck, most of all enjoy the walk and have fun!

Stage 1: Oxford Street (West) to Regents Street (South)

This walk starts at the top end of Oxford street (West), on the Southern side, at the junction with Park Lane. I really hope you're still with me? Our journey begins opposite the (currently being refurbished,) The Cumberland. We're standing on the opposite corner face it, next to a tacky souvenir shop. Behind me is Park Lane, to the left side Hyde Park. In front of me is the start of our walk. We're heading down Oxford street towards Bond Street station. Strictly speaking Bond Street isn't actually part of the tour. However, for as long as I can remember, I've always thought the top end of Oxford Street as it is, was in fact Bond Street, but it isn't. There is a New and Old Bond Street but not a Bond Street.  So the Bond street I thought existed is in fact Oxford Street! I do hope that's all clear? 

From an aesthetic viewpoint the buildings aren't that interesting. At the top end the Primark shop dominates, and you'll be avoiding brown paper bagged shoppers as you walk pass. Bag dodging is going to be part and parcel of this walk. 

oxford street
The grand building of Selfridges

It is worth looking to your right as you walk down the street, the side roads lead into the Mayfair district and there are some quant looking pubs that are not too far off the beaten track. You'll soon pass the famous department store Selfridges. It sits rather awkwardly amongst the more modern buildings. We're on the opposite side, so for the moment no stopping for a look around, just a quick picture.

As you continue down you pass Bond Street station and will finally arrive at the road that is New Bond Street, which leads into Old Bond Street. I've never been down it, so took a quick detour and realised why. It's the street of the top end labels, Gucci etc. Security guards standing outside, checking to see whether you look like the right type of clientele. Which I'm clearly not! So if you have the money this is for you. If you don't have the money, its still a more interesting street than Oxford Street, so well worth the detour. You could also do a bit of spot the sports car whilst you're at it! Once back on track it's not long before you reach the central crossing that cuts the two streets in half. End of stage 1. 

Stage 2: Regents Street (South) to Oxford Street (East)

Its at this point you are at the London's version of the famous Shibuya crossing in Tokyo. Not as large, not as busy, but nevertheless its modelled on the original and you can enjoy standing at its centre for a brief moment. The timer on the lights will let you know whether you're about to get squashed by a bus! Back to the walk. We're heading down Regents Street towards Piccadilly for this stage. If you can take your eyes away from the shops, then Regents Street is a far more aesthetic street than Oxford. Grand buildings aplenty, the final stretch before Piccadilly with its beautifully curved building that sweeps into the distance is a highlight. Once at the Eros statue and the Piccadilly TV screen you know its time to head back up Regents street. 

Regents Street - looking towards Piccadilly
The side you've just walked down isn't perhaps the most interesting but the fun and interest improves once you start heading back up. Hidden behind the upward section of the road you'll find Carnaby Street. Famous from the swinging 60's and the explosion in fashion, art and culture. If you have time there is a quainter street running parallel, its called Kingly Street (see picture below), although slightly ruined by the facades of the restaurants and shops it still has a old world look and feel. You can also continue through to the arch of Liberty department store, and avoid the crowds that throng the outside of Hamleys toy shop on Regents Street. Especially with Christmas around the corner. Ah the chaos! It's not long before we're back at the Shibuya style crossing. Hopefully you've got the five answers so far? Any ideas of the final destination yet?

Kingly Street - just off Carnaby Street

Stage 3: Oxford Street (East) to Regents Street (North)

We're back at the crossing. Time to head down the southern side of Oxford street toward Centre Point and Tottenham Court Road. In all honesty there isn't that much of interest to be found down this side, in fact its a little bit of a mess. Due in part to the Crossrail building works. Not even the buildings hold much architectural beauty, apart from the grand building featured below. The streets heading off down this section are the gateway into the Soho district, a place offering an abundance of cafes, restaurants, theatres and the odd record shop. So apart from gathering the clues for the treasure hunt, its best to reach Centre Point as quickly as possible and head back down towards Regents Street. Before we do here's an interesting fact for you to ponder as you walk this uninteresting section. 

* 180 million people visit Oxford Street every year (source: news)

That's a lot of shopping bags, a lot of people! I just wonder how they managed to calculate that figure? If you know please comment below, would love to know. 

Oxford Streets most stunning building? I'll let you decide

Coffee at the BBC

Once back at the central crossing, yes we're there again! Its time to head up the northern side of Regents Street. Looking up the street your eyes will be drawn to All Souls Church and Broadcasting House, home of the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). It's worth a quick stop off here too. There is a Cafe Nero outside the entrance which looks into The One studio (a popular magazine programme that's on every week night on BBC 1). So why not sit outside and do a little celebrity spotting as you sip your latte. For the record, did I see anyone famous when I sat there with my latte? Well yes, sort of.  I saw an ageing ex-Radio 1 DJ, a young Radio 1 DJ and a newsreader, oh and a women wearing a cardboard dress, with slogans written all over it with blue tinted hair! 

board casting house
Broadcasting House - Home to the BBC
With latte drunk, and enough celebrity spotting for one day. It's time to head back towards that crossing again, and the final leg of our walk, oh and the final clues for the treasure hunt. 

Stage 4: Regents Street (North) to Oxford Street (West)

The final stage takes you back down Regents Street and again onto Oxford Street, heading toward Selfridges. Again as you battle the bags of rushing shoppers and commuters, there are plenty of great places to explore just off the beaten track. One such place is St Christopher's Place; restaurants and cafes make up this small square that has a continental feel about it. It's hidden away off Oxford Street and is well worth a stop off for a cup of tea or a smaller bite to eat. Before here there is one point of interest. The sculpture that's on the side of the John Lewis building. It's not especially pretty, in fact it looks oddly out of place really, but does at least grab your attention as you walk by. I digress. 

'Good Afternoon your Majesty' - at the entrance to St Christopher's Place
Not long after St Christopher's Place you come to one of London great shopping stores. It's finally your chance to visit Selfridges. You could probably spend the rest of your holiday or day wondering through the various departments. So I'll leave that to you. Walk up the hill a little further and you've reached the end of the walk. Arriving back at the beginning. Perhaps a little weary? Perhaps a little lighter in pocket? Perhaps with all the answers to the challenge below? What you have done is walk the major shopping streets of London, taken in the excesses of commercialism from the traditional high street branches to the exclusive and witnessed the central part of London in full flight. So what about the treasure hunt.

The Treasure Hunt

To add a bit of fun to the walk we've created a little treasure hunt, crack the clues and the jumbled anagram to reveal a famous place, museum, monument or shop? Take a selfie with the place and tweet it to @gavdah to win an original piece of framed artwork from an upcoming story that will be published here on Sketches. The answers will be published in a later post. So it just leaves me to wish you luck! 

Walk the Shopping Streets

So that was the walk the shopping street tour. If you can resist the shops, then I hope this walk gives you an insight into one of the busiest districts of London. You've joined the 180 million! These are interesting streets in their own right, not just streets of shops with familiar names. They offer so much more. I also hope that you will try the challenge. Remember the first person to send the picture of the anagram will win a signed original drawing from our upcoming Arnold story posts. 

Thanks for reading, your comments are always appreciated. So it just leaves me to wish you happy shopping and happy treasure hunting!



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