A.J. Walker


Flash! Friday: The Return of the Dragons

Out of nowhere Flash! Friday is returning and I for one am made up. Of course I am not the only one. It is one of the first flash fiction challenges I got into regularly. Along with Angry Hourglass these were my two favourite weekly challenges and when it went away (I won't say died, for this is no resurrection) I was a little sad. This was compounded later by the long walk taken by Angry Hourglass too (um… I wonder if that will be back one day?).

The friends I met online through being involved in these two challenges have endured the years since. Many of the regulars who wrote most of the weeks in these grew to become the fabulous
Flash Dogs, who produced amazing books in the following years. Yes, from writing in these challenges and meeting regularly on Twitter we actually produced hard copy beautiful books. Champion!


Who knows where this return will take us, maybe not so far. Maybe further. Wherever it goes it will be a fun ride. And it will be fabulous to introduce the dragons to all the new brethren who have discovered the joy of micro fiction through VSS365 (which after all is a love child from the Flash Dogs).

Please get involved. It's great writing practice and may give you ideas for longer stories too. I can't wait to see your stories there. And hell, some weeks I'll be helping judge them – yeah, didn't I say? It's a judged challenge. It's great that I'll be teamed up together with @voimaoy for this again. Winners get a virtual badge and a warm feeling. I was lucky to win and get placed several times – and it did make me feel warm and fuzzy.

When does it start? That'll be
Friday (there's a clue in the name, you know).

@FlashFridayFic on Twitter and if you are tweeting about it use the hashtag #fireiceflash and, of course, get one over to the website: flashfriday.wordpress.com

Back to Work

Amazingly this week I've been back in work after my accident last week. The accident was quite horrible and very discomforting over the following period. It was quite a fall as I'd gone up some steps in a back garden to deliver a parcel. On the way down I stupidly stepped backwards rather than turning around. And as the steps were not finished (the garden was being worked on) my foot went into free air and I went spinning through the air from a foot or two above the ground and as I twisted through the air in something like an ice skating move, perhaps it was a Salchow. Anyway this exciting move was aborted early by my back finding a rather uncomfortable sudden stop on a metal railing. From where I bounced down to the concrete path. It was all quite dramatic. Severely winded and sore I lay there for a while wondering how far my swearing had travelled. I went to sit in my van for a while wondering what damage I'd done. I couldn't breath properly due to the pain. I wondered whether I'd broken a rib and pierced my lung. All sorts of things swam around my head. But ultimately I decided it couldn't be that bad as I could still move albeit painfully it wasn't making me faint or anything.

Eventually I wen on to the next stop, before ringing work and telling them about it - and that I should be able to finish the route but would likely not be in again for a while. It was sure to stiffen up and get worse. And it did.

The next day the agony getting out of bed - where I'd had to sleep sat upright, wedged between two pillows - made me think I had indeed done more damage. I struggled through a shower just in case I needed to make a last minute call to go to A&E. Over the next couple of days I thought the same on several occasions. At one point I was pretty sure I wouldn't get into work until late this week at the earliest. And what happened? I ended up being off work from Thursday through to Sunday. I've been in for a normal working week - 5 days. They gave me an easy day on Monday, and I finished quickly but was sore the next day. The following day I was back on a normal route and boy was that hard. I struggled with the pain in the evening. Next day was a smaller route in terms of number of drops and was a lot easier.

Anyway, here I am ten days after a most painful accident and I've done a week's work. In terms of working days lost, incredibly I only lost two days. All in all, if anything, it shows how resilient the body is. Where it can fix itself it does an amazing job. Looking back at the accident it could have been a lot worse I guess - as a glass half full person - the railing could have had sharp edges instead of being curved and maybe if I hadn't landed on the railing and bounced to the ground I would have landed on my head and done some more serious damage. If I'd bashed my head I'd have lost a lot more time off work, at the very least.

Moral of the story: don't walk backwards down steps you don't know. And the world is precarious for each of us.


Words, Words, Words

Looking at getting stricter with my writing which is partly why I want to record it: as a document of success or failure and a rod for my own back (or something like that). I’m not sure what to aim for. It will probably be a matter of finding what works for me as I get into the writing daily habit. Be it 300 words or 2000 words (hell, I know it won’t be that initially).

I found a website called The Daily Word Counter <www.wordcounter.net> which had an article giving an idea of the daily word count of many famous writing as follows:

Ernest Hemingway - 500 words
Stephen King - 2000 
Jack London - 1500 
Tom Wolfe - 135 
Mark Twain - 1400-1800
W Somerset Maugham - 1000
Sarah Walters - 1000
Sebastian Faulks - 1000
Michael Crichton - 10,000
Kate DiCamillo -600-900
Nicholas Sparks - 2000
J.G. Ballard - 1000
Ian McEwan - 600
Lee Child - 1800
Anne Rice - 3000
Arthur Conan Doyle - 3000
Arthur Hayley - 600
Graham Greene - 500
Holly Black - 1000

I’m not sure of the voracity of these numbers and whilst they show a wide difference; most are between a pretty manageable 500 and 2000 words.  Given I can crack off a blog of 300-500 words or a flash of 365 words in less than an hour then having a daily word count of 500-1000 words should be achievable,  I’ve also done NaNo successfully twice, which equates to 1666 a day.

I don’t think having the NaNo tick-tock is necessary but it certainly helps over the relative short term of a month. Without it maybe the  very act of recording it will be the kick up the backside. 

So let’s see how I go with achieving 500-1000 words on projects (not counting blogs) – incidentally this will be about 380 words. 

Writing even that much/little will drive me into more projects and ideas i.e. finishing existing ones and getting me to new ones. Let’s see where I get to come November . In theory that should be 45-90.,000  words. Ha, we shall see.

First thing I’ve done is write down where I’m up to in various projects in terms of current word count so I can check up on progress.

Current Word Counts and aims:

TWO1 - 56,267 : 80,000
TM2 - 3946 : 6000
SC1 - 601 : 4000 
TT1 - 1193 : 50,000
THS1 - 73 : 50,000*

* may get broken down into multiple short stories.

Writing, Damn Writing

It’s been too long since I’ve done any proper writing. A 365 word flash fiction once a week doesn’t count and neither does VSS365 or the other occasional Twitter prompts or prompt rants I get involved in. I mean writing on specific projects. 

I did some writing for the defunct/no longer defunct GetIntoThis website between March and June and when this went I realised I should force myself to write to my own deadlines on the pieces I want to write, be it blogs on the website or projects for potential publication – or just furthering my writing practice.

And so I need to get back to it. Thinking I may do a weekly diary on the blog. This could act as a kick up the backside as well as a simple record. So my thoughts as of today (Monday) is that I’ll start that from next weekend. As it’s a nice date to start with Saturday being the 1st of the month. It’ll give me a few days to make my plans on the projects and to get back up to speed on those already started. 

I am particularly wanting to finish the ‘Wobbly Odyssey’ which has some five  chapters to go (some 20-25k words).  I’ve been reading it again lately and quite enjoying it – which is weird to say about your own story but hell I am. I’m wondering how difficult it will be to get back into the groove with the characters and the story after so long away from it. I am thinking it will be quite hard, but willing to be pleasantly surprised. 

Then I’ve got the story for another project to rework or start again for the umpteenth time. That’s only about 5-6k and I’ve done my usual trick of saying too much upfront rather than just running hard with the story from the starting pistol – I also wonder if it would just be better as a longer story in any case.

The other thing about recording my writing progress this way is it makes me write a blog post every week which keeps the blog updated regularly too. It could be a win - win: but only if I actually keep up with writing regularly. It’s actually been quite difficult lately with work being long and hard; making me tired when I get home and not in the mood for writing (or just falling asleep not long after tea). I’ve got to experiment to see what works. If I wake up early perhaps I should spend some of that time writing rather than hoping for the best in the evening. It’s a difficult concept as a certified night owl, but needs must. 

Anyway between now and the weekend I’ll have a think about the projects and how best to write and record a blog about it – and do the writing itself of course. I guess something short and simple will be best to avoid eating into writing time, and to ensure I do it in a timely manner (should be easier for any reader too). Or maybe something largely visual.  I’ll have to come up with a snappy title for this part of the blog too and decide where to put it i.e under Writer’s Block or a new sub titled section under the Writings section. I am minded for the latter, lest it get lost in this blog with all the general hubbub of Open Min, Reading and Work blogs. Anyways, watch this space...

Reading, Damn Reading

I always now seem to set myself a target to read forty books a year. Some people smash that, others don’t read one. Obviously I find people who don’t read books weird – it’s akin to not being arsed about music. But maybe it’s the way people have been brought up. I guess for people who haven’t regularly read it may seem a strange thing to get into. I know some people who say they struggle with the habit but love reading. Hell, we all have other things that get in the way.

This year the thing that got in the way was this damn virus of course. I know some people have found a load more free time but I’ve been working full time either five or six days a week throughout. And let’s face it whatever we are going through individually it is a stressful time. So even when I have had time to read I hadn’t been reading as much as I did the last couple of years. I raced through books in January and February but fell away and a long way behind my forty books pace between March and May.

Don’t know whether it is because I’ve grown used to the stress of the death of everything but I caught up with where I should be come to the sixth months. I’ve now read 22 books and so with 18 left to reach my goal then that’s just about one book a week from August (or to put it another way 15% of a book per day: not entirely sure that is a better way of putting it).

One thing that was difficult between March and July was the closure of all the second hand shops. No browsing of second hand books in Oxfam and the like. Horrendous! My first time back in the book shop in Penmaenmawr I ended up buying six books (for the princely sum of £10).

So far my reads this year have comprised (K: Kindle, SH: Second Hand):

‘Moon Over Soho’ - Ben Aaronovitch (K)
‘Whispers Underground’ - Ben Aaronovitch (K)
‘Broken Homes’ - Ben Aaronovitch (K)
‘Travels with my Aunt’ - Graeme Greene (SH)
‘Bottled’ - Stephanie Ellis (K)
‘A Wizard of Earthsea’ - Ursula Le Guin (SH)
‘The Tombs of Atuan’ - Ursula Le Guin (SH)
‘Flowers for Algernon’ - Daniel Keyes (SH)
‘Fleet of Knives’ - Gareth L Powell (K)
‘The Subtle Knife’ - Philip Pullman (SH)
‘Light of Impossible Stars’ - Gareth L Powell (K)
‘Sunfall’ - Jim Al-Khalilli (K)
‘The Mercies’ - Kieran Millward Hargrave (K)
‘Slipping Through’ - Miranda Kate (K)
‘About Writing’ - Gareth L Powell (K)
‘How to Argue With A Racist’ - Adam Rutherford (K)
‘The Last Day’ - Andrew Hunter Murray (K)
‘One Last Time’ - James Hampson (K)
‘How to Build a Time Machine’ - Brian Clegg (K)
‘Scouse Gothic: the Pool of Life’ -  Ian McKinney (K)
‘Username: Eve’ - Joe Sugg (SH)
‘The Psychology of Time Travel’ - Kate Mascarenhas (K)

There’s a few things of note in my reading so far (other than my impeccable taste). Firstly there is not a single new book bought there from this year or previous years. Secondly there are a lot more Kindle books than usual. This is because of the lockdown and it being impossible to go into shops (new or second hand) during that time.  I have read loads more on my Kindle this year that’s I have in previous ones. To save you counting them there’s SIXTEEN Kindle books there and just SIX second hand ones.

I am fairly sure until the next lockdown comes that there will be a few more actual physical books being read for the second half of the year. Maybe some of those ones I got from Penmaenmawr for a start and the second of the His Dark Materials Trilogy too (which I also bought from there last year or the year before...).

Not sure I will get to forty books, will have to see how the second half of 2020 goes. Right now that really is anyone’s guess.

More Pub Distancing

The last Open Mic got cancelled and I was away camping at Bishop's Castle for the one before so I was looking forward to this one. Picked up some excellent ‘White Rat,’ ‘Cold Stone Cream Austin’ and ‘Aiwass’ from Craft on Smithdown on the way home and that was my preparations done –apart from some quick strumming for fifteen minutes. As it happened OM was to prove a low key affair with only four of us on it; with Bobo and Nette, Matt and myself.

There wasn’t too much in the way of singing. Matt started of with a story then Bobo did a couple of songs. I did three in the end and having decided to do new (or very old) ones I went for ‘Half A World Away’ (always contentious doing Oasis - sorry), ‘House of the Rising Sun’ and ‘Wild Rover’. Bobo did another and Matt gave us a longer story.

Said to Matt he should try and write for the Seedling Challenge and use all seven of this weeks prompts -  a tough one this week - and that we could then read the resulting stories out at the next OM. We agreed to give it a go.

Then after lots of interlinked chitter chatter about all things travel, pubs, and Covid-19, we went on Jackbox to play some games. Suffice to say funny as fuck – but you would have had to be there (and probably have had a few beers) to appreciate it. Apparently OM is going to go to fortnightly now, which is a shame but I guess a sign that now that things are opening up a little bit people have less time or need for it. Anyway, I am looking forward to it; whenever it is. At least two weeks gives me more time to learn some more new old songs.

A Quick Visit to a Distant Past


With the long days and longer weeks at work over the last five months – not to mention historic/tourist sites and parking bays being closed throughout Wales – I haven't done any of my archaeological visits since last year. Today I was over in Anglesey again delivering to the Morrisons by Holyhead. It was only a few weeks ago that I saw from the main road a neolithic tomb just a couple of minutes from the supermarket. Today I decided (after getting a wee shop in at Morrisons) to pop over to it. Funnily enough now with all the summer's growth of trees and bushes the site is not as evident from the A55 as it was when I saw it earlier.

Trefignath view from site entrance/stile

Trefignath Selfie

There is no proper parking for the site. But it is by a new and relatively quiet road, evidently built for an industrial park which is yet to be built. After a short walk from the road, along a narrow partially tarmac path, there is a stile entrance into the site. There actually don't appear to be any signs, at least in the direction I came from, showing where the site is, which is a little odd. Maybe it is to do with all the 'new' roads along the edge of the area.

The site at Trefignath is a mind boggling 5300 years old, according to the information board at the site – charcoal found at the site date to 3300 BCE (plus or minus 70 years). It comprises three chambers built over a long period in the
Severn-Cotswold cairn form. The first chamber has some very large stones forming the walls but no roof. There is little evidence on the surface of the second chamber. The best one (at least in terms of having a roof) is the third more recent chamber.

Burial chamber view chamber one nearest and main chamber three furthest away

Whilst the site doesn't appear to be signposted there is at least an information board half way along the northern western boundary of the site outlining the history of the site and describing the three chambers of the tombs. Unlike other sites I've visited, which have been at least partially excavated into the ground, due to the geology the chambers appear to have been constructed directly onto the bedrock. Some of the stones used are very large, particularly the large wall stone of Chamber 1, the two vertical stones at the entrance of Chamber 3 and the roof stones of that chamber.

It has been heavily reconstructed (despite the lack of much of its form) and you will see brick and mortar columns supporting some of the stones in Chamber 3.

The sides of the cairn are made with loose stones and rocks. I'm not sure whether originally it would have been left as stone or grassed. I assume it would have just been stone. Why this spot was chosen was for the cairn unclear. Who knows, maybe it was where the people lived, or maybe they just wanted to be handy for the Morrisons. An alignment of stones at the site though are apparently in just 1 degree away from the winter solstice sunrise, which I guess may be more relevant than the supermarket.

Chamber one

Chamber three

If you are visiting this site you may also want to go to the single, large standing stone "Ty Mawr" several hundred metres to the north of the site in another field–you can't miss it from the road. I didn't go over to see it on this occasion as parking again didn't look straightforward and because I needed to get home via a debrief with the one parcel I had been unable to deliver (mistakenly on my route – Grrrr.)

It was only a tiny diversion from my return home and I didn't spend long here, but it was nice to take the opportunity to visit the site. Definitely worth a visit if you'd otherwise be whizzing past on the way to or from Holyhead. It's not up there with
Capel Garmon, but then again it is a very different position and up to 2000 years older!

If you fancy seeing
Capel Garmon take a look at my blog from November, which was now several life times ago.

Some People Think It's All Over

Opening Up, Staying Apart and Being Dressed

I’ve not been sure about writing about Covid-19 as doesn’t everyone want to forget about it? But then again it’s what life is almost all about now, isn’t it? Or at least it should be. I’ve decided to put my twopence worth in on my view of things as they are now anyway.

Throughout the pandemic I have been working. At least it’s not affected me in that way. Listening to the radio on my delivery routes, and finding everyone in, it appeared that most of the world was furloughed. And delivering in North Wales means that this has gone on a few weeks beyond England. The roads in Wales this weekend though were back to normal summer weekend levels: the pandemic is over: huzzah! Not.

Some People Think It's All Over

In Towyn and Kinmel Bay I was stuck in traffic on the coast road on multiple occasions on a very cold and wet Saturday.  The caravan parks were open and busy again. It is understandable how people want to get away for a few days once lockdown has been lifted: my weekend camping last week was lovely for me and the group. But the issues were on the streets and shops where groups could be seen everywhere. I wanted to scream “SOCIAL DISTANCING!”

After the camping last week it was clear that people that have been in work throughout this time have been getting used to rules and PPE. Just the simple things: Keeping two metres apart, wearing a mask, using hand sanitiser. Of course people sat at home for weeks on end doing shopping once a week or getting deliveries haven’t had to get into these habits or mindset. Maybe the opening of the drawbridge now has simply made some people think it is all over. It is not.

The virus is still here and nothing has changed from when lockdown was declared. Well that is not entirely true. What has changed is we know more about the virus (but by no means all – it is an odd little fucker) and we know the ways that we can best protect ourselves.  

I was glad that the Government mandated face coverings for shops from this coming Friday. As much as anything for the psychological impact it will have on everyone. If you have to put on a mask it makes you think that the virus is still here and it is important. Maybe it’ll make people think about the other things - mainly social distancing and also hand sanitising. This is the key thing. Wear whatever your want as a covering. A bandana type does the least but still enough to cut transmission in terms of distance by more than 2/3rds. Personally as I have to wear it all day to over a hundred stops the bandana type suits me best - and I know that if I was putting a mask over my ears each stop then the back of my ears would suffer. Whatever you go for just consider it as an item of clothing – and if you're going out of the house you are not dressed without it.

Wearing a mask is no biggy even if you do find it uncomfortable. I don't like putting my glasses on but if I don't I am definitely a health and safety hazard on the road.

Opening Up

The economy needs to go on. Not for any greedy capitalist reasons, but if you want to eat and drink and get water and electricity in your house someone has to go out and make the stuff and deliver it. Maybe you have to pay for it too. And your favourite clothes shop, cafe, restaurant or pub need money coming in soon or else your favourite place will fall and when you finally leave your house it won’t be there for you.  

It’s easy with hindsight to say we should have closed on such a such date. But we are where we are and saying what can open when are horrendous decisions to make. Put yourself in the place of a decision maker who two weeks after saying “open business type-X”  finds hospitalisation and death rates rising in them. Horrible. At the same time the owners of those businesses are wanting to open them – safely for their staff and their customers.

The Government are walking a tightrope with winds gusting and a horrendous chasm beneath. Whatever they do there will be experts on either side saying they should do more, should do less, should do it later, should have done it before. Don't worry about that, it's a useless thing to argue about and doesn't help you and yours stay safe.

Ultimately you, me and everyone else have responsibilities for ourselves and whoever we may be meeting along the way. I for one went to pubs the day they reopened, as evidenced by a previous blog, and I went camping last week. I am doing my best to keep socially distanced, to wear a mask and to use sanitiser. It’s not rocket science. It’s to reduce your chance of getting and/or transmitting the virus. As a delivery driver in North Wales I’m seeing over a hundred people a day across a large geography, I don’t want to be delivering an extra unwanted package to anyone (or taking one from them – I don’t do pickups). Businesses too are all doing it differently as they are on a learning curve as much as we are. Wherever you go bear that in mind and make your own assessment of how they are doing things. Stick with their rules – as a minimum – and if necessary do more or swerve completely if you're not happy with what they are doing.

The pubs I’ve been in have been very aware of the issues and they have not felt normal at all (bear in mind I go to old men’s/real ale pubs and not bars you may see on TV though). But we are living in strange times and this is just a hardship we have to live with for now. Hopefully this will be the closest I get to being in a war. What our grandparents and great grandparent lived through is much worse than this. For fuck’s sake they used to have to go to school with gas masks and get sent out to live with strangers in the countryside during the Second World War. Putting on a bandana, cloth mask or a medical mask is not really a hardship let’s face it: we can do this! And then there’s keeping your hands clean... I mean how dare the government suggest you should be fucking clean! FFS just do it. 

The hardest thing seems to be the social distancing. Of course it is. Places are designed for people to be people. And people congregate in groups. We don’t stand two metres apart (or one meter apart with mitigation etc). We shake hands, hug, kiss, clap each other on our shoulders, we watch sport or music together, we shout, we cheer... whatever. We are social animals and we do things together. Anything else is odd. It feels wrong. And now whilst I’m travelling around the Welsh coastal towns I can certainly see social distancing just isn’t happening. Like I said before: “SOCIAL DISTANCING!”

Risk Assessments

Look, I know – we all know – that we will be seeing an uptick in the virus and maybe hospitalisation and deaths. And to some extent that cannot be avoided and shouldn’t panic – though some journalists and MPs will try to make us (we can stop car accidents by banning cars but we don’t because.. duh!).  What we have to do is to minimise the risk of catching and spreading the virus. And how do we do that? Well, we do our own personal risk assessment and use appropriate mitigation. It’s not something you need to do any training in to complete your own personal assessment. Oh, no. You can cut and paste previous risk assessments; and guess what you need to do... Yep. Keep your distance – keep your hands clean – use face covering where appropriate. I won’t say “stay alert”, but yeah kind of. 

We are living in strange times to be sure. And people are suffering and dying. Until there is a cure this will continue (unless Trump is right and it just goes away) and we need to remember this. The Government are in a Catch-22 in having to promote businesses restarting, wanting us to get out there and spend money to get the engine of the economy going again. Whilst at the same time telling us to be alert. They basically want us to “stay safe and carry on”.  It’s a difficult message to deliver. And they don’t appear to be selling the safety side of it very well at the moment – all the government promoted Tweets I’m getting at the moment are about going out there and having holidays, spending money in shops and all that: nothing about social distancing. 

So is it any wonder people aren’t keeping apart and continuing as they were before the pandemic? Personally I don’t blame the government or the current messaging for this. If you catch the virus because you went to a house party or had a barbecue then it is on you. I know the virus is still here, you know the virus is still here and you know how best to avoid it. Going to someone’s house for a party where social distancing is impossible is not a thing you should be doing and if you can’t understand that then I suspect you shouldn’t be allowed near water or electricity.

Whatever happens the economy here and around the world will be fucked for years. If margins are tight, which they generally are, then a few percent of people going out of their house less to spend money in their community is disastrous - and at the moment it is not a few percent. Then at the same time there are the groups going out like nothing has changing meaning the extent of the virus will go up . The two sides of this equation are a bloody nightmare. 

Keep On Keeping On

All I can say is that I will go out to places that I feel are doing the right things with respect to health and safety AND I will be doing my part. I will not be attending venues that don’t appear to care or worry and that includes house parties and barbecues. If I have to wait a year or two to go to a party or other social gathering so be it. If you can, and you feel comfortable about doing it, go out and support your local businesses (and the bigger ones too) and do it safely. We all want to get through this and I don't want you buggering it up for everyone.

You guys really should do better. At the moment I’m scoring you all an "E-" but it’s only little things you need to do to get up to a "B" (for pity’s sake don’t slip to an "F"). You know the deal; don’t say you don’t.

Not That Strange I Suppose

On Friday I drove down to Shropshire to the beautiful village of Bishop's Castle. As I said in my last blog I was a little apprehensive but broadly looking forward at the very least to being out of the house for a few days.

The drive down was uneventful and was the usual 2 hours or so, with just a couple of roadworks there to slow the day down–they do seem to be everywhere at the moment. I was the first to arrive and was surprised to see how busy the campsite was. I paid the £9 per day and set up exactly where we camped last year. But last year there were thirty of us there, partly due to the 'stag' nature of some of the attendees prior to Paddy's upcoming wedding. I wrote up last year's fab weekend in a
blog of course. This time there was to be ten of us, which given the Covid-19 pandemic seemed quite a few people. Especially as I haven't been seeing anyone–no bubbles for me.

First drink after putting up your tent is always one of the best

Tony K and Jane came next with Jane's son; then Tony and Jeanette, quickly followed by Rob and his cohorts. We all managed to camp close together (socially distanced, of course). Uniquely for a Bishop's Castle camping weekend we didn't go down to the village for a beer or two. It didn't seem necessary as we had lots of beer between us and it is not like there was any entertainment down in Bishop's Castle. Jeanette fed us with a homemade chilli and then we got in with drinking and chatting. All with some tunes from playlists by myself and Jeanette. It was pretty cold and got colder as the sky cleared. But of course that meant with clear Shropshire skies we had a beautiful view–which even encompassed satellites and shooting stars.

Social distancing was pretty well done in the main. The folding chairs and dark night keeping everyone together around a fire pit. It was a nice night.

Group drinking in the Three Tuns. Wonderful.

The next day started with a sunnier forecast if a little cloudy. Breakfast was sourced either at the Greedy Fox from the Foxholes campsite we were on, or cooked by the various volunteers in the group. And then the final member of the group, Ste, arrived. He'd had to delay due to doing a good thing in terms of looking after a neighbours dog. We then finally headed down into BC around 1pm–again around 2 hours later than we would normally have. On the basis of only two open pubs rather than the usual five or six this seemed to make sense.

Sunshine pint in the Three Tuns

We first headed into the Three Tuns. There we were asked for one member of the group to scan in a QR code and provide details through that before going in and getting seated. We headed outside to one of the two benches in the yard. Normally during this weekend of the year there would be a music playing and a barbecue going, as well as the Three Tuns brewer selling beers straight out of the barrels there. This time: nothing. Of course. We ended up staying there for about four hours or so before heading up to the Castle. The only issue I had was someone squeezing in between me and someone else on a bench. I shot on up and out of there and left it to the girls. Social distancing guys (and gals)! Went through several pints of Solstice, XXX and Cleric's Cure (which I settled on for a few).

The Shropshire Way walk into Bishop's Castle

In the Castle the garden was full. Most having being booked in advance. No-one was in the garden on the grass, they were all seated at tables. We stayed in the tables outside at the bottom of the steps. Here the staff all wore visors, which was visibly different to the Three Tuns, where the staff concentrated on limiting touching the glasses (using trays and asking us to load them with empty glasses etc). Like Liverpool last week, every establishment is having to find their own way with the reopening.

Most the boys and girls of our group went into the BC chippy for sustenance. I kept away: just not hungry. Then we all went back on up to Foxholes for the evening. It was spent drinking beer (or wine in the case of Rob and Co.), chatting and listening to tunes. I even got my guitar out and played a few songs–it would have been Open Mic tonight if I had been home. There was no WiFi available to log into Zoom on the campsite. Tony talked loudly all the way through most of the songs. But to be fair that made my 'gig' more like an Open Mic than if he'd kept quiet. There's always one. The night was a clear as the day before and again we saw shooting stars. It closed around 1:30am or so after some surprising spoons and a collapsing chair and table incident.

Playing in the sun to an appreciative crowd (me)

Sunday brought us even more sunshine. The forecast was it would be there for the day. And boy, it was. I ended up getting a little sunburnt on my face, mainly on the nose and forehead. Steve got off early, as did Rob and the boys, whilst I wasn't sure whether to stay or go. I was torn, as I was off on Monday and was thinking I'd do some writing if I got back on Sunday, but then again another night relaxing whilst away for the first time for months was very attractive. In the end I decided to stay. Tony K took the rest of the intrepid group on a truncated walk (basically adding a few hundred metres to getting into BC and then walking along the road rather than on the Shropshire Way. Most surprising. Not.). They all heading into Poppy's (where we normally go for breakfast on our last day camping) and had a Sunday Roast.

Meanwhile I was still at the campsite listening to the screeching of a couple of the red kites what whirled above the countryside, whilst strumming the guitar and burning my face; before walking down to the Three Tuns. Had a pint of Solstice and three of Cleric's before heading up to the site with a takeout. I began reading '
The Psychology of Time Travel' (Kate Mascarenhas) which seems really good.

The evening was its by now standard form. A couple of beers, some music and bed. But this time finished much, much earlier. Everyone was getting a bit more tired which after a few days trying to sleep in a tent is par for the course.

And then it was Monday and time for me to go. The remaining five stayed in BC to do a walk along the Long Mynd from Church Stretton. I got home at 1pm and it didn't take me long to fall into some serious napping.

All in all the weekend had been excellent. There hadn't been much in the way of any rain and we all got into the two pubs that were open. Clearly the logging in, the directional information, the toilet occupancy, and cleaning stations (as well as staff methods and PPE) make the pubs a different proposition to the BC real ale trail. The lack of entertainment, and a hog roast or two, being an obvious miss. It is hard to see how and when this can come back prior to a vaccine. It really is a worry and I really wonder if even this time next year the real ale trail will be back. That said, even if it isn't I expect we will be. Camping is great. So is Shropshire, the village and the campsite. And of course, most of all, our group of people make the event the success it always is.

Three Tuns quieter than usual.


A Strange Return to the Bish

I've been looking forward to this weekend for a while now. But I've got to admit it is going to be a strange one. For years now a group of us has been going to Bishop's Castle for their annual beer festival trail. It's always one of the first things in the calendar. And we camp at a great campsite on the Shropshire Way called Foxholes just above the village. There is always lots of great beer, good food and fab music. And all round good craic.

But this year… well until last week the campsites were closed, as were the pubs. The real ale trail was obviously cancelled ages ago and so it should have been. Normally the entire village is bustling for a day and a half. This year I'm not anticipating many people there at all. And indeed I hope not.

There's a much smaller group of us going to Foxholes. I think most will just be glad to get out of the house for a day or two after over three months staying in the same few rooms. I'm only expecting two pubs to be open, but we may find another one. Both the
Three Tuns and the Castle have decent outside areas where we can do our distancing thing. I'm taking a lot more beer than I normally do as I'm expecting we'll have much less time in the village–it's not like there will be any entertainment on either.

So it's going to be quiet. Fewer beers. No music. Limited food choices. Not sounding like a great advert, but hell, like I say, a weekend away may well be the closest thing I get to a holiday this year. Forecast is dry weather too, which after a couple of wet weeks is a bonus. Let's hope next year things will be more normal – though I'm not convinced it will be.