Click to hear Curly (9mins 14 secs)

Winifred Barber was born in Birmingham, England, in 1907. She was blessed with the ability of perfect recall of the details of her long life. At the age of 93 she made this recording of her friendship with a soldier who had been wounded in World War I, in 1916.

As the war progressed hospitals in Great Britain became unable to accommodate the rising numbers of wounded returning from the battles in France; to ease matters, the Government began requisitioning schools, turning them into temporary hospitals.

Winifred was delighted when her school was requisitioned because that meant she only had part-time schooling elsewhere; on one week she wold attend the new school in the mornings, and the next week in the afternoons.

She often filled her free time by taking walks with her brother in the countryside around Kings Heath, where she lived. On the way they would often stop a the railings of the playground of the requisitioned school, to talk to the men who had been pushed, in their beds, into the fresh air.

This the story of Winifred’s friendship with one of those soldiers, an American named Curly.

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Ding Dong Merrily

Click to hear Ding Dong Merrily (7mins 28 secs)

Bell ringing in the UK is a unique tradition; ringing complicated peals on four or more tower bells contrasts strongly with the usual practice elsewhere of tolling a single note to call the faithful to prayer.

Other countries do, however, have larger single bells – the bell in Red Square, Moscow, weighs an astonishing 200 tons and functions perfectly satisfactorily, in spite of having an A-shaped crack in it, large enough to walk into.

Handbell ringing requires ringers to hold bells of different notes, one in each hand, and to sound them like the musicians in an orchestra at the appropriate time to perform a written piece of music.

The handbell ringers in this recording perform in the church of St Philip and St St Paul, in the village of Hallow, Worcestershire. It was a windy, december night when I went to join them and intended to make the recording in the nave, with the team spread out to left and right. When I got there I found them cramped in a room at the base of the tower which obliged me to stand in the doorway, end on to the players, who were stretched out in a single file in front of me.

In spite of my misgivings the recording won the BATRC Golden Microphone Award for 2004.

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Click to hear Mahmoud (7mins 58 secs)

I got to know Egypt’s Red Sea Coast long before the resort of Sharm El Sheikh became famous for its association with the former President of Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak.

My daughter married an Egyptian and settled in the small resort of Dahab, 30 kilometres from the Israeli port of Eilat. During several visits I got to know Mahmoud, the local itinerant paper seller and spent an exciting morning visiting the many camps for visitors to be found there.

Exciting? We were bothered twice by the police, who wanted to know what we were doing there. And there was a further complication which you will hear about in the recording.

In spite of this, it won the BATRC Golden Microphone Award in 2001.

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Weathering the storm

Click to hear Weathering the storm (7mins 52 secs)

The phrase ‘Going throught the Roof ‘ usually applies to something moving from the bottom upwards;  but just as  damaging can be penetration from the top downwards.   And it’s a much more likely event, too.

Either way roofs are tricky, but important,  things to look after.

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Sounding Out

Click to hear Bats (7mins 47 secs)

We probably learned about bats’ use of echo-location to fly and feed in our early days at school.   But no one has yet explained to me how a bat distinguishes between its own calls and those of the other members of the colony, which must be going on at the same time.   It must be bedlam up there.   I wonder if they argue?

John Robinson, a licensed bat operator illustrates how you can identify which bats are which without, alas, addressing how they avoid signal chaos.   I wish somebody could tell me…

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Living over the shop

Click to hear Living over the shop(14mins 36 secs)

For most of us there’s a clear break between where we live and where we work.   Not so, however, for people like lighthouse keepers, submariners and castaways.

For some reason I’ve always been attracted by arrangements specially-designed to accommodate particular sets of circumstances – ships’ cabins, caravans, sleeper trains, space modules and so on.

One of these traditional living/working  arrangements was to be found on the narrowboats of the families who, up to 50 years ago, worked the now almost forgotten, but  extensive,  industrial canal network in the UK.   And when I looked into it, I found it was full of surprises.

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The Cider Maker

Click to hear The Cider Maker(14mins 58 secs)

Farmers have had a difficult time over the last 25 years;  not only was there an outbreak of Foot & Mouth in 2001 but, 17 years earlier in 1984, the EC (as Alf Garnet would say, ‘In its infinite wisdom’)  introduced Milk Quotas to avoid over-production of milk in Europe.

For many farmers this was disastrous; the monthly milk cheque was the lifeline on which they relied to keep the business going throughout the year, until their seasonal income from crops came on stream.

Mahorral Farm, situated at the foot of the Clee Hills at the southern tip of Shropshire, was a typical case.   Diversification – yes, but into what?   Run by a father and son partnership – Peter King-Turner and Chris –  they struck out in a completely new direction, cider-making, in which they had no previous experience at all.

Recorded in 2008 this piece was the winner of its class in the Fédération Internationale des Chasseurs de Sons.

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Piped music

Click to hear Music whilst you work(9 mins 27 secs)

To someone under the age of sixty the importance of cinema organs might need a bit of explanation.   You’ve got to go back to the 1920s and 30s to understand the popular entertainment culture of the period.

There was radio in the home of course, but no telly.   If you wanted to see pictures (and it was called ‘going to the pictures’), you had to leave home, stand in a queue for up to 30 minutes (more often than not in the driving rain) until you were called forward by a uniformed commissionnaire into the warm, dry sanctuary of the cinema,

There would usually be two films on offer, with an interval betwen them.   If you were lucky, during the interval, the lights went up and an organist would rise out of the floor and begin playing music to entertain you.   At the same time, and walking backwards, usherettes would sell icecreams, soft drinks and popcorn from trays hung about their shoulders.

These organs were originally expensive, but when the vogue had passed, they were ripped out and sold off in the 1960s (for a song?)   At least one of these organs has found a permanent home – of all places – in a roadside garage in Derbyshire, another excellent recording opportunity arranged by the British Sound Recording Association.

Which just goes to show that there’s more in the Pipes in the Peaks than just petrol.

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Fall of Giants: the mason’s tale

Click to hear The Mason (13 mins 57 secs)

History is full of ironies;  one of its recurring themes is that, however powerful, however sucessful nations and individuals are, in the long run they lose the ability to adapt, decline and disappear altogether.   Often the only evidence that they ever existed is the physical artefacts they erected round themselves, which end up like empty shells on the seashore.

Such a place is Great Witley Court, originally developed by the Foley family and then by the Dudleys.   Instead of the small army of people who were once needed to keep it going, today it houses only one person – Steve McCarron -a mason who is gradually refurbishing parts of the fabric, in what could be a job for life.   He is doing similar work at Bolsover Castle, once a retreat for Henry VIII.   He calls it: “touching history”.

Few people can now remember who or what the Foleys and the Dudleys were;  we are much more likely to have heard of one of the tradesmen who worked there, Edward Elgar, who came as a boy in a pony and trap,with his father, to tune the pianos.

In the end, it seems that it is the ordinary people who survive,  not those who originally stood on their shoulders, to reach their fleeting moments of fame.

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Flight of the falcon

Click to hear Flight of the falcon (7 mins 50 secs)

Nick Greaves, Resident Falconer at the Betton Bird of Prey Centre at East Ayton, near Scarborough, recently entertained a party of audio recordists from the British Sound Recording Association.

I’ve always been in awe of birds of prey – they’re so large, imperious and independent-looking.   They sometimes remind me of the Duke of Edinburgh – but don’t tell him.

Much of this recording of a peregrine was made on an open hillside and a competition judge criticised it for the sound of the wind.   But what else do you get, on a windy hillside?   In any case I felt it was an important part of the experience of ‘being there’, one of my constant aims in open air situations.

If you can bring yourself to ignore the wind listen out for the doppler effect of the jesses (bells attached to the hawk’s legs) as it swooped down within 18″ of our heads.   Rather proud of that.

Mike Dickins.

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